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!


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.