August 16, 2012


Klong-chen-pa in his Shing rta chen po, an auto-commentary on the Sems nyid ngal gso (p. 887), states: rtog ge zhes pa’ang gnyis las | sa mtshams kyi rtog ge ni so so skye bo ste mi bden pa phyin ci log tu bden par zhen pas de skad ces bya’o || grub mtha’i rtog ge ni  dngos por smra ba’i gzhung thams cad de | gshis la med kyang rnam par sgro ’dogs pa’i phyir ro ||.

Note that the former is identified with persons (gang zag) and the latter with treatises (gzhung). Tibetan authors often do something like this.

One should also compare a passage found in his Yid bzhin mdzod ’grel padma dkar po (p. 650), which seems to provide scriptural sources for the two kinds of rtog ge ba found in his Shing rta chen po, namely, a quotation from the Śatasahasrikā Prajñāpāramitā for the sa mtshams kyi rtog ge ba and a quotation from the Prasannapadā for the grub mtha’i rtog ge ba. I did not check these quotations. In short, according to Klong-chen-pa, those of us who have no direct insight (ye shes: jñāna) or direct cognitive access to the true reality are called (“dogmatists [by pṛthagjana–ārya (skye–’phags)] distinction/divide”) (sa mtshams kyi rtog ge ba), that is, even those bodhisattvas or Mādhyamikas, who have not yet reached the darśanamārga level, would be called as such. As for the “doxographical dogmatists” (grub mtha’i rtog ge ba), they are de facto non-Mādhyamikas, who posit the true existence of some kind of entity, be it of mind or matter or both.

I would like to offer my own interpretation based on the Einsicht–Ansicht distinction: sa mtshams kyi rtog ge bas are “dogmatists devoid of Einsicht (insight)” and grub mtha’i rtog ge ba bas are “dogmatists devoid of correct Ansicht (view).” The two are not coextensive (khyab mnyam). All dogmatists free from correct Ansicht are also those who have no Ensicht, but the reverse is not true.  

There is, however, a third popular/common usage of rtog ge ba, that is, in the sense of a (German) “Rechthaber.” That is “someone who is self-opinionated (rechthaberisch) or dogmatic” or “one who is not really interested in knowing the state of affairs but one who is just interested in being ‘right’ or in winning an argument by hook or crook.”


  1. 1. functionalist. Everything plays its part in keeping the bounded unit (of society or whatever), functioning to ensure the continuity of the whole.

    2. logical constructionist. Whatever constructs our (rationally construed) thinking leads us into we will have to regard as true.

    Is that what Longchenpa means by the wording border/boundary (sa-mtshams)? People who only know know how to think inside the box (of sangsara)? Or does my asking the question already make me some kind or another of a rtog-ge-ba?

    Do you think the label sophist rightly delineates who the rtog-ge-ba are? I think everyone becomes a sophist the moment they stop engaging in philosophical reflection for its own sake, and start regarding it as something they have to teach 'about.' I think in the present climate 'rationalist' might be a better choice of translation for rtog-ge-ba, if we were to mean by that someone who applies rationales after the fact, or in order to bolster 'facts' they already think they know.

    Btw, I looked in the Wien site, and didn't find the expression in the Kanjur (Tanjur is not accessible now for some time, unfortunately). “Sa-mtshams med-pa” does occur a number of times in sûtra texts, when attempting to say something about Buddha's full knowledge. I hope I can win this argument with you and find myself righteously justified in the sense of Rechthaber!

  2. Dear D,

    Just a few remarks. (a) I think “sophist” is a bit too positive for rtog ge ba. And I am now trying with “dogmatist.” What do you think?

    (b) I do not know if functionalist–logical-constructionist distinction (that you make above) would apply to Klong-chen-pa’s distinction of the two kinds of rtog ge (ba). What seems to be clear (without intending to be dogmatic myself) is that for him pṛthagjana (or non-yogic world) operates only within the frame of Ansichten (views), which, in Buddhism, are said to be mostly negative insofar as they are purely speculative in nature and hence either irrelevant or even detrimental to one’s pursuit of the soteric goal. Ansichten are by nature conceptual constructs and hence they veil the true reality or mostly also hinder attaining Einsichten. It is as though pṛthagjanas are dogmatists by birth (or nature) and they have no direct access to the true reality. Noble ones (of yogic world), on the other hand, have Einsichten which are liberating insights. When he states sa mtshams, I think he means pṛthagjana–ārya distinction/divide. That is, he is typologising rtog ge (ba) on the basis of this pṛthagjana–ārya distinction/divide. “Doxographer dogmatists” are not dogmatists by birth or nature but via indoctrination. In other words, they have acquired their dogmatic views, and hold on to the real existence of at least some entities.

    Importantly, I do not think these terminologies (i.e. sa mtshams kyi rtog ge and grub mtha’i rtog ge) would occur in Indian sources. I am lazy to type Klong-chen-pa’s quotations from the Śatasahasrikā Prajñāpāramitā and Prasannapadā but there are no explicit mention of the two types of rtog ge. The former just states that true reality is beyond the cognitive domain of rtog ge bas, and the latter seems to state: “I, one who has not been swayed by the wind of dogmatism” (rtog ge rlung gis ma dkrugs bdag).

    So much for the time being.



  3. Actually sophist was very positive in the beginning. Every thinker was a sophist. But then they say that Pythagoras decided the term was too haughty, as if the sophist already embodied wisdom. So he altered the term to Philosopher, Lover of Wisdom. But later on the sophist term was applied to those traveling tutors whose main concern was to earn a living from teaching wisdom.

    Philosophers in times past dealt with all kinds of important questions. They'd discuss the size of the sun and the moon, for example. In more recent times philosophers have withdrawn from observations about nature. So even now the term philosopher doesn't match the term as it was used in the not-so distant past.

    But really, none of those 'school' terms (and I would include philosopher among these terms) can be when you cross to the other side of that Eurasia divide wherever it is. Early European culture had just one word for people they thought of as philosophers in India, the Gymnosophists, the Gym Sophists, characterized more by their lack of clothing than by their thoughts.

    What I mean to say, anyway, is that even to say that Nagarjuna was a philosopher is to place him in a category that was not his own. I know some people who are very dogmatic in asserting that he was a philosopher, but what does that tell us? You can take a history-of-philosophy approach until the cows come home, and happily match the Stoics and Epicurians with the Samkhyas the Vaibhasikas or whatever. But this is just a game of strategic linkage and mismatching based on personal or cultural priorities. I don't see much point in it. All philosophers, in the normal use of the term, are rtog-ge-bas. So, too, are scientists. So are philological scholars and anthropologists.

    I'm still mystified about why the generally literalistic term sa-mtshams, meaning property border, is attached to a particular type of rtog-ge-ba. I don't think rtog-ge-ba can be matched with 'dogmatist,' when really, they're just people caught up in an endless circle of bouncing category off of category as if those categories had any true existence.