During the last three months, I had the chance to work a bit on the 8th Karmapa’s enormous commentary of the Single Intention. Actually, it is not really one commentary, but a collection of texts composed between the mid-1530s and the mid-1540s. Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s style of writing is remarkably different from the other commentaries of the Single Intention that I have studied so far, in particular, the early 13th century commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub, and the 17th-century commentary by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa. But it is not only the writing style but also his whole approach that differs from the commentaries of Drikungpa authors.

One aspect of the Karmapa’s special approach to the Single Intention is that he discusses it as if it were (largely) a philosophical text. At one point, Mikyö Dorje indicates that the Single Intention was conceived of from the beginning as a “system of philosophical tenets” text (Skt. siddhanta). He says that Jigten Sumgon once predicted that his chief disciple Sherab Jungne would compose such a “system of philosophical tenets” on the basis of the teachings he had given to him. Moreover, one of the Karmapa’s commentaries is called General Summary of the Tenets [of the] Single Intention, and he claims here that the Single Intention is the “siddhanta of the Kagyupas.” In fact, much of Mikyö Dorje’s writings on the Single Intention is largely using the topical themes of Jigten Sumgon’s vajra-statements as stepping stones to expound his own philosophical views.

A siddhanta (Tib. grub mtha’) or “system of philosophical tenets” usually expounds non-Buddhist and Buddhist views one-by-one, refuting the respectively lower through the respectively higher view, until it arrives at the ultimate view, usually Madhyamaka, which refutes all other views. The Drikungpas themselves have never authored such a text. There is just one Drikungpa text by Dombu Jowo Dowa, who might be Jigten Sumgon’s disciple Chöje Tsadrelwa, that has the term siddhanta in its title. Although it touches briefly on some general topics of philosophy, it is really not in any way a typical “system of philosophical tenets” text at all. In fact, all the usual themes of the siddhanta authors, like defining which of the three wheels of Shravaka teachings, Perfection of Wisdom teachings, and Buddha Nature teachings is the definite wheel, etc., have been avoided by Jigten Sumgon, who much prefers to reveal the unity of all teachings and not its differentiations – hence his legacy is known as the Single Intention. (I have already made a few remarks on Jigten Sumgon’s approach to philosophical views here).

In truth, the position Jigten Sumgon and his successors took with regard to philosophical tenets can only be described as dismissive or, sometimes, perhaps, ironic. Thus, Jigten Sumgon states in the Single Intention (4.13):

The truth is veiled by all [philosophical] tenets whatsoever.

And in a praise of his guru Phag mo gru pa’s lives he says:♦ 1

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

And, as the final lines in a text about the primordial purity of all phenomena, he states:♦ 2

If one’s pure mind, [which is like] the sky,
is, due to the conceptions of the inconceivable collections
of the various views of the [philosophical] tenets,
covered with clouds of conceptions, which are false,
one cannot purify it
because one has not understood and realised
the natural state of the mind as it is.
Therefore, engage in this pure essence of the mind
that is spontaneously taken hold of in itself
without being covered by the clouds of thoughts, which are false.

Moreover, echoing the Mahasiddha Saraha, he says:♦ 3

All the views starting from the Non-Buddhists’ view of permanence and nihilism and up to the Madhyamikas’ [view] are something that is a mind-made duality. Since I have not studied these views of the various tenets, I do not know them.

Furthermore, an introduction to the Single Intention contained in the block print of Dorje Sherab’s commentary states:♦ 4

The grasping of that which is free from the extremes of all proliferation [of] “existence” and “non-existence” [is] the conceptuality (rtog pa ) of the tenets, the sphere of the [proliferating] mind (blo’i yul ). It is mind-made, but not empty.

In fact, this introductory text of unknown authorship discusses the concept of tenets with the same negative attitude as is illustrated above. It also offers a curious statement that it ascribes to Jigten Sumgon (but which I could not yet identify). Here, he says, somewhat ironically:♦ 5

Virtue [is] natural virtue (gshis kyi dge ba): Due to being good “white” [natural] virtue, a virtue that apprehends the characteristic “virtue” will not become non-virtue. Non-virtue [is] natural non-virtue (gshis kyi mi dge ba ): Due to being “black” [natural] non-virtue, the non-virtue that apprehends the characteristic “non-virtue” will not turn into virtue. This is my great system of tenets.

These words ascribed to Jigten Sumgon are summarising an important aspect of his Single Intention teaching according to which something is either by nature virtuous or non-virtuous, and nothing and no one can change that – neither the highest philosophical view, nor a skilful means of mantra, nor the Buddha himself. That, the passage states, is Jigten Sumgon’s “philosophy,” not any of those intellectual conceptualisations that one finds in the siddhanta literature.

Judging from all this evidence, I think that the prophecy of which the Karmapa speaks, according to which Sherab Jungne would compose a siddhanta on the basis of Jigten Sumgon’s vajra-statements, namely the Single Intention, is perhaps a “creative invention.” The Karmapa may have thereby justified his own predominantly philosophical approach to Jigten Sumgon’s teaching. Or such a prophecy, if it existed, did not use the term “system of tenets” with its usual philosophical connotation, but rather in the ironical sense illustrated above.

It will be an important task for future research to investigate whether the Single Intention is in any other sense than the strictly “philosophical” paradigmatic for the whole of the Kagyupas. It is, indeed, time to ask ourselves what it is that makes the Kagyupas a distinctive tradition. The Single Intention is an excellent focus to start this work. My first glance at the Karmapa’s comments, however, has rather revealed differences of Jigten Sumgon’s and Mikyö Dorje’s approaches to the Dharma. But that was only a first attempt, and Mikyö Dorje’s approach is certainly not typical for the Karma Kagyupa up to his time. With all its diversity, it will be a challenging task to define the Kagyupas’ identity.

1. [Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 1, p. 24: grub mtha’ blo yi mdud pa la// sangs rgyas dgongs par ‘khrul ba rnams// de nyid rtogs par gyur nas kyang // dran ‘dzin rang sar dag mdzad gsol//.]

2. [Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 3, p. 358: ji ltar sems kyi gnas lugs ‘di// ma go rtogs par ma gyur pas// grub mtha’ lta ba’i bye brag tshogs// bsam gyis mi khyab rnam rtog gis// rang sems rnam dag nam mkha’ ‘di// log rtog sprin gyis bkab na ko / rnam dag gsal bar mi ‘gyur bas// sems kyi ngo bo rnam dag ‘di// log rtog sprin gyis mi dgab par// lhun grub rang sa zin du chug//.]

3. [Jigten Sumgon’s Collected Works (2001), vol. 6. p. 434: mu stegs rtag chad nas dbu ma’i bar gyi lta ba thams cad blos byas pa’i gzung ‘dzin zhig yin te/ grub mtha’ so so’i lta ba de ngas thos pa ma byas pas mi shes/. He repeats very similar words in vol. 5, p. 491: yang bka’ gdams pa rnal ‘byor pa mtshan nyid pa gang yin yang so so’i lta bsgom spyod pa gsum yod de/ ‘di grub mtha’ mkhan kun la phyi rol mu stegs nas dbu ma’i bar du lta sgom mi ‘dra ba mang po yod de grub mtha’ ma mnyan pas mi shes/.]

4. [Khog dbub (dGongs gcig edition of Kagyu College, 2007, p. 219 f.): yod med spros pa thams cad kyi// mtha’ dang bral ba’i ‘dzin pa yang // grub mtha’i rtog pa blo yi yul// blo yis byas kyang stong pa min//. dGongs pa gcig pa’i khog dbub , in: dGongs pa gcig pa’i ‘grel chen snang mdzad ye shes sgron me , vol. 1, bKa’ brgyud nang bstan mtho slob khang, 2007, pp. 197-258. The text is ascribed there to rDo rje shes rab, but that is doubtful.]

5. [Khog dbub dGongs gcig edition of Kagyu College, 2007, , p. 218 f.: nyid kyi zhal nas dge ba gshis kyi dge ba ste/ dge ba dkar pos dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pa’i dge ba mi dge bar mi ‘gyur/ mi dge ba gshis kyi mi dge ba ste/ mi dge ba nag pos mi dge ba’i mtshan nyid ‘dzin pa’i mi dge ba dge bar mi ‘gyur bya ba ‘di nga’i grub mtha’ chen ]

The 8th Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, upon being invited to Drikung by the 18th throne holder Rinchen Namgyal (1519-1576, reg. 1534-1565), spent there one year (1536-37) together with his famous “secretary,” the great historian and 2nd Pawo Rinpoche, Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1566). During this time, he studied and extensively taught Jigten Sumgon’s Gongchik, which he saw as the tenet’s of the Kagyüpas. Later (1544-46), using his own notes and the notes of Tsuglag Trengwa, he wrote several texts which are nowadays collectively known as the 8th Karmapa’s commentary of the Gongchik. Here I would like to present a very brief excerpt from his comments upon vajra-statement 6.6, which teaches that guru devotion is the only means for obtaining realisation. In this excerpt, the Karmapa explains the Buddhist notion of faith (Tib. dad pa). He says:

“The Ratnolka says:♦ 1

If you have faith in the Victor and the Victor’s teachings,
faith in the teachings of the Victor’s sons,
and faith in supreme awakening,
that is the arising of the resolve of great beings.

And the Shikshasamuccayakarika says:♦ 2

Make the root of faith stable
and make the mind the support for awakening.

What kind of faith is that? The Abhidharmasamuccaya says:♦ 3

What is faith? It is the firm conviction (mngon par yid ches pa), admiration, and aspiration with regard to what exists and is endowed with [good ] qualities and abilities. Its has the function of forming the basis for striving.

Thus, ‘what exists’ are the causes and results of the five skandhas such as ‘action and result’ and ‘suffering and the origin [of suffering].’ ‘What is endowed with [good] qualities’ are the Three Jewels. ‘Abilities’ is the truth of cessation, [namely] the thought: ‘I am able to obtain cessation; I am able to cultivate the path in my mental continuum.’ Because of the faith of conviction [that understands] ‘action and result’ and ‘suffering and the origin [of suffering]’ as infallible, and since the Three Jewels that are free from the faults of ‘suffering and [its] origin,’ etc., are without all defects and endowed with all [good] qualities, by cultivating [faith] in their presence, the small hairs of the body are standing on end and tears flow [from one’s eyes], etc. [That is] the faith of admiration. The aspiration to obtain cessation and the aspiration to cultivate the path in the mental continuum are ‘the faith of aspiration.’ Now, if, first, there [arises] admiration from seeing and hearing about the qualities of the Supreme Jewels, and from that the aspiration to obtain their qualities, and if one is convinced that the faults that veil those qualities are faults, that forms the basis that is the function of causing all faults and defects to be abandoned. [All that] is faith.”

The 17th Karmapa recently re-published the 8th Karmapa’s commentary:

The excerpt is taken from the second part (smad cha) of ‘Jig rten gsum gyi mgon po ‘bri gung pa chen po’i dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i kar TIka las/ tshoms dang po’i rnam bshad karma bka’ brgyud kyi mkhyen pa rab gsal bka’i me long mchog tu ‘bar ba bzhugs so//

1. [These lines are actually from the Arya Ratnolka Namadharani Mahayanasutra (‘Phags pa dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo), D vol. 57, fol. 63v (variants in bold): rgyal dang rgyal ba’i chos la dad gyur cing // sangs rgyas sras kyi spyod la dad byed la// byang chub bla na med la dad gyur nas// skyes bu chen po rnams kyi sems skye’o//.
Sonam Spitz informed me that according to Shakya mchog ldan (brDa’i gnas bye brag tu rtogs ces bya ba’i tshig leu byas pa, p. 378, vol. 24/ya, TBRC-no WG00WGS1016899), “dKon mchog ta la la” is just a bad translation of the Sanskrit title “Ratnolka”, which indeed reads correctly “dKon mchog sgron me” in Tibetan. Thus, the “Ta la la” is in fact the Ratnolka.]

2. [Shikshasamuccayakarika, D vol. 111, fol. 1v (variants in bold): dad pa’i rtsa ba brtan bya ste// byang chub la yang blo brtan bya//. In the Shikshasamuccaya, these lines are followed by the quote preceding in the present text.

3. [Abhidharmasamuccaya, D vol. 134, fol. 48v: dad pa gang zhe na/ yod pa nyid dang / yon tan can dang / nus pa rnam la mngon par yid ches pa dang / dang pa dang ‘dod pa ste/ ‘dun pa’i rten byed pa’i las can no//.]

Dear friends,

I have started a second blog under the above name at
While I will continue to publish in the present blog on the Single Intention (dGongs gcig), in the new blog I will chiefly write about things I find while reading Tibetan works of the Drikung Kagyü tradition (other than the dGongs gcig).

When I do research, I often stumble over gems that never make it into a book or an article, but which are too good to be left unnoticed and unavailable.

Have a look at the first entries and enjoy (and if you like it, become a follower)!


(This blog article is both an abbreviated version and a slight expansion of the second part of an article published in the Festschrift for Per K. Sörensen. You can download it here: Please see for all references the original article.)

All Tibetan traditions have developed ways and methods to authenticate the teachings they had received from their masters. Jigten Sumgön’s master was Phagmodrupa, and it is from him that he received the methods of testing the teachings. These are called the “four means of authentication” (tshad ma bzhi) and they are mentioned in the Drikung tradition in Jigten Sumgön’s collected works and in the commentaries of the Same Intention.

Jigten Sumgön reports in his collected works the view of his teacher Phagmodrupa, who said that the teachings have to be checked against these four authentications:

(1) the pure instructions of the Sugata, i.e. the Buddha’s teachings contained in the authoritative texts (lung) of Sutra and Mantra,

(2) the vajra masters’ experiences, i.e. the experiences of the gurus of the lineage,

(3) dependent origination, i.e. the illustrating stories (lo rgyus) that we find in the scriptures, and

(4) the yogis’ own experiences.

Jigten Sumgön says that scholars explain the Buddha’s Dharma with the help of authoritative quotations (lung) and logic (rigs). They establish a teaching through a form of inference known as syllogism (rig pa’i gtan tshig). Yogis, on the other hand, produce inner experiences and rely on the Buddha’s and the lineage gurus’ instructions. They do this because these instructions are without error since the Buddha and the lineage gurus have obtained an understanding and realisation that is certain and free from delusion. It is not possible to realise the Buddha’s intentions through quotations and logic alone. Thus, if one searches for the exact meaning of the intentions, it is not enough to rely on inferences (rjes dpag) and syllogisms. Instead, it is necessary to practise as well. Through practice, an experience will arise, through which self-reflexive awareness is realised (rang rig rtogs pa). However, not only quotations and flawed logic can mislead. If the experience of a practising yogi is not free from error, it will only lead back into samsara because the experiences and qualities arising from error are false. Whoever wants to obtain realisation must, therefore, rely on all of the above mentioned four means of authentication.

In one of the earliest commentaries of the Single Intention, Dorje Sherab’s Dosherma, we find the following passage:

(1) “It occurs like this in the [Buddha’s] instructions (bka’)” – that is the means of authentication of the Sugata’s instructions. (2) “The former ones have elucidated the teachings like this” – that is the means of authentication of the excellent gurus. (3) The Dharma Lord [Jigten Sumgön] said:

Whichever profound [topic] I have taught in the assembly,
I have never said anything I have not experienced myself.

Because Jigten Sumgön himself mastered and experienced all that, it is the means of authentication of being experienced by the yogi. (4) “It occurred like this through the workings of dependent origination, which is known throughout the world,” that is the means of authentication of the stories [illustrating] dependent origination. This ascertaining through these four is the “complete liberation” (rnam thar) of Phagmodrupa. Therefore, Jigten Sumgön, too, follows this and ascertains all teachings through the four means of authentication.

1. The Instructions of the Buddha
“It occurs like this in the [Buddha’s] instructions (bka’)” means that a teaching that is found in the Sutras or Tantras is authentic due to the Buddha’s authority. This category is not much discussed in the context of the “four means of authentication,” but it has its own vajra-statement in the Same Intention, which says (1.16): “Valid knowledge is the gnosis that is the knowledge of the Buddha.” This is a problem of its own, however, suffice it to say that according to Jigten Sumgön the Buddha is definitively a valid means of knowledge. I will not go further into this interesting, but complicated topic and concentrate instead on the other three means of authentication.

2. The Experience of the Lineage Gurus
Phagmodrupa speaks of “the vajra masters’ experience,” i.e. the experiences of the lineage gurus. That is, he points out that one relies on the former gurus because they possess authentic experience. This statement is obviously meant to exclude mere scholarship and inauthentic experience from being a means of authentication. This is also exactly what the Drikungpa has in mind. In this context, Jigten Sumgön speaks of scholars who work with authoritative quotations (lung), syllogisms (gtan tshigs), inference (rjes dpag), and logic (rigs), and of yogis who work with realisation through self-reflexive awareness (rang rig rtogs pa). But whatever they do, if they only use scholarly means or if their experience is faulty, they will not obtain realisation. Thus, they all, scholars and yogis, have to rely on the four means of authentication, which then may be further “ornamented” with inferences and syllogisms. The yogi’s own experience is crucial (see the next point), but how can the yogi or the yogini be sure that the experience is not flawed? The answer is that one has to check whether one’s experience matches the other three means of authentication: It should be mentioned like this in Sutra and Tantra, it should match the stories of dependent origination (see point 4 below), and it should match the experience of the gurus of the lineage. The guidance by an experienced and realised master has a special place. When one shares one’s experiences with him, it is the guru who steers one away from traps (shor sa) and sidetracks (gol sa). He does that, based on his own experience, with the help of quotations from the Buddha’s teachings and the stories of dependent origination.

3. The Experience of the Disciple
In the category “the yogi’s experience,” Phagmodrupa speaks, generally, of the yogis’ own experiences, while the commentator of the Same Intention, Dorje Sherab, speaks here, specifically, of Jigten Sumgön’s experience, quoting the line from his work according to which Jigten Sumgön never taught in the assembly anything he had not experienced himself. Thus, Jigten Sumgön is both a worthy receiver of teachings from former authentically realised masters and, since he has become a realised master, an authentic teacher for his own followers. In a more general sense, this category of experience is “the yogi’s experience” in the sense of “the disciple’s experience” in contrast to “the experience of the lineage gurus.” When the disciple himself turns into a master, his experience will be that of the lineage of gurus.

The Sakyapa master (and earlier guru of Phagmodrupa), Sachen Künga Nyingpo, makes many very interesting remarks on the topic of the four authenticities in his work known as the Sras don ma. Among other things, he points out that there is always at the beginning the yogi’s – i.e. the disciple’s – own experience arising from practice. Without that, nothing can be done. This is followed by the guru’s guidance (based on his own realisation) and, in fact, correcting instructions which are backed by the Buddha’s words and (in the Sakya tradition) the expositions of Indian masters as collected in the Tanjur.

Thus, the first thing is always the disciples’s own practice experience. However, for that experience to turn into a means of authentication, it must be checked against the other three means. These other three means are used by the master to guide the disciple to a purified experience and realisation. But without the disciple’s own experience, the other three authentications cannot be checked against anything. Finally, through the disciples own realisation, his own experience turns into the experience and realisation of the unbroken lineage of masters.

4. The Illustrating Stories of Dependent Origination
A very significant category for the Drikungpa’s teachings is that of the “stories.” It is also the main difference between the Drikungpa’s system of the four means of authentication and the very similar system of the Sakyapas, who have a different interpretation of this fourth category. Although in their commentaries they also use the term lo rgyus (“story”), they rather understand it in the sense of “exposition.” In doing that, they follow a line in the Samputitantra, which uses the term bstan bcos (“treatise”) instead of lo rgyus. In short, they understand this category as “authenticity of the exposition.” For them, the fourth authenticity lies in the treatises composed by the masters of the Indian tradition. That is also why the Sakyapa tradition is not only a tradition of realised masters but also of great scholars of the Indian tradition of scholarship.

This interpretation, however, is not what is taught by Phagmodrupa and the Drikungpas. There are two hints how they understand this category. One is that Phagmodrupa speaks in this context of “dependent origination,” the other that Jigten Sumgön glosses this with “stories that are well known to the world.” Dorje Sherab explains this point in his commentary of the Same Intention:

[The experience] occurred like this through the workings of dependent origination, which is known throughout the world – that is the means of authentication of the stories [illustrating] dependent origination.”

Moreover, the Introduction to the Same Intention says:

Dependent origination [is] the means of authentication of stories: It is, due to the natural state (gshis dang babs kyis) of dependent origination, as [stated] in the universally known stories (gtam rgyud).

What this means becomes evident in Dorje Sherab’s commentary, the Dosherma. Each of its seven chapters has an extensive appendix with numerous stories from former life stories of the Buddha (Skt. jataka), as well as from Sutra and, occasionally, Tantra. These stories are illustrating the natural state (gshis babs) of dependent origination. That is to say that they demonstrate how virtuous causes have virtuous results, and how non-virtuous causes lead to suffering. Let me provide an example. In Same Intenion 3.11, Jigten Sumgön teaches that the Buddha’s instructions are not meant only for particular groups of people or beings, such as only for human beings or only for monks, but generally for each and every being alike. This is so because his instructions are based on his understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. Because the Buddha understood that nature, he knows what must be eliminated and what must be accomplished. The fundamental nature, however, is the same for all beings, from the tenth level of the bodhisattvas down to hell. It is not so that the fundamental nature of the dependent origination of virtuous and evil causes and results is different for a bodhisattva on the highest level and a hell being of the lowest levels. Therefore, the elimination of evil and the accomplishing of virtue concerns all beings alike, no matter which status they have.

The illustrating stories that the commentaries provide in this section as a means of authentication all have the purpose of showing just that point. Thus, for instance, in an earlier life, the Buddha was born in hell among the lowest of beings. Here, he developed for the first time compassion and relieved another person from dragging a cart of fire. This example is to show that bodhicitta is a teaching for all beings – even if they are born in hell, as the Buddha-to-be was at that time – and that the benefit of that will arise even for the lowest being who cultivates that virtue. Secondly, there is the story of Kumara Kusha (Tib. Zhönnu Kusha). There was once a householder who refused to give alms to a Pratyekabuddha. Instead, he got angry at him and said because that Pratyekabuddha was associated with eighteen unpleasant omens and had the face of a lion: “You, with the face like a lion, don’t come into my house!” In a later life, the householder was born as Prince Kusha with a very strong body, a face like a lion, and associated with eighteen unpleasant omens. The commentary of the Same Intention by Rinchen Jangchub, the Rinjangma, remarks that although the householder Kusha was a Bodhisattva of the tenth level, he was unable to avoid the negative consequences of his deed. Thus, this is to show that the negative results of non-virtue arise even for the highest bodhisattvas. Yet another story is that of the monk Svagata (Tib. Leg Ong), who had, due to his ignorance, taken food (in some versions: drink) mixed with alcohol. Heavily intoxicated, he had gotten into trouble that nearly killed him. On that occasion, the Buddha proclaimed the rule concerning intoxicants. This is to show that becoming intoxicated had been a non-virtuous act even before the Buddha issued a rule about it. The Buddha has not “invented” the rule prohibiting the use of intoxicants, he only understood their fundamental nature and, therefore, issued the rule prohibiting it.

The stories collected in the appendices of the Same Intention also play an enormous role in the extensive commentary of Jigten Sumgön’s Essence of the Mahayana Teachings (Theg chen bstan pa’i snying po) by Ngorje Repa, who was roughly contemporary to Jigten Sumgön. In short, while the Sakyapas rely on the exposition of dependent origination, as found in treatises of Indian Buddhist masters collected in the Tanjur, the Drikungpas rely on the stories illustrating dependent origination as found in the Buddha’s instructions. Since these are directly related to the Buddha’s instructions in that the Buddha (or an earlier incarnation of the Buddha) often appears as one of the actors in these stories and in that he is the one who uses the story in his teachings, Jigten Sumgön accepts them as having the same authority than the teachings of Sutra and Tantra. In fact, occasionally, when there is a contradiction between such a story and the teaching in a treatise by an Indian Buddhist master, the story carries more weight. This is, for instance, the case when some scholarly treatises teach that, as a rule, the pratimoksha vows always end at death. Here the Dosherma teaches that it depends on the capacity of the person. There are stories according to which the vows can arise in a dream, in the intermediate state, and in the next life as a continuation of the strong habituation to holding the vows in a previous life. Therefore, the experience transmitted in these stories shows that the rigid explanation of the scholarly treatise does not always hold.

This does not mean that the Drikungpas have a disregard for the treatises of the Indian masters. It is only so that the Drikungpas put more trust in the stories told by the Buddha than in the treatises of later masters and that they distrust purely analytical means as the only means of approaching understanding. In fact, we will find in every generation of Kagyüpa teachers several great masters who demonstrated their analytical faculties, even though there are by far not as many as we find among Sakyapas and Gelugpas.

This does also not mean that yogic experience is per se and uncritically accepted by Jigten Sumgön in the Same Intention. Grasping and conceptualising yogic experience is held to be as dangerous as the attachment to the fruits of intellectual analysis. Jigten Sumgön often warns against false, deluded, or incomplete yogic experiences. In particular, he warns against the mistaken identification of the gnosis introduced during tantric empowerment, he explains that the experiences produced through the practice of channels and winds may be deceiving and misleading, or may even be false. Moreover, he says about meditative concentration that it may only cause birth in the realms of samsara and that an incomplete realisation of emptiness comprises dangerous downfalls and sidetracks.

The correctives which can be applied to false, deluded, or incomplete experience are just these four means of authentication that are discussed here, namely the words of the Buddha, the instructions of the lineage of realised masters, yogic experience, and the illustrations through dependent origination as found in Jatakas, Sutras and Tantras. Thus, there is really no difference concerning the necessity to authenticate intellectual understanding or yogic experience. The difference, however, lies in the means of authentication. Here the Drikung tradition favours non-analytical authentic expression and experience.

I would like to prefix a few personal words here. As you may already know, on Losar morning (Feb. 9), the University of Copenhagen has dismissed me from my position as associate professor for Tibetan Studies. In our institute, in particular, “small subjects” and regional studies have been targeted. Their staff was fired, or their intake of students was frozen, making them more vulnerable for future closures of study programs. As a consequence, hundreds of letters, emails, and Facebook posts from individuals and institutions around the world expressing concern about this development have reached us. Many people, from Beijing to Berkeley and from Oslo to Rome, have written personal letters of protest to the rector and the chairman of the board of directors. This outpour of solidarity means a lot to me. I do not know if the protest will have any effect on the decision of the management of the university, but the support has definitively touched me in a deep way and strengthened me in my conviction to continue my work whatever may happen. Thank you!

Historical texts describe how Sherab Jungne, on several occasions, rearranged the vajra-statements and finally arranged them in seven chapters, keeping ca. 50 of the 200 vajra-statements separate from the main text as “supplements” (Tib. lhan thabs). Some (but not all) authors comment on these supplements, too. They either keep them separate from the main text, as an independent work, or, like Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, include them in the main text as the eighth chapter of their commentary. The commentary of fourth Zhamar Rinpoche, for instance, composed in 1516, even presents the supplements as its first chapter. Interestingly, Togden Rinpoche Könchog Thubten arranges the supplements in his commentary so that they are attached to those vajra-statements that deal with a similar topic. One of these clusters of statements that are formed in this way, consisting of one vajra-statement and two supplements, will be the subject of the present posting.

The vajra-statement under investigation and its two supplements focus on the nature of a “solitary deity.” “Solitary” means that it is a single deity, like, for instance, Avalokiteshvara or Tara. It is not in union with another deity or appears with an entourage of other deities surrounding it. The vajra-statement occurs in the fifth chapter in the context of a discussion of empowerment. It focusses on the question whether empowerment can be bestowed based on a solitary deity like Tara. Although it is not explicitly stated in the commentaries, “empowerment” refers here clearly to an empowerment on the level of the highest yoga tantra. This assumption creates the tension of the statement: Can an empowerment of the highest yoga tantra be conferred through a solitary deity like Tara? Rinchen Jangchub quotes some former scholars, who say that “one cannot open the Dharma gate with the Lady Tara.” They provide the following reason: “Because the three seats – the seat of the male and female wrathful deities, the seat of the male and female Bodhisattvas, and the seat of the Buddhas and their consorts – are not complete [in Tara].” Dorje Sherab refers in his commentary to a view of people who claim that one cannot obtain the empowerment through any solitary male or female deity, and their example is Vajrayogini.

This point, in fact, alludes to several debates that were going on in Tibet already at a very early time, but here I will mainly focus on the topic of the nature of the solitary deity.

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön states – in contrast to those people – that (5.3) the empowerment functions even through a solitary deity. If we just look at that formulation, it is clear that it has empowerment on the level of the highest yoga tantra in mind, because otherwise there would not be a problem at all. Nobody doubts that a solitary deity can confer an empowerment of a lower class of tantra.

The claim made by others is that the “three seats” are not complete in a solitary deity. The “three seats” (Tib. gdan gsum) of a deity are usually explained in the following way. The first seat are the five male and female Tathagathas, which are, according to the highest yoga tantras, the nature of the five constituents of the person (Skt. skandha). The second seat comprises the eight male and eight female Bodhisattvas, who are the nature of the sense organs and their objects. There is some confusion about the third seat, but for our purposes, it is sufficient to state that other elements of a person’s existence are identified as the male and female wrathful deities. The opponent’s claim that the three seats are “not complete” in a solitary deity is in our commentaries taken to mean that they are “not directly visible.” If “not visible” is the point, however, the consequence would be that even many deities of the supreme yoga tantra class (such as Vajrayogini) would not qualify as a basis for an empowerment of the highest yoga tantra, because the complete deities of the three seats are directly visible only in very few mandalas.

Our commentators of the Single Intention point out that in most cases, the three seats are only complete “by implication,” as for instance in all cases of the solitary deities. It is nevertheless important, they state, that the implicit completeness is understood by both the vajra master who bestows the empowerment and the disciple who receives it. They have to understand that the master’s and the disciple’s skandhas and so forth are by nature the five Buddhas, their consorts, the male and female Bodhisattvas, and the male and female wrathful deities. Furthermore, master and disciple have to understand that both the external physically created mandala (such as a sand mandala) and the mandala visualised in front of themselves comprise the five Buddhas, and so forth. Finally, they also have to be aware that the substances of the empowerment, such as the water of the vase, and the crown, vajra, jewel, lotus, bell, sword, and wheel, which the master uses during the empowerment, are similarly the five Buddhas, and so forth. These identifications, therefore, have to be visualised in every empowerment of the highest yoga tantra. Within that, which seems to be incomplete, because the three seats are not directly visible, namely the solitary deity, one must know the three seats to be complete because the ritual would otherwise be impure and incomplete. In short, one must know how the three seats are complete also in each solitary deity.

Furthermore, the three seats are present in the empowerment of any deity whatsoever when one visualises that the five Buddhas perform the activities of bestowing the empowerment, that their consorts sing vajra songs, that the male and female Bodhisattvas utter auspicious verses, and that the male and female wrathful deities expel obstructors.

In a nutshell: Jigten Sumgön maintains that if the vajra master and the disciple skilfully visualise the deities of the three seats, a solitary deity can bestow empowerment even of the highest tantra class. Thus, Dorje Sherab states:

If one recognises all skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas as the Buddha, one obtains empowerment just as it is. Based on that one will also obtain the [other] three empowerments.

This statement provides an important clue how Dorje Sherab understood the matter. He mentions “the other three empowerments,” i.e. the secret, wisdom, and word empowerment. We can conclude from this that the empowerment he refers to is the vase empowerment of the four empowerments of the highest tantra class. In other words, Dorje Sherab maintains that a solitary deity can bestow the vase empowerment of the highest tantra class. By stating that the other three will be obtained based on that, he leaves it open whether those empowerments can be bestowed by a solitary deity. Dorje Sherab furthermore adds: “It is necessary to treat empowerment as detailed, medium, and brief.” He, thereby, appears to be saying that abbreviated forms of the empowerment of the highest yoga tantra are based on the vase empowerment alone, whereas more detailed forms include all four empowerments. These brief statements, however, do not suffice to conclude anything about Dorje Sherab’s opinion regarding the ability of solitary deities to confer the other three empowerments.

The first supplement that is attached to this vajra statement is more generally concerned with the accomplishment of activities through a solitary deity.

The position of others, as it is presented by our commentators, is that there are a hundred Buddha families, which all perform their individual activities. This would imply that immeasurable forms of Buddhas are necessary to accomplish all activities. According to supplement 8.27, however, Jigten Sumgön maintains that a solitary deity, too, accomplishes all the activities.

The comments of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa on this supplement are closely connected with the vajra-statement discussed above. Accordingly, a solitary deity, since its skandhas are the five Buddhas and so forth, indeed contains the hundred families completely. The skandhas alone are the five male and female Tathagatas, and each of them accomplishes their activities. Since the parts and elements of the body, speech and mind of a deity are filled with numerous other deities, its activities are countless. There is, therefore, no difference between a principal deity with a retinue of a thousand deities and a solitary deity. The Hevajra Tantra says:♦ 1

The great mind is one.
It is represented, however, through this fivefold embodiment.
From these five families
many thousands arise.
Therefore, all these are of one nature.

Chökyi Dragpa points out that if all families are summarised, they are combined in the single vajra family of the mind. He quotes an (unidentified) Mantra text:

The characteristics of all the mantras
exists in the mind of the Sugata.

Thus, whether the practising disciple is successful or not does not depend on whether the deity of his practice is one that resides in a mandala with a retinue of hundreds of deities, or whether it is a solitary deity. What counts, says Chökyi Dragpa, is whether the practitioner “obtains or not obtains the warmth (Tib. drod) in his samadhi” and whether he “accomplishes the activities or not through having received or not the firm sign.” It is, however, “very deluded” to evaluate the quality of a practitioner according to whether his deity has a large or a small retinue.

The second supplement that is connected with the vajra-statement discussed above has to do with the names or marks of deities. The earlier commentaries seem to discuss the individuality of deities primarily with respect to their names, such as “Cakrasamvara” or “Hevajra.” Indeed, in the Tibetan language, the term mtshan may be a honorific form of “name” (Tib. ming) or an abbreviated form of “mark, sign, symbol” (Tib. mtshan ma). Thus, while many people claim that every deity possesses an individual name or (more broadly) individual marks, Jigten Sumgön maintains in supplement 8.28 that [one’s] chosen deity possesses the names / marks of all deities. (The “chosen deity” is the one that is at the heart of a person’s deity practise.)

Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa evidently reads the statement in its more broad form, saying that one’s chosen deity possesses the marks of all deities. He says that if one purifies on the path all one’s mental afflictions, just that will be the cause of obtaining Buddhahood. Having become a Buddha, one is “the essence of the qualities of the results of separation and maturation, one possesses – no matter which body [of a deity] one has trained – the major and minor marks of maturation, and one possesses the results of separation such as the power of the mind (Tib. thugs stobs).” Thus, one accomplishes the result of Buddhahood by separating from unwholesome factors and by bringing wholesome factors to maturation. One separates, for instance, from the afflictions. The result of that is the three (or, depending on the system, five) bodies of a Buddha. In particular, the quality of separation is the obtainment of the dharmakaya, from which all other bodies arise. The quality of bringing to maturation all the wishes of benefiting sentient beings is the arising of the sambhogakaya, and the necessary activities manifest as the nirmanakaya. For this process, it is of no significance, which deity one trains since all deities function in a similar way. Therefore, they are all “Exalted Ones” (Skt. Bhagavan) and when one supplicates a deity, no matter which deity one chooses, the blessing that arises is always the same.

In this context, Chökyi Dragpa quotes the well-known and often quoted, but rarely followed instruction of Lord Atisha:

Tibet is poor due to its many deities. At the time when one establishes the practice of one’s chosen deity and invites its wisdom beings, by inviting whichever deities one wishes in the form of one’s chosen deity and absorbing them when one accomplishes that deity, it will be one that accomplishes all.

1. [Hevajra Tantra 2.2.58-59a. Snellgrove (1959: 53).]

In April 2014, I have introduced here the “Paris Manuscript” of the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me. This is a handwritten copy of the commentary on the Single Intention by Dorje Sherab, a direct disciple of Sherab Jungne (1187-1241). It was brought to France by Alexandra David-Neel and is now kept at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Since my last post on it, many exciting things have happened.

The most exciting thing is that the manuscript is now dated with great certainty to the period between 1267 and 1290. That means that it is either a copy written by the author himself, or by one of his immediate disciples. In any case, the manuscript is the earliest witness of the Single Intention and this commentary that we possess. We have to treat this copy as the Leit-Handschrift and all future editions of the text must be based on it. Moreover, the manuscript is very well preserved, without significant damages and gaps (lacunae). It contains many important variants to Rinchen Phüntshok’s block print edition of ca. 1530 and numerous little glosses by different hands.

How can we be sure of the above-mentioned dating? I had some pieces of the paper carbon dated (according to the OxCal4 program) in a laboratory in Glasgow. The result was that the paper of the manuscript was manufactured with 95.4 % probability between 1215 and 1290 (calibrated dates). We can assume that paper is usually manufactured in Tibet for specific purposes and that it is highly unlikely that paper that was produced is left lying around for years or decades. We can, thus, assume that it was promptly used for our manuscript.

calib plot

Last month I visited a workshop on Tibetan manuscripts at the Chicago Centre in Paris, organised by Matthew Kapstein. On one afternoon we all went over to the Musée Guimet, where I introduced the original manuscript to my colleagues. I had ample opportunity to discuss its features with them. Several of my learned colleagues – experts on art, paper, and handwriting – confirmed the early date of the manuscript. The artwork on the left side of the reverse of the cover folio is an exact copy of a Tibetan thanka depicting Jigten Sumgön, which was carbon dated to the early 13th century (see the pictures in my post of April 2014). The handwriting is comparable to 12th to 13th century Kharakhoto script.

jan paris

Since we know that the commentary was composed around 1267, since that date is mention as the present date in the text, we can now narrow down the date of the manuscript to 1267-1290.

A generous grant of the Garchen Foundation, Munich, made it possible to reproduce the whole manuscript in a beautiful edition in its original size, with 274 colour photographs and a 16 page foreword. The 290 pages are kept in a robust textile-covered box


44 x 33 x 3 cm / 17.3″ x 13″ x 1.2″

The Garchen Foundation, moreover, has made endeavours to make this facsimile manuscript edition available as a gift to Drikung Kagyu monasteries and colleges in Tibet, China, Ladakh, Nepal, and India. I am very happy that, thereby, this precious text can now be studied in the study institutions of the tradition.

Ordering Information
• Please email your order to
or fax it to +49-(0)5193-97432-099.
The work is also available at bookstores
(ISBN 978-3-945457-07-8).
• Secure transport packaging, total transport weight approx. 3.1 kg
• Price: 129,– € (approx. 147 $ | 96 GBP)
• Postal charges are additional.

(1) Amy Heller, Agnieszka Helman-Wazny, Sam VanSchaik, and Kurt Tropper graciously shared their impression on the manuscript with me.

This question has two aspects: one pertaining to view, the other pertaining to conduct. In Buddhist literature we can find lots of statements, according to which all karmic ripening of causes and the dependent arising of results will ultimately be realised as emptiness, and thus, from that moment onwards, all phenomena are brought to exhaustion and virtue and non-virtue are not anymore something to be accomplished and abandoned. The two aspects “view” and “conduct” are actually intermingled here: dependent origination of karma, cause, and result is realised as emptiness and as a consequence virtue and non-virtue loose their value. Such statements are backed up with all kinds of quotes from Mahyana and Mantra scriptures. One tantra says:♦ 1

The ultimate result
[arises at] the time when there are no more causes and results.

All phenomena (as we know them) somehow disappear, as one text (ascribed to Dzogchen) puts it:

The bringing of all phenomena to an exhaustion is the essential meaning,
the ultimate view, the great seal.

And Milarepa, too, is quoted:♦ 2

From the perspective of absolute truth,
apart from [being an] obstacle, not even the Buddha himself exists. (…)
In the ultimate truth [however] there is no mind
and all phenomena are brought to exhaustion.

Tantric texts like the Guhyagharbhatantra of the Nyingmapas apparently argue with a nullification of all phenomena and values in accordance with a Madhyamaka type of illusion and emptiness (11.13):♦ 3

Even though one has performed all activities [such as] sexual union and liberation [through killing]
in the way “from the beginning unborn,” “ultimate reality,”
“appearing as an illusion” [and] “optical illusion,”
not even as much as a dust particle has been performed.

And the same text again (19.3):♦ 4

[On the absolute level] existence, non-existence, and anything in between are not apprehended [as objects], and
[on the relative level things are] like an illusion or an optical illusion; [thus],
there is no life and there is no life that will be taken.
Life and people are mere erroneous notions.

So, if emptiness is realised, “anything goes” because nothing matters? To reject such an attitude, Jigten Sumgön states in the Same Intention (6.17): “If emptiness is realised, emptiness emerges as cause and result.”

According to the commentator Dorje Sherab, Jigten Sumgön himself underwent a change of his view during the second year of his training under Phagmodrupa. During the first year, Jigten Sumgön had come to the realisation that all phenomena are empty. Therefore he thought (according to Dorje Sherab):

At the time of death I will become a Buddha and all concerns can be cast aside now. Someone with realisation does not take birth [again]. At death he attains the merging of the two kinds of luminosity and peace is attained. In the first intermediate state he becomes a Buddha, and through the vital point of emptiness the conceptions of cause, karma, and afflictions cannot bind [anymore], like a hemp rope burned by fire: it still has its form as it is not destroyed in its structure, but cannot bind anymore, because its nature has disappeared.

During the second year, however, he understood that such a realisation is not the ultimate one. In that year, Phagmodrupa mainly taught two things: the Jatakas, i.e. the life stories of the former births of the Buddha, and the Dharma wheel of ultimate definitive truth (i.e. in this system the sutras of the third wheel). Through these teachings, Jigten Sumgön came to realise that cause and result exist within emptiness, that this has an impact on how the realised person should behave, and that to follow such a conduct after realising emptiness is an act of compassion. One result of such a realisation was that he abandoned his status as a lay follower and took full ordination.

Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa points out in his commentary that Milarepa had the same realisation. This is expressed in his farewell teaching to Gampopa (the very last personal teaching he gave before Gampopa went away):

Do not interrupt the virtuous Dharma conduct, even though there is no hope for Buddhahood up above, and shun even the most subtle evil, although there is no fear with regard to the bad states [of birth] below.

This is to be understood in connection with the other quote from Mila above, according to which in absolute truth not even the Buddha exist. Thus the present statement is on the ultimate level, and it points out that even though in absolute truth there are neither Buddha nor bad states of birth, virtuous conduct is not to be interrupted. And Mila furthermore said:♦ 5

Since emptiness is more subtle than the many explanations you are able to make of emptiness in accordance with authoritative scripture and reasoning, it is difficult to understand [emptiness] and to develop confidence. Having great confidence in emptiness and then understanding that emptiness itself arises as cause and result, you will automatically engage in efforts regarding abandoning and accepting of cause and result, and establishing virtue and abandoning evil. Since this great confidence in cause and result is the root of all Dharmas, it is very important to be meticulous and to make efforts with regard to the practise of abandoning evil and accomplishing virtue.

Dorje Sherab presents the same teaching with these words ascribed to Gampopa:

The Jowo Kadampa [Lamas] said: “Having realised emptiness, one must proceed very attentive with regard to karma, cause, and result.” That is very right! Now that I have gained experience [I understand that this] is a [very profound] Dharma transmission that the Kadampas possess. I call myself a yogi and I am very attentive with regard to karma, cause, and result. This is a pith instruction taught by my gurus. Since here is a lineage [for this, starting] from the Lord [Atisha], there is no chance for it to be different.

But how do cause and result still exist for those who have realised emptiness? Dorje Sherab explains this through some examples. When he was still with Marpa, Jetsün Mila, for instance, sang from time to time songs in the village and thereby was able to contribute the offerings he received from the villagers to his guru Marpa’s household. The positive karmic result of that was that later in his life, when he was already a realised yogi, the dakinis invited him to their ganacakra, and furthermore that Jomo Tashi Tseringma offered yoghurt and so forth to him with a spoon made of precious stone. These later occurrences are here causally linked to that type of virtuous conduct, and thus there exists positive karmic ripening for the realised yogi. But Mila also experienced negative results at a time when he was already an accomplished yogi, namely when he had to sustain himself with unsalted nettle soup. This is in this teaching linked to the hail he had magically brought down on the fields of his home village. Similarly, Jigten Sumgön also experience almost immediate karmic retribution after Phagmodrupa’s death, when he led the community of Phagmodru, but because he got into conflict with the community, trying to make everything more than perfect, he finally had to leave secretly the community of Phagmodru.

Thus the key point that cause and result is not nullified by emptiness and that results infallibly arise from causes even after emptiness has been realised has been established through the instructions of the lineage and through numerous examples. Towards the end of his comments on this vajra-statement, Dorje Sherab also presents two canonical quotes to establish (a) that despite having realised emptiness one has to continue one’s attentive awareness, and (b) that even when one has realised true reality, results infallibly arise from causes. The first point is made in a sutra:♦ 6

Whatever arises from conditions is not arisen,
it doesn’t have the nature of being arisen.
Whatever depends on conditions is emptiness.
Whoever understands emptiness is one with attentive awareness.

Thus, even though phenomena are unborn as empty, whoever realises that still has to practise the conduct of attentive awareness. The second point is made in the same sutra:♦ 7

Even though it is understood that [in] true reality there is no ripening of karma,
virtuous and non-virtuous activity never goes to waste.

To understand the meaning of that, further scriptural authority from Indian treatises is presented. And who could be a better witness than Nagarjuna? Therefore, Dorje Sherab quotes two well known passages from the Mulamadhyamakakarika. The first (24.19) says:

A phenomenon that is not dependently originated
does not exist.
Therefore a non-empty phenomenon
does not exist.

And the same text (24.14) says:

For whomever emptiness is possible,
everything is possible.
For whomever emptiness is impossible,
everything is impossible.

These verses are quoted here in our context as scriptural authority for the fact that (a) every single phenomenon is dependently originated and thus empty, and (b) that when emptiness is accepted, acceptance of cause and result within emptiness is implied. The second verse is a close match to the final verse (no. 70) of Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani, whose auto-commentary has been translated by Westerhoff (2010).♦ 8 One passage from the commentary on the last verse says (p. 130):

For whom there is emptiness there is dependent origination. For whom there is dependent origination there are the four noble truths. For whom there are the four noble truths there are the fruits of religious practice, and all the special attainments. For whom there are all the special attainments there are the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. For whom there is dependent origination there is righteousness, its cause and its result, as well as unrighteousness, its cause and its result. For whom there is the righteous and the unrighteous, their cause and their result, there are the obscurations, their origin, and their bases. For whom there is all this, the law of the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the attainment of the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the way of going toward the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the passing beyond the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the means for passing beyond the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth as well as all worldly conventions are established.

Dorje Sherab furthermore compares the arising as cause and result within emptiness to space. Space may be used as an illustration of emptiness, but within that space, the sun heats up the air, and when there is moisture, a rainbow will arise. You may deny space’s emptiness, but the birds fly through it, chasing after the rainbow without meeting with any hindrance in space, and they can also not take hold of the rainbow. Here both the empty space in which there arises the rainbow, and the rainbow itself that arises in space are obviously empty, since they cause no hindrance and they cannot be grasped. Yet, if you insist on the emptiness of space and rainbow, it is pointed out that within that very space there appears the rainbow with its five colours, vivid and unmixed, and the space cannot stop these appearances. Thus, despite space’s emptiness, the rainbow is not prevented from arising. “Similarly,” Dorje Sherab sums it up, “the happy and painful results arise from virtuous and non-virtuous activities, not being stopped by emptiness.”

There is also a very interesting passage with regard to “emptiness emerging as cause and result” in the introduction to Dorje Sherabs commentary, the Dosherma, which is traditionally ascribed to Dorje Sherab himself, but may have been substantially expanded by one of his disciples or by a scholar of a later generation. In one passage (p. 231),♦ 9 the perspective of the path is discussed. This is important, because while the perspectives of the ground and the result have many implications regarding the view, the perspective of the path is obviously of greatest concern for those who are practising, and it also has a lot to do with conduct. This passage says that on the path, there are three aspects of dependent origination, cause, result, and emptiness, namely:

(1) to apply cause and result to emptiness,
(2) the arising of emptiness as cause and result, and
(3) the non-dual existence of emptiness, cause and result.

(1) When one dwells through one’s practice in the nature, free from proliferation, one understands that whatever arises from causes and conditions is empty of own existence. This is the truth of dependent origination. By way of realisation one enters into the state of “emptiness-equipoise”. This state of understanding equals the realisation of Jigten Sumgön during his first year with Phagmodrupa.

(2) When one experiences “one-taste” in the yoga of Mahamudra, all the fine details of cause and result arise without loss from the state of emptiness. That arising of the fine details of cause and result is the “unity of the path”, or the “unity of [the stage of] learning”. This is Jigten Sumgön’s realisation during or after his second year with Phagmodrupa.

(3) Understanding that the ultimate original nature of the dependent origination of cause and result arises perfectly without mixing up all the individual ways of the arising of “this result from that cause,” one actualises that ground, path, and result are non-dual and inseparable from the beginning. At the time of non-dual equipoise and post-equipoise (i.e. between actual sessions of meditation) this is the “union of [the stage of] no more learning”. This is Jigten Sumgön’s realisation during his second retreat in the E-chung cave ca. 1175-1177 (cf. Christine Sommerschuh’s translation of Jigten Sumgön’s biography, p. 117 f. and p. 283).♦ 10

Obviously these three stages refer to the last three of the four yogas of Mahamudra, i.e. (1) “free from proliferation” (spros bral), (2) “single taste” (ro gcig), and (3) “no-more learning” (slob du med). Our present topic of “emptiness emerging as cause and result” is realised on the level of “single taste”, which is the realisation that Jigten Sumgön obtain while he was a disciple of Phagmodrupa.

As here in the Introduction, where the realisation of “emptiness as cause and result” is connected with the realisation of “single taste,” in the Dosherma, too, this realisation is taught to arise when all phenomena are realised as “sameness”. But even at the time of omniscience, Dorje Sherab continues, all the subtleties of cause and result arise in the state of emptiness, without anything discarded or lost. Since Phagmodrupa understood that Jigten Sumgön would realise this, he said to him: “You will be one who is better than merely a ‘great meditator’ (sgom chen),” indicating that he would become an actual siddha. And later, Jigten Sumgön remarked:

Because I mastered this [teaching], I am among all the Dharma practitioners of Tibet not only one head larger than they are, but I am distinguished by a full body length!

See also Jigten Sumgön’s statement quoted by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa in Same Intention 6.19:

I, [the one] who is endowed with the realisation matching the eighty mahasiddhas of India, appear now in the manner of renunciation – [in that] I am very reckless!

This is in Tibetan a word play, where recklessness, which is usually connected with the “crazy wisdom” of the siddhas, is here applied to the enthusiasm through which Jigten Sumgön practised the vows of renunciation, as Atisha, Gampopa and also Milarepa (though not formally as a monk) have done before him. Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa says in this context:

Thus, however vast one’s experience and realisation is, this conduct of awareness that is practised in conjunction with disciplined conduct is the practise of the pure teachings. But nowadays some people wear the bone ornaments that [they] pretend to be [an element of their] special observance, they wrap themselves in dog-fur, brandish weapons, and they perform a conduct of a realised one that disregards cause and result and treats body and life carelessly, performing the misbehaviour of disturbing gods and nagas and filling the valley with the sound “Phat” and meaningless shouts, the meaningless [pretended] special observance of roaming around like a dog – [disciplined conduct] is so much more distinguished than that!

As Khenchen Nyima Gyaltshen explained when he taught this point of the Same Intention: To hold that all phenomena, including karma, cause and result, are empty and like an illusion, is fine in the context of view, but since within that emptiness all the fine details of cause and result arise without loss, the “anything goes because nothing matters” attitude is a wrong application of emptiness to the sphere of conduct.

1. [gSang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa, D vol. 98, fol. 211r.]

2. [‘Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, dPal ‘khor lo bde mchog ngam rdzong snyan brgyud kyi man ngag rtsa ba tshe ring skor gsum gyi gzhung, gDams ngag mdzod, TBRC W23605, vol. 8, p. 113 and 108.]

3. [Klong-chen-pa, dPal gsang ba’i snying po, p. 628.]

4. [The paraphrases in square brackets are taken from Klong-chen-pa, dPal gsang ba’i snying po, pp. 628.8 f.]

5. [For an edition of the Tibetan text of this passage, see de Jong (1959: 153 f.).]

6. [Arya Anavataptanagarajapariprccha Mahayanasutra, D vol. 58, fol. 230v.]

7. [D vol. 58, fol. 231v.]

8. [Jan Westerhoff (2010) The Dispeller of Disputes: Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

9. [Khog dbub kyi sa dmigs, in: dGongs pa gcig pa’i ‘grel chen snang mdzad ye shes sgron me, by sPyan-snga rDo-rje-shes-rab, vol. 1, bKa’ brgyud nang bstan mtho slob khang nas dpar ‘grems zhus, Kagyu College, Dehra Dun, India, 2007.]

10. [Chenga Sherab Jungne (2014) Funkensprühen des kostbaren Vajras: Der Lebensweg der völligen Befreiung des Dharmaherrn Jigten Sumgön, mit der Biografie des Verfassers, “Donnerklang des Ruhms,” Christine Sommerschuh (trl.), (Vajra-Klänge 2), edited by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, München: Edition Garchen Stiftung, with a biography of Chenga Sherab Jungne by Rinchen Phüntshog trl. by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, 301 pp., 2 maps, ISBN 978-3-945457-02-3.]

Janet Gyatso (2015) Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet, New York: Columbia University Press, 519 pp.

One of the topics discussed in this brand new book is the coexistence of Buddhist tantric and Tibetan medical knowledge. Janet Gyatso explains that for Tibetan Buddhists, access to the internal anatomy of the body was perhaps never a problem. The practice of dismembering corpses to feed them to vultures, for instance, is an old one, and the analysis of corpses from a medical perspective was already well established in India. Tibetans, too, are known to have dissected corpses in order to learn from first hand experience. Gyatso (p. 193) reports the case of Darmo Menrampa Losang Chödrag, who was very active in the field of medicine. He studied Tibetan texts, wrote medical treatises, taught at one of the medical schools, and he was allowed to perform an operation on the fifth Dalai Lama. In 1670 he gathered his students together and dissected in a park in Lhasa the corpses of four male, female, old, and young Tibetans. He found 365 bones in the body, 5 more than the accepted number in medical literature.

In this particular case, and also when it came to the problem of diverging descriptions of the inner channels of the human body in medical and tantric literature, Darmo Menrampa didn’t react like the Hindu reformer Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-83), who tore up his manual of hathayoga after dissecting a corpse and failing to find the cakras (Gyatso, p. 205). Instead, Darmo Menrampa made efforts to reconcile the tantric system and the four kinds of channels in medical literature (p. 272).

As Janet Gyatso describes in her book, we find in the Tibetan literature attempts to explain the actual nature of the channels in various ways. There are for instance those who try to identify aspects of tantric anatomy with “actual” anatomy. Others, however, recognise tantric anatomy as a unique system outside of, or apart from, “actual” anatomy. Among those who discussed the nature of tantric anatomy, some were assuming a fine or subtle kind of materiality, while others, such as some medical theorists, rather assumed a conventional material existence of the tantric channels.

In short, there are two basic approaches. One is to posit a tantric anatomy that is of an essentially different order than ordinary anatomy; the other is an attempt to reconcile the two systems in some way. The first strategy that posits tantric anatomy as an essentially different order allows to uphold various views about the tantric body (i.e. the vajra body) that in such an approach does not need to be reconciled with the anatomy of the ordinary body (tha mal kyi lus). Things that are of different orders do not necessarily need to be in total agreement. The second strategy that tries to reconcile the two systems proves to be difficult to accomplish, as it has to explain many inconsistencies between the systems.

The situation is further complicated, explains Gyatso (p. 208 f.), by the fact that there also exists a “medical body” (gso ba’i lus), i.e. the body that is to be healed by medical practise. All three bodies — the tantric, the ordinary, and the medical one — certainly have some overlap. A medical practitioner, for instance, would make a bad impression if he would try to bleed a vein as described in medical literature, when his instruments can’t hit on an actual blood vessel of the body. But there are also differences, as pointed out by those who warn that the identification of the tantric central channel with an actual material channel of the ordinary body could lead to insanity if yogic practise is attempted based on such an ordinary channel.

Among those exegetes who juxtapose the Buddhist tantric materials with the medical, we find the strategy to assume that medical literature only explains the overt channels, while tantric literature is able to provide a more detailed picture. Such a view of the superiority of the tantric system was expressed by Kyempa Tsewang (sKyem-pa Tshe-dbang, see Gyatso, p. 213 ff.), who preceded the commentator of the Single Intention, the Drikungpa Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa (1595-1659) by perhaps a bit more than a century. Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa was, as is well known, himself a tantric yogi and author of treatises in the medical tradition of the Drikungpas. He might have had in mind writers like Kyempa Tsewang when he commented on a vajra statement of Jigten Sumgön that juxtaposes tantric and medical analysis in a surprising and somewhat more nuanced way.

In general, the vajra statements found in the Single Intention are already in the earliest versions of the text contrasted with views held by others that need to be corrected, or sometimes even refuted. In the case of the present topic, the general view is explained to be that the Buddha taught the cause of the body, the basis of its abiding, and the conditions of its final disintegration in the most profound manner in the Mantra Vajrayana, since the nature of the body’s qualities and defects arises through the dependent origination of winds and channels. Thus it is assumed that the way how things really are in the body, and the functions of winds and channels, are profound only as taught in the Mantra Vajrayana.

In contrast to such a general view, Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön teaches that (5.13) “medicine teaches some ways how things are and some functions more profoundly.” This vajra statement is actually ascribed by the early commentator Rinchen Jangchub (fl. mid 13th c.) to “Je Drogön” (i.e. Phagmodrupa, 1110-1170), who, “having seen one [copy of Vagbhata’s] Ashtangahrdaya[samhita] said ‘this is very profound’ and expressed his joy.” The Ashtanga was, as Janet Gyatso (p. 107) states, influential in Tibet and the last great Indian medical work translated (by Rinchen Zangpo). Phagmodrupa might have known it through his studies in Sakya, where the medical academy specialised in the system of this work (Gyatso p. 112). According to Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, this treatise states that first, during the body formation (lus chags pa’i dus), the four types of diseases occur respectively in dependence on whichever mental affliction predominates. By differentiating each type of disease further, each of them turns into a hundred diseases. Each of these particular diseases must be treated through different individual remedies.

With regard to medical treatments, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa states that he himself has seen how such diseases are treated by doctors who understand how the ultimate nature of channels, winds and vital essences of that body really are (and we can safely assume that he himself has also been both a tantric yogi and a medical expert). Therefore, he concludes, “I think that [medical knowledge] is very profound!” As an example for the profoundness of medical treatises, he quotes the following lines of the Ashtanga:

Since the sickness of completely all the desires and so forth
is intertwined with the [mental] continuum, it pervades the constituents of the body.

In addition to these remarks, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa recalls an earlier incident where a great practitioner with profound insights perceived in the back of one man a creature that had the size of a sinew (chu rgyus). He reported this to a doctor, who then removed the sickness by applying moxibustion to the upper, middle and lower part of the body of the creature hidden in the back of the man, thereby proving the great profoundness of medical treatments.

Furthermore, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa continues, a doctor ascertains how the rough and subtle channels of the body, the primary and secondary winds that move in them, etc., and the vital essences that are emitted and not emitted, are, and he identifies by questioning, looking, and touching, the diseases that develop from wind, bile, phlegm, combinations of these, and from heat, and cold. (This refers to the seven groups of diseases arising from wind, bile, and phlegm, as well as from combinations of two or three of them.)

Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa moreover points out that a doctor bestows life (‘tsho ba’i srog ster ba) by getting to the heart of the matter through four things, namely medical treatment, investigation (of outer appearance), dietetics, and conduct regulations (sman dpyad zas bcos bzhis) that are fitting to the disease.♦ 1 Finally, he argues that these medical practises (lag len) have the benefit of others in mind, and that they have been well elucidated and explained by saintly authors and commentators who have well comprehended the vital points of the Sugata’s instructions, yet the same depth and clarity cannot be found in the presentations of the tantras of Buddha Vajradhara.

This latter point, namely that the same clarity of presentation cannot be found in the tantras, is actually interesting in the context of the immediately preceding vajra statement in the Single Intention, which says: (5.12) “He maintained that some [aspects of] the natural state were hidden by Vajradhara.” Another early commentator of the Single Intention, Dorje Sherab, explains that the tantras were intentionally “brought into disorder (dkrugs),” so that, as Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa states, people are prevented from attempting to enter the mandala and trainings without the proper guidance by an authentic master who is endowed with authentic lineage, pith instructions, and reading transmissions.

In the light of these words we might understand vajra statement 5.13, “medicine teaches some ways how things are and some functions more profoundly” to mean that the medical literature teaches the profound aspects of channels etc. not only more clearly, but also more openly than the tantras.

In sum, if we dare to make a conclusion based only on these bits of information that we find in the Single Intention and its commentaries, the Drikungpas do not seem to have chosen the approach of viewing the medical channels as essentially different from the tantric channels. As far as these brief statements of the eminent medical and yogic expert of the Drikungpas, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, allow us to make a judgement, they rather seem to take the channels of both systems — the medical and the tantric — to be basically identical, and in cases of doubt, the descriptions in medical literature may be preferred, since they are — with regard to anatomical details — more profound ( / clear / openly taught) than the descriptions in the tantras.

The medical system of the Drikungpas, and in fact Tibetan medicine as such, certainly needs much more and much deeper exploration, especially its many important and interesting relations to the tantric tradition, and vice versa. I am sure that Jane Gyatso’s book, which offers much more than the single topic I have discussed here, will prove to be an essential step forward.2

1. [I understand “sman dpyad zas bcos bzhi” to be (1) medical treatment (sbyor ba sman), (2) investigation (of outer appearance, cha byad dpyad), (3) dietetics (‘tsho ba zas), and (4) conduct regulations (bya ba spyod lam bcas).]

A friend posted on facebook an article by Donald Lopez jr. in the Buddhist magazine tricycle (Winter 2012), beginning with the words:

According to Buddhist doctrine, there can be only one buddha for each historical age. A new buddha appears in the world only when the teachings of the previous buddha have been completely forgotten, with no remnant — a text, a statue, the ruins of a pagoda, or even a reference in a dictionary — remaining. Because the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha — that is, our Buddha — remain present in the world, we have no need for a new buddha.

In the Dhiga Nikaya collection of the Pali canon we find indeed the following statement (ii 225 and iii 114):

Nowhere and at no time is it possible that, in one and the same world-system, two Arahant Buddhas should arise together.

This view is not only expressed in the sutras of the Shravakas, but also in some mahayana texts. Dorje Sherab provides in his commentary on Jigten Sumgön’s Single Intention the following example from a Nyingmapa tantra:♦ 1

I have never seen that there occur
in one world or one continent,
during the period of one eon,
in one country, or on one vajra-seat
two Buddhas who complete the activities.
If there were, it would be impossible and it would contradict the Dharma.

In contrast to that, Jigten Sumgön maintains in the Single Intention (2.15) that “many Buddhas appear continuously in a single Buddha field.” His commentator Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa argues that by perfecting the familiarisation with the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, the Buddha activity will be equal to the Buddha nature of all sentient beings. At the same time, sentient beings are limitless. Thus, Candrakirti says in his Madhyamakavatara (6.194):♦ 2

Because samsara is
without a first beginning and a final end,
it is called “free from beginning and end.”

Therefore Jigten Sumgön maintains that since Buddha activity equals the Buddha nature of all sentient beings, and since sentient beings are limitless, Buddhas are limitless. This thought is expressed, for instance, in Maitreyanatha’s Uttaratantrashastra (4.62):♦ 3

Therefore, in all the water receptacles,
which are [the minds of] the pure trainees,
immeasurable reflections
of the sun, [which is] the Sugata, appear at once.

Therefore, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa concludes, “there come as many Buddhas as there are sentient beings to each realm of the world.” The appearance of one Buddha in one world system does not prevent other Buddhas from appearing there, too. When, for instance, the Buddha was teaching, there often appeared numerous other Buddhas to listen to him and even deliberated the teachings. Our commentaries provide only a few examples, such as the Ratnaketudharani , the Saddharmapundarika Sutra , and the Tathagatasangiti Sutra , but they are certainly numerous.

It is true that only a single Buddha is needed in a world system to reveal the twelve deeds, such as renunciation, ordination, teaching, and entering nirvana, but that doesn’t prevent other Buddhas from “manifesting there as that Buddha’s father, mother, son, retinue, and so forth, even down to showing themselves as non-Buddhists, and they teach the great [qualities],” says Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, “since they do not harbor (…) aversion to the Buddha.”

The present vajra statement (2.15) seems to have the same intention as vajra statement (7.15) “all Buddhas dwell in the natural continuum (khams rgyud ) of all sentient beings,” for which see in this blog the article “Where the Buddhas abide.”

1. [Sarvatathagata Cittajñanaguhyarthagarbhavyuha Vajratantrasiddhi Yogagamasamaja Sarvavidyasutra Mahayanabhisamaya Dharmaparyayavivyahasutra , D vol. 97, fol. 201v: ‘jig rten gcig gam gling gcig tu// bskal pa gcig gi gnas skabs la// yul gcig rdo rje gdan gcig tu// mdzad pa mthar phyir sangs rgyas gnyis// ‘byung bar yang dag ngas ma mthong // byung na mi srid chos dang ‘gal//.]

2. [Madhyamakavatara by Candrakirti, D vol. 102, fol. 213v.]

3. [D vol. 123, fol. 70r.]

I have seen and heard remarks from Buddhists these days through which they state their utter contempt for Islam. A Danish lama has been well known for such views for a long time. Somebody just sent me a snapshot of that man together with a well known Dutch right winger. A facebook account under the name of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse calls people who represent a sophisticated position regarding Islam “liberals, leftists, moderates, and cherry-picking apologists.” The same and worse can be read in the blog of a German Theravada-Buddhist meditation teacher. Except for stating the obvious, namely that there is a difference between Muslims and terrorists, I will not say more about this debate here. But I would like to share with you one of Kyobpa Jigten Sungön’s positions regarding other religions and views in general.

Jigten Sumgön’s general approach to spiritual views, conducts, and practices is one that attempts to perceive something in terms of what its nature is. In this sense he acknowledges that (1.19) there exists much that is virtuous by nature to be practised in [the systems of] the non-Buddhists too. This stands in contrast to a general opinion according to which “the complete view, conduct, and practise of the non-Buddhists is only something to be abandoned.”

One of Jigten Sumgön’s most basic positions is simply that whatever is virtuous by nature has a joyful result. Such virtue, however, is not confined to the realm of Buddhism alone. As he had pointed out in vajra-statement 1.1, the Buddha did not “invent” his own Dharma, but revealed the ultimate true nature as it is — and that nature exists as it is, independent of whether someone reveals it or not. Therefore, whoever acts in accordance with that nature will receive the respective appropriate results, no matter whether that person is a Buddhist or not, or whether that person has realised “the definite meaning that perceives the truth” or not. In fact, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains that even animals will enjoy the joyful fruits if they are “temporary [in] possession of … virtuous things to be practised,” such as loving kindness for their offspring. Furthermore, even a tenth level bodhisattva has to abandon that which is by nature non-virtuous, or he will suffer the consequences (which is another vajra-statement), and everyone, even animals and the lowest beings in hell, will experience the joyful fruit when they practise virtue.

An example for a wise handling of this nature is the Buddha’s own adoption of the “ritual of the three grounds,” which first did only exist among non-Buddhists. The “ritual of the three grounds” (gzhi gsum gyi cho ga) refers to the poshadha ceremony (Tib. gso sbyong), the summer retreat (dbyar gnas), and the release from summer retreat (dgag dbye). By adopting this originally non-Buddhist practise, its virtuous potential was made available to ordained Buddhists. Another example offered by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is Padmasmbhava’s adoption of many non-Buddhist activity rituals (mu stegs byed las), such as cycles of protection and repelling, for the removing of temporary impediments. These have, when embedded in bodhicitta, great virtuous potential, and they are particularly interesting examples because they make skilful use even of forceful and wrathful activities.

Therefore, whatever virtue is found anywhere is to be practised. The Rinjangma points out that even though one might already possess vast amounts of pure qualities, one should also accept the pure qualities found in the mental continua of other beings that are perhaps seen as inferior to oneself, as this is a matter of abandoning pride. It was through such a practise, Rinchen Jangchub says, that the Buddha was able to purify all faults completely and to complete all good qualities, causing him to obtain Buddhahood. On the other hand, if something incorrect exists in the mental continuum of a high person, this is to be abandoned. Nothing is to be accepted only because it exists in the mental continuum of, or is taught by a high person. Thus Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa quotes the well known words of Aryadeva (Jnanasarasamuccaya, D vol. 97, 27v5):

Monks and scholars should accept my words
having first investigated them thoroughly,
like gold, which is smelted, cut and burnished,
but not out of [mere] veneration.

Dorje Sherab quotes at this point the almost same words from the Shri Mahabalatantraraja (D vol. 79, fol. 216v):

Like smelting , cutting, and burnishing gold,
accept my instructions after due investigation,
but, oh Skilful Ones, do not accept it
out of reverence or other [reasons].

These lines are well known and generally accepted by all Buddhists. But what is not so generally accepted is what Jigten Sumgön advises to do, namely to make an effort to perceive the virtue in all non-Buddhist paths, too, and to practise it. To do that, I think, would prevent a Buddhist from making statements such as those mentioned in the beginning, which, I think, may lead directly to political hell.