Blue Annals Chapter 7

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 7

Summary of The Blue Annals Chapter 7: Exegetical Traditions of Various Tantric Systems from the Tibetan Renaissance Seminar

Composed by Matthew Spitzer, Revised by Carrie Frederick Frost (last revised 03/01/07)


Chapter 7 covers several yoga tantra lineages in Tibet, with each section dedicated to a lineage. It is full of discussions as to how and by whom they arrived from Kashmir, India, and Nepal, as well as the vertical transmission through time of the individual lineages. Gö Lotsawa makes note of lineages that are not extant, or cloudy in their passage through time, or simply untraceable. He also notes that many of these lineages came “through many doors in Tibet;” they were transmitted through different persons and at different places. In addition to genealogical-type lists about these lineages, Gö Lotsawa includes a few anecdotes about major and minor figures in these traditions, with special attention to Rinchen Zangpo, who is included in most of these yoga tantra lineages. Everything from supernatural powers (snake eating and invisible girls) to frustrated disciples to female teachers is included.

7.1 The Chapter on the History of the Yoga (Tantra) (yo ga’i lo rgyus kyi skabs)

{CA 312, CH 429, R 351} This section gives an account of the lineage of Yoga Tantras (meaning both Yoga Tantras and Anuttara Yoga Tantras) in Tibet along with brief information concerning some of the Tibetans connected with their arrival and transmission. The author begins with the ‘Early Spread of the Doctrine’ {R 351} and the significance of Buddhaguhya’s teachings on the Kriyā (bya ba) and Caryā (spyod pa) Tantras {Rgyud). After a list of early translated tantras, Gö Lotsawa (1392-1482, ‘gos lo tsa ba) remarks about the lack of continuity of these teachings from the early spread and the later spread {R, 351}. The issue of alignment of the later spread of the Doctrine with earlier Indian sources is of great significance for the formation of various Tibetan Buddhist sectarian and textual traditions, and these comments reveal this concern to be of continuing importance at the time of the composition of the Blue Annals in the 15th century.

The “Great Translator” Rinchen Zangpo (Rin chen bzang po, 958-1055) is identified as a primary figure in the translation, transmission, and teaching of the Yoga Tantras in Tibet. His labors are described as ‘properly’ (Tibetan?) establishing the teaching of the Yoga Tantras, suggesting that Gö Lotsawa considers Rinchen Zangpo’s efforts reflect an acceptable level of ‘continuity’ {R 352}. A list of the primary texts he translated is followed by a list of his main disciples who are referred to as his “Four Spiritual Sons” {R 352}. Rinchen Zangpo’s translation of these texts was largely the result of his briefly mentioned three trips to Kashmir.

Many of the disciples of Rinchen Zangpo receive teachings not from Rinchen Zangpo, but from the ‘Junior Translator,’ legs pai shes rab, one of the “Four Spiritual Sons.” On five separate occasions a student’s studies were primarily under the direction of the Junior Translator rather than under the Great Translator himself {R 353 & 354}. This detail differs from many of the other lineage transmissions given in the Blue Annals, and suggests anything from his inadequacy as a teacher to his superb ability to delegate tasks. Of primary importance in the continuation of the transmission of the Yoga Tantras was zangs dkar 'phags pa shes rab who studies exclusively under the Junior Translator {R, 354}. Zangs dkar and his disciple gnyal pa nyi ma shes rab continue in the teaching of the Yoga Tantras, including returning to Kashmir (Zangs dkar) and studying with Kashmirian visitors to Tibet (Gnyal pa). Gnyal pa and three other disciples are collectively known as the “Four Sons of Zangs dkar” {R 355}.

Several other disciples of Rinchen Zangpo and Zhangs dkar are listed along with their respective students. The culmination in the list is Buston Rinpoche (bu ston rin po che, 1290-1384), author of one of the primary historical sources used by Gö Lotsawa throughout the Blue Annals. Gö Lotsawa makes the distinction between the Yoga Tantra initiation rites’ transmission (lung) and the exposition of the Yoga Tantra’s transmission and that of its commentaries, and notes that he is unable to find the linage for the latter. What are the implications of this loss given the importance placed on lineage continuity?

7.2 The Chapter on the Guyhayasamajatantra According to the Method of Nagarjuna (‘dus pa ‘phags lugs kyi skabs)

{CA 315, CH 429, R 356} This section deals primarily with the Guhyasamāja Tantra of the Anuttara Yoga class – its origins, primary transmitters, and significance as a primary Tantra of the Buddhist Doctrine. Gö Lotsawa’s establishes the Guhyasamāja Tantra doctrinally as the ‘chief among Tantras’ {R 357}, which makes this section unique given the lack of doctrinal arguments elsewhere in the text. ‘Guhyasamāja’ means ‘hidden assembly’ and refers specifically to All the Buddhas (also referred to as the ‘Great Vajradhara’ {R 357}). This lineage of the Guhyasamāja Tantra is traced to Nāgārjuna and his disciples (which Nāgārjuna is unclear). Gö Lotsawa notes that some regard this text as an independent work {R 358}, a view which is connected with the Hinayana tradition. However, Gö Lotsawa is of the opinion that other tantras are related to the Guhyasamāja Tantra; the Kālacakra being its commentary and the Hevajra being its introduction, and he offers evidence to that effect, citing Buston {R 359}. The translations of the Guhyasamāja Tantra produced during the ‘Early Spread of the Doctrine’ are mentioned, as well as the Guhyasamāja Tantra’s significance for the Nyingma as the most importance among their eighteen classes of tantra {R 359}. Whether these the ‘eighteen classes of tantra’ were established during the ‘Earlier’ rather than the ‘Later’ spread of the Doctrine is unclear. Rinchen Zangpo translated the Guhyasamāja Tantra during the ‘Later Spread of the Doctrine.’

The origins of the Guyasamāja Tantra are treated next, beginning with its origins in Oḍḍīyāna {R 359}. As the reputed birthplace of Padmasambahava, Oḍḍīyāna is often considered to be of great significance to the translations of tantric texts during the ‘Later Spread of the Doctrine’. At the request of the king Indrabhūti, Munīndra (a Buddha?) teaches the tantra in Oḍḍīyāna. Following this, all the inhabitants become realized. The text is transmitted, via the king, and eventually to ācārya Nāgārjuna. Six generations later, Gö Lotsawa receives it. The description of his studies in India includes autobiographical details, such as his transformation into a student with a strong work ethic {R 360}. After a short list of some of ‘Gos’ teachers, the author provides three lineages, the relationship of which is very unclear. Of the three different lineages of the Guhyasamāja Tantra’s transmission presented, two are offered as being possibly contradictory {R 361}, and the others are of an unspecified relationship. The author then spends two pages offering support from quotes for the origins of the text in Oḍḍīyāna. Following this defense, Gö Lotsawa summarizes that the Guhyasamāja Tantra may “have originated in several lineages” {R 363}. There is a list of Gö Lotsawa translations, including several re-translations of the Guhyasamāja Tantra {R 362}. His lineage is given next, and it confirms the ‘several lineages’ of this text. Several times this lineage appears to start over with a teacher of significance, such as with Atīśa {R 364}. The lineage again ends with its mastery by bu ston rin po che, and then its eventual transmission to Tsongkhapa (blo bzang grags pa, 1299-1375), who considered the Guhyasamāja to be of utmost importance (see book 15, section two).

7.3 The Chapter on the System of Jnānapāda (Buddhajnāna) (ye shes zhabs lugs kyi skabs)

{CA 324, CH 446, R 367} This sections deals with a second ‘system’ of the Guhyasamāja Tantra – that of Jnānapāda (ye ses zabs). This system is of similar origins as the one above; it was brought to Tibet “through many doors” and was likewise translated by the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo. Jnānapāda appears to work from the same basis of origin for the Guhyasamāja Tantra that was provided in the previous section. The exact distinctions between this system and the one described in the previous chapter are unclear. The primary difference is its association with Buddhajnāna, who was a student of one of Nāgārjuna’s disciples, Bsrung bai zhabs {R 368}. In the description of Buddhajnāna’s travels, again Oḍḍīyāna is mentioned and is referred to as the ‘source of Mantrayāna’ {R 367}. During his travels in Oḍḍīyāna, Buddhajnāna studies with two female teachers, one a yogini named Gu ne ru {R 367}, the other to whom he is beckoned in a dream, Dza thig, a Mahā-Lakṣmī {R 368}. He studies mahāmudrā with Dza thig and obtains powers (siddhi) {R 368}. The appearance of these two female teachers in Buddhajnāna’s lineage is related in a matter-of-fact manner; with no commentary as to whether female teachers were unusual in this lineage or at this time.

A list of bsrung bai zhab’s (a disciple of Nagarjuna) disciples makes for a motley crew, including members of all the castes of Indian society, including two from the Śūdra caste and two ‘harlots’ (Tibetan?). There is no commentary to help decipher just how unusual or common these types of disciples were in the Tibetan context. While studying with the aforementioned disciple of Nāgārjuna, Buddhajnāna expresses dissatisfaction with his level of perception in regards to the teachings. His teacher offered a curious response, that he was having the same difficulty {R 369}. This leaves Buddhajnāna ‘disappointed.’ So he turns his assistant into a book, ties the book onto his waist and heads into the forest. After some time there, he obtains the insight he was seeking {R 369}. Perhaps this sequence of events suggests one of the reasons for the distinction between these two systems; if Nāgārjuna’s disciple was not proficient in the teachings of the tantra, than that lineage appears inferior to the one propagated by Buddhajnāna who achieved greater insight by himself.

After a more detailed story of Buddhajnāna’s realization and the texts that he composed (the ‘Fourteen treatises” {R 371}), Gö Lotsawa reports that while Buddhajnāna had an impressive level of realization, “he could not transform his physical body into that of Vajrakāya” {R 371}. No further explanation is given about this statement. Why does the author offer this comment?

Next, the details of Buddhajnana’s disciples are given. Similarly to the previous system of the Guhyasamāja Tantra, the several lineages described seems to be less than clear. Of significance in this lineage is that the author himself is placed at the end of it. Gö Lotsawa received the initiation into the system of the Jnānapāda in the same line as Buston, just two generations later.

7.4 The Chapter on the Cycle of Yamāntaka (gshin rje gshed kyi skor gyi skabs)

{CA 331, CH 454, R 374} This section details the Yammāntaka cycle, which is based on the Kṛṣṇayamāriantra and its commentary Sahajoloka. Atisa is mentioned as the first teacher of this lineage, yet the bulk of this section concerns the primary teacher of the cycle: Ralotsawa Dorje Drak (rwa lo tsa ba rdo rje grags). After a childhood association with the goddess Re mati, Ralo becomes a monastic and studies in Nepal under Mahakaruna, who had learned the tantra from Naropa. Following this is a list of all the texts that Ralo mastered {R375}. Again, the ‘continuity’ of the texts associated with Ralo is brought to the attention of the reader. Of these texts, Gö Lotsawa stresses their authenticity writing “These were genuine systems of (Indian) paṇḍitas and were not mixed with Tibetan doctrines” {R 376}. Following this is a long list of Ralo’s followers.

A numbers of copies of the tantra are brought to a religious council {R 377}. Information on either the price that Ralo was charging for copies of the text itself or instruction on them {R 377} is given, which one is unclear. Details of what Ralo did with the large wealth accumulated from this endeavor are listed, including sending money to monasteries in India for recitation costs, and giving it to other religious teachers including his Nepali teacher, Malakaruna. Ralo also contributed to the maintenance of many monasteries in Tibet, including bsam yas, and the details of his contributions are given here {R 377}. This teaching lineage is described and Gö Lotsawa reports it no longer exists. He mentions a possible lineage with a tutelary deity, the Red Yamāntaka, but was unable to locate it.

7.5 The Chapter on the Samvara Tantra (bde mchog gi skabs)

{CA 335, CH 460, R 380} This section details the lineage of the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, or Śrī-Saṃvara. Once again the teaching’s origins in Tibet are connected with the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo, who heard it from Atīśa, who heard it from Naropa’s disciples, who heard it from a long lineage described here {R 380}. A group of Nepālese brothers, each of the disciples of Naropa, are described in several brief and seemingly unrelated (to the saṃvara cycle) stories. The first involves a quick departure by Naropa to Wu t’ai shan (a famous mountain monastery in China) which is described to one of the brothers, an attainment test of a flower floating upstream, and the servant Bhadanta who drank water from the stream in which they flower had floated and hence became a debate-winning master of a text.

The lineage stemming from one of the Nepālese brothers (pham mthing pa) is listed. Here Gö Lotsawa again comments “there must have existed many lineages of disciples . . .” {R 383}. This cycle, along with the previous two, suffers from less than clear lineages. What does this tell us about these lineages and Gö Lotsawa’s portrayal of them? Are the lineages “found” after Gö Lotsawa publishes this text? Considering that the Guhyasamāja Tantra and Cakrasaṃvara tantras are up held by the Gelukpa (dge lug pas) and Kagyu (ka gyud pas) respectively, what are the orthodox views of these texts from those sectarian perspectives?

At this point the text transitions to Marpa Dopa (mar pa, 1042-1136) {R 383}. Marpa also studied with Rinchen Zangpo and pham mthing pa. His unusual blessing from Naropa in ti ra hu ti is given, as well as a list of teachings received from Naropa. The lineage stemming from Marpa is given, connecting it again to Buston {R 385}. Following this, the lineage appears to back track to one of mar pa do pa’s students, cog ro chos kyo rgyal mtshan (1108-1176) and the details of his disciples. Of these, the direct lineage of kun tu ‘od is treated in the most detail {R 387}. Again, the connection of this lineage between Buston and Tsongkhapa is mentioned by Gö Lotsawa. Gö Lotsawa indicates that the continuation of the Samvara Cycle is in question.

7.6 Six texts of Vārahī Adamantine Sow (phag mo gzhung drug gi skabs)

{CA 343, CH 471, R 389} This section details the phag mo gzhung drug, or the “Six Texts of Vārahī” which is related to the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra of the Samvara cycle discussed above. Gö Lotsawa describes this textual lineage as being a very popular one in Tibet, where “the majority of Tantric yogins . . . were especially initiated” {R 390} and “most of the Tibetan kalyāṇa-mitras appear to have possessed the precepts of the Vajravārahī Cycle” {R 396}. As with the Guhyasamāja Tantra above, the start of the text lies with king Indrabhūti in Oḍḍīyāna, but this time with his sister, Lha mo dpal mo (Laksminkara). She teaches it to Virū pa and then to Avadhūti pa. A story of the latter is given in which pulls a sacred trident from the Ganges, causing concern among the ‘heretics’ {R 390} – who are probably Śivites. Avadhūti then teaches Ldong ngar ba, who, after obtaining insight from his teacher, engages in debate with a heretics involving supernatural powers such as snake eating, and converts him to Buddhism {R 391}. Ldong ngar ba also annoys a king by staring at him, but instead of being put to death for his annoyance, the king is converted and abandons his kingdom {R 392}.Ldang ngar ba then heads to Nepal where he amazes his host by making the wine in his skull-cup boil {R 392}. He then meets Devākaracandra who belongs to Buddhist monastery of Nepāl. His efforts to seek religious training in India are given. He attempts to be ordained at Vikramaśīla, but fails because of he lacks a sufficient number of monks to hold the ordination ceremony {R 392-3}.

More details of Devākaracandra’s studies are given next, including a skull cup which remains full of wine regardless of how many times it is emptied. One of his teachers, Ha mu denies Devākaracandra’s request that he write down particular tantras. Included is an episode from an initiation ceremony where five girls attend with the help of mantras that made them invisible {R 394}. The only one who seems to be aware of there presence is the wife of the initiate ha mu, who himself defends their right to be present. Devākaracandra has further adventures escaping from robbers on his way to India by blessing them and causing them to dance and become distracted. Later, Devākaracandra has apparently disregarded his teacher’s wishes regarding writing down tantras, for which he feels he is being justly punished {R 395}. Following these detail about Devākaracandra, attention is given to one of his disciples, dpyal kun dga rdo rje {R 394-5}. His family appears to have historical connections with the Nyingmas, and it is implied that they have since studied mainly the ‘new’ tantras. Finally a more comprehensive list of the lineage of the Vajravārahī cycle is given, including the presence of the ubiquitous Buston.

Is the association with this class of tantra the only commonality between the lineages listed in this chapter, or does Gö Lotsawa treat them all here together for other reasons?

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