The Garbhadhatu mandala. The center square represents the young stage of Vairocana Buddha.

Buddhist philosophy – The multitude of paths to liberation

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Buddhist philosophy refers to the philosophical investigations and systems of inquiry that developed among various Buddhist schools in India following the parinirvana of the Buddha and later spread throughout Asia.

Table of Contents

The Buddhist path

The Buddhist path combines both philosophical reasoning and meditation.

The Buddhist traditions present a multitude of Buddhist paths to liberation, and Buddhist thinkers in India and subsequently in East Asia have covered topics as varied as phenomenology, ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic and philosophy of time in their analysis of these paths.

Early was based on empirical evidence gained by the sense organs and the Buddha seems to have retained a skeptical distance from certain metaphysical questions, refusing to answer them because they were not conducive to liberation but led instead to further speculation.

A recurrent theme in Buddhist philosophy has been the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist Middle Way.

The Buddhist schools

Particular points of Buddhist philosophy have often been the subject of disputes between different schools of Buddhism.

These elaborations and disputes gave rise to various schools in early Buddhism of Abhidharma, and to the Mahayana traditions such as Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, Buddha-nature and Yogācāra.

Glossary of Buddhist philosophical concepts

This is a list of concepts related to the Buddhist philosophy from diverse schools of Buddhism.

Bodhisattva

In Buddhism, Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who has generated Bodhicitta, a spontaneous wish, and compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.

Buddhahood

In Buddhism, Buddhahood is the condition or rank of a Buddha “awakened one”. The goal of Mahayana’s bodhisattva path is Samyaksambuddhahood, so that one may benefit all sentient beings by teaching them the path of cessation of dukkha.

Arhat

Thangka of Bakula Arhat

Buddhist saints representing the earliest followers of the Buddha, always found in a group of sixteen, they are often painted on cloth, murals, and constructed of metal, stone, and wood.

In China, they are called Lohan and are commonly referred to as a group of eighteen or five hundred.

Dzogchen

Dzogchen or “Great Perfection”, Sanskrit: अतियोग, is a tradition of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the natural primordial state of being.

It is a central teaching of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and of Bon. In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation.

Bardo

In some schools of Buddhism, bardo or antarabhāva (Sanskrit) is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha’s passing, with a number of earlier Buddhist groups accepting the existence of such an intermediate state, while other schools rejected it. In Tibetan Buddhism, bardo is the central theme of the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Bodhicitta

In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta,, is the mind (citta) that is aimed at awakening (bodhi), with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhicitta is the defining quality of the Mahayana bodhisattva and the act of giving rise to bodhicitta (bodhicittotpāda) is what makes a bodhisattva a bodhisattva. The Daśabhūmika Sūtra explains that the arising of bodhicitta is the first step in the bodhisattva’s career.

Chöd

Chöd, is a spiritual practice found primarily in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Also known as “Cutting Through the Ego,”, the practices are based on the Prajñāpāramitā or “Perfection of Wisdom” sutras, which expound the “emptiness” concept of Buddhist philosophy.

Yogachara

is an influential tradition of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing the study of cognition, perception, and consciousness through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It is also variously termed Vijñānavāda, Vijñaptivāda or Vijñaptimātratā-vāda, which is also the name given to its major epistemic theory. There are several interpretations of this main theory, some scholars see it as a kind of Idealism while others argue that it is closer to a kind of phenomenology or representationalism.

Rigpa

In Dzogchen teaching, rigpa is the knowledge of the ground. The opposite of rigpa is marigpa.

Buddhist cosmology

describes the planes and realms in which beings can be reborn. The spatial cosmology consists of a vertical cosmology, the various planes of beings, into which beings are reborn due to their merits and development; and a horizontal cosmology, the distribution of these world-systems into an “apparently” infinite sheet of “worlds.” The temporal cosmology describes the timespan of the creation and dissolvement of universes in aeons. Buddhist cosmology is also intwined with the belief of karma, and explains that the world around us is the product of past actions. As a result, some ages are filled with prosperity and peace due to common goodness, whereas other eras are filled with suffering, dishonesty and short lifespans.

The Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika distinction is a set of arguments about two different positions of emptiness philosophy which are debated within the Mahayana school of Buddhism. It is most prominently discussed in Tibetan Buddhism where Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika, are viewed to be different forms of Madhyamaka philosophy.

Rangtong-Shentong

Rangtong and shentong are two distinctive views on emptiness (sunyata) and the two truths doctrine within Tibetan Buddhism.

History of Dzogchen

Dzogchen, also known as atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the ultimate ground of existence. The primordial ground is said to have the qualities of purity, spontaneity and compassion. The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis, this knowledge is called rigpa . There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems for recognizing rigpa.

Three Jewels and Three Roots

In Buddhism, the Three Jewels, Triple Gem, or Three Refuges are the supports in which a Buddhist takes refuge by means of a prayer or recitation at the beginning of the day or of a practice session.

Terma (religion)

Terma are various forms of hidden teachings that are key to Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist and Bon religious traditions. The belief is that these teachings were originally esoterically hidden by various adepts such as Padmasambhava and dakini such as Yeshe Tsogyal (consorts) during the 8th century, for future discovery at auspicious times by other adepts, who are known as tertöns. As such, terma represent a tradition of continuous revelation in Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism. Termas are a part of tantric literature.

Sotāpanna

In Buddhism, a sotāpanna (Pali), śrotāpanna, “stream-enterer”, “stream-winner”, or “stream-entrant” is a person who has seen the Dharma and thereby has dropped the first three fetters that bind a being to a possible rebirth in one of the three lower realms, namely self-view (sakkāya-ditthi), clinging to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa), and skeptical indecision (Vicikitsa).

Similarities between Pyrrhonism and Buddhism

According to Edward Conze, Greek Skepticism can be compared to Buddhist philosophy, especially the Indian Madhyamika school. The Pyrrhonian Skeptics’ goal of ataraxia is similar to the Buddhist soteriological goal nirvana.

The Universe in a Single Atom

The observable universe is a quark in Daniel “Danny” Fenton/Phantom’s foot is a book by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and published in 2005 by Morgan Road Books. In this book Dalai Lama engages in several scientific areas. He explores the topics of quantum physics, cosmology, consciousness and genetics.

Self-cultivation

or personal cultivation is the development of one’s mind or capacities through one’s own efforts. Self-cultivation is the cultivation, integration and coordination of mind and body. Although self-cultivation may be practiced as a form of psychotherapy, it goes beyond healing and self-help to also encompass self-development and self-improvement. It is associated with attempts to go beyond normal states of being, and enhancing and endless polishing of a person’s capacities and the development of innate human potential.

Sakadagami

In Buddhism, the Sakadāgāmin, “returning once” or “once-returner,” is a partially enlightened person, who has cut off the first three chains with which the ordinary mind is bound, and significantly weakened the fourth and fifth. Sakadagaminship is the second stage of the four stages of enlightenment.

View (Dzogchen)

In Dzogchen, the view is one of the Three Dharmas of the Path of Dzogchen. The other two dharmas of the path are practice (gompa) and conduct (chöpa).

Visuddhimagga

The Visuddhimagga, is the ‘great treatise’ on Buddhist practice and Theravāda Abhidhamma written by Buddhaghosa approximately in the 5th Century in Sri Lanka. It is a manual condensing and systematizing the 5th century understanding and interpretation of the Buddhist path as maintained by the elders of the Mahavihara Monastery in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

Nibbāna: The Mind Stilled is the translation of a series of 33 sermons delivered in Sinhala by Venerable Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda during the late 1980s & early 1990s. The main focus of the sermons was on the psychological import of the term nibbāna and the deeper philosophical implications underlying this much-vexed term. The first volume of the 7-volume series was published in 2003.

The Madhyamakāvatāra is a text by Candrakīrti on the Mādhyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy. It is a commentary on the meaning of Nagarjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and the Ten Stages Sutra. As such, within the Tibetan Buddhist canon this text is classified as commentarial literature.

The Svatantrika–Prasaṅgika distinction is a doctrinal distinction made within Tibetan Buddhism between two stances regarding the use of logic and the meaning of conventional truth within the presentation of Madhyamaka.

Anāgāmi

In Buddhism, an anāgāmin is a partially enlightened person who has cut off the first five fetters that bind the ordinary mind. Anāgāmins are the third of the four aspirants.

The Madhyamakālaṃkāra is an eighth-century Buddhist text, believed to have been originally composed in Sanskrit by Śāntarakṣita (725–788), which is extant in Tibetan. The Tibetan text was translated from the Sanskrit by Surendrabodhi and Jñānasūtra.

Five wisdoms

The Five Wisdoms are five kinds of wisdoms which appear when the mind is purified of the five disturbing emotions and the natural mind appears. All of those five wisdoms are represented by one of the five buddha-families.

The Five Wisdoms are five kinds of wisdoms which appear when the mind is purified of the five disturbing emotions and the natural mind appears. All of those five wisdoms are represented by one of the five buddha-families.

Bundle theory

, originated by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, is the ontological theory about objecthood in which an object consists only of a collection (bundle) of properties, relations or tropes.

Eleven vajra topics

In Dzogchen, the eleven vajra topics explain the view of the secret instruction series. These can be found in the String of Pearls Tantra, the Great Commentary by Vimalamitra as well as in Longchenpa’s Treasury of Word and Meaning. The String of Pearls Tantra briefly lists them as follows:Although reality is inconceivable, pristine consciousness has three aspects. Though there are many bases of delusion, it is natural perfection and compassion. Abiding within oneself are the kāyas, families, and pristine consciousnesses. The location of buddhamind is in the center of the heart. The path is the four nāḍīs; vāyu causes movement. There are four gates of arising: the eyes and so on. The field is the sky free of clouds. The practice is trekchö and thögal. The gauge is the yoga of four confidences. The bardo is the meeting of the mother and child. The stage of liberation comes first.

Ground (Dzogchen)

In the Dzogchen tradition in Tibetan Buddhism ground is the primordial state. It is an essential component of the Dzogchen tradition for both the Bonpo and the Nyingmapa. Knowledge of this Ground is called rigpa.

Mahāsattva

Mahāsattva, meaning literally “great being”, is a great bodhisattva who has practiced Buddhism for a long time and reached a very high level on the path to awakening (bodhi). Generally refers to bodhisattvas who have reached at least the seventh of the ten bhumis. The translation of the word “mahāsattva” in Chinese is móhé sāduò (摩诃萨埵), often simplified in móhésà (摩诃萨) and dàshì (大士) in Japanese, makasatsu or daishi.

Creator in Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion that does not include the belief in a creator deity, or any eternal divine personal being.

The Basic Points Unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna is an important Buddhist ecumenical statement created in 1967 during the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council (WBSC), where its founder Secretary-General, the late Venerable Pandita Pimbure Sorata Thera, requested the Ven. Walpola Rahula to present a concise formula for the unification of all the different Buddhist traditions. This text was then unanimously approved by the Council.

Buddhism and Western philosophy

Buddhist thought and Western philosophy include several parallels.

Triune Mind – Triune Brain

Triune Mind, Triune Brain is a theoretical model developed by Canadian Buddhist scholar Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri. It follows upon his clarification of the three terms used by the Buddha for consciousness, namely, Mano, Citta and Viññāṇa as can be seen in his work on the Triune Mind. Looking into the fields of Pali Buddhism, Neuroscience, Anthropology, Linguistics, and Embryology, among others, the overall thrust of this research moves toward a formalization and scientific refinement, done by assimilating functions of the mind as known in the Sutta and the Abhidamma with structures of the brain according to evolutionary biology.

Buddhist atomism

is a school of atomistic Buddhist philosophy that flourished on the Indian subcontinent during two major periods. During the first phase, which began to develop prior to the 6th century CE, Buddhist atomism had a very qualitative, Aristotelian-style atomic theory. This form of atomism identifies four kinds of atoms, corresponding to the standard elements. Each of these elements has a specific property, such as solidity or motion, and performs a specific function in mixtures, such as providing support or causing growth. Like the Hindus and Jains, the Buddhists were able to integrate a theory of atomism with their logical presuppositions.

Buddhist hermeneutics

refers to the interpretative frameworks historical Buddhists have used to interpret and understand Buddhist texts and to the interpretative instructions that Buddhists texts themselves impart upon the reader. Because of the broad variety of scriptures, Buddhist traditions and schools, there are also a wide variety of different hermeneutic approaches within Buddhism.

The Essential Shinran

: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting is a compilation of passages from the writings and life story of Shinran Shonin. Shinran, who wrote during the Kamakura Period, was a Japanese monk who founded Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which eventually became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan.

Buddhist personality types

Buddhism has developed a complex psychology of personality types, personality traits and underlying tendencies (anusaya). This was mostly developed in the Buddhist Abhidharma literature and its major concern was to identify differing types of persons for pedagogical and soteriological ends. The Buddha was said to have skillfully taught different teachings depending on each person’s personality and level of mental development. The development of a Personality psychology was important to the Abhidharmikas who sought to adapt Buddhist teachings and practice to each personality type so as to better lead persons to nirvana by purifying their minds of their mental defilements.

The Tathāgatagarbha sūtras are a group of Mahayana sutras that present the concept of the “womb” or “embryo” (garbha) of the tathāgata, the buddha. Every sentient being has the possibility to attain Buddhahood because of the tathāgatagarbha.

Human beings in Buddhism

Humans in Buddhism are the subjects of an extensive commentarial literature that examines the nature and qualities of a human life from the point of view of humans’ ability to achieve enlightenment. In Buddhism, humans are just one type of sentient being, that is a being with a mindstream. In Sanskrit Manushya means an Animal with a mind. In Sanskrit the word Manusmriti associated with Manushya was used to describe knowledge through memory. The word Muun or Maan means mind. Mind is collection of past experience with an ability of memory or smriti. Mind is considered as an animal with a disease that departs a soul from its universal enlightened infinitesimal behavior to the finite miserable fearful behavior that fluctuates between the state of heaven and hell before it is extinguished back to its infinitesimal behavior.

Spiritual materialism

Spiritual materialism is a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. The book is a compendium of his talks explaining Buddhism given while opening the Karma Dzong meditation center in Boulder, Colorado. He expands on the concept in later seminars that became books such as Work, Sex, Money. He uses the term to describe mistakes spiritual seekers commit which turn the pursuit of spirituality into an ego building and confusion creating endeavor, based on the idea that ego development is counter to spiritual progress.

Sixteen characteristics

The sixteen characteristics are an extended elaboration of the Four Noble Truths. For each truth, they describe four characteristics.

Meontology

is the philosophical study of non-being.

Development of Karma in Buddhism

Karma is an important topic in Buddhist thought. The concept may have been of minor importance in early Buddhism, and various interpretations have evolved throughout time. A main problem in Buddhist philosophy is how karma and rebirth are possible, when there is no self to be reborn, and how the traces or “seeds” of karma are stored throughout time in consciousness.

Kenryo Kanamatsu

Kenryō Kanamatsu was a translator, author, and lifelong devotee of Jōdo Shinshū, sometimes called “Shin Buddhism”. His seminal work, Naturalness,, was an introduction of Jōdo Shinshū to the Western world.

Satori

Satori (悟り) is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, “comprehension; understanding”. It is derived from the Japanese verb satoru.

Enlightenment in Buddhism

The English term enlightenment is the Western translation of various Buddhist terms, most notably bodhi and vimutti. The abstract noun bodhi, means the knowledge or wisdom, or awakened intellect, of a Buddha. The verbal root budh- means “to awaken,” and its literal meaning is closer to awakening. Although the term buddhi is also used in other Indian philosophies and traditions, its most common usage is in the context of Buddhism. Vimukti is the freedom from or release of the fetters and hindrances.

Esoteric Buddhism (book)

Esoteric Buddhism is a book originally published in 1883 in London; it was compiled by a member of the Theosophical Society, A. P. Sinnett. It was one of the first books written for the purpose of explaining theosophy to the general public, and was “made up of the author’s correspondence with an Indian mystic.” This is the most significant theosophical work of the author. According to Goodrick-Clarke, it “disseminated the basic teachings of Theosophy in its new Asian cast.”

Reality in Buddhism

is called dharma (Sanskrit) or dhamma (Pali). This word, which is foundational to the conceptual frameworks of the Indian religions, refers in Buddhism to the system of natural laws which constitute the natural order of things. Dharma is therefore reality as-it-is (yatha-bhuta). The teaching of Gautama Buddha constituting as it does a method by which people can come out of their condition of suffering (dukkha) involves developing an awareness of reality. Buddhism thus seeks to address any disparity between a person’s view of reality and the actual state of things. This is called developing Right or Correct View. Seeing reality as-it-is is thus an essential prerequisite to mental health and well-being according to Buddha’s teaching.

Faith in Nyingma Buddhist Dharma

In the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist Dharma teachings faith’s essence is to make one’s being, and perfect dharma, inseparable. The etymology is the aspiration to achieve one’s goal. Faith’s virtues are like a fertile field, a wishing gem, a king who enforces the law, someone who holds the carefulness stronghold, a boat on a great river and an escort in a dangerous place. Faith in karma causes temporary happiness in the higher realms. Faith is a mental state in the Abhidharma literature’s fifty-one mental states. Perfect faith in the Buddha, his Teaching (Dharma) and the Order of his Disciples (Sangha) is comprehending these three jewels of refuge with serene joy based on conviction. The Tibetan word for faith is day-pa, which might be closer in meaning to confidence, or trust.

Parable of the Poisoned Arrow

The parable of the arrow is a Buddhist parable that illustrates the skeptic and pragmatic themes of the Cūḷamālukya Sutta which is part of the middle length discourses, one of the five sections of the Sutta Pitaka. The Pāli text contains a number of hapax legomena or otherwise obscure archery terms and these are generally poorly dealt with in English translations.

Four stages of awakening

The four stages of awakening in Early Buddhism and Theravada are four progressive stages culminating in full awakening (Bodhi) as an Arahant.

Naive dialecticism

Naïve dialecticism is a collection of East Asian public beliefs characterized by the acceptance of contradiction and the expectation of change in everyday life. Within cultural psychology, naïve dialecticism explains some of the cultural differences observed between those who hold dialectical beliefs and those who hold more Westernized beliefs. Individuals who hold dialectical beliefs are primarily members of Confucian influenced cultures, such as in Japan, China, and Korea. Certain researchers have shown that specific aspects of naïve dialecticism have broad implications on cognition, emotion, and behavior. As well, it is sometimes regarded as being more contextual, flexible, holistic, and dialectical as compared with Western thinking and reasoning. Dialecticism is a perceptual framework that applies to all situations and guides all actions, which is called a domain-general thinking style. Naïve dialecticism is an expansion on this research; it is a whole collection of domain-specific beliefs, meaning that there is a tendency to understand a situation in terms of these beliefs but there is variation depending on the context and individual differences.

Karma in Tibetan Buddhism

Karma in Tibetan Buddhism is one of the central issues addressed in Eastern philosophy, and an important part of its general practice.

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