A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (14)

Publié le 15 Mai 2021

[To read all this series from the beginning, please click here.] Khro phu pa

In view of all the occurrences of this name “Khro phu pa” in the Deb ther sngon po, it appears that there were three main ones: (1) one active in the early 13th century (Khro phu lo tsā ba Byams pa'i dpal, the disciple of Mitrayogin, born in 1173 or 1172, disciple of Khro phu rgyal tsha, himself a disciple of Phag mo gru pa ; he founded the monastery of Khro phu, and his date of death is unknown), (2) another one, at the beginning of the following century (Khro pu rin po che dam pa seng ge, the one we are dealing with); and (3) a Khro phu bka’ bcu pa, rather contemporary of Tsong kha pa.

As for Khro phu rin po che Dam pa seng ge, he appears in the chapter on the posterity of sPa tshab Nyi ma grags in Book 6 of the Deb sngon (Blue Annals, p. 345) among the disciples of Brang ti Dar ma snying po, along with dPang lo tsā ba (master of Klong chen rab ’byams) and Bu ston, which allows us to place him in a suitable date and milieu.

He reappears later in the Deb sngon (Blue Annals, p. 773) as Phro phu (sic) rin po che Dam pa seng ge, with an aberrant element: he would have conferred minor ordination on Mun me brag kha ba Grags pa seng ge, a religious born in 1255 (to be clearly distinguished from Grags pa seng ge, the “first” Zhwa dmar Karma pa, though this one would match much better as regards chronology). Of course, even if Khro phu pa was born in 1250, it is not impossible that he was still active around 1326-1332, at the time when we suppose that Klong chen rab ’byams could have been his pupil. But we are inclined to believe that this is an error, attributable either to Roerich (in the transposition of the dates given in the Tibetan system) or to ’Gos lo tsā ba himself.

This slight difficulty would be resolved by assuming, for the “wood hare” year of Mun me brag kha ba Grags pa seng ge’s birth, rather 1315 than 1255. Taking into account the rules of the Vinaya and common Tibetan customs, this would put the date of his ordination as a śrāmaṇera at a date between approximately 1323 and 1335. Yet this is precisely the time when Klong chen rab 'byams may have been taught by Khro phu pa. This hypothesis would make it possible to avoid both the supposition of the existence of two Khro phu rin po che of the same name, almost contemporaneous, on the one hand, and that of a master conferring a monastic ordination at a very young age (which is not the custom), then giving his teaching to Klong chen rab ’byams at a time when he would have been at least 75 years old, an uncommon (if not implausible) age in the Tibet of that time, on the other.

It is also possible that Mun me brag kha ba Grags pa seng ge took the minor ordination rather late in his life. Besides, if this Grags pa seng ge could be the same one we have already come across (Zhwa dmar I), who (Blue Annals, p. 523 ff.) received Kālacakra-related teachings from our “ācārya dam pa seng ge” around 1308, perhaps in mTshur phu, his dates would be 1283-1349 (or 1354 according to another tradition), which would solve the problem. But this other Grags pa seng ge has no connection with the place called Mun me brag kha. Another passage in the Deb ther sngon po (Blue Annals, p. 537), to which we have already alluded in our reflections on the “Slob dpon sTon tshul,” however, seems to confirm this link with the monastery of mTshur phu. The birth of Grags pa seng ge in the year of the “wooden hare” would then be a mistake by Deb ther sngon po. Perhaps the two Grags pa seng ge were confused by the author of this Dharma History himself.

It may be that the Ru mtshams dam pa seng ge mentioned (Blue Annals, p. 331) in the lineage of rNgog lo tsā ba, not far from Bu ston, is our Khro phu pa. Ru mtshams would then be his birthplace and Khro phu the monastery to which he was attached. In any case, he is a monk versed in philosophy.

It is certainly still the same one who is called (Blue Annals, p. 396) Rin po che dam pa seng ge, indirect disciple of Khro phu lo tsā ba and indirect master of Bu ston in a lineage of instructions relating to Vajravārāhī. This is traced in two passages of Bu ston’s life translated by Ruegg (The Life of Bu ston Rin po che, pp. 66 and 67). It is, moreover, related to the transmission of the Kālacakra.

From this Khro phu rin po che, Klong chen pa received the Vajrāvalī [-nāmamaṇḍalasādhana] (rdo rje phreng ba) and transmissions or precepts relating to Pañjaranātha (Gur gyi mgon po). Tshong ’dus pa (sMyo shul chos ’byung) or Chos ’dus pa (mThong ba don ldan), or ’Tshogs pa rin po che (Glag bla) or Bla ma Tshang ’dus pa (Guru bKra shis)

This master gave Klong chen rab 'byams teachings, most of which are taken from the revelations (gter chos) of Guru Chos dbang (1212-1270 or 1273): bKa’ brgyad gsang rdzogs,[1] Thugs rje chen po yang snying ’dus pa,[2] rDzogs chen sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor,[3] 'Khor ba dong sprugs,[4] Bla ma gsang ’dus [5] and mGon po ma ning.[6] He also gave him the bCud len brgya rtsa,[7] the rgya mtsho du ru ka’i gtad khram[8]and[9] the bZo yig pa tra,[10] the Me chu sgyogs pa and the dPag chen bca’ thabs. We know nothing about these latter texts. A detailed examination of Guru Chos dbang’s gter chos would certainly clarify these points, at least in part (for which a well-devised edition would be required – and is most desired).[11]

From the study of Guru Chos dbang’s life, it appears[12] that he founded a temple in Tshong dus ’gur mo. However, the passage in the life of Bu ston (Ruegg, p. 77[13]) which relates his ordination places it in this locality, given as a town in the province of gTsang (in central Tibet). It is therefore certainly sMyo shul mkhan po who has the most correct spelling : Tshong ’dus pa.

It might not be impossible to identify this master if we were better informed about the spiritual successors of Guru Chos dbang, and in particular about those of them whose activity was deployed particularly around this temple of Tshong dus ’gur mo. The lack of interest of the author of Deb ther sngon po in the “Treasure Discoverers” (gter ston) means that this source, which would otherwise have been so valuable, is of almost no help to us here. On the other hand, the manual (khrid yig) of the Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor composed by Kong sprul does contain an account of the lineage of masters through whom this teaching was transmitted to him; but it is not possible to find any trace of Tshong ’dus pa there. We have not yet carefully examined the other texts relating to the gter chos of Chos dbang in the Rin chen gter mdzod [or elsewhere] to try to find him in the posterity of this master.

It would be necessary to locate this temple precisely in order to form hypotheses on the date of our author’s encounter with this Tshong ’dus pa, especially since the mass of teachings that this bla ma is supposed to have given him would suggest a stay of at least a few months, which it is perhaps not impossible to locate in Klong chen rab ’byams’ relatively brief – and very full – life.

One material point that it would be useful to clarify is that of the organization of the “academic year” at gSang phu. If, as seems to us to be the case in present-day monastic colleges,[14] students had a few months’ vacation each year, it is perfectly possible that Klong chen rab ’byams carried out both his classical studies, with the masters of this monastery, and his personal studies, for example with this Tsong ’dus pa, devoting to the latter the time that the former left free. This is the most likely scenario: otherwise, one would be reduced either to placing them unnecessarily high in the author's youth (before 1326), or in the two short years, cut off by eight months of retreat, which intervene between his departure from gSang phu (1332) and his meeting with Ku ma rā dza (1334).

Padma gling pa (quoted by Glag bla Chos ’grub, op. cit., p. 31) speaks of the lHo brag (southern Tibet).[15] He also seems to say that this Tshong ’dus pa was called ’Byung gnas rdo rje; but this does not help us much.

It should be noted that g.Yung ston rdo rje dpal (1284-1365), an important disciple of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje[16] as regards the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, was born in Tshong ’dus (Blue Annals, p. 149). It would not be implausible for Klong chen pa to have received teachings from him. However, nothing is known to date about his possible association with the Guru Chos dbang tradition. Khang dmar pa

This master is even more obscure than the previous one, and the very names of the teachings he gave in Klong chen rab ’byams are totally unknown to us. They must be magic texts: Tshe bdag pā la pa tra (certainly a text relating to Yamāntaka[17]), Tsha tsha smyon pa, Tsitta dmar po, Ma mo dug gi spu gri, Du ba rlung zhon, ’Bum pa nag po, Mu stegs lha bdun, Ser ba bsrung ’bebs, etc.

However, perhaps we could hazard a guess as to the identity of this character: as we have seen, it is very likely that Klong chen rab ’byams was associated with Grags pa seng ge (1283-1349?), who was later considered the first Zhwa dmar pa. However, for those who know the Tibetan spelling dbu med, it is clear that the difference between kha and zhwa is not very considerable; as for the nga of khang, it can easily be confused with the separating point of the syllables, which, in this writing, closely resembles the letter nga, precisely. It would still be only a tenuous conjecture if (1) Grags pa seng ge had not been versed in offensive magic rites related to Yamāntaka (Ka thun); (2) if it was not precisely a magic rite related to this deity that he recited with “Tshul blo” (Klong chen rab ’byams?) at mTshur phu in the years 1326-1327.

However, as Gene Smith pointed out to us (letter of 23/07/04), it might be unlikely that contemporaries of Grags pa seng ge gave him the title of Zhwa dmar pa, which was not yet in use. It was the second sprul sku, mKha’ spyod dbang po (1350-1405), who received a red cap (zhwa dmar) from Karma pa Rol pa’i rdo rje (1340-1383) at a date unknown to us, but probably not earlier than his full ordination, around 1367.

To which one may reply that the biography composed by Chos grags bzang po is not necessarily earlier than this date (it is later than the death of Klong chen rab 'byams in 1364 and earlier than that of Chos grags bzang po which seems to us to have occurred in the 1370s). But, even so, is it not too early for the use of the name Zhwa dmar pa” to have already spread to mKha’ spyod dbang po, and, by implication, to Grags pa seng ge, his predecessor?

It should be noted that the name “Khang dmar pa” does not appear in any of Klong chen rab ’byams’ autobiographical accounts (or texts that are regarded as such, including the mThong snang rin po che ’od kyi dra ba which we believe to be the work of a disciple of Klong chen rab ’byams and not of the latter himself). Chos grags bzang po is the first to name him, and it is from this single source that this information about “Khang dmar pa” has been taken up by posterity. This makes the hypothesis of a copyist’s error all the more plausible. This is a point that can only be clarified after close study of a major biography of Grags pa seng ge – especially if it appears (and I suspect that it may have been the case) that this master was the holder of precisely the teachings that Klong chen rab ’byams is supposed to have received from “Khang dmar pa” and, even more so, if there is a concordance with possible elements relating to “Tshul blo” in his rnam thar.

The next section of this series is here.


[1] bKa’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs, second of the great bKa’ brgyad systems of the gter ma after the bKa’ bgyad bde-gshegs bsdus pa of Nyang ral Nyi ma ’od zer. See bibliography for all references in the Rin chen gter mdzod. It is curious to note that while the various editions of the rNying ma rgyud ’bum currently available all contain a good number of Guru Chos dbang's gter ma, and while they usually include an entire volume of texts from Nyang’s bKa’ brgyad bde-gshegs bsdus pa, the bKa’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs does not seem to be represented. In this and other respects, the compilations of the rNying ma rgyud ’bum are even more mysterious than those of the Rin chen gter mdzod (which, incidentally, is better documented).

[2]  The main tantra of this cycle is found in the rNying ma rgyud’'bum, vol. Khi, pp. 205-243, Thugs rje chen po thams cad kyi yang snying ’dus pa ye shes rig pa mchog gi gsang rgyud. There is no doubt about the identification, since the colophon states: gter ston Chos dbang gis gter nas gdan drangs pa'o |.

[3]  See bibliography at: Guru Chos dbang, Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor. J.-L. Achard seems, in a note in L'Essence Perlée du Secret (p. 158) to make Chos dbang one of the “unmentionable sources” from which  Klong chen rab ’byams would have borrowed: " Klong chen pa’s famous sNyan brgyud kyi rgyab chos chen mo zab don gnad kyi me long [Zab mo yang tig, II, pp. 153-494] repeats with some insignificant variations (e.g. p. 217-218) the Yang ti sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor of Guru Chos dbang as regards this Youthful Vase Body. Further study between these two texts would certainly show many more passages proving Klong chen pa’s dependence on Guru Chos dbang in this area. It also shows that Klong chen pa knew the sections of the sPyi ti and Yang ti even though he does not mention them in his own works (...).” Certainly so – it was enough to read any of the biographies on which my presentation is based to know that Klong chen pa received Chos dbang’s Yang ti. As for the sPyi ti, it is another matter; and for the Yang ti itself, I do not really believe (I will come back to this) that it should be considered as a homogeneous category, so that one cannot infer from the knowledge of the Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor to a general knowledge of this alleged rubric of the rDzogs chen. It is perhaps because Klong chen pa found the divisions of the rDzogs chen into Ati, sPyi ti and Yang ti rather hollow that he made so little use of them in his work: perhaps they do not correspond to the distinction of three groups of teachings that are actually clearly characterized and well organized into coherent families.

[4] It seems that there are many versions of this little tantra (very popular among the rNying ma pa), appearing successively in several cycles of gter ma.

[5] Bla ma gsang ’dus, in Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. VII, pp. 461-614.

[6]  The texts relating to the hermaphroditic” (or rather: asexual) protector from the gter chos of Guru Chos dbang, Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. 60, pp. 113-153.

[7] Mentioned as a rare text by Kong sprul, gter ston brgya rtsa, p. 415, gter of Tshe brtan rgyal mtshan, a late thirteenth and early fourteenth century figure.

[8] Approximately corresponding text-titles can be found in Vol. Bi of the rNying ma rgyud ’bum: dPal Zla gsang nag po rgya mtsho dug ri kha yakṣa 'khor lo nag po gsang ba'i rgyud (pp. 59-134), and dPal Yakṣa nag po gsang ba'i dug | rgya mtsho dug ri nag po, pp. 134-198. There is a bZo rig patra in the gter chos of O rgyan gling pa (b. 1323, d. c. 1360), a contemporary of Klong chen rab ’byams and another victim of T’ai si tu Byang chub rgyal mtshan’s vindictiveness. [2021  : Yamāntaka texts, it seems]

[9] In the biographies, the preceding and following texts appear as one, but we do not believe this to be the case.

[10] A number of texts explaining how to draw magic diagrams with similar titles can be found in vol. DXVII of the Rin chen gter mdzod. At least one is a gter by Guru Chos dbang.

[11] [06/05/2021 : I hope that we will have, as soon as possible, a well-done edition of Guru Chos dbang's revelations and commentaries, ritual presentations, biographical and historical texts on this figure and his posterity. From this point of view, the Byang gyer phyogs sgrigs in 63 vols. (2015) is a model, and it would be hoped that we would have the same type of edition for the revelations of Nyang ral Nyi ma 'od zer and Chos dbang. It is even more complicated, of course, since there is no longer a living institution that relies primarily on these corpora, which have become the common property of the rNying ma pas and, moreover, have been struck by a certain obsolescence that means that no one specializes in them anymore... C.R. Lama also told me, long ago, that these ancient gter mas are not as well-preserved as te Byang gter is, so that there may be many more difficulties in setting up a proper edition of them.]

[12] See, for example, Eva M. Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, p. 116 on this very point.

[13] “Accordingly, in the Water male bird year (1312), the Dharmasvāmin (Bu ston) took upasampadā in the eastern residence (bla brang shar) of the market town of gTsang called Tshong ’dus gur mo from gZhon nu dpal bzang po, rightly known as the Great Upādhyāya (mkhan chen) (...) with the great bodhisattva bSod nams grags acting as Ācārya and the great vinayadhara bSod nams bzang po acting as the Secret-Preceptor (slob dpon gsang ste ston pa).”

[14]  Tucci touches lightly on this question of vacations (chos mtshams) in The Religions of Tibet and Mongolia (pp. 187 ff.) using the example of what might be called the “academic year” in modern dge lugs pa colleges. It might not be possible to arrive at a very high degree of precision with regard to gSang phu in the period of interest to us. But an examination of many biographies of religious of that time would give us fairly accurate clues.

[15] “According to Pad [ma] gling [pa],” having gone to the lHo brag, to the temple of Guru [Chos dbang], he met ’Byung gnas rdo rje, [holder] of the lineage [or descendant] of Chos dbang. (Pad gling pas | lHo brag phyogs phyin Gu ru'i lha khang du | 'Byung gnas rdo rje Chos dbang rgyud dang mjal |).”

[16]  g.Yung ston pa was also one of the four main disciples of Bu ston.

[17] It is indeed an epithet of Yamāntaka in the form ’Jam dpal tshe bdag. Cf. texts no. 5 and no. 6 of vol. Sa (XXVIII) rNying ma rgyud ’bum for example [2021 : and of course the complete ’Jam dpal tshe bdag in 10 vol., now found in the 63-vol. Byang gter phyogs sgrigs – the texts alluded to in Klong chen pa’s biographies do not correspond to anything found in this “Yamāntaka encyclopedy”, though]. No other deity is commonly called Tshe bdag, at least in the rnying ma pa tradition. The magical and somewhat disturbing context of the teachings received by Klong chen pa from “Khang dmar pa” would anyway point us quite naturally to this deity, proverbially associated with destructive magic. However, this is what the obscure term Pa la pa tra connotes, for example in the title of Pa la pa tra gsang ba’i rgyud, which has the eloquent title sNying zor nag po’i rgyud (rNying ma rgyud ’bum, vol. Bi, pp. 20-33), and is also found in a section devoted to dMod pa drag sngags. There is no evidence that this is the correct text; it does not appear in the rNying ma rgyud ’bum of sDe dge; its colophon is not very informative. At least it gives some clues as to the nature of the teachings received from this “Khang dmar pa.” – [2021 : There is at least another Pa la pa tra in the mTshams brag rnying rgyud : this word appears in the “Sanskrit” title of a text in vol. Phi, *Pa la pa tra bha las dzi ta  nta nā ma, the Tibetan title of which is bZang po stobs kyi srog gi rgyud. It belongs to the same type of mostly “magical” texts.]

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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