‘JAW-DROPPING’ HANDWRITTEN COLLECTED WORKS THAT EMANATED LIGHT: TEXTUAL SOURCES, THE MEANING OF ‘LIBERATION-STORY’, IMPORTANCE OF FAITH AND INNER QUALITIES: ‘Good Deeds’ teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day Two)

For the second day of the ‘Good Deeds’ teaching, the 17th Karmapa went into detail about the textual sources of the 8th Karmapa text.  He described the journey of getting the 8th Karmapa texts from Tibet, to India and publishing them. First, he explained his own interest in getting the texts while he was in Tibet (which to the consternation of his attendants and companions was greater than his interest in getting the Black Crown) and how he came to see a handwritten 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works (as well as Collected Works by the 13th and 15th Karmapas).

In particular, his story of the luminous light that emanated from a handwritten Collected Works of the 8th Karmapa, and how it made everyone’s jaws drop to the floor in amazement at the remarkable effort of the 8th Karmapa, is extremely moving and tear-jerking.  The Karmapa thus urged people in monastic shedras,  in particular, not to waste their good opportunity to study such works by the previous Karmapas.  He then explained the editions of Mikyo Dorje’s life stories that are present in the Collected Works of the 5th Zhamarpa and in the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works.

This was followed by a discussion of the name ‘Karmapa Mikyo Dorje’ (with a citation of his full Tibetan name) and gave the reason why such histories of great beings are called liberation-stories (namthar) rather than biographies.  Then, there was an explanation of the importance of faith when reading such stories and listening to Dharma, without which it would be very difficult to become liberated oneself.

In the second part (final half hour) of the teaching, the Karmapa began discussing the actual text, using a commentary on the text written by one of the 8th Karmapa’s students, Sangye Paldrup.

Below is a full transcript based on the original Tibetan and simultaneous oral translation (including missed parts in English due to technical sound issues with the English translation).   I have also provided footnotes (in particular from a study of the life of the 8th Karmapa by Jim Rheingans (2017)) to give more details and sources on the texts and so on, which the 17th Karmapa refers to. Apologies for any errors and may it be of benefit!

Translated and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 17th January 2021.

17th Karmapa’s Teaching on Good Deeds – Day Two

“Yesterday, I spoke generally about the origin of the name Karmapa and the black crown ceremony, in general terms. Today, unless we begin talking about the ‘Good Deeds’ autobiography we would never finish, so I will begin speaking about the ‘Good Deeds’ today.

There is a catalogue of the 8th Karmapa’s Complete Works compiled by the 5th Zhamarpa, Konchog Yenlag.[1] In the section on the life stories of Mikyo Dorje, there are thirteen for the common perception of disciples of all types, and five or six for disciples of pure perception and  visions of miraculous events. The titles are given but there are probably others that are not included in those Collected Works.

Photo of the first two pages of the 5th Zhamarpa’s handwritten outline of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works

For example, in the commentary on the meaning of the ‘Good Deeds’ by Sangye Peldrub (sangs rgyas dpal grub)[2] [Lamp that Illuminates] he mentions the liberation-story by Akhu Atra (A khu a khra), the liberation-story by the master siddha Khenpo Shakya Senge, the liberation-story by Lama Phonyig.  However,  in the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje, other than the one by Akhu Atra [3], the other two are not found there.

Commentary by Sangye Palchen on the ‘Good Deeds’ by 8th Karmapa (Vajra Vidya Institute, 2011)

The title of the texts listed in the catalogue of Collected Works, are ’ Good Deeds’ (bde legs spyad) and the ‘Praise ‘He Searched Thoroughly’. Of these two, the latter became more well-known and is collected in the Prayer book for the Kamtsang lineage, compiled by the 8th Situ Chokyi Jungney. Also, there is the Ocean of Kagyu Songs compiled by Mikyo Dorje , which includes the ‘Praise He Searched Thoroughly’. When I was young, I had to memorize this Praise and the words are very difficult to memorize. The old lamas from Tshurphu said many people had difficulty memorizing them. The more you got beaten the easier it is to memorize them it seems [laughs].  However, in terms of the topic itself and the word length, the longest and most complete is the ‘Good Deeds’ praise.

Illuminated Light – Seeing the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works in Tibet 
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, 16th Century Tibetan Statue ( see Teacher (Lama) – Karmapa 8, Mikyo Dorje (Himalayan Art))

“This version of the ‘Good Deeds’ we are using now was published by the Vajra Vidya Institute Library. At that time, I told the people at Vajra Vidya that this was a good life story, so they published it and now they have shared the remaining books with the nunneries and monasteries. Now there is the edition of it published on Dharma E books.org, which is the same as the text published by Vajra Vidya.  From where did that text ‘Good Deeds’ come to be at the Vajra Vidya Insitute? It comes from the 1st Volume of the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje that is preserved in the Drepung Nechung Library.

We know there are the three great monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden. In the great monastery of Drepung, there are many old texts marked as external (chi) ones, and most of these  are from the treasury of Karmapa called Konpgo Dzodngag in Kongpo, when that was destroyed they were brought to U, as the great 5th Dalai Lama described in his autobiography.

Previously, when I was in Tibet in 1996, I went to visit Beijing, Guangtro, Fuijan and some other places in China, they prepared a hotel room for me and I stayed there for a few days. At that time, a few attendants and Tibetans came with me. We had some conversations while there and the attendants said to me that I should go to India where there are many sacred objects of the 16th Karmapa and others stored in Rumtek. They said I should go there and get them, and they shared their hopes insistently with me about that.  They expressed that wish strongly and were very insistent. Then, after someone said can’t you say something to them, they are being too insistent, you can’t do that immediately.  In order for you to go to India we have to have some diplomatic discussion from India and China, it is not possible to do that straight away. So please can you give them some advice.  I said, OK let’s see.

So, later we had a meeting, there were thoseTibetans and those from the offices in Tibet. Some said that if I get the sacred objects like the black crown then that is good, but if I don’t get it then it is probably alright. They were talking like that about the black hat, so I said, if I don’t get the black crown that is alright, if you give me a hat from the tulku recognition office that is fine. However, what I need are the many precious Kagyu texts from Drepung and all the other libraries in Tibet, in order to read and publish them.  So, please give us permission so we can do that. The people from the office were very delighted by this suggestion and said ‘Oh yes, we can do that and we will immediately give permission’. After when we got back to where we stayed, those attending the meeting with me said: ‘Oh you have totally ruined it now. It’s rubbish. We have tried to work hard for several days to get permission [for the black crown]. Then, you say you don’t need it, now you have ruined it.’ They complained about it like that. For me, it was not so crucial whether we got permission from the Chinese to go to India to get the black hat. Even if the Chinese allowed that, we didn’t know if the Indians would allow it or not. The main important thing was getting the texts, so I th ought it was a good opportunity to get them. 

After that, when we got to Tibet, there was some people from the TAR who helped us. There were more than one-hundred old Kagyu manuscripts and  texts in the libraries of the Potala, Norbulingka, and Drepung Nechu Lhakhang. The old texts were from the Tse Lhagang Monastery in Kongpo in the same location as the treasury of the Karmapas. According to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, the texts were brought to central Tibet (U) when this monastery was destroyed.

At that time, there was the 4th Zhamar’s Collected Works, of many great volumes. Some of the volumes had been printed in Lhasa but the printing machines were not very good. Some of the extremely large volumes were cut in half and were unable to be printed. So they had to be printed and then joined together at the halfway mark. Many of these cloth-wrapped texts were still sealed with red stamps and had not been opened and read in 300 years, but Tsurphu Khenpo Loyak carried all these old manuscripts back to Tsurphu Monastery and printed them. He then showed us some of these texts. I still remember that day very well. I brought a stick of incense down to welcome the texts. It was the first time in my life that I was an incense bearer. We arranged silks on top of a table and placed the books there. At that time, I was next to Lagen Drupnam and he opened up a volume of Mikyo Dorje’s collected works. Mikyo Dorje’s collected works were held together with wooden boards and leather straps. When the leather straps were undone, they fell apart into many pieces because they were so old. When we touched the cloth covering the text, dust clouds billowed up. Looking at it from the outside, you would have thought the text inside had decomposed. yet when the cloth was taken off, the paper illuminated bright light. Also, it was all completely written by hand. When we saw this, then all the people’s jaws dropped open and gasped saying: ‘Wow, what a great effort and work!’ They spontaneously spoke like that about it, their mouths opened in awe. Praise just flew out of our mouths without thinking. So I, myself got the opportunity to see/meet with the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje and the Collected Works of other Karmapas, and I was very happy about that.

Also, next to Tsurphu there was a library. Inside that, wherever you looked there were pecha texts. Inside these texts, and there were many of them, among those of the Karmapa lineage, were the Collected Works of the 13th Karmapa and the 15th Karmapa. Other than those, there were probably no other Collected Works by the Karmapas. We brought these Collected Works to our dwellings and some people read them many times. In the 13th Karmapa’s Collected Works there were texts like the ‘Teachings of the Practice Lineage of the Rat/Mouse Drubgyu Tenzin’[4]. In it a mouse teaches meditation to a mole. The mole was unable to sit cross-legged so they made a meditation belt out of grass so that he could. When I read this story I really liked it a lot![5]

As I have the name Karmapa, I got the opportunity to see the previous Karmapa’s texts like that.  You all have a great opportunity to study these texts and you should not waste that opportunity. Studying these things well  is very important. Even though I got to see these Collected Works like that, there are not many Collected Works available. So, for those of you in monasteries who have access to them, you should study them well and make good use of that opportunity and not waste it.

Then, in the 5th Zhamarpa’s [Konchog Yenlag] Collected Works there are editions of the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje’s liberation-stories, which are slightly different from ‘Good Deeds’[6].”

5th Zhamarpa

The 17th Karmapa then gave some explanation about why they are different, which I will update later. For now, Rheingans (2017:52) says:

“Further, the actual texts in the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa do not always correspond with the arrangement of texts in the Fifth Zhwa dmar pa’s dKar chag. In certain cases, several texts were mistakenly placed under one heading, giving the impression that texts were missing; two texts were inserted twice. At the end of the editorial supplement a list of texts not yet found (but listed in the table by the Fifth Zhwa dmar pa) was appended. However, the list is misleading: some texts listed are not missing and some missing were not listed. It is worth noting that the editors were probably aware of these slight errors, as they termed the compilation the first step (gom pa dang po) towards safeguarding the texts. This could have been achieved even more effectively had they also reproduced a facsimile edition of the original manuscripts.”

The name ‘Karmapa’ and ‘Mikyo Dorje’
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

“Before explaining the ‘Good Deeds’ by 8th Karmapa, I thought it would be good to say a little bit about his name, Mikyo Dorje. First, we have to explain the word ‘Karmapa’. Yesterday, I explained about the origin of the title Karmapa. The word ‘Karmapa’ is not Tibetan, it is Sanskrit. The word ‘Karma’ is a Sanskrit word.  It means ‘las’ in Tibetan or ‘action’ and the ‘pa’ is a way in Tibetan to show it is a person. So it means ‘the person who does the activity’.

Most Tibetans don’t know that ‘Karma’ is Sanskrit and write it in Tibetan and write it in various ways. They write it with the same spelling for stars (skar) or as ‘kar’ or the same spelling for the word white (dkar). If I tell them ‘it’s not like this it’s like that’, there is no point.  As most of the teacher’s names are Tibetan, they think it’s a Tibetan word but if they write it as a Tibetan word, it’s a bit odd, right?

The 8th Karmapa’s renowned name is Mikyo Dorje, but his full name is ‘Glorious Fame Accomplishing the teaching, Victorious in all Directions at all Times in Manifold [Ways], Unmovable Good One, [and] Melodious Sound of Adamantine (vajra) Joy. (dpal ldan chos grub grags pa phyogs thams cad la dus kun tu sna tshogs par rnam par rgyal ba mi bskyod bzang po rdo rje dga’ ba’i dbyang.). Generally, we Tibetans give lamas extremely long names, right? We often laugh about it and say that to read the names of Tibetan lamas you have to take a very deep breath first, and say the whole name quickly before running out of breath [HH jokingly demonstrates this]. It’s like a joke.

When we call the Buddhas the Tathagata the completely perfect Buddhas, we have different names for them because a single name cannot show the great qualities of a great being. A single name cannot represent all that, so they have many names. Likewise, Karmapa Mikyo Dorje has many different names, such as Yangchen Gawa, Yangchen Zangpo, Yangchen Sarma and Shepa. Chodrub Zangpo, and Chokyi Dragpa and Karmapa Lodro Chang.  In particular, when we talk about the explanation of Mikyo Dorje’s name, there is a root text written about it by Mikyo Dorje and a commentary by  Palzang Tromo [not sure of this name here] but there is no time to go through it today [7].

The meaning of the word ‘liberation story’  (namthar) and when we apply the term
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye with hand and footprints

Generally, in Tibet there are many historical stories of the lives of great Tibetan masters. Generally, they are called liberation stories not biographies. There is a reason they are called that. First, we need to understand what the Tibetan word, ‘namthar’ (rnam thar) means.  ‘Namthar’ comes from the Sanskrit word, Vimoksha. When this word was translated into Tibetan, it means ‘liberation’ or ‘freedom’. In the auto life-story of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye called Natshog Dorje, it says that the liberation stories can be classified into three types based on the type of being: great, medium and small. In terms of the smaller individual, there is liberation from the lower realms based on their having pure faith in karma, cause and effect. For the medium type, there is the way of liberation based on them wishing to be liberated from the whole of samsara and are called, liberation from the ocean of samsara stories. For great individuals, there is the liberation based on wishing to be completely free from both existence and nirvana, based on the pure intention to be of benefit to others. These histories that explain how these individuals did that are called liberation stories. These extraordinary stories are about how great beings have freed themselves from the causes of suffering and samsara, and helped other beings do so. Such histories about that topic are labeled ‘liberation stories’.

In Acharya Aryaśūrapada’s Jataka Tales, it says:

These fine tales of those with marks of fame,
Teach the path of becoming a sugata.
Those who lack faith will gain faith.
They will be delighted with dharma tales. 

Basically, looking at the liberation stories of great beings, from one perspective, we will be able to know what is the path and what is not the path, and those who lack faith will then develop faith and so on. There are many different reasons. 

Drug Gyalkun Peljor (?) said the actual meaning of ‘liberation story’ must come from the form and content of the text itself that causes the disciples who read them to achieve liberation and omniscience.  In particular, the reason for telling the liberation stories of great beings , if both the teller of the liberation story and the listener of the story are authentic, then they have to have one of the three types faith of longing and conviction and so on. If they have all three of these types of faith are present then we can say that the seed of liberation is planted in the listener [8].

The importance of faith to realize Dharma
The frontispiece of the Tun Huang Print of the Diamond Sutra, a.d. 868, now in the British Museum.

Any Sutra we read always begins with the word ’Thus, did I hear’ [Evaṃ mayā śrūtaṃ]. This word ‘Thus’[evaṃ] has many explanations. One of the most important explanations, is that when we say ‘thus’  it teaches faith. And the reason it says ‘thus’, is that after listening to the Buddha, one develops faith and engages with the Dharma.  For that reason,  in Sanskrit there is a commentary by Nagarjuna on a 100 000 line Sutra, it is not in Tibetan and is a very long commentary. If it were translated into Tibetan it would bbe 5 or 6 volumes, and it gives citations from a Sutra that says why the word ‘thus’ means faith.  I have taken a few of these quotes and translated them into Tibetan. The first is:

“Faith is like a hand, if someone has a hand when they go to an island of jewels they can pick up any jewel they like. Lacking faith is like having no hands. So, even if they get to an island of jewels, they won’t be able to pick up anything at all.” This means it is like when you get to an island and all around are gems and jewels, you can’t pick anything up. It is the same when listening to the teachings of Buddha, you will be unable to enter into the Dharma.

The second quote is: ‘They will be unable to enter the ocean-like Dharma. If they lack faith, they will not be able to enter the ocean of Dharma and just as a withered tree will not bear fruit, they will not be able to ripen as disciples on the way. They might shave their heads, don robes and read many Sutras and become learned through questions and answers but they will not achieve anything from the Dharma of the Buddha.”

So, faith is like the most important and number one condition for entering into the Dharma. That same great commentary on the 100 000 line Sutra says,’ the Dharma of the Buddhas is profound and vast, it is the sphere of the Tathagatas. However, if an ordinary individual has faith, they will be able to enter that sphere.’ It is so profound and vast that we are currently unable to realize it’s nature and all of it’s reasons. So we are not able to realize that now, but by the power of faith we will be able to believe what the Buddha said, and eventually realize the entire, profound, vast Dharma. For that reason, faith is extremely important for beginners. For example, when the Buddha says if we practice generosity and discipline we will be reborn in the higher realms, this is something we cannot see or know for ourselves  and just have to believe in. Thus, for beginners, faith is extremely important.

Likewise, in the same commentary, there is a period after the Buddha awakened in which he did not teach the Buddha Dharma and during that time, Brahma came down to the human realms and asked him to turn the wheel of Dharma. The first time he made this request, the Buddha replied that the Dharma was so profound and difficult to understand that ordinary people would be unable to understand it. It would not fit in their minds. When Brahma asked him a second time, the Buddha thought to himself that all Buddhas teach Dharma to tame sentient beings and I should also do the same. So he promised to turn the wheel of Dharma. At that time, he said this to Brahma: “Today I have uncovered the flavor of Amrita nectar, all those with faith will be delighted, I shall teach them the true Dharma. “

Brahma Sahampati who requested the Buddha to teach after awakening

In this commentary, said to be written by Nagarjuna, the Buddha says all those with FAITH be delighted. He did not say all those with generosity, or patience or discipline or who have great prajna will be delighted and so on. He only said those with faith be delighted. What is the reason for this? The true Dharma is profound and subtle and beyond measurement, so those with great prajna wisdom cannot realize it. This can only be realized by the omniscient. Thus, without faith, worldly people will not be able to gain an immediate understanding and realize the Buddha’s teachings. So how can ordinary beings realize the teachings of the Buddha? The initial condition or capacity for doing that needs to be based on faith. If they have faith then they can do that. Merely being generous will not do that.  There is a saying that faith is important in the beginning, the middle and the end. So it is very important. Yet, these days, people think they need to examine everything and use pseudo logic to analyze everything but this can be a bit arrogant and full of conceit. Relying on faith and devotion is more important.

The main thing that we need to have faith in within a liberation story is whether or not the person has developed a practice within their inner being, their qualities of abandonment and realization. It’s got nothing to do with whether they are from a great class or tribe or they have great wealth and resources, or that they have many monks and nuns, many monasteries and nunneries, whether they are famous or have many students. If we think those are important, that cannot be a liberation story of a great being. The stories of the great liberations should identify their qualities of having little desire and attachment for the world, their intelligence as a scholar and their experience and realizations as meditators. Then we could say it is a genuine liberation story. However, these days, most people consider the external appearances and general buzz and excitement around a person to be more important. If you don’t have those things, they say you are meek, powerless and backwards. They think that people who say whatever they want and do what they want, are brave people and who get ahead in life and so on. Many people think like this, right?

Qualities are more important than affluence and wealth
6th Zhamarpa, Chokyi Wangchug

“There was a quote about this by the 6th Zhamarpa, Gyalwa Chokyi Wangchug (1584-1630) who said: there are many people who say they practice Dharma but if their inner qualities and external conduct do not match then people really do not believe in them. What this means is that many people say they practice Dharma, and if the way such people are thinking internally and their external conduct and qualities they produce are both the same then others believe in them. If they are not matching, then people will not believe in them.

As there are not many people who are great scholars, or learned, or with great qualities of keeping discipline, patience and so on, or staying meditating in isolated places and so on, they say ‘Oh I developed siddhis, practicing the six yogas and am benefiting beings that way.’ The 6th Zhamarpa says: ‘I at first did not have such fortune to practice so did not have the qualities appropriate for that level of being. If I had pretended to be a mahasiddha, with clairvoyancy and so on, it would have been possible from a worldly fool’s perspective to gain some wealth and affluence. Having both affluence and qualities is best but until that occurs, if I have to choose between affluence or qualities, I chose qualities.” So the point here is that Chokji Wangchuk is saying he could have pretended to be a great master and siddha and fooled people into having great affluence. But having lots of wealth and so on don’t really help at all, and so he chose qualities above that.

The meaning of the liberation stories is similarly like that when we speak about them and for listeners we should understand them like that when we listen to them. If we don’t then there is a possibility we become like the people in this anecdote that I heard from someone else. I don’t know if it is true or not but is quite amusing. Once, some tulkus visited the 14th Dalai Lama in Himachal Pradesh, India to cut their hair. And so the Dalai Lama said to the tulku what are the qualities of the great beings. The Khampa attendants said, ‘great’ (chenpo) and he said yes ‘great’. They responded that the previous incarnate lama was so big and heavy that only a horse from Siling they could not carry him (Tibetan horses are normally small). The Dalai Lama replied, ‘no I didn’t mean that I meant how big are their qualities of abandonment and realization’. They didn’t really know what he meant by that. So when we talk about qualities we often think it means the qualities of their physical bodies. Or we think about how many monasteries or students they have. We don’t think about qualities in terms of their minds and if they have loving kindness, compassion, great pure perception or other inner qualities at all.”

The text – The Autobiographical Verses called “The Good Deeds”

In the sutras, the Buddha taught the three types of harmful deeds and good deeds. Harmful deeds refer to the unvirtuous actions of body and so forth whereas the virtuous actions of the body and so forth are called good deeds.

The three types of good deeds are also called purifiers. For example, all the good deeds of body, purify the body, the good deeds of speech, purify speech, and the good deeds of mind, purify mind. The reason they are called purifiers is that the stains of harmful actions of body, speech, and mind are purified through good deeds.

In Sangye Paldrup (a direct disciple of Mikyo Dorje)’s commentary on Good Deeds there is an outline of three main sections of the text as follows:

  1. Homage and pledge to compose
  2. The nature of the biography
  3. Conclusion

For this teaching, His Holiness covered the first topic. Regarding the first section it is divided into two parts, paying homage to great beings and the pledge to compose, as seen in the verses:

To those with unrivaled compassion—the Three Jewels
And gurus—I pay homage with respect.
Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,
But some childish beings might enjoy these words. 
A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful
If I recounted some of my good deeds. 
Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few
.

Among the first of these two parts is paying homage to the great beings; the text states:

བཀའ་དྲིིན་འགྲན་མེེད་དཀོོན་མཆོོག་རྣམ་གསུམ་དང་། །
བླ་མའིི་ཚོོགས་ལ་གུས་པས་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ནས། །
To those with unrivaled compassion — the Three Jewels
And gurus — I pay homage with respect.

Mikyo Dorje is paying homage to the Three Jewels and the gurus. He is prostrating to them. What are these three jewels and who are the gurus to whom he pays homage? The Three Jewels refers to the Buddha as described in the Mahayana – a buddha with the nature of the three kayas. The Dharma means the truth of cessation, freedom from attachment, and the truth of the path which leads to freedom. The Sangha is the irreversible noble beings with the qualities of awareness and liberation. The basis for that is all them, is all glorious gurus.

The homage is extremely important. Generally in Tibet, all authors begin texts with an homage to the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gurus. The purpose of this is to prevent any obstacles to writing or completion of the text. Good Deeds begins with prostrations, offerings, and praise because Mikyo Dorje’s greatest aim was to protect all sentient beings from endless suffering now and in future lifetimes. Writing his autobiography depended upon favourable conditions including the kindness and great compassion of the Three Jewels and the great lineage holders.

As emphasized in the Kadampa oral tradition, no matter what action you do,  you should prostrate and make offerings to the Three Jewels. Prostrating to the Three Jewels and the gurus removes obstacles and helps us accomplish our desired aims. In fact, there is nothing more powerful than having belief in the Three Jewels and the gurus.

Then there is the pledge to compose.
དམ་པས་གཟིིགས་ན་ངོོ་མཚར་མེེད་མོོད་ཀྱང་། །
བྱིིས་པ་འགའ་ཞིིག་མགུ་བར་བྱེེད་པའིི་གཏམ། །
བདག་གིི་ལེེགས་སྤྱད་རྣམ་གྲངས་འགའ་ཞིིག་པ། །
གཞན་ལ་བརྗོོད་ན་དོོན་དང་ལྡན་འགྱུར་ཞེེས། །
རྗེེ་བཙུན་འགའ་ཡིི་གསུང་གིིས་བསྐུལ་བ་ལས། །
རང་མྱོོང་རང་རྒྱུས་ཆེེ་བས་ཅུང་ཟད་སྤྲོོ། །
Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,
But some childish beings might enjoy these words.
A few high masters*
have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful
If I recounted some of my good deeds.
Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few

This comprises five different points:

  1. Expression of modesty
  2. How this is for the faithful and receptive
  3. The actual topic
  4. Refuting that this is inappropriate
  5. Dispelling exaggerations and denials

For the expression of modesty, we see the line:

Great beings would see nothing wondrous here…’

The meaning of this line is that the great beings are already free from delusion about what should be done or rejected. Great beings would not feel amazement since they have already reached nirvana and omniscience.

The second point of these five is – How this is for the faithful and receptive. This relates to the line:  

But some childish beings might enjoy these words. 

Childish beings refers to the ordinary individual, in particular, those who have a longing for the Mahayana. When they see or hear the story of Mikyo Dorje’s liberation, they might feel faith, develop delight, and train and follow in his example. He is teaching this liberation story specifically for their sake.

The third point is the actual topic. The text states:

If I recounted some of my good deeds.

The meaning is that the author, Mikyö Dorje, will recount several of his good deeds.

The fourth point is refuting that this is inappropriate. The passage states:

A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful

His Holiness explained this passage. Here, Mikyö Dorje was neither influenced by the eight worldly dharmas nor is he a charlatan. In fact, the author did not feel that he had to tell this story but his students consistently encouraged him to do so.

The fifth point is dispelling exaggerations and denials. The text reads:

Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few.

If someone else had written this liberation story, a different author, they might have exaggerated Mikyo Dorje’s qualities. Since his experience of his deeds is only clear to him, he wrote the text himself.

When the students write their guru’s liberation stories, they make too many proclamations and only praise the guru. But when the guru composes his own story, his experience of liberation is clearly recorded, just as seen in the Good Deeds.


[1] In the Collected Works of the 5th Zhamarpa online (a reproduced text published by Dzonsar Khyentse Labrang in 1974, in Gangtok), which is a handwritten copy in Ume script, there is an outline of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works as described. See: dkon mchog yan lag. “karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i gsung ‘bum dkar chag.” In gsung thor bu/_dkon mchog yan lag. TBRC W23927. 2: 205 – 236. gangtok: dzongsar chhentse labrang, 1974.

Jim Rheingans (2017) in The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and his Interpretation of the Great Seal, says this about the 5th Zharmapa: “According to the history compiled by Si tu Paṇ chen, the Fifth 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 Zhwa dmar pa 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 Zhwa dmar pa 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 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.” (pp44-45).

[2] The full title of this text in Tibetan is Lamp that Illuminates what to Take and Give up: The Meaning Explanation of the Life-Story of Mikyo Dorje (karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i rang rnam legs spyad ma’i don ‘grel blang dor gsal ba’i sgron me/). Published by Vajra Vidya Instiute in 2011. Computer Input. TBRC W4CZ294913. It has forewords by both HH 14th Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa.

Rheingans (2017:66) says about Sangye Palchen’s commentary that:

“It is an extensive spiritual biography by a student of the Eighth Karmapa, containing lengthy doctrinal discussions. The text is designed as ‘commentary’ on the Karmapa’s spiritual memoir (i), listed above (Karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i rnam thar legs spyad mar grags pa rje nyid kyis mdzad pa). According to the colophon, the author attended the Karmapa from his thirty-third year on (1539). Thus, the text was composed some time proceeding that year. Sangs rgyas dpal grub was appointed by the Eighth Karmapa as a lama somewhere in gTsang and is also found requesting a
brief Great Seal commentary.

The outline shows that this spiritual biography is designed as a pedagogical tool. In the statement of purpose, Sangs rgyas dpal grub explains that the work seeks to inspire faith in students and in those who ‘have the eye of wisdom’, so that when seeing or hearing this spiritual biography they would
want to learn and emulate it. To that end, events in the Karmapa’s life are subsumed under topics such as the deeds of the bodhisattva (e.g. the six pāramitās), and are consequently not ordered chronologically. Often the reflective remarks are inserted about the bad times and boastful teachers around ‘these days’ (deng sang). However, on the closing pages where the author details his sources, some interesting information is offered. Again, mention is found of A khu a khra’s account of the Eighth Karmapa’s
early years, but the author then mentions two more texts, presently unavailable: a spiritual biography composed by Grub pa’i dbang phyug sGam po Khan po Śākya dge slong bzang po, and one authored by Bla ma dPon yig. The rnam thar authored by a sGam po Khan po Śākya dge slong bzang po has recently surfaced and is briefly described below.”

[3] Rheingans (2017: 64-65) says about Akhu Athra and his ‘Garland of Jewels’ biography of the 8th Karmapa:

“rGyal ba kun gyu dbang po dpal ldan karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i zhabs kyi dgung lo bdun phan gyi rnam par thar pa nor bu’i phreng ba, (37 fols) by dGe slong Byang chub bzang po alias A khu a khra, contains the most detailed account of the Karmapa’s early years. Its author, Byang chub bzang po (more famously known as A khu a khra), was an attendant of the Eighth Karmapa. He met the then seven-month-old Karmapa in 1508, attending him until shortly before completion of his eighth year (1514). He indicates in the colophon that he was a student of the Seventh Karmapa, Chos grags rgya mtsho. He was likely an administrator under the Seventh Karmapa, and compiled a collection of meditation instructions of the Ras chung snyan rgyud. The colophon further mentions that he noted several miraculous events, which he witnessed and affirms the authenticity of the events depicted.
Since an attendant of the Karmapa authored this spiritual biography, one can assume its author was close to him. Further, it is clear that the Karmapa himself was familiar with, or at least aware of, this source: in a spiritual memoir the Eighth Karmapa composed in his fortieth year (1546), he writes: ‘The spiritual biography up to [my] seventh year, arranged by the monk (dge slong) Byang chub bzang po.”

TBRC entry for A khu a khra states that: he taught the Whispered Lineage of the Supreme Bliss Dakinis (bde mchog mkha’ ‘gro snyan rgyud) precepts. P8024 (tbrc.org)

[4] This text by the 13th Karmapa, is available online (byi’u sgrub brgyud bstan ‘dzin la dam chos bshad pa’i le’u) in Vol.92 (pp259-269) of a Collection of Works by the Karmapas (karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/) and is 5 folios in length. It sounds funny and will try and translate at some point in the future. The Tibetan word jiu means a small rat or bird.

Rheingans (2017) says this about the rarity of texts in Tibet at that time:

“Prints from this period are rare. This lends credibility to the oral history that printing the Karmapa’s works was banned or highly restricted after 1642, when the Fifth Dalai Lama assumed power over dBus and gTsang. This is supported by the fact that blocks of the Eighth Karmapa’s collected works were found after the dGe lugs takeover in Zas chos ’khor yang rtse, a dGe lugs monastery near Lhasa, where they may have been stored after the ban. Other traceable witnesses for some writings of the Eighth Karmapa are thirteen volumes of manuscripts probably derived from the palace of gTsang, brought to Beijing after 1959 and later returned to Tibet. A table of contents of these manuscripts was published in 1984 and some texts found entry into the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa.” (p49).

[5] The 13th Karmapa was renowned for his ability to speak to the animals, like a Dr Doolittle, for more on 13th Karmapa, see here. In his Collected Works, there are several titles relating animals, such as parrots, rabbits, birds, bees and so on. He seems to have had a great sense of humour and I hope to translate more of his works in the near future. For an English translation of the titles of his Collected Works, see here: https://www.translating-karmapas.org/karmapas/dudul-dorje/

[6] Rheingans (2017: 63-64) identifies this text on the 8th Karmapa’s full name as:

“Chos kyi rje ‘jigs rten dbang po dpal karma pa brgyad pa’i zhabs kyi mtshan rab tu brjod pa rje nyid kyis mdzad pa90 (3 fols) explains the meaning of the Eighth Karmapa’s full name. The mentioning of the names is also a benefit of this text: ‘Glorious Fame Accomplishing the teaching, Victorious in all Directions at all Times in Manifold [Ways], Unmovable Good One, [and] Melodious Sound of Adamantine (vajra) Joy.’ The text is an example of the creative and poetic methods by which the author
relates each element of the names to various doctrinal concepts and qualities of Buddhism. The text has a commentary by dPa bo gTsug lag ’phreng ba which is described below.

[7] In the Collected Works of the 5th Zhamarpa (published by Dzongsar Khyentse Labrang) online I found these texts on the life of 8th Karmapa: 1) “rgyal ba mi bskyod rdo rje’i rnam thar la bstod pa zol med mos pa ‘dren byed.” In gsung thor bu/_dkon mchog yan lag. TBRC W23927. 2: 95 – 117. gangtok: dzongsar chhentse labrang, 1974.

2) “mi bskyod rdo rje’i rnam thar tshigs bcad ma.” In gsung thor bu/_dkon mchog yan lag. TBRC W23927. 2: 125 – 134. gangtok: dzongsar chhentse labrang, 1974.

[8] Rheingans (2017:59) says about the origin of the term ‘namthar’ that:

“Roberts has indicated that the term rnam thar in a Tibetan title probably first occurred within the early bKa’ gdams pa traditions and was also used by sGam po pa. Early bKa’ gdams pa scholars likely adapted the term as found in a verse of the translated Bodhicāryāvatāra. The term rnam thar
translates the Sanskrit vimokṣa, meaning ‘liberation, the experience of a meditating saint’. A Tibetan definition of the term rnam thar claims: ‘(i) a historical work of the deeds of a holy (dam pa) person or a treatise which tells his [religious] achievement; (ii) liberation.’ To emphasise the fact that these works portray the liberation or accomplishment of a person, one could render the term ‘liberation story’; to nuance their historical content ‘spiritual biography’ is also appropriate and is the rendition chosen for this thesis. The related rang rnam genre (literally ‘one’s own liberation [story]’) may be translated as ‘spiritual memoir’. The mere use of ‘biography’ or ‘autobiography’ overlooks the primary function of the genre.”

5 thoughts on “‘JAW-DROPPING’ HANDWRITTEN COLLECTED WORKS THAT EMANATED LIGHT: TEXTUAL SOURCES, THE MEANING OF ‘LIBERATION-STORY’, IMPORTANCE OF FAITH AND INNER QUALITIES: ‘Good Deeds’ teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day Two)

  1. Thank you for doing this wonderful work. Its virtuous at every level. I appreciate immensely being able to read the transcript of the teaching – especially when I’ve missed bits or have not understood. The biggest Thank you possible!

  2. Looking forward to further transcriptions. It helps me greatly as I cant find time to listen, but am able to receive H.H Karmapa’s blessings via your transcription. Please keep up your meritorious deed!

  3. Looking forward to further transcriptions. It helps me greatly as I cant find time to listen, but am able to receive H.H Karmapa’s oral blessings via your transcription. Please keep up your meritorious deed!

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