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Tradition Building Processes among the Kagyüpas

Based on a Mid to Late-Thirteenth Century Manuscript of Jigten Sumgön’s dGongs gcig

With the purpose of providing philologically well-grounded research concerning tradition building processes among the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyüpa traditions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, three central questions will be considered in this project:

  •     Which sources served as supports for the Kagyüpa protagonists?
  •     How did they delimit themselves from competing groups?
  •     Which self-concept did they develop as a whole and in their sub-traditions?

The project builds on a text – the Single Intention (dGongs gcig) – that was first taught and set out in writing in 1226. It comes down to us through its commentary of 1267, available through a manuscript to be dated to 1290 at the latest. The work is the early and sole attempt of the Kagyüpas to define their positions regarding practically all aspects of their transmission in a single treatise. Its 190 theses, called “vajra-statements,” specify sources, draw lines of demarcation, and correct putatively errant concepts – also concerning its own tradition. Therefore, this text contributes in a unique way and to a considerable extent to solving the above three basic questions. A philological analysis and an investigation concerning the contents of this manuscript and the commentary contained in it are the two pillars of this project.

Special attention will be paid to the “anti-intellectual” ideology of transmission of the Kagyüpas that formulates the idea of a non-verbal and non-conceptual epiphanic guru-adept encounter charged with charisma, self-sacrifice, and secrecy. In this encounter, “spiritual realisation” is transmitted to the adept in the manner of “a perfect mould and workable clay.” This ideology that follows the Indian Siddha ideal, however, is here, in the “later dissemination of the teachings” of the “new translation period,” embedded within the ethical monastic practice that has been introduced to the Kagyüpa tradition by Gampopa, who originally had belonged to the Kadampa school. This influence has significantly contributed to the enduring success of the Kagyüpas. It will, in particular, be the task of this project to demonstrate that these and other characteristics of the so-called “confluence of the two streams” of Kadampa and Kagyüpa clearly come to light for the first time in the dGongs gcig. Another task of the project will be to show how this merging of the two traditions facilitates the process of discovering a self-concept among Kagyüpas.

Three main topics will be investigated in the dGongs gcig:

  1. The integration of the Vinaya in the yogic tradition of the Kagyüpas,
  2. the relocation of bodhisattva ethics as strictly based on the Pratimoksha, and
  3. the meditative training, experience, and realisation of Mahamudra as a non-verbal, non-conceptual epiphanic encounter of guru and adept charged with charisma and devotion, which is furthermore characterized by an exclusive gradualism, a purification process where the fruit is “the result of separation (from afflictions and veils),” and a spontaneous accomplishment and manifestation at any given moment (depending on the strength of the practitioner’s efforts).


11-2018 - 10-2022

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