Gampopa, who lived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was the organizer of the Kagyü order of Tibetan Buddhism.


Gampopa, who lived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was the organizer of the Kagyü order of Tibetan Buddhism.

1 Item

Set Ascending Direction
per page

1 Item

Set Ascending Direction
per page


Gampopa: A Guide for Readers

Gampopa: A Guide for Readers


Gampopa, by Chris Banigan from The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra

Indestructible truth
Paperback | Ebook 

$34.95 - Paperback

The following short biography of Gampopa is adapted from Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism:

In terms of the institutional continuity of the Kagyu¨ lineage, Gampopa was Milarepa’s most influential disciple. He was born in 1079 in the region of Takpo and is hence also known as Takpo Lhaje (the Doctor from Takpo). His biography tells us that, as a young man, he marries and has one child. However, while he is still in his mid-twenties, a plague sweeps through the region, and both his wife and child die. Disconsolate, with a new and vivid understanding of death, he realizes that seeking ordinary happiness in the world makes no sense and is doomed to failure. From this realization comes his decision, at the age of twenty-five, to renounce the world and enter monastic life.

Gampopa enters the Kadam tradition of Atisha and pursues a life defined by following the monastic Vinaya, studying the main scholarly traditions of Buddhism, and practicing meditation. His support is provided by some land that he continues to own. One spring, he has entered retreat in a hut built near the monastery. On a certain day, having come out of retreat and walking in the monastic grounds, he hears three beggars talking. The first expresses a desire for plentiful food and drink, while the second says he would like to be a king like Tsede of Tibet.

The third, however, comments, "Even Tsede will one day die, so his happiness is not lasting. As long as you are going to wish, wish to become a great yogin like Milarepa who needs no clothing or human food. He is fed nectar by the Dakinis, rides atop a white snow lion, and flies in the sky. Now that would be truly wondrous."

"Merely by hearing the name of Milarepa the hair of Gampopa’s body stood on end, tears came to his eyes and a special devotion, unlike he had ever felt before, emerged in his mind." Initially, his upsurge of feeling paralyzes him, and he is unable to move. When he eventually returns to his retreat hut, he is unable to meditate but keeps thinking constantly and obsessively about Milarepa. He returns to the monastery, locates the three beggars, and questions them about the person, the teachings, and the location of Milarepa. They direct him to a mountainous region in western Tibet where Milarepa is in retreat. Selling his land for four ounces of gold, Gampopa sets off to find his master.

At this point in Indestructible Truth, the meeting between Gampopa and Milarepa is recounted by Kalu Rinpoche.   It then continues:

Gampopa’s path included the strict disciplinary and scholarly training of the monk as well as the meditation of the yogin in solitary retreat. In his person and in the teachings he gave, Gampopa expressed the integrated combination of these two strands, something that was unusual in Tibet at that time. This integration is laid out in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation, a work on the stages of the path that has enjoyed great fame throughout Tibetan Buddhist history and is still popular today. It was Gampopa’s mission to institutionalize this integration of his Kadam and Kagyu¨ training. In fulfillment of this, he built a monastery and ordained his main disciples. According to his biography, almost all of his primary disciples were ordained monks, following the Vinaya.

Essential Texts by and about Gampopa

Life of Gampopa
Paperback | Ebook 

$19.95 - Paperback

The Life of Gampopa, Second Edition

By Jampa Mackenzie Stewart, illustrated by Eva Van Dam, introduction by Lobsang Lhalungpa

Here is the first complete life story of Gampopa, foremost disciple of Milarepa and a forefather of the Kagyu lineages. Compiled from numerous Tibetan biographies, this comprehensive and inspiring rendition highlights the extraordinary details of Gampopa's meditative experiences and presents direct insights into the practice and realization of Mahamudra. Includes a history of the Kagyu and an essay on Mahamudra.

A history of the Kagyu order by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa augments Gampopa's biography, illustrating this revered teacher's central role in the development of the Tibetan
Kagyu lineages. A concluding essay on Mahamudra introduces Vajrayana Buddhism to beginners, while simultaneously supporting advanced practitioners with fresh insights.

Jewel Ornament of Liberation

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Tibetan: དམ་ཆོས་ཡིད་བཞིན་གྱི་ནོར་བུ་ཐར་པ་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་རྒྱན, Wylie: dam chos yid bzhin nor bu thar) is Gampopa's most famous text.  As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says in his forewrod to the translation below:

This text is an excellent work that reflects the blending of two systems of teaching-the Kadampa tradition and the Mahamudra tradition. Gampopa received complete transmissions of Jowo Je' s Lamrim tradition and Naropa' s Mahamudra tradition. This text is therefore a Lamrim text and reflects the Madhyamika philosophical view, but it also implicitly reflects the teachings of Annuttarayoga Tantra and Mahamudra. Mahamudra is not explained explicitly, however, as this is a sutric text and Mahamudra deals with the secret teachings of tantra.

Paperback | Ebook 

$34.95 - Paperback

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-Fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings

By Gampopa, Translated by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche
Foreword by H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

A masterwork of Tibetan Buddhism—providing the complete foundation for study and practice—from beginning to Buddhahood. Includes teachings on Buddha-nature, finding the spiritual master, impermanence, karma, cultivation of bodhicitta, development of the six perfections, the ten bodhisattva bhumis, Buddhahood, and the activities of the Buddha.

Path to Buddhahood
Paperback | Ebook 

$22.95 - Paperback

Path to Buddhahood: Teachings on Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation

By Ringu Tulku

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is regarded by all Tibetan Buddhist schools as one of the most inspiring and comprehensive works of the tradition. Written by Gampopa (born 1079 CE), the main spiritual son of the great hermit Milarepa, this important text lays out the stages of the Buddhist path and explains how an enlightened attitude is strengthened by practicing the six perfections of generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and knowledge.

For the first time, this sometimes difficult text is made accessible to Western readers in a clear and engaging commentary. Tibetan teacher Ringu Tulku explores this classic work of Buddhist practice and philosophy with the playful and fresh style that has made him so popular among students of Buddhism. Using folksy examples and anecdotes, he brings this text to life, discussing topics such as:

  • seeing through the illusions that cause us to suffer
  • advice on acting with kindness, generosity, and patience
  • instructions on how to put others first
  • guidance for attaining peace and lasting compassion
Confusion Arises as Wisdom image
Paperback | Ebook 

$22.95 - Paperback

Confusion Arises as Wisdom: Gampopa's Heart Advice on the Path of Mahamudra

By Gampopa and Ringu Tulku

How could confusion arise as wisdom? According to the Mahamudra view, confusion arises as wisdom when we realize that everything we experience is the radiance of the mind’s own nature. And what is the nature of our mind? And how do we come to recognize that? These are the questions Gampopa answers for his students in the text commented upon here, known as the Great Community Talks. He shows them—and now us—the path of deep understanding and meditation that leads to the realization of Mahamudra, the “Great Seal” of the true nature of reality.

This book contains a few general instructions on Mahayana topics, most of the instructions are on Mahamudra meditation and the Vajrayana view and practice.

Chapter 1 opens the book in a traditional way by giving the lineage history of these teachings and some background on Gampopa’s life.

Chapter 2 is a detailed discussion of the importance of devotion. The way devotion is described in seven categories is stylistically reminiscent of Gampopa’s most influential book, the Jewel Ornament of Liberation.

Chapter 3 tells a short story about a monk who was able to talk directly with Chenrezik, the bodhisattva of compassion, and ask him questions on behalf of Atisha Dipankara, the founder of the Kadampa lineage.

Chapter 4 is Gampopa’s own explanation of what is popularly known as the Four Dharmas of Gampopa. This way of explaining the Four Dharmas is somewhat unusual, and the last section of this chapter forms a bridge with the upcoming Vajrayana teachings by introducing coemergent wisdom, a key term in Mahamudra.

The next three chapters discuss Mahamudra in more detail from different angles: chapter 5 is on applying coemergent wisdom to our experience, including some very practical advice on bringing negativity onto the path; chapter 6 is a pointing-out instruction on the nature of the mind; and chapter 7 discusses the meaning of Mahamudra in terms of experience and realization. Later in the book, chapters 9 and 12 also focus on Mahamudra: chapter 9 is on stabilizing recognition of the nature of the mind, and chapter 12 discusses the great significance of knowing tamel gyi shepa, the ordinary mind.

Chapter 8 is a detailed explanation of creation stage practice, or deity yoga, and emphasizes the way it transforms our perception of ourselves and our world. Chapter 10 discusses how to tell if a spiritual teacher is genuine or not, and chapters 11 and 13 examine the Vajrayana view, meditation, action, and result from two very different perspectives. Chapter 14 is a pithy explanation of right and wrong motivation when listening to dharma teachings. Chapter 15, “Pitfalls in Experience and Deviations from the View,” points out some typical mistakes people make in practicing meditation and understanding emptiness. Chapter 16 highlights the illusory, dreamlike nature of bodhichitta as the inseparability of compassion and wisdom.

Chapter 17 is Gampopa’s heart advice to students doing long retreats. One can imagine Gampopa talking to a small group of dedicated practitioners, giving them very personal and pointed advice about what they must do to reach liberation. The final chapter, chapter 18, lists ten ways that students would ideally serve their teachers. The commentary is followed by an appendix, which contains the entire translation of the root text without commentary.

Moonbeams of Mahamudra
Hardcover | Ebook 

$59.95 - Hardcover

Moonbeams of Mahamudra

By Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, translated and introduced by Elizabeth M. Callahan

This classic Buddhist work, written in the sixteenth century, comprehensively presents the entire scope of the Tibetan Kagyu Mahāmudrā tradition. These profound yet accessible instructions focus on becoming familiar with the nature of one’s mind as the primary means to realize ultimate reality and thus attain buddhahood. Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s manual for the view and practice of Mahāmudrā is widely considered the single most important work on the subject, systematically introducing the view and associated meditation techniques in a progressive manner.

Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā, along with the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance, are to this day some of the most studied texts on Mahāmudrā in the Kagyu monasteries throughout Tibet and the Himalayas. Elizabeth M. Callahan, a renowned translator of classical Kagyu literature, has provided new translations of these two texts along with ancillary materials and annotations, making this a genuine resource for both scholars and students of Tibetan Buddhism. This historic contribution therefore offers the necessary tools to properly study and apply the Mahāmudrā teachings in a modern context.

Gampopa is central to this work and appears many hundreds of time throughout.  Here is an example:

Gampopa taught somewhat differently from his Kadam teachers and Milarepa. Marpa and Milarepa guided their students to the realization of mahāmudrā by first teaching them caṇḍālī and then mahāmudrā. Once their students had experienced the wisdom of caṇḍālī, the force of that brought forth the realization of mahāmudrā. While Gampopa did teach the same Vajrayāna path of method to certain disciples, he also taught other students mahāmudrā as a path distinct from the Mantra path and its methodology.

More Books Featuring Naropa

Great Kagyu
Paperback | Ebook 

$27.95 - Paperback

The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury

Compiled by Dorje Dze Öd, translated by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

The Golden Lineage Treasury was compiled by Dorje Dze Öd a great master of the Drikung lineage active in the Mount Kailasjh region of Western Tibet.  This text of the Kagyu tradition profiles and the forefathers of the tradition including Vajradhara, the Buddha, Tilopa, Naropa, the Four Great Dharma Kings of Tibet, Marpa, Milarepa, Atisha, Gampopa, Phagmodrupa, Jigten Sumgon, and more.

The chapter on Gampopa is  19 pages long.

Hardcover | Ebook 

$49.95 - Hardcover

Marpa Kagyu, Part One - Methods of Liberation: Essential Teachings of the Eight Practice Lineages of Tibet, Volume 7

The Treasury of Precious Instructions

By Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye

The seventh volume of the series, Marpa Kagyu, is the first of four volumes that present a selection of core instructions from the Marpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. This lineage is named for the eleventh-century Tibetan Marpa Chokyi Lodrö of Lhodrak who traveled to India to study the sutras and tantras with many scholar-siddhas, the foremost being Naropa and Maitripa. The first part of this volume contains source texts on mahamudra and the six dharmas by such famous masters as Saraha and Tilopa. The second part begins with a collection of sadhanas and abhisekas related to the Root Cakrasamvara Aural Transmissions, which are the means for maturing, or empowering, students. It is followed by the liberating instructions, first from the Rechung Aural Transmission. This section on instructions continues in the following three Marpa Kagyu volumes. Also included are lineage charts and detailed notes by translator Elizabeth M. Callahan.

The piece by Gampopa in this volume includes Mahāmudrā: Path of a Single Stride.  From Callahan's introduction to the piece:

This work is not included in Gampopa’s Collected Works [in Tibetan] and nothing seems to be known of its provenance other than that its colophon says that Gampopa transmitted it to Dusum Khyenpa. This text, in a few words, describes, as its title says, “the path of a single stride,” a phrase often used in mahāmudrā texts to refer to the ever-present, indivisible quality of mahāmudrā, the nature of mind. Dakpo Tashi Namgyal explains:

Mahāmudrā, the essence of dharmatā, is a path of a single stride.
Since dharmatā cannot be divided in terms of its essence, it is said
that on the level of the definitive meaning, it is not possible to
delineate the stages of bhūmis and paths.

when clouds part
Hardcover | Ebook 

$49.95 - Hardcover

When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sutra and Tantra

Translated by Karl Brunnhölzl

This book discusses a wide range of topics connected with the notion of buddha nature as presented in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and includes an overview of the sūtra sources of the tathāgatagarbha teachings and the different ways of explaining the meaning of this term. It includes new translations of the Maitreya treatise Mahāyānottaratantra (Ratnagotravibhāga), the primary Indian text on the subject, its Indian commentaries, and two (hitherto untranslated) commentaries from the Tibetan Kagyü tradition.

There is a chapter entitled "Gampopa’s Mahāmudrā and the Uttaratantra", but he appears in a couple hundred places throughout the book related to how his teachings connect to the teachings on Buddha Nature from the Uttaratantra.

Hardcover | Ebook 

$24.95 - Hardcover

The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra: Teachings, Poems, and Songs of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage

Translated by Gerardo Abboud, Sean Price, and Adam Kane

The Drukpa Kagyu lineage is renowned among the traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism for producing some of the greatest yogis from across the Himalayas. After spending many years in mountain retreats, these meditation masters displayed miraculous signs of spiritual accomplishment that have inspired generations of Buddhist practitioners. The teachings found here are sources of inspiration for any student wishing to genuinely connect with this tradition.

These translations include Mahamudra advice and songs of realization from major Tibetan Buddhist figures such as Gampopa, Tsangpa Gyare, Drukpa Kunleg, and Pema Karpo, as well as modern Drukpa masters such as Togden Shakya Shri and Adeu Rinpoche. This collection of direct pith instructions and meditation advice also includes an overview of the tradition by Tsoknyi Rinpoche.

The second chapter, on Gampopa, is a translation of the The Single Sufficient Path of Mahamudra, which has three sections:

  1. resolving the natural state
  2. pointing out the nature of things
  3. training in suchness as the path.

Combined with guidance from a qualified teacher, these teachings offer techniques for resting in the naturally pure and luminous state of our minds. As these masters make clear, through stabilizing the meditative experiences of bliss, clarity, and nonthought, we will be liberated from suffering in this very life and will therefore be able to benefit countless beings.

Translator on Gerardo Abboud on The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra


Gampopa, from the Buddhist Art Coloring Book 2

$21.95 - Paperback

Additional Resources on Tilopa

Lotsawa House hosts at least five works by Gampopa as well as several where he features.  lotswa house

BDRC has a set of associated works related to Gampopa

Continue Reading >>

Buddha Nature: A Reader’s Guide

In the eleventh century, the great Tibetan scholar-practitioner Gampopa (1079–1153) began his composition known as The Jewel Ornament of Liberation with an exposition on the cause for awakening. What is the cause for awakening? In the Vajrayana and third turning traditions of Buddhism it is buddha nature. Buddha nature is our innate potential for awakening and the root of many Buddhist paths. Zen, Yogacara, and all Tibetan traditions of Buddhism teach that the goal of enlightenment is not some distant aspiration but is accessible in the immediate present.

Historically, the source of the buddha nature teachings can be traced back to the third turning of the Buddha’s teachings, with textual sources dating back to the 3rd and 4th century C.E.  and the Indian Yogācāra tradition. This tradition follows the tenet systems laid out by the Indian masters Vasubandhu (4th–5th century) and Asaṅga (fourth century). Their writings that continue to inspire throughout the ages include the Thirty Verses, the Twenty Verses, the Treatise on the Three Natures, and the Demonstration of Action by Vasubandhu as well as other scriptures on the storehouse consciousness, buddha nature, and the perfect luminosity of the union of appearances and emptiness that were written by his contemporaries and commentators, Asaṅga, Dharmakīrti (seventh century), and Dignāga (480–540). These foundational individuals have inspired an astoundingly profound line of philosophers and commentators in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and their developments permeate most all other Mahāyāna centers of Buddhist practice and philosophy.

There are now many literary works that explore the topic of buddha nature, provoking the realization of enlightenment and making that realization relatable to the very essence of our lives. In one’s relationship to the spiritual path, it is important to have a sense of our potential and our innate capability to grow and progress. It is this innate strength that is reflected in the Buddha and his commentators’ teachings on our perfect buddha nature. Enjoy this wonderful lion’s roar that echoes throughout the many publications featured below.

Masters of the Yogacara Tradition

The two most prominent figures from the Indian Buddhist tradition are Asanga and Maitreya. The tradition tells that Asanga meditated in a cave for 12 years until finally Maitreya appeared to him and brought him to Tushita heaven where he received the Five Treatises of Maitreya. The Five Treatise explain the profound meaning of emptiness and luminous nature. They include:

  • The Ornament of Clear Realization
  • The Oranment of the Mahayana Sutras
  • Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes
  • Distinguishing Dharma and Dharmata
  • The Sublime Continuum

Asang's teaching on the foundation of our spiritual potency shows that there is nothing substantial to our limitations—our true state of being is never dampened by the adventitious pains clouding our experiences. It can be both inspiring, intimidating, and even shocking when first encountering the language used to express buddha nature. Especially if you are used to the common Buddhist philosophies regarding impermanence, selflessness, and suffering, the position of the third turning teachings can be jarring in its emphasis on the positive expressions of the ultimate—the descriptive qualities of the luminosity of mind.

For example, in The Uttaratantrashastra Asaṅga wrote these traditional examples that capture the brilliance and purity of our essential buddha nature,

Like a lake filled with unpolluted water gradually overspread by lotus flowers,

Like the full moon released from Rahu’s mouth and the sun liberated from a sea of clouds,

It is free from affliction. Being free from pollution and possessing qualities,

[buddhahood] is endowed with the brilliant light rays [of correct and complete vision].

-From Buddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs

All sentient beings, without exception, have buddha nature—the inherent purity and perfection of the mind, untouched by changing mental states. Thus there is neither any reason for conceit nor self-contempt. This is obscured by veils that are removable and do not touch the inherent purity and perfection of the nature of the mind. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, one of the “Five Treatises” said to have been dictated to Asanga by the Bodhisattva Maitreya, presents the Buddha’s definitive teachings on how we should understand this ground of enlightenment and clarifies the nature and qualities of buddhahood. This seminal text details with great clarity the view that forms the basis for Vajrayana, and especially Mahamudra, practice.

Read More

A monumental work and Indian Buddhist classic, the Ornament of the Mahāyāna Sūtras (Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra) is a precious resource for students wishing to study in-depth the philosophy and path of Mahāyāna Buddhism. This full translation and commentary outlines the importance of Mahāyāna, the centrality of bodhicitta or the mind of awakening, the path of becoming a bodhisattva, and how one can save beings from suffering through skillful means.

This definitive composition of Mahāyāna teachings was imparted in the fourth century by Maitreya to the famous adept Asanga, one of the most prolific writers of Buddhist treatises in history. Asanga’s work, which is among the famous Five Treatises of Maitreya, has been studied, commented upon, and taught by Buddhists throughout Asia ever since it was composed.

Read More

The Buddhist masterpiece Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras, often referred to by its Sanskrit title, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, is part of a collection known as the Five Maitreya Teachings, a set of philosophical works that have become classics of the Indian Buddhist tradition. Maitreya, the Buddha’s regent, is held to have entrusted these profound and vast instructions to the master Asaṅga in the heavenly realm of Tuṣita.

The Ornament provides a comprehensive description of the bodhisattva’s view, meditation, and enlightened activities. Bodhisattvas are beings who, out of vast love for all sentient beings, have dedicated themselves to the task of becoming fully awakened buddhas, capable of helping all beings in innumerable and vast ways to become enlightened themselves. To fully awaken requires practicing great generosity, patience, energy, discipline, concentration, and wisdom, and Maitreya’s text explains what these enlightened qualities are and how to develop them.

Read More

Middle Beyond Extremes contains a translation of the Buddhist masterpiece Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes. This famed text, often referred to by its Sanskrit title, Madhyantavibhaga, is part of a collection known as the Five Maitreya Teachings. Maitreya is held to have entrusted these profound and vast instructions to the master Asanga in the heavenly realm of Tusita.

Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes employs the principle of the three natures to explain the way things seem to be as well as the way they actually are. It is presented here alongside commentaries by two outstanding masters of Tibet’s nonsectarian Rimé movement, Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham.

Read More

The Buddhist masterpiece Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature, often referred to by its Sanskrit title, Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅga, is part of a collection known as the Five Maitreya Teachings, a set of philosophical works that have become classics of the Indian Buddhist tradition. Maitreya, the Buddha’s regent, is held to have entrusted these profound and vast instructions to the master Asaṅga in the heavenly realm of Tuṣita. Outlining the difference between appearance and reality, this work shows that the path to awakening involves leaving behind the inaccurate and limiting beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us and opening ourselves to the limitless potential of our true nature.

Read More

Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being was composed by Maitreya during the golden age of Indian Buddhism. Mipham's commentary supports Maitreya's text in a detailed analysis of how ordinary, confused consciousness can be transformed into wisdom. Easy-to-follow instructions guide the reader through the profound meditation that gradually brings about this transformation. This important and comprehensive work belongs on the bookshelf of any serious Buddhist practitioner—and indeed of anyone interested in realizing their full potential as a human being.

Read More

A Compendium of the Mahayana

$150.00 - Hardcover

By: Karl Brunnholzl & Asanga

A Compendium of the Mahayana

The Mahāyānasaṃgraha, published here with its Indian and Tibetan commentaries in three volumes, presents virtually everything anybody might want to know about the Yogācāra School of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It discusses in detail the nature and operation of the eight kinds of consciousness, the often-misunderstood notion of “mind only” (cittamātra), dependent origination, the cultivation of the path and its fruition in terms of the four wisdoms, and the three bodies (kāyas) of a buddha.

Volume 1 presents the translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha along with a commentary by Vasubandhu. The introduction gives an overview of the text and its Indian and Tibetan commentaries, and explains in detail two crucial elements of the Yogācāra view: the ālaya-consciousness and the afflicted mind (klistamanas).

Volume 2 presents translations of the commentary by Asvabhāva and an anonymous Indian commentary on the first chapter of the text. These translations are supplemented in the endnotes by excerpts from Tibetan commentaries and related passages in other Indian and Chinese Yogācāra works.

Volume 3 includes appendices with excerpts from other Indian and Chinese Yogācāra texts and supplementary materials on major Yogācāra topics in the Mahāyānasaṃgraha.

When the Clouds Part

$49.95 - Hardcover

By: Karl Brunnholzl & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Maitreya

When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra

Including an insightful exploration in the translators introduction of the meditative tradition that uses Maitreya’s Mahāyānottaratantra as the basis for Mahāmudra instruction and the Shentong approach to understanding emptiness, this book discusses a wide range of topics connected with the notion of buddha nature as presented in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Included within is an overview of the sūtra sources of the tathāgatagarbha teachings and the different ways of explaining the meaning of this term, as well as new translations of the Maitreya treatise Mahāyānottaratantra (Ratnagotravibhāga) and its Indian and Tibetan commentaries.

Buddha Nature and the Zen Tradition

Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Living beings all are buddha nature.

The Tathagata is continuously abiding and not subject to change.”

Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra


Buddha statue in Hill of Buddha at Makomanai Takino, Japan

There is an impressive lineage of Zen writers that that have commented on the buddha nature teachings. Dōgen (1200–1253), whose instructional lectures were collected in his Shōbōgenzo, is one such Japanese thinker and practitioner whose writings on buddha nature have been published in numerous volumes. For example, Dōgen made the controversial and insightful decision to translate the above passage from the Chinese edition of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra as, “Living beings all are buddha nature.” Many other translations simply state that all beings have Buddha nature.  Take a peek at the unique perspective Dōgen provides on buddha nature in his commentary on the above passage from the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra found in his Treasury of the True Dharma Eye,

Know that the are of all are buddha nature is beyond are and are not. All are are the buddha words, the buddha tongue. They are the eyeball of buddha ancestors and the nostrils of patched-robed monks. The words all are are not limited to embryonic beings, original beings, inconceivable beings, or any other kind of beings. Furthermore, they do not mean causal beings or imaginary beings. All are are free from mind, object, essence, or aspects. This being so, the body, mind, and environs of Living beings all are [buddha nature] are not limited to the increasing power of action, imaginary causation, things as they are, or the practice realization of miraculous powers.

Such excerpts serve to guide readers toward a more complete understanding of the unique position Dōgen takes when addressing buddha nature. In the remainder of the chapter, difficult points are introduced in relation to this topic such as: the scope of buddha nature and its interconnectedness to living and inanimate beings, buddha nature and the importance of paradox and kōan practice, and narratives that colorfully illustrate Dōgen’s own journey of realization. His commentaries are included in various titles by Shambhala Publications such as the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, Zen Enlightenment, Rational Zen, and The Essential Dōgen.

Works on Buddha Nature from the Zen Traditions

A presentation of Zen Buddhism in old Korea, this book is a window to the teachings of the fourteenth-century Zen master known as T’aego. Enjoy this translation of a direct and authentic account of Korean Zen Buddhism.

Read More

Enlightenment Unfolds

$24.95 - Paperback

By: Zen Master Dogen & Kazuaki Tanahashi

Enlightenment Unfolds is a sequel to Kaz Tanahashi's previous collection, Moon in a Dewdrop, which has become a primary source on Dogen for Western Zen students. Enlightenment Unfolds presents even more of the incisive and inspiring writings of this seminal figure, focusing on essays from his great life work, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, as well as poems, talks, and correspondence, much of which appears here in English for the first time. Read More

Minding Mind

$21.95 - Paperback

By: Thomas Cleary & Zen Master Dogen

In this collection of essays on Buddhist meditation, a variety of the traditions represented by teachers from China, Japan, and Korea, present the depth of “pure, clear meditation.” Zazen, as it is known in the Zen traditions, aims to capture the essence of traditional Buddhist meditation, and it is concisely presented here through various teacher’s perspectives.

Read More

Only Don't Know

$27.95 - Paperback

By: Hyon Gak & Zen Master Seung Sahn

Taken from personal correspondences he would have with his student, this book presents Zen Master Seung Sahn from the perspective of his most intimate teachings. Seung Sahn received hundreds of letters per month, and some of the best are included here with his personal and enlightened responses to issues surrounding work, relationships, suffering, and the teacher-student relationship.

Read More

Rational Zen

$24.95 - Paperback

By: Thomas Cleary & Zen Master Dogen

Zen has often been portrayed as being illogical and mystifying, even aimed at the destruction of the rational intellect. These new translations of the thirteenth-century Zen master Dōgen—one of most original and important Zen writers—illustrate the rational side of Zen, which has been obscured through the centuries, tainting people's understanding of it.

Read More

The Five Houses of Zen

$24.95 - Paperback

By: Thomas Cleary

The Zen tradition has created a huge body of writings, and the writings associated with the so-called Five Houses of Zen are widely considered to be foremost in importance. These Five Houses were not schools of Zen but were styles of teaching represented by the most outstanding masters in Zen history. Many of the writings of these great masters are translated here for the first time.

Read More

The Compass of Zen

This book is a simple, exhaustive—and often hilarious—presentation of the essence of Zen by Master Seung Sahn, a modern Zen Master of considerable renown. In his many years of teaching throughout the world Master Sahn has become known for his ability to cut to the heart of Buddhist teaching in a way that is strikingly clear, yet free of esoteric and academic language. In this book, he presents the basic teachings of Buddhism and Zen in a way that is wonderfully accessible for beginners—yet rich with stories, insights, and personal experiences that will also benefit long-time students of meditation.

Read More

Zen Enlightenment

$24.95 - Paperback

By: Heinrich Dumoulin

Within Zen Enlightenment the renowned scholar Heinrich Dumoulin traces the development of Zen and the concept of enlightenment from its origins in India through its development in China to its fruition in Japan. With a special emphasis on the historical path Zen has followed, the development of koan practice, and the Japanese Zen master Dōgen, Heinrich presents in a fresh way the enlightenment experiences of a variety of contemporary Zen practitioners.

Read More

Below, Paula Arai, author of Painting Enlightenment, reads an original poem to accompany the painting, “Do Ants Have Buddha-Nature?”, by Iwasaki Tsuneo. Painting Enlightenment is a beautiful exposition on a collection of paintings by Tsuneo illustrating the profound meaning of the Heart Sutra.

Buddha Nature and Tibetan Buddhism

Since the perfect buddhakaya radiates,
Since suchness is undifferentiable,
And because of the disposition,
All beings always possess the buddha heart.

When the Clouds Part (Uttaratantrashastra)

translated by Karl Brunnhölzl

Maitreya Buddha statue in Thiksey monastery temple. Leh-Ladakh, India

Although many of the great Tibetan Buddhist scholars and practitioners share the same root lineage, the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism eventually developed subtle philosophical differences with respect to buddha nature. There are many ways that the Tibetan traditions developed to systematically teach about buddha nature. For example, the highly systematized Tibetan traditions held unique philosophical positions regarding the usefulness of conceptual activity, sūtrayāna and mantrayāna supports, and rangtong (“empty of self”) and shentong (“empty of other”) approaches to buddha nature.

The differences in views on buddha nature in Tibetan Buddhism—Gampopa’s teachings on mahāmudrā, the emptiness-centered Gelug presentation, the Jonang ‘empty of other’ presentation by Venerable Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361), and the Nyingma position on Buddha-nature, help encapsulate the subtleties of the buddha nature teachings passed down through Tibetan Buddhism’s lineage of wisdom. The dialogue the ensues between these various viewpoints has led to the rich heritage of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, preserving the highest and most subtle points of the Buddha’s teachings.

In Gampopa’s chapter on Buddha nature mentioned above, he quotes from Maitreya’s Ornament for the Mahāyāna (mdo sde rgyan),

Suchness, in all places is without distinction, but when it is refined, it is called “Buddhahood”. Therefore, it is that with which all beings are endowed.

If you ask for a reason that all beings can be shown to have Buddha-nature, these are the reasons: The dharmakāya, being emptiness, pervades all beings; suchness is indivisible; and it exists in the heritage of all sentient beings. Therefore, because of these three reasons, sentient beings possess Buddha-nature.

Works on Buddha Nature From the Kagyu Tradition

Known for his mastery of teachings across sectarian lines, his treatises on medicine and astrology, and his work as spiritual advisor to the last Yuan emperor of China, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339) is considered one of the most important and influential figures in Tibetan Buddhist history. First recognized as a tulku, or reincarnated Buddhist master, at the age of five, Rangjung Dorje became a major Kagyu lineage holder and instituted the Tibetan system of reincarnation-based inheritance that led to the formation of important lineages of tulkus such as the Dalai Lamas.

Read More

Nāgārjuna's works sit at the heart of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought and practice, but he was renowned in Asia not only for his Madhyamaka work, but also his poetic collection of praises, most famously In Praise of Dharmadhatu. This book explores the scope, contents, and significance of Nāgārjuna’s scriptural legacy in India and Tibet, focusing primarily on this seminal work. The translation of Nāgārjuna’s hymn to buddha nature—here called dharmadhatu—shows how buddha nature is temporarily obscured in the experience of ordinary sentient beings, gradually uncovered through the path of bodhisattvas, and finally revealed in full bloom as buddhahood. Included is a translation of the text’s earliest and most extensive commentary by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), supplemented by relevant excerpts from all other available commentaries.

Read More

Luminous Heart

$32.95 - Paperback

By: Karl Brunnholzl & The Third Karmapa

Synthesizing Yogacara Madhyamaka and the classical teachings on buddha nature, this superb collection of writings on buddha nature by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339) focuses on the transition from ordinary deluded consciousness to enlightened wisdom, the characteristics of buddhahood, and a buddha's enlightened activity.  Rangjung Dorje not only shows that these teachings do not contradict each other but also that they supplement each other and share the same essential points in terms of the ultimate nature of mind and all phenomena. For those practicing the sūtrayāna and the vajrayāna in the Kagyu tradition, what these texts describe can be transformed into living experience.

Read More

On Buddha Essence: A Commentary on Rangjung Dorje's Treatise

by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, human beings' true nature, or buddha essence, is the foundation from which all wisdom develops. In order to discover our buddha essence, the meditator needs to know how to meditate correctly and must properly understand the reasons for practicing meditation. Khenchen Thrangu—with clarity, warmth, and humor— explains buddha essence and how to discover it in ourselves by drawing on a classical text of the Kagyu lineage by Rangjung Dorje (the third Karmapa).

The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Six, Part Three: Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Tayé

Translated by Elizabeth M. Callahan

Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy presents a study of the themes and subtle philosophies developed over thousands of years of Buddhist composition. Written by the leading Tibetan scholar of the nineteenth century, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Tayé, this work provides a brilliant overview of the development of Buddhism’s three vehicles and four philosophical systems.

Featured Online Course: Glimpses of Mahamudra

Glimpses of Mahamudra The Tantric Teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Taught by Judith L. Lief

Mahamudra is a meditation tradition within tantric Buddhism that points to the nature of awareness itself, elevating our ordinary perception to the level of the sacred. In this view, all experiences arise from a mind that is naturally vast, empty, and luminous. In this online course, esteemed Buddhist teacher and editor Judith Lief takes us on a journey through the mahamudra teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as presented in his Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma.

Using video recorded during a nine-day retreat, we’ll begin with a deep dive into shamatha-vipashyana meditation—the practice that builds our capacity for experiencing reality directly and completely. We’ll study the hinayana and mahayana—the foundational teachings of the Buddhist path that give us the tools to cultivate gentleness, wisdom, and compassion. We’ll discuss the importance of the heart-opening quality of devotion and the student-teacher relationship in entering the vajrayana. Finally, Lief will guide us in a series of practices and contemplations to glimpse the inherent, sky-like nature of the mind as clear, brilliant, and joyful.

Nyingma Texts that Emphasize Buddha Nature

The Precious Treasury of the Fundamental Nature

By Longchenpa
By Khangsar Tenpa'i Wangchuk
Translated by Padmakara Translation Group

Modern scholar and Nyingma master Khangsar Tenpa’i Wangchuk composed this first and only commentary on the fourteenth-century Buddhist master Longchenpa’s essential text, The Precious Treasury of the Fundamental Nature. The root text establishes the definitive view of the secret class of pith instructions of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. Tenpa’i Wangchuk’s word-commentary elucidates the nature of phenomena adhering closely to the internal structure of Longchenpa’s verses, clearly presenting the four vajra principles of the nature of phenomena: nonexistence, evenness, spontaneous presence, and single nature.

The Padmakara Translation Group has provided a clear and fluid new translation of Longchenpa’s root text. The commentary by Khangsar Tenpa’i Wangchuk is here translated for the first time, commencing an extended project to render his entire collected works in English. This is an invaluable resource for students of Buddhism who wish to deepen their understanding of the nature of mind and phenomena as presented in the Great Perfection tradition.

Longchenpa's Trilogy of Rest

Longchenpa’s classic Buddhist manual for attaining liberation teaches us how to familiarize ourselves with our most basic nature—the clear, pristine, and aware mind. Written in the fourteenth century, this text is the first volume of Longchenpa’s Trilogy of Rest, a work of the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition.

Finding Rest in the Nature of Mind, Volume I is the profound and comprehensive presentation of the Buddhist view and path, combining the scholastic expository method with direct pith instructions designed for yogi practitioners.

Finding Rest in Meditation establishes the view of the Buddhist path generally, and specifically that of the teachings of the Great Perfection. It outlines the main points of meditation, namely, where one should meditate, what qualities a practitioner should possess and develop, and what should be practiced.

Finding Rest in Illusion describes in detail the conduct of those who have stabilized their recognition of the nature of the mind and how to apply the Buddhist view when relating to ordinary appearances. Drawing extensively from classic Buddhist works, the author uses well-known examples of illusion found throughout Mahāyāna literature to illustrate the illusory nature of both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, thus revealing their ultimate nondual nature. This is an invaluable manual for any genuine student of Buddhism who wishes to truly find rest through the path of the Great Perfection.

Buddha Nature Teachings from Dolpopa and the Jonang Tradition

The Buddha from Dolpo

$39.95 - Hardcover

By: Cyrus Stearns

One of the only books about the controversial Buddhist master of Tibet, Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361). Dölpopa emphasized two contrasting definitions of the Buddhist theory of emptiness. He described relative phenomena as empty of self-nature, but absolute reality as only empty of other (i.e. relative) phenomena. He further identified absolute reality as the buddha nature or eternal essence present in all living beings. This view of an "emptiness of other," known in Tibetan as shentong, is Dölpopa's enduring legacy.

Read More

In this volume, Kongtrul expands on The One Hundred and Eight Guidebooks, a collection of teaching manuals compiled by the sixteenth-century Tibetan master Kunga Drolchok, adding Indic source texts, Tibetan antecedents, and later interpretations. Though compiled by a Jonangpa abbot and transmitted by the Jonang tradition, these teaching manuals are actually drawn from the Kadam, Sakya, Kagyu, and, to a lesser extent, Nyingma traditions. They are succinct and impart practical wisdom, as transmitted by key figures like Kunga Chogdrub and Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub. Gyurme Dorje, the translator, provides extensive notes and helpful context throughout. The resulting volume preserves and integrates the diverse lineages of Tibetan Buddhism while providing useful advice to practitioners.

Jonang is part of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great's eighteen volume collection known as The Treasury of Precious Instructions. For more information on his work see the Treasury of Precious Instructions.

Read More

Masters on the Buddha Nature Tradition from the Lives of the Masters Series

Maitripa: India's Yogi of Nondual Bliss

By Klaus-Dieter Mathes

Maitripa (986–1063) is one of the greatest and most influential Indian yogis of Vajrayana Buddhism. The legacy of his thought and meditation instructions have had a profound impact on Buddhism in India and Tibet, and several important contemporary practice lineages continue to rely on his teachings.

Early in his life, Maitripa gained renown as a monk and scholar, but it was only after he left his monastery and wandered throughout India as a yogi that he had a direct experience of nonconceptual realization. Once Maitripa awakened to this nondual nature of reality, he was able to harmonize the scholastic teachings of Buddhist philosophy with esoteric meditation instructions. This is reflected in his writings that are renowned for evoking a meditative state in those who have trained appropriately. He eventually became the teacher of many well-known accomplished masters, including Padampa Sangyé and the translator Marpa, who brought his teachings to Tibet.

Drawing on Maitripa’s autobiographical writings and literary work, this book is the first comprehensive portrait of the life and teachings of this influential Buddhist master. Klaus-Dieter Mathes also offers the first complete English translation of his teachings on nonconceptual realization, which is the foundation of Mahamudra meditation.

Xuanzang: China's Legendary Pilgrim and Translator

By Benjamin Brose

In the fall of 629, Xuanzang (600–662), a twenty-nine-year-old Buddhist monk, left the capital of China to begin an epic pilgrimage across the country, through the deserts of Central Asia, and into India. His goal was to locate and study authentic Buddhist doctrine and practice, then bring the true teachings back to his homeland. Over the course of nearly seventeen years, he walked thousands of miles and visited hundreds of Buddhist monasteries and monuments. He studied with the leading teachers of his day and compiled a written account of his travels that remains a priceless record of premodern Indian history, religion, and culture. When Xuanzang finally returned to China in 645, he brought with him a treasure trove of new texts, relics, and icons. This transmission of Indian Buddhist teachings to China, made possible by Xuanzang’s unparalleled vision and erudition, was a landmark moment in the history of East Asian Buddhism.

As with many great pre-modern religious figures, the legends surrounding Xuanzang’s life have taken on lives of their own. His story has been retold, reshaped, and repurposed by generations of monastics and laypeople. In this comprehensive and engaging account, Benjamin Brose charts a course between the earliest, most reliable accounts of Xuanzang’s biography and the fantastic legends that later developed, such as those in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. Xuanzang remains one of the most consequential monks in the rich history of Buddhism in East Asia. This book is an indispensable introduction to his extraordinary life and enduring legacies.

Online Articles, Excerpts and other Resources Related to Buddha Nature

Karl Brunnholzl

The Five Maitreya Texts: The "Zip Files" of the Mahāyāna

by Karl Brunnhölzl

The five works that the Tibetan tradition ascribes to Maitreya resemble zip files that contain all the profound and vast topics of the Buddhist teachings. In their traditional order: The Ornament of Clear Realization comments on the emptiness taught in the Prajnaparamita Sutras and on what happens in the minds of bodhisattvas familiarizing themselves with emptiness on the paths and bhumis. Read More

photo from

Translating the Maitreya Treatises: An Interview with Thomas Doctor

We recently interviewed Thomas Doctor, a translator on the Dharmachakra Translation Committee, about the importance of their recent translations of the Maitreya texts and commentaries. Read More

Khenpo Shenga

Khenpo Shenga (1871–1927) wrote commentaries on all 13 texts.

The Thirteen Core Indian Buddhist Texts: A Reader's Guide

There are thirteen classics of Indian Mahayana philosophy, still used in Tibetan centers of education throughout Asia and beyond, particularly the Nyngma tradition, with overlap with the others.  They cover the subjects of vinaya, abhidharma, Yogacara, Madhyamika, and the path of the Bodhisattva.  They are some of the most frequently quoted texts found in works written from centuries ago to today. Below is a reader's guide to these works.

Check out More Reading Guides and Excerpts from Shambhala

Continue Reading >>

The Importance of the Ornament of Mahayana Sutras

Maitreya and the MahayanasutralamkaraOne of the Five Maitreya Treatises—the five texts imparted to Asanga by the bodhisattva Maitreya—the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras (in Sankrit the Mahayanasutralamkara, often shortened to Sutralamkara) presents explanations of bodhisattva motivation, meditation, conduct, and fruition as expounded in the Mahayana sutras as well as demonstrating the superiority of the Mahayana.  In English, the verses fill about 130 pages. Quite simply, the Sutralamkara is one of the most important texts in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions and is immensely important for practitioners and scholars to know intimately.

So just what is this text which is quoted everywhere but few have read?

Mipham RinpocheJamgon Mipham Rinpoche, paraphrasing Asanga's brother Vasubandu's student Sthiramati, says that this text:

. . .explains all the profound and extensive practices of the bodhisattvas, which can be summarized under three headings: what to train in, how to train, and who is training.

The first of these, what one trains in, can be condensed into seven objects in which one trains: one’s own welfare, others’ welfare, thatness, powers, bringing one’s own buddha qualities to maturity, bringing others to maturity, and unsurpassable perfect enlightenment.

How one trains is in six ways: by first developing a great interest in the teachings of the Great Vehicle, investigating the Dharma, teaching the Dharma, practicing the Dharma in accord with the teachings, persevering in the correct instructions and follow-up teachings, and imbuing one’s physical, verbal, and mental activities with skillful means.

Those who train are the bodhisattvas, of whom there are ten categories: those who are of the bodhisattva type, those who have entered the Great Vehicle, those with impure aspirations, those with pure aspirations, those whose aspirations are not matured, those whose aspirations are matured, those with uncertain realization, those with certain realization, those who are delayed by a single birth, and those who are in their last existence.

ornament of the mahayana sutras

We have two translations of this text which both include the extensive and illuminating commentary by Mipham Rinpoche who based his long work on Sthiramati's famous commentary.

The first, The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras, was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee includes the annotations by Khenpo Shenga, who derived them often directly from Vasubandu's commentary.  You can read our interview with Dharmachakra's Thomas Doctor which includes a short discussion of this text.



feast of the nectarThe second is The Feast of the Nectar of the Supreme Vehicle, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group.  Ths has a very helpful introduction orienting the reader and giving important context.  It is also full of very helpful notes throughout.


Here is the translator from Padmakara, Stephen Gethin,  explaining the text.


It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this text in the Tibetan tradition. It was first translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan in the 8th century, at the time of Padmsambhava’s residence, by his disciple Kawa Peltsek. Atisha later taught it when he came to Tibet and refers to it repeatedly throughout his works.  Gampopa references it in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation. The great Sakya master Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrub refers to it repeatedly in his Three Visions: Fundamental Teachings of the Sakya Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Virtually all the great masters of all the Tibetan traditions studied this work and its commentaries in depth.

In short, the Sutralamkara has been central to the training of hundreds of thousands of practitioners and scholars and remains today a core component of all the curriculums in monasteries and shedras.

Below are a few more examples showing just how fundamental it is and some ways it is used in later Buddhist literature. And these are a small sampling—this text appears everywhere.

Jamgön Kongtrül brings it forth in his 10 volume Treasury of Knowledge. As an example, in Book Eight he relates how it is a core part of the Kadampa tradition, particularly the training in meditation. He then traces its lineage from Atisha's disciple Drontompa to Potawa to Langri Tampa and onwards to Tsongkhapa and into the present-day Gelug curriculum. He also uses it to prove the validity of the Mahayana.

Tsongkhapa and into the present-day Gelug curriculum. He also uses it to prove the validity of the Mahayana.

Great Treatise lamrimTsongkahapa discusses the text throughout his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, the Lam Rim Chenmo. He uses it in the chapters for how to rely on a teacher; refuting misconceptions about meditation; on explaining the origin of suffering and emotions; the nature of the path leading to liberation, precepts and perfections; the paramita of perseverance, the perfection of wisdom, the gathering of disciples; and the various chapters on calm abiding meditation.

Longchenpa refers to it throughout his works as pointed out repeatedly in Tulku Thondup's The Practice of Dzogchen. It appears also in the recent translation of Longchenpa's Finding Rest trilogy. 

Dudjom Rinpoche brings it into his History of the Nyingma School throughout The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, in which he calls it the text that teaches “the integration of conduct and view.” He also refers to it repeatedly in A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom when he is explaining the nature of the six perfections.

Complete Nyingma TraditionThe most comprehensive work on the Nyingma tradition, the multi-volume masterwork by Choying Tobden Dorje, The Complete Nyingma Tradition, also extensively references it.

In Brilliant Moon, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche relates how he and his brother received the instructions on the text. He also brings it up repeatedly in Heart of Compassion, his discussion of the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva; the power and strength of love; the perfection of wisdom; and the role emotions play to "destroy oneself, destroy others, and destroy discipline." He also mentions it in his biography of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, using phrases describing the nature of bodhisattvas to show how the latter was one.

In his commentary on the 9th chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva that appears in The Center of the Sunlit Sky, the great Kagyu master Pawo Rinpoche—the student of the 8th Karmapa and teacher to the 9th—devotes thirteen pages to the Sutralamkara explaining how the text proves the validity and authenticity of the Mahayana.

Continue Reading >>


The Life of Gampopa

Initiations and Instructions

The next morning Milarepa wished to travel to Chuwar in Manlung. Eager to remain in Milarepa’s presence, Gampopa asked if he might accompany him on his journey, and the guru gladly assented. After a hearty breakfast of hot tsampa and yak butter tea, they were on their way.

When they arrived in Chuwar, they went to a large cave where Milarepa had often meditated. There Gampopa asked the Jetsun to bless him, and for the purpose of establishing a spiritual relationship, to give him some instruction.

“What empowerments and teachings have you received before?” Milarepa asked.

Gampopa replied that he had received the four empowerments of Guhyasamaja, the Hevajra empowerment, the magnificent blessings of Dakmema, the teachings of Luipa, the magnificent blessings of the Six-Ornament Vajravarahi from Lama Lodru of Maryul, and many empowerments from other lamas. He also told Milarepa that he had been able to remain seated in meditation for seven days.

Milarepa just laughed and said, “So what? You sit for seven days and don’t experience the clear light. You can’t get oil from pressing sand, you get it by pressing mustard seeds. Practice my Short AH Tummo Yoga, if you really want to see the true nature of mind. The Tibetans did not allow Atisha to teach the tantras.”

Gampopa said, “But there are many tantric teachings in Kadampa.”

Milarepa replied, “Yes, there are tantric teachings, but no quintessential instructions there. Although there is a complete generation and completion process in a single meditation practice, this is merely the samadhi of analysis. Meditating on the selflessness of the stages of the path has only a relative value. Practice meditation on the Method Path.

“I do not mean that your previous initiations are not good, those are excellent and profound teachings that you received. I just want to stress the importance of a correct karmic relationship with the guru, and the absolute necessity for you to receive the blessing of my lineage.”

Milarepa then blessed Gampopa and initiated him into the Sindura Vajrayogini practice of the Whispered Lineage, and in the mandala of the deity painted in cinnabar, Gampopa received the pith-instructions. He also received the full transmission of the tummo practice. Then Gampopa went off to his cave to meditate.

After a short time of practicing in accordance with Milarepa’s instructions, Gampopa began to have some profound and positive meditative experiences. Then he started to compare Milarepa’s teachings with those that he had received from his other gurus. There were places where they seemed to be contradictory, and as a result, much confusion and doubt arose in his mind and he found it difficult to continue meditating.

“I am getting nowhere,” Gampopa said to himself. “I must go to see the guru and cut the roots of this confusion.”

That very afternoon he left his cave and sought out Milarepa. He found him by the stream, washing his bowl and sipping the fresh cold mountain water.

“How is your practice going?”

“At first it was going very well, but then many questions arose. In the Guhyasamaja Tantra, the Chatuhpitha, and other works, it says, ‘There is greater merit in making offering to one hair of the guru than in making offerings of a mountain heap of jewels to all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.’ Is there a way of accumulating merit that is superior to this?”

“There is,” Milarepa replied.

“Please teach me about this.”

“If you practice the oral teachings that the guru has given, without wasting them, that is it,” said Milarepa.

Gampopa was silent for a while, drinking in the meaning of the guru’s answer. Then he spoke again.

“I asked Geshe Nyugrumpa if it is possible to attain Buddhahood in one life, in one body. His reply was, ‘Yes, but to do that, one must not have a hair’s consideration for this life.’ I then asked the same question to Geshe Yarlungpa, and he said, ‘That is not the true meaning. That is just the figurative meaning. You can attain Buddhahood: by taking a medicine pill, which will make you immortal like the sun and moon; or, in the seventh lifetime of practice; or, by actually seeing the divine yidam; or, if you are able to travel to the celestial realms.’ Which of these answers is true?”

Milarepa replied, “The words of Geshe Nyugrumpa are not only the figurative meaning, they are also the true meaning. You must have no consideration for this life.

“If an authentic guru has disciples who are worthy vessels, who receive the complete empowerment in the Mantrayana mandala, and who practice both generation stage and completion stage meditation continually, in accord with the oral instructions, then those students of the highest potential will attain Buddhahood in this lifetime; those of medium potential will attain it just before they die, or in the bardo. Even if the students are extremely lazy, they will attain it in seven or sixteen lifetimes. If they cannot attain this, they must have corrupted their vows, and for a while they might be reborn in the lower realms.

“In general, physician monk, you should not trust those who philosophize. Do not listen to them. Do not follow them. Trust instead those who practice meditation. Listen to them, follow them.

“The best recommendation is to hold to holy ones who have let go of the concerns of this life. Anyone who is led along by this life will only teach you the eight worldly dharmas.

“You should also know that there are four ways of misunderstanding emptiness: losing emptiness in labelling; losing emptiness in the basic nature of all knowables; losing emptiness in the antidote; and losing emptiness by attachment to emptiness.

“Losing emptiness in labeling means merely saying, ‘All objects of the ordinary rational mind of dualistic grasping are non-existent.’ If you say that, this is losing emptiness in labelling.

“Losing emptiness in the basic nature of all knowables is merely conceptually saying, ‘All phenomena, or samsara and nirvana, are empty.’ If you say that, this is losing emptiness in the basic nature of all knowables.

“Losing emptiness in the antidote is saying, ‘Afflictive emotions and discursive thoughts—whatever arises—if you look right at it, that is emptiness.’ This is holding the dualistic notion that negative thoughts and conflicting emotions are something to be abandoned and that emptiness is the antidote.

“Losing emptiness by attachment to emptiness is saying, ‘There is nothing to meditate on whatsoever, so all meditation is emptiness.’ It is also thinking that emptiness is a goal to be realized, that the ground, the path, and the fruit are separate, and that by following the path one will obtain the goal of realizing emptiness.

“These are not the perfect path. However, for a beginner there is a small benefit in initially using these kinds of thoughts to reverse clinging to intrinsic reality.

“In general, if you do not fully realize the true nature of your mind in the deepest sense, even if you temporarily experience bliss, luminosity and non-thought, you will not transcend the three worlds. These are known as temporary experiences because they do not resolve the mind to its depths. If you ask, ‘What is the true path?’ It is when an authentic guru gives the student who is a worthy vessel initiation and instruction.

“Primordial awareness exists pervasively in all sentient beings. All the Buddhas are luminosity in the dharmakaya. Yogis practice meditation using an infinite variety of skillful methods, and thus they can naturally realize the view. Conflicting emotions naturally cease. Dualistic thoughts are effortlessly self-liberated, and wisdom spontaneously dawns. At this time, one’s realization and experience cannot be expressed in words. It is like the ecstasy of a young woman, or the dream of a deaf mute. Although this ground is in all sentient beings, they fail to recognize it. Therefore, it is very important to follow a guru who holds a lineage.

“Primordial awareness has no origins. Its gateway cannot be blocked in any way. It cannot be shown by any analogy. It cannot be described by any words. It cannot be demonstrated by any sophistry. Therefore, we should not try to fabricate it. Just let go and relax in the realm of the natural state of mind.”

The Life of Gampopa by Jampa Mackenzie Stewart

Continue Reading >>

Karma Kagyu Lineage

The following article is from the Spring, 2003 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.
Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu Refuge Tree, Karmapas

The Kagyu Refuge Tree

Tibetan Buddhism: the Karmapas, Lineage Holders of the Karma Kagyu

The Kagyu lineage is one of the four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism; the Karma Kagyu is one of its main branches. These traditions trace their origins to Shakyamuni Buddha, who taught more than 2500 years ago. Led by the Gyalwang (རྒྱལ་དབང་ཀརྨ་པ་, King of Victorious Ones) Karmapas since the twelfth century, the lineage includes generation after generation of scholars and Mahasiddhas who devoted their lives to the realization of the truth of experience and the perfection of compassion for all beings.

The name Karmapa refers literally to 'the one who performs the activity of a Buddha.'

The great early teachers of the Kagyu lineage include the Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa (988-1069), his student Naropa (1016-1100), Marpa Chökyi Lodrö the Translator (1012-1097), the great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa (1052-1135), and the renowned Gampopa (1079-1153). Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa (1110-1193), whose coming had been foretold by the Buddha, was a student of Gampopa and was recognized by him as a manifestation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Tibetan Buddhism

Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion

Through successive incarnations the Gyalwang Karmapas have led the Karma Kagyu, or "practice lineage," as it is known because of its special emphasis on meditation.

During his lifetime, Shakyamuni Buddha predicted there would come into being a fully realized teacher who would reappear over and over again as the Karmapa. This Karmapa would continue his enlightened activity on behalf of all beings until the Buddhist teachings were no longer needed in this world. The name Karmapa refers literally to 'the one who performs the activity of a Buddha.'

 the Karmapa has performed the selfless and tireless activity of a fully enlightened teacher, or bodhisattva, exemplifying the wisdom and loving kindness that lies at the heart of Buddhist practice.

From the twelfth century to the present time and through successive incarnations, the Karmapa has performed the selfless and tireless activity of a fully enlightened teacher, or bodhisattva, exemplifying the wisdom and loving kindness that lies at the heart of Buddhist practice. Each successive Karmapa has held the position of supreme head of the Karma Kagyu, the lineage known as that of the sacred word, in which the most profound Buddhist teachings are passed down from teacher to disciple through successive generations. Uniquely, each Karmapa, before he passes away, leaves behind a letter foretelling the exact circumstances of his next rebirth.

His Holiness, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th incarnation of Karmapa. He was born to nomadic parents in 1985 in the Lhathok region of Tibet. In 1992, his parents were surprised by the young boy's suggestion that they move their camp early. As it turned out, this decision to move placed them in the spot where the predictive letter written by the 16th Karmapa had said the 17th Karmapa would be found. After being discovered, His Eminence the Twelfth Tai Situpa and His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama confirmed the identification.

Tibetan Buddhism, Tolong Tsurphu Monastery, Karmapa, Karma Kagyu

Tsurpu Monastery in Tohlung Dechen County, near Lhasa, Tibet (Link to Attribution/License)

Karmapa's enthronement was held at Tolong Tsurphu Monastery near Lhasa in the same year. His Holiness spent the next eight years studying, and preparing for his position. Then, at the turn of the millennium, the world received the news that the Karmapa had left Tsurphu with a handful of attendants, and secretly fled Tibet. On January 5, 2000, he arrived safely in Dharamsala, India where he was greeted by His Holiness Dalai Lama. Now, with refugee status in India, His Holiness Karmapa is completing his education and receiving empowerments as he prepares to reclaim his seat at Rumtek and finally arrive at KTD, his seat in North America. Many have speculated that this charismatic young monk will have a dynamic impact on the Western spiritual perspective.

For more information:

Tibetan Buddhism, 8th KarmapaEighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje



The Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje

The Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603) was born in the Trewo region of eastern Tibet and is one of the most important figures of Tibetan Buddhism's Kagyü lineage. Most renowned for his powerful writings on the meditation system known as Mahāmudrā, he also played a vital role in ensuring the continuity of the Kagyü lineage's longstanding tradition of academic studies.

The Fourteenth Karmapa, Thekchok Dorje (1798–1868), was born in eastern Tibet. He was an accomplished scholar and poet. He was a principal teacher to Jamgön Kongtrül Lodö Taye and many other important lamas.

H.H. the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the spiritual head of one of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The 900-year-old lineage of Karmapas has included some of Tibet’s greatest spiritual masters. Born to nomadic parents in rural Tibet, he was identified while still a young child as the heir to this leadership position.

Continue Reading >>

Practice Mahamudra

The following article is from the Summer, 1999 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Mahamudra represents the highest level of teaching within Tibetan Buddhism. Its study and practice leads to the realization of the very nature of reality itself—there is not a single phenomenon which is not subsumed within the realizations of Mahamudra.

In 1994, H.H. Chetsang Rinpoche toured the USA and gave detailed instructions in Mahamudra methods based on the ancient traditions of Tibet and India. He carefully explained each of the five stages of Mahamudra and taught many meditation practices. His Holiness also gave precise instructions on meditative posture and breathing and responded with helpful answers to student's questions using the teachings of Tilopa and Gampopa to illustrate various points.

This book is a record of His Holiness' teachings on Mahamudra, and is the clearest presentation of Mahamudra meditation practice available.

His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche was born in 1946 in Lhasa, Tibet into the well-known Tsarong family. In 1949, he was recognized as the 37th Drikung Kyabgon, head of the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. He has worked tirelessly to renew and spread its academic and meditative traditions in many countries including the USA.

Following is an excerpt from The Practice of Mahamudra.

Tibetan Buddhism, The Practice of Mahamudra By Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche

Snow Lion Publications, 1999 Edition, Ithaca, NY USA

The Attainment of Non-attainment

Once, Tilopa advised his disciple to go off to an isolated retreat and avoid any meditation. Now, this may seem a little unusual for a meditation retreat. He explains, however, that when you go to meditate, you normally take up something to meditate on, some thing. That thing, and therefore that meditation, is necessarily artificial. The practice of Mahamudra is not like that at all. It is not taking up a thing called Mahamudra and meditating on it. Ultimately, Mahamudra practice is meditation directly on reality itself.

there is not a single phenomenon which is not subsumed within the realizations of Mahamudra... Ultimately, Mahamudra practice is meditation directly on reality itself.

Reality itself is not something devised or made up. What you have to do here is accustom yourself to that, practice that. You are not taking up a meditation, but rather are practicing something. Like any activity, when you practice and become accustomed to it, it becomes easier and easier. So, acquaint yourself with this lack of anything whatsoever to be taken up as a discrete object.

Focus on reality itself and become accustomed to that. Tilopa's advice, then, is that if you attain something by this Mahamudra practice, then you have not attained Mahamudra. Attaining Mahamudra is attaining non-attainment. If you are not getting anything, then you're getting Mahamudra. If you get some thing, then necessarily it is not Mahamudra.

Attaining Mahamudra is attaining non-attainment. If you are not getting anything, then you're getting Mahamudra.

What is the meaning of this? If, when we strive for Buddhahood, we think that Buddhahood is something that we are going to get, we will be making a great mistake. We would be like hunters going after an animal. Buddhahood would be reduced to just another worldly activity in which we engage to get some pleasure for ourselves.

Mahamudra is not like that, it is not some thing to be obtained. It is attaining the state of non-attainment. Understanding that, we do not focus on obtaining something but on transcending. We have to get beyond that search for something to grasp onto.

Now the nature of reality is beyond the illusion of the phenomenal world, the world as it appears. What appears is illusory; reality is something else. So, when engaging in this meditation on Mahamudra, one seeks to realize Mahamudra. As long as it is something that is an object of mind, something that is conceived by mind, then is it necessarily something other than Mahamudra.

Mahamudra is not a conception, not something which is of the nature of appearances or of the nature of objects of the conventional mind.

the nature of reality is beyond the illusion of the phenomenal world, the world as it appears.

Therefore, whatever we look for, whatever we try to hold on to in terms of objects of mind, is not going to be Mahamudra. It is something other than that. It is not of the nature of the phenomenal world in any sense. As long as we conceive of it as something, we are making a mistake and will not attain the realization of Mahamudra in that way.

Tilopa's advice is that if the disciple wishes to see Mahamudra, the disciple must go beyond conventional mind and abandon worldly involvement, because the conventional mind and worldly activities are what obscure the realization of Mahamudra and can never lead to it.

Search, then, for mind itself.

Search for the perceiver or the meditator, the essential nature of the one who is seeking the realization.

Turn your search inward and seek mind itself.

Abandon all the coverings of mind which are like clothing—all the things which are associated with it and which one thinks of in terms of what mind is.

All of these are like clothing, and the search is for the naked mind, the unclothed mind, mind in its very essential essence.

All of the conventional attributes of mind are just concepts, things we must transcend in order to penetrate to the very core of the essential mind itself. To see the nature of reality, to realize Mahamudra, it is necessary to abandon involvement in the world.

As long as we conceive of it as something, we are making a mistake

In practice, this actually means to get rid of inner involvements. Inner involvements are the kleshas, the unwholesome negative mental activities of desire, aversion, delusion, and so forth. These are what must be abandoned, or dispelled. The technique for dispelling these is the practice of shamatha.

The example given here is a pool of water. If you want to see the depths of the water, one must clear out the mud, the defilements, in the water that makes it impossible for you to see the bottom. So the kleshas—greed, hatred, delusion, and so forth—are like the mud that fills the pond. Until all that mud settles out, you cannot see the bottom. It is the practice of mental quiescence that allows all of these kleshas to cease.

Then with vipashyana, you can see through the clear water to the essential nature of reality. And so, the realization of Mahamudra is not the creation of something which was not there, nor is it the removal of something.

In other words, to realize Mahamudra you do not get rid of or abandon appearances; they are not what is obstructing the view. Appearances can be allowed to stand just as they are. Nor is there anything to be achieved or produced. There is nothing to be obtained from reality to realize Mahamudra. Rather, through the practice of mental quiescence, allow the disturbing tendencies to subside and then reality will appear by itself.

It is the practice of mental quiescence that allows all of these kleshas to cease... There is nothing to be obtained from reality to realize Mahamudra.

The realization of ultimate reality can be approached in various ways by developing insight through establishing the correct philosophical view.

With regard to the various inner and outer phenomena, one can gradually learn the right and the wrong in terms of the view and develop the realization of one thing after another. In this way, a realization can gradually build up. However, the most effective way is to get at the very root of delusion and cut it off. Once this is cut off, the trunk, the leaves, the stems, and the branches of the tree of illusion will wither and die. So rather than remove them one at a time, it's best to go right to the root of delusion.

The way this is done in practice is to look at the essential nature of mind. Once that has been realized in its true nature, the root of delusion is destroyed and all the delusions with regard to all other appearances of the world will cease.

The realities of the inner and outer worlds will be realized together. Through this process of realizing ultimate reality by looking at the essential nature of mind itself, the root of all delusion is destroyed and one sees reality, the inner and outer, as it actually is.

Once that has been realized in its true nature, the root of delusion is destroyed and all the delusions with regard to all other appearances of the world will cease.

In the process of doing this, one also removes all the defilements from beginningless time. In all of our past lifetimes—from countless ages ago—we have accumulated vast negative karma, incalculable non-virtuous activities and defilements. If we tried to apply antidotes to each of these and purify them one by one, it would be an interminable task. However, by cutting the root of delusion, we cut the root of all these defilements and remove them all at once. So the direct view, the direct realization of the ultimate truth of Mahamudra, in and of itself destroys all the defilements accumulated from beginningless time.

The practical instructions for engaging in the meditation leading to Mahamudra are given here from the very beginning of the path.

The priority at the beginning is to gain a sense of control whereby mind does not go this way and that, becoming attached to worldly appearances which make it impossible to progress in Mahamudra practice.

This is where the practices related to mental quiescence come into play. The techniques to achieve it are described here. The various meditation techniques, like concentrating on the breath, are explained. The point is not control so much as it is unifying the essence of mind with the breath as it comes in and goes out.

direct realization of the ultimate truth of Mahamudra, in and of itself destroys all the defilements accumulated from beginningless time.

This process can be compared to learning to drive a car. In the beginning, you have to learn how to steer in a rough sense so that the car stays on the road. Later you can drive efficiently and go to your destination. So, these things like the breathing and the focus of your gaze are the necessary controls. Once you gain proficiency in this, mind will settle down, and you can continue more efficiently in this path of meditation. By controlling the eyes and breath, mind itself comes under control.


Having gained control through these techniques, mind is then used to focus on mind itself. When mind focuses on mind itself, the kalpana arise, and these must be cleared away.

unifying the essence of mind with the breath... By controlling the eyes and breath, mind itself comes under control.

Before mind can perceive itself, you must abandon all conceptual ideas; these are not mind. This is said to be like trying to find the center of the sky. The sky in this sense means the vastness of empty space. If we look for something that we can call the center, we will not find anything. Or if we look for the end of space, we will also not find anything. The very nature of space is that it is endless, so finding the center or an edge is impossible.

Similarly, when we look at mind and try to find characteristics like that, we will not find them. These characteristics are conceptual, they are the dichotomies between center and edge, or size or shape or color. We must go beyond these dichotomies of thought in order to see mind in its essential nature.

Viewing the essential nature of mind is compared to viewing the ocean or the sky. If you look at the ocean superficially, your view is obscured by the waves on the surface. If you look at the sky, you just see clouds and not the sky. The waves on the ocean and the clouds in the sky are like the kalpana If we go beyond the waves, we see the depths of the ocean. If we go beyond the clouds, we see the extent of the sky. Likewise, we have to go beyond the kalpana to see the mind. They disappear just like the waves on the ocean and the clouds in the sky. They are not permanent or abiding in their nature. So, by seeing the true nature of mind, all of these kalpana simply dissolve and disappear.

through the practice of mental quiescence, allow the disturbing tendencies to subside and then reality will appear by itself.

Taking the example of the sky, we can see that even though things like clouds appear in the sky, when they disappear, they leave no trace. Colors appear in the sky—the whiteness of dawn and the darkness of midnight. The darkness does not leave a stain; when the sun rises in the morning, it's all gone. Likewise, the colors of the day; although they appear in the sky, they are gone at night without a trace. So the nature of the sky itself is undefiled, unmarked, unstained by that which appears within it. Its nature is that it is non-composed. It is not made up of parts. It is not something which we can define in terms of size, shape, color, or form.

So, like that, mind has various contents which appear in it but do not leave a residue. They just disappear. Mind is also not definable by way of size, shape, color, extent, or any characteristics like that. In its essential nature, mind is identical with the Tathagatagarbha, Buddha-nature. It is also the wisdom of self-knowledge. The wisdom of self-knowledge and Buddha-nature are by their most intrinsic, basic quality free of all attributions. By realizing their nature, all of these adventitious contents are dissolved.

Likewise, mind. Although it has been engaged for countless eons since beginningless time in all sorts of activities, accumulating all sorts of karma and defilements, its very nature is completely unstained by all these things.

The nature of the mind is also compared to space. In empty space, various things arise—various appearances, material objects, worlds, suns, moons. All of these things arise in space and stay there for a very long time, moving this way and that. All of the activities of the world take place in space. But then everything moves on and the space that was filled at one time is empty at another time. Once all of the things have moved on and are no longer present in a certain space, that space is completely empty and completely free of any residue of all that took place there.

Likewise, mind. Although it has been engaged for countless eons since beginningless time in all sorts of activities, accumulating all sorts of karma and defilements, its very nature is completely unstained by all these things. When one realizes the clear light of reality, then all those stains completely disappear, leaving no residue whatsoever in mind.

Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche

His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, is the thirty-seventh Drikung Kyabgon head of the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. He has worked tirelessly to renew and spread its scholarly and meditative traditions in many countries, including the United States. He lives at the seat of the Drikung Kagyu order in Dehra Dun, India.

Related Materials:

Mahamudra Topic Page - Discover Books, Courses, Videos, Articles & Events

The Drikung Kagyu: A Reader's Guide

Tilopa and the Attainment of Non-Attainment

Books Related to Mahamudra

Continue Reading >>

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation

The following article is from the Spring, 1998 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

The Wish-fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings

The Wish-Fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings


By Gampopa
Edited by Ani K. Trinlay Chodron
Foreword by H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Translated by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a master work of Tibetan Buddhism. For more than eight centuries, this text has provided a complete foundation for Buddhist study and practice beginning with how to enter the path, and continuing through to the achievement of Buddhahood. It includes teachings on Buddha-nature, finding the spiritual master, impermanence, karma, the cultivation of bodhicitta, the development of the six perfections, the ten bodhisattva bhumis, Buddhahood, and the activities of the Buddha.

Anyone who knows the Jewel Ornament well can say that they really understand Buddhism.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen

Gampopa(1074-1153 C.E.) was fully accomplished in the teachings and practice of Buddhism. He was the principal student of Milarepa and his teachings were clear like the sun. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is the most significant of his many texts. Gampopa said, For anyone who wishes to see me, studying this [book] is the same as meeting me.

Venerable Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen was born in Tsari, Tibet. After escaping from Chinese-controlled Tibet, he received his Acharya degree at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Varanasi, India a nine-year program. He then studied for years with highly realized masters of the different lineages. He did the traditional three-year retreat during which time he studied the Fivefold Profound Path of Mahamudra, the Six Yogas of Naropa and other teachings. In 1982, he came to the USA and established the Tibetan Meditation Center, now located in Frederick, Maryland. Since then he has devoted himself to establishing and teaching at various centers, writing and translating many texts.

Other books by Khenpo: Prayer Hags, Garland of Mahamudra Practices, In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, The Great Kagyu Masters.

Following is an excerpt from The Jewel Ornament of Liberation titled Training in Aspiration Bodhicitta.


XII. Training. After cultivating bodhicitta, there are two types of training:

A. training in aspiration bodhicitta, and

B. in action bodhicitta.

A. Training in Aspiration Bodhicitta. The summary:

Not forsaking sentient beings from one's heart,

Recollecting the beneficial effects of that mind,

Gathering the two accumulations,

Practicing the enlightened mind repeatedly, and

Accepting the four virtues and rejecting the four nonvirtues

These five comprise the training in aspiration bodhicitta.

The first one is the method for not losing bodhicitta. The second one is the method by which bodhicitta does not weaken. The third one is the method for increasing the strength of bodhicitta. The fourth one is the method for deepening bodhicitta. The fifth one is the method for not forgetting bodhicitta.

1. Not Forsaking Sentient Beings from One's Heart. First, the training in not forsaking sentient beings from one's heart is the method for not losing bodhicitta. The Naga King Anavalapta-Requested Sutra says:

A bodhisattva who possesses one quality holds all the excellent qualities of the Buddhas. What is that one quality? A mind which does not forsake anyone from one's heart.

Suppose someone acts unfavorably toward you, and you adopt an attitude of distance from that person and have no concern for them. Even if there were a chance to help that person in the future, you would refuse to do it. Even if a time came to protect that person from harm, you would refuse to do it. That is called forsaking sentient beings.

Furthermore, what is meant by forsaking sentient beings? Does it mean all sentient beings or just one? Even Hearers or Solitary Realizers will not forsake all sentient beings, neither will the hawk and wolf. Therefore. if one forsakes even one being and does not apply the antidote within a session,1 then bodhicitta is lost. It is completely unreasonable to forsake sentient beings from your heart while being called a bodhisattva and maintaining other training. For example, this is like killing one's only child and then accumulating wealth on his behalf.

Of course one will not give up this attitude toward those beings who are benefitting oneself, but there is a danger of giving it up regarding those who harm you. To them especially, one should cultivate compassion and make efforts to bring them benefit and happiness. This is the tradition of the Noble Ones. It is said:

When harm has been done in return for good deeds,

Even then it is to be answered by great compassion.

The excellent beings of this world

Return a good deed for an evil one.

2. Recollecting the Beneficial Effects of Bodhicitta. Second, the training in recollecting the beneficial effects of bodhicitta is the method by which bodhicitta cannot weaken. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says:

The quality of cultivating

The mind of aspiration

Was explained by Maitreya

In the Planting the Noble Stalk Sutra.

Thus it. says, and so forth.

In that sutra [the Planting the Noble Stalk Sutra], the beneficial effects of bodhicitta are illustrated through about 230 similes. All these beneficial effects are abbreviated as four categories.

Thus: O one of noble family! Bodhicitta is like the seed of all the Buddhas' qualities, and it dispels all poverty like Vaisravana, and so forth refer to the beneficial effects for oneself.

It fully protects all migrators like a shelter, and it supports all sentient beings so it is like ground, and so forth refer to its beneficial effects for others.

Because it is victorious over all the enemies of afflicting emotions, it is like a spear, and it completely cuts the tree of suffering like an axe, and so forth refer to its beneficial effect of cutting off all the unfavorable conditions.

It accomplishes all aspirations like the noble vase,and it accomplishes all wishes like the precious, wish-granting jewel, and so forth refer to its beneficial effect of establishing all the favorable conditions.

In this way when one recollects all these virtues, one will cherish this precious bodhicitta highly. In this way when one practices, one sustains this mind without weakening. Therefore, one should persistently recollect all these beneficial effects; at least, one should recollect them once every session.

3. Gathering the Two Accumulations. Third, the training in gathering the two accumulations is the method for increasing the strength of bodhicitla. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says:

The accumulation of merit and wisdom

Is the nature of the cause of perfection. And so forth.

The accumulation of merit refers to the ten virtuous activities, the four methods of gathering, and so forth, as related to skillful methods. The accumulation of primordial wisdom refers to these practices realized as being fully free from the three spheres and so forth, as relates to the perfect wisdom. In this way, gathering the two accumulations establishes the power of bodhicitta in one's mind. Therefore, persistently gather the two accumulations; even by reciting one short mantra one can gather the two accumulations, so this should be done at least once each session. The Speech to an Assembly says:

Today, how should I accumulate

Merit and wisdom?

How can I benefit sentient beings?

Bodhisattvas constantly contemplate in this way.

4. Practicing the Enlightened Mind. Fourth, practicing the enlightened mind repeatedly is the method for deepening bodhicitta. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says:

After developing aspiration bodhicitta,

One should make a great effort to deepen it.

In this, there are three topics: practicing the mind of the cause of enlightenment, practicing the mind of actual enlightenment, and practicing the mind of the action of enlightenment. Practicing these three deepens bodhicitta.

For the first, persistently develop loving-kindness and compassion toward all beings at least once each session.

The practice of actual enlightenment is the desire to obtain enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings. Contemplate this three times in the daytime and three times at night. Use the detailed ceremony for cultivation of bodhicitta or at least repeat the following once each session:

I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha until I achieve enlightenment. By the merit of generosity and other good deeds, may I attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.

There are two subdivisions in the mind of the action of enlightenment: practicing the attitude of benefitting others and practicing purification of one's own mind. First, cultivate the mind to dedicate and give your body, wealth, and all the virtues of the three times for others' benefit and happiness. Second, practice purifying your own mind. Always watch your moral ethics and abstain from evil deeds and afflictive emotions.

5. Rejection of the Four Unwholesome Deeds and Acceptance of the Four Wholesome Deeds. Fifth, training in rejection of the four unwholesome deeds and acceptance of the four wholesome deeds is the method of not forgetting bodhicitta. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says:

One should fully protect the training as it is explained

In older to recollect this bodhicitta even in other lifetimes.

Where is this training explained? The Kashyapa-Requested Sutra says:

The four unwholesome deeds are stated. Kashyapa, the bodhi-sattva who possesses four qualities will forget bodhicitta. What are these four? These are: and so forth. Abbreviated, these are: deceiving the lama and those wort hy of worship; causing remorse in others when remorse is not appropriate; through aversion, saying improper words about a bodhisattva who has cultivated bodhicitta; and behaving deceitfully toward sentient beings.

The four wholesome deeds are also explained this way:

Kashyapa, the bodhisattva who possesses four qualities will remember bodhicitta immediat ely upon birth in all other lifetimes until he obtains the heart of enlightenment. Which are these four? These are: and so forth. Abbreviated, these are: not telling lies consciously even at the risk of one's own life; generally establishing all sentient beings in virtue, particularly in the virtues of the Mahayana; seeing bodhisattvas who have cultivated bodhicitta as Buddhas and proclaiming their qualities in all the ten directions; and sincerely maintaining the altruistic attitude toward all sentient beings.

Explanation of the first unwholesome deed.When one deceives the spiritual master, abbot, master, or one worthy of offerings by telling a lie with an insincere mind, your bodhicitta is lost if the antidote is not applied within a session whether they are aware of the lie or not, whether they are pleased or not, whether it is big or not, or whether they are deceived or not. The first wholesome deed is its antidote. Desist from consciously telling lies, even at the risk of your life.

Explanation of the second unwholesome deed. When someone performs virtuous deeds and you intend to make them regret it, your bodhicitta is lost if the antidote is not applied within a session whether they actually feel remorse or not. The second wholesome deed is its antidote. Establish all sentient beings in virtue, particularly in the virtues of the Mahayana. (Note: Chen-ngawa and Chayulwa specified virtuous Mahayana actions. Gyayondak said either Mahayana or Hinayana actions. Take, for example, the practice of generosity. The way of giving is virtuous, but if you get hungry tomorrow and have to go begging and so forth this can cause regret.)

Explanation of the third unwholesome deed. When, with hatred, you use improper words with a person who has cultivated bodhicitta, bodhicitta is lost if the antidote is not applied within a session whether you expressed ordinary faults or faults of the Dhanna, whether directly or indirectly, whether specific or not, whether gently or harshly, whether they heard it or not, or whether they were pleased or not. The third wholesome deed is its antidote. See bodhisattvas who have cultivated bodhicitta as Buddhas and make efforts to proclaim their virtues in all the ten directions.

Explanation of the fourth unwholesome deed. When, with deceit, you commit fraud toward any sentient being, bodhicitta is lost if the antidote is not applied within a session whether he was aware of it or not or whether it caused harm or not. The fourth wholesome deed is its antidote. Maintain the altruistic attitude toward all sentient beings and wish to benefit others without considering your own profit.

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation

$39.95 - Paperback

Related Books from the Kagyu Tradition

Continue Reading >>