The intellect is the wrong tool to approach emptiness. (Just ask a Zen person.) But since that is the tool that we have in our hand, then bring it to Dharma fully, so we can see how to put that tool down. It's not nihilism. It might be if they didn't go on to Vajrayana, but they do, albeit behind a cloak of secrecy.
Your description of the Gelug approach to emptiness is very unfamiliar to me. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you and it be great if you could clarify a little. I'm also wondering where you are getting this from?
My Gelug teacher.
I was thinking exactly along the lines of Cone's post when he said that for Gelugpas the intellectual view (read developing a correct conceptual understanding of emptiness) is certainly not irrelevant for the Vajrayana practitioner.
Developing the correct intellectual view of emptiness is Sutrayana practice. Specifically the Gelugpas go to great lengths to intellectually disprove the four possible logical scenarios for how something can abide. Since there are no logical postulates other than those four, they have disproven all
logical possibilities. Since this is logically disproven, the logical mind is shown in the most incontrovertible way that logic cannot describe how things abide. There is no wiggle room for the mind other than to see that the intellect is inadequate to the task. The intellect has checkmated itself! That's the whole point. That's what prepares the mind for Vajrayana; not
dragging conceptuality into it.
Also, in terms of the view of emptiness, for Gelugpas the Sutrayana and Vajrayana paths are the same and it is considered a fault not to take this view into tantric practice
The Gelugpas I've come across do not consider Sutrayana and Vajrayana at all the same. In terms of emptiness, it is not as if they take a different position when they do Vajrayana practice, but that since there is no intellectual answer, they proceed non-intellectually.
(despite some academics' assertions) certainly people are not expected to have a non-conceptual realization of emptiness before starting their Vajrayana practice.
Of course not.
Tsongkhapa's reforms were initiated as a reaction to the excesses of the Nyingmas of his time. He thought that advanced tantric practices were being misinterpreted and misapplied because people didn't have a clue about emptiness. He thought they were barking up the wrong tree. Hence his emphasis on training to get people into the ballpark. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
I'm not sure what you mean when you say they might be nihilist if they didn't go onto Vajrayana, but I'll leave getting into that because I am not so comfortable discussing Vajrayana on boards.
I was being flippant. Sorry, shouldn't have said it.
Also your statement that the "Gelug emphasis on the Prasingika view is preparation for the Sutrayana Mahamudra" is equally confusing. The Gelugpa's version of sutra mahamudra is the Prasangika view - the distinction of sutra mahamudra for Gelugpas is that the conventional nature of the mind is taken as the object for those students of higher capacity.
The Sutra Mahamudra is the "look at your mind" type of thing. If ,when you are looking at your mind you find anything, that's the wrong answer. The Prasanghika view makes it clear that anything you find should be examined for an essence. That is why I say that Sutrayana Prasanghika view is compatible with and supportive of Sutrayana Mahamudra.
However, I think it is instructive that Gyeltsab Je feels the need to clarify Śāntideva's statement by saying that ultimate reality is actually a knowable object...
I do not think that is correct. If it is, then what is it? The Gelugpas negate any possible logical postulate.
...and that Śāntideva is just giving us a division of objects, and that in fact the ultimate is not beyond the mind since if it were then the realisation of it could not function to eliminate afflictive obscurations.
The ultimate is beyond the rational
mind. There are other functioning parts of your mind besides intellect. You cannot not ride a bike, play an instrument, or juggle bowling pins using your intellect, yet people do it all the time.
Vajrayana practices are activities, actions. Vajrayana completion stage practices (dissolving things into emptiness) do not require intellectual support. But they do require actions.