Tsongkhapa: the legacy of Tibet's great philosopher-saint

(ed.)
New York: Wisdom Publications (2024)
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Abstract

This volume is the product of an important recent conference, convened by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, focusing on the intellectual legacy of the Tibetan philosopher, yogi, and saint Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). Entitled "Jé Tsongkhapa: Life, Thought, and Legacy," the conference commemorated the sixth hundredth anniversary of Tsongkhapa's passing and was held on December 21-23, 2019, at Ganden Monastery in Mundgod, India. Part 1 concerns Madhyamaka, a natural reflection of the very important and well-known contributions Tsongkhapa made to the study of Indian philosophical thought. The first essay, Guy Newland's "Start Making Sense: Finding Tsongkhapa's Middle Way," provides a straightforward and clear introduction to Tsongkhapa's interpretation of Madhyamaka philosophy, showing how Tsongkhapa played an essential role in clarifying Candrakīrti's contributions to Madhyamaka thought. The second essay, "Celebrating Jé Tsongkhapa: The Twofold Object of the Identity View" by Dr. Dechen Rochard explores Tsongkhapa's understanding of Candrakīrti's negation of individual identity. The essay neatly demonstrates the centrality of the practitioner's view of self to the path to spiritual awakening. In the third chapter, "Thinking Beyond Thought: Tsongkhapa and Mipham on the Conceptualized Ultimate," Jay L. Garfield explores Tsongkhapa's views on the nature of ultimate reality, specifically Tsongkhapa's argument that this entails a movement from inferential to direct awareness of emptiness. The essay explores the need for accurate philosophical analysis in the context of meditation practice so as to directly realize the truths about the nature of self and reality that are the objects of the practice. It thus nicely points to the integration of Buddhist theory and practice. The second section of this volume is dedicated to Tsongkhapa's writings on the tantras. In the first chapter in this section, "Tsongkhapa's Masterful Exegesis of Cakrasaṃvara Tantra," I elucidate Tsongkhapa's approach to the study of tantric literature with a focus on his commentary on the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra. Chapter 6 is Gavin Kilty's contribution, "A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages: Tsongkhapa's Reformatory Work on Guhyasamāja Tantra." Kilty first surveys the Guhyasamāja tradition and its transmission to Tibet and the two main Indian exegetical traditions, the Ārya and J.ānapāda schools. Outlining Tsongkhapa's approach to the Guhyasamāja Tantra, he then focuses on how the tradition conceptualizes the generation-stage and completion-stage practices. Chapter 7, "The Shadow of Heshang: Tsongkhapa on Chan, Dzokchen, and Mahāmudrā" by Roger R. Jackson. Jackson explores the claim that Tsongkhapa received and secretly transmitted esoteric instructions on advanced meditation practices to realize the nature of mind and awakening. The volume concludes with a section entitled "Moving Minds," which explores Tsongkhapa's legacy and impact both in Tibet and beyond. It opens with "Jé Tsongkhapa's Contribution to Buddhist Hermeneutics" by Geshé Ngawang Samten. Buddhist hermeneutics, as understood here, is a response to the challenge posed by scriptures that appear to contradict one another. Chapter 9, "Tsongkhapa's Hermeneutics and the Perfection of Wisdom," contributed by Gareth Sparham, takes a more focused look at the interpretation of the Perfection of Wisdom literature in both India and Tibet. The tenth chapter is "Jé Tsongkhapa's Teachings and Translations in Mongolian" by Bataa Mishig-Ish, who surveys the dissemination of Tsongkhapa's oeuvre to Mongolia. The final chapter is BhikṣuṇīThubten Chodron's "Learning, Living, and Teaching Bodhicitta: Jé Tsongkhapa's Contribution to Spreading Compassion in the World." Venerable Chodron argues that Tsongkhapa's approach to teaching compassion is particularly suited for the modern, Western context. While this volume does not come close to exhausting the limits of what might be said concerning the impact of Tsongkhapa's work in Tibet and beyond, it does reunite contributions to this study that briefly converged in Preface xi Mundgod, India, just before the global pandemic ushered in a new awareness of our profound human interdependence. Hopefully these essays will advance the appreciation of Tsongkhapa's intellectual legacy in the wider English-speaking world, where he remains a little understood figure of Asian religious history, unlike in the Tibetan-speaking world, where his impact is justly celebrated.

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