A TIBETAN TRAVESTY: DESTRUCTION AND APPROPRIATION OF KARMA KAGYU/8TH KARMAPA’S MANY MONASTERIES: Reasons why 8th Karmapa newly established many colleges and retreat centres, disrespect of his activities by Sakya teacher, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, and case study of the Karma Kagyu Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling college and its stolen/forced conversion into Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling monastery by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug

‘A real friend will tell you when your face is dirty.”

“For two or three centuries the Kagyu shedras had been torn down, and the transmissions on the teachings of the great texts were lost. Later, in Kham, monastic colleges were established in Palpung and Zurmang but due to the thirteen [Gelug] great monasteries they were unable to teach the texts of the 7th or 8th Karmapa.  Because of this, forget about other schools, even within the Kagyu followers, we did not know we had these commentaries on the five great texts. They did not know, so we cannot blame ourselves for this.”

“The main point here is that during the time of Mikyo Dorje in Tibet he founded many monastic shedras of Sutras and Tantras, and practice retreat centres, but not one of these centres remains, right? There were no places left where they could continue to uphold the Karma Kagyu tradition….So now, within our Karma Kamtsang we again have established monastic colleges, and we have the texts that we have been unable to study for many hundreds of years, whether it was written by the 8th or 7th Karmapa, or the 3rd Karmapa or by other Karma Kagyu masters. The texts were very rare but now they are more available.” –17th Karmapa (Day 8, Spring 2023 teachings)

“In the Iron-Hare year, the lings [colleges/land] of the Karma Kamtsang were transferred to Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling.” —5th Dalai Lama

Introduction and Analysis

On Day 8 of the Spring Teachings the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, continued from Day 7, when he described in detail the many monastic colleges and retreat centres created by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje and his students, and explored first the two main reasons the 8th Karmapa created them, as well as some of the criticisms he faced from other lineage masters, such as the Sakyapa, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso for doing so and trying to ‘compete’ with Sakya and Gelug studies. The 17th Karmapa defended the 8th Karmapa, saying that such views were unfair and that both the 7th Karmapa and 8th Karmapa had written amazing philosophical commentaries and texts on the Sutras and Tantras, not to compete but to ensure that the Kagyu monastics and followers had a good education, as both study and practice are essential.

This was followed by a highly educational teaching on how since the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug and Mongolian violent takeover of Tibet, none of the many 8th Karmapa colleges and centres were left remaining, and of the few that were, they had been forcibly converted to Gelug monasteries.  Taking the case study of one of the best Karma Kagyu shedras set up by the 8th Karmapa, Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling, which had luminous, brilliant teachers like Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa and students and teachers of the 9th and 10th Karmapas,  the 17th Karmapa explained in detail in ten points the origin of the Kagyu shedra from travelling with the great encampment to becoming permanently established in Yartho, Tibet. Culminating in the ‘disappearance’ of this great shedra and its apparent takeover/appropriation by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug into one of the thirteen great monasteries of Gelugpa: Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling. In fact, it is said that over 40 Kagyu monasteries were taken over by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelugpa during that time.

In my own opinion, listening to this teaching, although I was aware of  the more independent accounts of what the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug did in Tibet to Tibetans, and continued that ‘political and cultural domination’ right up until the Chinese communist invasion, and into exile, I was filled with a deep sadness and shock at how all these brilliant new Karma Kagyu property, land monasteries and shedras had been completely wiped out or appropriated/stolen.  More and more research is coming out on this horrific period of Tibetan history, such as this excellent research paper by scholar Dr. Cecile Ducher, in Goldmine of Knowledge: The Collections of the Nechu Lhakhang in Drepung Monastery [1] describing the enormous amount of Kagyu texts only recently discovered in the big Gelug monastery of Drepung. Also, as I wrote about before here, also regarding the Gelug/Mongol invasion of other places, such as Ladakh and how that led to the banning of the Dalai Lamas/Gelug in Bhutan.

Honestly speaking, if it were any other country, such actions would normally result in some demand for returning all the land and stolen property and making reparations for the major losses. In any case, the Gelugpas have never publicly stated any regret, or acknowledgement of wrongs during that historical period, and many stick to the one-sided account of the ‘victors’ that they needed to do all of that to unify Tibet. Nonetheless, that culture of unification and extreme patriarchal monasticism, exemplified by the “Dob-Dob” phenomena (as revealed by Tashi Tsering in his book Struggle for a Modern Tibet), surely is now questionable, as it has been unable to get any freedom for Tibetans in Tibet the whole time the 14th Dalai Lama/Gelug have been ruling in exile. In addition, the fact the 17th Karmapa (recognised by the Chinese government and also fluent in Chinese) has been unable to travel freely to India and other countries and Kagyu monasteries, since he came into exile should be a cause of major concern, yet where are the people protesting about that?

In fact, even worse, an objective observer might say that the Chinese government seem to have a particular loathing or resentment to the Dalai Lama institution and power culture in Tibet. That is not to justify the Chinese invasion or violence, but any Buddhist who believes in karma, as we all should do, must surely be wondering what is the karmic cause that led the Chinese to act this way towards the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan ruling powers? Dare anyone even think that it might be what the Dalai Lamas/Gelug did in Tibet to Tibetans themselves from the 17th Century onwards? With the recent Dalai Lama incident with the Indian boy, which the vast majority of independent-minded people outside of Tibet/Tibetan Buddhism agree was highly ‘inappropriate’ for a variety of reasons, perhaps now it is time to re-assess the continuing ‘powerhold’ the Dalai Lama/Gelug have over Tibet and Tibetans.  One thing seems clear, the Chinese will never give real freedom and autonomy to Tibetans in Tibet while the 14th Dalai Lama/Gelug are still the driving force in Tibetan exile [2].

In any case, whatever the causes and conditions, the facts remain that the Dalai Lamas/Gelug  forcefully converted, destroyed and ruined many Karma Kagyu (and Nyingma and Jonang) monasteries in Tibet during that time and sealed and banned the use and printing of their texts, which are only seeing the light of day in the 21st Century. As the 14th Dalai Lama himself has said, he sees Mao Zedong as one of his greatest teachers. Perhaps Tibetans too need to follow his example (and advice) on that and look closer in their own backyard, and the teaching of what has happened, instead of only blaming the Chinese as being the ‘bad guys’ and the Tibetans the ‘good guys’. Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism are far bigger than the Dalai Lama/Gelug. As the Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya himself states, pre-Chinese invasion Tibetans lived like unpaid serfs working for the feudal theocracy without pay or basic human rights. As a friend and someone who cares and loves Tibet and Tibetans, perhaps the real travesty of justice is not the most obvious one, but one right in their own backyard that still has not been looked at properly and cleaned up? As Gedun Chophel wrote in 1946 (who was treated very badly by the Gelug/Ganden government for his open critique of their religious and institutional power in Tibet): “In Tibet, everything that is old, is a work of Buddha. And everything that is new, is a work of the Devil. This is the sad tradition of our country.”

This is just my opinion, and was not one expressed by the 17th Karmapa verbally, however, the fact the 17th Karmapa chose in his great wisdom and experience to teach about this monastery, says it all. So be careful not to shoot the messenger, as you might miss the message. As Thomas Merton said: “Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

Music? Karmapa Khyenno by Dawa Tsona, Blowin’ in The Wind by Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine’s  Know Your Enemy and On the Run (II) Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Dedicated to the long-life and health of the 17th Karmapa and his swift return to India and flourishing of his vast and beneficial Dharma activities.

Written and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 3rd May 2023.

8th Karmapa’s Excellent Deeds
17th Karmapa – Day 8, Spring 2023 Teaching

“Yesterday, I was not able to do the teaching, I have not been able to sleep more than 5-6 hours per night and it is not easy to sleep at night. Today, my voice has also lost some of its power. So the teachings have been changing quite a bit and maybe some of you are thinking I am just doing whatever I want. However, I have been extremely busy with too much work. Preparing for the teaching, and other situations have meant being very busy an too much work. That is why I have been unable to teach. So I ask you all to be patient and forgiving.

Yesterday, was Bokar Yangsi Rinpoche’s 17th Birthday, so I would like to wish him a happy birthday and wish him a long life, and that his activities may flourish and I would like to thank his attendants and Khenpo Donyo Rinpoche, all those who look after him and help him study and so on. In particular, the parents of Bokar yangsi and those who are close to him and serve him.

In the Excellent Deeds we are in the 31st Excellent Deed. However, I will not continue with the text today. Yesterday I spoke about the many new monasteries and Dharma centres that 8th Karmapa established. In particular there were many ‘Tsenyi shedra’ (study centres for debate) and ‘Ngagi shedra’ (tantric study centres) that he newly established.

Not only that, the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje was the sponsor who provided the money and resources to build them.  When we say Mikyo Dorje sponsored them, it does not necessarily mean he did it with his own hands. When building a new monastery or shedra, there is the person who offered the land. Not like these days when one has to buy the land,  it was offered to communities.  Then when building the temple on the land one needs expenses to do that, right? There are people who sponsor that, if not the great Encampment would give money for that.

Then within the temples there are the expenses for the monastics. You need someone with a little bit of power like the King, the lord of the land who can support the monastics. As I said before, the King of Jang would send 500 monks every year. Those kinds of people who send people to be monastics. For that reason, When building a monastery, especially a monastic shedra, one needs a lot of internal and external resources and conditions to come together, right? Inside the temples, they also need the representations of the body, speech and mind and the sangha community within it.

At that time, we need to pay attention to the fact that the 8th Karmapa was different than the previous Karmapas In terms of primarily building philosophical shedras and taking a lot of interest in that. So during his lifetime, the philosophical colleges spread greatly.


There are two main reasons Mikyo Dorje had a great interest in building the shedras:

  1. The way Mikyo Dorje thought about it
  2. The way it was seen by other schools/people
Slide by 17th Karmapa, Day 8, Spring 2023 Teachings
  1. The way Mikyo Dorje thought about it
Tai Situ, Jangchub Gyeltsen

First, what was Mikyo Dorje’s thinking about it? What do we need to know about that? If we ask when did the first Dagpo Kagyu shedra for debate arise? It was in the 14th Century, Tai Situ Jangchub Gyeltsen Kongpo, in the area Podrowa in Kongpo. It was called Tsethanggi Chodra. This was probably the first philosophical shedra in the Dagpo Kagyu. Later, if I have the time I will speak about it, but I do not need to say more today.

The 7th Karmapa and the founding of the first Karma Kagyu shedra
7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso

If we ask who was the first person in the Karma Kamtsang to establish a shedra college? It was 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso. What was the reason that the 7th Karmapa established such a college? The 7th Karmapa wrote about his reasons for establishing it in his Charter for Thugchen Monastery, I believe this is from that:

7th Karmapa’s Charter for the Thugchen Monastery (Slide by 17th Karmapa, Day 8)

The concise meaning is this: those who study and contemplate are denigrated by those who practice, they are disrespected and put down by them. However, those who study and contemplate also put down those who practice only, whenever possible they disrespect them. Thus, as the Buddha’s teachings depend on both teachings and practice, this kind of thing may end up destroying the Buddha’s teachings.

So when the practitioners don’t like the people who study, and vice versa it will destroy the teachings and as 7th Karmapa found this unbearable, he founded the monastic college for study. It was mainly studying the common sciences and the baskets of the three scriptures. However, if you study based on the Tibetan texts, in Tibet there are various ways of the Tibetan scholars teaching, and then if we accept one, it becomes the basis of discord and for feeling attachment and aversion. For that reason, they studied the Indian texts and Indian commentaries. If there were no commentaries then the 7th Karmapa would compose one himself. So first one would enter the shedra and finish the study, then after completing studies, one would do practice of the essence. That is the primary procedure he established. That is the concise meaning.

In brief, the reason the 7th Karmapa established the monastic shedras was to spread the teachings of the Buddha on study and realisations. In order to hold and spread them one needs teachings and practice. If the teaching and practice are separated that is not good, they must be studied and practiced in union. If one studies only the Tibetan texts, as there are many differing opinions among Tibetan scholars,  it could create sectarianism and for that reason it is important to study only the Indian texts, he taught that.

So when the 7th Karmapa established the first shedra, he wanted the study and practice to be equal. As prior to that, in the Karma Kamtsang the practice had been emphasised and there was not a great interest in the study so much. Also, as in Tibet there were various disagreements among the schools, he wanted to find ways to resolve that and avoid sectarianism. So the first person to establish a shedra for the Sutras and debate in the Karma Kamtsang was the 7th Karmapa.

Karma Trinleypa and the establishment of Legshe Ling and Kunkhyen Pema Karpo and Drugpa Kagyu
Drugpa Kagyu master, Pema Karpo

Afterwards, one of his students was Karma Trinleypa and he established the shedra called Legshe Ling, in Nubra. After finishing the Legshe Ling shedra, there were many well-known scholars who graduated from it, such as the Gampo lineage holder, Dagpo Tashi Namgyal. Also Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1566) [3] also studied at Legshe Ling it is said.  So not only the 7th Karmapa founded the first college but his students also had a great benefit and influence for the study and practice, including Karma Trinleypa.

Also, not only in the Karma Kamtsang, in the Drugpa Kagyu there was Kunkhyen Pema Karpo who also established a shedra. Before building the shedra, in the Drugpa Kagyu area, some monks they did not understand the reason for establishing such a shedra. Some said “You are changing the Drugpa Kagyu school. it was not like that before, you are changing it!” Some critics said that. This is spoken about quite a bit in the liberation- stories of Pema Karpo. I won’t speak about that today.

The reason 8th Karmapa took great interest in creating study centres

So the first shedra was established by 7th Karmapa and the next was by his student, Karma Trinleypa. In terms of the person who did most to extend and improve the study of the teachings and spread them widely was the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. The reason the 8th Karmapa took such a great interest in study, is as he wrote about himself in his Charter for the Gatsal Karma Shunglug Ling:

Quote from the 8th Karmapa’s Charter for the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling

This is the charter for when it was within the Great Encampment. This is one of the more important shedras founded by Mikyo Dorje. At the beginning, the Gatsal was in the Great Encampment and travelled with it, then later it settled permanently in one place and was called Gatsal Karma Zhunglug Ling.

So what it says in this text, in terms of the concise meaning I will explain the main point of it. During the earlier parts of the lives the previous Karmapas, they studied the three trainings and then practised in remote places. In that way, they accomplished the practice lineage without any stains.  Later, due to the times, the essence of the teachings of the Dagpo Kagyu weakened, and in actuality the scholarly individuals who have karmic fortune to enter the definitive meaning teachings and practice of Mahamudra are fewer and fewer. But there are greater numbers of people on the excellent path with doubts who want to examine the texts intellectually and logically. Those kinds of people are increasing. So as a result, there are many people inside and outside the Kagyu teachings who have many misunderstandings and misconceptions of them. Thus, the 7th Karmapa wrote long commentaries on the tradition of the Ocean of Literature on Objects (Rigzhung Gyatso) which explains the commentary on  validity and other texts on validity. Then his student, Karma Trinleypa similarly wanted to benefit students in a similar manner, with a thousand teachings of study. Thus, the 8th Karmapa said, “I also became the student of that master, Karma Trinleypa. Thus I have tried to benefit beings by working with philosophical texts. For those who study them, I have provided them with livelihood and in order to make it meaningful I have built these sangha places.” That is the brief meaning.

Likewise, 8th Karmapa also wrote his own Autobiography at Namtho mountain (Namtho riwa), I will read it:

Quote from 8th Karmapa’s liberation story Namtho Mountain

I will read it. “The 7th Karmapa said that “In this life I am not accomplished in a single verse of Sutras, so for fools such as this to promise to teach in the next life is to rouse courage. So, I was 18, I established a shedra, and when I was 27, I established and maintained Sutra shedras. Then I taught as much as I could of the Dharma and Sutras to the sangha, Dupa Gyatso.”

 There are two examples of this life-story the words are slightly different but the meaning is the same. The main point is during the first part of the 7th Karmapa’s life he was able to establish a shedra and  wrote commentaries on the validity, Ocean of Literature (rigshung Gyatso) and  about the prajnaparamita, Tsomdru Lupa, Jigten Sumgon and so on. He composed them but, in that life, he was unable to give teachings on the Sutras. So he made the promise that in his next life, he would teach on the Sutras, and teach others the extensive meaning of the Sutras. For that reason, when Mikyo Dorje was 27 years old, he established more shedras and gave many endless teachings, on Sutras and Tantras. So in summary, on one hand, he established the shedras and taught the Sutras, and the other point is the promise of 7th Karmapa that he wanted to fulfil.

Because of 8th Karmapa establishing these shedras and teaching on the Sutras and Tantras, his students who completed their studies there, also went on to become Rabjampas. How do we know this? The 8th Karmapa wrote about it in List of Actions:

Quote from Mikyo Dorje’s List of Actions (Jepai Rab)

The main point is previously in the Kagyupa there were a few people called Rabjampas, this means people who have completed their studies. These days, we have a Rabjampa certificate, if you go to the big monastic colleges, they have Geshe Lharampas. Similarly, we have Rabjampas, there were not many Rabjampas in the Karma Kagyu before that. Here he says, these days, in all the Karma Kagyu monasteries, this probably means the Karmapa’s monasteries, I think it means all the new shedras established. Among those students who had completed their studies in those shedra, and who had at least over 50 students who achieved that level of Rabjampa accomplishment, he says.

Another thing we need to pay attention to, is that 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje not only founded monastic colleges for the study of philosophy and sutras, he also founded several tantric colleges, where one could study the tantras. Within these he spread the teachings and practice of tantra. What he says in List of Actions is:

“Previously, the practice of tantra was not so complicated or sophisticated, but these days, whether talking about the practitioners or those in the tantric colleges, there is a lot of study of Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamāja, Hevajra, Vairocana, Yamantaka, Mahakala, Asagara Vajrabhara and Kalacakra yogas. There are new and even better traditions and study of the mandalas, dance and geometries of the mandalas and so on. So, I have established this new tradition of studying the tantras.”

The importance of both study and practice
Acharya Vasubhandu

If we summarise this, later within Tibetan Buddhism, we talked about the distinctions of the lineages of study and practice were divided into two parts, the lineage of study and practice. For example, in the Sakya and Gelugpa, had the transmission of the lineage of study and were primarily that of the lineage of study. The Kagyu and Nyingma were mainly practice lineages, this is what is commonly said.

If we look at the actual history among the Sakya and Gelug, there were quite a lot of great scholars but there were also many great siddha practitioners. This is very clear in the history. However, when you talk about the transmission of the lineage of study and practice, it’s basically a distinction based on the degree of emphasis. The practice lineage mainly emphasises the teachings on practice, and the transmission of study emphasises the study.  The degree of emphasis is different. That is not to say that the shedrapas had no interest in practice, or vice versa. Thinking like that would be a great mistake. This is not just what I am saying, it is what all of the great masters of the past said. It’s a huge mistake actually.

The reason it is so mistaken is as the Acharya Vasubhandu said, the teachings of Buddha Dharma is twofold in scripture and realisation, and can only be upheld by those who both teach and accomplish them. What this is saying is that the teachings of Buddha are combined in the teachings of scripture and realisation. In order to spread the teachings of scripture, you need to understand and study them. In order to develop realisation you need to practice it. So these two cannot be separated. They are of the same and equal in importance.

So saying ‘only study is important, and practice is not important; or only practice is important and study is not important.’ it is not like that at all. Whether it is a Dharma activity or a worldly one, there is a sequence of steps. What you do first and then do later. Such as when making food, first you need to know how to cook, after that, then you need to buy all the ingredients for what you will make, then you need to actually cook the food. It is like that. In order to practice you need to know how to practice, and if you do not know that, then you are not able to do the practice.

For that reason, there is just a difference in sequence and there is no difference in the importance between study and practice. For that reason, Gampopa said that: “Beginners should listen and contemplate earnestly.” Beginners just beginning to enter the Dharma, it is really important for them to engage in listening and contemplation to realise what they do not know and to learn what they did not know. Once having learned something, and incorporated that in your mind, and gained the understanding and become stable, is then one should practice with earnest. This is what Gampopa said.

Likewise, Dusum Khyenpa said something similar, he said: Prajna/Wisdom is very important. The wisdom of studying anything at all is not necessary. For wisdom what do we need? What you need for wisdom of listening is to be able to recognise the afflictions. The wisdom of contemplation means being to suppress the afflictions. The wisdom of meditation one must be able to completely eradicate the afflictions. If it is just studying wisdom /prajna without those things, it is not beneficial, one just becomes clever.

So, what this view is that Mikyo Dorje also had the idea that people who enter the Kagyu teachings, first study the texts of Sutra and Tantra properly, in order to establish the right view. Then in the end, they had to meditate on the meaning they had studied, in isolated places, caves and so on, in order to gain experience. They had to follow the traditions of their Kagyu forefathers, just as a child has the inheritance of their parents. In other words, the do the study and practice together. That is the vast intention the 8th Karmapa had in mind. That is how Mikyo Dorje thought about establishing monastic colleges.

  1. The way others saw it – such as the disrespectful views of Sakya master, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso
Tsarchen Losal Gyatso ( ཚར་ཆེན་བློ་གསལ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་, ) (1502-1566)

 The second point about the reason for the creation of these Karma Kagyu centres, was due to how the Karma Kagyu were seen by other schools. There are many different things and I would like to give an example, like Tsarchen Losal Gyatso described it in one of his liberation-stories.  So there is little bit in his life-story how Tsarchen Losal Gyatso thought about Mikyo Dorje’s activities and intention in establishing monasteries.

First, we need to understand who was Tsarchen Losal Gyatso ( ཚར་ཆེན་བློ་གསལ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་, ) (1502-1566). Within the Sakya there are three main traditions, Ngor, Tsar, Sa, and he was one of the most important upholders and sources of the Tsar tradition of the Sakya. He was a disciple of Kungpang Doringpa Chenpo (ཀུན་སྤང་རྡོ་རིང་པ་ཆེན་པོ་, 1449-1524) and was  a great scholar and practitioner, however, he acted more like a siddha than a scholar. He initially entered the Gelugpa monastery, Tashi Lhungpo and took his novice vows from the 2nd Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso and his name Losal Gyatso was in fact given to him by the 2nd Dalai Lama. Later, he injured his leg and in order to heal it he went to Gendun Gyatso’s Sakyapa lama, Doring Kungpangpa. He was told to go and see him by Gedun Gyatso. When he arrived in front of Doringpa, he felt a lot of faith in him and became a Sakyapa.

Now among the Sakyapas, there were three learned in Sutras, three learned in Tantras and three learned in both, as they say. In the Sutras, Yak, Zhon, Rong; in the tantras Ngor, Dzong, Sa;  in both were Go, Sha, Dag.  So among the three learned in tantras, one of them is Tsarchen Losal Gyatso he was not an ordinary person.

He studied Dharma with many different teachers, including Karma Trinleypa. He had two great disciples who were like the sun and moon, one of them was Khyentse Wangchug, the other was Mangtö Ludrup Gyatso. Later during the time of the 3rd Dalai Lama, Gyatso Sonam, the 3rd Dalai Lama also studied with him. The 5th Dalai lama also studied from the lineage of Tsarchen’s disciples. Not only did he study from that, the 5th Dalai Lama also wrote a biography of Tsarchen. I will not say a lot about that.

What it says in his own autobiography, is that when he came to the Treu, this is a place where there is a Sakya monastic college, it was said to be at the same time that Mikyo Dorje arrived. This is Zhu Nyimo, this is a Sakya name, came to the area of Zhu. At that time he went there, other people were subjects of the Lord of Ripung and he said we all have to welcome him.  The Lord of Ripung said that to all his subjects. When he said that, all the Lords and teachers of Treu, they made grand preparations and thought: “The Karmapa is coming” and they were happy and excited as they prepared.

However, Losal Gyatso himself thought, “we don’t have much a of connection, why do you have such faith and excitement? It is not important.” That is the way he thought. He met many people and everyone he met said: “Have you met the Karmapa?” And he replied, “The Karmapa, there is a danger that he is a great being.” He said those words ‘there is a danger he is a great being’ actually [17th Karmapa laughs].

He said: “From what I have heard from others is that the Karmapa originally comes from one of Gampopa’s three main students, the three from Kham, in particular, from Dusum Khyenpa, Khampa Usey. However, what they really should be doing is serving the transmission of the practice lineage of the Indian master Maitripa and the Tibetan lineage of, Marpa  and Milarepa. There is this practice lineage, and that is what they should primarily do. But these days, he does not do that and he is doing work that is “like leaving a stupa that needs painting black, and painting a rock that does not need it, white.”  This is saying that you have a stupa you need to whitewash it. If instead we forget about it and whitewash a rock cliff, it is pointless, you are not doing what you should do and doing what does not need do.  So Tsarchen said: “he is doing things he does not need to do and he cannot compete with the Sakya and Gelugpas but it seems like he is trying to. Studying philosophy, grammar. poetry and teaching the tantras and so on. There is not a whole lot of point to his teachings. They are not really of any value and there a lot of them.”  So he was saying these strange things. Also: “Likewise, what I have heard, is that he has a lot of relations with worldly ministers and officials and does a lot of actions that increase the eight worldly concerns, I have heard that. Likewise, he disregards and throws away the gurus of his lineage and their scriptures.”

Here he is probably talking about how Mikyo Dorje gave up on the Zhentong view, and practised primarily the Rangtong views. So he is saying that Mikyo Dorje is criticising the ones who were a bit better in the Karma Kagyu. Also he said:  “he takes all the best scholars and attendants and takes them along with himself. So, I feel from the bottom of my heart, no faith for Mikyo Dorje .”  That is the main point.  In any case, what he is saying is that Mikyo Dorje should be teaching the practice but he does not do that. Instead he does things he does not need to, like founding shedras and so on and that he does not feel any respect or need for that.

The 17th Karmapa’s view on why Mikyo Dorje established the shedras
17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Photo by James Gritz.

The way I think about it, my own opinion, I have already spoken about Mikyo Dorje’s thoughts. The reason I think he took such interest in study, thinking about it from all different angles. At that time, there were many Sakya and Gelug philosophical colleges. I don’t think he was trying to compete with them, or to imitate them. That is probably not how it was. The reason for that is because is on one hand, during the time of the Kagyu forefathers, they really focused one-pointedly on practice, there were quite a few who had that great fortune to strive like that on practice. Later, within the Kagyu and other schools, as the teachings gradually deteriorated and the people who had that karmic fortune, diligence, faith and prajna to be able to do that became fewer and fewer.

Another situation is that within the Kagyu and other lineage schools, there were many people who had misconceptions and misapprehensions and doubts about the Kagyu Dharma and lineage. They were affected by these doubts, and so for this reason, it was extremely important, within the Kagyu itself or the way it seen by members of other lineages, to increase and improve the education of understanding and realisation became very important.

Looking at it from another perspective, for Mikyo Dorje to increase the spread of the teachings of study was actually different from others. The reason it was different from others is, as we can see in his Collected Works,  there are many stories that he really valued such as the works of Kadampa masters such as Potowa’s Blue Notebook (Pigung Ngonpo) and Long Soliloquy (Chilab Ringmo). Likewise, he also had the writings of the early Kagyu and Kadampaa masters, Marpa and Milarepa, Gampopa, Phagmo Drupa, Jigten Sumgon and so on.  So the early Kadampa and early Kagyu masters, he considered these really important.

Not only that, he engaged in listening, contemplation and study and teaching of them to a great degree. He also wrote many different commentaries. When talking about Sutras and Tantras, he always emphasised the view of the Kagyu forefathers. In particular, there was the Single Intent (Gong Chig) treatise of Jigten Sumgon’s and he called this the philosophical school of the Dagpo Kagyu. During his own life, Mikyo Dorje studied and taught the Single Intent frequently. In his Collected works, there are four volumes on the Single Intent alone. For these reasons, we can see that for Mikyo Dorje to spread the teachings of study was not merely an imitation of other lineages and certainly not to compete with other lineages. [For more on the 8th Karmapa and Single Intent by Jigten Sumgon, see here.] It was not competing out of any kind of pride.

As Tai Situ Jangchub Gyeltsen said in his last testament, when he talked about the purpose of establishing the monasteries at the same time, he said: “in the past, during the time of Dezheg Phagmo Drupa, he was both a scholar and an accomplished siddha. During later times, many of us did not emphasise study at all. For this reason, people started criticising us as stupid, ignorant meditators who know nothing. Everyone was disparaging them. For this reason, the Dharma was not seen as effective and nor were the people. This s a fault that happened and so for that reason I established the Tsethang shedra” he said.

So if the Kagyupas do not study, then from one perspective, they do not know their own selves. This is one situation that occurs. Another, is that other people will criticise them as not knowing anything and like marmots staying up in hermitages in the mountains, who spend four or five months hibernating/sleeping in the winter. People would criticise them heavily. So there was a point when there was no choice but to study and engage in teachings, where they had to do it, but it was nothing to do with competing with other lineages.

From another perspective, when you don’t understand and teach the special and unique views and instructions of the Dagpo Kagyu, and leave the pith instructions in notebooks next to your pillow. We need to be able to explain them as they accord with the words of the Buddha and the scriptures. If you can teach them in this way, then they become a great contribution to Buddhism in general and they become a way down the path of general Buddhism. And become something we can speak about and discuss with others. If you are unable to explain that, then you may say that they are great pith instructions but other people will  not understand or explain them. So when this occurred it brought a lot of difficulties. Thus, Mikyo Dorje did not just establish the colleges and say you should teach the texts, he also emphasised the views of the Kagyu forefathers. He explained them in ways that fit with the Buddha’s words and the meaning of the great texts. This is a great contribution.

If we think about it in the present day, Mikyo Dorje’s works are considered very important and sacred, this is becoming clearer. These days, we have in the Karma Kagyu, the fact we have texts on the root texts is because of the 7th and especially 8th Karmapa, and because of Pema Karpo. There is not much of anything else. If they had not written them. if the 8th Karmapa had not written his commentaries on the great texts, then these days, even if we established a shedra, we would not have any texts to study. You have to have a basis before you can study.  We would have that difficulty, there were a couple of centuries and only now are we beginning to see the inconceivable kindness and benefit that Mikyo Dorje had, and we can take interest in this.

16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje with several well-known Karma Kagyu lineage holders

For example, in the 1990s, the 16th Karmapa had re-printed the texts of Mikyo Dorje. Previously there were not many prints of them in Tibet, and so they came from India into Tibet. Then there were a few Kagyu scholars who studied them, not so many and they were delighted by them. They felt like it had a great effect on their minds. The people from the other Dharma lineages were also amazed. Thinking “Is it possible that you Kagyupas have texts like that? Is it possible, you have them?”  They were amazed. many Khenpos said that to me. It is understandable.

For two or three centuries the Kagyu shedras had been torn down, the transmissions on the teachings of the great texts were lost. Later, in Kham monastic colleges were established in Palpung and Zurmang but due to the thirteen great monasteries they were unable to teach the texts of the 7th or 8th Karmapa.  Because of this, forget about other schools, even within the Kagyu followers, we did not know we had these commentaries on the five great texts. They did not know, so we cannot blame ourselves for this.

In any case, that is what Tsarchen Losal Gyaltsen said, that is just one illustration and there are many other examples like that. That Kagyupas are like that, it is the karma of the Kagyupas. From one perspective, the Kagyu had studied philosophy and were criticised for competing with Sakya and Gelug, saying: “Oh you do not take responsibility as a practice lineage.” Yet, if we do not study, then they say, “Oh those Kagyupas, and Mahamudras are like idiot meditators, like Marmots who live in the mountain.” In the end, whatever the Kagyu do, they get criticised for it.  This is the karma of the Kagyu lineage. There is not much that can be done about it. In any case, Mikyo Dorje founded many monastic colleges for sutras and tantras.

The origin of the  Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling college

Next, I want to speak about the origins of the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling. Mikyo Dorje  had founded many monastic and tantric colleges. Among them this is a representative of how he founded this particular monastery. When I speak about it, in order to make it easier I have summarised it into 10 main points:

  1. How Mikyo Dorje founded the shedra 
2nd Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa

The first point is how he founded the shedra. In both the Feast of Scholars by Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa and Kamtsang Tsendon  they say it was founded in the Water-Dragon year, in 1532, in the 10th Tibetan month. When Mikyo Dorje  and the Great Encampment were staying at Tawa Tsekung in Kongpo. And while they were staying there, there were ten monks from the Nubra Legshey Ling, as I mentioned before that was the first Karma Kamtsang shedra founded by Karma Trinleypa. Among them there were scholars such as Rinchen Lingpa, Rabjampa Sangye Yeshe and so on. There were these ten different scholars who invited for that. These ten spiritual friends were like the foundation.

In addition, to that Mikyo Dorje  had also many scholars in his entourage who were studying with him including Ngari Rabjampa, Choglam Lengpa, Khampa Rabjampa Senge Zangpo, Kugi Rabjampa Dedon and so on. In this way, there were over 20 scholarly Rabjampas and spiritual friends. They were like the foundation of creating a shedra within the Kagyu Great Encampment called the Karma Zhunglug Ling. As I said before, this is in the encampment that would travel to different places, and camp there in tents (gar) they did not stay permanently in a location. So the Karma Zhunglug Ling also went with the Great Encampment. So the encampment was like the mother that they all travelled together with. There were the secondary encampments within that, like the Zhamarpa encampment, and the Gyaltsab encampment and so on. These were separate ones that travelled together with the main one.

At the time they were initially founding the Karma Zhunglug Ling college, the main teacher is not exactly written. It is not clear, but it is probably one of the first among the ten different scholars from the Nubra Legshe Ling.  So probably the scholar Rinchen Legpa was the first main teacher at the Karma Zhunglug Ling, some people say this. So later, that same scholar Rinchen Legpa went to Kham and at Minyag, he founded a monastic college called Rati Ganden Ling. There he taught the five great texts. These days, Rati Ganden Ling is still there in Minyag. I have seen a short history of it and what it says in that short history, is that later a Mongol army came and destroyed the Rati Ganden Ling monastic college. These days, it is said to uphold the secret mantra teachings of Nyingma lineage.  In any case, Khenchen Rinchen Legpa was among the many Rabjampas who were Mikyo Dorje’s great disciples and  was  one who did the most for the teachings and beings.

  1. Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa as the Teaching Acharya of the shedra

In 1533, of the water-snake year of the 9th Tibetan month, the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje gave Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa a statue of himself that was made of precious materials and a manuscript that Mikyo Dorje had written himself of the great Vinaya commentary he had written. Also,  a silk embroidered lion cushion, there was an lion embroidered on it. So, he gave these three gifts, and told him “you are a scholar because of the connections from your previous aspirations”, and appointed him as the teaching acharya for the Karma Zhunglug Ling. This is also clearly explained in Pawo Trengwa’s own autobiography, the Mirror of Reflecting in the Confused Phase (Trulpai Shelong).

From then on, until 1537, for a period of 5 years, Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa was the teaching acharya of this shedra, and he taught the five great texts of Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, Abhidharma as well the profound inner meaning, Hevajra and the Sublime Continuum, as well as grammar and other sciences. He helped develop many Rabjampa scholars who taught the sutras and tantras. That is the topic of Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa being the teaching acharya of the Karma Zhunglug Ling shedra.

  1. Ngari Rabjampa Choglang Legpa became the Acharya

The third point, is about Ngari Rabjampa Choglang Legpa becoming the Acharya after Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa.  So how did Ngari Rabjampa become the Acharya? In the 2nd month of 1537, when Mikyo Dorje and the great encampment were staying at Drikgung Lunsho Tashi Tang.  At that time, Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa had spent five years as the Acharya of Karma Zhunglug Ling, and he went to 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje and he resigned and it was accepted. Then Mikyo Dorje thought about which scholar should he appoint, and he thought that Ngari Rabjampa was the best and he invited him to be the Acharya.

Then, in 1538, Mikyo Dorje and the great encampment went from the Tsurphu monastery, and spent Losar and the Tibetan New year there.  Then after that, they went to Nugla Legshe Ling and came to this place called Nuglar. While there, there was already a shedra there and there was a new shedra  of the great encampment called Karma Zhunglug Ling. So 8th Karmapa had the rabjamapas of Karma Zhunglug Ling, and also the scholars of Nugla shedra and he said they should hold a symposium about the finer points of the five great texts. So while Mikyo Dorje was staying there, the colleges of Karma Zhunglug Ling and Nuglar Legshe Ling held a conference. Mikyo Dorje was very happy about it. They had a lot of programmes including teaching and debate.

In 1559, Mikyo Dorje and the great encampment were staying at Zhigar Ringbum. They went there and at that time, Mikyo Dorje gave the shedra of the encampment teachings on his own commentary on the Prajnaparamita, the Rest for Yogis (Shedre Jetsun Ngalso). Likewise, at that time, in the Tibetan grammar there is a famous scholar called Pelkang Lotsawa. He also came to the Garchen encampment and taught the Kalapa grammar, the composition in poetry and he taught a lot about grammar and terminology. So he taught these topics of knowledge. At that time,  it was mainly Pelkang Lotsawa who taught grammar and other topics at the Karma Zhunglug Ling.

Also, within the Karma Zhunglug Ling, how did they develop the students and scholars? To give an example, in 1540, after the Tibetan New Year, there was a tradition of the Chungdrung Monlam. After that there was the Lord of Tobgyelwa, in Tibet at that time, there were many Lords,  ‘depas’ in Tibetan. So the lord of each region would be called ‘depa’. The Depa Lord Tobygyel’s brother went forth and was ordained by Mikyo Dorje, and given the name Karma Dondag Yenlag Pag. Then he studied at the Karma Zhunglug Ling and completed his education there, and later returned to his homeland Tsang Tobgyel in Kham and founded the Tobgyel Dudra Karma Ling college. This is one of the several monastic colleges that 8th Karmapa supported, and the one who did the founding was the brother of Lord Tobgyel. Through his scholarly activities he really helped the teachings flourish greatly. So at that time, Lord Tobgyel, was one of the high status individuals in central Tibet. He entered the Karma Zhunglug Ling monastery and completed his master training and education.  This is an example.

After that, Mikyo Dorje, the Karmapa was invited by the Lord of Ringpung to the area of Tsang. They asked him to spend three years there. Mikyo Dorje did not accept that though, as generally he preferred staying in remote places. Thus, he said he was not going to Tsang and did not accept the invite. At that time, even though he did not go to Tsang, Mikyo Dorje was always focused on the Karma Zhunglug Ling. So in order to support that, the Lord of Ringpung thought that he would offer him many monks. He offered many monks but there were only a few who were able to study well and uphold the teachings.

Likewise, Mikyo Dorje from time to time, within the Great Encampment would teach Middle Way, or the relative Bodhicitta according to Atisha’s tradition. And he would often teach the Single Intent. When he did this, all the people in the Karma Zhunglug Ling because they were part of the great encampment, would also have the opportunity to get many teachings from Mikyo Dorje. So Karma Zhunglug Ling had the special and unique transmission of Mikyo Dorje’s explanations of study and practice. In that way, the students of that shedra had many opportunities that others did not.

  1. The college settling permanently as Yartho Lhungpo Gang at Yartho
The restored Yungbu Lhakang Palace in Yarlung Valley, Tibet.

The fourth point is when the Shedra permanently settled as Yartho Lhungpo Gang. In 1543, during the Spring, Mikyo Dorje and the great encampment were invited by the Lord Lha Pungpa Chenpo to come to Yartho Lhungpo Gang. At that time, the Lord Lhabu, before the Karmapa arrived, had found an even place, and planted various trees there and put a little Naga shrine there. I will talk about what a Naga shrine means later.  He built a little garden, and erected a pillar there and wrote the Gatsel Dharma Palace (Gatsel Chogi Podrang). He carved these letters and his hope was that in the future this would be a monastery for the Karmapa. So he wrote it as an auspicious connection for that.

So Mikyo Dorje and the lamas from the great encampment came there, and they consecrated the ground, and did the ceremonies to bless the ground, then they laid the foundation of the temple. Then the monastic college Karma Zhunglug Ling settled there permanently. Before, then they travelled with the encampment, but from that time on, they were based there. The Lord offered it to them in Yartho and it became the permanent location for it.  This is in the area of Yartho, the upper part of the Yarlung Valley. In particular, the Lord named the place Gatsel Dharma Palace Ling and so because of that, the name of this monastic college was called Yartho Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling. It was called Gatsel because of that.  Yartho is because it is in Yartho, the upper part of the valley. When he built the garden, the Lord had carved Gatsel in the pillar, so they continued to use that name. Then they added the Karma Zhunglug Ling, which was the name it already had. So they compiled it all together and from then it was called the Yartho Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling.

  1. The area of Yartho Lungpo Gang

The fifth point is about the Lhyungpo Gang in Yartho. In Tibet there was a really well-known mountain called Yarlang Chungpo. So there is  a valley that flows down from that, which is called Yarlung Chung. There are three parts of Yarlung, the upper, the middle and the lower part, the upper part is called Yartho, and within that there is a specific place called Lhungpo Gang.  Now the palace and  Lord of that area is called Samdrup Dechen Tse, and so is shortened to Tsamde. So sometimes it was called Lhabupa Chen, sometimes Tsamde. The family of that lord, and the reason it was called Lha Bubachen, the Lha is because his family were part of the line of Tibetan Kings. The Tibetan Kings, first of was Dharma Odung Tsen, who we call Langdarma and he had 2 sons.  There are two ways the family of Lhabu Chen is explained. One is that it comes from the Osung (Langdarma’s son). However, in the  Concise Dharma History (Duwa Jungkung) it says that  it comes from his mother. These two differing accounts need to be examined.

Anyway, there was this Naga shrine, in the old days the Lords and owners of lands, in these gardens they would often have a little pond. For example, in Lhasa there was the Zongyab Lugang. That is similar, with a garden and man-made pool, it is a nice haven place or park. So these parks would be like the nicest and best places. There are a lot of different trees and water there, and a pond or pool, a very attractive place, and that was offered to Karmapa to establish the college there.

  1. The rules and regulations of Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling

The sixth point is about the rules and regulations, before it settled permanently in Yartho, and was part of the great encampment, Mikyo Dorje wrote a charter for the rules, called the Temporary Charter for the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling. It says it was temporary because after they settled in Yartho, Mikyo Dorje must have given a more detailed charter, that is what it tells us, I think.

  1. Consecration of the temple for the monastic college

The seventh point is about the consecration of the temple for the shedra.  In 1550, at the end of the 9th, or beginning of the 10th month, Mikyo Dorje and the encampment came again to Yartho. I think the Karma Zhunglug Ling temple had been built, so at that time, Mikyo Dorje gave teachings to all the monastics of the encampment and Karma Zhunglug Ling, and all the Rabjampas and scholars had many discussions about the teachings and on the difficult points. There was a lot of discussion of different activities. and they did the consecration.

  1. The printing and distribution of the teachings and texts

The eighth point is about the printing and distribution of the texts. Around the year 1553, Mikyo Dorje asked Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa to print many editions of the philosophical texts at Yartho Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling. For example, teachings including the 3rd Karmapa’s Auto-commentary on the Profound Inner Meaning (Zabmo Nangdon), the 7th Karmapa’s Ocean of Literature on Logic, and Mikyo Dorje’s commentary on Prajnaparamita, Rest for the Yogis (Sherchin Jetsun Ngalso) and many other texts. This was the instruction of Mikyo Dorje. It also seems the Commentary on the Vinaya Sutras root text was also created there. A copy of this is in the Potala Library from the wood-carved blocks they made, and printed many texts. The woodblocks are no longer there but some of the older pecha editions are probably still extant. Among them one of them is the Commentary on the Vinaya Sutras.

After Mikyo Dorje passed away, his regent was the 5th Zhamarpa, Konchog Yenlag, and his student was 9th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje and his student was 6th Zhamarpa, Chokyi Wangchug, and his student was the 10th Karmapa, Choying Gyatso. During their time, there is no need to speak about how the monastic college was administered during that time and how it flourished because we do not have enough time today.

  1. How the Karma Zhunglug Ling Shedra ended

The ninth point is how the Karma Zhunglug Ling Shedra was ended. Again, today I will not speak about that.

10. The establishment of Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling
Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling. Present day photo presented by 17th Karmapa (Day 8, Spring 2023 teachings)

In place of that today, there is the tenth point, the establishment of Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling.  The construction of Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling, which is was also in Yartho, in 1651, when the 5th Dalai Lama came to Yarlung. At that same time, in Yartho they established the Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling monastery.  During the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, among the 13 great monasteries he established, it is said that this is one of them. In the present day, it is in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of Nyedong Ku, in Yardar?? in Chode Gong Drongtso. The Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling is one of the larger Gelug monasteries in the southern areas.  When our Gen Thubten Osel and others did some historical research, they went to this monastery and spoke with the monks there and asked them about the history of the monastery.  They told them it was founded in the 11th century by Ra Lotsawa Dorje Drag. That is one account. There was also an account that it was founded in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama. Other than that, they did not have anything else to say. But they had some suspicions that it had previously been a Karma Kagyu monastery.

Due to those doubts, they looked to see what evidence there was that it had previously been a Karma Kagyu monastery. The evidence they found was on the second storey of the temple there was  Mahakala shrine. Within the texts they recite, there was the 8th Karmapa’s short torma offering, The Madama, that was there. Likewise, the Karma Kamtsang general offering to the dakinis. For example, in the general torma offering of the dakinis it basically lists all the names of important Kagyu practice sites and monasteries, but they did not really pay much attention to that and had nothing to say about it. However, they said that before the Cultural Revolution, within their shrine hall there was an old Vajradhara statue and it was said to be from the past when it was a Karma Kagyu monastery. But the old Vajradhara statue was destroyed during the Communist cultural revolution. What I said before about the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling is mainly based on the research by Gen Thubten Osel, which he put a lot of effort into.

The takeover/appropriation of 8th Karmapa’s Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling into Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelugpas

Next, I would like to speak about, what is the connection between Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling and Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling? How do we know there is a connection? There is a connection.

Quotes from the 5th Dalai Lama’s autobiography called the Fine Clothes

The 5th Dalai Lama wrote a biography called the Fine Clothes (Lulai Go-zang), in which he says:

“In the Iron-Hare year, the lings of the Karlug (Karma Kamtsang) were transferred to Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling.”

So, Karlug here means the Karma Kamtsang tradition. There are two ways of speaking about this. When we talk about the ruins (pho shul) of the Karma Kamtsang, we could say in the past it had been the Karma Kamtsang, later it had been destroyed and the new monastery was built on the ruins of the Karma Kamtsang temple.  Another way of talking about it is that it was a Karma Kagyu monastery that was restored (son yo) and still had Karma Kagyu monks as well, who were forcibly converted to a Gelug monastery (son yo). That the seed (son) was Karma Kamtsang. The other way is that it was a ruins and the seat had been Karma Kagyu but there were no individual upholders of the Karma Kagyu teachings,  it was just a temple.

So it says here  that the Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling was established on the ruins of where there had been a Karma Kamtsang Gatsel monastery. This was in 1651. At that time, the 5th Dalai Lama went to Yarlung, and the time he was there, it seems they founded Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling at the place where Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling had been. The same dates are given in other texts as well, such as that of Dese Sangye Gyatso.

So this shows that it was a Karma Kagyu monastery, but how do we know it was Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling? This is also in the same volume of the 5th Dalai Lama’s works:

“In the Iron-Bird year,  the areas given to the Gelug tradition and the temple, the shrine hall the labrang, the King kitchen in the East and the surrounding dormitories.”

What this means is that the Iron-Bird year, in 1656, at that time Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling had been built and there were many lands surrounding fields that provide for the sangha that had been given to the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling, and they were all transferred to the Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling. Likewise, it says they built the new temple and new kitchen and monastery. So, for that reason, in Yartho there is the Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling and this was previously the Yartho Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling that had been previously founded by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. I think this is very clear. That is all I have to say today.

Concluding Remarks
Karma Kagyu lineage refuge tree, for my female inclusive image of the Kagyu lineage, see here: HEARING ‘HER-STORY’ (III): ENVISIONING AND CREATING THE FEMALE LINEAGE TREE. 

“The main point here is that during the time of Mikyo Dorje he founded many monastic shedras of Sutra and Tantra, but not one of these monasteries remains, right? There are no places where they could continue to uphold the Karma Kagyu tradition. If we look at this, particularly with the Karma Kagyu we have founded many monastic colleges and this is very rare, and they are very important.  In the past, there were many monastic colleges but none of them remain.

So now, within our Karma Kamtsang we have monastic colleges, we have texts that we have been unable to study for many hundreds of years, whether it was written by the 8th or 7th Karmapa, or the 3rd Karmapa or by other Karma Kagyu scholars and masters. The texts were very rare but now they are more available. It is certainly not worse than before, if not better. Since we have this good opportunity now, when we look back at the situation from the past, during the time of the 7th and 8th Karmapas, the teachings on Sutras and Tantras flourished, it is something written in the history, nothing is remaining about that other than the continnuum/lineage of that. For that reason, for us to have this opportunity and these facilities is very sacred and important, naturally, it becomes like that. Thus, I would like to ask all of you to think of it in this way.

Just as Mikyo Dorje himself thought about, we need to have both the transmission of study and practice of the Kagyu teachings. It is not easy to do practice. One needs faith, diligence and wisdom. You have to have the faith that comes from knowing, the wisdom of the pith instructions and the diligence of being able to really practice well. I think it is very difficult to do this as we did it before, but I think to a degree there is still a little bit of the tradition left. In addition, if we are not interested in studying and contemplating these teachings, it is as I said before. Also, not only that,  other lineages and schools will criticise and denigrate us for being ignorant and so on. So there are many reasons to have shedras.

We also need to have the union of listening, contemplation and meditation. We need to be able to incorporate the teachings into our being with practice. The pith instructions need to be explained in a way that matches the words of the Buddha as it was in the past, with the Kagyu forefathers. Only when we can do that, can we walk forward with the other traditions and lineages. If we just think we are great, and we have these pith instructions and no one else can understand them, or even need to understand them, and stay in a remote place just saying that, then what is going to happen? Eventually, it will just deteriorate and there will be no way to improve. So this is very important.”

Sources/Further Reading

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

Stearns, Cyrus (trans.), Song of the Road: The Poetic Travel Journal of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, Wisdom Publications.

Gedun Chophel, 20th Century Tibet’s Finest Writer by Donald Lopez Jr


[1] Cécile Ducher, “Goldmine of Knowledge: The Collections of the Gnas bcu lha khang in ’Bras spungs Library,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 55, Juillet 2020, pp. 121–139.

[2] In addition, the promotion (and condoning of meat-eating by the Dalai Lamas/Gelug up to the current day, is in marked contrast to the strict vegetarian masters of the other main lineages, such as the Karma Kagyu and Jonang) cannot have helped them karmically either, as Buddha expressly forbade it, in particular for monastics as it breaches the Vinaya rules, more on that in another article!

[3] Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (Tib. ཚར་ཆེན་བློ་གསལ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་, Wyl. tshar chen blo gsal rgya mtsho) (1502-1566) — the founder of the Tsar subschool of the Sakya tradition and of its main monastery, Dar Drangmoche Monastery (Tib. འདར་གྲང་མོ་ཆེ་, Wyl. ‘dar grang mo che) in the province of Tsang. A number of his writings survive such as his compositions on the Hevajra visualization (Tib. ཉི་མའི་འོད་ཟེར, Wyl. nyi ma’i ‘od zer) and on the Vajrayogini teachings. His biography was written by the Fifth Dalai Lama. His chief disciples were Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk, who is compared to the sun, and Mangtö Ludrup Gyatso, who is likened to the moon, as well as Yol Khenchen Shyönnu Lodrö, the Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso, and Bokarwa Maitri Döndrup Gyaltsen.

[4] Pawo Tsuglag Threngwa (dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba; 1504–1566), the second Nenang Pawo, was a Tibetan historian of the Karma Kagyu. He was a disciple of Mikyo Dorje, 8th Karmapa and the author of the famous A Feast for Scholars (mkhas pa’i dga’ ston,) on the history of Buddhism in India and its spread in Tibet, as well as the history of Tibet.

12 thoughts on “A TIBETAN TRAVESTY: DESTRUCTION AND APPROPRIATION OF KARMA KAGYU/8TH KARMAPA’S MANY MONASTERIES: Reasons why 8th Karmapa newly established many colleges and retreat centres, disrespect of his activities by Sakya teacher, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, and case study of the Karma Kagyu Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling college and its stolen/forced conversion into Ganden Thosam Dargye Ling monastery by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug

  1. Dear Dharma Sherlock Holmes writing about Karma Kagyu shedras
    destruction . But what is a TRUTH about SERFDOM in old Tibet.
    You enjoy freedom of moving also
    under English legal system woman has MORE rights then man.
    Serf in Tibet had to work all day long for roof over head and food.
    No cash to hand. Total slavery.
    When escaping for FREEDOM Police
    on horses with big dogs were hunting him. Thousand years and ocean of tears . but no tears of joy but tears of hate. Old Tibet was country where each serf each moment was hating landlord.
    Biggest landlord in Tibet was Potala
    and serfs hated Potala landlords.
    Thousand years of hate manifested
    as Chinese destruction and finally Chinese army freed Tibetan serfs.
    Why Tibetan enlightened Rinpoches and Lamas kept blind eye for suffering serf ???
    Now Tibetan serfs can enjoy freedom under Chinese communism. .
    Will you investigate subject of Tibetan serfs and clear it once and for all.?

    1. About 95 percent of the population were serfs – that was Tibet before the PLA came in.
      The PLA truly liberated the serfs .

      The shedras were not sensitive enough and learned enough to discuss serfdom ( secular and spiritual ) , and the need to abolish serfdom ; and the ugly truth – reality about power struggles among the serf masters ( as if it was not bad enough to have continued with serfs ) .
      Their “bodhicitta” was not good enough to abolish serfdom – how ironic !
      I don’t know what brand of “bodhicitta” is this !
      Lo and behold it was the PLA that got rid of serfdom ; not ” holinesses , rinpoches , retreat masters , khenpos , geshes , enlightened tulkus or rainbow bodied saints ” .

      And the ngondro never mentions about the need to abolish serfdom .

      8 Aug 2023 12:56:53 UTC

    2. I stand contradicted :
      There is no terma from Guru Rinpoche about abolishing the serf system .
      Vajrakilaya practices could not abolish serfism .
      The “Rime” failed to abolish serfism – Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo , Lodro Thaye , and Chogyur Lingpa : what brand of Rime is this ?

      BT Tay
      8 Aug 2023 13:05:20 UTC

    3. 9 Aug 2023 06:54:41 UTC
      I pay tribute and share benefits with all serfs involved in the preservation and propagation of the Buddha Dharma .
      I share any merit I have ever gained and will gain with all the serfs ( “unsung heroes” ) from any serf-related thing , all serfs who were part and parcel of carving , printing and publishing the woodblocks of Tibetan texts ( Kangyurs Tengyurs , Gyudbums , etc – any dharma text related activity ) .
      In this 2023 Year of the Female Water Rabbit – by the power of Mipham’s Wangdu Soldep may all serfs obtain benefits .

      BT Tay
      9 Aug 2023 06:02:31 UTC

  2. I would not call brutal occupation, colonisation, oppression, murder, lack of religious freedom in Tibet ‘liberation’. While it is correct that many Tibetans within Tibet before the Chinese Communist invasion were totally tfrsutrated and fed up with the Lhasa/Gelug government dictatorship and aristocracy rulers and lack of genuine democracy and human rights there, I think it is pushing it too far to say the CCP liberated Tibetans too.

    Ideally, what should have happened is the religious theocratic rulers (who gained their power by force and military power in Tibet) and modernising Tibetans in Tibet should have liberated themselves from it all. Sadly, the Gelug/Ganden/Dalai Lama rulers did not do that and held onto their absolute power regime for a long time, often demonising modernisers like Gedun Chophel in the process. Perhaps if they had been more amenable and open to democratic modernisation and let go of their absolute power, Tibet would have been more united and it would have been less easy for the Chinese to ijnvade and occupy. In fact, it may never have even happened. I am not a religious or historical expert, but it certainly seems like the Gelug position/power in Tibet karmically contributed to the brute force takeover of Tibet.

    In the present day, it might certainly be helpful and positive if the Gelug/Dalai Lamas apologised for the theft, violence and forced conversions of monasteries to their lineage in the 17th Century, and offered to restore the land and monasteries to the other lineages, if and when they get genuine freedom in Tibet.

    By the way I did not investigate the takeover and theft of Kagyu monasteries and land by the Gelugpas, this came from recent research and a teaching given by HH 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje!

    1. Aug 9 Aug 2023 06:08:06 UTC
      Now in the 21st century the time is right for a ” say it like it really is” religious and political history of Tibet and Tibetan Tulkus , instead of glossy stuff that is contradicted by credible data ( e.g. well known scandals in the West and East ; and how painfully slow acting the Tulkus-Rinpoches are at doing the right thing despite the multiple warning signs ) .

      BT Tay
      9 Aug 2023 06:11:55 UTC

  3. It was not just the Gelug , there were elements of hostility – suppression emanating from the Sakya and Kagyu as well
    Mipham Chodrup Gyatso (the 10th Shamar became the first zhva dmar zhva med )lost his Vajra Crown because of an act of treason etc .

    Vajrayana geopolitics was already at play right from the start .

    Lip service apologies betray flawed and certain serf tainted brands of Vajrasattva and 4 opponent powers .

    Fact is the PLA liberated the serfs which made up of about 95 percent of the Tibetan population . For all the alleged “enlightenedness ” of Tibetan emanations – they all failed to reform and abolish the brutal serf system .
    It’s the moment of truth . So much bodhicitta talk but it was a bodhicitta that maintained the serf system .

  4. It is therefore odd that Gyalsay Lhaglen author Thogmed Zangpo (in his 37 practices of bodhisattvas) did speak out against the deeply rooted serfism so intrinsic to the Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism .

    The lojong teachings – nothing about abolishing the serf system . So there is a loophole , a very serious and significant loophole ; and unfortunately some serfism has been transplanted outside Tibet .
    Sexual abuse( Spiritual Sexual Slave- Serfs ) occurs because of Spiritual Serfism – Sogyal , Trungpa etc ( all other secret sexual predators ) . And a spiritual cartel that covers up or tries to diminish the credible claims of sexual abuse , all sorts of excuses given .

    BT Tay
    9 Aug 2023 04:14:35 UTC

    1. “Did not speak out” .Correction Thogmed Zangpo did not speak out against the Tibetan serf system .
      “NOT” was left out in the message.

      BT Tay
      9 Aug 2023 04:35:05 UTC

  5. It is good to bring out the history of how Karmapa Mikyo Dorje suffered from specious and vexatious allegations , and how Kamtsang institutes were forcibly taken over by the Gelug-Mongols .
    Kamtsang had been subject to all sorts of allegations , for example from Sakya Pandita .
    But Karmapa Mikyo Dorje is not known for his zhentong – this is a fact .

    But to be fair the Gelug were suppressed by Kamtsang related ruling houses . Some of the Shamars were rulers and head of Drukpa and Drigung Kagyus .

    So please carry on the expose on sectarian takeovers of monasteries and institutes , the power brokers and power play .

    Let the truth come out in the 21st century .

    BT Tay
    9 Aug 2023 04:49:47 UTC

  6. The bad habit of Tibetan Vajrayana is the predilection of “ganging up on others” , a bit like gangsters !
    I invite all those who want to gang up on me based on my messages to gang up on me now . Bring it on ! Game on !

    Om a ra pa ca na dhiih – no serfism please .

    BT Tay
    9 Aug 2023 04:56:25 UTC

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