Guyagarbha Tantra

Extant Indian Commentaries

The extant Indian commentaries on the cycle of the Magical Net, including the above, are preserved in the Peking edition of the Tengyur, vols. 82-83, and in the Collected Transmitted Precepts of the Nyingmapa (rNying ma’i bka’ ma), Vols. 60, 63-65, 80-83, and 87-89. According to Lochen Dharmaârï’s Oral Transmission of the Lord of Secrets (gSang bdag zhal lung, pp. 107 ff.), they are divided between general exegetical tracts (spyi’i don bshad pa) such as Viläsavajra’s Innermost Point (Cittabindu, P. 4723, NK Vol. 81) and Vimalamitra’s An Illuminating Lamp of the Fundamental Text (sGyu ‘phrul man ngag khog gzhung gsal ba’i sgron me, P. 4739, NK Vol. 80), and specific textual commentaries (‘grel pa). The latter include commentaries on the root tantra (rtsa ‘grel) and commentaries on the various exegetical tantras (bshad ‘grel). The first group comprises the great Indian treatises on the Guhyagarbha Tantra itself, i.e., Viläsavajra’s sPar khab Commentary (‘Grel pa spar khab, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63), Süryaprabhäsiæha’s Great Commentary (rGya cher ‘grel ba, P. 4719, NK Vol. 64), Buddhaguhya’s Analytical Commentary (rNam dbye ‘grel), Padmasambhava’s Great Exposition (rNam bshad chen mo), and Vimalamitra’s Short Commentary (‘Grel chung piôçärtha, P. 4755, NK Vol. 80). The second includes commentaries on the other texts of the cycle such as Vimalamitra’s 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), his Eye-opening Commentary on the Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net (Vajrasattvamäyäjälatantraârïguhyagarbhanämacakêuêåïkä, P. 4756), and his Abridged Commentary on the Eighty-Chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (brGyad bcu pa’i bsdus ‘grel).

In addition, each of the aforementioned "ten aspects of mantra" (mantradaâatattva), which form the subject-matter of tantra-texts in general, and in this case, of the Guhyagarbha Tantra itself, has its own commentarial literature:

1. View (lta ba)

Commentaries on the view of the Guhyagarbha include: Garab Dorje and Vajrahäsya’s Lamp of the View entitled Determination and Distinction (La shan lta ba’i sgron ma, P. 4727, NK Vol. 80), Padmasambhava’s Garland of Views: a Collection of Esoteric Instructions (Man ngag lta phreng. P. 4726, NK Vol. 88), Vimalamitra’s Opening the Eye of Discriminative Awareness (Mahäyogaprajñä-praveâacakêurupadeâanäma, P. 4725), Nägärjuna’s Turquoise Display (gYu thang ma kras dgu, P. 4729, NK Vol. 80), and Kawa Paltsek’s indigenous Tibetan treatise Seventeenfold Appearance of the Sequence of the View (lTa rim snang ba bcu bdun pa, P. 4728).

2. Conduct (spyod pa)

Lochen Dharmaârï mentions the Lamp which Subsumes Conduct (sPyod bsdus sgron ma, P. 5357?), and the Indestructible Lord Mañjuârï (rDo rje ‘jam mgon) as typical commentaries of Indian origin expounding conduct.

3. Maôçala (dkyil ‘khor) [mandala]

Focussing on the maôçala of the Guhyagarbha Tantra are Buddhaguhya’s Sequence of Indestructible Activity (Mäyäjälavajrakarmakrama, P. 4720, NK Vol. 80), the Significance of the Maôçala Doctrine (Dharmamaôçalasütra, T. 3705, NK Vol. 80), and the Threefold Treatise on Ritual Geometry (Thig gsum , P. 4738, NK Vol. 81), authorship of which is attributed jointly to Vimalamitra, Viläsavajra, and Buddhaguhya

4. Empowerment (dbang)

Those commentaries which focus on the empowerments of the Guhyagarbha Tantra include Buddhaguhya’s Sequence of Indestructible Activity concerning the Maôçala of Empowerments associated with the Wrathful Deities of the Magical Net (Krodhamäyäbhiêekhamaôçalavajrakarmävali, P. 4761, NK Vol. 80), along with his Ascertainment of the Meaning of Empowerment (Abhiêekhärthanirbheda, P. 4722, NK Vol. 80), the Necessity of the Empowerments of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (Vajrasattvamäyäjäläbhiêekävaâyaka, P.4721), and its autocommentary (Mäy-äbhiêekävaâyakamülavötti, P. 4762), as well as the aforementioned Threefold Treatise on Ritual Geometry (Thig gsum, P. 4738, NK Vol. 81).

5. Commitment (dam tshig)

The principle commentaries focussing on commitments are both composed by Viläsavajra, namely, the Clarification of Commitments (Samayacitraprakäâa, P. 4744, NK Vol. 89); and the Propensity for the Commitments (Samay-änuâayanirdeâa, P. 4745, NK Vol. 89).

6. Activity (phrin las)

Those treatises concerned with ritual activities include Vimalamitra’s Ritual for Burnt Offerings (Mäyäjälahomasaækêiptakrama, P. 4746, NK Vol. 81); along with his Garland of Cremation Rituals according to the Magical Net (Mäyäjäla-âavasaæskärakarmävali, P. 4747, NK Vol. 81), the Garland of Ritual Concerning Funerary Relics (Kulyakarmävali, P. 4749, NK Vol. 81), and Viläsavajra’s Cremation Ritual according to the Magical Net (Mäyäjälalaghudöêåänta-sväârayakrama, P. 4748, NK Vol. 81).

7. Attainment (sgrub pa)

Treatises focussing on spiritual attainment include: Indrabhüti’s 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); Buddhaguhya’s Greater Sequence of the Path (Mäyäjälapathakrama, P. 4736, NK Vol. 83), the Lesser Sequence of the Path (sGyu ‘phrul lam gyi rnam bshad chung ba, NK Vol. 81, Dz. Vol. 1); the Lesser Net (Sükêmajäla, P. 4734), and the Holy Ornament of the Appearance of the Real (Tattvälokaparamälaækära, P. 4735, NK Vol. 82); Viläsavajra’s Sixfold Sequence (Kramaêaåka, P. 4741, NK Vol. 81); and Vimalamitra’s Three Stages (Mäyäjälopadeâa-kramatraya, P. 4742, NK Vol. 81), along with his Sequence of the Radiance of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (Vajrasattvamäyäjälaprabhäkrama, P. 4731), and the Manifest Perfection of the Precious Net (Ratnajäläbhisampatti, P. 4733).

8. Meditative stability (ting nge ‘dzin)

Treatises focussing on meditative stability include Vimalamitra’s Meditative Absorption in the Mudräs (Mäyäjälamudrädhyäna, P. 4732, NK Vol. 82), along with his Single Seal of the Wrathful Deities (Khro bo phyag rgya gcig pa, P. 4779), and the Meditative Absorption in the Four Seals (Caturmudrädhyäna/rTse gcig bsdus pa phyag rgya bzhi pa’i bsam gtan, P. 4778, NK Vol. 82).

9. Offering (mchod pa)

Treatises on the subject of offerings include Padmasambhava’s Advice concerning Torma-offerings (Odanasambhärabalyädeâa/ Za tshogs, P. 4750), as well as his Cremation Rite (Dur khrod), the Small Torma-offering of Bliss (bDe ba gtor chung), the Greater Burnt Offering (Ho chen), the Lesser Burnt Offering (Ho chung), and the Greater and Lesser Ritual Offerings of Consecrated Grain (gYos yig che chung). Also included in this section are Vimalamitra’s Inestimable Supreme Skilful Means (Thabs mchog dpag gi mi lang ba), and his Treasure Lamp (dByig gi sgron ma).

10. Mantra & Seal (sngags dang phyag rgya)

The treatises concerning mantra recitation and the hand-gestures that seal the visualisation securely are referred to by Lochen Dharmaârï under the collective heading Eight Arisings of Enlightened Activity (Phrin las shar ba brgyad), which implies that they concern the generation of the peaceful and wrathful deities (zhi khro gnyis), the making of assembled offerings (tshogs ma bu gnyis), the conferral of empowerments and their integration (dbang bsre ba gnyis), and the application of cremation rites and burnt offerings (ro sreg dang sbyin sreg gnyis).


Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, in his Catalogue to the Collected Tantras of the Nyingmapa, p. 464, 1-3, states that the Guhyagarbha Tantra was definitively translated by Vimalamitra, Nyak Jñänakumära and Ma Rinchen Chok. Previously, it had been translated by Buddhaguhya and Vairocana, and in an intervening period by Padmasambhava and Nyak Jñänakumära. The sequence of these events can be outlined as follows:

At Mount Kailash, Buddhaguhya instructed Be Jampal and Branka Mukti among others on texts belonging to the Guhyagarbha cycle, including Indrabhüti’s Array of the Path of the Magical Net (sGyu ’phrul rnam par bkod pa, P. 4737, NK Vol. 81). In collaboration with Vairocana, he made the earliest translation of the root-tantra.

Padmasambhava instructed Nyak Jñänakumära in the Guhyagrabha and in his own Garland of Views: A Collection of Esoteric Instructions (Man ngag lta phreng, P. 4726, NK Vol. 88). Together they made the intermediate translation. Jñänakumära instructed the Sogdian Pelgyi Yeshe; and, with Zhang Gyelwei Yonten, he in turn instructed Nub Sangye Yeshe.

Vimalamitra then expounded the Eight Sections of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (sGyu ‘phrul sde brgyad, Tingkye Vols. 14-15), including the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which is the root of the Eighteen Great Tantrapiåaka. He expounded them to Ma Rinchen Chok, and translated them with the latter’s assistance, and that of Nyak Jñänakumära. Their version is therefore the latest of the three, and it is known as the basic translation.

Later, the manuscript was translated by Tharlo Nyima Gyeltshan and Go Lotsäwa Zhonupel. Their version is called the "creative translation" (rtsal ‘gyur) because they had no supervising paôçita. Two additional chapters, either a twenty-first and twenty-second, or a twenty-third and twenty-fourth, were also reputedly translated by Tharlo in accordance with the rediscovered Sanskrit manuscript.

Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1363), having examined the extant Tibetan versions of the Guhyagrabha Tantra in great detail, has made the following observation in his Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel) concerning certain verses which are reputed to be interpolations:

Now, certain persons hold that these interpolated passages were [originally] absent in this root-tantra but that they were extracted from other texts in the cycle of the Magical Net and inserted into their respective chapters by Ma Rinchen Chok, and that [the versions of the text] were [subsequently] divided by Tsugrum Rinchen Zhonnu into those which have the interpolations and those which do not.

Again, there are some who hold that the version without the interpolated verses was translated by Nyak Jñänakumära, and that the version including interpolations had them inserted into the translation by Ma Rinchen Chok. There are even some who say that Ma himself embedded them in the text out of envy at Lasum Gyelwa Jangchub. But the truth of the matter is that the interpolations are lacking in both the earliest translation made by Buddhaguhya and Vairocana and in the intermediate translation which was made by Padmasambhava and Nyak Jñänakumära. They are present in the later translation which was made by Vimalamitra, Nyak Jñänakumära and Ma Rinchen Chok. Therefore it is clear that the Sanskrit manuscripts themselves had a number of redactions. Should anyone wish to know that this is the case, the Transcendental Perfection of Discriminative Awareness in Eight Thousand Lines (T. 8) itself had a number of manuscripts, extant in the three redactions of the parivräjikas gZo-sbyangs, ‘Phreng-ba-can, and sDe-can; and in the case of certain other texts such as the Sitätapaträ (T. 3083, 592) a number of redactions are similarly found. Therefore it is not certain that these [variant passages] were inserted by the Tibetans. One should know that the discrepancies in the translations of this tantra were to be found in the original Sanskrit manuscripts. Numerous redactions of Sanskrit manuscripts occur because there is a distinction between those [versions] in which the meaning is clearly expressed and those in which it is not.

Ma Rinchen Chok instructed Tsugru Rinchen Zhonu and Kye-re Chokyong, who both instructed Zhang Gyelwei Yonten and Dar-je Pelgyi Drakpa. The former taught this tantra many times in Central Tibet, Tsang, and Kham, and the lineages descended from him became known as "the transmitted precepts of Chimphu", or as "the lineage of esoteric instructions".


The succession known in Tibet as the "distant lineage of transmitted precepts" (ring brgyud bka’ ma) encorporates all those texts and instructions of Mahäyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga which were introduced from India and gradually passed down in an oral and literary tradition. It is contrasted with the "close lineage of treasures" (nye brgyud gter ma) that comprises those cycles discovered anew in each successive generation. This "distant lineage" is identified pre-eminently by its synthesis of Mahäyoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga, named mdo sgyu sems gsum after the titles of the principal text of each— the Magical Net (sgyu), the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mdo) and the All Accomplishing King (sems) which represents the Mental Class (sems sde) of Atiyoga. This common heritage of all the Nyingmapa lineages in Tibet fell first to Nyak Jñänakumära, secondly to Nub Sangye Yeshe and finally to the Zur family.


Nyak Jñänakumära was fully ordained by àäntarakêita and he became a celebrated adept of the meditational deities Vajrämöta and Vajrakïla. He followed the most learned and accomplished masters of India, and acquired great learning in grammar, logic, dialectics, and in the outer and inner mantra-texts. Nyak translated many sütras and tantras, becoming the confluence of the "four great rivers of the distant lineage" which derived from the teachings of Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, Vairocana and Yudra Nyingpo. In particular, he mastered the mdo sgyu sems gsum, and composed the Nine Cycles of the Emanational Mirror (‘Phrul gyi me long dgu skor, NK Vol 82), Through his interpretations and expositions, he transmitted the Magical Net to numerous students. The foremost were known as the "eight glorious adepts of Vajrakïla", namely, his four earlier disciples —- the Sogdian Pelgyi Yeshe, Odren Pelgyi Zhonu, Nyenchen Pelyang, and Thagzang Pelgyi Dorje —- and his four later disciples —- Lamchok Pelgyi Dorje, Dar-je Pelgyi Drakpa, Dra Pelgyi Nyingpo, and Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje.


Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, a native of Drak, was empowered and accomplished in the maôçala of Mañjuârï. He studied many outer and inner tantras including the Guhyagarbha and their esoteric instructions under Padmasambhava, àrïsiæha, Vimalamitra, Vasudhara and Kamalaâïla, as well as under the Tibetan translator Nyak Jñänakumära, Sogpo Pelgyi Yeshe and Zhang Gyelwei Yonten in particular. His compositions include:

– the Armour against Darkness, which is a vast commentary on the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo’i ‘grel chen mun pa’i go cha, NK Vols. 93-94)
– the Disputant’s Sword Which Cuts Through Difficulties (dka’ gcod smra ba’i mtshon cha)
– the Commentary on the Realisation of the Eighty-Chapter Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul brgyad cu pa’i mngon rtogs ‘grel)
– the Lamp for the Eye of Meditative Stability— which is an esoteric instruction of the Great Perfection (rDzogs chen gyi man ngag bsam gtan mig sgron, NK Vol. 104).

Nubchen’s most authentic student was Khulung Yonten Gyatso, who received all his empowerments, tantras, and esoteric instructions, and passed the lineage on through: Yeshe Gyatso and Pema Wangyal (his sons), Lharje Hüæchung (the former’s son), Nyang Sherab Chok, and Nyang Yeshe Jungne of Cholung, from whom it descended to Zurpoche àäkya Jungne.

This lineal descent is known as the tradition of Rong, or else the tradition of Nyang, after their clan name. Before considering the importance of the Zur family which maintained this "distant lineage" down to the seventeenth century it is appropriate to examine the role of Rongzom Paôçita, who was a contemporary of Zurpoche àäkya Jungne, and that of Longchen Rabjampa in relation to the Guhyagarbha Tantra.


Chokyi Zangpo of Rong, the illustrious eleventh century mahäpaôçita of the Nyingma school, was a native of Narlungrong, Rulak, in lower Tsang. He received the lineage of the instructions of Padmasambhava, which had been transmitted successively from the latter through: Nanam Dorje Dudjom, Kharchen Pelgyi Wangchuk, Dra Dorje Zhonu, Zhangzhang Yonten Drak, and Rongben Yonten, to his own father Rongben Tshultim Rinpoche.

In his youth, while studying the ancient translations under one Doton Senge, he once dreamed that he was eating a porridge he had prepared of the Guhyagarbha, with a vegetable broth made of the Buddhasamäyoga. He told this to his mentor, who said, "How wonderful! It is a sign that you have completely internalised those doctrines. You should compose a commentary on each." Among his compositions therefore was the first major Tibetan commentary on the Guhyagarbha (gSang snying ‘grel pa)— the Precious Jewel Commentary (dKon mchog ‘grel, NK Vol. 67), so called because of its introductory words which say:

The nature of the Three Precious Jewels 
is enlightened mind.

This commentary and Longchenpa’s Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel, NK Vol. 68) are regarded as the two major expositions of the tantra according to the Atiyoga standpoint, in contrast to those of the "distant lineage" which emphasise the Mahäyoga position. Dudjom Rinpoche says of these:

The commentary by the great, all-knowing Longchenpa, entitled Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel) clearly elucidates [the Guhyagarbha], commenting on it according to the tradition of the "king of vehicles" [i.e. Atiyoga]. On the other hand, this commentary by the all-knowing Rongzompa appears like a great chest that is sealed tight, vastly commenting on the expanse of reality. Knowing that these two are the main Tibetan commentaries on the Guhyagarbha provides the intellect with the potential for great power.

Rongzompa’s role as the first major Tibetan commentator was criticised by scholars from the four Tibetan provinces, including the noted opponent of the Nyingma tantras Go Khugpa Lhe-tse, but he is reported to have subdued these critics in debate. One could argue that Rongzompa merely revived the commentarial tradition established in Tibet by Kawa Paltsek, Nyen Pelyang, and Nubchen Sangye Yeshe prior to the later dissemination of the teaching. Yet, despite the novelty of indigenous composition in the eleventh century, his critics in fact found that he adhered to the scriptural authorities, could bear logical examination, and that he contradicted neither syllogistic proof nor the teachings of their mentors. Concerning this controversy, Dudjom Rinpoche adds:

This reasoned argument appears to be a learned axiom, when scrutinised fairly. In general, a doctrine is no more important merely because it originated in India. A distinction of good and bad treatises on the basis of country is not known in learned circles. If the author was one who abided on the level of spiritual accomplishment, the treatises composed by him should be valid. So, it is proven that whether they originated in India or Tibet makes no difference. Sometimes, too, Tibetan treatises are better than Indian treatises. One should regard as reliable those composed by accomplished Tibetans, whose pristine cognition was manifest, rather than those written by ordinary Indian scholars, who based themselves on learning in grammar and logic.


Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1363), a native of Nganlam in Dranang, is renowned without doubt as the greatest philosopher within the Nyingmapa tradition. He studied the mdo sgyu sems gsum and the Collected Tantras of the Nyingmapa under four teachers, including Den Phakpa, Zhonu Dondub, and Nyotingmawa Sangye Drakpa. His biography is presented in some detail by Dudjom Rinpoche in The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Among his many compositions which firmly established the terminology of the Great Perfection system, there is an interpretation of the Guhyagarbha Tantra from the Atiyoga perspective, entitled the Trilogy Which Dispels Darkness (Mun sel skor gsum). This work comprises the abridgement Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance (bsDus don ma rig mun pa sel ba, NK Vol. 69), which in fourteen folios provides an analysis of the chapter-divisions of the Guhyagarbha, the summary Dispelling Mental Darkness (sPyi don yid kyi mun pa sel ba, NK Vol. 69), which in eighty-nine folios analyses the scope and structure of the Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings, and the interlinear commentary Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (gZhung don phyogs bcu’i mun pa sel ba, NK Vol. 68), which in three hundred and thirteen folios provides both general introductory explanations of each section of the Guhyagarbha and a detailed interlinear commentary of its "vajra-verses” (rdo rje’i tshig, Skt. vajrapäda). The translation of the Guhyagarbha contained in the present volume is based on and accompanied by a full translation of this interlinear commentary.


Zurpoche àäkya Junge, a native of Yardzong or Sarmo in Dokham, received the three stages of monastic ordination from Lachen Gongpa Rabsel, and under his grandfather, Rinchen Gyatso, he studied the sütra and tantra-texts, including the cycle of the Magical Net (Tingkye Vols. 14-16). Later, he received instruction on the Magical Net and the Mental Class (sems sde) from Nyang Yeshe Jungne of Cholung, on the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dgongs pa ‘dus pa), the sPar khab Commentary (‘grel pa spar khab) and the Great Perfection from Namkade; and on the Sequence of the Path of the Magical Net (Mäyäjälapathakrama, P. 4736) from Dre Trochung of upper Nyang. Zurpoche is known to have amassed at his Ugpalung monastery the root tantras and exegetical tantras; the root-texts and their commentaries; the tantras and their means for attainment; and he applied them in practice.

Foremost among his disciples were the four "summits":

– Zurchung Sherab Drak, who had arrived at the summit of the view, and enlightened intention
– Menyak Khyungdrak, who had arrived at the summit of the exegesis of the Guhyagarbha
– Zhang Gochung, who had arrived at the summit of vast knowledge
– Zanggom Sherab Gyelpo, who had arrived at the summit of meditative practice

Zurpoche inhabited Ugpalung in the lower Shang valley for many years, and he constructed a temple in that place, where he had visions of the Forty-two Peaceful Deities and of the Fifty-eight Wrathful Deities, according to the Guhyagarbha. As he himself said:

“I perceive all the earth, stones, mountains and rocks of Ugpalung to be the host of peaceful and wrathful deities. But in particular, I always see this southern peak of Ensermo as the Buddhas of the Five Enlightened Families. Therefore, I shall build a temple of the peaceful deities."

Since in the past, the accomplished masters were completely mindful of preserving secrecy, Zurpoche said that it was improper to make images according to the secret means for attainment in places where many people would congregate, and commissioned images according to the tradition of the tantras. The frescoes painted to the right were of the peaceful deities of the Magical Net, and those on the left were of the blazing wrathful deities.

His main student and nephew, Zurchungpa Sherab Drak (1014-1074) mastered and widely propagated the "distant lineage", including the Guhyagarbha Tantra. Foremost among his students were the "four pillars": Kyoton àäk-ye of Gungbu who was the pillar of the Mental Class; Yangkheng Lama of Kyonglung who was the pillar of the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dgongs pa ‘dus pa); Len àäkya Zangpo of Chubar who was the pillar of the Magical Net; and Datik Joâäk of Nagmore who was the pillar of ritual and means for attainment.

However, it was Zurchungpa’s actual son, Zur Drophukpa àäkya Senge (b. 1074) who widely disseminated the Guhyagarbha Tantra in Tibet. He began his study of this text in his fifteenth year under Lan àäkya Zangpo of Chubar, and received the entire exegetical tradition of the Zur family from the other three main students of Zurchungpa, who all were invited to his residence. His spiritual accomplishment in the Guhyagarbha is illustrated by the following incident:

Once, when he was teaching the sacred doctrine in Drophuk, he sat on a backless teaching-throne, and students surrounded him on all sides. He appeared to be facing his audience in all directions. Therefore, they were convinced that he was actually the representative of the lord of the maôçala of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (Tingkye Vols. 14-16) and he became renowned as an undisputed emanation.

Despite the recent criticisms of Lha Lama Yeshe-o and Go Khugpa Lhe-tse, Drophukpa could reportedly gather five hundred literate students during the summer and winter and three hundred during the autumn and spring. Owing to his mastery of this tantra, the two mainstream lineages diverged from him, i.e., the Zur lineage of Central Tibet and the Kham lineage of Eastern Tibet.


In Central Tibet, Zur Drophukpa’s principle disciples were known as the four "black ones"; the four "teachers"; and the four "grandfathers". The four "black ones" (nag po, so-called because their names all contained the element nag, "black") included Cheton Gyanak of Upper Nyang, the main lineage-holder of the Central or "Upper Zur Tradition".


Gyanak studied under Drophukpa from the age of thirty for eleven years, and owing to his intellectual abilities and devotion, Drophugpa bestowed upon him the fundamental texts and practical instructions for Mahäyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. For this reason, he became the most complete lineage-holder of the Zurs. His many students included Upa Tonâäk, Upa Zhigpo, and his own nephew, Yonten Zung (b. 1126) who studied the three classes of inner tantra under him for thirteen years. The lineage therefore descended from Yonten Zung and Upa Zhigpo through Zhigpo Dudtsi to Taton Jo-ye (compiler of the former’s teachings), and Taton Ziji (compiler of the biographies of this lineage).

Taton Ziji composed his own extensive commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which is no longer extant, and he acted as an important intermediary between the Kashmiri master àäkyaârï who rediscovered the long lost Sanskrit manuscript of the Guhyagarbha at Samye and those scholars who prepared the later "creative translation".


Menlungpa Mikyo Dorje was born during the latter part of the 13th century in Chongye, as the son of Nyangton Chenpo. As such he was a contemporary of Zhigpo Dudtsi, and the seniormost disciple of the great treasure-finder Guru Chowang (1212-70). He is known to have constructed the temple above the tumulus of King Songtsen Gampo, one chapel of which can still be seen at Chongye. Among his compositions is the Commentary on the Secret Nucleus entitled Ascertainment of the Tantra’s Meaning (gSang snying ‘grel rgyud don rnam nges, NK. Vol. 71). With the exception of Rongzompa’s Precious Jewel Commentary (dKon mchog ‘grel, NK Vol. 67), this text appears to be the oldest extant long commentary on the Guhyagarbha of indigenous Tibetan composition. Along with it, Menlungpa composed the Synopsis of the Guhyagarbha entitled Infinite Light Rays (gSang snying bsdud don ‘od zer mtha’ yas, NK Vol. 71) and a short introductory tract (gSang sying spyi don, NK Vol 71).


Yungtonpa Dorjepel, in his own Commentary on the Guhyagarbha (NK Vol. 70), offers an alternative lineage of transmission dervied from Zur Drophukpa, based on the exegesis of the sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbha-mahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63), which he outlines as follows: Drophukpa, Yington of Tsang and Nyeton Chokyi Senge of Gongdring, Tsangnak Obar, Meton Gonpo, Lama Srong, Pakshi àäkya-o, Tanak Dudul, and Da’ àäkya ‘Phel, who in turn taught Zur Jampa Senge.

Zur Jampa Senge was the son of Zur Nyima Senge and great grandson of Pakshi àäkya-o. In his fifteenth year, at Ugpalung, he studied the Guhyagarbha Tantra under Da àäkyapel, and then, in his seventeenth year, he composed a Definitive Presentation of the Tantras (rGyud kyi rnam bzhag). He subsequently received the Sequence of the Path of the Magical Net (Mäyäjälapathakrama, P. 4736, NK Vol. 83) and teachings on the Great Perfection from Cheton Drubpabum, the empowerments of beneficence, ability, and profundity according to the Zur tradition of the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul zur lugs kyi phan nus zab gsum gyi dbang, NK Vol 13) from Taton Ziji of Lato, and many other teachings. Jampa Senge himself had numerous disciples, including sixteen who had mastered the Sequence of the Path of the Magical Net, the Guhyagarbha Tantra and its sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63). Foremost among them were Yungton Dorjepel, the senior disciple of his early years, and Tanak Drolmawa Samdrub Dorje, the foremost disciple of his later years.


Yungtonpa of the Len clan (1284-1365) was learned in dialectics, Abhidharma, and the mantra-traditions, ancient and new. He became the principal student of Karmapa III Rangjung Dorje. From Zur Jampa Senge, however, he obtained the mdo sgyu sems gsum, representative of the "distant lineage", and he composed the Illuminating Mirror (dPal gsang ba’i snying po’i rgyud don gsal byed me long, NK Vol. 70), a commentary on the Guhyagarbha which later came to surpass most other exegetical traditions in its popularity. His approach has been described as classificatory and he rearranged the fifth chapter, which became a focal point of study for later masters such as Zur Choying Rangdrol. Later commentators such as Namka Rinchen, Lochen Dharmaârï, Katok Getse Paôçita and Gyurme Pen-de Ozer were frequently influenced by his interpretations.


Samdrub Dorje from Tanak Nesar (1295-1376) studied extensively under Zur Jampa Senge. He became learned in the Magical Net and at Ugpalung he composed the Framework of the Guhyagarbha Tantra (Khog dbub, NK Vol. 70). He also received its empowerment from Len Nyatshalpa Sonam Gonpo. Among his students were Zurham àäkya Jungne of Yangen, from whom issued the so-called "Zur lineage" (zur brgyud) and his own son, Sangye Rinchen, from whom issued the "son’s lineage" (sras brgyud).


Zurham was the son of the aforementioned Zur Zangpopel, who commissioned woodblocks for the Collected Tantras of the Nyingmapa. In his fifth year he is reputed to have delivered an astonishing public exegesis of the Guhyagarbha. Under Sabzang Mati Paôchen, Yungtonpa, and Jamyang Samdrub Dorje he made a general study of dialectics, sütras, tantras and esoteric instructions, including the Sequence of the Path of the Magical Net (Mäyäjälapathakrama, P. 4736), the Guhyagarbha itself, and its sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63). He extensively propagated the mdo sgyu sems gsum traditions to his students, including Sangye Rinchen and Nyelpa Delegpa.


Sangye Rinchen (1350-1431), the son of Drolmawa Samdrub Dorje, mastered the doctrinal cycles of the Magical Net including the Guhyagarbha under his own father and Zurham àäkya Jungne. At the age of fourteen, he was able to confer empowerment on others. He then composed a Great Commentary on the Guhyagarbha (gSang snying ‘grel chen), and a Detailed Exposition of the Array of the Path of the Magical Net (Lam rnam bkod la rnam bzhag) when he was about forty. His other compositions include an Extensive Descriptive Basis for the Rites of the Wrathful Deities (Khro bo la mngon par rtogs pa rgyas pa) and a Detailed Ceremony for the Rite of the Tie to the Higher Realms (gNas lung la ‘ang cho ga rgyas pa).

In his seventieth year he accepted Go Lotsäwa Zhonupel, the author of the Blue Annals (Deb ther sngon po) as a disciple and granted him the empowerment of the peaceful and wrathful deities according to the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul zhi khro’i dbang, NK Vol. 13); the longevity-empowerment of the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul gyi tshe dbang. NK Vol. 13); an exegesis of the Guhyagarbha and its commentaries; and an extensive exegesis of the Array of the Path of the Magical Net (sGyu ’phrul rnam par bkod pa, P. 4737, NK Vol. 81) according to his own commentary. He also bestowed on him the transmissions of the Illuminating Lamp of the Fundamental Text (Khog gzhung gsal sgron, P. 4739, NK Vol. 80), the Forty-Chapter Tantra from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul bzhi bcu pa, Tingkye Vol.14), the Eighty-Chapter Tantra from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul brgyad bcu pa, T. 834) and the Tantra of the Supreme Spiritual Teacher from the Magical Net (sGyu ‘phrul bla ma, T. 837).


Namka Rinchen, an upholder of the mantra vows, was a student and lineage-holder of Tanak Drolmawa Samdrub Dorje. He is known to have composed one of the most extensive and detailed commentaries on the Guhyagarbha, which is still extant. The text, entitled Wish-fulfilling Gem: A Clarifying Lamp Commentary on the Tantra of the Secret Nucleus (gSang snying rgyud ‘grel gsal byed sgron ma yid bzhin nor bu, NK Vols. 72-73), was written down at Jemasenge, a hermitage belonging to his teacher. There is some speculation that Namka Rinchen might be an alternative name for Sangye Rinchen Gyeltsen Pelzangpo, who, as stated above, is known to have composed an extentive commentary on the Guhyagarbha.


Go Zhonupel (1392-1481) was a student of Karmapa V Dezhinshekpa, Ngog Jangchubpel, and the great paôçita Vanaratna. He corrected and retranslated the Litany of the Names of Mañjuârï (Mañjuârïnämasaægïti, T. 360), the Guhyagarbha Tantra, and other texts. He received the "distant lineage" from Drolchen Sangye Rinchen, and so became a master and lineage-holder of the Nyingma school. He himself said:

"I acquired exceptional devotion towards the tradition renowned as the Nyingmapa school of secret mantra. So, I was never polluted by the defilement of rejecting [true] doctrine."

His main students were Karmapa VII, Chodrak Gyatso and Zhamarpa 1V Chokyi Drakpa (1453-1525), the latter being the principal lineage-holder, and teacher of Drigung Rinchen Phuntsok.


Rinchen Phuntsok from Drigung Kunyergang mastered the transmitted precepts (bka’ ma), exemplified by the mdo rgyud sems gsum; and the treasures (gter ma) associated with the Eight Transmitted Precepts (bKa’ brgyad); the Four part Innermost Spirituality (sNying thig ya bzhi); and the Earlier and Later Treasure-troves (gTer kha gong ‘og). It is said that, in accord with the tradition of the Ngari Paôchen Pema Wangyal, his custom was to disclose the central points by means of the transmitted precepts, and to adorn them with the esoteric instructions of the treasures. From him, the lineage descended through: Rangdrol Nyinda Sangye and Tshewang Norgye, a master of the Khon family, to Khonton Paljor Lhundrub (the former’s son).


Paljor Lhundrub (1561-1637) studied the Guhyagarbha Tantra, its commentary composed by Yungtonpa (NK Vol. 70), and the other commentaries of the Magical Net cycle, such as Longchen Rabjampa’s Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel, NK Vol. 68) under his father, and in consequence of his learning in this cycle, he was regarded as an emanation of Drophukpa. He instructed Orgyan Tendzin, the doctrine-master of Drakna and Zur Choying Rangdrol. The former composed a memorandum of the first five chapters of the Guhyagarbha according to Yungtonpa’s Commentary. Late in life, Paljor Lhundrub instructed the Great Fifth Dalai Lama at his retreat in Phawangkha.


Zur Choying Rangdrol (1604-1669) was the son of Zurchen Zhonu Dondrub and a direct descendant of the Zur lineage. From Paljor Lhundrub he received in particular two daily sessions of instruction which combined the Guhyagarbha Tantra, with its Indian sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718), and the Tibetan commentary by Yungtonpa (Bod ‘grel gYung åïk, NK Vol. 70). He composed a memorandum of the teaching he had received on the first five chapters. In 1622 he studied Longchen Rabjampa’s commentary on the Guhyagarbha— Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel. NK. Vol. 68). Then, in 1624, Choying Rangdrol expounded the Guhyagarbha to Dordrak Rigdzin III Ngagi Wangpo and others at the seminary of Tsethang, where he definitively established its exegesis, and, to Takla Padmamati of Katok, he taught the aforementioned commentary by Longchen Rabjampa. Padmamati, in turn, offered this exegetical transmission to Lhodrak Sungtrul Tsultrim Dorje (1598-1669), ensuring its future continuity. Late in life, Choying Rangdrol lived in Gungthang, where he instructed Sangdak Trinle Lhundrub in the Guhyagarbha.


The Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (1617-82), was born into the nobility of Chongye Taktse, and as the victor in Tibet’s civil war, he became the first of the Dalai Lamas to hold combined spiritual and temporal authority, from 1641 onwards. Among his many actions in support of the Nyingma tradition, the Great Fifth acted as an important lineage-holder of the Guhyagarbha transmission. He received these teachings from Khonton Paljor Lhundrub, Zur Choying Rangdrol, and Khatsangpa, and he sponsored the xylographs for the Ganden Phuntsholing edition of both the Guhyagarbha Tantra and the commentary Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel, NK. Vol. 68). This edition includes Tharpa Lotsäwa’s colophon to the root tantra, along with an account of how the various lineages associated with it actually descended to the Fifth Dalai Lama (a.k.a. Zahor Bante) in person. He is known to have instructed Sangdak Trinle Lhundrub in accordance with the sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63), and Yungtonpa’s Commentary (gYung åïk, NK Vol. 70).

Since then, the lineage of this Central Tibetan exegetical tradition of the Guhyagarbha Tantra has continued without interruption, owing to Sangdak Trinle Lhundrub’s senior student Lochen Chogyal Tendzin and his two illustrious sons, Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa (1646-1714) and Lochen Dharmaârï (1654-1717), from whom many ancillary lineages extended throughout Southern and Eastern Tibet.


Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa (1646-1713) from Dargye Choling in Upper Dranang, was the son of Sangdak Trinle Lhundrub. His studies covered all extant transmissions of the Ancient Translation School, including the cycle of the Magical Net. In his thirteenth year, he memorised the Guhyagarbha Tantra and received its oral exegeses from his father. Later, he mastered the scriptures of the Nub tradition, the Zur tradition and of Rongzom Paôçita; Chomden Rigpei Raldri’s Definitive Order of the Tantrapiåaka (bCom ldan ral gri’i spyi rnam); and other texts. In particular, he is said to have obtained unimpeded powers of intellectual analysis by diligently investigating the scriptures of Longchen Rabjampa.

Terdak Lingpa restored the "distant lineage of transmitted precepts", exemplified by the mdo sgyu sems gsum, at Mindroling Monastery, which he himself founded in 1659 in the adjacent Drachi valley. It is due to his efforts and to those of his successors that the "distant lineage" continued as a living tradition through the turbulent events of the 17th and 18th centuries into modern times. As far as the Guhyagarbha Tantra is concerned, he composed influential means for attainment (sädhana) which are still extant: the Downpour of Pristine Cognition (sGrub thabs ye shes char ‘bebs, NK Vol 13), the Granting of Supreme Immortality (sGrub thabs ‘chi med mchog ster, NK Vol 13), the Means for Attainment Subsuming the Maôçala of the Herukas: A Downpour of Supreme Bliss (He ru ka’i dkyil ‘khor bsdus pa’i sgrub thabs bde chen char ‘bebs, NK Vol. 14), and the Maôçala Rite of the Wrathful Deities entitled Garland of Indestructible Reality (Khro bo’i dkyil chog rdo rje ‘phreng ba, NK. Vol. 14).

He transmitted the Collected Tantras (rGyud ‘bum) to the Fifth Dalai Lama and the regent of Tibet Sangye Gyatso, as well as to Rigdzin IV Pema Trinle of Dorje Drak, Dzogchen Pema Rigdzin II Gyurme Thegchok Tendzin, Katok Gyel-se Sonam Detsen, and a multitude of other students from central and eastern Tibet. His closest students who maintained the familial line of transmission at Mindroling were his younger brother the venerable monk Lochen Dharmaârï, his sons Pema Gyurme Gyatso, Zhabdrung Yidzhin Legdrub, Rinchen Namgyel; and his daughter, Jetsun Mingyur Paldron. Through their combined endeavours, the Mindroling lineage has continued down to the present in the following succession: Lochen Dharmaârï (1654-1718), Trichen II Pema Gyurme Gyatso (1686-1717), Trichen III Rinchen Namgyel (1694-1760), Khenpo Orgyan Tendzin Dorje, Trichen V Trinle Namgyel, Trichen VI Pema Wangyal, Trichen VII Sangye Kunga, Dongak Tendzin Norbu, Gyurme Pen-de Ozer, and Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904-87), to Trichen XII Kunzang Wangyal (b. 1931).


Among the lineage-holders of Mindroling, the most prolific in the composition of treatises was undoubtedly Lochen Dharmaârï (1654-1718). He was fully ordained by the Fifth Dalai Lama, and given instruction by his elder brother, Terdak Lingpa, in the works of Longchenpa, Rongzompa, and those of the Zur lineage. From him too he received the entire transmission of the mdo sgyu sems gsum and their root— the Collected Tantras (rGyud ‘bum). Subsequently, he taught the Guhyagarbha Tantra to some sixty students at Mindroling, and eight times he conferred the empowerment of the peaceful and wrathful deities of the Magical Net (NK Vol. 13).

In order to perpetuate both the distant lineage of transmitted precepts and the close lineage of treasures he composed the eighteen volumes of his Collected Works (bKa’ ‘bum), including commentaries on the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dgongs pa ‘dus pa) and the Magical Net. When, in particular, he heard his brother Terdak Lingpa deliver an oral exegesis of the Guhyagarbha which combined the sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantraräjaåïkä, P. 4718, NK Vol. 63) and Yungtonpa’s Commentary (gYung åïk, NK Vol. 70), he understood the overt and hidden meanings of that tantra and composed a voluminous series of texts, collectively known as the sGyu ‘phrul skor gyi yig cha (NK Vols. 13-14, 74-76). Among them are two authoritative commentaries according to the "distant lineage"— the Oral Transmission of the Lord of Secrets (dPal gsang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa’i rgyud kyi rgyal po sgyu ‘phrul dra ba spyi don gyi sgo nas gtan la ‘babs par ‘byed pa’i legs bshad gsang bdag zhal lung, NK Vols. 74-75), which appraises the role of the Guhyagarbha Tantra within the Nyingma tradition as a whole, and the Ornament of the Intention of the Lord of Secrets (dPal gsang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa’i rgyud kyi ‘grel pa gsang bdag dgongs rgyan, NK Vol. 76), which provides definitive readings for the root-verses themselves.

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