Rongtön Chenpo’s Commentary on Maitreya’s Distinguishing the Middle and the Extremes

translator: Christian Bernert, in collaboration with Khenpo Jamyang Kunga

A great luminary of the Sakya tradition, Rongtön Sheja Künrig (1376–1449) was arguably one of most influential teachers of his time. Many of the next generation’s great scholars, of all traditions, were either direct or indirect disciples of his. Not only did he uphold practically all of the scholastic lineages of the Sakya school, but many of those transmitted within the Kagyü and Nyingma traditions as well. In Central Tibet, Rongtön founded the monastery of Phenpo Nalendra which became an important centre of studies and the seat of the Chogye Trichen lineage holders.

Rongtön was renowned for having composed important commentaries on each of the five Maitreya works (byams chos sde lnga). For a complete understanding of the Mahāyāna, the study of Yogācāra philosophy which is rooted in those works is essential, as it represents a bridge between sophisticated philosophical argumentation and profound meditative practice.

In particular, Maitreya’s Distinguishing the Middle and the Extremes (Madhyāntavibhāga) offers a detailed presentation of the “three natures” model (trisvabhāva; ngo bo nyid gsum), essential for an accurate understanding of reality according to this tradition. It further explains the practices which function as the antidotes to confusion and suffering, as well as the way the Mahāyāna path unfolds as one applies them.

Of the few extant Tibetan writings of this relatively concise treatise, Rongtön’s Explanation of Distinguishing the Middle and the Extremes stands out as its earliest extensive Tibetan commentary. This makes it important for all students of Tibetan Buddhism, revealing the importance of Rongtön’s thought for the philosophical discourse of various traditions, beyond the limits of the Sakya school.

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