Gdams ngag mdzod Research Department Report

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Overview of the གདམས་ངག་མཛོད་ Shechen Edition, 1999[edit]

Table Showing Relative Size of Volumes

Volume # Pages Folios Relative Size
Vol 1 478 239 14th
Vol 2 497 249 12th
Vol 3 544 272 6th
Vol 4 646 323 3rd
Vol 5 506 253 11th
Vol 6 424 212 18th-smallest
Vol 7 542 271 7th
Vol 8 486 243 13th
Vol 9 526 263 9th
Vol 10 552 276 5th
Vol 11 530 265 8th
Vol 12 774 387 1st-largest
Vol 13 454 227 16th
Vol 14 446 223 17th
Vol 15 626 313 4th
Vol 16 510 255 10th
Vol 17 470 235 15th
Vol 18 630 315 2nd

The 18 volumes in nine sections:

  • gsang sngags rnying ma
  • bka' gdams
  • sa skya lam 'bras
  • mar pa bka' brgyud
  • shangs pa bka' brgyud
  • zhi byed dang gcod
  • dus 'khor dang o rgyan bsnyen sgrub
  • khri skor sna tshogs
  • jo nang khrid brgya dang dkar chag brgyud yig


The gdams ngag mdzod is available in three printings:[2]

  • Gdams ngag mdzod Kundeling Printing - W21811 in 12 volumes in Delhi by Ngawang Gyaltsen and Ngawang Lungtok, 1971-1972. There were a few texts and pages missing from this edition.
  • Gdams ngag mdzod Dilgo Khyentse Printing - W20877. 18 volume pothi format edition published in Paro, Bhutan, 1979-1981. This contained several of the rare texts missing from the Kundeling printing.
  • Gdams ngag mdzod Shechen Printing - W23605 in 18 pothi volumes was produced in 1999 under Tsadra patronage. This is the most complete and contained the few missing pages and texts that had been found since the 1979-1981 version. Produced in manuscript.

In a 1993 publication of a catalog of the Paro edition of the gdams ngag mdzod Dan Martin writes:

The Gdams-ngag Mdzod has already been catalogued in the following publications:

Helmut Eimer, Tibetica Upsaliensia: Handliste der tibetischen Handschriften und Blockdrucke in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Uppsala, Almqvist & Wiksell International (Stockholm 1975). This is a title-indexed catalog of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod, Shes-bya Kun Khyab, and Bka'-brgyud Sngags Mdzod collections of Kong-sprul, acquired by Toni Schmid in 1962. The names of the authors of the individual texts of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod are not supplied. The order of texts within the volumes of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod differs from that of the reprinted versions. The author has carefully compared the contents of the Uppsala and the 1971-2 reprint versions.

Karjam Atsen, Sgrub-brgyud Shing-rta Chen-po Brgyad-kyi Smin-grol Snying-po-rnams Phyogs Gcig-tu Bsdus-pa Gdams-ngag Rin-po-che'i Mdzod-kyi Dkar-chag Rin-chen Bum Bzang (=Gdams-ngag Rin-po-che'i Mdzod-kyi Dkar-chag Rin-chen Bum Bzang; =Gdams-ngag-mdzod Catalogue Rin-chen Bum-bzang, Kagyudpa Catalogue Series, vol. 1), Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology (Gangtok, Sikkim 1990) in xxiv plus 218 pages. Lists titles, authors and numbers of pages, in both Tibetan script and Roman transliteration. Introductions are in both Tibetan and English. At the end are indices of authors, titles and subjects.[3]

Since that time an outline of the Paro edition was created at TBRC and another claiming to be for the Shechen edition was also published online at The Shechen edition follows almost exactly the Paro edition, and the previous catalogs of the Paro edition were essential to the creation of this catalog of the 1999 Shechen edition. At the time of this writing there are still unanswered questions about the differences between the two editions, although it is thought that there are a few missing pages and short texts added that were not in the Paro edition but nothing of any real consequence in terms of size.[4] The specific pages and texts have yet to be identified.

As a survey of the gdams ngag mdzod has been compiled by Karl Brunnholzl for Tsadra Foundation already and another catalog has been created recently by Richard Barron, this report will summarize those findings and supplement them with statistics from a complete catalog of the gdams ngag mdzod, created by the Tsadra Foundation Research Department durring the months of May, June, July and August of 2010. This report will also review some of the problems with cataloging the gdams ngag mdzod and describe Tsadra's catalog in some detail by referring to the Gdams ngag mdzod DPL, a set of sortable tables of information pertaining to the catalog.

The 18 volumes (ཀ་ through ཚ་) of the gdams ngag mdzod are divided into nine sections corresponding to the "eight great conveyances that are lineages of attainment" (sgrub brgyud shing rta chen po brgyad)[5] plus a volume of Jo nang pa texts and two volumes of assorted khrid yig. Thus we are presented with (in order) two volumes of gsang sngags rnying ma, two volumes of bka' gdams, two volumes of sa skya lam 'bras, four volumes of mar pa bka' brgyud, two volumes of shangs pa bka' brgyud, two volumes of zhi byed and gcod yul, and one volume for both dus 'khor and o rgyan bsnyen sgrub, rounding out the eight lineages. At the end (volumes 16-18) we have two more volumes of khri skor sna tshogs (assorted texts of instructions) and then one final volume shared by the jo nang khrid brgya and the dkar chag (catalogue for the whole mdzod) and brgyud yig (lineage of transmission).

Prior to research done by Tsadra Fellows and the Tsadra Research department, catalogs of the Shechen and Paro editions of the gdams ngag mdzod record 392 or 393 text titles.[6] However, upon further inspection, many of the "text titles" listed are simply section headings. Previous outlines and catalogs are sometimes simply giving page numbers for sections of volumes that contain many texts. At times this is obvious, as when the "title" is simply an indicator of several topics. However, other sections give only the title of the first text, leading one to assume that the text listed is perhaps fifty folios long, when in fact there are ten other texts found in that page range. The previous catalogs all, for obvious reasons, base themselves on the dkar chag-s given at the beginning of volumes that start major sections of the mdzod. However, the dkar chag is not always completely clear. For instance, in volume 13, "text 2" is supposed to have a set of ten texts inside of it, but looking at the pages themselves it is not clear where these start or end or who authored them. Furthermore, there are texts in the volumes that are not listed in the dkar chag. For an example see the Sdig sbyong man ngag, which was initially listed as spanning pages 96-187, but in fact contains many small texts, most of which would have been missed if not for Thupten Jinpa's work. We continue to find more texts, and at the time of this writing, we have identified 91 more texts than those listed in the TBRC outline. The total number of texts can be estimated, at this time, to somewhere just short of 500. Texts range from 1 page to 157 pages and vary greatly in content, less so in terms of formatting. Most pages contain 7 lines each uniformly across all volumes. There is an average of 267.83 folios per volume, with the largest volume being number 12 (་ of the shangs pa bka' brgyud) with 387 folios and the smallest being number 6 (ཆ་ of the sa skya lam 'bras) with 212 folios.

Discussion of Content[edit]

Karl Brunnhölzl's Survey of the gdams ngag mdzod clearly identifies the contents of the gdams ngag mdzod and classifies them into eleven sections:[7]

:1) Sadhanas, abhisheka manuals, ritual instructions, and instruction manuals related to deities (including zhi byed and gcod)

1765 folios
2) Sampannakrama practice manuals (Six Dharmas of Naropa/Niguma/6 branch-yoga Kalacakra)
463 folios (131/160/162)
3) Mahamudra instructions
462 folios
4) Dzogchen instructions
379 folios
5) Sakya instructions (lam ‘bras/zhen pa bzhi bral)
326 folios (300/26)
6) Jonang instructions
191 folios
7) Shangpa instructions
156 folios
8) Blo sbyong
156 folios
9) Instructions related to Bodhipathapradipa
137 folios
10) rdo rje gsum gyi bsnyen sgrub
60 folios
11) Miscellaneous
691 folios

These can be further summarized into four categories:

1) Sadhanas, abhisheka manuals, ritual instructions, and instruction manuals related to utpattikrama and sampannakrama practices (Six Dharmas of Naropa/Niguma/6 branch-yoga Kalacakra)
2228 folios
2) Kadampa, Sakya, Jonang, Shangpa, and bsnyen sgrub instructions
1026 folios
2) Mahamudra and Dzogchen instructions
841 folios
4) Miscellaneous
691 folios

Given that the above category (2) also contains a certain number of instructions related to category (1) and that category (4) contains some liturgical materials too, the vast majority of the texts in the gdams ngag mdzod are of liturgical and ritualistic nature."[8]

Based on Dr. Brunnhölzl's numbers, the conclusion is clear. The vast majority, more than 46% of the folios, of the entire mdzod are devoted to liturgical and ritual texts. Taking into consideration the fact that some of the other instructional materials and miscellaneous texts are also liturgical, something closer to 50% or 60% of the entire mdzod consists of texts of a "liturgical and ritualistic nature." More precise numbers for the Shechen edition will be available when the catalog of the entire edition is completed.

The first thing to note about the content of the gdams ngag mdzod as a whole is that each section begins with some core root texts of a lineage and then often proceeds with commentaries upon those, and then presents various types of khrid yig, sadhanas, abhisheka manuals, ritual instructions, and instruction manuals related to deities. The overwhelming majority of texts in the entire gdams ngag mdzod are khrid yig, "guidebooks" describing specific practices. However, there are many types of khrid yig. The large part of those in the gdams ngag mdzod apear to be focused on practice instructions, manuals for giving empowerments and initiations, and detailed descriptions of highly esoteric rituals. Instead of being an encyclopedia that provides its reader with an overview of key texts from each tradition included in the mdzod, we find a grouping of rarefied texts and technical esoteric contents that Kongtrul and other collators decided to include, probably because their lineages were in danger of dying out. In an article that includes a partial translation of Kong sprul's dkar chag, "Tibetan Technologies of the Self, Part II," Matthew Kapstein writes: "In an earlier article, I surveyed in brief the structure of ’Jam-mgon Kong-sprul’s encyclopædic treatment of these, the Treasury of Instructions (Gdams ngag mdzod)."[9] His brief survey includes a discussion of the concept of "gdams ngag" itself, but does not go into much depth as to the actual contents of the mdzod itself. Kapstein does list the lineages represented and notes: " 'The Store of Instructions' provides encyclopedic and balanced treatment of all of the major Tibetan Buddhist gdams ngag traditions and several of the more important minor ones, and preserves scores of instructional texts by some of the most famous Tibetan authors as well as by many who are less well-known."[10] In looking through the mdzod, the impression is more of a collection of eclectic and rare technical manuals than it is a balanced treatment of major textual traditions from each of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages. The beginning of each section corresponding to one of the eight great lineages does actually provide some of the main texts actually used by a lineage as their "source" texts, but then often the bulk of the remaining texts are not texts suitable to serve as representatives of the tradition in the larger sense of the rich textual traditions of each lineage. This is not because they are not excellent examples of the tradition, but because of their unique specialized content and the restrictions placed on them by the tradition. Only very well-practiced adepts from said tradition could put these texts to use, let alone read or translate them. The gdams ngag mdzod is an amazing collection; however, it is not really a collection of texts representing the eight great lineages in a general way or even in an accessible way. If one looks at each pair of volumes associated with a lineage, one sees a collection of technical manuals relevant only to specialized populations, some of which may not even exist anymore. This leads to a host of problems for anyone interested in a detailed study or translation of the gdams ngag mdzod.

Cataloging Process[edit]

The Tsadra Foundation Research Department chose to catalog the Shechen edition of the gdams ngag mdzod, using MediaWiki software. This allowed for unique web pages to be created for each text in the mdzod and collection of metadata about each text to be streamlined and standardized. The catalog is based on the earlier efforts of those who outlined the Paro edition of the gdams ngag mdzod: TBRC's outline, Richard Barron's catalog of the mdzod, Karl Brunnholzl's survey of the mdzod. An outline of the Shechen edition published electronically on was also consulted. The metadata collection process was loosely based on the work done on's Tibetan Canons Project, which catalogs several versions of the Kangyur and Tengyur. Following their lead, we endeavored to produce "deep cataloging" of each text, which includes typing the colophons, describing the pechas, and so on. Each volume of the gdams ngag mdzod was analyzed and each text title found was recorded in both Tibetan script and Wylie transliteration. Along with other titles found in the dkar chag's at the start of each volume, colophons and information pertaining to the classification of each text, pagination, and line frequency was recorded in both Wylie and Tibetan script. Citations for each text were created, along with a host of other bibliographic data, which can be searched easily on the gdams ngag mdzod DPL page. Where possible, persons associated with the text were recorded, also in both Wylie and Tibetan script. There is a unique webpage outlining the whole of the Shechen edition, a page outlining each volume, and two pages for each text, one for the Tibetan Script of the text and one for the cataloging information, which includes both Tibetan script and Wylie transliteration. Along with each of these, comes a host of browse-able categories of information, including author lists, translators, and scribes that allow you to see all the texts associated with a particular person in one place.

Three catalogers with graduate level knowledge of Tibetan worked for three months on the project, although not all catalogers were full time and several weeks of vacation time were taken during the period. They made use of the Shechen edition of the gdams ngag mdzod downloaded from Marcus Perman designed and directed the project and Tim Walton and Adam Krug poured over each text and entered colophons and other pertinent data into the templates created in MediaWiki. Research was done primarily online, with some reference made to texts such as Cyrus Stearns' Luminous Lives, Sarah Harding's work on Ma cig and Kongtrul, as well as Thupten Jinpa's The Book of Kadam. Colophons and titles were recorded in Extended Wylie and in Unicode Tibetan script. Persons identified in the text as creators, translators, editors, etc. were recorded according to the spellings given in the texts, with their more commonly known names given (when known) in parentheses. The system set in place required the creation of unique web pages in both Tibetan script and Extended Wylie for all people and texts. Where authorship was unclear or contested, reference to the above mentioned texts, surveys and outlines was pursued. Questions and issues for further research were collected and organized by area of specialty in the hopes that Tsadra Fellows and other scholars could be consulted.

One of the most difficult issues facing a catalog of this kind is classification of texts in terms of topics or subject headings. Each lineage of texts has its own indigenous classification system such that even if one where to classify a particular text as "khrid yig" (guidebook or instruction manual) the meaning would not necessarily transfer across volumes within the gdams ngag mdzod. Each of the lineages represented has its own system of subclassifications and genres and so one can only repeat Kapstein's note: "Because all of the traditions mentioned above have generated abundant literature devoted to their own distinctive gdams ngag, including both texts immediately concerned with the details of practical instruction and systematic treatises that attempt to formulate the distinctive perspective of a particular gdams ngag tradition in its relation to Buddhist doctrine broadly speaking, it will not be possible to attempt to survey here the extraordinary volume of materials that are illustrative of these many differing traditions."[11] In order to introduce some order, the classification scheme used in the texts themselves, as recorded on the left and right edges of the pechas of texts in each volume, was used to provide scholars with some sense of the content of texts. One can easily browse these here: A sortable table of the contents of the gdams ngag mdzod. Richard Barron also attempted to introduce order by classifying all the texts in terms of three categories: instruction manual, empowerment manual, and liturgy. Of course, many texts actually include some of all three. The difficulty in classifying Tibetan texts in general was attested to at the recent IATS Seminar (2010) in which a whole day's panel was devoted to the discussion of genre and the fact that many Tibetan texts fit in several genres at once. In any case, all texts were also cataloged using Barron's system, again simply to give at least a hint of organization to an otherwise vast and unwieldy assortment of texts.

In a best case scenario, one would need a specialist from each tradition to catalog each section of the mdzod, because only those scholars would be able to untie the knots of complexity that are the provenance of each text. Although at first glance it appears that most texts in the mdzod have clear title pages, the fact is that many texts lack both title pages and clear colophons ending the text. It is possible that some texts escaped the notice of Tsadra catalogers because they may have had little or no heading at all to signify their start or end. However, the main issue encountered by catalogers of the mdzod was the lack of clarity in the dkar chags and colophons and difficulties arising from attempts to detail the authors and contributors to the texts. While the first text in a volume might be obvious, the next might simply provide a list of lineage holders at the end without comment as to who actually composed the text. Many texts have no colophons at all and in those instances, other specialists have to be consulted as to the author's traditionally attributed. Furthermore, some texts are well known to scholars and there is debate as to who actually composed the text (which was noted in the catalog when found). Our small group of three graduate level Tibetologists were simply not up to the task of divining the information for some of the texts in the mdzod. However, the overall benefit of the current catalog is that it far surpasses any other catalog in detail, and also provides a space for each text and each section to be examined by anyone who wishes to study the content of the mdzod. We have also managed to pull together a partial list of translations of texts in the mdzod. Furthermore, the catalog is an editable document, one that specialists from the field can modify as needed. Publishing the catalog as a wiki allows for collaboration that should overcome any mistakes and problems in the catalog over time. There is even space in the wiki for discussion of each text and it is hoped that people might use the catalog itself as a place to start research, discussion, and translation of texts in the gdams ngag mdzod. Furthermore, this model, should it prove fruitful, is one that could be easily modified for use in future projects.

Marcus Perman
Director of Research
Tsadra Foundation
August 24, 2010


  1. Martin, Dan. A Catalog of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod. n.p.: n.p., 1993, pg 1. The lineage of transmission of The Treasury of Knowledge (given by Ringu Tulku:
    1. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye
    2. 11th Situpa Pema Wangchog Gyalpo
    3. 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje
    4. 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche Karma Dakpa Tenpa Yarpel Migyur Gocha Thinley Kunchab Palzangpo
  2. E. Gene Smith. Personal communication, January 25, 2010.
  3. Martin, Dan. A Catalog of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod. n.p.: n.p., 1993, pg 1.
  4. E. Gene Smith. Personal communication, January 25, 2010.
  5. Kapstein's translation.
  6. The exception is Dan Martin's catalog, which is more complete and follows the dkar chag-s very closely. However, at the time of this writing, we have not yet had a chance to go through this entire work and check it against his catalog.
  7. Note that Brunnhölzl's survey was based on the Paro edition. The Shechen edition is basically a reprint of the Paro edition and so his survey applies almost exactly to the Shechen edition as well.
  8. See Karl Brunnholzl's Survey of the gdams ngag mdzod. Unpublished report for Tsadra Foundation, July 2010.
  9. This would be “gDams-ngag: Tibetan Technologies of the Self,” pages 275-289 in Roger Jackson and José Cabezón, eds., Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1995.
  10. Ibid 280.
  11. Ibid. 280.