Monthly Archives: May 2012

I have mentioned in my last post that the two most ancient and most important available commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub have a different internal structure and that the different vajra statements that they chose as their starting point tell much about the commentaries’ natures. Dorje Sherab chose for his beginning the statement that “all the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature” (see the posting “dGongs gcig 1.1”). Now it is time to turn to the first vajra statement of Rinchen Jangchub:

“This teaching that is transmitted through a lineage is profound and marvellous.”

As in all vajra statements, here too it is helpful to know its background. In this case the statement seems to have a specific view in mind, namely the idea held by some people that they possess a teaching that they realised in themselves, not depending on the guru’s oral instructions, teachings, which they felt were ‘poured out’ over them, or that were hidden in the earth before they emerged, or in cracks of trees, or that rained down on them from the sky. The particular idea that these people hold is that these Dharmas are “marvellous profound teachings that others don’t have” and that they contain the supreme intention of Dharma. This last point implicitly means that those people hold the view that such teachings are better than other teachings of the Buddha, because they do not come down through a long lineage of masters, i.e. they claim that their “short” lineages have more authenticity or blessing power than the “long” lineages. And that again implies that teachings with long lineages lose their authenticity and blessing power over time.

Here the intention of Jigten Gonpo is that the ‘edge’ (Tib. zur) of the words that transmit the meaning is not lost through a ‘mouth-to-mouth’ lineage from the perfect Buddha down to one’s root guru, and the meaning transmitted through an ‘ear-to-ear’ lineage does not turn into a fabrication or into merely nice words, and the transmission of blessing through a ‘mind-to-mind’ lineage is not interrupted just because the lineage is long. In fact, just those Dharmas that are transmitted through an unbroken lineage of realised masters with intact pledges (Skr. samaya) and blessing are profound and marvellous. Rinchen Jangchub provides four reasons why a Dharma must be transmitted through such a lineage.

(1) When the Buddha found unsurpassable awakening, he was requested by the evil Mara to enter nirvana, whereupon he replied: “I will not pass into nirvana until I have not taught the Dharma to those who are worthy vessels of the Dharma.” And that is the first reason why it is necessary to transmit the teachings through a lineage of worthy vessels: The Buddha himself made it a priority.

(2) In all mantra teachings and in particular in the supreme yoga tantra the wording of the text is intentionally twisted and the vital instructions are hidden. Yet people enter into such Dharmas just as they like, and having thus entered these Dharmas as they like without relying on a guru, they grasp a Self and grow attached to it and they hold on to this delusion by thinking “this Dharma is mine.” Since these teachings they hold on to are nothing but self-fabricated concepts, because they have not been transmitted by an authentic master, such people do not pass beyond samsara, because through self-grasping and delusion samsara is not abandoned. That is the second profound reason why the teachings need to be transmitted through a lineage of authentic masters: an inauthentic approach produces only further concepts.

(3) The mantra Dharmas are practised to obtain ordinary and supreme accomplishments, but obtaining these depends solely on the guru. That is so because the enormous amount of spiritual merit that must be accumulated to reach accomplishment can only be gathered by following the instructions of a guru who is endowed with the special characteristics. The characteristic that makes a guru authentic is that he or she has obtained realisation having received the transmission of words, meaning, pledges, and blessing through an unbroken lineage of masters. If the accumulations are not gathered by following such a guru, one’s unmeritorious karma is not overcome. If one does not overcome that karma, the inborn wisdom that is free from all proliferation of conceptual thinking cannot be actualised. If, on the other hand, one follows the instructions of such a guru, all this is reversed: one overcomes unmeritorious karma and inborn wisdom will arise.

(4) The gurus of the transmission lineage have not only realised the Dharma, but they have also removed obstacles when faults and mistakes arose, and with regard to the qualities that arose, they enhanced the realisation. When one studies the biographies of the great gurus of the various transmission lineages, one often learns that their path was full of obstacles. In fact, it seems as if the obstacles become ever more powerful the closer the practitioner gets to the highest fruition. Well known are the examples of the Buddha himself, who had to overcome the hordes of Maras just before he fully awakened, and of Jigten Gonpo, whose greatest obstacle before awakening came in the form of a naga with its retinue residing in his body, causing leprosy. In general, it is said that the mantra path is full of obstacles and false realisations. Look at the encounter between Gampopa and Milarepa! Gampopa used to say that if Milarepa would not have shaken his believe in his own previous achievements and led him on the path through many obstacles, he would have been born for millions of life-times in the realms of the gods, where he would have wasted all his wholesome accumulations. To counteract all those obstacles and false realisations, the former masters have developed methods to remove obstacles (Tib. gegs sel) and to enhance the realisation (Tib bogs ‘don). And that is the fourth reason why the Dharma that is transmitted through a lineage is profound and marvellous: expert removing of obstacles and enhancement of realisation come as a free gift.

Having given these four reasons, Rinchen Jangchub also quotes a doubt. Somebody says: “But does it not happen that through practise experience and actualisation arise without a lineage?” And Rinchen Jangchub replies: It does happen that an experience not held by one’s guru arises in the mental continuum, but such experience does not have the benefits described above and it is unreliable and perishes fast—it is merely like the joy of a full stomach.

At this point it is perhaps also necessary to discuss a misunderstanding concerning this vajra utterance. Sometimes people believe that Jigten Gonpo here makes a statement against the treasure teachings (gter ma), where the lineages are short because several centuries can be bridged over by concealing teachings that much later are rediscovered by a guru, or ‘treasure finder’ (gter ston), who has a connection with the guru who concealed the teaching (mostly Padmasambhava). But that is not the case. In fact, Jigten Gonpo made it very clear through his public teachings that the disparaging of Dharmas such as the treasures revealed by treasure-finders is a great fault.♦ 1

This aspect was of course of great interest for Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, who held many treasure lineages. In his commentary on the dGongs gcig on this point he defends treasure teachings against attacks, saying:

All the [mahayana] instructions of the Buddha remained hidden [before they surfaced] ♦ 2 and the tantras of the Glorious Four-Armed Lord [Mahakala] were taken from a stupa!

And, moreover, he also quotes the famous words of Lord Maitreya from the Uttaratantrashastra 5.19]:

Whatever has been expounded by those of a perfectly undistracted mind
solely in accordance with the teachings of the Victorious One
and conducive to the path for obtaining liberation,
I also place on my head like the Buddha’s [own] instruction.

This can again be understood in the context of dGongs gcig1.1, according to which the Buddha didn’t invent the Dharma (and thus only what is stated by him alone would be Dharma), but he only discovered and revealed the true reality that is true and valid at all times and in all regions of the universe. That means that other beings, too, can discover the Dharma, but it is still not possible that what they discover—if it is true reality—would contradict what the Buddha had said. Such teachings can therefore also be traced to the Buddha, they are neither ‘pilfered’ nor ‘self-fabricated.’ Yet, still, who would be able to discover Dharma in such a way? Since no one enters the bodhisattva stages without gathering the necessary accumulations in this and in previous life times, and since these enormous amounts of spiritual merit can only be accumulated by following the instructions of authentic teachers, no one discovers the Dharma without an authentic transmission lineage. And furthermore, if a short lineage is authentic, there certainly must be an authentic transmission from the one who conceals the teaching to the one who recovers it.

Thus to claim that a short lineage is more authentic and has more blessing power than a long one is simple beside the point. A lineage is only authentic when its transmission of words, meaning, pledges, and blessing is unbroken. Any Dharma taught in a lineage that is like that is profound and marvellous, no matter how long or short its lineage is.


1 See for instance Jigten Gonpo’s collected works (Dehra Dun edition), vol. 1, p. 180: “Some defame the instructions of the Tathagatas, saying things like ‘only this Dharma of mine is Dharma, what the others practise is not Dharma,’ ‘the mantra of the Nyingmapas is not Dharma,’ ‘the practice of Vajrapani is not Dharma,’ and ‘mental inactivity (amanasikara) is not Dharma.’ They create attachment, aversion and delusion. Since the ripening [of such conduct] with the result ‘samsara’ and ‘lower realms’ is pitiful, having seen and heard a great number of scriptures of the Sugata with your eye of discriminating wisdom arising from study, reflection and practice, you should never disparage (gang la yang skur ba mi ’debs) [any teaching]!”

2 Andreas Doctor (Tibetan Treasure Literature: Revelation, Tradition, and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 2005: pp. 17 and 35) has shown that the apologetic argument, that “commonalities between the Treasures and the generally accepted Indian Mahayana canons” existed can be found as early as Ratna gLing-pa Rin-chen-dpal (1403-1478/79).


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In this blog’s first post (The dGongs gcig’s originator and its author) I have already mentioned that it was Jigten Gonpo’s nephew and closest disciple Sherab Jungne who had received the teachings of the dGongs gcig and who later committed them to writing in ca. 1226. Since these teachings were private and not public, they are considered a ‘special Dharma’ (khyad chos) in the Drikung tradition. In fact, he seems to have told his own disciple Dorje Sherab that while Jigten Gonpo was still alive, he (Sherab Jungne) did not compose any writings to document and elaborate on the special teachings of his guru, but only took some sketchy notes of the views his teacher maintained. The reason must have been the same that caused him to abstain from accepting the abbatial throne of Drikung after his teachers passing, namely that he wanted to practise those teachings in an intensive retreat, in order to first come to a meditative realisation of what he was going to compose and teach. According to his biography, the Thunder of Fame, he did just that for seven years in the solitude of Tise (i.e. the area of Mount Kailash).♦ 1

Both the Khog dbub and the Thunder of Fame treat Sherab Jungne as the actual author of the lines that make up the dGongs gcig, and the teachings themselves are seen as those of the former gurus, and chiefly of Jigten Gonpo. When Sherab Jungne began to compose those teachings, the ‘special Dharmas’ of his uncle, he condensed them into so-called ‘vajra statements’ (rdo rje’i gsung ), which seem to have numbered at different times of his life between 150 and probably somewhat above 200. I will return to these numbers below.

The meaning of the term ‘vajra statement’ has been explained by Khenchen Könchog Gyaltshen in the introduction to his edition of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary (p. 12 f.): “The meaning of the term ‘vajra statement’ is this: Since [such a statement] cannot be separated from the absolute nature [of] the dependent origination [of] all phenomena, it is called a ‘vajra,’ since it cannot turn from that absolute state to something else, it is called a ‘vajra,’ since it is difficult to make it the object of the intellectual sphere of dialecticians, it is called a ‘vajra,’ and since, when it is realised, it totally uproots not realising, false notions, and doubt—the huge mountain of ignorant error—it is called a ‘vajra.’ ♦ 2 That is to say that these vajra statements cannot be debated, since they do not belong to the sphere of mere intellect, just like Shantideva (Bodhicaryavatara 9.2) said that since the intellectual mind is explained to be only good for provisional truth, absolute truth is not within its reach (don dam blo yi spyod yul min// blo ni kun rdzob yin par brjod//). The truth found in these vajra statements is consequently also not gained by intellectual investigation, but by relying on (1) the Sugata’s instructions as recorded in sutra and tantra, i.e. ‘Buddha-speech’ (Skr. buddhavacana), (2) the instructions of the former gurus of Jigten Gonpo’s transmission lineage, (3) yogic experience, and (4) the well known stories found in sutra and tantra, illustrating dependent origination. These are also the four means by which these statements can be ascertained.♦ 3

To bring the dGongs gcig into its final form took some time. The Khog dbub mentions that Sherab Jungne wrote down “190 special teachings with both our own position and that of the others.” This remark shows that the dGongs gcig included from the very beginning also the ‘positions of others,’ in other words each of the at first ca. 190 vajra statements was preceded by a position held by other people, and I think that this means in most cases ‘general opinion.’ It is this general opinion which needed correction through a vajra statement.♦ 4 In this sense Jigten Gonpo wanted to correct common, and sometimes also specific, misunderstandings by bringing to light the actual intention of the Buddha, hence the title of the text, which can be rendered as ‘Same Intention’ (Dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa): the intention that is the same with the intention of all Buddhas. This is also apparent in a passage of the Khog dbub, where it is said that the author of the dGongs gcig composed the work forming the following intention: “I will briefly write down the precious teachings in the manner of 190 opinions maintained, that are the supreme, specially distinguished intentions of all the Victors of the Three Times, as many as there are.” ♦ 5 That, however, is not the only possible interpretation of the title. Another interpretation is ‘Single Intention,’ for which we find lots of material in the Khog dbub. Since that topic, i.e. a ‘single intention of all the teachings,’ is rather complex, I will have to deal with it in a separate posting. In short, this idea has to do with Jigten Gonpo’s particular way of teaching single essences, for instance in dGongs gcig 1.24: “The three vows are a single vital topic in their avoiding the ten unwholesome [actions], which are [the thing] to be avoided,” or 1.29: “The intention of the Buddha is the single family and the single vehicle,” or 2.5: “Within each of the wheels of the teachings all three are complete,” and so forth.

Let us briefly return to the topic of the number of vajra statements. As mentioned above, Sherab Jungne wrote down 190 vajra statements together with the general opinions of others. Later these 190 statements where reduced to 150, still with the ‘positions of others’ attached. Still later, the 150 statements were arranged in the form of a basic text (gzhung) endowed with some annotations regarding the sources for quotations. This must refer to notes regarding quotations from sutras, tantras, and commentaries that he planned to use during his teachings of the text. The ‘positions of others’ remained attached. Finally the 150 points were arranged in seven chapters (tshoms). This happened according to Sherab Jungne’s biography and other sources in 1234, when he first taught the text in Drikung Thel. It is said that at this time five versions existed with 150 to 190 vajra statements. When these different versions were compared, they added up to about 200, since some of them contained statements that the others did not. At some point, all of these were again reduced to 150 statements and the remaining 50 were treated as a supplements (lhan thabs). The Khog dbub mentions that the 150 vajra statements were “without contradiction to the Chenga (Sherab Jungne’s) own teachings.” By keeping them in that way, “the meaning of the special teachings flourished greatly without impurities.” Since furthermore the remaining ca. 50 supplements were also allocated individually to particular vajra statements, this seems to indicated that the 50 supplements were in some ways secondary teachings. Up to the present day, the various commentaries contain differing numbers of vajra statements. This is chiefly caused by the fact that in some texts sometimes two statements are combined to a single one.

Finally I must mention here the interesting fact that the different commentaries of the dGongs gcig have differing orders of their chapters. Altogether five different chapter orders are briefly discussed in the Khog dbub. So far I have only found two of them in the commentaries accessible to me. These two systems go back to the two earliest commentaries, both of them by direct disciples of Sherab Jungne, namely by Dorje Sherab and by Rinchen Jangchub, who might be identical with Sherab Jungne’s youngest brother Thubpa Sönyom. Their direct relation to Sherab Jungne places their active phase in the middle part of the 13th century. These commentaries are the most important ones within the Drikung tradition, and all other commentaries (except the 8th Karmapa’s) depend on them. Usually they are referred to by their author’s names, i.e. the Dosherma (by Dorje Sherab) and the Rinjangma (by Rinchen Jangchub).♦ 6

These two commentaries must have been written by two quite different characters. The one, Dorje Sherab, presents his writing in the manner of a scholar with an immense command over Buddhist literature, visible in the many quotes of authoritative scriptures, and with sharp argumentation. The other, Rinchen Jangchub, presents his work as a yogic instruction, where every line radiates experience, and almost every point ends with him requesting the reader with strong words to put these teachings into practise. These two characters are also reflected in the way they arranged the chapters.

Dorje Sherab starts with the appearing of the Buddha in the world and his teaching of the excellent three wheels of Dharma (chapter 1). Then follows the summary of the three wheels, i.e. dependent origination, which is the essence of all teachings (2). Then, summarising the meaning of dependent origination as practice, he presents the three vows of pratimoksha, of the bodhisattvas, and of mantra (3-5), which are to be practised in the manner of pure view, practise, and conduct (6). The final chapter focuses on the result that is achieved through practise, i.e. the resultant stage of Buddhahood (7).

Rinchen Janchub first establishes for the sake of practising the Dharma the pure view, practise, and conduct (chapter 1). Then follow the things to be practised, namely the three vows (2-4). Thereafter he presents the topic of these three, namely the three Dharma wheels (5), and the way in which their meaning exists, namely as dependent origination (6). And finally the last chapter presents the ultimate understanding of dependent origination as the Buddha stage (7).♦ 7

Consider also the first topic that appears in both commentaries. Dorje Sherab at first explains that “all the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature,” which I have already presented in this blog as dGongs gcig 1.1. Rinchen Jangchub, however, presents as his first topic the first vajra statement of the chapter on pure view, practise, and conduct, namely: “A teaching that has been transmitted by a lineage is profound and marvellous,” teaching as his first point the necessity to receive all instruction through an unbroken lineage of masters.

This will therefore be the next point which I would like to introduce in this blog.


1 sNyan pa’i ‘brug sgra, a biography of Sherab Jungne (= Drikung Lingpa), by ‘Bri-gung-pa-ratna (=Rin-chen-phun-tshogs, 1509-1557), contained in all editions of Dorje Sherab’s commentary, the dGongs pa gcig pa’i ‘grel chen snang mdzad ye shes sgron me, for example in the in the dGongs gcig yig cha published by D. Tsondu Senghe, Bir, 1975.

2 dGongs gcig ‘grel ba nyi ma’i snang ba, Maryland, USA, Drikung Kagyu Meditation Center, 1995, p. 12: rdo rje’i gsung zhes pa’i go don ni/ chos kun rten ‘brel rang babs la mi phyed pas na rdo rje/ gshis de las gzhan du ‘gyur du med pas na rdo rje/ rtog ge mkhan gyi blo spyod yul du gyur dka’ bas na rdo rje/ de nyid rtogs na ma rtogs log rtog the tshom ste ma rig ‘khrul pa’i ri bo chen po rtsad as ‘byin pas na rdo rje zhes so//.

3 These four points are known as the ‘four authenticities’ (tshad ma bzhi). I will introduce these later in this blog.

4 I think that it is therefore indispensable to always document these ‘positions of others’ together with each vajra statement. Without the previous, the latter alone may be misleading.

5 This statement can be found right at the beginning of the Khog phub: ji snyed dus gsum rgyal ba thams cad kyi// thugs dgongs bla med khyad par ‘phags pa rnams// brgya dang dgu bcur rnam grangs bzhed pa’i tshul// rin chen gsung las mdor bsdus bri bar bya//.

6 See the dGongs gcig yig cha in footnote 1 and sPyan-snga Rin-chen-byang-chub, Dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i rnam bshad rin po che’i gter mdzod, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, 2008.

7 Although the commentaries have different arrangements of the chapters, I will follow the presentation of Dorje Sherab. That is, the first topic of the “three wheels of the Dharma” chapter will always be called “1.1.” etc. In this way we can always refer to each vajra point, no matter in which commentary it appears, by the same number.


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Although there is much more to be introduced regarding the dGongs gcig and its commentaries, its about time to introduce one of its vajra-state- ments. And what would be more appropriate than the first vajra-statement of the first chapter?

In general, the first chapter of the dGongs gcig deals with the Buddha’s three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The very first statement, however, is not referring to any particular wheel, but to the nature of the teachings as such. It is therefore one of the most fundamental statements, if not the most fundamental one, of this treatise. As you will see, it has to do with the (false) expectations people have, in particular when they perceive the Buddha as a kind of a deity, a creator, or a powerful magician. As a remedy to that, Jigten Gonpo taught:

1.1. All the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature

In his commentary of this first point, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa right at the beginning draws attention to the perspective of the Buddha’s awakening.♦ 1 What is it he has woken up to? What was dream-like before, and is now without delusion? The commentary says he has “awakened with regard to the essence of the complete purity of all phenomena.”

That is, (1) the Buddha has not created a world according to his wishes or ideas, he hasn’t discovered the power to decide the beings’ destinies, and he has not turned into a powerful or divine magician or god. He has simply discovered reality just as it is.

(2) He was not teaching “his philosophy” or anything he is speculating about, and when he taught, he didn’t invent any principles or rules and so forth that have to be followed because he is the teacher, but, as the commentary says, “he revealed the ultimate true nature of all phenomena out of great love.”

(3) He also has not gained through his awakening the power to manipulate in any way the nature of reality that he discovered. When he said that something is wholesome, it is so because that is the nature of reality, not because he ruled that. And when he said that something is unwholesome, it is so because that is the nature of reality, not because he prohibited it. This is actually one of the most profound topics of the dGongs gcig, and we will find it presented again and again in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings–in short, things happen or exist in a certain way because of the law of dependent arising. The Buddha did not obtain a special power through which he can change this law, he has only discovered it in all of its fine details and is revealing it to the world.

(4) While the previous point deals with the aspect of dependent arising being a law, i.e. its “Gesetzhaftigkeit,” next it is pointed out that causation and the arising of results never make exceptions, neither for beings of high rank nor of low rank. This, too, is a very profound point in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings that we will meet with again and again, for instance in the context of his teaching (dGongs gcig 8.22) that even a bodhisattva of the tenth and highest level can fall back into the lower realms when that bodhisattva produces the causes for that–no matter what some other scholars may have claimed to be the case in their philosophical writings.

(5) And finally, since the Buddha awakened with regard to true reality, he possesses the primordial wisdom or gnosis (Skr. jñana, Tib. ye shes) that “perceives what is and what is not appropriate.” This particular gnosis is the first of the ten powers of the Tathagata (dashatathagatabalani). It is a power that is in general explained as the knowledge that karma and defilement are the cause that give birth to beings, or are responsible for the type of birth they take and thereby excludes all possibilities that a self or a soul or a creator are that cause. Through this power it is furthermore clearly understood which types of causes lead to which types of results. This type of relationship will be referred to in several other vajra-statements as well and is another essential recurring topic in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings.

All the commentators add to these statements a number of quotations from authoritative scriptures, but I’d like to point out here simply that the general and very fundamental statement that the Buddha awakened to a reality that is, independent from his discovery of it, the true nature of things, can also be found in the teachings of other Buddhist traditions, such as in the Pali tradition. See for instance the Dhamma Niyama Sutta (A i 286), according to which the properties of the teachings exist whether a Tathagata arises or not.

Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands – this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant … painfull … not the Self.! ♦ 2

This theme can also be found in the earliest strata of Mahayana sutras, for instance in the Shalistambasutra (7–14), summarised by Potter (1999: 195):

Understanding dependent origination is to understand Dharma, and one understanding Dharma sees the unsurpassable body of factors of the Buddha. Why is it called “dependent origination”? Because it arises from causes and conditions. Whether or not Tathagatas arise, or questions are asked, etc., the nature of factors (dharmata), suchness, reality, truth are constant.! ♦ 3


1 Let me point out here that the often used term “enlightenment” is in the Buddhist context not very appropriate. First of all, it is a term that in Western thought is connected with the so-called Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason, an intellectual movement of the 18th century in Europe and America, aiming at reforming society and advancing scientific knowledge, with roots in the thoughts of Spinoza, John Locke, Voltaire and so forth. One of its aspects was to fight superstition and religious intolerance. I’m not saying that these could not also be Buddhist ideals, but they do not exhaust the Buddha’s contribution and thus these ideas, represented by the term “enlightenment,” are too narrow. Secondly, the Sanskrit term buddh- and bodhi have to do with knowledge, understanding, wisdom, etc. and with waking up, thus “awakening,” “the Awakened One” etc. are a much better match.

2 Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight, 10 December 2011, . Retrieved on 5 May 2012.

3 Potter, Karl H. (1999) Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Buddhist Philosophy from 100–350 A.D., vol. 8, Delhi: Motilal.


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If we want to discuss the genre of a Tibetan writing, we have to analyse both its contents and form. Formally, the dGongs gcig consists of brief pithy statements (not verses) of views concerning a great variety of topics. These statements are the condensed form of the tradition’s wisdom, and thus we may see these lines (respectively the text as such) as a sort of ‘pith instruction’ (man ngag, Skt. upadesha), or ‘guidance-instruction’ (khrid), or ‘authoritative basic text’ (gzhung).

Thematically, the dGongs gcig deals with a large number of topics, not unlike Sakya Pandita’s sDom gsum rab dbye (composed around 1232). By dividing the material into seven chapters, Sherab Jungne (see the first article of this blog on him) has offered his own thematic description: (1) the Buddha’s three turnings of the Dharma wheel, (2) dependent origination, (3) the vow systems of vinaya-pratimoksha, (4) of the bodhisattvas, and (5) of tantric adepts, (6) view, practice, and conduct, and (7) the result, i.e. the Buddha stage. Judging on the basis of these chapter descriptions, the dGongs gcig contains elements of a ‘system of tenets treatise’ (Skr. siddhanta, Tib. grub mtha’), of a ‘three vow treatise’ (sdom pa gsum gyi bstan bcos), and of a ‘stages of teachings treatise’ (bstan rim).

Traditional sources refer to the dGongs gcig as a khyad chos, a ‘special teaching,’ which in the Drikung tradition refers to collections of teachings not given to a public gathering (which would be called a tshogs chos), but in private.

Interestingly, Dorje Sherab’s Introduction (Khog dbub) discusses at some length the possibility of categorizing the dGongs gcig as a siddhanta. It refers to several instances where Jigten Gonpo and apparently also other teachers of the tradition refer to teachings found in the dGongs gcig as being a ‘system of tenets treatise’ or ‘siddhanta,’ albeit with a particular ironical twist, such as in the following statement:! ♦ 1

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 sidhanta!

Dorje Sherab’s Introduction, in summing up such statements, says:

Thus to call it a ‘sidhanta’ is not a contradiction (grub mthar byas kyang ‘gal ba med).

On the other hand, the Introduction also makes clear that the dGongs gcig cannot be taken as a siddhanta in the common sense, because of Jigten Gonpo’s well known stance towards conceptual statements in general:! ♦ 2

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

And:! ♦ 3

The grasping [of that] which is free from the extremes of all prolifera- tion [of] ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ [is] the conceptuality (rtog pa) of sidhanta, the sphere of the [proliferating] mind (blo’i yul).


The truth is obscured by all of the sidhantas, whatever they are.”! ♦ 4

And, well known as a statement in the first chapter of the dGongs gcig itself (1.18.):

All upholders of tenets are traditionalists (…),”! ♦ 5

where I translate the Tibetan term rang rgyud pa here as “traditionalist,” trying to catch the sense of the definition found in Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary of this point, which is, in a nutshell,

… a person who, due to attachment to permanence or annihilation, forms a view that he grasps as ‘my tradition.’”! ♦ 6

I will return to this topic later, when I discuss the relation of the dGongs gcig with mahamudra. To sum up, Dorje Sherab’s Introduction offers the opinion that it would not be a contradiction to call the dGongs gcig a siddhanta, although in the special (ironically twisted) sense of not holding a view—not even if that view would be one of the ‘three great ones:’ namely maha-madhyamaka (dbu ma chen po), maha-mudra (phyag ryga chen po), or maha-ati (rdzogs pa chen po)! ♦ 7


1 Khog dbub 218 f.: nyid kyi zhal nas dge ba gshis kyi dge ba ste/ dge ba dkar pos dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pas’i dge ba me dge bar mi ‘gyur/ mi dge ba gshis kyi 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 mo yin gsungs pa dang /.

2 Khog dbub (p. 219): ‘jig rten mgon pos/ 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//.

3 Khog dbub (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//.

4 Khog dbub (220): bden pa ni grub pa’i mtha’ ji snyed pa thams cad kyis bsgribs pa yin.

5 Vajra statement 1.18: grub mtha’ ‘dzin pa thams cad rang rgyud pa.

6 Nyi ma snang ba 1.18: spyir ‘phags pa’i yul du phyi nang gnyis las phyi pa’i lta grub ni brjod ma dgos la/ nang la yang rtag chad kyi mtha’ la zhen pa’i ming grub mthar btags pas blo bsgyur ba’i gang zag so so rang rgyud la lta ba de ‘dra ba bdag gir ‘dzin pas rang rgyud pa zhes bya la/. This vajra statement describes the great dangers of being attached to an own view. The commentaries make clear that such attachment is also to be found among adherents of “our own tradition,” and their attitude is illustrated with Mahayanasutralamkara (11.29): “It is like defeating another illusionary [king]// through the illusionary [means] of an illusionary king.// [But] those bodhisattvas, who have [really] seen the Dharma,// are without pride.”

7 For not holding even madhyamaka, mahamudra, and rDzogs chen as a view, see dGongs gcig 6.8.: “[He maintained] a realisation that isn’t [even] reached by the Three Great Ones” (chen po gsum gyis ma reg pa’i rtogs par bzhed do). This point was taught because some upholders of madhyamaka, mahamudra, or rDzogs chen believed that their system surpassed the realisation of ‘true reality’ (dharmata) and ‘emptiness’ (shunyata). However, those who settle for a view that avoids extremes, or who grasp clarity and emptiness, etc., do “not even touch the accomplishment of the mind at all,” since the accomplishment of the mind is “beyond the mentally fabricated, free from an apprehending mode, and beyond the sphere of examples and words.” (These quotes are all from Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s comments on this point.)


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One of the recurring topoi in Kagyupa writings is the emphasis on the need for the teacher to have realised the Dharmas he teaches. I use the English verb ‘to realise’ and the noun ‘realisation’ for the Tibetan term rtogs pa here, though I have heard complaints that these English expressions are unfitting and inelegant. It is interesting to note that there exists a some- what parallel discussion in the Tibetan tradition, where rtogs pa (and nyams pa ~ ‘experience’) are discussed in relation to go ba (~ ‘understanding’), with Sakya Pandita stating (in sDom gsum rab dbye 3.383 ff.) that rtogs pa is nothing but a synonym of go ba, translating the same Sanskrit term (i.e. bodha?).

A typical Kagyupa reply would be like the one of the Drikungpa master Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa (1595–1659), who maintained (in Nyi ma snang ba 6.8.): “therefore ‘realisation’ (rtogs pa) is maintained to be the possession of the real meaning of mahamudra in the mental continuum,” and “whoever, in having entered into the completely victorious conduct and so forth, has realised samsara and nirvana as mahamudra and appearances as one’s own mind is called ‘one endowed with realisation’ (rtogs ldan).” On the basis of such remarks I find it quite appropriate to translate rtogs pa in a Kagyudpa context with realisation, for which one finds in the thesaurus the equivalents recognition, fruition, and actualisation.

Concerning the necessity to have realised the Dharma one is teaching, Jigten Gonpo is quoted as having said: “Even though I taught whatever is profound in public teachings, I did not speak anything that I didn’t experience.” ♦ 1 And Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa commented (on vajra statement 6.6.) ♦ 2:

The view concerning ultimate reality that is ascertained through teaching [philosophical] tenets, authoritative quotations, and reasoning, is merely a theoretical understanding (go yul tsam). The arising of a realisation (rtogs pa) that is free from the extremes of mental proliferation in one’s mental continuum by practising (nyams su blangs pas) has in mind the realisation of the actual view.♦ 3

To ensure actual experience, leading to realisation, the teachings further- more have to be passed down in a direct encounter between guru and disciple: “This teaching needs to be one transmitted faces to face, ear to ear, mind to mind.” ♦ 4


1 Khog dbub (p. 201): zab dgu tshogs su bshad na yang// nyams su ma myong smras pa med//.

2 Nyi ma snang ba 6.7: grub mtha’ lung rigs bshad pas gtan la phab pa’i gnas lugs kyi lta ba ni go yul tsam yin la/ nyams su blangs pas rang rgyud la spros med mtha’ bral gyi rtogs pa skyes pa ni lta ba mtshan nyid pa rtogs pa la dgongs te/.

3 I understand here mtshan nyid pa (“the actual one”) as the contrast to rjes mthun pa (“an approximate one”).

4 Khog dbub, p. 204: chos ‘di zhal nas zhal snyan nas snyan thugs nas thugs su brgyud pa zhig dgos pa yin te.


The Khog dbub can be found in the dGongs gcig yig cha, 2 vols., Bir (H.P.), D. Tsondu Senghe, 1975.

The Nyi ma snang ba is Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary of the dGongs gcig, the Dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i rnam bshad nyi ma’i snang ba bKa’ brgyud nang bstan mtho slob khang nas dpar ‘grems zhus, Kagyu College, Dehra Dun, India, 2007.


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The teaching of the dGongs gcig originated with Jigten Gonpo (1142–1217), founder of the Drikung Kagyupa tradition and a chief disciple of the great Phagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170). Phagmodrupa is said to have spend sixteen years with the great Sakyapa master Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092–1158), before he became one of the four master disciples of Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (1079–1153).

I drop these names here, because I think it is significant for Jigten Gonpo’s work that his teacher had spend so much time with such an eminent master of the the Sakya tradition. The Drikung Kagyu and the Sakya traditions flourished greatly in the thirteenth century, and, as Ronald Davidson once pointed out, even though they both perceived themselves as reformers of the Buddhist tradition in Tibet (they are both “Sarmapa”), they became intense rivals in the doctrine. The dGongs gcig is in this respect an individual statement of identity of the Drikungpa, presenting the tradition as the heir of the confluence of two lineages, namely the lineage that originated with the Buddha and was transmitted to Tibet by Atisha and came to Jigten Gonpo via Gampopa, known as the “perfect conduct lineage” or the “sutra paramita lineage of the Kadampas,” and the one that originated with the Exalted Vajradhara and was transmitted via Milarepa and Gampopa to him. The latter lineage is know as “perfect view of mantra lineage” or the “mantra vajray¹na lineage of the realisation of the result.”

Some of Sakya Pandita’s (1182–1251) writings, such the sDom gsum rab dbye and his Letter to the Bodhisattvas can be seen in some of their aspects as replies or refutations of Jigten Gonpo’s dGongs gcig. The dispute can be traced through time and is visible in the writings of Go-rams-pa (1429–1489), Shakya Chogden (1428–1507), Mikyö Dorje (1507–1554), Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa (1595–1659), etc. The topics are still discussed today, e.g. in some recent compositions of the present Dagpo Chenga Rinpoche (Rase Könchog Gyatso, *1968), but the tension between the Sakya and Drikung lineages has fortunately come to a rest. It remains one of the research tasks of the future to investigate the ancient connections and disputes between these lineages, and the primary starting points should be the works of Phagmodrupa and Shakya Chogden.

Jigten Gonpo spent less than three years in the presence of Phagmodrupa, but his arrival was predicted by Phagmodrupa when he said that the holder of his lineage would be an Upasaka (lay practitioner) of the tenth bodhisattva level from Kham, which he later identified to be Jigten Gonpo (nga’i brgyud pa khams na yod pa’i dge bsnyen sa bcu pa cig gis ‘dzin gsung). After Phagmodrupa’s death, Jigten Gonpo, now fully ordained, served for some time as the head of the Sangha. Later he spent several years in a cave for meditation, where he, after an immense crisis, experienced a breakthrough to a complete understanding of dependent origination and was henceforth considered a fully realised Buddha. He established a monastery in Drikung and gathered several thousand disciples, thousands of which were send to solitary retreats in Lapchi, Tise, and Kailash. In the near future we await an excellent translation of the extensive biography of the great Drikungpa by Christine Sommerschuh.

The teachings of the dGongs gcig thus originated from Jigten Gonpo, but they were received in private only by a single one of his disciples, namely by his nephew Chenga Sherab Jungne (1187–1241), also known as ‘Drikung Lingpa.’ According to the biography of Sherab Jungne and the introduction (khog dbub) to the dGongs gcig (probably authored by his disciple Dorje Sherab), Jigten Gonpo taught the roughly 200 ‘vajra-statements’ (rdo rje tshig) that would later make up the eight chapters of the dGongs gcig to his nephew in private, for instance when Sherab Jungne would massage his teachers feet or when they took a stroll together. Sherab Jungne was also Jigten Gonpo’s candidate as his successor on the abbatial throne of Drikung, but Sherab Jungne declined because he first wanted to do extensive retreats in Tise.

When Sherab Jungne, after his teachers death in 1217, finally returned from his seven years in Tise to Central Tibet, things in Drikung had changed, and obviously not in favour of Sherab Jungne. How else could we explain that the Drikungpa’s heir would start to teach the dGongs gcig in 1226 in Kharchu (in the south), Drowo Lung (Marpa’s nearby old hermitage), and Daglha Gampo (Gampopa’s monastery), but in Drikung only nine years later in 1234? The events of these years are rather hazy and a careful investigation of the sources would be very desirable. However, shortly before Sherab Jungne’s biography mentions his passing, it states (fol. 13r-v): “Lobpon Jotsun asked: ‘As the Chenga himself really is Samantabhadra, why were there disagreements in the Samgha from the beginning?’ [And Sherab Jungne] replied: ‘Just because of disagreements bodhisattvas take birth [in situations] such as these.’”

Sherab Jungne’s special position in Drikung while his teachers was still alife is expressed on several instances in his biography and in the introduction to the dGongs gcig. The biography mentions that Jigten Gonpo bestowed all instructions (gdams ngag) on him and made him the care keeper of his teachings. According to the Khog dbub, Jigten Gonpo himself had mentioned on one occasion that he had bestowed on Sherab Jungne all the pith instructions without exception that he himself had received from Phagmodrupa, and that thus Sherab Jungne had become endowed with the treasure of the pith instructions of the former gurus of the Kagyupas. Sometimes, when teaching the assembly, Jigten Gonpo, by a mere glance of his eyes (spyan zur gyis gzigs pa tsam gyis), made Sherab Jungne, who was sharing the teaching throne with him, continue whatever teaching he was imparting at that moment (fol. 4r). And from Jigten Gonpo’s 70th year onwards, he “remained within drawn curtains and all instructions were given by Drikung Lingpa [Sherab Jungne], except for the introduction [to the mind] alone” (fol. 4r).

The introduction (Khog dbub) also points out the special qualification of Sherab Jungne as the person who actually put his teachers dGongs gcig into writing. In particular it mentions five qualities:

  1. he has received ‘permission’ (gnang ba) by deity and guru, i.e. he actually has seen the tantric deities (lha zhal gzigs) and he is never separated from the notion of his guru being the Buddha (bla ma sangs rgyas kyi ‘du shes dang ‘bral ma myong);
  2. he has realised the non-dual meaning, i.e. he as realised under the guru Ngephuwa the practise that is ‘free from proliferation’ (spros bral, the second yoga of mahamudra), under Jigten Gonpo he deepened that realisation until ‘one-taste’ arose (ro gcig, the third yoga), and in Tise he mastered the (fourth) yoga that is ‘without practice’ (sgom du med pa);
  3. he has obtained authority (rang dbang) in all scriptures;
  4. he possesses great compassion for all beings, so that he never abandon them even if his life was at risk; and
  5. he possesses the pith instructions of the former gurus, i.e., as mentioned above, he received all the pith instructions his own guru had obtained from Phagmodrupa.


Ronald Davidson’s remarks on Jigten Gonpo and Sakya Pandita can be found in his Tibetan Renaissance (2005), New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 334 ff.

Sakya Pandita’s sDom gsum rab dbye and his Letter to the Bodhisattvas can be found in an excellent translation in Jared Rhoton (2002) A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes: Essential Distinctions Among the Individual Liberation, Great Vehicle, and Tantric Systems: the Sdom Gsum Rab Dbye and Six Letters, SUNY Press, 369 pp.

Sherab Jungne’s biography, the sNyan pa’i ‘brug sgra by ‘Bri-gung-pa-ratna (=Rin-chen-phun-tshogs, 1509–1557), and the introduction to the dGongs gcig (khog dbub) can be found in the dGongs gcig yig cha, 2 vols., Bir (H.P.), D. Tsondu Senghe, 1975.

Christine Sommerschuh’s translation of Jigten Gonpo’s biography will be announced in this blog as soon as it is published.


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