Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kanha Name Confusions

Virupa had two main students, Kanha and Dombhi Heruka, to whom he taught the Lamdre (Margapala) system based significantly but not exclusively on the Hevajra Tantra. Kanha (black) is the principal student in the lineage. In Western texts and Tibetan translated material this and similar names can appear in Sanskrit as Kanha, Kanhapa, Kanhavajra, Krishna, Krishnapa, Krishnavajra, Krishnacharin, Krishnacharya and Kala Virupa. The Tibetan name for Kanha is 'nag po pa' which means the black one. In the two most popular and most documented systems of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas translated into the Tibetan language, the Vajrasana and the Abhayadatta systems, several Nagpopas are mentioned with various associated spellings.

Why is this important and why do we care? We care because there is another mahasiddha named Krishnacharin (Nagpopa Chopa, or Nagpo Chopa) associated with the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras and also, like the Lamdre Kanha, very important in Sakya. This siddha is represented in both the Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Systems of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. Kanha of Lamdre is found only in the Vajrasana System and not in the Abhayadatta System. They both have their own stories and unique hagiographies. Sakya practitioners need to be able to name and differentiate the siddhas and teachers in the various important lineages of practice. That is why this subject is important.

How do we know what to call these siddhas? Basically we can only rely on common convention over time. However, we do have early writings from teachers such as Chogyal Pagpa where he refers to the 'black' student of Virupa as Kanha using the Sanskrit term. This is how we know that there is early precedent for distinguishing between these two 'black ones,' Kanha and Krishna. There is less confusion with Krishnacharin because he is represented in all of the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is really only the Lamdre Lineage Kanha that has become confused because he essentially is only known in the Sakya Tradition and the Pagmodrupa Lineage of Lamdre.

For practitioners ultimately what is important is not the names and which name is used for which siddha but rather to understand that there are two different mahasiddha figures with names that have often been used interchangeably and furthermore that of these two one belongs to the Lamdre Lineage (Kanha) and the other belongs to the Chakrasamava Lineage (Krishnacharya).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Book: A Garland of Jewels

A GARLAND OF JEWELS: The Eight Great Bodhisattvas by Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, translated by Yeshe Gyamtso.

This book is for those of you out there who are interested in the Eight Great Bodhisattvas and what is actually written in the Sutras about them without having to read all of the Sutras yourself. A small number of interesting and useful Tantric quotes have also been included. What is not stated in this current translation is that this text attributed to and written by Mipham Rinpoche is based on the work of Zhuchen Tsultrim Rinchen (1697-1774) of Dege Gonchen Monastery. Zhuchen was the chief editor of the Dege Tangyur and one of the most important Sakya Lamas of Eastern Tibet in the 18th century.

"The great sutras of the Mahayana are repositories of extraordinary accounts of miracles and great deeds performed buddhas and bodhisattvas. Mipham's purpose in writing this book was to inspire us to emulate these great beings and to give us confidence in the effectiveness of the Mahayana path." (Publisher).

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Thirteen Golden Dharmas of Sakya

The Thirteen Golden Dharmas are said to derive from the time of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158) when he received initiations and teachings that were considered so precious that only gold could be offered to the Guru. There are several ways of enumerating the Thirteen and when all of the initiations are counted there can be as many as sixteen or more in total. Different traditions and monasteries specialized in different practices. Gongkar Dorje Den monastery specialized in the Dakini Simhamukha. The Khon family especially practiced the Three Great Red Ones (Marpo Kor Sum). The Tsar branch school also held the Thirteen to be very special. Everybody practiced the Three Red Ones (Vajrayogini). The initiations for the Thirteen are either given as a group over several days or they can be given individually at different times for various reasons depending on the teacher and the donor. Some of the initiations are a simple ‘Permission’ (body, speech, mind) while others are ‘Blessings’ which means an abbreviated initiation based on the recipient having already received a ‘Major Empowerment’ (wangkur). If the Thirteen are given at one time then the teacher will often give the Two Day Chakrasamvara or the Hevajra Empowerments first as a mandatory requirement for the students prior to receiving any of the other initiations. This is actually necessary because many of the Thirteen Golden Dharmas belong to the Anuttarayoga classification of Tantra.

The Thirteen are an odd assortment of practices and do not naturally belong together as a set. They do not come into the Sakya Tradition as a single group through only one early Lotsawa or siddha. Nor do the Thirteen arise from a common text or set of Tantric literature. In fact the Thirteen are all very different and arise from a number of Tantras. It is true that a few come from the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras, but that in itself is a very large collection of literature with at least eleven important main Tantras, not counting all of the minor related Tantras. It might be best to think of the Thirteen Golden Dharmas as the Swiss Army Knife of the Sakya Tradition. They are a collection of practices for reaching enlightenment quickly (Marmo Kor Sum), practices for power and domination (Marpo Kor Sum), practices to take care of specific power and wealth needs (Marchung Kor Sum and Red Jambhala). There are miscellaneous practices to overcome sickness and naga related diseases (Shabala Garuda, Simhanada), environmental and psychological issues (Black Manjushri, Dakini Simhamukha) and finally longevity and lifespan extension (Nine-deity Amitayus Buddha and Amaravajradevi). These Thirteen are considered the best support and specialized practices along the path to reaching complete enlightenment. Each of these practices are accompanied by many colourful narratives relating how the great Indian and Tibetan practitioners of the past overcame natural and spiritual obstacles by relying on these various practices.

It is sometimes said that the Thirteen came down from the lineage of Mal Lotsawa to
Sachen, but this is not accurate. Some of the initiations and practices did come through Mal Lotsawa but not all. For some of the practices there are different traditions of initiation and choices of ritual texts. For example the initiation of Simhanada Lokeshvara is found in the Sadhanamala (Drub Thab Gyatso), the Bari Gyatsa, and in other sources. The Dakini Simhamukha of Bari Lotsawa is counted as one in the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, however Bari Lotsawa taught the solitary Simhamukha, the Three Deity Simhamukha and the Five Deity Simhamukha, not to mention the red form, amongst others. Who is to say which of these is the Golden Dharma? Or are they all Golden Dharmas? I don’t know when the term Thirteen Golden Dharmas was first used and recorded in literature, but it does appear to be early. The earliest recorded sets of Golden Dharmas in Sakya of any type are related to the Lamdre Tradition. The four most important teachings given by Virupa and received directly by Sachen are called the Four Golden Dharmas of Virupa: Lamdu, Lamsap, Birsung and Vajravidarana. These however are not related to the set of Thirteen Golden Dharmas.

The Golden Dharmas are divided into three sets of three and then four miscellaneous
initiations added giving it the name Thirteen. The three sets are standard for all enumerations of the Thirteen. The first set of three is the Three Red Ones commonly referred to as the Marmo Kor Sum, or Kachod Kor Sum (Cycle of Three Khechara). They are (1) Vajrayogini of Naropa, Naro Khechara, (2) Vajrayogini of Indrabhuti, Indra Khechara and (3) Vajrayogini of Maitripa, Maitri Khechara. These three practices all arise from the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras. For each of these it is believed that Vajrayogini appeared in person before the Mahasiddha that the tradition is named after. It is not historically clear which Maitripa or Indrabhuti is being referred to, nor is it clear in the Indrabhuti lineage if the Virupa is the same as the Lamdre Virupa.

The second set of three is the Three Great Red Ones (Marpo Kor Sum): (4) Kurukulla of the Hevajra Tantra from the lineage of Sahaja Lalita, (5) Takkiraja of the Guhyasamaja Tantra and (6) Maharakta Ganapati associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra.

The third set is the Three Small Red Ones (Marchung Kor Sum): (7) Kurukulla-Tara of the Vajrapanjara Tantra, (8) Red Vasudhara of the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and (9) Tinuma, the activity form of Vajravarahi, also of the Chakrasamvara cycle.

The four standard remaining deities are (10) Black Manjushri from the lineage of the siddha Jetari, (11) Shabala Garuda from the Kalachakra Tantra and the lineage of Naropa, (12) Simhanada Lokeshvara from its own tantra and (13) Red Jambhala from the Chakrasamvara Tantra and the lineage of mahasiddha Virupa.

Alternates are the dakini (14) Simhamukha associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra, (15) Amaravajradevi also of the Chakrasamvara Tantra and (16) the Nine-deity Amitayus Buddha from his own Tantra.

The Thirteen Golden Dharmas are often depicted in Tibetan and Himalayan style art. The Three Red Ones and the Three Great Red Ones are commonly seen in Newar art and early Tibetan art from Sakya Monastery to Gyantse and Shalu in the 14th century. Later, the Thirteen became popular with the various Gelug traditions and artistic representations can be found from Mongolia to China. From the 17th to 19th centuries very fine paintings depicting all thirteen deities were created in the Imperial Palace workshops in Beijing. Some of these works still remain in the collection of the Imperial Palace Museum.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

New Book: Hevajra and Lam-'bras Literature

Hevajra and Lam-'bras Literature of India and Tibet as Seen Through the Eyes of A-mes-zhabs. Jan-Ulrich Sobisch (2008), (Contributions to Tibetan Studies 6), Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden, ISBN 978-3-89500-652-4, clothbound, 264 pp., 12 b/w illustrations. 68,00 € (

"The Hevajra Tantras and teachings of the 'Path with Its Fruit' (lam ‘bras) that originated in India have been central practices of Tibetan tantric Buddhism for a millenium. The Tibetans translated eight Hevajra transmissions with their tantras, commentaries, rituals, and instructions and authored countless scriptures in the context of the tantra and the 'Path with Its Fruit' that originated with the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa. Drawing on title lists (dkar chag), colophones, and commentaries authored between the 11th and 17th centuries, the author attempts a reconstruction of the Indian and Tibetan corpora of these transmissions, its literary history and relations to one another."

"Contents (key words): Part I, Chapter 1, focuses on the Hevajra literature of India and Tibet (Four Great Transmissions, Hevajra Tantras, Six Great Chariot Systems, the Hevajra cycles of Dombiheruka, Saroruhavajra, Krsna Samayavajra, Ratnakarashanti, Yashobhadra [?sNyan-grags-bzang-po], and Avadhutipa), the two systems of pith instructions, and a description of several categorizations of the Hevajra writings. Chapter 2 deals with Hevajra literature mentioned in A-mes-zhabs’ records of teachings and his other works; chapter 3 with the main lineages of the transmissions."

"Part II focuses on the Path with Its Fruit literature of India and Tibet. Chapter 1 deals with the title list of the Yellow Book and the various categorizations of the Lam ‘bras writings (Extensive Path, Actual Path, Twenty-three Further Clarifications, Medium and Abbreviated Paths, Four Great Fundamental Instructions, Five Teachings to Produce Realization, and the Four Authenticities). Chapter 2 deals with the title list of the (Little) Red Book and the Four Authenticities (of the Guru, Experience, Treatise, and Basic Scriptures), the Four Profound Dharmas conferred to Sa-chen by Virupa, the Dharma Links with the Six Gates, and the Nine Supplements. Chapters 3 and 4 describe the Lam-‘bras teachings mentioned in the records of teachings of A-mes-zhabs, the Black Book, the tradition of rDzong and Kha’u-brag-rdzong, the Eight Later Path-Cycles, and the Lam-‘bras writings of the most important Sa-skya-pa authors."

"Four appendices provide a title list of all the Hevajra and Lam-‘bras related works mentioned in the book, ten rare title lists, the translation of the notes of Chos-dpal-bzang-po on Ngor-chen’s teachings on the Hevajra transmission, and the Tibetan text as edited by A-mes-zhabs. The book also contains an Index of Names and a Bibliography." (Publisher)

New Book: Three-Vow Theories in Tibetan Buddhism

Three-Vow Theories in Tibetan Buddhism, A Comparative Study of Major Traditions from the Twelfth through Nineteenth Centuries. Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, Band 1 der Reihe Contributions to Tibetan Studies. ISBN 978-3-89500-263-2, 2002, Leinen. 596 Seiten, 240 x 170 mm, 2 s/w Abb. 58,00 € (

"Since the 12th century, a central feature of Buddhism in Tibet was its harmonizing of tantric practice with the moral codes of monastic discipline and Bodhisattva altruism. All masters maintained the vajrayana or tantric path to be superior to the two „lower“ codes, but they described this superiority differently. In the present study, Jan-Ulrich Sobisch explores for the first time in detail the three main strategies maintained by the oldest Tibetan schools for explaining the relations of the three codes." (Publisher)

New Book: The Dharma's Gatekeepers

The Dharma's Gatekeepers: Sakya Pandita on Buddhist Scholarship in Tibet by Jonathan C. Gold. State University of New York Press.

The Dharma's Gatekeepers offers an incisive analysis of one of the most important works in Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history: Sakya Pandita's Gateway to Learning (mkhas pa 'jug pa'i sgo).

See the Sakya Pandita Page on the HAR website.
See a description of the cover image: Manjushri Namasangiti

A Gentle Caution About the Two Books Listed Below

Gorampa Sonam Sengge (1429-1489) is one of the most important masters of Sutra and Tantra in the Sakya Tradition. He wrote commentaries on the works of Sakya Pandita and also critiqued other great scholars of his time. Gorampa's works are required study at all Sakya Colleges in India, Nepal and Tibet. When reading the translated words and interpretations of Gorampa's meaning in English and other languages, as Sakya students and practitioners, then it is important that we rely on the great teachers in the tradition of Gorampa. I believe the foremost of these is Khenpo Appey Rinpoche. After that we have the heads of the Sakya Tradition and all of the best graduate students from the various Sakya Colleges who are now active teachers, Lharampas and Khenpos. They are the primary upholders for the interpretation of Gorampa's works for the Sakya Tradition.

So, what then is the gentle caution about the two books listed below. To my knowledge the Tibetan and Western scholars whose books are listed below are not specialists in Sakya literature nor have they graduated from a Sakya College. For those of us interested in these types of subjects then of course they are books of interest and should be read and judged on their own merits, but please do not blindly accept the information in these books as a traditional Sakya interpretation.

New Book: Freedom from Extremes

Freedom from Extremes: Gorampa's "Distinguishing the Views" and the Polemics of Emptiness. José I. Cabezón, Author. Geshe Lobsang Dargyay, Author.

"What is emptiness? This question at the heart of Buddhist philosophy has preoccupied the greatest minds of India and Tibet for two millennia, producing hundreds of volumes. Distinguishing the Views, by the fifteenth-century Sakya scholar Gorampa Sönam Sengé, is one of the most important of those works, esteemed for its conciseness, lucidity, and profundity."

"Gorampa’s text is polemical, and his targets are two of Tibet’s greatest thinkers: Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school, and Dölpopa, one of the founding figures of the Jonang school. Distinguishing the Views argues that Dolpopa has fallen into an eternalistic extreme, whereas Tsongkhapa has fallen into nihilism, and that only the mainstream Sakya view—what Gorampa calls “freedom from extremes”—represents the true middle way, the correct view of emptiness. Suppressed for years in Tibet, this seminal work today is widely regarded and is studied in some of Tibet’s greatest academic institutions." (Wisdom Publications)

This book comes with a gentle caution which I shall talk about shortly. - Jeff Watt

New Book: The Two Truths Debate

The Two Truths Debate, Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way. Sonam Thakchoe, Author. Jay Garfield, Foreword Wisdom Publications.

"All lineages of Tibetan Buddhism today claim allegiance to the philosophy of the Middle Way, the exposition of emptiness propounded by the second-century Indian master Nagarjuna. But not everyone interprets it the same way. A major faultline runs through Tibetan Buddhism around the interpretation of what are called the two truths—the deceptive truth of conventional appearances and the ultimate truth of emptiness. An understanding of this faultline illuminates the beliefs that separate the Gelug descendents of Tsongkhapa from contemporary Dzogchen and Mahamudra adherents. The Two Truths Debate digs into the debate of how the two truths are defined and how they are related by looking at two figures, one on either side of the faultline, and shows how their philosophical positions have dramatic implications for how one approaches Buddhist practice and how one understands enlightenment itself." (Wisdom Publications)

This book comes with a gentle caution which I shall talk about shortly. - Jeff Watt