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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 71 › teachings of the Nyingma tradition are a main venue for shentong language, replete with references to “primordial purity,” “intrinsic awareness,” and the like, which are asserted to be character- istics of the ultimate. Likewise, tantric teachings on immediate enlightenment, drawing on the Yogacara philosophy of the tathagatagharba, or buddhana- ture, also presuppose a notion of innate buddhahood replete with positive characteristics. In contrast is the more common Madhyamaka view known as rangtong (“self-empty”), which argues that ultimate reality has no characteris- tics whatsoever; rangtong language will only describe ultimate reality in terms of what it is not. Rangtong is the position of the dominant tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Geluk, and is held by most Sakya and Kagyu lamas as well. Jamgon Kongtrul, perhaps more than any other master in Tibetan history, exposed himself to as wide a range of teachings and practices as were avail- able to him. But in reading Kongtrul’s works, we find two remarkable things: not only that he respected all the teach- ings that he encountered, seeing in them valid means to pursue the Buddhist (and Bön) goals, but also, at the same time, that he clearly advocated for his own particular view and practice. For him, Dzogchen and shentong were the defini- tive teachings. Kongtrul’s institutional identities, and his doctrinal and ritual allegiances, were the things that allowed him to tra- verse the path. They were the ground on which he walked as he surveyed the religious landscape with his expansive vision. It is this that makes him such a model for contemporary practitioners, who face an even more varied landscape than he did. Like Kongtrul before us, we need not fear partiality toward our own tradition or view as long as we remem- ber that everything to which we adhere and for which we advocate is just as provisional as that of the next person. Traditions matter, as do institutions; these are the things that preserve and support our practice.