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Buddhism Mahāmudrā in Tibet
by
Roger Jackson

Introduction

The Tibetan term phyag rgya chen po (pronounced “chakya chenpo” in central Tibet) translates the Sanskrit mahāmudrā, usually rendered as the “great seal.” It is best known as a system of meditation on the nature of mind that is central to the Marpa Kagyü (Bka’ brgyud) order of Tibetan Buddhism, but it is important in other Tibetan traditions, too, including the Nyingma (Rnying ma), Shangpa Kagyü (Shangs pa bka’ brgyud), Kadam (Bka’ gdams), Zhijé (Zhi byed), Sakya (Sa skya), Jonang (Jo nang), and Geluk (Dge lugs). Mahāmudrā became a central topic of discourse during the so-called Tibetan renaissance (10th–13th centuries), when all these schools either originated or gained articulation. The term became important in Tibet because it was prominent in the literature transmitted from India at that time, especially that of the highly esoteric Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras. See the companion Oxford Bibliographies article Mahāmudrā in India. In Tibet, mahāmudrā inspired philosophical, meditative, ethical, and poetic creativity and often sparked intense debate. In Marpa Kagyü traditions, mahāmudrā could be based in the sutras, tantras, or both. Synonymous with buddha-nature, emptiness, great bliss, the innate, nonmentation, the Middle Way, and the dharma body of a buddha, it could be attained either suddenly or gradually, through a succession of yogas and/or “pointing-out instructions” from one’s guru. In Nyingma, mahāmudrā was considered a high tantric realization, but less profound than the Great Perfection, or Dzokchen (rdzogs chen). In Shangpa Kagyü, it was a contemplation conjoining bliss and the realization of emptiness, like two halves of an amulet box. In Zhijé, it involved realization of the nature of mind through severing ego clinging. In Kadam, its tantric sources were approached cautiously, but it formed part of the background of thought and practice. In Sakya, it was the buddhahood ensuing from tantric initiation. In Jonang, it was the realization of buddha-nature, empty of everything but its own intrinsic purity. In Geluk, it was a sutra- or tantra-based meditation leading, through philosophical analysis, to direct realization of the empty or clear-light nature of the mind. In the modern era, mahāmudrā meditation has attracted those who—rightly or wrongly—see its emphasis on formless meditation as a way to bypass the “cultural trappings” of complex tantric practices. Thus, scholarship on it has emerged from meditation centers as often as from universities, and some work on it lacks academic rigor. While the more scholarly studies are highlighted here, numerous less scholarly but still-useful works have been included, too, so the reader may consult as many reliable resources as possible for the study of mahāmudrā, in premodern Tibet.

General Overviews

Despite its ubiquity and importance in Tibetan Buddhist literature, mahāmudrā has not so far been the subject of a comprehensive monograph. The broadest perspectives on the concept, therefore, must be drawn from disparate sources of various kinds, each of which has its strengths and limitations. Two encyclopedia entries on mahāmudrā have appeared recently, Quintman 2003 and Jackson 2005; both provide brief synoptic overviews, as does the slightly more detailed Jackson 2011b. Jackson 2011a surveys modern scholarship on mahāmudrā produced in Western languages. Roerich 1976 is a translation of Gö Lotsawa’s (’Gos lo tsā ba gzhon nu dpal, b. 1392–d. 1481) classic Tibetan dharma-history, the Blue Annals, which contains two chapters that focus on mahāmudrā lineages, though it lacks detailed discussions of the literature or teachings of the lineages. At present, the most useful sources for gaining a detailed appreciation for the contours of mahāmudrā theory and practice focus on the tradition to which it is most central, the Kagyü: Lhalungpa 2006 is a translation of a classic insider’s overview of the tradition by Dakpo Tashi Namgyel (Dvags po Bkra shsis rnam rgyal, b. 1512–d. 1587); Brown 2006 is a detailed discussion of meditation practices, drawn from a plethora of important texts on the topic; and Brunnhölzl 2007 and Roberts 2011 are anthologies of mahāmudrā-related texts from all periods; the former includes translated texts from a variety of Indian and Tibetan traditions, while the latter focuses on texts produced by Kagyü masters in Tibet. Useful summaries of mahāmudrā also may be found in Ray 2001 and Jamgön Kongtrul 2007.

  • Brown, Daniel. Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in Mahamudra Tradition. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006.

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    A detailed synthetic analysis of the Kagyü approach to mahāmudrā meditation that draws on many important writings on the topic from that tradition, but with special emphasis on the works of Dakpo Tashi Namgyel and other great scholastics of the 16th century.

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  • Brunnhölzl, Karl, trans. Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.

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    This wide-ranging (though, regrettably, unindexed) anthology of Indian and Tibetan texts conveying “pith instructions” (Tib. man ngag) includes many texts of significance to mahāmudrā traditions, including important works by Indian masters and representatives of all the major Tibetan lineages, though the major emphasis is on the Kagyü.

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  • Jackson, Roger R. “Mahāmudrā.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. 2d ed. Vol. 8. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 5596–6501. New York: Macmillan, 2005.

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    An overview of the development of the term mahāmudrā in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism; also includes a description of a typical mahāmudrā meditation and a summary of Tibetan disputes surrounding the term.

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  • Jackson, Roger R.. “Mahāmudrā: Natural Mind in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.” Religion Compass 5.7 (2011a): 286–299.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00283.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chronological survey of mahāmudrā ideas and practices in Indian and Tibetan traditions, including details of meditation techniques and analysis of important questions arising from mahāmudrā discourse. Similar to Jackson 2005 in structure, but more detailed.

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  • Jackson, Roger R. “The Study of Mahāmudrā in the West: A Brief Overview.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 3–54. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011b.

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    A bibliographical essay that surveys Western-language scholarship on mahāmudrā from the mid-19th century to 2010, bracketed by an initial discussion of the appeal of mahāmudrā to Western scholars and practitioners and a concluding set of suggestions about future directions for research.

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  • Jamgön Kongtrul. The Treasury of Knowledge: Book 8, Part 4, Esoteric Instructions. Translated by Sarah Harding. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.

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    Analysis, by a 19th-century leader of the nonsectarian (ris med) movement, of important Tibetan Buddhist oral transmission lineages, including, prominently, the Marpa Kagyü interpretation of mahāmudrā.

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  • Lhalungpa, Lobsang P., trans. Mahāmudrā: The Moonlight: Quintessence of Mind and Meditation. 2d ed. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006.

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    First published in 1986, this pioneering translation of Dakpo Tashi Namgyel’s influential 16th-century compendium of Kagyü mahāmudrā ideas and practices is a trove of textual citations and meditation instructions, marred only by its skimpy scholarly apparatus and lack of an index.

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  • Quintman, Andrew. “Mahāmudrā.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert Buswell, 488–489. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2003.

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    A clear, if brief, summary of mahāmudrā ideas and practices, with a major focus on usages of the term in Tibetan Kagyü contexts.

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  • Ray, Reginald A. Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

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    Exploration of tantric practices in Tibet, set against their Indian background. Drawn primarily from a Kagyü perspective, the book includes a clear overview of mahāmudrā (pp. 261–293).

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  • Roberts, Peter Alan, trans. Mahāmudrā and Related Instructions: Core Teachings of the Kagyü Schools. Library of Tibetan Classics 5. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2011.

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    The first major Western-language anthology of Tibetan Kagyü Mahāmudrā texts, with seminal works by Gampopa (Sgam po pa, b. 1079–d. 1153), Zhang Rinpoché (b. 1123–d. 1193), the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorjé (Rang byung rdo rje, b. 1284–d. 1339), Pema Karpo (Padma dkar po, b. 1527–d. 1592), Dakpo Tashi Namgyel, and others.

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  • Roerich, George N., trans. The Blue Annals. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976.

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    Originally published in 1949, this indispensable, if underannotated, translation of ’Gos lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal’s work includes a chapter (no. XI) devoted to the transmission of Indian mahāmudrā lineages to Tibet in the 11th century, and makes many references to mahāmudrā practices and practitioners in the lengthy chapter (no. VIII) on the Marpa Kagyü (Mar pa bka’ brgyud), and in other chapters as well.

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Historical Background

Although it had become an important topic of discussion for Indian Buddhists by the 11th century, it was in Tibet that mahāmudrā emerged as a major category of discourse, especially during the so-called Tibetan renaissance that began late in the 10th century and extended for several centuries thereafter. This era saw major traffic of persons, texts, and ideas between India and Tibet, the compilation of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, and the gradual development of the lineages and orders that eventually would dominate Tibetan religion and—to a significant degree—the political and economic life of the plateau. Mahāmudrā was most significant among the Marpa Kagyü but also came to figure more or less prominently in the theory and praxis of the Nyingma, Shangpa Kagyü, Zhijé, Sakya, Jonang, and, later, the Geluk. To understand the development of mahāmudrā discourse in Tibet, it is important to have a sense of the structural and developmental patterns of Tibetan Buddhism writ large. The most accessible and up-to-date introduction to Tibetan culture as a whole, and Buddhism’s place in it, is Kapstein 2006, while the history and orders of Tibetan Buddhism are clearly surveyed in Powers 2007 (as well as Ray 2000, cited in Marpa Kagyü). Samuel 1993 remains the most interesting and wide-ranging anthropological interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism produced in recent decades. Thuken 2009 includes a Geluk scholar’s overview of the history and doctrines of the various Tibetan Buddhist orders, while Jamgön Kongtrul 2007 (cited in General Overviews) surveys oral instruction lineages in the different Tibetan traditions. More specialized, but nevertheless highly valuable, are Kapstein 2000, which brings together the author’s essays on a variety of themes in Tibetan intellectual history, Smith 2001, which provides learned studies of important figures from all the Tibetan orders, and Davidson 2004, which critically examines the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet from the 10th to 13th centuries. In addition, Roerich 1976 (cited in General Overviews) remains a vital source of information on many aspects of the development of Buddhism in Tibet, as do Snellgrove 1987 (Vol. 2) and Schaeffer 2005.

  • Davidson, Ronald M. Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture and the Rise of Sakya. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    Superbly researched study of the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet from the 10th to 13th centuries. Although the focus is on Sakya, there is much of interest with regard to the Kadam, Kagyü, and other lineages as well.

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  • Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Collection of loosely related essays that treat important themes in Tibetan intellectual history. Its major sections cover conversion and narrative, sources of contestation, and myth, memory, and revelation.

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  • Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetans. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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    Deeply researched and well-written historical overview of Tibetan civilization, based both on older and more recent scholarship.

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  • Powers, John. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.

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    Clearly written and accessible introduction to major Indian Buddhist ideas and practices, the history of Buddhism in Tibet, and the major Buddhist orders, as well as Bon. Includes a discussion of mahāmudrā in the chapter on Kagyü.

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  • Samuel, Geoffrey. Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

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    Landmark anthropological study that analyzes Tibetan Buddhism in terms of shamanic and clerical modes and bodhi, karma, and pragmatic orientations. An indispensable tool for thinking about major patterns in Tibetan religion.

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  • Schaeffer, Kurtis R. Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of the Buddhist Poet-Saint Saraha. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    An important study of the way Saraha was both received and (to some degree) invented by Tibetan scholars of the 11th and 12th centuries. A crucial source for understanding the transmission of mahāmudrā to Tibet, and the degree to which the “tradition” is in large part a Tibetan creation.

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  • Smith, E. Gene. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Tibetan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001.

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    Collection of essays by the dean of late-20th-century Tibetology. Most originally served as introductions to volumes of Tibetan texts published in India. Put together, they provide a breathtaking study of some signal figures in Tibetan intellectual history, including Longchenpa (Klong chen pa, b. 1308–d. 1363), Pema Karpo, and the First Panchen Lama (b. 1570–d. 1662).

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  • Snellgrove, David L. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. 2 vols. Boston: Shambhala, 1987.

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    Magisterial two-volume overview of Buddhist traditions from their beginnings and development in India to their multiple transmissions to Tibet. Volume 2 focuses on the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet, both during the “early” and “later” transmissions of the teaching.

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  • Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima. The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems: A Tibetan Study of Asian Religious Thought. Translated by Geshé Lhundup Sopa, E. Ann Chávez, and Roger R. Jackson. Edited by Roger R. Jackson. Library of Tibetan Classics 25. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.

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    Early-19th-century “world religions” text by a Gelukpa scholar. Although the Geluk receives the most attention, there are detailed accounts of all the major Tibetan schools. The chapter on Kagyü includes mahāmudrā theory and praxis.

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Marpa Kagyü

It is within the Kagyü traditions that trace their lineage back to Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (Mar pa chos kyi blo gros, b. 1012–d. 1097) that mahāmudrā has been most deeply discussed and practiced in Tibet. According to tradition, Marpa studied aspects of mahāmudrā both with Nāropa and Maitrīpa and transmitted his teachings to his disciple, the great poet-yogin, Milarépa (Mi la ras pa, b. 1040–d. 1123); Mila, in turn, instructed his major disciples, Rechungpa (Ras chung ba, b. 1084–d. 1161) and Gampopa Sönam Rinchen (Sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, b. 1079–d. 1153). Rechugpa transmitted a series of secret oral instructions related to the Cakrasaṃvara tantra, and it was Gampopa who placed mahāmudrā—seen as an ultimate reality and realization rooted both in the sutras and tantras—at the center of Kagyü theory and praxis and founded what became known as the Dakpo (Dvags po) Kagyü tradition. In the generations after Gampopa, the Dakpo divided into numerous branches and subbranches, of which the most important currently are the Karma, Drigung (’Bri gung), and Drukpa (’Brug pa). It is within the Dakpo schools that mahāmudrā received the most concerted attention: from the 12th century to the present, their masters have collected and analyzed Indian mahāmudrā texts, articulated mahāmudrā meditation systems, debated philosophical and ethical issues stemming from mahāmudrā discourse, and composed songs celebrating the mahāmudrā experience. Scholarship on the Kagyü has grown slowly, but at an accelerating pace, over the past half-century. Many of the works that have appeared recently are specialized studies or translations of particular texts, which will be cited in later sections. For more general treatments of the Kagyü, the reader may turn to Ray 2000—as well as the chapter on Kagyü in Jamgön Kongtrul 2007, the chapter on the Marpa Kagyü in Roerich 1976, and the introduction to Roberts 2011 (all cited in General Overviews), along with the Kagyü chapters in Powers 2007 and Thuken 2009 (both cited in Historical Background). A detailed scholarly treatment of various aspects of mahāmudrā and Kagyü traditions is found in Jackson and Kapstein 2011. Li 1949 is an early and brief, but useful, overview of the different schools and subschools of the Kagyü, while Gyaltsen 1990 is a translation of a traditional collection of biographies of Indian and Tibetan masters of the tradition. Nālandā Translation Committee 1980 is a translation of a collection of spiritual songs by Kagyü masters from all eras. Stott 1985 is a study of the early Dakpo Kagyü tradition and its roots in India, while Braitstein 2011 sets Dakpo Kagyü writers, especially Gampopa, against the background of the spiritual songs of the Indian adept Saraha. Crook and Low 1997 is an account of modern-day Kagyü hermits in the Indian Himalayas, while Beyer 1973 is a broader treatment of Kagyü ritual and meditation, based on field and textual study.

  • Beyer, Stephan V. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

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    Based on textual study and fieldwork among Kagyü practitioners in northern India, this is a superlative introduction to Kagyü ritual and meditative practices, and to Buddhist tantra more generally.

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  • Braitstein, Lara. “The Extraordinary Path: Saraha’s Adamantine Songs and the Bka’ brgyud Great Seal.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 55–88. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    Drawing on the little-studied adamantine songs (rdo rje’I glu) of Saraha and the writings of Gampopa and other Kagyü masters, Braitstein traces connections between the two bodies of literature with regard to various mahāmudrā-related topics.

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  • Crook, John H., and James Low. The Yogins of Ladakh: A Pilgrimage among the Hermits of the Buddhist Himalayas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.

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    Engagingly written if theoretically unsophisticated account of the lives and practices of Kagyü hermits in Ladakh. Includes a translation and discussion of a notebook on mahāmudrā meditation kept by one of the yogins (pp. 347–397).

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  • Gyaltsen, Khenpo Konchog. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Translated and edited by Victoria Huckenpahler. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1990.

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    Translation of a 13th-century account of the lives of Indian and Tibetan masters of importance to the Kagyü, with a particular focus on those central to the Drigung subschool. Not a full scholarly treatment, but it is a useful source nonetheless.

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  • Jackson, Roger R., and Matthew T. Kapstein, eds. Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    Collection of twelve papers presented on two panels at the 2006 seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Divided into sections on “Facets of Mahāmudrā,” “Traditions of Meditation and Yoga,” “Contributions of the Successive Karma pas,” and “The Life and Legacy of Gtsang smyon Heruka.”

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  • Li An-che. “The Bkaḥ-brgyud Sect of Lamaism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 69.2 (1949): 51–59.

    DOI: 10.2307/595242Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful outline of the four major and eight minor schools of the Kagyü, with some discussion of Kagyü doctrines, including mahāmudrā.

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  • Nālandā Translation Committee, trans. The Rain of Wisdom: The Essence of the Ocean of True Meaning . . . , The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1980.

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    Translation of a collection of spiritual songs (mgur) by Indian and Tibetan masters of the Kagyü. First edited by the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorjé (Mi bskyod rdo rje, b. 1507–d. 1554), the collection has grown over the centuries. Includes a helpful afterword that contextualizes the text, the songs, and their composers.

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  • Ray, Reginald A. Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.

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    Readable introduction to the history of the various Tibetan Buddhist orders and to their core nontantric teachings; includes a clear overview of the Kagyü (pp. 152–188), among other traditions.

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  • Stott, David J. “The History and Teachings of the Early Dwags-po bKa’-brgyud Tradition in India and Tibet.” PhD diss., University of Manchester, 1985.

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    Examines the development of the Kagyü traditions stemming from Gampopa, and their roots in the Indian Buddhism of the 11th and 12th centuries.

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The Six Doctrines of Nāropa

The Six Doctrines of Nāropa (nā ro chos drug), often referred to as the “Six Yogas,” are six practices related to the perfection, or completion, stage (rdzogs rim) of such Unexcelled Yoga Tantra systems as Cakrasaṃvara and Guhyasamāja. They are, in order: (1) Inner Heat (gtum mo), (2) Illusory Body (sgyu lus), (3) Clear Light, or Luminosity (’od gsal), (4) Dream (rmi lam), (5) Intermediate State (bar do), and Transference (’pho ba). They are said to have been received from various human and divine teachers by the Indian great adept Tilopa and transmitted to his disciple, Nāropa, who, in turn, passed them on to Marpa Lotsawa, whence they spread not only to the Kagyü traditions derived from him, but also to the Geluk tradition. Kagyü scholars of mahāmudrā often will identify the Six Doctrines as being tantamount to “tantric mahāmudrā” because they involve the cultivation of esoteric subtle-body practices sometimes downplayed in the discourse of proponents of “sutra” or “essential” mahāmudrā, who are intent on demonstrating its accessibility even to those who have not received tantric initiation. The best source for achieving a scholarly understanding of the history of the Six Dharmas is Kragh 2011. Kagyü sources on the Six Dharmas are found in Evans-Wentz 1958, Guenther 1995, and Chang 1986, while Geluk sources are featured in Mullin 2005 and Mullin 2006. A similar set of Six Doctrines was taught by Nāropa’s consort (or sister), Nigumā and became influential in the Shangpa Kagyü tradition, on which, see the section below.

  • Chang, Garma C. C., trans. Six Yogas of Naropa and Teachings on Mahamudra. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1986.

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    First published in 1963 as Teachings of Tibetan Yoga, this short anthology includes translations of Tilopa’s Ganges Mahāmudrā (Phyag chen gangā mā), the Third Karmapa’s Vow of Mahāmudrā (Phyag chen smon lam), and instructions on mahāmudrā practice by Lama “Kong Ka” (Gangs dkar), as well as a 16th-century exposition of the Six Doctrines by Dakpo Tashi Namgyel.

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  • Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

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    First published in 1935, this compilation of translations by Kazi Dawa-Samdup includes an account of the Six Doctrines of Nāropa (the Chos drug bsdus pa’i zin bris), along with a textbook on spiritual practice by Gampopa (the Lam mchog rin po che’i ’phreng ba), a mahāmudrā manual by Pema Karpo (the Phyag chen zin bris), and a number of other texts. It is hampered by the biblical English of the translations and the editor’s Theosophical perspective, but the translations themselves are generally reliable.

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  • Guenther, Herbert V., trans. The Life and Teaching of Nāropa. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1995.

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    First published in 1963, this classic work includes a translation of the 16th-century biography of Nāropa by Lhetsün Rinchen Namgyel (Lha’i btsun rin chen rnam rgyal), and Guenther’s occasionally arcane but always thought-provoking discussion of the twelve great teachings imparted to Nāropa by Tilopa, including the Six Doctrines, as well as mahāmudrā.

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  • Kragh, Ulrich Timme. “Prolegomenon to the Six Doctrines of Nā ro pa: Authority and Tradition.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 131–177. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    To date, probably the most scholarly and reliable work on the origins of the Six Doctrines in Indian and Tibetan tradition.

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  • Mullin, Glenn H., trans. The Six Yogas of Naropa: Tsongkhapa’s Commentary. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1996 as Tsongkhapa’s Six Yogas of Naropa, this is a translation of a manual on the Six Doctrines by Tsongkhapa, who learned the practice from Marpa Kagyü masters with whom he studied. Includes a lengthy and informative introduction.

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  • Mullin, Glenn H., trans. The Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2006.

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    Originally published in 1997 as Readings on the Six Yogas of Naropa, this anthology includes works by the Indian adepts Tilopa and Nāropa, as well as by a number of Gelukpa masters, including the order’s founder, Tsongkhapa, who learned them from Marpa Kagyü teachers.

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Marpa and Milarépa

In large part through the literary efforts of the Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon Heruka, b. 1452–d. 1507), Marpa the Translator and the poet-yogin Milarépa are indissolubly linked in the Tibetan imagination as the prototypical master and disciple. Although recent research has suggested that the legends about both are in part unreliable, the two are still regarded by the Kagyü as the unimpeachable sources of their lineage—and as the main conduits through which mahāmudrā entered the tradition. Certainly, there are frequent references to mahāmudrā in writings attributed to both men, largely in line with treatments of the term common in India in the 11th century: as the empty, luminous nature of the mind; as a nonconceptual meditation practice, rooted in the tantras, that leads to the realization of that nature; and as the awakened state that results from that realization. The “classics” by Tsangyön devoted to Marpa and Milarépa are translated in Nālandā Translation Committee 1982, which contains Tsangyön’s biography of Marpa, Chang 1989, which is the largest single collection of Milarépa’s poetry, and Quintman 2010, which is the latest, and best, version of Tsangyön’s Life of Milarepa. Other collections of songs and stories of Milarépa are ably translated in Kunga Rinpoche and Cutillo 1986 and Kunga Rinpoche and Cutillo 1995. Traditional accounts of Marpa and Milarépa also are included in Roerich 1976 (cited in General Overviews) and Gyaltsen 1990 (cited in Marpa Kagyü), while a more critical investigation of Marpa may be found in Davidson 2004 (cited in Historical Background), and of Milarépa in Quintman 2006. Sernesi 2004 examines a number of old Milarépa songs found in the aural transmission traced to Mila’s disciple, Rechungpa.

  • Chang, Garma C. C., trans. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. 2 vols. Shambhala Dragon Editions. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.

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    Originally published in 1962, this is the only full translation into English of Tsangnyön’s Mi la mgur ’bum, of which it is a fairly reliable rendition. Like all collections of Mila’s poems, it contains numerous references to mahāmudrā. The two volumes are sold separately, not as a set.

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  • Kunga Rinpoche, and Brian Cutillo, trans. Miraculous Journey: Further Stories and Songs of Milarepa. Novato, CA: Lotsawa, 1986.

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    A translation of Milarépa material found outside Tsangnyön Heruka’s famous collection.

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  • Kunga Rinpoche, and Brian Cutillo, trans. Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

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    Excellent translation of Milarépa material found outside the Hundred Thousand Songs collection. Includes a fine introduction, which focuses significantly on Milarépa’s relation to mahāmudrā.

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  • Nālandā Translation Committee, trans. The Life of Marpa the Translator. Boulder, CO: Prajñā Press, 1982.

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    Tsangnyön Heruka’s biography of Marpa, written some four centuries after his death, which focuses on his trips to India and his meetings with Nāropa, Maitrīpa, and other gurus.

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  • Quintman, Andrew. “Mi la ras pa’s Many Lives: Anatomy of a Tibetan Biographical Corpus.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2006.

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    Examines the various traditions about Milarépa that circulated in Tibet between the 12th and 16th centuries, and attempts to discern their development and relation to one another. The most thorough discussion of the historiography of Milarépa available.

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  • Quintman, Andrew. The Life of Milarepa. New York: Penguin, 2010.

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    The most recent—and accurate—translation of Tsangnyön Heruka’s classic Mi la rnam thar, which is one of the most important and popular works in all of Tibetan literature. The introduction stresses the degree to which the text is a product of Tsangnyön’s time rather than Mila’s.

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  • Sernesi, Marta. “Milarepa’s Six Secret Songs: The Early Transmission of the bDe-mchog snyan brgyud.” East and West 54.1–4 (2004): 251–287.

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    Careful scholarly examination of six songs attributed to Milarépa that are featured in the Cakrasaṃvara aural transmission (snyan brgyud) traced to Mila’s close disciple, Rechungpa.

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Gampopa

Gampopa Sönam Rinchen, also known as the Doctor from Dakpo (Dvags po lha rje, b. 1079–d. 1153), was, with Rechungpa, one of Milarépa’s two major disciples. A monk affiliated with the eremitic Kadam order before he met Milarépa, he was responsible for bringing monasticism into the Kagyü, planting the seeds of the institutionalization of the order, and, most to the point, placing mahāmudrā firmly at the center of the Kagyü worldview. He is credited with identifying a sutra-based mahāmudrā tradition that could be conveyed to a disciple simply through the guru’s blessing; transmitting a number of important mahāmudrā practice traditions, both sudden and gradual, such as the White Panacea (dkar po chig thub), Joining the Co-emergent (lhan cig skyes sbyor), and the Fivefold (lnga ldan); and linking mahāmudrā both with Indian Mahayana and the Kadam gradual practice of Stages of the Doctrine (bstan rim). Roerich 1976 (cited in General Overviews) is a rich source of information on Gampopa’s life and his attitude toward mahāmudrā. Information on his life also may be found in Gyaltsen 1990 (cited in Marpa Kagyü) and Stewart 1995, which synthesizes a number of translated traditional sources. Two recent, and excellent, studies of Gampopa’s relation to mahāmudrā are Jackson 1994, which situates his teachings on the sudden path within a larger debate about the White Panacea, and Kragh 1998, which, based on close reading of original sources, gives an overview of his teachings on the topic. Full translations of important texts by Gampopa (neither of them primarily focused on mahāmudrā) are found in Guenther 1959 and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche 1996, while Duff 2008 discusses the Fivefold Mahāmudrā practice found mostly in the Drigung Kagyü, but attributed to Gampopa.

  • Duff, Tony. Gampopa’s Mahamudra: The Five Part Mahamudra of the Kagyus. Kathmandu, Nepal: Padma Karpo Translation Committee, 2008.

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    Discussion of a gradual mahāmudrā path-tradition, attributed to Gampopa and consisting of the contemplation of love and compassion, deity yoga, guru yoga, mahāmudrā, and dedication of merits.

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  • Guenther, Herbert V., trans. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. London: Rider, 1959.

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    Pioneering translation of Gampopa’s great summary of the stages of the path to awakening, influenced by his studies with the Kadam. Mahāmudrā is discussed in the section on the Perfection of Awareness (prajñāpāramitā), where it is identified as the main contemplative method for realizing emptiness.

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  • Jackson, David P. Enlightenment by a Single Means: Tibetan Controversies on the “Self-Sufficient White Remedy.” Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 12. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994.

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    Indispensible study of the Kagyü-Sakya debate over the White Panacea, an instantaneous mahāmudrā practice traced to Gampopa. Includes a discussion of Gampopa’s views on mahāmudrā and the Tibetan and English of relevant passages from his writings.

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  • Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The Instructions of Gampopa: A Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.

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    Tibetan text, English translation, and explication of the Lam mchog rin chen ’phreng ba, an advice-text based on lists of dos and don’ts for practicing the path. Mahāmudrā is implicit in the closing sections of the text. Also translated in Evans-Wentz 1958 (cited in The Six Doctrines of Nāropa) and Roberts 2011 (cited in General Overviews).

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  • Kragh, Ulrich. “Culture and Subculture: A Study of the Mahāmudrā Teachings of Sgam po pa.” MA thesis, University of Copenhagen, 1998.

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    Excellent analysis of Gampopa’s complex presentation of mahāmudrā, based on deep research into texts attributed to him by Kagyü tradition.

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  • Stewart, Jampa Mackenzie. The Life of Gampopa, the Incomparable Dharma Lord of Tibet. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1995.

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    Attempts to harmonize traditional biographies of Gampopa found in English translation and to give a coherent account of his life. Not a work of critical scholarship, but it is nevertheless useful as a synthesis of limited sources.

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Other Early Commentators

In the two centuries following Gampopa, the Kagyü divided into numerous orders and suborders, most of which traced their ancestry to him and, more distantly, to Marpa. For the major figures in such schools as the Drigung, Taklung (Stag lung), Tshelpa (’Tshal pa), Drukpa, and Karma Kagyü, mahāmudrā was a central topic of discussion (see Roerich 1976, cited in General Overviews, for details). Important as they were in the formation of the Kagyü, few of these masters have received concerted attention from modern scholars. Gampopa’s grand-disciple, Zhang Rinpoché (Zhang rin po che, b. 1123–d. 1193), the founder of the now-extinct Tshalpa Kagyü, has probably been studied the most, in part because his views on mahāmudrā were harshly criticized by the great Sakya master Sakya Pandita (Sa skya paṇḍita, b. 1182–d. 1251), in part because his political activity made him a divisive figure even during his lifetime. Yamamoto 2009 is the most detailed study of Zhang’s life and deeds, while his greatest work on mahāmudrā, the Supreme Path of Ultimate Profundity, is translated and analyzed in Martin 1993, as well as in Roberts 2011 (cited in General Overviews), and his place in debates about the White Panacea is discussed in Jackson 1994. Gampopa’s direct disciple, Phakmo Drupa (Phag mo gru pa, b. 1110–d. 1170), founder of the school by that name, is the subject of Schiller 2003, and biographies of him are found in, among others, Gyaltsen 1986a and Gyaltsen 1990 (the latter cited in Marpa Kagyü). The founder of the Drigung Kagyü, Phakmo Drupa’s disciple, Drigung Jikten Sumgön (’Bri gung ’Jig rten gsum mgon, b. 1143–d. 1217), was renowned for transmitting the gradual Fivefold Mahāmudrā practice and the teachings on the Single Intention (dgongs gcig). His biography is found in the same sources as Phakmo Drupa’s. His attitude toward guru devotion in relation to mahāmudrā is analyzed in Sobisch 2011. The Fivefold tradition is analyzed in Sobisch 2003 and presented in Duff 2008 (cited in Gampopa), and later texts on it are translated in Gyaltsen 1986a and Gyaltsen 1986b. An important text on the Single Intention is translated in Roberts 2011 (cited in General Overviews), and it also is discussed in Jackson 1994. The biography of Lorepa (Lo ras pa, b. 1187–d. 1250), a founding figure of the Drukpa Kagyü, is discussed in Nālandā Translation Committee 1997, and a text by Chegompa (Lce sgom pa, c. 12th–13th century), a yogin of uncertain (but probably Kagyü) affiliation, is translated in Bentor 2000.

  • Bentor, Yael. “The Tibetan Practice of the Mantra Path according to Lce-sgom-pa.” In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David Gordon White, 326–346. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Translation and analysis of a summary of tantric practice by Chegompa. The text relates procedures in the Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras with notions of mahāmudrā, seen as an instantaneous path.

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  • Gyaltsen, Khenpo Könchog. Prayer Flags: The Life and Spiritual Teachings of Jigten Sumgön. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1986a.

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    Brief accounts of the lives of Gampopa, Phakmo Drupa, and Jikten Sumgön, followed by translations of a number of Jikten Sumgön’s songs and a later summary of the Fivefold Mahāmudrā practice.

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  • Gyaltsen, Khenpo Könchog, trans. The Garland of Mahamudra Practices: A Translation of Kunga Rinchen’s Clarifying the Jewel Rosary of the Profound Fivefold Path. Translated and edited by Katherine Rogers. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1986b.

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    Translation of a detailed account of the Fivefold Mahāmudrā, by the Drigung master Kunga Rinchen (Kun dga’ rin chen, b. 1475–d. 1527).

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  • Jackson, David P. Enlightenment by a Single Means: Tibetan Controversies on the “Self-Sufficient White Remedy.” Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 12. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994.

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    This study of the Kagyü-Sakya debate over the White Panacea and other sudden mahāmudrā practices includes much discussion of Zhang Rinpoché’s views, and Tibetan and English versions of relevant texts by him.

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  • Martin, Dan. “A Twelfth-Century Tibetan Classic of Mahāmudrā, The Path of Ultimate Profundity: The Great Seal Instructions of Zhang.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 15.2 (1993): 243–319.

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    Excellent study and translation of Zhang Rinpoché’s Zab lam mthar thug, among the most comprehensive of early Kagyü mahāmudrā manuals.

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  • Nālandā Translation Committee, trans. “The Yogin Lorepa’s Retreat at Lake Namtso.” In Religions of Tibet in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 200–211. Princeton Readings in Religions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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    Translation and study of a biography of one of the founding figures of the still-vital Drukpa Kagyü order.

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  • Schiller, Alexander. “Das Leben und Gesamtwerk des tibetischen Meisters Phag mo gru pa rDo rje rgyal po (1110–1170).” MA thesis, University of Hamburg, 2003.

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    The first modern scholarly study of the life and works of Gampopa’s most influential disciple, Phakmo Drupa, from whom eight suborders descended.

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  • Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. “Phyag chen lnga ldan: Eine Mahāmudrā Praxis der Kagyüpas.” In Buddhismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 7. Edited by Lambert Schmithausen, 139–162. Hamburg, Germany: Universität Hamburg Asien-Afrika Institut, Abtt. für Kultur und Geschichte Indiens und Tibets, 2003.

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    Detailed and deeply researched analysis of the Fivefold Mahāmudrā tradition of the Drigung Kagyü.

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  • Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. “Guru-Devotion in the Bka’ brgyud pa Tradition: The Single Means to Realisation.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 211–255. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    Examines the role of devotion to the lama in Drigung Kagyü mahāmudrā traditions, with special emphasis on the writings of Drigung Jikten Sumgön, whom Sobisch sees as promoting such devotion as the only method necessary for spiritual realization.

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  • Yamamoto, Carl Shigeo. “Vision and Violence: Lama Zhang and the Dialectics of Political Authority and Religious Charisma in Twelfth-Century Central Tibet.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 2009.

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    The most comprehensive study to date of the pivotal and controversial Zhang Rinpoché, with a focus on his political activity, his doctrinal stances, and the connection between them.

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Rangjung Dorjé

The Third Karmapa hierarch, Rangjung Dorjé (Rang byung rdo rje, b. 1284–d. 1339), lived in the later part of the period of Tibetan Buddhist sect formation. One of the first recognized reincarnate lamas, he helped establish the importance of the Karma Kagyü through his travels, teachings, and writings. He composed texts both on mahāmudrā and Buddhist philosophy that remain influential to this day. He was among the first Kagyüpas to link mahāmudrā with the Nyingma Great Perfection, and also among the first to articulate the at-times controversial “Great Madhyamaka” view known as “extrinsic emptiness” (gzhan stong). His most widely known mahāmudrā text, the Mahāmudrā Aspiration Prayer (Phyag chen smon lam), has been translated numerous times: Nydahl 1991 includes the Tibetan text and an English translation, Dorje 1995 embeds it within a commentary by the Eighth Situ Rinpoché (b. 1700–d. 1774; also translated in Roberts 2011, cited in General Overviews), and Jamgön Kongtrul 1992 includes it within a commentary by the Third Jamgön Kongtrul (b. 1954–d. 1992). It also is translated in Chang 1986 (cited in The Six Doctrines of Nāropa). Schaeffer 1995 is study and translation of Rangjung Dorjé’s great treatise on buddha-nature, while Brunnhölzl 2007 focuses on his commentary on a song of praise by Nāgārjuna, and Brunnhölzl 2009 includes translations of two of the Karmapa’s philosophical treatises and of commentaries on other texts of his by later thinkers. Thrangu Rinpoche 2001 is a translation and discussion of an important poetic text on consciousness and wisdom (also discussed in Brunnhölzl 2009).

  • Brunnhölzl, Karl, trans. In Praise of Dharmadhātu, by Nāgārjuna, Commentary by the IIIrd Karmapa. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.

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    Includes a translation, from the Tibetan, of one of the most important of the hymns attributed to Nāgārjuna, followed by a commentary by Rangjung Dorjé; each text is carefully and clearly contextualized within its Indian or Tibetan philosophical world.

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  • Brunnhölzl, Karl. Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2009.

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    Lengthy study of the Third Karmapa’s philosophical views, along with translations of his commentary on his own Profound Inner Reality (Zab mo nang don) and Maitreya’s Dharmadharmatāvibhḡa (Distinguishing Dharmas from the Dharma Realm), four poems, and commentaries on his writings by Karma Trinlepa (Karma ’phrin las pa, b. 1456–d. 1539) and Jamgön Kongtrul.

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  • Dorje, Lama Sherab, trans. Mahāmudrā Teachings of the Supreme Siddhas: The Eighth Situpa Tenpa’i Nyinchay on the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s “Aspiration Prayer of Mahāmudrā of Definitive Meaning.” Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1995.

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    Translation of a detailed commentary on the Mahāmudrā Aspiration Prayer, by one of the great Kagyü scholars of the 18th century, Situ Panchen Tenpei Nyinjé (Siu tu paṇ chen bstan pa’i nyin byed). Structured by the sequence of ground, meditation, and fruit, the commentary includes a wealth of citations from Indian and Tibetan sources.

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  • Jamgön Kongtrul. Cloudless Sky: The Mahamudra Path of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyü School. Translated by Richard Gravel. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1992.

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    A modern Kagyü master’s lucid commentary on the Mahāmudrā Aspiration Prayer, structured primarily as a manual for mahāmudrā meditation.

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  • Nydahl, Ole. Mahamudra: Boundless Joy and Freedom: A Commentary on the Wishing Prayer for the Attainment of the Ultimate Mahamudra Given by His Holiness Rangjung Dorje (The Third Karmapa, 1284–1339). Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin, 1991.

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    Includes the Tibetan text and an English translation of the Mahāmudrā Aspiration Prayer.

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  • Schaeffer, Kurtis R. “The Enlightened Heart of Buddhahood: A Study and Translation of the Third Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje’s Work on Tathāgatagarbha, the De bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po gtan la dbab pa.” MA thesis, University of Washington, 1995.

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    Superlative scholarly analysis and translation of the Karmapa’s most important text on buddha-nature, Establishing the Essence of the Matrix of the Sugata.

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  • Thrangu Rinpoche. Transcending Ego: Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom of Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa. Translated by Peter Alan Roberts. Boulder, CO: Namo Buddha, 2001.

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    Includes a translation and discussion on the Karmapa’s poetic summary of the difference between “mere” consciousness and transcendent wisdom, the Rnam shes ye shes ’byed pa’i bstan bcos.

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Pema Karpo

The late 15th and early 16th centuries were arguably the high-water mark of Kagyü influence and power in Tibet, and the order’s success was mirrored in the profusion of scholastic, philosophical, and meditative literature that was produced in that era. The Fourth Drukchen (’Brug chen) hierarch, Pema Karpo (Padma dkar po, b. 1527–d. 1592), was, with Mikyö Dorjé (Mi bskyod rdo rje; see below), one of the two most important Kagyü philosophers of that century. He wrote a major dharma-history (Chos ’byung) and an overview of mahāmudrā (the Phyag chen gan mdzod) that have yet to be translated, as well as works both on sutra- and tantra-based mahāmudrā practices, and numerous spiritual songs. Complex but rewarding discussions of his philosophical writings may be found in Broido 1980, Broido 1984, Broido 1985a, and Broido 1985b, and in the always thought-provoking works of Herbert Guenther, including Guenther 1975 and Guenther 1977. Meditation texts in translation are included in Beyer 1974, as well as in Evans-Wentz 1958 (cited in The Six Doctrines of Nāropa) and Roberts 2011 (cited in General Overviews). A few of Pema Karpo’s spiritual songs are translated in Beyer 1974, which also includes a tantric contemplative ritual (sādhana) by him.

  • Beyer, Stephan. The Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations. Encino, CA: Dickenson, 1974.

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    This brilliant (but out-of-print) anthology of Buddhist texts includes three translations from Pema Karpo: selected spiritual songs (pp. 77–79), a sādhana of Cakrasaṃvara (pp. 140–153), and a meditation manual (pp. 155–161).

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  • Broido, Michael M. “The Term dngos-po’i gnas-lugs as Used in Padma dkar-po’s gZhung ’grel.” In Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson. Edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi, 59–66. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips, 1980.

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    Philosophically sophisticated analysis of Pema Karpo’s usage of an important Buddhist term for the ultimate, often translated as “the abiding nature of things.”

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  • Broido, Michael M. “Padma dKar-po on Tantra as Ground, Path and Goal.” Journal of the Tibet Society 4 (1984): 59–66.

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    Part one of a two-part investigation of Pema Karpo’s discussion of tantra, which links his analysis with those of the Guhyasamāja Tantra and of other Tibetan thinkers. Available online.

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  • Broido, Michael M. “Padma dKar-po on Integration as Ground, Path and Goal.” Journal of the Tibet Society 5 (1985a): 5–54.

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    Part two of a two-part investigation of Pema Karpo’s discussion of tantra, focusing on his conception of the “integration” (Skt. yuganaddha) at the culmination of the tantric path. Available online.

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  • Broido, Michael M. “Padma dKar-po on the Two Satyas.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 8.2 (1985b): 7–59.

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    Complex analysis of Pema Karpo’s interpretation of the crucial Madhyamaka doctrine of the “two truths,” which relates his analysis both to sutra and tantra sources in India, to concepts of mahāmudrā, and to the writings of other important Tibetan philosophers, including Mikyö Dorjé.

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  • Guenther, Herbert V. “Mahāmudrā—the Method of Self-Actualization.” The Tibet Journal 1.1 (1975): 5–23.

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    Dense but erudite analysis of mahāmudrā that frequently cites Pema Karpo, along with Gampopa and numerous Indian great adepts.

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  • Guenther, Herbert V. Tibetan Buddhism in Western Perspective: Collected Articles. Emeryville, CA: Dharma, 1977.

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    Collection of essays on Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, several of which (especially the second, third, and fourth) draw extensively on the works of Pema Karpo.

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Mikyö Dorjé

The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorjé (Mi bskyod rdo rje, b. 1507–d. 1554), is, with Pema Karpo, one of the two greatest Kagyü philosophers of the 16th century. He wrote extensively and incisively on Madhyamaka philosophy, which was by this time intertwined closely with notions of mahāmudrā. He promoted the controversial extrinsic emptiness (gzhan stong) view and engaged in debate with scholars from the Geluk. His life and thought are surveyed in Verhufen 1995 and Rheingans 2008, while Rheingans 2010 focuses on his early life. Brunnhölzl 2004 discusses his Mādhyamika outlook extensively; Ruegg 2010, somewhat more briefly. Dewar 2008 is a translation of Mikyö Dorjé’s commentary on a seminal Indian Mādhyamika text, Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra (Entrance to the Middle Way), while Williams 1983 addresses his critique of the Geluk interpretation of Madhyamaka. His attitudes toward mahāmudrā are specifically addressed in Rheingans 2008, Rheingans 2010, and Rheingans 2011.

  • Brunnhölzl, Karl. The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyü Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2004.

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    The best study to date of Kagyü philosophy. Focusing on Mikyö Dorjé, it discusses the relation of Madhyamaka to mahāmudrā, different schools of Madhyamaka, and debates about extrinsic emptiness. Includes a translation of an important Mādhyamika commentary by Mikyö Dorjé’s disciple, Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa (Dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba, b. 1504–d. 1566).

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  • Dewar, Kevin. The Karmapa’s Middle Way: Feast for the Fortunate. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2008.

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    Translation of Mikyö Dorjé’s commentary on the Madhyamakāvatāra, a 7th-century Mādhyamika text of singular importance for Tibetan philosophers.

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  • Rheingans, Jim. “The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal.” PhD diss., University of the West of England, 2008.

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    Most thorough analysis to date of Mikyö Dorjé’s perspective on mahāmudrā, which is interwoven with his Mādhyamika outlook, but also at times addressed as a topic in and of itself.

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  • Rheingans, Jim. “Narratives of Reincarnation, Politics of Power, and the Emergence of a Scholar: The Very Early Years of Mikyö Dorje.” In Lives Lived, Lives Imagined: Biography in the Buddhist Traditions. Edited by Linda Covill, Ulrike Roesler, and Sarah Shaw, 241–298. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Scholarly examination of texts dealing with Mikyö Dorjé’s early life and emergence as a major figure.

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  • Rheingans, Jim. “The Eighth Karma pa’s Answer to Gling drung pa.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 345–386. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    Careful study of Mikyö Dorjé’s outlook on mahāmudrā, as revealed in his responses to questions from a disciple.

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  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. “A Karma Bka’ brgyud Work on the Lineages and Traditions of the Indo-Tibetan dbu ma (Madhyamaka).” In The Buddhist Philosophy of the Middle: Essays on Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka. By David Seyfort Ruegg, 323–356. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    First published in 1988, this important essay examines a text by Mi bskyod rdo rje that links Indian and Tibetan Mādhyamika and mahāmudrā lineages.

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  • Verhufen, Gregor. Die Biographien des Achten Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje und seines Lehrers Sangs rgyas mnyan pa: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Karma- bKa’-brgyud-pa- Schulrichtung des tibetischen Buddhismus. Bonn, Germany: Gregor Verhufen, 1995.

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    Study of the life and teachings of Mikyö Dorjé, and of his disciple, Sangyé Nyenpa (Sangs rgyas mnyan pa, 16th century). Based on the author’s MA thesis, University of Bonn, 1992.

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  • Williams, Paul. “A Note on Some Aspects of Mi-bskyod rDo-rje’s Critique of dGe lugs pa Madhyamaka.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 11.2 (1983): 125–145.

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    Analysis of Mikyö Dorjé’s criticism of the Gelukpa interpretation of the doctrines of emptiness and the two truths.

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Other Later Contributors

The 15th and subsequent centuries produced many notable scholars of mahāmudrā besides Pema Karpo and Mikyö Dorjé. The “mad yogin” Tsangnyön Heruka (b. 1452–d. 1507; see description in Marpa and Milarépa) evinced transgressive practices and teachings that echoed those of the great adepts of India, while writing and publishing such masterpieces as The Life of Milarepa. Also in the “mad yogin” category was Drukpa Kunlek (’Brug pa kun legs, b. 1455–d. 1529), of whose life and songs the best study is Stein 1972. The Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso (Chos grags rgya mtsho, b. 1454–d. 1506), wrote works linking mahāmudrā with Buddhist logic, discussed in Burchardi 2011, and compiled a great anthology of Tibetan translations on Indian mahāmudrā texts, summarized in Mathes 2011. Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, in addition to his influential Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā (Lhalungpa 2006, cited in General Overviews), contributed shorter texts on mahāmudrā, such as that translated in Namgyal 2004, and analyses of tantric topics as well (see Roberts 2011, cited in General Overviews, and Chang 1986, cited in The Six Doctrines of Nāropa). The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorjé (Dbang phyug rdo rje, b. 1556–d. 1603), wrote accounts of mahāmudrā meditation of equal importance, including his massive Ocean of Definitive Meaning, summarized in Thrangu Rinpoche 2004, and The Mahāmudrā Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance, translated in Berzin 1978. Later luminaries included the Eighth Situpa (Dorje 1995, cited under Rangjung Dorjé); Tselé Natsok Rangdrol (Rtse le sna tshogs rang grol, b. 1608), whose mahāmudrā manual is translated in Kunsang 1989; Karma Chakmé (Karma chags med, b. 1613–d. 1678), one of whose works on the unity of mahāmudrā and Dzokchen is translated in Wallace 1998; and, of course, the 19th-century polymath Jamgön Kongtrul, whose text on preliminary practices for mahāmudrā is translated in Hanson 1977, and whose other works have been listed frequently in previous sections.

  • Berzin, Alexander, trans. The Mahāmudrā Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1978.

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    Solid, if sparsely annotated, translation of the Phyag chen mun sel, a short but lucid mahāmudrā meditation manual by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorjé.

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  • Burchardi, Anne. “The Role of Rang rig in the Pramāna-based Gzhan stong of the Seventh Karma pa.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 317–344. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    Analysis of the Seventh Karmapa’s creative synthesis of Buddhist epistemology (tshad ma), with mahāmudrā-related theories of reflexive awareness (rang rig) and transcendental gnosis (ye shes).

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  • Hanson, Judith, trans. The Torch of Certainty. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1977.

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    Translation of the Nges don sgron me, an important 19th-century summary of the practices preliminary to mahāmudrā meditation, including prostration, Vajrasattva recitation, guru yoga, and mandala offerings, by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé.

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  • Kunsang, Eric Pema, trans. The Lamp of Mahamudra. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.

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    Translation of the Phyag chen sgron ma, a 17th-century overview of the basic categories and practices of mahāmudrā meditation, by Tselé Natsok Rangdrol.

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  • Mathes, Klaus-Dieter. “The Collection of ‘Indian Mahāmudrā Works’ (phyag chen rgya gzhung) Compiled by the Seventh Karma pa Chos grags rgya mtsho.” In Mahāmudrā and the Bka’ brgyud Tradition: PIATS 2006: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter, Germany, 2006. Edited by Roger R. Jackson and Matthew T. Kapstein, 89–127. Andiast, Switzerland: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011.

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    An anthology of Tibetan translations on Indian mahāmudrā texts.

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  • Namgyal, Dakpo Tashi. Clarifying the Natural State. Translated by Eric Pema Kunsang. Edited by Michael Tweed. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe, 2004.

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    Translation of the Gnyug ma’i de nyid gsal ba, a short account of mahāmudrā practice by the author of the influential Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā.

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  • Stein, Rolf Alfred. Vie et Chants de ’Brug-pa Kun-legs le Yogin. Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1972.

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    Superlative scholarly study of the life and songs of one of the great Kagyü “mad yogins” (smyon pa), Drukpa Kunlek, who is a cultural hero in Bhutan and is among the most colorful of all Tibetan saints.

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  • Thrangu Rinpoche. An Ocean of the Ultimate Meaning: Teachings on Mahamudra. Translated by Peter Alan Roberts. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2004.

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    A summary of the contents of the Nges don rgya mtsho, the Ninth Karmapa’s massive compendium of mahāmudrā practice, second in importance only to Tashi Namgyal’s Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā. A full English translation has been prepared by Elizabeth Callahan (New York: Nitartha, 2001), but it is available only to those who have received full “pointing-out instruction” (ngo sprod) from a qualified lama.

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  • Wallace, B. Alan, trans. A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Atiyoga. Commentary by Gyatrul Rinpoche. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1998.

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    Translation and analysis of Karma Chakmé’s work, one of the first important Kagyü texts that sought to align mahāmudrā with the Nyingma Great Perfection tradition.

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Other Tibetan Schools

Although it was the Marpa Kagyü that placed mahāmudrā at the center of their discourse, the importance of the term in late Indian Buddhism assured that virtually any tradition affected by the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet from the 10th century onward had to account for mahāmudrā. Indeed, the Nyingma, Shangpa Kagyü, Kadam, Zhijé, Sakya, Jonang, and Geluk all take account of it. The listings in the following subsections (except that on the Geluk) are limited to a few essential texts that have some bearing on or evidence of a particular school’s approach to mahāmudrā—though there will, in every case, be further texts that might be consulted, which are mentioned in the bibliographies of the works cited here. The practices of most or all of these schools are also detailed in, among others, Roerich 1976 (cited in General Overviews), Powers 2007 and Thuken 2009 (cited in Historical Background), and Ray 2000 (cited in Marpa Kagyü).

Nyingma

The Tibetan Buddhist order that claims the greatest antiquity, the Nyingma, developed in a variety of ways during the Tibetan renaissance and found a place for mahāmudrā within its overall scheme of the path—often at the level of Anu Yoga, which is just below the apex, Ati Yoga, with its teaching of the Great Perfection, Dzokchen. This is documented to some degree in Germano 1994 and is also mentioned in passing in Karmay 1988. Thondup 2002 contains translations of a number of texts by the great master Longchen Rapjam (Klong chen rab ’byams, b. 1308–d. 1363). As mentioned elsewhere, such Kagyü masters as Rangjung Dorjé, Karma Chakmé, and Jamgön Kongtrul worked to synthesize the discourse and practices of mahāmudrā and Dzokchen, and a similar— if less systematic—effort is evident in the life and songs of the nonsectarian, but Nyingma-oriented, Amdo master Zhapkar (Zhabs dkar, b. 1781–d. 1851), as translated in Ricard 1994.

  • Germano, David. “Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17.2 (1994): 203–335.

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    Dense but brilliant study of the development of the Nyingma tradition, especially after the advent of the New Translation schools, showing how various later Indian ideas and practices, including mahāmudrā, were appropriated by the Nyingma.

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  • Karmay, Samten Gyaltsen. The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1988.

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    Still the single-best work of modern scholarship on the origins and development of the Dzokchen tradition of the Nyingma.

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  • Ricard, Mathieu, trans. The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

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    Scholarly yet accessible translation of the massive autobiography of a 19th-century poet-yogin from Amdo, who studied among the Geluk, Kagyü, and Nyingma, and—though he saw Dzokchen as the highest practice—was not confined by any particular sectarian affiliation.

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  • Thondup, Tulku, trans. The Practice of Dzogchen. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2002.

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    Originally published in 1989, this anthology of writings by Longchenpa (Longchen Rabjam) lacks much scholarly apparatus, but it contains useful translations of a number of his important works, some of which situate mahāmudrā within the larger Nyingma path-scheme.

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Shangpa Kagyü

The Shangpa Kagyü tradition of Khyungpo Neljor (Khyung po rnal ’byor, 11th–12th centuries), which is distinct from the Marpa Kagyü (though nowadays contained within it), preserved various Indian tantric practices, many of them traced to Nigumā (11th century?), generally believed to have been the consort or sister of Nāropa (b. 956–d. 1040). She transmitted her own set of Six Doctrines and a meditation practice known as the Amulet-Box Mahāmudrā (phyag chen ga’u ma), in which the gnosis realizing emptiness and the experience of great bliss are joined like the two halves of a portable amulet box. References to it may be found in Zangpo 2003, and several texts about it are translated in Harding 2010. An overview of the tradition is found most notably in Kapstein 1980.

  • Harding, Sarah, trans. Niguma: Lady of Illusion. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2010.

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    The first full-length treatment of Nigumā, generally taken to be the consort or sister of Nāropa, and in her own right the major Indian source for Shangpa Kagyü lineages. Includes translations of three texts related to the Amulet-Box Mahāmudrā (phyag chen ga’u ma) practice (pp. 143–152).

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  • Kapstein, Matthew T. “The Shangs pa Bka’ brgyud: An Unknown Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.” In Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson: Proceedings of the International Seminar on Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 1979. Edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi, 138–144. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips, 1980.

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    Brief but scholarly and informative introduction to the history and doctrines of the Shangpa Kagyü.

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  • Zangpo, Ngawang. Timeless Rapture: Inspired Verses of the Shangpa Masters. Compiled by Jamgön Kongtrul. Ithaca, NY and Boulder, CO: Snow Lion, 2003.

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    Translations of songs of the Shangpa Kagyü masters. It also includes a lengthy discussion of the lives of the major Shangpa teachers.

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Kadam

The Kadam was an ascetic and philosophical movement traced to the great Bengali master Atiśa (b. 982–d. 1054), who arrived in Tibet in 1042 and spent twelve years there working to reform Tibetan doctrines and monastic practices. His most influential text, the Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhiapthapradīpa), translated in Sherburne 1983, became a model for the Stages of the Path (lam rim) literature, which is found in all Tibetan traditions, and the Kadam, though it faded after several centuries, was an inspiration for the Geluk order when it was founded around 1500. Atiśa knew and admired the spiritual songs and mahāmudrā teachings of the Indian mahāsiddha Saraha but was discouraged from spreading the tradition to Tibet by his conservative Tibetan disciple, Dromtön Gyelwei Jungné (’Brom ston rgyal ba’i ’byung gnas, b. 1005–d. 1064). Nevertheless, mahāmudrā discourse worked its way explicitly or implicitly into Kadam literature, as exemplified in Sopa, et al. 2001 and Jinpa 2008 and a commentary on Saraha’s Dohākoṣa (so far untranslated) was written by a 12th-century Kadam master, Parpuwa Lodrö Sengé (Spar phu ba blo gros seng ge).

  • Jinpa, Thubten, trans. The Book of Kadam: The Core Texts. Library of Tibetan Classics 2. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008.

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    First English translation of the major collection of Kadam texts, attributed primarily to Atiśa. Mahāmudrā is not explicitly mentioned but forms part of the background to the teachings.

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  • Sherburne, Richard, trans. A Lamp for the Path and Commentary. Wisdom of Tibet Series. London: Allen & Unwin, 1983.

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    Excellent scholarly translation of Atiśa’s most influential text, along with its autocommentary. The latter contains some references to mahāmudrā.

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  • Sopa, Geshé Lhundub, with Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling, trans. Peacock in the Poison Grove: Two Buddhist Texts on Training the Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001.

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    Lucid translation and discussion of two important mind-training (blo sbyong) texts attributed to Atiśa’s guru, Dharmarakṣita. They were composed in a milieu where mahāmudrā discourse was familiar, though the term does not make its way into the texts explicitly.

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Zhijé

The Zhijé tradition of the Indian master Padampa Sangyé (Pha dam pa sangs rgyas, d. 1117), which no longer is extant, was rooted in the notion of the pacification (zhi byed) of suffering as described in the Perfection of Wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) sutras, especially the Heart Sūtra. It drew considerably on mahāmudrā discourse, as documented in Molk 2008. The related Chö (gcod, severance) practice tradition of Padampa’s female disciple, Machik Labdrön (Ma chib lab sgron, b. 1055–d. 1149), which also was absorbed into other schools, focused on dramatic rituals in which one contemplatively offers up one’s body to demons so as to sever (gcod) one’s attachment to self. Chö discourse incorporated mahāmudrā to a great degree as well, as shown in two major studies of Machik’s work, Édou 1996 and Harding 2003, and is evident, too, in the translation found in Evans-Wentz 1958 (cited in The Six Doctrines of Nāropa). Pioneering scholarly introductions to Machik Lapdrön and her teaching are found in Gyatso 1985 and Orofino 1987.

  • Édou, Jérome. Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.

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    The first book-length scholarly treatment of Machik Lapdrön. It reveals a great deal about the Indian and Tibetan doctrines for the practice of Chö.

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  • Gyatso, Janet. “The Development of the Gcod Tradition.” In Soundings in Tibetan Civilization. Edited by Barbara Aziz and Matthew Kapstein, 320–341. Delhi: Manohar, 1985.

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    Excellent scholarly overview of the history and fundamental teachings of Chö.

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  • Harding, Sarah. Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2003.

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    Study of Chö that includes lengthy introduction and translations of a number of seminal texts attributed to Machik Lapdrön.

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  • Molk, David, trans. Lion of the Siddhas: The Life and Teachings of Padampa Sangye. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2008.

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    The best full-length book on Padampa Sangyé; its centerpieces are translations of a biography of Padampa and of Padampa’s “Mahāmudrā Teaching in Symbols,” supposedly written down by a direct disciple.

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  • Orofino, Giacomella. Contributo allo Studio dell’Insegnamento di Ma gcig lam sgron. Naples, Italy: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1987.

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    A brief but scholarly introduction to Machik Lapdrön and Chö, followed by annotated translations, into Italian, of two fundamental Chö texts attributed to Machik.

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Sakya

For the Sakya tradition, mahāmudrā meant above all the buddhahood that ensues from receiving tantric initiation, and Sakya Pandita (Sa skya paṇḍita, b. 1182–d. 1251) was sharply critical of Kagyü masters who suggested that mahāmudrā could be found in the sutras or that single-practice approaches to awakening were acceptable—as clearly shown in Jackson 1994, which is an analysis of the Sakya-Kagyü dispute, and Rhoton 2002, which translates Sakya Pandita’s seminal texts on the matter. On the other hand, many Sakya Path and Result, or Lamdré (lam ’bras), meditations are quite similar to practices elsewhere called “mahāmudrā,” as evident from the various texts translated in Stearns 2006.

  • Jackson, David P. Enlightenment by a Single Means: Tibetan Controversies on the “Self-Sufficient White Remedy.” Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 12. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994.

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    Study of the Kagyü-Sakya debate over the White Panacea, a Kagyü mahāmudrā tradition that involves sudden awakening through a single meditative realization. Discusses Sakya Pandita’s side of the debate and includes the Tibetan and English translations of relevant passages from his writings.

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  • Rhoton, Jared Douglas, trans. A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes: Essential Distinctions among the Individual Liberation, Great Vehicle, and Tantric Systems. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    The only complete translation of Sakya Pandita’s Sdom gsum rab dbye, the text that launched the long debate over the nature and validity of Kagyü articulations of a sudden mahāmudrā path, as well as of a sutra mahāmudrā tradition.

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  • Stearns, Cyrus, trans. Taking the Path as Result: Core Teachings of the Sakya Lamdré Tradition. Library of Tibetan Classics 4. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006.

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    Collection of important Tibetan Sakya Path and Result teachings. In this tradition, mahāmudrā is principally the buddhahood ensuing from tantric initiation, but many of the practices in the tradition focus on the nature of mind in ways reminiscent of Marpa Kagyü mahāmudrā meditations.

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Jonang

The Jonang tradition, with its focus on the controversial doctrine of extrinsic emptiness, or Zhentong (gzhan stong), sees mahāmudrā as a synonym for emptiness, buddha-nature, and dharmakāya. The emptiness of dharmakāya, in turn, is regarded as the buddha-mind’s emptiness of anything other than its own permanence and purity—which are intrinsic to it. The view was formulated most fully by the greatest early Jonangpa, Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen (Dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, b. 1292–d. 1361). Dölpopa studied with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorjé, who may have influenced him in articulating the extrinsic emptiness view—and indeed, it has been expounded by a number of Nyingma and Sakya masters, as well as many teachers among the Kagyü (on the latter, see, Hookham 1991, cited in Controversies, and the citations found under Rangjung Dorjé and Mikyö Dorjé). Stearns 1999 is the best academic study of Dölpopa, while Hopkins 2006 is a translation of his greatest work. Hopkins 2007 translates two texts by a later Jonang master, Tāranātha (b. 1575–d. 1634), whose views on different approaches to extrinsic emptiness are discussed in some detail in Mathes 2004. Ruegg 2010 is an account of the Jonang by one of its Geluk critics (also found in Thuken 2009, cited in Historical Background).

  • Hopkins, Jeffrey, trans. Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2006.

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    Translation of the Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, Dölpopa’s massive account of the extrinsic emptiness doctrine, which is the primary source for the controversial teaching in Tibetan tradition and which is explicitly said to be synonymous with mahāmudrā.

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  • Hopkins, Jeffrey, trans. The Essence of Other-Emptiness. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.

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    Includes translations of two important texts on extrinsic emptiness by a 17th-century reviver of the Jonang, Tāranātha: the Essence of Other-Emptiness (Gzhan stong snying po) and the Twenty-One Differences Regarding the Profound Meaning (Zab don nyer gcig pa).

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  • Mathes, Klaus-Dieter. “Tāranātha’s ‘Twenty-One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning’—Comparing the Views of the Two gŻan stoṅ Masters Dol po pa and Śākya mchog ldan.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27.2 (2004): 285–328.

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    Scholarly analysis of a text by Tāranātha that distinguishes important differences in the views of extrinsic emptiness posited by Dölpopa and a later Sakyapa figure, Śakya Chokden (b. 1428–d. 1507).

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  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. “The Jo nang pas: A School of Buddhist Ontologists according the Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Doctrines.” In The Buddhist Philosophy of the Middle: Essays on Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka. By David Seyfort Ruegg, 289–322. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    First published in 1963, this chapter consists primarily of a translation of a critical account of the extrinsic emptiness doctrine by a Geluk scholar, Thuken Chökyi Nyima (Thu’u bkwan chos kyi nyi ma, b.1737–d. 1802).

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  • Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

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    The first, and still the best, scholarly study of the thought of Dölpopa. Includes translations of two of his major texts, A General Summary of the Doctrine (Bstan pa spyi ’grel) and The Fourth Council (Bka’ bsdu bzhi pa).

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Geluk

Apart from the Kagyü, the Tibetan tradition that has featured mahāmudrā most explicitly and prominently is the Geluk. Although best known for its scholasticism, the Geluk took a variety of approaches to Buddhist practices, including an aural transmission (snyan brgyud) traced to the order’s founder, Tsongkhapa (Tsong kha pa, b. 1357–d. 1419), that features a mahāmudrā meditation practice. This practice combines certain Kagyü techniques with a Geluk perspective on the conventional and ultimate nature of the mind. First publicized by the First Panchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyeltsen (Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, b. 1570–d. 1662), the tradition has been much commented upon by Geluk scholars ever since. For a translation of the First Panchen’s root text on mahāmudrā, along with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s commentary on it, see Dalai Lama and Berzin 1997. Dalai Lama, et al. 2011 is a translation and discussion of a Kagyü and Nyingma-inflected meditation manual by the First Panchen’s contemporary, Khöntön Peljor Lhundrup (Khon ston Dpal ’byor lhun grub, b. 1561–d. 1637). Willis 1995 is an excellent study and translation of hagiographies of the Geluk masters central to the mahāmudrā transmission. Jackson 2001 examines the relation between Kagyü and Geluk mahāmudrā practices, while Jackson 2009 analyzes the way in which the generally conservative Geluk appropriated the works of the Indian great adept Saraha. Guenther 1976 includes a number of philosophical texts by Gelukpas related to the mahāmudrā transmission, while Sujata 2005 concentrates on the spiritual songs of a Geluk yogin from Amdo. Loden 2009 is a modern overview of Geluk mahāmudrā, both sutra and tantra based, while Kelsang Gyatso 1982 is a clear delineation of Geluk tantric mahāmudrā. Finally, Brunnhölzl 2007 (cited in General Overviews) includes a “song on the view” by Jangkya Rölpei Dorjé and a critique of it by Jamgön Kongtrul.

  • Dalai Lama, and Alexander Berzin. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1997.

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    Includes a translation of the First Panchen Lama’s root verses on mahāmudrā practice, along with two detailed commentaries by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the first keyed to the root text, the second to the First Panchen’s own commentary on the verses.

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  • Dalai Lama, Khöntön Peljor Lhündrub, and José Ignacio Cabezón. Meditation on the Nature of Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2011.

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    Includes an overview of Tibetan Buddhist views of the nature of mind, by the Dalai Lama, and a translation, by José Cabezón, of a mahāmudrā meditation manual—written by the Geluk master Khöntön Peljor Lhündrub—that shows a strong affinity for Kagyü and Nyingma ideas and practices.

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  • Guenther, Herbert V., trans. Tibetan Treasures on the Middle Way. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1976.

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    Translation of a number of Geluk texts on tantric practice and Mādhyamika philosophy, including a discussion of a view by Yeshé Gyeltsen (Ye shes rgyal mtshan, b. 1713–d. 1793) that is explicitly rooted in the mahāmudrā tradition.

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  • Jackson, Roger R. “The dGe ldan-bKa’ brgyud Tradition of Mahāmudrā: How Much dGe ldan? How Much bKa’ brgyud?” In Changing Minds: Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and Tibet in Honor of Jeffrey Hopkins. Edited by Guy Newland, 155–192. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2001.

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    Examines the degree to which Geluk discourse on mahāmudrā incorporates Kagyü elements, concluding that it does so more in the context of tranquility meditation than insight meditation.

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  • Jackson, Roger R. “Archer among the Yellow Hats: Some Geluk Uses of Saraha.” Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies 10 (2009): 103–131.

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    Analyzes Gelukpa references to Saraha from Tsongkhapa through the 17th century, to see how this most conservative of schools treated the songs and attitudes of the Indian great adept most important for Tibetan mahāmudrā traditions.

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  • Kalsang Gyatso, Geshe. Clear Light of Bliss: Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism. Translated by Tenzin Norbu. Edited by Jonathan Landaw. London: Wisdom Publications, 1982.

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    A modern lama’s lucid exposition of the practice of “tantric mahāmudrā” among the Geluk, set primarily within the context of the five Guhyasamāja tantra-related stages of completion-stage yoga as incorporated into Cakrasaṃvara practice traditions.

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  • Loden, Geshe Acharya Thubten. Great Treasury of Mahamudra. Yuroke, Australia: Tushita, 2009.

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    Overview, by a modern lama, both of sutra and tantra mahāmudrā practice within the Geluk; includes a long appendix that is, in effect, an anthology of a number of short Indian and Tibetan texts germane to the practices.

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  • Sujata, Victoria. Tibetan Songs of Realization: Echoes from a Seventeenth-Century Scholar and Siddha in Amdo. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

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    Superb study of the spiritual songs of Kelden Gyatso (Skal ldan rgya mtsho, b. 1606–d. 1677), an important poet-yogin within the Geluk mahāmudrā tradition. Includes information about that tradition but is, above all, a careful literary study of the songs.

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  • Willis, Janice D. Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

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    Fine scholarly study of the great Tibetan adepts of Geluk mahāmudrā, from Tsongkhapa through the First Panchen Lama. Primarily a translation of a hagiography of these masters by Yeshe Gyaltsen, it also includes helpful appendixes on the Geluk mahāmudrā tradition.

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Controversies

Mahāmudrā discourse did not proceed in Tibet without controversy. Among the significant debates surrounding the term, the most long lasting revolved around Sakya Pandita’s arguments that (a) there is no basis for asserting the existence of mahāmudrā in the sutras, and (b) such “sudden” single-practice Kagyü doctrines as the White Panacea and the Single Intention are incoherent and, further, have no real basis in Indian Buddhism. The debate initiated by Sakya Pandita is best addressed in Jackson 1994. Original sources for the debate may be found there and in Martin 1993 (Zhang Rinpoché’s work, cited under Other Early Commentators), Roberts 2011 (Zhang’s text and the basic text on the Single Intention, cited in General Overviews), and Rhoton 2002 (Sakya Pandita’s major texts on the matter, cited under Sakya). Both Lhalungpa 2006 (cited in General Overviews) and Thuken 2009 criticize Sakya Pandita from a later perspective. The discussion that culminated in Jackson 1994 began with Jackson 1982, which suggested that Sakya Pandita was using history for polemical purposes. This was followed by Broido 1987, which expanded on Jackson 1982, and by a rebuttal of these views in Jackson 1990. Ruegg 1989 also touches on this debate in the context of a broader discussion of Tibetan arguments over gradual and sudden paths. Arguments between the Geluk and Kagyü over mahāmudrā philosophy and meditation may be gleaned from Dalai Lama and Berzin 1997 (cited under Geluk) and the translation of Jamgön Kongtrul’s critique of Jangkya Rölpei Dorjé in Roberts 2011 (cited in General Overviews). Another mahāmudrā dispute relates to the assertion in certain schools that the emptiness comprehended in mahāmudrā meditation is devoid of transient worldly phenomena but is itself perfectly pure and permanent—the so-called extrinsic emptiness view. Hookham 1991, Hopkins 2006, and Stearns 1999 (the last two cited under Jonang) present the view primarily from the side of its sympathizers, while Thuken 2009 presents a Gelukpa critique of the concept. The question of whether ultimate experiences in different traditions, including that of mahāmudrā, may be regarded as identical across sectarian lines is discussed in Thuken 2009, Wallace 1998 (cited in Other Later Contributors), and Ricard 1994 (cited under Nyingma). Finally, in a Western academic debate over the applicability of the idea of religious experience to Asian traditions, Gyatso 1999 uses mahāmudrā sources, among others, to argue that in Tibet, at least, the concept does make sense.

  • Broido, Michael M. “Sa-skya Paṇḍita, the White Panacea and the Hva-shang Doctrine.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 10.2 (1987): 27–68.

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    Exploration of Tibetan and Indian sources relevant to the dispute over the White Panacea. Takes a position generally critical of Sakya Pandita and supportive of the Kagyü.

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  • Gyatso, Janet B. “Healing Burns with Fire: The Facilitations of Experience in Tibetan Buddhism.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67.1 (1999): 113–147.

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    Theoretically sophisticated and textually learned argument for the meaningfulness of the notion of religious experience in Tibetan Buddhism, drawing on mahāmudrā, Great Perfection, and tantric sources.

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  • Hookham, Susan K. The Buddha Within: Tathagatagarbha Doctrine according to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    This seminal study of the controversial extrinsic emptiness (gzhan stong) approach to Madhyamaka focuses in considerable detail on Jamgön Kongtrul’s commentary on the Uttaratantra and includes a translation of the text’s introduction.

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  • Jackson, David P. “Sa-skya Paṇḍita the ‘Polemicist’: Ancient Debates and Modern Interpretations.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 13.2 (1990): 17–116.

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    Careful analysis of the same material discussed in Jackson 1982 and Broido 1987, with which David Jackson takes considerable exception, tending as he does to uphold Sakya Pandita’s analysis. Much of this discussion is found in fuller form in Jackson 1994.

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  • Jackson, David P. Enlightenment by a Single Means: Tibetan Controversies on the “Self-Sufficient White Remedy.” Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 12. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994.

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    Indispensible study of the Kagyü-Sakya debate over the White Panacea, and one of the best scholarly studies ever done on mahāmudrā. Provides ample analysis and translation of texts related to the debate.

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  • Jackson, Roger R. “Sa skya Paṇḍita’s Account of the bSam yas Debate: History as Polemic.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 5.1 (1982): 89–99.

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    Translation and discussion of a passage, critical of the Kagyü, from Sakya Pandita’s Clarification of the Muni’s Intention (Thub pa’i dgongs pa rab gsal). The implied criticism of Sakya Pandita was upheld in Broido 1987 and criticized by David Jackson in Jackson 1990.

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  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. Buddha-Nature, Mind and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective: On the Transmission and Reception of Buddhism in India and Tibet. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1989.

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    Magisterial overview of Indian and Tibetan debates about buddha-nature and “quietistic” practices, with a special focus on the late-8th-century “Samye Debate” between Indian and Chinese masters, and arguments that echoed this debate in Tibet in later centuries, including those related to mahāmudrā.

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  • Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima. The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems: A Tibetan Study of Asian Religious Thought. Translated by Geshé Lhundup Sopa, E. Ann Chávez, and Roger R. Jackson. Edited by Roger R. Jackson. Library of Tibetan Classics 25. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.

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    Along with presentations of the history and doctrines of major Tibetan traditions, this survey by a 19th-century Gelukpa scholar touches on numerous controversies involving the various traditions, including (in the chapter on Kagyü) several related to mahāmudrā and (in the chapter on Jonang) the debate about the validity of the extrinsic emptiness doctrine.

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Tibetan-Language Sources

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Tibetan texts on mahāmudrā. Before 1959, the vast majority of them were preserved as woodblock prints in monastic libraries throughout the Tibetan plateau. The chaos unleashed in Tibet between the full Chinese takeover in 1959 and the end of China’s Cultural Revolution in 1976 depleted many of these libraries, but in the meantime, texts were carried to Nepal and India by refugees or located in monasteries outside Tibet. Through the efforts of countless Tibetan exiles, and of E. Gene Smith of the United States Library of Congress, important texts were photocopied, bound, printed, and published in India and Nepal, making crucial sources, including those on mahāmudrā, available to academic libraries throughout the world. With the moderation of Chinese policies on religion starting in the late 1970s, monasteries and their text collections were to some degree restored, and Chinese publishers in cities such as Xining, Chengdu, Lhasa, and Beijing began to issue book-format editions of important Tibetan texts, a practice that continues unabated in the present. In the past fifteen years, improvements in information technology have permitted organizations such as the Asian Classics Input Project, the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library to make Tibetan texts available in electronic formats. Further improvements in this technology promise to make Tibetan Buddhist texts, including many on mahāmudrā, available more widely than ever before. There is no place in this bibliography to list all the available Tibetan texts on mahāmudrā. Here, we simply note four particularly important sources. Two are major anthologies: ’Jam mgon kong sprul 1979–1981, which is a collection of special instruction (gdams ngag) texts from a range of Tibetan practice traditions, and Khro ru 2009, which is the largest anthology of Tibetan-language sources on mahāmudrā published to date. The other two are major historical works from Marpa Kagyü authors: Gö Lotsawa’s great 15th-century history of the Tibetan lineages, The Blue Annals (’Gos 1974), and Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s (Dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba, b. 1504–d. 1566) Banquet for the Wise (Mkas pa’i dga’ ston; Dpa’ bo 1980).

  • Dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba. Chos ’byung mkhas pa’i dga’ ston. Delhi: Delhi Karmapae Chodey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1980.

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    Massive, and very important—but still untranslated—history of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, with important sections on the development of the Kagyü lineages in which mahāmudrā figures centrally.

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  • ’Gos lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal. Deb ther sngon po. Śata-Piṭaka Series. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1974.

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    A rich source for information about the development of various Tibetan lineages, with special focus on Marpa Kagyü and mahāmudrā lineages. Translated into English as The Blue Annals in Roerich 1976 (cited in General Overviews).

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  • ’Jam mgon kong sprul Blo gros mtha’ yas. Gdams ngag mdzod: A Treasury of Precious Instructions of the Major and Minor Buddhist Traditions of Tibet. 18 vols. Paro, Bhutan: Lama Ngodrup and Sherab Drimey, 1979–1981.

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    Great 19th-century anthology of practice instructions from a range of Tibetan Buddhist lineages. The section on Marpa Kagyü, in particular, contains important Indian and Tibetan texts related to mahāmudrā.

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  • Khro ru Klu grub rgya mysho, ed. Nges don phyag rgya chen po’i rgya gzhung dang bod gzhung. 11 vols. Chengdu, China: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang [Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe], 2009.

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    Includes the Seventh Karmapa’s anthology of Indian mahāmudrā texts, the Phyag chen rgya gzhung (Vols. 1–6), and, in Vols. 7–11, such major Tibetan mahāmudrā texts as the Ninth Karmapa’s Phyag chen ma rig mun sal (see Berzin 1978, cited in Other Later Contributors), Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s Phyag Chen zla ba’i ’od zer (see Lhalungpa 2006, cited in General Overviews), and Pema Karpo’s Phyag chen gan mdzod.

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LAST MODIFIED: 04/24/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0086

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