This landmark book discusses the thought of Tibetan Buddhist thinker Shakya Chokden (1428-1507) on the two major systems of Mahayana Buddhism. Influential and controversial in his own day, Shakya Chokden's thought fell out of favor over time and his writings were eventually repressed, becoming available again only in the 1970s. Yet, his startling interpretations of the core areas of Buddhist thought remain valuable and well worth consideration today. Yaroslav Komarovski has used the twenty-four volumes of Shakya Chokden's collected work to provide a systematic presentation of a central aspect of his thought: a reconciliation of Yogacara and Madhyamaka. Providing a detailed analysis of the two systems' mutual refutations of each other, Shakya Chokden argues for their fundamental compatibility and shared vision.
In analyzing Shakya Chokden's ideas, Komarovski explores some of the most important issues of both traditional and modern Buddhist scholarship, including contested approaches to the nature of reality, the relationship between philosophy and contemplative practice, inter- and intrasectarian Buddhist polemics, and the nature of consciousness and mental processes.
During the long history of growth, transformation, and spread of Buddhist traditions across various cultures of Asia, their followers developed a wide variety of world views, contemplative techniques, and ritual practices. Of special interest are the diversity of Buddhist ideas about reality and the methods of incorporating those ideas in contemplative practice. For centuries Buddhists have been exploring and contesting such fundamental issues as the nature of reality, the means of accessing it, the connection between its intellectual under- standing and direct realization, the ways of its articulation, and the relationship between its realization and other elements of Buddhist thought and practice.
As Buddhism grew and diversified, Buddhists articulated mul- tiple theories of reality and the contemplative techniques intended to achieve its realization. Those theories saturate the voluminous philo- sophical and contemplative literature that originated in South Asia and was later translated into Chinese, Tibetan, and other languages. They also playa crucial role in numerous systems and traditions that have continuously been evolving in Buddhist cultures until the present day. In contrast to early followers of the Buddha, subsequent generations of Buddhist thinkers faced the additional problem of organizing the theories of reality inherited from their predecessors, selectively matching them with the views of specific traditions, lineages, and schools with which they increasingly came to identify themselves. As a result, in the growing and expanding Buddhist world, the questions of accessing, realizing, and articulating reality were rarely limited to the philosophical, contemplative, or soteriological dimensions of Buddhism. In the Tibetan cultural area-as well as elsewhere-they came to be intricately linked with such issues as sectarian identity, faithfulness to one's lineage, and the struggle for power in religious and political spheres.
The process of organizing, interpreting, transforming, and refining the Mahayana systems of thought and practice inherited by Tibetans from their Indian predecessors played a crucial role in the formation of the distinctively Tibetan form of Buddhism. This process started during the last centuries of the first millennium, and gained momentum during the first half of the second. By the fifteenth century, Tibetan thinkers were almost universally addressing the questions of the nature of reality and its realization in terms of Yogacara (rnal'byor spyod pa, Yogic Practice), Madhyamaka (dbu ma, Middle), and several tantric systems of Mahayana Buddhism. The general tendency was to valorize Madhyamaka, showing its superiority over Yogacara while retaining epistemological ideas developed by Yogacara thinkers and matching the Madhyamaka view of reality with that of Buddhist tantras that came to be unquestionably treated as the highest teach- ings of the Buddha. By the fifteenth century, many Tibetan traditions had produced distinctive interpretive approaches to reality that came to be accepted as standard. Challenging those positions, or articulating views that appeared to run contrary to them, was tantamount to challenging the very traditions that produced those positions and consequently enmeshing oneself in inter- and intrasectarian controversies. Nevertheless, one would also hear powerful alternative voices whose messages were clearly received by contemporaries, and whose echoes are still resounding today.
This book brings back to light one such voice-that of the seminal Tibetan thinker Serdok Pen chen Shakya Chokden' (gser mdog pan chen shiikya mchog ldan, 1428-1507), a thinker who occupies a special place in the intellectual history of Mahayana Buddhism. Working during one of the most formative but least explored periods in Tibetan history, he was deeply involved in the inter- and intrasectarian polemics of his time, and articulated a startlingly new reconsideration of the core areas of Buddhist thought and practice, in particular Yogacara and Madhyamaka.
While this study focuses on Shakya Chokden's unique interpretation of the nature and relationship of Yogacara and Madhyamaka, it goes beyond that. Shakya Chokden's thought provides an invaluable base to challenge and expand our understanding of such seminal topics as epistemology, contemplative practice, the relationship between intellectual study and meditative experience, and other key questions that occupy contemporary scholarship on Buddhism and religion in general. The interpretive strategies he offers are particularly valuable when applied to rival positions on reality and its contemplation held by Buddhist thinkers.' Exploring his ideas in the context of these and related topics, this study seeks to enrich our understanding of the religious life of fifteenth-century Tibet, as well as several intellectual developments in Buddhism spanning more than fifteen centuries and culminating in transformations of Tibetan religious thought during the past two centuries.
Although Shakya Chokden was one of the most influential fifteenth-century scholars of the Sakya (sa skya) tradition, his works were largely neglected by later generations of Tibetan thinkers. This was caused by a number of factors, such as his controversial questioning of the views of Sakya Pendita Kunga Gyeltsen (sa skya pandita kun dga'rgyal mtshan, 1182-1251), the supreme authority of the Sakya tradition; his support of the views of other-emptiness (gzhan stong) that was rejected by the mainstream Sakya thinkers who saw those views as contradicting the views of self-emptiness (rang stong) they advocated; and his severe criticism of the views of Tsongkhapa Lopzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419), the "founder" of the Geluk (dge lugs) tradition that eventually became the "government religion" in Central Tibet. Despite the fact that Shakya Chokden was clearly producing sophisticated original work and commentaries, within his own Sakya tradition he was not held in the same high esteem as his contemporary and rival, Gowo Rapjampa Sonarn Sengge (go bo rab 'byams pa bsod nams seng ge, also known as Gorampa, go rams pa 1429-1489). Gorampa's views were more consonant with those of the Sakya mainstream, and he eventually became the most influential Sakya philosopher. His works-unlike those of Shakya Chokden- still comprise an important part of the curricula in Sakya monastic institutions.' It also appears that Shaky a Chokden's attacks on Geluk literally sealed the fate of his writings: according to some accounts, in the seventeenth century, powerful Geluk supporters sealed the printery where the blocks for his works were kept, and confiscated copies of his writings.' Shakya Chokden's works were largely unavailable until recent times, and it was not until 1975 that his collected works in twenty-four volumes were published by Kunzang Tobgey in Thimphu, Bhutan." As a result of those events, Shakya Chokden still occupies a controversial position in the Tibetan Buddhist world in general and the Sakya tradition in particular.
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