Im Jahr 2002 lehrte Seine Heiligkeit, der Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche, den Grundtext von Tilopas „Ganges-Mahamudra“ in Medelon (Deutschland), im Drikung Ngaden Chöling. Bei einem Treffen in Dehradun bat ich ihn, zu diesem Text einen eigenen schriftlichen Kommentar zu verfassen, und ich versprach, die Grundlagen für eine Edition des Grundtextes zusammen zu stellen.

In den beiden folgenden Jahren sammelte verschiedene handschriftliche, außerkanonischen Überlieferungen der Gangama zusammen, z.B. die Handschrift der Mündlichen Überlieferung des Cakrasamvara, die alte Handschrift der Mündlichen Überlieferung der Vajrayogini, und die Handschriftensammlung der Indischen Grundtexte der Mahamudra. Auf diese Weise habe ich insgesamt vierzehn Textausgaben so zusammengestellt, dass für jede einzelne Silbe des Grundtextes alle Varianten aller Ausgaben sichtbar wurden. Diese mehr als 100 Seiten umfassende „Kollationierung“ war die Grundlage für die Belehrungen, die Seine Heiligkeit im Herbst 2008 in Dehra Dun (Indien) gab. Während der gesamten Belehrungen behielt er den kollationierten Text bei sich auf dem Tisch und entschied von Zeile zu Zeile, welches jeweils die beste Lesart des Grundtextes ist. Während der Belehrungen machte sich Seine Heiligkeit Notizen, die er dann später zu einem vollständigen und hier vorliegenden Kommentar ausgearbeitet hat. Es ist das erste Mal, dass in nicht-tibetischer Sprache eine „Gangama-Mahamudra“ Textausgabe und Übersetzung erscheint, die auf der Texttradition der ursprünglichen Handschriften beruht und die auf der Basis von mehreren verfügbaren Textausgaben ediert wurde.

Seine Heiligkeit übergab mir seinen Kommentar bereits im Jahr 2009 mit der Bitte, diesen ins Deutsche zu übersetzen. Leider haben mich verschiedene andere Projekte für geraume Zeit davon abgehalten. Im Frühjahrssemester 2015 habe ich schließlich die Chance ergriffen, und zusammen mit einigen Studenten an der Universität Kopenhagen Teile des Kommentars gelesen und bei dieser Gelegenheit den gesamten Text übersetzt.


Hier ist nun das Ergebnis, das für jeden frei zugänglich sein soll:

CHU SHEL Unicode

Ich wünsche Euch viel Freude beim Lesen!


During the last three months, I had the chance to work a bit on the 8th Karmapa’s enormous commentary of the Single Intention. Actually, it is not really one commentary, but a collection of texts composed between the mid-1530s and the mid-1540s. Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s style of writing is remarkably different from the other commentaries of the Single Intention that I have studied so far, in particular, the early 13th century commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub, and the 17th-century commentary by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa. But it is not only the writing style but also his whole approach that differs from the commentaries of Drikungpa authors.

One aspect of the Karmapa’s special approach to the Single Intention is that he discusses it as if it were (largely) a philosophical text. At one point, Mikyö Dorje indicates that the Single Intention was conceived of from the beginning as a “system of philosophical tenets” text (Skt. siddhanta). He says that Jigten Sumgon once predicted that his chief disciple Sherab Jungne would compose such a “system of philosophical tenets” on the basis of the teachings he had given to him. Moreover, one of the Karmapa’s commentaries is called General Summary of the Tenets [of the] Single Intention, and he claims here that the Single Intention is the “siddhanta of the Kagyupas.” In fact, much of Mikyö Dorje’s writings on the Single Intention is largely using the topical themes of Jigten Sumgon’s vajra-statements as stepping stones to expound his own philosophical views.

A siddhanta (Tib. grub mtha’) or “system of philosophical tenets” usually expounds non-Buddhist and Buddhist views one-by-one, refuting the respectively lower through the respectively higher view, until it arrives at the ultimate view, usually Madhyamaka, which refutes all other views. The Drikungpas themselves have never authored such a text. There is just one Drikungpa text by Dombu Jowo Dowa, who might be Jigten Sumgon’s disciple Chöje Tsadrelwa, that has the term siddhanta in its title. Although it touches briefly on some general topics of philosophy, it is really not in any way a typical “system of philosophical tenets” text at all. In fact, all the usual themes of the siddhanta authors, like defining which of the three wheels of Shravaka teachings, Perfection of Wisdom teachings, and Buddha Nature teachings is the definite wheel, etc., have been avoided by Jigten Sumgon, who much prefers to reveal the unity of all teachings and not its differentiations – hence his legacy is known as the Single Intention. (I have already made a few remarks on Jigten Sumgon’s approach to philosophical views here).

In truth, the position Jigten Sumgon and his successors took with regard to philosophical tenets can only be described as dismissive or, sometimes, perhaps, ironic. Thus, Jigten Sumgon states in the Single Intention (4.13):

The truth is veiled by all [philosophical] tenets whatsoever.

And in a praise of his guru Phag mo gru pa’s lives he says: 1

May those who mistake the system of tenets,
which is a knot of the mind, as the Buddha’s intention,
realise true reality
and may their mindfulness be purified in itself.

And, as the final lines in a text about the primordial purity of all phenomena, he states: 2

If one’s pure mind, [which is like] the sky,
is, due to the conceptions of the inconceivable collections
of the various views of the [philosophical] tenets,
covered with clouds of conceptions, which are false,
one cannot purify it
because one has not understood and realised
the natural state of the mind as it is.
Therefore, engage in this pure essence of the mind
that is spontaneously taken hold of in itself
without being covered by the clouds of thoughts, which are false.

Moreover, echoing the Mahasiddha Saraha, he says: 3

All the views starting from the Non-Buddhists’ view of permanence and nihilism and up to the Madhyamikas’ [view] are something that is a mind-made duality. Since I have not studied these views of the various tenets, I do not know them.

Furthermore, an introduction to the Single Intention contained in the block print of Dorje Sherab’s commentary states: 4

The grasping of that which is free from the extremes of all proliferation [of] “existence” and “non-existence” [is] the conceptuality (rtog pa ) of the tenets, the sphere of the [proliferating] mind (blo’i yul ). It is mind-made, but not empty.

In fact, this introductory text of unknown authorship discusses the concept of tenets with the same negative attitude as is illustrated above. It also offers a curious statement that it ascribes to Jigten Sumgon (but which I could not yet identify). Here, he says, somewhat ironically: 5

Virtue [is] natural virtue (gshis kyi dge ba): Due to being good “white” [natural] virtue, a virtue that apprehends the characteristic “virtue” will not become non-virtue. Non-virtue [is] natural non-virtue (gshis kyi mi dge ba ): Due to being “black” [natural] non-virtue, the non-virtue that apprehends the characteristic “non-virtue” will not turn into virtue. This is my great system of tenets.

These words ascribed to Jigten Sumgon are summarising an important aspect of his Single Intention teaching according to which something is either by nature virtuous or non-virtuous, and nothing and no one can change that – neither the highest philosophical view, nor a skilful means of mantra, nor the Buddha himself. That, the passage states, is Jigten Sumgon’s “philosophy,” not any of those intellectual conceptualisations that one finds in the siddhanta literature.

Judging from all this evidence, I think that the prophecy of which the Karmapa speaks, according to which Sherab Jungne would compose a siddhanta on the basis of Jigten Sumgon’s vajra-statements, namely the Single Intention, is perhaps a “creative invention.” The Karmapa may have thereby justified his own predominantly philosophical approach to Jigten Sumgon’s teaching. Or such a prophecy, if it existed, did not use the term “system of tenets” with its usual philosophical connotation, but rather in the ironical sense illustrated above.

It will be an important task for future research to investigate whether the Single Intention is in any other sense than the strictly “philosophical” paradigmatic for the whole of the Kagyupas. It is, indeed, time to ask ourselves what it is that makes the Kagyupas a distinctive tradition. The Single Intention is an excellent focus to start this work. My first glance at the Karmapa’s comments, however, has rather revealed differences of Jigten Sumgon’s and Mikyö Dorje’s approaches to the Dharma. But that was only a first attempt, and Mikyö Dorje’s approach is certainly not typical for the Karma Kagyupa up to his time. With all its diversity, it will be a challenging task to define the Kagyupas’ identity.


1 Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 1, p. 24: grub mtha’ blo yi mdud pa la// sangs rgyas dgongs par ‘khrul ba rnams// de nyid rtogs par gyur nas kyang // dran ‘dzin rang sar dag mdzad gsol//.

2 Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 3, p. 358: ji ltar sems kyi gnas lugs ‘di// ma go rtogs par ma gyur pas// grub mtha’ lta ba’i bye brag tshogs// bsam gyis mi khyab rnam rtog gis// rang sems rnam dag nam mkha’ ‘di// log rtog sprin gyis bkab na ko / rnam dag gsal bar mi ‘gyur bas// sems kyi ngo bo rnam dag ‘di// log rtog sprin gyis mi dgab par// lhun grub rang sa zin du chug//.

3 Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 6. p. 434: mu stegs rtag chad nas dbu ma’i bar gyi lta ba thams cad blos byas pa’i gzung ‘dzin zhig yin te/ grub mtha’ so so’i lta ba de ngas thos pa ma byas pas mi shes/. He repeats very similar words in vol. 5, p. 491: yang bka’ gdams pa rnal ‘byor pa mtshan nyid pa gang yin yang so so’i lta bsgom spyod pa gsum yod de/ ‘di grub mtha’ mkhan kun la phyi rol mu stegs nas dbu ma’i bar du lta sgom mi ‘dra ba mang po yod de grub mtha’ ma mnyan pas mi shes/.

4 Khog dbub (dGongs gcig edition of Kagyu College, 2007, p. 219 f.): yod med spros pa thams cad kyi// mtha’ dang bral ba’i ‘dzin pa yang // grub mtha’i rtog pa blo yi yul// blo yis byas kyang stong pa min//. dGongs pa gcig pa’i khog dbub , in: dGongs pa gcig pa’i ‘grel chen snang mdzad ye shes sgron me , vol. 1, bKa’ brgyud nang bstan mtho slob khang, 2007, pp. 197-258. The text is ascribed there to rDo rje shes rab, but that is doubtful.

5 Khog dbub dGongs gcig edition of Kagyu College, 2007, , p. 218 f.: nyid kyi zhal nas dge ba gshis kyi dge ba ste/ dge ba dkar pos dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pa’i dge ba mi dge bar mi ‘gyur/ mi dge ba gshis kyi mi dge ba ste/ mi dge ba nag pos mi dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pa’i mi dge ba dge bar mi ‘gyur bya ba ‘di nga’i grub mtha’ chen

The 8th Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, upon being invited to Drikung by the 18th throne holder Rinchen Namgyal (1519-1576, reg. 1534-1565), spent there one year (1536-37) together with his famous “secretary,” the great historian and 2nd Pawo Rinpoche, Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1566). During this time, he studied and extensively taught Jigten Sumgon’s Gongchik, which he saw as the tenet’s of the Kagyüpas. Later (1544-46), using his own notes and the notes of Tsuglag Trengwa, he wrote several texts which are nowadays collectively known as the 8th Karmapa’s commentary of the Gongchik. Here I would like to present a very brief excerpt from his comments upon vajra-statement 6.6, which teaches that guru devotion is the only means for obtaining realisation. In this excerpt, the Karmapa explains the Buddhist notion of faith (Tib. dad pa). He says:

“The Ratnolka says: 1

If you have faith in the Victor and the Victor’s teachings,
faith in the teachings of the Victor’s sons,
and faith in supreme awakening,
that is the arising of the resolve of great beings.

And the Shikshasamuccayakarika says: 2

Make the root of faith stable
and make the mind the support for awakening.

What kind of faith is that? The Abhidharmasamuccaya says: 3

What is faith? It is the firm conviction (mngon par yid ches pa), admiration, and aspiration with regard to what exists and is endowed with [good ] qualities and abilities. Its has the function of forming the basis for striving.

Thus, ‘what exists’ are the causes and results of the five skandhas such as ‘action and result’ and ‘suffering and the origin [of suffering].’ ‘What is endowed with [good] qualities’ are the Three Jewels. ‘Abilities’ is the truth of cessation, [namely] the thought: ‘I am able to obtain cessation; I am able to cultivate the path in my mental continuum.’ Because of the faith of conviction [that understands] ‘action and result’ and ‘suffering and the origin [of suffering]’ as infallible, and since the Three Jewels that are free from the faults of ‘suffering and [its] origin,’ etc., are without all defects and endowed with all [good] qualities, by cultivating [faith] in their presence, the small hairs of the body are standing on end and tears flow [from one’s eyes], etc. [That is] the faith of admiration. The aspiration to obtain cessation and the aspiration to cultivate the path in the mental continuum are ‘the faith of aspiration.’ Now, if, first, there [arises] admiration from seeing and hearing about the qualities of the Supreme Jewels, and from that the aspiration to obtain their qualities, and if one is convinced that the faults that veil those qualities are faults, that forms the basis that is the function of causing all faults and defects to be abandoned. [All that] is faith.”

The 17th Karmapa recently re-published the 8th Karmapa’s commentary:

The excerpt is taken from the second part (smad cha) of ‘Jig rten gsum gyi mgon po ‘bri gung pa chen po’i dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i kar TIka las/ tshoms dang po’i rnam bshad karma bka’ brgyud kyi mkhyen pa rab gsal bka’i me long mchog tu ‘bar ba bzhugs so//

1These lines are actually from the Arya Ratnolka Namadharani Mahayanasutra (‘Phags pa dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo), D vol. 57, fol. 63v (variants in bold): rgyal dang rgyal ba’i chos la dad gyur cing // sangs rgyas sras kyi spyod la dad byed la// byang chub bla na med la dad gyur nas// skyes bu chen po rnams kyi sems skye’o//.
Sonam Spitz informed me that according to Shakya mchog ldan (brDa’i gnas bye brag tu rtogs ces bya ba’i tshig leu byas pa, p. 378, vol. 24/ya, TBRC-no WG00WGS1016899), “dKon mchog ta la la” is just a bad translation of the Sanskrit title “Ratnolka”, which indeed reads correctly “dKon mchog sgron me” in Tibetan. Thus, the “Ta la la” is in fact the Ratnolka.

2Shikshasamuccayakarika, D vol. 111, fol. 1v (variants in bold): dad pa’i rtsa ba brtan bya ste// byang chub la yang blo brtan bya//. In the Shikshasamuccaya, these lines are followed by the quote preceding in the present text.

3Abhidharmasamuccaya, D vol. 134, fol. 48v: dad pa gang zhe na/ yod pa nyid dang / yon tan can dang / nus pa rnam la mngon par yid ches pa dang / dang pa dang ‘dod pa ste/ ‘dun pa’i rten byed pa’i las can no//.

Dear friends,

I have started a second blog under the above name at
While I will continue to publish in the present blog on the Single Intention (dGongs gcig), in the new blog I will chiefly write about things I find while reading Tibetan works of the Drikung Kagyü tradition (other than the dGongs gcig).

When I do research, I often stumble over gems that never make it into a book or an article, but which are too good to be left unnoticed and unavailable.

Have a look at the first entries and enjoy (and if you like it, become a follower)!


(This blog article is both an abbreviated version and a slight expansion of the second part of an article published in the Festschrift for Per K. Sörensen. You can download it here: Please see for all references the original article.)

All Tibetan traditions have developed ways and methods to authenticate the teachings they had received from their masters. Jigten Sumgön’s master was Phagmodrupa, and it is from him that he received the methods of testing the teachings. These are called the “four means of authentication” (tshad ma bzhi) and they are mentioned in the Drikung tradition in Jigten Sumgön’s collected works and in the commentaries of the Same Intention.

Jigten Sumgön reports in his collected works the view of his teacher Phagmodrupa, who said that the teachings have to be checked against these four authentications:

(1) the pure instructions of the Sugata, i.e. the Buddha’s teachings contained in the authoritative texts (lung) of Sutra and Mantra,

(2) the vajra masters’ experiences, i.e. the experiences of the gurus of the lineage,

(3) dependent origination, i.e. the illustrating stories (lo rgyus) that we find in the scriptures, and

(4) the yogis’ own experiences.

Jigten Sumgön says that scholars explain the Buddha’s Dharma with the help of authoritative quotations (lung) and logic (rigs). They establish a teaching through a form of inference known as syllogism (rig pa’i gtan tshig). Yogis, on the other hand, produce inner experiences and rely on the Buddha’s and the lineage gurus’ instructions. They do this because these instructions are without error since the Buddha and the lineage gurus have obtained an understanding and realisation that is certain and free from delusion. It is not possible to realise the Buddha’s intentions through quotations and logic alone. Thus, if one searches for the exact meaning of the intentions, it is not enough to rely on inferences (rjes dpag) and syllogisms. Instead, it is necessary to practise as well. Through practice, an experience will arise, through which self-reflexive awareness is realised (rang rig rtogs pa). However, not only quotations and flawed logic can mislead. If the experience of a practising yogi is not free from error, it will only lead back into samsara because the experiences and qualities arising from error are false. Whoever wants to obtain realisation must, therefore, rely on all of the above mentioned four means of authentication.

In one of the earliest commentaries of the Single Intention, Dorje Sherab’s Dosherma, we find the following passage:

(1) “It occurs like this in the [Buddha’s] instructions (bka’)” – that is the means of authentication of the Sugata’s instructions. (2) “The former ones have elucidated the teachings like this” – that is the means of authentication of the excellent gurus. (3) The Dharma Lord [Jigten Sumgön] said:

Whichever profound [topic] I have taught in the assembly,
I have never said anything I have not experienced myself.

Because Jigten Sumgön himself mastered and experienced all that, it is the means of authentication of being experienced by the yogi. (4) “It occurred like this through the workings of dependent origination, which is known throughout the world,” that is the means of authentication of the stories [illustrating] dependent origination. This ascertaining through these four is the “complete liberation” (rnam thar) of Phagmodrupa. Therefore, Jigten Sumgön, too, follows this and ascertains all teachings through the four means of authentication.

1. The Instructions of the Buddha
“It occurs like this in the [Buddha’s] instructions (bka’)” means that a teaching that is found in the Sutras or Tantras is authentic due to the Buddha’s authority. This category is not much discussed in the context of the “four means of authentication,” but it has its own vajra-statement in the Same Intention, which says (1.16): “Valid knowledge is the gnosis that is the knowledge of the Buddha.” This is a problem of its own, however, suffice it to say that according to Jigten Sumgön the Buddha is definitively a valid means of knowledge. I will not go further into this interesting, but complicated topic and concentrate instead on the other three means of authentication.

2. The Experience of the Lineage Gurus
Phagmodrupa speaks of “the vajra masters’ experience,” i.e. the experiences of the lineage gurus. That is, he points out that one relies on the former gurus because they possess authentic experience. This statement is obviously meant to exclude mere scholarship and inauthentic experience from being a means of authentication. This is also exactly what the Drikungpa has in mind. In this context, Jigten Sumgön speaks of scholars who work with authoritative quotations (lung), syllogisms (gtan tshigs), inference (rjes dpag), and logic (rigs), and of yogis who work with realisation through self-reflexive awareness (rang rig rtogs pa). But whatever they do, if they only use scholarly means or if their experience is faulty, they will not obtain realisation. Thus, they all, scholars and yogis, have to rely on the four means of authentication, which then may be further “ornamented” with inferences and syllogisms. The yogi’s own experience is crucial (see the next point), but how can the yogi or the yogini be sure that the experience is not flawed? The answer is that one has to check whether one’s experience matches the other three means of authentication: It should be mentioned like this in Sutra and Tantra, it should match the stories of dependent origination (see point 4 below), and it should match the experience of the gurus of the lineage. The guidance by an experienced and realised master has a special place. When one shares one’s experiences with him, it is the guru who steers one away from traps (shor sa) and sidetracks (gol sa). He does that, based on his own experience, with the help of quotations from the Buddha’s teachings and the stories of dependent origination.

3. The Experience of the Disciple
In the category “the yogi’s experience,” Phagmodrupa speaks, generally, of the yogis’ own experiences, while the commentator of the Same Intention, Dorje Sherab, speaks here, specifically, of Jigten Sumgön’s experience, quoting the line from his work according to which Jigten Sumgön never taught in the assembly anything he had not experienced himself. Thus, Jigten Sumgön is both a worthy receiver of teachings from former authentically realised masters and, since he has become a realised master, an authentic teacher for his own followers. In a more general sense, this category of experience is “the yogi’s experience” in the sense of “the disciple’s experience” in contrast to “the experience of the lineage gurus.” When the disciple himself turns into a master, his experience will be that of the lineage of gurus.

The Sakyapa master (and earlier guru of Phagmodrupa), Sachen Künga Nyingpo, makes many very interesting remarks on the topic of the four authenticities in his work known as the Sras don ma. Among other things, he points out that there is always at the beginning the yogi’s – i.e. the disciple’s – own experience arising from practice. Without that, nothing can be done. This is followed by the guru’s guidance (based on his own realisation) and, in fact, correcting instructions which are backed by the Buddha’s words and (in the Sakya tradition) the expositions of Indian masters as collected in the Tanjur.

Thus, the first thing is always the disciples’s own practice experience. However, for that experience to turn into a means of authentication, it must be checked against the other three means. These other three means are used by the master to guide the disciple to a purified experience and realisation. But without the disciple’s own experience, the other three authentications cannot be checked against anything. Finally, through the disciples own realisation, his own experience turns into the experience and realisation of the unbroken lineage of masters.

4. The Illustrating Stories of Dependent Origination
A very significant category for the Drikungpa’s teachings is that of the “stories.” It is also the main difference between the Drikungpa’s system of the four means of authentication and the very similar system of the Sakyapas, who have a different interpretation of this fourth category. Although in their commentaries they also use the term lo rgyus (“story”), they rather understand it in the sense of “exposition.” In doing that, they follow a line in the Samputitantra, which uses the term bstan bcos (“treatise”) instead of lo rgyus. In short, they understand this category as “authenticity of the exposition.” For them, the fourth authenticity lies in the treatises composed by the masters of the Indian tradition. That is also why the Sakyapa tradition is not only a tradition of realised masters but also of great scholars of the Indian tradition of scholarship.

This interpretation, however, is not what is taught by Phagmodrupa and the Drikungpas. There are two hints how they understand this category. One is that Phagmodrupa speaks in this context of “dependent origination,” the other that Jigten Sumgön glosses this with “stories that are well known to the world.” Dorje Sherab explains this point in his commentary of the Same Intention:

[The experience] occurred like this through the workings of dependent origination, which is known throughout the world – that is the means of authentication of the stories [illustrating] dependent origination.”

Moreover, the Introduction to the Same Intention says:

Dependent origination [is] the means of authentication of stories: It is, due to the natural state (gshis dang babs kyis) of dependent origination, as [stated] in the universally known stories (gtam rgyud).

What this means becomes evident in Dorje Sherab’s commentary, the Dosherma. Each of its seven chapters has an extensive appendix with numerous stories from former life stories of the Buddha (Skt. jataka), as well as from Sutra and, occasionally, Tantra. These stories are illustrating the natural state (gshis babs) of dependent origination. That is to say that they demonstrate how virtuous causes have virtuous results, and how non-virtuous causes lead to suffering. Let me provide an example. In Same Intenion 3.11, Jigten Sumgön teaches that the Buddha’s instructions are not meant only for particular groups of people or beings, such as only for human beings or only for monks, but generally for each and every being alike. This is so because his instructions are based on his understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. Because the Buddha understood that nature, he knows what must be eliminated and what must be accomplished. The fundamental nature, however, is the same for all beings, from the tenth level of the bodhisattvas down to hell. It is not so that the fundamental nature of the dependent origination of virtuous and evil causes and results is different for a bodhisattva on the highest level and a hell being of the lowest levels. Therefore, the elimination of evil and the accomplishing of virtue concerns all beings alike, no matter which status they have.

The illustrating stories that the commentaries provide in this section as a means of authentication all have the purpose of showing just that point. Thus, for instance, in an earlier life, the Buddha was born in hell among the lowest of beings. Here, he developed for the first time compassion and relieved another person from dragging a cart of fire. This example is to show that bodhicitta is a teaching for all beings – even if they are born in hell, as the Buddha-to-be was at that time – and that the benefit of that will arise even for the lowest being who cultivates that virtue. Secondly, there is the story of Kumara Kusha (Tib. Zhönnu Kusha). There was once a householder who refused to give alms to a Pratyekabuddha. Instead, he got angry at him and said because that Pratyekabuddha was associated with eighteen unpleasant omens and had the face of a lion: “You, with the face like a lion, don’t come into my house!” In a later life, the householder was born as Prince Kusha with a very strong body, a face like a lion, and associated with eighteen unpleasant omens. The commentary of the Same Intention by Rinchen Jangchub, the Rinjangma, remarks that although the householder Kusha was a Bodhisattva of the tenth level, he was unable to avoid the negative consequences of his deed. Thus, this is to show that the negative results of non-virtue arise even for the highest bodhisattvas. Yet another story is that of the monk Svagata (Tib. Leg Ong), who had, due to his ignorance, taken food (in some versions: drink) mixed with alcohol. Heavily intoxicated, he had gotten into trouble that nearly killed him. On that occasion, the Buddha proclaimed the rule concerning intoxicants. This is to show that becoming intoxicated had been a non-virtuous act even before the Buddha issued a rule about it. The Buddha has not “invented” the rule prohibiting the use of intoxicants, he only understood their fundamental nature and, therefore, issued the rule prohibiting it.

The stories collected in the appendices of the Same Intention also play an enormous role in the extensive commentary of Jigten Sumgön’s Essence of the Mahayana Teachings (Theg chen bstan pa’i snying po) by Ngorje Repa, who was roughly contemporary to Jigten Sumgön. In short, while the Sakyapas rely on the exposition of dependent origination, as found in treatises of Indian Buddhist masters collected in the Tanjur, the Drikungpas rely on the stories illustrating dependent origination as found in the Buddha’s instructions. Since these are directly related to the Buddha’s instructions in that the Buddha (or an earlier incarnation of the Buddha) often appears as one of the actors in these stories and in that he is the one who uses the story in his teachings, Jigten Sumgön accepts them as having the same authority than the teachings of Sutra and Tantra. In fact, occasionally, when there is a contradiction between such a story and the teaching in a treatise by an Indian Buddhist master, the story carries more weight. This is, for instance, the case when some scholarly treatises teach that, as a rule, the pratimoksha vows always end at death. Here the Dosherma teaches that it depends on the capacity of the person. There are stories according to which the vows can arise in a dream, in the intermediate state, and in the next life as a continuation of the strong habituation to holding the vows in a previous life. Therefore, the experience transmitted in these stories shows that the rigid explanation of the scholarly treatise does not always hold.

This does not mean that the Drikungpas have a disregard for the treatises of the Indian masters. It is only so that the Drikungpas put more trust in the stories told by the Buddha than in the treatises of later masters and that they distrust purely analytical means as the only means of approaching understanding. In fact, we will find in every generation of Kagyüpa teachers several great masters who demonstrated their analytical faculties, even though there are by far not as many as we find among Sakyapas and Gelugpas.

This does also not mean that yogic experience is per se and uncritically accepted by Jigten Sumgön in the Same Intention. Grasping and conceptualising yogic experience is held to be as dangerous as the attachment to the fruits of intellectual analysis. Jigten Sumgön often warns against false, deluded, or incomplete yogic experiences. In particular, he warns against the mistaken identification of the gnosis introduced during tantric empowerment, he explains that the experiences produced through the practice of channels and winds may be deceiving and misleading, or may even be false. Moreover, he says about meditative concentration that it may only cause birth in the realms of samsara and that an incomplete realisation of emptiness comprises dangerous downfalls and sidetracks.

The correctives which can be applied to false, deluded, or incomplete experience are just these four means of authentication that are discussed here, namely the words of the Buddha, the instructions of the lineage of realised masters, yogic experience, and the illustrations through dependent origination as found in Jatakas, Sutras and Tantras. Thus, there is really no difference concerning the necessity to authenticate intellectual understanding or yogic experience. The difference, however, lies in the means of authentication. Here the Drikung tradition favours non-analytical authentic expression and experience.

I would like to prefix a few personal words here. As you may already know, on Losar morning (Feb. 9), the University of Copenhagen has dismissed me from my position as associate professor for Tibetan Studies. In our institute, in particular, “small subjects” and regional studies have been targeted. Their staff was fired, or their intake of students was frozen, making them more vulnerable for future closures of study programs. As a consequence, hundreds of letters, emails, and Facebook posts from individuals and institutions around the world expressing concern about this development have reached us. Many people, from Beijing to Berkeley and from Oslo to Rome, have written personal letters of protest to the rector and the chairman of the board of directors. This outpour of solidarity means a lot to me. I do not know if the protest will have any effect on the decision of the management of the university, but the support has definitively touched me in a deep way and strengthened me in my conviction to continue my work whatever may happen. Thank you!

Historical texts describe how Sherab Jungne, on several occasions, rearranged the vajra-statements and finally arranged them in seven chapters, keeping ca. 50 of the 200 vajra-statements separate from the main text as “supplements” (Tib. lhan thabs). Some (but not all) authors comment on these supplements, too. They either keep them separate from the main text, as an independent work, or, like Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, include them in the main text as the eighth chapter of their commentary. The commentary of fourth Zhamar Rinpoche, for instance, composed in 1516, even presents the supplements as its first chapter. Interestingly, Togden Rinpoche Könchog Thubten arranges the supplements in his commentary so that they are attached to those vajra-statements that deal with a similar topic. One of these clusters of statements that are formed in this way, consisting of one vajra-statement and two supplements, will be the subject of the present posting.

The vajra-statement under investigation and its two supplements focus on the nature of a “solitary deity.” “Solitary” means that it is a single deity, like, for instance, Avalokiteshvara or Tara. It is not in union with another deity or appears with an entourage of other deities surrounding it. The vajra-statement occurs in the fifth chapter in the context of a discussion of empowerment. It focusses on the question whether empowerment can be bestowed based on a solitary deity like Tara. Although it is not explicitly stated in the commentaries, “empowerment” refers here clearly to an empowerment on the level of the highest yoga tantra. This assumption creates the tension of the statement: Can an empowerment of the highest yoga tantra be conferred through a solitary deity like Tara? Rinchen Jangchub quotes some former scholars, who say that “one cannot open the Dharma gate with the Lady Tara.” They provide the following reason: “Because the three seats – the seat of the male and female wrathful deities, the seat of the male and female Bodhisattvas, and the seat of the Buddhas and their consorts – are not complete [in Tara].” Dorje Sherab refers in his commentary to a view of people who claim that one cannot obtain the empowerment through any solitary male or female deity, and their example is Vajrayogini.

This point, in fact, alludes to several debates that were going on in Tibet already at a very early time, but here I will mainly focus on the topic of the nature of the solitary deity.

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön states – in contrast to those people – that (5.3) the empowerment functions even through a solitary deity. If we just look at that formulation, it is clear that it has empowerment on the level of the highest yoga tantra in mind, because otherwise there would not be a problem at all. Nobody doubts that a solitary deity can confer an empowerment of a lower class of tantra.

The claim made by others is that the “three seats” are not complete in a solitary deity. The “three seats” (Tib. gdan gsum) of a deity are usually explained in the following way. The first seat are the five male and female Tathagathas, which are, according to the highest yoga tantras, the nature of the five constituents of the person (Skt. skandha). The second seat comprises the eight male and eight female Bodhisattvas, who are the nature of the sense organs and their objects. There is some confusion about the third seat, but for our purposes, it is sufficient to state that other elements of a person’s existence are identified as the male and female wrathful deities. The opponent’s claim that the three seats are “not complete” in a solitary deity is in our commentaries taken to mean that they are “not directly visible.” If “not visible” is the point, however, the consequence would be that even many deities of the supreme yoga tantra class (such as Vajrayogini) would not qualify as a basis for an empowerment of the highest yoga tantra, because the complete deities of the three seats are directly visible only in very few mandalas.

Our commentators of the Single Intention point out that in most cases, the three seats are only complete “by implication,” as for instance in all cases of the solitary deities. It is nevertheless important, they state, that the implicit completeness is understood by both the vajra master who bestows the empowerment and the disciple who receives it. They have to understand that the master’s and the disciple’s skandhas and so forth are by nature the five Buddhas, their consorts, the male and female Bodhisattvas, and the male and female wrathful deities. Furthermore, master and disciple have to understand that both the external physically created mandala (such as a sand mandala) and the mandala visualised in front of themselves comprise the five Buddhas, and so forth. Finally, they also have to be aware that the substances of the empowerment, such as the water of the vase, and the crown, vajra, jewel, lotus, bell, sword, and wheel, which the master uses during the empowerment, are similarly the five Buddhas, and so forth. These identifications, therefore, have to be visualised in every empowerment of the highest yoga tantra. Within that, which seems to be incomplete, because the three seats are not directly visible, namely the solitary deity, one must know the three seats to be complete because the ritual would otherwise be impure and incomplete. In short, one must know how the three seats are complete also in each solitary deity.

Furthermore, the three seats are present in the empowerment of any deity whatsoever when one visualises that the five Buddhas perform the activities of bestowing the empowerment, that their consorts sing vajra songs, that the male and female Bodhisattvas utter auspicious verses, and that the male and female wrathful deities expel obstructors.

In a nutshell: Jigten Sumgön maintains that if the vajra master and the disciple skilfully visualise the deities of the three seats, a solitary deity can bestow empowerment even of the highest tantra class. Thus, Dorje Sherab states:

If one recognises all skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas as the Buddha, one obtains empowerment just as it is. Based on that one will also obtain the [other] three empowerments.

This statement provides an important clue how Dorje Sherab understood the matter. He mentions “the other three empowerments,” i.e. the secret, wisdom, and word empowerment. We can conclude from this that the empowerment he refers to is the vase empowerment of the four empowerments of the highest tantra class. In other words, Dorje Sherab maintains that a solitary deity can bestow the vase empowerment of the highest tantra class. By stating that the other three will be obtained based on that, he leaves it open whether those empowerments can be bestowed by a solitary deity. Dorje Sherab furthermore adds: “It is necessary to treat empowerment as detailed, medium, and brief.” He, thereby, appears to be saying that abbreviated forms of the empowerment of the highest yoga tantra are based on the vase empowerment alone, whereas more detailed forms include all four empowerments. These brief statements, however, do not suffice to conclude anything about Dorje Sherab’s opinion regarding the ability of solitary deities to confer the other three empowerments.

The first supplement that is attached to this vajra statement is more generally concerned with the accomplishment of activities through a solitary deity.

The position of others, as it is presented by our commentators, is that there are a hundred Buddha families, which all perform their individual activities. This would imply that immeasurable forms of Buddhas are necessary to accomplish all activities. According to supplement 8.27, however, Jigten Sumgön maintains that a solitary deity, too, accomplishes all the activities.

The comments of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa on this supplement are closely connected with the vajra-statement discussed above. Accordingly, a solitary deity, since its skandhas are the five Buddhas and so forth, indeed contains the hundred families completely. The skandhas alone are the five male and female Tathagatas, and each of them accomplishes their activities. Since the parts and elements of the body, speech and mind of a deity are filled with numerous other deities, its activities are countless. There is, therefore, no difference between a principal deity with a retinue of a thousand deities and a solitary deity. The Hevajra Tantra says: 1

The great mind is one.
It is represented, however, through this fivefold embodiment.
From these five families
many thousands arise.
Therefore, all these are of one nature.

Chökyi Dragpa points out that if all families are summarised, they are combined in the single vajra family of the mind. He quotes an (unidentified) Mantra text:

The characteristics of all the mantras
exists in the mind of the Sugata.

Thus, whether the practising disciple is successful or not does not depend on whether the deity of his practice is one that resides in a mandala with a retinue of hundreds of deities, or whether it is a solitary deity. What counts, says Chökyi Dragpa, is whether the practitioner “obtains or not obtains the warmth (Tib. drod) in his samadhi” and whether he “accomplishes the activities or not through having received or not the firm sign.” It is, however, “very deluded” to evaluate the quality of a practitioner according to whether his deity has a large or a small retinue.

The second supplement that is connected with the vajra-statement discussed above has to do with the names or marks of deities. The earlier commentaries seem to discuss the individuality of deities primarily with respect to their names, such as “Cakrasamvara” or “Hevajra.” Indeed, in the Tibetan language, the term mtshan may be a honorific form of “name” (Tib. ming) or an abbreviated form of “mark, sign, symbol” (Tib. mtshan ma). Thus, while many people claim that every deity possesses an individual name or (more broadly) individual marks, Jigten Sumgön maintains in supplement 8.28 that [one’s] chosen deity possesses the names / marks of all deities. (The “chosen deity” is the one that is at the heart of a person’s deity practise.)

Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa evidently reads the statement in its more broad form, saying that one’s chosen deity possesses the marks of all deities. He says that if one purifies on the path all one’s mental afflictions, just that will be the cause of obtaining Buddhahood. Having become a Buddha, one is “the essence of the qualities of the results of separation and maturation, one possesses – no matter which body [of a deity] one has trained – the major and minor marks of maturation, and one possesses the results of separation such as the power of the mind (Tib. thugs stobs).” Thus, one accomplishes the result of Buddhahood by separating from unwholesome factors and by bringing wholesome factors to maturation. One separates, for instance, from the afflictions. The result of that is the three (or, depending on the system, five) bodies of a Buddha. In particular, the quality of separation is the obtainment of the dharmakaya, from which all other bodies arise. The quality of bringing to maturation all the wishes of benefiting sentient beings is the arising of the sambhogakaya, and the necessary activities manifest as the nirmanakaya. For this process, it is of no significance, which deity one trains since all deities function in a similar way. Therefore, they are all “Exalted Ones” (Skt. Bhagavan) and when one supplicates a deity, no matter which deity one chooses, the blessing that arises is always the same.

In this context, Chökyi Dragpa quotes the well-known and often quoted, but rarely followed instruction of Lord Atisha:

Tibet is poor due to its many deities. At the time when one establishes the practice of one’s chosen deity and invites its wisdom beings, by inviting whichever deities one wishes in the form of one’s chosen deity and absorbing them when one accomplishes that deity, it will be one that accomplishes all.


1 Hevajra Tantra 2.2.58-59a. Snellgrove (1959: 53).

In April 2014, I have introduced here the “Paris Manuscript” of the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me. This is a handwritten copy of the commentary on the Single Intention by Dorje Sherab, a direct disciple of Sherab Jungne (1187-1241). It was brought to France by Alexandra David-Neel and is now kept at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Since my last post on it, many exciting things have happened.

The most exciting thing is that the manuscript is now dated with great certainty to the period between 1267 and 1290. That means that it is either a copy written by the author himself, or by one of his immediate disciples. In any case, the manuscript is the earliest witness of the Single Intention and this commentary that we possess. We have to treat this copy as the Leit-Handschrift and all future editions of the text must be based on it. Moreover, the manuscript is very well preserved, without significant damages and gaps (lacunae). It contains many important variants to Rinchen Phüntshok’s block print edition of ca. 1530 and numerous little glosses by different hands.

How can we be sure of the above-mentioned dating? I had some pieces of the paper carbon dated (according to the OxCal4 program) in a laboratory in Glasgow. The result was that the paper of the manuscript was manufactured with 95.4 % probability between 1215 and 1290 (calibrated dates). We can assume that paper is usually manufactured in Tibet for specific purposes and that it is highly unlikely that paper that was produced is left lying around for years or decades. We can, thus, assume that it was promptly used for our manuscript.

calib plot

Last month I visited a workshop on Tibetan manuscripts at the Chicago Centre in Paris, organised by Matthew Kapstein. On one afternoon we all went over to the Musée Guimet, where I introduced the original manuscript to my colleagues. I had ample opportunity to discuss its features with them. Several of my learned colleagues – experts on art, paper, and handwriting – confirmed the early date of the manuscript. The artwork on the left side of the reverse of the cover folio is an exact copy of a Tibetan thanka depicting Jigten Sumgön, which was carbon dated to the early 13th century (see the pictures in my post of April 2014). The handwriting is comparable to 12th to 13th century Kharakhoto script.

jan paris

Since we know that the commentary was composed around 1267, since that date is mention as the present date in the text, we can now narrow down the date of the manuscript to 1267-1290.

A generous grant of the Garchen Foundation, Munich, made it possible to reproduce the whole manuscript in a beautiful edition in its original size, with 274 colour photographs and a 16 page foreword. The 290 pages are kept in a robust textile-covered box


44 x 33 x 3 cm / 17.3″ x 13″ x 1.2″

The Garchen Foundation, moreover, has made endeavours to make this facsimile manuscript edition available as a gift to Drikung Kagyu monasteries and colleges in Tibet, China, Ladakh, Nepal, and India. I am very happy that, thereby, this precious text can now be studied in the study institutions of the tradition.

Ordering Information
• Please email your order to
or fax it to +49-(0)5193-97432-099.
The work is also available at bookstores
(ISBN 978-3-945457-07-8).
• Secure transport packaging, total transport weight approx. 3.1 kg
• Price: 129,– € (approx. 147 $ | 96 GBP)
• Postal charges are additional.

(1) Amy Heller, Agnieszka Helman-Wazny, Sam VanSchaik, and Kurt Tropper graciously shared their impression on the manuscript with me.