A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (18)

Publié le 19 Mai 2021 Klong chen rab ’byams confers for the first time the consecrations of the Bi ma snying thig (1338) and obtains the texts of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig

It was on the occasion of the first time when Klong chen rab ’byams gave the consecrations of the sNying thig (that of Vimalamitra, we may assume) that his disciple ’Od zer go cha seems to have brought him a very rare manuscript of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, The Quintessence of the Ḍākinī, which was obtained “at the cost of hard effort.”

But it must be said that there is a great deal of confusion in the biographies in this regard: (1) Glag bla (op. cit. p. 50) and Chos grags bzang po (op. cit. p. 103) omit entirely this episode of Klong chen pa obtaining the texts of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig; (2) perhaps as a result of a confusion between the name of a Bla ma Ras ma ba and that of a place, mChims phu Ris mo can, which sMyo shul mkhan po (op. cit. p. 267) distinguishes, they are led to say that Klong chen rab ’byams was in its twenty-eighth year at the time we are dealing with, i.e. in 1335, whereas bDud ’joms rin po che and Tülku Thondup opt for 1338, i.e. in the thirty-first year[1] of Klong chen rab ’byams. It is very possible that two episodes were confused by later biographers because of the obscurity of the mThong snang rin po che ’od kyi dra ba (included in the mKha' 'gro yang tig), which, among our sources, is the most detailed regarding this episode.

An interpolated note in the modern Peking edition of the mThong ba don ldan draws our attention to this difficulty, which escaped Chos grags bzang po and Glag bla (who, as we have seen, was not distinguished by the acuity of his critical sense, at least on the historiographical level). This note[2] indicates a hesitation, as regards the date of this last consecration, between two years which would indeed be 1335, on the one hand, and 1339, on the other.

There is probably confusion between a consecration, apparently given at the request, or with the assistance, of the master Ras ma ba, perhaps in 1335, and another, given later at mChims phu, in 1337, 1338 or 1339.

The main source of our knowledge of how Klong chen rab ’byams came into contact with mKha’ ’gro snying thig (besides the gTer ’byung rin po che'i lo rgyus and the biography authored by Chos grags bzang po) is the mThong snang rin po che’i dra ba. Despite the colophon and the opinion of those who cite this text as an autobiography of Klong chen rab ’byams, I do not believe it to be authentic. Indeed, the indications it contains are slightly discordant with what is found elsewhere; but above all, Klong chen rab ’byams is called “the master” (bla ma, numerous occurrences), which quite formally excludes him from being the author of this text. This is certainly why sMyo shul mkhan po, who apparently draws on it (when he departs from bDud ’joms rin po che on the estimation of the number of years spent in retirement, for example), makes only cautious use of it.

We therefore believe that the mThong snang rin po che’i dra ba is the work of one of Klong chen rab ’byams’ direct disciples, without being able to put forward any more precise hypothesis at this stage.

In any case, this text, a veritable web of visions (as its title indicates) and various miracles, and moreover strange in that it often deviates somewhat from the chronology that can be drawn from the intersection of other sources, does not, at first sight, make it possible to unravel this enigma.

The confusion becomes increasingly thick when one refers to the account of this episode as it appears in the gTer ’byung rin po che'i lo rgyus (mKha’ ’gro yang tig, p. 124). Indeed, in this text, only one consecration appears, that given to Ri mo can in mChims phu (near bSam yas). During this initiation of the “gSang ba snying thig” (i.e., presumably of the Bi ma snying thig), various miracles occur which prompt both Klong chen rab ’byams to turn to the cycle of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, and his disciple ’Od zer go cha to give him the texts he had procured. But the strangeness lies in the fact that this consecration is dated in the year of the “wooden hare”.[3] Indeed, there are only years of the “wooden hare” in 1310 and in 1375, two equally absurd hypotheses for the event that interests us, unless the date proposed in all the Tibetan hagiographies and chronicles for the death of our author (1364) is false (which would raise other unfortunate difficulties).

A simple and quite satisfactory solution would be to assume[4] that the Tibetans are more easily mistaken about the element than about the animal corresponding to the year. Now, in 1339, there is a year of the hare, even if it is the earth hare and not the wood hare. In the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, this year appears to be the year in which Klong chen rab ’byams received from ’Od zer go cha the texts of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig; he began almost immediately to revise them and to compose the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, which he completed (it seems, however unlikely, given the mass of texts) within a few months.

In any case, this episode is supposed to take place before the death of Ku ma rā dza (1343), since this was then prophesied by one of the ḍākinīs who appeared in Klong chen pa during the theophanies that, according to the various hagiographies, accompanied this episode. According to the account given by the sMyo shul chos ’byung (p. 270), for example, this death was to occur in “the next year of the sheep” (1343 is indeed a year of the sheep). Everything concurs to place this episode around 1339.

Now, in the continuation of the prophecy,[5] the ḍākinīs lets him know[6] that he has thirty years to live. Again, this does not fit the general data of traditional biographies: it would make Klong chen pa die around 1369 (instead of 1364). It might be objected that we are placing too much value on a prophecy obtained in circumstances of a marvelous nature; but we assume that, whatever the source (since it is not our role to pronounce on these events which make modern reason balk), it would not have been too naive to leave it as it is in the text, if it had not been verified later. Besides, the difference (1363 or 1364) is not very considerable.

The solution might be to assume, as we have done, that two episodes have been confused by the biographers. Klong chen rab ’byams would have given for the first time the consecrations of a sNying thig which we suppose to be the Bi ma snying thig in 1335 - and one could place at this point the prophecy granting him another thirty years of life, which is correct to within one year. Then in 1339[7] he would have given the consecrations of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig (maybe after having composed his additions to this corpus).

The text of this prophecy suggests, however, that sMyo shul mkhan po is right, or at least a careful reader, when he assumes that it was the mKha’ ’gro yang tig consecrations that our author was giving when he received the prophecy concerning his future longevity. The confusion must go back further (to Chos grags bzang po himself or at least to the obscurity of his formulations). Nevertheless, we can draw this consequence: (1) either Klong chen rab ’byams gave consecrations which he had not received, at least in the ordinary sense of the term,[8] but of which he was the predestined depositary (op. cit., pp. 270-271: chos kyi bdag po khyed-rang yin pa los zer |); (2) or his meeting with the heir of the lineage of these revelations (rGyal sras Legs pa, to be found a little later) actually predates his studies with Ku ma rā dza. (3) There is yet a third possibility: Klong chen rab 'byams may have first received the mKha' 'gro snying thig of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje, for example, in his youth. Klong chen rab 'byams may have received the mKha' 'gro snying thig from rGyal sras Legs pa again at a later period in his life, because he felt for some reason that rGyal sras Legs pa held the purest tradition of this teaching.

In this regard, another element (sMyo shul chos ’byung, p. 275) of the dialogue with the ḍākinī that the hagiographies report may be of interest. Klong chen rab ’byams in fact speaks of Karma pa (Rang byung rdo rje) and Rin chen gling pa as two living persons, custodians of this tradition. However, Karma pa died in 1339, as we recall.

As for Rin chen gling pa, this gter ston is absolutely neither Ratna gling pa (1403-1479) nor Sangs rgyas gling pa (1340-1396, sometimes called Rin chen gling pa too). He is one of the disciples of Padma las ’brel rtsal and the latter’s student, rGyal sras Legs pa rgyal mtshan (sMyo shul chos ’byung, p. 196). He is not entirely unknown elsewhere: we find traces of him in the Rin chen gter mdzod and the rNying ma rgyud ’bum, and Kong sprul gives a brief biography of him (op. cit., pp. 416-419), in which he calls him Me ban Rin chen gling pa, as well as Guru bKra shis (Chos ’byung, pp. 405-407). His personal name, he says, was Rin chen rgyal po (or rgyal mtshan) dpal bzang po; he was born in the year of the ox (1274? 1286?) and lived eighty years (1353? 1365?). Kong sprul presents him as an important, but fallen-out gter ston. The brief account that Guru bKra shis gives of the discovery of his first gter chos is very reminiscent of the parallel episode in the life of Rig ’dzin rGod ldem, with the five mdzod arranged according to the cardinal directions and corresponding to the five Buddha-families. The invention of the cycle rDzogs pa chen po Ati chig gcod kun grol[9] is attributed to him. This cycle, which the Rin chen gter mdzod classifies as Padma snying thig, would be worth studying. The elements given by Kong sprul do not allow us to situate him more precisely than at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries; his great longevity means that it would not be relevant, in any case, to use his death date as a low date to situate the prophecy we are dealing with.

Since we do not know the dates of this Rin chen gling pa, let us at least keep the mention of Karma pa, which places the prophecy well around 1338-1339, at a time when the latter was still alive. It is noteworthy that the ḍākiṇi responds to Klong chen rab ’byams that she does not enjoy (mi dga’) the way this Karma pa and Rin chen gling pa present the teachings of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, and points to Klong chen rab ’byams as their true repository (this is perfectly clear in the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba).

It is on the occasion of this same vision that the author seems to have received the names rDo rje gzi brjid [rtsal] and Dri med ’od zer, which makes it possible to give 1338 as the high date for all works signed with one of these two names. Moreover, the author, at this point, has not yet stayed in Gangs ri thod dkar, which postpones after this date all the writings whose colophon includes the mention of this place. What is more, it was also during this vision that he was ordered to restore the temples of Ha ri brag, O rgyan dgon (not to be confused with O rgyan rdzong in Gangs ri thod dkar) and Zhwa’i lha khang,[10] and to compose treatises.[11]

The solution to all the difficulties is probably to be found in a suggestion for which we are indebted to Mrs. Anne-Marie Blondeau: it would indeed suffice to correct one letter in the text of the prophecy: if, instead of da lo sum cu thub zer, we read: da lo sum cu thug[12] zer, or if we read the first formula in the sense of the second, we would understand that the ḍākinī is simply reminding him that he is reaching his thirties that same year, which, given his date of birth in 1308 and the Tibetan way of calculating ages, actually puts us around 1337.

The deities also told him[13] that he had to excavate a cycle of gter ma entitled rDzogs pa chen po kun bzang dgongs pa kun ’dus from two places near mChims phu, not far from bSam yas, in addition to those that the protector Nam gru Re ma ti had offered him to discover, an invitation that he had declined. It seems that he indeed discovered the rDzogs pa chen po kun bzang dgongs pa kun ’dus, but this cycle is known to us only in its “re-revealed” (yang gter) version by Padma gling pa (some elements of it are found at the beginning of vol. DXXXIX of the Rin chen gter mdzod). As we shall see later, tradition has it that he did indeed reveal it, and then re-hid it in Bhutan at the end of his life.[14]

This legend, though likely without historical foundation, is not without meaning. Indeed, one need only pay attention to the classifications of the gter mdzod to see that Kong sprul places this text in the Bai ro’i snying thig category. Now, immediately after the time of Klong chen rab ’byams, the idea of a bipartition of the sNying thig (the tradition of Padmasambhava and Ye shes mtsho rgyal, on the one hand - forming the mKha’ ’gro snying thig - and the tradition of Vimalamitra on the other – the Bi ma snying thig) got enriched (or complicated) by the idea of a third tradition - that of Vairocana. This can be seen very clearly in Rig ’dzin rGod ldem’s Kun bzang dGongs pa zang thal (1366?), where we find Bai ro’i snyan brgyud (4 main texts, more or less 150 pages) alongside the Padma’i snyan brgyud and Bi ma’i snyan brgyud. I think that the reason why Padma gling pa attributes to Klong chen rab ’byams this role of intermediate link, apparently inert and passive, in the chain of transmission of the Kun bzang dgongs pa kun ’dus, has to do with the symbolic necessity of not leaving him out of what has come to appear as a third and capital current of the sNying thig tradition. But to show this would require a whole study that would take us far from our main purpose.

It was then (around 1337-1339) that he went to Gangs ri thod dkar, where he established his main hermitage, O rgyan rdzong, and where he composed at least three quarters of his works. Gangs ri thod dkar is located near Shug gseb, south of Lhasa, and is a sacred mountain.[15] There he taught abundantly, especially the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, to twenty-one disciples. According to sMyo shul mkhan po, it was then that, pressed (bskul) by the same ’Od zer go cha who had given him delivery of the texts of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, he composed mKha’ ’gro yang tig, which would thus be the first of his mature works. sMyo shul mkhan po adds that “it was in this place that he composed most of his works, such as the Seven Treasures.” The works of this second period (counting separately a youthful period) could therefore not be earlier than 1337.

The same author then relates the vision that prompted him to undertake the restoration of Zhwa’i lha khang. In this vision, Ku ma rā dza is supposed to have told him that he had passed away. So this takes us to 1343. If we understand sMyo shul mkhan po’s thinking correctly, this would mean that all the works whose composition is located by the author himself in Gangs ri thod dkar would have been written between 1337 and 1343, in a few inconceivably fruitful years. But sMyo shul mkhan po seems to place the composition of the Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod, “in a very short time,” the very year of Ku ma rā dza's death. However, tradition, on the one hand, and especially the clues provided by internal references in Klong chen pa’s works, on the other, suggest that most of the Seven Treasures post-date the Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod (no. 98), as will be shown below. It is therefore mainly the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, and probably the Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu, whose composition must be dated between 1337 and 1343, with the Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod coming next, in 1343, followed by the other major works.

After this initial stay in Gangs ri thod dkar, Klong chen rab ’byams seems to have gone first to Ti sgro, a famous retreat place, and then to Zhwa’i lha khang. There he is said to have discovered many of the sādhana texts of the twelve bsTan ma goddesses, rDo rje legs pa and others. In fact, there is a small text of invocation to rDo rje legs pa attributed to Klong chen rab ’byams in some compilations of rNying ma[16] prayers . This text is not included in the gSung thor bu and its style is not that of Klong chen rab ’byams, but there is nothing to prevent it from being one of these “revelations” attributed to our author. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche spread it in Europe by giving it to his students to recite. Whatever its authenticity, it is indifferent to the interpretation of Klong chen pa’s thought.

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[1]  According to the estimate of bDud ’joms rin po che (p. 247), whose sources are unknown to me.

[2] Here is the exact content: “It should be examined whether [this] would not have happened in the same time and place as the birth of ’Bri gung Chos kyi rgyal po, the year of the pig [1335] ; the Visionary Network says that this happened in the thirty-first year [of Klong chen rab ’byams’ life], which would result in the year of the female earth hare [1339] (...zhes pa ’Bri gung Chos kyi rgyal po sku ’khrungs sa dang dus mtshungs pa med pa me phag lo yin nam dpyad dgos | mThong snang ’od dra las dgongs lo so gnyis la gsungs pa mdzad ’dug de ltar na sa mo yos yin |). »

[3] Excessively curious indication, which was also in the Them byang of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig (n° 98); same date in the Khrid yig nyi zla gza’ skar (n° 14).

[4] We thank Philippe Cornu, who drew our attention to this point.

[5] Op. cit. same page.

[6] gZhan don 'ur 'ur | Da lo sum cu thub zer |

[7]  Or between 1337 and 1339, as we will see.

[8] [2021: I now have a different perspective on this issue. I suspect indeed that Klong chen rab ’byams must have received the mKha’ ’gro snying thig from Karma pa III Rang byung rdo rje, or at least in his entourage, in his youth. He may simply not have had access to the texts (biographies emphasize their rarity) and, above all, he may not have been appointed their depositary. There is one available editions of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig that has not received sufficient attention to date: the volume listed on TBRC under the number W8LS16277, with this description: “Collected revelations of Dzogchen by Longchen Rabjampa Drime Ozer (1308-1364). Incomplete handwritten manuscript in Umed script.” This description is misleading: this manuscript indeed comes from another filiation of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, the one that did not pass through Klong chen pa, but through the disciples of Karma pa III Rang byung rdo rje, notably g.Yung ston pa rDo rje dpal, and in which Rin che gling pa plays an important role.]

[9] rNying ma rgyud ’bum, vol. Pha, pp. 888-952; Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. DXXXVIII, pp. 249-446.

[10] As we shall see later, it is possible to situate Klong chen rab ’byams' presence at the Zhwa’i lha khang quite precisely, thanks to the indications he himself gives in the Zhwa padma dbang chen gyi dkar chag gtsigs kyi yi ge zhib mo (n° 233).

[11] sMyo shul chos ’byung, pp. 277-278

[12] Or maybe thob...

[13] sMyo shul chos ’byung, ibid.

[14] Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. dxxxix, p. 21: Klong chen rab ’byams discovers the text in mChims phu (in bSam yas) and later hides it in Bum thang.

[15] Indication by Katia Buffetrille.

[16] Cf., for example, the strong volume Klong chen snying thig gi ’don cha thengs gsum gsar bsgrigs pod dang po (publisher, place and date of publication unknown), pp. S.745-S.747, text beginning: hoḥ 'dzam bu gling gi skyes mchog |...

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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