Thangkha with Jonang lama Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361)

Shentong – Reconciling Madhyama with the Buddha-nature

The notion of sentong grew out the Tibetan attempts to reconcile the contradiction between the Madhyama stance on the emptiness of phenomena, and the later notion of an eternal .

Origin of Shentong view

Shentong views the two truths doctrine as distinguishing between relative and absolute reality, agreeing that relative reality is empty of self-nature, but stating that absolute reality is “empty” (Wylie: stong) only of “other” (Wylie: gzhan) relative phenomena, but is itself not empty.

This absolute reality is the “ground or substratum” which is “uncreated and indestructible, non-composite and beyond the chain of dependent origination.”

Dölpopa identified this absolute reality with the Buddha-nature within each being as an actual, living truth and presence, not conditioned or generated by any temporal process of causation:

The essential feature of a Shentong interpretation of tathāgatagarbha doctrine is that the Buddha is figuratively within all beings as their unchanging, permanent, non-conditioned nature.

Buddha is by all accounts considered to be non-conditioned, eternal, unchanging, bliss, compassion, wisdom, power, and so on.

For Shentongpas the fact that Buddha is non-conditioned means the essence of Buddha is complete with all the Buddha Qualities in a timeless sense.

Concepts, people & schools

This is a glossary of concepts people and schools related to the Shentong view.

The dharmakāya is one of the three bodies (trikaya) of a buddha in Mahayana . The dharmakāya constitutes the unmanifested, “inconceivable” (acintya) aspect of a buddha out of which buddhas arise and to which they return after their dissolution. Buddhas are manifestations of the dharmakāya called the nirmāṇakāya, “transformation body”. Reginald Ray writes of it as “the body of reality itself, without specific, delimited form, wherein the Buddha is identified with the spiritually charged nature of everything that is.”

Jamgon Kongtrul

‘Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé, also known as Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, was a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, poet, artist, physician, tertön and polymath. He was one of the most prominent Tibetan Buddhists of the 19th century and he is credited as one of the founders of the Rimé movement (non-sectarian), compiling what is known as the “Five Great Treasuries”. He achieved great renown as a scholar and writer, especially among the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages and composed over 90 volumes of Buddhist writing, including his magnum opus, The Treasury of Knowledge.

Jonang

The is one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins in Tibet can be traced to early 12th century master , but became much wider known with the help of , a monk originally trained in the Sakya school. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century at the hands of the 5th Dalai Lama, who forcibly annexed the Jonang gompas to his Gelug school, declaring them heretical.

Buddha-nature

Buddha-nature or Buddha Principle refers to several related terms, most notably tathāgatagarbha and buddhadhātu. Tathāgatagarbha means “the womb” or “embryo” (garbha) of the “thus-gone” (tathagata), or “containing a tathagata”, while buddhadhātu literally means “Buddha-realm” or “Buddha-substrate”.

Dharmadhatu

(Sanskrit) is the ‘dimension’, ‘realm’ or ‘sphere’ (dhātu) of the Dharma or Absolute Reality.

Jamgön Ju Mipham, or Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyamtso (1846–1912) was a very influential philosopher and polymath of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He wrote over 32 volumes on topics such as painting, poetics, sculpture, alchemy, medicine, logic, philosophy and tantra. Mipham’s works are still central to the scholastic curriculum in Nyingma monasteries today. Mipham is also considered one of the leading figures in the Ri-me (non-sectarian) movement in Tibet.

Pointing-out instruction

The is the direct introduction to the nature of mind in the Tibetan Buddhist lineages of Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen. In these traditions, a “root guru” gives the “pointing-out instruction” in such a way that the disciple successfully recognizes the “nature of mind.”

Rangtong-Shentong

Rangtong and shentong are two distinctive views on emptiness (sunyata) and the two truths doctrine within Tibetan Buddhism.

Yumo Mikyo Dorje

Yumo Mikyö Dorjé was a student of the Kashmiri scholar Somanātha and an 11th-century Kalachakra master.

Yumo Mikyö Dorjé is regarded as one of the earliest Tibetan articulators of a shentong view of śūnyatā — an understanding of the absolute radiant nature of reality.

Emphasized within the Kalachakra tantra and Gautama Buddha’s teachings on Buddha-nature in the so-called Third Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma of the Yogacara school of Buddhism philosophy; this view later became emblematic of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Shenpen Hookham

Susan Kathryn Rowan, known as is a Buddhist teacher who has trained for over 50 years in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra is a Mahāyāna Buddhist scripture belonging to the Tathāgatagarbha class of sūtra, which teach that the Buddha is eternal, that the non-Self and emptiness teachings only apply to the worldly sphere and not to Nirvāṇa, and that the Tathāgatagarbha is real and immanent within all beings and all phenomena. The sutra consists mostly of stanzas in verse.

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen (1292–1361), known simply as Dölpopa, a Tibetan Buddhist master known as “The Buddha from Dölpo,” a region in modern Nepal, who was the principal exponent of the shentong teachings, and an influential member of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra or Nirvana Sutra is a Tathāgatagarbha sūtra of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its precise date of origin is uncertain, but its early form may have developed in or by the second century CE. The original Sanskrit text is not extant except for a small number of fragments, but it survives in Chinese and Tibetan translation. It was translated into Chinese twice from two apparently substantially different source texts, with the 421 CE translation of Dharmakṣema being about four times longer than the 416 translation of Faxian. The two versions also differ in their teachings on Buddha-nature: Dharmakṣema’s indicates all sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddhahood, but Faxian’s states some will never attain Buddhahood. Ultimately, Dharmakṣema’s version was far more popular in East Asia and his version of the text had a strong impact on East Asian Buddhism.

Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra

The Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra is one of the main early Mahāyāna Buddhist texts belonging to the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras that teaches the doctrines of Buddha-nature and “One Vehicle” through the words of the Indian queen Śrīmālā. After its composition, this text became the primary scriptural advocate in India for the universal potentiality of Buddhahood.

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