The Levels of Study of the Karma Kagyu at Larung Gar



We were  very pleased to host a talk with Khenpo Jamyang of Larung Gar in Golok on Monday, April 18th, 2016 who discussed  the Kagyu curriculum at the largest center of Buddhist study and practice in the world.   The talk is available as a video here.

Below is a list of the texts that Khenpo will be discussing and include what is available in English translation so interested readers can read these texts, or in some cases read about them.     Most of these are from Shambhala/Snow Lion but there are a few from other publishers listed below as well.

The Five Major and Five Minor Sciences

An excellent source on this topic is Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye's The Treasury of Knowledge - Book Six, Parts One and Two: Indo-Tibetan Classical Learning and Buddhist Phenomenology which goes into detail on these topics. The translator summarizes these as, "the range of general subjects that fall within the scope of Indo-Tibetan classical learning traditionally include the "five major sciences " of Sanskrit grammar, logic, fine arts, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy, along with a further group of "five minor sciences "-astrology, poetics, prosody, lexicography or synonymics, and dramaturgy"

Valid Cognition (Pramana)

Dharmakīrti’s The Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition (Pramāṇavārttika, Pramāṇavārttika, Nyāyabindu, Hetubindu, Saṃbandhaparīkṣā, Vādanyāya, Saṃtānāntarasiddhi)

The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso’s commentary on The Ascertainment of Valid Cognition (Pramāṇaviniścaya).

While there is not much in English on logic and valid cognition that is specifically Kagyu, The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Six, Part Three, Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy discusses these topics in some detail.

John Dunne's Foundations of Dharmakirti's Philosophy is also a good resource.


The Essence of Discipline

While there is not an immense amount of material on the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya – which the Tibetan traditions follow – in English, the 84000 project has a growing body of work.


Vasubandhu’s The Lower Treasury of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharmakośa)

A great source for this is Jewels from the Treasury: Vasubhuandu’s Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma published by KTD.  This includes the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s commentary Youthful Play as well.

Another important work on Vasubandhu’s Abhidharma literature is translated and detailed in The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice: Vasubandhu’s Summary of the Five Heaps with Commentary by Sthiramati which is a translation of his Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa

Asangha’s  The Higher Compendium of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharmasamucchaya).  Traleg Rinpoche has a wonderful short commentary on this text as well.

The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā)

The texts below are the Five Maitreya texts.  For a concise overview of the importance of these texts, see two short articles by Thomas Doctor and Karl Brunnhozl, two excellent translators of many of these texts.

The Ornament of Clear Realization of the Perfection of Wisdom (Abhisamayālaṃkāra)

An excellent translation and in-depth overview of this is the two-volume Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, the Ornament of Realization, and Their Tibetan Commentaries from the Tsadra series.


The full translation of this text along with Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary and Khenpo Shenga’s annotations is available as The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras. Another translation which will include an extended section contextualizing this essential text will be forthcoming in 2017 from the Padmakara Translation Group.

Middle Beyond Extremes includes Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary and Khenpo Shenga’s annotations.

Another important and influential commentary of this text by the great 12th century Sakya master Rontongpa was released in 2017.



A translation of this text which includes Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary and Khenpo Shenga’s annotations is available as Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature from the Dharmachakra Translation Committee.Another translation which also includes Mipham’s commentary and the Tibetan was featured in an article in the Snow Lion Newsletter.


An in-depth analysis on this treatise on Buddha Nature is included in When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sutra and Tantra

 The Middle-Way (Madhyamaka)

Entering the Middle Way (Madhyamakavatara) and the commentaries of the Karmapas

The most Kagyu-specific presentation of these is the in-depth Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition.

Also for a more specific treatment, see The Moon of Wisdom: Chapter Six of Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Way with Commentary from the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje's Chariot of the Dagpo Kagyu Siddhas

The Karmapa's Middle Way contains the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje's comprehensive commentary on the Indian master Chandrakirti's seminal text, the Madhyamakavatara or Entrance to the Middle Way. This commentary, Feast for the Fortunate, is the Ninth Karmapa's abridgement of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje's masterpiece, the Chariot of the Takpo Kagyu Siddhas. In it, readers will find previously unavailable material on the Karmapa's Middle Way view and a rare window into a philosophically charged era of Middle Way exposition in Tibetan Buddhism.

Also highly recommended is   Introduction to the Middle Way,   a superb book which has an introduction from the Padmakara Translation Group that is extremely helpful and clear, followed by Chandrakirti's text with Mipham Rinpoche's commentary.

Nagarjuna's The Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā)

Shambhala has a new translation of this coming out this summer from the Padmakara Translation Group as The Root Stanzas of the Middle Way: The Mulamadhyamakakarika

Āryadeva's Four Hundred Verses (Catuḥśataka)

Though not with a Kagyu specific commentary, the source text is available as Aryadeva's Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way With Commentary by Gyel-tsap


Mind Training of the Tantra Section

The Dakpo Jewel Ornament of Liberation

We have two translations of this text.  Guenther’s translation is widely regarded as technically excellent but with some challenging rendering of words.  Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen’s edition is an updated translation of this key text of the Ten-Rim genre.

The Preliminary Practices of the Great Seal (Mahāmudrā)

We have two texts related to this.  Ocean of the Ultimate Meaning is Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s through commentary on the Ninth Karma Wangchuk Dorje’s famous text which takes the reader through the preliminary practices and then onto Mahamudra.Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul is the classic commentary on the first part of the text, the ngondro.

Commentaries on Tantra

Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s commentary on the Hevajra Tantra.

Jamgon Kongrtul discusses this text in his Autobiography: The Gem of Many Colors but it is not available in published form in English.

Pith Instructions on Tantra

The Great Seal (Mahāmudrā)

The Six Yogas of Nāropa

There are many superb references for these topics, though as with tantra section above, learning and practicing about these should only be done under a qualified master.

For a simple overview of the Six Yogas of Naropa, see Traleg Rinpoche’s Essence of Buddhism, and Ringu Tulku’s Confusion Arises as Wisdom.

For Mahamudra, see our many books on this topic.