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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 Geluk-dominated Tibetan government. In 1865, when a central Tibetan army occupied Dergé in the wake of a long and bloody war in the area, he saved Palpung from destruction and/or Geluk appropriation through a sort of “medi- cal diplomacy” by curing an important Gelukpa monk of a life-threatening disease. Although he lived out his life in more peaceful circumstances after the war, Kongtrul was deeply affected by the political and religious conflict that shad- owed his early and middle years, and a keynote of his intellectual and spiritual activity was the attempt to transcend the sectarian divisions that bedeviled him and so many of his compatriots. Toward this end, he collaborated over many years with several younger lamas from Kham—above all Jamyang Khyentse (1820–1892), a master equally learned in Nyingma and Sakya traditions, but also with the Nyingma treasure revealer Chogyur Lingpa (1829–1870), the great Nyingma philosopher Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912), and others. He and his colleagues exchanged teachings and ini- tiations, collected rare texts, and revived important Buddhist practice traditions, regardless of origin. They placed spe- cial emphasis on careful study of Indian Buddhist classics, preservation of revealed treasure traditions, and revival of the controversial zhentong (extrinsic emptiness) approach to explaining the true nature of buddhahood. The outlook forged by Kongtrul and his colleagues came to be known as Rimé (Ris med), meaning “nonsec- tarian,” “impartial,” or “many-sided.” Its fundamental tenet was that there was value in all the different Buddhist traditions of theory and practice that had arisen in India and Tibet, and that each was worthy of preservation, study, and exposition. In Western terms, the Rimé viewpoint was ecumenical and inclusive. It was not, however, eclectic or synthetic: no one was asked to aban- don their own tradition or practice a mishmash of traditions, nor was any attempt made to forge one overarching super-tradition like the Geluk. Thus, Rimé was not a new school of Tibetan Buddhism so much as an unofficial con- federation of masters who continued to follow (and even prefer) their own dis- tinct traditions, while also appreciating the practices of other schools and accen- tuating the similarities among them all, rather than the differences. Kongtrul stands apart from his Rimé colleagues for his encyclopedic learn- ing, his ceaseless spiritual and temporal activity over many decades, and, above all, his literary productivity. With a corpus that exceeds ninety volumes, he is among the most prolific of all Tibetan authors. His work is divided into five “Treasuries”: The Treasury of Knowledge; The Treasury of Kagyu Mantras, a collection of lesser-known tantric teachings from the Nyingma and Kagyu, including those of Marpa’s dis- ciple Ngoktön; The Jewel Treasury, an anthology of texts related to Nyingma and other terma traditions; The Trea- sury of Instructions, a systematic pre- sentation of the key practice teachings transmitted by all the major Tibetan tra- ditions; and The Uncommon Treasury, a miscellany that includes important REVIEWS texts on philosophy, tantric practice, and Mahamudra, as well as Kongtrul’s autobiography, which has been ably translated into English by Richard Bar- ron (Snow Lion Publications, 2003). Kongtrul’s works have deeply influ- enced modern Kagyu and Nyingma thought and practice, and The Treasury of Knowledge is the most influential of all. It is not actually a single work but a set of root verses—The Encompass- ment of All Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab)—to which Kongtrul added his own commentary, The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge (Shes bya mtha’ yas rgya mtsho). The text is divided into ten books of uneven length, which cover, respectively: Buddhist cosmology (trans- lated in Myriad Worlds); the life of the Buddha; the Buddha’s doctrine; the spread of Buddhism (all three translated in Buddhism’s Journey to Tibet); the pra- timoksa, bodhisattva, and tantric vows (translated in Buddhist Ethics); the Bud- dhist scholastic curriculum (translated in Indo-Tibetan Classical Learning and Buddhist Phenomenology, Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy, and Systems of Buddhist Tantra); training in wisdom (translated in Foundations of Buddhist Study and Practice); training in concen- tration (translated in Foundations of Buddhist Study and Practice, The Ele- ments of Tantric Practice, and Esoteric Instructions); the paths and grounds leading to awakening; and the fruition of the paths and the enlightened state (both translated in Journey and Goal). In the spirit of Rimé, Kongtrul pre- sents a wide range of Indian and Tibetan doctrines and practices, including the perspectives of all the Buddhist vehi- cles—and of some non-Buddhist schools and sciences, as well. At the same time, the way he has organized the various books—moving from foundational to more advanced perspectives—makes it clear that he considers zhentong the supreme view, Vajrayana the supreme vehicle, and Dzogchen and Mahamudra the supreme practices. While reflecting positively on many different approaches