The Legacy of the Eight Teachings: Revelation, Ritual, and Enlightened Violence in Classical Tibet - ( 01)
B.A.,Williams College, 1999
© 2019 Nicholas Trautz
The Sugata-Assembly of the Eight Teachings ( the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa) has long stood as a foundational scripture for Tibet’s eldest Buddhist denomination, the Nyingma (rnying ma). From its revelation by Ngadak Nyangrel Nyima Özer (mnga’ bdag myang ral nyi ma ‘od zer 1124-92) in the mid-twelfth century, to its curation as a massive compendium of ritual knowledge for the Nyingma’s major temples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Eight Teachings has supplied unique doctrines, mytho-historical narratives, and ritual programs that have undergirded the development of the Nyingma denomination. The bka’ brgyad’s
wrathful iconography and apotropaic ritualism have provided imaginal and praxical resources for the Nyingma, and the Eight Teachings cycle was coordinated with emergent historiographical conceptions to advance a distinctive vision of Buddhist mastery and denominational identity. This dissertation traces a general history of the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa from the twelfth through nineteenth centuries, observing how this cycle and its traditions proffered resources for Nyingma practitioners and institutions as they articulated, reformed, and exerted their denominational identity in response to extrinsic pressures. This history of Nyangrel’s bka’ brgyad documents the editorial and ecclesiastical treatment of this cycle in three pivotal
historical moments: in the competitive environment of the post-fragmentation period of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries; in the tumult of sixteenth-century Central Tibet on the eve of Ganden (dga’ ldan) supremacy and the institutionalization of the Nyingma at Mindroling (smin grol gling); and in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Eastern Tibet as large Nyingma temples were implicated in the shifting political fortunes of the Degé (sde dge) Kingdom. The bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa was afforded ecclesiastical attention in these periods as it
became a key resource to which Nyingmapas looked in their efforts to craft responsive denominational identities and agentive Buddhist subjectivities. This dissertation also undertakes a literary analysis of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s foundational tantric literature, documenting the unique buddhologies, narrative topoi, doxographies, and ritual idioms supplied by the cycle. These features contributed to an overarching imaginaire around which doctrinal, narrative, and ritual engagements were
constellated. In tracing the buddhologies and narrative imageries advanced in the bka’ brgyad scriptural and ritual texts, we may observe how the Eight Teachings cycle was leveraged as a resource in the crafting of collective identities and the construction of agentive subjectivities for its adherents. This dissertation seeks to decompartmentalize the domains of doctrine, narrative, and ritual practice to promote a comprehensive picture for religiosity as it is mediated through imaginal worlds and regimes of practice.
Table of Contents <poem> Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………….... 7
Part I: The Kabgyé And Its Traditions 12
Chapter One: The origins and significance of the Eight Teachings………………………….12
Who was Nyangrel Nyima Özer? ………………………………………………………..12
What is the Kabgyé? ……………………………………………………………………..18
Demon Taming …………………………………………………………………………..49 Kabgyé Ritualism ………………………………………………………………………...59 The Kabgyé Today ……………………………………………………………………….62 Chapter Two: From Revelation to Anthologization: a reception history…………………….70 Nyangrel: Mystic, Tradent, Architect …………………….……………………………...72 Rivalry and Pressure in the Post-Fragmentation Period ………………………………....75 Spread within Nyingma and Kagyü …………………….………………………………..86 Apotropaic Ritualists and Nyingma Polymaths………………………………………….91 Khampa Institutions and Their Founders …………………….………………………...100 Nyingma Identity Confirmed: ris med, scholasticism, revelation, and ritual in Degé ….105 Summary of the Kabgyé’s Reception and Salience …………………….……………....113 Chapter Three: A Publication History …………………….………………………………..118 The Kabgyé Dharma Cycles …………………….……………………………………...119 Ritual Cycles …………………….……………………………………………………..138 Anthologies …………………….……………………………………………………….147 The Kabgyé in the Nyingma Gyubum ……………………………………………...151 In the Nyingma Kama ……………………………………………………………...156 In the Rinchen Terdzö ……………………………………………………………...159 Part II: The Treasures 167 Chapter Four: The Arising of the bka’ ……………………………………………………...169 Narrative Structure and Descriptive Summary ………………………………………....172 Buddhology and Revelation ………………………………………………………...177 Incorporating the Gods and Demons ……………………………………………….179 Assembling the Dharma …………………………………………………………….182 Bibliographia ………………………………………...…………………………….185 Chapter Five: The Tantras…………………………………………………………………..194 Maṇḍala, Contemplation, and Ritual …………………………………………………...297 The King of Root Tantras……………………………………………………………….201 The Assembled Sugatas Tantra ……………………………………………………..229 Comparison with the Guhyagarbha ………………………………………………...233 Subsequent, Individuated, and Differentiated Tantras ………………………………….236 The Subsequent Tantras ………………………………………………………………...238 The Key Tantras ………………………………………………………………………...239 Individuated Root Tantras ……………………………………………………………....240 Chapter Six: Taming and Liberating the Enemy Obstructors ………………………………243 The Great Accomplishment: Institutionalizing the Tantric Community ……………….246 Apotropaia in the Kabgyé Drupchen ….………………………………………………..254 The Drupchen Manuals ………………………………………………………………...257 ‘dul ba: The Exorcism of the Nine Victory Banners ………..…………………………259 The Imaginal World of The Nine Victory Banners………………………………....272 sgrol ba: The Eight Modes of Liberation ………………………………………..……..273 The Narrativity of Ritual ………………………………………………………………..279 Chapter Seven: From Imaginaire to Lifeworld …………………………………………….291 “The Imaginaire” Defined ……………………………………………………………..292 The Kabgyé Imaginaire ……………………………………………………………..….299 Religious Subjectivity in Narrative, Doctrine, and Ritual ……………………………...301 Final Reflections ………………………………………………….………………………...318 Appendix 1: Tibetan biographical sources for Nyangrel Nyima Özer ……………………..324 Appendix 2: Principal and subsidiary bka’ brgyad revelation cycles……………………....325 Appendix 3: bka’ brgyad ritual compendia for the Nyingma Mother Temples...………….326 Appendix 4: Eight Herukas Image Gallery ………………….……………………………..327 Bibliography ………………….…………………………………………………………….329 Primary Sources …………….……………………………………………………………....329 Other Languages …………….……………………………………………………………...333 <poem>
In the spring of 2015, David Germano and Kurtis Schaeffer suggested I undertake a dissertation project focusing on the bka’ brgyad. For their initial suggestion, and their ongoing encouragement and guidance, I am grateful. I also thank the faculty of the University of Virginia’s graduate program in the History of Religions for their mentorship: Paul Groner, Karen Lang, Clarke Hudson, and Benjamin Ray. I also thank the members of my dissertation committee, including Sonam Kachru and Robert Hueckstedt, for agreeing to step in and support my final efforts. I likewise express my gratitude to Tsetan Chonjore, from whom we were lucky
enough to learn Tibetan in the final years of his tenure. I also thank Shu-Chen Chen for her lively pedagogy in Chinese, and also for the guidance of Steven Weinberger, Tenzin Thosam, and Dominic Sur in training us to translate several genres of literary Tibetan. The University of Virginia is widely known for the excellence of its programming in Tibetan Studies, and I have benefited from the work of many people associated with the U.Va. Tibet Center, the Tibetan and Himalayan Library, and the U.Va. Contemplative Sciences Center. However, what truly cements
my appreciation for the University of Virginia has been the intellectual companionship of many fine colleagues: Flavio Geisshuesler, Chris Hiebert, Nyima Cape, Natasha Mikles, Naomi Worth, Jue Liang, Andrew Taylor, Michelle Walsh, Bill McGrath, Katarina Turpeinen, Eva Natanya Rolf, Linghui Zhang, Christine Kilby, Manuel Lopez, and too many others from our robust program to enumerate. In them, I have found my sangha. From beyond U.Va., Daniel Hirshberg, Eric Haynie, James Gentry, and Cathy Cantwell also provided essential feedback for this dissertation.
A year in Sichuan was made possible by a Fulbright U.S. Student grant, and also the efforts of Dr. Thubten Phuntsok and the Foreign Student Office at the Southwest University of Nationalities to secure my residence in Chengdu. I thank the many friends I made at SWUN, and also at Sichuan University, for helping me feel at home. In the highlands of Ganze prefecture, I greatly enjoyed the hospitality of the Khampa Cafe, where I spent many days writing and contemplating while wandering the grasslands. Also from Tagong hails Youden Phuntsok, a dear friend who accompanied me on many adventures, and also provided translation of the Eastern Tibetan dialect for some pivotal encounters. Much of my fieldwork would have been simply impossible without him.
For supporting me in in the final episode of this project, I must thank Bates College, where Professor Alison Melnick graciously secured a visiting position for me, and also Bowdoin College, where I had the good fortune of expanding my pedagogical horizons. Hebron Academy, with its extraordinary community of teachers and students, has been the perfect setting for the completion of this project.
Finally, I gratefully acknowledge the years of support from my own family in Vermont: my father, Otto, and sister, Katie. My profound love and gratitude goes to my wife Katya Kilian, and our daughter, Magnolia. Katya unhesitatingly supported me through long days of class meetings, late nights of memorizing Chinese characters and puzzling over Tibetan grammar, and over eight long months apart while I was in China and she established a new life for our family in Maine. She has also been a source of probing questions and startling insights that have propelled me in unexpected intellectual directions.
This project is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Margaret Trautz, who left us as I began writing. Ever a supporter, and the kindest of souls, she ceaselessly encouraged me in anything that made me flourish. She would want me to dedicate the fruits of my work to the peace and happiness of all beings, and so I do.
According to tradition, in the year 1150, a long-haired Buddhist yogi from Southern Tibet named Ngadak Nyangrel Nyima Özer traveled to the ancient imperial temple of Khoting (mkho mthing).1 Guided there by a treasure catalogue found inside a broken piece of statuary, Nyangrel entered the dusty shrine hall and proceeded to remove two hidden caskets containing a cache of ancient manuscripts from behind the temple’s central icon, a large statue of Buddha Vairocana. These texts, yellowed by four-hundred years of storage, had purportedly been recorded in the hand of the eighth-century translator Vairotsana (bai ro tsa na), and had
personally belonged to the great Tibetan emperor Tri Song Detsän (khri srong lde btsan 742-97) four hundred years before. These manuscripts recorded the esoteric teachings of Padmasambhava (Padma Jungne in Tibetan, pad+ma ‘byung gnas), a tantric master who had been invited to Tibet to tame autochthonous gods and expedite the religious conversion of Tibet four centuries earlier. They were concealed there with the intent that they would be retrieved by Tri Song Detsän’s incarnation for the benefit of future generations. That prophesied incarnation was Nyangrel Nyima Özer himself, and the teachings, an enormous body of texts advancing the lore and ritualism of eight ultra-wrathful tantric deities, was called The Sugata-Assembly of the Eight Teachings (the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa, hereafter Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, Kabgyé, or Eight Teachings).
This unique compendium of esoteric knowledge would play a crucial role in shaping Tibet’s eldest denomination, the Nyingma (Tib. rnying ma), over many centuries. The Kabgyé coordinated Indian tantric tradition with Tibetan ritual idioms, articulating a distinctive vision of Buddhist mastery and providing a comprehensive corpus of materials that would inflect Tibetan 1 mnga’ bdag nyang [or myang] ral nyi ma ‘od zer 1124-92, hereafter, Nyangrel. A birth year of 1136 and death in
Buddhism’s understanding of its own character and origins. For the Nyingma denomination, it was a resource upon which adepts and ecclesiastical figures would continually draw as they sought to articulate denominational identities in the face of extrinsic pressures. From its inception in the twelfth century up until the present time, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa has supplied some of the most important concepts, idioms, and organizational templates for Tibet’s eldest Buddhist denomination. Its impact for the Nyingma cannot be overstated.
What was it that made the Kabgyé so important in these contexts? What did it represent for its practitioners, and how were its distinctive idioms and practice regimes coordinated with broader discourses to bolster agency and author identity for the Nyingmapa? Most broadly, how were agentive subjectivities and responsive religious identities forged in a matrix of Kabgyé doctrine, narrative, and ritual practice? These are the overarching questions of this dissertation, and this study will bring together historical, literary, and theoretical perspectives to gain a picture of how the world of one scriptural corpus resonated with its practitioners.
Specifically, this study will offer a reception history of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, tracing how it was imagined, organized, and deployed at various junctures in Tibetan institutional history. We will also explore Kabgyé literature from both historical and interpretive perspectives, observing how the Eight Teachings advanced a distinctive imaginaire centering on wrathful iconography, ritual violence, and unique conceptions about the nature of religious mastery. An ultimate aim of this scholarship is to elucidate how agentive subjectivities and responsive identities were built out of the Eight Teachings’ doctrinal, narrative, and praxical dimensions, and how the Kabgyé’s imaginal world situated itself within broader discourses and historiographical concerns.
provides a general orientation and historical background to Nyangrel Nyima Özer and the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, followed in Chapter Two by a reception history, and in Chapter Three by a publication history of the Deshek Dupa’s major doctrinal and ritual cycles. In this, we will see how this corpus was curated at various historical junctures and ultimately incorporated into the Nyingmapa’s canonical structure. These chapters draw attention to three historical moments in which the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was afforded special attention by Tibetan Buddhist
ecclesiasts: its inception with Nyangrel Nyima Özer in the twelfth century, its redaction and full institutionalization in Central Tibet during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and its importance in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Eastern Tibet at the major Nyingma temples. In documenting these contexts, we will observe the capacity of this corpus to articulate denominational identities, bolster agency for specific communities, and configure Buddhist subjectivity for its practitioners. In this, we will attend to the ways that history, myth, doctrine, and practice are woven together to yield a matrix of resources from within which practitioners could enact specific religious identities.
Part Two will look more closely at select texts from the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus. Chapter Four appraises the cycle’s influential auto-history, The Manner of the Arising of the Teachings of the Assembled Sugatas (the bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i bka’ byung tshul), while Chapter Five outlines The King of Kabgyé Root Tantras (bka’ brgyad rtsa ba’i rgyud kyi rgyal po), and provides an overview of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s other foundational tantras: the two Subsequent Tantras (the phyi ma and phyi ma’i phyi ma rgyud), the explanatory Differentiated Tantra (‘byed par rgyud), and the individuated root tantras of the Kabgyé deities. In this, the underlying myths, doctrines, and iconographic features of the foundational texts of the corpus will be explored, along with an analysis of the distinctive vision of history, doxography, and
buddhology at play in the texts. We will notice the recurrence of specific narrative elements in these scriptures which work towards authorizing the historical and doctrinal conceptions initially advanced by Nyangrel, and which came to stand at the heart of Nyingma tradition. Chapter Six analyzes a pair of apotropaic, or harm-averting, ritual texts, representative of the ritual idioms of “taming” (‘dul ba), and “liberation” (sgrol ba). Through attention to the distinctive imageries articulated in these ritual texts, I will trace a narratological theory of ritual, analyzing ritual participation as a mode of narrative engagement with edifying and transformative outcomes. I also attend to the specific idioms and ritual technologies exhibited in these harm-averting rites, observing their role in communicating an overarching Kabgyé imaginaire. The concluding Chapter Seven will more specifically articulate the features of a “Kabgyé imaginaire”, observing the ways that the imaginal world of the Kabgyé as it was advanced in its mythologies, buddhologies, and ritual regimes undergirded a confluence of narrative, doctrine, and practice that gave the Eight Teachings special resonance for Tibetan audiences. This concluding chapter is meant to draw my study of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa into conversation with broader issues in the study of Buddhism, and in the study of religion, in the hopes of decompartmentalizing the domains of philosophy, narrative, and ritual.
Part I: The Kabgyé And Its Traditions
Before delving into the long history and complex textual terrain of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, we should review the life of its revealer in Tibet, Nyangrel Nyima Özer. This will be a mere overview, and we will have to neglect the fascinating literary and contextual issues surrounding Nyangrel’s biographical literature. Daniel Hirshberg, in his excellent 2016 monograph, Remembering the Lotus Born, attends to Nyangrel’s biographical sources in detail, and the reader is directed to his work to learn more.2
There are several biographical sources for the life of Nyangrel, chiefly his two full-length biographies, The Clear Mirror (gsal ba’i me long) and The Stainless Proclamations (dri ma med pa’i bka’ rgya can). Both of these texts purport to record Nyangrel’s account of his own lifestory to his closest disciples. However, as Hirshberg shows, both biographies were contaminated by insertions, and were especially inflected by later traditions’ claims regarding Nyangrel’s incarnational identities.3 There are several additional biographical texts, such as one drawn from a collection of Kabgyé-related biographies, Jamgön Kongtrül’s entry in his compendium of Treasure Revealer biographies, as well as Düdjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje’s composite account included in his Nyingma history, which is primarily based on Guru Tashi’s Dharma History.4
The Stainless Proclamations: Chos kyi 'od zer, Myang ston bsod nams seng ge, and Mi 'gyur rdo rje. “Sprul sku mnga' bdag chen po'i skyes rabs rnam thar dri ma med pa'i bka' rgya can la ldeb”, in Katok: Bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa'i chos skor, vol. 1, 1-163. Gangtok: Lama Sonam Tobgay Kazi, 1978;
But these secondary sources do not supply anything additional to what is found in The Stainless Proclamations and The Clear Mirror, and they generally summarize the information from The Clear Mirror. Of the two main biographies, The Clear Mirror was by far the more widely circulated, and The Stainless Proclamations, which seems to have been out of circulation for several centuries, is a bit of an outlier in terms of the discrepant information it provides. Hirshberg convincingly argues that The Stainless Proclamations bears signs of being edited into its current state at a relatively late juncture as compared to The Clear Mirror, but I believe it also evidences elements of an older stratum of Kabgyé materials.5 Of course, these positions are not mutually exclusive: as Hirshberg illustrates, these texts were subject to accretions and revisions over time, and so early and later narrative elements may both be present within one text. My treatment of its inclusion in the comprehensive Deshek Dupa editions in Chapter Three will make my reasoning clear. For now, let us review the details of Nyangrel’s life as gleaned from these sources.
Nyangrel was born to Nyangton Chökyi Korlo (nyang ston chos kyi ‘khor lo, d. 1142) and Jomo Yeshe Drön (jo mo ye shes gron) in the year of the Wood Dragon of the Second Rabchung cycle, or 1124 C.E. Nyangrel and his ancestors hailed from the Nyang (nyang or myang) clan, which enjoyed prominence in the imperial period, with several members serving in the court of the Tibetan emperors.6 There is also an eponymous region west of Lhasa, but it The Clear Mirror: Myang ston rig 'dzin lhun grub 'od zer. “Bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa'i gter ston myang sprul sku nyi ma 'od zer gyi rnam thar gsal ba'i me long”, in Tsamdrak: Bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa'i chos skor, vol. 2, 199-381. Paro: Lama Ngödrup, 1979.
5 Hirshberg 2016, 47.
6 See: Hirshberg 2016, 20. The Nyang (myang) were one of the twelve principal clans in pre-imperial Tibet. As Buddhists, they were close disciples and likely patrons of Vimalamitra, but are also said to have sided with the Chinese proponent of subitism at the Samye debate. Two Nyang clansmen, however, remained in the inner court of
seems that, by the twelfth century, the Nyang family was not one of the power players among aristocratic rivals in central Tibet, and Nyangrel’s forebears had removed themselves from the action by settling with a small band of disciples in Lhodrak (lho brag) to the south of Lhasa, a mountainous region bordering present-day Bhutan.7 They were known to have been accomplished tantric adepts, and Nyangton would be Nyangrel’s master, as was tradition in Early Translation communities.
Nyangrel’s childhood appearance was said to have been dominated by sacred bodily marks, and his parents kept him in isolation for the first six years of his life.8 He is said to have spent much of his youth in strict retreat in the mountains near his family home in Lhodrak, perfecting the tantric practice system of Hayagrīva, which seems to have been a family specialty.9 Nyangrel also received initiation for the Sri Heruka, Yamāntaka, and Vajrakīlaya tantric cycles at a relatively early age. While Nyangrel’s two biographical sources differ in regards to the details concerning his youth, The Clear Mirror reports that he had many visions
and past-life memories from a young age, and apparently recalled his previous incarnation as the great Tibetan emperor Tri Song Detsän.10 At some point, Nyangrel sought out the instruction of other gurus, including Chökyi Drakpa (chos kyi grags pa) and Chökyi Dorje (chos kyi rdo rje), King Tride Songtsen, son of Tri Song Detsän. The Tibetan home minister at that time was Nyang Trizang Legdruk (myang khri bzang legs drug), and foreign minister was Nyang Lektsen (myang legs btsan). By the early twelfth century, It seems that the prestige of the clan had diminished, as Nyangrel’s father, Nyangton Chökyi Korlo, opted for (or ended up with) a more modest life in a southern valley of Lhodrak, relatively far from the machinations of aristocratic rivalries. Nyangrel’s parents were known to be devout tantric practitioners, and Nyangrel himself would end up nearly impoverished with a small band of close disciples performing thaumaturgical rites for a meager livelihood.
who instructed him in Indian tantras with their commentaries. Most consequential for Nyangrel’s revelation career, however, were Lama Rashak (bla ma ra shag, a.ka., bsod nams rdo rje, c.12th cent) and Tertön Drubtop Ngödrup (grub thob dngos grub), both of whom played seminal roles in Nyangrel’s treasure revelation activities. While the biographical sources present different accounts of just how these gurus influenced Nyangrel, it is clear that they were both important to Nyangrel’s career, supplying the young tertön (gter ston, lit. “treasure finder”) with treasure certificates, texts, and advice that would facilitate his revelation activities. Once his revelation career was underway, Nyangrel relied on vivid visionary experiences and fortuitous
circumstances to extract several scriptural corpora and many thaumaturgical materials from mountain sites and imperial temples in Lhodrak and around Samyé (bsam yas, Tibet’s eldest imperial Buddhist temple). These biographical sources depict Nyangrel’s life as one punctuated with sacred visions, auspicious meetings, and especially focused on harm-averting ritual and meditative practice.
Nyangrel’s most important revelations included The Great Compassionate One (thugs rje chen po), which would be a cornerstone of the Mani Kabum (mani bka’ ‘bum) corpus of Avalokiteśvara lore; the Secret Dākinī (mkha’ ‘gro gsang ba) and Guru Vidyādhara (bla ma rig ‘dzin) tantric cycles; the Sugata-Assembly of the Eight Teachings (bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa); the Copper Island Chronicle hagiography of Padmasambhava (bka’ thang zangs gling ma); and a corpus of Great Perfection materials known as Crown Pith (spyi ti). Nyangrel also authored a pivotal religious history, The Honey Nectar, Essence of Flowers: A Dharma History (chos 'byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud), in which a definitive narrative for Tibet’s assimilation of Buddhism was advanced.
Nyangrel was apparently poor for much of his career, and relied on the performance of paid apotropaic rituals to support himself and his community.11 He was eventually able to summon the resources to build a hermitage at Mawochok (smra bo lcogs), a rocky mountainside some distance up-valley from the Khoting temple, where he would spend much of his life in semi-retreat. Nyangrel raised his family there, and entrusted his lineages to his four sons, especially Drogön Namkha Rinchen Pel (‘gro mgon nam mkha’ rin chen dpal, 1164-1246), who became well-known as a master of the apotropaic arts, and master to famous Guru Chökyi Wangchuk (chos kyi dbang phyug, 1212-1270). Mawochok would become an important site for the propagation of the Eight Teachings, and we know that lamas travelled there as late as the eighteenth century to receive Kabgyé training from Nyangrel’s descendents. One of the only Kabgyé manuscripts purporting to have been recovered by Nyangrel was allegedly kept there until it was destroyed by the Chinese in the 1950s.12
Nyangrel’s importance to Tibetan historiography cannot be overstated. As Hirshberg shows, Nyangrel was not only responsible for how virtually all Tibetans would come to understand the role of Padmasambhava, but was also one of the earliest proponents of the incarnation theory that would lead to institutionalized forms of the practice as we know it today, and as exemplified in the Karmapa and Dalai Lama lineages.13 In his religious history and revealed hagiography of Padmasambhava, Nyangrel advanced a recursive and divinely sanctioned vision of Tibet’s history which would afford Tibet a central place in the history of the 11 The Clear Mirror, 331. Also, Hirshberg 2016, 24. 12 Janet Gyatso, “Signs, Memory, and History: A Tantric Buddhist Theory of Scriptural Transmission.” Journal of the Interantional Association of Buddhist Studies vol. 9, no. 2 (1986), 33, note 44. 13 See Hirshberg 2016, chpt. 2.
Buddhadharma altogether.14 According to this, the establishment of a Buddhist empire by Songtsän Gampo in the seventh century was the inception of a latently sacred kingdom by none other than Avalokiteśvara, and the establishment of Buddhist institutions in Tibet revolved around heroic acts of demon-subjugation and temple building. Tri Song Detsän was aided in his own efforts to establish Buddhism by Padmasambhava, and their relationship would germinate multiple traditions of Buddhist teachings and practice, many of which were concealed for timely rediscovery by future generations. Additionally, Tri Song Detsän and the other main disciples of Padmasambhava would reincarnate in Tibet to continue the work of propagating tantric doctrine and dealing with the tempestuous gods of the Tibetan landscape. While this coherent story of
Tibet’s history in divinely sanctioned and recursive terms has precedent in earlier historiographic sources, it emerges most enduringly in Nyangrel’s compositions. Nyangrel’s historical and scriptural literature thus brought the imagined Tibetan imperium to the fore, and created a template for sanctioning doctrinal and institutional authority through invoking (and literally retrieving) the presence of the great empire through scripture, memory, and sacred realia. Nyangrel’s oeuvre coheres around a vision of religious mastery that imagines the harmaverting ritual adept as the paradigmatic Buddhist master. In this, Nyangrel was able to emplot
himself, his vocation, and his Early Translation community at the center of an emergent Buddhist culture. These attempts at curating a new vision for Tibetan religious history were likely successful because, as Hayden White shows, historical narratives must cohere around alreadyaccepted core story forms. Thus, Nyangrel was able to recruit a familiar complex of mythohistorical narratives, praxical idioms, and buddhological discourses, weaving them into a newly 14 Nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer. chos ‘byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi’i bcud (Honey Nectar, The Essence Of Flowers: A Dharma History). Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe bskrun khang, 1988; Nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer (revealer). bka’ thang zangs gling ma (The Copper Island Biography). Khreng tu'u: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1989.
coherent vision of history and one community’s place within it. The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa absolutely participated in this overarching literary world, and would be deployed again and again to revive, assert, and reform the Nyingma denomination over many centuries. What is the Kabgyé?
The Kabgyé tradition consists of scriptural cycles centering on eight wrathful tutelary deities (heruka in Sanskrit, khrag ‘thung in Tibetan).15 This tradition is an open one, remaining more or less accepting of proliferation in the form of new revelation scriptures and supplementary ritual texts. New iterations of the Eight Teachings have emerged as recently as the early twentieth century (if not more recently), and the Kabgyé framework continues to be manipulated as an overarching rubric for the organization of tantric knowledge. Nonetheless, the Kabgyé always coheres around the basic templates first appearing in Nyangrel’s Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, specifically the narratives, ritual mandalas, and harm-averting practices involving the eight herukas.
While heruka imagery developed in India well before Buddhism’s spread to Tibet, and was present in Tibet from the time of Tantric Buddhism’s initial dispensation in the seventh through ninth centuries, the Deshek Dupa seems to have been the first corpus devoted to this particular consortium of eight fierce Buddhist icons. Kabgyé lore holds that the cycle was initially dispensed by ḍākinī goddesses to the Eight Vidyādharas (rig ‘dzin brgyad) in India prior to the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet. However, from a historical perspective, the literary evidence
available to us suggests that the Deshek Dupa was incubated in Tibet, perhaps before the time of 15 Literally meaning “blood drinker”, khrag ‘thung is a general term for wrathful tantric deities, whose demonic iconography represents the uncompromising quality of Buddhist gnosis and compassion. The Sanskrit term heruka is technically untranslatable, but means something like “hey, lord”. Its curious translation by Tibetans as “blood drinker” reflects how these tantric divinities came to be understood as participating in a general aesthetic of horrific iconography and the associations of these tantric systems with charnel ground mythology. See: Ronald Davidson, Indian Esoteric Buddhism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, p. 213.
The mandala of eight Kabgyé tutelary deities consists of Chemchok Heruka (Tib. che mchog, Skt. Mahottara, “Great Sacred One”), Yangdak / Sri Heruka (yang dak, sri khrag thung, Skt. Vishuddha heruka, “Glorious Heruka”), Shinjé (gshin rje, Skt. Yamāntaka,,“Lord of Death”), Tamdrin (rta mgrin, Skt. Hayagrīva, “Horse-Headed”), Dorje Phurba (rdo rje phur ba, Skt. Vajrakīla, “Indestructible Dagger”), Mamo Bötong (ma mo rbod rtong, Skt. Matārah, “Inciting and Dispatching the Fierce Goddess”), Jigten Chötö ( ‘jig rten mchod btsod, Skt. Lokastotrapūjā “Worldly Praise and Offering”), and Möpa Drangak (dmod pa drag sngags, Skt. Vajramāntrabhiru, “Wrathful Maledictory Mantra”). A ninth figure, Lama Rigzin (bla ma rig ‘dzin, Skt. Guru Vidyādhara, “Master Awareness-Holder”) fills out the nine directional positions
of the mandala. The Kabgyé cycles also entail elements drawn from the Net of Magical Emanation (sgyu ‘phrul ‘drwa ba, Skt. Māyājāla) genre of Mahāyoga tantra, specifically the Five Sugata Family (bde gshegs rigs lnga) mandala, and the Peaceful-Wrathful (zhi khro) deity complex. But whereas Magical Emanation tantras such as the Secret Nucleus (gsang ba’i snying po, Skt. Guhyagarbhatantra) mostly focus on the peaceful deity mandalas to communicate important tantric doctrines, the Kabgyé cycles clearly favor the wrathful mandala as the foundation for a distinctive approach to self-cultivation and ritual practice. The Kabgyé materials
are consistently oriented towards the tropes of demon control and harm-aversion, and I suggest that the conflation of the soteriological and apotropaic – that is, the self-cultivational and harmaverting – dimensions of tantric practice is a key legacy of the Kabgyé tradition, particularly in how its ritualism took life in Nyingma institutions.
Secret Eight Teachings (bka' brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs), and Rigzin Gödem’s (rig‘dzin rgod ldem, 1337-1408) Self-Arisen Fierce Eight Teachings (bka' brgyad drag po rang shar). These two cycles are both smaller than the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, but significant enough to garner attention to the degree that all three cycles – the Deshek Dupa, the Sangwa Yongdzok, and the Drakpo Rangshar – are together considered to represent a full revelation of Kabgyé tantras, sadhanas, and rituals.16 This list of foundational Kabgyé cycles was expanded in the eighteenth century to include six distinct Kabgyé revelation cycles from other masters said to represent
enlightened body (sku), speech (gsungs), mind (thugs), qualities (yon tan), action (phrin las), and their unity. According to Katok Rigzin Tsewang Norbu (kaḥ thog rig 'dzin tshe dbang nor bu, 1698-1755), Nyangrel’s Deshek Dupa was the “Enlightened Actions” treasure, Chowang’s Sangwa Yongdzok was the “Enlightened Qualities” treasure; Godem’s Drakpo Rangshar was the “Enlightened Speech” revelation; Pema Lingpa’s bka’ brgyad me long was the “Enlightened Mind” cycle, Samten Lingpa’s bka’ brgyad yang gsang dregs ‘dul cycle was the “Enlightened Body” treasure, and Ögyan Lingpa’s bka' 'dus chos kyi rgya mtsho was especially
comprehensive.17 Nyangrel’s Deshek Dupa, however, has proven to be the most influential across Nyingma institutions, providing the basis for many ritual and contemplative programs over eight centuries.
The Kabgyé cycle, as well as the copious supplementary literature that has emerged around it, is generally regarded as revelation literature, or “revealed treasure” (gter ma, terma). It is said not to have been composed by Nyangrel per se, but rather extracted, discovered, or 16 Daniel Hirshberg’s forthcoming work focuses on the treatment of the Kabgyé between these three masters, and especially Guru Chowang’s claims to authority vis-à-vis custodianship and advancement of Nyangrel’s Kabgyé tradition.
otherwise retrieved in accordance with prophecies and karmic destiny. This mode of apocryphal scripture production was somewhat established by Nyangrel’s time, and may be interpreted as a strategy to confront the growing prominence of new denominations in a “later spread” (phyi dar) of Tantric Buddhism into Tibet in the tenth and eleventh centuries. According to terma tradition, eighth-century missionaries and translator-adepts such as Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra were said to have concealed scriptures for expeditious future recovery, when the cultural and institutional context would be ripe for special teachings. The recovery of scriptures, then, became a way for the eldest Tibetan Buddhist denomination to maintain currency while continuing to sanction their practice regimes in ancient traditions. Much of this approach to apocryphal
scripture production is owed to Nyangrel, at least in how he is remembered by Tibetan tradition.18 In addition to being a prolific revealer of Buddhist terma, Nyangrel was an architect of the distinctive historiography that would come to contextualize the revelation tradition. It was Nyangrel, for example, who codified an elevated view of Padmasambhava as the foundational Buddhist missionary, and set into motion the narrative format for the concealment and revelation procedures for Buddhist terma.19 Thus, each piece of Kabgyé literature is said to record the teachings of Padmasambhava to Emperor Tri Song Detsän during the Indian saint’s missionary visit in the eighth century, later concealed by members of Padmasambhava’s inner circle of disciples, to be revealed by a future incarnations of the Tibetan king.
19 While Nyangrel is regarded as Tibet’s “First Tertön King”, it is important to understand that treasure revelation in Nyangrel’s time did not necessarily conform to later expectations for the procedures of gter ma recovery. As Cathy Cantwell, Robert Mayer, and Daniel Hirshberg have pointed out, Nyangrel’s revelations entailed the curation of existing traditions, or, as Mayer and Hirshberg call it, “textual tradency”. It was only several centuries after Nyangrel that visionary and extractive procedures for the recovery of gter ma were standardized in concert with overarching ideas about tantric practice and visionary experience. See: Hirshberg 2016, chpt. 3; and Robert Mayer, “gTer ston and Tradent: Innovation and Conservation in Tibetan Treasure Literature.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 36/37 (2015): 227-243.
While tradition generally regards the Kabgyé cycle as paradigmatic of terma literature, the organizational format of the Kabgyé has also come to typologize all sorts of tantric materials which were transmitted to Tibet in the first spread of Buddhism in the eighth century. As early as the fourteenth century – and perhaps coming from within the Kabgyé itself – we see the notion that any tantric materials associated with the deities collated in the Kabgyé system – deities such as Hayagrīva, Vajrakīla, and Yamāntaka – first entered circulation in India alongside the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa under the custodianship of the Eight Vidyādhāras. As we will see, some sources suggest that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa circulated in a “transmitted” (bka’ ma, kama) iteration,
and was directly received by Nyangrel from his masters, Lama Rashak and Tertön Druptop Ngödrup. There are several lineal lists associated with such a transmitted Deshek Dupa (the “‘bka ma bka’ brgyad”), and I will even suggest that a tantra of unclear origins included in the Nyingma tantric canon may represent a pre-Nyangrel stratum of Kabgyé materials. Thus, the Kabgyé has long referred to a set of revelation cycles, a transmitted tantric tradition, and also to an organizational template for a vast array of tantric materials, which, at some point, came to be known as the “Accomplishment Class” (sgrub sde) of Mahāyoga literature. The development of this comprehensive notion of the Kabgyé’s origins and stature will be a central concern of this dissertation.
In terms of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa revelation cycle, while it is clear that Nyangrel Nyima Özer revealed (or perhaps authored, curated, or otherwise recovered) a corpus of scriptures centering on eight wrathful herukas, it is certain that the corpus was subject to accretions and reformulations following Nyangrel’s time. The Kabgyé quickly became an influential body of knowledge. It was edited and disseminated in increasingly complex formats, and would ultimately be published in carefully curated editions for use as a sourcebook for
doctrinal and ritual knowledge in institutional settings. It was also included in the important scriptural anthologies of the Nyingma, and would provide one of the main rubrics for organizing tantric knowledge in the context of the multiple canons of the Nyingma school. The resulting impression is that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was always a coherent corpus with ancient origins, naturally connected to taxonomies of doctrines and practices that developed in India. This is, I think, a somewhat artificial conception, advanced by the editorial efforts of ecclesiasts between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries who devoted their efforts to constructing ever-more coherent pictures of Nyingma identity and models of authority via anthologization and the ritualization of scriptural traditions. The contributions of these institutional figures will be assessed in Chapters Two and Three.
While it may be the case that a core assembly of tantras (rgyud), teachings (lung, man ngag), self-cultivational practices (sgrub thabs, las byang), and harm-averting rituals (bzlog pa) had origins in Nyangrel’s time, if not before, the massive compendium of ritual protocols and doctrinal knowledge that the Kabgyé corpus has become was the result of centuries of accretions. Rhetoric about the origins of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa is tied to broader efforts to articulate the parameters of denominational identities, and a critical analysis of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s reception history will provide us with the picture of a constantly developing tradition, morphing
in response to its custodians’ vested interest in strongly articulating the authority of their own tradition. This is not to suggest that whatever it was that Nyangrel produced, curated, or authored in the twelfth century was not a coherent corpus. As the title suggests, there is no doubt that this was a set of scriptures – a ‘dus pa, or “collection” – that offered an unprecedented collation of tantric materials. However, in appraising the rhetoric of coherence, it is important to note that prevalent attitudes about the Kabgyé’s foundational place in the doxographic architecture of its
The Kabgyé brings together five major tantric systems which circulated in India and early Buddhist Tibet: Yamāntaka (Tib. gshin rje), Hayagrīva (rta mgrin), Sri Heruka or Vishuddha (yang dag or dpal he ru ka), Mahottara / Vajra Amrita (che mchog he ru ka,), and Vajrakīla (rdo rje phur ba).20 These deities are tied to the architecture of Mahāyoga buddhology: in some sources they are mapped to the Five Sugata Families of Ratna, Padma, Vajra, Buddha, and Karma; while, according to the main tantra of Nyangrel’s revealed Kabgyé, they are typologized as enlightened body (sku), speech (gsung), mind (thugs), quality (yon tan), and action (phrin las). These five deities, known within the context of the Kabgyé cycle as the five
“transcendental ones” (‘jig rten las ‘das pa), were among the main tutelary-deity systems already practiced by Early Translation tantrists, and it seems that traditions associated with each of these icons had come from India during the first dispensation of Tantric Buddhism. Some, such as Yamāntaka, Hayagrīva, and Vajrakīlaya, existed in discrete scriptures, while Mahottara is featured as the central deity of the Guhyagarbha-tantra.21 Nyingma doxography has come to
claim that these tantric systems all originated with the initial dispensation of the Kabgyé in India, and are essentially categorizable as features of a “transmitted” or “long-lineage” Kabgyé cycle 20 I retain the Sanskrit names for the five tantric tutelary deities to reflect the Indian origin of these five characters. The Tibetan names given here are normalized; there are a range of common aliases for each divinity, often appearing within a single text. See figure 1, below.
21 Düdjom’s history tells us, for example, that Humkara propagated the system of Sri Heruka, with various of his commentarial texts making it to Tibet. Likewise with Mañjuśrīmitrā’s Yamāntaka cycle, which was upheld by the Kyo clan; and also Padmasambhava and Prabhahasti’s Vajrakīlaya traditions, which we do find in evidence in the Dunhuang collection. Mahottara materials are also present in Dunhuang and are associated with the zhi-khro (peaceful-wrathful) complex of Magical Emanation deities. All of these represent pre-twelfth century lineages of the five transcendental herukas at the center of the Kabgyé.
Adepts in post-imperial Tibet would have specialized in any one such system, but often had training in several (if not all five) meditation and ritual regimes. However, there seems to have been no collation of these systems into one corpus prior to the Deshek Dupa, and I suggest that the collation of these five (plus four others, for a total of nine) tantric cycles provided, for the first time, a canon of these ritual-centric scriptures for Early Translation practitioners. This dissertation will appraise the impact of this collation in terms of the Nyingma’s denominational self-understanding.
The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa also exhibits ritual formats and narrative idioms reflective of Tibetan ritual culture, especially in the three cycles in the corpus not known to have direct Indian precedents: Mamo Bötong (ma mo rbod gtong, Invoking and Commanding the Fierce Goddess), Jigten Chötö (‘jig rten mchod bstod, Worldly Praise and Offering), and Möpa Drangak (dmod pa drag sngags, Wrathful Malediction). The texts associated with these so-called “worldly” (‘jig rten pa) deities are interesting for the way they represent a hybrid demonology strongly tied to
Tibetan ritual lore. In these texts we find reference to autochthonous divinities (i.e., gods and demons associated with the landscape) only known on the Tibetan plateau, and their attendant ritual texts provide many means for controlling them through rituals redolent of the sacrificial rites that were important to pre-Buddhist religiosity across the Himalaya and Tibet. Such an amalgam of Tantric Buddhist and indigenous elements would certainly have been possible in the fragmentation and localization of religion in the period following the collapse of the Tibetan empire in the ninth century. An analysis of how the Kabgyé incorporated the indigenous Tibetan pantheon, as well as some cautionary remarks about the idea of indigenous syncretism, will
In addition to the nine main herukas of the Kabgyé mandala, there are 406 retinue deities with consorts, plus five sets of sixty messengers and twelve protective gods, along with seven ma mo goddesses, making a total of 734 mandala deities. They are typically arranged with Mahottara in the center, Sri Heruka in the east, Yamāntaka in the south, Hayagrīva in the west, and Vajrakīlaya in the north; Mamo Bötong is in the southeast, Lama Rigdzin to the southwest, Jigten Chötö to the northwest, and Möpa Drangak to the northeast. This is how the full Deshek Dupa wrathful mandala would be depicted and visualized. Mahottara (mche mchog), the central deity of the Eight Teachings Mandala. Himalayan Art Resources
Altogether, the Kabgyé deities are chiefly representative of the wrathful (khro bo) idiom of tantric soteriology.22 Their iconography is that of destruction, death, wild fearsomeness, and transgressive sexuality, all interpretable as symbolic of the uncompromising quality of compassion and the incisive nature of gnostic wisdom. The idiom of subjugative violence, positioned as the “fierce compassion” of enlightened agents, will be a chief concern of our analysis of the Eight Teachings tradition, and we shall explore how this doctrinal and ritual idiom was leveraged in the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s reception by Nyingma adepts and ecclesiastical figures. In this, I will suggest that violence was the central feature of the Kabgyé’s imaginal world, operating across several registers to facilitate the Kabgyé’s unique capacity to bolster identities and augment Buddhist subjectivities.
22 Hirshberg (2016) challenges the translation of khro bo as “wrath”, opting instead for “fierce”. Hirshberg suggests that the translation of khro bo as “wrath” is too closely aligned with “Catholic notions of irea caelestes, ‘divine wrath’…This term connotes a sense of vengeance and emotional content, both of which contradict the nature of these Buddhas according to tradition...‘wrath’ as the translation of khro bo signifies a misapplication of biblical notions of a God defined by emotive experience …which is incongruent with Buddhist notions…As such, ‘fierce’ is a more appropriate translation” (Hirshberg 2016, 38, note 66).
The doctrinal and contemplative system associated with this iconography is that of Mahāyoga (Tib. rnal ‘byor chen po), a tantric system emphasizing imaginative meditation, elaborate ritualism, and sexual and violent idioms. As Jacob Dalton and Sam van Schaik point out, the term Mahāyoga underwent significant change in between its origins in eighth century India up through post-fragmentation Tibet, initially referring to what were once the newest and
most innovative tantric scriptures, and later superseded according to the nine-vehicle doxography by the classes of Anu and Atiyoga. At some point, a canon of eighteen Mahāyoga scriptures emerged, but the origins of this arrangement are murky, and only became regularized with Longchenpa’s fourteenth century iteration.23 In general, the Mahāyoga category of tantras came
to refer to doctrinal and ritual systems emphasizing the bipartite “Generation Stage” (bskyed rim) deity visualization practices, and “Perfection” or “Completion Stage” (rdzogs rim) yoga 23 See: Orna Almogi, “The Eighteen Mahayoga Tantric Cycles: A real Canon or the Mere Notion of One?” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 30 (2014): 47-110. Almogi suggests that while Tibetans inherited a concept of an eighteen-part tantric canon, it was a slow process of accretion and cross-listing that led to the first such explicitly Mahāyoga eighteen-part canons in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
harnessing the intensity of psycho-sexual bodily experience. Van Schaik’s analysis of tenthcentury Mahāyoga commentarial texts at Dunhuang reveals that Mahāyoga was also, at that time, explicitly defined by: the subsumption of the Five Sambhogakaya Buddhas into the “single mode” of Vajrasattva (rigs lnga tshul gcig du lta); the “non-fixation” (mi dmigs) to concepts, especially notions of purity and impurity; and the yogas of “liberation” (sgrol ba) and “union” (sbyor ba), referring to effigistic (or perhaps real) sacrificial violence, and real or imagined sexual yoga.24 Before the tenth century, it seems that Mahāyoga scriptures represented the
cutting edge of tantric doctrine and practice, and the term “great perfection” (rdzogs pa chen po) may have first appeared in the context of Completion Stage practice as a further transcendental iteration of the Perfection Stage.25 But in the wake of the appearance of the Gathering of Intentions Sutra (dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo), the percolation of proto-Mind Series (sems sde) literature, and the influx of New Translation (gsar ma) tantras after the tenth century, new doxographical schemes supplanted Mahāyoga with scriptures of different emphases, specifically those categorized as Anu and Atiyoga. The subordination of Mahāyoga to increasingly somatic
and transcendental contemplative systems was in fact well underway in the ninth century, when Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes, 9th cent.) wrote his tantric commentaries promoting the nine-vehicle (thegs pa dgu) taxonomy of tantric doctrine. Such formulations (i.e., the nine-vehicle format, and the subsumption of all vehicles to the Great Perfection) are explicitly present in Kabgyé Deshek Dupa texts, revealing the pervasive influence of Tibetan exegesis such as Nubchen’s in Nyangrel’s time, not to mention the probable Tibetan 24 See: Sam van Schaik, “A Definition of Mahāyoga.” Tantric Studies, vol. 1., 2008. 25 Sam van Schaik, “The Early Days of the Great Perfection”, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 27:1 (2004): 165-207.
Nyangrel’s Kabgyé cycle also pushed the limits of Mahāyoga in what appears to be an adoption of certain elements of the “siddha tantrism” of the Yoginī Tantras, or Mother Tantras (Tib. ma rgyud) which were being introduced to Tibet in the later spread (phyi dar) of Tantric Buddhism. We specifically see this in the elevation of the dākinī as a tutelary deity, the amplification of violent iconography, and in the imagery of charnel ground asceticism in the Kabgyé tantras. Nyangrel’s embrace of these features is not surprising, considering the growing influence of New Translation (gsar ma) systems of tantric practice. Whether this incorporation of Yoginī templates was a premeditated attempt by Nyangrel to innovate the Mahāyoga cycles distinctive to Early Translation practitioners, or whether this was a natural development resulting from the dialogue between tantric traditions in South-Central Tibet, we do not know.
As a tantric contemplative system, the Kabgyé cycle retains an oral exegetical lineage with deeply esoteric dimensions. Few Tibetans have openly taught the Kabgyé in exile, and its practice in Tibet is generally reserved for adepts privately trained by qualified masters. A glimpse into the quintessential content of such an oral lineage can be seen in Chögyam Trungpa’s (zur mang drung pa chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1940-87) brief but provocative introduction to the Kabgyé (“Eight Logos” according to his translation) to Western students between 1973 and 1975.26 In his comments, Trungpa describes the iconography of the eight wrathful herukas in experiential terms, suggesting that the system altogether is concerned with the transmutation of the eight consciousnesses into different varieties of “thatness” (de nyid), or primordial reality. 26 Chogyam Trungpa. The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Boston: Shambhala Publications. vol. 3,
In his presentation, the elements of wrathful iconography represent the ways in which conventionally negative experiences such as aggression, psycho-physical pollution, and death itself, can be recast as expressions of primordial gnosis. Trungpa’s interpretation fits his overall pattern of psychologizing esoteric doctrine to resonate with modern audiences. But given the deeply esoteric nature of the Eight Teachings’ practice tradition, it is hard to know whether he was being innovative or traditional in this particular presentation. Based on some exposure to Kabgyé exegesis in Tibet, I suspect his presentation in this case was rather traditional, reflective of his rarified training as a celebrated incarnate lama.
The term “Kabgyé” has been translated in a variety of ways by Tibetan and Western translators. These include Eight Pronouncements, Eight Teachings, Eight Precepts, Eight Practice-Instructions, Eight Transmitted Teachings, Eight Dispensations, Eight Commands, Eight Cosmic Teachings, and Eight Logos, among other translations. At first glance, “Eight Logos” seems the most idiosyncratic of these, although this is the translation by Chögyam Trungpa, who arguably had a superior grasp among English-speaking translators of the tradition in emic terms. The most common translations include Eight Pronouncements, Eight Precepts, or Eight Transmitted Precepts.
The difference in these translations owes to the multivalence of the word bka’. As registered by the bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo Tibetan dictionary, bka’ is an honorific term for speech, or words, (e.g. rgyal po’i bka’: “the King’s words/speech”); it is also the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit vacana, referring to the teachings of the Buddha (“as distinct from
treatises about them”: bka' dang bstan bcos gnyis su phye ba'i bka').27 From this point of view, basic renderings of bka’ brgyad could include Eight Teachings, Eight Precepts, Eight Commands, or Eight Proclamations. However, from the perspective of tantric buddhology, the Buddha’s speech entails a primordial dimension, captured in Trungpa’s use of the term logos. Trungpa explains:
In this case, bka’ is more like a fundamental cosmic structure; it is the ultimate utterance of the universe from the point of view of the sambhogakaya. Therefore, I decided to translate bka’ using the Christian term logos, which comes from Greek and means ‘Word’; or ‘Utterance’. Bka’ is both sacred word and first word. It is the primeval expression of things. So altogether we have eight types of primeval expression.28 In light of the tantric doctrine that all dharmic teachings are directly expressive of the nonlinguistic order of the ultimate ground, this phenomenological translation makes sense.
According to the tantric narrative framing the cycle, Primordial Buddha All-Good (kun tu bzang po, Skt. Samantabhadra) first gives expression to the Kabgyé teachings by emanating the eight Kabgyé mandalas, and this disclosure is the self-expression of the primordial nature itself. The Kabgyé mandalas emanated from the mind-state (dgongs pa) of Samantabhadra are the
expressive structure, the logos, of the primordial reality. At the same time, within the narrative of the root tantra, these mandalas are “taught” by Kuntu Zangpo (although, as we shall see, “teaching” in the visionary realm of the “Symbolic Lineage of Awareness-Holders” (rig ‘dzin brda brgyud) is not necessarily linguistic); they are teachings that express the very structure of enlightened reality, communicated in mandalic imagery. So, from the perspective of the narrative action of the tantras, the mandalas of the Kabgyé, and the tantric knowledge associated with
27 Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, vol. 1, 68: 1) gsung ste skad cha'i zhe sa/... 4) bka' dang bstan bcos gnyis su phye ba'i bka' ste/ brjod bya don ldan gyi chos dang 'brel zhing/ byed las khams gsum gyi nyon mongs spong ba/ 'bras bu zhi ba myang 'das kyi phan yon ston pa/ rang gi bdag rkyen sangs rgyas la brten nas byung ba'i gsung rab/ 28 Trungpa 2013, vol. 3, 645
them are, indeed, “Eight Teachings”. In sum, bka’ in this context refers to the teachings of Kuntu Zangpo within the primordial, symbolic, and linguistic dimensions of reality, the architecture of enlightened ontology, and the specific templates for self-cultivational practice (i.e., the eight mandalas). For a word that encompasses both the didactic and structural aspects of the Kabgyé, logos (or logoi in the plural) would be a good choice. However, for the purposes of this present piece of scholarship, I have elected to use the more conventional Eight Teachings.
A numerology of eight (brgyad) appears across Nyangrel’s works, and is generally significant to the mandala-centric iconography of Mahāyoga tradition. The Kabgyé centers on an assembly of eight divinities. We also find repeating eightfold lists of demonic entities involved in the mythology and ritualism of the cycle. The deeds of Padmasambhava in Tibet, as illustrated in Nyangrel’s hagiography, also circulate around eight acts of demon taming. As Daniel Hirshberg observes, the Eight Names of Guru Rinpoche (gu ru mtshan brgyad), while not explicitly present in Nyangrel’s work, were probably derived from a visionary experience
recorded in Nyangrel’s biography in which a ḍākinī invites him to witness an eight-fold mandala of Padmasambhava’s emanational forms.29 Moreover, the Mahāyana formulation of Eight Great Bodhisattvas was popular throughout the early centuries of Tibetan Buddhism, and commentarial tradition asserts that these eight bodhisattvas represent the purified form of the eight consciousnesses. The same interpretation is given to the Eight Herukas of the Kabgyé mandala, as seen in Trungpa’s remarks above. But the most obvious correlation is with the eight cardinal
and subsidiary directions of a mandala, redolent of a micro-macrocosmic homologation between the icons of the contemplative system (the Eight Herukas), the visionary dimension of the physical environment (the Eight Classes of Gods and Spirits), the eight strata of consciousness, 29 Daniel Hirshberg, “Himalayan Syncretism and the Emergence of Padmasambhava as rdo rje gro lod”, University of Virginia Tibet Center lecture, March 15, 2017.
and the apparent natural world with its eight cardinal and subsidiary directions. The numeral eight therefore takes on particular importance as a homological bridge between the orders of reality to be navigated by the kind of adept celebrated in the Deshek Dupa. Bde gshegs, a Tibetan contraction of bde bar gshegs pa, (lit. “ones having gone
blissfully”), translates the Sanskrit sugata, a title for buddhas.30 I retain the Sanskrit here as English does not easily accommodate the various qualitative expressions for enlightened individuals, and readers of this dissertation are likely familiar with the Sanskrit term sugata. What remains unknown is why the wrathful herukas of the Kabgyé are called bde bar gshegs pa
in particular. I have not seen any internal explanation of this within the Kabgyé texts. I suppose the reason has to do with the assertion that the wrathful mandala of Kabgyé is directly expressive of the primordial Buddha’s gnosis, and thus the deities of this mandala are fully enlightened emanational forms, just as were the historical and cosmic Buddhas, who are more regularly designated as sugata according to Mahāyana tradition. The appellation bde bar gshegs pa is sometimes supplemented in text titles with bcom ldan ‘das, “Transcendental Victor”, another epithet for the Buddha.
Another compelling term in the cycle’s title is ‘dus pa. The meaning of this term – a nominalization of the perfective tense of ‘du ba, “to gather” – is clear: an assembly. However, as we will see, this term takes on several meanings within the foundational mythology of the cycle, referring to several aspects of the Kabgyé’s dispensation. These references include the collation
of scriptures centuring on the Eight Herukas in the human realm, and also the redactive teaching activities of enlightened beings dwelling in primordial and visionary dimensions. These uses of ‘dus ba have distinctive buddhological implications, as will be discussed in Chapter Three. As 30 Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 2008 revision: “su-gata: mfn going well; one who has fared well; m A Buddha”
for how to render ‘dus pa in the context of the cycle’s title, it may seem ambiguous whether the term refers to an assembly of divinities, or to the assembly of eight teachings. Grammatically speaking, the title could be accurately rendered “The Collected Eight Teachings of the Sugatas”, “The Eight Teachings of the Collected Sugatas”, or the “Collection of the Sugatas of the Eight Teachings”. Given that the Kabgyé mandala is said to entail the full range of divinities upon which one can rely for contemplative accomplishment – those representing enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities; the forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities; as well as divinities for accomplishing worldly aims – the notion of “Sugata-Assembly” seems appropriate to capture the scope of divine entities involved in the Kabgyé doctrines and practices. Therefore, I have resolved to translate bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa as “The Sugata-Assembly of the Eight Teachings”.
Like any tantric cycle, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa supplies its own origin myth. This is to be found in the first treasure text of the corpus, in a text called the “The Manner of the Arising of the Teachings of the Assembled Sugatas” (bde gshegs ‘dus pa bka’ byung tshul, hereafter, “The Arising”).31 This text, which has proven quite consequential for the Nyingma denomination’s doxographical conceptions, appears in only one recension of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus (the Katok-derived xylograph owned by Düdjom, and its nine-volume predecessor, as described
in Chapter Three). However, we also see it referenced by Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal (mnga’ ris pan chen padma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542) in his early sixteenth-century exposition on the Kabgyé’s history, and it is listed in Taksham Nuden Dorje’s (stag sham nus ldan rdo rje, 1655- 1708) index for his seventeenth-century edition of the Nyingma tantric canon, for which we only 31 bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i bka’ byung tshul (The Manner of the Arising of the Teachings of the Kabgye Deshek Dupa), in Katok: bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor, vol. 1, text 3, 231-272.
have the table of contents. The Arising is absent from other Kabgyé editions and canonical anthologies. Nonetheless, its narrative must have gained wide circulation from an early time, as it undergirds the normative account of the Kabgyé’s origins, and supplies doxographical conceptions which inform the organization of tantric knowledge according to the Nyingma, particularly in the development of the term Accomplishment Class (sgrub sde). This text opens with an account of the Kabgyé’s articulation in primordial, symbolic, and material realities, and its concealment at the Cool Grove (bsil ba’i tshal, Skt. Śītavana) charnel ground in Northern India, near Rajagriha. It is here that the Eight Vidyādharas (Tib. rig ‘dzin brgyad , the “Eight Awareness-Holders”) would come to receive the cycle.32 The text describes the gathering of Eight Vidyādharas at Śītavana, where the ḍākinī queen Mahākarmendrāī (Tib. legs kyi dbang mo) brings forth jewelled volumes from within a stupa. As Düdjom Rinpoche summarizes:
Bringing forth the caskets, she entrusted the gold casket containing the tantra of Mahottara to Vimalamitra, the silver casket containing that of Sri Heruka to Humkara, the iron casket containing that of Yamāntaka to Majusrimitra, the copper casket containing that of Hayagrīva to Nagarjuna, the turquoise casket containing that of Vajrakīlaya to Padmasambhava, the stone casket containing that of Fierce Goddess to Dhanasamkrta, the agate casket containing that of
Worldly Praise and Offering to Rambuguhya, and the dzi-stone casket containing that of Maledictory Incantation to Santigarbha. Each of them became adept in his own subject and attained the accomplishments of the way of mantras. From the casket made of eight kinds of precious gems there emerged the Spoken Teachings comprising the tantra and esoteric instructions of the Deshek Dupa,
32 See: Davidson 2003, chpts. 5-7, esp. 194-202 for an overview of the “siddha” ethos of late Indian Tantra. Also See: Martin Boord, The Deity Vajrakila: According to the Texts of the Northern Treasure Tradition of Tibet. Tring, U.K.: Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2013, pp.1720-74 for his take on the possible historical basis of this narrative of the cycle’s concealment and retrieval from a charnel-ground stupa by eight Vidyādharas. Boord suggests that, given the ubiquity of this narrative across several tantric traditions, including that of Japanese tantrism, there may very well be a historical core reality behind this myth. Boord suggests that the concealment of important tantras inside a charnel-ground stupa may have really occurred, spawning a host of myths regarding the origins of particular Mahāyoga and Anuyoga tantras.
So it was that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was received by one human being, Padmasambhava. The individual tantras associated with the Eight Herukas were individually bestowed to the Eight Vidyādhāras, and allegedly propagated in India and Nepal, whence they came to Tibet in the early days of the imperium’s adoption of Buddhism.34 The Arising actually lists some two hundred and forty such texts pertaining to the deities of the Kabgyé, many of which can be confirmed to have been tantras and sādhanās that did indeed gain circulation in Tibet during the first dispensation. So we see reflected in The Arising the idea that all materials associated with the deities collated by the Kabgyé were initially dispensed at Śītavana as part of a greater Kabgyé, or Accomplishment Class, dispensation. These materials include the individuated tantras and sādhanās of the Kabgyé-affiliated herukas, and also the comprehensive Kabgyé cycles that would become revealed treasure in Tibet.
As for the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s transmission in Tibet, the narrative continues: At the Secret Cave of Great Bliss of Samye Chimphu, the greatly realised Maha Acharya Padmasambhava introduced the Mandala of Bde-gshegs sgrubs-pa bka'- brgyad to his nine fortunate and beloved spiritual sons. When initiation was conferred on them to ripen their mind-streams, at the time of casting the flower (onto the mandala to seek indications of which meditational deity each individual person was connected with) Lhodrak Namkha Nyingpo's flower fell onto the mandala of Yangak (Enlightened Mind); Nubchen Sangye Yeshe's flower fell
onto the mandala of Yamagarbha Yamāntaka (Enlightened Body); Gyalwa Chog Yang's flower fell onto the mandala of Hayagrīva Padma Wangchen (Enlightened Speech); ḍākinī Yeshe Tshogyal's flower fell onto the mandala of Vajrakīlaya (Enlightened Activity); Drog Palgyi Sengye's flower fell onto the mandala of 33 Düdjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Trans. Matthew T. Kapstein and Gyurme Dorje. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1991, pp. 482-83. Düdjom’s account is drawn from the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa bka’ byung tshul, 238-41. 34 Düdjom 1991, 475-481.
Mamo Bötong; Langchen Palgyi Sengye's flower fell onto the mandala of Bregs 'dul; Lochen Vairochana's flower fell onto the mandala of Möpa Drangag; King Trisong Deutsan's flower fell onto the mandala of Che-chog Heruka; and Nyang Tenzin Zangpo's flower fell into the mandala of Lama Rigs 'dus. They accomplished both the common and supreme feats in their lifetimes as each of them had concentrated their personal practice on a particular deity with whom they personally had karmic connection. For this reason, they have been widely known as the nine sons of Tibet, the Land of Snow, destined (to receive) the Eight Practice-Instructions.35
Couched within the mytho-historical narrative of The Arising is a full catalogue of supplementary Kabgyé materials. According to this, the full Kabgyé cycle consisted of five principal and ten subsidiary tantras (rgyud), five teachings (lung lnga), and a variety of specific oral instructions (man ngag), self-cultivational practices (sgrub thabs, “methods of accomplishment”), and rituals (cho ga). This list of materials appears rather uniformly across exegetical sources, but, beyond the inclusion of the fifteen tantras and five teachings, the published Kabgyé Deshek Dupa cycles do not particularly conform to this index. Whether such
a catalogue reflects actual materials circulating in thirteenth or fourteenth-century Central Tibet, or whether it was a literary device to articulate the fullness of the Kabgyé cycle, we cannot, at this point, definitively say. I will suggest, however, that the idea of bibliography was a narrative conceit with important implications for the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa as it situated itself in broader contexts of institutional contestations. My analyses in Chapter Four should make this clear. The Arising concludes to describe the transcription of these teachings by the imperial translator Denma Tsemang (ldan ma tse mang), and the concealment of these texts for the benefit 35 Khamtrul, “The Eight Practice-Instructions of the Sugatas in the Nyingma Lineage.” Tibet Journal vol. 15 no. 2 (1990), 63; Also see: Düdjom 1991, 534-37.
of future generations. Interestingly, the text does not specify that the cycle was concealed at Khoting temple, but rather implies that the concealment was at the Red Rock hermitage (brag dmar mgrin) at Samyé, the very place where Padmasambhava is said to have taught the Deshek Dupa.36 We might also note that Ögyan Lingpa’s (o rgyan gling pa, 1323-60) fourteenth-century revelation texts also tend to favor the role of this Denma Tsemang (rather than Vairotsana as in later normative terma traditions), and Lingpa’s Five Chronicles revelation (bka’ thang sde lnga) mirrors The Arising verbatim in describing the concealment of a massive Deshek Dupa corpus in
a cave within the Samyé temple complex.37 Thus, there seems to be a close connection between The Arising and the Five Chronicles. We cannot precisely interpret the resemblance at this point; perhaps the Five Chronicles follows The Arising, or vice versa. Ngari Panchen cites The Arising, and its companion bibliography, The Clear Lamp Index (dkar chag gsal ba’i sgron me) as the sources for his historical exposition on the Kabgyé, replicating its massive index of Kabgyé and Accomplishment Class materials. We can thus see that there was, by the late fifteenth century, a movement to catalogue the Kabgyé and inscribe its origins into the history of Buddhism in Tibet as curated by Early Translation masters in the lineage of Nyangrel.
Altogether, it is hard to determine what exactly emerged from Nyangrel’s revelation experience in the late twelfth century under the title Kabgyé Deshek Dupa. Nyangrel’s two 36 bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa bka’ byung tshul, 260, 270. Jigme Lingpa’s Guide to Glorious Samye Chimphu reflects the traditions celebration of Samye and its surrounding features as the location for the bestowal and concealment of Padmasambhava’s most important contributions. Lingpa primarily draws on Ögyan Lingpa’s revealed padma bka’ thang as a source for this knowledge, which we see replicated in the rgyal po bka’ thang, as well. See: “The Cuckoo’s Call” Trans. Kaleb Yaniger, lotsawahouse.org.
37 O rgyan gling pa (revealer). bka’ thang sde lnga: rgyal po bka’ thang yig: ma ‘ong rgyal brgyud nor skal ji ltar sbas tshul (“The Five Chronicles: The Kings’ Chronicle: The Manner of the Concealment of the Future Royal Inheritance”). Lhasa: Gangs can khyad nor dpe tshogs, 2010, 166-175.
principal biographical sources, The Clear Mirror and The Stainless Proclamations, despite claiming to have been composed by Nyangrel’s closest disciples shortly following his death, present different accounts of the recovery of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, and what the corpus entailed upon Nyangrel’s revelation. The Clear Mirror gives us what has become the widelyaccepted revelation narrative in reporting how Nyangrel extracted the Eight Teachings corpus in 130 texts from within (technically, “from behind”, rgyab nas) the Vairocana statue at Khoting
Temple.38 The Stainless Proclamations, on the other hand, reports that Nyangrel was given the tantras, teachings, oral instructions, practices, and empowerments of the “Sugatas Tantra” (presumably the bde gshegs ‘dus pa rgyud), and Eight Teachings of Accomplishment (sgrub pa bka’ brgyad) by his teachers Lama Rashak and Tertön Ngödrup.39 These two narratives entail very different implications: if Nyangrel had been handed over Kabgyé materials by Rashak and Ngödrup as The Stainless suggests, this means that the Kabgyé had already been circulating continuously in Tibet. If, on the other hand, the entire cycle was extracted from Khoting as the Clear Mirror states, the Kabgyé lineage would have been interrupted between the imperial
period and Nyangrel: a situation posing no particular problem to the revelation-loving Nyingma, but exposing the cycle to criticism from historically-minded critics. Indeed, the question of whether the Kabgyé cycle was of the transmitted (bka’ ma) or revealed (gter ma) variety has been a vital one for Nyingmapa commentators, and there is evidence of dispute over the provenance of at least certain aspects of the Eight Teachings. For example, Gö Lotsawa Zhönnu
38 The Clear Mirror, 341.6-342: rnam snang sku rgyab nas gter kha chen po cig gtan drangs/ gter snod la sgrom smug dang sgrom skya gnyis ‘dug pa la/ sgrom smug nang nas bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i rgyud lung ma bu la sogs pa/ chos tshan brgya sum cu’i sod chung drug dang/ 39 The Stainless Proclamations, 92.4: de nas bla ma ra shag gter ston gyi spyan sdar dam chos bde gshegs pa rgyud lung nyi shu sgrub thabs phro mo dang bcas pa/ sgro chung bzhi thon pa la/ pod chung bdun zhus pas dpe ma dang bcas pa gnang/ de nas bla ma grub thob dngos grub bya ba bka’ gter thams cad kyi bdag po de la/ gsang sngags sgrub pa bka’ brgyad kyi dbang bka’ gdams ngag dang bcas pa zhus/
Pel (‘gos lo tsa ba gzhon nu dpal 1392-1481) reports peoples’ objections to the inclusion of distinctively Tibetan gods and demons in the “worldly” maṇḍalas of Mamo Bötong, Jigten Chotö, and Möpa Drangak. Gö adjudicates the complaint by suggesting that Padmasambhava had taught expediently for Tibetans, and that “these great gods had also met the Buddha”.40 This remark in Gö’s Blue Annals is significant for what it reveals about the logic of gter ma critics and apologists.
In an effort to immerse himself in the Kabgyé tradition, Ngari Panchen combed Central Tibet, Lhodrak, and Upper Mustang for eleven years seeking Kabgyé instruction and lineal histories. In his historical commentary on the Kabgyé tradition, The Wheel of the Sun and Moon Dispelling the Darkness: A Method of Explanation (‘chad thabs munsel nyi zla khor lo), Ngari reports his conclusion that an unbroken tradition of the Deshek Dupa was maintained continuously from the retinue of Tri Song Detsän, coming to Tertön Ngödrup and then on to
Nyangrel, just as The Stainless reports.41 Ngari manages to give several transmission lists for this “Kama Kabgyé” (bka’ ma bka’ brgyad), or “Long Lineage” (ring brgyud).42 At the same time, according to Ngari, Nyangrel did reveal a Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus in Lhodrak, where Ngari reports he himself personally saw the yellow scrolls. Thus, Ngari declares that Nyangrel 40 George Roerich, trans. Blue Annals. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, (1949), 1988, 107. 41 Mnga’ ris pan chen pad+ma dbang rgyal. ‘Chad thabs mun sel nyi zla khor lo (The Wheel of the Sun and Moon Dispelling the Darkness: A Method of Explanation) In Katok: bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor, vol. 1, 165-230.
42 Ngari also describes a widespread tradition of “Mind Class” (sems sde) Great Perfection contemplation associated with the Kabgyé called “Kabgyé Zongtrang” (bka’ brgyad rdzongs ‘phrang, “The Citadel and Ravine of the Eight Teachings”), which enjoyed wide circulation in his day. This Zongtrang tradition traces itself to Nubchen Sangye Yeshe in the ninth century, and its inclusion in the Kama suggests that it was indeed a transmitted tradition of Great Perfection. Cathy Cantwell suggests that this Kabgyé Zongtrang is most accurately described as a “bka’ ma bka’ brgyad” (personal communication, July 2019), and close study of its history and iterations may shed light on the origins and development of sems sde practice, and the coordination of Mahāyoga with Great Perfection / Atiyoga in Tibet.
held both the Kama and terma Kabgyé lineages43. However, he also reports that the Kama Kabgyé lineage effectively ended with Nyangrel, as it was thereafter enfolded into the broader revelation tradition.44 Thus, according to Ngari, all continuing lineages of the Kabgyé should be understood to entail the essence of both the Kama and terma iterations, as Nyangrel “mixed the river of kama and terma” (“bka’ gter chus ‘dres”). This understanding of the Kabgyé as a broader cycle spanning transmitted and revealed origins was codified, as reflected in Katok
Rigzin Tsewang Norbu’s remarks to the same effect two centuries later.45 We will also see how this understanding of the Kabgyé’s provenance as both Kama and terma was leveraged as an organizational template in several Nyingma anthologies, including the Collected Nyingma Tantras (rnying ma rgyud ‘bum, Nyingma Gyubum), the Treasury of Precious terma (rin chen gter mdzod, Rinchen Terdzö), and the Transmitted Precepts of the Nyingma (rnying ma bka’ ma, Nyingma Kama). I suggest that this organizational sensibility had origins in the dual Kamaterma identity of the Deshek Dupa, and also in Kabgyé lore, which associates the origin of all sorts of Mahāyoga cycles with the dispensation of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa at Śitavana.
The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa provided a unique collation of non-Māyājāla Mahāyoga tantric systems circulating in Early Translation communities, including those of Hayagrīva, Yamāntaka, Yangdak Heruka, and Vajrakilā. This collation was particularly significant given Nyangrel’s historical context, which was one of intensifying competition between increasingly institutionalized and resource-rich religious communities. As I will show in Chapter Two, the loosely affiliated group of local and family-centered Early Translation lineages would have been 43Mnga’ ris pan chen, ‘chad thabs mun sel nyi zla’i khor lo, 219.1. 44 Mnga’ ris pan chen, ‘chad thabs mun sel nyi zla’i khor lo, 220. 45 Ka thog rigs ‘dzin tshe dbang nor bu, bka’ ‘bum, vol. 2, 401.
in need of competitive strategies to authorize its distinctive kind of practice, and to organize itself around a scriptural core. There had been earlier efforts by Early Translation Buddhists to collate various tantric systems into an overarching corpus. These include the development of The Gathering of Intentions Sutra (dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo) in the eighth or ninth century, as well as the zur bka’ sde compendium of transmitted tantric traditions.46 But these proto-canons neglected some of the ritual-centric tantras which were important to Early Translation
practitioners. Their collation in the Deshek Dupa must have fulfilled a need to incorporate distinctive idioms and ritual formats into a broader articulation of religious identity. This identity sought to amplify the wrathful idioms of “taming” (‘dul ba) and “liberation” (sgrol ba), and inculcate a praxis that brought together tantric soteriology and harm-averting ritualism. Perhaps most significantly, the Kabgyé incorporated elements of Tibetan ritual culture, and advanced the image of the harm-averting ritual adept as the paradigmatic Buddhist master: an idiom coordinated with emergent traditions of Padmasambhava lore as curated by Nyangrel Nyima Özer.
In bringing together tantric systems already practiced by masters of the Early Translation community, and by emphasizing harm-averting ritualism with a familiar undergirding mythology, the Deshek Dupa proffered a statement about the doctrinal and vocational identity of these tantrists. While it is possible that a transmitted Deshek Dupa already did circulate in imperial or early post-imperial Tibet, it was Nyangrel’s treatment of the cycle as a revelation corpus that amplified its idioms and set its direction as a foundational element of the Nyingma tradition. Though the revelation does not advertise itself as an anthology or canon per se (although it is, explicitly, a ‘dus pa, or “assemblage”), the appeal to canonicity is evidenced in 46 Jacob Dalton, The Gathering of Intentions. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, 49.
the Kabgyé scriptures themselves, which devote much attention to the idea of canon, the work of collation, and the mystical foundations of scriptural production. The Eight Teachings corpus, in its initial and accreted iterations, supplied a collection of mythic, doctrinal, contemplative, and ritual resources of unprecedented scale and comprehensiveness for a single cycle. It was thereby coordinated with broader historiographic and doctrinal conceits to advance the identity of the Early Translation community as it faced extrinsic pressures.
It seems clear that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus ballooned in subsequent centuries, and what now claims to be the complete body of Nyangrel’s Eight Teachings is a 13-volume collection of historical, doctrinal, contemplative, and ritual materials, circulating in two editions: one provided by Düdjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje and associated with Katok monastery in Eastern Tibet (kaḥ thog rdo rje gdan), and the other published out of Tsamdrak (mtshams brag dgon), in Bhutan. The Katok edition, which is the basis of ongoing re-publications in China and Nepal,
includes 240 texts, totaling over 8,000 folio sides.47 These massive editions are allegedly based on one curated, perhaps in a nine-volume format, in the seventeenth century by one Gongra Lochen Zhenpen Dorje (gong ra lo chen gzhan pan rdo rje, 1595-1654), a multi-dimensional exegete with strong editorial interests and expertise in apotropaic (harm-averting) ritualism.48 Previous to Gongra’s treatment of the corpus, several lines of transmission and
distinctive exegetical and practice traditions had developed. Ngari Panchen specifies the existence of one hundred and fifty-one commentaries by the sixteenth century, and delineates 47 Katok: bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa'i chos skor. Ngagyur nyingmay sungrab series, v. 75-87. Gangtok: Sonam Topgay Kazi, 1978; Tsamdrak: bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor. Paro: Ngodrup, 1980. 48 The Tsamdrak preface directs the reader to vol. 3, p.65, the colophon of the zhi khro rtsa ba’i rgyud, wherein Gongra notes his curation (bzhengs pa) of the text. It is not clear to me why the editors at Tsamdrak took this to suggest that Gongra had edited the entire corpus, and perhaps they are drawing on received information regarding the provenance of the thirteen-volume Kabgyé Deshek Dupa editions.
several lineages and exegetical traditions to which he had personally been exposed as he received the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa no less than twenty-five times. Ngari also suggests that the seventhgeneration genetic descendant of Nyangrel, one Ngadak Kunga Gyaltsen (probably a fourteenthcentury figure), played an important role in curating the many instructional and practice materials that had proliferated in the generations immediately following Nyima Özer.49 According to Ngari Panchen, Nyangrel was responsible for supplementing the revealed Kabgyé
scriptures with some commentarial works and practice materials, while his son (presumably Namkha Pel) composed a commentary, some deity yoga practices, and a curricular manual (yig cha). Ngari states that many successors in Nyangrel’s lineage also produced such manuals, but it was the seventh lineage holder, Ngadak Kunga Gyaltsen, who created some of the key liturgies and their manuals in the context of his many bestowals of the Kabgyé empowerment (dbang).50 51 Ngari Panchen closes this account by stating that “These days, in Ü, Tsang, Do-Kham, in Kongpo and so forth, the Kabgyé has especially spread”.52
Gongra Lochen Zhenpen Dorje was active about a hundred years after Ngari Panchen, and if Ngari’s account is accurate, there would have been many Kabgyé lineal traditions from which to assemble his edition of the cycle. Unfortunately, we have no direct evidence of 49 Mnga’ ris pan chen,‘Chad thabs mun sel nyi zla khor lo, 205, 20.
51 Daniel Hirshberg observes that none of Nyangrel’s genetic lineal descendants identified themselves as tertöns, instead restricting their activities to the curation and development of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa. Guru Chowang, on the other hand, who claimed for himself the mantle of Nyangrel’s incatenated successor, fashioned himself as the next in a line of destined Kabgyé revealers. Hirshberg, “Fidelity, Innovation, and Reincarnation in the Early Revelations of the Eight Instructions”, International Association of Tibetan Studies 40th Anniversary Seminar: July 12, 2019.
Gongra’s product, as his works were destroyed by order of the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1655.53 However, around a century later saw the fifteen foundational tantras of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa grouped together in Taksham Nuden Dorje’s seventeenth-century edition of the Nyingma Gyubum, wherein the entire fourteenth volume (pha) is devoted to the Deshek Dupa revelation in precisely the same layout we see in later versions of the Nyingma Gyubum, and in Katok and Tsamdrak’s Kabgyé Deshek Dupa editions. The fifteen tantras are also present in an early Bhutanese edition of the Gyubum, from Gangteng (sgang steng), which perhaps had origins in the late fifteenth century. Interestingly, the Kabgyé tantras in this edition do not use the nomenclature of the Eight Teachings (bka’ brgyad). Rather, all the tantras of our cycle in this edition are categorized as lcom ldan ‘das bde bar gshegs pa ‘dus pa (The Victor-Sugata Assembly).54 At any rate, we see that the Kabgyé’s inclusion in the Nyingma tantric canon, and the collation of its foundational texts, had its origin well before later publication efforts in Eastern Tibet.
Beyond the thirteen-volume corpora, it is clear that there were several recensional lines of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa. These recensions will be discussed in Chapter Three. But each edition of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, despite some differences in emphasis and some discrepancy in contents, includes the fifteen main and supplementary tantras associated with the eight
wrathful herukas, a standard list of five teachings and essential instructions (lung and man ngag), and a collection of self-cultivational practices composed by Padmasambhava or by Nyangrel 53 Gene Smith, “Banned Books in the Tibetan Speaking Lands” in 21st Century Tibet Issue: Symposium on Contemporary Tibetan Studies, collected papers. Taipei: Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, 2004, pp. 186, 190, 192.
54 See: Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer, “The sGang steng-b rNying ma’i rGyud ‘bum manuscript from Bhutan.” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines. No. 11 (2006) for the complete sgang steng rgyud ‘bum catalogue, esp. vol. 24 (ya), pp. 76-77.
In some sense, the search for the “original” Kabgyé is unimportant in the context of understanding its impact and legacy in Tibet over eight centuries. But tracing its reception and publication history can tell us something about how specific communities curated this scripture in response to historical contexts. In analyzing its inclusion in the great anthologies of the Nyingma tradition, we will see how the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was enfolded into broader
taxonomies and deployed to provide ever more coherent templates for tantric doctrine and praxis. The Kabgyé’s mytho-historical origin story would be leveraged to suggest divine typologies, and the structure of the corpus would be appropriated to organize all sorts of tantric materials. The idea of the Kabgyé as an organizational rubric for tantric knowledge developed over centuries of editorial treatment, despite the regularizing claims of tradition, which suggest that the Kabgyé was always a corpus representing natural doctrinal orders.
As it stands today, the comprehensive thirteen-volume Deshek Dupa includes fifteen tantras and some thirty four instructional texts. There are thirty five self-cultivational practice texts, including deity-yoga visualization rituals (las byang and sgrub thabs), progressive meditations (sgom rim), preliminaries (sngon ‘gro), and mantra recitation practices (dzab bsnyen). There is also a vast variety of thaumaturgical and apotropaic rites distributed over 150 individual texts. These rituals include sacrificial fire offerings (sbyin sreg), libation appeasements (gser skyems), mandala construction (dkyil ‘khor), incantated entreaties (bskul ba), and, most abundantly, effigistic harm-aversion rituals (bzlog pa or gtor bzlog). These texts are generally arranged by functional genre over the thirteen volumes, suggesting that the editions were curated to be a reference source for ritual and contemplative practice. In general, the tantras
and supporting mytho-historical narratives are found in the initial volumes, followed by volumes devoted to the self-cultivational practice texts centering on the five transcendental herukas and the Peaceful/Wrathful deity complex, with as many as seven final volumes containing the myriad ritual practices which make this corpus so distinctive.
A notable feature of the published Kabgyé Deshek Dupa is its prevalence of harmaverting, or apotropaic, rituals. The Katok corpus includes at least fifty one individual dokpa (bzlog pa – lit. “repelling”) rites, by far the most prevalent topic in the entire collection. Most of these short rituals are effigistic and violent, involving the entrapment, dismemberment, and ritual murder of various kinds of effigy objects, such as dough cakes (gtor ma) or clay figurines. Sometimes the language is rather ambiguous as to whether the ritual procedures entail the killing of effigies, or the murder of actual people (euphemistically called “liberating”, sgrol ba). In Mahāyoga tantric tradition, this “liberation” is thought to be the enactment of a kind of uncompromising compassion called “wrathful play” (khro bo rol pa) in which forces obstructive to Buddhist wisdom are neutralized. This might refer to the killing of actual “enemies” (dgra bgegs), or, in a psychologized interpretation, the elimination of habitual negative emotions (nyon mongs). An analysis of several dokpa rites will appear in Chapter Six.
Overall, the iconography, semiotics, language, and aesthetics of this corpus are characterized by an imagery of death, destruction, sexuality, and transgression. This being a Buddhist system, this imagery is unequivocally re-appropriated to stand for Buddhist soteriological values of compassion and gnosis. This wrathful idiom was by no means new to Tibetan Buddhists in the twelfth century: wrathful Tantra supplied the basic imaginaire for much of what took place in the shrine halls, retreat caves, and dreamscapes of Early Translation Tantric Buddhists. As the literature of the time would have us imagine, the slopes and valleys of
Central Tibet were home to sorceristic Buddhist adepts who contended with powerful invisible forces through techniques redolent of black magic, unleashing fearsomely powerful geomantic forces to meet the tempestuousness of the geographic and social environment. Nyangrel, at least in how he came to be imagined, was paradigmatic of this vision of mastery, and his spiritual world was one of visionary experience and ritualism of a rather violent timbre.55 If the current structure of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus can be taken to represent the flavor of the cycle as Nyangrel received it, it offers an unprecedented systemization and amplification of wrathful Tantra and its apotropaic practice regimes. Whether this systemization occurred after Nyangrel’s time, or whether Nyangrel’s revelation really did entail such a magnificently organized and broad corpus, will be difficult to untangle. But as the Eight Teachings would become an essential feature of any Nyingma adept’s training in the centuries following Nyangrel’s career, it came to contribute much to how Tibetan Buddhists would appraise the soteriological value of violence.
A 2008 article by Tenzin Samphel on the Kabgyé revelation suggests that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa incorporated the Tibetan indigenous myth and ritual complex to produce something highly resonant with Tibetan culture.56 Ronald Davidson likewise asserts that terma 55 While Nyangrel’s Kabgyé revelations are squarely concerned with wrathful ritual practice, we may also note that Nyangrel’s oeuvre includes many materials devoted to “pristine” transcendental mysticism. As Germano (2005) suggests, Nyangrel’s curation of the “Crown Pith” body of Great Perfection mysticism implied an effort to distinguish between the wrathful tantrism of the Kabgyé, and the more peaceful transcendentalism of Great Perfection mysticism and the cult of Avalokiteśvara. Altogether, we arrive at a picture of Nyangrel’s oeuvre entailing distinctive iterations of wrathful ritualism coupled with peaceful soteriology in a marriage of religious violence and transcendental mysticism, contextualized by a vision of sacred and recursive history with Nyangrel and the ritualist-adept at the center. In this regard, Nyangrel truly stands out as the architect of Nyingma religiosity, as these tropes continue to define the Nyingma approach to religious practice and historiography. 56 Tenzin Samphel, “Les bKa’ brgyad - Sources Canoniques et Tradition de Nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer.” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 15 2008), 270.
“allowed Tibetans to cloak their own paradigms in the guise of emerging Indic authority”.57 And, according to Dalton, “Tibetans seem to have been attracted to tantra in part for its effectiveness in controlling spirits and demons”.58 For Tibetans, this meant incorporating the lore and ritualism with which their society had long been bound, often repackaging Tibetan ritual culture as something with Indian Buddhist origins. We see this trend in materials found at Dunhuang, and I suggest that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa also provided an example of this indigenization, as we see in the corpus several narratives and classificatory schemes for incorporating specifically Tibetan gods into Buddhist narratives and ritual procedures.
Like people across pre-modern cultures, Tibetans have long propitiated worldly divinities for fortune and the aversion of harm. Typical vernacular practices include daily offerings of tea or liquor (supposedly a substitute for the blood sacrifice of pre-Buddhist times), presented to the gods of the land. The terminology surrounding these autochthonous entities varies widely across regions and traditions. General terms for the land-gods in Tibet include yul lha, “gods of the region”, sa bdag, “lords of the earth”, or gzhi bdag, “lords of the place”. Dregs pa (arrogant spirits), dgra lha (enemy gods), and bdud (demons) are also terms with specific shades of meaning that are used to describe the landscape gods in a general sense. Translation of these 57 Ronald Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, 216. 58 Jacob Dalton, “The Early Development of the Padmasambhava Legend in Tibet: A Study of IOL Tib J 644 and Pelliot Tibétain 307.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124.4 (2004): p. 760. 59 Dalton (2004) analyzes one such text, Pelliot 307, which provides an early demon-subjugation narrative featuring a proto-Padmasambhava figure.
60 Sam van Schaik appraises a modest fragment from a ninth-century Dunhuang text (IOL Tib J 990) as evidence for the negotiation of pre-Buddhist religion with tantric tradition. According to van Schaik, the text prepares to address the question of whether blood sacrifice to the Tibetan gods is compatible with Buddhism. Unfortunately, the answer is not available in the extant fragment of the damaged text. (Sam van Schaik, “Buddhism and Bon I”, Early Tibet blog, https://earlytibet.com/2007/05/23/buddhism-and-bon-i/ accessed July, 2019). 51 terms into English is difficult, and even the notions of “land-god”, “spirit”, or “demon” do not fully capture the range of dispositions, attributes, and behaviors that are attributed to these entities. Most of these entities are regarded as potentially malevolent, although they may be ritually propitiated to secure favor. Some have been bound by oath (dam can) to protect Buddhism. But even the question of whether these entities “truly exist” is a complex one, interpreted differently by Tibetans in various situations.
The place-gods are often associated with mountain peaks, waterways, and prominent landforms, and may be due regular offerings of special foodstuffs or precious items. The offering of billowing juniper smoke (lha bsang) is perhaps the most common intercessionary ritual with certain pre-Buddhist origins.61 Not all of the entities are entirely beneficent; intercessionary rituals are meant to secure favorable relations with tempestuous or downright dangerous entities inhabiting the landscape. These may be known in general as Dü (bdud, “demons”), or, more
specifically, as the Mu (dmu), Gek (bgegs), Srinpo (srin po), or the especially-feared Tsän (btsan).62 Origin stories regarding these kinds of entities abound. It is said, for example, that the Tsän are the powerful ghosts of deceased kings, now inhabiting red-rock outcroppings and propitiatable through red substances. Angering a Tsän or stimulating the vampiric Srinpo has disastrous consequences. Like the Tibetan physical environment itself, the world of the gods and demons is a dangerous one in which great care must be taken proceed properly through a socialized terrain of exchange and favor. These ritual traditions, which R.A. Stein has called “the 61 R.A. Stein (1972) nicely describes Tibetan indigenous ritualism, and the custom of ancestral mountain worship in particular, in terms of a “cult of verticality”. See: R.A. Stein, Tibetan Civilisation. London: Faber and Faber, 1972, 37-45; 191-223.
62 Tshig mdzod chen mo, p.1360: bdud: sems can la gnod 'tshe dang dge ba la bar chad byed mkhan/ (“ones who bring injury and disrupt virtue in beings”). In tantric exegesis, bdud may also be taken to stand for afflictive emotions (nyon mongs). In translation, bdud translates the Sanskrit māra.
Nameless Religion”, continue to be upheld, and often manifest devoid of Buddhist content, although lay practitioners and clerics alike are quick to supply Buddhist interpretations of the ritual action and its mythic underpinnings.
Given the lack of a pre-Buddhist literary record, we must also recognize that whatever appears to represent an indigenous religiosity in Tibetan literature is already filtered through Buddhist tropes and concerns. Whatever literary evidence we might be inclined to interpret as “syncretism” between Indian Buddhism and pre-Buddhist Tibetan beliefs should more properly be understood as evidence for an ongoing dialogue of dynamic and mutually-constituting cultural expressions, not a meeting and mixing of static traditions. Thus, the concept of hybridity may be most useful for understanding the mutually-constituting dialogue between native Tibetan and Indian tantric ritual cultures.64
Hybridity, as articulated in post-colonial theory, interprets cultural encounter as a dialogical interface out of which new identities and subjectivities are crafted. Rather than the meeting and synchronization of elements from two discrete and static cultures, hybridity refers to the subtle ways that something new is forged in dialogue between cultures that are themselves fluid and dynamically constituted. Hybridity thus provides a realistic model that lends complexity to the facile concept of syncretism, and acknowledges the dialogical inculcation of 63 Stein 1972, 191-229.
64 Interpretive concepts such as Levi-Strauss’ “bricolage”, or “creolization” as articulated by Ulf Hannerz, Roger Abraham, and others, are also applicable in interpreting the matrix of imageries evidenced in Tibet’s assimilative traditions. However, “hybridity” is particularly nuanced in its recognition of the radically contingent and everdialogical nature of cultural interaction, and for its acknowledgment of the dialogical flow of power inculcated in the cross-cultural exchange of signifiers. See: Deborah Kapchan and Pauline Turner Strong, eds. Theorizing the Hybrid. Special issue, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 112, no. 445, 1999.
power relations which imbue cross-cultural innovation and exchange.65 In the case of the development of a distinctively Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, the mixing of imagery and idioms was subtle, and was in progress over several centuries. This was also a uni-directional transformation, as there is little evidence that Tibetan iterations of Buddhist tantra influenced tantra’s development in Northwestern India. Nonetheless, the assimilation of Indian mythology in Tibet was related to an emergent conception of Tibetan cultural subservience to India – an ideological
self-colonization that was implied both in the Treasure tradition’s claims of Indian provenance, and also in gsar ma preoccupations with authenticating tantric tradition in Indian textual exemplars. Thus, while Homi Bhabha’s model of hybridity specifically refers to the colonial experience of nineteenth and twentieth-century India, it may also prove useful for interpreting the subtle exchange, innovation, and self-imposed ideological colonization that existed in Tibet’s dialogue with Indian religious traditions.
In Tibet, it is difficult – maybe impossible – to deduce which iconographic elements and narrative idioms are strictly Indian, and which are indigenously Tibetan. Tibetans have used their terminology for their own landscape spirits to translate Sanskrit terms for Indian divinities: the lú, srinpo, nöjin, dü, and mamo are Tibetan words that can refer to demons from Tibetan lore, or to analogous divinities from Indian tradition. Mythologies from revealed tantric cycles such as the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa also emplot Tibetan autochthonous divinities into their own genesis stories, implying total overlap between Tibetan and Indian pantheons. Plus, with no pre-Buddhist literary record of ritual culture in Tibet, we cannot yet adequately trace the transformation of Tibetan ritual culture into the imaginaire of Tibetan Buddhist Tantra. However, despite the opacity of this hybridity’s development, it is clear that Tibetan geomantic ritual lore is deeply 65 Kapchan and Strong 1999, 240-41.
As Homi Bhabha would suggest, the hybrid outcome unfolds in a “third space” – not just on the side, or in strict reference to, Indian tradition or Tibetan culture – but in a third space which, by virtue of its removal from the strictly Indian or Tibetan orders, may have lent this scripture particular impact.66 It is possible that the liminality of the third space of hybrid signifiers was something that imbued this tradition with particular power and caché. Indeed, the literary record over centuries shows that the Kabgyé was intriguing, resonant, and potent: a resource that Tibetans turned to again and again to articulate distinctive identities. Its appeal may have been rooted in its familiarity, its representation of the gravitas of Indian tantric tradition,
and in its mystique as something both familiar and foreign in regards to its admixture of idioms and images. Whether or not the indigenous origins of some of the Kabgyé’s iconographic features, myths, and ritual idioms are acknowledged, we can see their inclusion in the literature as a move towards the indigenization of Buddhism on the Tibetan plateau, a natural way for Tibetans to make Buddhist tantrism their own as they enfolded important practices with distinct social and existential implications into an imported religious culture. The dialogical nature of this hybridity certainly warrants deeper study, but is beyond the purview of this dissertation.
Within the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s mythic narratives and ritual texts are included many characters associated with Tibet’s native ritual culture. In the Kabgyé materials, these are organized under a general (and highly idiosyncratic rubric) called the “Eight Classes of Gods and Demons” (lha ma srin sde brgyad; also known in the sources as “The Eight Arrogant Ones” (dregs pa sde brgyad), or the “Eight Emanational Classes” (sprul pa’i sde brgyad)). These eight 66 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994, 219.
types of semi-divine and demonic entities are central actors in several of the cycle’s narratives, and are implicated in many of the ritual texts from the Deshek Dupa corpus. The Eight Classes of Gods and Demons as they appear in the Kabgyé are: the lú (klu, aqueous spirits, Skt. nāga), za (gza’, planetary gods, Skt. rāhu), dü (bdud, malevolent demons, Skt. māra), lha (lha, powerful gods, Skt. deva), mü, (dmu, a landscape spirit, no Skt. equivalent), nöjin (gnod spyin, guardian nature spirit, Skt. yakṣa), srinpo (srin po, cannibal demon, Skt. rakṣasa), and gek (bgegs, obstructing spirit, Skt. vighna). Mamo (ma mo, tempestuous female spirits, Skt. mātṛkā) are also sometimes included in the Eight Classes lists, as are the cosmic gods (srid pa’i lha), patrilineal and matrilineal gods (pho lha and mo lha), “gods of the secret body” (gsang sku’i lha), the Cosmic Mamos (srid pa’i ma mo), various types of tsän ghosts (btsan), and other specificallynamed entities.
Eightfold lists of semi-divine beings have precedent in Indian Buddhist scriptures, as in the case of the Aṣṭagatyaḥ of the Mahāyāna sutras. According to the Lotus and Flower Garland Sutras, these are the eight types of semi-divine beings converted by the Buddha to protect Buddhist doctrine.67 The Aṣṭagatyaḥ overlaps somewhat with the Eight Classes (for example, in the case of deva / lha, nāga / klu, rakṣasa / gnod spyin, and yakṣa/ srin po), but is a
qualitatively different list with basis in Puranic and Vedic tradition. In Tibet, the Eight Classes are applied to the gods and demons with which humans have long interceded to secure favor, many of whom are tied to the features of Tibet’s montane landscape. While there is naturally some overlap in the concept and nomenclature of autochthonous entities between India, Tibet, and across the Himalaya, it seems clear that the lha srin sde brgyad taxonomy was an imposition of an Indian template upon a heterogenous and highly localized field of ritual culture. 67 The Aṣṭagatyaḥ (Hachi Bushū in Japanese) include the deva, nāga, rakṣasa, gandharva, yakṣa, garuḍa, kiṃnara, and the mahoraga.
In Tibet, these eightfold lists tend to be quite heterogeneous, although the basic template of an eight-fold assembly of worldly or semi-divine landscape-based entities remained consistent over time and across institutions. One often-cited eighteenth-century source is Lama Langdol’s (bla ma klong rdol, 1719-91) composite list, purporting to represent a common template for the Eight Classes well-known to villagers and clerics alike across the Tibetan plateau. But the Kabgyé provides a much earlier example of such a catalog of entities, and is by no means the very first for Tibetan Buddhism. Of Tibetan literary sources available to us, perhaps the eldest is a liturgy by Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes, 9th cent.), whose wellknown Libation Offering to the Eight Classes (sde brgyad gser skyems) outlines six interlocking
lists of eight autochthonous entities that may be propitiated to serve the Buddhist practitioner.68 According to Béla Kelenyi, Nubchen’s well-known text, which is still used as a manual for intercessionary ritual, is also variously known as sde brgyad mchod tshul, or the dregs pa sde brgyad la gser skyems gtong ba’i cho ga bdud rtsi’i rlabs ‘phreng.69 This latter title includes the term dregs pa (lit. “Arrogant Ones”) to refer to these entities in a general sense, and we thus see srin po, lha, bdud, and dregs pa used to refer to autochthonous gods and demons in the literature, and yul lha or gzhi bdag used in more vernacular settings. Related early texts have been found at
Dunhuang, where the list tends to be known as the “Eight Classes of Gods and Nagas” (lha klu sde bgyad). According to Samten Karmay, the early Bön tradition has preserved a similar list, as found in a work called the mkha’ klong gsang mdos, a twelfth-century compendium of exorcism rituals wherein the list appears: lha, bdud, dmu, bstan, rgyal po, gshin rje, sa bdag (Earth Lords, 68 Gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes. sde brgyad gser skyems. Mentioned in Düdjom 1991 vol. 2, 158-59. Also see: Réne de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Demons and Oracles of Tibet. Delhi: Book Faith India (1956), 1998, 254-66. 69 Bela Kelenyi, ed. Demons and Protectors: Folk religion in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. Budapest: Frenc Hopp Museum, 2003, 29-30. Also see: Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1993, 253-317.
The notion of Eight Classes also made its way into lore surrounding the conversion efforts of Padmasambhava. Nyangrel himself codified this tale in his religious history, recounting Padmasambhava’s success in taming the Eight Classes and allowing for the completion of the Samye temple.71 Following in this mode, the Eight Classes have taken many different iterations in Tibet, a literary history that has been outlined by Françoise Pommaret.72 We see, then, that the eightfold typology of demons and divinities ran across the Tantric Buddhist world in a variety of formats, and was in formation in the ninth through twelfth
century. During the Age of Fragmentation in particular, as localized communities of lay tantrists practiced Buddhist rites free from the oversight of imperial institutions, local ritual traditions could easily blend with the traditions of Indian Tantra. In the vacuum of institutional authority, localized iterations could be incubated in response to the prevailing culture, and it is quite likely that whatever emerged from this situation would entail a hybridity so thorough as to obscure the origins of its elements. The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa reflects this obfuscation, as it includes these entities in its origin narratives and mandalas as if they had been known to eighth-century Indian Buddhism. This discrepancy – which, as we will see, did not go unnoticed by Tibetan commentators – suggests the Tibetan provenance of the Kabgyé cycle, and reflects the unique indigenization strategy of the Eight Teachings tradition.
In sum, we can see that the idea of an eightfold assembly was prevalent across regions 70 Samten G. Karmay, The Arrow and the Spindle: Studies in history, myths, rituals and beliefs in Tibet. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, 1998, 450. Also, see: Anne-Marie Blondeau, “The mkha klong gsang mdos: some questions on ritual structure and cosmology.” in Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano, eds. vol. 15, 249-89. Senri Ethnological Reports, Vol. 15: New Horizons in Bon Studies, 2000, 249-289. 71 Samphel 2008, 259.
and traditions in Tibet, and was an early feature of a Tibetanized Tantric Buddhism. The Eight Classes of Gods and Demons evidences a strategy of assimilation whereby aspects of Tibetan ritual culture were fit into doctrinal or ritual templates derived from Indian Buddhist tradition. The Kabgyé exemplifies several such assimilative strategies, and its study contributes much to our research into the ways by which Tibetans made tantra their own.
As we will see, the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons are implicated in the Kabgyé’s mytho-historical narratives, in the cycle’s foundational tantras, and in the apotropaic ritualism for which the cycle is best known. The tantric narratives and ritual texts within the Deshek Dupa provide many idioms and techniques for the taming and deployment of such entities through geomantic, astrological, propitiatory, and subjugative methods. In this, demon-taming becomes a central theme, and between the narratives provided by the Kabgyé tantras, and the supplementary
ritual methods included in the Deshek Dupa compendia, the overall orientation of the literature is distinctively that of demon-control and sacralized harm-aversion. This orientation brought the Kabgyé into conversation with Nyangrel’s treatment of Padmasmabhava lore, and with the general version of Tibet’s religious history advanced by Nyangrel’s historiography. Indeed, much of what makes the Kabgyé unique hinges on the tropes of harm-aversion and demoncontrol, and we will see how the Kabgyé elevates malevolent agents, and their associated
propitiatory practices, to the center of Tantric Buddhist practice and buddhology. According to my interpretation, the Kabgyé’s enfoldment, or conflation, of soteriological and apotropaic dimensions of tantric practice, and the incorporation of Tibet’s gods and demons into the narratives and ritual programs of the corpus, served several ends: to sanction the apotropaic ritualism already at the heart of Tibetan culture, to bring the Tibetan environment and the customs of its inhabitants more fully into the Tantric Buddhist fold, and to expand the techniques
by which practitioners might articulate and enact Buddhist identities. These functions of the literature intersect squarely with Nyangrel’s overarching attempts to curate a distinctively Tibetan Buddhist history and religious identity.
In a sense, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa enacts its own kind of subjugation as it incorporates, redefines, and domesticates the Tibetan mythos into a Buddhist narrative world. In the enacted narrativity of a complete ritual system, Buddhist subjectivity could be generated out of practices underpinned by the theme of demon-taming, thus producing subjects inscribed by a certain historicity – a historicity that, as I will show, functioned to embolden and authenticate the “Early Translation Elders” (snga ‘gyur rnying ma pa) in the face of extrinsic pressures.
In its doctrinal, contemplative, and ritual dimensions, we know that the Kabgyé was, and still is, an object of study, meditation, and ritual activity. However, as its designation as “Accomplishment Class” would suggest, we may best think of the Kabgyé as a ritual tradition. Its materials, while including mytho-historical and doctrinal texts, are overwhelming oriented towards self-cultivational and apotropaic ritual practice. Of course, the categories of doctrine, contemplation, and ritual are not cleanly divisible, as any success in a tantric meditation would require detailed knowledge of the iconography, mythology, and esoteric doctrines entailed in that system’s tantric literature. But in the case of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, the cycle’s tantras are skeletal guides for ritualized self-cultivation, and the mytho-historical narratives supplied in the cycle’s foundational texts provide a buddhology that sanctions the Kabgyé’s distinctive vision for ritual practice in authoritative doctrinal formulations.
relationships configured by the Kabgyé’s ritual materials. In this, I embrace the profound, indeed essential, contribution of ritual practice to the subject-constitution, identity-formation, and human meaning-making at the heart of religious life. By ritualism, I connote the web of narratives, signifiers, deeds, and doctrines that surround and give meaning to ritual activity, and which render ritual effective towards personal, communal, and doctrinally-defined goals. If such webs of signification and action are regularized to render ritual performance a significant driver of cultural expression – when ritual, embedded in a broader network of cultural factors, becomes
a repeatable technique of communal and individual subjectivity – then, in such cases, we can talk about “ritualism” as a field of discourse and practice contextualizing specific ritual acts. “Kabgyé ritualism”, then, refers not only to the regularized performance of specific rites drawn from the Eight Teachings scriptures, but to the overall suite of idioms, aesthetics, narratives, doctrines, and signifiers, and also modes of material exchange, that contextualize Kabgyé practice. My suggestion is that this ritualism provided a fundamental medium for the development of religious culture for a specific community and its institutions, and we see the Nyingmapas curate the Eight Teachings corpus again and again in their efforts to define their unique identity.
This Kabgyé ritualism has been a critical aspect in the development of the Nyingma denomination’s unique approach to religious practice. Sources tell us of adepts intensively practicing meditation on the Eight Herukas, often on long retreats and sometimes with retinues of close disciples. We also know that Kabgyé rituals were particularly important in highly institutionalized contexts such as at Mindroling (smin ‘grol gling), Shechen (zhe chen), Dzogchen (rdzogs chen), and Katok (kaḥ thog) monasteries. We even know that the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1617-1682) requested instruction in the Kabgyé from two Nyingmapa masters, including the Mindrol patriarch Gyurme Dorje, Terdak Lingpa (‘gyur med rdo rje, gter bdag gling pa 1646-1714).73 From the beginning, Kabgyé rituals were organized into carefully curated collections (sgrub skor) for use in multi-day ritual intensives which eventually became known as Great Accomplishment Rites (sgrub chen, drupchen). These intensives, performed by groups of initiated lay-practitioners, or in monastic temple settings, involved the full suite of tantric practices, including, in the case of the Kabgyé system, elaborate harm-aversion rituals, including fire sacrifices (sbyin sreg), effigistic harmaversion rituals (gtor bzlog), and the invocation and dispatching (rbod gtong) of powerful
thaumaturgical forces. Of course, tantric ritual intensives had always been an important feature of communal tantric practice, and there is some evidence that Nyangrel’s lineal descendents had been organizing textual materials for the performance of regular intensives at Mawochok.74 But from the late seventeenth century onwards, the “Minling System” (smin gling lugs) was purportedly the template for the ritual cycles published at the other Nyingma “Mother Temples”. The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus also became an important resource for ad-hoc rites
performed by accomplished masters on behalf of patrons or at the request of other lamas. Jamgön Kongtrül’s (jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas, 1813–1899) autobiography gives us an unparalleled glimpse into the responsibilities of a luminary master in nineteenth-century Degé, as he reports many occasions on which he conducted Kabgyé rites in retreat, in monastic assemblies, and at the request of royal patrons.75
73 Gu ru bkra’i chos ‘byung, 448. Also see: James D. Gentry, Substance and Sense: Objects of Power in the Life, Writings, and Legacy of the Tibetan Ritual Master Sog bzlog pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2014, 479.
74 Cathy Cantwell “The Ceremony for Imbibing the Siddhis, with particular reference to examples from Nyang ral Nyi ma ‘od zer’s bKa’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa.” Revue d’Etudes Tibetaines, no. 50 (2019), 156. 75 Jamgön Kongtrül, The Autobiography of Jamgön Kongtrül: A Gem of Many Colors. Trans. Richard Barron. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2003.
The institutional ritualism made possible by a repository of ritual knowledge like the Kabgyé remains a prominent feature of Tibetan religiosity. Drupchen and similar types of ritual intensives are performed on daily, monthly, or annual bases at every major monastic institution. These ritual intensives are meant to dispel negative influences and to refresh an institution’s connection to the soteriological power of a tantric system. These ritual occasions include large congregations of lay practitioners, and provide an occasion for the temple to forge economic
connections with the supporting lay community. The drupchen therefore represents ritualism in its fullest sense: it is a nexus of activity in which relations are determined, history is re-enacted, and an underlying imaginaire is activated. Such ritualism is a central feature of institutional religious life for Tibetan Buddhists, providing a nexus for social relations, cultural expression, knowledge production, and economic activity. Any picture of Tibetan religion that neglects this kind of ritualism is incomplete, and the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was formative in the development of this mode of religious life.
The Kabgyé has, at least since the twelfth century, been a critical feature of Nyingma tradition. Kabgyé training was a core aspect in the education of Nyingma (and some Kagyü) adepts, and the influence of Kabgyé ritualism is apparent in much of what still goes on in Nyingmapa temples. The Eight Teachings has also come to provide one of the main organizing rubrics for Nyingmapa buddhology and scriptural anthologies, specifically in the taxonomy of its many deities and their related scriptural cycles. In commenting on the centrality of the Eight Teachings to the organization of Jamgön Kongtrül’s Treasury of terma (rin chen gter mdzod), Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche states:
world of the yidam, the vehicle through which one attains the quickest siddhi [[[accomplishment]]] in this life. Each terma cycle is revealed on the basis of one of the Eight Herukas. Those eight are classified as body, speech, mind, quality, activity, mamo, worldly offerings and praises, and wrathful mantras. All of the empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzö are connected to the Eight Herukas. The Eight Herukas include all peaceful and wrathful, male and female, deities. All possible deities can be found among these eight herukas.
The Eight Teachings are not just found in the world of the yidams, they are also in the world of the gurus. This is because the gurus are the nature of the five wisdoms–something that fits into the guru classification has an aspect of the five wisdoms. When you divide the Eight Herukas, five of them are the wisdom deities, one is half- worldly/half-wisdom, and two are worldly. The abhisheka can either belong to the body part, the speech part, the mind part, the quality part or action part from among the five wisdoms.
The first of the Eight Teachings is Jampal (Manjushri), or body (Skt. kaya, Tib. ku), which is Manjushri in the peaceful aspect and yamāntaka in the wrathful aspect. The second is Pema, or speech (Tib. sung), the lotus family. All the peaceful aspect of the speech family are deities like Guru Rinpoche, Amitabha and so forth. The wrathful aspect is hayagrīva, and so on. The third is Yangdag, mind or heart, and it also has peaceful and wrathful aspects. The fourth is Dutsi (amrita), or quality. And finally there is Vajrakīlaya, or activity.
Jigme Rinpoche’s statement speaks to the depth to which the Kabgyé has been embedded in the Nyingmapa world. The Treasury of Precious terma , the Nyingma’s Transmitted Precepts (rnying ma’i bka’ ma), and the Collected Tantras of the Ancients (rnying ma’i rgyud ‘bum) structure the Mahāyoga around a Kabgyé-inflected rubric, and it is understood amongst Nyingmapa exegetes that the Kabgyé revelation was the source for many of the
denomination’s most important traditions. That said, my experiences questioning contemporary informants about the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa suggests that, beyond taxonomical purposes, and perhaps training in some of the simpler self-cultivational practices drawn from the cycle, few 76 Walker Blaine, The Great River of Blessings. Walker Blaine, 2011, 103.
lamas maintain detailed knowledge of the Deshek Dupa as a system. One prominent Khenpo I talked to at Dzogchen persistently confused it with the Secret Nucleus, while another Palyul Khenpo insisted it was part of the Nyingma Kama. Likewise, I was surprised to discover that a celebrated young Khenpo from the exile monastic college of Namdroling essentially knew nothing of the Kabgyé beyond the importance assigned to its doctrines by Ju Mipham, whose commentary he had once studied, and directed me to his friends from the ritual academy (sgrub sgrwa) to learn more.
As for its study in the contemporary frame, Kabgyé knowledge survives most robustly at the main and affiliated monastic colleges (shedra, bshad grwa) of Katok, Dzogchen, Palyul, and at Larung Gar. According to sources at Katok, the shedra there has always specialized in the study of the Subsequent Kabgyé Tantra (bcom ldan 'das bde bar gshegs pa thams cad 'dus pa phyi ma'i rgyud). According to Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro of Larung Gar, students there study Mipham’s commentary, the Kabgyé Namshe (bka' brgyad kyi spyi don rnam bshad dngos sgrub
snying po), for one whole year. This text, which explains the Kabgyé ritual and practice regimes in a broader Mahāyoga context, is also used at Palyul and its exile scholastic institution at Namdroling, as well as at Dzogchen’s Sri Singha shedra, to supplement the study of Mahāyoga, which focuses primarily on the Secret Nucleus and its commentaries. It seems that the Namshe’s inclusion in the shedra curricula stems from its adoption by Dzogchen, sometime in the late nineteenth century.
Given the stature and size of the many Nyingma colleges in Tibet and in exile, it is perhaps surprising that the study of the Kabgyé is limited to only one or two commentarial texts. But this is not to say that Kabgyé learning has passed out of Nyingma tradition entirely. As one Dzogchen Khenpo advised, it is in the ritual temple (dgon pa) where we can best witness the
In Nyingma temples and monasteries, monks participate in annual Kabgyé Great Accomplishment (bka’ brgyad sgrub chen) ritual intensives, and lamas regularly draw on its extensive selection of ritual texts for ad hoc rites. Annual Kabgyé intensives are held at Dzogchen, Katok, Shechen and Palyul in Kham, the exile Shechen monastery in Nepal, at Mindroling and Namdroling in India, and at the Ngakpa temple of Rigzin Rabsel Ling in Amdo. Smaller temples also perform the annual Kabgyé Drupchen, but the choice of drupchen cycle ultimately depends on factors such as the predilections of the abbot and the lineal associations of the institution’s founder. Available resources are also a determining factor: at one formerlyprominent temple in Upper Nyarong, Lumorab (klu mo rab dgon), the Kabgyé Drupchen was
prioritized until the monastic numbers dwindled and ritual experts became scarce. At the very least, even local monasteries will perform some kind of drupchen to conclude the summer and winter retreat periods, with the Kabgyé ritual intensive sometimes finishing out the liturgical calendar year. In lieu of the Kabgyé, a zhi khro (100 Peaceful and Wrathful Deities) intensive is sometimes practiced.
Drupchen can be soteriological or apotropaic in nature, depending on the context and custom of the institution. At Mindroling in Dehra Dun, and at Shechen and Palyul in Tibet, the Kabgyé Drupchen is held annually to commemorate Padmasambhava’s life. While prominently including harm-aversion rituals, this intensive is thought to activate the soteriological power of the eight Kabgyé deities on behalf of the entire institution and surrounding community. This kind of ritual intensive provides an essential refreshment of the community’s connection to that contemplative system. Apotropaic drupchens, on the other hand, sometimes called bzlog sgrub (lit. “repelling accomplishment”), such as those annually practiced at Dzogchen and Katok in
Kham, are generally scheduled at times conducive to the aversion of obstacles, such as at the end of the lunar year. These ten-day intensives are thought to dispel the accumulated negative karma of the previous year and pave the way for the institution’s success in the year to come. At Katok, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa bzlog sgrub is an intimate affair, with ten senior lamas tasked with carrying out a ten-day intensive for the dispelling of obstacles. This Kabgyé intensive is carried out alongside similar drupchens for the Wrathful Guru (bla ma drag po) and Peaceful/Wrathful (zhi khro) cycles.
Despite the normative distinction between soteriological and apotropaic ritual intensives, harm-averting rites are crucial in both types of intensives. These mainly include sacrificial fire offerings (sbyin sreg), libation appeasements (gser skyem), and effigistic sacrifices (bzlog pa or gtor bzlog). The drupchen also concludes with ritual dances (‘cham) in which mythic narratives centering on the murder and dismemberment of a stock demonic figure called rudra are acted out in dramatic fashion. This is all in-line with the Deshek Dupa’s emphasis on harm-aversion, and we might imagine that the regular performance of these demon-taming rites – whether in
commemoration of Guru Rinpoche’s acts of subjugation, or as part of an annual purification for a monastic community – recalls the establishment of Buddhist civilization and all that it entailed. The performance of these rituals in public settings maintains the identity of Buddhist institutions, as the drupchen provides an opportunity for the community to experience itself as participating in an ongoing drama of demon subjugation, and thus as an actor in the ongoing perpetuation of Tibetan Buddhism. Such an interpretation of the purpose and efficacy of public ritual deserves careful ethnographic research, and promises to open the door to exploring questions of identity, power relations, and subjectivity in Tibetan Buddhist communities.
As for the contemplative practice of the Kabgyé system, it is the case that adepts-in67 training still complete lengthy retreats dedicated to meditation on one or more of the Kabgyé deities. We know this was the case in the late nineteenth century, as attested by Jamgön Kongtrül’s account of several intensive Kabgyé retreats undertaken with close disciples. But it is hard to ascertain the frequency of Kabgyé meditation in current Tibetan Buddhist communities, as the esoterism of this tantric tradition is taken quite seriously. I have been able to glean that
practitioners at one small retreat center affiliated with Surmang Dutsi Til (zur mang bdud rtsi thil, a predominately Kagyü temple in Nangchen) do practice the full Eight Teachings cycle over a four-year period, but I was not allowed to witness this first-hand. Otherwise, I have discovered little about where, and in what context, the full suite of Kabgyé practice is accomplished. We do know that, of the eight Kabgyé meditational deities, Dorje Phurba (rdo rje phur ba, Skt. Vajrakīlaya) remains the most popular. Phurba contemplation is not limited to the Kabgyé cycles, as Vajrakīlaya traditions have prevailed across denominations from the time of the first dispensation, and this ultra-wrathful divinity continues to be a main topic of revelation
activity in Nyingmapa circles. Yamāntaka (Tib. gshin rje) and Hayagrīva (rta mgrin) are also frequently practiced in contemporary settings, but these traditions also exist outside of the Kabgyé in both Kama and terma iterations. I have found it to be the case that informants will reply in the positive when I inquire whether or not the Kabgyé is practiced at their retreat center, only for them to specify that it is actually just Dorje Phurba or Hayagrīva that is practiced, and it is not uncommon for people to use the term Kabgyé to refer to the practice of one of these common cycles, which may or may not be derived from the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa corpus itself. Thus, the term Kabgyé is often used to refer to a type, or family, of tantric practices rather than to the Deshek Dupa per se. Worth mentioning is the apparent absence of Kabgyé instruction in the modern “Western
dispensation” of Tibetan Buddhism. While many esoteric Nyingma and Sarma contemplative traditions have been presented to Euro-American audiences, there is (from what I can tell) a conspicuous absence of the Kabgyé in the contemplative programs of Tibetan meditation communities in North America and Europe. I presume that this might have to do with the intensity of the Kabgyé’s wrathful aesthetic – an idiom easily susceptible to misinterpretation and highly incompatible with prevailing sensibilities concerning religion and ritual in the West. Additionally, ritual in Euro-American Tibetan Buddhism has thus far been muted as compared to
its Tibetan iterations. The reception of ritual in the Western dispensation of Tibetan Buddhism deserves scholarly attention, but is unfortunately outside the purview of this dissertation. In summation, it seems that the Kabgyé, as a corpus, remains a surprisingly obscure body of knowledge considering its reputed importance. In many respects, apart from its use as a rubric for organizing Nyingma scriptures, its practice in annual ritual performances, and its specialized study by the scholastic elite, the value of the Kabgyé is clandestine: it has served as an organizational rubric for Nyingma canonicity, it gives us the prototypical narrative for Treasure revelation, its wrathful aesthetics are paradigmatic of the intensity of tantric practice, and the
influence of its ritual formats in the blending of the soteriological with the apotropaic pervades Tibetan religiosity in subliminal ways. In this, the Kabgyé carries a certain rhetorical value: it stands for the esoteric, the dangerous, and the elite. Unlike Nyinthik Dzogchen which, despite its truly mystical character, is increasingly popularized by famous lamas, the Kabgyé is reserved for ritual specialists and serious adepts. Thus, it is hard to definitively ascertain the place of the Eight Teachings in the contemporary context, as its reception is tied to rhetoric of esoterism and its arresting, yet undeniably influential, aesthetic. Where the Kabgyé is preserved in its fullness, it is done so mostly in the name of preservation of tradition. In this way, its fate mirrors that of
the Gathering of Intentions Sutra (dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo), which, as Dalton shows, fails to meet normative criteria for “vitality” insofar as its doctrines have fallen into obscurity, and yet it remains responsible for much of how the Nyingma denomination understands itself. As Mindroling Tulku Dakpa reported to me, Padmasambhava himself insisted that, “in this dark age, the Kabgyé must be preserved above all other traditions” (although we might wonder if every doctrinal cycle makes such claims about itself!). But “preservation” here may simply refer to the depiction of its icons on temple walls, the annual execution of ritual intensives, and the
propagation of rhetoric about the cycle’s centrality to the Nyingma inheritance. The Eight Teachings, as it may have been designed to do, provides a rubric for organizing the icons that lie at the heart of Nyingmapa practice and identity. A look at the artwork adorning the Nyingma’s most important shrine-halls reveals the degree to which the Kabgyé is one of the foundations of Nyinmgapa identity. At places like Palyul and Katok, we see the icons of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa represented alongside images of the Dorje Phurba (Vajrakīlaya) and Peaceful/Wrathful
(zhi khro) mandalas, and along with Yamāntaka and The Wrathful Guru icons. This is evidence for how these particular cycles provide a bedrock for the Nyingma tradition, at least at the level of iconographic identity and an undergirding imaginaire.
It is notable that this heart-center of the Nyingma lineage is so deeply oriented towards wrathful soteriology and ritual violence. Despite the minimizing rhetoric of Buddhist commentators in emphasizing the compassionate character of wrathful tantric divinities, I continue to place my attention on its distinctive ritual dimensions and arresting idioms. These have a long history in Tibet, and it is to this history that we now turn.
Chapter Two: From Revelation to Anthologization: a reception history Within several generations following its revelation with Nyangrel Nyima Özer, the Kabgyé ascended to a foundational status in the education and priestly activities of Early Translation masters across Central Tibet. There was immediate resonance for this cycle in the religious life of early Nyingmapas, and its importance would be confirmed as Kabgyé ritualism was incorporated into increasingly institutionalized settings from the seventeenth century onwards. In the production of Nyingma canons and anthologies, we see Nyangrel’s Kabgyé literature not only included, but also providing a key organizational rubric for all sorts of tantric materials. All of this was undergirded by a distinctive mythology and historiography curated by Nyangrel himself. The impact of this first “Treasure King” cannot be overstated. To trace a reception history of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, we may look to the
hagiographies, autobiographies, historical writings, and learning records of important Nyingma and Kagyü adepts. Manuals (yig cha), ritual compendia (sgrub skor), anthologies (mdzod or ‘bum), and exegetical commentaries (‘grel pa) also provide evidence for the reception of the Kabgyé and its related traditions. In this, we are also indebted to scholars such as Daniel Hirshberg, Cathy Cantwell, Robert Mayer, David Germano, Matthew Kapstein, James Gentry, Jacob Dalton, Janet Gyatso, Jann Ronis, and Alexander Gardner, among many others, who have
examined the life and times of relevant figures and their institutions. Of course, it is important to remember that post-facto accounts such as the nineteenth and twentieth-century hagiographies compiled by Jamgön Kongtrül and Düdjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje often reflect contemporaneous concerns and assumptions. However, we may also consult the highly personal accounts of earlier figures, such as Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal (mnga' ris pan chen padma dbang rgyal 1487- 1542), whose sixteenth-century research on the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa portrays the Eight Teachings as a vital element of Early Translation practice and exegesis across Central, Southern, and Eastern Tibet.
In conveying a reception history of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, it is essential to contextualize the treatment of this cycle in specific historical realities. In doing so, we can detect patterns of pressure and response that inflected the treatment of this scriptural cycle. Generally, we will observe that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was afforded particular exegetical and editorial attention in times of inter-denominational pressure and political contestation. Such settings included the time of its inception in the post-fragmentation period, when new tantric traditions
and neo-conservative voices challenged the authority of Early Translation communities. The tumultuous decades of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when the services of ritual masters were drawn into political contestations across Central Tibet, constituted another such moment. Likewise with the Degé Kingdom during the nineteenth century, when influential ecclesiastical figures tied to large monastic institutions curated new curricula, produced scriptural anthologies, and generated apocryphal scriptures in support of an emboldened vision of Nyingma identity. In each of these settings, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was elevated as a
resource for ritual practice, as an architecture for scriptural knowledge, and as the source for a powerful imaginaire that reclaimed aggressive forces in the face of inter-institutional contestations. My analysis hinges on the prospect of historical contestations driving cultural change, and, after Robert Campany, I interpret emergent forms of Buddhism in terms of “repertoires” and “imagined communities” developed in response to contestational dialogue.77 77 See: Robert Ford Campany, “Religious Repertoires and Contestation: A Case Study Based on Buddhist Miracle Tales.” History of Religions, vol. 52, no. 2. November, 2012, 99-141.
Attribution of the Kabgyé revelation cycle to Nyangrel Nyima Özer should not be taken to mean that Nyangrel produced the Kabgyé corpus ex nihilo. As Daniel Hirshberg points out, terma revelation involved elements of authorship, physical archeology, and textual tradency.78 As previously mentioned, one of Nyangrel’s two early biographies, The Stainless Proclamations (dri ma med pa’i bka’ rgya can) states that the Assembled Sugatas and its supplementary practices were given to Nyangrel by his Guru, Lama Rashak, with the empowerments and
teachings supplied by Tertön Ngödrup.79 This implies that Ngödrup and Rashak already held some type of Kabgyé tradition. This was apparently a well-known story in some Nyingmapa circles, prompting Ngari Panchen to investigate, resulting in his confirmation of several “transmitted Kabgyé” (bka’ ma bka’ brgyad) lineages that stretched directly from the retinue of Tri Song Destän, through Ngödrup, and on to Nyangrel, who then enfolded this transmitted Kabgyé into his new revelation tradition. Thus, Nyangrel is said to have “mixed Kama and terma into one stream” (bka’ gter chu bo cig ‘dres).80 The widely-circulated Nyangrel biography, The Clear Mirror, gives us the more normative story of the revelation of the Eight Teachings. In this account, Nyangrel finds a treasure certificate in a broken piece of statuary given to him by a 78 Hirshberg 2016, 139.
79 The Stainless Proclamations, 92.4-5: de nas bla ma ra shag gter ston gyi spyan sngar dam chos bde gshegs pa/ rgyud lung nyi shu sgrub thabs phra mo dang bcas pa/ sgro chung bzhi thon pa la/ pod chung bdun zhus pas dpe ma dang bcas pa gnang/ de nas bla ma grub thob dngos grub bya ba bka’ gter thams cad kyi bdag po de la gsang sngags sgrub pa bka’ brgyad kyi dbang bka’ gdams ngag dang bcas pa zhus/ I take reference to the “twenty Deshek tantras and teachings” (bde gshegs pa/ rgyud lung nyi shu) to refer to the stock grouping of the fifteen tantras and five teachings of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa. This reading is consistent with the next sentence which specifically refers to the reception of the Druppa Kabgyé empowerments and oral teachings (sgrub pa bka’ brgyad kyi dbang bka’ gdams ngag dang bcas pa). 80 Mnga’ ris pan chen, ‘chad thabs mun se nyi zla khor lo, 219; Ka thog rigs ‘dzin tshe dbang nor bu, bka’ ‘bum vol. 2, 401.
Regardless of the Kabgyé’s status as transmitted or revealed, we might regard Nyangrel’s curation of an extensive and comprehensive corpus in the mid-twelfth century as an inception: one that depended on the highly visionary mode in which Nyangrel operated, and which participated in his overarching attempts to re-imagine the legacy of the Tibetan imperium and the identity of the Early Translation religious community. As Hirshberg observes: “Nyangrel employed his talents as an archaeologist, researcher, tradent, author, and tantric adept in his quest
to reconstruct the shattered relics of his patrilineal and reincarnate inheritance, not only into cohesive collections of tantric praxis, but into new perspectives on Tibet’s collective past as well.” 82 The Kabgyé Deshek Dupa would be an essential element of Nyangrel’s efforts to architect Nyingma, and Tibetan, religious identity. While Nyangrel’s oeuvre entailed multiple genres and ritual idioms, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa supplied something foundational in its comprehensive presentation of distinctive myths, doctrines, and rituals to undergird a resonant vision of Mahāyoga tantrism.
Innovative as it was, Nyangrel’s creativity was also grounded in specific traditions, and the formats and literary features of the Eight Teachings maintain obvious continuity with the 81 The Clear Mirror, 342.1. Also: Hirshberg 2016, 128-29. While rgyab nas technically means “from behind”, lamas consulted on this translation have suggested that this might refer to Nyangrel’s retrieval of the scrolls from
within the Vairocana statue, extracted from the back of the icon itself. Religious statues in Tibet are generally consecrated by filling them with sacred texts. From that point of view, it is entirely plausible that a large statue could serve as a repository for texts that had since been forgotten about. See Hirshberg 2016, 135; and Mayer 2015, 228- 29 for mention of Cantwell and Mayer’s research demonstrating the provenance of some bka’ brgyad texts in Dunhuang phur ba materials, thus demonstrating that some early treasures were “compiled from the rediscovered folios of old manuscripts, some contents of which may have originated in the time of Padmasambhava or shortly thereafter.”
82 Hirshberg 2016, 139.
Mahāyoga traditions inherited from the first spread of Buddhism in Tibet.83 These included tantric cycles such as those of Hayagrīva and Vajrakīla, The Gathering of Intentions Sutra (dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo), the Mind Series (sems sde) of the Great Perfection, and also the Net of Magical Emanation (sgyu ‘phrul ‘drwa ba, Skt. Māyājāla) tantras which were so important to the Early Translation practitioners.84 In addition to these foundational scriptures, several doctrinal formats distinctive to the Early Translation community are evident in Nyangrel’s
works. These include the embrace of the nine-vehicle doxographical system, the subordination of Mahāyoga to Atiyoga, and the association of the term Great Perfection (rdzogs pa chen po) with the Sanskrit term mahā ati. The appearance of these features represents the pervasive influence of previous figures such as Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes, 9th cent.) and Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (rong zom chos kyi bzang po 1012-88), and also suggests the Tibetan provenance of many of Nyangrel’s doctrinal conceits. Several features of Nyangrel’s
oeuvre also demonstrate the influence of emergent doctrinal conceptions. We see this in the elevation of the dakini as a tutelary deity, the embrace of the imagery of charnel ground siddhism, as well as in the celebration of the harm-averting ritual adept as the paradigmatic Buddhist master. The inclusion of these conceits suggests both the influence of the gsar ma Yoginī tantras, and the coordination of Mahāyoga ritual formats with broader historiographical narratives.
83 As mentioned, five of the deities featured in the Kabgyé mandala were already present in early Tibetan Buddhism. These include Sri Heruka (yang dag khrag ‘thung), who was said to have been central to the practice of Zur patriarch Lharje Zurpoche Shakya Jungne (zur chen shakya ‘byung gnas, 1002-1062), as well as to Humkara, which was upheld in the Kyo line of transmission. Vajrakīla (rdo rje phur ba) is also evidenced in the tenth-century Dunhuang collection, as is Hayagrīva (rta mgrin) and Yamāntaka (gshin rje). These deities also featured
prominently in the Sakya tradition as it was constituted from the second wave of translation activity in the Tibetan Renaissance period. Mahottara (che mchog) was also known as the chief wrathful deity of the Peaceful/Wrathful (zhi khro) complex featured in the Secret Nucleus Tantra. So these five tantric deities clearly circulated in Early Translation masters in the centuries preceding Nyangrel’s. 84 Hirshberg 2016, 98.
When Nyangrel revealed the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa in the mid-twelfth century, Early Translation communities were situated in a sectarian landscape defined by intense rivalries, polemical disputes, and the emergence of new tantric communities. This context of rivalry and innovation explains many of the doctrinal, contemplative, and literary developments advanced by the Early Translation masters between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. If we are to
interpret socio-political pressure as an engine for cultural change, we may correlate developments in religious culture and practice — for example, new doctrines, innovative ritual programs, fresh iconographies, mythologies, and historiographies — to the influence of contextual factors such as inter-denominational contestations and agonistic political circumstances. While first-person accounts do not always report on the conflicts that defined such periods (although sometimes they do), it is often through narrative and religious literature that we may best detect the influence of social contestations in the emergence of new local and
denominational cultures. Clues supplied in such literatures include prophecies, synchretic doctrines and iconographies, new histories elevating the role of specific individuals and communities, and programs of practice aimed at bolstering agency and identity. As Robert Campany observes in reference to the dialogue between Daoist and Buddhist traditions in medieval China, new repertoires and imagined communities are stimulated by such contestations.85 The Eight Teachings tradition absolutely entailed new praxical, doctrinal, and narrative repertoires, deployed in the service of an imagined community, the proto-Nyingma denomination. Understood in this way, we can correlate historical events to the shifting doctrinal, praxical, and imaginal landscape out of which the Kabgyé emerged.
When the Tibetan Empire collapsed in 842 C.E. following generations of overexpenditure on expansion and Buddhist temple-building, a successional dispute cast the aristocratic clans into a centuries-long conflict.86 In the subsequent “Age of Fragmentation” (sil 85 Campany 2012, 106.
86 While Buddhist tradition attributes Lang Darma’s persecution of Buddhism to demonic influence, a historical perspective suggests that the withdrawal of imperial support for Buddhist institutions was related to economic factors connected to broader trends in commerce and politics across Asia. The fragmentation of the imperial Tibetan state paralleled similar developments in China and across other Silk Road civilizations. See Davidson 2005, 64-72; and Jacob Dalton The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 45-48.
bu’i dus), noble families vied for influence and resources, and a unified imperial culture gave way to pockets of local development, particularly in regards to religion. In this sense, the Age of Fragmentation was not really a “dark age” as has been suggested, but was actually a time of profound creativity, particularly in terms of religious culture.87 It was also a time of contestation. When the last Yarlung Emperor, Lang Darma’s (glang dar ma, or khri ‘u dum btsan, r. 838-41) descendants of the Osung (‘od srung) line gained control of the Gugé (gu ge) kingdom in the western region of Ngari (mnga' ris) in the tenth century, control over Buddhist orthodoxy and orthopraxy was leveraged as part of a new scheme for consolidating moral and political
authority.88 The first of these “neo-conservative” lama-kings was Yeshe Ö (ye shes ‘od, 959- 1040), whose ordinance against Early Translation tantrists called into question the provenance of core scriptures such as the Secret Nucleus (gsang ba’i snying po, Skt. guhyagarbha-tantra), and the entire Great Perfection corpus. Yeshe Ö accused the Early Translation chieftain-priests of disseminating spurious practice traditions in the absence of imperial oversight, while criticizing them for taking the injunctions of tantric practice literally, charging them with engaging in transgressive sexuality and the ritualized murder of human beings. Under Yeshe Ö and his royal
line in Gugé, such concerns became part of an ongoing polemical tactic to consolidate moral and political authority. This would be continued by successors such as Changchup Ö (byang chub ‘od, r. 1037-57), who held a conference of translators in an attempt to regulate translation protocols and establish scriptural orthodoxies, and Zhiwa Ö (zhi ba ‘od, d.1111), who continued with Yeshe Ö’s anti-Nyingmapa ordinances.89 In addition to regulating tantric orthodoxy, Gugé’s 87 Dalton 2011, 13.
88 David Snellgrove “The Rulers of Western Tibet.” In The Tibetan History Reader, eds. Gray Tuttle and Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 166-183. New York: Columbia University Press. 2013, 166-183. 89 Karmay 1998, 3-15
lama-kings established monasteries and initiated literary exchanges with Indian institutions of Buddhist learning. Yeshe Ö sent the translator Rinchen Zangpo (rin chen bzang po, 958-1055) to Kashmir to obtain easily-authenticated tantric corpora, initiating what would become known as the “New Translation” (gsar ma) movement at the basis of the Kadampa/Geluk, Kagyü, and Sakya denominations. In the year 1042, Changchup Ö invited the Indian pandita Atisha (982- 1054), a highly regarded Mahāyāna scholar who emphasized monastic discipline and exoteric
study. Despite only being in Tibet for several years, Atisha was highly influential across Western and Central Tibet, and his main disciple, Dromtön (‘brom ston rgyal ba’i ‘byung gnas, 1005-64) would found the Kadam (bka’ gdams) movement, which would later transform into the Geluk (dge lugs) denomination. At the same time, other celebrated Tibetan translators such as Drokmi (brog mi lo tsA ba shAkya ye shes, 992-1072,) and Marpa Lotsawa (dmar pa lo tsA ba, 1012-97), were returning from India with new tantric traditions and yogic practice regimes. As Ronald Davidson shows, these charismatic (if not downright eccentric) individuals were able to attract
the support of prominent nobility, with powerful institutions and vibrant communities quickly arising around them.90 In this environment of competition and innovation, Tibetan religious institutions took on never-before-seen formats, most notably in the involvement of powerful clans with the leadership of emerging monastic strongholds such as Sakya (sa skya) and Sangpu (gsang phu ne’u thog).91 Additionally, as the Eastern Vinaya monasteries of Central Tibet gained in wealth and influence, rivalries erupted around sacred sites, resulting, for example, in the 90 See: Davidson 2005, chpt. 4-5.
All told, the celebrity of the New Translation figures, along with the ongoing derision of politically powerful neo-conservatives and the general instability surrounding the rivalries of powerful new institutions, would certainly have corroded the position of the Early Translation community and its chieftain-priests. Nyangrel Nyima Özer was one such figure, and while his biographies do not give us evidence of direct pressure – military or economic – from the New Translation movement, it is more than likely that he would have been familiar with the ongoing rivalries in Central Tibet. Indeed, we can read in Nyangrel’s own literature his cognizance of the tensions unfolding around him, generally couched in the trope of prophecy. As Hirshberg notes, “Prophecies [attributed to] eighth-century figures such as Padmasambhava most often describe the era of their authorship or interpolation, rather than that of their alleged prophesizers.”93 In Nyangrel’s religious history, Honey Nectar: The Essence of Flowers (chos 'byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi'i bcud), in his Copper Island Chronicle (bka’ thang zangs gling ma)
Padmasambhava hagiography, and in the Avalokiteśvara mythology of the Mani Kabum (mani bka’ ‘bum), we find prophecies which describe this time as one of “decentralization, lawlessness, anarchy, poverty, violence, and the denigration of Buddhist teachings”.94 Thus, Nyangrel’s body of literary work – one which entailed prophecy, revelation, visionary experience, and a concerted effort to define the contours of Early Translation religious practice – is interpretable in light of the post-fragmentation context of sectarian rivalry which left the Early Translation community in 92 Carl Shigeo Yamamoto, Vision and Violence: Lama Zhang and the Politics of Charisma in Twelfth Century Tibet. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 2009, 35.
With this context in mind, we can interpret the emergence of the revelation tradition in general, and Nyangrel’s foundational contributions in particular, as an empowering strategy for both authenticating the kinds of practice towards which the Early Translation communities were already oriented, and for the production of new scriptures and modes of practice that could compete with the appeal of what was newly coming from India.95 While being careful regarding
the positing of a monolithic tradition of terma – as Hirshberg and Janet Gyatso show, there was a dynamic range of practices and precedents for what only later came to be known as a discrete tradition, or type of religious activity – we can see why Early Translation masters took to new modes of apocryphal scriptural production.96 Terma revelation provided Early Translation adherents with a strategy to authenticate the varieties of doctrine and practice around which their communities were built, while providing a space to innovate tantrism in ways that could compete with new imports.97 Nyangrel was a foundational figure in this movement, and his legacy is
defined by revelations with distinctive historiographical impact: his Copper Island Chronicle 95 See: Gyatso 1993, 97-134. Gyatso notes that gu ru chos kyi dbang phyug’s thirteenth-century Great History of the Emergence of the Treasures (gter ‘byung chen mo) provides the first polemical defense of a coherent tradition associated with Early Translation revelation activity, indicating that the revelation tradition was in need of defense in the immediate centuries after its initial development. Chöwang’s apologetics included recourse to Indian precedents and exoteric narratives of scripture recovery. This indicates that Nyingmapas in the post-fragmentation period were well aware of the strong emphasis on Indian origins that grounded both the neo-conservative and gsar ma claims to authority.
96 See: Hirshberg 2016, 29-31.
97 See: Davidson 2005, 210-35. Davidson observes that the Treasure movement was an object-based cult, functioning to bring to life the imperium by the discovery of relics of the imperial court at its height of Buddhist glory. It also provided a “textualization of the emperor’s person” (243).
hagiography of Padmasambhava; the initial texts of what would become the definitive compendium of the Tibetan cult of Avalokiteśvara, the Mani Kabum; and his religious history, Honey Nectar: The Essence of Flowers: these compositions re-imagined Tibetan history and the provenance of the Early Translation traditions in divinely sanctioned and recursive terms. The Mani Kabum provides a founding narrative of the Tibetan Empire as the theogenic activity of
Avalokiteśvara, a genesis that is replicated in the ongoing manifestation of this bodhisattva in the person of the Emperor, and, following the fall of the Empire, in incarnations such as Nyangrel himself.98 As Hirshberg shows, Nyangrel used these historical narratives to announce his own status as the incarnation of Tri Song Detsän, and to validate the religious traditions of his Early Translation community.99 100 While Nyangrel’s most voluminous revelation, The Sugata- Assembly of the Eight Teachings, is not overtly historiographical, it is coordinated with these works in its advancement of a specific vision of Buddhist mastery that reflected emergent conceptions about the nature of Tibet’s religious conversion and the role of its divine
98 Kapstein and van Schaik seem to disagree regarding the prevalence of the cult of Avalokiteśvara in the Fragmentation and early Renaissance periods, but it is agreed that it was in the revelation activity of the twelfth century that the Mani Kabum took form around the concept of Avalokiteśvara as Tibet’s special theogenic entity. The initial revelations are traditionally attributed to Tertön Ngödrup (one of Nyangrel’s masters), Nyangrel Nyima Özer, and Shakya Ö. Kapstein also offers some interesting observations suggesting that the cult of Avalokiteśvara in Tibet was the result of revived interest in Mahāyāna buddhology coupled with emerging gsar ma conceptions about
the religious destiny of Tibetans. In this way, the Mani Kabum scriptures can be interpreted as a Nyingmapa assimilative response to the New Translation and neo-conservative challenges. See: Matthew T. Kapstein, “Remarks on the Mani Kabum and the Cult of Avalokitesvara in Tibet.” In The Tibetan History Reader, eds. Gray Tuttle and Kurtis Schaeffer, 89-108. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013, 89-108. 99 Hirshberg observes that Nyangrel did not consider the zangs gling ma to be a revealed treasure, although later tradition does. See Hirshberg 2016, 187, note 336.
100 We should observe that Nyangrel also dealt with Great Perfection materials, and was instrumental in the typology of the Great Perfection in terms of the Transcendent Pith (a ti), Ultra Pith (yang ti) and Crown Pith (spyi ti) doctrines (Hirshberg, “Nyangrel Nyima Ozer” Treasuryoflives.org). As Germano shows, Nyangrel made efforts to delineate the transcendental, or “pristine” contemplative idiom from the wrathful, or “horrific/funerary” imaginaire at the basis of the Accomplishment Class tantras. In Germano’s appraisal, the dialectic between pristine and horrific idioms shaped much of the Nyingma’s doctrinal development (personal communication, April 2018). David Germano, “The Funerary Transformation of the Great Perfection” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies no.1 2005
missionaries. Specifically, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, with its lore of Indian origins and firm orientation towards apotropaic myths and rites, replicates Padmasambhava’s demon-taming which secured Tibet’s Buddhist conversion.101 Thus, Nyangrel and his community were not only emblematic of, but actually manifested, the imperial court of Tri Song Detsän and the actions of his chief priest. The glories of the pre-fragmentation Tibetan Empire (imagined as they may have been) could be recaptured, owned, and deployed through the ritualized activity of one master and his entourage; a strategy, I suggest, that would have been facilitated by the vast corpus of innovative ritual knowledge that was the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa.
Revelation literature was thus a key component in Nyangrel’s efforts to author history and place himself at the center of its recursive patterns. The intersection of divine kingship, revelation, and ritual as curated by Nyangrel’s historiography responded to the emergence of the New Translation movement unfolding around pockets of Early Translation adherents. As Kapstein observes:
“gter must be understood in terms of the authority of the past, the retrieval of a golden age which ought to be valued over progressive discoveries of the phyi dar, which was essentially a strategy for innovation under the rubric of history … Padmasambhava gained value by being at once ancient and foreign, appealing to both trends in Tibetan Renaissance culture”. 102
The genius of terma lay in its ability to address all challenges: it was at once domestic and foreign, ancient and new, conservative and innovative. The Kabgyé exemplified (and, in some regards, initiated) the innovations of terma, and is best understood as a catalyst for the 101 Dalton (2004) finds piecemeal evidence of Padmasambhava’s reputation as a demon-tamer in several fragmentary texts from Dunhuang. Specifically, ITJ644:6 and PT44 tell of a Padmasambhava-like figure’s deeds at Yangleshö in Nepal, and PT307, which describes this figure’s subjugation of seven demonesses in Tibet. While these fragments indicate that a famous thaumaturge may have come to Tibet from Nepal sometime during the initial spread of Tantric Buddhism, Nyangrel’s hagiography remains the first literary source to give us the coherent story of the yogi as a major figure in the transmission of Buddhism on the plateau. 102 Matthew T. Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000, 159.
reclamation of agency for its custodians. Recalling that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was (or at least came to be) primarily a compendium of ritual practices, we can interpret its idioms, aesthetics, and techniques as tools for agency, and its arresting character is proportionate to the threats that the Early Translation community would have faced. Wrathful heruka imagery and ritual violence was already embedded in the tantric imagination, but had yet to be systematized in Tibet into something with the gravitas of a canon or total system. The Kabgyé’s collation of the tradition’s
fiercest icons and harm-averting practices would have been emboldening to a community under pressure. As Hirshberg notes, after Yamomoto: “Apparently the situation was quite dire in twelfth century Tibet...there is consensus among sources that it indeed was a time when authoritative religious figures like Lama Shang became military leaders commanding armies of monk-combatants, and mantrins – including Nyangrel himself, according to his biographies – profited from the performance of apotropaic and martial rituals in response to surging demand from a nervous populace threatened by countless dangers”.103 Indeed, we shall see, in its reception history, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s enduring capacity for supplying resources in the Nyingma’s ongoing efforts at authoring distinctive denominational identities across seven centuries.
Just as Nyangrel had inherited his father’s tantric lineages, his son, Drogön Namkha Pel (mnga' bdag 'gro ba mgon po nam mkha' dpal 1150-1230s), served as Nyangrel’s heir. Nyangrel and Namkha Pel propagated the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa during Nyangrel’s lifetime, as we see in the account of one Pakshi Sakya Ö’s reception of Nyang teachings at Mawochok (smra bo 103 Hirshberg 2016, 24.
lcog).104 According to Ngari Panchen Wangyal, Nyangrel’s practice instructions and commentaries on the root tantras were recorded as exegetical texts, and Nyangrel’s successors continued this work by drafting practice texts, empowerments, and ritual liturgies to supplement the cycle.105 Hirshberg notes that none of Nyangrel’s genetic descendants took up the mantle of terma revelation, rather occupying themselves with the curation and dissemination of Nyangrel’s Kabgyé Deshek Dupa.106 Namkha Pel did become the master of the young Chökyi Wangchuk
(gu ru chos kyi dbang phyug 1212-1270), the extraordinary adept who would claim to be the rebirth of Nyangrel, and who supplemented Nyangrel’s Kabgyé with his own Kabgyé revelation cycle, The Total Perfection of the Secret Eight Teachings (bka' brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs). Guru Chöwang would name his own hermitage the “Temple of the Ground of the Peaceful- Wrathful Kabgyé ” (gnas gzhi zhi khro bka’ brgyad lha khang).107
Namkha Pel’s son, Ngadak Löden Sherab (mnga’ bdag blo ldan shes rab), also upheld the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, overseeing activities at Mawochok. As Hirshberg suggests, Löden Sherab was probably regarded as Namkha Pel’s main student (as would be tradition in Early Translation family lineages), not Chökyi Wangchuk.108 At any rate, many masters would come to Mawochok over the centuries, and we hear of visits from lamas seeking to practice the Kabgyé there as late as the eighteenth century. According to Ngari Panchen, the seventh-generation genetic descendant of Nyangrel, one Ngadak Kunga Gyaltsen (mnga’ bdag kun dga’ rgyal 104 Düdjom 1991, 661.
106 Daniel Hirshberg, “Fidelity, Innovation, and Reincarnation in the Early Revelations of the Eight Instructions”, International Association of Tibetan Studies 40th Anniversary Seminar: July 12, 2019. 107 Gendun Chopel Gangs can bod kyi gnas bshad lam yig gsar ma las lho kha s khul gyi gnas yig. Beijing: mi rigs dpe skun khang, 2002, 121-22 108 See: Hirshberg, 2016, 65-83.
mtshan, 15th-16th cent.?), was particularly active in presiding over Kabgyé rituals at Mawochok, and in establishing a curricular manual (yig cha) for Kabgyé ritual practice. We do not know the dates for this Kunga Gyaltsen, but it is reasonable to posit that he may have been active in the century just preceding Ngari Panchen’s sixteenth-century researches.
Lineage supplications from later generations give us some specific transmission lines. One such lineal list is that of Gyurme Dorje, Terdak Lingpa (‘gyur med rdo rje, gter bdag gling pa, 1646-1714), who received both the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa and the Kabgyé Sangwa Yongzok from his father at a young age. This lineage features many known Nyingmapa and Drikung Kagyü masters.109 Ngari Panchen also provides nearly a dozen lineage lists representing both the “transmitted” Kabgyé, and the lineal traditions stemming from Nyangrel’s revealed iteration. From these documents, we see that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa was propagated in genetic, incarnational, and denominational lineages, perhaps, as in the case of the bka’ ma bka’ brgyad, going back to the imperial period.
Broadly, we get the picture that the Kabgyé spread rapidly through Nyingma communities within two centuries following the time of Nyangrel. Hagiographic sources for figures in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries will often mention an adept’s basic training in the Kabgyé, alongside tantras such as The Gathering of Intentions Sutra, the Magical Emanation (sgyu ‘phrul) tantras, and various Great Perfection doctrines: the emergent “core curriculum” of 109 Terdak Lingpa’s lineage history of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa is as follows:
Nyangrel Nyima Özer (1124-1192/1204), Nam mkha’i dpal (Nyangrel’s son, 1164-1236), blo ldan shes rab (Namkha’i Pel’s son), mthar phyin bdud ‘dul mtshan, mdo sde senge, padma dngos grub, dpa’ bo nor bu, kun dga’ rgyal mtshan, nyang ston nor bu ‘phel, kun tu dga’ ba’i od zer, nam mkha’i rnal ‘byor, pen chen padma dbang (Ngari Panchen, 1487-1542), rin chen phun tshogs, ye shes mchog gi rol ba rtsal, bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan (prob. Sogdokpa, 1552-1624), gzhan phan phrin las mthar phyin rdo rje (Gongra Zhenpen Dorje 1594-1654), gar dbang mgon po phrin las lhun grub (Terdak Lingpa’s father), ‘gyur med rdo rje (Terdak Lingpa 1646-17140). From ‘gyur med rdo rje. “bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i brgyud ‘debs”. in ‘gyur med rdo rje gsung ‘bum, vol 9, pp. 5-6.
Kumaradza (rig 'dzin ku ma ra dza 1266-1343) represents the enlargement of the Kabgyé’s influence, as he is the first lama outside of Nyang’s genetic or reincarnated lineages responsible for extant Kabgyé materials.112 It is unclear where Kumaradza received his Kabgyé training, although one of his teachers, the fascinating Orgyen Rinchen Pel (o rgyan pa rin chen dpal 1229-1309) had trained alongside one of Chöwang’s principal disciples, Madunpa (ma bdun pa 1198-1265). Notably, Kumaradza’s famous disciple, Longchen Rabjam (klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer 1308-63), while ultimately revered for his Great Perfection treatises,
also received Kabgyé training from his own father as a young practitioner.113 In addition to his role as the Dzogchen master of Longchenpa, Kumaradza taught the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje 1284-1339), as did the aforementioned Orgyen Rinchen Pel, who could trace his lineage to Chöwang. So while we do not specifically know whether Kumaradza or Rinchen Pel taught the Kabgyé to Rangjung Dorje (perhaps not Kumaradza; his relationship
with the Karmapa was said to revolve around snying thig mysticism), we do know that the Karmapa and his main disciple and compatriot, the first Zhamar Drakpa Sengge (zhwa dmar 110 Hagiographical entries in Düdjom’s chos ‘byung for this period demonstrate that the Kabgyé (usually the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, but sometimes the Chöwang’s Kabgyé Sangwa Yangzok) persistently made its way into the education of Nyingma adepts.
112 Kumaradza’s composition, the dpal ldan sgrub pa bka’ brgyad kyi bskyed rim gyi man ngag zab mo gnad bsdus, is registered in the po ta lar bzhugs pa’i rnying ma’i gsung ‘bum dkar chag, vol. 1, p.15. 113 Klong chen rab ‘byams, “dri med ‘od zer gyi rnam thar mthong ba don ldan” in dri med ‘od zer gsung ‘bum. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009, vol. 4, 184.
grags pa seng ge 1283-1349), did practice the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa at the temple of Dechen Theng as it was being erected under the direction of Rangjung Dorje.114 It seems, then, that the Kabgyé was seeping into the purview of the early Kagyüpas, and this may have been the origin of a documentable Kagyü interest in the Eight Teachings, resulting in a transmissional lineage that would include important Drikung masters.
The Drikung Kagyüs ('bri gung bka' brgyud pa) took up the Kabgyé when the seventeenth Drikung Denrab, Gyalwang Rinchen Phuntsok (rgyal dbang rin chen phun tshogs 1509-57) immersed himself in Nyingma study under Ngari Panchen Wangyel, the Tertön Gyama Migyur Kunga (rgya ma mi ‘gyur kun dga, mi ‘gyur las ‘phro gling pa), and Ngari Panchen’s brother, Lekden Dorje (legs ldan bdud 'joms rdo rje 1512-1625). Rinchen Phuntsok’s grandson, the first Chetsang hierarch of the reformed Drikung, Rigzin Chökyi Drakpa (rig ‘dzin chos skyi
grags pa, 1595-1659) wrote an extensive history of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, and an entire book of Amgon Rinpoche’s nineteenth century Drikung anthology (‘bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo) is devoted to Kabgyé ritual and meditation.115 So we see that the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa had, by the sixteenth century, exceeded the confines of the Early Translation communities and had become something exportable to institutions of other denominational orientations.
Interestingly, an early nineteenth century lineage list provided by Mipham Chökyi Wangchuk (mi pham chos kyi dbang phyug 1775-1837) records the Drikungpas’ reception of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa from Ngari Panchen, and then its eventual return to Nyingma circles via Zhigpo Lingpa (zhig po gling pa gar gyi dbang phyug, 1524-83), and his student Sogdokpa Lodro 114 Alexander Gardner, "The First Zhamarpa, Drakpa Sengge," Treasury of Lives, accessed September 27, 2017. http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Zhamarpa-01-Drakpa-Sengge/9634. 115 ‘bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo, pod 107.
Gyaltsen, and then onward to Trinley Lhundrup and his son, Terdak Lingpa.116 We thus see between the Nyingma and Kagyü a shared interest in the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa that evidenced an ecumenical reality that far preceded the Eastern Tibetan ecumenism made famous by the socalled Rimè (ris med) movement. It is absolutely the case that Kagyüpas in the Karma and Drikung schools would engage in treasure revelation and seek out training in the Kabgyé, Great Perfection, and other Mahāyoga systems.
Meanwhile, a third Kabgyé revelation emerged in the late fourteenth century through the Tertön Rigzin Gödem (rig 'dzin rgod ldem 1337-1408). Gödem was steeped in the practice of Dorje Phurba (Skt. vajrakīlaya), and was familiar with the treasure cycles of Nyangrel and Chöwang. Gödem’s Northern Treasure (byang gter, Jangter) cycles replicate and supplement the Kabgyé revelations of Nyangrel and Chöwang, contributing the Kabgyé Drakpo Rangshar (bka' brgyad drag por dbyung rang shar), which continues to be the main Kabgyé corpus utilized by Jangter temples. Taken together, these three cycles, plus cycles later revealed by Pema Lingpa (pad ma ling pa, 1450-1521), Samten Lingpa, Nuden Dorje (stag sham nus ldan rdo rje, 1755- 1808) and Ögyan Lingpa, would come to be considered the principal Kabgyé corpora. But it 116 Mi pham chos kyi dbang phyug, gsung ‘bum, pod 7, 296-99. The lineage list is nearly identical to Terdak Lingpa’s and reads as follows (starting with Nyangrel):
Zab gter bstan pa’i spyi mes mnga; bdag nyang [[[Nyangrel]]], mkha mnyam ‘gro ba’i mgon po nam mkha’ dpal [Nyangrel’s son], snying po’i don gjigs blo ldan she rab zhabs [Nyangrel’s grandson], mthu stobs brtul zhugs mthar phyin bdud ‘dul mtshan, sgrol mas rjes bzung mdo sde seng ge dang [13th cent., zhwa lu], mkhas grub zla med padma dngos grub, ‘jam dpal grub pa’i dpa’ bo nor bu’i mtshan, ‘jig rten dbang phyug kun dga’ rgyal mtshan dpal, grub pa’i rig ‘dzin nyang stong nor bu ‘phel, pan bdes kun tu dga’ ba’i ‘od zer can, ‘khrul zhig rje rigs nam mkha’i
rnal ‘byor pa [15th century bka’ brgyud pa], gnas lnga rig pa’i man chen pdma dbang [[[Ngari panchen]] wangyal], lha sras rnam rol rin chen phun tshogs zhabs [Rinchen Phuntshok, the Drikung Denrab], gar dbang ye shes mchog gi rol pa rtsal [probably Zhigpo Lingpa], blo gros mchog gi bstan pa;i rgyal mtshan ‘dzin [Sogdokpa, Lodro Gyaltsen], gzhan phan phrin las mthar phyin rdo rje ‘dzin [probably gonra lochen zhenpen dorje], gar dbang mgon po phrin las lhun grub [father of Terdak Lingpa], rtsod bral gter chen ‘gyur med rdo rje [[[Gyurme Dorje]], Terdak Lingpa, founder of Mindroling], rin chen rnam rgyal padma bstan ‘dzin, [son of Terdak Lingpa], ‘phrin las rnam rgyal padma dbang gi rgyal.
remains the case that Nyangrel’s initial cycle, the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, has been the most influential.
Ngari Panchen: The Wheel of the Sun and Moon Dispelling The Darkness We do see some crossover between Nyangrel and Chöwang’s “Southern Treasure” (lho gter) and Gödem’s “Northern Treasure” (byang gter) lineages in the fifteenth century, such as in the case of the previously-mentioned Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal (mnga' ris pan chen padma dbang rgyal 1487-1542). Ngari Panchen was born in Mustang to a prominent Kagyupa practitioner, and his younger brother, Lekden Dorje was recognized as the reincarnation of Gödem himself. Ngari Panchen’s writings suggest that researching (rtsad bcad) the Kabgyé
Deshek Dupa was a bit of an obsession for the young lama, and his biography states that he received the Kabgyé no less than twenty five times, indicating that it had become a robust tradition everywhere by the turn of the sixteenth century. In particular, Ngari Panchen received his training under one Namkhai Naljor (gnam mkha’i rnal ‘byor), a Kagyü yogi mentioned in both Terdak Lingpa and Chökyi Wangchuk’s lineage supplications, and also from his own father, whom he longingly supplicated after eleven years of seeking out Kabgyé Deshek Dupa texts. Ngari Panchen revealed a Kabgyé cycle himself, composed several Kabgyé rituals which
have been included in various redactions of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa cycle, and wrote a general study and exposition of the Kabgyé tradition, called The Wheel of the Sun and Moon Dispelling the Darkness: A Method of Explanation (‘chad thabs mun sel nyi zla’i khor lo). This text outlines the contents and doctrinal architecture of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa, and traces the commentarial and practice literature which it spawned. This work is invaluable for its detailed account of the development of Kabgyé exegesis and practice in the four centuries following the time of Nyangrel, and constitutes some of our earliest evidence for the robust contribution of the Kabgyé
to Early Translation religious life. In this, Ngari Panchen also provides a heartfelt account of his connection with the Kabgyé, reporting on his quest to discover associated ancient texts and images in quite personal terms.
According to hagiographic and autobiographical literature, it seems to be the case that the education of Early Translation adepts in the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries involved an eclectic but somewhat standard mix of transmitted tantras; prominently: the Gathering of Intentions Sutra (dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo), the Secret Nucleus Tantra (gsang ba’i snying po, Skt. Guhyagarbha-tantra) and related Magical Emanation (sgyu ‘phrul, Skt. Māyājāla) tantras, Great Perfection mysticism (rdzogs pa chen po, specifically the snying thig systems), and ritualcentric Mahāyoga tantras, especially as collated in the Eight Teachings cycles. Figures such as
Ögyen Lingpa (b.1323), Sangye Lingpa (1340-1396), Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405), Pema Lingpa (b. 1450), Thangton Gyalpo (b. 1385), and Ngari Panchen, to name but a few, exemplified this eclecticism, and their hagiographies suggest that the Kabgyé was a prime subject of study, an object of visionary experience, and something to be practiced in retreat or with a retinue of disciples.117 It seems that the oeuvre of tertöns in these centuries in many ways mirrored that of
Nyangrel – a sensible conclusion considering that Nyangrel, like the subsequent tertöns, claimed to have been recovering the specific cycles given to Tri Song Detsän by Padmasambhava: cycles such as The Great Compassionate One (thugs rje chen po), the Wrathful Guru (drag po bla ma), the Peaceful/Wrathful deity complex (zhi khro), Vajrakīlaya (phur ba), Yamāntaka (gshin rje), Hayagrīva (rta mgrin), and the Eight Teachings (bka’ brgyad). It is clear that these masters were forwarding the full spectrum of works initially produced or curated by Nyangrel several 117 See Tertön hagiographies in Düdjom 1991, pp. 789-880. Also see: gu ru kra shis chos‘byung, chpt. 4, pp. 363- 598; and, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodro Thayé’s gter ston rgya rtsa’i rnam thar (Biographies of the Hundred Revealers).
centuries before. Not many of their revelations fall far outside the fold of Nyangrel’s own resume, which attests to the First Tertön King’s seminal importance. Apotropaic Ritualists and Nyingma Polymaths: Sogdokpa Lodro Gyaltsen and Gongra Lochen Zhenpen Dorje
The persistence of wrathful tantra, and an emphasis on ritualism with a violent timbre, is evident in the reputation of figures from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. This was a particularly volatile era in Central Tibet, as noble houses from Tsang (gtsang) vied for supremacy in the wake of the collapse of the Phamodrukpa (phag mo gru pa) dynasty, all culminating in the fall of Central Tibet to the Ganden Potrang (dga’ ldan pho brang ) and its
Mongol armies.118 Notable examples of famous ritual adepts from this time include Zhigpo Lingpa Gargyi Wangchuk (zhig po gling pa gar gyi dbang phyug, 1524-1583), a prolific tertön who revealed a major apotropaic ritual cycle, The Twenty Five Ways of Averting Armies (dmag bzlog nyer lnga), and his primary student Lodro Gyaltsen, also known as Sogdokpa, the “Mongol Repeller” (blo gro rgyal mtshan, sog bzlog pa, 1552-1624).119 Sogdokpa was so-named for his reputed skill in repelling the Mongol forces backing the ascent of Ganden and the eventual rise of the Dalai Lamas.
As James Gentry has shown, in this time of turmoil on the eve of Ganden supremacy, lamas in general, and treasure-revealing ritual specialists in particular, were beginning to take on new levels of political import. This was evidenced on both sides of the Central Tibetan conflict, 118 See Gentry 2014, 47-56. Sogdokpa had initially been allied with the dominant Rinpung (rin spungs) family of Tsang, a polity that was later subsumed by the Tsangpa Desi, Karma Tseten, and from whose successors the Ganden Potrang wrested authority in 1642. Before falling to Gushri Khan in 1642, the Tsangpas dominated central Tibet in a campaign that brought destruction to Drepung and Sera monasteries, and enforced their dominance through constant skirmishes with rival Tibetan and Mongolian forces.
119 According to Gentry, all that survives of this compendium are five texts included in the Rinchen Terdzö. See Gentry, “Representations of Efficacy: The Ritual expulsion of Mongol Armies in Consolidation and Expansion of the gTsang Dynasty.” In Tibetan Ritual, edited by Jose Cabezon, 131-163. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
exemplified by the Tsang patronage of Sogdokpa, and also in the elevation of the Mongolempowered Drepung abbots, the Dalai Lamas, as the de facto rulers of a consolidated Central Tibet. Gentry shows that the incorporation of ritualists and incarnated masters was an important feature of a broad trend in this period, as polities consolidated power and carried out colonial exploits in places like Central Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan.120 Throughout the late sixteenth and
early seventeenth centuries, the figures of the reincarnate lama and the prophetic treasure revealer both became more integral to political affairs, and increasingly threatened to displace lay aristocrats as the main power brokers in Tibet.121 So it was that, in this period, prophecysanctioned, “object-based”, and violent ritual mastery became a key feature of political power, and expertise in the harm-averting rituals like those mastered by Zhigpo Lingpa and Sogdokpa became valuable commodities in the struggle for political, military, and social dominance.
Providing, as it does, a vast assortment of mythic narratives, doctrines, and practice techniques centering on wrathful, harm-averting ritualism, the Kabgyé was a key resource for Nyingma ritual adepts in this period. Sogdokpa, who was one of the few Tibetans to write about ritual practice in overtly theoretical terms, inherited the Kabgyé from Zhigpo Lingpa (who himself received it from the Drikung line), and wrote several Kabgyé rituals, including initiation rites and daily meditation practices now included in the comprehensive thirteen-volume Kabgyé Deshek Dupa editions.122 And it was Sogdokpa’s student, Gongra Lochen Zhenpen Dorje (gong 120 Gentry 2014, 49.
121 Gentry 2014, 52, 87, 432. 122 Blo gros rgyal mtshan (sog bzlog pa), “dbang chog bsdus pa” in Tsamdrak: bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor, vol. 9; and “las byang bskyed rdzogs 'bring po” in Katok: bka brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor, vol. 7.
ra lo chen gzhan phan rdo rje 1595-1654), who is credited with redacting the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa into the format which is now considered to be complete and definitive.123 In addition to being a ritualist and active teacher, Gongra had editorial sensibilities, as he allegedly compiled and disseminated an early Nyingma Gyubum (rnying ma’i rgyud ‘bum), the Seventeen Esoteric Instruction Tantras of the Great Perfection (man ngag sde rgyud bdu bdun), and the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa.124 These editorial activities were carried out at a monastic
scriptorium called Ngesang Dorje Ling, a stronghold of the Zhigpo treasure tradition, which would later be annexed by Ganden and converted to the Geluk denomination.125 Gongra’s editorial choices exemplify a specific vision for Nyingma identity in the face of great pressures and on the eve of Mindroling’s re-visioning of Nyingma institutions. It was an identity that included transmitted esoterism, transcendental mysticism, and harm-averting wrathful ritualism. Gongra’s editorial activities may have indeed set the stage for what would unfold at Mindroling, as highly institutionalized iterations of Nyingma tantrism would have hinged on the
anthologization of the Early Translation’s many cycles and practice traditions. However, while Gongra’s editorial work spanned at least three bodies of Nyingma literature, his personal lineage was one of distinct emphasis on ritual.
124 Terdak Lingpa’s biography of Gongra tells us that he assembled the Nyingma Gyubum three times: “rnying ma rgyud ‘bum tshar gsum bzhengs pa” (‘gyur med rdo rje gsung ‘bum, vol. 3, p.90); Gongra’s Curation of the seventeen esoteric tantras of the great perfection is registered by Gentry 2014, 467, note 961. And the Englishlanguage preface to the Tsamdrak bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor suggests that Gongra was the initial editor of the parent edition to the thirteen-volume collections. This claim is derived from colophonic information that appears in certain texts included in both the Katok and Tsamdrak editions; however it is not verified in any other sources.
125 Gentry 2014, 466.
Gongra was an important figure to the Mindrol patriarch Terdak Lingpa, Gyurme Dorje (gter bdag gling pa, ‘gyur med rdo rje, 1646-1714).126 Gyurme Dorje saw himself as the inheritor of Gongra’s (and Sogdokpa and Zhigpo Lingpa’s before him) lineage, as he recounts how his father, Trinley Lhundrup (‘phrin las lhun sgrub), received the Kabgyé and Zhigpo Lingpa’s wrathful treasure cycles directly from Gongra.127 Gongra was also a known, and
apparently troubling, figure for the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (ngag dbang blo gzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682). Famous for his embrace of Nyingma tradition (which included some forays into treasure discovery, not to mention close ties to the second and third throne-holders of Dorje Drak), the Great Fifth took serious issue with the likes of Zhigpo Lingpa and Sogdokpa (and by extension, Gongra), as these figures actively resisted Ganden’s Mongolbacked dominance through their ritual interventions. The Dalai Lama branded them the “trio of
snang, sog and gong”, banning their works and forcibly taking over Gongra’s own monastery of Ngesang Dorje Ling.128 The Dalai Lama’s animus towards these masters was no secret: when asked to bestow the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa on the Dalai Lama, Terdak Lingpa felt the need to warn him of the provenance of this lineage. After considering the matter, reception of the Kabgyé must have remained important enough to the Dalai Lama that he acquiesced, in this case, to receiving the rival lineage.129 And, contra his position on the meddlesome ritual interventions of Sogdokpa and company, the Fifth Dalai Lama also received the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa from 126 ‘Gyur med rdo rje, “gzhan phan rdo rje’i rnam thar” in ‘gyur med rdo rje’i gsung ‘bum. vol.3.
In sum, the period between the disintegration of the Phagmodrupa hegemony in the early 1500s and the ascendancy of Ganden in 1642 was one of shifting power and changing roles for Tibetan Buddhist ecclesiasts. Ritual mastery, and the deployment of violent apotropaic ritualism in particular, became a key commodity in an environment of rivalry and reformation. Treasure discovery and its attendant domains of prophecy and ritual became central aspects in the responses that specific polities and communities exhibited in confronting threats from outside.