Jamgon Mipham

  • 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.

  • Tsongkhapa: A Guide to His Life and Works


    From Images of Enlightenment: Tibetan Art in Practice

    Next year, 2019, marks the 600th anniversary of Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (1357–1419), one of the most important figures in Tibet, historically and philosophically.

    To mark this anniversary, we will be publishing what will be the most comprehensive, definitive biography of this great figure, written by Thupten Jinpa. The author is best known as the main translator for the Dalai Lama, but he is an author and scholar himself, having earned a Geshe degree. In the author’s words,

    this new biography of Tsongkhapa…is aimed primarily at the contemporary reader. And it seeks to answer the following key questions for them: ‘Who was or is Tsongkhapa? What is he to Tibetan Buddhism? How did he come to assume the deified status he continues to enjoy for the dominant Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism? What relevance, if any, do Tsongkhapa’s thought and legacy have for our contemporary thought and culture?

    In the meantime, we thought to lay out what is currently available. This is only a portion of the 210 treatises—which fill 18–20 volumes in Tibetan—that comprise Tsongkhapa's oeuvre, but more is coming out. His collected works are divided into nine parts: biographies by his students; teachings on guru yoga; lists of teachings he himself received; notes of teachings by his disciples; works of praise, letters, short teachings, prayers, poems, invocations, and other short works; works on tantra; works on Lamrim; hermeneutics; and commentaries on Indian texts including The Way of the Bodhisattva, Nagarjuna's The Root Stanzas of the Middle WayOrnament of Reason, and others.

    As for other biographical material, Robert Thurman wrote a short book in the 1970s that was recently reissued called The Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa which, despite the title, includes only a twenty-five-page biography of him.

    We have a brief biography of Tsongkhapa included in Geshe Sonam Rinchen's commentary on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, which is excerpted here.

    There is also a biography available on the excellent Treasury of Lives site.

    The categories below are somewhat arbitrary—the Lamrim genre encompasses much of Tsongkhapa's sutrayana teachings including Abhidharma, Mahayana, etc. and Madhyamaka is part of Mahayana. But this seemed the clearest way to present what is available is English.

    Ganden monastery, from Charles Bell, 1921
    Ganden monastery, founded by Tsongkahapa, photographed in 1921 by Sir Charles Bell

    The Lamrim

    The Lamrim genre, present in many Tibetan Buddhist traditions, stems from Atisha’s classic, The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. Tsongkhapa wrote several works in this class of teachings.

    The Lamrim Chenmo (completed 1402) [Lam gyi gtso bo rnam gsum]

    Tsongkhapa's main contribution to this genre is the famous Lamrim Chenmo or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. It is also generally considered his most influential work, studied and practiced by tens of thousands today.

    The background to this work is on one of Tsongkhapa’s own letters to a lama, included in Art Engle's The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice, where he describes it as building on Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment: “It is clear that this instruction [introduced] by Dīpaṃkara Śrījnāna on the stages of the path to enlightenment . . . teaches [the meanings contained in] all the canonical scriptures, their commentaries, and related instruction by combining them into a single graded path. One can see that when taught by a capable teacher and put into practice by able listeners it brings order, not just to some minor instruction, but to the entire [body of] canonical scriptures. Therefore, I have not taught a wide variety of [other] instructions.”

    In other places Tsongkhapa referred to the Ornament of Realization or Abhisamayalamkara, as the other basis for the Lamrim.

    Engle describes Tsongkhapa's Lamrim in Inner Science of Buddhist Practice, discussed below:

    Thus, a key point to recognize about the Lamrim teaching is that at its heart it is a systematic collection of oral instructions that make use of the entire range of Buddhist literature to present a comprehensive program for spiritual transformation. In addition to copious citations from traditional Indian Buddhist literature, Je Tsongkapa’s Great Treatise includes many pithy and insightful sayings of the early Tibetan teachers known as followers of the Kadampa School. The instructions begin with the most fundamental elements of Buddhist doctrine and then gradually introduce the student to the requisite meditation practices that will enable him or her eventually to become fully engaged in the vast and profound tradition that is Mahāyāna Buddhism.

    Here is a short video of His Holiness the Dalai Lama discussing how this is the one work he personally carried out on his escape from Tibet in 1959.

    This text is, of course, three volumes, so you may prefer to start with an introduction to it that is a bit more concise, and there are several good options.

    One is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s From Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Tsong-kha-pa's Classic Text The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.

    The other is Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-kha-pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, which presents one of the more challenging aspects of Mahayana Buddhism using contemporary examples.

    Three Principal Aspects of the Path (Lam gyi gtso bo rnam gsum)

    This is the shortest Lamrim text Tsongkhapa composed. Tsongkhapa wrote the fourteen stanzas of this classic distillation of all the paths of practice that lead to enlightenment. The three principal elements of the path referred to are: (1) renunciation, tied to the wish for freedom from cyclic existence; (2) the motivation to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others; (3) cultivating the correct view that realizes emptiness.

    The Three Principal Aspects of the Path: An Oral Teaching

    In this book, Geshe Sonam Rinpoche, the teacher of countless Westerners for decades in Dharamsala, unpacks these verses and explains how to put them into practice.

    This text is also included in Cutting Through Appearances: Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism in which Geshe Sopa annotates the Fourth Panchen Lama’s instructions on how to practice this text in a meditation session.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches on this text, and this is included as the chapter “The Path to Enlightenment” in Kindness, Clarity, and Insight.

    Lotsawa House also includes a translation of these fourteen stanzas.

    Another work where Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim is featured is in Changing Minds: Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and Tibet in Honor of Jeffrey Hopkins. There are three chapters devoted to Tsongkhapa:

    1. Guy Newland’s Ask a Farmer: Ultimate Analysis and Conventional Existence in Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo
    2. Daniel Cozort’s Cutting the Roots of Virtue: Tsongkhapa on the Results of Anger
    3. Elizabeth Napper’s Ethics as the Basis of a Tantric Tradition: Tsongkhapa and the Founding of the Gelugpa Order


    One of the components of The Great Treatise is Abhidharma; indeed, understanding some Abhidharma is highly valued in the Lamrim teaching system. This connection is explored in Art Engle’s Inner Science of Buddhist Practice: Vasubandhu's Summary of the Five Heaps with Commentary by Sthiramati which has nearly 100 references to him.

    Teachers of the Lamrim tradition viewed learning at least some Abhidharma material as essential to one’s spiritual practice. In his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, Je Tsongkapa makes a passing reference to Sthiramati’s work when he states, “I have explained these ten mental afflictions according to the descriptions that are found in The Compendium of Higher Learning [i.e., Asaṅga’s Abhidharmasamuccayaḥ], The Levels of Spiritual Practice [Asaṅga’s Yogācārabhūmiḥ], and [Sthiramati’s] commentary to the Summary of the Five Heaps.” Je Tsongkapa also quotes the early Kadampa teacher Gönbawa Wangchuk Gyeltsen (1016–1082) as saying, in part, “To learn the essential characteristics of the mental afflictions, you must listen to teachings on the Abhidharma. At a minimum, you must receive instruction on A Summary of the Five Heaps.


    Medium-Length Exposition of the Stages of the Path (1415) [Lam rim chung ngu]

    Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention

    For centuries, Tibetan Buddhist contemplatives have directly explored consciousness through carefully honed and rigorous techniques of meditation. B. Alan Wallace explains the methods and experiences of Tibetan practitioners and compares these with investigations of consciousness by Western scientists and philosophers. Balancing the Mind includes a translation of the classic discussion of methods for developing exceptionally high degrees of attentional stability and clarity (shamatha/shiney) by Tsongkhapa.

    Tsong-kha-pa's Final Exposition of Wisdom
    In fourteenth and fifteenth-century Tibet there was great ferment about what makes enlightenment possible, since systems of self-liberation must show what factors preexist in the mind that allow for transformation into a state of freedom from suffering. This controversy about the nature of mind, which persists to the present day, raises many questions.

    This book first includes the corresponding lhatong or vipashyana section from the Medium-Length Exposition of the Stages of the Path. It also includes a section from the text below.

    Illumination of the Thought: Extensive Explanation of Chandrakirti’s Supplement to Nagarjuna’s “Treatise on the Middle” (1418) dGongs pa rab gsal, or dBu ma la ’jug pa’i rnam bshad dgongs pa rab gsal

    The first five chapters of this are included in Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism which Shambhala will reissue.

    Chapter 6 from this text, on the object of negation on the two truths, is also included in Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition of Wisdom. The book then details the views of his predecessor Dolpopa, the seminal author of philosophical treatises of the Jonang order, as found in his Mountain Doctrine (featured in The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen), followed by an analysis of Tsongkhapa’s reactions. By contrasting the two systems—Dolpopa's doctrine of other-emptiness and Tsongkhapa's doctrine of self-emptiness—both views emerge more clearly, contributing to a fuller picture of reality as viewed in Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkhapa's Final Exposition of Wisdom brilliantly explicates ignorance and wisdom, explains the relationship between dependent-arising and emptiness, shows how to meditate on emptiness, and explains what it means to view phenomena as illusions.

    The Prajnaparamita Corpus

    Golden Garland of Eloquence, Legs bshad gser phreng

    ornament of reason gone beyondIn Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition Karl Brunnholzl relates that in in the Blue Annals, Tsongkhapa’s first teacher said to him:

    You will first study earnestly the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which is the
    ornament of the three “Mothers.”
    If you become learned in it, you will be able to master all the
    Keep this advice in a corner of your mind!

    Tsongkhapa certainly did study it in earnest, and the fruit was the Legs bshad gser phreng, or “Golden Garland of Eloquence,” an extensive commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayalamkara, “Ornament for the Clear Realizations,” and thus is also on the Prajñaparamita, or “Perfection of Wisdom” teachings. This is explored in detail in Gone Beyond, where Tsongkhapa’s work is referred to throughout.

    The third volume of this trilogy of commentaries, Groundless Paths on the Ornament of Reason (Abhisamayalamkara) is based on the Nyingma commentaries on this text, in particular those by Patrul Rinpoche.  Interestingly, of the four works on this text by Patrul Rinpoche, two of them, The General Topics of the Abhisamayalamkara and A Word Commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara, are nearly verbatim or obvious abridgments of Tsongkhapa's Golden Garland. This large volume goes into great detail tracing the relationship between Tsongkhapa’s work (which he based on the commentary of Haribhadra and Vimuktisena) and Patrul Rinpoche’s.

    Robert Thurman’s The Central Philosophy of Tibet is an annotated version this text.


    Tsongkhapa is famous—and in some circles controversial—for his presentation and positioning of the Prasangika view of Madhyamaka. Any discussion or debate of this subject invariably references Tsongkhapa.

    A Memorandum on Eight Great Difficult Points of [Nagarjuna’s] Mülamadhyamakakārikā

    A discussion of this text is included in Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School. The “unique tenets” correspond to the difficult points.

    The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition

    This comprehensive work by Karl Brunnholzl explores all facets of Madhyamaka in the Kagyu tradition, but no analysis of Madhyamaka can leave out Tsongkhapa who appears throughout this work. There is a sixty-page section comparing the views of Tsongkhapa to those of Mikyo Dorje’s “whose writing, not only is a reaction to the position of Tsongkhapa and his followers but addresses most of the views on Madhyamaka that were current in Tibet at the time, including the controversial issue of ‘Shentong-Madhyamaka.’”

    Notes on Madhyamakālamkāra (dBu ma rgyan gyi zin bris)

    The Ornament of the Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Shantarakshita
    The late James Blumenthal explores this important text by Shantarakshita and brings in Tsongkhapa’s text on this subject.

    For a different take on this same text, see The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, whose introduction goes into helpful detail on the various interpretations. This longer passage offers a glimpse into some of the fault lines in the debate:

    The brilliance of Tsongkhapa’s teaching, his qualities as a leader, his emphasis on monastic discipline, and the purity of his example attracted an immense following. Admiration, however, was not unanimous, and his presentation of Madhyamaka in particular provoked a fierce backlash, mainly from the Sakya school, to which Tsongkhapa and his early disciples originally belonged. These critics included Tsongkhapa’s contemporaries Rongtön Shakya Gyaltsen (1367–1449) and Taktsang Lotsawa (1405–?), followed in the next two generations by Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429–1487), Serdog Panchen Shakya Chokden (1428–1509), and the eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje (1505–1557). All of them rejected Tsongkhapa’s interpretation as inadequate, newfangled, and unsupported by tradition. Although they recognized certain differences between the Prasangika and Svatantrika approaches, they considered that Tsongkhapa had greatly exaggerated the divergence of view. They believed that the difference between the two subschools was largely a question of methodology and did not amount to a disagreement on ontological matters.

    Not surprisingly, these objections provoked a counterattack, and they were vigorously refuted by Tsongkhapa’s disciples. In due course, however, the most effective means of silencing such criticisms came with the ideological proscriptions imposed at the beginning of the seventeenth century. These followed the military intervention of Gusri Khan, who put an end to the civil war in central Tibet, placed temporal authority in the hands of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and ensured the rise to political power of the Gelugpa school. Subsequently, the writings of all the most strident of Tsongkhapa’s critics ceased to be available and were almost lost. It was, for example, only at the beginning of the twentieth century that Gorampa’s works could be fully reassembled, whereas Shakya Chokden’s works, long thought to be irretrievably lost, were discovered only recently in Bhutan and published as late as 1975.

    The Wisdom Chapter: Jamgön Mipham’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva

    This work on the Wisdom Chapter of Shantideva’s classic, written more than four centuries after Tsongkhapa, is a presentation of a different view than that expounded by Tsongkhapa. It is, in fact, a superb source for understanding the impact of his Madhyamaka presentation in a wider context, historically and philosophically. The extensive introduction gives a very complete and comprehensive account. In sum:

    In his treatment of the Gelugpa account, Mipham concurs in all important respects with Gorampa and the rest of Tsongkhapa’s earlier critics. Indeed, his critique is possibly even more effective in being expressed moderately and without vituperation. Nevertheless, he is careful never to attack Tsongkhapa personally. Given the fact that Mipham was a convinced upholder of the nonsectarian movement, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the humble and respectful manner with which he invariably refers to Tsongkhapa. No sarcasm is detectable in his words:

    In the snowy land of Tibet, the great and venerable lord Tsongkhapa was unrivaled in his activities for the sake of the Buddha’s teaching. And with regard to his writings, which are clear and excellently composed, I do indeed feel the greatest respect and gratitude.

    There is, however, a striking contrast between Mipham’s veneration of Tsongkhapa, on the one hand, and his penetrating critique of his view, on the other. Mipham’s assessment seems to oscillate between an approbation of some of Tsongkhapa’s positions, regarded as unproblematic expressions of a Svātantrika approach that Mipham valued, and a determination to demolish Tsongkhapa’s philosophical innovations and their pretended Prāsaṅgika affiliations. This discrepancy has led some scholars to accuse Mipham of inconsistency. Closer scrutiny suggests, however, that Mipham’s admittedly complex attitude to Tsongkhapa was in point of fact quite coherent.


    Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight and Awakening

     Thupten Jinpa’s collection of Tibetan poetry includes two poems by Tsongkhapa.

    The first is Reflections on Emptiness (pp. 83-84), which is an extract from a larger work, the rTag tu ngu’i rtogs brjod, which is a poetic retelling of the story of the bodhisattva Sadāprarudita, who is associated with the 8,000 Verse Prajnamaramita Sutra.

    The second poem is A Prayer for the Flourishing of Virtues (pp. 129-133).

    Jinpa presents Tsongkhapa’s poetry both in terms of a.) his mastery of composition and b.) his mastery of the Buddhist path.

    The first example comes through in the introduction:

    Tsongkhapa’s famous long poem entitled ‘‘A Literary Gem of Poetry’’ uses a single vowel in every stanza throughout the entire length. This is the poem from which come the famous lines:

    Good and evil are but states of the heart:
    When the heart is pure, all things are pure;
    When the heart is tainted, all things are tainted.
    So all things depend on your heart.

    In the original Tibetan, this stanza uses only the vowel a. Of course, this kind of literary device can never be reproduced in a translation, whatever the virtuosity and command of the translator.

    For the mastery of the Buddhist path, we find the following:

    To a contemporary reader, Tsongkhapa’s famous ‘‘Prayer for the Flourishing of Virtues’’ gives an insight into the deepest ideals of a dedicated Tibetan Buddhist practitioner; it presents a map of progressive development on the path. Beyond this, the mystic must utterly transform the very root of his identity and the perceptions that arise from it. From the ordinary patterns of action and reaction that make up our psyche and emotional life, the meditator must move toward a divine state of altered consciousness where all realities, including one’s own self, are manifested in their enlightened forms. In other words, the meditator must perfect all dimensions of his or her identity and experience, including rationality, emotion, intuition, and even sexuality. This, in Tibetan Buddhism, is the mystical realm of tantra.

    Here is Jinpa discussing the book overall:


    [A brief note. For those unfamiliar or only exposed through books, we strongly encourage readers to study tantra under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Book reading can only take you so far as the transmission of tantric teaching is about more than what can be put on paper.]

    Great Exposition of Secret Mantra: sNgags rim chen mo (1405)

    great expositionThis work is analogous to the tantra version of the Lamrim Chenmo, though it is very much the sarma (or later transmission from India) presentation of tantra. The first four sections of this work comprise the series The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra.

    There are three books by Tsongkhapa and His Holiness the Dalai Lama that form a series focused on Tsongkhapa's Great Exposition of Secret Mantra. In this text, Tsongkhapa presents the differences between sutra and tantra and the main features of various systems of tantra. Each of the three books below begins with the Dalai Lama contextualizing and commenting on the points presented in Tsongkhapa's text, followed by a translation of the corresponding part of the text itself.

    In Volume 1 | Tantra in Tibet, the foundations of motivation, refuge, and the Hinayana and Mahayana paths are presented. He then gives an overview of tantra, the notion of Clear Light, the greatness of mantra, and initiation or empowerment.

    Continuing his commentary in Volume II | Deity Yoga, His Holiness discusses deity yoga at length with a particular focus on action and performance tantras (the first two categories of tantra as described in the sarma, or “new translation” schools).

    Then in Volume III | Yoga Tantra the Dalai Lama details the practice of the next level of tantra, yoga tantra. With a preliminary overview of the motivation, His Holiness explains this level, which focuses on internal yoga, which here means the union of deity yoga with the wisdom of realizing emptiness. He details the yoga, both that with and that without signs, and then briefly explains how gaining stability in these practices is the foundation for some other practices that lead to mundane and extraordinary “feats.”

    An explanation of the highest yoga tantra is not included in these works, but an excellent resource is Daniel Cozort's Highest Yoga Tantra, as well as the recent and upcoming publications on Tsongkhapa's text from Columbia.

    The Six Yogas of Naropa, Zab lam Nā-ro’i chos drug gi sgo nas ’khrid pa’i rim pa yid ches gsum ldan

    The Six Yogas of Naropa: Tsongkhapa's Commentary Entitled A Book of Three Inspirations: A Treatise on the Stages of Training in the Profound Path of Naro's Six Dharmas, commonly referred to as The Three Inspirations.

    This is the famous arrangement of Naropa’s collection of tantric practices as explained by Tsongkhapa. This includes the full translation of this text and also includes an in-depth analysis of it from a historical perspective, leaving the reader a clear understanding of the text itself.

    Tsongkhapa's treatise on this system of tantric practice ... became the standard guide to the Naropa tradition at Ganden Monastery, the seat he founded near Lhasa in 1409. Ganden was to become the motherhouse of the Gelukpa school, and thus the symbolic head of the network of thousands of Gelukpa monasteries that sprang up over the succeeding centuries across Central Asia, from Siberia to northern India. A Book of Three Inspirations has served as the fundamental guide to Naropa's Six Yogas for the tens of thousands of Gelukpa monks, nuns, and lay practitioners throughout that vast area who were interested in pursuing the Naropa tradition as a personal tantric study. It has performed that function for almost six centuries now.

    Tsongkhapa the Great's A Book of Three Inspirations has for centuries been regarded as special among the many. The text occupies a unique place in Tibetan tantric literature, for it in turn came to serve as the basis of hundreds of later treatments. His observations on various dimensions and implications of the Six Yogas became a launching pad for hundreds of later yogic writers, opening up new horizons on the practice and philosophy of the system. In particular, his work is treasured for its panoramic view of the Six Yogas, discussing each of the topics in relation to the bigger picture of tantric Buddhism, tracing each of the yogic practices to its source in an original tantra spoken by the Buddha, and presenting each within the context of the whole. His treatise is especially revered for the manner in which it discusses the first of the Six Yogas, that of the “inner heat.” As His Holiness the present Dalai Lama put it at a public reading of and discourse upon the text in Dharamsala, India, in 1991, “the work is regarded by Tibetans as tummo gyi gyalpo, the king of treatments on the inner heat yoga.” Few other Tibetan treatises match it in this respect.

    A Practice Manual on the Six Yogas of Naropa: Taking the Practice in Hand Nå-ro’i chos drug gi dmigs skor lag tu len tshul

    A Practice Manual on the Six Yogas of Naropa: Taking the Practice in Hand

    Another text that is included in Tsongkhapa’s collected works is the short Practice Manual on the Six Yogas. This is included in the wider collection of texts on this practice titled The Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Also included in this book are works by Tilopa, Naropa, Je Sherab Gyatso, and the First Panchen Lama.

    Gelug Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

    This work has three main sections: an overview of Mahamudra; the First Panchen’s text The Main Road of the Truimphant Ones, and a commentary by the Dalai Lama. The author contextualizes the selection saying that the tradition of Mahamudra in the Gelug tradition comes through Tsongkhapa. He is referenced throughout the book.

    Other Notable Works Related to Tsongkhapa

    Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre is a collection by leading Tibetologists. The immensity of Tibet's literary heritage, unsurprisingly, is filled with references to Tsongkhapa across a wide range of subjects. Just a sampling of them include: the establishment of the Gelug order; the monastic curriculum; debate manuals; establishment of Ganden; a comparison with Milarepa; the controversies about his views; a classification of his texts; and a lot more.

    Mind in Tibetan Buddhism is an oral commentary on Geshe Jampel Sampel's Presentation of Awareness and Knowledge Composite of All the Important Points, Opener of the Eye of New Intelligence. This topic, lorig in Tibetan, was not one on which Tsongkhapa wrote a dedicated text, but he does include it in an introduction to Dharmakirti’s Seven Treatises and one of his sections includes a brief presentation on lorig. Tsongkhapa is brought up throughout this book.

    Maps of the Profound: Jam-Yang-Shay-Ba's Great Exposition of Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Views on the Nature of Reality

    This master (and massive) work by Jamyang Shaypa refers back to Tsongkhapa throughout, relying on his texts.


    Tsongkhapa is also referenced in about 60 articles on shambhala.com, mostly from the Snow Lion newsletter archive.

  • The Emphasis of the Gelug Tradition in Western Scholarship on Madhyamaka

    While its no longer true in many universities, the presentation of Tibetan Buddhism in western academia—and the books that came out of it—was heavily skewed towards the Gelug philosophical view and its traditions. There are various reasons for this, but the following from the Translator's Introduction of the Padmakara Translation Group's The Wisdom Chapter: Jamgön Mipham’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva presents an interesting explanation, tracing it to the political dominance of the Ganden Podrang in Tibet itself.

    "This suppression of dissenting opinion [in Tibet], which remained effective for centuries, has been of great significance for the academic study of Buddhism in the West. For reasons that will now be clear, the Tibetan commentarial literature on Madhyamaka available in modern times for the inspection of Westerners has been, until recently, almost exclusively the work of schol­ars belonging to the Gelugpa tradition. And when, in the 1980s, Buddhist studies became an accepted part of the academic curriculum in Western universities, the presentation of Tibetan Buddhism tended to be from the Gelugpa perspective.

    This was the natural consequence of the fact that of the young people who encountered Tibetan Buddhism—whether by actually going to India and meeting with Tibetans in exile or by encountering Tibetan masters visiting the West—those who had been attracted to Gelugpa teachers and who were powerfully inspired by the teachings and scholastic methods of their school were generally people who by temperament and intellectual capacity were most naturally attuned to the academic ideals of Western scholarship. Based for the most part in the Gelugpa tradition, they soon acquired, according to the Orientalist methods of the Western academy, a considerable knowledge of Buddhism, in terms of its history and doctrinal complexity, and this, coupled with a command of Tibetan and Sanskrit, naturally fitted them to academic work as the future professors of their respective faculties. Courses were created, texts were translated, and a great deal of scholarly material was amassed. And since this was overwhelmingly inspired by the Gelugpa tradition, the view of Tsongkhapa, especially in the field of Madhyamaka, has come to be widely regarded as the standard, if not the only, position. It is only comparatively recently, with the translation and study of texts—in no small measure inspired by masters and students of the rimé tradition—that new and competing points of view have come to light. It is thanks to this that it is now possible to place the views of Tsongkhapa and his disciples, on a full range of topics, both sutra and tantra, in a much clearer historical perspective and to appreciate for the first time the degree to which—espe­cially in the case of Madhyamaka—they were innovative and controversial and by no means representative of the Tibetan tradition as a whole: a fact that had been very effectively obscured by the banning of non-Gelugpa texts in Tibet.

    The academic study of Buddhism has certainly been enriched by the influx of scholars who were able to benefit from contact with the living Tibetan tradition, even if until now that contact has been somewhat lop­sided in favor of a single school. But if the academy has been benefited by such an encounter, it too has exerted a positive influence on the scholar­ship concerned. The maxims of intellectual freedom and the principles of impartial, scientific research, untrammeled by the dictates of religious and political ideology, have encouraged the scientific study of the history of Bud­dhism both in India and Tibet, leading to the rediscovery of many things that in the continuance of time had been forgotten or suppressed within the traditions concerned. Everyone stands to benefit from the discoveries of objective research, even if, when brought before the tribunal of impartial study, certain cherished fictions may have to be abandoned."


    From The Wisdom Chapter: Jamgön Mipham’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva

    More Books on Madhyamaka

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

    non-sectarian Rimé movement, commentaries classic Indian Buddhist treatises, core curriculum in monastic colleges, Tibet and South Asia.

    Khenpo Shenga (1871–1927)

    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.

    Khenpo Shenga, who penned influential commentaries on all 13 texts.

    1. Pratimokṣha Sūtra

    The first text is the Sutra for Individual Liberation or Sutra of the Discipline or Pratimokṣha Sūtra from the Buddha, containing all the precept for monastics.  We have a commentary of the Bhiksuni Pratimoksha Sutra, Choosing Simplicity.

    Related Books

    2. The Vinayasutra by Gunaprabha

    The second text is the Vinayasutra by Gunaprabha (7th century) who was a student of Vasubandhu. According to Ringu Tulku's The Ri-me Philosopy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, "Vasubandhu had many great students, and four of them were considered to be better than himself; Gunaprabha was the one who was better in the Vinaya. Gunaprabha put the four sections of the Vinaya into the proper order, and condensed the seventeen topics of the Vinaya into a shorter format; this is called the Vinaya Root Discourse. He wrote another text called the Discourse of One Hundred Actions, which gives practical instructions on activities related to the Vinaya."

    3. The Compendium of Abhidharma or the Abhidharmasamuccaya by Asanga

    This work on abhidharma does exist in a full, if somewhat dated English translation by Walpola Rahula.  There is an excellent commentary on it by Traleg Rinpoche, published by KTD, Asangha's Abhidharmasamuccaya.

    4. The Abhidharmakosha by Vasubandhu

    Vasubhandu's Abhidharmakosha is the Hinayana treatise on abhidharma and is translated in Jewels from the Treasury which also includes the commentary by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje.

    5. The Root Stanzas of the Middle Way or Mulamadhyamakakarika

    Nagarjuna most famous work, The Root Stanzas of the Middle Way or Mulamadhyamaka-karika is the first work on Madhyamyaka. The Root Stanzas holds an honored place in all branches of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as in the Buddhist traditions found in China, Japan, and Korea, because of the way it develops the seminal view of emptiness (shunyata), which is crucial to understanding Mahayana Buddhism and central to its practice.

    The latest translation of the text, by the esteemed team of the Padmakara Translation Group, translated this for the occasion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to Dordogne, France. This version includes the Tibetan text.

    In a concise presentation of this, its translator said, "It is important to see that in his explanations, or rather presentations, of the Middle Way, Nāgārjuna is formulating neither a religious doctrine nor a philosophical theory. He is not giving us yet another description of the world. He simply points to phenomena—the things of our experience that appear so vividly and function so effectively—and shows by force of reasoned argument that they cannot possibly exist in the way that they appear to exist, and that, in truth, they can be said neither to exist nor not to exist. Existence and nonexistence, however, form a perfect dichotomy. And since phenomena are said to lie in neither of these two ontological extremes, we are forced to the conclusion that their nature is ineffable. It cannot be spoken of or even conceived of. And yet it cannot be nothing—for how can anyone possibly deny the vivid experience of the phenomenal world? And thus we come to the nub of the question: How is the true nature of phenomena to be understood? How are we to lay hold of, or rather enter into, the kind of wisdom that, by revealing the emptiness of phenomena, is alone able to uproot our clinging to their apparent reality and thereby dissipate the tyrannical power that they have over us?"

    6. The Introduction to the Middle Way or Madhyamakavatara

    Chandrakirti's Introduction to the Middle Way or Madhyamakavatara.  This book includes a verse translation of the Madhyamakavatara by the renowned seventh-century Indian master Chandrakirti, an extremely influential text of Mahayana Buddhism, followed by an exhaustive logical explanation of its meaning by the modern Tibetan master Jamgön Mipham, composed approximately twelve centuries later. Chandrakirti's work is an introduction to the Madhyamika teachings of Nāgārjuna, which are themselves a systematization of the Prajnaparamita, or "Perfection of Wisdom" literature, the sutras on the crucial, but elusive concept of emptiness.

    7. The Four Hundred Stanzas or Chatuḥshataka Shastra

    Aryadeva's Four Hundred Stanzas or Chatuḥshataka shastra was written to explain how, according to Nāgārjuna, the practice of the stages of yogic deeds enables those with Mahayana motivation to attain Buddhahood. Both Nāgārjuna and Aryadeva urge those who want to understand reality to induce direct experience of ultimate truth through philosophic inquiry and reasoning.

    Aryadeva's text is more than a commentary on Nāgārjuna's Treatise on the Middle Way because it also explains the extensive paths associated with conventional truths. The Four Hundred Stanzas is one of the fundamental works of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, and Gyel-tsap Je's commentary is arguably the most complete and important of the Tibetan commentaries on it.

    Mahayana practitioners must eliminate not only obstructions to liberation, but also obstructions to the perfect knowledge of all phenomena. This requires a powerful understanding of selflessness, coupled with a vast accumulation of merit, or positive energy, resulting from the kind of love, compassion, and altruistic intention cultivated by bodhisattvas. The first half of the text focuses on the development of merit by showing how to correct distorted ideas about conventional reality and how to overcome disturbing emotions. The second half explains the nature of ultimate reality that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence. Gyel-tsap's commentary on Aryadeva's text takes the form of a lively dialogue that uses the words of Aryadeva to answer hypothetical and actual assertions questions and objections. Geshe Sonam Rinchen has provided additional commentary to the sections on conventional reality, elucidating their relevance for contemporary life.

    8. The Way of the Bodhisattva or Bodhicharyavatara

    The Bodhicharyavatara, or The Way of the Bodhisattva, composed by the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva, has occupied an important place in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition throughout its history. It is a guide to cultivating the mind of enlightenment through generating the qualities of love, compassion, generosity, and patience.

    We have a lot of resources on this site for this text - you can start with Way of the Bodhisattva Resource Page. In particular, we strongly recommend watching the immersive workshop from May of 2016 with esteemed translator Wulstan Fletcher who is part of the Padmakara Translation Group.

    In addition, we have the famous commentary on this text, The Nectar of Manjusri's Speech. In this commentary, Kunzang Pelden has compiled the pith instructions of his teacher Patrul Rinpoche, the celebrated author of The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

    The Five Maitreya Texts

    And then there are the five Maitreya texts that he imparted to Asanga.  For an explanation of these texts see two of the foremost translators of them explain them in this pair of interviews with Karl Brunnnholzl and Thomas Doctor.

    9. The Ornament of Clear Realization or Abhisamayalankara

    The Abhisamayalamkara summarizes all the topics in the vast body of the Prajnaparamita Sutras. Resembling a zip-file, it comes to life only through its Indian and Tibetan commentaries. Together, these texts not only discuss the "hidden meaning" of the Prajnaparamita Sutras—the paths and bhumis of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas—but also serve as contemplative manuals for the explicit topic of these sutras—emptiness—and how it is to be understood on the progressive levels of realization of bodhisattvas. Thus these texts describe what happens in the mind of a bodhisattva who meditates on emptiness, making it a living experience from the beginner's stage up through buddhahood.

    Gone Beyond contains the first in-depth study of the Abhisamayalamkara (the text studied most extensively in higher Tibetan Buddhist education) and its commentaries in the Kagyu School. This study (in two volumes) includes translations of Maitreya's famous text and its commentary by the Fifth Shamarpa Goncho Yenla (the first translation ever of a complete commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara into English), which are supplemented by extensive excerpts from the commentaries by the Third, Seventh, and Eighth Karmapas and others. Thus it closes a long-standing gap in the modern scholarship on the Prajnaparamita Sutras and the literature on paths and bhumis in Mahayana Buddhism.

    Groundless Paths takes the same material and looks at in the context of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. This study consists mainly of translations of Maitreya's famous text and two commentaries on it by Patrul Rinpoche. These are supplemented by three short texts on the paths and bhumis by the same author, as well as extensive excerpts from commentaries by six other Nyingma masters, including Mipham Rinpoche. Thus this book helps close a long-standing gap in the modern scholarship on the prajñaparamita sutras and the literature on paths and bhumis in Mahayana Buddhism.

    10. Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras or Mahayanasutralankara

    The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras or Mahayanasutralankara
    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.

    This volume includes commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, whose discussions illuminate the subtleties of the root text and provide valuable insight into how to practice the way of the bodhisattva. Drawing on the Indian masters Vasubandhu and, in particular, Sthiramati, Mipham explains the Ornament with eloquence and brilliant clarity. This commentary is among his most treasured works.

    11. Middle beyond Extremes or the Madhyāntavibhāga

    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, Madhyāntavibhāga, is part of a collection known as the Five Maitreya Teachings. 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.

    12. Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature -Dharmadharmatavibhanga

    We have three works that explore this text.
    Outlining the difference between appearance and reality, Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature 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. By divesting the mind of confusion, the treatise explains, we see things as they actually are. This insight allows for the natural unfolding of compassion and wisdom. This volume includes commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, whose discussions illuminate the subtleties of the root text and provide valuable insight into the nature of reality and the process of awakening.

    Mining Wisdom from Delusion
    The introduction of the book discusses these two topics (fundamental change and non-conceptual wisdom) at length and shows how they are treated in a number of other Buddhist scriptures. The three translated commentaries, by Vasubandhu, the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, and Gö Lotsāwa, as well as excerpts from all other available commentaries on Maitreya’s text, put it in the larger context of the Indian Yogācāra School and further clarify its main themes. They also show how this text is not a mere scholarly document, but an essential foundation for practicing both the sūtrayāna and the vajrayāna and thus making what it describes a living experience. The book also discusses the remaining four of the five works of Maitreya, their transmission from India to Tibet, and various views about them in the Tibetan tradition.

    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.

    13. Treatise on the Sublime Continuum or the Uttaratantra Shastra

    The Treatise on the Sublime Continuum or the Uttaratantra Shastra presents the Buddha's definitive teachings on how we should understand this ground of enlightenment and clarifies the nature and qualities of buddhahood. A major focus is “Buddha nature” (tathāgatagarbha), the innate potential in all living beings to become a fully awakened Buddha.

    We have two books on this work.

    The first is When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sutra and Tantra.  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. Most important, the translator’s introduction investigates in detail the meditative tradition of using the Mahāyānottaratantra as a basis for Mahāmudrā instructions and the Shentong approach. This is supplemented by translations of a number of short Tibetan meditation manuals from the Kadampa, Kagyü, and Jonang schools that use the Mahāyānottaratantra as a work to contemplate and realize one’s own buddha nature.


    The second title, Buddha Nature, includes commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso.

    And One More

    As Georges Dreyfus notes in his The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, there is another core text that is often included in this group, for example at Namdroling:  Shantarakshita's Adornment of the Middle Way including Mipham Rinpoche's commentary.

  • Kalachakra Tantra Reader’s Guide

    What Is Kalachakra Tantra?

    The Kalachakra, or “Wheel of Time,” tantra and cycles of teachings and practices are, on the surface, well known among practitioners and those interested in Tibetan Buddhism. Yet it is considered one of the highest teachings of tantra—a highly complex one where initiates take many years accomplishing the practice. The visualization for an advanced practitioner involves 722 figures in the mandala.

    One of the reasons for its notoriety is that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has bestowed the initiation—which takes several days to complete—dozens of times in over ten countries to literally millions of people. For most in attendance it is considered a great blessing and not a springboard into the practice itself. As the Dalai Lama has said:

    “The higher meditations of the Kalachakra tradition can be practiced only by a select few. But because of past and future events, and in order to establish a strong karmic relationship with Kalachakra in the minds of the people, there is now a tradition of giving the initiation to large public gatherings.”

    Kalachakra Tantra as a Main Practice

    There are many practitioners in the four main Tibetan schools, as well as in the lesser known Jonang tradition, for whom Kalachakra is their main practice, not just a source of connection and blessings. The Gelug and Sakya traditions were heavily influenced by Buton Rinchen Drub. Some of this is detailed in Buton's History of Buddhism in India and Its Spread to Tibet. The Kagyu and Nyingma traditions draw heavily from the Jonang. Some of the more contemporary masters include Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (whose biography was published in early 2017 by Shambhala), Penor Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Some of the stories about Khyentse Rinpoche’s connection with the Kalachakra—in particular, the teaching he gave to a large group including His Holiness the Dalai Lama—form a very moving section of his biography, Brilliant Moon. When asked to give a formal elaborate teaching at a Long Life ceremony for the Dalai Lama attended by the heads of all the schools and many other lamas, Tenga Rinpoche relates the following story of Khyentse Rinpoche:

    “The next morning when the time came to speak in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the whole assembly of lamas from the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, speaking for over an hour in an unimpeded flow like a river, Khyentse Rinpoche gave a most detailed and profound explanation of the universe according to the Kalachakra Tantra, in which he mentioned an immense number of quotes, which he obviously seemed to know by heart. At the end of the discourse, he finally approached the throne of His Holiness and offered the mandala plate into His Holiness’s hands. Then he offered the eight auspicious substances, and when offering the conch, a loud thunder crash resounded. This was considered to be a most auspicious event.

    Everyone was amazed at Khyentse Rinpoche’s erudition and spoke about his speech for years to come. Afterward I asked him, ‘Did you study the Kalachakra a lot in the past?’ He answered, ‘I didn’t study it much; I read the Kalachakra commentary by Mipham Rinpoche maybe once or twice; that’s all.’”

    Coming to the West

    The practice’s fame in the West, in particular, is also attributable to the Shambhala teachings introduced widely by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Shambhala teachings have a strong connection with the Kalachakra tantra as many of the works below detail. In Recalling Chögyam Trungpa, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche explains it in this way:

    “You find the teachings on Shambhala in the Outer Kalachakra; it is a branch or section of the Outer Kalachakra. The Outer Kalachakra is also concerned with predicting what good things are going to happen and what bad things are going to happen through an examination of the planets, the lunar mansions, and so on. It includes a description of the physical nature of the world and how the world was formed, and also discusses how the dharma will prosper in the future. So the connection between the Shambhala teachings and the Vajrayana teachings is found in the Outer Kalachakra. There, the text describes how there were the seven dharmarajas, the dharma kings.”

    Below you will find a guide to the many works related to Kalachakra that Shambhala and Snow Lion publish.

    Highest Yoga Tantra: An Introduction to the Esoteric Buddhism of Tibet

    In the New Translation schools, it is classified in the Highest Yoga Tantra section of tantra. A comprehensive look at this classification, and one in which the Kalachakra system is compared to the Guhyasamaja, is Daniel Cozort's Highest Yoga Tantra: An Introduction to the Esoteric Buddhism of Tibet. This is a good starting point because most of the extant literature is from the New Translation tradition, in particular the Gelug, which is logical given His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s activity.

    Treasures of the Sakya Lineage

    Before diving into the works dedicated to this cycle of teachings, there is an excellent overview of the divisions of the tantra in Lama Migmar Tseten’s Treasures of the Sakya Lineage, which is helpful when exploring the works below:

    “Kalachakra itself is divided into four types of tantra, giving us an elaborate framework to understand its specifics. First, there is the outer Kalachakra. In large part, these sections are concerned with visualizing and meditating on the Buddha in the form of the meditational deity Kalachakra and chanting his mantra. Second comes the inner Kalachakra, which addresses applying the profound internal meditations on the subtle channels, vital winds, elements, and essential drops that make up the subtle (psychic) body. Third, the secret Kalachakra involves meditating on and within the ultimate meaning of the truth of emptiness. Fourth is “other,” or “alternative,” Kalachakra, which relates to the study of and meditation on the outer cosmos of our realm of existence. Alternative Kalachakra teaches us how all the physical appearances of this world are the manifestation of our collective karma; it teaches us the causes that bring about this universe. It describes the outer universe and how it directly corresponds with and reflects the inner propensities and karmic vision of all the beings within this universe. Thus, the Kalachakra tantra contains the deepest meanings of four types of tantras all within a single tradition.”

    The Wheel of Time

    An excellent starting point for diving in is The Wheel of Time: Kalachakra in Context. Here His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Geshe Sopa, and scholars Roger Jackson and John Newman explore the history, initiation, and practices within this tantric system.

    Another overview is The Wheel of Time Sand Mandala: Visual Scripture of Tibetan Buddhism. This volume comes packed with illustrations that give a helpful sense of how the mandala support for this practice is created.

    Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation

    For the initiation of the deity Kalachakra, Alexander Berzin’s Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation is an excellent starting point. Dr. Berzin has researched and written extensively on the subject and this encapsulates his work. It begins with an introduction to tantra generally, the Kalachakra specifically, and then dives deeper and details the initiation itself, what is happening each day. A brief summary of the purpose of the practice is included:

    “Properly empowered, we engage in generation and then complete stage meditational practice in the form of the Buddha-figure called Kalachakra. Through these two stages, we access and utilize the subtlest level of our mind to see reality. Remaining continually focused on reality with it eliminates forever confusion and its instincts, thus bringing liberation from the external and internal cycles of time. This is possible because our basis tantra, our individual clear light mind, underlies each moment of experience and, like time, it has no end. Once our subtlest mind is freed from the deepest cause giving rise to the impulses of energy that perpetuate cycles of time and bondage to them, it gives rise, instead, to the bodies of a Buddha, in the form of Kalachakra.”

    It includes an explanation of the understanding of the universe and how it differs from the more familiar Buddhist view of the universe. An excerpt appeared in the Snow Lion newsletter, and you can find it here. This work also includes other aspects of the text such as why it is so closely related with the line of Dalai Lamas, its connection with Shambhala, and more.

    Dr. Berzin also published the short Kalachakra and Other Six-Session Yoga Texts, which currently available as an eBook.

    The Practice of Kalachakra

    Another topical work on the tantra is Glenn Mullin’s The Practice of Kalachakra. The first half serves as a comprehensive overview of the tantra and the Kalachakra. The second half includes a set of translations of teachings and practices related to this cycle from the First, Fifth, Thirteenth, and present Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. It also includes works from Buton, the First Panchen Lama, and Lobzang Thubten Chokyi Nyima.

    Some of these are also included in From the Heart of Chenrezig: The Dalai Lamas on Tantra.

    As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kalachakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama

    A very important work in English on the Kalachakra system is the anthology As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kalachakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama. With two dozen translations and essays, this contains pieces by Robert Thurman, Thupten Jinpa, Alexander Berzin, Vesna Wallace, and many other scholars and lamas known for their work with these teachings.

    There are several other works that include teachings, stories, and other helpful and fascinating information on the Kalachakra and its history and impact in India and Tibet..

    A Gem of Many Colors & The Treasury of Knowledge

    Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye taught extensively on the subject.  He talks about this repeatedly throughout his autobiography, A Gem of Many Colors.

    He also wrote about it extensively in his Treasuries. There will be a Kalachakra volume in the Treasury of Precious Instructions, the massive multivolume work from Shambhala Publications.

    In his The Treasury of Knowledge, published in English in ten volumes, there are two volumes specifically that contain a lot of detail about the Kalachakra system. The first is in the volume Systems of Buddhist Tantra: The Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra (6.4) and the other is in The Elements of Tantric Practice (8.3).

    The Buddha from Dolpo & Mountain Doctrine

    The Kalachakra is very central to the Jonang tradition, and a figure who is obviously very prominent in the teachings and propagation of the Kalachakra system was Dolpopa.

    Dolpopa’s biography, The Buddha from Dolpo by Cyrus Stearns, contains an immense amount of information on Dolpopa's connection with the Kalachakra practice.

    It is also discussed at length in Dolpopa’s own Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix.

    Astrological & Divination in Tibet

    The Kalachakra system also forms a large part of the astrological and divination techniques in Tibet. A few important sources on this include Mipham Rinpoche's Mo: Tibetan Divination System, and Phillipe Cornu's classic Tibetan Astrology.

    The Art of Buddhism

    Finally, The Art of Buddhism contains a short section on the Kalachakra mandala and the image above is from that work.

  • 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.

    photo from shedrub.org

    Shambhala Publications: The Dharmachakra Translation Committee has now published two of the five Maitreya texts, with a third on the way soon. Can you give a brief overview of why you chose to translate these?

    Thomas Doctor: There is a set of thirteen classic Indian texts that make up the core curriculum of sutra studies in many of the monastic colleges of Tibetan Buddhism. Among those thirteen classics, the five Maitreya texts provide an extremely rich account of Mahayana philosophy and practice.

    It is tempting to say that the scope of the five treatises is infinitely vast, because they deal with the ground, path and fruition as discovered and experienced by the bodhisattvas. With equal emphasis on view, meditation, and action they account for the full experience of limitless emptiness inseparable from universal love and compassion. It is for this reason that these texts are at the heart of the education of all scholar-practitioners in the Tibetan tradition.

    According to Tibetan tradition, the Buddha's regent, Maitreya, blessed the great Indian master, Asanga, and transported him to the divine realm of Tushita. In Tushita Maitreya taught Asanga these five treatises in person. Upon Asanga's return to this world of humans he passed the teachings on to his students.

    Middle Beyond Extremes Maitreya


    SP: What are the main features of these two "Distinguishing " texts as compared to the others?

    TD: In Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes  [published as Middle Beyond Extremes],  Maitreya invites us to explore the way things appear and the way things truly are. He guides his students toward a realization that goes completely beyond the dualistic grasp of ordinary consciousness, and yet at the same time avoids the pitfall of denying experience - an extreme negation that might otherwise mistakenly be derived from the teaching of emptiness. Through careful description and analysis of the fabric of the world and that which lies beyond it, Maitreya leads his students toward a pivotal conclusion: emptiness and experience are not in conflict, but entail one another.

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    This all-consuming conclusion can be seen as the point of departure for Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature. Whereas duality produces samsara and the delusional experience of the unreal, insight into nonduality leads to the encounter with reality and, thereby, the discovery of infinite wisdom qualities. In Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature, ­Maitreya explains the factors for and features of this fundamental transformation of the entire framework of consciousness.

    Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche

    Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche

    SP:  Why did you include Mipham Rinpoche and Khenpo Shenga's commentaries? What are the defining characteristics of these?

    TD: The Maitreya texts are pithy, packed with meaning. Traditionally they have been taught and studied with the help of commentaries that open up the verses and let their meanings unfold. In this series we present Maitreya's verses along with the explanations of Khenpo Shenga and Jamgon Ju Mipham. Both of these masters participated in the nonsectarian Rimé movement, and so they both emphasize close study of the Indian classics. Yet the way they write their commentaries are quite different.

    Khenpo Shenga intersperses glosses and explanatory remarks between the words of the root text. This format lets the reader begin the process of unpacking the condensed message of the verses without ever losing sight of them. It is a unique feature of Khenpo Shenga's approach that he almost never adds a word of his own. In the case of Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes and Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature, all his comments are extracted verbatim from Vasubandhu's classical commentary.

    With his careful focus on the wording of the verses, Khenpo Shenga leaves many issues wide open to further interpretation. Mipham, on other hand, generally goes much further, seeking to explain and provide clear solutions. Shenga's commentaries maintain a unique closeness to both the root verses and their very first commentaries - a feature that necessarily would be lost in any other format. Mipham invites us to follow him on a journey of exploration, taking up the issues set forth in the verses and offering his understanding of them. Mipham also writes with a natural elegance and wonderful clarity, always highlighting the points that are crucial for practical experience and direct insight. We hope that the synergy that we have felt between the root verses and the two commentaries can also be sensed in the translations.

    SP: There are so many dharma books, so little time. What is the importance of reading these from the point of view of a practitioner? Should they be read or studied in a particular order?

    TD: If we have a perfect teacher, receive perfect instruction, and put the instructions that we receive into perfect practice there is, strictly speaking, no need to read anything. That is the message that Milarepa has passed down. On the other hand, the teachings of Maitreya are true classics of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and they remain key curriculum in the education of the scholar-practitioners of the Tibetan tradition. These teachings are both the entrance point and the very heart of the scholarly learning that has continued to inform and inspire the confident practice of accomplished bodhisattvas across the centuries. Each of the five treatises has its own special emphasis, but there is no need to read them in any particular sequence. They are a seamless web of word and meaning.

    P: What's next?

    [Editors note: this book is now published and available]
    We look forward to the publication of The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras in 2014. The masters understand the views and contexts of the Maitreya texts in many different ways, but perhaps we can say that the Ornament is the mother scripture and that Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes and Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature constitute specific analyses that zoom in on issues that are presented and discussed in the Ornament. The Ornament is a feast of profound and vast Dharma. It displays and explains the beauty, wisdom, and power of the bodhisattva way, letting the Dharma of fearless compassion manifest in the present moment. It is an inexhaustible source of guidance and inspiration.

    The Ornament will also be accompanied by commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham. Mipham's commentary is monumental, spanning 380 Tibetan folios and the entire second volume of his collected works. Drawing on the Indian masters Vasubandhu and, in particular, Sthiramati, Mipham explains the Ornamentwith eloquence and brilliant clarity. This commentary is among his most treasured works.

    It has been a joy and a blessing to work on these texts. So many accomplished scholars and practitioners across the centuries bear witness to their wonderful qualities. We hope that their beauty and wisdom will also shine through in the translations.

    About the Interviewee/Translator:

    photo from shedrub.org

    Thomas Doctor has worked as a translator for Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche since 1993. He lives in Nepal.

    Books by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee

  • Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche: A Reader's Guide

    This article is a reader's guide to the great Rimé master Mipham Rinpoche (sometimes written Mipam), who reinvigorated the Nyingma tradition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Thangka of Jamgon Mipham by Noedup Rongae

    Jamgon Mipham (1846–1912)

    Mipham Rinpoche's Life

    Relative to his impact, and somewhat surprising given that he passed away only one hundred years ago, the details of Mipham Rinpoche's life are not that well known.   But what we do know is covered in a great overview in Jamgon Mipam: His Life and Teachings. This is a comprehensive look at Mipham Rinpoche's life and the themes of his writing.   It also includes over two dozen translations of shorter prayers and texts.   While it considers some difficult philosophical points, it is a very accessible entry point to the world of this immensely important master.

    Here is scholar and author Douglas Duckworth discussing Mipham Rinpoche's life:

    Mipham Rinpoche's life is also briefly covered in The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism and A Marvelous Garland of Gems.

    Mipham Rinpoche's main teachers were Patrul Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.   But being the polymath and nonsectarian he was, he also studied logic and important works by Sakya Pandita with the great nineteenth-century Sakya master Loter Wangpo and the Madhyamakavatara with the Gelug master Bumsar Geshe Ngawang, among many teachers from the four main schools.

    Introduction to the Middle Way

    As the Padmakara Translation Group wrote in Introduction to the Middle Way,

    One has only to read Mipham Rinpoche's writings to see that the spirit of faction is completely foreign to him. He is wholly free from a desire to vilify the positions of other schools, still less to criticize their spiritual endeavors. His remarks are never personal and his tone, though firm and occasionally ironic, is never vituperative. This impartial search for the truth did not fail to elicit a warm response in sincere and sensitive minds, as is well illustrated by the famous debate between Mipham and the Gelugpa scholar Lozang Rabsel, following the composition of the Norbu Ketaka, Mipham's commentary on the ninth chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara. The exchange was marked by mutual respect and good humor. Kunzang Pelden records that by the end of the exchange, the minds of the two scholars had mingled perfectly and they complimented each other with expressions of mutual admiration.  It is not surprising that Mipham came to be universally respected in all the great monasteries of Eastern Tibet and attracted disciples from all four schools.

    The breadth and depth of his scholarship might make one think that he spent all his time in study and writing, but the fact is that Mipham Rinpoche spent much of his life in retreat.  This gave him the deepest of roots in the direct experience that was the basis for his scholarship. Thus, all his works - whether his systematization of texts and compilation of sadhanas and devotional works, his articulations of emptiness and other complex topics of the Buddhist view of reality, his commentaries, prayers, or other works, such as the propagation of the practices related to King Gesar - come from someone who traversed the entire path and was writing from experience. His written legacy is contained in over thirty volumes (which translates to a lot more books if printed in the Western style), and while the list of books mentioned in this article might make it seem that much of his work exists in English, there is in fact a long, long way to go. He was also a terton, or treasure revealer.

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    His Works

    Patrul Rinpoche, Mipham's teacher (image from Wikipedia)

    Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887)

    While very much nonsectarian in outlook, Mipham Rinpoche was very focused on the Nyingma presentation of teachings specifically and, as heir to the approaches of Rangzom Mahapandita, Longchenpa, and his teacher Patrul Rinpoche (left), Mipham Rinpoche went back to the source Indian texts, and his commentaries helped to really invigorate the Nyingma presentation of these core texts. These commentaries are still a central part of study in many monastic and lay centers.

    A quick note: the categorization of his work below is very loose as Mipham Rinpoche's works more often than not spanned many topics and traditions.

    His Gateway to Knowledge (four slim English volumes published by Rangjung Yeshe: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV) is an overview of the Tripitaka, covering Hinayana and Mahayana, as well as a great study tool for those learning Tibetan as it contains Tibetan with English translation.

    He presents an overview of the nine yanas, or vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism as characterized by the Nyingma school, in A Treasury of Gems.  This is a commentary on Padmasambhava's classic Garland of Views: A Guide to the View, Meditation, and Result in the Nine Vehicles.  It is included—and forms the bulk of the text—in the Padmakra Translation Group's A Garland of ViewsWe also have a video of the translator, Stephen Gethin, discussing this text.The Padmakara Translation Group's Stephen Gethin presents Guru Rinpoche's A Garland of Views.Padmasambhava's Garland of Views

    Maitreya Texts

    Mipham Rinpoche wrote several very important and influential commentaries and works on the five Maitreya texts.   These have had many different interpretations over time from different quarters but for Mipham Rinpoche, the five Maitreya works comment on the entire teachings of the Buddha, with each one relating to different sets of teachings.

    Mipham Rinpoche's work on the Ornament of Clear Realization or the Abhisamayalamkara discussed in Groundless Paths: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition is focused on the middle turning of the wheel of dharma, i.e. prajnaparamita.

    In When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge Between Sutra and Tantra, Karl Brunnholzl includes extensive references and a 16 page analysis of Mipham's Synopsis of the Sugata Heart Mipham Rinpoche's main text on Buddha Nature.

    The above two texts share the view that there is but one vehicle with the intention as expressed in Madhyamaka.

    In Ornament of the Sutras or Mahayanasutralankara, he more generally associates with the Mind Only sutras but in a way that is compatible with Madhyamaka.  We have two superb tranlsations of this text. The firt was tranlated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee as The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras.  This edition includes annotations from Khenpo Shenga, based on Vasubandhu's own commentary.  The most recent translation, by the Padmakara Translation Group, is entitled The Feast of the Nectar of the Supreme Vehicle and not only has the level of translation many have come to expect from Padmakara, but also contains very helpful footnotes throughout.  Below is the translator, Stephen Gethin, giving some context for the work:

    Stephen Gethin on the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra from Shambhala Publications on Vimeo.

    The two remaining Maitreya works, the so-called "Two Treatises that Distinguish", are often categorized by scholars as Mind Only texts, and while they do give extensive explanations on the three natures and how external objects do not exist, Mipham Rinpoche says that the ultimate intention of these two are to present the fundamental view of Mahayana via the union of Mind Only and Madhyamaka.

    The first one is Middle beyond Extremes: Maitreya's Madhyantavibhaga with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham.

    For his commentary on the Dharmadharmatavibhaga, there are two versions:

    Maitreya's Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being includes the Tibetan on facing pages and Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature includes Khenpo Shenga's annotations as well.

    While not a Maitreya text, Mipham Rinpoche appears throughout The Compendium of Mahayana: Asanga’s Mahayanasamgraha and Its Indian and Tibetan Commentaries.  Mipham wrote an interlineal commentary on this work, and his comments about the other Maitreya texts above come up repeatedly.

    More Madhyamaka

    Mipham Rinpoche's commentaries on Chandrakirti's Introduction to the Middle Way and Shantarakshita's Ornament of the Middle Way (for which there are two excellent translations: Speech of Delight and The Ornament of the Middle Way) form two very influential commentaries on and very clear explanations of Madhyamaka.   In both these works, he takes on the long-standing debate between the views of Svatantrika and Prasangika, which agree on the ultimate nature of reality but differ in their approach in describing conventional reality.   In the latter work, he presents the text of Shantarakshita, whom he puts on par with Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, and brings together the Madhyamaka and Mind Only schools, as well as synthesizing the Prasangika and Svatantrika approaches.

    The Ketaka Jewel is Mipham Rinpoche's commentary on Wisdom chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva, published in 2017 as The Wisdom Chapter.  This work, translated by the same people who did Introduction to the Middle Way, also has a superb introduction, really grounding the reader in the trajectory of Madhyamaka thought through India and its trajectory in Tibet.

    Here is Padmakara Translation Group's Wulstan Fletcher discussing this work:

    Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions includes Mipham Rinpoche's commentary on the Gelugpa master Janggya Rolpe Dorje's A Song on the View.  The introduction to the commentary states:

    Straight from the Heart

    Identifying himself as someone whose own innermost view is Great Madhyamaka, Mipham Rinpoche explicitly praises the views of both Janggya Rolpe Dorje and Tsongkhapa, quoting the latter as a support for his own understanding of Rolpe Dorje's song a number of times. He addresses the issue of how some later Gelugpas seem to not have grasped Tsongkhapa's true intent of the inseparability of emptiness and dependently originating appearances. He also speaks against sectarian bias and defends Dzogchen against criticism, showing it to accord with Tsongkhapa's own final realization of appearance and emptiness in union.


    Mipham Rinpoche's work on Tantra is also very extensive. His main work in English is his commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which is the essence of the eighteen Mahayoga tantras.   There are two translations of this: The Essence of Clear Light , which includes the Tibetan, and Luminous Essence.   For this text, it is really important that they be read by those who have received the initiation and have permission and guidance from a qualified teacher specifically for this text.   By all accounts, there is no point to read these without having completed the proper preparation.

    In White Lotus: An Explanation of the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava, he gives a detailed explanation of this foundational prayer, explaining to us how to understand it according to its many layers of meaning.

    Two other works include wonderful pieces by Mipham Rinpoche that we should mention. As mentioned above, he really reinvigorated the Nyingma tradition during a time when there were many critics who did not properly understand it. The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet includes a scathing eight-page rebuttal of critics of the Nyingma tantras.

    A short but extremely moving prayer by Mipham Rinpoche in praise to Yeshe Tsogyal called The Longing Melody on Faith  is included in Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's masterpiece on ngondro, or the preliminary practices, A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar.

    Mipham Rinpoche also wrote a short text on the Treasure tradition entitled The Gem that Clears the Waters: An Investigation of Treasure Revealers, in which he presents a funny, honest look at the terma tradition.   This is included in Tibetan Treasure Literature.


    Mipham Rinpoche's Beacon of Certainty, a very important text used by Nyingma monastic colleges, includes an in-depth treatment of Madhyamaka, tantra, and Dzogchen.

    Fundamental Mind , which also includes a sixteen-page biography of Mipham Rinpoche by Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, consists of the first volume of his trilogy called the Three Cycles of Fundamental Mind,  a Nyingma text on ultimate reality that emphasizes   the introduction of fundamental mind through a lama's instructions.

    There are also a few selections contained in other books, including In Praise of Dharmadhatu by Nagarjuna with commentary by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. This book contains a few selections by Mipham Rinpoche.   In the first, from his Exposition of the Madhyamakalamkara, he emphasizes the critical importance of directly connecting with the experience of Dzogchen by first gaining certainty in primordial purity-otherwise one ends up with a view that will get one nowhere.

    In Straight from the Heart there is a short teaching which is a pith instruction on Mahamudra

    In Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Chapter 10 consists of a short Dzogchen text by Mipham Rinpoche on the nature of mind entitled The Quintessential Instructions of Mind: The Buddha No Farther Than One's Palm.

    Other Works in English  


    Beyond the Ordinary Mind: Dzogchen, Rime, and the Path of Perfect Wisdom is an extraordinary collection of 19th and 20th century selections from some of the most incredible masters of the era.  Included in this are eight texts by Mipham Rinpoche.  These are:

    • Wondrous Talk Brought About by Conversing with a Friend
    • The Four Dharma Traditions of the Land of Tibet
    • Profound Instructions n the View of the Middle Way
    • The Essence of Mind
    • The Essence of Wisdom: How to Sustain the Face of Rigpa
    • The Nature of Mind
    • A Lamp to Dispel the Darkness
    • Advice to the Dodrup Incarnation, Jigme Tenpe Nyima


    In Mo: The Tibetan Divination System, Mipham Rinpoche gives an explanation of this divination system based on Manjushri.


    While The Epic of Gesar of Ling was not composed by Mipham Rinpoche, it was edited under his direction.   For the full history, you can read the chapter "The Influence of the Epic of King Gesar of Ling on Chogyam Trungpa " in Recalling Chogyam Trungpa.

    Here is teacher and translator Sangye Khandro discussing Gesar:



    In a remarkable work in the form of a  letter to the king of Derge, published as The Just KingMipham provides a map for both enthical governance, but more fundamentally, how to live a meaningful, successful life.  This is still studied today, notably by thousands at Larung Gar in eastern Tibet.

    Here is scholar and translator Jose Cabezon discussing this work:


    On the Path to EnlightenmentThere are many other books where Mipham Rinpoche's work and influence is discussed.

    Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre refers to his contributions to the Gesar epic, his book on how to prepare colors, ink, and gold for thangka painting, as well as his vast contributions to philosophical literature.

    The recently released anthology by Matthieu Richard, On the Path to Enlightenment, has four short pieces by Mipham Rinpoche.

    The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening (to be published in 2019 by Shambhala) also contains an evaluation of his contribution to the understanding of Abhidharma.

    Mipham Rinpoche Today

    In his remarkable book Incarnation, Tulku Thondop Rinpoche says:

    This great scholar and adept said, at the time of his passing, "After this life, I will never take rebirth in this mundane world. I will remain only in pure lands. However, because of the power of aspirations, it is natural that the display of my tulkus as the Noble Ones will appear as long as samsara remains. " When people urged him to live longer, he said, "I certainly will not live. I will not take rebirth either. I am going to Shambhala in the North. "

    But his legacy is very much with us today, directly through his teachings and the many masters who continue to pass them on in the East and West.

    Your Mind is Your Teacher

    In Brilliant Moon, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who was one of the most influential teachers of our generation, talks about Mipham Rinpoche throughout, with over 170 references to him.

    It is no surprise that Mipham Rinpoche's teachings continue to appear in the written and oral teachings of many contemporary teachers.   As one example in many, Khenpo Garwang's recently released Your Mind Is Your Teacher is a detailed instruction on contemplative or analytical meditation based on Mipham Rinpoche's Wheel of Analytical Meditation.

    There are many other great resources on Mipham Rinpoche online, including translations of some shorter works by Lotsawa House and a bio from the wonderful Treasury of Lives site.

    We look forward to seeing more and more of Mipham Rinpoche's material to be published in English in the coming years.

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

    by Karl Brunnhölzl

    Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma

    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.

    Related Books

    Ornament of Clear Realization

    The Ornament of Mahayana Sutras is a synopsis of all topics of those mahayana sutras that are not covered by The Ornament of Clear Realization and The Ultimate Continuum of the Mahayana.

    Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras

    The Distinction between the Middle and Extremes explains the vast paths of all three yanas, emphasizing the view of Yogācāra (including the Yogācāra Middle Way) and the distinctive features of the mahāyāna.

    The Distinction Between Middle and Extremes

    The Distinction Between Phenomena and Their Nature discusses the difference between samsaric confusion and the liberating power of nonconceptual wisdom-the heart essence of all profound sutras.

    The Distinction Between Phenomena and Their Nature

    Finally, The Ultimate Continuum of the Mahāyāna is a general commentary on buddha nature and represents a bridge between sutra and tantra.

    The Ultimate Continuum  of the Mahayana

    Thus, these five texts are mainly based on prajnaparamita, the classical teachings of Yogācāra (which are not identical with what is called "the Mind-Only School"), and the instructions on “Buddha nature” (tathāgatagarbha). Different Tibetan masters have voiced all kinds of opinions about the Maitreya texts representing the views of certain Buddhist schools, such as “Mind Only” (cittamātra), Yogācāra, Madhyamaka, or Shentong. However, as far as one's practice goes, says Thrangu Rinpoche, the tutor of the seventeenth Karmapa, it is necessary to determine-even in the Madhyamaka view - that appearances are nothing but mind, to resolve that mind is empty, and to realize mind's emptiness in meditation. According to the so-called "Mind-Only School," that mind is ultimately existent, but nothing like that is said anywhere in the Maitreya texts. So from that point of view, it can be said that all five texts belong to Madhyamaka in general. In particular, The Distinction Between Phenomena and Their Nature and The Ultimate Continuum present the view of the Shentong Madhyamaka School and are also considered to be foundations for Mahamudra.

    In any case, Maitreya's works are crucial and celebrated because they provide a comprehensive overview of all the essential elements of mahāyāna motivation, view, meditation, conduct, and fruition. Being classical Indian works, they are not exactly light bedtime reading, but together with their commentaries (the extractors of the zip files) they paint a complete and detailed picture of mahāyāna Buddhism.

    Now, different from the above traditional order of these five texts, a more accessible way for contemporary dharma students to study them is to begin with The Ultimate Continuum since it is the easiest one and discusses the nature of our mind as the very basis of everything on the Buddhist path. Next, The Distinction Between Phenomena and Their Nature enables us to discriminate ignorance and its manifestations from wisdom as the motor of the path to liberation. The Distinction between the Middle and Extremes explains the profound Middle Way and the basic principles of all three yanas. The Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras fills in the details of bodhisattva motivation, meditation, conduct, and fruition. Finally, The Ornament of Clear Realization as the most complex text combines the profundity of emptiness with the vastness of all paths and bhumis.

    About the Author:

    Karl Brunnhölzl, MD, Tibetology Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy, Marpa Institute, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Nitartha Institute, teacher and translator.


    Karl Brunnhölzl, MD, was trained as a physician and also studied Tibetology. He received his systematic training in Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy and practice at the Marpa Institute for Translators, founded by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. Since 1989 he has been a translator and interpreter from Tibetan and English.

  • A Reader's Guide on Tibetan Buddhist Essentials: An Exploration of the Nyingma Lineage with Tulku Thondup

    Tulku Thondup Rinpoche was born in East Tibet and was recognized to be a tulku at age five. He studied at Tibet’s famed Dodrupchen Monastery, settling in India in 1958, and teaching for many years in its universities. He came to the United States in 1980 as a visiting scholar at Harvard University.  For the past three decades he has lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he writes, translates, and teaches under the auspices of the Buddhayana Foundation. His numerous books include The Healing Power of Mind, which has now been published in eighteen languages, and Boundless Healing,  which has been published in eleven languages.

    In Rinpoche's own words...

    The Way of the Bodhisattva

    by Shantideva

    This is a most renowned Buddhist text for all Tibetan Buddhist schools to study and train in. It teaches how to generate, preserve, and advance bodhicitta—the noble attitude and effort that brings happiness and enlightenment, or Buddhahood. This is a treatise of meticulously logical, thoroughly practical, mesmerizing poetry and heart-reaching counsel that stimulate unconditional love in our hearts and propel us to serve others selflessly. I myself started to study this nectar-like volume as a young novice and am still absorbing it as a prayer and meditation with earnest devotion.

    White Lotus

    An Explanation of the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava

    by Jamgon Mipham, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group

    This is the most revered commentary on the sacred Seven Line Prayer of Guru Padmasambhava, who founded Buddhism in Tibet. You can say  it as a common prayer to the enlightened Guru with devotion for his blessings. Or you can pray by seeing the union of the ultimate sphere and intrinsic awareness as the Guru; your body as the sacred-body of blissful wisdom and wisdom-energies of the Guru; or the wisdom and wisdom-lights as the Guru, in order to attain primordial wisdom, the ultimate Guru. You train with this prayer according to your own spiritual ability.

    A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar

    by Thinley Norbu

    This scholarly exposition on Ngondro trainings of the Dudjom lineage examines the profound views and meditations of both sutra and tantra. The core of this sacred volume is the discourses on the primordial purity and spontaneously present wisdom light visions of Dzogchen.  During  the last number of years, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche wrote and translated every word of this book personally with greatest care and taught  it to his students before he returned to Guru Rinpoche’s Pure Land. This is one of the most precious relics of Rinpoche that represents his enlightened actions on this earth.

    The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel

    The Practice of Guru Yoga According to the Longchen Nyingthig Tradition

    by Dilgo Khyentse

    Explaining the meaning of Guru Yoga of Longchen Nyingthig, this teaching shares the profound meaning of devotional meditations and prayers. If your heart is open with the energy of devotion to trust and pray to Guru Rinpoche as the body of omniscient wisdom, unconditional love, and boundless power, then your mind will instantly transform into or reflect his enlightened qualities. If the thoughts and feelings of your mind are reflecting Guru Rinpoche’s blessings and qualities, then all that you see, hear, and feel will arise as his enlightened qualities for you.

    The Tibetan Book of the Dead

    The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo

    by Chögyam Trungpa, Francesca Fremantle

    The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Karma Lingpa is a terma—mystical teachings concealed by Guru Padmasambhava (8th century A. D.) and discovered by Karma Lingpa in the 14th century. One of the well-known Tibetan books in the West, it reveals the profound teachings on the true characteristics of life, the stages of dying and the experiences of luminous nature at death. It details the arduous journey of  the transitional period between death and rebirth and the process of taking rebirth. It teaches how to transform life and death into a journey of happiness and enlightenment.

    The Words of My Perfect Teacher

    by Patrul Rinpoche

    I also recommend Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. This book explains the Ngondro practice of the Nyingma tradition in great detail. It starts with how to turn your mind toward Dharma and goes up to how to realize the enlightened nature of the mind—Buddhahood. If you just skim it superficially or casually, you could just find it an ordinary book. But try it instead with an open mind, and read it thoroughly—taking a few days or a week to complete it. It is known that reading it alone has caused spiritual awakening because of the blessings of the teachings and of the author.

    Book by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

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