Guhyagarbha Tantra (with Commentary)

by Gyurme Dorje | 1987 | 6,373 words

The English translation of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, including Longchenpa's commentary from the 14th century. The whole work is presented as a critical investigation into the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Guhyagarbhatantra is it's principle text. It contains twenty-two chapters teaching the essence and practice of Mahayoga, which s...

2. Compilation of the Kangyur and Nyingma Tantras

[Full title: Compilation of the bKa'-'gyur rNying-rgyud and the rNying-ma rgyud-'bum]

Each of these three inner classes is represented in the compilations of tantra-texts—the bKa'-'gyur and the Collected Tantras of the rNying-ma-pa (rnying-ma'i rgyud-'bum). The former Includes a rNying-rGyud section (T. 828-844) which may have, as Ngag-gi dBang-po claims, been inserted during the 14th. century by dBus-pa bLo-gsal Sangs-rgyas 'Bum.[1] Therein the principal texts representing each of these categories are contained—the Tantra of the All-Accomplishine King (kun-byed rgyal-po. t. 828) which exemplifies the Mental Class (sems-sde) of Atiyoga, the Sūtra Which Gathers All Intentions (mdo-dgongs-pa 'dus-pa. T. 829) and its root the All-Gathering Awareness (kun-'dus rig-pa. T. 831) along with the Flash of Splendour (ye-shes rngam-glog, T. 830) which represent Anuyoga, and a series of tantras belonging to the Mahāyoga class, viz. T. 832-844, on which see below, pp. 32-61.

Owing to the secrecy of the rNying-ma tantras. which had been recognised in the early ninth century when the lDan-dkar-ma.[2] Catalogue was compiled. and in consequence of the controversy surrounding them in the eleventh century writings of Lha bLa-ma Ye-shes-'od and 'Gos Khug-pa Lhas-btsas,[3] these texts were, with few exceptions. not included in the bKa'-'gyur. which was devised chiefly as a compilation of later or new translations:

The sgra-sbyor bam-gnyis in fact says:[4]

Because of their great strictness the inner tantras of the secret mantras are not here set forth.

Certain key texts representative of the rNying-ma tantras were, as we have already seen. inserted in the bKa'-' gyur at an early date, and the Peking edition of the bsTan-'gyur (vols. 82-83) contains a substantial number of treatises on these tantras. Through the determined efforts of the Zur family, the bulk of the rNying-ma tantras were stored at 'Ug-pa-lung in gTsang, which was the main centre of rNying-ma activity in Central Tibet from the era of Zur-po-che (late tenth/ early eleventh century) until the fourteenth century.[5] Zur bZang-po dPal utilised the material resources, which he had obtained in the form of commissions and gifts from the Mongol emperor Buyantu (r. 1311-1320), to prepare printing-blocks for twenty-eight doctrinal collections of the ancient translations which were preserved at 'Ug-pa-lung, including the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra (T. 832), and its celebrated commentary by Līlāvajra,[6] the so-called sPar-khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā. P. 4718). He printed a thousand copies of each and distributed them to students.[7] Nonetheless, until the fifteenth century, the continuous lineages of these rNying-ma tantras were exceedingly few.

The various transmissions of these tantras then converged in the treasure-finder Ratna gLing-pa (1403-1471), a native of Gru-shul in Lho-brag. He persevered to collect texts from all quarters, including the abbreviated set of the Collected Tantras (rgyud-'bum) which was preserved at 'Ug-pa-lung, and he received, with great difficulty, their complete transmission from the aged Mes-sgom bSam-gtan bZang-po of gTsang, who alone held the continuous lineage.[8] Later, Ratna gLing-pa compiled the Collected Tantras at Lhun-grub Palace in Gru-shul, and had new copies prepared, the earlier ones in ink, and the later ones in gold. He transmitted them many times to ensure their continuity.

The lineage was maintained by his elder son, Tshe-dbang Grags-pa, continuing down to the present in the following succession:[9]

Tshe-dbang Grags-pa (elder son);
Ngag-dbang Grags-pa (younger son);
Ngag-dbang Nor-bu (grandson);
Nor-bu Yongs-grags;
rGyal-sras Nor-bu dBang-rgyal;
Pad-gling gSung-sprul III. Tshul-khrims rDo-rje;
Gar-dbang Tshul-khrims rGyal-mtshan of Bon-lung;
Pad-gling Thugs-sras IV, bsTan-'dzin 'Gyur-med rDo-rje;
Rig-'dzin gTer-bdag gLing-pa of sMin-grol-gling;
Pad-gling gSung-sprul IV, Ngag-dbang Kun-bzang rDo-rje;
Pad-gling thugs-sras V, 'Gyur-med mChog-grub dPal-'bar;
Pad-ma Don-grub Grags-pa;
Pad-gling gSung-sprul VI, Kun-bzang bsTan-pa'i rGyal-mtshan;
rBa-kha Kun-bzang Rig-'dzin rDo-rje;
Pad-gling gSung-sprul VIII, Kun-bzang bsTan-pa'i Nyi-ma;
rBa-kha Rig-'dzin Khams-gsum Yong-grol;
O-rgyan Nam-grol rGya-mtsho;
bGe-'dun rGya-mtsho;
bDud-'joms 'Jigs-bral Ye-shes rDo-rje.

Other Figures Connected with the Collected Tantras:

Gong-ra Lo-chen gZhan-phan rDo-rJe (1594-1654):[10]

Gong-ra Lo-chen was a student of Pad-gling gSung-sprul III Tshul-khrims rDo-rJe and mKhas-grub bLo-gros rgyal-mtshan and a teacher of gSang-bdag Phrin-las Lhun-grub. He prepared copies of the Collected Tantras of the rNying-ma-pa (rnying-ma rgyud-'bum) on three occasions, and on two of them, in consideration of the continuity of the teaching, he sent those copies to Kham and Kong-po, so that his transmission penetrated both Kham and Central Tibet.

Rig-'dzin 'Jigs-med gLing-pa:[11]

'Jigs-med gLing-pa (1730-1798), a native of 'Phyong-rgyas and student of dPal-ri monastery, is celebrated for his revelations of the Innermost Spirituality of kLong-chen-pa (klong-chen snying-thig). During the eighteenth century when, in consequence of the incursions by Dzun-gar-pa Mongols, the rNying-ma monastic centres of rDo-rje Brag and sMin-grol-gling had been severely damaged,[12] he made copies of all the tantras of the rNying-ma-pa tradition which were to be found at sMin-grol-gling, some twenty-five volumes, and had the first five pages of each volume written in ink made of the five precious substances,[13] and the remainder in black ink on a white background (skya-chos). He was the first to prepare a detailed catalogue and history of this collection, entitled the Narrative History of the Precious Collected Tantras of the Ancient Translation School: the Ornament Covering All Jambudvīpa (snga-'gyur rgyud-'bum rin-po-che'i rtogs-pa brjod-pa 'dzam-gling tha-grur khyab-pa'i rgyan). All later compilers have relied on this catalogue which is included in the nine volumes of his collected works.[14]

'Gyur-med Tshe-dbang mChog-grub:

'Jigs-med gLing-pa's new redaction of the Collected Tantras was subsequently carved on wood-blocks under the patronage of Queen Ga-je-bza' Tshe-dbang Lha-mo of sDe-dge.[15] In 1797, the Kah-thog dGe-brtse Paṇḍita 'Gyur-med Tshe-dbang mChog-grub, a student of 'Jigs-med gLing-pa's main disciple and lineage-holder rDo-grub I. 'Jigs-med Phrin-las 'Od-zer,[16] prepared an index for the sDe-dge xylograph edition, entitled, bde-bar gshegs-pa'i sde-snod rdo-rje theg-pa snga-'gyur rgyud-'bum rin-po-che'i rtogs-pa brjod-pa lha'i rnga-bo-che lta-bu'i gtam.[17]

There is an extant manuscript of the rGyud 'Bum. pertaining to the afore-mentioned sDe-dge edition, in 30 volumes (originally 33 vols.), twenty-nine of which are housed in the India Office Library in London (Waddell Collection, 1904-5), and the other (vol. 1) in the Bodleian. Copies of the celebrated sDe-dge xylograph and catalogue are also to be found outside Tibet,[18] and a new reprint of the Collected Tantras was prepared In 1973 under the patronage of Dingo Khyentse Rinpoche based on a manuscript preserved at gTing-skyes dGon-pa byang.[19] This reprint comprises thirty-six volumes, of which vole. 1-10 include the tantra-texts of Atiyoga, vols. 11-13 Include the sūtra and tantra-texts of Anuyoga and vols. 14-33 include the texts of Mahāyoga. Volume 34 contains 'Jigs-med gLing-pa's catalogue, while volumes 35-36 contain the index of 'Gyur-med Tshe-dbang mChog-grub. A modern catalogue to this edition of the Collected Tantras by Eiichi Kaneko has been published in Japan.[20]

In addition, there are other extant compilations of the rNying-ma tantras some of which correspond to sections of NGB., e.g. the rnying-ma'i rgyud bcu-bdun. and others which contain considerable variations. e.g., the The Rgyud-' bum of Vairocana and the Bhutanese Mtshams-brag manuscripts.[21]

At this juncture, an advanced study of the literature contained in vols. 1-13 would make a definitive contribution to our knowledge of Atiyoga and Anuyoga. The present research, however, will focus on the texts of Mahāyoga, since it is within the Mahāyoga category of the 'Gyud-'bum that the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra cycle is to be found, despite the connection with Atiyoga which has been drawn by some later Tibetan commentators.

Footnotes and references:


S.G. Karmay in his "Origin and Early Development of the Tibetan Religious Traditions of the Great Perfection", p. 276, has brought to our attention this claim made by Ngag-gi dBang-po in the rgol-ngan log-rtog bzlog-pa'i bstan-bcos. Even if the assertion were true, the inclusion of these texts would have coincided with the floruit of Buston Rin-chen-grub (1290-1364) who helped compile the bKa'-'gyur in its later form.


The bKa'-'gyur dKar-chag lDan-dkar-ma (T. 4364), compiled by sKa-ba dPal-brtsegs and Nam-mkha'i sNying-po during the ninth century, is a catalogue of those texts which could be widely disseminated. See M. Lalou, "Les Textes Bouddiques au temps du Rol Khri-sron-lde-bcan." The same translators, who had been involved in the translation of texts relating to the three inner classes of tantra, were advised to employ the utmost secrecy with respect to these highest and most potent of instructions. Consequently these texts were neither revised nor catalogued. See 'Jigs-med gLing-pa, rgyud-'bum dris-lan. pp. 285-288. Indeed, the lineages associated with the three classes of tantra were not widely propagated before the late eleventh century in sGro-phug-pa's time. See also NSTB, Book 2. Pt. 5, p. 360 ff.


The polemics of Lha-bla-ma Ye-shes 'od and the prince of Gu-ge, Pho-brang Zhl-ba-'od, have been discussed by s.G. Karmay, "The Ordinance of Lha Bla-ma Ye-shes-'od"; "An Open Letter by Pho-brane Zhi-ba-'od to the Buddhists of Tibet"; "A Discussion on the Doctrinal Position of rDzogs-chen from the 10th to the 13th Centuries"; and R.A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization. pp. 71-72. On their objections to the practice of sbyor-sgrol and on the ' byams-yig of 'Gos Khug-pa Lhas-btsas, see also below, pp. 61-72.


sgra-sbyor bam-gnyis, T. 4347, pp. 6-7. Ed. Sonam Angdu, in Tibeto-Sanskrit Lexicographical Materials.


On the founding and development of 'Ug-pa-lung, and for the biographies of the Zur family which maintained the bka'-ma lineage through to the seventeenth century, see NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5, pp. 304-429. On the location of this monastery near gZhis-ka-rtse and of the retreat centre of the Zurs in the Shangs valley, see A. Ferrari, mK'yen brtse's Guide to the holy places at Central Tibet. pp. 60, 66, 144, 159.


The conventional rendering of Līlāvajra has been challenged by R.M. Davidson, "The Litany of Names of Mañjuśrī," p. 6, n. 18, where he argues that Vilāsavajra Is the correct Sanskrit name.


On the activities of Zur bZang-po dPal, see NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5, pp. 400-405.


The story of Ratna zLlng-pa's successful salvage of the Collected Tantras In gTsang is recounted in 'Jam-mgon Kons-sprul, gter-ston breva-brtaa. pp. 127a.3-128b.1, and in NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 6, pp. 580-583. According to tradition, the act of obtaining the books would have been meaningless if he had not managed to receive the spiritual transmission connected with them from Mes-sgom.


Refer to NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5, pp. 501-502 for this lineage.


Refer to NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5. PP. 483-486.


Refer to NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 6, pp. 636-646; also S.D. Goodman, "Rig-'dzin 'Jigs-med gLing-pa and the Klong-Chen sNying-Thig."


In 1717 the Dzungar Mongols occupied Lhasa and killed Lha-bzang Qan, the Qośot leader who had previously murdered the regent Sangye Gyamtso and helped the Chinese to remove the Dalai Lama VI in 1706. A great persecution of rNying-ma-pa monasteries followed, resulting in the deaths of Lochen Dharmaśrī, Rig-'dzin bZhi-pa Padma Phrin-las of rDo-rje Brag, and others. See L. Petech, China and Tibet in the Early XVIIIth century.


The five precious substances (rin-chen sna lnga) are sold, silver, turquoise, coral and pearl.


The catalogue is included in NGB. Vol. 34, no. 407, and in JLSB. Vol. 3.


It was largely through the efforts of 'Jigs-med gLing-pa's student. rDo-grub I. 'Jigs-med Phrin-las 'Od-zer (1743-1821) that the Queen of sDe-dge offered royal patronage to the rNying-ma tradition and sponsored the carving of the woodblocks. This alignment of the Queen with her preceptor. rDo-grub Rin-po-che, led to the 1798 sDe-dge civil war. after which both of them were exiled. See E.G. Smith. Introduction to Kongtrul's Encyclopaedia. PP. 23-24.


On rDo-grub I, Phrin-las 'Od-zer, see Tulku Thondup. The Tantric Tradition the Nyingmapa, pp. 88-93.


This index is contained in NGB. Vols. 36-36. Regarding this figure's other composition on the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra. see below, p. 105.


The sDe-dge xylograph edition in 25 volumes plus catalogue is preserved in Rome and elsewhere. See J. Driver, "A Preliminary Survey of the Tantras of the Old School", unpublished ms.


rNying-ma'i rgyud-'bum. Vols 1-36: Thimphu: Ngodrup, 1973-75.


Eiichi Kaneko. Ko-Tantora zenshû kaidai mokuroku. Tokyo: Kokusho Kankokal, 1982.


The publication details of these alternative collections a are as follows: Rnin ma'i rgyud bcu bdun. 3 vols. New Delhi: Sande Dorje, 1973-1977. I-Tib 73-906438. The Rgyud-'bum of Vairocana. 8 vols. SSS. 16-23 (1971). I-Tib 70924557. The Mtshams-brag manuscript. 46 vols. 1982. Thimphu. Bhutan. National Library. Royal Government of Bhutan. Bhu-Tib 82-902165-

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