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...

10b. The Zur Lineage in Central Tibet

In Central Tibet, Zur sGro-phug-pa's principle disciples were known as the four “black ones”; the four “teachers”; and the four “grandfathers”. The four “black ones” (nag-po, so-called because their names all contained the element nag, “black”) included lCe-ston rGya-nag of Upper Nyang, the main lineage-holder of the Central or “Upper Zur Tradition”.

rGya-nag studied under sGro-phug-pa from the age of thirty for eleven years, and owing to his Intellectual abilities and devotion, sGro-phug-pa bestowed upon him the fundamental texts and practical instructions for Mahāyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. For this reason, he became the most complete lineage-holder of the Zura. His many students included dBus-pa sTon-sak, dBus-pa Zhig-po, and his own nephew, Yon-tan gZungs (b. 1126) who studied the three classes of inner tantra under him for thirteen years.

The lineage thus descended as follows:

- lCe-ston rGya-nag;
- Yon-tan gZungs and dBus-pa Zhig-po;
- Zhig-po bDud-rtsi;
- rTa-ston Jo-ye (compiler of the former’s teachings);
- rTa-ston gZi-brjid (compiler of the biographies of this lineage)

The latter also composed his own extensive commentary on the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścavamahātantra.

gYung-ston-pa rDo-rje dPal, however, in his commentary on the Guhyagarbha (gYung-'grel), digresses to provide us with the following divergent lineage, based on the exegesis of the sPar-khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā, p. 4718):

- sGro-phug-pa;
- Bying-ston of gTsang and Nye-ston Chos-kyi Seng-ge of sGong-drings;
- gTsang-nag 'Od-'bar;
- Mes-ston mGon-po;
- bLa-ma Srong;
- Pak-shi Sak-ya 'od;
- rTa-nag bDud-'dul;
- mDa' Sak-ya 'Phel;
- Zur Byams-pa Seng-ge;
- gYung-ston-pa rDo-rje dPal.

Zur Byams-pa Seng-ge

gYung-ston-pa’s own teacher, Zur Byams-pa Seng-ge, was the son of Zur Nyi-ma Seng-ge and great grandson of Pak-shi Sak-ya-'od. In his fifteenth year, at 'Ug-pa-lung, he studied the Guhyagarbha under mDa' Sakya 'Phel, and then, in his seventeenth year, he composed a Definitive Presentation of the Tantras (rgyud-kyi rnam-bzhag). He subsequently received the Māyājāla-pathakrama (P. 4736) and the Great Perfection from lCe-ston Grub-pa 'Bum, the empowerments of beneficence, ability, and profundity according to the Zur tradition of the Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul zur-lugs-kyi phan-nus-zab-gsum-gyi dbang) from rTa-ston gZi-brjid of La-stod, and many other teachings. Byams-pa Seng-ge himself had numerous disciples, including sixteen who had mastered the Māyājāla-pathakrama (p. 4736). the Guhyagarbha and the sPar-khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā. P. 4718). Foremost among them were gYung-ston rDo-rje dPal, the senior disciple of his early years, and rTa-nag sGrol-ma-ba bSam-grub rDo-rje, the foremost disciple of his later years.

gYung-ston rDo-rje dPal:

gYung-ston-pa of the gLan clan (3284-1365) was learned in dialectics, Abhidharma, and the mantra-traditions, ancient and new. He became the genuine spiritual son of Kar-ma-pa III, Rang-byung rDo-rje. From Zur Byams-pa Seng-ge, however, he obtained the mdo-sgyu sems-gsum. representative of the “distant lineage”, and he composed the Illuminating Mirror (dpal gsang-ba'i snying-po'i rgyud-don gsal-byed me-long, NGKMG. Vol. 28), a commentary on the Guhyagarbhatantra which surpassed other exegetical traditions in its popularity. His approach is described as classificatory and he rearranged the fifth chapter, which became a focal point of study for later masters such as Zur Chos-dyings Rang-grol. Later commentators such as Nam-mkha' Rin-chen, Lo-chen Dharmaśrī, Kah-thog dGe-brtse Paṇḍita and 'Gyur-med Phan-bde'i 'Od-zer were frequently influenced by his interpretations.[1]

rTa-nag sGrol-ma-ba bSam-grub rDo-rje:

bSam-grub rDo-rJe from rTa-nag gNas-gsar (1295-1376) studied extensively under Zur Byams-pa Seng-ge and became learned in the Magical Net. He also received its empowerment from gLan Nya-tshal-pa bSod-nams mGon-po. Among his students were Zur Ham Sak-ya 'Byung-gnas of Yang-dben, from whom issued the so-called “Zur lineage” (zur-brgyud) and his own son, Sangs-rgyas Rin-chen, from whom Issued the “son’s lineage” (sras-brgyud).

Zur Ham Sak-ya 'Byung-gnas:

Zur Ham was the son of the afore-mentioned Zur bZang-po dPal. In his fifth year he delivered an astonishing public exegesis of the Guhyagarbhatantra. Under Sa-bzang Mati Pan-chen,[2] gYung-ston-pa, and 'Jam-dbyangs bSam-grub rDo-rje he made a general study of dialectics, Sūtras, Tantras and esoteric instructions. Including the Māyājālapathakrama (P. 4736), the Śrīguhyagarbhatattvaviniścayamahātantra (T. 832), and the sPar-khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā. P. 4718). He extensively propagated the mdo-sgyu-sems-gsum to his students, including Sangs-rgyas Rin-chen and gNyal-pa bDe-legs-pa.

Sangs-rgyas Rin-chen rGyal-mtshan dPal-bzang-po:

Sangs-rgyas Rin-chen, sGrol-ma-ba bSam-grub rDo-rje’s son (1350-1431), mastered the doctrinal cycles of the Magical Net including the Guhyagarbhatantra under his own father and Zur Ham Sak-ya 'Byung-gnas. At the age of fourteen, he was able to confer empowerment on others. He then composed a Great Commentary on the Guhyagarbha (gsang-snying 'grel-chen), and a Detailed Exposition Of. the Array of the Path of the Magieal Net (lam rnam-bkod-la rnam-bzhag) when he was about forty. His other compositions include an Extensive Descriptive Basis (for the Rites) of the Wrathful Deities (khro-bo-la mngon-par-rtogs-pa rgyas-pa) and a Detailed Ceremony for the Rite of Tie to the Higher Realms (gnas-lung-la'ang cho-ga rgyas-pa). In his seventieth year he accepted 'Gos-lo gZho-nu dPal, the author of the Blue Annals as a disciple and granted him the empowerment of the peaceful and wrathful deities according to the Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul zhi-khro'i dbang); the longevity-empowerment of the Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul-gyi tshe-dbang); the exegesis of the Guhyagarbhatantra and its commentary; and an extensive exegesis of the Array of the Path of the Magical Net (man-ngag rnam-par bKod-pa, p. 4737) according to his own commentary. He also bestowed on him the transmissions of the Illuminating Lamp of the Fundamental Text (khog-gzhung gsal-sgron. P. 4739); the Forty-Chapter Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul bzhi-bcu-pa. NGB. Vol.14); the Eighty-Chapter Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul brgyad-bcu-pa. T. 834) and the Superior Magical Net (sgyu-'phrul bla-ma. T. 837).

'Gos Lotsawa gZhon-nu dPal:

'Gos gZhon-nu dPal (1392-1481) was a student of Karma-pa V, De-bzhin gShegs-pa, rNgog Byang-chub dPal, and the great paṇḍita Vanaratna. He corrected and retranslated the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti (T. 360), the Guhyagarbha, and other texts.[3] He received the “distant lineage” from sGrol-chen Sangs-rgyas Rin-chen, and so became a master and lineage-holder of the rNying-ma school.

He himself said:[4]

“I acquired exceptional devotion towards the tradition renowned as the rNying-ma-pa school of secret mantras. So, I was never polluted by the defilement of rejecting (true) doctrine.”

His main students were Karma-pa VII, Chos-grags rGya-mtsho and Zhva-dmar-pa IV, Chos-kyi Grags-pa, the latter being the principal lineage-holder.

Zhva-dmar-pa IV, Chos-kyi Grags-pa (1453-1525):

A native of Tre-shod Khang-dmar, he studied the tantras of the Ancient and New Translation Schools under 'Gos Lotsawa gZhon-nu dPal, and conferred the former on Zur-pa Rin-chen Phun-tshogs of 'Bri-gung.

'Bri-gung Rin-chen Phun-tshogs:

Rin-chen Phun-tshogs from 'Bri-gung sKu-gnyer-sgang mastered both the transmitted precepts (bka'-ma). exemplified by the mdo-rgyud-sems-gsum: and the treasures (gter-ma) associated with the Eight Transmitted Precepts (bka'-brgyad); the Four-part Innermost Spirituality (snying-thig ya-bzhi): and the Earlier and Later Treasure-troves (gter-kha gong-'og).[5] In accord with the tradition of the mNga'-ris Pan-chen Padma dBang-rgyal, his custom was to disclose the central points by means of the transmitted precepts, and to adorn them with the esoteric gYung-ston rDo-rje dPalof the treasures.[6]

From him, the lineage descended through:

- Rang-grol Nyi-zla Sangs-rgyas
- Tshe-dbang Nor-rgyas, a master of the 'Khon family;
- 'Khon-ston dPal-'byor Lhun-grub (the former’s son).

'Khon-ston dPal-'byor Lhun-grub (1561-1637): dPal-'byor Lhun-grub studied the Guhyagarbhatattvaviniścayatantra, its commentary composed by gYung-aton-pa, and the other commentaries of the Magical Net cycle, such as kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa's phyogs-bcu mun-sel under his father, and in consequence of his learning in this cycle, he was regarded as an emanation of sGro-phug-pa. He instructed O-rgyan bsTan-'dzin, the doctrine-master of Brag-ana and Zur Chos-dbyings Rang-grol. The former composed a memorandum of the first five chapters of the Guhyagarbha according to gYung-ston-pa's Commentary (gYung-'grel). Late in life, dPal-'byor Lhun-grub instructed Dalai lama V at his retreat in Pha-vang-kha.

Zur-chen Chos-dbyinga Rang-grol (1604-1669):

He was the son of Zur-chen gZhon-nu Don-grub and a direct descendant of the Zur lineage. From dPal-'byor Lhun-grub he received in particular two daily sessions of instruction which combined the Guhyagarbha, the sPar-khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā. P. 4718), and the Tibetan commentary by gYung-ston-pa (bod-'grel gYung-tik. NMKMG. Vol. 28). He composed a memorandum of the teaching he had received on the first five chapters. In 1622 he studied kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa's commentary on the Guhyagarbhaphyogs-bcu mun-sel. Then, in 1624, Chos-dbyings Rang-grol expounded the Guhyagarbha to rDor-brag Rig'dzin III Ngag-gi dBang-po[7] and others at the seminary of rTses-thang, where he definitively established its exegesis, and, to sTag-bla Padmamati of Kah-thog,[8] he taught kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa's commentary—phyogs-bcu mun-sel. Padmamati, in turn, offered this exegetical transmission to Lho-brag gSungs-sprul, ensuring its future continuity.[9] Late in life, Chos-dbyings Rang-grol lived in Gung-thang, where he instructed gSang-bdag Phrin-las Lhun-grub[10] in the Guhyagarbha. Dalai Lama V also Instructed Phrin-las Lhun-grub in accordance with the sPar-kbab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahātantrarājaṭīkā. P. 4718), and gYung-ston-pa's Commentary (gYune-tik, NMKMG. Vol. 28).

The “distant lineage” therefore continued from:

- Zur Chos-dbyings Rang-grol and Dalai Lama V;
- gNyos-ston gSang-bdag Phrin-las Lhun-grub;
- Lo-chen Chos-rgyal bsTan-'dzin.

From this time on, the momentum of this Central Tibetan exegetical tradition has continued without Interruption, owing to gSang-bdag Phrin-las Lhun-grub's two sons, Rig-'dzin gTer-bdag gLing-pa 'Gyur-med rDo-rje (1646-1714) and Lo-chen Dharmaśrī (1654-1717). from whom a great many lineages spread forth, emphasising the mdo-sgyu-sems-gsum.

Footnotes and references:


It was gYung-ston-pa's commentary which picked up the Mahāyoga themes of the Guhyagarbhatantra. and gave vitality to subsequent generations of scholars within the lineage of transmitted precepts, Lo-chen Dharmaśrī in particular.


Sa-bzang Mati Pan-chen was a leading Sanskritist, who made the final revisions of the Kālacakratantra. He also wrote several influential commentaries on philosophical works. See G. Roerich, Blue Annals. pp. 776 & 1045-6.


'Gos Lotsawa, deb-ther sngon-po, stod-cha. p. 136. (G. Roerich. Blue Annals. p. 104.). states that he had in his possession the remaining fragments of the Sanskrit manuscript for the Guhyagarbha.


'Gos Lotsawa, deb-ther sngon-po, stod-cha. p. 194; G. Roerich, Blue Annals, p. 153


Amons the gter-ma cycles there are diverse collections based on the unified form of the eight meditational deities known as the Eight Transmitted Precepts (bka'-brgyad). Some of these have been enumerated above, p. 146, note 74. See also NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 6, passim. The Four-part Innermost Spirituality (snying-thig ya-bzhi) comprising 13 volumes of the esoteric instructional class of the Great Perfection (man-ngag-gi sde) was compiled by kLong-chen Rab-'byams-pa. It includes the texts of the Indian and Tibetan oral tradition which he received (bi-ma snying-thig. vols. 3-6, mkha'-'gro snying-tig. vols. 10-11) and his own gter-ma cycles known as bla-ma yanz-thiz (vols. 1-2), mkha'-'gro yang-tig (vols. 7-9, and zab-mo yang-tig (vols. 12-13). The Earlier And later Treasure-troves (gter-kha gong-'og) are those discoveries of Nyang-ral Nyi-ma 'Od-zer (1136-1204) and Gu-ru Chos-dbang (1212-1270) respectively.


mNga'-ris Pan-chen Padma dBang-rgyal (1487-1543) was an important figure in the lineage of transmitted precepts, and also the gter-ston who discovered an important work entitled bka'-'dus phyi-ma rig-'dzin yongs-'dus-kyi chos-skor gsol-'debs le'u bdun-ma'i sgrub-thabs (RTD. vols, 6, pp. 123-140, 11, pp. 1-112, 30, pp. 61-227). His major treatise on the integration of monastic, bodhisattva and mantra vows, the sdom-gsum rnam-par nges-pa'i bstan-bcos (NMKMG. Vol 37), has been highly influential within the rNying-ma tradition.


In the seventeenth century it was this figure who reestablished the monastery of rDo-rje Brag at its present location in dBus after that community had endured a long period of persecution at the hands of the governor of gTsang, Tshe-brtan rDo-rje. On this dispute, see NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 6, p. 567.


sTag-bla Padmamati of Kah-thog was an Important figure in East Tibet, particularly influential in connection with the lineage of the gter-ston Zhig-po gLing-pa. See NSTB, Book 2, Pt. 5. p. 422.


The Lho-brag gSung-sprul II, Tshul-khrims rDo-rje (15981669) was an emanation of the buddha-speech of Padma gLing-pa (1U50-1521). See NSTB. Book 2, Pt. 5. PP. 422, 501.


On gSang-bdag Phrin-las Lhun-grub (1611-1662). see NSTB. Book 2. Pt. 5. PP. 486-489.

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