Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs: Shamatha Meditation

Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs: Shamatha Meditation

Kagyu Gunchoe Teachings 2024 • Mikyö Dorje’s Hundred Short Instructions • Day 1

8 January 2024

Types of Transmissions

After representatives of Kagyu monasteries made offerings of body, speech, and mind to His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, the anticipated 24th Kagyu Gunchoe Teachings began. His Holiness offered his warm wishes to all and explained that he would continue with the teachings on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Hundred Short Instructions. Previous teachings on this subject covered the Essential Meaning of the Three Essential Points, and we have currently arrived at the Instructions on Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs.

On the topic of transmission, or lung, he explained there are many types including reading transmission, explanatory transmission, and instructional transmission. In the Vinaya, a reading transmission is referred to as “giving transmission.”  

Karmapa explained, “Originally the scriptures of Buddhism were not written down in words and letters. The Buddha would say something orally, and the students would memorize what he said. Students who had achieved the dharani power of perfect memory would recite them to each other from memory. This was the tradition at the time.” 

Students would teach by reciting the texts they had memorized to new students or monastics. For the students to memorize a text, they had to recite it a minimum of three times. Those of sharp faculties probably were able to memorize it after only three or four times, while those of lesser faculties needed to recite it multiple times until they had it memorized. 

In brief, the transmission had to be recited as many times as necessary until it was memorized, and that was called ‘having received the transmission’. They had to recite it over and over again so as not to forget it. This is what was meant by giving a transmission at that time. “But in Tibetan, all the scriptures were written down, so there is no need to go to such lengths,” Karmapa pointed out. “Giving a reading transmission is probably a remnant of that earlier tradition when the scriptures were not written down on paper.” 

An explanatory transmission means reciting all the words of the scripture clearly three times and occasionally adding a brief explanation or commentary. An instruction transmission is when a guru himself gives an explanation according to the experience that they have developed in their being.

The main point for a transmission is knowing the words, whereas the primary focus of instructions is knowing the meaning. The distinction between transmissions and instructions was not recorded clearly in any sutra or tantra, remarked Karmapa. “When we look at the sutras, the tantras, or the texts by the Indian masters, there is nothing clear about transmissions or instructions in those texts.” As the quality of students’ minds declined over time, there came a point where it was necessary to give the transmissions and the instructions separately. 

Karmapa explained, “What I'm giving today is like an explanatory transmission. Primarily, I'm going to be reading the text Instructions on Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs by Mikyö Dorje. Occasionally, I will share a few opinions or thoughts if I have them.”

His Holiness noted that since Mikyö Dorje’s commentary is on the root text written by Gyalwa Yangönpa, he would now give a brief introduction to Gyalwa Yangönpa before speaking on the text itself.

Introducing Gyalwa Yangönpa 

Who was Gyalwa Yangönpa? Within the Dakpo Kagyu, there is the Drukpa Kagyu, one of the lineages passed on from Phagmo Drupa. At one time in Tibet, the Drukpa Kagyu teachings spread very widely, and many people had a great interest in these teachings. The founder of this tradition was Tsangpa Gyare. His first two great students were Pa and Kyang, followed by two more great students called Gya and Dre, as well as the later two great students named Lorepa and Gotsangpa.

Gotsangpa had several students; among them was Yangönpa who, it is said, was equal to him in realization, Orgyenpa who was equal to him in austerity, Chilekara who was equal in his resolve, and Ringpa who was equal in devotion. 

Yangönpa was known all over Tibet as both a scholar and meditation master. He was born in Ladong, the southern part of Lato, where there is a monastery. He came from an unbroken family line of Nyingma siddhis, all of whom were Ngakpas. He was born in 1213 CE; his father's name was Josam, and his mother was named Chotong, His Holiness speculated that his father had already passed away by the time he was born, so he was raised primarily by his mother. 

“Even while he was in the womb, his mother had many extraordinary visions or signs in her dreams. In particular, she also naturally developed samadhi without needing to meditate on it,” His Holiness pointed out. Not long after Yangönpa was born, he was able to speak, and he said, “I go for refuge.” He naturally knew how to read and write without needing to be taught.

Even while Yangönpa was young, he would encourage people to practice the dharma. When he was five years old, he began singing songs with extremely profound words and meaning that greatly benefited other people. These are all within the collected songs of Yangönpa. Because he was different from other children and did many amazing things, everyone thought of him as a nirmanakaya (tulku). At that time, the word “tulku” did not refer to a reincarnate being, but rather meant someone who was extraordinary and different from other children. 

At the age of six, he met a guru named Phul Marwa, from whom he received the Maya empowerment, the instructions on the Tantra of the Great Perfection, instructions from the Kadampa, the Shiche and Chöd lineages, and the essential topics of the path and its result. When he reached the age of nine, he began to give teachings and was able to instruct other people.

“If you are an ordinary person at the age of nine, forget about giving instructions to anyone else. First of all, you don't even know what you are doing. But he was different from anyone else,” remarked Karmapa. Yangönpa was able to care for many students and give them instructions.

At the age of 22, he took full ordination from Khenpo Lhatsun Sokhawa. The master of the ritual was Kodragpa, the private questioner was Drochung, and a sangha of 80 students was present. He was given the name Gyatson Pal, and subsequently founded a monastery at Shri Namding. Later on, he spent one year continuously meditating while seated in the vajra posture.

In essence, he spent his time in isolation and solitude, and giving instructions to his students. People from all areas of Tibet, and in particular from Central Tibet, came to him, and he reportedly had over 10,000 students.

Due to requests from his students, he wrote the Three Cycles of Mountain Dharma and many different texts that have unique features. Karmapa shared, “For myself, I have read many old instructions by Yangönpa. They are really special and different from anyone else's.” 

In 1256 CE, he passed away at  the age of 46. He had many students, and among them two were the primary ones. Chenga Rinchen Den met Yangönpa when Yangönpa was five years old, and began studying with him. The other student was Lore Chokyong Pal.

Chenga Rinchen Den had a student called Zurpugpa, who later had a student named Barawa. The upper Drukpa Kagyu lineage was primarily spread by Barawa. In this way, the activities of Gyalwa Yangönpa were very broad and vast.

The Origins of Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs

His Holiness then began discussing the origins of Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs, as the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Instructions is a commentary on this root text. 

During the year Yangönpa founded the monastery in Lhading, 25 new students came to receive instructions from him. Before he had even taught the main instructions, five of these students developed realization upon just hearing the preliminary instructions. All of the students who received the instructions were able to develop shamath, Yangönpa was absolutely delighted, and sang the song of the Seven Pointing Outs.

The song has an homage at the beginning and advice to others as a conclusion, which are not included in Mikyö Dorje’s commentary but are recorded in the Collected Songs of Yangönpa and in a commentary by Barawa Gyaltsen Palsang on this text, called The Torch of the Precious Instructions.

Karmapa explained, “Since they are not in Mikyö Dorje's commentary, I will fill them in according to how they are in Gyalwa Yangönpa’s collected texts and then according to Barawa's commentary.” He divided the text into different sections, taking Barawa's The Torch of the Precious Instructions as the basis.

The text is named The Seven Pointing Outs because the instructions are in seven categories:

  1. Instructions on shamatha
  2. Instructions on insight
  3. Instructions in freedom from elaborations
  4. Instructions in the natural liberation of movement
  5. Instructions in one taste 
  6. Instructions in continuous meditation
  7. Instructions on devoting oneself to practice

According to Barawa's commentary, there are three main parts to The Seven Pointing Outs:

  1. An homage pointing out the purpose and thus determining the nature
  2. The long explanation of meaning that presents the paths and levels
  3. Concluding advice for others

The first part is the homage and the request for blessings. The text reads:

Namo Ratna Guru
Lord incomparable precious guru

Who enjoys the pleasures of samsara and nirvana

Through the naturally clear awareness with no object

And has gained mastery over appearing, empty phenomena,
I prostrate at the feet of your sambhogakaya.

Karmapa elucidated, “From the line ‘Namo Ratna Guru’ to ‘I prostrate at the feet of your sambhogakaya’ is the homage. Then there's the line ‘Bless me with deep clear experience’ which is the request for blessings.”

The Transmission of Instructions on Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs

His Holiness then began giving the transmission for the Instructions on Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Commentary on the Text

After pausing briefly for a tea break, the Karmapa continued with an explanation of the text:

There are many different things we need to understand here. He is speaking about Mahamudra, the teachings on shamatha, and the instructions from Atisha passed down through Gampopa and given the name of the co-emergent union of Mahamudra. The Instructions of the Seven Pointing Outs are giving instructions on the paths and levels of Mahamudra, and about the four yogas with the three parts each, for twelve stages.

One text by Gyalwang Kunga Rinchen, which is very similar to Yangönpa’s, points out the realization of the paths and levels of Mahamudra. The paths and levels of Mahamudra have many different names. We talk about the four yogas of three stages each; the one-pointedness, simplicity, one flavor, and non-meditation.This is how we refer to the progression of the paths and levels of Mahamudra and it is essential to know them. 

Karmapa shared an encounter:

The Dalai Lama once said to me, “What are these one-pointedness, simplicity, one flavor, and non-meditation that Kagyus talk about?” At that point, I knew only a little bit about the terms of these four, but I didn't really know how to identify each of these. At that time, I was unable to give an answer directly. When we talk about one-pointedness, simplicity, one flavor, and non-meditation, what are these? The presentation of this is something to keep in mind.

Yangönpa’s instruction on the four yogas and the three parts each were thought highly of by Lord Tsongkhapa, who took a great interest in the presentation of the paths and levels according to Yangönpa. 

When speaking about this presentation of the four yogas, many people make objections to them, including within Kagyu itself. Nevertheless, there are instructions on the co-emergent union of Mahamudra that were passed from Atisha to Gönpawa, and later passed down to Lord Gampopa and Phagmo Drupa. At that time, there were many students who were a little degenerate but had great delight in the highest vehicle, and they called these instructions ‘the co-emergent union of Mahamudra’.  

Generally, we speak of the sutra tradition of Mahamudra, the tantra tradition of Mahamudra and the essence of Mahamudra. The pith instructions of Mahamudra are taught in different ways, so that is why they are categorized in this way. 

Some people say that there is no difference between sutra and tantra Mahamudra. Karmapa pointed out that Mikyö Dorje discusses the sutra and tantric traditions of Mahamudra in the beginning of the Chariot of the Practice Siddhas. He wrote that empowerments are not needed to practice sutra Mahamudra, and we call this ‘the path of liberation of Mahamudra’, which follows the thought of the Sutra of the King of Samadhi and developing Mahamudra through that.

Instructions on Shamatha

Next, Karmapa pointed out that the main text now begins with the first of the seven topics — the instructions on shamatha. According to Barawa Gyaltsen Palsang’s commentary, this can be divided into three: 

  1. How to rest the mind 
  2. Resting evenly without fabrication
  3. Taking thoughts as the path  

Karmapa then presented scanned images of an old printed edition of Yangönpa's collected works as well as one from Mikyö Dorje's Hundred Short Instructions, which differs slightly. His Holiness then continued with the transmission.

He emphasized that this should be taught by combining it with one's own experience; just reading the words and explaining the words is not all that beneficial. He then clarified:

When we are speaking about these methods of resting the mind, if you're looking for meditation in some external object, you can't find it. If you're looking outside, you can't meditate. Meditation means you need to turn inward. To look and take care of your mind, that's what we mean by meditation.

Karmapa emphasized that instead of having thoughts of “What is this, what is that?” and thinking about the outside like that, we need to turn our mind inward and say, “What is my mind? Let's look and see, well, what is my mind?”

Therefore, we need to turn inside and look inside ourselves. We look at the state that our mind is in, what thoughts are moving in our mind, or what is the nature of our mind, and what is the mind. It is important for us to think about this, in particular when we are meditating on the shamatha of Mahamudra.

He added:

Since there are so many people together, some will like what I say while others won't. Whether people like it or not is not the main thing, but even if people don't like it, they won't feel faith. If they don't have faith, they won't develop devotion. If they don't develop devotion, they won't receive the blessings. If you don't have devotion, then it's difficult to develop meditation yourself.

In brief, he summarized, when we are meditating on the shamatha of Mahamudra, the moment we become dharma practitioners, we should not look outside at other people. We should not look at what others are doing or talking about today, at what is going on in society. Instead, we need to look inside and turn our attention inwards to our own mind. We should look at what our own situation is. This is not referring to one’s physical situation or health, but the situation of our mind. He explained, “We can talk about the health of the body; we can also talk about the health of the mind. What is the health of our mind? It's really important for us to think about this.”

We always see other people's faults, but are we ourselves free of faults? No, of course we have a lot of faults, the worst being that we don't see our own faults, Karmapa pointed out. If we can't recognize what our own faults are, we can't improve ourselves. We have to be able to see our own faults if we are going to improve ourselves. We need to look at ourselves, and ask “Is what I am doing okay? Is the way I am thinking okay? Is the way I act okay?”

Karmapa stressed that as dharma practitioners, we need to turn our attention inward and think more about the ways we are thinking and behaving. We shouldn't be thinking only about how others act or think. All of the great beings who have achieved siddhi looked at their own mind, and all turned their attention inwards and looked inside; this is a really crucial point. He pointed out, “If we can't do this, no matter how many texts we might have read, then we are the same as researchers at great universities abroad. They do a lot of research, and some of them do turn their attention inwards, but most of them are primarily thinking about a topic of study and have the aim of getting a diploma.” 

If we say that we are dharma practitioners and the ones who are authentically practicing Buddhism, then the most important point is that we look inside ourselves. If we don't, then studying philosophy and going on a three-year retreat is basically a waste, he stated. It is really important to understand this critical point.

Kagyu Gunchoe: Improving our Study and Teaching

Karmapa then touched on the competitive debates of Kagyu Gunchoe which are continuing in the same way as last year. As he had mentioned on the first day of the Gunchoe, debating is a method to improve our study and teaching, and there are also many other different methods such as to teach, write, and explain. These days, in the great universities, people do research as a way to improve their study and to gain greater understanding of the texts. If we are using our own intelligence to study many different scriptures in the Kangyur and Tengyur, the older and later texts, not only within our own tradition, we can develop a resolve and resolution through this research. This understanding is not gained through merely reading, but through assiduous study. 

His Holiness mentioned previously that Lord Tsongkhapa had studied many sutras and tantras with many different great scholars, and at the end came to his own view and philosophy. He was able to combine these particular features and was able to write many different philosophical texts. 

Karmapa pointed out:

Some people raised objections saying that it doesn't match the thought of earlier masters, but if we think about it, he used his intelligence to accomplish this. He spent a long time listening and contemplating, researched greatly, and was able to produce a result himself. This is what happens if we use our intelligence. If instead we are just following others and repeating what previous masters have said, it is difficult to make any progress or improvement. 

His Holiness then mentioned that he wishes to accumulate more pieces of writing for the Gunchoe. Apart from a few khenpos who are writing papers, students may also write about the more important topics or difficult points in the texts. He cautioned that when we focus on the important points, sometimes we forget about the lesser points which can contain key details when we research deeply into them. If people can write papers on them and thus develop their practice of writing, Karmapa believes it will definitely help us develop an understanding of the texts and be of great benefit for us to delve more deeply into the texts.

He added that whenever we debate, there is a danger that we will just be debating about the words. We might try to find a fault or something that people won't be able to respond to. If we are thinking in this way, sometimes it is difficult to go really deeply into the points of the texts. Therefore, we need to use many different skillful means to improve our studies.

His Holiness then concluded the first day of teachings by encouraging monastics to speak about their opinions on this, if they have any, during the conference.

2024.01.08 Gyalwa Yangönpa’s Seven Pointing Outs: Shamatha Meditation