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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > Comparison of Buddhist Traditions > Special Features of the Gelug Tradition

Special Features of the Gelug Tradition

Alexander Berzin
August 2003, revised December 2003, July 2006, June 2009

Introduction

Tsongkhapa (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang-grags-pa) (1357-1419) was a radical reformer who, through direct instruction from Manjushri in innumerable pure visions and through exhaustive study of the Indian and Tibetan Buddhist texts, impeccable logic, and intense meditation, reinterpreted many of the basic Buddhist teachings.

[See: A Short Biography of Tsongkhapa.]

Thus, the Gelug tradition that follows him as its founder has many special features not shared in common with the non-Gelug Tibetan traditions: Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu. Here, we shall look at only some of the major points. This is not an exhaustive survey.

Moreover, within the Gelug tradition, the various monastic textbooks differ in their interpretations of many fine points. Here, we shall present mostly the major points, and occasionally offer some of the varying interpretations made by the different Gelug textbook (yig-cha) traditions.

Further, the non-Gelug positions presented here are generalizations made in order to show the contrast with Gelug in a simple fashion. They do not imply that all the non-Gelug schools share the same assertions on every point.

Administration

The head of the Gelug tradition, the Ganden Tripa (dGa’-ldan khri-pa, Ganden Throne Holder), is a position that any qualified monk can attain. The position alternates between the senior-most retired abbots of Gyumay (rGyud-smad Grva-tshang) and Gyuto (rGyud-stod Grva-tshang) Upper and Lower Tantric Colleges and is for seven years only. The Dalai Lamas are not the heads of the Gelug tradition.

[See: A Brief History of Gyumay and Gyuto Lower and Upper Tantric Colleges.]

The heads of the non-Gelug traditions are either specific tulkus (reincarnate lamas) or, in the case of Sakya, members of a specific clan, and they serve for life.

Cognition Theory

  1. The definition of valid cognition (tshad-ma) in the Svatantrika Madhyamaka tenet systems and below is fresh, nonfraudulent (gsar-tu mi-bslu-ba) cognition of an object. Only Prasangika Madhyamaka omits the criterion that valid cognition needs to be fresh. This is because Prasangika does not assert existence established by findable self-natures (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa). Thus, every moment of the continuity of an object over time is fresh. According to the non-Gelug traditions, all tenet systems assert the definition of valid cognition as merely nonfraudulent cognition of an object. This is because they do not assert commonsense objects (‘jig-rten-la grags-pa), extending over time and the sensibilia of several senses, as being validly cognizable by nonconceptual cognition. Only one moment of anything exists at a time, and therefore cognition is always fresh.

  2. Svatantrika and below assert subsequent cognition (bcad-shes) as a way of knowing an object that may apprehend its object (rtogs-pa) nonfraudulently. It is not a valid way of knowing, however, because it is not fresh. Because Prasangika does not assert existence established by findable self-natures, it does not assert subsequent cognition. According to the non-Gelug traditions, none of the tenet systems asserts subsequent cognition.

  3. Svatantrika and below define bare cognition (mngon-sum) as cognition in which the appearing object (snang-yul) is an individually characterized phenomenon (rang-mtshan, objective entity). Bare cognition is not through the medium of a generally characterized phenomenon (spyi-mtshan, metaphysical entity), such as an audio category (sgra-spyi, sound universal), a meaning/object category (don-spyi, object universal), or a concept (rtog-pa) such as space. Therefore, bare cognition is exclusively nonconceptual. Prasangika does not specify that such cognition be not through the medium of a generally characterized phenomenon. Instead, it specifies that such cognition not arise by directly depending on a line of reasoning. Consequently, such cognition may be either conceptual or nonconceptual, and therefore the technical term for it – in Tibetan, tshad-ma, and in Sanskrit, pratyaksha – is more accurately translated, in the Prasangika system, as “straightforward cognition.” Nevertheless, only mental straightforward cognition may be either conceptual or nonconceptual. Sensory and yogic straightforward cognition are only nonconceptual. The non-Gelug traditions assert that, in all tenet systems, all types of bare cognition are exclusively nonconceptual.

  4. Valid sensory nonconceptual cognition (dbang-mngon tshad-ma) cognizes not just sensibilia (sights, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations), but also commonsense objects (but without mentally labeling the commonsense objects with a name or as fitting into a meaning/object category, such as “table”). The non-Gelug traditions assert that valid sensory nonconceptual cognition cognizes only single moments of sensibilia, and not commonsense objects. Commonsense objects that extend over time and over the sensibilia of several senses are merely conceptual constructs.

  5. Valid nonconceptual cognition is a determining cognition (nges-pa) of its involved object (‘jug-yul) – it decisively determines it as “this” and “not that,” such that we can validly recollect it. The non-Gelug traditions say that since valid nonconceptual cognition does not cognize commonsense objects, it is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa). It does not determine it as “this” and “not that.” This is an important point in terms of their emphasis on nonconceptual meditation. For Gelug, nondetermining cognition of what appears is never a valid cognition. For non-Gelug, it may be a valid cognition.

  6. Other than in the Chittamatra and Yogachara Svatantrika systems, valid sensory nonconceptual cognition cognizes external objects (phyi-don). It does so through fully transparent mental aspects (rnam-pa) representing them (somewhat like mental holograms), which it produces in order to cognize them. The non-Gelug traditions assert that valid sensory nonconceptual cognition directly cognizes only opaque mental aspects representing external objects. Other than in the Chittamatra system, it cognizes external objects only indirectly, because the moment of the external objects that causes the sensory cognition of it no longer exists the moment the cognition of it arises. Thus, mental aspects are all opaque.

  7. Valid conceptual cognition cognizes semitransparent generally characterized phenomena (such as the category table) and, through them, another type of generally characterized phenomenon – fully transparent conceptual representations (snang-ba, ideas). The conceptual representations are conceptually isolated items (ldog-pa, isolates), which are the type of “nothing-other-than” (ma-yin-pa-las log-pa) that arises in conceptual cognition and which represents the actual involved objects (‘jug-yul) of the conceptual cognition. For example, in a conceptual cognition of a table, “ nothing-other-than a table” arises, representing the form of a specific external table, and we label on it the category table. The category is the appearing object (snang-yul) of the cognition. Through the filter of this semitransparent static (permanent) category and a fully transparent static conceptual representation, the conceptual cognition cognizes the form of a specific nonstatic (impermanent) external table that is its involved object, even if that table is not present. The non-Gelug traditions assert that valid conceptual cognition cognizes semitransparent static categories (such as the category table and the commonsense object table) and that these categories partially veil opaque nonstatic mental aspects representing a specific table. The nonstatic mental aspects are the appearing objects of the conceptual cognition; while the categories are the conceptual representations (such as of a commonsense table) and thus the conceptually isolated items. The conceptual cognition does not cognize any external object (for instance, colored shapes).

[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Gelug and Non-Gelug Presentations in Alternating Order.]

  1. Apprehension (rtogs-pa) of an object is a valid cognition of an involved object that cognitively takes the object both correctly and with decisive determination of it as “this” and “not that.” Valid cognition, both conceptual and nonconceptual, can explicitly apprehend (dngos-su rtogs-pa) its involved object by giving rise to a mental aspect representing it, and, simultaneously, implicitly apprehend (shugs-la rtogs-pa) another involved object, without producing a mental aspect representing it. The non-Gelug traditions assert apprehension of an object to be merely a correct cognition of it. Thus, valid nonconceptual cognition, for example, apprehends its involved object, but does so without decisively determining it as “this” and “not that.” Apprehension is only explicit; there is no such thing as implicit apprehension of an object.

  2. Among negation phenomena (dgag-pa, negatingly known phenomena), individually characterized object exclusions of something else (don rang-mtshan-gyi gzhan-sel, object exclusions) are nonstatic phenomena. Examples are “ not that” and “nothing other than this,” implicitly apprehended when a valid nonconceptual or valid conceptual cognition explicitly apprehends its involved object as “this.” The non-Gelug traditions assert that all negation phenomena are static and that individually characterized object exclusions are merely static facts about phenomena, validly knowable only conceptually.

  3. Cognition of an object may be either manifest (mngon-gyur-ba) or subliminal (bag-la-nyal). With manifest cognition, the consciousness of the manifest cognition gives rise to a mental aspect representing an object and both the manifest consciousness and the person (gang-zag) cognizes it. With subliminal cognition, the consciousness of the subliminal cognition gives rise to a mental aspect representing an object, but only the subliminal consciousness cognizes it, not the person. The non-Gelug traditions do not assert subliminal cognition of objects.

[See: Dormant Grasping for True Existence.]

Chittamatra

  1. Of the three types of characterized phenomena (mtshan-nyid gsum), totally conceptional phenomena (kun-brtags, totally imaginary phenomena) include existent ones (namely, all static phenomena other than voidnesses) and nonexistent ones (such as unicorns and external phenomena). The non-Gelug traditions, such as Karma Kagyu, assert that totally conceptional phenomena include both generally characterized phenomena, such as categories and space, and conceptual ways of being aware of them.

  2. Dependent phenomena (gzhan-dbang, other-powered phenomena) include all nonstatic phenomena. The non-Gelug traditions assert that dependent phenomena include both nonstatic cognitive objects, which are imagined as being external phenomena, as well as all nonconceptual ways of being aware of them.

  3. Thoroughly established phenomena (yongs-grub) include all voidnesses (emptiness). The non-Gelug traditions assert that thoroughly established phenomena refer to alayavijnana, which is devoid of totally conceptional and dependent phenomena.

  4. Both thoroughly established phenomena and dependent phenomena have truly established existence (bden-par grub-pa) and existence established as ultimate phenomena (don-dam-par grub-pa); totally conceptional phenomena lack both modes of existence. The non-Gelug traditions assert that only thoroughly established phenomena have truly established existence and existence established as ultimate phenomena; both totally conceptional and dependent phenomena lack both modes of existence.

Svatantrika Madhyamaka

  1. Svatantrika Madhyamaka has two distinct divisions, Yogachara Svatantrika (propounded by such masters as Kamalashila, Shantarakshita, Haribhadra, and Vimuktisena) and Sautrantika Svatantrika (propounded by such masters as Bhavaviveka). Except for Karma Kagyu, the non-Gelug traditions do not make this clear distinction. They divide Madhyamaka in various other ways.

  2. Only Sautrantika Svatantrika accepts external phenomena; Yogachara Svatantrika does not. The non-Gelug traditions say that Svatantrika accepts external phenomena.

  3. Only Yogachara Svatantrika accepts reflexive awareness (rang-rig); Sautrantika Svatantrika does not. The non-Gelug traditions say that Svatantrika accepts reflexive awareness.

  4. Neither Yogachara Svatantrika nor Sautrantika Svatantrika accepts alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness), even as a conventionally existent phenomenon. The non-Gelug traditions say that Svatantrika accepts alayavijnana as a conventionally existent phenomenon; but unlike Chittamatra, it does not assert it as being truly existent.

Prasangika Madhyamaka Concerning Conventional Existence and Voidness

  1. Prasangika asserts that the two truths (bden-gnyis) – superficial truths (kun-rdzob bden-pa, Skt. samvrtisatya; relative truths, conventional truths) and deepest truths (don-dam bden-pa, Skt. paramarthasatya; ultimate truths) – share the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig), but are different conceptually isolated items (ldog-pa tha-dad). In reference to any validly knowable phenomenon, they refer, respectively, to its mode of appearance (snang-tshul) and its mode of existence (gnas-tshul), namely its voidness. Thus, the two truths are different objects of cognition, cognized with respect to any validly knowable phenomenon. In general, the non-Gelug traditions assert that Madhyamaka differentiates the two truths on the basis of the minds that cognize them: they are two different modes of perceiving (mthong-tshul). Superficial truth is the mode of perceiving of a mind under the influence of murky-mindedness (rmongs-pa, dumbfounded), in other words a mind that is obscured regarding deepest truth. Deepest truth is the mode of perceiving of the deep awareness (ye-shes) of an arya – namely, the deep awareness that nonconceptually cognizes nonduality: inseparable voidness and appearance (snang-stong dbyer-med) and inseparable awareness and voidness (rig-stong dbyer-med).

  2. Prasangika asserts a manner of existence of validly knowable phenomena. Namely, validly knowable phenomena are phenomena that dependently arise as the referent objects (btags-chos) of the names and concepts for them. Because such phenomena are merely what imputed names refer to (ming btags-tsam), validly knowable phenomena are merely imputedly existent. Thus, dependent arising (rten-‘brel) establishes (sgrub, proves) the conventional (tha-snyad) existence of validly knowable phenomena. The non-Gelug traditions say that Prasangika makes no assertions of its own, especially not concerning a manner of existence that establishes the existence of anything. Prasangika merely negates (dgag, refutes, nullifies) impossible ways of existing, so as to help practitioners go beyond words and concepts.

  3. All Tibetan traditions agree that Svatantrika asserts a logic that can prove statements through syllogisms using lines of reasoning that have existence established by findable self-natures, while Prasangika rejects such logic and argues through absurd conclusions (thal-‘ gyur). Gelug accepts this as only one among many differences between Prasangika and Svatantrika. The non-Gelug traditions assert this as the major difference between the two divisions of Madhyamaka.

  4. All Tibetan traditions agree that Prasangika negates impossible modes of existence through absurd conclusions. According to Gelug, Prasangika uses absurd conclusions to establish (prove) the voidness of existence established by findable self-natures, which is a total absence of this impossible mode of existence. The non-Gelug traditions assert that Prasangika uses absurd conclusions to go beyond all impossible modes of existence – not only true existence, but also the true absence of true existence (in other words, non-true existence), both, and neither. It does not use absurd conclusions to establish anything.

  5. Findable individual defining characteristic marks (rang-gi mtshan-nyid) do not exist at all, not even as conventionally existent phenomena, although individual defining characteristic marks established merely by mental labeling alone do conventionally exist. The non-Gelug traditions accept findable individual defining characteristic marks that establish the conventional existence of phenomena from the viewpoint of superficial truth (kun-rdzob bden-pa, conventional truth, relative truth), although they refute them as findable from the viewpoint of deepest truth (don-dam bden-pa, ultimate truth).

  6. Existence established by findable self-natures, existence established by individual defining characteristic marks (rang-gi mtshan-nyid-kyis grub-pa), existence established from its own side (rang-gi ngos-nas grub-pa), and truly established existence (bden-par grub-pa, true existence), as equivalent impossible modes of existence, pertain to both superficial truths and deepest truths. The non-Gelug traditions assert that these equivalent impossible modes of existence pertain only to superficial true phenomena. Deepest true phenomena and their mode of existence are beyond these conceptual categories.

  7. The object of negation (dgag-bya, object to be refuted, object of nullification) for the voidness (the lack of an impossible “soul”) of a person and of all phenomena is the same – truly established existence. The non-Gelug traditions follow the Gelug presentation of Svatantrika and below on this point. The object of negation for the lack of an impossible “soul” of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-med, identitylessness of a person, selflessness of a person), which we need to realize for gaining liberation, is different from the object of negation for the lack of impossible “soul” of all phenomena (chos-kyi bdag-med, identitylessness of all phenomena, selflessness of all phenomena), which one needs to realize for gaining enlightenment. The object of negation for the coarse lack of an impossible soul of a person is existence established as a static, monolithic entity independent of its aggregates (rtag gcig rang-dbang-can). On the subtle level, the object of negation is existence established as something self-sufficiently knowable (rang-rkya thub-pa’i rdzas-yod). The object of negation for the lack of an impossible soul of all phenomena is the four extreme modes of impossible existence: true existence, the true absence of true existence, both, and neither. The voidness of all phenomena is beyond all words and concepts of these four impossible modes of existence.

  8. Denumerable ultimate phenomena (rnam-grangs-pa’i don-dam) – namely, voidnesses that are conceptually validly cognizable – and nondenumerable ultimate phenomena (rnam-grangs ma-yin-pa’i don-dam) – namely, voidnesses that are nonconceptually validly cognizable – are the same voidnesses. Both are the voidnesses of true existence, and this includes the voidness of all four extremes of true existence, true nonexistence, both, and neither. According to the non-Gelug traditions, the two types of ultimate phenomena are different. Voidnesses that are conceptually validly cognizable are just voidnesses of true existence. Voidnesses that are nonconceptually validly cognizable are voidnesses beyond all conceptual categories of true existence, the true absence of true existence, both, or neither.

[See: Affirmations, Negations, and Denumerable and Nondenumerable Ultimate Phenomena. ]

  1. The voidness of phenomena cognized nonconceptually by shravaka and pratyekabuddha aryas is the same as that cognized nonconceptually by bodhisattva aryas. It is the voidness of true existence and it is with respect to all phenomena. Karma Kagyu agrees that the voidness of all phenomena cognized by all three types of aryas is the same voidness, but assert it to be the voidness that is beyond words and concepts. The other non-Gelug traditions assert that, within Madhyamaka, the voidness of phenomena that each of the three types of aryas cognize is different. According to Nyingma, arya shravakas nonconceptually cognize the voidness of their five aggregates being a monolith lacking temporal and component parts. Arya pratyekabuddhas, in addition, cognize the voidness of the true existence of objects of cognition, but not of cognizing minds. According to Sakya, arya shravakas nonconceptually cognize the voidness of true existence of their own aggregates. Arya bodhisattvas, in addition, cognize the voidness of the external existence of forms of physical phenomena. None of these so-called “nonconceptual” cognitions, however, are fully nonconceptual, since only cognition of what is beyond words and concepts is fully nonconceptual.

[See: Nonconceptual Cognition of Voidness by Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva Aryas According to the Four Tibetan Traditions .]

  1. The voidness of true existence nonconceptually cognized has existence established merely by mental labeling (merely imputed existence). In other words, that voidness lacks existence established by its own findable self-nature. Thus, although voidness does not correspond to the truly findably existent category voidness, which the name voidness conceptualizes, nevertheless the name voidness conventionally refers to voidness. The non-Gelug traditions assert that the voidness nonconceptually cognized by aryas is beyond all words and concepts.

  2. To gain nonconceptual cognition of voidness, we need to realize the voidness of voidness – the lack of the true existence of voidness. Since the voidness of true existence is a nonimplicative negation phenomenon (med-dgag, nonimplicative nullification, nonaffirming negation), the realization of the voidness of voidness is also a nonimplicative negation. The non-Gelug traditions assert that nonconceptual cognition of voidness requires going beyond all words and concepts, including negations, which are also concepts: the nonimplicative negation voidness is merely a concept of the absence of true existence.

  3. Gaining valid cognition of voidness requires correctly identifying (distinguishing) the object of negation, namely true existence. According to the non-Gelug traditions, all four impossible extreme modes of existence, such as true existence, do not exist at all. Therefore, it is absurd to try to identify a mode of existence that does not exist.

  4. Reflexive awareness and alayavijnana do not exist at all, not even as conventionally existent phenomena. The non-Gelug traditions follow their interpretation of Svatantrika on these points and accept the conventional existence of both.

  5. Recollection (dran-pa, remembering, memory) occurs based on nontruly, nonfindably existent valid cognitions having implicit apprehension of themselves. The non-Gelug traditions say that recollection occurs because of the reflexive awareness that accompanies nontruly existent, yet conventionally findable valid cognitions.

[See: The Validity and Accuracy of Cognition of the Two Truths in Gelug Prasangika .]

What Is To Be Gotten Rid Of (Abandoned) According to Prasangika

  1. Unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance) of the voidness of all phenomena is a disturbing emotion (nyon-mongs, afflictive emotion). Thus, it is included among the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) – the obscurations that are disturbing emotions and which prevent liberation. Except for Karma Kagyu after the Eighth Karmapa, the non-Gelug traditions follow the Svatantrika position that unawareness of the voidness of all phenomena is not a disturbing emotion. Thus, it is not included among the emotional obscurations. Only unawareness of the voidness of persons is a disturbing emotion and included among the emotional obscurations.

  2. The cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib) – the obscurations regarding all knowables and which prevent omniscience – include only the habits of grasping for the true existence of all phenomena (the habits of unawareness of the voidness of all phenomena) and the factor that prevents simultaneous cognition of the two truths. The non-Gelug traditions, except for Karma Kagyu after the Eighth Karmapa, follow Svatantrika and include among the cognitive obscurations unawareness of the voidness of all phenomena.

  3. Bodhisattva aryas start to rid themselves of the cognitive obscurations only with an eighth-level bhumi mind, after ridding themselves completely of the emotional obscurations. The other non-Gelug traditions, except for Karma Kagyu after the Eighth Karmapa, follow Svatantrika and say that bodhisattvas of definite lineage begin to rid themselves of the cognitive obscurations with a seeing pathway mind, at the same time as they begin to rid themselves of the emotional obscurations. They finish ridding themselves of both sets of obscuration simultaneously with the attainment of enlightenment.

[See: Ridding Oneself of the Two Sets of Obscurations in Sutra and Anuttarayoga Tantra According to Nyingma and Sakya.]

Svabhavakaya and the Total Absorption of an Arya

  1. Svabhavakaya (a Corpus of Essential Nature) has two aspects: the voidness of the omniscient mind of a Buddha and the partings (bral-ba) from the two sets of obscurations on the omniscient mind of a Buddha. The non-Gelug traditions assert Svabhavakaya as the inseparability of the other three Corpuses of a Buddha (Buddha-Bodies): Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Jnana-dharmakaya. This is equivalent to the inseparability of the two truths.

  2. Only voidness, the deepest truth, arises and appears to the face of an arya’s total absorption cognition of voidness (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise). The total absorption cognition does not cognize the superficial truth (the appearance of the phenomenon) that is the basis for the voidness (stong-gzhi), not even implicitly. The other traditions assert that both voidness and appearances arise, inseparably, and are cognized by an arya’s total absorption cognition of voidness. With total absorption cognition, voidness is more prominent, while with subsequent attainment cognition (rjes-thob, post-meditation), appearance is more prominent.

[See: The Union of Method and Wisdom in Sutra and Tantra: Gelug and Non-Gelug Presentations.]

Definitive and Interpretable Meanings and the Three Rounds of Transmission of the Dharma According to Prasangika

  1. The distinction between words of definitive meaning (nges-don) and words of interpretable meaning (drang-don) refers to specific passages in sutras and not to whole sutras or entire rounds of transmission of the Dharma (chos-skor, turnings of the wheel of Dharma). The non-Gelug traditions follow Svatantrika that the distinction regards whole sutras and entire rounds of transmission of Dharma.

  2. Definitive-meaning passages speak about deepest truth, the voidness of true existence. Interpretable-meaning passages refer to superficial truths. The non-Gelug traditions follow Svatantrika that definitive-meaning sutras may be taken literally, while interpretable-meaning sutras may not be taken literally, but require interpretation.

  3. The distinction among the three rounds of transmission of the Dharma regard subject matter – specifically, the assertions of how things exist. The non-Gelug traditions make the distinction according to when Buddha delivered the sutras.

  4. The third round of transmission concerns the Chittamatra position that some phenomena have true existence and other lack true existence. The non-Gelug traditions assert that the third round primarily concerns Buddha-nature.

  5. The second round of transmission is of definitive meaning; the third is of interpretable meaning. Because the non-Gelug traditions define the contents of the third round differently from the way that Gelug does, for them the third round is of definitive meaning. Some non-Gelug authors, for instance within the Nyingma school, assert the second round also to be of definitive meaning. When others, such as within the Karma Kagyu school, assert the second round to be of interpretable meaning, this is because they take the second round to teach only self-voidness (rang-stong). They consider self-voidness as equivalent to denumerable voidness. Only the third round teaches other-voidness (gzhan-stong), which they take to be the mind that nonconceptually cognizes nondenumerable voidness.

Karma and Vows According to Prasangika

  1. Prasangika, like Vaibhashika, asserts that physical and verbal karmas are forms of physical phenomena. These forms include the revealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs) of the physical actions or the sounds of the words, which end when the actions end. They also include the nonrevealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs) of the subtle impulses of energy that accompany the actions and which continue afterward, so long as the intention to repeat the action continues. The non-Gelug traditions say that only Vaibhashika asserts karma like this. All other tenet systems assert that physical and verbal karmas are like mental karmas, in that all three types of karma are only the mental urges (sems-pa) that bring on the actions. Gelug accepts that this is the case only for Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika.

  1. Prasangika, like Vaibhashika, asserts that vows are also nonrevealing forms. The non-Gelug traditions assert that only Vaibhashika asserts vows like that. All other tenet systems assert that they are ways of being aware of something. They are aspects of ethical self-discipline. Gelug accepts that this is the case only for Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Svatantrika.

  1. Prasangika asserts that karmic tendencies (sa-bon, seeds, legacies) and constant habits (bag-chags) are imputed on the mere “I” as their basis, and are carried from one lifetime to the next, imputedly existent on that basis. The non-Gelug traditions follow their version of Svatantrika, according to which they are imputed on the alayavijnana and are carried from one lifetime to the next, imputedly existent on that basis.

No-Longer-Happenings, Not-Yet-Happenings, and the "Previously-Having-Perished" of Phenomena

(1) All Tibetan traditions accept that the past and future of functional phenomena are not affirmation phenomena (sgrub-pa). Although they are existent phenomena (yod-pa), they are invalid phenomena (mi-srid-pa). An existent invalid phenomenon is one that is not presently happening anywhere and thus cannot be validly cognized now, but can be validly cognized at another time. The past and future of a phenomenon are negation phenomena, absences – namely, the “no-longer-happening” (‘ das-pa) and the “not-yet-happening” (ma-‘ong-pa) of a phenomenon. In other words, the no-longer-happening of a karmic action and the not-yet-happening of its result are negation phenomena that imputedly exist on whatever a particular tenet system asserts as providing continuity into future lives. But, not-yet-happenings and no-longer-happenings are not “present happenings” (da-lta-ba), which are affirmation phenomena. Prasangika asserts no-longer-happenings and not-yet-happenings of phenomena to be implicative negation phenomena (ma-yin dgag, affirming negations), which are nonstatic phenomena. The former has a beginning and the latter has an end, both of which occur due to the affect of causes and conditions. The non-Gelug traditions follow Svatantrika and assert not-yet-happenings and no-longer-happenings as nonaffirming negation phenomena (med-dgag, nonaffirming negation), which are static unaffected phenomena.

(2) All Tibetan traditions accept that with the perishing ('jig-pa, disintegration) of a nonstatic phenomenon, such as a karmic action, a negation phenomenon called a “previously-having-perished” (zhig-pa) of the nonstatic phenomenon ensues. Prasangika asserts the “ previously-having-perished” of karmic actions to be implicative negation phenomena, which are nonstatic phenomena. They are equivalent to the “no-longer-happening” (‘ das-pa, past) of the karmic actions and arise from causes and conditions, namely the perishing of the karmic action, and produce effects. For example, the “previously-having-perished one moment ago” of a karmic action gives rise to the “previously-having-perished two moments ago” of that action. The stream of continuity of the “previously-having-perished” of a karmic action does not degenerate (nyams) as it continues; moreover, it has no end. The non-Gelug traditions follow Svatantrika and assert that a “previously-having-perished” is a nonimplicative negation phenomenon, which is a static unaffected phenomena. It is the total absence of the karmic action.

[See: What Does a Buddha Know in Knowing the Past, Present, and Future?, Part One.]

True Stoppings (True Cessations)

All Tibetan traditions assert that true stoppings (‘gog-bden) are nonimplicative negation phenomena imputed on the mental continuum of an arya. They are static phenomena that do not arise from causes and conditions. Their acquirement (thob-pa) arises dependently on causes and conditions, but the true stoppings themselves are merely states of being parted forever (bral-ba).

Prasangika asserts that true stoppings are deepest truths. The Jetsunpa (rJe-btsun Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) textbook tradition asserts them also to be equivalent to voidnesses of true existence on an arya’s mental continuum; while the Panchen (Pan-chen bSod-nams grags-pa) textbook tradition asserts true stoppings not to be equivalent to voidnesses of true existence on the mental continuum of aryas. The non-Gelug traditions follow Svatantrika in asserting true stoppings as superficial truths and not equivalent to voidness.

Mind as a Buddha-Nature Trait

  1. Mind (mental activity) is a nonstatic phenomenon, in the sense that it changes from moment to moment because it takes a different object from moment to moment. According to the non-Gelug traditions, mind is a static phenomenon, in the sense that its conventional nature, as clarity and awareness, has no beginning or end, does not arise anew each moment, never changes, and is unaffected by anything. No matter what object mind cognizes, the conventional nature of mind remains the same.

  2. The conventional nature of mind (mere clarity and awareness) is an evolving family trait (rgyas-‘gyur-gyi rigs, evolving Buddha-nature trait), not a naturally abiding family trait (rang-bzhin gnas-rigs, naturally abiding Buddha-nature trait). It evolves to become a Jnana-dharmakaya, an omniscient mind of a Buddha. The deepest nature of mind (its voidness of true existence) is a naturally abiding family trait. “Naturally abiding” means that it does not change; it does not evolve or develop through stages into the Corpus of a Buddha (Buddha-Body). It merely accounts for a Corpus of a Buddha – specifically, the voidness of the mental continuum accounts for the Svabhavakaya (the voidness of the omniscient mind) of a Buddha. The non-Gelug traditions assert that mere clarity and awareness is a naturally abiding Buddha-nature trait. It accounts for a Jnana-dharmakaya (the omniscient mind of a Buddha).

[See: Buddha-Nature According to Gelug-Chittamatra, Svatantrika, and Prasangika.]

The Eight Great Difficult Points

One of Tsongkhapa’s disciples, Gyeltsabjey (rGyal-tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen) summarized his master’s new interpretations of some of the most important features of the Prasangika view as the “eight great difficult points” (dka’-ba’i gnad chen-po brgyad):

  1. Negation (refutation) of the conventional existence of alayavijnana.

  2. Negation of existence established by individual defining characteristic marks.

  3. Acceptance of external phenomena.

  4. Negation of the Svatantrika use of lines of reasoning, supposedly having existence established by their self-natures, to prove assertions.

  5. Negation of reflexive awareness.

  6. Assertion that shravakas and pratyekabuddhas have the full realization of the lack of impossible “souls” (the voidness) of both persons and all phenomena.

  7. Assertion that grasping for the true existence of all phenomena, as well as its tendencies (seeds), are emotional obscurations; while the constant habits of the deception of dualistic appearance-making (gnyis-snang ‘khrul-pa) – in other words, the constant habits of grasping for true existence – are cognitive obscurations.

  8. Assertion that Buddhas are aware of the mistaken cognitions on the mental continuums of limited beings, and yet do not have mistaken cognitions themselves.

Styles of Tantra and Ritual Practice

Certain aspects in the style of practice in Gelug differ from those of the non-Gelug traditions, but these are only superficial differences. Moreover, they do not occur exclusively in Gelug and never in the other traditions.

  1. Practitioners do the extraordinary preliminaries (sngon-‘gro, “ngondro”) of 100,000 repetitions of various practices one by one, whenever they fit into their training. In the non-Gelug traditions, practitioners usually do them all together as an event early in their training.

  2. Practitioners do mantra retreats of various Buddha-figures (yi-dam) one by one, whenever they fit into their training. If they are studying for a Geshe degree, they usually do them only after receiving the degree. Moreover, a three-year retreat is only on one specific Buddha-figure practice. In the non-Gelug traditions, practitioners do the mantra retreats of the major Buddha-figures of their tradition all together, one after the other, as a three-year retreat. They do three-year retreats on one Buddha-figure only afterward.

  3. Monks chant with extremely deep bass voices, capable of producing chords. The non-Gelug traditions usually chant in normal voices.

Anuttarayoga Tantra

  1. Tsongkhapa practiced six main anuttarayoga Buddha-figure systems: the Akshobhya form of Guhyasamaja (gSang-‘dus Mi-bskyod-pa), the Luipa lineage of Chakrasamvara (bDe-mchog Lu’i-pa), Thirteen-Couple Vajrabhairava (‘Jigs-byed Lha-bcu-gsum), Single-Figure Vajrabhairava (‘Jigs-byed dPa’-bo gcig-pa), Kalachakra (Dus-‘khor), and Mahachakra Vajrapani (Phyag-rdor ‘khor-chen).

  2. Tsongkhapa taught eight discourse traditions for complete stage (rdzogs-rim) practice: the Luipa lineage of Chakrasamvara, the Ghantapada (Dril-bu-pa) Body-Mandala lineage of Chakrasamvara (bDe-mchog Lus-dkyil), the Six Practices (“Yogas”) of Naropa (Na-ro’i chos-drug), Kalachakra, the Arya lineage of Guhyasamaja (gSang-‘dus ‘Phags-lugs), the Jnanapada lineage of Guhyasamaja (gSang-‘dus Ye-shes zhabs-lugs), Vajrabhairava, and Mahachakra Vajrapani.

  3. Tsongkhapa taught a method of practice that combines the Akshobhya form of Guhyasamaja, Thirteen-Couple Vajrabhairava, and the Luipa lineage of Chakrasamvara. This is the main practice of the three tantric colleges (Lower, Upper, and Say) (rGyud-smad, rGyud-stod, Srad-rgyud).

  4. The distinction between father (pha-rgyud) and mother (ma-rgyud) anuttarayoga tantra is that father tantra presents more detail and emphasis on illusory body (sgyu-lus), while mother tantra presents more on clear light (‘od-gsal). Guhyasamaja, Vajrabhairava, and Mahachakra Vajrapani are father tantras; Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Vajrayogini, and Kalachakra are mother tantras. Among the non-Gelug traditions, only Sakya and Kagyu use the category anuttarayoga tantra. They draw the distinction between father and mother anuttarayoga tantra based on other criteria, such as the gender of the secondary figures immediately surrounding the central figure or couple of the mandala.

  5. Nondual tantra (gnyis-med rgyud) is not a separate category of anuttarayoga. All anuttarayoga tantras are nondual in that all teach inseparable voidness and blissful awareness (bde-stong dbyer-med). When some masters in other Tibetan traditions use the category nondual anuttarayoga tantra for Kalachakra, Hevajra, or both, it is a separate category of anuttarayoga. The nondual tantras have features of both father and mother tantra.

  6. In the practice of taking death as a pathway mind for (attaining) a Dharmakaya (‘chi-ba chos-sku lam-'khyer), practitioners approach the clear-light realization of voidness through imagining that their consciousness gets increasingly more subtle through eight or ten stages. Although the non-Gelug traditions have similar visualizations elsewhere in sadhanas, practitioners approach the clear-light realization of voidness using other methods.