SACRED GEOGRAPHY OF KARMA KAGYU: THREE MAIN SEATS, ‘OUTER’ AND ‘INNER’ SITES OF CHAKRASAMVARA AND BIRTH PLACES AND DATES OF THE EIGHT KARMAPAS. ‘Good Deeds’ teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day Four)

Introduction

On the fourth day of the 17th Karmapa’s teachings on ‘Good Deeds’ by 8th Karmapa, he first wished the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche a happy Birthday and recited a long-life prayer for him. Later, a new long-life prayer by the 17th Karmapa ,written specifically for this birthday, was published online (which I have translated here).

This was then followed by an extensive and original explanation and research of the sacred geography and sites of the Karma Kagyu Kamtsang as founded by Dusum Khyenpa (considered to be the 1st Karmapa). Using old histories and photos taken by some Chinese ‘Dharma friends’ in Tibet, the Karmapa gave a personally researched fascinating, picturesque and informative travelogue account of the birthplaces and dates of the Karmapas, up to and including the 8th Karmapa, as well as the sacred sites and monasteries founded by Dusum Khyenpa and the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi.

Included in this detailed ordinary geographical description, was a rare and precious oral explanation of the tantric symbolism and meaning (sacred geography) of the three main seats of Karma Kagyu (Karma Gon, Tsurphu and Kampo Nenang) and the five sacred sites and how they were connected to the tantric ‘abodes’ of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of full awakening. Giving detailed descriptions of the differing accounts of these places, the 17th Karmapa summarized it as saying that these three main seats and five sacred sites were all connected to the sites and places in the body, speech and mind of the yab-yum of the deity of Chakrasamvara. Such a teaching has never been given before by the 17th Karmapa publicly in this lifetime, and it was a joy and honour to witness his personal effort to research and present these records and photos for public benefit.  However, the Karmapa advised people that even though many of these sites had fallen into disrepair, but it was important to still respect and revere them.

Finally, at the end of the teachings, the 17th Karmapa considered the first verse of the Second set of Praises by Mikyo Dorje (‘He Searched Thoroughly’). The 8th Karmapa had written them for his teacher Karma Trinlepa (one of his four main teachers) who humbly gave them back to the 8th Karmapa saying he was not worthy of them. The Karmapa remarked how this was similar to how the renowned Praises to Je Tsongkhapa came about. The first verse was about how Mikyo Dorje ‘entered the teachings’ and that this began not only when he took vows but also when he started to look for the essence of the teachings beyond the monastic confines and objects.

Below is a full, edited transcript with photos of presentation from the video teaching. May it be of benefit!

Transcribed and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 20th February 2021. Copyright.

Good Deeds’ teachings by 17th Karmapa – Day 4

“So first I would like to wish Jamgon Guru Vajradhara, 14th Tai Situ Rinpoche a happy birthday today. We will recite the long-life prayer by the previous Dropon Dechen Rinpoche three times with the aspiration he lives a long time and accomplishes the vast activity as he wishes.

Textual Sources  – ‘The Dates of the Reincarnations of the Karmapasby 1st Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche

Today, as I mentioned the other day, I would like to discuss the dates of the first eight Gyalwang Karmapas in brief. First, if you are wondering what text I am using as the basis for this, these dates come mainly from a liberation-story written about the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso, written by Goshri Paldon Dondrub, the 1st Goshri Gyaltasb Rinpoche, Paljor Dondrub (1427–1489). There are also chronologies of the Karmapas, written by past Kagyu masters, such as that by Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa. There is a monastery in Kura. Called Kura Gontsel monastery (?) and the Khenpo of that monastery, Penyi Palsang, also wrote a chronology, at the time of the 9th Karmapa. However, the one by the 1st Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche is the earliest in terms of the 1st chronology and within that text, it gives a very complete presentation, so I’m going to use that one as the basis for my discussion.

1st Gyaltsab Rinpoche

The text by 1st Goshri give the births and dates of the deaths of the first six Karmapas and the birthdate of the 7th. There are two versions of this text, the first edition is in the Liberation-Life Story of Rangjung Tsokye Mipham Dorje Gyaltso 7th Karmapa, and in that he added his notes. The second is what I am showing to all of you in these reproductions (see photos below). This is a manuscript called The Dates of the Reincarnations of the Karmapas and it is a 3 page manuscript. Within this one, both of these give the clans, the places of birth, their parents’ names, the sign of their birth, their name when young, their monastic name, their life span, and the year and date of their passing away. It is clearly presented. So I have taken these two texts as a basis and made a table. When I made the table, I didn’t put in the clans or old place names. The reason for that is when you talk about clans, one large clan has so many sub-divisions would be too complicated. If I explained it all it would give you a headache. Also, we do not make distinctions between clans and castes. Regarding the names of the birthplaces, if you want to search for them on the internet or a map these days, I have written the modern names, so I have added them in a different colour you can understand that they are new and have been added in. Likewise, the way the names are described in the text and how they are commonly used,  I have also put them in a different colour.

If you want to know where they are, how far apart they are and so on. I expressed my wish to a few Dharma friends in China and they did research and if we had any doubts, we researched them in old texts and were able to identify most of them. Yet, there are still a few that need further research. As I tell you about these birthplaces today, I am using the photos they took as the basis and also using old history texts as the sources to explain them in brief.

1st Karmapa and Trewo – birthplace of Dusum Khyenpa?

I would like to take this opportunity to explain about the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and also thank my Dharma friends who went to the birthplaces of the Karmapas. Before I explain these birthplaces, I should say, the 1st Karmapa was born in the region of Trewo, was also the birthplace of the 9th Karmapa and the 4th Zhamar, it was the place where one or two of the Zhamar Rinpoches were born. Not only that, up through the time of the 10th Karmapa, there were many Kagyu monasteries in the region of Trewo. Also, there was a student of the 7th Karmapa known as Charma Goshri who helped the teachings of the Kagyu flourish greatly, both spiritually and politically. Later, after the time of the destruction of Mongol Gushri Khan’s armies, then only Bengon monastery, Ridag monastery and Gosar monastery (32 mins), only these three remained among the Kamtsang monasteries and otherwise, other than their histories and that they used to be there, nothing is left. For that reason, fewer and fewer people take interest in the history associated with Karma Kagyu. Now the centuries have passed, and many people no longer know the difference between the various incarnations of the Karmapas and Zharmapas and mingle them all together into one history when they tell the stories.

There are several remaining oral histories. When you look for the source of them, you cannot say there is no source categorically, but there are many situations it is not exactly as they are told. So we need to look at and consider that. When trying to identify the locations of historical events, it is important for us to pay respect to the individuals and to continue to remember to look at the dates of their history and the signs and traces of their actual deeds. If there is a different explanation or another way of expressing it, there is no point debating if that is right or not. What I am trying to explain today is in order that the histories become clearer. So that we have a little bit more interest in the history, and not about saying one is right or not.

Now, in terms of the actual dates of their births, there is the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. The birthplace is this place (see photo below).

 If you look at the table I have made, the birthplace is in blue and you can see the mother and father’s name and his birth date and so on. This it the Tibetan way of counting not western, it would be 83 years old, not 84. He passed away on the 1st lunar month of the female hare year. What is says in the actual text is that his birthplace is Rha thrag in Tre. When we talk about that Tre is sometimes spelt differently, sometimes its spelt with krewo sometimes threwo. These days it is called Treho and in the Kadze district. Some spell ‘thrag’ differently too. However, most of the Kagyu histories spell it as rathrag. These days, some people say Dusum Khyenpa was in Pochu  and they say there are still some descendants of his family there. There are many stories and artefacts they can show. Thus, they take their explanation and say that was where he was born. Also, in 2010, when we celebrated the 900th Anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa’s birth we wrote in the book and internet that is was Bochog, However, I am interested in history and most of the texts say Tre and not Pochu. However, one good thing that happened a year or two ago, I got an old document and when I read it I dispelled all my doubts about where he was born.

This is the text here (see picture above), The Vajra Splinter Travelogue. It says this document was written by 8th Karmapa’s personal physician and attendant, Gelong Shongkara Jigme Nanggi Gyalso. The subject is how the reincarnation of Mikyo Dorje, 9th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje, was born in Tagstang at the foot of a mountain in Lower Tre, these days it’s called Tagtsang Nang and that is the 9th Karmapa’s birthplace. After the 9th Karmapa was born, the 5th Zhamar sent Gelong Shonkara, Chogyal Kunga and other monks a group of ten from the encampment to offer food and clothing and take care of him. They started in U tsang in Central Tibet and this document describes the regions along the way, the monasteries and the histories associated with them and they took notes of these until they ?? (42 mins) and so this was called The Vajra Splinter Travelogue (Lam Yig Dorje Zeg pa). Within this, it’s description of the places in Upper and lower Tre and the monasteries at the time in relation to the birthplace of Dusum Khyenpa are all described very clearly. This is great for research into the history of Trewo and Dusum Khyenpa. So today I am using this as the basis and supplemented it with some other old histories and I have compiled this and use it to give an introduction to Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace.

This Travelogue describes the area of Treho and other surrounding areas. It is written in verse but that is not so easy to understand, so I have written it in prose.

When he arrived in Treho, the first thing he saw was the Yukkhar Snow mountain in Upper Tre (see picture). These days they no longer call it a snow mountain but a rock mountain, so it’s probably just that the glaciers have melted and it’s now a rock mountain. This is the first thing he said. Then he went to Chakrasamkra, the estate of the Lord of Ling. After, he writes ‘I went to a place an hour or two away, where there is the Karmapa’s monastery called Gontra’. I have put a map here (see picture). This map is in Chinese. I have never been there so it is not so vivid or clear to me but basically, there was the Karmapa’s monastery and a hoofprint was left there by the 7th Karmapa’s horse Dzamling Norbu. It means a horse’s hoof print, not foot. Then a half day away, there is Bumchog, the birthplace of the 4th Zhamar Rinpoche.

Then after that, ‘at a place as far as the sound of a conch would carry, I saw the ruins of Dusum KamKhyim monastery that had been burnt down by the Sakya Lama Chagmo Situ Tanagchen.’ I will speak a little more about this monastery later.

Then it says ‘After that I saw Horse Fence monastery, with its three monasteries at different levels. At that time, there was still debate about whether it was Sakya or Kagyu. I am not sure about these pictures are exact. It has three different levels. Then after that (see pic below):

All around that were the footprints of Dusum Khyenpa and so on. The Ratsag stupa is still there. It’s called the ‘Goat-Skin coat stupa’. Now it is taken care of by the Sakya lineage.

Self-Arisen Image of Palden Lhamo

This is written in great detail but I cannot explain it all today because I don’t have time. When I first saw that travelogue it became clear that Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was Ratag. So there must have been some stupa at Bumchog, which is the birthplace of 4th Zhamar. As I said, sometimes we confuse the earlier and later incarnations.

So even though they went to a different place, they still say they had the Karmarpa was born in our family. People may think that the place that family is living, is the place where the Karmapa was born. If I can get a detailed liberation story of 4th Zhamar I can look into it. However, if we look at the old historical texts, and not just oral histories, we can know better about it. However, in the future I should do some research on Trewo and that lineage of Dusum Khyenpa and the 4th Zhamarpa and write a paper about this, which will fill a gap in the history of Trewo.

Chakrasamvara, Sacred Geography and Dusum Khyenpa’s three main monastic seats

As many of you know, one of the most important deeds of Dusum Khyenpa was to establish many monasteries, including the three main monastic seats (see photo above), establishing a foundation for the Karma Kamtsang teachings. When we talk about the upper, middle and lower seats, there are several different ways we can describe them. Upper, Middle and Lower, places of the three chakras of body speech and mind and so on. If we think about them in terms of three chakras, the reason they are called that is because in terms of the yab-yum of Chakrasmavara they are listed as sites of the father’s body speech and mind.

In Mikyo Dorje’s own description of various sites and his instructions on the Chakramsamavra tantra[1] he meditates on the three places of the deity and how they are connected, and the three inner channels are in Tsurphu, Kampo Nenang and Kampo Gangri. So to talk about these three places, I will use the guidebook written by the 6th Zhamarpa. What he wrote (see photo).

1st Karma Kamtsang monastery – Kampo Nenang

Gampopa said to Dusum Khyenpa, ‘I have students as numerous as the sky but I have high hopes in you, White Khampa, Dusum Khyenpa’. And he entrusted the teachings of Kagyu to Dusum Khyenpa. He said: ‘Go to Khampa Gangri in Kham and do retreat there, your benefit to beings will spread throughout Kham, U and Tsang’, he predicted. Likewise, Je Gomtsul gave a similar prophecy and so for that reason, Dusum Khyenpa went to Khampo Nenang and did a retreat there. That is where he realized the supreme siddhi and realized the Dharma nature. He nurtured students into realization and founded the first monastic seat. Then, he founded Karma Gon and Tsurphu monasteries and these became known as the three seats. Generally, there are five main seats associated with the Karmapas (see table below).

This is written in 6th Zharmapa, Chokyi Wangchuk’s’ guidebook. So Kampo Nenang was the first Karma Kamtsang monastery. These days, it has become a Gelugpa monastery and is not a Kamtsang monastery. Then Dusum Khyenpa founded the others.

6th Zharmapa, Chokyi Wangchug (1584-1630)

The five sacred sites according to the 6th Zhamarpa are the sites of the five body, speech, mind and qualities and activity. So the student of 6th Zhamar’s student Karma Chagme says the eastern site is the body chakra of Chakrasamvara. The thirteen chakras are the speech of are the speech of Chakrasamvara. The mind chakra of Khacho is the Chakrasamvara site of Okmin karma and Toshung chakras [need to check this as not clear]. That’s a little introduction to the three chakras of body, speech and mind.

The main reason these three sites are called the chakras of body, speech and mind is because they are connected to the three sites between the male and female figures of the deity, Chakrasamvara. The three sites of the female figure are Tsari, Lhachi and so on[i]. The three sites of the male figure, there are the three monastic seats (the Upper, Lower and Middle seats).

Upper, Middle and Lower Sites – Places on a Conch shell

Similarly, the 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje In Answers to the Discipline Master, Gyaltsen [chos khrims pa rgyal mtshan gyi dris lan] writes that the Upper Seat of the Body is Tsurphu, the Middle site of Okmin Karma is the site of speech and Lower Kampo Nenang is the site of mind. Kamphung Che is the site of qualities and Pargri is the site of activities. If we compare it to a white conch, Tsurphu is like the mouth, the belly is like Karma Gon, the tip is like Karma Nenang and Porgri like the streamers on the conch. This is comparing it to the five places on a conch. There are different ways of identifying the places of the qualities.

Khamkhyim monastery in Tre?

The 6th Zhamarpa says that the place of qualities is Porgri in the East, whereas the 13th Karmapa says it is Khamkhyim in Tre. So where is Khamkhyim in Tre? As I described before, in some histories, they think it means Phampo monastery in Gom, but that monastery is not in Tre. So Phampo cannot be that monastery as it must be in Trewo.

In the Golden Garland of the Kagyu compiled by Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne and another writer, it quotes an autobiography of Karma Pakshi in the Year of the Rat at Tsurphu of the 29th of the 6th Month, which basically says he had a vision of the protector Mahakala Bernagchen with a huge body filling space wearing a necklace made of hearts. Karma Pakshi estimated there were 150 hearts on the necklace and surrounded by the protectors. After, he wondered what on earth is this? So, that night he offered a huge torma and looked with his clairvoyant powers to saw that Khamkhyim in Tre was near the birthplace of Dusum Khyenpa in Tre,  but some bad people had destroyed the monastery and it was left in ruins with no one taking care of it. He had seen signs that this had happened. For that reason, it is clear that Tre is Dusum Khyenpa’s birth place. Also, there is quote about in the liberation-stories of 7th Karmapa and in the Vajra Splinter Travelogue it mentions actually seeing these ruins. So it is clear that it is in Treho. When we speak about it, it’s like we never heard about it before.

Why did it later become like that? It mentions the place of activity in the liberation story of 7th Karmapa and it was being taken care of, yet during the 9th Karmapa there is not even a single word mentioning the monastery in Tre. The 9th Karmapa was born in Tre so you would think it would be mentioned. In the latter part of the 7th or 8th Karmapa’s life, I wonder if it was destroyed during that time. The 13th Karmapa mentions the place of activities as being Para. I have been unable to identify the location of Para. There are different ways of identifying the place of activities.

So there is that description by 13th Karmapa and later, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye wrote in his Non-Sectarian Dharma History that ‘the three seats are Tsurphu Tolung, Karma Riling and Kampo Nenang, the three chakras of body, speech and mind. Porgri in the East and Khamkhyim in Treho are the sites of qualities and Pochu and Jushri are the sites of activities, spreading out from those there are retreat centres and monasteries covering a large area. These days, in this degenerate age and the teachings in decline, most of these seats have fallen into disrepair. Yet, because of the kindness of Omniscient Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne and his successor. the embers of the teaching have been rekindled in Kham. The teachings of practice and realization of the Karma Kagyu have been re-awakened. Phabun Chotron Chokhor Ling itself has become the head of a hundred rivers.’

Thus, the three monastic seats, as I described them earlier, are the same. However, here Kongtrul gives two places for the sites of activities and two for the sites of qualities, four sites in total for these. This is written here (see photo).

Likewise, Karma Khenchen Rinchen Dhargye wrote in his ‘Explanation of the Black Crown’ that in the Upper there is Tsurphu, in the Middle there is Ogmin Karma, and in the Lower is Kampo Gangra in lower Tibet. These are known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Seats. The reason they are called that is in accordance with the Tibetan geography. Some people think this has been determined by the order of their founding but it is not so. The highest in Tibet is Tsurphu and it is called the Upper. In the middle is Karma Riling and in the lower is Karma Gangra.

In brief, we have got the three places and five sacred sites, and these should be primarily presented in terms of Dusum Khyenpa. As I said before, the 6th Zhamarpa mentioned Pongri in the East as the site of qualities but that was not founded by Dusum Khyenpa but by Karma Pakshi. So we shouldn’t include it for that reason, but maybe it was included because Khamkhyim had been destroyed and this is its replacement. These days, there are also those who doubt that Pongri was founded by Dusum Khyenpa. However, histories written at the time of the 10th Kamapa describe clearly it was founded by Dusum Khyenpa. So I do not think there is any room for doubt.

Jamgon Kongtrul says in the same text mentioned before, that Bara is one of the two sites of activities. I think that this Bara is probably the same as the Para stated by the 13th Karmapa. Karma Shushri is in the region of Shu in Nyima Dzong in the Nyingma district Tibet and we have been able to identify that site.

To summarise, there are many famous monasteries founded by the Karmapas and their heart sons and also Rumtek founded by the 16th Karmapa and this can also be considered a seat. Yet, in terms of the history, those 3 seats and 5 sites, it is better to consider these as founded by Dusum Khyenpa. If we include those founded by later Karmapas there would be fifty or more sites. There would be debate about which to include and so on. The reasons I am pointing out these sites and seats is because this is what Dusum Khyenpa prophesized and practiced at Kampo Nenang and achieved realisation. The people there then became known as Kampos and then it became known as the Kamtsang monastery. Then he founded the other main monasteries. Then Karma Pakshi came and restored them and since Kampo Nenang was the first place Dusum Khyenpa founded he put statues of Marpa, Mila and Gampopa and so on. So that name came from Karma Pakshi.

Generally, all the incarnations of the Karmapa are like the heads of the Karma Kamtsang teachings and Dusum Khyenpa and Karma Pakshi are the people who founded and spread the Kamtsang teachings. That is why the seats they established are the most important. In particular, the ones founded by Dusum Khyenpa are like the mother monasteries. These days many of these monasteries have fallen into disrepair. However, even if they are in ruins, we still need to respect and serve them and recognize why those sites are important.

Now following this I would like continue speaking about the lives of the Karmapas.

2nd Karmapa

At that time, something we need to take interest in is there are some different accounts of the year of Karma Pakshi’s birth. Zharma Khachi Wangpo says in one text that 24 years after Dusum Khyenpa passed away in the year of the rat (1216) or that he passed away in the year of the Sheep (1295). However, it’s very clear what year Rangjung Dorje was born in. So we would have to count these as half years and there is an old tradition of counting 6 months as a year. Chenang Sonam Gyaltso and Go Lotsawa recorded in the Blue Annals after doing  a lot of research and they said he would have had to have been born in the year 1204. However, most other Kamtsang Scholars like Goshri Gyaltsab, Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa, Mikyo Dorje and so on assert that Karma Pakshi was born in the year of the Fire-Tiger, which was in 1206.

In any case, between the passing of Dusum Khyenpa and birth of Karma Pakshi there was a minimum of 10 years and this was the interval between the two Karmapas.

3rd Karmapa

I have written it down according to Chinese spelling and pronunciation. In terms of his name and life-span, there is no doubt about these.  Xanadu during the Mongol dynasty there are two capitals Xanadu and Changdu. Xanadu is the old capital of the Mongols and Chengdu. On that night, he appeared in the moon on that full moon day and many people saw his face in the moon the next day. A thangka was painted of this during the time of the Mongol Emperor but it is not available but there is a tradition of doing this. So there is also a tradition of painting Yeshe Dorje in images of the sun.

4th Karmapa
5th Karmapa

The Ming Emperor, Yongle gave him the name Dezhin Shegpa and he became well known and lived until 32. Passing away in 1415 at Potala Mountain, which is the Potala monastery in Lhasa. At that time, the governor of Lhasa had offered that site to the Karmapa and that is why he was there

6th Karmapa

He was born in 1416, lived until 38 years old and passed in 1453.

7th Karmapa
8th Karmapa’s Praises ‘He Thoroughly Searched’ – Originally given to his teacher, Karma Trinleypa  who gave them back

ཟླ་མེེད་སྟོོན་པའིི་བསྟན་པ་གང་ཡིིན་པ། །
འཆུག་མེེད་དངོོས་ཉིིད་ལེེགས་པར་བཙལ་བྱས་ནས། །
ཡང་དག་ཚུལ་ལ་བསྙེེན་པའིི་བརྟུལ་ཞུགས་ཅན། །
བསྟན་ལ་ངེེས་པར་རྫོོགས་དེེར་གསོོལ་བ་འདེེབས། །
(1) He searched thoroughly for the unerring essence
Of the teachings of the unrivaled Teacher,
Had the discipline that leads to the true ways,
And practiced the teachings in full — to him I pray

Of the two liberation-story praises by the 8th Karmapa, the first stanza of the ‘Good Deeds’ and the first verse of ‘He Searched Thoroughly…’are related. If we ask about the origin of the latter, when Mikyo Dorje was in Namtho mountain in he offered the Praise to Karma Trinlepa [Karma ’phrin las pa I Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1456– 1539) one of his four main teachers]. Karma Trinlepa told Mikyo Dorje, ‘ I don’t have these qualities at all’ and gave it back to him. This is what is said in Zharmapa Konchog Yenlag’s annotated commentary on the Praise. This is similar to how Je Tsongkhapa wrote a Praise to his Sakya Master, Rendawa, who then offered it back to him and this then became Migtsema, a famous praise about Tsongkhapa.

According to Feast for Scholars, Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa wrote an explanation of Mikyo Dorje’s Praise. This Praise is also included in Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne’s Prayer book for Karma Kamtsang. It is taught in terms of nine different points, if we take 5th Zhamar’s description, it’s how he first entered the teachings and brought others into them. The meaning of this in brief, is that Pawo writes that Mikyo Dorje was not satisfied by the mere name of the teachings but wanted to find the unmistaken meaning and essence. He was not satisfied to say the monasteries and statues are the body speech and mind of the Buddhas. So he asked so what are the real teachings and then he could introduce others to them. How did he do this? The way he entered the teachings in terms of the ordinary teachings  was via the Vinaya, which is  primarily the vows of individual liberation. When he was 7 years old, he took the complete lay vows and eight vows of Sojong in front of the Gandola sacred object, and given the name Chokyab Dragpa Palsang[ii] by the 2nd Gyaltsab Rinpoche. I don’t have much time to speak much about the 2nd Gyaltsab, who was a reincarnation of Gyaltsab Tashi Dhondup who was the first to be given title of Gyaltsab.

The Gandola of the Great Encampment

When Mikyo Dorje went forth, the sacred object in front of which he went forth,  was the Gandola which is the most sacred object of the Great Encampment. If we ask these days what is the Gandola? Most people don’t know what it is. In any case, Gyaltsab Rinpoche gave him the complete lay vows, and age 13 he took the novice vows from 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Naljor[iii]. At age 21 there was a person called Gedun Khampo who held the lineage of vows from Kashmir Penchen Shakya Shri, and there was an emanation of Rahula. Most of the Karmapas took their vows from the Gendun and there was a tradition where emanations of each of the great arhats would be present at the enthronement of the Karmapas, for the 8th Karmapa that was Rahula. Chodrub Senge [another main teacher of Mikyo Dorje] and Karma Trinleypa [were the precept givers] and Tashi Sampo was the private questioner. That is how the 8th Karmapa became a holder of the complete vows of a Bikshu and how he entered the teachings fully.

Difficulties of abandoning negative friends  – 8th Karmapa and 17th Karmapa

Tomorrow may be more difficult because it is the second topic, of how Mikyo Dorje gave up and abandoned harmful friends. This was something that Mikyo Dorje had great difficulty with from an early age. He didn’t have much power. He came under the control of his attendants or changdze (stewards) and had many difficulties. So when he describes this, I think ‘oh so this happened in the time of Mikyo Dorje and this also happened in my time’ and I thought I would say a little about that too. Even though it is probably not suitable for me to talk about my life in comparison with Mikyo Dorje but I thought I would forget about being humble and say a little bit about it. I hope that it will be helpful for all of you.”


[1] 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works, there are several texts he wrote on Chakrasamvara, some of which I hope to read and translate in the near future. However, it is not clear from the 17th Karmapa’s teaching alone which text he is referring to here.


[i] Tsari (tsa ri), one of the three most important sacred mountains of Tibet, the other two being Kailash and Lapchi (la phyi). These three mountains are listed among the gnas chen nyi shu rtsa bzhi, the “24 Sacred Places of the World” and are often called the “Three Holy Mountains of Tibet”. Tsari is situated on the border of Tibet and the northern Indian state of Arunchal Pradesh.

[ii] Rheingans (2017: 84): “Around this period, the Karmapa started to take Buddhist precepts and received another name, although the accounts vary slightly: According to the 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’).62 Then a few months later, on the third day of the eighth lunar month (khrums kyi zla ba), the rGyal tshab Rin po che performed a hair cutting ceremony in conjunction with inducted him into the ‘going forth into homelessness’ (rab byung, Skt. pravrajyā). Often, this term indicates the śrāmaṇera-vows of a novice monk. This ritual took place in ’O lung Yang dgon. mKhas pa’i dga’ ston summarises the taking of vows in context of depicting the Karmapa’s renunciation on the whole.”

[iii] Rheingans 2017: 84: “mKhas pa’i dga’ ston, p. 1226 explains that the Karmapa received the complete Mahāyāna upāsaka vows (sdoms pa) in conjunction with observing the eight precepts of the poṣadha (which is probably his account of the upavāsatha vows). He then later took on the signs of the pravrajyā together with a hair cutting plus the name and ensuingly the dge tshul vows of a novice monk from Sangs rgyas mnyan pa.”

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