Tāranātha's "Twenty-One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning"

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Tāranātha's "Twenty-One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning"
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Citation: Mathes, Klaus-Dieter. "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." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27, no. 2 (2004): 285–328. https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/jiabs/article/view/8952/2845.

Article Summary

For a short but brilliant analysis of the positions of Dol po pa and Śākya mchog Idan we are very much indebted to the Jonang master Tāranātha, who is considered to be a follower and proponent of Dol po pa's doctrine. In each of the Twenty-one Differences with regard to the Profound Meaning a fictive initial statement of Śākya mchog Idan is followed by a similarly fictive reply of Dol po pa, Tāranātha being, of course, well aware of the fact that this is all ahistorical.[1] To be sure, it is not possible to establish Śākya mchog ldan's or Dol po pa's views on the basis of this short text alone, but it does sharpen our awareness of the subtle aspects of gźan stoṅ when studying the bulky and often not very systematic works of these masters. Furthermore, critically evaluating these doctrinal differences against the background of pertinent Indian texts in such traditions as the Madhyamaka, Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha promises to be a second interesting task. Both are, however, beyond the scope of this paper. Such an evaluation will, however, be undertaken with regard to the different presentations of trisvabhāva as an example of how one might proceed.
      Tāranātha begins his somewhat delicate task of comparing the two masters Dol po pa and Śākya mchog ldan in a conciliating manner, by explaining that both supposedly see what is profound reality and hence should not have different thoughts about it. It is only in order to accommodate the different needs of their disciples that they enunciate variant views. Even though the essential gźan stoṅ view and meditation practices of both masters are the same, there are a lot of minor differences regarding tenets (grub mtha') that arise when formulating the view on the level of apparent truth.[2]
      The first four of the twenty-one points address differences in the exegesis of the Madhyamaka and Maitreya texts which are considered to be commentaries on the Buddha's intention underlying the second and third turnings of the "Wheel of the Dharma" (dharmacakra).[3] Points 5-8 embody Śākya mchog ldan's and Dol po pa's different understanding of non-dual wisdom. In points 9-16, their views on the trisvabhāva theory are distinguished. In a related topic, Tāranātha also elaborates the different understandings of self-awareness (point 11), entities and non-entities, and conditioned and unconditioned phenonema (all in point 13). Next, our attention is drawn to different ways of relating the four noble truths with the apparent and ultimate (point 17). The last four points deal with the two masters' views on the Buddha-nature. (Mathes, "Tāranātha's 'Twenty-One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning'," 294–95)

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  1. Taranatha: "Zab don ñer gcig pa", 792,1. 4.
  2. These remarks should not be taken too seriously, though. 'Ba' ra ba rGyal mtshan dpal bzaṅ (1310-1391) launches into his "Chos rje rnam gñis kyi dgoṅs bśad ñi ma'i 'od zer" (496-8) by stating, in a similar way, that Dol po pa and Bu ston (sic) are both omniscient and must see the same reality, but teach it in various ways with hidden intentions.
  3. The Indo-Tibetan exegetical traditions summarize the teachings of the Buddha in three circles or "[turnings of the] Wheel of the Dharma" (dharmacakra). See Mathes 1996: 155