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The Absolute [parinispannasvabhâva] of the Jonangpas

Jun 09, 2007 10:01 AM
by danielhcaldwell

The Absolute [parinispannasvabhâva] 
of the Jonangpas 

David Reigle in his article on the Jonangpas writes:

Like Theosophy which teaches as its first fundamental proposition "an
omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle on which all
speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human
conception,"...[the Jonangpa school] teaches a principle which is
permanent, stable, quiescent, and eternal, which is devoid of
anything but itself, or "empty of other" (gzhan stong), and which
therefore transcends even the most subtle conceptualization....

Later in the same article, Reigle writes more about:

...[the] Jonangpa teaching of a permanent, stable, quiescent,
and eternal dhåtu or tathågata-garbha or dharma-kåya which is
"empty of other" (gzhan stong) and therefore ultimately beyond
the range and reach of thought....

Now compare the above with some choice quotes from the scholar
TOM J.F.TILLEMANS in his article on "Tibetan Philosophy" in "The
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy":

...much of Tibetan thought was indeed strongly influenced by
an indigenous version of the Mâdhyamika which attempted to integrate
Nâgârjuna's thought with Yogâcâra and with the principal ideas
in Indian texts such as the Ratnagotravibhâga (Differentiation of the
Lineage of the [Three] Jewels), an early fifth-century text which
notoriously speaks of a permanent (nitya), stable (dhruva) and
eternal (úâúvata) Buddha-nature present in sentient beings. This
Tibetan synthesis was initially put forward by the Jo-nang-pa school,
founded by Dol bu pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan (Dolbuba Shayrap gyeltsen,

In brief, the fundamental . . . ideas go like this for a Jo-nang-pa:
the Absolute, parinispannasvabhâva, whose existence enables us to
avoid the nihilistic view that everything is just a complete
illusion, is only void of the imagined and dependent natures: it is
void of what is other than it, but is not void of itself. The
imagined and dependent natures, on the other hand, are nonexistent
and are void of themselves....

...the Absolute is an existent, truly established gnosis (ye
shes)....this gnosis admits of no distinction between subject
(grâhaka) and object (grâhya) and is suchness (tathatâ) and the
bhûtako;i (`limit of the real'); it is identifiable with the
Buddha-nature spoken of in the Ratnagotravibhâga....

....Not surprisingly, the Jo-nang-pas were often criticized,
especially by the dGe-lugs-pas, but also by Sa-skya-pas such as Go
ram pa, as reifying the Absolute and thus transforming Buddhism into a
substantialist philosophy....

...The Jo-nang-pas thus supposedly went badly astray from Indian
Mâdhyamika by adopting positive descriptions which hypostasized a
permanent Absolute, although, in all fairness, it has to be said that
this criticism largely depends on which Indian texts one emphasizes
and what literature one takes as authoritative. It can be
intelligently argued in defence of the Jo-nang-pas that there were
Indian Mâdhyamika texts, like the hymns attributed to Nâgârjuna,
which did exhibit a positive, cataphatic approach not far from that
of the Ratnagotravibhâga, and that Indian Mâdhyamika did not consist
exclusively in the negative apophatic dialectic or the insistence upon
dependent origination (pratîtyasamutpâda) that one finds in
Nâgârjuna's Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ.


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