CONCISE LIBERATION-STORY OF JE GAMPOPA BY 17th GYALWANG KARMAPA (2022): Influential doctor, Kadampa Masters, Milarepa’s Dream and Unifying Sutra and Tantra

“That physician, Gampopa will benefit many sentient beings. Last night, I had a dream that a yellow bird flew away from me in the direction of central Tibet. It landed on the peak of a great mountain. Then many large flocks of geese from all directions gathered there. After a short while, each flock was surrounded by 500 others. At that time, the whole valley and all the directions were filled with brownish geese, this is what I dreamt. So even though I am a yogi, all my followers will be only monastics. Thus, I have done something for the teachings of all the Buddhas.”

—Milarepa’s prophetic dream about Gampopa

“Relative bodhichitta is important, it is necessary at the outset, without it you cannot go down the Mahayana path. It is necessary in the middle, without it you will fall into samsara. It is necessary at the end, without it you will not find the two Kayas.”

“All future individuals with longing for me, and who think they will not meet me, should please read the works I have written, including the Supreme Garland of this Precious Path and the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. When you read those texts, it is no different than meeting me in person.” 


Yesterday, prior to an online group practice of Gampopa Guru Yoga, the 17th Karmapa gave a half-hour introduction to Je Gampopa, the Kagyu forefather and student of Je Milarepa (video of English translation is here). The 17th Karmapa has also taught about the life of Gampopa previously in 2021, when he taught about the Four Dharmas of Gampopa (or full transcripts of those teachings, see here  and here).

This brief oral introduction contained interesting details not found in other published biographies/liberation-stories, or in the Karmapa’s previous teachings, so I thought it would be beneficial to transcribe it and share it with others. I provide other English-language biographical sources below it.

Painting of Je Gampopa by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

“I would like to wish you all warm greetings. Today is the anniversary of the paranirvana of the founder of the Dagpo Kagyu schools, the King of Dharma, the Lord of Dharma and the protector of beings, Je Gampopa, Sonam Rinchen. 

Lord Gampopa was born in central Tibet, Nyel (gnyal), the southern area of the nine valleys of Yorphul. These days, it is called Nyeto in the Lhungtse district. He was from the Dakpo (dwags) clan. His father’s name was Nyiwa Gyelpo (snyi ba rgyal po) and his mother was called Shomo Zachecham (sho mo gza’ che lcam). They had three sons, and among the three sons Gampopa was the middle son. Regarding the date of his birth, it was in the earth-sheep year,  1079. As Drogon Phagmo Drupa wrote in his biographical supplication:

” From his birth in the year the earth sheep, until he passed from this world of emanations, his most amazing wonders were countless. I shall describe them in brief, so listen with respect.”

So it gives the year of Gampopa’s birth. Gampopa was known by many different names, for example, Dharma Gyap, Shipustra Chandra, Metog Nangdze, Dao Zhonu, Dawa Khyentse, Upa Tonpa, Nyewa Gomchen, Dagpo Lhaje, Dorje Dzinpa Bikzhu Dramin Dragpa, Gampopa  and so on. He had many different names.  Due to time, I do not have the opportunity to tell his liberation story in full today. Yet, I would like to speak to the best of my abilities about his accomplishments in a few different areas.


Among them, the first of these is that from a young age, Gampopa studied medicine. Generally, he was born into a family of physicians. He himself studied medicine with over ten learned physicians, primarily the physican Usil from Tsang, a physician Khyeme from India, and Viji Menshung from Tsang,  and he became very proficient in the medical arts. It is said that he was particularly good at healing headaches.  

He spent his entire life continually practicing medicine, which is why he became known as the fully ordained monk physician. He also had many medical students. Among them, there was Zhang Menakpa, who spent 18 years with him and became the main holder of his lineage. Gampopa wrote a medical text for Zhang Mennakpa, that became well known as the Ocean of Jewels or the Collected Teachings of Dagpo.  Later, there were two lineages of the transmission of that text. One of these was passed from Zhang Menagpa to Yutog Samye Yonten Gyalpo. Then, in the 17th century master Tibetan Medicine Deungma Geshe Tenzin Phuntsog wrote that “among all the transmissions of medicine, Lord Gampopa’s transmission is like the main trunk of them all”. 

Painting of the Kadampa founder, Je Jowo Atisha. Mid-12th Century.

Similarly, there are two autobiographical accounts of Gampopa in the dialogues of the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and  there is also Drogon Phagmo Drupa’s brief analysis of the crucial points in the transmission of instructions of the six yogas.  What they say is that:

 “When he reached the age of 26, with faith as solid as mount Meru, the venerable guru from Nyel perfected the training and superior discipline”. 

So, when Gampopa reached the age of 26, he took novice and full ordination at the same time from three lamas from Ngari including Geshe Loden Sherab of Maryul (mar yul dge bshes blo ldan shes rab, d.u.), and  Geshe Shapa Lingpa / Nyingpo (dge bshes sha pa ling pa / snying po, d.u.) and Midewa Jangchub Sempa at a place called Rongpa in the region of Dagpo. The lineage of Gampopa’s vows were the lower, or Mey, Vinaya lineage that is said to have originated with Shantarakshita. He was given the monastic name Sonam Rinchen. 

At that time, he also received instructions in Shamatha meditation from Geshe Jangchub Sempa. Within five or six days, he had a good experience of Shamatha, and had the experience of not knowing whether it was day or night and feeling no hunger, even if he did not eat. He wondered how long that experience might last and he was able to sustain it for 13 days. 

Generally, among the three Kagyu forefathers, Marpa the Translator and Jetsun Milarepa were householders. Most of their students were either householders or cotton clad Yogis. From Je Gampopa onwards, the tradition has been that it is primarily the monastic community that has upheld, preserved and spread the Kagyu teachings. 


The Liberation story of Milarepa tied to the Black Treasury (Dzo Nag) compiled by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, relates  how after Gampopa left Milarepa, he said to his yogi students: 

“That physician, Gampopa will benefit many sentient beings. Last night, I had a dream that a yellow bird flew away from me in the direction of central Tibet. It landed on the peak of a great mountain. Then many large flocks of geese from all directions gathered there. After a short while, each flock was surrounded by 500 others. At that time, the whole valley and all the directions were filled with brownish geese, this is what I dreamt. So even though I am a yogi, all my followers will be only monastics. Thus, I have done something for the teachings of all the Buddhas.”

Milarepa’s prophecy turned out to be true, as we can see from history.


At the age of 28, Gampopa went to Northern Uro in the vicinity of present day Phenpo, to study the Kadampa teachings. He studied with several Kadampa masters including  Nyukrumpa Tsondru Gyeltsen (snyug rum pa brtson ‘grus rgyal mtshan, 1042-1109), Gyel Yondag, Chakri Gongkhapa (lcags ri gong kha pa, d.u.)., Geshe Drepa and Zhai yayuwa. Among those, from Geshe Nyugrumpa Tsondru Gyeltsen, he received the Kadampa oral instructions and in particular the Bodhisattva vows. From that point on, Gampopa said he was never without relative bodhichitta. As it says in his Dharma talks ‘Plentiful Qualities’:

“Relative bodhichitta is important, it is necessary at the outset, without it you cannot go down the Mahayana path. It is necessary in the middle, without it you will fall into samsara. It is necessary at the end, without it you will not find the two kayas.”

He is speaking from his own experience, about how crucial bodhichitta is.  Here, when he speaks about falling into samsara, he does not mean the ordinary samsara but the large samsara that Gampopa speaks of in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation.

Gampopa spent only eight or nine months studying with Nyugrumpa, but during that period, he had to stay among many people and so his previous meditational experience deteriorated.


Gampopa heard that Geshe Gya Yondak lived in a remote place without fostering an entourage with students. So he went to see him and there were few people around Gya Yondag. So Gampopa’s Shamatha also improved greatly. In particular, Geshe Gya Yondag said to Gampopa, I will teach you the oral instructions of Atisha that have come from a lineage not interrupted even by Geshe Tonpa, as if they were handmade by the Buddha. He taught him the pith instructions such as the four characteristics passed down from Gompowa, and he was able to develop superior insight, in addition to the shamatha he already had. 

Geshe Gya Yondrag was known at that time as having the highest realisation of all the Kadampa masters in Uroto at the time.  Gampopa developed realization that was equal to or similar to his. Gampopa also received from Geshe Gya Yondrag the instructions on the stages of the path. Thus, he meditated a great deal on impermanence, karmic cause and effect, the defects of samsara and so forth. So he developed a sense of urgency, his early experiences of bliss and clarity decreased, and he felt all the impermanence and weariness. In summary, Gampopa must have spent three years studying with  Geshe Gya Yondrag.

Three Transmissions, view, conduct and pith instructions

In the writing of Drigung Kagyu, Jigten Sumgon, he wrote that in the Dagpo there are three transmissions: the transmission of the view, the transmission of conduct, and the transmission of pith instructions. 

Among these, the transmission of view and conduct come from the Kadampa. With the view of the transmission to the view coming from Gya Yondrag and the transmission of conduct coming from Nyukrumpa Tsondru Gyeltsen. It is said that Gampopa received the transmission of conduct from Nyugrumpa because he developed the realisation of relative bodhichitta from Nyugrumpa’s instructions. 

Now, regarding the transmission of the view of Gya Yondrag, he had received a transmission of the view passed from Atisha who was very fond of  to the consequentialist middle way. This must be the reason why the Dagpo Kagyu schools need to accord so closely with the consequentialist middle school I believe. 

Likewise, when we speak about the stages, progressing down the path and the Dapo Kagyu, we speak about the four stages of yoga. These are described clearly in the Mahamudra instructions that Atisha gave to Gampowa. So, this is further evidence that there is a connection between the transmission of Gampopa’s view and Lord Atisha, I believe.

 In general, the lineage of Gampopa’s view is not solely the lineage of the Kadampa , there are also transmissions from Milarepa. As Milarepa said to Gampopa in a song: to ‘ascertain it as a view, look at your own mind’.  Milarepa also spoke about the four pitfalls of emptiness and Gampopa emphasized all of these when he gave instructions in mahamudra. 

So, in brief, when Gampopa taught to most groups, he taught them according to the Kadampa stages of the path.  He only taught Mahamudra to a few particular students establishing a new way of doing this. Moreover, what he said is “the little benefit I’ve been able to give people is due to the Kadampa tradition. There are many people who teach the pith instructions of Naropa but they bring little benefit when not connected to the Kadampa” he said. 

Gampopa also said that: 

“Training the mind in the Kadampa stages of the path, the three types of individuals, is very valuable. Without it, even if you develop a blurry natural state, if you are attached to relatives, place or wealth later, you will only get worse you will never get better. Therefore, you absolutely must give up on this life. Recognize that all phenomena that you see or hear are like dreams and illusions, and train in loving kindness, compassion bodhichitta. If you do this, even without realization of the natural state, you will only get better and not worse.” 

In brief, he considered the Kadampa instructions to be extremely important. Particularly, there is an old text called the Stages of the Path of Enlightenment. It is not in the Tengyur but there was an old manuscript that was recently found in Tibet. Its primary topic is the stages of the path, the three types of individuals, the four thoughts that turn the mind instruction and the main practice of shamatha and insight, and the ultimate result and activity are all taught in verse.   When I read it, I felt like it was like reading a Kagyu instruction manual. In this respect, I think it shows that there was a close relation between the pith instructions of the Kadampa and those of Mahamudra from Jowo Atisha, and the Dagpo Kagyu. 


“As we all know, the most important guru in Gampopa’s life was Jetsun Milarepa. Before Gampopa went to U he studied with a student of Milarepa, Geshe Sempa from whom he received meditation instructions passed down from Milarepa. It was due to those that he developed the good experience of Shamatha within seven days. Moreover, when he went to Northern Unew and found Geshe Gya Yondrag, he developed a good view of insight as we said before. I think this must have been the realization of the path of training. However, Gampopa was still not able to directly see the Dharma nature as it is. 

Even long after Gampopa had heard Milarepa’s name, he was unable to meet him. He thought to himself that you were unable to meet on Milarepa even for a short time, while Milarepa was still alive, he would regret it in the future. So at the age of 31, he went to meet the guru Milarepa. It took around four months to travel there, but finally Gampopa met Jetsun Milarepa and received many pith instructions of secret mantra, primarily tummo [inner heat] from him. 

He could only spend 13 months with Milarepa before he returned to at the age of 32. In summary, Milarepa gave Gampopa many extraordinary vajra instructions. In particular, the cooperating condition, the main condition for developing the superior realization of insight is the blessings of the lineage passed down from Marpa and Milarepa. As Gampopa recognized. So in that respect, Gampopa had exceptional faith and longing for Milarepa and his Kagyu (word transmission), and he considered them to be especially significant. Moreover, he also recognized that he himself held Milarepa’s lineage. The main point of this comes down to what is said in Go Lotsawa’s Blue Annals:

“The glorious Dagpo Kagyu is not a lineage of words, it is a lineage of meaning. The meaning is a lineage of the stainless state of Mahamudra. The guru, because of whom you realize Mahamudra, is  your root guru. “This is what it really comes down to.”

Gampopa also wrote himself  in his Garland of the Amrita Advice

“If you have not received the guru’s blessings, you will not see this mind essence by looking. You will not catch it by grasping it, or stop it by blocking it. Also, your perceptions will not be discarded by abandoning the images, or demolished by destroying them. Therefore, those who wish to gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, pacify obstacles, develop realization in their beings, overwhelm appearances and perfect the benefit for themselves and others must only serve and respect the lama. There’s nothing other to do than solely to supplicate.”

He also wrote:  “to realize in your own mind, spiritual instructions alone will not help. You must receive the blessings of a guru who has realization.” 
In brief, he spoke about how important it is to follow a guru to realize the nature of the mind. 

Lord Gampopa studied with many gurus who are well known in Tibet at that time and received many oral instructions. Moreover, he himself spent many years diligently practicing meditation, primarily Tummo in Yangsewelung, Ulka and other places. In the end, he saw the mind essence, the meaning of the Dharmakaya as it is and he gave his students direct experiential instructions in it, just as he had realized it, which became known as the co-emergent yoga of Mahamudra.”

8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

“Generally,  Marpa, Milarepa and others, primarily gave the Mahamudra instructions, according to the Tantra, They did not really have the custom of giving Mahamudra instruction separately from the six yogas. However, Lord Gampopa later emphasized the sutra tradition of Mahamudra of teaching the instructions on Mahamudra separately. So I believe this is the crux of why there ended up being an individual path of means and six yogas of Naropa, and a path of liberation of Mahamudra.

Regarding this, the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje wrote that “here in Tibet, there were three ways of understanding Maitripa’s Middle Way (Madhyamaka ) of not working mentally. One is emphasizing the profound and clear mantra middle way and practice, emphasizing a profound sutra Middle Way and practice. The third is emphasizing the false aspect Mind-Only and practice. Among these were Lord Milarepa and Lord Marpa. Milarepa had both the first two and they practiced these. In particular. Gampopa emphasized this second Sutra Mahamudra in his practice, He  called it by the name Mahamudra, using a name that originates in unexcelled secret mantra, but what he was actually speaking about was this sutra tradition of the Middle Way of unelaborate emptiness. Implicitly, he was also teaching the ultimate profound meaning of both Sutra and Tantra, the common and uncommon Buddha nature.

This accords with the three qualities taught by Maitripa’s students Sahajavadra, in his commentary in the Said Suchnesses, the essence of the transcendences: “It fits with mantra, its stain is Mahamudra”. This also accords with the teachings of Lord Gampopa, the glorious  Phagmo Drupa, and  Drigung Jigten Sumgon who said our text on Mahamudra is the Mahayana Sublime Continuum by the Bhagavan Maitreya. 

This was what the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje said who also wrote in his complete discussion of Mahamudra:

“The manner of teaching shamatha and insight that is common with a causal vehicle of the transcendences, is the pith instructions for the lamp the path of enlightenment passed down from Atisha down to the great spiritual friend, Tonpa and Gampowa. This is known as the Great co-emergent yoga. Lord Gampopa and the protector Phagmo Drupa, for the sake of students who in the degenerate times like lofty vehicles, called this by the lofty name of the Co-emergent yoga of Mahamudra.”

So, in brief, the Kagyu tradition of Mahamudra comes from Gampopa according to what Mikyo Dorje is saying. However, Drupa Padma Karpo, and many others say that the Mahamudra teachings descended from Jetsun Milarepa. So, the scholars have many differences in their explanations. However, generally, the Gampopa tradition of Mahamudra combined several traditions, the secret mantra pith instructions transmitted by Lord Marpa and Milarepa. The Kadampa tradition or sutra tradition pith instructions passed down from a Kadampa Guru, Geshe Gya Yondrag. The Dharma of realization born from Lord Gampopa’s own experience, because it combines all of these it does not need to be forced necessarily into any one of the lineages. Nor is it so that if it derives from one, it must not arise from the other.

Varjavarahi was said to have been given to Je Gampopa by Je Milarepa

“Many gurus who lived before Gampopa, or at the same time as him, such as the Kagyu gurus, Marpa, Ngog Choku Dorje and Milarepa, the great Sakya lamas such as Drogme and Sachen Kunye Nyingpo. Nyingma lamas such as the great Tsurhpa Shakya Jungne and Tsultrim Sherab Drapa, primarily practiced mantra. They were primarily householders. Also, with the Kadampa, which was flourishing Tibet during that period the primary practice was the Vinaya and the Prajnaparamita. 

So there are some who prohibited the open practice of secret mantra. When Gampopa was 16 years old, he received many empowerments and transmissions of the secret mantra, including Chakrasamvara and Hevajra from the lineage of Sanka Lotsawa and his disciples. He also received a few Vajrayana empowerments from Kadampa masters while he was studying them. When he was with Milarepa, according to most liberation stories, he did not receive the blessings of many empowerments aside from Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi.  Still, he did receive the complete pith instructions on the six yogas of Naropa and the whispered lineage Chakrasamvara. And those lineages are still with us to this day.  

Gampopa also studied with many Kadampa masters and practiced the mind trainings of their lineage. He also nurtured his students without giving up the robes of the Kadampa tradition, or the conduct of the Vinaya. Before he would teach his students Mahamudra, his custom was to give them instructions on the stage of the path, such as the training on the path as you can see from the events such as when the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa,  first met Gampopa. Gampopa was someone who at that time and Tibet openly fostered the teachings through the union of Sutra and Tantra. “

Gampopa with student, 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa

“Gampopa himself was also very skilled and nurturing his students and very good at giving instructions. Because of this, he ripened and liberated countless students. There’s a term in Tibet of what we call mind instructions, and this primarily takes Gampopa’s instructions as their model, according to Jetsun Jonang Taranatha. In brief, Gampopa had four heart-sons who upheld his lineage, four siddhas, four mind sons, four close sons, four attendants and four Yogis who achieved the rainbow body and Kacheri, and many other students. the lineages that originated directly from Gampopa and his nephew, include the four lineages of the Phadru Kagyu, Kamtsang Kagyu, Baron Kagyu, and the Tselpa Kagyu. 

There are also the lineage is in the line of Phagmo Drupa’s students, including the Drigung Taglung, Drupa, Tropu, Martsang, Yelpa, Yasang and Zhungseb Kagyu.  Whether in political or religious terms, this is the single lineage of school that has had the greatest lineage in the snow land of Tibet, as you all know. 

Jonang Jetsun Taranatha wrote in his supplement to the history of the transmission of the 100 instructions, that from Naropa and Maitripa until Marpa and Milarepa, they were just the seeds of the instructions in the co-emergent yoga of Mahamudra, but it’s not widely widespread. But Milarepa’s prophesy to the peerless Gampopa really struck the point and Gampopa emphasized tummo in his meditation. Over the course of six years in Tsewalung, he increased its realization. 

During the three years he spent and Gelung in Ulkham, he achieved the ultimate realization of the nature. He realized that teaching these instructions to others would not benefit many anyone other than just a few diligent people. So,  for a few years he did not teach them to anyone. After a few years, he taught them to the true yogis and others and then just as one light can light two lights, they all achieved complete realization without much effort and they spread widely. “


“So, today is the anniversary of Gampopa’s paranirvana. What is the source for knowing that this is Gampopa’s paranirvana? It is according to Gampopa’s most important students, Lord Phagmo Drupa and the Dharma Lord, Dusum Khyenpa, in particular, Phagmo Drupa continued to stay at a Daglha Gampo monastery after Gampopa  had passed away. It explains in the dialogue with Dusum Khyenpa there is this verse:  

“He felt slightly ill on the evening of the 14th of the middle of month of summer in the year the bird. ‘This time I should not take medicine due to some minor circumstance’  he said and laughed repeatedly. He passed away during the 15th day.”

So it seems that Gampopa passed away in the morning of the 15th day of the sixth month of the year of the bird. In the well known biographical supplication by Phagmo Drupa, he wrote is “when he decided to pass away to benefit others on the 15th day of the sixth month of the water-bird year, the great being passed into the Dharma expanse. I pay homage to you intended to pass into nirvana.”

 This indicates the dates very clearly. So it is undisputed that Gampopa passed away on the 15th day of the six Tibetan month of the female, waterbird year, which is 1153. “


“On those anniversaries of the dates when a Guru displays miraculous deeds, such as passing into nirvana, if we engage in practice while remembering the guru with fervent longing, we will gather greater accumulations and purify more obscurations. As it says in the Vajragarbha Tantra:

“when you observe definitely without mistakes, the year month and day of their passing, any offerings that you make will perfect the accumulation of merit and here you will have prosperity.” 

So, if you pray to the gurus on these particular anniversaries, then they are much more powerful.

In particular, one day in a gathering that included Gampopa, Je Dusum Khyenpa and Geshe Khampa or Jatson Dorje Gyeltsen Phagmo Drupa, Gampopa made the promise:

“I have done unfathomable hardships for your sake. I have completed all the austerities and you do not need to do undergo such difficulty. It’s enough for you to just supplicate to me.”

That is the promise that he made. So, if we students supplicate him with fervent longing, it is certain that we will receive the blessings. In particular, Gampopa said:

“All future individuals with longing for me and who think they will not meet me, should please read the works I’ve written, including the Supreme Garland of this Precious Path and the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. When you read those texts, it is no different than meeting me in person.” he said.

So, it is important as for us to regularly open up and read Gampopa’s Collected Works and especially the Supreme Garland of the Precious Path and the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Especially, today his paranirvana day it is good to read, contemplate and discuss these works. That is all I have to say for today. Thank you.”

The present Gyalwang Karmapa has taught Gampopa’s famous texts many times such as a teaching he gave on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation in Bodhgaya:


‘NAKEDLY SEEING THE DHARMAKAYA’; FULL MOON OFFERINGS FOR JE GAMPOPA DAY: English language outline and overview of Je Gampopa Guru Yoga by Jamgon Kongtrul and other Guru Yoga/Praises Texts; the Paranirvana of Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and live online puja today led by17th Gyalwang Karmapa


NEW TRANSLATION: Supplication to Dagpo Kagyu; by 15th Karmapa and new website section on Gampopa

WHEN GAMPOPA MET MILAREPA: A tale of beggars, buttocks and bliss. ‘Four Dharmas’of Gampopa by 17th Karmapa (Part III, 2021)

The Doctor of Dagpo (Dagpo Lhaje) whose family tragedy led to monkhood: ‘Four Dharmas’ of Gampopa; by 17th Karmapa (Part II, 2021)’


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