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The Jonang (Tibetan: ཇོ་ནང་, Wylie: Jo-nang) is one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins in Tibet can be traced to early 12th century master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, but became much wider known with the help of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, a monk originally trained in the Sakya school. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century at the hands of the 5th Dalai Lama, who forcibly annexed the Jonang gompas (Tibetan-style monasteries) to his Gelug school, declaring them heretical.
The Jonang re-established their religio-political center in Golok, Nakhi and Mongol areas of Kham and Amdo with the school's seat (Wylie: gdan sa) at Dzamtang Tsangwa (Tibetan: ཛམ་ཐང་གཙང་བ།) dzong and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. An estimated 5000 monks and nuns of the Jonang tradition practice today in these areas and at the edges of historic Gelug influence. However, their teachings were limited to these regions until the Rimé movement of the 19th century encouraged the study of non-Gelug schools of thought and practice.
The monk Künpang Tukjé Tsöndrü (Wylie: kun spangs thugs rje brtson 'grus, 1243-1313) established a kumbum or stupa-vihara in the Jomonang Valley about 160 kilometres (99 mi) northwest of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Ü-Tsang (modern Shigatse). The Jonang tradition took its name from this monastery, which was significantly expanded by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361).
The Jonang tradition combines two specific teachings, what has come to be known as the shentong philosophy of śūnyatā, and the Dro lineage of the Kalachakra Tantra. The origin of this combination in Tibet is traced to the master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, an 11th/12th century pupil of the Kashmiri master Somanatha.
After several centuries of independence, however, in the late 17th century the Jonang order and its teachings came under attack by the 5th Dalai Lama, who converted the majority of their monasteries in Tibet to the Gelug order, although several survived in secret. The order remained in power in parts of Kham and Amdo centered on Dzamthang Monastery.
The Jonang school generated a number of renowned Buddhist scholars, like Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, but its most famous was Taranatha (1575–1634), who placed great emphasis on the Kalachakra Tantra.
After the Jonang monasteries and practitioners in Gelug-controlled regions were forcibly converted, Jonang Kalachakra teachings were absorbed into the Gelug school. Taranatha's influence on Gelug thinking continues even to this day in the teaching of the present 14th Dalai Lama, who actively promotes initiation into Kalachakra.
According to Dolpopa:
While the Gelugpa embraced the Jonang teaching on the Kalachakra, they ultimately opposed the Jonangpa (followers of the Jonang) over a difference in philosophical view. Yumo Mikyo Dorje, Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen and subsequent lamas maintained shentong teachings, which hold that only the clear-light, non-dual nature of the mind is real and everything else is empty of inherent existence. The Gelug school held the distinct but related rangtong view that all phenomena are empty (of inherent existence) and no thing or process (including Mind and its qualities) may be asserted as independent or inherently real (neither may phenomena be asserted as "unreal".
For the Jonangpas, the emptiness of ultimate reality should not be characterized in the same way as the emptiness of apparent phenomena because it is prabhāsvara-saṃtāna, or "clear light mental continuum," endowed with limitless Buddha qualities. It is empty of all that is false, not empty of the limitless Buddha qualities that are its innate nature.
Modern historians have identified two other reasons which more likely led the Gelugpa to suppress the Jonangpa. First, the Jonangpa had political ties that were very vexing to the Gelugpa. The Jonang school, along with the Kagyu, were historical allies with the powerful house of Tsangpa, which was vying with the Dalai Lama and the Gelug school for control of Central Tibet. This was bad enough, but soon after the death of Taranatha, an even more ominous event occurred. Taranatha's tulku was discovered to be a young boy named Zanabazar, the son of Tüsheet Khan, Prince of Central Khalkha. Tüsheet Khan and his son were of Borjigin lineage (the imperial clan of Genghis Khan and his successors), meaning they had the birth authority to become khagan. When the young boy was declared the spiritual leader of all of Mongolia, suddenly the Gelugpa were faced with the possibility of war with the former military superpower of Asia. While the Mongol Empire was long past its zenith, this was nonetheless a frightening prospect and the Dalai Lama sought the first possible moment of Mongol distraction to take control of the Jonangpa monasteries.
The 14th Dalai Lama confirmed this view in Glenn Mullin's The Fourteen Dalai Lamas:
After peace had been restored, the Fifth Dalai Lama closed thirteen [Kagyudpa] monasteries that had actively supported the uprising, including the prestigious Jonangpa monastery. The sects and institutions associated with these monasteries cried foul, and accused the Dalai Lama of sectarianism. Tibetans have a long memory, and this accusation still stands within certain circles.
I once asked the present Dalai Lama about this. He replied "These monasteries were closed for political reasons, not religious ones, and their closing had nothing to do with sectarianism. They had supported the Tsangpa king in the uprising, thus committing treason. The Great Fifth believed that they should be closed in order to insure the future stability of the (Tibetan) nation, and to dissuade other monasteries from engaging in warfare. [...] The fact is that the Great Fifth passed laws outlawing sectarian skirmishes, and passed laws ensuring the freedom of religion. This freedom was extended to not only the Buddhist schools, but also to the non-Buddhist ones. For example, he kept a Bonpo lama in his entourage to speak for the interests of the Bon movement. And on a personal level, he himself practiced so many non-Gelukpa lineages that the Gelukpas criticized him for straying from his roots."
The writings of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and even those of Sakya proponents of zhentong were sealed and banned from publication and study and that Jonangpa monastics were forcibly converted to the Gelug lineage.
The Jonangpa were until recently thought to be an extinct heretical sect. Thus, Tibetologists were astonished when fieldwork turned up several active Jonangpa monasteries, including the main monastery, Tsangwa, located in Zamtang County, Sichuan. Almost 40 monasteries, comprising about 5000 monks, have subsequently been found, including some in the Amdo Tibetan and rGyalgrong areas of Qinghai, Sichuan and Tibet.
One of the primary supporters of the Jonang lineage in exile has been the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa lineage. The Dalai Lama donated buildings in Himachal Pradesh state in Shimla, India for use as a Jonang monastery (now known as the Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery) and has visited during one of his recent teaching tours. The Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage has also visited there.
The Jonang tradition has recently officially registered with the Tibetan Government in exile to be recognized as the fifth living Buddhist tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The 14th Dalai Lama assigned Jebtsundamba Khutuktu of Mongolia (who is considered to be an incarnation of Taranatha) as the leader of the Jonang tradition.
Much of the literature of the Jonang has also survived, including the Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix by Dolpopa, consisting of arguments (all supported by quotations taken from the generally accepted orthodox canonical ) against "self-emptiness" and in favor of "other-emptiness", which has been published in English translation under the title Mountain Doctrine.