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15th Karmapa on the ‘Immortal Life-Essence Bindu’ treasure: long-life practice of Padmasambhava and Mandāravā

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For Ḍākinī day today am happy to offer this article (and new translation) of the 15th Karmapa’s lineage supplication, and information about his works on a treasure cycle, Immortal Life-Essence Bindu, the long-life practice of Guru Rinpoche and Mandāravā. (Scroll down for the translation, it can also be freely downloaded here as a .pdf).

Reading some of the Karmapas’ Collected Works is a voyage of discovery of how amazingly diverse and rich their textual and spiritual legacy is, and how they were masters of many different practices and traditions. Such as the 8th Karmapa’s compositions on the ‘Single Intention’ of Drigung Jigten Gonpo. Other, not so well-publicised, facts about the Karmapas are their connection to treasure termas and treasure-revealers, such as Chogyur Lingpa (14th Karmapa).

Recently, I translated a text by the 15th Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, Aspiration for the Prospering of Ultimate Meaning Teachings, which he composed at the suggestion of Zilnon Namkhe Dorje( zil gnon nam mkha’i rdo rje) (1868-20th c.)[i], a well-known twentieth century treasure-revealer. Zilnon revealed several treasures, two in particular, Most Secret Activity Quintessence of Vajrakīlaya (rdo rje phur pa yang gsang phrin las bcud dril), and the Immortal Life-Essence Bindu (Chime Soktik/chi med srog thig) cycle.

According to Gyatrul Rinpoche[ii]:

The ‘Immortal Life-Essence Bindu’ originated at the time of Guru Rinpoche, who traveled to Nepal with his Indian consort, Mandāravā, in order to accomplish immortality. They went to the cave way up in the mountains in Nepal, the famous long life Maratika cave. There in the cave they practiced for three years this particular method […]. After three years they achieved immortality, passing beyond death.

The practice is very, very profound. While Guru Rinpoche and Mandāravā were in the cave practicing, Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life, actually came and gave the empowerment, transmissions, and teachings to them directly. The directness of his presence was just like pouring water from a full vase into an empty one. It was not a dream. After three years of retreat, practicing the long life methods in the cave, the two of them, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) and Mandāravā his consort, both achieved the state of Buddha Amitayus: immortality.

They passed out of the round of cyclic existence through the force of the practice to become fully enlightened. After this Guru Rinpoche travelled to Tibet, taking with him the scripture of the teachings that had been given to him by Amitayus. In Tibet, he then decided to bury the teachings as a terma, and prophesized the time of its revelation, and the details surrounding that revelation. He gave the full transmissions to two of his main disciples, who were two of the original twenty-­five disciples. One of them was Vairochana, and the other Nanam Dorje Dudjom. Afterwards, the termas were concealed physically as well as within the minds of the disciples.

Two lineages15th Karmapa and Dudjom Rinpoche

Zilnon Namkhe Dorje then subsequently transmitted the terma to two of his main students, first to the 15th Karmapa and then after that, to Dudjom Rinpoche, Jikdral Yeshe Dorje (1904-1987).

The 15th Karmapa lineage of Immortal Life-Essence was passed from Karmapa to his son, the second Jamgon Kongtrul, who passed it onto 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje. I am assuming that this was then passed on to other Karma Kagyu lamas but have been unable to ascertain to whom and when. I will update this if and when I have more details.

This research post aims to give a little more detail about the texts composed by the 15th Karmapa on these two treasures, with a small catalogue I have compiled from his Collected Works[iii]. I have also included a new translation of the 15th Karmapa’s short Immortal Life-Essence Bindu Lineage Supplication Prayer, which is recited at the beginning of practices connected to the cycle. None of the sadhanas or commentaries have been translated since they are restricted material and require empowerment and transmission from a qualifed teacher. First, some information about the revelation of the treasures.

Most Secret Activity Quintessence of Vajrakīlaya treasure

In 1902, on the northern part of Pemakö, southeast Tibet, on the slopes of the mountain Namchak Barwa, Zilnön Namkhé Dorjé revealed a Vajrakīlaya practice called Most Secret Activity Quintessence of Vajrakīlaya . The terma revelation consisted of an image of Vajrakīlaya and Ḍākinī script on a yellow scroll (shog ser). Why this Kīlaya treasure was revealed first and not the

Immortal Life-Essence, is various, according to Dudjom Rinpoche in his commentary, the reason why the longevity cycle would be included in a Kīlaya cycle is because it is very important to dispel obstacles before embarking on a longevity practice. He compares it to a situation to protecting crops from harm, or a travelling merchant needing an armed escort to accompany him. This is why longevity practices are frequently combined with wrathful deities like Hayagriva and Kīlaya[iv].

Immortal Life-Essence Bindu treasure

In 1904, in the Mönkha Sengey Dzong[v], the ‘Mon Kha Lion Fortress’ cave of Yeshe Tsogyal associated with her Vajrakīlaya practice, in Bhutan[vi], Zilnön Namkhe Dorje revealed the Immortal Life-Essence Bindu terma as an ancillary practice of the Most Secret Activity Quintessence of Vajrakīlaya . According to Gyatrul Rinpoche:

“At the end of the 19th century, these two disciples, [[[Vairochana]] and Nanam Dorje Dudjom reincarnated] in the form of one lama who was a great Tertön, known as Zilnön Namkai Dorje. Zilnön Namkai Dorjé went to Bhutan to the practice cave of Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal where he found this terma by pulling it out from behind a rock in the cave. This was not done in secrecy, but rather as a public treasure.

This means that when it was revealed, it was revealed in the presence of many hundreds of people. All the people came to witness the revelation, at which time rainbows appeared in the sky, the sound of roaring dragons reverberated throughout space along with countless other wonders. Then for many years he kept the terma secret. It was meant to be revealed for the first time to the terma’ s owner. That owner was Dudjom Rinpoche.“

This is partly incorrect as it fails to mention that it was first transmitted to the 15th Karmapa. Although the Immortal Essence is an ancillary practice to those in the main treasure of Vajrakīlaya , it is said that in the twentieth century its textual corpus grew to such an extent that as to rather overshadow the texts of the original cycle within which it is contained[vii].

It is said that ‘the place where Senge Dzong is located is filled with mysterious and inexplicable features such as Guru Kurjey (the body image of Guru), imprint of Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal on a rock, another rock where Guru imprisoned 108 mythical Garudas (bird like creatures) who wanted to fill the world with chaos and disorders.’ (For more details see here). Let us not forget that these great beings practised in caves without access to any modern comforts (hot showers, internet, clothes, phones etc.) at all!

Immortal Life-Essence Texts

The first two texts from the Immortal Life-Essence terma were composed by Zilnon Namkhe Dorje :

A daily sadhana, condensed version of the practice (Tshe drub yang zab snying po) in the Wood Dragon Year (1904), and the main ritual manual (Las byang), composed in 1908.

Afterwards, he transmitted it to the 15th Karmapa who composed texts on it in the 1910s. Those written by Karmapa within his own Collected Works take up almost three-quarters of a volume:

An extensive empowerment manual

A medium empowerment manual

A concise empowerment manual

A torma empowerment manual

Supplementary Notes

A daily Immortal Life Bindu Sadhana based on the pure vision of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo Recollected notes on the Immortal Life Bindu Sadhana based on the pure vision of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo Those composed by the Karmapa included within the Collected Works of Dudjom Rinpoche[viii] are :

Lineage Supplication Prayer

Main empowerment text

Longevity empowerment Text

Two fulfilment practices

Short fulfillment recitation (skong ba)

Short recitation for elixir offerings

May this short article and new translation be of benefit in preserving and promoting the teachings of the 15th Karmapa, and the treasures of the Immortal Life-Essence Bindu. May all attain enlightenment and immortality!