‘WAKING UP FROM THE SLUMBER OF IGNORANCE’: THE ‘KA-NYING’ CONNECTION. Reasons why the 8th Karmapa did not write Nyingma refutations and why people assumed he did, and the profound connection of the Karmapas and Nyingma Dharma, 3rd Karmapa as main disseminator of Dzogchen in Tibet, (17th Karmapa Spring teachings, Day 6)

“There are also many famous tertons who were disciples of the Karmapas. In fact, it is traditionally said that the person who had to determine whether a terton was authentic or not was the Karmapa. During the time of the Tai Situ Chokyi Junge, the terma practice spread widely in the Kamtsang, and many of the the pujas and drubchens we do, perhaps 70 percent of them are from the Nyingma tradition.  This is why it is called the Ka-Nying union/connection.”

“There were many Kagyu lamas who received Nyingma teachings, yet the 3rd Karmapa also had a great influence and effect in spreading the Dzogchen teachings. For that reason, Longchenpa and 3rd Karmapa were both considered to be great students of Rigdzin Kumaraja. Afterwards, Drigung Rinpoche Phuntsog said: The owner of the Dzogchen teachings is Omniscient Longchenpa, but Gyalwa Rangjung Dorje is the one who spread them.’ So Rangjung Dorje not only received many Dzogchen teachings but also gave them to others. They spread to China, Tibet, Mongolia.”

“Slowly we will wake up from this slumber of ignorance about our own history and legacy. It is not too late but it is certainly not too early….There is still a chance to do this. However, if we wait two more decades,  there may be nothing much we can put our effort into.”

–17th Karmapa

Here is the overview and transcript of Day 6 of the Spring Teachings of HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on 8th Karmapa’s ‘Good Deeds’.

In this teaching, the 17th Karmapa dealt with three main topics:

  1. The presence of many of the texts of the Nyingma tantra during the spread of the Ancient Secret Mantra to Tibet and the importance of research and checking original sources and texts. The Karmapa gave the example of Atisha’s stay in Tibet and the amazing number of Indian texts on secret mantra he saw at Samye Monastery and later, the discovery of a a Guhyagarbha tantra by Trophu Lotsawa at Samye.
  2. The reasons why he thought that 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje had not written the objections to the Nyingma school that caused criticism and aversion towards the 8th Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu. He gave two main reasons: a) the 8th Karmapa’s character and b) that most people did not read the 8th Karmapa’s denial of authorship.
  3. The deep and strong connection of  the previous Karmapas with Nyingma teachings, empowerments and teachers. In particular, the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje being one of the main teachers who upheld and spread Dzogchen in Tibet.

According to the 17th Karmapa, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 8th Karmapas all had strong connections, giving examples of the 1st and 2nd Karmapas both having Dharma protectors from the Nyingma tradition and the 3rd Karmapa’s receiving many transmissions, including the Khandro Nyingtig and Dzogchen.

The 17th Karmapa ended the teaching by emphasizing how important it was for those within the Kagyu lineage to study, research and practice not only the texts of Kagyu but other lineages. Encouraging everyone to ‘wake up from the slumber of ignorance’ before it is too late!

In relation to 3) , as I wrote about here before in relation to the Karmapas, Chogyur Lingpa and Vajrakilaya, the Karmapas, in particular the 14th and 15th Karmapas, all had strong connections to the Nyingma tradition and teachings.  The Karma Kagyu may even have their own treasure-revelation tradition, as I wrote about in A ‘Kagyu Treasure’ Tradition? Marpa’s Fifteen ‘Hidden Scrolls’ from Sekhar. In fact, 150 years ago, the renowned treasure-revealer, Chogyur Lingpa revealed a treasure by Guru Padmasambhava on the 15th to 21st Karmapas incarnations.  Indeed, this Ka-Nying (Kagyu-Nyingma) connection has continued up until recently, as revealed in the 16th Karmapa’s record of transmissions, and his friendships with Nyingma masters such as Dudjom Rinpoche.

May the Kagyu and Nyingma teachings, connections and friendships be restored and flourish!  Music? Controversy by Prince, ‘People call me rude, I wish we were all nude.’ 

Compiled and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 9th April 2022.




“Today I will continue to speak about verse thirteen and the controversy about Mikyo Dorje and whether or not he had written the letter refuting the Nyingma school and so on.  

Generally, these situations are written about in the histories. We don’t take much interest in short Dharma histories or read them.  I hope this teaching can help you understand the situation and main points clearly, if I say too much you may get bored. I hope you do not.

In Tibet, we talk about the Earlier (Ancient) and Later (New) spread of the Buddha’s teachings.  In Tibet, many of these masters wrote letters or texts that were refutations of wrong/false mantra (sngags log). The reason we call them ‘wrong mantra’, is they considered the practice of secret mantra, and there were situations where there are inappropriate uses of mantra, such as in Tibet, and they wrote these texts to prevent that.

At that time, there was no clear distinction between ancient and new tantra. Also the main purpose of those texts was to refute the wrong use of mantra in union and liberation and so on. They were not refuting secret mantra itself but the wrong uses of them. These false practices occur in the ancient and new traditions. Because they are refuting wrong secret mantra, does not mean they are objecting to Nyingma.”


“When Atisha came to Tibet, he first went to the biggest temple, Samye and stayed there a long time. When he was there, there was a library where they kept all the texts. In that library, he saw there were many Sanskrit manuscripts of SM Dharma that he had never seen when he was in India. He was amazed because he had studied in India but when he came to Tibet he saw so many Indian manuscripts, that he was amazed.

He was totally delighted in what the Tibetan Dharma kings had done and said they must be Bodhisattvas and praised them highly. This is written his liberation story. This shows that at Samye there were a lot of Secret Mantra manuscripts.”

Trophu Lotsawa (1172-1236)

“Later, there was a Trophu Lotsawa (1172-1236) a well-known translator and master of the Trophu Kagyu lineage, who found a manuscript at Samye of the Guhyagarbha (rgyud gsang ba’i snying po: Secret Essence) tantra at Samye. This Tantra is extremely important for Nyingma and is like their main source. He then sent it with someone to offer to Chomdrel Rigrel. When he saw the manuscript he thought the Nyingma really had an authoritative source and wrote a text called the Guhyagarbha Practice Ornamented with Flowers. This text is difficult to find now. Likewise, there were many Indian commentaries translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan, about Sutras and Tantras, within the Tantras there is a commentary on the Buddhaguhya tradition of Guhyasamaja by Vishamitra. In that, there are many quotations from the Guhyagarbha tantra. For that reason, we can say that the Guhyasamaja text must have been present in India, and there is a lot of evidence to support that.

However, in the Guhyagarbha, it does not say ‘thus have I heard’ but ‘thus have I taught…’. It also says that ‘the ground is immeasurable’. Also, usually we say ‘the three times’, but it says ‘the four time’s. The principal deity is Vajrasattva and this is different from the way it is taught in the new tantras. So some scholars said the tantra was not authentic because these are four mistaken faults. They are called faults, but if we look at them, within the Sarma tantras there are similar explanations to the Guhyagarbha Tantra. So it seems like they are different ways of explaining things, not that they have a different source or are not authentic.”


“Also, when we look at the catalogues of the Tengyur and Kangyur. The oldest catalogues are the Pangtangma, Dengkarma and the Chimphu Mar, the third one is not extant. The Phantangma catalogue includes commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra by Neu Sangye and Buddhagupta, it also lists commentaries on the three tantras of body, speech and mind .

For this reason, many of the texts of the Nyingma tantra were present during the spread of the Ancient Tantra to Tibet. Likewise, there was an Indian pandita who came to Tibet called Smritijnana and the great translator called Rinchen Zangpo. Both of them, translated some Nyingma texts into Tibetan. Who said that? Chomden Rigrel. He was not just some Tibetan scholar he had an extremely vast and broad knowledge of the Kangyur and Tengyur, he was an important person in their research compilation in Tibet.

Also, the Sakya Pandita, said there is a root tantra of Vajrakilaya translated from Sanskrit and likewise, when Talo Nyima Gyeltsen  went to Nepal he saw a manuscript of Vajrakilaya. So we can say that these texts and the Kila Dharma practice that were present in the Ancient Nyingma school were present in India too.

Also, later there are many texts from the 9th and 10th century Tibet unearthed in the caves in Dunhuang and among them was a text said to have been written by Buddhagupta, which is an old Dzogchen text. They found an old manuscript of this and a history of the Vajrakilaya tantra. “


“There are many  texts and things to consider and if we do not examine them, then if we immediately say they are Nyingma lineage texts, it is not alright. We cannot say if they are false or not.”

Generally, when we talk about the Nyingma Dzogchen teachings on mind, space and secret instructions, they probably were not widely known in India.  But just because they are not known does not mean they are not true or correct.  The reasons they were not known is because they were done in strict secrecy and privacy in India. They would never say ‘oh we are doing an empowerment’, please come! And do it in public. They did not have that kind of tradition.

If someone is going to take an exam, we say ‘come and do a Manjushri empowerment’. If they want their business to go well, we say ‘come and get a Dzambhala empowerment’. We don’t actually say that, but they were very careful and kept it secret. Even if it was not widely known it may have been known is me isolated places and hidden.

Now at the time of  Atisha, the centre for the study of Tantra was Vikramashila and the abbot of that was Atisha. Not only that, many of the masters or leaders of temples in India had given Atisha the ownership and keys to those temples. So he had extremely vast and broad knowledge. When he saw all the tantras, they were not there in India. As they were in Sanskrit at Samye,  he thought that Master Padmasambhava must have brought them from somewhere else by miraculous powers. He thought: “I have never seen any of these before. There is no end to secret mantra or tantras”. Prior to that he thought he was knowledgeable abut secret mantra and had a little pride. But when he saw them, he lost that pride and thought tantra is inconceivably vast.

If we look at this account, we can deduce that at Samye at that time, there were many Indian tantric texts and also Dzogchen tantras, we can assume they were there. Some later scholars said Nyingma tantras are not authentic because what they teach is different from the Sarma tradition and therefore, they cannot be correct. If we say that it is a little difficult.

The explanations in the tantras are different from the Prajnaparamita Sutras, right? Just because they are different, does not mean that the tantras are not correct. We have to consider from all angles, not just make objections then we might end up slapping ourselves in the face.

When we look to see if a lineage is valid or its sources are valid or not, we need to see the clear logical history of its origins. However, as I have said in the past, ancient Indians took little interest in history. They thought everyone can see it with their own eyes so why write it down. I had food today, so what is the point of writing that down? For the later generation it was important though.  Even when the Buddha born and passed away is disputed. There is a little bit more interest in Tibet in history than  in India. For example, there  were a lot of historical documents in Tibet but the ones from the ancient period are very rare. There was a period where the period went blank and that makes it difficult for those who research the Nyingma ancient translation school.”

Jetsun Taranatha

“For example, is there any Guru Rinpoche liberation-story that accords with our own ordinary perceptions? There is one by Jetsun Taranatha called the Indian story of liberation but that is the only one that takes ordinary perceptions as the basis. The rest, of which there are many, are termas and revelations explaining things. Within those there are many discrepancies in how they explain it.

Also, we say that  Guru Rinpoche went to central Tibet but also the three main parts of Tibet Bhutan and Nepal and so on. They say there is no place in Tibet where he did not go. Even when we think about how many months or years he spent in Tibet, there are many different explanations. Fitting them with the dates of the dynasties and so on is very difficult. So if we need to distinguish the common and uncommon liberation stories and the dates and use modern research techniques to an appropriate standard.”

Nub Sangye Yeshe (844-?)

“There is also a text called? The Lamp for the Eye of Contemplation (Samten Migdron[1]: bSam-gtan Mig-sgron) by Nub Sangye Yeshe (844-?) The reason why we need to examine this text well is because we often talk about the Chinese Hashang or Zen tradition, and a lot is said in there about the Dzogchen tradition. If we want to research the difference between Zen and Dzogchen we Tibetans have lots of misunderstandings about this. If we want to understand that then we need to research that text, it is invaluable.

When we look at the text, we also have to determine when Nub Sangye Yeshe’s dates were.  There are many different views, the most logical one is that he was the same time as the King Pelkhortsan (dpal ‘khor btsan, r. 906-924). So I would like to ask the scholars to research this as I am unable to say much about it[2].

In any case, historically there are many objections to the Nyingma Dharma and many who gave them a difficult time. The reasons for objections is to identify corruptions in the texts, to clarify history and events and so on,  so it can have a good positive influence. If we only think they are objecting to the Nyingma and eliminate all the objections and think they are not auspicious, so just leave it at that, that is not OK. If we take them as the basis for study and research the Nyingma that is beneficial.”



“Now I am returning to these events about 8th Karmapa that I mentioned yesterday.  This picture (above) is an edition of responses to the objections to the Nyingma school that we published with the Nirthartha Institute under the guidance of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. It was published during the time of the 900th Anniversary of the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.

As I said yesterday, Mikyo Dorje wrote many commentaries on sutra and tantra. What that shows is that he had a great interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It also shows his own unique way of viewing and looking at things. Because of that, he was not like someone who just said ‘this is my guru’s pith instructions’ and gets fooled like that. Instead, he studied all the great texts the Kangyur and Tengyur  and he was very familiar and did a lot of work with the entire canon of Buddhist literature. We can say that decisively.

Scholars and researchers from different philosophies want to make corrections, raise doubts or engage in discussion with each other about their own and others’ way of thinking. This is how it is done in the study of philosophy, logic and debate in all traditions.  So when others make refutations and debate our views, there is no need to be shocked about it, that is done among scholars not just in Buddhism, anyone researching ancient or modern thought. In particular, 8th Karmapa was also a scholar who wrote many commentaries, so the fact he raised objections and doubts is just natural and of course he would do it.

Thus, when thinking about whether or not 8th Karmapa wrote the objections to Nyingma, we first need to think about the background and reasons first, only then can we determine that. We cannot say immediately. If we only look at the colophon then it is difficult to decide. Before deciding, we need to look at the supporting evidence and reasons available.”


As I said yesterday, Mikyo Dorje did not compose the refuations. However, in order to decide that here are some reasons I think that Mikyo Dorje did not write the refutations letter:

1)  The biggest reason why Mikyo Dorje did not compose it, is considering his character and other information about the situation, it is unlikely he would have done so.

2) Why did later scholars assume he had written it? The main reason  was because they did not see/ read his response to it.


  1. Mikyo Dorje’s Character

As for the first reason, the time the objections appeared was when Mikyo Dorje was about 46 years old. Not much longer after that, he explained that he did not write it and wrote his own response to the objections

Some say just because he says he did not write it, does not mean he did not write it. Even if he had written it, he might say he had not. That is possible. Sounds follow the wish to speak, right? When we say that, we need to consider the author’s character. What was their thought and character like? We need to examine it. Then we can check and investigate if they wrote that text or not.

I am familiar with Mikyo Dorje’s work, not completely, but generally am familiar with it. Mikyo Dorje was always someone who raised questions and debate about the views of the different schools and lineages. He wrote his own views about other schools and tenets without hiding, or holding anything back.

For example, regarding the Nyingma, in the words Discourses that Distinguish Dharma from non Dharma (chos dang chos ma yin par rnam par ‘byed pa) [3], in his collected works, the 8th Karmapa says:

“The view taught in Dzogchen, and division of philosophical schools,  is generally not well-known among Buddhists.”

He also says that : ’methods for manifesting luminosity by squeezing the two eyes were not valid.” And also that ‘other than the terma extracted from a pillar in the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, the termas in Tibet were not credible. They are not authoritative.’ 

Also, there is a Dialogue with Gyalton Jadralwa, who asks a question if  Guru Rinpoche is superior to the Buddha in five different ways, and because of that there is no mistakes among Guru Rinpoche’s lineage and disciples. When he asks that question Mikyo Dorje responds that, there are scriptures that say this but they are expedient not definitive. Merely saying that alone, does not mean Mikyo Dorje did not like Nyingma or other schools. One cannot say that. When he speaks this way he is mainly telling the way he sees those other schools and views. He is not saying it absolutely must be that way. We can see this from his other works. 

We need to understand that Mikyo Dorje was extremely direct. Whatever he thought he would say it. Normally, we hold things back but he couldn’t not help himself and just spoke whatever he thought. He said himself, ‘I say various things just what I think’ and his student Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa also observed this about him. It was his character. Also, as a logical, sharp thinker, when they see something that follows logic or not, they immediately say there is a fault. In any case, Mikyo Dorje raised questions about Kagyu and other schools, so we cannot say he never made objections to other schools. However, just because he raised such objections does not mean we can then say he wrote these objections to the Nyingma school.

The reason why we cannot say that, is if we look at these objections to Nyingma from beginning to end, they were written to refute the Nyingma, like someone with malicious intent. If Mikyo Dorje had written it, he would have known how people would see it if it was seen by many people. He had experience of that. If he wrote it, he would know how people would take it badly. So I think if he understood clearly the pros and cons of writing it, I do not see any reason why he would have done that. If you have any reliable evidence or reasons that he did that, then show me.

Also, Mikyo Dorje had a unique character, so in terms of philosophical thought he was confident to explain the meaning of treatises. So if he really had written it them I think he would have admitted he had. He made other objections, so he would have accepted it and said ‘yes, I wrote it’.  Also, as I said before, prior to Mikyo Dorje, there were many great masters such as Sakya Pandita who made criticisms of well-known schools and responses were given. There was a tradition of that.

Also, the person who wrote the criticism of the refutations was Mikyo Dorje himself. If Mikyo Dorje had written this document of objecting to Nyingma, I do not think he would be worried about admitting he had written it nor would he have written a response.  Not long after the text appeared he then almost immediately wrote that he had not written it. So there would have been no point to him doing that. These are more reasons to say he did not write it than there are to say he did. That is how I see it; that he did not write them.

If he had written these objections to Nyingma, why would he have written down all the questions he had, like a criticism. Then why, in his response, does he investigate these questions in detail and writes responses in great detail that actually helped the Nyingma more than harm them? It does not make any sense for him to do that.

However, within the Kagyu most people said he criticized the Nyingma and they were unable to say that Mikyo Dorje denied it and explained why. We never said he made any response to these doubts about Nyingma. That is why the controversy has lasted many years because the Kagyu followers have not been up to the task of checking this and have not been able to uphold their lineage teachings.”

2) Three reasons why people did not see the denial by 8th Karmapa

The second issue is why did so many later scholars assume that Mikyo Dorje has written the objections? I think there are three main reasons why they did not see/read Mikyo Dorje’s response.

  • Difficult to send or receive information. First, it was the 16th Century in Tibet it was not like today, an information era. So even sending letters was not easy. In particular, many texts were handwritten manuscripts. So that means there is only one original, and then someone has to copy it out by hand. People these days can conceive how difficult that is. These days, if you send something on your Wechat or Facebook, just merely posting it many people can see it within a few seconds. So for that reason, the scholars saw the letter of the objections but they did not see his response/explanation. That had a big effect on them assuming it was by him.
  • Mikyo Dorje was unable to disseminate his reponse widely and the text has been locked away for centuries. Mikyo Dorje passed away a year after he wrote his response to the objections. Thus, he was unable to spread the response to people. It was like a drop in the ocean. There was not really anyone else supporting it, or putting any effort behind it. In fact, we could see the responses he wrote only after 1998, when they were released from the Potala and Drepung libraries, then we could see it. Before then, it was difficult to see, and even now it is.  The texts in the Potala and Drepung have been there for 300 years and no one else was able to see them. It was difficult for people to even read his texts until recently.
  • The impersonator would not have wanted people to see Mikyo Dorje’s response. If the objections were written by someone else, what kind of person would that be? First they are taking his name and impersonating him to cause controversy and object to Nyingma. This must be someone very good at formulating disputes and making evil plans. So in a short time he would want to make sure people would see it. So he would have made plans to make sure that happened. If Mikyo Dorje’s response had spread widely, then it would be a problem for the people who had written it. So it is possible that he tried his best  to make sure it did not spread.  Also, people would then want to find this person who did it. So this impersonator would not want people to know about his response. 

Even in the 21st century, very few people have seen or heard about this response written by Mikyo Dorje. Even now, there are only a few copies of the response. Many people have never even seen it, even now. There are therefore, many reasons why they were not seen.


  • If they had not seen the denial from Mikyo Dorje, most people just saw his name and assumed it was written by him. They never even questioned or doubted it was him.
  • If it had not been composed by Mikyo  Dorje they would wonder who would have stolen his name and done that? People may never have even thought that was possible. The objections are not something any person can write. They are difficult and sharp questions. If someone read them from other schools, they might not be that familiar with his character or his previous works and so on and they would think who else could have written those?

So when people said Mikyo  Dorje wrote it they would just assume it was true and not investigate it at all. Therefore, later, many people decided that he had written it. So from one person to ten to hundred, it was like hammering nails into wood and it became a fixed idea in people’s minds.

Also, there were many responses to these refuations of Nyingma said to be written by Mikyo Dorje. One of the main reasons people took great interest in them was because mainly because Sogdogpa wrote about it. He said the style is good, the meaning is weighty, the logic is strong. The objections themselves are very difficult and hit difficult points. Therefore, the Nyingma followers had a strong feeling about it and wanted to discuss it.

If these objections happened to any school they would have the same reaction. For example, if someone made an objection to the Kagyu, someone would get up and respond to it.  Therefore, over the last 400 years, the scholars of different lineages have written responses to those refutations. On the one hand, this shows that they had a lot of affection and partiality to the Nyingma teachings in the past, It also shows that most of them took it for granted he had written it. So therefore they wrote many responses. If it had written by an unknown person, they would not have taken much note of it.

In brief,  when we are talking about historical figures’ thoughts and expression, we have to explain their way of thinking and so on. We need to be impartial, to be calm, methodical and relaxed when we do the research. Sometimes when we read or see things that refute our beliefs, we have a strong emotional reaction to it, don’t we? We might even get angry. That is not good if you do though, you need to be relaxed. It is not OK to lose control of oneself, if we want to make the inner meaning clear and debate it, we need to be relaxed in our minds. If we stand up and boast and say false things, that is not OK.

We need to reach the standards of contemporary researchers and experts. This is the way we can reach that standard of scientific method. It is little like our way of doing debate, we need logic, examples and analogies that justify it. On that basis, when we engage in the debate only then can we establish what we are trying to prove. Instead, if we only hold onto positions and say they are the best and they are true, and when other people do not accept them, we get angry and use insults to tear people down and attack them personally that is not OK.

You might look at something and think there is a good reason for it, but then when you look you cannot find a good support for it. If there isn’t then there is no reason to get angry about it.  It is like watching and action movie. In some moments it seems very hot, intense and exciting. Actually, it is just a show, it is not a real situation. When you know it is not real, then there is no great reason to get scared or excited by it.

In particular, when doing research, we not only need to use authentic analysis but also must be able to accept and understand other people’s reasons for their views. If  we only speak with bravado with no interest in what the other thinks, just in order to put down others views, it is the talk of someone who always takes short cuts. That is not someone who has value in terms of philosophical logic.”


“Next, I would like to talk about the Kamtsang and the other Tibetan Buddhist lineages connected to them. Among these, are the eight chariots of the practice lineages from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.


If we look among the Sakya, most of our Kamtsang explanations of Sutra texts come from the Sakya school and other Sakyas (see image). Such as fron Rongton Sheja Kunzig and Jamchen Rab Jampa Sangye Phel and their students, like Karma Trinley, Chogle Namgyel and so on. It is important for us to know this.


As for the Gedunpa Gelug, they teach the Mahamudra and Six Yogas of NAropa, and Je Tsongkhapa learnt this from the Karma Kagyu Kamtsang. The other Gedunpa masters follow the Kamtsang school.  Their main tantra is Guhyasamaja and in that, the main tradition is that of Marpa. Their main Sutra path is the Lam Rim and Mind Training and these come from the Kadmapa school. So for these reasons, even though there are a few differences between the Middle Way view and way of explaning the view and so on, from the point of view of Dharma there is a close connection between Kagyu and Gelug. Many people do not really understand that.



Then there is the Six Yogas of the Jonang school, From the time of Karma Pakshi and Rangjung Dorje there has been a profound connection. Previously, most Kagyu lamas followed the Zhentong view and later, from the time of Situ Chojung has taught the Zhentong view in the way it was taught in the Jonang school. So, in terms of the view,  there is an inseparable connection between the Kagyu and the Jonang and this continues to the present day.


Then there is Shangpa Kagyu, Zhije and Vajra Nyendrub and other lineages, also spread within the Kagyu from around the time of 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and later, at the time of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, the main lineage upholders of the empowerments, transmissions and pith instructions came from the Karma Kamtsang. So there has been this very deep connection with other lineages and we need to pay attention to that.

Among the lineages there is none that is completely pure and totally independent of each other. There are none which have no connections with each other.”



1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and his connection to Nyingma

“Now, I want to speak about the Karma Kagyu connection with Nyingma. The founder was 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and his father was from a Nyingma family. Some of the historical documents say it was his father, some say his grandfather. His ancestral protectress was Rangjung Gyalmo. So one of the main protectors of the Kamtsang lineage is Rangjung Gyalmo, Shri Devi. This comes from 1st Karmapa and this comes from his father’s family ancestry. Likewise, 1st Karmapa received many lineage teachings from Choje Drag Karmo on the Aro Dzogchen Hearing Lineage. Therefore, the 1st Karmapa had a connection to the Nyingma school., via his parents and via Dharma. I am not going to give introductions to all the Karmapas and the Nyingma as there is too much to say.”


2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi and his connection to Nyingma

“The next one is Karma Pakshi whose father was also Nyingmapa. His protector was Bernagchen and this was passed down for thirteen generations to his parents. Mahakala Bernagchen became the main protector of the Kamtsang. This was passed down from his parents.

He also got teachings from Khatogpa Jampa Bum. Khatog had been a centre for the Nyingma teachings on Sutra, Tantra and Mind instructions. So Karma Pakshi got these teachings from Khatog Jampa Bum and also the teachings on the Summary of the Intent of the Sutras, Net of Illusion, and the Eighteen Marvels of Mind [three Nyingma tantras that are the basis for the practices of generation stage, completion stage, and Dzogchen].

Karma Pakshi also had memories of previous lives during the time of Indrabodhi, King Dza, and Garab Dorje and so on, and that he had studied the secret mantra of the Nyingma Sarma school. In Pointing out Three Kayas he made this his main practice. He also wrote many treatises and commentaries on the three types of yoga, within which he said that: ‘even though these texts may disappear, this Dharma would never be finished until samsara is empty’.  Also, there are many different volumes of Karma Pakshi’s works but they say most of them  are stored in China. As he spent a lot of time in Mongolia, most of his works are preserved in China. There are over one hundred volumes, and it is said that the majority of them are Nyingma Dharma.”


Drubthob Ogyenpa and his connection to 3rd Karmapa

“I am giving the example of Drubthob Ogyenpa because on one hand, he was a student of Karma Paskhi and on the other hand, he was also a student of Gotsangpa and had the same level of austerity as him. From the ages of 7 to 16 Ogyenpa practiced the Nyingma practices of Shudha Heruka and Vajrakilaya. He found some water that Padmasambhava had hidden at Chuwo Mountain and became the guru of the Mongol Emperor.

Many later translators and scholars said that the Nyingma texts were not in India , but Ogyenpa said that when he went to India, in the Thang Bhihari Temple and saw thousands of collected the Sanskrit texts on Dzogchen there, one text was as long as the extensive Prajnaparamita texts. This is an important point here. His main student and the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi was the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje”


3rd Karmapa, Rangung Dorje – Nyingma connections (1)

a) The Nyingtig teachings 

“The 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje was the Karmapa with the greatest connection to Nyingma. He got many Nyingma teachings from Drubthob Ogyenpa. Also, from Nyedowa Kungga Dondrub he received many transmissions of Nyingma lineage texts of sutra and tantra. In paticular, when 3rd Karmapa was staying at Karma Gon monastery, he had a pure vision of Vimala dissolving into the space in front of his eyebrows. As a result he realised the exact meaning of the Nyingtig, he composed the Karma Nyingtig. So within the Nyingtig tradition, he had special qualities.

The 3rd Karmapa had already got the ultimate lineage in terms of pure visions. However, he also saw that in our common perceptions it was important to follow a guru in a lineage that had been passed down from Padmasambhava.  At that time, the main person upholding the Dzogchen teachings was Rigdzin Kumārarāja (1266-1343). Rangung Dorje and  Orgyenpa were Dharma friends and were both studying with Kumārarāja. They were both his students.  Kumārarāja became a great siddha with realization of Dzogchen and thus the 3rd Karmapa got the Vimala Nyingtig cycle teachings from Kumārarāja.”

2) Terton Pema Ledrel Tsel and the Khandro Nyingtig

3rd Karmapa, Rangung Dorje – Nyingma connections (2)

“According to some the historical sources, the 3rd Karmapa then met the Terton, Pema Ledrel Tsal (pad ma las ‘brel rtsal, (1291 – 1315)  and received empowerments and transmissions of Khandro Nyingtig and so on from him. However, according to the Gyalwa Yungton’s History of Nyingtig, when Pema Tsel was discovering the treasure of the Khandro Nyingtig, his assistant had been Loton Dorje Bum and he was the one who gave the transmission to Rangjung Dorje. It does not say that he met Pema Ledrel Tsel himself. We need to investigate that.

Terton, Pema Ledrel Tsal (pad ma las ‘brel rtsal, 1291 – 1315)

One of  Pema Tsel’s students was Shogyelse Legden who says that when he was 42, the water-monkey year, he was invited by 3rd Karmapa to Kongpo. He brought some yellow scrolls of the Khandro Nyingtig and transmitted them in full. He spent 3 months with Rangung Dorje and gave countless teachings from him.   All of these termas were written on yellow scrolls, and Pema Tsel  gave the instructions to Shogyelse Legden based on the yellow scrolls. About one, to one and a half years after doing that, he passed away. He kept these secret. Then about ten or eleven years after that, only then, did Shogyelse show these Dzogchen texts to the 3rd Karmapa, based on the yellow scrolls themselves. They were not translated, he offered the teachings from the yellow scrolls. Shogyelse Legden wrote this in his autobiography.”

3) Longchenpa and the Third Karmapa

Rangjung Dorje and Nyingma connection (3)

“Also, another master of the Nyingtig teachings was Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1364).  As I said before, he was said to be a reincarnation of Pema Tsel. The 3rd Karmapa received many teachings together with him.  Also, in Longchenpa’s collected works, there’s a dialogue on Questions on the Difficult points of the Dzogchen teachings, with questions by Longchenpa, which says:

‘There is no one else who could dispel my doubts other than the all-knowing one himself, the spontaneous vajra mind of profound peace, great bliss, so I asked these questions.’

At the end of these questions. he wrote:

‘From now until enlightenment, may I be born in front of Rangjung Dorje, enjoy the feast of Dharma and attain the peace, free from all doubts.’

So we can see from that there was a deep connection between Longchenpa and Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.”

Rangjung Dorje and Nyingma connection (4)

4) Holder and spreader of the Dzogchen teachings

Generally, in terms of other lineages, there were many teachers who received Nyingma teachings, also in the Kagyu there are many teachers who did. Yet, the 3rd Karmapa had a really great influence and effect in spreading the Dzogchen teachings. For that reason, Longchenpa and 3rd Karmapa were both considered to be major students of Rigdzin Kumaraja.

Afterwards, Drigung Rinpoche Phuntsog said: ‘The master of the teachings is Omniscient Longchenpa, but Gyalwa Rangjung Dorje is the one who spread them most.’ So Rangjung Dorje not only received many Dzogchen teachings but also gave them to others. They spread to China, Tibet, Mongolia.

Rangjung Dorje and Nyingma connection (4)

In Yungton’s History of the Nyingtig, it talks about a place Dechen, near Tsurphu, I have visited it once. It is very isolated place on a mountain, and also an attendant of 3rd Karmapa called Lobpon Yeshe Gyeltsen who wrote A Liberation Story of 3rd Karmapa. This account says that : ‘in the male water-monkey year (1332) at the place of Tsurphu Dechen, after supplicating him,  Lobon Yeshe Gyeltsen, Drongru Khenpo Gyeltsen, Tokden Yegyal, Tulku Onpo Menlungpa, and myself, Yungtönpa. including the attendants and tea servers, seven in total, were given the five complete empowerments of the Dzogchen Nyingtig.’

Rangjung Dorje and Nyingma connection (6)

“The way he gave the instructions/transmissions, according to the Feast of Scholars, Rangjung Dorje said to his students: ‘If these teachings of Dzogchen disappear, it is a terrible loss’. Thus he ordered them to be spread. He ordered Yungton Dorje Pel go to Tsang to spread them.  Yeshe Gyeltsen go to Kham and Kongpo to spread them. Yeshe Gyeltsen to Mongolia and China.  Menlung Shakya Zhonu go to Central Tibet. So Rangjung Dorje told them to go to different places to spread the Dzogchen teachings. 

Before that, the Dzogchen had been spread to a few receptive students, but then Rangjung Dorje spread them in many different areas. The continuation and spread of the Dzogchen in all directions and without interruption was due to the activity of Rangjung Dorje.  As it is said in the Khandro Nyingtig: ‘With the Bodhicitta abiding in the ground until it increases to the ocean’ it happened as predicted.” So not only did the 3rd Karmapa have a strong connection with Nyingma but also a long-lasting effect in terms of spreading the Dzogchen teachings.

5) Yungtonpa -student of the 3rd Karmapa and the story of the ‘dancing skull’

Yungtonpa, (1296- 1376) secret mantra master and student of 3rd Karmapa

“Then there was a student of Rangjung Dorje, who was also in the Kagyu golden lineage of masters and disciples, called Yungtonpa (g.yung ston pa (1296- 1376). He was very knowledgeable in the entire Sutra teachings. Particularly in the compendium of Abhidharma. His knowledge of all the mantras, of the Earlier and Later Nyingma was extremely vast. His two teachers were 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and Buton Rinpoche. At that time, there was basically no empowerment that he had not received. 

At that time, he received the complete Nyingma instructions of Sutras, Tantras and Mind from  Zur Jampa Senge and became very powerful in speaking about them.  In particular, he wrote a commentary on the Guyhagarbha tantra called the Illuminating Mirror ( dpal gsang ba’i snying po’i rgyud don gsal byed me long)  This became one of the most influential commentaries in the Nyingma and became a source for other tantras. He was also extremely knowledgeable about the Yamantaka practice.the Magical Wheel of Yamantaka

The powers of Yungtonpa

“Once, the Sakya Lama Palden Dampa Sonam Gyeltsen, Kunkhyen Dolpopa and Gyelse Thogme Zangpo (author of the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva) and Yungton Chenpo came together.  When all these great masters came together, the Omnisicent Jomonangpa joked, that they should take some kind of test. ‘they say it is the greatest of gatherings in Tibet, but it is just us, so we need to show some signs of our accomplishment and powers’. In reply, Kunkhyen Dolpopa said he had memorized everything that had been translated into Tibetan (the Kangyur and Tengyur). Everyone was amazed by that.  Lama Sonam Gyeltsen said he continually took the four empowerments daily. So he was continually practicing the secret mantra.  Gyelse Ngulchu Cho Dzong (Thogme Zangpo) said he had continual bodhicitta and never lost it.  They spoke of their signs of accomplishment and experience like that.  

The final person was Gyelwa Yungtonpa, who was a very powerful mantra practitioner, in particular he practiced a lot of Yamantaka. So he always had a skull with him, not just the top of it, the whole head. Usually, one needs a skull when practicing Yamantaka and he had the whole skull for the practice. So he took out the skull he used and recited a mantra at it, then this dry skull bared and started clattering its teeth and started running around the room like a cat. Most people would be very afraid if they saw a skull running around the room. He was showing his extraordinary power of secret mantra.”


“All the incarnations of the Karmapas received many empowerments and transmissions from Nyingma tradition. I will not speak about all of them. Now I will speak about the 8th Karmapa. When he was at Kongpo Tselhakhang, he had many pure visions of Ogyen Padmasambhava.  He also made a prophecy of repelling an army invasion. I will speak about these prophecies later if I have time.

The 8th Karmapa also saw that the eight Guru Rinpoches, the eight Zhang forms and the eight Karmapas were inseparable and he wrote a Guru Yoga on it. This is called the Sealed Guru Yoga of Zhang (bla sgrub zhang bka’  rgya ma) or the full name, The Sealed Dharma of the Zhang protector of Beings of the Turquoise Cliff (zhang ‘gro ba’i mgon po g.yu brag pa’i dam chos bka’ rgya ma) [4]. This is in his Collected Works. This Sealed Dharma of Zhang is very similar to the Karma Kamtsang four session Guru Yoga. The Zhang Guru Yoga is a little longer. The four session Guru Yoga is taking the essence of that.

The 8th Karmapa also wrote a commentary contained in his Collected Works called Introduction to the Three Kayas (sku gsum ngo sprod gyu ‘grel chen), which is contained in over three volumes [5]. He explains the thought according to the Nyingma tradition,which is according to the thought of 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi.”


“Generally, there are also many famous tertons who were disciples of the Karmapas. In fact, it is traditionally said that the person who had to determine whether a terton was authentic or not was the Karmapa. I saw that in a few histories.

Around the time of the Situ Penchen Chokyi Jungne, the terma practice spread widely in the Kamtsang, and many of the pujas and drubchens we do, perhaps 70 percent of them are from Nyingma tradition.  This is why they call it the Ka-Nying union or connection (Kagyu-Nyingma). We say this, but perhaps the Nyingma is a little bit stronger. 

Later, within the Karma Kamtsang, when transmitting the teachings of the ultimate lineage,  there is a tradition from the Nyingma lineage. Some scholars have said we do not know much about our lineage, that we are more knowledgeable about the Nyingma than our own traditions. Many people have criticized us like that.  I have described these connections briefly, I cannot speak about them in detail as it would take too many days.

However, when we consider these accounts, we can see the previous generations of gurus had respect, faith and pure view for all the other Dharma lineage and schools. Not only that, they felt close to the other schools and took teachings and practiced them, if they could. If they could serve the other lineages, they did. That is like a great brilliance and sign in our history. To preserve this great history is a responsibility of followers of this lineage. It is something we must do. However, now most urgently, we need to uphold, preserve and research the lineage and transmissions of this Karma Kagyu lineage itself.

The reason for this is that, presently, in terms of world religions and Buddhism, there has been a lot of change. With Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, it is threatened by many external and internal conditions, causing difficulties and harm. So we need to treasure and benefit our own lineages and schools. If  we do  not do that for our own school or lineage, then no one else will do that, will they? 

If we look back at history, there are several hundred years of a great decline in the Kagyus. The main reason was the political persecution and we were kicked out of society. There was even a time when Kagyupas were not even allowed to play drums or ring bells. Also, the communities of practice and study deteriorated. So there was no opportunity to study and practice our lineage texts and so on. That was the external condition for deterioration. 

As for the internal condition, within our lineage itself, our pure intentions and study weakened. We did not really preserve the fine tradition of empowerments, transmissions and so on of our own lineage. We did not take preserve or take care of the texts, or study them or take interest in other lineages. So when other people spoke about the Kagyu, they said we were like ‘rodents living on mountains’, we were objects of scorn from other lineages.

‘Awakening from a Slumber’ calligraphy artwork by 17th Karmapa

“Likewise, when we say ‘I am Kagyu or Karma Kamtsang’, we need to recognise we were in this bad situation.  Slowly we will wake up from this slumber of ignorance. It is not too late but it is certainly not too early. We absolutely must search out all the lineages, empowerments, transmissions, texts and practice and so on that have been passed down and preserve them. There is still a chance to do this. However, if we wait two more decades,  there may be nothing we can put our effort into.

When we talk about putting effort into our own lineage, some people might think am being biased and partial towards our lineage. We have to think about that. If there was a Buddhist monk who could speak a lot with expertise about Christianity but not about Buddhism? How would that be? It would be really embarrassing. I am not saying Christianity is bad, but we must study the teachings and practices of other lineages. We need to study the other world religions. If we cannot do that, then we will not be able to fit into this contemporary world.

Before that, we need to get to a high level of study and practice our own lineage. If we don’t have any study or practice of our own lineage but that of other lineages, that is like cutting down a tree trunk and hanging onto the branches.  The main commitment and responsibility who follow this Dharma lineage is to make effort to do this. I would like to ask all of you who are followers of the Kagyu school, that we all work together co-operatively in a unified and singular spirit so that this Kagyu lineage can be preserved and flourish.”

17th Karmapa meeting Nyingma Rinpoches. Schechen Rabjam Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (April 2010, Kagyu Office photo) https://kagyuoffice.org/gyalwang-karmapa-participates-in-pujas-for-dalai-lamas-long-life-and-for-victims-of-qinghai-earthquake-also-dilgo-khyentse-rinpoche-and-shechen-rabjang-rinpoche-visit-karmapa/

“Basically, regarding this topic of Mikyo Dorje and the objections to Nyingma, some might wonder why am I spending so much time on this?  He spent two days on this, why?! There are two main reasons, the first is that there were controversies in Mikyo Dorje’s life, and this was one of them, the refuations of Nyingma.

The second reason is that if we are able to give good, clear explanations of what Mikyo Dorje did in his lifetime, then we can understand what kind of person he was and his body, speech and mind. Thus, to be able to speak about 8th Karmapa to so many people over the internet is great, and I am very happy about it. Why? Because for over 400 years, there have been these unfounded accusations leveled against Mikyo Dorje and I thought it would be a good idea to address those. At the very least, I wanted to address whether or not this document refuting Nyingma was written by Mikyo Dorje or not. I am very happy to be able to do that.

Another thing, is historically, Kagyu and Nyingma have had deep and profound connections. We need to know what this connection was. So in the future, we can work together cooperatively without any breaches of samaya that would be very beneficial. This is important to know.

Dungse Trinley Norbu Rinpoche

“In 2008, was the first time I went abroad and to America. In 1999, I arrived in India and until 2008 I was not allowed to leave the country. Then, in 2008 I arrived in the US in California. There was Dungse Trinley Norbu, the son of Dudjom Rinpoche, he said to me I have a request for you and he said: ‘in the past during the time of 16th Karmapa at Rumtek monastery, you had this great Tsechu puja with lama dancing, and then later they said you stopped that.’ I did not understand what he was saying, I did not know about this. I was not even sure what to say. I said ‘that did not happen. I think it has been held continuously since that time in Rumtek and has not been stopped’. I would never even have said in my dreams to stop doing the Tsechu puja. Then after that, I thought ‘why would he have thought that? who would have said such a thing to him?’ So even now, in the 20th Century, there are still many controversies and issues people cannot get over. So when I think about the connections we had in the past and in the future, it is important to understand them and work together cooperatively.

Also, as a result of this teaching, some people might take greater interest in Mikyo Dorje’s responses and write down their thoughts about them. That would be interesting to read. So please all keep this in your minds.”



[1] Elias Capriles (2003: p.194) in discussing the ‘Lamp for the Eye in Contemplation’ the Samten Migdron discovered in 1908 at Tun-huang by Paul Pelliot states:

…this book was entombed in the ruins of Tun-huang, where it remained from the eleventh or twelfth century CE until 1908, when French Sinologist Paul Pelliot explored the cave temples that a local farmer discovered accidentally at the turn of the twentieth century. Therefore, its authenticity is beyond question.[6]

In the Samten Migdron, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe establishes a distinction within the Mahayana between:

  • the ‘Gradual Vehicle of Bodhisattvas’ and
  • the ‘Sudden Mahayana’ corresponding to the Dhyana, Ch’an or Zen school.

[2] Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes) (9th century) was one of the twenty-five principal students of Guru Padmasambhava, revealer of Vajrayana and founder of the Nyingma school and of Tibetan Buddhism. Nubchen Sangye Yeshe is considered an important figure in the development of the White Sangha of lay yogis, the Ngakpas and Ngakmas..Nubchen is reported to have lived for more than one hundred years. Some sources say one hundred eleven (Dudjom), some (Ming mdzod) say one hundred and thirty years, remaining alive until the reign of Pelkhortsan (dpal ‘khor btsan, r. 906-924).” 

[3] Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. “Chos dang chos ma yin par rnam par ʼbyed paʼi gtam chen po zab mor nang don ʼkhrul par ngo sprod par byed pa grub mthaʼi spyi ching.” gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje, vol. 4, 2004, pp. 21–70. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource

[4] I could not find this text in the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works online. 

[5] Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. sKu gsum ngo sprod kyi rnam bshad. Library Of Tibetan Works And Archives, 2013. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW4CZ295067. 


The Karmapas, Chogyur Lingpa and Vajrakīlaya

A ‘Kagyu Treasure’ Tradition? Marpa’s Fifteen ‘Hidden Scrolls’ from Sekhar

16th Karmapa’s Transmission Record (Volume II of his Collected Works) and Kālacakra lineages

15th Karmapa on the ‘Immortal Life-Essence Bindu’ treasure: long-life practice of Padmasambhava and Mandāravā

Thangtong Gyalpo’s ‘Mind Bindu of the Great Siddhas (Drubthob Thugtig)’ Supplication by 15th Karmapa

Cloud of Siddhis: Immortal Life-Essence Bindu Supplication: long-life practice of Padmasambhava and Mandāravā

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