I have seen and heard remarks from Buddhists these days through which they state their utter contempt for Islam. A Danish lama has been well known for such views for a long time. Somebody just sent me a snapshot of that man together with a well known Dutch right winger. A facebook account under the name of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse calls people who represent a sophisticated position regarding Islam “liberals, leftists, moderates, and cherry-picking apologists.” The same and worse can be read in the blog of a German Theravada-Buddhist meditation teacher. Except for stating the obvious, namely that there is a difference between Muslims and terrorists, I will not say more about this debate here. But I would like to share with you one of Kyobpa Jigten Sungön’s positions regarding other religions and views in general.

Jigten Sumgön’s general approach to spiritual views, conducts, and practices is one that attempts to perceive something in terms of what its nature is. In this sense he acknowledges that (1.19) there exists much that is virtuous by nature to be practised in [the systems of] the non-Buddhists too. This stands in contrast to a general opinion according to which “the complete view, conduct, and practise of the non-Buddhists is only something to be abandoned.”

One of Jigten Sumgön’s most basic positions is simply that whatever is virtuous by nature has a joyful result. Such virtue, however, is not confined to the realm of Buddhism alone. As he had pointed out in vajra-statement 1.1, the Buddha did not “invent” his own Dharma, but revealed the ultimate true nature as it is — and that nature exists as it is, independent of whether someone reveals it or not. Therefore, whoever acts in accordance with that nature will receive the respective appropriate results, no matter whether that person is a Buddhist or not, or whether that person has realised “the definite meaning that perceives the truth” or not. In fact, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains that even animals will enjoy the joyful fruits if they are “temporary [in] possession of … virtuous things to be practised,” such as loving kindness for their offspring. Furthermore, even a tenth level bodhisattva has to abandon that which is by nature non-virtuous, or he will suffer the consequences (which is another vajra-statement), and everyone, even animals and the lowest beings in hell, will experience the joyful fruit when they practise virtue.

An example for a wise handling of this nature is the Buddha’s own adoption of the “ritual of the three grounds,” which first did only exist among non-Buddhists. The “ritual of the three grounds” (gzhi gsum gyi cho ga) refers to the poshadha ceremony (Tib. gso sbyong), the summer retreat (dbyar gnas), and the release from summer retreat (dgag dbye). By adopting this originally non-Buddhist practise, its virtuous potential was made available to ordained Buddhists. Another example offered by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is Padmasmbhava’s adoption of many non-Buddhist activity rituals (mu stegs byed las), such as cycles of protection and repelling, for the removing of temporary impediments. These have, when embedded in bodhicitta, great virtuous potential, and they are particularly interesting examples because they make skilful use even of forceful and wrathful activities.

Therefore, whatever virtue is found anywhere is to be practised. The Rinjangma points out that even though one might already possess vast amounts of pure qualities, one should also accept the pure qualities found in the mental continua of other beings that are perhaps seen as inferior to oneself, as this is a matter of abandoning pride. It was through such a practise, Rinchen Jangchub says, that the Buddha was able to purify all faults completely and to complete all good qualities, causing him to obtain Buddhahood. On the other hand, if something incorrect exists in the mental continuum of a high person, this is to be abandoned. Nothing is to be accepted only because it exists in the mental continuum of, or is taught by a high person. Thus Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa quotes the well known words of Aryadeva (Jnanasarasamuccaya, D vol. 97, 27v5):

Monks and scholars should accept my words
having first investigated them thoroughly,
like gold, which is smelted, cut and burnished,
but not out of [mere] veneration.

Dorje Sherab quotes at this point the almost same words from the Shri Mahabalatantraraja (D vol. 79, fol. 216v):

Like smelting , cutting, and burnishing gold,
accept my instructions after due investigation,
but, oh Skilful Ones, do not accept it
out of reverence or other [reasons].

These lines are well known and generally accepted by all Buddhists. But what is not so generally accepted is what Jigten Sumgön advises to do, namely to make an effort to perceive the virtue in all non-Buddhist paths, too, and to practise it. To do that, I think, would prevent a Buddhist from making statements such as those mentioned in the beginning, which, I think, may lead directly to political hell.

The final one of the 150 vajra-statements discusses the place where the Buddhas finally abide. Dorje Sherab describes the general view, according to which the Exalted Buddhas, having accomplished all deeds, transcend all misery, like a fire dies whose fuel is exhausted. They abide in the “palace of the sphere of reality of Akanishta,” the dwelling place of all Buddhas, which is ornamented with inconceivable arrangements of qualities. Every single present Buddha of the ten directions transcends misery and proceeds to that place, and all the Buddhas of the future too will complete their activities, transcend misery, and proceed and abide there. In contrast to such a view Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön maintains that (7.15) all Buddhas dwell in the natural continuum (khams rgyud ) of all sentient beings. Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa shows considerable interest in this statement and provides in his comments more details than we can find in the Dosherma and the Rinjangma . His main arguments can be summarised as the following eight points:

(1) From the moment onwards when they have cultivated the resolve for the benefit of beings, the Buddhas engage only in benefiting beings. Therefore their activities are not compatible with merely dwelling “in the sphere of peace.”
(2) They dwell in “the natural continuum (khams rgyud ) of the sentient beings who exist in samsara.” (For a definition of “natural continuum” see below, no. 8).
(3) All the Tathagatas fit into the mental continuum of each and every being, since
– the Buddha’s body emanates everywhere,
– true reality is inseparable from sentient beings’ mental continua,
– all beings belong to the Buddha-family and thus posses the essence of the Buddha.
(4) That “the Buddhas are dwelling in one’s natural continuum since beginningless time” means that they are “the undefiled nature of the mind” that is connected with the beings since beginningless time, while the afflictions are not a part of the beings’ nature.
(5) When temporal adventitious defilements are removed, that has been taught to be equal to Buddhahood.
(6) Buddha fields like Sukhavati, Akanishta, and Abhirati are not somewhere else, but exist within the natural continuum of sentient beings.
(7) The very world into which a being is born is the Buddha field. This point is also made in Sherab Jungne’s Praise of Definitive Meaning , a praise of his teacher Jigten Sumgön, where he reports the following question he asked his teacher and the latter’s reply to it: “Protector! Into which Buddha field will you proceed when you leave this world? Whereto shall we direct our prayers? [Reply]: This is the Buddha field! Where else should it be? I dwell wherever the true nature of the mind and mahamudra are an inseparable unity. Never separate from the practise of your own mind! That means ‘to be inseparable from me.’ How can I be at only a single place like Oddyana und Jalandhara?”
(8) The very thing that is called “natural continuum” (khams rgyud ) is so called because it is unproduced, spontaneously achieved etc., and it is a synonym of Buddha nature (sugatagarbha ).

The Dosherma and the Rinjangma tie in here the teaching of disciplined conduct (shila ) in an interesting way. They do this by focusing (in accordance with the above points) on the inside, namely the natural continuum of beings. Thus they state that all the far-away-Buddha-activities are in truth existing within the individual natural continua of all beings. In which way? If a person engages in bad conduct, not only do all ordinary beings perceive their faults, but all the Tathagatas, too, perceive this misconduct with their pure gnosis perception (i.e., so to speak, from within the natural continuum). On the other hand, if a person behaves correctly through the three venues, just that is the entrance gate for Buddha activities and their blessings.

The vinaya contains a section, called the vibhanga, which is of great interest because it contains stories that communicate for each pratimoksha rule a “case history” or a reason why it has been issued by the Buddha. Western researchers have usually maintained that these stories have been added later to the rules (e.g. Stache-Rosen 1984: 30; Rosen 1959: 16). Sometimes these case histories differ to some extant between the various vinaya traditions. The case histories found in the vinaya of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivadin tradition, for instance, are more elaborate than those of other traditions. One can also find sometimes more serious differences betweent the case histories of the different traditions. However that may be, even if added later to the narration, in my opinion these case histories are much too lively, varied, and specific, and obviously not following a pattern, to have been entirely “made up.” In any case, for the Buddhist tradition they are inseparably intermingled with the actual promulgation of the rules. And as we will see, for Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön they are an essential element of the argument regarding the range of application of the vinaya that will be investigated below.

Rosen (1959: 17) says that the rules of the pratimoksha as such of the different schools are in substance largely in agreement. This may be a little too optimistic, but in general one might indeed say that the numbers and the contents of the rules are a relatively stable factor within the vast literature of the different vinayas. The nature of many of these rules and the circumstances of their origination (as reported in the case histories) suggest that they were not issued with any idea of systematically covering certain categories of faults. If one analyses the rules and their case histories alone, the impression is rather that most—if not all—of them depended on a random event where a monk (or a group of monks) behaved in a certain manner that was seen as a problem internally within the community of monks or for the Sangha’s relation to the society surrounding them. At some point during the compilation of the vinaya these rules were organised into categories, mostly, it seems, according to the heaviness of the punishment in case of an infraction, but not so much in accordance to thematic categories of faults.

The fact that the vinaya regulates behaviour within the community of ordained persons and towards the outside world has from early on let to the belief among Western researchers that the sutra pitaka deals with the inner life and believes of Buddhism, while the vinaya pitaka focusses (merely) on the outward life and conduct of the ordained. I. B. Horner says (1938: ix):

Thus a standard of conduct is imposed from the outside, and for external impersonal reasons, instead of insistence being laid, as in the Nikaya teaching, on the great subjective states attainable through a man’s [sic!] own efforts of will.

Such a reduction of the vinaya to a mere sociological phenomenon was not accepted by Holt, who said (1994: 57):

My basic contention is that the Buddhist monastic discipline is most fully understood when it is considered as a purposive affective expression of the Buddha’s dhamma, that dhamma and vinaya are by no means separate constructs.

In this he draws (in ftn. 8) from Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, which quotes a sutta verse (SN i 13) as saying (with my square brackets):

When a wise man, established well in Virtue [i.e. the conduct according to rules],
develops Consciousness and Understanding [i.e. samadhi and prajña],
then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious,
he succeeds in disentangling this tangle.

This is to say that the vinaya rules, meditation, and wisdom have the same goal: liberation. In the Same Intention of the Drikungpa a very similar passage from the Arya Kashyapaparivarta Mahayanasutra is quoted (D 44/146v):

If you remain within the disciplined conduct, the samadhis are obtained.
If you remain within samadhi, discriminating knowledge is practised very effectively.
Through discriminating knowledge, perfect primordial wisdom is obtained.
If the primordial wisdom is pure, the disciplined conduct is perfect.

Holt aims in his paper at demonstrating (ibid.):

… how an early Buddhist theory of action is explicit in these stories [i.e. the case histories of the vibhanga], stories that clearly illustrate, via negativa, how internally disciplined volition is reflected in the forms of interpersonal conduct advocated by the vinaya code, how dhamma and vinaya are part and parcel of an integrated religious life.

I think that Holt correctly criticises a too narrow view of the vinaya, where vinaya is seen as mere accumulation of rules of proper conduct—i.e. “proper” in the eyes of the people, or as a mere instruction for an ascetic and restrained life style. However, the Buddha does not teach a mere restraint of non-action, annihilationism, and asceticism. His dharma as a whole, i.e. including the vinaya, aims at a spiritual goal (Horner 1938: 4-5, Holt 1994: 60):

I teach dhamma for the restraint of passion, of hatred and of confusion. I teach dhamma for the restraint of manifold evil wrong states [asavas] … which are searing [tapaniya], of offenses of body, speech and thought.

In other words: dharma and vinaya, and shila, samadhi, and prajña appear to be the same project. I would argue that a larger vision of the vinaya is also visible in passage such as DN 2.154, which is an instruction in the Pali canon to take the vinaya as the teacher after the Buddha’s passing (trl. Thanissaro Bhikkhu):

Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda: Now, if it occurs to any of you — “The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher” — do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone.

Even though it might be argued that dharma and vinaya are here mentioned as two (different?) items, the vinaya is nevertheless, like dharma, depicted as a teacher, not as a mere policeman. It could be argued that the vinaya has a message that is larger than the keeping of the ordained ones under control, and it is exactly such a view of the vinaya that Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön has in mind in his Single Intention.

Although his teacher Phagmodrupa had urged Jigten Sumgön on several occasions to take ordination, the latter remained reluctant to do that (Sommerschuh, p. 90). Only on the occasion of a gancakra (Tib. tshogs) in the memory of his teacher, when a woman behaved indecent in the presence of Jigten Sumgön, did he begin to seriously consider ordination in order to make his renounced state visible to the world (p. 123). But it was not until his experiences in his first meditation retreat in E-chung in the early 1170s that he completely understood the fundamental nature of virtue and non-virtue, and thereby of ordination and of the vinaya (p. 104). He then took simultaneously the vows of a novice and a full monk at the age of 35 in ca. 1177 (p. 122 ff.). It is for the following perhaps important to keep in mind that Jigten Sumgön’s understanding of monastic discipline arose primarily from his meditative practise.

Within the vinaya-pratimoksha chapter of the Jigten Sumgön’s Single Intention, we find a number of remarkable statements. Most of these are indicators of the great importance the vinaya now had for the author of the Single Intention and his teachings, and some are certainly astounding. Thus he states that the vinaya is not a teaching of the shravaka’s vehicle alone, but of all three vehicles, including mantra. It is furthermore stated here to arise from primordial wisdom and therefore of being itself wisdom, and when even only a single vow is guarded, nirvana will be obtained by that, to provide just a few noteworthy examples.

I would like to briefly introduce in the following one cluster of statements, namely 3.10-15 of the Single Intention, where it is not accepted that there are different statuses of rules. Accordingly, the concept of something being a “misdeed by nature” and of something being a “misdeed by rule,” 1 where in the first case it is always prohibited and never permitted, whereas in the second case there are occasions where it is permitted and occasions where it is prohibited, is rejected. Jigten Sumgön’s negation of a real function of such concepts of discernment has the consequence that for him the observance of all kinds of rules is virtuous for all beings and not only for limited groups such as only for ordained people. Furthermore he therefore also rejects that there exists a substantial difference between general “evil” (sdig pa) on the one hand and “infraction” (ltung byed) on the other, since according to him whatever is prohibited because it is non-virtuous is “inveterately prohibited” (ye bkag) and therefore evil at all times and for everyone, and whatever is permitted because it is virtuous is “inveterately permitted” (ye gnang) and therefore to be practised at all times and by everyone. It furthermore follows that whichever being avoids non-virtue and thereby avoids a prohibition will acquire a benefit from that, and whichever being commits non-virtue — possessing vows or not — will experience negative results from that.

The first of these points is dealt with in the Single Intention’s vajra-statement 3.10, 2 according to which “misdeed by rule” and “misdeed by nature” are one and the same thing, even though in general some people say that whatever is a “misdeed by nature” is always prohibited and never permitted, whereas in the case of a “misdeed by rule” there are occasions where they are permitted and occasions where they are prohibited. 3 These terms, whose distinguishing function is here refuted, can only be found in the commentarial literature of Buddhagosa, Vasubandhu, Asanga, or Pang Lotsava. According to the views of these commentators, the four basic infractions such as killing are prohibited by nature, whereas such things as needlessly digging in the earth, touching fire, and playing with water, 4 which are all from the “infraction only” section (ltung byed ‘ba’ zhig) of ordination, are only prohibited by a rule and therefore only for ordained persons. That is to say that they are not faults in themselves, but could cause problems indirectly (for instance because people complain about monks or nuns who behave in such a manner), and thus it is said that there is no fault in that kind of conduct itself, but merely in the transgression of the rule, provided one has accepted that rule through ordination.

Jigten Sumgön, however, denied the validity of this distinction into “by nature” and “by rule.” Instead he maintains that the Buddha issued each single rule he pronounced based on his realisation of true reality, that is, he issued the rules in accordance to his complete understanding of dependent origination of causes and conditions and his realisation of all knowledge objects. Thus, not being an oracle or a creator god (cf. Single Intention 1.1), he did not issue rules according to his will, but due to his awakening to the nature of all phenomena. And since he furthermore has equal love for all sentient beings, he does not prefer one group of beings over others, but instead tries to lead them all without differentiation onto the path of benefit and bliss.

The commentaries refer in this context to the story of the Tirthika teacher Mukapangu and the abandoning of surplus wealth, whereby mundane or transmundane qualities are achieved. 5 The rules concerning not eating food that was not given and concerning surplus wealth and hoarding are explained through the following context. 6 During the first eon the luminous gods were born here in this world of men. Growing attached to the taste of the foods in this world, some of them ate much. The earth element came into their bodies, they became unable to walk through the sky, and the light, too, vanished from their bodies. The others said to them: “You have a bad complexion and we are the ones with good complexion.” In that way these gods accumulated the karma of attachment and aversion based on their differentiation into self and other. The supreme fruits, i.e. tasty fruits that don’t need cultivation, were much in demand and some started to hoard them. Then the fields were divided into individual ones and demarcations were made. In short, from all this developed desire, jealousy, improper conduct such as stealing and lying etc., and the lifespan decreased. One of the chief causes for the worsening of the conditions was the hoarding of food. 7 For this reason the non-virtuous effects of hoarding food applies to all, whether householder or ordained person. On the other hand, to guard against that, which is prohibited for fully ordained people by rule constitutes a benefit also for householders. Furthermore, no matter whether a Buddha has already appeared or not, or whether the prohibitions were already announced or not, hoarding naturally causes all the above problems and to abandon hoarding is naturally beneficial for all beings. All this is perceived by the Buddha through his gnosis of omniscience, and whichever rule is issued thereby is in accordance to the nature of reality.

In the following vajra-statement (Single Intention 3.11), it is argued that if everything that is prohibited is not permitted because it is non-virtuous by nature, it follows that the distinction into groups of beings for whom the transgression of these prohibitions constitutes or doesn’t constitute a fault is false. Here the commentator Rinchen Jangchub points out that (similar to the Buddha’s statement quoted above: “I teach dhamma for the restraint of passion …”) “whichever Dharma wheel that is turned by the Tathagata is a way of abandoning and accomplishing” and that

through the primordial wisdom that realises sameness [the Buddha has] defeated the thing to be abandoned—the afflictions—and he has identified that [act] as constituting the [rules concerning] abandoning (dgag bcas). And within that state [of abandoning afflictions], to make use of immeasurable qualities is constituting [the rules concerning] accomplishing (sgrub bcas). Accordingly, all the Buddha’s teachings are taught to sentient beings in the manner of abandoning and accomplishing.

This is the principle argument, namely that all teachings, which are nothing but the abandoning and accomplishing, concern all beings in general, because what is explained by the Buddha as that which is to be abandoned and accomplished is in accordance with the nature as it is realised by wisdom. Whatever is the nature of reality concerns all beings without differentiation. ‘Evil’ and ‘infraction’ is thus only a terminological difference, the first being used for misdeeds of people without commitments and the second for misdeeds of people with commitments (Single Intention 3.12). Dorje Sherab offers the following analogy: “One says ‘dish’ (bshos) when it is offered to high class persons and ‘food’ (zan) when offered to common people.”

Furthermore, one of the most controversial views maintained in the Single Intention (3.13) is that whatever is prohibited because it is non-virtuous is “inveterately prohibited” (ye bkag) and therefore evil at all times and for everyone, and whatever is permitted because it is virtuous is “inveterately permitted” (ye gnang) and therefore to be practised at all times and by everyone. This point is according to Dorje Sherab brought up primarily against those people who hold that the foundation or root of the rules, i.e. that what they are about, is in itself neutral and is only prohibited when a rule about it has been issued by the Buddha. In that case, since the foundation or root of the rule would not be about something that is a non-virtue by nature, exceptions from such rules are possible, for instance when the Buddha allows to eat after noon if someone is sick. When such an an exception is granted, no harm is caused because there is no infraction of the rule. In this example, people argue, the Buddha shows moderation in that he softens an ascetic rule for the benefit of someone who is weakened by illness.

The second example provided is that of Arya Shariputra, who is said to have taught the Dharma until after sundown to the lady Dampa Päldenmo. This example seems to be based either on the rule that a monk should not stay with a woman after sundown, or that he is not supposed to stay with a woman alone in a house, hidden from others, or perhaps both. 8 Here, however, an exception is granted, because teaching the Dharma and listening to it is without fault, because there are no afflictions involved and the woman developed an understanding of the truth. Thirdly, to touch a woman with a desirous intention is normally prohibited, but it is allowed to touch her in order to save her from danger. 9 According to the story that is told by Dorje Sherab (where he explains the “general view”), when a woman was drowning the Buddha permitted to touch her, saying: “Produce the notion of a clot of earth with regard to the woman that is taken away by a river, grasp her by her hair and braids and pull her out!” Therefore, according to these three examples, what is first prohibited is later permitted depending on conditions. No harm is caused, because that, what the rule is about, is not in itself or naturally non-virtuous, but only prohibited because the Buddha had issued a rule for the monks as a reaction to a particular event that had caused trouble.

This view, however, is not shared by Jigten Sumgön, who maintains that whatever is prohibited is inveterately prohibited (ye bkag) and whatever is permitted is inveterately permitted (ye gnang). According to the commentator Rinchen Jangchub, this terminology goes back to Phagmodrupa, who is quoted with these words:

If a mind is associated with afflictions, an act is non-virtuous, and temporary and ultimate results [are the arising of] suffering, the prohibition is ‘inveterately prohibited’ (bkag pa ye bkag). If a mind is not associated with afflictions, an act is not non-virtuous, and temporary and ultimate results are the arising of happiness, the permission is ‘inveterately permitted’ (gnang ba ye gnang).

In one of Jigten Sumgön’s works “inveterately prohibited” is glossed as “natural non-virtue” (gshis mi dge ba). 10 The point is that it is within the powers of the Buddha to recognise what is virtuous by nature and what is not virtuous by nature, because he possesses the ten powers of the Tathagata, one of which is “the primordial wisdom that perceives what is and what is not appropriate.” Thereby the Buddha is an expert in instructing the beings, since, as it is expressed by Rinchen Jangchub, “having connected to the mind of an individual who is the basis, the Tathagata teaches a training fitting to him and he defines the levels of permission and prohibition.” The Buddha’s particular ability is, so to speak, the result of a combination of his knowledge of the nature of reality and of the minds of the beings. Thereby, for instance, he understands that hoarding and eating food with desire is non-virtuous, and he explains how food should be eaten just as it is received (i.e. without further evaluation of its quality, etc.) and that it is not to be kept for a later time.

Now, as mentioned above, some people hold that he has allowed exceptions from this rule, allowing for instance the sick to take meals also after noon. But Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön denies that hoarding food for a later time and eating it with desire can be anything but non-virtuous. Therefore the Buddha would also be unable to make an exception for the ill—we have to remember here that according to Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön all the rules are based on the Buddha’s understanding of the nature of reality, they are not his inventions and he is not a god. Therefore the Buddha explains that when food that is eaten with the intention of taking a medicine that cures diseases, it is permitted in all respects and at all times. In other words, if a person cultivates a mind to eat with such an intention, that mind is free from the desire to enjoy pleasurable taste and it is free from the greed of hoarding. This view of things is illustrated through examples.

Shariputra’s teaching the Lady until after dawn was ruled to be without infraction, since their minds were free from afflictions and endowed with the Dharma. The activity (“teaching the Dharma”) was also faultless, and the result—the Lady’s perception of the truth—was also virtuous. Such activities are never prohibited. On the other hand, afflicted activities are never permitted. The commentator Dorje Sherab adds here the point that if in general it is taught that there is no transgression when from among the four limbs “basis (or object), intention, execution, and completion” even only one is not complete, the permission in a case where all are incomplete does not need to be further discussed. This is here related to Shariputra’s teaching to the lady after dawn, where they did not perceive each other as objects of desire, where the intention was to teach or learn Dharma, free from affliction, where the action was also executed free from affliction, and where the result was her understanding of the Dharma. In other words, this case is not an exception from the rule, because it is not a case where afflicted activity was permitted. Instead it is an entirely different case than the one that is prohibited to the monks by rule, namely to spent time with a lady after sundown, or to stay with her alone in a house hidden from others.

The second example is interesting not only as a further illustration of the point, but also because the concept of the notion of an object plays a role. Here it is the notion (Tib. ‘du shes, Skt. samjña) of a woman that is to be wilfully superposed by the notion of a lump of earth or clay, so that it is allowed for a monk to touch a drowning woman when pulling her out of the water. Yet although the manipulation of the notion of the object is clearly a key point in this case, it also is explicitly mentioned by the later commentator Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa that this skilful means of manipulation is furthermore to be coupled with the special mahayana intention of benefiting another being. It seems that Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is presenting here “intention” as the principle point and the “notion” that is produced only as a secondary matter, namely a skilful means. This however, seems to be a later development, since such an explicit mahayana motivation is not mentioned in the earlier commentaries of Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub. The key point here is to show that skilful means are not allowing for an exception to the rule, but constitute an entirely different case. To touch a woman out of desire is prohibited in all respects, whereas to touch a clot of earth is not prohibited in any respect.

The third and fourth illustration are those through the rule prohibiting alcohol, which is connected with an incident involving Arya Svagata, 11 and the rule prohibiting the lying together with women, which the Buddha issued in the context of incidents involving Maudgalyayana, Aniruddha, and others. These issues, however, are too vast to be discussed here.

The two remaining points of this cluster of vajra-statements in the third chapter of the Single Intention, namely 3.14-15, are merely conclusions of the above statement, and thus they can be merely summarised here as stating that “benefit will arise indeed [through] the guarding [of vows] by whichever of the beings of the six realms” and that “the transgressing of the rules by whichever being of the six realms is an occurring of faults.”

In final conclusion it can be said that Jigten Sumgön offers an alternative view of the vinaya, according to which

- “misdeed by rule” and “misdeed by nature” refer to one and the same act, with the first term referring to that act done by a person possessing commitments and the second to the same act done by a person without commitments;
– the Buddha bestowed the rules to the beings in general (and not the group of ordained ones alone);
– evil and infraction is not different, but the same;
– the benefit through following the rules will arise for all beings (again not only for the group of ordained ones alone); and
– transgression of the rules constitutes a fault for all beings.

According to the biography of Jigten Sumgön he came to this realisation while he practised for several years in the solitude mountain retreat, understanding thereby teachings he had received from his guru Phagmodrupa. As in many other cases of views presented in the Single Intention, what can be realised from (1) own experience, (2) instructions of the guru, (3) Buddha word, and (4) examples found (in this case) primarily in the sutras, supersedes in any case teachings as found in the Indian commentary tradition. 12 Such a view, where the instructions of the Buddha have a single intention, namely to abandon what is by nature non-virtuous and to practise what is by nature virtuous, is the heart of Jigten Sumgön’s main teaching, the Single Intention. It is just one more case of his attempt to point out the nucleus of the Buddha’s teachings, rather than to show what differentiates them.

1 “Misdeed by nature” (Skt. pratikshepana-savadya, Tib. rang bzhin gyi kha na ma tho ba) and “misdeed by rule” (Pali pannatti-vajja, Skt. prajñapti-savadya, Tib. bcas pa’i kha na ma tho ba).

2 I follow basically the commentary of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, the Nyi ma’i snang ba, when I refer to a commentary of the Single Intention, unless otherwise noted.

3 Schmithausen (1991: 16, ftn. 93) identifies these terms as (Pali) panatti-vajja, (Skt.) prajñapti-savadya “fault because [the Buddha] has declared or decided it to be so [for monks]” and (Skt.) pratikshepana-savadya “fault by nature, or for ordinary people [too].” These terms can only be found in the commentarial literature such as Buddhagosa’s Samantapasadika (228), the Milindapañha (266,18 ff.), Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakoshabhashya (218,15 ff.), the Bodhisattvabhumi (Dutt 112,20 ff., 113,17—all references by Schmithausen); or in Asanga’s rNal ‘byor spyod pa’i sa las ‘dul ba bsdu ba (Yogacarabhumau-vinayasamgrahani), D no. 4040, fols. 7r7 -7v2 and in dPang Lotsaba Blo-gros-brtan-pa’s Chos mngon pa kun las btus pa’i rgya cher ‘grel pa (fol. 247v6—references by Bayer 410, ftn. 390).

4 For s “needlessly digging in the earth,” cf. Rosen (1959: 200), Patayantika-Dharma 73; for “touching fire,” cf. Rosen (1959: 177), Patayantika-Dharma 52, and for “playing with water,” cf. Rosen (1959: 191), Patayantika-Dharma 64.

5 P vol. 41, fol. 342r. See also Panglung (1981: 48).

6 For “not eating food that was not given,” cf. Rosen (1959: 159), Patayantika-Dharma 39;
the rules concerning surplus wealth and hoarding are many, see for instance Rosen (1959: 111), Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 21, where the keeping of surplus alms bowls is prohibited, p. 123, Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 30, where the hoarding of medicine beyond seven days is prohibited, and concerning the hoarding of cloth, p. 79, Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 3, and concerning the hoarding of food, p. 157, Patayantika-Dharma 38.

7 My summary of this account is additionally based on the commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub, Single Intention 2.9. The connection with the hoarding of food for more than one day is also explicitly made in the Aggañña Sutta (D iii 80-98, this passage 85 f.) of the Pali tradition.

8 I am not exactly certain which rule is at stake here. According to the Patayantika-Dharma 65 (Rosen 1959: 192), a monk is not allowed to stay in a woman’s house over night. According to one of the two Aniyata-Dharmas (Rosen 1959: 76 f.), a monk is not allowed to sit with a woman in a house hidden from others.

9 Cf. Rosen (1959: 58 f.), Samghavashesha-Dharma 2.

10 Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 452-460, bKag pa ye bkag gnang ba ye gnang gi skor bstan pa, p. 460.

11 Svagata had, due to ignorance, taken food (in some versions drink) mixed with alcohol and had become heavily intoxicated. On that occasion, the Buddha provided the rule concerning intoxicants. For the story of Arya Svagata (Tib. ‘Phags-pa Legs-‘ong) in detail, see Ch’en (1947: 207-314, esp. p. 242 ff.).

12 These four points are called the “four authentic qualities” (tshad ma bzhi), on which I plan to publish a separate article, comparing the tshad ma bzhi in the teachings of the Sakyapas and the Drikungpas.

Bayer, Achim (2010) The Theory of Karman in the Abhidharmasamuccaya, (Studia Philologica Buddhica XXVI), Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.

Collected Works, Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang ratna shri’i bka’ ‘bum nor bu’i bang mdzod, (Collected Works of ‘Jig-rten-gsum-mgon), H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang (Konchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundup), Drikung Kagyu Institute, Dehra Dun, 2001.

Frauwallner, Erich (1956) The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Literature, (Serie Orientale Roma 8), Roma: Is.M.E.O.

Holt, John Clifford (1994) “The Beginnings of Buddhist Discipline: Notes on an early Buddhist Theory of Action,” Buddhist Behavioral Codes and the Modern World, Charles Wei-hsun-Fu and Sandra A. Wawrytko (eds.), (Contributions to the Study of Religions 38), Westport, Conneticut: Greewood Press, pp. 54-66

Horner, I. B. (1938) The Book of the Discipline, Volume I, (Vinaya-pitaka), London: Oxford University Press

Prebish, Charles S. (1996) Buddhist Monastic Discipline: The Sanskrit Pratimoksa Sutras of the Mahasamghikas and Mulasarvastivadins, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Rosen, Valentina (1959) Der Vinayavibhanga zum Bhiksupratimoksa der Sarvastivsdins: Sanskritfragmente nebst einer Analyse der chinesischen Übersetzung, (Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden 2), Berlin: Akademie Verlag

Schmithausen, Lambert (1991) The Problem of the Sentience of Plants in Early Buddhism, (Studia Philologica Buddhica VI), Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.

Sommerschuh, Christine (2014) Funkensprühen des kostbaren Vajra: Der Lebensweg der völligen Befreiung des Dharmaherrn Jigten Sumgön, mit der Biografie des Verfassers “Donnerklang des Ruhms”, (Vajra-Klänge, Vol. 2), Jan-Ulrich Sobisch (ed.), München: Edition Garchen Stiftung, 301 p.

Stache-Rosen, Valentina (1984) Upalipariprcchasutra: Ein Text zur Buddhistischen Ordensdisziplin, aus dem Chinesischen übersetzt und den Pali-Parallelen gegenübergestellt, (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Dritte Folge, Nr. 140), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht

Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org) (DN 2.154)

Yamagiwa, Nobuyuki (1994) “The Importance of Vinaya in the Study of Indian Buddhism, with Special Reference to Chinese Sources,” Buddhist Behavioral Codes and the Modern World, Charles Wei-hsun-Fu and Sandra A. Wawrytko (eds.), (Contributions to the Study of Religions 38), Westport, Conneticut: Greewood Press, pp. 101-109.

Dear friends,

let me misuse my blog today for an announcement concerning the publication of two books (in German language) on Jigten Sumgön and his teaching. These books appeared as the result of the combined effort of Nubpa Rinpoche, Khenpo Nyima Gyaltshen, Yeshe Metog (Claude Jürgens), and Christine Sommerschuh, and with the generous support of the Garchen Foundation. One of these books contains the detailed biography of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön and the biography of the author of that text, namely Chenga Sherab Jungne, chief disciple of Jigten Sumgön and author of the Single Intention (dGongs gcig). The other book contains the detailed retreat instructions of Jigten Sumgön, written down by Sherab Jugne and compiled by Nubpa Rinpoche. They are the first two books appearing in a new German book series called “Vajra-Klänge” (rDo rje sgra dbyangs).

Jigten Sumgön’s biography, Funkensprühen des kostbaren Vajra (rDo rje rin po che ‘bar ba), is one of the most unusual biographies of Tibetan masters. It was compiled immediately after the death of Jigten Sumgön and contains the combined accounts of his closest disciples. After its compilation, which is said to have happened within a single day, it was read to the entire assembly of monks and yogis in Drikung and approved by them. The great Tibetan historian Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1566) lists it among the most remarkable historical sources of Tibet. Its contents is likewise remarkable. Far from being the usual eulogy of the great deeds of a bodhisattva or tantric master, it relates quite realistically the enormous struggles that Jigten Sumgön underwent on his path to complete realisation, including all faults committed, all disappointments, and all doubts and shortcomings. The book also provides a rare glimpse into the founding and establishing of one of the early Kagyüpa traditions.
Christine Sommerschuh has worked for several years painstakingly on this very difficult text that includes numerous expression in dialect not found in any dictionary. Having first established the Tibetan text of the biography, she received detailed explanations on it by Khenpo Nyima Gyaltshen, who was recently described by H.H. Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche as “one of the greatest Khenpos of Tibet and the most excellent Drikung Khenpo outside of Tibet.” The result of their efforts is a very legible and beautiful translation into German language. The book also includes my own translation of Sherab Jungnes biography, which was composed by Rinchen Phüntshog, two maps, numerous annotations, appendices with sources, a chronology, and indices of names and places.

The retreat instructions of Jigten Sumgön, Ein Meer von Nektar (bDud rtsi’i gter chen), are the key points of his “mountain Dharma” (Ri chos gnad bsdus), written down by the chief disciple Sherab Jungne. Numerous instructions on retreats in solitude can be found in seven works contained in Jigten Sumgön’s collected works, in the sections containing inner and hidden teachings. From this enormous amount of instruction, the learned and yogic master Nubpa Rinpoche compiled the Tibetan text for the present translation. Having received detailed explanations by Khenpo Nyima Gyaltshen, Yeshe Metog (Claude Jürgens) has translated this text beautifully into German language. Over a period of several years she researched these instructions, which contain as many obscure terms as the above mentioned biography. During this period Khenpo Nyima Gyaltshen never tired to answer her numerous questions.
We know of many “mountain Dharmas” (ri chos) in Tibet. I have, however, never seen one that goes into similarly subtle details concerning the dependent origination of mental, verbal, and bodily activities before and during the retreat. Jigten Sumgön, who has been praised as a master of dependent origination, is here chiefly concerned with instructions that help his disciples to achieve the best possible results by engaging in the right causes and avoiding the wrong ones. This contains for instance even the investigation of spontaneous thoughts that occur when one approaches the retreat area, the analysis of their results, the methods for enhancing positive results, and the remedies applied to avoid an unfavourable ripening. The book contains the complete Tibetan text on the even pages with the respective translation on the facing pages, indices of names and places, a list of source, and glossaries.

The books can be ordered for 22 and 17 Euros at: Garchen Foundation, Reimerdinger Str. 18, 29640 Schneverdingen, Germany, info@garchen-stiftung.de

Chenga Sherab Jungne (2014) Funkensprühen des kostbaren Vajras: Der Lebensweg der völligen Befreiung des Dharmaherrn Jigten Sumgön, mit der Biografie des Verfassers, “Donnerklang des Ruhms,” Christine Sommerschuh (trl.), (Vajra-Klänge 2), edited by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, München: Edition Garchen Stiftung, with a biography of Chenga Sherab Jungne by Rinchen Phüntshog trl. by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, 301 pp., 2 maps, ISBN 978-3-945457-02-3.

Drikung Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön (2014) Ein Meer von Nektar: Die entscheidenden Punkte für eine Klausur in den Bergen, Yeshe Metog (Claude Jürgens, trl.), (Vajra-Klänge 1), edited by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, München: Edition Garchen Stiftung, 183 pp., ISBN 978-3-945457-01-6

Last month I had the fortunate opportunity to take several hundred pictures of a manuscript that is preserved at the Musée Guimet in Paris. It is a handwritten text of one of the first commenatries of the Same Intention (dGongs gcig), namely the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me composed in the 1250s by one of Sherab Jungne’s direct disciples, Dorje Sherab. The manuscript has several exciting features, some of which I would like to briefly communicate here.

1. On the reverse of the first page we find two miniatures. The left one is most probably a portrait of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, showing the teaching mudra (you can click on all photos to enlarge them):

Jigten Sumgon
This is a very close copy of the Thanka decribed by Amy Heller in her article “A Thang-ka Portrait of ‘Bri gung rin chen dpal, ‘Jig rten gsum mgon (1143-1217)” published in JIABS no. 1 (October 2005): 1-10. The thanka was carbon dated to the early 13th century, and Amy concludes that it is likely “a commemorative portrait which was made shortly after the death of ‘Bri gung Chos rje Rin chen dpal in 1217.”

Sherab Jungne
On the right hand side of the reverse of the first folio we find another portrait of a Lama holding his hands folded in prayer, facing Jigten Sumgön. A probable suggestion is that it shows Jigten Sumgön’s disciple Sherab Jungne (1187-1255), who wrote down the vajra-sentences of the Single Intention of his teacher and taught them extensively after 1225. He was also the direct teacher of the author of the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me.

The style of these miniature paintings is copying that of the thanka, which was dated to the early 13th century.

2. Several features of the handwriting suggest also an early date for our manuscript. One of them is the use of ancient orthography. Some examples:

bde’ in bde’ legs

dmyigs for dmigs

myed for med

Other ancient features are the way in which some of the letters are stacked, which resembles the writing style we find as early as in the Tibetan documents of Dunhuang:

dunhuang type stack

dunhuang type stack 2

dunhuang type stack 3

These and other features of the manuscript could mean that it was written as early as the 14th century (according to a preliminary assessment by Sam van Schaik). Unfortunately, however, the knowledge of styles of Tibetan handwriting from the 11th century onwards is not much developed and thus the dating must remain open for further investigation.

3. Another interesting fact about this manuscript is that it was brought to Europe by the French explorer and dedicated Tibetophile Alexandra David-Néel. She is known to have spend several decades of the first part of the 20th century in and around Tibet. In 1911 she travelled to Sikkim where she became friends with Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal, the Maharaja and Chögyal of Sikkim. During her stay she met the 13th Dalai Lama twice and also traveled into Tibet to Shigatse to meet the Panchen Lama in August 1916. Later, in 1924 and after a fantastic journey through China, she reached Lhasa disguised as a beggar and stayed there for about two months. Again in 1937 she travelled in the Eastern Tibetan highlands and spend time in Tachienlu (Tib. Dar-rtse-mdo). It would indeed be very interesting to find out on which occasion she got hold of this manuscript. The answer might be buried somewhere in her extensive letters archived in Digne Les Bains in the south of France.

4. The photographic documentation of this rare manuscript is a crucial first step for editing the commentary. What makes this manuscript particularly valuable are its countless annotations between the lines. These contain specifications of quotations and alternative readings, some of which might go back to another transmission of the text. (click on the photo to enlarge it)


In mantra practise, some people believe, the key to success is to gain certain experiences. They teach that by entering into samadhis of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, and by maintaining them for long periods of time, realisation arises. The only thing one is to avoid here is attachment to these experiences, because through attachment to bliss the yogi will be born within the realm of desire, through attachment to clarity he will be born in the realm of form, and through attachment to non-thought he will be born in the realm of formlessness.

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains that even the unattached experience of bliss, clarity, and non-thought is only a seed of samsara and does not even lead to the obtainment of arhatship, let alone Buddhahood (dGongs gcig 5.19). The reason for that is that as long as you make efforts to produce and maintain the states of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, you merely fabricate them. Thus even if you avoid attachment, these states are mere mental fabrication. Jigten Sumgön therefore maintains that realisation is the result of the process of purification, since the purification of those states from attachment and mental fabrication leads to the result of ‘freedom from proliferation.’

In the introduction to his commentary of the dGongs gcig, the Light of the Sun, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa quotes the Mahayana Sutralamkara (13.19, in Derge on fol. 188v):

The mind is held to be continuously luminous by nature.
It is flawed by adventitious defilements.
It is declared that there is no other mind
apart from the mind of true reality, naturally luminous.

Here the purified state is described in terms of luminosity. The luminosity of the mind, which is one side of the coin whose other side is freedom from proliferation, is the natural state of the mind. Not even the Buddha himself would be able change that state. Everything besides that is merely adventitious (Skt. agantuka, Tib. glo bur), that is, everything that is added to the luminous or non-proliferation nature is an affliction, like desire or mental activity, it does not belong to the original state, it is not essential or inherent to it, it is not a basic part or quality of the nature etc., and it is ‘newly arising,’ i.e. it is something in relation to which the nature is preexistent. Similarly the Hevajratantra (II iv 69) says:

Sentient beings are the Buddha.
They are, however, impeded by adventitious defilements.
If these are removed, that is Buddhahood.

Thus what stands between the samadhis of bliss, clarity, and non-thought on the one hand, and Buddhahood on the other, is the purification of these states. Having purified attachment to them, there is still the mental fabrication of those states to be removed. The result of that purification is called the “result of separation” (‘bral ba’i ‘bras bu). In particular, the result of the separation from the three afflictions (attachment, aversion, and delusion) by purification is the arising of the three bodies of a Buddha (Skt. trikaya), or if you count five afflictions, the result is the arising of five kayas, etc. Thus, as cited in 5.25: 1

By practising the purification of delusion
one will be Vairocana.
By practising the purification of hatred
one will be Akshobhya.
By practising the purification of desire
one will be Amitabha.
By practising the purification of envy
one will be the mighty Amoghasiddhi.
By practising the purification of arrogance
one will be Ratnasambhava.

Thus, as Dorje Sherab explains, the result of the purification—Buddhahood—is “the result of the maturation of practising all the virtuous white antidotes that purify the afflictions, and of the separation from afflictions.” In our present context of the three samadhis, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa summarises :

Realisation arises from the purification of these three experiences, but not from those [experiences themselves]! It must be understood that realisation obtained through [purified] experience is very different from a realisation that is first experienced and then lost again.

And Phagmodrupa said: 2

Even if first experience arises,
that is similar to an impermanent cloud and to lightning.
It is the cause for the arising of the mental affliction of pride.

And Dorje Sherab says elsewhere (in dGongs gcig 6.1) that if an experience arises which is just like a full stomach, it is not reliable and it will soon perish. When it perishes, one’s mental continuum quickly reverts to its previous state. Thus, how is the purification of fabricated experience achieved? Again, Phagmodrupa said (quoted in dGongs gcig 5.19):

Having abandoned attachment to bliss and clarity,
you should practise the realisation of the mind as the Buddha.

This is, according to the teachings of Phagmodrupa and Jigten Sumgön, only possible through the practise of the purest form of guru devotion, namely by perceiving the Guru as the dharmakaya. In his Cintamani (vol. 1, fol. 21r1), Jigten Sumgön says that Phagmodrupa taught him the following:

If one does not understand the guru to be the dharmakaya,
the realisation of oneself as dharmakaya is just babble.
If one does not understand the guru to be the form kaya,
one may [see] oneself clearly as the deity of meditation,
but is carried away by dead matter (peg/beg po).
If you see the guru as an ordinary being,
no matter how high one’s realisation, one will go astray in the experience.

And Dorje Sherab quotes Jigten Gönpo (in 6.6):

The former [gurus] have taught
that the qualities of all of samsara and nirvana
arise certainly from the excellent guru devotion.
If one is without devotion, there is no chance.

Thus through the ultimate devotion of seeing the guru as the dharmakaya, the mind is realised, and by practising the mind, all fabricated experiences are purified and Buddhahood is achieved. Thus Phagmodrupa teaches (as quoted in dGongs gcig 7.1):

E ma ho! This king that is the mind
—if it is realised, that is nirvana,
if it is not realised, that is the ocean of samsara.

Thus it is evident that in the context of mahamudra Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön follows the special practise method of Gampopa. Such a practise is mantra practise in so far, as there is an element of deity practise and a form of guru devotion that is more typical for mantra than for general mahayana sutra. Yet it is not exclusively mantra in the sense of other yoga practises of mantra that are exclusively tantric, such as the six yogas of Naropa. As it is practised within the Drikung Kagyüpa tradition, namely as the Fivefold Path of Mahamudra, it furthermore involves important mainstream mahayana sutra practises such as the cultivation of the resolve for awakening (bodhicitta) that precedes everything, and the dedication for the benefit of all sentient beings that always follows, and that is practised in a state that is free from the hypostatic entities known as the ‘three components’ or ‘three spheres’ (Tib. ‘khor gsum, Skt. trimandala) that characterise the functioning of the dualistic mind, namely the notions of an agent, an intended beneficiary, and an activity of merit transference. And the nature of the mind is here not identified through indirect analytical means, but through a direct investigation of the nature of the mind together with a guru yoga that identifies the nature of the guru as dharmakaya and that dharmakaya and the guru’s mind as inseparable from one’s own mind. Through such a practise, too, there may be intense experiences made of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, yet these experiences need to be purified from all attachment and fabrication, since these would become an impediment as they only lead to further birth in extremely long lasting high states of samsara.

1Although I was unable to find this exact quote in the canon, I found several very similar ones.

2This quote is attributed in the Dosherma to the Rin chen them skas.

Much could be said about the possible translations of this term. Mostly in use are ‘consecration,’ ‘initiation,’ and ‘empowerment.’ The first, ‘consecration,’ is certainly the most literal of these translations — at least from the perspective of the Sanskrit term — since abhisheka means “anointing, inaugurating or consecrating (by sprinkling water), inauguration of a king (…) religious bathing, ablution” etc. 1 “Inauguration of a king” may seem strange to some of you, but one aspect of inauguration ceremonies of ancient India was indeed the sprinkling of water over the head of the prince by ministers and brahmin priests, 2 and the same term was in fact used for both the king’s inauguration and the ritual for introducing the tantric adept to the mandala. This fact, however, demonstrates also the limitation of the literal translation ‘consecration,’ because it shows that while it does fit well the tantric vase-abhisheka, it does not fit well with the remaining three abhishekas of the highest yoga tantras, namely the secret, the wisdom, and the word (or fourth) abhisheka, which employ other tools and images than the vase abhisheka.

‘Initiation,’ though vastly popular as a translation for abhisheka, is problematic, since the term, having undergone an enormous inflation in ethnography, is used for so many different phenomena that it has lost all its distinctive functions. Its use for abhisheka may be more confusing than helping to convey the meaning of the term.

The Tibetans have decided to go for ‘empowerment’ (dbang), which is usually described as a process of removing impediments (sgrib pa gtor ba), pouring in wisdom-power (ye shes kyi nus pa blugs pa), and planting the seeds (sa bon gdab pa) of the four resultant Buddha bodies (‘bras bu sku bzhi) and initiating the process of their maturation (smin par byed pa). 3 It must be borne in mind, however, that the conceptions and images that are evoked by such a terminology happen on the surface level of truth, since, according to mahahyana philosophy, in the true sense nothing from the outside is really placed in the mental continuum that has not already been there. Therefore it is said in the Guhyasamajatantra (17.50):

In short, the five psycho-physical constituents of the person (skandha)
are well known as the five Buddhas (…),

and in the Samputi Tantra (D fol. 78v):

One’s own body is the Buddha himself —
the Buddha does not exist anywhere else!
Obscured by ignorance [some] hold
Buddhahood to be something different from their body.

Taking these teachings of the highest yoga tantras into consideration, the term ‘empowerment’ appears to be quite appropriate, as it also allows for an understanding where the adept receiving the empowerment is in fact empowered to awaken and cultivate until full maturation the inherent seeds of the Buddha bodies through gradual practise. I think that the term ‘empowerment’ does in fact convey both levels of understanding, namely that of outer ritual activities such as invocation, worship, and transference of powers from master to disciple, and the level of an inner process that in truth occurs only in the adept’s own mind. The existence of a few adepts who awaken to Buddhahood all at once when they receive empowerment is no dent in the above explanation, since for Jigten Sumgön even ‘all at once awakening’ is always based on gradual cultivation in former lifetimes. In sum one might say that empowerment is in essence an awakening of the practitioner’s potential, involving both a complete purification of impediments and a complete transformation and cultivation of the inherent potential.

The question therefore arises, how one can know that empowerment has been successfully received. Many writers stress in their discussions the correct procedures of the ritual and the appropriate qualifications of the vajra master and the disciple. Thus, for instance, the minimum requirement for a vajra master is according to Rinchen Jangchub that “entering the stages of cultivation in a state of clear and stable awareness, [he] has obtained stability on the stage of cultivation and has obtained ‘warmth’ on the stage of completion.” The marks of the disciples to be empowered, too, must be at least that “they have purified their mental continua through [practices] starting with taking common refuge [up to] the preliminaries, have supplicated the vajra master three times, and have abandoned adverse conditions.” Yet, Rinchen Jangchub says, even though someone with those qualities may have undergone the correct ritual as prescribed and presided over by a qualified master may think “[now] I have obtained the empowerment,” can ritual correctness and certain qualifications alone cause the meaning of the empowerment to really arise in the mental continuum? He provocatively states: “Sometimes merely the ritual has been performed!” In the same manner Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa summarises the most problematic point of the general opinion by stating that people believe that if all conditions are fulfilled, then “thereby the meaning of tantric empowerment must arise.” Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains with this regard that “[tantric empowerment] is [only] obtained when the [true] meaning of tantric empowerment arises in the mental continuum” (dGongs gcig 5.2).

Only when the complete result of purification and transformation arises in the mental continuum is the understanding of empowerment complete, and this may occur only after a long process. Rinchen Jangchub and Dorje Sherab state the example of Geshe Putowa Rinchen Säl (1031-1106), who was fully ordained already for thirty years when he said: “Today the disciplined conduct of renunciation arose in me. My preceptor is that layman at Radreng.” This refers to his master Dromtön Gyalwe Jungne (1005-1064), indicating that the meaning of ordination (similar to the meaning of empowerment) may only arise long after the ritual has been performed, and independent from the usual conditions, as here the preceptor is said to be Dromtön, who actually cannot confer ordination, as he was only a layman (and he was also not alive anymore at that time). Likewise Gampopa obtained the full realisation of empowerment only after “practising, based on the teaching of Jetsün Mila, for six years in the Nyälgyi Sewa valley without leaving his seat.” Therefore, true empowerment is obtained when the realisation that evolves from the blessing of practising the pith instructions of the authentic guru and from the disciple’s own devotion and practise arises. In such a case vase empowerment is obtained when a strong conviction arises that the five constituents of the personality (skandha) and the six senses, their objects, and the six sensory perceptions (dhatu, ayatana) are the five Buddhas and so forth. Secret empowerment is obtained when the samadhi arises that is endowed with the joy of the purification of the eighty innate thoughts 4 as dhatu. The empowerment of discriminating knowledge is obtained when one experiences clear light through the stages of the four naturally inborn joys, namely the ‘surface level bliss of melting’ (kun rdzob zhu bde). 5 The fourth empowerment is obtained when the actual gnosis of mahamudra—the vajra yoga endowed with the seven limbs—arises. 6

1 The definition is taken from Monier Williams’ dictionary.
2 See Ronald Davidson, Indian Esoteric Buddhsm, p. 123.
3 The elements of this definition can be found in the Tibetan-Chinese-Tibetan dictionary Yisun (1985).
4 rang bzhin brgyad cu’i [kun] rtog pa’i sems: These eighty thought patterns are rooted in aversion, attachment and delusion. Cf. Lati Rinbochay (1979: 38 ff.: “eighty indicative conceptions”).
5 As Kongtrul states, except for in the Kalacakratantra great bliss is considered to be relative because “it must be realized by relying on the method of bliss from the melting of the relative [vital essence]. It is therefore considered relative owing to its connection to the relative” (Guarisco 2008: 134).
6 This topic is further discussed in vajra-statement 5.4.


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