The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows

Tibetan Thinkers Debate the Centrality of the Buddha-Nature Treatise

By Tsering Wangchuk

Subjects: Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Philosophy Of Religion, Religion
Paperback : 9781438464664, 220 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438464657, 220 pages, March 2017

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Table of contents


General Remarks
Textual Historical Background

Part I. Early Period: Kadam Thinkers Rescue the Treatise
1. Rise of the Uttaratantra in Tibet: Early Kadam Scholars Revitalize the Newly Discovered Indian Exegesis

Ngok and Chapa on the Pervasive Nature of the Buddha-Body
Ngok and Chapa on Definitive or Provisional Nature in the Uttaratantra
Ngok and Chapa on the Uttaratantra as a Last Wheel Treatise
Buddha-Element as a Conceived Object
Ngok and Chapa Differ on Emphasis

2. Sowing Seeds for Future Debate: Dissenters and Adherents

Sapen, the Dissenter
Rikrel, the Third Karmapa, and Sangpu Lodrö Defend the Uttaratantra
Rinchen Yeshé’s Proto Other-Emptiness Presentation of the Uttaratantra, and Butön’s Reply
Part II. The Pinnacle Period: the Other-Emptiness Interpretation Spreads

3. Other-Emptiness Tradition: The Uttaratantra in Dölpopa’s Works

Predominance of the Last Wheel Scriptures
Is the Uttaratantra a Cittamātra Text or a Madhyamaka Text?
Classification of Cittamātra
Classification of Madhyamaka

4. The Uttaratantra in Fourteenth-Century Tibet

Sazang Follows in His Master’s Footsteps
Two Fourteenth-Century Kadam Masters’ Uttaratantra Commentaries
Longchenpa’s View on the Uttaratantra
Part III. The Argumentation Period: Self-Emptiness Proponents criticize Other-Emptiness Approach
5. Challenges to the Purely Definitive Nature of the Uttaratantra: Zhalu Thinkers Criticize Dölpopa

Butön’s Ornament
Dratsépa’s Commentary

6. Challenges to the Supremacy of the Uttaratantra: Rendawa and Tsongkhapa on Tathāgata-essence Literature

Rendawa on the Uttaratantra and the Tathāgata-Essence Literature
Tsongkhapa on the Uttaratantra and the Tathāgata-Essence Literature

7. Gyeltsap’s Commentary on the Uttaratantra: A Critique of Dölpopa’s Interpretation of Tathāgata-essence Literature

Middle Wheel and Last Wheel Teachings
Definitive Meaning and Provisional Meaning
Self-Emptiness and Other-Emptiness
General Remarks
Completing the Cycle


Tibetan Language Works Cited
English Language Works Cited


Examines various Tibetan interpretations of the Uttaratantra, the most authoritative Indic commentary on buddha-nature.


With its emphasis on the concept of buddha-nature, or the ultimate nature of mind, the Uttaratantra is a classical Buddhist treatise that lays out an early map of the Mahāyāna path to enlightenment. Tsering Wangchuk unravels the history of this important Indic text in Tibet by examining numerous Tibetan commentaries and other exegetical texts on the treatise that emerged between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. These commentaries explored such questions as: Is the buddha-nature teaching found in the Uttaratantra literally true, or does it have to be interpreted differently to understand its ultimate meaning? Does it explicate ultimate truth that is inherently enlightened or ultimate truth that is empty only of independent existence? Does the treatise teach ultimate nature of mind according to the Cittamātra or the Madhyamaka School of Mahāyāna? By focusing on the diverse interpretations that different textual communities employed to make sense of the Uttaratantra, Wangchuk provides a necessary historical context for the development of the text in Tibet.

Tsering Wangchuk is Assistant Professor and Richard C. Blum Chair in Himalayan Studies at the University of San Francisco.


"…[the] book is a welcome contribution to the field and contains a valuable intellectual journey driven by a solid methodology for those interested in Buddhist philosophy, what Buddhist philosophers are doing when they interpret and innovate, and the factors that motivate them." — Reading Religion

"Well conceived and superbly researched, this book is an invaluable 'guidebook' to the arguments and counterarguments of five centuries' worth of Tibet's greatest thinkers. This type of philosophical overview is far too rare in Tibetan Buddhist studies these days, and Wangchuk has performed a great service to the field by undertaking it." — Roger R. Jackson, translator of Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India