Finally! After 15 years of work, the book is now available at Wisdom Publications ( 841 pages packed with the wisdom of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, his fathers, and his sons.

Here is the forword of His Holiness Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche:

It gives me great pleasure to be able to offer a few words on the occasion of the publication of Professor Jan-Ulrich Sobisch’s The Buddha’s Single Intention: Drigung Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s Vajra Statements of the Early Kagyü Tradition. I have been aware of Professor Sobisch’s ongoing study of Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s Single Intention, or Gongchik (dgongs gcig), for at least the last decade or so—first with the late Ngawang Tsering and later with several learned teachers of our Drigung Kagyü lineage. It is gratifying to now have in hand the fruit of Professor Sobisch’s hard work. In particular, with the help of Khenpo Könchok Rangdröl, former principal of Kagyu College in Dehradun, India, Professor Sobisch has produced a meticulous and complete translation of Rikzin Chökyi Drakpa’s influential Gongchik commentary known as Light of the Sun. Furthermore, this volume also includes Professor Sobisch’s careful selection of relevant passages from the two earliest surviving Gongchik commentaries—the Dorsherma and Rinjangma, both composed within fifty to sixty years of Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s mahāparinirvāṇa in 1217.

As the book’s title suggests, it is a window into the early, formative period of the Kagyü tradition. The root text of the Gongchik with 150 vajra statements organized into seven chapters (plus an eighth, ancillary chapter with 47 vajra statements) represents the distillation of Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s unique presentation of the Buddhadharma as he received from his root guru Phakmodrupa, who in turn was one of the key disciples of Gampopa, fountainhead of the Dakpo Kagyü. In particular, these vajra statements reflect Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s understanding that all 84,000 aspects of the Buddhadharma—the teachings classified into the so-called Lesser, Great, and Vajra Vehicles; the categories of prātimokṣa precepts, bodhisattva trainings, and tantric samayas; the division of sūtras and tantras into those of definitive meaning and those requiring further explanation—have a single, unified, holistic intention of revealing the fundamental nature (gshis babs) of all phenomena to us deluded sentient beings so that we can be freed from suffering and attain the perfect buddha state. Importantly, this fundamental nature—whether we call it sugatagarbha, emptiness, dependent origination, nature of mind, or rikpa—can best be understood in the way that virtue and nonvirtue lead to happiness and suffering, respectively and unmistakenly, and ultimately to the resultant states of nirvāṇa and saṃsāra. With this understanding, the entire path taught by the Buddha is none other than the exhaustion of all nonvirtue and the perfection of all virtue. This emphasis on the inseparability of the fundamental nature and the incontrovertible workings of cause and effect is the cornerstone of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön’s Gongchik teachings.

The early Kagyü masters are well known for their absolute commitment to practice and to the spiritual welfare of their students. While learning and studying the Buddhadharma is necessary, early Kagyü masters such as Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, Phakmodrupa, and Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön did not engage in disputing and debating philosophical positions or composing treatises establishing tenet systems. Their energies went instead into their personal meditation practice and into guiding devoted students through personal, intimate, and direct instructions. Therefore it is my hope that with Wisdom Publications’ publishing of Professor Jan-Ulrich Sobisch’s masterful presentation of Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s Gongchik, readers will now not only be exposed to a major system of thought and practice in Tibetan Buddhism, but more importantly, they will take to heart these vajra statements and the related commentaries for the task of exhausting all nonvirtue and perfecting all virtue, thus leading to the perfect buddha state.

Finally, as one blessed with the name Drikung Kyabgön, I offer my personal appreciation to Professor Sobisch and to all the Drigung Kagyü teachers who have assisted in this project. This book is an important contribution to a greater understanding of the legacy of Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön and his sublime successors. May this book inspire further interest and engagement with the jewels held by the glorious Drigung Kagyü!


H.H. Drikung Kyabgön Tinle Lhundup, Head of the Drigung Kagyü Lineage

by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon

I pay homage to the excellent gurus!

This mahāmudrā of the great master Saraha has four topics:

  1. Relax body and mind.
  2. Do not engage mental objects.
  3. Do not set up any support whatsoever.
  4. Release the mind in its natural state.

About the first, i.e., to relax body and mind, the great Ācārya Brahmin said: “There is no doubt that this mind that is bound with a knot will be freed when it is relaxed.” Therefore, you must relax body and mind.

About the second, i.e., not to engage in mental objects, [he said]: “Non-mentation is the body of the great seal (mahāmudrākāya). Yogi, have no hope for any results!” Therefore, rest without maintaining in your mind any notion of good or bad thoughts whatsoever.

Concerning the third, i.e., not setting up any support whatsoever: Rest without making channels, winds, vital essences, and whatever else your support.

Concerning the fourth, i.e., resting the mind in its natural state: Just rest in the natural state, without any activities and exertions whatsoever.

That concludes the great ācārya, the brahmin Saraha’s “Mahāmudrā Thunderbolt.”


Collected Works of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon, vol. 2, p. 426 f.


བླ་མ་དམ་པ་རྣམས་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ།། སློབ་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ་ས་ར་ཧའི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་འདི་ལ་དོན་བཞི་སྟེ། དང་པོར་ལུས་སེམས་ཁོང་གློད།་གཉིས་པ་ཡིད་ཀྱི་ཡུལ་དུ་མི་བྱ། གསུམ་པ་རྟེན་གང་ཡང་མི་བཅའ།་བཞི་པ་སེམས་རང་སོར་གློད། དེ་ལ་དང་པོ་ལུས་སེམས་ཁོང་གློད་པ་ནི། སློབ་དཔོན་བྲམ་ཟེ་ཆེན་པོའི་ཞལ་སྔ་ནས།། འཇུར་བུས་བཅིངས་པའི་སེམས་འདི་ནི།། གློད་ན་གྲོལ་བར་ཐེ་ཚོམ་མེད།། ཅེས་པས། ལུས་སེམས་ཁོང་གློད་པར་བྱའོ།། གཉིས་པ་ཡིད་ཀྱི་ཡུལ་དུ་མི་བྱ་བ་ཡང་།། ཡིད་ལ་མི་བྱེད་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོའི་སྐུ།། འབྲས་བུ་གང་ལ་ཡང་རེ་བར་མ་བྱེད་རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ།། ཞེས་པས།་བཟང་ངན་གྱི་རྣམ་པར་རྟོག་པ་གང་ཡང་ཡིད་ལ་མི་བྱ་བར་བཞག་པའོ།། གསུམ་པ་རྟེན་གང་ལ་ཡང་མི་བཅའ་བ་ནི། རྩ་དང་རླུང་དང་ཐིག་ལེ་ལ་སོགས་པ་གང་ལ་ཡང་རྟེན་མི་བཅའ་བར་བཞག་པའོ།། བཞི་པ་རང་སོར་བཞག་པ་ནི། བྱ་བྱེད་དང་རྩོལ་སྒྲུབ་ཐམས་ཅད་དང་བྲལ་བར་རང་སོ་ཁོ་ནར་བཞག་པ་ཉིད་དོ།། སློབ་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ་བྲམ་ཟེ་ས་ར་ཧའི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་ཐོག་བབས་རྫོགས་སོ༎ ༎


Until the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Price in 1989, Buddhism had been largely portrayed as a peaceful religion. But since the 1990s, several articles and books have appeared that critically investigated this image. By now, western scholars and the public have a much more balanced view of the history of Buddhism and the violence that was a part of it. Unfortunately, not all contributions to this new critical assessment have applied the necessary care and fairness. In this posting, I would like to investigate two recent and influential contributions to the study of violence in tantric Buddhism. Both portray particular kinds of Buddhist tantric practices as involving “real” violence; both conclude that people are really getting killed here. While I do not want to argue that such a thing—killing of people in the context of mantra—did not happen in the history of Buddhism, I do want to point out that the sources that were used for these studies not only do not allow that conclusion but are actually prime examples for texts that leave no doubt that the ritual activities are only imagined (: text) and that this kind of imagining has a particular training purpose (: context).

How could such a misjudgment have come about on the part of the authors? I will show that this is mainly due to mistranslations of the texts and to a lack of cultural context.

Interestingly, Jacob Dalton’s recent book, The Taming of the Demons (2011),♦ 1 provides – despite its many attempts to prove that the texts he investigates speak of real actual violence – the best arguments for the contrary.♦ 2 In his introduction, Dalton first concedes that “[c]onclusive proof of early tantric ritual killings may never be found; indeed, it is unclear what such evidence would even look like” (p. 3). But then he speaks throughout his book of “ritual killing of actual people” (p. 3), “a Buddhist rite for human sacrifice” (p. 4), “the [bestowed] right to enact violence” (p. 14), and that “several details suggest that a live person may be intended” [to be killed] (p. 77).

Dalton knows that later Tibetans were adamant about killing “not being performed on a live person, and their ritual manuals bear this out” (p. 4). His thesis is that the old 9th century (or earlier) Tibetan texts found in the famous library cave of Dunhuang do not “bear this out,” but rather are explicit in stating instructions for actual killing of living persons.

His chief evidence for the alleged existence of actual violence in these early rites is contained in two texts from Dunhuang. One of them (PT 840/1), which he presents in Appendix C of his book, he translates thus (p. 212, my square brackets):

“When citta [the consciousness] is led forth by the mudrā, imagine that it is grabbed with ʻja’ʼ (bzung bar bsam),” … “imagine he [sic!] is led (’dren par bsam),” and “imagine that he [sic! ] is sent (bton par bsam),” [i.e., to nirvana].♦ 3

This passage of the text extends over five and a half lines in his translation. The object that is “led,” “grabbed,” and “sent” remains the same: the consciousness (citta) of the enemy. Consciousness has the neutral gender, and thus “it” is grabbed—surely “grabbed” in a metaphorical sense. But then, suddenly, in that same passage, Dalton switches to the male gender when he translates “he is led” and “he is sent” to nirvana. What justifies this switching from consciousness to a real person—for which there is no indication in the Tibetan text? Was the wish to prove that this is an instance of killing of a real person the father of this not so subtle slip? Moreover, even if one could label this as violence, one could not state more clearly that it is entirely imagined violence (note the Tibetan verb bsam in all quotes).

The second example (PT42/ITJ419) is presented as his supposedly strongest evidence of the entire book for the possibility that a real and human victim is actually to be sacrificed. It begins with the following line (in my translation):

Imagine that a demonic iron ax that one holds aloft performs the activities of the Lady of Death.

Dalton translates “holding aloft the demonic iron axe, imagine that one performs the activities of the Lady of Death.” The Tibetan text says sta re thogs pa gcig, lit. “an ax held aloft.” The gcig in this syntactic position must refer to the ax; it cannot mean “one.” Thus, it is not oneself, the performer of the ritual that one imagines to carry out the destructive activities; it is the ritual ax. Therefore, the violence is thrice removed: (1) It is imagined, (2) it is carried out by the ax, (3) and that ax is not a real ax, but a ritual simulacrum. In exactly this manner the text continues (my translation):

Then♦ 4 imagine a dark blue syllable KRONG atop the head [of the being that is liberated]. … From the DRONG (!) atop the head, many razor-[like] weapons cleave and chop, the consciousness emerges, and it is offered to the principal [deity]. (…) Having made all these visualizations (bsam ba’i rnams) clear in his mind, the master must revive the consciousness and hold it. He throws it on top of the mandala and then has to examine the signs.♦ 5

In previous passages, the enemy to be liberated, termed throughout the text “the object of compassion,” is placed in the middle of the mandala, facing west, and smeared with white mustard seed paste. Is this a real person, a real body of a living being? Even if that should be the case—for which there is no evidence—it is clear that everything else is imagined: A syllable is imagined atop the head, from that appear visualized weapons, and it is imagined that the consciousness appears and is offered to the visualized deity. The text makes this as explicit as one could wish: “Having made all these visualizations (bsam ba’i rnams) clear in his mind”—thus, the ritual master is visualizing the activity. Other than the visualized weapons there are no real weapons mentioned in the text through which a head could be chopped off. Also, what else but a visualization would be the emerging consciousness? Tibetans do not have a concept according to which any part that could be chopped out of the head would be seen as the consciousness.

Now the master “must revive (sos) the [visualized] consciousness and hold it. He throws it on top of the mandala and then has to examine the signs.” As Dalton himself has noted a few pages before (p. 79), in the Guhyasamāja Tantra, i.e., the canonical work from which this ritual manual derived, the thing that is beheaded is, in fact, a paper effigy. Moreover, in a footnote (p. 239, n. 40) he states: “The interlinear notes to the same lines in the tantra make the use of a paper effigy still more explicit (ITJ438, 53v5: ri mor bris pa de’i mgo gcad par byas pa).” The interlinear note says: “The head drawn in the picture is chopped off.” Isn’t thus the most probable scenario that the “object of compassion” is represented in the described ritual by a picture drawn on a piece of paper or by any other effigy, such as one made of dough? The signs that are to be examined after the effigy is thrown onto the mandala are in accordance with that: The effigy faces into one particular direction, it lands “face down,” or it may “split at the crown” (which indicates an effigy made of dough).♦ 6

Despite all this evidence and virtually no evidence to the contrary, Dalton insists in his translation that what is thrown onto the maṇḍala is a real head. Moreover, he describes the above ritual procedure with these words:

Certainly the most violent text to emerge from the library cave ofDunhuang is a ritual manual for the performance of the notorious “liberation rite” (sgrol ba). Many early Mahayoga writings from Dunhuang and elsewhere mention the liberation rite, but none is so explicit or detailed as this manual. … The instructions have the victim brought in and placed at the center of the ritual altar so that he faces west; the weapon is blessed and the victim purified, before being beheaded with an axe. Finally, the position in which the head comes to rest is interpreted to determine the rite’s success. The description is unusual, as it supplies so much detail yet makes no mention of an effigy.

To repeat: The iron ax is a ritual instrument that is clearly not used to chop off any heads (“imagine[!] that a demonic iron ax that one holds aloft performs the activities”); the “weapons” that arise from the syllable are visualized, and whatever activity they perform can therefore only be imagined; according to the text, it is not the head that is thrown onto the mandala, but the consciousness; and although the ritual text itself does not mention an effigy, the tantra from which it is derived and its interlinear notes do. Dalton’s above description of the ritual is forced. If this is his “most violent” and most explicit example, his thesis that the old 9th century (or earlier) Tibetan texts from Dunhuang are explicit in stating instructions for actual killing of living persons is failed.

My second example is an article by David Gray (esp. pp. 248 ff.).♦ 7 In it, he refers to an interesting passage in Atishaʼs Abhisamayavibhanga.♦ 8 Atisha discusses here destructive means in a ritual text. Gray concludes from his translation of the passage that Atisha “justifies” and “legitimate[s] such [violent] actions.” Moreover, Gray states: “This justifies violence by those who have controlled their minds, and are thus not motivated by the passions, but rather by the cool calculus of compassion (…).” Apart from his rather eccentric formulation “cool calculus of compassion,” which is obviously a contradiction in terms, and other strange expressions (“Atisha finds solace”), Gray has, in fact, not done justice to the subtlety of Atishaʼs argument. For my discussion I would like to begin the passage Gray investigates two lines earlier because these lines provide the context for Atishaʼs reply (all translations are mine):♦ 9

Query: Are, conventionally speaking, the one who is going to be harmed and the harm doer inexistent? Reply: That would be to disavow cause and result!

The interlocutor asks if the person who is going to be harmed, namely oneself (attacked by the demon or enemy) and the harm doer (namely the demon or enemy who will have to be repelled) are, conventionally speaking, inexistent. (Alternatively the one who performs the rite could be the harm doer and the demon or enemy the one to be harmed. This does not make a difference in the logic of the argument.) Atisha denies their inexistence because that would mean to disregard the teaching of cause and result on the level of conventional reality. In other words, conventionally speaking, both oneself and the enemy/demon do exist. The next query follows:

Query: Is there not a contradiction concerning a repelling by way of [seeing the enemy] as something separate?

This question concerns the teaching that all appearances are only the mind. If that is the case, is the enemy not also nothing but oneʼs mind? Is it, therefore, not a mistake to see him as a separate entity? Now follows the part that Gray has presented in his article, again in my own translation:

ཀུན་རྫོབ་ཏུ་རྒྱུ་འབྲས་མེད་པ་མ་ཡིན་གྱི། འོན་ཀྱང་ཞེ་སྡང་གིས་བསླང་བའི་སྦྱོར་བས་བཟློག་པར་བྱ་བ་མ་ཡིན་ཏེ། ཀུན་རྫོབ་ཉིད་དུ་ཡང་བྱམས་པ་ལ་སོགས་པའི་གོ་ཆ་དང་དོན་དམ་པར་སྐྱེ་མེད་དུ་ཤེས་པས་སོ། ད་ཡང་ཅི་ཞེ་ན། ཀུན་རྫོབ་ཏུ་ཆོས་ཐམས་ཅད་སེམས་ཙམ་ལས་གཞན་མ་ཡིན་ཏེ། དེ་བས་ན་སེམས་ལོག་པར་གཡོ་བ་ཉིད་བདུད་དང་བགེགས་ཡིན་ནོ། དེ་ཡང་ངན་སོང་སྦྱོར་བའི་རྒྱུད་ལས། ཇི་སྲིད་ཡིད་ཀྱིས་ལོག་གཡོ་བ༎ དེ་སྲིད་བདུད་ཀྱིས་སྤྱོད་ཡུལ་ལོ༎ ཞེས་གསུངས་སོ༎ སེམས་གཉེན་པོ་ལས་འཁྱར་བ་ཉིད་བདུད་ལ་སོགས་པ་ཡིན་ནོ༎
Reply: Conventionally, cause and result do not fail [lit. “are not inexistent”]. However [even though the enemyʼs harm is experienced as a real threat] it is wrong to repel [harm doers] by the application of a vengeful motivation because conventionally [one wears] the armor of love, and so forth, and ultimately one understands [harm doers] to be without birth. How is that? Conventionally, all phenomena are nothing but merely mind, and, therefore, the very deviation from [the understanding that phenomena are only] the mind is the Mara and the demons [that one must repel]. As the Sarvadurgati Tantra says:♦ 10

“Just as much as one wavers off with the mind,
just that much is the sphere of Mara.”

The very straying from [the understanding that all phenomena are] the mind, which is the antidote, is Mara and so forth.

Gray concludes from this:

Atisha here invokes the Yogacara theory of the baselessness of imputations of independent existence to phenomenal reality in order to deny the external reality of the demons who are the targets of the sadhanaʼs ritual violence. (…) This argument seems a bit inconsistent; if the demons do not in fact exist as independent entities, what need is there to insist that their destruction should be performed with a compassionate motivation?

Gray says: Since appearances are only mind, the demon doesn’t exist, and, thus, to say that he is destroyed with compassion is inconsistent. However, the passage translated from Atishaʼs text so far only pertains to a first and conventional part of his argument. Here, however, Atisha does not at all “justify” or “legitimate” a violent killing of a victim. On this conventional level, he instructs to apply love as an antidote to hatred and, still conventionally, to understand that the phenomenon perceived as the enemy is nothing but oneʼs mind. He also briefly alludes to an absolute level that is without the arising of such conventional phenomena like enemies and demons, but this will be only discussed later. Here, on the conventional level, one applies antidotes: love and the understanding that all phenomena are one’s mind.

One of the most important requirements for understanding this kind of ritual is that this is a training. As in all Mahayana practices, love for all sentient beings is cultivated at the beginning. Then, based on that, when there is a disturbance, one applies first of all that loving-kindness, and secondly one trains one’s understanding that all phenomena are only mind. This is the typical and well-known Mahayana training as it is expressed, for instance, in the Thirty-seven Trainings of the Bodhisattvas:

(16) Even if someone whom we have taken care of like our own child,
is seeing us as an enemy, we only increase our love for him,
like a mother for her sick child.
That is the training of the bodhisattvas.

(20) When hatred, our enemy, is rampant,
we may defeat the outer enemies, but they still increase.
Thus, one’s mental continuum is to be tamed with the armies of love and compassion.
That is the training of the bodhisattvas.

(22) Whatever appears is our mind.
Its nature is primordially free from proliferation.
Knowing that, not to indulge in the characteristics of perceived objects
and perceiving mind is the training of the bodhisattvas.

Up to this point in Atisha’s text, there is no one killed or repelled, neither with anger nor with compassion. This is a training of the mind. And here now follows in the text the crucial line:

… the very deviation from [the understanding that phenomena are only] the mind is the Māra and the demons [that one must repel].

Who or what is the enemy? It is one’s own deviating from this training. Just as much as one deviates from that, Mara can operate. The ritual practice of repelling enemies is, up to this point, explained by Atisha as a training in love and the understanding that appearances, even if they are threatening, are only one’s mind. Within a ritual practice such as the one commented upon by Atisha, the training takes place within several “frames,” from the outside to the inside: renunciation (when one contemplates the four thoughts that turn the mind away from samsara), love, compassion, and the resolve for awakening, purity and emptiness (with the shunyata-mantras, etc.), and, when appearances are mentally deleted and once again arise from the syllables, the understanding that all appearances are only the mind.

It can hardly be stated in clearer terms than Atisha provides them here, that the enemy one has to remove is oneʼs inability to cultivate these “frames” in one’s meditative practice. Whatever happens within these frames is a training of the mind to realize the true nature. The very wavering from these frames is the Mara that one must (metaphorically) “kill.” Since there is no person here that one must kill—only one’s own shortcomings in the training—to call this a “justification for killing” is to misunderstand the whole character of this endeavor as Atisha describes it. The enemy that appears is obviously an instance of training, and, as I have understood from interviews, it can become a particularly powerful training when it is done under adverse conditions, i.e., when, conventionally speaking, one perceives a real threat.

Atisha also clearly states that it would be wrong on the level of conventional truth to attack a real enemy, because the enemy conventionally exists for a deluded mind, and to attack him would have karmic consequences for the attacker in agreement with the teaching of cause and result. Therefore, the antidote to hatred for an enemy perceived as real is “the armor of love.” Once the yogi or yogini has removed the gross obscuration of hatred, he or she should train in the manner described above to realize that the threat that is perceived is nothing but mind. Atisha nowhere says, as Gray claims, that the enemy must be killed with compassion. The “armor of love” is not to prevent the yogis from karmic consequences; its purpose is to train and tame the mind.

Atisha provides the above explanation on the level of conventional truth. What follows is his brief argument on the level of absolute truth, which has been briefly alluded to with the above line “and ultimately, one understands [harm doers] to be without birth.” The text continues:

དེའི་ཕྱིར་ངེས་བརྗོད་ལས། མི་གསོད་གསོད་པ་མེད་པ་ཡིན༎ གང་གིས་རང་སེམས་ཐུལ་བ་ཡིས༎ བདག་གི་སེམས་ནི་བཅིངས་པ་ཡིན༎ གང་ལ་གང་གིས་གསོད་པ་ཡོད༎ ཅེས་པ་དང།
(…) Thus the Abhidhānottara says:

“There is neither killing nor not-killing.
One who has tamed his mind
is binding his mind.
Who is killed by whom?”

Note that Atisha does not primarily argue that “harm doers have no birth” with a mere “intellectual” argument of emptiness, but that he embeds his teaching in the “practical” instruction of binding the mind by taming it. This refers to exactly the training and taming of the mind as it was explained above, i.e., by entering successively into renunciation, love, and so forth, up to the realization of “only the mind” within the ritual of liberation embedded in mahayogatantra sadhana practice. Within such a realization of “only mind,” one must indeed ask the question “who is killed by whom?”♦ 11 Atisha concludes the argument with a continuation of the quote and his conclusion:

ཡང་། བྱམས་པའི་གོ་ཆ་བགོས་པ་དང་༎ སྙིང་རྗེ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་གོ་ཆ་ཡིན༎ ཤེས་རབ་མཚན་ཆར་ལྡན་པ་ཡིས༎ ཉོན་མོངས་བདུད་རྣམས་བཟློག་པར་བྱ༎ བཀའ་ཡི་འཁོར་ལོ་སྲུང་བ་ཆེ༎ ཕུར་བུས་བགེགས་མེད་དངོས་གྲུབ་འགྱུར༎ སྲུང་བའི་ཆོ་ག་འདི་དག་གིས༎ སྒྲུབ་པ་པོ་ལ་བྱང་ཆུབ་སྩོལ༎ གཙོ་བོའི་བཀའ་ནི་བླང་བར་གྱིས༎ རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་ནི་གར་གནས་པར༎ བགེགས་རྣམས་ཐམས་ཅད་མེད་པར་མཐོང་༎ ཞེས་གསུངས་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ༎ དེ་ལྟར་མ་ཡིན་པར་བཀའ་ལ་ལོག་པར་རྟོགས་ཏེ་ངན་པའི་ལས་དང་ལྡན་པ་ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་ཀྱིས་འོག་ཏུ་འགྲོ་བ་ལ་ཕྱོགས་པ་ཉོན་མོངས་པ་ལ་སོགས་པའི་ཞགས་པས་བཅིངས་པ་ཟོ་ཆུན་ལྟར་འཁོར་བ་རྣམས་དང་ཁྱད་པར་མེད་པས་ལམ་ལ་གནས་པའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་ཡང་མ་ཡིན་ནོ༎

He wears the armor of love
and the armor of the Dharma of compassion.
Being endowed with discriminative knowledge as a weapon,
he should repel the afflictions, which are the Mara.
This wheel of instruction is a great protection.
With the kila it turns into the siddhi of freedom from obstruction.
With these armors of protection
awakening is bestowed on the adept.
Hold this principal instruction!
Wherever he abides, the yogi
will perceive all obstructions as not existent.

To understand the instructions not like that and, thus, wrongly [means that] one is not a yogi abiding on the path since one possesses bad karma, moves towards the lower realms through oneʼs very nature, is bound by the noose of affliction, etc., and is not different from samsaric beings, roaming [in samsara] like a water wheel.

Gray, however, concludes from the above passage:

This justifies violence by those who have controlled their minds, and are thus not motivated by the passions, but rather by the cool calculus of compassion, which calls for violence as a defensive strategy, that is, as a way preventing evildoers from committing greater acts of violence. This denial of the reality of violence …

Such a complete misunderstanding of the intention of Atisha’s texts is only possible through several translation mistakes and a biased reading. If there ever existed a Tibetan text that justified violence, then it is certainly not this one.

1. [] Dalton, Jacob P. 2011. The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2. [] The qualities and problems of this book were reviewed by Matthew Kapstein, 2013, Review of The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 73.1: 177–84; and Cathy Cantwell, 2014, Review article of The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton. History of Religions 54.1: 106–12.

3. [] Lines 37–9 in the Tibetan text.

4. [] The first sentence quoted ends with the Tibetan particle las, and Dalton connects this to the Lady of Death: “from her” appears a syllable. However, that cannot be because such a function of the las particle is only possible when it is attached to a noun. In the text, it is attached to a verb, “imagine,” and in this case it simply continues the action.

5. [] Cf. Dalton 2011, 208.

6. [] It is difficult to explain that according to one sign the effigy “does not stop shaking.” But that is as difficult to explain for an effegy as for a real human head once it is chopped off.

7. [] Gray, David B. 2007. “Compassionate Violence? On the Ethical Implications of Tantric Buddhist Ritual.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 14: 239–71.

8. [] Abhisamayavibhanga by Atisha, 188r f. Mngon par rtogs pa rnam par ’byed pa, D vol. 22, 185v7–202v3.

9. [] These and the following quotes are taken from Atishaʼs Abhisamayavibhanga, 188r f.

10. [] One of the more obvious problems of Gray’s translation is that he did not recognised the Sarvadurgati Tantra quote and has translated the words of the title and the quote as if they were part of Atishaʼs speech.

11. [] But Gray translates: “Yet those whose minds are bound kill one another,” which is syntactically impossible. He also overlooks that this is a question.

Tilopa’s famous Gangama Mahamudra‒according to tradition taught by Tilopa to Naropa at the banks of the River Ganges and later transmitted to Marpa Lotsawa‒has been translated before, e.g., by Trungpa, Tiso and Torricelli, Brunnhölzl, and Khenpo Thampel.

Why now another translation? The answer is: because we have different texts.

More then a decade ago I started collecting manuscript editions of the Gangama, that is, text editions that were written by hand and transmitted outside of the “official” canon (i.e., the Tibetan Tangyur). I soon noticed that these paracanonical manuscripts contained a text that differed in many ways from the canonical version of the Peking, Derge, Narthang, and Cone Tangyur editions of the same text.

The greatest surprise for me was to discover the vast extent of structural intervention undertaken by the redactors of the canon. The paracanonical (manuscript) versions are structured as follows (numbers refer to the lines of the Tibetan text):

1‒4: advice to listen
5‒29: introduction to the nature of the mind through the examples of space, clouds, and the sun
30: view
31: conduct
32‒37: meditative practice
38‒47: pledges
48‒52: benefits of practicing this path
53‒55: defects of not practicing like that
56‒59: practice of relying on the guru and renunciation
60‒66: ascertaining the result of view, meditation, and conduct
67‒79: abandoning distractions in the solitude
79‒86: benefits of such practice
87‒100: practice of the individuals of highest capacity
101‒104: types of individuals
105‒113: practice of the individuals of lower capacities
114‒118: results and qualities

One of the key features of this structure is that the text directly introduces with 25 lines the nature of the mind. The key feature of the structure of the canonical version as found in the Tangyur, on the other hand, is that the text teaches first a gradual teaching of 28 lines before it offers an introduction to the nature of the mind. The redactors of the canon thus have changed the very nature of the text, turning this teaching of the Indian Siddha tradition into a mainstream “gradual path” type of teaching (lam rim).

Secondly, the paracanonical manuscript tradition presents the Gangama as a text with irregular numbers of syllables per line, generally nine or eleven, but occasionally also seven and thirteen. This allows for a natural expression as we find it in many instructional texts on mahamudra, such as the poetical and spontaneous songs of the mahasiddhas and also in many of Jigten Sumgön’s songs and instructions. The editors of the Tangyur, on the other hand, have changed this into a uniform pattern of nine syllable verses with mostly four lines, thereby streamlining it to fit the style of other versified teachings.

The text that I present here as the main text is taken from the Oral Transmission of Cakrasamvara and the Oral Transmission of the Dakini, both edited and arranged by the great Drukpa Kagyü master Padma Karpo (1527‒1592). According to the tradition, these teachings were received by Tilopa directly from the Dakinis when he was staying in Uddiyana. Tilopa transmitted them to Naropa and the latter to his Tibetan disciple Marpa Lotsawa, who passed them on to Milarepa. At this point, there is some confusion that was recently cleared up in an article by Marta Sernesi (2011). According to her, people have confused this oral transmission (or, as she calls it, aural since that is closer to the meaning of the Tibetan word snyan, “ear”) with the Nine Instructions of the Formless Dakini. The story of Milarepa receiving only five of these instructions from Marpa and sending his disciple Rechungpa to India to bring back the remaining four has actually nothing to do with the transmission of the Oral Transmission of Cakrasamvara (or the Oral Transmission of the Dakini, which are alternative terms) itself since the Nine Instructions are only supplemental teachings to the actual Oral Transmissions. Larsson (2012: 86) and Quintman (2014: 41) still repeat the mistake, and this shows once again how dangerous it is to take such legends at face value. In truth, in the writings of the Oral Transmission, it is clear that the transmission from Marpa to Mila has been complete.

Sernesi also points out that the Oral Transmission of Cakrasamvara or the Dakini are (alternative) names for the teaching, and the Oral Transmission of Rechung and Oral Transmission of Ngendzong, who was the other cotton clad yogi to receive the transmission from Mila, are names for particular lineages in which the instructions were transmitted. There also appears to be a further lineage through Gampopa and Phagmodrupa (Larsson 2012: 88), the Oral Transmission of Dakpo, possibly with abridged or essential instructions (Sernesi 2011: 180, n. 2).

The Oral Transmission of Cakrasamvara contains teachings by Vajradhara, Vajrayogini and other Dakinis, Tilopa, Naropa and other Indian masters, as well as by Marpa, Milarepa, and later disciples. According to Padma Karpo’s introduction and catalog of the Oral Transmission of the Dakini (mKha’ ’gro snynan brgyud kyi dpe tho, Torricelli 2000: 361), the Gangama Mahamudra is the first text of the collection (as arranged by him), and it is its essential instruction.

Of the already existing translations of the Gangama, Trungpa Rinpoche’s and Tiso and Torricelli’s are made from the canonical version of the Tangyur. Brunnhölzl’s translation is based on a paracanonical transmission as it appears in the 5th Shamarpas’s commentary. Within the paracanonical transmission, I observed two groups with the Shamarpa’s and the rGya gzhung manuscripts on the one side and the Oral Transmissions on the other (this is described in the introduction to my edition). The Shamarpa’s commentary and Brunnhölzl’s translation show some particular features that I pointed out in the introduction to my translation of the Oral Tradition manuscripts. The commentary of H.H. Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche is based on my edition of ten paracanonical and four canonical editions. Khenpo Thampel’s translation of the root text, however, seems to be based on a canonical version.

My translation and the accompanying edition are not supposed to present a definitive edition or translation of the Gangama. I aim above all to document the hitherto neglected Oral Transmission and to make the many interesting variant readings of the different manuscript families visible.

You can download my translation and edition in the downloads section in the lower part of the right column of your screen: “Tilopa: Gangama Mahamudra (Translation)” and “Tilopa: Gangama Mahamudra (Edition of Tib. text).” Enjoy!


For bibliographical references to the other translations, see my translation of the Oral Tradition.

Larsson, Stefan (2012) Crazy for Wisdom: The Making of a Mad Yogin in Fifteenth-Century Tibet, Leiden: Brill.

Sernesi, Marta (2011) “The Aural Transmission of Samvara: An Introduction to Neglected Sources for the Study of Early Bka’ brgyud,” Mahamudra and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition, Andiast: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies.

Torricelli, Fabrizio (2000) “Padma dkar-po’s Arrangement of the ‘bDe-mchog snyan-brgyud,’ East and West, 50(1/4), 359-386.

Quintman, Andrew (2014) The Yogin and the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet’s Great Saint Milarepa, New York: Columbia University Press.

In one of the public teachings recorded by Sherab Jungné, Jigten Sumgön quoted the Buddha, saying:♦ 1

Do not cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump,
and, because desire cannot be satisfied, abandon sense pleasures!

These two lines summarize all the Buddha’s teachings about “the thing-to-be-abandoned,” namely aversion and attachment. Similar statements can be found in the Vinaya and many sūtras such as the Vinayakṣudrakavastu:♦ 2

If one should not have bad thoughts even about a burnt stump, there is no need to mention a body endowed with consciousness! Monks, train yourself like that!

The Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra too says:♦ 3

Monks, do not cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump! Why? All sentient beings fall into the hell of beings due to their cultivation of bad thoughts!

Moreover, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna says:♦ 4

Those who crave will not be satisfied by desire
like fire not by firewood
and the ocean not by rivers.
Therefore, desire cannot be soothed.

We usually categorize such statements as the Buddha’s teaching on disciplined conduct (Skt. śīla). In the Single Intention teachings of Jigten Sumgön, however, an instruction like “do not cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump” also has other and, perhaps, unexpected dimensions.

In his teachings on the 37 Bodhisattva Trainings, Garchen Rinpoche, too, often reminds us in the context of training five, which teaches us to avoid bad friends, that it is one thing to stay away from people who destroy our love and compassion when our spiritual capacity is low, but quite another to see faults in the spiritual teacher when we want to practice the Dharma.♦ 5 Moreover, in the context of Mahāmudrā teachings, he often says that we must view all lamas as buddhas. “When you see a fault in the lama, that is only your own fault!”

This instruction goes back to a teaching in the Single Intention, where Jigten Sumgön’s commentator, Dorjé Sherab, says that oneʼs supreme, medium, or lower accumulation of merit determines the guruʼs good, medium, or inferior qualities. If one perceives a guru who is lacking characteristics, that is only due to oneʼs inferior roots of virtue. Thus, qualities cannot arise if the guru lacks qualities since that is a sign of oneʼs own lack of accumulations.

Due to the lack of accumulations, we do not perceive our world as a pure land and its beings, including ourself, as buddhas and bodhisattvas. Therefore, we have to gather merit, and this is not done by seeing faults, but by perceiving qualities, even in inferior spiritual friends. Dorjé Sherab quotes Jigten Sumgön:

We do not follow the opinion that a contamination arises through devotion to an inferior guru. We do not follow the opinion that harm arises from making offerings to such a guru. And we also do not follow the opinion that looking at the bad as something good is a wrong view.

In other words, by perceiving good qualities even in inferior spiritual friends, no harm arises. One may not develop the qualities in his presence, but that devotion, through which the pledges remain intact, will be the cause for meeting a perfect guru in whose presence the qualities arise without impediment. That is also Garchen Rinpoche’s instruction for disciples who want to practice Mahāmudrā.

There is also a further dimension with regard to the instruction not to cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump. It is also connected to the Mahāmudrā instructions found in the Single Intention (vajra statement 6.13): “That Mahāmudrā and disciplined conduct (śīla) are one is an unsurpassed special teaching of Jigten Sumgön.” There are several reasons provided in the commentaries why Mahāmudrā and disciplined conduct are one, but here I want to focus only on one, namely that in both teachings—Mahāmudrā and disciplined conduct—one is advised not to cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump.

Generally, Mahāmudrā and disciplined conduct are both practiced to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation, the grasping of the self must be abandoned. How is the self being grasped? It is constantly grasped through our conceptions of aversion and attachment. Therefore, both Mahāmudrā and disciplined conduct abandon the conceptions of aversion and attachment. Someone who cultivates bad thoughts even towards a burnt stump and who has the hopes that his actions of desire will satisfy his desire can neither be successful in the practice of Mahāmudrā nor of disciplined conduct.

Most importantly, however, when the Mahāmudrā trainee, having mastered calm abiding and superior insight, trains to realize all stirrings of the mind as dharmakāya, whatever thought arises is watched in its essence without following after it. “Without following after it” refers to any subsequent thought activity or any other activity of body and speech that engages in the manner of aversion or attachment because one hopes to destroy the object of aversion or satisfy one’s desire. To stay clear from that is “not to cultivate a bad thought even about a burnt stump” and to “abandon sense pleasures” on the level of Mahāmudrā.

*   *   *

I would like to add a few personal thoughts. To say like Dorjé Sherab that “oneʼs supreme, medium, or lower accumulation of merit determines the guruʼs good, medium, or inferior qualities” should not be misconstrued as a free ticket for teachers to abuse students. At this time, when some spiritual teachers have caused scandals in the West by sexually or otherwise abusing their students, we need to be very clear of what is possible and what not.

Both Jigten Sumgön and his guru Phagmodrupa have strongly repudiated the possibility of sexual relations between teacher and student. It has never been Jigten Sumgön’s intention to make the disciple responsible for sexual (or any other) assaults by the teacher in the sense that the disciple would have an impure view if he or she perceives the guru’s conduct as sexual abuse. There is no place for sex in the guru-disciple relation. Abuse should be made public and not be hidden under the blanket of “pure view.”

When Dorjé Sherab points out the correlation between seeing faults in others (including the teacher) and one’s own lack of qualities, this has in mind that we generally lack the ability to see qualities and focus instead on the faults of others. We tend to divide the world into good and bad, friend and foe, Buddhist and not Buddhist. In that way, we are focusing on other people’s faults instead of learning from their qualities. We are strengthening the notion of “I” and “others.” Moreover, we are robbing ourselves of the possibility to learn from others, no matter who they are. Jigten Sumgön says in the Single Intention (1.19): “We maintain that there exists much that is virtuous by its fundamental nature to be practiced in the systems of the Non-Buddhists too.” Are we not encouraged to see the quality of loving kindness even in animals?

Thus, when we see faults in others, but not their qualities, that is a sure sign that we lack wisdom. By condemning others (including teachers) for their faults, we deepen our tendency to only see faults in others and to overlook their qualities. With such a deepened tendency, we are reinforcing attachment and aversion and the grasping of a self, and we make it less likely to create in the future the conditions for meeting a perfect teacher.

But, again, that does not mean that we should not protect ourselves and others from abuse. To protect ourselves and others, we should speak up when we see abuse, but we should not do that with an attitude of self-righteousness and hatred, but out of love and compassion. Then, nothing can go wrong.

1. [] Collected Works, vol. 12, p. 251: de bas sdong dum mes tshig la’ang // ngan sems bskyed par mi bya zhing // ‘dod la ngoms pa yod med pas// de bas ‘dod yon spang bar gsungs//

2. []Vinayakṣudrakavastu, vol. 10, fol. 95r: gang mgal dum la yang ngan sems mi bya na rnam par shes pa dang bcas pa’i lus la lta smos kyang ci dgos/ dge slong dag khyed kyis de lta bur bslab par bya’o//

3. []Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, D vol. 52, fol. 256r: dge slong dag mgal dum la yang ngan sems ma skyed cig /de ci’i phyir zhe na/ sems can thams cad ni ngan sems bskyed pa’i rgyus sems can dmyal bar ltung bar ‘gyur ro zhes gsungs so//

4. []Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna, D vol. 71, fol. 205v: me la bud shing rnams dang ni// rgya mtsho la ni chu bo ltar// sred ldan ‘dod pas ngoms pa med// de phyir ‘dod pa zhi ba min//

5. []I thank Ven. Yeshe Metog for allowing me to read her translation of Garchchen Rinpoche’s teachings on the 37 Bodhisattva Trainings.

Buddhism certainly presents itself as a metaphor: the Awakend One, the assemblage (samgha), the path, the vehicle, and so forth. Quite a number of very old metaphors are agricultural: root of merit, karmic seed, fruit to be obtained, field of merit (and later: Buddha fields), and refuge tree. Some metaphors appear to be intercultural and interreligious, for instance colours: white merit is virtuous, black is non-virtuous. Or spatial metaphors: upwards is positive, downwards is negative. Knowledge, wisdom and understanding are interculturally represented by light, ignorance as darkness. Probably through the notion of an increased visibility in luminosity, understanding is metaphorically expressed as “seeing,” not understanding as “blindness.” Some metaphors are very productive. They produce many more metaphors that produce whole clusters of metaphors, like the above cluster of agricultural metaphors, or like the metaphor of space, which is the basis for the metaphorical field containing metaphors like upwards and downwards, lack of hindrance (= succes), or pervasion (= understanding, compassion, wealth, etc.).

With this knowledge in mind, how much deeper is our understanding of Jigten Sumgön’s opening words of his Simultaneously Arising Mahamudra (Phyag rgya chen po lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod):

I bow down to the Gurus, who remove the darkness of ignorance of beings by pervading the sphere of the unborn pure space of true reality with a thousand lights of unhindered compassion.

From early on, the Buddha himself has created numerous similes on the basis of metaphors. The website Access to Insight lists ca. 250 such similies that occur in their translations of Pali sutras. A recent Thai Buddhist master has similarly collected 108 similes.♦ 1 There is for instance a story in an old Pali sutra (SN 35.206) where several different kinds of animals are bound togther by a rope. Each animal pulls into a different direction. This is a simile that shows how the thoughts of the mind contest for dominance. The simile builds on the metaphor of thoughts being wild animals. In this way, the figurative language of metaphors and similes was used throughout the history of Buddhism as a hermeneutical tool to explicate the doctrine.

From very early on, Buddhist philosophers and commentators have understood the power of figurative language and described its elements and functions. In a metaphor, they explained, the metaphorical term (e.g., “lotus born”) indirectly refers to a concept (e.g., “purity”). Thus, when someone says “I take refuge in the Buddha,” both “refuge” and “Buddha” are metaphors — we are not literally trying to hide behind the broad shoulders of Shakyamuni. Such figurative speech opens up a world of interpretation and understanding. The Drikungpa master Garchen Rinpoche, for instance, would explain that what we seek is not the person Siddharta Gautama, but his awakening to the true nature of the mind, which we ourselves cannot get from him, but only find in ourselves. “Going for refuge in the Buddha” is according to him a metaphor for searching for the nature of one’s own mind within oneself.

Such a deep penetration of the language of the sutras and other scriptues is on the one hand possible through the experience of a teacher like Garchen Rinpoche. But it has also been made possible through the forerunners of mahamudra yogis, the philosophers of Yogacara Buddhism. Beginning from the 3rd century they have developed a theory of language according to which not only metaphors, but actually all language is figurative: If all phenomena to which language refers are only appearances of the mind, the words that refer to such phenomena do not have a direct referent, since that referent does not exist as it appears.♦ 2 This understanding, namely that words can never refer directly to any real object, has also led them to proclaim that the ultimate truth is, therefore, actually inexpressible and completey beyond language. Paradoxically, however, it is just this figurative language that best illustrates this inexpressibility. Consider these words of the Great Brahmin Saraha (quoted in the above mentioned mahamudra instruction of Jigten Sumgön):♦ 3

If you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to the authoritative [instructions] of the guru and strive respectfully,
there is no doubt that the simultaneously arisen will come forth.
Since it is without color, attributes, words or illustrations,
unable to express it, I will try a rough illustration:
Like a young girls joy in her heart,
Holy Lord, whom could it be told?

Apart from that, it is certainly important to keep in mind that the language of Buddhist texts, be it technical or metaphorical, refers to phenomena that do not exist as they appear. As Garchen Rinpoche pointed out in his teachings this week in Munich, all the words of the texts, however skillfully expressed, are of no particular value if the reality that is expressed at best indirectly by them is not directly experienced in meditation.


1. and

2. See the new study A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor by Roy Tzohar, Oxford University Press, 2018.

3. Another version is recorded by Kurtis Schaeffer, Dreaming the Great Brahmin, Oxford University Press, p. 154: Free of color, quality, words, and examples,// It cannot be spoken, and in vain I point it out.// Like the bliss of a young woman, desirous for love,// Who can teach its noble power to whom?//

I have added in the right margin (scroll down to “download PDF”) a new translation of Patrul Rinpoche’s instruction on the two truths (auch auf deutsch!). It has been translated in the past, but I think that I was able to add some precision to the translation. I also provided a number of footnotes to clarify a few points for those who have not so much experience in reading this kind of text.

Although I do not know of any systematic presentation of Jigten Sumgön’s understanding of the two truths, I think that Patrul Rinpoche’s explanation is very close to how Jigten Sumgön would teach them. The main point is that the level of truth is determined by the realization of one’s mind. Thus, already Jigten Sumgön’s guru Phagmodrupa had said (as quoted in Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary on dGongs gcig 7.1):

E ma ho! This king that is the mind,
– if one realizes it, that is nirvana,
if one does not realize it, that is the ocean of samsara.
Apart from realizing and non-realizing
there is no obtaining and non-obtaining of the fruit.

Therefore, Chökyi Dragpa said in the same commentary: “Samsara and nirvana have no other difference than ‘realized’ and ‘not-realized.'” Moreover, since that realization of the mind is free from all extremes of proliferation – the buddhahood that is achieved in the sameness of all phenomena, the inseparable union – within that absolute result there exists no distinction between the two truths (dGongs gcig 7.1). This union on the level of absolute truth is also in accordance with Patrul Rinpoche’s instruction.

I hope you will enjoy the text!


[Updated version (May 20, 2019)]

The “Yoga of the Innate” (lhan cig skyes sbyor, Skt. *sahajayoga) is a special transmission of Gampopa and all the Kagyüpas after him – but before I discuss some of its details, let me first briefly explain my choice of the term “innate.” The literal meaning of the Tibetan term lhan cig is “together.” In connection with the Tibetan term skyes pa, the idea is that something is “born or arising together,” and Gampopa has pointed out that it means “at the same time,” namely that dharmakāya and mind♦ 1

have no “earlier” and “later” concerning the time [of their arising] and they are not a “good thing” [i.e. the dharmakāya] and a “bad thing” [i.e. the mind with its thoughts]. They are, therefore, “arisen together”

or simultaneously, that is, innate. When, in the mahāmudrā instructions of the “yoga (Tib. sbyor) of the innate,” the disciple is introduced to the nature of the mind right from the beginning, the topic or contents of this introduction is that, chiefly, the dharmakāya is innate to the mind, i.e. they are “arisen together.” In particular, as Gampopa said to the first Karmapa:♦ 2

What is innate to the mind is the dharmakāya.
What is innate to appearance is the radiance of the dharmakāya.

The innate nature of the mind is its nature or essence. The innate appearance is the thought that has arisen from [the mind]. They are like the sun and the rays of the sun or sandalwood and the scent of sandalwood.

In other words, any outer appearance is in truth a thought arising in the mind, where the mind is actually the dharmakāya and the thought dharmakāya’s radiance. This nature of reality, which is introduced to the disciple, is after that used as a means of practice on the path. Another way to express this are these words of Phagmodrupa:♦ 3

Mind, thought, and dharmakāya
are from the beginning innate (lhan cig skyes pa).
Since this is trained (sbyor ba, Skt. yoga) through instructions,
it is called “yoga of the innate.”

The perhaps most important characteristic of this yoga is, therefore, the involvement of thoughts and appearances in the practice of the path, as it is only through them that the dharmakāya can be seen. In other words, *sahajayoga is “mahāmudrā on the level of the path.”♦ 4

Jigten Sumgön has used this basic instruction of innateness in his Introduction to Mahāmudrā, the Yoga of the Innate in the chapter where he introduces appearances as dharmakāya. When the disciple dwells in an original or natural state of the mind, relaxed and without grasping,♦ 5

… appearance and mind vividly arise as inseparable without the appearing objects remaining outside and the mind being inside as different from the appearance. (…) Therefore, [the appearance] is the unhindered self-appearance of the natural radiance of the nature of the mind. (…) [I]t is not so that formerly separate things become one after they have merged – they have always been like that!

Since that is the case, Jigten Sumgön says in the instruction translated below that a thought “is seen as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable” as it can be used to fully unfold the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge (shes rab), leading to the realisation that dharmakāya is from the beginning innate to the mind.

Gampopa received two traditions of the instruction of this yoga; one by the Kadampa Geshe Chagriwa♦ 6 and the other one by Milarepa. The teaching that was transmitted by Phagmodrupa to Jigten Sumgön is called the “two armours” (go cha gnyis). According to Phagmodrupa, it is the teaching that Gampopa received from Milarepa. It occurs, however, that elements of Chagriwa’s instruction are also visible in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below.

There exists a very profound and important commentary by Jigten Sumgön on Phagmodrupa’s teaching of the four yogas of mahāmudrā which has been translated by Alexander Schiller in his remarkable book on the four yogas.♦ 7 Jigten Sumgön mentions here that Milarepa’s transmission of the “two armours” – one concerning the “outer view,” the other “inner wisdom” – includes the following instructions. (1) All thoughts and mental afflictions did not arise from anywhere, which is the dharmakāya, they did not disappear anywhere, which is the sambhogakāya, they abide neither outside nor inside, which is the nirmāṇkāya, and they do not exist anywhere, which is the svabhāvikakāya. They have always been like that.♦ 8 (2) This knowledge is cultivated in meditative practice until thoughts and mental afflictions have completely vanished, like the centre of space, free from all clouds. – Here, the “outer” and “inner” aspects appear to be that the first is an “outer view” in the sense of an analysis based on learning and reflecting and the second a cultivation of inner wisdom leading to realisation. These two aspects of “outer” and “inner” are differently interpreted in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below.

Jigten Sumgön’s commentary of the four yogas also mentions the instruction Gampopa received from Chagriwa. These are, at first, that thoughts, even though they do not have a real existence, are “a kindness” (because they are a means of realisation). Moreover, thoughts are non-existent-[yet]-manifested (med sprul), which is to say that although they are in truth not existent (med), they manifest (sprul) as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable for the arising of the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge.♦ 9 Furthermore, one overcomes thoughts on arising (phrad ‘joms), which is the conviction that at the very moment a thought arises, it is without origination. Thoughts are, still furthermore, retraced (rjes snyags). In Gampopa’s teaching, this is done by asking: Where did they come from?, and so forth (as above). In the commentary on the four yogas, thoughts are “removed without experiencing their taste.”♦ 10 These three points of Chagriwa’s instruction (together with two further points) also appear in Jigten Sumgön’s instruction translated below, at the very end of the text, almost as an afterthought.

The next section in the commentary of the four yogas refers to the four aspects of “taking as the path” (lam ‘khyer rnam pa bzhi). These are the instructions for taking thoughts, mental afflictions, illness (nad), and demons (gdon) as the path.♦ 11 These, too, are to be practised as not arising from anywhere, not disappearing anywhere, abiding neither outside nor inside, and not existing anywhere, that is, they are the four kāyas. In the instruction translated below, afflictions and illnesses seem to be mentioned at the beginning as the armour of the outer view. Concerning the afflictions, Jigten Sumgön mentions (as he does in his Single Intention 6.17) that one would have to be very attentive concerning even the most subtle evil. Proceeding like that, the virtuous disciplined conduct is never interrupted. Concerning illnesses, the instruction translated below states that neither the illnesses of the outer body nor the sufferings of the inner mind are to be abandoned. That is, they are not to be seen as a “bad” thing to be removed, but rather as something to be taken as the path. In general, instructions of how to take thoughts, mental afflictions, illnesses, and demons as the path can be found in many teachings of Jigten Sumgön (which can hopefully be explored on another occasion).

The commentary of the four yogas mentions in the section on the armour concerned with inner wisdom only that the knowledge that thoughts are unarisen, etc., is cultivated in meditative practice until thoughts and mental afflictions have completely vanished. The instruction translated below, however, has a different emphasis. Here, again in accordance with the Single Intention (6.9), Jigten Sumgön points out that the experience of the samādhis is not a quality in itself (and its not-arising is not a defect). In the commentaries of the Single Intention, a similar point is made for the three samādhis of bliss, luminosity, and non-thought. Clinging to bliss, one is only sidetracked to the realm of desire (Skt. kamadhātu), clinging to luminosity, to the realm of form (Skt. rūpadhātu), and clinging to non-thought, to the realm of formlessness (Skt. arūpyadhātu). The reason that the experience of bliss, luminosity and freedom from thoughts is not leading to any useful realisation is that it is a conditioned phenomenon and thus impermanent, but realisation is not conditioned and thus also not impermanent. An unconditioned realisation, however, cannot be achieved by a conditioned practice. This point is also briefly mentioned in a different section of the commentary of the four yogas.♦ 12

In conclusion, while Jigten Sumgön’s commentary of the four yogas is a systematical presentation of Phagmodrupa’s teaching, including a presentation of the teaching that mind, thought, and dharmakāya arise together, the instruction translated below is a direct personal instruction for the practice of the “yoga of the innate,” i.e. the practice of appearances and thoughts as unarisen and nothing to be abandoned.


The Instruction of the Yoga of the Innate: The Two Armours♦ 13

I pay homage to the guru!

At the time of practising the yoga of the innate, there are two armours: Being careful about the most subtle evil and not to interrupt the virtuous disciplined conduct are the armour of the outer view. Not to abandon illnesses of the outer body and sufferings of the inner mind is also the armour of the outer view.

Secondly, concerning the armour of the inner discriminating knowledge (shes rab), not to view the arising of the samādhi of the abiding, tranquil, and blissful mind as a qualitiy, and, likewise, not to view its non-arising as a defect is the armour of the inner discriminating knowledge.

By being endowed with the two armours in that way, one regards the thoughts with the eye of discriminating knowledge (Skt. prajñā). Thereby, at the time of non-distraction, thoughts are primordially unarisen. When there is a distraction, a thought arises. However, if you want to know if that thought has to be abandoned, it has not to be abandoned. It is seen as possessing qualities, as a kindness, or as indispensable.♦ 14 Why is that so? On the basis of that thought arises the potential (rtsal) of discriminating knowledge. Therefore, as a non-existence of thoughts is not established after [merely] abandoning that thought, examine from where that thought first arose. It did not arise from anywhere else but your empty nature of the mind, like, for instance, a cloud arises [in] the empty sky. By examining where [the thought] disappears at the end, [you will find that] it does not go anywhere but your [mind’s nature], like a bubble disappears in the water. By examining how [the thought] exists in the time between [arising and disappearing], [you will find that] it is not established as an essence of anything at all and does not abide anywhere.

In that way, by examining and practising the thought as unborn, the idea arises that somehow all phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa do not exist apart from your mind. By maintaining that experience, at first, it is an experience like the falling of snow upon a lake [i.e., the thought and the nature of the mind become of one taste]. By maintaining that [experience], it is then an experience like a fire spreading in a forest [i.e., the fire of experience is well-nourished with thoughts]. Then, thirdly, it is an experience like meeting a person one is familiar with from earlier times [i.e., there is an immediate recognition of the true nature of thoughts and appearances also in the post-meditative state]. [Now], you must not examine [anymore] from where that thought first arose, how it abides in the middle, and where it disappears at the end. That freedom from arising, stopping, and abiding is the dharmakāya.

[Generally, thoughts] are turned back by overcoming [them] on arising (phrad ‘joms), retracing (rjes snyags, also: phyi bsnyags), non-existence-[yet]-manifested (med sprul), removing hopes [of obtaining nirvāṇa] and giving up fright [concerning saṃsāra] (re ba ‘gag dogs pa bsu),♦ 15 and repenting from the heart (? zhe nas ‘gyod pa).

The Mahāmudrā-Yoga of the Innate is complete.

1. [sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, vol. 2, p. 356: dus la snga phyi med cing dngos bzang ngan med pas lhan cig skyes pa’o; in: Schiller (2014: 454).]

2. [Gampopa, Dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhus lan: sems nyid lhan cig skyes pa chos kyi sku// snang ba lhan cig skyes pa chos sku’i ’od// sems nyid lhan cig skyes pa ni/ sems kyi rang bzhin nam ngo bo de yin/ snang ba lhan cig skyes pa ni/ de las byung ba’i rnam par rtog pa de yin/ de yang nyi ma dang nyi ma’i ’od bzhin nam/ tsan dan dang tsan dan gyi dri lta bu yin/. (Unfortunately, TBRC provides no folio numbers.)]

3. [Phag mo gru pa, lHan cig skyes sbyor, in: Schiller (2014: 454): sems dang rnam rtog chos sku gsum// dang po lhan cig skyes pa de// gdams pas sems su sbyor ba’i phyir// lhan cig skyes sbyor zhes su bshad//.]

4. [Cf. Gampopa’s characterisation of the difference between the two in Schiller (2014: 453, ftn. 37).]

5. [Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod, vol. 9, p. 489 f.; Cf. Sobisch 2006: 53.]

6. [Chagriwa (rGya lCags ri Gong kha ba) was one of the most important Kadampa teachers of Gampopa.]

7. [Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller 2014: 344-378 (Tib. text), 462-539 (translation and notes).]

8. [In his Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod, Jigten Sumgön explains that “the not being established as anything whatsoever is the dharmakāya, completely unhindered expression is the sambhogakāya, and the non-duality of these two and non-abiding anywhere whatsoever is the nirmaṇakāya” (Sobisch 2006: 43).]

9. [Cf. also Schiller 2014: 368.]

10. [See Trungram (2004: 196) and Schiller (2014: 506).]

11. [Cf. Schiller (2014: 369).]

12. [Cf. Schiller (2014: 361).]

13. [Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po, vol. 5, no. 745.]

14. [Phagmodrupa describes thoughts as “the kind teacher” and as Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha; Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i ‘grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller (2014: 344 ff., esp. 368).]

15. [This point is explained by Gampopa in the context of the sameness of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. By realising saṃsāra itself to be nirvāṇa, one does not hope anymore to obtain nirvāṇa from somewhere. Instead, one realises nirvāṇa itself to be saṃsāra and does not have a fear of falling into a “bad” saṃsāra. See sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, vol.1, p. 223: re dogs med pa ni/ de ltar ‘khor ba nyid mya ngan las ‘das pa rtogs pas/ mya ngan las ‘das pa logs nas thob tu re ba med la/ mya ngan ‘das pa nyid ‘khor bar rtogs pa dang / ‘khor ba ngan pa cig tu lhung gis dogs pa yang med de/.]

Bibliography (Tibetan Texts)
Chos rjes mdzad pa’i rnal ‘byor bzhi’i grel pa rnam dag rang ldan, in: Schiller 2014: 344-378 (Tib. text), 462-539 (translation and notes).

Dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhus lan, by Gampopa, TBRC W3JT13326.

Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po, vol. 5, Zab chos of ‘Jig rten gsum mgon’s Collected Works, Dheradun, 2017.

lHan cig skyes sbyor, by Phagmodrupa, in: Schiller (2014: 454).

Phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor gyi ngo sprod ma rig mun sel ye shes snang ba’i rgyan, by Jigten Sumgön, in: The Collected Works of Khams gsum Chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang Ratna Shri, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche (ed.), Dheradun: D.K. Institute, vol. 9, p. 489 f.; cf. Sobisch 2006.

sGam po pa’i gsung ‘bum, Khasup Gyatsho Shashin, Delhi, 1975.

(Western Academic Publications)

Schiller, Alexander (2014) Die „Vier Yoga“-Stufen der Mahāmudrā-Meditationstradition, (Indian and Tibetan Studies 2), Hamburg: Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, Universität Hamburg.

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich (2006) Einführung in die Mahāmudrā „Angeborene Einheit,“ München: Otter Verlag.

Trungram, Gyaltrul Rinpoche Sherpa (2004) Gampopa, the Monk and the Yogi: His Life and Teachings, PhD thesis, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University.

This year, I have published much less on this blog because I have been very busy with a wonderful project at a Consortium of the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg called “Fate, Freedom and Prognostication: Strategies for Coping with the Future in East Asia and Europe.” ( In this project, I have studied Central and East Asian divination texts and worked together with Solvej Hyveled Nielsen on a dice divination text of Achi Chökyi Dölma. Solvej has also contributed a translation of a mala divination text of Tara that is ascribed to Atisha. We hope that we will soon be able to present our book Divining with Achi and Tara, which will include a comparative study of dice divination, detailed interviews with Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen Rinpoche and Lho Ontul Rinpoche, appendices on the specialised Tibetan terminology of divination and more.

This blog will now undergo a small transformation. Instead of being solely devoted to Jigten Sumgön’s “Single Intention” (dGongs gcig), it will from now on be concerned with his teachings in general. I will, therefore, soon migrate a few articles from my other blog, “The World of Jigten Sumgön,” to this blog. In truth, whichever teaching of Jigten Sumgön we study, we will find that it always reflects the central idea that the teachings of all Buddhas have only one single intention.

The blog entry of today is concerned with Jigten Sumgön’s teaching of the two resolves for awakening (bodhicitta). In agreement with the idea of the unity of all teachings, he maintains that the “two bodhicittas” are actually “of a single taste like sesame and sesame oil.” Moreover, ultimately speaking, bodhicitta is not different from the absolute nature of reality, or Buddha nature, which is also the thing to be dedicated.

The teaching is brief but very profound.

Bestowing the pith instructions of cultivating the two resolves for awakening on Yeshe Tseg

Om swasti! Respectfully I pay homage with my body to the feet of glorious Phagmodrupa, protector of the three worlds, and essence of the gnosis of body, speech, and mind of the Buddhas of the three times. With a pure mind, I take refuge.

In general, to achieve supreme, completely awakened Buddhahood, there is nothing but the resolve for awakening whereby complete awakening can be obtained. If [the resolve] is lacking, that is a certain cause [for awakening] not to arise. This resolve for awakening has two aspects. From the point of view of cultivating the conventional resolve for awakening, when you engage in the cultivation of the root of immeasurably vast virtue – or, respectively, in the first morning session – you bless the three longer and shorter periods of time, thinking from the depth of your heart and the marrow of your bones:

May all sentient beings – my mothers who are as infinite as space – have happiness, be free from suffering, and obtain the precious, supreme, and complete awakening. To achieve that, I will bind body, speech, and mind to virtue until I have obtained Buddhahood, I will bind body, speech, and mind to virtue until I die, and I will bind body, speech, and mind to virtue from today until tomorrow.

Then, for the practice, you should train all the roots of virtue of body, speech, and mind in terms of that intention. Moreover, having cultivated the resolve for awakening in the morning or when you are at ease to do so, you must take the roots of virtue of body, speech, and mind that implement that [intention] as an example and dedicate the virtue that is accumulated by you and all others in the three times and the root of the virtue of true reality♦ 1 to complete awakening. That is the conventional resolve for awakening, the intention of all masters of skill – the Buddhas of the three times – and the great treasure that will accomplish all temporary and ultimate qualities. Therefore, you should cultivate the conventional resolve for awakening.

Now, how is the ultimate resolve for awakening practised? The ultimate resolve for awakening is exactly that same conventional resolve for awakening, but free from the extremes of all proliferations of arising, ceasing, and abiding, the true reality. Similarly, Acarya Arya [Nagarjuna], too, says:♦ 2

Samsara and nirvana
are not two.
Understanding the nature of samsara
is called nirvana.

And the precious guru [Phagmodrupa], too, says:

Complete pacification of proliferation is the absolute resolve for awakening.
[That and] conventional preliminary resolve and its actualisation thoroughly moistened with compassion
are of a single taste like sesame and sesame oil.

Therefore, [relative and absolute resolve] are to be known as inseparable. And with that regard, even though there are systems of practicing [the absolute] as an emptiness where all things are discerned by way of atoms and divisions of parts of atoms, we maintain that it is realised only by way of devotion to the excellent guru, since that is what has been maintained by our precious guru [Phagmodrupa]. Similarly, the Exalted One has taught it in the Shri Hevajra Tantra:

That, which is not expressed by others, the inborn,
which one cannot find anywhere,
one must know through the ultimate guru sacrifice♦ 3
and through one’s merit.

Therefore, we assert the essence of the nature of the mind to be without interruption when the meaning that is beyond expression and thought and that is not the object of theoreticians – the inborn gnosis that is free from proliferation – has arisen as something that arises naturally through the devotion to the excellent guru and by the gathering of the accumulation of merit that precedes that. How is that practised? First, sit well on a comfortable seat in the cross-legged position and remain with the five limbs of concentration. Then, first, cultivate the resolve for supreme awakening and cultivate the body as the deity of Mantra. Then, meditate the excellent guru on the top of your head or in your heart and remain in a state of an unfabricated mind.

Do not grasp [the mind] as existing – that would be eternalism.
Do not meditate it as non-existent – that would be annihilism.
Do not meditate it “without grasping” – that would be “fabricated by the mind.”
Leave [the mind] fresh, unfabricated, and unbound.
From making supplications [to the guru in this state] and habituating [to that],
you and others, whatever exists – all of samsara and nirvana –
become one mind, spontaneously present, single,
free from something to be meditated and meditating,
without the hopes and fears of losing and obtaining results,
free from “I,” “mine,” “subject and object,”
and without [merely] imagining to be separate [from that] or not.
You are, without interruption,
the spontaneously present svabhavikakaya.
Dedicate the merit afterwards
and also at other occasions for [the obtaining of] great awakening.
The way to make the dedication is this:
“May all beings achieve in every possible way the excellence
of whatever virtue exists of all beings,
which has been achieved, will be achieved, and is being achieved
on the stages of that excellence.”
Thus, you must dedicate the root of virtue.
This pith instruction of the Precious One
has been written requested by an excellent being.
May all beings obtain supreme awakening
by the merit arising from that.

[This text, which] has been requested by Gompa Yeshe Tseg from the precious Guru, the Glorious Drigungpa, is complete.

Byang chub sems gnyis nyams su blang ba’i gdams ngag ye shes rtsegs la gnang ba
‘Jig-rten-mgon-po’i gSung ‘bum, vol. kha, pp. 275-280.

1. [Tib. dge ba, lit. “existing virtue.” The Kagyüpas maintain the existence of virtue within the nature of reality, which is the Buddha nature, and which can be dedicated to awakening. The Drugpa Kagyüpa use the term “inherent virtue” (gnas pa’i dge ba ) and the Taklung Kagyüpas “natural virtue” (rang bzhin gyi dge ba ).]

2. [Yuktishastika 6; P vol. 95, p. 11/2/8. The actual quote has some variants: srid pa dang ni mya ngan ‘das// gnyis po ‘di ni yod ma yin// srid pa yongs su shes pa nyid// mya ngan ‘das zhes bya bar brjod//. “Existence and nirvana,// these two do not exist.// Thoroughly knowing existence// is called ‘nirvana.’//”

3. [My translation of bla ma’i dus mtha’ bsten pa as “ultimate guru sacrifice” reflects Jigten Sumgön’s teaching of ultimate guru devotion as seeing the guru as the dharmakaya.]

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!