Literary Genres › Biography | Tibetan Masters › Jigme Lingpa
Courtesy of Himalayan Art Resources
Adornment of Dohā
A Factual Account of the Life and Liberation of the Dzogchenpa Rangjung Dorje
by Jigme Lingpa
Homage to the principal Buddha!
The full history of saṃsāra,
In which we fail to realize the truth
Of exhaustion and non-arising
And fall prey to dualistic thoughts,
Is too much to relate.
When the neutral all-ground
Is associated with focal objects,
Defilements arise and proliferate.
The compounded collections of consciousness,
The elements and sense sources
Produce what we know as the world, the wheel of existence.
And thus, once upon a time, when in the desire realm
I grasped at a self,
I was born in the land of Śrī Parvati,
In the paternal family line of the Lord Gyayakpa.
As the family did not have any dependants,
This did not prevent me from possessing all the circumstantial advantages.
I was born a boy with a pure mind,
And so I possessed all the five personal advantages as well.
Although young children who cannot scare away crows
Do not generally take the vows, 
At the age of five,
I entered the monastic life.
Prompted by the whip, I memorized ritual texts,
And with minimal effort, listened, contemplated and meditated,
Appearing as one who disregards the law of cause and effect.
At the age of fourteen I went forth as a novice monk.
Yet, aside from the four root vows,
I didn't even know the precepts,
So how could I maintain the training in discipline?
I thought that exerting myself solely in excellent aspirations
Would constitute the vow of refraining from negative actions.
And so, in the guise of a monastic, I squandered the offerings,
Living my life like an ordinary person.
Nonetheless, I was weary with the world
And naturally felt renunciation and great compassion
Since as long ago as I can recall.
I aspired to the conduct of an ascetic.
I was quite intelligent and dexterous,
And though I lived the life of a child,
I could not entertain wicked, cat-like conduct.
When I became an adult, I had no desire to act negatively,
Mentally or physically, yet based on external circumstances,
Such as the behaviour of other monks,
I succumbed to anger and attachment, for which I felt remorse.
Remaining alone, I thought only of the sacred Dharma.
When I read the biography of the great master of Uḍḍiyāna
And remembered the Three Jewels,
Strong faith blazed forth incessantly.
Filled with devotion, I thought of instantly arriving
At the Copper-Coloured Mountain,
And at that time my mind was blessed indeed.
Even hearing about hunters tracking deer,
Nomads chasing flocks of sheep to slaughter,
Or those stricken by fear of punishment,
Not to mention seeing them directly,
Caused overwhelming compassion to arise.
When I reached the age of twenty-four,
I thought only of the faults of distraction
And dreamt of fleeing in pursuit of Dharma.
I longed to wander alone in desolate places
And to cut attachment to my homeland.
Since I had no trace of hostility in my perceptions,
I was pleased at hearing the names of gurus,
Or learning about great meditators whose tasks are few
Or peaceful and virtuous people.
Without any misgivings,
I felt respect for everyone and all the various teachings.
Though lacking the sweet fragrance
Of the twelve ascetic practices, still
My attitude and actions were unlike those of ordinary householders.
With boundless weariness and renunciation
I adopted the outlook of Individual Liberation.
When favourable conditions arose,
At Śrī Parvati and at Samye Chimphu
I meditated single-mindedly for seven years
On the generation and perfection phases,
While upholding a mere semblance of the vows of the Mantra Vehicle.
As the five faculties of thorough affliction
Became causes of complete purification,
My mind was overwhelmed with spiritual experiences, I became relaxed,
And my realization of emptiness and compassion increased more and more.
Thoughts of attachment, anger, hope and fear
Were naturally liberated on the path.
Through the blessing of the Three Roots
And the direct cause of the vajra path
I opened the treasury of all the qualities of complete purification.
My body was set ablaze, the ḍākinīs granted signs,
And I found the treasure of discriminating awareness,
Just as the mighty victor Padma had prophesied.
The cloud-wheel of syllables in the channels and elements
Resounded as the music of the sacred Dharma.
The all-seeing eye of wholly unobstructed vision
And the ḍākinīs of the three places came under my power.
With valid direct perception, I purified into all-encompassing space
Any thoughts of abandoning or adopting, assertion or refutation,
Such things as the fear that mere intellectuals experience,
Digging for treasures,
Hoping for a Dharma heir to arrive,
Or hoping to gain anything.
Although I cannot claim
To have reached the higher paths and bhūmis,
In the Sūtra of the Application of Mindfulness
The Buddha spoke of the eight great Dharma treasures. 
Their special feature is that anyone to whom they are revealed
Will not fail to carry out enlightened activities
And will attain siddhis.
In particular, through the strength of previous aspirations
And relying on the pith instructions of the great omniscient one,
I realized the nature of my mind.
Since in the lower cave at Chimphu
I met Longchenpa in a vision and realized the truth of reality,
What need is there for ocean-like philosophical tenets?
Based on his blessing, I knew every detail of the teachings,
Beginning with the eighteen freedoms and advantages
And the refuge of the three types of being.
The victorious speaker of truth proclaimed
That we should show respect and pay homage
To anyone from whom we receive the Dharma,
Just as pure brahmans worship their fire.
Thus, by following this example, I understood the nature of all the teachings
And the special features of the Great Perfection.
Directly and in visions and in dreams
I received prophecies that I would delight the buddhas.
Those who could not distinguish true and false teachings
And whose intelligence was blunted by demons
Scorned and rebuked the śrāmaṇa Gautama
When he abandoned the austerities of the tīrthikas,
Calling him an evildoer.
How worthy they are of compassion!
In a former age I received
The bodhisattva vows from Buddha Kāśyapa
And the prophecy that, having eliminated the obscurations of seeing and meditation that veil the buddha nature,
I would become the buddha Completely Victorious.
Until I arrive in front of the bodhi tree,
I shall not fail in the conduct of the bodhisattvas,
Nor fall under the sway of ordinary beings,
But attain the sovereign state of true realization
As the spontaneously accomplished Rangjung Dorje.
Moreover, since my mind has become
Honest and righteous,
I do not even criticize
Dharma and spiritual practitioners who just keep up appearances,
Let alone those truly connected to the Dharma.
As for followers of the Dharma, whether from India or Tibet,
How can the ignorant ones recognize the qualities
Of those with superior faculties?
Having eliminated the mind of the peak of existence and the inexpressible self
With discriminating wisdom,
When figures such as Āryaśūra and Dignāga
Become great sun-like illuminators of the teachings,
This is the enlightened activity of the victorious ones
Though I have faith in all the Teachings,
I saw the bodhisattva piṭaka
As the foundation for the Mantra Vehicle,
So I went before the Jowo Śākyamuni statue
To take on the bodhisattva vows.
I took pledges of aspiration and action, awakening my affinity.
Seeing the decline of our own tradition,
I gathered the texts of the Collected Tantras,
Received the transmissions, and wrote a history, a catalogue 
And refutations that banish misconceptions.
Thus I created auspicious conditions
For the texts and transmissions to flourish and spread.
In their failure to rely upon the meaning
Of the Sūtra, Illusion and Mind,
And the Fourfold Heart-Essence,
Some other scholars tainted and scorned these works of mantra.
Thus, I studied, explained and practised to the best of my ability
Such texts, which offer coherent rituals that mature and liberate,
Which present no contradiction between tantra and pith instruction,
Which incorporate all the crucial points of the basis and agent of purification,
And which have the power to grant the result of the five kāyas,
Including such works from the Kama
As the Union of the Buddhas, Innermost Kīlaya,
Emptying the Depths, Eight Great Mandalas, Yamāntaka and others.
Based on the close lineage of blessings and empowerment
Of the master Śrī Siṃha,
I gathered anew the teachings
Of the Tantric System Kīlaya.
All the traditions and doctrines of the Snowy Mountains of Tibet,
Whichever they may be,
Uphold the tenets of the Buddha.
For those wishing to understand all the teachings,
Both the collections of sūtra and tantra,
I composed The Treasury of Precious Qualities
Together with its commentaries—The Chariot of the Two Truths and The Chariot of Omniscience—
To illuminate the highway
Of the tenet systems of our own tradition.
I relied on the Words of the Buddha, the Three Jewel Commentary,
The Three Chariots and the Seven Treasuries,
And adorned it with manifold quotations
From the Words of the Buddha and the śāstras.
Casting aside the system of meditating on the emptiness of arising and ceasing
Based on a precise analysis of the consciousnesses and elements
According to the sublime Abhidharma piṭaka,
I arrived at the levels of realization of the Āryas
Through the strength of meditating on the wisdom of the Great Perfection,
Which is the absolute bodhicitta.
To increase my proficiency in the trainings
Of relative bodhicitta, in aspiration and action,
More important than their initial development,
I released about two hundred cattle and sheep,
And also countless tiny animals,
While avoiding any feelings of avarice.
I did not follow the wrong livelihood of ostentatiously
And extravagantly spending donations given out of faith and for the dead.
However, I did construct the monastery of Pema Ö Ling
With a temple that houses the texts of the piṭakas
And mud-sealed retreat huts, where some meditators and monastics took up residence.
I spent thousands of silver coins
To produce representations of the Three Jewels
And offered tens of thousands to restore the shrines of our royal ancestors.
I acquired the Words of the Buddha and sponsored their recital.
In this way I trained in the transcendent perfection of generosity.
I achieved proficiency in the channels, inner winds and vital energies
And upheld the vinaya of the Vajra Vehicle,
Adopting the discipline of mantra.
Criticism from the foolish
Could not impair the fearless confidence I acquired.
Patiently I accepted the meaning of the profound truth,
Living my life without hypocrisy.
As an aid to the activity sphere of work
And all the various forms of conduct
I acquired the transcendent perfection of diligence.
By drawing the mind in and not letting it wander,
Concepts related to generation and completion phases dissolved by themselves,
And my mind was brought into the state of meditative concentration.
Then, as the transcendent perfection of wisdom,
Vipaśyanā became the Great Perfection.
Although pleasing important people
Is nothing but the eight worldly concerns,
Such as hope for gain and fear of loss,
Had I not acted skilfully in this matter,
The royal chaplain would have been jealous and created problems.
Reflecting on this and the obstacles due to my age and illness,
In reply to the invitation of the King of Derge,
I sent a letter.
The Lord of Dharma, the glorious head of the Sakyapas,
Insistently invited me to come,
And from the way this Lord addressed me
I recognized our auspicious connections from previous lives.
It was a long journey, during which
I paid my respects to representations of the Three Jewels that we met along the way.
After I arrived, we congregated in the great temple
For three winter months.
I consecrated the representations of the Three Jewels in general,
And in particular, the preparation of the students
Consisted of the Ancient and New Translations Schools' tantras and oral transmissions, the eight great empowerments,
The permission blessings and the life-force entrustments of the protectors.
I also offered an extensive ritual to grant the bodhisattva vows
And I gave instructions coupled with that.
Thus they exerted themselves greatly in the skilful means
To ripen the two types of bodhicitta.
Although great beings are suitable recipients for higher teachings
Because of their divine nature,
For those of lower faculties it is difficult to be suitable vessels.
So that these noble beings, who were considered gurus of the entire land,
Would become good teachers,
With their minds immersed in the meaning of the Great Vehicle
And in tune with the nature of reality,
I made some excellent and meaningful aspirations.
I avoided being arrogant towards those of lower faculties
As well as putting up some masquerade of kindness
Towards wealthy patrons.
Motivated by the mind set upon awakening and the four ways of attracting disciples,
I taught more than two hundred students,
And not just the explanations for the assembly used for aspirational practice.
Now, at the end of the era suitable for practice
Just having a vague sense of renunciation
Is all that most of those striving to practice the Dharma can manage,
Because their minds are overpowered
By the great demon of the five degenerations.
Even though through months or years of practice
They might develop some positive qualities,
Most will plunge down again—
Rare indeed are those who make progress on the path!
Therefore I always strive hard
To remain in solitude.
In particular, though they might be instructed
In the piṭaka of the Mantra Vehicle,
There are very few who actually succeed.
The causes, and thus the results, are just not there—
Like drawing water from an empty reservoir.
Therefore, if the proliferation and decline of the Teachings
Are measured, not by the realization of reality itself
Or by actions that accord with the Dharma,
But instead by numbers of people,
Genealogy, physical appearance or power,
That is nothing but delusion and stupidity.
The six ornaments and eighty siddhas,
Padampa Sangye from India,
Geshe Kharak Gomchung,
And the victorious Longchen Rabjam,
Did not leave their humble dwellings in exchange for
Huge monastic estates rife with negativity,
And they did not associate with hosts of monks and students
Whose practice of Dharma consisted of desire and anger.
Likewise, I urge you to generate respect for the Three Jewels
And devotedly practice the Dharma.
I have made the perfect aspiration everyone connected with me
May be inspired towards virtue.
In meditation, all thoughts arise as wisdom,
And in post-meditation
I can think only of renunciation.
Since the mind that conceives of an 'I' and grasps at it
In reality has no existence whatsoever,
I went beyond such traits as haughty and exaggerated pride,
Mental bias, praising oneself and disparaging others,
Arrogance and overexertion.
I am free of any hopes or fears
As to whether deluded beings, who attach importance
To family, beauty, power and fame,
Might respect me or not,
Because everyone always has different perceptions
According to their karmic imprints, and how situations are perceived
Depends on interdependent causes and conditions.
"Those individuals who are inspired
By the Great Vehicle,
Though they may not have the power to benefit beings
Should constantly have that intention.
The very fact of having such an intention
Will mean that they accomplish it."
Thus, when you are constantly devoted to the precious mind of bodhicitta,
Which is likened to an elixir that transforms everything into gold,
The rest of your life will be profoundly meaningful.
I wrote this text at the request
Of the great lama of Sakya.
Through this merit, may it become the cause for all who see it, hear it,
Think of it, or touch it, to attain sublime awakening.
| Translated by Han Kop and edited by Barry Cohen, 2023, for the Longchen Nyingtik Project. With gratitude to Lama Sherab Tharchin of Dodrupchen Monastery and Khenpo Sonam Tsewang of Namdroling, who provided guidance on the entire text, and to Khenpo Sonam Tsewang and Matthias Staber for reviewing the translation and offering numerous helpful suggestions.
'Jigs med gling pa. "rdzogs chen pa rang byung rdo rje'i don gyi rnam thar do ha'i rgyan" in 'jigs med gling pa'i rnam thar. BDRC W7479. Chengdu: si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1998, pp. 462–469.
'Jigs med gling pa. "rdzogs chen pa rang byung rdo rje'i don gyi rnam thar do ha'i rgyan". In gsung 'bum_'jigs med gling pa sde dge par ma. BDRC W27300. Gangtok, Sikkim: Pema Thinley for Dodrupchen Rinpoche, 1985. (Derge edition). Vol 9: 513–524.
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______. “Rig-'dzin 'Jigs-med gling-pa and the Klong-Chen sNying-Thig.” In Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation. Edited by Ronald Davidson and Steven Goodman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, pp. 133–147
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______. “From the Autobiography of a Visionary.” In Religions of Tibet in Practice, Donald S. Lopez, ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 369–375.
Smith, Gene. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001.
Tulku Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.
van Schaik, Sam. "A Tibetan Catalogue of the Works of ’Jigs-med gling-pa", Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 29, Avril 2014, pp. 39-63.
______. Approaching the Great Perfection: Simultaneous and Gradual Methods of Dzogchen Practice in the Longchen Nyingtig. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004
______. "Sun and Moon Earrings: The Teachings Received by 'Jigs med gling pa." Tibet Journal, vol. 25: 4, 2000, pp. 3-32.
Śrī Parvati refers to Palri Ösal Tekchen Ling, a Nyingma monastery and branch of Katok in Chonggye that was initially established by Tertön Sherab Özer (1518–1584) under the patronage of Sonam Tobgyal in the 16th century. ↩
rgya yags pa. Elsewhere this is given as Gyadrakpa (rgya brag pa). He was one of the six spiritual heirs of Chöje Drukpa (chos rje 'brug pa). Gene Smith identifies the lineage as the Ra Drukpa (rwa 'brug pa), "one of the six great disciple lines of the 'Brug pa lamas of Rwa lung." (Smith 2001, p. 21) ↩
According to the Vinaya, children who are so young they cannot even scare away crows are not generally allowed to take vows. ↩
That is, in 1735. Jigme Lingpa counts his age here according to Tibetan custom, which begins with the moment of conception, making an individual one year old at birth. So, although Jigme Lingpa writes that he was six years old, we understand that to mean he was five. ↩
This refers to the 33 or 36 precepts of a novice monk, which include avoiding the four root downfalls. ↩
Excellent aspirations (legs smon) refers to prayers that are done to obtain favourable rebirths among the gods or humans. ↩
Cats might look innocent, but secretly they hunt and kill mice and other animals. ↩
The twelve ascetic practices are: 1. wearing clothes found in a dust heap, 2. owning only three robes, 3. wearing felt or woollen clothes, 4. begging for food, 5. eating one's meal at a single sitting, 6. restricting the quantity of food, 7. staying in isolation, 8. sitting under trees, 9. sitting in exposed places, 10. sitting in charnel grounds, 11. sitting even during sleep, and 12. staying wherever one happens to be. ↩
Here Jigme Lingpa is talking about the yogic exercises of the subtle channels (rtsa), wind-energies (rlung) and vital essences (thig le). ↩
The eight treasures of confidence (spobs pa'i gter chen po brgyad) are: 1) treasure of recollection, 2) treasure of intelligence, 3) treasure of realization, 4) treasure of retention, 5) treasure of confidence, 6) treasure of Dharma, 7) treasure of bodhichitta and 8) treasure of accomplishment. ↩
i.e., Longchen Rabjam ↩
Jigme Lingpa here implies that something similar happened to him too. ↩
An Ornament which Pervades the World: A History of the Precious Collection of Tantras of the Earlier Translation School (snga 'gyur rgyud 'bum rin po che'i rtogs brjod 'dzam gling tha gru khyab pa'i rgyan), Derge, Vol. 3: 3–502. ↩
rgyud lugs phur ba. A Vajrakīlaya practice that arose in the wisdom mind of Jigme Lingpa, but which is at the same time extracted from the tantras. For this reason it is considered both a treasure (terma) and part of the oral transmission (kama) lineage. When Jigme Lingpa was staying in retreat, he had a vision of being at Paro Taktsang, where one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche, Palgyi Senge, explained to him how to arrange the practice. He completed the collection by 1783, when he gave the transmission at Sakya Monastery. ↩
The Treasury of Precious Qualities was written in the winter of 1779–80 at Pema Ö Ling, at the request of Chöje Drakpukpa of Lato. ↩
The Chariot of the Two Truths was written at the request of the 31st Sakya throne-holder, Ngawang Künga Lodrö (1729-1783) and The Chariot of Omniscience at the request of Chöjé Drakpukpa of Latö. ↩
A famous commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra by Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (1012–1088) ↩
shing rta gsum. The Great Chariot (shing rta chen mo), Longchenpa’s own commentary on Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind (sems nyid ngal gso); the Excellent Chariot (shing rta bzang po), his commentary on Finding Comfort and Ease in Illusion (sgyu ma ngal gso); and the Pure Chariot (shing rta rnam dag), his commentary on Finding Comfort and Ease in Meditation (bsam gtan ngal gso). ↩
In other words, Jigme Lingpa was not able to accept the king’s invitation to Derge and sent a letter instead. The king was Sawang Zangpo (sa dbang bzang po, 1768-1790). ↩
Jigme Lingpa visited Sakya in 1786 at the age of 57. Since the 31st Sakya throne-holder, Ngawang Künga Lodrö (1729–1783), had already passed, this must have been the 32nd Sakya throne-holder, Jamgön Wangdü Nyingpo (1763–1809). ↩
In other words, Jigme Lingpa is implying he imparted not just the explanations for the assembly (tshogs bshad) but also the explanation for students (slob bshad), which is for more advanced students who aim to actualize and perfect the practice. ↩
Kharak Gomchung Wangchuk Lodrö (kha rag sgom chung dbang phyug blo gros) was a Kadampa master from the 11th or 12th century. ↩
This text was possibly written in 1786 when Jigme Lingpa visited Sakya Monastery at the age of 57. Goodman (1983, p. 36) notes that its woodblocks were first carved in 1787. ↩