Summer Intensive Tibetan Courses

Are you looking to develop your Tibetan language skills? Opportunities abound for language study this summer in the United States and South Asia. Most programs offer either classical or colloquial courses, and many are offered for credit through affiliated universities. Online courses are also available in self-study and interactive formats and are a great way to get started right away.


Tsadra Foundation’s Research Center will offer for the first time a short intensive program this summer during the last two weeks of August (13 – 25). The courses, offered for three levels of students–beginning, intermediate, and advanced–will combine the study of spoken and written Tibetan with opportunities to develop skills in translation and oral interpretation for advanced students. Lama Sarah Harding will teach the advanced reading class and Doctor Jules Levinson will facilitate oral interpretation practice from Tibetan to English. Visit the website for more information.

Colloquial Tibetan Studies

University of Virginia’s Summer Language Institute offers an intensive course in colloquial Tibetan which runs for eight weeks (June 17 – August 10) and is hosted on campus at UVa in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Franziska Oertle, who has taught Tibetan at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal and the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics near Dharamsala, India, will be teaching alongside her colleague Gen Phuntsok Dorje this summer. The course is offered for the equivalent of twelve academic credits, but also for non-credit-earning study. More information can be found here. 

University of Wisconsin’s South Asia Summer Language Institute will also offer summer intensive courses in modern South Asian languages, including colloquial Tibetan and Sanskrit, from June 18 through August 10 in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. Apply for this program here. 

For those interested in travel to South Asia, two notable programs for colloquial Tibetan language study are Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu University’s Centre for Buddhist Studies (RYI) and Esukhia. RYI also offers classical Tibetan courses on campus in Kathmandu.

RYI’s summer intensive programs offer three levels–beginner, intermediate, and advanced–of colloquial and classical Tibetan, and two levels–beginner and intermediate–of Sanskrit. These programs run from June 13 through August 10. Students have the option to live with Tibetan host families, experience the bustling city of Kathmandu, and explore sacred sites in the surrounding valleys. Read more information about these courses and apply for them here. 

Esukhia, based in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India, runs a summer intensive program in Ladakh for either one or two months of study starting July 2 and running through August 25. This program features homestay experiences with Tibetan families living in the small town of Choglamsar just outside of Leh. Visit Esukhia’s website here. 

Classical Tibetan Studies

Studying classical Tibetan is also a possibility in an intensive format this summer, both for-credit and not-for-credit. Maitripa College, in Portland, Oregon, offers intensive classical Tibetan language study which introduces students to vocabulary and grammatical structures and guides them through translating portions of texts by the end of the eight weeks. Read more about Maitripa’s program here. 

Rangjung Yeshe Gomde California offers an intermediate-level classical Tibetan course through the Dharmachakra School of Translation which is accredited by Kathmandu University. The course is based on Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s summer intensive courses, but available with the backdrop of the Eel River in the coastal range of Northern California. Find more information about this program here. 

Another program in California, USA, The Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages, will offer second-year classical Tibetan and Sanskrit this summer. The program is best suited for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Read more about this course here. 

Online Study

If you are unable to travel this summer, not to worry! Possibilities for online study are plentiful.

The University of Toronto offers two levels of classical Tibetan study based on Joe Wilson’s Translating Buddhism from Tibetan entirely online. The introductory course is twelve weeks long and will introduce you to the needed grammatical structures to learn to translate from Tibetan to English. Students can work with a moderator and study for credit through the University of Toronto. If you are not seeking credit, the entire course is freely available for self-study. You can begin studying at any time by visiting this website.

Esukhia offers one-on-one colloquial Tibetan classes online over Skype using a curriculum they developed based on vigorous research into language learning pedagogy. Sign up and start studying immediately.

Rangjung Yeshe Institute also offers two semesters of classical Tibetan courses online and a self-study Tibetan alphabet course. Completing the two semester-length online courses will prepare you to attend most intermediate-level classical Tibetan courses. Both semesters can be taken for academic credit and feature a course moderator in addition to the online course materials. The courses can also be taken on a self-study basis. Read about the courses and apply for them here. 

David Curtis offers courses in classical Tibetan via teleconference through the Tibetan Language Institute. A new round of David’s courses begins in April. Sign up here. 

Neljorma Tendron teaches four levels of online classes which are focused on comprehension of dharma terminology with the aim of reading and understanding one’s liturgical practice texts. Visit her website here for more information. 

Sonam Chusang, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, hosts beginning classes in the Tibetan alphabet, pronunciation, and spelling, and a beginning level of both colloquial and classical Tibetan. You can read more about these classes here.

Naropa Students Enjoy Lunch with Master Translators

Master translators Wulstan Fletcher and Elizabeth Callahan visited Naropa University to speak with students about the process of translation from Tibetan to English, and the motivations that led them to pursue such work.

The conversation occurred as part of Naropa University’s Indo-Tibetan Lunch Seminar Series, organized and hosted by Dr. Amelia Hall, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, which fosters discussion among students across disciplines—art, Indo-Tibetan studies with Tibetan and/or Sanskrit language—and encourages them to explore different ways to study language in general, and Tibetan and Sanskrit in particular.

Elizabeth began by describing her motivation to learn Tibetan: she was interested in practicing Tibetan Buddhism and understanding what she was practicing. Over the course of her six years of retreat, she gradually learned to serve as an interpreter for Tibetan teachers and became a translator of practice texts. After completing retreat, she fell into being a translator because she wanted to develop a better understanding of emptiness, the rituals associated with Buddhist practice, and the “point” of meditation and saw a way to do that through the practice of translation.

“Translation can be a skillful way to approach in-depth study.”
-Elizabeth Callahan


Following Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s encouragement to understand the text from the practitioner’s perspective, Elizabeth took translation as the path early on. She explained the importance of working closely with masters of the lineage and students of the same teacher to produce translations. She described a model to approach the translation of Tibetan materials to English to benefit oneself and others equally: absorb yourself in the text–practice, study, and research, then the product of the translation contributes to others being able to practice.

Elizabeth closed her comments with an encouragement to students to, “Bring <your knowledge of Tibetan> to a point where it is useful for you if you are interested to practice. Train until, when you pick up a text, you have 90% comprehension, and that you’re fluent enough in colloquial Tibetan that you can ask questions to get to 100%.”  

Wulstan began by introducing himself to the group as “The Reluctant Translator”. Completely self-taught, Wulstan completed three-year retreat and worked on technical translations until Tsadra offered support for him to work full time. From his perspective, translation is part of one’s bodhisattva commitment to help people who will never be in a position to learn the language, giving them access to a wonderful tradition that is still alive. “Translation is breaking the shell so people can eat the kernel, or taking the stone off the well so people can get to the water.”

Wulstan then shifted to sharing his love of language. He explained that the classical Tibetan of the texts, which is quite different from the modern spoken language, is a learned language, like Latin was in the middle ages. It has remained fairly stable and unchanged over the centuries. The written Tibetan of a modern author like Dudjom Rinpoche is in many respects the same as that of Longchenpa, who lived in the fourteenth century. As writers, they are virtual contemporaries even though they are separated by six centuries. This means that, once you have learned to read Tibetan, you have access to vast literature spanning over a thousand years.

“If you think Buddhadharma is valuable, translate. You can’t know what the benefit will be—maybe you’re giving a tool to someone who can use it much better than you could!”
-Wulstan Fletcher


Exploring the Craft of Translation

Elizabeth and Wulstan answered thoughtful questions from the students about what to do when experiencing a block or facing something you don’t understand. Wulstan urged students to read slowly and not to lose heart. He explained that while Tibetan grammar is not complicated, its syntax is strange and confusing to speakers of an Indo-European language like our own. Tibetan is not written in sentences in the way that English is—centerd on a main verb with principal and relative clauses all clearly connected. Thanks to its use of particles and its unrestricted capacity for subordination, Tibetan is often written in extended, river-like periods which can be very long indeed—alarmingly so for the beginner. Nevertheless, it is important to get used to the way Tibetan writers arrange their ideas and to read their sentences in the way Tibetans do rather than jumping around trying to piece together bits of sense, more or less guessing how they should be put together. It’s only when you have grasped the meaning of the Tibetan that you can then put it into English, dividing up the Tibetan into shorter manageable statements. This isn’t easy and takes a lot of practice, so it’s important to be patient and not get discouraged. Then, because the syntactical structure of the two languages is so different, it is important to “step away” from the original Tibetan and recast the meaning into a natural English form. When the translation process is complete, the text should read as clearly and easily as a text composed in English. This is part of being kind to the reader which, above all, Elizabeth and Wulstan reminded the students to do by thinking of their audience when translating. 

Both translators spoke of the importance of mastering of one’s own language—cultivating a knowledge of English literature to know stylistically what is good. They encouraged the students to read literature, to love English, to read the poets, and cherish the language. By translating, one is contributing to the corpus of literature in our own language.

They offered a step-by-step approach to working with a translation:

  1. Use dictionaries and online resources like Columbia University’s Buddhist Canon Research Database with searchable unicode text, the BDRC database, and the Tibetan Himalayan Translation Tool online;
  2. Work with context and play with how to say things in different ways;
  3. Continue the research process: “Read around” the text by engaging with relevant texts and scholarly materials to help build context; and
  4. Ask questions: understanding the author’s life could inform your translation.

The conversation ended with an encouraging comment from Elizabeth to the young translators: “If you feel drawn to learn Tibetan and become a translator, do it. You’ll find a way.”

~ Shambhala Publications Book Launch ~

The Just King

The Tibetan Buddhist Classic on Leading an Ethical Life

By Jamgön Mipham, Translated by José Ignacio Cabezón

The Buddhist luminary Jamgön Mipham wrote a letter on leadership to the king of Dergé, whose small kingdom straddled China and Tibet during a particularly turbulent period. This work stresses compassion, impartiality, self-control, and virtue as essential for long-lasting success—whether as a leader or an individual trying to live a meaningful life. Both present-day leaders and those they lead will find this classic work, finally available in English, profoundly illuminating on political, societal, and personal levels.

Join us for some refreshments, snacks, and a discussion with Professor José Cabezón on ethical leadership according to the great Tibetan master Mipham.

When: June 4, 6pm

Where: Shambhala Publications event space and book store, 4720 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80301

Two sessions at the upcoming Translation & Transmission Conference will be open to the public. Seating is limited. Please register by following the links at the bottom of the sessions you’re interested in attending.

1 ~ Approaches to Transmission in the West: A Discussion with Contemporary Shedra Students

with Robert Miller, Katrin Querl, Simon Houlton, Matt Weiss & Gerd Klintschar

Public Session 1 • Room 204, 2nd Floor • 2:30 PM, June 2, 2017

For westerners looking to study at the highest level in the Tibetan Buddhist World, there are significant barriers. Would you enroll in a Tibetan monastic college in India or Nepal? Meet four westerners who did just that, several of whom still continue their rigorous decade of study today. This session will be a public discussion with Robert Miller, who was director of education at a monastery in India, and four western students from Tibetan monastic colleges: Katrin Querl (Drikung Kagyu College, Dehra Dun), Simon Houlton (Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala), Matt Weiss (Sera Je Monastic University, Bylakuppe), and Gerd Klintschar (Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu).

Register for Public Session #1 here!


2 ~ Approaches to Transmission in the West: New Voices & Old Traditions

with Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel, Ari Goldfield, Sarah Plazas & Gyurme Avertin

Public Session 2 • Wittemeyer Hall • 4:45 PM, June 2, 2017

What does genuine transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the west look like? How can we be active participants in this process? What role do translators and western teachers have in this globalized process? What is transmission, really? Two western teachers and two translators will discuss all these issues and more in this wonderful meeting of minds.

Register for Public Session #2 here!



The Ketaka Jewel with Khenpo Gawang


Khenpo Gawang will be giving 3 talks on the Ketaka Jewel by Ju Mipham Rinpoche. The Ketaka Jewel is Ju Mipham’s commentary on the Prajna Chapter of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara. The Bodhisattvacharyavatara is Shantideva’s classic guide to the Mahayana path. It is one of the great texts from India that forms the core of the curriculum for Buddhist studies at the shedra. The Prajna Chapter of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara is wellnoted to be challenging for students. That being the case, Ju Mipham Rinpoche felt it important to compose a commentary making the words and meaning of the Prajna Chapter easy to understand. As a result, he named his commentary, The Ketaka Jewel after the mythical jewel that has the capability to clarify water.

From the Prajna Chapter of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara:

All these branches
Were taught by the Sage for the sake of the paramita of prajna.
Therefore, those who suffer and desire peace,
Should give rise to prajna.

Khenpo Gawang will be discussing how prajna relates to the two truths. On Friday night, he will be signing copies of The Ketaka Jewel translation, which will be made available for purchase.

Dates and Times: Friday Evening, May 26 from 7:00 to 8:30, Saturday, 10:00 to 12:00, and Sunday 2:00 to 3:30

Location: Nalandabodhi, 100 Arapahoe Ave, Suite 6, Boulder CO 80302

Cost: $20 Friday night, $60 for the weekend, $50 for Nalandabodhi Members

Contact: David Makowski at

More Info:

Bio:  is the founder and spiritual director of Pema Karpo Meditation Center in Memphis, Tennessee. Having completed thirty years as a monk, fourteen years of teaching experience, and nine years of study at the Buddhist University of Namdroling Monastery in South India, he holds a Khenpo degree, the Buddhist equivalent of a PhD. Gawang Rinpoche came to the United States in 2004 at the invitation of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Shambhala International. He proudly became an American citizen in 2012. Rinpoche is the author of Your Mind Is Your Teacher (Shambhala Publications) and The Sadhana of Shakyamuni Buddha (Jeweled Lotus Publications). He co-translated with Gerry Wiener the text, The Excellent Path to to Enlightenment by Longchenpa which is available through Amazon.

Early-bird pricing for the Historic First International Chöd Conference ends midnight this Friday (March 31st).

This conference is a gathering in one place of lamas, teachers and advanced practitioners that has never before taken place. An intimate journey into a tradition of healing and transformation, and a celebration imbued with the beauty of Chöd practice, dance, and music. Reserve your place now:


In this short video, Lama Tsultrim Allione talks about why attending this conference is valuable, and how relevant this precious event is in the world today.

High-end Tent rentals are now available for the conference. Not only spacious and comfortable, they will provide an experience like that of the traditional “Chödpas” (Chöd practitioners) from Tibet and Mongolia, who travel and practice with their ritual items and a tent.

Camping/Commuting: $492
For full pricing options including cost of Hi-end Tents, please see our website.

Student rate: $342
(Click here for Student Registration)

Prices include full conference access, camping/commuting, and three meals per day, from dinner on 7/12/17 to lunch on 7/16/17.

*Early bird pricing ends March 31, 2017.

Sponsored by Shambhala Publications, Wisdom Publications, and Tsadra Foundation.

Shambhala Logo

Nikko Odiseos
at Shambhala Publications has shared some very interesting remarks about the state of Buddhist publishing. It is well worth the read on

Here is a little excerpt and link to read more:

In 2016, Shambhala alone published 35 titles for Tibetan Buddhists (and a bunch more for Zen and Pali traditions), bringing us to 530 Tibetan Buddhist titles in print. While we have by far the largest list, the other Buddhist-centric publishers add a bit over two hundred more to the total. Some of the greatest works of the Indian and Tibetan traditions are coming out on an almost monthly basis.

The Ten Volume Treasury of Knowledge

The Ten Volume Treasury of Knowledge

There are many experienced translators who have good retreat experience and who work closely with lamas who have traversed the path. Vast, multi-volume works are available for many traditions, such as the ten-volume Treasury of Knowledge, the Complete Nyingma Tradition (eventually seven volumes and by far the largest work on a single tradition), the Treasury of Precious Instructions(eventually eighteen volumes) and the Library of Tibetan Classics series (Wisdom Publications). There are multiple translations and commentaries on the five Maitreya texts, the core of the Mahayana. There is the 84000 project ( committed to translating the entire Kangyur (the words of the Buddha) and Tengyur (the commentaries from India), even if few teachers teach those texts and few people read them.

Other publishers including WisdomRangjung YeshePadma PublishingKTDVajra Books, Dharma Publishing (despite nothing new in years), and a few others have very dedicated people producing some important books. Even some of the university presses (Oxford, Columbia, Chicago, SUNY, and Hawaii in particular) are making some great contributions beneficial—or at least of interest—to practitioners, not just academics. There are also some very important behind-the-scenes organizations that really enable a lot of the important works coming out to happen—the Tsadra Foundation, the Hershey Foundation, the Khyentse Foundation, the Ho Foundation, and more, as well some private donors supporting translators and publishing projects. Tibetan texts are also widely available to translators and readers thanks in particular to the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center online library.

Thanks to our many teachers, translators, scholars, and sponsors, we have so much Buddhist material at our fingertips. There is a lot to feel very hopeful and positive about, not just about the books, but about authentic Dharma being made available both inside and outside of Asia.

Yet, as I survey the landscape of Buddhism in the West through the lens of Buddhist publishing in English, at times I have a lot of trepidation—as a publisher and also as a Buddhist. We have a long way to go. My concerns focus on how we read, what we read, and who is reading—or not.



Chod Zhije Conference 2017

UPDATE! Conference rates have been reduced!

Sponsored by Tsadra Foundation, Shambhala Publications, and Wisdom Publications.

Tara Mandala and Lama Tsultrim Allione will be hosting a unique conference on Chöd and Zhijé traditions that will include presentations from our friends Sarah Harding, Amelia Hall, Dan Martin, Sangye Khandro, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and many other luminaries.

Register now for discounted Early Bird pricing for the Historic First International Chod-Zhijé Conference July 12-16, 2017 at Tara Mandala. Practice retreats to follow July 18-23, 2017. This conference will bring together leading scholars and teachers of the unique Tibetan Buddhist lineages of Chöd and Zhijé in their various forms. To register, and for more information please click here:

Follow-up Retreats July 18-23, 2017

Confirmed Speakers

  • Lama Tsultrim Allione, founder and spiritual director of Tara Mandala, is author of Feeding your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict and Women of Wisdom and a teacher of Chöd.
  • Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingthig, Zhije, and Chöd traditions, is founder of the only monastery dedicated to Chöd teachings in Nepal.
  • Venerable Drüpon Lama Karma is renowned as a genuine retreat master throughout Bhutan, having spent 13 years in strict meditation retreats, and has been one of the most important Bhutanese lamas to disseminate the teachings of Terton Pedgyal Lingpa. He teaches the Chöd Rinchen Threngwa and the Chöd practice of Laughter of the Dakinis from the Longchen Nyingtik Tradition, among other practices.
  • Sarah Harding translated Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd, and Dudjom Lingpa’s cycle of Thröma Nakmo with Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. As a fellow of the Tsadra Foundation, she recently completed the volume on Chöd in Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions. She is Professor at Naropa University.
  • Dan Martin, Ph.D., is a literary translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written extensively on the Zhije tradition and Padampa Sangye.
  • Sangye Khandro is a highly esteemed Tibetan translator; during the past forty years she has translated many of the liturgies that accompany the Dudjom Tersar terma tradition of Chöd, and has lead numerous retreats.
  • Michael Sheehy, Ph.D., is the Director of Programs at the Mind & Life Institute, and an Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He is the author of “Severing the Source of Fear: Contemplative Dynamics of the Tibetan Buddhist gCod Tradition.
  • Amelia Hall, Ph.D., received her doctorate at Oxford University; her dissertation translates and reflects upon the biography of HH Kunzang Dechen Lingpa and his development of a Healing Chöd practice presented in the West. She is Assitant Professor at Naropa University.
  • Kunze Chimed is a Mongolian Chöd singer, and practitioner and teacher of Chöd in the Gelugpa tradition. She has published the Manual of Chöd Practice, among other works.
  • Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at University of San Diego. Working with the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women and the Jamyang Foundation, she is closely in touch with Chöd practitioners in India, Mongolia, Nepal, and Siberia.
  • Michelle Sorensen, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Western Carolina University. Her dissertation is entitled “Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Tradition.” She continues to research and write extensively on Machig Labdrön and Chöd philosophy and practice.
  • Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., teaches various meditation practices, including Chöd and Tibetan Yoga through Ligmincha Institute, founded by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. He is the author ofChöd Practice in the Bön Tradition.
  • Bhikhuni Jampa Sangmo Karuna has been a practitioner of Gelug Chöd since 1989. She studied with Jetsün Dhampa Khalka Rinpoche for 7 years and currently lives in the mountains of Switzerland at the Chöd Center under the guidance of Lodro Tulku Rinpoche.
  • Naksang Rinpoche was recognized as a tulku by HH the 14th Dalai Lama and completed the traditional three-year meditation retreat in a cave in the Indian Himalayas. He will share the unique healing Chöd ceremony from the mind treasure of Kunzang Dechen Lingpa.
  • Sarah Jacoby, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She is the author of Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro.
  • Ācārya Malcolm Smith is a senior student of Dzogchen masters Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and the late Kunzang Dechen Lingpa. His most recent published translation is Buddhahood in This Life: The Great Commentaryby Vimalamitra.
  • Chöying Khandro, M.A., holds the complete transmissions of the “Ganden Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage” and “The Machig Dakini Ear-Whispered Lineage” from her teacher, the late 9th Khalkha Jetsun Dampa. Over the last three decades she has brought this rare Machig Dakini lineage to the West by translating the complete texts and leading retreats.
  • Tina Lang is a graduate student in Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she is focusing on the practice and study of Chöd.
  • And others…

Conference Venue/Host

Tara Mandala is an international Buddhist organization supporting the development of wisdom and compassion, with a primary focus on the lineage of Machig Labdrön in both its ancient Tibetan forms and its modern adaptations. Founded by Lama Tsultrim Allione and David Petit in 1993, Tara Mandala Retreat Center is located on 700 acres outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and is home to the Trikaya Tara Temple. See


Join us at the University of Colorado, Boulder, May 31 – June 3, 2017

Attendees and speakers must all register online.


Space is limited so please sign up as soon as possible.

More than 200 translators, practitioners, scholars, and specialists in Tibetan language will be meeting together for workshops and discussion sessions throughout the weekend. You can see the full list of speakers and presenters here.

2017 Translation & Transmission Conference
Program Overview

WEDNESDAY, May  31, 2017

4:30 PM  Registration & Welcome Reception at the UMC, Boulder Campus

6:00 PM  Welcome Banquet at the Glenn Miller Ballroom, UMC, Boulder Campus

THURSDAY, June 1, 2017


Keynote Lecture by Susan Bassnett – 9:00 AM  


Plenary Session 1: Translators & Intention – 11:00 AM 

Panelists: Janet Gyatso, Anne Klein, Wulstan Fletcher, and Karl Brunnholzl

Discussion Sessions – 2:30 PM

1. Translation Theories Made Practical
2. Exploring Approaches to Tibetan Translation 1: Responses to issues from the keynote
3. Exploring Approaches to Tibetan Translation 2: Responses to panel discussions
4. The Translator’s Intention
5. Translation: Text Creation, Augmentation, and Creativity


Plenary Session 2: Approaches to Translation & Transmission – 4:45 PM 

Panelists: Luis Gomes, Susan Bassnett, and David Bellos

FRIDAY, June 2, 2017


Keynote Lecture by Jan Nattier – 9:00 AM  


Plenary Session 3: Translating: What and How? – 11:00 AM  

Panelists: Kurtis Schaeffer, Thupten Jinpa, Elizabeth Napper, and Sangye Khandro

Translator’s Craft Session 1 – 2:30 PM

1. Master Class on Kavya in Tibet following from a workshop on Tseten Zhabdrung’s commentary on poetics that was hosted at the Latse Library with Gendun Rabsel, Nicole Willock, Andy Quintman, and Kurtis Schaeffer.

2. Languages of Contemplative Experience: Translating the Worlds of Dzogchen & Mahamudra with Anne Klein, Ken McLeod, and David Germano.

3. Unique Registers and Specialized Terminology: Sanskrit and the Tibetan Language in Translation with Christian Wedemeyer and Art Engle.

4. Working with Old Tibetan Sources with Jake Dalton and Brandon Dotson.

5. Public Session: Approaches to Transmission in the West: A Discussion with Contemporary Shedra Students and Robert Miller (Lozang Zopa).

Translator’s Craft Session 2 – 4:45 PM

1. Working with the Medium of the English Language with Wulstan Fletcher and Thupten Jinpa.

2. Accuracy and Inspiration: Translating Mahamudra Texts with Elizabeth Callahan and Klaus-Dieter Mathes.

3. Oddities and Curiosities in Tibetan Translation with David Jackson and Dan Martin.

4. Using Technology Skillfully (Resources for Translators) with Kurt Keutzer, Paul Hackett, Gerry Wiener, and Nathan Hill.

5. Public Session: Approaches to Transmission in the West: New Voices & Old Traditions with Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, Ari Goldfield, Sarah Plazas, and Gyurme Avertin.

Special Event!

Dinner & Evening Event at Naropa University – 7:00 PM  
with Thupten Jinpa & Donald Lopez

SATURDAY, June 3, 2017


Keynote Lecture by José Cabezón – 9:00 AM  


Plenary Session 4: The Editorial Process Throughout Creation and Completions Stages – 11:00 AM  

Panelists: John Canti, Tom Yarnall, David Kittelstrom, and Emily Bower

Discussion Sessions – 2:30 PM

1. Large Scale, Multilingual (Skt/Tib) Projects: Philological, Technical, and Team Challenges and Solutions
2. Editing for Practitioners: Presenting Liturgies, Commentaries, and Songs of Realization
3. Editing and Disseminating Buddhist Materials
4. Editing and Publishing Translations
5. Transmission and Translation


Plenary Session 5: Translations in Transmission – 4:45 PM  

Panelists: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Sarah Harding, Peter O’Hearn, and Ringu Tulku

Closing Sessions

6:30 PM  Closing Session & Award Announcements

7:00 PM Closing Dinner

Hosted by Tsadra Foundation

Co-sponsored by:

Naropa University
The American Institute of Buddhist Studies
Columbia University Center for Buddhist Studies
Tibet House US
Tibet Himalaya Initiative at CU Boulder
Shambhala Publications
The Khyentse Foundation

with the support of:

Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Maitripa College, Wisdom Publications,
and the University of Colorado, Boulder Religious Studies Department

Pha Dampa Sangye and the Alphabet Goddess

A preliminary study of the sources of the Zhije tradition

Sarah Harding

Dampa Sangye

Dampa Sangye on

Presented by Sarah Harding at the 2016 meeting of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS) in Bergen, Norway:

I did not master all of Indian tantra or positively connect the lovely Mātkā alphabet goddess with Dampa Sangye, except for circumstantial evidence. Even the 25 texts in volume 13 of the Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDam ngag mdzod) that I have been tasked to translate for the Tsadra Foundation remain at the end of this long road. But with much snooping I have tried to examine some of the sources of the Zhije (Zhi byed) tradition, particularly the two “tantras,” and their influence in the actual rituals and practices of the tradition.

First a very brief background of this complex tradition, called Zhije or “Pacification,” that traces back to the South Indian Dampa Sangye. I will call him by his most commonly used name, but you may be more familiar with Pha Dampa Sangye, used by most western scholars. The anecdotal story of the “father” appellation of pha can be found in Machik’s Complete Explanation, where mother Lapdrön’s son decides that he is like a father to him, and thus the balance of Ma-chik and Pha-Dampa, probably lending itself also to the popular and unsupported belief that he was Machik’s consort. Dampa’s Indian names were Kamalaśrī and Kamalaśīla, which Tibetans took to be the same person as Shantarakśita’s famous disciple of the 8th century. And he was also identified with the Chinese Cha’an patriarch Bodhidharma (5th–6th centuries), giving him a lifespan of over 500 years.

Also in the realm of legend is the story of his reanimation of a corpse of a dark-skinned Indian siddha (Dampa Nagchug) who had reanimated and run off in Dampa’s beautiful body after Dampa had entered the corpse of a dead elephant to remove it from a village, leaving him stuck with what was considered an unattractive form, and gaining him the name of Black Dampa or Indian Dampa. His visits to Tibet numbered anywhere from three to seven, with five being the most common. Jamgön Kongtrul’s summary from the Treasury of Knowledge reports the exact starting and ending locations of all five journeys, which is affirming.[1] However, he may have “sojourned” there only three times. Kongtrul also states:

On all those occasions [Dampa Sangye] would intuit the exact character and faculties of each individual and liberate them through a few appropriate instructions. Thus there is no single primary source or systematic tradition that one could ascribe to them all. Nevertheless, [we could say] that he principally based himself in the source texts Ālikāli Great River Tantra, Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, and others. The methods he used, consistent with his own life example, were the three [levels of] vows as the support, ascetic exertion (dka’ thub kyi srang) as the path, and activities for the welfare of others as the fruition. Multitudes of beings possessed of the [right] karma—as numerous as the stars in the sky— were liberated in the state of buddha.

Kongtrul’s understanding here of the great variety of teachings associated with Dampa as skillful pedagogy I find more felicitous than the views of one western scholar who derided it for lacking a cohesive system.[2]

Nevertheless, what remains of a wide-ranging tradition makes it difficult to summarize. The bare minimum is the breakdown of teachings into three main lineages (brgyud) or transmissions (bka’ babs): early, middle, and later, with some other miscellaneous lineages. “The first of these is when Dampa explained to the Kashmiri Jñānaguhya the Cycles of Three Lamps of Pacification.”[3] These can be found in the Tengyur under the name Kamalaśīla. They are described as containing, respectively, the teachings of the vinaya, abhidharma, and sūtra, but also, mysteriously, “the semantic meaning of the fifty-five” sounds,” which is not at all evident in those texts. Also in the Tengyur, incidentally, are Dampa’s collections of dohās from the Indian mahāsiddhas, which had a huge influence in Tibet.[4]

The Middle Transmission is divided into three, known as the Ma, So, and Kam systems, based on the principle recipient’s place names. In summary, he gave rMa Chos kyi Shes rab the teachings of awakening mind, the discourses, scattered teachings, and oral instructions. The second system conferred to So chung dGe ‘dun bar was the instructions of the fifty-four male and female adepts, called “Instructions on the Naked Perception of Awareness.” And the third system given to Kam Ye shes rgyal mtshan is called “the Guide to the Essential Meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom.” Lochen Dharmaśrī, in his commentary, mentions that originally this system would have been the preliminaries to the Kam system practice, suggesting that there was once a more cohesive system in the past. But, he says, “now, the lineages of the guides other than this one have not lasted except as reading transmissions.”[5] This may be true for other doctrines as well. One can easily see that the very preliminary nature of the teachings that remain from this system could hardly touch the perfection of wisdom doctrine.

The Last Transmission is considered the main teaching of Zhije and was transmitted to the Bodhisttava Kunga (Byang chub sems dpa’ Kun dga’), who was acknowledged by Dampa as his primary disciple. Dharmaśri describes:


From the instructions to the four direction yogins in the last transmission, which is the main teaching of Pacification, this is the system of Guru Bodhisattva Kunga. The teaching consists of instructions on the perfection of wisdom that are consistent with Secret Mantra. The root is conferred to the mindstream and the essential meaning is introduced. After you are adorned with methods of numerous, great interdependent connections, all the Buddhist teachings are practiced at one time on one seat. This is the esoteric instruction called the Practice Cycle of the Immaculate Drop. [6]


Within this transmission, there are three guides: “The White Guide concentrates solely on mind training on the path, the Red Guide [concerns] the practice of five or three paths, and the Black Guide produces realization of the types of letters.”[7] It is interesting that only the Red Guide is elaborated in the literature. It contains an unusual instruction of a five-fold spiritual path: mind training, austerities, subsequent cognition, equalizing taste, and non-action. They are equated with the five Mahāyāna paths, but bear so little resemblance to the normative explanations that the correlation may be ex post facto. Indeed, Kongtrul affirms that “This path did not occur previously in India and Tibet, but is the special teaching of Dampa Rinpoche.”[8] I will return to the intriguing Black Guide later.

What peaked my curiosity occurred during the conferral by Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche of the relevant transmissions of the tradition from Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions in Kathmandu, November 2014. Large portions of the empowerment involved the Sanskrit alphabet, with master and recipients repeating it again and again—forwards, backwards, by columns, by rows, every fifth letter, just the vowels, just the consonants, and other seemingly random combinations. The monks at Benchen Gonpa were incredibly adept in getting it all up on the big screens as fast as the Rinpoche could read.

Nothing in the Zhije histories had alerted me to this pervasive use of syllabary. Except—and how did I miss the one obvious hint everywhere alluded to—that the source text of Zhije is something called Ālikāli Inconceivable Secret Great River Tantra, where āli-kāli refers to the vowels and consonants of Sanskrit! The other source mentioned, called Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, has been previously misidentified by me and everyone else. That was easy to do, since there are dozens of texts with similar titles—nine just in the first volume of the Zhije collection from the recently printed 13 Dingri Langkor Volumes. However, based on positive identification of quotations attributed to “Mahāmudrā Symbol” in other Zhije texts, I have located it in the collected works of Bodong Chokle Namgyal, volume 92, and in no other place. The full title is Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, the Secret in the Hearts of All Ḍākinīs.[9] I will mainly be looking for the influences of those two tantras in the Zhije praxis .

I had little success locating another two of sources of the four named by Gö Lotsawa in the Deb gter ngon po (p. 1134): a general sutra called Total River Play (Chu klung mngon par rol pa’i mdo)[10]; a particular sutra which is Heart of Wisdom; a general tantra called Illuminating the Pitaka (sde snod gsal byed); and the particular tantra called Great River Tantra (chu klung chen po).

Some interesting remarks in Jamgön Kongtrul’s Record of Teachings Received[11] (gSan yig, p. 769) would be worth pursuing:

In the general table of contents of Pacification, [it states that] from the five great dharma series that came from the precious Lamps, in the third one—Stainless, along with the Subtle Drop (dri med phra tig dang bcas pa)—there is a series of six dharmas of experience. Of those, the sixth is about the result of maturation concerning the outer, inner, and secret instructions of ālikāli. The outer [instruction] contains the three [subjects] of divination, astrology, and auspicious connections. Of those, the latter is mainly from the old books: the history of ālikāli. The root of the outer cycle is the vajra diamond substance (pha lam rdzas kyi rdo rje), the root of ālikāli; the auspicious connections of ālikāli (“known as the eighty white auspiciously connected substances”) along with the outer, inner, secret, and suchness; the instructions of the aural lineage of ālikāli; and the cycle of mantras from the five cycles of auspicious connection (“the connection of mantras [for] raining hail”).

Those will prove to be very interesting if ever located. To return to the two tantra sources that I did examine: In discussion of whether the teachings that were passed to Kunga in the last transmission should be considered as sutra or tantra, Gö Lotsawa in the Deb gter ngon po concludes that they are sutra “because it is like the explanation of the doors of the 42-syllable dhāraṇī in the Perfection of Wisdom sutra itself.[12] (But Kongtrul disagrees, holding the middle transmission as sutra and the last as mantra[13]).

In the Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines, we find the 42-syllable a ra pa cha na alphabet, so-called because it is first five syllables of the Kharoṣṭhi script of Ghandāra[14] and possibly the earliest use of dhāraṇī. Each syllable or phoneme is used to indicate a phrase beginning with that syllable that embodies an idea relevant to the perfection of wisdom, and hence the designation of dhāraṇī as a door or entrance:

And again, Subhuti, the dhāraṇī-doors are the great vehicle of the Bodhisattva, the great being. Which are they? The sameness of all letters and syllables, the sameness of all spoken words, the syllable-doors, the syllable-entrances. What then are the syllable-doors, the syllable entrances?

The syllable A is a door to the insight that all dharmas are unproduced from the very beginning (ādy-anutpannatvād). RA is a door to the insight that all dharmas are without dirt (rajas).[15]

And so forth, through that alphabet. Thus it could be seen as a mnemonic device, to help in memorizing the alphabet itself and those concepts. My favorite example using instead the Sanskrit alphabet in a similar way is in the old Lalitavistara Sutra (Ch. 10), where the bodhisattva Śākyamuni attends his first day of school. Here’s what happened:

Through the bodhisattva’s power, the schoolmaster taught the children:

When he said the letter a, out came the statement: ”Every composite phenomenon is impermanent (anityaḥ sarvasaṁskāraḥ). When he said the letter ā, out came the statement: “Beneficial to self and others” (ātmaparahita). When he said the letter i, out came the statement: “The vast development of the senses (indriyavaipulya).[16]

And so forth. In this way, “32,000 children gave rise to thoughts aimed at unexcelled, perfect and complete awakening.”

We are, of course, all familiar with this technique in English:

A you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful, C you’re so cute and full of charm.

Or, from the 18th century:

A was an apple-pie; B bit it, C cut it, D dealt it…(and so on).

By the way, the title of that one—which could rival any Sanskrit or Tibetan title—is: “The Tragical Death of A, Apple Pye Who was Cut in Pieces and Eaten by Twenty-Five Gentlemen with whom All Little People Ought to be Very Well Acquainted.” Compare that to the 32,000 children who engendered bodhichitta.

Alphabet practices are found in tantras, such as the early Mahāvairocana Tantra[17] with its placement of the alphabet around the letter a which “itself abides as the inherent nature of the array of various forms. It also reveals by its own nature that all phenomena are unborn..” etc. And the ritual of the mantra of the hundred letters based on the letter aṃ “the hundred-door essence” rather than a. The mnemonic correspondence seems not be a factor here, where each syllable has taken on its own inherent profound meaning and correspondences that don’t indicate a Sanskrit word. Rather, that sound is itself an entryway into an absolute truth. Unfortunately, those inherent syllable meanings vary widely from text to text and page to page.

Later tantras show alphabet and syllable usages as well, such as Chakrasaṃvara with its placement of letters on the practitioner cum deity and the encrypted use of the alphabet in a “mantra puzzle” to discover the secret essence mantras.[18] Now, of course, it is no big surprise to find a lot of mantras in the Secret Mantra vehicle. I don’t intend to try to explain the tremendous power that was invested in sounds and letters. Mostly, however, mantras are words that carry lexical meaning, and my interest here is in the non-lexical syllables.

The two source tantras of Zhije are chock full of sounds, syllables, dhāraṇī, and mantra. The Ālikāli Tantra is presented in 24 chapters in the form of questions and answers between Vajrapāṇi and the Buddha. The 24th chapter and an interlinear note reveal that Dampa Sangye reconstituted three somewhat disparate sections of this “tantra” that were previously divided according to the following story: After the Buddha entrusts the tantra to various protectors he departs for Kushinigar.

Then the assembly went off to the king’s palace and divided the tantra into three parts. The first in eight chapters were written on leaves of a wishfulfilling tree, then encased it in a precious crystal vase. The gods summoned it and it rests inside a gandhola on the peak of Supreme Mountain. The middle section of eight chapters was written on the inner bark of a wishfulfilling tree and encased in a precious silver amulet box. The demigods and yakṣas summoned it and it rests in a copper house of blazing weapons midway up Supreme Mountain. The last section of eight chapters was written on blue water silk and encased in a golden box. The nāgas summoned it and it rests in the storehouse of the nāga at the base of Supreme Mountain. Later these three treasure teachings that were divided were brought together into one and written on the skin of a demoness (srin mo) and put into the skin bag of a white lioness. It rests in the endless knot of the secret treasury in the charnel ground of glorious Uḍḍiyāna.

The tantra may have been composed by Dampa himself, which is especially suggested by the use of the term “treasure teachings” (gter bka’). Yet it is consistent with other tantras in its contents. It answers such questions as “What is the Book” (glegs bam): the codex or volume that is used to confer the empowerments of Zhije, rather than the usual mandala or vase. The Buddha answers in verses such as:

In the teaching of the victorious sugatas of the three times

the sounds of great earth, water, fire, wind, and space,

[as] plants, forests, earth, stone, mountains, cliffs,

and all sentient beings, are saying the sounds of the teaching. (Ch. 4, p. 25)

And answering “What is the essence?”:

All phenomena are Ālikāli.

If the wise do not know that fact

they are obscured as to meaning and enter the path of the womb.

One must know that method and wisdom are not two.

And: “If all phenomena are ālikāli, what is the essence?”

Essence is wisdom in the shape of the letter a.

Intrinsic nature unimpeded appearing in the form of oṃ.

The characteristic is nonduality, the perception door of dhāraṇī.


From the perception door of wisdom a and oṃ

the emanation of unimpeded methods arise as kāli.

The guru of this emanated fifty

turns infinite unimaginable dharma wheels.

Repeating aloud the meaning of text, you retain it.

The drawing is the ālikāli of form.

Then the ālikāli of amazing substance

and the ālikāli of realized meaning

and the ālikāli of illustrative words

and the ālikāli of concordant examples.

These five I have explained as the secret essence. (Ch. 5, p.27)


Then the Buddha goes on to explain each of those. In chapter 6, first the Buddha pronounces the Sanskrit alphabet straight through and then other buddhas intone the various sets of letters from it:

Then tathāgatas in the east say ka ca ṭa ta pa ya śa / i ī ṛi;

tathāgatas in the south say kha cha ṭha tha pha ra ṣa / e ai ṛī;

tathāgatas in the west say ga ja ḍa da ba kṣa / a ā / aṃ aḥ /

tathāgatas in the north say nga ña ṇa na ma va ha / ḷi u ū /

tathāgatas in between say gha jha ḍha dha bha la sa / lī o au /

tathāgatas above say gu ru hya bad at / e vaṃ ma ya /

tathāgatas below say sa ca na si ka ra / maṃ kha la vo / (p. 32)


And in Chapter 7 we find:

The root of all phenomena is one’s own mind.

The nature of mind is power from concepts

Concepts depend on channels and winds.

The entity of channels and winds abides in the form of letters.

Therefore all phenomena are the clear form of letters.

The fifty come from a.

It is explained as the seed of all phenomena. (p.35)

In response to this question of the letters’ essence, the Buddha says, “I am the essence,” but continues with correspondences such as: ka kha ga nga are wind letters, blue, are ten, abiding in the lungs and so forth for each set. Other sets of syllables purify the afflictions, and so on endlessly, back and forth between non-lexical phonemes and regular lexical mantras that bestow power and efficacy. All this is interspersed with explanations of practices that are indeed reflected in the Zhije corpus.

Now the Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, the Secret in the Hearts of All Ḍākinīs contains in its 21 chapters similar teachings but in quite a different manner. For one thing, it is spoken not by the Buddha or Vajradhara, but the Bhagavatī, mistress of the realm, surrounded by goddesses and ḍākinīs. She appears but doesn’t, and says “a a a” without saying anything. And the interlocutor is none other than a certain “Kamalaśrī,” (Dampa Sangye) who relates the story in first person. The Sanskrit alphabet makes its first appearance in chapter three “from the vajra Body, Speech, and Mind of the emanated goddess.” This gives rise to the yab-yum in union and the mantras of empowerment, producing a stream of bodhicitta that matures all beings. Many mantras ensue, some familiar from the Ālikāli Tantra, as well as the distinctive five-fold path of Zhije. Three whole chapters (7–9) are given over to the explanation of the suchness of letters (yi ge’i de kho na nyid). And there is also an apparent “mantra puzzle” here, but I just can’t figure it out! It is tenuous to identify the mantras with those in the Ālikāli Tantra since the Tibetan phonetics for the Sanskrit of this text in particular seem quite corrupt. But, alas, this is a problem with most Tibetan phonetic reproductions where Devanāgarī is unavailable. And if the Sanskrit syllables really are doors to the vast absolute truth, this is extremely worrisome if not disastrous for the Tibetan practices based on alphabet and mantra!

The last chapter and the colophon, however, are surprisingly clear, giving an exact date, writing medium, and location. Spoken in a Pig Year, this would be 1107, if Dampa did die in 1117.[19] The tantra was “given to the ḍākinī herself where it remains as the secret treasure of the heart.” The colophon mentions Dampa’s monastery of Dingri Langkor by name, and that it was translated by “the Indian Khenpo Kamalaśrī and Tibetan translator Zhwa ma Ton pa seng ge gyal po,” who was known as Zhama Lotsāwa, Dampa’s regular translator.

Though these two tantras may well be apocryphal, the material in both is generally concordant with Buddhist tantra, yet specific to the Zhije practices. However, the specificity involves the doctrines that appear in the practice and commentarial tradition, particularly the five-fold path mentioned above, and not particularly in the syllable or mantra usage. Why is that? I propose that over time the magic of sound was less compelling to Tibetans than it had been to Indian tantrikas, and may have also generated some anxiety due to the problems of transliteration and pronunciation. The many lineages of Zhije have therefore privileged meditations such as mahāmudrā or tantric visualizations. Indicative of this, when Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was extracting “the essence” of the Ālikāli Tantra for inclusion in Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions, he chose only three chapters[20] which had minimal mantra and no non-lexical syllabary.

Or, when later commentators present the teachings that were passed to Bodhisattva Kunga, they expound only on the Red Guide, and yet the Black Guide (nag khrid) is where the alphabet teachings are found. Have those been lost? I have so far only found a few scraps regarding this practice, and then in a seemingly negative light. For example, in a question and answer session with Bodhisattva Kunga in one text, a disciple asks about the Black Guide and the stains that will arise from it. The short and remarkable answer is:

What the Black Guide does is illuminate (gsal ‘debs) the letters of forgetfulness tokens (brjed rdo’i yi ge) as imprints on white paper, as it’s called. [When] the instructions of the hearing (“earhole”; snyan khungs) lineage (rgyud for brgyud) have been written down as letter drawings (ris su song) it is a shame (lod). It is like the king degenerating into a commoner. [21]

The possible downfalls of the practice are numerous, including getting hung up on the letters because, of course, “there are no letters for the genuine meaning.” And “Fixating on the excellence of understanding the progression of words (tshig ‘dros), [one] does not look elsewhere, and that is a stain.” And so forth.

However, in the story of the lineage holder rGyal ba ten ne, the Black Guide was divided and granted to him in four separate cycles: the transmission (bka’ babs); the Stainless (dri med); the aural lineage (snyan brgyud); and the dohas of mahāmudrā.[22] If that’s generally the case, then in fact the Black Guide is all over the place and so pervasive that I missed it.

In conclusion, it has been very challenging to find the syllable practice in what’s left of the Zhije tradition, except in the empowerment conferral itself. No wonder it was a surprise as I was mumbling my way through coded phonemes of the empowerment.


After delivering this paper at the IATS conference in Bergen, an attendee very graciously offered some information of the kind I was desperately seeking in my research. It particularly concerned an observed and still current Vedic ritual in which the meanings to be conveyed to disciples are disallowed as script in any form other than alphabetic syllables for the purpose of recollection. I was referred to the work of William Sax at U. of Heidelberg and also of Frits Staal, in books such as his Ritual and Mantras: Words Without Meaning, and Discovering the Vedas Origins, Mantras, Rituals, and Insights. A paragraph from a review of the latter by Annette van der Hoek illustrates how very illuminating this information would have been:

“Part three explains, in quite some linguistic detail, that the syntactic structure of a mantra is, interestingly, often closer to birdsong than it is to natural language. this is demonstrated, for instance, in the use of sheer indefinite repetition – a,a,a,a,a –which is not a part of our everyday sentence construction and in the use of sequences – bha, bhu, bhi, bho – that again natural language wouldn’t feature except for maybe in a child’s play with words.”[23]



[1] “He came to Tibet five times. The first time he journeyed to Tsari via Drintang-la. He set foot in all areas of Do-Kham, predicting the spread of the doctrine there. The second time he came from Kasmir and arrived in Ngari, where he accepted as disciples Zhangzhung Lingkawa and Bönpo Trotsang Druklha. On the third visit he came from Nepal to Tsang and gave instructions to Yarlung Mara Serpo and Kyotön Sönam Lama [Machik’s guru]. On the fourth he arrived at Nyal [near Arunashal Pradesh border] via Sha-uk Tak and purified the obscurations of his mother (yum). In Central Tibet he benefited Ma [Chökyi Sherab], So [-chung Gendun Bar], and Kam [Yeshe Gyaltsen]. On the fifth visit he first went to China, where he stayed for twelve years before returning to Dingri [until his death 1117—20 yrs).”

[2] Ronald M. Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, p. 248: “The curiosity of Zhiché is not its multiple lineages but the fact that there seems go be no core teaching associated with the term Zhiché…”

[3] Zhi byed sgron ma skor gsum, here listed as sPyod pa’i sgron ma, Lam gyi sgron ma, and Thugs kyi sgron ma. But nine cycles (Zhi byed sgron ma skor dgu’i chos skor) are mentioned and listed in RHPS (488) and in BA (905-6) and even by Kongtrul himself in TOK 1:541. These can all be found in the Tengyur (Toh. 2315-2330), where they are attributed to Kamalaśila.

[4] See Kurtis Schaeffer’s Dreaming the Great Brahmin.

[5] Minling Lochen Dharmaśrī (1654–1717), Distilled Elixir: A Unified Collection of the Guidebooks of the Early, Middle, and Later Pacification. Zhi byed snga phyi bar gsum gyi khrid yig rnams phyogs gcig tu bsebs pa bdud rtsi’i nying khu by in DNZ vol. 13 (pa), p. 348.

[6] Dharmaśrī, Distilled Elixir, DNZ vol. 13 (pa), p. 352.

[7] Ibid. p. 354; and Jamgön Kongtrul, Treasury of Knowledge, Book Eight, Part Four Esoteric Instructions, trans. Sarah Harding, p.270.

[8] Kongtrul, ibid., p. 273.

[9] mKha’ ‘gro ma thams cad kyi thugs kyi gsang ba phyag chen brda’i rgyud in Bo dong Phyogs las rnam rgyal, De nyid ‘dus pa, the Collected Works published as Encyclopedia Tibetica, vol. 92, pp. 111–160.

[10] Possible Chu klung sna tshogs rol pa’i mdo, the Nānānadū sutra or Chu klung ba tsha’i mdo/Mūlanadī brought by Tönmi Sambhoṭa?

[11] Tashi Chöpel (bKra shis chos ’phel). Record of Teachings Received. ’Jam mgon kong sprul yon tan rgya mtshos dam pa’i chos rin po che mdo sngags rig gnas dang bcas pa ji ltar thos shing de dag gang las brgyud pa’i yi ge dgos ’dod kun ’byung nor bu’i bang mdzod. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2008

[12] Gö Lotsāwa: p 1134: shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i mdo nyid nas yi ge bzhi bcu rtsa gnyis kyi gzung kyi sgo bshad pa dang ‘gra ba’i phyir ro/

[13] “The middle transmission is the definitive meaning according mainly to the sutras. The last is for the most part in accordance with the mantra.” (Kongtrul, Treasury of Knowledge, vol. 3, p.542, my translation.)

[14] Richard Solomon, “New Evidence for a Gāndhārī Origin of the Arapacana Syllabary,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 110, No. 2, 1990; Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men, 2003, pp. 291–2, note 549. See also Jayarava, Visible Mantra: Visualizing and Writing Buddhist Mantras, 2011.

[15] Edward Conze’s translation in The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, p. 160.

[16] 84,000 online translation, “The Play in Full” accessed 05/30/16

[17] See Stephen Hodge, (trans.) The Mahā-Vairocana-abhisaṃbodhi Tantra with Buddhaguhya’s Commentary, pp. 216-232. (ch. 10). Said to be revealed around 640 CE.

[18] David Gray, The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, p. 133.

[19] The Tshig mdzod chen mo (pp. 3218–19) states that “some say” Pha Dampa Sangs rgyas died in the fire fowl year of 1117. But it also gives his departure date to China as 1101 and returned to Dingri in 1113 for the last time. Most accounts agree that he spent 12 years in China. That would only give him four years at Dingri until his supposed death, with no intervening Pig Year, which wouldn’t be until 1119. The dating remains to be clarified.

[20] Chapters 10 on the five paths, 17 on the empowerment and pledges, and 23 on view, meditation, conduct, and results. From his colophon: Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Essence of Precious Segments of the Inconceivable Secret Tantra Section, the Source Text of the Holy Dharma Pacification of Suffering. Dam chos sdug bsngal zhi byed kyi gzhung gsang ba bsam gyis mi khyab pa’i rgyud sde’i dum bu rin po che’i snying po. DNZ, vol. 13, p. 15.

[21] bDud rtsi zhun ma’i gdams pa, DV, ga, p. 97. Nag khrid bgyi ba brjed rdo’i yi ge’i gsal ‘debs / dkar shog la btabs pa la zer ba yin te / snyan khungs [b]rgyud pa’i gdams ngag yi ge’i ris su son bas lod de / rgyal po rmangs su babs pa lta bu yin / rgyal po rmangs (dmangs) su babs pa lta bu yin / Much thanks to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche for clarifying this passage. Personal interview, 06/04/16.

[22] Zhi byed bdud rtsi’i thigs pa’i gzhung yan lag lnga’i sgo nas rgyas par bshad pa, DV, vol. ga, p. 778.

[23] “‘Meaningless’ mantras and birdsong?: discovering the Vedas” The Newsletter, No. 53, Spring 2010: