Jeffrey Hopkins, trans. Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other0-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix by Döl-bo-ba Shay-rap-gyel-tsen. Ed. by Kevin Vose. Ithaca, New York/ Boulder, Colo.: Snow Lion Publications, 2006. Hardcover, xxiv + 853 pp.
Dölboba (Dol-po-pa) (1292-1361) is remembered as a buddha and as one of the most influential teachers of his day. Initiated into Tantra at the age of five and ordained seven years later, he came to be called “all knowing” at the age of twenty two by virtue of his great learning and realization. During a retreat, entered in 1322, he gained insight into what he labeled “other-emptiness” (shen tong), which is a notion that became uniquely associated with him as did the idea of a Buddha Matrix.
Dölboba embarked on this significant doctrinal reinterpretation based on his studies and practice of the Kālacakra-Tantra. His revolutionary teaching caused not a little stir in Tibet, yet was to have a lasting influence on monastic scholasticism none the less. “Self-emptiness” (rang tong) refers to the nonessentiality of ordinary phenomena—a notion fundamental to all forms of Buddhism. “Other-emptiness” refers to the ultimate Buddha Nature, which is devoid of conventional emptinesses but has its own essentiality. In other words, the ultimate Reality is, contrary to Nāgārjuna and the other Middle Way masters, a Thing in Itself. Thanks to his encyclopedic mind, Dölboba was able to ferret out passages in earlier writings, including Madhyamaka texts, that seem to support his idiosyncratic interpretations.
Dölboba’s high esteem can be gauged from the fact that Je Tsongkhapa criticized his views at length in his own discussion of the nature of Buddhahood and emptiness. While Tsongkhapa’s position has become the dominant view of Tibetan Buddhism, Dölboba’s teaching can serve as a valuable bridge between Buddhism and Hindu “eternalism,” particularly the latter’s Sāmkhya philosophy, which has much in common with the Kālacakra system.
It is only fitting that Hopkins, who wrote the single most important monograph on the central Buddhist concept of emptiness, should have undertaken to translate Dölboba’s text for the first time. Few others would have been qualified for this challenging task.
This substantial tome contains mountains of material for deep philosophical reflection and once again drives home the point that conceptual differences exist even between awakened masters and that, regardless of doctrinal differences, their fine-tuned teachings can point the way to enlightenment. A magnificent volume.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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