6. Gampopa 1079-1153

dags po zla 'od gzhon nu

In the east, in the heavenly Daglha Gampo, the honourable physician, the second Victorious One, realized the samadhi of the tenth bhumi. --   Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, “ The Song of Lodrö Thaye”


In “The Life and Teachings of Gampopa ,” Ven. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche taught that Je Gampopa was not an ordinary person who became famous, rather he was already a Bodhisattva on the threshold to Buddhahood for many cosmic aeons. He manifested during the time of Buddha Shakyamuni as a Bodhisattva called Chandra Prabhakumara, who healed and cured many people by giving them herbal medicine. He invited Buddha Shakyamuni and his other Bodhisattva disciples to his home and, in response to their request, at Vulture Peak in India, the Buddha imparted the teachings on the ultimate nature of mind that has been handed down to us in “The Samadhiraj Sutra” (“The King of Samadhi Sutra”). There the Buddha prophesied the coming of Gampopa. Buddha Shakyamuni also asked the assembly of disciples, “In the future, who will spread the teachings when they diminish?” Bodhisattva Chandra Prabhakumara stood up and replied, “I will do this.” Eight hundred disciples of Lord Buddha were present on that historical occasion and all promised, “We will help Chandra Prabhakumara spread the teachings.” Chandra Prabhakumara was reborn as Gampopa and all 800 disciples were reborn as his pupils. The “Saddharma Pundarika Sutra” (“The White Lotus Sutra”) also clearly predicted the coming of Gampopa as follows:


“One day, Buddha Shakyamuni turned to his disciple Ananda and said, ‘Ananda, after my entrance into Paranirvana, in the northern direction of this hemisphere, there will be a fully ordained monk who will be known as the Bhikshu Doctor. He will be someone who has gone through many previous lives of completely dedicated practice of Dharma.’”


Gampopa was given the name Dharma Drak at his birth in Nyäl, East Tibet. His father’s name was Nyima Sangye Gyälpo and his mother’s name was Shomo Zatse. Beginning at the age of 5, the boy received instructions on the medical sciences from his father and from an Indian physician called Kyemey, from a Central Tibetan doctor called Usil, from a Nepalese doctor called Viji, and from thirteen other Chinese and Tibetan physicians. By the time he was 16, he had already become known as Dags-po-lha-rje , the “Great Doctor from Dagpo.” He then pursued his spiritual studies under the Nyingma Lama Bare and the Kadampa Lama Sharpa Yönten Drak.


When he was 22 years old, Gampopa married Chogmey and they had a son and a daughter together. Stricken by an epidemic, both children died a sudden death. Then his wife came down with the plague but could not let go of life. Gampopa asked her, “Tell me, is it our home or possessions that are holding you back?” Chogmey told him that it was her love for him that made it so hard for her to die. He promised her that he would devote the rest of his life to the Dharma after she passed away. Upon hearing this, she died peacefully. It is said that the Stupa Gampopa built in her remembrance still stands in Tibet today. Having generated perfect renunciation, Gampopa gave half of his belongings to the needy and kept the other half to finance his studies as a monk. By the time he was 26, he had mastered the Kadam teachings perfectly, so Geshe Loden Sherab gave him his monk’s ordination name bSöd-nams-rin-chen . He continued studying the teachings of the Kadam Tradition and became a beacon of learning.


Thrangu Rinpoche taught that the Mahayana potential awakened in Gampopa when he was taking a walk and overheard three beggars talking. The first beggar said, “We are not very fortunate people because otherwise we would have patrons sponsoring us and then every day someone would bring us food.” The other beggar said, “You should think of something better, such as wishing to become a really important man. Then you can do what you want and people will bow to your wishes.” With tears in his eyes and hands folded at his heart, the older beggar said, “Your wishes are narrow-minded. Even if you are very powerful, one day you will die. I think the best wish to have is to be like Milarepa who doesn’t need any clothes or food. The Dakinis feed him and he can fly in the sky. We should make a wish to be like him.” Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche tells us : “On hearing the name ‘Milarepa’ spoken thus, Sönam Rinchen fainted; so strong was the connection sparked in him when he heard Milarepa’s name that he just passed out.” When he regained his senses, he rushed to the three men and asked where he could find Milarepa. The older beggar told him that the Lord of Yogis was staying in the mountains of Drin and Nyenam. That evening Gampopa had a very special dream in which he heard the sound of a white conch, the loudest on earth. He reported this to his teacher, who said, “This is a very auspicious sign. You should go find Milarepa right away.” Gampopa went through immense hardships for more than a month to find him. Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that he even broke down and wept a few times but never gave up.


In the meantime, Jetsün Milarepa informed his disciples that his spiritual heir would arrive soon. He told them: “The milk of the white snow lion must have a special container. If it is poured into a clay pot, the pot will crack and the milk will flow out and be lost. There must be a special practitioner, someone completely developed and suitable, someone who is receptive for the vast and profound teachings.” Milarepa’s pupils asked, “When is the person you dreamt about coming?” The Jetsün replied, “The day after tomorrow.” He told them, “Anyone who shows him the way to me will accomplish his or her goal real fast.” Mandevi, a close disciple of Milarepa, recognized Gampopa as the successor when she saw him approaching. Having inquired, she asked him if she may show him where Milarepa was staying. For the benefit of her child, she asked him to stay at her home that night so that her daughter could show him the way to Milarepa’s cave the next morning. Mandevi told Gampopa that Milarepa was expecting him, so he felt a little bit proud. This is why Milarepa left him waiting outside for two weeks in the cold when he arrived at Tode Tashigang and before agreeing to see him. Thrangu Rinpoche taught: “Such pride is justified but humility is better.”


When Milarepa let him in, Gampopa offered his Guru gold, but Milarepa told him that it would be better he kept it for his own provisions. He took a kernel of gold from the centre of the mandala that Gampopa offered him and flung it into space, saying, “This I offer to Marpa, my precious Guru.” Thrangu Rinpoche taught: “Milarepa then asked Gampopa, ‘What is your name?’ Gampopa answered, ‘Sonam Rinchen.’ Milarepa thought, ‘His first name is Sönam (‘virtue, merit’) and this indicates that he has gathered all accumulations. His second name is Rinchen (‘very precious’) and this means that he is extremely precious for all beings.’ Milarepa offered him beer from his cup, but Gampopa hesitated because he thought that alchohol was a violation of his monastic vow. Milarepa told him, ‘Just drink what I give you.’ Gampopa drank all the beer in a single gulp. Milarepa interpreted this as a sign that Gampopa would obtain the complete teachings from him and not disregard a single point.”


Gampopa recounted Jetsün Milarepa’s sincere words to him in “The Songs and Stories of Lord Gampopa” (in “The Rain of Wisdom”). A few lines that Milarepa said are:


“My son, if you want to practice the divine Dharma whole-heartedly, do not seek enjoyment for this life; think of the next one.

If you wish to hold the lineage seat of the Kagyü, do not enjoy words, look to their meaning.

You, the bhikshu, keep this in mind.”


Milarepa then told his disciple: “In general, if you do not fully resolve your mind to its depths, even if you temporarily experience bliss, luminosity, and non-thought, you will not transcend the three worlds. These are known as temporary experiences because they do not resolve the mind to its depths. However, if you ask, ‘What is the true path?’ this is when the authentic Guru gives the student who is a worthy vessel transmission and instruction.”


Milarepa gave Gampopa all empowerments and instructions that he had received from his Guru Marpa Lotsawa and that he had practiced and realized perfectly. Gampopa practiced them and quickly developed the experiences and insight of the teachings. Each day his insight grew and he had new experiences. Milarepa always responded to his student’s questions about his meditative experiences with the words, “This is neither good nor bad” and told him to continue practicing. He untiringly replied to his beloved disciples’s realizations with “ de-näs , ” which means “now, after that.” He never praised Gampopa’s great diligence, energy, or accomplishments but guided him in his practice. In response to a dream with many auspicious omens that Gampopa had, his Guru told him:


“My son, physician monk, do not worry; rest your mind loosely. Do not enter into the inner fault of ego-fixation trapped in the net of discursive thoughts. Let the knot of doubt unravel itself. Cut the thread of dualistic fixation wherever it is thin. Disperse the layer of dust of habitual patterns wherever it is fine. Do not generate too many thoughts. Rest in natural freshness.”


A few verses from Milarepa’s interpretation of one of the many dreams that his heart-son had:


“The turquoise meadow that you saw off to your left

is the sign that being fully accomplished in undefiled samadhi,

you have seen the wisdom of bliss and joy.


The park with yellow flowers at the centre

is the sign that endowed with the realization of samadhi and ornamented with pure discipline,

you will gather sanghas around you like clouds in the sky.


The fountain that gushed forth before you

is the sign that you will spread the kingdom of Dharma.

The brilliant light radiating behind you is the sign that you will purify the land of Tibet.”


At another time, Milarepa asked his three main disciples to report their dreams to him. Lingrepa said that he dreamt that the sun rose from the top of a mountain and that its rays shone on his heart, transforming it into a sphere of great light. Rechungpa reported having dreamt that he crossed three towns making lots of noise. Milarepa interpreted Lingrepa’s dream as the worst. He said it indicated that he had little compassion and would hardly benefit anyone. Milarepa interpreted Rechungpa’s dream to mean that he would not attain enlightenment in one lifetime but had to work another three lifetimes because three times he had failed to do as requested. Gampopa, who felt ashamed to tell his dream, finally said that he dreamt he was in an open field and was chopping off the heads of many animals. He was extremely surprised that Milarepa was overly pleased with his nightmare. Milarepa asked him, “Give me your hand” and, holding it fondly, he told the assembled disciples that chopping off the animals’ heads meant that Gampopa would liberate many sentient beings from their bondage in samsara.


When he was very old, Milarepa directed Gampopa to establish a monastery at Mt. Gampodar in the area called Dag in Central Tibet, which he did. The monastery he built came to be known as “Daglha Gampo” and it was there that Gampopa continued his activities of teaching, meditating, and benefiting beings by laying down the monastic tradition of the Kagyü Lineage. That is also the reason Gampopa, whose monk’s name was Sönam Rinchen, became known by two names, Gampopa meaning “the One from Gampo,” and Dagpo Rinpoche meaning “the Precious One from Dagpo.” In “The Songs and Stories of Lord Gampopa,” he recounted Milarepa’s description of the sacred site: “East of here is a mountain called Gampodar. That mountain is like a king sitting on his throne. The peak is a precious crown, like the hat that I am wearing. The meadows and woods are arranged like a mandala of gold. In front, there is a mountain like a heap of jewels. There are seven surrounding mountains that resemble ministers prostrating. On the shoulder of this mountain will be your students.” Then he reminded Gampopa: “Even though you realize your own mind as buddha, you should not abandon your Guru. Even though your understanding of karma and its result is as vast as the sky, you should shun the smallest evil. Even though your experience is free from meditation and postmeditation, you should unceasingly practice the yoga of the four periods of the day. Even though you realize equanimity towards self and others, do not disparage other teachings or people.”


Before they parted, Milarepa explained to Gampopa: ‘While you are alone there, benefiting beings, you may miss many things. Sometimes you may miss food, and at these times you must enjoy the food of meditation; sometimes you may experience cold and miss having clothes, and at these times you must enjoy the inner heat of your yoga practice ; sometimes you may miss your Guru, and at these times you must remember that your mind and the mind of the Guru are inseparable. There is no greater Guru than the realization of the inseparability of your own and the Guru’s mind.’” A verse of parting that Milarepa spoke and Gampopa shared with us in “The Songs and Stories” is:


“When you are resolving your mind, do not hanker for the higher perceptions.

There is the danger of being carried away by the maras of joy and pride.

Son, rest in the state free from hope.

Do you understand this, monk from Ü?

Do you understand this, physician from Dagpo?”


Jetsün Milarepa told his students that he had dreamt about a white crane that flew high in the sky and perched on top of a huge mountain. Having perched there, it attracted uncountable other cranes, which landed there. Suddenly they all scattered and the land of Tibet became white with cranes. “This dream symbolized,” said Milarepa, “that Gampopa would spread the Dharma widely in Tibet.” Before he arrived at Mt. Gampodar after having parted from his Guru, he met a trader from Tsang who told him that the Jetsün had passed into Paranirvana. Having regained consciousness after he fainted, Gampopa cried, and then he sang a song of praise to his Guru, in which he also made a request:


“Your good qualities are immeasurable and my praise trifling.

Think of me with kindness and accept me.

Even though I have no material gifts of veneration to give,

I will practice until we become one in Dharmakaya.

Do not end your river of blessings.

Do not release me from the iron hook of your kindness.”


When completed, Daglha Gampo Monastery attracted many Bodhisattvas who were to become Gampopa’s disciples. They were, in fact, emanations of followers from the time of Buddha Shakymuni, those who had promised to help Chandra Prabhakumara spread the teachings. These Bodhisattvas had been practicing Dharma for many lives and so, when Gampopa gave an instruction, they attained realization without having to go through hardships.


Out of all Bodhisattvas gathered together at Daglha Gampo, three were particularly outstanding. They were known as “the three Khampas,” because they all came from Kham in East Tibet. One of them, whose name was Dorje Gyäl, was a direct emanation of the Buddha himself, who had promised, with his disciples, to help Chandra Prabhakumkara spread the Dharma in future times. The second Khampa’s name was U-ser and he was to be His Holiness Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa. He was called U-ser because U means “head” and ser means “grey.” Since he was born with grey hair, he got the nickname Grey Head. The third one’s name was Saltong Shokgam. Sal means “clarity, luminosity,” tong means “emptiness,” so he was the one born with a harelip who had realized clarity and emptiness. Except for the three Khampas, Gampopa’s other students kept pure discipline. Because they were completely realized, the three Khampas were beyond the accumulation of karma and so they did not keep the strict monks’ discipline. Over and over again they asked Gampopa for permission to let them drink alcohol. Finally he gave in and said that each of them could have three cups of barley beer. They were pretty happy with that. On a special day, they took beer up into the mountains to a beautiful location. Since they wanted to demonstrate how the beer didn’t affect them, they performed miracles. They had a wonderful time and returned home in the evening, still singing and dancing, which was prohibited in the monastery. Their behaviour disturbed the discipline master, who beat them with his long stick and told them that they had to leave. They left before the sun rose the next morning, beginning the long descent down the mountain into the valley. Gampopa was meditating in a hut above the monastery at that time. He told one of his attendants that he felt that something had happened to the three yogis, who he called “Milarepas,” and sent his attendant to see. When his attendant reached the valley, he saw the three Khampas prostrating towards Gampopa. The attendant informed Gampopa that not only were they leaving, but all the birds were leaving along with them. Furthermore, not only were they making prostrations, but the grass and trees were bending in their direction. Gampopa knew that this was not good, so he went down to the valley and asked them to stay. After they returned to the monastery, Gampopa told everyone who they were. Knowing this, the other monks never again had negative feelings about the three men from Kham.


Thrangu Rinpoche tells us how Gampopa tested his students: “One day he told his three closest disciples, ‘All three of you make yourself a meditation hat and then come back to see me.’ Dorje Gyälpo thought, ‘Well, my Guru told me to make a hat and I’m sure he means a really nice and big hat.’ So he made a really nice and big hat. Düsum Khyenpa thought, ‘Oh, my Guru instructed me to make a hat. He must mean a really beautiful one.’ So he made a very neat little hat. Saltong Shogam went to meditate and forgot all about the hat. On the day when they were due to see Gampopa with their hats, he suddenly remembered, ‘Oh my! He asked me to make a hat and I forgot all about it. But now I must get something together.’ So he just took a piece of cloth and a piece of string, tied everything together, and put it on his head. Seeing the ornate hat of Dorje Gyälpo, Gampopa said, ‘Your hat shows that you will father the four great and eight lesser lineages of the Kagyüpas.’ Concerning Düsum Khyenpa, Gampopa said, ‘You made a very neat little hat. Since it’s quite small, it means you won’t have a huge lineage or so many different kinds of lineages as Dorje Gyälpo, but the lineage that comes from you will be extremely good, pure, and strong.’ As we know, Düsum Khyenpa gave rise to the Kamtsang Lineage, also known as the Karma Kagyü Lineage. Concerning Saltong Shogam’s rather strange hat, Gampopa said, ‘It seems that you will not be able to do a lot among human beings, but you may practice meditation very intensively and then you will be able to help non-human beings due to your achievements.’” History proved that Saltong Shogam did not have a spiritual lineage among human beings on earth. However, he did teach spirits in that life and has continued to reincarnate. His reincarnations became the Traleg Rinpoches of Thrangu Monastery.


Chöje Lama Phuntsok Rinpoche taught the short teachings that Je Gampopa offered students and that have become known as “The Four Dharmas of Gampopa.” He explained that the short verse describes the process of mind training. It is:


“Grant your blessings so that my mind may turn towards the Dharma.

Grant your blessings so that the Dharma may go along the path.

Grant your blessings so that the Dharma may clarify confusion.

Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.”


Je Gampopa taught fourteen things to avoid in a few lines, which are:

“Like returning empty-handed from an island of precious gems,
it is meaningless to ignore the sacred Dharma after having obtained a human body.

Like a moth diving into a flame,
it is meaningless to return to family life after having entered the gateway to the Dharma.

Like dying of thirst at the shore of a lake,
it is meaningless to live near a noble Dharma master while having no trust.

Like leaning an axe against a tree trunk,
it is meaningless to have a spiritual practice that is not used to remedy ego-clinging.

Like a sick person holding a bag of medicine,
it is meaningless to listen to instructions that don't remedy disturbing emotions.

Like a parrot reciting verses,
it is meaningless to recite Dharma words that are not taken to heart.

Like trying to wash a sheepskin coat in plain water,
it is meaningless to be generous with wealth that is acquired through theft or deception.

Like handing a mother her child's flesh,
it is meaningless to make offerings to the Three Jewels by hurting other sentient beings.

Like a cat lying in wait for a mouse,
it is meaningless to be stubbornly involved in selfish aims for this life.

Like trading a wish-fulfilling jewel for ordinary gems,,
it is meaningless to perform virtuous actions out of a desire for praise, fame, honour, or gain.

Like a doctor struck by an incurable disease,
it is meaningless to have studied a lot and yet remain shallow.

Like a rich man without the key to his safe,
it is meaningless to be learned in the oral instructions and not apply them in practice.

Like the blind leading the blind,
it is meaningless to teach others a spiritual practice that you have not realized yourself.

Like believing brass to be gold,

it is meaningless to think an experience that is produced through a technique is supreme,
while neglecting the natural state.”

Gampopa led his students through the gradual stages of the Kadam Mahayana Tradition first and then through the Mahamudra and Tantra instructions that he had received from Jetsün Milarepa, who, in turn, had received them from Marpa Lotsawa. Bardor Tulku tells us that these three Mahasiddhas are often called “Mamigasum,” mar referring to Marpa, mi to Milarepa, and dag to Gampopa, sum meaning “three.” The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa wrote: “Gampopa succeeded in preserving the inner wisdom-teachings by creating a viable outer organization to practice and transmit them from one generation to the next. In Gampopa’s Lineage, there are three ways of teaching the path of Mahamudra. These three approaches are known as: the Sutra Mahamudra Tradition ( mdo-lugs ), the Tantric Mahamudra Tradition ( sngags-lugs ), and the Essential Mahamudra Tradition ( snying-po-lugs ). These three traditions of Mahamudra are preserved to this day in the Kagyu School.” Since Gampopa united the Mahamudra instructions of Tilopa with the orthodox tradition that is practiced by the Kadampas, his instructions are called “the union of the two rivers.”


The Dharma Fellowship listed the lineages that Gampopas’s disciples founded and that became the four great schools of the Dagpo Kagyü: (1) Karma Kagyü, which is the main lineage to this day, was founded by Düsum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa; (2) Tsalpa Kagyü was founded by Zhang Yudrakpa; (3) Barom Kagyü was founded by Barom Dharma Wangchuk; and (4) Phagdru Kagyü was founded by Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyälpo. The eight lesser schools that originated from Phagmo Drupa’s leading disciples are: (1) Drikung Kagyü, which was founded by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon; (2) Taklung Kagyü was founded by Taklung Thanga Tashi Pal; (3) Shri Drupa Kagyü was founded by Lingje Repa Pema Dorje; (4) Trophu Kagyü was founded by Gyal Tsha Rinchen Gon; (5) Martsang Kagyü was founded by Marpa Drubthob Sherab Senge; (6) Yerpa Kagyü was founded by Yelphugpa; (7) Yamzang Kagyü was founded by Yamzang Choje; and (8) Shugseb Kagyü was founded by Gyergom Chenpo Zhonnu Dragpa. All lineages are based on the instructions that Je Gampopa imparted and therefore they are sub-schools of the Dagpo Kagyü. In the instructions presented at Kagyü Samye Ling, Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche taught: “Of the eight minor lineages of the Drupa Kagyü, Taklung and Drikung Kagyü are still present, the rest of them, the other five, have disappeared. So the branches of the Kagyü are three. There is one called Shangpa Kagyü, there is also Surmang Kagyü and Nedo Kagyü, but they don’t come into the calculation of the four major and eight minor ones, they are like separate branches, but they are Kagyüpa lineages.”


His Holiness the 17 th Karmapa wrote in the foreword to Thrangu Rinpoche’s book, entitled “Je Gampopa’s ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ ”: “From the ocean-like oral instructions, which give loving advice to disciples who are suitable vessels, there are ‘The Precious Garland of the Supreme Path,’ the heart of the core teachings, and ‘The Jewel Ornament of Precious Liberation.’ ”


At the age of 75 and before passing into Paranirvana, Je Gampopa told his disciples:


“When I enter the non-dual, all-pervading element, you shouldn’t think, ‘Now the Lama is gone.’ My mind is inseparable from all the precious Lamas and Buddhas of the three times. If you meditate, supplicate, and think of me, my blessings will be there without yielding. In the future, those who think, ‘I haven’t met him’ should simply study and practice the texts that I composed – it is the same as meeting me.”



The Golden Rosary, in: Official Website of H.H. the 17 th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, 2008.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life & Teachings of Gampopa , Colorado & Auckland, 2003.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Story of Gampopa , in: Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life & Spiritual Songs of Milarepa , Co. & Auckland, 2003.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Je Gampopa’s “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation,” Co. & Auckland, 2003.

Chöje Lama Phuntsok Rinpoche, The Four Preliminary Contemplations to Correctly Practice Mind Training, presented at Karma Thegsum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006, in: Teachings by Lamas from Lekshey Ling Institute, KLLI, 2008. See also H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third, The Four Dharmas of Lha-je Gampopa , presented at Kamalashila Institute in 1987, in: Teachings in English, KLLI, 2007.

The Rain of Wisdom. The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus , transl. under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa by the Nalanda Translation Com., Boston & London, 1980.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Gampopa , presented at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, transl. by Chojor Radha & ed. by Andrea Price, N.Y., 1986.

Bardor Tulku, The Kagyü Lineages , presented at KTD, transl. & edited by Michele Martin, N.Y. 1992.

Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche, Karma Kagyu Lineage & Guru Yoga , Samye Ling Monastery, Scotland, 2003.

The Dharma Fellowship of HH the Gyalwa Karmapa, Kagyu Lineage: Gampopa , Denman Island, B.C., 2006.


May the brilliance of the three wisdoms spread!


  (Compiled & written for English speaking students & guests of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal, who hold copyrights, by gh, apologizing for inconsistencies and solely responsible for all inadequacies & mistakes, July 2008.)

© Karma Lekshey Ling Shedra, Post Box No.8435, Swoyambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal