Monash University

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The man from Samyé: Longchenpa on praxis, its negation and liberation

posted on 2017-02-09, 02:41 authored by Ifergan , Gidi
This study explores the largely unrecognized scholarly and pedagogical contributions of one of Tibet’s greatest thinkers, Longchen Rabjampa (kLong chen rab 'byams pa 1308–1364) within the context of what I refer to as the ”rhetoric of negation” which is the focused and intense critique of philosophical views and spiritual practices pointing to their incapability of directly causing liberation. It is a central theme of his key works The Natural Freedom of Reality (Tibetan title: Chos nyid rang grol) and A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission: A Commentary on the Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena (Tibetan title: Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod zhes bya ba’i ‘grel pa) that are considered closely in the study. Like that of his predecessors, Longchenpa’s rhetoric of negation aimed to dismantle compulsive conceptualising mental processes, creating ab-sence, a vacuity. But Longchenpa goes one step further, overcoming the problem of the futility of spiritual practices in relation to liberation, by creatively transforming his rhetoric of negation into a pedagogy that is claimed to be completely capable of facilitating the experience of natural awareness, Buddha mind or liberation. Longchenpa’s rhetoric of negation will be the subject of my case study, with the emphasis on him primarily as a teacher of liberation. This is significantly different from most academic research dedicated to Longchenpa to date, which has focused on his literary abilities, his epistemology and logic, his doxography, his poetry, and existential interpretations of his philosophy and exegesis. In the process of clarifying the position of praxis that stands as a general term for spiritual practices, in Longchenpa’s rhetoric of negation, this study contextualizes Longchenpa historically and examines macro-historical trends and developments, including textual ones, that determined his position in Tibetan society, religion and politics. It locates Longchenpa biographically in terms of micro-historical formative events that shaped his life in relation to the other seminal figures before and during the 14th century. As a result, the thesis demonstrates that the location of Longchenpa and his school, the Nyingma (rNying ma), was on the periphery of Tibetan social, political and religious realities. Longchenpa was specifically conscious of this fact and in order to relocate the school to the centre and to implement his vision of Buddhism, he adopted certain devices which one of them was the rhetoric of negation. The historical contextualization “humanises” Longchenpa and depicts a “realistic” portrait of him as opposed to the “idealised” one perceived by traditional practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, including western Tibetan Buddhists. Finally, the study examines Longchenpa’s pedagogy, more precisely the aspect of it which he refers to as “abiding in natural awareness”, that is to say, the practice of trekchö (khregs chod), and shows how it transcends the means–ends dichotomy inherent in general goal-oriented practices. The study demonstrates that Longchenpa’s pedagogy, being capable of facilitating the experience of natural awareness, is compatible with Dzogchen’s notion of non-duality and with integration of the Two Truths.


Principal supervisor

Ian Mabbett

Additional supervisor 1

David Templeman

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School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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