Zhentong

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Key Term zhentong
In Tibetan Script གཞན་སྟོང་
Wylie Tibetan Transliteration gzhan stong
Tibetan Phonetic Rendering zhentong
English Standard other-emptiness
Richard Barron's English Term qualified emptiness
Jeffrey Hopkin's English Term emptiness-of-other
Ives Waldo's English Term emptiness of something else
Alternate Spellings shentong
Term Type Adjective
Source Language Tibetan
Basic Meaning The state of being devoid of that which is wholly different, or essentially nonexistent, meaning that it is inherently free of these external contaminants.
Has the Sense of Though, as a noun, this term is commonly used to reference a sub-sect of the Madhyamaka school that lies in opposition to the more mainstream stance that asserts self-emptiness (rang stong), or the universal lack of inherent existence (rang bzhin med pa), it can also refer to different types of emptiness that describe the ultimate and relative levels of reality. Hence, relative phenomena are deemed to be self-empty, since they lack independent defining characteristics, while the ultimate is said to be empty of other, namely of the afflictions and defilements that only incidentally seem to obscure it, but by which it has actually never been sullied.
Related Terms rangtong
Definitions
Karl Brunnhölzl There is no monolithic Shentong School but a great variety of ways in which different Tibetan masters understand this term and how they formulate the associated view. A text by the twentieth-century Kagyü scholar Surmang Padma Namgyal (Zur mang pad ma rnam rgyal n.d., 60.3–61.6) lists seven different kinds of views held by various Jonang, Sakya, Kagyü, and Nyingma masters on the distinction between rangtong and shentong (I am indebted to Anne Burchardi for drawing my attention to this text and providing me with a copy of it). According to this text, (1) Dölpopa and his followers hold consciousness to be rangtong and wisdom to be shentong. (2) Śākya Chogden considers phenomena—appearances—as rangtong and the nature of phenomena—luminosity—as shentong. (3) Sabsang Mati Paṇchen maintains subject and object to be rangtong and expanse (dbyings) and wisdom to be shentong. (4) The Thirteenth Karmapa considers saṃsāra to be rangtong and nirvāṇa to be shentong. (5) The Eighth Karmapa and his followers take the pure kāyas and wisdom to be rangtong in terms of their actual mode of being and to be shentong in terms of the way they appear. (6) The Eighth Situpa considers the side of negation as rangtong and the side of affirmation as shentong. (7) The Nyingma master Gédsé Paṇchen from Gaḥto Monastery (Tib. Kaḥ thog dge rtse paṇ chen, 1761–1829) regards the phase of conclusive resolve during meditative equipoise to be rangtong and the phase of clearly distinguishing during subsequent attainment to be shentong. Among these seven views, Padma Namgyal explicitly considers views (4), (6), and (7) to be good positions. Summarizing the seven into three, Padma Namgyal says that Dölpopa asserts wisdom to be shentong, Śākya Chogden holds the expanse to be shentong, and all others take both wisdom and the expanse to be shentong. When summarized into two, the first five are said to present rangtong and shentong mainly by way of what is to be determined, while the latter two do so primarily by way of the means to determine that. Note though (and this complicates matters further) that these seven distinctions are obviously based on three very different categories of comparison in terms of what rangtong and shentong mean. The first—and most common—category takes rangtong and shentong to refer to phenomena as belonging to two different levels of reality (seeming and ultimate), which underlies views (1)–(5). The second category refers to rangtong and shentong as two approaches to conceptually determine the subject in question (6). The third category considers rangtong and shentong as distinct (nonconceptual) experiences or phases in the process of attaining realization (7). - Karl Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, p. 1018, nt. 532.
TshigmdzodChenmo jo nang pas 'dod pa'i lta ba ste/ yul gzung ba dang yul can 'dzin pa gnyis su med pa rtogs pa'i gzung 'dzin gnyis med kyi ye shes de yongs grub yin la/ de gzhan dbang dang kun btags sogs kun rdzob pa'i chos gzhan gyis stongs pas na gzhan stong zhes zer/
Other Definitions

"Generally speaking, the [other-emptiness] refers to the idea that ultimate truth is empty of defilements that are naturally other than ultimate truth, whereas self-emptiness implies that everything including ultimate truth is empty of its own inherent nature." - Wangchuk, Tsering. The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows (2017), page 4.

"Dolpopa further identified the absolute with the Buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha), which was thus seen to be eternal and not empty of self-nature, but only empty of other. The Buddha-nature is perfect and complete from the beginning, with all the characteristics of a Buddha eternally present in every living being. It is only the impermanent and temporary defilements veiling the Buddha-nature that are empty of self-nature, and that must be removed through the practice of a spiritual path in order to allow the ever-present Buddha-nature to manifest in its full splendor." - Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo (1999), pages 3-4.

This term is used to denote a subschool of Madhyamaka. The tenets of this school affirm that mind is devoid of afflictions and stains, which are not inherent to its nature, but is not empty of its innate enlightened qualities, which only become manifest upon the attainment of awakening. The term “zhentong” is used in contrast to “rangtong” (rang stong; “self-emptiness”), which refers to the school that adheres to the views of Nāgārjuna’s brand of Madhyamaka, which asserts that all phenomena, including the mind, are empty of self-nature. - Bernert, Christian. Adorning Maitreya's Intent (2017), page 11.
sutra/śastra quote: Since adventitious, relative entities do not exist at all in reality, they are empty of their own essences; they are self-empty. The innate ultimate, which is the ultimate emptiness of these relative things, is never non-existent; therefore, it is other-empty.
sutra/śastra quote source: Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Collected Works ('Dzamthang ed., 1998), Vol. 6: 416. Translated by Douglas Duckworth in "Onto-theology and Emptiness: The Nature of Buddha-Nature." (2014), page 1075.
Usage Example
དེ་ལ་ཀུན་རྫོབ་གློ་བུར་བའི་དངོས་པོ་རྣམས་ནི་གནས་ལུགས་ལ་གཏན་ནས་མེད་པའི་ཕྱིར་རང་གི་ངོ་བོས་སྟོང་སྟེ་དེ་ནི་རང་སྟོང་ངོ་། ཀུན་རྫོབ་དེ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་སྟོང་པའི་དོན་དམ་སྟོང་པའི་དོན་དམ་གཉུག་མ་ནི་ནམ་ལང་མེད་པ་མ་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་གཞན་སྟོང་ངོ་།
དོལ་པོ་པ་ཤེས་རབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་ གསུང་འབུམ་ལས་པོད་དྲུག་པ་༤༡༦ (འཛམ་ཐང་: ཕྱིའི་ལོ་༡༩༩༨)


The Ultimate Continuum (text title), often referred to as the Gyulama in the Tibetan tradition. This is the short title often used for the key source text of buddha-nature teachings, the Ratnagotravibhāga of Maitreya/Asaṅga, also known as the Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra.

Buddha-nature, literally the "womb/essence of those who have gone (to suchness)."