Face to face, ear to ear, mind to mind

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.


Top of Article ↑


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: