Klaus-Dieter Mathes: "Do the Nonconceptual Yogic Experiences in Kālacakra Lend Support to Jonang gzhan stong?"

Thursday May 18th 2023, 6:30 - 8:00PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies
Stanford East Asian Library, Rm 224

The Jonangpas’ gzhan stong (“empty of other”) position is mainly criticized for presenting too ontological, and to some extent provocative, descriptions of  ultimate truth. However, it is often overlooked that the Jonangpas take the numerous positive descriptions in both sūtric and tantric material as experiential terms that try to communicate verbally what is ineffable and beyond mental elaboration (prapañca). This is clear from how the the crucial Kālacakra term “reflection of emptiness” (śūnyatābimba: stong nyid gzugs brnyan) is taken, namely in the sense of nonconceptual yogic experiences of ultimate dharmatā. As such, it is beyond the conceptually constructed duality of a perceived object and perceiving subject, and has been compared to the magical reflection which a young virgin sees in a divinatory mirror. Seen as it is only through Tathāgata eyes (special eyes of flesh, the divine eye, Buddha eye, prajñā eye, or jñāna eye), the śūnyatābimba is highly unusual, similar to a reflection foreshadowing, as it were, immanent realization.

The talk mainly draws on selected passages from the Śrīlaghukālacakratantra and the Vimalaprabhā, which contain extensive interlinear glosses by Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan (1292-1361) and his disciple Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1306-1386). A further important source is the locus classicus for the śūnyatābimba, the “Explanation of the Ornament of Luminosity” (’Od gsal rgyan gyi bshad pa) by another disciple of Dol po pa, Nya dbon Kun dga’ dpal (1285-1379).

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Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes is the Head of the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna. His current research deals with “emptiness of other” (gzhan stong) in the early Jonang tradition. He obtained a Ph.D. from Marburg University (Germany) with a translation and study of the Yogācāra text Dharmadharmatā­vibhāga (published in 1996 in the series Indica et Tibetica). His habilitation thesis was published by Wisdom Publications under the title A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa´s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga (Boston: 2008), and his latest work, Maitrīpa: India’s Yogi of Nondual Bliss (Boulder 2021), was published by Shambhala Publications in the series Lives of the Masters. He is also a regular contributor to the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.