A Tree In The West: Competing Tathāgatagarbha Theories in Tibet

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A Tree In The West: Competing Tathāgatagarbha Theories in Tibet
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Citation: Magee, William. "A Tree in the West: Competing Tathāgatagarbha Theories in Tibet." Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal 19 (2006): 445–511.

Abstract

In this paper, historical materials are employed to point the reader toward scriptural sources for the tathāgatagarbha traditions of India and Tibet, including their relationship with theories of the mind-basis-of-all (kun gzhi rnam shes, ālayavijñāna). In addition, three primary tathāgatagarbha traditions in Tibet are described and compared: those of the Jo-nang-bas following Döl-bo-ba Shay-rap-gyel-tsen (dol bo pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292–1361), the Sa-ḡyas following Bu-don (bu ston, 1290–1364), and the Ge-luk-don following Dzong-ka-ba (tsong kha pa, 1357–1419). Doctrines concerning the basic constituent (khams, dhātu) and three buddha bodies are examined insofar as these doctrines shed light on theories of tathāgatagarbha. Since Dzong-ka-ba extensively refuted the Jo-nang position─often called Other Emptiness (gzhan stong)─in his Treatise Differentiating Interpretable and Definitive Meanings: The Essence of Eloquence (drang ba dang nges pa'i don rnam par phye ba'i bstan bcos legs bshad snying po) and other works on the philosophical view of emptiness, this paper examines Dzong-ka-ba's discussion and critique of the Jo-nang Other Emptiness. Ten specific criticisms of Other Emptiness made by Dzong-ka-ba and his followers are compared with presentations of Other Emptiness by Jo-nang authors. Two Jo-nang texts recently translated by Professor Jeffrey Hopkins are employed in this comparison: Döl-bo-ba Śhay-rap-gyel-tsen’s Mountain Doctrine, Ocean of Definitive Meanings (ri chos nges don rgya mtsho) and Tāranātha’s Essence of Other Emptiness (gzhan stong snying po). These comparisons show that Dzong-ka-ba's critique does not always accurately reflect the Jo-nang philosophical view.