The 8th Karmapa on the ‘Single Intention’ (Gong Chig) by Drikung Jigten Sumgon

འཇིག་རྟེན་གྲགས་འདུས་བྱས་བསླུ་བའི་ཆོས༎ གང་ཡིན་དེ་དག་རྫུན་དང་གསོག་གསོབ་པ༎
ཆོས་འདི་ཐམས་ཅད་སྒྱུ་འདྲ་བཏགས་པ་ཙམ༎ ཅི་ལྟར་སྣང་བ་ཙམ་གྱིས་རབ་དབེན་པ༎ དེ་ཚུལ་རྣམ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་མཁྱེན་པའི༎
ཡེ་ཤེས་རབ་ཏུ་གསལ་བའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་གི༎ ཆོས་དང་ཆོས་ཉིད་ཀུན་གྱི་མགོན་པོ་སྟེ༎
འཁོར་འདད་ཀུན་གྱི་རྣམ་འདྲེན་ཟླ་མེད་པ༎ མཉམ་མེད་འདྲི་ཁུང་རིན་ཆེན་དེར་ཕྱག་འཚལ༎

To the Refuge Jigten Sumgon, Drikung Rinchen Pal, I pay homage!
Deceptive, conditioned, worldly phenomena,
Whatever it is, is false and hollow of meaning, and
All like an illusion, merely labelled.
The one ‘isolated’ from whatever merely appears,
Method of omniscience of all-aspects, and
Power of utterly luminous primordial-awareness,
Protector of all Dharmāta and phenomena,
Incomparable guide of all saṃsāra  and nirvāṇa,
To the unequalled, Drikung Rinchen Pal, I pay homage!
–by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, excerpt from ‘Letter to Drikung Rinpoche’ 

On this new moon day today, I offer a brief, research article that considers the various (and substantial) compositions by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1544) on the renowned set of teachings called Single Intention (dGong gcig), by Drikung Kagyu founder, Jigten Sumgon (‘jig rten mgon po rin chen dpal, 1143-1217). It provides an overview of  Mikyo Dorje’s life and teachers, his connection to Drikung and the Single Intention, and a catalogue of his works on Single Intention (that are available online). Ending with some quotes from two of his Single Intention texts that illuminate his views on Buddha Nature and how it differs from the ground-of-all consciousness, as advocated in Mind-Only schools of thought.

8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1544)

I first became interested in the work of 8th Karmapa while translating his supplication to one of his main teachers, the first Sangye Nyenpa (see here) and studying some of his work on Empty-of-Other (see here). Also, my root lama, 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje,  has taught many times on Mikyo Dorje’s philosophical texts such as  100 Short Instructions. A short biography of the 8th Karmapa’s life and video link for those teachings is here.

In terms of the life of 8th Karmapa, the most extensive account of it in the English language can be found in The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal, by Jim Rheingans (2017).  I summarise some of the key people in his life from that study below.

Interestingly, the recognition of the 8th Karmapa was also disputed with two candidates and one of the heart-sons of the Karmapa, the 2nd Gyeltsab Rinpoche, Tashi Namgyel played a key role in easing tension and stopping conflict [i] History repeats itself!  After being officially recognised, the upavāsatha vows and his first name, Chokyab Dragpa Palzang (Chos skyabs grags pa dpal bzang) were given to 8th Karmapa by 2nd Gyaltsab Rinpoche[ii] who became his first main teacher and who taught him to read and write. [Update July 2021: my biography of 2nd Gyelstab was recently published on Treasury of Lives here].

Four subsequent teachers are mentioned as crucial to the 8th Karmapa in the spiritual biographies:

(i) Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor, (Sangs rgyas mnyan pa bKra shis dpal ’byor (1445/1457–1510/1525, sometimes called the mahāsiddha of Denma (gDan ma),

(ii) Dumoma Tashi Ozer (bDud mo ma bKra shis ’od zer (b. 15th century, d. c.1545)),

(iii) Khenchen Chodrub Senge (mKhan chen Chos grub seng ge (b. 15th century)), and

(iv) Karma Trinleypa Chogle Namgyal (Karma ’phrin las pa I Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1456– 1539)).

The 8th Karmapa named them the ‘four great masters’ (rje btsun chen po rnam pa bzhi), for through them he said had accomplished the removal of obscurations and the accumulation of good purification (bsags sbyang)[iii]. I am producing biographies of these other teachers for publication.

Mikyo Dorje stayed with the first Sangye Nyenpa (chosen by the Fourth Shamarpa), for three years from the age of ten onwards (1516-1519)[iv]. In 1519, it is said he received the Kālacakra empowerment from Sangye Nyenpa while visiting the Gling Drung family. Shortly after that, Sangye Nyenpa passed away. The 8th Karmapa then started his scholarly study and work under the guidance of Dumo Tashi Ozer for several years. Then, from age 21 onwards, his spiritual guides were Karma Trinleypa (then in his 70s) and Chodrub Senge (Chos grub seng ge) from whom he also received full ordination vows. Chodrub Senge is said to be his main teacher on Kālacakra and Empty-of-Other view[v] and he wrote a Praise to him (more on that in another post).

The 8th Karmapa was also said to have been very influenced by a crazy yogin called, Lama Zhang, even taking him as a root lama and who is said to have helped him settle his mind of the view of Empty-of Other as the ultimate view[vi].

After a vision of the siddha Birvapa and prophecies (related in Kaṃ tshang) about the next rebirth, the Karmapa passed away in his forty-eighth year, (1554). The body (sku gdung) was brought to Tsurphu (mTshur phu). Pawo Rinpoche made offerings for the completion of his master’s activity (dgongs rdzogs) and the Fifth Sharmapa was made the Karmapa’s successor and regent (rgyal tshab).

The ‘Single Intention’

The Single Intention series by founder of Drikung Kagyu founder, Jigten Sumgon (1143-1217), is a quintessential text of one hundred and fifty pith instructions called Vajra Statements. According to Jans-Ulrich Sobisch (2020), a contemporary English-language scholar on the Single Intention:

Early in the history of the Kagyü school, the teachings of Jigten Sumgon were condensed into 150 core formulations called vajra statements. These pithy, revelatory statements comprise the Single Intention (Dgongs gcig), which presents the thought of the Buddha and the nature of the ineffable (brjod du med pa) in concise and direct expression. The Single Intention weaves the thread of ineffable mahamudra through the entire fabric of Buddhism. It presents mahamudra as pervading disciplined conduct, meditative concentration, and discriminative knowledge; ground, path, and result; view, practice, and conduct; and the “three vows” of pratimoksa, of the bodhisattvas, and of mantra. Jikten Sumgön teaches how the fundamental values and insights revealed by the Buddha are woven into reality and therefore accessible to all. [vii]

The Single Intention is thought to be the most profound philosophical work of the Drikung Kagyu. According to the Garchen Institute, US-based centre of Drikung master, HE Garchen Rinpoche: ‘Today there is a marked scarcity of teachers who have received the transmission of this advanced work and consequently it’s very rare to be able to receive commentary on it.’ The Garchen Institute are currently giving a 12 week set of free online teachings on it by Khenpo Tenzin (translation by Ina Bieler), for more information see here.

8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s lineage and texts on Single Intention


The compositions on the Single Intention make up two volumes (4-6) of Mikyo Dorje’s 26-volume Collected Works[viii]. For an excellent overview and research into the publication and history of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works see Rheingans (2017), pp. 49-54. The Fifth Sharmapa (Zhwa dmar pa dKon mchog yan lag (1525–1583)) played a key role in collating them. Shortly after the Eighth Karmapa’s passing, a golden manuscript, comprising thirty volumes, was made under the patronage of a rich noble nun of Kurab (sKu rab) named Chodzema Namdrol (Chos mdzad ma rNam grol)[ix].

The fact the Single Intention texts take up two volumes of his works, shows that the 8th Karmapa’s study and teaching on this text is significant. I have produced a catalogue of his texts, for academic research and reference purposes (see below).  Of particular note, is the extensive, detailed commentary he wrote on it (more than 800 pages) as well as a teaching he gave on it to the Drikung Rinpoche (see more information below).


In terms of 8th Karmapa’s lineage connection to Drikung and the Single Intention, there is a not a huge amount of information available on this in the English language. Jan-Ulrich Sobisch told me that he had not published anything on it in his recent book on the Single Intention (2020) and expressed a strong personal opinion that the 8th Karmapa’s works were not really connected to, or about, the Single Intention philosophically. Also, that the 8th Karmapa’s connection to Drikung at that time was for more political reasons. Sobisch did not offer any textual evidence to back up this strong assertion though. Yet there is no denying that the 8th Karmapa stayed at Drikung monastery and gave teachings on it and so, from an academic perspective, Karmapa’s works on it are worthy of mention (even if only in passing).

Some historical information about this topic can be found in Rheingans’ book (2017: 102-103). According to that source, Karmapa arrived at Drikung monastery in 1536 (most likely accompanied by his two most outstanding students, Tsugla Trengwa, Pawo Rinpoche (for more on the Pawo lineage, see here) and the Fifth Sharmapa, and met the 15th Abbot of Drikung, Rinchen Namgyal and Drigung Rinpoche, Panchen Dorgyalwa:

 In Drikung (’Bri gung) monastery, he exchanged questions with Panchen Dorgyalwa (Paṇ chen rdor rgyal ba), met the fifteenth abbot of Drikhung (’Bri gung), Rinchen Namgyal (sKyu ra rin po che Rin chen rnam rgyal) (1527–1570) and the local lord Ja Tashi Dargye (Bya bKra shis dar rgyas). The Karmapa transmitted empowerments of Cakrasaṃvara and meditation instructions (khrid) of the oral transmission of Rechungpa (Ras chung pa) to the Drikung Rinpoche (’Bri gung Rin po che), and the Fifth Sharmapa (Zhwa dmar pa).

In the Drikung branch monastery (’Bri gung thel), the Karmapa expounded on the Drikungpas famous ‘one intention’ (dgongs gcig) doctrine. Pawo Rinpoche (dPa bo Rin po che) made notes (zin bris) of these lessons[x]. The Karmapa’s extensive commentaries on the one intention doctrine, including spiritual biographies of ’Bri gung pa ’Jigs rten gsum dgon, documents his keen interest in the subject. The Drikung abbot and the Shamar Rin po che continued to travel with the Karmapa in an assembly of lamas to Legshe Ling (Legs bshad gling). There he instructed them in the ‘innate union of the Great Seal’ (phyag chen lhan cig skyes sbyor) and passed on reading transmission of the collection of Lama Zhang’s writings (bka’ ‘bum).

5th Sharmarpa
Although I have not done any extensive research on it, clues to the Drikung connection are also found in the colophons of the 8th Karmapa’s texts. The Drikung heads at that time would have been Gyalwang Rinchen Phuntshog (1509-1554) and Rinchen Namgyal Chodrag Gyaltsen (1527-1570). The latter is mentioned as a student of 8th Karmapa in the colophon of some of his texts (see below).  I have not been able to find any information about these two masters online in English other than this about Rinchen Phuntshog taken from the Drikung Kagyu website.

In Mikyo Dorje’s texts on the purifier practices of Drikungpa, he also mentions a translator called Lotsawa Kunga Chozang (lo tsA ba kun dga’ chos bzang), I have not yet been able to trace who this is.  He also wrote a letter/praise to Drikung Rinpoche, Rinchen Pal, an excerpt from which I have translated above.

To know more about the lineage requires more research into the Tibetan historical and biographical source texts.In any case, none of his texts on the Single Intention have been translated into English yet (other than a few quotes in Higgins (2019)) yet it is certainly rich and profound material philosophically and historically.

Buddha Nature and the Ground-of-All Consciousness in the ‘Single Intention’

There has not been much research or translation done so far on the philosophical import of the 8th Karmapa’s works on the Single Intention. In a recent article by David Higgins[xi], he discusses some of Mikyo Dorje’s works the  Single Intention (such as Commentary on the 10th point of the Single Intention [xii] and Distinguishing between Dharma and not Dharma: Pointing Out Instructions on the Great Sayings of the Profound Inner Meaning [xiii]) and how they illuminate the difference between ‘Buddha Nature’ (Tathāgatagarbha; bde gshegs snying po) and the all-base ‘storehouse’ consciousness (Ālayavijñāna; kun gzhi rnam shes).

To finish this short research post, I share some of the quotes from these texts (cited by Higgins) and how the 8th Karmapa identifies a difference between Sutric and Tantric views of the ‘ground-of-all’ and how the ‘subtlest root of samsara’ that needs eradicating, is eradicated on the Mantrayana path.

According to the 8th Karmapa, ‘Buddha Nature’ and the ‘ground-of-all’ ‘storehouse’ consciousness cannot be considered the same.  Buddha Nature is often mistakenly assumed (or understood) to be identical to the ‘ground-of-all’ by those who claim the empty-of-other view is no different from the Mind-Only view that posits the ‘ground-of-all’ as a substantive entity.

In the Single Intention commentary texts, Mikyo Dorje explains the difference between Buddha Nature and the ‘ground-of-all’ continuum using this quote from the Ghanavyūhasūtra[xiv]:

ས་རྣམས་སྣ་ཚོགས་ཀུན་གཞི་སྟེ ། །བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་དགེ་བའང་དེ། །
སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ལ་ཀུན་གཞིའི་སྒྲས། །དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་རྣམས་སྟོན་པར་མཛད། །
སྙིང་པོ་ཀུན་གཞིར་བསྒྲགས་པ་ཡང༌། །བློ་ཞན་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་མི་ཤེས་སོ། །ཞེས་སོ། །
The ‘ground-of-all’ of the various levels[xv],
Which is also the virtue of Sugatagarbha
That ‘heart’ (garbha)[xvi]  has been allotted
The term ‘ground-of-all’ by the Tathagatas.
Although the ‘heart essence’ is declared as the ‘ground-of-all’
It is not understood by those inferior intellect.
In Distinguishing between Dharma and not Dharma, he writes:

As for the ground-of-all, [Jigten Sumgon] did not teach a theory like that of the Cittamatra proponents, wherein the ground-of-all is posited as a basis for karma and its results. Rather in order to let go of to the danger of a nihilistic view it was taught provisionally. Even though the ground-of-all consciousness does not exist, even in the context of conventional reality (tha snyad bden pa). If it did exist, then it would be necessary to experience it apart from the cognitions of the six senses. But it is precisely because it is not so established that Candra (kirti) noted that anyone who says that the ‘ground-of-all’ exists is not fit to be taught emptiness [and] explained it as being incorrect.

ཀུན་གཞི་རྣམ་པར་ཤེས་པ་ནི། ། སེམས་ཙམ་པ་ཡི་ལས་འབྲས་རྟེན ། །འཇོག་བྱེད་རྣམ་གཞག་དེ་འདྲ་བ། །མ་གསུངས་ཆད་པར་ལྟ་བའི་ཉེན། །སྤང་ཕྱིར་དྲང་བའི་དོན་དུ་བཞག།ཡང་དག་ཐ་སྙད་བདེན་པར་ཡང༌། །ཀུན་གཞིའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ཡོད་མིན་ཏེ། །ཡོད་ན་ཚོགས་དྲུག་ཤེས་པ་ལས། །གཞན་དུ་ཉམས་སུ་མྱོང་དགོས་ན། །མ་གྲུབ་དེ་ཕྱིར་ཟླ་བས་ཀྱང༌། །གང་དག་ཀུན་གཞི་ཡོད་ཅེས་པ། །སྟོང་ཉིད་བསྟན་པར་མི་འོས་ལ། །

The 8th Karmapa states in his Commentary on the 10th point of the Single Intention, that he began it when he was 30 years old, while he was giving an extensive explanation of the Single Intention to the Gyalwa Drikung at Changchub Ling [in Madagha, Bodh Gaya] and later completed, when he was 40 years old. This suggests that the 8th Karmapa visited India, yet this is not mentioned in Rheingans biography.

In that text, Mikyo Dorje explains the meaning of one of  Jigten Sumgon’s vajra statements, 8.36, by identifying two levels of the ‘ground-of-all consciousness’ as: 1) the grosser ‘ground’ of the afflictions, that is abandoned on Sutric Paths and 2) the ground of the latent tendency (bag chags) of ignorance that takes rebirth as the ‘subtlest root of samsara’ (’khor ba’i rtsa ba ches cher phra ba), that is to be abandoned via the Tantric path of Mantrayāna:

“Through the power of blessing, the ground-of-all (kun gzhi: ālaya) is actualized in a short time.” If this vajra statement is restated extremely clearly, it says this: “By the instructions of one who has ‘seen’ that Buddha nature of the three continuums [ground, path and result]. which is the final intent of the sūtras and tantras [and], which has been given the name ‘ground-of-all’ (ālaya), if one is able to actualize it in a short time via the crucial points. If one has that ability, then by directly recognizing the subtlest root of saṃsāra [i.e., the ālayavijñāna], which is to be abandoned via the Mantrayāna, one engages in relinquishing it. When one engages in that, one cannot help but attain the buddha[hood] of the sutra and mantra traditions.

བྱིན་རླབས་ཀྱི་སྟོབས་ཀྱིས་ཀུན་གཞི་དུས་ཐུང་ངུར་མངོན་དུ་བྱེད ་ཅེས་པ་ལ།རྡོར་གསུང་འདི་ཤིན་ཏུ་དག་པར་བཏོན་ན། མདོ་སྔགས་ཀྱི་དགོངས་པའི་མཐར་ཐུག་རྒྱུད་གསུམ་གྱི་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ། །

ཀུན་གཞིའི་མིང་བཏགས་པ་དེ་དེ་ཉིད་གཟིགས་པའི་མན་ངག་གིས་གནད་ཀྱིས་དུས་ཐུང་ངུར་མངོན་དུ་བྱ་ནུས་ལ། དེ་ནུས་པ་ན་སྔགས་ཀྱི་ཐེག་པས་སྤང་བྱའི་འཁོར་བའི་རྩ་བ་ཆེས་ཆེར་ཕྲ་བ་དེ་ངོ་ཤེས་ནས་དེ་སྤོང་བར་བྱེད་པ་ལ་འཇུག་ཅིང༌། དེ་འཇུག་པ་ན་མདོ་སྔགས་ལུགས་ཀྱི་སངས་རྒྱས་མི་ཐོབ་ཀ་མེད་འབྱུང་བྱ་བ་འདི་བཞུགས།

After quoting Ratnagotravibhāga I.35ab, the Karmapa proceeds to explain that such actualization goes hand in hand with realising the increasingly subtle roots of saṃsāra that obscure it:

“When one actualizes this [buddha] ‘heart’, [one] is able to understand the chaff which obscures it –saṃsāra – and [to understand] not only its coarse root, but also its subtle and subtlest roots.”

དེ་ལྟར་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་མངོན་དུ་གྱུར་པ་ན། དེ་ལ་སྒྲིབ་བྱེད་ཤུན་པ་འཁོར་བ་དང་དེའི་རྩ་བ་རགས་པར་མ་ཟད་ཕྲ་བདང་ཆེས་ཕྲ་བའང་རྟོགས་ནུས་ཏེ །

He then goes onto distinguish the ‘roots of samsara’ for the different ‘vehicles’ and how the sutric and tantric paths have different ‘roots’, the Mantrayana ‘root’ [that needs to be eliminated] being the latent tendencies for transference of consciousness [rebirth]:

The root of saṃsāra for Śrāvaka Vaibhāṣikas and Sautrāntikas consists in the personalistic false views (satkāyadṛṣṭi), while for pratyekabuddhas, it is the belief in the reality of objects. Commonly among Mādhyamikas, it consists in elaborations based on reifications of signs. And in the final wheel, it is taken to be the indeterminate ālayavijñāna, construed as the ‘storehouse’ of latent tendencies, which is called the “defiled purity of mind.” Although [this conception of a] buddhahood in which all these roots of saṃsāra have been relinquished is discovered on the sūtric path, the roots of saṃsāra explained in the Mantra[yāna] is about the latent tendencies for transference[via rebirth].

འཁོར་རྩ་ལ་ཉན་ཐོས་བྱེ་མདོ་དགའཇིག་ལྟ་དང།་རང་རྒྱལ་དག་བཟུང་བ་བདེན་འཛིན་དང་དབུ་མར་ཐུན་མོང་བས་མཚནའཛིན་གྱི་སྤྲོས་པ་དང་འཁོར་ལོ་ཐ་མ་ནས་དྲི་བཅས་སེམས་ཀྱི་དག་པ་ཞེས་ཀུན་གཞིའི་རྣམཤེས་བག་ཆགས་འཛིན་བྱེད་ལུང་མ་བསྟན་ལ་བྱེད་པ་སྟེ། འཁོར་རྩ་འདི་ཐམས་ཅད་སྤངས་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་མདོའི་ལམ་ནས་ཡོད་ཀྱང་སྔགས་ནས་བཤད་པའི་འཁོར་རྩ་ནི་འཕོ་བའིབག་ཆགས་སྟེ།

On this point, he distinguishes tantric from sūtric conceptions of the ālayavijñāna, citing the Kālacakra tantra understanding of ‘ground-of-all consciousness’ :

This kind of root of saṃsāra is also designated by the term ālayavijñāna. In this regard, this [tantric] ālayavijñāna is subtler than the ālaya[vijñāna] explained in the context of the sūtras. From the Kālacakra [Vimalapra-bhāṭīkā]:

[Here in saṃsāra,] in the very moment of transference, the birth of a sentient being takes place…And it states:

The ālayavijñāna in the womb has the nature of fully uniting with uterine blood and semen.

དི་ལྟ་བུའི་འཁོར་རྩ་ལ་ཀུན་གཞིའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ཞེས་ཀྱང་བརྗོད་དེ། དེ་ལྟ་ནའང་འདིའི་ཀུན་གཞིའི་རྣམ་ཤེས་ནི་མདོ་ཕྱོགས་ནས་བཤད་པའི་ཀུན་གཞིའི་ལས་ཆེས་ཕྲ་བའི་ཀུན་གཞི་སྟེ། དུས་འཁོར་ལས་འཁོར་བ་འདིར་འཕོ་བའི་སྐད་ཅིག་གང་ཡིན་པདེས་སེམས་ཅན་རྣམས་ཀྱི་སྐྱེ་བར་བྱེད་དེ་ཞེས་དང། མངལ་དུ་ཀུན་གཞི་རྣམ་པར་ཤེས་པ་རྡུལ་དང་ཁུ་བ་དང་ཡང་དག་པར་ལྡན་པའི་ཆོས་ཅན་ནོ༎ ཞེས་དང་ཉི་མ་རྡུལ་དང་ཟླ་བ་ཁུ་བ་དུས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་མེད་པ་སྟེ་ཀུངཞིའི་རྣམ་པར་ཤེས་པ་མེད་པས་མི་བྱེད་དོ༎

Thus, the complete eradication of roots of saṃsāra, depends on eliminating two successive ‘ground-of-all’s:

   “[1] the aspect which serves as the ground of all afflictions and 2] that which is the ground of all latent tendencies even [when] the afflictions have been expelled.”

དེ་ལ་ཀུན་གཞི་ལ་ཉོན་མོངས་ཐམསཅད་ཀྱི་གཞི་བྱེད་པའི་ཆ་དང། ཉོན་མོངས་ལོག་ཀྱང་བག་ཆགས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་གཞི་རྒྱུར་པ་གཉིས་ཡོད་པ།

He notes that the ground of afflictions is overcome once the state of arhatship [is attained by] śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, whereas the so-called “ground of latent tendencies of ignorance” is overcome at the end of traversing the ten spiritual levels of a bodhisattva.

Higgins concludes that:

In the final analysis, then, the point of distinguishing buddha nature from the substratum [ground-of-all] consciousness is to clarify, as the Karma pa does in considerable detail, the respective conditions of awakening and delusion. His explication of the ālayavijñāna as the subtlest root of saṃsāra and as the final barrier to awakening is consistent with the Buddhist goal of eliminating all sources of suffering and bondage in order to realize liberation.

But far from providing a justification for the exclusion of ālayavijñāna from the arena of Buddhist epistemology, his analysis instead legitimizes it as a worthy object of investigation – if only as an object of refutation (dgag bya) on the conventional level – on the same grounds that the conventional itself is accorded this status. The ultimate is discoverable only in and through the conventional, at which point the conventional is no more. It should be clear from the foregoing analysis that Mi bskyod rdo rje recognizes the superiority of the Yogācāra ālayavijñāna theory over rival non-Buddhist ātmavādin  theories in accounting for the continuity of mental afflictions as well as the tendencies that perpetuate them. He does not hesitate to employ the ālayavijñāna model when it comes to delineating the set of conditions necessary for both cyclic existence and awakening. In these and other ways it becomes obvious that he does not reject the Yogācāra model of mind per se but only this tradition’s proclivity to hypostatize the mind and ālayavijñāna, to confuse them with wisdom and buddha nature and construe them as a basis of awakening.

The article by Higgins is worth reading in full as it contains valuable research and information on the 8th Karmapa’s thoughts on this subject. However, in summary, it is clear that 8th Karmapa’s texts on the Single Intention contain profound philosophical and spiritual insights into the nature of mind and reality, how Buddha Nature exists and how to realise it, and as such are worthy of more study and attention.

Catalogue of 8th Karmapa’s Works on Single Intention and Drikungpa

Volume Four

  • Biography of three brothers of Drikungpa

rgyal ba ‘bri khung pa khu dbon gsum gyi rnam par thar pa/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039. 4: 3 – 20. [lha sa]: [s.n.], [2004].

Colophon: ces bya ba ‘di ni karma pa mi bskyod rdo rjes mdzad par snang ngo/

  • Distinguishing between Dharma and not Dharma: Pointing Out Instructions on the Great Sayings of the Profound Inner Meaning

chos dang chos ma yin par rnam par ‘byed pa’i gtam chen po zab mor nang don ‘khrul par ngo sprod par byed pa grub mtha’i spyi ching/ 4: 21 – 70, 25 ff. (pp. 19-68)

Colophon: ces bya ba ‘di ni bde bar gshegs pa karma pa yi mtshan gyi byin rlabs dang ldan pa/ tshe rabs snga ma dang phyi ma mthong ba’i mig can/ ‘phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug gi spyan chab kyis nyin re bzhin khrus bgyid pa/ sangs rgyas mnyan pa chen po dang skad cig kyang ‘bral ba med pa rnal ‘byor pa chen po’i brtul zhugs ‘dzin pa rdo rje’i dbyangs a la la la hor sgrogs pas sbyar ba’o//

  • Detailed commentary of Jigten Sumgon’s sacred Dharma of Single Intention

‘jig rten gsum gyi mgon po ‘bri khung pa chen po’i dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i tshoms dang po’i rnam bshad karma bka’ brgyud kyi mkhyen pa rab gsal bka’i me long mchog tu ‘bar/ 4: 71-886, 408 ff. (pp. 69-884)

Colophon: zhes bya ba ‘di ni yul byang phyogs kyi rgyud du byung ba rig pa dang grol bar smra ba la gzhan drin mi ‘jog pa’i blo gros sad pa shakya’i dge slong shes rab chen po blo chen ldan zhes pa dang/ ming gzhan karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje grub pa’i dpal dbyangs can ngag ldan bya bas gnod sbyin gang ba bzang po dang gnyan yar la gsham po’i zhol/ yar ‘brog gnam mtsho phyug ma’i ‘gram du sbyar ba ‘dis kyang rgyal ba ‘bri khung pa sogs bka’ brgyud kyi skyes chen thams cad thugs kyi dgongs pa rdzogs te rgyal ba’i bstan pa rgyas pa’i rgyur gyur cig

  • Explanation of Single Intention given to Drikung Rinchen Namgyal

dpal rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i zhabs kyis skyob pa ‘jig rten gsum gyi mgon po’i dbon mkhyen rab kyi dbang phyug rin chen rnam rgyal chos kyi grags pa la dam pa’i chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i bshad pa dgyes par gnang ba’i gsung rgyun dang por slob ma dag gis reg zig tu byas shing phyis rgyal ba thams cad mkhyen pa nyid kyi zhal lung dri ma dang bral ba bdud rtsi’i ‘dod ster grub pa’i dpyid thig gzhon nu bde ba’i lang tsho gar dgu’i sgeg pa kun mkhyen rab tu ‘bar ba’i phung po bskal me ‘jig byed ces bya ba tshoms dang po gzhan ‘grel du mdzad pa/ 4: 887-1142, 128 ff. (pp. 885-1139)

Volume Five

  • Commentary of Single Intention particularly on pratimoksha

dam pa’i chos dgongs pa gcig pa las so sor thar pa’i tshoms kyi kar TIg chen po/ 5: 3-212, 105 ff. (pp. 1-210)

Colophon: ces/ gdan sa rin po che ‘bri khung ‘og min gyi pho brang chen por/ skyob pa ‘jig rten gsum gyi mgon po’i/ seng ge’i khri la dbang bskur ba’i gdan/ rim bco lnga pa/ chos kyi rgyal po rin chen rnam par rgyal ba’i zhabs la sogs pa/ skal bzang gi gdul bya rgya mtsho’i dbus su bka’ stsal ba’o//

  • Commentary of of Single Intention particularly on bodhi mind

dgongs pa gcig pa las/ byang sems kyi tshoms kyi zin bris rang gzhan grub mtha’ rgya mtsho’i pha rol tu son pas snyoms bral gyi slob dpon chen po mi bskyod zhabs kyis stsal ba’o/  5: 212-442, 115 ff. (pp. 211-440).

Colophon: rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas dpal karma pa mi bskyod bzang po’i zhabs kyi nye bar bstsal ba’o//

  • Commentary of tantric section of Single Intention

dam pa’i chos dgongs pa kar TIk las sngags kyi tshoms kyi rnam bshad/ 5: 443-774, 166 ff. (pp. 441-771).

Volume Six

  • Commentary on sixth section of Single Intention

dgongs gcig dum bu drug pa’i kar ‘grel/  6: 3-368, 183 ff. (pp. 1-364)

  • Commentary on cause and effect of Single Intention

dgongs gcig gi kar TIg chen mo las ‘bras bu’i tshoms/ 6: 369-732, 182 ff. (pp. 365-727)

  • Commentary of tenth section of Single Intention

dgongs gcig gi gsung bzhi bcu pa’i ‘grel pa/ 6: 733-944, pp. 728-944

Colophon: ces bya ba ‘di ni kho bo karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje rang lo sum cu par ma ga d+h rdo rje gdan ‘bri de ba byang chub kyi gling du rgyal ba ‘bri khung pa’i dbon po la dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa rab tu rgyas par ‘chad pa na/ gsung bzhin bcu pa ‘di tshigs su bcad par bsdebs pa las/ phyis rang lo bzhi bcu par bab pa na/ rgyal ba ‘bri khung pa dang thams cad mkhyen pa karma pa sogs mnyam med dwags po bka’ brgyud kyi dgongs don thams cad dri ma med pa’i snying ‘di thig ler rje btsun sangs rgyas mnyan pa chen po’i bka’ drin las legs par bstsal ba’i mthu thob pas ye shes kyi rdo rje gzhan dring la ma ltos par/ tshigs su bcad pa de dag la chos rnam par dpyad pa’i mchan ‘di ni dpal ldan zul phu’i chos grar sbyar ba’i dge bas ‘byung po’i tshogs bde bar gyur cig/

Volume Three

Letter to Drikung Rinpoche

bri gung rin po che la stsal ba’i chab shog 3: 81-86, 3 ff. (pp. 75-79)

Purifier of hindrances according to Drikungpa tradition

mgon po ‘bri khung pa’i grib sel sne chad me/ 18: 551-562, 6 ff. (pp. 544-554

Colophon: zhes bya ba ‘di ni lo tsA ba kun dga’ chos bzang gis gsol ba btab pa’i ngor/ karma pa dbyangs can bzhad pa’i zhal gyis rang lo zhe bzhi par karma gzhugs gling gi gan+d+ho la bi ha ra Tha ka ko Nar sbyar ba’i dge ba ‘gro ba thams cad kyi bsnyun thams cad dang bral ba’i dpal ldan bla ma ‘chi ba med pa bsnyen pa dang mi ‘bral ba’i rgyur bsngo bar bgyi’o//

Volume Nineteen

   Instruction associated with the purifier of hindrances according to Drigungpa tradition

mgon po ‘bri gung pa’i grib sel sne tshang ma’i gdams ngag zab mo bka’ brgya can/ 19: 739-750, 6 ff. (pp. 726-736)

Colophon: zhes bya ba ‘di ni lo tsA ba kun dga’ chos bzang gis gsol ba btab pa’i ngor/ karma pa dbyangs can bzhad pa’i zhabs kyis rang lo zhe bzhi par karma gzhung lugs gling gi gan+d+ho la bi ha ra Tha ko ka Na ra sbyar ba’i dge bas ‘gro ba thams cad kyi bsnyun thams cad dang bral ba’i dpal ldan bla ma ‘chi ba med pa bsnyen pa dang mi ‘bral ba’i rgyur bsngo bar bgyi’o//


Higgins, David, 2019. Buddha in the Storehouse: Mi bskyod rdo rje on the Relationship Between Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna, JIABS.

Dan Martin. 2008. “Jikten Gonpo Rinchen Pel,” Treasury of Lives.

Rheingans, Jim, 2017. The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal (Numata Buddhist Studies, Hamburg).

Rheingans, Jim, 2011. The Eighth Karmapa’s Answer to Gling drung pa: A Case Study. 2011, In Kapstein, Matthew T. and Roger R. Jackson (eds.), Mahāmudrā and the bKa´-brgyud Tradition. Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Bonn. IITBS GmbH: Halle, 345–386.

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2012. The dGongs gcig’s originator and its author | dGongs1

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2016. Is the Single Intention a philosophy? A first glance at the 8th Karmapa’s commentary (blog post here).

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2020. ‘Jig rten gsum mgon’s Dgongs gcig on the Relation between Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa, Mahamudra in India and Tibet, ed. by R.J. Jackson and K.-D- Mathes, Leiden: Brill.

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2020. The Buddha’s Single Intention, Drigung Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön’s Vajra Statements of the Early Kagyü Tradition. (Wisdom Publications).

Tomlin, Adele. 2021. “The Second Tsurpu Gyeltsab, Tashi Namgyel,” Treasury of Lives.


[i] Rheingans (2017) pp.75-81:

“While the future Karmapa had arrived, it would still be more than a month before his enthronement. In the first days, both boys were brought in front of a large assembly where they were asked to answer questions and give blessings. On this occasion, two sources depict the Karmapa as fearless and compassionate in all circumstances, whereas the second candidate, A mdo ba’s son, is portrayed as crying and confused. The source mentions that at this point the inhabitants of the encampment had been split into two parties, each supporting one candidate. The rGyal tshab Rin po che tried to reconcile the parties and urged them not to become partial but to be upright and to trust in the analysis (dpyod pa) and careful examination of the candidates. Upon analysis it was revealed that the second candidate—though already seven years old—did not know more words than ‘father, mother, and food and drink. The rGyal tshab’s efforts did not bear results at first. On one occasion the future Karmapa (the eastern boy) was even stopped from stepping on the throne.43 While public identifications continued, the boys were brought again into a row to identify statues and scroll paintings of former Karmapas. At the first occasion, on the twenty ninth day of the first lunar month, the rival candidate is reported to have failed. The second time, on the first day of the second lunar month, he managed to recognise a painting with the seal of a previous Karmapa. His supporters immediately proclaimed he had been recognised, which the other party doubted.

So heated was the atmosphere that the rGyal tshab Rin po che seems to have pondered a possible outbreak of violence. Though he had no doubts as to the identity of the Karmapa, the party supporting the other candidate was politically strong and had powerful allies. On the other hand, the people from Lho rong and rGya ston were fervent adherents of the boy the rGyal tshab had chosen. As no concurrence could be reached, the rGyal tshab suggested to the religious and political heads of the powerful provinces of Lho rong and rGya ston that they might remove the Karmapa from the camp.45 The inhabitants of these areas and their leaders considered this unacceptable, as the Karmapa had been decided as far as they were concerned, and threatened to drive out the other candidate and his party if they would not agree on the rightful Karmapa. Tensions mounted and the rGyal tshab worried that, if he did not enthrone the eastern boy and future Karmapa, some of his supporters might be tempted to start a war. Finally, adherents of the second candidate made concessions and informed the rGyal thsab they would concur.

As is typical of spiritual biographies, a dream of the rGyal tshab Rin po che is described as giving guidance. On the thirtieth day of the first lunar month, he dreamt that the Karmapa himself (the eastern candidate) urged the rGyal tshab Rin po che to end the dispute which was underlined by the symbolic appearance of a white and a red ḍākinī. They incited him to let the truth be known and staunch the spread of lies. The rGyal tshab Rin po che, probably under enormous political and spiritual pressure to take a public decision, resolved to enthrone the eastern candidate and confer upon him the title of Karmapa.”

[ii] Ibid., p 84:

“According to the Namthar (rnam thar) by A khu a khra, on the third day of the fourth lunar month (of the bird year 1513), the Karmapa received from the rGyal tshab Rin po che the eight precepts of the daily fast, the upavāsatha vows, and was given the name Chos skyabs grags pa dpal bzang (‘Dharma-Refuge, Good Radiant Glory’).”

[iii] Ibid, p.86.

[iv] Ibid, p.87:

“Zhwa dmar pa told those in the encampment that as the rGyal tshab Rin po che and most of the Seventh Karmapa’s students were already dead, the most suitable teacher among the living would be Sangs rgyas mnyan pa. A letter left by the Seventh Karmapa stated that, while there would be many suitable teachers among his direct students, Sangs rgyas mnyan pa was praised as the most suitable. The later Kaṃ tshang, p. 314, adds that this letter had been kept by the Si tu Rin po che and that the Karmapa had been saying since he was small that his lama would be Sangs rgyas mnyan pa.’’

[v] Ibid, p.96:

“dPa’ bo Rin po che reports: He taught him various large gzhan stong explanations (bshad pa) and asked him to uphold [this] view. Therefore he later commented on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in the tradition of Jo [nang] and Zi [lung pa]. And Karmapa said: And the mKhan po said, giving [me] the book of the Vinaya Flower Garland (Me tog phreng brgyud), ‘Explain this meaning’; and [then] I studied well the treatise known as the bsTan pa spyi ’grel (General Commentary on the Doctrine), composed by the omniscient Dol po pa. The Karmapa also studied the sixfold yoga (yan lag drug) with Chos grub seng ge, a practice which, in the context of Kālacakra, is strongly connected to the gzhan stong teachings.”

[vi] Ibid., pp 106-106:

“Si tu Paṇ chen’s Kaṃ tshang recounts that, through Lama Zhang’s blessing (byin gyis brlabs), the Karmapa settled the ultimate Madhyamaka view (mthar thug dbu ma) to be the tradition of prāsaṅga or ‘consequentalists’. Being himself inspired by the gzhan stong,…An interlinear comment (mchan) from the Eighth Karmapa’s Dwags po bka’ brgyud kyi bzhag thabs shig (Method to Settle [the mind] of the Dwags po bKa’ brgyud) offers a more prosaic explanation. When the Eighth Karmapa calls himself blessed by the First Karmapa and Lama Zhang, the interlinear commentary remarks that while the Karmapa first adhered to the ‘false aspectarian’ (rnam rdzun pa) view of Cittamātra, later, because he had seen the Lam mchog mthar thug (The Path of Ultimate Profoundity)  by Lama Zhang, he turned to Candrakīrti’s Madhyamaka and took Zhang as his root guru. The author of this interlinear remark, most likely an editor of the various versions of the Eighth Karmapa’s writings, remains obscure……In the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, three more texts exhibit evidence of the inspiration of Lama Zhang.”

[vii] See Solbisch (2020).

[viii] See Collected Works gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039.

[ix] See Rheingans (2017):

“The first edition of the Eighth Karmapa’s writings was a manuscript collection compiled in c.1555, soon after the Karmapa’s passing in 1554 (without much editing, one presumes); block-prints were presumably issued slightly later. Crucial to the first manuscript compilation were the Eighth Karmapa’s students, particularly the Zhwa dmar pa dKon mchog yan lag (1525–1583) and dPa’ bo gtsug lag ’phreng ba (1504–1566), who served as scribe for some of the Karmapa’s works.

According to the history compiled by Si tu Paṇ chen, the Fifth Shamarpa (Zhwa dmar pa) met the Eighth Karmapa in the famous pilgrimage area of Tsa’ ri and received the blessing (byin rlabs) to complete the collection of the Karmapa’s writings (bka’ ‘bum). The Shamarpa obtained myriad Vajrayāna empowerments (dbang) and meditation instructions (khrid) from his guru and noted certain instructions that may have formed the basis for the later table of contents. The Fifth Shamarpa began compiling the table of contents in 1547, seven years before the Karmapa passed away, and finished it in 1555, in his Central Tibetan monastery Yangpachen (Yangs pa can), one year after the Karmapa’s death. This title list (abbreviated dKar chag) is valuable for verifying the contents of the Eighth Karmapa’s works. The Eighth Karmapa composed an earlier list in 1546 in the context of his spiritual memoir Mi bskyod rdo rje’i spyad pa’i rabs.  Both lists are utilised for determining the content and authenticity of the Eighth Karmapa’s writings. In Pawo Khepai Gaton (dPa’ bo’s mKhas pa’i dga’ ston), the collected writings (bka’ ‘bum) are stated to amount to ‘slightly more than thirty volumes’ (gsum bcu lhag), though as manuscripts or prints remains unclear. Shortly after the Eighth Karmapa’s passing, a golden manuscript, comprising thirty volumes, was made under the patronage of a rich noble nun of sKu rab named Chodzema Namdrol (Chos mdzad ma rNam grol). The mKhas pa’i dga’ ston mentions this patronage in the context of a discussion on how ‘supports’ (rten) were erected of the Karmapa’s body, speech, and mind at bShad sgrub gling in Dwags po:

This being so, as receptacle of the [enlightened] body, the great statue (rten) of bShad grub gling was erected; and the receptacle of speech, a collected sayings (bka’ ’bum) in gold was issued, sponsored by Chos mdzad ma rNam grol. The receptacle of [enlightened] mind is the special stūpa: And infinite were the receptacles (i.e. stūpas), made by monks and patrons with faith and wealth (gra yon dad ’byor) of many different areas, in which there were relics (gdungs) [of the Karmapa] with a share for each [contributing party].

A manuscript in golden letters was the most expensive to produce, but their production was not unknown.1 The sponsoring of such a work proves the nobles of the sKu rab area spared no expenses in supporting their guru, the Eighth Karmapa.15 Nothing is known today of the remains of the golden manuscript, and the editors of the present Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa did not encounter it.”

[x] According to Rheingans’ footnote on this (p102: fn160):

“It was composed from notes (zin bris) dPa’ bo Rin po che had made of the Karmapa’s teaching on the fifteen points (gnad rim bco lnga) of the dgongs gcig in the presence of the Fifth Zhwa dmar pa, dKon mchog yan lag. The Karmapa’s dGongs gcig gi gsung bzhi bcu’i ‘grel pa, 106 fols, was composed in the same year (1536). As for the Karmapa’s other ‘one intention’ commentaries, some may have been written during this period in Drikhung (’Bri gung) and some were evidently composed later, such as the dGongs gcig gi kar ṭīk chen mo las ‘bras bu’i tshom in 1545 (which may, in fact, contain the colophon for the remaining undated texts).”

[xi] Buddha in the Storehouse: Mi bskyod rdo rje on the Relationship Between Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna, 2019, JIABS. His article can be downloaded for free here.

[xii] Explanation on the Tenth Point of the Single Intention (“dgongs gcig gi gsung bzhi bcu pa’i ‘grel pa/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039. 6: 733 – 944. [lha sa]: [s.n.], [2004]).

[xiii] Distinguishing between Dharma and not Dharma: Pointing Out Instructions on the Great Sayings of the Profound Inner Meaning (“chos dang chos ma yin par rnam par ‘byed pa’i gtam chen po zab mor nang don ‘khrul par ngo sprod par byed pa grub mtha’i spyi ching/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039. 4: 21 – 70. [lha sa]: [s.n.], [2004].

[xiv] Dense Array of Ornaments Sūtra (Ghanavyūhasūtra. Ggyan stugpo bkod pa’i mdo) Toh 110, mdo Sqe cha.

[xv] The word sa here is referring to the Bodhisattva levels.

[xvi] The Sanskrit word ‘garbha’ can have various renderings, such as ‘essence’ and so on. Here I have stuck closely to the Tibetan translation of it as ‘heart’ (which also means essence) but which is different from the actual word normally used for essence (ngo bo).

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, July 2020. Copyright, All Rights Reserved.

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