Gampopa | The founder of Kagyu

Gampopa | The founder of Kagyu
(1079- 1153)

Prior to endless aeons when Lord Gampopa was a Bodhisattva, he accumulated the immeasurable merits (accumulation of virtues and accumulation of insight) in the presence of many Buddhas. He got the infinite benevolence of his kind teachers and received all the definitive teachings from Tathāgata Śākyamuni Buddha.

Later then, by the name of the Jīvaka (Bhikṣu Physician) he was known to the people of Tibet which was located to the northern side of Bodh Gayā along the bank of Mahālokti River amidst mountain ranges. He lived with 500 perfect and imperfect disciples, receiving the knowledge of all Buddhas (father and mother Buddhas).

Lord Buddha has predicted in Sādharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra and Samādhirāja Sūtra that the Bodhisattva Youthful Moonlight would be reborn as Lord Gampopa.

Lord Gampopa was born in 1079 A.D. in Nyal area (Tibet) as the son to father Nyewa Gompa and mother Shomo Zachecham.

Gyangsere and Syningchungwa were respectively his elder and younger brothers.

Gampopa was himself known as the physician Dakpo Lharjé, "the physician from Dakpo". From the age of 16 to 25, he completely studied the Tibetan medicines and received all the Tantric teachings. Thus, he became a master of all subjects.

As a youth he married a daughter of a man named Chim Jose Darma Wo and had a child, but they both died, causing him to renounce the householder's life.

At the age of 25, in 1104 he took ordination from renowned Buddhist masters Geshe Shapa Lingpa and Geshe Loden Sherab of Maryul.

In accordance with the Vinaya rules, he completely observed all the vows of a Bhikṣu and got his name as Bhikṣu Sonam Rinchen.

First he studied the teachings of Sūtra and received many Tantric oral transmission teachings, initiations, traditional methods of practice and blessing etc., from the two above mentioned Bodhisattvas in Dakpo.

Later he moved to Penyul in northern side of Middle Tibet to continue his studies of Kadampa tradition, which originated from Atiśa Dīpankara Śrījñāna. Gampopa studied under some of the most prominent students of direct students of Mahāsiddha Atiśa himself.

As instructed by his teachers he started the practices and abandoned all his luxurious things, given to him by his ancestors:

He lived in a simple separate meditation cell near his ancestral house and collected the food and other necessary requirements for his practice from his father’s properties.

He indulged in the right meditation (Samādhi) for many days continuously with the stability and concentration of mind. He ceased the major negative attitudes like desire, anger and ignorance from his mind and spent a short time for his sleep.

One night he saw a dream he had to obtain the Ten Bodhisattva Wisdoms, which are described in the Swarņaprabhā Sūtra. But he was uncertain about his dream.

Some day in the spring he left his meditation and came out of his retreat for a roundabout and went to the south side.

He overheard a conversation of two beggars:

One of the beggars said that that would be very nice, if they could get sufficient food and a bowl of vegetables without hard working.

The second beggar said that that would be better if they had the same luxuries like the King Chede.

The third beggar said that the death of the King Chede would definitely come to him:

So it would be better if they could be like the great Yogi Milarepa (1052-1135), because he neither required clothes nor the food. All the Dakinis were offering nectar to him. He could also travel in the sky by riding on a lion.

When Gampopa heard the name of Milarepa the Great, he felt sorry at heart; tears welled up in his eyes, and deep faith for Milarepa arose in him.

He sat once more for his meditation, and understood the perfect emptiness of all appearing phenomena, including his meditation cell:

The outer world seemed to be bewilderment of mind; the Samsara as the only object of mind. He was able to know the nature of mind of all beings.

After the completion of his evening meditation, Lord Gampopa went out searching those three beggars he had met before. He found them sleeping in a rest shed.

He asked one of them where the Great Yogi Milarepa would be at that time they were talking about.

The beggar replied that Milarepa was then living in Maryul Gungthang.

The Great Translator Lama Marpa was the Teacher of Milarepa and the Great Siddha Lama Naropa was the master of Lama Marpa. The Six Yogas are the special teachings of Naropa, which are the essence of Hevajra Tantra.

The beggar further said that he could not get the opportunity to visit Milarepa:

Although many devotees were going to visit him, they used to see the different forms of Milarepa. Some of them saw him as a white Stupa and some as Śākyamuni Buddha. So every devotee saw these different forms of Milarepa.

The beggar also informed that Milarepa was then living in the area between the Drin and Nyenam mountains.

Lord Gampopa again requested the beggar to show him the way to reach the place where Milarepa was living.

But the beggar dismissed his request saying that he would not be able to walk with him, as Gampopa was a young man. So he advised Gampopa to go to the top of the pass of Maryul Gungthang from where he could find out the path to the famous meditator. At last the beggar prepared the food of vegetable curry for Gampopa.

On that night Gampopa made special offering and prayers to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He then sold his best corn field for the cost of five gold coins and started his journey towards the Maryul Gungthang to visit the Great Yogi Milarepa.

Milarepa the Great had already known the coming of Gampopa to his place and he said to his disciples, “Today here will come the most Fortunate One”. While Milarepa was talking with the disciples, Gampopa suddenly appeared there.

Gampopa met first one of the Milarepa’s disciples who told him that the Great Master Milarepa had already known about the coming of the young person who belonged to the Middle Tibet.

Then he said to Gampopa not to hurry and to stay a few days more in order to meet Milarepa. Gampopa abided by his words and spent the night in a cave nearby.

Next day in the mid-day one of the Milarepa’s disciples came to him and told that his master wanted to see him. When Gampopa promptly went to the place of Milarepa, he saw the Great Yogi Milarepa seated on a big rock surrounded by his disciples.

Gampopa paid his homage to Milarepa and offered the gold coins to the Master that he had brought along with him. He then requested to Milarepa to accept the gold coins for he had come to visit him after forty days long journey.

The Teacher said that many devotees from different parts of the world like Kashmir, India and China etc., used to come there. He didn’t accept the offered gold and said,

“I don’t need this gold because it can be the cause of obstacles in my life. You keep it with you to get some food for your meditation”.

Then Milarepa asked the young man what his name was.

The latter replied that, his name was Sonam Rinchen.

After hearing the name, Milarepa repeated three times this name and said that through the accumulations of great virtues he was the rare one, like the precious jewels for all sentient beings. Then he accepted Gampopa as his disciple with the recitation of some verses of Dharma. It was in year 1109.

Milarepa explained to Sonam Rinchen that the Kadam tradition possessed inadequate tantric teachings.

Milarepa then gave Sonam Rinchen instructions on Vajra Vārāhī and sent him off to meditate in a nearby cave, supported by a local householder to whom Sonam Rinchen gave two pieces of gold.

After 13 months, during which Sonam Rinchen reported ever-advancing signs of attainment, Milarepa gave him the transmission of his entire teachings, including Tumo and Mahāmudrā, and sent him back to his homeland, predicting that he would become a renowned teacher.

After receiving the complete oral teachings, instructions, initiations and blessing etc., from Milarepa Gampopa was advised by his guru to proceed to Middle Tibet for his practice of Dharma.

Also Milarepa advised him not to live with the bad tempered persons who possessed the three poisons (hatred, desire and ignorance) in their mind, because it might affect the practitioner very badly. It is because the evil-minded persons are the volcanoes of anger and who always criticize the philosophy of selflessness of phenomena and selflessness of persons.

For example, the snake is a simple animal without wings and legs, but people avoid it, because it has retained lots of anger that can harm others. Similarly, if someone retains the anger in his mind, indeed all other beings become enemies of him.

Some people say that they need wealth (things) for their survival at their old age as well as for the cremation during their death; they collect the precious stones and wood etc., but with the growth of strong attachment to wealth, they always commit negative deeds, which are against the doctrine of Dharma.

But they think that they need the properties in order to accumulate virtues. For this purpose they endeavour to earn from the interest of the money lending. Thus, their attachment to the amassing of wealth increases day by day.

Some people say that it is not the proper time to practice the real Dharma from now because it is impossible to get the Enlightenment in one lifetime:

So they neither accumulate the merits, nor confess the demerits, nor cultivate the compassion; finally they fall down into the Hīnayāna. They always blame the skilful method of Mahāyāna and consider that it is the concept of nihilism.

Due to their ignorance, all these negative activities take place, and consequently, they become the followers of Hīnayāna (Lower Vehicle) Buddhism.

We should avoid talking with those persons who have such wrong views. If we talk with them, many questions about the teachers and religions arise and they get upset against us.

If we talk about the true meanings of Dharma, the less intelligent mind doubts the possibilities of the Enlightenment and absolutely avoids the concept of Mahāyāna. So due to the negative actions, they fall into the world of hell (non-respite or boundless Nāraka).

Thus, we may become the main cause why they left Dharma; as a consequence we will earn a bad karma for the future. So, it is very important to keep oneself away from persons having the three poisons such as desire, anger and attachment.

It is said in the Mūlapattī (The Root Transgression of the Tantric Vows) that the practitioner spends a week in the Hīnayāna and is influenced by the person who has possessed the three poisons (desire, anger and attachment) as well as acts like him.

We should always be alert of the wrong doer like a deer being alert to the danger:

Thus, we should cultivate peace and calmness; keep the ideal behaviour among the society; possess good character and be pure both in mind and body of the negative actions (defilements).

We should obey the social disciplines and attempt to live in isolate places (near mountain side) and be engaged forever in the perfect meditation without any conference.

If we virtually realize the Buddhahood in our mind, we must never forget to pay respect to our Masters.

One who has been thoroughly purified by the accumulations of merits and confession of negative deeds, he should not neglect the accumulations of the smaller virtues:

Though, he has entirely understood the doctrine of Karma and Phala (Action and Result), he must never forget to avoid the smaller sins.

One should not blaspheme the attitudes of essence-lessness of both Sentient Beings and Phenomena after realizing the thoughts equally both for one’s own self and for others’.

On the other hand, one should keep himself engaged in practicing Puja four times daily for accumulating merits by virtuous deeds even after one achieving the state of Samādhi.

Thus, Milarepa advised Gampopa and instructed him to proceed to the Middle of Tibet for his practice or meditation. He said:

“My son! Practice Mahāmudrā in order to understand the reality of the mind. Then, it will be possible on your part to visualize Buddha and you can see the old Milarepa also as a Buddha through you.

Receiving the instructions from the Great Yogi Milarepa, Gampopa proceeded to Middle Tibet and got absorbed in meditation.

Sonam Rinchen spent the next three years in the monastery of Sewalung, in Nyang, living together with Kadam monks but keeping to the meditation instructions given him by Milarepa.

Following an experience in which he perceived Milarepa as the dharmakaya, he set out for solitary retreat, residing in a number of remote places.

It was from Wode Gunggyel that Sonam Rinchen decided at last to return to Milarepa, finishing the 12 year period that his teacher had recommended he remain in meditation before returning.

While passing though Yarlung on his way to Drin, Sonam Rinchen learned that Milarepa had left this world. He returned to Ode Gunggyel and continued with his meditation, before moving on to the Gampo region where he founded his monastery, Daklha Gampo in 1121. The site was likely on the spot of his prior hermitage, Gampodar.

Lord Gampopa composed the variety of Śāstras or commentaries on the teachings of Buddha. Two most notable of them are the Jewel Ornament of Liberation and the ‘Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. In both, the traditional essences of Bodhipathpradīpam of Atiśa and the Mahāmudrā of Milarepa have been put together.

Besides these, he wrote the instructions of Mahāmudrā (the teachings of contemporary generation of Mahāmudrā) and composed numbers of Tibetan Medicine books.

In Sādharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra it has been mentioned that Lord Gampopa would have countless disciples, but the four great Siddhas like

1. Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170),
2. Düsum Khyenpa (a future First Karmapa) (1110-1193)
3. Zhang Yudrakpa Tsöndru Drakpa (1122–93)
4. Barompa Darma Wangchug (1127-1194)

were the principal disciples among the thousands of disciples. Lord Gampopa introduced the new teachings to his disciples, which he had received from the two precious traditional teachings of Kadampa as well as form Kagyu.

When Gampopa was 75 years old, he said to his disciples that the study of the ‘Jewels Ornament of Liberation’ and ‘Precious Garland of the Supreme Path’ would be exactly the same as on receiving the teachings directly from him for those who could not come across with him.

He said that although the future disciples would not have the opportunity to meet him personally, they should study his texts and would get the same benefit as seeing him personally.

In the Water Bird Year when he was taking meditation, on the Day of Pūrṇimā of the sixth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar in 1153 A.D., he attained his Mahā-Parinirvāṇa without any physical distress.