The Essence of Zhentong

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The Essence of Zhentong
Citation: Sheehy, Michael R., trans. The Essence of Zhentong. By Jetsun Tāranātha. With Khenpo Kunga Sherab Saljay Rinpoche., 2008.

Oṃ Svasti!
Here, the essence of Mahāyāna, the Madhyamaka of definitive meaning (nītārtha, nges don), will be characterized by:[1]

I. A General Presentation on the Classification of Philosophical Systems
II. Identifying the Classifications of Madhyamaka
III. Clearing Away Extremes Imputed by Others

I. A General Presentation on the Classification of Philosophical Systems
Non-Buddhist Systems
While views and philosophies of other [non-Buddhist] extremists lack a path to freedom, our own Buddhist views and philosophies are related through a path to freedom. Even though extremists do not have a path to freedom, some of them posses—while others do not posses—teachings that lead them to exalted states of existence.[2] For instance, materialists and most other nihilists who lack respect for actions and their effects, and who primarily endorse teachings that are hurtful, do not even have a clear path to exalted states. Sāṃkhyas, naked Jain ascetics, some followers of supreme beings, and extremists who meditate, often do posses paths to exalted states. They are then reborn as gods and humans within the desire realms due to their having relinquished harmful actions and created virtuous actions; they are reborn in the form realms due to having meditatively cultivated the four concentrations; and they are reborn in the formless realms due to having meditatively cultivated the four formless stabilizations.
    The reason why extremists do not have a path to freedom is that they do not relinquish the mentality that fixates onto the egotistic self. This is known as “fixation onto the self of personhood.” In saṃsāra, from time without beginning, what has continuously come about is this persistent mentality that fixates onto the egotistic self. Even so, these philosophical systems assert its existence along with the many distinctive qualities that are themselves this very egotistic self and they then meditate on its meaning. Since they do not have anything that can counteract this fixation onto the ego, they are not able to relinquish this self-fixedness. Consequently, this self-fixation is the repetitive cause of their every upsetting emotion.
    However, the more sophisticated extremists meditate on the coarse impermanence of birth, aging, sickness, death, and so forth; they know the suffering of this life and of the desire realm; they affirm that coarse substances such as material forms lack a true reality; they decrease their attachments and know contentment; they develop lovingkindness and compassion; they meditate on the equanimity of friends and enemies; and they relinquish the four roots.[3] Since they have an excellent view, meditation, and conduct, their path leads to exalted states. (The Essence of Zhentong, introduction, 3–4)

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  1. The following translation is based upon the ‘Dzam thang edition of the Gzhan stong snying po, see Tā ra nā tha, Gzhan stong.
  2. Mtho ris kyi mngon par mtho, elevated or high states of existence within the cycle of saṃsāra. These are heavenly or celestial realms that can be traversed through advanced meditation but are not free from the innate pains of sentience.
  3. Rtsa bzhi: (1) killing; (2) stealing; (3) sexual misconduct; (4) lying.