—17th Karmapa, Day 13 (Part II) Spring 2023 teaching
On the second half of Day 13, the final day of the Spring 2023 teachings, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje showing his fine abilities and interest in scholarly work and research, gave an original and fascinating presentation on the extraordinary and influential commentaries that the 8th Karmapa composed in his twenties. These commentaries are on what are called the four great (or difficult texts) of Vinaya, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma and in addition, the Middle Way (Madhyamika). The 17th Karmapa explained that traditionally these four did not include the latter Middle Way. The titles of the commentaries are the following:
- Chariot of the Dagpo Siddhis (Dagpo Gyu Drub Shing དྭགས་བརྒྱུད་གྲུབ་ཤིང་) (Madhyamaka)
- Noble Ones Resting at Ease (Jetsun Ngelso རྗེ་བཙུན་ངལ་གསོ།) (Prajnaparamita)
- Orb of the Sun (Nyimai Kyilhor ཉི་མའི་དཀྱིལ་འཁོར།) (Vinaya)
- Spring Cow (Chi Jo དཔྱིད་འཇོ།) (Abhidharma)
The 17th Karmapa explained that after the 17th century Mongolian/Gelug takeover of power in Tibet, and the horrendous destruction that went along with it (see Karmapa’s previous teaching (Day 11) on the destruction and takeover by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug of the 8th Karmapa’s monasteries, even converting one into the well-known Gelugpa Ganden monastery), it became very difficult, if not impossible to study the texts of one’s own tradition, never mind of others. However, despite that, the Gelugpa monasteries such as Sera, Ganden studied these commentaries by Mikyo Dorje. In fact, the 5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa had prophesised that Mikyo Dorje would be the one to ensure the continuation of the Kagyu teachings and lineage lasted longer.
As someone who has done several research pieces on the Collected Works of Longchenpa, 16th Karmapa, Gampopa and the 8th Karmapa, as well as most recently the works of Jetsun Taranatha, this new announcement was ‘music to my ears’ as we say. In fact, it reminded me that there is still no translated English outline of the current collected works published on the BDRC.
So, I would also like to announce a new idea for a project to translate the outline of the current Collected Works of 8th Karmapa, in the way I did recently for Jetsun Tāranātha, possibly with an independent website. If anyone would like to support and sponsor this project, please do get in touch. The translated outline will be just a start, to give people an idea of the depth and breadth of the Collected Works, so that when a newer Collected Works is published it can be amended and changed as necessary.
May the works and teachings of 8th Karmapa bloom like a rose in winter and summer, and may we all flourish and grow by seeing their remarkable tenacity and beauty!
Music? Roses in the Winter by Merle Haggard, Winter Rose by Paul McCartney and Kiss from a Rose by Seal.
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 24th May 2023.
The 8th Karmapa’s great commentaries on the four ‘difficult’ texts and Verses 8 and 9 of He Searched Thoroughly
17th Karmapa Day 13 (Part II) Spring 2023
8th Karmapa wrote many great commentaries from the ages of 22-27
“When we compare the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works with those of the other Karmapas, it is the largest. The 2nd Karmapa’s was said to have as many volumes as the Kangyur. The Kangyur has over 100 volumes, some have 103 or 110 volumes, in any case, the Kangyur has over 100 volumes. It is said that Karma Pakshi’s works was the same number . Yet by the time of Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa, there were only 16 works still extant, he says in Feast For Scholars. Karma Pakshi’ s works. After Karma Pakshi, Mikyo Dorje had the largest collected works. It says in Feast for Scholars that there are over 30 volumes of Mikyo Dorje’s works. Among these 30 volumes of works, we still have the good fortune and merit to have 90 percent of these texts left.
The 8th Karmapa’s writings had really unique and amazing qualities. In Sangye Peldrup’s Commentary on the Excellent Deeds he describes these qualities. As I said before, there is the Drepung and the Potala Lhasa manuscript, in the Drepung one it says:
“At the age of 22, he wrote the Text on the Root Vinaya Sutras. At age 23, he wrote a Great Commentary on the Prajnaparamita. At age 24, he wrote a great commentary on the Kalapa Grammar. At age 26, he wrote an extensive commentary on the Vinaya Sutras. At age 27, he wrote the great commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma. He also wrote countless other texts of his own according to his other works such as the Guhyagharba (Sangwa Nyingpo) commentary.”
Now, regarding the Sangwa Nyingpo (Secret Heart/Essence), when I was in Tibet and we were looking at Mikyo Dorje’s manuscripts, we could not find that commentary. However, later when I was in the US, we discovered a text called the Nyingpo Sangdon, the secret Meaning of the Essence. I think it is probably this text. It is very similar to 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje’s Profound Inner Meaning (Zabmo Nangdon). In any case, he wrote his own independent commentaries and then there are also the commentaries for others, in other words the notes his students took on others. There are many different volumes for these.
If other people are seeking understanding through listening they are easy to put into practice and clear to understand. Then putting them into practice, whether it is meditation practice, they give your practice great enhancement and improve it greatly. They greatly increase your intelligence, you learn a lot and gain new understandings and new ways of looking at things. Also the logic of the presentations and refutations are very subtle and there are many of them. So these are the great qualities that you will have. So it is clear that this great being’s knowledge is not dependent on anyone else’s. It is due to the power of his own intelligence that it was very bright and sharp and profound. So it is a sign of Mikyo Dorje’s innate intelligence.
Likewise, Pawo Trengwa in Feast For Scholars makes a similar point. That when Mikyo Dorje was young, he wrote great treatises and songs. In particular from the age of 22, he also wrote many commentaries on the great texts. So when you think about all the commentaries on philosophy, the explanations of all the tantras of Vajrayana and many sadhanas and so on, then all of these are not just repeating the words of others. It is not like he was just copying what others had written. It is not like where 90 percent of what was written is quoting the words of other scholars and just added a few words of your own. Then you sign your name on it as if you had written it. In actuality, where it is just taking the previous works as the basis. Mikyo Dorje’s works were not like that, he used his own intelligence to write them.
8th Karmapa’s works clear, profound, original and studied in other traditions such as Gelug
So if scholars examine Mikyo Dorje’s works, the longer they examine them, the more profound they become. That is how they are distinctive. There is even a text on poetry he composed and within that the three different chapters in the text on Poetry Mirror. The last chapter teaches about the different ornaments and the difficult ornament (Dra Kawai Gyen) . So in the beginning, it describes a particular type of form that is difficult to write. One can read it beginning to end, or forward and back, however you want to read it, this is a very superior type of composition. Thus, as I said before, as Sangye Peldrup explained in his commentary on the autobiographical verses of the Excellent Deeds and also Pawo Trengwa’s explanation in Feast For Scholars are about the great and unique qualities of Mikyo Dorje’s writings.
Also, in general when we look at other Tibetan master’s collected works, they are mainly texts to be recited, like smoke or torma offerings, they are mainly practices, like 67 percent of them are only for recitation. Mikyo Dorje’s texts were not like that. In his works there are explanations of Sutras, Tantras, commentaries, there are instructions and texts on various sciences, there are many different types of teachings. His commentarial teachings are not small but vast ones. They have many complicated words and a large number of texts. Also he gives a lot of information on their background and history. His works give clear historical background that is not clear in other texts but they are presented very clearly in Mikyo Dorje’s explanations.
There are also some new innovative instructions, using the power of intelligence he was able to come up with an innovative way of explaining things. Likewise, he would also give many new explanations that had been passed down orally from the teachers. In particular, when you think about the commentaries on the Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma, they are among the most well-known commentaries by Tibetan scholars. So when we talk about the commentaries by the great Tibetan masters, Mikyo Dorje’s commentaries are included in the ranks of those.
Not only for the Karma Kamtsang, and Kagyu also the scholars/people who study other schools, continue to study Mikyo Dorje’s texts. In particular, for Vinaya and Abhidharma, he based his commentaries on those by Sonawa and Khyim Jamphel Yang as the basis for these two, and so the scholars and students in the Gelugpa monasteries, such as Sera, Drepung and Ganden also study these. This is what the senior monks in Tibet say, even in the olden days in Tibet, before 1959.
Now these days of course, everything has become more relaxed and people are now allowed to look at texts from other traditions. However, even before 1959 when it was very strict, forget about even other traditions, you could not follow the texts of your own tradition and had to follow the Gelug texts. However, this was not the case with the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s texts. The reason why they would look at his commentaries on Vinaya and Abhidharma was because they were based on the commentaries of Tsonawa Sherab Zangpo and Chim Jamphel Yang and they would study these because they were very clear and detailed, they bring out many details that are not very clear.
In particular, if you think about the Dagpo Kagyu, the commentaries that we use for Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma are the ones by Mikyo Dorje and Drugpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo. There are no any others than that. Now, if we look at the Omniscient Pema Karpo’s works. I have studied them or read them, but they are very good I am sure. But it seems to me they are probably are a little bit too short. However, Mikyo Dorje’s commentaries are very long, and they include all the meaning of the words and the different presentations, rebuttals and so on. For that reason, within the Dagpo Kagyu, when studying the great philosophical texts it is very important to study these texts of Mikyo Dorje.
Generally, within the Karma Kagyu, the founder of the Karma Kagyu was Dusum Khyenpa. The person who founded and fostered the Karma Kagyu was Dusum Khyenpa. However, we recite: “May I attain in all my lives, a state never separate from Mikyo Dorje.” We do not say, “a state that is not separate from Dusum Khyenpa”. What this shows is that within the Karma Kamtsang, Mikyo Dorje is extremely important and his activity and deeds are really distinctive and different from anyone else’s.
For example, people who are focusing on practice and meditation they take Mikyo Dorje’s four-session guru yoga as the essence of their practice. That was written by Mikyo Dorje. Likewise, in our monasteries, when we are doing pujas we recite the Chakrasamvara mandala puja that is written in verse, also we have the torma offering to Mahakala (Madagma). We also have the My Aspiration: ‘by my roots of virtue of the three times and others”. Many of these ritual texts we recite and other texts were written by Mikyo Dorje. Thus, in terms of study and practice, he is very important.
8th Karmapa’s restoration of the 7th Karmapa’s Commentary on Validity and the important legacy and influence of the 8th Karmapa for the Karma Kagyu
In terms of study and understanding, Mikyo Dorje was also important. His commentaries on Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma were all his works. In terms of logic/validity, the text on validity and epistemology was written by the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso but the rest were all written by Mikyo Dorje. The text on validity is also still present due to the kindness of Mikyo Dorje. There is still a little bit left of the text the end.
That had not been finished at one point, Chodrag Gyatso’s work was going to be lost and scattered into parts. So he gathered what had been scattered and brough it back together and made the complete text the Ocean of Literature and Logic on Validity (Tsema Rigzhung Gyatso) that we have today. It was because of the 8th Karmapa’s kindness in reassembling it. So we don’t need to mention his kindness in composing the works for the Vinaya, Prajnaparamita, Middle Way and Abhidharma.
In our tradition, whether we know or not, it all comes down to the intention of Mikyo Dorje, there is no other place we could go to. For that reason, whether we are speaking about people engaged in study or practice, in sum, the works of Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje for the Karma Kamtsang is like a second Dusum Khyenpa. The founder of the Karma Kamtsang was not Mikyo Dorje, but we could say he is like the 2nd Dusum Khyenpa, or an emanation or rebirth of Dusum Khyenpa. It is like his activities of body, speech and mind had not changed and he continued to perform the same activities.
Prophecy by 5th Karmapa, Choje Dezhin Shegpa – 8th Karmapa will cause the Karma Kagyu teachings to last longer
So, as long as Mikyo Dorje’s compositions and Collected Works are still present, not only for the Karma Kamtsang but the whole Kagyu teachings on Sutra, Tantras and view, meditation and conduct are also present and not missing any of the critical points. This is the main reason I have been teaching about 8th Karmapa’s life-stories.
There was a prophecy by 5th Karmapa, Choje Dezhin Shegpa, one we recite, which says that:
“A Mikyo in the Vajra line; a perfect Buddha in human form will have no comparison or rival. Through his compassion and bodhicitta, the Karmapa’s teachings will flourish and will last for two thirds longer.”
So it says because of the compassion and bodhicitta of Mikyo Dorje, the continuum of the Karma Kamtsang teachings will last an additional two thirds longer than it would have. This is something that is visible to us when we look at it today and we see it is just as it was predicted in the past. Even if we wanted to found a monastic college, what would we read? We would not have any other texts to read. So in this way, the influence and kindness of Mikyo Dorje has effected not just Karma Kagyu, but the entire Kagyu lineages.
So when we think about Mikyo Dorje’s actions of body, speech and mind we can say they are solely for the sake of sentient beings. When he was engaging in benefiting them, the way he benefited them. We talk about the composition of Udānavarga, in which there is a verse. Here is it by Lobpon Sherab Gochey:
“The sages do not wash away misdeeds with water, or clear away beings’ suffering with their hands. They do not transfer their own realisation to others. They accomplish that by teaching the peace of dharmata.”
This is a little bit different to how we normally say it. If we look in the Tengyur, I only found it as taught here. It is a little bit longer than the ones we recite. Basically, you cannot wash away misdeeds with water, or clear away beings’ suffering with your hands. One cannot transfer one’s own realisation to others, like giving them a gift. By teaching the Dharma that one has experienced in one’s mindstream, and then practising it correctly, we are able to practice and gain our own experience and realisation. Other than that there is no method. There is no way it can work. In dependence on the path of liberation or true Dharma you have manifested and practicing them yourself, you then teach them to others. Then you can bring beings to the higher states and true excellences. There is no other way to benefit beings. Thus, as I said before, among all the deeds of body, speech and mind, ultimately when you think about it, the deeds of speech are supreme. They are the most powerful.
Re-paying 8th Karmapa’s kindness and making an authoritative Collected Works
As I said before, Mikyo Dorje had an unrivalled influence on the whole Kagyu but in particular the Karma Kagyu. When we understand that, then in order to repay his kindness, or alternatively we could say, in order to become an authentic follower of Mikyo Dorje, what should we do? We need to do is preserve the works and life-stories of Mikyo Dorje, and take care of them and to read and emulate them. We need to make the fact that his works exist meaningful. There is no better way to repay his kindness than to follow the example he showed in his life.
Thus, what we need to do, we need to collaboratively (whether Kagyu or Karma Kagyu) to collect all his works that are existent in this world. We need to gather them all and then compile them. For some there are different manuscripts, we need to do detailed comparisons of them. After that, we need to do publication, then we need to engage in listening, contemplation and meditation. Then, if you are an intelligent scholar, you need to research them and write overviews and analyses of them. This is what we need to do.
We need to give Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works even greater attention than before. We need to regard them even more highly and cherish them highly and consider them necessary. If we are able to do that, then this is the best method to uphold, preserve and spread the teachings. This is the best way to do it. I think this is better than even founding and building a hundred monasteries. If one does that, and then at the end you have empty building then it is pointless, isn’t it?
Introduction to 8th Karmapa’s four great commentaries
The four (or five) great/difficult texts and those who had mastered them (Kazhiwa) and do they include Madhyamaka?
Next is an introduction to the four great commentaries on the Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma composed by Mikyo Dorje. I don’t have time to speak about all of them in detail, today it will be a short introduction.
Sometimes there is a question when we talk about the four of Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma, are these the same as what we call the ‘four difficult texts’ (Ka Zhung Zhi)? So usually what we talk about and what it says in dictionaries, is that these are four difficult texts. If you add validity to them, we have the five great texts. However, when we talk about the four difficult texts, I will speak about this first. When we look at the dictionaries these days, it identifies the four difficult texts as validity, Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, and in addition, either Abhidharma or Vinaya, and that is what we call the four difficult texts. So in the olden days in Tibet, there were what we call in Tibetan: Kazhiwa, people who had mastered the four texts. When we talk about them, it is explained that these are people who have completed the study of those four texts.
I have a doubt about that. The reason for this, Langi Pode Tsero (?), or Pode Langi Tsero in that, when Tai Situ Jangchub Gyaltsen was founding the first Kagyu shedra in Tsethang, they primarily listed Validity, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma and Vinaya as the four texts they primarily studied. Only those four, the Madhyamaka was not included among them.
Likewise, there is biography of Je Tsongkhapa called the Gateway to Faith (Depai Juggo) says at that time in central Tibet, there was Validity, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma and one would go on a debate pilgrimage, but at that time there was no tradition of doing that for the Madhyamaka.
Likewise, the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje has a text in his Collected Works, the edition of the Pawo Dranga Gom monastery, which mentions that upholding the four difficult texts and the Madhyamaka. This shows that the Madhyamaka was not included in the four difficult texts.
Likewise, there is a commentary on the ?? dilemma by Je Rinpoche and the commentary on that by ?? the scribe was Rinchen Pel, a student of Tsongkhapa who was a master of the four difficult texts. Here the four difficult texts he mastered were Validity, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma, again does not include the Middle Way. So, they generally did not include the Madhyamaka, it is important to examine this.
Anyway, here I am talking about Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma and Vinaya. I am going to talk about these in terms of three topics:
- How he composed the four commentaries on these four subjects
- The editions and publications of the texts that are currently available
- The need for critical editions of the texts and a new Collected Works
How he composed the commentaries on Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma and Vinaya
Chariot of Dagpo Lineage Siddhis (Dag Gyu Drub Shing དྭགས་བརྒྱུད་གྲུབ་ཤིང་) – Madhyamaka
The first of these quotes is:
“The Entering the Middle Way commentary called Chariot of the Dagpo Siddhis (Dag Gyu Drub Shing དྭགས་བརྒྱུད་གྲུབ་ཤིང་). So in the Wood-Dragon year, 1544 at the age of 38, the 8th Karmapa began to compose it. He completed it in 1545 when he was invited to Mon and went to see the Domtshang Rong.”
This clearly explains how this text was composed. The second quote is what it says in the colophon for Chariot of Dagpo Practice Siddhis is that the monk who requested it was called Karma Dondam Yangdag Pag. So his elder brother, Dewai Topgye had become a monk and he later became a scholar, and then he returned to his home place and he founded a new shedra called the Karma Dudal Ling and his name was Karma Yangdag Pak. So he requested the text and Mikyo Dorje then wrote the Chariot of Practice Siddhas, as it says.
Noble Ones Resting at Ease (Jetsun Ngelso: རྗེ་བཙུན་ངལ་གསོ།) – Prajnaparamita
Next is the commentary on Prajnaparamita, Noble Ones Resting at Ease (Jetsun Ngelso: རྗེ་བཙུན་ངལ་གསོ།):
“In the earth-ox year (1529) when Mikyo Dorje was 23 years old, he began writing this commentary, The Noble ones Resting at Ease, the Ornament of Clear Realisation. And he completed it in the Summer of the Iron-Hare year (1531) at the age of 25. He was at a temple called Jamyang Gyepai Dangden,”
Before, I mentioned many shedras and one shedra was at Trag Tsuru Dong and I think the shedra’s name was Jamyang Gepai Dangden Tsuglagkhang. Outside of it there was like a park, and it says that “when they did the rains retreat with over 150 monks, on the first day of the waxing phase, the 16th day of the Tibetan month, he completed the text.”
A colophon to that text also says this:
These days when we have The Noble Ones Resting in Ease, it comes from the Palpung print edition and this Gatsel Zhunglug Ling edition. I will speak about that later.
The Orb of the Sun (Nyimai Khyilkor: ཉི་མའི་དཀྱིལ་འཁོར།) – Vinaya
In terms of the Vinaya commentary, in the Earth-rat year of 1527,when he was 22 years old, he wrote an explication of the root Vinaya Sutras. Both Pawo Trengwa’s history and Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the Excellent Deeds state that.
Then in 1532, when he was 26 years old, he began to write the Great Tika on the Vinaya Sutras called the Orb of the Sun as he had a dream that the light of the Buddha was like the sun filling the entire world.
In 1532, when he was 27 he completed the text on the full moon day. This is clear. In this year of the water-snake, he says: “I began this from the age of 26 and completed it when I was 27”. This is from the colophon of the Orb of the Sun, I don’t need to read that.
The Spring-time Cow (Chi Jo) – Abhidharma
Next is the Spring Cow (དཔྱིད་འཇོ།), the Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosa He began writing that in the Water-Dragon year (1532) when he was 26 years old. The first two chapters he wrote while he was travelling from Kongpo to U.
Then, in the Earth-Pig year (1539), when he was staying at Nyug Gyelkhang for the winter, he completed everything up to the 3rd chapter. In the Iron-Ox year (1541), while staying at Chojung Phug, he completed writing the 4th and 5th chapters. In 1543, he completed the entire commentary on the Abhidharma, the Spring Cow. What it says in the colophon is very clear.
Also there is a text called the History of the Great Commentary of the Karmapa’s text on the Treasury of Abhidharma. It also describes very clearly about the composition of this commentary. So I will not say so much about it today. This is the discussion of the way he composed the great commentaries. [Transcriber note: although the 17th Karmapa did not explain it, the first quote gives a poetic description about how the commentary is like a woman’s earrings ornament to the Abhidharma and is unbiased/non-sectarian.]
2) The editions and manuscripts of these texts still extant today
The second topic is on the editions and prints of the texts. This is important to show, especially in India, Nepal and Bhutan there are some published by Lekgshey Ling, by Thrangu Vajra Vidya has published them, also I think there is one published by the Jamgon Saney. There is also the Nirtharta edition of them, there are quite a few different editions of them. The main edition we are basing it on are the Pelpung edition.
So I would like to show today, some really old manuscripts that were from prior to 1959, all such manuscripts I have received. These are ones that I currently have. I am not saying those are the only ones there are, these are the ones I have today, but maybe tomorrow it is possible I will get more. Anyway, these are the ones I have today that I will introduce.
Chariot of the Dagpo Siddhis (Dag Gyu Drub Shingpa) – editions
a) Nyugla Legshey Ling edition
The first one is the Dagpo Chariot of the Siddhas (Dag Gyu Drub Shingpa). So I will speak first about printed editions. There is a wood block that is said to be from Nyugla Lekshey Ling. it is a volume of manuscripts by Raguvira Lokeshchandra, it is in the 20th Volume. In the beginning, the first six folios are missing, so it begins on the 7th folio, This is probably that edition.
b) Pelpung woodblock edition
Now, the second print is the Pelpung wood block edition and prepared during the lifetime of Situ Pema Wangchug Gyalpo and there is a publisher’s colophon by Jamyang Chokyi Gyatso. So this is the main manuscript we use as the basis for our present day book editions.
c) Handwritten manuscript in Beijing
In terms of our handwritten manuscripts, there is one preserved in the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing.
d) Delhi edition – brought from Tibet by 16th Karmapa
Also there is one that in 1969, in Delhi, there was a Jepon Tobga who sponsored a publication of a manuscript edition. It is said that the original that this is based on was a handwritten manuscript, so we need to look for that. This is not copied from the Pelpung print, it comes from a different hand-written edition I think. This is also important.
What I have heard is, according to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, when the 16th Karmapa came from Tibet he was not able to bring too many texts by Mikyo Dorje but he was able to bring a copy of the commentary the Chariot of Practice Siddhis. So when we talk about the manuscript that Topga would have sponsored it would have been this one that was brought by the 16th Karmapa from Tibet. So we need to look and see where that is. So, I have spoken about the Madhyamaka commentary Chariot of Practice Siddhis.
Nobles Ones Resting at Ease (Jetsun Ngelso) – editions
Now, I will speak about the woodblock and manuscript editions of the Noble Ones Resting at Ease, the commentary on the Prajnaparamita.
1) Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling -1st edition of the commentary
In terms of the woodblock edition, the first is from Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling, the monastery founded by 8th Karmapa that I mentioned before:
This is a woodblock edition and it is probably published at the same time as Mikyo Dorje himself, and the person who was a descendant of Tibetan Kings called Samdey. He sponsored it financially. Where is it now? It is among the five volumes of texts preserved at Gakyegudo monastery of Adro Tulku. In the middle of that a few folios are missing and so they have been filled in from newer editions. That is the first printed edition of the commentary.
2) Pelpung edition
The second is the Pelpung edition and this is the most widespread one. It was prepared during the life of Situ Pema Wangchog with the publishing sponsored by Jamyang Chokyi Gyaltsen. They are the two old wood block editions.
3) Handwritten, colour edition
Next of the manuscripts is a handwritten in colour, this is very fine.
Orb of the Sun (Nyimai Kyilkhor) – editions
Then there is the Orb of the Sun, this has the most editions.
1) Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling
What we have for woodblock editions, there is one from the Gatsel Karma Zhunglug Ling, sponsored by Dorje Drolma, Sakyong Phuntsog Namgyal, Depa Yargyabpa and others. This is the first woodblock edition of his Vinaya commentary.
2) Pelpung edition
The second one is the Pelpung woodblock edition.
3) handwritten manuscripts held at Bejing and Drepung monastery, Nechu Lhakhang
In terms of the manuscripts we have, one is a manuscript preserved in the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing, which is now in Drepung monastery.
There is a handwritten manuscript preserved at the Drepung Nechu Lhakhang. [For more on the Kagyu texts stolen from Kagyu monasteries and stored at the Drepung Nechu Lhakhang, see Cecile Ducher’s 2020 paper https://www.academia.edu/43730572/Goldmine_of_Knowledge_The_Collections_of_the_Gnas_bcu_lha_khang_in_Bras_spungs_Monastery].
There is also a coloured manuscript of the Orb of the Sun Vinaya commentary. This is the one that I found.
Spring Cow – editions
In terms of the Abhidharma commentary, the Spring Cow:
- Pelpung edition
There is only one edition, which is the Palpung woodblock edition, other than that I have not seen any. If we look at the colophon of this, it says that at that time, in Pelpung when they were preparing it, they could not find any printed editions. They had two written manuscripts, one from Pelpung and they borrowed one from Tsurphu. If we look at this edition of the Spring Cow commentary, probably there was no printed edition of it. There is only one printed woodblock edition that I have seen. “
2) Potala Palace – handwritten edition
If we talk about the handwritten ones, there is one in the Mikyo Dorje collection that is at the Potala, one that is written in coloured ink.
3) Cultural Nationalities Palace in Beijing – handwritten edition
Likewise, there is also this handwritten manuscript at the Cultural Nationalities Palace in Beijing
These are the ones I have seen of Mikyo Dorje’s commentaries on Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma and Vinaya. There may be quite a few more, we need to look for them and gather them.
3. The importance of having well-edited critical editions of these texts
Next, the 3rd topic is the importance of having well-edited critical editions of these texts. As I said before, the reason for this is very important. As I said before, when the editions were being prepared at Pelpung at the time of Situ Pema Wangchug, the editor was Jamyang Chokyi Gyaltsen. What he writes at the end of the Abhidharma commentary is that he could not find another woodblock edition of the 8th Karmapa’s Commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma.
So they had a handwritten edition from Pelpung, then among the texts at Tsurphu they borrowed another manuscript, but when they compared the two in terms of the meaning and words, there were huge differences and they were not similar. In particular, up to the 4th chapter and especially the first two chapters were not at all the same. So which do you take as the basis? It is very difficult to say. When you think that must have been some omissions or additions, but other than that he mainly took the Tsurphu manuscript as the basis, he said.
Generally, Mikyo Dorje when he first wrote them, he would first write out the notes, then do a first draft, and then go back and edit it again. This process led to there being many different manuscripts. At first, there is the rough draft the basic notes. Then later, he would edit that and change them. So, what is left is the final version. These days, the previous drafts are burned in a fire or shredded. We do not continue to teach them.
However, at that time, as they were written by Mikyo Dorje, they became supports of faith and veneration. So even if it was not the final text, they would still read them as a basis for faith. In this way, there are many different versions of Mikyo Dorje’s texts and great differences between them. There are huge differences in the Vinaya, Prajnaparamita and the Abhidharma commentaries between the handwritten and the printed editions. The handwritten manuscripts are totally different.
So when Jamyang Chokyi Gyeltsen read it he thought if there is a printed edition, they would take that as the basis because it seems like the printed edition would have been a finalised edition. Because in the olded days making a print was not easy, they had to finalising it and make sure everything was just right, edit it and publish it. Printing it before you finalised it, was infrequent. So if there was a printed edition they took it as final. But he did not find a printed edition of the Abhidharma that would have been a very good thing.
In particular, what Jamyang Chokyi Gyeltsen says is that the printed editions of the manuscripts of the Madhyamaka commentary Chariot of the Dagpo Siddhis, are completely different, their composition styles are totally different. It seems like the manuscripts are a very rough draft that Mikyo Dorje wrote. The way he explains his intent when writing the rough draft, the way he explained his thought, it seems like it was unedited and spontaneously written. Some people say that this rough draft is what he wrote and so some people say it is not right to look down on them and see them as unimportant. That is why it is important to do comparative editions of the differences.
As I mentioned before, there are two different manuscripts for the commentary on the Excellent Deeds. One is from the Potala, one is from the Drepung and between the two there is a difference of 5 or 6 folios. What is in one manuscript is not in the other and so on and that makes a difference of 5 or 6 folios. Even between the two, the root verses of the Excellent Deeds are different. When I take a look at this, it seems to me that the one that was found in Drepung is probably the rough draft, and the one from the Potala is probably a later manuscript that had been edited. In any case, there is a really important point because things that are not clear in one are clear in another. In particular, if there are things that we had not known before that are not in the Drepung manuscript but are in the Potala edition. So I am currently preparing a Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje. And I have decided that both of the editions should be included in Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works.
‘Like a flower blooming in winter’ – project for a new edition of 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works and the unprecedented destruction of the Kagyu during the Mongolian/Gelug takeover of Tibet
For that reason, there are going to be similar great differences in the commentaries on the great texts by Mikyo Dorje. So we need to compare the old printed editions and manuscripts and then prepare critical editions to publish. This project should not be a single monastery effort. This is something we should rejoice and praise and I am not saying it is not OK. However, in the future, if we need to make an edition that everyone can accept as authoritative, then if a single monastery takes responsibility of it, then it is not so good. It is better to have a general framework and organisation, similar to our Kagyu Guncho in terms of the research and editing then it should be done to the standards of international scholarship. The best thing is if the Kagyu shedras in Tibet and abroad could collaborate and make a separate organisation and committee to do this. If we are able to do that it is best. If not, then all of the Kagyu shedras in India, Nepal and Tibet and Bhutan should collaborate and do this.
In brief, we need to make an authoritative edition that’s accepted in all the Kagyu shedras. In the future, before we can come to an understanding of Mikyo Dorje’s texts, we need to have a very high quality basis and completed the critical editing. Then we can determine how to understand it. Those texts are like a mother and her only son. Without the mother texts how can we discuss them, it is very difficult. We still have a lot more discussion to do on this, and I don’t need to mention that today.
In brief, in the past, the Mongol armies of Gushri Khan that came to Tibet caused great destruction. As it says in one of the songs of 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje that “at the time such an upheaval occurred it was as rare as a flower blooming in winter.” Normally, a flower can only bloom in the summer, however, for a flower to bloom in winter is almost impossible. This huge destruction was reeked upon the Karma Kagyu and it became like as impossible as a flower blooming in winter. For example, most of the works of the previous Karmapas have disappeared. However, it is our good fortune that most of Mikyo Dorje’s works are still extant. So now we have this jewel in our hands it is important to restore and repair it.
8th Verse of He Searched Thoroughly – How he dedicated his own and others’ virtue
So now I will speak about the 8th and 9th stanzas of 8th Karmapa’s other autobiographical verses, He Searched Thoroughly, which says:
The literal meaning of the text, according to the 5th Zhamarpa’s comments is, he exchanged himself with others thought to be great like Brahma, so he had pure aspirations were to dedicate it all for the sake of great connections. By doing that he was able to create connections with those thought to be great in the world such as Brahma. So the main point is he dedicated his own and others’ virtues for the sake of perfect enlightenment.
To discuss this according to how it is described in Pawo Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars, the main thing the 8th Stanza teaches is the example of his activity of liberating peace and existence forever. So when it says ‘thought to be great’ it means that people were not actually great. It is like little bit ironic, saying ‘thought to be great’ means the people who are not actually great. These are the universal emperors of the world, the people that worldly people consider as refuges and defenders and who the people think are great and powerful.
To be great in that way is pointless because it is a temporary pleasant result in samsara, they have that opportunity, but in the end because they do not have an indestructible nature, they will fall from the heights to the lower realms. They will not transcend the composite nature of suffering. So in this way, not only are all of the Chakravartin Emperors and the great gods, but even all the arhats, Pratyeka Buddhas and Bodhisattvas up to the 10th level have not reached the ultimate stronghold. The reason why is they are still like travellers who still remain on the path and have not reached their actual destinations and fulfilled their final intention.
So for this reason, they are also deserving of our special compassion, they are great objects for a Bodhisattva’s compassion. Because they are deserving of compassion then we use the wish to exchange oneself for others and limitless compassion and try to increase that. So through infinite varied aspirations to tame anyone anyway and create a connection between those to be tamed and those who tame, and in that way he was able to bring them to have the great intelligence of wisdom of the supreme vehicle, and the resolve of Bodhicitta.
In order to produce the relative bodhicitta, he dedicated his own virtue of his actions past, present and future, and also all the virtue done throughout the three times for this purpose. in brief, just as long as there is space and sentient beings he performed activity that is inseparable from all the beings. So this is the example of making dedications to be able to come to that state.
9th verse of He Searched Thoroughly – How supplicating fulfills the aspirations of the master himself
Now I will speak about the 9th stanza of He Searched Thoroughly, on ‘How supplicating fulfills the aspirations of the master himself’:
Explaining it according to the Annotated Commentary by 5th Zhamarpa, the term ‘like that’ (detar) mean Mikyo Dorje’s qualities, by expressing in brief the aforementioned qualities of he who has qualities we have been speaking about, aspired to completely fulfill the intentions of the previous Karmapas. What this is mainly teaching is that if you make this supplication fervently and for a long time, then you will be able to perfectly fulfil the aspirations of the master, Mikyo Dorje himself.
So this 9th stanza as described in Pawo Trengwa’s commentary, Feast For Scholars, says that the 9th Stanza is the inconceivable dedication and conclusion. Mikyo Dorje wrote this as a list of qualities without any exaggeration or denial. By stating these qualities he says that in the future, others can understand what he is speaking about and because of understanding that they develop faith because of that faith, they follow his example, or at the least they will recite it. In any case, whatever virtue that is gathered directly or indirectly must be dedicated. So it is a dedication for all the virtue that is accumulated directly or indirectly and the one who is stating the qualities, the one making the dedication is Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje himself.
So now here is a doubt. So if you are stating your own qualities how do you gain any virtue from that? Saying ‘I am a great and good person’. So what virtue do you get from that? There is virtue from saying that. For example, there is a Sutra Describing the Birth and Life of the Buddha, in which the Buddha teaches his own deeds because if he teaches his own deeds then it will bring many students into ripening and liberation it is taught. So if you speak about your own qualities as they are, then there is virtue to it.
What purpose was it dedicated for? What is the aim of it? In the short term, it is for Mikyo Dorje’s speech itself to be pure and clearly sounded because his words were not so clear. He had some kind of problem with his tongue, his words and speech was not very good. So for a time, Mikyo Dorje was also praying for his own speech to be pure and clearly pronounced. So Mikyo Dorje, as it says in our Dharma texts there is a praise and lament of Avalokiteshvara in which Mikyo Dorje says that he had some problem with his tongue even though his pronunciation was clear, in order to purify that he wrote this prayer he said.
Ultimately it was dedicated to have a meaningful form body (kaya) and to awaken to the Dharmakaya, Buddhahood. And to be able to bring all beings to that state of the Karmapa, who is inseparable from the Buddha Amoghasiddhi, the embodiment of the activities of all the Buddhas.
Summary of the entire meaning of He Searched Thoroughly by 17th Karmapa
Next I will summarise the entire meaning of He Searched Thoroughly in which he teaches his life-story in verses:
–The 1st verse teaches how he did not merely teach by having a title but sought out the teachings to receive them in full.
–The 2nd verse teaches how he knew properly how to distinguish Dharma and non-Dharma and gave up naturally disobedient and unwholesome actions.
–The 3rd verse teaches how he followed his teachers as dearly as his own life.
–The 4th verse is his advice to think that everything is futile and to be content.
–The 5th Verse is to train in bodhicitta, the essence of the Mahayana.
–The 6th Verse is advice to only consider the state of one’s own mind and to tame your own mindstream.
–The 7th verse is advice that instead of being satisifed with other people’s speech and nonsense but instead to gain prajna and realisation and having an impartial mind.
–the 8th verse teaches that nothing other than perfect enlightenment is worthy of aspiration, so you should achieve that and seek lasting liberation.
–the 9th verse is advice to dedicate all virtues to liberation.
This is a summary of what is taught in the Praises He Searched Thoroughly. What it says in the Annotated Commentary by 5th Zhamarpa is that this supplication was written by Mikyo Dorje for his own teacher Karma Trinleypa. When he was staying at Namtho Mountain, Mikyo Dorje offered it to him. When he offered it, Karma Trinleypa said “I don’t have these qualities at all, and so I offer them back to you Mikyo Dorje.” So the guru offered it back to the disciple.
There is also a prayer called the Mig Tsema which is very similar. This is a prayer by Tsongkhapa, ‘Zhudro Lodro I bow to you at your lotus feet. Protect me who seeks liberation.” He is offering this to Rendawa, and Rendawa said it is not OK to say that and it would be worthy to offer the Dharma praise and changed it to Tsongkhapa and gave it back.
So the guru was pleased with the disciple and gave it back to him. Generally, the students make praise of the guru, there are not many where the guru praises the student. However, here they are happy at the student’s activities and deeds and rejoicing in that. So one perspective, it is showing the great confidence the guru has in his disciple and how pleased he is. Because the student has pleased the guru, there is no better disciple than that. For this reason, this supplication is different from other supplications. Within our Kamtsang practice, there are many different praises and it includes this one. Among all the praises of Mikyo Dorje this is the most well known.
2 thoughts on “LIKE A ROSE BLOOMING IN WINTER: CHERISHING AND PROTECTING THE JEWEL OF 8TH KARMAPA’S FOUR GREAT COMMENTARIES AND OTHER WORKS. Background and overview of 8th Karmapa’s influential and great commentaries on the four texts of Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharma; 17th Karmapa’s project of a new Collected Works with critical editions of these texts; and the final two verses of 8th Karmapa’s autobiographical praises, ‘He Searched Thoroughly’ with summary (17th Karmapa, Day 13 (Part II) Spring 2023 teaching)”
big thanks for all your workâ¦
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On Wed, 24 May 2023 at 18:27, Dakini Translations and Publications