Blue Annals Chapter 9

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 9

Summary of Blue Annals Chapter 9: The Chapter on Ko-brag-pa and Ni-gu from the Tibetan Renaissance Seminar

by Elena Pakhoutova, modified by Dan Haig (last revised 02-03-2007), proofread, edited, and further modified by Alison Melnick (March 17, 2007)


This chapter is primarily concerned with Khyungpo Neljor (khyung po rnal ‘byor), who claimed to be transmitting traditions obtained from Niguma, a shadowy figure described as the sister or consort of the famous Indian siddha, Na’ropa. These lineages came to form the basis for the so-called Shangpa (shangs pa) subset of the Kagyü traditions. Although referred to in the title, Kodrakpa is the subject only of the first few pages. {DG}

It is not completely clear as to why Kodrakpa and his students are lumped together with the figures associated with the Niguma lineage and the Shangpa Kagyü tradition. Gos lo states that "I wrote about him separately because I do not know whether this great man belonged to any particular lineage." (R727) This being said, why does Gos lo include Kodrakpa at the very beginning of the chapter on Niguma and the Shangpa Kagyü? It does not seem that Kodrakpa and Khyungpo Naljor (khyung po rnal 'byor) shared any teachers or students; and the two figures are separated by at least 100 years. The Blue Annals gives the date of birth of Khyungpo Naljor as 1086, while the TBRC gives either 978 or 990, depending on one's source ( #P39). Whichever date is used, it is clear that the two men were not contemporaries, and do not appear to be that closely associated by a teaching lineage. {AM}

It is interesting to note the prevalence of dakinīs in this chapter. Perhaps because most of the chapter focuses on the lineage of the dakinī Niguma, she and various others appear frequently throughout the chapter. Most frequently they appear in the protagonist's waking life, although there is one instance of a dakinī appearing in a dream. Each time dakinīs appear, they offer teachings and initiations to (male) human practitioners. The practitioners' reactions are not usually recounted, except to note that they usually meet said dakinī after setting out in search of a particular doctrine. When Khyunpo Naljor first meets Niguma, she is described in a wrathful form. This is the only description of the physical appearance of a dakinī in the chapter. Also, there are two instances where groups of dakinīs are assembled to take part in the creation of a mandala.{AM}

Chapter 9 mentions of Kham (khams) and Khampas reflect that the area was considered important in the realm of religious study. There are multiple Khampa teachers mentioned, and the region itself is listed along with U and Tsang as an important location for the acquisition of teachings. It seems that, at least in this chapter, Kham is placed on equal footing with Central Tibet. {AM}

9.1 Kodrakpa and students (ko brag pa slob ma dang bcas pa’i skabs) {Chandra 636; Chengdu 851; Roerich 726}.

9.1.1 Biography of Kodrakpa

Kodrakpa (ko brag pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan ) was a native of Dingri, born Water Male Tiger (chu pho stag 1182 CE). It is interesting that Gos lo includes the information that Kodrakpa was born in the same year as sa skya paṇḍita. He lived to be 80, dying in the Iron Female Hen (lcags mo bya, 1261 CE) year. He is considered by Gos lo to be the most learned and famous scholar with no apparent sectarian affiliation {Gos lo actually says "I do not know whether (he) belonged to any particular Lineage - DH} {R 727}. His teachers were Śakyaśri, rdo rje dpal of gyam, rgya phug jo sras, Ratnarakshita.

His early studies are outlined, culminating in his final monastic ordination, performed by skos, phya ru 'dul 'dzin, and lo, the latter acting as a Secret preceptor. {Question: does this imply that the monastic ordination is also considered secret as the tantric initiation? EP} He received name of bsod nams rgyal mtshan.

Details of his further journeys, studies, teachings follow, emphasis on his obtaining 'a true understanding of the nature (gnas lugs) of Vajrakaya (rdo rje lus)'. He founded Ko-brag monastery in Upper Myang, no date given.

There is an interesting sequence of events presented by Gos lo: ko brag pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan received teachings on rdzogs chen, stayed at two retreat places gyang rim, kong mo'i ri {? these need to be checked for affiliation EP} and realized Mahamudra. {R 726} {Could this mean that rdzogs chen and Mahamudra were viewed as producing the same result?}

Among his other achievements is the realization of the nature of reality and of the vajrabody (rdorje lus). He studied with everybody and invited the Nepalese Vibhūticandra to Dingri and received teachings on sbyor ba yan lag drug {which exactly? EP} from him. He also is said to have miraculously discovered a spring in a barren land and founded the monastery of ko brag.

Another territorial/water blessing that he seems to have obtained was the naga of the lake ma pham giving him the powers over (siddhi of) water (chu'i dngos grub), which seems to have enabled him to discover this spring, and not as Roerich says that the naga gave him the divine water. {R 726} In general, he seems to have been strongly associated with Mahamudra and rdzogs chen, with sbyor ba yan lag drug.

9.1.2 Disciples of Kodrakpa

This is basically the list of his students, most of whom were either geshes or translators, which is of note. Also there is an explicit mentioning of female yoginis, scholars and teachers and others, presumably lay students {R 728}, which is a remarkable attempt on the part of Gos lo to show the realities of the religious environment at the time of Kodrakpa’s (ko brag pa’s) life, or a reflection of the contemporary with Gö lo (gos lo) realities. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this lineage came from a female being. On the other hand, after the lengthy list of male students and etc by name, the females are namelessly mentioned in one sentence.

Gos lo includes information that suggests Kodrakpa was universally respected. He explains that " all bowed before his feet- masters of the Old and New Tantras, kings, Mongol nobles of the Imperial family, officials, land owners…" (R728) It is specifically interesting that he includes "masters of the Old and New Tantras" and "Mongol nobles of the Imperial family" in this group. The inclusion of masters of the Old and New Tantras suggests a division between the groups; it would thus follow that to be respected by both groups is an unusual occurrence for one person. The inclusion of Mongol nobles and Imperial family in this group indicates a significant relationship with the leaders of the Mongol community, and raises the question of what level of involvement between them and other, perhaps more sectarian, religious leaders of this period. {AM}

9.2 Niguma (ni gu’i skabs); Lineages of Guidance and Initiation. {Chandra 638; Chengdu 854; Roerich 728}.

This section deals with the history of the Lineage of the Six Doctrines from Naropa’s sister Niguma and the primary disciple of this lineage: khyung po rnal ‘byor.

9.2.1 {Siddha khyung po rnal 'byor’s biography (Roerich 728)}

This section presents a fantastic biography of this siddha Khyunpo Naljor, {including a hagiographic list of miraculous events surrounding his birth and then following him through the rest of his life-AM} who introduced the Niguma doctrine to Tibet. The year given for his birth in snye mo ra mangs is the 'Tiger' year (stag lo; 1086 CE); however, years given for events in his life include the more specific Wood-Female-Sheep (sing-mo-lug) or 1055 CE, and Fire-Male-Ape (me-pho-spre'u) or 1056 CE, so perhaps the Tiger year specified for his birth was really 1026 CE. No death date given, but he is reported to have stated that his age was 150, some time before his passing, so perhaps that Tiger year was 906! He belonged to Khyung po clan. {EP}

It is interesting that his first religious teaching is on Bon doctrine. {AM}

The main themes seem to be various prophecies regarding him and his lineage {R728; 729}, and his visionary encounters with the dakini Niguma. He is variously affiliated in terms of his teachers and teachings that he receives quite early on in his miraculous career. Among his teachers are Amogha[vajra], bonpo gyun drub rgyal ba, 'byung gnas seng ge, who taught him the rdzogs chen sems sde. He studied the doctrines of skor ni ru pa {? EP} at stod lungs sho ma ra, {am not sure place or monastery EP} and also mastered the Kalacakra.

He went to Nepal twice and studied a lot of tantra with Vasumati, Atulyavajra, rdo rje gdan pa (Amoghavajra), Srī Bhadrasañāna, Vairocana, kha ched dgon pa ba, zhing gi rdo rje, mi mnyam rdo rje, rin chen rdo rje, the three disciples of Maitripa, Debikotti ḍīkima Kanaśri, and the brāhmaṇa Ratnapāla, pham thing pa, Maitrīpa himself, mda chen po of Nālanda, rin chen lha mo, siḍha Sūryagarbha. Another important theme seems to be his search for wealth, as he obtains some gold first after being able to use his miraculous powers on a talisman, which ensured his aunt’s male progeny. {This part is strange and unclear Chengdu 855; R 729- EP}. On another occasion he asked for Maitrīpa’s empowerment which would enable this “poor Tibetan” to gather wealth, upon which request Maitrīpa bestowed on him the yid bzin gyi mgon po phyag drug pa (White Mahakala) sadhana. {EP}

To the above comment regarding Khyunpo Naljor's search for wealth, I will include that most occurrences of his accumulation of wealth are followed by an account where he offers it to a teacher in return for a teaching, an initiation, etc. EP mentions above that "This part is strange and unclear". It seems to me that this piece is included because the nephews who result from the fertility talisman later become Khyunpo Naljor's foremost patrons. Thus, Khyunpo Naljor first makes it possible for the progeny to come forth, and later this act becomes beneficial for the propagation of the dharma. {AM}

After he obtained the necessary funds he made inquiries for anyone who had met Vajradhara (rdorje ‘chang). He is told of Niguma and finds her on the island of Sosa in 'E. India'. There again, through visionary encounters and prophecies he is transported to a mountain of gold

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Niguma bestows on him numerous tantric initiations and teachings {R731}, particularly the Six Doctrines, explaining that they should be transmitted down a single line until the seventh teacher of the lineage. {Kapstein in his article “Illusion of Spiritual Progress” (1992): 195-96 translates from the biography of Khyungpo Neljor where this event happens on a charnel ground of Sosadvipa. EP}

He studied with rolpa'i rdorje, Āryadeva, ḍakisumati, dakinī Sukhasiḍhi, dakinīs Gangadhara and Samantabhadri, whom he offered gold. Then he returned to India and showered gold there at Vajrāsana, and gave to many teachers.

He also met Atiśa at mnga 'ris, restoring some of his damaged manuscripts from versions in Atiśa's possession, which had been translated by rin chen bzang po and dharma blo gros.

Finally, he received his final monastic ordination and founded the monastery at jog po of 'phang yul, the 'chad dkar dgon pa. There he was visited by Rahulaguptavajra from Kālakuta, who bestowed on him numerous doctrines. {EP}

It is interesting that the majority of his traveling and initiations occur before he receives his final ordination. {AM}

He continued to teach in central Tibet extensively and founded 108 monasteries. He also is said to have introduced monks to meditation again, as they were studying and not practicing. To conquer the envy of others he caused them to retreat with the help of phantom troops, so they became his disciples. His powers were such that he controlled gods and demons. He also performed numerous miracles, such as magic performances and the manifestation of himself in the form of a deity. {EP}

This account displays both Khyunpo Naljor's magical powers and his skillful ability to use them for the benefit of the dharma. {AM}

At the time of his death he was at Zhang Zhong monastery in Kham and advised to keep his body in gold and silver receptacle so that this monastery would equal Vajrāsana, but Khams pa monks cremated his remains, and images of the tantric gods of the five classes were recovered (from the ashes). This is a strong comparison to make. One wonders, if the monks intentionally didn’t follow his advice. It almost seems that his attraction to pure metals was taking over and was to be carried into his afterlife, if taken seriously. {EP}

9.2.2 {Siddha khyung po rnal 'byor’s disciples (Roerich 733; Chengdu 859)}

He had 6 direct disciples:
rme'u ston pa,
gyor po rgya mo che,
rnul ston rin dbang,
la stod dkon mchog mkhar,
rmo gcog pa
zhang sgom chos seng. {EP}

In addition to these 6, Gos lo states that Khyunpo Naljor had "80,000 monks (his disciples)," (R733) a number which indicates that he was a widely sought teacher. {rmog cog pa rin chen brtson ‘grus (R 733; Chengdu 859)}

The first three of Khyunpo Naljor's 6 disciples are skipped over, and the only disciples who receive any attention in the text are the last 3. {AM}

Mog chog (rmog cog pa) pa, a native of lha phu spang rtss and member of shi she clan, was the 4th of Khyung po’s disciples.

His first teacher was bla ma shangs pa who sent him off to study with rgya mo che, so he left Kham (zhong zhong), but was sent by rgya mo che to lhasa. He heard of {a Khampa by the name of (am)} a seng and became his student at gnam rzing kha.

There is a curious statement ascribed to a seng about the ultimate reality being real by nature, which seems to be uncalled for. This produces in mog chog pa belief that the teacher was a real Buddha.

It seems that the proverb of riding a donkey after riding a horse really reflects his search for the teacher. {I think it rather reflects on the humility of dpal chen pa, who made this statement when mog chog said his former teacher had been shangs pa -DH}

He then studied and practiced with bur sgom, attained realizations of dreams and saw the face of Vajravārahī. One episode describes his producing a hail-storm which kills some cattle thieves, which caused him great distress, but bur sgom tells him he need not fear the karmic repercussions of his acts because they were done to defend teacher and doctrine; bur sgom has 'precepts which can produce Enlightenment in those who committed the five principle sins'.

Among his other teachers were dkon mkhar of nag mo pa, rdza ra ba, myang sgom, rgya grags bsod. An interesting exchange of initiations and teachings between a student and teacher seems to be a common phenomenon already.

The set of initiations and texts seem to be the “regular Kagy_ (?) things” directed mostly to practice. And although Shangpa (shangs pa) scolds him for lying about his realization and not studying phar chyin, he gives him all the secret teachings and initiations that he had in store and appoints him his attendant and spiritual descendant, tell him to meditate.

His “real” Kagy_ transmissions of Mahamudra and the Six doctrines seems to be from Gampopa (sgam po pa). An interesting detail: he lived for 12 years on turnip leaves {another Tibetan – vegetarian? EP}

It is interesting that it does not occur to him to seek out Gampopa until after his main teacher dies. Furthermore, on his way to find Gampopa, he meets Phagmodrupa, and they 'bestow initiations on each other' (R737). At least in this chapter, this is the only situation where the bestowal of initiation occurs bilaterally; it suggests a divergent and interesting dynamic for the process of acquisition of initiations. {AM}

Mogchogpa is credited with the establishment of two monasteries: Mog chog (rmog cog) and Kunglung (lkung lung).

There is also an emphasis on prophecy with regards to his death and who is going to continue the lineage and spread the doctrine. {Question: is there a particular meaning in that he left for the Abhirati Paradise of Aksobhya? He refused to go to Sukhavati (bde ba chen) but then went to Abhirati (mngon dga’).EP} {siḍha skyer sgang pa dharma senṅe (Roerich 737; Chengdu 863)}

Being the 5th successor, of mogchogpa, kyer gangpa (skyer sgang pa) appears to have had a particular connection with Avolokiteśvara and Yamantaka. His birth or other name appears to be dbon ston.

His teachers in central Tibet were ‘phags pa lce sgom, tsa ri sgom po, at ‘U yug - spen phug, possibly a Kadampa who had complete precepts of the tantras of Atiśa. Then he met Mogchogpa at lkung lung. Again, there is a prophetic theme of a dream and the protector being assigned to act as his attendant {R739-740; Chengdu 865}.

Being from a ‘bal clan of Kham {? EP} he had to take over the seat at the monastery of his uncle ‘bal tshad ma ba {another name ‘bal thams cad mkhen pa? EP}, went to skyer sgang and built a caitya.

He was also given offerings by the king of ‘ga’, {which Roerich identifies as Tangut (mi nyag ‘ga’) R740}, and the emperor of China (rgya), but couldn’t send large offerings to the monastery of his teacher in Kunglung (lkung lung) in Central Tibet, because his monks refused to do so. {This invites a question on the historical environment at this time, was this refusal because his teacher’s monastery was in Central Tibet or because the sectarian affiliation of his uncle’s monastery was different and that is why he had difficulties with his own monks? EP}

{Another question with relation to deities: he stayed in retreat for three and a half years and was able to see the face of Avolokiteśvara. He also saw, without any effort on his part, a vision of Yamantaka, whose mantra he used to recite formerly. After that when he met with his uncle, his uncle told him: "You have seen the faces of both Avalokiteśvara and Hayagriva. There is no need of listening to me, {R 738-739}” Does this mean that Hayagriva and Yamantaka are conflated at this point? EP} {sangs rgyas gnyan ston chos kyi shes rab (Roerich 741; Chengdu 867)}

This disciple, being the 6th in line was also a spiritual son of sker sgang pa. Unlike Khyung po he is said to have aversion towards material wealth and ordains early, at 11 and finally at 20.

He was going through the standard monastic curriculum with various teachers until he heard of sker sgang pa; and then again the visionary and prophetic elements become the narrative tool used by gos lo in describing sangs rgyas gnyan ston’s meeting with teacher, receiving the precepts of the single line, and the transmission to his own disciples, which is all prophesied by the teacher. He founded his monastery, ri gong, and without his orders protectors would destroy his enemies. {Does this mean that there were a lot of them and the order to destroy them was kind of permanent? EP}

One interesting detail about him being struck by lightening and no harm resulting from it seem to give an unusual quality to his attainments - {“indestructibility”? EP}

Drikung monastery is mentioned here as an important place to request precepts. {AM} {sangs rgyas ston pa (Roerich 733; Chengdu 870)}

The seventh in line, and the successor of sangs rgyas gnyan ston, known as sangs rgyas ston pa, had an ordination name brtson grus seng ge and was born to a bon po family.

From the very beginning he had a strong connection with gcod tradition and was prophesied to spread it. He also was given the initiation of Amitayus, which prolonged his life, but he was restricted to not giving it to anyone until he was 30. {Question: are there examples of similar restrictions? EP}

He receives initiation and teachings on gcod at the tender age of ten, which seems a little early for such a practice. {AM}

He was specifically looking for a teacher who was a siddha and went to meet one called rngog ston, who was “more learned and more virtuous than sa lo and gros lo.”{R745} After meeting this siddha a series of visionary events follow which eventually lead him to meet sangs rgyas gnyan ston, who was apparently expecting him and bestowed on him the lineage of Shangpa (shangs pa).

After his cremation the relics were put into a golden caitya and a reliquary, these became the objects of worships by all. {Question: where are these now? EP}

With him the succession ends. Apparently, Niguma had predicted this earlier, when she transmitted her teachings to khyung po rnal ‘byor’: “Till the seventh teacher of the Spiritual Lineage, this teaching should be transmitted down a single line (of teachers). These will be blessed by me, and I shall give them a prophecy.” {R 731}

The entire authentication of the lineage transmission seems to be somewhat similar to the strategy of the Nyingmas (rnying ma) and the predictions of treasure discoverers. {miscellaneous connections (R746; Chengdu 873)}

Gos lo states in this short section that it is difficult to trace the names and dates of the disciples and gives a few names of known to him contemporaries. Mogchogpa was contemporary with Pagmo drupa, Kyergangpa with Drikhungpa, Sange nyenton with chen ngawa (sphan snga), Sangton with Yang gompa (yang dgon pa).

Aseng, who was a nyingma tantric adept, received the precepts from Sangton, and mastered the apparitional body (sgyu lus). {mkhas grub sangs ston (Roerich 747; Chengdu 874)}

He studied with everyone from almost every tradition, including the scholastic training on logic, etc. But when he heard about Sangton’s fame he asked for precepts and received them. His final removal of obstacles to realization was done through his receiving lam ‘bras from khampa rgang mo lhas pa. Finally, he took up residence at ‘jag. {'jag pa rgyal mtshan 'bum (Roerich 748; Chengdu 875)}

Also obtained precepts from Sangton and passed it down to his nephew.

The nephew byams pa pal was contemporary (same birth and death date) with ‘ba’ra ba.
Siddha chos ‘byung rin chen: resided at gnas rnying and yol. There were relics from his ashes as well. His birth coincides with the foundation of rtse thang. {mkhas btsun gzhoṇu grub (Roerich 749; Chengdu 877)}

Studied with phags pa of Sakya (sa skya). During his training the Sakya feud broke out causing his hindrances in practice. {What is this feud exactly? EP} Then he heard of Sangton, received teachings including the secret ones, practices gcod in central Tibet, founded bsams ding in Lower Myang. He taught lam ‘bras, Mahamudra, the system of Niguma. His supporter was zha lu sku zhang pa. The year of his death is the year of Buton’s commentary of Prajnyāpāramitā {EP}

Members of the Sakya tradition are mentioned very infrequently in this chapter. Because of this, it seems that the Shangpa Kagyu and Sakya were not very closely affiliated at this time. {AM} {gser glingpa bkra shis dpal (R 750; Chengdu 878)}

A disciple of mkhas grub chos rje, also received many Shangpa teachings from rmog chogpa rinchen blo gro and mkhas btsun gzhon nu grub.

His disciple was bragpo thepa rdo rje dpal
His disciple chos sgo ba chos dpal ses rab {Conclusion to chapter on 9 on Niguma (R752; Chengdu 880)}

Gos los concludes the chapter saying that the doctrine spread to numerous descendants.

There seems to be a lot of prophecies and dreams that are prophetic in this lineage’s transmissions. There are stories of phantom beings and protectors acting on behalf of these teachers. With the subsequent transmissions it seems that the lineage was not passed down as a single line, and the questions is why. In general, it seems that although the linage started as a unique transmission, people who were passing it down were not holders of only Niguma system, and from fairly early on all possible and famous teachings and lineages were desired almost indiscriminately and were combined.

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