Karma Chagme (Rāga Asya) on the Essential Qualities of a Guru in ‘The Oral Instructions to the Gelong Karma Rinchen the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

Karma Chagme (Raga Asya)

Instructions to Gelong Karma Rinchen on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen

I posted before about what Tāranātha considered to be essential qualities of a ‘Guru’ . Here is a newly translated excerpt from a short text by Karma Chagme (Rāga Asya (1613-78)) called ‘Khedrub Rāga’s Guiding Instructions to Gelong Karma Rinchen on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen‘ (mkhas grub a rA gas dge slong karma rin chen la gdams pa’i phyag rdzogs zung ‘jug gi khrid yig, Tibetan edition here). Like Tāranātha, Chagme writes about the essential ‘inner qualities of a guru being bodhicitta, love and compassion. Chagme warns that even if a teacher can recite the sounds of Dharma and practises well, without love and compassion, no matter how much practice they do, they are not an authentic teacher and cannot bring anyone to the fully awakened state. Citing the 8th Karmapa and Dagpo Gampopa, he cautions that supplicating pigs and dogs will not bring one to enlightenment and nor will being like a designless mold or tsa tsa clay lumps without indentations, having blind faith and devotion to a ‘fake’ teacher. Saying that one needs a guru like the 1st Sangye Nyenpa, the root guru of the 8th Karmapa (see his Supplication Prayer to the First Sangye Nyenpa here). So, even though the follower may be ‘good clay’, yet without having the influence and guidance of a genuine teacher, ‘the design’, nothing will come from it.

Below that is a short introduction to Karma Chagme and reference to his famous prayer about Sukhavati.

18th Century Thangka painting of the 8th Karmapa (see https://www.himalayanart.org/items/59367)

In summary, having genuine love and compassion for ALL beings are the root of all the Buddhist vehicles of a Hearer, Self-Realiser, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. So if ever a teacher, no matter how big or name/lineage they have, demonstrates a lack of genuine bodhicitta, love and compassion to you, and/or other beings then the clear advice is to abandon them as soon as possible!

May it be of benefit!

Excerpt from Karma Chagme’s Instructions to Gelong Karma Rinchen on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen

གསུང་རབ་རྣམས་དང་སངས་རྒྱས་ཆོས། །

མ་འདྲེས་བཅོ་བརྒྱད་གསུང་པའི་སྒྲ། །

ཐུགས་ནི་མཉམ་པར་མ་བཞག་པར། །

མི་མངའ་གསུངས་པ་དེ་སྐད་ལགས། །

The scriptures and Buddha Dharma

Are the sound of the eighteen ‘unique’ qualities’ ‘speech’[1]

Yet, if the mind is not in meditative equipoise

One does not ‘possess’ the ‘speech’, it is said,

དེ་འདྲ་འདོད་པ་ཧཾ་པ་ཆེ། །


སེམས་བསྐྱེད་སྙིང་རྗེ་མེད་པ་ན། །


།མི་རྟོགས་འགྲོ་ལ་སྙིང་རྗེ་བསྐྱེད། །

Having such arrogant, selfish desires,

Even though doing good ‘practice’,

Without bodhicitta or compassion,

Deviates onto the path of lower vehicles and hearers.

Generate that which goes towards non-conceptual compassion!

མི་བསྐྱོད་རྡོ་རྗེའི་ཞལ་ནས་ཀྱང་། །

གསོལ་བ་ཁྱི་བཏབ་ཕག་བཏབ་ཀྱང་། །

སངས་རྒྱས་ཐོབ་པར་མི་འགྱུར་བས། །

བླ་མ་མིན་པར་བླ་མ་རུ། །

བཅོས་མིན་བླ་མ་མ་ཡིན་པར། །

བླ་མ་ཡིན་པ་བླ་མ་རུ། །

བྱོན་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་མཉན་པ་འདྲ་ཞིག་དགོས། །

As Mikyo Dorje [8th Karmapa] used to say

Even supplicating a dog or pig

Cannot transform into full awakening.

Thus, a [true] guru who appears as

a guru—not a fake guru, who appears to be a guru

but is not—must be like Sangye Nyenpa![2].

གསུངས་ཕྱིར་ང་འདྲའི་བླ་མ་ལ། །

དབང་ལུང་ཁྲིད་སོགས་འབྲེལ་ཆེ་བའི། །

རྨོངས་ཞེན་བྱས་ནས་གསོལ་བཏབ་ཀྱང་། །

བརྐོས་ཕོར་རི་མོ་མེད་པ་ལ། །

འབི་འབི་ཨཱཙྪ་མི་དོད་ལྟར། །

ཕྱག་ཆེན་དངོས་ནི་མི་རྟོགས་ཞེས། །

མཉམ་མེད་དྭགས་པོ་ལྷ་རྗེས་གསུངས། །

Thus, even supplicating a teacher like me,

Out of blind devotion and clinging,

For ‘grand connections’ of empowerment, transmission and instructions and more, is

Like a mold without design, or

Unindented Tsa Tsa lumps of clay;[3]

The authentic mahāmudrā cannot be realised.

The incomparable Dagpo taught this.

Source: མཁས་གྲུབ་ཨ་རཱ་གས་དགེ་སློང་ཀརྨ་རིན་ཆེན་ལ་གདམས་པའི་ཕྱག་རྫོགས་ཟུང་འཇུག་གི་ཁྲིད་ཡིག་བཞུགས་པའི་དབུ་ཕྱོགས་དགེ་ལེགས་འཕེལ།

Translated by Adele Tomlin, April 2020. Thanks to Dharma sister, Ina, for sending me this excerpt in Tibetan.


[1] 1. N.B The eighteen ‘unique’ qualities of a Buddha ( sangs rgyas kyi chos ma ‘dres pa bco brgyad) according to the Abhidharma tradition, are:

[2] Here, Karma Chagme is referring to the 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor, who was the root lama of the 8th Karmapa. He is not referring to the current 10th Sangye Nyenpa at all. In fact, the 10th Sangye Nyenpa personally told me that he does not see the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje as being the same ‘mind’ as his root lama, the 16th Karmapa. So applying his same logic, one could also say that the 1st Sangye Nyenpa is not the same mind as the 10th Sangye Nyenpa.

[3] Here, Karma Chagme is referring to what Lord Gampopa ( bSod nams Rin chen) says of the tradition of the practice lineage: ‘’If a spiritual mentor lacks realization, it does not help even if his disciples have reverence and devotion. As an analogy, although the clay may be good, if its mold has no design, it will not form into a statue. If the disciples have no reverence or devotion, it does not help even if the spiritual mentor has realisation. This is like a cow having milk, but its calf having no palate’’. This quote is referenced in the Collected Works of Gampopa (BDRC W22393:001:0026)
“…བླ་མ་རྒྱུད་ལ་ཆོས་སྐྱེས་པའི་རྟོགས་ལྡན་ཅིག་ལ་བརྟེན་ནས། དེ་ལ་དད་པ་དང་གུས་པ་ཚུལ་བཞིན་དུ་བྱས་ན་རྟོགས་ནས་འོང་བ་ཡིན། བླ་མ་ལ་རྟོགས་པ་མེད་ན།
སློབ་མས་དད་གུས་བྱས་ཀྱང་མི་ཕན། དཔེར་ན། བརྐོས་ཕོར་ལ་རི་མོ་མེད་ན། འབི་འབི་ལེགས་ཀྱང་ཚ་ཚ་མི་འབྱུང་བ་དང་འདྲ་གསུང༌།…”

Karma Chagme (1613-78)

Karma Chagme (Rāga Asya (1613-78)) was a major teacher of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and his writings have also become central to the Payul Nyingma order. The Neydo Kagyu (gnas mdo bka’ brgyud) sub-school of the Karma Kagyu was established by the first Karma Chagme. A contender for the post of the ninth Karmapa, he was not confirmed but retained the ordination name Karma Chagme. Karma Chagme is known for being a prolific writer and scholar, for his devotion to the pure realm of Sukhāvatī, and for being the teacher of Terton Migyur Dorje who revealed a unique cycle of terma known as the Nam cho (gnam-chos). Karma Chagme was credited as a Mahasiddha attaining an authentic emanation of Avalokitesvara Gyalwa Gyatso. He also wrote a famous text called the Union of Dzogchen and Mahamudra.

The current Neydo (gNas-mdo) throne holder of Tashi Chöling (bKra-shis chos-gling) monastery is Karma Tendzin Trinley Kunchab Pal Zangbo (Karma bstan-’dzin ’phrin-las kun-khyab dpal-bzang-po). His seat is Neydo Tashi Chöling monastery, located in the Nepali village of Setidevi Bhanjyang, which is near Pharping, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Kathmandu valley.

Other Works

Other works by Karma Chagme, include a prayer to be reborn in Sukhavati Pure Realm. This prayer was recited yesterday (Day 6) live with HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, as part of the Prayers to Quell the Pandemic. You can listen to the full prayer here (after HH’s speeches in Tibetan, English and Chinese):

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