Of special dharmas, vajra statements, and intentions

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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