Dolpopa’s Elusive Kalachakra Annotations

This post is titled, Dolpopa’s Elusive Annotations to the Kālachakra Commentary. By Cyrus Stearns, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

Dolpopa’s fabled annotations to the Stainless Light commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra remain elusive. An incomplete annotated manuscript of the Stainless Light (missing chapter 5) was reproduced in the Paltseg Kālachakra Commentary Series. This text was mistakenly identified as Dolpopa’s annotations, although in the booklet accompanying the collection the publisher does acknowledge the uncertainty of the identification. The manuscript is actually another, somewhat variant, copy of Chogle Namgyal’s annotations (also published in vols. 4–5 of the same collection), not those of his teacher Dölpopa. A third computerized edition of Choglé Namgyal’s annotations has also been published as part of the Jonang Publications Series II, using several different manuscripts, one of which concludes with a set of anonymous verses that can be identified as the work of Dolpopa.[1]

My identification of these concluding verses is based on their content and quotations from them by earlier Tibetan masters who name Dolpopa as the author. A large excerpt from the verses (which I didn’t know at the time were connected to his annotations) is translated in my book, The Buddha from Dolpo.[2]

According to the Jonang Publication Series edition of Choglé Namgyal’s annotations, the original manuscript that ends with Dolpopa’s verses contains many annotations in black ink, but only a few in red ink. Dolpopa’s concluding verses are written in red ink. The large number of black annotations in the manuscript correspond to the annotations of Choglé Namgyal, which conclude with a clear first-person statement of his authorship. Considering the great reputation of Dolpopa’s annotations, it seems highly unlikely that the few red annotations in this manuscript are all that Dolpopa wrote. The editors of the new computerized edition also question whether the red annotations in the original manuscript should be considered Dolpopa’s. This complicated situation leads to the conclusion that Dolpopa’s annotations, written at Jonang in 1334, were at some point perhaps conflated with those composed by his disciple Choglé Namgyal about 30 years later at the hermitage of Se Kharchung (Se Mkhar chung).[3]

I think it possible that both Dolpopa and Choglé Namgyal’s annotations were written together in ancient manuscripts, probably with different colored ink or in different scripts. At some point scribal mistakes may have caused the two to be conflated. This could have happened many centuries ago. The extent of the problem is illustrated by a large annotation concerning the location and landscape of Shambhala that is found in all three editions of Choglé Namgyal’s work.[4]

At the end of this annotation the author refers the reader to a separate text that he has written with more details on the subject. Dolpopa is not known to have written such a text, but Choglé Namgyal did write one during the same period that he wrote his annotations to the Stainless Light.[5] Choglé Namgyal’s work has now been published.[6] Thus it would seem to be certain that this large annotation is by Choglé Namgyal.

When composing his Removing Tarnish from the Beryl (Bai ḍurya g.ya’ sel) in 1668, Desi Sangyé Gyatso (Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653–1705) used and quoted from a work that he identified as Dolpopa’s annotations to the Stainless Light. The Desi’s work contains the only independent quotation from Dölpopa’s annotations that I have noticed. No clear reference to their existence after 1668 has been located. Incredibly, the quotation that Sangyé Gyatso provides from Dolpopa’s annotations is from the large annotation that I have just shown must be by Choglé Namgyal, not Dolpopa![7]

The puzzle of whether Dolpopa’s annotations have actually survived will perhaps only be solved when an annotated manuscript of the Stainless Light is located that concludes with Dolpopa’s verses, but does not also contain Choglé Namgyal’s annotations.


1. Dus ’khor ’grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, 6–7. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2007. Choglé Namgyal, Dus ‘khor mchan ‘grel, in Jonang Publication Series II, 20, 456. See also the post, Notes on Jonang Series II.

2. Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo, 22. New York: SUNY, 1999.

3. Tenpai Gyaltsen, Biography of Dharma Lord Choglé Namgyal, 24a. An unpublished manuscript. Collected by Jonang Foundation.

4. Choglé Namgyal, Dus ‘khor mchan ‘grel, in Jonang Publication Series II, 18, 75 and in Dus ’khor ’grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, 4, 261 and 6, 85. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2007.

5. Tenpai Gyaltsen, Biography of Dharma Lord Choglé Namgyal, 24a. An unpublished manuscript. Collected by Jonang Foundation.

6. Choglé Namgyal, Sham+bha la’i rgyan. In Gzhi lam ‘bras bu’i ngo sprod, Jonang Publication Series II, 21, 349-58.

7. Sangyé Gyatso, Removing Tarnish from the Beryl, 1, 94. It reads: “kun mkhyen dol bu pa’i ’grel chen gyi mchan du / ’dzam gling chung ngu’i lho nas byang gangs ldan chen po’i bar la sa’i dum bu drug du byas pa’i byang gi dum bu lnga pa’i sa la sham+bha la’i yul yod de zhes stong phrag nyer lnga’i phyed rang la ’dzam gling chung ngur bzhed pa dang.”

Blog Category: Research Articles


  1. David Reigle on May 14, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Thank you, Cyrus, for this
    Thank you, Cyrus, for this very helpful information. It is important to know that we may not actually have Dolpopa’s annotations in the text attributed to him. But do we know for sure that Chogle Namgyal wrote his own annotations? I have noticed something strange in the published texts. The volumes attributed to Chogle Namgyal that appear in the Paltseg Kālachakra Commentary Series, volumes 4-5 (although there is no author stated on the publisher’s title page given in u-chen script), seem from half a dozen random comparisons to be the Shong revision of the ‘Bro translation, not the revised Jonang translation. But the volumes there attributed to Dolpopa, volumes 6-7, do seem to be the revised Jonang translation. Similarly, the volumes attributed to Chogle Namgyal in the Jonang Publications Series II, vols. 17-20, also appear to be the revised Jonang translation. Is it possible that Dolpopa first annotated the Kalacakra texts using the Shong translation, and then after the revised Jonang translations were prepared, Chogle Namgyal transferred his annotations to the new text editions? That would explain the situation just described with the u-me manuscripts in the Paltseg Kālachakra Commentary Series.