1. BKA’ BRGYUD PA GREAT SEAL IN MEDIEVAL TIBET
2. BASIC DISTINCTIONS OF THE EIGHTH KARMAPA’S GREAT SEAL
 See Rheingans (2008: 143–145), for some conditions surrounding the composition of this important work. That he wrote it late in life (1544/45), and the high esteem it received in his traditions, points to it being the culmination of his scholastic enterprise.
 Mathes (2006: 225).
 Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, fol. 6a (p. 11). Tattvadaśaka 92: na sākāranirākāre tathatā jñātum icchata/ madhyamā madhyamā caiva guruvāganalakrtā/. Mathes (2006: 209) translates: ‘Somebody who wishes to know suchness for himself [finds it] neither in terms of sakara nor nirakara; Even the middle [path] (i.e., Madhyamaka) which is not adorned with the words of a guru, is only middling.’ According to Mathes (2006: 213–216), the Eighth Karmapa interprets «the words of the guru» here as those of Nāgārjuna, whereas ‘Gos lo tsā ba comprehends it as the pith instructions of the guru, who embodies prajñāpāramitā.
3. COMMON STRANDS AND DIVERGENT INTERPRETATIONS
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, gLo bur gyi dri ma, is concerned with explaining the correct understanding and cultivation of the ordinary mind. This text contains more interesting definitions (in part using terminology from both the pramāa and phar phyin treatises) and debates which cannot fully be presented here. It was requested by the scribe Bod pa rgya bo and was written by the Karmapa in Kong stod ‘or shod. It is found in the dKar chag (fol. 9a/p. 17) of the Fifth Zhwa dmar pa but not in the title list of the Eighth Karmapa in Mi bskyod rdo rje’i spyad pa’i rabs. It could therefore have been composed after 1546.
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, gLo bur gyi dri ma, fol. 3a (p. 1077). For the gol sa and shor sa, see also Namgyal (1986: 293–313) and Jackson, D. (1994: 181– 85), who translates Sa skya paṇdita’s criticism in the Thubs pa’i dgongs gsal which maintains that precisely this teaching is not from the Buddha. As a strategy in the gLo bur gyi dri ma, Mi bskyod rdo rje refers Sa skya paṇdita’s critique from the sDom gsum rab dbye (blun po’i phyag rgya chen sgom pa phal cher dud ‘gro’i gnas su skye) to the wrong understanding of śamatha, which pertains to the gol sa.
4. THE GURU AS ORIGIN AND EXAMPLE IN VAJRAYĀNA AND GREAT SEAL TRADITIONS
 Abhayadattaśrī, Grub chen brgyad cu, 172 (song of Tantipa), translated by Kapstein (2006a: 55). See also Tillipa’s Dohākoṣa 6 (Jackson, R. 2004; see also ed. and trans. Bhayani 1998: 14). Saraha’s songs portray the guru as someone who «has done with karma» (las zin pa yi skyes bu) and at whose feet one should gain certainty about the nature of one’s own mind: Dohākoa 43a (Jackson, R. 2004): kye lags dbang po ltos shig dang / ‘di las ngas ni ma gtogs (Advayavajra reads: mi rtogs) so / las zin pa yi skyes bu yi / drung du sems thag gcad par byos (see also Scherer 2007). See also Jackson, R. (2004: 3–53).
 The Ninth Karmapa argues: «[The meditation on the teacher] is referred to as a “preliminary”, however, it determines whether meditation takes place or not, since it is actually the main practice’» (dBang phyug rdo rje, Phyag chen nges don rgya mtsho, fol. 48b: de ni sngon ‘gro ming btags kyang dngos gzhi rang yin pas sgom skye mi skye ‘di la rag las so/.) For the various Great Seal preliminaries see dBang phyug rdo rje Karmapa IX (et. al.), sGrub brgyud rin po che’i phreng ba; Namgyal (1986: 132–138); bKra shis rnam rgyal, sNgon ‘gro khrid yig thun bzhi’i rnal ‘byor du bya ba. See also the sevenenth-century work Ngag dbang bsTan pa’i nyi ma, Phyag chen khrid yig. In the fivefold Great Seal of the ‘Bri gung pa the teacher is also one of the five elements of practice (Sobisch 2003). For the importance of the teacher in sGam po pa’s Great Seal, see Sherpa (2004: 93), Jackson, D. (1994: 150), and Kragh (1998: 12–26); see also Namgyal (1986: 112).
 sGam po pa bSod nams rin chen, rJe phag mo gru pa’i zhu las (translation and Tibetan text in Jackson, D. 1994: 150–151).
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, Karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i rnam thar, fol.17b (p. 148). It was noted before, that the slightly tense political climate coincided with lamentations of spiritual degeneration, a theme which was also popular in the much later nineteenth century vivid descriptions of Dza dpal sprul (patrul Rinpoche 1994: 102–103; sNying thig sngon ‘gro’i khrid yig). ‘Blind faith’ is thus not recommended, nor receiving the four empowerments, nor meditating on the teacher without having examined him. See also Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, Po to ba’i chig lab ring mo la mi bskyod rdo rje ‘grel pa mdzad pa’i bstan bcos, fol. 73b (p. 70), where the Eighth Karmapa comments on a work by the bKa’ gdams pa master po to ba. The relationship and the question of who is a teacher and who is not is also explained in an instruction the Eighth Karmapa passed on to his fervent sponsors of the sKu rab pa family (Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, sKu rab pa’i sde pa khu dbon la bstsal ba’i khrid kyi rim pa, fol 8a ff./ pp. 209ff.). Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII Ka tshang phyag chen nyams len gyi khrid, fol. 1b (p. 958). According to the colophon, this text consists of a note made by some students of the Eighth Karmapa, which they then showed to him for confirmation (ibid. fol. 20b/p. 996).
5. THE GURU AS MEANS IN THE EIGHTH KARMAPA’S GREAT SEAL INSTRUCTIONS
 Ibid. The interlinear comment specifies this as the intention of the Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje, as the defining characteristic (rang gi mtshan nyid) of whatever consciousness (shes pa) is apprehended. The text asserts the indispensability for understading this subtle point because, on the basis of it, the ignorance about the ultimate awareness of the Great Seal is removed. After more descriptions of how the levels (bhūmi) of the Bodhisattvas are realised, this approach is once more ascribed to sGam po pa and the Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje (ibid. fol. 20a/p. 995). The wording may likely refer to Rang byung rdo rje’s rNam shes ye shes ‘byed pa’i bstan bcos (see also the paraphrase by Sheehey 2005). The work concludes with an invocation of the transmission lineage of the Great Seal lamas from vajradhara via Saraha to Sangs rgyas mnyan pa and the Eighth Karmapa. Thereby, it places the instructions in the continuity of the precepts passed from teacher to student (ibid. fol. 20b/p. 996). Other instructions directly make mos gus the central theme: Apart from the Ka tshang phyag chen nyams len gyi khrid, there are titles clearly indicating mos gus as the a main factor. For example the Mos gus phyag chen gyi khrid zab mo rgyal ba rgod tshang pa’i lugs, the Mos gus bdun ma’i khrid yig gzhung ‘grel ba dang bcas pa (esp. fol. 31 a/p. 795), and the Mos gus chen mo’i khrid (Kaṃ tshang, p. 364) which remains unidentified (all authored by the Eighth Karmapa).
 This text again consists of a note (zin bris) of the Eighth Karmapa’s teaching made by his student Bya bral Ratnanātha, who then later showed it to the Karmapa for confirmation (Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, Phyag rgya chen po bsgom pa la nye bar mkho ba’i zin bris, fol. 3b/p. 275).
 Ibid. fol. 1b (p. 272): /de’ang phyag rgya chen po bsgom pa la nye bar mkho ba’i dmigs thun dang po ni/ rang gi spyi bor pad zla’i steng du rgyal ba karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje zhwa nag khyung gshog gser mdangs can chos gos rnam pa gsum ldan du gsal btab nas sku bstod zla med ma’i sgo nas gsol ‘debs rtse gcig tu byed pa’o/.
 For a slightly diverging definition popular in the bKa’ brgyud lineage, see sGam po pa bSod nams rin chen, Dam chos yid bzhin nor bu thar pa rin po che’i rgyan, pp. 214–219. D. Jackson has observed that also graded teaching works of sGam po pa and phag mo gru pa start out with the notion of confidence or trust (dad pa) as prerequisite, as do the «three [levels] of appearance» (snang ba gsum) meditation manuals of the Sa skya pa (Jackson, D. 1995: 233; 242, n. 24).
 In different Buddhist traditions, confidence (Skt. śraddhā, pāli. saddhā) sometimes translated «faith», has a range of meanings and is not to be confused with the theological concept of belief. The idea of confidence as practice is not confined to the Great Seal traditions, though the main focus is not usually the guru in other contexts. Brassard (2000: 98–99) has argued that in Mahāyāna context of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, beyond mere prelimirary value, śraddhā can be considered a practice itself. It is sometimes glossed as «trust or reliance on someone else» (parapratyaya), further connotations are often subsumed under prasāda or the prasannacitta, which evokes the meaning of calm and serenity as well as conviction and trust (Gomez 2004: 278). In the sūtras, it is found among the «five faculties» (indriya or bala) conducive to good practice or, in more scholastic works, among the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (ibid.; Gimello 2004: 51). These are positive states of mind (kuśala), which often have the connotation of active engagement in practice, overcoming sluggishness and doubt (also expressed with the word adhimukti or adhimoka), and gaining the ability to trust or rely upon something (Abhidharmakośa vI. 29).
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, mNyams med dags [sic!] po bka’ brgyud kyi gdam [sic!] pa’i srogi [abbrv. for srog gi] yang snying, NGMpp, Reel no. E 12794/6, 9 fols, manuscript, dbu med, partly written in ‘khyug yig (Heart Essence of the Life Force of the Intructions of the Uncomparable Dwags po bKa’ brgyud). It found entry into the Eighth Karmapa’s title list from 1546 (Mi bskyod rdo rje’i spyad pa’i rabs, fol. 8a/p. 365), and the colophon clearly indicates the Eighth Karmapa’s authorship.
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, mNyams med dags po bka’ brgyud, fol. 1b: de yang khoo (= kho bo) rang sgrub par ‘dod pa rnams/.
 Ibid. fol. 9a: zhes bya ba ‘di ni kho bo mi bskyod rdo rje’i go ‘phang tshe cig lus cig gi grub par ‘dod pa rnams kyi (emend to kyis?) ‘di bzhin sgrub par mdzod cig//.
 Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa vIII, Thun bzhi bla ma’i rnal sbyor, p. 269: da ni kho bo mi bskyod rdo rje kho na min pa bsam rgyu med pa kun.
6. CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS
differently: as directly letting go of artifice, on the basis of sūtra-related practices, or with the aid of the tantric path of means; different approaches are praised as superior in different texts. Finally, the common origin of these instructions is the guru. The guru is used in meditation practices as an aid, devotion to the guru in combination with understanding conceptualisation is a soteriological sufficient factor, and realisation of the guru’s ultimate state represents the goalwhether employing the yogic exercises of the path of means or not.
In conjunction with the doctrinal flexibility outlined, this supports the suggestion that the Great Seal is not a set of readymade doctrines and practices but rather consists of, and lives in, the dynamic interaction between teacher and student. The teacher is-true to the Buddhist ideal of the «best preacher» — depicted as the one who selects the appropriate method from the «ocean of instructions». The main goal is then to actualize the innate, to find conceptualisation as in essence dharmakāya and come to an experience. Experience and realisation are the ultimate goals against which any means is «tested». This pragmatic approach bears similarities to traits of early Buddhism, as pointed out in the famous Alagaddūpamasutta. Thus, the Great Seal of the Eighth Karmapa may be better understood as an adaptable and flexible pragmatic device, where experience is conceived of as superior to claims of ultimate truth. It is to be hoped that such an approach will constitute a useful avenue for future research into the rich textual material of the Indo-Tibetan Great Seal traditions.
 For the Buddha as the best preacher, see Deegalle (2006: 21–35).
 Realisation is achieved through training in meditative experiences (mnyam) and finally resting in the natural state (Martin 1992: 242). Sharf (1995) has—mainly on the basis of Japanese Buddhism — argued that the rhetoric of experience is not based on exact terms and experiences. Gyatso warns not to take this to the extreme (1999: 115f.) and shows that, unlike Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan traditions clearly have written about experience (nyams myong). She refers to the Great Seal, Direct vision branch of the Great perfection and the four empowerments of the niruttara-tantras.
 It compares the Buddha’s teaching to a raft: «You, O monks, who understand the Teaching’s similitude to a raft, you should let go even (good) teachings, how much more false ones!» ’Alagaddūpamasutta 14 (Majjhima Nikāya 22), trans. Ñyānāponika Thera (1974) (see also Scherer 2006). The contemporary Zhwa dmar pa, Mi pham Chos kyi blo gros (b. 1952), for example, reported that he is using the ultimate teaching from the Ninth Karmapa’s guidebook for both pointing out the nature of mind directly, and as instruction on the completion stage (oral communication, July 2006).