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The Sovereign All-Creating Mind-The Motherly Buddha

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A Translation of the Kun byed rgyal po'i mdo, by E. K. Neumaier-Dargyay
SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies.
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Reviewed by Skora, Kerry Martin

Philosophy East and West
Vol.46 No.1
January 1996

...the [contextual] Background is the realm of the wild reality of women's Selves. Objectification and alienation take place when we are locked into the universalism of an abstracted, male-centered, monodimensional foreground.

(Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology)[1]


E. K. Neumaier-Dargyay's work is the first Western-Language translation of "The All-Creating Sovereign" (Kun Byed rGyal Po, hereafter KBG), a Tibetan Buddhist Tantra and one of the earliest sources for the "Great Perfection" (rDzogs Chen)[2] traditions of the Nyingma (rNying Ma, "ancients") sect. Neumaier-Dargyay set herself a great task in translating this complex and profound text. Her work will be appreciated by both Buddhist scholars and general readers, and her pioneering efforts promise to inspire further thought in a much-neglected area of scholarship.

For many years, Nyingma tantras did not receive proper attention by Western scholars, partly because of the unfavorable view toward these texts propagated by some Tibetan Buddhists themselves.[3] Such texts were said to be "inauthentic," that is, not produced in India, and, hence, not "authentically" Buddhist. In fact, of these Nyingma texts, many of the Mahayoga (rNal 'Byor Chen Po) tantras are probably Indic in origin.

More importantly, although the KBG and other Great Perfection tantras may be Tibetan compositions, the accusation of inauthenticity only reflects the bias of not accepting the possibility of Tibetan-produced texts as being equal in significance to Indian-produced texts. Nonetheless, the scholarship on these tantras remains minimal. Neumaier-Dargyay's work is a significant step toward correcting this situation.

Her work is also important because it raises the issue of feminist interpretations of Buddhism, reflecting the increasing awareness in scholarship[4] that questions traditional interpretations of Buddhism that have unjustly propagated one-sided "patriarchal" views.

In addition to the translation (pp.51-191), the work contains a four-part introduction (pp.1-50) and an outline of the chapters (pp.193218). The introduction includes sections on the conceptual context of the KBG, the historical context, the underlying ideas, and the language and problems of translation.

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In the section on the conceptual context, Neumaier-Dargyay draws on comparisons with Indian and Buddhist texts, traditions, and thinkers

References may be found to Vedic texts (p.5), Gau.dapada and `Sa^rikara (P* 6), the Yogavasi.s.tha (p.6), nondual Kashmir Shaivism (pp.6-8), various Indian Buddhist texts and doctrines (pp.8-12), and Chan Buddhism (p.13). Common to all of these are ideas on "mind" as the underlying "creative force" of existence. Neumaier-Dargyay's main purpose is to suggest possible connections between the KBG and these other sources. She does not intend her discussion to be comprehensive, and she is aware of the necessity for rigorous monographic studies of the complex issues involved. Neumaier-Dargyay should be applauded for some insightful observations in this brief survey.

However, at times, the reader may find herself confused and disappointed. For example, Neumaier-Dargyay discusses "possible affinities between the KBG and Kashmirian Shaivism" (pp. 6-8). Although she recognizes the problem of using the term "Kashmirian Shaivism"[5] (p.45 n.15) and is aware of the necessity for a detailed study in order to do pr oper justice to the complexity of these two "systems" (p.7), her brief discussion is still misleading. She describes what she believes to be two major areas of difference: (1) the KBG is heavily based on feminine symbolism "while Kashmirian Shaivism remains firmly entrenched in its phallocentric symbolism" (p.7); and

(2) the KBG rejects any method to achieve enlightenment while in "Kashmirian Shaivism," methods do exist (p.7).

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Such a description distorts both the KBG and nondual Kashmir Shaivism. It distorts the KBG by overstating its "feminist" and "deconstructive" perspective (see below). Regarding nondual Kashmir Shaivism, one of the most serious errors she makes is not s pecifying the exact referent of the term "Kashmirian Shaivism." The readers must figure this out for themselves. One might guess that when she states that "there are four stages of 'means' (upaya)," she is referring to the four-fold upaya

scheme found in Light on the Tantra (Tantraloka) of Abhinavagupta (fl. ca. 975-1025 C.E.).[6] Nonetheless, even if this is correct, problems remain.

With regard to her first point concerning phallocentrism, it appears that she has reduced the li^nga to a mere phallus. The li^nga is a multivocal symbol operating on several levels, at the highest of which it symbolizes ultimate reality. Further, the author ignores the complex complementary feminine and masculine symbolism used to discuss both Ultimate Being and the means to realization.[7]

Regarding methods of enlightenment, Neumaier-Dargyay has reduced a complex system of practices to a mechanical four-step method. Mark Dyczkowski has discussed Abhinavagupta's fourfold scheme in detail. Abhinavagupta divided all practices into four categories, referred to as the "Four-fold Knowledge" (jnanacatu.ska).[8] Each category is called a "means to realization" (upaya). It is not that each category is equated with one method. Rather each category is a principle, and any type of


spiritual practice is based on one or more of these principles.[9] The fourth category is called "No-Means" (anupaya), and it refers to direct realization without the mediation of any means.[10] Furthermore, all means lead to this "means-by-no-means." [11]

 Neumaier-Dargyay writes that "the text has been neglected by Western scholars altogether." Although very little scholarship has been done, ]]Neumaier-Dargyay's\\ statement is inaccurate. In varying degrees, Samten Karmay, Kenard Lipman, and Dan Martin have all written on the text. In addition, Neumaier-Dargyay herself has previously published work on the text.[12]

Further, Neumaier-Dargyay states (p.225) that she was not able to use [[Samten Karmay's\\ The Great Perfection[13] as much as she had wished. This is unfortunate as it is the most extensive historical study of early Great Perfection lineages and could have aided ]]Neumaier-Dargyay\\ in dating the text. Neumaier-Dargyay leans toward locating it as a late eighth-century Tibetan translation of a n Indian work (pp.12-13, 19-23,27, and back of book). In a recent synthesis and extension of ]]Karmay's\\ arguments, David Germano suggests that the text is a late tenth-century Tibetan composition integrating earlier tantras and systematically introducing new Great Perfection developments.[l4]

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Similarly, Neumaier-Dargyay ignores interpretations of the text within the Tibetan tradition itself. On page 24, she writes that the KBG "has attracted the attention of only a few Tibetan masters, most of them just paying lip service to the importance of the text without exploring its spirit." Later, on page 27, she makes an even stronger statement suggesting that the KBG "was never truly appropriated by the Tibetan tradition"-that there exists no "well-defined exegetical context within which we coul d interpret the text." Such statements underestimate both the significance of this text in the work of the Great Perfection visionary kLong Chen Rab 'Byams Pa (1308-1363 C.E.;

hereafter Longchenpa) and the significance of his interpretation of this text. Longchenpa wrote a short commentary on the KBG, and extensive references to the KBG may be found in many of his other works, including two of his most profound studies, The Treasury of Reality's Expanse (gNas Lugs mDzod) and The Treasury of Abiding Reality (Chos dByings mDzod).[l5] In the light of her oversight in not exploring these potentially rich sources, it is paradoxical that she has been tutored on the text by Professor mKhan-po Rig-'dzin, a Nyingma scholar (see preface and several endnotes). Also, she refers to Nyingma teachers Namkhai Norbu and bDud-'joms Rin-po-che. No doubt, the living tradition may be a valuable spring of knowledge. However, avoiding Longchenpa's interpretations seems inconsistent.

The subtitle of this book, "The Motherly Buddha," and the picture on the cover, a blossoming flower in beautiful shades of blue and pink, embody the refreshing and evocative "feminist perspective" of the KBG. Neumaier-Dargyay begins the work stating th at the KBG presents a


"feminist perspective of Buddhist spirituality" (p. 1) and that "fleeting existence (samsara) is in its depth 'being,' i.e., a dynamic process of complete integration (nirvana) ... [which] may well be described as divine reality of a feminine dimension (p. 1)." The issue of feminism is discussed mostly in relation to the issue of the gender of the ultimate (pp.29-30, 41-42).

Based on her reading of both the KBG and other related texts, she concludes that rendering the ultimate as feminine follows the i ntent of the text. She supports her translation by referring to passages in which the ultimate is symbolized by a female figure.

This line of argument is insufficient. As Neumaier-Dargyay herself most likely knows, the issue is more complex than whether or not "divine reality" should be referred to as a "He" or a "She" and symbolized by a "male" or a "female." The energy spent o n this line of argument unfortunately prevents her from carrying out her more perceptive insights. A stronger argument would have been to clarify explicitly what she means by a "feminist perspective," how this contrasts with what might be called a "masculine" worldview, and how the "feminine" worldview is in fact espoused by the KBG.

Although she does contrast two ways of being in the world, she never tells the reader whether or not these ways correspond to "feminine" or "masculine" worldviews. From vario us comments (especially pp. 30, 32, and 39), we may elicit the following descriptions of two worldviews: one is holistic, aware of interrelationships and the rich web of contexts, and may be represented by the intuitive, spontaneous person aware of and sustained by the invisible ground of Being; the other is techno-scientific, tends toward separation and alienation, and may be represented by the objectifying, analyzing, calculating, measuring, and goal-oriented person "totally engulfed by the hustle of everyday trivia."

Although these two worldviews correspond, in fact, to what some contemporary theorists mean by "feminine" worldview and "masculine" worldview,[l6] the reader, unfortunately, is left on her own to arrive at any illuminating insights on this significant issue.

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The reader may be disturbed by the numerous typographical and grammatical mistakes as well as some stylistic idiosyncrasies: "Despite of the enormous diversity …" (p. 3); "transcendental" (p.10); "till" (p.11); "literature" (p.15); "across" (p.15); "i t would totally premature to guess" (p.24); "soterological" (p.38); "If were not existent in the past, no Sovereign were there who made all things. If I were not existent in the past, none were there to be a teacher from the primordial" (p.55); "How has come to be what is known as 'self-originated' "

(p.56); "teach" (p.82);"if you ask [Me] to explain how does this come" (P.86); "Since begjnning own being is without agitation and without loss" (p.95); "Who discern anything else to exist beside this wil l not meet Me" (p.96); "Beside of this, I did not teach a single issue…" (p.98); "pentade"(p.153); "Who adulterate Buddha's spirit will abandon all the Buddhas"

(p.156); and "Oh great bodhisattva, have the mind not engage in samaadhi…" (p.156). Also, she sometimes neglects to employ diacritical marks in spelling out both Pall or Sanskrit terms.

In addition, she often gives no sources. She makes comments on the following without providing any references: Indian religious and philosophical texts that have not been translated or properly studied (p.3); "the statement of the Tibetan tradition tha t the KBG was translated from an Indian language into Tibetan by the end of the 8th century" and the Tibetan tradition position on the eighteen "mind class" tantras and the disagreement within the tradition (pp.5, 21);

the metaphor of sky in Gau. dapaada and `Sa^nkara (p.6); the present hypothesis regarding the relationship between Ch'an and the Great Perfection (p.13); a disagreement among Atiyoga texts (p.31); and the position on feminism within the "mind class" texts (p.41). Also, although she intends her introduction to be read by readers not familiar with Buddhist thought, she often leaves untranslated the names of Tibetan texts (pp.17, 26, 29, 37).


The reader may notice a "monolithic" or "univocal"[l7] tendency in Neumaier-Darygay to reduce complex, heterogeneous, and diffuse processes into simple structures. This is unfortunate as it often undercuts her own more subtle positions. Neumaier-Dargya y does not deal with the critical issue of the precise referent of the term "Great Perfection," and it is difficult to determine where she stands.

However, from various comments, the reader is led to believe that the Great Perfection was a self conscious and homogeneous "mystical tradition" of eighth-century Tibet with a coherent and consistent system of thought, as delineated in the KBG. I have discussed the dating already and here I only want to point out that the term "Great Perfection" must not be con strued as referring to some monolithic entity. Rather, it refers to a variety of movements, especially in the earlier centuries, with varying sources and purposes. Its complexity remains to be worked out and many questions on the origins of the school rem ain open.[l8]

Neumaier-Dargyay sees the KBG as radically deconstructing Buddhist philosophy and practice. On page 1, she tells us that the KBG is a "radical attempt towards deconstructing Buddhist philosophy" and that "the entirety of the Buddhist doctrinal and prac tical system is brushed aside by a Buddhist text!" For Neumaier-Dargyay, the KBG is a radical, unorthodox text that sets itself apart from everything that preceded it.

By taking such an extreme position, Neumaier-Dargyay neglects an interesting dialectic, which she herself mentions: a Buddhist text, while addressing a Buddhist audience, is deconstructing Buddhism. Although Neumaier-Dargyay is right to point out the use of negative rhetoric, she does not support her deconstructionist interpretation of this language. What is said and how it is contextualized in actual practice are two different matters; the negative rhetoric should not necessarily be taken lit-


erally. Within the history of Buddhism and other religions, negative rhetoric has been used in various and subtle ways. One is reminded of the strong language of negation used in various strands of Chan/Zen that actually rejuvenated the traditions.[19] It is important to remember that the Great Perfection traditions arose out of and continually defined themselves against a Buddhist tantric context.

The question of whether or not the KBG was used in conjunction with various contemplative practices remai ns open.[20] Although Neumaier-Dargyay does not take the extreme position to argue that the KBG is an anarchic, antinomian text, the radical discontinuity proposed by her between the KBG and both its Buddhist predecessors and successors (see p. 50 n. 79) is unfounded.

Finally, a "univocal" tendency guides Neumaier-Dargyay's view of mysticism, which she summarizes in her description of the "climax of Atiyoga":

The state of mind typifying the Atiyoga is beyond the scope of conceptual thinking as all distinctions become irrelevant.... In a figurative way they become speechless in a nameless world of blissful silence in integrated being.(P.39)


Earlier she refers to the Atiyoga mystical experience as "unmediated" or "pure" (pp. 32, 38). Not only does such language (i.e., "speechless," "nameless," "unmediated," "pure") contest previous scholarship on mysticism,[21] but her language contrasts w ith other more subtle descriptions she herself offers of the experience underlying the text (pp.14, 38-39). Thus, she again misses an opportunity to illuminate clearly the unique point of view of the KBG for her readers: that it is precisely in the world, in life itself, that one experiences enlightenment.

Turning now to the translation itself, it should be said that the text is very difficult to translate given its ambiguity and terseness. Nevertheless, the quality of her translation is uneven. One example is the following translation:

1, the All-Creating Sovereign, mind of perfect purity, taught you to understand My own intrinsic being as to the point that all existent things, just as they are, are nothing else but Me. (p. 87)

The Tibetan text reads:

kun byed rgyal po byang chub sems nga ni/

khyod kyis nga yi rang bzhin 'di rtogs la/

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ji ltar snang ba'i chos mams thams cad kun/

nga las gzhan med Pa ru lung ston cigl (50.1-2)[22]

The reader may first notice that the Tibetan text is written in verse, yet she translates it as prose. This alteration of the form distorts the meaning; the prose form presents the KBG as more systematic than it is. Translating


into verse would have made the text easier to read and the meaning clearer; it also would have made the reader more aware of the aesthetics of the text, which was one of her goals (p. 43).

Neumaier-Dargyay translates rtogs la ... ston cig as "taught ... to understand," with "l" as the agent. Yet both rtogs and ston cig are im perative verbs (this is especially obvious in the latter case, given that it ends with the imperative particle ci g), with "you" as the natural agent as indicated by the instrumental particle following it.


She translates ji Itar snang ba'i chos rnams thams cad kun as "all existent things, just as they are." Yet snang in ji ltar snang ba'i indicates "appearance." The phrase "just as they are" flattens out any connotation of appearance. Further, she combin es thams cad and kun as just meaning "all." Though either term may individually connote "all," the fact that both are used suggests a more emphatic phrase such as "the totality of all" or "all and every." Taking these points into consideration, an alterna tive translation might read:

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You must realize this nature of I- I, who am the All-Creating Sovereign, the enlightening mind-And teach the precepts of how the totality of all phenomena, however they appear

Are none other than I.

I have translated rang bzhin as "this nature" rather than "own intrinsic being," to avoid the "structure-oriented" connotations associated with the latter.[23] I have also translated byang chub sems as "enlightening mind" rather than "mind of perfect p urity." Neumaier-Dargyay says that she bases her translation on how the KBG itself defines this term (p. 29). Nonetheless, her radical emphasis on complete discontinuity is distortive. She says that previous meanings of the term are rendered useless; howe ver, it is more accurate to say that new meaning is created in the KBG, precisely by building on previous meanings.

A second example is the following:

The one is consummate, and thus are the two consummate, and all is consummate, thereby the creation is in [a state of] consummate bliss. "The one is consummate" means the mind of perfect purity is consummate; "the two is consummate" means the creation by the mind is consummate; "all is consummate" means that absolutely everything is consummate. (p. 67)

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The Tibetan text reads:

gcig rdzogs gnyis rdzogs kun rdzogs pas/

bya ba phun sum tshogs par bde/

gcig rdzogs byang chub sems su rdzogs/

gnyis rdzogs sems kyis byas pa rdzogs/

kun rdzogs phun sum tshogs par rdzogsl (25.3-4)


This is a good example of the terseness of the text. The first six words translate literally as: "One Perfect, Two Perfect, All Perfect." The relation between the first word to the second word in each pair is not explicitly stated, and hence a good tra nslation should allow an open-ended relationship within each pair of words. An alternative translation such as "... it is perfect (in/as) one, perfect (in/as) two, perfect (in/as) all" allows the multivalency of the language to be expressed and is in agre ement with the way the term "perfect" is related to other words by means of a particle in the third and fifth lines (she later ignores these particles). While it is not strictly wrong to translate as "The one is consummate...," such a translation does not allow the multiple resonances to be expressed. Further, in "and thus are the two consummate," Neumaier-Dargyay has added "thus" without giving any reason.

In the second line, Neumaier-Dargyay translates phun sum tshogs pa as "consummate," which is the same term she uses to translate rdzogs. Such translations hide the rich textures of the text. While phun sum tshogs pa may certainly connote "consummate," the reader is given no idea that this term is different from rdzogs. A more literal translation such as "sublime constellation" would indicate that a unique term is being used here. In chapter 48 of the KBG, the same term is related to "the three aspects" of the nature of the All-Creating Sovereign and then delineated in terms of three further aspects (p. 157). My point here is that the term is a special term within the context of the KBG.

Finally, she then translates the same phrase (phun sum tshogs pa) in the fifth line as "absolutely everything." It is not at all clear what she bases this on. Again, taking these points into consideration,. I would suggest the following as an alternati ve reading:[24]

Since it is perfect (in/as) one, perfect (in/as) two, perfect (in/as) all, Activity is the bliss within the sublime constellation.

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Perfect in/as one is its being perfect in/as the enlightening mind; Perfect in/as two is its being perfect in/as that which is created by the mind; Perfect in/as all is its being perfect in/as the sublime constellation.


    - As cited in David Michael Levin, The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation (New York and London: Routledge, 1988), p. 277. The parenthetical additions are Levin's.
    - See below for a discussion of this term.

3 - See Geoffrey Samuel's brief summary in his Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan
Societies (Washington and London:


Smith-sonian Institution Press, 1993), p. 229. Samuel refers to David L. Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors, 2 vols. (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), pp. 451-460.


4 - Neumaier-Dargyay refers to the work of Anne Klein. The recent important volume edited by jos`e Cabez`on should also be mentioned in this connection.

5 - She then suggests: "Some scholars prefer the more accurate name, Pratyabhinnaa...." She references J. C. Chatterji, Paul Eduardo Mul-Ier-Ortega, and Mark S. G. Dyczkowski. Of these scholars, only Chatterji, writing in 1914, preferred such a name. For a critique of this position of Chatterji, see Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism(Albany, New York::

State University of New York Press, 1987), pp. 18-19. For a discussion of the term "Kashmir Shaivism," see Muller-Ortega, The Triadic Heart of `Siva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir(Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 16-18.Here-after, I use the term "nondual Kashmir Shaivism" in the sense explicated in Muller-Ortega's work.

6 - See Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration, pp. 170-175.

7 - On the symbolism of `Siva and `Sakti, li^nga, yoni, guha, etc., see Muller-Ortega, The Triadic Heart of `Siva, pp. 53, 109-116. Also, on `Siva and `Sakti, see Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration, pp.119-126.
8 - Dyczkowski, Doctrine of Vibration, p. 171.

9 - lbid., pp.171-172.

10 - lbid., pp.175-180.


11 - lbid., p.1175.

12 - See Samuel, Civilized Shamans, pp. 464-465. In discussing the KBG and scholarship on the KBG, Samuel refers to the following five works: Samten G. Karmay, "A Discussion on the Doctrinal Position of rDzogs-chen from the 10th to the 13th Century," in Journal Asiatique 263 :147-155; Kenard Lipman, You Are the Eyes of the World (Longchenpa's Commentary on the Kun byed rgyal po) (Lotsawa, 1987); Dan Martin, "lllusion Web: Locating the GU- hyagarbha Tantra in Buddhist Intellectual History," in Silver on Lapis: Tibetan Literary Culture and History (Bloomington, Indiana: The Tibet Society, 1987), pp. 175-220; Eva K. Dargyay, "The White and Red Rong-btsan of Matho Monastery," in Journal of the Tibet Society (Bloomington) 5:55-66; and Dargyay "A R~ni^n-ma p.116 Text: The Kun-byed rgyal po'i mdo," in Soundings in Tibetan Civilization (Proceedings of 3d Seminar of International Association for Tibetan Studies) (New Delhi: Manohar, 1985), pp. 283-293.

13 - Karmay, The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988).

14 - David Germano, "Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen)," in journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17(2) :235.

15 - See Germano, Poetic Thought, The Intelligent Universe, and the Mystery of Self: The Tantric Synthesis of rDzogs Chen in Four- teenth Century Tibet (Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison,1992), pp. 5, 12.

16 - All page references are to Kun byed rgyal po, vol.1:1-220, in the rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum (Thimbu, 1973).

17 - I use the notion of "univocal" similar to the manner described by Robert D. Pelton in The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

18 - See German, "Architecture and Absence," pp. 211-219, for a discussion of its early sources. See also Germano, Poetic Thought, PP.2, 3.

19 - See Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1991). See also the general yet pertinent remark made by William R. LaFleur, in Buddhism: A Cultural Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, New jersey, 1988), p. 104.

20 - My comments follow Germane, "Architecture and Absence," pp.219-234. See especially pp. 228-230 for a provocative Iisting of five different ways the negative rhetoric may have been contextualized.

21 - See Stephen T. Katz, Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (London: Sheldon Press,1978).s, 1978).

22 - All page references are to Kun byed rgyal po, vol.1:1-220, in the rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum (Thimbu, 1973).

23 - S ee Herbert Guenther's discussion of "structure-oriented" thinking versus "process-oriented" thinking in From Reductionism to Crea- tivity: rDzogs-chen and the New Sciences of Mind (Boston: Sham- bhala,1989).

24 - See ibid., pp. 184-188, for Guenther's translation of this passage and its interpretation by Longchenpa.