Introduction: The History of the Rang stong-Gzhan stong Distinction from Its Beginning through the Ris-med Movement

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Introduction: The History of the Rang stong-Gzhan stong Distinction from Its Beginning through the Ris-med Movement

Article Summary

By the time Tibetans inherited Indian Buddhism, it had already witnessed two major doctrinal developments, namely, the notion elucidated in the "Discourses on the Perfection of Insight" (Prajñāpāramitāsūtras) that all factors of existence (dharmas) lack an own-being (emptiness), and the Yogācāra interpretation of this emptiness based on the imagined (parikalpita-), dependent (paratantra-) and perfect natures (pariniṣpannasvabhāva). Closely related to this threefold distinction was the Tathāgatagarbha restriction of emptiness to adventitious stains that cover an ultimate nature, that of buddha-qualities. Throughout Tibetan intellectual history it has been a controversial issue whether these teachings require a distinction between two modes of emptiness: being "empty of an own-being" (rang stong), and "empty of other" (gzhan stong). While a follower of the rang-stong view insists that everything (and that includes the Buddha and his qualities) shares the same mode of emptiness (i.e., the absence of an independent existence), some followers of gzhan stong claim that the ultimate nature of mind and its inherent buddha qualities do have an independent existence, since they are only empty of everything else ("the other") that does not belong to them. This must be distinguished from a more moderate form of gzhan stong, which admits the rang stong mode of emptiness for both the adventitious stains of relative truth as well as the ultimate nature of mind, but insists that for a practitioner with an immediate experience of the ultimate nature, it is essential to distinguish the latter from the adventitious states of mind that do not reflect how the nature of mind truly is. While forerunners of rang stong/gzhan stong distinctions can be already identified in a variety of Indian texts and early bKa'-gdams-pa manuscripts,[1] their most influential proponents doubtlessly were Dol-po-pa Shes-rab rgyal-mtshan (1292–1361) and Gser-mdog paṇ-chen Shākya mchog-ldan (1427–1507). At the other end of our time frame, new insights into the development of gzhan stong at the very end of the ris-med movement can now be gained from the collected works of Zhe-chen Mkhan-chen Gang-shar dbang-po (1925–1958/59?).
      The contributions to this volume were presented at the gzhan stong panel organized by Klaus-Dieter Mathes (University of Vienna) at the Twelfth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies in Vancouver, Canada, in August 2010. Its full name was "The History of the Rang stong/Gzhan stong Distinction from its Beginning through the Ris-med Movement." The contributors were, besides the organizer, Karl Brunnhölzl (Tsadra Foundation), Anne Burchardi (The University of Copenhagen and The Royal Library of Denmark), Douglas Duckworth (Temple University), David Higgins (University of Vienna), Yaroslav Komarovski (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and Tsering Wangchuk (University of San Francisco). It is regretted that Karl Brunnhölzl and Douglas Duckworth were unable to include their work in the present publication. (Mathes, introduction, 4–5)
  1. See Brunnhölzl’s Prajñāpāramitā, Indian "gzhan stong pas," and the Beginning of Tibetan gzhan stong; and Mathes’s "Tāranātha's ‘Twenty-One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning’—Comparing the Views of the Two gŹan stoṅ Masters Dol po pa and Śākya mchog ldan," and "The gzhan stong Model of Reality. Some More Material on Its Origin, Transmission, and Interpretation."