'Answers to the Questions of Düsum Khyenpa': A Unique Insight into the Life of Gampopa

'Answers to the Questions of Düsum Khyenpa': A Unique Insight into the Life of Gampopa

31 December 2022 

This text, part of Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s transmission of the Collected Works, contains a less well-known biography of Gampopa. In this article, Ziche Lekthong of Ralang reflects on what we can learn from this text about Gampopa. The article has been slightly edited for the general reader. 

The Main Biographies

There are a few early biographies of Lord Gampopa, the founder of the Dakpo Kagyu lineage. Among them, a supplication of Gampopa’s life composed by Phakmo Drupa contains some important information about Gampopa’s life, and there are few other important ones, such as the one composed by his disciple Barom Dharma Wangchuk, the founder of Barom Kagyu lineage. There is also a biography of Gampopa written or compiled by few of his disciples such as Gomtsul, the nephew of Gampopa, Phakmo Drupa, and some others. And there are two more short biographies of Gampopa in The Golden Rosary, composed by Lho Layakpa, an important disciple of Gampopa and someone well-known in the history of the Chakrasamvara practice.

Another very old and obscure biography was written by Khyung Tsangpa who was one of the earliest disciples of Gampopa and also a disciple of Rechungpa. This biography was recently discovered in Tibet but is yet to be published. The most widely known biographies of Gampopa are the ones written by the second Shamarpa,  Khachoe Wangpo, and another written by Gampo Sonam Lundhup, the sixteenth seat holder of Gampopa’s monastery Daklha Gampo. It is the latter that became the most well-known and available in later times. Yet, this one was inspired by the first, and not only is the content of Gampo Sonam Lhundup’s very much the same, he also used the same title as Shamar Khachoe Wangpo did. Gampo Sonam Lhundup clearly mentions that he used Shamar Khachoe Wangpo’s work as his main source.  

Answers to the Questions of Düsum Kyhenpa

One of the most authentic and important biographies, yet unfortunately, one of the least well-known, is the one found in Answers to the Questions of Düsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, and the founder of the Karma Kagyu lineage. This work is included in both Gampopa’s Collected Works and in the First Karmapa’s Collected Works. There are two different parts of the text that deal with the life of Gampopa as told to Düsum Khyenpa, with little differences that can be interpreted without contradiction.

This information about Gampopa’s life can be considered reliable since it was personally narrated by Gampopa and written down by none other than Düsum Khyenpa. Düsum Khyenpa recounts that when Gampopa told of his journey to realization, he shared everything, saying that now that he had reached the level where sharing about his realization could not harm him anymore. The reason that this text has been so neglected seems to be because it mainly deals with important instructions about practice and solutions for the challenges a practitioner may face, rather than recounting biographical details.  

Early Life

According to this text, Gampopa was born in 1079 CE. At the age of sixteen he went to study with Zangkar Lotsawa (a student of the famous Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo) who, like his teacher, was mainly known for his contribution to the transmission of the yoga tantra tradition in Tibet. Gampopa studied the Chakrasamvara tantra and the yoga tantra system with him. This is noteworthy as some scholars from the Sakya tradition criticise Gampopa on the basis that he had not received enough tantric empowerments and transmissions.

Further, Gampopa mentions his training in medicine in his youth, but omits the name of the teacher. In his great work on Tibetan religious history, Drukpa Padma Karpo says that Gampopa studied medicine with around thirty teachers. Gampopa is a very well-known physician in the history of Tibetan medicine and is credited with discovering some new medicinal treatments that are still practiced today. Being a physician played an important role in his life and teachings. For example, he treated an important female disciple of Milarepa who looked after Milarepa’s texts, and this allowed Gampopa the opportunity to read those important texts. It’s interesting to note that in his teachings, Gampopa often uses the metaphors of illness, medicine and patient.

In Answers to the Questions of Düsum Khyenpa, Gampopa doesn’t mention anything about a wife, his two children, or their demise due to a pandemic, all of which play a significant role in other biographies of Gampopa. This text does mention that Gampopa was twenty-six years old when he became a monk. So, it seems reasonable to think that he did have enough time to get married and have children before ordaining. Perhaps Gampopa didn’t mention his household life here, because personally, Gampopa didn’t feel that his reason for becoming a monk was due to the loss of his family.  

Joining a Monastery

In this text, Gampopa says he became a monk at the age of twenty-six, in 1104 CE. in Rongka, which is in Dakpo, Southern Tibet, not far from Gampopa’s own home town of Nyal and received the full bhikshu vows on that day.

It doesn’t say which lamas gave him the vows. But according to the biography written by Lho Layakpa, the lamas who gave him ordination were Lama Maryulpa, Lama Jangchub Sempa, and so on. It is interesting to note that though Gampopa often quotes his Kadampa teachers and Milarepa, he almost never quotes from these two.

Very little information can be found in other historical records of Tibetan Buddhism about this monastery or his teachers Lama Maryulpa and Lama Jangchub Sempa  (according to other biographies, these were the lamas who ordained him). Yet it seems that this monastery and these teachers played a very important role in the life of Gampopa. The very reason why Gampopa later chose Daklha Gampo as the centre of his activities and built his monastery there, seems to be because he joined this monastery in that area.

As Gampopa only refers to his teachers from Phanpo as Kadampa, it is very clear that these first teachers did not belong to the Kadampa lineage. They might not have belonged to any particular lineage of Tibetan Buddhism that is now well-known. In the works of Gampopa, Gampopa doesn’t seem to identify himself as a Kadampa either.

Learning Meditation

From Lama Maryulpa (also known as Lama Ngaripa) he studied Tantric texts.  Lama Jangchub Sempa was, according to the Gampopa’s words in this text, the one who first introduced him to Milarepa’s instructions.

Though most of his biographies say that Gampopa first heard about Milarepa from three beggars while studying the Kadam teachings in Phenyul, north of Lhasa, according to this text, Gampopa says that while he was studying with Lama Maryulpa and Lopon Jangchub Sempa, he had a friend called Gongton who told him, “I have heard that our teacher Lopon Jangchub Sempa has the instructions of Milarepa. Should we go to request them?” So Gongton and Gampopa requested teachings from Lopon Jangchub Sempa. After he gave them the instructions, when Gampopa and Gongton expressed their experience in meditation, even their teachers were impressed.

According to this account, not only did Gampopa first learn meditation there, but also the teaching in the tradition of Milarepa. By practicing them, Gampopa saw progress in his meditation, but also developed some pride as a result of it. According to Gampopa’s words, he attained some results of meditation, such as bliss, peace, and the ability to remain in meditation constantly, but it seemed he hadn’t achieved any important realisation at that point. Gampopa says his friend’s ego reached such a level that, at one point, he left a note on his bed which read, “My samsara finished here”.

Meeting Kadampa Masters

Though he was satisfied with his meditation training for the time being, Gampopa knew that the teachers of the Kadam lineage were very famous for their conduct of bodhicitta and decided to go to Phenyul to learn for himself. At the age of twenty-eight, which would have been in 1106 CE, Gampopa went to Phenyul with Gonton and met some well-known Kadampa teachers, such as Nyukrumpa and Gya Yondhak. These two are considered his two most important Kadampa teachers, the former for instructions on conduct and the latter for teachings in the view.

Nyukrumpa was a disciple of Chenngawa, who was one of the three main disciples of Dromtonpa, the founder of the Kadam lineage. Gya Yondhak was the foremost student of Gonpawa, who was also an important disciple of both Atisha and Dromtonpa.

First, Gampopa met Nyukrumpa, learned the Kadampa instructions, and more importantly, received the teachings on how to give rise to bodhichitta. Then Gampopa developed real bodhichitta, the genuine wish to help all sentient beings. Gampopa was grateful to Nyukrumpa, and he told Düsum Khyenpa that since that time, he was never without bodhichitta. Though Gampopa was able to develop genuine bodhichitta, his earlier experience in meditation declined. This, Gampopa says, was mainly because of staying with too many people.

Therefore, he was instructed by someone, probably by Nyukrumpa himself, to go to see Gya Yondhak.  Some scholars believe Gya Yondhak’s teacher Gonpawa  received particular meditation instructions directly from Jowo Atisha  which, based on their significant similarities, might be the source of Gampopa’s Mahamudra. Gampopa himself never mentions from whom he learnt this unique approach.

According to this text, Gya Yondhak advised Gampopa and Gongton to meditate on impermanence, the law of karma, and the defects of samsara, which are the main points of the Kadampa’s Stages of the Path. By meditating on them, Gampopa says that the experience of his meditation changed. Earlier, his experience in meditation was more of bliss and emptiness, but at this point, it was more of sadness and renunciation because of which Gampopa was not very comfortable and confident with his experience of meditation.

Thirteen Months with Milarepa

After spending almost three years with these Kadampa teachers, Gampopa once again heard about Milarepa but this time he doesn’t mention from whom, and these might have been the beggars we find in most biographies. Knowing that Milarepa was already quite advanced in age and fearing that he might have deep regret if he were never to see him, Gampopa requested Gya Yondak for permission to go and see Milarepa. Gya Yondhak agreed, but requested him to return afterwards.

Gampopa told Düsum Khyenpa that, at the age of thirty-one, which falls in 1109 CE, he finally met Milarepa at Chuwar in Tsang (later known as one of Milarepa’s main holy places). Gampopa recounted his life to Milarepa and also shared what he studied from Lama Jangchup Sempa. However, Milarepa responded that, though those instructions were good, they weren’t good enough for the attainment of enlightenment.

Gampopa then asked Milarepa many questions that he had struggled with for a long time, one of which was, “Is it really possible to achieve buddhahood in this very life time?” Milarepa said that yes, it was possible. Milarepa taught Gampopa how to meditate on tummo, the inner heat, one of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Soon, Gampopa was able to meditate wearing only a single cotton robe, even though it was already autumn. Milarepa then encouraged Gampopa saying he was surpassing him. Having spent thirteen months with Milarepa, Gampopa decided to leave. He doesn’t mention the reason for his departure. Before he left, Milarepa told him that in the future, his activities would flourish more than his own, referencing the dream in which Gampopa ran faster than him.

According to other biographies, he left because Milarepa told him that he had received enough instructions, and that he now needed to focus on practice. One important additional reason might be that his Kadampa teachers, mainly Gya Yondhak, had insisted that Gampopa return to their place after meeting Milarepa. The reason for this could be that during those days, there were conflicts between monks and yogis. As Milarepa was a yogi and since the Kadampa teachers preferred the monastic tradition, they were worried that by following Milarepa, Gampopa might leave his monastic life and become a yogi. Some histories like Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast for Scholars reflect this point more clearly.

Solitude and Meditation

Gampopa says he was thirty-two years old (that would be in 1110 CE) when he left Milarepa and went to his former teacher Gya Yondhak. During this time, he met another three important teachers of the Kadampa tradition: Geshe Drepa, Gya Chakriwa and Jayulwa. In the histories of the Kadampas, we find Jayulwa’s Answers to the Questions of Gampopa. Also, Gampopa often quotes both Gya Chakriwa and Jayulwa in his texts. So, we can infer that although Gampopa didn’t spend much time with them, they were very influential on Gampopa’s system of meditation.

Soon after Gampopa returned to his Kadampa teachers, it seems he had to gather barley for some unclear reason—as each of the extant versions of the text Answers to the Questions of Düsum Khyenpa  contain some spelling mistakes and so on. Probably Gampopa did this for his teacher, Gya Yondhak.  Gampopa used his medical knowledge to cure a patient and received two and half yak loads of barley. He then went to Olka in Southern Tibet, but he couldn’t find barley. Finally, he went to Dakpo where he later built a monastery. There he got barley, as people were harvesting it at that time.  It was during that time that his meditation declined. Gampopa tells Düsum Khyenpa that this was because of staying too long with other monks and following the rules of the monastery. He then realised the importance of solitude.

Afterwards, Gampopa decided to stay alone and practice meditation. He tells Düsum Khyenpa that, at first, he was being too hard on himself. Due to that, his body became weaker and his meditation got even worse. Then he recalled some very important advice from Milarepa: oil doesn’t come from squeezing sand, it comes from sesame seeds. In the same way, if the body is too weak, meditation will not work. Around this time, Gampopa was in Sewa Lung, a place in his hometown Nyal so perhaps he received support and better food from his relatives. One day, he remembered how his teacher Milarepa advised him not to stop the practice of tummo (inner heat). Three years after he left Milarepa, he saw some improvement in his meditation.

He also shares that, during those days, his meditation was becoming more natural. He could be in meditation all the time, except when sleeping. He could even stay continually in meditation for thirteen days. But he realised that staying too long in meditation was not good as it might degenerate the nerves. His negative emotions became so subtle that he could not even see them. He was so engrossed in the bliss of meditation that he had lost interest in ordinary sensory pleasures. During this time, Gampopa had a friend named Drangton. It is difficult to say whether that might have been his earlier friend Gongton due to the similarity of the name. If it’s the same one, it seems that this person may not only be Gampopa’s closest friend, but also perhaps the only close friend that Gampopa had throughout his life.

Dreams and Realisation

In this section of the text, Gampopa shares with Düsum Khyenpa his discussion with Geshe Drepa on his experiences in meditation.

In Sewa Lung and Olga in Southern Tibet (where he seems to have spent most of his time), by meditating continuously, and mainly on tummo, seven years after leaving Milarepa, he finally had a glimpse of the nature of mind. This occurred after he had a special dream. In the dream, he was digging in the ground, looking for gold. He then found a basin full of gold and thought of using it to write The Eight Thousand Stanzas, an important sutra of ThePerfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā).

After having this dream, he had the knowledge or clear confidence that everything is mere thought. And that thoughts are sudden and temporary. They are also nothing but the mind itself. After having this glimpse of the nature of mind, he felt as if seeing the nature of his mind was like seeing an old, very familiar friend. Unlike his earlier experiences of meditation, his meditation became very fresh and clear after this event. He had the true experience of everything being the union of appearance and emptiness, like an illusion. He even remembered fully and clearly all the spiritual songs that he had heard Milarepa sing previously.

Yet, he tells Düsum Khyenpa that his meditation didn’t see much improvement for a long period of time after that. Then, when he was at a place called Rongphu, he reached the level where no thought could harm his meditation or realisation. Earlier, when he had some blurry thoughts, he wished not to have them. But after this, he realised that all his thoughts had turned into luminosity. He tells Düsum Khyenpa that since then, his realisation of luminosity had never been  interrupted. Whether he was sleeping or in the waking state, it made no difference to his realisation or meditation. He had the feeling that, for a yogi, death and living are the same and there is no bardo either. Earlier, he had never had enough confidence when he met a geshe or a scholar, but since then, he had had no sense of fear, even if he were to have a discussion with the Buddha himself.

According to Gampopa’s own words to Düsum Khyenpa, it seems that Gampopa was not fully enlightened even at this point. He tells him that later, he continued his meditation at a place called Jarkok (where he later built a small monastery), and at this point his mind became totally at one with the dharmakāya. Düsum Khyenpa also writes in these notes that, in the final year of Gampopa’s life, 1153 CE, at the age of seventy-five, Gampopa finally realised how the three enlightened kāyas (bodies of a buddha) arise. This implies that Gampopa possibly achieved complete enlightenment only at the end of his life.

This account of Gampopa not only shows the gradual progress of his meditation and realisation but also, contrary to how his life is miraculously portrayed in other biographies, this text seems to show that Gampopa achieved realisation after facing and overcoming many challenges over a long period of time.  

Legacy and the Lineage

We can conclude from what we find in this valuable and authentic account which Gampopa himself shared with Düsum Kyenpa that, though he spent only a short period of time with Milarepa, he was deeply inspired by Milarepa and became his devoted follower for almost his entire life. Gampopa practiced Milarepa’s tummo, but the realisation that he gained from it was his version of Mahāmudrā. Gampopa then founded a new system, combining the Kadampa’s overall approach to Buddhism and the tantric practices of Marpa (which he learned from Milarepa). His tradition especially emphasises blessings and devotion to the guru (which came from Milarepa) along with his own insight on teaching people to meditate by simply looking at the nature of mind, with no fabrications. There is a debate about the lineage of origin of Gampopa’s Mahāmudrā. Some say it came from Milarepa and some say it came from the Kadampa lineage. According to Gampopa’s own works, it seems there is not just one lineage or teacher of that. It probably came from both Milarepa of the Kagyu as well as his other teachers from the Kadampa.

As a result, Gampopa became very popular. In the biography of Mokchokpa, the main disciple of Khyungpo Naljor (founder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage), it says that, after Khyungpo Naljor passed away, Mokchokpa went to see Gampopa because he heard of Gampopa’s skill in teaching meditation. It was said that, when Gampopa taught, even birds could practice meditation. Within a short period of time, Gampopa became so influential that he was considered the greatest master of his time in Tibet. Milarepa started a culture of lay yogis wandering the Himalayan mountains. Gampopa, being a monk and a follower of Kadampa, established monasteries and promoted the monastic tradition while also being a follower of Milarepa, so he focused on meditation and had monastic yogis like himself wandering in the Himalayan regions as hermits, like Milarepa. This tradition became known as the Kagyu lineage in Tibet Buddhism.

The Arrival of Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the Oral Transmission of Gampopa’s Collected Works Begins

The Arrival of Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the Oral Transmission of Gampopa’s Collected Works Begins

Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling

26 December 2022

On the morning of 26 December 2022, His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche arrived at Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling to bestow the oral transmission (lung) of the Collected Works of Gampopa.

Although the Kagyu Gunchoe debates had already been underway for four days, all the monks were anticipating the arrival of this most distinguished guest.  From early morning, more than 1300 monks from 11 Kagyu Monastic Colleges formed a line on both sides of the long path leading through the gardens to the imposing temple – and waited calmly for Rinpoche's arrival.

In a display of deep respect, Gyaltsab Rinpoche was accorded a grand, golden procession.  Accompanied by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi and Khenchen Donyo Rinpoche, a line of monks, wearing full dharma robes and the traditional red Kagyu hat walked down the path to receive the precious guest and escorted him under the golden parasol back to the main shrine hall.  At the head of the procession were incense bearers and monks carrying colourful auspicious banners; behind them came the musicians playing gyalings, cymbals and drums.  Gyaltsab Rinpoche and his entourage were welcomed warmly by Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi and Khenchen Donyo Rinpoche, who then escorted Rinpoche through the monastery grounds to his quarters above the main shrine hall.

Shortly after his arrival, everyone was seated in the grand shrine hall awaiting the start of the oral transmission of the Collected Works of Gampopa, the great founder of the Dakpo Kagyu lineage.

His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche sat on the central throne below an immense golden Buddha; Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi's throne was to the left, and Khenchen Donyo Rinpoche's throne was to the right.  The other rinpoches, tulkus and khenpos were also seated on the stage, which had been adorned with garlands of marigolds along its edges.  Tea and sweet rice were offered to everyone present, and the mandala offering to request the teachings was made; then, as an introduction to the transmission, Gyaltsab Rinpoche gave an inspiring speech.

The body of Gampopa's texts is extensive and requires days of continuous reading — Rinpoche will be reading these priceless texts to the gathering of monks for fifteen days or more.  The collection includes biographies of Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarepa, as well as instructions Gampopa gave to his closest students.  Most of the texts deal with the Six Yogas of Naropa, and there is also an empowerment and practices of Vajravārāhī, the central deity of the Karma Kagyu lineage.  Further, the collection contains many other instructions on sutra and tantra, instructions on Mahāmudrā, Gampopa's songs of realisation and instructions on the Stages of the Path (Lamrim).  The lung will include Gampopa's most well-known texts such as The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and The Precious Garland of the Supreme Path as well as some significant lesser-known texts such as Answers to the Questions of Dusum Khyenpa and the Sunlight of the Scriptures.

As a part of the Kagyu Winter Dharma Gathering, the oral transmission is incorporated into the carefully planned schedule of activities.  At 5:30 am, a wake-up call sounds and the time from 6:00 am to 7:00 am is reserved for memorising texts.  The lung starts at 8:00 am and lasts until noon, with a break from 9:30 am to 10:00 am.  The debate class is scheduled from 14:00 to 15:00, and from 15:00 to 18:00, there is a private study period.  Then, except for dinner time and a short tea break, the entire period from 18:00 to 22:30 is devoted to the debates. At times, these exciting debates continue deep into the night.

Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the oral transmission or lung is the essential transmission of the lineage of the text.  It is one of the three modes of transmission used in teachings within Vajrayāna Buddhism: first is the empowerment or wang, which is the initiation into the tantric practice; second is the oral transmission or lung - a verbal authorisation to read and study a particular text; third is instruction or trhi which is the teacher's explanation of the text to his or her students.

During such oral transmissions, the text is read aloud in its entirety by an authentic teacher who has received it in like manner – so continuing the unbroken lineage.


2022.12.26 The arrival of Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the oral transmission of Gampopa's Collected Works begins
H.E. Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s Talk to the Kagyu Gunchoe

H.E. Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s Talk to the Kagyu Gunchoe

26 December, 2022

The dharma we are discussing is the Collected Works of Gampopa. When the Bhagavan Buddha was at Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha, the author of these works, Gampopa, was the householder Young Candraprabha. At his request, the Buddha taught the King of Samadhis Sutra on the summit of Vulture Peak Mountain. While teaching it, the Buddha prophesied that in the future when the teachings of the Buddha were degenerating, Candraprabha would become the Bhikshu Physician and uphold and propagate the King of Samadhis Sutra. Among the innumerable bodhisattvas there at the time, there were five hundred who promised, supplicated, and made an aspiration to be Bhikshu Physicians companions. The Bhagavan blessed them and said, At that time, you will accompany and aid him.

Gampopa had five hundred students who were mahasiddhas, including Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, Drogön Pakmodrupa, Saltong Shogom, and Barom Darma Wangchuk, and could perform miracles. There were sixteen thousand other students who developed meditation in their beings and to whom he taught the meaning of the King of Samadhis Sutra, Mahamudra. There was absolutely no difference between the Buddha’s teaching and Gampopa’s. Moreover, in the last five-hundred-year period of the Buddha’s teachings, not all students have the same capacities. They have different intentions and different afflictions to abandon, so Gampopa taught in accord with each student’s continuum. Even though in terms of the meaning his teachings are not different in any way from the Bhagavan Buddha’s teachings, the way he expressed them in words was more beneficial, and his activity spread widely.

These texts of the Collected Works of Gampopa have been passed down in an interrupted transmission from the time of Gampopa himself by students such as Je Gompa Tsultrim Nyingpo and others, and the transmission has been preserved uninterrupted to modern times. I received this entire transmission from the Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He gave this transmission early on in the time at Rumtek. “Transmission” means that after the Buddha gave these teachings, they were present in the mind streams of the great bodhisattvas and arhats. It was then passed down until Gampopa’s mind stream. Gampopa gave these teachings, and then the continuum of his blessings, activity, and power entered his students’ mind streams through their ears. When they then taught them, the power of the activity accompanied the words.

When I received this transmission, the words of Karmapa Rigpe Dorje came through my ears and the continuum of that sound is in my mind. Though it is not a sound heard with my ears, it appears in the image of sound. When it appears in the image of a universal sound, then as we say when teaching epistemology, the word universal and the entity universal arise, and the imprints form and remain in the mind. Along with them are the blessings of the Buddha, the blessings of Gampopa, and the bodhichitta, blessings, and power of the activity of Karmapa Rigpe Dorje. Because of that power, it is also a cause of achieving buddhahood and is included in the undefiled paths.

As I recite the texts, this continuum will enter your mind stream via your ear consciousness, and it will remain there undiminished. Then when you give the transmission to someone else, the continuum of blessings will go via someone else’s ear consciousness and sixth mental consciousness to be ingrained in the form of imprints in their ground consciousness. That is how the continuum of the transmission is preserved. This is very beneficial.

The Gyalwang Karmapa said that the transmission of the Collected Works of Gampopa must be propagated and asked me to give it at this Gunchoe, so I do as he asked. It is very good to be able to spread it in this way. This transmission is very rare, as is the transmission of the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. In modern times, not so many people are interested, and the transmission has become rare. If this transmission of the Collected Works of Gampopa can be spread and propagated, it will be very good. Please listen to this and then become able to spread it to others as well. 

Some Glimpses of the 4th Day of Kagyu Gunchö

Some Glimpses of the 4th Day of Kagyu Gunchö


དགུན་ཆོས་གོ་སྒྲིག་ཚོགས་ཆུང་ནས་ཇི་ལྟར་གསོལ་བ་བཏབ་དོན་བཞིན། ༧སྐྱབས་མགོན་རྒྱལ་བའི་༧རྒྱལ་ཚབ་དྲུང་གོ་ཤྲི་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་མཆོག་ནས་ཁམས་གསུམ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ་མཉམ་མེད་དྭགས་པོ་ལྷ་རྗེའི་གསུང་འབུམ་གྱི་ལྗགས་ལུང་བཀའ་དྲིན་བསྐྱང་ཆེད། ཕེབས་བསུའི་སེར་སྦྲེངས་ཟབ་རྒྱས་དང་བཅས་འདི་གར་ཞབས་སོར་བཀྲིས་ཀྱི་རེ་ཁ་མངོན་པར་འཁོད་གྲུབ་བསྟུན། མཎྜལ་རྟེན་གསུམ་དང་རྟེན་འབྱུང་གསོལ་ཇ་འབྲས་སིལ་འདེགས་འབུལ་གྲུབ་མཚམས། དེ་རིང་གཟའ་སྐར་འཕྲོད་སྦྱོར་དགེ་བར་གཟིགས་ཏེ་མགོན་པོ་མཆོག་ནས་དྭགས་པོའི་གསུང་འབུམ་གྱི་ལྗགས་ལུང་དབུ་འཛུགས་བཀའ་དྲིན་ཆེ་གནང་མཛད་ཡོད་པ་རེད།


Some Glimpses of the 4th Day of Kagyu Gunchö

Some time ago, the Gunchö Organizing Committee requested to His Eminence Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche to give the transmission of Lord Gampopa’s Collected Works to all the Gunchö monks. Therefore today, Rinpoche graciously arrived at Bokar Shedra. All the Gunchö monks welcomed Rinpoche with huge respect as guest of honour, and offered mandala, saffron rice and tea to Rinpoche. Rinpoche also initiated the reading transmission.
The Inauguration of the 23rd Kagyu Gunchoe

The Inauguration of the 23rd Kagyu Gunchoe

Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling

22 December 2022

After a Covid-19 enforced hiatus, the Kagyu Gunchoe – the Winter Dharma Gathering for Monks – is able to unfold once again with renewed exuberance.  Located in West Bengal’s verdant countryside of forests and tea gardens teeming with birds, the stunning Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling comes to life as Kagyu Gunchoe participants pour in from eleven of the Kagyu Monastic Colleges based in  Nepal, India and Bhutan.

Within the shedra's expansive gardens, lush with banyans, palm trees, flowers and sacred fig trees, on the banks of a dry, sandy river, groups of monks sit or stroll  immersed in discussion. In the Indian afternoon, alive with soft wind and the sweet scent of prajñā, one might feel as if transported to a great ancient monastic college such as Nālandā or Vikramaśīla.

The impression shifts slightly upon approaching the temple’s lively shrine hall where debating voices echo demonstratively. Even so, unlike the experience of the so-called “holy mess of the Seat of Awakening” in Bodhgaya, the atmosphere in Bokar Shedra is one of ease, clarity and focus.

One can’t escape a feeling of deep gratitude for such an extraordinary revival of ancient wisdom.

All the details for the Gunchoe were worked out collaboratively in a number of preparatory Zoom meetings between His Holiness and the shedra khenpos.

Then, in order for this great event to take place, the monks of Bokar Shedra have been working tirelessly so that the entire program flows seamlessly, like clockwork. Cooking, distributing meals in a spacious pavilion, accommodation in large buildings flanking the immense temple, debates and all other parts of life unfold with ease so that true wisdom may flourish.

The Inauguration Ceremony

The 23rd Kagyu Gunchoe began with an official procession led by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi, Khenchen Lodrö Donyö Rinpoche and the shedra khenpos. Central to the procession was the image of the Gyalwang Karmapa, After his portrait had been enthroned in the main shrine room, Bokar Rinpoche led the mandala offering, which was followed by celebratory sweet saffron rice and butter tea.

At Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi’s request, the Gyalwang Karmapa gave the introductory address over ZOOM.

The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Introductory Remarks

The Karmapa began by noting the reasons for the choice of venue: the availability of good facilities (as opposed to the tents in Bodhgaya) and the shedra’s location which makes it easily accessible from most other shedras. Then, the Karmapa made five profound points to be guided by:

  1. We are all upholding the teachings.

From the moment we all go for refuge and enter the gate of Dharma, we have the responsibility to uphold the Buddhist teachings. The Karmapa quoted Dölpopa Sherab Gyeltsen:

“In all my lifetimes, may I shoulder the great burden of the teaching. Even if I cannot bear that, may I at least have the worry that the teachings might decline.”

Thus, we need to uphold, preserve and spread the teachings. That comes through teaching and practice which require us to have:

  • The Pure motivationof wanting to serve the teachings
  • The Determinationthat we will do it and
  • The Confidencethat we can.

But upholding, preserving and spreading the Buddha’s teachings isn’t easy and the biggest problem is: We get too sectarian. We become too attached and too focused - too small, too limited in our understanding. So, we only think in terms of our own monastery, our own gurus, instead of thinking about Buddhism and the teacher of Buddhism. In order to overcome this, we need to study the texts of all schools while holding our own as primary – without getting attached to it. We sometimes talk about being rime or non-sectarian. Still, focusing on your own school remains the number one responsibility, mindful not to: “cut down the trunk while holding on to the branches.”

  1. The essential unity of thought in different Kagyu schools

Though different Kagyu schools exist, they all originated in the teachings of Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, so there is a unity of thought central to all Kagyu schools. Although there are different explanations, fundamentally, it would be impossible for them to be different because they come from the same place. So, we need to make sure to study all the various texts that are praised by all Kagyu lineages. These texts used to be very rare but now a lot of them have been made available.

His Holiness encouraged the scholars to combine their efforts in the various shedras in order to create critical editions – initially the critical editions of the eight  great texts of sūtra and tantra (namely “Middle Way”, “Abhidharma”, “Vinaya”, “Prajñāpāramitā”, “Validity”, “Profound Inner Meaning”, “Hevajra Commentary in Two Books” and “Sublime Continuum”). Making reliable basic editions requires that we look at the different manuscripts, editions and source materials available not only in the Karma Kamtsang but in all Kagyu schools.

While there is nothing to be ashamed of with regard to our philosophical texts (they are a really good foundation), there is a lot of work to be done in creating critical editions, so the Karmapa encouraged everyone to develop some ‘Sem Shuk’ - determination.

  1. Keeping in accordance with the times.

The traditional stages of listening, contemplating and meditating are very important but now we live in a different era and this requires us to keep up with the times. Therefore, it is important to follow what is happening in contemporary research. Since there is a lot of work to be done in that regard, the Gyalwang Karmapa counselled everyone to take an interest in research and study the ways of contemporary academia.

He suggested that all the khenpos and ācāryas, who have a lot of time and often no particular job following graduation, should  spend some of their time doing research in order to bring together the traditional and the contemporary.

  1. Health

While the essential activity in the shedra is, of course, study, it is also very important to take care of your health. There are people who do a lot of studying, become very learned and so forth but they have poor health and that creates problems.

  1. Some important differences in the organisation at this year’s Gunchoe  
  • Groupings:

In previous Günchoes, competitive debates were always held between  teams  representing each of the different monasteries. However, this can actually lead to rivalry and partisanship so there is a  danger of it doing more harm than good. Conseqeuently, it was decided to adopt a different approach this year. Instead of competitors representing their own monasteries in debates, the teams will comprise monks drawn from different monasteries, mixed and grouped according to their levels and debating subjects.

  • Scoring:

In past years, the scoring was done by judges– scholars invited from the four main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. On one hand, that was very good but on the other hand, scholars from other traditions do not necessarily know the Kagyu tradition and texts, and therefore it is difficult for them to follow Kagyu debating or assess whether the monks are getting the points right or not. So this year the debates will be judged by khenpos drawn from the different Kagyu shedras, who will be assigned to judge different topics according to their expertise.

His Holiness expressed his hopes for the Gunchoe to be fruitful and noted that at the conclusion, there would be a session for the students to share their opinions.

In these days of degenerate times, fewer people are becoming monastics to begin with, he said. For this reason, it is crucial for senior monks and khenpos to remain in their monasteries, take good care of the students and have good intentions in looking after them – often not an easy task as it would sometimes be necessary to give up some of their own hopes in order to do this.  However, the Karmapa urged the khenpos and senior monks to continue doing this.

A Summary of the 23rd Gunchoe Programme

  • Debates: 22nd  December – 26th  January. On the days of Rinpoche's transmission: in the afternoons but, on the days of the Karmapa’s teachings: in the mornings)
  • The Lung (transmission) of the “Collected Works of Gampopa” by His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche: 26thDecember – 13thJanuary.
  • “Five-deity Hayagrīva” ritual: 17th and 18th January.
  • Teaching on Vasubandhu’s “Thirty Verses”  by His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa: 14th  – 25th January.
  • The final debates commence: 21st January.
  • The Günchoe conference on Prajñāpāramitā: 24th January, 2023

Debate Topics

The topics of the debates cover five fields:

  1. Pramāṇa – epistemology (valid means to knowledge) – how to construct syllogisms, what is a valid analogy and so on – divided into upper and lower levels.
  2. “Prajñāpāramitā” – “The Transcendence of Wisdom” – particularly the “Ornament of Clear Realisation” by Maitreya, the first of the 8 chapters - also divided into upper and lower levels

For the junior students:

  1. Collected Topics – basic logic – debating colours, different types of negations, universals and particulars and so forth.
  2. Types of Evidence - reasons of nature, reasons of result (inference of its cause), reasons of non-observation and so on.
  3. Types of Mind – valid and invalid cognitions, types of valid cognitions, difference between mind and mental factors, difference between perceptual and conceptual cognitions and so on.

Participating Shedras

The newly-built Bokar Shedra became home to 350 monks in the year 2020 and it now hosting 1300 Kagyü Günchö participants from:

  1. Rumtek Shedra Karma Śrī Nālandā
  2. Palpung Shedra Lungrig Jampel Ling
  3. Rigpe Dorje Tsug Lag Lobnyer Khang
  4. Sönada Rangjung Künkhyab Thorim Lobnyer Khang
  5. Zurmang Shedra Lungtok Norbü Gatshel
  6. Thrangu Shedra Vajra Vidyā
  7. Tergar Shedra Ösel Ling
  8. Karma Lekshe Ling Shedra
  9. Nyide Shedra Lungtok Chökyi Gatshel
  10. Gyendruk Khepe Densa Pel Nālandā
  11. Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling


2022.12.22 Day 1: The Inauguration of the 23rd Kagyu Gunchoe