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...

10a. The Zur family (Introduction)

Lha-rje Zur-po-che Sâk-ya 'Byung-snas, a native of Yar-rdzong or gSar-no in mDo-khams, received the three stages of ordination from bLa-chen dGongs-pa Rab-gsal.[1] Under his grandfather, Rin-chen rGya-mtsho, he studied the sūtra and tantra-texts, including the cycle of the Magical Net (NGB. Vols. 16-16). Then he received instruction on the Magical Net and the Mental Class (sems-sde) from Nyang Ye-shes 'Byung-gnas of Chos-lung, on the mdo dgongs-pa 'dus-pa, the sPar-khab Commentary ('grel-pa par-khab) and the Great Perfection from Nam-mkha'-sde; and on the Māyājālapathakrama (P. 6736) from 'Bre Khro-chung of upper Nyang. Zur-po-che is known to have brought together the root and exegetical tantras; the root-texts and their commentaries; the tantras and their means for attainment; and he applied them in practice.

Foremost among his disciples were the four “summits”:[2]

- Zur-chung Shes-rab Grags, who had arrived at the summit of the view, and intention;
- Me-nyags Khyungs-grags, who had arrived at the summit of the exegesis of the Guhyagarbha
- Zhang 'Gos-ehung, who had arrived at the summit of vast knowledge; and
- bZang-sgom Shes-rab rGyal-po, who had arrived at the summit of meditative practice.

Zur-po-che inhabited 'Ug-pa-lung in the Shangs valley for many years, and constructed his temple in that place, where he had visions of the Forty-two Peaceful Deities and of the Fifty-eight Blood-drinkers.

As he himself said:[3]

I perceive all the earth, stones, mountains and rocks of 'Ug-pa-lung to be the host of peaceful and wrathful deities. But in particular, I always see this southern peak of dBen-ser-mo as the Buddhas of the Five Enlightened Families. Therefore, I shall build a temple of the peaceful deities.” Since in the past, the great accomplished masters were completely mindful of preserving secrecy, Zur-po-che said that it was Improper to make Images according to the secret means for attainment in places where many people would congregate, and commissioned images according to the tradition of the tantras. The frescoes painted to the right were of the peaceful deities of the Magical Net. and those on the left were of the blazing wrathful deities.

His main student and nephew, Zur-chung-pa Shes-rab Grags (1014-1074) mastered and widely propagated the “distant lineage”, including the Guhyagarbha. Foremost among his students were the “four pillars”: sKyo-ston Sâk-ye of Gung-bu who was the pillar of the Mental Class; Yang-kheng bLa-ma of sKyong-lung who was the pillar of the mdo dgongs-pa 'dus-pa: gLan Sâk-ya bZang-po of Chu-bar who was the pillar of the Magical Net (NGB. Vols. 14-16); and mDa'-tig Jo-sâk of Nag-mo-re who was the pillar of ritual and means for attainment.

It was Zur-chung-pa’s son, Zur sGro-phug-pa Sâk-ya Seng-ge (b. 1074) however who effectively popularised the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra In Tibet. He began his study of this text in his fifteenth year under gLan Sâk-ya bZang-po of Chu-bar, and received the entire exegetical tradition of the Zur family from the other three main students of Zur-chung-pa, who were invited to his residence.

His accomplishment in the Guhyagarbha is illustrated by the following incident:

Once, when he was teaching the doctrine in sGro-phug, he sat on a backless teaching-throne, and students surrounded him on all sides. He appeared to be facing his audience in all directions. Therefore, they were convinced that he was actually the representative of the lord of the maṇḍala of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (NGB. Vols. l4-16) and he became renowned as an undisputed emanation.

Despite the recent criticisms of Lha bLa-ma Ye-shes 'od and 'Gos Khug-pa Lhas-btsas, sGro-phug-pa could reportedly gather five hundred literate students during the summer and winter and three hundred during the autumn and spring. Owing to his mastery of this tantra, the two mainstream lineages diverged from him, i.e., the Zur lineage of Central Tibet and the Khams lineage of Eastern Tibet.

Footnotes and references:


The three stages of ordination are those of the renunciate (pravrajyā), the novitiate (śramaṇera), and full monkhood (upasampadā). On bLa-chen dGongs-pa Rab-gsal, who maintained the Vinaya lineage in north-eastern Tibet after the persecution of gLang Dar-ma, see NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 3. pp. 169-173.


NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5. p. 313.


NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5. p. 315.

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