Blue Annals Chapter 4

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 4

Summary of The Blue Annals Chapter 4: The New Secret Mantra Traditions including the Path and its Results (lam ‘bras) Tradition

by Kevin Bache; revised by Ben Deitle

4.1 The beginning of the new translations (gsar ma’i ’gyur mgo’i skabs. Chandra 184; Chengdu 255; Roerich 204).

This introduction gives the traditional account in which the restoration of proper tantric practice was initiated by the kings of mnga’ ris, who having noticed the arising of a state of degradation of practice invited Atīśa and other learned Indian paṇḍitas to provide guidance. These teachers spoke against violent and erotic practices. ’gos lo tsā ba then argues that Lord Smṛti was indeed a gsar ma translator before rin chen bzang po citing that ’brom ston pa learnd translation from Smṛti. rin chen bzang po translated mainly the “Father” Class (pha rgyud) of the Anuttara-yoga-tantras. bla chen ’brog mi translated Yoginī Tantras.

4.2 The spread of explanations of Yoginī Tantras, and the story of the increase of instructions on the Path and its Results during the life of the Sakyapa father and son (rnal ’byor ma’i rgyud kyi bshad pa’i dar so dang / lam ’bras bu dang bcas pa’i gdams pa sa skya pa yab sras kyi ring la ’ji ltar ’phel ba’i gtam gyi skabs. Chandra 184; Chengdu 256; Roerich 205).

This section relates the education of ’brog mi. The three royal brothers of eastern Tibet, dpal lde, ’od lde, and skyid lde, request lo ston to spread the doctrine in their area. lo ston sends his disciples shākya zhon nu and se ye shes brtson ’grus in his stead. These two in turn equip ’brog mi and stag lo gzhon nu brtson ’grus with gold in order to travel to India and study. After a year in Nepal studying with the Nepalese paṇḍita Śāntibhadra, ’brog mi and stag lo gzhon nu brtson ’grus traveled to the Indian monastery of Vikramaśila where they received teachings from Śāntibhadra’s teacher Śanti-pa. In particualrly, ’brog mi studied with Śanti-pa for eight years, learning Vinaya, Prajñāpāramitā, and many Vajrayāna texts.

After that, ’brog mi went to eastern India and became the disciple of Prajñā-Indraruci (shes rab kyi dbang po gsal ba) who was a grand-disciple of Virūpa. Prajñā-Indraruci gives ’brog mi more Tantric and Vajrayāna teachings as well as the rootless lam ’bras (without the text). We’re told that ’brog mi feels more confidence in lam ’bras than the Vajrayāna texts he studied with Śanti-pa. Curiously, Roerich does not translate here the small part which explains that stag [misspelled “snyag”] lo did not study, but stayed and did circumambulation at Vajrasana.

After thirteen [more?] years in India and Nepal, ’brog mi returned to Tibet and settled in myu gu lung. Not long afterward he meets the Indian paṇḍita Gayādhara. ’brog mi and Gayādhara reach an agreement in which Gayādhara will stay at my gu lung for five years and teach ’brog mi, who in return will pay Gayādhara five hundred srangs in gold. Within three years, Gayādhara had bestowed the complete lam ’bras on ’brog mi and was going to leave until ’brog mi finally paid him the five hundred srangs of gold. Gayādhara was so pleased by this that he not only stayed the remaining two years, but agreed not to teach the lam ’bras to any other Tibetans. We’re told that Gayādhara visited Tibet twice more before his death and that ’brog mi had died by the third visit.

Next, ’gos lo tsā ba discusses ’brog mi’s disciples. ’brog mi taught the complete “word” (gsung ngag) to only three disciples, se ston kun rig being the only one to carry on the lineage with disciples of his own. He gave incomplete teachings to twelve other disciples. He also taught ’gos lo tsā ba [khug pa lhas brtsas] and mar pa lo tsā ba. Both of these figures left him because of qualms they had with this teaching style, mar pa in particular complained about ’brog mi’s great need for presents.

When ’brog mi died his sons performed the funeral rites. Although the signs of his having accomplished enlightenment in his physical body did not manifest, he is said to have attained the realization of Mahāmudrā in the intermediate state (bar do).

Next, ’gos lo tsā ba seems to offer a summary of what has been recounted so far. He again states the accomplishments of rin chen bzang po. Indeed, rin chen bzang po’s life is used throughout the above section in order to provide relative dating of events. Then ’gos comments on the teachings of mar pa. ’gos lo tsā ba’s personal bias toward the founder of his sect is obvious in the line “Tibet became filled with (his) disciples, and in this manner he became the Master of the Tantric Doctrine” {R 210}.

After a very breif recount of ’brog mi’s main disciples (in which he lists the zha ma brother and sister who are treated at length in a later section), a sa skya lineage is presented. ’gos traces the ’khon clan from its mythical orgination down through a minister of the imperial king khri srong lde btsan. This imperial heritige connects the ’khon clan with the old tantras and teachings of the first spread of the Dharma in Tibet. The monastery of sa skya was founded by a clan member, dkon mchog rgyal po, in a water-female-ox year (1073 by Roerich’s reckoning). ’gos then works through a long list of the names and dates of many of the abbots of sa skya and other notable teachers of the lineage. Most of this section is fairly sparse, but ’gos lo does provide some details for the life of bla ma ’phags pa, who became the Court Chaplain of Prince se chen (Qubilai Khan) in 1253, and later was appointed imperial preceptor. After ’phags pa, many sa skya lamas serve at the imperial court.

After finishing his list, ’gos explains how the lam ’bras teachings came to be held by the sa skya. With zhang dgon pa’s teaching of the secret precepts of the lam ’bras to sa chen, ’gos notes that “From then on, the spiritual descendants of sa skya became the masters of both the basic text and secret precepts (of this doctrine)” {R 215}.

Next we have a brief explaination of Emperor se chen’s establishment of a system of regents to rule the three provinces of Tibet, along with descriptions of some of these regents’ constuction activites relating to sa skya monastery. The sa skya, however, are not without their rivals for power however. Mention is made of war with the ’bri khung pa, and later the rise to power of ta’i si tu byang chub rgyal mtshan of the phag mo dru pa. Returning to the sa skya, we are told of their work with several visiting Indians, and the spread of the Pramāṇavārtika in monastic establishments. Finally ’gos mentions a Mongol Imperial Edict in the time of ’phags pa rin po che which granted Tibetans religious freedom.

4.3 Defense of the Teaching by Ma Lotsawa, Zhama, and her brother (rma lo tsa’a ba dang zha ma lcam sring gis bstan pa ji ltar bskyangs pa’i skabs. Chandra 195; Chengdu 271. Roerich 218).

Part three opens with a short history of the invention of a Tibetan language based on Sanskrit and the spread of Buddhism during the rule of srong btsan gam po. The two other main figures in this story, thon mi sambhoṭa and the Chinese princess Wencheng, are later reborn as rma lo tsā ba and ma gcig zha ma respectively. The following two sections mainly recount the lives of these later two and their particular transmission of Path and Fruit (lam ’bras) treachings. ma gcig zha ma’s six brothers, including ’khon phu ba, are also introduced.

rma lo tsā ba studied in India for some time until his teachers advised him to return to Tibet to find a prophesied consort. This consort turns out to be ma gcig zha ma. Her youngest brother, seng ge rgyal po, became a respected translator and mention is made of an encounter he had with pha dam pa sangs rgyas.

The Life of ma gcig zha ma [Roerich 220]

This section is a biography of ma gcig zha ma, student of rma lo tsā ba and propagator of the Path and Fruit (lam ’bras). ’gos lists zha ma’s supernatural birthmarks and tells or her two younger brothers. She married at fourteen, but faked insanity to escape family life for one of spirituality. (Dan Martin’s article, “The Woman Illusion?,” p. 54 n 10, notes that this is not an unusual phenomenon and cites two other occurnces in the Blue Annals alone, pp. 99 and 1030 of Roerich’s translation. Further, it seems common for female religious figures to be associated with craziness or crazy people.) She served as rma’s consort from the ages of seventeen to twenty-two. One night, in union, saw herself and rma transformed into Heruka and his consort, and “Henceforth, she said, she never saw the Teacher and herself in an ordinary (human) form” {R 221 – 222}. After four years of practicing in seclusion, she went to practice in solitary places and obtained many siddhis, or powers. When she was twenty-eight, rma (who was forty-six) died from poisoning.

After rma’s death, zha ma became afflicted by seven curious, extremely dihabilitating ailments. She traveled to ding ri to see [pha] dam pa [sangs rgyas] who listed seven transgressions of her samaya vows with her teacher. To overcome these, dam pa has her bring seven items to him. When she does so, he requires of her a corresponding action for each item and forcefully (in one instance he slaps her) reminds her of two forgotten events from her past. He then performs a magical ritual and commands her to gather merit for her teacher’s lineage. She makes seven offerings and her health improves. She is grateful to dam pa and sends offerings to him, apparently having learned well the lesson that one must honor samaya vows. Next come two brief, disjointed stories about dam pa. One involves a miraculously quick journey he takes through the Himalayas with a female attendant of ma gcig’s. The other has to do with an encounter between dam pa and se. se goes on to give teachings to ma gcig and her brother.

Finally, ma gcig, we are told, obtained full realization and accomplished much virtuous activity. gos lo tsa wa gives us a list of her main teachers and disciples before relating the events of her death. As ma gcig zha ma is considered an emmination, she’s said to have feigned death in her eighty-eighth year. No relics were left after her cremation.

The life story of ’khon phu ba [Roerich 226]

’khon phu ba, the younger brother of ma gcig zha ma, was born in 1069. Despite advice to the contrary that he received at a young age from gnya ma pa, he doesn’t seem to have done much translation work. At fourteen he studied with rong zom chos bzang, the purported top rning ma scholar of the day). Some time after, rma convinced him to stay in Tibet as his student instead of visiting teachers in Nepal. He also prophecied that “You will become a Bodhisattva in his last rebirth. Till then, listen to the Doctrine at the feet of Tibetan scholars. Later proceed to India where you will meet a follower of the Lineage of Maitrī-pa” {Roerich 227}. Next comes a lengthy description of the various teachings ’khon phu ba received and practices he studied in Tibet, Nepal, and India until he was 30. At that time, he took up austerities on the advice of his sister zha ma. At thirty-one he and zha ma recieved lam ’bras in byang. Later, ’khon phu ba married two women and “again practiced austerities at ’khon phu and fulfilled his vow” {Roerich 229}. The text mentions his teaching career from the age of fourty-four onward. ’khon phu ba died at seventy-six in 1144.

The life story of lha rje zla ba'i 'od zer (lha rje zla ba 'od zer) [Roerich 229]

Lhajé Dawé Özer (lha rje zla ba’i ’od zer), later in the text referred to as Lhajé Dawa Özer (lha rje zla ba ’od zer), was a reincarnation of Dharmapa and son of ’khon phu ba. His aunt, ma gcig zha ma is said to have nursed him for the oddly long period of the decade following the death of his biological mother. Among others, he studied with his father who delivered an edict to zla ba’i which paralleled one he had received in his own childhood: “No one has greater precepts than me! Stay with me, and learn!” He also received the complete precepts his father and aunt zha ma together. The family lineage that is emphasized here seems to be a common mode of religious transmission in the renaissance period, if not Tibetan Buddhist history in general. Teachings are passed down from father to son and shared between brother and sister, making them something of a family treasure which is inherited through the generations. Another reoccuring theme here and elswhere is the importance of funerary rites for parents and teachers. When zha ma and her brother die, zla ba’i ’od zer goes to great lengths in funeral preparations. What accounts for this Tibetan prediliction for elaborate death rites?

Notably lacking from his biography is a detailed list of the teachings he received and doctrines he studied. Perhaps this is because he was a reincarnation. Perhaps we’re to understand that he received all he needed from zha ma and ’khon phu ba. He had a “vision of four wonderful spectacles” {Roerich, 230}, the last of which was a prophecy which came true that a contest would soon be held between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. During the match of intellect and magical powers, the text claims that the Buddhists soundly trounced the non-Buddhists and converted all of them. zla ba’i died in 1182 at the age of sixty. At the end of this section gos lo tsa ba cites as his main source a life story of Lhajé Dawa Özer (lha rje zla ba 'od zer) by Jotön Wangchukdrak (jo ston dbang phyug grags).

The life story of mon ston byung gnas shes rab [Roerich 232]

gos spends the first part of this section making sure that we know that mon ston byung gnas shes rab was the nephew of mtha’ bzhi who was the nephew of rma lo tsā ba. He seems to have had a somewhat more diverse than usual base of studies, from the doctrine of Atīśa, bka’ gdams pa precepts, Mahāmudra, logic, abhidharma, sūtra, and tantra. He was especially known for his knowledge of Mahāmudra.

He took over his uncle’s chair when he was fifty-seven years old. He forbade killing wild animals in ’phan yul and rained hail and other nasty retributions as punishment for those who disobeyed him. He passed his holdings onto his nephew dbon po ’phags pa at sixty-six years old and took up austerities for thirteen years. He died in 1160 in his eighty-fifth year.

The Life Story of the ‘ācārya 'phags pa. [Roerich 234]

For the most part, 'phags pa's biography treats the usual subjects: his birth, ordination, education, and death. Notably lacking is a lengthy section on the teachings he gave and disciples he kept. He was born in 1090 or 1091 and died in 1151. He was the nephew of the kalyāṇa-mitra mon, studied (among other things) lam 'bras with zha ma and her brother 'khon phu ba when his health once went sour. He died died with the words "I did not transgress even a single word of their [my teachers'] advices" {Roerich 236}.

The Life Story of the ācārya ston pa dbang phyug rgyal pa

For the most part, ’phags pa’s biography treats the usual subjects: his birth, ordination, education, and death. Notably lacking is a lengthy section on the teachings he gave and disciples he kept. He was born in 1090 or 1091 and was the nephew of the kalyāṇa-mitra mon. He took ordianed under Putowa (pu to ba) and later studied with him for at least ten years. From zha ma and her brother ’khon phu ba he obtained lam ’bras teachings. He died in 1151 with the words “I did not transgress even a single word of their [my teachers’] advices” {Roerich 236}. At his funeral rites many relics and auspicious signs appeared.

The Life Story of the mahāsattva yang den pa – the reincarnation of ston pa [Roerich 237]

ston pa, the nephew of ’phags pa and his approximate equal in age, has a similarly uneventful biography. He studied various tantras, abhidharma, and treatises from his ordination at eighteen through middle age. He traveled with his uncle ’phags pa to receive the complete teachings of zha ma and ’khon phu ba. The number of times that he heard the exposition of lam ’bras from each is especially noted. ’khon phu ba finally announces to ston pa that he has given him all his teachings and he need not come anymore. ’khon phu ba then bestows on him a tanka of Yamantaka and zha ma gives him a tooth, presumably these are religious parting gifts. Interestingly, ston pa is said to have developed the power to predict the birthplace of those for whom he had conducted the seven day funeral rites. He died at 60 or 61 in 1158.

The Life Story of the mahāsattva yang den pa – the reincarnation of ston pa [Roerich 237]

yang den pa, ston pa dbang phyug rgyal pa’s son (and reincarnation?), seems a semi-mythical figure. He mastered reading upon learning its rudiments. His quickness in study was noted by a number of his teachers and he began giving expositions at fifteen. He was said to befriend ḍākiṇīs in all that he did, emit light rays, and leave foot prints in stone.

At seventeen, his mother told him he was the figure “indicated by lha rje ma in her prophecy” {Roerich 238} and sent him to lha rje zla ba ’od zer. lha rje greeted him with great joy and “held him dearer than his own son” {Roerich 238}. With lha rje, yang den pa completed his studies and initiations. At twenty-three he became abbot of an unnamed monastery in dbus (is this a monastery as well as a province?). He spent much of his next two decades in retreat and had a vision of zha ma. He died at fifty-eight in 1217, 174 years after the birth of rma. At his funeral, numberless relics are found. A large monument (stupa?) was built which is said to have “continued the work of the guru.” {Roerich 239}. This is an interesting instance of the explicit mention of a religious object displaying an agency of its own. gos notes that his biographical sketch is based on the account given by dbang phyug gzhon nu.

Again in this biographical sketch we see the importance of family lineage in religious transmission, his mother receiving teachings from his father and yang den pa himself being trained from an early age by his father. There is also again the importance of funeral rites. At the death of lha rje zla ba ’od zer, yang den pa performs funerary rites, erects a monument, and finished work left behind by his teacher. His own funeral is marked by the appearance of relics and a monument which carries on his work after his death.

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