108 Quintessential Instructions

As I’ve recently been reading through the collection of 108 Quintessential Instructions that was arranged by the Jonang master Kunga Drolchok (1507-1566), I’ve been thinking through the seemingly simple question, “What is the purpose of scholarship?”[1]

Though people tend to think of the conventional notion of scholarship as being based on a model of a relatively narrow-minded insistence on reiterating a specific doctrine or set of principles for the sake of furthering erudition, there are alternative models. In the case of Drolchok, as well as numerous other representatives in the Tibetan scholastic tradition, the role of scholarship was primarily that of preservation. More specifically, scholarship was seen as a mode of operating in a way that would further conserve those ideas and practices that in one way or another were considered to be efficacious in promoting the spiritual optimization of individuals. It is on this model that the 108 Quintessential Instructions were compiled.

This text of quintessential instructions, known more properly as The 108 Instructions of the Jonang (Jo nang khrid brgya) is a remarkable collection of brief instructions on each of the exceptional Buddhist teachings that appeared in India and were received in Tibet.[2] The collection was put together by the polymath Kunga Drolchok and then later completed by the successor in his incarnation lineage, Jetsun Tāranātha (1575-1634). Besides the main set of instructions for each practice lineage, there are numerous texts associated with the collection that include short histories of each of the 108 instruction lineages, supplications, and supplementary practice materials.

Historically, the precepts and explanations for these instruction lineages converged in Tibet and Kunga Drolchok then compiled them into this essential volume. Since then, each of these quintessential instructions has been transmitted through the Jonang tradition, and these remain a major source of meditation practice instructions among the contemporary Jonangpa. It was considered so important that it was included by Jamgon Kongtrul in the last volume of his Treasury of Guidance Instructions (Gdams ngag mdzod), and it has even been suggested that The 108 Instructions of the Jonang was the inspiration for Kongtrul’s compilation. In fact, the text remains a prototype for Rimè-style scholasticism.

In order to introduce this text — with the hope of giving a better sense of the diversity and complexity found in the Tibetan instruction lineages — I thought to simply list these 108 instructions in order:

1) Instruction on parting the four kinds of attachment (Zhen pa bzhi bral)
2) Instruction on seven points of training the mind (Blo sbyong don bdun ma)
3) Instruction on the essence of interdependence (Rten ‘brel snying po)
4) Instruction on utilizing pain and pleasure as the path (Skyid sdug lam khyer)
5) Instruction on training the mind (Sum pa’i blo sbyong)
6) Instruction on severing fear according to Machik Labdron (Ma gcig gi gcod)
7) Instruction on the essential three points (Snying po don gsum)
8) Instruction on resting the mind at ease (Sems nyid ngal gso)
9) Instruction on the three types of person (Skyes bu gsum)
10) Instruction on a gradual approach to the teachings (Bstan rim)
11) Instruction on equalizing saṃsāra and nirvāṇa (Srid zhi mnyam nyid)
12) Instruction on the great madhyamaka (Dbu ma chen po)
13) Instruction on the secret guidance of the Kadam (Bka’ gdams lkog khrid)
14) Instruction of the muni (Thub pa’i khrid)
15) Instruction on remaining unavered (Mi g.yo ba)
16) Instruction on Avalokiteśvara practice (Spyan ras gzigs)
17) Instruction on Tārā practice (Sgrol ma)
18) Instruction on the maxims of the Kadampa master Potowa (Po to ba’i dpe chos)
19) Instruction on the sixteen seminal spheres (Thig le bcu drug)
20) Instruction on the prajñāparāmitā (Sher phyin bka’ babs)
21) Instruction on the five paths of pacification (Zhi byed lam lnga)
22) Instruction on the progressive stages of meditation (Sgom rim thog mtha’ bar gsum
23) Instruction on the five treatises of Maitreya (Byams chos lnga)
24) Instructioin on the view of rangtong (Rang stong lta khrid)
25) Instruction on the view of zhentong (Gzhan stong lta khrid)
26) Instruction on the concealed meaning (Sbas don)
27) Instruction on enhancing life (Tshe khrid)
28) Instruction on white Tārā practice (Sgrol dkar)
29) Instruction on white Amitāyus practice (Tshe dpag med dkar po)
30) Instruction according to the Tshembu tradition (Dmar khrid tshem bu lugs)
31) Instruction according to the Palmo tradition (Dmar khrid dpal mo lugs)
32) Instruction according to the Zagyal tradition (Dmar khrid zla rgyal lugs)
33) Instruction according to the Khyer Gangpa tradition (Dmar khrid skyer sgang pa’i lugs)
34) Instructions on Cakrasaṁvara practice (Bde mchog dmar khrid)
35) Instruction on Hevajra practice (Kye rdo rje’i dmar khrid)
36) Instruction on Vajrapāṇi practice (Phyag rdor ‘khor chen)
37) Instruction on the yoga of inner heat (Gtum mo)
38) Instruction on Varāhī practice (Phag mo kurma pA da)
39) Instruction on Kurukule practice (Ku ru kul+le)
40) Instruction according to the whispered lineage of the Kālachakra (Dus ‘khor snyan brgyud)
41) Instruction on the approach and accomplishment practices from the Tibetan master Orgyan Rinchen Pal (O rgyan bsnyen sgrub)
42) Instruction on taking the result as the path (Lam ‘bras)
43) Instruction on the inconceivable (Bsam mi khyab)
44) Instruction on the nine ways of profundity (Zab pa’i tshul dgu)
45) Instruction on the practice of spontaneous accomplishment (Lhan cig skyes grub)
46) Instruction on the completion of the inner heat process (Gtum mo lam rdzogs)
47) Instruction on alignment (Yon po bsrang ba)
48) Instruction on mudra practice (Phyag rgya lam khrid)
49) Instruction on mahāmudra without symbols (Phyag rgya chen po yi ge med pa)
50) Instruction on practicing in the proximity of a stupa (Mchod rten drung thob)
51) Instruction on synthesizing sūtra and tantra (Mdo rgyud bsre ba)
52) Instruction on expelling the obstacle of external spirits (Phyi rol gdon gyi bar chad sel ba)
53) Instruction on removing the hindrances of bodily agitations (‘Byung ba lus ‘khrugs kyi bar chad sel ba)
54) Instruction on removing the hindrances for samādhi (Ting nge ‘dzin gyi bar chad sel ba)
55) Instruction on removing the three kinds of suffering (Sdug bsngal gsum sel)
56) Instruction on recollecting the natural state (Gnyug ma dran gsal)
57) Instruction on the three purities (Dag pa gsum)
58) Instruction on self-consecration (Rang byin rlabs)
59) Instruction on the hidden path (Lam sbas bshad)
60) Instruction on clarifying symbolic significance (Brda’ don gsal ba)
61) Instruction on the five stages of Guhyasamāja (Gsang ‘dus rim lnga)
62) Instruction on Muktitlakanāma treatise of associated with the Guhyasamāja (Grol ba’i thig le)
63) Instruction on non-proliferation (Spros med)
54) Instruction on the four stage yoga (Rnal ‘byor bzhi rim)
65) Instruction on Bhairava practice (‘Jigs byed)
66) Instruction on mobilizing masculine forces in the central channel (Yab la brten rtsa dbu ma)
67) Instruction on mobilizing feminine forces in the central channel (Yum gyi rtsa dbu ma)
68) Instruction from the tradition of Gantapada (Dril bu rim lnga)
69) Instruction on the four stages of the black Mahākāla deity practice (Nag po rim bzhi)
70) Instruction on white Cakrasaṁvara practice (Bde mchog dkar po)
71) Instruction on the four seats (Gdan bzhi)
72) Instruction on Mahāmāya practice (Ma hA mA ya)
73) Instruction on the practice of Cakrasaṁvara with a donkey face (Bde mchog bong zhal can)
74) Instruction on the six practices of Varāhī (Phag mo’i sgom drug)
75) Instruction on the six-fold yoga of Nāropa (NA ro’i chos drug)
76) Instruction on the six-fold yoga of the female adept Niguma (Ni gu’i chos drug)
77) Instruction on the Gauma tradition of mahāmudra (Phyag rgya chen po ga’u ma)
78) Instruction on taking up the path (Lam ‘khyer)
79) Instruction on the deathless mind (Sems ‘chi med)
80) Instruction on the six dharmas of Sukha (Su kha chos drug)
81) Instruction of lady Dakmema (Bdag med ma’i nang khrid)
82) Instruction on the yoga of spontaneity (Lhan cig skyes sbyor)
83) Instruction on the fivefold mahāmudra (Phyag chen lnga ldan)
84) Instruction on the four symbols of mahāmudra (Phyag rgya chen po yi ge bzhi pa)
85) Instruction on the introduction of the three enlightened dimensions (Sku gsum ngo sprod)
86) Instruction on the inseparability of the mind and the vital winds (Rlung sems gnyis med)
87) Instruction on the practice of Sekarma (Sras mkhar ma)
88) Instruction on transferring consciousness according to the Ngok tradition (Rngog pa’i bsre ‘pho)
89) Instruction on the four pinnacle statements (Snyan gyi shog dril bzhi)
90) Instruction on the six-fold yoga of the Kālachakra (Sbyor drug)
91) Instruction on the six practices associated with the centers of the upper body (Snyan brgyud steng sgo chos drug)
92) Instruction on the nine cycles of teachings associated with the disembodied ḍākinīs (Lus med mkha’ ‘gro’i chos skor dgu)
93) Instruction on the vast and profound according to Zhang (Zhang gi zab rgya)
94) Instruction on the six-fold yoga of Dra Lotsāwa (Dpal chen rgwa lo’i sbyor drug)
95) Instruction on the cycle of mahāmudra by Phakmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (Phag gru phyag chen thel skor)
96) Instruction on the single intent (Dgongs gcig)
97) Instruction on the six dharmas of Tak Lungpa Tashi Pal (Stag lung pa’i chos drug)
98) Instruction on the single experience of omens associated with guru sadhana (Bla sgrub rten ‘brel ro snyoms)
99) Instruction on five aspects according to Loray (Lo ras thub pa lnga ldan)
100) Instruction on the six essential practices for mountain retreat (Ri chos snying po ma drug)
101) Instruction on the propitiation of the protector Kurakma (Mgon po sku rags ma)
102) Instruction on the propitiation of the protector Palgur (Dpal gur gyi mgon po’i nang khrid)
103) Instruction on the three cycles of spontaneous poetry (Do ha skor gsum)
104) Instructions on the six dharmas of a siddha (Grub thob chos drug)
105) Instruction on the progressive path according to Padmasambhava (Pad+ma lam rim)
106) Instruction according to the edict of a king (Rgyal po bka’ ‘bum)
107) Instruction on the jewel that liberates upon being seen (Nor bu mthong grol)
108) Instruction on the mind as a wish-fulfilling jewel (Sems khrid yid bzhin nor bu)

Because these instructions remain such a rich formulation of Tibetan contemplative literature, I have decided to select a few of them to translate. Watch for these to appear in future posts.


1. To view my annotated outline of this text, visit the Jonang section of the Digital Library on the, Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center website.

2. ‘Jam mgon Kong sprul, Gdams ngag mdzod, 18 vols. Edited from the Dpal spungs prints and published by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Lama Ngodrup and Sherab Drimey (eds.). Paro, 1979-1981.

Blog Category: Research Articles


  1. Cone Becckham on March 13, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Kunga Drolchok and the Shangpa Kagyu
    First off, thanks much for the wonderful work on this blog, which I stumbled onto this morning. Great resource, and well done!

    I’m interested in Kunga Drolchok as a lineage holder of the Shangpa Kagyu instructions. In that regard, items 76-80 are from the Shangpa Kagyu Tradition, and there’s more information available in English in Jamgon Kongtrul’s Retreat Manual and Kalu Rinpoche’s Luminous Mind.

    Also, I think item 68 is likely the “Five Stage Completion Stage Practice” of Chakrasamvara according to Ghantapada (Drilbupa, in Tibetan).

    Very interested to see which items you’re going to translate, from amongst those on this amazing list, which is a treasure trove from all the Dharma Lineages in Tibet! Also would love to see more here, regarding the Jonang relationship with the Shangpa Kagyu, and whether the Jonang maintain the Shangpa practices, in addition to their focus on Kalachakra and Shentong View.

    Thanks again.

    • Michael R. Sheehy on March 14, 2009 at 4:49 pm

      Kunga Drolchok & Shangpa
      Dear Cone:

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found us & hope that you will contribute often to the blog.

      You are probably right about #68. There are several of these instructions that I’ve not checked thoroughly at this point. I did a kind of literal rendition of a few, just to get them up.

      We will be posting select instructions from Drolchok’s collection of 108 periodically. They make for nice blog posts. The instruction on zhentong was posted & the next will be on rangtong. The others will be more random selections.

      There was an early request for a piece on Shangpa / Jonangpa relations as well. Glad that there is interest. We’ll definitely post a piece on the intersecting history of these lineages & some of the practices that they exchanged. Drolchok was central to this fusion. The main practice that remains in the Jonang tradition is the yogas of Niguma. More on the rest in a full blog piece.

      All the best,