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Title: On Being ‘Impartial’ (ris med): From Non-Sectarianism to the Great Perfection
Authors: Deroche, Marc-Henri
Issue Date: Mar-2018
Publisher: Centre national de la recherche scientifique(CNRS)
Journal title: Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines
Volume: 44
Start page: 129
End page: 158
Abstract: The Tibetan expression phyogs/ris med (“impartial”) and its variations have come to describe a Tibetan Buddhist revival in 19th century Khams with E. Gene Smith’s translation as “nonsectarian.” In an effort to avoid both naïve idealism and naïve realism, this paper argues that so-called non-sectarianism in Tibet, as a ethical attitude and social response to the limitations inherent to the institutionalization of Buddhist traditions, draws its inspiration from a more fundamental and inner Buddhist value: impartiality. While this represents a core element of the teachings of the historical Buddha, it is not only descriptive of the state of the sage but also prescriptive for the aspirants to freedom and wisdom. In this way, such a prescription is actually deeply rooted in the exercises of contemplation, with major psychological and epistemological implications. This fact is illustrated here by showing how the terms phyogs/ris med play actually an important role in the phenomenological descriptions and injunctions of Tibetan contemplative lineages and literature, with special reference to the Great Perfection (rDzogs chen). If a distinctive feature of the general history of Buddhism has been the periodic revivals of the ideal of contemplative life and impartiality, in Tibet, the Great Perfection, emphasizing direct perception and instantaneous realization of an all-encompassing state, represented a major resource for the eclectic luminaries of 19th century Khams, empowering their vast activity of revitalization of Tibetan traditions.
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