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Alexander Vesey
J oumal of the International Association of .
Buddhist Studies
Volume 17 Number 2 Winter 1994
The Monastic Ownership of Servants or Slaves:
Local and Legal Factors in the
Redactional History of Two Vinayas
Apropos of Some Recently Recovered Texts
Belonging to the Lam 'bras Teachings of the
Sa skya pa. and Ko brag pa
Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History
of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) 203
Understanding Chih-i:
Through a glass, darkly?
In Memorian
Michel Strickman
Con,tributors to this issue:
BERNARD FAURE is Professor of Buddhist Studies in the
Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University.
DAVID GERMANO is Assistant Professor of Himalayan Studies and
Tibetan Language in the Department of Religious Studies at the '
University of Virginia.
GREGORY SCHOPEN is Professor of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Buddhist
Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas
at Austin.
. -
PAUL L. SWANSON is a permanent fellow of the Nanzan Institute
for Religion and Culture and Pro.fessor at N anzan University in
Nagoya, Japan.
LEONARD J. W. VANDER KUIJP is Associate Professor of Tibetan
Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures of the
University of Washington.
The Monastic Ownership of Servants or Slaves:
Local and Legal Factors in the
Redactional History of Two Vinayas
We still, it seems, know very little about how Buddhist monastic com -
munities became fully institutionalized in India, or how such Indian
monastic organizations actually functioned. This, in part at least, is
because we still know very little that is certain about the vinaya, and
because very little attention has been paid to those things which allowed
such communities not only to endure over time, but to prosper, and
made, in fact, the monastic life buildings, money,
forced labor and corporate organization. Historians of Indian Buddhism
seem slow, if not entirely reluctant, to admit or allow what their
medievalist colleagues elsewhere take as a given:
Yet monasticism is not just about forms of Christian service, the daily
round of prayer and contemplation by those who lived within the cloister
. . . Religious houses were also corporations which owned land, adminis-
tered estates and enjoyed rights and privileges which needed ratifying and
Moreover, medievalists have been fully aware of the fact that different
monastic groups or orders could-and did--deal with these various
concerns very differently,.at least in their formal legislation, and that
these differences were often directly linked to the social, political and
1. J. Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain, 1000-1300
(Cambridge: 1994) x. As a small sampling of the richness of historical stud-
ies on Western monasticisms see esp. B. D. Hill, English Cistercian Monas-
teries and Their Patrons in the Twelfth Century (Urbana: 1968); R. B.
Dobson, Durham Priory 1400-1450 (Cambridge:1973); D.J. Osheim, A
Tuscan Monastery and Its Social World. San Michele ofGuamo (1156-1348)
(Roma:1989); B. H. Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter. The
Social Meaning of Cluny's Property, 909-1049 (Ithaca I London: 1989).
146 JIABS 17.2
economic contexts in which the various monastic groups operated.
study of Buddhist monasticism has, to be sure, been hampered in this
regard by the availability of significantly less documentation. But it is
also just possible that what documentation it has-and it is still consid-
erable-has not been fully utilized. There is a comparative wealth of
inscriptional data bearing on the economic and institutional history of
monastic Buddhisms which has yet to be fully used; there are as well the
monastic codes of six different Buddhist orders, although only one of
these is easily available in a translation into a European language, and the
rest have been comparatively ignored.
But the study of the institutional history of Buddhist monasticisms
may also have been hampered as much by some of its own assumptions.
It has, for example, been commonly believed-and still is by some-that
elements found to be common to all or most of the extant vinayas must
go back to a hypothetical, single, "pre-sectarian," primitive vinaya.
This belief has had at least two consequences. First, most of the energy
and effort in the study of the vinayas has been directed toward finding or
ferreting out these common elements. This procedure has resulted in, if
nothing else, a kind of homogenization of potentially significant differ-
ences and has led-at least according to Sylvain Levi-"to a kind of
single archetype, which is not the primitive Vinaya, but the average of
the Vinayas."4 Secondly, this same belief has almost necessarily deter-
mined that any deviation from the mean or average would have to be
2. The distinctive differences between Christian monasticism in early Ireland
and most of the rest of Europe is commonly said to have been conditioned, if
not determined, by the absence of towns in early Ireland, by the fact that
Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire and by the fact that Irish
society was essentially tribal; see J. F. Webb and D. H. Farmer, The Age of
Bede (London: 1988) 13, and, much more fully, L. M. Bitel, Isle of the
Saints. Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland
(Ithaca I London: 1990) esp. 1, 87.
3. The most elaborate study based on this assumption is still E. Frauwallner,
The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Literature (Rome:
1975). For a succint discussion of some of the larger problems involved in
this approach, and for references to other conceptualizations of the relationship
between the various vinayas, see G. Schopen, "The Ritual Obligations and
Donor Roles of Monks in the Pali Vinaya," Journal of the Pali Text Society
16 (1992) 87-107, esp. 104-06 and notes.
4. S. Levi, "Les saintes ecritures du bouddhisme. Comment s'est constitue
Ie canon sacre," Memorial Sylvain Levi (Paris: 1937) 83: "RMuits par
etagage a leurs elements communs, les Vinaya de toutes les ecoles se rame-
nent sans effort a une sorte d' arcMtype unique, qui n' est pas Ie Vinaya primi-
tif, mais la moyenne des Vinaya."
explained in chronological terms as a "late addition" or "an isolated
accretion" -as if there were no other possible explanation for such dif-
ferences. Weare, in short, left with little sense of how the differenct
monastic orders might have solved different or even common problems,
or what kinds of external forces might have been working on the differ-
ent orders in different geographical and cultural areas-. If 1. B. Horner
was right-and that is likely-about the important influence of lay val-
ues on monastic rules and legislation, 5 then, unless one wants to argue
for a uniform level and type oflay culture throughout early India and Sri
Lanka, the different orders in different places could not have been sub-
jected to the same sets of influences, and must have had to adapt to a
wide range oflocallay values. Something like this is, indeed, explicitly
allowed for in the Mahisasaka Vinaya for example:
Le Buddha dit: ... Bien qu'une chose ait ete autorisee par moi, si dans
une autre region on ne la considere pas comme pure, personne ne doit s'en
servir. Bien qu'une chose n'ait pas ete autorisee par moi, si dans une autre
region il y a des gens qui doivent necessairement la pratiquer, tout Ie
monde doit ,la mettre en pratique.
And explicit instances of adaption of monastic rule to local custom can
be found in all the vinayas, as, for example, in the case where monks in
Avant! were allowed to bathe constantly because "in the southern region
of Avanti people attach importance to bathing, to purification by water."7
The recognition of the force of local values is in fact also a characteristic
of Indian Dharmasiistra where it is an accepted principle that "custom
prevails over dharma."B
These, however, are large questions and are themselves not easily
treated. Nor will anyone case bring a definitive solution. But if we are
to begin to make an effort towards determining the various stages in the
process of the institutionalization of monastic Buddhisms, and to begin
5. 1. B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, vol. 1 (Oxford: 1938) xvi-xvii;
cf xxviii-xxix.
6. J. Jaworski, "Le section de la nourriture dans Ie vinaya des mahisasaka,"
Rocznik Orjentalistyczny 7 (1929-30) 94; something like this sense-though
not so clearly expressed-may be lurking in the corresponding passage in the
Mahlivihlirin Vinaya: see H. Oldenberg, The Vinaya P ~ t a k a , vol. 1 (London:
1879) 250-51 (I have used this edition throughout).
7. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, iv 263.
8. R. W. Lariviere, The Nllradasmrti (Philadelphia: 1989tpt. 1, 18 (1.34);
pt. 2, 11 (1.34); see also V. N. Mandlik, Mllnava-Dharma-Sllstra (Bombay:
1886; repro 1992) VIII. 46.
148 nABS 17.2
to understand the external forces which might have been involved in the
process, then it is probably best not to begin with generalizations--they,
it seems, may already have created a considerable muddle. However
tiresome, we must start with particulars and particularity, and look
closely at how, for example, the literate members of these monastic
orders saw, or wanted others to see, particular and presumably signifi-
cant moments in their own institutional histories.
Potentially, of course, there are any number of such "moments" that
could be studied, but I have chosen to limit the discussion here to the
accounts in only two vinayas of the particular circumstances in which
the Buddha was said to have allowed the use, acceptance, or ownership
of a particular kind of property, property whose use or ownership would
seem to have entailed and presupposed significant institutional develop-
ments. In both vinayas the property in question is a certain category or
class of domestic servant or slave, a more precise definition of which
will depend on the discussion of the texts .. The choice of the two
vinayas to be taken into account is determined by my own linguistic
incompetence. But-----perhaps as a small proof that at least occasionally
you can indeed make a silk purse out of a sow's ear-these two vinayas
also represent the two opposite ends of the chronological continuum
conventionally assumed in most discussions of the composition of the
various vinayas: the MahZtvihlirin Vinaya is often believed to be the
earliest of the monastic codes,9 the Malasarvilstivlidin Vinaya the lat-
est 10 If these chronological assumptions are correct-although my own
opinion is that there are no very compelling reasons to think that they
are-then a close study of these two accounts will allow us to see how
the same tradition was presented by two widely separated monastic
codes. It might allow us as well to see if the "separation" between the
two has not been determined by something other than time.
9. For a r e c e n ~ reaffIrmation of this view see O. von Hiniiber, "The Arising
of an Offence: Apattisamugbana. A Note on the Structure and History of the
Theravada-Vinaya," Journal of the Pali Text Society 16 (1992) 68n.13.
10. For some references to the sometimes contradictory assessments of the
chronological position of the Mulasarvastivlidin Vinaya see G. Schopen, "On
Avoiding Ghosts and Social Censure: Monastic Funerals in the
Mulasarvastivada-vinaya," Journal of Indian Philosophy 20 (1992) 36-37
n.69. Regardless of the date of its compilation, the Tibetan translation is
clearly later than the Sanskrit manuscripts from Gilgit and the Chinese trans-
lation, and should represent the latest form of this Vinaya.
We might start with the account now found in the Bhesajja-khandhaka
or "Section on Medicines," in the Mahiivihiirin Vinaya.
On that occasion the Venerable Pilindavaccha was clearing an overhang in
Rajagrha, wanting to make a cell. The King of Magadha, Seniya
Bimbisara approached the Venerable Pilindavaccha, saluted him, and sat
down to one side. So seated the King of Magadha, Seniya Bimbisara, said
to the Venerable Pilindavaccba: "Reverend, wbat is the Elder doing?"
"Great King, I am clearing an overhang to make a cell."
"Reverend, does the Noble One need an attendant for a monastery
(lirlimika)?" 12
"Great King, the Blessed One bas not allowed an attendant for a
"Then indeed, Reverend, when you have asked the Blessed One about
this you should inform me"
The Venerable Pilindavaccba agreed saying ''Yes, Great King."
Then .the Venerable Pilindavaccha instructed King Bimbisara with talk
connected with Dbamma, inspired, incited and delighted bim. Wben King
Bimbisara bad been instructed with talk connected with Dbamma by the
Venerable Pilindavaccba, bad been inspired, incited and deligbted, be stood
up from bis seat, saluted the Venerable Pilindavaccba, circumambulated
bim, and departed.
11. Oldenberg, Vinaya Pi!aka i 206.34-208.1; translated in T. W. Rbys
Davids and H. Oldenberg, Vinaya Texts, pt. II, Sacred Books of the East,
vol. XVII (Oxford: 1882) 61-63; Homer, The Book of the Discipline iv 281-
82. I bave intentionally used the title "Mahlivihlirin Vinaya" to refer to wbat
is usually called "The Pali Vinaya" or "The Tberavada Vinaya" or-still
worse-simply "The Vinaya." My usage is intended to problematize the sta-
tus of this Vinaya, whicb is too often assumed to be self-evident. Though we
know little or nothing of the details we do know that there were, or appear to
bave been, competing versions or understandings of ''Tbe Theravada Vinaya"
in both Sri Lanka (see H. Becbert, "On the Identification of Buddhist Schools
in Early Sri Lanka," in Indology and Law. Studies in Honour of Professor
J. Duncan M. Derrett, ed. G.-D. Sontheimer and P. K. Aithal (Wiesbaden:
1982) 60-76); V. Stache-Rosen, Upliliparip'rcchlisiitra. Ein Text zur bud-
dhistischen Ordensdisziplin, brsg. H. Bechert. (Gottingen: 1984) esp. 28-31),
and in South India (see P. V. Bapat, "Vimati-Vinodani, A Vinaya Commen-
tary and Kundalkesi-Vatthu, A Tamil Poem," Journal of Indian History 45.3
[1967] 689-94; P. Kieffer-Piilz, "Zitate aus der in der
Samantapasadika," in Studien zur Indologie und Buddhismuskunde. Festgabe
des Seminars fUr Indologie und Buddhismuskunde fUr Professor Dr. Heinz
Bechert zum 60. Geburtstag am 26. Juni 1992, brsg. R. Griinendahl et al
[Bonn: 1993] 171-212), and this must at least raise the question of the repre-
sentativeness of the redaction of this Vinaya that we bave.
12. For the sake of convenience-and nothing more-l bave adopted
Homer's translation of lirlimika bere. Rbys Davids and Oldenberg fall back
on an etymological rendering, "park-keeper," but that fits clumsily into the
account since there is no lirlima here; cfbelow.
150 nABS 17.2
The Venerable Pilindavaccha sent a messenger then to the Blessed One to
say: "Reverend, the King of Magadha, Seniya Bimbisara, wishes to give
(datukiima) an attendant for a monastery. How, Reverend, should it now
be done?"
When the Blessed One had given a talk on Dhamma on that occasion, he
addressed the monks: "I allow, monks, a monastery attendant."
A second time the King of Magadha, Seniya Bimbisara, approached the
Venerable Pilindavaccha, saluted him, and sat down to one side. So seated
Bimbisara said this to the Venerable Pilindavaccha: "Reverend, has the
Blessed One allowed a monastery attendant?"
"Yes, Great King."
"Then indeed, Reverend, 1 will give a monastery attendant to the Noble
One (ayyassa arlimikam dammiti)."
Then the King of Magadha, Seniya Bimbisara, after he had promised a
monastery attendant to the Venerable Pilindavaccha, and had forgotten it,
after a long time remembered. He addressed a minister concerned with all
affairs: "Sir, has the monastery attendant which 1 promised to the Noble
One been given (dinna)?"
"No, Lord, the monastery attendant has not been given to the Noble
"But how long ago, Sir, since it was considered?"
The minister then counted up the nights and said to Bimbisara: "Lord, it
has been five hundred nights."
"Therefore indeed, sir, you must give (detha) five hundred monastery
attendants to the Noble One (ayyassa).
The minister assented to the king saying "Yes, Lord," and gave (piidasi)
five hundred monastery attendants to the Venerable Pilindavaccha. A sepa-
rate village was settled. They called it a "Village of Monastery Attendants
(aramika-gama)." They called it a "Village of Pilinda."13
Although their reasons are not always clear or entirely well-founded, a
number of scholars have expressed some uneasiness in regard to this
text. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, for example, seems to want to assign the
account to "the later sections of the Vinaya P ~ t a k a , " but does not say
why or how he has identified these "later sections." 14 J. Jaworski,
having noted that the account in the Mahaviharin Bhesajja-khandhaka
had no parallel in the "Section des RemMes" in the MahiSlisaka-vinaya,
first refers to our text as a "local legend." 15 A few years later he said,
13. There is some uncertainty about where this part of the story ends.
Oldenberg has in fact paragraphed the same text in two different ways. 1 fol-
low that found at Oldenberg, Vinaya iii 249 - cf. below n.28
14. R. A. L. H. Gunawardana, Robe and Plough. Monasticism and Eco-
nomic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka (Tucson: 1979) 97.
15. J. Jaworski, "Le section des remMes dans Ie vinaya des mamsasaka et
dans Ie vinaya pall," Rocznik Drjentalistyczny 5 (1927) 100: "Le debut du
chapitre XV, qui est tees developpe en pall, n'a pas d'equivalent en chinois.
II s'agit de la fondation d'un village appeIe Pilinda-gama. Cette legende
for essentially the same reason: "la longue histoire sur Pilindavatsa, que
nous rencontrons dans Mahiivagga, ne peut etre qU'une interpolation
tardive."16 Neither Gunawardana nor Jaworski, then, seem to want our
text to be early, and it very well may not be, but that does not necessarily
mean that it occurs in a "later section" or is a ''late interpolation." We
will have to return to this point later. For the moment we might look
first at Jaworski's suggestion that the Mahaviharin text is a "local
There are at least two things about the Mahaviharin text which might
suggest that it is local: its beginning and its end. The beginning of the
text is unusual. It says that Pilindavaccha ... pabbhiira1J1. sodhiipeti
le!la1J1. kattukiimo. Rhys Davids and Oldenberg translate this:
"Pilindavaccha had a mountain cave ... cleared out, with the object of
making itinto a cave dwelling-place"; Horner as: "Pilindavaccha, desir-
ing to make a cave, had a (mountain) slope cleared." Admittedly l e ~
can mean several things, but first and foremost it seems to mean "a cave
used or made into a residential cell ," and that is almost certainly its sense
here. Moreover, although sodhiipeti might mean "clear" in the sense of
"removing trees, etc. ," it is hard to see why making a "cave" would
require clearing a slope or hillside. Then there is the term pabbhiira
which The Fiili Text Society Dictionary defines as, first, "a decline,
incline, slope," but its Sanskrit equivalent-priigbhiira-is defined by
Edgerton, when it is a noun, as a "rocky overhanging crag with ledge
beneath." 17
There are a number of uncertainties here, but in large part that may be
because the activity described in our text is so odd, if not entirely unique:
It is not commonly described elsewhere in Indian literature, if at all.
And it is probably safe to assume that an Indian monk would probably
have had as difficult a time as we do understanding what was being
referred to-Indian monks normally did not occupy or "improve"
natural caves. Sri Lankan monks, however, most certainly did. The
hundreds of early BrahmI inscriptions from Sri Lanka are almost all
engraved below the artificially made "drip-ledges" of just such cleared
locale, ou Ie venerable Pilinda vaccha tient un grand role, n' a que peu de rap-
ports avec Ie medecine."
16. Jaworski, Rocznik Orjentalistyczny 7 (1929-30) 55n.7.
17. F. Edgerton, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary (New Haven: 1953)
390: He gets this sense from Tibetan bya skyibs, "lit. bird-shelter," but the
equivalence is well attested by the Mahiivyutpatti where, as Edgerton notes,
prligbhiira follows parvata and precedes dari.
and improved natural caves or overhangs, and these "caves" are almost
always referred to in these records as le1)ill.18 W. Rahula, for example,
has already noted that "the large number of donative inscriptions of the
first few. centuries of Buddhism, incised on the brows of the caves
found scattered throughout the island, indicates the extent to which the
caves were used by monks .... "19 Yet another observation of Rahula's
suggests that both the authors and the readers of the PaIi Commentaries
might well have had an even more preCise understanding of what
Pilindavaccha was doing. Rahula says:
Preparing a cave for the residence of monks was not an easy task. Fortu-
nately, we get in the Pali Commentaries casual references to the process
that was in vogue at least about the fifth-century A. C. First of all, the
cave was filled with rue-wood and the wood was then burnt; this helped to
remove loose splinters of rock as well as to dispel unpleasant odours. After
the cave w a ~ cleaned, walls of bricks were built on the exposed sides, and
doors and windows fixed. Sometimes walls were plastered and
To judge, for example, by Carrithers' text and photographs some Sri
Lankan monks are still living in such accommodations. 21
18. S. Paranavitana, Inscriptions of Ceylon, vol I (Ceylon: 1970) ii; see
also-especially for the dates assigned to these iI!criptions, which in many
cases may turn out to have been too early-Po E. E. Fernando, "Palaeo-
graphical Development of the Brahmi Script in Ceylon from the 3rd Century
B. C. to the 7th Century A. D.," University of Ceylon Review 7 (1949) 282-
301; W. S. Karunaratne, "The Date of the Brahmi Inscriptions of Ceylon," in
Paranavitana Felicitation Volume, ed. N. A. Jayawickrama (Colombo: 1965)
243-51; S. K. Sitrampalam, "The Brahmi Inscriptions of Sri Lanka. The
Need for a Fresh Analysis," in James Thevathasan Rutnam Felicitation
Volume, ed. K. Indrapala (Jaffna: 1975) 89-95; and, in particular, A. H. Dani,
Indian Palaeography (Oxford: 1963) 214 ff.
19. W. Rahula, History of Buddhism in Ceylon. The Anuriidhapura Period
3rd Century B. C. - 10th Century A. C. (Colombo: 1956) 113.
20. Rahula, History of Buddhism in Ceylon, 114; see also W. M. A.
Wamasuriya, "Inscriptional Evidence bearing on the Nature of Religious En-
dowment in Ancient Ceylon," University of Ceylon Review 1.1 (1943) 71-2:
"The majority of these caves gifted to the Sangha, were natural rock caves-
for excavated caves are rare in Ceylon-whose insides were doubtless white-
washed and even plastered, and a mud or brick wall (the latter occurring about
the 9th Century, A. D., says Hocart) built so as to form protected or enclosed
rooms under the shelter of the rocks." See also VbhA 366 cited in the Pali
Text Society Dictionary under le!la.
21. M. Carrithers, The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka. An Anthropological and
Historical Study (Delhi: 1983); see especially the 2nd and 6th plate between
pp. 128-29.
All of this is not to say that Indian monks never cleared and improved
natural rock over-hangs or caves, but the known instances of anything
like this are very, very rare in India 22 In Sri Lanka. on the other hand,
this sort of activity was very, very common, in fact, it produced a
characteristic form of Sri Lankan monastic "architecture." And it is
precisely this characteristically Sri Lankan activity which, I would
suggest, is being described in our text of the canonical vinaya.
If the beginning of the Mahaviharin account of Pilindavaccha appears
to reflect not Indian, but Sri Lankan practice, so too might the end. The
account ends by explaining, or accounting for the origin of, two terms or
names which, however, are introduced rather abruptly at the very end:
"A village of monastery attendants," iirlimikagiima, and "a village of
Pilinda," pilindagama. The second of these two is specific and has no
other history as far as I know. But the first is a generic name for a cate-
gory of donation which is, indeed, referred to elsewhere, but not in
India. Geiger, for example, has noted in regard to early medieval Sri
Lanka, that: "The general expression for monastery helpers was
iirlimika (46.14; 100.218). A hundred helpers and three villages were
granted by Aggabodhi IV's Queen Je@la to a nunnery built by her
(46.28)."23 Gunawardana too has noted that in Sri Lanka iirlimikas
"were, at times, granted in large numbers . . . Aggabodhi I granted a
hundred iiriimikas to the Kandavihara, and Jegha, the queen of
Aggabodhi IV, granted a hundred iiriimikas to the Je@larama. Kassapa
IV granted iirlimikagiimas to the hermitages he built."24 Evidence of
this sort-drawn largely from the Culava1JlSa-makes it clear that the
account of PiIindavaccha now found in the canonical vinaya was
describing practices that were curiously close to those said by the
CulavQ1JlSa to have been current, if not common, in medieval Sri Lanka.
This, of course, is not to say that ilriimikas were not known in Indian
vinaya texts. There are a number of references to them in the
22. See the recently discovered and still not fully published early monastic
site at Panguraria in Madhya Pradesh: B. K. Thapar, ed., Indian Archaeology
1975-76-A Review (New Delhi: 1979) 28-30, pIs. xxxix-xli; H. Sarkar, "A
Post-Asokan Inscription from Pangoraria in the Vindhyan Range," in B. N.
MukbeIjee et al, Sri Dinesacandrika. Studies in Indology. Shri D. C. Sircar
Festschrift (Delhi: 1983) 403-05, pIs. 73-75.
23. W. Geiger, Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times, 2nd ed., ed. H.
Bechert (Stuttgart: 1986) 194 (sec. 187); the numbers refer to chapter and
verse of the Cuiavamsa.
24. Gunawardana, Robe and Plough, 98-99; note in particular here the term
154 nABS 17.2
MUlasarvilstivii1in Vinaya for example. But I do not know of a single
reference to the gift of aramikas in any of the numerous Indian royal
donations of land and villages to Buddhist monastic communities
recorded in Indian inscriptions, nor does the term aramikagama seem to
occur anywhere there or in continental literary sources. In this sense,
then, if in no other, what is described in the Mahaviharin account of
Pilindavaccha is characteristically Sri Lankan. There are also other indi -
cations that would suggest that groups of iiramikas were a particular
concern of the compilers of the Mahavihiirin Vinaya, and well known to
At the end of "the section on Beds and Seats" in the Mahavihiirin
Vinaya, for example, there is a well-known passage which describes the
Buddha "allowing" or instituting a whole series of administr_ative posi-
tions. He "allowed" that an individual monk should be designated as the
"issuer of meals" (bhattuddesaka), the "assigner of lodgings"
(senilsanapanntipaka), the "keeper of the storeroom" (bhar.zrJiigarika),
the "accepter of robes" (civarapa.tiggahaka), etc. ill regard to the second
to the last administrative office mentioned the text says: "At that time the
order did not have a superintendent of monastery attendants
(aramikapesaka). The monastery attendants being unsupervised did not
do their work." When the Buddha was told of this he allowed or insti-
tuted the office of "superintendent of monastery attendants."25 The
corresponding passage at the end of the corresponding section of the
MUlasarvilstivadin Vinaya has a similar list of monastic officials, but
one of the several ways in which that list differs from the Mahaviharin
list is that the former makes no reference to an aramikapesaka or any-
thing like it. Such an office was unknown at least in this piece of
Ml1lasarvastivadin legislation.
1his is particularly interesting since this
25. Oldenberg, Vinaya ii 175-77; Homer, The Book of the Discipline v 246-
49; cf. M. Njammasch, "Hierarchische Strukturen in den buddhistischen
KlOstern Indiens in der ersten HaIfte des ersten Jahrtausends unserer
Zeitrechnung," Ethnographisch-Archtiologische Zeitschrift 11 (1970) 513-39,
esp. 522-24, 529 ff. ,
26. R. Gnoli, The Gilgit Manuscript of the Sayaniisanavastu and the
Adhikaraf.U1vastu. Being the 15th and 16th Sections Of the Vinaya of the
Malasarviistiviidin, Serle Orientale Roma L (Rome: 1978) 53-56. It does
refer to a p r e ~ a k a , but this term-which is unrecorded in Edgerton-has no
connection here with iiriimika and appears to designate a general comptroller.
office is also referred to in the Mahaviharin Parivara and Aitguttara-
Beyond considerations of this sort, the way itself in which the
Mahaviharin account of Pilinda is presented seems to presuppose that it
was compiled after it was already commonly known what an aramika
was. Notice that the text is not about how ariimikas got their name or
what they were. It is about how a village came to be called a "village of
aramikas," or how the name for a certain category of village-
ariimikagiima-<ame to be. The text itself never says what an ariimika
was and proceeds as if this were already known. Notice too that the text
as it stands not only abruptly introduces the term, but seems to require
that ariimika be taken in its technical and specifically Buddhist sense of
a-for the moment-" forced laborer attached to or owned by an indi-
vidual monk or monastic community ," but, again, that sense has not yet
been articulated. Notice finally that unless the legal status of such a
"laborer" had already been established our text would have been a
lawyer's nightmare-unless, of course, it was redacted and intended for
use in an environment with little legal tradition or where formal laws of
ownership and property were little developed. There are otherwise far
too many things left undetermined: for what purposes is an ariimika
allowed; in who or what does ownership of the ariimika inhere; does 1he
donor retain some rights in regard to the ariimika and if the king is the
donor does the iiriimika continue to have obligations in regard to the
state; what, if any, are the obligations of the donee; what are the obliga-
tions of the ariimika; etc. None of this is engaged and there must be at
least some question as to whether this would have been acceptable-or
even possible-in an Indian world that knew anything about the
Dharma-siltras or Dharma-sastras. The issues here might be better
focused if we look at our next text
When Jaworski suggested the account of Pilindavaccha in the
Mahiivihiirin Vinaya was a "late interpolation," and when Gunawardana
wanted to assign it to "the later sections" of that collection, both were
referring only to the account in the Bhesajja-khandaka. Neither seems
to have noted that the same account also occurs in the Suttavibhanga of
the same vinaya,28 and neither indicated that a clear parallel to the
27. Oldenberg, Vinaya v 204-05; Homer, The Book of the Discipline vi 328;
E. Hardy, The AiLguttara-Nikliya, part III (London: 1897) 275.
28. Oldenberg, Vinaya iii 248-49; Homer, The Book of the Discipline ii 126-
156 JIABS 17.2
Mahavihann account also occurs in the Vibhanga of at least one other
vinaya, the Miilasarvastivlidin Vinaya-vibhaizga preserved in TIbetan.
This Ml1lasarvastivadin parallel complicates, of course, both their
observations in a number of ways, but before taking up a discussion of
these I first give a translation of the Tibetan text. The Tibetan account
translated here, it should be noted, does not fall under the heading of the
23rd "Forfeiture" (nissaggiya) as in the Mahavihiirin Vinaya, but forms
a part of the Ml1lasarvastivadin discussion of the 2nd of the offences
requiring expulsion from the order.29
The Buddha, the Blessed One, was staying in Rajagrha, in the Bamboo
Grove and haunt of the Kalandakas. Now it was the usual practice of King
Bimbisara (lOlb) to go every day to venerate the feet of the Blessed One
and each of the Elder monks. On one such occasion King Bimbisara
venerated the feet of the Blessed One and sat down in his presence to hear
Dharma. The Blessed One instructed with a talk connected with Dharma
the King of Magadha, SreJ?ya Bimbisara, as he was seated to one side, he
inspired him, incited and delighted him. When the Blessed One had
instructed him in various ways with talk connected with Dharmjl, had
inspired, incited and ~ delighted him, he fell silent. Then King SreJ?ya
Bimbisara, when he had venerated the feet of the Blessed One, stood up
from his seat and departed
He went to the vihlira (gtsug lag khang) of the Venerable Pilindaka. At
that time the Venerable Pilindaka himself was doing repair and maintenance
work on that vihlira.
The Venerable Pilindaka saw SreJ?ya Bimbisara, the
King of Magadha, from a distance, and when he saw him he washed his
h:n)ds and feet and sat down on the seat he had prepared.
Srel.1ya Bimbisara, the King of Magadha, then honored with his head the
(eet of the Venerable Pilindaka and sat down to one side. So seated King
Srel.1ya Bimbisara said this to the Venerable Pilindaka: ''Noble One, what
is this? Do you yourself do the repair and maintenance work?"
"Great King, a renunciant (rab tu byung ba, pravrajita) is one who does
his own work. Since we are renunciants (102a) what other would do the
"Noble One, if that is so I will give the Noble One a servant (zhabs
'bring ba, parivllra)."
The Great King up to four times had this polite exchange. A ftfth time
too he himself said "1 will give the Noble One a servant." But fmally a co-
residential pupil (sllrdha1J1.vihlirika) of the Venerable Pilindaka who spoke
truthfully, consistently, and with courage said: "Great King, ever since the
Great King offered servants to the Preceptor the Preceptor, when the vihlira
is in need of repairs, lets it fall to pieces."
29. The translation given here is based on the Derge text reprinted in A. W.
Barber, ed., The Tibetan Tripitaka. Taipei Edition, vol. I, 'dul ba, (Taipei:
1991) Ca 1OIa.7-103bA. This was the only edition available to me.
30. de'i tshe na tshe dang ldan pa pi lin da'i bu gtsug lag khang de na ral
ba dang' drums par rang nyid kyis phyir 'coos par byed do, 101 bA.
The King said: "Noble One, what is this? Did we not repeatedly
promise servants?"
"Great King, not only on one occasion, but on five."
Since the King was forgetful it was his usual practice when making even
small promises to someone to have all that written down in a document by
a man who sat behind him.
The King said to the man: "Hear, home-
minister! Is it not true that I repeatedly promised this?"
"That is true, Lord, five times."
"Therefore, since I would do what I had agreed I will give the Noble One
five hundred servants." He ordered his officers: "Present the Noble One
with five hundred servants!"
The Venerable Pilindaka said: "Great King, I have renounced personal
servants (g-yog, parivara, dasa). What do servants have to do with a
"Noble One, you must accept them for the benefit of the Community!
(dge 'dun gyi don du bzhes Shig, sa1]tghaya g.rhliT;a)"
"Great King, if that is the case I will ask the Blessed One."
"Noble One, ask, since that would not involve an offence!":
The Venerable Pilindaka reported the matter in detail to the Blessed One.
The Blessed One said: "Servants (g-yog) are to be accepted for the bene-
fit of the Community (dge 'dun gyi don du)."
The Venerable Pilindaka accepted those servants (102b).
When those servants were repeatedly made to do work in the King's
house they said to the Venerable Pilindaka: ''Noble One, we were given as
servants (zhabs 'bring ba) to the Noble Ones ('phags pa dag gi, arylinli1Jt).
Since we are delighted with that why are we repeatedly made to do work in
the King's house?"
"Good men, do not mal)e trouble! I must speak to the King."
On another occasion Sre1.lya Bimbisara, the King of Magadha again
approached the Venerable Pilindaka, honored his feet, and sat down in front
of him.
The Venerable Pilindaka said: "Great King, do you not regret having
given servants (g-yog) for the benefit of the Community?"
"Noble One, I do not have the slightest regret.
"But why then are those servants still made to do work in the King's
The King, while still seated on that very seat, ordered his ministers:
"Sirs, the servants of the Noble Ones henceforth must not be made to do
work in the King's house!"
When the ministers ordered others saying "you must do work in the
King's house!," some among them said "we belong to the Noble Ones
(bdag cag 'phags pa dag gi yin no)."
The ministers said to the King: "Lord, we are unable to order anyone.
When we say to someone "you must work in the King's house!," they say
"we belong to the Noble Ones."
The King said: "Go! Make them all work!"
31. rgyal po de brjed ngas pas rgyal po de'i kun tu spyod pa ni gang yang
rung ba la chung zad khas blangs pa ci yang rung ste / de thams cad phyi na
'dug pa'i mis yi ger 'dri bar byed pas . .. 102a.4.
158 JIABS 17.2
When they all were again made to do work in the King's house they once
again said to the Venerable Pilindaka: "Noble One, we again in the same
way were made to work in the King's house. Has the Noble One not spo-
ken to him?"
"Good men, I have spoken to him (l03,a), but I must do so again."
The Venerable Pilindaka, when King SreI.lya Bimbisara approached him
again in the same way, said: "What is this, Great King? Have you again
come to have regrets?"
"Noble One, what have I done wrong?"
"The servants have again been made to work in the same way."
"Noble One, I am not able to order anyone. When I order someone they
say 'we belong to the Noble Ones.' Ah! If I had built at some place quar-
ters for the proper bondmen (lha 'bangs, kalpikllra) of the Noble Ones,
then we would know-'These belong to the King. These belong to the
Noble Ones'." ('di dag ni rgyal po'i '0/ 'di dag ni 'phags pa dag gi '01)
The Venerable Pilindaka said: "I will ask the Blessed One."
The Venerable Pilindaka reported the matter in detail to the Blessed One.
The Blessed One said: "Henceforth having quarters for the proper bond-
men constructed is approved."
The monks did not know where to have the quarters for the 'proper
bondmen constructed. The Blessed One said: "Quarters for the proper
bondmen should be built outside of the King's house and outside of the
Bamboo Grove, but in between where, when they have heard the sound of a
summons, they can accomplish the needs of the Community."
The monks informed the sub-ministers: "The Blessed One has said that
'the quarters for the proper bondmen should be built in this place.' You
should make that known!"
The sub-ministers had the bell sounded in Rajagrha and proclaimed: "It
is determined that those who are proper bondmen of the Noble Ones are to
live outside of Rajagrha and outside of the Bamboo Grove, but in between.
Quarters must now be built there!" They went there and built quarters.
When they had built their bondmen's quarters they went to the vihllra
and (103b) worked. The monks explained to them the work: "Since this
task is proper you should do it Since this task is not proper you should
not do it." Because they performed the proper tasks the designation "proper
bondman," "proper bondman" came into being. Because they took care of
the llrlima of the Community the designation "proper slave," "proper slave"
(rtse rgod, kapyllrz) came into being.
When all the bondmen were in the vihllra the monks were not able to
achieve mental concentration because of the noise.
The Blessed One said: "Only those who have finished their work should
enter the vihlira, not all of them."
When the monks had food and clothing distributed to all the bondmen
the Blessed One said: "To those who work food and clothing are to be dis-
tributed, but not to all."
When the monks ignored those who were sick the Blessed One said: ''To
those who are sick food and clothing is to be distributed and they should
be attended to."
There can be, it seems, very little doubt that the Mahaviharin and
Millasarvastivadin accounts ofPilinda represent two different redactions
of the same tradition. At the very least that would mean that both the
vinaya that is purported to .be the earliest (the Mahaviharin), and the
vinaya that is purported to be the latest (the Mfilasarvastivadin), have
this tradition in common. Putting aside the possibility of other redac-
tions in other vinayas-at least the Sarvastivadin Vinaya preserved in
Chinese may well contain yet another version of the account
ventional wisdom would dictate that the Millasarvastivadin version must
be the latest version, and must somehow be based on or borrow from
the Mahaviharin Vinaya, through however many intermediaries. At the
very least it must come after it. But a comparison of the two versions,
rather than confirming this, produces a series of anomalies.
To start with, the Mahaviharin account which should represent the
earliest version has itself been labeled a probable "late interpolation."
Moreover, both the beginning and the end of the Mahaviharin account
may well reflect not early Indian, but Sri Lankan practice, and even for-
mally the Mahaviharin version looks-if anything-like an abbreviated
or an abridged version of a longer account. There is, for example, the
abrupt and awkward introduction into the Mahaviharin account of the
technical term iiriimika before the term itself has been defined. Equally
awkward and equally abrupt is the insertion at the very end of reference
to the iiriimika-giima or "village of monastery attendants"-the clumsi-
ness of the original is nicely reflected in Homer's translation: "and a
distinct village established itself' (pii,tiyekko glimo nivisi). Unlike in the
Millasarvastivadin version, there is here no reason given for this, no
explanation as to why it should have occurred. This same final passage
also underlines the secondary character of the Mahaviharin account:
Here the account is framed in such a way that it becomes not a story of
primary origins-as in the Mfilasarvastiviidin account-but of
secondary origins. It is here not presented as the story of the origins of
iiriimikas, but as the story of the origins of "villages of iiriimikas," a
32. See J. Gernet, Les aspects economiques du bouddhisme dans la societe
chinoise du v
au x;e siecle (paris: 1956) 124 (citing TaishO 1435). But to
judge by Gernet's brief remarks this text could hardly be the source for the
Miilasarvastivadin account. Moreover, if it is, in fact, a version of the
Pilinda story then it-like the Mahaviharin account-may also contain
distinct local elements which in this case could be either Chinese or Central
Asian; e. g. the reference to Bimbisara giving not 'servants' but "500
brigands qui meritaient la peine capitale"-such a practice, says Gernet, was
"courante a l'epoque des Wei," but there is not, as far as I know, any evidence
for this sort of thing in India.
160 JIABS 17.2
term or concept which the Mulasarvastivadin version knows nothing
Then there are the matters of content. The Millasarvastivadin version
addresses and negotiates a whole series of "legal" and practical issues
which the acceptance of such property by monastic groups would almost
certainly have entailed-the question of where ownership inheres; the
retention of rights or interest in the property by the donor; the obliga-
tions of the community, etc.-none of which, as we have seen, are
addressed by the Mahaviharin account The fIrst of these issues is par-
ticularly interesting and the way in which it is handled in the two
accounts would seem to point to a particularly striking anomaly: the lat-
est version (the Millasarvastivadin) takes a far more conservative and
restricted position in regard to the ownership of "proper bondmen"
(kalpikiira) or "monastery attendants" than does what should be the ear-
liest version (the Mahaviharin). The former takes some pains to have
Pilindaka point out that as an individual he is a pravrajita and as such
"does his own work" (rgyal po chen po rab tu byung ba ni rang nyid
kyis byed pa yin te I), and that he has renounced personal servants (rgyal
po chen po kho bo rang gi g-yog nyid spangs te I). Moreover, tre
Mfilasarvastivadin text explicitly says the servants were given, allowed
by the Buddha, and accepted "for the benefit of the community" (dge
'dun gyi don du), not as personal property. That ownership inheres not
in Pilindaka but in the monastic group is then repeatedly reaffirmed by
the consistent use of the plural: the servants say they were given not to
Pilindaka but to "the Noble Ones" ( 'phags pa dag gi, iiryiinii1Jl); they
say they "belong" not to Pilindaka, but "to the Noble Ones"; the king
establishes separate quarters to institutionalize the distinction between
those servants that "belong to the king" and those that "belong to the
Noble Ones" ('di dag ni rgyal po'i '0/ 'di dag ni 'phags pa dag gi
'01).33 The Mahaviharin account, on the other hand, articulates a very
33. The only exception to this in the Miilasarvastivadin account occurs in the
continuation of the story. There, when a band of thieves is aboutto set upon
the kalpikaras, the gods who are devoted to Pilinda (lha gang dag tshe dang
ldan pa pi lin da'i bu la mngon par dad pa) warn him. In speaking to him
they the expression "Your servants" (khyed kyi zabs 'bring ba; 104a.2);
but this is an isolated and strictly narrative usage. Note that in both accounts
the continuation of the story deals with Pilinda coming to the aid of the
arlimikas / kalpikaras, but the story line and details are completely different
in each. Note, too, that the continuation of the Miilasarvastivadin account
also contains at 106a3-U3a.6 another, largely unnoticed, Miilasarvastivadin
version of the text now found in the Digha-nikaya under the title of the
different conception of ownership. It has nothing to correspond to the
Mulasarvastivadin repeated clause "for the benefit of the community,"
and it just as consistently uses the singular: the king promises to give an
attendant not to "the Noble Ones," but to "the Noble One" (ayyassa),
i. e. to Pilindavaccha; likewise when he finally gives five hundred they
are given specifically to "the Noble One" or Pilindaka himself. The
Mahaviharin text in fact seems to want to emphasize that the iirlimikas
were the personal property of Pilinda. It specifically notes that the vil-
lage was called "The Village ofPilinda" or "Pilinda's Village," and this
name-not .Arlimikagama-is repeatedly used in the continuation of the
story. The conception of ownership that is articulated in the
Mahaviharin account of Pi linda may in fact be only one instance of a far
broader Mahaviharin attitude towards the "private" possession by
monks of "monastic" property, an attitude for which, again, there is little
Indian evidence. S. Kemper, for example, has said that "the precedent
for the individual holding and,willing of property by monks [in Sri
Lanka] dates to a tenth-century dedication of property to the use of a
particular monk and his pupilS."34 But there is good evidence that this
happened much, much earlier. There is at least one early Sri Lankan
BrahmI inscription which dates to the end of the 1st or beginning of the
2nd Century C.E. which records that a vihiira was built not for the
community, but "for the Elder Godhagatta Tissa," and Paranavitana has
noted that "the chronicle has recorded the founding by Vattagama
Abhaya of the Abhayagiri-vihiira, and some other vihiiras by his gen-
erals, to be given to certain theras in recognition of the aid rendered to
the king and his followers in their days of adversity.35 Evidence for
anything like this is both very hard to find in Indian Buddhist inscrip-
Aggaiiiia-suttanta. The Tibetan text here differs in many small ways from
the Tibetan translation that occurs in the Sanghabhedavastu at Ga 257b,lff
(cf. R. Gnoli, The Gilgit Manuscript of the Sanghabhedavastu. Being the
17th and Last Section of the Vinaya of the Mulasarvastivadin, Serie
Orientale Roma XLIX, 1, pt I, [Rome: 1977] 7-16).
34. S. Kemper, ''The Buddhist Monkhood, the Law, and the State in Colo-
nial Sri Lanka," Comparative Studies in Society and History 26.3 (1984)
401-27; esp. 417; cf. H.-D. Evers, Monks, Priests and Peasants. A Study of
Buddhism and Social Structure in Central Ceylon (Brlll:1972) 16; H.-D.
Evers, "Kinship and Property Rights in a Buddhist Monastery in Central
Ceylon," American Anthropologist, n. s. 69 (1967) 703-10.
35. S. Paranavitana, Inscriptions of Ceylon, vol. II, part I (Moratuwa: 1983)
162 JIABS 17.2
tions, and then only very late. 36 Moreover, in specific regard to the per-
sonal possession of aramikas, at least some Indian vinayas explicitly
forbid this. In the 8th PrakfTly.aka of the Mahasa'!Lghika-Lokottara-
vadin for example, the Buddha is made to say:
Desormais, il ne convient pas d' entretenir une jardiniere personnelle (tena
hi na paudagalikllm [rd.: paudagaliktlm] tlrtlmikinfm upasthti-
II ne convient pas [d'entretenir] une jardiniere, ni une servante, ni une
lruque au service de la communaute (na tlrtlmikinf / na
cep/ na kalpiyakllrl)
Si une nonne entretient une jardiniere personnelle, elle commet une
infraction a la discipline. C'est ce qu'on appelle la regIe concernant les
This passage from the Mahasmpghika-Lokortaravadin tradition also
directs our attention to a final anomaly, or at least distinct difference,
between the Mahaviharin and Miilasarvastivadin accounts of Pilinda: it
both distinguishes between and conflates the two terms aramika,
"monastery attendant" and kalpiyakara, a form of the term I have trans -
lated "proper bondman." The Mahaviharin account of Pilinda deals with
the fIrst, but the MUlasarvastivadin is concerned with the second, and the
question naturally arises about the relationship between the two terms or
categories they designate. The Mahasmpghika-Lokottaravadin passage,
36. The GUl}aighar Copper-plate Inscription of Vainyagupta (507 C. E.)
might present an Indian case, but it is difficult to interpret on this point (see
D. C. Bhattacharyya, "A Newly Discovered Copperplate from Tippera,"
Indian Historical Quarterly 6 [1930] 45-60, esp. "Overse," lines 3-5; D. C.
Sircar, Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilization, 2nd
ed., vol. I [Calcutta: 1965] 341-45). And in several of the Valabhi grants we
find wording like: tlctlryya-bhadanta-sthiramati-ktlrita-srf-bappaptldfya-
vihtire (G. BUhler, "Further Valabhl Grants," Indian Antiquary 6 [1877] 12,
1.3-4), which Il)ight be-but has not been-taken to mean: '1n the monastery
called that of Srl Bappapada which had been builtfor the_Acarya Bhadanta
Sthiramati." BUhler in fact takes it to mean "built by the Acarya ... " (p.9);
so too does Levi: "l'un [monastery] avait e16 eleve a Valabhlpar Ie savant
docteur (tlctlrya bhadanta) Sthiramati" (S. Levi, "Les donations .religieuses
des r9is de valabhl," in Memorial Sylvain Levi [paris: 1937] 231).
37. E. Nolot, Regles de discipline des nonnes bouddhistes (Paris: 1991) 344-
45 (262), translating G. Roth, Including Bhiku1}f-
Prakfr1}aka and a Summary of the of the Arya-
Mahtistl1Jlghika-Lokottaravadin (Patna: 1970) There is, however, good nar-
rative evidence-which I hope to deal with elsewhere-that the
Miilasarvastivadin tradition, at least, allowed individual monks to own what
would have to be called "child oblates," and that these child oblates fre-
quently functioned as menials or acolytes.
if in no other way than by listing them separately, distinguishes between
the two terms or categories, but then lumps them together with ce:ta
("servant" or "slave") by saying that the rule that applies to all three is
called "the rule concerning iiriimikas."
This confusion or conflation appears to occur in one form or another
almost everywhere. In referring to the CUlavOJJ1Sa Geiger, for example,
says that "the terms kappiyakiiraka 'who does what is appropriate' .. .
paricaraka 'attendant' ... and parivarajana 'people for service' .. .
seem to be synonymous with ariimiko.."38 In the "old" commentary
embedded in the Malasarvilstiviidin Vinayavibhahga, for another exam-
pIe, in the section dealing with the rule against touching gold and silver,
the text says: "'Ariimika' means 'one who does what is proper'" (kun
dga' ra ba pa zhes bya ba ni rung ba byed pa'o). 39 Sorting this out-if
even possible-will certainly not be easy and would require a separate
study. Here we need only stick to our particular context.
The context in both the Mahaviharin and Miilasarvastivadin accounts
ofPilinda makes it clear that the individuals called ariimikas or kaZpi-
kliras are individuals who engage in or do the physical labor connected
with monastic living quarters. In regard to ariimikas this is not
problematic-in the vinayas of both orders aramikas continue fo be
associated with physical or manual labor. But, again in both vinayas,
individuals of the serving class also come to be given more specific or
specialized functions; in both they are sometimes assigned the role of
ko.ppiya-kiirakas or ko.lpiklira. The specialized nature of this role is clear
in both vinayas in regard to the vexed question of monks accepting
money. The Mahiivihlirin Vinaya, for example, says:
There are, monks, people who have faith and are believing. They deposit
gold (coins) in the hands of those who make things allowable [kappiya-
karaka], saying: "By means of this give the master that which is allowable
[kappiya]." I allow you, monks, thereupon to consent to that which is
While in the of the MaZasarviistiviidin-vinaya, in a dis-
cussion of the acceptance by monks of ''travel money," we find
38. Geiger, Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times, 195.
39. Derge, 'dul ba, Cha 149a4.
40. OIdenberg, Vinaya i 245.2-5; Horner, The Book of the Discipline iv 336.
164 nABS 17.2
Though it was said by the Blessed One "money is to be
accepted," the monks did not know by whom and how it was to be
The Blessed One said: "It is to be accepted by one who makes things
allow (kalpikara).41
In these and numerous other passages in both vinayas the kappiya-
kiiraka or kalpikiira is an individual who acts as a middleman by accept-
ing things that monks cannot (e. g. money) and converting them into
things that they can. 1his specialized function is well established in both
vinayas, but the Ml1lasarvastivadin account of PHinda seems to know
nothing of this particular development and appears to be using the term
kaZpiklira in an old, if not original, sense of one who does the manual
labor that was deemed proper to him. There is no hint of developed
middleman role. The Tibetan translators too appear to have recognized
this. When kalpiklira is used in the sense of a middleman "who makes
things proper"-as it is in the passage from the just
cited-it is rendered into Tibetan by nmg ba byed pa, which means just
that. But in the account of Pilinda it is rendered into Tibetan by lha
'bangs, a term which seems to carry some of the same connotations as
Sanskrit devadlisa, "temple slave," which it sometimes translates. 42
Moreover, that the Millasarvastivadin account ofPilinda is old-though
it is supposed to be the latest of such accounts-may be further con-
fIrmed by the fact that it also uses the even more obscure kapyliri pre-
cisely where the term liriimika, if then well established, would have both
naturally and "etymologically" been expected. After "because they took
care of the lirlima of the Community" we do not find "the designation
41. N. Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, vol. III, pt. 1 (Srinagar: 1947) 248.7-.10.
This is the only passage cited by Edgerton, BHSD 173, for the form
kalpakara, but if there are no others kalpakllra would represent yet another
ghost word in BHSD based on a misreading in Dutt's edition of the
Malasarvastivooa-vinaya. In both occurrences of the term in this passage the
manuscript has clearly kalpikllra- (R. Vira and L. Chandra, Gilgit Buddhist
Manuscripts [Facsimile Edition], part 6 [New Delhi: 1974] 772.2). Note too
that here kalpikara is translated into Tibetan by rung ba byed pa; 'dul ba, Ga
42. Cf. below. Note that Edgerton too at least hints at a differentation of
meanings for his kalpikllra and notes that the connection with Pali
kappiyakaraka is only possible. Virtually his whole entry reads: "kalpikara,
m. (cf. kapyari; possibly connected with Pali kappiyakaraka, Vin i.206.12,
but the traditional interpretation is different; ... ), Mvy 3840; ? acc. to
confused defmitions in Tib., Chin., and Jap., would seem to mean some kind
of servant of monks in a temple or monastery"; BHSD 173.
'aramika,' 'aramika' came into being ," but rather "the designation
'kapyari,' 'kapyari' came into being."43 In other words, the
Millasarvastivadin story of Pilinda appears to have been used to account
for the origin of both an old, if not obsolete sense, of kalpikiira, and the
equally-if not more so-obsolete term kapyari. Such obsolescence is
hard to account for in what should be a very late text, whereas the use of
ariimika in the Mahaviharin account creates, in this sense at least, no
difficulties: in that account an old story may well have been used to
explain a relatively late term.
Most of the anomalies that arise from a comparison of the story of
Pilinda in the purportedly early Mahlivihiirin Vinaya and the purportedly
late Malasarvastiviidin Vinaya can perhaps be explained in at least two
conventional ways. It is possible, for example, to take the account of
Pilinda in the Mahaviharin Vinaya as another instance of the "strong
northern influence" on the Buddhist literature of Sri Lanka. E.
Frauwallner-in referring to several remarks of S. Levi-has said
almost forty years ago:
Now it has been remarked long ago that the Buddhist literature of
Ceylon, and above all the commentaries, show a strong northern influence.
It is met with at every step when one scans the pages of the Dhamma-
padayhakathli. And some legends show unmistakably the form which
they have received in the school of the MOlasarvastivadin ... There was
rather a barrowing of themes, above all in the field of narrative literature,
which took place on a large scale.
43. dge 'dun gyi kun dga' ra ba skyong bar byed pas nse rgod nse rgod ces
bya ba'i ming du gyur to, Ca 103b.1. As noted, this would have been a per-
fect place to find kun dga' ra ba pa, the standard equivalent of llrllmika.
What we do find, rtse rgod, is given as an equivalent by the Mahllvyutpatti
for kapyllri and kalpikllra, suggesting at least that the two are closely related.
Edgerton says, in fact, that kapyllri "appears to be Sktization of MIndic form
representing kalpikllra or Orin (something like *kappiyari)"; BHSD 168. He
also cites the Chinese as meaning "male or female slave." The Tibetan would
seem, however, to be somehow related to the etymological meaning of llrllma
or llrllmika: Jaschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary (London: 1881) gives for
rtse rgod only the meaning "sport and laughter"; Nyan shul mkbyen rab 'od
gsal et al, Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo (Beijing: 1985) give, as the second
meaning of nse rgod: (myin) lha 'bangs dang g-yog po, vol. II, 2225.
44. Frauwallner, The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Liter-
ature, 188-89; see also H. Bechert, "Zur Geschichte der buddhistischen
Sekten in Indien und Ceylon," La nouvelle clio 7-9 (1955-57) 311-60; esp.
355-56; etc.
166 JIABS 17.2
The account of Pilinda might well fall into line with what is suggested
here; it is a "legend" presumably, and certainly falls within "the field of
narrative literature." Its late borrowing and adaptation by the
Mahaviharin tradition would seem to account both for its basic narrative
similarity with the MUlasarvastivadin tradition and the Sri Lankan ele-
ments it appears to contain. Such an explanation, moreover, would fit
with Jaworski's suggestion that the account was a "late interpolation" in
the Mahlivihlirin Vinaya. But notice that if this explanation is correct
then the account of Pilinda presents us with a case of "northern influ -
ence" not on the commentaries, but directly on the canon. And it would,
indeed, have been strong: if the account is interpolated, then it was
interpolated twice into the canonical MahliVihlirin Vinaya, once into the
Suttavibhanga and once into the Bhesajja-khandhaka. _
But it is also possible, perhaps, to explain the anomalies in another
way. The account of Pilinda may present us with yet another instance
where on close study the MUlasarvastivadin tradition, though it is sup-
posed to be late, turns out not to be so. Again almost forty years ago A.
Bareau-referring to Przyluski's Legende d'ar;oka and Hofinger's
Concile de vair;lili-said:
However, after deep but very incomplete comparative studies the
Vinayapi!aka of the Miilasarvastivadins appears clearly to be more archaic
than that of the Sarvastivadins, and even than the majority of other
A case, then, can be made for thinking-contrary to what might have
been expected-that the Mahaviharin account of Pilinda represents a Sri
Lankan borrowing and adaptation of the Millasarvastivadin account; and
a case can be made for thinking that the Mulasarvastivadin account,
rather than being the latest, is the earliest. But this may not exhaust what
we might learn from the comparison of the two versions, nor do these
explanations address the distinct possibility that the Miilasarvastivadin
version itself is not very early. Notice, for example, that it need not have
been very early for it to have been borrowed by the Sri Lankan
Mahaviharins along with other "themes" and "narrative literature." As is
suggested by Frauwallner himself the most likely period for the Sri
Lankan borrowing ofMUlasarvastivadin material was during the period
45. A. Bareau, Les sectes bouddhique du petit vehicule (Paris: 1955) 154; cf.
K. R. Norman, "The Value of the Pali Tradition," Jagajjyoti. Buddha
Jayanti Annual (Calcutta: May 1984) 7; etc.
from the 2nd to the 5th or 6th Century C. E.46 There are in fact reasons
for thinking that the Millasarvastivadin account is not much earlier than
the 2nd Century, and that what separates the two versions is not so
much time as cultural and physical geography.
There has been a marked tendency to ignore the remarkable degree of
institutional development and sophistication reflected in virtually all of
the vinayas as we have them, to avoid, in effect, asking how a given
ruling attributed to the Buddha could have possibly been put into effect
or implemented, or what conditions or organizational elements were pre-
supposed by a given rule. It may be, however, just such questions that
will begin to reveal the various layers of institutional forms that were
known or presupposed by the redactors of the various vinayas that have
come down to us. The Malasarviistivlidin account of Pilinda may serve
as a good example.
The Mulasarvastivarun account of Pilinda would at first seem to pre-
suppose permanent monastic establishments whose repair and mainte-
nance required a large non-monastic work force-notice that both it and
the Mahavihann account concern the gift not of single servants or
bondmen, but large numbers, though we need not take the number 500
too seriously. Such establishments, to judge by the archeological record,
were not early. It seems, in fact, they only begin to appear around the
beginning of the Common Era, and even then were probably not the
Moreover, a variety of vinaya literatures suggest that monks in
other instances did, and in many places may have continued to do, their
own maintenance and repair work. In the Suttavibhanga of the
Mahlivihiirin Vinaya there is a long series of cases, for example, dealing
with the deaths of monks that resulted from construction accidents-
monks building vihiiras or walls had stones or bricks dropt on their
heads, they fell off scaffolds while making repairs, had, again, adzes and
beams drOpt on them, fell off the roof when thatChing the vihiira, etc.
46. Frauwallner, The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Liter-
ature, 187ff.
47. On the late appearance of the large, well organized, walled, quadrangular
vihlira presupposed by the vinayas see 1. Marshall et aI, The Monuments Of
Sliiichi, vol. I (Delhi: 1940) 61-64: I. Marshall, Taxila. An Illustrated
Account of the Archaeological Excavations Carried out at Taxila Under the
Orders of the Government of India Between the Years of 1913 and 1934,
voU (Cambridge: 1951) 233, 320; both, however, need to be read criti-
cally-see my paper cited below in n. 52.
48. Oldenberg, Vinaya iii 80-82; Horner, The Book of the Discipline i 140-
168 nABS 17.2
Elsewhere, in the Mahasanghika Abhisamliclirikii, for example, there is
an explicit ruling made that all monks are to do repair and maintenance
work on the vihlira-daiming exemption by virtue of being a "Reciter
of Dharma" (dharmakathika) or "Preserver of the Vinaya"
(vinayadhara), etc., is an offence and will not work. 49 Seen in light of
texts like these we may begin to see that the redactors of the
Mulasarvastivadin account ofPiIinda may not simply have presupposed
a community that could use large non-monastic labor forces, but may
also have had in mind a community that found itself in a cultural milieu
in which at least prominent monks were not expected to do manual labor
and had achieved the status and means whereby they could avoid it. 50
A related presupposition must of necessity lie behind the seemingly
simple ruling that "to those who work food and clothing to be dis-
tributed." This ruling presupposes that the monastic community had the
means to do so, that it had sufficient surplus--or was expectoo to have
-to meet its obligations to feed and cloth a large work force. But in
addition to presuppositions in regard to the monastic communities access
to a considerable-economic surplus, the redactors of the Mulasarvasti-
vadin account also presuppose that the conception of the sangha as a
juristic personality that could, and did, own property was wen
49. B. Jinananda, Abhisamlicllrikli (Palna: 1969) 65.5-.9.
50. There is, of course, a distinct possibility that different Buddhist orders in
India-like different monastic orders in the West-took different positions in
regard to monks engaging in manual labor, and that-again as in the West-
those positions could and did change over time, especially when an order's
financial condition improved. This is a topic hardly touched in the study of
Buddhist monasticisms. For the West see, at least, H. Dorries, "Monchtum
und Arbeit," Forschungen zur Kirchengeschichte und zur christlichen Kunst
(Festschrift Johannes Ficker) (Leipzig: 1931) 17-39; E. Delaruelle, ''Le travail
dans les regles monastiques occidentales du quatrieme au neuvieme siecle;"
Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique 41 (1948) 51-62; but note
too that "It has been a romantic notion only with difficulty dispelled by his-
torical research, that the typical (or perhaps ideal) monk laboured in the fields
so as to be almost self-supporting. The truth of the matter was far different.
Even in the general recommendations of the rule of St. Benedict manual
labour was only part and not a necessary part, of a programme of moral cul-
ture," J. A. Raftis, "Western Monasticism and Economic Organization,"
Comparative Studies in Society and History 3 (1961) 457. For passages in
the Malasarvllstiviidin VinaytJ which place a positive value on monks doing
manual labor see Gnoli, Sayanllsanavastu 37.27-38.3; Dutt, Gilgit
Manuscripts iii 1, 285.8ff; for a text which seems to implicitly allow monks
to continue practicing certain secular trades see Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts iii 1,
established and, more importantly, publicly recognized by the state. At
least that was what they were asserting.
None of these considerations argue well for an early date for the
Miilasarvastivadin account of Pilinda, and this in turn leaves us with two
redactions of the same text-the Mahavihlirin and Mlllasarvasti-vadin-
neither of which could be very early. It is, therefore, unlikely that their
relative chronology can in any way explain their very significant differ-
ences: something else must be involved. What that some-thing is, I
would suggest, is that already suggested in regard to the beginning and
end of the Mahavihlirin account: locality. These two versions may dif-
fer from each other not so much because they were redacted at different
times, but because they were redacted in different places, and because
there were different social and, more especially, legal forces at work in
these different areas.
A number of recent studies on specific topics in the
MUlasarvastivadin Vinaya, for example, have demonstrated, I think, a
remarkable degree of contact between that Vinaya and Indian
Dharrna!iistra or "orthodox" brahmanical values. These studies have
suggested, for instance, that Miilasarvastivadin "monastic regulations
governing the distribution of a dead monk's property were framed to
conform to, or be in harmony with, classical Hindu laws or
dharrna!iistric conventions governing inheritance."51 They have shown
as well that this Vinaya and the Yiijiiavalkya-sm.rti have remarkably
similar rules governing lending on interest and written contracts of
debt.52 The redactors of this Vinaya in fact frequently appear to be
trying to come to terms or negotiate with an established legal system and
set of values that surrounded them. 53 Here, in the cultural milieu in
which the redactors of this Vinaya found themselves, a gift-for exam-
ple-was not a simple spontaneous act without complications, but a
legal procedure involving rights of ownership that had to be defined and
51. Schopen, Journal of Indian Philosophy 20 (1992) 12; Note that at least
in Medieval and Modem Sri Lanka practices in regard to the inheritance of a
deceased monk's property had developed in a completely different way-see
the sources cited above in n.34.
52. G. Schopen, "Doing Business for the Lord: Lending on Interest and
Written Loan Contracts in the Malasarvastivada-vinaya," Journal of the
American Oriental Society 114.4 (1994).
53. G. Schopen, "Ritual Rights and Bones of Contention: More on Monas-
tic Funerals and Relics in the Malasarvastivada-vinaya," Journal of Indian
Philosophy 22 (1994) 31-80; esp. 62-63.
170 JIABS 17.2
defended. 54 It is, I think, fairly obvious that the Ml1lasarvastivadin
account of Pilinda differs from the Mahaviharin account almost entirely
in terms oflegal detail. It takes pains to distinguish between private and
corporate ownership of the property involved; it carefully distinguishes
between the rights of the king in regard to the labor of those individuals
who belong to the king and those who belong to the Community; it
insists that the two groups be physically separated, that those that belong
to the Community be in effect removed from the general population
(they must live outside of the royal house and city), and that this
distinction be formally recognized and publicly proclaimed (the
ministers sound the city bell and formally announce it); it also clearly
defined the Community's obligations to feed, clothe, and give medical
aid to their bondmen, and the bondmen's obligation to work. 55 All of
this-even an awareness of the problems-is, as has already been noted,
completely absent from the Mahaviharin account, and this can hardly be
unrelated to the fact that the Mahiivihiirin Vinaya as a whole shows little
awareness of the very early and elaborate Indian legal system articulated
in the Dhannasutras and Dhannasiistras. In fact there is little trace of
either in any of the extant sources for early Sri Lankan cultural history,
nor is there any strong evi dence in these same sources for any clearly
established indigenous, formal system or systems of law. The fact that
so little is known of the history of Sri Lanka law prior to the Kandy
Period would seem to suggest that in early Sri Lanka-in marked
contrast to brahmanized areas of early India-formal law and legal
literature were little developed. 56 A monastic community in such an
54. A systematic study of gifts and giving in Dharmasllstra has yet to be
done, but see P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasllstra, vol. II, part 1I,(Poona:
1941) 837-88; V. Nath, Dllna: Gift System in Ancient India (c. 600 B. C. -
c. A. D. 300). A Socio-Economic Perspective (Delhi: 1987).
55. Note that even the reference to the king having his promises recorded in a
written document (see the text cited in n.31) seems to place the
MiHasarvastivadin account in a dharmasllstric environment; see the texts on a
king's use of written documents conveniently collected in L. S. Joshi,
Dharmakosa. Vyavahlirakll1}tja, vol. J, part I (Wai: 1937) 348ff. Note too
that-as in for example the Carolingian West-the use of writing in early
India may be closely connected with the development of formal legal sys-
tems; ct. R. McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word
(Cambridge: 1989) esp. Ch. 2.
56. See, for example, A. Huxley, "How Buddhist is Theravada Buddhist
Law," in The Buddhist Forum, vol. I, ed. T. Skorupski (London:1990) 41-
85: "Sri Lanka has produced no lasting tradition of written secular law texts
... " (p.42) "Sri Lankan Buddhists, despite 1800 years of literate culture, did
not produce a lasting textual tradition of secular laws" (p. 82). Huxley sug-
environment would have had considerable latitude in the way in which
they would or could frame their own ecclesiastical law, and there would
almost certainly have been far less need for precise legal definition, far
less need to distinguish one set of rights from another. The absence of a
strong legal tradition in Sri Lanka, and the presence of an established,
competing system of non-ecclesiasticallaw in the brahmanical milieu in
which the Miilasarviistiviidin Vinaya seems to have been redacted, are
sufficient, it seems, to account for the significant differences between the
Mahilviharin and MUlasarvastivadin accounts ofPilinda. They can, in
any case, not simply be a function of time.
A few loose ends remain, and there is still room for another
First of all, it would appear that the accounts of Pilinda in both the
Mahiivihlirin and Mulasarviistiviidin Vinayas contain or deliver the ini -
tial rule allowing for the acceptance by monks or monastic communities
of iiriimikas or kalpikiiras. They were, as it were, the charters for such
practices. But since it also seems that neither account in either vinaya
can be early, then it would also appear that references to iiriimikas and
kalpikiiras elsewhere in their respective vinayas also cannot be early. It
would seem unlikely that incidental references to iiriimikas or kalpikiiras
would precede the rule allowing their acceptance. But since such refer-
ences are scattered throughout both vinayas as we have them the impli-
cations of this are both far reaching and obvious.
Then there is the problem of what to call iiriimikas or kalpikiiras: ate
they servants, forced laborers, bondmen, slaves? This is a problem
reflected in the clumsiness of my own translation, but also one that goes
way beyond Indian studies. The definition of "slavery ," for example, is
beset in every field by academic debate and ideological wrangling. 57
gests this may be because of, or related to, the absence of "brahmins" to carry
such a tradition in Sri Lanka, and the peculiar role of the king there.
57. See M. 1. Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (New York:
1980); Y. Garlan, Slavery in Ancient Greece, rev. and expo ed., trans. J.
Lloyd (Ithaca and London: 1988)-Garlan refers to E. Herrmann,
Bibliographie zur antiken Sklaverei, published in 1983, which alone contains
5,162 works. For India see now J. A. Silk, "A Bibliography on Ancient
Indian Slavery," Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 16/17 (1992) 277-85.
For an early inscriptional reference to the giving of male and female slaves"
(dl1sidtIsa-) to a Buddhist monastic community see S. Sankaranarayanan, "A
Brahmi Inscription from Allum," Sri Venkateswara University Journal 20
(1977) 75-89; it has generally been assigned to the 2nd Cent. C. E.-cf. D.
C. Sircar, Successors of the Satavahanas in Lower Deccan (Calcutta: 1939)
172 nABS 17.2
About all that can be done here is to report what our specific texts can
contribute to the discussion. We might note frrst that the language of the
Mahaviharin account is not particularly helpful. It does, however, indi-
cate that iiriimikas were human beings who could be, and were, given
(datu-, dammi, dinna, detha, piidiisi) by one person (the king) to
another (the Venerable Pilinda), and appear to have been, in this sense at
least, chattels. The language of the MUlasarvastivadin account is richer,
but also has to be filtered through the Tibetan translation. The prepon-
derant verb for the action of the king is the same as in the Mahaviharin
text: it is in Tibetan some form of 'bul ba, a well attested equivalent of
forms from ~ d i i . What the king offers and gives is expressed, up until a
certain point in the text, by two apparently interchangeable Tibetan
terms: zhabs 'bring ba, which frequently translates parivlira, "suite,
retinue, dependants ," etc., and g-yog, which also translates pariviira, but
diisa, "slave, servant," as well, and bl!.rtya, "dependent, servant." These
terms are used throughout the text until, significantly, the king deter-
mines that a distinction between "those who belong to the king" and
"those who belong to the Community" must be institutionalized and the
latter must be physically removed from the city. From this point and this
point only the text begins to use the term which I have translated "proper
bondmen": lha 'bangs. lha 'bangs is a well attested equivalent for
kalpikiira, but it is by no means an etymological translation of it. In
Tibetan its etymological meaning is "subjects of the god(s)" and
Jasschke defines it as "slaves belonging to a temple." In fact the only
Sanskrit equivalent other than kalpikiira that Chandra gives is
For what it is worth, then, the Tibetan translators seem to
have understood kalpikiiras to be a special category of slaves. 59 In the
MUlasarvastivadin account too they are human beings who are owned
and can be given, although here they also have at least conditional rights:
if they work they have rights to food, clothing and medical attention
from their monastic owners.
58. L. Chandra, Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary (New Delhi: 1961) 2530.
59. The only inscriptional reference to kalpikaras that I know occurs in an
early 7th Century ValabhI grant made to a Buddhist monastery. There the
grant is made in part kalpikara-pada-mula-prajlvanaya (D. B. Diskalkar,
"Some Unpublished Copper-plates of the Rulers of ValabhI," Journal of the
Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 1 [1925] 27, 1.5), pada-mula
and prajivana being two additional-and largely undefinable-categories of
"servants," the former frequently attached to temples in Indian inscriptions.
Finally, and by way of conclusion, we should probably note what
should be obvious from the above discussion: the accounts of Pilinda
can almost certainly not tell us anything about what very early Buddhist
groups were. They, and the vinayas as we have them, can, however, tell
us a great deal about what those groups had become. There are good
reasons for thinking that neither account could have been redacted much
before the 1st or 2nd Century C. E. Such a suggested date is, Of course,
usually enough to have a text or passage dismissed as "late" and of little
historical value. But to do so, I think, is to miss completely the
importance of such documents: they are important precisely because
they are "late." Such "late" documents would provide us, for example,
with written sources close to, if not contemporaneous with, the remark-
able florescence of monastic Buddhisms visible in the archeological
record between the beginning of the Common Era and the 5th or 6th
Century, and help us make sense of it. Such "late" documents would
provide us with important indications of the activities and interests of the
"mainstream" monastic orders during the period when the majority of
Mahayana sutras were being composed, and, again, help us make sense
of them. The apparent fact, for example, that the redactors of two very
different vinayas, the canon lawyers of two very different orders, were
occupied with and interested in framing rules governing the monastic
acceptance and ownership of servants, bondmen or slaves in the early
centuries of the Common Era can hardly be unrelated to the attacks on
and criticisms of certain aspects of institutionalized monasticism found
in Mahayana sutra literature. Indeed, it may well turn out that the
institutional concerns which dominate the various vinayas as we have
them played a very important-and largely overlooked-role in the
origins of what we call the Mahayana. But that, too, is another story.
Apropos of Some Recently Recovered Texts
Belonging to the Lam 'bras Teachings of the
Sa skya pa and Ko brag pa
The still little studied path-and-result (lam 'bras) teachings had their
inception in the Lam 'bras bu dang bcas pai gdams ngag dang man
ngag tu bcas pa-this work is also referred to as the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i
tshig rkang or the Gsung ngag Tin po che-{)f VirUpa (?eighth century)
which, after several centuries of propagation in the Indian subcontinent,
penetrated the Tibetan cultural area in the eleventh century through the
efforts of primarily 'Brog mi Lo tsa ba Shaky a ye shes (993-
1074/1087) and his fifteen main disciples, both men and women.
Among his disciples we find 'Khon Dkon mchog rgyal po (1034-
1102), the founder of Sa skya monastery, and it was with him and
especially his son Sa chen Kun dga' snying po (1092-1158), the first of
the Sa skya school's five patriarchs, that lam 'bras became one of the
most cherished and esoteric doctrinal entities of this school.
Anyone studying the various available chronicles of the transmission
of lam 'bras, will quickly come to the realization that so many early and
evidently highly influential treatises mentioned in these are still unknown
to us.
This situation is now slowly changing for the better. The Tibetan
division of the China Nationalities Library of the Cultural Palace of
This paper is one of the results obtained during my stay in Beijing from
July to September of 1993 that was made possible by a generous grant from
the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of
China, Washington, D. C. I should wish to express my gratitude to Messrs.
Li Jiuqi, Chief Librarian, Shao Guoxian, Deputy Librarian, and Ngag dbang
nor bu, Assistant Researcher, of the library of the Cultural Palace of National-
ities (hereafter CPN) for the warm cooperation I received, one which made it
possible for me to survey a slight portion of the enormous collection of
Tibetan texts in their library.
1. See the literature cited in my introduction in van der Kuijp-Stearns
2. For two of these, namely Cha gan Dbang phyug rgyal mtshan's biography
of Viriipa as well as his lam 'bras chronicle (= CHA), both of which were
written in 1304, see van der Kuijp-Stearns (forthcoming).
176 JIABS 17.2
Nationalities (hereafter CPN) contains an enormous number of hand-
written dbu med manuscripts of hitherto unknown treatises that have to
do with lam 'bras and the ensuing annotated (and preliminary) catalogue
of a fraction of the manuscripts that were inspected by me is but a mod-
est contribution toward an illumination of this doctrinal entity's literary
history. It falls into three parts: [A] lam 'bras chronicles, [B] biogra-
phies and 311 autobiography of five exponents of this tradition, and [C]
exegeses of the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang. A 1-3 are three different
witnesses of the early history of the Sa skya pa transmission of the lam
'bras teachings by Dmar ston Chos kyi rgyal po, who, as he himself
indicates, based his work inter alia on information passed on to him by
his master Bla rna Lo tsa ba, that is, Sa skya P ~ Q . i t a Kun dga' rgyal
mtshan (1182-1251), the Sa skya school's fourth patriarch. An edition
and an annotated translation of this very influential treatise based on
three different manuscripts is being prepared by C.R. Steams. A 4-5
concern two different manuscripts of the history written by Bo dong P ~
chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1373/75-1451). The next section, B 1-5,
describes manuscripts of one autobiography and four biographies of five
thirteenth century lam 'bras masters, including one of Ko brag pa Bsod
nams rgyal mtshan (1182-1261). C 1-2 involves two manuscripts, one
complete the other less so, of Dmar ston's commentary on the Rtsa ba
rdo rje'i tshig rkang, C 3-4 are witnesses of the exegesis of the same by
Shar pa Rdo rje 'od zer, and C 5 concerns the early fourteenth century
study of VirUpa's text by Cha gan Dbang phyug rgyal mtshan.
A. Chronicles of the Sa skya pa Transmission of Lam 'bras Teachings
1. Title page: Bla ma bod kyi [b Jrgyud pa 'i roam thar zhib mo rdo
CPN no. 002807(20)
Folios 27
Incipit: [lb] II bla rna dam pa'i zhabs la spyi bos gus par phyag 'tshallo
II gang zhig phyi nang gsang pa [read: ba] mthar thug rten 'breI de kho
naIl sor phreng can dang 'jam dbyangs mthu stobs dbang phyug rdo rje
'chang: dpalldan bla rna mtshungs med rang gi sems nyid Ihan med
skyes II dbyer med rten cing 'breI 'byung ston mdzad dam pa'i zhabs
pad 'dud II
Colophon: [27b] bla rna bod kyi brgyud pa'i mam thar zhib mo rdo rje
zhes bya ba: mang du mnyan zhing zhallas dris te : legs par myed pa
'di ni shakya'i dge slong chos kyi rgyalpo zhes bya bas : gung thang na
la cho gnas po chen po'i gtsug lag khang du sbyar ba 'di yongs su
rdzo gs sho / /
Dmar ston Chos kyi rgyal po thus wrote this text at an unspecified
date, but probably before 1244, in the temple of La cho [read: rtse] gnas
po chen po in Gung thang, the same place where Sa chen had resided for
some time.
Gung ru Shes rab bzang po's (1411-1475) supplement to
the unfinished lam 'bras chronicle by Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po
(1382-1456) gives one of the lines of transmission that issued from his
master Sa skya as follows 4: Tshogs bsgom Kun dga' dpal
bzang po (1210-12 Aprill11 May 1307)5 -Gnyags Snying po rgyal
3. For this, see Dmar ston Chos kyi rgyal po's lam 'bras chronicle in DMAR
17a. This is not noted in Rje btsun Grags pa rgyal mtshan's (1147-1216)
biography of his father Sa chen in his Bla rna sa skya pa chen po'i rnam
thar, SSBB 3, no. 5, 83.3.6-87.3. In addition to this and good number of
other lam 'bras-related texts, Dmar ston is known to have written works on
lam 'bras other than the two mentioned in this paper, as well as a commen-
tary on a number of gnomes of Sa skya PaI,lQita's Legs bshad rin po che gter
and a series of glosses on his master's Sdom gsum rab tu dbye ba; for these,
see the Legs par bshad pa rin po che'i gter dang 'grel pa (Lhasa: Bod ljongs
mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1982) and the reference in Jo nang Kun dga'
grolmchog's (1507-1566) autobiography in KUN 360.
4. GUNG 122.1.3-6. For some remarks on Gung ru's life, see David P.
Jackson, The Early Abbots of 'Phan-po Na-Iendra: The Vicissitudes of a
Great Tibetan Monastery in the 15th Century, Wiener Studien zur Tibetolo-
gie und Buddhismuskunde, Heft 23, (Wien: Arbeitskreis fUr Tibetische und
Buddhistische Studien Universiilit Wien, 1989) 15-16, and also van der
Kuijp 1994, 147 note 15. I located another text by him under CPN catalogue
no. 002807(18), namely a thirty-folio handwritten dbu med manuscript of his
biography of Mus chen Dkon mchog rgyal mtshan (1388-1469), the Rje
btsun chen po dkon mchog rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po'i roam thar, which
he wrote in 1469 in Bde ba can monastery in Western Mus when his subject
was eighty-{me years old. It is no doubt this work to which Brag dgon Zhabs
drung Dkon mchog rab rgyas (1801-?) refers in the bibliography of his his-
tory of Buddhism in Amdo; see the Yul mdo smad kyi ljongs su thub bstan
rin po che ji ltar dar ba'i tshul gsal bar brjod pa deb ther rgya mtsho, ed.
Yon tan rgya mtsho, voLl (New Delhi, 1974) 22 (Ibid., ed. Smon lam rgya
mtsho [Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1982] 10).
5. The only biography of this man known to me is the anonymous TSHOGS;
another witness of this work is a four-folio handwritten dbu med manuscript
under CPN catalogue no. 002465(10), where the title has bsgom instead of
sgom. The precise, albeit here still ambiguous dating of his passing-it is
unclear which "final spring-month" is meant here-and those for certain ind-
178 nABS 17.2
-Bar ston Rdo rje rgyal mtshan, and states that the latter wrote
a Bla rna brgyud pa'i mam thar zhib mo rdo rjeand a "voluminous" set
viduals that will follow are computed with the aid of the Tabellen in D.
Schuh, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der tibetischen Kalenderrechnung,
Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, Supplement
Band 16 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1973). On fol. 4a, the CPN manuscript
of Tshogs sgom's biography contains a rather interesting postscript after the
notice of his departure for Bde ba can, his death, on the ninth day of the final
spring-month of 1307, one that seems to devolve on his unidentified biogra-
pher and which is missing from the LBSB. It reads: chos rje ?nyan po pa de
yul nulog stod gyi rje grong dbyig 'khar ba dgung 10 bcu gcig la rab tu
byon bcu gsum pa la spyod 'jug khyog du bshad de nas brag ram du byon
nas dgung 10 nyi shu rtsa Inga pa'i bar du phar tshad rnams tshar nas
thugs dam rtse 1 la bzhugs rin po che tshogs 10 bcu gnyis bsten . sku tshe'i
'jug tu gdul bya dpag tu med pa'i don nulzad nas dgung 10 brgyad bcu gya
brgyad pa la sbrul gyi 10 zla ba gnyis pa'i nyi shu brgyad kyi ?? la ngo
mtshar ba' i ltsa dpag tu med pa dang bcas te bde bar gshegs so I : dge' 0 I
This would indicate that the subject of this note seems to have
met Tshogs sgom when he was about twenty-four or twenty-five years, after
which he stayed and studied with him for some twelve years. He passed away
in a snake-year at the age of eighty-seven.
6. Earlier, in GUNG 119.3.1, he warned that the Gnyags Snying po rgyal
mtshan-the chronological study of Mang thos KIu sgrub rgya mtsho (1523-
1596) writes his name "Gnyan Snying po rgyal mtshan" in MANG 182-of
this particular line should not be confused with Gnyags [g]zhir palba Dbang
phyug dpal for whom Sa chen had written a Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang
commentary known to the tradition as the Gnyags mao No doubt because it
was the shortest of his best known eleven commentaries of this work, it was
included by his son Rje btsun Grags pa rgyal mtshan in his compilation of
lam 'bras texts known as the Pod ser, the "Yellow Volume"; see LBSB 11,
21-128. The Gnyags rna enjoyed some "popularity" around the end of the
thirteenth and the begining of the fourteenth century. GUNG 122.4.2-3 notes
that Sru lung Kun [dga'] smon[lam], a disciple of 'Phags pa Blo gros rgyal
mtshan (1235-1280), Sa skya's fifth patriarch, had composed a survey of its
contents (zin bris), an explanation of the lam bsdus and a commentary on the
first of Sa chen's Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang exegeses, the A seng ma, so
called after its addressee Skyu ra A seng; Gung ru also calls the latter the Don
bsdus rna in GUNG 119.2.4. The cognate account given by Ames zhabs dif-
fers somewhat from Gung ru's, for, omitting the work on lam bsdus, he
writes, in AMES 200, that Sbro lung pa Kun [dga'] smon [lam], a disciple of
Zhang Dkon mchog dpal (1250-1317)-for the biography of this student of
'Phags pa, see below note 19-also wrote a clarificatory (gsal byed) commen-
tary on the GNYAGS MA. The toponym "Sbro lung" is probably a variant of
not only "Sru lung"-A mes zhabs registers a "Sru lung pa" in A 275 (A 1
227) among 'Phags pa's disciples- but also of "Sro lung pa" as noted in A
MES 171; for the latter, a grand-master of Thugs Ije brtson 'grus, see below
note 36. Another variant is "Spru lung" as encountered in Mkhas grub Dge
legs dpal bzang po's (1385-1438) record of teachings received in Mkhas grub
rje'i gsung 'bum (Lhasa Zhol print), vol. KA (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan
of annotations to the Drnar rna, that is, Dmar ston's exegesis of the Rtsa
ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang, for which see below under C-1-2. He also
suggests that Dmar ston wrote a Bla rna brgyud pa'i mam thar, a study
of the biographies of various lam 'bras masters, without specifically
giving a title for this work. The ascription of a set of biographies subti-
tled Zhib mo rdo rje to Bar ston is evidently based on a confusion with
what we know the title of Dmar ston's work to have been; since, for
example, Ames zhabs Ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams (1597-1659)
subtitles Bar ston's text as the Zhib mo mam dag.1 To be sure, the simi-
larity of these titles might indicate that the latter was conceived as a con-
tinuation of Dmar ston's work, or that it was critical of it. In any event, it
has unfortunately not turned up so far. All the major Sa skya pa lam
'bras histories appear to have made ample use ofDmar ston's textS and,
at times, refer to it in a critical fashion.
On fol. 1b, Dmar ston quite
Works and Archives, 1979) 63. Yet another one is "Sro lung pa," as found in
the enumeration of some early exegeses of Sa skya PaJ.l<p-ta's StJom gsum rab
dbye where Kun dga' grol mchog has it, in KUN 360, that Sro lung pa Kun
smon had written a series of annotations to the text, as well as in MANG 166.
Lastly, Ngor chen's record of teachings Obtained writes "Sbru (or: Spru) lung
pa Kun smon; see mOB 61.1.6,2.2.
7. See AMES 198 and the entry in his bibliography in A MES 311. Ames
zbabs also distinguishes between an early and a later Bar ston. The former
was the author of these texts, whereas the latter had been for a long time Bla
ma dam pa's major domo (gsol dpon). This work is also noted by Kun dga'
grol mchog in KUN 309.
8. There is no overt use ofDmar ston's chronicle in Cha gan's CHA, which
either tells us something about its "sociology," or about Cha gan himself.
Further, it is curious that Bla rna dam pa Bsod nams rgyal mtshan (1312-
1375) and ?Bo dong PaJ.l chen-see below note 15-only mention his Rtsa
ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang commentary and not his lam 'bras chronicle-see
BLA 93 (BLA1 fol. 38b) and BO 570 (B01 fols. 40b-41a)-, although they
clearly made use of it. We might note here that ?Bo dong PaJ.l chen's text is
to some extent dependent on Bla ma dam pa's. Both are duly noted, however,
by 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug (1524-1568) in 'JAM 142.
9. An explicit example would be Dmar ston's discussion of 'Brom De palba
ston chung, one the fifteen closest disciples of 'Brog mi Lo tsa ba and the
founder of the 'Brom lam 'bras transmission in DMAR fols. 8a-9a, where he
concludes that it did not develop (des na 'brom las 'phel ba med de .. ), and
that the so-called '''Brom system" (,brom lugs) appears to have had its incep-
tion (and demise) with a rather problematic and eclectic lady by the name of
Jo mo 'Brom mo, an erstwhile disciple of Sa chen. While his survey of
'Brom was not really criticized by either Bla ma dam pa in BLA 32 (BLA 1
fol. 13a) or ?Bo dong PaJ.l chen in BO 464 (B01 fol. 15a)--only a note in
BLA 30 refers to Dmar ston- it was severely taken to task by Ngor chen Kun
dga' bzang po (1382-1456) in NGOR 114.2.1, 114.4.4-5 (NGOR1 157.3.5-6,
158.2.5), and then in 'JAM 82 and AMES 166, where Ames zhabs refers to
180 JIABS 17.2
explicitly says that his account of the transmissions of lam 'bras teach-
ings in Tibet, emphasizing how it developed among the Sa skya pa, was
written exactly according to statements by "bla rna 10 tsa ba," who is of
course none other than Sa skya Pa1).<;lita. He is unspecific about other
sources he might have used.
2. Title page: B1a rna dam pa bod kyi 10 rgyus bzhugs pa lags so
CPN no. 002864(3)
Folios: 21
Colophon: [21a] bla rna bod kyi brgyud pa'i mam thar zhib mo rdo rje
zhes bya ba mang du mnyan zhing zhallas bris te legs par myed pa ' di
shakya'i dge slong chos kyi rgyal po zhes bya bas / gung thang na la
rtse gnas po che'i tsug lag khang du sbyar ba 'di yongs su rdzogs shyo
Secondary Colophon: [21a-b] 10 rgyus kyi yi ge 'di bla rna 10 tsha ba
chen po'i phyag du phul bas mnyes ste rab tu bsngags [21b] pas na the
tshom 1).a par gus pas long shig / yul dbus kyi blo gsal dmar gyis yi ge
, di bri ba bsnan med par bris pa yin no II dge' 0/ dge' 0 /
Here the place of composition is given as La rue gnas po che. What
we have called the "secondary colophon," observes that Sa skya Pa1).<;lita
was delighted when Dmar ston showed him this work. Furthermore,
"1).a" is an abbreviation of med that one frequently encounters in early
dbu med manuscripts. This manuscript is laced with annotations by an
unknown hand.
There are two post-textual additions extraneous to the colophons. In
the fITst, we read in a hand similar to the one used in the manuscript:
II 'khon glu'i [read: klu'i] dbang po bsrung ba I rdo rje rin po ehe : shes
rab yon tan: tshul khrims rgya1 mtshan : rdo rje tsug tor: dge skyabs :
dge mthong : 'khon bal po : shakya blo gros : shes rab tshul khrims : dkon
mchog rgya1 po I kun dga' snying po I slob dpon rin po ehe : rje btsun pa
: ehos rje pa : bla rna ehos rgyal {both "Chos Ije pa" [= Sa skya P ~ 4 i t a ]
both Ngor chen's stricture and Dmar ston's text without, however, passing
judgement on the latter. In CHA fol. 31b, Cha gan gives 'Brom's full name as
"'Brom De ba Shakya [read: SMkya] dpal," and in his account of him, in
CHA fols. 48b-53b, he makes no mention of any "'Brom system," although
he does indicate that while he had composed several exegeses of lam 'bras,
his hermeneutic approach (bshad sroT) did not spread.
and "Bla rna Chos rgyal" [= 'Phags pal are subscribed by "7"-this may be
a very early attestation of the so-called ehe nags Jryi yig, "graph of an
indication of greatness," a sign indicating respect
] /I slob dpon chen po
dharma pa la ralqi ta' 0 II [the last occurs in small characters]
This is therefore a little genealogy of members of that branch of the
'Khan family that ended up founding and ruling Sa skya. It ends with
(1268-24 December 1287),11 'Phags pa's nephew,
so that it is quite probable that this manuscript dates from his floTUit. We
then read in a hand different from that of the manuscript:
II II na mo gu TU II ehos kyi rje nyid thugs kyi sras I bla ma Tin po ehe
pa'i mam thar kyang gong du gsung ba bzhin khong pa rang dang mnyam
po eig gis brjod par rigs pa la 'on kyang bsod nams 'phel bas eung zad
brjod na : rigs rgyud shin du bzang ba la 10 tsha bzhi byon pa'i rjes su
'khrungs shing thog mar mkhan po bzhi mo lung pa la : kyai rdo rje'i bum
dbang yan chad thob : 'bri 'tshams zhang gi drung du kun las btus gsan :
dgung 10 beu dgu pa la spang tsar ehos 'khor mdzad nas mngon pa
gsungs I de nas ehos rje pas mkhan po mdzad I 'u yug pas [supralinear
note: bsod nams seng gel gsang ste : ri phug pas [supralinear note: kras
rgyal = bkra shis rgyaZ polmtshan?] las mdzad bsnyen par rdzogs pa ehig
rdzogs mdzad : 'byad pa rtsi 'dul gyi drung du mdo rtsa 'dul ba'i eha lag
tsho mkhyen par mdzad I lug gdur du u [read: dbu] ma rigs tshogs thams
cad mkhyen par mdzad ste : u [read: dbu] ma la khong pas rgya ehe ba
tsam mi 'dug gsung I ehos rje pa 10 beu gsum . ..
Given the context, this seems to be a short biograpical note on Dmar
stone?) We learn that, while still very young, he first received initiations
in Hevajra from the so-called 'jug initiation" onward from Mkhan po
Bzhi mo lung pa. Having read the [Ahhidharma]-samuccaya with
10. See here, for example, Bis pa Mi pham zla ba, Phrin yig gi mam bzhag
dper brjod dang beas pa padma dkar po'i phreng mdzes (based on Reb gong
Rong bo dgon chen print) (Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang,
1986) 16. This work was written by the author in 1806. The name he used in
his poetic and linguistic compositions, as in this textbook on the art of let-
ter-writing, is Mi pham dbyangs can dga' ba'i blo gros.
11. Tshal pa Kun dga' rdo Ije (1309-1364) writes simply that he passed
away in 1288 at the age of twenty-one (= twenty); see TSHAL 48 (TSHALl
22a)-whereas Yar lung Jo bo Shakya rin chen's chronicle of 1376 explicitly
states that his death occurred on the eighteenth day of the smal po month in
1287; see YAR fol. 96a (YAR 1158, YAR2 153). And the latter is followed in
the compilation of Stag tshang Dpal 'byor bzang pO in STAG 333. In addition
to the dossier used in Inaba 1975, 542-540, we may note that the history of
Sa skya's ruling families by Stag tshang Lo tsa ba Shes rab rin chen (1405-
after 1477) follows Yar lung Jo bo in dating death-see
SHES fol. 24a-, and Ames zhabs concurs with this scenario in A 287 (AI
182 nABS 17.2
'Bring 'tshams [also: mtshams] Zhang, he held a convocation at Spang
tsa at the age of nineteen (= eighteen) and taught there abhidhanna. He
subsequently received his monk's ows from Sa skya 'U yug
pa Bsod nams seng ge, alias Rigs pa'i seng ge,12 and Ri phug pa ?Bkra
shis rgyal poImtshan. He studied the Vinayasutra under a 'Byad pa Rtsi
'dul [?Thugs rje byang chub] 13 and the six collections of madhyamaka
arguments, that is, the six purely philosophical treatises of NagiUjuna, in
Lug dgur and became an expert in these. The abrupt ending could sug-
gest that he may have stayed with Sa skya for thirteen years.
Though unseen by us, we may add here that the biographical sketch of
Dmar ston's life by Glo bo Mkhan chen Bsod nams lhun grub (1456-
1532), it is entitled Bla ma dmar chos kyi rgyal po'i mam thar, was
filmed by the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project under
Reel no. L 16811L 139-4. It will be studied in C. Stearns' forthcoming
translation of this text
Of sufficient interest is that the beginning of Tshogs sgom pa's biog -
raphy-see note 5 of this essay-bears such striking resemblances to
this narrative that we may very well suspect some kind of inter- or
intra-biographic contamination, or that this slight postcript has nothing
whatsoever to do with Dmar ston.14
12. This must have taken place in the early 1220s at the earliest. For 'U yug
pa and how he had come to Sa skya. see my "A Hitherto Unknown Oral Text
of Sa skya PaJ)4ita." which is to appear in the Bulletin of the School of Ori-
ental and African Studies.
13. For him, see briefly 'Gos Lo tsa ba Gzhon nu dpal (1392-1481) in 'GOS
900 (Roerich 1979, 1013).
14. After a few preliminaries, Tshogs sgom's biography states, in TSHOGS
338, that he was born in the wake of some four Tshogs Lo tsa bas-this
compares with the manuscript's "10 tsha bzht'-and that his birth was
accompanied by good omens. It then continues in TSHOGS 339: de nas
gzhon nu'i dus su bla ma gzhi mo lung pa la kye rdo rje'i bum dbang yan
chad zhus I de nas klog yi ge sgra bstan bcos la sogs pa thams cad mkhas
par bslabs nas I dgung 10 bcu gsum pa la 'bring mtshams zhang gi drung du
mngon pa gong ma gsan du byon I bcu dgu pa la spang rtsar 'bring
mtshams zhang gdan drangs nas mngon pa la bshad gsar mdzad do II de
nas chos rje pas mkhan po mdzad de bsnyen par rdzogs pa mdzad nas I
mdog lung du rtsi 'dut 'dzin gyi drung du 'dut ba mdo rtsa gsan I gzhan
yang 'dut ba'i cha lag thams cad rdzogs par gsan no II de nas chos rje pa la
sems bskyed zhus nas I da khyod kyis dbu ma cig nyon gsungs nas I bo dong
tug dur dang I ri phug gnyis su yar gshegs mar gshegs mdzad nas I dbu ma
rigs tshogs dang bstod tshogs skor la sogs pa thams cad gsan I rtsa she
dang tshig la bshad pa yang mdzad I de nas chos rye pa 10 bcu gsum ...
The text continues this sentence: ... bsten nas spyod tshogs dang I byams
chos dang I rgyud gsum gdams ngag dang bcas pa I I bde mchog gi rgyud
3. TItle page: Lam 'bras kyi bla ma brgyud pa'i lo rgyus
CPN no. 004345(1)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ga 102
Folios 23
This is another manuscript of Dmar ston's work. Its colophon on fol.
23a ends in ... gus pas long II bkra shis sho II; this would be part of the
"secondary colophon" found also in A-2.
4. Title page: Lam 'bras kyi bla ma tshad ma'i 10 rgyus
CPN no. 002452(5)
Folios 41
Marginal notation: 11 Ii
Incipit: [lb] da ni kye'i rdo rje'i snyan rgyud zab mo'i man ngag brjod
Colophon: [41a] ... snga ma la ni bsams na shes pa'i mngon shes kyang
mnga' zhes thos so /I
This work, attributed to Bo dong P ~ chen, is included in his collected
writings. 15 Its subject matter ranges from Vi.rUpa to an incomplete sketch
of the lives of 'Phags pa's students of the lam 'bras teachings. Bo dong
P ~ chen's biography notes
that he had first obtained the transmission
of the lam 'bras system under his maternal uncle La tsa ba Grags pa
cha lag dang bcas pa I yo ga la sogs nulor na sa skya pa'i chos lugs thams
cad gsan cing thugs su chud par nulzad I. This also allows us to place Lug
[g]dur in the Bo dong area.
15. See BO. A word of caution is needed here. There is much in this Ency-
clopdia Tibetica that did not come directly from Bo dong Pax,:t chen's own
pen. GUNG 123.1.6 writes that Lo tsa ba Byang chub rtse mo (1303-1380),
Bo dong Pax,:t chen's great-uncle, received lam 'bras from Bla ma dam pa and
that he had written inter alia a chronicle of its transmission. It remains an
open question as to what relationship, if any, exists between this work and
the one ascribed to Bo dong Pax,:t chen by virtue of its inclusion in the
16. See 'Jigs med 'bangs, Dpalldan bla ma dam pa thams cad mkhyen pa
phyogs bcu las rnam par rgyal ba'i zhabs kyi rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar
gyi dga' ston, Encyclopedia Tibetica. The Collected Works of Bo dong PaT]
chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal, vol. 1 (New Delhi: The Tibet House, 1981)
149-152, 208 (Ibid., ed. Padma tshul khrims [Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs
dpe skrun khang, 1990] 110-111, 152).
184 JIABS 17.2
rgyal mtshan (1352/53-1405)17, after which he continued his studies
with BIo bzang dkar mo, who was a disciple of Gon gyi/Go 'g.yo Ye
shes dpal (1281-1365). At that time, Blo bzang dkar mo was staying at
mount Se mkhar chung and Bo dong chen spent some twenty-three
days with hiin after which, according to his biographer, he fully realized
the lam 'bras precepts. Some information on this BIo bzang dkar mo
and his transmission of the lam 'bras is found in the lam 'bras histories
of Gung ro, 'Jam dbyangs Mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug and Ames
zhabs, as well as in Mang thos' study,18 and his line of transmission can
be sketched as follows:
Sa skya
'Phags pa
Zhang Dkon mchog dpal
Brag phug paBsod nams dpal (1277-1350)20
Brag phug pa Dkon mchog rgyal mtshan
Blo gros dkar po, alias BIo bzang dkar po
Lam 'bras pa Ye shes dpal
BIo bzang dkar mo
5. Title page: Lam 'bras kyi bla ma tshad ma'i 10 rgyus
CPN no. 006867(1)
fudigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 84
Folios 67
This is yet another manuscript of ?Bo dong chen's work.
17. His biography is found in the Gsang 'dus lung rigs man ngag ston par
byed pa'i bla ma tshad ma'i 10 rgyus, Encyclopedia Tibetica. The Collected
Works of Bo dong Pa chen Phyogs las roam rgyal, vol. 64 (New Delhi: The
Tibet House, 1972) 451-490. "1420" for the year of his passing in van der
Kuijp 1994, 148, note 25, is a typographic error.
18. See, respectively, GUNG 121.1.6 ff. 122.4.3 ff., 'JAM 145, AMES 196,
200-201 andMANG 173-175.
19. His biography based on an account by his disciple Brag phug pa is found
in LBSB 1,362-367. A six-folio dbu med manuscript of this text is located
under CPN no. 002465(9).
20. His biography by Ri khrod pa BIo gros brtan pa, alias Blo gros
mtshungs med, dated 1351, is found in LBSB 1, 367-374. An eight-folio
dbu med manuscript of this text is located under CPN no. 002465(12).
B. Four Biographies and One Autobiography of Thirteenth Century
Lam 'bras Masters
1. Title page: Chos rje leo brag pa'i roam thar
CPN no. 002790(5)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 33
Folios 10
Incipit: [lb] /I bsod nams rgya rntsho'i gling la legs 'khrungs cing /I
rgyal mtshan rtse nas ye shes nor bu la /I ..
Colophon: [lOa] rje ko brag pa'i mam thar dgos 'dod 'byung pa zhes
bya ba Ila stod pa shes rab rngon gyis rgya che ba mams kyi nang nas
gal che ba roams bstus te I phan thogs che ba'i phyir bris pa' 0 /I 'gro ba
dpag tu med pa la phan thogs par gyur 1/1 dge'o : /I
This biography of Ko brag pa Bsod nams rgyal mtshan
was written
by his disciple La stod pa Shes rab mgon at an unspecified place and
date. On fo1. 2a, we learn that he was known as Dum bu Dge bshes at
around the age of twenty. This allows us to understand why one version
of Ngor chen's chronicle gives his name as "bla ma dam pa ko brag pa
bsod nams rgyal mtshan," whereas another version has "bla rna dum bu
ko brag pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan."22 Fo1. 5a states that he received
lam 'bras from Chos rje Snyos [= Gnyos Chos kyi gzi brjid] and Bla
ma Smon mkbar ba [= Nyang Rgyal po grags], to whom we should also
add Zhang ston Se mig pa.
The available sources also mention in this
21. A brief note on his life is found in 'GOS 635-638 (Roerich 1979,726-
727). There the name of his mother is given as "sTod rje ma," but fo1. Ib of
the biography has "Stod mo rje ma."
22. NGOR 116.3.1 and NGORI 160.1.3; AMES 169 reads this prefix as
"ldum bu."
23. Ngor chen, 'Jam dbyangs Mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug and Ames zhabs
devote a special section of their work to his lam 'bras transmissions, which
took their point of departure from the feminine line of the Zh[ w]ma tradition
and that of the Zhang, both of which originated with Se Mkhar chung ba (or
?Se ston Kun rig, see below note 39), one of 'Brog mi Lo tsa ba's ftfteen dis-
ciples; see NGOR 116.3.1-4.1 (NGORI 160.1.3-2.3), 'JAM 152-153 and A
MES 169-170. For the Zh[w]a rna transmission in general, see NGOR
115.1.1-116.3.1 (NGORI 158.3.3-160.1.3), and for that of the Zhang, see
NGOR 114.4.5-115.1.1 (NGORI 158.2.6-3.3). For Ma gcig Zh[w]a ma
(1062-?}-her date is taken from MANG 114-, the founder of the Zh[w]ma
tradition, see now the brief remarks in E. Lo Bue, "A Case of Mistaken Iden-
tity: Ma gcig Labs sgron and Ma gcig Zha ma," Tibetan Studies. Proceedings
186 nABS 17.2
connection VibhUticandra and his sbyor drug teachings, so
that it would appear that his lam 'hrasprecepts were also influenced by
the former. The biography notes, on fols. 6b-7a, that he studied with
this aged master in GIang 'khor-Ko brag pa had invited him to Tibet-
during the Mongol conquest of Central TIbet or shortly thereafter which,
since most sources date the Mongol invasion to the year 1240, suggests
the tenninus a quo of their meeting to have been that very year. Ko brag
pa passed away on 1 November, the eighth day of the smin drug month,
2. TItle page: Rje btsun nag phug pa'i mam thar
CPN no. 004381(7)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 173
Folios 1-19;483-501
Upper left-hand comer of title page: gi
Incipit: [lb] oIp swa sti siddharpl dpalldan bla ma mams dang 'khor 10
sdom 'jam dbyangs sgroI sogs lhag pa'i lha mams dang II tshogs
mams kun la gus pas phyag 'tshal[ 1]0 II
Colophon: [18b-19a] II mam par thar pa 'di bla ma 'jam dbyangs lajo
gdan shakya shes rab kyis yang dang yang du gsol ba btab nas mdzad
payinnoll ..
This is an undated autobiography which Nag[s] phug pa 'Jam
dbyangs Shes rab 'od zer (?-?) wrote at the behest of a jo gdan Shakya
shes rab who was one of his disciples. The equation of Sa skya PaJ).<;lita
with MafijusrI that occurred to him in a dream-it is outlined on fols.
15b-16a- is quoted in Sa skya PaJ).<;lita's biography by GIo bo Mkhan
chen, which was then adopted by Ames zhabs for his study of Sa skya
PaJ).<;lita's life of 1629.
No doubt in part owing to the role MafijusrI
of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies
Fagemes 1992 (Oslo: The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Cul-
ture, 1994) 481-482, which is solely based on 'Gos Lo tsa ba's chronicle,
without taking into account any of the earlier historical studies of lam 'bras.
The Zhang transmission began with Zhang ston Chos 'bar (1053-1135Hne
of the main masters of Sa chen-and his younger brother Zhang ston Gzi
btjid 'bar.
24. See, respectively, Mkhas pa roams 'jug pa'i sgo yi roam par bshad pa
rig gnas gsal byed (New Delhi, 1979) 52 (Ibid. [Sde dge ed.], Selected Writ-
played in his own spiritual life, he is sometimes referred to as '''Jam
dbyangs gsar balma," the "New MafijusrL" He had come to Sa skya
somewhat late in his life, at the earliest shortly after the Mongols
had invaded Central Tibet. He obtained from him lam 'bras and was
witness to his (and his nephews') departure for KOden's residence in
1244. Gung m relates 25 that he had at first written out some formal dis-
agreements with Sa skya Pa1).<;lita's opinions whereafter MafijlisrI (in a
vision) had expressed his displeasure with this. However, after receiving
the lam 'bras from him (and 'Phags pa), he composed a reverential peti-
tion (gsol 'debs) to the lam 'bras lineage as well as a eulogy to both
masters. This manuscript was clearly part of a larger collection of
(probably) biographies, whereby it occupied fols. 483 to 501 of this
ensemble. Mang thos writes that he was the second of "three quite
renowned scholars in Nags phug [in] Gtsang," the other two being
Gtsang Nags [phug pal Brtson 'gms seng ge, the well-known disciple
of Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge (1109-1169), and Gtsang Nags phug pa
Thugs rje seng ge, a disciple of Thugs rje brtson 'grus, who figures as
the subject of the biography listed under B-5, and the author of the
influential Bar do 'phrang sgroI. 26
3. Title page: Bla rna grub thob chen po'i mam thar
CPN no. 004381(10)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 151
Folios 6
Incipit: [lb] bla rna grub thob pa'i 10 rgyus cung zad brjod na / de yang
chos rje sa skya ta zhes pa sa gsum du yongs su grags pa de'i sras
kyi thu bor gyur pa / grub thob yon tan dpal zhes bya ba yin /
No colophon.
This work is an undated, anonymous study of the life of Grub thob
Yon tan dpal, another disciple of Sa skya Pa1).<).ita, who served him as a
chamber-servant (gzims g.yog) for six years. Fo!' 6b states that he
passed away in the Mongol (Yuan) capital ofDadu (or Shangdu) on the
eighth day of the eleventh lunar month of the water-female-pig year at
ings, vo1.3 [Debra Dun: Pal Evam Cbodan Ngorpa Centre, 1985] 33-34) and
A 127-128 (AI112-113).
25. GUNG 121.4.4-6; see also AMES 199.
26. MANG 152.
188 nABS 17.2
the age of eighty-seven (= eighty-six). This means that he was born in
1237 and that he probably died on 6 November 1323.
4. Title page: Chos rje 'jam dbyangs chen po'i mam thar yon tan
CPN no. 004381(10)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 173
Folios 24
Incomplete; missing are folios 14-17
Incipit: [1 b] II OIp.svastisiddhmp II dpalldan bla ma dam pa 'jam dbyangs
chen po'i roam par thar pa yon tan rgya mtsho zhes bya ba I bla ma danf
dkon mchog 3 la gus pas phyag 'tshallo II bskal pa bgrang yas tshogs 2
rgya chen rgya mtsho las II . ..
Colophon: [23b-24a] chos kyi rje dpal ldan bla ma dam pa 'jam
dbyangs chen po'i rnam par thar pa 'di ni I de nyid la mi phyed pa'i dad
pa dang ldan zhing I gsung gi bdud rtsis tshim pa'i skyes bu dge ba'i
bshes gnyen rin chen skyabs kyi gsung gis bskul ba dang I sgo 3 gus
pas bla ma mnyes par mdzad cing bka' drin rjes su dran pa'i nye gnas
mam pas bskul ba dang I thos bsam gyis rgyud yongs su sbyangs shing
I nges don bsgom pa la spro ba [24a] can : ston pa ye shes rgyal mtshan
dang I nye gnas seng ge rgyal mtshan 2 kyis gus 'dun drag pos yang
yang bskul ba'i phyir I bsgom chen pa rgyal ba ye shes kyis I dngos
dang brgyud pa'i sgo nas mthong thos kyi mam thar cung zad bkod pa
, di legs par grub po II . ..
This biography of 'Jam dbyangs Rin chen rgyal mtshan of Sa skya's
House of Shar, erstwhile abbot of Sa skya's Bzhi thog Residence, that
is, abbot of Sa skya as a whole, from probably 1288 to 1297,27 and
imperial preceptor to OIJeitii Qayan (Chengzong Emperor, r. 10 May
1294 to 2 February 1307) from 1304 to 1305, was written by Byang
27. In an undated passage in fol. 5a of the biography, Rgyal ba ye shes
writes that, upon death, Qubilai Qayan appointed him
abbot of Sa skya. Stag tshang Lo tsa ba but notes some of his accomplish-
ments in SHES fols. 24a, 25a, without giving any dates for his priorship. A
mes zhabs provides a brief account of the vicissitudes of the abbatial throne in
connection with 'Jam dbyangs Rin chen rgyal mtshan and Bdag chen Bzang
po dpal (1262-132211324), his successor, in A 290-295 (A 1 239-243)-
some of what is written there seems to be taken literally from SHES fols.
24a-25a-, after which, in A 659 (A 1 541), he calculates the former's tenure
of Sa skya's abbacy to have taken place from 1288 to 1297.
sems Rgyal ba ye shes (1257-1320) 28 at the behest of Rin chen skyabs,
Ston pa Ye shes rgyal mtshan and nye gnas Seng ge rgyal mtshan. Its
CPN catalogue number is identical to the manuscript of B-3. Rgyal ba
ye shes does not relate the year of his birth, but does provide a precise
date of his passing on fol. 2Ia, namely the eleventh day of the first lunar
month of the serpent-year, thatis, 7 January 1305, and this year is cor-
roborated by the history of the Yuan dynasty which, too, has the first
month of this year. 29 His main preceptors in lam 'bras were 'Phags pa,
Nags phug pa, his uncle Shar pa Ye shes rgyal mtshan (?l222-?l287)
and his elder brother Dus 'khor ba Ye shes rin chen (?1248-1294).
The earliest account of the House of Shar is given by Tshal pa, which
was then reproduced by and large in the later chronicles of Yar lung Jo
bo, Stag tshang Dpal 'byor bzang po, and in an anonymous text whose
date of composition has not yet been established with any certainty,
although it may belong to the first half of the fifteenth century. 30 All are
very short on dates. Another study of this family authored by Glo bo
Mkhan chen has the drawback of not providing any dates at alPl Only a
note in Yar lung Jo bo's text has it that he was "an earth-male-horse
one," that is, that he was born in 1258, and that he was appointed to the
Bzhi thog throne in 1287. He does write, however, that he passed away
at the age of forty-nine (= forty-eight), so that the year of his birth
28. A very brief sketch of his life can be found in 'GOS 678-679 (Roerich
1979, 772-773). A full length study of his biography was written in 1362 by
Mnga' ris Chos kyi rgyal po (1306-1386), alias Phyogs las roam rgyal. CPN
catalogue no. 002780(2) registers a thirty-two folio handwritten dbu med
manuscript of this work entitled Chos kyi rje byang chub sems dpa' chen po'i
rnam par thar pa yon tan rin po che'i gter mdzod kun las btus pa. For
Mnga' ris Chos kyi rgyal po, see 'GOS 682-683 (Roerich 1979, 777-779)
and my "Ngag dbang blo gros grags pa (1920-1975) and His Chronicles of
the Jo nang pa Sect," currently under preparation, where several manuscripts
of his writings found in the CPN are considered.
29. Inaba 1975, 536.
30. See, respectively, TSHAL 50-51 (TSHAL 1 23a-b), Y AR fol. 103a (YAR 1
170-171, YAR2 163), STAG 351-352 and the Rgyal rabs sogs bod kyi yig
tshang gsal ba'i me long, Sngon gyi gtam me tog gi phreng ba .. with other
rare historical texts from the library of Burmiok Athing T.D. Densapa
(Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1985) 102-103. The
first and third of these (plus the notices in the Yuanshi) formed the basis for
the analysis of this family in Inaba 1975, 539-535.
31. This is his Chos rje shar pa' i gdung brgyud kyi rim pa ji ltar byon pa' i
tshul. My thanks to Mr. Jeffrey Schoening for providing me with a handwrit-
ten dbu med manuscript of this text in five folios. Rgyal ba ye shes' work is
listed in its bibliographical note on fol. 5a-b.
190 JIABS 17.2
would then have to be 1257. According to Chinese sources, he was
installed as imperial preceptor sometime in the first lunar month of 1304,
and two dated official documents that were issued by him in this capa-
city are extant. 32
5. Title page: Kun spangs chos rje'i mom thar yon tan rab gsal
CPN no. 002815(5)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ra 197
Folios 40
Incipit: [lb] oIp swasti siddhaIp II kun spangs chen po chos kyi rje'i
mam par thar pa yon tan rab gsal zhes bya ba : bla ma dang dkon mchog
3 la gus pas phy[ag 'tshal ]10/
Colophon: [40b] kun spangs chen po chos kyi rje mam par thar pa brjod
kyis mi lang bir(= ba 'dir?) / brjod pa'i spobs pa dang bral bas rang
gzhan gyi dad gus kyi dmigs rkyen mdor bsdus la / mkhyen ldan kun
thugs bstun pa gyeng ris la bkod pas tshim par bgyis pa lags na' ang /
chos rje'i gsung gi bdud rtsis tshim pa'i dge ba'i gshes gnyen dbu che
sgom chen mams kyis yang yang bskul ba dang / khyad par du bla ma
yon tan rgya mtshos thugs ...
A portion of the colophon of this biography of Kim spangs pa Thugs
rje brtson 'gros, alias Kun tu bzang po and Mi bskyod rdo rje, by the
same Byang sems Rgyal ba ye shes is therefore missing from this
manuscript. Another manuscript of the same biography under CPN cata-
32. G. Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, II (Rome: la Libreria Dello Stato,
1949) 670, 747, published one letter missive by him dated the twenty-third
day of the fifth month of the dragon year (1304), which he wrote at imperial
command in the capital of Shangdu; this document was reprinted in the ten-
dentious volume edited by 'Phrln las chos grags, Krung go'i bod sa gnas kyi
10 rgyus yig tshang phyogs btus (Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun
khang, 1986) 243-244, and also in Bkra shis dbang 'dus 1989, 200. An ear-
lier, hitherto unknown letter missive from his pen was recently published in
Bkra shis dbang 'dus 1989, 199, and it was written by him by order of the
emperor in Me tog ra ba temple in the capital of Dadu on the twenty-fourth
day of the second month of the dragon year (1304). Bkra shis dbang 'dus
1989, 201, reproduces an edict with no intitulatio, which it also attributes to
'Jam dbyangs Rin chen rgyal mtshan. However, its dating to the year 71306
would preclude this ascription.
logue no. 002815(11), this one in fifty-seven folios, continues on fols.
... gnyer ched pos mang du bskul zhing/ ston pa bsod nams dpal dang:
ston pa sher rgyalla bskul ba bcol nas : nye bar bskul ba'i phyir : bsgom
chen [gloss: brtsom byed] pa rgyal ba ye shes kyis rgas pa'i sems dang
brjed nas snyom las kyi ngang las: 'bad pas dran shes bskyed nas I ru 4'i
[gloss: brtsom gnas] snying po gtsang chu [d]mig ring mo'i sa [57a] cha
: g.yas 'khyil gyi chu bo'i rgyun gyis bskor zhing I dgos 'dod sna tshogs
kyi 'bru smin pa'i sa gzhi rgya ched po'i dbus su I rtsi thog sna tshogs
rgyas pa'i ri bo mthon pos bskor bal phrin dkar gyi mdog can gyi brag ri
la lha dang mi'i drang srong gi bsgrub gnas ran byung I bkra shis sgo
mangs Itar brtsegs pa'i gnas mchog Ilhun grub bde chen zhes bya bar
bsdebs pa 'di legs par grub pa yin I yi ge pa ni ston pa shes rab rgyal
mtshan no II.
Thus Rgyal ba ye shes wrote this work in Lhun grub bde chen at the
behest of some meditators at Dbu che, Yon tan rgya mtsho--he should
probably be identified as Mkhas btsun Yon tan rgya mtsho, his disciple
and successor to Jo nang monastery's abbatial throne, whose dates are
1260 to 1327
_, Ston pa Bsod nams dpal, and Ston pa Shes rab rgyal
mtshan functioned as his scribe. The latter must probably be identified as
Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan (1292-1361). Another handwritten
dbu med manuscript in forty-eight folios of this very same text is
located under CPN catalogue no. 006594(8). The earliest biographical
sketch of Thugs rje brtson 'grus so far had been the few lines devoted to
him by 'Gos Lo tsa ba. 34
As with his study of the life of 'Jam dbyangs Rin chen rgyal mtshan,
here too Rgyal ba ye shes is rather short on dates. While there seems to
be little reason to question that Thugs rje brtson 'gros passed away in
1313-Rgyal ba ye shes observes on fol. 3Th that this took place on the
twenty-fifth day of the intermediate spring-month, that is, sometime in
the first half of that year, irrespective of what he meant by the ambigu-
ous "intermediate spring-month"-the biography does not note the year
of his birth, which other sources give as either 1242 or 1243.
may very well be problematic, however. After outlining the various
33. 'GOS 680-681 (Roerich 1979, 775). His biography is published in the
seventh volume of The 'Dzam thang Edition of the Collected Works (Gsung
, bum) of Kun mkhyen Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan, ed. M. Kapstein
(New Delhi, 1994) 279-386.
34. 'GOS 677-678 (Roerich 1979, 771-772).
35. Roerich 1979, 771.
192 nABS 17.2
transfigurations Thugs rje brtson 'gros underwent in his previous
embOdiments, the actual biography begins on fol. 12a, and it relates on
fol. 12b that he had received the bodhisattva-vow from Sa skya Pl4lQita
at the age of five (= four) in Gnyag tsha. As was observed previously,
this master had begun his voyage to the residence of Koden, in present
day Gansu province, in 1244 and passed away among the Mongols,
never returning to his homeland. Fol. 22b relates that Thugs rje brtson
'gros studied the Hevajratantra, a tantra fundamental to lam 'bras,
under 'Phags pa in Chu mig bde chen, indicating that this must have
taken place between the years 1276 and 1280. Shortly thereafter, he
received lam 'bras proper from' Jam dbyangs chen po, that is, the sub-
ject of the biography listed above under B-4, in Lha rtse rdzong. Rgyal
ba ye shes stipulates, however, he studied the lam 'bras transmissions
of the Sa skya pa and the Zh[w]a rna traditions from Bla rna Rin chen
'od 36 Later, Rgyal ba ye shes writes, Thugs rje brtson 'gros was to edit
(zhus dag) the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang texts belonging to the Sa
skya pa and 'Brom transmissions
and, presumably, on the basis of this
text, wrote various exegeses and meditation manuals. This is one of the
two earliest references to a reworking of the basic lam 'bras text; for the
other see below under C-S. Ngor chen is much more explicit on this
matter than Rgyal ba ye shes and makes in this connection the following
Thugs rje brtson 'gros apparently thought of rewriting 1m
basic text in a sequence different from the original one so as to facill tate
a better understanding of it, and petitioned his (unnamed) master and a
inkha' 'gro ma for permission to do so. Se ston Kun rig (?l029-
?1116),39 one of the founding fathers of especially the Zh[w]a latn
36. NGOR 117.4.3 identifies him as a native ofKha phyar-NGOR1161.2.2
has here "Rab phyar"-and an immediate disciple of Bla rna Lha lung pa. A
MES 171 has the toponym "Kha char," homophonic with "Kha phyar," and
writes that Rin chen' od was a student of a Bla ma Sro lung pa; for "Sro lung
pa," see above note 6. Gung ru adds that Byang nga sbyer ba(?) Rin chen 'od
zer-'JAM 153 has the more correct toponym "Byang pa Char pa"-:-, himself
a disciple of Nag[s] phug pa, was another one of Thugs Ije brston 'gros' lam
'bras masters; see GUNG 122.1.1. .
37. For this transmission, see NGOR 114.1.6-4.5 (NGORI 157.3.5-158.
38. See NGOR 117.4.1-118.1.3 (NGORI 161.1.6-3.2).
39. These dates are taken from 'GOS 193 (Roerich 1979, 215), where it is
said that he was eighty-seven (= eighty-six) when he met Sa chen aged
twenty-four (= twenty-three), and that he passed away one year later. Of the
available sources, Dmar ston, Cha gan and Ames zhabs place someone with in the listing of 'Brog mi Lo tsa ba's fifteen main disciples, specif-
'bras, manifested himself to him in a dream, and granted him that per-
mission. He then made a compilation of the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang
corpus of the Zh(w]a, 'Bram and Sa skya traditions, and rewrote the text
changing much of the earlier sequence. Thereafter, he composed one
large commentary using various earlier exegeses, including those of Sa
chen, the Zh(w]a rna tradition, and of "two Bka' brgyud(!)," which
seemingly was entitled Rdo rje'i tshig rkang dkrugs pa bsdebs gab pa
mngon duphyung ba'i 'grel pa tshig don gsalbyed sgron mao And he
also wrote a summary ofit which apparently included a "chronicle of the
transmission" (de'i bsdus don brgyud pa'i 10 rgyus). Neither has been
located so far. The library of the Cultural Palace of Nationalities has at
least one minor work of his, namely a commentary on a text by Sha ba ri
pa 40
ically as the last of the three who haq received from him the complete oral
instructions (gdams ngag/rnan ngag); see DMAR fol. 6a, CHA fol. 31b and A
MES 144. Of the three other pre-Dmar ston lam 'bras chronicles are extant,
namely the one by Rje Btsun Grags pa rgyal mtshan and the two that were
probably written by Ko brag pa, the former gives the identical names for the
lust two disciples in this particular grouping, but has "Bla rna Se mkhar
chung ba"-according to Mang thos, in MANG 89, his dates are 1025 to
1092-instead of "Se ston Kun rig"; see his Bla rna brgyud pa bod kyi 10
rgyus, SSBB 3 no.11, 173.4.5-another witness of this text is a five-folio
handwritten dbu med manuscript under CPN catalogue no. 002465(2), where
the corresponding passage can be found on fol. 4a. On the other hand, one of
the two texts that I would tentatively like to attribute to Ko brag pa-for this
consideration, see van der Kuijp-Steams (forthcoming)-knows only of Se
ston Kun rig and the other one may equate him with Se mkhar chung ba; see,
respectively, the Bhir ba pa'i 10 rgyus and the *Lam 'bras snyan brgyud, in
Gtun bSad klog skya rna sogs, voU (Dolanji: Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Cen-
tre, 1975) 399, 440. A confusion of these two, or their identity, is further-
more indicated by the fact that 'Jam dbyangs Mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug
writes, in 'JAM 153, that it was Se mkhar chung ba who had appeared to
Thugs Ije bruon ' grus in this dream. To be recalled is that, whereas, in A
MES 144, Ames zhabs indicated his sources to have been the chronicles by
Rje btsun Grags pa rgyal mtshan, Dmar ston and Bla rna dam pa, he
nonetheless has "Se ston Kun rig" and not "Se mkhar chung ba" in the
aforementioned triad. Se mkhar chung ba is discussed not only in Rje btsun
Grags pa rgyal mtshan's text, but also in BLA 30, 32-36 (BLAI fols. 13a,
14a-15b), NGOR 114.1.6 (NGORlI57.3.5), 'JAM 77,82-90,99, and MANG
82-but see also MANG 132! These excurses are very similar to the ones
concerning Se ston Kun rig in DMAR fols. 9a-12b and CHA fols. 53a-60a.
The relationship between Se ston Kun rig and Se mkhar chung ba requires
further study.
40. The title page of this little handwritten dbu med manuscript in six folios
entitles it Dpal sha ba ri pa'i gzhung chung II gzhung chung de'i 'grel pa
kun spangs thugs rje !b}rtson 'grus gyis mdzod != mdzad}. Its CPN cata-
194 JIABS 17.2
C. Exegeses o/the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang
1. TItle page: Rtsa ba rdo rje' i tshig [rleang] gi mam par bshad pa
gsung sgros rna mes bya ba dmar chos kyi rgyal pos mdzad pa
CPN no. 006687(1)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi rna 337
Folios 107
Incipit: [lb] bla rna dam pa'i zhabs la spyi bos phyag 'tshallo /I bde
gshegs kun dngos rgyal ba'i dbang po mchog : rdo rje 'dzin pa gsang
bdag dbyer med gtso : sku bzbi'i bdag nyid lhun grub sku lnga'i skur :
gnas gyur mchog bmyes bla ma'i zhabs la 'dud:
Colophon: [107a-b] ... mgon po 'am dpal dbyangs dang tha mi dad
cing / 'gran zla thams cad dang bral ba'i chos kyi [107b] rje chen po sa
skya pru;t<;li ta'i zhabs kyi brdul(sic) la yun ring du gus par btugs(sic)
cing / zhalla dris te nan tur gyis bzung nas dga' ba chen pos yid la 'dris
par byas ste / dbri bsnan med par gzhan gyi don du yul dbus kyi blo gsal
la dmar gyi(sic) sbyar ba rdzogs sho / shubhan /
This exegesis of the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rleang, written byDmar
ston at the behest of his disciples Rin chen 'bar, Rdo rje grags pa and Ye
shes' od zer a,nd at the subsequent request of Bla rna Grags pa 'od zer-
these names are taken from glosses found in a manuscript of this text
with a slightly different title that waS published in India
-was based
logue nlll!lber is 006762(11) and the indigenous catalogue number phyi Tea
131. For Sabara, see the note in K. Dowman, Masters of Mahamudra. Songs
and Histories of the Eighty-Four Buddhist Siddhas (Albany: The State Uni-
versity of New York, 1985) 60-65. For his lineage of this transmission, see
Ngor chen in 11IOB 72.2.3-4.
41. DMARI 294. These names are not entirely unproblematic, for onJy one,
namely the last one, is most likely identifiable as belonging to imperial pre-
ceptor Grags pa 'od zer (1246-1303), and 'Phags pa's erstwhile master of
offerings (mchod dpon); see Inaba 1975, 538-536, 533. GUNG 122.1.6 but
registers a Sgang ston Shes cab 'bum as one of his lam 'bras students, and A
MES 194 notes two variants of his name, "Gye re Sgang ston" and "Snang
thang Sgang ston." Ngor chen first registers a Dgongs ston Shes rab 'bum as
a student of 'Phags pa after which this same individual is also stated to have
been a disciple of Dmar ston; see THOB 68.2.2, 69.2.3-4. Thus, "Dgongs
ston" would be a variant of "Sgang ston." But THOB 107.1. 1 records a
Sgang ston Shes rab bla ma as one of Dmar ston's students, and distin-
guishes him from his disciple Shes cab 'bum, something we also encounter in
the record of teachings received of Bu ston Rin chen grub (1290-1364) in BU
22. This might be an error. The latter notes that Mnga' ris Skyi ston, a Mi
on the oral teachings he received from Sa skya While their
colophons read more or less the same, the text issued in India does have
an additional note subsequent to it, one which states: bsod nams dpal gyi
dpe '0 II, "Bsod nams dpal's manuscript."42 One wonders if this "Bsod
nams dpal" is to be identified as Brag phug pa Bsod nams dpal. This
exegesis is also known as the Gzhung bshad dmar ma
and should of
course not be confused with the Pod dmar po, the "Red Volume," so
named after the color of the cloth in which it was wrapped. The latter is a
convolute of lam 'bras texts by various authors, originally compiled by
Ngor chen, for which his nephew and disciple Rgyal tshab dam pa Kun
dga' dbang phyug (1424-1478) wrote a catalogue.
2. Title page: Lam 'bras bu dang bcas pa'i gdams ngag dang man
ngag du bcas pa dmar chos kyi rgyal pos mdzad pa'i gsung ngag
gi nyams len yig chung dang bcas pa
CPN no. 004345(2)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ga 102
Folios 42
Incomplete; missing folios 43-?
Incipit: [lb] same as no. 4.
No colophon
This is another manuscript ofDmar ston's exegesis of the Rtsa ba rdo
rje'i tshig rkang.
3. Title page: Bid ma shar pa rdo rje ' od zer gyis thugs kyi beud I
II lam 'bras bu dang beas pa
CPN no. 004345(3)
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ga 102
nyag Chos rgyal, and a Khams pa Sa mu dra (= Rgya mtsho) were also
among Dmar ston's disciples-see BU lOS, 118-to which we may add Dmar
Shakya grub (?his nephew) and Bla rna Shakya gzhon nu; see THOB 102.4.3,
42. DMAR 1 295.
43. GUNG 122.1.6.
44. See the Lam 'bras bSad pod drnar rna (Dolanji: Tibetan Bonpo
Monastic Centre, 1974). However, a collection by the same name is also
attributed to Mus chen Dkon mchog rgyal mtshan, another one of Ngor
chen's disciples, in the listing of contents for LBSB 13, 1-469.
196 JIABS 17.2
Folios 20
Incomplete; missing folios 9-10, 21-1
Some water damage
Incipit: [lb] II bla rna dam pa'i zhabs la gus pas phyag 'tshallo II rdo rje
tshig rkang la don gnyis te I bla rna dam pa'i zhabs la phyag 'tshal zhing
lam 'bras bshad par dam bcwa [read: bca'] ba dang I gzhung dngos po II
No colophon
This is a commentary on the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang by Shar pa
Rdo rje '00 zero Fol. Ib has two miniatures with VirUpa on the left and
an unidentified individual, possibly Sa skya on the right hand
side. Gung ru observes that Rdo rje 'od zer completed the exegesis of
the text that had been left unfinished by his elder brother Shar pa Shes
rab 'byung gnas.
This may be that work. Rdo rje 'od zer was the sec-
ond abbot of Sa skya's Shar Residence and a disciple of Sa skya
and his elder brother. The first three sources mentioned in note twenty-
three of this paper state unanimously that Shes rab 'byung gnas passed
away at the age of sixty-four (= sixty-three). It is only in a gloss anent
him in a manuscript ofYar lung Jo bo's text in which we imd given the
year of his birth as the earth-male-horse year. This would mean that his
year of birth was most likely 1198 I 1199 remains a slight possibility as
January of that year is also included in the earth-male-horse year, so
that the year of his passing would have to be either 1261 or 1262.
Again, the first three sources state that his younger brother Rdo rje 'od
zer was abbot of the see of Shar for seven years and that he died at the
age of sixty-two (= sixty-one). If we can accept that Rdo rje 'od zer
mounted the abbacy upon the death of Shes rab 'byung gnas and that he
remained on the throne until his own passing, then we may assume that
his dates are circa 1206 to 1267.
4. Title page: Bl bsrungs 'thun mongpa: rje btsun dam pa 'i gsung
Indigenous catalogue no. phyi ga 102
Folios 113; folio 25 has an "upper" (gong) and a ''lower'' ('og)
45. GUNG 121.4.3-4.
Some water damage
Incipit: [lb] II bla rna dang dkon mchog rin po che mam pa gsum la
phyag 'tshal zhing skyabs su mchi'o II bdag dang sems can thams cad
kyi(sic) sangs rgyas thob par bya ba'i phyir I bsrung ba'i mal 'byor
nyams su blang bar bgyi'o I
Colophon: [112a] Ilbla rna dam pa chos kyi rje sa skya pa'i chas thams
cad kyi mthar thug gam 'bras bu 'di chos kyi rje sa skya PaI).9i ta chen
po'i zhabs kyi pad mo spyi bos blangs pa : bla rna shar pa rdo rje 'od zer
gyis legs par sbyar ba'o II . ..
II thun mong rna yin chos tshul 'di II dad ldan don yod rdo rje yis II
nyams su blang phyir bris brtsarns pa II rgya ston ring mos dag par bris
II . ..
This work on lam 'bras practise was written by Shar pa Rdo rje 'od
zer under the inspiration of Sa skya PaI).9ita's instructions. It would
appear that a Don yod rdo rje made a copy for his own use and the
manuscript was then written out by a Rgya ston ring mo.
5. Title page: Rdo rje tshig rkang gi 'grel pa cha gan gyis bsdebs
CPN no. 006617(14)
Incipit: Ib] na mo gu ru bhYaJ:1 bla rna yid dam mkha' 'gro la II sgo
gsum gus pas phyag 'tshaI te II rdo rje'i tshig 'byed 'grel chung 'di II
rang gzhan don du bri bar bya' 0 II
Colophon: [47a-b] .. shing pho brug gi 10 sgrog khum gyi zla ba'i yar
tshes beu gsum la : [47b] bla rna dam pa'i gzims khang rin chen sgang
gong mar sbyar cing bris pa 'dis gang zag dpag tu med pa smin grol la
'god cing : phyogs dus thams cad du bkra shis par gyur cig II II
Cha gan Dbang phyug rgyaI mtshan completed this study in what had
been 'Phags pa's private chambers in the Rin chen sgang complex of Sa
skya on the thirteenth day of the first haIf of the sgrog khum lunar
month of the wood-maIe-dragon year, that is, sometime in 1304, inas-
much as I do not know to what month the expression sgrog khum
refers. The manuscript is in places scarcely legible and is replete with a
198 JIABS 17.2
large number of glosses in an unknown hand, including a long post-
colophonic note which is by and large illegible. Typologically, Cha
gan's exegesis belongs to the genre of the interlinear commentary, called
mehan 'grel in later times. According to Ngor chen, Cha gan and his
disciple Bla rna Mnyam med pa Grags pa rgyal mtshan
edited and, no doubt in their opinion, corrected the Tibetan translation of
the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i tshig rkang, without recourse of the Sanskrit text of
the original, after which Cha gan wrote an exegesis of this curious pro-
duction. Ngor chen critically refers to the resultant work, the Gzhung
bshad rgyas pa, an "Extensive Commentary [on VirUpa's] Text, as a
"subjective [re]construction" (rang bzo). Gung ru appears to call it the
Gzhung bshad chen mo bka' rgya rna, a "Sealed Extensive Commentary
[on VirUpa's] Work."47 If we compare the text of the Rtsa ba rdo rje'i
tshig rkang used by Cha gan-in the manuscript, it is marked off the
exegesis as such by having been written in larger script-to the readings
and structure of the text as transmitted in orthodox Sa skya pa sources, it
is clear that a number of significant changes in the text seems to have
been initiated by him, or by him and Bla rna Mnyam med pa.
Ames zhabs Ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams. 1975.
'Dzam gling byang phyogs kyi thub pa'i rgyal tshab chen
po dpal ldan sa skya pa'i gdung rabs rin po ehe ji ltar
byon pa'i tshul gyi rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar rin po
che'i bang mdzod dgos 'dod kun 'byung [Sde dge print].
New Delhi: Bonpo Monastic Centre.
Ibid. 1986. Ed. Rdo tje rgyal po. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe
skrun lchang.
Ibid. 1974. fongs rdzogs bstan pa rin po che'i nyams len
gyi man ngag gsung rab rin po ehe'i byon tshul khog phub
dang beas pa rgyas par bshad pa legs bshad 'dus pa'i rgya
mtsho, Lam 'bras khog phub bde mehog ehos 'byung. Two
46. NGOR 117.2.2-3.4 [NGOR1 For Bla rna Mnyam med pa
Grags pa rgyal mtsban, see van der Kuijp 1994, 139, 142-144, and additional
references in the introduction of van der Kuijp-Stearns (forthCOming).
47. GUNG
Historical Studies of the Sa-skya-pa Lam 'bras and
Chakrasamvara(sic) Traditions. New Delhi. 1-314.
Bla ma dam pa Bsod nams rgyal mtshan. Bla ma brgyud
pa'i roam par thar pa ngo mtshar snang ba. LBSB 13. 1-
Ibid. Handwritten dbu med manuscript in fols.50. CPN
catalogue no. 002799(7).
?Bo dong PaI]. chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal. 1973 Lam 'bras
bla ma tshad ma'i 10 rgyus, Encyclopedia Tibetica. The
Collected Works of Bo dong PaT) chen Phyogs las roam
rgyal. Yol.l06. New Delhi: The Tibet House. 411-573.
See the text listed under A-5 in the present paper.
Bu ston Rin chen grub pa 1971. Bla ma dam pa leyis rjes
su bzung ba'i tshul bka' drin rjes su dran par byed pa. The
Collected Works of Bu ston (and Sgra tshad pa) [Lhasa
print]. Part 24. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian
Culture. 1-142.
Cha gan Dbang phyug rgyal mtshan. Lam 'bras leyi bla ma
bod leyi 10 rgyus rgyas pa bod bstan pa'i byung 'dems mao
Incomplete, handwritten dbu med manuscript in fols. 92.
See van der Kuijp-Stearns (forthcoming).
See the text listed under A-2 in the present paper.
Dmar ston Chos kyi rgyal po. Gzhung rdo rje'i tshig rkang
gi 'grel pa 'jam dbyangs bla ma'i gsung sgros mao LBSB
31. 1-295.
'Gos Lo tsa ba Gzhon nu dpal. 1976. Deb gter sngon po.
New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture.
Gung ru Shes rab bzang po. Lam 'bras bu dang bcas pa'i
man ngag gi byung tshul gsung ngag rin po che bstan pa
rgyas pa'i 'od. SSBB 9 no.37. 108/3-126.4.3.
'Jam dbyangs Mkhyen brtse'idbang phyug. Gdams ngag
byung tshul gyi zin bris gsang chen bstan pa rgyas byed.
LBSB 14. 1-155.
Jo nang Kun dga' grol mchog. 1982. Zhen pa rang grol gyi
Ihug par brjod pa'i gtam bskal bzang dad pa'i shing rta
'dren byed. The Autobiographies of 10 nang Kun dga' grol
mchog. YoU. New Delhi: The Tibet House. 285-534.
Mang thos Kiu sgrub rgya mtsho. 1987. Bstan rtsis gsal
ba'i nyin byed lhag bsam rab dkar, Gangs can rig mdzod
200 JIABS 17.2
4. Ed. Nor brang 0 rgyan. Lhasa: Bod Ijongs mi dmangs
dpe skrun khang.
LBSB The Slob bshad Tradition o/the Sa skya Lam 'Bras. 1983-
1985. Vols.1-31. Dehra Dun: Sakya Centre.
NGOR Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po. Lam 'bras bu dang bcas
pa'i man ngag gi byung tshul gsung ngag rin po che bstan
pa rgyas pa'i 'od. SSBB 9 no.37. 108.3-118.2.3.
NGORI Ibid. Lam 'bras bu dang bcas pa'i man ngag gi byung
tshul gsung ngag bstan pa rgyas pa'i 'od kha skong dang
bcas pa. SSBB 15 nO.87. 152.2-161.4.2.
SHES Stag tshang Shes rab rin chen, Sa skya pa'i gdung rabs
'dod dgu'i rgya mtsho handwritten dbu med manuscript in
fols. 34. CPN catalogue no. 002437(?).
SSBB Sa skya pa'i bka' 'bum. 1968-1969. Vols.I-15. Compo
Bsod nams rgya mtsho: Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko.
STAG Stag tshang pa Dpal 'byor bzang po. 1985. Rgya bod yig
tshang chen mo. Ed. Dung dkar BIo bzang 'phrin las.
Chengdu; Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.
THOB Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po. Thob yig rgya mtsho. SSBB
9 no.36. 44.4--108.2.
Tshal pa Kun dga' rdo Ije. 1981. Deb ther dmar po. Ed.
Dung dkar BIo bzang phrin las. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun
Ibid. 1961. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
Anonymous. Tshogs sgom rin po che'i mam thar. LBSB 1.
Yar lung Jo bo SMkya rin chen, Yar lung jo bo shtikya rin
chen gis mdzad pa'i chos 'byung, handwritten'dbu med
manuscript in fols. 116. CPN ca-talogue no. 002446(2)
Ibid. 1988. Ed. Dbyangs can. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs
dpe skrun khang.
Ibid. 1988. Ed. Ngag dbang. Lhasa: Bod Ijongs mi dmangs
dpe skrun khang.
Other References
Bkra shis dbang 'dus. 1989. Bod kyi lo rgyus yig tshags dang gzhung yig
phyogs bsdus dwangs shel me long. Beijing: Mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.
Inaba, ShOju. 1975. "An Introductory Study of the Degeneration of Lamas-a
genealogical and chronological note on the Imperial Preceptors of the Yuan
dynasty." A Study of Kleia. Ed. G. H. Sasaki. Tokyo. 553-516.
van der Kuijp, L.W. J. 1994. ''Fourteenth Century Tibetan Cultural History
I: Ta'i-si-tu Byang-chub rgyal-mtshan as a Man of Religion." Indo-Iranian
Journal 37. 139-149.
van der Kuijp, L. W. J., and C. R. Stearns. Cha gan Dbang phyug rgyal
mtshan and His Chronicles of the Sa skya Path-and-Result (lam 'bras)
Teachings (forthcoming).
Roerich, G., trans. 1979. The Blue Annals. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History
of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen)
Historical overview
The Nyingma (rNying rna; "ancients") sect of Tibetan Buddhism claims
to stem in lineal succession from religious groups active during the dy-
nastic period of Tibetan history (600-842 CE), which they maintain
endured in non-monastic lay groups though the dark period (842-978)
ensuing upon the collapse of centralized political authority in Tibet. As
this latter period gives way to the classical period (978-1419) of Tibetan
civilization sparked by economic revival and limited political centraliza-
tion, competing religious traditions emerge under the rubric of the Sarma
(gSar rna; "modernists").l The Nyingmas were known as such in con-
This article benefited greatly from discussions during a symposium on
rdzogs chen at the University of Virginia in April 1994, and I would thus
like to thank its principal participants: Ronald Davidson, Janet Gyatso,
Jeffrey Hopkins, Matthew Kapstein, Anne Klein and Dan Martin. In particu-
lar I would like to thank Janet for her criticism of an earlier draft of the paper,
and Matthew for very helpful conversations prior to and following the sym-
posium. Paul Hackett also offered me constructive criticism on the opening
sections. Finally my remarks on the importance of the body in these con-
templative techniques are in part based on extensive discussions with Charles
Herreshoff and Herbert Guenther.
1. I am well aware that some will object vehemently to my rendering of gSar
rna as "modernist" (the Tibetan term literally means "the new" or "the fresh").
I do not intend to directly compare the use of the term to the various specific
usages of the English rubric "modernism" in the twentieth century, but I do
think it accords with the general significance of "modem thought, character,
or practice" and even its more specialized contemporary definition as "the de-
liberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expres-
sion." It also has the advantage of making clear the pure ideological force of
these terms for competing groups during this period, while simply utilizing
204 JIABS 17.2
trast to these groups actively and self-consciously reimporting
Buddhism from India from the late tenth century onwards. Thus these
rubrics "ancients" and "modernists" are not lndic in origin, but rather
[rrst came into use in Tibet to signify these two discernible periods of
Tibetan translation of Buddhist texts: "ancients" refers to the activity of
the translator Vairocana (late eighth century) up to PaJ.lQita
Sm.rtiCifianaldrti) (late tenth century or early eleventh century), while
"modernists" signifies Rin chen bzang po (958-1055) onwards.
distinctive identities of both traditions were mutually co-constituting
during the eleventh century and beyond, since both had their inception as
self-conscious and distinct movements in intimate dialogue with each
other. In addition, the earlier communities and their associated religious
traditions were divided up into two broadly defined camps based upon
whether or not they considered themselves explicitly Buddhist in affilia-
tion: the Buddhist "ancient ones" and the non-Buddhist Bonpos {bon
While the dark period continues to be obscure from our contemporary
perspective, as it comes to a close we find those groups adhering to the
rubric of the ancients dominated by two tantric-based traditions of prac -
tice and theory generally transmitted in conjunction with each other:
Mahayoga (mal 'byor chen po) and the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen).
The former constitutes a classic tantric system with the full spectrum of
beliefs and practices characterizing late Indian Buddhist tantric move-
ments (i. e. eighth century onwards). Thus representing the Tibetan
importation of cutting edge Indian Buddhist tantra in the eighth to ninth
centuries, this system constituted mainstream tantra for the Nyingmas,
just as the Anuttarayoga tantras would eventually fulfill the same func-
the Tibetan teITIlS suggests their semantic content is slight (the flat "new
ones" speaks little to a reader).
2. See kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Grub mtha' mazod 315.6. The important
early Nyingma master Rong zorn chos kyi bzang po was said to be a direct
reincarnation of PaJ.l4ita Smrtijiianaldrti (see Dudjom 1991, 703).
3. The early Great Perfection traditions are mainly found within these two
communities. While the associated practices and literature are quite similar in
both, in the present context I will be focusing exclusively on the situation
within the communities of the ancients. Though it is imperative that the two
be studied in tandem, research has not yet progressed to a state where thisis
readily possible in many cases.
tion for the modernists. The Great Perfection. however, defined itSelf by
the rhetorical rejection of such normative categories constituting tantric
as well as non-tantric Indian Buddhism. This pristine state of affairs
known as the "Mind Series" (sems sde) movement stemmed above all
from Buddhist tantra as represented by the Mahayoga tantras, but was
also influenced by other sources such as Chinese Chan. and unknown
indigenous elements. Over the course of the next four centuries tradi-
tions going under the name of the "Great Perfection" radically altered in
nature. These alterations primarily consisted of rethinking its relation-
ship to the wider tantric domains of discourse and praxiS that formed its
original and continuing matrix of significance. This rethinking was pur-
sued in dialogue with more normative tantric traditions both from within
their own tradition (primarily the Mahayoga) and from the burgeoning
modernist movements (such as the Mahamudra and Anuttarayoga tantra
cycles); it was driven by its own interior logic of development as well as
the multiple transformations induced by the modernists philosophically,
institutionally andideologically. The entire process constituted nothing
less than a stunningly original and distinctively Tibetan reinvention of
Buddhist tantra in a large body of canonical and commentarial Tibetan
language texts, many of which are philosophical and literary master-
pieces. Of the many new systems thus generated under the continuing
rubric of the Great Perfection, the most important was known as the
"Seminal Heart" (snying thig). The process finally culminated in the
corpus of the fourteenth century scholar-poet kLong chen rab 'byams pa
(1308-1363), who not only systematized the creative ferment of the
preceding centuries, but also carefully contextualized it in terms of the
standard doctrinal and contemplative structures that were beginning to
define Tibetan Buddhism in general. It is this process from the ninth to
fourteenth century which forms the subject of my present inquiry.
The denial of tantra and rhetoric of absence in the formation of Great
Perfection traditions
From a very early point onwards, the Mahayoga Guhyagarbha Tantra
(gSang ba sllying po) represents the most normative vision of what
constitutes a tantra for these Nyingma lineages. Tibetan exegetical
works on it discuss it in terms of ten or eleven "practical principles of
tantra" (rgyud kyi dngos po) understood as summarizing the distinctive
features of mainstream tantric systems overall. For example, Rong zorn
206 nABS 17.2
chos kyi bzang po (eleventh century)
speaks of nine such principles in
his commentary: actualization, empowennent, commitments
and enlightened activities (as the five foundations), along with mantra,
"seals," contemplation and offering (as the four branches). The earlier
sPar Khab commentary ofLIIavajra adds the dyad of view and conduct
to the five foundations to fonnulate seven principles. rDo grub 'jigs
med bstan pa'i nyi rna (1865-1926) then structures the second half of his
own commentary, the mDzod kyi Ide mig, around ten principles tenned
"supporting conditions for the path":
view of suchness, resolving con-
duct, arraying maI,l<;lala, empowerments for sequential traversal, com-
mitments which are not to be transgressed, play of enlightened activity,
actualization of aspirations, unwavering contemplation, offerings pre -
sented to the appropriate (divine) sites and recitation of mantras with
binding seals. Mi pham's (1846-1912) exegesis of the Guhyagarbha
is structured around the same set of topics, though he counts the
final two separately to arrive at eleven principles and sequences them
differently: the triad of view, contemplation and conduct; the triad of
maI,l<;lala, empowerment and commitment; the triad of actualization,
offering and enlightened activity; and the dyad of seals and mantras.
The fITst triad consists of the view or outlook, the contemplative means
to instantiate that view in one's own being, and the conduct by which
one integrates these with one's ongoing lifestyle and behavior. The sec-
ond triad then relates to the integrated configurations of
divine energies representing this world being articulated or revealed, the
transference of intense energy that begins to purify stains and thus
empower one to take part in this maI,l<;lala, and the for the
preservation of this new integration, i. e. the commitments that must be
sustained. The third triad is comprised of the ritual and meditative
means to actualize these changes, the offering practices to surrender one-
self up to this new vision of reality while acknowledging the power and
beauty of its chief incarnations (i. e. the buddhas, etc.), and the charis-
matic efficacious activities that begin to unfold from the practitioner's
newly found place in the universe. Finally there are seals which bind or
secure these dimensions to prevent relapse and the mantras representing
4. The descriptions from Rong zorn chos kyi bzang po as well as the sPar
khnb are drawn from mDzod kyi Ide mig 145ff.
5. Ibid., 145ff.
6. gSang 'grel phyogs bcu'i mun sel gyi spyi don 'ad gsal snying po 65.5.
the use oflanguage to evoke this world as well as sustain its integrity.
These ten principles, with the detailed theories and practices they signify,
thus constitute the quintessential identity and infrastructure of normative
tantra for the Nyingma tradition. In Tibetan Buddhism in general (i. e.
both the modernists and ancients), a complimentary classification identi-
fying a system or text as belonging to the tantric mainstream is that of
the dyad of generation stage and perfection stage theories and pfaxis.?
The early Great Perfection is characterized by constant rhetorical
denials of the validity and critical relevance of not only this dyadic sys -
tern of tantric contemplation, but also the entire tenfold structure of tantra
precisely as represented in the ancients' own mainstream tantric tradi-
tions (Mahayoga). It is preCisely such denials that were involved in
critics' rejection of Great Perfection texts as authentically tantric, as well
as the texts' own attempts at differentiating between themselves and
tantra. An early prominent example of such rhetoric is the important
ninth chapter of the Kun byed rgyaZ po, where normative tantric princi-
ples are negated under the rubric of the "ten facets of the enlightening
mind's own being" (rang bzhin bcu). Identified as the "view of the
great perfection, the enlightening mind," these ten constitute a rejection
of the relevance of the tantric principles defining Mahayoga: 8 there is no
meditative cultivation of a view; no preserving of commitments; no skill
or exertion in enlightened activities; no obscuration of primordial gnosis;
no cultivation or refinement of meditative stages; no path to traverse; no
subtle phenomena;
no duality with relationships (between such discrete
7. See my discussion of this dyad below.
8. Kun byed rgyal po 32.1.
9. I interpret "subtle phenomena" as constituting a rejection of attempts to
articulate some type of description of the ultimate nature of things (chos) as
discrete manipulable things or building blocks that language can get a suffi-
cient handle on. The tantra elaborates that "deviations and obscurations
emerge in relation to phenomena via the grasping at a unitary dimension
which is not some-thing to be grasped." Instead it is only in releasing one-
self into the nothingness of reality (chos nyid) that the truly subtle reveals
itself, at the level of the whole and its logic. Thus the tantra says "I am pri-
mordially beyond subject-object duality, and hence there is no designation of
'subtle' .... "-giving oneself up to this unitary dimension of the invisible,
one finds one's personal identity as part of its field, not in terms of some
more subtle self still conceived along discrete lines. Similarly the rejection
of duality and linkages in the following item rejects understanding this
208 JIABS 17.2
phenomena); no delineation of definitive scriptures aside from the mind;
and no resolution in terms of esoteric precepts since it is beyond all
reductionism, whether reifications or negations. While not identical to
the Mahayoga lists, the similar numeration and partial correspondence is
In his commentary on the Kun byed rgyal po, 10 kLong chen rab
'byams pa speaks of the "tenfold nature of tantra" (rang bzhin bcu) in
preface to citing a passage from the same ninth chapter: view or per-
spective, meditation, commitments, enlightened activity, m ~ Q a l a ,
empowerment, cultivating stages (in a gradated path), traversing paths,
purifying obstacles, and pristine awareness or buddha activity. He fur-
ther specifies that these aspects can not be found upon analysis to exist
as discrete tangible essences, and describes it thus: "this tenfold nature
which is pure from the ground is resolved as a great non-meditation."
However, the passage kLong chen rab 'byams pa cites provides brief
descriptions of the same list of ten specified above from the Kun byed
rgyal po (except it omits the tenth) and thus does not directly correlate to
his own prefatory list. kLong chen rab 'byams pa adds " m ~ Q a l a , "
"empowerment," splits "meditation on a view" and "no obscuration of
primordial gnosis" each into two elements, and omits "subtle phenom-
ena," "non-duality" and the final two regarding scriptures and precepts.
In addition, while kLong chen rab 'byams pa simply applies absence to
all ten facets, the passage he cites oscillates back and forth between
dimensions which are "absent" (med pa) and dimensions which pertain
(yin), thereby intertwining positive and negative identifications of this
dimension being evoked. In the gNas lugs mdzod,11 kLong chen rab
'byams pa cites an earlier passage from the ninth chapter of the Kun
dimension in teffils of "relationships" between discrete (i. e. dualistically con-
ceived) entities, a type of discourse stemming from the karmic focus on indi-
vidual subjectivities and their interaction as discrete centers on the basis of
discernible patterns of cause and effect. Thus the tantra explains that "devi-
ations and obscurations in terms of linkage occur via the emergence of link-
ages in relation to a unitary dimension which is devoid of duality"; "because
my fOffil pervades all, primordially it is not dual."
10. Byang chub kyi sems kun byed rgyal po'i don khrid rin chen sgru boo
All my page references are to Lipman's translation (1987, 34).
11. gNas lugs mdzod 60.5.
byed rgyaZ po and identifies the "view of the great perfection" as the
"realization of the absence of ten natures": view, commitments,
empowerment, maI,lc;lala, stages, path, enlightened activity, primordial
gnosis, fruit and reality itself. However, his list again only partially cor-
responds to the quote it prefaces: he adds "empowerment and maI,lc;lala"
as well as "fruit and reality," and ignores the final four elements in the
tantra's enumeration. He concludes with a citation from the tantra's
which explains six "foundations": view, com-
mitment, enlightened activity, path, stage, and primordial gnosis. These
discrepancies result from kLong chen rab 'byams pa modifying the
original list to resemble a more straightforward account of ten principles
governing tantra in particular 13 as well as a more direct Nagarjunian-
style negation of each. 1his apparently relates to his agenda of bringing
the Great Perfection tradition into more explicit dialogue with the types
of concerns characterizing the Buddhism of the normative academic
institutions beginning to take shape in Tibet. In the current context he
links itto the authoritative Middle Way (dbu rna, madhyamaka) system
and carves out a distinctive space for it in relation to standard tantric
The Great Perfection thus originates on the periphery of the vast dis-
cursive terrain of the Mahayoga, the latter being none other than the
complex web of doctrines and practices constituting normative tantra
during that period. A vacuum is created in this landscape through the
systematic expulsion of every standard tantric principle. Just as in
Dignaga's theory of language where meaning derives from exclusion
(apoha), 14 it creates itself through denial, rejection, and negation, result-
ing in a space with nothing at all. What could this possibly signify in
itself, since it is by its own definition nothing? Yet this absence, just as
in signification, is utterly defined by what it has excluded-it is not a
simple absence, but rather an absence of precise systems, systems which
are thus inexorably evoked though now under erasure. The entire spec-
trum of tantric ideologies and praxis haunts this pristine space of
absence. The subsequent history of the Great Perfection then constitutes
the cycling back of the tide, the inexorable return of the expelled, as
12. Kun byed rgyal po 141.
13. Most are also standard principles of non-tantric Buddhism, though the
definitions emphasize their uniquely tantric interpretation.
14. For example, see Klein 1986, 145.
210 JIABS 17.2
tantric ideologies and practices flow back into this excavated space of
Atiyoga. Yet as they return, they are transformed to become something
other than their source-while permeable, the boundaries of the space
remain. These boundaries in some way continue to demarcate a space of
absence, but now the absence coexists with affirmation. The end result
is that this becomes a place where a genuinely Tibetan transformation of
Buddhist tantra takes place, an innovative appropriation and thorough-
going revision in the cauldron of Tibetan ideologies, culture and lan-
guage. This carved out space of absence thus functioned partially to
maintain a bounded zone in which Tibetans could think, resisting the
pressure of domination from the flood of Indic culture through rhetorical
negation, and then while still holding it at an arm's distance, perform the
alchemy of cultural assimilation.
Thus, at least at the level of literary expression, for the next six cen-
turies (ninth to fourteenth) the Great Perfection was subject to a process
of gradual alteration as these (rhetorically) exorcised demons gradually
flowed back into its very core. Given the at times highly unusual way in
which these "demons" made their reappearance, it is crucial not to
assume that this process should be characterized pejoratively as regres-
sion or simple assimilation, rather than as ongoing creativity and inno-
vation. From a very early period we find Great Perfection texts being
transmitted together with more normative tantric material and practices,
and the key to understanding its fluctuations over the centuries among its
different principal authors and lineage holders is to see a shifting bound-
ary line that delineates the Great Perfection from the tantric ocean it is
borne and sustained within in Tibet. We must trace how that oceanic
background shapes it at any given time, as well as how the constantly
shifting explicit divestiture and incorporation of diverse elements from
its tantric context continued to alter its identity, at times in startling new
directions. In addition, it is important not to exclusively privilege these
valorized authors and lineage figures as distinct from what might have
been quite different movements among unknown figures, withholding
the pejorative designation "popular."
The rhetorical denial of early Great Perfection texts later classified as
the "Mind Series" can thus not simply be taken at face value. On the
one hand it could be largely intended for those who have already gone
thro;Ugh these tantric processes with their complex meditations and ritu-
als-for an authoritative voice to suddenly pronounce the whole infra-
structure as meaningless and irrelevant would in that context possess a
tremendous psychological power. Yet simultaneously its restriction to
such a context would prevent it from actually undercutting or discour-
aging an initial or even ongoing immersion in such practices. Aside
from such considerations, obviously rejecting such principles is a way
of talking about them, which evokes and conjures them even in its
denial, thus living a parasitic existence dependent on its own alterity.
While the precise significance of this Mind Series strategy of rhetorically
negating these normative tantric principles is thus far from straight-
forward, it should be noted that there are additional standard Great Per-
fection approaches involving reinterpreting these principles in terms of
internal process-oriented experiences of the psyche's embodied nature
rather than externally conceived and performed structured activities.
This can consist in poetic evocation that still clarifies little as to any
practical approach: while there is a naturally occurring view, it is not
forcefully cultivated; while there are commitments, they are not actively
maintained vows; ordinary appearances are the desired vision rather than
transcendent pure realms, and so forth. Alternatively, such an approach
can involve a reinterpretation of standard practices such as evocation rit-
uals that present their many details (such as offering, confession and
feast) in terms of internal psychological processes revolving around
deep contemplative awareness. Although the practice is thus streamlined
and interiorized, it remains clearly implementable-i. e. the visualization
of the relevant deity and chanting of liturgy are still enacted.
The Great Perfection's early sources: Chinese Chan, Tibetan Mind
Series and the cutting edge of Indian Buddhist tantric contemplation
In Kennard Lipman's study of an important Mind Series text,IS he char-
acterizes early Great Perfection movements as growing out of tantric
speculation on the notion of the "enlightened mind" (byang chub sems,
bodhicitta), and emphasizes the use of concepts drawn from non-tantric
"mind only" (sems tsam, cittamatrii) literature. In addition, while overt
citation of Indian buddha-nature literature in the Great Perfection only
becomes prevalent in the fourteenth century with kLong chen rab
'byams pa, tantra itself in general is based ideologically and hermeneuti-
cally on buddha-nature traditions. 16 In similar fashion, the Great Per-
fection is from its inception an integral part of this long standing Indian
15. Lipman 1987, 11.
16. Snellgrove 1987, 125.
212 JIABS 17.2
tradition of speculation on the practical implications of using the trope of
the Buddha to talk about the ongoing dynamics of one's o w ~ being,
both that which lies in the grasp of one's vision and that which exceeds
it. Philosophically it is a tantric interpretation of buddha-nature dis-
course or "the enlightening mind" (byang chub sems, bodhicitta),
emphasizing original purity (ka dag) or emptiness as well as valorizing
continued action and dynamism under the heading of "spontaneity"
(lhun grub). In doing so, it relentlessly undercuts the dominance of
ordinary human subjectivity in preference for consistently adopting the
mysterious "buddha-perspective." Regardless of which elements are
stressed, the Great Perfection in its origins and development clearly
belongs in the continuum of South Asian Buddhist traditions. The
impressions of some contemporary Tibetologists to the contrary are par-
tially due to the influential presuppositions of traditional and contempo-
rary adherents to logico-epistemological strands of Indian Buddhism in
our interpretations of the history of Buddhist thought and textuality. 17
When an understanding of thought and language is assumed and conse-
quently applied across the spectrum as if natural, the differences elided
are immense, and it becomes difficult to articulate a response when that
elision falls unacknowledged, a shadow across the clear light of reason.
The major modem historical study to date of the specific origins of
early Great Perfection lineages is Samten Karmay's The Great Perfec-
tion. He argues 18 that it involves the blending of elements drawn from
three principal sources: (i) movements emphasizing the instantaneous
nature of enlightenment (cig car ba) deriving from Chinese Chan tradi-
tions that were very active in Tibet during the eighth to ninth centuries;
(ii) tantric teachings found in such Mahayoga texts as the Guhyagarbha
Tantra and presumably deriving in the main from Indic areas of South
Asia; and (iii) "Mind Series" type teachings. How or whether he distin-
guishes the third element from the second element, i. e. whether the
Mind Series is simply a rubric for this development out of the tantric
17. I have in mind conversations I have had over the years with various
scholars. It also must be said that the quality and extent of modem academic
work done in these and other sutra-based Indian and Tibetan Buddhist tradi-
tions remains superior to that done in tantra-based traditions. For these rea-
sons, there is a quite natural tendency for the former to unduly dominate our
critical perspectives.
18. Karmay 1988, 216.
perfection phase meditations in the Mahayoga Tantras 19 or a priorly
existent movement, is not clear. In fact, the center of Karmay' s text is
the proposition that Padmasambhava's Man ngag Zta ba'i phreng ba, a
commentary on perfection phase contemplative processes outlined in the
Guhyagarbha Tantra framed by a discussion of a doxography of nine
vehicles, represents a state at which the Great Perfection is beginning to
separate itself from its tantric origins. half of
Padmasambhava's text concerns the Great Perfection presented as the
third of the triune process (tshuZ) of the "tantric vehicle of inner yogic
means": 20 the generation mode, perfection mode, and great perfection
mode. At this early stage, the Great Perfection thus is not understood as
an independent vehicle, but rather as an expansion of the traditional
tantric dyad of generation phase and perfection phase meditations into a
triad which it culminates. Its rationale may be to focus in on the form-
less meditations of the perfection phase,21 thereby enabling them to
become contemplative sessions in and of themselves divorced from not
only generation phase visualizations, but also the techniques of complex
internalized visualizations that also go under the rubric of "perfection
phase" (reflected in subtle body theory and praxis). In this way, rer-
haps, proponents were able to engage in complex and difficult contem-
plative processes, but also rhetorically and experientially preserve a
space in which such language as "natural," "uncontrived," "stress-free"
and "open" could apply. It is essential to keep in mind that Mahayoga
just represents the cutting edge of Indian Buddhist Tantrism in the eighth
to ninth centuries, similar to the rubric "Anuttarayoga" in the tenth to
eleventh centuries for the modernists-in fact the two are basically very
similar movements despite the polemics. Karmayalso points to refer-
ences in modernist tantras themselves that indicate "great perfection"
(whatever Indic term this may translate) was used to refer to a "high
level of spiritual attainment reached through the practice of rdzogs rim
contemplation"22 or the perfection phase itself.
19. Kannay 1988, 120.
20. Kannay 1988, 146.
21. The term "formless" is problematic, since such meditations are subtly
thematized or in-formed by the aphoristic language of "instructions" as well
as the overall context in which they are practiced.
22. Kannay 1988, 141.
214 JIABS 17.2
In the Guhyagarbha Tantra itself we find repeated uses of the term
rdzogs, but only four references to "great perfection." Each of the refer-
ences clearly relates to the term's later usage, though none unambigu-
0usly imply it functioning as a rubric for a coherent system of theory or
praxis. The first reference: 23
Primordial gnosis considered in terms of a center with four directions
Is an inconceivable, spontaneous which is a great perfection
(rdzogs chen) -
The visionary who realizes it
Experiences the origin of everything within this great
The second reference: 24
Then all the of the adamantine enlightened body, speech, and
mind of the Buddhas from throughout the ten directions and four
times became condensed into one. Thus the Great Joyous One entered
equipoise within the contemplation of the cloud-array of the intensely
secret commitment's nucleus, i. e. that all phenomena are primordially
spontaneously present within the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen).
The third reference:
Om! The great perfection (rdzogs pa che) of enlightened body,
speech and mind -
Totally perfect and complete in terms of enlightened qualities and
activities !
Totally positive (kun bzang) in its primordial spontaneous perfection!
A great seminal nucleus of the gathered great assembly! Hoh!
The fourth reference: 26
Remaining within the commitment of sameness
Which evenly links you to sameness,
23. Chapter six; Tibetan and translation in DoIje 1987, 200, 626. All trans-
lations provided here are my own.
24. Chapter thirteen; Tibetan and translation in DOlje 1987, 31, 982.
25. Chapter fourteen; Tibetan and translation in Dorje 1987,235, 1054.
26. Chapter nineteen; Tibetan and translation in DOIje 1987,253, 186.
You will obtain the great sameness-perfection (mnyam rdzogs chen
If you transgress it, you will never be expansively awakened into
This connection between the Guhyagarbha Tantra and early Great Per-
fection movements is supported by the traditional characterization of the
final three vehicles (Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga) as tantra
(rgyud), scripture (lung) and esoteric precept (man ngag),21 This sug-
gests that Mahayoga constitutes the traditional tantric cycles, while
Atiyoga functions as highly specialized and experiential precepts pre-
senting the cycles' essence in contemplative form.
In saying that Padmasambhava's text gave "birth to the doctrine of
rdzogs chen as a syncretic teaching drawing mainly from [the
Guhyagarbha Tantra]" (152), Karmay again tersely qualifies this by
characterizing it as "tinged with thinking deriving from the [Mind
Series] 18 series of texts."28 The relevant passages are ambiguously
expressed, and it is quite possible that Karmay does not intend to sug-
gest two separate movements. However, for the purpose of my current
discussion I would like to briefly pursue the possibility of distinct
strands in Tibet that then merged during these early centuries. The con-
tention is that the Mind Series may have constituted a separate and inde-
pendent movement of unspecified origins, which then transformed into
the Great Perfection in Tibet through merging with a separate develop-
ment flowing out of Mahayoga perfection phase theory and practices.
This then gradually detached itself from its Origins into a tradition that
evolved a self-understanding of itself as an independent vehicle. The
origins of this hypothesized early Mind Series could have been a largely
oral and non-monastic movement among Himalayan yogic circles
belonging to a similar Buddhist milieu as that which generated other
such traditions reflected in Doha literature
and Mahamudra. While
clearly tantric in nature, it was an aestheticized and streamlined variety
distancing itself from other tantric movements focusing on sexuality,
violence and complex ritual practices encompassed by generation phase
27. See, for example, the Theg mchog nuizod vol. 2, 97.4.
28. This set of texts is discussed in Karmay 1988, 24.
29. This is of course related to Kvaeme's theory on the origins of Bon Great
216 JIABS 17.2
and perfection phase contemplation.
While possessing scattered
attempts at literary production, its literary identity was fairly unformed,
and thus it was able to easily blend with a more literary-based movement
growing out of speculations on the implications of a type of contempla-
tion known as the "great perfection" emerging out of perfection phase
practices (themselves drawn from the extensive Mahayoga tantra
cycles). While both the Mind Series and new Mahayoga developments
may have largely took shape in Tibetan areas as Karmay continually
implies, clearly there were also substantial ties to Indian Buddhist circles
via Tibetans traveling abroad as well as various foreign yogis / scholars
wandering through Tibet.
As opposed to the subsequent Seminal Heart transformation of the
Great Perfection which is quite different from Chan and intensely tantric
in nature,31 the early Great Perfection tradition eventually subsumed
under the Mind Series rubric obviously bears many striking similarities
to Chinese Chan (as well as differences). Given early references to the
subterranean survival of Chan in Tibet, it would thus not be surprising
that Chan constituted one of the important strands fueling the Great Per-
fection's initial development. Despite this, its main sources are obvi-
ously tantric in nature; the earlier characterizations of it as the "residue of
Chan in Tibet" having been thoroughly criticized by Karmay, I will not
repeat it here. 32 Robertson and Tanaka 33 likewise have strongly criti-
cized Tucci's claims that the Great Perfection has a direct genetic rela-
tionship to Chinese Chan such that it partially represents the preservation
of Chan practices and beliefs in Tibet. While the criticism of Tucci's
fallacious arguments is excellent, they base themselves on a single text,
such that the scope of refutation is too narrow and consequently the
claims made are too strong in disregarding more subtle versions of
30. See Robertson 1992, 162 for a discussion of how the Mind Series
movement takes its stand independently of tantric features, claiming its
"inexpressible spontaneous presence of pure and complete mind" is outside of
the generation / perfection phase structures (also see Karmay 1988, 55-58,
31. For this reason, questions regarding how the Seminal Heart's innova-
tiveness may be genetically related to other traditions must be pursued
32. Karmay 1988, 86-106.
33. Robertson and Tanaka 1992.
Chan's possible influences on early Great Perfection traditions. Such
influence could have taken place outside of Tibetan cultural domains,
and / or in the late eighth century some one hundred and fIfty years prior
to bSam gtan mig sgran' s composition (the text Robertson and Tanaka
use to argue that Chan and the Great Perfection were considered to be
quite distinct traditions). Nonetheless, I do agree that even these early
Great Perfection traditions were clearly profoundly tantric in character
by at least the latter half of tenth century, which indicates its principal
roots were non-Chan in origin, despite the lack of overtly tantric visual-
ization techniques. This type of doctrinal argument is echoed by
However even if we posit the Great Perfection as emerging
through a process of detachment from Mahayoga tantric practices and
literature, its development in Tibet took place in a milieu where Chan
influence was at times very strong indeed. Given their striking similari-
ties as well as the references to Chan in Nyingma literature,35 it would
be very odd if the Great Perfection was not significantly influenced by
its dialogues with Chan, even if its original genesis and primary impetus
is to be located elsewhere.
Scholarship clearly must thus move beyond an "either / or" type of
framework that posits the Great Perfection as a survival of Chan in
Tibet, or disavows any relationship whatsoever. It is also important to
note that the later Seminal Heart movement could never be confused
with Chan in any of its ordinary forms, with the exception of its incor-
poration of earlier Great Perfection movements in its "absence" (med pa)
discourse articulating "breakthrough" (khregs chad) contemplation. A
more interesting line of inquiry is to ask how the Great Perfection might
have important implications for our re-reading of the history and nature
of Indian Buddhism as a tantric tradition offering important hermeneutic
and philosophical innovations rather than simple anti-nomian practices,
new terminology, or new "styles" for contemplation.
Finally, it is
34. Norbu 1984.
35. See Karmay 1988, 93, for a reference to a seventh generation of Chan
teachings in reference to an important Great Perfection master around 1000
36. An example of the understanding of tantrism that I find problematic can
be found in Snellgrove 1987, 189: " .... the vast variety of tantric imagery,
when divorced from the actual tantric practices of the kind we have illustrated,
becomes in effect nothing more than new styles for old practices .... tantric
218 JIABS 17.2
essential to keep in mind that the Great Perfection was not at all a mono -
lithic tradition, but rather during these early centuries consisted of a wide
variety of heterogeneous movements with often quite different sources
and agendas. In many ways the quest for pinpointing its "origins" is
yet another futile search ill-fated because of its faulty premises.
Whatever its origins, in Tibet, at least, the term "Great Perfection"
came to signify a series of interlinked poetically thematized styles of
meditation codified into varying traditions grouped together as the
"Mind Series" (sems sde). The term became a rubric for extended dis-
courses on the subject gradually understood as a discourse making sense
in and of itself, e v e ~ to the extent (in some circles) of constituting a self-
sufficient praxis without reliance on other more tangible technique-ori-
ented systems of Buddhist contemplation. At some point in this pro-
cess, its adherents thus began to refer to it as a "vehicle" (theg pa, yana),
which connotes a soteriologically efficacious and autonomous way.
Recent research 37 indicates this may have been already in process by the
late eighth century in India. However, simply the term "vehicle" does
not by itself indicate that the Great Perfection had gained any type of
self-sufficient identity for itself either in terms of extended literary cycles
or forms of praxis, although it may have had such an identity as a largely
oral phenomena only gradually elaborated in graphic forms. The strands
that fueled this initial development in Tibet appears to be this triad of
early Vajrayana speculation and practice, then known under the heading
of "Mahayoga" (the Guhyagarhha Tantra in particular);38 Chinese
Chan traditions encountered from Sichuan, Dunhuang, and elsewhere;
and unknown indigenous influences, perhaps including heterodox
Buddhist movements circulating in Tibet prior to the late eighth cen-
Buddhism seems to offer little new in results, which earlier forms of
Mahayana Buddhism do not already supply .... " Despite such problems,
Snellgrove's lTUio-Tibetan Buddhism vol. I remains the standard work on the
history of Indian Buddhist tantra.
37. I have in mind here the ongoing doctoral research of Phil Stanley at the
University of Virginia into the early nine vehicle doxographical systems of
Nyingma literature.
38. See Eastman 1981, 1983.
tury.39 This discursive independence of the Great Perfection is clearly
indicated textually during the tenth century in Tibet by gNubs sangs
rgyas ye shes's bSam gtan mig sgron and the codification by unknown
hands of earlier short tantras into the critical Kun byed rgyal po. The
former is the earliest surviving substantial exegetical work on the Great
Perfection attributed explicitly to a Tibetan author, and its main section
discusses four distinct Buddhist traditions hierarchically arranged from
lowest to highest: the gradual approach of the MMhyarnika taught by
KamalaSila, the sudden approach of the Chan taught by Hva-shang
Mahayana, the non-dual approach of the Mahayoga and the spontaneous
approach of the Great Perfection.
The Kun byed rgyal po, on the
other hand, is the main canonical work of the Great Perfection as it
emerges from the "dark period" (850 to 1000 C. E.) into the light of the
economic and religious transformations of the eleventh century. While
the dark period was marked by economic depression, political decentral-
ization, and a paucity of historical records,41 it was thus also apparently
the site of these non-institutionalized developments of early Vajrayana
movements that resulted in the gradual articulation of a self-conscious
Great Perfection movement in Tibet, as well as the more graphically
tantric Mahayoga systems.
A digression into the history of rhetoric and practice in Buddhist tantric
contemplation: the triad of generation phase, perfection phase and the
great perfection
The later phases of Buddhist tantra in India known under the rubric of
the "Anuttara-yoga Tantras" generally classified their various contem-
plative techniques into two sequentially ordered types: "generation
39. See Kvaerne 1972, 38-40, where he suggests that Bonpo Great Perfection
traditions stemmed in part from the activities of Buddhist tantric adepts and
possibly Saivite yogis in western Tibet (then the kingdom of Zhang Zhung)
during the seventh to eighth centuries. In other words, the eighth century
transmission of Buddhism from China and India into central Tibet under the
auspices of the Yarlung dynasty was not the earliest or exclusive source of
Buddhist transmissions in ancient Tibet. Also see Kvaeme 1976.
40. bSam gtan mig sgron 65-118, 118-186, 186-290, 290-494 respectively.
See Guenther 1983 for a discussion of this text; also Ruegg 1989,6-7, etc ..
41. Ronald Davidson delivered an excellent summary of issues related to this
period and its end in an unpublished talk entitled "The Eleventh Century
Renaissance in Central Tibet" (April 1994, University of Virginia).
220 JIABS 17.2
phase" (bskyed rim, utpatti-krama) and "perfection phase" (rdzogs rim,
sa'!!panna-krama) practices respectively. This categorization was par-
tially an attempt to introduce innovative contemplations (the latter) and
theoretically justify them as complimentary processes to previously
standard tantric contemplative practices (the former). The perfection
phase is thus understood as bringing the generation phase practices to
"perfection" or "completion," thereby both integrating with, and subor-
dinating, the earlier standard modes of contemplation. One gives rise to
a vision of transcendence in stark contrast to one's mundane existence
(generation), and that vision is then fully em-bodied as it culminates in
the visionary's physical incarnation of a new order of existence
(peifection), a new organizing principle that begins to assert itself in and
as oneself.42 "Generation phase" in general signifies a concern with
visual images, and in particular the various practices of "generating"
visualizations of deities' bodily images that became so popular under the
rubric of Buddhist tantra. Its various systematizations correspond to
different procedures and corresponding classifications for how one goes
about such visualization in an organized sequence of steps.
"Perfection phase," however, covers two distinct rubrics: an earlier
body of practice focused on the absence of images and a later system of
techniques focused on the human body as a directly sensed reality. The
first aspect indicates form-less types of contemplation directly on tre
ultimate nature of one's mind utterly devoid of any fabricated or sponta-
neous visual images. Often discussed as the dissolution of visual
images back into the visionary, one could explain them as a felt experi-
ence of being grounded in the body, guided by the felt gravity of the
body's presence without any cathexis to external images. They can also
be understood in part as attempts to formally incorporate the non-exo-
teric styles of meditation on emptiness (that were increasingly normative
in orthodox monastic environments) into tantric practice and ideology.
This was done so with a degree of self-identity that provided rhetorical
justification of their Buddhist character, as well as perhaps a means to
transform a discourse and praxis that may have become a stifling ortho-
doxy.43 It is important both to note that the actual "content" and style of
these meditations when isolated out from their context is near identical,
42. See Cozart 1986, 27 and 4i.
43. See de Jong 1984, 98, for a discussion of Matsunaga's notion of the
"ritualisation of Mahayana ideas" in Buddhist tantra.
and yet, when contextualized discursively and practically, the distinct
semantic shapings of that similar "content" results in arguably quite dif-
ferent practices despite their formal similarities. In other words, exoteric
contemplation of emptiness and esoteric dissolution of images is simul-
taneously radically similar, and radically different. The second rubric of
perfection phase contemplation signifies internal meditations on a subtle
or imaginal body-image through visualizing its triune elements known as
"the channels, winds, and nuclei" (rtsa riung thig Ie). This is in contrast
to focusing on external visualizations of deities in front of one's self, or
as one self, or even internal visualizations of constellations of such
deities as a "body IDaJ).Qala." These types of perfection phase medita-
tions are innovative and distinctive in the history of Buddhist tantra in
that they introduce overtly sexual symbolism as the basis for contempla-
tion through reliance on non-anthropomorphic representations of a sub-
tle body. Correspondingly they mark a move towards felt tactile sensa-
tions (especially sexual bliss and sensations of warmth) rather than
exclusive reliance on our capacity for vision. In this way it marks a
movement towards embodiment and processes internal to our body, with
sexuality involving intensely tactile felt presences in contrast to vision,
the coolest and most metaphysical of our senses. 44 We can thus only
fully embody and assimilate these transformations by coming to terms
with our body, a space that somehow resists the influence of the det-
ached image.
TIlls distinction of two dimensions of "perfection phase" practices is at
times discussed as "with signs" or "symbolic" (mtshan bcas) in distinc-
tion to "without signs" or "non-symbolic" (mtshan met!).45 In other
44. See Levin's 1988 analysis of the nature of vision and its contemporary
distortion in "The Yielding of the Visible" (60-69) and ''The Technological
Eye" (95-107), as well as how he contrasts vision's distance to the immediacy
of touch in "Vision in Touch" (253-256).
45. Of course this distinction between images I appearances and emptiness
has an ancient pedigree in Indian Buddhism, and even the precise terminology
of "yoga with signs" and "yoga without signs" is used to discuss the contem-
plative techniques found in the earlier tantric systems eventually classified as
the Action, Conduct and Yoga tantric classes (see Hopkins 1987, 189-203;
Hopkins 1987a, 52; Sopa 1985, 24-27). In that context it refers primarily
instead to contemplation of a deity in contrast to contemplation of emptiness,
since the elaborate notion of a subtle body and consequent focus on the
body's felt interior only emerges in the later Anuttarayoga tantras. Beyer
222 JIABS 17.2
contexts the distinction is terminologically expressed as "the path of effi-
cacious means" (thabs lam) and "the path of freedom" (grollam).46 A
significant point of contention in India and Tibet appears to have been
whether the latter styles of contemplation could constitute a meditative
session with particular techniques to generate and sustain it (regardless
of rhetorical denials offormal meditation), or even an entire "vehicle" in
and of themselves. The more conservative position maintained the
necessity of their linkage to imaginal processes involving visual images
as a necessary preliminary and / or complement, i. e. generation phase
practices. Obvious reasons for the necessity of such linkage range from
the felt need to imbue these practices' powerful effects with a strong
sense of orthodox Buddhist ethics,47 to the circular logic that Beyer
alludes t0
-since normative Buddhist circles have come to set up such
practices as presupposing that "the practitioner is a deity. . . . formed
through a series of magically potent contemplative events," mastery of
generation phase techniques is an absolute prerequisite. However such
circular logic is hardly convincing outside of a tradijional discourse, and
the motivations and necessity of this privileging of deity-discourse
remains an open question. 49 Just as Sharf has pointed out in other con-
(1973, 132) discusses this distinction in the context of the latter, identifying
"signless" as "gathering in the divine body-image and arising from the clear
light of emptiness" (bsdu [dang).
46. DOlje 1987,117.
47. This need is particularly evident when considering contemporary Qigong
in the PRC, where the paranoia of "masters" obsessed with the manipulation
of their own energy is legendary. I particularly remember a discussion with a
Chinese friend of mine living in a remote Tibetan monastery after forsaking
following in the footsteps of his father, a famous Qigong master in Beijing.
Despite having had numerous experiences of the tremendous power such prac-
tices have, he had been unable to cope with what he viewed as the dominant
tone of manipulation and control in their guarding secret techniques, martial
applications, amassing of wealth and general disregard of ethics. It was pre-
cisely for the immersion in a Buddhist world-view that he had come to the
monastery, despite the hardships.
48. Beyer 1973, 131.
49. The broader subject of the role of visually conceived symbols is some-
what different from this issue of how visualization of deity-images came to ..
dominate Buddhist tantric practice.
texts, certainly in Tibet also there was a continual oscillation in such
practices between the actual presence of felt experiences in the perceptual
fields of the practitioner's body and the dominance of discursive / ritual
systematizations, with the latter generating, and fulfilling, a wide variety
of needs quite distinct from the psycho-physical transformation of an
individual. 50
The term "Great Perfection" or "great completeness" then seems to
have first had a limited currency in India (and perhaps elsewhere) as a
technical term referring to a higher development of "perfection phase"
yogic states (eighth century?). This was eventually codified into a triadic
transformation or expansion of the increasingly normative dyadic classi-
ficatlon oftantric contemplation: the generation phase, perfection phase
and great perfection. In some sources this triad apparently signified the
different stages of meditation an adept must pass through. 51 In this
context, "great perfection" apparently referred to a kind of technique-free
"natural" immersion in a non-conceptual state that became a frequent
experience for some practitioners after prolonged use of perfection phase
techniques, a psychological space which was intensely tantric by virtue
of its matrix. As examples of textual evidence, the important Anuyoga
text the mDo dgongs ' dus pa represents the final three vehicles as gen-
eration' perfection, and total perfection (yongs su rdzogs).52 Dudjom
cites at length two such passages from modernist tantras, the
'Jam dpa/ zhal lung of Buddhasrijfianapada and its commentary by
50. See Sharf 1992. The strong reading of Sharf's argument against assum-
ing phenomenological interpretations of Buddhist texts' reference to subjec-
tive contemplative experiences simply does not hold water in Tibet. There
are numerous very specific and pointed discussions of personal experiences, as
well as pointed discussions of contemporaries who have, and have not, expe-
rienced various types of markers in Tibetan texts (see the gTer bdag gling pa
passage cited below). In addition, my own personal experience, and conversa-
tions with various religious practitioners in various parts of the Tibetan
cultural zone clearly indicates how misleading such a strong argument would
be. Despite this, his arguments mitigated with caution are quite valid, and
offer valuable hermeneutics as to how these practices and discourses can have
numerous functions intersubjectively that have little to do with any
"authentic" inner experiences.
51. Karmay 1988, 18 and 138.
52. mDo dgongs 'dus pa 302.7.
53. Dudjom 1991, 313.
224 nABS 17.2
Vitapada ('Phags pa 'jam dpaZ dbyangs kyi zhaZZung gi 'greZ pa). The
texts as a pair explicitly identify the term "Great Perfection" as referring
to the second stage of the perfection phase, i. e. the "non-symbolic" as
opposed to "symbolic." The former characterizes it as "the second stage
which is the essence of all the glorious ones," which the latter interprets
as the "second stage of the second [i. e. perfection] stage." In the much
later Chos dbyings mdzod,54 kLong chen rab 'byams pa explicitly labels
the Great Perfection as "secret mantra" in terms of situating it within
Indian Buddhism, and further specifies that from the secret mantra's two
divisions of "generation" and "perfection" phase, it is the latter. Finally,
in terms of the two types of perfection phases - "greater and lesser"-it
is the "great" type. In his bSam gtan ngaZ gso,55 kLong chen rab
'byams pa also refers to it as "the great perfection phase" (rdzogs rim
chen po), defined as "resting in the pristine unfabricated enlightening-
mind of awareness."
The orthodox position in Tibet was certainly that perfection phase
practices sequentially follow, and are contextualized by, standard
Mahayana meditations such as "engendering an altruistic motivation to
enlightenment" (sems bskyed) and tantric generation phase visualiza-
tions-one Tibetan author even defines perfection phase practices with-
out such conjunction as essentially non-Buddhist practices.
Often the
advocated mastery of visualizations in the generation phase required to
move on to perfection phase contemplations is extraordinary, to the point
where one must be "capable of visualizing the entire mat;tc.Iala palace and
occupants as contained within a shining drop at the tip of the nose, heart
center, or genitals, and of holding that precise hologram stable for sev-
eral hours."57 Frequently Tibetans will speak of needing to see the
"whites of the eyes" of each of the innumerable deities in a given mat;t -
c.Iala. However, there are many indications that such extreme strictures
are largely theoretical or exhortatory in nature, while in practice the situ-
54. Chos dbyings mdzod 350.7ff.
55. bSam gtan nga/ gsa 80.2.
56. Matthew Kapstein infoffiled me (private communication, April 1994)
that he had seen precisel y such a reference in 'Jam mgon Kong sprul's corpus,
while similar statements are scattered throughout Tibetan Buddhist texts. See
the Yid bzhin mdzod (665.7) for a typical assumption of such conjunction.
57. ThUImall 1994, 73.
ation is much more fluid. Beyer
cites a conversation with a "highly
placed incarnate lama" who admitted to being only able to roughly
visualize the subtle deities, though he quickly cited an elder yogi who
supposedly had perfect visual mastery. Gyatso's59 detailed account of
perfection phase practice in the Geluk tradition provides a very succinct
set of relatively simple visualizations for those who cannot do the more
extensive ones (specifying it as the minimum requirement for proceeding
onwards). Lest one think such a reference is an accommodation for
contemporary students, I should point out that in the Shing rta chen po 60
kLong chen rab 'byams pa details a practice that is said to be for ''those
who only take up perfection phase practices, whether because they can't
engage in extensive generation phase meditation or because they have
little problem with discursiveness."
This question of the autonomy of perfection phase contemplation is
pertinent whether the context is a particular meditative session, or some
type of sequential progression outlined by a path structure. If it is held
that the non-symbolic formless meditations themselves are sufficient,
since there is no longer a preliminary engagement of vision that can be
said to energize or contextualize the consequent states of dissolution, a
natural question arises: in what way are such meditations delineated
from standard types of non-esoteric "calming" practices (zhi gnas,
samatha) and meditations on emptiness? Far from being the "ultra-
peak" (yang rtse) of all Buddhist practices as claimed, such associations
instead link them to doxographically inferior non-tantric preparatory
types of contemplation. This appears to have been a frequent point of
attack in Tibet, since Great Perfection literature stresses that its medita-
tions Me not fixated or exclusionary as calming practices generally are-
instead they enable a vibrant and ceaselessly active type of awareness to
come to the fore, which is then integrated into every day life. 61 A fur-
58. Beyer 1973, 75.
59. Gyatso 1982, 14-16.
60. Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 112.5.
61. This is indicated in passages such as the following from the Tshig don
nulzod (349):
No matter whether it (i. e. awareness) is shining forth hither to objects
of the six consciousnesses or abiding within indwelling cognition, the
dimension of awareness is a naked natural clarity, vivid in its clarity
and awareness. Though vile thoughts arise, it is nakedly present in
226 JIABS 17.2
ther implicit type of delineation appears to be how their discourse's sur-
rounding semantic field flavors the practitioner's understanding of such
states of contemplation, such that their inherently tantric textual (graphic
and oral) discourses shape and give body to these simple, yet difficult,
states of being. In this way, one could argue that even a tradition not
actively appropriating visualization in praxis could be profoundly tantric
by virtue of this discursive shaping of the contemplative arena. This is
particularly clear in the Great Perfection, where such "formless" con-
templations cultivate not only an alert, vigilant, eyes-open awareness, but
also are shaped in distinct styles of psychological inquiry by poetic
There were at least two major religious traditions in Tibetan areas
during the eleventh to twelfth centuries that attempted to rhetorically
(leaving open the question of actual praxis in specific life-contexts) pre-
sent themselves as self-sufficient tantric vehicles that exclusively
engaged in "formless"63 types of contemplation: the bKa' brgyud tradi-
inherently cleansed wakefulness; though noble thoughts arise, it is
purely present and awake in its freedom from limitations. Though
awareness abides within its own place, it uninterruptedly gazes with
wide open eyes, untransformed by objects, unadulterated by grasping,
and without involvement in notions of things to abandon and their
antidotes. This dimension of awareness in its intense clarity and
unwavering lucidity is identified as the Body of Reality in its naked
unimpededness. If it is not cognitive and aware, forget about it; but if
it is, since it's impossible that its essence is not the Body of Reality,
you must recognize it as such.
62. Examples of such poetic thematization are the four styles of letting-be,
twelve adamantine laughs and seven marvelous esoteric words described in
the Seminal Heart tradition as means for Breakthrough meditation (especially
see the Tshig don mdzod 346fO.
63. I continue to use scare quotes around "formless" to frighten away inap-
propriate connotations. They are only form-less in relation to their lack of
standard Buddhist contemplative forms and their deconstruction of foeval
vision, while in fact they are very concerned with the nature of our visual
field as well as in-forming experience.
tions of the Great Seal (phyag rgya chen po, mahamudra)64 and the
Ancients I Bon traditions of the Great Perfection (i. e. the Mind Series,
not later developments). In their early forms, both represent innovative
codifications of non-symbolic perfection phase practices separated off
from their intimate partners in tantric contemplation, and thus in essence
are tantric transformations of earlier calming (zhi gnas, samatha) and
insight (lhag mthong, vipaiyana) meditations. These latter meditations
are modified in terms of actual practice as well as shaped by the tantric
discourses in which they are rhetorically contextualized. Both traditions
are thus referred to as "great" (chen po), a word that in TIbetan generally
functions along the lines of the English "super." They are the "super"
part of perfection I completion phase practices, such that the "Great
Perfection" can be interpreted as the "super style I dimension of perfec-
tion phase practices." In other words, these traditions do not concern
themselves with the interiorization, sexualization, and de-anthropomor-
phic imaging of visualization in the subtle body (i. e. symbolic perfection
phase practices), but rather only with the more seemingly amorphous
realms of (visually contrived) form-less meditation. They ultimately aim
at haunting or reshaping everyday experience rather than becoming mys-
tic trances departing from and re-entering t h ~ conventional domain.
The question as to what degree these were actually implemented apart
from any other types of more normative tantric practices, and particularly
subtle body meditations, is crucial. For the moment, my emphasis is
simply on their rhetorical exclusion of such practices, which at the very
least appeared to be a basis for the polemical attacks launched by other
groups (as well as a basis for the bKa' brgyud-Nyingma syncretism
over the centuries that finally issued forth in a full blown ecumenical (ris
med) movement in nineteenth century Eastern Tibet). For example, a
typical passage from the bSam gtan mig sgron
rejects any type of
physical discipline, including the simple discipline of a prescribed sitting
posture as one meditates-the practitioner "should instead do whatever
is comfortable." However in the history of Buddhism we often find the
rhetorical negation of a practice serves a variety of functions without
64. The history and nature of the various movements that have gone under
the rubric of the "Great Seal" in Tibet has yet to be critically studied. Such a
history should shed considerable light on these issues.
65. See the bSam gtan mig sgron 403-5; also Karmay 1988, 119. The cited
phrase is on 403.6.
228 JIABS 17.2
necessarily entailing the literal rejection of the practice in question. For
instance, such negative rhetoric can discourage becoming rigidly fixated
on particular techniques as producing desired experiences or states,
such that one loses sight of the eventual necessity to dissolve boundaries
between contemplative practice and daily life. Subsequent Great Perfec-
tion traditions indicate that such styles of meditation begin with a sym-
balic indication of the mind's nature in an encounter with one's teacher
referred to as a "pointing to" or "introduction to" the mind's nature
(sems khrid; ngo sprod).66 While contemporary teachers tend to con-
textualize such an event within a swelter of other practices which it then
serves to reinterpret, it is not clear to what extent such may have been the
case during these earlier periOds.
Following such an "introduction" constituting a type of initiation into
the tradition, one can envision at least five possible ways in which dis-
ciples may have been directed to contextualize Great Perfection rhetoric
and thus understand the traditions' specific practical parameters. (i) The
first possibility ("semantic contextualization") is that they were directed
to simply reinterpret visualization practices (already part of their daily
praxis) with an enhanced sense of the importance and priority of the
visualized images' dissolution processes (thim tshu). (ii) An alternative
possibility ("calming techniques") is that oral precepts may have
instructed disciples to continue and transform traditional "calming" types
of concentration exercises (again presupposing such daily praxis) by
moving towards integration and expansiveness rather than the isolation
(from daily experience) and intense concentration that such practices
tend to initially generate. This would make perfect sense of the frequent
exhortations in this literature to "relax" and "integrate" such that artificial
boundaries are deconstructed. (iii) Another possibility ("formless medi-
tation") is that practitioners were advised to embark on extended ses-
sions of sitting meditation (such as in some strands of Chan) devoid of
any specific techniques or imaged content, as wen as any preliminary
exercises to "ease" entry into such states This also may have presup-
posed initial familiarity with visualization practices and their dissolution,
with the contemplation fonowing dissolution gradually detached to creale
66. Generally a heavily ritualized event, this at times preserves an existential
freshness and highly contextualized personal significance. See Das 1992 for
stories of such events involving flatulence (54-5), a drunken beating (20-1),
forbidden alcohol (155), and others.
a separate meditative session devoid of dependency on the initial
visualization phases. (iv) A fourth alternative ("poetically thematized
meditation") is the employment of psychological inquiries that utilize
oral instructions or graphic texts to engage in guided reveries, analyses,
or poetic thought. 'This can be quite complex in its own right, but does
not necessarily involve the body in such direct ways as contemplative
techniques using posture, visualization and the like. These inquiries
could directly presume a background in calming exercises, visualization
practices, "formless" sitting meditation, or no such background at all.
(v) Finally, as critics often imply, some teachers may have interpreted
("non-meditation") the rhetoric as simply advocating doing as they
please (ci dgar), taking these new teachings as a radical justification of
complete immanence that places the "seal" (phyag rgya) of approval on
their own ordinary life styles without the slightest necessity for any type
of formal contemplative praxis-the emotional distortions (nyon rnongs)
are primordial gnosis (ye shes), after all. Obviously all of these interpre-
tations were present to some degree, and the controversies that raged are
powerfully presented in the famous story of the origination of the
demonic Rudra in the fourteenth century "rediscovered" text Pad rna
bka' thang by 0 rgyan gling pa. 67 The story revolves around his
archetypal account of two radically different interpretative takes, and
consequent life styles, possible in the Great Perfection's teaching of "do
as you please." One student-"the secretive I definitive pig" (Dan
phag)-departs from his teacher's shadow to engage in sitting medita-
tion, while one student-"black liberation" (Thar pa nag po)-departs
with an enhanced sense of legitimacy for his ordinary coarse behavioral
patterns. The difference is a hermeneutical one that in many ways still
rages on in modern Buddhological research, and has far reaching social
Particularly relevant to this issue is the question of the extent to which
some Great Perfection circles were strictly opposed in practice to nor-
mative tantric contemplations of generation I perfection phases (in par-
ticular sadhanas-visualizing a deity, reciting its mantra, etc.), and the
extent to which for others these contemplations' negation was purely
rhetorical while in practice individuals routinely resorted to such tech-
niques. For example, kLong chen rab 'byams pa in his Grub mtha'
67. See Kapstein 1992 for an interpretation of this story found in chapters
five and six of the Pad rna bka' thang.
230 nABS 17.2
mdzotJ68 describes generation and perfection phases as being rejected by
the Great Perfection since they involve speculative or intellectualized
contemplation. In contrast, the Great Perfection itself is said to be
beyond all such mental constructs and fixation, instead locating the pri-
mordial knowing ( ~ shes) of radiant light's immediacy as its view. In
fact it may be that early differences within those movements aligning
themselves with the rubric "the Great Perfection" were in large due to
three factors: the distinct lineal transmissions of the teachings; geo-
graphical differences and distances; and this issue of how literally anti-
sadhana rhetoric (and other rhetoric) was understood in terms of actual
practice. At some point it became common among the ancients to speak
of the revealed treasure (gter rna) tradition as summarized by the triune
rubric "life force-perfection-enlightened heart" (bla rdzogs thugs), or in
less terse language, "guru-great perfection-compassionate
(i) teachings on the lama / guru (in particular guru-
yoga practices and guru Padmasambhava); (li) teachings on the Great
Perfection; and (iii) teachings as well as visualization practices revolving
around AvalokiteSvara, the "Greatly Compassionate One" (Thugs rje
chen po). This triune classification could be interpreted either as sup-
porting the thesis that the formless meditations of the Great Perfection
were generally pursued in conjunction with sadhana-types of practices
utilizing visualization, or alternatively as suggesting a tension that had
called this (forced) rubric into being. In other words, the Great Perfec-
tion of its own momentum may have tended to break away from its
contextualized relation to other practices and ideologies, a rupture that
may have had dangerous implications for some institutions and / or
These early Great Perfection movements were rhetorically (at least)
linked to rejection of more literal tantric interpretations (power sub-
stances in general and body-fluids in particular, as well as graphic vio-
lence and sexuality), de-emphasis of the profusion of contemplative
techniques, stress on direct experience rather than scholastically medi-
ated knowledge, de-emphasis of ritual, mocking of syllogistic logic
(despite its not infrequent use), and in general resistance to codifications
of rules for any life-processes. How these rhetorical orientations played
68. Grub mtha' mdzod 380.3ff.
69. See the numerous references in Dudjom 1991, 396, 724, 764, 765, 791,
821,827 and 881.
themselves out at a practical level is a matter of considerable contro -
versy, especially with regards to their simultaneous rejection of norma-
tive contemplative techniques and linkage to the dominant contemporary
Mahayoga Tantras that incarnated such techniques. It was precisely this
rhetorical linkage of doctrinal negation and social antinomianism that
appeared to have made this movement so politically explosive-the
tantric nature of its rhetorical codification of the formless (or en-vehi-
cling, in Buddhist terminology) was crucial in the controversies that
swirled around the Great Perfection. Its tantric origins link it to explo-
sive ethical questions-form-less can seem to signify ethic-less, and
thus to disparage the conventionalities of ethical structures I codes is in
some sense linked to disparaging systematic visualization practices. For
instance, in terms of the traditional dyad of accumulating "gnosis" ( ~
shes) and "merit" (bsod mams), tantric visualization and ethics
linked to "merit," supporting the notion that we need to engage in rule-
governed activities to develop as individuals. These troubling (to some)
ethical implications were aggravated by the tantric spin on formlessness,
which coupled an arguably theoretical undercutting of ethics with the
suggestion of an active energetic exploration of the violent, dark
impulses that also constitute who we are, particularly as summed up in
the infamous Mahayoga rubric of "unifying and liberating" (sbyor
sgroi). Such a rubric seemed to some no more than an euphemism for
sex and murder. It is important to note, however, that unlike Mahayoga
which matched the graphic sexual and violent imagery in the transgres-
sive elements of the modernists' own doctrines (i. e. the Anuttarayoga
Tantras), the Great Perfection represents an aestheticized brand oftantra.
Transgression is limited / expanded to a thorough resistance to rule-gov-
erned hermeneutics of all types, rather than a focus on manifest trans-
gressions involving sexual fluids, ritual sacrifice and shocking public
displays. An overwhelming need to invert the law in its socially focused
manifestations, in other words, becomes more an imperative to resist the
70. See Hopkins 1987, 14, and Gyatso 1982, 191 and 208, for discussions of
how deity yoga and other contemplative focuses on a divine body image are
linked to the accumulation of merit, and thus the eventual manifestation of
enlightened forms for the benefit of other living beings. This contrasts to
contemplation on emptiness or formless light, which is particularly connected
to the accumulation of gnosis, leading to the realization of the Buddha's
Reality Body (ehos sku, dharmnkaya).
232 JIABS 17.2
law in its subtle orderings of our being, whether ethical, imaginal, intel-
lectual or otherwise.?! Whereas other tantric discourses are dominated
by intuitions of danger, of the violent impulses that constitute our
embodied identity and instinct for self-preservation, the Great Perfection
seems instead to be driven by a stronger intuition of an underlying posi-
tive force enfolded in our bodies with the capacity to simply dissolve
these forces, an instinct for relationship.72 Thus the formlessness
unleashed in perfection phase praxis can also undercut the importance of
images of sex and violence. Indeed the Seminal Heart later reintroduces
graphic sexual and horrific imagery with its set of peaceful and wra.thful
(mi khro) deities, but the imagery is curiously detached without manifest
crudity of other tantras and it is conjoined with a de-emphasis of sexual
yogic processes.
This is reflected in part by kLong chen rab 'byams
pa's doxographical correlation of the Great Perfection to the sophisti-
cated discourses of the "non-dual" modernist classification, i. e. the
Kalacakra Tantra.
In other words, Mahayoga and the Great Perfec-
tion both undercut a certain type of ethics, but do in different ways: the
former actively advocates transgressive types of behavior, while the lat-
ter aesthetically deconstructs formal ethical systems without a corre-
sponding urgent compulsion to actively explore the dark side of ethical
deconstruction. In addition, the latter has an alternative and quite sophi-
sticated way of coping with concerns of intersubjective relations, which
is found within its discussions of the third quality of the ground of
being-literally "compassion" (thugs rje), it is its capacity to resonate
with, and know, the other.
71. This resistance to the worship of codified rules is the empathetic basis of
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's positive reference to the eighth century Chan
master Huashang who was so maligned in later Tibetan Buddhist polemics
(see his gNas lugs mdzod 68.7).
72. See Levin 1988, especially "Revisioning the Body Politic" (295-340).
73. See Snellgrove 1987, 152-176 for a discussion of issues pertaining to
this crudity in Buddhist tantras; Sanderson 1987 has an excellent discussion
in the context of Hindu tantra of how early "cremation grounds culture" was
later internalized, deodorized and aestheticized. See the passage from kLong
chen rab 'byams pa cited below for a criticism of ordinary tantric sexual
74. See below for a more detailed discussion of these doxographical
However, one can easily imagine the vehemence of emotions that
swirled around these issues, especially since in the public imagination
the Great Perfection came to be linked to supposed Mahayoga
From its own side, its discourse denigrates conventionally
valorized religious and non-religious activities in preference for a simple
phenomenological "looking" (lta ba), and this seemingly lawless
dynamic devaluing structure is also experienced as threatening groups
attempting to articulate norms and establish institutional mechanisms.
The normative position of the modernists (to the degree we can speak of
one) became a general suspicion of allowing the formless or the lawless
to exist in itself, with its implied or explicit discarding of conventional
consensually validated order. Does naturalness constitute a practice of
the self in the same way that violent inversion constitutes a practice of
the self in other tantras (a practice the necessity for which it calls into
question), or does it constitute a denial of the need for such discipline all
together? In the latter eventuality, we can imagine a fairly benign
cultivation of natural experiences (sexuality, art, etc.) and experiences of
nature, as well as an actively negative appropriation (such as Rudra
evokes) that utilizes this rhetoric to authorize self-aggrandizing practices
of a violent and disruptive nature.
Finally, the term "generation-perfection-great perfection" (bskyed
rdzogs rdzogs chen) can be interpreted as signifying that the great per-
fection is the "great consummation" of the generation and perfection
phases-the latter's lighting-up or vision (snang ba) and the former's
openness (stong pa) are experienced in a dynamic and perfect simul-
taneity. In Seminal Heart terms, the generation phase is thus interpreted
as "spontaneous presence" (lhun grub) and the ground-presencing (gzhi
snang) of its ascendancy; perfection phase signifies "original purity" (ka
dag) and the ground (gzhi) of its ascendancy; and the Great Perfection
then evokes their primordial intertwining. An example of such a rein-
terpretation of standard tantric contemplative terminology can be found
inkLong chen rab 'byams pa's Zab mo yang tig (vol. 11,344.2-6):76
(The Great Perfection) style of "ritual approach and actualization"
(bsnyen sgrub, seva-sadhana) is superior to that of stress-filled
actualization involved in ordinary generation and perfection (phase
75. See Karrnay 1988, 121ff.
76. Zab nw yang tig vol. 2, 344.2-6:
234 JIABS 17.2
tantric contemplations) ... : (i) "ritual approach" (bsnyen pa, sevii) is
recognizing the Reality Body as self through being self-introduced to
self-emergent primordial gnosis; (li) "culminating approach" (nye bar
bsnyen pa, upasevii) is sustaining yourself within that state; (iii)
"actualization" (sgrub pa, siidhana) is dissolving fixation on (discrete
sealed-oft) "selves"; and (iv) "great actualization" (sgrub pa chen po,
mahiisiidhana) is the fruit coming to the fore.
In addition, while early Great Perfection traditions may have understood
themsel ves as engaging in exclusively non-symbolic styles of perfection
phase praxis, with the Seminal Heart and associated movements we find
the reintroduction of symbolic styles as well. 1his occurs not only in its
unique subtle body theories ("luminous channels"; 'ad rtsa) revolving
around an interiorized lighting-up of the Ground (gzhi snang) and its
embrace of a radical new version of generation phase praxis in its avo-
cation of spontaneous vision (thad rgal), but also in its literary incorpo-
ration of standard generation and perfection phase practices in its cycles,
as well as somewhat more customized variants such as "sleep yoga" and
"eating the winds.:'77 The Seminal Heart thus, as we will see, marks the
radical re-influx of the body and its cult into the domain of the Great
A brief overview of Mind Series (sems sde) literature and lineages
Traditional Nyingma histories emphasize that the Great Perfection had
only a very limited circulation outside of Tibet, and trace its non-Tibetan
origins through a series of six shadowy Indic figures known as
"Mystics" (rig , dzin; vidyiidhara): Surativajra (dGa' rab rdo rje),
Mafijusnmitra (' Jam dpal bshes gnyen) , SrlsiI!1ha (Shri sing ha),
Jfianasfitra (Ye shes mdo), Vimalarnitra (Dri med bshes gnyen or Bi ma
la mi tra) and Padmasambhava. Of these six, two actually visited Tibet
during the late eighth century and early ninth century (Vimalarnitra and
Padmasambhava) while one other is said to have worked closely with
Tibetan translators outside of Tibet during the same period (Srlsimha).
While Snsi:rpha and his Tibetan disciple V a i r o c a ~ are the principai fig-
ures mentioned in colophons to the early Mind Series texts, with the
emergence of the Esoteric Precepts traditions, Vimalamitra and
Padmasambhava are increasingly prominent. The early Great Perfection
77. See Tshig don mdzod 319-327.
is represented literarily by what came to be classified as "Mind Series"
texts, the most important of which were the very lengthy Kun byed
rgyal po (by far the major Mind Series source cited by kLong chen rab
'byams pa) and a number of texts that at some point came to be transmit-
ted as a group known as The Eighteen Texts of the Mind Series (Sems
sde beG brgyad). These were said to have been translated into Tibetan
via the activity of the Vairocana (in conjunction with SnsiIplui. and later
Vimalamitra) and Vimalamitra (in conjunction with other key Tibetan
translators of this period). The former text was circulating at least by
1032, when Pho brang zhi ba 'od criticized it as a composition by a
unknown Tibetan by the name of Drang nga shag tshul. 78 At least five
of the set of eighteen texts are identifiable with chapters in the present
recension of the Kun byed rgyal po,79 the former being quite short on
the whole in striking contrast to the latter's sprawling length. In the
lengthy discussion of the Great Perfection found in the important tenth
century bSam gtan mig sgron by gNubs sangs rgyas ye shes, a number
of these eighteen texts are cited at length and there is a marked absence
of any of the characteristic Seminal Heart doctrines. The fact that he
does not appear to cite the Kun byed rgyal po (?) at all suggests that this
tantra was most likely a Tibetan composition in the late tenth century
functioning to integrate previous shorter canonical works (in part per-
haps genuine dynastic period translations of non-Tibetan Originals) as
well as introduce more systematically innovations that had developed in
Tibet over the intervening decades.
Whereas the Kun byed rgyal po is a tantra presented as a transcript of
a teaching by a Buddha (traditionally said to be translated into Tibetan by
Vairocana and SrlsiIpha during the dynastic period), and possesses tre
consequent dramatic setting of a dialogue between a Buddha and his /
her retinue, the eighteen Mind Series texts appear to have been under-
stood initially as simple human-authored compositions by one of above
six lndic figures. Most lack any colophon indicating an author, but on
the whole lack references to the dialogues between a Buddha and retinue
that characterize normal tantras. It may be that initially there were no
specifically Great Perfection Tantras in its early stage as "esoteric pre-
cepts" (man ngag) to the other tantric systems (especially Mahayoga).
This early literature could have been subsequently systematized into
78. See Karmay 1975, 151.
79. Karmay 1988,207.
236 JIABS 17.2
tantras (especially the Kun byed rgyal po) as it began to develop a dis-
tinctive self-identity in Tibet constituting an independent movement that
needed the authorizing force of its own unique canonical body of tantras.
Another distinctive grouping of Mind Series literature which may have
also been generated during this intermediate phase is the twenty five
tantras constituting the third volume of the mTshams brag edition of the
rNying rna rgyud 'bum, though it is currently unknown at what point
these circulated as a set. At any rate, these traditions developed in a
number of different lineages as yet uncharted through the eleventh to
thirteenth centuries, until gradually they became displaced by the over-
whelming success of more vision-oriented movements such as the
Seminal Heart.
Karmay's simplified analysis 80 of their diversity focuses on the
Khams tradition (lugs) in Eastern Tibet founded by A ro ye shes 'byung
gnas (eleventh century) and the Rong tradition in Central Tibet founded
by Rong zorn chos kyi bzang po (eleventh century). The Rong system
remains unclear since all of Rong zorn's specifically Great Perfection
works remain unavailable. 81 The Chos 'byung rin po che'i gter mdzod
by rGyal sras thugs mchog rtsal describes the Rong tradition transmis-
sion as beginning in the eighth to ninth centuries with gNyags
Jfianakumara, and passing through Sog po dpal gyi ye shes and gNubs
sangs rgyas ye shes; 82 the Deb ther sngon po also refers to gNubs
sangs rgyas ye shes's bSam gtan mig sgron as belonging to the Rong
tradition. However 'Jam mgon kong sprul's (1813-1899) Shes bya kun
khyab and Zhe chen rgyal tshab's Legs bshad padma dkar po'i rdzing
bu later link the Rong tradition to Rong zorn. At an unknown date, refer-
ence to "Three Traditions of the Mind Class" (serns sde lugs gsum)
carne to be normative in some circles-Dudjom Rinpoche Cites it as
having been studied by gTer bdag gling pa (1646-1714).83 Kapstein
and Dorje first identify it as consisting of these two traditions plus either
"the original cycles of the Mind Class," but later identify the third as the
A ro thun bdun system of A ro ye shes 'byung gnas (though this is
often instead considered as a special division of the Khams tradition). 84
80. Kannay 1988, 207-8.
81. Karmay 1988, 125.
82. Kannay 1988, 125-6,207-8.
83. Dudjom 1991, 827.
In addition, Kapstein has verbally conveyed to me his belief that rGyud
'bum o!Vairo(cana) represents the Mind Series lineages of the Zur tra-
dition, referring to the well known Zur family.
Nyang ral nyima 'od zer's (1136-1204) famous Chos ' byung me tog
snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud contains an appendix outlining the history
of the early development of Nyingma tenet systems.
He begins by
highlighting The Eighteen Mind Series Texts, the cycle of the Kun byed
rgyaZ po with its nine mother-son texts (Kun byed ma bu dgu skor) and
a general reference to "Mind orientation texts" (Sems phyogs mams).
He also provides a lineage for a Sems so tradition deriving from gNubs
sangs rgyas ye shes, though this apparently is not limited to Mind Series
He subsequently87 provides the following lineage transmission
for Sems phyogs a ti: ehos sku kun tu bzang po, dPal rdo rje sems
dpa', rDo rje snying po, Yang sprul dga' rab rdo rje, 'Jam dpal bshes
gnyen, five hundred learned ones such as the twenty five lineal descen-
dants, PaJ).91ta SM Singha, Lotsawa Vairocana, gYu sgra, Jiiana, Sog
po dpal gyi ye shes, sNubs yon tan rgya mtsho, Ye shes rgya mtsho,
84. Kapstein and Dorje 1991, 121, 279. Their index provide the following
references for existent literature concerning these traditions. The rDzogs chen
khams lugs is described by Sag bzlog bIo gros rgyal mtshan (1552-c. 1624)
in the gDams ngag mdzod vol. 1, 305-55; and in the rNying rna bka' rna
rgyas pa vol. 17. The rDzogs chen rong lugs is described by Kal;1 thog pa
nam mkha' rdo tje (dates?) in the gDams ngag mdzod vol. 1, 270-95; and in
the rNying ma bka' ma rgyas pa vol. 17. It is important to note that both
texts are relatively brief and are written by much later authors. The A ro thun
bdun ("Seven Sessions of Aro [ye shes 'byung gnas]") is found in the gDams
ngag mdzod vol. I, 356-371; and in the rNying ma bka' rna rgyas pa vol.
17. This was also known as the A ro khrid mo che (don skor), Aro'i thugs
bcud and rDzogs chen aro lugs kyi man ngag; the term "seven" derives from
A ro ye shes having held the Indian and Chinese lineages during the seventh
generation of their development. The text as we currently have it is written
by Zhwa dmar II mkha' spyod dbang po (1350-1405).
85. Chos 'byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud 482-498. At the
Virginia rDzogs Chen symposium mentioned above, the consensus was that
this section may not have been written by Nyang ral himself, but if so, was
most likely written by either his son or another direct disciple.
86. Ibid., 483.
87. Ibid., 488.
238 nABS 17.2
Padma dbang rgyal, Nyang chen nyang chung, and Zur po che. He then
gives another lineage 88 for the Great Perfection, which he specifies as
the five Proclamation Tantras of the Perfect Completeness of Esoteric
Primordial Gnosis (bKa' ye shes gsang rdzogs rgyud) and the twenty
one Profound Treasure Scriptures (Zab rna gter gzhung), along with
the empowerment and introduction. The lineage is as follows: the great
translator Vairocana, gYu sgra, sBa sgom rdo rje rgyal mtshan, Rab
snang lha'i dbang phyug, Gru mchog gi ye shes, Nyang shes rab
'byung gnas, Nyang rdo rje snying po, Nyang ri khrod pa chen po zag
med kyi sku brnyed pa 'dar ston dge 'dun, gNyan lcags byil ba, sPa se
ras pa, rTse phrom bar lhas pa, gLan rdzing 'bring ba, gLan shaky a
mgon po, dBas grub thob pa, and so forth. In addition, A ro ye shes
'byung gnas, a disciple of sNyags jfiana who was an emanation of
Mafijusn from lower Amdo, taught such things as the Outer Cycle (phyi
skor), Internal Cycle (nang skor), the Secret Cycle (gsang skor) and the
Greater and Intermediate Spikes (gzer ka che 'bring). The transmission
from him onwards involved Zangs ka mdzod khur, Kha rag gru sha
rgyal bu, Ya zi bon ston, Gru gu glog chung, Kong rab mtsho, ITam dar
rna, Tshe me byang chub rdo Ije, sBa sgom bsod snying, Kha rag sgom
chung,Ba rang sgom chen, Ma gcig nyang mo, and Dam pa shakya
rgyal. He then provides a lineage for the cycle of the Kun byed rgyal po
with its nine mother-son texts (Kun byed rna bu dgu skor) in which A ro
ye shes 'byung gnas figures prominently. He concludes by explaining
the Khams tradition of Mind Series as referring to Dha tsha hor po and
Dam pa shakya rgyal po; the sKor tradition referring to that which
passed through sKor ston shes rab grags pa; and the Rong tradition as
that which passed through the gTsang master (Rong zorn) chos kyi
bzang po. Finally he gives brief lineages for a "Brahmin tradition"
(bram ze'i lugs)-Vimalamitra, Nyang ting nge 'dzin bzang po, 'Dan
rna lhun gyi rgyal mtshan and Shangs pa lee chung ye shes rgyal
mtshan-as well as the "unsurpassed great perfection" (rdzogs chen bla
med)-Vimalarnitra, Nyang ting nge 'dzin bzang po, bSam yas kyi
zhang chen po, rIe (i. e., ICe) btsun seng ge dbang phyug, ICe sgom nag
po, and sKal ldan yo so (at which point "its exegesis and practice
spread"). These latter two movements 89 apparently signify visionary
88. Ibid., 490-1, 491-2, 492.
89. I would like to thank Matthew Kapstein for first pointing out this pass-
age's significance to me.
movements sharing similar lineages of transmission involving
Vimalamitra, Nyang ting nge 'dzin bzang po, concealment as treasure
and members of the ICe clan. The latter clearly refers to the Seminal
Heart tradition proper, which is frequently styled as the "unsurpassed
secret" (gsang ba bla na med pa) division of the Esoteric Precept Series,
while the former apparently refers to texts from the yang ti tradition of
the Great Perfection. The yang ti texts collected in volume seven of the
rNying ma rgyud 'bum (gTing skyes) are in Kaneko's catalogue
labeled as the "yang ti Brahmin cycles" (rDzogs pa chen po yang Ii
bram ze'i skar), the bulk of which are traced back to Vimalamitra.
This brief outline merely touches upon this complex issue of begin-
ning to untangle the many different threads constituting the first six
centuries of the Great Perfection (ninth to fourteenth). Further progress
can only come from systematically collecting all early references to
internal divisions and lineal transmissions, particularly within the mate-
rial currently collected in the various recensions of the rNying ma rgyud
'bum. In conclusion, I would like to note the innovative nature of the
Mind Series trilogies developed by kLong chen rab 'byams pa in the
fourteenth century, which I discuss in more detail below: the Ngal gsa
skor gsum and the Rang grol skor gsum. In addition, Mind Series
discourse and praxis was transformed in its assimilation by the Seminal
Heart under the rubric of breakthrough contemplation.
Early Mind Series contemplation
The early Great Perfection was principally a tantric development of bud-
dha-nature discourse without any complex systematic literature or medi-
tative practices. It is thus difficult to ascertain precisely what type of
formal contemplation might have been associated with e::rrly Mind Series
literature, since it devotes little space to such practical presentations. The
language of the early texts suggests that in the beginning its proponents
may have had little use for visualization, but (as discussed above) this
does not necessarily entail a process-oriented rejection of any structure
involved in fonnal contemplative procedures. In fact, later developments
indicate that at least among certain circles there was probably cultivation
of mental concentration via calming techniques (zhi gnas) using the
standard seven point posture, as well as precisely thematized meditation
topics (provided in lineally transmitted discourses) that functioned psy-
90. Kaneko 1982, 127.
240 JIABS 17.2
chologically within the context of such cultivation. Thus the basis of
contemplation appears to largely have been a type of extension of
"calming" practices at times involving concentration exercises as
preparatory techniques, but ultimately aiming at a technique free immer-
sion in the bare immediacy of one's own deepest levels of awareness.
Thus formless types of meditation were valorized over the complex fab-
rication of visual images found in other tantric systems such as
Mahayoga, though it may very well be that during these early phases it
was largely practiced in conjunction with other types of more normative
tantric practices of that type. I have also suggested that certain groups
may have exclusively adhered to Mind Series traditions, even if its
"main" transmitters were doing so in conjunction with other types of
tantric lineages. The accompanying literature consisted of evocative
deSCriptions of, and exhortations to, this process, that served to contex-
tualize this contemplative inquiry as the unfoldip.g of a type of interior
primordial purity known as the "buddha" (literally "purifying-expand-
ing"-sangs rgyas). This also functioned to relate the inquires to the
buddha-nature strand of Mahayana discourse as well as more aestheti-
cized strands of Vajrayana. Based on this belief in a primordial state of
enlightenment within, the literature is characterized by the language of
letting-go, relaxation, naturalness and simplicity, in stark contrast to the
rhetoric of control, analysis, and "marshaling of resources" found in
Indian Buddhist logico-epistemological treatises, as well as the strands
oftantric discourse dominated by sexual and violent imagery. The latter
is found in the Mahayoga traditions of the ancient ones as well as the
Anuttarayoga tantra traditions that subsequently emerge in the modernist
traditions. There is also a consistent antinomian tendency in these dis-
courses, a rhetorical lawlessness asserting a primordial dimension that is
neither accessed by, nor governed by, law-abiding patterns.
The nature of these traditions is indicated clearly in the famous inci-
dent in Mi la ras pa's biography when he is directed to his first
encounter with Marpa by a Great Perfection teacher, after Mi la ras pa
fails to understand his own teachings. The teacher, known as Rong ston
lha dga', greeted Mi la ras pa's request for liberating teachings with the
following words:
91. See LhaIungpa 1992, 42.
TIlls Teaching of the Great Perfection leads one to triumph at the root,
to triumph at the summit, and to triumph in the fruits of achievement
To meditate on it by day is to be Buddha in one day. To meditate on it
by night is to be Buddha in one night. For those fortunate ones with
favorable karma who merely chance to hear it, without even meditating
on it, this joyous teaching is a sure means of liberation. That is why I
wish to give it to you.
It comes as little surprise that the youthful Mi la ras pa figured he had it
made, and slept through the next few days, after which the Lama dis -
cemed he wasn't up to such a subtle doctrine and sent him packing to
Mar pa. In other words, he sent him to much more complex and
intensely tantric contemplative systems utilizing visualization within, and
without, the body.
However, regardless of whether or not its earliest phases involved
largely quiet sitting partially thematized by aphoristic contemplation
themes, from at least the eleventh century onwards Great Perfection
groups began to experiment increasingly with various contemplative
techniques and procedures generally classed under the two rubrics of
"generation phase" and "perfection phase." The course these experi-
ments took became one of the key factors behind the further develop-
ment of different traditions, the more radical of which begin to position
themselves under pre-existing and I or new rubrics in distinction to the
"lower" Mind Series teachings. Yet eventually the Mind Series itself
apparently yielded to this experimentation and began to include to a cer-
tain degree contemplative praxis drawn from generation and perfection
phase traditions. The principle of incorporation is that of simplicity, of
rejecting highly structured visualizations such as complex maI.1c)alas of
deities to instead focus on limited images, spontaneous imagery or natu-
rally occurring objects (meditation on water, fire, etc.). This is reflected
in the rhetoric of being simple (spros med), natural (rang bzhin gyis),
stress-free (' bad rtsol med pa) and the like.
Doxographical gymnastics:
Spanning the abyss between the modernists and the ancients
The classical example of these transformed Mind Series-based contem -
plative systems is kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Ngal gsa skar gsum and
242 JIABS 17.2
Rang grol skor gsum In his own catalogue to his corpus, 92 kLong chen
rab 'byams pa's final two rubrics classify works as being "general
explanations of crucial topics of esotericism" and "detailed exegesis of
the crucial topics of the unsurpassed great esotericism." The latter
embraces his main Seminal Heart works such as the Tshig don mdzod
and Theg mchog mdzod, while the former is divided into the three
series, with the Mind Series classification containing his commentary on
the Kun byed rgyal po and Rang grol skor gsum The former also con-
tains a prefatory section including the Man ngag mdzod and NgaZ gso
skor gsum that is introduced thus: " .... in order that the significance of
all the spiritual vehicles be understood as a preliminary to or mere means
of entering the path of the Great Perfection, (these texts) clarify treatises
which teach the stages of the path along with fruits to lead people
onwards in accordance with any (tradition of Tibetan BUddhism)." In
fact, the N gal gso skor gsum is traditionally classified with the Rang
grol skor gsum as essentially a Mind Series treatise. Its primary focus
is, as kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own characterization clearly indicates,
on relating the Great Perfection Mind Series tradition to everything that
preceded it in Buddhism, and creating a discursive and contemplative
momentum towards experiencing the Mind Series as its natural culmina-
tion. While there are a few points at which an Esoteric Series-perspec-
tive surfaces, on the whole he systematically avoids reference to the
Seminal Heart's technical vocabulary in the cycle, as well as to its con-
templative procedures known as the direct transcendence. kLong chen
rab 'byams pa's apparent motivations are most likely his ongoing
defense of the Great Perfection in the context of the wider sphere of
Tibetan Buddhism through relating it to other non-tantric and tantric
Buddhist movements, and his desire to provide a deeply Great
Perfection-based system of study and practice that reached out to other
yogic and intellectual circles through such linkage. There are thus
numerous references to "your own tantric cycles" or "the tantric cycle
you are involved with." It may have also stemmed from a time in kLong
chenrab 'byams pa's life when his disciples were increasing in number
as well as diversity and background, such that the always dangerous
issue of tantric "commitments" (dam tshig, samaya) increasingly
92. I have used a copy of this catalogue as appendixed to the contemporary
sDe dge printing of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's gSung thor bu; no other
publishing information available.
weighed on his mind.
The relatively straightforward Mind Series is
quite a bit less intense than the Seminal Heart in such tenns, and thus in
the NgaZ gsa skar gsum kLong chen rab 'byams pa systematically
avoids the theoretical and contemplative details of later developments (i.
e. the Seminal Heart).94 Such a Mind Series practice-focused cycle not
only provided a way to disseminate the Great Perfection intellectually
and contemplatively in a trans-sectarian fashion, but also transformed the
Mind Series into a springboard for particularly committed disciples to
eventually leap into the more quirky and unique world of the Esoteric
Precepts Series. While clearly the NgaZ gsa skor gsum was quite inno-
vative in many ways in the context of the Mind Series, the extent of its
innovativeness is as yet unclear and it is thus particularly provocative for
the types of questions I have raised about formal practice in the Mind
Series prior to the fourteenth century.
In kLong chen rab 'byams pa's very self-conscious attempts in this
cycle to integrate the Great Perfection into the tantric movements
increasingly normative in Tibet, one of his strategies is doxographical.
He seemingly identifies (rather than simply correlates) the three main
uniquely Nyingma tantric systems (Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga)
with the modernists' three internal divisions of Anuttarayoga tantra
(father, mother and non-dual).95 As far as I know this is the earliest
instance of such a correlation. In the ensuing discussion, he indicates
that the Mahayoga "father" tantras prinCipally focus on generation phase
practices, while their perfection phase practices are focused on winds;
the associated tantras cited are the Guhyasamiija Tantra (gSang ba ' dus
pa) and the Mafijusri Yamliri (' Jam dpaZ gshin rje'i gshed).96 The
93. Matthew Kapstein suggested this possibility to me (April 1994).
94. It appears to be a common phenomena that prominent Great Perfection
teachers who once openly taught become increasingly conservative as they
age, often attributing health-related or other problems to their open teaching
of such esoteric traditions. For instance, I have on more than one occasion
heard such stories about the contemporary teachers sMyo shul Kbanpo and
Bya bral Rinpoche.
95. Shing rta chen povol. 2, 8.5ff.
96. While the former is of course one of the main modernist Anuttarayoga
tantras, and also exists in an earlier translation as a principal tantra in the
Nyingma Mabayoga classification, I could not locate the latter's title in
either the Tohoku or Peking catalogues of the Tibetan canons. There are,
244 nABS 17.2
Anuyoga "mother" tantras, on the other hand, focus on perfection phase
practices in general, while their particular brand of such practices
emphasize the seminal nuclei; the associated tantras cited are the Yang
dag, Vajrakilaya, CakrasaTfLvara Tantra and Hevajra Tantra.
Atiyoga "non-dual" tantras then focus on the integration (zung 'jug) of
generation and perfection phase practices, while its perfection phase
practices concentrate on the great primordial gnosis in its inconceivable
radiant light of bliss, radiance and non-conceptuality generated from the
channels, winds and nuclei.9
Although the fIrst two categories thus
ignore the standard Nyingma association of Mahayoga with the
Guhyagarbha Tantra and Anuyoga with the mDa dgangs 'dus pa in
preference for standard modernist associations, in this category kLong
chen rab 'byams pa ignores the modernist association of it with the
Klilacakra Tantra
and instead refers to the "sGyu 'phrul drwa ba"
(miiyajala) and so on" (later indicating this refers to the Guhyagarbha
Tantra in partlcular).100 Subsequently in his discussion of empower-
ments 101 he reiterates the identification of "Ati" with the non-dual tantric
classes, and in particular with the sGyu 'phrul drwa ba, which he
characterizes as "the peak of all vehicles" in contrast to "the stage of
general secret mantra." This fIssure in some contexts between how he
identifies "Atiyoga" and the Great Perfection is further suggested in his
"practical instructions" (don khrid) on the Sems nyid ngal gsa, where he
presents the text's contemplative system as a sequence of one hundred
and forty one topics divided up into three rubrics: (i) the exoteric
causally oriented vehicle of characteristics (siitra); (ii) the inner extraor-
dinary result-oriented vehicle of adamantine secret mantra (tantra); and
however, two similar titles in the gTing skyes edition of rNying rna rgyud
'bum (Kaneko 239 and 248).
97. The last two tantras are of course the standard modernist Mother tantras,
but the previous two would seem to refer to Nyingma Mahayoga tantras.
98. See the Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 12.3ff for further details on the types
of practices associated with these three tantric classes.
99. While some traditions classified the Klllacakra Tantra as part of a third
"non-dual" division, the Geluk rejected a threefold division of the
Anuttarayoga tantras and thus instead classified it as a "mother" tantra (see
Wayman 1980,250-269 and Sopa 1985, 31).
100. It is cited under this title in the Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 14.6 .
. 101. Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 47.2-3.
(iii) the vehicle of the unsurpassed great perfection, the fruit of the
definitive nucleus of esotericism (the Great Perfection). Tantra is then
divided into the standard set of four systems, with the fourth labeled "the
unsurpassed Mahayoga tantras" (mal 'byor chen po bla na med pa'i
rgyud, mahayoga-anuttara tantra).102 As above, it is subdivided into
the father, mother, and non-dual, with the non-dual identified as the
sGyu 'phrul drwa ba.
Interestingly, however, in the Ngal gso skar gsum gyi spyi don legs
bshad rgya mtsho, kLong chen rab 'byams pa's discussion of tantra
clearly delineates between the modernist tantras and the Nyingma tantras
along the lines of the doxography in his Grub mtha' mdzod.
he continues to correlate Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga to the mod-
ernist classification offather, mother and non-dual tantras, 104 the listing
out of titles corresponding to the modernist triad and the Nyingma triad
in no way overlap with each other, and instead reflect precisely their
traditional textual associations. lOS In particular, the Atiyoga section 106
lists out groups of Mind Series texts, pointedly ignoring Seminal Heart
traditions despite earlier citing two of its main works. 107 Among the
possible reasons for this doxographical discrepancy within the same
cycle is that kLong chen rab 'byams pa is attempting to reach out to non-
Nyingma scholars and practitioners in the earlier passages by presenting
a syncretic doxography that emphasizes the thematic and 'contemplative
points of contact between the modernist and Nyingma tantric traditions,
while in these later passages he is acknowledging the clear lineal differ-
ences (that this approach intentionally obscures).
Mahayoga is thus pivotal to this strategy: he not only links the
"Mahayoga" tradition as a whole with the "Anuttara tantras,"108 he also
identifies the key Mahayoga group of texts referred to under the rubric
sGyu 'phrul drwa ba chen po as the "non-dUal" division, thus
presenting the Great Perfection as outside, and beyond, that triad. At the
102. Byang chub lam bzang 514.1.
103. Ngal gso skor gsum gyi spyi don legs bshad rgya mtsho 176.4-193.1
and 193.1-207.5 respectively.
104. Ibid., 199.5ff.
105. Ibid., 190.3-193.1 and 203.1-207.5 respectively.
106. Ibid., 205.1-207.5.
107. Ibid., 196.4 and 201.3.
108. Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 4.5.
246 JIABS 17.2
same time, he elsewhere correlates Atiyoga with this non-dual cate-
gory, 109 thus implying an Atiyoga-Guhyagarbha tantra connection. In
general, he thus tends to treat the sGyu 'phrul drwa ba, and its main
exemplar, the Guhyagarba Tantra, as a unique and profound tantric
system distinguished from others, somewhat analogous to how the
Geluk tradition tends to treat the Kalacakra Tantra cycle as a category
unto itself. 110 In fact there are points where he explicitly suggests a
connection between the two systems, such as the comparison of their
presentations of subtle body theories in the Shing rta chen po .111 While
kLong chen rab 'byams pa ranges through a tremendous variety of non-
tantric and tantric Buddhist materials in the Ngal gso skor gsum, apart
from the Great Perfection it is clearly the Guhyagarba Tantra above all
else that forms the hermeneutical core of the cycle. For example, the two
main subdivisions of the ninth chapter (which is focused on the devel-
oping and perfection phases) are "a general discussion of the signifi-
cance of secret mantra" and "a detailed exegesis of the sGyu 'phrul drwa
ba. "112 Thus the cycle offers a prominent example of an influx of Mind
Series ideology into the exegesis of Mahayoga materials, as well as the
reverse, i. e. the influx of more normative Mahayoga traditions back into
the pristine spaces of Mind Series discourse. Such intersections allow
him to authorize and introduce the Great Perfection in connection to
potentially mainstream tantric movements, as well as begin to intertwine
the former into the latter's very foundation (a strategy eventually flower-
ing in the nineteenth century non-partisan movement). Thus his
"practical instructions" (don khrid) on the Sems nyid ngal gso113
describes the culminating meditation of tantra (prior to the Great Perfec -
tion) as "the great perfection of pristine primordial gnosis, the
quintessential core of the definitive ultimate in the unsurpassed perfec-
tionphaseofthesGyu 'Phrul (cycle)."
109. Ibid., vol. 2, 47.2.
110. For example, see Ngag dbang dpal ldan's well known gSang chen
rgyud sde bzhi'i sa lam gyi mam gzhag rgyud gzhung gsal byed. He con-
trasts the "general Anuttarayoga tantra" to the Klilacakra in his presentation
of Anuttarayoga tantras (540.1fO.
111. Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 18.3-19.3
112. See kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own structural outline of the text (vol.
2, 418.2-422.1).
113. Byang chub lam bzang 524.6-525.1
This presentation closely corresponds to that found in the lengthy
doxographical twelfth chapter of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's modernist
oriented-survey entitled the Yid bzflinmdzod. He begins by specifying
four tantric sets,ll4 the first three of which are the standard triad of
"outer" tantras: Action, Conduct, and Yoga. The fourth set is first
specified only as "perfection phase" and "inner,"115 followed by the
specification "inner unsurpassed secret mantra" (nang pa giang sngags
bla na med pa) and "the unsurpassed Mahayoga" (mal 'byor chen po
bla na med pa'i rgyud).116 He begins by differentiating it into "father"
and "mother" tantras on the basis of the deities involved and their
apparel, but his main discussion subsequently 117 divides the
"unsurpassed Mahayoga" into the triad of father, mother, and non-dual
on the basis of criteria very similar to those in the Shing rta chen po.
Father tantras emphasize generation phase contemplation and perfection
114. Yid bzhin mdzod 553.2. This doxography of four tantric classes along
with the terminological distinctions of a dyadic or triadic internal division of
the fourth only penetrated Tibet in the eleventh century with the modernists.
The term "Anuttarayoga" evidently itself stems from Buddhist-Saivite yogic
circles in Northeastern India (see Snellgrove 1987,462-3 and 504-5). Earlier
the term "Great Yoga" (Mahtiyoga) was used to classify certain tantras that
had taken directions distinctive enough that it was felt necessary to doxo-
graphically distinguish them from other tantras known as "Yoga tantras."
The term also was used in early modernist circles to signify what came to be
known as the "father" tantras in contrast to the yogini I prajfia" tantras, or
"mother" tantras, leading Snellgrove (505) to suggest a fivefold classification
of tantras-Action, Conduct, Yoga, Great Yoga and Y oginI I Prajiia. While
in Tibet it became the standard among modernists to artificially classify all
tantras outside of the rrrst three classes as "Anuttarayoga," itself divided up
into "father" and "mother" (or with a third ''non-dual'' subdivision), this was
simply one scheme among many. The Nyingmas instead opted for the triune
division of its higher tantric classes into Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga.
The differences between the modernists and ancients on tantric doxography is
thus due to three factors: the temporal period of the reception of tantric tradi-
tions from outside Tibet (seventh to tenth centuries vs. eleventh to twelfth),
the geographical location outside of Tibet of their transmissions' sources, and
the intervening development of received traditions in Tibet during the four
centuries they existed prior to the modernists' arisal.
115. Yid bzhin mdzod 554.6.
116. Ibid., 555.2 and 563.4 respectively.
117. Ibid., 565.6ff.
248 JIABS 17.2
phase techniques focused on winds, in addition to which they teach a
variety of enlightened activities and are said to be for taming males.
Mother tantras, on the other hand, focus on perfection phase techniques
overall, and in particular those involving the nuclei, while they stress the
powerful activities (dbang gi las) and are said to be for taming women.
Non-dual tantras then emphasize primordial gnosis with an equal bal-
ance on generation and perfection phases, correlated to efficacious
means (thahs) and insight (shes rab) respectively. His textual correla-
tions with these categories are as follows: father tantras with the
Guhyasamaja Tantra, Yamari and so forth; mother tantras with the
Cakrasa1pvara, Catuf! P ~ t h a Tantra and so forth; and non-dUal
with the Kalacakra Tantra and sGyu 'phrul drwa ba ("and so
forth" is not specified). The key difference is that he makes no corre-
1ation here of this triad to the Nyingma triad of Maha, Anu and Ati, and
thus no suggestion of a split between Atiyoga and the Great Perfec-
Additionally, the relationship between the Guhyagarba Tantra
and the Kiilacakra Tantra is here made explicit, a relationship suggested
in the Shing rta chen po passage cited above. It is clear that this is in
part an attempt to authorize the controversial Mahayoga tantra by refer-
ence to this widely accepted modernist tantra differing markedly on
many points of theory and praxis from other modernist tantras.
The Grub mtha' mdzod is by its very title defined as kLongchen rab
'byams pa's doxographical analysis par excellence, and as ]ll.ight be
expected, devotes its final four chapters to an analysis oftantric litera-
ture, ideas and practices. Chapter five offers an overview, chapter six
concerns modernist tantras, chapter seven presents the ancients' tantras
118. Despite his consistent use of the "non-dual" category in his presenta-
tions of the Anuttarayoga tantras as triune in nature, in the Ngal gsa skar
gsum gyi spyi dan legs bshad rgya mtsho (192.5-193.1) kLong chen rab
'byams pa argues that it is inappropriate to speak of a class of tantras that are
"non-dual" separate from the father and mother categories.
119. An additional difference in the treatment of tantra between the yilt bzhin
mdzad and Ngal gsa skar gsum is the lack in the former of the latter's dis-
tinctive use of the triune experiences of bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality
(also understood as the triune radiant light) to structure its presentation of per-
fection phase practices. Such differences clearly indicate a later date of com-
position for the latter, which is in many ways a reworking of the former
driven by kLong chen rab 'byams pa's new agenda of integrating the Great
Perfection Mind Series traditions into Buddhism as a whole.
(including the Great Perfection), and chapter eight is devoted to the
Seminal Heart tradition in particular. In his analysis of the modernist
tantras, he presents the standard fourfold division, labeling the fourth
"the unsurpassed yoga" and subsequently "the great yoga," indicating
the two rubrics are interchangeable. 120 His analysis of the fourth cate-
gory121 again utilizes the standard triad of father tantras emphasizing
efficacious means, mother Tantras emphasizing insight, and unsurpassed
tantras emphasizing non-duality (he also subsequently provides a very
detailed differentiation of the father and mother tantras by means of
seven distinctions). 122 In this context, he provides detailed lists of
modernist tantras correlating to the first two rubrics, while for the third
he only specifies the "'Jam dpaZ rtsa rgyud sgyu 'phruZ drwa ba, the
Kalacakra Tantra and so forth." The first title refers to one of the key
in the important sGyu 'phruZ collection of Mahayoga Tantras
that the various versions of the Guhyagarba Tantra also belong to. 124
This particular text was also later translated, and thus accepted, by the
modernists, in which context it is known as the ' Jam dpaZ gyi mtshan
yang dag par brjod pa (Mafijusrf nama Saf!Lgftz). Through reference to
this common text, kLong chen rab 'byams pa thus cleverly connects the
Guhyagarba Tantra with the KaZacakra Tantra, as well as the sGyu
'phruZ Mahayoga tantric traditions with the modernist Anuttarayoga
cycles, without explicitly referring to the controversial Guhyagarbha
Tantra. In the following chapter in which he presents the Nyingma
tantras, he begins by outlining the standard list of nine vehicles. 125 1re
last six are split into an outer triad (Action, Conduct and Yoga), and an
inner triad (Maha, Anu, and Ati). He proceeds to again correlate
Mahayoga with father tantras, Anuyoga with mother tantras, and
Atiyoga with non-dual. 126 However, the list of texts, despite some
problematic aspects, clearly reflect principally Nyingma tantric literature.
120. Grub mtha' mdzod 319.4 and 320.5 respectively.
121. Ibid., 328.lff.
122. Ibid., 331.5-335.1.
123. Kaneko 196; Pelliot Tibetain 849.
124. For a thorough discussion of this collection, see DOIje 1987, 37-58.
125. Grub mtha' mdzod 336.4ff.
126. Ibid., 342.3ff.
250 JIABS 17.2
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Theg mchog mdzod devotes an entire
chapter to Nyingma doxography127 organized around the nine vehicles,
and thus lacking any reference to the standard four tantra sets of mod-
ernist doxography. Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga are discussed in
terms of the specifically Nyingma tantric traditions without any reference
to mother, father and non-dual classifications, or the concomitant dis-
His Chos dbyings mdzod
discusses the nine vehicles,
but is so focused on Atiyoga that discussions of the lower vehicles is
largely simply to contrast them to the Great Perfection. Finally, it is
interesting to note his modernist-oriented presentation of tantric doxog-
raphy in his principal commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the
Phyogs bcu mun sel. Here kLong chen rab 'byams pa divides the Secret
Mantra vehicle into two: the external and the intemal.
The external
includes the standard triad of Action, Performance and Yoga, while the
internal signifies the following triad: the yogis' tantras (correlated with
Mahayoga and a focus on winds in contemplation), the insight-mother
tantras (correlated with Anuyoga and perfection phase techniques) and
the non-dual tantras (correlated with Atiyoga and primordial buddha-
The variations in kLong chen rab 'byams pa's various doxographies
of tantra relates to the different agendas of each work. For example,
these final two treasures (the Theg mchog mdzod and Chos dbyings
mdzod) are principally focused on the Great Perfection tantric traditions
(the former on Seminal Heart and the latter on a Mind Series-oriented
reading of the Seminal Heart), and thus are not concerned with assimi-
lating or catering to such modernist concerns as the four categories of
tantras. The Grub mtha' mdzod, however, ranges over a wide variety of
traditions, and in doing so presents the modernist and Nyingma tantric
doxographies separately, though it does also correlate them. The Ngal
gso skor gsum then is concerned to integrate the Great Perfection orien-
tation into the wider Tibetan religious scene without insisting on the
unique specificity of its own terminology, practices and sources, and
thus explicitly synthesizes the modernist and Nyingma tantric doxo-
graphy. kLong chen rab 'byams pa even completely identifies the three
127. Theg mchog mdzod vol. 1, 62-119.
128. Ibid., 96.7-119.6.
129. Chos dbyings mdzod 104.2ff.
130. Phyogs bcu mun seI149.5ff.
Nyingma inner tantras with the three divisions of the modernist
Anuttarayoga Tantras, such that the only specifically Nyingma tantra
mentioned is the Guhyagarbha Tantra. In contrast, the Yid bzhin
mdzod is solidly modernist in its tantric orientation, and consequently
ignores the Great Perfection as well as Nyingma doxography to focus
on the standard four tantric sets of the modernists.
Mind Series contemplative systems in kLong chen rab 'byams pa 's
Trilogies (sKor gsum): the impact of modernism and the reappropria-
tion oftantric techniques
The point of this extended doxographical digression is to contextualize
the possible innovation of the Mind Series contemplation system pre -
sented in the NgaZ gsa skar gsum. The system itself is presented in dif-
ferent ways, one of the most clear being the "practical guidance" com-
mentary on the Sems nyid ngal gsa. This text outlines one hundred and
forty one sequentially arranged contemplative techniques split into three
sections: exoteric Buddhism (92), tantra (22) and the Great Perfection
(27). Evidently dPal sprul 0 rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po
(commonly referred to as dPal sprul Rim poche; 1808-1887) 131 main-
tained the lineage of using this as a teaching tradition by teaching one
topic each day with regular practice sessions over the course of one
hundred and forty one days. 'Jam mgon kong sprul tried to keep this
alive, as evidenced by his including the text in the first volume of his
large compilation entitled the gDam ngag mdzod, but eventually it
apparently lost its last main advocate with the death of mKhan po ngag
chung (1879-1941). It is currently used primarily as background com-
bined with other systems, rather than itself functioning as a principal
practice text
The twenty-seven aspects of Great Perfection contemplation clearly
avoid any reference to Seminal Heart contemplative systems, as well as
the auxiliary perfection phase techniques closely linked to them. How-
ever, it should be noted that in the opening lineage account he specifies
the Seminal Heart lineage of Indians and Tibetans. 132 In addition,
having specified that the Esoteric Precept Series is the highest teaching
13 L Matthew Kapstein is the source of the following infoIIDation on its use
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as an actual practice text (in conver-
sation, summer 1994).
132. Byang chub lam bzang 526.4ff.
252 JIABS 17.2
from among the three Series (sde gsum) of the Great Perfection, he
identifies his present account as in accord with practices for engaging
those with "intellects wrapped up in objective references" (dmigs pa yul
gyi bio can) and the breakthrough practices.133 The former is a standard
term used to identify lower order tantric-based practices associated with
Great Perfection contemplation as adjuncts, but not considered intrinsi-
cally part of it. The presentation of precepts on contemplative practices
themselves is divided into three rubricS:
(i) determining (the ground)
through (understanding) the view (precepts 115-118); (ii) sustaining
yourself in the state (of this view) through contemplative cultivation
(119-138); (iii) and the fruit (of such contemplation), divestiture from all
hopes and fears (139-141). The four precepts of the first rubric are
mainly analytical contemplative techniques for evoking a sense of the
emptiness or intangibility of external objects and the internal psyche.
Apart from the reasoning process involved in such deconstruction, no
specific techniques or postures are identified. The three precepts of the
third rubric contain no indications of discrete contemplative procedures,
but rather are poetic reveries on the phenomenological significance of the
expanse, the five spiritual bodies, and the five types of primordial gnosis
invoked in discussing the ideal of perfected (wo)man (i. e. the Buddha).
The twenty precepts of the second rubric, however, do involve con-
templative techniques and procedures beyond such thematic inquiries.
They are classified into two groups: a general discussion of contempla-
tive processes classified in accordance with three levels of practitioners
(lower, intermediate and higher; precepts 119-129) and a detailed expla-
nation of the particulars of skill in means (precepts 130-138). As for the
first division, the lower level of practice (precepts 119-125) is discussed
in terms of calming techniques (zhi gnas), insight techniques (lhag
mthong) and their integration (zung 'jug). The calming techniques
(precepts 119-122) are all specified as following (and thus contextual-
ized by) the standard practice of guru yoga and utilizing the standard
seven pOint posture. All four involve developing concentration through
simple techniques of focusing on various external objects or internal
images. While as a whole they utilize such tantric techniques as visual-
izing the subtle body's three main channels, visualizing the breath with
colors, modulating the length of inhalation and exhalation, focusing on
133. Ibid., 526.3.
134. Ibid., 527.2-543.2.
internal images, visualizing one's own body as a deity, or emanating and
contracting light rays, the technique in question is always very simple in
form and the focus remains on the generation of concentration rather
than any quality of the technique in and of itself. The use of deity visu-
alization is entirely incidental and appears to simply be used as a conve-
nient and familiar object to focus the psyche on, given the wide spread
use of such practices. Other things to note are the emphasis on the
body's sensory experience, with visible forms, sounds, scents, flavors
and tactile sensations all forming the objective pole for contemplation.
The insight techniques and "integration" (precepts 123-125), however,
involve no specific techniques beyond analytical or poetic shaping of a
preexisting contemplative state, with a focus on directed inquiries into
emptiness. The intermediate (precepts 126-128) and higher (precept
129) levels of practice involve no techniques beyond the standard lotus
posture, and are again poetically thematized styles of contemplative
inquiry attempting to evoke and I or pinpoint such key dimensions as
emptiness, clarity, awareness and primordial freedom.
The second division (precepts 130-138) is fourfold: calming tech-
niques, insight techniques, their integration, and their finalization (Ia
Va). In general these techniques represent a furthering of the earlier
techniques in their emphasis on integrating realization with ordinary
activity, and direct rather than analytical or analogical experience. (i) The
calming techniques (130-132) are as follows: visualizing an image such
as a lotus at one's heart which then runs down into the depths of the
earth to create a sense of stability, after which it is contracted into one's
heart (130); incidentally using an image of a deity to dissolve distorted
mental activity and focus on emptiness (131); and integrating this calm
state with activity such as walking, thinking and conversing (132). (ii)
The insight techniques (133-135) all lack any particular techniques of
postures, visualization, or the like, instead focusing on the seemingly
intangible experiences of appearance's illusory quality and emptiness.
(iii) The integration techniques (136-137) are twofold, the first of which
again is a thematic type of contemplation focused on finding the val-
orized state of awareness while sitting in the standard posture. The sec-
ond technique, identified as an "enhancer" (bogs 'byin) to the first,
involves utilizing specific postures and gazes to contemplate a lucent
cloudless sky. This causes one's inner sky to clear up, such that reality
manifests as the "secret nucleus of radiant light" (gsang ba 'ad gsal
snying po). While in the Seminal Heart this would refer to the particular
254 JIABS 17.2
visions of direct transcendence contemplation, here it apparently refers
more to a sense of the luminous expanse or an inner vastness, as indi-
cated by its description as "beyond centers and peripheries." (iv) The
final technique, that of finalization, appropriately returns to pure Mind
Series contemplation. 135
The bulk of these contemplative styles are thus technique-free, exhor-
tatory and evocative in nature, poetry and analysis on a cushion. Of the
twenty seven forms of contemplation kLong chen rab 'byams pa details
under the rubric of the Great Perfection, twenty are of this technique-free
variety appropriate to the rhetoric of early Mind Series literature
(excepting posture), while seven involve some type oflimited applica-
tion of either early Buddhist calming techniques or later principles of
tantric contemplation. A seven point lotus posture is consistently
stressed even within the context of the former set of practices, making
quite clear that these involve formal meditative sessions sitting on a
cushion, not simply a vague spin put on experience in the back of one's
mind as one goes through daily activities. As for the latter set of
practices, though they draw upon tantric practices and other normative
Buddhist meditative techniques, the guiding principle is extreme sim-
plicity (spros braZ), and always priority remains on the mind's state, not
the imported practice's specific details. The emphasis in such practices
is simply on concentrating the mind, and then dissolving that concentra-
tion. In addition, they are clearly positioned as "inferior" styles of medi-
tation' while the higher levels are purely of the former type. Again, it is
not clear how innovative the formal inclusion of such meditative prac-
tices was in the context of fourteenth century Mind Series traditions-it
may have been partially an attempt to revive this genre in ecumenical
ways not possible for the Seminal Heart. Yet even overlooking its pos-
sible innovativeness, it is striking that as late as the fourteenth century
we find 74% of a famous Mind Series contemplative system involving
no formal techniques of any type, and the remaining 26% simply involv-
ing basic concentration exercises.
The contemplative structure utilized in the second text of the trilogy
(bSam gtan ngaZ gso), is based upon the standard triad of contemplative
experiences (nyams): bliss (bde ba), radiance / clarity (gsaZ ba) and
non-conceptuality (mi rtog pa). The Shing rta chen po identifies this
135. Ibid., 138.
triad as the three aspects of radiant light (' ad gsal):136 the radiant light
of bliss involves contemplations bringing the seminal nuclei into the
central channel and consequently tactile sensations; the radiant light of
clarity involves contemplatively working with the inner winds and con-
sequently visual sensations of lights; and the radiant light of non-con-
ceptuality involves contemplating the mind directly (or psychic sensa-
tions). In chapter three (the principal section) of the bSam gtim ngal gsa
and its auto-commentary the Shing rta mam dag, this triad is the main
structure kLong chen rab 'byams pa utilizes to present the trilogy's main
Great Perfection-based contemplative system. That presentation is fur-
ther delineated in terms of the standard tripartite sequence of preliminar -
ies, main practice, and concluding phase. The intermediate phase is par-
ticularly important, since it is considered to be the heart of the system.
The preliminaries consist of a triad that can be correlated to the three
vehicles: the general preliminaries on impermanence and renunciation of
cyclic existence (the Lesser Vehicle); the special preliminaries on com-
passion and the engendering a compassionate motivation (the Great
Vehicle); and the supreme preliminaries, which are identified as the gen-
eration phase, perfection phase and guru yoga. 137 This serves to con-
textualize the system in terms of the standard range of Buddhist teach-
ings and practices in Tibet, simultaneously relegating them to a lower
status even while emphasizing their necessity. In fact he makes a
of emphatically stressing the necessity of doing four types of
preliminaries prior to "meditation on the path of the Great Perfection,"
the latter which he characterizes as "settling into the unfabricated pristine
enlightening mind of awareness" (rig pa byang chub kyi sems ma bcos
mal du 'jog pa). He indicates that among his contemporaries there were
many who attempted to directly meditate on the path without such pre-
liminaries, but he characterizes them as deviant or mistaken. In this
context, he specifies the four as (i) impermanence, compassion, genera-
tion of an enlightened motivation (bodhicitta); (li) imaginatively generat-
ing all appearances and life-worlds as the pure lands of the Buddhas and
deities; (ill) chanting mantras and focusing the mind on the subtle yoga;
and (iv) meditation and supplication in guru yoga.
136. Shing rta chen po vol. 2, 12.6ff.
137. Shing rta roam dag 72.5ff.
138. Ibid., 80.2ff.
256 JIABS 17.2
Although he refers to the perfection phase techniques of "channels,
winds and nuclei" in this context of the preliminaries,139 in fact the
commentary does not elaborate on any such techniques at that point. In
contrast, the practices classified as the "main" and "concluding" phases
clearly are modifications or variants of such techniques. In fact his
opening discussion of the main phase
describes a variant of the stan-
dard perfection phase fierce woman (gtum mo) practice described as
"following the (preliminary) generation of the deity and guru yoga." I
interpret this as reflecting his desire to modify the Mind-Series style of
Great Perfection contemplation to include such normative tantric tech-
niques, but in the process to thoroughly modify them in line with the
Great Perfection's ideological and psychological premises. For this rea-
son, he rhetorically identifies ordinary perfection phase techniques as
"preliminary," and then takes pains to point out how the similar yet
modified techniques classified as the latter two phases (main / conclud-
ing) are instead specifically Great Perfection in character. In the com-
mentary, 141 kLong chen rab 'byams pa refers to this presentation as
uniquely Great Perfection in its orientation precisely in this classification
of the above triad of practices as ''preliminary'' since they involve objec-
tive references (dmigs beas); in contrast, ordinary tantra teaches the "real
path" as "meditation on a single seat alternating between generation and
perfection phase techniques / states." Thus the system again shows
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's emphasis on the perfection phase rather
than generation phase practices, just as in his presentation oftantric con-
templation in the Yid bzhin mdzod. In the latter context he describes 142
the "main phase" (dngos gzhi) of meditation as the utilization ofperfec-
tion phase techniques to contemplate "primordial gnosis in its radiant
light" (' od gsal ye shes), explicitly poSitioned as posterior to preliminary
meditation on engendering an enlightened motivation and generation
phase techniques. This is not to deny the frequent passages in the Shing
rta rnam dag that stress the inappropriateness of "perfection" without
"generation," as well as describe a "path without a deity" as not being a
mantric path. 143 This would appear to be a veiled criticism of those who
139. Ibid., 73.
140. Ibid., 81.4ff.
141. Ibid., 73.3.
142. Yid bzhin mdzod 665.
143. Shing rta mam dag 76.5.
construe the Great Perfection's rhetoric to explicitly deny the use of any
type of practice involving vision or visualization, though it is important
to note that this particular statement is in the context of "preliminary"
practices of generation and perfection, and hence does not apply, strictly
speaking, to the Great Perfection per se.
The Shing rta mam dag then outlines the main practices in terms of
contemplative techniques / states (bsam gtan) focused on the respective
experiences of bliss, radiance and non-conceptuality. The practices
under the rubric of "bliss" are a variant on the sexual yogic practices
centered on seminal nuclei (the key technique of many perfection phase
systems under the rubric of "fierce woman" [gtwn mo]), and involve the
manipulation of visualized syllables and so on within the subtle body
system to evoke experiences of intense bliss. The practices dealing with
"radiance" utilize techniques involving the body's winds / breath and the
visualization of light within the body, ultimately focusing on the conse-
quent experiences of internal and external luminosity. The techniques
dealing with "non-conceptuality" involve contemplation of the sky's vast
openness with the aid of an extremely simple visualization and chant,
and subsequently focusing on the concomitant sensations of non-con-
ceptuality. In this modification of perfection phase techniques, the key
principles are that of extreme simplicity (spros med) in terms of proce-
dures and visualizations, in striking contrast to the often amazingly
complex and convoluted (spros bcas) contents of generation phase
practices; the frequent invocation of the importance of balance, smooth-
ness, and avoidance of stress; and a constant return to, emphasis on, and
culmination in, contemplation of the open spaces of the mind's final
nature beyond and within all specific images and sensations. This inter-
linked triune tact is what, for kLong chen rab 'byams pa, constitutes this
as a uniquely Great Perfection contemplative system, despite its obvious
departure from what one might imagine as a pristine uncompromising
Mind Series-based contemplative style.
The discussion of the concluding phase is not at all perfunctory, but
rather includes discussions of new contemplative techniques under the
rubric of "branches which aid the practice of the main phase." 144 Thus
kLong chen rab 'byams pa interprets this category in the sense of "back-
ground teachings" (rgyab chos) to discuss more extensive and complex
tantric techniques, without, however, admitting them into the principal
144. Ibid., 92.4.
258 JIABS 17.2
system itself. Of the four sections, two explicitly deal with new con-
templative techniques: (i) contemplative experiences (nyams) and (ii)
techniques for enhancement or energization of one's contemplation
(bogs 'byin). The former is not particularly interesting for our present
purposes, as it consists of pointers to cope with the inevitable attachment
that occurs to the intense new sensations generated by contemplation.
The latter is presented in terms of (i) techniques for curing defects in
one's contemplative experiences (nyams skyon can bcos thabs) and (ii)
techniques for intensifying (gong du 'phel ba) the gnosis of bliss, radi-
anee, and non-conceptuality. In discussing the curative techniques, he
specifies that the best practitioners simply have recourse to the "view"
(lta ba), the intermediate to "meditation" (sgom pa) and the inferior to
"conduct" (spyod pa).145 Thus for the "best" we find that pure Mind
Series contemplation without any specific techniques, even to the extent
of calming practices, is sufficient. In this way kLong chen rab 'byams
pa acknowledges the older tradition (whether it was simply rhetorical or
practical) and the supremacy of such simple contemplation within the
pristine view. But the slight space given it in comparison to the other
two types of practitioners clearly constitutes a pragmatic recognition that
such an uncompromising position simply isn't sufficient for most indi-
viduals-as a tradition, it seems one must involve oneselves in
"meditation" and "conduct" (key words for different types of practice),
despite the "view's" ontological accuracy in its claims to be "beyond
meditation and conduct" (sgom med, spyod met!). Thus the traditional
triad of a view, its meditative cultivation, and its behavioral implementa-
tion (Ita sgom spyod) is used to justify this extension out of pure Mind
Series contemplation, whether or not such an extension is actual, or a
mere rhetorical acknowledgment of a pre-existing state of affairs. Addi-
tional elements of this strategy are the triad of bliss, radiance and non-
conceptuality-it suggests Mind Series is focused more on the non-con-
ceptuality, but other techniques are more adequate to the equally impor-
tant experiences and intuitions of bliss and radiance. Finally the
widespread hiearchization of individuals' varying contemplative capaci -
ties (as seen above) is utilized: the lower on the yogic ladder you get.
the more elaborate techniques are needed (though the most elaborate
elements of this contemplative system remain considerably simpler than
the elaborate mlll.19alas and procedures of some tantric systems).
145. Ibid., 96.1-98.6, 98.6-103.2, and 103.2-107.2 respectively.
The instructions for curative techniques in "meditation" for the average
practitioner all consist of very simple techniques used to cure precise
problems that arise in the above three practices. For example, if one has
problems with preventing ejaculation in the "bliss" practice, one
visualizes a dark blue huJ?t syllable within the penis-vajra. From this a
flre blazes and incinerates all the seeds, and one visualizes it as empty.
If one has problems with the mind being too agitated to focus, one visu-
alizes a lotus or crossed double vajra at one's heart, from which a cord
extends downward. TItis cord increases in length until it reaches all the
way down to the universe's very foundation. With prolonged medita-
tion, this will clear away the agitation. Finally, if one has a problem with
mental fogginess and torpor while doing practice of non-conceptuality,
one can clear it away with the following technique: a glittering presence
resembling a globe of light raises from one's heart, and one focuses on it
hovering in space an armspan above one.
"Conduct" is then explained in terms of utilizing different postures (Zta
stangs), substances (rdzas), and supporting links (rten 'breZ). The
rubric of postures includes some Simple postural adjustments in support
of the above three types of practice, as well as an extended discussion of
why the classic seven point posture is so crucial. 146 "Substances" con-
centrates on diet, as well as the type of company to keep and geographi-
cal environment, in relation to the particular type of practice one is en-
gaged on. "Supporting links" involves using particular types of material
substances such as charmed cords and sandalwood.
kLong chen rab 'byams pa begins his discussion of "intensifying"
techniques with a trenchant criticism of those who reject all meditative
references (dmigs pa) or specific icons such as visualization (mtshan
bcas).147 Without the use of such "key points" (gnad), he indicates one
will not have the slightest meditative experience and thus will not be able
to stabilize one's mind. He instead stresses the importance of beginning
with meditative objects, and only subsequently releasing them into non-
referential (dmigs med) meditation. In the present context, he identifies
"meditative references" as the blazing and dripping of the nuclei in the
bliss practices; the colorized inner winds in the radiance practices; and
the pure sky in the non-conceptuality practices. Subsequently he con-
146. Ibid., 103.3-104.5.
147. Ibid., 107.3-116.3 and 107.3-108.3 respectively.
260 JIABS 17.2
cludes this section 148 in a similar vein with an admonition that for the
energization of all these contemplative techniques a practitioner should
generally value the standard range of meritorious activities: amassing
the two accumulations of gnosis and merit, purifying obscurations,
meditation on generation and perfection phase techniques, and doing
guru yoga. Thus in the intervening discussion, he indicates how to
energize the bliss practice in particular by providing more particulars on
its four phases of descent, reversal, dispersal and indictment (as empty)
of the seminal nuclei in one's body, including pointers on posture and so
forth that facilitate them. 149 Of particular interest 150 is what appears to
be his justification for including sexual yoga in a Great Perfection con-
templative system: the focus here is on the final phase of finding the
originally pure emptiness within these sensations of intense bliss, in
marked contrast to the "stressful and forced" (rtsol ba can) practices of
those who just continually concentrate on the descent, reversal and dis-
persal of the seminal nuclei within their bodies along with the concomi-
tant intense orgiastic sensations. In his account of the energization of the
radiance practice, lSI he also emphasizes its difference from ordinary
perfection phase techniques, characterizing it as superior to standard
breath techniques visualizing the breath as colored, with temperature,
shapes and so on. The energization of the non-conceptuality practice,152
however, is just an outline of several simple techniques; dis solving all
conceptuality into an intent focus on a meditative reference such as the
statue of a deity; holding the lungs empty and staring intently at
mountains, rocks and so on; or focusing the mind on letters, lights, or
deity images at the four wheels of the subtle body while holding one's
breath inside.
Finally, I would like to point out that this entire system is summarized
into an attractively simple sequence of preliminaries, main practice and
concluding phase in the "practical guidance" (don khrid) on this text. 153
While space prevents me from outlining it here, it suffices to point out
that it presents the above in a very stream lined package giving one the
148. Ibid., 115.6-116.3.
149. Ibid., 108.3-112.4.
150. Ibid., 112.3.
151. Ibid., 112.4-114.6.
152. Ibid., 114.6-115.6.
153. Yid bzhin nor bu 126.3-129.4.
sensation of a truly Great Perfection-based reading of the standard range
of Tibetan Buddhist contemplative practices, inclusive yet non-com-
promising in its adherence to the principle of simplicity (spros med).
As with the NgaZ gso skor gsum, kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Rang
grot skor gsum cycle enables him to present the standard Buddhist
vehicles with a focus on practice in the Mind Series. It also is novel to
some degree, as indicated by its status as a "pure vision" (dag snang)
received by kLong chen rab 'byams pa directly from Ye shes mtsho
This trilogy provides a sustained interpretation of the Mind
Series from the perspective of the Esoteric Precept Series, such as when
it utilizes the unique terminology of the four visions of direct transcen-
dence to discuss the progression of breakthrough / Mind Series con-
templation, or its clear references to dream practices associated with the
Seminal Heart tradition. 155 Thus it would seem kLong chen rab 'byams
pa thought of this trilogy as an intermediate bridge between the solidly
Mind Series-based NgaZ gso skor gsum and specifically Seminal Heart
scriptures, probably intended to gradually introduce modernists to the
latter's unique and quirky world both terminologically and contempla-
tively through the medium of the more palatable Mind Series tradition.
In other words, it was intended as a springboard for orienting people
towards the Esoteric Precept Series vision of the Great Perfection.
The first text of the trilogy, the rDzogs pa chen po sems nyid rang
grol,156 devotes its lengthy second chapter to contemplation, but its
intensely beautiful and experiential account provides little detail on actual
contemplative procedures aside from the standard poetic-evocative
Mind Series style of meditation. Its auto-commentary (another "practical
guidance" (don khrid) text), however, has more specifics in its triune
presentation of a gradated path of meditation: 157 (i) instructions on
154. See Buddha Mind (356) for a lineage with several intermediate figures; a
different lineage list for the Chos nyid rang grol and mNyam nyid rang groi
provided in their respective "practical guidance" commentaries (329.6 and
377.4) goes difectly from Ye shes mtsho rgyal to kLong chen rab 'byams pa
himself (the latter text specifies the "Padma couple," i. e. Padmasambhava
and Ye shes mtsho rgyal).
155. See Thondup 1989, 335-6.
156. All page references to this and its commentary are to Thondup's transla-
tions for the reader's convenience.
157. Lam rim snying po 357-367, 367-370 and 370-373 respectively.
262 JIABS 17.2
natural freedom in contemplative practice in this current lifetime; (ii)
instructions on radiant light as the pure source-potential within the post-
life intermediate state; and (iii) instructions on the fruit of definitive
actualization. The first section begins with seven preliminary phases of
contemplation (the first six are done for seven days apiece, and the sev-
enth for a few additional days): (i) a standard, and fairly complex,
tantric guru-yoga centered on the visualization of Padmasambhava and
Ye shes mtsho rgyal; (ii) maJ;lQala offering utilizing visualization; (iii)
purificatory meditation on Vajrasattva; (iv) contemplation of imperma-
nence; (v) going for refuge to visualized presences; (vi) the standard
Mahayana generation of an altruistic motivation towards enlightenment;
and (vii) finally a triune meditation on calming, insight, and their inte-
gration. None of these involve any visionary or visualization practices
unique to the Seminal Heart tradition. These preliminaries are then fol-
lowed by the main and concluding practices, which on the whole involve
no iconic-specific visualizations, breathing modulations, or other such
tantric techniques. Thus typical Buddhist meditations are relegated to a
"preliminary" phase, while the main contemplations are concordant with
the anti-nomian (from a normative Buddhist scholastic and contempla-
tive vantage point) discourse of early Great Perfection literature. The
only exception is the "enhancement" (bogs dbyung) section of the con-
cluding practices, which describes a practice involving going to a soli-
tary spot and acting out whatever comes to your mind. This practice is
drawn from the Seminal Heart tradition, where it is known as "the dif-
ferentiation between cyclic existence and transcendence's respective
domains" (' khOT 'das ru shan). 158
The intermediate state section, however, is an abbreviated account of
the processes of dying and post-death existence accompanied by a terse
outline of the associated contemplative precepts involving lights, visual-
ization, and so on, drawn from the tenth adamantine topic of the Seminal
Heart tradition. The final section on the fruit is not so clearly experien tial
in nature, and largely involves theories of the nature of a Buddha's
activity and realization. Thus overall we find again an incorporation of
standard tantric practices that have been streamlined and simplified, tre
prominence of calming / insight techniques, and a subdued incorporation
of certain aspects of Seminal Heart terminology and contemplative prac-
tices. Despite the presence of these tantric techniques, there is absolutely
158. See the description in Tshig don mdzod 372.4-374.3.
no focus on the iconic presence of anyone deity or set of deities as in
ordinary generation phase practices, nor is there any emphasis on bring -
ing the internal winds into the body's central channel as in ordinary per-
fection phase practices.
I will defer a similarly detailed examination of the other texts in the
trilogy, except to note that in general they follow the pattern of the first
set oftexts: they frame the breakthrough style contemplation with more
conventional preliminary tantric and Mahayana contemplations, there is
an infusion of bardo ideology and praxis, the modernist and Seminal
Heart focus on radiant light and vision is pronounced, and despite its
obvious influence, they refrain on the whole from utilizing the character-
istic Seminal Heart terminology or describing the critical direct transcen-
dence contemplation. The emphasis on radiant light and the bardo is
even more pronounced, and the other two "practical guidances" structure
their discussion of contemplative instructions around the traditional triad
used to structure Seminal Heart treatises' presentations of contemplation:
(i) a deSCription of contemplative procedures to be used in this life for
the sharpest of practitioner; (li) instructions for the post-death interme-
diate states for practitioners of intermediate abilities; and finally (iii) pre-
cepts for those of inferior abilities, which basically consists in utilizing
the practice of transference of consciousness (' pho ba) to be reborn in a
pure land. kLong chen rab 'byams pa uses this emphasis on the inter-
mediate state and radiant light to bring an Esoteric Precept Series per-
spective to bear upon the Mind Series without, however, bringing its
dangerous "commitments" (psychically and politically) into play since he
avoids explicitly invoking the former. It may have been that the bardo
discourses had gained a wider acceptance in Tibetan Buddhist commu-
nities by virtue of their widespread popularity among the lay, as well as
their displacing these unusual doctrines from the mainstream arena via
situating them in the liminal zone of death. Thus kLong chen rab
'byams pa saw them as the most appropriate teachings to function as a
bridge between the world of the Mind Series and modernist traditions,
and that of the Seminal Heart.
Finally, I will briefly summarize the contemplative system outlined in
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own commentary on the principal Mind
Series text, the KWl byed rgyaZ po.159 His account is particularly inter-
159. Byang chub kyi sems kun byed rgyal po'i don khrid Tin chen sgru bo
29-52. This text has been translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Peterson
264 JIABS 17.2
esting since it is closely based on the text itself, thus revealing how he
unfolds a series of practices from a text which never describes any for-
mal contemplative scenarios. The description is divided up into the tra-
ditional triad of a contemplation session: the preliminaries (here identi-
fied as guru yoga), the main practice and the concluding practices (here
specified as techniques for sustaining the visions and experiences). The
guru yoga begins with simple visualizations of a syllable emanating light
rays, continues with self-visualization as the deity Sems dpa' rdo rje, a
visualization of an image of the guru upon your head, and further visual-
izations of surrounding lineage masters and so forth. In addition, you
utilize a special breathing technique called "vajra repetition" (rdo rje' i
bzlas )-you pronounce 61J1. as you inhale, ii{l as you hold the breath
momentarily, and hi11J1. as you exhale. This practice is a quite standard
tantric contemplation, but it is important to note this is introduced as a
preliminary which serves to contextualize the main practice, which
would be the Great Perfection proper.
The main practice involves four subdivisions:
determining (the
ground) through the appropriate view, finalizing through contemplative
cultivation (of this view); clearing away treacherous pathways through
your conduct; and divesting yourself from all hopes and fears as the
fruit. The view section involves exclusively poetic / analytic thematic
meditative inquiry or reverie, though the two references to how many
days should be spent on it clearly indicate that formal meditative ses sions
are indicated.
The contemplation, conduct and fruit sections begin
with relaxing in the seven point lotus posture, but are in fact in their
entirety "technique-free" yet highly experiential scripts for working with
one's own psyche. The concluding phase provides some simple
practical techniques for coping with various situations. 162 As strategies
for dealing with obstacles to one's meditative practice, kLong chen rab
'byams pa advocates traditional Buddhist techniques such as supplicat-
ing one's Master, trusting in pure vision, cultivating love and compas-
sion, and training one's mind to be constantly aware of karmic conse-
as You are the Eyes o/the World (1987). All page references here and in the
following are to this translation for the reader's convenience.
160. Lipman and Peterson 1987, 31-50.
161. Ibid., 33, 35.
162. Ibid., 50-2.
quences of one's actions as well as impennanence. While other solu-
tions are again more cognitive in nature, he offers specific advice for
feelings of drowsiness and distraction towards objects---"stick to a cool
room with a high seat, exert yourself and do physical exercises."163 He
also reiterates the importance of stabilizing concentration on an objective
reference, the precise content of which is not relevant,l64 followed by a
clear explication of how such stabilization is utilized. The beginning
level of such practice involves the achievement of a calm, collected state
of mind, which, however, is periodically interrupted by the movement of
thought (sems gnas thog nas 'phro). The intennediate level of familiar-
ization with such contemplation is reached when one begins to gain the
ability to find such calm amidst the movement of thought (,phro thog na
gnas); the advanced level is when calmness and thoughts manifest with-
out any duality or fissure (gnas 'phro gnyis med du shar ba).
In conclusion, this brief look at kLong chen rab 'byams pa's four-
teenth century writings on Mind Series contemplation indicates quite
clearly an important, though limited and modified, role of ordinary
tantric contemplative principles distinct from their possible importance as
an assumed background. It clearly represents a simplification ofperfec-
tion phase techniques infused with the spirit of Great Perfection rhetoric
while consciously avoiding complicated generation phase production of
images, resulting in an attractively simple yet evocative system. In addi-
tion, it indicates the importance of calming techniques as a central means
for preparing one's psyche for the tricky nature of such seemingly in-
tangible styles of contemplation. Finally, his accounts both indicate how
highly experiential these at times vague sounding contemplations can be
in terms of providing precise means for working directly with one's
psyche, sensory experience and sedimented interpretative patterns, as
well as stress the importance of pursuing these in a fonnal setting while
seated in a supportive posture and disengaged from other activities. It is
only in the context of cultivating such concentration in extended medita-
tive sessions that his avocation of integrating such experiences with
ordinary activities makes sense, as well his frequent invocations of
"relaxation" and "naturalness." Further research must be done on earlier
Mind Series literature with a specific focus on evidence of contemplative
praxis to assess kLong chen rab 'byams pa's innovativeness. In par-
163. Ibid., 51.
164. Ibid., 52.
266 JIABS 17.2
ticular, a systematic review of the rGyud 'bum o!Vairo(cana) is vital if
Kapstein is correct in his characterization of it as a middle to late twelfth
century redaction of Zur Mind Series traditions.
The path from bodhicitta to bindu
As the eleventh century begins, the Great Perfection is already character-
ized by these webs of lineages known as the Mind Series, separated
from each other by such factors as geographical distances and clan affil-
iations. The emergence of the modernist movements from this point
onwards resulted in new religio-cultural heterologues sparking a series
of crises and transformations in pre-existing Buddhist groups
(beginning with their constitution as the "ancients"). The eleventh to
thirteenth centuries are a time of tremendous ferment as a variety of
interlinked yogic systems of theory and praxis are not only being
imported from outside Tibet, but are also being developed and refined in
Tibet itself. This latter process took place intellectually, literarily and
experientially, and for a few explosive centuries literally thousands of
tantric flowers bloomed, most eventually withering away within the
restricted circles wherein they first emerged, forever beyond retrieval.
Amidst this mutually constituting creativity in modernist and ancient
circles, startling new developments emerge within these Great Perfection
traditions. While grounded in classical Indian Buddhist thought, they
also represent systematic Tibetan innovations of an extremely sophisti-
cated and creative nature.
The most interesting were those experimenting with imaginal pro-
cesses interlinked with the human body through pushing outwards the
boundaries demarcating the Great Perfection from the other tantric tradi -
tions being transmitted with it,165 as well as incorporating in interesting
ways tantric doctrines and practices circulating in modernist camps.
These developments reversed its probable initial process of formation in
which it separated itself off from other areas of tantra to gain its own
distinctive self-identity. As these boundaries of discourse and praxis
fluctuated outwards, the incorporated materials / techniques themselves
were altered in ways both subtle and striking by their new setting and
use, as well as altering the very identity of the Great Perfection in the
process. These fluctuations and reintroductions of tantric elements were
taking place across an immense geographical landscape over a number
165. This is clear from hagiographic and lineage records.
of centuries, and it is not yet possible to give a competent outline of the
various heterogeneous systems, nor their interrelationships and differ-
ences. We have yet to adequately analyze the existent literature to dis-
cern the outlines of these groups, much less ask questions as to philo-
sophical and contemplative differences that may have constituted their
respective boundaries (beyond the mere clan affinities, lineage transmis-
sions, and geographical locations). The situation is particularly complex
in that much of the early materials were being introduced as canonical
tantras attributed to a cosmic buddha, or compositions by Indian and
Tibetan figures of the seventh to ninth centuries. As such, they were
often introduced into collections without any further colophonic data.
The "Seminal Heart" (snying thig) emerged out of such ferment from
the mid eleventh century onwards. The Seminal Heart was also known
as the "unsurpassed" (bla med), perhaps echoing the modernist term
"Unsurpassed Yoga Tantras" (mal 'byor bla na med pa'i rgyud).
While it is startlingly different from the world evoked by the classic
Mind Series texts, its innovativeness in the context of related movements
in the Great Perfection cannot be assessed until further research has been
done on surviving textual materials from this time period 166 Since these
traditions were in intimate dialogue with the emerging modernist tantric
and yogic developments as well, comparative studies should also yield
detailed correspondences. With the emergence of such movements,
various classification systems or doxographies begin to develop to make
sense of older Great Perfection traditions in this new context. Early
developments gaining wider acceptance with their proposed rubrics for
self-identification (yang ti, spyi ti, a ti and so forth) thus began to create
systematized genres as early as the eleventh century. Eventually a
certain spectrum of these that went furthest in assimilating perfection
phase techniques were understood as variations of a single classification
known as the "Esoteric Precept Series." The most standard overarching
doxography included this in a triune hierarchically sequenced series (sde
gsum): the Mind Series, Space Series, and Esoteric Precepts Series
(man ngag sde). The Mind Series functioned as a systematization of
older traditions, as well as eventually more conservative innovations,
while the Esoteric Precepts Series and its internal divisions authorized
and positioned the radical developments led by the Seminal Heart. Thus
166. Particularly important are the key "Space Series" (klong sde) works and
those grouped under the rubrics yang ti or spyi ti.
268 JIABS 17.2
while people were continually going off into the vast Tibetan wilderness
and pursuing their own interests in isolated conditions, the pervasive
institution of lineages and the complimentary Tibetan instinct for
collectivization constantly acted to counterbalance these tendencies
towards fragmentation and isolation. Some early passages about the
interrelation between yang ti and spyi ti clearly indicate these were
separate currents with self-conscious identities, 167 although this is not to
deny that later classificatory attempts (such as those found in the
ordering of texts in the rNying rna rgyud 'bum) introduce artificial
divisions as they attempt to fit heterogeneous material into a few rubrics
distilled out from this creative period. In particular, later attempts to
confine this into a standard four divisions of the Esoteric Precepts Series
seems to reflect a late hegemonic attempt to homogenize these develop-
ments into a unified scheme. While in the Seminal Heart's earliest
emergence in the eleventh century it was one of many tentative inquiries
into the expansion of the Great Perfection, this particular line of devel-
opment eventually become so dominant in Tibet that the term came to be
understood as synonymous with the Great Perfection itself in many cir-
des. Even later traditions claiming distinct visionary roots in the eighth
century are clearly heavily indebted to the practices, terminology and
167. For example, a revelation of Nyang ral nyi rna 'oct zer entitled rGyud
kyi nse rgyal nyi zla 'od 'bar mkha' klong mam dag rgya mtsho klong gsal
rgyud currently found in the mTshams brag edition of rNying rna rgyud 'bum
(vol. 10,624-671; Kaneko 124) has references to spyi ti and yang ti; also see
the references in the chapter titles of two other Nyang revelations (Kaneko 93-
4). A Padmasambhava treasure (the discoverer is unspecified) located imme-
diately after those texts (Kaneko 95) has numerous references to spyi ti, yang
ti and a ti (the rGyud thams cad kyi rgyal po nyi zla'i snying po 'od 'bar ba
bdud rtsi'i rgyal mtsho La 'khyiL ba'i rgyud). Chapter 47 discusses the view
of spyi ti, which it identifies as "original purity" (ka dag), while the follow-
ing chapter discusses the view of yang ti, which it explicitly identifies as
"higher" than spyi ti. Chapter 48 then discusses the view of "the totally per-
fect direct transcendence" (yongs rdzogs thod rgal). Chapter 72 further dis-
cusses the "difference between a ti and spyi ti," and actually presents it in
terms of a debate between two proponents. Systematic research into such
passages will eventually yield a clearer understanding of what is implied by
each rubric.
direction first formulated in the Seminal Heart circles (this is particularly
true of the important fourteenth century dGongs pa zang thal cycle). 168
The history of the Great Perfection's transformation into the Seminal
Traditionally, the Seminal Heart is said to have been the exceedingly
secret core of the Great Perfection, and as such was only transmitted to
literally a handful of people during the late eighth and ninth centuries as
Buddhism took hold in dynastic period Tibet. This new Great Perfec-
tion movement was then introduced to the wider Tibetan public from the
eleventh century onwards under the auspices of "recovered" texts called
"treasures" (gter ma), which included both transcendental buddha-
authored tantras and their human-composed exegetical literature. In
terms of the former, there were a series of new tantras in the classic for-
mat said to be dynastic period translations by either Vimalamitra or
Vairocana in conjunction with from which a set of seventeen
was gradually codified under the rubric of rGyud bcu bdun (The Seven-
teen Tantras). In addition, there emerged a body of exegetical literature
attributed to six Indian figures (see below) and eventually collected into
a set known as Bi ma snying thig (The Seminal Heart of Vimalarnitra),
the name pointing to the supposed eighth century Indian redactor who is
said to have brought the texts to Tibet and redacted them there as a col -
lection. These texts' origination and transmission were both attributed to
the shadowy non-Tibetan figures said to play the key roles in the Great
Perfection's emergence in this world system and initial very limited cir-
culation (prior to its unprecedented expansion in Tibet)-- Surativajra,
MafijuSrImitra, Jfianasl1tra and Vimalarnitra. The main early
figure that is historically attested seems to be ICe btsun seng ge dbang
phyug (active in the eleventh century), who was said to have played a
major role (some claim "authorship" in many cases as the most appro-
priate description)169 in the rediscovery of these two principal textual
168. It is necessary to carefully chart the way in which Seminal Heart devel-
opments were appropriated by other systems as the centuries passed on, since
the special treasure-revelation mechanisms of the ancients was often utilized
to create separate sources of authorization clouding their immense debt to the
original Seminal Heart corpus. For information on the phenomena of
"treasure," see Thondup 1986 aI)d Gyatso 1986, 1993.
169. See Karmay 1988; 210.
270 JIABS 17.2
collections that were to put the Seminal Heart teachings on the spiritual
and intellectual map in Tibet. 170 These two collections later formed a
triad with the important mKha' 'gro snying thig (The Seminal Heart of
the Sky Dancer), a group of texts ascribed to the authorship of
Padmasambhava in conjunction with his Tibetan consort Ye shes mtsho
rgyal yet only re-revealed in Tibet during the late thirteenth century by
Padmalas 'brelrtsal (1291-1316). Traditional accounts of this enSuing
period thus speak of their concealment in Tibet and subsequent
"rediscovery" as actual physical manuscripts or visionary documents, an
extremely complex and confusing series of events over a period of four
centuries that is in part certainly beyond our retrieval. Along with the
repeated disclaimers explaining why these teachings and doctrines had
been totally unknown prior to this time (roughly the eleventh century),
this indicates the quite innovative nature of these Seminal Heart teach-
ings in the context of what was understood to signified by the "Great
Perfection" when they first appeared. Even within the context of
Nyingma communities, and more so in the wider TIbetan religious land-
scape being reshaped by the modernist movement, these teachings were
quite controversial. The uniqueness of the Seminal Heart tradition in the
context of the Great Perfection is due equally to its complex mytho-
philosophical presentation of the cosmos' unfolding within an explicitly
soteriological and psychological framework, as well as its incorporation
of complex visual images and imaging into its mainstream (though in a
quite different style than traditional tantric praxis).
Given the period's complicated maneuvers regarding ascription of
authorship as motivated by desires for legitimation in the often fractious
conflicts between the modernists and ancient ones, attributions to Indian
figures such as Vimalarnitra and even to Tibetan figures beginning with
ICe btsun seng ge dbang phyug (though from fairly early on he is cited
as the source of the Seminal Heart innovation) cannot be taken at face
value without independent corroboration. The situation is further con-
fused by the fact that many of the early figures were visionaries who
170. I am currently working on a detailed analysis of this literature in an
article provisionally entitled "kLong chen rab 'byams pa's sNying thig
Sources: The "Original" sNying Thig Literature Canonized in the 14th Cen-
tury." The most pressing task in reconstructing a literary history is a system-
atic cataloging and comparison of the huge amounts of Great Perfection litera-
ture produced during this period.
received texts in varying states of detail within visions,I71 texts which
subsequent transmissions would speak of as belonging more to the
envisioned author than the visionary him / herself. In addition, to some
degree genuinely ancient texts lost or concealed during the dark period
were being recovered and recirculated from the late tenth century
onwards, just as is happening now in Tibetan regions following the far
darker period that transpired under Chinese Communist rule during the
sixties and seventies. Finally, these texts, as well as other texts, were
often sites of continuing creative development that in some cases lasted
over several centuries or more, such that reference to a text or collection
by name is not clear evidence that it existed at that point in its present
codified form. It is important to realize that traditional and modem
accounts of a type of "renaissance" of Tibetan religious culture from the
tenth century onwards as essentially creative, dominant and active mod-
ernist movements pushing along reactionary, weak and passive
Nyingma and Bonpo movements is profoundly inaccurate. Instead it
was a jOint explOSion of creativity shared by all three, with the Seminal
Heart in particular marking the profundity of the changes occurring in
the Nyingma camps.
The traditional account of the emergence of this literature can be found
in the sNying thig lo rgyus chen po (The Great Chronicles of the Seminal
Heart), a historical work found in the Bi rna snying thig, possibly
authored by Zhang ston bkra shis rdo rje. 172 In this account,
Vimalamitra brings the texts to Tibet towards the end of the eighth cen-
tury, but decides against disseminating them at that pOint, and instead
conceals the texts in mChims phu (the retreat site associated with bSam
yas monastery in Central Tibet). He transmits some materials to tre
171. A contemporary Great Perfection Teacher in Golok Serta, mKhan po
'jigs med phun tshogs, is quite famed for his visionary reception of texts in
perfect syllabic meter. This being the twentieth century, disciples scramble for
the tape recorder and microphone when he appears to be going into such a
state. In his own community, and in the wider religious community if they
gain legitimation as genuine, these compositions are attributed to the eighth
or ninth century and the subsequently discussed as the "root" of a fourteenth
century text and so on. An excellent discussion of this tradition of "treasure"
(gTer rna) texts revealed physically or in non-material visions can be found in
Thondup 1986.
172. See Karmay 1988,209. See Thondup 1984 for a good syncretic presen-
tation of such accounts.
272 JIABS 17.2
Tibetan Nyang ting nge 'dzin bzang po, who conceals those texts at the
Zhwa'i temple. In order to maintain the lineage, he transmitted it in
some type of oral form to 'Bron rin chen 'bar ba, who in.turn transmitted
it to dBu ru zhwa'i ldang rna dge mchog. The latter's son, gNas brtan
ldang rna lhun gyi rgyal mtshan then rediscovered some portion of the
texts from Zhwa temple. He transmitted these to ICe btsun seng ge
dbang phyug, who further re-located some of the texts at mChims phu,
but also re-hid these texts. ICe sgom nag po then thirty years later
recovered some of those texts. From this point on we have datable fig-
ures: ICe sgom nag po's disciple Zhang ston bkra shis rdo rje (1097-
1167), Zhang's son Nyi rna 'bum (1158-1213), Nyi 'bum's nephew
Guru jo 'ber (1172-1231), 10 'ber's disciple 'Khrul zhig seng ge rgyab
pa (1200s), the latter's disciple Me long rdo rje (1243-1303), and Me
long rdo rje's disciple Kumaradza (1266-1343), the root teacher of
kLong chenrab 'byams pa (1308-1363). The materials developed dur-
ing the pre-kLong chen rab 'byams pa period bear traces of a number of
quite different authorial hands, often in a single t e ~ t . However material
attributed to Vimalamitra's (traditionally seen as the key redactor of this
material) own hand often seems stylistically unified, internally structured
and possibly forming the corpus of a single individual. The key issue in
part, then, is whether we can pinpoint a historical figure who most likely
penned a substantial portion of these materials, whether it be ICe btsun
seng ge dbang phyug, ICe sgom nag po, or 'some later figure. Interest-
ingly, Nyang ral nyi rna 'od zer's twelfth century Chos 'byung me tog
snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud clearly refers (see above) in passing to the
emerging Seminal Heart tradition under the rubric of "the unsurpassed
(tradition of the) Great Perfection" (rdzogs chen bla med), though he
confines himself to a brief description of the lineage.
It is helpful to understand the history of the Seminal Heart in terms of
three phases. 0) The initial period of formation (early eleventh century
to early twelfth century?) was marked by the longer texts (such as the
sGra thaI' gyur and Rig pa rang shar tantras) and two main collections
of texts (The Seventeen Tantras and the Bi rna snying thig) gradually
taking shape over the course of decades via a number of authors. This
is suggested by the reoccurring theme of visions of Vimalamitra and
texts which are re-covered, re-concealed and re-recovered. Thus at some
time in the eleventh century this new movement began within the
framework of the Great Perfection drawing upon a variety of sources:
new modernist doctrines, indigenous Tibetan religious concepts, inno-
vative strains of the Great Perfection such as in the Space Series and
other unknown influences. It may even be that these visionary practices
were partially already present as an oral transmission largely contempla-
tive in nature in conjunction with a limited graphic tradition focused on
tantric themes of buddha-nature and primordial purity; the Seminal Heart
may then ret1ect the subsequent gradual elaboration of this into a sys-
tematic philosophical discourse. It then spread for several centuries with
literary production basically confined to "tantras" claiming to be tran-
scripts of celestial doctrines rather than human compositions, and I or
texts claiming to be rediscoveries of fifth-ninth century non-Tibetan
Great Perfection masters. The formation of the two basic collections
said to stem from the time of ICe btsun seng ge dbang phyug was most
likely the product of gradual "discovery" and composition reaching a
codified form only later in the late thirteenth century, though it may be
that it was present in a core form already in the eleventh century with ICe
btsun seng ge dbang phyug's, or ICe sgom nag po's, literary activity
("archaeology" and composition).
(ii) In the intermediate period (early thirteenth century to early four-
teenth century) the tradition starts to take stable form and move into
wider patterns of circulation with Me long rdo rje and Kumaradza. In
this way, the Seminal Heart tradition with its texts and associated prac-
tices eventually began to experience quite a bit of success, such that in
the early fourteenth century we find such a prominent modernist figure
as the third Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (1284-1339) deeply involved
in their transmission and study. 173 In this process, the rnKha' , gro
snying thig played a critical role, as indicated by its great popularity in
the fourteenth century.l1
The factors behind this popularity lie partially
in its direct linkage to the evolving cult of Padmasambhava that was
beginning to dominate the Nyingma lineages, but also in its stylistic
qualities, organization, and pragmatic usefulness. Whereas the Bi rna
snying thig represents a sprawling mass of often quite obscure and cer-
tainly heterogeneous materials, this later collection (as one might expect)
is tightly written, characterized by an evocative yet clear style, and pre-
sents the entire range of philosophical treatises, ritual manuals, and con-
templative instructions in a single easy to consult cycle. This is yet
another reason for the importance of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's
173. See Dudjom 1991, 572-4.
174. See Ehrhard 1992, 54.
274 nABS 17.2
exegetical work, since he also brought much needed order and organiza-
tional clarity to the at times chaotic mass of the Vimalamitra-fransmitted
Seminal Heart scriptures inherited from Kumaradza (also the relevant
teacher of Rang byung rdo rje). In addition, Kumaradza's biography
has the following interesting comment: " ... Kumaradza was able to
explain the instructions of the Innermost Spirituality (snying thig) with-
out mixing them with others' systems of the stage of perfection; and
thus he created a philosophical system in the technical language [of the
Great Perfection itself] .... "175 In their annotation to this, Kapstein
and Dorje indicate that they suspect this may indicate Kumaradza played
an important role, perhaps even a literary one, in the systematization of
the Seminal Heart tradition with its peculiar terminology that kLong chen
rab 'byams pa received.
(ill) In the "final" period (fourteenth century) kLong chen rab 'byams
pa systematized and codified these literary and oral traditions into a
complex, yet clear architectonic structure. This resulted in the redaction
of the literature into the vast sNying thig ya bihi (The Seminal Heart in
Four Parts) along with the canonical Seventeen Tantras. Further
research into other Great Perfection figures of the time may reveal alter-
native Seminal Heart-inspired or related traditions that bypassed kLong
chen rab 'byams pa's systematization, though it is unlikely any do so in
such masterly fashion. Prior to the fourteenth century, there appears to
have been little e;wlicitly commentarialliterature being attributed to
Tibetan scholar / practitioners, although presumably many of the tantras
found in the various editions of rNying ma rgyud 'bum were being pro-
duced, revealed, or rediscovered during the twelfth and thirteenth cen-
turies under circumstances that are less than clear. This entire develop-
mental process of a complex and highly architectonic discourse over
three centuries then culminated with the life and writings of kLong chen
rab 'byams pa, who produced a massive corpus of writings on the
Seminal Heart constituting its first systematic exposition attributed
explicitly to an indigenous Tibetan author. Not only did he put thus put
the tradition in its classical form, he also managed to integrate its doc-
trines and practices into the increasingly normative modernist discourses
that had taken shape from the contemporary Indian Buddhist 10gico-
epistemological circles, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, and tantric traditions of
the late tenth to thirteenth centuries. 1his is in line with the general tenor
175. See Dudjom 1991,571-2.
of the fourteenth century, a time when the preceding centuries' creative
and at times chaotic ferment was being everywhere systematized and
codified, and the Tibetan version of the academic industry was kicking
into gear. kLong chen rab 'byams pa's overall corpus is brilliant, and
has enjoyed a commensurate reputation in a1111betan traditions from the
fourteenth century onwards. It had an immediate impact, and in subse-
quent centuries was to serve as the explicit model for many Nyingma
compositions. In particular, his Seminal Heart writings were intensely
philosophical as well as contemplative, and architectonic in nature.
Though on the whole their characteristic doctrines and terminology are
present in the earlier literature stemming from ICe btsun seng ge dbang
phyug onwards, their terminological precision, eloquent style, systematic
range and structure, and integration with normative Buddhist discourse
constitute a major innovation in and of themselves. To his credit, kLong
chen rab 'byams pa's alternative identities as a poet and accomplished
yogi enabled him on the whole to avoid the scholastic sterility that many
Tibetan scholars were already becoming trapped within.
A period of striking creativity was thus brought to its culmination by
kLong chen rab 'byams pa, while in the following centuries (right up to
the present), many figures in the Nyingma tradition (and other sects)
composed their own Seminal Heart systems (generally known by such
titles as the Pad rna snying thig [Lotus Seminal Heart] and so on) such
that earlier traditions of the Great Perfection became marginalized and
Seminal Heart came to be widely recognized as the premier form of the
Great Perfection. Indeed, it was viewed as the pinnacle of the entire
"nine vehicle" (theg pa dgu) systematization of tenet systems in
Nyingma literature. However, despite, or perhaps because of, the
immensity of his accomplishment, kLong chen rab 'byams pa's corpus
had a relatively limited circulation for the ensuing four centuries. It was
finally simultaneously established as authoritative, and partially dis-
placed, in the eighteenth century by 'Jigs med gling pa's (1730-1798)
immensely popular kLong chen snying thig cycle. This functioned to
simplify much of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Seminal Heart systemati-
zation, but also altered the fundamental structure of its literature and
praxis by drawing upon normative (and transformed) deity visualization-
oriented practices as found in Mahayoga cycles for its key structural
framework. In addition, his Yon tan mdzod basically rewrote kLong
chen rab 'byams pa's NgaZ gso skor gsum. While both works were to
prove considerably more popular than their inspiration in kLong chen
276 nABS 17.2
rab 'byams pa's corresponding compositions, they also solidified the
tradition of according the latter an authoritative position in the field of the
Great Perfect, and opened up a space within which kLong chen rab
'byams pa studies flourished (relatively speaking). In addition, it
sparked the famous "non-partisan" (ris med) movement that spread over
eastern TIbet in the nineteenth century, for which this renewed Seminal
Heart formed the visionary and intellectual heart. 176 Much of the
Nyingma school's ensuing (nineteenth and twentieth centuries) produc-
tion of systematic exegetical literature on the great Mahayana exoteric
classics can be profitable viewed as an attempt to pursue Great Perfec-
tion concerns in the new arena of discourses formerly dominated by the
modernists. However the history of Seminal Heart post-fourteenth
century to the twentieth century remains a complicated matter requiring
further extensive research, as well as the sam issue of parallel move-
ments in the Great Perfection that may have been formulated in separa-
tion from, in dialogue with, or in dependence upon the Seminal Heart
Just as with the Mind Series traditions, an important issue in the
Seminal Heart's historical development is the extent to which its Heart
must be contextualized pedagogically and contemplatively in terms of
other Buddhist doctrinal, contemplative and ritual systems. For exam-
ple, in most Nyingma scholastic centers established in the refugee com-
munities outside of Tibet, monks are generally required to engage in
years of systematic study of other traditions before (if ever) instructed in
highly technical literature of the Seminal Heart tradition. On the other
hand, at mKhan po 'jigs med phun tshogs's contemporary institute
located at Go log gser rta in far east Tibet, he regularly teaches such lit-
erature to the monastic assembly, and as a result I found monks in their
early twenties with whom I could have quite specialized discussions. In
addition I once had an interesting discussion with the contemporary
Bonpo master sLob dpon bstan 'dzin rnam dag in which he expressed
his worries that the contemporary marginalization of these traditions
within the normative study curriculum was contributing to their decline.
On the other side of the religious fence in Tibetan cultural zones, there
are numerous accounts of distinguished great Perfection teachers and
practitioners who were not ritually, scholastically, or at times even Iin-
176. See Smith 1969, 1970, and Samuel 19993, 525-552, for an excellent
overview of the ecumenical movement
guistically literate in the wider Tibetan Buddhist domain. A charming
example is related by Namkhai Norbu 177 in telling how his teacher
Byang chub rdo rje fumbled his way through a standard ritualized
sequence of events (since he lacked formal training in these complicated
tantric structures) after being pressured by his eager young scholasti-
cally-trained student (Norbu himself) to fit into his preconception of
what a Tibetan Buddhist teacher should do. However, the cnntemporary
norm is that prior to engaging in the main practices such as Break-
through and direct transcendence, one must perform the lengthy prac -
tices of the five hundred thousand preliminary practices, the recitations-.
actualizations of the three roots (master, tutelary deity, and sky dancer),
and channel-wind practices (rtsa rlung).178 The Shifting diachronic and
synchronic lines of the Seminal Heart's relationship to other traditions at
the practical rather than theoretical level is thus an important area for
further research. The intent of this vastly oversimplified and brief histor-
ical sketch is to offer a preliminary schema to facilitate further discus -
sion, and has no pretense of doing justice to a complex and murky
situation. 179
177. See Norbu 1986, 15-19.
178. For example see Jampal Zangpo 1988, 12.
179. In particular, my historical sketch makes no attempt to integrate the
complex developments of the Bonpo traditions of the Great Perfection, about
which I have only begun study the past few years. In addition, it is necessary
to systematically survey all Nyingma and Bon literature prior to the four-
teenth century for references to such specific technical terminology and themes
as snying thig, thad rgal, khregs chad, gzhi snang and kun tu bzang pa'i
grol tshul, as well as indications of awareness of different types of Great Per-
fection lineages existing during the author's lifetime. In this way we can
begin to accurately delineate the formation of these doctrines from the
eleventh to fourteenth centuries by tracing the gradual codification of a stan-
dard set of terminology, structures and so on. Thus we can clarify interrela-
tions between various elements of the Nyingma tradition, as well as the
nature, extent and histories of alternative attempts at renovating the Great Per-
fection tradition during these first few centuries which failed where the Semi-
nal Heart-Essence succeeded. Finally, systematic studies of the vast un-
charted textual territory of the various editions of rNying rna rgyud 'bum as
well as biographical literature are a vital necessity for further progress. For
example, there is a large number of texts in the various editions attributed to
Padmasambhava, for which it would be extremely helpful to analyze for the
278 JIABS 17.2
The Seminal Heart's innovations: the spontaneous visions of absence,
the cult of the body and the transformation oftantric contemplation
The core of the Seminal Heart's difference from earlier Great Perfection
traditions can be summed up as a focus on the spontaneous dynamics
(lhun grub) of the Ground, a spontaneity which one visually experiences
in mandalic images in death and death-in-life, i. e. contemplation. This
emphasis on spontaneity and vision is related not only to the mod-
ernists' emphasis on techniques of vision, but also to the need for the
ancients to present themselves ideologically as having a "vision." In
other words, the communities of the ancients needed to show their own
cultural vitality, and undercut caricatures of themselves as stagnant con-
servatives with new visions of a specific nature rather than mere amor-
phous formlessness. Evidently even in the fourteenth century there con-
tinued to be conservatives in the Great Perfection tradition who rejected
the Seminal Heart, and instead focused on the austerely conceived
dyadic poles of a primordial ground and the distorted worlds of samsaric
life forms. kLong chen rab 'byams pa alludes to this continuing contro-
versy in the following discussion of the four visions of Direct Contem-
plation practice: 180
These four visions (snang ba) of such natural spontaneity are elo-
quently borne witness to in the great canonical tantras, scriptures
(lung) and esoteric precepts (man ngag), and yet nowadays (many) err
with respect to their internal radiance within the great lighting-up of
the primordial ground (gz/li snang), the lighting-up (snang) of the
originally pure essence. They thus fail to recognize these visions /
lighting-up of natural spontaneity, the sheath (sbubs) of gnosis' radi-
ant light, existing between the primordial ground and the distortions of
the six life-forms (in srup.sara). I consider such people to be exceed-
ingly misguided, despite their conceited pretensions to understanding
. the Great Perfection. I myself have seen all of this lighting-up (or
type of terminology, doctrines, and overall consistency that characterizes this
group of texts. At the University of Virginia we currently have a computer-
based project to index, correlate and summarize individual texts in these edi-
tions-for further information, I can be contacted at Department of Religious
Studies, Cocke Hall, Uinversity of Virginia, Charlottesville, V A 22903.
180. Zab.don rgya mtsho'i sprin 108.3.
"these visions") through the inspiration of Padmasambhava and his
consort, and it appeared exceedingly similar to (how they are
described) in the Rang ShaT scripture.
Having seen it like that, I've
set it down here for the sake of futUre generations ....
Though this clearly indicates controversies were raging still in central
Tibet over the identity of the Great Perfection, by the seventeenth cen-
tury gTer bdag gling pa says "practically nothing much survived of the
Mind Series apart from the transmission of the "permission" (lung) in
his time,"182 indicating that the victory of the Seminal Heart over the
heart and soul of the Great Perfection was almost total. This occurs in
the context of a discussion 183 of the extent to which such esoteric tradi-
tions in both the modernists and Nyingma circles survived as experien-
tial systems beyond a mere exegetical continuity. In particular he says
that many Mind Series systems (lugs) previously flourished, such as the
Rong, Khams, sKoT, and Nyang, but that in contemporary times the
Mind Series and Space Series systems barely survive in terms of the
traditional triad of their respective empowerments, experiential guidances
and verbal transmissions. In contrast, he describes the Esoteric Precept
Series-i. e. the two traditions supposedly stemming from Vimalamitra
and Padmasambhava respectively-as having been preserved in its
unique exegetical form as well as experientially, though without any
great expansion. The ensuing discussion goes into considerable detail as
he mentions contemporary or recent figures and their experiential
accomplishments of these systems. in the context of which his concern
for these as living contemplative traditions is manifest. It should be
noted however that the contemporary Great Perfection teacher Namkhai
Norbu (among others) has taught both the Mind Series and Space Series
as practices over the past few decades, and his characterizations of their
status has been far milder: " .... the [Mind Series] has tended to
become rather overshadowed by the presentation of the [Esoteric Precept
181. The Rang shar is one of The Seventeen Tantras (rGyud bcu bdun).
182. Kannay 1988, 208; see further information on this text's discussion
below (this passage is on folio 351).
183. gTer chen clws ki rgyal po gter bdag gling pa gar dbang 'gyur med
rdo rje'i zhal snga nas mclwg sman rnams kyis dri ba sna tslwgs pa'i Ian
rim par spe1 ba rin chen phreng ba (chab slwg) (350Aff).
280 nABS 17.2
Series], and at various times it has been necessary to re-emphasize its
importance." 184
In broader terms, the Seminal Heart innovations within the previ ous
Great Perfection environment can be discussed as fourfold. (i) It
articulates a deeply phenomenological and partially mythic overarching
narrative about the origination and telos of the human world that serves
to structure the entire tradition. TIlls can be summed up by a primordial
ground, its unfolding in the ground-presencing, its split into and
and its culmination in enlightenment (ii) It directly introduces
visionary practices into the heart of Great Perfection contemplation in a
way intertwined with this evolutionary or developmental ethos. This is
the "direct transcendence" discourse. (ill) It incorporates a wide range of
tantric types of practices as auxiliary and supporting praxis, which on
the whole involve relatively simple techniques of visualization in con-
trast to the intricate of modernist focus. (iv) It injects a far
greater range of tantric doctrines into its discourse, ranging from subtle
body theory to the set of one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities
based on the five Buddha families. In this way, an extensive set of new
technical vocabulary (gzhi snang, gdangs / mdangs, thod rgal, khregs
chod, ru shan, etc.) emerges that is not attested in earlier Great Perfec-
tion literature. In terms of the classic tantric split between traditions that
give rhetorical voice (and often actual practical implementation) to
explicit sexual imagery, violence and horrific imagery and those tradi-
tions that are more aestheticized and overtly symbolic in nature, 185 the
new Seminal Heart system remains relatively desexualized and aestheti-
cized in comparison to the often shockingly crude discourses of the
modernists' tantras and the Nyingma's own Mahayoga tradition (the
antinomianism operative in the Great Perfection is more hermeneutical
than social). However the influx oftantric vocabulary, themes, and even
sexual practices as adjuncts do sexualize and em-body the tradition to a
greater extent than seems to have been the norm previously.
In the Seminal Heart, the contemplative discourses on internal move-
ments of energy within a "subtle" or imaginal body that characterize later
phases ofIndian Buddhist tantra are reincorporated into the Great Per-
184. Norbu 1986, 24-5.
185. This split is variously referred to in Western literature as "crude" vs.
"refined," "bindu" vs. "nada," or "sexual fluids" vs. "aestheticized symbol-
ism," "cremation grounds culture" vs. "deodorized" traditions.
fection, and furthermore instantiate and transform its cosmo gonic dis-
courses of the movement from formless unity to hierarchized multiplic-
ity. It is particularly interesting how processes of "intelligence" or
"gnosis" operative in a wide range of dimensions are both models for,
and modeled by, these cosmogonic imaginal bodies of understanding
and experiencing. We must note the "dislocation" of intelligence as a
trope and how that interplays with the shifting parameters of ordinary
and authentic modes of subjectivity-how does realization involve onto-
logical processes constitutive of our ordinary modes of being? How
does the theme of unitary beginnings in potentia relate to the experienced
presence of complex hierarchies of actualized plural structures? In
understanding the nature of Seminal Heart subtle body theory and prac-
tice' it is critical to look at the different styles in which these imaginal
discourses take place, beginning with a tentative triadic classification into
tactile (the "hydraulics" of the body), photic (the electrical "wiring" of
the body), and phonic (the "graphing" of the body) dimensions of this
body of practices that graphically inscribe cosmogonic tales of begin-
nings and philosophical controversies over gnosis and subjectivity into
our sensually experienced bodies.
Nyingma doxographies a/the ninth vehicle:
"writing the view" in a infinite regression a/nuances
Before going into greater detail as to the specific nature of the Seminal
Heart, I will briefly discuss the doxographical ways in which it was
apparently integrated with the previous Buddhist and specifically Great
Perfection traditions such that the latter were both incorporated into, and
subordinated to, the new Seminal Heart school. Here also I can only
offer tentative sketches, since a systematic history of early doxographical
schemes in the Nyingma tradition remains to be written. The standard
doxographical scheme in the Nyingma tradition of systematizing the
entire range of inherited Buddhist thought and praxis was a structural
framework of "nine vehicles," each further characterized by internal
The initial triad constitutes the way of renunciation
(spong lam): (i) the listeners (nyan thas, sravaka) and (ii) the self-
186. See the extensive discussion in Dudjom 1991, 151-374. I have here
given the standard list of nine vehicles, though there are variations-see
Karmay 1988, 172-3) Norbu 1989, xii and Stanley'S ongoing research (see
282 nABS 17.2
awakened ones (rang sangs rgyas, pratyekabuddha) representing
HInayana; and (iii) the spiritual heroes (byang chub sems dpa', bodhi-
sattva) signifying Mahayana. The intermediate triad is the way of
purification (sbyong lam) representing the lower three tantric classes
from the standard set of four found in modernist traditions (here termed
"outer tantras"): (iv) the Action Tantras (bya ba'i rgyud, kriyii), (v) the
Conduct Tantras (spyod pa'i rgyud, caryii), and (vi) the Yoga Tantras
(mal 'byor rgyud, yoga). The final triad, the way of transformation
(bsgyur lam), represents the uniquely Nyingma set of tantric classes
referred to as the "inner tantras": (vii) the Great Yoga Tantras (mal
'byor chen po'i rgyud, mahilyoga), (viii) the Subsequent / Complete
Yoga Tantras (rjes su / yongs su mal 'byor rgyud, anuyoga), and (ix)
the Transcendent Yoga Tantras (shin tu mal 'byor rgyud, atiyoga).
Though the fITst six vehicles represent codifications of traditions undeni-
ably non-Tibetan in origin, the status of the final three vehicles' texts and
practices has traditionally been controversial, with many modernists
claiming they are wholly Tibetan developments in nature (a potent claim
in a world where Indic origins became the most powerful tool of legiti-
macy). However, it appears that in fact the tantric core of the Mahayoga
traditions represented by the Guhyagarbha Tantra and associated
works, the key canonical texts of Anuyoga, and some early key short
Mind Series texts of Atiyoga are in fact pre-eleventh century non-
Tibetan works which to some degree go back as far as the ninth century.
On the other hand, the elaborate "eight pronouncement deities" (bka'
brgyad) traditions of Mahayoga and most of the Atiyoga tradition
(especially the Seminal Heart) are clearly, at least in terms of received lit-
erature, products of a uniquely TIbetan religious imagination.
While initially the ninth vehicle (Atiyoga generally is used synony-
mously with the term Great Perfection) apparently referred to the type of
limited tradition offormless meditation and poetic reveries on buddha-
nature discussed above, with the development of more elaborate and
complex movements under the wider rubric of the Great Perfection (as
well as new specific sub-rubrics such as Seminal Heart), 187 an elaborate
187. Phil Stanley verbally informed me (1/94) Ibat he had yet to see Ibe term
snying thig in his research into early doxographical accounts in Ibe Nyingma
tradition. OIber such terms as yang ti and spyi ti along wiIb snying thig need
to be researched as to Ibeir earliest occurrences and Ibe full range of Ibeir uses
in early literature.
system of internal divisions developed to discuss the changing identity
of the ninth vehicle. The motivation was clearly in part the need to make
sense of the different strands of the Great Perfection that had developed
historically, and which partially continued to coexist with each other. A
simplified presentation of these systems is the basic hierarchically orga-
nized triad cited above, with each member possessing its own existent
texts and practices: the Mind Series (sems sde), Space Series (klong
sde)188 and the Esoteric Precept Series (man ngag sde). It is not yet
clear at what point historically these rubrics came to refer to distinct
movements, and it may very well be that these doxographical distinc-
tions preexisted such a point. The Mind Series, in particular, serves
partially as a rubric to classify the earlier states of the Great Perfection
prior to the development of the Seminal Heart movements. "Mind"
(sems) is understood as referring to the "enlightening mind" (literally
"purifying / encompassing mind"-byang chub kyi sems, bodhicitta),
connoting how these traditions were in large part tantric-influenced
meditations on the presence of an enlightened psychic force within. It
also points (in contrast to the use of term thig le) to an orientation
towards a non-tantric traditional focus on the mind, and Mahayana's
particular usage of the notion of "the enlightened mind." The Space
Series and Esoteric Precept Series then came to serve as rubrics for later
developments of the Great Perfection which increasingly experimented
with re-incorporating tantric contemplative techniques centered on the
body and vision, as well as the consequent philosophical shifts this
became interwoven with. This is why the Mind Series is connected
more to the tradition of continuously transmitted scriptures (bka' ma),
while the Esoteric Precept Series is intimately bound up with the
188. Almost no Euro-American research into the surviving texts of the Space
Series has been done. However, Matthew Kapstein has verbally infolTIled me
that he has seen passages in the writings of both rTse Ie sna tshogs rang grol
(1608-?) and Karma chags med (1605-1670) insisting on a strong connection
between the Space and Esoteric Precept Series. If this is borne out by textual
research, this could be a valuable piece of the many interlocking puzzles sur-
rounding the fOlTIlation of the various Great Perfection traditions during the
tenth to thirteenth centuries. A careful study of these doxographies of
Atiyoga will also shed further light on these issues--in particular, it is neces-
sary to trace the earliest occurrences of the "three series" (sde gsum), which
probably preexisted its use by ICe btsun's lineages to legitimize, integrate
and differentiate its new Seminal Heart-Essence teachings.
284 JIABS 17.2
emerging "treasure" (gter ma) ideology of freshly revealed scriptures
without obvious historical precedent. 189 In this context, "esoteric prec-
epts" (man ngag )-a term usually referring to a teacher's private in-
structions to his / her disciple on the precise details of contemplation-
connotes how the Seminal Heart traditions elaborate in much more detail
the actual contemplative practices that may be utilized for existential
The Esoteric Precept Series is also characterized by a complex set of
internal divisions,19O the most straight forward one being a fourfold set
of cycles: the outer cycle (Phyi skor), inner cycle (nang skor), secret
cycle (gsang skor) and unsurpassed secret cycle (bZa na med pa skor).
kLong chen rab 'byams pa identifies the Seminal Heart with only the
fourth cycle, indicating that even here there was a complex set of devel-
opments with enough differences existing that it was felt important to
stress these internal divisions' separations. Its literary correlate is most
frequently identified as rGyud beu bdun (The Seventeen Timtras). 191
"Lower" divisions deal with many of the same themes, but on the whole
do not so with the elaborate sweep, detail and narrative force of texts
falling under this classification. It thus may be that a type of threefold
division of the Great Perfection or Atiyoga existed as far back as the late
eighth century (if we accept the traditional account of the Great Perfec-
tion's arrival into Tibet), and that this threefold division was then later
adapted, manipulated and transformed by Seminal Heart proponents and
189. For example, see gTer chen ehos ki rgyaZ po gter bdag gling pa gar
dbang 'gyur med rdo rje'i zhaZ snga nas mchog srnan rnams kyis dri ba sna
tshogs pa'i Zan rim par speZ ba Tin chen phreng ba (chab shag) (351.2).
190. The aforementioned article in progress on '1d.,ong chen rab 'byams pa's
sNying-thig Sources" includes an analysis of the internal divisions of Esoteric
Precept Series.
191. See ehos dbyings mdzod 350.4-5, where kLong chen rab 'byams pa
says there are an inconceivable number of tantric series associated with this
division, but that all can be summarized in teIllls of The Seventeen Tantms.
Also see his Grub mtha' mdzod 370.4-5, where aside from the mention of a
text in the Bi rna snying thig, The Seventeen Tantms are the only texts men-
tioned as belonging to the Esoteric Precept Series that are actually cited by
kLong chen rab 'byams pa elsewhere. Finally, see Kaneko's 1982 index,
which clearly indicates it is these tantras alone that correspond to the rubric
"unsurpassed secret cycle" in the gTing skyes edition of rNying rna rgyud
other groups for their legitimizing potency with little regard for their
original references. TIlls is suggested in part by these internal divisions
of Esoteric Precept Series, which may have stemmed from the attempt to
transform a pre-existing category to account for new developments.
Examining these divisions of the Esoteric Precept Series and their exis-
tent literary correlates should be very helpful in beginning to sort out the
various currents.
Since kLong chen rab 'byams pa's way of presenting the internal
divisions of the three Series
is exceedingly complicated and he fails to
associate the divisions with literary works, I suspect these doxo-
graphical divisions are often more thematic in nature and evocative in
intent than classifications of real bodies of literature, practice, or even
transmission lineages. For example, divisions of the Mind Series often
resemble contemplative themes more than distinct traditions, such as the
twenty one contemplative strands discussed by kLong chen rab 'byams
pa in his "practical guidance" commentary on the Sems nyid ngaZ gso
(see above). Since these various contemplations are often simply differ-
ent poetic aphorisms subtly flavoring the meditative state in question, it
is easy to miss their experiential implications, as well as to misunder-
stand them as referring to distinct traditions. TIlls is particularly clear in
the complex discussion in the Grub mtha' mdzod of the three Series'
internal divisions, which seem to bear little relation to any existent litera-
ture or lineal transmissions. This has also been noted by Ken
Eastman: 193 "In the Tibetan dynastic period there were a number of dif-
ferent schemes for categorizing tantra, but these were abstract rankings
of doctrine or understanding rather than the bibliographic systems of
classification they became in the medieval period; and neither the nine-
fold nor the four-fold schemes are found precisely as given above in the
archaic literature." These neat classificatory schemes thus do not always
clearly reflect the actual rubrics under which distinct movements flour-
ished during this time period. A clear history of these various rubrics
and their historical permutations has not yet been written, but of clear
importance is the triad of a ti, yang ti and spyi ti, a classificatory scheme
utilized in the various recensions of the rNying ma rgyud 'bum to indi-
192. A classic example is in Grub mtha' mdzod 351.7-369.6.
193. Eastman 1983,44.
286 JIABS 17.2
cate distinctions between visionary literature and practices that were
emerging within the tradition of the Great Perfection. 194
The intertwined Books of Life and Death:
ordinary vision, spontaneous vision and visualization
These particular developments of the Seminal Heart were thus spawned
in a variety of yogic circles (sometimes consisting of a single person and
a few followers) who were "rediscovering" texts and experimenting
with new techniques and ideas, especially as revolving around the
human body and its capacity to see light. It was a reclamation of the
value of images to speak within the purview of the Mind Series' pristine
absence, and the potent significance of the human body despite its
abyssal lack of any discrete, definable ontological ground. Contem-
porary interpreters refer to these innovations when they say195 that if not
properly analyzed, the Mind Series appears similar to the extreme of
nihilism (chad pa'i mtha') with its frequent antinomian invocation of
absence and the inadequacy of language to represent our experience; the
Space Series, however, appears similar to the opposing extreme of per-
manence (rtag pa'i mtha') with its focus on images and the ViSllally dis-
cernible presence of a primordial Buddha within all sentient beings. In
this way over the centuries the Great Perfection has paradoxically been
attacked on both fronts as representative of these two traditional poles of
heresy in Buddhism, of erring on the side of too much and too little
commitment, commitment to ontologies, to language, to human conven-
tions. This tension is unabashedly the central focus of the Esoteric Pre-
cept Series, reinscribed philosophically in its central hermeneutic of
potentiality (nang gsa!) and actuality (phyir gsal) while reflected con -
templatively in its conjunction of the breakthrough and direct
Thus, in addition to these doxographical demarcations, two strands are
discernible in the early Seminal Heart systems: the breakthrough
(khregs chod) and direct transcendence (thod rgal) discourses. I have
named these after its two principal styles of contemplation, which corre-
194. I will defer further discussion of these to the article on "lcLong chen rab
'byams pa's sNying thig Sources," since only a detailed presentation is likely
to be of any use.
195. This comment was attributed to the contemporary teacher mKhan po
smyo shul during a visit to Penor Rinpoche's monastery in the early 1990s.
spond directly to its central philosophical dyad of "original purity" (ka
dag) and "spontaneous presence" (lhun grub), the Great Perfection ver-
sion of emptiness and interdependent origination recast as nothingness
seething with dynamic webs of relatedness. The direct transcendence
incorporates most of what is unique to the Seminal Heart, while the
breakthrough serves as a rubric for those older elements of the Great
Perfection continuing to play an important role in its new formulations.
Interestingly, the breakthrough discourse also subsequently served as a
way to both assimilate, and respond to, the modernists' attack on the
Great Perfection as a reifying self-oriented heresy, since these sections
and texts tend to be resolutely apophatic in their emphasis on an imme-
diate formless (yet in-forming) awareness. The breakthrough clearly
corresponds to non-symbolic types of perfection phase contemplation,
just as the direct transcendence corresponds to the generation phase (as
well as symbolic types of perfection phase techniques). Thus while the
Seminal Heart in part is a recognition of the need for the latter types of
practice-for form, image and spontaneity-the eventually codified
order of practice (in which the former precedes the latter) equally re-
iterates the traditional Great Perfection inversion of the normative se-
quencing. In other words, it precedes perfection phase contemplation
with competence in the generation phase, emptiness before interdepen-
dence, openness before figural image. Conversely, the standard ac-
count 196 of the manner in which breakthrough contemplation is inferior
to the practice of direct transcendence indicates clearly these communi-
ties' recognition of the inadequacy of a mere rhetoric of no-practice
(even if conjoined with formal types of calming techniques and other
image-less extensions), and the consequent need for a prioritization of
working directly with the human capacity for the generation and experi-
ence of images.
The Seminal Heart's innovativeness thus basically boils down to an
unusual technique of spontaneous vision (thod rgaf) said to yield an
orderly regularity of images in terms of temporal sequencing and con-
tent, along with a systematized technical vocabulary developed to articu-
late an ideological structure integrating those visions into previous Great
Perfection discourse. Thus the most interesting historical question con-
cems the sources of this visionary praxis (as distinct from the sources of
196. See the Tshig don mdzod 365.4-368.7 for a discussion of seven points
in which direct transcendence is superior.
288 nABS 17.2
the non-Seminal Heart Great Perfection): an indigenous shamanistic set
of techniques perhaps first incorporated by the Bonpos, 197 contact with
llluminationist Sufis to the West, Daoist yogas to the East,198 Kashmiri
Saivism to the Southwest, or perhaps even some subcurrents of Indian
Buddhist tantra (such as reflected in the Kalacakra Tantra)? In most
ways, however, the tradition is clearly profoundly Buddhist to the core,
and has systematic affinities with the many other fragile yogic systems
circulating around and through Tibetan areas during the eleventh cen-
tury. For example the visions in question are centered around the five
Buddha families which were the standard set of deities in Buddhist
tantra, 199 though here enframed in the expanded maJ)<;lalas of the "one
hundred peaceful and wrathful deities" (zhi khro). In fact, the Seminal
Heart can be discussed as the influx of symbolic perfection phase tantric
practices back into the Great Perfection as vision again assumes a domi-
nant poSition, though in a strikingly innovative way with its theories of
"light channels" (' od rtsa) and the spontaneous visual imagery flowing
out from them. Regardless of the sources, there is also the issue of what
motivated certain Great Perfection groups to so radically transform their
tradition in ways evidenced by the emergence of the direct transcen-
dence-based body of contemplative and philosophical materials. While
they may have generally returned to their own tantric traditions for the
reappropriation of tantric contemplative techniques, and only surrepti-
tiously to the new modernist tantric systems, clearly the new threat and
presence of modernist communities was one of the main factors
impelling these changes. Ideologically, the many tantric systems based
on "radiant light" (' od gsal) definitely had an impact as well as the
Anuttarayoga emphasis on the body, and one can well imagine Great
Perfection advocates experimenting with the significance and practice of
such d<?ctrines to see how they could fit in their own tradition. In addi -
tion, certainly one line feeding into these changes was simply a natural
197. It is at this point not yet clear in which camp these techniques first
emerged, since until more systematic research has been done all traditional
Bonpo datings of early materials must be considered highly unreliable.
198. See Robinet 1993 for an account of the Mao-shan tradition that yields
interesting affinities; also see Deng 1990 for a contemporary assertion of the
affinity of the Great Perfection with Daoism.
199. See Snellgrove 1987, 189-213.
progression of their own practices and ongoing inquiries. 200 For
example, kLong chen rab 'byams pa's "practical guidance" for the Sems
nyid ngal gso presents a sky meditation as an "enhancement" or
"energizer" practice in his Mind Series contemplative system, which
involves using certain postures to gaze into a cloudless sky. 201 After a
while one's inner sky clears up, and for a moment reality itself (chos
nyiti), identified as "the pure sky of the esoteric nucleus of radiant light,"
manifests. It could be that early Great Perfection advocates utilized
contemplation of the sky to evoke a sensation of vast emptiness, but that
for some practitioners strange lights began to appear, and they followed
their experiences.
Arguably the most vital source of this tantric influx into the Great
Perfection was the Indian Mahayoga tantras (especially the Guhya-
garbha Tantra), which were the original location of the set of "one hun-
dred peaceful and wrathful deities." 202 This m ~ Q a l i c set also was cen-
tral to the accounts of post-death visions in the so-called "Tibetan Book
of the Dead" literature, and in fact Mahayoga was one of the most
important strands woven together to form this highly popular literaure
and its associated practices that came to be relied upon by all traditions in
dealing with the dead. Research on its historical development and codi -
fication as a genre should yield light on the intimately related rise of the
Seminal Heart, which embraces the "Book of the Dead" topics as a sub-
200. This issue is in some ways reminiscent of the long standing contro-
versy over the Upanishadic transformation of Vedic religious culture in the
sixth century B. C. E. Scholars such as Heesterman (1985) emphasize the in-
ternallogic of these changes from within the Brahmanical system (the interi-
orization of sacrifice's violence, etc.) while others such as Olivelle (1992)
stress the importance of external factors (urbanization, etc.) and the disconti-
nuity of the new symbolic order from the previous Vedic world. I have tried
to strike a balance between these two poles in my analysis of the transforma-
tions of the Great Perfection during this time period.
201. Byang chub lam bzang 539.2-539.4.
202. I know of no study as yet that clearly analyzes this important set of
deities in terms of its historical rise, or precise correspondences to maI.14alas
found in modernist tantric cycles. Particular points of interest are the earliest
ascertainable mention of a wrathful version of the set of five Buddhas, such a
set with the precise names found herein, and whether The Nucleus of Mystery
itself or only its exegetical literature explicitly mentions the entire one hun-
dred member IDaI.14llia.
290 JIABS 17.2
set. It seems that the famous fourteenth century "rediscovery" of Karma
gling pa (1327-1387) entitled the Bar do thos grol was in large part a
systematization of Seminal Heart teachings:
the latter's technique of
spontaneous vision yielding curiously specific and ordered types of
visual images is perfectly mirrored by the "Book of the Dead's" teach-
ings of how the peaceful and wrathful deities appear following death
(especially striking is this shared manifestation of the same set of
deities). Similar to the using of direct transcendence, they naturally and
spontaneously overflow out of one's heart following the primal mani-
festation of one's core radiant light (' od gsal) in death, and yet are said
to take this very specific visual form regardless of one's acquaintance
with them during life. The practice of direct transcendence thus can be
characterized as an incorporation of post-death experience into our lives,
and understood as the this-life contemplative praxis of the Book of tre
Dead. In fact its crucial forty nine day dark retreat is termed the "bardo
retreat," 204 the number forty-nine obviously corresponding to the period
said to be the limit for post-death existence: in both, vision is borne
within darkness, whether naturally (death) or artificially induced (the
sealed off enclosure of the dark house). Furthermore, the two genres of
literature and practices are closely interrelated given the obvious unity of
four different central notions: the psycho-cosmogony205 of the ground
(gzhi) and Ground-presencing (gzhi snang), the post-death visions, the
four visions of direct transcendence contemplation, and the experiences
or activity of a buddha. kLong chen rab 'byams pa's account of the
ground-presencing in his Zab don rgya mtsho'i sprin,206 for instance, is
clearly modeled / modeling accounts of post-death experience, even to
the point of talking about "contemplation days" (bsam gtan gyi zhag)
over which the sequence of manifestations take place. Thus a pressing
task is the history of the development of the bardo literature in Tibet, and
in particular how the various modernist doctrines drawn from
203. See Schmidt 1987 and Orofino 1990 for translations of explicitly
Seminal Heart-Essence oriented works on the bardo. The latter is a partial
translation Nyi zla kha syor, one of The Seventeen Tantras which is in fact a
systematic presentation of bardo-related topics.
204. Freemantle 1987, 11.
205. Kerry Skora (University of Virginia) first pointed out the usefulness of
this term in the present context
206. Zab don rgya mtsho'i sprin 96.5-109.2.
Anuttarayoga Tantras (such as the "bardo" and "radiant light" in
Naropa's "six yogas" systematization of perfection phase practices)
figure in.
Nyingma communities giving voice to the Seminal Heart
transformation were obviously creatively appropriating tantric dis-
courses on the bardo, as well as possibly indigenous proto-bardo liter-
ature, ideologies or practices, into the framework of the Great Perfection,
appropriations which also contributed to the rise of a separate genre
finally codified with Karma gling pa's fourteenth century "rediscovery."
In other words, the articulation of such themes as spontaneous vision
and the dissolution of physical energies was developed in a complex
pattern of interrelation as both an account of actual death and post-death
experiences and as meditative techniques for this life. The ongoing
dialectical unity of the two is also clearly indicated in how the Seminal
Heart discusses bardo accounts under the rubric of "how you obtain
enlightenment if you are unable to be freed in this life." 208
Thus the Seminal Heart's transformation of the Great Perfection
marks a return to its Mahayoga roots sparked by a constellation of rea-
sons, one of the principal of which is indicated by the coincidence of its
origins with the onset of the modernist movement. This return first
appropriates tantric techniques and ideology in unusual ways, but even-
tually returns to a fuller embrace of traditional sadhana practice revolving
around the visualization of deities according to strictly prescribed pat-
terns. This extension of the Mahayoga's incorporation into the Great
Perfection occurred with 'Jigs med gling pa's (1730-1798) famous
kLong chen snying thig three volume cycle, which has come to be as
normative as any cycle could be given the fissured state of Nyingma lin-
eages. It marks the most important transformation in Seminal Heart
discourse following kLong chen rab 'byams pa. I am struck by how
much more ritualistic and conventionally tantric in nature the kLong chen
snying thig seems in comparison to kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own
207. See Guenther 1978,82-86 and Hopkins 1981.
208. Alternatively, this is expressed as being precepts for "average" practi-
tioners, while the standard practices are for the "best" practitioners-the latter
become free in this very life and hence have no need for additional precepts.
This is often complemented by a third category for those of inferior diligence
or capacities-precepts on how to be reborn in a pure land and eventually
become enlightened there. For example, see the structure of the discussion
of the path in Zab don rgya mtsho'i sprin 329.2-453.6.
292 nABS 17.2
Seminal Heart writings. 209 This is not to deny its unconventional
aspects such as in the Thig Ie rgya can ,210 but simply to point out its
general characteristics. This cycle not only directly and extensively
incorporates the "eight proclamation deities" (bka' brgyad) that form one
of the two main strands of Mahayoga Tantras, but also grants a far more
prominent role to traditional sadhanas (i. e. meditative sessions relying
on prescribed and detailed visualizations). Certainly one could argue
that previous Seminal Heart movements often involved intense reliance
on associated sadhana practices, and there is no question that its earlier
cycles often contained short descriptions of such practice. However it is
209. Karmay 1988,213, makes similar but vague comments in characteriz-
ing the Seminal Heart-Essence system of 'Jigs med gling pa as "pervaded
with a type of sadhana, hence very ritualistic" in opposition to the "serene
contemplator" of the Mind Series and the "profound meditation of the calm
ascetic" of the Space Series. Eva Dargyay (1977) hilS characterized it as a
mixture of the old Great Perfection system and the Mahayoga cycles centered
around sadhanas of the set of deities referred to as the "eight pronouncements"
(bka' brgyad). A detailed survey ofpost-kLong chen rab 'byams pa transfor-
mations in the Seminal Heart tradition remains to be written, and thus for the
aforementioned article ("kLong chen rab 'byams pa's sNying thig Sources") I
am currently compiling analytical lists of surviving Seminal Heart literature.
210. lowe the following comments on this sadhana entirely to a discussion
with Janet Gyatso (April 1994). The Thig Ie rgya can sadhana is phrased in
terms of direct transcendence terminology, with the act of the deity's body-
image coming into appearance understood in terms of its four visionary
phases. While this does not undercut my comments, it is important to note
the degree to which some authors may have been altering normative sadhana
structures. In addition, this constant worry about the tendency to give our-
selves over to concretizing instincts, to the security of in-place structures, has
a long pedigree in Buddhism: in generation phase praxis and exegesis, the
deity springs out of and returns to emptiness, and there is a deliberate attempt
to avoid attachment to images of deities with the constant reminders that they
are only projections, rainbows, and so on. The visions and visualizations of
Great Perfection are arguably even more concerned with this constant immer-
sion in fluidity and openness, but it is a question of degree rather than strik-
ing difference. We also find this constant oscillation in 'Jigs med gling pa's
autobiographical writings, where he constantly deprecates particular visions he
has as only more signs or images (mtshan beas) among many. In contrast to
the valorization of the always unformulated ground, there at times seems no
ground to favor one image over another.
surely of significance that with 'Jigs med gling pa's revelation these
practices are formally included in elaborate form within the main cycle-
the balance has clearly shifted from the earlier Bi rna snying thig, mKha'
'gro snying thig, bZab nw yang tig and others. 1his may in part be why
'Jigs med gling pa is so insistent on his inspiration / authorization by
kLong chen rab 'byams pa himself in a series of visionary encounters
(though not those relating to the kLong chen snying thig system directly)
and on his own work incarnating the essence of kLong chen rab 'byams
pa's Great Perfection writings (which they are often explicitly modeled
after). This is reflected in the (surreptitious and perhaps unconscious)
naming of the cycle as a whole after him ("great sphere" being "klong-
chen") such that, in ignorance of its visionary attribution to
Padmasambhava from the eighth century, ordinary monks often mistak-
enly refer to the system as the Seminal Heart ofkLong chen rab 'byams
Analysis of the structure of the cycle clearly indicates its focus on
it is explicitly structured principally around a wide variety
of sadhanas centered on two sets of deities-eight tutelary deities (yi
dam, referred to as "awareness holders" (rig 'dzin, vidya-
dOOra) drawn from Mahayoga sources and seven "religious protectors"
(chos skyong, dharmapala)-while overtly Seminal Heart materials are
mainly present in the third volume. The principal work of what I below
term "scholastic Seminal Heart" constitutes one hundred and sixty four
pages in that volume, and is titled the Khrid yig ye shes bla ma.
Goodman refers to this as a "practice text,"213 and while I argue below
211. See Goodman 1992a, 143. I add the "surreptitiously" since, as Janet
Gyatso stressed to me in conversation, the visionary retrieval of this cycle
involved no visions of kLong chen rab 'byams pa and in that it is understood
as a direct transmission from Padmasambhava, there can be no manifest ques-
tion of the title relating to the fourteenth century kLong chen rab 'byams pa's
personal name. Thus Kapstein and Do:rje's (DOlje 1991,243) rendering of it
as "Innermost Spirituality of kLong chen rab 'byams pa" is misleading.
However, whether motivated consciously, unconsciously, or visionarily, the
semantic leakage is undeniable.
212. Goodman 1983, chap. 4, 118ff.
213. Goodman 1983, 128. This must be understood in conjunction with his
characterization (135) of 'Jigs med gling pa's Yon tan mdzod as "a classical
presentation of rDzogs chen philosophy." While it is directly modeled on
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Ngal gso SkOT gsum, the former also ends with a
294 JIABS 17.2
that this is a misleading designation for this genre of literature except as
a terse indication of its phenomenological orientation, it could in part
indicate how much less philosophical, and more conventionally tantric
(i. e. focused on sadhana practice), the entire cycle really is. My cursory
examination of this text indicates that it is a non-innovative and fairly
perfunctory summary of older materials offering a simplified presenta-
tion that comes to be normative. This overall emphasis on standard
tantric visualization practices and the corresponding liturgical require-
ments could go a long way to explaining its quick ascendancy in subse -
quent Nyingma communities, since it's revelation came at a time that
Nyingmas were beginning to systematically respond to modernist chal-
1enges through assimilating their traditions institutionally and doctrinally.
Thus this doctrinal and contemplative move in the direction of more
normative tantric practices may be seen as marking a shift towards
modernist traditions, a tendency which flowered in the nineteenth cen-
tury non-partisan (ris med) movement culminating with Mi pham 'jam
dbyangs mam rgyal' s (1846-1912) systematic attempt to reinterpret
normative non-esoteric Mahayana scriptures from a Great Perfection
perspective. It also accorded with the institutional assimilation that
occurred as Nyingmas began to focus more on monastic institutions
rather than its ancient roots in villages, sacred pilgrimage routes, and
small temples. The ancient anti-rule orientation of Great Perfection
discussion of Seminal Heart tradition. At the moment my reading of the text
does not permit me to compare that discussion with Khrid yig ye shes bla
rna, nor characterize it overall in terms of its agenda. My suspicion about
Goodman's characterizations is that I consider the earlier materials of the
Seminal Heart intensely philosophical in their own right, and I find problem-
atic hints that the "real" philosophy is instead found in these works that
accommodate modernist concerns. dPal sprul Rim poche continued this trend
in the nineteenth century with his very popular Kun bzang bla ma'i mal
lung, which was one of a number of texts that emerged dealing with the
"preliminaries" or "introduction" (sngon 'gro) to Seminal Heart cycles (in this
case to 'Jigs med gling pa's /cLong chen snying thig). Despite its charming
style, it is essentially a very standardized presentation containing little that is
uniquely Great Perfection or even differing from the politically normative
modernist traditions. This is quite in contrast to kLong chen rab 'byams pa's
trilogy, a complicated series of interlocking texts containing many unusual
doctrines and practices.
henneneutics, philosophy, and contemplation did not fit in well with the
collective mentality of monastic institutions, and the necessity for codi-
fied rules governing the collective.
Further research on other cycles including Seminal Heart materials
between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries (such as the seventeenth
century gNam ehos) is required to fully trace its gradual alteration, and
nonnalization, along these lines. In doing so, it is important not to
quickly extrapolate from literary documents to wide ranging generaliza-
tions about actual practice-for example, sadhana practice may have
been a pervasive reality of the Great Perfection from the beginning,
despite its anti-sadhana rhetoric. It is also important to ask what forces
were at work in these changes, as well as inquire into the differences
between "tactile" and "visual" styles of contemplation, and between
spontaneous and codified uses of imagery. From both psychological
and socio-political perspectives, we must ask what has been lost and
what gained? The dynamic is partially that the Seminal Heart innova-
tions were increasingly mixed in with other types of materials as they
gained wider circulation post fourteenth century. In this way large col-
lections such as the gNam coos may contain Seminal Heart elements, but
quite different materials constitute the logic driving their overall organi -
zation. Given the absolutely central role
of Mahayoga to Nyingma
lineages ritually, contemplatively, and literarily, it is comes as no sur-
prise that it should be the principal dynamic that increasingly exerts its
influence. It should also be noted, however, that as early as the four-
teenth century we find examples of the converse direction, i. e. in how
kLong chen rab 'byams pa reinterprets the Guhyagarba Tantra from a
214. See DOIje 1987, 7-58, for two passages from kLong chen rab 'byams pa
and Mipham that describe the Guhyagarbha Tantra in glowing terms as the
pinnacle of all Buddhist traditions, on the basis of which DOIje concludes
that "the mying rna tradition therefore regards this text as its fundamental
tantra, whether it is interpreted as mainstream Mahayoga or as an Atiyoga
source." I would only qualify this assertion with the caveat that no
"Nyingma tradition" as such ever existed, of course, and the diachronic and
synchronic oscillations in the wide range of Nyingma communities on this
issue of the priority of Mahayoga principles are an important topic for further
study. For example, kLong chen rab 'byams pa clearly values the Great Per-
fection corpus over the Guhyagarbha Tantra (if one were to make such hier-
archical judgments), a fact evidenced in his Atiyoga-based interpretation of
the latter.
296 JIABS 17.2
resolutely Atiyoga-based vantage point, such that influence between the
two was a mutually constituting procesS.
The scholastics (grub mtha' ) of simplicity (spros med; phyal paY
It is fairly well known that from the eighteenth century onwards as
spurred by 'Jigs med gling pa, the "non-partisan" movement in Eastern
Tibet resulted in the production of important and extensive Nyingma
scholastic literature on the same Mahayana topics that had been, until
then, the traditional stronghold of the modernists, and of little interest to
those in Nyingma circles. This literature's orientation often derived
from the Great Perfection, yet contained relatively slight direct discus-
sion of the latter in its own right. Yet what about this Seminal Heart
tradition as it formally began with the startling "discoveries" by ICe
btsun seng ge dbang phyug, developed through a series of further
"discoveries" of texts attributed either to transcendental sources or the
near transcendental and semi-legendary seventh to ninth centuries non-
Tibetan Masters of the Great Perfection tradition (Surativajra etc.), and
finally culminated in kLong chen rab 'byams pa's corpus? It is often
assumed that there was little such systematic thought or literature in the
Great Perfection itself, which is taken to be a type of poetic exhortation
to non-discursive experiences of natural simplicity, often caricatured as a
simplistic or paradoxical call to "experience." Thus complex philosophi-
cal speculation is seen as constituting a problem rather than a solution-
you either get it, or you do not, just as in the famous encounter of
Milarepa with the Great Perfection teachings. In addition, while the
Great Perfection lacks the sexually and wrathfully stylized antinomian-
ism of the Anuttarayoga Tantras, it is characterized by a hermeneutical or
philosophical type of antinomianism that expresses itself in more
abstract types of ethical transgression and a thorough going resistance to
the codification of rules (literarily, doctrinally and contemplatively).
This would appear to conflict with scholastic ventures, and indeed per-
haps even with rigorous thought itself, though Buddhist Tantra's own
general antinomianism failed to prevent the eventual rise of a scholastic
industry in both India and Tibet. Thus for many traditional and Euro-
American scholars the notion of a Great Perfection systematic literature
215. See Dorje 1987, 21, 58, 88-8 and 123-7. Also see Guenther's The
Matrix of Mystery for a brilliant presentation of such an Atiyoga-based expli-
cation of the Guhyagarbha Tantra .
even seems contradictory, given this widespread reputation of being a
largely contemplative tradition with textual expressions limited to often
lovely but vague poetic invocations and exhortations.
While it is true there is a consistent valorization in these traditions of
the possibility of a culturally unsophisticated and even illiterate individ-
ual incarnating its realization, there is also an equally strong valorization
of experientially-based intellectual and graphically textualized traditions
of immense literary and intellectual complexity. This complexity is
interlaced with equally consistent calls to simplicity, to direct and seem-
ingly unmediated experience (mngan sum) and criticism of the futility of
conceptual thought with its discursive expressions (spros bcas). In par-
ticular, I would argue that in fact an elaborate scholastic literature can be
found in the Nyingma school very early on within the Great Perfection
traditions themselves, namely the extremely technical genre of Seminal
Heart literature I have discussed above.
While continuing the earlier
emphasis on non-discursive experience and simplicity thematically and .
hermeneutically (especially as incorporated into its breakthrough dis-
course), the Seminal Heart literature is clearly a genre of philosophical
tantra that is systematic, complex and extremely architectonic. Despite
the seeming contradictions of a systematic body of discourse centered on
non-discursive experiences and exhortations to transcend the discursive
proliferation of thought and language, this discourse flourished, and its
architectonic nature is revealed most clearly in its various thematic
structures. Often this is expressed as a set of overarching rubrics termed
"adamantine topics" (rda rje'i gnas), themselves characterized by a
complex set of interlinked subdivisions, which form the architecture of
these texts. Though an analytic presentation of these structures is crucial
for understanding the scholastic nature of this literature, at present I will
confine myself to more general remarks.
216. I am thus not thinking of the Great Perfection-flavored Nyingma ver-
sion of the "stages of the path" (lam rim) genre of Tibetan Buddhist literature
which kLong chen rab 'byams pa initiated with his NgaZ gsa skar gsum,
though this genre does form an important subset of Great Perfection literature
from that time onwards.
217. The highly distinctive terminology, practices and beliefs governing this
tradition are discussed in detail in an article I am currently finishing,
"Building within Absence: the Infra-structure of Seminal Heart-Essence."
298 JIABS 17.2
kLong chen rab 'byruns pa's Tshig don mdzod2
is the most succinct
yet detailed instance of this genre of technical literature in the Great Per-
fection tradition best described as "scholastics" or "systematic thought,"
the latter term lacking the pejorative connotations of the former
(divestiture from embodied experience, lack of textual aesthetics and
divergence from non-textual contemplative praxis). However, consid-
ered in its root meaning of simply a love of study without these negative
connotations of irrelevancy for lived experience and an overwhelming
desire for closure, this text may be accurately described as Great Perfec-
tion scholastics, though under such a rubric we may perhaps find our
understanding of scholastics strangified beyond recognition (a familiar
experience in the shifting realms of Great Perfection textuality). This
genre of literature is scholastic not only in its clear love for language and
thought for its own sake, but also in its intense structuration with analyt-
ical internal outlines (sa bead). kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own title
self-consciously embraces this paradox with its celebration of words and
thought in unfolding the pristine simplicity of the Great Perfection. Its
divergence from other types of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism, how-
ever, is revealed in the striking tension between scholasticism's system-
atic and analytical form and the Great Perfection's own valorization of
poetry, analogy and allegory as the primary mode of serious philosophi-
cal thought, its dismissal of literalness-obsessed intellectualism, its
rejection of syllogistically-bound analysis and its constant invocation of
natural spontaneity. kLong chenrab 'byarns pa's hermeneutical explica-
tion of the term "main practice" (dngos gzhi) is illuminating in this light,
a term designating the principal phase of contemplation between prelimi-
naries and concluding activities, yet literally meaning "real-basis."219 He
interprets dngos as referring to "real" contemplative experiences and
gzhi as an verbally articulatable intellectual "basis" for contextualizing
and explicating those experiences. 1hrough a series of analogies revolv-
ing around seeing a king, he stresses the vitality of both in the Great
This most clearly explicates the systematic architectonics of the tradition's
primary literature.
218. See Germano 1992 for a study and partial translation of this work. I
am now completing a translation of the entire text as well as a separate study
of it.
219. See the Theg mchog mdzod vol. 2, 250.
Perfection: (i) the "basis" (gmi) without the "real" (dngos) is like seeing
the palace but not the king; (li) the real without the basis is like seeing
the king, but not being able to discern his characteristics; (iii) lacking
both the real and the basis is like neither seeing the king nor palace; and
(iv) the real with the basis is like seeing the king and thoroughly under-
standing all his characteristics. In other words, the stress on the phe-
nomenological, on this being a practice of the self, cannot be at the
expense of the hermeneutical, on the literary-intellectual expressions that
shape and are shaped by such practice. This dual intertwined emphasis
is characteristic of Seminal Heart literature from its onset, with its
founders as interested in intellectual-literary traditions as they are in the
kLong chen rab 'byams pa further systematized this tradition into
forms which have served as its guiding paradigms for the following six
centuries (fifteenth to twentieth) and which, despite their own rich ambi-
guity and disseminative play eluding and eliding attempts at closure,
functioned to cap off the tremendously fertile period of its preceding
development. In other words, his systematic writings on the Great Per-
fection mark the transition from a creative tradition-in-ferment to a
received tradition whose basic paradigms of contemplation and thought
are no longer at stake. This gives rise to the perennial question-what
and where is the difference between paradigms at stake, structures in
playful and dramatic process, and inherited paradigms that are assimi-
1ated, structures no longer at stake or risk? One could of course argue
that experientially the tradition remains a risky business, but it would
seem to me that six centuries of closure, and often dilution, in graphic
systematic incarnations reflects a hermeneutical, and human, series of
losses. This suspicion of loss has been compounded by my frequent
frustration with contemporary Tibetan figures' tendency to gloss over
the intricate textuality of the early traditions and their hermeneutical
instincts for closure in the face of clearly fissuring circles of meaning.
This frustration, however, is laced with a respect for the deeply experi-
ential involvement of some with the tradition, an involvement that mani -
fests clearly on an interpersonal level in an unusual blend of caring,
intelligence and psychological acuteness. It must also be kept in mind
that the hermeneutically complex tradition of systematic thought and
textuality that kLong chen rab 'byams pa incarnated was not widely read
in the subsequent centuries, though the more simple narrative outlines of
that tradition are easily discernible in the oral textuality of even the most
300 nABS 17.2
intellectually simple of Great Perfection visionaries. This is not to sug-
gest a straight forward contrast between lived narratives and scholasti-
cally elaborated narratives, since autobiographical references clearly
indicate kLong chen rab 'byams pa and his predecessors were on the
whole intimately familiar with the contemplative traditions at the heart of
the Great Perfection. In addition, one of the most complex facets of their
textuality is its intricately phenomenological nature, i. e. cultivated expe-
riences are irretrievably embedded in the most systematic, detailed
aspects of their writings. One of the most remarkable features of these
early traditions is their production of a scholastic body of literature that
paradoxically curbs the disembodying and reifying tendencies (the
metaphysical) of such graphically conceived I expressed systematic lines
of inquiry, so that it remains simultaneously an inquiry into the embod-
ied experience of lived worlds. Such inquiry requires commitment and
risk to quests which weave in and out of the texts that one lives through,
entailing attempts to transform the very nature of one's physical being
and modes of perception. kLong chen rab 'byams pa himself is thus
generally considered to be a perfect exemplar of the traditional Tibetan
Buddhist ideal of someone who is a brilliant scholar intellectually, and
yet who also has experientially transformed his own body and percep-
tion via contemplation (mkhas grub; literally scholastically "learned" and
experientially "accomplished"); wisdom and compassion that inform
each other in ways that allow each to bypass their own potential dead-
ends. kLong chen rab 'byams pa's own corpus is marked by frequent
attacks on both intellectuals whose understanding remains metaphysical
(expressed as being "dry" in its lack of the lived experience's fluidity,
lost in the infinity of words (kha 'byams and contemplators (sgom
chen) whose intellectual naivete distorts and undercuts their experiential
inquiries. In fact the term "Great Perfection," or its more literal render-
ing as "Super (chen) Completion (rdzogs)," itself yields the slipperiness
and strangeness of the enterprise: it tricks one into expecting closure,
the definitive take, the master narrative that will finally bring the uncom-
fortable ambiguity of this long human journey to an end, and yet in fact
its "completion" is in many ways a complete deconstruction of the
structures one brought to the text, an opening up to the process ambigu-
ity oflife-in-formation. This is not the completion we bargain for in a
typical scholastic structure, just as we might find the "buddha" (sangs
rgyas) we thought was within is a buddha whose face, or masks, we
find strangely unfamiliar, a sensation the tradition would argue is inter-
twined with an awakening recognition of the strangeness of what is
The graphic locus of the classical Seminal Heart tradition
Since the principal goal of my recent research has been to articulate the
significance evoked by the rubric of the Great Perfection in what came to
be its classical form during the period when the bask religious
paradigms of Tibetan civilization took shape (eleventh to fourteenth
centuries), I have concentrated not on its earliest occurrences but rather
on those bodies of Seminal Heart literature which first give systematic
expression to the full range of its contemplative and philosophical facets.
Yet even to make sense of this chaotic array of early materials it is also
necessary to precisely understand its classical systematization, such that
earlier texts can be evaluated not only by what is present, but also by
what is absent. To pursue this inquiry, my point of departure is thus the
figure universally acknowledged as the key juncture between the present
and the past, between normative Mahayana Buddhist scholasticism and
the Great Perfection, between creative ferment and received tradition,
between culturally, ideologically and doctrinally heterogeneous roots and
a clearly unified Tibetan reality: kLong chen rab 'byams pa. His corpus
is generally taken to be the definitive expression of the Great Perfection
with its precise terminological distinctions, systematic scope, and inte-
gration with the normative Buddhist scholasticism that became dominant
in Tibet during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As for his own
sources in his systematic technical Great Perfection writings, they can be
grouped under the following four rubrics: (i) the Kun byed rgyal po,
(ii) The Seventeen Tantras of the Great Perfection (including two
closely affiliated tantras-the kLong gsal and Thig le kun gsal), (iii) the
Seminal Heart system of Vimalamitra (Bi rna snying thig) and (iv) the
Seminal Heart system ofPadmasambhava (mKha' 'gro snying thig).
Classical Seminal Heart literature thus consists of the massive corpus of
kLong chen rab 'byams pa along with these four heterogeneous collec-
tions of texts that he positions himself as an interpreter of: (i) the tantra
representing the systematization of earlier Great Perfection movements;
220. I have kept the present section quite brief, since my article cited above
on kLong chen rab 'byams pa's sources involves a very detailed analysis of
the complex identity of Seminal Heart literature from the eleventh to four-
teenth centuries.
302 JIABS 17.2
Oi) the principal early Seminal Heart tantras; and (ili-iv) the two main
cycles of early commentarial literature on the latter. None of these
sources include significant texts explicitly authored by Tibetans, since
they claim to be either (i) primary tantras with anonymous behind-the-
scenes authors or (ii) a commentarial tier citing and interpreting those
tantras in texts attributed to legendary Indian figures such as
Padmasambhava and Vimalarnitra. Thus not only did kLong chen rab
'byams pa inherit a large body of already existent systematic exposition
which he brought into explicit dialogue with normative modernist
themes, but he was also the first Tibetan figure in the tradition to write
systematic treatises in this vein and acknowledge his / her authorship of
them. The vast majority of the inherited literature was presumably pro-
duced in Tibet from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, but most was
written in canonical assumed buddha-voices rather than exegetical
forms, and as such its authorship was deferred to an experiential domain
without discrete conventionally specifiable locations.
The Seminal Heart tradition can thus be defined as those texts which
take The Seventeen Tantras, Bi rna snying thig and subsequent works
developing out of them as authoritative. This literature consists of (i)
tantras with the standard psycho-cosmic dramatic setting of a dialogue
between a Buddha and his / her retinue; (ii) cycles or systems such as
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's bLa rna yang fig providing a comprehen-
sive interlinked series of texts with lineage histories, supplication
prayers, empowerment rituals, indexes, meditation handbooks and
philosophical exegesis; and (iii) more strictly philosophical works rang-
ing from the scholastic (kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Theg mchog
mdzod) to the intensely poetic (his Chos dbyings mdzod), as well as
works focusing on a particular contemplative topic. Only the second
category of texts offers a comprehensive system containing everything
necessary to transmit, study and implement it along traditional lines.
Apart from the four principal collections of the early Seminal Heart tra-
dition outlined above, a massive body of other literature on the Great
Perfection was also produced during the tenth to fourteen centuries
including canonical tantras, supposed "translations" of texts attributed to
Indian figures such as Padmasambhava, and works penned by indige-
nous Tibetan lamas. Thus much research remains to be done in discern-
ing other textual gestalts and their interrelations with the corpus deemed
canonical by kLong chen rab 'byams pa. It is also an imperative to
study later affiliated traditions in the Great Perfection incorporating these
new visionary trends which may have had a distinct identity from the
Seminal Heart traditions, analyzing their canonical sources, terminology,
and distinctive Structures.
If the primary source of any given text or
cycle is The Seventeen Tantras or cycles established as belonging to its
lineage, it would be classifiable as Seminal Heart. If, on the other hand,
it does not draw upon these literary sources but uses strikingly similar
terminology and practices, it will be necessary to look carefully at its
textual authorities, and consider whether or not the creator of that tradi-
tion was surreptitiously borrowing from Seminal Heart circles while uti-
lizing the "treasure" (gter rna) ideology to obscure its debt. In doing so,
one must analyze the role of Space Series materials in bridging the gap
between Mind Series and Esoteric Precepts Series, as well as the precise
significance of such alternative rubrics as yang ti and spyi ti. Finally, it
is essential to chart out the transmission of the original Seminal Heart lit-
erature during the fourteenth and fifteen centuries to discern lineages for
which kLong chen rab 'byams pa's work was not the final say, or even
necessarily quite that relevant.
In this way, it will be possible to begin
to discern whether there were alternative sources for direct tran-
scendence practice and its associated ideologies, or attempts to appro-
priate Seminal Heart innovations without crediting it as the source, as
well as sketch out the historical circulation of the direct transcendence-
based uniqueness of Seminal Heart within Great Perfection circles from
the twelfth century onwards.
The Seminal Heart's ambivalent relationship to other Tibetan tantric
yoga systems and ideologies
The eleventh to twelfth centuries in Tibet witnessed the flowering (and
in many cases simultaneous withering) of a tremendous variety of yogic
systems experientially based upon the human body and claiming to offer
comprehensive systems to arrive at the ultimate realization of buddha-
hood. The systematization and codification of the ensuing centuries
221. Examples are Rig 'dzin rgod kyi Idem 'phru can's (1337-1408) dGongs
pa zang thaI, Sangs rgyas gling pa's (1340-1396) bLa rna dgongs 'dus and
Mi 'Gyur rdo Ije's (1645-1667) gNam ehos.
222. For example, Ronald Davidson pointed out in his presentation at the U.
Va. Great Perfection symposium that U rgyan gter bdag gling pa does not
even list kLong chen rab 'byams pa in his "teachings received" under Esoteric
Precepts Series, but rather places gYung ston rdo tje dpal after Kumaradza
304 JIABS 17.2
produced a widespread acknowledgment of a limited range of such sys -
terns as the most prominent, most of which focus on perfection phase
practices with a consequent emphasis on interior movements of energy,
breath, sexuality and perception normally constituting unconscious
organismic processes. There are numerous passages
where a set
selection of these are listed out as reflecting experiential paths with a
certain unity on the ground (identified by kLong chen rab 'byarns pa as
"seeing the dimension of the mind-as-such")224 that may seem lacking in
the more intellectualized practices of the various tenet systematizations of
each sect and sub-sect. Some of the more prominent systems are the
Great Perfection, the Great Seal (phyag rgya chen po, mahiimudra), the
Sakya tantric synthesis of the path and the fruit (lam 'bras), the six doc-
trines of Naropa (naro chos drug), 225 the six doctrines of Niguma (ni gu
chos drug) in the Shangpa Kagyu tradition (shangs pa bka' brgyud),226
the pacification (zhi byed), the object of cutting (gcod yul), the various
practices stemming from the Kalacakra tantric system, the six yogas
(sbyor drug, and five phases (rim lnga, paficakrama);227
these are often further linked back to non-tantric ideologies through
references to the "great Middle Way" (dbu ma chen po,
* mahamadhyamaka) 228 and the "transcendent consummation of insight
223. See Dudjom 1991,926, for a famous passage by PaI,l chen bla rna blo
bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1567-1662); Schmidt 1987, 90-1 for a passage
by rTse Ie sna tshogs rang grol (b. 1608); kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Yid
bzhin mdzod (673.2) and Shing rta roam dag (119.4).
224. Shing rta rnam dag 119.3.
225. See Guenther 1978 and Gyatso 1982.h
226. Kapstein (1992a, 200) says that the six yogas of Niguma differ from
Tilopa / Naropa's six yogas primarily in points of emphasis, the most strik-
ing difference being Tilopa's emphasis on the fierce woman (gtum mo) and
radiant light ('od gsal) contemplations as opposed to Niguma's focus on the
illusory body (sgyu Ius) and dreams (rmi lam). Niguma (Kapstein 1992a,
193) is said to be either the wife or sister of the famous siddha Naropa.
Khyung po mal 'byor (?-c. 1135), the Tibetan founder of the Shangpa Kagyu
tradition, claims to have studied with her and received texts authored by her.
See Mullins 1985 for extensive comments on this version of the six yogas.
227. See Cozort 1986, 66-67, footnote 114, for a list of the six yogas and
five phases, followed by a detailed discussion.
228. As explained by Hookham (1991), this term was used in two principal
ways in Tibet: (i) to refer to the "emptiness of other" (gzhan stong) traditions
(of abiding reality)" (gnas lugs don gyi shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa;
A typical passage can be found in kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Yid
bzhin mdzod:
Now is the introduction to the manifestation of the indwelling innate
naturally radiant primordial gnosis which comes to pass through these
The primordial gnosis of expansive insight coming to pass via
such techniques
Is the glowing lucency beyond all expression indicating it as
localized or not localized,
Existent or non-existent, something that is or is not the case,
Within the range of radiance and bliss.
Self-awareness is vivid in its non-discursive brightness and
Like the sky in its lack of fragmentation and polarization.
Resembling the solar and lunar m ~ Q a l a s in its unwavering
brightness and radiance,
Like the ocean free from the turbidity of reifying concepts.
This is what the sacred ones introduce you to
As self-emerging primordial gnosis, mind-as-such, and radiant
light -
This body of reality, innately co-emerging,
Should be perpetually contemplated.
of Yogacara-Madhyamaka and (ii) a syncretic and contemplatively-oriented
interpretation of Nagrujuna and Asailga with a special emphasis on the
Uttaratantra. While clearly kLong chen rab 'byams pa's reference below
indicates a thoroughly experiential and phenomenological interpretation of
Madhyamaka, it should be noted that earlier in the text (549.2) he identifies
the "Great Madhyamaka" as referring to the Prasailgika tradition. Interest-
ingly, van der Kuijp (Hookham 1991, 157) claims the term's earliest occur-
rence is in Great Perfection tantras.
229. Yid bzhin mdzod 672.4.
306 JIABS 17.2
Our own sacred master, the glorious precious lord of the sacred
teachings,230 contextualized the primordial gnosis involved in the four
great seals in precisely this manner. 231 When previously meditating
on the winds one's awareness of radiance is non-conceptual, while
when meditating on the seminal nuclei one's awareness of bliss is
radiant. But in both states you look nakedly at the face of self-aware-
ness, and thus there is no question of either abiding or non-abiding
even in these mere [experiences of] bliss, radiance, and non-concep-
tuality. Within the essence of this radiant empty self-awareness, there
is only a dimension totally beyond thought, expression or even analo-
gies, devoid of such considerations as existence or non-existence,
being or not being the case. This self-purifying self-awareness is like
the ocean inits pellucidity and non-wavering depths, like the solar and
lunar m ~ c ; l a l a s in its radiance and non-conceptuality, and like the
m ~ c ; l a l a of the clear sky devoid of fragmentation and polarization. He
thus introduced [us] to this very self-awareness in which the discur-
siveness of the mind and its operations fade away as the [true signifi-
cance of the] reality body, the great seal and self-emerging primordial
gnosis. He also spoke of precisely this as being the Great Perfection,
the Great Middle Way, the essence of the six branched yoga, the
essence of the path and fruit system, the pacifying which calms all
elaborations without exception, and the transcendental consummation
of insight of the abiding dimension of reality.
I myself as well have had a little experience of this, and have seen
clearly that this dimension is described as such in the sutras and
tantras. The Guhyasamlija Tantra describes it thus:
Not meditating is the real essence of meditation;
Having meditated is not meditation
Since the real thing is not a thing
Meditation is devoid of objective referents ....
230. Presumably this refers to his own root Great Perfection teacher
231. The four "great seals" (mahtlmudra) evidently refers to the standard list
of four dimensions of a consort participating in sexual yogic practices: the
action seal, gnosis seal, great seal and commitment seal. The action seal is
explained as an actual physical woman; the gnosis seal is a visualized god-
dess stemming from generation phase practice; the great seal is an empty-form
goddess appearing via perfection phase contemplation; and the commitment
seal then is the integration of all three.
Aside from such phenomenological claims of identity and at times
striking surface differences, all of these systems are based on the same
milieu of late Buddhist tantrism in India and associated regions, and
hence are inextricably interconnected. They are simultaneously some-
what heterogeneous anthologies, and coordinated integrations into a
single pathway, of yogic techniques for going beyond the mere visual-
ization of deity images to cOming to terms with the human body and
radical emptiness, to bring these images back home to their grounding
matrix in a body of emptiness. The hagiographic and exegetical litera-
ture abounds with very clear and particular references to the experiential
implementation of these systems for psycho-physical transformation of
individual practitioners (for example note the passage by gTer bdag
gling pa cited below), clearly indicating that from a very early period the
prevalent talk of experience in these texts was not mere rhetoric (which
is not to deny the diverse rhetorical usages of such discourse, as well as
the variegated social functions of ritual and contemplation in Tibet). 232
I would thus like to briefly look at two Nyingma authors' (kLong
chen rab 'byams pa and gTer bdag gling pa) attempts to delineate Great
Perfection practices from other Tibetan tantric yoga systems, since even
attempts to assert difference also reveal the lingering shadows of simi-
larity. The symbolic perfection phase practices, i. e. those centered on
internal manipulations of energy utilizing visualization, breathing, and
tactile sensations, are generally referred to in Tibetan as "channel-
wind"233 (rtsa rlung) practices. This derives from their focus on the
human body, which in its experiential felt presence (termed the
"adamantine body" (rda rje'i Ius is discussed as a triad of qualities:
channels (rtsa, nli{lf), winds (rlung, viiyu) and seminal nuclei (thig Ie,
bindu). In short, these can be understood as characteristic patterning
lines of energy in the body, the movements of energy through those
lines, and the particular intelligences and organizing capacities borneby
those movements. In addition to the Seminal Heart transforming these
symbolic perfection phase techniques in innovative ways (especially
those centered on "radiant light"), its cycles also include versions of
those standard techniques as "ancillaries" or "adjuncts" to its main prac-
tices. They thus incorporate the practices of the fierce woman (gtum
mo), dream yoga, sexual yoga and so on, but generally refrain from the
232. See Sharf 1992.
233. For example see kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Yid bzhin mdzod 672.3.
308 nABS 17.2
emphasis on focusing energy in the central channel as well as constantly
criticize the rhetoric of manipulation and control that ideologically under-
lay such techniques.
Given their inordinate importance for understanding Tibetan Bud-
dhism in general, and the Seminal Heart traditions in particular, I will
briefly summarize perfection phase ideology based on kLong chen rab
'byams pa's succinct summary in the twentieth chapter of the Yid bzhin
mdzod. As the early Seminal Heart tradition often does, he divides these
practices into two overarching rubrics:
(i) wind-yoga
focusing on
the "winds," the body's internal currents of energy closely linked to the
breath; and (ii) practices focusing on the "seminal nucleus," the body's
organizing points of energy closed linked to the sexual fluids (he also
associates these two rubrics with the father and mother tantras
respectively, the standard internal dyadic classification of Anuttarayoga
Tantras). In fact, the latter practices generally also deal with the winds
or breath, while the former category functions to embrace practices that
almost exclusively focus on the winds themselves. Leaving a more
detailed discussion of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's presentation to a later
forum, I would merely like to point out that the principal contemplative
processes are characterized by two central intertwined ideologies
focused on the body, and based on the resolute belief that our mental
images and experiences are heavily dependent on internal transforma-
tions and states of energy (which is why all such manipulation of inter-
nal energy is marked by unusual visual experiences): (i) dissolving or
confining all winds into the body's central channel (dbu rna or kun 'dar
rna) as marked by a series of visual experiences of light (smoke, fire-
flies, etc.) and (ii) mastering the movement of energy within that central
space, generally described as impelling seminal nuclei up and down
through the body's four main energy "wheels" (' khor 10, cakra) accom-
panied by orgiastic sensations of bliss graded into a set of four "joys"
(dga' ba, linanda). The Geluk scholar Geshe Kelsang Gyats0
marizes such techniques as "generating simultaneous bliss," which is
done in conjunction with emptiness meditation. He divides them into
two categories: the fierce woman or inner fire (gtum mo) practices in
which a visualized flame at the navel ignites the melting of seminal bliss
234. Ibid., 666.4ff.
235. Ibid., 668.6.
236. Gyatso 1982, 18.
from the crown's lunar treasury, and sexual yoga, which relies on sexual
intercourse to stimulate the movement of energy up the body's center.
He further 237 characterizes the inner fITe practices as the "foundation" of
all perfection phase techniques-its process of igniting internal warmth
and consequently melting the two types (white I red) of seminal nuclei
(sometimes summarized as "blazing and dripping") is at the heart of
such techniques, directly or indirectly. While kLong chen nib 'byams
pa's presentation here is somewhat more complex than this, it does in
general correspond to the structure of a short text in his Zab mo yang tig
entitled the Zab rno phra khrid. In that presentation of channel-wind
practices, he divides them up into three categories corresponding to
channels, winds and seminal nuclei respectively. The third category238
is entitled "esoteric precepts on the great bliss of the [nuclei]" and is
further subdivided into "techniques on your own body" and "relying on
another's body." He clearly specifies
that prior to engaging in sexual
yoga with a partner, one must first master these fierce woman practices
utilizing merely one's own body.
The key throughout is this concentration and manipulation of energy
in the body's center, usually discussed in terms of "dissolving" (thirn) or
"taking hold" (zin)240 of the winds into a central channel running
through the upper torso"s center, connecting the genitals and brain.
Clearly there is a strong physiological (the lungs, blood circulation, ner-
vous energy) and experiential basis to this focus on tactile sensations in
the center of the torso, which are strikingly similar to practices found in
other traditions, such as Daoist Qigong,241 Hindu ku1).c;lalinI I hiitba
237. Ibid., 33.
238. Zab rna phra khrid 376.3-389.2.
239. Ibid., 382.6.
240. See Cozort 1986, 73, and Guenther 1978, 60.1, Tibetan on 256
241. See Robinet 1993 and Deng 1990. I am largely indebted to John
Alton, who studied for several years in Beijing with a contemporary Chinese
teacher, for my exposure to the physical orientations and implications of such
practices, as well as general discussions concerning body-oriented contempla-
tion (see his autobiographical account of Qigong to be published by
Shambhala with the title Adventures with Qt)'
310 JIABS 17.2
and even the Christian Hesychasts.
Thus we find a focus on
breath and sexual sensation, both critical and immediately accessible
experiences one has of the body's internal flows of energy, and in par-
ticular' of its intensification in the center. It could be argued that sym-
bolic perfection phase techniques begin as breath and sex, felt sensations
of currents of movement and bliss running up the center of the body,
which are then contemplatively mimicked, controlled, altered, and deep-
ened; its non-symbolic dimensions, in contrast, begin in experiences of
absence, of the intangible. In the Yid bzhin mdzod,244 kLong chen rab
'byams pa responds to criticism of channel-wind practices as inferior
(since they are shared by non-Buddhists) by linking them to exoteric
Buddhist techniques of meditating on the breath-by focusing on
inhalations and exhalations to calm the ordinarily frenetic activity of your
mind, one can give rise to deep contemplation (ting nge 'dzin):
The following reconciles sutric and tantric contemplative techniques:
Since the sutras and their exegetical literature teach that you actualize
Through focusing the mind on the winds (breath) and external
objective supports,
I see this as similar to these (tantric techniques).
Some people think that since these wind-channel [tantric practices]
also exist in the non-Buddhist "outsiders" traditions, they are an infe-
rior path. Yet the sl1tras and associated exegetical literature of the
Lesser and the Great Vehicles such as the Nyi ma'i snying po'i mdo
and the mDzod all teach that you meditate on the winds [breath] as an
antidote to conceptuality out of control, and thus give rise to contem-
plation. In these people's view, we would have to say that this also is
inferior. Since all the sl1tras and tantras are thus in harmony with each
other in terms of techniques for giving rise to contemplation, there is
no conflict here.
242. See Silburn 1988 and White 1995.
243. See Palamas 1983, 5, 8, 9, 14-16, 46, 47 and 129 for discussions of
the Hesychasts' body-based approach to spirituality with its focus on the
navel, breathing, and the heart. .
244. Yid bzhin mdzod 672.3.
In fact, the term for "winds" (dung) is often used interchangeably to
refer to the literal breath (dbugs), a semantic linkage founded on
metaphorical and physiological grounds. With these techniques, one
discovers extraordinary dimensions of breath and semen, i. e. other
movements and charges of intensity in the body that can be actually
experienced in ways analogous to ordinary experiences of the coursing
of breath and stimulation of orgasm. In addition to the emphasis on
tactile sensations in the body's interior with the concomitant feelings of
bliss, the phenomenology of this intensification of energy within the
body's center focuses on light, a luminosity that has its own logic expe-
rientially and philosophically. This unfolding radiant light (' od gsal)
both creates a felt impression of the body's own luminosity and sparks
changes in one's visual field as flashes of light begin to dominate
experience externally and internally. Thus perfection phase practices are
generally characterized as meditation on "radiant lighf' (the title of chap-
ter twenty in Yid bzhin mdzod) or "primordial gnosis," indicating these
practices unfold radiance and gnosis from one's embodied being, our
bodies being pervaded by luminousity and intelligence.
The Great Perfection's notion of a triune ground-empty (stong pa),
radiant (gsal ba) and self-organizing intelligence (thugs lje}-reflects
the traditional triune characterization of this ultimate dimension,
"emptiness" being the third (along with radiant light and primordial
gnosis). Additionally there is the standard categorization of meditative
experiences (nyams) into bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality (bde gsal
mi TtOg). The various gradations and sequences described in discussing
these practices-such as the four joys, four visions (snang ba bzhi) and
four emptinesses (stong pa bzhi)--thus represent attempts to talk about
the phases in one's increasing realization of this unitary triune dimen-
sion, simultaneously an immersion in the felt human body of experience
and in its grounding in, and as, an intense luminosity that is no-thing at
all, yet reveals itself as intensely blissful sparks oflight.
In this way,
245. While Gyatso (1982) is perhaps the clearest and most detailed factual
account of these processes, the most interesting English language account
interpretatively is found in Beyer 1973, 127-143. My one qualm about
Beyer's account is he almost entirely ignores the physiological/ experiential
basis of these processes (taking note of his disclaimer on 133 and his invoca-
tion of an "experiential given" on 135) to exclusively focus on the symbolic
logic of the contemplative systems, a logic which he brilliant unpacks.
312 JIABS 17.2
the dual emphasis of perfection phase techniques on immersion in the
human body (symbolic) and in emptiness (non-symbolic) intertwine, as
the divine images of the generation phase are brought home to an interior
of swirling currents of sensed energy (heat, stimulation, rippling move-
ments), an interior which also gradually reveals itself as a groundless
abyss of possibilities. Beyer points this out in his consistent emphasis
on both dissolving the divine image-representations of magical simulacra
(which one is) into the emptiness of radiant light and re-emerging from
that dissolution as a gnostic body that now represents one's own inner
embodied fluidity given new form. Obviously there is a great degree of
latitude in what type of experiential aspects are emphasized in this pro-
gression-Beyer focuses on the Hindu emphasis on sonic experiences
in contrast to Buddhist privileging of the visual,246 while other traditions
focus almost exclusively on tactile sensations (together representing our
three major senses); another important issue is the extent of analogical
associations. From the perspective of the collapse oftypical habituated
patterns we talk of dissolution or dissipation (the byang of byang chub
and sangs of sangs rgyas), while from the perspective of the gradual
unfolding of an inner luminosity we are impelled to speak of these
events as taking hold of an inner citadel (btsan sa zin), an increas ing
apprehension of a palace implicated within nothingness (chub; rgyas).
Buddha-nature thus represents a trust in embodied identity, that the
breakdown of socially enframed structures does not lead inevitably to
chaotic instinctual violence,247 but also can allow the emergence of new
self-organizing patterning more sensitive to interior and exterior worlds
of experience, as well as the abyssal field of possibilities that constitutes
the life-process. Thus these contemplative ideologies are based upon
processes said to occur in the body at moments of gap or fissure, when
our typical strategies of ordering the body collapse: orgasm, sleeping,
fainting and death. 248 Luminosity unfolds dudng these "shifting
interstices" 249 (bar do) in which paradigms shift and foundations
Given this tendency, it tends to partially obscure other possibilities as he
tightly interweaves the entire contemplative process in a very traditional way.
246. Beyer 1973, 136.
247. See Levin 1988, particularly 303-317.
248. See Cozort 1986, 72 and Beyer 1973, 139.
249. Beyer 1973, 138.
tremble, since radiant light is none other than the fluid process of life-
energy, the self-organizing intensity ordinarily trapped and repressed
within entrenched structures and dominant frames, the ground zero
which contemplation aims at contacting, and then channeling more
Despite this theme of collapse and fissure, a consistent tantric rhetoric
of control, domination and manipulation is also evident, of forcing a
collapse of the ordinary to marshal one's forces into an extraordinary
intensity. One contracts one's ordinarily dispersed energy into a central
conduit, arrest its fluctuations and confine it to quarters, so to say, with
the justification of making it "pliable" (las su rung), 250 more amenable to
the demands and needs of the center (often imaged with explicitly
political tropes-kings, ministers, armies, etc.). In this way, discourse-
practices situating themselves as non-symbolic perfection phase systems
often rhetorically denigrate such practices as lower order techniques
dominated by danger, stress, politicization and forced contrivance, even
to the point of placing themselves beyond the entire generation / perfec -
tion ideology all together, though in fact they are all heavily dependent
on the ideological and contemplative landscape shaped by such practices.
In the Yid bzhin mdzod's account of conventional tantric practice we
find an integrated approach acknowledging this indebtedness with little
of the aggressive rhetoric of denial and transcendence that we find in
kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Great Perfection writings. He begins his
account with a warning that these wind-channel practices are not the real
or ultimate path, but still strongly urges the prospective practitioner to
exert him / herself in these contemplative systems until they are per-
fected, given their essential importance in facilitating progress along the
After detailing the systems, he then turns to the Great Perfec-
tion in a very low key manner
by speaking of an "introduction" (ngo
sprad) to the manifestation of indwelling primordial gnosis which is
coemergent with the natural radiance and clarity produced by such tech-
niques. He advocates intently gazing upon self-awareness against this
backdrop of these unusual experiences of mental clarity, bliss, and non-
conceptualitY produced by reliance upon the contemplative techniques.
manipulating the winds and seminal nuclei, this striking fluidity or lumi-
250. Yid bzhin mdzod 667.1.
251. Ibid., 666.7.
252. Ibid., 672.4ff. See my translation above.
314 JIABS 17.2
nosity in one's perceptual field, such that one begins to sense an intelli-
gence or wisdom at work deep within one's embodied unconscious. It
is this vivid, lucent, unfragmented and non-conceptual dimension that is
specified as the heart of the Great Perfection, Great Middle Way, Six-
branched Yoga, Path and Fruit, and so on. In the ensuing discussion he
even casually cites a key Great Perfection text, the Kun byed rgyal
po, 253 and in giving general guidelines for meditation refers to its medi-
tation on awareness (rig pa) as a third alternative along with focus on
the winds and seminal nuclei, depending on "which is comfortable". 254
However, the overall context makes clear that the key is to first work
with one's embodied psyche's energy via the winds and nuclei contem-
plative techniques, and only then does direct contemplation of one's own
vivid radiant awareness, such as detailed in Mind Series texts, become a
natural further deepening of the practice. Obviously his intent in the Yid
bzhin mdzod is in part to provide a mildly Great Perfection-influenced
reading of Mahayana and other Vajrayana traditions that can reach out to
other circles of Tibetan Buddhism not directly involved with the Great
Perfection's own unique terminology and practices (though this is quite
subtle as opposed to the more manifest agenda of the Ngal gso skor
Such conciliatory motivation and corresponding expression is quite
distinct from the tone ofkLong chen rab 'byams pa's explicitly Great
Perfection corpus in passages where he deals with the relationships of
Seminal Heart practices to seemingly similar techniques found in the
modernist tantras. For example, in the following passage from the Theg
mchog mdzod,255 he attempts to strictly differentiate between the visual
appearances of spheres or circles of light (termed "seminal nuclei")
which appear in the practices of direct transcendence and the similar
apparitions appearing in the context of other Tibetan Buddhist tantric
Although both (i) the seminal nuclei (thig Ie, bindu) of radiant light's
primordial radiation and (ii) the seminal nucleus of rainbow light
[deriving] from holding the winds and mind are similar in terms of
being empty forms, in fact they are exceedingly different.
253. Kun byed rgyal po 675.1.
254. Yid bzhin mdzod 675.4.
255. Theg mchog mdzod vol. 2, 103.5.
[The fonner manifests in Seminal Heart contemplation], in which
these seminal nuclei of natural thorough purity are the lighting-up of
the expanse and awareness. For this reason they are bright and lucent,
while provisionally in the "intensification" [vision of Direct Transcen-
dence contemplation] they shine forth up until [the manifestation of
full] maJ;lQalas [of buddha images]. [Since these visions] are not
dependent on holding the winds, emotional distortions andconceptu-
ality naturally cease, and they are adorned by the meditative state of
naturally abiding within lucency.
However, the thoroughly pure ten signs of wind-channel [practices
that the latter involves] is brought about in the wake of strenuous
activities involving the winds.
For this reason, they are quite
unstable, constantly oscillating between intensification and obscura-
tion-following non-lucency, partial obscuration, coarse conceptuality
and emotional distortions, there is only a little moisturization of clari -
ty's emergence and stable focus. For these reasons and others, the
difference is exceedingly great.
Though such [visions] manifest when you meditate on the Path and
the Fruit, the six yogas, and the Phra tik(?) of the Guhyasamiija
Tantra, when compared to the immediacy of the Seminal Heart
(practices), the difference is like between gold and brass.
In a later passage from the same text,257 kLong chen rab 'byams pa
strictly differentiates Great Perfection meditation from lower order subtle
body contemplations, including the well know "six yogas" (sbyor
drug). 258 In general he describes these techniques as being very
256. These ten signs are phenomenological markers describing visual images
one sees and feels as one progresses further and further in controlling the
body's internal currents of energy, or "winds," in the "fierce woman" (gtum
mo; car.uJllli) practices, with each step corresponding to a particular type of
visual image. See Guenther 1978, 60-1; a somewhat different account is
given by Cozort (1986, 74), in correlation with the dissolution of the winds
into the body's central channel, whether by perfection phase practices or nor-
mal phenomena such as sleep, orgasm, and fainting. Both Hopkins (1981,
18) and Gyatso (1982, 70) give the same account as a series of eight, elimi-
nating the first two signs, and referring to breathing patterns rather than visual
experiences. Cozort (1986, 124-5) and Dhargyey (1985, 135) also discuss
this in the context of the night yoga practiced in Klliacakra system.
257. Theg mchog mdzod 195.2-196.2.
258. These are explicated in Cozort 1986.
316 nABS 17.2
"strenuous" in their directly attempting to forcefully manipulate and
redirect one's conventional energy (i. e. physical body and. ordinary
thought activity), such that they are beset by obstacles and potential pit-
falls. In contrast to this, direct transcendence contemplation works
directly with one's inner spontaneous gnostic energy, avoiding the
coarse dimensions of one's body, speech and mind apart from their mere
"restriction" via the three modes of non-wavering (see below). Since it
thus only involves "undistorted" ultimate gnostic energy, the many
potential obstacles and pitfalls inherent in working with distorted, mate-
rialized energy are absent In addition, these lower order contemplations
tend to deviate through fixating on the various psychic experiences and
sensations (shes nyams) that emerge during contemplation. Direct tran-
scendence contemplation, however, does not prioritize or cling to these
psychic experiences, and instead remains focused on the "visionary
experiences" (snang nyams) of the radiant light's natural radiation, i. e.
the exteriorized images of awareness' radiation that fills one's sUrround-
ing space. The Tshig don mdzod
explains t.llls contrast between
"psychic experiences" and "visionary experiences" as referring to inter-
nal sensations and external visions respectively. Since in these visions
one perceives primordial gnosis in direct sensory experience, there is no
possibility of error or deviation, unlike the changing succession of inner
psychic sensations. Finally, kLong chen rab 'byams pa differentiates
direct transcendence from the "six yogas" thus: direct transcendence
involves "awareness' radiation" (riggdangs) which is like "the light of a
lamp" and is the "radiation of (awareness') actual radiant light, i. e. pure
appearances" via which one can become free; the six yogas instead
involve "the winds' radiation" (rlung gdangs) which is like "the light of
ajewel" and is "the radiation of awareness' impure dynamism, i. e. dis-
torted appearances" via which one cannot become free. This distinction
between different types of "radiation" is one I have heard echoed several
times in oral explications of the difference between Seminal Heart
visions and those inspired by the modernist Kalacakra Tantra.
kLong chen rab 'byams pa explicitly criticizes the perfection phase's
principal ideology of confining the winds into the central channel in the
following discussion of the gnostic winds from the mKha' 'gro yang
259. Tshig mdan mdzad 390.4ff.
260. mKha' 'gra yang tig vol. 2, 161.6ff.
In brief, "gnostic winds" is just a label applied to compassionate
resonance's essential awareness-since it is present with the indivisi -
ble triune identity of essence, nature and compassionate resonance, it
is termed "primordial (ye) cognition (shes)" (the literal rendering of
"gnostic"). It is termed "wind" (rlwzg) in that its mere stirring and
mere aware-ing share concordant qualities with wind. The "real"
energy winds (i. e. the karmic winds) should be understood as its
dynamism manifesting in terms of the ordinary "mind" [i. e. the neu-
roticized mind], such that primordial gnosis' radiation as a mere
"aware-ing" is carried off by the wind-horses, and operates in terms of
the pluralized modes of ordinary perceptual consciousness (mam
The gnostic winds themselves are beyond all extremes of discur-
siveness by force of being empty in their essence-dimension; they
light-up as the spiritual bodies and primordial gnoses by force of
being radiant in their nature-dimension; and they manifest in terms of
the primordial gnosis sensitive to everything's [final reality] and the
primordial gnosis sensitive to all their specifics by force of being
aware in their compassionate resonance-dimension. Though this is
itself labeled "wind," it in fact manifests in the contemplative path of
visionaries as primordial gnosis' inner radiance, and its thoroughly
pure radiation as it externally manifests.
The "channel/winds" [praxis and theory] oflower spiritual vehicles
are ignorant of this, such that they view the non-elaborated essence of
the moving winds as the gnostic winds. Having thus seized hold of
them, they insert the coarse winds from the right and left [channels]
into the central channel. In this way bringing about [sensations of]
"clarity" through the right channel's winds, "bliss" through the left
channel's winds, and "non-conceptuality" through the central chan-
nel's winds, the winds remain in the central channel with these triune
[sensations of] bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality, such that [visions
of] seminal nuclei and rainbow light emerge. Furthermore, this is
[believed] to be the sign oftaking hold of the [body's] five elemental
energy-winds [fire, earth, water, wind and space].
This is, however, a quite distorted view. If the five moving winds
had color, then why does not the wind of our mouth and nose [i. e.
breath] come with color? As for attaining stability upon taking hold of
these [winds], though they claim they have taken hold of the gnostic
winds, actually they are not cognizant or aware of even an iota of their
true dimension, except for having simply heard the name "gnostic
winds." I do not believe that enlightenment can be attained through
checking the winds of the mouth and nose, since [nothing ensues]
through these practices of the lower vehicles taking hold of those
318 JIABS 17.2
"gnostic winds," apart from a type of non-conceptuality deriving from
the non-movement of breath. Such a practice resembles the filling and
emptying of a bellows-not only do no enlightened qualities ensue
upon exerting yourself in this, but your body grows cold and shakes,
your speech becomes trivial and false, your mind becomes even more
coarse than before in its dualistic conceptions, and cannot withstand
any [adverse] conditions.
Here [in the context of the Great Perfection tradition, in contrast], we
say that taking hold in the following manner is termed "gnostic
winds": when in a single period you bring together the three watching
postures and the three enlightened gazes via the three spiritual bodies
[i. e. the key points of direct transcendence contemplation], you
experience a radiant, immaculate, crystal clear state of consciousness
which is beyond discursiveness through the emptiness of essence, to
which radiant light manifests through the clarity of nature, and which
is utterly non-conceptual through the awareness of compassionate res-
0nance. While not conceptualizing anything at all, the visual dimen-
sion of whatever might appear remains unceasing. [Because we hold
that, when you say "gnostic winds" we say it is taken hold in this
In his Grub mtha' mdzod
kLong chen rab 'byams pa also incisively
criticizes these normative modernist tantric practices of forcefully insert-
ing the energy winds into the central channel in the attempt to achieve
primordial gnosis. He contrasts this to Great Perfection contemplation
in which the body's luminous channels are let be, and thus naturally
expand outwards from their current presence as a thin thread of light at
the body's center, so as to directly permeate one's entire existence and
dissolve all energy blockages therein. He retains the emphasis on the
body's center and light-experiences, yet undercuts the tone of control
and manipulation. 1his indicates the reoccurring issue of whether con-
templation should be the forceful assertion of a predetermined pattern, or
a more personalized quest to find one's own way, patternings that reveal
themselves only when one releases the attempt to fore-structure them:
The lower secret mantra [systems] hold that by inserting the wind-
mind energies of your solitary and flavor channels [i. e. right and left]
261. Grub mtha' mdzod 382.1-383.3. See Dudjom 1991,40-341, for a
translation of his abridged account, which is simply a reworded presentation
ofkLong chen rab 'byams pa's comments.
into the central channel, a primordial gnosis of bliss, clarity and non-
conceptuality will emerge, which they identify as innate [gnosis].
However in fact this in no way reverses your ordinary eight fold con-
sciousness based on the universal ground: the blissful sensation is
due to the ordinary egoic psyche and the emotionally distorted psyche,
while the lack of conceptuality in the undivided lucency is the univer-
sal ground The slight clarity and lucency [they experience] is the uni-
versal ground consciousness, while that which appears in terms of the
individual five types of coarse sensory objects and cognitive faculties
[such as visible forms and sounds] are the five sensory modes of con-
sciousness. Yet if those [modes of consciousness] are not reversed,
you will not become free of cyclic existence, since you are manifestly
not free from the mind-sets of cyclic existence. Since this style of
practice is not different from that outlined in the SlUpkhya scriptures
[he cites a passage from therein .... ], they do not accomplish freedom
from the mind-state of the formless meditative states [dhyana].
They hold that the joy of mixing the channels, winds and seminal
nuclei into a single flavor is the pristine dimension [mal rna], and thus
believe that the respective enlightened qualities manifest by force of
liberating the corresponding channel-knots as the winds and seminal
elements enter the central channel from the flavor and solitary chan-
nels. Thus there are many obstacles-as the winds enter the channel-
petals energetically corresponding to the various six types of living
beings, many delusory appearances manifest In this way it constitutes
the key point of why deviation comes to pass [for such practitioners].
Since in the context [of Great Perfection contemplation] the winds
are left to naturally calm down of their own accord, there is no inser-
tion into the central channel. When the wind currents of the individual
channel petals become naturally purified, the gnostic winds of the
luminous channel shines of their own accord in their own state. Thus
there is a lighting-up of primordial gnosis as there manifests such
visions as the spiritual bodies, lights, and pure realms, while no dis-
torted appearances at all manifest. As the luminous channel in the
center intensifies, the channel-knots sequentially pass into light and are
free-this is what we assert. The enlightened qualities of the [spiritual
hero/ine] stages manifest in a self-presencing way. To expand on that,
by force of the first two channel-knots becoming liberated into light,
twelve hundred Buddha realms manifest within the luminosity that
lights up externally ....
Thus this is exceedingly superior to the level of the lower vehicles.
If your mind is of cyclic existence when you practice, the result will be
cyclic existence .... Since [the Great Perfection] is free of the mind-
sets of cyclic existence via the path, this is the key point of rapidly
320 JIABS 17.2
arriving right at the fruit. Nowadays those who desire BuddhahoOd
from the ordinary mind do not understand this key point, and thus do
not know the real path-primordial gnosis and the mind substantially
contradict each other. ...
Finally, in the following passage from the Tshig don mdzod
chen rab 'byams pa criticizes two key contemplative procedures associ -
ated with perfection phase systems-sexual yoga and the yogic body
exercises known as "magical wheels" (' phrul 'khaT, yantra):
Furthermore, it is taught that ordinary minor psychic attainments and
depth-contemplation [which involves the mind's stabilization] can be
accomplished on the path in reliance upon the conventional catalytic
seminal nuclei, yet the supreme spiritual attainment [the meditative
state wherein the Reality Body and primordial gnosis naturally flow]
can be made directly manifest only in reliance upon the ultimate semi-
nal nuclei of radiant light. Since along these lines the tradition of the
Great Perfection does not view the conventional seminal nuclei as an
essential part of the spiritual path, it advocates meditation on radiant
light in reliance upon the ultimate seminal nuclei. However, some
individuals' psychic makeup is such that engaging the conventional
seminal nuclei here [in the Great Perfection tradition] becomes neces -
sary. In this sense, the means of meditation on the conventional semi-
nal nuclei, reliance on a sexual consort and so forth are taught simply
as a kind of special method or "efficacious means" for taking care of
those otherwise blocked from the Great Perfection path, so that those
people obsessively addicted to the conventional seminal nuclei can cir-
cuitously enter [the path of the Great Perfection]. Then, subsequently
the stage of engaging the ultimate seminal nuclei is taught to such
individuals. As for that prior stage [of yogically manipulating the
conventional seminal nuclei], the sGra thal 'gyUT says:
Since you desire to rely on the reality of seminal nuclei,
[I will discuss the contemplative techniques]
Relating to the ultimate and conventional [seminal nuclei].
[i] Those who for the time being desire buddhahood
In reliance upon the conventional seminal nuclei should do as
262. Tshig don mdzod 258.
Your consort should have the complete requisite characteristics -
When you spot one with the perfect characteristics
Whether she be a goddess, demi-goddess, brahmin,
Low caste, or a heretic,
You begin with the techniques for attracting her,
And then you must perfect your body
Via the object of reliance [i. e. consort], the channels,
And the focus of visualization [i. e. the seminal nuclei, etc.].
Then, you must bring the conventional seminal nuclei down, retain
them, reverse them [back upwards]
Disperse them within the channels, and mix them with the winds;
You then must rely upon emptiness, eradicate your intellect,
And reverse your ordinary body and mind.
[ii] On the other hand, through reliance upon the ultimate seminal
You can meet with the objects of the empty reality body:
Stimulating the lamp of the empty seminal nuclei
You train on awareness' efflorescent dynamics,
And when you finally gain deep attunement such that [their lumi-
Is vividly clear] without ordinary distinctions between daytime and
These [luminous nuclei] directly manifest without any exertion on
your part -
This is the measure indicating experiential mastery [of this practice].
Therefore, the two classifications of seminal nuclei are related as fol-
lows: the conventional seminal nuclei are not the real spiritual path,
aside from simply being a belief and interest-inspiring efficacious
means of entering [certain typeS of people] into this path [of the Great
Perfection]. Thus, here in this text these systems of practice will be
left at that, while since the ultimate seminal nuclei are the real path, I
will discuss them extensively. The stimulation of the [empty seminal
nuclei] lamp is discussed in particular within the chapter on the
"objective sphere" [chapter seven], and thus you should take [those
discussions] as the point of departure for understanding it. This is an
extremely important point, since nowadays some people assert that
both the conventional and ultimate seminal nuclei are the Great Perfec-
tion path, and in particular, those people fixated upon the conventional
seminal nuclei do not see these [luminous nuclei's vital] significance.
322 JIABS 17.2
They advocate many strenuous practices in training on the conven-
tional seminal nuclei such as "binding" with yogic physical exercises
[yantras] and forced visualizations, while as fruit of such training they
desire the bliss and emptiness of depth-contemplation within the
coarse body. The Great Perfection tradition is quite the opposite: in
its avocation of a series of triadic key points in contemplation [your
body being unshakable from the "watching postures" and so on] and
its desired attainment of a body of light, there is a very important dis-
The ''ultimate seminal nuclei" are synonymous with the "luminous semi-
nal nuclei" discussed above, and are principally located within the soli-
tary' all-encompassing and luminous channels). These light nuclei play
the key role in direct transcendence contemplation, and thus are the prin-
cipal focus of Seminal Heart meditation and theory as the internal bases
or supports for the contemplative optimization and revelation of one's
internal latent nucleus of gnostic light. They should be understood in
opposition to the conventional nuclei which concentrate within the flavor
channel, and in general are distributed throughout the body's internal
channels in their various red and white forms (the concentrations of the
white nuclei at the crown and the red nuclei at the navel play key roles in
"lower" contemplation techniques). These conventional seminal nuclei
ultimately all stem from the "white and red" nuclei initially inherited
from one's father (white) and mother (red) at conception. Their coarser
forms are the material sexual fluids involving the male's white sperm
and the female's red blood / ovum, such that both their subtle and coarse
forms play the key role in sexual sensation, intercourse and orgasm.
For those who do not have any trust or belief in the significance and
importance of the ultimate luminous nuclei or spiritual concerns in gen-
eral (which are not immediately manifest to reason or experience),
working with the conventional nuclei (whose role in sexuality provide
an easily accessible path to their dynamics) is an alternative means to
engage them on the path. Thus they can be gradually led to see the real-
ity and importance of the ultimate nuclei, and overcome their initial
dispar agement of any type of spiritual practices concerning the non-
material (which they otherwise confuse with the "immaterial"). For this
reason kLong chen rab 'byarns pa briefly outlines the techniques of sex-
ual yoga, but does not go into any detail since these lower order con-
templations are not actually part of the system of Great Perfection medi-
tation proper. In kLong chen rab 'byams pa's other Great Perfection
writings, however, sexual yoga is discussed in extensive detail, purport-
edly as a popular and efficacious means to help people enter the spiritual
path who would otherwise be disinterested or bewildered by the prac-
tices of breakthrough and direct transcendence. Needless to say, tre
rhetorical disclaimers do not exorcise such practices from the system,
but rather situate them within it in particular ways. The final paragraph
refers to subtle body contemplations such as sexual yogas which involve
complicated physical movements, complex forced visualizations, diffi-
cult breathing techniques and so on which forcibly "bind" and restrict
our energies to prevent ordinary neurotic thought activity, none of which
play a part in Great Perfection contemplation. In particular "yogic exer-
cises" (' phrul 'khar, yantra) refer to various physical postures and
movements performed along with certain patterns of breathing (ranging
from simple to near impossible), which are designed to manipulate our
body's internal energies (i. e. the seminal nuclei and wind-currents);
"visualization" (dmigs pa) indicates the various visualizations utilized in
the channel-winds practices of the lower vehicles, which are contrived in
their forcible manipulation and concentration of physical and psychic
energy. In contrast to this, direct transcendence contemplation involves
only very simple postures and gazes, while the focal object is self-mani-
fest visions (snang ba) spontaneously unfolding without any fabricated
visualizations. kLong chen rab 'byams pa thus contrasts these two con-
templative systems both in terms of their techniques and the desired
"fruit" or "climax": the Great Perfection involves very simple, natural
postures and spontaneous visions rather than difficult contortions and
forced artificial visualizations, while the ultimate goal is a "body of light"
wherein all corporeality dematerializes rather than simply sensations of
bliss and concentration within our current corporeal body. As for being
"unshakable" from the body's "way oflooking" or "watChing postures,"
these are explained 263 as the three "postures" or "looks" which the body
should remain within without any wavering. Together with speech
being unshakable from silence and mind being unshakable from undis-
tracted non-conceptual gazing at the center of the open sky, they form
the three modes of being "unshakable" in direct transcendence contem-
plation. In general, the key points of this contemplation simply empha-
size being "unwavering" in the sense of remaining within a calm, natural
263. Ibid., 375.6-7.
324 JIABS 17.2
state of quiet disturbed by neither the ordinary turbulence of neurotic
activity nor strenuous yogic contortions.
I will conclude with a brieflook at a very interesting section of a text
written by gTer bdag gling pa (1646-1714) entitled gTer chen chos ki
rgyaZ po gter bdag gling pa gar dbang 'gyur med rdo rje'i zhaZ snga
nas mchog sman mams kyis dri ba sna tshogs pa 'i Zan rim par speZ ba
rin chen phreng ba (chab shog) (The Garland of Answers to Various
Questions with the Supreme Medicine).264 This particular reply is
ostensibly written in response to inquiries as to the difference between
the Great Seal and Great Perfection traditions. In understanding this
text, it is essential to keep in mind that gTer bdag gling pa lived during
times when Nyingma traditions had fallen upon hard times in Central
Tibet, and that he was a key figure in stimulating their reviVal. He dis-
cusses the Great Perfection in terms of the standard three Series, which
he individually correlates to particular modernist yogic systems. Despite
his acknowledgment of a certain surface similarity, he stresses critical
differences that he perceives between the two members of each dyad.
The Mind Series is associated with the Great Seal, with the major differ-
ence being that the latter seals external objects located "thither" in the
field of our experience, while the former ascertains the subject located
"hither," mind-as-such, empty awareness' original purity. The Space
Series is then associated with, and differentiated from, "the five stages,"
the popular systematization of perfection phase techniques deriving from
Nagarjuna's exegetical work on the Guhyasamiija Tantra. He specifies
that the similarity is in their common focus on radiant light (' od gsal),
while the difference lies in the latter's forceful binding of the internal
winds in contrast to the latter's no-activity praxis divested of any such
objectifications or forced foci. The Esoteric Precept Series then is asso-
ciated with the "six yogas" (sbyor drug), an important systematization of
perfection phase techniques also deriving from the Guhyasamiija Tantra
literature. The similarity lies in the emphasis on light visions, while the
difference is again presented in terms of "exertion" and "stress": the
latter utilizes sexual practices and forcefully binds the winds into tre
body's central channel, while the latter involves releasing all such willful
manipulation, and instead perceiving the self-radiant abiding reality in
264. This text is written in the forms of questions and answers; this partic-
ular section can be found at 345.6-357.6.
sensory immediacy. He als0
stresses the importance of how the Eso-
teric Precept Series' exegetical traditions with its own unique terminol-
ogy had been maintained through kLong chen rab 'byams pa's efforts
without becoming mixed up with other esoteric yogic traditions such as
the Great Seal.
. While the Great Perfection represents one of the most interesting, com-
plex' and vital set of contemplative / scholastic traditions in Tibetan reli -
gion, until recently in Euro-American circles 266 it was largely known for
its controversial claims to non-Tibetan roots, its supposed anti-nomian
rejection of normative Buddhist categories and its mystic emphasis on an
arguably phenomenological notion of awareness' bare simplicity. In
particular, there has been a persistent tendency to literalize its rhetoric,
ignoring the complex ways in which a language of denial can function
on the ground. This has led many casual observers to assume these
movements involved a paradoxical rejection of formal contemplation, or
intense adherence to simple contemplative techniques with neither
serious intellectual inquiry nor a corresponding production of complex
literature. There have also been few non-traditional attempts to account
for the internal dynamics of the growth and transformation of these
traditions over time, perhaps in part because the seeming absence of
rigor would appear to entail a lack of historical dynamism and change.
The common thread of these misunderstandings has ancient roots in
Tibetan Buddhist polemics, namely that an emphasis on process dynam-
ics and the organismic intelligence of the unconscious at the expense of
established normative structures often rhetorically appears to others as
265. Ibid., 351.6.
266. I am aware of the inadequacies of the term "Euro-American" with re-
gards to scholarship as opposed to contrasting "modem" to "traditional" to
acknowledge the contemporary work of Japanese, Indians and other ethnic
groups. However I do not think that my current usage implies restricting par-
ticipation in privileged "modernism" to Europeans and North Americans, and
I worry that using the term modernism broadly can legitimize evolutionary
strategies put forward implicitly by many authors to privilege their own cul-
tural world views, as well as contribute to the stigmatization of discourses
and practices that do not seem to belong to our collective illusion of
326 JIABS 17.2
deviating into simplistic chaos or even inaction (bya bral). To articulate
a quite different vantage point viewing these traditions as located in the
dangerous yet stimulating oscillation between architecture (structure,
images, the intellect) and absence (process, emptiness, the body), my
present inquiry has centered around the issues of rhetorical negation and
contemplative practice in the early Mind Series (sems sde) traditions, the
emergence of the Seminal Heart (snying thig) movement within that
matrix, and the relation of both to the tantric categories and practices
forming their overarching background. I have thus traced the general
outlines of the true heterogeneity and interrelationships of the move-
ments that went under the rubric of the Great Perfection in Tibet from
the ninth to fourteenth centuries,their complex relationships to the tantric
categories and practices being imported by other groups under the ban-
ner of "modernism," their intricate balancing act between architecture
and absence, and the deep human significance of what at first may seem
abstruse issues.
Tibetan and Sanskrit works
Note: "Kaneko" refers to the numbers given works in the gTing skyes edition
of the rNying rna rgyud 'bum in Kaneko 1982.
Kun byed rgyal po. Kaneko 1. See Neumaier-Dargyay 1992 for a translation
and Lipman 1987 for a translation of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's
Kun bzang bla rna'i zhal lung by dPal sprul 0 rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi
dbang po. Chengdu: Sichuan Minorities Press (1988). See Kazi 1989 for
kLong chen snying thig by , Jigs med gling pa. Published in three volumes.
New Delhi: Ngawang Sopa (1973); I-Tib 73-904268. See Goodman 1983
for a study of this cycle.
kLong gsal. As cited in kLong chen rab 'byams pa's Zab mo yang thig (vol.
1,473.3,478.4,487.6 and so on), this text is found in vol. 24 ("Ra") of
the contemporary print of the rNying ma rgyud 'bum available in sDe dge
(344a.I-361b.7) with the title Kun tu bzang rna klong gsal nyi ma'i gsang
rgyud. The colophon identifies it as transcribed by Ye shes mtsho rgyal
from Padmasambhava's words.
Khrid yig ye shes bla mao This text is found in the kLong chen snying thig.
mKha' 'gro snying thig. This cycle is found in the sNying thig ya bzhi.
mKha' 'gro yang tig. This cycle is found in the sNying thig ya bzhi.
Grub mtha' mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
dGongs pa zang thaI by Rig 'dzin rgod kyi Idem 'phru can. Published as
volumes 60-64 of the Smanrtsis shes rig spendzod. Leh, Ladakh: S. W.
Tashigangpa (1973).
rGyud bcu bdun. Kaneko 143-159. Also published separately in a three
volume edition based on the Adzom blocks; New Delhi, India: Sanje
DoIje (1973). The individual titles are as follows: sGra thaI 'gyur, bKra
shis mdzes klan, Kun tu bzang po thugs kyi me long, sGron ma 'bar ba,
rDo rje sems dpa' snying gi me long, Rig pa rang shar, Nor bu phra
bkod, Ngo sprod spras pa, kLong drug, Yi ge med pa, Seng ge rtsal
rdzogs, Mu tig phreng ba, Rig pa rang grol, Rin chen spungs pa, sKu
gdung 'bar ba, Nyi zla kha sbyor, and rDzogs pa rang byung.
rGyud 'bum of Vairocana. Published as volumes 16-23 of the Smanrtsis
shesrig spendzod. Leh, Ladakh: S. W. Tashigangpa (1971). I-Tib 70-
sGyu ma ngal gso. This text is found in Ngal gso skor gsum (vol. 2, 547-
Ngal gso skor gsum by kLong chen rab 'byams pa. 4 volumes. Gangtok,
Sikkim: Dodrup Chen Rinpoche (1973). Page references are from the
enlarged reprint of this edition in India which I obtained in 1988 in three
volumes without any additional publishing information. This trilogy is an
interlocking series of three root texts, which has been translated by
Guenther (1975-6): the Sems nyid ngaZ gso (vol. 1,1-111), bSam gtan
ngal gso (vol. 3, 1-25), and sGyu ma ngal gso (vol. 2, 547-579). Each has
its own lengthy auto-commentary: the Shing rta chen po (vol. 1, 112-729
and vol. 2, 1-381), Shing rta mam dag (vol. 3, 35-126) and the Shing rta
bzang po (vol. 2, 593-761). In addition each has a "practical guidance"
(don khrid) presentation of its associated contemplative system: the Byang
chub lam bzang (vol. 2, 441-546), Yid bzhin nor bu (vol. 2, 761-766) and
sNying po bcud bsdus (vol. 3, 126-130).
Ngal gso skar gsum gyi spyi don legs bshad rgya mtsho. This text is found
in Ngal gso skor gsum (vol. 3, 131-244).
ehos dbying s mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
Chos 'byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud by Nyang ral nyi rna 'od
zero Volume 5 of the series entitled, Gangs can rig mdzod. Lhasa, Tibet:
the People's Publishing House of Tibet (1988).
'Jam dpal gyi mtshan yang dag par brjod pa (Mafljusri nama sa1Jtgiti). See
Davidson 1981 for an edition of the Sanskrit and a translation.
'Jam dpal zhallung by BuddhaSrijiianapada. Toh. 1853-4. The full title is
('Phags paY 'jam dpal (gyi de kho no nyid sgrub pa'i) zhal lung
(Dvikramatattvabhlivananamamukhligama). There is also a shorter version
entitled Maiijusrimukhligama.
328 JIABS 17.2
Nyi rna' i snying po by rTse Ie sna tshogs rang grol. The Tibetan text I have
is without any publishing information, and is in dbu can with fifty five
folios. This has been translated by Schmidt as The Circle of the Sun and
by Guenther in Meditation Differently.
rNying rna bka' rna rgyas pa. Editor Dudjom Rinpoche; 55 volumes.
KaIimpong, WB: Dubjung Lama (1982). I-Tib 82-900981.
rNying rna rgyud 'bum. There are currently a number of different editions of
this basic collection of the N yingma Tantras circulating, among which exist
considerable differences (Dharma Publishing under Tarthang TuIku' s direc-
tion [Berkeley, CAl is apparently currently attempting to systematically
gather all variations together in order to publish a delmitive edition). The
36 volume gTing skyes edition printed by Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche in
Thimphu, Bhutan (1973; Bhu-Tib 73-903590) has been catalogued by E.
Kaneko (1982). In addition there is the mTsham sbrag edition in 46 vol-
umes, printed by the National Library, Royal government of Bhutan in
Thimphu, Bhutan (1982; Bhu-Tib 82-902165).
sNyan brgyud kyi rgyab chos zab don gnad kyi me long. This text is found
in the 'hlb rna yang tig vol. 2, 153-494.
sNying thig ya bzhi by miscellaneous authors. All page references are from
the eleven volume edition. New Delhi: published by TruIku Tsewang,
Jamyang and L. Tashi (1971). The current redaction has five sections,
despite its title: the bLa rna yang tig by kLong chen rab 'byams pa (vols.
1); mKha' 'gro snying thig by Padmasambhava (vols. 2-3); mKha' 'gro
yang tig by kLong chen rab 'byams pa (vols. 4-6); Bi rna snying thig by
VimaIamitra and other early Great Perfection Masters (vo1s. 7-9); and 'hlb
rna yang tig by kLong chen rab 'byams pa (vols. 10-11).
sNying thig Zo rgyus chen mo by Zhang ston bkra shis rdo Ije (?). This text
is found in the Bi m snying thig (voI. 3, 1-179). See Valby 1983 for a
partial translation.
sNying po bcud bsdus. This text is found in the NgaZ gsa skar gsum vol. 3,
gTer chen chos ki rgyaZ po gter bdag gZing pa gar dbang 'gyur med rdo rje'i
zhaZ snga nas mchog sman rnams kyis dri ba sna tshogs pa'i Zan rim par
speZ ba Tin chen phreng ba (chab shog by gTer bdag gling pa. This text
is found in the Collected religious instructions and letters of gTer-bDag-
gLing-Pa-'Gyur-Med-rDo-rJe (159-493). Dehra Dun: D. G. Khochhen
Tulku (1977). I-Tib 78-9000434.
bsTan bcos kyi dkar chag Tin po che'i mdzod khang by kLong chen rab
'byams pa. kLong chen rab 'byams pa produced this partial catalogue of
his own works included in some editions of his gSung thor bu (I obtained
mine from the modern day Derge edition) while residing in Bhutan at Bum
thang thar pa gZing.
Thig Ie kun gsal. Kaneko 81 as well as volume "Pa" of the mTshams brag
edition of the rNying ma rgyud 'bum (296.6-492.5).
Thig Ie rgya can: this text is found in thekLong chen snying thig (vol. 2,
Theg mcJwg mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
mThar thug don gyi snying po. This text is found in the Zab mo yang tig
vol. 1, 293.6-307.6.
Deb ther sngon po by 'Gos 10 tsa ba gzhon nu dpal. Two volumes. Chengdu:
Sichuan Minorities Press (1974). See Roerich 1976 for a translation.
gDams ngag mdzod. 12 volumes. Delhi: N. Lungtok and N. Gyaltsan (1971).
mDo dgongs 'dus pa. Kaneko 160.
gNam chos by Mi ' gyur rdo rje. 13 volumes. Paro, Bhutan: published by
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Perna Norbu Rinpoche (1983). Bhu-Tib 84-
gNas lugs mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
Padma bka' thang by 0 rgyan gling pa. Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities
Press (1987). See Douglas 1978 for a very erratic translation of the Tibetan
via Toussaint's original French translation.
Phyogs bcu'i mun pa thams cad rnam par sel ba by kLong chen rab 'byams
pa. Published as volume 26 of the rNying ma bka' ma rgyas pa. It has
been translated in its entirety by Gyurme Dorje. It is also the subject of a
difficult, yet at times brilliant, study by Herbert Guenther (The Matrix of
'Phags pa 'jam dpal dbyangs kyi zhal lung gi 'grel pa (Sukusumanllma-
mukhllgamav.rtti) by Vitapada. Toh. 1866.
Bar do thos grol revealed by Kar ma gling pa. I have referred to a version in
a small size 549 page Tibetan edition of the Zhi khro rang grol printed on
January first 1985 in India. See translations in Freemantle 1987 and
Thurman 1993.
Bi ma snying thig This cycle is found in the sNying thig ya bzhi.
Byang chub kyi sems kun byed rgyal po'i don khrid rin chen sgru bo by
kLong Chen Rab 'Byams Pa. This text is found in Ngal gso skor gsum
(vol. 4, 142-177 of the 1973 edition-I have utilized the former). See
Lipman 1987 for a translation.
Byang chub lam bzang. This text is found in the NgaZ gso skor gsum (vol.
bLa ma yang tig. This cycle is found in the sNying thig ya bzhi.
Man ngag Ita ba'i phreng ba by Padmasambhava. See Karmay 1988 for an
edition of the Tibetan text (163-171) as well as a translation (152-163).
See Dowman 1994 for a second translation.
Mun sel skor gsum by kLong chen rab 'byams pa See the Phyogs bcu mun
sel for its separate listing. The other two texts in this trilogy are (i) the
bsDus don ma rig mun pa thams cad sel ba published in volume 27 of the
330 JIABS 17.2
rNying ma bka' ma rgyas pa; also a xylographic edition published by
Sonam Kazi (1973); I(Sik)-Tib 73-905823; and (ii) sPyi don legs bshad
snang bas yid kyi mun pa thams cad sel ba published in volume 27 of the
rNying ma bka' ma rgyas pa; also a xylographic edition published by
Sonam Kazi (1973); I(Sik)-Tib 73-905821.
Tshig don mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
mDzod kyi Ide mig by the third rDo grub chen, 'jigs pa'i bstan pa'i nyi rna.
This text is found in volume m of The Collected Works (gSun 'bum) of
rDo grub chen 'jigs med bstan pa'i fiyi mao Gangtok: reproduced by
Dodrup Chen Rimpoche. I(Sik)-Tib 74-901179.
mDzod bdun by kLong chen rab 'byams pa. All page references are to the
six volume edition; Gangtok, Sikkim: published by Sherab Gyaltsen and
Khyentse Labrang (1983). 1-Tib 83-905058. While three of these texts con-
sist of root verses with separately titled lengthy auto-commentary, I have
made no distinction between these two elements in my page references.
Zab don rgya mtsho'i sprin. This text is found in the mKha' 'gro yang tig
(vol 2, 1-488).
Zab mo phra khrid. This text is found in the Zab mo yang tig (vol. 1, 369-
Zab mo yang tig. This cycle is found in the sNying thig ya bzhi.
Yid bzhin nor bu. This text is found in Ngal gso skor gsum (vol. 2, 761-
Yid bzhin mdzod. This text is one of the mDzod bdun.
Yon tan mdzod by 'Jigs med gling pa. This is found in vols. 1-2 of the
'Jigs med gling pa'i gsung 'bum, which is itself vols. 29-37 (1970
onwards) of the Ngagyur rNying may Sungrab. Gangtok, Sikkim: pub-
lished by Sonam T. Kazi. I(Sik)-Tib 74-917093. It is also found in vol-
ume 38 of the rNying ma bka' ma rgyas pa. It is also published sepa-
rately-Bodnath, Nepal: Ngagyur Dojod Ling (1981). N-Tib 82-902339.
Rang grol skor gsum by kLong chen rab 'byams pa. These texts are pub-
lished with the Ngal gso skor gsum (see below, vol. 3). The three root
texts are as follows: the Sems nyid rang grol (vol. 3, 251-284), Chos nyid
rang grol (vol. 3, 310-329) and mNyam nyid rang grol (vol. 3,349-376).
The fIrst text has a "practical guidance" (don khrid) on it entitled Lam rim
snyingpo (vol. 3, 284-306). See Guenther 1975 for a translation of the
fIrst versifIed root text of the trilogy. This was retranslated by Thondup
(1989; 316-354), who also tr'dllslated its "practical guidance" (355-374).
Shing rta chen po. This text is found in the Ngal gso skor gsum (vol. 1,
112-729 and vol. 2, 1-381).
Shing rta rnam par dag pa. This text is found in the Ngal gso skor gsum
(vol. 3, 35-126).
Sems nyid ngal gso. This text is found in Ngal gso skor gsum. (vol. 1, 1-
Sems sde bco brgyad. There is disagreement over the precise identification of
the eighteen, but most titles can be found in volume 1 of the gTing skyes
edition of the rNying rna rgyud 'bum. See Karmay 1988, 23-4, for details.
See Lipman's Primordial Experience for a translation I study of one text
and Karmay 1988,41-59, for a translation I study of another.
gSang 'grel phyogs bcu'i mun sel gyi spyi don 'od gsal snying po by Mi
pham 'jam dbyangs rnam rgyal rgya mtsho. I have referred to a contempo-
rary xylographic print without any printing information or date.
gSang chen rgyud sde bzhi'i sa lam gyi rnam gzhag rgyud gzhung gsal byed
by Ngag dbang dpalldan. This text is found in volume 2 of The Collected
Works of Chos rje ngag dbang dpal ldan of Urga. Delhi: Mongolian
Lama Gurudeva (1983). 1-Tib-83-905048.
gSang ba snying po (Guhyagarbha Tantra). Kaneko 187. See DOlje 1987
for a critical edition of the Tibetan (the Sanskrit original no longer exists),
and English translation of kLong chen rab 'byams pa's extensive commen-
tary on the tantra.
gSang ba 'dus pa (Guhyasamaja Tantra). The Sanskrit text is in The
Guhyasamaja Tantra edited by Yukei Matsunaga Osaka: Toho Shuppan,
Inc. (1978). P81. Toh 442.
gSung thor bu by Kun mkhyen klong chen pa dri med 'od zero Two vol-
umes. Delhi, India: Sanje Dorje (1973).
bSam gtan ngal gso. This text is found in Ngal gso skor gsum (vol. 3, 1-
bSam gtan mig sgron by gNubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes. Reproduced by
'Khor-gdon gter-sprul 'chi-med-rig-'dzin as vol. 74 of the Smanrtsis shes
rig spendzod. Leh, Ladakh: S. W. Tashigangpa (1974). I-Tib 74-
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Understanding Chih-i:
Through a glass, darkly?
Neal Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson. 1993. The Great Calming
and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First
Chapter of Chih-i's Mo-ho chih-kuan. A Kuroda Institute Book.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. xx: 388 pp.
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University of Hawaii Press. xviii: 254 pp.
Recent Trends
The appearance of these two volumes in 1993 reflects the emer-
gence of a strong core of T'ien-t'ai specialists in the West,
and shows that T'ien-t'ai Buddhism is finally getting a fair and
deserved hearing. After a long hiatus following the pioneering
work of Leon Hurvitz (1960), we have seen in the last few years
the publication of David Chappell's translation of the T'ien-t'ai
ssu-chiao-i (1983), Paul Groner's study of Saich6
(1984), and my study and partial translation (1989) of the Fa-hua
hsuan-i [T. #1716]; important articles on Chih-i by
Donner (1987) and Stevenson (1986); and in French the study
and translation of Gishin's Tendai hokke shugi shu
by Jean-Noel Robert (1990).2 T'ien-ta'i was the theme of a
l. Or Tiantai; Jpn. Tendai. Henceforth, for simplicity's sake, the term "T'ien-
t'ai" will be used to refer to the entire East Asian development of this tradition,
including Korea and Japan.
2. The Hokke shugi shu (Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School) is a
survey ofT'ien-t'ai teachings by aJapanese Tendai monk in the 9th century. It
consists mostly of excerpts from Chih-i's writings, and thus serves as a handy
338 JIABS 17.2
major panel at the 1993 Annual Conference of the American
Academy of Religion, on "Living Words: Scriptural Trans-
formation and Meaning in Tiantai,"3 and there appear to be
graduate students majoring in T'ien-t'ai in the wings.
In the
meantime Kosei Publishing Co. in Tokyo has been sponsoring a
project to translate the full text of the Mo-ho chih-kuan
(T 1911) (see Swanson 1991).5 There has also been a spate of
Mo-ho chih-kuan translations in modern Japanese recently-
Muranaka Yusho (1988) has translated the first three fascicles,
and Nitta Masaaki (1989) just the first two fascicles. Kanno
Hiroshi (1992) has published a short study and annotated trans-
lation of the first part of the fifth fascicle. Ikeda Rosan's com-
plete translation in three volumes is scheduled for publication
beginning in 1995. A complete index of all terms in the Mo-ho
chih-kuan has been published (see Yamada 1985), as well as an
index to the texts quoted by Chih-i in the Mo-ho chih-kuan (see
Chugoku Bukkyo Kenkylikai 1986).6
In this review article I will examine the contents of these two
impressive books by Donner/Stevenson and Ng, and use this as
an opportunity to reflect on the role of traditional T'ien-t'ai exe-
gesis (especially that of Chan-jan rlr&, 711-782), in under-
standing Chih-i (538-597), the founder of T'ien-t'ai
Buddhism. In short, I will argue for attempting a more direct
reading of Chih-i's work, in light of the possible pitfalls of relying
too heavily on traditional commentaries and interpretations.
introduction to Chih-i's work. On this subject see Swanson 1985. My English
translation of the Hokke shugi shu is scheduled for publication by the Numata
Center in 1995.
3. Chaired by Stanley Weinstein, with papers by Stevenson, Swanson, Linda
Penkower, and Daniel Getz; with a response by David Chappell.
4. See, for example, the article by Brook Ziporyn (1994) in JIABS 17.l.
5. As of the fall of 1994, first drafts have been completed by Robert (French)
and Swanson (English) for up to halfway through the fourth (of ten) fascicles,
with plans for a limited publication upon completion of the fourth fascicle.
6. Significant recent Japanese publications on T'ien-t'ai chih-kuan include
Yamauchi Shun'yii's study (1986) on T'ien-t'ai chih-kuan and the development
of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, and Ono Hideto's study (1994) on Chih-i's medita-
tion manuals and the early development of chih-kuan practice.
7. My comments are directed also to recent modern Japanese translations of
Donner and Stevenson on the Mo-ho chih-kuan
First, The Great Calming and Contemplation is a substantial rework-
ing by Daniel Stevenson of Neal Donner's already superb transla-
tion of the first two fascicles of Chih-i's Mo-ho chih-kuan (T 1911,
46.1-140), submitted as a Ph. D. dissertation in 1976. The trans-
lation is preceded by three highly informative essays, all of great
importance to T'ien-t'ai specialists and valuable also for scholars
in East Asian Buddhism. The care and effort that go into a vol-
ume such as this, and especially to do it right, are immeasurable.
Both authors are to be commended highly for this significant
and handsome contribution. And one must not forget the edi-
tors, whose oft-overlooked work is crucial for bringing such a
project to completion-it is clear that steady editorial hands
guided this volume.
Chapter 1, "The text of the Mo-ho chih-kuan," outlines the
importance of the Mo-ho chih-kuan as one of the central texts of
T'ien-t'aiBuddhism, and puts it in its context with other texts by
Chih-i. There is also a good discussion of the main themes of the
Mo-ho chih-kuan: the binome chih-kuan ll::lm (the Chinese transla-
tion of samatha-vipasyana, but with additional nuances); the
three truths and three discernments; and the four teachings and
the perfect and sudden path. Finally, there is a summary of the
contents of the Mo-ho chih-kuan, with a focus on the first two fas-
cicles (traditionally known as 'The Synopsis") that are translated
in this volume.
Chapter 2, "The status of the Mo-ho chih-kuan in the T'ien-t'ai
tradition," is an insightful essay on how the Mo-ho chih-kuan has
been understood and used historically in the T'ien-t'ai tradition.
The essay rightly focuses on Chanjan, the sixth T'ien-t'ai patri-
arch, whose leadership and commentaries on Chih-i's work set
the course for subsequent T'ien-t'ai activity. As Stevenson points
out, "Chanjan's emphasis on the patriarchal vision and his
identification of that vision with the Mo-ho chih-kuan recast the
the Mo-ho chih-kuan such as Nitta 1989, Muranaka 1988, and the yet unpub-
lished full translation by Ikeda Rosan (forthcoming; scheduled for 1995).
Given Ikeda's strong advocacy of relying on Chanjan for understanding the
Mo-ho chih-kuan in previous publications (see Ikeda 1986), I assume that his
translation will be strongly colored by traditional exegesis.
340 JIABS 17.2
T'ien-t'ai spiritual enterprise in profoundly new ways.. . Thus
the hermeneutical principles and the view of text, canon, and
tradition laid down by Chanjan-epitomized above all in his
monumental commentaries to Chih-i's 'three great texts on the
Lotus'8-came to serve as the basis of later T'ien-t'ai orthodoxy"
(1993,48-51). The essay also traces the ritualized use of texts in
Sung monastic life, concluding that "what this meant for the Mo-
ho chih-kuan and other works of the sectarian canon was that
access and interpretation were tightly controlled by the monas-
tic elite .... This involved a lengthy tenure at the feet of an
acknowledged master and was earned only through demonstrat-
ed mastery of the exegetical norms and attendant ethos of nor-
mative tradition. While this did not necessarily obviate individual
growth and creativity, it did ensure that that innovation
remained carefully ensconced within certain prescribed social
and cultural contexts" (1993, 61). I will return to this point later.
Chapter 3, "The problematic of the Mo-ho chih-kuan and T'ien-
t'ai history," discusses problems in interpreting the "vexatious
text" of the Mo-ho chih-kuan. It is structured on the T'ien-t'ai
emphasis of a balance between teaching and practice, and shows
how this balance shifted in terms of doctrines, ritual, and prac-
tice in the T'ien-t'ai tradition. It includes a perceptive discussion
of the "home-mountain" LlJ* and "off-mountain" debates of
the Sung. To put it too simply, "the off-mountain position is
characterized by the tendency to read Chih-i and Chanjan from
a strongly tathagatagarbha-oriented perspective" (1993, 86),
while Chih-li (960-1028), the spokesman for the home-
mountain, insisted on a greater regard "for patriarchal prece-
dent set forth in such works as the Mo-ho chih-kuan and Chih-i's
ritual manuals" (1993, 88).
The above summaries pick up only a few main points of these
rich essays, which serve as strong supporting material for the
core of this work which is, of course, the annotated translation of
8. This is a traditional phrase used in the T'ien-t'ai school to refer to the three
texts of the Mo-ho chih-kuan, Fa-hua hsiian-i, and Fa-hua wen-chii (T. 1718), but it
is more accurate to refer to them as the "three ,great works of T'ien-t'ai."
Strictly speaking, the Mo-ho chih-kuan is not a commentary on the Lotus Sutra,
and it is a misrepresentation to refer to it as such.
the Mo-ho chih-kuan. Let me say first concerning the translation
that it is lucid and accurate, and the notes very useful (though
sometimes, perhaps limited by publication restraints, too brief).
This is a translation that is most suited to that hoary old book-
review cliche that it "should be on'the shelves of everyone in the
field. "
Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, and, as
every translator knows, more than one way a text can be proper-
ly rendered, especially a "vexatious" and notoriously ambiguous
text like the Mo-ho chih-kuan. To illustrate differences in style and
vocabulary, I will give first Donner's original translation in his
dissertation and then Stevenson's reworking, followed by other
translations, of a passage from the early part of the Mo-ho chih-
kuan (T 46.2b12-17):
0 0 1llftft Jl'uHtftm 0
/fJ}]ttEo oi&1J iii)]
Hence we cite the dragon-king (niiga) as an illustration. In height
he compasses the six heavens (of the Realm of Desire), and in
breadth reaches across the (above-mentioned) four continents. He
raises all manner of clouds, wields all manner of thunder, flashes all
manner of lightning and causes all manner of rain to fall, and (does
it) without budging from his own palace. His activity appears differ-
ent to everyone (who sees him). This is what a bodhisattva is like.
Having attained internally and for himself full realization of (the
Ultimate Truth which is simultaneously) identical to Emptiness,
Provisionality and the Middle, he (is able), without disturbing the
Dharma-nature (dharmatii) , to (externally) cause (animate beings) to
gain a variety of benefits and engage in a variety of activities (while
enlightened). This is what is called "establishing animate beings (in
the Dharma by means of his) perfect energy."
(Donner 1976, 50)
Hence we cite the dragon-king as an illustration. In height he
encompasses the six heavens of the realm of desire and in breadth
reaches across the four continents. He raises all manner of clouds,
wields all manner of thunder, flashes all manner of lightning, and
causes all manner of rain to fall, all without budging from his own
palace. His activity appears different to everyone who sees him. This
is what a bodhisattva is like. Having attained internally for himself full
342 JIABS 17.2
realization of the simultaneous identity of emptiness, provisionality,
and the middle, he is able, without disturbing the dharma-nature,
externally to cause animate beings to gain a variety of benefits and
engage in a variety of activity [to effect their salvation]. This is what is
called "establishing animate beings in the dharma by means of his
perfect energy."
(Stevenson 1993, 117)
One can see how Stevenson has smoothed out the prose, while
compromising somewhat the technical need for brackets to indi-
cate terms that are not explicitly in the text. Donner also con-
tains more detailed notes to this passage that are not included by
Stevenson, and he is more concerned with identifying technical
terms, a style consistent with a doctoral dissertation. The result
of Stevenson's reworking is a text that is lucid and flows natural-
ly. Let us compare it with another translation:
... [The Dragon King] makes various kinds of clouds, thunder,
lightning, and rain. The Dragon stays in his own palace, yet he is able
to make all of these without the slightest movement himself. The
bodhisattva is likewise. Penetrating into the identity of Emptiness, the
Provisional and the Middle Way, he enables [sentient beings] to
obtain various kinds of benefit and acquire various kinds of abilities,
yet with no effect on the Dharma Nature. This is called "putting sen-
tient beings into correct places with the perfect function."
(Ng 1993, 70)
This translation suffers from stilted phrasing and overly literal
translation of technical terms, and so does not convey the majes-
tic cadence of the original.
I also have access to translations of the Mo-ho chih-kuan now
being prepared as part of a project to translate the complete text
into Western languages (see Swanson 1991). Both are first drafts
subject to revision before final publication:
Therefore let us take up the analogy of the Dragon King: In height
[his power] encompasses the six heavens [of the realms of desire],
and in breadth [his power] spans the four continents. He arouses all
manner of clouds, manipulates all manner of thunder, flashes all
manner of lightning, and causes all manner of rain to fall. The
Dragon [King does all this] while in his own palace, immobile and
secure, and yet his activity appears different to all. The bodhisattva is
also like this. Internally he has himself fully consummated [the truth
of] the identity of emptiness, conventionality, and the Middle, and
[on the basis of] the unmoving nature of reality (dharmatii) he can
lead [sentient beings] to acquire all manner of benefits and attain all
manner of functions [that lead to Buddhahood]. This is called "per-
fect power that functions to establish sentient beings [in the truth]."
(trans. by Paul Swanson)
On pourra donc prendre pour exemple Ie roi des dragons: verti-
calement, il embrasse les cieux des six dieux, horizontalement, il s'e-
tend aux quatre regions. 11 sus cite les nuees dans leur diversite, il
provoque toutes les especes de tonnerre, il fait luire toutes les sortes
d'eclair, il fait tomber la grande variete des pluies. Or Ie dragon,
dans son palais, ne se meut ni ne s'ebranle et cependant il dispense a
tous des dons qui ne sont pas identiques. 11 en va de meme pour Ie
bodhisattva. 11 est interieurement parvenu aux identifications a la
vacuite, a la conditionnalite et a la medianite et, sans cependant
s'ebranler de la nature de dharma, il permet de gagner toutes les
sortes de bienfaits et d'obtenir toutes les sortes d'operativites. C'est
ce que l'on appelle la parfaite edification des etres en force opera-
(trans. by Jean-Noel Robert)
These translations also show a bent for technical precision,
and I must admit that the Stevenson rendition reads the best
(though I confess to a penchant for my own translations of tech-
nical terms). These different translations also support my convic-
tion, honed over many years of translating various types of texts,
that there is no single "correct" translation, and that differing
translations can be equally "right" (or equally wrong). Stevenson
and Donner's translation is superb, but there's room for remix-
ing and new renditions.
Let us take a look at the opening passage of the Mo-ho chih-
kuan (T 46.1al-7), one of the best known passages of this text.
As above, I will first give Donner's original, then Stevenson's
reworking, and then some other options:
Calming and contemplation (which mean, reversing their
sequence), luminous understanding and tranquility, had not yet
been heard of in former generations, when Chih-i, beginning on the
26th day of the 4th month of the 14th year of K'ai-huang (594 A. D.),
at the Jade-spring monastery in Ching-chou, expounded (this work)
twice a day throughout the summer, compassionately raining down
(his wisdom). Although his desire to preach knew no bounds, he
344 JIABS 17.2
only completed the (section on the) realm of false views, and there-
upon brought to a halt the turning of the wheel of the Dharma, and
did not discourse on the final portion (of the whole work).
Yet drawing water from a stream, one seeks its source, and scenting
an aroma, one traces its origin. The Treatise says, "In my practice I
have not had a teacher." And a sutra says, "I (Sakyamuni) received
the prophecy of Buddhahood from (the Buddha) Dipailkara." A
(secular) writing says, "It is best to have inherent knowledge, but to
acquire it through study is next best." The Buddhist teachings are
vast and subtle. Do they shine of themselves with the heavenly light of
truth, or is their blue derived from an indigo plant?
(Donner 1976, 36)
Calming and contemplation as luminosity and tranquility: [this
teaching] had not yet been heard of in former generations when
Chih-i, beginning on the twenty-sixth day of the fourth month of the
fourteenth year of K'ai-huang (594), at the Jade Spring Monastery
(Yu-ch'uanssu) in Ching-chou, expounded this work twice a day over
the course of the summer, compassionately raining down [his wis-
dom]. Although his desire to preach knew no bounds, once he com-
pleted the section on the sphere of views, he brought to a halt the
turning Of the wheel of the dharma and did not discourse on the
final sections of the work.
Yet drawing water from a stream, one seeks its source, and scenting
an aroma, one traces its origin. The Great Treatise says, "In my practice
I have not had a teacher." Yet a sutra says, "I (Sakyamuni) received
the prophecy of Buddhahood from the Buddha Dipaqlkara." A [secu-
lar] writing says, "Those who are born with knowledge are the high-
est. Next come those who attain knowledge through study." The
Buddhist teachings are a vast and subtle truth. Do they shine of them-
selves with the heavenly light of truth or is their blue derived from
the indigo plant?
(Stevenson 1993, 100)
The following is, I suggest, another possible rendering of the
same passage, often with an alternative reading deliberately cho-
sen to illustrate possible options:
The luminous quiescence of cessation-and-contemplation was
unknown in former ages. The Wise Master [Chih-i] elucidated this
during one summer from the twenty-sixth day of the fourth month of
K'ai-huang 14 [594] of the Great Sui dynasty, at the Yu-ch'uan ssu in
Ching-chou, pouring forth his compassion twice a day. Although his
eloquence was boundless, he completed only through [the section
on the contemplation of] the "objects of [false] views." Thus the
Dharma-wheel ceased turning, and he did not expound on the latter
Yet in drawing water from a stream, one seeks its source, and scent-
ing a fragrance, one traces its origin. The Ta chih tu lun says, "I [the
Buddha] practiced without a teacher."g Yet, a sutra says, "I [Sakya-
muni] received the prediction [of attaining Buddhahood] from
Dipailkara." The Analects says, "One who is born with knowledge is
superior; one who acquires it through study is next best." The
Dharma teachings are vast and sublime; they shine forth sponta-
neously with the truth of Heaven, and [Chih-i's expositon of them] is
like the blue from an indigo plantL which is derived from, but bluer
than, the plant itself].
Many of these phrases need extensive annotation to flush out
their multivalent nuances. The first phrase of eight characters
for example, has traditionally been read in
eight different ways, the subtle differences of which would be dif-
ficult to convey in any English translation po In a note Stevenson
gives a translation of Chanjan's interpretation.
Another key paragraph from the introduction, the "core" of
the Mo-ho chih-kuan that is often chanted in T'ien-t'ai temples, is
a passage on the "perfect and sudden cessation-and-contempla-
tion" (T 46.1c23-2a2):
The perfect and sudden calming-and-contemplation from the very
beginning takes ultimate reality (shih-hsiang) as its object. No matter
what the object of contemplation might be, it is seen to be identical
to the middle. There is here nothing that is not true reality (chen-
shih). When one fixes [the mind] on the dharmadhatu [as object]
and unifies one's mindfulness with the dharmadhatu [as it is], then
there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the middle way. The
same goes for the realm of self, the realm of Buddha, and the realm
of living beings. Since all aggregates (skandha) and sense-accesses
(iiyatana) [of body and mind] are thusness, there is no suffering to
be cast away. Since nescience and the afflictions are themselves iden-
tical with enlightenment (bodhi), there is no origin of suffering to be
eradicated. Since the two extreme views are the middle way and false
9. Or, "My conduct does not require [the recognition of] a teacher."
10. See the extensive note by Sekiguchi Shindai, Makashikan: Zen no shiso genri,
vol. 1 (Tokyo: Iwanami Bunko, 1966), 364-66.
346 JIABS 17.2
views are the right view, there is no path to be cultivated. Since
sarp.sara is identical with nirvana, there is no cessation to be achieved.
Because of the [intrinsic] inexistence of suffering and its origin, the
mundane does not exist; because of the inexistence of the path and
cessation, the supramundane does not exist. A single, unalloyed reality
(shih-hsiang) is all there is-no entities whatever exist outside of it.
That all entities are by nature quiescent (chi) is called "calming"
(chih); that, though quiescent, this nature is ever luminous (chao), is
called "contemplation" (kuan). Though a verbal distinction is made
between earlier and later stages of practice, there is ultimately no
duality, no distinction between them. This is what is called the "per-
fect and sudden calming and contemplation."
(Stevenson 1993, 112-14)
The flow of this translation is broken by the inclusion of numer-
,:"" ous technical terms in parenthesis, a practice that Stevenson usu-
ally avoids. Here, however, it is necessary to identify and differen-
tiate key terms, such as shih-hsiang J{;f and chen-shih ~ J { (both
translated as "Ultimate Reality" in Donner's original). Once
again, the following rendition presents possible alternatives:
The perfect and sudden [method of practicing cessation-and-con-
templation] involves taking the true aspects [of reality] as the object
from the very beginning. Whatever is made to be the object [of con-
templation], it is the Middle; there is nothing that is not truly real.
[When one attains the state of contemplation wherein] reality itself
(dharmadhiitu) is fixed as the object [of cognition and contempla-
tion], and one's thoughts are integrated with reality itself, [then one
realizes that] there is not a single color nor scent that is not the
Middle Way. It is the same for the realm of the individual [mind] ,the
realm of the Buddha, and the world at large [i. e., the "realm of sen-
tient beings"]. All [phenomena experienced through the] aggregates
and senses are thusness [i. e., reality as it is]; therefore there is no
[substantial] suffering that needs to be removed. Since ignorance
and the exhausting dust [of passionate afflictions] are indivisible with
bodhi-wisdom, there is no origin [of suffering, i. e., craving] to be
severed. Since the extreme [dualities] and false views are [indivisible
with] the Middle and the right [views], there is no path to be culti-
vated. Since [this cyclic world of] sarp.sara is [indivisible with]
nirvaI?-a, there is no extinguishing [of craving] to be realized. Since
there is no [substantial] suffering and cause [of suffering], there is
no mundane world [to be transcended]; since there is no path and
no extinction [of craving], there is no transcendent world [to be
gained]. There is purely the single true aspects [ofreality]; there are
no separate things outside these true aspects. For things in them-
selves (dharmatii'; to be quiescent is called "cessation"; to be quiescent
yet ever luminous is called "contemplation." Though earlier and later
[stages] are spoken of, they are neither two nor separate. This is
called perfect and sudden cessation-and-contemplation.
A major difference in my rendering is to use the (admittedly
awkward) term "indivisible" to soften the idea of "identity" JlP in
this passage. (I will return to this topic later with regard to Ng's
book.) Once again, most of Stevenson's notes in this section
quote Chanjan's interpretations of the passage.
If there is one point where I am uncomfortable with Steven-
son's work or approach, it is in the danger of an over reliance on
Chan-jan's commentary. A great many of Stevenson's notes
begin with "Chanjan says" or deal mostly with Chanjan's expla-
nation. All of these notes are informative and helpful, and it is to
Stevenson's credit that he does not use Chanjan's work uncriti-
cally. Also to his credit, Stevenson is aware of having taken this
approach, and in fact has deliberately chosen it. In his preface
he explains (xvi):'
There are two reasons for relying so heavily on [Chanian] .... First, it
is at best tenuous to attempt any systematic reconstruction of the Mo-
ho chih-kuan apart from Chanian's commentary, given the lack of
early materials as well as the enormous impact that Chanian's work
has had on shaping the current text. And second, since Chan-jan's
version of the text and commentary became the normative one for
virtually all of East Asia, adopting his reading at least puts us within
the mainstream oflater T'ien-t'ai exegetical discourse.
These are good reasons, and certainly this is a valid approach.
Chanjan's commentary is often quite useful, and sometimes
even critical for understanding difficult passages.l
However, it
11. To give just one example, Chanjan's commentary provides support for
arguing against "the persistent tendency among Japanese scholars to render
the four characters of chi yuan fa-chieh as 'fIx (or identify) all mental
objects/conditions in (or with) the dharmadhatu'," instead of "fIx your mind
on the dharmadhatu as the o*ct [of meditation]" (Stevenson 1993, 226, note
348 JIABS 17.2
must be said that there are also problems with this approach. By
relying so heavily on Chanjan, there is the danger that we will
see Chih-i only through his eyes, yet is it not preferable (as much
as possible) to encounter Chih-i directly? Besides, quoting Chan-
jan's (or another traditional) commentary sometimes lulls one
into thinking that the ambiguity in Chih-i's texts has been
clarified or adequately explained, when in fact some times it has
not. It also becomes a habit that leads one away from wrestling
directly with Chih-i's text itself.
Another unfortunate byproduct of this approach is that many
of the subjective but fascinating notes in Donner's dissertation
have been omitted. For example, a note by Donner (1976, 185)
to what appears to be a quote from the Heart Sutra (T 46.5b20)
has been omitted in Stevenson (1993, 158). The note reads,
"Verbatim from the Heart Sutra as translated by Kumarajiva (T
251), though this passage happens to be identical to the better-
known translation of Hsuan-tsang (T 252), which postdates
Chih-i.." This anomaly is easily overlooked and could easily be
brushed aside as a casual rewording by Chih-i (a not uncommon
practice, I might add). But on a closer inspection one realizes
that the quote is not from the Heart Sutra at all but from Kumara-
jiva's translation of the Paiicavi'Y(/,sati-siihasrikii-prajiiiipiiramitii-sutra
(T 223, 8.223aI4), or from the quotation of this sutra passage in
the Ta chih tu lun (T 25.327c22). One may well wonder why
Chih-i would quote from the larger sutra or treatise instead of
the more convenient Heart Sutra (if in fact he had the "Heart
Sutra" available) ,especially since Chih-i used Kumarajiva's trans-
lations for almost all of his major texts. This example buttresses
Jan Nattier's argument (1992, 187) that "the so-called Kumara-
jiva version (T 250) ofthe Heart Sutra was created on the basis of
the Ta chih tu lun," and that the "Hsuan-tsang version" is also an
extract from the Paiicavi'Y(/,sati-siihasrikii-prajiiiipiiramitii-sutra-
"that it was first classified simply as a Prajiiaparamita text, in all
probability listed as 'translator unknown,' and that only later-
through its close association with Hsuan-tsang and his activities
in popularizing it-it came to be attributed to him" (1992, 190).
But I digress.
To give another example of Donner's helpful notes just a few
pages later, Stevenson (165, note 132) retains the information
identifying the quote "The afflictions are identical with enlight-
enment; enlightenment is identical with the afflictions," as a pas-
sage from the but omits
Donner's extensive comments on this subject, including an
explanation of the traditional threefold T'ien-t'ai understanding
of this "identity" (Donner, 191).
One final example: in a note on the Vimalak"irti-sutra passage
that "The defilements are the seeds of the Tathagata" (Donner,
397; Stevenson, 316), Stevenson retains the explanation that
"Maiijusri explains here that, just as lotus seeds must be planted
in the mud and will never germinate in empty space, so the
seeds of Buddhahood will flourish only when planted in the mire
of worldly afflictions." However, he leaves out Donner's colorful
(and suggestive) aside that "in truth, the metaphor would be
improved to say that the defilements are the manure for the seeds
of the Tathagata."
Whether the omission of such notes was done for reasons of
space or personal preference (more likely the former), the
effect is the unhappy absence of much useful and stimulating
modern commentary. Like Bob Dylan's unreleased or bootleg
tapes, some of the best and most interesting of Donner's contri-
butions were left out of the final published version. Thus, like
Dylan freaks who collect unreleased versions of the master's
work, dyed-in-the-wool Chih-i aficionados will have to get their
own copy of Donner's dissertation from University Microfilms in
order to have a truly complete T'ien-t'ai collection. Of course
they must have the "official" published version, too. This is a
work that sets a high standard, and paves the way for future work
on Chih-i and the T'ien-t'ai tradition.
Ng on Miidhyamika and Chih-i
Let us now turn to the second book under review, Ng Yu-Kwan's
T'ien-t'ai Buddhism and Early Miidhyamika. This is an intriguing,
careful, and insightful study of Chih-i's ideas and their relation-
ship to Nagarjuna's Madhyamika ideas. Ng argues vociferously
against many standard Japanese and Western interpretations of
Chih-i's work (including my own, e. g., 1989), especially the idea
that the threefold truth and threefold contemplation are the key
concepts in Chih-i's work. Despite our differences of opinion I
found Ng's work informative and challenging; as a result I have
350 JIABS 17.2
modified some of my interpretations, but not others (especially
with regard to buddha-nature). Let us take a look at the contents
of Ng's work and discuss some of the issues raised therein.
In the Introduction (Chapter I) Ng outlines three critical ques-
tions for his study:
1. How does Chih-i understand and criticize Madhyamika's
concepts of emptiness and the middle way?
2. How does Chih-i's "Middle Way-Buddha Nature"12 differ
from Madhyamika's middle way?
3. What are Chih-i's philosophical methods in relation to the
realization of the Middle Way-Buddha Nature, and how
can they be related to Madhyamika?
We can see that one of Ng's major concerns is the question of
buddha-nature, and he states repeatedly that it is a key part of
Chih-i's Buddhism that modern scholars have failed to adequately
address. (More on this later.) He then comments on the Madhya-
mika and T'ien-t'ai sources he uses for his study. Particularly
significant here is Ng's choice of a wide variety of Chih-i's work,
especially the later commentaries in his own hand by Chih-i on
the Vimalak"irti-sutra such as the Wei-ma-ching hsiian-shu (T. 1777)
and Wei-ma-ching lUeh-shu (T. 1778).
Chapter II, "Emptiness and the Middle Way in Madhyamika,"
is a concise and clear discussion ofNagarjuna's Mulamadhyamaka-
kiirikii. One important conclusion Ng reaches is that "the
endeavor to elevate the Middle Way to a level of a Truth higher
than the Truth of Emptiness, as the T'ien-t'ai School does, can-
not be justified from Nagarjuna's standpoint" (1993,31). The
following Chapter III, "Chih-i on Madhyamika," expands on this
point. Ng argues (contra Swanson 1989, 6-8), for the difference
between Nagarjuna and Chih-i rather than their continuity, par-
ticularly with regard to the famous verse 24:18 of the Mula-
Although the Chinese translation of this
12. Ng frequently uses capital letters for key terms such as Middle Way, Buddha
Nature, Emptiness, and Truth.
13. The Sanskrit reads:
yaJ;, prat"ityasamutpadalJ sunyatar[! tar[!
sa prajiiaptirupadaya pratipatsaiva madhyama.
verse easily lent itself to a threefold interpretation-that empti-
ness, conventional names, and the middle way refer back in a
threefold way to causally-arisen dharmas (pratityasamutpiida), Ng
shows that in the Sanskrit original the last two phrases (on con-
ventional names and the middle way) refer back to emptiness.
Ng is correct to point out that Nagarjuna and Chih-i are differ-
ent. I plead guilty to having (in my book) unconsciously, and
uncritically, considered Nagarjuna the "orthodox position" or
"standard" by which to measure others. However, my concern is
(and was) to counteract the view that belittles Chih-i's, or other
Chinese, interpretations because they "deviate" from a strict
adherence to Sanskrit originals. The very fact that Nagarjuna
and Chih-i are separated by time, social background, language,
and culture means that their understanding is necessarily differ-
ent; the question is: in what way are they different? Do they
"deviate" and disagree in a strikingly significant way, or are their
commonalities more significant? Certainly Chih-i's threefold
interpretation of Mulamadhyamaka-kiirikii 24:18 is different from
Nagarjuna's Sanskrit original, but not (I feel) so fundamentally
as to make it a radical break. For Ng, however, the difference is
critical. For him it is a prime example of the difference in inter-
pretation of the middle way between Madhyamika and Chih-i.
For Ng, this difference is best expressed by the phrase, as in
the title of Chapter IV, "Middle Way-Buddha Nature as the
Truth." Ng insistently repeats that "Middle Way-Buddha Nature"
as a positive expression of the middle way, goes beyond
the middle way (identified with emptiness) of Madhyamika and
is the central tenet of Chih-i's Buddhism rather than the three-
fold truth. This position is outlined in his preface:
How does Chih-i understand Buddha Nature? What are the charac-
teristics of the Truth for Chih-i? Mter a long period of painstaking
study, I concluded that Chih-i takes Buddha Nature to be ever-abiding,
functional, and all-embracing. Consequently, the characteristics of
the Truth for Chih-i are permanency, dynamism, and all-embracing
The Chinese (T. 30.33bll) reads:

352 JIABS 17.2
nature. Among these characteristics, dynamism is most emphasized
and should deserve greatest attention. (x)
So far, so good. But then Ng continues:
That the Truth is dynamic or functional indicates that the Truth can
act. It can initiate actions .. (x)
This claim gives me pause. Does this mean that truth is some-
thing apart from that on which it acts? Is it a "separate reality"? Is
it "personal"? Ng continues:
Towards what are these actions directed? For what purpose are they
initiated? For Chih-i they are directed towards the actual phenome-
nal world so as to cause the cultivation and transformation of sen-
tient beings. (x-xi)
But, as far as I understand Chih-i and basic Buddhist thought,
"truth" and ''buddha-nature'' are not separate from phenomena,
as independent agents to act on them. What does it mean to
have "actions directed" by "the Truth"? Does Ng really mean to
propose such a dualistic structure? Later he goes so far as to
claim that truth "is established in terms of an indestructible spir-
itual substance or body, which Chih-i associates with the Dharma
Body and Buddha Nature" (85). Why insist on such substantialist
buddha-nature language to explain the positive aspects of ulti-
mate reality, or the middle, when Chih-i himself uses so many
other expressions even more frequently? Ng himself admits that
the term "Middle Way-Buddha Nature" is not that common in
Chih-i's work.
The closing part of the Synopsis of the Mo-ho chih-kuan (T
46.21a26-b5), for example, lists various ways to refer to ultimate
Such is the ultimate quiescence of the three qualities which repre-
sents the "returning of the purport." What words could possibly
denote it? How is one to label it? Forced to give it a designation, we
call it "the middle way," "reality," "the dharma body," "neither-
quiescence-nor-Iuminosity." Or we use such terms as "omniscient
wisdom of all modes," the "great wisdom of perfect equality," the
"prajiiaparamita," "insight or contemplation (kuan) "; or we force on
it such labels as "surangama-samadhi," "mahiiParinirvary,a," "the incon-
ceivable liberation," or "calm (chih)."
(Stevenson 1993, 347)
No mention of buddha-nature here. Why not, if "Middle
Way-Buddha Nature" is Chih-i's favored expression for ultimate
reality? Additional terms are used throughout Chih-i's writings:
wondrous existence (miao-yu); true, good, and wondrous form;
ultimate emptiness; suchness; empty buddha-nature; and
supreme truth. Why insist on "Middle Way-Buddha Nature" as
the key concept in Chih-i's system of thought instead of these
other terms? To his credit, Ng addresses exactly this question- to
summarize his argument. He gives three reasons:
First, the main issues in Chih-i's system are the conception of the
Truth and its realization .... The truth is permanent, functional and
ail-embracing, possessing the three characteristics of ever-abidingness,
meritorious function and embracing various dharmas. These charac-
teristics are mainly explicated in the context of the Buddha Nature ....
The other terms or phrases enumerated above do not clearly convey
these ideas.
Perhaps, but I am not convinced.
Second, the compound term "Middle Way-Buddha Way" carries an
important practical message, which does not seem to be manifest in
other terms.
Once again, this is not completely convincing. Other terms can
convey an important practical message as well as "buddha-
nature," including the term "middle way" interpreted in the con-
text of the threefold truth as the simultaneous integration of
both emptiness and conventionality (which includes the bodhi-
sattva's practical working in this world).
Third, among the three characteristics of the Truth, the meritorious
function is most striking and is emphasized by Chih-i more than
other characteristics .... The Truth is not merely to be depicted, but
also to be realized. (Ng 1993, 88-89)
Function and activity is certainly emphasized by Chih-i, but this
does not require resorting to buddha-nature language. A middle
way that is understood to embrace both emptiness and conven-
tionality (i. e., the threefold truth) is sufficiently positive to show
the differences between Chih-i and Nagarjuna and convey the
practical, all-embracing, functional nature of truth. Also, there
seems to be a circular argument here: i. e., it is claimed that the
354 JIABS 17.2
major characteristic of Chih-i's thought is the dynamism, perma-
nence, and all-embracing nature of truth, because "Middle
Way-Buddha Nature" is the central idea; on the other hand, it is
claimed that "Middle Way-Buddha Nature" is the most appropri-
ate term for Chih-i's central idea of the Truth because it best
reflects the aspects of the dynamism, permanence, and alI-
_ embracing nature of the truth. Throughout the book the point
is brought home by insistent repetition, which amounts to exhor-
tation, not evidence.
Why, then, does Ng insist on using the term "Middle
Way-Buddha Nature"? I suspect that it is more influenced by
later T'ien-t'ai tradition, with the great importance buddha-
nature ideas came to play, than by intrinsic necessity. Ng states
that Japanese and Western scholars have "widely ignored" the
crucial position of "Middle Way-Buddha Nature" in Chih-i's
thought (1993, 64). On the contrary, massive tomes have been
written on buddha-nature, tathiigata-garbha, and inherent
enlightenment in Chih-i and T'ien't'ai Buddhism, as well as the
wider Chinese and Japanese Buddhist tradition.
Scholars have
not "ignored" the crucial position of "Middle Way-Buddha
Nature" in Chih-i's thought, it just is not there-at least not in
the way buddha-natUre thought developed in later times.
A great strength of Ng's argument, it should be pointed out, is
his extensive use of Chih-i's late commentaries on the
Vimalakirti-sutra. These commentaries are not only Chih-i's later
(and arguably more "mature") work, but are also written in his
own hand (unlike the Mo-ho chih-kuan and Fa-hua hsuan-i). As Ng
points out, "the incidence of Buddha Nature or Middle Way-
Buddha Nature is much greater in these commentaries than in
the Fa-hua hsuan-i, Fa-hua wen-chu, and Mo-ho chih-kuan, manifest-
ing a deeper concern with the Buddha Nature or Middle Way-
Buddha Nature on Chih-i's part in his old age" (40). If, in fact,
"Middle Way-Buddha Nature" is more central, more explicit,
more developed in Chih-i's later commentaries on the Vimalakirti-
sutra than in the Mo-ho chih-kuan, then this is a very significant
finding. It would require the T'ien-t'ai tradition to reevaluate
14. I've even seen a pirated Chinese translation of Anda Toshio's Tendai shogu
shiso ron (1973).
Chih-i's late writings and reconsider the centrality of the so-
called three major works of Chih-i that have historically been the
main focus in T'ien-t'ai Buddhism since the time of Chanjan.
Ironically, my criticism of Ng's position is based on a greater
familiarity with the earlier Mo-ho chih-kuan and Fa-hua hsuan-i, a
traditional T'ien-t'ai approach, and I may have to eventually eat
my words.
Ng continues in Chapter V, "Four alternatives in Madhyamika
and Chih-i," Chapter VI, "Epistemic-soteriological character of
the Threefold Contemplation," and Chapter VII, "Practical
significance of identification," to give meaty and helpful analysis
of various aspects of Chih-i's thought. I would like to add one
word of caution with regard to the concept of "identity" llP (dis-
cussed in Chapter VII). This is certainly an accurate rendition in
the case of "the identity of emptiness, conventionality, and the
middle" However, there are many other cases in
which this character is used, but in which I believe a mathemati-
calor total identity is not intended. Perhaps the most important
of these are the phrases "the identity of bodhi-wisdom and pas-
sionate afflictions" l!:H.llP:t]['it! and "the identity of sarp.sara and
nirvaIfa" In these cases, despite many passages that
could easily be interpreted as such, Chih-i does not mean that
there is no difference between the two opposites. Rather, using
such paradoxical phrases as "neither one nor different" /f-
/fJl., he argues that they are "indivisible"-they have no mean-
ing apart from each other; they are not exactly overlapping
equivalents of each other. In such cases, then, it is preferable to
use the awkward yet more accurate rendition of "indivisibility"
rather than "identity." An unbalanced emphasis on their "identi-
ty" can misrepresent Chih-i's teaching, which also involves their
Ng returns in his Conclusion (Chapter VIII) to argue against
the standard position that the threefold truth and threefold con-
templation are most central in Chih-i's thought, saying that "only
the Middle Way-Buddha Nature, with its characteristics, can
account for the Threefold Contemplation and Threefold Truth"
(188). On the contrary, I would go so far as to say that even if all
references to "Middle Way-Buddha Nature" were excised from
Chih-i's work, it would not be seriously affected-there are plen-
ty of other terms that serve the same purpose; if, however, the
356 JIABS 17.2
threefold truth were banished from T'ien-t'ai discourse and one
could not apply the threefold pattern to Chih-i's argument, then
the bulk of Chih-i's work would be reduced to nonsense.
In this review I have concentrated on Ng's handling of the
issue of buddha-nature, not only because it is a central theme in
his book but also because of its importance in East Asian
Buddhist thought and practice. Our disagreements have been
sharp, but this should in no way detract from my positive assess-
ment of Ng's contribution. His work deserves close study that
will be rewarded by many insights into Chih-i's work and
Buddhist thought, and I look forward to further discussions and
clarifications on these issues.
On the use of traditional commentaries
Earlier in this review I advocated the attempt to have a "direct
encounter" with Chih-i rather than relying too much on the clas-
sical commentators or traditional interpretations. By advocating
a direct encounter I am not claiming that this is easily done or
even completely possible, as if one could pick up a phone and
give Chih-i a ring. ("Excuse me, but could you clarify for your
fans exactly what you meant by 'buddha-nature'?") One cannot
even be sure which parts of the central texts attributed to Chih-i
are his own words rather than those of his disciple and note-
taker Kuan-ting iim (561-632). To complicate matters further,
Hirai Shun' ei (1985) has shown that large portions of the Fa-hua
wen-chu appear to have been lifted from the San-Iun scholar Chi-
tsang's commentaries on the Lotus Sutra. Nor do I advocate com-
pletely ignoring the traditional commentaries. Rather, I am
endorsing a reading of the text that wrestles with it nakedly
before glancing over at the traditional commentaries to check
what it says, which can be like cheating at a crossword puzzle by
peeking at the answers in the back of the book (except that we
cannot rely on the commentaries to always provide the "right"
answers). It means checking in detail the sources that Chih-i
quotes to see if they really say what he claims they say in support
of his teachings, and if they do not, to speculate on what that
may imply. It means admitting that the text is ambiguous or con-
voluted at places, and not always trying to force a translation. It
can mean taking a forward rather than a backward look-to look
at Chih-i through the perspective of his predecessors (e. g., Hui-
ssu), instead oflooking at Chih-i through his successors (such as
Chanjan). It means cultivating an attitude that takes the later
commentarial tradition (even Chanjan) with a grain of salt-to
cultivate an awareness that a traditional interpretation is, after
all, one opinion, of which others are possible, and to be critically
aware that the tradition colors Chih-i's statements in a certain
way. One of the more significant ways in which Chih-i's position
is "colored" by T'ien-t'ai tradition, I believe, is precisely on the
question of buddha-nature, and that is why it is so important to
be careful in our interpretation of Chih-i on this point.
From the time of Chanjan and his advocacy of the buddha-
nature ,of even non-sentient beings, to the remarkably influential
role of the idea of inherent enlightenment (;<$:j':, Jpn. hongaku)
in Japanese Tendai, buddha-nature has been a seminal concept
in the T'ien-t'ai tradition (as well as, for that matter, most of East
Asian Buddhism). But what did Chih-i really advocate with
regard to buddha-nature? It can certainly be argued that later
developments were not only in accord with, but also natural
developments based on, Chih-i's teachings. However, it can also
be argued (and I take this view) that in handling the concept of
buddha-nature, and in contrast to some later developments,
Chih-i is very wary of possible substantialist (and thus mistaken)
interpretations, and that he treads very gingerly around the sub-
ject. His use of buddha-nature language is much less frequent
than many of his successors. His formulation of threefold buddha-
nature in terms of a synergy of the nature of reality, wisdom, and
practice (see Swanson 1990) was, I believe, a careful and deliber-
ate way to circumvent the potential problems that could arise
from positing a substantial, "pure" buddha-nature, and the dan-
gers of buddha-nature language led him to avoid advocating
buddha-nature as a central proposition in his theory and prac-
This studious avoidance can act as an important corrective
to an overemphasis on, or substantialist interpretations of,
15. I do not think it is accidental, for example, that the Awakening of Faith is
never referred to in Chih-i's work, except for one occasion in the T'ien-t'ai hsiao
chih-kuan 'Ril/J'll:W!, and this reference is probably a later addition not by Chih-i
358 JIABS 17.2
buddha-nature. One nagging difficulty I have with Ng's insis-
tence that buddha-nature be accepted as the central tenet of
Chih-i's Buddhism is that it vitiates Chih-i's potential role to
counteract the excesses of buddha-nature thought in the later
T'ien-t'ai and wider East Asian Buddhist tradition.
So let us try to encounter Chih-i directly. To use a Biblical
image, must we view Chih-i "as through a glass, darkly"? Is it a
chimera to hope that we can encounter him "face to face"? I see
it as similar to the ideal of scholarly objectivity-no one can be
sure (or even hope) to achieve it totally, but it is a goal worthy of
pursuit. Surely there is the possibility that we will not be able to
see or understand Chih-i clearly, or even "correc;tly." But at least
it will be our own vision, and perhaps even lead to the birth of a
new and vigorous tradition.
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In Memoriam
Michel Strickman (1942-1994)
Michel Stickman died unexpectedly on August 11, 1994 at Taussat, a
small seaside resort on the French Atlantic coast, thirty mIles from
Bordeaux University-where he had been teaching since 1991. For
his friends, the shock caused by this sudden loss is aggravated by the
sadness of unfulfilled promise. Despite the old-fashioned charm of his
last residence, and his attachment to the exotic garden he had so lov-
ingly created around it, there is no denying that this was an exile. The
forthcoming publication of his works would have at last brought him
the recognition that he deserves, but he will have been denied this
The self-styled author of the "Strickwick Papers" and self-appointed
head of the Ananda Panda Ashram was by all accounts an unusual, and
at times controversial, scholar. His dismissal from Berkeley in 1991
became the talk of the provincial town we call "the field," and it gen-
erated serious misperceptions. Although I believe that an injustice was
committed then and that a rehabilitation is due, this is not the place and
time to enter this debate. I simply want to share the little I knew about
this person, who had been for many years one of the scholars I most
respected, and who had more recently become a friend.
Michel was born on November 24, 1942 in Fall River
Massachusetts. He followed a rather untypical scholarly path. He did
not graduate from high school and left for Europe before completing
his B. A., going to Bruges and then to Leiden, where he studied
Tibetan Buddhism with Professor David Seyfort Ruegg. He was soon
invited by Professor Kristofer Schipper to lecture at the Ecole Prac-
tique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, and eventually received his doctorate
from this school for his work on Six Dynasties Taoism. During that
time, he also studied with Professors Erik ZUrcher, Rolf A. Stein, and
Max Kaltenmark. Invited to Japan in 1972 for the Tateshina Confer-
ence on Taoist Studies, he was to stay there for five years. He came to
live on the Kurodani Hill in Kyoto, where he became familiar with
Shingon, the form of esoteric Buddhism practiced at Shinnyodo, the
temple across the street. There also he became friends with another
362 nABS 17.2
much-missed Taoist scholar, Anna Seidel, co-editor with Hubert Durt
of the Buddhist encyclopedia HobOgirin, and founder of the Cahiers
d' Extrerne-Asie .
Michel's growing fame in the world of Buddhist and Taoist Studies
led to an opportune appointment at Berkeley in 1977, where he was
soon granted tenure. Despite some setbacks, his commitment to and
popularity with students never diminished. A few days before his
death, he was still expressing to me his concern for some of his gradu-
ate students at Bordeaux University. On the day of his cremation, sev-
eral students came from Paris and Bordeaux to honor their teacher. A
letter I received from one of his former students at Berkeley expresses
sorrow at the loss of "the man who first got me interested in Chinese
religion and taught the most uproariously funny, provocative course
I've ever taken." Too provocative for his own good perhaps.
Among scholars too, Michel's work and personality had won him
many friends and admirers. His first articles in English, soon followed
by the publication of his French dissertation on the Maoshan school,
had established him as a leading specialist.on Taoism. He continued
with a magisterial review article on Tibetan Buddhist Studies, and
undertook the edition of three volumes of Tantric and Taoist Studies
in honor of R. A. Stein. Then came several book-length manuscripts
on Chinese and Japanese popular religion, which were circulating
among scholars long before being published. Among those, his work
on The Consecration Siltra-a small part of which appeared in the
book edited by Robert Buswell on Chinese apocrypha-is particularly
significant. However, most of these manuscripts remain unpublished:
the most important to my mind, "Mantras et mandarins," is scheduled
to appear in the spring of 1995 in Gallimard's prestigious Bibliotheque
des Sciences Humaines. It is a ground-breaking study of Chinese
tantric Buddhism, a tour de force of erudition that only Michel could
achieve-navigating as it does between India, Tibet, China, and Japan,
and showing the debt that Taoism owes to Tantrism. It also contains
fascinating studies on animate icons, dreams, oracles, and possession,
on tantric deities such as Vinayaka and rituals such as the Goma ritual
(about which Michel had already published an article in Frits Staal's
Agni). Another significant work, entitled "Divination and Prophecy,"
examines the oracular tradition in China and Japan. A third
manuscript deals with "Magical Medicine," and it is a study of the
medical aspects of Taoism. It is to be hoped that they will be rapidly
Michel's work, ranging geographically from India to Japan, set up
new standards of excellence in the field of Asian Religions. Following
in the footsteps of European scholars like Paul Mus, Paul Demieville
and Rolf A. Stein, Michel was also conversant with other fields like
classical studies, comparative literature, medieval history, and anthro-
pology. I vividly recall one of our last discussions about a recent
book, La hete singuliere by Claudine a fascinating
historical-anthropological study on the pig and its role in Christian
antisemitism. He had incorporated some of Fabre-Vassas' insights in
his discussion of Vinayaka, the elephant-headed-or sometimes pig-
headed-god of obstacles, in "Mantras et mandarins." In return, his
discussion of tantric materials sheds new light on Christian and Jewish
imagery. This is comparativism at its best, of a scope reminiscent of
the work of Georges Dumezil.
Michel's immense erudition, obvious at every page of his works, is
also well reflected in his Borgesian library, which contains many rare
books and covers practically every important publication in fields
ranging from tantric rituals to Western philosophy, from medicine to
botany. It is hoped that this library will find its way to a research insti-
tution that will make it available to scholars in all fields.
It will take us time to realize the extent of the loss we incurred.
Michel was not only a colleague and a friend, but an incomparable
guide. His death, following that of Anna Seidel in August 1991,
leaves the field of Asian Religions orphaned, and the academic world a
little more dull. May at least the spirit of these two scholars and indi-
viduals continue to inspire us.
Bernard Faure
Stanford University