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The Buddha's Single Intention

Drigung Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön's Vajra Statements of the Early Kagyü Tradition

The definitive presentation of one of the most unique and compelling works of classical Tibetan literature.

This book presents an influential and extraordinary teaching of the Kagyü tradition of Tibetan Buddhism known as the Single Intention by the master Drigung Jikten Sumgön (1143–1217), along with its chief commentaries, principally the Light of the Sun by Rikzin Chökyi Drakpa (1595–1659).

Early in the history of the Kagyü school, the teachings of Jikten Sumgön were condensed into 150 core formulations called vajra statements. These pithy, revelatory statements comprise the Single Intention (Dgongs gcig), which presents the thought of the Buddha and the nature of the ineffable (brjod du med pa) in concise and direct expression. The Single Intention weaves the thread of ineffable mahamudra through the entire fabric of Buddhism. It presents mahamudra as pervading disciplined conduct, meditative concentration, and discriminative knowledge; ground, path, and result; view, practice, and conduct; and the “three vows” of pratimoksa, of the bodhisattvas, and of mantra. Jikten Sumgön teaches how the fundamental values and insights revealed by the Buddha are woven into reality and therefore accessible to all. 

Jan-Ulrich Sobisch manages to convey the unity of the Buddha’s message both in its particulars and in its scope. His deep and authoritative skill makes this the definitive presentation of one of the most unique and compelling works of classical Tibetan literature.

“The teaching of the Single Intention, or Dgongs gcig, of the renowned founder of the Drigung Kagyü order, Jikten Sumgön, was among the most original and, to some, controversial Tibetan innovations in the history of Buddhist thought. A clear and authoritative presentation of it has long been needed. Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, in The Buddha's Single Intention, now admirably presents the key texts in lucid translation with copious annotation and commentary. An essential contribution to Tibetan Buddhist studies and to the history of the Kagyü and Mahamudra traditions in particular.”

– Matthew T. Kapstein, professor emeritus, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris

“Tibetan masters excelled at crafting comprehensive visions of the entire Buddhist path. The Single Intention tradition is among the most important of these. Sobisch’s magisterial work makes this essential teaching available in all its splendor for the first time.”

– Kurtis R. Schaeffer, University of Virginia

“The Single Intention by Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön not only is the most important work of the Drigung Kagyü school but also plays a central role in Indo-Tibetan hermeneutics. The huge diversity of at times contradictory statements attributed to the Buddha is thus taken to mask an underlying single common intent, namely to further and establish all sentient beings in complete awakening. Jikten Sumgön, in other words, does not accept the common claim that the different cycles of teachings were meant for different types of beings but rather that all disciples need to be guided through them sequentially on a gradual path.

“Jan-Ulrich Sobisch’s meticulous and well-annotated translation of the Single Intention and the extensive commentary on it by Rikzin Chökyi Drakpa is thus a most welcome contribution. It profits from a rare combination of the translator’s privileged access to traditional Tibetan learned masters on the one hand and rigorous academic scholarship on the other. The book is highly readable and can be recommended even to newcomers to the field of Buddhist philosophy and hermeneutics.”

– Klaus-Dieter Mathes, professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies, University of Vienna

More books in this series: Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism