Literary genre

If we want to discuss the genre of a Tibetan writing, we have to analyse both its contents and form. Formally, the dGongs gcig consists of brief pithy statements (not verses) of views concerning a great variety of topics. These statements are the condensed form of the tradition’s wisdom, and thus we may see these lines (respectively the text as such) as a sort of ‘pith instruction’ (man ngag, Skt. upadesha), or ‘guidance-instruction’ (khrid), or ‘authoritative basic text’ (gzhung).

Thematically, the dGongs gcig deals with a large number of topics, not unlike Sakya Pandita’s sDom gsum rab dbye (composed around 1232). By dividing the material into seven chapters, Sherab Jungne (see the first article of this blog on him) has offered his own thematic description: (1) the Buddha’s three turnings of the Dharma wheel, (2) dependent origination, (3) the vow systems of vinaya-pratimoksha, (4) of the bodhisattvas, and (5) of tantric adepts, (6) view, practice, and conduct, and (7) the result, i.e. the Buddha stage. Judging on the basis of these chapter descriptions, the dGongs gcig contains elements of a ‘system of tenets treatise’ (Skr. siddhanta, Tib. grub mtha’), of a ‘three vow treatise’ (sdom pa gsum gyi bstan bcos), and of a ‘stages of teachings treatise’ (bstan rim).

Traditional sources refer to the dGongs gcig as a khyad chos, a ‘special teaching,’ which in the Drikung tradition refers to collections of teachings not given to a public gathering (which would be called a tshogs chos), but in private.

Interestingly, Dorje Sherab’s Introduction (Khog dbub) discusses at some length the possibility of categorizing the dGongs gcig as a siddhanta. It refers to several instances where Jigten Gonpo and apparently also other teachers of the tradition refer to teachings found in the dGongs gcig as being a ‘system of tenets treatise’ or ‘siddhanta,’ albeit with a particular ironical twist, such as in the following statement:! ♦ 1

Virtue [is] natural virtue (gshis kyi dge ba): Due to being good ‘white’ [natural] virtue, a virtue that apprehends the characteristic ‘virtue’ will not become non-virtue. Non-virtue [is] natural non-virtue (gshis kyi mi dge ba): Due to being ‘black’ [natural] non-virtue, the non-virtue that apprehends the characteristic ‘non-virtue’ will not turn into virtue. This is my great sidhanta!

Dorje Sherab’s Introduction, in summing up such statements, says:

Thus to call it a ‘sidhanta’ is not a contradiction (grub mthar byas kyang ‘gal ba med).

On the other hand, the Introduction also makes clear that the dGongs gcig cannot be taken as a siddhanta in the common sense, because of Jigten Gonpo’s well known stance towards conceptual statements in general:! ♦ 2

May those who mistake the sidhanta, which is the Mara of the mind, as the Buddha’s intention, realise true reality and may their mindfulness be purified in itself.

And:! ♦ 3

The grasping [of that] which is free from the extremes of all prolifera- tion [of] ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ [is] the conceptuality (rtog pa) of sidhanta, the sphere of the [proliferating] mind (blo’i yul).


The truth is obscured by all of the sidhantas, whatever they are.”! ♦ 4

And, well known as a statement in the first chapter of the dGongs gcig itself (1.18.):

All upholders of tenets are traditionalists (…),”! ♦ 5

where I translate the Tibetan term rang rgyud pa here as “traditionalist,” trying to catch the sense of the definition found in Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary of this point, which is, in a nutshell,

… a person who, due to attachment to permanence or annihilation, forms a view that he grasps as ‘my tradition.’”! ♦ 6

I will return to this topic later, when I discuss the relation of the dGongs gcig with mahamudra. To sum up, Dorje Sherab’s Introduction offers the opinion that it would not be a contradiction to call the dGongs gcig a siddhanta, although in the special (ironically twisted) sense of not holding a view—not even if that view would be one of the ‘three great ones:’ namely maha-madhyamaka (dbu ma chen po), maha-mudra (phyag ryga chen po), or maha-ati (rdzogs pa chen po)! ♦ 7


1 Khog dbub 218 f.: nyid kyi zhal nas dge ba gshis kyi dge ba ste/ dge ba dkar pos dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pas’i dge ba me dge bar mi ‘gyur/ mi dge ba gshis kyi dge ba ste/ mi dge ba nag pos mi dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pa’i mi dge ba dge bar mi ‘gyur bya ba ‘di nga’i grub mtha’ chen mo yin gsungs pa dang /.

2 Khog dbub (p. 219): ‘jig rten mgon pos/ grub mtha’ blo yi mdud pa la// sangs rgyas dgongs par ‘khrul ba rnams// de nyid rtogs par gyur nas kyang // dran ‘dzin rang sar dag mdzad gsol//.

3 Khog dbub (p. 219 f.): yod med spros pa thams cad kyi// mtha’ dang bral ba’i ‘dzin pa yang // grub mtha’i rtog pa blo yi yul// blo yis byas kyang stong pa min//.

4 Khog dbub (220): bden pa ni grub pa’i mtha’ ji snyed pa thams cad kyis bsgribs pa yin.

5 Vajra statement 1.18: grub mtha’ ‘dzin pa thams cad rang rgyud pa.

6 Nyi ma snang ba 1.18: spyir ‘phags pa’i yul du phyi nang gnyis las phyi pa’i lta grub ni brjod ma dgos la/ nang la yang rtag chad kyi mtha’ la zhen pa’i ming grub mthar btags pas blo bsgyur ba’i gang zag so so rang rgyud la lta ba de ‘dra ba bdag gir ‘dzin pas rang rgyud pa zhes bya la/. This vajra statement describes the great dangers of being attached to an own view. The commentaries make clear that such attachment is also to be found among adherents of “our own tradition,” and their attitude is illustrated with Mahayanasutralamkara (11.29): “It is like defeating another illusionary [king]// through the illusionary [means] of an illusionary king.// [But] those bodhisattvas, who have [really] seen the Dharma,// are without pride.”

7 For not holding even madhyamaka, mahamudra, and rDzogs chen as a view, see dGongs gcig 6.8.: “[He maintained] a realisation that isn’t [even] reached by the Three Great Ones” (chen po gsum gyis ma reg pa’i rtogs par bzhed do). This point was taught because some upholders of madhyamaka, mahamudra, or rDzogs chen believed that their system surpassed the realisation of ‘true reality’ (dharmata) and ‘emptiness’ (shunyata). However, those who settle for a view that avoids extremes, or who grasp clarity and emptiness, etc., do “not even touch the accomplishment of the mind at all,” since the accomplishment of the mind is “beyond the mentally fabricated, free from an apprehending mode, and beyond the sphere of examples and words.” (These quotes are all from Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s comments on this point.)


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