A Summary of The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on The Kangyur
India is the source of Buddhism in Tibet and most of the teachings were translated from Sanskrit and other Indian languages into Tibetan. So in order to honor that, at the beginning of every Tibetan Buddhist text, the title is first written in Sanskrit, followed by Tibetan. This is done in order to recollect where the dharma comes from and to appreciate that. At the time the texts were translated, there was usually a great pandit from India and a Tibetan translator working on them together. During the first period of translation, all the texts were translated in this way and edited by great masters. They took a tremendous amount of care in producing the texts. And during the later period, they also took a lot of care with translation by traveling to India and doing a lot of editing and correction.
The Kangyur was not published at first. The teacher of Chim Jampel Yang (Tib.mchims ‘jam-dpal dbyangs) made the first collection of the Kangyur and it was handwritten. Because it was kept in a shrine room called the Jam Lhakhang at Narthang Monastery, this edition later became famous as the Lhakang Kangyur (sometimes known as the Old Narthang Kangyur.). After some time in Tibet, the Kangyur Rinpoche was produced by xylograph or woodcarving in Jang, sponsored by the King of Jang. The main editor of the Jang Kangyur was the Sixth Shamarpa. Later on it was called the Lithang Kangyur, because the xylograph was stored in Lithang. The Jang Kangyur was the first Tibetan Kangyur published in Tibet and this occurred during the time of Emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty. Perhaps that was the first Tibetan Kangyur to be edited by some of the great masters of the Karma Kamtsang. The publication of the Kangyur has had a great deal of contribution from the great masters of the Karma Kamtsang.
As we said before, when we request the buddhas and bodhisattvas to turn the wheel of Dharma, if we have not taken care with the teachings they have already given, then to keep on requesting teachings from them is rather strange. If we do not practice what they have already taught and what they have not yet taught we ask them to teach, that is a little bit excessive. And generally, in regards to the Kangyur and Tengyur, we just put them between two end boards, tie them up very well, and put them up in the shrine and lock it. Sometimes we act as if we do not have to read them, but only need to preserve them in the shrine as objects of worship. If that becomes the norm, then there is a danger that the dharma will be lost.
In Tibet early on, there was a tradition of teaching the sutras, but later on, the shastras, the commentaries by the great masters, were studied much more. And then the Tibetan masters wrote and taught commentaries and those became the principle textbooks that were studied. And thereby, gradually, the direct teachings of the Buddha were studied less and less. Of course the commentaries by the Tibetan masters are perhaps clearer and easier to understand, but the [works of the] Indian masters, and especially the direct teachings of the Buddha, are the main source so therefore they must be studied. It is good to delve into the commentaries and understand them, but if we do not study the Kangyur at all, it is very strange. So the shedras and monasteries must read, study, and become familiar with the direct teachings of the Buddha as a primary source. If they never even look at the direct teachings of the Buddha, it is not possible that they will understand them very well.
As it was said by the great Drikungpa, “If the teachings are not based on the Kangyur, then it is the work of Mara.” If the teachings are based merely on our teachers’ experiences, it is possible in these degenerate times that some lamas might give teachings that are not really according to the teachings of the Buddha or the Kangyur, but are their own made-up instructions. It is quite possible for that to happen. If we could compare the teachings of our lamas with the direct teachings of the Buddha, then we would be able to understand whether their teachings are genuine or not. We would be able to authenticate them based on the Kangyur.
So the Buddha said, “During the time of degeneration, I will appear as the letters (texts).” So all of these teachings are an emanation of the Buddha and we have to see them as objects of refuge. Since we have not experienced the truth of the path or the truth of nirvana, at this moment the teachings are the real guide or lamp that dispels the darkness.
Thus we have a great opportunity to read [the Kangyur] now and in the future also. As far as the shedras are concerned, they should facilitate Kangyur study, examination, and research. For instance, when we talk about the Vinaya and are discussing the myriad Vinaya principles, such as whether the Gelongma ordination should be there or not, if we actually were to read the thirteen volumes of the Vinaya, then many of the things that are confusing to us would become very clear. What we don’t understand will become clear, and that is what I want you all to keep in your heart. In essence, the Kangyur is the root of our dharma, the source of our teachings, and the true guide of what to do and what not to do. With this understanding, please recite the Kangyur.