NEW TRANSLATION: ‘Mental Comrade of the Eight Worldly Distractions’ by Tenth Karmapa

10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, self-portrait statue

Recently, I wrote here about the great visionary artistic work and talent of the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674). Here, for the new moon today, is the first translation of a short teaching contained in his Collected Works called ‘‘Mental Comrade of the Eight Worldly Distractions[1].

It is a polemical piece, criticising boastful, conceited and arrogant narrow-minded beings who brag about Buddha Dharma and think only of getting sponsors.

‘Mental Comrade of the Eight Worldly Distractions’

by 10th Karmapa

”Some ordinary, narrow-minded people in this degenerate age,

Boastfully brag about Buddha’s teachings,

Lug a ‘thick blanket’ load of ‘excellence’, and

Pridefully preach whatever they want.

Day and night, meditating with deep concentration on

Possessing the intentions of sponsors

Saying this is the purpose of the teachings!

Holder of the parasol, you and your retinue

Whom due to hopes and expectations for this life, and

loving resources, riches and fame are

Unable to repay the kindness of mother sentient beings.

To the impermanent body, like a summer flower

The impermanent life force, like dew drops

Making a bolster of that which is impermanent here,

When will the direct perception of impermanence arrive!?

Now, thinking about possessing the intentions of sangha members and sponsors (from a different place), the holder of the canopy, a Shakya fully-ordained monk, Choying Dorje, said this ‘expression’ to his higher realm students[2].”

Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, September 2020.

Background Information

The 10th Karmapa’s stated motivation (at the end of the text) for giving this advice almost seems sarcastic, considering what he says in it. The text does not say when or where he wrote it. Perhaps it was during his time just before or during exile from the Gelug and Mongol persecution in Tibet.Perhaps is was during his time just before or during exile from the Gelug and Mongol persecution in Tibet. I have translated the Tibetan blo thun pa (literally ‘mind that accords with’ as mental comrade to give it that more ‘worldly/polemical’ feel. Although the tenth Karmapa, like other Karmapas was not a political person at all. For example:

Soon after the death of his brothers, U and Tsang again erupted into war, one that resulted in the total destruction of the kingdom of Tsang and the ascendance of the Dalai Lama and Geluk power in Lhasa. In 1639, at the invitation of Geluk hierarchs, the leader of the Khoshot Mongols Gushri Khan (1582-1655) led an army into Kham, obliterating the Bon kingdom of Beri (be ri) and then proceeded to march eastwards towards Lhasa. When Gushri Khan reached as far west as Kongpo and seized territories there, the Karmapa was asked by patrons and supporters to call up the considerable military forces of the area. He refused to get involved, saying, that should he be responsible for the destruction of the Geluk monasteries, “It would be an ugly thing for the Buddha’s teachings.” The Karmapa was later criticized for not helping to defend his patron, the king of Tsang.

The Tenth Karmapa and Turbulent Times in Tibet

Although I have not been able to read all the biographical information available about the 10th Karmapa’s life, he lived during one of the most controversial and aggressive times in Tibetan Buddhist history, when the 5th Dalai Lama took over the governance of Tibet and many Jonang, Nyingma and Kagyu monasteries. His Treasury of Lives biography reads:

”Meanwhile, after a long siege, Shigatse, the capital of the king of Tsang, finally fell to Gushri Khan’s troops. The king was imprisoned in Lhasa and was executed there some months later. The young Fifth Dalai Lama was brought to Shigatse and entrusted with responsibility for religious affairs of Tibet, while Gushri proclaimed himself to be the king of all Tibet. Gushri and his Geluk supporters then embarked on a vicious campaign of destruction, razing monasteries belonging to the Nyingma and Kagyu tradition, converting many to the Geluk tradition.

The Karmapa attempted to negotiate with the Fifth Dalai Lama to have his monasteries restored to him, but for the most part the Dalai Lama refused, agreeing only to place his seal on a document that gave vague assurances to the protected status of the Karma Kagyu tradition. A supporter of the Karmapa with the title of Zhokhapa (zho kha pa) attacked the Geluk monastery Chokhorgyel Metoktang (chos ‘khor rgyal me tog thang). Other rebels who launched attacks against the Mongolian invaders appear to have stayed at the Karmapa’s encampment in Lhodrak. Consequently, in 1644, Gushri Khan’s troops, supported by the Kyisho Depa, Choje Tendzin Lobzang Gyatso (skyid shod sde pa chos rje bstan ‘dzin blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1593-1638), surrounded the encampment.

The twentieth abbot of Taklung Monastery (stag lung), Ngawang Tashi Peldrub (ngag dbang bkra shis dpal grub, 1600-1671) was asked to act as mediator. The Fifth Dalai Lama sent a letter to the Karmapa through the Taklung abbot, who went to the Karmapa with a Mongolian army at his command. A meeting between all of the concerned parties took place on the tenth day of the sixth month in the year 1644 at a place called Dorkha Pangshang (dor kha spang bshang). The Karmapa was asked to take an oath that he would not subvert the interests of the Geluk tradition. The Karmapa refused, stating that “This is not necessary. I should rather take the oath that earlier I did nothing to subvert the interests of either the Karma Kagyu or the Geluk Schools.” This answer was taken as evidence that the Karmapa did not intend to cooperate.

The situation at the Karmapa’s encampment grew graver with each passing day. When the Mongols finally attacked, at the end of 1644, the Karmapa himself managed to miraculously slip away on foot unscathed, accompanied only by his attendant, the Tsang Khenchen. The encampment was completely destroyed and most of the monks ran away. Some were wounded, while some others were caught and killed.”

Later towards the end of his life:

”In 1672, the Karmapa, now aged sixty-nine, finally left Gyeltang, where he had spent much of the past twenty-four years, from 1648 to 1672, and returned to U-Tsang. It is not known how his return was negotiated, since in the Ganden Podrang (dga ldan pho brang) the Dalai Lama’s government in Lhasa, continued its policy of harassment of Karma Kagyu monks and lamas, a policy that continued into the early eighteenth century. His main reason for returning was presumably to arrange the installment of Norbu Zangpo at Tsurpu. He left in a large entourage that included his wife, sons, and daughters.

After one year of travel, on the third day of the third lunar month of the year 1673 the Karmapa reached Lhasa, where he had an audience with the Fifth Dalai Lama, the first in forty years. Their conversation was said to be relaxed, covering topics such as the Karmapa’s recent journey. The Karmapa, already seventy years old at this point (the Dalai Lama was fifty-seven), had difficulties understanding and answering the Dalai Lama’s questions, since he was rather deaf and therefore asked Tsang Khenchen to answer on his behalf.

Toward the end of 1673, without having yet visited Tsurpu, the Karmapa was told by the Fifth Dalai Lama to go to Drak (sgrags), a somewhat inaccessible region south of Lhasa, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. The Karmapa followed the order. There, at Nagdrak Monastery (sngags grwa dgon pa), he produced one of his last works of art, a drawing of the Caṇḍa Vajrapāṇi for Norbu Zangpo and a white-sandalwood statue of Mārīcī riding a pig for Norbu Zangpo’s mother. Around the lunar New Year of 1674, not only was the Karmapa granted permission to return to Tsurpu, but the Dalai Lama gave him back the share of property from which he derived his sustenance, the main and subsidiary estates of Tsurpu. He never returned to Tsurpu, however, as he fell ill at Drak and passed away.”


[1] The eight worldly concerns (འཇིག་རྟེན་ཆོས་བརྒྱད་,  ‘jig rten chos brgyad) are actions are concerned with:

  • hope for happiness and fear of suffering,
  • hope for fame and fear of insignificance,
  • hope for praise and fear of blame,
  • hope for gain and fear of loss.

The title of the Tibetan text is nam g.yeng chos brgyad la blo mthun pa/ In chos dbyings rdo rje; rgyal ba’i dbang po skyabs rje karma pa sku phreng bcu ba chos dbyings rdo rje mchog gi gsung ‘bum legs bshad nor bu’i gtsug rgyan; W28887, pp. 365-365. si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, khreng tu’u. 2004.

[i] ནམ་གཡེང་ཆོས་བརྒྱད་ལ་བློ་མཐུན་པ༎                 
















ད་ལྡ་ནི་དགེ་འདུན་གྱི་སྡེ་རྣམས་དང་༎ ཡུལ་ཐ་དད་ཀྱི་སྦྱིན་བདག་སོགས་ཀྱི་དགོངས་ལེན་པ་དགོངས་པར་ཡང་བདེ་རྒྱུ་བའཱི་གྲས་སུ་ཡོད་པ༎


Further Reading

Works by 10th Karmapa:

–Chos dbyings rdo rje. 2004. Byang chub sems dpa’i rtogs brjod pa zhing kun tu rang nyid ‘ong ba gdul bar bya ba kun gyi ‘dod pa ‘jo ba’i ba mo (“Wish Fulfilling Cow”). In Rgyal ba’i dbang po skyabs rje Karma pa sku phreng bcu pa Chos dbyings rdo rje mchog gi gsung ‘bum legs bshad nor bu’i gtsug rgyan bzhugsmGo log khul gna’ rtsom bya ba’i gzhung las khang gis ‘tshol sdud dag sgrig byas, vol. 18, pp. 1-333. Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.

–Chos dbyings rdo rje. 2004. Byang chub sems dpa’i rtogs pa brjod pa nges par ‘byung ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs ka la ping ka’i lam glu (“Travel Song“). In Rgyal ba’i dbang po skyabs rje Karma pa sku phreng bcu pa Chos dbyings rdo rje mchog gi gsung ‘bum legs bshad nor bu’i gtsug rgyan bzhugsmGo log khul gna’ rtsom bya ba’i gzhung las khang gis ‘tshol sdud dag sgrig byas, vol. 19, pp. 1-117. Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.

–Chos dbyings rdo rje. 2004. Byang chub sems dpa’i rtogs pa brjod pa nges par byung ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs srid pa gsum du snyan par grags pa’i chos kyi rnga bo che (“Big Drum“). In Rgyal ba’i dbang po skyabs rje Karma pa sku phreng bcu pa Chos dbyings rdo rje mchog gi gsung ‘bum legs bshad nor bu’i gtsug rgyan bzhugsmGo log khul gna’ rtsom bya ba’i gzhung las khang gis ‘tshol sdud dag sgrig byas, vol. 19, pp. 121-367.

Debreczeny. Karl, et. al. 2012. The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, New York: Rubin Museum of Art.

Gtsang mkhan chen ‘Jam dbyangs dpal ldan rgya mtsho. 1982. Rgyal mchog chos dbyings rdo rje’i rnam thar mdo sde rgyan gyi lung dang sbyar ba. In Poetical Biographies of Dharmakirti and the 10th Karma-pa Chos-dbyings-rdo-rje with a Collection of Instructions on Buddhist Practice, pp. 148-. Thimphu, Bhutan: Tango Monastic Community.

‘Jam dbyangs tshul khrims. 1997. Karma pa chos dbyings rdo rje.” In Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi mdzad rnam, pp. 192 – 204. Lanzhou: Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W18133.

Karma bstan ‘dzin rgya mtsho. c.1617. ‘Jig rten dbang phyug karma pa bcu pa chos dbyings rdo rje yis dgung lo bcu gnyis yan chad kyi rnam thar bdud rtsi’i bum bzang. Unpublished manuscript.

Karma nges don bstan rgyas. 1973 (1891). Chos rje Karma pa sku ‘phreng rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus dpag bsam ‘khri shing. New Dehli: Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Center.

Kar sras kong sprul mkhyen brtse ‘od zer and Khra ‘gu rin po che. 1994. Chos rje kar ma pa sku ‘phreng rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus dpag bsam khri shing, vol. 1, pp. 573 ff. Delhi: Konchog Lhadrepa.

Mengele, Irmgard. 2011. New Discoveries About The Life Of Chos Dbyings Rdo Rje, The Tenth Karma Pa Of Tibet (1606-1674). In Art in Tibet: Issues in Traditional Tibetan Art from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century. Leiden: Brill.

Mengele, Irmgard. 2012. “The Artist’s Life.” In The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, New York: Rubin Museum of Art, pp. 33-63.

Mengele, Irmgard. 2012. Riding a Huge Wave of Karma: The Turbulent Life of the Tenth Karmapa. Nepal: Vajra Publications.

Richardson, Hugh. 1987. “Chos-dbying rdo rje: the Tenth Black Hat Karmapa.” Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 25-42.

Si tu paN chen chos kyi ‘byung gnas and ‘Be lo tshe dbang kun khyab. 1972 (1775). Sgrub brgyud karma kaM tshang brgyud pa rin po che’i rnam par thar pa rab byams nor bu zla ba chu shel gyi phreng ba. New Delhi: D. Gyaltshan & Kesang Legshay. TBRC W23435.

ShAkya rin chen. 1976. Karma zhwa nag chos rdo rje’i rtogs brjod nges par ‘byung ba’i chos kyi dbyangs. In Gsung ‘bum / shAkya rin chen, vol. 2, pp. 345-362. Thimphu: Kunzang Topgey. TBRC W8684.

Ye shes snying po. Dpal ldan karma pa chen po rje btsun chos dbyings rdo rje’i rnam par thar pa dad pa’i dga’ ston. Unpublished manuscript. TBRC W00EGS1016795.

Yonten Gyatso. 2006. “Skyid shod sde pa’i skor.” JIATS vol 2, pp. 1-48.

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