Jo Nang

Tibetan Renaissance Seminar > Participants > Ben Deitle > jo nang

Jonang ( ཇོ་ནང་)

by Ben Deitle

General information

NameJonang ( ཇོ་ནང་)
Variant namesjo mo nang, jo nang dgon, jo nang rgyal ba’i ri khrod
Period13th-17th century
Transliteration formjo nang
Etymologyunknown; derived from the place name jo nang
Sectarian affiliationjo nang pa, but later was converted to dge lugs pa under the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Source of informationTBRC place ID: G201; Jonang Foundation (; George Roerich, trans., The Blue Annals (Delhi: Motialal Banarsidass, 1976).
LocationIn Tsang, Central Tibet.
ProvinceTibet Autonomous Region
Cultural locationCentral Tibet
Location's languageCentral Tibetan dialect (dbus skad)
Location description 
Date foundedaround 1294
FounderKünpang Tukjé Tsöndrü (kun spangs thugs rje brtson 'grus, 1243-1313)
Abbots1. Künpang Tukjé Tsöndrü (kun spangs thugs rje brtson 'grus, 1243-1313), abbot until 1313; 2. Jangsem Gyelwa Yeshé (byang sems rgyal ba ye shes, 1247-1320), abbot from 1313 to 1320 [note: TBRC gives his birth year as 1247 while the Roerich translation of the Blue Annals (p. 772) has 1257]; 3. Khepa Yönten Gyatso (mkhas pa yon tan rgya mtsho, 1260-1327), abbot from 1320 to 1326; 4. Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1361), abbot from 1327 to ??; Lotsawa Lodrö Pel (lo tsA ba blo gros dpal, 1313-1391) abbot from ?? to ??; 5. Choklé Namgyel (phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1306-1386), abbot from 1354 to 1359.
Blue Annals References526, 633, 772-8, 794, 1039

Historical Summary

The monastery of Jonang was founded sometime around 1294 by Künpang Tukjé Tsöndrü (1243-1313). According to the Blue Annals, the monastery was a center of study of Kalacakra teachings. Its third abbot, Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen (1292-1361), was a famous teacher throughout central Tibet, and he propogated the controversial Zhentong (gzhan mthong, other emptiness) philosophical doctrine. Sherap Gyeltsen also was responsible for the addition of a large stupa, the Kumbum Tongdröl Chenmo (sku 'bum mthong grol chen mo), to the monastery complex of Jonang. In time, a distinct school grew out of the lineage of Jonang monastery, commonly known as the Jonang tradition, after the name of the monastery. This school continued up to the time of the famous historian Taranata (1575-1634), well known for its study of Kalachakra teachings and Zhentong philosophy. However, in the wake of Taranata’s death, the Fifth Dalai Lama launched a campaign against the school and converted most of its monasteries, including Jonang, into Gelukpa institutions.

Blue Annals References

Most of the references to Jonang in the Blue Annals come within the chapter on the transmission of the Kalacakra tantra in the section on the Dro ('bro) lineage of that teaching. The foundation of the monastery by Künpang Tukjé Tsöndrü is described (Roerich, 772) and the succession of abbots after him is sketched out (Roerich, 772-8). One point of unclarity is the position of Lotsawa Lodrö Pel within the line of abbots. In the Blue Annals Sherap Gyatso seems to hand over the abbot's chair to him, assuming that the "tsā ba" in question is in fact Lodrö Pel: "Having installed the lo tsā ba on the abbot's chair, he [dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan] proceeded to dbus…" (Roerich, 777). However, later Sherap Gyeltsen "entrusts the monastery" to Choklé Namgyel (Roerich, 778). If we include Lodrö Pel in the line of abbots, he becomes the fifth and Choklé Namgyel would be the sixth. But in the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) database, Choklé Namgyel is there named as the fifth abbot of Jonang. Perhaps there are discrepancies as to the correct line of abbots, or perhaps Lodrö Pel merely acted as temporary abbot while Sherap Gyeltsen was teaching in other areas of central Tibet, however his tenure was not official.

There are several instances of people being referred to as "jo nang pa" in the Blue Annals. Those references have not been included below but would be interesting to analyze in the future.

Citations from the Blue Annals

526: “When the Dharmasvāmin was invited to snye mo in the autumn, he accompanied him as his attendant. There he took final leave (of the Dharmasvāmin) and proceeded towards gtsang. At jo mo nang he met byang sems rgyal yes and told him: "I am a priest of the Dharmasvāmin, my name is grags pa seng ge. I am going now to u rgyan (Oḍḍīyāna)." The latter replied: "The Doctrine of India has set! The Turuṣkas may cause an accident." He believed him, and in company with some other persons obtained the highest initiation of the Kālacakra.”

633: “Then at jo mo nang he [rat+na gu ru] met kun spangs pa and received the final monastic ordination, kun spangs pa acting as upādhyāya, bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan acting as ācārya, and kun mkhyen yon tan rgya mtsho as Secret Preceptor. He heard many precepts from kun spangs pa, such as the "Great Initiation" (dbang mo che) of the Kālacakra, the Sadaṅga (sbyor drug) of the Kālacakra and others. A wonderful faculty was born in him. Kun spangs pa was also very pleased. Then in the year of the Dog (khyi lo, 1310 A.D.) he returned.”

634: “Then having gone to jo mo nang (gtsang), he [Ratnākara] heard the complete exposition of the sadaṅga (sbyor drug) and the Cycle of sems 'grel (i. e. the Vimalaprabhā, which is often called byang chub sems dpa'i 'grel pa, because its author was padma dkar po from byang sems rgyal ye and opened the gate of meditation.”

772: “He [kun spangs thugs rje brtson 'grus] was invited to jo nang by jo mo nags rgyal [The local deity of jo nang], and he promised the goddess to come there after three years. When the time came, he journeyed there, founded a monastery, and looked after numerous disciples to whom he imparted both teachings and hidden precepts.”

772: “Later he [byang sems rgyal ba ye shes] proceeded to jo mo nang and listened to (the exposition) of all the basic texts of kun spangs pa, the latter's hidden precepts, and practised (meditation) according to them.”

773: “However he [mun me brag kha ba grags pa seng ge] was of the opinion that meditation represented the Essence of the Doctrine, and therefore he asked kun spangs pa and byang sems rgyal ye at jo mo nang for guidance in the Sadaṅga-yoga (sbyor ba yan lag drug), and asked. them to expound the Tantra.”

774-5: “In this manner kun spangs pa laboured for a long time for the welfare of others, [R:775] and then entrusted the abbotship [of jo nang] to byang sems rgyal ye. He passed away at the age of 71, in the year Water-Female Ox (chu mo glang 1313 A.D.).”

775: “byang sems rgyal ba ye shes, aged 57, occupied the abbot's chair of jo nang in the year Water-Female-Ox (chu mo glang 1313 A.D.). Many kalyāṇa-mitras, such as the bla ma kun bsod pa and others, and many great men, such as the great official byang rdor and the great official yon btsun, and others, became his disciples. He used to, say: Most of those who had received my guidance, have obtained perfect results. At least there had been none who did not complete the (ten) signs (of meditation). He occupied the chair for eight years, and then passed away at the age of 64 in the year Iron-Male-Ape (lcags pho spre'u 1320 A.D.). He being an extraordinary man, the story of his life was written by the Dharmasvāmin rang byung rdo rje.”

775: “mkhas btsun yon tan rgya mtsho, a disciple of byang sems pa: he was born in the year Iron-Ape (lcags spre 1260 A.D.). [F:10b] At the age of 61, he occupied the abbot's chair [of jo nang]. He handed over the chair in the year Fire-Male-Tiger (me pho stag 1326 A.D.), and died at the age of 68 in the year Fire-Female-Hare (me mo yos 1327 A.D.)…. Having come to jo mo nang, he thoroughly absorbed the initiation rite (of the Kālacakra system), and the Tantra from both kun spangs pa and byang sems pa, and received their guidance.”

776: “At jo mo nang he [dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan] obtained the Commentary on the Tantra (Vimalaprabhā) together with its hidden precepts from mkhas btsun yon tan rgya mtsho. After having practised the precepts, he experienced an incomparable result. At the age of 35 he occupied the chair. Till his death he used to preach and meditate (bshad sgrub). He erected the sku 'bum mthong grol chen mo.”

777: “Having installed the lo tsā ba on the abbot's chair, he [dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan] proceeded to dbus, took up residence in lha sa and taught the guide-book on the Sadaṅga-yoga. The territory of lha sa became filled with (monks) practising ritualistic dances (nyams skyong ba'i gar). Later he proceeded to dpal jo mo nang, and at the age of 70 in the year Iron-Female-Ox (rags mo glang 1361 A.D.) proceeded to Sukhāvatī.”

778: “He [phyogs las rnam rgyal] took up residence at jo nang proper, and obtained from kun mkhyen chen po the exposition of the Tantra and the initiation rite of the Kālacakra, together with the hidden precepts, as well as many other doctrines. He practised the precepts, and an excellent mystic trance was [F:11b] produced in him. He regarded kun mkhyen chen po as the chief among his teachers. kun mkhyen chen po's disciple byang pa ta'i dban pa after consulting kun mkhyen chen po, and his disciple, founded the monastery (chos sde) of ngam rings. kun mkhyen chen po spent some time there. Then he entrusted (the monastery) to phyogs las rnam rgyal, and himself proceeded to jo mo nang proper. phyogs las rnam rgyal taught the Piṭakas for a considerable time, in particular the Prajñapāramitā class and Logic. He gathered round himself many clever disciples. Later he handed over the chair to bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, and at the age of 49 became abbot of jo mo nang. After five years he handed over this monastery also, and proceeded to dbus.”

794: “Having come to zha lu (gtsang), he [bu ston rin po che] chose the Kālacakra as the subject of his seasonal [F:19a] preaching, and preached it. He also composed many treatises (śāstras) on the Kālacakra. Later he obtained numerous hidden precepts of the Sadaṅga-yoga by kun spangs pa, which were in the possession of the bla ma 'phags 'od pa. While he was writing down notes on the Vimalaprabhā (Commentary on the Tantra), he revised the translation made by shong. He wrote it out properly, after it had been translated by two translators at jo nang.”

1039: “He [mtshan ldan ’khrul zhig chen po] practised meditation in many sacred places, such as, the Kailasa (ti se), and others. He stayed at jo nang, and there met ma gcig [sangs rgyas re ma], who bestowed on him the precepts of the rgyun gcod . He also met Mitra and developed excellent merit. He lived for more than eighty years.”