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A Doubt to Authority of the Guhyasamâja Akhyâna-tantras

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by Yükei Matsunaga

We cannot throughly trace the development of Tantric Buddhism in India. It is due to the following two points. In the first place, there were few translations in Chinese or Tibetan made during the period from the 9th century to the 10th, when Tantric Buddhism most flourished. It is hard to know by

means of the history of translation when Tantras, Sâdhanas and Vidhis were compiled. In the second place, the Tibetan books of the history of Tantric Buddhism are not always trustworthy. For they contain some fabrications made in the interests of various schools of Tantric Buddhism.

To make things clear, it is necessary to examine in detail the contents of Tantras, Sâdhanas and Vidhis, paying attention to the contradictions among them, and to criticize the traditional views held by some schools. In this paper the authority of the Guhyasamâja-Âkhyâna-tantras will be re-examined.

In general Tantras belonging to the Anuttarayoga-tantra class consist of Mûla-tantra, Uttara-tantras and Âkhyâna-tantras. As for the Guhya-samâja circle, the Müla-tantra is the first 17 chapters of the Guhyasamâja-

(1) tantra (Tohoku No. 442) of which the Sanskrit text has been published, and the Uttara-tantra is the 18th chapter (Tohoku No. 443) of that Tantra, and the Àkhyâna-tantra are generally regarded as the following four Tantras, i. e. the Sandhivyâkarana-tantra (Tohoku No. 444), the Vajramâlâ-tantra (Tohoku

No. 445), the Caturdevïpariprcchâ-tantra (Tohoku No. 446), the Vajrajnânasamuccaya-tantra (Tohoku No. 447). These Àkhyâna-tantras are found in Tibetan only and have more advanced teachings and practices

( 1 ) B. Bhattâcharyya : Guhyasamâjatantra, G. O. S. LIII, Baroda- 1931.

than the Guhyasamâja-Müla-tantra. But in the teachings and practices of the Âkhyâna-tantras, we can see some bias of a certain school, although it has been generally believed that they have authority which other Sâdhanas and commentaries can not have by the reason that they are (1) regarded as the collections of the speach of Buddha himself.

Among the schools of the Guhyasamâja circle, the most important ones are the Jnânapâda school founded by Buddhasrïjnâna (Jnânapâda) and the Saint school (hPhags-lugs-pa) whose founders are Nâgârjuna and his son, Âryadeva. We now call the latter in question. The Saint school has two chief Sâdhanas, the

Pindïkrta-sâdhana (Tohoku No. 1796) and the Panca-krama (Tohoku No. 1802). These Sâdhanas attributed to Nâgârjuna, are the Utpatti-krama and Utpanna-krama (Nispanna-krama) respectively of the Saint school. Prof.L. de la Vallée Puossin published the Sanskrit text of

these two Sadhanas put together, while the Pradïpodyotana (Tohoku No. 1785) by Candrakïrti is one of the most important commentaries on the Guhyasamâja-tantra, and its Sanskrit manuscript was found by Ven. Râhula Sânkrtyâyana in Tibet, and I have obtained the photograph of this manuscript through the kindness of Jayaswal Institute in Patna.

1. Vajramâlâ-tantra and Pancakrama

According to the traditional belief, the Pindïkrta-sâdhana, the Pancakrama and the Pradïpodyotana were written on the basis of some Âkhyâna-tantras more than of the Müla-tantra. The Sâdhanas and commentaries frequently quote from the Âkhyâna-tantras as well as the Müla-tantra, and there are not a few cases in which the authority of the Sâdhanas and commentaries of the Saint-school is placed on the Âkhyâna-tantras. A few years ago I studied the interaction between the Vajramâlâ-tantra and the

Pancakrama. The main point of that thesis is as follows. We cannot find

( 1 ) These [Âkhyana-tantras]] are classified among bkha-gyur in the Tibetan Catalogue.

(2) L. de la [[Wikipedia:Louis de La Vallée-Poussin|Vallée Poussin]]: Pancakrama, Gand, 1896.

(3) Y. Matsunaga: On the relations between the Vajramâlâ-tantra and the Pancakrama, Bunka, 20-4, 1956, pp. 24-37.

A Doubt to Authority (Y. Matsunaga)

any reference to the system of “five orders” of the Pancakrama, either in the Guhyasamaja-tantra or in the chapters I to 67 of the Vajramala-tantra. But in the last 68 th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra, the system of the “five orders” appears. In that chapter three verses are irregular in sylalbication, and

the same verses are found in the fourth order of the Pancakrama. In the Vajramala-tantra the verses before and after the three verses just mentioned are regular in form, while in the Pancakrama the verses before and after the three are irregular. This indicates that the Vajramala-tantra took the three verses from the Pancakrama. It is therefore presumed that the 68 th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra was added after the Pancakrama had been written.

In the Vajrajapa-krama, the first order of the Pancakrama, we have nine verses mentioned that “this is quotation from the Vajramalatantra (the 68 th chapter).” The Vajrajapa-krama in the extant text is almost composed of verses quoted from the Guhyasamaja-Mula-tantra, the Uttara-tantra, the

Caturdevipariprccha, the Vajramala-tantra and the Sandhivya-karana-tantra. But by its old commentaries, the Vajrajapa-tika (Tohoku No. 1788) by Sraddhakaravarma and the Caryamelapakapradipa (Tohoku No. 1803) by Aryadeva, we judge that the original form of the Vajrajapa-krama was smaller than the

extant text; the two commentaries have not had all verses quoted from the 68 th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra. It may be said that there were some additions in the Vajrajapa-krama of the Pancakrama after the 68 th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra had been added to the first 67 chapters.

Why were such additions repeated so often ? We may say it was because the school wanted to increase the authority of the Pancakrama. The system of “Five orders” of the Pancakrama is found neither in the Guhyasamaja-tantra nor in the first 67 chapters of the Vajramala-tantra. But it was necessary for the

Pancakrama to have its authority in the Tantra. Then the scholars of the Saint school added the 68th chapter which is closely connected with the system of “Five orders” to the 67 chapters of the Vajramala-tantra which are the basis of the Pindikrita-sadhana, but

not of the Pancakrama. And. moreover they interpolated into the Vajra-japa-krama some verses which they pretended to be the quotation from the Vajramala-tantra with a view to empowering the Pancakrama by tha authority of the Akhyana-tantra.

2. Pancakrama and Pradipodyotana

The Pradipodyotana, in its introductory part, gives a brief explanation of the “Five orders” of the Pancakrama, and says “one should understand Satkoti after he accomplishes the practice of the system of the “five m _ _<2).

orders”. The Saptalankara including Satkoti and Caturvidhakhyayika is the subject matter of the Pradipodyotana; it is used as standards for the understanding of the Guhyasamaja-tantra, and is explained on the basis of the practice systems of the Saint school found in such Sadhanas as the Pindlkrta-

sadhana and the Pancakrama. Therefore it can be said that the Pradipodyotana was written evidently after the Pancakrama had been completed. And moreover the relation of the teacher and pupil between Nagarjuna who is said to be the author of the Pancakrama, and Candra-kirti who is said to be the author of the Pradipodyotana also will give a hint of the question which text was written earlier.

3. Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra and Pancakrama

Now we will examine the relations between the Pancakrama and the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, One of the Akhy ana-tantras. The Pancakrama at the opening of the text, tells us that the system of the “Five orders”

must be understood on the basis of the Akhyana-tantra. But in reality the Akhyana-tantra referred to in the Pancakrama was not the Vajramala-tantra. Among the four Akhyana-tantras the Caturdevipariprccha and the Sandhivyakarana have no explanation of the system of the “Five orders” at all. In the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, we find first the explanation of the Trayajnana, next the brief explanations of the Satkoti,

( 1 ) Skt. Mss. fol. la, Tib. Tohoku No. 1785, fol. 2a.

(2) Y. Matsunaga: On the Saptalankara, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, vol. XI, No. 2, 1963, pp. 92-98.

C 3 ) Pancakrama p. 18.

Caturvidhakhyayika and five kinds of Tantra, and finally the names of the Saptalankara

The Trayajnana is the subject matter of the Sarvasuddhivisuddhikrama (Anuttarasandhi-krama), the second order of the Pancakrama. In the Pancakrama, however, we cannot even find the name of the Vajrajnana-samccaya-tantra, much less a quotation from this Tantra. On the contrary, the first order of the

Pancakrama consists mainly of the quotations from the Mula-tantra and other three Akhyana-tantras, and the second order which should have cited from the Vajrajniinasamuccaya-tantra as its authority has no such quotations except some from the Mula-tantra and other Sutras.

Next, in the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, the Trayajnana is explained in relation to Satkoti and Caturvidhakhyayika that are the subject matter of the Pradipodyotana, which is later than the Pancakrama. By these points we may conceive that the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra was compiled after the Pancakrama.

4. Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra and Pradipodyotana

The Pradipodyotana, in its introductory part, professes to explain one by one the Saptalankara in reference to Akhyana-tantra. It says that the Saptalankara which is the subject matter of the commentary should be understood on the basis of the Akhyana-tantra. It has been popularly believed that,

even if the commentary dose not give the name Vajra-jnana samuccaya-tantra, the Akhyana-tantra as mentioned above means the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, for

the reason that explanations of the Saptalankara are found in the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, but not in any other Akhyana-tantras. The commentators of later years accept that the Akhyana-tantra referred to in the Pradipodyotana is the Vajrajnanasa-muccaya-tantra.

But against such traditional beliefs we may well wonder why the

( 1) Skt. Mss. fol. lb, Tib. Tohoku No. 1785, fol. 2a.

(2) Tohoku No. 5077, fol. 21a. No. 6868, fol. 7a etc.

Pradipodyotana does not have even a quotation from the Vajrajnanasam-uccaya-tantra which should have been the only authority of. the Saptalan-kara. The Pradipodyotana, on the contrary, quotes often from the other Akhyana-tantras, the Mula-tantra and the Uttara-tantra. To make this point clear we shall compare the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra with the Pradipodyotana.

As stated above, the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, in its first half, explains the Trayajhana, Satkoti, Caturvidhakhyakhyayika and five kinds of the Tantra, and in its second half, the Saptalankara with its subdivisions. In the first half we find a brief explanation of the Satkoti, i. e. Neya, Nitartha,

Sandhyayabhasa, Nasandhya, Yatharuta and Naruta; we also find three Akhyayika, i. e. Samatanga, Garbhin and Kolika, among the Caturvidhakhyayika, but there is no explanation about the Aksarartha. The Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, in its first half, dose not give all the names of Alankaras. On the contrary we can not help paying our atten-sion to the fact that the latter half has all the names of the Saptalankara and its twenty eight subdivisions.

In the introductory part of the Pradipodyotana, we find an explanation about every one of the Saptalankara. There, the names of first, second, third and fourth Alankara, i. e. Upodghata, Nyaya, Satkoti and Akhyana (Caturvidhakhyayika) are given, but there are given no names of the fifth, sixth, seventh ones

or of the subdivisions of the Saptalankara. On the contrary we can see in the latter half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra all the names not only of the Saptalankara, but also of the twenty eight subdivisions. We can find well-defined names for the first four Alan-karas in the latter half of the

Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra and we can understand the meaning of every Alankara at a glance. According to the comparison between the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra and the Pradipodyotana, it may be said that the explanation of the Saptalankara in the latter half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra is in better

trim than that in the Pradipodyotana. Upon examination as above, it is more suitable to assert that the latter half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, especially the explanation of the Saptalankara with its subdivisions was added after the Pradipodyotana had been written..

Though at the end of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra we find a postscript’ “That is the second chapter of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra”, there is no postcript of the first chapter. Therefore it is supposed that either the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra in the present form lost the first chapter or the first

chapter is annexed to the second chapter by losing its postscript. The former is not accepted for the following reason. We have in the Tibetan Canons another Akhyana-tantra, the Sri-jnanavajra-•samuccaya-tantra (Tohoku No. 450), which presents much similarity in the contents to the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-

tantra. This Tantra, with more detailed explanations than the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, begins with the explanation of the Trayajnana as does the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. It is, therefore, more agreeable to take the second. It may suggest the later addition of the latter half of the

vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. The first half including the Trayajnana etc. was completed first. After the Pradipodyotana had been written, the second chapter of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra having the detailed explanation of the Saptalankara was added. And as there is an evident indication of development from

the first chapter to the second, it may be said that the Tantra lost the postcript of the first chapter. We may say that the Tantra in the present form was completed through the prosses above mentioned.

Although the Pradipodyotana says that the Saptalankara should be understood in reference to the Akhyana-tantra, the Saptalankara in the complete form cannot be found in any Akhyana-tantra,. but in the latter half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, which is a later addition. And it is noted that in the

first half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra, there exist explanations of the Saptalankara, even if incomplete. From these -considerations, it may be asserted that at least the first half of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra already existed at the time when the Pradipodyotana was written. But by the fact that in the Pradipdyotana we can not find even the name of the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra or any quotation

from it, while there are many quotations from other Akhyana-tantras in it, we can know that even if the first half was completed before the Pradipodyotana, its period was not very far from that of the Pradipodyotana. Therefore it seems that the author of the Pradipodyotana did not use the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra as its authority. In the first ’part of the subcommentary of dGe-lugs-pa on the Pradipodyotana, we find the names of

six Akhyana-tantras, i. e. the Devendrapariprccha, the Uttara-tantra, plus the above-mentioned four Akhyana-tantras, while in the next part there are four names, i. e. the Devendrapariprccha and three Akhyana-tantras

(2) of the four Akhyana-tantras, excepting the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. From this fact, we can see that even Tibetan commentators in the later years did not pay a deep regard to the Vajrarjnanasamuccaya-tantra.

5. Vajrajnanamuccaya-tantra and Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra

As stated above the Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra deals with the same subject matter with the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. It is about eighi times as long

as the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. In the first part explaining the Trayajnana and five kinds of Tantra, we have repetitions by verse that can not be seen

in the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra. In addition, the Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra has many explanations which the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra have not, for

instance, detailed explanation of every Alankara and of the pantheon. And there are not a little difference between the two, for example, the Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra has all the names of the Caturvidhakhyayika and of the nature of the Trayajnana, and changes the names of the Mahayoga-tantra

and the Ubhaya-tantra among the five kinds of Tantra into Anuttarayoga-tantra and Yogatantra. Seeing that the Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra has some

repetitions by verse and lacks a deity in each group of the pantheon, it seems that it pretended to be an archaic text. But the well-arranged contents of the Tantra itself suggest that it was compiled after the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra.

(1) Tohoku No. 6868, fol. 3a. ( 2 ) ibid. fol. 4b.

6. Conclusion

As we have seen, the 68th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra was added after the original Pancakrama had been written, while the Pancakrama took some verses from the 68th chapter of the Vajramala-tantra. On the other hand the Pancakrama was completed earlier than the Vajrajnana-■samuccaya-tantra, of which the latter half had not been finished at the time when the Pradipodyotana was written. The compilation of the Sri-jnanavajrasamuccaya-tantra was even later than the Vajrajnanasamuccaya-tantra.

The following chart represents chronological relations of the texts.

Vajramala-tantra chaps. 1-67.


I Pancakrama (original)«---

Vajramala-tantra chap. 68 4

Pancakrama (supplement)

Sandhivyakar ana-tantra


Vajrajnänasamuccaya-tantra (first half)


Vajrajnänasamuccaya-tantra (latter half)


Most of the Akhyana-tantras of the Guhyasamaja are closely related to the Sadhanas and commentaries etc. of the Saint school. According to the traditional beliefs the authority of the Sadhana and commentaries of the Saint school has been on the basis of the Akhyana-tantras. It is true that we can not always

find the authority of the Sadhana and the commentaries in the Mula-tantra and the Uttara-tantra, but we can find it often in the Akhyana-tantras. For that reason, traditional beliefs have been accepted for a long time without any criticism. As a result of comparison of some Akhyana-tantras with some texts of the Saint school, we could know that some Akhyana-tantras were of the later date than has been believed.

The compilation of the Guhyasamaja-tantra was about 800 A. D., while-we can see according to Tibetan sources that the Saint school was in full flourish about the 10th century. It may be said that Sadhanas and commentaries of the Saint school, which came much later than the Guhya-samaja-tantra wanted to

take in the (harvest of the development of Tantric: Buddhism after the Guhyasamaja-tantra. But the scholars of the Saint school could not find any new systems in the Mula-tantra and the Uttara-tantra, so that they arbitrarily made some Akhyana-tantras, on the authority of which they placed their new

systems without losing the appearance of Tantra. We shall be able to solve many contradictions in the Akhya-natantras by finding that these contradictions came from the scholars of the Saint school in their effort to keep the authority of their teachings and practices.

( 1 ) H. Hadano : On the Jnânapâda school of the Guhyasamâja, Bunka vok 5, 1950 ; Y. Matsunaga : Some problems over the compilation of the Guhyasamaja-tantra, Studies in Indology and Buddhology, Presented in Honour of Professor Gishô Nakano on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, Oct. 1960, Kôyasan, pp. 193-207.