Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen

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Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen[1] (Template:Bo-tw) (1292–1361),[2] known simply as Dölpopa, a Tibetan Buddhist master known as "The Buddha from Dölpo," a region in modern Nepal, who was the principal exponent of the shentong teachings, and an influential member of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.


Dölpopa was born in Dölpo. In 1309, when he was seventeen, he ran away from home to seek the Buddhist teachings, first in Mustang and then in Tibet.[3] In 1314, when he was twenty-two years old, Dölpopa received full monastic ordination from the famous abbot of Choelung Monastery, Sönam Trakpa (1273–1352), and made a vow at the time to never eat slaughtered meat again.[4]

In 1321, Dölpopa visited Jonang Monastery at Jomonang (which was later destroyed during the Cultural Revolution) for the first time. He then visited Tsurphu Monastery for the first time and had extensive discussions with Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama, about doctrinal issues. It appears that the Karmapa Lama almost certainly influenced the development of some of Dölpopa's theories, possibly including shentong.[5] Other than this, Dölpopa had studied almost completely under the Sakya tradition until he was thirty years old in 1322 and he had taught for most of the previous decade at the great Sakya Monastery.[6]

In 1327, after the death of his guru Yönden Gyantso, Dölpopa decided to fulfill a prayer he had made at the great stupa at Trophu (Khro phu) to repay his master's kindness. "He also felt that the stūpa would become an object of worship for people who were not fortunate enough to engage in study, contemplation, and meditation, and therefore provide them with the opportunity to accumulate virtue."[7]

In time, Dölpopa became one of the most influential and original yet controversial of Tibetan Buddhist teachers, systemizing Buddha-nature and Yogacara-Madhyamaka teachings in a teaching known as shentong (Template:Bo).

Dölpopa retired from the leadership of Jonang Monastery in 1338 and appointed the translator lotsawa Lödro Bal to succeed him. Lödro Bal remained in this role for seventeen years.[8]


According to Stearns, Template:Quote In line with the Buddha-nature teachings and the prevalent Yogacara-Madhyamaka synthesis, Dölpopa interpreted śūnyatā as twofold, distinguishing the conventional "emptiness of self-nature" (rangtong), and the ultimate "emptiness of other" (shentong), which is the clear nature of mind. Dölpopa taught that emptiness of self-nature applied only to relative truth, while emptiness of other is characteristic of ultimate truth, i.e. ultimate Reality is not empty of its own uncreated and deathless Truth, but only of what is impermanent and illusory.[9]

Dölpopa employed the term 'Self' or 'Soul' (atman) to refer to the ultimate truth, that, according to him, lay at the heart of all being. In his Mountain Doctrine work, he refers to this essence as the "Great Self", "True Self", "Diamond Self", "Supreme Self", "Solid Self" and "Supreme Self of all Creatures", basing himself on specific utterances and doctrines of the Buddha in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra and the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, amongst others[10] While most of his peers baulk at such a term, there are still exponents of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools who are happy to see the heart of all beings as one unified, egoless Buddha-self. Shenpen Hookham, for example, writes affirmatively of the True Self in the teachings of Dölpopa and other great Buddhist masters, saying: Template:Quote

Hookham further points out that DölpopaTemplate:Refn really envisioned the Buddha within each being as an actual, living truth and presence, not conditioned or generated by any temporal process of causation: Template:Quote

Dölpopa uses many scriptural citations to support his view, drawing upon sutras and tantras to substantiate his understanding of Mahayana and tantric teachings on definitive truth. As Cyrus Stearns writes in his monograph on Dölpopa, this scholar-monk made: Template:Quote

Dölpopa also frequently makes use of such positive terms which he finds in the selfsame scriptures and tantras as 'permanent', 'everlasting, 'eternal' and 'Self' (Stearns, ibid.). This, Dölpopa claims, all pertains to the realm of Nirvana, and is one with the Buddha-nature. It is not merely an intellectual view, but a direct experience of great bliss, and this doctrine is (according to Dölpopa) communicated to Buddhists via the mediacy of the Mahayana Buddha-nature sutras: Template:Quote

This felicitous state is said to lie within the being, eternally. But within the samsaric mode of perceiving, it is not recognised, and darkness remains. Stearns brings out the distinction which Dölpopa draws here between samsara and nirvana, quoting Kalkin Pundarika to make the point: Template:Quote

For Dölpopa, the indwelling Buddha (or Nirvana) is genuinely real, yet 'empty' in one sense - in that the internal Buddha or Buddha nature is empty of illusion, but replete with wondrous Buddha qualities. For Dölpopa and those who espouse analogous shentong doctrines: Template:Quote

Dölpopa further comments that worldlings believe that they have Self, happiness, permanence and purity, but that they look in the wrong direction for these transcendental qualities, whereas those who have transcended the world use these terms meaningfully, since they know where these qualities are to be found. Even having faith in the reality of these higher qualities helps remove spiritual veils:Template:Quote

Cyrus Stearns points out that for Dölpopa, spiritual awareness or jñāna is a key constituent of the Buddhist path and allows the practitioner to burn away veils of ignorance and thus to see the eternal qualities of the Buddha's body of reality (the Dharmakaya): Template:Quote

Dölpopa even wrote a prayer wishing that the Buddhas might take pity on those Buddhists who deem that the Emptiness taught by the Buddha is nothing more than a non-affirming negation and concerns only self-emptiness (the absence of essence in all things). Dölpopa writes on this point: Template:Quote

Dölpopa also wrote a commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāga.


Dölpopa found a strong supporter and advocate in the later Jonangpa lama, Taranatha, who was keen to spread Dölpopa's ideas. Cyrus Stearns comments on this: Template:Quote


The entire corpus of Dölpopa's writings was completely suppressed by the dominant Gelug school for several hundred years, for both doctrinal as political reasons. The doctrinal reason was his approach of the Buddhist concept of śūnyatā, distinguishing "emptiness of self-nature" (rangtong), and "emptiness of other (shentong)".

Newland conveys the political intrigue of the 5th Dalai Lama against the Jonangpa, the king of gTsang and the writings and philosophy of Dölpopa:[11] Template:Quote

Written works

  • Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Template:Bo)
  • Great Calculation of the Doctrine that have the Significance of a Fourth Council (with auto commentary)[12]
  • Prayer for Birth in Sukhāvatī (bDe ba can du skye ba ’dzin pa’i smon lam) [13]
  • An Official Document of the King, the Spontaneously Present Dharmakāya [14]
  • A General Commentary on all Profound Sutra and Tantra Teachings: Entitled, "Knowing One, All is Liberated" [15]
  • Buddha Nature’s Auspiciousness [16]
  • The Great Praise of Shambhala [17]
  • Seizing the Crucial Point [18]
  • An Instruction to Lhaje Tsultrim O [19]
  • In Praise of the Eight Siddhas [20]
  • Praise to the Mahasiddha Shavaripa [21]
  • Mountain Doctrine, Ocean of Definitive Meaning: Final Unique Quintessential Instructions. Translation: Jeffrey Hopkins (2017), Mountain Doctrine: Tibet's Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix, Shambhala



See also




External links

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Page is sourced from Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen