Ashoka Translation Grant Award by Khyentse Foundation for Innate Kalacakra Project

Good news for Dharma translation, am happy to share the news that the Khyentse Foundation have awarded an Ashoka Translation Grant for my forthcoming Innate Kalacakra project. It was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise as the application round is very competitive for such grants.

The first year of the project will focus on translating and publishing, the sections of the three main Jonang texts that teach the Innate Kalacakra (that are used in the Jonang and Karma Kagyu traditions for Kalacakra retreats). Accompanied with translations of sadhanas by Taranatha and Jamgon Kongtrul Thaye and a short introductory history and background to the Innate Kalacakra. I will also try and include translations of sections on the practise by Karma Kagyu and Nyingma masters.

As I have written about before here, the Nyingma and Khyentse lineage, particularly with the master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (see photo below) have a very strong historical connection to Kalacakra and the Jonang master, Taranatha.

Many thanks to HE Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and the Khyentse Foundation for their recognition of this proposed work and aims. May it be of benefit!

New translation project: 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’s Shentong Commentary on the Third Karmapa’s ‘Mahamudra Aspiration’

Have recently been staying and spending significant time at Benchen Monastery, Pharping Nepal attending the teachings and Vajrakilaya drubchen led by HE 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. While I was there, I had the good fortune and timing to offer Rinpoche a personal copy of Taranatha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra just before he was about to start the Wisdom Chapter teachings of the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva (see here for video link of those teachings).

HE 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche pictured here with 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

Thereafter, the auspicious connections ripened quickly and I requested, and received, the oral transmission and permission to translate Rinpoche’s excellent and accessible Shentong commentary ( ཆེན་པོ་གཞན་སྟོང་གི་ལྟ་བ་དང་འབྲེལ་བའི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོའི་སྨོན་ལམ་གྱི་རྣམ་བཤད་ངེས་དོན་དྱིངས་ཀྱི་རོལ་མོ། Chen po gzhan stong gi lta ba dang ‘brel ba’i phyag rgya chen po’i smon lam gyi rnam bshad nges don dyings kyi rol mo) on the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje’s Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer.

The Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineage, at the same time as the Jonang, were extremely important advocates and composers of texts on the Shentong view and the Sangye Nyenpa lineage were a key figures in this activity.

The 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor (1457-1525) was a disciple of His Holiness the 7th Karmapa Choedak Gyatsho and a teacher of the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. In this way, he became a part of so called “Golden Rosary”, the lineage of Kagyu forefathers. The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje who was not only a Kalacakra master (as I have written about here) but also a Shentong scholar. According to H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor’s “emanation basis” (sprul gzhi) is the future Buddha Maitreya. He is also considered to be an emanation of the Indian master Jnanagarbha (ye shes snying po), one of the teachers of the great translator Marpa.  Below is a photo of a sacred statue of the 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche:

Precious silver statue of Tashi Paljor that is kept in Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s seat in Central Tibet, known as “the silver statue [that floated] in midair”, (dngul sku bar snang ma).
According to Rigpa Wiki:

The picture (see above) shows a precious silver statue of Tashi Paljor that is kept in Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s seat in Central Tibet, known as “the silver statue [that floated] in midair”, (dngul sku bar snang ma). It was made by the 8th Karmapa and is said to have floated in the air for seven days after the Karmapa had consecrated it. It contains some hair, bone fragments, pieces of the clothes and relic pills (ring sel) of Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor and is said to have great blessings and powers. Ven. Benchen Tenga Rinpoche says that often rituals for the sick are performed in front of this statue. If the sick person will live, the eyes of the statue will look upwards into the sky. If the person will die, then the statue’s eyes will look downwards. During the destruction of Tsurphu the statue was saved and buried on the mountain behind the monastery by one of the Tsurphu monks. Decades later, after the Tsurphu monastery was rebuilt, the same monk searched for a long time and eventually found the statue again. It is now enshrined in Tsurphu in a large silver reliquary (ga’u) as one of the most precious relics of the Karma Kagyu lineage.

Furthermore, the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, (who wrote the Mahamudra Prayer this commentary is based on) has also been said to be the originator of the Shentong view (and language of Shentong) in Tibet, as opposed to Jonang master, Dolpopa (see ‘The Buddha Within’ by Hookham 1991, for more on that). The eight Tai Situ Rinpoche was also a major Shentong advocate, who also wrote a Shentong commentary on the Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer (ངེས་དོན་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོའི་སྨོན་ལམ་གྱི་འགྲེལ་པ་གྲུབ་པ་མཆོག་གི་ཞལ་ལུང། Nges don phyag rgya chen po’i smon lam gyi ‘grel pa grub pa mchog gi zhal lung).

The current 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, is one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist scholars and Vajrayana masters alive today. Born in 1964 at Paro Taktsang, Guru Rinpoche’s temple, in Bhutan, he was recognized by His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa, and his other root lama was the supreme Nyingma master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It is an honour and great fortune to not only meet such a great master in person but also to read his compositions and have the fortune to translate it into English. On Rinpoche’s birthday celebrations at Pharping I was spontaneously moved to write a Long-life poem for Rinpoche, Melodious Sounds of the Thunder Dragon. May it be of benefit!




The Life and Works of Tsen Khawoche: Founder of ‘the Meditative Tradition’ and Tibetan ‘Empty-of-Other’

Inspired by the new English translation of a biography of 11th century Tibetan master, Tsen Khawoche (བཙན་ཁ་བོ་ཆེ།, btsan kha bo che, b. 1021), by Alexander Gardner, published online by Treasury of Lives, I decided to write a  short post about this great Tibetan scholar, master and translator who was an extremely important and influential figure for the Karma Kagyu and Jonang Shentong traditions.   As it states in the biography:

Tsen, who studied at Toling monastery and went to Kashmir seeking further guidance, understood buddha-nature to be the natural luminosity of mind. Unlike the mainstream Madhyamaka asserted by Ngok, Tsen held that all phenomena are empty save for buddha-nature, which is unconditioned and which possesses innate qualities.  This position became known as the “Tsen tradition” (btsan lugs) or the “meditative tradition” (sgom lugs) of buddha-nature exegesis, in contrast to the “analytic tradition” (thos bsam gyi lugs) or “epistemological tradition” (mtshan nyi kyi lugs) based on Ngok’s famous commentary to the Ratnagotravibhāga. Tsen is considered by Tibetan historians to have been a disseminator of Yogācāra doctrine, and likely accepted all Five Books of Maitreya as definitive. Ngok, by contrast, considered the Ratnagotravibhāga to be the sole definitive teaching of the Five Books of Maitreya; he classified the other four as Yogācāra and therefore provisional.  Tsen’s work thus inspired the “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong) writing of Jonang masters, Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1361) and Tāranātha (1575-1634).

Toling monastery, Tibet, where Tsen studied.
Mural from Toling Monastery, Tibet.

I first came across the name Tsen Khawoche when researching my translation and study of Taranatha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra. In the section of this book, on the origination of the Shentong (gzhan stong) doctrine, I wrote this:

Jonang Kunga Drolchog (Kun-dga’-grol-mchog)’s citation of the statement made by the Tibetan scholar and translator Tsen Khawoche (bTsan-kha-bo-che), regarding his teacher Sajjana’s view of the three Turnings, was seen as sufficient to refute any criticism made by Tibetan critics who claimed that the Empty-of-Other tradition was completely unknown in India prior to Dol-po-pa:[1]

The Jo-nang-pas, for one, claim that their gzhan stong position had earlier been staked out in India, for example by the Kashmiri Paṇḍita Sajjana (11th cent.) who adhered to a distinction between the real and imputed.  In his “History of the Collection of One Hundred Instructions,” Jonang Kunga Drolchog (1507–1566) reports that Tsen Khawoche said about Sajjana:

Sajjana, the paṇḍita from Kashmir, made the very significant statement that the victorious one turned the dharmacakra three times.  The First [dharma]cakra concerned the Four [Noble] Truths, the Middle one the lack of defining characteristics, and the Final one careful distinctions.  The First two of them did not distinguish between the real and the imputed.  During the ultimate ascertainment of the Final one, he taught by distinguishing between the Middle and the extremes (Skt. Madhyāntavibhāga) and by distinguishing between phenomena and their true nature (Skt. Dharmadharmatāvibhāga).

To sum up, the synthesis of Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha in the Maitreya works reflects a serious alternative to the Madhyamaka hermeneutics of Candrakīrti, and can thus be considered a realistic Indian precedent of gzhan stong.

This passage is also quoted by Brunnhölzl (2014: 143) along with the additional comments by bTsan-kha-bo-che:

That this appears  [in] an old notebook of bTsan-kha -bo-che himself, which bears the name Lotus Hook, shows that one should reject the later claim that the conventional term gzhan stong was completely unknown in India and [only] appeared later in Tibet with the Omniscient Dol-po-pa.

It is interesting to note that as Tsen did not know Sanskrit, he engaged the services of another of Sajjana’s disciples, Zu Gawai Dorje (gzu dga’ ba’i rdo rje), to translate the the Ratnagotravibhāga.  The biography goes on to say that:

Zu himself wrote a commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāga that served as a main source for the Karma Kagyu compositions on the topic by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje, 1284-1339), Karma Trinle(karma ‘phrin las, 1456-1539), and Go Lotsāwa Zhonnu Pel (‘gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal, 1392-1481)…..

There is a short section in the One Hundred Instructions of the Jonang on Tsen Khawoche’s teachings, titled Instructions on the View of Other-Emptiness (gzhan stong gi lta khrid). Kunga Drolchok (kun dga’ grol mchog, 1507-1565), the compiler, was the twenty-fourth holder of the monastic seat of Jonang Monastery.

May the Shentong lineage and teachings flourish and may all beings attain the awakened state of Buddha Nature!


Images courtesy of the Treasury of Lives website.

[1] From Mathes 2012: 189–198 and see also Stearns 1999: 42–45.


Karl Brunnholzl, When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra.  Boston and London: Snow Lion, 2014.

Klaus-Dieter Mathes, “The gZhan stong Model of Reality – Some More Material on its Origin, Transmission and Interpretation.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 34.1–2 (2012) 187–223.

Cyrus Stearns, The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

Alexander Gardner, “Tsen Khawoche,” Treasury of Lives, November 19, 2018,


New Website Domain and Donations page

Dear Dharma friends and supporters,

I am happy to announce a new website domain,, to more accurately represent the non-sectarian (ris med) nature of the teachings and also of this website. If you follow this website, please make a note.

Also, as a poor Dharma translator, I am completely reliant on donors and sponsors to offer the work I do for no-profit and zero payment. Any amount you can offer, makes a difference. For more information see here.

So please this time of year, as Christmas approaches, think about making a donation to a Dharma translator. There aren’t many of us around, but the merit one gets from doing so is huge!