BEING AN INDEPENDENT THINKER AND MEDITATING ON ULTIMATE BODHICITTA: The status of nuns in India and Tibet, 8th Karmapa’s vast knowledge of all the different views, his independence of thought, amazing qualities and vegetarian students (17th Karmapa’s Spring Teaching, Day One)

“Whoever has confidence in the four reliances and does not merely follow the flow of others’ words; who has the unmistaken intelligence to examine with their own mind, is someone to whom I mentally pay respect.—8th Karmapa

“On examination, phenomena from the outset are ‘peaceful’.
Whoever benefits, whoever is benefited,
Whatever is beneficial are like merging space with space
according to the pure ‘mind’s eye’.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.”
–8th Karmapa, Verse 21 Good Deeds


On March 20th, the 17th Karmapa began the first day of the Spring Arya Kshema online teachings (video here). First, the Karmapa explained why he had to delay the teachings, due to some unavoidable tasks and meetings. 

He then spoke a little about the status of women and female spiritual practitioners in India and how historically, cultural and social norms affected their freedom and ability to practice and study in the same way as men. Citing two stories about how, during the time of Indian Buddhism. due to these norms, monastics had to have babies to stop themselves, or their former wives, becoming destitute.

The Karmapa then spoke about why he named the nuns event after Arya Kshema, the wisest of the wise among all the Buddha’s female students, and his own role in trying to improve the status of nuns in Tibetan Buddhism. Showing his playful, passionate and rebellious side, the Karmapa explained how he had attended lots of meetings about the nuns in Dharamsala, and due to his own interest even attended meetings when he was not invited to do so, as they could not tell him to leave! Yet, he also explained how nuns themselves were part of the solution, and if they did not all support the initiative and see the need for it, then it was pointless them all discussing it. 

Turning to the main topic of the autobiographical Good Deeds text (downloadable here), the 17th Karmapa explained some of the various views about the way and view of the wisdom realising emptiness that is considered essential to become fully awakened. Even though some were very sectarian about it, the 8th Karmapa was not and had a vast knowledge of all the different schools and examined them all carefully, not just following it because someone had said so.

The 17th Karmapa finished by saying that although some people argued that 8th Karmapa ahd no real wisdom or qualities, it was obvious from the depth and breadth of the three Dharma activities of teachings, writings and debating that he did.  His Collected Works is the most extensive among those of the Karmapas, and that they were compiling a new Collected Works, which would be around 25 volumes. He explained how the 8th Karmapa wrote several commentaries on major texts he composed between the ages of  22-27. He did not start teaching on Secret Mantra Vajrayana until he was 27 years old (on the advice of one of his main teachers, 1st Sangye Nyenpa) and when he did he also wrote commentaries about it, one of which has been recently discovered and is now published by the Thrangu Rinpoche Vajra Vidya Institute. In addition, his students also had excellent qualities such as giving up the five impure ways, such as killing/eating animals and carrying weapons. For more on the Karmapas’ vegetarianism, see here.

For previous transcripts and articles about the 17th Karmapa’s teachings on the Good Deeds, see here. For more of my own research and translations on the 8th Karmapa’s life and works, see here.

Music? For the independent thinker, 8th Karmapa:  Think by Aretha Franklin, Think For Yourself by the Beatles, and the glory of  My Way by Frank Sinatra, “To think I did all that, and to say it not in a shy way, I did it my way.” [I want this last song playing at my funeral, please :-)].

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 22nd March 2023.

8th Karmapa’s Good Deeds – Spring Teachings 2023 (17th Karmapa Day 1)

17th Karmapa teaching (Day 1, 20th March 2023)

“I had wanted to finish both autobiographical verses, the Good Deeds and He Searched Thoroughly but now am not sure I will be able to in the time. However, I still have the hope I can finish them both during this Spring Teaching.

The status of women in India and Tibet
Women in ancient Indian vedic culture when women’s freedom and status was said to be better than during the Buddha’s time.

“So thinking about the status of women in general, or in particular for Buddhist practitioners, whether they are laywomen or nuns, especially in Tibetan Buddhism,  I wanted to speak a little for monastic women to give them some encouragement.

I spoke about this a little bit last year during the Summer teachings. The origin of Buddhism is the noble land of India. If we divide the different periods of ancient Indian history, there are many different periods. If we think about the period of the Rig Veda, in India there was some equality between men and women. There were many female authors during the Rig Veda. Many of the poets during the Rig Veda were women, it is said. So during this period is from 1500 BC until about a 1000 BC, the tradition was to be monogamous, one husband and one wife. Later, during the time of the Yadur Veda, between 1000 BC to about 500 BC, during that period, the situation for women worsened a bit. It was said that women were not considered credible or believable, and they began to have a custom of seeing women as having naturally more afflictions. During that time, women were allowed to participate in the sacrificial offerings with their husbands.

Then there was the period of the Sutras, from about 500 BC to 250 BC. During that period, the situation for women got even worse than before. Many Sutras were written during this period. One of them is the Sutra on Laws/Discipline. This is the history. It says women belong to their husbands, they had no freedom and control and had to do what their husbands said. When they were young, they had to listen to their fathers. Once they had been sent off as a bride, they had to listen to their husbands. When they were older, they had to obey their sons. So, if a woman lived independently without belonging to or having to obey anyone, that would not be OK, it is written in this Sutra.

It is also determined in this Sutra, that polygamy was permitted and that a husband could have several wives. There were different amounts of wives for different castes, so Brahmins could have no more than 3, Kshatriyas no more than 2 and so on. As the status of the high caste and power of Brahmins increased, the women’s status deteriorated.

Then, Buddha Dharma spread in India and from that time, if we look at the Buddhist scriptures translated in Tibetan, those in Pali, Sanskrit, or in Chinese, the situation of women can be understood from reading these scriptures.”

The story of the monk, Suddina, stopping ‘unowned’ and childless women becoming destitute and the Vinaya rules on unchaste conduct
Gautama Buddha with his then pregnant wife, from temple in Sri Lanka

“For example, in the Vinaya there is a story of Suddina, the son of Kalanda, who later went forth and became a Bhikshu. Before he became a monk, he had a wife but they did not have any children, so Suddina had gone forth but she had not had any children.  So his mother thought, as his wife not had any children, all her wealth would be seized by the King. So, if the King did that, then the bride would have a difficult time, so she said to him you have to have a son. So Suddina’s mother advised him lot that he had to have a son with her. So in the 13th year after the Buddha attained Buddhahood, this formed the background to the rule about unchaste conduct. The background to this is the Indian tradition at the time, which is that if there is no husband or son in the household, the King would take all the possessions. That is why his mother advised him he had to have a son otherwise it would be difficult for his wife.  So he accepted and that is how it happened. 

[The story states that as it was a time when the first Pārājika rule had not been laid down yet, he did not see sexual intercourse as an offence. As such, in the forest, he successfully indulged three times in the sex practice with his ex-wife. As a result his ex-wife became pregnant.]

Likewise, in the Sutras there are many stories of people who went forth and afterwards became pregnant and problems such as that. The main reason it happened was because of that time and place. There was a Bhikshuni named Guptā (Bema), who before she went forth, her husband died but she had no son, so the King would take all her possessions and become a beggar. For  that reason, she got together with her husband’s friend Udayana and got pregnant. So if we look at these situations, they are mainly dependent on the situation at that time in India.”

[For a recent article by a scholar, Shayne Clark on the Vinaya rules on pregnant nuns and monks with wives etc, see here.]

Buddhist nuns and taking ordination

Likewise, when Buddhism first spread there were many spiritual traditions, but it seems there was no tradition of women becoming monastics. Among the Hindu and non-Buddhist schools, there were no nuns. In addition, there were several traditions that said women could not take refuge and achieve liberation. These are just examples. In general, historically, all over the world have been like that. So this is an example, that there was no equality between men and women then. In Buddhist history among the Buddhist practitioners, there were women and men as monastics and laypeople. Among all of them they were given the opportunity to practise Dharma equally. However, if we ask were the women who had gone forth, considered as important as the men who had gone forth? They were not. If we ask why? In terms of Buddhist philosophy, were they not given the equal opportunity to practise? We cannot say that. If monks and nuns and  practitioners had the opportunity to practice, they got the same results of Arhatship and so on. However, the reason the nuns were not considered as important was due to the external social and cultural norms at that time. Women did not have the same rights and were denigrated; due to that custom the monks were considered superior to the community of nuns.

So in terms of numbers, they were not as numerous. In terms of qualities, scholars or practitioners, most came from the male monastic community. Would we say there were no female scholars or practitioners? No we would not say that. There were quite a lot but just not as many as among the male community. That was the situation that happened.

In Tibet, for example, during the early and later spread of the teachings. The tradition of giving the Bhikshuni vows had spread to a fair degree. It is OK to say that. However, due to various conditions, the transmission of the Bhikshuni vows and even basic vows were not considered as important.

So, it was a great loss in Tibetan Buddhism in terms of the spread of the nuns’ vows and lineages. In Tibet, we have no tradition of this and a Bhikshuni community. In order to establish the tradition properly, it is proper to have a Bhikshuni community and those vows should really be given by Bhikshunis. But we do not have that and it is lacking.  The male Bikshus act as a substitute for the nuns and give them the novice vows. Whether that is a really clean and pure tradition it is difficult to say that. So in our Karma Kamtsang tradition, we do not give the novice vows. As we do not have a community of Bhikshunis in the Karma Kamtsang tradition, the Getsulma vows are not really truly given.

The reason for this lack of people giving the full and training vows to nuns, is not the women’s fault, it is due to the way women are viewed in society as a whole. The way nuns and Gelongmas are viewed. And the way the leaders view the status of women and nuns. It is the responsible of the religious leaders to lead on that.

17th Karmapa’s efforts to bring change and the nun’s wish to maintain the status quo
17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje with nuns from Tilogpa Nunnery

Now, we are in the 21st century, so we do not have them and many people are supportive of having them. In particular, nuns and Tibetan Buddhist nuns, have to put some effort into this. If they do, then we will be able to produce a result.  For that reason, we are in the right time and place and use this great opportunity, especially in our Tibetan society. However, that effort has to come from ourselves individually.

Nuns are now given the same opportunity to study the same texts and do meditation and practice like the men. It also has to come from within the nun community, not from outside. When people come from abroad and they have good intentions and want to help, and  that is great. Sometimes, they do not really understand Tibetan culture and society, so it can create some conflict, so instead of helping there is a risk it might harm. So primarily, it has to come from within Tibetan society and from the nuns themselves.

For example, in the past when I was in Dharamsala, there were many meetings about the nuns and I went to them many times. Sometimes they invited me to come, and sometimes they did not invite me to come, but as I had an interest, I would say I am going. They could not tell me you cannot come. I went many times. There were many great scholars from the different traditions discussing about whether it was OK or necessary to give the vows, and if we need to give them and how, the differences in the Vinaya traditions, from both a monk and nun, or only from nuns and so on.

When we had these discussions, I don’t remember how it happened, but one day a Tibetan nun said we don’t need anything, she said we are fine, we don’t need any more than what we have. We were having a very heated discussion at that time, and then a Tibetan nun stands up and says we don’t need that. The nuns are the owners of this ‘aim’ and so when she got up and said that, it was very strange. On one hand, maybe it was understandable for her, and she may have thought it was impossible to keep the vows and heard all these different things, she thought it was better not to have them. However, when I heard that, my feeling was that it was not good. First, whether we give nuns full ordination or not, we all have to have the enthusiasm for it. If the nuns themselves do not have the wish to do it, then we can speak all we want but it does not help. That is the point of this. We have the Arya Kshema teachings, as I have explained about Arya Kshema before many times.

Among the male students of Buddha, Shariputra had the greatest Prajñā/wisdom, and the female student with most wisdom was Arya Kshema. That is why we call it by her name. As the time we hold it is in the Spring, after Winter, when spring is blossoming, it was a nice interdependence to call the Spring teachings. This is the 7th year of the event and the main thing we are doing is debates. We also have pujas and so on. The debates are one of the three scholarly activities. There are three, teaching, writing and debating. If we want to become learned, we have to have all three. For us students of Buddhism it is very important to know a little bit about debate. It is not just about defeating with our opponents or competing with them. It is about logic and using our intelligence to debate. Many of the Indian philosophies also followed the path of Indian logic and debate. First, there were the Vedas and rituals and people became bored with that  and wanted to think logically and use their intelligence. 

This also happened in Buddhism, there were many traditions, and they were thinking about reasoning and logic so on, not just following with blind faith. So in order to understand the reasons, you have to understand the methods of logic, and debate is a way to understand those. So for Buddhists,  the Dharma debate is very necessary. However, it is important not to lose our motivation. It is not only to defeat opponents, like a competition with attachment and aversion. It is a method to improve our study and diligence and understanding in education. Likewise, in order to overcome our hatred, envy, disappointment and so on, we have to counteract them as they arise. To see if we can train our minds to overcome them. We can see it as an opportunity to train our minds. It is not to win and defeat others, it is mainly to improve our education, experience and realisation and inner qualities. That is the aim we should have. It is important not to confuse our aims and motivations.

8th Karmapa’s Good Deeds – Meditating on Ultimate Bodhicitta (Verse 21)

Now, to speak about our main topic for this year, which is the Autobiographical Verses by Mikyo Dorje, the thirty-three Good Deeds.

དཔྱད་ན་ཆོས་རྣམས་གཟོད་མ་ཉིད་ཀྱིས་ཞི། །
གང་ལ་ཕན་བཏགས་གང་གིས་ཕན་འདོགས་བྱེད། །
གང་ཕན་ཐམས་ཅད་ནམ་མཁས་ནམ་མཁའ་ལ། །
སྦྱོར་བ་ལྟ་བུའི་བློ་མིག་རྣམ་པར་དག །
འདི་ཡང་བདག་གི་ལེགས་སྤྱད་ཡིན་སྙམ་བགྱིད། །
On examination, phenomena from the outset are ‘peaceful’.
Whoever benefits, whoever is benefited,
Whatever is beneficial are like merging space with space;
according to the pure ‘mind’s eye’.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

[I have done my own translation of this verse according to the Tibetan original following the structure/words of the verse more closely].

This is the 21st Verse of the Good Deeds, and am teaching it according to the commentary on the meaning of the Good Deeds, by Sangye Peldrup. There are two manuscripts we found, one in Drepung and one in Potala. They are slightly different outlines. We are mainly following the Drepung outline.

There are three main topics: the Homage, The Nature of the biography and the Conclusion. This is the second one. Of those, there are three types of individuals, small, middling, and great. Among those, we are at the third, the great individual. For the greater individual there are two parts: the actions of meditating on bodhicitta and the precepts of training in bodhicitta. We are at the second, of which there are two parts, relative and ultimate bodhicitta we are on the second part of meditating on ultimate bodhicitta.

Various views and ideas about attaining the wisdom realising emptiness
Prajnaparamita manuscript in gold ink

At the time, in the Tibetan Buddhist schools most of them say that to get the result of Buddhahood, one has to realise the Dharmakaya, that Kaya, body. So when we say Sangye, the real form or kaya of that is the Dharmakaya. One has to realise the Dharmakaya. The main method for realising that is reliance on the accumulation of yeshe (primordial awareness). To attain the accumulation of awareness, the main method is reliance on the realisation of the wisdom (sherab) of emptiness). In terms of that wisdom, there are various assertions. Some say other than the lineage of our lamas, the lineages of other lamas cannot bring realisation of wisdom realising emptiness. If one studies and practises the texts and tenets of one’s own lineage then one can realise it, however, if one studies and practises other lineages there is no origin/arising of wisdom realising emptiness.  Not even the tiniest realisation, so they said. There were quite a lot of people who spoke about it like that and in Tibet there was some sectarianism, with people saying ‘my tenets, and their tenets’, seeing one as superior and inferior. They have spoken this way up until now. For that reason, they saw their own lineage tenets as superior, so they say if one follows the view of these tenets, that is entering the correct view and so the wisdom realising emptiness can arise. Yet, if it was the tenets of other schools/view, then one will not realise the correct view, and the wisdom realising emptiness will not arise. There were many who spoke like that.

So if we ask, how do we recognise/identify the wisdom realising emptiness? There are also many ways of recognising wisdom realising emptiness. For example, the methods of liberation previously taught by, non-Buddhists and also those from among Buddhists there were the schools of the Eighteen Listeners. Even within the Mahayana, there is the Middle Way, Mind-Only and Buddha Nature There are many different types of views. So there are many explanations of the wisdom realising emptiness and the wisdom realising the abiding nature. 

For example, especially in Tibet, there are people who say whatever comes to their minds, that has never been heard or known before, and say this view  is the wisdom realising emptiness. There are others who have a good understanding and study of emptiness, but their understanding of emptiness is incorrect and they do not have a true understanding of it. They have a little understanding of emptiness and they think they have realised the view of emptiness. 

Some other people, out of the three types of wisdom: wisdom of listening, wisdom of contemplating and wisdom of meditating, say that the last, the wisdom of meditating is the actual wisdom. That the other types of wisdom are not necessary. So they stop listening and contemplating and say I am going to develop the wisdom of meditating. However, they are unable to do so as they are unable to know if they are resting in virtue or non-virtue or neutral state, and end up resting in a kind of a foggy, lazy blank state. There are many this has happened to quite a few times

Some others, think that all phenomena are a magical illusion of the mind and created by the mind. They think that because we have not realised this, we have cycled around samsara up until now. Today, through the guru’s kindness we have realised that samsara and nirvana are both the Dharmakaya, and are the same in essence, like the two sides of a hand. So now I have freedom and control of mind, even if I am born in hell, there is nothing to them and they will immediately become the Dharmakaya. Other than seeing them as the nature of mind, suffering and fear will not happen it them. Now I have this confidence that even if I go to hell and do not need to fear. and they proclaim this loudly and there were many like this too. However, Mikyo Dorje was not like these people. 

8th Karmapa’s vast knowledge  and independence of thinking
Statue of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

There are various Buddhist tenets and schools previously in India, and among the non-Buddhist schools that were well-known. Mikyo Dorje studied all their views and understood all their traditions.

In particular, in Tibet, after the earlier spread (Ngar Dar) of the teachings, there was a school called the Middle Transmission (Bar Dar). What is meant by the Middle Transmission? During the persecution of the Dharma in Tibet by Langdharma, there were the three men from Utsang. Sang Rabsel, Yab Genchung, Ma Shakyamuni. They fled to Eastern Tibet, Dokham and then a man called Lachen Gonpa Rabsel came and they gave him the monastic vows.

Later, in order to spread the teachings ten people came from central Tibet who took the vows from Lachen Gonpa Rabsel and then they returned to central Tibet and established a monastic sangha and the teachings began to thrive in Tibet. This is called the Middle Transmission, by older scholars. Later, people spoke about the Earlier and Later transmission of the Dharma, and people did not really consider the Middle transmission as different from what is now called the Later transmission, which is after the Langdharma’s persecution started. Some older scholars talk about the Middle Transmission still, but others do not use it. So the middle teachings are those from after the Langdharma persecution until the Sakya, Kadampa and Kagyu teachings spread. 

In any case, that is also the time when the Kadampa, Mahamudra, Sakya teachings, mainly the Kadam teachings, the Kagyu the Sakya, the Jonangpas, the Bodongpas, Gelugpa , Nyingpa, the Chod and Pacification lineages. There were many such traditions that appeared in Tibet.

Each of these traditions have their own particular important points, and Mikyo Dorje himself understood the meaning they were speaking about and knew the words they used without any mistake. The different schools have different words they use about the two truths, they use the words slightly differently and use different expressions without mistake. He understood the distinctions between the two truths and understood what was allowed and what was prohibited. He basically gained knowledge of all five sciences. Grammar, logic, crafts, medicine and Buddhist science. He was very well-read and learned. he also knew all the various Sanskrit and Tibetan scripts and the archaic and current words and also understood the texts on poetry such as Dinda’s Mirror, texts on syntax such as the Source of Jewels, the text on vocabulary, the Deathless Mirror. He could even examine different types of precious objects, such as bronze or statues, fabrics, jewels and so forth. For example, bronze sculptures, if it was real, what it was made from and where it was from. In brief, there was nothing that Mikyo Dorje did not know. He basically seemed to know everything. For that reason, he had this authentic Prajñā that discerns the Buddha’s words and treatises and his students had the feeling that he really had that.

8th Karmapa and the Four Reliances (Tonpa Zhi)
The Four Reliances, said to have been taught by the Buddha

In particular, there are the Four Reliances (Tonpa Zhi), relying on the meaning not on words, relying on primordial awareness and not on consciousness, relying on the Dharmas and not individuals and so on. He had real confidence in this four reliances, instead just following what some scholar said this. He used his own intelligence and examined for himself. So to be able to say, who has real proper reasons and who does not. He examined this for himself. For that reason, what he wrote himself was that:

“Whoever has confidence in the four reliances and does not merely follow the flow of others’ words; who has the unmistaken intelligence to examine with their own mind, is someone to whom I mentally pay respect.”

Basically, he was saying he does not follow the individual, he follows the Dharma. He uses his own intelligence to examine for himself if it is good or not. So he examined for himself, to see what is real and unmistaken. If he had confidence in that, then he would pay respect to that person and like it. 

Likewise, another thing he said , there was  a time when King Trisong Detsen asked the great master, Shantaraskhita, “How do you know what to take up in terms of religious traditions? How do you know if it is good or bad? What are the traditions we need to follow or give up? How can we discern these?”

The response was:

 “I examine my own mind and practice what is logical, I discard what is illogical.”

He does not follow other people’s thoughts about what is good or bad. He examines impartially himself if the person has a good reason and then practises that. If he was uncertain about something, he discards it. Mikyo Dorje himself also did the same as Shantarakshita. 

Signs and evidence of the 8th Karmapa’s wisdom/prajñā – the three Dharma activities

As I said before, Mikyo Dorje had a wide knowledge of his own and others’ philosophical schools. So people would say: “Oh, this is your lama’s thought, but he is just repeating what the previous masters said, but Mikyo Dorje himself does not have any Prajñā, forget about him having the Prajñā of meditation of the greater path of accumulation. He does not even have the clarity of jnana, never mind the insight of Prajñā, he does not have the clarity of shamatha meditation.” we feel. So the students would say “I really cannot say for ourselves if the guru has Prajñā of meditation of yogas and insight. As I don’t have the realisation myself to know that. But, does he have the fearless knowledge of the Dharma or profound emptiness, we can infer this. The reason we can infer it is because 8th Karmapa himself occupies himself day and night with the three scholarly activities: teachings, debating and writing. He is always busy with these activities. We have to work hard to do these, but he does not have to, it happens without any real effort, naturally for him. 

For example, in terms of his writing, Mikyo Dorje himself when he was writing his words are very beautiful and the meanings are clear, the expressions are fine. The topics he wrote about are very clear and also the pronunciation of the words and everything is very clear or corrupted. There is nothing extra or left out, it is very easy for everyone to listen to and remember.  So people of higher faculties he could just nod his head and they would understand, for people of lesser faculties, he could explain in depth so they come to understand. So he had this ability. So whether someone had higher or lower intelligence, he was able to teach them in a way everyone could understand.  In brief, whatever text he was studying, one might spend many years with a master who was well-versed in a particular text or verse, yet if you heard Mikyo Dorje ‘s explanation of just a single verse of the text, then one would have a greater confidence and understanding of the text. In that way, he had a matchless confidence to teach the true Dharma. We can see this is what he had and what his students would say. 

Also, another feature of Mikyo Dorje was that whenever he was given an old Indian or Tibetan text that the Mikyo Dorje had never seen before, and he was asked to explain the difficult points of the text, he could explain the entire meaning of the words without mistake. He had never read the text though. Yet, because of his broad knowledge of the literary traditions, even if he saw a text for the first time, he could explain it perfectly. This is a great example of his skill in teaching texts. Also, in debating he was able to overcome others’ misconceptions. he was able to do that.  He was able to overcome their pride, to have proper reasons to feel true certainty. That time there were many great scholars, the pandita, Dorje Gyalpo, Omniscient Bodong Rinpoche, Chime Drupa. Also a great scholar called Changrel Rabjampa. In central Tibet. these were the most famous scholars of that time. When they came to see Mikyo Dorje and they had Dharma discussions with all of them, in terms of scripture or logic, he outshone all of them. This also happened at that time.

Also, among the Gelugpa scholars, among the most well-known were Gendun Drub and Sera Jetson. When they saw his commentaries on the Ornament of Clear Realisation and Treasuries of Abhidharma, what they said was: “Among the Tibetan meditators of the Chinese Hashang view” (this is what the Gelugpa would say about the Kagyu Mahamudra view, they would call it the Hashang view), this Mikyo Dorje a little bit better in terms of the breadth and extent of his studies”. His students said they heard people say things like that. If he had had Dharma discussions with the other scholars, when they saw his breadth of knowledge and mastery of the scriptures and logic, they were amazed by him.

Anyway, Sangye Peldrup the author of the commentary on the Good Deeds, “many people say that your lama was really smart but it is not true”, they said. The reason is because they said “he is a little bit better than his students in terms of diligence and training. But it is not Ok to say he is better than people ? If you think your lama is so great, it is because you have never met a real scholar. So instead if you compare him to someone who has had no study at all he is better, but he is not comparable to a scholar.” There were people who said that.

Sangye Peldrup said about this, “what they are saying is true, however, the region in central Tibet, no one is said to be better than those scholars whom I have just mentioned. So, when you compare him with these scholars, then we can say that Mikyo Dorje was a leading scholar. This is why I say this. Not with any other intent. 

The amazing abilities and Collected Works of the 8th Karmapa

In terms of his writing, as all of you know, among the different incarnations of the Karmapa, many of the collected works we cannot see them. Of the ones that we can see, the one that is most extensive is that of Mikyo Dorje; over 20 volumes. There is also an index an of his works by the Zhamarpa Kuncho Yanlag. We are using this to produce a new Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje. There are many additional things to add to this. 

I think it will probably end up being 25-26 volumes. Among the different Karmapas, MD has the largest collected works. It is said that Karma Pakshi wrote texts on everything in the Kangyur. So it is said that Karma Pakshi’s Collected Works was equal to that in size. However, these days, there are probably 5 -6 volumes left of it.  So Mikyo Dorje left the greatest literary legacy among all the Karmapas. When we look at his writings, when those who seek liberation teach or study them, they are easy to read and understand the practice, they enhance it, the words are clear and easy to pronounce, and a subtle logic for proving and rebutting.

For example, when Mikyo Dorje was 22, he wrote  a textual commentary on the Vinaya Sutras. At 23, he wrote  a great commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realisation. At 24, he wrote a great commentary on the Kalapa Grammar. At 26, he wrote the extensive commentary on the Vinaya Sutras. At 27, he wrote his great commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma.

8th Karmapa on Secret Mantra Vajrayana and the four-session Guru Yoga given by the Dakini
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje with teacher 1st Sangye Nyenpa who told him not to teach Secret Mantra until he was 27 years old

The 8th Karmapa also wrote many other texts explaining the meanings of the unexcelled Secret Mantra. One called the Secret Meaning of the Unexcelled Tantra. 1:08:36 Now, this is not included in Works we had in Tibet but later I got a copy of this text. Thrangu Vajra Vidya Institute has published it. Mikyo Dorje’s own lama was Denma Drubchen, or Sangye Nyenpa and what he told him was until you reach the age of 27 do not give anyone else teachngs on the unexcelled tantra.

Because of that advice, when the 8th Karmapa was 19 years old, even though he had many pure visions of his special deity, at that time he began to teach mainly the instructions of Atisha. So only from the age of 27 did he begin to turn the wheel of Vajrayana and give empowerments and instructions to those of the greatest fortune.

He also had the prophecy from the wisdom Khandro that if you were going to supplicate, then supplicate this and then he produced the four-session guru yoga, which is a Dharma text from his pure perception.  From then he wrote innumerable instruction texts on the secret mantra Vajrayana. Also, when he was giving empowerments, the moment he directed his wisdom, then the blessings and the wisdom would go wherever he directed his mind.

The excellent conduct of 8th Karmapa’s students – giving up eating animals
Butcher in Lhasa, Tibet.

Due to 8th Karmapa’s influence, people’s attachment to ordinary experience would be purified and many were able to remain continually in pure appearance and cherish others more. He had many such students who also developed the wisdom born of meditating on emptiness and realisation from within. Likewise, there were many students who were able to keep all their vows from the individual liberation and the unexcelled tantra properly.  At the very least, everyone was able to keep the four root vows and their remainders properly even at the risk of their own lives.

Another feature of Mikyo Dorje is that most of his students gave up the impure things, such as meat, alcohol, weapons, riding horses or other animals and so on. His students did not eat meat and lived on pure vegetarian food. He had quite a few students who were vegetarians, even though it was very difficult at that time in Tibet to be vegetarian. They did not keep anything more valuable than a bowl of yoghurt for their own use. Also, there were many people who would have the qualities of the trainings. For example, sitting while sleeping. They would train while sitting upright. Also, many people who remained in silence, and others who had pure visions and could not be fooled by others. So instead of looking at their sponsors and negative friends, they would look toward their guru and those who practised chaste conduct.

In brief, there were great numbers of students who were able to follow the example of the Dagpo Kayu forefathers. This was because of the example of Mikyo Dorje’s teachings, debating and writing, the students were able to tame their own minds and help others. 

I had to delay the teachings due to some unavoidable meetings and important people I had to meet. Now, I will continue and hope I will be able to finish the discussion of MD’s liberation-story, whether that will happen or not is difficult to say. “

Further Reading

Tomlin, Adele:

Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)

THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORKS OF THE 8TH KARMAPA, MIKYO DORJE: An overview and compilation of research and translations aand 17th Karmapa’ s teachings

Rules for Pregnant Nuns & Married Monks

2 thoughts on “BEING AN INDEPENDENT THINKER AND MEDITATING ON ULTIMATE BODHICITTA: The status of nuns in India and Tibet, 8th Karmapa’s vast knowledge of all the different views, his independence of thought, amazing qualities and vegetarian students (17th Karmapa’s Spring Teaching, Day One)

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