THE YELLOW-HAT KAGYUPAS: LOST, STOLEN AND DESTROYED KARMA KAGYU TRADITIONS AND MONASTERIES IN TIBET. 8th Karmapa on inclusivity in Dharma communities, the yellow-hat Kagyu tradition of the Karmapas, signs of being in the last 500-year period of ‘merely wearing the robes’, worldly warring ‘monks’, and the many shedras and retreat places established by the 8th Karmapa (17th Karmapa Spring teaching 2023, Day 7)

“During the meeting, we spoke about what sort of hats we should wear during the Kagyu  Monlam, I said we should wear the yellow-crested hats and that it would be good to do so. During the time of the 7th, 8th and 9th Karmapas, there was a tradition of wearing such yellow-crested hats. Likewise, the earliest explanation of the crested yellow hats was written by the 4th Zhamarpa Rinpoche, Chodrag Yeshe and I haven’t seen any earlier than that. Even when the Gelugpa masters describe the way it is worn, they quote the 4th Zhamar Chodrag Yeshe, so wearing these crested yellow hats is the old Kagyu lineage.”

“There are two types of these people, those who actually uphold the teachings as they say they do, and then there are those who seem from the outside to be practitioners, the pseudo-upholders of the teachings when in actuality, they do not really practice the Dharma So for both of them, whether someone is actually holding the teachings or just pretending to do so, whichever they are, we need to consider and include them as people who are upholding the Dharma of the Sutras and Tantras of the vehicles.”

༸In Mikyo Dorje’s life in the areas of  central Tibet and Kham, he founded himself many monasteries but these days, we cannot see them.  We do not even know or hear about these monasteries, so what happened to them?  In the long period of history there were a lot of changes in Tibetan history. So within that period, many of the monasteries that Mikyo Dorje founded underwent a lot of change and basically none are left. Even if they are left, they are in a different situation than before.”

—17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Day Seven, Spring Teachings, 2023)

On the seventh day of the Spring Teachings by the 17th Karmapa, which again was cancelled the following day, the 17th Karmapa spoke about the 29th and 30th Verses in 8th Karmapa’s Excellent Deeds.

The first half of the teaching was in relation to the 29th Verse, the Karmapa explained that differing traditions have minor differences in hats, ways of holding the vajra and bell and so on, but these minor differences were not that important. He gave the example of how, as it was a former Kagyu tradition related to restoring Vinaya,  and a tradition during the time of the 7th, 8th and 9th Karmapas, he had told the Kagyu monastics to wear the yellow-hat during the Kagyu Monlam and that some senior monks had expressed their discomfort with doing so, as they saw the yellow hats as a Gelug tradition. The Karmapa said he insisted they wear the hats despite this because in a text by the 4th Zhamarpa, Chodrag Yeshe (1453-1524), it was clearly explained how it was a Kagyu tradition, before the Gelugpa tradition associated with the restoring of Vinaya. Interesting historical fact indeed and again another example of the integrity and independence of mind of the 17th Karmapa. No wonder some of the more conservative Gelug powers/hegemony found him unbearable and he was unable to conduct his activities freely in Dharamsala and India! I have included in this article several photos of monastics wearing the yellow-crested hats during the Kagyu Monlam held and led by the 17th Karmapa.

The Karmapa also spoke about even though some people look on the outside they are upholding the Dharma, they are not, and vice versa, some people look like they are not but actually are. According to the 8th Karmapa, it does not matter and we should include both types of people within the Dharma community.

The Karmapa explained how at the time of the 8th Karmapa, Dharma practice and conduct of monastics was becoming degenerate and temples not being valued or maintained properly. Worse, monastics were treated like serfs on the King/Lord’s land being sent to work and build for them without proper payment and even being sent to fight violent wars. Yet, the Buddhist community was there to practice Dharma and not to do such worldly things.

This part of the teaching, reminded me of pre-Chinese invasion Tibetan monastic ‘cultural norm’ of what are known as ‘dob-dobs’  monks who were present mainly in Gelug monasteries, who performed worldly tasks but who also raped and sexually abused children. One account of the dob-dobs by Tsering Tashi in Struggle for Modern Tibet (1997) describes how they even kidnapped and raped children, and when he complained about it to the monastic officials “they shrugged and said simply that that was just the way things were.” [1]

The second half of the Karmapa’s teachings, focused on Verse 30 in which the 8th Karmapa speaks about the last 500 year period of the Dharma teachings, and the signs as to whether we are in that period or not, called ‘merely wearing the robes’. He explained that the Buddha, and 8th Karmapa, both taught that even if someone was not really practising Dharma in an authentic or proper way, it was still important and valuable if a person/people are upholding even a reflection, or mere resemblance of the Buddha Dharma.

The final part of the teaching was on the amazing activities of the 8th Karmapa and his students and followers) in building and establishing many new monasteries, shedras and retreat centres in Tibet, as well as representations of the three jewels of Buddhism as recorded in a text written by the 8th Karmapa called List of Actions (Jepai Rab/སྤྱད་པའི་རབས།). The 17th Karmapa showed two fascinating slides listing all the places that the 8th Karmapa had established himself.  In the following day’s teaching, Day 8, the 17th Karmapa goes into more detail about some of the places, how they were destroyed or left in ruins.

A timely reminder of how some of the old Tibetan monastic and cultural norms, are not necessarily ethically correct or fitting with Orientalist/’romantic’ notions of Tibetans at all. Some norms/ways really are cross-culture degenerate and unethical though, and better discarded in the dustbin of patriarchal religious violence!

Music? For the ‘men in power’ who put monks to war and who destroyed monasteries and the teachings for power and worldly respect, King of Anything by Sara Bareilles, A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke,  Masters of War by Bob Dylan, “I just want you to know I can see through your masks.”

Dedicated to the Gyalwang 17th Karmapa’s long-life, activities and the re-establishing, flourishing of the Karma Kagyu Dharma activities, monasteries and practitioners!

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 27th April 2023.

8th Karmapa’s Excellent Deeds
17th Karmapa Spring Teachings (Day 7) 
The yellow-hat Kagyu tradition, which began prior to the Gelug tradition of wearing yellow hats according to the 17th Karmapa and the 4th Zhamarpa
The 29th Verse – How He Acted in Accord with Time and Place

“Today, I will speak about the 29th and 30th Excellent Deeds by Mikyo Dorje. There is a commentary by Sangye Peldrup on the meaning, and within that outline it says there are the three types of individuals, and this is speaking about the path of the greater individual, within that section there are three sections and we are talking about how he trained in the precepts in the two types of bodhicitta, which has 7 sub-topics, we are now on the 4th topic: ‘How he acted in accord with time and place’.

“This is the 4th topic, and the 29th of the 33 Excellent Deeds. This Excellent Deed, if we speak about this according to Mikyo Dorje’s text on Instructions on Training in his autobiography, this is a text that Mikyo Dorje wrote himself.  If someone wants to take Mikyo Dorje as an example, then they can read this a collection of advice and instructions he gave through his life story. What it says is that in general, there are many people who have not entered the Buddha’s teachings or the Mahayana Path. We cannot tell if someone is practising the Buddha Dharma or not, but from the outside, they do not seem to be Buddhist or Mahayana practitioners. Even among them, it is possible there are people among them who do great things on behalf of the teachings.  These are things that we ordinary people cannot understand or see. From the outside, it looks like they are not Buddhists, they are not practicing Mahayana but in actuality, it could be someone who is practicing the Buddha Dharma and actually doing the true practice of the Buddha’s teachings. But is difficult for ordinary people to understand this. When someone is actually holding the teachings, it is difficult to include them as we cannot really understand if they are or not.”

Actual upholders of the teachings and pseudo upholders of the teachings – including both as valuable in our communities

So what is a real upholder of the teachings. When we talk about someone who is upholding the teachings, we are talking about someone who within the sphere of our own perception. Someone who when we look at it, we can understand, they are Buddhist and practitioners. These are the people we generally accept to be holders of the teachings and Buddhists. We call them the holders of the teachings.

But there are two types of these people, those who actually uphold the teachings as they say they do, and then there are those who seem from the outside to be practitioners, the pseudo-upholders of the teachings in actuality, they do not really practice the genuine Dharma. There are people like that of course. So for both of them, whether someone is actually holding the teachings or just pretending to do so, whichever they are, we need to consider and include them as people who are upholding the Dharma of the Sutras and Tantras of the vehicles. So both of them need to be included in the upholders of the teachings. The sanghas should include both of these beings. They are the foundation for the teachings.

So of course, the actual upholders of the teachings are so. But for those who are only upholders externally, even though they cannot practice the Dharma, and have only an image of doing so, we should consider they are important and great beings. On the hand, maybe there are some beings who are over-zealous when speaking, but there is no other choice, because on the other hand, they may really be upholding the teachings.

Minor differences among the traditions and the yellow crested hat tradition of the Kagyu as explained by 4th Zhamarpa
Karma Kagyu nuns wearing the yellow crested hats at the Kagyu Monlam in New York in 2018

So when we look at them, there are people of different views, like in the secret mantra traditions there are different ways to pick up the vajra and bell and place them down. Tibet, the different Dharma lineages have different hats and different colours and shape.. Likewise, within the Vinaya, between the lower and Vinaya there are different ways of tying the robes. There are these subtle differences. So even though there is no big difference in the actual Buddha Dharma they are practising. However, when you look at the outside there are some minor differences. Because of this we think they are completely different and separate This is actually a mistake.

Even within the Kagyu, there are a few minor differences but that alone does not make them completely different or separate. If we think there are differences then discord and conflict can arise between the different lineages. The courageous Bodhisattvas when they see these differences, see way for the virtue to increase, they strive very hard to make all the traditions flourish. The reason they do this, is when you have different views and conduct and different styles of hats, that is because sentient beings have different capacities and faculties, so this happens, right? For example, when you wear the Nyingma or Kagyu hats, some people like the way they look. Some people do not like wearing the Kagyu style hat and if you insist they do, then the person feels uncomfortable about it.

4th Zhamarpa, Chodrag Yeshe who wrote a text about the yellow crested hat tradition among the Karmapas and Great Encampment

I remember when we did the Kagyu Monlam and were reforming the conduct and we had a meeting at Gyuto monastery. At that time, Kyabje Vajradhara Tenga Rinpoche was present at Gyuto and representatives of all the different Kagyu monasteries were there and we had a meeting. During the meeting, we spoke about what sort of hats we should wear during the Monlam, I said we should wear the yellow-crested hats and that it would be good to wear them. During the time of the 7th, 8th and 9th Karmapas, there was a tradition of wearing such yellow crested hats during the Garchen (Great Encampment) Monlam. Likewise, the earliest explanation of the crested yellow hats was written by the 4th Zhamar Rinpoche, Chodrag Yeshe and I haven’t seen any earlier than that.

Even when the Gelugpa masters describe the way it is worn, they quote the 4th Zhamar Chodrag Yeshe, so wearing these crested yellow hats is the old Kagyu lineage. When we talk about the history of the yellow hats, it is related to the revival of the Vinaya teachings in Tibet. Since it is related to that history, I thought it was good because it is connected to the revival of the Vinaya. When I said this, no one said anything at that time, but that evening, some of the senior monks came and said: “The yellow hat we should not have to wear that. We should wear the multi coloured Kamtsang hat, this is our own one. The yellow crested one is not so suitable. Many people when they think about it, they think it is related to the Riwo Gendunpa/Gelugpa order.”

However, actually historically it is not like that. So when we speak about it, they get uncomfortable. But despite their insistence, I told them we should wear the yellow crested hat; I said I have explained the reasons and I do not have anything else to say about it.  That time, I had not seen the text by the 4th Zhamar. Later when I did read it, I felt more confident about it, and I said to them: “You should wear them and here is a source to support my saying that.”  I was able to explain it. In any case, because of the different types of students there are the different styles and colours of hats.  Some people like them and some do not. If we want to be completely non-sectarian in spreading the teachings, this is a great way to gather the accumulation of merit.

The greatest virtue of making offerings to the jewel of the sangha

Likewise, if we can provide the sangha of ten directions with provisions for practising Dharma, this is even a greater virtue than making offerings to the Buddhas. The reason for this is because it says that only the sangha are the excellent field the recipients of offerings among the  three jewels. The greatest recipient for offerings is the sangha. The reason why they say they are the best recipient is that when you make an offering there is the merit of doing that and also their accepting the offering. When you make an offering to the Dharma and he Buddha, there is the merit of offering but there is no merit of them are accepting and using. It is taught like that.

The other reason is that practising the Dharma, not related to wrong livelihood, helps to preserve the true Dharma, and supports the activities of great beings who uphold the teachings, and so preserves the lineage of the Buddha’s teachings for a long time. Also, the family line, or line of awareness from the Buddha will not be broken. So it is a great source of powerful virtue. So if we want to preserve the teachings and Dharma for a long time in the world, then we need to make offerings to the jewel of the sangha. This is very important.

On one hand, regarding making offerings to the sangha, as I said before, within the sangha there are people who are actually upholding the teachings who are naturally and truly upholding them. Then, there are people who seem to be upholding the teachings, or both. We should consider both of them to be important it is said. I will get to the reason later. That is what it says in Mikyo Dorje’s own instructions on following his liberation-Story.

Sangye Peldrup says in his commentary on the meaning, that in this age, there are five periods when the degenerations are rampant (degenerate time, lifespan, views,  aims, afflictions).That is one. Likewise, there is also a commentary on the Vinaya Sutras by Vimalamitra, here they are called the five pollutions. It is a different translation from the Sanskrit. So whether we call them five degenerations, or five pollutions, the meaning is the same. It is about a negative time arriving.

So we have these teachings of the three baskets of the scriptures and three trainings, and whether a person is a layperson or monastic, these are generally the four fold community, laypeople and monastics, male and female. Likewise, the representations of the three jewels, statues, monasteries and it is important for all of us to see these objects as important.

Forcing monastics to go to war, and doing hard manual labour for no payment or small gifts
The culture of worldly, sexually abusive monks flourished in Gelug monasteries, where they were known as Dob-dobs. Tashi Tsering spoke of his rape and sexual abuse by such monks in Struggle for Modern Tibet, in which his abuse was shrugged off as a cultural norm.

However, in the past, during the time of Mikyo Dorje’s life, and especially these days, many people do not see them as being important or sacred. Also, at the time of Mikyo Dorje he described how people did not take care of their temples, and they would let them become ruined. The monastics were not allowed to keep the monastic rules. Sometimes they were made to go to war, and this happened a few times in the old days. So we talk about the yellow wars and armies, and they would say to the monks, you have to go to war and fight and would send them into battle. This did happen.

Also, they made them plough fields or fight or work on building temples and houses. In other words, they put the sangha to work. Actually they are supposed to practice the Dharma, yet instead of letting them do that, they put them to work in farming, building houses or fighting in wars and so on. They were given a few small gifts. At that time, as  the life was not very prosperous, when they got small gifts the people at that time had to do whatever the people in power asked them to do, and some people would even have to sacrifice their lives to do it.

So some people in order to appease them, the sponsors Kings would give them very big gifts for very big work, and they would become very attached to these gifts and would totally give up on their body, speech and mind activities of listening, contemplation and meditation and would do whatever the Kings or Lords wanted them to. So the people who actually practised the Dharma properly were as rare as stars in the daytime. When the sun is shining seeing stars are rare right? So that was the situation it was.

 Likewise, there was the old tradition of practice and study, but they did not preserve or maintain them. Also, they would collect some funds for annual and regular pujas, when the Kings or Ministers would give them  to support it, and they would waste it all.  They would seize the funds or resources of other monasteries intended to support pujas, monks and so on and take it for themselves. They would destroy monasteries and there were lots of disputes between the schools and they would take each other’s fields and money. Destroy the temples and take the better pieces of wood and stone and bring it off to their own monastery to fix it up. This happened many times.

In brief, forget about the Dharma, even in worldly terms, we are in a situation where it is almost impossible to find people who are able to remain impartial  and unbiased, even in worldly affairs. So among them the people who consider others as more important than themselves and practice bodhicitta, even if you circumambulated the entire world, you probably would not find anyone.

Practising the Dharma properly is its own protection even during droughts and famine
Effect of drought on land

So it was a terrible time, during Mikyo Dorje’s time when this was said. So, Mikyo Dorje himself saw there was a real decline in Tibet in the teachings, practice or activity. So he had even greater courage and resolve and great compassion. Because of that, unlike most who idle away their time not doing much of real value,  he did not waste much time in laziness. He had a great resolve and devotion for working on behalf on the teachings, So at any time, he was doing something for the sake of beings and teachings and he always worked very hard at it. Among these things he did, he considered that the best method to do this was to practice the Dharma properly as it should be practised. If he was able to practice it himself, of all three vehicles and refrain from all that was contrary to that and give up all the obscurations that should be overcome, then because of that power then people would naturally follow and train in Mikyo Dorje’s example and also become able to practice the Dharma properly.

So at any time, he was always doing something for the sake of beings and teachings and he always worked very hard at it. Among these things he did for the benefit of beings and teachings, the best thing to do he thought was to practice the Dharma properly, as it should be practised. If he was able to practice the Mahayana Dharma himself, of all three vehicles, and refrain from all that was contrary to that, and give up all the obscurations that should be overcome, then because of that then people would naturally follow and train in MD’s example and become able to practice Dharma properly.

If I give an example of this what the Buddha himself said that:

“If my disciples want to practice the Dharma properly, then in the future when there is famine and drought, not even a field the size of your finger nail that you could plant in,  all the fields are destroyed, even at such a time, the monastics who practice the Dharma will not go without food nor go without clothing to wear nor meet with any difficulties.“

So, if you are practising the Dharma. You do not need to worry about that danger of running out of provisions to practice. Even if human beings are unable to provide you with what you need, the Yakshas, local deities and non-human beings will provide them to you, give you food, clothing and so on.  In other words, if you practice authentic Dharma, you do not need to worry about freezing to death or dying of hunger or thirst. Mainly, this is talking about practising the Dharma properly yourself, then we don’t need to have a lot of doubts, hopes or fears. So that is the 29th of the Excellent Deeds.

Verse 30 – the final 500 years and the final period of  ‘merely wearing the robes’

Following this, is Verse 30. In terms of the outline, the 5th section is how he acted in fruitful situations, there are two sections, the first being ‘how he did what is fruitful’.  So if we describe this as it is discussed in Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning, within this is what is called the last five hundred year period. This is related to the duration of the teachings, how long they will remain. There is discussion in the Sutras and Tantras as to how many years the teachings will remain. In the Vinaya it says the teachings would remain for not more than 1000 years, but it does not seem to say they will last for 5000 years, according to the Tibetan Vinaya. There is also a Sutra called the Noble Sutra of Noble Maitreya in the Kangyur, only the Lhasa Kangyur, not the Derge Kangyur, but it is in the Lhasa Kangyur, and I think it was probably translated by the Great Sakya Pandita.

There was also a great commentary on it by Haribhadra. Within his commentaries he states the teachings will remain for 5000 years. This is divided into four main parts, first we have the three periods of results, each period is 500 years long, so that is a total of 1500 years. Then there are the periods for the three trainings, for each of those there are 500 for each, so that is another 1500, and a total of 3000. After that, there are the three periods of the three baskets. These are the Sutra, Vinaya and Abhidharma.  So for each of the baskets, there are 500 years each. So in addition to the 3000 that is 4500 years. Then there is the period of ‘merely wearing robes’, which gives a total of 5000 years that the teachings will remain. It is taught like that.

What is the dividing line for the teachings remaining or not. In the Vinaya, it does give a threshold/measures for whether the teachings are present or not. When the rituals and actions are performed or not, particularly when they are not done earnestly. This is spoken about in the Utarakvranta, one of the Vinaya scriptures:

“Venerable, how long will there be the true Buddha? When will it perish?”

To explain the meaning of this, it is asking when can we say the Buddha Dharma has perished?  The answer the Buddha gave was, as long as the actions and conduct are performed earnestly, then they are present. If the rituals and actions are not done earnestly then the true Dharma has perished. When talking about rituals and actions, this is primarily speaking about the Vinaya practices. In particular, the three basic rituals. has to be practices and it has to be done earnestly, that means people take interest in it and are enthusiastic about it. As long as that is there, then the teachings remain. If we are not doing the three basic practices earnestly, not taking interest or desire to practice them, then we can say the teachings have perished. It is taught like that in the Vinaya.

 So nowadays, when we talk about the last period of 500 years, where are we now?   There are many different explanations of this. However, it has been over 2500 years that the Buddha appeared, in terms of when he was born that cannot be said with total accuracy. Basically, it was around over 2500 years ago. From the time the Buddha passed, there has only been about 2500 years, so in terms of that, we could say we are not yet at that last period, even though some lamas might say we are. It is difficult to say we have reached that period. We need to consider it but I will not say too much about it right now.

Anyway, there is a last period in all the four eras, there is a last period in the period of results, a last period in the three trainings, a last period in the three baskets so we cannot say there is only one last 500 years. So we cannot say the last period has to be the one of ‘merely wearing the robes’. There are three or four last periods. But anyway we have come to that time. In terms of this commentary, it understands it as being the last period of ‘merely wearing the robes’, but it is difficult to say that in relation to Buddha’s passing away. In any case, we have come to the era when it is a mere reflection of the teachings.

So when we have reached that era, it is like not only the actual teachings are not there but even the mere appearance of the teachings is lacking because we have come to an age where monastics are not even wearing monastic robes and wearing lay clothes, and getting into disputes and fights with each other. Likewise the sponsors, when they offer to the sangha, they do not recite the Sutra for Purifying Offerings or make dedications. They do those kinds of negative actions.

They do not recall the qualities of the three jewels even once a month or year. So when we talk about the three jewels, people go many days without even hearing the words the three jewels, this is the situation we have come to now.  Due to that situation, what Mikyo Dorje is saying in his liberation story, is that he always studied the Sutras and Tantras and the commentaries . Because he understood them well, the way he thought was that the Buddha himself, said that in the future, when the authentic Dharma is not there and there is only a mere reflection of the Dharma, when you have come to that time, then you need to uphold that mere reflection and preserve that, and that is like a vast amount of virtue. Even if there is only an image or mere reflection of the teachings, and the sangha is able to keep their precepts and the people appear to be Dharma practitioners, but they are not able to practice Dharma as it should be practised. When it is a mere image or reflection of the teachings, even that mere image of the Dharma it is extremely important to properly protect even this image of the Dharma. If you do this, there is no greater merit than that.

The reason for this is that even if one is unable to practice the teachings properly then the mere reflection of it helps to decrease the afflictions and it helps increase and ripen people’s faculties and capacities and is of great benefit. For this reason, the Buddha himself said even if we cannot practice the actual Dharma and keep all the precepts, if we at least have the appearance of a monastic and can uphold that, then it is of great benefit.

Mikyo Dorje’s ‘List of Actions’ and the establishment of many shedras and retreat centres by 8th Karmapa and his students
Kawagarbo is one of the most sacred mountains for Tibetan Buddhism as the spiritual home of a warrior god of the same name.

The Buddha said this, and Mikyo Dorje understood that Buddha had said this. So he established shedras for studying the three baskets, and he established practice centres to practice the three trainings. Shedras and Practice places were created. So that even if they cannot practice in the same way when the teachings were flourishing, and even if one is not able to establish great nunneries and monasteries, and just the mere image of them is important.

Understanding this, Mikyo Dorje established monasteries for the monastics and provided them with the worldly and Dharma things that they need. Mikyo Dorje himself, had studied with many different lamas and studied Dharma with them and he also taught quite a bit of Dharma and got many students, and these students went to different places and they established new monasteries and sangha communities and so there were many activities that occurred.

Not only that, Mikyo Dorje himself would provide sponsorship and support for communities to study and practice, built centres to do that, and created many statues and representations of the form, speech and mind of the Three Jewels. These are described in Mikyo Dorje’s liberation-stories. The most important  of these texts is one he wrote himself called the List of Actions/Jepai Rab (བཀའ་འབངས་མི་བསྐྱོད་རྡོ་རྗེའི་སྤྱད་པའི་རབས།)[2] it is recorded in his Collected Works. The person who wrote this list down is his direct disciple, Namgyal Drapa, who afterwards became the tutor of the 9th Karmapa. Within that list, he describes the gurus he followed, the students, the monasteries he founded, what representations of body, speech and mind he created. He wrote this all very clearly.

Likewise, there is Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa’s Feast for Scholars, which is well-known. That also describes how Mikyo Dorje built statues and how many monasteries he founded and so on.  Generally, in Feast for Scholars it says that during Mikyo Dorje’s life there were many new monasteries that were built during that time. For example, the King of Jang provided the support and provisions for Gangsang Chode, there was also Drupon Ponpo and he made a new monastery there. Also there was La Lama Yonten Wangchug who built a new monastery. Also, Ngotro Rabjamapa and Sonam Dangyel, built a new monastery. Likewise, in the area of Kawa Karpo, Jampa Gyeltsen built a new monastery. In the region of Treu, in the area of Kham and he built a monastery called Lhungpo Tse, a big monastery. There were many such monasteries, I won’t say all of them. At that time, Mikyo Dorje had his students and sponsors build many Karma Kagyu monasteries. In particular, every year, the King of Jang sent 500 people to Tsang to become monks.

Monasteries and retreat centres established by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje himself

The ones I mentioned before that were founded by students or sponsors of Mikyo Dorje. So now I am speaking about the ones that Mikyo Dorje himself directly provided the support to build these monasteries. There are quite a few shedras and meditation centres. This is in the List of Mikyo Dorje’s Actions,:

Tragzuru Dong Shedra – 250 permanent students

Karma Gatsel Shunglug Ling – 120 sangha members

Thob Gyel Karma Duldra Ling (probably in Tsang) – the Karma Vinaya centre – he made a new shedra and it had 250 members

Dagpo Gokur Karma Gyurme Ling – Dagpo is a region of Tibet. In the area of Gokur, there is a monastery called Karma Gyurme Ling that he founded, he did not say how many sangha members there were.

Dagpo Kurab Karma Shedrub Ling-  this is a shedra that tauht both Sutra and Tantra – 300 members

 Rati  Ganden Ling – a shedra – 300 members

Tongo Rinchen Ling – shedra – doe not say how many members

Gargi Yang Riwa and Gargi Zuriwa – Gar means the Karma Kagyu Great encampment – this had the upper and the lower, the Yangri and the Zuri one.  Yang riwa mainly means the people doing Mahamudra and six yogas and theyhad 250 meditators.  The Zuriwa had  100 meditators. The Yangri and Zuri, if I have time later, I will give an explanation of that.

Kongpo Tse Lhagang – retreat centre –  200 members

Tragtsa Gong – retreat centre – 100 members

Kongpo Nagpu – retreat centre – 100 members

Popo Yamen (also in Kongpo)  – retreat centre – 150 members

Chuwo ri – retreat centre – number not stated

Zhamarwai Gargi Yang Ri. So if we talk about in ancient times, the great Karmapa Garchen was the encampment, and there were the secondary ones.  The Karma and the Gyeltsab encampment, and also other encampments that were secondary. So this was a secondary encampment and that also had a Yangri reteat centre. So in the mediataion centres, there was the Yangriwa and Zuriwa and they had 3 to 400  meditators.

Umar Draka -retreat centre

Gargi Ngagdra -Tantric college. Also, they had a monastic college, which was mainly a place to study the tantras, this was part of the great encampment. It was also a place to study the Sutras. So the great encampment was a very large place, it went to various different places and they would camp in different places and tents, that is why it is called an encampment. So within this great encampment, it had different centres for study and practice, so it was very large.

Shokhar Ngagdra – tantric college – that had over 80 sangha members.

So he established many new shedras and retreat centres, these are not the ones his students and sponsors made,  these were ones Mikyo Dorje provided the sponsorship for himself. Most of them had a minimum of 100 members. The larger ones had 300, there were a few that were larger, as it says in Feast For Scholars Mikyo Dorje was like the union of the activity of all the incarnations of the Karmapas, there were places where the previously had been Karma kagyu monasteries that he spread the Karma Kagyu  teachings there. The place where he was born, Nomchu, there had been a prophecy that the Karmapa teachings would spread there and according to the prophecy Mikyo Dorje was born there  and because of that the KK teachings flourished there.

 Likewise, in Tsang, there were not any Karma Kagyu monasteries before then. It was only when Mikyo Dorje arrived, there had been previous prophecies by the previous incarnations that the teachings would spread in Tsang. So when Mikyo Dorje arrived, the teachings spread in Tsang. Likewise, in the south area there were prophecies the teachings would appear there and that is how the teachings were established in Southern Tibet too. From the time of Mikyo Dorje, there was a great increase in the number of monasteries and it flourished greatly. Likewise, eh also combined together some of the previous Karmapa’s monasteries to make them stronger.

In terms of his works, Karma Pakshi is said to have had in his Collected Works as many volumes as there volumes in the Kangyur. Sometimes in the Kangyur there are 103 or 110 volumes. However, at the time of Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa only 16 volumes remained of Karma Pakshi’s works. However, Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works had over 30 volumes. So he had the most influential activity of his speech.  He had many disciples who gave up on this life. They had perfected their devotion for the guru. Many students were like that. So in terms of them he also had vast activity and unlike that of anyone else. This is how it is explained in Feast For Scholars.

As I mentioned before, in his List of Actions in his Collected Works, it talks about the great masters he studied with, how he made connections of accumulation and purification with them. The teachings he received on the scriptures with them, how many students he had, his teachings and writings. Also, the particular qualities that each of these students had, what statues of the three jewels he made. He lists all of these and this is a very crucial document. You can read it in Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works, it is good to read this. So, Mikyo Dorje himself he established so many monasteries.

Criticisms of Mikyo Dorje as being sectarian for building monasteries etc. and the fact that none of them are left to see, or even hear about now in Tibet

However,  some people would criticise the 8th Karmapa for these activities. They would say “he is only seeing what he can do to only spread the Karma Kagyu teachings and that is not good and that it is an impure idea. Actually, he should try and support the teachings of all the lineages. Why is Mikyo Dorje always promoting the Karma Kagyu teachings and working hard for those? This is a sign he has impure intentions and actions.”

Here what his student Sangye Peldrup says is that when people speak like that, they are only thinking about their own tradition. So what does that mean when they say he is only supporting his own tradition? Mikyo Dorje’s school was about all sentient beings throughout space who have been the same as his own kind mother. He did not divide it into groups saying some are friends and some are enemies, nothing like that. He considered all the beings were on his side and in his group and among his friends. These days, some people act out of attachment and aversion and have resentment about other teachings and lineages. Some people destroy the temples or destroy the supports of body, speech and mind.

Mikyo Dorje said that is not allowed, the best is if there are the true teachings. Even if no one can actually uphold the teachings, then at least there can be some who can uphold  reflection or image of the teachings, that is also important. He was upholding, spreading and propagating Buddha’s teachings and his interest was in that. He did not think he was doing it only for his school. He did not see it like our school and others, Otherwise if you look at the teachings of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, then in Tibet there is a danger that we can say all the lineages  are faulty as they were guilty of spreading and teaching the lineages of their own schools. So, when we uphold teachings of our own tradition, others might think we are doing it only for our own side, and being sectarian, some people think that, but actually he was upholding the teachings of the Buddha. We should not see some as being teachings and some as not. That kind of sectarian view and treatment of the teachings, is acting out of attachment and aversion.

In Mikyo Dorje’s life in the areas of  central Tibet and Kham, he founded himself many monasteries but these days, we cannot see them.  We do not even know or hear about these monasteries, so what happened to them?  In the long period of history there were a lot of changes in Tibetan history. So within that period, many of the monasteries that Mikyo Dorje founded underwent a lot of change and basically none are left. Even if they are left, they are in a different situation than before. If I have time, I will speak about the situation of some of the monasteries, what it was like in the past and what it is like now. I think it will help you better understand the situation and be of educational benefit.”



[1] Tashi Tsering writes in Struggle for Modern Tibet: “They were also notorious for fighting with each other to see who was toughest and for their sexual predation of lay boys. All schoolboys in Lhasa were fair game for these dobdos, and most tried to return from school in groups for protection against them. I knew for some time that I was being pursued and had several close calls. But I was always able to escape until one fateful day when that monk caught me after a gadrugba performance in Lhasa and forcibly took me to his apartment in the monastery. He made me a prisoner, threatening me with beatings if I tried to escape or I refused to cooperate with him sexually. It was distasteful, but he released me after two days. The incident, however, reawakened my ambivalent feelings toward traditional Tibetan society. Once again its cruelty was thrust into my life. I wondered to myself how monasteries could allow such thugs to wear the holy robes of the Lord Buddha. When I talked to other monks and monk officials about the dobdos, they shrugged and said simply that that was just the way things were.” See:

[2]  Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. “Byang phyogs gangs can ʼdi na karma pa rim par byon las bdun pa rang byung ni kun mkhyen chos rjeʼi slob mar gyur ʼgaʼ yi bkaʼ ʼbangs mi bskyod rdo rjeʼi spyad paʼi rabs.” gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje, vol. 1, 2004, pp. 353–90. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),

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