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368 Gorampa

I’ve spent the past 8 years or so researching the philosophy of a 15th-century Tibetan scholar named Gorampa Sonam Senge. Gorampa is one of the most widely-studied philosophers in the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. A fierce critic of Tsongkhapa, the founder of what later came to be known as the Gelug school (and the school to which the Dalai Lama belongs), his works were so controversial that they were suppressed by Gelug leaders shortly after they were composed. Gorampa’s texts remained hidden until the early 20th century, when a monk named Jamgyal Rinpoche received permission from the thirteenth Dalai Lama to collect Gorampa’s extant texts and have them reprinted in Derge. Today, Gorampa’s philosophy is studied widely in monastic colleges, not only in those affiliated with his own Sakya tradition, but also in institutions affiliated with the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Later on in this semester, we’re going to read about Gorampa and some of the philosophical debates in which he was involved. 15th century Tibetan Buddhist debates are really fun — sometimes monks can get particularly nasty with each other. Here’s one of my favorite instances of Gorampa being nasty to Tsongkhapa. After spelling out Tsongkhapa’s view with respect to a particular philosophical concept, Gorampa goes on to say that Tsongkhapa’s view is:

the deceptive blithering of individuals of little intelligence and merit, the demonic words that slander… the heart of the teachings. (Cabezón 179)

If you imagine being a monk in the 15th century, composing texts by candlelight in a Tibetan monastery, calling someone’s words “demonic” is an especially harsh criticism. Another example of harsh words exchanged between proponents of the Sakya and Gelug schools comes from the Gelug scholar Jamyang Shaypa, who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. In his criticisms of the Sakya scholar Daktsang, he writes that Daktsang is,

one who wishes to do a dance having cut the head off of a crazy, dancing peacock and hung it on his behind. (Newland 32)

Your guess as to what that means is as good as mine! Still, though, it’s evidence that Tibetan philosophy can be pretty entertaining at times.

Works Cited

  • Cabezón, José Ignacio. Freedom From Extremes: Gorampa’s ‘Distinguishing the Views’ and the Polemics of Emptiness. Wisdom Publications, 2007.
  • Newland, Guy. The Two Truths. Shambala Publications, 1992.
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1 Response to Sample post

  1. Connie says:

    This is what a comment should look like. It should be at least 2-3 sentences long. If I were to comment on this post, it might look like this:

    I had no idea that Tibetan philosophers resorted to ad hominem attacks like that! I’ve seen Tibetan monks and nuns debate before; I wonder whether they attack each other in similar ways when they debate in person.

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