The dGongs gcig’s originator and its author

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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1 comment
  1. Dan said:

    Dear Jan-U,
    What a nice surprise to discover our hero Drigung Chöje and yourself up on the blogosphere! I’d like to welcome you with a very nice Katag, but it’s hard to send through this digital medium. So I’m placing one on my monitor as I type, And now a second one, yellow for expansion and growth. May the Tibetological blogsphere expand to fill the entire realm of dharmas with truth, beauty and realization (or OK, understanding if you happen to be the venerable Sa-pan). Verses of auspiciousness repeated over and over again.

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