Guyagarbha Tantra



The following account of the Indian and Tibetan historical lineages associated with this tantra is based on sources compiled by HH Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje in The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Book 2. These include: Go Lotsäwa’s The Blue Annals (Deb ther sngon po); Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Scholar’s Feast of Doctrinal History (Chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dga’ ston); Täranätha’s History of Buddhism in India (Dam pa’i chos rin po che ‘phags yul du ji ltar dar ba’i tshul gsal bar ston pa dgos ‘dod kun ‘byung); Longchen Rabjampa’s Great Lecture on the History of the Innermost Spirituality, Mother and Son (sNying thig ma bu’i lo rgyus gtong thun chen mo); Lochen Dharmaârï’s Lamp which Illuminates the Essence of Tantra, Transmission, and Esoteric Instruction: a General Exposition of the Empowerment of the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dbang gi spyi don rgyud lung man ngag gi gnad sel byed sgron me); Jamgon Kongtrul’s Lives of the Hundred Treasure-finders, a Beauteous Rosary of Precious Beryl (gTer ston brgya rtsa’i rnam thar rin chen bai çürya’i phreng mdzes); and the aforementioned catalogues of the Collected Tantras compiled by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa and Gyurme Tshewang Chodrub respectively.


The legendary appearance of the Mahäyoga tantras in ancient India is associated with King Ja of Sahor, who is considered to be the subject of various prophetic declarations, such as the following from the Subsequent Tantra of the Emergence of Cakrasamvara (Saævarodayottaratantra):

One hundred and twelve years from now,

When I have vanished from here,

A quintessential doctrine,

Renowned in the three divine realms,

Will be revealed by the Lord of Secrets

To one who is named King Ja,

Who will appear by virtue of great merits

At Jambudvïpa’s eastern frontier.

And in the Tantra which Comprises the Supreme Path of the Means which Clearly Reveal All-Positive Pristine Cognition (Kun bzang ye shes gsal bar ston pa’i thabs kyi lam mchog ‘dus pa’i rgyud, Tingkye Vol. 3):

The Mahäyoga tantras will fall onto the palace of King Ja. The Anuyoga tantras will emerge in the forests of Siûghala.

While the identity of this figure is obscure— he has been conflated with Indrabhüti the Great, his son, or even a later Indrabhüti contemporaneous with Kukkuräja, Kambalapäda, Saroruha, and Jälandharïpä — the tradition clearly recounts that:

While the king was sitting absorbed in the meditative cultivation of the yoga of the lower tantras, a volume containing the Mahäyoga tantras, including the Buddhasamäyoga (T. 366-367) and an image of their compiler Guhyapati Vajrapäôi, reportedly fell upon the royal palace, just as in his dream. Then, having performed prayers, he intuitively understood the chapter entitled the "Vision of Vajrasattva" and practised meditation for seven months, relying on that and on the image of Vajrapäôi. As a result he had a vision of Vajrasattva and received from him the empowerment of pristine cognition. Thus, he came to understand the symbolic conventions and meanings of that volume in their entirety.

King Ja first taught these tantras to Uparäja, a renowned scholar of Sahor, but without success. He then taught the master Kukkuräja, who intuitively understood the chapter on the "Vision of Vajrasattva" derived from the Eightfold Division of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (rDor sems sgyu ‘phrul sde brgyad, Tingkye vol. 14), now contained in the Eighty-chapter Tantra from the Magical Net (brGyad bcu pa, Ch. 74), and received a prediction that Guhyapati Vajrapäôi would subsequently reveal the meanings of this tantra. Accordingly Kukkuräja is said to have been empowered by Guhyapati and verbally instructed by Licchavi Vimalakïrti. He then divided the Mahäyoga texts into the eighteen great tantrapiåaka and taught them to King Ja. The latter composed a number of commentaries on the Guhyagarbha including the extant treatises entitled Array of the Path of the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul lam rnam bkod, P.4737, NK Vol. 81) and Instruction on the Two Stages of the Guhyagarbha (àrïguhyagarbhakramadvayoddeâa, P. 4771, NK Vol. 81) which are both connected with the Mäyäjäla cycle. He himself says in the former:

In the eastern domain of Indrabhüti,

At Vajrakuåa, in India,

I, the noble Indrabhüti,

Practised the Magical Net,

Having been taught by the Lord of Secrets, himself.

I actually realised Vajrapäôi,

With his retinue of fifty thousand.

Being empowered in wholesome action,

By the practice of disciplined conduct,

I was free from sin, and reached [an exalted] level.

Kukkuräja, known as the "king of dogs" because he reputedly taught the doctrine by day in the guise of a dog to a thousand spiritual warriors and yoginïs, and by night went to the charnel grounds with them to perform feast-offerings and other sacramental practices, proceeded to Oççiyäna where he gave a detailed explanation of the five inner tantrapiåaka of Mahäyoga, including the Buddhasamäyoga (T. 366-367), on which he had composed treatises such as the èadguhyärthadharavyüha (T. 1664-1669), and the Sarvamaôçalänuvartipañcavidhi (T.1670). He transmitted the eighteen tantrapiåaka of Mahäyoga to àakraputra, or Indrabhüti the younger, who was the king’s son; he to Siæharäja; he to àakrabhüti, or Uparäja; and finally to the daughter Gomadevï. As is said in the Sequence of the Path of the Magical Net (Mäyäjälapathakrama, P. 4736):

Then, to the east of Jambudvïpa,

Which rests on the Indestructible Seat,

In a holy palace of precious gems,

In an auspicious and sacred room,

Kukkuräja and Indrabhüti,

Together with Siæharäja, Uparäja,

Daughter Gomadevï, and others,

Received the empowerment of the Magical Net.

They actually attained the maôçala as an assembly;

And manifestly reached the level of Vajradhara.

Our sources recount that the lineage then descended to Viläsavajra and Buddhaguhya.


The master Viläsavajra, also known as Lïlävajra, was born in èaæêara and ordained as a monk in Oççiyäna, where he studied the tripiåaka and became particularly learned in the philosophical tenets of Asaûga, the ordinary sciences, and all the tantrapiåakas, the Magical Net in particular. On an island in Oççiyäna called Madhima he practised and became accomplished in the Tantra of Mañjuârï from the Magical Net (‘Jam dpal sgyu ‘phrul drva ba, Tingkye vol. 15), otherwise known in its later translation as the Litany of the Names of Mañjuârï (Mañjuârïnämasaûgïti, T. 360). During his ten years at Nälandä, he composed many treatises and expounded them in detail. Those that are still extant, concerning the Magical Net include: a Commentary on the Litany of the Names of Mañjuârï (‘Jam dpal mtshan brjod kyi ‘grel ba, T. 2533) according to the interpretations of the Unsurpassed Yogatantra; the sPar khab Commentary on the Secret Nucleus (àrïguhyagarbhaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63); the Innermost Point (Cittabindu, P. 4723, NK Vol. 81); the Sixfold Sequence (Kramaêaåka, P. 4741, NK Vol. 81); the Clarification of Commitments (Samayacitraprakäâa, P. 4744, NK Vol. 89); and the Propensity for the Commitments (Samayänuâayanirdeâa, P. 4745, NK Vol. 89). Among the students of Viläsavajra, the most prominent were Buddhaguhya and Buddhajñänapäda, who both studied the Magical Net cycle.


The master Buddhaguhya, a native of Central India, was ordained at Nälandä, where he and master Buddhaâänti were both disciples of Buddhajñänapäda during the early part of the latter’s life. On attaining spiritual accomplishment through Mañjuârï, he travelled to Oççiyäna, where he met Viläsavajra, and studied the Yogatantras, the Five Inner Unsurpassed Tantrapiåaka, and the Magical Net in particular. He composed a great many works, including the following which are extant: the Analytical Commentary on the Tantra of the Secret Nucleus (gSang ba’i snying po la ‘grel ba rnam bshad/ rnam dbye kyi ‘grel, NK Vol. 80); the Sequence of Indestructible Activity (Mäyäjälavajrakarmakrama, P. 4720, NK Vol. 80); the Significance of the Maôçala Doctrine (Dharmamaôçalasütra, T. 3705, NK Vol. 80); the Holy Ornament of the Appearance of the Real (Tattvälokaparamälaækära, P. 4735, NK Vol. 82); the Lesser Net (Sükêmajäla, P. 4734, NK Vol. 80) and the Greater Net (drva chen, P. 4733, NK Vol 80); the Greater Sequence of the Path (Mäyä-jälapathakrama, P. 4736, NK Vol. 83) and the Lesser Sequence of the Path (sGyu ‘phrul lam gyi rnam bshad chung ba, NK Vol. 81, Dz. Vol. 1); as well as treatises on other tantras.


Another lineage of the Mahäyoga tantras also passed from King Ja and Kukkuräja through Sukhasidhi (Garab Dorje) to Vajrahäsya and thence to Prabhähasti of Sahor. Garab Dorje and Vajrahäsya are recognized as the authors of the short Lamp of the View entitled Determination and Distinction (La shan lta ba’i sgron ma, P. 4727, NK Vol. 80). Prabhähasti was a principle teacher of Padmasambhava, who also received the Magical Net cycle directly from Buddhaguhya. Padmasambhava composed the Great Exegesis of the Guhyagarbha Tantra (sGyu ’phrul rnam bshad chen mo), the Precious Garland Commentary on the Sequence of the Path of Secret Mantra (gSang sngags lam rim ‘grel pa rin chen phreng ba, NK Vol. 82), and the Precious Blazing Lamp of Sun and Moon: a Commentary on the Litany of the Names of Mañjuârï (’Jam dpal sgyu ‘phrul drva ba’i ‘grel pa rin po che nyi zla ‘bar ba’i sgron ma, NK. Vol. 60), among other works, and in Tibet he also taught his autocommentary on Chapter Thirteen of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, entitled Garland of Views, a Collection of Esoteric Instructions (Man ngag lta phreng, P. 4726, NK Vol. 88) to King Trisong Detsen and his subjects.


A native of Hastivana in western India, Vimalamitra mastered the sciences and their branches, the sütras of the lesser and greater vehicles, and the tantras under many masters including Buddhaguhya. He was particularly learned in the Magical Net cycle; and he composed many treatises, for instance: the commentary on the Guhyagarbha entitled An Illuminating Lamp on the Fundamental Text (sGyu ‘phrul man ngag khog gzhung gsal ba’i sgron me, P. 4739, NK Vol. 80); the Removal of Darkness: A Commentary on the Tantra of the Supreme Spiritual Teacher, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul bla ma’i ‘grel ba mun sel); the Eye-opening Commentary on the Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net (Vajrasattvamäyäjälatantraârïguhyagarbhanäma-cakêuêåïkä, P. 4756); the Abridged Commentary on the Eighty-Chapter Tantra from the Magical Net (brGyad bcu pa’i bsdus ‘grel); Opening the Eye of Discriminative Awareness (Mahäyogaprajñäpraveâacakêurupadeâanäma, P. 4725); the Three Stages (Mäyäjälopadeâakramatraya, P. 4742, NK Vol. 81); Meditative Absorption in the Mudräs (Mäyäjälamudrädhyäna, P. 4732, NK Vol. 82); a Ritual for Burnt Offerings (Mäyäjälahomasaækêiptakrama, P. 4746, NL Vol. 80); the Garland of Cremation Rituals according to the Magical Net (Mäyäjälaâavasaæskärakarmävali, P. 4747, NK Vol. 80); Ritual Geometry (Thig rim, NK Vol. 81); and the Short Commentary on the Guhyagarbha (Guhyagarbhapiôçärtha, P. 4755, NK Vol. 80).

 This article is the fifth of a six part series which brings you Gyurme Dorje’s extensive and remarkable introuduction to the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the flagship tantra of the Nyingma School of the Tibetan Buddhism.

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