Tag Archives: Jigten Sumgon

Already in India, the teaching styles of Mahāmudrā were quite diverse. There is a bewildering multitude of terminology like “mental inactivity” (yid la mi byed pa), “innate yoga” (lhan cig skyes sbyor), “ordinary consciousness” (tha mal gyi shes pa), or “natural mind” (gnyug ma[ʼi sems]). This posting will look at some aspects of the “natural mind” in Gampopa’s writings. We will see that, like the innate yoga, the natural mind practice uses thoughts for realizing the dharmakāya, yet it seems that it does so (at least at Gampopa’s time) in a more radical way. Future research may show that subsequent masters like Jigten Sumgön might have combined both into a single approach.

However, before I investigate Gampopa’s instructions on the matter, I would like to make a few remarks about translating esoteric instructions. My main point is that there is something not right when the terminology of such instructions is treated as if we are reading a philosophical debate or a more systematized form of a text. Esoteric instructions in the Kagyüpa tradition, especially those pointing out the nature of the mind or teaching mahāmudrā practice, are often spontaneously spoken words recorded by disciples or sketchy notes that reply to questions from disciples. Sometimes they are delivered in the form of poetry or song. Characteristic for them is the use of colorful metaphorical language (“space,” “light,” etc.), sometimes in the form of similes (“like a rainbow”). These metaphors are done an injustice when we translate them like the technical terms they sometimes turn into in the later literature of systematical treatises and commentaries. Such powerful metaphors as “clear light,” which originally illustrates the unobstructed quality of the mind, then turns into the abstract noun “luminosity,” and a term like “innate,” which refers to inborn qualities, morphs into such a terrible linguistic monstrosity as “co-emergent.” Translated like that, they are not metaphors anymore; they have solidified from a once-dynamic metaphor to a cold technical term. To use such technical terms when translating esoteric instructions is, in most cases, a mistake.

When we read a scholarly work, its technical language is often well-explained and specified by definitions. Although these explanations and definitions may vary between traditions or even from scholar to scholar, the scholarly activity of analyzing, defining, and teaching makes it often relatively easy to analyze and translate such terms. On the other hand, esoteric instructions are often brief to the point that they even seem cryptic. Their colorful terminology is much harder to pin down. Such texts virtually avoid definitions. They are on the spot compositions spontaneously delivered by experienced masters, often to remedy a problem in the meditative practice of their disciples. However, even though the terms are sometimes literally the same as in more technical texts, we should never make the mistake in our translations to define esoteric language through later technical terminology. That would be like putting the cart before the horse: The mahāmudrā instructions of the early Kagyüpa masters precede their more technical explanations of later generations. Therefore, translations of such texts should reflect the original and powerful metaphor, not the technicality of a philosophical debate.

That being said, let us have a look at the term “natural [mind]” (gnyug ma[ʼi sems]) as it appears in numerous esoteric instructions of Gampopa. To understand this key term in Gampopa’s system, we must carefully read it in the context of the teachings in which it occurs. Looking at more than fifty occurrences of the term in Gampopa’s instructions, we find it often in close vicinity of such terms as these:

– ordinary consciousness (tha mal gyi shes pa)

– nature of the mind (sems nyid)

– innate gnosis (lhan cig skyes pa’i ye shes)

dharmakāya (chos sku)

– true reality (de nyid)

– sameness (mnyam pa nyid)

– unerring emptiness (stong pa nyid ma nor ba)

All these are terms pertaining to the level of the absolute truth. Accordingly, when we find descriptions of the qualities of the natural mind, we find that it

– cannot be seen, pointed out, or expressed

– has no basis or support, and no labels can be attached to it

– has no tendency toward anything and no aim

– is not produced from causes and conditions

– is like a dream or an illusion

In Buddhism, these descriptions through negation are typical for something belonging to the sphere of the absolute truth. After all, absolute truth is beyond the sphere of the mind and cannot really be expressed in words. The experience of the natural mind is therefore like a dream or an illusion, not because it is false, but because it cannot be expressed. Gampopa says that it is like the happiness of a young girl and the dream of a mute person—both the girl and the mute person cannot express their experience. However, there are also a few descriptions in positive terms. The natural mind is also described as genuine, fresh, and simple, and it is explained to possess clarity and bliss. The descriptions through negation tell us what the natural mind is not, and the positive descriptions provide us with some kind of an idea of how it feels when such a mind is recognized. Nevertheless, these are not precise definitions as we can find them in scholarly works. Such a mind seems to escape all attempts of precise linguistic expression.

In some instructions, however, Gampopa provides several interesting statements about the natural mind that can provide us with a clearer idea of what it is. First of all, he describes some preliminary steps for attaining it. Accordingly, an essential preliminary practice is to cut off all kinds of thoughts pertaining to subject and object, or, in other words, to the apprehending and the apprehended. This places the natural mind in the vicinity of the teaching that all phenomena are nothing but mind: If there is no thought about subject or object, then there is no idea of an apprehending mind and an apprehended thought or object. This is the state in which one must dwell, namely a state of nonduality, in order to experience the natural mind. However, this is not a state of total emptiness or nothingness. Gampopa says (vol. 6, 8r, all quotes are from the Derge edition):

The essence [of the natural mind] is not nonexistence but to be separate from all arising and ceasing. The result [of the natural mind] is that nonexistence of arising and ceasing, the dharmakāya.

Therefore, thoughts are not merely cut off. Instead, one dwells in the realization that the thought that arises has no place where it originates from, no space where it dwells, and nothing into which it finally disappears. Moreover, Gampopa explicitly says (vol. 27, 9r): “Thought is the path of the natural mind.” But how does that fit with the many other passages where he speaks in the context of the natural mind of “nonthought” and “cutting off all thoughts?” A crucial passage may be the following, where Gampopa explains two systems of taking thoughts as the path. The first part of the passage says (vol. 10, 47v):

What is the difference between the natural [mind] (gnyug ma) and the innate yoga (lhan cig skyes sbyor, Skt. sahajayoga)? Innate yoga [also] takes thoughts as the path. Thoughts have two aspects: good thoughts and bad thoughts. Whichever arises, the thought is taken as the path by understanding it as a blessing. Thus, concerning the roaming in samsara, one roams because one has not recognized thoughts. There is no fear of samsara since one has made thoughts the path.

This is a very abbreviated explanation of the innate yoga. He states that thoughts are understood as a blessing, but he does not explain here how thoughts are used for practice. Elsewhere, Gampopa is more explicit and thus, before we continue with the above quote, let us briefly look into some other passages. In an instruction on innate yoga, Gampopa says (vol. 19, 17r):

All phenomena of the whole world are one’s mind. Come to a definitive decision [about that], thinking that the mind is without origination. Rest serenely inside yourself without evaluation. Remain without evaluating “this is fresh,” “it exists,” or “it does not exist.” Rest without hesitation, like a swallow enters its nest. “Unfabricated:” remain free from blocking or establishing, as the garuda soars in the sky. “Loosely:” remain without exertion. Have a smooth attentiveness that has abandoned all the activities of a person and remain [like that]. “Remain:” remain without blocking faults and establishing qualities. Remain lose and utterly without fabrication. Like that, be without focussing and rest at ease. Thereby, with a clear and unobstructed essence of the consciousness, loosen [the mind] through relaxation within complete purity, and practice! If relaxation is best, practice is best. If it is medium, practice is medium. If it is low, practice is low; it is impossible that it is any other way than that. Within dwelling like that, pacify any proliferating thought! This is like a cloud adventitiously rising in the sky that is pure by itself: It arises from the sky, and in the end, it dissolves back into it, yet it dissolves into the sky itself, and it is of the sky’s nature. An adventitious thought may arise, but it arose from the innate nature of the mind itself. In the middle, it remains, but it remains as the innate nature of the mind itself. In the end, it dissolves, but it dissolves into the innate nature of the mind itself. Know it to be not beyond the innate nature of the mind itself and practice [like that].

Although later authors like Jigten Sumgön go into more details, this should suffice here. The meditative practice described here is characterized by being both relaxed and attentive. Arising thoughts are to be pacified but not by blocking them, but by understanding that the thought arises from and dissolves back into mind itself, and between that, while it remains, it is none other than the mind itself. This is often explained through the example of waves and the ocean: The waves are not different from the ocean itself. Understanding it like that, Gampopa’s disciple Phagmodrupa, who was Jigten Sumgön’s root guru, says about the innate yoga (vol. 2, p. 288):

The rainbow of duality disappears in space. The emerging of thoughts and getting involved in them disperse like clouds. In this fine palace of spontaneous victory, the person of the natural mind who is free from proliferation sits cross-legged on the seat beyond thoughts.

And elsewhere very clearly (vol. 4, p. 292):

Thoughts arise in the essence of the natural mind, but like the darkness at daybreak, they disappear by themselves.

Garchen Rinpoche has pointed out that this innate yoga practice of mahāmudrā is a training, but when one dwells entirely without thoughts as described in Tilopa’s Gangama Mahāmudrā, that is the result. Probably to point out the difference between the training and the result, Gampopa, from the perspective of the natural mind, stated these critical words to those who practice the innate yoga (continuing the above passage of vol. 19, 17r):

Because you take thoughts as the path, the thing to be cut off and the means of cutting off are perceived as two, and there is no end to thoughts. A thought that arises is recognized. However, that one that arises may be recognized, but if you do not perceive the essence, you are not up to the task! When a chance to perceive [the essence] arises, that is it! There is no other chance to perceive [the essence]!

The point is here that a practitioner of the innate yoga may dwell in a state where mind and thoughts are like the ocean and its waves, but the actual task is to perceive in that arising thought the “essence.” Gampopa teaches explicitly that apart from thoughts, there is no other way to realize the dharmakāya! Gampopa’s disciple, Lama Zhang, also taught that one must take thoughts as the path. He said (vol. 8 of the 2004 edition, pp. 566‒67):

Following after afflictions or thoughts one is an ordinary person, abandoning or stopping them, one is a Hīnayānist, purifying and transforming them with mantra, mudrā, and samādhi, one is [a practitioner of] the outer mantra. Here, through the endeavor of bad thoughts, one is not spoiled. By looking at the essence of an arising thought, thoughts subside for those in whom experience arises, and something is inevitably added to their experience. For those in whom realization arises, there is nothing to subside.

And he quotes the “precious guru” (Gampopa?):

If one does not use thoughts for one’s favor, the time when gnosis arises will never come. A fire whose firewood is discarded is like a lotus on dry ground. If you know how to use thoughts in your favor, all outer and inner obstructions become aids for meditative practice.

Thus, what is that essence of thoughts? There is an interesting passage in the collected works fo Marpa Lotsāva, where he says (vol. 2, 211‒12):

Just that essence of thoughts (rtog pa’i ngo bo) is the “self of phenomena” and the “self of the person.” If you know the nature of thoughts to be clear light, then they stop by themselves.

Thus the self of phenomena—the belief that phenomena have an independent existence—and the self of the person—the belief in an independent existence of the self, like a soul—are here likened to thoughts. This is undoubtedly an interesting remark and deserves further investigation. I believe that the point here is that, like thoughts, the self has no origin, abiding, and cessation. Since the self shares these characteristics with the thoughts—the very thing with which we identify ourselves so much—realizing the essence of thoughts will cause the realization of the self: There is no identifiable essence. Therefore, the essence, the true nature of the self or natural mind, can be realized by understanding thoughts. Once one has realized the essence, thoughts and mind are realized as having no origin, abiding, and cessation—they are the dharmakāya. Gampopa actually explains this in the continuation of the above-quoted passage on the difference between the natural mind and the innate yoga (vol. 10, 47v):

If [the essence, i.e.] the “I” is not perceived [as it is], thoughts have no end. Through that, you possess the defect of endlessness with regard to that [arising of thoughts]. The “I” is [in truth] at the beginning unborn, in the middle without remaining, and at the end without cessation. It is without an essence to be identified. Its nature is uninterrupted. Its charateristics are beyond the mind. Now, from the perspective of mantra, with respect to the characteristics, even the buddhas of the three times do not perceive it. With respect to the absence of characteristics, it is uninterrupted at all times. From the perspective of the perfections,  there is nothing to be removed from the “I” and there is not the slightest thing to be added. Watch perfectly the perfect purity! If you see the perfectly pure, you are free. Here, the perfectly pure is the “I.”

This essence, the perfectly pure self, the “I,” is, of course, the “natural mind” (gnyug ma), or dharmakāya. Thus, thoughts are used to attain the state of nonthought, just as firewood is completely burned up in a fire.

(Deutsche Übersetzung weiter unten.)

The “Fivefold Path of Mahāmudrā” as we know it today was mainly shaped by Kunga Rinchen (1475‒1527), whose practice manual “Garland of Mahāmudrā” was translated by Khenchen Könchog Gyaltsen, and by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s disciple Könchog Trinlé Namgyal (17th c.), who wrote down his teachers oral instructions in the “Dharmakīrti Zhalung.” These manuals present the Fivefold Path as a fully ritualized form of practice with successive stages starting with a preliminary practice (Ngöndro) and individual rituals for practicing bodhicitta, yidam deity, guru yoga, mahāmudrā, and dedication.

But such a ritually structured set of practices cannot be found in the earlier writings of the lineage. In particularly, in Jigten Sumgön’s own collected writings, the Fivefold Path ist mentioned many times, but never as a ritual path. Instead, the “Fivefold Path” is presented as the fundamental principle of all practices of meditation: Whatever practice one performs, it should always be preceded by (1) the cultivation of the resolve for awakening (bodhicitta), through which (2) one’s body is manifested as the yidam deity, which is the basis for (3) practicing one’s guru in one’s heart or at the crown of one’s head, which culminates in (4) the practice of the mind free from mental activity (mahāmudrā). Finally, the virtuous roots of such practices should always be (5) dedicated for the benefit of the beings.

There is also no fixed yidam deity for this practice, although the manuals focus on Cakrasaṃvara as the main deity. In the early instructions of Jigten Sumgön, this is left open, and in the case where the practitioner does not yet have his own personal deity, Avalokiteśvara is recommended as the yidam deity of the Fivefold Path.

The following brief instruction by Jigten Sumgön is a typical early instruction on the Fivefold Path. There are many such instructions in his collected works, but this one is perhaps the most condensed presentation.

Quintessential Practice of Sūtra and Mantra: Essential Instruction of the Fivefold Path of Mahāmudrā

Generally, the certain cause for attaining perfect buddhahood is the resolve for awakening. Therefore, at all times and in every way, pledge to cultivate the resolve when you practice the root of great waves of virtue, when you get to any practice, and at the beginning of a practice session as follows:

“May all my mothers—the sentient beings who are as limitless as space—have happiness, be free from suffering, and attain the precious, supreme, and perfect awakening. For that purpose I will, until I reach buddhahood, bind body, speech, and mind to virtue. I will, until I die, bind body, speech, and mind to virtue. I will, until the same time tommorrow, bind body, speech, and mind to virtue”—thinking that, practice your body as your cherished deity. If you do not have one, practice my cherished deity, the lord of great compassion, the noble Avalokiteśvara, or any powerful lord whatsoever. Practice the excellent guru in your heart. At the time of death, practice him at the crown of your head, it is said.

Then, look at your own vigilant and clear awareness and “not seeing anything at the time of looking is seeing true reality.” Therefore, dwell in that state without any mental activity.

If your mind begins to stir again with high and low thoughts, transform your going, standing, lying, sitting, or any other conduct, so that through practice it becomes uninterrupted virtuous practice, the essence of being without thoughts, and the spontaneously accomplished nature. Then maintain that without interruption.

After you have produced the root of virtue or dwelled in meditative equipoise in the practice, recollect from time to time the root of virtue that has been accumulated by yourself and all sentient beings in the three times and the virtue that is existent [in the buddha nature of all beings]:

“May through this virtue that has been accumulated by myself and all sentient beings in the three times and that is existent I and all sentient beings quickly attain the precious, supreme, and perfect awakening.” Thereby the root of virtue is to be dedicated.

It is very important that you practice at all times uninterruptedly in that manner, guard the precious approximation vow1, and whichever lay vows from among the four roots you are able to maintain. Accordingly, the Exalted One said: “If you do not guard at least one rule, you are not part of my retinue.” Thus, knowing that all activities are without purpose if you do not belong to the retinue of our teacher, make efforts to guard disciplined conduct! This is complete.

1 “Approximation vows” (bsnyen gnas kyi sdom pa, Skt. upavasasaṃvara) are vows where lay persons practice the first four vows of ordination, relinquish alcohol, fancy clothing, jewelry, and high seats, and also cease taking meals after noon for one day to approximate the vows of ordination.

Der “Fünffache Pfad der Mahāmudrā”, wie wir ihn heute kennen, wurde hauptsächlich von Kunga Rinchen (1475-1527) geprägt, dessen Praxishandbuch “Girlande der Mahāmudrā” von Khenchen Könchog Gyaltsen übersetzt wurde, und von Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpas Schüler Könchog Trinlé Namgyal (17. Jh.), der die mündlichen Anweisungen seines Lehrers im “Dharmakīrti Zhalung” niederschrieb. Diese Handbücher präsentieren den Fünffachen Pfad als eine vollständig ritualisierte Form der Praxis mit aufeinanderfolgenden Stufen, beginnend mit einer vorbereitenden Praxis (Ngöndro) und individuellen Ritualen für die Praxis von Bodhicitta, Yidam-Gottheit, Guru-Yoga, Mahāmudrā und Widmung.

Aber eine solche rituell strukturierte Reihe von Praktiken ist in den früheren Schriften der Linie nicht zu finden. Insbesondere in Jigten Sumgöns eigenen Gesammelten Werken wird der Fünffache Pfad viele Male erwähnt, aber nie als ritueller Pfad. Stattdessen wird der “Fünffache Pfad” als das grundlegende Prinzip aller Meditationspraktiken dargestellt: Welche Praxis man auch immer ausführt, man sollte immer (1) die Kultivierung des Entschlusses zum Erwachen (bodhicitta) vorausgehen lassen, wodurch (2) der eigene Körper als Yidam-Gottheit manifestiert wird, was die Grundlage für (3) die Praxis des Gurus im Herzen oder auf der Kroe des Kopfes ist, was wiederum in (4) der Praxis des von geistiger Aktivität freien Geistes (mahāmudrā) gipfelt. Schließlich sollten die heilsamen Wurzeln solcher Praktiken immer (5) zum Nutzen der Wesen gewidmet werden.

Es gibt auch keine feste Yidam-Gottheit für diese Praxis, obwohl in den Handbüchern Cakrasaṃvara als Hauptgottheit genannt wird. In den frühen Unterweisungen von Jigten Sumgön wird dies offen gelassen, und für den Fall, dass der Praktizierende noch keine eigene persönliche Gottheit hat, wird Avalokiteśvara als Yidam-Gottheit des Fünffachen Pfades empfohlen.

Die folgende kurze Unterweisung von Jigten Sumgön ist eine typische frühe Unterweisung zum Fünffachen Pfad. Es gibt viele solcher Unterweisungen in seinen gesammelten Werken, aber diese hier ist vielleicht die komprimierteste Darstellung.

Quintessenz der Praxis von Sūtra und Mantra: Die Wesentliche Unterweisung des Fünffachen Pfades der Mahāmudrā

Im Allgemeinen ist die sichere Ursache für das Erreichen der vollkommenen Buddhaschaft der Entschluss zu Erwachen. Gelobe daher zu jeder Zeit und auf jede Weise wie folgt den Entschluss hervorzubrigen wenn du die Wurzel der großen Wellen des Heilsamen praktizierst, wenn du irgendeine Praxis übst, und zu Beginn einer jeden Praxissitzung:

“Mögen alle meine Mütter — die fühlenden Wesen, die so grenzenlos wie der Raum sind — Glück besitzen, frei von Leiden sein und das kostbare, höchste und vollkommene Erwachen erlangen; zu diesem Zweck werde ich, bis ich die Buddhaschaft erreicht habe, Körper, Rede und Geist an das Heilsame binden; ich werde, bis ich sterbe, Körper, Rede und Geist an das Heilsame binden; und ich werde, bis zur gleichen Zeit morgen, Körper, Rede und Geist an das Heilsame binden”—wenn du das denkst, übe deinen Körper als die Gottheit, die du am meißten schätzt. Wenn du keine solche Gottheit hast, praktiziere meine geschätzte Gottheit, den Herrn des großen Mitgefühls, den edlen Avalokiteśvara, oder irgendeinen anderen mächtigen Herrn. Praktiziere den ausgezeichneten Guru in deinem Herzen. Zur Zeit des Todes praktiziere ihn auf dem Scheitel deines Kopfes, so heißt es.

Dann schaue auf dein eigenes waches und klares Gewahrsein und “nichts zu sehen zum Zeitpunkt des Betrachtens ist das Sehen der wahren Wirklichkeit.” Verweile also in diesem Zustand ohne jegliche geistige Aktivität.

Wenn dein Geist wieder beginnt, sich mit hohen und niedrigen Gedanken zu bewegen, wandele dein Gehen, Stehen, Liegen, Sitzen oder jedes andere Verhalten so um, dass es durch die Praxis zu einer ununterbrochenen heilsamen Praxis wird, die Essenz des ohne Gedanken Seins und die spontan vollendete Natur. Dann halte dies ohne Unterbrechung aufrecht.

Nachdem du die Wurzel des Heilsamen hervorgebracht oder in der meditativen Ausgeglichenheit deiner Erfahrung verweilt hast, rufe dir von Zeit zu Zeit die Wurzel des Heilsamen, das von dir und allen fühlenden Wesen in den drei Zeiten angesammelt wurde, und des Heilsamen, das [in der Buddhanatur aller Wesen] vorhanden ist, ins Gedächtnis:

“Mögen ich und alle fühlenden Wesen durch dieses Heilsame, das von mir und allen fühlenden Wesen in den drei Zeiten angesammelt worden ist und das [in der Buddhanatur der Wesen] existent ist, schnell das kostbare, höchste und vollkommene Erwachen erlangen.” So ist die Wurzel des Heilsamen zu widmen.

Es ist sehr wichtig, dass man zu allen Zeiten ununterbrochen auf diese Weise praktiziert, das kostbare Annäherungsgelübde1 bewahrt und je nach Fähigkeit eines oder mehrere der vier Wurzelgelübde aufrecht erhält. Dementsprechend sagte der Erhabene: “Wenn du nicht mindestens eine Regel bewahrst, gehörst du nicht zu meinem Gefolge.” Da ihr also wisst, dass alle Betätigungen zwecklos sind, wenn ihr nicht zum Gefolge unseres Lehrers gehört, bemüht euch, diszipliniertes Verhalten zu bewahren! Dies ist vollständig.

1 “Annäherungsgelübde” (bsnyen gnas kyi sdom pa, Skt. upavasasaṃvara), sind die Gelübde, bei denen Laien für einen Tag die ersten vier Gelübde der Ordination praktizieren, auf Alkohol, besondere Kleidung, Schmuck und hohe Sitze verzichten und auch die Einnahme von Mahlzeiten nach dem Mittag einstellen, um sich den Gelübden der Ordination anzunähern.

Collected Works of Jigten Sumgon, vol. 3, p. 67‒70.

མདོ་སྔགས་ཉམས་ལེན་གྱི་ཉིང་ཁུ་ཕྱག་ཆེན་ལྔ་ལྡན་གྱི་ཁྲིད་སྙིང་བསྡུས༎ བླ་མ་དམ་པ་རྣམས་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །སྤྱིར་རྫོགས་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐོབ་པར་བྱེད་པའི་རྒྱུ་ངེས་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་ཡིན་པས། དུས་དང་རྣམ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་དང་། རླབས་པོ་ཆེའི་དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་བྱེད་པ་དང་། ཉམས་ལེན་གང་དུ་བསྣུན་པའི་དུས་དང་བསྒོམས་པའི་ཐུན་འགོ་ལ། སེམས་བསྐྱེད་པའི་དམ་བཅའ་འདི་ལྟར་བྱ་སྟེ། མ་ནམ་མཁའ་དང་མཉམ་པའི་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་བདེ་བ་དང་ལྡན། སྡུག་བསྔལ་དང་བྲལ། བླ་ན་མེད་པ་ཡང་དག་པར་རྫོགས་པའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཐོབ་པར་བྱ། དེའི་ཆེད་དུ་སངས་མ་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་བར་དུ་ལུས་ངག་ཡིད་གསུམ་དགེ་བ་ལ་བཀོལ། མ་ཤིའི་བར་དུ་ལུས་ངག་ཡིད་གསུམ་དགེ་བ་ལ་བཀོལ། དུས་དེ་རིང་ནས་བཟུང་ནས་ཉི་མ་སང་ད་ཙམ་གྱི་བར་དུ་ལུས་ངག་ཡིད་གསུམ་དགེ་བ་ལ་བཀོལ་སྙམ་དུ་བསམས་ལ། རང་གི་ལུས་ཡི་དམ་གྱི་ལྷར་བསྒོམ། མེད་ན་ངའི་ཡི་དམ་གྱི་ལྷ། ཇོ་བོ་ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཆེན་པོ་རྗེ་བཙུན་སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་དབང་ཕྱུག་གང་ཡང་རུང་བ་ཞིག་ཏུ་བསྒོམ། བླ་མ་དམ་པ་ཐུགས་ཀར་བསྒོམ། ནམ་འཆི་བའི་དུས་སུ་ནི་སྤྱི་བོར་བསྒོམ་པ་ཡིན་གསུངས། དེ་ནས་རང་གི་རིག་པ་རིག་རིག་ཏུར་ཏུར་པོ་འདི་ལ་བལྟས་ལ། བལྟས་པའི་དུས་སུ་གང་ཡང་མ་མཐོང་བ་དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་མཐོང་བའོ་ཞེས་པས། དེའི་ངང་ལ་ཅི་ཡང་ཡིད་ལ་མི་བྱེད་པར་བཞག། རྣམ་པར་རྟོག་པ་མཐོ་དམན་གྱིས་སེམས་རྣམ་པར་གཡེངས་ན། འགྲོ་འཆག་ཉལ་འདུག་གམ། སྤྱོད་ལམ་བསྒྱུར་ནས་བསྒོམས་པས་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པའི་དགེ་སྦྱོར། རྣམ་རྟོག་མེད་པའི་ངོ་བོ། ལྷུན་གྱིས་གྲུབ་པའི་རང་བཞིན་དུ་འོང་བ་ཡིན་པས། དེ་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པར་བསྐྱང་། དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་བྱས་པའི་རྗེས་སམ། ཐུགས་དམ་ལ་མཉམ་པར་བཞག་པའི་རྗེས་ལ། སྐབས་སྐབས་སུ་བདག་དང་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱིས་དུས་གསུམ་དུ་བསགས་ཤིང་ཡོད་པའི་དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་དྲན་པར་བྱས། བདག་དང་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱིs་དུས་གསུམ་དུ་བསགས་ཤིང་ཡོད་པའི་དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་འདིས། བདག་དང་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་མྱུར་དུ་བླ་ན་མེད་པར་ཡང་དག་པར་རྫོགས་པའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཐོབ་པར་གྱུར་ཅིག་ཅེས། དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་བསྔོ་བར་བྱའོ། །དུས་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པར་ཚུལ་དེ་ལྟར་ཉམས་སུ་བླང་ཞིང་། བསྙེན་གནས་ཀྱི་སྡོམ་པ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་བསྲུང་བ་དང་། རྩ་བ་བཞི་ལས་གང་ཐུབ་ཐུབ་ཀྱི་དགེ་བསྙེན་གྱི་སྡོམ་པ་སྲུང་བ་གལ་ཆེ་སྟེ། དེ་ལྟར་ཡང་བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་ཀྱིས། ཁྲིམས་གཅིག་ཙམ་ཡང་མི་བསྲུང་ན་ངའི་འཁོར་དུ་མ་གཏོགས་སོ། །ཞེས་གསུངས་པས་སྟོན་པའི་འཁོར་དུ་མ་གཏོགས་ན་བྱས་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་དོན་མེད་པར་ཤེས་པར་བྱས་ནས། ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་བསྲུང་བ་ལ་འབད་པར་བྱའོ། །རྫོགས་སོ༎་༎

Samadhi empowerments that precede practices like that of Cakrasamvara are well-known. The name “samadhi empowerment” seems to suggest either that one’e ability to practice samadhi is empowered by this practice, or that these empowerments—instead of being bestowed by a teacher who is actually present—occur “only” within the space of one’s samadhi. Many benefits are mentioned in the texts, the most extraordinary one would be that in the best case the blessing from this samadhi is indistinguishable from an actual fourfold empowerment. Other benefits are that breaches of the pledges and corruptions of vows are healed and one’s virtuous practice increases. An important aspect of samadhi empowerment also seems to be that it enhances the perception of the guru as the Buddha.

In the “profound dharma” section of Jigten Sumgön’s teachings (zab chos), I found a brief text with instructions:♦ 1

Instructions on the samādhi empowerment

Again, the precious guru said: This samadhi empowerment is very profound! Take your yogic position on a comfortable seat, cultivate the resolve, and vividly visualize your body as the cherished deity. Imagine in that way that your principle guru dwells on a four-layered seat in the space in front of the area of the spot between the eyebrows of [the deity you] visualize. The form of his body is that of the exalted great Vajradhara. He and Vajrayogini are inseparable and enter into the union.♦ 2 They are endowed with the ornaments and garb such as the six bone ornaments. In brief, visualize vividly the guru as the body of Heruka. Then, offer once the seven limbs such as the outer, inner, secret, and true reality offerings.

After that, you supplicate three times: “Guru Mahavajradhara, grant me the empowerment!” White rays of light come forth and dissolve into the spot between your eyebrows. Imagine that thereby all veils of the body are cleared. You have received the vase empowerment. You are the essence of the body of all buddhas. Your body has the leisure of a deity. Overjoyed, think: “I have realized that.”♦ 3 Again, the guru and the consort enter into the union. From the spot between their eyebrows, bright and redish-white rays of light come forth and dissolve into your throat. Thereby the veils of speech are cleared and you have received the secret empowerment. You are the essence of the speech of all buddhas and your speech has the nature of mantra—audible and empty. Overjoyed, think: “I have realized that.”

Blue rays of light come forth from the hearts of the guru and his consort. They dissolve into your heart. Thereby the veils of the mind are cleared and you have revceived the empowerment of discriminating knowledge and primordial wisdom. You are the nature of the mind of all buddhas, the nature of mind, unarisen from the beginning, free from arising, abiding, and ceasing. Overjoyed, think: “I have realized that.”

Then, the guru Heruka with the consort turn into many-colored rays of light that dissolve into your body through the crown of your head. Thereby the impurity of holding body, speech, and mind as something different is purified. You have received the precious forth empowerment of the word. You are the essence of the primordial wisdom of the nonduality of the body, speech, and mind of all the buddhas of the three times—spontaneous sameness. Overjoyed, think: “I have realized that.”

Then, remain within that state equanimously in mahamudra. Afterwards, within that, you have to dedicate the root of virtue.

Practicing like that this samadhi empowerment as much as you can, up to 108 times a day, if the samadhi is luminous, the attainment of the [actual] four empowerments and the blessing [of this samadhi empowerment] are indistinguishable. Breaches of the pledges are automatically cleared, all corruptions are repaired, one is well, and the virtuous practice increases. Therefore, please keep this in mind and practice it!
<<end of translation – the Tibetan text is documented below the notes>>

These instructions are in the tradition of Ga Lotsawa, who is also in the transmission lineage of the Cakrasamvara empowerment that Jigten Sumgön transmitted. Ga’s method is preserved in the works of Gyalwa Yanggönpa (1213‒1258).♦ 4 Here the guru is in the form of Sahaja Cakrasamvara with Vajravarahi. The visualization of the seat and the guru is much more detailed. They are surrounded by numerous tantric deities of the father and mother tantras and of the Nyingma tantras. The offerings are also much more detailed. Before the actual empowerment, one sends out rays of light that fall upon the numerous mandalas visualized in the space. The white drop of bliss of all the male deities of these mandalas melts and dissolves into the guru as Cakrasamvara. The rays of light also fall upon the consorts of these mandalas and their red drops of bliss melt and dissolve into the guru and his consort. The essence of all mandalas is now present as this Cakrasamvara with consort.

There are not only one, but two rounds of empowerments. With the first round, one is purified through the light rays coming from the guru and the consort. With the second round, one’s body is gradually filled with nectar via the spot between the eyebrows, etc. Through that nectar one receives the actual empowerment. Finally, the guru and consort melt and dissolve into oneself and one is inseparable from the body, speech, and mind of the guru.

Through this empowerment, the text says, all transgressions and loss of pledges are healed and all veils, obstructions, and unfortunate conditions are removed. A good samadhi will arise. Even if one dwells at the dangerous places of non-humans, one cannot be harmed. All the qualities of mantra arise and increase. This practice is praised a lot in the Buddhakapala Tantra. The glorious Ga Lotsawa practiced it every night. The precios Nyö (gNyos rGyal ba lha nang pa, 1164‒1224) never broke his habbit of practicing it seven times a day. Lama Zhang (Zhang g.yu brag pa, 1123‒1193) practiced it three times at night. The disciple of Yanggönpa, who recorded this teaching, says: “I practice it every time I go to sleep and every morning. Since this is extremely important, please practice it without interruption!”

The samadhi empowerment that one finds in the works of Phagmodrupa♦ 5 is connected to the tradition of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. His teacher—here probably Sachen Künga Nyingpo—told him that it is important for great meditators (sgom chen) to have the samadhi empowerment. He tells the story of the famous translator Gö Lotsawa (‘Gos Khug-pa Lhas-btsas, 11th c.), who went to India to become a translator. He had 108 teachers, and two of them were his root gurus.  One was known for his supernatural perception and the other was very venerable. Under them, Gö Lotsawa became very learned, in particular in the Guhyasamaja Tantra. Once, he thought that there is no one as learned in the Guhyasamaja as he was. A yogi apeared, who said: “You still don’t know the meaning of the Guhyasamaja.” Gö asked him, where he could learn more. The Yogi told him to go to Nagseb and study with a very venerable teacher there. Gö went there and found in a grass hut a woman who had the color of a dove with a very beautiful body and countenance. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the venerable lady.” He offered her a mandala with some gold and requested Guhyasamaja instructions from her. However, she said that he had a problem with previous pledges and that he, therefore, did not understand the Guhyasamaja. She said: “If you practice this samadhi empowerment, you will primordially understand the Guhyasamaja.” She gave him a brief samadhi empowerment.

The visualization is very similar to that of Jigten Sumgön’s instructions. The text mentions that Gö Lotsawa practiced the samadhi empowerment for a month. He thereby mastered the meaning of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. But the text states also that “it is very important that the nature of the guru is unchangeable [in your mind]. You will not find a guru superior to him.”

At the end, it is mentioned that Gö “bestowed it on lama Sakyapa and he bestowed it on me.” The Sakyapa lama mentioned here should be Khön Könchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), the founding father of the Sakya tradition, who was known to have been a disciple of Gö Lotsawa. But it is impossible that Khön bestowed it directly on Phagmodrupa, as the latter was only just born when Khön died. As mentioned above, it is more likely that he received it from Khön’s son, Sachen Künga Nyingpo, with whom Phagmodrupa had studied intensively before he met Gampopa.

I think that it is noteworthy in all of these texts that they deal with the way of seing the guru. In Ga Lotsawa’s text, the guru receives the white and red drops of bliss of the deities of all mandalas, and he is then understood to be the essence of entirely all mandalas. In Gö’s text, it is very important to think “that the nature of the guru is unchangeable. You will not find a guru superior to him.” His female guru, who told him to practice the samadhi empowerment, had also told him that his problem with understanding the Guhyasamaja teachings was a breach of the pledges. Could it be that this breach had been that he did not see his guru as the Buddha?

In an instruction for those of highest capacity concerning the practices of luminosity and the transference of the consciousness,♦ 6 Jigten Sumgön talks about the practice of the samadhi empowerment when he says:

“Put your mind one-pointedly and without distraction on the guru being the Buddha. As long as that has not become clear, practice with much effort! When it has become clear, the dependent origination of the guru’s blessing and one’s devotion come together and thereby it is impossible that it is not clear. The mahamudra with which one has familiarized earlier becomes sevenfold and arises automatically. Like water ist poured into water and butter into butter, one proceeds in a state of mahamudra, and the primordial wisdom that is nondual with the guru’s mind and one’s own consciousness mix inseparably in mahamudra.”

1. []Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang ratna shrI’i nang gi zab chos no bu’i phreng ba, Dehra Dun: International Drikung Kagyu Council, 1217, vol. 6, no. 763.

2. []This is most probably intentionally ambiguous. The Tibeta term snyoms par ʼjug means both to enter into a mental equilibrium, which is a “union,” and to join in sexual union.

3. []This reminds us of an important aspect of meditative visualization, namely that one should not only visualize the forms and activities of the deities, but also be convinced that a result is produced thereby.

4. []’Bri gung chos mdzod chen mo, TBRC W00JW501203, vol. 48, pp. 321‒327.

5. []gSung ‘bum, TBRC W23891, vol. 7, pp. 676‒682.

6. []’Bri gung chos mdzod chen mo, vol. 10, no. 814.

Tibetan text of Jigten Sumgön’s instructions on the samadhi empowerment

༄།།ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་གྱི་དབང་བསྐུར་གྱི་གདམས་པ༎ ཡང་བླ་མ་རིན་པོ་

ཆེའི་ཞལ་ནས། ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་གྱི་དབང་བསྐུར་འདི་ཤིན་ཏུ་ཟབ་པ་ཡིན།

དེ་ཡང་སྟན་བདེ་བའི་སྟེང་དུ་འཁྲུལ་འཁོར་ལེགས་པར་བཅའ། སེམས་

བསྐྱེད་ལུས་ཡི་དམ་གྱི་ལྷར་ཝལ་གྱིས་བསྒོམ། དེ་ལྟར་སྒོམ་པའི་སྨིན་མཚམས་

ཀྱི་ཐད་སོའི་མདུན་གྱི་ནམ་མཁའ་ལ་གདན་བཞི་བརྩེགས་ཀྱི་སྟེང་དུ། རང་

གི་རྩ་བའི་བླ་མ་བཞུགས་པར་བསམ། སྐུའི་རྣམ་པ་ནི་བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་རྡོ་

རྗེ་འཆང་ཆེན་པོ། ཡུམ་རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་མ་དང་གཉིས་སུ་མེད་ཅིང་སྙོམས་

པར་ཞུགས་པ། རུས་པའི་རྒྱན་དྲུག་ལ་སོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་ཆ་ལུགས་དང་ལྡན་པ།

མདོར་ན་བླ་མ་ཧེ་རུ་ཀའི་སྐུར་ཝལ་གྱིས་བསྒོམ། དེ་ནས་ཕྱི་ནང་གསང་གསུམ་


དེའི་རྗེས་ལ་བླ་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་འཛིན་པ་ཆེན་པོས། བདག་ལ་དབང་བསྐུར་བར་མཛད་

དུ་གསོལ། ཞེས་གསོལ་བ་ལན་གསུམ་གདབ། དེ་ནས་བླ་མ་ཡབ་ཡུམ་གྱི་སྨིན་

མཚམས་ནས། འོད་ཟེར་དཀར་པོ་བྱོན་ནས་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྨིན་མཚམས་སུ་ཐིམ་

པས་ལུས་ཀྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་སངས་ཀྱིས་དག་པར་བསམ། བུམ་པའི་དབང་

ཐོབ། བདག་ཉིད་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་སྐུའི་ངོ་བོ། ལུས་ལྷའི་དལ་ཡིན་པ་

ལ། དེ་ལྟར་རྟོགས་པ་རེ་དགའ་སྙམ་དུ་བསམ། ཡང་བླ་མ་ཡབ་ཡུམ་སྙོམས་པར་

ཞུགས། སྦྱོར་མཚམས་ནས་འོད་ཟེར་དཀར་ལ་དམར་བའི་མདངས་ཆགས་པའི་

རྣམ་པར་བྱོན་ནས་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་མགྲིན་པར་ཐིམ་པས། ངག་གི་སྒྲིབ་པ་དག་

གསང་བའི་དབང་ཐོབ། བདག་ཉིད་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་གསུང་གི་ངོ་བོ་

ངག་གྲགས་སྟོང་སྔགས་ཀྱི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན་པ་ལ། དེ་ལྟར་རྟོགས་པ་དེ་རེ་

དགའ་སྙམ་དུ་བསམ། བླ་མ་ཡབ་ཡུམ་གྱི་ཐུགས་ཀ་ནས་འོད་ཟེར་སྔོན་པོ་བྱོན་

ནས་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྙིང་གར་ཐིམ་པས། ཡིད་ཀྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་དག་ཤེས་རབ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་

དབང་ཐོབ། བདག་ཉིད་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་ཐུགས་ཀྱི་རང་བཞིན་སེམས་

ཉིད་གདོད་མ་ནས་མ་སྐྱེས་པ། སྐྱེ་འགག་གནས་གསུམ་དང་བྲལ་བ་ཡིན་པ་ལ།

དེ་ལྟར་རྟོགས་པ་རེ་དགའ་སྙམ་དུ་བསམ། དེ་ནས་བླ་མ་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ་ཡབ་ཡུམ་འོད་

ཟེར་ཁ་དོག་སྣ་ཚོགས་སུ་གྱུར་ནས། རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྤྱི་བོ་ནས་ལུས་ལ་ཐིམ་པས། ལུས་


ཐོབ། བདག་ཉིད་དུས་གསུམ་གྱི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་སྐུ་གསུང་ཐུགས་གཉིས་

སུ་མེད་པའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་ངོ་བོ་མཉམ་པ་ཉིད་ལྷུན་གྱིས་གྲུབ་པ་ཡིན་པ་ལ། དེ་ལྟར་

རྟོགས་པ་རེ་དགའ་སྙམ་དུ་བསམ། དེ་ནས་དེ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ངང་དུ་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་ལྷན་

གྱིས་མཉམ་པར་བཞག་རྗེས་དེར་དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་བསྔོ་བ་བྱ། དེ་ལྟར་ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་


བླངས་ན། ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་གསལ་ན་དབང་བཞི་ཐོབ་པ་དང་བྱིན་རླབས་ཁྱད་མེད།

དམ་ཚིག་གི་འགལ་འཁྲུལ་ཆགས་ཉམས་ཐམས་ཅད་སོར་ཆུད་ནས། ཁམས་བཟང་

ཞིང་དགེ་སྦྱོར་འཕེལ་བ་ལགས་པས། དེ་ལྟར་ཐུགས་ལ་བཞག་ནས་ཉམས་སུ་ལེན་

པར་ཞུ་གསུངས༎ ༎


by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon

I pay homage to the excellent gurus!

This mahāmudrā of the great master Saraha has four topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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?//