A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (19)

Publié le 20 Mai 2021 rGyal sras Legs pa rgyal mtshan (1290-1366/67) and the mKha’ ’gro snying thig

rGyal sras Legs pa was the main disciple of the gter ston Padma las ’brel rtsal, whose reincarnation Klong chen rab ’byams is considered to be.

It is almost impossible to date Padma las ’brel rtsal. Tradition reports (sMyo shul chos 'byung, p. 190) that he was born in the year of the iron hare and that he did not live long. This is probably what leads Tülku Thondup to propose 1291[1] as the year of his birth, knowing that he gave teachings to Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje, born in 1284. However, for some reason that escapes us entirely, the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo [and TBRC] has Padma las ’brel rtsal born in 1248. Tülku Thondup suggests 1315 as the date of his death. We assume that this is because of the numerous allusions to the year of the wooden hare (shing yos) in the colophons of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, which do not correspond to anything in the life of Klong chen rab ’byams. This has the disadvantage of causing Padma las ’brel rtsal to perish after the birth of Klong chen rab ’byams, said to be his immediate reincarnation. But if this does not bother Tülku Thondup, who is well placed to be well informed of the Tibetan system of “reincarnations” (sprul sku), we have no reason to be upset about it. Let us add that the next reincarnation of Padma las ’brel rtsal[2] is supposed to be Grags pa ’od zer, Klong chen rab ’byams’ own son, apparently born in 1356, some eight years, therefore, before our author’s death !

In the same sense, it is observed that a certain Tshul khrims rin chen, whom we have already had occasion to say was none other than Padma las ’brel rtsal, gave teachings to Karma pa III in 1308 (the very year of Klong chen rab ’byams’ birth), as is indicated in a passage in Blue Annals (p. 524).

According to Kong sprul (op. cit., p. 411 ff.), he was born in the year of the female fire hare; he was ordained as Tshul khrims rdo rje; Rin chen gling pa sent him a shog gser when he was 21; at 23, he discovered the mKha’ ’gro snying thig and other cycles. Then he met Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje in Lhasa. He passed on his teachings to rGyal sras Legs pa and Rin chen gling pa and died at the age of 25 (or rather, counting in the Tibetan way, in his twenty-fifth year). Logically, from these elements, we must conclude that he died between 1308 and 1310, and perhaps rather in 1308, if, as this biography says, Klong chen rab ’byams was his immediate reincarnation (of ma thag tu...). He would therefore have been born in 1284 (the same year that Karma pa was born); but this does not correspond to a year of the hare.

However, in the biography of his disciple rGyal sras Legs pa which appears in the sMyo shul chos ’byung, Padma las ’brel rtsal, at the point of death, makes a prophecy concerning his reincarnation, Klong chen rab ’byams, whose birth he announces five years later. He would therefore have died in 1303. If we subtract from this date the appropriate number of years, we arrive at 1279, which is indeed a year of the hare. But another problem immediately arises: at his death, rGyal sras Legs pa would have been only thirteen years old, which is a bit curious if one considers that he chose him as his successor in the lineage. Without being inconceivable, this is strange. The year of birth of rGyal sras Legs pa (if we are not mistaken about it) almost necessarily implies that his master, Padma las ’brel rtsal, lived beyond the date of Klong chen pa’s birth, even though this upsets our general views on the Tibetan system of reincarnations (sprul sku) and runs counter to what is said in several documents relating to the life of Padma las ’brel rtsal. But, in the present state of our documentation, we do not see a way to know more or to get rid of this web of contradictions.

The sources for the biography of Padma las ’brel rtsal are, indeed, meager.[3] In the gTer byung rin po che'i lo rgyus of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, Klong chen rab ’byams mentions him only in passing. This is certainly a sign that his own teaching of mKha’ ’gro snying thig was based more on personal inspiration than on an oral tradition from this master.

Much could be said about the discovery of mKha’ ’gro snying thig. Some passages in the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba suggest that Rin chen gling pa also discovered it on his own, although he also received the transmission from rGyal sras Legs pa. Since Klong chen rab ’byams seems to have “re-revealed” the gter chos of Padma las ’brel rtsal too and to have completed it, it should be assumed that this revelation broke out almost simultaneously in at least three places.[4] Again, this is without even mentioning the texts which are found both (identically or with small variations) in the mKha’ ’gro snying thig and in the Bi ma snying thig or the dGongs pa zang thal, etc.[5]

One can only be surprised by the absence of rGyal sras Legs pa, both in the gTer ’byung rin po che’i lo rgyus and in the mThon snang ’od kyi dra ba, as if Klong chen rab 'byams had written the mKha’ ’gro yang tig solely on the basis of the texts given by ’Od zer go cha and his own inspiration, before formally receiving the transmissions held by Padma las ’brel rtsal’s disciple.[6]

sMyo shul mkhan po clearly writes that Klong chen rab ’byams, out of concern for proper usage and correct forms, requested and received from rGyal sras Legs pa the ritual consecrations and transmissions (lung) of mKha’ ’gro snying thig. This is also the opinion of Tülku Thondup (op. cit. p. 153). mKhas btsun bzang po rin po che,[7] for his part, asserted, when asked about the absence of rGyal sras Legs pa in the lives of Klong chen rab ’byams, that the transmission of mKha’ ’gro snying thig to Klong chen rab ’byams had been entirely visionary, in the mode of dgongs gter. This point remains to be clarified.[8]

We have seen that Klong chen rab ’byams seems to have conferred the mKha’ ’gro snying thig consecrations around 1339. One may believe, as Padma gling pa's autobiography suggests,[9] that Klong chen rab ’byams had in fact received the teaching of rGyal sras Legs pa even before he met Ku ma rā dza, perhaps in the interval between his departure from gSang phu (1332) and that meeting (1334). But then, why do the texts of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig, composed apparently between 1337 (at the earliest) and 1343, never name him? I prefer to believe that Klong chen rab ’byams met rGyal sras Legs pa after 1343 and received these teachings from him in order to silence criticisms which are slightly echoed in the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba. There is no reason why this should not be the case, since both of them had more than twenty years to live at that time.

The account of this meeting given by sMyo shul mkhan po[10] does not tell us much about the history of this meeting:

It was from this master [rGyal sras Legs pa] that the omniscient Dharma king Dri med ’od zer [received this tradition]. In accordance with the last prophetic words of the treasure-discoverer Las 'brel rtsal, he went to rGyal sras Legs ldan pa, and told him about his past lives (sngon rabs). The latter said: “Apart from the change in physical appearance, you are really my master; it would be superfluous [for me to confer] consecrations and ritual transmissions on you.” But [Klong chen rab ’byams] replied, “Because of this change from one life to another, and since it is necessary for the tradition to be uninterrupted, it would not be appropriate [for me not to receive these transmissions].” Thus, having received [from Legs pa rgyal mtshan] the entire transmissions of the tantras, consecrations, precepts, and practice instructions of the Secret Quintessence of the ḍākiṇī, the omniscient king of the Dharma finally became (rim par) the repository of the hidden treasure of the Guru[Padmasambhava]’s brief lineage.

There is also an interesting biography of rGyal sras Legs pa in the sMyo shul chos ’byung (pp. 197-202), but it contains nothing that would allow us to situate the meeting with Klong chen rab 'byams historically.

sMyo shul mkhan po often corrects the errors and implausibilities of the current tradition, but he has the delicacy of not pointing them out as such, which is embarrassing for us, because he thereby omits the reasoning by which he arrived at the solution he presents. We can never know, therefore, whether he is merely “tinkering” with the tradition to make it acceptable, or whether he has good reason to make slight corrections, without touching the main structure. I regret that I did not interview him during his lifetime; his state of health did not allow me to burden him with questions of mere erudition, [although he seemed to regard his work as a historian as one of his most central tasks - for fear that if the rDzogs chen tradition were to be passed on in ignorance of its “pedigree,” it might lead to doubts and criticism in the future].

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[1] [2021  : Ron Garry (Treasury of lives, 2007 : https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Pema-Ledrel-Tsel/10301 suggests 1291-1315 but does not mention any of his sources, so that his article rather sounds like a summary of what the tradition says than as a piece of original research. On TBRC, Padma las ’brel rtsal’s date of birth is still given as 1248.]

[2] See for example Guru bKra shis, Chos ’byung, p. 230 : mKha’ ’gro snying thig gi zhus lan gser ’preng du | Las ’brel rtsal gyi skye ba phyi ma | longs sku’i zhing la dar cig myul | de nas Bum thang Thar pa gling du skye | lo bco lnga nas ’gro don byed | sras Zla ba grags pa zhes bya ba rTa mgrin gyi sprul pa zhig byung | des kyang 'gro don byed | ces sogs lung bstan pa bzhin du...

[3] [2021: Since the publication (2007) of the book of which I present here a simple adaptation in English, it seems to me that the major advance, rather than on the side of tibetology, is to be sought in the publication in 2015 of the huge collection Byang gter phyogs sgrigs. Indeed, it includes two volumes of gter ma by Padma las ’brel rtsal about gZa’ Ra hu la, completely unknown until now and therefore not yet explored. The research that we are now trying, with Dr. Jay H. Valentine, to animate on the Northern Treasures is therefore likely to open up leads also, incidentally, on the side of the chronology of Padma las ’brel rtsal.]

[4] [2021: Ruth Gamble, in her book The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Master of Mahāmudrā, “Lives of the Masters”, Shambhala, 2020, mentions (p. 85) the idea that Rang byung rdo rje also [re-] discovered all or part of mKha’ ’gro snying thig. I have not found this idea elsewhere at this stage; but she is very much right anyway to write that "the source of the Ḍākiṇi's Heart Essence texts is shrouded in mystery.”]

[5]  The “Testaments” (’das rjes, cf. Achard, Les Testaments de Vajradhara...), on the one hand, and the cycle of “tantras that liberate by wearing” [keeping them in contact with one’s body] (btags grol skor), on the other hand, are two flagrant examples.

In the short biography of rDo rje gling pa (1346-1405) of bDud ’joms rin po che’s rNying ma chos ’byung (p. 576), we find, in the list of texts that this gter ston revealed in his fifteenth year (1360), mention of a Ma rgyud klong gsal nyi ma and a mKha’ ’gro yang tig (nyi zla kha sbyor). Knowing that the Klong gsal nyi ma’i rgyud is the “eighteenth tantra of the heart essence, which, in addition to the seventeen tantras of the Vimalamitra tradition, specifically founds the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, the comparison is tempting. But it has already been attempted by Jean-Luc Achard in L’Essence perlée du secret : p. 61, n. 33, he writes that “rDo rje gling pa’s version of the Klong gsal is in fact another tantra [different from the Klong gsal on which the mKha’ ’gro snying thig is based, one must understand] which includes passages very close Ratna gling pa’s the Klong gsal (cf. Achard, The Peak of the Visions, pp. 18-20, 37 n. 89).”

[2021  : the Klong gsal that is the basis of the mKha’ ’gro snying thig is in fact the following text  : mKha’ ’gro thams cad kyi snying khrag klong gsal ’bar ma nyi ma’i gsang rgyud in bKa’ ma shin tu rgyas pa (dpal yul shing par – TBRC : W1PD159541), Vol. 111, p. 9-298.]

[6] [2021 : As I wrote above, I now think that Klong chen pa had received the consecrations (initiations) from Rang byung rdo rje or in his entourage much earlier in his life and that I confused, in the 2007 book, the question of transmissions in the sense of an authorization to practice with that of “the” transmission, in the sense of what makes one the custodian of a system of meditative practice, the holder who is authorized to transmit it.]

[7] Oral indication, August 2001.

[8] [2021: Today, it seems to me that the most likely thing is that Klong chen pa (1) received at least partial transmission from Rang byung rdo rje in his youth; (2) only later, thanks to ’Od zer go cha, did he have access to a more or less complete set of texts; (3) probably then had all sorts of visions that made him feel that he was authorized to teach, and even was the most authentic depository of this tradition; (4) had to go and regularize his situation, so to speak, with rGyal sras Legs pa, but no doubt after having already composed at least part of his writings relating to the mKha’ ’gro snying thig, hence the embarrassment that one can guess on the part of rGyal srasLegs pa, who cannot consider him an ordinary discipline. With this assumption, the whole of the traditional narratives can be more or less maintained in their entirety.]

[9] See M. Aris, Hidden Teachings and Secret Lives, pp. 29-30.

[10] sMyo shul chos ’byung, I, p. 202 ff. : De lta bu’i bla ma dam pa de nyid las | Kun mkhyen chos kyi rgyal po Dri med ’od zer gyis | sngar gter ston Las ’brel pas | lung lung bstan zhal chems bzhin | rGyal sras Legs ldan pa’i drung du byon nas sngon rabs gsungs | sku’i bkod pa brje ba tsam ma gtogs kho bo’i bla ma dngos byon par dbang lung dgos pa ni mi ’dug gsungs pas | skye ba phyi brje zin pas de mi ’ong | brgyud pa bar ma chad pa zhig dgos gsungs pas bzhin du | mkha’ ’gro gsang ba’i snying thig rgyud lung dbang khrid gdams pa rdzogs par gsan pa ni | kun mkhyen chos kyi rgyal po la gu ru nas nye brgyud gter ma'i rim pa bka’ babs tshal lo |

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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