Rngog blo ldan shes rab
yar 'brog (lho ka)
Year of the Female Earth Pig, 1st sexagenary cycle.
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On the topic of this person
The second reason for my changing the original title of my dissertation, is that I felt obliged to change its scope. The vast literature on Tibetan Buddhist epistemology, which has become available during the last few years, necessitated such a curtailment. Especially the presently available Dga'-ldan-pa contributions by Rgyal-tshab-rje and Mkhas-grubrje, in particular, need to be properly assessed, and this takes time. Moreover, much but not all of the subsequent Sa-skya-pa literature in this area by Go-ram-pa and Gser-mdog Pan-chen must be read with the particular theories of these Dga'-ldan-pa philosophers in mind. To undertake such a comparative study cannot be done in a hurried fashion. Some references to the Dga'-ldan-pa contributions have, however, been made in the course of this paper on the basis of my original access to but a limited number of their writings. Nonetheless, a significant portion of my dissertation that deals with the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, has been included in the footnotes of the present paper where I was concerned with historical or bio-bibliographical details. (van der Kuijp, preface, vii)
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Rongtön Sheja Künrig (1376-1449) figures among the greatest teachers of the Sakya tradition. Particularly renowned for his commentaries on the Five Treatises of Maitreya, his vast erudition, and extensive teaching career made him one of the most influential masters for the scholastic lineages of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This volume contains an annotated translation of Rongtön Chenpo’s commentary on the central chapter of this treatise (including the relevant stanzas of the root text), along with an extensive introduction to the historical development of this doctrine and an analysis of Rongtön’s position. (Source: Vajra Publications)
Part I, the historical and doctrinal background, consists of six chapters: Chapter 1 describes the authorship and the history of the transmission of the RGV in India, using Indian and Tibetan materials. Chapter 2 studies six different Tibetan translations of the RGV, clarifying how the RGV was transmitted from India to Tibet. Chapter 3 outlines rNgog's life and writings. Chapter 4 presents rNgog's philosophical positions taught in his RGV commentary. Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the impact of his interpretations on the later Tibetan doctrinal developments, and reactions to them. Part II is a critical edition of rNgog-lo's RGV commentary, Theg chen rgyud bla ma'i don bsdus pa (1a-46a5 and 65a5-66a4), preceded by an explanation of textual materials and an outline of the whole text. Part III presents an annotated translation of that commentary.
Appendix A presents a diplomatic edition of rNgog-lo's “topical outline” of the RGV, his other work related to the RGV (discovered at Kharakhoto and preserved in the British Library). Appendix B presents a critical edition of a versified summary of the RGV in Sanskrit, the Mahāyānottaratantraśāstropadeśa composed by the Kashmiri Paṇḍita Sajjana, a teacher of rNgog-lo. Appendix C provides another Sanskrit commentary on the RGV, Vairocanarakṣita's Mahāyanottaratantraṭippaṇī, while appendix D presents translations of relevant passages from the Sākārasiddhi and Sākarasaṃgraha of Jñānaśrīmitra. Appendix E presents rNgog-lo's identification of the passages of the RGVV that refer to the Nidānaparivarta (“introductory chapter”) of the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra, as well as a topical outline of this chapter of the sūtra. Appendix F investigates the dating of Blo-gros-mtshungs-med, who among later Tibetans criticized rNgog-lo's position most severely. Appendix G presents a list of commentaries on the RGV. Appendix H listsrecords of the RGV's transmission lineage from gsan yigs. (Kano, introduction, 12-13)
2) Rngog lo seems to have used the term bsdus don (or its equivalents) to refer to two kinds of works, namely “topical outline” and “essential meaning,” for he composed two works on the RGV―a brief topical outline and a lengthy essential meaning―which bear titles containing the term bsdus don and its equivalent don bsdus pa, respectively. Among Rngog lo’s available writings, our Khara Khoto manuscript and the Byang chub sems dpa’i spyod pa la ’jug pa’i don bsdus pa offer the only testimony that bsdus don (and its equivalent don bsdus pa) refers to a “topical outline,” as he often uses the term bsdus don to indicate a lengthy “essential meaning” in his other commentarial works. The first usage was common among Tibetan masters during the early and middle phyi dar period, whereas the latter was generally rare. This rare usage is most likely influenced by the piṇḍārtha sub-genre of Indian commentaries.
3) Our manuscript has some serious textual problems, such as missing words, illegible words, syntactic ambiguity, and a missing folio. However, we can solve many of those problems by referring to corresponding sentences in the other two works on the RGV, namely, Rngog lo’s Essential Meaning and Phywa pa’s Topical Outline.
4) The colophon of our manuscript does not tell us when the work was composed or copied. We can only deduce an approximate date of the manuscript to be some time between ca. 1092 (a possible terminus post quem of the composition of the work) and 1374 (the year of the destruction of Khara Khoto). The contents of our manuscript and other relevant works discovered at Khara Khoto show that the Tibetan scholastic tradition of the
This doctrine has played an important role in the history of Buddhism. Although rudimentary elements of this doctrine can be identified already within the Pāli canon, those passages relating to the natural luminosity of the mind, which is said to be temporarily stained by adventitious mental afflictions, required the emergence of the Mahāyāna movement before developing into a fully fledged doctrine in its own right. Since it is supported by a number of sūtras and śāstras (i.e. the Buddhist canon composed of the Buddha’s sermons and the Indian commentarial literature), it can be regarded as a third school of Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist thought, the other two being Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. However, the concept of buddha-nature reached its apogee not in India but in East Asia and Tibet where it became a cornerstone for Buddhist philosophy and religious practice. In Tibet, in particular, this concept was treated diversely by many scholars, all of whom were ambitious to fit it into the philosophical framework of their own respective schools. Rong-ston Shes-bya kun-rig (1367–1449) of the Sa-skya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism figures among the most influential of these scholars. In general, his commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāga, the main Indian śāstra on buddha-nature, and in particular, a translation of his exposition of the subject by means of ten categories, will be the focus of this work.
In the first chapter I will introduce the doctrine of buddha-nature, giving a brief account of its sources and formation. The second chapter will deal with the main treatise on buddha-nature, the Ratnagotravibhāga. Here, I will present the text itself, discuss the question of its authorship, as well as its transmission in India and early reception in Tibet. This chapter will also include a brief overview of previous studies on the Ratnagotravibhāga and the doctrine of buddha-nature. The third chapter will be devoted to the author of our treatise and his presentation of the subject. The final and main part of the work will consist of an annotated translation of a selected passage of his abovementioned commentary.
Throughout this work I have used the transliteration system of Turrell Wylie for the Tibetan. (Bernert, introduction, 5–6 )
1. For example in AN I.v, 9: “This mind, O monks, is luminous! But it is defiled by adventitious defilements.” (After Mathes 2008: ix.) See also Takasaki 1966: 34–35.
2. A prevalent doxographical classification of Buddhist sūtras distinguishes between the so called “three turnings of the Dharma-wheel” (a concept introduced in the Sandhinirmocanasūtra). Scriptures of the first turning fundamentally discuss the four noble truths as expounded in Nikāya Buddhism which represents the common ground for all traditions and the basic framework for all Buddhist teachings. Sūtras from second turning emphasise the doctrine of emptiness (śūnyatā) as expounded in the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, and those of the third teach the about the three natures (trisvabhāva), the latter two being classified as belonging to the Mahāyāna corpus. The sūtras on buddha-nature are generally regarded as belonging to the third turning.
3. As Seyfort Ruegg (1969: 2) remarks, the language used in the tathāgatagarbha treatises differs noticeably from that of the other two schools, and even comes suspiciously close to that of the Vedānta. Indeed, a number of modern scholars have accused this doctrine to be alien to Buddhist thought, an accusion refuted by others. For a collection of articles on this topic see Hubbard and Swanson 1997.
Both Indian and Tibetan traditions struggled with the question of the ontological status of Buddha-nature. One finds indeed in some sūtras descriptions of Buddha-nature as permanent and pervading every sentient being, which are also characteristics ascribed by non-Buddhists to the Self (ātman). But if Buddha-nature were to be understood as a permanent entity akin to a Self, how could this teaching be compatible with the standard Buddhist doctrine that everything is impermanent and selfless?
Some Mahāyāna sūtras, such as the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, would offer support for the assimilation of Buddha-nature with a Self. The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra is quite explicit in associating the two notions, characterizing in particular the dharmakāya in terms of “perfection of Self” (ātmapāramitā), but warns about the confusion of the “correct” ātman, which is Buddha-nature, with ātman taken in its ordinary sense.1
RGV I.37 and RGVV also speak of the “perfection of Self” as an epithet of the dharmakāya, interpreting however this notion of “Self” (ātman) in the sense of selflessness (nairātmya) or quiescence of conceptual proliferations (prapañca), thus distinguishing Buddha-nature from the notion of a personal, permanent Self (ātman).2
Nevertheless, the RGV does not promote the doctrine of emptiness in the sense that everything is ultimately empty of intrinsic nature. Quite on the contrary, the RGV stresses the real existence of Buddha-nature, and proclaims the superiority of the Buddha-nature doctrine to the emptiness doctrine of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras.3
The RGV thus on the one hand distinguishes Buddha-nature from the disapproved view of a Self, while on the other hand it admits Buddha-nature as ultimately existent4—an ambiguous viewpoint, and a challenging one for its interpreters. . . .
The present paper deals with a selection of rṄog’s most significant views on the doctrine of Buddha-nature and considers some reactions to his interpretations in the works of his followers. Since the RGV commentaries attributed to two of rṄog’s "four main [spiritual] sons" (sras kyi thu bo bźi), Źaṅ Tshes spoṅ ba Chos kyi bla ma and Gro luṅ pa Blo gros byuṅ gnas,19 as yet remain to be found,20 we will concentrate on the next-earliest available work, a commentary by Phywa pa Chos kyi seṅ ge (1109–1169).21 (Kano, introduction, 249–55)
1. The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra equates ātman with Buddha-nature (see P 788 tu 105b5 [≈T vol. 12, 407b; 883b]: bdag ces bya ba ni de bźin gśegs paʼi sñiṅ poʼi don to //) and characterizes the dharmakāya (that is, the resultant aspect of Buddha-nature; see below [i]) in terms of “perfection of permanence” (nityapāramitā), “perfection of bliss” (sukhapāramitā), “perfection of Self (ātmapāramitā), and “perfection of purity” (śubhapāramitā) (see P 788 tu 33b3–34a2 [≈T vol. 12, 377c-378a; 862b]).
2. RGVV 31, 13–16: tathāgatas tua punar yathābhūtajñānena sarvadharmanairātmyaparapāramiprāptaḥb / tac cāsya nairātmyam anātmalakṣaṇena yathādarśanam avisaṃvāditatvātc sarvakālam ātmābhipreto nairātmyam evātmetid kṛtvā / yathoktaṃ sthito ʼsthānayogeneti /
(a Schmithausen [1971: 143] corrected tathāgataḥ to tathāgatas tu; b Johnston xvi; c Schmithausen [1971: 143] corrected avisaṃvāditvāt to avisaṃvāditatvāt;d Schmithausen [1971: 143] corrected evātmani to evātmeti)
RGVV 32,9–10: prajñāpāramitābhāvanayākāśopamasattvabhājanalokanairātmya- niṣṭhāgamanād.
See also RGVV 33,8–10: tām eva cāvidyāvāsabhūmiṃ pratītya sūkṣmanimittaprapañca- samudācārayogād atyantam anabhisaṃskārām ātmapāramitāṃ nādhigacchanti.
Schmithausen (1971: 143–144 and 1973: 135) links this sentence to the Madhyamaka view. For instance, the Madhyamakahṛdaya (III.284cd) similarly defines dharmakāya as quiescence of conceptual proliferations (buddhānāṃ dharmakāyo ʼyaṃ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ).
3. The alternative title of the RGV, mahāyānottaratantra “supreme doctrine of the Mahāyāna," hints to the superiority of the Buddha-nature doctrine to the emptiness doctrine. Cf. RGV I.160: pūrvam evaṃ vyavasthāpya tantre punar ihottare / pañcadoṣaprahāṇāya dhātvastitvaṃ prakāśitam /
4. Cf. RGV I.53, I.165; RGVV 2,11–13.
19. The other two are Khyuṅ rin chen grags and ʼBre śes rab ʼbar. Cf. bKaʼ gdams chos ʼbyuṅ gsal baʼi sgron me, 151.
20. Both A khu Chiṅ Śes rab rgya mtsho and gŹon nu dpal ascribe RGV commentaries to these two authors. (Cf. respectively Tho yig, nos. 11333 and 11339, and rGyud bla me loṅ, 4,23, 574,5.) gŹon nu dpal also lists RGV commentaries by Chos kyi bla ma’s disciple Ñaṅ braṅ pa Chos kyi ye śes (12th century); Phywa pa’s disciple gTsaṅ nag pa brTson ʼgrus seṅ ge (12th century); and Dan ʼbag sMra baʼi seṅ ge (12th century). See gŹon nu dpal, rGyud bla me loṅ, 4,23–24. A khu Chiṅ Śes rab rgya mtsho most likely copied gŹon nu dpal’s references (see Tho yig nos. 11331, 11334, 11335).
Second only to the famous Rin chen bzang po (958–1055) in receiving the title of a "Great Translator" (lo chen) during the period of the "Later Propagation" (phyi dar) of Buddhism in Tibet, rNgog lo tsā ba Blo ldan shes rab (or rNgog lo) was one of the most influential figures in the establishment of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism. After having devoted seventeen years of his life to the study of Sanskrit under scholars in Kashmir, India and Nepal, he became renowned for his more than fifty painstaking translations and revisions of Buddhist scriptures. Apart from being the foremost Tibetan translator of works on Buddhist logic and epistemology (Pramāṇa), rNgog lo’s activities as a commentator and teacher are regarded as fundamental for the later development of this field of learning in Tibet, and his tradition came to be well-known in Tibetan literature as the "rNgog tradition" (rngog lugs). This book presents a detailed examination of rNgog lo's life based on the available Tibetan accounts, including his biography (rnam thar) written by Gro lung pa Blo gros 'byung gnas (fl. late 11th to 12th c.). Annotated translations of great parts from the latter work (one of the earliest surviving examples of the rnam thar genre, possibly unique regarding its complicated and elegant style) are included in the book. rNgog lo's oeuvre as a translator and writer is dealt with in detail, making the book an important source on this hitherto little studied scholar and his tradition. (Source Accessed July 24, 2020)
Philosophical positions of this person
"...both Ngok and Chapa argue that sentient beings do not have tathāgata-essence on the basis of the first reason because they do not have the purified enlightened body of a buddha, rather they have the potential to achieve an enlightened state. However, they agree that sentient beings have the tathāgata-essence from the perspective of the second reason, which is that such-ness is indivisible or nondual. As Ngok states, 'That both a tathāgata and ordinary beings have tathāgata-essence is actually the case.' The first reason is true only for enlightened beings, but only designated for ordinary beings; the second reason applies to both enlightened beings and sentient beings. Therefore, the two Kadam masters argue that sentient beings do not have the tathāgata-essence from the perspective of either the first reason of the resultant essence or the third reason of the causal essence. Rather it is the second reason that becomes the central point for establishing the link between enlightenment and sentient beings. It is the middle reason that shows that sentient beings and tathāgatas are the same in their ultimate nature. In other words, the only thing that sentient beings have in common with enlightened beings is the ultimate nature of their minds."
Wangchuk, Tsering, The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows, pp. 17-18.
"rNgog considers the RGV to be a Madhyamaka work, and hence its teaching to be definitive. His position is made clear in the introductory passage of the rGyud bla don bsdus, where RGV is identified as a treatise that explains sūtras of definitive meaning (nītārtha), whereas the other four treatises of Maitreya (i.e. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Madhyāntavibhāga, and Dharmadharmatāvibhāga) are listed as treatises that explain sutras of provisional meaning (neyārtha)." Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, p. 249.
"These two traditions of rngog and btsan were respectively called the "analytical tradition" (thos bsam gyi lugs) and "meditative tradition" (sgom lugs)."Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, p. 242.
- རྔོག་ལོ་ཙཱ་བ་ · other names (Tibetan)
- ལོ་ཆེན་བློ་ལྡན་ཤེས་རབ་ · other names (Tibetan)
- rngog lo tsA ba · other names (Wylie)
- lo chen blo ldan shes rab · other names (Wylie)
- blo ldan shes rab · other names (Wylie)
- Ngok Lotsāwa · other names
- Ngok Loden Sherab · other names
- Lochen Loden Sherab · other names
- Loden Sherab · other names
Affiliations & relations
- rngog legs pa'i shes rab · familial relation
- Kadam · religious affiliation
- Rin chen bzang po · teacher
- Sajjana · teacher
- Parahitabhadra · teacher
- shes rab 'bar · student
- gro lung pa blo gros 'byung gnas · student
- Zhang tshe spong chos kyi bla ma · student
- rin chen nam mkha' rdo rje · student
- rin chen grags · student