The Jonang Tradition of Kalachakra

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The Philosophical Basis of Kalachakra According to Jonangpa

According to the Jonang view of Dolpopa (1292-1361, the basis level and resultant level are identical. On basis level, we are all Buddhas on “the deepest level of our actual natures” (chos-nyid-kyi don-dam-pa’i sang-rgyas), with the Buddha Bodies, the unstained aggregates of Buddha-figures, and the complete good qualities of a Buddha, all on the deepest level of our actual natures. We are also all the Three Precious Gems on the deepest level of our actual natures: as Buddha-figures on this level, our minds are Buddha Gems, our speech Dharma Gems and our bodies Sangha Gems. But all of these are obscured and so not functioning now. They constitute our naturally abiding Buddha-natures (rang-bzhin gnas-rigs).

This deepest level of our actual natures is truly established: these qualities and so on have self-established natures in the sense that, as Maitreya said in The Furthest Everlasting Stream (Uttaratantra), they are “not realized under the circumstances of others.” They are eternal (meaning without beginning or end), unaffected by anything and, pervading everywhere as Djarmakaya, they “spontaneously accomplish all” (lhun-grub). Beyond words and concepts, this abiding nature is “other-voidness” – zhentong (gzhan-stong) – in the sense that all these deepest level factors are thoroughly established phenomena (yongs-grub) that are devoid of totally conceptional (kun-brtags) and dependent (gzhan-dbang, other-powered) phenomena. Dolpopa combines Chittamatra and Madhyamaka terminology here, redefining some of them, to make what he called “Maha-Madhyamaka.”

The combination of Chittamatra and Madhyamaka is not totally unique to Dolpopa. The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, also combined them. Dolpopa met the Third Karmpa and had a great deal of interchange with when he went and studied at Tsurpu Monastery – but again, slightly different interpretations.

On the path level, we work with our conventional bodies, speech and minds to remove the obscurations. These obscurations, as dependent phenomena, are self-void (rang-stong), which means they are devoid of any essence (any of the four extremes of existence, nonexistence, both or neither). As conventional truths, they are actually only what appears to the obscured mind of ignorance. They are actually not true at all. Only the pure phenomena that are the deepest level of our actual natures appear to the omniscient mind.

[See: Self-Voidness and Other-Voidness]

Illusory Body in Guhyasamaja and Devoid-Form Body in Kalachakra: Similarities and Differences According to Jonangpa

On the path, both illusory body (sgyu-lus) and devoid-form body (stong-gzugs) are the immediate causes for the attainment of the actual-nature deepest-level Form Bodies of a Buddha, which were present on the basis level all along. Advanced stages of the complete stage of anuttarayoga tantra entail practices with both types of bodies, and visualization of oneself in the form of a Buddha-figure on the generation stage is a cause for success in such practice. In father tantra such as Guhyasamaja, illusory body is attained through yogas of the energy-winds. It is attained during subsequent attainment periods (rjes-thob, post-meditation), when not totally absorbed on self-voidness or other-voidness. A devoid-form body is devoid in the sense of other-voidness –it is devoid of totally conceptional and dependent phenomena. It is the pathway cause for realizing our actual-nature deepest-level Form Bodies of a Buddha. It is attained during total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise) on other-voidness.

History of Transmitting the Kalachakra Tantra in the Jonang Tradition

Lineages of the Kalachakra Texts, Initiation and Sadhanas

Buddha taught Kalachakra to Shambhala King Suchandra, who compiled The Root Kalachakra Tantra and a commentary. Both were lost. The lineage of the root tantra passed down a line of six more Shambhala kings to Manjushri Yashas, the First Kalki Holder of the Castes, who wrote The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra. His son, the Second Kalki Pundarika wrote the Stainless Light commentary to it. Pundarika sent a Manjushri emanation to northern India, who revealed it to Cilupa, who gave it to Pindo who gave it to Kalachakrapada the Elder.

The 17th Kalki Shripala also revealed the tantra in a vision to Kalachakrapada the Elder. From Kalachakrapada the Elder, who combined these two lines, it went to Kalachakrapada the Younger who introduced it to Nalanda monastery. He passed this combined line to three disciples: Manjushrikirti, the Tangut translator Tsami Lotsawa and the Kashmiri Somanatha.

  • From Manjushrimitra, eventually the Rva lineage derived, which passed eventually to Buton.
  • From Tsami Lotsawa, the Tsami line derived, which eventually passed to the Third Karmapa and is the main one followed by the Rime movement, led by Jamgon Kongtrul and the Nyingma master Mipam.
  • Kashmiri Somanatha passed the lineage to four disciples: the main one being the translator Dro Lotsawa. The other three were Naropa, Abhayakaragupta and Anupama-sagara.

From Dro Lotsawa, the Dro lineage derived, which passed to Droton Namlatseg and from him to Yumo Mikyo Dorje, the founder of the Jonang school, in the early 12th century. The seventh lineage holder after him, Pagoe Yontan Gyatso, gave it to two disciples: Buton and Dolpopa.

Buton combined the Rva and Dro lineages and, from him, the Bu lineage derived. Buton passed it to Chokyipal, who gave it to two disciples: Tashi Rinchen, from whom it passed into the main Sakya line, and Tsongkhapa, from whom the Gelug lineage derived.

From Dolpopa, the Jonang lineage derived, although the Jonangpas consider the Dro lineage before Dolpopa as part of the Jonang lineage. From Dolpopa it passed along a Jonang lineage, the tenth of which, after Dolpopa, was Taranatha (1575-1635). It passed down to the present, preserved not only in the Jonang line, but also in the Shangpa Kagyu line of Kalu Rinpoche.

Lineages of the Six-Branch Yoga of the Kalachakra Complete Stage

The structure of the Kalachakra complete stage is made in terms of what’s called the "six-branch yoga" (rnal-‘byor yan-lag drug). We find that division into six with these names already in the Yoga Sutras in Indian philosophy, non-Buddhist philosophy. The audience for Kalachakra originally were Indians, and so a lot of the terminology that’s used in Kalachakra is borrowed from the vocabulary of the Samkhya-Yoga schools of Indian philosophy. Since the Samkhya-Yoga system has this six-branch structure, that terminology is used in Kalachakra, but with completely different meanings. The terminology of this six-branch yoga is found also in the Guhyasamaja system of anuttarayoga tantra with yet other practices they refer to.

The six-branch yoga of the Kalachakra stage has both far and near lineages. The far lineages (ring-lugs) passed from the 17th Kalki Shripala to Kalachakrapada the Elder and down from him through the Dro lineage, which as we have seen is also the Jonang lineage. This lineage also eventually passed to Buton and Tsongkhapa, and from them into Sakya and Gelug.

There are two near lineages (nye-lugs), which were received in visions from Vajradhara by two Indian masters: Anupamasagara and Shabari. These near lineages have been transmitted in the various Kagyu lineages and from them to Mipam in Nyingma. They were also eventually transmitted to Buton and Tsongkhapa. They do not seem to have been transmitted in the Jonang line.