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Zhen dong

Zhen dong (gzhan.stong, ‘Emptiness of Other’). At one time a heretical theory in Tibetan Buddhism that contributed to the downfall of the Jonang school, but which was later resurrected to underpin the great eclectic Rimé movement of the Tibetan Renaissance. The theory asserts that the two levels of truth—ultimate truth (paramārtha satya) and conventional truth (saṃṿrti satya)—are two distinct ‘entities’, in other words that ultimate truths (i.e. emptinesses) are empty of being the objects that are the basis of their imputation, and that objects (e.g. tables) are empty of being the emptiness that may be imputed on them. This involves the belief that a conventional truth (tables are just tables) is true from a conventional point of view, and that an ultimate truth (emptiness is empty of any phenomenal basis of imputation) is only true from a standpoint of meditative insight at which point all phenomena apparently cease. The Geluk, who adopt the rang dong theory and who condemned the Jonang for heresy, point out several errors, notably that the separation and independence of the two levels of truth amounts to substantialism by reifying the ‘absolute’; that their understanding of an ultimate truth contradicts the Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) by separating emptiness from form; and that the absence of emptiness can never be true at any level.

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