When sūtra meets tantra. sGam po pa’s Four Dharma Doctrine as an Example for his Synthesis of the bKa’ gdams and Mahāmudrā Systems


Rolf Scheuermann

  • Betreuung: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

The Dharma moves towards the Dharma. (chos chos su 'gro ba)

The Dharma moves towards the path. (chos lam du 'gro ba)

The path dispels illusion. (lam 'khrul pa sel ba)

Illusion appears as gnosis. ('khrul pa ye shes su 'char ba)

The Four Dharmas of sGam po pa

The monk yogi sGam po pa bSod nams rin chen (1079–1153) played a crucial role during the later dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. Having established the first monastic seat of the bKa’ brgyud pa, Tibetan Buddhist tradition regards him as the founding father of the four great and eight minor Dwags po bka’ brgyud schools. He is further credited for creating a synthesis of two prima facie irreconcilable doctrinal systems: the strongly sūtra-based bKa’ gdams system stressing monasticism and the mainly tantra-based bKa’ brgyud system with its emphasis on mahāmudrā and the lifestyle of a yogi.

sGam po pa’s Four Dharma doctrine (Dwags po chos bzhi) is generally considered to be a short presentation of the Buddhist master’s doctrinal system, summarizing the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings, both sūtra and tantra. Due to the ambiguity of the four formulations and the brevity of explanations found in sGam po pa’s collected works on this subject, different explanatory approaches developed already at an early time. The study focusses largely on the development, content and reception history of this teaching which has been relatively neglected so far in Western studies, also investigating the relationship and exchange with similar Tibetan Buddhist doctrines. It is conducted in the framework of the Doctoral College (Initiativkolleg) “Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands”, and aims to produce a better understanding of the cultural transfer processes surrounding the formation of the early Dwags po bka’ brgyud traditions’ doctrinal system.