A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (13)

Publié le 14 Mai 2021 Shug gseb pa, a.k.a. Bla ma Ri pa, gZhon nu rin chen, gZhon nu rdo rje

Klong chen pa was also a disciple of a master named Shug gseb pa.

From this master he received the Three Cycles of Dohā, the Trilogy on Mountain Retreats (Ri chos skor gsum),[1] and the Hundred Connections (rTen ’brel brgya rtsa).[2]

It is remarkable that the consultation of the index of Blue Annals reveals a Shug gseb ri pa, alternatively called gZhon nu rin chen and gZhon nu rdo rje, which would suggest the possibility of an identity of this character with one or both of the above-mentioned nos. 9 and 12, if it were not for the reasons, explained above, which make these identifications difficult. In view of the passages that refer to him, he is clearly an active master, indeed, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, one of the masters of ’Ba’ ra ba rgyal mtshan dpal bzang (1310-1391), a disciple of Dol po pa.[3]

Deb sngon (Blue Annals, p. 895) explains why Shug gseb pa was also known as gZhon nu rdo rje and gZhon nu rin chen: one was his lay name and the second his ordained name. sTon tshul

A sTon pa tshul she is found in the Deb sngon (Blue Annals, p. 707), but it is from the late twelfth century. We have found no record otherwise of this Slob dpon sTon tshul who taught Klong chen rab ’byams the “taking of the essence of mercury” (dngul chu’i bcud len) of the ṛṣi gZhung skyes and (according to the mThong ba don ldan) the “taking of the essence according to Vimalamitra”[4] (Bye ma'i bcud len). These alchemical practices (rasāyana) are supposed to enable devotees to replace ordinary food either with a very small amount of food or water, or by absorbing the substantive energy (bcud) of non-nutritive or even inedible substances (mercury-based pills, stones, air, sunlight...). The suppression of coarse food, besides its advantages for the hermits, is supposed to cause a considerable purification of the body, favourable to yogic practices and to the lengthening of life.

As for this name of sTon tshul, one might be tempted to see in it a shortened nickname for a certain sTon pa Tshul rin, master of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje[5] and of Grags pa seng ge,[6] perhaps in mTshur-pu (or ’Tshur-phu). In the life of the latter (Blue Annals, p. 524), sTon pa Tshul rin appears alongside a Dam pa seng ge who is none other than Khro phu pa or Khro phu rin po che, one of Klong chen rab ’byams’ teachers. The same elements are found in the biography of mKhas grub Dar rgyal ba (op. cit., p. 537).

What gives some substance to this very uncertain hypothesis is that a master Tshul khrims rin chen, obviously identical to Tshul rin, appears in the biography of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje, to whom he is said to have taught “many ancient and modern tantras, including Guhyasamāja according to the method of Nāgārjuna” (Blue Annals, p. 491). He appears there alongside two masters with whom we know Klong chen pa learned, namely, in addition to this Karma pa, Ku ma rā dza and gZhon nu don grub. However, cross-referencing[7] suggests that this sTon pa Tshul rin is none other than Padma las ’brel rtsal (alias Rin chen tshul rdor), who could hardly have been Klong chen rab ’byams’ master, since the latter is supposed to be his reincarnation (even if, as we shall see, it is not excluded that Padma las ’brel rtsal lived a few years after our author’s birth).

However, another hypothesis is possible, and even more likely. The name sTon tshul is found later in the biography of Klong chen rab ’byams, namely, at the time of the eight-month retreat he made after his departure from gSang phu (probably during the winter of 1332-1333). A certain rGya ma’i dge bshes sTon tshul served him during this retreat (sMyo shul chos 'byung, p. 260). While the biography indicates that Klong chen rab ’byams gave him daily teachings on the Prajñāpāramitā on this occasion, there is nothing to prevent the dge bshes from teaching him rasāyana in return, which was certainly useful during this long winter retreat. In that case, this personage, of rather secondary rank to unexpectedly follow Klong chen rab ’byams on retreat and serve him, cannot presumably have been one of the masters of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje. Rather, it must be assumed that he was of the same generation as Klong chen rab ’byams. ’Jam dbyangs pa

It is impossible to identify this master, whose name is too vague. It will be noted, however, that a certain ’Jam dbyangs Shes rab rin chen was the teacher of astrology and medicine of rGyal sras Legs ldan or Legs pa rgyal mtshan (the disciple of Padma las ’brel rtsal). In any case, Klong chen rab ’byams received from ’Jam dbyangs pa the Kālacakra and learned from him Indian astrology (skar rtsis) “with all its figures” (ri mo yongs su rdzogs pa), the Hevajra Tantra with two sections (brTag gnyis), the Vajraśekhara (rdo rje rtse mo), the Mūlatantra of Mañjuśrī, the rdo rje ’byung ba, the Tattvasaṃgraha, the Vajradhātu, the Sarvavid (Kun rig), and the Rab gnas don gsal. Sa skya pa bDag nyid bla ma dam pa, i.e. Dam pa rgyal mtshan

This very great master of the sa skya pa school, slightly younger than Klong chen rab ’byams (he was born in 1312 and apparently died in 1375), has the distinction of having been the only master common to Klong chen pa and Tsong kha pa (around 1374, shortly before his death). In view of his date of birth, it is unlikely that he could have taught Klong chen rab ’byams during the years when the latter was studying at gSang phu (he must have been barely twenty years old when our author left this monastery). In the present state of our knowledge, it would rather seem that the association of the two figures took place in the last years of the life of Klong chen rab ’byams. We leave it, however, where it is in the biographies, the order of which, as we have seen in the introduction to this chapter, is governed as much or more by the norms of a traditional structure than by the requirements of chronology.

According to sMyo shul mkhan po and other biographers of our author, he received from this master the Thugs bskyed chen mo (Mahācittotpāda) and “all the precepts of the rgyud gsum.” One remembers that in this context we are not talking about “three tantras” but about the “triple continuum” of the basis (gzhi), the path (lam), and the fruit (’bras bu), the three sections of the second part of the Sa skya pa’s great cycle of The Path with Its Fruit (Lam ’bras). It is remarkable that the address to Dam pa dam pa rgyal mtshan in the first volume of the gSung thor bu (text no. 22/136 in our table) deals precisely with the determination of the basis, the path and the fruit. This happy coincidence gives, if one may say so, a stamp of authenticity to these meager evocations of events from which we are separated by nearly seven centuries.

Padma gling pa,[8] quoted by Glag bla Chos ’grub (op. cit., p. 31) relates the study of the Sa skya pas’ Lam ’bras to Klong chen pa’s obtention of the name of sNa tshogs rang grol. The passage quoted suggests that Klong chen pa received these teachings from Dam pa rgyal mtshan in Sa skya itself. Padma gling pa’s authority on these historical matters may not be considerable, but in truth it is chronologically and geographically possible. It would then be necessary to investigate in what part of his life the author might have gone to Sa skya, a question which, combined with that of the age of dam pa rgyal mtshan, pushes us forward to a later period of his existence.

If we read him correctly, Padma gling pa seems to give the Path with its fruit (Lam ’bras) a determining influence on Klong chen rab ’byams’ thought. If this is not an invention or an exaggeration by this author, it is perhaps to be understood that the great rigor of what might be called the tantric scholasticism of the Sa skya pas may have served as a model, for example, for his presentation of the *Guhyagarbhatantra. Perhaps our author’s Trilogy that Dispels Darkness differs from earlier presentations not only by the massive introduction of elements from the sNying thig, but also by certain other innovations, the source of which would be to be found in the Sa skya pa authors. But the history of the interpretations of the *Guhyagarbhatantra among the rNying ma pa, for which we have at our disposal a truly immense mass of unexplored material, is a research which remains to be undertaken.

The next section is here.


[1] At present,  there is a whole genre of “mountain dharma” literature (ri chos). Most of these texts include: (1) a discourse on renunciation (nges ’byung); (2) practical prescriptions on how to prepare for and carry out retreats in complete solitude; (3) meditation instructions of the Mahāmudrā type, or, more often, of the Khregs chod style; (4) precepts on the main obstacles and how to overcome them, the rule of which is that spiritual attainment is the obstacle overcome. We have seen some of these, which are more or less famous nowadays: one is the work of Rig ’dzin ’Jigs med gling pa, another is by bDud ’joms ’Jigs bral ye shes rdo rje, a third by rDza sprul rin po che (Ngag dbang bstan ’dzin nor bu), and there is also, in the gter chos of Nus ldan rdo rje (alias ’Gro phan gling pa Gro lod rtsal), a small text entitled Don gsal me long, which does not bear the title of ri chos but meets exactly these formal criteria. We have only mentioned those we have studied; the list could easily be extended. In the time of Klong chen pa and in his milieu, the Ri chos skor gsum (Blue Annals, p. 690) by Yang dgon pa (1213-1258) seems to have enjoyed a certain fortune. This is certainly the one we are dealing with here.

The great treatise of Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan, Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, has absolutely nothing to do with this literary genre. We do not know why the author gave it this title, or rather, this part of its title. Apparently, the idea is more of a “Dharma mountain” than of a Dharma that is practiced in the mountain.

[2] Described in a note by Roerich in Blue Annals as a “text of magic.”

[3]  As well as Brag ’bur ba and Gru shul ba, who counted the master sa skya pa Dam pa bSod nams rgyal mtshan among his disciples, which corresponds exactly to the time and milieu that interests us. It does not seem possible to date it precisely. Much about ’Ba’ ra ba can be found in Cyrus Stearns’ book, The Buddha from Dolpo.

[4]  The word bye ma designates sand, or, more broadly, any powder (for example, powdered sugar: bye ma ka ra). But it should be remembered that there is an erroneous, but very common, spelling of the name of the Indian master Vimalamitra: Bye ma la mu tra. Just as his name is readily abbreviated as Bi ma (for example in the title of the corpus Bi ma snying thig), we assume that Bye ma is another of his diminutives. The expression bye ma’i bcud len is, indeed, very unusual. As for “taking the essence of stones,” there is at least one text to this effect in the Klong chen rab 'byams tradition: the 'Byung ba rdo'i bcud len (mKha’ ’gro snying thig, pp. 242-250 of the waṃ section).

[5]  Tshul khrims Rin chen, Blue Annals, p. 491.

[6]  Retrospectively considered the first Zhwa dmar pa or Karma pa with the red cap (1283-1349 according to 'Gos lo tsā ba or 1354 according to the tradition that he perished in his sixty twelfth year). His very interesting biography can be found in Blue Annals (pp. 523-531). One might wonder who is the Tshul blo whose name appears here and there in this biography (recall that Tshul khrims blo gros is the ordination name of Klong chen rab ’byams). There is apparently another (?) Grags pa seng ge, a disciple of g.Yag sde paṇ chen, who died in 1385 at an apparently rather advanced age (Blue Annals, p. 540). Either one may fit: these are indeed the times and settings in which Klong chen rab ’byams lived. The former is much more likely.

[7] In particular, biographies of gter ston compiled by Kong sprul and Lo rgyus rGyal ba g.Yung gis mdzad pa in the mKha’ ’gro snying thig.

[8]  This visionary master (1450-1521), active in Bhutan, is considered in the rnying ma pa tradition as a reincarnation (sprul sku) of Klong chen rab ’byams. Michael Aris devoted the first part of his book Hidden Teachings and Secret Lives (1988) to him, a development which is very rich in information, but whose author seems excessively anxious to show that Padma gling pa was an impostor and above all a forger. This project seems methodologically questionable, not to say : odd.

We do not know, so far, which text of Padma gling pa is quoted by Glag bla. No doubt his autobiography contains elements relating to his past lives; that is where we should look first. On the other hand, as far as Padma gling pa is concerned, it is impossible to distinguish, in what he says, between what comes from an oral tradition and what he drew from his dreams and visions.

Here is the passage quoted by Glag bla: “According to Pad [ma] gling [pa], ‘when he went to Sa skya to [receive] the teaching of The Path with his fruit, [a monk] named Kun dga’, famous for his erudition (mkhas) and purity of morals (btsun), called him “Self Liberated Multiplicity, who knows every [matter] he touches” | and the thought of external and internal mantras became [for him] as clear as the sky.” (Pad gling pas | Sa skyar Lam ’bras chos la phyin pa’i tshe | | Kun dga’i mtshan can mkhas btsun grags pa yis | gang la reg shes sNa tshogs rang grol btags | gsang sngags phyi nang dgongs pa mkha’ ltar gsal | zhes so |). »

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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