The Jonang Teaching and Practice. Present State of a Tradition


Filippo Brambilla

  • Betreuung: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

The Jonang (jo nang) school of Tibetan Buddhism rose during the fourteenth century in central Tibet and developed in parallel with the transmission of the Dro ('bro) lineage of Kālacakra tantra and its practice, carried on in the light of a specific view of Buddha-nature. This principle, one's own enlightened essence, is indeed described through the shentong (gzhan stong; empty-of-other) view as devoid of everything "other" than its absolute nature. The Jonang tradition traces this interpretation back to Śākyamuni itself, basing it on a reclassification of the sūtra teachings and conferring to it the legitimacy required. However, in the middle seventeenth century, shentong became pretext for the fifth Dalai Lama to mask his political moves as religious conflicts, forcing the Jonang monasteries of the area to convert to the Gelug (dge lugs) tradition. Thanks to the foundation of many monasteries in Kham (khams) and Amdo (a mdo), already begun during the fourteenth century, the transmission of the Jonang teachings could survive this persecution and, according to the Jonang own version of their history, it continued without interruption from realized master to disciple.

The holders and practitioners of this lineage have been highly underestimated by the academic world and treated almost as "extinct" until a couple of decades ago, so that everything related to the Jonang further development in Eastern Tibet can now be considered of extreme interest.

The aim of this research project is to investigate how Jonang practices, and more specifically Kālacakra individual practices from the preliminaries (sngon 'gro) to the completion stage (rdzogs rim), are actually being taught to and carried on by monks and laypeople within their local context, whether they be Tibetan or Han 汉Chinese, considering their whole religious, social and cultural environment.

To reach these aims, the project will require both textual analysis and field research. Since the majority of the existent studies related to the Jonang school almost ignore its current situation, it is fundamental to relocate it among the living traditions. In doing this, the field research, meant as a direct contact with the actual masters and practitioners, must be the main instrument.