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Title: Jonang  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 5th Dalai Lama, Kagyu, Sakya, Shentong, Tibetan Buddhism
Collection: Jonang, Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Shentong, Vaipulya Sutras
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Jonang (Tibetan: ཇོ་ནང་Wylie: Jo-nang) is one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins in Tibet can be traced to early 12th century master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, but became much wider known with the help of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, a monk originally trained in the Sakya school. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century at the hands of the 5th Dalai Lama, who forcibly annexed the Jonang monasteries to his Gelug school, declaring them heretical.

The Jonang re-established their religio-political center in Golok, Nakhi and Mongol areas in Kham and Amdo centered at Dzamthang Monastery and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. An estimated 5,000 monks and nuns of the Jonang tradition practice today in these areas and at the edges of historic Gelug influence. However, their teachings were limited to these regions until the Rimé movement of the 19th century encouraged the study of non-Gelug schools of thought and practice.[1]


  • History 1
  • Doctrinal/Philosophical reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa 2
  • Political reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa 3
  • Rediscovery 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The monk Künpang Tukjé Tsöndrü (Wylie: kun spangs thugs rje brtson 'grus, 1243-1313) established a kumbum or stupa-vihara in the Jomonang Valley about 160 kilometres (99 mi) northwest of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Ü-Tsang (modern Shigatse). The Jonang tradition took its name from this monastery, which was significantly expanded by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361).[2]

The Jonang tradition combines two specific teachings, what has come to be known as the shentong philosophy of śūnyatā, and the Dro lineage of the Kalachakra Tantra. The origin of this combination in Tibet is traced to the master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, an 11th/12th century pupil of the Kashmiri master Somanatha.[3]

After several centuries of independence, however, in the late 17th century the Jonang order and its teachings came under attack by the 5th Dalai Lama, who converted the majority of their monasteries in Tibet to the Gelug order, although several survived in secret.[4] The order remained in power in parts of Kham and Amdo centered around Dzamthang Monastery.

The Jonang school generated a number of renowned Buddhist scholars, like Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen,[4][5] but its most famous was Taranatha (1575–1634), who placed great emphasis on the Kalachakra Tantra.

After the Jonang monasteries and practitioners in Gelug-controlled regions were forcibly converted, Jonang Kalachakra teachings were absorbed into the Gelug school. Taranatha's influence on Gelug thinking continues even to this day in the teaching of the present 14th Dalai Lama, who actively promotes initiation into Kalachakra.

Doctrinal/Philosophical reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa

While the Gelugpa embraced the Jonang teaching on the Kalachakra, they ultimately opposed the Jonangpa (followers of the Jonang) over a difference in philosophical view. Yumo Mikyo Dorje, Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen and subsequent lamas maintained shentong teachings, which hold that only the clear-light, non-dual nature of the mind is real and everything else is empty of inherent existence. The Gelug school held the distinct but related rangtong view that all phenomena are empty (of inherent existence) and no thing or process (including Mind and its qualities) may be asserted as independent or inherently real (neither may phenomena be asserted as "unreal" - in short, both extreme assertions are seen to be groundless, and the middle way that phenomena are non-inherently real is asserted).

For the Jonangpas, the emptiness of ultimate reality should not be characterized in the same way as the emptiness of apparent phenomena because it is prabhāsvara-saṃtāna, or "clear light mental continuum," endowed with limitless Buddha qualities.[6] It is empty of all that is false, not empty of the limitless Buddha qualities that are its innate nature.

Political reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa

Modern historians have identified two other reasons which more likely led the Gelugpa to suppress the Jonangpa. First, the Jonangpa had political ties that were very vexing to the Gelugpa. The Jonang school, along with the Kagyu, were historical allies with the powerful house of Ü-Tsang, which was vying with the Dalai Lama and the Gelug school for control of Central Tibet. This was bad enough, but soon after the death of Taranatha, an even more ominous event occurred. Taranatha's tulku was discovered to be a young boy named Zanabazar, the son of Tüsheet Khan, Prince of Central Khalkha. Tüsheet Khan and his son were of Borjigin lineage (the imperial clan of Genghis Khan and his successors), meaning they had the birth authority to become khagan. When the young boy was declared the spiritual leader of all of Mongolia, suddenly the Gelugpa were faced with the possibility of war with the former military superpower of Asia. While the Mongol Empire was long past its zenith, this was nonetheless a frightening prospect and the Dalai Lama sought the first possible moment of Mongol distraction to take control of the Jonangpa monasteries.[7]

The 14th Dalai Lama confirmed this view in Glenn Mullin's The Fourteen Dalai Lamas:

These monasteries were closed for political reasons, not religious ones, and their closing had nothing to do with sectarianism. They had supported the Tsangpa king in the uprising, thus committing treason. The Great Fifth believed that they should be closed in order to insure the future stability of the (Tibetan) nation, and to dissuade other monasteries from engaging in warfare. [...] The fact is that the Great Fifth passed laws outlawing sectarian skirmishes, and passed laws ensuring the freedom of religion. This freedom was extended to not only the Buddhist schools, but also to the non-Buddhist ones. For example, he kept a Bonpo lama in his entourage to speak for the interests of the Bon movement. And on a personal level, he himself practiced so many non-Gelukpa lineages that the Gelukpas criticized him for straying from his roots.[8]

The writings of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and even those of Sakya proponents of zhentong were sealed and banned from publication and study and that Jonangpa monastics were forcibly were converted to the Gelug lineage.[9]


The Jonangpa were until recently thought to be an extinct heretical sect. Thus, Tibetologists were astonished when fieldwork turned up several active Jonangpa monasteries, including the main monastery, Tsangwa, located in Zamtang County, Sichuan. Almost 40 monasteries, comprising about 5000 monks, have subsequently been found, including some in the Amdo Tibetan and rGyalgrong areas of Qinghai, Sichuan and Tibet.[1]

Interestingly, one of the primary supporters of the Jonang lineage in exile has been the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa lineage. The Dalai Lama donated buildings in Himachal Pradesh state in Shimla, India for use as a Jonang monastery (now known as the Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery) and has visited during one of his recent teaching tours. The Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage has also visited there.

The Jonang tradition has recently officially registered with the Tibetan Government in exile to be recognized as the fifth living Buddhist tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The 14th Dalai Lama assigned Jebtsundamba Khutuktu of Mongolia (who is considered to be an incarnation of Taranatha) as the leader of the Jonang tradition.

Much of the literature of the Jonang has also survived, including the Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix by Dolpopa, consisting of arguments (all supported by quotations taken from the generally accepted orthodox canonical ) against "self-emptiness" and in favor of "other-emptiness", which has been published in English translation under the title Mountain Doctrine.[10]


  1. ^ a b Gruschke 2001, p.72; and A. Gruschke, "Der Jonang-Orden: Gründe für seinen Niedergang, Voraussetzungen für das Überdauern und aktuelle Lage", in: Henk Blezer (ed.), Tibet, Past and Present. Tibetan Studies I (Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of The IATS, 2000), Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden 2002, pp. 183-214
  2. ^ Buswell, Robert E; Lopez, Donald S, eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 401.  
  3. ^ Stearns, Cyrus (2002). The Buddha from Dolpo : a study of the life and thought of the Tibetan master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.  , p. 19
  4. ^ a b page 73
  5. ^ Newland, Guy (1992). The Two Truths: in the Mādhyamika Philosophy of the Ge-luk-ba Order of Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 0-937938-79-3. p.29
  6. ^ . Buddhism ConnectEmptiness TeachingsLama Shenpen, (accessed March, 2010)
  7. ^ Stearns 2010, p. 73-4.
  8. ^ Mullins 2001, p. 207.
  9. ^ stearns 2010, p. 76.
  10. ^ Döl-b̄o-b̄a S̄hay-rap-gyel-tsen (2006). Mountain doctrine : Tibet's fundamental treatise on other-emptiness and the Buddha-matrix. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.  


  • Gruschke, A. (2000). The Jonangpa Order - Causes for the downfall, conditions of the survival and current situation of a presumably extinct Tibetan-Buddhist School. Ninth Seminar of The International Association for Tibetan Studies
  • Gruschke, Andreas (2001). The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces: The Gansu and Sichuan Parts of Amdo, Vol 2. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.  
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The fourteen Dalai Lamas : a sacred legacy of reincarnation (1st ed.). Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.  
  • Stearns, Cyrus (2010). The Buddha from Dölpo : a study of the life and thought of the Tibetan master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Rev. and enl. ed.). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.  

External links

  • Jonang Foundation
  • Jonang Foundation Blog
  • Holder of Kalachakra JonangTibetan Buddhist Rime Institute -
  • International Kalachakra NetworkHistory of the Jonang Tradition -
  • [1] Abstract for Gruschke, A. (2000). The Jonangpa Order - Causes for the downfall, conditions of the survival and current situation of a presumably extinct Tibetan-Buddhist School. Ninth Seminar of The International Association for Tibetan Studies
  • Theosophy in Tibet: The Teachings of the Jonangpa School by David Reigle
  • Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery, Shimla
  • Jonangpa in Russia
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