‘THUNDEROUSLY BLOWING HIS TRUMPET’: Abandoning meaningless distractions and the 8th Karmapa’s one-week visit to Jiang. ‘Good Deeds’ teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day 8:Part II)

On the eighth day of the 17th Karmapa’s teaching on the Autobiographical Praises by 8th Karmapa, he continued with detailed explanations of the life of the fourth of 8th Karmapa’s main teachers, Karma Trinlepa (1456-1531).  That part, and Day 7 of the 17th Karmapa’s teachings about the 8th Karmapa’s other two main teachers, Dumo Tashi Ozer (bdud mo bkra shis od zer) and Khenchen Chodrub Senge (chos, grub seng ge, 1451-1530) will be written up later (with references) to be published for public use. Here is a slide created by the 17th Karmapa with images and dates of these four teachers;

For today’s post below, is a transcript of the second part of the Day 8 teaching, which looks at a the verse in Good Deeds called ‘Abandoning Meaningless Distractions’, followed by an introduction to the 8th Karmapa’s connection and visit to the region of Jang. The Karmapa told an entertaining story of how even elephants in the Jang Emperor’s entourage, who welcomed him, bowed and reared his trunk blowing his trumpet loudly. A huge trumpet played by sixteen people was also blown as part of the welcoming ceremonies. The Karmapa also showed some recent photos of the Jang Palace were presented. However, despite all the pomp and ceremony, the 8th Karmapa refused to stay there permanently and left after only one week. Demonstrating his lack of interest in and attachment to praise, wealth and power and so on.

The 17th Karmapa concluded the teaching by speaking about how the 8th Karmapa’s connection with Jang is probably what allowed the 10th Karmapa to escape and survive the civil war in Tibet by staying in Jang during that time.  In terms of the 8th Karmapa’s connection with China and the Ming dynasty, he would speak about that tomorrow, by first considering the 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa’s connection to the Ming Emperors.  As I have written about before here, the Karmapas connection with China is a strong and enduring one.

May this post and transcript, also ‘blow the trumpet’ of the extraordinary qualities and life of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje.

Transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 26th January 2021. Copyright.

Good Deeds Teaching by 17th Karmapa, Day 8

‘Abandoning Meaningless Distractions’

Today, I will teach a new verse from ‘Good Deeds’, so we must start doing more of these verses as haven’t taught that many so far. The first of the outline of the Good Deeds has six points, and this is the fourth called, ‘Abandoning Meaningless Distractions’, I won’t explain it word by word.

ཕལ་པའིི་རྣམ་གཡེེང་མིི་ཚེེ་འཛད་ཐབས་ཙམ། །
ཡིིན་པར་སྙིིང་ཁོོང་རུས་པའིི་གཏིིང་ཉིིད་ནས། །
ངེེས་འདྲོོངས་ཐ་མལ་གཡེེང་བ་ཐམས་ཅད་བསྐྱུངས། །
རིིག་པ་དྭངས་ཤིིང་སྐྱབས་ལ་ཡིིད་ཆེེས་ཐོོབ། །
འདིི་ཡང་བདག་གིི་ལེེགས་སྤྱད་ཡིིན་སྙམ་བགྱིིད། །
(4) When I developed certainty from the bottom of my heart
That ordinary distractions are merely ways to waste this life,
I cast away all commonplace diversions.
My awareness became clear; I found conviction in the Jewels.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

In general, within the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje, there is an instruction and training on the liberation-stories of Mikyo Dorje. Here is a citation from that text, he said:

“One most follow the guru without ever being separate from them. How long must one follow the guru then? Until you achieve Buddhahood, you must follow the guru but in order to follow the guru in that way, you must have the fortune to be in the same time and place similar to the guru and a body and mind of the same kind. Once you have achieved that superior basis you must be free of obstacles and unfavourable conditions that permit following the guru and Dharma. That depends on gathering  virtuous karma for that sake, such as having faith in the guru and the true Dharma and diligence, mindfulness and prajna, so you must eliminate the impediments to virtue, the conditions that create afflictions and friends that are especially pleasant and unpleasant, the conditions that want, crave for or hate those. If you can eliminate such conditions and distractions such as being great in this life and the next life and find ? of body, speech and mind, you will become workable and your awareness will become clear. Prajna will ripen and you will remember the qualities of the three jewels. When you remember that, you will feel that even if you use your body, speech and mind for even one minute it is more precious than your human life. Practice that one-pointedly without feeling.”

When we want to follow the gurus, we should never be separate from them until we achieve Buddhahood. If we just follow them for a few days or a few months or a few years that is not enough. In order to follow or serve that guru, what you need is merit. You need to have the same merit and fortune to be able to follow the spiritual friend, to receive Dharma teachings from the spiritual friend and practice, we need to have the special basis of body and mind. To get that we must gather the accumulations.

The main reason we say that the precious human body with leisure and resources is so precious is because on that basis, we have all the things we need in order to practice the Dharma. That is why the body with all its leisures and resources is so important. Otherwise, just having a precious human body is not actually a precious human life, which actually depends upon whether we can find the teachings of an authentic spiritual master and practice them. While practicing virtue by listening, contemplating and meditating, then the impediments are what obstruct that and there are many adverse circumstances that can block that. Among all of them, the worst are the afflictions within our own being, such as thoughts of greed, hatred and so on. If we need to overcome obstacles, we don’t need repelling rituals and tormas outside. We need to eliminate all inner mental afflictions. Within ourselves we have these imprints that lead to attachment and aversion and so we have many thoughts and plans about becoming great in this life, and all of these are fooling us. Thus we must see how much we can distance ourselves from them. Can we stay in our solitary place with our body? Can we remain silent? Can our minds rest peacefully without getting distracted? If we can do that, then eventually our mind can be used in the best way and go in the best direction. Our mind and awareness will become clearer and our faith in the three jewels will become stronger.

If we use them for pointless things, or the eight worldly concerns[i] it is a total loss. So we need to use our body speech and mind to give our human life meaning and practice true Dharma. Mikyo Dorje himself in his own life, as I said before, was never fooled by such meaningless things. What is the best example of him doing this? I will explain now.

Karmapa’s relations with Jiang

Doing the 8th Karmapa’s time, there was a King of Jiang [‘Jang is the Tibetan name for the Naxi people living in the region of Lijiang, Yunnan ( 丽江土司;  Lìjiāng tǔsī)  and at that time, he had power over many regions of Kham, Tibet, and was very powerful. The King invited Mikyo Dorje to Jiang and followed him as his main root guru. Likewise, the Ming Emperor Zhengde ( 正德帝; Zhèngdé Dì; 1491 –1521), sent messengers and unbelievable amounts of offerings, inviting Mikyo Dorje to come to China.

Ming Emperor, Zhengde ( 正德帝; Zhèngdé Dì; 1491 –1521

At that time, many people regarded Mikyo Dorje very highly and respected him. Likewise the Kagyu Garchen was probably the most influential organization at that time and Karma Kagyu lamas were dispersed all over Tibet. So the Karma Kagyu was powerful, politically and spiritually. The Karmapas were also considered by lamas of other lineages to be great and so on. This was a good situation, but Mikyo Dorje himself did not like being great or impressive, or tried to use his power, or influence of his sect or the prosperity of his monasteries. He did not like it at all. Not only that, he actually tried to prevent it from occurring at times. Here is one of the best examples of him doing that, in his relations with the country of Jang

Jiang and Tibetan Kings
Lijang in Yunnan, China

You may have heard of Jiang, but most probably have not as you are staying in India, Nepal and Bhutan. If you come from Tibet, you may have heard of Jiang. The old Tibetan histories mention it ‘jang, so there are histories from the time  of Tibetan Kings. Jiang came under Tibetan control several times, in particular the Tibetan King under the control of Dusong Mangban [also known as Tridu Songtsen (ཁྲི་འདུས་སྲོང་བཙན་, Khri ‘dus-srong btsan, (670–704; r. 676–704). There are different accounts of his birth year in the Dunhuang caves, one of them say he was born 676. The documents of the Thang Gyalpa give different dates. Anyway, he went to Jiang, invaded it and took control of it. He also passed away in Jiang.

So there was an early connection between Jiang and Tibet. It was not a big kingdom, it arose in the 7th -8th centuries, and arose in border regions between Tibet and China.  There were different dynasties. When the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan went to Dali, current Yunnan, larger than Jiang and at that point he surrendered to the Mongols and was given the governor power over the area of the Yunnan. After that, the Ming dynasty invaded Yunnan, then the Jang emperors surrendered to the Chinese Ming emperors and they appointed a governor. Their clan is called Mu, which means ‘tree’ or ‘wood’ [ii].

8th Karmapa and 13th King of Jiang

 How did the Jiang people make a connection with the 8th Karmapa? They first made offerings to 7th Karmapa and invited him there but he was not able to go. Then, the 8th Karmapa was also invited by the 13th King of Jiang, Mu Ding 木定 (reigned from 1502-1526) (see picture).

13th King of Jiang, Mu Ding 木定 (reigned from 1502-1526)
Slide from 17th Karmapa’s presentation

The King’s actual clan was the Naxi, there are White Naxi and white Naxi[iii]. The white Naxi, called him Aya Achu ( A-ya A-ch’iu, 阿牙阿秋)  in local language. He was born in 1477 and died in 1526. He was enthroned around 1502. At that time, he took care of Gyaltsang and Kham [now called Shangri in Yunnan]. He was the one who invited 8th Karmapa. How was he invited?

When Mikyo Dorje was seven years old he was enthroned, not long after that a lama from Jiang, Lama Tashi, gave him a letter from the King of Jiang. That was the first connection between 8th Karmapa and Jiang. Then, Mikyo Dorje was travelling through Kham and visiting Karma Gon and Khampo Nenang, the seats of Dusum Khyenpa and again, someone came to invite him to Jiang. Then he came to the place Gyelthang, in the province of Yunnan and on the 15th or 16th of Vesak he arrived in Jiang.

When Mikyo Dorje and his entourage was on thier way to Jiang, ten thousand soldiers came to welcome and escort him, and they all went to a place called Satham and set up camp next the Jiang palace[iv].There was an elephant among the people who had come to welcome him, who was tethered to the ground, but when the 8th Karmapa arrived, it broke free of the rope and came to the Karmapa; immediately bowed its head, raising his trunk upwards to show respect. When the elephant did that, everyone was amazed and surprised.

Jiang Palace and huge procession welcoming the 8th Karmapa

The Jiang Palace is really beautiful and still exists today. It is a bit like a smaller version of the forbidden city in Beijing.

Photos of Jang Palace from the 17th Karmapa’s presentation

Here (above) is a photo of the royal palace in Jiang. Mikyo Dorje was staying in a tent next to the palace. The next day at dawn, the King of Jiang came to see the Karmapa and he came in a litter [palanquin][v] carried by 3 or 4 people, and his King’s uncles and brothers each rode their own elephant.

A litter or palanquin

Near them was a single elephant led seperately and there were people riding horses with banners and conchs, a huge procession to welcome him. They arrived at his tent, and the King prostrated at the door of Mikyo Dorje’s tent. As they didn’t know each other’s language there was a translator, Lhaka Tsanyen, and they exchanged greetings and offerings. At that time, there was another elephant that also prostrated and raise his trunk that also trumpeted really loudly! I can’t do that sound [ha ha].

17th Karmapa playfully doing an impression of an elephant raising its trunk

So someone asked: “why are they making such a loud noise? Why are they trumpeting like that? “The herdsman said because he is so happy to see the 8th Karmapa. (For an example of and elephant blowing his trumpet, see here):

At that time, there were many rainbows in the sky and other auspicious signs. Then they prepared a tent and made many offerings of great music and played the traditional form of music, which is considered to be one of the great cultural treasures of the world by the World Heritage[vi] . For example, see video below:

Despite many offerings, pomp and ceremony, 8th Karmapa left after one week

Mikyo Dorje gave the Chinese emperor statues of the Buddha, the 7th Karmapa, Sutras and horses he had brought from Tibet. Then, the 8th Karmapa was escorted while carried in a litter, and brought into the palace. There were three gates, the King came to the middle gate and offered a katag. Among the welcome party were many Chinese monks with musical instruments and also a huge trumpet that needed 16 people to play it. Mikyo Dorje then went into palace and was put on a golden throne there. There were wooden chairs in the Chinese style and tea was offered and Chinese silks and so on. The King had three empresses who took off their jewelry and gave it to him, and took the bodhisattva vows.

The next day, Mikyo Dorje was invited to the palace again. At that time, Jiang was waging war in areas of Tibet and taking control of them, and they had requested Mikyo Dorje to help them. When speaking with Mikyo Dorje, the King agreed not to wage war against Tibet for the next 13 years and also promised to send 500 monks every year, over the next ten years. They also requested Mikyo Dorje to stay in Jiang permanently, so that he would be the guru of the King. Mikyo Dorje did not agree though and went back to Tibet. At that time, Mikyo Dorje had spent one week in Satham[vii].

Generally, previously the Jiang Kings had no faith in Tibetan Buddhism. They had their own traditions similar to Bon and would offer and sacrifice animals to the deities. However, from that time on, the King gained unshakeable faith in the Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu and became a sponsor of the Karma Kagyu.

Later, at the time of 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, went to Jiang and spent a long time there when there was civil war in Tibet. If he had not been able to go there at that time, then probably one can wonder if the Karmapa would have even survived with so much conflict and war. Thus, the Jiang people and Kings were extremely kind to us during Karma Kagyu history. Mikyo Dorje spent a week there, and when he was returning to Tibet the King and the army escorted him there. Mikyo Dorje told them after 7 years he would return to Jiang. Later, when the 10th Karmapa spent a long time there, the reason he was able to do that, is because Mikyo Dorje had made the promise to return to there.

The King of Jiang did as he had promised and sent five hundred monks there annually, and there are lists of the annual offerings he made in the historical texts. Then, Mikyo Dorje went to Gyalthang. The first place of the Jiang Kangyur, the first printing place, was probably the Kalzang Gon monastery[viii]. After that, during the time of the Mongol emperor Gushri Khan, this was all destroyed.

Tomorrow, I will speak about the relation between the Ming Emperors and the Karmapas. Mikyo Dorje was also invited to China by the Ming emperor, Zhengde, Why was he invited? To know that we have to look at the prior connections between the 5th Karmapa and the relations between the Ming dynasty and Emperor. We have to discuss how they developed a connection between the Ming emperors and the people. So, Mikyo Dorje was invited and whether he went to China or not, I will speak about tomorrow.”


Further Reading

Joseph F Rock (1947). The ancient Na-khi Kingdom of southwest China. Harvard University Press.

Karl Debreczeny (August 2013). “Si tu paṇ chen’s Artistic Legacy in ‘Jang” (PDF). Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (7).

Rheingans (2017). The 8th Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretion of the Great Seal. Numata Centre for Buddhist Studies.

Tomlin, Adele (Dakini Publications, 2020). 

The Chinese and the Karmapas

The Kangyur and the Karmapas’ role in their publication and preservation

Bin Yang (2008). “Chapter 4: Rule Based on Native Customs”. Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan. Columbia University Press.


[i] The eight worldly concerns or eight worldly dharmas (Skt. aṣṭalokadharma; ‘jig rten chos brgyad) are a set of worldly or mundane concerns that generally motivate the actions of ordinary beings. They are: hope for gain and fear of loss; hope for pleasure and fear of pain, hope for good reputation and fear of bad reputation, hope for praise and fear of blame.

[ii] According to Rheingans (2017: 86): “This area had been a Karma bKa’ brgyud and rNying ma stronghold already during the Yuan period and is in Lithang, in today’s province of Szechuan. The First Karmapa had founded Kam po gnas gnang in this area; Karma bKa’ brgyud influence was diminished due to the rising dGe lugs influence from 1580 onwards. “Lijiang City replaced the former administrative region of Lijiang Naxi Autonomous Prefecture. It was under the rule of the Mu family (木氏) native chieftains during the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.”

[iii] The Nakhi or Nashi (simplified Chinese: 纳西族; traditional Chinese: 納西族; pinyin: Nàxī zú) are an ethnic group inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, as well as the southwestern part of Sichuan Province in China. The Nashi form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. The official Chinese government classification includes the Mosuo as part of the Nashi people. Although both groups are descendants of the Qiang people, together with the Pumi and Yi, and notwithstanding very striking resemblances between their respective languages, the two groups are now understood to be culturally distinct, the Nakhi more influenced by the very patriarchal Han Chinese culture, the Mosuo more influenced by Tibetan culture and their own matriarchal family practices.

[iv] “Many of the Naxi embrace the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, resulting from the presence of the eighth and the tenth Karmapas in the Lijiang area during the fourteenth century. Over the years, the Naxi in Lijiang built Buddhist Gompas, which acted as the place of worship for the Nashi Buddhist community. The first monastery, Ogmin Namling at Lashiba, was founded by the tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje. Religious Mani stones can also be found in some of the Nashi households. The Nashi king inviting the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje to Lijiang in 1516. The king, worried about the safety of the Karmapa on his long journey to Lijiang, dispatched an army of four generals and ten thousand soldiers to accompany him. On the third day of the fourth month, the Karmapa reached the border between Tibet and the Naxi kingdom. Accompanied by his brother and his uncle, who were both riding elephants and escorted by many riders on horseback, the Naxi king, riding on a palanquin, received them with this magnificent welcome. The king prostrated himself before the Karmapa, the elephants broke their tethers and bowed down three times before him, and raised their trunks to the sky trumpeting loud as thunderclaps.”

[v] “The litter is a class of wheelless vehicles, a type of human-powered transport, for the transport of persons. Smaller litters may take the form of open chairs or beds carried by two or more carriers, some being enclosed for protection from the elements. Larger litters, for example those of the Chinese emperors, may resemble small rooms upon a platform borne upon the shoulders of a dozen or more people. To most efficiently carry a litter, porters either place the carrying poles directly upon their shoulders or use a yoke to transfer the load from the carrying poles to the shoulders.A commoner used a wooden or bamboo civil litter (民轎; pinyin: min2 jiao4), while the mandarin class used an official litter (C官轎; pinyin: guan1 jiao4) enclosed in silk curtains. The chair with perhaps the greatest importance was the bridal chair.”

[vi] “Naxii native music is thousands of years old, and is presently being energetically kept alive by He Wen Guang, who writes and performs Nashi music in both traditional and modern styles. Another form of music, labelled Nashi ancient music by its supporters, is about 500 years old and came from Nanjing traders who were encouraged by various emperors to trade with, live in and inter-marry with the Western tribes as a way of improving controls over the unruly western regions abutting Han China. Here is a short video about the music and it’s origin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClvajTmQs8A.

[vii] See Rheingans (2017: 86): “The Karmapa accepted an invitation sent by the king of ’Jang Sa tham, an area very much south of Khams in today’s south-west China.  On the third day of the third month of the mouse year (1516) the Eighth Karmapa arrived in Sa tham, staying for seven days. The event is described as a pompous exchange of gifts, and the young Karmapa passed on teachings to the king, his wives, and the local population. As a result of this link, the king promised not to engage in war with Tibet for thirteen years; he sent five-hundred boys for a monastic education to Tibet each year, and founded a hundred monasteries. The king also provided extensive funding for religious buildings. It shows that through his position, the Karmapa, (likely urged by his retinue) became involved in the politics of the day, indicating the attraction he may have been for local lords.”

[viii] “After some time in Tibet, the Kangyur Rinpoche was produced by xylograph or woodcarving in Jang, sponsored by the King of Jang. The main editor of the Jang Kangyur was the Sixth Shamarpa. Later on it was called the Lithang Kangyur, because the xylograph was stored in Lithang. The Jang Kangyur was the first Tibetan Kangyur published in Tibet and this occurred during the time of Emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty. Perhaps that was the first Tibetan Kangyur to be edited by some of the great masters of the Karma Kamtsang. The publication of the Kangyur has had a great deal of contribution from the great masters of the Karma Kamtsang.” See : A Summary of The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on The Kangyur | Karmapa – The Official Website of the 17th Karmapa (kagyuoffice.org).

See also: The Kangyur and the Karmapas’ role in their Publication and Preservation (Adele Tomlin (2020) at https://dakinitranslations.com/2020/10/24/the-kangyur-and-the-karmapas-important-role-in-their-publication-and-preservation/) which quotes Nourse (2014):

“The only other printed edition of the Kangyur (other than the Yongle edition) produced prior to the late seventeenth century was the Jang Satam, or Litang, Kangyur. The work on this Kangyur was carried out from 1609 to 1614 in the kingdom of Jang Satam (’Jang Sa tham), a Naxi kingdom in the area Lijiang in today’s northwest Yunnan province. The king of Jang Satam, known by the Tibetan name Sönam Rapten (Bsod nams rab brtan, d. 1647), invited the Sixth Zhamar (Zhwa dmar) of the Karma Kagyü school, Chokyi Wangchuk (Chos kyi dbang phyug, 1584-1630), to oversee the project. Chokyi Wangchuk brought with him a copy of a Tselpa Kangyur which had been stored at a place called Chingwa Taktsé (’Phying ba stag rtse) and used this as the base text of his editorial work. This edition then, along with the Yongle Kangyur, falls within the Tselpa line of Kangyurs.”

Chökyi Wangchuk wrote a narrative catalogue for the collection. The blocks of the Jang Satam Kangyur were later removed and placed in a Gelukpa monastery in Litang (Li thang) in Kham during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, so that this edition of the Kangyur is often known as the Litang Kangyur.” (p.34).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s