Week 8

Week 8: The Kagyu Sprawl, the Great Seal (Mahāmudrā) & the Question of Religious Experience


This week looks at the Kagyu Tradition, the most internally complex and sprawling of Sarma sectarian developments. We will focus in particular on the tension between Siddha and monastic movements, and between meditation and scholastic movements. The tension between monastic-based scholastic movements, and more lay-based tantric movements can be seen in the controversies between Sakya Pandita and Zhang Rinpoche of the Kagyu tradition. In addition, there are interesting scholarly tensions between modern scholars writing on these issues such as David Jackson and Dan Martin respectively. We will also look at the issue of tantra transcendent movements - The Great Seal (Mahamudra, phyag rgya chen po), Pacifying/cutting (zhi byed, gcod), and especially the Great Perfection (Dzokchen, rdzogs chen). The Great Seal was advocated above all by the Kagyu tradition. Here we will begin to look at what would I classify as th third age of Tantra in India - movements which use deconstructive languages of "unsaying" to commit the ultimate transgression in which even tantra is transcended. The two movements that became important in Tibet were the the Mahāmudrā and the Great Perfection. In addition to trying to come to terms with the significance of such negative rhetoric in Tibet, we will look at Tibetan critiques or polemics against such movements with an emphasis on the bKa' gdams pa movement inspired by Atisha and the Sa skya Paṇḍita.

Required Readings

Blue Annals: Fragment #8: A Section on The So-called Dakpo Kagyü lineages transmitted from the Sovereign Great Translator Marpa; Dum bu #8 (483-848): mnga' bdag lo tsā ba chen po mar pa nas brgyud d dwags po bka' bgyud ces grags pa'i skabs & Fragment #9: A Section on Kodrakpa and Nigu(ma); Dum bu #9 (851-880): ko brag pa dang, ni gu'i skabs; Fragment #11 (tr. 839-866, PRC 983-1011): A Section on the Great Seal (Mahāmudrā); Dum bu #11 phyag rgya chen po'i skabs

In fact chapter 9 is primarily concerned with Khyungpo Neljor (khyung po rnal ‘byor), who claimed to be transmitting traditions obtained from Niguma, a shadowy figured described as the sister or consort of the famous Indian siddha, Nāropa. These lineages came to form the basis for the so-called Shangpa (shangs pa) subset of the Kagyü traditions. Although referred to in the title, Kodrakpa is the subject only of the first few

Jackson, David (1994a). external link: Enlightenment by a Single Means: Tibetan Controversies on the "Self-Sufficient White Remedy (dkar po chig thub). Pp. 1-122. The associated translations with Tibetan are on pp. 147-188. This deals with the early controversies surrounding the bKa' brgyud Mahāmudrā traditions of sGam po pa (1079-1153) and bLa ma zhang tshal pa (1123-1193) as critiqued by Sa skya Pa˚˜ita kun dga' rgyal mtshan (1182-1251).

Gyatso, Janet. "Healing Burns with Fire: The Facilitations of Experience in Tibetan Buddhism." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67.1 (1999): 113-147. external link: Download here.

Martin, Daniel (1996). Wrapping Your Own head. Problems of Context and Individuality as Pre- and Post-Considerations for Translating the Path of Ultimate Profundity, the Great Seal Instructions of Zhang, a Twelfth-century Tibetan verse Compendium of Oral Instructions of Mahamudra". In Translating, Translations, Translators from India to the West, Enrica Garzilli, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, pp. 59-73. external link: Download here.

Additional Bibliographical Resources

Martin, Dan (1992). “A Twelfth-century Tibetan Classic of Mahamudra”. external link: Download here.

Sharf, Robert H. "Experience". In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor, Chicago: The University of chicago Press, pp. 94-116. external link: Download here.

Kapstein, Matthew (1992). “The Illusion of Spiritual Progress”, in Robert Buswell, ed., Paths to Liberation, pp. 193-224. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. On e-reserve Toolkit for RELB 549 Fall 2000.

Martin, Bonpo book dgongs gcig section point out Davidson sections again

Student Generated Content

Discussion Questions

The controversy of the Single White Remedy: Noting that some authors are accused (in order to damage their credibility) of using Chinese sources textually and in practice (ie: transmission from Moheyan), why is Gampopa comfortable with attributing some of his practice to Chinese aprocryphal texts, when for others this essentially demonstrates the inauthenticity of the text/practice itself?