A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (17)

Publié le 18 Mai 2021

[Click here to get back to the beginning of this series.] Ku ma rā dza and the Quintessence of Vimalamitra The life of Ku ma rā dza (1266-1343)

The main sources on the life of this master are as follows: (1) Rig ’dzin chen po Ku ma rā dza’i rnam thar lo rgyus dang bcas pa (Bi ma snying thig), a work that is partially by Klong chen rab ’byams (no. 271, 51 pp.); (2) Lo rgyus rin chen phreng ba (Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu, no. 279, pp. 56-67), (3) Lo rgyus rin po che ’od kyi phreng ba (Zab mo yang tig, no. 280, pp. 32-33).

More secondarily, there are elements in ’Gos lo tsā ba's Deb ther sngon po and in all the histories of the rNying ma school, including those of Guru bKra shis (pp. 209-212) and bDud ’joms rin po che (pp. 229-238) and the History of the Essence of the Heart of Great Completeness by sMyo shul mkhan po (vol. I, pp. 242-252). The life of Ku ma rā dza is fairly well documented, since he had as a disciple, in addition to Klong chen rab ’byams, Karma pa III Rang byung rdo rje, a prominent figure. It would be the object of another work to research precisely all that can be known about Ku ma rā dza.

Tradition regards him as one of those incarnations of Vimalamitra which, according to a prophecy, appear at the rate of one per century in Tibet.

Briefly, he was born in 1266 in the region of g.Yo-ru (Central Tibet[1]). It is said that he could read and write without being taught. In his seventh year (1273) he received the consecrations of Hevajra and Cakrasaṃvara from the master dGyes rdor pa at the monastery of ’Or shod mtho stengs in Kong po. Two years later (1275), having taken the lay devotee (upāsaka) wants from the mkhan po gTsang pa, he applied himself to the practice of Avalokiteśvara “That Stirs the Depths of the Saṃsāra (’Khor ba dong sprugs, a form connected to Guru Chos dbang’s revelations).

In his twelfth year (1278) he received the religious consecration (rab ’byung) from mkhan po Yer pa of Phag mo gru and Slob dpon mNga’ ris pa; it was on this occasion that he received the name gZhon nu rdo rje (the Sanskrit transposition of which gives Kumararāja, hence his “nickname” Ku ma rā dza[2]). He studied the Vinaya, and for five years (so until 1283) he received from Rin po che Grags ye many instructions, including the Six Yoga of Nāro. He gained understanding of Hevajra Tantra in both sections from Bla ma mTshar stengs pa. In addition, he learned painting (sacred, lha bris) from dBon po Sangs shes (Sangs she, according to Guru bKra shis).

He had a dream “while he was reciting the six syllables,” that is, certainly, during an Avalokiteśvara practice retreat: the Great Compassionate One appeared to him, smiling, in a crystal palace.

He received many instructions and transmissions of the ancient tantras from Master Khyung nag shag dar. Then, in Dar phug (Ngang phug, in the consulted edition of Guru bKra shis), he met Me long rdo rje (1242-1303[3]), who was to be his principal master. As Me long rdo rje imparted to him the instructions of the Mahāmudrā, he was confronted with the essence of his own mind. He followed Me long rdo rje on his journey to Mon gyi mKha’ ’gro gling, where he received, among other things, the teachings relating to the goddess Vajravārāhī, whose propitiation he performed. On the evening of a day dedicated to Padmasambhava (tshes bcu), Ku ma rā dza witnessed a theophany of this guru, red in color, dancing and adorned with bone ornaments, who addressed him as follows, “O wonder (e ma)! Son of a noble clan, practice religion without ceasing!”.

Then he went to mTshur phu where he learned from the masters gNyan ras and Dar ma mgon the whole range of Karma pa teachings (i.e., probably the Karma bka’ brgyud lineage, a branch of Buddhism that was, in fact, on the verge of elaborating what was to be its almost definitive physiognomy) and stayed there for several years. Then (according to sMyo shul mkhan po) he traveled for some time and met the Siddha O rgyan pa (1229/30-1309) and the Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje. The latter had just taken the vows and was in his seventh year. Since the latter was born in 1284, this places us in 1291, which is consistent with the preceding elements. Me long rdo rje was forty-four years old and Ku ma rā dza was in his twenty-fifth year. sMyo shul mkhan po writes that at that time he completed receiving all the instructions of which Me long rdo rje was the repository. Then, after a few years, he again received the sNying thig of the Siddha O rgyan pa; thus he no longer lacked anything of this tradition.

He also received from Nam mkha’ rdo rje, lama of rGya sman, the Mirror of the Key Points of the Secret Cycle,[4] and from sKal ldan chos kyi seng ge, the Secret Mirror of the Key Points.[5]

On his return to mKhar chu, he again met Me long rdo rje, who, this time, entrusted him completely with the task of transmitting the tantra and precepts of the quintessence (sNying thig) of clear light. Since Ku ma rā dza had nothing else to offer in return, he gave himself to the service of Me long rdo rje. He spent two summers (dbyar, perhaps the whole of the fine season) painting the inner temple of a stūpa that a certain mDo bo ras pa had built. The latter gave him four bushels of barley each season for his wages; he spent two of them on the purchase of paper which he used to copy the texts of the sNying thig. He painted during the day and indulged in this copyist’s work at night. The proceeds from the sale of the other two bushels were used partly to feed himself and partly to fuel the lamps he used in his night work.

This exhausted him so much that he ended up with a severe case of smallpox (shig nad drag po). But Ku ma rā dza had obtained a singular understanding; Me long rdo rje was highly satisfied with this and blessed him, saying, “accomplish the good of the migrants!”. [6]

At the same time, Ku ma rā dza saw the quadrumane Mahākāla protector (mGon po phyag bzhi pa) over the master’s head as he conferred a consecration; at the door of Me long rdo rje’s room he saw black Ekajatī, holding a staff and a she-wolf, as high as a two-story house, as well as the mātṛka of Ritual Activities, She With the Braid of Blood (Khrag ral can), drawing from a pool of blood with her two hands and drinking from it.

For eight years he was inseparable from his master. During a winter he spent in retreat at the cave of sNyug tshal (sMyug tshal according to Guru bKra shis), where Padmasambhava is reputed to have meditated, he had the vision of Vajravārāhī; his discernment became infinite and impartial.

It was then that Me long rdo rje died (1303). Ku ma rā dza was in retreat in the Yar klungs, but he immediately went to mKhar chu and performed the funeral service of the master.

The rest of the biographies describe all sorts of mystical experiences, simply accumulated in succession, without much sequence; we will be forgiven for omitting them in this work, which is not primarily devoted to Ku ma rā dza. Still, after the death of Me long rdo rje, he made a pilgrimage to Tsa ri, and then was invited to mTshur phu by Karma pa III Rang byung rdo rje, to whom he taught the tantras of sNying thig and the precepts of Vimalamitra.

Then, having gone to Shangs, he received from the master lCe sgom pa (according to sMyo shul mkhan po) or Slob dpon sGom pa (according to Guru bKra shis and bDud 'joms rin po che), a descendant (yang tsha) of lCe sgom nag po, the Oral Transmission of the Secret Cycle (gSang skor snyan brgyud) and the Collyrium of Contemplation (bSam gstan mig gi sgron me).[7] Little is yet known about lCe sgom nag po. Achard, on solid grounds, places it in the eleventh century.[8] In the particular lineage of the Zab mo yang tig, which, incidentally, is not uniquely fixed from one text to another in the corpus, we find, as masters of Ku ma rā dza, in place of Me long rdo rje, the following characters: (1) Zla ba mun sel; (2) a certain Lama Ye mgon, who may be (3) a descendant of lCe sgom nag po, by whom some texts (sNyan brgyud kyi rgyab chos chen mo zab don gnad kyi me long, in Zab mo yang tig) explicitly state that Ku ma rā dza was taught ; (4) a certain Nam mkha’ rdo rje (already discussed); (5) the cadet (gcung po) of Rin po che Yon tan sgang ba. It is possible that two or three figures in this list are just different names of the same person.

In any case, as far as the status of Klong chen rab ’byams in the transmission of the sNying thig is concerned, it may be considered that at the time when Ku ma rā dza transmitted to the Karma pa III the teaching received from Me long rdo rje, he still lacked some of the enlightenment subsequently obtained from these masters who were repositories of the lCe sgom nag po tradition. If Ku ma rā dza appears to be the confluence of many traditions of the Bi ma snying thig, and even if Karma pa was able to conjoin some of these with at least some of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, then Klong chen rab ’byams seems to have been able to tie together more of the the scattered threads of these two traditions.

At La stod Ding ri sna dmar, Ku ma rā dza obtained from dBon po Byang grub pa the Ris chos of Yang dgon pa (bka' brgyud teachings already met above), and, again, the bSam gtan mig gi sgron me. Then, on his way to visit the Siddha O rgyan pa (who probably resided in mTshur phu), he met, near Sa skya, Bla ma  bKra lung pa (who gave him many of the “modern” tantra teachings, including the Black Enemy [of the] Lord of Death [gShin rje dgra nag]), Bla ma Ye shes mgon po (certainly the Ye mgon named above - but the odd variant Me mgon is found in Guru bKra shis), who taught him the Secret Cycle (gSang skor). He also received (apparently from other masters) the Instructions of rGod tshang pa (bka' brgyud teachings), the Great [Collection of] Instructions of A ro [Ye shes ’byung gnas] (teachings of the Mind Rubric of rDzogs chen), and so on. In sum[9], “he came to know all the instructions of the completion phase (rdzogs rim) known in Tibet.”

It is not trivial to recall, as S. G. Karmay and J.-L. Achard have already done, that unlike Klong chen rab 'byams, Ku ma rā dza did not fail to learn f the rDzogs chen of the Bon pos rom a certain “Slob dpon Bon ston” – an interesting detail that is omitted by Guru bKra shis, sMyo shul mkhan po, and bDud ’joms rin po che. This is confirmed in a formally indisputable (if highly allusive) way by one line (p. 26) of the Rig ’dzin chen po Ku ma rā dza’i rnam thar lo rgyus dang bcas pa, a text that appears to be an autobiography, merely supplemented by Klong chen rab ’byams.[10] Ku ma rā dza and this bon master (unidentified) seem to have gotten along very well and to have spent eight months together on pilgrimage to Tsa ri and performing the circumambulation of the Turquoise Lake (g.Yu mtsho). All sorts of wonders occurred: Dzam bha la, deity of wealth, made Ku ma rā dza a present of jewels; a local deity invited him to his home and paid him homage, etc.

From that time on, while occasionally teaching in public, he lived mainly in secluded places.

sMyo shul mkhan po (op. cit., p. 249) gives Ku ma rā dza particular importance for having “clearly distinguished the key points of the sNying thig, which had been adulterated by masters who had mixed and confused them with [teachings] such as the Mahāmudrā [of the bKa' brgyud pa], the Zhi byed, or the Ṣaḍaṅgayoga [of the Kālacakra], introducing their own mental foibles into them [so so'i blo skyon]”[11]. The same concern will be constant in the writings of Klong chen rab ’byams, despite his immense curiosity about all forms of Buddhism in Tibet. Klong chen rab ’byams’ studies with Ku ma rā dza (1334-1335)

sMyo shul mkhan po places Klong chen rab ’byams’ meeting with Ku ma rā dza, who was to be his principal teacher, in the twenty-seventh year of the Klong chen pa’s life, i.e., in 1334. The date seems plausible (confirmed, incidentally, by the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba [no. 104, p. 245], by Kong sprul in the gter ston brgya rtsa, and by Guru bKra shis), if one assumes that between his departure from gSang phu and this meeting our author was occupied only with his eight-month retreat, with its preparations and aftermath.

However, Tülku Thondup (op. cit., p. 149, n. 2) mentions two sources according to which Klong chen rab ’byams only met Ku ma rā dza in his twenty-ninth year. One is a writing[12] by 'Jigs med gling pa (1729-1798), and, because of its very late nature, it carries rather less weight than Chos grags bzang po’s mThong ba don ldan. But the other is a text from the Ngal gso skor gsum by Klong chen rab ’byams himself: the Legs bshad rgya mtsho (no. 47). However, the reference given by Tülku Thondup is incomprehensible: f° 122b / 6 in a text which, by his own admission (p. 431), contains only sixty. There is, moreover, no autobiographical passage in the Legs bshad rgya msho; it is clear that there must be an error in Tülku Thondup’s note. Although I am quite sure that he has a solid reason for contradicting the common tradition on this point, since I do not understand Tulku Thondup's argument, I therefore follow sMyo shul mkhan po and his sources and place the encounter with Ku ma rā dza in 1334.

This meeting took place in sKyam phu (sMyo shul chos ’byung: Yar stod sKyam gyi phu) not far from bSam yas. The master was with his disciples, as usual, not in a temple or monastery, but in an open-air camp. He welcomed Klong chen rab ’byams by telling him a dream that foretold that he would pass on all his teachings to him: he had seen in his dream a marvelous bird, which was called the divine bird, followed by a flight of thousands of birds. These birds came and carried Ku ma rā dza’s books of in all directions. This, he told Klong chen rab ’byams, was a sign that the latter would become a holder of his entire spiritual lineage.

Klong chen rab ’byams rejoiced at the warm words of welcome, but he was destitute and could not pay the contribution to the running of the community required to follow the teachings. He felt that he could neither stay nor leave in full view of everyone. So he would leave the next night, in order to be out of that valley before dawn.

Ku ma rā dza guessed his thought and sent for him. He had tea served to him and told his stewards that he himself would take charge of the stay of the “dge bshes of bSam yas,” i.e. Klong chen rab 'byams, adding that the latter would become the best of his disciples. In the course of that same year (1334), he received all the consecrations and precepts of the Bi ma snying thig, and in the following year (1335), all those of the other sections of the Great Completion.

During his apprenticeship with Ku ma rā dza, Klong chen rab ’byams lived in great poverty: it is said that he had only a shredded sack for a mattress and blanket during the freezing winter and barely ate (he had to survive for two months on three measures of roasted barley flour and twenty-one mercury pills). Moreover, in order to mortify attachment in his students, Ku ma rā dza used to have the camp moved often from one deserted place to another. It is said that once, in the space of a single spring, he ordered nine such moves. It was under such conditions that Klong chen rab ’byams received the teaching. Biographers report that he practiced day and night and soon reached the same degree of understanding as Ku ma rā dza, who chose him as the heir to his tradition. Three years of retreat (1336-1338)

Thereafter, he spent some years, according to various biographers, in meditative retreat at mChims phu, not far from bSam yas. Tülku Thondup speaks of six or seven years; six, according to bDud ’joms rin po che (p. 247). But this is surprising, for he seems to have taught sNying thig as early as 1338 or 1339, as we shall see. This is certainly why sMyo shul mkhan po cautiously speaks of “a few years” (lo ’ga’). We therefore opt, following his implicit suggestion and what the rest of the chronology as it can be reconstructed requires, that he actually spent two years (1334-1335) with Ku ma rā dza, and then three years (1336-1338) in retreat. This is confirmed by the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba (no. 104, p. 245), whose author speaks of three years.

Another possibility, in view of the journeys mentioned in the rest of the biographies, would be to suppose that he spent a total of six or seven years in retreat, not cloistered in one place, nor in one go, but in some way “in instalments” and moving occasionally from one hermitage to another.

He is said to have had a number of theophanies, including “seeing the face” of black Vajravārāhī uninterruptedly for seven days and nights, that of Guru drag po (a terrible form of the master Padmasambhava), and that of the twenty-one-headed “Great Supreme Heruka” (Che mchog), surrounded by the seven-hundred and twenty-four deities of the Eight Commands (bKa’ brgyad).[13] The goddess Adamantine Turquoise Lamp (rDo rje g. yu sgron ma) revealed to him her external, internal and secret practice, and Dzam bha la presented him with a jewel. While he was residing in dGe gong, Padmasambhava, who manifested his peaceful form to him, took him to the paradise of mKha’ spyod, where the ḍākiṇīs gave him teachings. But it would be an abuse of the reader’s patience to continue thus paraphrasing our sources about events which, in their detail, can hardly help us in interpreting Klong chen rab ’byams doctrine. The biographers also report that he made a pilgrimage to the Jo khang of Lha sa, to Ka ni sgo bzhi (a holy place associated with Ma gcig Lab sgron), and to Shug gseb, where he gave the teaching of sNying thig to a few disciples for the first time.

The next section of this series his here.

[1]  In a village called gSar ’dzin kha, according to Guru bKra shis (op. cit., p. 209), who also specifies that he received at birth the rather curious name of Thar pa rgyan.

[2]  However, this simple explanation needs to be qualified: the disappearance of the final ra of kumara is strange from the point of view of the Tibetan way of pronouncing Sanskrit, even if, in India, the final a of kumara was already not very audible, and its omission could perhaps have been understood. This curious distortion is probably explained by a reminiscence of the name of one of the ancient masters of the Zhang zhung snyan rgyud lineage of the Bon po (with who he had nothing to do, but it is probably an indication of the knowledge, at least vague and by hearsay, that one could have had of the traditions of the Zhang zhung snyan rgyud in the circles of the Buddhist followers of the rDzogs chen).

[3]  1303 is the date given by the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo for his death. However, it occurred in his sixty-first year according to sMyo shul mkhan po and his sources.

[4] gSang skor gnad kyi me long. The gSang skor is a part of the Man ngag sde of the rDzogs chen, subordinate to the sNying thig. This Mirror of Key Points is not known to me; the text may have been lost since that time. Guru bKra shis presents an interesting variant: Ku ma rā dza is said to have received from this master “confrontation with the key points of the secret cycle” (gsang skor gnad kyi ngo sprod - this formula does not necessarily refer to a specific text). This Nam mkha’ rdo rje does, however, appear in some of the Bi ma snying thig lineages just before Ku ma rā dza. It is obviously not the Nam mkha' rdo rje born in gDong dgon, disciple of Klong chen rab ’byams.

[5] gSang ba gnad kyi me long, also unknown, belongs, according to sMyo shul mkhan po to the same section of the rDzogs chen as the previous one.

[6] That is, in the context: teach others, train disciples.

[7] There is more than one text of this name. This one is the work of Vimalamitra found in the Bi ma snying thig, as specified (p. 24) in the autobiographical portion of the rNam thar of Ku ma rā dza completed by Klong chen rab ’byams, the reference to which was given above.

[8] Achard, L’Essence perlée du secret, p. 82: “Thirty years after this death [of lCe btsun Seng ge dbang phyug], in 1067, lCe sgom nag po rediscovered the texts hidden in Rong mnar mda’ and spread them in dBus and gTsang.” Cf. also p. 231 ff: “This figure is one of the most obscure gter stons. He is supposed to have found Treasures (gter ma) hidden by lCe btsun thirty years before this discovery. lCe sgom would have been moreover the master of Zhang ston bKra shis rdo rje (1097-1167) when the latter was still in his prime youth.”

[9] We have abbreviated the list of masters and teachings received, not arbitrarily, but following sMyo shul mkhan po and bDud 'joms rin po che.

[10]  The text is, in fact, a painful read until about p. 33 of the edition consulted. Then, after an end-of-section mark and the formula dge'o, we find a more classical style, quite in keeping with the compositional habits of Klong chen rab ’byams. This is because pp. 1-33 are an autobiography of Ku ma rā dza (just look at the colophon: bdag ’dra’i ban ldom Ku ma rā dza la...), and pp. 33-51 were added by Klong chen rab ’byams. The text being autobiographical, it is all the less likely to be erroneous on a point such as this.

[11] The  same idea was already expressed by Guru bKra shis (op. cit., p. 211), but in less detail. It is still very difficult, in the present state of our documentation, to follow the detailed stages of the formation of the doctrines of the rDzogs chen.

[12] De bzhin gshegs pa legs par gsungs pa'i gsung rab rgya mtsho'i snying por gyur pa rig pa 'dzin pa'i sde snod dam pa snga 'gyur rgyud 'bum rin po che'i rtogs pa brjod pa 'dzam gling tha gru khyab pa'i rgyan.

[13] It is recalled that Klong chen rab 'byams had received the cycles of bKa' brgyad from the gter chos of Nyang ral Nyi ma 'od zer (bKa' brgyad bde-gshegs bsdus pa) and from Guru Chos dbang (bKa' brgyad gsang rdzogs).

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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