Guyagarbha Tantra


1. Tantra of the Secret Nucleus Which is Definitive with respect to the Real (Guhyagarbhatattvainiâcayamahätantra/ rGyud gsang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa), Chs. 22, Derge vol. 9 (TA), ff. 1-31; Tingkye vol. 14, pp. 1-61.

The Guhyagarbha is the primary tantra text belonging to the cycle of the Magical Net. A full translation and edition are published in this book, along with the interlinear commntary of Longchen Rabjampa. The text is said to present all things as naturally manifesting (thams cad rang snang ston pa), or to present mind and pristine cognition as naturally manifesting (sems dang ye shes rang snang du ston pa). Its maôçala is that of the forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities that are well known from later gter ma compilations. The detailed contents of this shorter version are compared with those of two longer versions in the tables below. The text was translated from Sanskrit on four occasions, but principally by Nyak Jñänakumära and Ma Rinchen Chok, following the instruction of Vimalamitra.

2. Subsequent Tantra of the Glorious Secret Nucleus (dPal gsang ba’i snying po’i phyi ma), Chs. 5, Tingkye vol. 14, pp. 62-67.

This text supplements the former, emphasising the unique buddha-body as the basis of all spiritual attainments, the projection of the maôçalas, the meditative instructions concerning the control of focal points of seminal energy (thig le) and currents of vital energy (rlung) within the subtle body, and the purification of the five psycho-physical components (phung po). Translated by Jñänagarbha and lotsäwa Vairocana.

3. Eighty-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul brgyad bcu pa), Chs. 82, Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 148-248; Tingkye vol, 14, pp. 67-317.

This, the long version of the Guhyagarbha, emphasises the buddha-attributes (yon tan). See below for a comparison between its eighty-two chapters and the twenty-two chapters of the primary Guhyagarbhatantra in tabular form. It was translated into Tibetan by Vimalamitra and Nyak Jñänakumära (and earlier by Padmasambhava and Namkhei Nyingpo).

4. Forty-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul bzhi bcu pa), Chs. 46, Derge vol. 10 (THA), ff. 135-182; Tingkye vol. 14, pp. 317-415.

This intermediate length version of the Guhyagarbha emphasises the buddha-activities (phrin las). Its forty-six chapters are also outlined in the table below. Translators unknown.

5. Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul le lag), Chs. 33, Derge vol. 10 (THA), ff. 182-238; Tingkye vol. 14, pp. 415-549.

Emphasising commitments (dam tshig), the Tantra of Supplementary Points begins in its introductory chapter by showing how all sentient beings and environements are gathered together in the central deity of the maôçala, who is known as the Supreme Embodiment (bdag nyid chen po) of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadrï, endowed with the inexhaustible adornments of buddha-body, -speech, -mind and -resources. The thirty-two following chapters closely correspond in their titles, contents and structure to those of the Root Tantra of the Secret Nucleus of Indestructible Reality (rDo rje gsang ba’i snying po rtsa ba’i rgyud) contained in Derge, vol. 11 (DA), and Tingkye vol. 16.

Initially, they describe the gathering of all phenomena in expansive emptiness (stong pa nyid), which is the nature of the female buddha Samantabhadrï, the absorption of all phenomena in the seal of the buddha-body free from substantiality, and the presence of the seed of actual reality (chos nyid) or emptiness in all beings, regardless of their differing degrees of intelligence. Thereafter the text successively describes the emanation of the celestial palace (vimäna) of the meditational deities, the transformation of all phenomena into the wrathful deities and their ensuing purification through the fire of pristine cognition, the procedures of “further ritual service” (nye bsnyen) associated with the wrathful deities, the external manifestation of their maôçala which arises through compassionate spirituality, the burnt offerings associated with the four rites of enlightened activity, the symbolism of sacramental offerings, along with the means of securing them through mantra recitation and hand-gestures, and the consequent fruitional attainment, known as the vision of Vajrasattva.

There then follows a series of chapters concerning the making of medicinal elixir (sman sgrub), the meditative stabilities associated with the most secret maôçala, the emanation of the deities’ seals (phyag rgya) or hand-emblems, the lesser spiritual attainments conferred by Mahädeva and the Four Guardian Kings, and the means of constructing stüpas.

The text then goes on to discuss the nature of the so-called “twenty-one bases for sense perception”, and the resulting supreme accomplishment attained when the perfections (pha rol du phyin pa), levels (sa), means (thabs) and buddhafields (zhing khams) are all gathered in the Supreme Embodiment of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadrï, from which the maôçala of meditational deities emerges.

Finally, the main topic is introduced— a detailed exegesis of the basic and ancillary commitments (dam tshig), associated with this vision of Vajrasattva and the maôçala of meditational deities. Translators unknown.

6. Eight-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul brgyad pa), Chs. 8, Derge, vol. 10 (THA), ff. 114-123; Tingkye vol. 14, pp. 549-571.

Emphasising the maôçala (dkyil ‘khor) of meditational deities, this text describes the union of the [peaceful] meditational deities with the natural Great Perfection (rdzogs chen), the emanation of the maôçala of wrathful deities therefrom in a cloud-like manner, the mantra syllables forming the maôçala of their buddha-speech, which are recited in the context of feast-offering ceremonies, as well as the nature of the actual sacraments of offerings and commitments by which the deities are pleased. Translators unknown.

7. Tantra of the Supreme Spritual Teacher, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul dra ba bla ma chen po), Chs. 13, Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 34-60; Tingkye, vol. 14, pp. 572-638.

Emphasising empowerment (dbang bskur), the Tantra of the Supreme Spritual Teacher identifies the nature of supreme bliss with the expanse of reality (dbyings) and the pristine cognition (ye shes) of the buddhas, and discusses the ultimate nature of mind in its non-dual disposition. To achieve this, the yogin visualises that the maôçala of meditational deities is emanated and absorbed, along with their respective mantras and sealing hand-gestures, thereby conferring the appropriate commitments and empowerments. A self-disciplined mode of conduct is adopted with an attitude of compassion, and the maôçala of meditational deities is then pleased by means of feast-offerings (tshogs), in consequence of which malign forces are subjugated and the greatness of buddha-body, -speech and -mind is made manifest. The text concludes with a teaching on wrathful mantras, the commitments associated with the practice of the inner tantras, and the supreme bliss experienced by bodhisattvas who have received these essential instructions. Translators unknown.

8. Exegetical Tantra of the Goddess, from the Magical Net (bShad rgyud lha mo sgyu ‘phrul), Chs. 13, Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 1-34; Tingkye, vol. 15, pp. 1-96.

Emphasising the play of spiritual emanation that emerges from the nature of actual reality (chos nyid kyi rol pa), this exegetical tantra known as the Tantra of the Goddess presents the maôçala of the buddhas and the way in which all obscurations are removed in relation to it. Through the blissful yoga associated with the body, speech and mind of all the buddhas, the experience of non-duality is thereby introduced. There then follows a chapter on the sacred dances which please the buddhas, and the commitments associated with the yogic practices relating to the experience of supreme bliss. In this way, the secret maôçala of all the buddhas is revealed in the real nature of their supreme buddha-body, speech and mind. Later the text discusses the emanation of the wrathful meditational deities, the wheel of pristine cognition which emerges from them, the mantra recitations which please them, and the gathering of acolytes by the Herukas. The text concludes with a short section on the key to the dissemination of the Fourfold Division of the Magical Net (sGyu sprul sde bzhi). Translated by Viläsavajra and Ma Rinchen Chok.

9. Tantra of Mañjuârï, from the Magical Net (‘Jam dpal sgyu ‘phrul dra ba), Chs. 14, Derge vol. 10 (THA), ff. 123-135; Tingkye vol. 15, pp. 97-118;

The Tantra of Mañjuârï from the Magical Net, also known as the Litany of the Names of Mañjuârï (Mañjuârïnämasaægïti, T. 360) in its later translation, emphasises the cohesion of all the piåakas (sde snod) or vehicles (theg pa). Its successive themes concern the seed of buddha-nature (rigs) that is latent in all living beings, the manifest awakening that is achieved through the Magical Net, and the consequent emergence of enlightened mind (byang chub sems). The text concludes with a series of eulogies associated with each of the five pristine cognitions (ye shes lnga), and with the attributes (yon tan) of the meditational deities, along with their respective mantras. Original translators unknown. Later translated by Kamalagupta and Rinchen Zangpo.

10. Mirror of All Secrets of Vajrasattva, from the Magical Net (rDo rje sems dpa’ sgyu ‘phrul dra ba gsang ba thams cad kyi me long), Chs. 13 + root-text, Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 82-148; Tingkye vol. 15, pp. 119-310.

Emphasising the immediate aspect of the path of liberation (grol lam cig char) or the body-colours and symbolic hand-implements of the meditational deities (sku mdog dang phyag mtshan), the Mirror of All Secrets of Vajrasattva sequentially presents the fundamental topics of the tantras: view, conduct, maôçala, empowerment, commitment, attainment, enlightened activity, and ritual, as well as the effortless spontaneous presence of the maôçala of meditational deities that arises through these practices. Translated by Vimalamitra and Nyak Jñänakumära.

11. Tantra of the Nucleus of Pristine Cognition, from the Glorious Magical Net (dPal sgyu ‘phrul dra ba ye shes snying po’i rgyud), Chs. 13, Tingkye, vol. 15, pp. 310-338.

Emphasising the gradual aspect of the path of liberation (grol lam rim gyis), the Tantra of the Nucleus of the Pristine Cognition concerns the five aspects of seminal "enlightened mind", and the emergence therefrom of compassionate spirituality and pristine cognition, along with the seed-syllables associated with the meditational deities and their corresponding meditative stabilities (ting nge ‘dzin). The text then discusses the seal associated with the practices of supreme bliss, the consecration of awareness through the practice of secret mantras, the radiance of the Great Seal (phyag rgya chen po), the maôçala in which perfect skilful means (thabs) and discriminative awareness (shes rab) are united, the descent of pristine cognition (ye shes dbab pa) from the meditational deities into the yogin, the consequent spontaneous presence (lhun grub) of the meditational deities, and their secret maôçala. Translated by Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (Dorje Yangwangter).

12. Oceanic Tantra, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul rgya mtsho), Chs. 22, Derge vol. 10 (THA), ff. 279-313; Tingkye vol. 15, pp. 339-420.

Emphasising the immediate aspect of the path of skilful means (thabs lam cig char) or the generation stage (bskyed rim) of meditation, the Oceanic Tantra concerns the five aspects of seminal "enlightened mind" (byang sems rnam lnga), which are established as the nature of all phenomena, and the emergence of the maôçalas of buddha-speech and buddha-mind therefrom, along with their consecrations and feast-offerings (tshogs). The text then presents the path of this secret vehicle and its secret meanings, the engagement in the practice of the five impurities, and the transformation of the peaceful deities into their indestructible wrathful nature through which the mundane body, speech and mind are consecrated. Translated by Vimalamitra and Nyak Jñänakumära.

13. Penetrating Tantra, from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul thal ba’i rgyud), Chs. 26, Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 249-294; Tingkye vol. 15, pp. 421-538.

Emphasising the gradual aspect of the path of skilful means (thabs lam rim gyis), the Penetrating Tantra concerns the five aspects of seminal "enlightened mind", and the natural manifestation of buddha-body, -speech and -mind, which are attained through the practices of skilful means. In this way, the text focusses on the images experienced in meditative stability, as they emerge from "seminal enlightened mind" (byang sems) and the development of buddha-body, -speech and -mind through the secret mantras, the relevant commitments, empowerments, and the discipline of the yogin’s own awareness (rig pa’i rtul zhugs).

Then the main themes of the text are introduced: engagement in the sexual yoga of skilful means, the actual skilful means which are to be employed, and a discussion concerning the liberation achieved by those buddhas of the past and yogins of the present who possess this technique, and the corresponding lack of liberation in those who do not. Finally, the text discusses the secret points of seminal energy (thig le) through which sense-organs and sense-objects are controlled and all phenomena gathered in the Supreme Embodiment of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadrï. Translated by Vimalamitra and Nyak Jñänakumära in Phenyul.

14. Tantra of the Supreme Play [of Spiritual Emanation], Revealing the Real Nature of the Secret Nucleus of Vajrasattva, from the Magical Net (rDo rje sems dpa’ sgyu ‘phrul dra ba las gsang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid bstan pa rol pa chen po’i rgyud), Chs. 13, Derge vol. 10 (THA), ff. 239-279; Tingkye vol. 15, pp. 539-649.

The Tantra of the Supreme Play [of Spiritual Emanation], presents the mental states that are conducive to the practice of the tantras and their connection with the maôçala of meditational deities. It examines the pristine cognition symbolised by the hand-held emblems of the deities, and their natural maôçala, along with the visualised maôçala that is emanated in the yogin’s meditative stability, and the ensuing empowerments, commitments, attainments, and enlightened activities that are associated with it. The text concludes with a discussion of the emergence therefrom of the maôçala of wrathful deities, as well as their corresponding modes of conduct and secret teachings. Translated by Vimalamitra and Nyak Jñänakumära.

15. Root Tantra of the Secret Nucleus of Indestructible Reality, which Ascertains the Real (rDo rje gsang ba’i snying po rtsa ba’i rgyud de kho na nyid nges pa), Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 60-82 in 22 Chs; Tingkye vol. 16, pp. 1-138 in 33 Chs.

This title refers to different texts in Derge and Tingkye. The former, in twenty-two chapters, corresponds closely to the primary Guhyagarbha Tantra (no. 1 above), while the latter, which is also entitled rGyud kyi rgyal po chen po sgyu ‘phrul drva ba, has thirty-three chapters, similar in number, structure, length, and title to those of the Tantra of Supplementary Points (no. 5 above). Translators unknown.

16. Kingly Tantra concerning the Power of the Wrathful Deities, from the Secret Nucleus which Ascertains the Real (gSang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa’i khro bo stobs kyi rgyud rgyal), Derge vol. 11 (DA), ff. 296-7; Tingkye vol. 16, pp. 138-142.

This fragmentary text, also known as the sTobs kyi dbang phyug sgrub pa dka’ ba spyod pa man ngag gi snying po rgyud, concerns the emergence of the maôçala of wrathful deities. Translators unknown.

17. Tantra of the Attainment of the Mighty Lords of Yoga through the Power of the Precious Wrathful Deities, from the Magical Net (Khro bo rin po che’i stobs kyis rnal ‘byor dbang phyug sgrub pa’i sgyu ‘phrul dra ba’i rgyud), Derge, vol. 11 (DA), ff. 294-296; Tingkye, vol. 16, pp. 142-147.

Another short text related to the maôçala of wrathful deities. Translated by Vimalamitra and Vairocana.

18. Array of the Nucleus, from the Magical Net, Great King of Tantras (rGyud kyi rgyal po chen po sgyu ‘phrul snying po bkod pa), Chs. 8, Tingkye, vol. 16, pp. 147-163.

The Array of the Nucleus initially discusses the mundane world of causes and conditions, followed by the supramundane ground of reality (gzhi) and its natural expressions (rang bzhin), and the quiescent nature of actual reality (chos nyid zhi ba). It then continues with a presentation of the wrathful deities who “subdue conceptual thought”, explaining the metaphor of their "net" of esoteric instructions, as well as rites of wrathful exorcism and the dynamic integration of the continuum of the ground with those of the path and the result. Translators unknown.

19. Tantra of Vairocana, from the Magical Net (rNam snang sgyu ‘phrul dra ba), Chs. 10, Tingkye vol. 19, pp. 289-395.

The Tantra of Vairocana, also known as rGyud kyi rgyal po chen po sgyu ‘phrul drva ba, emphasises the practice of rituals (cho ga) and feast-offerings (tshogs). It commences with the entrance into the maôçala, its secret mantras, meditative stabilities, and the unfolding of pristine cognition. Then, it continues with a description of the offerings associated with the sealing hand-gestures of the deities, and discusses the attainment of pristine cognition through the path of liberation and through the skilful means of sexual practices, concluding with an exposition of burnt offerings (sbyin sregs) and related rituals. Original translators unknown. Later retranslated by Rinchen Zangpo (T. 466).


As we can now see, within this corpus of nineteen extant texts pertaining to the cycle of the Magical Net (Mäyäjäla, sGyur ‘phrul drva ba), there are three distinct versions of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, respectively in twenty-two, forty-six and eighty-two chapters. In the table that follows, the chapter titles of the longest version (A) are compared with those of the middle length version (B) and the concise version (C), which is most widely studied within the tradition. Here I have utilised only the Tingkye edition, where all three texts are conveniently contained in volume 14— Version A in pp. 67-317, Version B in pp. 317-415, and Version C in pp. 1-61. Version C is also cross-paginated with references to the translation contained in this book.

A. sGyu ‘phrul brgyad bcu pa, Chs. 82, pp. 67-317

Ch. 1 gleng gzhi’i le’u, pp.67-70: = B, pp. 317-320; C, pp. 2-6 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch. 2 gleng bslang ba’i le’u, pp. 70-73: = B, pp. 320-321

Ch. 3 don dam pa dang kun rdzob kyi byang chub kyi sems ye shes su bskyed pa’i le’u, pp. 73-74: = B, pp. 321-323; C, pp. 6-10 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch. 4 chos thams cad gtan la phab pa’i le’u, pp. 74-78: = B, pp. 323-326; C, pp. 10-13 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch. 5 chos thams cad la chos nyid kyi rgyu yod pa dang rigs rgyud chad pa dang rigs brgyud so so phye ba’i mdo bshad pa’i le’u, pp. 78-80: = B, pp. 326-328

Ch. 6 yi ge’i ‘khor lo’i ‘phreng ba bkod pa’i le’u, pp. 80-84: = B, pp. 328-331; C, pp. 13-16

Ch.7 gsang ba’i dkyil ‘khor khams nyi shu rtsa gcig tu bsdus nas thams cad ma lus par dbyings su bsdus pa’i le’u, pp. 84-87: = B, pp. 331-333

Ch. 8 sgyu ‘phrul sgrub pa’i ting nge ‘dzin gi le’u, pp. 87-89: = B, pp. 333-335; C, pp. 17-18 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch. 9 shin tu gsang ba’i dkyil ‘khor bsdus nas lhag pa’i gzugs brnyan bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 89-90: = B, pp. 335-336

Ch.10 dkyil ‘khor spros pa’i le’u, pp. 90-93: = B, pp. 336-338; C, pp. 18-21 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.11 gzhal yas khang dbub pa’i thabs dra ba’i le’u, pp. 93-95: = B, pp. 338-340

Ch.12 gsang sngags kyi le’u, pp. 95-97: = B, pp. 340-342; C, pp. 21-24 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.13 dkyil ‘khor byin sdus pa’i gsang sngags kyi le’u, pp. 97-98: = B, pp. 340-342; C, pp. 21-24 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.14 don dam pa dang kun rdzob byang chub sems las phyag rgya gsung gi dkyil ‘khor rdzogs pa’i le’u, pp. 98-99

Ch.15 chos thams cad ming gi mtshan nyid de| yum gyi dbyings su bsdus pa’i gsang ba’i le’u, pp. 99-101: = B, pp. 342-344

Ch.16 yan lag thams cad dkyil ‘khor du byin gyis brlabs nas phyag rgya spros pa’i le’u, pp, 101-105: = B, pp. 344-346; C, pp. 24-27 (see pp. 00-00).

Ch.17 mtshon cha dam tshig gi phyag rgya klu’i le’u, pp. 105-111

Ch.18 sgyu ‘phrul chen po thabs dang shes rab du ‘byang ba| phyag mtshan gyi le’u, pp. 111-114: = B, pp. 346-351; C, pp. 27-32 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.19 rdo rje bkod pa gsang ba dam tshig gi le’u, pp. 114-118: = B, pp. 346-351; C, pp. 27-32 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.20 lhag pa’i gzugs brnyan kyis dngos grub, pp. 118-121: = B, pp. 351-353

Ch.21 dbang sbyin pa’i le’u, pp. 121-123: = B, pp. 353-355; C, pp. 32-34 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.22 rdo rje sems dpa’ bsgrub pa’i le’u, pp. 123-126: = B, pp. 355-357

Ch.23 tshogs kyi dkyil ‘khor gyi le’u, pp. 126-129: = B, pp. 357-359; C, pp. 34-37 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.24 tshogs bsgrub pa’i le’u, pp. 129-130: = B, pp. 359-360; C, pp. 37-38 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.25 shin tu gsang ba’i snying po man ngag gi le’u, pp. 130-133: = B, pp. 360-362; C, pp. 38-41 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.26 gsang ba chen po man ngag gtan la phab pa’i le’u, pp. 133-135

Ch.27 phyogs bcu dus bzhi’i snod bcud bdag la ‘dus pa dang| longs spyod sku gsung thugs mi zad pa’i rgyan gyi ‘khor lo bskor ba’i le’u, pp. 135-136: = B, pp. 362-364

Ch.28 mnyes pa’i le’u, pp. 136-137: = B, pp. 364-365; C, pp. 41-42 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.29 khro bo rang bzhin gyi dkyil ’khor gyi sprin rnam par spros pa| bdud brtul ba’i le’u, pp. 137-146: = B, pp. 365-373; C, pp. 42-51 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.30 khro bo’i tshogs chen po gsung gi dkyil ‘khor spros pa’i le’u, pp. 146-148: = B, pp. 373-375; C, pp. 51-52 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.31 khro bo’i phyag rgya spro ba’i le’u, pp. 148-151: = B, pp. 375-378

Ch.32 khro bo’i dkyil ‘khor bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 151-153: = B, pp. 378-379; C, pp. 52-53 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.33 dgyes pa chen po’i byin brlabs dang yon tan mchog gi ston pa’i le’u, pp. 153-157

Ch.34 ‘jigs byed chen po bsod nams sbyin pa’i le’u, pp. 157-159.

Ch.35 dgyes pa chen po’i dkyil ‘khor dam tshig gi le’u, pp. 159-160

Ch.36 ‘jigs byed chen po sngags kyi bzlas pa’i snying po ‘byung ba zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 160-161

Ch.37 de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi dam tshig gdug pa’i tshogs byin gyi brlob pa zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 161-165

Ch.38 rdo rje snying po las thams cad kyi le’u, pp. 165-167

Ch.39 sgyu ‘phrul chen po brtan par bzung ba bdud rtsi ‘byung ba’i le’u, pp. 167-168

Ch.40 sman grub pa’i le’u, pp. 168-173: B, pp. 380-385

Ch.41 de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi byin brlabs ‘byung ba zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 173-176

Ch.42 de bzhin nyid kyi dbyings nas che ba’i yon tan ston pa’i le’u, pp. 176-181

Ch.43 dbab pa gsung gi ‘khor lo zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 181-182

Ch.44 byin bsdu ba dang dam tshig dbab pa’i sgyu ‘phrul dra ba’i thugs rje zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 182-186

Ch.45 sgyu ‘phrul chen po’i dam tshig gi mchod pa longs spyod zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 186-187

Ch.46 thub pa chen po bcom ldan ‘das kyis klu tshogs gdug pa’i las rnams ‘dul ba’i le’u, pp. 187-190

Ch.47 sgyu ‘phrul chen po rab tu brgyal bar byed pa| dam tshig bkod pa’i le’u, pp. 190-193

Ch.48 shin tu ‘dul bar gyur pa| gnas dang snying po ‘bul ba’i le’u, pp. 193-196

Ch.49 bka’ drin dran pa’i le’u, pp. 196-199

Ch.50 dam tshig chen pos bud med brtul ba’i le’u, pp. 199-203

Ch.51 mchod sbyin dam pa bstan pa’i le’u, p. 203: = B, pp. 379-380; C, p. 54 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.52 mchod sbyin dang dam tshig bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 203-206: = B, pp. 385-387; C, pp. 54-56 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.53 dam tshig sum brgya pa rtsa ba bco lnga mdor bshad pa’i le’u, pp. 206-219: = B, pp. 387-388 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.54 chos thams cad kyang khro bo dang khro mo’i rang bzhin du gyur pa dang| rang rig pa’i ye shes kyi mes sbyong ba’i le’u, pp. 219-220: = B, pp. 388-389

Ch.55 homa thams cad ma lus par bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 220-221: = B, pp. 389-390

Ch.56 shin tu gsang ba’i khro bo nye bar bsgrub pa’i le’u, pp. 221-222: = B, pp. 390-392

Ch.57 drag po homa gyi le’u, pp. 222-224: = B, pp. 392-393

Ch.58 thams cad ma lus par dbang du bsdus nas| dbang gi homa gyi le’u, pp. 224-226: = B, pp. 393-395

Ch.59 rgyal po rgyal mdzad kyi rgyal po’i homa gyi le’u, pp. 226-227: = B, pp. 395-396

Ch.60 thams cad ma lus zhi bar gyur nas zhi ba’i homa gyi le’u, pp. 227-228: = B, pp. 396-398

Ch.61 lhun gyis grub pa’i ‘phrin las byin gyis rlob pa zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 228-230: = B, pp. 398-400; C, pp. 57-59 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.62 pha rol du phyin pa bcu dang| sa bcu dang| sa gnyis dang| thabs kyi mchog dang| sangs rgyas kyi zhing ma lus par| yid dang chos su ‘dus par bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 230-232: = B, pp. 400-402

Ch.63 de bzhin gshegs pa’i dkyil ‘khor nges pa’i don ma lus par mtshan nyid med pa’i phyag rgyar thim pa’i le’u, pp. 232-234: = B, pp. 402-404

Ch.64 tshe’i cho ga dbang dam pa shin tu gsang ba’i le’u, pp. 234-236: = B, pp. 404-406

Ch.65 phra dbab pa’i le’u, pp. 236 239: = B, pp. 406-409

Ch.66 lha chen po bsgrub pa dang| rgyal po chen po bzhi’i dkyil ‘khor dgod cing bsgrub pa’i le’u, pp. 239- 243: = B, pp. 409-413

Ch.67 sku’i dkyil ‘khor mngon du phyung ba zhes bya ba’i le’u, pp. 243-244

Ch.68 shin tu gsang bar bya ba’i rgyu dngos grub thob par bya ba’i le’u, pp. 244-247

Ch.69 homa rnam bzhi’i le’u, pp. 247-248

Ch.70 ro langs kyi sgrub pa thabs kyi nang na ‘di gtso te| zhing chen bsgrub pa’i le’u, pp. 248-251

Ch.71 dam tshig rtsa ba bco lnga mdo rnams gcig tu bshad pa’i le’u, pp. 251-254

Ch.72 dam tshig sum brgya drug cu las| rnam par spros pa’i le’u, pp. 254-278

Ch.73 dam tshig rnam par ‘phros pa’i mdo btus pa’i le’u, pp. 278-294

Ch.74 skyes bu dam pa blo rtsal rab kyis| rdo rje sems dpa’i zhal mthong gi le’u, pp. 294-297

Ch.75 sngon sbyangs bdag med skyes bu yis| chos kyi snying po byang chub mchog mthong ba’i le’u, pp. 297-301

Ch.76 phyag rgya dam tshig gi le’u, pp. 301-303

Ch.77 bzhugs gnas gzhal yas khang bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 303-305

Ch.78 bro gar dang rtse ‘jo’i le’u, pp. 305-314

Ch.79 mnyes pa’i le’u, pp. 314-315: B, pp. 413-414; C, pp. 59-60 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.80 yongs su gzung ba’i le’u, pp. 315-316: B, pp. 414-415; C, pp. 60-61 (see pp. 00-00)

Ch.81 rgyud yongs su gzungs shing gtad pa’i le’u, pp. 316

Ch.82 chos nyid mi ‘gyur ba rab tu bstan pa’i le’u, pp. 316-317

The above table shows that of the eighty-two chapters of the long version, the first twenty-eight concern the maôçala of peaceful deities and the remainder the maôçala of wrathful deities. The intermediate version omits only three of the former (Chs. 14, 17, 26) but thirty-one of the latter (Chs. 33-39, 41-50, 67-78, 81-82) and the short version omits only twelve of the former (Chs. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14-15, 17, 20, 22, 26- 27) but forty-six of the latter (Chs. 31, 33-50, 53-60, 62-78, 81-82). It is therefore in the long version that the maôçala of wrathful deities reaches its fullest expression, while all three versions differ far less in their presentation of the maôçala of peaceful deities. Significantly, it was the short version which was most widely disseminated in Tibet, corroborating Longchen Rabjampa’s assertion that the fully elaborate wrathful rites were carefully guarded and not considered advantageous for the majority of practitioners. One could also speculate, on the analogy of teaching-cycles such as the Prajñäpäramitä, whether the shorter versions were abridged from the longer to facilitate mnemonic recitation, or whether the precedence traditionally given to the shortest is valid. However it is difficult at the present time to make reliable assertions regarding the historical status of these versions with respect to each other.


Among these texts of varying length, the present study concerns the concise version in twenty-two chapters, which is traditionally considered to be the primary text of the cycle. The full title Guhyagarbhatattvaviniâcayamahätantra (Tib. gSang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa’i rgyud chen po) is here rendered in translation as The Great Tantra of the Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real. As mentioned above, the text is contained in Derge vol. 9 (ff. 1-31), Tingkye vol. 14, (pp. 1-61), and also in the Kangyur (T. 832). Longchen Rabjampa speaks of it in his Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel) as:

…this kingly and glorious Tantra Of The Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real— the furthest summit of all vehicles, the source of all literary transmissions, the great spiritual short-cut among the vehicles [taught] by all buddhas of the three times, and the most secret of all.

And Ju Mipham Namgyel in his Summary of the Guhyagarbha entitled Nucleus of Inner Radiance (sPyi don ‘od gsal snying po) elaborates:

It is known from literary sources that "tantras are to be known in comparison with other tantras". Accordingly, this great tantra which completely discloses the essentials of view and meditation according to the unsurpassed mantras is a unique gemstone of the three worlds inasmuch as it qualitatively establishes the enlightened intention and meaning of the entire vehicle of indestructible reality (Vajrayäna). It is the king of all tantras. It is the furthest summit of all vehicles, the source of all teachings, the all-embracing universal commentary on all literary transmissions, the great spiritual short-cut of all buddhas, and it is endowed with the wondrous enlightened attributes of greatness which are the genuine innermost intention of all the tathägatas. There is therefore no essential point which appears to be taught outside this tantra. Knowing that other texts which have been rashly composed, treating each profound and minute verse (vajrapäda) of the mantra- and tantra-texts as a worthy object of sophistry to satisfy the prowess of the writers’ own intellects, are vacuous as a lifeless corpse, it behoves fortunate beings who possess the supreme aspiration of the vehicle of indestructible reality to earnestly attend to the exposition of such [precious] tantras, even at the cost of their own health or of life itself!

The Nyingma tradition therefore regards this text as its flagship tantra, whether it is to be interpreted as mainstream Mahäyoga or as an Atiyoga source.


In his commentary, which is fully translated in the present work, Longchen Rabjampa begins with a discussion of the actual title of the Guhyagarbha Tantra and its opening verse of homage. In his expressed view, the essential point of the title should first be grasped, because “those who are most advanced can understand the content of a text simply by knowing its title”. Failing that, a perusal of the table of contents will reveal the significance of the title! In this case, the import of the title suggests that the text will reveal all mundane phenomena, mental and physical, to be naturally present in the pure maôçalas of the primordial buddha, Samantabhadra.

From a strict lexical perspective, the Sanskrit compound Guhyagarbha-tattvaviniâcaya (gSang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa) may be translated as Tantra of the Secret Nucleus Definitive with respect to the Real. This implies that the subject matter of the text is secret (gsang ba) because the three buddha-bodies, though present, have been hidden (gab) by suddenly arisen obscurations, so that they are unperceived by mundane beings, and also that the uncommon view, meditation and conduct presented in the text have been concealed (sbas) to prevent confusion and distortion of their meaning. Nucleus (snying po) is a synonym for the abiding nature of primordial buddhahood. That which is real (de kho na nyid) is the very nature of the three buddha-bodies without conjunction or disjunction, and the teaching definitive with respect to it (nges pa) is the truth that abides atemporally as the essence of both cyclic existence (samsära) and nirväna.

The verse of homage with which the text opens is significantly dedicated to the primordial buddha Samantabhadra, who is the buddha-body of reality (dharmakäya) and the actual expositor of this tantra-text.


The text itself contains twenty-two chapters, structured according to the dynamic of the continuum of the ground, the continuum of the path and the continuum of the result (rgyud gsum), which underlie all tantric literature. However, there are divergent views among commentators within the tradition as to which chapters exactly correspond to which of these three continua. The position adopted by exponents of the distant lineage of the transmitted precepts (ring brgyud bka’ ma), including Lochen Dharmaârï, presents the structural content of the text as follows:

1) The Peaceful Maôçala:

1.1) Continuum of the Ground:

Ch. 1 The Introductory Scene (gleng gzhi’i le’u)

Ch.2 Generation of Ultimate and Relative Enlightened Mind in Pristine Cognition (don dam pa dang kun rdzob kyi byang chub sems ye shes su bskyed pa’i le’u)

Ch.3 The Establishment of All Sacred Teachings (chos thams cad gtan la phab pa’i le’u)

1.2) Continuum of the Path

Ch. 4 Cyclical Array of the Garland of Syllables (yi ge ‘phreng ba’i ‘khor lo bkod pa’i le’u)

Ch.5 Meditative Stability that Attains the Magical Net (sgyu ‘phrul dra ba bsgrub pa’i ting nge ‘dzin gyi le’u)

Ch. 6 Emergence of the Maôçala (dkyil ‘khor spros pa’i le’u)

Ch.7 Absorption of the Maôçala and the Secret Mantras (dkyil ‘khor bsdus ba dang gsang sngags kyi le’u)

Ch. 8 Consecration of All Limbs of the Body as the Maôçala and Emergence of the Gestures of Sealing (yan lag thams cad dkyil ‘khor du byin gyis brlabs nas phyag rgya spros pa’i le’u)

Ch.9 Secret Commitments of the Indestructible Array (rdo rje bkod pa’i gsang ba’i dam tshig gi le’u)

Ch. 10 Conferral of Empowerments (dbang sbyin pa’i le’u)

Ch.11 Maôçala of the Feast-offerings (tshogs kyi dkyil ‘khor gyi le’u)

Ch.12 Attainment of the Feast-offerings (tshogs bsgrubs pa’i le’u)

Ch.13 Nucleus of Most Secret Esoteric Instructions (shin tu gsang ba man ngag gi snying po’i le’u)

1.3) Continuum of the Result:

Ch. 14 The Pleasing Eulogy (mnyes pa’i bstod pa’i le’u)

2) The Wrathful Maôçala:

2.1) Continuum of the Ground:

Ch.15 Cloud-like Emergence of the Natural Maôçala of Wrathful Deities (khro bo rang bzhin gyi dkyil ‘khor gyi sprin rnam par spros pa’i le’u)

2.2) Continuum of the Path

Ch.16 Emergence of the Maôçala of Buddha-speech of the Great Assembly of Wrathful Deities (khro bo’i tshogs chen po’i gsung gi dkyil ‘khor spros pa’i le’u)

Ch. 17 Revelation of the Maôçala of Wrathful Deities (khro bo’i dkyil ‘khor bstan pa’i le’u)

Ch.18 Revelation of the Sacred Offerings (mchod sbyin dam pa bstan pa’i le’u)

Ch. 19 Commitments (dam tshig gi le’u)

Ch.20 Consecration of Spontaneous Enlightened Activity (lhun gyis grub pa’i ‘phrin las byin gyis rlob pa zhes bya ba’i le’u)

2.3) Continuum of the Result:

Ch.21 Eulogy to the Wrathful Deities (khro bo la bstod pa’i le’u)

However, in his Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel), Longchen Rabjampa presents a somewhat different structure, analysing the chapters in the following manner:

1) Chs. 1-3: The Continuum of the Ground, ie. the natural spontaneous maôçala of the ground from which arises the buddhas’ compassionate spirituality

2) Chs. 4-21: The Continuum of the Path, ie. the emanation of the peaceful and wrathful deities from the ground

3) Ch. 22: The Continuum of the Result, ie. the methods of teaching and entrusting this tantra-text

In this view, the maôçalas of the peaceful and wrathful deities (Chs. 4-21) are to be further subdivided according to the continua of ground, path and result, as follows:

2.1) Chs. 4-14 Maôçala of Peaceful Deities:

2.1.1) Continuum of the Ground— maôçala of seed-syllables— the emanational basis (Chs. 4-5) maôçala of meditatve stability— visualisations of buddha-mind, mantras of buddha-speech, and seals of buddha-body (Chs. 6-8) maôçala of images— visualisations clarifying the ground (Ch.9) empowerments— introducing the ground (Ch.10)

2.1.2) Continuum of the Path— generation stage of meditation (Chs.11-12) perfection stage of meditation (Ch.13)

2.1.3) Continuum of the Result— a eulogy to buddha-body and pristine cogntion (Ch.14)

2.2) Chs. 15-21 Maôçala of Wrathful Deities:

2.2.1) Continuum of the Ground— maôçala of wrathful deities, naturally present (Ch.15)

2.2.2) Continuum of the Path— maôçala of the mantras of buddha-speech (Ch.16) maôçala of images— the visualisations of buddha-mind (Ch.17) maôçala of offerings (Ch.18) commitments (Ch.19) enlightened activities (Ch.20)

2.2.3) Continuum of the Result— a eulogy to buddha-body and pristine cognition (Ch.21)

Whichever of these two structures is adopted, it is clear that the relationship between the three continua and the various topics of the peaceful and wrathful maôçalas subsumed by them reveals a dynamic momentum, extending from the latent potential for buddhahood inherent in all beings to the proclamation of fully manifest buddhahood that is the conclusive result. This should be more fully demonstrated by the following summary of the actual content of the successive twenty-two chapters of the tantra-text which are based on Longchen Rabjampa’s own analysis.



The purpose of the first chapter is to present the buddha-body of reality (dharmakäya), manifesting naturally in the Akaniêåha Ghanavyüha realm in the form of Samantabhadra, since this is the setting of the introductory scene, on the basis of which the entire tantra-text is exposited. The buddha-body of reality is endowed with five excellent circumstances which are symbolised by the initial stock phrase (v.1) "Thus at the time of this explanation" (‘di-skad bshad pa’i dus na), and these are interpreted differently according to the outer tantras, the inner path of skilful means and the secret inner radiance of the Great Perfection.


Chapter One demonstrates the excellence of Samantabhadra, the perfect resource of all the buddhas (v.2) which is classified according to the excellent circumstance of its location, its expositors and its audience or retinue of listeners. The excellent location in which this tantra is revealed is none other than the Akaniêåha or Ghanavyüha field associated with all three buddha-bodies (v.3) and within it the celestial palace (v.4) adorned by an excellent array of teaching-thrones (v.5). The excellent expositors of this tantra are endowed with the distinctive marks of buddha-body, and diverse physical postures, hand-implements, and heads (v.6), and include the male and female buddhas of the five enlightened families who embody diverse aspects of pristine cognition, and are the natural purity of the psycho-physical components and elements (vv.7-8). Vajrasattva or Vairocana may be found at the centre of this maôçala, depending respectively upon the Mahäyoga and Atiyoga perspectives of our text. The excellent retinue, which is the natural retinue of Samantabhadra, comprises sixteen bodhisattvas who are classified as male and female and as inner and outer (vv.9-12), along with the eight male and female gatekeepers who guard the four directions of the natural maôçala (vv.13-14).

The chapter concludes with a synopsis of this naturally manifesting array of pristine cognition or buddha-mind: its source is the indestructible reality of buddhahood (v.15), its disposition of compassionate spirituality is the buddha-body of perfect resource (v.16), its pure manifestation occurs in the meditative stabilities of the buddhas (v.17) and its nature is identified with the five inexhaustible ornaments of buddha-body, -speech, -mind, -attributes and -activities (v.18).


The purpose of this chapter is to divulge the enlightened intention of Samantabhadra’s pristine cognition, in which all things are ultimately expressed as primordial buddhahood, and relatively expressed as great compassionate spirituality. The former is the genuine intention behind the discourse of this text and the latter is the motivation for its appearance in an externally visible form— the arousal of compassionate energy for the sake of those who have not realised ultimate reality.


Two aspects of buddhahood are therefore discussed in this chapter: the genuine intention which initiates the discourse and the subsequent arousal of compassionate spirituality for the sake of living beings.

Firstly, the genuine intention is explored through its three successive modalities: Samantabhadra who embodies awareness, buddha-mind itself, through the penetration of Samantabhadrï, reveals his enlightened intention that all the psycho-physical components, sensory bases, activity fields, and elements are integrated in the nature of the five buddha-families and their retinue (vv.1-2). Samantabhadrï who embodies the abiding nature of reality which is the object of buddha-mind, through indivisible union with Samantabhadra, reveals her enlightened intention that all world-systems and their sentient contents and dissonant mental states are inherently empty, abiding in the great sameness of primordial buddhahood (vv.3-4). Their non-dual Supreme Embodiment (bdag nyid chen po), who is Samantabhadra and consort in union (kun bzang yab yum), then reveals the enlightened intention that the reality of buddhahood exists primordially as pristine cognition. Thus, all things are primordially beyond creation, cessation, abiding, objective reference and motion, and the awareness which realises this is identified with pristine cognition or buddha-mind (vv.5-11).

The consequent arousal of compassionate spirituality through which this threefold enlightened intention of Samantabhadra is relatively expressed is then directed in four phases which parallel the four noble truths: for the focus of this spirituality is sentient beings’ lack of realisation (v.12-13); the nature of their bewilderment (vv.14-15); the atemporal presence of ultimate truth beyond bondage and liberation (v.16); and the actual diffusion of compassionate energy which removes bewilderment (v.17).


The purpose of the third chapter is to explore the nature of this compassionate spirituality as it manifests in the world.


On the basis of the aforementioned diffusion of compassionate spirituality, there are six sages embodying awareness who then emerge from the indestructible body, speech and mind of the tathägatas in order to teach the six classes of living beings (v.1). In a lengthly overview, the commentator also provides a detailed explanation of this buddha-body of emanation (nirmäôakäya), according to the common and the uncommon vehicles. The former view, referring specifically to àäkyamuni Buddha, concerns his cultivation of enlightened mind, accumulation of provisions and attainment of buddhahood over many successive lives, emphasising his celebrated twelve deeds. The latter interpretation focusses on the emergence of all emanations such as the thousand buddhas and six sages of this "auspicious aeon" from Samantabhadra, the buddha-body of reality.


The emanational body, represented by these six sages, teaches by means of the following four kinds of instruction (v.2): by the great merits of the buddha-body (v.3), by supernormal cognitive powers of buddha-mind (v.4), by inconceivable miraculous abilities (v.5), and by knowledge conveyed in the five vehicles of buddha-speech, namely, the vehicle of gods and humans, the vehicle of pious attendants, the vehicle of hermit buddhas, the vehicle of bodhisattvas, and the unsurpassed vehicle of secret mantra (vv. 6-8).

The text then anaylses the nature of the living beings who are to be trained by these instructions, and the nature of the sacred teachings through which they are trained. Firstly, the nature of cyclic existence (saæsära) is ultimately established to be the pure reality itself. Although it diversely arises on the basis of fundamental ignorance, the underlying reality of buddhahood is present from the moment of its initial appearance as ignorance. The bewildering appearances of cyclic existence are a miraculous display of mind, baseless in nature, and thought itself is actually a display of pristine cognition (vv.9-14).

Secondly, the sacred teachings through which beings are trained and through which this apparent bewilderment is removed are, in the final analysis, established to be inexpressible in nature because they refer directly to the unsurpassed result beyond the exoteric teachings of the causal vehicles. Here, all the teachings are regarded as a miraculous display without inherent or independent existence; and, despite their unchanging basis, they exhibit great flexibility in content and great diversity in their teachers or expositors. In particular, this Guhyagarbha Tantra is revered as the emanational basis of all the vehicles that lead to buddhahood and as the all-embracing, universal interpretation of the sütras and tantras. Although all teachings and all things that can be known are conventionally assigned names and labels, essentially they too are without inherent existence (vv.15-20).

The chapter concludes with a synopsis which describes the bewildering appearances of cyclic existence and the buddhafields of nirväôa as natural manifestations of mind and pristine cognition respectively (vv.21-23).

 This article is the third 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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