Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Book of Kadam - Introduction

The Core Texts


Tārā proclaimed:“O Avalokiteśvara, most excellent son,
I will protect your followers.
Take this instruction of mine
And reveal it to those who follow you.”
The Book of Kadam

Any observant person who has visited a traditional Tibetan community, whether in Tibet itself or in an exile community in India or Nepal, will notice that among the multitude of deities that form the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, two figures stand out with respect to people’s devotion. They are Avalokiteśvara, the buddha of compassion whom Tibetans reverently call Chenresik (“the lord who gazes at beings with his eyes”), and Tārā (Drölma, “the savioress”). These two deities are renowned throughout the Tibetan Buddhist cultural sphere—from easternmost Tibet, which borders China proper, to the western regions near Ladakh, Kashmir, and Pakistan, and from Central Asia in the north to the trans-Himalayan regions of the Indian subcontinent in the south. Avalokiteśvara’s famous six-syllable mantra, oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, is so ubiquitous throughout the Tibetan cultural sphere that it may be one of the most-repeated strings of letters in human history. The Tibetans’ deep devotion to Avalokiteśvara is never complete, however, without their affection for goddess Tārā, his partner in caring for and saving the world. Just as every devout Tibetan knows and recites the famous six-syllable mantra, so, too, most of them know and chant hymns to the twenty-one Tārās. Similarly, where one finds an icon of Avalokiteśvara, one also likely finds an icon of Tārā in her distinctive posture, seated with her left leg folded and right leg extended. With her two hands in the teaching gesture, or mudra, she holds in her right fingers the stem of a blue lotus that blooms near her right shoulder. Inextricably linked with the flourishing of Avalokiteśvara and Tārā worship in Tibet is the story of the Bengali master Atiśa Dīpaṃkara (982–1054) and his interaction with his principal Tibetan disciple Dromtön Gyalwai Jungné (1005–64), the subject of The Book of Kadam, or simply “the book.”

According to traditional biographies of Atiśa, as conveyed through Gya Tsöndrü Sengé (eleventh century) and, later, Naktso Lotsāwa Tsültrim Gyalwa (1011–64), it was at Tārā’s urging that the Indian master finally accepted the persistent invitations of the Ngari rulers in Tibet. It was also Tārā who, according to tradition, prophesized Atiśa’s meeting with his spiritual heir, Dromtönpa. As we see in the epigraph above, Tārā also offered her solemn pledge to protect all those who follow Avalokiteśvara, who the book identifies with Dromtönpa himself. These and many other aspects of the story of Atiśa’s coming to Tibet—his devotion to Avalokiteśvara and Tārā, and, more importantly, his special relationship with Dromtönpa—left a lasting imprint upon the Tibetan people and the fate of Buddhism in Tibet. Soon after Master Atiśa’s death in 1054, and especially after Dromtönpa’s founding of Radreng Monastery not far from the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa in 1056, the followers of this Bengali master came to be identified as the Kadam school. The epithet kadam (bka’ gdams) distinguishes its followers as those who understand the sacred words of the Buddha in terms of Atiśa’s instructions.

Perhaps the most important legacy of the book, at least for the Tibetan people as a whole, is that it laid the foundation for the later identification of Avalokiteśvara with the lineage of the Dalai Lama, who continually enacts the solemn pledge of this compassionate deity to accord special care for the people of the “Land of Snows.” Although Avalokiteśvara was propitiated in Tibet before the tenth century, and although the designation of the seventh-century Tibetan emperor, Songtsen Gampo, as an embodiment of Avalokiteśvara most probably predates Atiśa’s arrival in Tibet, the available textual evidence points strongly toward the eleventh and twelfth centuries as the period during which the full myth of Avalokiteśvara special destiny with Tibet was established. During this era, the belief that this compassionate spirit intervenes in the fate of the Tibetan people by manifesting as benevolent rulers and teachers took firm root. It is also becoming increasingly clear that Atiśa played a crucial role in the propagation, if not development, of the key elements of these myths. The story of the The Book of Kadam is part of that overall story, one that indelibly shaped the self-identity of the Tibetan people and their understanding of Tibet’s place in the world.

Master Atiśa and His Teaching Legacy

Atiśa came to Tibet in the summer of the water-horse year, 1042, first to the kingdom of Ngari in western Tibet. For the Tibetans this was an occasion for celebration, as it marked the culmination of years of sacrifice of both personal and material resources aimed at bringing an Indian master of such stature to Tibet. On the Nepalese side of the border, the master was received by a welcoming party of around three hundred horsemen from Tibet, recalling the Tibetan reception of the grand abbot Śāntarakṣita several centuries earlier. By then, Atiśa must already have been familiar with the historical outline of Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism: the role of the famous Indian Buddhist philosopher Śāntarakṣita, especially his introduction of the monastic order; the founding of the first monastery, Samyé; and the early Tibetan translators’ efforts in transmitting classical Buddhist texts. According to the traditional hagiographical sources, Atiśa was explicitly invited to “revive” and “restore” the Buddhadharma in Tibet in the wake of its “adulteration” with all sorts of misconceptions—both deliberate and out of ignorance—of the scriptures, especially those of the esoteric Vajrayana class.

It is telling that when the Ngari ruler Lha Jangchup Ö requested Atiśa for a formal teaching, as attested in the colophon to Atiśa’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradıpa), the Tibetan ruler asked for a teaching that would be beneficial for the survival of the Buddhadharma as a whole. According to one source, Jangchup Ö made the following plea: “Instead of some so-called profound or amazing teachings, pray sustain us in the land of Tibet with the teaching of karma and its effects,” to which the master replied with great delight, “The law of karma and its effects alone is the most profound teaching.” Then, recounting several tales of how even some advanced yogis who had experienced visions of their meditation deities suffered grave consequences as a result of defying the law of karma, Atiśa is said to have consented to nurture the people of Tibet with teachings on karma. In this way, Atiśa came to be known, in addition to his previous appellation as the “teacher of awakening mind,” as the “teacher of karma and its effects.” Thus began Atiśa’s mission in Tibet.

Atiśa is perhaps revered most for his genius in distilling the essence of all the teachings of the Buddha within the framework of a single aspirant’s path. His Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment organizes the entire corpus of the Buddhist teachings into what he calls the practices relevant to “the persons of three scopes” or “three capacities”—initial, intermediate, and great. This revolutionary approach enabled the Tibetans to understand the heterogeneous literature of the Indian Buddhist sources in their appropriate contexts and to integrate that knowledge meaningfully within meditative practice. Over time an entire genre of literature evolved in Tibet on the basis of Atiśa’s seminal works, collectively known as stages of the path or lamrim. A key feature of the lamrim texts is their graduated approach to the Buddhist path. Within this genre are two broad subdivisions, namely: (1) lamrim proper, the texts that stay close to the three capacities schema of Atiśa’s Lamp, and (2) stages of the doctrine (tenrim), the texts that emphasize understanding the diverse elements of the doctrine within the larger framework of the Buddha’s teaching.

The earliest examples of lamrim texts are notes based on Naktso Lotsāwa’s teachings, Potowa’s (1027–1105) Blue Udder and Teaching in Similes, as well as various notes drawn from Neusurpa’s instructions. Gönpawa Wangchuk Gyaltsen (1016–82) is said to have composed a lamrim based on the teachings he received directly from Atiśa, and there also appears to have been a lamrim by Ngok Lekpai Sherap (1018–1115) based on Khutön Tsöndrü Yungdrung’s (1011–75) teachings. Following Tsongkhapa’s (1357–1419) composition of the influential classic, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, not only did the stages of the path become a defining mark of the Geluk school, but the very term lamrim came to be almost equivalent to Tsongkhapa’s texts on the subject. As for the stages of the doctrine genre, perhaps the earliest work is Ngok Lekpai Sherap’s Six Stanzas on the Stages of the Doctrine and its commentarial expositions, especially those of Ngok Loden Sherap (1059–1109) and his student Drolungpa (eleventh–twelfth centuries), the latter composing the monumental Great Treatise on the Stages of the Doctrine. In addition there are the various notes scribed on the basis of Laksorpa’s teachings as well as Naljorpa’s (eleventh century) Instructions on the Entering and Departing Cyclic Existence.

The second genre of literature that evolved in Tibet from Atiśa’s teachings is the cycle of mind training (lojong) texts, the most well known of which are Atiśa’s own Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland (reproduced in this volume), Langri Thangpa’s (1054–1123) Eight Verses on Mind Training, and the Seven-Point Mind Training, which is traditionally attributed to Chekawa (1101–75). I have argued elsewhere that the origin of the Tibetan mind training teachings may well have been a compilation of pithy sayings Master Atiśa spoke to different people on different occasions. The focal point of mind training teachings is the cultivation of the awakening mind (bodhicitta), especially in the tradition of Śāntideva’s (eighth century) equalizing and exchanging self and others. Furthermore, unlike the stages of the path teachings, mind training emphasizes the use of pithy sayings and a direct approach in dealing with the obstacles to developing the awakening mind. A central element in the mind training teachings is the commemoration of Atiśa’s long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra and his special reverence for the master he met there, Serlingpa, his principal teacher on the awakening mind.

Early historical and biographical sources also show that Atiśa not only taught important Indian Buddhist philosophical classics, especially Bhāvaviveka’s (fifth century) Blaze of Reasoning, an exposition of Nāgārjuna’s (second century) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, he also composed philosophical works of his own, especially on the subject of the Middle Way doctrine of emptiness. The Indian master’s philosophical legacy was ensured when one of his key Tibetan disciples, Ngok Lekpai Sherap, founded Sangphu Monastery, which soon became the most important center of philosophical learning in Tibet. This was followed by the founding of yet another important philosophical center of learning—namely, Narthang Monastery, established in 1153 by Tumtön Lodrö Drak (ca. 1106–66). These two monastic centers came to dominate the study of classical Indian Buddhist learning, especially in epistemology, Abhidharma psychology and phenomenology, the scholastic inquiry into the perfection of wisdom literature, and the Middle Way philosophy of emptiness.

Atiśa also wrote extensively on Buddhist Vajrayana practice, including ritual and meditation texts on the meditation deities Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Avalokiteśvara, and Tārā. He penned evocative tantric diamond songs, some of which echo the metaphors, themes, and emotive tones of the well-known dohā cycles of songs attributed to the Indian Buddhist mystic Saraha (ca. tenth century), Today, most Tibetan Buddhist schools have numerous lineages of Vajrayana practice that trace their transmission to Atiśa. Perhaps Atiśa’s greatest contribution to Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet is his personal involvement in the translation into Tibetan of many important Indian Vajrayana texts.

The Blue Annals contains a curious remark regarding Atiśa’s Vajrayana legacy purportedly uttered by Tibet’s beloved poet-saint Milarepa to his disciple Gampopa (1079–1153): “Although the Kadampas [i.e., Kadam followers] have essential instructions (dam ngag), they possess no oral instructions (man ngag). A demon must have possessed Tibetans’ hearts, preventing Master Atiśa from teaching secret mantra, for had he been allowed to, Tibet would today be filled with accomplished adepts.” We also find in Chim Namkha Drak’s (1210–85) Biography of Master Atiśa a passage dealing with this supposed barring of Atiśa from teaching secret mantra in Tibet. In response to Drom’s request not to establish a new monastic line of the Mahāsaªghika order, Atiśa is reported as speaking in exasperation, “I have no authority to teach the secret mantra vows or the dohā [cycle of] diamond songs. If I neither have the authority to establish a monastic line, then my journey to Tibet has been pointless!”

In general, I do not think the available textual evidence suggests Dromtönpa prevented Atiśa from teaching Vajrayana; if anything, the sources indicate otherwise. Not only is Drom listed in the lineage of the transmission of several Vajrayana practices stemming from Atiśa, especially those that relate to Avalokiteśvara, Drom also appears to have helped translate some of these Vajrayana texts into Tibetan. It does seem, however, that Drom may have discouraged Atiśa, and especially his immediate disciples, from disseminating too publicly the teachings belonging to the so-called mother tantras. In doing so, not only was Drom following in the noble tradition of the early Tibetan monarchs, who imposed restrictions on the dissemination of the highest yoga class of tantra, but also, more importantly, he may have been keeping vigilant about one of the express purposes of bringing Atiśa to Tibet—to help reform and restore the Buddhadharma in light of the misconstrual and abuse of some Vajrayana teachings, especially sexual practices.

Perhaps the most intriguing set of teachings that traces its origin to Master Atiśa is the collection enshrined in two large volumes known together as The Book of Kadam, excerpts of which are translated in the present volume. This cycle of texts, as I’ve noted, relates Atiśa’s special relationship with his spiritual heir, Dromtönpa, and highlights many of the more mystical aspects of Atiśa’s legacy in Tibet, especially his veneration of Avalokiteśvara and his propitiation of Tārā. Known as Atiśa and Dromtönpa’s “secret teachings” (gsang chos), they outline a unique practice called the sevenfold divinity and teaching. This teaching is centered on the choice of four meditation deities—(1) the Buddha as the teacher, (2) Avalokiteśvara as the deity of compassion, (3) Tārā as the goddess of enlightened action, and (4) Acala as the protector guardian—and the three scriptural baskets of discipline, knowledge, and meditation. This set of teachings is significant in the ways it creates a shift in focus. For example, with respect to the teacher, the focus of importance shifts from Master Atiśa to Dromtönpa; with respect to land, it shifts from India as the land of Dharma to Tibet as a place of special significance connected with Avalokiteśvara; and with regard to teachings, the focus shifts from the teaching of classical Indian scriptures and treatises to the direct and oral teachings of the masters, especially as revealed in mystic visionary states. Even in the style of language employed, there is a shift from classical composition to a more informal style, with greater use of vernacular Tibetan.

The Kadam Tradition

The Tibetan followers of the Indian master found a locus for their identification as members of a distinct community when Dromtönpa founded Radreng Monastery in 1056, about two years after Atiśa’s death. These members came to decribe themselves as the Kadampas, a designation composed of two words covering a wide semantic range—ka (bka’) refers to sacred words or speech, and dam (gdams or dam) can refer either to advice and instruction, or to the verbs “to bind” and “to choose.” Lechen Künga Gyaltsen, a fifteenth-century historian of Kadam, offers four different explanations. First, Kadam may be defined as “those who integrate the essence of the entire three baskets of Buddhist scripture within the framework of the path of the three scopes and for whom all the scriptures of the Buddha appear as personal instructions.” This interpretation is said to be based on the following statement attributed to Dromtönpa:

The wondrous sacred words are the three baskets of scripture,
Which are enriched by the instructions on [the path of] the three capacities.
This precious Kadam [tradition] is a golden rosary,
And those who count its beads make their lives meaningful.

According to the second interpretation of the meaning of Kadam, the tradition is so called “because the founding father of Kadam, Dromtönpa, chose, in accordance with the sacred instruction of Master Atiśa, the sevenfold divinity and teaching as his principal practice.” A third interpretation is that when Master Atiśa was residing at Nyethang, his disciples accorded great authority to his sacred words, so they came to be known as “Kadampas,” who hold the sacred words as binding. The final interpretation is that the Kadampas are guided by the three baskets of scripture in their overall Dharma practice and approach Vajrayana teachings and practices circumspectly.

On the other hand, Tsuklak Trengwa, the author of the well-known historical work A Feast for the Learned, identifies two meanings of the term and states that both of these interpretations can be found in The Book of Kadam. The first is that they are so-called because they uphold the Buddha’s sacred words as personal instructions. Second, in that Dromtönpa selected the four divinities as meditation deities and the two awakening minds as the main practice, his followers were called Kadampas.

Atiśa’s Tibetan disciples include most Tibetan masters of the period. Among them, three stand out as his principal students in central Tibet. Known as “the trio Khu, Ngok, and Drom,” they are, respectively: Khutön Tsöndrü Yungdrung, Ngok Lepai Sherap, and Dromtönpa. Most early sources agree that it was Dromtönpa who, as prophesized by Tārā, became Atiśa’s chosen heir and thereby effectively the founder of the Kadam school. Over time Atiśa’s other students became Dromtönpa’s students as well. Chief among Dromtönpa’s students were the “three Kadam brothers”—Potowa Rinchen Sal, Chengawa Tsültrim Bar (1033–1103), and Phu-chungwa Shönu Gyaltsen (1031–1106)—who effectively came to be recognized as “the entrusted holders of the lineage” (bka’ babs kyi brgyud ’dzin). Potowa became the entrusted custodian of Atiśa’s teachings on the authoritative treatises (gzhung), while Chengawa became the custodian of the teachings embodied in the essential instructions (gdams ngag). Sometimes, Phuchungwa is listed as a third entrusted custodian and is seen as responsible for the “Kadam lineage of oral instructions” (man ngag) as embodied in The Book of Kadam. Other authors distinguish the following three lineages in the transmission of Atiśa and Dromtönpa’s Kadam teachings: (1) the Kadam lineage of authoritative treatises stemming from Potowa, (2) the Kadam lineage of essential instructions stemming from Chengawa, and (3) the Kadam lineage of the stages of the path stemming from Gönpawa.

Potowa’s Kadam lineage of authoritative treatises emphasizes the approach of grounding all of Master Atiśa and Dromtönpa’s spiritual legacy, especially the study and practice of Atiśa’s seminal work Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, in a close study of what came to be called the “six authoritative treatises of Kadam.” They are: (1) Asaṅga’s (fourth century) Bodhisattva Levels, (2) Maitreya’s (ca. fourth century) Ornament of Mahayana Sutras, (3) Śāntideva’s (eighth century) Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and (4) Compendium of Trainings, (5) Āryaśūra’s (ca. fourth century) Garland of Birth Stories, and (6) the Collection of Aphorisms, attributed to the historical Buddha. The studies of these treatises are complemented with further Indian Buddhist classics like Nāgārjuna’s (second century) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, his Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness, and Atiśa’s Entry into the Two Truths and An Instruction on the Middle Way. In contrast, Chengawa’s Kadam lineage of essential instructions emphasizes an approach whereby Atiśa’s essential instructions, rather than classical treatises, are the key basis for practice. These instructions include the guide on the four truths as transmitted through Chengawa, the guide on the two truths as transmitted through Naljorpa, and the guide on dependent origination as transmitted through Phuchungwa. Finally, the Kadam lineage of oral transmissions as enshrined in The Book of Kadam was transmitted through Phuchungwa.

The fifteenth-century Kadam historian Sönam Lhai Wangpo lists the following lineages of Master Atiśa’s teachings: (1) Atiśa’s teachings as transmitted through his chosen heir, Dromtönpa, based at Radreng, which then branches into the three well-known Kadam lineages of: (i) authorative treatises stemming from Potowa, (ii) essential instructions stemming from Chengawa, and (iii) stages of the path teachings stemming either from Gönpawa or from Naktso Lotsāwa and Laksorwa; (2) Atiśa’s teaching legacy as transmitted through Ngok Lekpai Sherap, which branches into two main strands: (i) the Sangphu lineage as transmitted through the famed translator Loden Sherap, and (ii) the lineage of The Book of Kadam as transmitted through Sherap Gyaltsen; and (3) Atiśa’s legacy as transmitted through Naktso Lotsāwa, whose main successor was Laksorwa. It was through Laksorwa’s main disciple, Jayülwa (the founder of Jayül Monastery), that the transmissions of Atiśa’s biographical works as well as instructions on the stages of the path flourished. Naktso’s lineage also includes transmissions of Atiśa’s teachings on the highest yoga class of tantra, such as Guhyasamāja and on various aspects of Avalokiteśvara practice.

In summing up the influence of the Kadam tradition on Tibetan Buddhism as a whole, the author of the influential Blue Annals states:

In general, during Master Atiśa’s thirteen years in Tibet, a vast number received essential instructions from him and attained higher qualities [of Dharma]; their precise number cannot be calculated. In Tsang is the trio Gar, Gö, and Yöl, while in central Tibet is the trio Khu, Ngok, and Drom. These are [masters] with great fame. Here, however, I have given a broad account of the spiritual mentors whose lineage stems from Drom and [whose names] I have seen myself. Otherwise, in most of the biographies of spiritual mentors who had appeared in Tibet subsequently as well as the yogis who have engaged in the life of an adept, they all appeared to have studied at the feet of a Kadam spiritual mentor. Therefore, Drom was someone whose enlightened activities were extensive and long lasting.

One intriguing issue in the history of the Kadam school is its disappearance. Although more research is needed to confirm this, it seems that by the end of sixteenth century, Kadam effectively ceased to be a distinct school. This may partly be due to the tremendous success of the custodians of Atiśa and Dromtönpa’s teachings, on account of which all the key elements of the Kadam teachings became incorporated into the teachings of the other Tibetan schools. Partly, it may be the result of the rapid growth of Tsongkhapa’s “new Kadam school,” whose followers came to be known as Gandenpa (Gelukpa), named after Ganden Monastery, founded in 1409. We know, for example, that over time the different colleges of Kadam’s famous philosophical monastery, Sangphu, came to be run by the Sakya or the Geluk school. In addition, according to one eighteenth-century source, many of the Kadam monasteries had turned into nunneries, although Radreng and Narthang survived as Kadam monasteries.

The Book of Kadam

In its present version, the heart of The Book of Kadam is two distinct but interrelated sets of teachings, enshrined in volumes 1 and 2, respectively. The first is the Father Teachings, so called because the teachings contained therein were given in response to questions posed to Master Atiśa by father Dromtönpa, while the second is the Son Teachings, teachings given in response to questions posed by Atiśa and Drom’s spiritual sons, Ngok Lekpai Sherap and Khutön Tsöndrü Yungdrung. On one level, the so-called Book of Kadam can be viewed as an extended commentary on a standard Indian Buddhist work, albeit one composed in Tibet. Here I am referring to Atiśa’s Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland, twenty-six stanzas that ostensibly outline the outlook and practices of a bodhisattva, a buddha-to-be who dedicates his or her entire being to the altruistic ideal of bringing about others’ welfare. In fact, the core of the book, both the Father Teachings and the Son Teachings, is framed as instructions, comments, and reflections on specific lines of Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland.

For instance, The Jewel Garland of Dialogues, the core text of the Father Teachings, consists of twenty-three chapters, each citing a specific section of Atiśa’s root text as a conclusion and sometimes as an opening statement as well. The Son Teachings, a collection of stories of Dromtönpa’s former lives, is reminiscent of the well-known Jātaka Tales, the Buddha’s birth stories. Each chapter opens with a citation of a passage from the root text and a request—from Ngok Lekpai Sherap, in the case of the first twenty chapters, and from Khutön, in the case of the last two chapters— on how to relate the cited passage to Dromtönpa’s past lives. However, to view the core texts of the book as a standard text commentary would miss the point about these teachings. At best, Atiśa’s root text is like a springboard, a literary device to trigger a whole host of issues pertaining to Buddhist thought and practice in Tibet. Of special focus for the Father Teachings is the critical question of how to balance and integrate the foundational Mahayana teachings with the esoteric Vajrayana practices. The Son Teachings, on the other hand, deal primarily with Dromtönpa’s identification with Avalokiteśvara and the latter’s special affinity with the Land of Snows.

The literary style of the first thirteen chapters of the Father Teachings maintains a consistent eight-syllable or seven-syllable verse with an occasional sojourn into explanatory prose, which often indicates important stages in the dialogue between Atiśa and Dromtönpa. Though retaining a strong oral flavor, these chapters contain some of the most evocative literary verses found in Tibetan literature. They are vibrant, immediate, poignant, and convey a profound spirituality. Often, they are tinged with a wonderful humor and irony. The verses are most evocative when addressing the ever-present theme of the illusion-like nature of reality. The use of puns, iteration, paradoxes, and other literary devices suggests that the verses are authentic creations of a native speaker (or speakers). Chapter 14 begins with an explicit change of voice: “Now the time has come to speak in plain vernacular Tibetan.” The chapter then proceeds with rapid verbal exchanges back and forth between Atiśa and Dromtönpa, where most of the exchanges are one-line sentences, a style maintained in both chapters 14 and 15. Chapter 16 is a mixture of verse, one-line exchanges, and repetitive passages in prose giving an idealized image of the landscape around Yerpa, the site where the dialogues supposedly took place. The remaining chapters return somewhat to the original style of eightor seven-syllable verses. Each chapter ends with Dromtönpa summarizing the exchanges in a series of questions and answers, citing relevant lines from Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland.

The literary format for the Son Teachings is very different. Although invoking the Buddha’s famous Jātaka Tales, each birth story begins with a stanza from Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland followed by a request by Ngok (or, in two cases, Khutön) to recount the story of a former life of Dromtönpa in relation to the cited stanza. Although written mostly in prose, the chapters often contain memorable verses as well.

A Summary of the Father and Son Teachings

The Father Teachings

The heart of the meditative practice presented in the Father Teachings is known as the practice of the five recollections, an instruction encapsulated in the following verse attributed to Tārā:

Recall your teachers, the source of refuge;
See your body in the nature of meditation deities;
With speech, make your mantra recitations constant;
Contemplate all beings as your parents;
Experience the nature of your mind as empty.
On the basis of these five factors,
Make pure all roots of virtue.

These five recollections are presented in the book as unfolding as follows: by reflecting upon the enlightened examples of your teachers, profound feelings of admiration and devotion arise from your very depths such that even the hairs on your body stand on end. On this basis, next you, together with all sentient beings, go for refuge to the Three Jewels and ensure that you will never be separated from the practice of the deity yoga whereby you arise as the mandalas of the four divinities—the Buddha, Avalokiteśvara, Acala, and Tārā. Then, on the basis of contemplating all beings as your kind parents, you generate the awakening mind for the benefit of these beings and abide in the meditative equipoise (samādhi) of the ultimate awakening mind, wherein emptiness and compassion are fused in nondual unity. In the periods subsequent to the actual meditation sessions, you then cultivate the perspective of seeing all phenomena, including your own self, as illusion-like, as seemingly real yet devoid of any substantiality.

The book begins in chapter 1 with a string of salutations to the masters of the three principal lineages—the profound view of emptiness stemming from Mañjuśrī and Nāgārjuna, the vast practices stemming from Maitreya and Asaṅga, and the inspirational blessings stemming from Vajradhara and Saraha—up to the key teachers of Atiśa. In chapter 2, Atiśa then specifies his preferred divinities in the context of the second recollection—recalling one’s body as divinities—and makes the well-known selection of Buddha, Acala, Avalokiteśvara, and Tārā as the four gods of Kadam. At one point in the text, in the course of conversations between Atiśa and Dromtönpa on the four divinities, Dromtönpa’s heart opens up and miraculously reveals progressively the entire realm of the Buddha Śākyamuni, the realm of Avalokiteśvara, the realm of Tārā, and finally the realm of Acala. It is here that we also find explicit mention of Avalokiteśvara’s famous six-syllable mantra, oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ.

This deity yoga, in its developed form, came to be referred to as the practice of the sixteen drops, which is explained in some detail in Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen’s Elucidation of the Heart-Drop Practice (entry IV in part 1 of this volume). The sixteen drops are:

1. The drop of the outer inconceivable array
2. The drop of this Endurance World
3. The drop of the realm of Tibet
4. The drop of one’s abode and the drawn mandala
5. The drop of Perfection of Wisdom Mother
6. The drop of her son, Buddha Śākyamuni
7. The drop of Great Compassion
8. The drop of Wisdom Tārā
9. The drop of her wrathful form
10. The drop of Acala, their immutable nature
11. The drop of Atiśa
12. The drop of Dromtön Gyalwai Jungné
13. The drop of the vast practice
14. The drop of the profound view
15. The drop of the inspirational practice
16. The drop of great awakening

The idea of the sixteen-drops practice is fairly straightforward. Like a powerful camera lens zooming from the widest possible angle to a progressively smaller focus and, finally, to a tiny point, the meditation becomes increasingly focused, moving from the entire cosmos to this world in particular, to the realm of Tibet, to the practitioner’s own dwelling, and finally culminating within your own body. Within your body, you then visualize inside your heart the Perfection of Wisdom Mother, within whose heart is her son, Buddha Śākyamuni. Within the Buddha’s heart is Great Compassion Avalokiteśvara, within whose heart is Tārā, and so on, continuing with wrathful Tārā, Acala, Atiśa, and Dromtönpa. Within Dromtönpa’s heart you then visualize Maitreya surrounded by the masters of the lineage of vast practice. In his heart you visualize Nāgārjuna surrounded by the masters of the lineage of profound view; and within his heart you visualize Vajradhara surrounded by the masters of the lineage of inspirational practice.

Finally, inside Vajradhara’s heart, you visualize yourself as a buddha, embodying all three buddha bodies, and within your heart is a white drop the size of a mustard seed. This seed increases in size and turns into a vast radiant jewel container at the center of which your mind is imagined as a yellow drop the size of a pea. This, in turn, increases in size and turns into an ocean of drops the color of refined gold; the ocean is transparent, smooth, resolute, vast, and pervasive, and it reflects all forms. You then rest your mind, without wavering, upon this drop of great awakening, fused, and free of any sense of subject-object duality.

In chapter 3, we find the teachings of the three scriptural baskets—the other half of the sevenfold divinity and teaching. Emphasizing the three baskets as the key to understanding the Buddha’s teachings, Atiśa shows how the three baskets encompass all the teachings of the Buddha, including secret mantra. He is also reported as stating that the teaching of the three baskets is highly profitable and has minimal risks. After this advice, the text puts this endorsement in the mouth of the four divinities:

Most excellent one, you who care for the common purpose,
Discipline teachings produce the highest divinity of the ethically disciplined;
Sutra teachings produce the highest divinity of the noble ones;
Knowledge teachings produce the highest divinity of the conquerors.
This is so from the perspective of their principal [functions].
In reality, all three teachings produce supreme conquerors.

These baskets of knowledge teachings lack nothing.
Through excellent instructions revealing the path of the three trainings
Emerge innumerable trainees with pure mental streams.
Your choice of profound sacred words is unmistaken, O master.
They are secure throughout all three times—beginning, middle, and end.
May all be blessed to possess these three teachings.

The book then goes on, in chapter 4, to explain how joyful perseverance is crucial for success in practicing the three baskets. Chapter 5 presents a series of disciplines whereby the practitioner learns to guard his or her senses against distraction and unwholesome objects, thereby maintaining meditative focus on the themes of the three baskets within the framework of the three levels of practitioners. In his summation of the chapter, Drom calls the approach the “method of contemplating the divinity and the teaching.”

Chapters 6 to 11 present various elements of the practice, such as: recognizing that self-cherishing is to blame for all our problems and cultivating the altruistic outlook that perceives others as a source of kindness (chapter 6), the ethical practice of refraining from the ten unwholesome actions (chapter 7), the futility of pursuing material wealth and the need to cultivate the riches of the noble ones (chapter 8), the importance of finding a place of solitude (chapter 9), the importance of cultivating and maintaining deep respect for one’s teachers and preceptors (chapter 10), and the way to uphold the sublime beings and their enlightened conduct (chapter 11). This chapter also details how to avoid negative friends, how to rely on one’s spiritual mentors, and how to recognize and avoid objects that give rise to aversion and unhappy states of mind.

            In some ways, chapter 12 is the heart of the Father Teachings volume, or a text within a text. Unlike other chapters, it begins with salutation verses where homage is paid to the teachers, the Buddha, the Perfection of Wisdom Mother, and all the protectors. It is by far the longest chapter, with two subsections: part 1, with seven collections (tshoms), and part 2, with nine collections. Entitled “How to Hoist Your Robes to Cross the Mires of Desire,” the chapter opens with an idealized description of a celestial realm that is inside a thousand-petalled lotus and adorned with heavenly lakes. At the hub of this lotus is a five-leveled crystal stupa. This celestial mansion in the shape of a reliquary stupa is occupied by sublime beings endowed with the highest enlightened qualities. Directed to them in the subsequent sections (collections 2 to 4), the text presents the practice of the seven limbs—prostrating, making offerings, confessing, rejoicing, supplicating to turn the wheel of Dharma, appealing not to enter into nirvana, and dedicating. In the fifth collection, the chapter presents a beautiful exposition of the teaching on the twelve links of dependent origination with a lengthy analysis of the nature, characteristics, and functions of the three mental poisons. This is followed, in collection 6, by a presentation on the flaws of attachment and the meditation on impermanence as its principal antidote. Collection 7 outlines the five psychophysical aggregates as well as the sequence of the arising of the twelve links.

In part 2 of chapter 12, composed of nine collections, the central theme is contemplation of emptiness and the illusion-like nature of all things. Beginning with general advice, the text proceeds with numerous reflections on the illusory nature of things with a specific contemplation on the apparent reality and its union with emptiness. There is a memorable section on the process of death and dying (collection 7), followed by a presentation of transference of consciousness at the time of death. This latter collection contains some fascinating comments on the nature of awareness and consciousness at the point of death.

After the marathon-like chapter 12, the book slows down and even loses some poignancy in its use of language. The material in subsequent chapters may well be a later addition, or simply ancillary pieces deemed important to include. Chapter 13 deals with Dromtönpa seeking a heritage, a legacy of a pure way of life, while chapter 14 addresses how you overcome any self-importance that may result from embracing a pure way of life. This is followed in chapter 15 with tools for dealing with adverse situations, such as being criticized. It is in this chapter that we find the famous story of a householder who is magically transported to a totally unknown place where he settles down and starts a family. Following a tragedy that results in the death of his entire new family, the grieving householder suddenly finds himself back at his original home. Much to his dismay, his first wife has not even missed him, for in fact he never left his original home, and his whole experience with a parallel family was nothing more than a magician’s deception! In chapter 16 we find an interesting discussion of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate conduct for a Dharma practitioner, with the following summary admonition to Drom from Atiśa:

Dwell utterly in solitude, beyond town limits. Like the carcass of a wild animal,
Hide yourself away [in the forest].

It is in this chapter that Atiśa prophesizes the founding of Radreng Monastery. Chapter 17 underscores the importance of being steadfast in the sevenfold divinity and teaching and the need to counter laziness and discouragement by reaffirming your motivation. Chapter 18 discusses how you engage with others, especially through your speech, to help nurture their minds. In these discussions, the text cites various Buddhist masters, including Atiśa’s own teachers Serlingpa, AvadhÒtipa, Dharmarakṣita, Śāntipa, and Jetāri. Chapter 19 takes the theme of the preceding chapter further and emphasizes the need to constantly pursue others’ welfare. Chapter 20 deals with nonsectarianism, and Atiśa emphasizes the importance of being committed to one’s own path without denigrating the spiritual orientations and paths of others. This is then followed, in chapter 21, with the dedication of positive karma and purification of negative karma. Chapter 22 is a wonderful exposition of the so-called seven riches of the noble ones—faith, morality, giving, learning, conscience, a sense of shame, and insight. In the final chapter, chapter 23, the entire teachings of volume 1 of the book are condensed into two simple practices referred to as the two examinations. They are: examining or guarding your speech when among many, and examining and guarding your mind when alone, as encapsulated in the following two lines in Atiśa’s Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland:

Among others guard your speech;
When alone guard your mind.

The Son Teachings

As noted above, the second volume of The Book of Kadam contains the Son Teachings, which is foremost a collection of birth stories of Dromtönpa’s former lives as narrated, according to the book, by Master Atiśa. Each of these birth stories is related in some way to the accounts of Dromtönpa having engaged in a former life in practices described in the root text. Some of these stories make an explicit link between the principal figure of the main story with Dromtönpa and the country of Tibet. For example, we find Prince Asaṅga, a previous life of Dromtömpa, speaking the following prophetic lines in chapter 2 of the Son Teachings:

O my two parents,
In the future, in the last five-hundred-year cycle,
On the crest of snow mountains,
My father, Prabhāśrī, so-named
By the ḍākinīs of Udhyāna,
Will be Drom’s father, Yaksher Kushen.
My mother, the devout Satı,
Will be known as Khuö Salenchikma.
I will be born on that crest of snow mountains.

Similarly, in the same chapter, we find the following prophesy being made by a noble one:

I will be known as Dīpaṃkara,
Dispelling the darkness of that land.
You will be a treasury of Buddha’s teaching
Known as Gyalwai Jungné.
I will be the “great Atiśa,”
Venerated by the name “the sole god.”
You will be Upāsaka Dharmavardana.
Venerated as the spiritual mentor Tönpa.

From the perspective of the larger Tibetan tradition, especially the myth of Avalokiteśvara’s unique affinity with the Land of Snows, chapters 5 and 19 of the birth stories are the most important. In the former, the longest chapter in the volume by far, we find the following oft-quoted lines:

To the north of Bodhgaya, which lies in the east,
Is a place called Tibet, the kingdom of Pu,
Where there are sky[-touching] pillars of towering mountains,
Lakes of turquoise mirrors in the lowlands,

Crystal stupas of white snow,
Golden mounded hills of yellow grass, Incense offerings of medicinal plants,
Golden flowers with vibrant colors,

And, in summer, blossoms of turquoise blue.

O Avalokiteśvara, lord of the snow mountains,
There lies your special domain;
There you shall find your devotees.

Also, we read:

In general, he is lord of all beings;
In particular, he will reign in the land of snow mountains.

Chapter 19 of the Son Teachings, the second longest chapter of the volume, is the most elaborate in developing this theme of Tibet as uniquely associated with Avalokiteśvara and of Dromtönpa’s place within this scheme. For example, the text tells the story of how, when Dromtönpa was born as Devarāja, a youth prophesized that when the era of degeneration dawns and the Buddha’s teaching declines, Devarāja will, at the urging of the bodhisattva Sarvanivaraṇviśkaṃvin, take the form of a king and establish the foundation for Buddhadharma in the barbarian land of Tibet. He will take birth as a king renowned as an emanation of Great Compassion Avalokiteśvara (namely, Songtsen Gampo) and will invite Tārā (the Chinese princess Wen-ch’eng) and Bh¸ku˛ı (the Nepalese princess) to the central region of Tibet. He will thus transform this barbarian borderland into a central land where the Dharma will flourish. The text then goes on to state that a large gathering of monks, all blessed by Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna, will converge, and at that time people will recite the name of Avalokiteśvara and make supplications to him. They will see the emanation body (nirmāṇakāya) of Avalokiteśvara, listen to teachings from him, and be introduced to the tantric practices related to the six-syllable mantra. In brief, great compassion will flourish so widely that the central region of Tibet will resemble the pure land of Potala.

            An important element of the story is the presence of Atiśa’s former lives in Buddhism’s earlier history in Tibet. At one point in the narrative, Atiśa explicitly identifies himself with Padmasambhava, who, the text states, is well known among the mantrikas. Interestingly, the chapter provides a brief chronicle of many of Tibet’s rulers. Three of them—Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Tri Ralpachen—are referred to with the now wellknown epithet, the “three founding righteous kings,” and many of the rulers are said to be emanations of lords of the three Buddha families— Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrı, and Vajrapā˚i. It seems that there also evolved among the Kadampas a tradition that identifies Dromtönpa’s three principal brother disciples with the lords of the three Buddha families and, more intriguingly, with three famous self-arisen images of Avalokiteśvara.

One of the most interesting aspects of the nineteenth chapter is its close connection with another important Tibetan work of some antiquity that appeared to be a key text in the propagation of the tradition of identifying Tibetan imperial figures with Avalokiteśvara. This is the famous Kakholma Testament (literally, Testament Extracted from a Pillar), purportedly authored by the seventh-century Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo and later rediscovered as a revealed treasure text. According to a tradition dating back to the twelfth century, Atiśa is credited with having retrieved this text in Lhasa toward the end of the 1040s. In fact, in the present redaction of the testament, the text opens with an interesting discussion of Atiśa’s visit to the Lhasa cathedral and some miraculous visions he experienced relating to the image of the self-originated Avalokiteśvara icon there. In the text’s colophon, Atiśa is quoted as saying that he saw the manuscript of the testament written on a blue silk cloth with gold letters and that there were three versions of the text. He also explicitly states that the text was discovered as a treasure in the cathedral of Lhasa.

The Structure of the Book of Kadam

The two volumes of The Book of Kadam contain more than just the Father and Son Teachings. Fifty-four texts altogether were compiled by Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen (1225–1305), the ninth abbot of Narthang, to create the final version of the book.

Four texts in The Book of Kadam are preliminary: Dromtönpa’s The Book’s Sealed Command, his Self-Exhortation (entry I of the present volume), and Khenchen’s The Liberating Life Stories of the Lineage Teachers of the Sevenfold Divinity and Teaching and Elucidation of the Heart-Drop Practice (entry IV). These are then followed by Atiśa’s Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland (entry II), the root text for both the Father Teachings and Son Teachings. As such, it is not listed as a separate text. The core of the Father Teachings, The Jewel Garland of Dialogues, appears in twenty-three chapters (entry III) and is supplemented with three additional chapters found in the second volume at the end of Dromtönpa’s birth stories. Thus, the Father Teachings are actually comprised of twenty-six chapters. Volume 2 has twenty-two chapters of birth stories (excerpted in entries V–VIII), all of which are part of the main book, and a supplementary chapter that is also considered part of the main book. Therefore, forty-nine texts in total form the main book.

In addition to the main book, redactions of The Book of Kadam contain five ancillary texts. The short text Perfect Array of the Forms of Master Atiśa and His Son, authored by Khenchen, was written entirely in verse and appears to be a poetic summary of the entire book. Volume 1 also contains four important biographical works: How Atiśa Relinquished His Kingdom and Sought Liberation, attributed to Dromtönpa; The Story of Atiśa’s Voyage to Sumatra, attributed to Atiśa himself; Chim Namkha Drak’s Biography of Master Atiśa; and Biography and Itinerary of Master Atiśa, also attributed to Dromtönpa.

The present volume contains the main twenty-three chapters of the Father Teachings, four chapters from the Son Teachings, and some of the ancillary teachings. I have also included here three additional texts, two more recent compositions in verse summarizing the key points of The Book of Kadam to help the reader better understand how the book was viewed and practiced historically, and one of the earliest anthologies of the sayings of the Kadam masters. This last text, compiled by Chegom Sherap Dorjé in the twelfth century, provides the reader with a unique perspective on how richly developed the oral tradition became for the followers of Master Atiśa and Dromtönpa.

The Origins of the “Precious Book”

We now come to the difficult question of the dating of The Book of Kadam. There is no doubt the final version of the book was compiled by Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen. In fact, we have a clear statement by Khenchen that it was on the thirtieth day of the month of Gyal in the Water Tiger year (1302) that he completed his work. This could mean that the woodblock printing was completed, or it could mean that the final scribing of the manuscript for the blockprint was done on that day. In any case, it was either at the turn of the fourteenth century or toward the final years of the thirteenth century that the present version of the two-volume book was compiled.

But how far back can we trace the origins of the book? In addressing this question, we must first distinguish between two notions of the book—the final version of the book that we have today and an archaic version. It is the archaic version—its date of origin and the personalities involved in its creation—that remains unclear. To understand these we need to look also at the early transmission of the teachings of the book, at least as it is understood by the tradition. Chapter 23 of the Father Teachings concludes with a short colophon that gives an account of the earliest origin of the teachings of the so-called precious book. According to this account, it was Ngok Lekpai Sherap who, at the urging of Mañjuśrī, went to Mount Lhari Nyingpo in Yerpa, where Master Atiśa and Dromtönpa were residing, and requested them to enter into a series of dialogues based upon Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland. This discussion takes place over three years, and it is said that Ngok then set these dialogues down in the form of a book. Ngok passed the transmission of the book to Ngari Sherap Gyaltsen (c. eleventh century), who in turn transmitted it to Phuchungwa. From Phuchungwa the transmission passed through Kama Rinchen Gyaltsen, to Shangtön Dharma Gyaltsen, and to Tapka Jangchup Sangpo. Thus, from Drom to Jangchup Sangpo, the book was transmitted through a direct one-to-one lineage of teachers—teachers who Tapka Namkha Rinchen (ca. 1214–86) called the “seven precious beings.”

Until Namkha Rinchen, it is maintained, the transmission of the teaching of the book was passed down in one-to-one instruction. However, Namkha Rinchen, following his move to Tapka Monastery after the death of Jangchup Sangpo, spent the rest of his life preaching the “profound meanings of the precious book” to worthy disciples. Namkha Rinchen’s public preaching also signals a shift from a so-called “miracle book,” which he is said to have hidden in the great reliquary stupa at Tapka Monastery, to a physical scripture.

After Namkha Rinchen comes Drom Kumāramati, who was born in the Iron-Sheep year, most probably 1211 (if not 1271). He met with Namkha Rinchen at a young age, and by fifteen he had already committed the entire Book of Kadam to memory. Namkha Rinchen was so impressed by this feat that he is said to have remarked, “Now you have exceeded me. Even I do not have the book in my memory in its entirety. Among the previous masters, too, it seems that there were very few who had committed the entire book to memory. Since you have the residue of past good karma, you have the entire book in your memory.”54 Namkha Rinchen then handed over the custody of some religious items of great significance with the transmission of the book. These include, among other objects, a painting of Mañjuśrı drawn by Ngok based on the vision he experienced when he was urged to go to Yerpa to receive the teachings of the book, a small painting of Atiśa and Dromtönpa with Ngok and Khutön done by Ngari Sherap Gyaltsen, and several religious articles that Phuchungwa possessed, such as a lock of Dromtönpa’s hair, some relics, and a small hand drum that belonged to Atiśa.55 It was from Drom Kumāramati that Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, the editor of the final version of the book, received the transmission, including the initiation into the mandala of the sixteen drops. One could say that what Khenchen did was to set down in writing what his own teacher, Drom Kumāramati, had stored in his memory from a young age. In fact, the later tradition sees Drom Kumāramati as a reincarnation of Dromtönpa himself and as responsible for the “reappearance” of the precious book as a physical text that subsequent practitioners can benefit from.

So how far back can we trace the archaic version? A number of facts strongly suggest the existence of such a book long before Khenchen’s time. In this early, “primitive” form, it seems to be referred to as “the book” (glegs bam), “the precious book” (glegs bam rin po che), or sometimes as The Jewel Garland of Dialogues. Let us look at some of the evidence for its earlier provenance.

The first piece of evidence is The Book’s Sealed Command, the opening text in The Book of Kadam attributed to Dromtönpa. Although some would argue that no such book existed at Dromtönpa’s time, I see no reason to reject the attribution of this short verse text to Drom. In it, we find an explicit reference to the teaching of the higher qualities of Dromtönpa, most certainly an allusion to his birth stories. Furthermore, we also find mention of The Jewel Garland of Dialogues with the statement that it stems from the conqueror (the Buddha), flows to the conqueror himself (Atiśa), and is endowed with the practice of the four immeasurable thoughts. There is also an explicit emphasis on the point that Atiśa’s teachings embody all three lineages of vast practice, profound view, and inspirational practice.

At the end of this short work, Khenchen adds: “This [work] resides at the beginning of volume 1 in the format of a smaller text. Stating that one should read this Sealed Command prior to giving this teaching, [the teachers] read this text once. In particular, the first six stanzas of this work can occasionally be found inscribed at the end of many of the longer chapters.” Since the birth stories of Dromtönpa’s former lives are at the heart of the teachings of the book, it makes sense on the part of Drom to insist on a restricted transmission of these teachings, indicating a certain reluctance for this teaching to become widespread—hence, the book’s sealed command.

Second, Liberating Life Stories of the Lineage Teachers of the Sevenfold Divinity and Teaching, a history of the book’s origins as compiled and edited by Khenchen, contains several exchanges between Dromtönpa and Ngok about putting the contents of the book into written form. Drom discourages Ngok by admonishing him to focus on his meditative practice rather than worrying about writing the book down. However, Ngok pledges to write it down to ensure that future generations will have access to it. Since the book “scribed” by Ngok cannot be conventionally seen in public, it acquires the epithet “miracle book.” Furthermore, Ngok is reported as saying to his disciple Ngari Sherap Gyaltsen, “Sherap Gyaltsen, you have come. As for this teaching of ours, I have undone the sealed command of my teacher and have committed it to letter.” There are many statements like this that relate to a “secret” teaching inherited by Ngok and passed on to Ngari Sherap Gyaltsen. The richness of these sayings are such that they strongly indicate the existence of an oral tradition, going back at least to Ngok and Ngari Sherap Gyaltsen, related to a secret teaching of Atiśa and Dromtönpa.

Third, the sources that Khenchen relied upon in his compilation of Liberating Life Stories act as further evidence for the prior existence of an earlier archaic version of the book. On several occasions, Khenchen explicitly names the sources for the various sections of his Liberating Life Stories and clearly indicates that he is, at best, the compiler of this historical work rather than its author in the strict sense. For instance, Khenchen attributes a fairly lengthy account of how Phuchungwa received the transmission and passed it on to Rinchen Gyaltsen himself. In addition, the entire text of Khenchen’s history is based on a twenty-five-stanza salutation to the masters of the lineage of the book authored by the earlier thirteenth-century figure, Namkha Rinchen. This verse explicitly mentions the twenty-two birth stories of Dromtönpa as well as the statement that all the teachings can be subsumed under the practice of “hoisting your robes to cross the mire of desire,” which, in turn, can be subsumed into the seven riches of the noble ones, and which, finally, can be subsumed into the practice of the heart drop. This, in essence, is the heart of the teaching of the Father Teachings volume. For these reasons, I am inclined to conclude that the book, at least the core of the Father Teachings and the Son Teachings, existed long before Khenchen’s time.

Perhaps the most important piece of evidence to consider is the existence of a text, attributed to Phuchungwa, that indicates an archaic version of the book’s Father Teachings existed as early as the eleventh century. This text is cited in full by Yongzin Yeshé Gyaltsen in his Rite of the Mandala of the Sixteen Drops of Kadam. The work begins with Dromtönpa requesting Master Atiśa to reveal a teaching that would integrate all the sacred words of the Buddha into personal instructions; a teaching that is free of the dangerous abyss, uncluttered, free of error, uncontaminated, and supported by authoritative sources; a teaching that is to the point, is easy to implement in practice, possesses a firm foundation, shows the stages of the path as well-ordered, and, finally, presents a path that cannot lead to falsehood. The text then goes on to describe how Atiśa responds to this request by presenting the method of integrating all the teachings of the Buddha within the framework of the three scriptural baskets. Even the profound teachings of tantra, such as the dohā cycles of Saraha, are shown to be encompassed by the teachings of the three baskets. Needless to say, the three baskets also include the meditation on emptiness as the ulimate nature of all things. This is followed by a lengthy discussion of the choice of four principal divinities for Kadam practitioners, with a special emphasis on how all the meditative practices of the profound tantric teachings are subsumed under the generation and completion stages of Avalokiteśvara practice. In this manner the master Atiśa presents the profound practice of the sevenfold divinity and teaching to Dromtönpa in the course of a series of dialogues at the retreat of Yerpa. Interestingly, in Phuchungwa’s “abridged” version, Atiśa constantly refers to Dromtönpa with the expression “dear son” (nye ba’i sras) as opposed to “principal son” (sras kyi thu bo), as found in the final version. Phunchungwa’s text ends with the following colophon: “This completes the secret teaching of Dharma king Drom, the sacred words and instruction on the sevenfold divinity and teaching, which was given as a teaching.” After this short colophon we find a brief account of the story of the teaching:

The story of its origin is this. The Dharma king renowned as Lord Atiśa came from India to this mandala of Great Compassion [i.e., Tibet], though he had countless disciples…Among the countless joyful feasts of teachings he gave, this instruction on the sevenfold divinity and teaching was set down in writing by the emanation body Ngok Lekpai Sherap, a bodhisattva blessed by Mañjuśrī. Following this, I, the Buddhist monk Phuchungwa Shönu Gyaltsen, one who has been blessed by the conqueror and his son [i.e., Atiśa and Drom] and whose heart has been permeated by their enlightened activities, penned this on the basis of making supplications to my teacher. The spiritual mentor’s sealed command is on this, but fearing that this teaching might disappear, I could not bear living alone in the wilderness without putting it in writing.

Whatever shortcomings may be in this,
I request the forbearance of the assembly of noble ones;
Whatever virtues are in this
I dedicate toward great awakening for the welfare of beings.

Thus, throughout all my lives,
May I obtain human existence and be ethically pure;
Remaining at the feet of my teachers,
May I spend my time in learning, reflection, and meditation,
And may all my teachers’ aspirations be fulfilled.

Based on the sources available, I am inclined to believe that the present version of the book, especially with its division into Father and Son Teachings (here I am speaking of the core texts—the twenty-three main chapters and three supplementary chapters of the Father Teachings and the twentytwo birth stories of Dromtönpa), is principally the product of three individuals—Namkha Rinchen, Drom Kumāramati, and Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, all of whom belong to the thirteenth century. Drops in the form of light circles in the visualization of specific meditation deities is found much earlier in the lineage, but the systematic practice of Kadam’s four meditation deities in the form of sixteen drops based on the construction of a mandala appears likely to have been developed by the above three masters. This said, the idea that there are forty-eight sections or “chapters” to the book may preceed even Namkha Rinchen. For example, the encounter between Phuchungwa and Sherap Gyaltsen includes a mention of fortyeight days during which Phuchungwa came to understand each chapter in relation to a drop and how he realized the nature of each to be that of a sphere. It is also stated that Phuchungwa was spiritually nurtured by Sherap Gyaltsen for a period of 290 days, during which he transmitted the entire sixteen drops and abided in the sixteen drops of meditation deities and in the sixteenth awakening drop.

Initially this set of teachings appeared to have been known simply as the oral instruction on the sevenfold divinity and teaching, an expression that may even be traceable to Dromtönpa himself. As we noted earlier, Phuchungwa’s text not only presents the core teachings of the book but also retains the overall structure of the book—beginning with salutations to the teachers of the three lineages through to the meditation on the four divinities, the presentation of how three scriptural baskets are the framework for the entire Buddhist teachings, how their practice is encapsulated in the three higher trainings, and how the distilled essence of these three is the practices of the persons of the three capacities. Furthermore, the schema of the five recollections as the main medium of meditative practice is presented, as well the intriguing notion of hoisting of one’s robes to cross the mire of desire. Interestingly, Phuchungwa’s text nowhere mentions the expression “the book” (glegs bam) but ends with the concluding statement “This concludes the sevenfold divinity and teaching, the secret teaching of the Dharma king Drom, which has been given as a practice.” At some point, Drom’s birth stories appeared to have become an additional part of the core teachings of this sevenfold divinity and teaching.

That Atiśa is the author of Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland, which became the root text of both the Father and Son Teachings, remains beyond doubt, given its similarites in content, language, and structure to Atiśa’s other recorded works. But there is no obvious connection, apart from the relationship of a root text to its commentary, between the instructions on the sevenfold divinity and teaching, centered especially on the meditative practice of Avalokiteśvara, and Atiśa’s short text, which on the surface pertains to standard bodhisattva practices. Who then is responsible for relating the two strands of teachings in this unique manner? Apart from the individual texts featured in the book, we have no sources available to help us resolve this question. Perhaps there is something to the fifteenth-century Kagyü historian Tsuklak Trengwa’s remark that Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland was compiled by Dromtönpa on the basis of Atiśa’s oral instructions. If this is true, it is conceivable that an oral tradition connected with Dromtönpa and based on the instructions pertaining to this short work may have evolved fairly early. Given the specific nature of the oral tradition pertaining to the early, “legendary” transmission of the teachings of the book, I am also inclined to accept that the two figures—Ngok Lekpai Sherap and Sherap Gyaltsen, both of whom met Atiśa and Drom—were responsible for the initial development of, or at least the idea of, a special corpus of Kadam teachings centered on Drom as the spiritual heir of Master Atiśa and, more importantly, as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara. Based on the textual evidence, I would argue that Phuchungwa was perhaps the first to write down this special corpus of teachings. In any case, by Phuchungwa’s time, especially after the death of Dromtönpa, the idea that Dromtönpa was an emanation of Avalokiteśvara appears to have already taken firm root in Tibet, at least in the region where Atiśa and Drom’s followers were most active.

The Dalai Lamas and the Later Transmissions of the Book

Following the formal compilation of the texts of The Book of Kadam by Khenchen around 1302, the transmission of the teachings of this special collection becomes easier to discern. In his records of teachings received, the eighteenth-century Geluk author Longdöl Ngawang Lobsang provides the following transmission lineage: from Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen to Rinchen Jangchup, then through Jangchup Pal, Rikkyi Dakpoi Pal, Sönam Öser, Sangyé Sangpo, Sönam Sangpo, Paljor Sangpo, Sengé Gyaltsen, who passed it on to the translator Thukjé Palwa, who transmitted the teachings to Gendün Drup (1391–1474), later recognized as the First Dalai Lama. The First Dalai Lama gave the transmission to Panchen Yeshé Tsemo, who passed it on to Gendün Gyatso (1476–1542), later recognized as the Second Dalai Lama. (The present volume features a short verse text by Gendün Gyatso [entry IX] that beautifully summarizes The Book of Kadam.) According to later historical sources, it is through the efforts of the First and Second Dalai Lamas that the transmission of the book became widespread in central and southern Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s (1617–82) River Ganges’ Flow: A Record of Teachings Received provides a similar lineage of transmission from Khenchen up to Sönam Sangpo, at which point the Great Fifth gives two streams of transmission, neither of which contains the First and the Second Dalai Lamas, suggesting several divergent lineages of the book from the fifteenth century onward.

The noted Geluk author Panchen Sönam Drakpa (1478–1554), who was a student of the Second Dalai Lama and a tutor of the Third, states that from Gendün Drup, Mönlam Palwa received the transmission and taught this both at Ganden and Drepung, two of the largest Geluk monasteries in central Tibet. Gendün Gyatso, after receiving the transmission from Panchen Yeshé Tsemo, caused a great rain of the precious book to fall upon many people in the Ü and Tsang provinces in central Tibet, as well as in Nyal, Dakpo, Kongpo, and many other regions far from central Tibet. Furthermore, according to the same source, the bodhisattva Lodrö Gyaltsen (1402–72) received the transmission in Tsang and spread it to western Tibet. The elders Jangyalwa and Sötrepa received this transmission, the latter bringing the teaching to Yarlung. That a transmission lineage of the book is listed by Pema Karpo (1527–96), a principal master of the Drukpa Kagyü lineage, as well as by Taklung Ngawang Namgyal (1571–1626), one of the luminaries of the Taklung Kagyü lineage, indicates that transmission of the book took place within non-Kadam and non-Geluk traditions as well.

Despite its widespread acceptance from its first appearance as a physical text, it seems that even as late as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, qualms were being raised about its authenticity. We find, for example, a memorable remark attributed to the Second Dalai Lama, who, in response to the question about The Book of Kadam’s authenticity, is said to have replied, “As to how authentic [the ascription of the book to Atiśa is], I do not know. I certainly find it most beneficial to my mind.” Similarly, we read the following comment by Tsuklak Trengwa: “These days some who consider it adequate to know only how to discard the Dharma denigrate the book. This is Māra’s doing.” For Tsuklak Trengwa, The Book of Kadam is unique for its presentation of the sixteen drops, the sevenfold divinity and teaching, and the five recollections—in brief, for its presentation of the essence of all the teachings of the Buddha by condensing them into a single practice for guarding one’s mind.

Although the first Dalai Lamas and their immediate disciples appear to have been the primary force behind the early dissemination of the book in the Geluk school, later, with Panchen Lobsang Chögyen (1570–1662), some masters of the so-called ear-whispered teachings (snyan brgyud) also took deep interest in the book’s transmission, especially the initiations into the sixteen drops. Among these masters was Yongzin Yeshé Gyaltsen (1713–93), who composed substantial works pertaining to the book and the meditative practice of the sixteen drops. One of these works, a lucid text in verse presenting the essential teachings of The Book of Kadam within the framework of Atiśa’s schema for the practices of the persons of three capacities—i.e., the stages of the path approach—is featured in the present volume (entry X).

Although it was only later that a systematic narrative evolved whereby the successive Dalai Lamas were cast as emanations of Avalokiteśvara—a lineage that links the Dalai Lamas with both Dromtönpa and Songtsen Gampo—the identification of Gendün Drup with Dromtönpa was already well established. For example, Gendün Drup’s biographer, Yeshé Tsemo, cites the translator Thukjé Palwa as stating, after transmitting the book to Gendün Drup, “Therefore, I am a man of meritorious collection, for I have heard [the book] from Drom and have now passed it on to Drom.” Similarly, the fifteenth-century historian of the Kadam School, Lechen Künga Gyaltsen, himself a student of the Gendün Drup, states that although some say Gendün Drup is a manifestation of Nāgārjuna and others say he is a reincarnation of the Kadam master Neusurpa, he is known by most as the emanation of Dromtönpa. By the end of the sixteenth century, authors of other schools also came to refer to the First Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of Dromtönpa. Furthermore, according to some sources, his family hailed from the same ancestral lineage as Dromtönpa’s. When Gendün Gyatso was formally recognized as the reincarnation of Gendün Drup, the connection was naturally formed between the Second Dalai Lama and Dromtönpa, and through this relationship to Avalokiteśvara himself.

It was the Great Fifth, however, who created the edifice of the mythoreligious worldview in which the institution of the Dalai Lamas came to have a significance far greater than that of the successive reincarnations of an important historical spiritual figure, namely Gendün Drup. The Great Fifth and his ingenious regent, Desi Sangyé Gyatso (1653–1705), brought about a creative marriage of the two textual sources for the narrative of Avalokiteśvara’s direct intervention in the unfolding fate of the Tibetan land and its people. Both the Kakholma Testament and Dromtönpa’s birth stories in The Book of Kadam were already recognized as possessing some mysterious background, one a revealed treasure text and the other literally a “miraculous volume.” In his influential History of Ganden Tradition, Desi Sangyé Gyatso, in addition to providing copious citations from scripture, interweaves beautifully evocative quotes from The Book of Kadam and Kakholma Testament to explicitly identify the Great Fifth with Songtsen Gampo, Dromtönpa, the treasure revealer Nyangral Nyima Öser (1124–92), Ngari Panchen (1487–1542), and especially the preceding Dalai Lamas—Gendün Drup, Gendün Gyatso, and Sönam Gyatso. Through efforts like this, the Great Fifth and his regent integrated the myth of Avalokiteśvara’s compassionate manifestation as rulers and spiritual teachers in the Land of Snows throughout the ages into a concrete institution that the Tibetans could nurture, preserve, and cherish. For the Tibetans, the mythic narrative that began with Avalokiteśvara’s embodiment in the form of Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century—or even earlier with the mythohistorical figures of the first king of Tibet, Nyatri Tsenpo (traditionally calculated to have lived around the fifth century B.C.E.), and Lha Thothori Nyentsen (ca. third century c.e.), during whose reign some sacred Buddhist scriptures are believed to have arrived in Tibet—and continued with Dromtönpa in the eleventh century continues today in the person of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.


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© Institute of Tibetan Classics, The Book of Kadam (Wisdom Publications, 2008)

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