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...

4a. The Māyājāla Cycle (Introduction)

The Māyājāla cycle of texts to which the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra belongs comprises both an eightfold and a fourfold division. This most significant cycle of the rNying-ma-pa oral tradition has until recently been ignored by western scholars, yet it would merit the attention given to the Prajñāpāramitā literature by E. Conze and others.[1] Early historical and literary references to specific texts connected with the Māyājāla cycle are found in the Tun Huang manuscripts, as well as in the writings of gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas Ye-shes and Rong-zom Chos-kyi bZang-po, as S.G. Karmay has Indicated.[2] Among gNubs-chen's compositions there is reported to have been a Commentary on the Realisation of the Eighty Chapter Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul brgyad-cu-pa'i mngon-rtogs 'grel) which no longer survives.[3] The various recensions of the Injunctions Padmasambhava (padma'i bka'-thang) provide what are perhaps the earliest specific references to the eightfold and fourfold divisions.

The Injunctions Padmasambhava Discovered At Crystal Rock (padma bka'-thang shel-brag-ma), an extant gter-ma source attributed to Yar-rje o-rgyan gLing-pa (1323-c. 1360) contains the following statement:[4]

rnam-snang la-sogs sgyu-'phrul sde-bzhi-dang
gsang-ba rdor-sems sgyu-'phrul sde-tshan brgyad

The same text additionally asserts that Padmasambhava himself drew up the eightfold division of the Māyājāla cycle with the translators sKa-ba dPal-brtsegs and lCo-gro kLu'i rGyal-mtshan.[5]

Sangs-rgyas gLing-pa (1340-1396) in his bka'-thanz gser-phreng, provides the following complete enumeration of the eight-fold division of the Magical Net, indicating the emphasis of each text:[6]

1. sems-dang ye-shes rang-la bstan-pa'i rgyud sgyu-'phrul rdo-rje gsang-ba:

2. phrin-las kha-tshar ston-pa'i rgyud sgyu-'phrul bzhi-bcu-pa:

3. dbang-gi nzo-bo mngon-du gyur-pa'i phyir sgyu-'phrul rdo-rje bla-ma'i rgyud;

4. dam-tshig-dang lta-ba'i man-ngag ston-pa sgyu-'phrul le-lag don-bsdus-kyi rgyud;

5. rgyud-kyi lde-mig-tu gyur-pa'i rgyud sgyu-'phrul le'u brgyad-pa;

6. rol-pa mngon-du gyur-par bya-ba'i phyir lha-mo sgyu-'phrul-gyi rgyud:

7. de-rnams-kyi ma-tshang-ba kha-skong-ba'i rgyud sgyu-'phrul brgyad-bcu-pa;

8. don-dam ye-shes chen-po bahad-pa 'jam-dpal sgyu-'phrul drya-ba'i rgyud.

This significantly, is the enumeration of the sgyu-'phrul brgyad to have been accepted by later historians and commentators, such as dPa'-bo gTsug-lag 'Phreng-ba (1504-1566), Sog-bzlog-pa bLo-gros rGyal-mtshan (1552-1624), and Lo-chen Dharmaśrī (1654-1717).

dPa'-bo, mkhas-pa'i dga'-ston, describes these eight primary texts In the following terms:[7]

1. thams-cad rang-snang-du ston-pa rtsa-rgyud gsang-ba'i snying-no:

2. rol-pa mngon-par brJod-pa lha-mo sgyu-'phrul:

3. dkyil-'khor ston-pa sgyu-'phrul brgyad-pa:

4. phrin-las ston-pa sgyu-'phrul bzhi-bcu-pa:

5. dbang gtso-bor ston-pa sgyu-'phrul bla-ma:

6. yon-tan mthar-phyin-par ston-pa sgyu-'phrul brgyad-bcu-pa:

7. sde-snod yongs-la khyab-par ston-pa sgyu-'phrul dra-ba chen-po:

8. dam-tshjg gtso-bor ston-pa sgyu-'phrul le-lag.

The same author also provides a set of four exegetical tantras (bshad-rgyud), which do not correspond to the so-called sgyu-'phrul sde-bzhi, namely:[8]

1. grol-lam rim-gyig ston-pa ye-shes snying-po:

2. cig-char ston-ra rdo-rje me-long:

3. thabs-lam rim-gyis ston-pa rdo-rje thal-ba:

4. cig-char ston-pa rdo-rje rgya-mtsho.

The standard enumeration of the sgyu-'phrul sde-bzhi is that given by klong-chen Rab-'byams-pa in the following passage from his phyogs-bcu mun-sel, and already implied in the writings of Yar-rje O-rgyan gLing-pa:[9]

This (cycle of the Magical Net) also comprises four sections, namely, the Magical Net of Vajrasattva which reveals all things of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa to be self-manifesting and Indivisible; the Magical Net of Vairocana (T. 466, NGB. Vol. 19) which extensively reveals the ritual activity and feast-offerings; the Magical Net the Goddess (T. 836, NGB. Vol. 15) which actually reveals the display of reality; and the Magical Net of Mañjuśrī (T. 360, NGB. Vol. 15) which all-pervasively reveals the vehicle.

kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa additionally claims that the sgyu-'phrul sde-brgyad is a sub-classification of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva, providing us with a different enumeration:[10]

The Magical Net of Vajrasattva itself comprises eight sections, namely, the glorious Secret Nucleus (T. 832, NGB. Vol. 14) which reveals mind and pristine cognition to be manifest in and of themselves; the Forty-Chapter Magical Net (NGB. Vol. 14) which perfectly reveals enlightened activity; the Eight-Chapter Magical Net (NGB. Vol. 14) which perfectly reveals the maṇḍala; the Superior Magical Net (T. 837, NGB. Vol. 14) which clearly reveals the empowerments; the Supplementary Magical Net (NGB. Vol. 14) which reveals the commitments as supreme; the Eighty-Chapter Magical Net (T. 834, NGB. Vol 14) which extensively reveals enlightened attributes; the Mirror Indestructible Reality (T. 833. NGB. Vol. 15) which clearly reveals the deities’ body-colours and symbolic hand-implements; the Oceanic Magical Net (NGB. Vol. 15) which clearly reveals the creation stage; and the Penetrating Magical Net (NGB. Vol. 15) which clearly reveals the path of skillful means.

Of the texts Included in the eightfold division by Sangs-rgyas gLing-pa, and later by dPa'-bo gTsug-lag 'Phreng-ba, Sog-bzlog-pa and Lo-chen Dharmaśrī, kLong-chen Rab-byams-pa assigns the lha-mo sgyu-'phrul and the 'jam-dpal sgyu-'phrul to the sde-bzhi, substituting for them three exegetical tantras—rdo-rje me-long, sgyu-'phrul rgya-mtsho, and sgyu-'phrul thal-ba.

[Tantra-texts of the Māyājāla cycle]

[Table Comparing the Chapters of the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra]

Among them the present study concerns the Great Tantra of the Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real (gsang-ba'i snying-po de-kho-na-nyid nges-pa'i rgyud chen-po / Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra. T. 832, NGB. vol. 14, pp. 1-61), which is considered to be the basic text of the cycle.

kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa speaks of it in his phyogs-bcu mun-sel as:[11]

... this kingly and glorious Tantra Of The Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect the Real (T. 832)—the furthest summit of all vehicles, the source of all literary transmissions, the great short-cut of the vehicle of all buddhas of the three times, and the most secret of all.

And 'Ju Mi-pham rNam-rgyal in his spyi-don 'od-gsal snying-po elaborates:[12]

It is known from literary sources that “tantras are to be known in comparison with other tantras”. Accordingly, this great tantra which completely discloses the essentials of view and meditation according to the unsurpassed mantras is a unique gemstone of the three worlds inasmuch as it qualitatively establishes the Intention and meaning of the entire vehicle of indestructible reality. It is the king of all tantras. It is the furthest summit of all vehicles, the source of all teachings. the general commentary on all literary transmissions. the great short-cut of all buddhas, and it is endowed with the wondrous enlightened attributes of greatness which are the genuine innermost intention of all the Tathāgatas. There is therefore no essential point which appears to be taught outside this tantra. Knowing that those texts which have been rashly composed. giving instruction on each profound and minute verse of indestructible reality In the mantra- and tantra-texts as a desirable object of sophistry to satisfy the prowess of one's own intellect, are vacant as a lifeless corpse. It Is appropriate that fortunate beings who possess the supreme aspiration of the vehicle of indestructible reality should earnestly attend to the exposition of such tantras. even at the cost of their own bodies or of life itself!

The rNying-ma tradition therefore regards this text as its fundamental tantra. whether it is interpreted as mainstream Mahāyoga or as an Atiyoga source.

Footnotes and references:


H.V. Guenther's study. Matrix of Mystery. is the first western work to draw heavily on the Guhyagarbhatantra. Among E. Conze's works. one might note The Large Sutra on Perfect Windom. The Perfection Wisdom In Eight Thousand Lines And its Verse Summary, and Materials for a Dictionary of true Prajñāpāramitā Literature. See also L. Lancaster. PRS.


S.G.Karmay, op. cit., p. 234, notes references in Macdonald and Imaeda. Pl. 48-52: Pl 59-61. to the effect that Pelliot PT. 42, Pts. 1, VIII & IX correspond to sections from the Guhyagarbhatantra. Amons them, most of Pt. VIII corresponds to Sūryaprabhāsiṃha's rgya-cher'grel-pa (P. 4719). ff. 308-317. On Karmay's references to the writings of gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas Ye-shes and Rong-zom Chos-kyi bZang-po. see below, p. 69. note 120.


See NSTB. Book 2. Pt. 5. p. 298.


The reference given here is to the translation from the French of Gustave-Charles Touissant by K. Douglas and G. Bays. The Life and Liberation of Padmaaambhava. Part II, p. 537. See the bibliography under Injunction of Padma discovered at Crystal Rock for further details of the xylograph edition and the French translation.


Yeshe Tsogyal. The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava. Part II. p. 416.


Sangs-rgyas gLing-pa. bka'-thang gser-phreng. pp. 399-400. Kalimpong: Dujom Rinpoche, 1970.


dPa'-bo gTsug-lag Phreng-ba, mkhas-pa'i dga'-ston. pp. 238-239.


op. cit.. p. 239.


see the appended commentary phyogs-bcu mun-sel. p. 6.


phyogs-bon mun-sel. p. 6.


phyogs-bcu mun-sel. p. 6.


'Ju Mi-pham rNam-rgyal, spyi-don 'od-gsal snying-po. pp. 10-11. The three worlds ('jig-rten gsum) referred to in this passage are those of the desire realm ('dod-pa'i khams, Sanskrit kāmadhātu), the form realm (gzugs-kyi khams. Sanskrit rūpadhatu). and the formless realm (gzugs-med-kyi khams. Sanskrit arūpyadhātu). Refer to NSTB, Book 1, Pt. 1, pp. 4b-7b.

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