GOLDEN OFFERING FROM A WEALTHY NUN: THE 8TH KARMAPA’S COLLECTED WORKS: EDITIONS AND CONTENTS. Handwritten edition by 8th Karmapa, Outline edition by 5th Zhamarpa, 16th Century golden manuscript edition sponsored by wealthy nun, and contemporary editions

The 17th Karmapa is currently teaching on the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s life and deeds. In Day 5 of the teachings the Karmapa referred to the fact that after the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, the largest collected works of the Karmapas is that of the 8th Karmapa (said to be over thirty, hefty volumes in total). More on that teaching in the next post!

As a supplement to that day’s teaching, I decided to compile a short research note on the editions and contents of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works  and provide a translated outline of them based on the 5th Zhamarpa’s outline of the Works[i].   This post cites extensively the work of Jim Rheingans (2017) who has done the most detailed English language research so far on the 8th Karmapa’s life and works. I have also updated this research with images from the 8th Karmapa’s handwritten collection (seen by the 17th Karmapa, while in Tibet) and details of other contemporary editions now available online.

 I hope this short compilation note, provides some clarity and guidance on the origin, editions and contents of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works (past and present).

Compiled by Adele Tomlin, 4th April 2022.


Handwritten collection seen by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Image from the handwritten (Umey script) Collected Works of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

In 2021, the 17th Karmapa spoke about reading an astonishing handwritten edition of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works while he was in Tibet, see here. He said:

“At that time, there was the 5th 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. The 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…Even though I got to see these Collected Works like that, there are not many of these collections 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.”

Since this teaching,  a stunningly, illustrated handwritten edition has been made available to read online on BDRC W1KG4870 here. Here are some screenshots I made of the first couple of pages:

Indeed, there are very few available editions of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works.

First edition? 5th Zhamarpa and Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa
5th Zhamarpa, Konchog Yenlag (1525–1583)

There were two key students of the 8th Karmapa who compiled and published his collected works:

“The first edition of the Eighth Karmapa’s writings was a manuscript collection compiled in c.1555, soon after the Karmapa’s passing in 1554 (without much editing, one presumes); block-prints were presumably issued slightly later. Crucial to the first manuscript compilation were the Eighth Karmapa’s students, particularly the Zhamarpa, Konchog Yenlag ( dKon mchog yan lag) (1525–1583) and Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa (dPa’ bo gtsug lag ’phreng ba) (1504–1566), who served as scribe for some of the Karmapa’s works.”( Rheingans (2017:44)) [ii]

For more on the 5th Zhamarpa’s compilation and outline see below.

Thirty Volume golden manuscript edition sponsored by rich nun, Chodzayma Karma Namdrol

In Pawo Tsuglag’s Feast for Scholars (mKhas pa’i dga’ ston), the 8th Karmapa’s collected writings are said to be ‘slightly more than thirty volumes’ (gsum bcu lhag), though as manuscripts or prints remains unclear.

It is also documented in Pawo’s Feast for Scholars (mKhas pa’i dga’ sto)  that after the Eighth Karmapa’s passing, a golden manuscript, of thirty volumes, was made under the sponsorship of a rich noble nun of Kurab (sKu rab) named Chodzayma Karma Namdrol (Chos mdzad ma karma rnam grol) – (Rheingans (2017) omits the ‘Karma’ in her name for some unknown reason).

Pawo’s text mentions it in the context of a discussion on how ‘supports’ (rten) were erected of the Karmapa’s body, speech, and mind at Shedrubling (bShad sgrub gling) in Dagpo (Dwags po)[iii]. Rheingans (2017: 46) observes that:

“A manuscript in golden letters was the most expensive to produce, but their production was not unknown. The sponsoring of such a work proves the nobles of the sKu rab area spared no expenses in supporting their guru, the Eighth Karmapa. Nothing is known today of the remains of the golden manuscript, and the editors of the present Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa did not encounter it.”

The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines, gold caligraphy on handmade manuscript

According to Rheingans:

“Writing in gold ink on indigo paper is documented from the seventh century on (Zhongyi 2000: vol. I, 96). During the Yarlung (Yar klung) dynasty canonical texts were written in this way. Sometimes silver, turquoise, and other materials were used. In 1413, the king of Gyeltse (rGyal rtse) financed a golden manuscript of Kangyur (bKa’ ’gyur) based on texts from Narthang (sNar thang). Zha Lotsawa (Zhwa lu Lo tsā ba) (1331–1528) spent fifteen years editing a golden Kangyur in the Pel Khor Chode (dPal ’khor chos sde) monastery (Wangden 2006: 58 ff.).

Prints from that period very rare – printing Karmapa’s works banned or heavily restricted, printing blocks found in Gelug monastery
5th Dalai Lama

Rheingans (2017:48) asserts that it is likely an edition was printed at Shedrub Ling, however, as prints from that period are rare, this proves that publications of the Karmapa’s works were either banned or highly restricted:

“As block-printing was thriving in the Kagyu lineages from the late fifteenth century, it is likely an edition of several major and minor works — if not the whole collection — was printed, presumably in Shedrub Ling (bShad grub gling). 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 U (dBus) and Tsang (gTsang). This is supported by the fact that blocks of the Eighth Karmapa’s collected works were found after the Gelug (dGe lugs) takeover in Ze Chokhor Yangtse (Zas chos ’khor yang rtse), a Gelug monastery near Lhasa, where they may have been stored after the ban.”

Recent Editions – Lhasa 2004

One of the most recent (and one) available is a 26 Volume edition from Lhasa, Tibet. Said to have been printed from blocks kept at Drepung Ganden Phodrang ( ’Bras spuns Dga’ ldan Pho brang) and Kham Palpung Monastery (Khams Dpal Spungs dgon), later reset electronically in Tibet. Distributed by the Tsadra Foundation, New York.)[iv] For more on the compilation of this recent edition, see Rheingans (2017: 49-52).

There are two other editions I can see that are available on BDRC:

  • 16 volume edition published by the Lhonub Mirig Great Publishers (Lho nub mi rigs par khang chen mo. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),
  • 39 volume edition in a Collected Works of the Garland of Karmapas (Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs) published by the Peltseg Boyig Penying Zhibjugkhang (vol. 41, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),



5th Zhamarpa’s Outline – started in 1547 and finished in 1555
First two pages of the 5th Zhamarpa’s Outline of 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works


One of the 8th Karmapa’s most important students, the 5th Zhamarpa (1525–83), who composed a catalogue (dkar chag ) of the Karmapa’s collected writings ( gsung’bum ).   In the Collected Works of the 5th Zhamarpa online (a reproduced text published by Dzongsar Khyentse Labrang in 1974, in Gangtok), which is a handwritten copy in Umey script, there is an outline of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works as described[v]. However, it is said that the catalogue itself cannot be dated.

Jim Rheingans (2017:44) says this about the 5th Zharmapa’s compilation of the Collected Works:

“According to the history compiled by Situ Penchen (Si tu Paṇ chen), the Fifth Zhamarpa 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 Zhamarpa 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 Zhamarpa 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 Mikyo Dorje’s Good Deeds (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).

Rheingans (2017:52) says that there are some mistakes within the 5th Zhamarpa outline:

“Further, the actual texts in the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa do not always correspond with the arrangement of texts in the Fifth Zhamarpa’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 Zhamarpa) 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.”

For more on the origin of the block prints used to print the Karmapa’s Works and the texts included within them, as well and the recent edition printed in Lhasa, see Rheingans (2017:

8th Karmapa’s Collected Works: Six Main Sections and over four hundred texts
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

The 5th Zhamarpa divided his list of titles into six major sections (mdor byas ), the structure of which was also used as a template for the recent Lhasa edition of the 8th Karmapa’s works. According to Rheingans (2017: 53):

“The table by the Fifth Zhamarpa lists over four hundred texts. Approximately two hundred and fifty entries are found in the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa. However, a few titles are subsumed under one entry in the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, increasing the number of texts to around three hundred. Three works not included in the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa (but listed in either of the title lists) can be located elsewhere, mainly on microfilms of the NGMCP. Collating the texts available with the table by the Fifth Zhamarpa, fifty-two works are presently missing.

The six sections are below:

     The first section of the eighth Karma pa’s works (volumes 1 and 2) is liberation stories (rnam thar) and vajra songs (rdo rje’i glu ).


The second section (volume 3), contains letters (’phrin yig ), praises (bstod tshogs ), questions and answers (dris lan ), words of advice (bslab bya ), and aspirations (smon lam ).


The third and most extensive section (volumes 4 to 16) contains commentaries on sūtra and mantra. Included here are the large commentaries on Madhyamaka and other Indian treatises (rgya gzhung), along with a substantial amount of texts (three volumes)  on the Drigung Kagyu ‘Single Intention’ (’Bri gung dgongs gcig)  doctrine, as I wrote about and detailed here before. As well as texts on Buddhist tantra.  Other material,  including shorter commentaries on Madhyamaka, is found in volume 15.


The fourth section (volumes 17 and 18) contain the texts of section four, rituals (cho ga ) and sādhanas (sgrub thabs).


The fifth section (volumes 18–25) contains practical instructions (khrid) and pith teachings (man ngag).


The sixth section (volume 26) , is on the “common sciences” (thun mong rig gnas ), such as grammar and linguistics.

For an English translation of the titles of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works, see here



Rheingans, Jim. The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal (2017).


Tomlin, Adele (2021). The 8th Karmapa on the ‘Single Intention’ (Gong Chig) by Drikung Jigten Sumgon

Translated Outline of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works



[i] Most of the research on the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works so far has been done by Rheingans (2017) and I have quoted his work extensively in this post.

[ii] Pawo Tsuglag is said to have acted as note-taker and scribe for the 8th Karmapa: Slob dpon dbyangs can bzang pos nye bar stsal ba’i dril bu rim pa lnga pa’i khrid, fol. 103a/p. 981 and dPal rdzogs pa’I sangs rgyas karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje, fol. 128a/p. 1139. (Rheingans (2017:44: n7).

[iii] “This being so, as receptacle of the [enlightened] body, the great statue (rten) of bShad grub gling was erected; and the receptacle of speech, a collected sayings (bka’ ’bum) in gold was issued, sponsored by Chos mdzad ma rNam grol. The receptacle of [enlightened] mind is the special stūpa: And infinite were the receptacles (i.e. stūpas), made by monks and patrons with faith and wealth (gra yon dad ’byor) of many different areas, in which there were relics (gdungs) [of the Karmapa] with a share for each [contributing party].” (From Rheingans (2017).

[iv] Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje. 2004. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), [BDRC bdr:MW8039].

[v] See:  “karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i gsung ‘bum dkar chag.” In gsung thor bu/_dkon mchog yan lag. TBRC W23927. 2: 205 – 236. Dzongsar Chhentse Labrang, Gangtok, 1974. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s