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 there are two works that cover his life in great detail.

The first—and a must-have for anyone interested in his work and life—is the extraordinary biography of Ju Mipham that Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche wrote but had been lost for seventy years until its recent chance rediscovery in Tibet and subsequent translation and publication.  This is in Lion of Speech: The Life of Mipham Rinpoche, which also includes samples of his writing across the vast subjects he wrote on.

The second is 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.

Related Books

Jamgon Mipam

Taught by: Douglas Duckworth & Jamgon Mipham

$24.95 - Paperback

Introduction to the Middle Way

Taught by: Chandrakirti & Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group

$32.95 - Paperback

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

This is also available as an audiobook read by Simon Callow:

A Garland of Views

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group & Padmasambhava

$22.95 - Hardcover

A Garland of Views

$24.99 - Digital Audio

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.

Maitreya's Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being

Taught by: Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Jim Scott

$24.95 - Paperback

A Compendium of the Mahayana

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Asanga

$79.95 - Hardcover

Groundless Paths

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham

$54.95 - Hardcover

When the Clouds Part

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Maitreya

$49.95 - Hardcover

Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras

Taught by: Dharmachakra Translation Committee & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Maitreya & Khenpo Shenga

$69.95 - Hardcover

A Feast of the Nectar of the Supreme Vehicle

Taught by: Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Maitreya & Padmakara Translation Group

$69.95 - Hardcover

Middle Beyond Extremes

Taught by: Dharmachakra Translation Committee & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Maitreya & Khenpo Shenga

$29.95 - Hardcover

Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature

Taught by: Dharmachakra Translation Committee & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Ju Mipham & Maitreya & Khenpo Shenga

$24.95 - Hardcover

Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature

Taught by: Dharmachakra Translation Committee & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Ju Mipham & Maitreya & Khenpo Shenga

$18.95 - Paperback

Middle Beyond Extremes

Taught by: Dharmachakra Translation Committee & Asanga & Jamgon Mipham & Ju Mipham & Maitreya & Khenpo Shenga

$22.95 - Paperback

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.

Introduction to the Middle Way

Taught by: Chandrakirti & Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group

$32.95 - Paperback

Speech of Delight

Taught by: Thomas Doctor & Ju Mipham

$39.95 - Hardcover

The Ornament of the Middle Way

Taught by: James Blumenthal

$34.95 - Paperback

The Wisdom Chapter

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group

$39.95 - Hardcover

The Wisdom Chapter

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group

$29.95 - Paperback

Straight from the Heart

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Jamgon Mipham

$32.95 - Paperback

The Adornment of the Middle Way

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Padmakara Translation Group & Shantarakshita

$29.95 - Paperback

Tantra

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.

The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great

Taught by: Ann Helm & Ringu Tulku

$24.95 - Paperback

Tibetan Treasure Literature

Taught by: Andreas Doctor & Jamgon Mipham

$29.95 - Paperback

Essence of Clear Light

Taught by: Lama Chonam & Jamgon Mipham & Ju Mipham & Sangye Khandro

$95.00 - Hardcover

White Lotus

$16.95 - Paperback

A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Thinley Norbu

$28.95 - Paperback

Mipham Rinpoche is central to the curriculum at the vast Buddhist community of Larung Garm, founded by His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche.  It is therefore no surprise to find Mipham RInpoche's work throughout the 2021 release of Voices from Larung Gar: Shaping Tibetan Buddhism for the Twenty-First Century.  In particular, there is a translation of Mipham Rinpoche's Wangdu, Great Clouds of Blessings: The Prayer That Magnetizes All that Appears and All That Exists.   This is a practice that is credited for making Larung Gar the important center that it remains to this day.  Khenpo Sodargye provides a detailed explanation of this magnetizing practice over thirty pages, the benefits of which he describes as follows:

By relying on the prayer, one gains, in the outer sense, the ability to benefit all living beings, while its inner effect offers one the ability to control discursive thoughts and thereby attain full control of the body and the mind.

Voices from Larung Gar

Taught by: Holly Gayley & Jamgon Mipham

$24.95 - Paperback

Dzogchen

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.

He also wrote a song expressing the view of Dzogchen which Thrangu Rinpoche uses to illustrate the unitty of the paprroaches of Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Madhyamaka in Harmony of Views: Three Songs by Ju Mipham, Changkya Rolpay Dorje, and Chögyam Trungpa.

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.

A Harmony of Views

Taught by: Khenchen Thrangu & Thrangu Dharmakara Translation Collaborative

$21.95 - Paperback

Fundamental Mind

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Jeffrey Hopkins & Mi-pam-gya-tso & Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche

$18.95 - Paperback

In Praise of Dharmadhatu

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Nagarjuna

$34.95 - Hardcover

Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light

Taught by: Chogyal Namkhai Norbu & Jamgon Mipham & Michael Katz

$19.95 - Paperback

Other Works in English  

Rimé

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

Astrology

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

Gesar

While The Epic of Gesar of Ling and the subsequent volume Taming of the Demons, 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:

Ethics

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:

Beyond the Ordinary Mind

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Patrul Rinpoche & Adam Pearcey

$21.95 - Paperback

Mo

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham

$24.95 - Paperback

The Epic of Gesar of Ling

Taught by: H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama & Jamgon Mipham

$39.95 - Paperback

The Taming of the Demons

Taught by: Lama Chonam & Jane Hawes & David Shapiro

$39.95 - Paperback

Recalling Chogyam Trungpa

Taught by: Fabrice Midal & Chogyam Trungpa

$24.95 - Paperback

The Just King

Taught by: Jose Cabezon & Jamgon Mipham

$24.95 - Paperback

Other

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.

Tibetan Literature

Taught by: Jose Cabezon & Rebecca Redwood French & Jamgon Mipham & Roger R. Jackson & Per Kvaerne

$39.95 - Paperback

Tibetan Literature

Taught by: Jose Cabezon & Jamgon Mipham & Roger R. Jackson

$45.00 - Hardcover

On the Path to Enlightenment

Taught by: Dudjom Rinpoche & Atisha & Matthieu Ricard

$22.95 - Paperback

Incarnation

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Tulku Thondup

$18.95 - Paperback

Your Mind Is Your Teacher

Taught by: Jamgon Mipham & Khenpo Gawang

$18.95 - Paperback