"Emptiness of Other" (gZhan stong) in the Early Jo nang Tradition.

01.04.2019 - 31.03.2024

Project lead: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

FWF, P32016


  • Filippo Brambilla
  • Konchok Tamphel

Although Buddhism was first actively promulgated in Tibet during the 7th century, it was only after the late 10th century, with its second dissemination, that new translations of canonical literature and different lineages of interpretation and practice led to the formation of distinct schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Among these, the Jo nang, established by Dol po pa (1292-1361) in the 14th century, has been attracting increasing interest, both popular and academic, in recent decades. However, research on its main texts and doctrines remains meager in comparison with the relative profusion of work on the other major Tibetan Buddhist schools. This gap becomes most evident when seeking to appreciate the nuanced positions advanced by different Jo nang scholars against the backdrop of the philosophical evolution of their tradition during the last seven centuries. Moreover, unlike contemporary studies of other traditions, most of the available research on the Jo nang has been carried with only minimal direct contact with its living representatives and its views have often been portrayed through the lens of another school's polemics.

Our project aims at providing a more comprehensive picture of the formative doctrinal development of this school by showing how its doctrine was established by its founder and systematized by his disciples during the 14th and 15th centuries. We will focus on the distinctive ways in which Dol po pa defines an ever-present buddha nature, the ultimate true essence of all beings, as 'empty of other,' that is, as definitely empty of the object of the relative distorted cognition of the ordinary mind. Since Dol po pa grounds this theory in his unique interpretation and merging of sutric and tantric treatises, relating respectively to the two main exoteric and esoteric strains of Buddhist thought, it will be necessary to examine both perspectives in some detail. In this regard, since recent scholarship has considered the Jo nang doctrine mainly with reference to exoteric sources, one of the main goals of our research will be to shed light on its esoteric basis. In addition to the relevant writings of Dol po pa, we intend to examine the most significant works of his direct disciples to determine how the Jo nang first established itself as a distinct tradition and to consider whether internal debate may have contributed to such evolution.

Works by the designated authors will be selected on the basis of notable originality and influence, and critically edited and translated according to methods of classical philology. Moreover, building on our previous fieldwork in Asia, we will endeavor to supplement the understanding gained from a purely text­based study with the knowledge and insight provided by a well-established network of contacts with traditional scholars in Tibet, India, and Nepal.