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Upadeśa (T. man ngag མན་ངག་; C. youpotishe 優波提舍), or key instructions, is one of the twelve categories of teachings, according to the Sanskrit tradition.

According The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in the Mahayana shastras, an upadeśa text has the sense of conveying a special or hidden meaning of a sutra that may not be apparent to the student.[1]

In the Vajrayana, the term upadeśa indicates the most essential and practical instructions on a given topic of the teachings, often transmitted orally. Erik Pema Kunsang states:

As opposed to the scholastic tradition, the [pith] instructions of the Practice Lineage are concise and pithy so they can always be kept in mind; they are practical and to the point so they are effective means to deal directly with the practices of purifying one's obscurations and gathering the two accumulations.[2]

Three categories of texts in Vajrayana

Within the Vajrayana, there is a common division of texts into three categories:[3]

  • tantras
  • agamas (commentaries on the tantras)
  • upadeśa (pith instructions)

Alternative translations for this term

  • Instructions
  • Pith instructions
  • Oral instructions
  • Crucial instructions
  • Key instructions
  • Quintessential instructions


  1. Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. Upadeśa
  2. Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg man_ngag, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  3. RW icon height 18px.png Pith instructions, Rigpa Shedra Wiki