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Censoring of the Shentong Position

Jun 09, 2007 10:10 AM
by danielhcaldwell

One scholar writes:

In  The  Buddha  Within,  Dr.   S.  K.  Hookham  reworks  her
dissertation   (Oxford,  1986)  outlining   the   Shentong[1]
tradition   in  Tibet  and  its  view  of  ultimate  reality.
"Shentong" (gzhan stong, other-empty) is a term used in Tibet
to  refer  to  a  view  of  ultimate   reality  as  a  wisdom
consciousness  empty  or free  of the illusory  phenomena  of
conditioned  existence.  Such  a view  owes  heavily  to  the
description  of  ultimate  reality  in  the  Tathaga-tagarbha
Sutras and in the tantras.  One of the earliest proponents of
this view was the Jo-nang-pa scholar, Dolpopa Shetab Gyaltsen
(dol-po-pa  shes-rab  rgyal-mtshan, 1292-1361), whose massive
study  titled  The  Mountain  Dharma: An Ocean  of Definitive
Meaning (rl chos nges don rgya mtsho) outlined this doctrine,
extensively  citing  from sutra and tantra in support  of his
position. The Shentong position advanced by Dolpopa and later
by such figures as the seventh Karmapa (1454-1506), the Sakya
scholar, Sakya Chogden (gser-mdog-pan-chen  Sakya mchog-ldan,
14281507), and most  recently  by one of the founders  of the
Rimay (ris med, nonsectarian) movement of the nineteenth  and
twentieth  centuries? ]amgon Kontrol  Lodro Thayay  (jam-mgon
kong-sprul  blo-gros mtha'-yas, 1813-1899), was the object of
sustained critique by scholars of other schools-notably those
of the Geluk-pa  traditions  who advanced  what  is called  a
"rangtong" (rang stong, self-empty) view of ultimate reality.
These  scholars  held  the ultimate  truth  to be an existent
object of knowledge cognized by a wisdom consciousness.  Such
an  object  of  a  wisdom  consciousness  is  held  to  be  a
nonaffirming negative--the  absence of the inherent existence
of any given phenomena, most importantly  the self.  Shentong
advocates  argue that this view of ultimate  reality fails to
account  adequately  for  the  qualities  associated  with  a
Buddha's  wisdom, although  it does account for the nature of
illusory phenomena.

The  political  upheaval  in the  sixteenth  and  seventeenth
centuries  that  led  to  the  ascendency   of  the  Geluk-pa
tradition and to the establishment  of the Fifth Dalai Lama's
government also brought with it the eventual censoring of the
Shentong position.  The literature  of Shentong advocates was
banned, and wood  blocks  and extant  texts  were seized  and
destroyed  or sequestered.  While these actions  seem to have
been  politically  motivated,[3] the effect  was  the partial
silencing  of an important and vital stream of interpretation
and thought.  Dr.  Hookham expressly  indicates  that she has
published her work in order to bring this tradition to light,
noting  that, until  now,  most  Western  academic  works  on
Tibetan Buddhist views of ultimate reality have used Geluk-pa
sources  and hence have not presented  a fair account of this
alternate tradition.
Quoted from:

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