Today is the paranirvana of Omniscient (Kun mkhyen) Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan) (1292–1361) one of the most extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist masters, and key advocates and founders of the Empty-of-Other (gzhan stong) philosophy school and a highly realized practitioner of tantra, in particular Kālacakra. He is one of the main masters in the Jonang lineage along with Jetsun Tāranātha.
To commemorate this great master, and as a show of respect for his enduring legacy, I offer here for the first time a translation of a Praise to the Qualities of Dolpopa composed by a Kālacakra master and Empty-of-Other advocate, the Kagyu master, 4th Zhamar Rinpoche, Chodrag Yeshe. For the full text, contact me here.
Omniscient Dolpopa’s Parinirvana
For more info on Dolpopa’s life, see the Treasury of Lives bio (by Dolpopa expert Cyrus Stearns) here and the definitive work on him by Dr. Cyrus Stearns (2010). Various activities (see here) have been organized to coincide with this special day by the main Jonang lama in exile, Khentrul Rinpoche (founder of the Dzogden Foundation and Rime Institute) who is giving a teaching today at 5pm (Indian time) on Zoom live, on a poetic letter Dolpopa sent to the Chinese Emperor. As I recently wrote about here, the Chinese connection with the Karmapas, in particular the 2nd to 5th Karmapas is extraordinary and the 3rd Karmapa was a contemporary of Dolpopa who is also said to have met him and discussed the Empty-of-Other philosophy, so it is interesting to note that Dolpopa had such a Chinese connection too.
Khentrul Rinpoche is also releasing a brand new translation of Dolpopa’s magnus opus ‘The Mountain Doctrine’ (Ri chos Nges don rGya mtsho) previously published and translated by Jeffrey Hopkins (2017). There is a video about the launch of their new publication here:
Dolpopa’s feelings about the importance of the Empty-of-Other view were so strong that he even wrote a prayer wishing that the Buddhas might take pity on those Buddhists who deem that the Emptiness taught by the Buddha is nothing more than a non-affirming negation and concerns only self-emptiness (the absence of essence in all things):
“May they [the Buddhas] have pity on those who hold that the whole of the Buddha’s teaching on emptiness concerned self-emptiness alone and hold them in their compassion.
May they [the Buddhas] have pity on those who hold that the whole of the Buddha’s teaching on emptiness concerned a non-affirming negation alone, and hold them in their compassion”[i].
The 4th Zhamarpa, Chodrag Yeshe
I have written a little about 4th Zharmapa (1453-1524) here. He is considered to be one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist masters. one of the greatest masters of the Karma Kagyu tradition, a ‘red hat Karmapa’ he took ordination under the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso (chos grags rgya mtsho). and ordained Pawo Rinpoche, Tsuglag Threngwa (dpa’ bo 02 gtsug lag ‘phreng ba) another of the main heart sons of Karmapa. He founded the monastery of Yangpachen (yangs pa can) in either 1503 (according to the tshig mdzod chen mo) or in 1505 (according to zhwa sgab pa). The famous Tibetan monastery Ga Mamo Tashi Rabten was founded by him. During his travels outside Tibet, Chökyi Dragpa built many monasteries, among others there are four monasteries in Bhutan and he was the first of the Shamar reincarnates to visit Nepal, where he built a small monastery in Swayambhunath, one of the country’s most sacred places. Upon returning to his homeland, he acted as the king of Tibet for a period of twelve years and he ruled the country on the basis of strict adherence to Buddhist principles.
Like his teachers in Karma Kagyu and Kālacakra Six-Yogas lineage, he was an advocate and maintainer of the Empty-of Other (gzhan stong) and ‘Definitive teachings’ tradition of Dolpopa and was a great Kālacakra master in his own right via his teachers the 7th Karmapa and the Kālacakra lineage master and translator, Go Lotsawa Zhonu Pal. He wrote a supplication to the lineage of the Kālacakra Six-Yogas, which I translated and published here.
The 4th Sharmapa also wrote texts on the ‘Single Intention’ by Drigung Kagyu master, Jigten Sumgon[ii], a survey of the contents of a Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur) in 107 volumes calligraphed under his inspiration (for more on the Karmapas and the Zharmapa’s activities in relation to the Kangyur see here), and was the composer of the Mahakala Black Cloak Protector Dance (Goenpo Bernak Cham) a dance from a mystical vision he revealed in Tibet. Since the Shamarpa moved his monastery to Thangbi Bhutan in 1470, this Cham has been continuously performed there and nowhere else. His Collected Works (see TBRC W1KG4876) contain many praises and supplications to masters from India and Tibet and especially to the translators (lotsawas), which shows his interest in and close connection to their work on Kangyur and Kalacakra.
Yangpachen Monastery and Miracles with the 4th Shamarpa’s body
The 4th Shamarpa’s Praise to the Qualities of Dolpopa in Eleven Verses[iii]was written in the 10th month of the Iron-Male Dragon Year (1520) at his Yangpachen Monastery[iv] and can be found in a publication of his Collected Works.
Before discussing the text itself, the place where it was composed is Yangpachen Monastery, which has historically been the second seat of Shamarpas from the time of the 4th Shamarpa through to the time of the 10th Shamarpa (1742-1792), was founded about 1540 by the 4th Shamarpa. It is near the Yangpachen Hot Spring and about 85km southeast of Lhasa. There are some extraordinary accounts of what happened to the body of the 4th Sharmarpa housed in a tall golden stupa, when the monastery was captured by the Chinese Military Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. According to one source:
“It is said that this ancient monastery was destroyed by Tibetan government during the time of the 10th Shamarpa who escaped to Nepal for being slandered of collaborating with the English government in India by his half-brother Drungpa Hutogatu in charge of the Tashilhunpo Monastery at that time.
During the time of a war between the Gorkhas of Nepal and the Tibetan Government in Lhasa, Shamar passed away in Nepal and the Chinese emperor banned the recognition of future Shamarpas. And then the Tibetan Regent belonging to Gelugpa confiscated Shamarpa’s monastic seat at Yangpachen and handed it over to Ganden Monastery, one of the Gelugpa Monasteries. In this case, the Yangpachen Monastery became a Gelugpa monastery.
In 1963, the Yangpachen Monastery suffered from another damage by the Cultural Revolution. Actually it was completely destroyed this time. During this time, the Red Guard even attempted to destroy a six meters tall golden stupa housing the bodies of the 4th and 5th Shamarpas.
When they removed the body of the 4th Shamarpa, they found that its hair had grown to reach the elbows. They attempted to destroy its body by beating and burning it. But their attempt was not realized. At last, in order to preserve the body, the local people buried it in the earth. During digging, one digger nicked one arm of the 4th Shamarpa with a pickax by chance. Strange thing happened. It Bled.
After the Cultural Revolution was ended, the new leaders of China gave permission to restore numerous monasteries in Tibet. In this case, the Yangpachen Monastery was restored in 1983. A stupa for the body of 4th Shamarpa was built inside a new temple in the ruins of the original Yangpachen. Moreover, a retreat center was also built. Meanwhile, the Yangpachen Monastery was converted back to Kagyupa, with the consent of the Central government of China. In 2006, a new Shedra which is a Buddhist college for the highest study of philosophy was built by Shamar Rinpoche at Yangpachen.”
The Text – ‘Praises to Qualities of Dolpopa in Eleven Verses‘
Interestingly, the 4th Shamarpa’s Praises to Dolpopa, is one of the few praises to him available online. Even in the Collected Works of Tāranātha, other than his guru yoga texts for the Kalacakra preliminaries to the six yogas, I could not find any specific praises to Dolpopa (please correct me if there are though!). Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro also wrote a guru yoga to Dolpopa, which has been translated into English.
In the 4th Shamarpa’s Praises, Ārya Nāgārjuna plays a prominent role. In the first verse, he pays homage to Ārya Nāgārjuna, and later he cites and quotes the Collections of Nāgārjuna, often associated with the empty-of-self view, then he also cites Nāgārjuna’s Praises which are renowned for teaching the ‘third wheel’ on Buddha Nature and the ultimate nature of mind (the definitive meaning (nges don) teachings:
“The Collections of Reasonings[i] by Ārya Nāgārjuna
Firmly concluded that all phenomena are only emptiness.
Reveals the inherently ‘existent’ result, the path’s basis.
The completely pure scripture, Ocean of Definitive Meaning[iv]
Ascertained the meaning via reasoning awareness, and with the
Persistently insisted explanations and answers of
The teachings of the Fourth Council[v]; to you, who showed that, I bow down!”
—Excerpt from ‘Praises to the Qualities of Dolpopa’ by 4th Sharmapa
In conclusion, I hope this new translation and research on Dolpopa and 4th Shamarpa supports the preservation and practice of their life examples and texts. I also hope it demonstrates how many of these great Tibetan masters were non-sectarian in their approach to practice and teachers and how they often wrote magnificent praises and supplications to teachers from all the main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.
Written, translated and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 20th November 2020.
Selection of Dolpopa’s written works available in English language
- Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Ri chos Nges don rGya mtsho)
- Great Calculation of the Doctrine that have the Significance of a Fourth Council (with auto commentary)
- Prayer for Birth in Sukhāvatī (bDe ba can du skye ba ’dzin pa’i smon lam)
- An Official Document of the King, the Spontaneously Present Dharmakāya
- A General Commentary on all Profound Sutra and Tantra Teachings: Entitled, “Knowing One, All is Liberated”
- Buddha Nature’s Auspiciousness
- The Great Praise of Shambhala
- Seizing the Crucial Point
- An Instruction to Lhaje Tsultrim O
- In Praise of the Eight Siddhas
- Praise to the Mahasiddha Shavaripa
- Mountain Doctrine, Ocean of Definitive Meaning: Final Unique Quintessential Instructions. Translation: Jeffrey Hopkins (2017), Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix, Shambhala
- Dolpopa’s complete works in 13 volumes, Pe Cin edition
- Dolpopa’s complete works in 8 volumes, ‘Dzam Thang edition
- Dolpopa’s complete works in 1 volumes, Gyantse edition
- Hookham, Susan K. (1991). The Buddha within: Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791403587.
- Stearns, Cyrus (2010). The Buddha from Dölpo : a study of the life and thought of the Tibetan master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Rev. and enl. ed.). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.
- New Texts and Catalog of the Dolpopa Collection: https://jonangfoundation.org/blog/new-texts-and-catalog-dolpopa-collection
- Dolpopa’s Collected Writings New Edition: http://www.jonangfoundation.org/blog/dolpopas-collected-writings-new-edition?
[i] Hookham, (1991) pp. 4-5.
[ii] chos grags ye shes . “dam chos dgongs pa gcig pa’i gsal byed/.” In ‘bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo. TBRC W00JW501203. 84: 3 – 278. [lhasa]: [‘bri gung mthil dgon/], .
[iii] chos grags ye shes . “kun mkhyen dol po ba shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi yon tan la bsngags pa sh+lo ka bcu gcig pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 296 – 297. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009. http://tbrc.org/link?RID=O2GS420|O2GS4202GS567$W1KG4876
[iv] ces kun mkhyen dol po ba shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi yon tan la bsngags pa sh+lo ka bcu gcig pa/ shAkya’i dge slong chos kyi grags pas/ lcags pho ‘brug lo smin drug can gyi phyogs gnyis pa la bde chen yangs pa can du bris pa’o.
[v] Collection of Reasonings (rigs tshogs) is one of Nagarjuna’s main writings. The Six Collections of Reasoning (Rigs-tshogs drug) are:
- Root Verses on the Middle Way, Called “Discriminating Awareness” (dBu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab, Skt. Prajna-nama-mulamadhyamaka-karika)
- Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali)
- Refutation of Objections (rTsod-pa zlog-pa, Skt. Vigrahavyavarti)
- Seventy Verses on Voidness (sTong-nyid bdun-bcu-pa, Skt. Shunyatasaptati)
- Sutra Called “Finely Woven” (Zhib-mo rnam-‘thag zhes-bya-ba’i mdo, Skt. Vaidalya-sutra-nama)
- Sixty Verses of Reasoning (Rigs-pa drug-cu-pa, Skt. Yuktishashtika).
[vi] Collection of Praises (bstod tshogs) is one of Nagarjuna’s main writings. Towards the end of his life, acting on advice from Tara, Nagarjuna returned to Southern India and dwelt at a place called Mount Splendour, where he gave extensive teachings on both the sutras and tantras, and composed many more texts. These writings, known as the Collection of Praises, are likened to Buddha’s third turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
[vii] rtag rtan is a Tibetan word that means ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ as is often used in Jonang literature about the ultimate nature.
[viii] This is referring to the Ocean of Definitive Meaning: Mountain Doctrine (ri chos nges don rgya mtsho).
[viv] The Great Calculation of the Doctrine, Which Has the Significance of a Fourth Council (bka’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po) an important text by Dolpopa, was translated by Cyrus Stearns in the Buddha from Dolpo (2010).