Sacred Illusion: On Purity and Creation in Je Tsongkhapa's Philosophy of Tantra

Author: ORCID icon
Rolf, Eva Natanya, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the soteriological worldview of Je Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa (rje tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419), one of the renowned religious thinkers of Tibetan Buddhism. By examining several of Tsongkhapa’s major Vajrayāna commentaries on the system of Guhyasamāja concurrently with one of his earliest works on the Mind-Only school, as well as his last work on Middle Way philosophy, I seek to discover how different portions of his thought, which have usually been treated separately, might be understood to form a systematic whole. I propose that we might better grasp the practical, transformative applications of Tsongkhapa’s Middle Way view when reading these texts in the light of his broader vision of Buddhist cosmology, ethics, philosophical anthropology, and epistemology. Furthermore, I posit that we gain insight into lesser known implications of Tsongkhapa’s Madhyamaka when turning to passages where he explained that view specifically for the purpose of Vajrayāna meditation. Through analysis of the diversity of karmic seeds and tendencies as presented in a Yogācāra context, their relationship to perceptual theory in Tsongkhapa’s explanations of Dharmakīrti, the idea of a “mere I” as the infusion substrate for all the seeds, and the emptiness of that “I” as a basis for ultimate purity, I suggest a theory of tantric practice that seems to lie implicit in Tsongkhapa’s Vajrayāna commentaries, yet would not be evident when reading any one of them in isolation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tsongkhapa, Tibetan Buddhism, Madhyamaka, Vajrayāna, Guhyasamāja, Middle Way, Tantra, Candrakīrti, Dharmakīrti, Anuttarayoga Tantra, Creation Stage, Generation Stage, Mind Only, Cittamātra, Yogācāra, Pramāṇa, Contemplative Practice, Meditation, Buddhist Philosophy, Emptiness, Karma, World Creation, Comparative Theology

Special thanks to the American Institute of Indian Studies and to Ludo and Rosane Rocher for a Research Fellowship in Sanskrit Studies that enabled field research in India, 2014-15.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: