Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?
Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:34 am
I know that of course there are several important lineage holders within Nyingma, such as in the Palyul Lineage, who are monks. But I am wondering if the spirit of the tradition is basically a non-monastic/householder one. On Wikipedia the scholar Georges Dreyfus was quoted saying this, but since his background is largely Gelug I wondered if the Nyingmapas here thought is was a fair opinion or not:
In 1848, Dzogchen Shri Sengha (rdzogs chen srwi sengha), was founded by a charismatic teacher, Zhanphan Thaye (gzhan phan mtha' yas, 1800-), in association with the active participation of Do Kyentse (rndo mkhyen rtse). As scholar Georges Dreyfuss reports,
The purpose of this school was not . . . the study of the great Indian treatises . . . but the development of Nyingma monasticism in Kham, a particularly important task at that time. Up to then, the Nyingma tradition had mostly relied on non-ordained tantric practitioners to transmit its teachings through authorized lineages. The move toward monasticism changed this situation, putting a greater emphasis on the respect of exoteric moral norms of behavior as a sign of spiritual authority. This move participated in the logic animating the nonsectarian movement, the revitalization of non-Geluk traditions so that they could compete with the dominant Geluk school. Since the Geluk hegemony was based on a widespread monastic practice, it was important for the other schools to develop their own monasticism to rival the dominant Geluk tradition. This seems to have been one the goals of Zhanphan Thaye in creating the Dzokchen commentarial school. . . .A further and equally important step was taken a few decades later with the transformation by [Khenpo] Zhenga of this institution into a center devoted to the study of the exoteric tradition. This step was decisive in creating a scholastic model that could provide an alternative to the dominant model of the Geluk seats and could train scholars who could hold their own against the intellectual firing power of Geluk scholars.
For Zhenga and his followers, the way to return to this past was the exegetical study of commentaries, the proper object of scholarship. By downplaying the role of debate emphasized by the Geluk monastic seats and stressing exegetical skills, they accentuated the differences between these two traditions and provided a clear articulation of a non-Geluk scholastic tradition. In this way, they started the process of reversal of the damage inflicted on the non-Geluk scholarly traditions and created an alternative to the dominance of Geluk scholasticism, which had often tended to present itself in Tibet as the sole inheritor and legitimate interpreter of the classical Indian Buddhist tradition.
This scholastic movement led by Khenpo Shenga came on the heels of the work of Mipham, who "completely revolutionised rNying ma pa scholasticism in the late 19th century, raising its status after many centuries as a comparative intellectual backwater, to arguably the most dynamic and expansive of philosophical traditions in all of Tibetan Buddhism, with an influence and impact far beyond the rNying ma pa themselves."