In many Tantras and works of highly realized masters, Guhyasamaja is described as ‘the supreme and king of all Tantras’. Thus we are extremely pleased to publish this edition of The Paths and Grounds of Guhyasamaja According to Arya Nagarjuna. Guhyasamaja is studied and practiced in all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, with the Gelugpa tradition placing particular emphasis upon it. It is an essential part of Highest Yoga Tantra, and studying it undoubtedly facilitates understanding of other Tantras of the same class.
The text presented here is selected from Yangchen Galo’s Paths and Grounds of Tantra. Yangchen Galo was a saint-scholars in 18the century Tibet who belonged to the Gulugpa tradition. The commentary is provided by Venerable Geshe Lobsang Tsephel who presented this text in Buddhist philosophy classes at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, in 1986. Mr. Tenzin Dorjee Lotsawa was his accomplished translator and subsequently devoted himself to producing the work in book form, with the assistance of Jeremy Russell. We are grateful to Geshe Lobsang Tsephel, and to the translator and editors, for their dedicated efforts to make the Guhyasamaja Tantra accessible to serious practitioners of Tibetan Buddhist Tantra.
It should be noted that Tantra is a swift but risky path to enlightenment. It is extremely profound, is codified in a special terminology, and is dependent upon the explanation, advice and personal guidance of a qualified teacher. We therefore strongly advise that only practitioners who have received the Guhyasamaja Empowerment or an empowerment into another Highest Yoga Tantra should make use of this book.
It is our sincere hope that this work will be of inestimable benefit to students of Highest Yoga Tantra and, through them, will contribute to the welfare of all sentient beings.
Paths and Grounds of Guhyasamaja according to Arya Nagarjuna is a very significant eighteenth century Tibetan treatise (with a brief contemporary commentary) which maps out the paths and the grounds of Guhyasamaja Tantra according to Arya Nagarjuna’s tradition. It is based on the incomparable masterpieces of Manjushri, Lama Tsongkhapa and his hear-like disciples. In many Buddhist Tantras and works of realized masters Guhyasamaja is referred to an ‘the supreme and king of all Tantras’. Acharya Chandrakirti’s Bright Lamp (sgron gsal) states, “This (Guhyasamaja) is the supreme subsidiary practice; a compendium of the meanings of all Tantras”. Khedrup Rinpoche in his Short Writing (Yig chung) states,”…Moreover, if one initially understands Guhyasamaja one will automatically understand other (Tantras)”. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has also stated that the Guhyasamaja provides structure to other Highest Yoga Tantras; it, therefore, makes it easier to understand other Tantras of the same class. In short this work is an indispensable guide for initiated Buddhist Tantric practitioners especially those of Guhyasamaja.
India, the Land of Aryas, gave birth to Buddhism in the sixth century BC. In subsequent centuries the great Tibetan Dharma kings and Lotsawas (translators), the eyes of our world, brought it across the mighty ranges of the Himalayas to the Snow Land of Tibet, the home of Dalai Lamas; thanks to their love and direction, selfless sacrifices and dedication to Buddhism, and also to the great Indian masters who taught the Dharma to Tibetans in India and Tibet. Interestingly, there were prophecies already made by the Buddha and other realized masters with regard to the flourishing of Buddhism in the Snow Land of Tibet. Since the seventh century. Tibet and her people have dedicated basically everything-their resources, time, energy and even their lives - to Buddhism, much as many other countries dedicated everything to materialism. Buddhism has thus deeply penetrated into the minds and blood of Tibetans, so much so that it has become their ‘unique identity’. (See Generous Wisdom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translated by Tenzin Dorjee and edited by Dexter Roberts, published by LTWA, Dharmsala, H.P., pp. 1 and 39, 1992). It has in fact overtaken even their indigenous Bon religion. It is now somewhat unthinkable that there could be a Tibetan identity without Buddhism.
The vastness and profundity of Buddhism can be understood from the rich collection of Tibetan Kangyur (Sutras) and Tengyur (Shastras) from the Indian Buddhist tradition, which runs into hundreds of voluminous scriptures, and from the subject matter of these scriptures. Over the centuries Tibetan masters have also penned thousands of works on Buddhism. Within their ‘Collected Works’ (gsung ‘bum) is a class of works known as ‘Sa Lam’ or ‘Paths and Grounds’. These works focus on the structure of paths and spiritual grounds leading to ‘Liberation’ (thar pa) and ‘Enlightenment’ (thams cad mkyen pa’I go ‘phang) for the sake of all sentient beings, and deal comprehensively with these paths and grounds.
In Buddhism there are two Vehicles: the Vehicle of Seniors (this is the translation of the term ‘Theravaddin’ which I prefer to the controversial term ‘Hinayana’ which means the Lesser Vehicle) and the Vehicle of Bodhisattvas. We find in both a complete structure of paths leading to the respective spiritual goals. However, the former vehicle presents only these five paths: the path of meditation and the path of no-more learning. But in the latter vehicle, not only are these five paths and spiritual grounds presented, they have been done so according to both the Perfection and the Tantric Vehicles. The names of the five paths are the same in both the Vehicles of Seniors and Bodhisattvas. Additionally, the Perfection Vehicle and the Tantric Vehicle present ten grounds between the path of seeing and the path of meditation. Many works have been written on these paths which provide an atlas of ‘Liberation’ (thar pa) and ‘Enlightenment’ (byang chub), much like an atlas of the world. From the collection of such works is selected here a work popularly known as Yangchen Galo’s Paths and Grounds of Tantra (Yangchen Galo’I Nagkyi Salam).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND HIS WORK
Yangchen Gawai Lodoe is often called by his abbreviated name Yangchen Galo. He was an eminent saint scholar of eighteenth century Tibet. His other name is A kya Yong zin. It seems there is no biography on hi. Belonging to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Manjushri Lama Tsongkhapa, this work on the paths and grounds of Guhyasamaja Tantra, as with his other works, is based on the incomparable masterpieces of Lama Tsongkhapa and his heart-like disciples. Lama Guru Dev, a Mongolian Buddhist monk, published Yangchen Galo’s Collected Works in two volumes of book style in 1971 in New Delhi. His work on the paths and grounds of Mantra is found in the first volume. The complete title of the work is: An Eloquent Presentation-A Port of Entry for the Fortunate Ones into the Paths and Grounds of Mantra According to the Glorious Guhyasamaja of the Arya (Nagarjuna) Tradition (dpal gsang wa ‘dus pa ‘phags lugs dang mthun pa’I sngags kyi sa lam rnam gzhag legs bshad skal bdzang ‘jug ngogs zhes bya wa bzhugs so).
Notwithstanding its brevity, this work presents lucidly the paths and grounded of Mantra according to Guhyasamja Tantra. Perhaps for this and other reasons, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was consulted to finalize a course syllabus for many young monks admitted to his Namgyal Monastery in 1979, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was consulted to finalize a course syllabus for many young monks admitted to his Namgyal Monastery in 1979, His Holiness authorized its inclusion in the sullabus. This work maps out the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra: the generation stage and the completion stage.
The author presents his work under tow major outlines: the mode of progression on the paths and the mode of establishing the ten grounds and the five paths. The former outline contrasts the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra with the two yogas of the three Lower Tantras and the path of the Perfection Vehicle. He writes conclusively that one must eventually enter the path of Highest Yoga Tantra in order to achieve enlightenment. Khedrup Rinpoche in his General Exposition of Tantras (mkhas grub rje’i rgyud sde spyi rnam) stages:’ Although one can reach the tenth ground by the paths of the Perfection (Vehicle) alone, if one is eventually to attain Buddhahood, one must follow the path of Highest Tantra; otherwise it is impossible to attain Buddhahood.’ Also, with the path of Highest Yoga Tantra, unlike the three Lower Tantras, even a new practitioner can attain enlightenment in ‘just one lifetime of this degenerate era’. Its two stages are presented under the five outlines as follows: definition, division, etymological explanation, the criteria for having completed the two stages and the mode of transference from a lower level to a higher level. In order to practice the two stages, practitioners must at first receive a complete empowerment according to a standard Tantric source from a qualified spiritual master, continually abide by the Tantric vows and commitments and then study well the two stages under his or her guidance. These two stages must be practiced in sequence according to the Tantras and their standard commentaries written by great realized masters. In other words, one cannot practice them out of the prescribed order. The Five Levels (rim lnga) states.
‘For those who abide well on the generation stage
And wish for the completion stage,
Buddha has presented these ways (the two stages)
Just like the rungs in a ladder.’
In light of this, Yangchen Galo’s work on the paths and grounds is a valuable aid to one’s meditational practice.
The second major outline explains the five paths and ten grounds according to the two vehicles: the Perfection and the Tantra. Having consulted numerous sources, our author writes that as far as the names of the grounds are concerned some sources have the same name for the grounds in Tantra as in the Perfection Vehicle but others have different names. In regard to the number of grounds, the Perfection Vehicle asserts ten to eleven grounds at the most but in Tantra the grounds are listed from eleven to even sixteen according to various sources. However, the grounds of the Perfection Vehicle and those of Tantra are correlated and the author emphatically states that the differing number of grounds between the two vehicles and also within the Tantric Vehicle is just a matter of classification. Thus, there is no contradiction. Conclusively speaking, all the grounds are included within the five paths. These paths can be likened to our modern highways with their route numbers and travelling on them is safe, enjoyable and above all enlightening. As long as practitioners keep themselves on these paths there is no chance of going astray.
THE TEACHING AND THE TRANSLATION AT THE LTWA
In 1986 Venerable Geshe Lobsang Tsephel of the Jangtse College of Gaden Monastic University taught Yangchen Galo’s Paths and Grounds of Mantra in his regular classes at LTWA. Previously, he had taught at the Namgyal Monastery for several years. At present, he is based at his Dharma center in San Diego, CA, and also teaches at other Dharma centers in the United States as a Visiting Geshe. Before giving this teaching, at the very outset he announced that if possible those who wished to attend the course should have received a Guhyasamaja Empowerment or an empowerment into any other Highest Yoga Tantra. The uninitiated were advised not to attend the course. His teaching method was simple and direct. I translated for him and also recorded his commentary for the library. My friends Jeremy Russell and his wife Philippa Russell took notes of his commentary at the time. Later, Jeremy and I translated the original work of Yangchen Galo’s Paths and Grounds of Mantra into English and aso restored Geshe la’s commentary on it from the notes and tapes of the course. We have faithfully translated the text with the minimum interpolation of words (given in parenthesis) as contextual clarifiers. We have not taken much liberty with the text while rendering it into English. This has been our uncompromising translation policy even when readability suffers occasionally. Above all, we did this in order to prevent faults of omission and commission in the main text. Preserving the originality to commentators may also give different but standard commentaries on the text and the readers are not obligated to accept just one commentarial interpretation. Readers may find it difficult to follow the translation at times because of the technical nature of the work translated herein. Nonetheless, we trust that initiated and enthusiastic readers will surely face the challenge. At out Translation Bureau we have been keeping alive the spiritual of team work that had been started by the great Indian masters and Tibetan Lotsawas (Eyes of the World) in ancient Tibet. We are convinced that this ensures a qualitative and readable translation of Buddhist literature. From 1981 to 1990 my main focus has been translating relentlessly for the regular Dharma classes for westerners at the LTWA, and from 1991 to 1993 I have also been asked to teach here and abroad.
After completing our first draft I translated Geshe la’s commentary back to him in Tibetan and then edited the manuscript in English accordingly. I also verified our translation of the fundamental text with the original work in Tibetan before leaving for my North American talks and translation tour which took up most of 1991. Returning to the Library, once again I verified our translation with the original work and edited it accordingly. Geshe la’s commentary is presented here more or less as he gave it. It throws light on a number of points and includes a major part of the Sadhana or Liturgy of Guhyasamaja from the point of view of practice.
For better understanding Jeremy and I decided to merge the fundamental text into Geshe la’s commentary. With this in order, the fundamental text is presented in indented form. As for the presentation of his teaching, mostly Ghshe la would first read a portion of text and then comment on it. Alternatively, sometimes he would give a commentary first and then sum it up by reading the relevant passage from the text. This style should be remembered while reading this book. In order to facilitate the flow of reading, generally I have avoided as much as possible using Tibetan and Sanskrit terms in my translation; I have mostly given them in parentheses at their first occurrence, juxtaposed to the English terms.
Going through Geshe la’s commentary I noticed that from a western scholarly point of view it needed a great deal of reworking. How-ever, considering the esoteric nature of this work and also fearing to recomment on his commentary I have contented myself with providing an introduction, as outline of the Tibetan text, end notes with which to clarify a number of significant points, a bibliography and a list of a few related works in English. This aside, everything else is certainly beyond my humble project. As this book is intended for advanced Tantric practitioners of Highest Yoga Tantra, particularly Guhyasamaja, I have omitted a glossary for they are expected to be familiar with most of the Dharma terms. Notwithstanding any of its failings, I hope this book proves a valuable guide and manual for the intended practitioners.
THE SUPREMACY OF GUHYASAMAJA
In many Tantras and works of realized masters, Guhyasamaja is referred to as ‘the supreme and king of all Tantras’. Without relying upon its path there is no way to attain supreme enlightenment. (See Khedrup Rinpoche’s An Ocean of Attainments of the Generation Stage (bskyed rim dngos grub rgya mtsho), p 8, in Tibetan). Conclusively speaking, the existence of Guhyasamaja is as much an essential for the survival of Tantras as Vinayapitika (the Basket of Ethics) is for the existence of Buddha’s Teaching in general. The following quotes substantiate this point. Khedrup Rinpoche states, ‘Whether or not the essence of Buddha’s Teaching exists is dependent on whether or not this (Guhyasamaja) exists, it is said,’ (Ibid). The Oral Transmission of Manjushri (jam dpal zhal lung) also states, ‘It is emphatically stated that the precious Teaching of Buddha exists at a time when this (Guhyasamaja) exists with its meaning transmitted into ears. But, if this lineage is broken everyone should know that Buddha’s Teaching has come to an end.’ (See Khedrup Rinpoche, Ibid, p 7). Acharya Chandrakirti’s Bright Lamp (sgron gsal) also states that Guhyasamaja is the pinnacle of all Tantras for it is the source of all other Tantras and the vessel of all Sutras.
HOW GUHYASAMAJA IS KING OF ALL TANTRAS
It is impossible to attain supreme enlightenment without non-dual bliss and emptiness, spontaneously arisen exalted wisdom and the two sets of four joys or bliss (of the sequential and the reverse orders). Also, in order to be enlightened in this life one must accomplish within this life the Complete Enjoyment Body adorned by major and minor marks of the ‘state of union with seven features’. Precipitated by previous karmic actions and delusions can never become the Complete Enjoyment Body. One the one hand, if one abandons this ordinary body and then achieves the Complete Enjoyment Body in the next rebirth, obviously one has not achieved it in this life. One the other hand if one achieves such a body adorned by major and minor marks in this life by changing the ordinary body then the Complete Enjoyment Body would have arisen without its ‘similar type’ cause (rigs ‘dra’i rgyu). That is impossible too. One must, therefore, understand well from what kind of similar type’ cause the Complete Enjoyment Body is accomplished, by what sort of antidotes this impure (ordinary) body is abandoned and how the Complete Enjoyment Body is accomplished and then practice the paths. Otherwise, without having even a basis for accomplishing the Complete Enjoyment Body adorned with major and minor marks, if one claims that one will become an enlightened being by actualizing the spontaneously arisen exalted Wisdom Truth Body after having familiarized oneself with a clear, blissful and non-conceptual mind, one has to accept an enlightened person in an ordinary body having just the Truth Body and lacking the Complete Enjoyment Body and the Emanation Body etc. this is absolutely impossible. With regard to how the Complete Enjoyment Body adorned with major and minor makers is accomplished by abandoning this impure (ordinary) body, one must learn about it by pleasing qualified lamas / masters and receiving their pith-instructions (in accordance with) the most extensive explanation of the illusory body in the Glorious Guhyasamaja Tantra (dpal Idan’ dus pa’i rgyud) and its clear elucidation by the pith-instructions of Arya Nagarjuna, the spiritual father, and his spiritual sons. Although other Tantras explain extensively the union of bliss and emptiness etc., the way to accomplish the exalted Wisdom Body adorned with major and minor marks in this life by way of abandoning this impure body is very hidden in them and presented inadequately. In this regard, if one definitely ascertains how the Guhyasamaja Tantra explicitly and most extensively explains the way in which the Complete Enjoyment Body is accomplished in this life (which is extremely difficult to understand from other Tantras), one will gain unshakable faith in the supremacy of Guhyasamaja over all other scriptures and see that there is no path superior to this. (See Khedrup Rinpoche, Ibid, pp 9-10).
GUHYASAMAJA PROVIDES STRUCTURE TO OTHER HIGHEST YOGA TANTRAS
Guhyasamaja is studied and practiced in all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Gelugpa tradition puts great emphasis on it just as other traditions emphasize some other Tantras such as Hevajra. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that the Guhyasamaja provides structure to other Highest Yoga Tantras and, therefore, studying and familiarizing oneself with it is essential, for it makes it easier to understand and practice other Tantras of the same class. Khedrup Rinpoche in his Short Writing (yig chung) says, “Moreover, if one initially understands Guhyasamaja one will automatically (without the need to put forth much effort) understand other (Tantras). But, if (the order) is reversed the benefits will be fewer; therefore, Guhyasamaja is taught first.” The Bright Lamp (sgron gsal) also states, “This is the supreme subsidiary practice; a compendium of the meanings of all Tantras.”
My intention in presenting this book on Guhyasamaja is two-fold: firstly, to ensure the survival of Tantric Buddhism and, secondly, for myself and the other practitioners to generate more and more intimacy with the path of Guhyasamaja leading towards enlightenment. An-other important work that Jeremy and I translated from the Tibetan into English is the Stages of Pure Yoga (rnal ‘byor dag rim) by Lama Tsongkhapa. I translated its commentary for Ven. Geshe Lobsang Tsephel when he gave it at the LTWA during the 1986-1987 session. The Stages of Pure Yoga itself in fact is a commentary of the generation stage of Guhyasamaja. His Holiness the Dalai Lama had taught it in 1985 at his Temple here in Dharamsala. LTWA is going to publish our translation for the benefits of the Guhyasamaja practitioners.
A WORD OF CAUTION ON TANTRA
Tantra is as risky a path as it is swift. No matter how profound and swift a path Tantra is, it alone will not lead one to enlightenment without the three principal paths (lam gtso rnam gsum) which are: the determined wish to be liberated (nges ‘byung), altruistic mind of enlightenment (byang rab). These are explained in the Perfection Vehicle. His Most Eminence Kyab Je Ling Dorjee Chang, the late Senior Tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has aptly remarked: “Yak butter cheese cake is delicious because of the butter. Otherwise it would be just a dry ball of cheese. Similarly, Tantra is swift and profound because of the Sutras. Otherwise, it would simply be packed with HUM HUM and PHAT PHAT.” As a matter of fact, it is not enough for a doctrine to be Highest Yoga Tantra, a practitioner must become a person of Highest Yoga Tantra. And for this it is a must to cultivate the three principal paths and the path of Highest Yoga Tantra. Manjushri Lama Tsongkapa has lucidly and insightfully captured the three principal paths in his poem of that names. Tantra cannot be studied and practiced at random and haphazardly.,
Cannot over emphasize the necessity to study and practice the three principal paths before entering Tantra.
NEED FOR A QUALIFIED MASTER
Tantra is extremely profound and is codified in a special terminology. Tantric literature does not present everything explicitly for modern readers. It can be read on many levels for which a qualified master’s elucidation is absolutely necessary. The Five Levels (rim lnga) states,
. Therefore, it is indispensable to rely upon a qualified spiritual master in order to understand and practice Tantra unmistakably. Dedicated practitioners must cultivate qualified spiritual masters, delight them and request their pith-instructions on Tantra and then practice accordingly. They should not simply feel contented reading Tantric literature on their own. Vajra master’s pith-instructions clarify many hidden points of Tantra and essentialize them for practice. However wonderful a book on Tantra may be, it cannot replace the pith-instructions and experiences of qualified masters. Nonetheless, through this venture of good heart I hope to repay a fraction of the infinite kindness of my spiritual masters and all mother sentient beings.
In conclusion, I would like to state that despite my best intentions and efforts, errors may have slipped into the translation for which I alone an responsible. For all my failings I seek forgiveness from: my incomparable spiritual masters, meditational deities, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Viras and Dakinis, Dharma protectors and protectresses. Last but not least from my Dharma friends as well. Lamenting on how, unfortunately, Tantric literature has today become a market commodity due to our materialistic attitude. I hope this book induces universal faith and understanding of Buddhist Tantra in the hearts of readers and practitioners. May my heartfelt prayers be fulfilled.
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