NEW TRANSLATION: The ‘Red Hat Karmapa’, 4th Shamarpa’s ‘Supplication to the Kālacakra Six Vajra-Yogas Lineage’ and his teacher, Kālacakra lineage master, Go Lotsawa Kālacakra

4th Sharmapa, Chokyi Dragpa Yeshe Palzang

For Mahakala day today and the solstice, this new translation and article includes a brief introduction to the life of the 4th Sharmapa, Chodrag Yeshe Palzang (one of the four main heart-disciples of the Karmapas) and his connection to Kālacakra and Kālacakra master, Go Lotsawa Zhonu Pal and a new translation of texts he composed about the Kālacakra six vajra-yogas and the Jonang master, Dolpopa. The whole Introduction and translation of both texts can be downloaded for free as a .pdf here.

The ‘red hat Karmapa’, 4th Sharmapa

The author of two short texts, Supplication to the Lineage of Six Vajra-Yogas[1] and Praise to the Qualities of the Omniscient Dolpopa[2], is Shamar Chödrag Yeshe (zhwa dmar bzhi pa spyan snga chos kyi grags pa  – 1453-1524/5), the fourth Shamarpa, or ‘Red Hat Karmapa’. Born in Kangmar in Domey, he later became a disciple of the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso (chos grags rgya mtsho).   According to biographical sources, the famous Tibetan monastery Ga Mamo Tashi Rabten was founded by him. He also established many smaller monasteries. During his travels outside Tibet, Chödrag Yeshe built many monasteries, among others there are four monasteries in Bhutan and he was the first of the Shamar reincarnates to visit Nepal, where he built a small monastery in Swayambhunath, one of the country’s most sacred places. Upon returning to his homeland, he acted as the king of Tibet for a period of twelve years and he ruled the country on the basis of strict adherence to Buddhist principles.

In 2012, HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, gave a teaching on the four main heart-sons of the Karmapa, one of which is Sharmapa (the others being Gyaltsab, Tai Situ and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoches) – see below:


He explained that the first Sharmapa was predicted by the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, who said there would be two Karmapas, one would wear the black hat and one would wear the red hat. The first Shamarpa, received a red crown, an exact replica of Karmapa’s black crown from Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa, establishing the second line of reincarnate lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapa was the first.

Due to political reasons, some of which are now disputed, the Tibetan government forbid the recognition of the Sharmapa lineage from the 10th Sharmapa onwards. HH 17th Karmapa explained that when the 9th Sharmapa passed away and the 10th Shamarpa was recognised, there was a dispute over two contenders, and to decide it they did a lottery where they pulled the name out of a golden vase.  The one whose name was not recognised as the official one out of the vase, was called Namling Shamar and that lineage also continued up until the 15th Karmapa. After the 10th then there was no throne holder of the Sharmapa, but there were lamas who they said were the incarnations of the Sharmapa.   That is why, when the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, was allowed to recognise the Sharmapa again , he was called the 14th Sharmapa (who recently passed away).

The 5th Dalai Lama is said to have regarded the 4th Shamarpa as equal to the Karmapa, saying:

Since Je Chen-nga Thamchad Khyenpa Chokyi Dragpa (the Fourth Shamarpa) ascended the throne of the Phagdrupa dynasty, there was no longer any difference between the Red Hat and the Black Hat Karmapas. This was the reason why I afforded them both equal status. (cited from Autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama. 3 vols. Lhasa: bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1989, Vol. 2. P.359)

The 4th Sharmapa, Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal and Kālacakra

These two texts are unusual in that they are written by a very powerful Tibetan Buddhist lama and also King of Tibet, about his admiration for the Jonang and Kālacakra master, Dolpopa and also a supplication to the lineage of the Kālacakra six vajra-yogas.  The 4th Sharmapa is one of the few masters from another main Tibetan Buddhist lineage to write a praise to Dolpopa.  More on that text and praises to Dolpopa, in general, soon.

The first Sharmapa  Drakpa Sengge (zhwa dmar 01 grags pa seng ge, who was a student of the 3rd Karmapa) had a connection to Kālacakra via an important Kālacakra lineage master, Gyalwa Yeshe, who was a student of the famed Jonang Kālacakra lineage master, and compiler of the seventeen lineages of Kālacakra, Kunpang Chenpo. :

While practicing at Dechen Teng Drakpa Sengge had dreams about journeying to Oḍḍiyāna, which he related to the Karmapa. He accompanied the Karmapa to Nyemo (snye mo) and continued on into Tsang, intending to reach the Swat valley. At Jonang Monastery (jo nang dgon) he encountered a master in the Jonang Kālacakra tradition, Gyelwa Yeshe (rgyal ba ye shes, 1247-1320), who told him that the Buddhadharma had vanished from India. He then spent a year with this teacher, receiving from him his complete Kālacakra transmissions, and ultimately abandoning his aspiration to visit Oḍḍiyāna.

I could not find much English language information online about what the 4th Sharmapa’s connection was to Kālacakra and if he had Jonang teachers, however (based on my own brief research of Tibetan sources) he was certainly strongly connected to the 3rd Karmapa (whom he also writes a praise to) who is considered to be one of the founders of the renowned empty-of-other view and wrote several works on Kālacakra (which have yet to be translated). In addition, his teacher, the 7th Karmapa also had a strong connection to Kālacakra. The 7th Karmapa received Kālacakra intitations from Peljor Dondrub (the regent of Tsurphu monastery after 6th Karmapa passed away) who also gave full ordination and empowerments to the 4th Sharmapa.

Go Lotsawa Zhonu Pal
Texts on Kalacakra by 4th Sharmapa

In particular, the 4th Sharmapa wrote several texts about Kālacakra[3], one of which was written in 1477 on the basis of explanations of his master, the renowned, practitioner, translator and historian of Kālacakra, Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal (‘gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal) (see biographical information below), at Gacho Dzong monastery (mngon dga’ chos rdzong). The author signs himself, the 4th Shamarpa (zhwa dmar cod pan ‘dzin pa bzhi pa); edited for the golden manuscript of the collected works put together by Norbu Zangpo (nor bu bzang po) in 1694 at Nyemo Chushukl (snye mo chu shul), obviously the 6th Tshurphu Gyaltsab (mtshur phu rgyal tshab).

He also wrote a detailed commentary on the generation stage of Kalacakra, written in 1496 at the behest of the Taglung Kagyu (stag lung bka’ bgyud) lineage master  Namgyal Dragpa (rnam rgyal grags pa) at the Yangon (yang dgon) of the Phagmo Dru (phag mo gru) with Dharma Shribhadra (d+harma shrI b+hadra) as scribe. Another text was begun in 1497 at the same place, and completed in 1512 at Yangpa chen (yangs pa can) at the behest of the same master above and the third Chag Lotsawa (chag lo tsA ba) with Samadhi Kulisha (sa mA d+hi ku li sha) as scribe. In 1517, the 4th Sharmapa, also wrote a biography of Zhonnu Pal that is available to read online[4].

Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pel

Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pel (1392-1481) was a famous Tibetan historian and scholar and is perhaps best known for his massive history of Buddhism in Tibet, The Blue Annals (deb ther sngon po) that he started in 1476 at the age of eighty-four, dictating to attendants, and completed in 1478. He was also a teacher of the seventh Karmapa and fourth Shamarpa.  Zhonnu Pel received teachings from some sixty lamas from multiple traditions, including the 5th Karmapa and Tsongkhapa. He also served as a translator for the Indian Paṇḍit Vanaratna, known in Tibetan as Paṇchen Nakyi Rinchen (ba na rat+na; pan chen nags kyi rin chen, 1384-1468), when he visited and toured Tibet, thus earning the title Lotsāwa, or translator. Until the age of fifty, Zhonnu Pel spent most of his time studying, and only then began teaching and composing works. He composed a large number of treatises that he began only after the age of seventy. One of the texts is The Extremely Clear Gem; a Commentary of the Essential Meaning of the Kālacakra Tantra (dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rgyud kyi dka’ ‘grel snying po’i don rab tu gsal ba’i rgyan) written in 1467. He was also an expert astrologist in the Kālacakra calendar system[5].

Currently there is no English language information available online regarding the 4th Shamarpa’s relationship with Zhonnu Pal, but in the future, I plan to make more available.


King Sucandra, first Dharma King of Shambhala. Part of a mural of paintings of the Dharma and Kalki Kings of Shambhala at Benchen monastery, Nepal, commissioned for the Kalacakra empowerment there by HE Tenga Rinpoche in 2005.


Supplication to the Lineage of the Six Vajra-Yogas

by 4th Shamarpa, Chodrag Yeshe





Supreme, unchanging, great bliss itself

The single ‘taste’ mother of manifold emptiness.

All-Victorious father, supreme ādhibuddha[6]

I pray please bless us!






To Lord of Secrets [Vajrapani], glorious Sucandra[7]

Who by the moon bestowed majestic, divine powers.

To the various forms of rulers of gods

I pray please bless us!






To the one with power over the gods, Kalkī[8] Manjushri[9]

Lord of the World, White Lotus, Kalkī Puṇḍarīka [10]

To Bhadra, Vijaya and Sumitra[11]

I pray please bless us!

Kalkī Manjushri
Kalkī Puṇḍarīka














Raktapāṇi, Viṣṇugupta, Arkakīrti
Subhadra, Samudravijaya, Aja
Sūrya, Viśvarūpa, Śaśiprabha

I pray please bless us!





Ananta and nirmanakāya Mahīpāla
Śrīpāla[13], and those that followed after,

Kālacakrapādas[14] and Nālendrapa[15]

I pray please bless us!






Bestower of the five sciences[16], venerable Somanātha[17]

Sherab Drak[18], and Gompa Konchogsung[19]

Droton Namtsek[20] and mahasiddha Yumo[21]

I pray please bless us!






Dharmesvara[22] and Scholar Namkha Od[23]

Namkha Gyaltsen[24] and Jamyang Sarma[25]

Choku Ozer[26]and Thugke Tsondru [27]

I pray please bless us!






Jangsem Dampa and Gyalwa Yeshe Tshen[28]

Yonten Gyatso,[29] and Omniscient Dharma Lord [Dolpopa] [30],

Chogle Namgyal[31] and venerable Sangye Rinchen[32]

I pray please bless us!






The one who has attained the indestructible pride of all the textual traditions

Omniscient teacher of the three vehicles

To the Jetsun Dampa Zhonu[33]

I pray please bless us!







The lineage gurus who clarified

The unsurpassable essence of the ocean of all Tantras, and

The profound path of the six-branch vajra-yogas

I pray please bless us!






May no obstacles arise while practising the excellent path,

With the two truths, conventional and ultimate, and

By purifying the obscurations of body, speech and mind

May we quickly attain the union of the primordial awareness kaya!

ཅེས་ཟབ་ལམ་དྲོ་རྗེ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་ཡན་ལག་དྲུག་གི་བརྒྱུད་པའི་བླ་མ་རྣམས་ལ་གསོལ་བ་འདེབས་པའི་ཚིག་མདོར་བྱས་པའོ༎ འདི་ལ་འབྲོ་ཤེས་རབ་གྲགས་འཇུག་པ་ནི་བཀའ་དྲིན་ཆེ་བས་ཞེས་གསུང་སྐད༎

That is the brief supplication to the gurus of the lineage of the profound path of the six-branch vajra yogas. That was spoken due to the great kindess of the Dro Sherab Drag.

A depiction of Sambhala, reputedly painted by, or painted under the direction of, the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje). See:


Translated, edited and compiled by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020). Copyright, all rights reserved. May it be of benefit and may all beings attain the fully awakened state of Kālacakra! May the Karma Kagyu lineage teachings flourish and peace and harmony restored!


[1] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa (“rnal ‘byor yan lag drug gi brgyud rim gsol ‘debs.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 175 – 177. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

[2] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa (“kun mkhyen dol po ba shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi yon tan la bsngags pa sh+lo ka bcu gcig pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 296 – 297. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

[3] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa  (“dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rgyud ‘grel gsungs pa’i skabs kyi zin bris.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 5: 902 – 968. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

 “dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i bskyed rim gyi rnam par bzhag pa legs bshad rgya mtsho.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 2: 23 – 252. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

“bcom ldan ‘das dus kyi ‘khor lo’i dkyil ‘khor gyi cho ga rnam par bshad pa’i dri ma med pa’i ‘od kyi snang ba.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 2: 253 – 392. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.


[4] The colophon of the biographical text states that the 4th Sharmapa wrote it on the 37th anniversary of Zhonu’s passing away, on the 16th of the 4th month of the fire-female-ox year (1517) at the temple of Dechen Yangpachen. See: “‘gos lo gzhon nu dpal gyi rnam thar/.” In ‘gos lo gzhon nu dpal gyi rnam thar. TBRC W28960. : 1 – 189. pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004.

[5] For more on Zhonnu Pal and astrology, see Edward Henning’s article: The Error Correction System of Zhonnu Pal (2013) at Henning says:

In fairness to Zhonnu Pal, having taken his work apart in this way, I should say that his text (rtsis la ‘khrul pa sel ba) on his Error Correction system shows three things: a genuine attempt properly to implement the intentions of the Kālacakra system, the best description in the Tibetan language of how the siddhānta calculation systems were developed, and, a mathematical clarity and accuracy unfortunately lacking in some of his contemporaries. For anybody wishing to study the siddhānta calculation systems in the Tibetan language, his text would make the best starting point.

[6] In Vajrayana, the Adi-Buddha (Tib. dang po’i sangs rgyas), is the “First Buddha” or the “Primordial Buddha.”The term features prominently in the Kālacakra.  Ãdi means “first”, such that the ādibuddha was the first to attain Buddhahood. Ādi can also mean “primordial,” not referring to a person but to an innate wisdom that is present in all sentient beings. For an interesting discussion of this concept in the Kālacakra literature, see Vesna Wallace, Inner Kālacakra Tantra, Oxford University Press, 2001: 17-18:

One of the most important concepts in the Kālacakra system is that of the Adibuddha. Even though the concept of the Adibuddha is not unique to the Kālacakratantra, it is most emphasized and discussed in the Kālacakra literature. …..The Kālacakra tradition’s interpretation of the Adibuddha is primarily based on the NamasamgTti’s exposition of Vajrasattva, who is Vajradhara……However, analysis of the Kālacakra literature reveals that when the Kālacakra tradition speaks of the Adibuddha in the sense of a beginningless and endless Buddha , it is referring to the innate gnosis that pervades the minds of all sentient beings and stands as the basis of both samsara and nirvana. Whereas, when it speaks of the Adibuddha as the one who first attained perfect enlightenment by means of imperishable bliss, and when it asserts the necessity of acquiring merit and knowledge in order to attain perfect Buddhahood, it is referring to the actual realization of one’s own innate gnosis. Thus, one could say that in the Kālacakra tradition, Adibuddha refers to the ultimate nature of one’s own mind and to the one who has realized the innate nature of one’s own mind by means of purificatory practices.

[7] Sucandra (zla ba bzang po, literal meaning ‘Excellent Moon’) an emanation of Vajrapāṇi,  was the first of the seven Dharma Kings ( Dharmarajas) of Shambhala.  According to Buddhist legend, the first ‘notable’ king of Shambhala, King Suchandra (or Chandrabhadra), was the one who requested teaching from the Buddha that would allow him to practice the dharma without renouncing his worldly enjoyments and responsibilities. In response to his request, the Buddha gave the first Kālacakra root tantra. By practicing the Kālacakra the whole of Shambhala became an enlightened society, with Suchandra as the ruler.  King Suchandra was followed by an additional six Dharmarajas with his eighth successor, Manjushri Yashas the first of the 25 Kalkī Kings.  Tāranātha says about Sucandra in his History of Kalacakra (dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkho):

On the full moon of the month Caitra in the year following his enlightenment, at the great stupa of Dhānyakaṭaka (dpal ldan ‘bras dpung kyi mchod rten), the Buddha emanated the mandala of “The Glorious Lunar Mansions”. In front of an audience of countless Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, vīras, ḍākinīs, the twelve great gods, gods, nāgas, yakṣas, spirits and fortunate people gathered from the 960 million villages north of the river Śītā, was requested by the emanation of Vajrapani, the king Sucandra (zla ba bzang po), to teach the tantra.

He taught not just this tantra, but all tantras. Countless men and non-humans achieved the realisations of their desires. Some teachings were taken to other human realms, and the Dharma king Sucandra wrote the Tantras in textual form in his land of Sambhala. He composed the explanatory Tantra in 60,000 verses to the Mūlatantra of 12,000. (Both of these are now lost.)

He had divine workers construct from jewels a maṇḍala palace of Kālacakra, 400 cubits across. He taught the mantrayāna to many humans and many of them achieved the highest realisation. In the second year after the teaching of the Mūlatantra, having installed as regent his son, the emanation of Kṣitigarbha, Sureshvara (lha’i dbang po), he passed on.

For more see Edward Henning’s 2015 translation and article at

[8] Rigden (rigs ldan)  is the Tibetan word for Kalkī, literally meaning ‘endowed with awareness’ or ‘holder of the families’, is  used to refer to the thirty-two Kalkī Kings of Shambhala. For more on the Shambhala Kings see Edward Henning (2010) http://www.Kā, which includes stunning pictures of paintings of all the Shambhala Kings commissioned for a Kālacakra empowerment given by HE Tenga Rinpoche at Benchen monastery, Nepal in 2005.

[9] Yaśas (grags pa), an emanation of Mañjugoṣa, the king who converted the ṛiṣis to the single vajra-caste. He is the first of the most recent 25 of the 32 Kings of Shambhala.  King Yashas is said to have lived in the second century BCE and formatted the Kālacakra teachings into a condensed and simplified structure termed the “Sri Kālacakra” or “Laghutantra.” He also converted a group of non-Buddhist Brahman priests of Shambhala to Buddhism and gave them the Kālacakra initiation, thereby uniting all inhabitants into one “vajra caste,” or family of tantric practitioners. Yashas is said to have predicted the coming of “Barbarian Dharma” after 800 years (about 600 CE), which some believe indicates a form of Islam. Tāranātha says:

As prophesied in the Mūlatantra, he saw that the 35,000,000 Brahmin sages who lived in the 96 regions were fortunate, and that it was time to convert them. He understood that if they were not converted their descendants would in the future become barbarians (mleccha, a Sanskrit term for any foreigner not following Indian customs, but here specifically referring to Muslims). He also understood that if they entered the Mantra teachings, then all the people of the 96 regions would enter the Mantra path.

Having understood that the sages (Ṛiṣis) would not be converted by gentleness alone, but would have to be forced, he commanded the highest sage, Sūryaratha (nyi ma’i shing rta), and questioned him about the different practices of the sages. After these were explained to him, he ordered them to abandon their different views, Hindu Siddhāntas, and various practices, and enter the Vajrayāna of one caste. (The Vimalaprabhā gives a more detailed version of this story.)

As they were so attached to their evil views and practices they would not adopt the Vajra caste, and, giving up their own land, prepared to leave for India, driven out by this fierce command of the King. They travelled south for ten days, arriving on the tenth day at a great forest.

The King subdued them into a deep sleep, and instructed non-humans, without waking them, to carry them instantly into the sky and transport them to the centre of the Mālaya grove, in front of the maṇḍala that had been erected by Sucandra.

There, they were woken up, and were greatly surprised. The minister Sāgaramati (rgya mtsho’i blo gros) explained the symbolism of the mandala to them, and at the request of Sūryaratha and the other sages they were given the empowerment of the awareness maṇḍala and were taught the text known as the Kālacakra Laghutantra (dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rgyud kyi rgyal po bsdus rgyud) which condenses the meaning of the Mūlatantra.

This text, summarised from the Mūlatantra, contains 1,030 verses in sragdharā metre. As the Mūlatantra is composed in anuṣṭubh metre, measuring it in that metre it is about 3,000 verses, and so the Laghutantra is about one quarter the length of the Mūlatantra.

So, on the full moon of the month of Caitrā (nag pa – this is taken as the third month in the Tibetan calendar, but is considered the first in the Kālacakra calendar), the sages were given the empowerment and explanation of the tantra. One month later, on the full moon of the Vaiśākhā (sa ga) month, all the sages achieved the non-dual awareness-kāya.

[10] King Puṇḍarīka (padma dkar po) (176-76 BCE)), an emanation of Lokeśvara, composed the tantra commentary, the Vimalaprabhā (“Stainless Light”).  This text, together with the Sri Kālacakra, is the source text of the Kālacakra system as it is now practiced. Other practice texts are commentaries on these two. The Dalai Lamas are said to be incarnations of Puṇḍarīka. Tāranātha says:

After him (King Yaśas) came the emanation of Avalokiteśvara, Puṇḍarīka. He composed the commentary on the Laghutantra, the Vimalaprabhā, in 12,000 verses. As in this way the sages of different castes were turned into the single caste of the Vajrayāna, and from the time of Yaśas onwards, these kings were called Kalkī kings, meaning of one caste.

[11] These are the names of the next three Kalkī Kings, Bhadra (bzang po) (76 BCE -227 CE), an emanation of Yamāntaka. Vijaya (rnam rgyal), an emanation of Kṣitigarbha (227-327). Sumitra (bshes gnyen bzang po), an emanation of Jambhaka.  (327-427).

[12] These are all names of Kalki Kings that came after.

[13] These three names are 16th, 17th and 18th Kalki Kings.

[14] Tāranātha says about Younger Kālacakrapāda  (ibid.):

The one known as the Younger Kālacakrapāda, whose real name was Śrībhadra, alone spread the teachings. He was from the Vaiśya caste, was an Upāsaka, and was expert in all the yānas.
He possessed many supersensible cognitions, could not sink in water, and was unimpeded by walls and mountains. He gave a discourse to 500 paṇḍitas at Nālanda and impressed everyone with his speech, and all, except Vāgīśvarakīrti and Prajñākara bowed down to him.
He said that these teachings would spread over the whole earth, and that kings, ministers and great merchants were even developing an interest in the texts and developing dispositions (towards the teachings). If it would not come to India, where else would it go? From now on, placing all Kālacakra siddhas on one side and all siddhas of other traditions on another, the Kālacakra siddhas will be the greater in number.

[15] The son of the younger Kālacakrapāda was known as Nālendrapa. His real name was Bodhibhadra and he was the owner of the land of Nālendra (sic). He practised all four activities but only achieved realisation of the yoga of wind. He had many students, but here, the important one is the Kashmiri paṇḍit, Somanātha.

[16] Somanātha /Dawa Gonpo (zla ba dgon po). This reference to the five sciences is mentioned here:

Up until the age of twelve he learned all the Vedas from his father, but his mother was a Buddhist and she sent him to study Dharma from an excellent great Kashmiri paṇḍita called Brāhmanapāda, also known as Sūryaketu.  This paṇḍita had a daughter who found Somanātha very attractive and told him that in order to request teachings the two of them should be as a couple. He acted accordingly and heard many teachings, and he and the other main students, Sonasahi, Lakṣmiṃkara, Jñānaśrī and Candra Rāhula, all became paṇḍitas expert in the the five subjects.

[17] Somanātha (zla ba mgon po) Tāranātha says (ibid.):

Somanātha (zla ba mgon po) was very intelligent, and could memorise about sixteen verses with each breath. He studied with the teacher “The good Brahmin”, and in Kashmir learned all dharmas. Later, he travelled to the centre of the country and at Nālendra he listened to many profound Vajrayāna teachings such as the Kālacakra. In practice, he fully accomplished Prāṇāyāma and Dharāṇā, his movements of bowel and urine ceased, and he had many powers such as being able to petrify thieves by just pointing at them. He travelled to Tibet three times, and taught many teachings, including the Pradīpodyatana (sgron gsal), the six Treatises (on Mādhyamika), and the five Treatises of Asaṅga. In particular he widely spread the Kālacakra.

The Dro tradition of Kalacakra (the one practised today mainly by Jonang and Kagyu) started from the visit of Somanātha to Tibet. Somanātha first arrived in Tibet at Kharag and stayed among the Ryo clan. For a fee of one hundred measures of gold, Somanātha translated half of the great Kalachakra commentary, the Vimalaprabha, into Tibetan, but in the meantime he became displeased and stopped his work. He took the gold and his draft translation and went to Phan Yul drub. There Chung Wa of the Zhang clan took Somanātha as his guru, and Sherab Drag of the Dro clan acted as translator. Somanātha and Shayrabdrak translated the entire Vimalaprabha.

[18] Dro Lotsawa Sherab Drag (‘Bro Lo tsa ba shes rab grags) is one of the main translators of the Kālacakra tantra, whose lineage is practised still today. This succession of esoteric transmission passed from Somanātha to his disciple, the Tibetan translator Dro Lotsawa Sherab Drak. Dro Lotsawa together with Somanātha translated the root tantra along with the Stainless Light commentary from Sanskrit into Tibetan, initiating the Dro lineage of the Kālacakra Tantra in Tibet. Despite his importance in Kālacakra and to the Jonang, not much has been written about him in the English language.

[19] This is a reference to Lhajey Gompa (lha rje sgom pa), although I cannot find any biographical information about him.

[20] Droton Namla Tseg, a disciple of Somanātha and Yumo Mikyo Dorje’s main tantric teacher, see:

[21] This is Yumo Mikyo Dorje (yu mo ba mi bskyod rdo rje, 1038-1117), a disciple of Droton Namla Tseg. According to his biography on Treasury of Lives (

At the time, Namla Tsek was seventy-two years old; it is said that he gave Yumo the full set of twelve Kālacakra empowerments, along with all of his oral instructions on the practice of tantra. Gyelwa Yeshe’s history suggests that protector deities punished Namla Tsek for spreading the secret teachings, though they allowed him to live long enough to complete Yumo’s instruction.

His extant compositions are four treatises collectively called the Cycle of the Four Radiant Lamps (gsal sgron skor bzhi); these discuss esoteric matters related to the Six Limbed Yoga, the suite of completion stage yogas in the Kālacakra tradition. In particular, the Lamps speculate about the nature of the Great Seal – a luminous consort said to appear to practitioners in visionary experience – and in this context Yumo explores innovative ideas about emptiness.

Though he was not identified with any organized school or sect, Yumo’s writings would eventually resonate with the Jonang tradition, and it seems that his Lamps were taught in the fourteenth century by Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1381). The Jonang tradition would ultimately place Yumo as a key link in the Tibetan Kālacakra lineage; Tāranātha would cite him as an advocate of their distinctive position of “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong) in a tantric context.

[22] This is a reference to Dharmeshvara (d+har+me shwa ra), also known as Chokyi Wangchuk (chos kyi dbang phyug).  He was the father of Machig Jobum, the only listed female Kālacakra lineage holder. Interestingly, the 4th Sharmapa does not include her in the six vajra yogas lineage, even though Tāranātha does in his supplication and history. For more on Machig Jobum, see my recent article Machig Jobum: Female Mahasiddha and Lineage Holder of Dro Kalacakra (2020) (

[23] mtshan ‘chang, I have translated as ‘name-holder’ meaning the one who holds the title of the Jonang Monastery holder.

[24] Semo Chewa Namkha Gyaltshan, brother of Machig Jobum, (se mo che ba nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan) (see above). From the Blue Annals:

In his childhood he suffered from a deficient hearing and speech, and therefore there was not much hope (for him). Later he attended on khang gsar pa nam mkha’ ‘od and  mastered the Commentary on the Tantra (Vimalaprabhā). He practised the Sadaṅga and the “Six doctrines” of Nā-ro, and obtained a perfect mystic trance. He was  able to recollect clearly (his) numberless former existences. Because he resided at Semoche (se mo che), he became known as the siddha Semochewa.

[25] Also known as Jamyang Sarma. See Machig Jobum above. From the Blue Annals:

At the feet of Semochewa he mastered the Commentary on the Tantra  (Vimalaprabhā) together with its branches, and the initiation rite (of the  Kālacakra). He practised meditation of the sampannakrama degree and within one day obtained the (ten) signs (of meditation), and thus became a Master of Yoga (rnaI ‘byor gyi dbang phyug).

[26] Choku Ozer (chos sku ‘od zer) was a disciple of Jamyang Sarma. From the Blue Annals (R771):

When he came to se mo che ba to get from him an Introduction to the Doctrine (chos ‘brel), the latter said: You  two (‘jam gsar ba and chos sku ‘od zer) through many existences have been Teacher  and disciple. From him chos sku ‘od zer heard the complete Commentary on the  Tantra (Vimalaprabhā) with its branches. He benefited others by bestowing  initiations, preaching the Tantra and precepts.

[27] First holder of the Jonang Monastery. Kunpang Thugje Tsondru (kun spangs thugs rje brtson ‘grus (1243-1313)): From the  Treasury of Lives biography:

When he was staying at the master Jamyang Sarma’s (‘jam dbyangs gsar ma) monastery of Kyangdur   (rkyang ‘dur), Kunpang received the transmission of all the treatises and oral instructions possessed by the great Choku Ozer (chos sku ‘od zer). In particular, although he had previously studied the Ra (rwa) tradition of Kālacakra, he now received from Choku Ozer the Kālacakra initiation, the explanation of the Kālacakra Tantra, the great Vimalaprabhā commentary, and an experiential transmission of the Kālacakra completion-stage practices of the six-branch yoga in the Dro (‘bro) tradition.

While he was staying at Se Kharchung (se mkhar chung), which had been the hermitage of the great Seton Kunrik (se ston kun rig, 1029-1116) of the tradition of Lamdre, it is said that the Kalki emperors of Shambhala simultaneously appeared to him in a vision and granted permission for him to write a commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra. According to tradition during this period the goddess Nakmen Gyalmo (nags sman rgyal mo) also appeared and invited him to take up residence at the spot that would later become Jonang Monastery (jo nang dgon), which he agreed to do after three years.

He resided at the hermitage of Khacho Deden (mkha’ spyod bde ldan), he wrote a series of texts on the practice of the six-branch yoga of Kālacakra, experienced a vision of Kālacakra, and received prophecy from the deity. The essential teachings of the six-branch yoga had previously existed only as oral instructions, and Kunpang’s works were the first extensive manuals of guidance for these teachings written in Tibet.

[28] Second holder of Jonang monastery, Gyalwa Yeshe. From Treasury of Lives:

For a long time he received many sutra and tantra teachings such as the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra from the Sakya master Sharpa Jamyang Chenpo (shar pa ‘jam dbyangs rin chen rgyal mtshan, 1258-1306), the Tenth Sakya Tridzin from 1288 to 1297. He also received the Vimalaprabhā from Jamyang Chenpo’s elder brother, the Kālacakra expert Dokorwa Yeshe Rinchen (dus ‘khor ba ye shes rin chen, 1248-1294).

Gyelwa Yeshe then met Kunpang Tukje Tsondru (kun spangs thugs rje brtson grus, 1243-1313) at Jonang Monastery (jo nang dgon) and was overcome with faith. He received all the treatises and oral instructions from Kunpang and, in particular, when he practiced the instructions of the six-branch yoga of Kālacakra, exceptional experience and realization arose. Gyelwa Yeshe wanted to live in unspecified locations and dedicate himself to meditation, but at the order of Jamyang Chenpo he founded the monastery of Dechen (bde chen) and, while meditating there, also gave many teachings.

[29] Third holder of Jonang monastery, Yonten Gyatso (Yon tan rgya mtsho (1260-13267)). From Treasury of Lives bio:

In 1290, when he was thirty years old, Yonten Gyatso arrived at Jonang and received a huge number of transmissions from Kunpang, including the Kālacakra initiation and the transmission of the Bodhisattva Trilogy and the related oral instructions. In particular, he received many different traditions of the oral instructions of the six-branch yoga of Kālacakra.

It is said that when he practiced the meditation of the dark retreat, all ten signs of clear light dawned in twenty-one days. When he practiced the daytime meditation, very intense physical experiences occurred for seven days. When these experiences passed, Yonten Gyatso remained in a state of great equanimity and possessed unimpeded clairvoyance. He remained at Jonang for the next thirty-eight years, focusing primarily on the practice of the six-branch yoga. In general, he is said to have received and mastered all the teachings available in Tibet and was especially renowned for his moral integrity.


[30]  Fourth holder of Jonang monastery, Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan) (1292-1361), often credited with founding the Jonang tradition. He was a great exponent of the empty-of-other (gzhan stong) view, which he set forth in his writings such as his famous Mountain Dharma. From Treasury of Lives:

In 1322 Dolpopa left Sakya and went to Jonang Monastery, where he received from the master Khetsun Yonten Gyatso (yon tan rgya mtsho, 1260-1327) the complete transmission of the Kālacakra Tantra, the Bodhisattva Trilogy, and the Kālacakra completion-stage practices of the six-branch yoga. Then he entered a meditation retreat at the Jonang hermitage of Khacho Deden (mkha’ spyod bde ldan). After this retreat, Yonten Gyatso convinced Dolpopa to teach in the assembly at Jonang, and also taught him many more systems of esoteric knowledge, such as Lamdre, the Five Stages (rim lnga) of the Guhyasamāja and the Cakrasaṃvara, Zhije and Chod. Dolpopa then visited Sakya at the invitation of Tishri Kunga Gyeltsen (ti shrI kun dga’ rgyal mtshan, 1310-1358) of the Khon family, and offered him the Kālacakra initiation.

For more on his life and works see and Stearns (1999).

[31] Chogle Namgyal (1306-1386), who was one of Dolpopa’s fourteen major disciples, was the only master to hold the monastic seat of Jonang Monastery twice, for a total of about twenty years. He wrote many important works, especially a series of treatises on the sixfold vajrayoga of Kalachakra based on the teachings of Dolpopa. He also composed annotations to the Kalachakra Tantra and the Vimalaprabha. For ore on his life and works see: and also the Treasury of Lives which shares this wonderful anecdote on how Chogle Namgyal (then a Rangtong advocate) met Dolpopa:

In 1333, when he was twenty-seven years old, Chokle Namgyel arrived in Jonang just as Dolpopa was finished teaching a huge assembly. He gave a letter to one of Dolpopa’s attendants, requesting an audience, and was invited into the master’s quarters. According to tradition, when the curtain was parted he beheld the unbearable brilliance of Dolpopa’s body and prostrated. Perceiving the wondrous aroma of moral discipline and the major and minor physical marks of a buddha on Dolpopa’s body, Chokle Namgyel immediately felt that Dolpopa actually was a buddha. He presented a small offering, and Dolpopa asked about his family and where he had come from. Unable to control his trembling voice, Chokle Namgyel replied that he was from Ngari and had come to central Tibet and Tsang to study. They had a detailed conversation and then Dolpopa spoke in depth, comparing the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, abhidharma, and the monastic code. When Chokle Namgyel heard Dolpopa’s words and countless scriptural quotations he did not know, he felt like he was the water in a cow’s hoofprint next to the Ganges River, and thought, “I don’t understand the Dharma!”

Chokle Namgyel made a request to study Kālacakra, and Dolpopa bestowed the great Kālacakra initiation and taught the completion-stage practices of the six-branch yoga and the great Vimalaprabhā commentary to the Kālacakra Tantra. Chokle Namgyel found it difficult to understand these teachings, but this improved after he later received the commentary on the tantra again from Dolpopa’s major disciple Kunpang Chodrak Pelzang (kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang, c.1283-c.1363) and studied the key points of the philosophical tenets. Then he also received teachings on Sanskrit grammar and other subjects, including the Vimalaprabhā once more, from Dolpopa’s major disciple Sabzang Mati Paṇchen Lodro Gyeltsen (sa bzang ma ti pan chen blo gros rgyal mtshan, 1294-1376). During these years Chokle Namgyel received all of Dolpopa’s teachings on exoteric and esoteric subjects.

[32] Sangye Rinchen (sangs rgyas rin chen (1339 – d.1424)), BDRC P2389 is also not mentioned in Tāranātha’s Suppkication. However, he was a student of Chogle Namgyal and teacher of Go Lotsawa Zhonu Pel, so it is clear that he must have transmitted the Kalacakra teachings of Dolpopa to Zhonu Pel.

[33] This is referring to the 4th Sharmapa’s teacher, Go Lotsawa Zhonu Pal.


Praise to the Qualities of Dolpopa by 4th Sharmapa

འཕགས་པ་ཀླུ་སྒྲུབ་ཞབཟ་ཀྱིས་དབུ་མ་རིགས་ཚོགས་སུ༎   སྟོང་ཉིད་ཁོ་ནར་ཆོས་རྣམས་ཐམས་ཅད་གཏན་ལ་ཕབ༎

བསྟོད་པའི་ཚོགས་ཀྱིས་རྟག་བརྟན་ཞི་བ་ཆོས་ཀྱིས་སྐུ༎      གཞི་ལམ་འབྲ་བུར་ལྷུན་གྱིས་གྲུབ་ཅེས་བསྟན་པའི་ཚུལ༎

རྣམ་དག་ལུང་གིས་བསྒྲུབ་པ་ངེས་དོན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་དང༎        དེ་དོན་རིགས་པས་གཏན་ལ་དབབ་པར་བྱེད་པ་ནི༎

བཀའ་བསྡུ་བཞི་པ་བསྟན་པ་སྤྱི་འགྲེལ་དྲིས་ལན་དུ༎        ནན་ཏན་ཆེན་པོས་སྟོན་མཛད་ཁྱོད་ལ་འདུད་པར་བགྱི༎


The Collections of Reasonings[i] by Ārya Nāgārjuna

Conclude that all phenomena are only emptiness.

The Collections of Praises[ii], due to the ‘eternal’[iii] peace dharmakāya

Reveal the inherently ‘existent’ result, the base of the path.

The completely pure scripture, Ocean of Definitive Meaning[iv]

Ascertains by analysis the meaning, and by

Earnestly insisted explanations and answers of

the Fourth Council[v]; to that teacher I bow down!


—Excerpt from Praises to the Qualities of Omniscient Dolpopa by 4th Sharmapa. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (June, 2020).


[i] Collection of Reasonings (rigs tshogs) is one of Nagarjuna’s main writings. The Six Collections of Reasoning (Rigs-tshogs drug) are:

  1. Root Verses on the Middle Way, Called “Discriminating Awareness” (dBu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab, Skt. Prajna-nama-mulamadhyamaka-karika)
  2. Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali)
  3. Refutation of Objections (rTsod-pa zlog-pa, Skt. Vigrahavyavarti)
  4. Seventy Verses on Voidness (sTong-nyid bdun-bcu-pa, Skt. Shunyatasaptati)
  5. Sutra Called “Finely Woven” (Zhib-mo rnam-‘thag zhes-bya-ba’i mdo, Skt. Vaidalya-sutra-nama)
  6. Sixty Verses of Reasoning (Rigs-pa drug-cu-pa, Skt. Yuktishashtika).

[ii] Collection of Praises (bstod tshogs) is one of Nagarjuna’s main writings. Towards the end of his life, acting on advice from Tara, Nagarjuna returned to Southern India and dwelt at a place called Mount Splendour, where he gave extensive teachings on both the sutras and tantras, and composed many more texts. These writings, known as the Collection of Praises, are likened to Buddha’s third turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

[iii] rtag rtan is a Tibetan word that means ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ as is often used in Jonang literature about the ultimate nature.

[iv] This is referring to the Ocean of Definitive Meaning: A Teaching for the Mountain Hermit (ri chos nges don rgya mtsho), written in the 14th century and considered to be the masterpiece of Dolpopa. It has been translated into English by Jeffrey Hopkins (translator) and Kevin Vose (editor) as Mountain Doctrine, published by Snow Lion, Ithaca in 2006. The Ocean of Definitive Meaning is a hermeneutical text on the issue of the doctrine of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma that was first codified in the Sandhinirmocana Sutra.

[v] The Great Calculation of the Doctrine, Which Has the Significance of a Fourth Council (bka’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po) an important text by Dolpopa, was translated by Cyrus Stearns in the Buddha from Dölpo (2010).

[1] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa (“rnal ‘byor yan lag drug gi brgyud rim gsol ‘debs.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 175 – 177. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

[2] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa (“kun mkhyen dol po ba shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi yon tan la bsngags pa sh+lo ka bcu gcig pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 296 – 297. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

[3] In the Collected Works of 4th Sharmapa  (gzhon nu dpal ,  nor bu bzang po ‘gro kun kun tu dga’ ba’i dpal . “dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rgyud ‘grel gsungs pa’i skabs kyi zin bris.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 5: 902 – 968. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.

[4] For more on this, see Edward Henning’s article: The Error Correction System of Zhonnu Pal (2013) at Henning says:

In fairness to Zhonnu Pal, having taken his work apart in this way, I should say that his text (rtsis la ‘khrul pa sel ba) on his Error Correction system shows three things: a genuine attempt properly to implement the intentions of the Kālacakra system, the best description in the Tibetan language of how the siddhānta calculation systems were developed, and, a mathematical clarity and accuracy unfortunately lacking in some of his contemporaries. For anybody wishing to study the siddhānta calculation systems in the Tibetan language, his text would make the best starting point.


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