The Tenth Sangye Nyenpa on Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka according to the Eighth Karmapa

I am currently in the process of translating an ‘Empty-of Other’ (gzhan stong) commentary on Mahāmudrā, written by the 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, called Music of the Ultimate Sphere (Nges don dbying kyi rol mo).  In this text, Rinpoche explains how the Mahāmudrā  Aspiration Prayer of the 3rd Karmapa is related to the ‘Empty-of-Other’ view.  In this contemporary commentary, the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507–1554), who was a devoted student of the 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Tashi Paljor[i]) is cited as a proponent of the ‘Empty-of-Other’ view, which considering he composed one well-known text, The Lamp that Excellently Discerns the Proponents of Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka (dbu ma gzhan stong smra ba´i srol legs par phye ba´i sgron me)[ii] is undisputable.  However, some scholars have asserted that the 8th Karmapa refutes or criticises this view in his other works, in particular, an extensive commentary he wrote on Madhyamaka.  In this short note I will briefly consider this intellectual speculation, in the context of direct verbal comments recently given by the 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche.

As I recently summarised in the Introduction to Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sūtra[iii] the ‘Empty-of-Other’ view is seen by some as originating from and within the Jonang tradition.  However, it is clear that such a view, albeit with historical and philosophical differences, also has a strong history and tradition within the Kagyu, from the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje onwards and within the Nyingma and Sakya lineages.  Not much has been translated or studied in the English-language academic world about the Kagyu ‘Empty of Other’ and Madhyamaka, mainly focusing more on what the Kagyu say about ‘Empty of Other’ and Buddha Nature (see in particular the work of Mathes and Higgins)[iv].  In terms of the work of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje there is even less available, although there are now some recent articles on his life and work by Mathes (2017), Jim Rheingans (2017), and a project has been proposed by Dr. David Higgins on his works in connection with Buddha Nature[v].  One of the issues for this lack maybe that there are few living lineage masters who hold and can transmit the works of this great Tibetan Buddhist master.  As Rheingans says:

Although the Eighth Karmapa was a thought-provoking figure, important to the whole of medieval Tibetan Buddhism, previous scholarship on his life and works has been limited. No research has yet fully taken into account the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, published 2000–2004. Prior to this publication, scholars were forced to rely on Tibetan textual sources published during the 1960s and 70s. But even with regards to this earlier material, only the surface has been scratched and some literature is inadequate in its treatment of the subject.

So was the 8th Karmapa a consistent proponent of the ‘empty-of-other’ view or, as some assert, did he change his mind about it later in life?  One scholar, Karl Brunnhölzl asserts[in his book Center of the Sunlit Sky (2004)] that it is not so clear that the 8th Karmapa was an ‘Empty-of-Other’ proponent in terms of Madhyamaka, and in fact even refuted the notion that it could be compatible with it.  At the very least, they say he was not someone who agreed with the Jonangpa interpretation and terminology about it.  Before giving the 10th Sangye Nyenpa’s view on this, first a little background about the 8th Karmapa and his relation with his teacher, 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche.

The 8th Karmapa and his root lama, 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche

There is also not much English language material on the relationship of the 8th Karmapa with his root lama, the first Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche.  One such work is an MA thesis by Gregor Verhufen (in German) and the recently published study by Rheingans.  According to these two sources, the 8th Karmapa met Sangye Nyenpa when he was eight years old and took him as his main lama when he was ten years old.  He studied with him from 1516-1529.  Rheingans states that:

All spiritual biographies, and the Karmapa’s writings, indicate that Sangye Nyenpa was his main guru (rtsa ba’i bla ma), and took the central role of teaching him the Great Seal [Mahāmudrā ].  Although the Fourth Zhamarpa (Zhwa dmar pa), as stated above, was not a direct teacher, he was apparently involved in selecting Sangye Nyenpa[vi]. The Karmapa had met Sangye Nyenpa and Dumowa Trashi Ozer (bDud mo ba bKra shis ’od zer) when he was eight years old (1514), reporting he had great confidence in them as his teachers. The actual teacher-student relationship with Sangye Nyenpa started two years later in the eleventh month of the mouse year (1516) and lasted approximately three years, until the twenty ninth day of the second month of the hare year (1519).  During that time he is said to have attended his teacher constantly, suggesting that a close student-teacher relationship was established.

Sangye Nyenpa is invoked at the beginning of almost all the 8th Karmapa’s compositions (for a recent translation of his praise to Sangye Nyenpa at the beginning of a teaching he gave the 8th Karmapa on Mahāmudrā[vii] , see here), and the majority of spiritual biographies composed by the 8th Karmapa mention his revered teacher[viii]. For that reason, it was a great honour and privilege to be able to ask directly a living lineage master and holder, 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche about the 8th Karmapa’s work and what his own view on it was.

Empty-of-Other and Madhyamaka

As Rheingans points out, previous academic research on the 8th Karmapa’s doctrines have concentrated mainly on his well-known Madhyamakāvatāra commentary[ix] (called the Dagpo Chariot [on Entering the Middle Way][x]), and his ‘empty-of-self’ (rang stong) Madhyamaka philosophical position.[xi] The Jonang masters, Dolpopa and Tāranātha refer to their view as the ‘Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka’, to distinguish it from the ‘ordinary’ Madhyamaka of the ‘Empty-of-Self’ (rang stong) proponents.  Kagyu and Rime master, the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul (‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas) (1813-1899)), heavily influenced by Tāranātha, also follows the view of Jonang Shentong, and asserts the ‘Empty of Other’ Great Madhyamaka in his texts such as, Instructions for Practising the View of the Shentong Great Madhyamaka , “Light Rays of the Stainless Vajra Moon”, which he wrote while studying at the Jonang monastery in Dzamthang.

However, Karl Brunnhölzl, in his book on the topic of Kagyu Madhyamaka, Center of the Sunlit Sky, quotes the 8th Karmapa, and claims that, according to the 8th Karmapa:

There is no Shentong-Madhyamaka nor any need to make one up. The subdivision of Madhyamaka into “self-empty” and “other-empty” is obsolete.

The reason for this, according to Brunnhölzl, is:

….not at all to deprecate the contents or the value of the teachings that came to bear the name Shentong in Tibet. Rather, the reason is quite the contrary, since what is called Shentong is nothing other than the Yogacara (Yoga Practice) system of Maitreya, Asanga, and Vasubandhu, also called “the lineage of vast activity.” Just like Madhyamaka, in its rich entirety, this system is a distinct, well-established, and—at least in India—unequivocally renowned system of presenting the teachings of the Buddha. It can stand very well on its own and has no need to be included under Madhyamaka or even to be promoted as the better brand of Centrism [Madhyamaka]. It is all the more inappropriate to wrongly subsume it—as many Tibetan doxographies do—under the questionable category of “Mind-Only” and thus regard it as inferior to Madhyamaka…. As for the question of whether there is a Shentong-Madhyamaka, both the Eighth Karmapa and Pawo Rinpoche give a very clear answer: “No!” They not only refute any realistic interpretation of what the word shentong might refer to, such as the notion of a permanent, intrinsically existing Buddha nature; they simply consider this term a misnomer altogether.

 

The 8th Karmapa’s view

Brunnhölzl (2004) claims that the 8th Karmapa’s view is more a ‘Shentong lite’ position in his extensive commentary on Madhyamaka:

The question of the “final view” of the Eighth Karmapa—if there is such a thing—is a rather complex one. In his History of the Dharma, Pawo Rinpoche says that the Seventh Karmapa had prophesied that, since he could only comment on valid cognition and the Prajñāpāramitāstras in this life, he would comment further on the other traditional topics of Buddhist studies, such as Madhyamaka, in his next incarnation (Dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba 1986, p. 1276). Thus, the Eighth Karmapa´s major commentaries on Abhidharma, Vinaya, and Prajñāpāramitā, and his latest commentary on the stra teachings, The Chariot of the Tagbo Siddhas, are regarded as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Pawo Rinpoche states that the Eighth Karmapa considered Saraha and Nāgārjuna as the final authorities to clarify the view (ibid., pp. 1254–55). This accords with what the Karmapa himself says in his Chariot. Pawo Rinpoche also reports that, upon being fully ordained as a monk, Mikyö Dorje received extensive instructions on the view of “other-emptiness” by his preceptor and early teacher Chödrub Senge (Tib. chos grub seng ge), who then requested the Karmapa to uphold this view (ibid., p. 1236). Thus, before his outspoken rejection of a Shentong-Madhyamaka in The Chariot, his first great commentary (on The Ornament of Clear Realization) uses the term “other-emptiness” frequently, but explains it in a way that is very different from what one would ordinarily expect. In fact, this commentary mainly presents the hidden meaning of the Prajñāpāramitā sutras in terms of the view of the Seventh Karmapa, i.e., the unity of the lineages of profound view and vast conduct. The commentary also makes it very clear that “Mere Mentalism” [Mind-Only] is not the lineage of vast activity. The Eighth Karmapa also wrote a short text on other-emptiness (Tib. dbu ma gzhan stong smra ba´i srol legs par phye ba´i sgron me). However, in both texts, one looks in vain for any reifying or absolutist interpretation of other-emptiness. One is rather tempted to call the Karmapa´s presentation “Shentong Lite” in comparison with other texts, since it very much accords with and uses the Centrist approach. In addition, Pawo Rinpoche reports the Karmapa to have said that it is not reasonable that the view of all teachings on valid cognition, Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and the Vajrayāna is other-emptiness (ibid., p. 1240).

In this commentary, the 8th Karmapa says that such concepts of being ‘permanent’ or an ‘object’, that have been taught to describe Buddha Nature are not mentioned in the Sūtras at all.  Before Dolpopa, the Karmapa says, nobody in India or Tibet had ever stated that there are these two systems of “self-emptiness” and “other-emptiness” [empty-of-other] within the philosophical system of Madhyamaka.  This latter point is debatable, as Brunnhölzl and other scholars have pointed out, although the terms ‘Empty-of-Other’ and ‘Empty-of-Self’ were not used systematically in India, the roots of the view can be traced back to Kālacakra and to an Indian master.  Brunnhölzl then quotes Karmapa saying that:

If one follows Madhyamaka, it is impossible to assert an ultimate phenomenon that is truly established and to say at the same time that the conventional is without reality in that it is empty in the sense of empty-of self [its nature]. If one were to propound something like this, one would just be a realist, who accepts that things are truly established in the world. It is obvious that one cannot be a realist and at the same time speak about the middle free from all reference points.

Thus, Brunnhölzl asserts that the Karmapa:

in his commentary on The Ornament of Clear Realization, identifies the correct referent of using the term “other-empty” [empty-of-other] in an expedient, functional way (if one wants to use this term, that is). However, he emphasizes that the nature of phenomena is neither self-empty nor other-empty anyway, let alone really existent:

The name “other-empty” [empty-of-other] is applied to emptiness [in the sense] that the other features within this basis [emptiness] are empty of their own respective natures. Therefore, the other-empty´s own nature does not become non empty.  The reason for this is that the name “other-empty” is [only] applied to the compound meaning that this basis [ emptiness] is empty of such and such [and not to this basis being other-empty in itself]. However, it is not asserted that this basis—the nature of phenomena—is empty of its own nature. [Likewise, as was just said,] this [basis itself] is not other-empty either. Therefore, if it is not other-empty, forget about it being self-empty [since these two are just mutually dependent]. . . This basis—the nature of phenomena—is neither other-empty nor self-empty, because [let alone being other-empty or self-empty,] it is not even suitable as a mere emptiness that is not specified as being empty or not empty of itself or something other. The reason for this is that it has the essential character of being the utter peace of all discursiveness regarding being empty and not being empty. Thus, from the perspective of the [actual] freedom from discursiveness, no characteristics whatsoever of being empty of itself or something other transpire within the basis that is the nature of phenomena.

Similarly, Mathes (2017) also argues that in connection with Buddha Nature, the 8th Karmapa:

…takes issue with gZhon nu dpal’s full equation of buddha nature with the nature of an individual mind-stream. He also rejects the Jo nang pa’s view of buddha nature as a permanent entity. According to Mi bskyod rdo rje’s student gTsug lag phreng ba (1504‒1566) his master received gzhan stong teachings from Chos grub seng ge, and upon the latter’s request, Mi bskyod rdo rje espoused a gzhan stong view and commented on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in the tradition of Jo nang pas and Zi lung pa (i.e., Shākya mchog ldan, 1428-1507). This was Mi bskyod rdo rje’s first work written in the years 1529-31. The value of this information is very limited, however, as it is unlikely that a realized master and head of a school, such as Mi bskyod rdo rje, is requested to uphold a particular view, at a time, that is, when he had already been capable of writing a nearly 1,400 page-long philosophically dense commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.  Moreover, the gzhan stong views of the Jo nang pas and Shākya mchog ldan differ in so many points that it is difficult to see how Mi bskyod rdo rje could have written his commentary along the lines of both.  Later, when Mi bskyod rdo rje criticized gzhan stong in his Madhyamakāvatāra commentary, he refuted the gzhan stong views of the Jo nang pas and Shākya mchog ldan separately, and it is possible that he did not argue against his own early gzhan stong view, or rather, a more moderate version of it, which he then preferred not to call gzhan stong.

10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’s view

10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche

Although the reasoning of Brunnhölzl and Mathes here is understandable and valuable, it is nonetheless intellectual speculation and not based on any direct instruction from a lineage master who holds the unbroken lineage transmission of those texts.  As it is not so easy, or even common, for academics to seek such instructions or transmission of such texts, in May 2019, at Benchen Monastery Swayambu, I took the opportunity to ask the 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche directly about this apparent ‘rejection’ of Shentong by the 8th Karmapa. For the record, this conversation was audio recorded (with permission) as part of a series of meetings at that time in which Rinpoche personally explained sections of the text.

Sangye Nyenpa explained that 8th Karmapa in his Madhyamakāvatāra commentary is simply ensuring that the view of ‘Empty-of-Other’ is understood correctly from the perspective of the ‘Empty-of-self’, otherwise, such faults that he details regarding the view (which people have interpreted as direct refutations or criticisms of the view itself) will ensue.  So according to Sangye Nyenpa, it is not that 8th Karmapa is rejecting the view, or even his own prior view of ‘Empty-of Other’, but making sure it is understood correctly so that refutations from the Rangtong side are no longer valid.  In addition, Rinpoche explained, if you read the 8th Karmapa’s independent work on Shentong, the dBu ma gzhan stong smra ba’i srol legs par phye ba’i sgron me (which has not yet been translated into English) it is clear that he has a particular Shentong view of reality that is in line with that of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.  These comments concur with the view of the 8th Tai Situpa (Panchen Chos kyi byung gnas (1700-74)) in his biography of Mikyö Dorje, included in his Kagyu Golden Rosary:

…[Then Mikyö Dorje] went to Jangkyi-puk where, during a visionary experience, he was [marked] by the Zhang’yu Dragpa’s* stream of blessings. Agreeing then that the framework of the ultimate madhyamaka lies in the prāsangika propositions, he composed his profound commentary of the [Madhyamaka]vatara.  But even though he produced here a prāsangika treatise, in it he mainly used the shentong view of Rangjung [Dorje]. * i.e Lama Shang Tsöndrü Drakpa (12th century, Gampopa’s disciple).[xii]

In addition, other scholars have also queried such an interpretation of the 8th Karmapa’s work as a refutation of Shentong, as Rheingans points out:

Paul Williams (1983a, 1983b) and David Seyfort Ruegg (1988) have dealt with the Eighth Karmapa’s view on Madhyamaka.  In ‘A Note on Some Aspects of Mi bskyod rdo rje’s Critique of dGe lugs pa Madhyamaka’, Williams (1983a) describes the Karmapa’s philosophical discussion with Tsong kha pa, founder of the dGe lugs school of Tibetan Buddhism. He presents as the Karmapa’s central argument the view that teachings on Madhyamaka, or even the Great Seal [mahamudra], should be an antidote to suffering.  Williams also judges Mi bskyod rdo rje’s comments as notable for their impatient style, maintaining that the Karmapa only comments on ‘classical’ dGe lugs pa texts such as the Madhyamakāvatāra in order to refute their ‘sophisticated interpretations’ on their own grounds. Finally, he suggests further contextualisation of the Karmapa’s philosophical views.

In summary, according to the 10th Sangye Nyenpa, 8th Karmapa is asserting that from the Rangtong perspective, it does not even focus on Shentong at all.  So, in the original Indian texts they posit the basis of emptiness (stong pa’i gzhi) as the Buddha Nature but do not mention the terminology of the Jonangpas like ‘permanent’ and ‘unchanging’ and so on.  So, when the 8th Karmapa takes up the debate from the Rangtong viewpoint, he says there is no distinction to be made between Rangtong and Shentong. Thus, he is saying that in the Sūtras and texts by Indian masters, there are no such phrases as ‘the ultimate is not empty of its essence’ and that ‘the conventional is empty of its nature’, they do not make that distinction.  However, this was not done to refute Shentong but in order to clarify potential faults in ways of understanding the Shentong view when it is not understood correctly.

Different shades of Shentong

However, even though it can be claimed that the 8th Karmapa never refuted, or changed, his position on ‘Empty-of-Other’, it can be agreed that there are  subtle philosophical differences between his view and that of the Jonangpas and other Shentong proponents.  As Brunnhölzl explains:

The tradition of other-emptiness is far from a monolithic doctrine. For example, there are great differences between Dolpopa and most of the later proponents, who also have varying views on certain aspects of the teachings. A major distinction within the system of other-emptiness is into “the other-emptiness of luminosity” [gsal stong] and “the other-emptiness of the expanse.”[dbying stong]. The first one means that the wisdom of Buddha nature is empty of adventitious stains (the “other”) and that this wisdom itself is not empty but really existent as the ultimate nature of luminosity. Thus, the luminous nature of mind and its innate Buddha qualities are emphasized.  Typical proponents are Dolpopa and his followers. “The other-emptiness of the expanse” means that Buddha nature´s wisdom itself is free from reference points. For example, such is presented by the Eighth Karmapa in his commentary on The Ornament of Clear Realization and also in the writings of the Sixth Shamarpa Chökyi Wangchug. The most common version of other-emptiness that is widely taught nowadays in the Kagyu school is the one by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Taye, which is largely based on Tāranātha´s presentation and more oriented toward “the other-emptiness of luminosity.”

For another interesting discussion of the differences between the schools of Shentong see also Look at the Diversity of the Gzhan stong Tradition, by Anne Burchardi[xiii].  In this article, Burchardi introduces two studies by classical Tibetan Buddhist scholars that explain the range of meanings of the term Shentong. The two texts – one by Pema Bidza (twentieth century), the other by Tāranātha (1575-1634) – are analytical studies that summarize and compare the various views of seven previous scholars who wrote on Shentong. Burchardi states that:

The first five masters cited – Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen, Shakya Chokden, Sazang Mati Penchen, Karmapa Düdül Dorjé, and Karmapa Mikyö Dorjé – are presented as viewing rangtong and zhentong as differing in terms of subjects to be determined. The first four of these masters hold that various relative phenomena are rangtong while ultimate phenomena are zhentong.  However, although the fifth master cited, the Eighth karmapa, is portrayed as going against this pattern, he is nevertheless included in the list perhaps on account of those of his writings that advocate zhentong. The sixth master cited,  Situ Penchen (1700-74), is presented as regarding rangtong and zhentong as different methods of ascertaining a given subject, while the seventh master, Katok Getsé Penchen, is portrayed as holding rangtong and zhentong as different ways of gaining realization.  The seven positions are also summarized into three positions with Dölpopa representing the first position that emphasizes the aspect of pristine awareness (yeshé) as zhentong, Shakya Chokden representing the second position that emphasizes the aspect of the sphere of reality (ying) as zhentong, and the others representing a third group of positions that asserts a combination of space and awareness (ying yé nyika) as being zhentong.

In relation to the 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’s commentary on ‘Empty-of-Other’ and its connection to Mahāmudrā , Rinpoche confirmed that he was asserting the ‘luminous empty-of-other’ view. In that respect, his view also differs slightly from that of the 8th Karmapa but is consistent with the view followed by the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul, and thus also that of the Jonangpas.

Conclusion

One can conclude from this discussion as well then that the 8th Karmapa did not refute his own Shentong view, as claimed by some, nor even wholly reject that of the Jonangpas, but emphasised a slightly different ‘aspect’ of Shentong.  As Brunnhölzl himself later points out,

In fact, when looking at the meaning rather than merely the words, there are hardly any proponents of Shentong who make any ontological claim of an inherently existing entity, be it Buddha nature or the perfect nature (not even Dolpopa, if he is read properly). Karma Trinlayba, one of the main disciples of the Seventh Karmapa, summarizes the exemplary position of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje on this. Karma Trinlayba defines Shentong as meaning that the unchanging nature of mind as such—which is free from distinctions and bias, naturally luminous, and the unity of expanse and awareness—is Buddhahood, once it becomes free from adventitious stains. That this primordial ground is not affected by any stains is the meaning of Shentong. The fact that this very mind as such is unaware of itself is called “adventitious stains.” (Paraphrase of a quote in the introduction to Dbu ma gzhan stong skor bstan bcos phyogs bsdus deb dang po, p. ga.) In his Chariot of the Tagbo Siddhas, he refutes all kinds of reifying interpretations of what is taught in the lineage of vast activity. However, on the conventional level, he accepts nonreifying presentations of the three natures. He even says that it is very much in accord with Madhyamaka, when this lineage presents the three natures as the threefold lack of nature, thus implying that they come down to the same essential point (Mi bskyod rdo rje 1996, p. 443).

Although this note is by no means an in-depth academic or scholarly analysis of the Sangye Nyenpas’ view on this (a translation and research project in itself), nor was his response given a detailed one, I hope that by recording and preserving these remarks of the 10th Sangye Nyenpa, a little more light and direction can be shed on the continuing intellectual speculation of the philosophical views of 8th Karmapa.

All rights reserved, copyright, Adele Tomlin, 2019.

FOOTNOTES

[i] The first Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Tashi Peljor (sangs rgyas mnyan pa bkra shis dpal ‘byor), (1457-1525), was also known as Denma Drubthob (‘dan ma grub thob) or Denma Drubchen (‘dan ma grub chen),  which means siddha from Denma, an accomplished master.

[ii] “dBu ma gzhan stong smra ba’i srol ’byed.” dBu ma gzhan stong skor bstan bcos phyogs bsdus deb dang po, 13-48. Rumtek: Karma Shri Nalanda Institute 1990.

[iii] See tomlin (2017).

[iv] See their entries in the bibliography below and Buddha nature Reconsidered: Mi bskyod rdo rje and the Post-classical Tibetan Tathāgatagarbha Debates. Proposal for current FWF-Projekt P28003-G24 (Oct. 2016-Sept 2018): https://www.academia.edu/35140494/Buddha_nature_Reconsidered_Mi_bskyod_rdo_rje_and_the_Post-classical_Tibetan_Tath%C4%81gatagarbha_Debates._Proposal_for_current_FWF-Projekt_P28003-G24_Oct._2016-Sept_2018_

[v] In August 2019, David Higgins gave a recorded talk at the Rangjung Yeshe Insitute, Nepal on his work on the 8th Karmapa and the Shentong and Rangtong distinction and what ‘remains’ on realising the ultimate nature, see here: https://soundcloud.com/rangjung-yeshe-institute/dr-david-higgins-mi-bskyod-rdo-rje-on-the-question-of-what-remains-lhag-ma-avasista

[vi] From rheingans (2017), footnote 81:

Sangs rgyas dpal grub, fol. 20b (p. 189); mKhas pa’i dga’ ston, p. 1232. Zhwa dmar pa told those in the encampment that as the rGyal tshab Rin po che and most of the Seventh Karmapa’s students were already dead, the most suitable teacher among the living would be Sangs rgyas mnyan pa. A letter left by the Seventh Karmapa stated that, while there would be many suitable teachers among his direct students, Sangs rgyas mnyan pa was praised as the most suitable. The later Kaṃ tshang, p. 314, adds that this letter had been kept by the Si tu Rin po che and that the Karmapa had been saying since he was small that his lama would be Sangs rgyas mnyan pa.

[vii] Supplication to Sangye Nyenpa as Vajradhara’ From ‘Mahāmudrā Instructions given by 1st Sangye Nyenpa’ Composed by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje,  phyag rgya chen po’i khrid sangs rgyas mnyan pa’i zhal snga nas bstsal ba/ gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje Volume 19 Pages 825 – 866, TBRC W8039.

[viii] Such as Sangs rgyas ‘dan ma chen po’i rnam thar (an extensive work with twenty-eight folios), rGyal ba thams cad mkhyen pa sangs rgyas rin po che, and the eulogy rJe mi bskyod rdo rjes dang sangs rgyas mnyan pa grub thob.

[ix] Rheingans (ibid.) gives information about the composition of this commentary:

He set out to compose the Madhyamaka commentary in the end of 1544, beginning of 1545. The colophon states the Eighth Karmapa began this work in his thirty-ninth year in a mountain valley of Byar smad skyid phug and completed it in a dwelling called Mon sha ’ug stag sgo dom tshang ngur mo rong (Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, fol. 486a/p. 973). According to Kaṃ tshang, p. 344, he did the prayers for the Tibetan New Year of the snake year some time after starting to compose this text. As the Karmapa’s thirty-ninth birthday was on the 18 Nov 1544 and the Tibetan New Year on 13 Jan 1545 (both according to the mTshur phu tradition) it must have been during that period.

[x] dBu ma la ’jug pa’i kar ṭī ka | dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta. Seattle: Nitartha International Publications, 1996.

[xi] For more detail on prior studies see Rheingans (2017), footnote 5, quoted here:

Mullin (1978) and Richardson (1998) translated very short works. In 1980 a translation of the Bka’ brgyud mgur mtsho edited by Mi bskyod rdo rje was published by the Nālandā Translation Committee, which also published very brief prayers in 1997.  Karmay (1980) occasionally referred to polemics against the Rnying ma pa. Williams (1983 a and b) and Ruegg (1988, 2000) have dealt with the eighth Karma pa´s view on Madhyamaka using the spyi don section of the Dwags . Stearns (1999) has also used his Gzhan stong , as did Brunnhölzl (2004), who offers the most extensive study of the eighth Karma pa’s Madhyamaka. Parts of the commentary have been translated (Mikyö Dorje 2006). Mathes (2008) has, in his recent publication, used the eighth Karma pa’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra commentary and shown that Mi bskyod rdo rje’s gzhan stong resembles Rang ’byung rdo rje’s position in his Zab mo nang gi don . The only academic study of the Karma pa’s life is Verhufen (1995), whose main reference is to Si tu and ’Be lo’s Kaṃ tshang .

[xii] Thanks to French translator, Thierry for informing me about this quote. The text is Karma bka’ brgyud gser phreng  TBRC W3JT13373, Vajra Vidya Institute, Varanasi [2007] and the passage reads: byang skyid phug tu phebs/_zhang g.yu brag pas byin gyis brlabs pa’i snang ba byung ste mthar thug dbu ma’i ‘jog ‘tshams thal ‘gyur ‘thad pa’i lugs su bzhed nas/ ‘jug pa’i TI ka chen brtsams par mdzad cing thal ‘gyur pa’i gzhung ‘dzugs par gnang na’ang gtso bor ni rje rang byung zhabs kyi dgongs pa gzhan stong gtso bor mdzad pa’o/

[xiii] University of Copenhagen, JIATS, no. 3 (December 2007), THL #T3128, 24 pp. at http://www.thlib.org/collections/texts/jiats/#!jiats=/03/burchardi/all/#ixzz5zsxRrW42.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brunnhölzl, Karl                             2004. The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion.

Higgins, David                                    2015. How is Consciousness (rnam shes) Related to Wisdom (ye shes)? The Eighth Karma pa on Buddhist Differentiation and Unity Models of Reality. (Part I) Studia Religiologica 48 (4) 2015-16, pp. 341–362.

  1. Mahāmudrā and the Middle Way: Post-classical Kagyü Discourses on Mind, Emptiness and Buddha-Nature. (2016). Vol. 1. 441 pp. ISBN 13: 978-3-902501-28-8. WSTB No. 90.1. Co-authored with Martina Draszczyk.

Mathes, klaus-dieter                      2008.  A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa’s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga (Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism). Boston: Wisdom Publications.

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Rheingans, Jim                                   2017. The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal: A Religious Life and Instructional Texts in Historical and Doctrinal Contexts. In ‘Hamburg Buddhist Studies’ 7.

  1. Narratives of reincarnation, politics of power and the emergence of a scholar: the very early years of Mi bskyod rdo rje and its sources. In L. Covill, U. Roesler, and S. Shaw (eds.) Lives Lived, Lives Imagined . Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Series. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Verhufen, Gregor                           1992. A Biography on the 8th Karmapa and his teacher Sangye Nyenpa (Die Biographien des Achten Karma Pha mi bskyod rdo rje und seines Lehrers Sangs rgyas mnyan pa): Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der KarmabKa’-brgyud-pa- Schulrichtung des tibetischen Buddhismus . Bonn: Private Publication. (based on a Masters Thesis, University of Bonn, 1992).

Williams, Paul                                   1983. A NOTE ON SOME ASPECTS OF MI BSKYOD RDO RJE’S CRITIQUE OF DGE LUGS PA MADHYAMAKA, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 11, No. 2 (JUNE 1983), pp. 125-145.