Guhyagarbha Tantra (with Commentary)

by Gyurme Dorje | 1987 | 304,894 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...

4b. Tantra-texts of the Māyājāla cycle

The tantra-texts of this Māyājāla cycle which are now extant comprise two complete volumes of the Collected Tantras the rNying-ma-pa (NGB. vols. l4-15), along with a substantial portion of volume 16 and one text in volume 19. They are arranged so as to Include the texts accepted by both systems as root tantras (rtsa-rgyud) in NGB. volume 14, and those regarded as exegetical tantras in volume 15, although three of the latter are held to be root-tantras by kLong-chen-pa and another two are held to be root-tantras by Sangs-rgyas gLing-pa and dPa'-bo gTsug-lag. The titles of these extant tantras are listed below, along with a brief résumé of each.

The detailed contents of the three versions of the Guhyagarbha in particular are given in the tables which follow, and the Tibetan chapter titles and pagination for the entire section may be found in Kaneko's catalogue.

NGB. Vol. 14:

1. rgyud gsang-ba'i snying-po, Chs. 22, pp. 1-61;

The basic tantra of the cycle, and subject of this research, which is said to reveal all things to be manifest in and of themselves (thams-cad rang-snang ston-pa), or to reveal mind and pristine cognition to be self-manifesting (sems-dang ye-shes rang-snang-du ston-pa)[1]. Its maṇḍala is that of the forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities celebrated in later gter-ma compilations. The detailed contents of this shorter version are compared with those of two longer versions in the tables below. Translated by gNyags Jñānakumāra and rMa Rin-chen mChog following the instruction of Vimalamitra.

2. dgal gsang-ba'i snying-po'i phyi-ma. Chs. 5, pp. 62-67;

This text, in support of the former, emphasises the dependence of all attainments on the unique buddha-body, the projection of the maṇḍala, instructions on seminal points (thig-le) and vital energy (rlung) and the purification of the components (phung-po).[2] Translated by Jñānagarbha and lotsâwa Vairocana.

3. sgyu-'phrul brgyad-bcu-pa. Chs. 82, pp. 67-317;

This, the long version of the gsang-ba'i snying-po, emphasises the enlightened attributes (yon-tan) of buddha-hood. See below for a comparison between its 82 chapters and the twenty-two chapters of the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra in tabular form. Translated by Vimalamitra and gNyags Jñānakumāra.

4. sgyu-'phrul bzhi-bcu-pa. Chs. 46, pp. 317-415;

This intermediate length gsang-ba'i snying-po emphasises enlightened activity. Its 46 chapters are also outlined in the table below.

5. sgyu-' phrul le-laz. Chs. 33, pp. 415-549;

Emphasisins commitments, the le-lag describes in its introductory chapter the gathering of all animate creatures and inanimate things of the ten directions and four times in the Great Identity, and the cycles of buddha-body, speech, mind and rapture which are inexhaustible adornments. Then, its thirty-two remaining chapters closely correspond in their titles, contents and structure to those of the rdo-rje gsang-ba'i snying-po rtsa-ba'i rgyud in NGB. vol. 16. These concern the gathering of all things in the expanse of the female consort, the absorption in the seal of the insubstantial buddha-body, the presence of the seed of reality in all beings and the differences of intelligence, the celestial palace (vimāna). transformation of all things into the wrathful deities and purification by the fire of their pristine cognition, the further ritual service associated with the most secret wrathful deities, the external revelation of the maṇḍala-display of spirituality and the burnt offerings associated with the four rites,[3] power over longevity, disclosure of covert symbols through sacraments and mantra, activities associated with the seals, the attainment of Vajrasattva, making of medicine/ elixir (sman-sgrub). absorption of the most secret maṇḍala and revelation of its higher contemplative images, emanation of the seals, the attainment of Mahādeva and of the maṇḍala of the four guardians,[4] the construction of stūpas, the twenty-one elements,[5] gathering all things in the expanse, gathering of the perfections. levels, skillful means and buddha-fields in intelligence and phenomena (i.e., in Samantabhadra and consort). the most secret accomplishment, the emergence of the maṇḍala of buddha-body. basic & ancillary commitents, an explanation of the commitments, the vision of Vajrasattva. the commitments associated with the seals, and the conclusion which dgals with the conferral of the tantra by Samantabhadra.

6. sgyu-'phrul brgyad-pa. Chs. 8, pp. 549-571;

Emphasising the maṇḍala, this text teaches union with the natural Great Perfection, emanation of the cloud-like maṇḍala of wrathful deities and of the maṇḍala of buddha-speech associated with the feast-offerings of the wrathful deities, the commitment of offering, and the pleasing of the maṇḍala.

7. sgyu-'phrul dra-ba bla-ma chen-po. chs. 13. pp. 572-638;

Emphasising empowerment, this text concerns the recognition of the expanse and pristine cognition as the superior secret bliss, the attainment of the nature of mind in the non-dual disposition of expanse and pristine cognition, the emanation & absorption of the maṇḍala and its secret mantras, emanation of the seals, secret commitments and conferral of empowerment, discipline through compassion, pleasing the maṇḍala through the feast-offerings, subjugation of demons and clarification of the greatness of buddha-body, speech and mind throughout the ten directions, the maṇḍala of awesome buddha-speech and the indestructible commitments. and the supreme bliss of bodhisattvas who have the essential instructions.[6]

NGB. Vol. 15:

8. bshad-brgyud lha-mo sgvu-'phrul. chs. 13. pp. 1-96:

Emphasising the display of reality, this exegetical tantra discusses the maṇḍala of the Tathāgatas and the removal of all obscurations in relation to it. the blissful cycle of secret yoga associated with the body, speech and mind of all the Tathāgatas, the introduction to non-duality, offering dances which please all the Tathāgatas, the supreme vow of secret bliss associated with all the Tathāgatas, the secret maṇḍala of all the Tathāgatas, the real nature of offerings among the inconceivable purificatory deeds of all the Tathāgatas, the secret buddha-body, speech, mind, supreme offerings of reality and compassion of all the Tathāgatas, emanation of the wrathful Tathāgatas, the wheel of pristine cognition which revolves from the secret nature of all the tathāgatas, the mantras among those aspects which please the. secret nature of all the Tathāgatas, the maṇḍala which is a great gathering of the Herukas among all the Tathāgatas, and a key to the dissemination of the four sections of the Magical Net. Translated by Līlāvajra and rMa Rin-chen mChog.

9. 'jam-dpal sgyu-'phrul dra-ba. Chs. 14. pp. 97-118;[7]

This text, also known as the Litany the Names of Mañjuśrī (Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti, T. 360) in its later translation, emphasises the cohesion of all the piṭakas or vehicles. Its topics concern the enlightened family. manifest awakening through the Magical Net. emanation of enlightened mind, eulogies associated with the five pristine cognitions, enlightened attributes and mantras.

10. rdo-rle sems-dpa' sgyu-'phrul dra-ba gsang-ba thams-cad-kyi me-long. Chs. 13 + root-text, pp. 119-310;

Emphasising the immediate attainment according to the path of liberation (grol-lam cig-char) or the colours and symbolic hand-implements of the buddha-body (sku-mdog-dang phyag-mtshan), its topics include the view. conduct, maṇḍala. empowerment. commitments, attainment, enlightened activity, specific rituals, and spontaneous presence. Translated by Vimalamitra and gNyags Jñānakumāra.

11. dgal sgyu-'phrul dra-ba ye-shes snying-po'i rgyud. Chs. 13. pp. 310-338;

Emphasising the gradual aspect of the path of liberation (grol-lam rim-gyis). it reveals the five aspects of seminal “enlightened mind”,[8] the emergence of spirituality and pristine cognition. the cycle of syllables, contemplation, array of the seals of supreme bliss, consecration of the awareness of secret mantras, the radiance of the great seal, the maṇḍala of perfect skillful means and discriminative awareness, the descent of pristine cognition, spontaneous presence, and the secret maṇḍala. Translated by gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas Ye-shes (rDo-rje Yang-dbang-gter).

12. sgyu-'phrul rgya-mtsho. Chs. 22, pp. 339-420;

Emphasising the Immediate aspect of the path of skillful means (thabs-lam cig-char) or the creation stage (bskyed-rim). this text concerns the five aspects of seminal “enlightened mind”, the establishing of all things, the emergence of the maṇḍalas of buddha-speech and mind with their consecrations, the maṇḍala of feast-offerings, the path of the secret vehicle, the secret meaning, the practice of the five impurities,[9] emergence of the indestructible wrathful nature in body, speech and mind along with their consecrations, and spontaneous rites. Translated by Vimalamitra and gNyags Jñānakumāra.

13. sgyu-'phrul thal-ba'i rgyud. Chs. 26, pp. 421-538;

Emphasising the gradual aspect of the path of skillful means (thabs-lam rim-gyis). it concerns the five aspects of seminal “enlightened mind”, the view of great skillful means, self-manifesting buddha-body, speech and mind, attainment of the self-manifest nature through skillful means, appearance of contemplative images through “enlightened mind”, secret mantras, expansion of the three secret centres,[10] the commitments, empowerments, discipline of awareness, entrance into the secret path of skillful means, its actual skillful means, those without skillful

means who are unliberated, conquerors of the past & yogins of the present who are liberated through skillful means, the secret seminal points, discipline of sense-organs and objects, gathering of all things in intelligence and phenomena (=Samantabhadra and consort), and stability in the Magical Net. Translated by Vimalamitra and gNyags Jñānakumāra in 'Phan-yul.

14. rdo-rje sems-dpa' sgyu-'phrul dra-ba-las gsang-ba'i snying-po de-kho-na-nyid bstan-pa rol-pa chen-po'i thal-ba'i rgyud, Chs. 13. pp. 539-649;

Its topics include the mind which emerges according to the teaching, its connection with the maṇḍala, the pursuit of the pristine cognition of the seals, the natural maṇḍala, the maṇḍalas of contemplation and images, empowerment, commitments. attainment, enlightened activity, emergence of the maṇḍala of wrathful deities, conduct and the concealed secret teachings. Translated by Vimalamitra and gNyags Jñānakumāra.

NGB. Vol. 16:

15. rdo-rje gsang-ba'i snying-po rtsa-ba'i rgyud de-kho-na-nyid nges-pa. Chs. 33, PP. 1-138:

Also entitled, rgyud-kyi rgyal-po chen-po sgyu-'phrul drya-ba, the chapters of this text correspond in number, structure and title to those of the sgyu-'phrul le-lag. which have already been summarised.

16. gsang-ba'i snying-po de-kho-na-nyid nges-pa'i khro-bo stobs-kyi rgyud-rgyal. pp. 138-142;

This text is also known as the stobs-kyi dbang-phyug sgrub-pa dka'-ba spyod-pa man-ngag-gi snying-po rgyud. A fragment.

17. khro-bo rin-po-che'i stobs-kyis rnal-'byor dbang-phyug sgrub-pa'i sgyu-'phrul dra-ba'i rgyud. PP. 142-147:

Translated by Vimalamitra and Vairocana.

18. rgyud-kyi rgyal-po chen-po sgyu-'phrul snying-po bkod-pa. Chs. 8. pp. 147-163.

Its topics concern cause & condition. ground & natural expression, the quiescence of reality, the wrathful deities who subdue thought, the net of esoteric instructions, the cycle of wrathful exorcism, the absorption of ground, path and result, and a most pleasing eulogy.

KGB. Vol. 19:

19. rnam-snang sgyu-'phrul dra-ba. Chs. 10. pp. 289-395;

This text is also known as rgyud-kyi rgyal-po chen-po sgyu-'phrul drya-ba and is also extant as a later translation by Rin-chen bZang-po (T. 466). Emphasising rituals and feast-offerings, its topics concern the gradual entrance, the maṇḍala. secret mantras. contemplation, unfolding of the pristine cognition of the secret mantras, the offering of the seals, attainment of pristine cognition through meditation on enlightened mind. attainment through the skillful means of sexual practices. burnt offerings and a revelation of all rituals.

Footnotes and references:


This phrase indicates, in the view of kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa, that the text is representative of the Mahā division of Atiyoga. See below, p. 124. and phyogs-bcu mun-sel. pp. 5-6. The term self-manifesting or manifest in and of itself (rang-snang) implies that the pure appearances of the buddha-level are manifest to buddhas alone. It is contrasted with the term "extraneously manifest" (gzhan-snang) which refers to the perception of other beings—tenth level bodhisattvas and so forth. See NSTB. Book 1, Pt. 2, p. 46b; Book 2. Pt. 2, p. 64.


On the significance of thig-le and rlung. see the appended commentary phyogs-bcu mun-sel. pp. 453ff.: and H.V. Guenther, The Life and Teaching of Naropa. pp. 270-275. The purification of the components refers to the pañcaskandha. namely form (gzugs-kyi phung-po. Sanskrit rūpaskandha), feelings (tshor-ba'i phung-po. Sanskrit vedanāskandha), perceptions ('du-shes-kyi phung-po. Sanskrit saṃjñāskandha), habitual tendencies which are psycho-physical ('du-byas-kyi phung-po. Sanskrit saṃskāraskandha). and consciousness (rnam-shes-kyi phung-po. Sanskrit vijñānaskandha).


The four rites are the first four of the five kinds of enlightened activity enumerated above, p. 140, note 46.. viz. pacification (zhi). enrichment (rgyas). subjugation (dbang) and wrath (drag). See also pp. 121-2, note 221 below.


These are the four guardian kings of the four directions (rgyal-chen bzhi. Sanskrit caturmahārājika). namely, Dhṛtarāṣṭra in the east, Virūdaka in the south, Virūpakṣa in the west, and Vaiśravaṇa in the north.


The standard enumeration of eighteen psycho-physical bases (khama bcu-brgyad) is given in Mahāvyutpatti 2040-2058, viz., those of the eye, form, and the consciousness of the eye; of the ear, sound and the consciousness of the ear; of the nose, smell and the consciousness of the nose; of the tongue, taste and the consciousness of the tongue; of the body, touch and the consciousness of the body; and of the intellect. phenomena and the consciousness of the intellect. In addition, the present enumeration of twenty-one includes: 19) the identity of all the tathāgatas which is the source of the preceding eighteen; 20) the field in which enlightenment is accomplished; and 21) the causal base which gives rise to bliss. See e.g., the Eighty Chapter Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul brgyad-bcu-pa). T. 834, P. 457. bKa-'gyur. vol. 10. 39.3.1.


At the end of Volume 14, the compiler of the new edition has inserted a version of the thugs-kyi thigs-pa'i man-ngag. pp. 639-665. This treatise has three central topics, namely, a brief instruction on the appearances of mind in its natural state, the appearances of bewilderment, and the appearances which purify those to be trained. In P. 4738. Vol. 10,. 129.4.1-134.1.3. a text of this title is attributed jointly to Buddhaguhya, Vimalamitra and Līlāvajra.


There are now two useful editions and translations of this text. viz. R.M. Davidson. "The Litany of Names of Mañjuśrī." MCB 20 (1981). pp. 1-69. and A. Wayman. Chanting the Names of Mañjuśrī. Boulder/ London: Shambhala. 1985.


The five aspects of seminal "enlightened mind" (byang-sems lnga) may be explained according to either grol-lam or thabs-lam. In the former context, they refer to an elaboration of the five verses on non-creation. non-cessation, non-abiding, non-reference. and absence of motion, which respectively give rise to the pañcajñāna (Guhyagarbha. Ch. 2, 6-10). As such the five are known as gYo-ldang byang-chub sems, smon-pa byang-chub sems, 'jug-pa byang-chub sems, gnas-pa byang-chub sems, and mthar-phyin-pa byang-chub sems. In the latter case, as described below, p. 1016, in connection with the sbyor-ba practices and in kLong-chen rab-'byams-pa, dpal gsang-ba'i snying-po'i spyi-don legs-par bshad-pa'i snang-bas yid-kyi mun-pa thams-cad sel-ba. p. 69b. these five refer to the arousal of the seminal fluid ("enlightened mind") from its natural position (byang-chub-kyi sems gnas-nas gYo-ba). its descent and coming to rest in the secret centre (gnas-su babs-pas sdad-pa. sic). its retention in the penis (rdo-rjer bzung-bas gnas-pa). its Induction upwards (gyen-du drangs-pas 'jug-sa), and its pervasion of the body (lus-la khrem-pas don-dam-pa byang-chub-kyi sems). See phyogs-bcu mun-sel. Ch. 13, PP. 453ff, and Lo-chen Dharmaśrī, gsang-bdag dgongs-rgyan, pp. 106-108.


The five impurities (snyigs-ma lnga. Sanskrit pañcakaṣāya) are impurity of life (tshe'i snyigs-ma. Sanskrit ayuḥ-kaṣāya), impurity of view (lta-ba'i snyigs-ma. Sanskrit dṛṣṭi-kaṣāya, impurity of conflicting emotions (nyon-mongs-kyi snyigs-ma, Sanskrit kleśa-kaṣāya). impurity of sentient beings (sems-can-gyi snyigs-ma. Sanskrit sattva-kaṣāya). and impurity of time (dus-kyi snyigs-ma. Sanskrit kalpa-kaṣāya). Mahāvyutpatti 2335-2340.


The three secret centres (gsang-ba gsum) are the indestructible realities of buddha-body, speech and mind.

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