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Jâbir, the Buddhist Yogi. Part III Considerations on an International Yoga of Transformation

Jâbir, the Buddhist Yogi. Part III Considerations on an International Yoga of Transformation

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Jâbir, the Buddhist yogi. Part III Considerations on an International Yoga of Transformation by Michael L Walter
Jâbir, the Buddhist yogi. Part III Considerations on an International Yoga of Transformation by Michael L Walter

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Iabir, the Buddhist yogi, part III


Considerations on an international yoga of transformation*


An important transformational procedure of the Bon and Rnying-ma traditions is the attainment of a rainbow body. Upon death a yogi's "gross" body which has, through practice, become purified, and thus become more "subtle", gradually dissolves into a rainbow, usually leaving behind only nails and hair. Although this practice has been said to exist since at least the tenth century, its point of origin is uninvesrigated, The following study presents the author's current "best case scenario" for that origin. This is a thought experiment, with a view to exploring the complex interactions among religions in the Indian, Iranian, and Tibetan interface which might have resulted in the creation of this soteriology. Involved in this is an attempt to explain why light has a cosmogonic and cosmological dimension in Bon and Rnying-ma practice, one which has gradually changed and been adapted by them, as well as when it made its way through the Csar-rna traditions.

We begin with some preliminary remarks about the complex tradition of alchemy and transformational procedures in Buddhist and Indian materials.

- -- ._---

Michael Walter

We are still very far from being able to trace lines of influence which might more clearly link "Eastern" and "Western" traditions about the practice, mythology, doctrine, and general lore of alchemy and yoga. However, it may be possible to isolate particular elements from the Indian and Tibetan traditions which are similar to esoteric traditions in the Islamic and European worlds, thus allowing some informed speculations on possible points of intersection between these systems.

This has already been undertaken on certain topics. Consider, for example, the study of the classical elements (mahabhUtas) of Indian cosmology as an example of Hellenistic influence.' (Significant because of their role in informing meditation, as well as in science in general.) In addition to such specific phenomena, we also have debatable speculations on "Gnostic"-better, "Gnostic-like"-elements In Buddhism, beginning with a study of the Prajfiaparamita system." More interesting parallels can, however, be found between the cultures of the early Rnying-rna and Bon traditions in Tibet and those of some Gnostics and Hermetics; they often fit

I would like to thank Jason BeDuhn, Christopher Beckwith, and, in particular, David Templeman, for their kind councils. Parts I and II of this article appeared in the Journal of Indian Philosophy.20.1992A25-438 and Journal of Indian Philosophy. 24.1996.145-164, respectively. I sincerely thank Roberto Vitali for encouraging me to presenr, after long last, this final installment. I trust that some data concerning the "rainbow yoga" tradition sketched here make it a suitable contribution.

I. E.g., Jean Filliozar, The classical doctrine ofIndian medicine, Delhi, I964, in particular the seventh and eighth chapters .


2. Earlier studies include Edward Conze's "Buddhist saviours", in The saviour god, Manchester, 1963, p. 67-S2, and "Buddhism and Gnosis", in Le origini della gnosticismo = The origins of Gnosticism, Leiden, 1967, p. 651-667. More recent articles, which represent more intensive research, have been published, for example, by Alex Wayman: "The human body as microcosm in India, Greek cosmology, and sixteenth-century Europe", Histoqr of religions. 22.1982-3.172-19°, and "Male, female, and androgyne per Buddhist Tantra, Jacob Boehme, and the Greek and Taoist mysteries", Tannic and Taoist studies in honour of RA. Stein. vol. 2, Bruxelles, 1983, P: 592-631.


in exactly with characteristics of the latter traditions

noted long ago by Festugiere. Similar features in their religious cultures-how these people practiced their religion-as well as in general theories and world-view, can be seen. Examples of like ritual and revelational customs include the where and why to hide texts, the nature of instruction and revelation, etc)

Many general comparisons have been made, and there is data suggestive of a much higher degree of mutual influence than has generally been accepted. In the current context, for example, we may ask whether

the Buddhisms of Northwest India and Central Asia were syncretistic. If so, the scenario here becomes probable, not merely feasible.! Of course, the testing of such a hypothesis cannot rest simply on examining texts-where they can be found-but must include plotting points of intersections where these religions have met, and upon what points they found a common interesr.i

Tantric Buddhist culture and literature in India and Tibet contain not one, but several, alchemical traditions; their connections or "unity" is nowhere stated-

Come inaugurated an overextension of the term "gnostic" which is still used-usually without adequate qualification-in translations of terms in Buddhist documents. This has. unfortunately, overwhelmed a more disciplined approach to investigating the connections which existed between the Mediterranean and Indian worlds from around 2000 to 1500 years ago.

3. In the opening of my dissertation, The role of alchemy and medicine in Indo-Tibetan Tantrism, Indiana University [unpublished], 1980, I make a brief point-by-point comparison of Rnying-ma and Bon religious (especially gter rna) culture with Festugieres criteria in La revelation d'Hermes Trismegiste.

4. Such syncretisms were promoted by the attention and support of political powers. Thus, Tibetans, Mongols. Turks, Tanguts, and the Manchu rulers of China developed and practiced Buddhisms based, in part, on Bactrian. Swat Valley area, other local Iranian Buddhisms, and on those of other Central Asian Buddhists. (On this, see fn. 12 also.) As one example, we note a connection made in the La-dwags Rgral rabs, the Rgya Bod yig tshang chen mo, erc., apparently based on a more ancient Gsang ba yang chung tradition. where the ya'lus is asserted to be equivalent to the (perhaps) older idea of the dmu thag, the ancient "sky-rope" by which the Btsan-pos were, until the ill-fated Dri Gum Btsan-po, to re-ascend after death to their point of origin, the lands of their clan, paternal ancestors !.yab 'od feyi nam mfeha' la 'byon pas /Iha Ius ro med Ja' ltar yal-this happens when the crown prince is "old enough to ride a horse"; see Rgya Bod yig (shang chen mo, Si-khron, 1985. p. 130). The connection between the two concepts may have been especially strong in Western Tibet; note here passages from a dedication in a text to the Khwa Rtse family, the former ruling family of Spiri: ... mod feyi Jig rten 'byung ba bzhi fa rten / bcud feyi sems can 'od gsallnga nas 'chad / ga'u kha sbyor gnam sa gnyis feyi bar / ri mtbo sa gtsang Spu Rgyal Bod feyi yu! / ... Chos RgyaL mnga' 'og Zhang Zhungyul gyi dbus / dge bc« 'dzom pa'i Lha Yu! Khwa Rise 'dir / mi rigs khung btsun khri btsun rgyud du khrungs ... Note that humans (and all senrients) descend from five colored lights (i.e., the skandhas, in Buddhist contexts). Here we also have the following elements which have traditionally been important in Tibetan religio-polirical mythologies:

A cosmogony, here photistic (one common in Rnying-ma and Bon cosmogonic formulations, with particular interpretations of snod and bcud); the invocation of an ancient, formulaic praise of Tibet or a region therein (compare ri mtbo sa gtsang with yul mtho sa gtsang of line 7 of the Treaty Inscription); and, a royal lineage different from the human population which depends upon it (and here, which it has descended from). (For the Khwa Rtse quote above, see G. Tucci, The temples of Western Tibet and their artistic symbolism [= Indo- Tibetica, IILl], New Delhi, 1988, p. sf for a rendering and P: 177 for the text. See also the comparison of sources in Jampa Panglung's "Die metrische Berichre tiber die Crabrnaler der tiberischen Konige", Tibetan studies, Munchen, 1988, p. 324.)

Later descriptions and praises of the Btsan-pos contain the term 'ad or other phoristic elements, such as the common phrases 'od gsa! gyi !ha and 'ad gsallha rigs to describe the Tibetan royal family's origins. These terms are also used to describe the ancestors of numerous noble dans. Such concepts betray the influence of Buddhist ideas of divinity. Photisric elements. for example, arc not found in the opening descent-myths of the OT Inscriptions.


5, Much work is yet to be done on the impact and use of ideas such as the rainbow body in post-Imperial Tibetan politics and social structure, especially since we are stilllargcly ignorant of its possible early relationship with the idea of the dmu thag. Adaptations and reinterpretations continued; Taranarha (in A. Schiefner's Taranatha's Geschichte des Buddhismus, St. Petersburg, 1869, p. 78) maintains that not only King Haricandra, but his court as well. attained rainbow bodies during the time of Nagarj una. The political message of the setting is obvious, but Tdranatha is also assimilating attainment of the rainbow body both to standard Indian siddbis, such as the magic pill (gu~)-mentioned immediately afterward in his text-and to normative

or even implied-in the available sources. One important distinction, although perhaps not a shibboleth, is that of elixir rasayana and metallic dhatuvddd (gser gyUT gyi rtst),6 where, because of the cosmology within which it operates, the former method fits best within Buddhist yoga.? Perhaps the best-known example of this approach, and one that has begun to be studied, is that connected with the Kalacakra tantra.j It is closely connected with alchemical practices found in other anuttamyoga Tantras (the Vajrabhairava, etc.), which as a group represent the most widespread forms of such practices in Tibet, since in these works alchemical efforts are integrated into the sampannakrama pursuit of slidhana. They also, in part, reflect the adaptation of very old Buddhist (and Hindu) medical conceptions. Because they have been integrated into sddhana, the "keys" to alchemical practice are, potentially, within the purview of any advanced sddhaka; they are seen as a "stage" practitioners pass through, but which they should not become fixated upon. The bases for such practices rest on the interpretation of rasdyanalbcud len,

the "extraction of the essence" of elements, spiritual beings, etc., outlined in early Tantric materials, such as the sixth- or seventh-century Bhutaqamara tantra, and later elaborated upun.?

Ultimately, the effort to organize Tantric literature in Tibet assigned Tantra cycles to four classes. This, in turn, supported the notion that the various diverse and sometimes unique alchemical motifs, recipes, yogic techniques, rituals, etc., present in a variety of Buddhist sources fit as-or should somehow be accepted to be-based on the same Set of presumptions, all "part of a system". Not only is metallic transmutational alchemy never presented as an integral part of Buddhist Tantric yoga (because, as stated above, it doesn't fit in well with Buddhist cosmology), further, no comprehensive attempt is made to explain how both vetdlasddhana (which allows the transmutation of parts of a corpse into gold, thereby, to a certain extent, combining transmutational alchemy with a prd1}abased, "organic" projectional alchemy; cf fn. 7) and the attainment of the "rainbow body" (ya' Ius) as well

Madhyarnika Buddhism. (This is a coming full circle of the evolution of the rainbow concept presented here: Beginning as a manifestation of Buddhahood during the Buddha's discourses, it is internalized in yoga practice, which is also later interpreted in Tanrric yoga and Rdzogs Chen; this developed complex of values is then projected by Tibetan authors back into traditional Indian Buddhist settings.)

One reason to be attentive to the variety of such adaptations and variations in its concepts of rule is that Buddhism, for the most part, provides no template for a functioning rulership, And, of course, most traditional peoples in Central Asia had a religio-political system in which rulers were of some "different stuff" than the ruled. Since the Cakravarcin was always a well-known ideal, but no practical information was disseminated through the Buddhist world to guide local rulers in its realization in the normative (Sutric) literature, we encounter a variety of developments which provided this and other special statuses for them.

6. There is no consistently-used term in Tibetan for metallic transmutational alchemy, which may be significant in considering the backgrounds and variety of such practices.

7. One difference berween Shaivite and Buddhist alchemical procedure rests on the nature of spiritual beings in the traditions. rasdJl1nl1 in Buddhist practice involves invoking them in sddbana and extracting their essence; this is often connected with lengthening one's life by living on essences. Shaivire alchemy is ultimately more cosmological and isn't synthesized with Ayurvedic rasliyana. Natha rasdyana is centered almost exclusively on overcoming disease and achievingjtvanmukti through 4silnn, erc., without much dependence on divine powers. Grand statements of the "unity" ofIndian alchemies need to be closely examined on the basis of their practical execution.

8. See Todd Fenner's Rasayana siddhi: Medicine and alchemy in the Buddhist Tantras, University of Wisconsin [unpublished dissertation], 1979, for a description of some Kalacakm practices.

9. See my "Of corpses and gold", in a 2004 issue of The Tibet Tournal, for a rend"ing of the opening of the lllimiqamaratancra, in which we find a model for a yogi overwhelming demonic beings by desiccating them through projecting overwhelming light, thereby drying them out/extracting their essence. (This latter is a development of the ability oflight in Buddhism to both inform a cosmos and make it perceptible, as well as to subdue chaotic elements within it, a motif which goes back at least to the Sarvastivdda and "Mahayana" Mahaparinirv5.J)asutcas; q.v. Waldschmidt's edition of the former.


relate to the evolved, later Tantric sadhana culture of

Gsar-ma scholasticism. ro

The varied backgrounds of these practices in India and Tibet provide a broader basis for the following discussion, i.e., to make an informed speculation about the origin of the rainbow-body, one teaching on the yoga of which is described in Part II of my "Jabir, the Buddhist yogi". A further relevant point is the culturespecific nature of Buddhist alchemies in India and Tibet: As with the blind men and the elephant, the alchemical "system" we see depends on which part of the animal we are examining. This is certainly the case with Burmese Buddhist alchemical traditions, as well as the various Buddhist-Taoist syncretisms. These should cause us to reconsider categorizations of other subjects in the Buddhist world of India and Tibet which have been drawn on scanty evidence and even scantier context. This leads, inevitably, to considerations of what represents "Tibetan" and "Buddhist" cosmologic and cosmogonic conceptions.

The recipes within this Tibetan "[abir cycle" show a lack of homogeneity which illustrates such a syncretistic-perhaps 'synthetic' is a better term-situation. There are a few mercurial medical recipes, probably examples from the Rasavaidya school; there are direct developments from Ayurvedic rasdyana; there are amulets to prevent illness, etc. In general terms, these teachings aim at overcoming illness and old age

and attaining release in this life-the Nathist ideals of jivanmukti, dehasiddhi, etc.-not only as an expres· sion of attainment of a siddhi, or as a part of the sadhanas mentioned above, but in a context of "medical magic". All these are adopted, in the Buddhist context, to lengthen life to enhance pursuit of the Bodhisattva ideal. II Forms of Siva are presented (Mahakala, Mahadeva), along with the use of lingams and trtsulas, and a Shaivite ambience is frequently met with.

Not only are these categories of practice present in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Tantric systems, they are well represented. In addition, there are numerous, isolated stories involving transmutation (cliches concerning the career of Nagarjuna or certain Mahasiddhas, the founding of Odanrapuri, etc.), as well as the several openly Shaivite alchemical works contained in the Bstan 'Gyur section of the Tibetan Canon. As opposed to the Shaivite contents of the Jabir cycle, however, these latter cannot be said to be functional within Tibetan Buddhist culture, as they are not mentioned, studied, or commented upon in later Tibetan yogic and alchemical literature, and thus were probably never practiced. (This is in keeping with some other esoterica and scientific works which were oflate added to the Bstan 'Gyur.) However, they may have been translated because they held significance for one or another unidentified Buddhist culture.'?

to, Contrary to what has sometimes been asserted, teaching on "rainbow-body" yoga and its mention as a goal do not occur in the Tantra cycles brought into Tibet in the post-Imperial period, what Tibetans refer to as the "later propagation" (Phyi Dar) of the Buddha's teachingsirhese include the Kalacakra, Cakrasamvara, and Guhyasamaja ranrras, Rather, as is discussed elsewhere here, it entered at an earlier period, becoming the speciality of Rnying-ma and Bon yoga, and is justified as Buddhist by references from Sutra literarure which are ex post facto and not temporally convincing--texts cited below here are actually more appropriate precedents. The best overview of the Ja'luJ concept is found in Sam ten Karmay, The Great Perfection: a philosophical and meditative teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Leiden, 1988, p. 190-l96.

II. See my "Jtlbir, the Buddhist Yogi, Parr I", Iournal of Indian philosophy. 20.1992, p. 425-438, for a sketch of the works in this cycle.

12. We have now reached a level of understanding of the varieties of Buddhisms that We should be able to assign some provisional geographical, ethnic, and political subdivisions to them. A few examples include: Gandharan Buddhism, Khotanese Buddhism, Buddhism(s) in the area of Balkh and the Kabul Valley area, and the Buddhism of early, extreme Western Tibet (i.e., the Bon rradirion, which according to their tradition migrated there from the latter two culture areas). In each of these, we have anecdotal data and/or works evincing adaptations of Buddhism to local conditions (c.g., 'The Book of Zambasta'·).

Valuable, indeed unique, anecdotal data. about Buddhism in Balkh and Bamiyan is readily accessible, e.g., in the works of A.S. Melikian-Chirvani, whose researches into Persian and Arabic sources remains largely ignored by Buddhist tcxcologists who content themselves with editing and translating Sutras, etc., as a means of understanding Buddhism as a religion. The ritual,' astrological, etc., data disclosed in his studies (e.g., "The Buddhist ritual in the literature of early Islamic Iran", in Somh Asian archaeology I98r, Cambridge, 1934, p. 272-279, one of his shorter articles) is a mine of data. While it is sometimes difficult to evaluate anecdotal materials because a texrual "chain of evidence" is difficult to establish, it is likewise foolish to dismiss them


Passing into a raibow. Detail of a scroll depicting the death rites for the emperor Taizu (on the throne 1363-1393), celebrated by the fifth

Karma pa De bzhin 9shegs pa (1384-1415) (after Precious Deposits vol.3)

some people or group, some perambulating set of ideas, and/or some geographical meeting poinrts). Perhaps in the variety of alchemical procedures noted here there is something that might point to what such influences were, and who was interested enough in them to transmit them.

The Jabirian corpus ofNathist materials preserved in Tibetan may help reveal this. Among the variety of approaches and goals cited above, let us try to bring forward the point of origin of what (only larerr) Tibetans would consider the central point of this cycle, attaining the "rainbow body". Then we will speculate on its historical and cultural context.

The materials of this cycle have been authored, for the most part, by well-known Nathas-save for Jabir himself, whose name I have not yet found in a work of their tradition, although a few other Muslim names do occur. I3 In Islamic alchemy, the use of his name functions as an imprimatur for that tradition as much as the name Padmasambhava does for the Rnying-ma tradition.t+ The use of the name "Jabir" here repre-

It is thus clear that there are representatives of several alchemical systems in Tibetan and Indian Buddhist materials, and that these represent varieties of practice. Not all are based on the same presuppositions (which means, among other things. cosmologic and cosmogenic systems), or fit into "standard" Buddhist Tantric yoga and ritual, as It has later been systematized. There is not even evidence that a context was created into which these materials were expected to fit Buddhist goals and practices. Their use and interpretation by various groups of Buddhist yogis. in a variety of cultures, over centuries, seems to have been, at least in part, due to simple curiosity and a desire to experiment. Adhering to "normative" doctrines were not compelling elements in their actions.

general similarities between GnostidHermetic and Northern Indian and Tibetan

Mahayana and Tantric milieus-to make something more of them than interesting coincidences-some plausible medium of communication must be found:

In G.w. Briggs' Gorakhn:1.th and the K:1.nphara Yogis (Delhi. 1973. P: 71), mention is made of a Jafir Pir, whose followers Muslims; "they are well known in the Panjab". (Also mentioned in Fausta Nowotny's Das Goralqa.sataka, Koln, 1976, p. 51.) are later followers ofJabir's school. the name only slightly changed.


---- --_. ---

~ut of hand. All religions exist culturally, variations can develop quickly, and "normative" religious presentation (i.e., in Sutric and Tantric texts) often gives way to. or is used as needed by. local interpretations.

In the areas ofBalkh and Sw:1.t. also, Shaivism developed a close relationship with Buddhism, and this is a geographic nexus which Shiva attained prominence in normative Tibetan Buddhist ritual and mythic traditions over the centuries .

. .one example. d propos of the passage this footnote marks. is that both the Shaivite alchemical works in the Bstan 'gyur, the ;'~_!YYd!llii!.a!!! and the Ra:;iyanasastroddt.ti, were translated by Ramasri, another 09qiyana yogi from the thirteenth cenruIt seems that Shaivue teachings were used by Buddhist yogis in that area and at that time. This best explains their inclusion the Bstan 'gyur. because otherwise their date of translation precedes the period when many Hgidu scientific works were l'iDltrodIUC!:dwilly-nilly into that collection.

See Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and civilization in Islam. Cambridge, MA. I968, p. 42f. in particular.

sents, modo grosso, a cover name for a syncrensnc

tradition utilizing Natha hathayoga to enhance essence-extraction (rasayana), which in turn supports pursuing a final goal, achieving the "rainbow body". 15

Syncretism, however, can take any number of forms. Is this an example of a syncretism in which we can see evidence of contact between traditions? Can we then explain why each element was necessary to create the whole?

The contents of this cycle are very similar to those in other Nathisr texts and teachings.t'' There are some interesting details on points of practice, such as a brief teaching on applying a written magical phrase to the life line on one's hand, which opens thusly:

"A mantra for ayul;sadhana given to Yogi Brahmanatha

by Siddha Coraksanatha, a design which removes the illnesses [which could affect] one's lifeline:

01J1 nama Gharibnlttham; mahdgamam; a /mfJl; OfJl sum tam sltfJl hUfJl hit swlt hd 01J1.

These two mantras are to be placed on the palm of the right hand ... "17

(Note that another N:i.ilia with a Muslim name, one Gharibnatha, is also invoked here.)

Most of the material here deals with casting charms on water (chu gtsang), bloodletting, and other medical treatments meant both for yogis and the general public.

In other words, (he Nathist parts of this cycle are not just similar to Iridic Nathisr literature-as in a clever adaptation-they are Nathist literature. Further, there is no attempt to synthesize these practices with the Buddhist yoga present here, which is represented in works distinct in both style and contents. There is not even an attempt at a transition from the Nathist formulae to the excurses on Buddhist yoga; virtually the only link is the authority ofJabir, whose teachings, centuries later, became of particular interest to yogis such as the 'Bri Gung-pa, Rin Chen Phun Tshogs.

There are numerous similar cycles ofTantric practice in Buddhist materials, in particular those from the traditional sciences. W'hat is special about this cycle is

that it contains elements which are, certainly, Buddhist in some way, but, what sort of Buddhist? Developing the rainbow body revolves around a view of the nature of spiritual reality that has been called, with a certain accuracy; "photism". Within this context the Nathist practices here are not only a support for, but in some way that we cannot dearly see, are essential to realizing the "rainbow body". Again, it is important to remember that this concept doesn't present itself in surviving Indian Nathist materials, or in the later (Gsar-ma) Tantras introduced into Tibet (see fn. to).

The history of the '[a' ius tradition has not been studied, despite its significance within Bon and Rnyingrna Rdzogs Chen teachings. W'here, and how, might these teachings have originated?

To create a likely scenario for it, we need to find a culture which valued photism as an element in its cosmology and soteriology, as well as one which contained a variety of Buddhists who cultivated rnedirational practices which accord in some way with )abir's teachings, and which were open to ideas foreign to Iridic cultures. The logical candidate is the historically and geographically widespread phenomenon of Iranian Buddhism, i.e., Buddhism in Persia proper, as well as in outlying areas under Iranian influence and among Iranian-speaking peoples to the east, e.g., those of the Kabul and Terrnez, etc., areas. (Remember, alBirun! maintained that Buddhism was spread throughout Persia before the coming of Islarnl) By a triangulation which connects India, Greater Iran, and Tibet through data in these texts, we can describe a more specific geographic area where such developments could have taken place.

We must first assess the scope of the interests and practices of Buddhists in Iranian areas in the period of ca. 500 to rooo. In this reconstruction we must also have recourse to data on Manichaean and early Islamic beliefs and practices in Iran-especially in Eastern Iran-which complement or agree with concepts the "rainbow body" presents. We also, of course, must have recourse to established Buddhist notions present in Indic materials, some of which were very popular in

I)_ For what is considered to be J:1bir's central teaching, see the study and translation of the rlung gi bcud len ('vdyurasayana) yogic text in my "[ahir, the Buddhist Yogi, Part II", Journal ofIndian Philosophy.24.1996.145-164.

16. Natha texts studied here include: Gora~asiddh:1ntasailgraha, Gora~apaddhati, Siddhasiddh:1ntapaddhati (and the other works in Kalyani Mallik's edition and study), Kaulajfiananir~m, Gor~as3J11hid., Gora~asataka, etc. The current author is well aware that varying dates are assigned to these works.


17- CHIG BRGYUD MA, p. 360-362; see "Jabir, the Buddhist Yogi, Part I", p. 433, for a full reference to this source.

Iranian areas. We will also see, not insignificantly, that such an area borders, and even overlapped, an ancient center of the Nathist tradition as well.

The constituents of a rainbow-body yoga are found already in early texts, fragments of which have been found throughout areas under Iranian influence. One example is the Sooo-verse Prainaparamita, which speaks of the skandhas-the elements of a "person"being inherently immaculate, and, like the mind, luminous in narure.P Likewise, there is a miraculous event involving light rays which occurs in this text, in the Dixyavadana, etc., and-most important from the point of view of practice-in the Yogavidhi, a text found near Shorchuq, in Chinese Tirrkestan.t? In the

Sooo-verse Prajnaparamira, fragments of which have been found at Gilgit, and in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvanasutra, fragments of which have been found in Turfan, rays of various colors of light are said to emanate from the Buddha's mouth, travel through all the world systems, circle his head three times, and then re-enter his mouth."? Not specifically referred to as a rainbow, but close enough to be significant to later Buddhists, who use it as a pattern for a meditation practice (see below). Closer still is the Yogavidhi, where this display is described as the sending out of a rainbow, and where many ideas central to essenceextraction (rasayana) as applied to the mahabhutas and the skandhas are presented.>' This handbook is said to

18. See E. Conze's translation, The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & its verse summary, Bolinas, CA, 1975, p. IjO and 1.74, and compare with Karmay, op. cit., fn. 8, p. 19I.

19. D. Schlingloff, Ein buddhistisches Yogalehrbuch. Berlin, 1964. See p. 164 in particular. Approximately half of the text has survived.

10. Conze, op. cit., p. 265 for one example.

The Mahiiparinirvfu:rasutra is a more interesting example, as the rays that emanate from the Buddha's mouth are also taken as a sure sign that he is about to enter parinirudna, which parallels the appearance of rainbow tights for one realized in Rdzogs Chen. (See G.M. Bongard-Levin, New Sanskrit fragments of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvfu:rasiltra. Tokyo, I986, p. I3 and I6.) This presents the appearance of such lights to be a soteriological indicator and model. Also, of course, the Rdzogs Chen yogi usually leaves behind only hair and nails. Thus, through channels we haven't yet traced. this model of the end of a perfect yogi's life from perhaps the most significant Buddhist surra came, directly or indirectly, to be a model for Rdzogs Chen, especially considering that what "remains behind" may also serve as relics. (Incidentally, this "Mahayana" Mahaparinirvfu:rasutra evidences the increased importance of "photism" in a text which almost certainly postdates the SaddharmapUJ;lqarikasutra.)

11. One relevant citation from the Schlingloff edition is: nanliva~ena rasena lis'raylilJl purayati-where diraya is the same as kiya-the yogi fills his body with the essences of various colors (p. 9r) in the chapter on element practice (dhdtuprayoga), so only four elements are given here. The yogi's body is eventually "blessed" (ltfrayalJl pdnayantI) by streams of the four colors blue, yellow, red, and white. This text is filled with references to luminosity and transformation into colors, and deserves study as an early example of practices which were later developed in various Tibetan meditation traditions, but perhaps nowhere more

SO thao in Rdwgs Chen.

For example, there is the question of Buddhist practices in Zhang Zhung. One normally simply refers to these as "Bon", which ls.fine, as long as one remembers that this is a later name for some Buddhist traditionts) in that area. One source for this is the teachings of the Zhang Zhung snyan rgyud tradition, i.e., practices said to have been transmitted from Zhang Zhung. Twice in the Man ngag lha khrid there are found references to gzha tsbon tshul, "the rainbow method" (gzha is common here for gzha'), dealing with meditating on the presence (sku) of one's personal (earlier: clan ancestral) deity (lhali!{adevatli). This teaching, as a whole, would date to the HODS at the latest, according to the lineage mentioned at the end, but both these quotes are

an earlier, unattributed "Zhang Zhung oral tradition", or "point of view", for which this document is a commentary on . To paraphrase these passages:

"When you know the 'rainbow method' for the presence of the personal deity, meditate without discursive thinking on the brightness (of its presence)"; and. "When you know the 'rainbow method' for the principal d'iity in the mandala, meditate without discursive thinking on its brightness. When you know the 'moon (as reflected on) water' method, meditate on the deity's retinue to be without a nature of its own in its appearance."

_""'I ..... !J,!!!'!'.2!!1--'''-'-4'oJ'-'''''"'')'L!.lli!d~lli!!l....b!!£.!.!....!.!ill..illl~ ... , Dolanji, 1974, columns 449 and·453.)

This is one of the uses of "rainbow visualization" in wind purification and other slidhana processes which probably develin an area west of Tibet, i.e., Zhang Zhung, and which eventually penetrated Buddhist traditions in Tibet through the of the Bon and Rnying-ma traditions.


have been produced by the Sarvastivadins, who were spread throughout the Iranian Buddhist world for centuries during the time period required here, and which were well represented in Eastern Iran.

However, as we know, these developments did not lead to a "rainbow body" soreriology in all later Buddhist Sutra and Tantra traditions, only among the Bon and Rnying-ma. Despite these presages, we have to look elsewhere for other elements of its formation, in particular, for an impetus which turns the "manifestations" of an enlightened being into a soteriology for a transformation of a yogi's being as a sign of the completion of the enlightenment process.

Many several developments in Buddhism in Iran have been shown or hypothesized. This is especially true for ritual practices in Buddhism which have been described in Arabic and Persian anecdotal literature. Some Buddhist doctrines have been hypothesized to come from, or have been inspired by, Iranian notions, from

certain spiritual beings to concepts about Buddha fields, etc. 22 Such claims have often met with reasonable scepticism, since proposed "Iranian" elements within Indian Buddhism sometimes have plausible alternative explanations for their origins. One feature of some Buddhist Mahayana systems (in both doctrine and praxis) is, again, photism (see here Kloetzli, fn. 2), in particular). This is a concept which is not prominent in Indian spirituality in general but is prominent in Iranian religion, and reaches its highest development there in Manichaeism. For the present topic, Amitabha as a collector of this rainbow light--{)n which see belowwould correspond with several themes in Iranian religion and Manichaeism, such as the "extraction" of the light element from the matter it is trapped in, and its accumulation in the paradise of the Light Father.23 In addition, borh the skandhas and the world are seen, in meditation, to be constructed from the rays oflight emanating from Amirdbha, which is why we are capable of redissolving into that original light. 24 Here we encounter a

-- ...... --------------------------- .. ---

22. Just a few developments (which also point to "local Buddhisms" and their cultures); Buddha and Ahura Mazda assimilated (or perhaps just confusedi) in a wall painting (see Boris Stavisky, "'Buddha-Mazda' from Kara-tepe in old Termer (Uzbekistan); A preliminary communication", in Tournal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.3.1980.89-92; the strange lunar and astrological practices at Bamiyan and Nawbahar-a Buddhist monastery-under the Barmakids (also noted by Melikian-Chirvani in the article cited in fn, II above) which apparently regulated the activities of the monks to the day of the year (P. Schwarz, "Bemerkungen zu den arabischen Nachrichren tiber Balkh", Oriental studies in honour ofCursetji Erachji Pavry. London, 1933, p. 434-443, and p. 440 in particular); and, the presence of local Iranian iconographies, datable at least as early as the end of the Sassanid period, which are yet little studied or understood (Painting of Central Asia, by M. Bussagli, Geneva, 1963, p. 36).

It is appropriate to mention that Jabir ibn Hayyan WaS closely connected with the Barmakids, the hereditary superintendents of Buddhist monasteries in the area of Balkh, (On the Barmakids in general, see L Bouvat, "Les Barmakids", Revue du monde musulman.20.19I2., still the most informative study; on Jabir as a favorite of the Barmakids and tied to their fate in Abbasid Islam, and on Barmakid support for translations ofIndic scientific works, see Nasr, op. cit., p. 43 and J95.) Jabir, for this reason and because of his assumed broad learning in general, thus must have known something about Buddhism, but it need not have been the normative Buddhisms scholarship currently presents us.

Already in the third century, one ofMani's twO principal disciples, Mar Ammo, had founded a Manichaean presence in Balkh (M. Boyce. A reader in Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian, Leiden, 1975, P: 188), which city presumably already had a large Buddhist population. Both carried on centuries-long traditions there; see 1. Cershevitch, 'The Bactrian fragment in Manichacan script", Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae.2.8. J989.273-280, which fragment dates from several centuries after Mar Ammo. Likewise, we know that the later Turk rulers of this area, before the coming ofIslam, were fervent supporters of Buddhism.

Given what we know of influences between Buddhism and Manichaeism in general (usually framed in terms of the former's influence on the latter), by the time of the Barmakids and the Arab presence in Balkh two foundations would have been laid; The "photism" of the Manichaeans may well have interacted with Buddhism-in this time and space-and Islam had entered the equation with prestige value, because it was the religion of the ruling elite.

23. Many general statements have been made on the similarity of Amitabha with descriptions of the paradise of Ahura Mazda, "rhe land of infinite light", which seems to have eventually become Sukhavati, Arnitabhas 'Western Paradise'. In Manichaeism, Ahura Mazda becomes the Father of Light and his light paradise is, again, a place of infinite light.


24. See O. Sertkaya and K. Rohrborn, "Bruchstucke der alttiirkischen Amitabha-Literatur aus Istanbul", Ural-altaische Iahrbiicher. Neue Folge. 4-1984.109. Even though this text is translated from Chinese, and represents a later tradition, as a back-

Amitabha. a key deity in the system of photism ". (after Kossak-Singer, Sacred Visions)

rosmogonic dimension co both Buddhist doctrine and practice which allows us to bridge traditions.

~t seems that we have a practice here which includes elements best explained as having come from basic Manichaean beliefs developed in Iran, and which survived there sometime past the Arab invasion-to

judge, again, by the figure of "Jabir". Even a superficial perusal of numerous Manichaean texts will convince one of its inherent "photism". However, not much is said about the Light Principle-what sort of light is it? In much of Manichaean literature, it is described naturalistically, as the light of the sun (interestingly, meditation on the sun was also a practice in early Rdzogs Chen culture in Tibet; it is sometimes referred to as nyi lam, "the path of the sun" -see fn. 39). The bases for a "rainbow" interpretation are still hard to see. Interestingly, however, Muslim writers on Manichaeism frequently relate that there was a set of colors into which the Light principle was somehow divided; this is most probably a late developrnent.n These five colors-red, white, yellow, black, and green-don't represent a rainbow, but neither do the standard, later Buddhist set of five. The point is that the Light Principle has been divided and colorized, opening the door for a synthesis (or confusion) of the eternal and infinite light from Ahura Mazda's paradise-become the home of the Father of Light in Manichaeism-with liglu from Amitabhas paradise, which is, of course, ultimately from Arnitabha himself. The re-gathering of these colored rays is, in both Manichaeism and rainbow-body practice, dearly a soteriology, one in which the function of light is distinguished from normative Buddhist belief.26

fonnation into Chinese Turkestan of ideas that existed there earlier, it should be taken to have older ideas in it.

One of the earliest sources attesting a special development of Arnitabha's nature is certainly the Prazympannabuddhasammukhavasthitasamadhisutra, datable to the first or second century A.D. by its Chinese translations. Already here we have the motif of the Buddha's smile radiating from his mouth, filling the world-systems with light, and returning through his brahmarandbra after circling him three times; the doctrine of the natural purity and luminosity of the mind is also present. And, even though it is the Bhagavan displaying and recollecting the light, this text was written (at least in part) to provide Arnidyus as the Tathdgata upon whom one should practice that samddhi which reveals him and his paradise in this way, The re-collection through the brahmarandhra is significant, as it completes the symmetry of this symbolism with later Amidbha iconography (see below); only the "rainbow colors" are lacking, which, as I argue here, was a development that came just shortly after. Even the motif of the light circling the Bhagavan three times, clock-wise, stimulates one to think that this golden ray oflight later was associated with the skandhas of sentienrs doing circumambulation as Amitabhas disciples, gradual/ybeing "reabsorbed" into him through their faith and practice. (See The Samadhi ofche Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present, the translation of Paul Harrison, Tokyo, 1990, p. IOI, 75, and 31f respectively)

3<6. On raimirddhibala-the most significant function of the light emanating from Buddhas--for example, see the discussion

. "r R Kloetzli, Buddhist cosmology (Delhi, 1989), p. I03-III. Light projected serves literally an "illuminating" function which" even bring about enlightenment in believers (p. I04f), bur they aren't then subtlized and drawn into another world. Much


l~. See G. Vajda, "Le remoignage d'al-Maruridi sur la doctrine des Manicheens, des Daysanites et des Marcionires", Arabica. IJ.[966·[-38 and Ill-I2S, especially p. 5, and Guy Monnot, Penseurs musulmans et religions iraniennes, Paris, 1974, passim. The yery idea of the "colorization" of God in the Qur'Jn, explained as coming from a Persian expressien, may be another example of this development of concepts. (S. Shaked, "Some Iranian themes in Islamic literature", Recurrent patterns in Iranian re/ilions: From Mazda/sm to Sufism, Paris, 1992, p. 145 in particular.)

This brings us bact. to Jabir. The use of a name from Islam in a positive role in Buddhism is, of course, unusual verging on unique. It gives us further grounds to question common assumptions about the Islamic conquest of regions of Central Asia, with its "intolerance" of Buddhism, as well as ideas of the relationship of Islam with local religions.· These are also brought into question· by textual and inscriptional evidence showing the persistence of local beliefs.27

Tolerance fur, and interest in, local Buddhist traditions seem to have obtained for centuries throughout eastern and southern Iran. The religious situation was certainly complicated by both the central role of the Barmakids at early Abbasid courts and the long-term, official Sassanid interest in scientific concepts brought from the Meditteranean world by teachers from that area.28 (This brings us back to the question of Mediterranean religious and scientific influences in that

area, and of the interrelationship of Buddhism with Manichaeism and Iranian religions, in particular in the earlier period of the Sassanid Dynasty, as a backdrop for sets of influences on a tradition such as Jabir's.) One example of such complex developments would have been the practice of yoga in Manichaeism, mention of which seems strangely absent in its mainline doctrinal texts. While there are indications of such practicesbeyond prayer and confession-s-in some materials.s? there is not now enough data to allow more than a general description of what such yoga might have been like. (It should, again, have involved the ascent of our luminous elements-the basic soteriology of Manichaeism-thus providing a context for that quality of Ja' Ius attainment which aroused so much scepticism among non-Bon and Rnying-ma Buddhists.P)

In our Tibetan cycle, Jabir is connected with both other Nathas and Buddhists, most notably, even as a

work remains to be done on the creative and soteriological power of light in early Buddhist materials and its later developments and interpretations, bur it is certain that it is a polyvalent symbol from its earliest instances.

27. For just one example, see A.H. Dani's "Tochi Valley Inscriptions in the Peshawar Museum", Ancient Pakistan. J.I964.12\I35. Likewise, even in such. a significant undertaking as the building of the' Abbasid capital at Baghdad, the Caliph had recourse to designs of Central Asian Iranian and Buddhist provenance, provided him by none other than Khillid bin Barmak. The Barmakids were an important family from Balkb; Khilid had just converted to Islam, bur formerly his family had an inherited responsibility for overseeing the Buddhist monasteries of Balkb, which themselves were syncretistic endeavors, as has been pointed out above. On the point at hand, see C. Beckwith, "The plan of the City of Peace: Central Asian Iranian factors in early 'Abbasid design", Acta orientalia hungarica. 36.1984.143-164-)

28. See A. Christensen, t:lran sous les Sassanides, Copenhagen, I944, p. 418.

29. For a few examples, see]. Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road, San Francisco, 1993: p. 104 and I09 (role of "living, purified drops" in the body is very similar to Buddhist internal transformation}; P: III (comparison of rivers with the veins in the body). Gnostic materials also use-along with Hindu and Buddhist Tantra-microcosmidmacrocosmic principles, which have led some to wonder if also some Gnostics employed a kind of yoga with meditation on these correspondences. Such a yoga would have played upon concepts as the "pure Wind of the Law", which fits in well with Buddhist yogic teachings on winds as the support of mind, as well as a "heaven and earth" made from the mixing of the five light-dements (the five sons of the Urmensch) with the five demonic armies (smoke, fire, wind, water, and darkness, the "dark" opposites of the light-elements), which need to be separated to realize salvation. The actual process of the salvation of the soul falls to the power of one called the God (yazadJ of the Law, the Pure Wind of the Law, who is also the God of the Wind (note the *vdyurasdyana of the Jabir text, which concept, again, operates in conjunction with traditional Buddhist teachings of the winds supporting the arising of thoughts), whose power also encompasses the light, water, and fire elements; through him, the pure soul is saved, interpreted yogically, i.e., internally. A very similar separation from remaining material elements is what happens when the "rainbow body" is realized. On these latter points, see in particular W. Sundermann, Der Sermon vom Licht-Nous, Berlin, 1992, p. 63f£ and the same author, !kr Sermon von der Seele, 'Iurnhour, T997, p. 1Of. "Eastern" Manichaean texts are especially rich in Buddhist concepts and categories, leading one to consider the likelihood of very early; syncretistic yoga practice influenced by a Manichaean environment.


30. See Karmay, op. cit., fn. g, p. 195f. Some idea of the contrast between "rainbow body" yogic techniques and the traditional transformational techniques of Phyi Dar Tantric cycles can been seen in the survey of Kalacakra yoga and alchemy in the Vimalaprabha commentary on the Kalacakra Tantra. The Yogavidhi material is much closer to Ja'luJ practice in spirit and detail.

cliche, Padmasambhava, Both· the Islamic Jabir and Padmasambhava lived in the eighth century and were the starting points for schools of esoteric practice which were deeply impressed by the religious ethos described above: A world in which Iranian, Manichaean, and Buddhist traditions were found together within the same empire, all three being affected by Mediterranean religious ideas and beliefs in an extremely complex situation. When Islam entered this culture, as noted above, it did not immediately suppress Iranian and Buddhist traditions entirely, or, it seems, always with much heart.

The Jabirian tradition is proverbial as the preserver of Greek and other Western alchemical, astrological, and like ideas, but it should be viewed also in this context: We look at Jabir from the West-we need to look at him from the East. Other early Muslims from this area, such as Abu 'Ali as-Sindhi, clearly show the influence of Indian yoga and its practitioners; indeed, an early idea in Western Islamic studies was that the first Sufis had taken Indian asceticism as their model. (While this idea has often been used to deny originality to Islamic esoterisrn and asceticism, one should not allow polemic to hinder serious and balanced inquiry)

One point this Tibetan "Jabir cycle" clearly shows is that there were Buddhists among those in the Iranian/Indian borderland, a traditional center of the Nathas, who practiced hathayoga. Among them, as among other groups, this yoga became a vehicle necessary for achieving a supreme spiritual development. This process was pictured in terms consistent with religious values found in Manichaean and Iranian religious traditions in Sassanid and post-Sassanid times.

That practitioners came from Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim circles is irrefutable.

This cycle seems to be all that remains of this tradition of syncretistic Iranian Buddhism. How many others existed, and what did they believe and practice? The writings of the Bon and Rnying-ma traditions may well supply us with more survivals, since both claim to have originated in Iranized areas to the west of Tibet, in the Swat Valley region (Padmasambhava and others from Oddiyana) and the place referred to as Stag Gzigs, which now is often read as."Persia" in historical works, but originally referred to something else)!

As best we can trace Ja'ius in Tibet, there are histories both of associating it with, and separating it from, other similar yogic transformational goals. The confusion and inconsistency that the following shows is evidence of the problematic place of Ja' Ius practice among meditationa] schemes maintained by their supporters to be of clearly Indic origin.

The obvious analogies that have occurred to later Tibetan Buddhists are the sgyu Ius and the 'od Ius, often cited from the Guhyasamaia, Na-rc Chos Drug, and K:1lacakra systems. According to the Gsar-ma traditions, they arise as the natural fruition of attainment of meditation which develops, in sddhana, the subde wind and mind; Mkhas Grub Rje (1385-1438) also makes an explicit equation between the Ja'lus and the vajrakdyalrdo rje'i SkU)2 Such sets of gatherings and analyses are noted at least as early as Red Mda'-pa Gzhon-nu Blo Gras (1349-1412), and were developed by authors such as Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419) and Shakya Mchog-ldan (1428-15°7).33 However, neither

31, One name for rhis area is Stag Gzig[sl (earlier written Ta-zig or Ta-zhig). The name is derived from the Middle Persian word for Arab, and originally meant both Arab and the Arab Empire of the early Middle Ages. At its apogee, it extended over all of Western Central Asia, present-day Afghanistan, and into Sindh. The interpretation of "Stag Gzigs" as modern-day Persia is, actually, generally incorrect for pre-modern literature.

When one considers the significant yogis in Tibet in the Snga Dar period, one is struck by the number of non-Indian yogis, and especially those from Iranian areas. Aside from Padmasambhava, we know of the controversial Gsang-ba Shes Rab/Shes Rab Gsang-ba in S. Karmay, 'The ordinance of Lha Bla-rna Ye-shes-iod", Tibetan studies in honour of Hugh Richardson, Warminster, 19&0, p. 159, n. 29; the legendary Dga' Rab Rdo Rje (on which now see especially the remarks of John Myrdhin Reynolds, The Golden Letters, Ithaca, 1996, P: emf, with a note on the possible Central Asian origin of some points ofTantric iconography); and, yogis from Bru-sha (modern Gilgit area) and other areas in the region who created still-extant Tantric Buddhist works.


32. See Mkhas Grub Rje's Introduction to rhe Buddhist Tantric systems, Delhi, 1978, P: 324f, as well as P: 342 of Sakya Mchog-

ldans Chos tshan in the next note.

33. A;; per the reference in Karmay, op. cit., P: 194n, to Sakya Mchog-ldans Chos tshan:wenore that here, also, the emphasis on the soteriological nature of the la' ius as presented in the Bon tradition is lacking. An interesting quore here by Red Mda'pa says that the impure bodies of the Ma Rgyud-pas will corne to be jit' tsbon Ius, which he says is the same as thing as


Tsong kha pa (1357-1419)

(after Rhie-Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion)

thejabir material nor the traditions of the Bon and Rnying-ma place the attainment of the Ja' Ius within the rdzogs rim / sampannakramasystem,34

The timing of the appearance of the Jabir materials in the sixteenth century in the 'Bri Gung tradition and in other collections were the result of greater interest in various meditational and yogic practices, which were then becoming archived, as well as of an increase of Rnying-ma influence in the 'Bri Gung tradition, Of course, it is hazardous to assign a date for the original appearance of these teachings in Tibetan culture areas, or its further spread in Tibetan Buddhism.35 Likewise, it is difficult to date the syncretism postulated here. The eighth to the tenth/eleventh centuries might fit the formation of Ja' Ius practice, although this is early according to some who have studied the beginnings of the Natha tradition, It also requires accepting an early

mKhas grub rje (1385-1438)

(after Rhie- Thurman. Wisdom and Compassion)

date which is given for many Bon and Rnying-ma traditions perhaps as a way to ratify their legitimacy as heirs of the court Buddhism of the Imperial period. We often possess no corroborating evidence for these that would stand critical analysis.

These speculations on the origin of the "rainbow body" tradition in Tibet are the result of combining concepts in Buddhist textual materials, attested in Central Asia, with a soteriological and cosmological system which was widely spread through that same area. The increasing influence of photism, prominent in Manichaean materials, is also attested in Iranian Muslim writings. Extant yogic Buddhist teachings present a strong analogy in conceptions of the skandhas as both luminous and in a set of colors, and which would, as a soteriology, be re-drawn into the

charcoal becoming conch-colored. Even as a metaphor, this isn't very appropriate for what Bon and Rnying-ma materials present this transformation to be.

34. See, e.g., the description of the process in Bstan 'Dzin Rnam Dag's Bonpo Dzogchen teachings, Freehold & Amsterdam, 1992, p. 86, and The Golden Letters, op. cit., fn. 29, p. 34.

35. Not all Gsar-ma materials apply a reductionist approach to associate rainbow-body yoga with their traditions. The Deb ther dmar po of Tshal-pa Kun Dga Rdo Rje, for example (composed between 1346 and 1363), paints Rang Byung Rdo Rje, the Third Karrna-pa (1284-[339), as the very essence of a visionary yogi, the model for that tradition in meditation and attainment. Rang Byung came from a Rnying-ma family from Mang Yul Gung Thang (thus, some connection with the Brsan-po's descendents are not to be exluded here), where attaining ja'im was apparently a traditional practice. He brought this practice into the Karrna-pa tradition, and the power of his example allowed no negative comment or doubt in Tshal-pas description of his actions on behalf of Mrshur-phu and the Karrna-pa tradition in general.


Light World of the Light Father. The lord of that Light World in its Buddhist form (Sukhavati) is Amirabha, whose role as re-gatherer of these rainbow-colored body elements is presented commonly in iconographic sources in Tibet and surrounding countries.J'' These teachings also came to be of interest to some Hindus and Muslims in that area.3?

It is in the neighborhood ofBalkh (cf fn. 22) that we have evidence of all the necessary elements for such a development: Buddhist medication schemes (which would have included hathayogic practices); Manichaean and other Iranian "soteriology-by-light" elements-and these from early times-and, the person and tradition of jabir, The practices described here would have survived into the Islamic period through

the support of Iranian Buddhists such as the Barmakids, Later yogis-including those from Islamic and Ndthist backgrounds and traditions-brought these elements together. Over time, a yogic tradition was codified which, having been transmitted as "the teachings of Jabir", was eventually translated and archived in Tibetan.

Indeed, several other elements of Rdzogs Chen meditation are also continuations of practices represented in the "Yogalehrbuch" presented by Schlingloff. In addition to emanating and drawing in light rays (in imitation of the Buddha, as described above), there is a set of naturalistic visualizations that came to be emphasized in Rdzogs Chen, into which atmospheric phenomena such as

)6. I thank David Templeman here for bringing to my attention that scholars need to include detailed study of Tibetan and Central Asian Buddhist iconography as an element in a wholistic study of influences in Tibetan religion.

One such example is the "halo of light", or "nimbus", surrounding Amitabha, Zangs Mdog Opal Ri, etc., in thang kas and Central Asian paintings.

It is interesting-and not happenstance-that this motif illustrates the subject of this paper so well. It began as a Greek introduction of a sign of a deity of light and celestial regions which appeared in Gandh:l.ra in. some of the earliest Buddhist art there, such as at the Buddhist monastery at jamalgarhi. Grunwedel assumed (Buddhist W in India, London, 1965, p. 86) that, "the Persian fire-worship facilitated the transference of the attribute" from Greek to Buddhist forms. Whether or not this is definitely so, it is clear that, once again, Iranian intermediation was somehow involved in such a transfer and, at the same time, might have introduced its own symbolic values. Sometime in the over 1000 intervening years until Tibetan traditions begin discussing them, there arose the notion that they are rainbows emanating from enlightened beings.

Examples of such. halos can be found in nearly every comprehensive presentation of Buddhist and Central Asian art.

For examples, see: P. Pal, Tibetan paintings, London, 1984, p. ISS and plates 103 and 104; D.L Lauf, Tibetan sacred art, Berkeley & London, 1976, p. lI2 and plate 46; these should be evaluated within the context of remarks by Pal in the historical introduction to his The art of Tibet, Boston, 1969, on the role of Nepal and Central Asia-by which the author means especially Khoran, but an entrance for influences into west Tibet requires also looking at the Swat area, etc.-in the genesis of Tibetan arr.) Then, look at plates on p. 34 and perhaps also p. S9 of M. Bussagli's The Art of Central Asia, showing rainbows.

Namkhai Norbu illustrates the full development of this iconography in a ibang ka in his The crystal and the way of light:

Sutra. Tantra. and Dzogchen (New York & London, 1986), plate g and discussion on p. 124-129. One may also consult Tenzin Namdak's work, cited in footnote 37, for a yogic interpretation of this painting. Both visualization and doctrine have come full circle in recent materials. The 'pho ba'i smon lams of the Rnying-ma tradition express the hope that the recently deceased prac'titioner will spyi bo'i 'Od Dpag-med-pa'i sku I 'od du zhu na rang La tbim, and, through this practice, rang yang Tshc Dpag-med du gyur, which is also described as attaining the Ja'lus chos sku.

This is a case where a clearly symbolic interpretation, not surfacing in basic texts such as the Sukhavativytiha and Aparamitiyurdhyana SCltras, is supplied by iconographic presentation, as is also the case with the "Buddha-Mazda" from Karatepe.

37. Just one example: Suhrawardfs (n53 or 5-Il91) school taught that one could attain a diamond bodz. through manipulation of me red and white elixirs, and that, through this, the practitioner was able to rise to heaven in a subtt;' body (of light), and would men be united with certain "celestial princes". (H. Corbin, Spiritual body and celestial earth, Princeton, 1977, p. 99£ 201-03. and 126£) Since some of this material comes from nineteenth-century members of that tradition, one can certainly speak of a deep and abiding impact. It also calls into question prior assessments which have limited the sources of this school's beliefs and practices to Islamic, Hermetic, and some Christian traditions.


rainbows, a clear sky, etc., were fit; there were inner

and outer forms for each of these.38 These practices include concentrating on a cloudless sky, which causes one's "inner sky" to clear up, and on an outer and inner sun (the inner sun, in Bon tradition, as well as the rainbow, shining out of an 'od kyi gur khang). There are also thod rgal visualizations involving staring at the sun (an example of nyi lam practice)-both the inner and outer.i?

This is one context we can provide for the "rainbow body" yoga that we see in Rdzogs Chen teachings, both Bon and Rnying-ma, and which can also

be found now in some Gsar-ma materials. We are still unsure about the origins of the doctrines and processes on which these were based, and thus this thought experiment.

Cosmological and Cosmogonic dimensions of this study

Among the challenges we face in studying Buddhism (or any religion) wholistically in any culture is [0 interpret those rituals and beliefs which bear a very irnpre-

38. Some might say that meditation on rainbows arose narurallyin Tibet because of the inherently positive character rainbows possess as signs. However, rainbows aren't always, or by their nature, positive, in Tibetan tradition. (The same goes for earthquakes--as supernatural occurences, they may signal a miraculous birth, etc., but as a natural event they are, of course, inherently destructive. Already the MahiparinirvaJ;1asutra distinguishes rhese.) Whether a rainbow in Tibet is propitious or a sign of disaster depends on what shape it is interpreted as having (dharrnacakras and parasols are good; arrowheads and bows are not), where it arises, and its position relative to celestial bodies. (For these and other data see, e.g., Marion Duncan, Customs and superstitions of the Tibetans, Delhi, 1998, p. 22, and the essay "Char sprin brtag pa dang I Bai-ro-tsa-na'i gsung bzhin mtshan lam 'bras bu brrag pa I '[a' mtshon brtag pa", in Bzo rig nyer mkho bdams bsgrigs, Lha Sa, 1990, p. 23I-234.)


39. D. Germano ("Architecture and absence in the secret Tantric history of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen)", Tournal of the International Association f(jr'·Buddhist Studies. 17.1994.203-335) presents an interesting delineation of practices and Tantric strata in developed Rdzogs Chen, and several times calls for the study of motifs, etc., to provide more detail for these developments. Such is one goal of this paper.

As was mentioned above (note 20), the "rainbow method for meditating on the presence of the deity" (lha sku gzha' tshon tshuf) is found in Zhang Zhung snyan rgyud material traditionally dated to the eleventh century. In that cycle we also find instructions on "meditation on the sun" (nyi lam) in which the yogi follows the sun's rays through the sky by orienting his body to different directions through the day. (cine could research the connection of such a method with "staring at the sun" thod rgai practice mentioned by E. Dargyay in The rise of esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Delhi, 1979, p. II}, 122, and 217, and the nyi rna siddhilsuryasiddhi of the Padmasambhava biographies.) This certainly would seem to be a continuation of the very popular practice, even today, among Indian yogis of meditating on the sun. However, as it surfaces as a specialty of Rdzogs Chen in Tibet, we need to look further into lines of transmission and any later interpretations and/or development of practice, as well as older, mythological and cosmological bases which gave rise to it.

The Bon meditation scheme in the cycle above presents the source of the full radiance of the rainbow, sun, etc., as being (an internal and external) 'od kyi gur khang. When there is an emphasis on visualizing the colored streams of winds, they appear purified across (again), an outer and inner sky, as a canopy of rainbow light ('od Inga gzha' tsbon gyi phub). One basic correspondence here is that of the cranial vault, with the brabmarandhra at the top, as the inner sky, and the outer celestial vault.

(I refrain here from presenting details of 'ja' ius practice in later Tibetan tradition, save f~)[ some comments on Rnying-ma 'pho ba, and in referring the reader to Tenzin Namdak's brief description of one practice in Bonpo Dzogchen teachings (Freehold, NJ, & Amsterdam, 1992), because these are more developed, "slidhdana-ized" presentations. Other developments in )a'ius practice will be dealt with in a comprehensive study of bcud len that is in preparation.)

Yogic and meditational techniques and themes need to be more fully studied to detail the relationship between Mahayana photisms and their constituent elements from earlier Buddhisms (e.g., WR. Kloerzli's study in Buddhist cosmology), on the one hand, and their syntheses with symbols from surrounding Indian, Iranian, and Tibetan cultures, on the other, in yogic and visualization systems. It requires, as one element, breaking away from studies of Buddhist doctrines per sc and ~etermining whether or not they had any practical significance in the life of Buddhism as a religion.

One is tempted by J. Reynolds' enthusiasm when he says, considering the vague geographical relationships among Stag Gzig, Zhang Zhung, the Swat Valley area and Western Tibet, that cc ••• it is to this Indo-Tibetan and Indo-Iranian borderland that we must look for the historical origins of Dzogchen". (Reynolds, op. cit. fn. 30, p. 227.)

cise relationship to their received normative doctrines.f? This is made more difficult when they are embedded in poorly-documented, esoteric traditions such as specific yogic lineages or "cultic" groups.

In the Hindu and Buddhist worlds, the written traditions of Nathists, special Tantric groups and others usually concentrate on practice. The relationship of these to specific doctrines is often unstated. Thus, we must attempt to describe their rationale for practice without clear guidance. We must make inferences from these materials about the sort of Buddhism these practitioners had in mind.

To do this, let us pass over the overtly Nathist materials and conclude with a look at two brief passages about the rainbow body which tell us something about the universe of its later practitioners. We take it for granted that a strong element of Yogacara doctrine underlies it; this is already evident in the Yogavidhi, despite its description as a Sarvastivada prcduction.P On the basis of the natural luminosity of consciousness and the skandha« through them, the Ja' Ius is a natural expression for return to our origins in the first bar do, designated 'od gsal rhos sku, as well as being a generic, wished-for end of spiritual achievement, to be realized now or eventually. The rainbow body occurs

- so frequently in these contexts without any reference-even implied-to special practices for its attainment, that we can see its accomplishment rests on a passive acceptance of the photistic cosmogony formulated long before (if. fn. 4, below).42 Attaining a rainbow body in such contexts provides a basis for com-

munication between past teachers and living disciples, through visions.43

Detailed information about atrammg Ja' Ius is found in rasayana materials. This is a more natural context for it, because instructions for its attainment, and more cosmo logic and cosmogonic elements that support it, are consistently presented there. Likewise, the motives for achieving it given in them are more immediate and fit yogic culture. These teachings, thus, continue the earlier traditions about its attainment, such as the Nathist materials.

One such text is the Rlung zas Ja'lus dwangs ma'i gser gUY gyi rtsi by Narn-mkha' 'Jigs-med, who was born in 1597.44 He was one of the most interesting yogis among those who also archived special and littlestudied practices, a tradition which included Sle-lung Bzhad-pa'i Rdo-rje and culminated in the work of Kong Sprul Blo-gros Mtha' -yas in the 19th century. This is a tshe sgrub connected with gtum mo in the visualization stages of guru yoga practice:

tshe sgrub Ja' Ius snying po'i dmigs rim 'od zer spro bsdu I 'bar {j:zsag sogs fan gmtg mang bya I rang nyzd Tshe Dpag-med Yab Yum du gsall rlung rdo rje bum Idir gyi nangTshe Dpag-med rigs lnga'i dkyil 'kbor nas byang sems dkar dmar kha dog lnga /dan du dragpor Ian bdun zal

... me sa chu dung gi gur khang nas I rlung kha dog lnga ldan mang du tshugs dang 'phred nyaf dang I 0 spris bzhams pa'am I chu bo'i gnyer ma Ita bu za bar dmigs fa / hu 'dren dang si 'dren bsnol nas za I hab thung gis rlung bsun btang la dung pho smad du bsgril zhing Ius Ja'lus

40. l.e., how the principles of Buddhism presented in some of the most-cited, early Surra and Tantra literature are presented in the language of that culture.

41. In addition to the extensive introduction to the text in the volume, D. Schlingloff has also written a short description of the text in Indo-Iranian journal-7-1963-4.146-155.

42. This prayer for Mdo Sngags Darn-chos Rgya-mtsho at the end of the 'Phags-pa Thugs-rje Chen-po'i dhil 'khor gyi cho gai rnam nges by Padma 'Phrin-las (r640?-I718) is rypical: khyad par tshe 'di'ipbun tshogs bde 'byor gyis / stu med nus min 'tshangs pa yongs spangs te I rgyal pa'i rab sngags dban pa'i ri dogs su I dal 'byor don yod byed la gegs med shag I gnas skabs tshe dang tshul 'khri bsgrubs par hcas I mthar phyin ka dag lhun grub nyi lam gyis ! Ja Ius 'od phung chen por yong grot te I gro kun sgroI ba'i shing til bzangpor shog. (Unaltered text of Delhi, 1984 edirion.)

Meanwhile, Grer-bdag Cling-pa (d. 1714) was still having to defend photistic elements of Rnying-rna bar do teachings and other photisric elements of their doctrines against Dge-Iugs questionings in his Yul dam pa rnams la bka'i dris !an du gsol ba Nor bu chun po (published in Delhi, 1984); see p. 101ft: Again, these statements address mostly is~es of internal practice, but they are based on broader principles of the place oflight in Mahayana and Tantrism.

43- Reynolds, op cit. fn. 37, p. 34 and 140.

44. This short text is .found in a set of wood-blocks with the cover title, Grum mo me phung 'khoT 10. Its provenance is unknown to me. Since the text is only rwo folia in length, no pagination is given.

'ad phung chen por gyur par hsam I bar rlung smad du

bsgril ba'i ngang nas I steng rlung gis yang yang rngub chung brtseg I rlung zas Ian bdun bdun gyi bar du 'chi med rang byung gi bdud rtsi tshim par btung I ...

Precis translation of these excerpts:

The stages of visualization of the rainbow body consist in diffusing light rays and then drawing them together. Shining and dripping (of drops in the central channel of the yogi) should happen as often as necessary. When this process clearly resolves into Amitayus and his Consort, "Eat seven times violently the fivecolored red and white bodhicittas from the mandalas of the five families of Arnitayus within the extended vajra-vessel containing the winds!"

". [In a downward settling beginning with the root teacher: 1 "From the tents of fire, earth, water and wind


(he five-colored winds are much settled, resting horizontally (in the central channel). Visualize yourself eating them because they call to mind cream or are like ripples on water; uniting your inhalations and their whistling through the teeth, eat (them)! Make your breath exhausted through shallow mouthfuls; the wind gathering at the lower male center point, meditate on your body becoming a rainbow body, a glowing heap. Being in the process of concentrating the middle wind lower, draw it in again and again with the upper wind and stack those winds a little. When you have eaten this wind, drink through seven sets of repetitions until you are satisfied this ambrosia of selfarising deathlessness."

Published by AmnyeMachen InstitUte McLeod G,mj176219 Dhar.;!fnsnala (H.e) India


. [£H) 1892·220778 Fax; (91 H 8g;2 22:1073 E.maii: amnyemaQ1en@rediffmaii;(:OITl . httpilWW'W,arnn~achen.Of~ ..

Printed at lndraprastha Press (CBT) 4 BahadurShah Zali'll M"rg, New Delhi 110002

This issue has been generously sponsored by Dr Per K.· Sorensen

Lungta 16

Cosmogony and the Origins

Spring 2003


2 Editorial

7 Light, Ray, Frost and Dew:

Formation of the World

Samten Gyaltsen Karmay

11 Cosmogony, Iranian and Tibetan

David Templeman

15 Creator God or Creator Figure?

Dan Martin

21 jabir, the Buddhist yogi, part III:

Considerations on an international yoga of transformation

Michael Walter

37 Tribes which populated the Tibetan plateau, as treated in the texts collectively called

the Khungs chen po bzhi

Roberto Vital i

64 The Kingly Cosmogonic Narrative and Tibetan Histories:

Indian Origins, Tibetan Space,

and the bKal'chems ka khat ma Synthesis

Ronald M. Davidson

85 Lhasa Diluvium

Sacred Environment at Stake:

The Birth of Flood Control Politscs, the Question of Natural Disaster Management and their Importance for the Hegemony over a National Monument in Tibet

Per K. Sorensen

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