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A h{cble Noose of }rlethods,

The Lotus Garland Synopsis:
A Mahayoga Tantra and its Commentary

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der Wissenschaften



A Noble Noose of Methods, the Lotus Garland Synopsis:

A Mah yoga Tantra and its Commentary



Beitrge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens

Nr. 73

Herausgegeben von Helmut Krasser




A Noble Noose of Methods,

The Lotus Garland Synopsis:
A Mah yoga Tantra and its Commentary

Vorgelegt von w. M. ERNST STEINKELLNER in der Sitzung am 15. Juni 2012

Die verwendeten Papiersorten sind aus chlorfrei gebleichtem Zellstoff hergestellt,

frei von surebildenden Bestandteilen und alterungsbestndig.

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ISBN 978-3-7001-7273-4
Copyright 2012 by
sterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
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Note on Transliteration of Tibetan


Abbreviations and List of Sigla used in the Editions


Introducing the Textual Sources, and their Significance

The Contents of the Thabs zhags and their Significance for the Historical Study
of the rNying ma pa

The Dunhuang Manuscript as a valuable source from the 'Time of Fragments'

A Summary of the Salient Points of our work on the Thabs zhags Textual Tradition


Methodological Issues in the Study of the Thabs zhags Textual Transmissions


The Ancient Tantra Collection (NGB)


Textual Obscurity and Scribal Corruption in the extant Ancient Tantra Collection


Increasing the usability of the Ancient Tantra Collection texts


How do we edit Ancient Tantra Collection texts? Can we stemmatise them?

How do we account for their variations?


Concluding Reflections on the variations in TZ


Textual Analysis
a) The Editions of the Root Text and Commentary


b) Features of the Dunhuang Manuscript


c) Examination and Assessment of the Differing Boundaries of TZ in Different Editions


d) The Stemma of the Root Text


e) A Summary of The Commentary on A Noble Noose of Methods, the Lotus Garland Synopsis
('Phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad ma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa'i 'grel pa)


f) The "Citations" or Attributions of the Teachings in the Thabs zhags Commentary to other Tantras 84
Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary
Padmasambhava's Pith Instructions on the Garland of Views


The Evidence from the Commentary and its Dunhuang witness



Table of Contents

Introduction to the Editions

of the 'Phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad ma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa and its Commentary


The Presentation of the Critical Edition of TZ


The Presentation of the Edition of TZComm


Critical Edition of the Root Text (TZ),

The 'Phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad ma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa


Edition of the Commentary (TZComm),

The 'Phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad ma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa'i 'grel pa


The Deities of the Peaceful Maala in the Thabs zhags tradition


The Deities of the Wrathful Maala in the Thabs zhags tradition






CD Images of the Dunhuang Manuscript IOL Tib J 321 from the Stein Collection in London

We are extremely grateful to the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), who so
generously provided the funding that enabled both of us to spend a full quarter of our working time each,
between 2006 and 2010, in pursuing the research for this book. We are equally grateful for the patience,
generosity, and intellectual inspiration of our many colleagues and friends at Oxford University, and in
particular in its Oriental Institute, who have been so unfailingly supportive of all our efforts since our arrival
there in 2002. We would also like to thank the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund,
which provided vital support in the final stages of preparing the publication, and Mr. Dylan Esler, who
helped with the final preparation of the manuscript, including the conversions of transliterated Tibetan into
Tibetan script, and some additional collation in the process of rationalising the presentation of the root text
edition. In the early months of the project, the International Trust for Traditional Medicine in Kalimpong
helped with data input from the Golden Tenjur edition of the commentary.
Some sections of the book began life as conference papers, given in Berkeley, Vancouver, Santa Barbara,
Atlanta, London, Bonn and Lumbini, while other sections started life as invited guest lectures delivered at
the Universities of Chicago, Harvard, CNRS-Paris, SOAS-London, Humboldt-Berlin, and Vienna. We would
like to acknowledge the valuable feedback from colleagues attending those presentations, as well as other
academic exchanges we have had the good fortune to enjoy in the course of this work. In particular, we
would like to mention Chris Beckwith, Jos Cabezn, Brandon Dotson, Lewis Doney, David Germano, Paul
Harrison, Agnieszka Helman-Wazny, Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt, Nathan Hill, Christian Luczanits, Chris
Minkowski, Karma Phuntsho, Charles Ramble, Geoffrey Samuel, Sam van Schaik, Jonathan Silk, Phillip
Stanley, Ernst Steinkellner, Pter-Dniel Sznt, Tanaka Kimiaki, Tsuguhito Takeuchi, and Vesna Wallace.
Very special thanks are due to Changling Tulku of Shechen Monastery, who so generously offered help
with this text despite having so many other more pressing claims on his time, and similar thanks are also due
to Khenchen Pema Sherab, Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin, and Lama Kunzang Dorjee.
A large debt of gratitude is owed to Helmut Eimer, Helmut Tauscher and Bruno Laine, who at the final
revision stages drew our attention to the versions of the Thabs zhags found in the so far uncatalogued local
Kanjurs of Bathang and of Hemis, providing us also with copies of these additional witnesses that did so
much to clarify and confirm our picture of the historical transmission of the text. We would also like to
acknowledge the professionalism and efficiency of staff at the British Library's Asian & African Studies
Reading Room, who facilitated our unhindered access to the original Dunhuang manuscript, IOL Tib J 321.
The staff at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, notably P. Dorje and Ngawang Tsepag,
went to quite exceptional lengths to make possible under very difficult technical circumstances our
consultation of their microfilm copy of the Tawang O rgyan gling Kanjur, a particularly important historical
witness for the edition. Finally, we are extremely grateful to Tsymzhit Vanchikova, who so generously took
the trouble to supply us with suitable sample pages of the Ulan Bator manuscript Kanjur.
We must also thank the publisher's anonymous peer reviewers, who gave useful feedback at the final
editing stages.
Following the example of Paul Harrison's edition of the Druma-kinnara-r ja-paripcch -s tra (1992), we
have presented our critical edition of the root text in Tibetan font, in the hope that it might make our work
more accessible to a Tibetan readership. This was no simple undertaking, and would not have been possible
without the technical help and advice of a number of people. Firstly, we must thank Stefan Hagel, who gave
us ongoing instructions on formatting Tibetan text within his Classical Text Editor software. Chris Fynn
advised on a number of computing issues, and contributed the excellent DDC Uchen font that we use. David
Chapman's WylieWord program enabled us to make the complex conversions between Roman and Tibetan
fonts; and George Cantwell at very short notice wrote a macro for Classical Text Editor which resolved a
difficult presentational problem in the Tibetan text.

Earlier versions of some materials from this volume have been published previously. A precursor to the
section below entitled "Methodological issues in the study of the Thabs zhags Textual Tradition", was
published in the JIATS (Cantwell Mayer 2009), with regards to which we must thank an anonymous peer
reviewer who offered useful comments. Other earlier takes on materials that now contribute to this book
appeared in the OTDO Monograph Series Volume III (Cantwell and Mayer 2011), and in the volume
Tibetan Ritual edited by Jos Cabezn (Cantwell and Mayer 2010a).
We thank the British Library for permission to distribute their images of the Dunhuang manuscript IOL
Tib J 321 with our book, which should enable readers swiftly to consult this important witness of the
commentarial text.
Finally, we must acknowledge that whatever shortcomings there might be in this volume are without
exception the result of our own failings, and for this we request our readers' forbearance.

Transliteration of Tibetan in this work conforms to the internationally widely used system often referred
to as Wylie Conventions,1 although we do not use the single contribution which Wylie proposed, that is, the
capitalisation of the first letter of a word where appropriate. Instead, if necessary in the case of names or
titles,2 we capitalise the root Tibetan letter (or the first Roman letter representing the root letter), since this
conforms more closely to Tibetan conceptions, and has a well-established usage in Western scholarly
writings, from Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956.3 For Tibetan representations of Sanskrit letters, we use the
generally accepted appropriate Roman letters with diacritical marks.
Conventions used in transcribing the Dunhuang document
In presenting transcriptions of the Dunhuang manuscripts, we have conformed to the usages established
by Tsuguhito Takeuchi in a number of publications on Old Tibetan documents, made in accordance with the
suggestions of A. Delatte and A. Severyns (1938: Emploi des signes critiques, disposition de l'apparat dans
les ditions savantes de textes grecs et latins / conseils et recommandations par J. Bidez et A. B. Drachmann,
Bruxelles : Union acadmique internationale).
We have not needed to use Takeuchi's complete list but have used the following.
From Tsuguhito Takeuchi 1995 Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia, Tokyo pp.137-138:
reversed gi gu
editor's note
ambiguous readings
our conjectural restorations of letters partly illegible or lost in the original
uncertain readings
illegible letters, number unknown
illegible letters, number known, indicated by broken line
illegible letters, approximate numbers known, indicated by numeral with
] abc
beginning of line lost through damage
abc [
end of line lost through damage
blank spaces left by copyist (in the case of IOL Tib J 321, generally due to the string holes)
From Tsuguhito Takeuchi 1997-1998 Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in The Stein
Collection of the British Library, Tokyo and London Vol. 2: Descriptive Catalogue 1998, p.xxxii.
page initial sign (mgo yig, siddha)
text deleted in the original manuscript4

Following Turrell Wylie 1959. Wylie adopted in its entirety the system earlier used by Ren de Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956: xv)
and David Snellgrove (1957: 299-300). See the discussion in David Snellgrove 1987a: xxiv, and our own comments in Cantwell,
Mayer and Fischer 2002: Note on Transliteration: "Not Wylie" Conventions
( In line with Tibetan understanding and the most
common contemporary scholarly usage, we modify the system by using "w" rather than "v" for the subjoined Tibetan letter, "wa"
(wa zur).
We do not capitalise words at all in representing our Tibetan source documents, but do so within the English language discussion
where necessary.
The root letter (ming gzhi) is the main letter of a syllable and that under which words are ordered in Tibetan dictionaries, so it is
the letter of the syllable to which attention is drawn.
Tsuguhito Takeuchi's preferred usage is now not to include deleted words within the main text, but rather in the Critical
Apparatus, marked as, "cancellavit" (this convention is given in his 1995 list). However, we have modified that list in this case,
since it seems helpful in the case of our texts with only short deleted passages, for the reader immediately to see a transcription
which as closely as possible resembles the original.

We have also added one further convention:
ornamental punctuation mark, generally marking a section ending and new opening, and
varying in design from two large vertically arranged circles to two dots.


Throughout the book, we use the anglicised word, Kanjur, for Tibetan bka' 'gyur, and Tenjur, for Tibetan
bstan 'gyur.
Abbreviations used are:
NGB for rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum (Ancient Tantra Collection)
MTph for Man ngag lta phreng
TZ for 'Phags pa Thabs kyi zhags pa padma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa
TZComm for 'Phags pa Thabs kyi zhags pa padma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa'i 'grel pa
We follow to some extent the sigla established by Harrison and Eimer (1997) for the editions of the
Kanjur and Tenjur. This is modified because some of the letters from their lists were already used by our list
for NGB texts. Since the Thabs zhags root text is found in both the NGB and a number of Kanjurs, and its
commentary is found in three Tenjurs, as well as being represented in a Dunhuang document, it seemed most
straightforward to qualify the sigla with a lower case letter, k, for Kanjur texts, and t, for Tenjur texts, when
there might otherwise be confusion. Thus, D stands for the sDe dge NGB, and Dk for the sDe dge Kanjur,
while Qk stands for the Peking Kanjur, and Qt for the Peking Tenjur. Recent work on local Kanjurs has also
established the principle of using more than one letter for these further editions, and thus, we follow Helmut
Eimer in using Ogl for the Tawang Kanjur from O rgyan gling, and Bth (used earlier in Michael
Zimmermann's work on the Tath gatagarbhas tra) for the Bathang Kanjur held in the Newark Museum.
See the Bibliography for fully bibliographical references. The local Kanjurs and proto-Kanjurs from
Western Tibet do not yet have established sigla. Pending such establishment by those working on these
collections, principally at the University of Vienna, we use He for the (incomplete) Hemis Kanjur which
contains our text.
We have used Tibetan language sigla for the root text edition, which is presented in Tibetan. We have
tried to present a shortened form of the Tibetan names, mostly using the place names where the edition was
produced or preserved, and we have tried to make them easy to guess, so that it should not be necessary to
check this list repeatedly.
Ms = Dunhuang manuscript; f = d ddd

J = Lithang or 'Jang sa tham Kanjur; df = dddd

Qk = Peking Kanjur; df = dddd

Nk = Narthang Kanjur; df = dddd

U = Urga Kanjur;

df = dddd

Dk = sDe dge Kanjur; df = dddd

D = sDe dge NGB; d = dddddd

Hk = lHa sa Kanjur; df = dddd

V = Ulan Bator Kanjur; df = dddddd

Qt = Peking Tenjur; df = dddd

Gt = Golden Tenjur; df = ddddddd

Nt = Narthang Tenjur; df = dddd

M = mTshams brag NGB; f = dddddd

G = sGang steng b NGB (G-a is used for sGang steng a NGB); df = dddddd

Gr = dGra med rtse NGB; f = ddddddd

T = gTing skyes NGB; = dddddd

R = Rig 'dzin NGB; f = dddddddddd

K = Kathmandu NGB; f = dddddd

Bth = Bathang Kanjur; f = dddd

He = Hemis; f = dddd

Ogl = Tawang Orgyan ling;

f = ddd ddddd

Introducing the Textual Sources, and their Significance
This volume represents the outcome of a research project on a famous rNying ma Mah yoga root tantra,
the 'Phags pa Thabs kyi zhags pa padma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa (hereafter abbreviated as TZ), together with
its commentary. The surviving sources have left us no clearly established Sanskrit titles,1 but we translate the
Tibetan title of the root text as A Noble Noose of Methods, the Lotus Garland Synopsis. Versions of TZ were,
as far as we can tell, prominently included in all known editions of the Ancient Tantra Collection (rNying
ma'i rgyud 'bum, hereafter NGB).2 A version has also been transmitted through the editions of the Tshal pa
branch of the Kanjur that contain a special Ancient Tantra (rNying rgyud) section. TZ has additionally
surfaced in the three local Kanjur editions of Hemis, Tawang, and Bathang, that is, local manuscript Kanjur
collections which do not reflect either of the two major transmissional branches of Tshal pa and Them
spangs ma (which between them subsume all the popular printed Kanjur editions).
The Tibetan title of the commentary is, simply, 'Phags pa Thabs kyi zhags pa padma 'phreng gi don
bsdus pa'i 'grel pa (hereafter abbreviated as TZComm). A version of TZComm is shared by three editions of
the Tenjur (bsTan 'gyur), namely Golden, Peking, and Narthang. Unfortunately, this, the sole traditionally
transmitted version of TZComm, has lost around thirty percent of its text, and has also here and there suffered
further transmissional misfortunes. No other traditionally transmitted versions of TZComm appear to have
survived, not even in such suitable rNying ma corpora as the various bKa' ma compilations (see below).
Fortunately however, a probably tenth century manuscript in eighty-five folios preserving an almost
complete TZComm was amongst the famous Dunhuang treasures brought to London by Sir Aurel Stein in the
early 20th century, and is now held at the British Library (IOL Tib J 321).
TZ is admired as a key scripture by the rNying ma pa, and is consequently preserved within a distinct and
prestigious doxographical section of the NGB known as 'The Eighteen Tantras of Mah yoga' (ma ha yo ga'i

Out of all the versions of TZ and TZComm, only the Bhutanese NGB edition of TZ attempts a Sanskrit title: rya ka la pa sha
padma m le sang kra ha, perhaps intending * rya-up ya-p Xa-padma-m l -sagraha? Reconstructions of TZComm's
Sanskrit title have been suggested by Chattopadhyaya (1972: 49, *Up ya-p Xa-padma-m l -pi rtha-vtti) and HerrmannPfandt (2000: 270-1, * rya-arthasagraha-n ma-up yap Xa-padm vali-vtti for the front title and, *Up yap Xa-padmam l kalpar ja-arthasagraha-n ma-vtti for the colophonic title). A much earlier attempt to reference the Sanskrit title of TZ is
found in the Dunhuang text PT 849, which Hackin dubbed the Formulaire Sanscrit-Tibtain du XE Sicle. Here we find that a
Tibetan entry rgyud thabs kyi zhags pa is mistakenly rendered a mo ga pa sa tan tra, a confusion between the Amoghap Xatantra of the Kriy tantra genre that was popular at Dunhuang, and our somewhat rarer *Up yap Xa-tantra of the Mah yoga
genre. Since the references occur within a list of famous Mah yoga texts, and directly next to the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po
or *Guhyagarbha with which TZ is often paired, it is highly likely that *Up yap Xa was intended by the author of PT 849
[Hackin 1924:6]. For further analysis of PT849, see Kapstein 2006. Excellent digital images of the original scroll of PT849
can now be accessed at The Mellon International Dunhuang Archive <>.
For those who are not familiar with the Ancient Tantra Collection, we should mention that the editions studied so far break
down into three distinct branches, which we have provisionally termed the Bhutanese, South Central Tibetan and Eastern.
These provisional names reflect the empirical data, in that the distribution of NGB editions has so far followed a consistently
regional pattern. Future discoveries might well render these regional names inaccurate, and in due course, we hope to go
beyond such ad hoc regional identifications by discovering the original source of each distinctive redaction, and then more
appropriately naming the various branches after them. For now, we must talk of a Bhutanese branch in forty-six volumes, with
four available manuscript versions, all virtually identical to one another; an Eastern branch in twenty-six volumes, so far
represented only by the conflated single witness sDe dge xylograph edition; and a South Central Tibetan branch with two
subdivisions, represented by four available complete manuscript versions, two with thirty-three volumes and two with thirtyseven volumes. Rig 'dzin and gTing skyes had thirty-three volumes; Nubri and Kathmandu had thirty-seven volumes. See
Cantwell and Mayer 2007: 11, 16-19.


rgyud sde bco brgyad). It is interesting to note that a high proportion of the rNying ma tantras titles
mentioned at Dunhuang are found within this grouping, which moreover includes some titles of known Indic
provenance, such as the Guhyasam ja, a Buddhasam yoga, and a Wr param dya. TZComm, however,
displays some sign of probable authorship in Tibet, or at least, contains some material most probably
composed in Tibetan. Its Chapter Six glosses the Tibetan term for maala, dkyil 'khor, according to its two
halves, giving first an explanation of centre (dkyil), followed by an elaboration on circle ('khor).3 But the
verses of TZ itself do not appear Tibetan in any such obvious way, and TZ was duly accepted as an authentic
Ancient Tradition scripture in the text lists of two early Sa skya masters. Grags pa rgyal mtshan (1147-1216)
selected it as one of the only six rNying ma scriptures included in his tantra catalogue, while his greatnephew Chos rgyal 'Phags pa (1235-1280) followed suit in his own catalogue of 1273 (Eimer 1997: 52).
Later, TZ was included in the special three-volume rNying rgyud section of twenty-four texts added to the
Tshal pa Kanjur, the dkar chag of which was established by the great bKa' brgyud scholar Tshal pa Kun dga'
rdo rje (1309-1364). As we have mentioned above, TZ was also included in at least three local Kanjur
collections. In the two very old local Kanjurs of Hemis and Bathang, as far as we can tell from these still
uncatalogued collections, TZ is located in the midst of several other rNying ma tantras, which might (but
need not) suggest a segregated rNying rgyud section; but in the case of the Tawang Kanjur of 1699, it seems
that it and the other sixty rNying ma texts in that unique collection were not segregated in a separate section,
but included among the other gSar ma tantras in the main rGyud section.4 However, while not explicitly
condemning it, the famous fourteenth century Kanjur compiler Bu ston (1290-1364) failed to endorse TZ as a
valid translation from Sanskrit. Hence it does not occur in Kanjurs of the Them spangs ma branch, which do
not have rNying rgyud sections. The various Kanjur traditions, then, were not in final agreement about the
Indian origins of TZ, and we too remain uncertain of its provenance.
TZ has much to offer the philologist. It is one of only two full-length, complete Ancient Tantra scriptures
recovered from Dunhuang, the other being the Guhyasam ja (yet the latter is a text far more used by the
gSar ma pa than the rNying ma pa, who de facto rarely practise Guhyasam ja, even while retaining it in their
NGB). TZ is furthermore one amongst that comparatively small band of Ancient Tantras still to have extant
its own word-by-word commentary. TZComm must be old, since it was found at Dunhuang, and it serves
also as our source for the Dunhuang witness of TZ, which comes embedded within TZComm in the shape of
lemmata. Yet TZComm seems to have been comparatively neglected or even forgotten by the later rNying
ma tradition:5 despite the fact that an albeit corrupt and partial version of it survives in three Tenjur editions,
it does not seem to have had a consistent presence in appropriate rNying ma collections such as the rNying
ma bKa' ma,6 and few if any of the highly learned rNying ma lamas we showed it to appeared to have had

It is unlikely that the Sanskrit word, maala, could have been similarly separated into two parts with exactly these
implications. It seems then, that this part of TZComm cannot be an unmediated translation from a Sanskrit original. It is worth
noting that Tibetan commentarial traditions sometimes break the Sanskrit word, maala, into two for the purpose of glossing
its meaning, but the connotations would not correspond neatly to the Tibetan equivalent term. For instance, Mi pham glosses
maal as essence or vital juice, and la as taking or holding, so that maala would mean, to grasp the essence enlightened
qualities. He adds that if the word is taken as a whole, it can also mean, completely circular or entirely surrounded, and hence
is translated as dkyil 'khor (maal ni snying po'am/ bcud dang la ni len cing 'dzin pa ste snying po'i yon tan 'dzin pa'i gzhir
gyur pa'am/ rnam pa gcig tu sgra 'brel mar thad kar bsgyur na kun nas zlum zhing yongs su bskor ba'i don du 'jug pas dkyil
'khor zhes bya ste/, Mi pham rgya mtsho: 136. Thanks to Karma Phuntsho for drawing our attention to this source).
See Jampa Samten 1994. This edition of the Kanjur had been comissioned and copied in the late seventeenth to early
eighteenth centuries at the temple of O rgyan gling (the Sixth Dalai Lama's family temple), on the basis of an earlier gold and
silver illuminated Kanjur (gser chos bka' 'gyur).
We emphasise that this comment applies most especially to the recent past. Our research seems to indicate, however, that the
versions of the root text included within the Bhutanese NGB, and the Tshal pa Kanjur editions, must both separately have been
compiled through extracting the root text lemmata from an edition of the commentary (see below, p.35-42, 44-45).
No version of TZComm was included in Dudjom Rinpoche's bKa' ma collection. We do not know if it was included in earlier
bKa' ma collections. A copy of the Peking Tenjur version has been included in the new bKa' ma shin tu rgyas pa compiled by
Ka thog mkhan po 'jams dbangs (Chengdu 1999: volume 80 Wu: 125-236). It has been copied anew for this collection, but it

The Textual Sources and their Significance

much prior awareness of its existence. Yet one finds citations from TZComm in the works of several early
masters, such as the ninth or tenth century gNubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes, the eleventh to twelfth century
Rong zom chos kyi bzang po (Rong zom bka' 'bum: 397-398) and the fourteenth century Klong chen pa
(1308-1363) (bDud 'joms bka' ma volume La: 63; see also Dorje 1988: 393; we discuss the citations more
fully just below). The earlier figure, gNubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes, in Chapter Six on Mah yoga of his
famous bSam gtan mig sgron,7 offered citations from both TZ and TZComm, yet without explicitly
differentiating between the two. gNubs first paraphrases two statements given in TZComm's Chapter One,
relating to engagement in all dharmas, and then, while discussing awareness of the sameness of dharmas,
cites more exactly a single line relating to instantaneous omniscience. Finally, he cites the first two lines of
TZ's Chapter Five, on the level of attainment. Rong zom and Klong chen pa both elected to cite from the
discussion of samayas in Chapter Two (see below, p.4, and TZComm edition, Chapter 2), although they
selected different passages to cite. Rong zom pa's citation is taken almost verbatim from TZComm although
with some words omitted, while Klong chen pa's citation more generally paraphrases the meaning of a
number of the points made in TZComm. As did gNubs before them, both Rong zom and Klong chen pa as
often as not merely indicate that their respective citations are from the Noble Noose of Methods literature
(using words such as 'phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa las), without specifying if they come from the
commentary or the root text. Such a lack of consistently explicit differentiation between the root tantra TZ
and its commentary TZComm, found in all three of these examples from the earlier literature, might prove of
philological interest, in the light of some of our discussion to follow below.
The Contents of the Thabs zhags texts and their Significance for the Historical Study of the rNying ma pa
The contents of the Thabs zhags literature amply demonstrate how historically interesting and worthy of
editing such texts can be. General features of TZ suggest that to some extent it shares historical indicators
with the type of tantric literature represented by the Sarvabuddhasam yoga kin j laXavara (a version of
which the rNying ma pas nowadays count as one of the Eighteen Tantras of Mah yoga mentioned above, and
which is also listed in the Dunhuang text PT 849). This Indian tantra is historically intermediate between the
Sarvatath gatatattvasagraha and the Guhyasam ja on the one hand, and the full-on Yogin or
Yoganiruttara tantras on the other hand. Sanderson locates the production of such literature from the late
eighth century through the ninth century. Historical indicators which TZ shares with it include (i) Heruka in
terrifying skull-bearing cemetery-dwelling (k p lika) appearance as the main deity, with female retinue; (ii)
an abbreviated form of the introductory verses setting the scene (nid na) that were previously standard in
Buddhist scriptural literature, for example, unlike the Guhyasam ja, it does not have the formula, "'di skad
bdag gis thos pa dus gcig na"; (iii) the considerable (but not exclusive) use of verse rather than more
balanced verse and prose; (iv) the inclusion of feast rites (gaacakra); (v) hints of sexual yogas; (vi) some
rhetoric of taming Waiva deities; (vii) the absence of any inner yogas involving subtle physical veins and
wheels (n , cakra), which first appear only with the subsequent Yoganiruttara tantras. In this text,
however, we have no coded mantra table (sngags btu ba = Skt. mantroddh ra), and moreover the rhetoric
of taming Waiva deities, although present, is not elaborate.8
TZ and TZComm when taken as a whole present a complex Mah yoga system that arguably equals the
contemporary rNying ma tradition in sophistication and complexity. Vairocana is the expounder of the
tantra, and Vajrasattva his interlocutor. Vairocana and the others of the five family buddhas, together with
their consorts and retinues of bodhisattvas, make up the peaceful deities, and here we can see how TZ is aptly
named a Mah -yoga tantra, in the sense of being a Greater-yogatantra. For its peaceful maala of fifty

does clearly correspond to the Tenjur versions of the text, and an additional colophon identifies its provenance: pe cin bstan
'gyur las bthus (presumably, btus or 'thus intended), "extracted from the Peking Tenjur" (volume Wu: 236.5).
Dylan Esler of the Institut Orientaliste, Universit Catholique de Louvain (UCL), Belgium, has been working on a Ph.D on the
bSam gtan mig sgron, and we would like to thank him for drawing our attention to these citations. The citations are given in
the footnotes to our editions below.
For a brilliant historical analysis, see Alexis Sanderson 2009: 145ff.


deities is an adaptation of the thirty-seven deity maala of the Sarvatath gatatattvasagraha that is so
basic to Yogatantra, but in TZ, the male and female figures are now paired together as consorts, and a
number of further female deities are added to complete the set. The central male deity of the wrathful
maala is a ferocious form of Wr Heruka with nine heads and eighteen arms,9 but we have not yet identified
this exact form in later sources. Nevertheless, very similar and clearly related forms of Wr Heruka or Mah Xr
Heruka do still occur widely as the central figures in the wrathful maalas of several important extant
rNying ma pa cycles, such as the Tshogs chen 'dus pa and the sGrub pa bka' brgyad cycles, or in root tantra
sources such as the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po.10 The central wrathful deity is surrounded by the Ten
Wrathful Deities, or Khro bo bcu. The central female is a great fearsome female deity ('Jigs byed chen mo),
specified in TZComm as Ral gcig ma (Ekaja ), still to this day the main ma mo or wrathful female deity of
the rNying ma pantheon. These main deities are surrounded by a large entourage of emanations whose
names, ordering and attributes as given in the commentary remain very similar in some transmitted rNying
ma texts, including some modern liturgical texts (for a systematic exposition of the deity maalas, see the
Appendix below).
It is interesting that some later doxographers envisaged TZ, along with the famous root text for all the
Mah yoga tantras, the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po, as the two texts from amongst the Eighteen Tantras of
Mah yoga that expound Mah yoga in general (spyi'i rgyud), rather than merely a single maala, such as
that of Hayagr va or Vajrak laya (Dorje 1988: 33-35). With a similar intention, in his thor bu entitled rGyud
spyi'i dngos po gsal bar byed pa, Rong zom pa likewise singles out TZ for praise as a source for clarifying
the general topics of all tantras.11
TZ and TZComm present versions of Mah yoga theory and practice that in their details bear recognisable
resemblances to the doctrine of the sameness of all dharmas (mnyam pa'i chos) of the rGyud gsang ba'i
snying po. Like the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po, TZ and TZComm also on numerous occasions use
terminology built around the words mnyam pa or mnyam pa nyid or mnyam nyid ('even', 'evenness' or
'sameness'). This famous doctrine of the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po, the basis of which involves realising all
phenomena as primordially pure, is seen by some modern scholars (Karmay 1988: 11) as one of the
historical roots of the rDzogs chen or Great Perfection mysticism of the rNying ma pa. A very similar kind of
thinking pervades the entirety of TZComm, so that the various aspects of tantric ritual are consistently
interpreted from this more inward or mystical viewpoint. In this respect, perhaps the author of TZComm can
be seen as anticipating such views as those of Klong chen pa's famous commentary on the rGyud gsang ba'i
snying po called Phyogs bcu'i mun sel, which interiorises Mah yoga and orients it towards a rDzogs chen
view. In his Phyogs bcu'i mun sel, Klong chen pa refers to TZComm's Chapter Two on the samayas which
need not be guarded, and he additionally cites TZ on a number of further occasions. Rong zom, whose views
are seen by many to anticipate those of Klong chen pa, also offers citations from both TZ and TZComm.12




Described in TZComm Chapter Twelve: 47r-49v (see summary below p.74-75 and text in the edition below p.293-296).
For the Tshogs chen 'dus pa, see Dharma Wr 's version in the bDud 'joms bka' ma, volume Pha, p.376 ff; for the sGrub pa bka'
brgyad cycles, see Nyang ral 1979-1980: Volume Ka: 132-134; and for the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po, see its Chapter
Fifteen, mTshams brag edition of the NGB, volume Wa: 200.
See Rong zom, Chos kyi bzang po 1976: 490, where he begins this thor bu with the following statements: rgyud dang kalpa'i
nang nas/ bstan par bya ba'i dngos po ni/ dam tshig dang/ dbang dang/ phrin las dang/ dkyil 'khor dang/ bsgom pa dang/
sngags dang/ phyag rgya dang/ dngos po 'di dgu khong khrar rgyud kun nas kyang 'byung na/ dngos po ming gdags par gsal
ba ni/ tantra kun kyi mjug gi don 'phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa las 'byung ngo/.
Klong chen pa's discussion of Chapter One of the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po (bDud 'joms bka' ma volume La: 63; see also
Dorje 1988: 393) has a citation which paraphrases some of TZComm's Chapter Two (see above, p.3). Klong chen pa's other
references (bDud 'joms bka' ma volume La: 255, 279-280, 445-446, 488-489, 618-619), however, give lexically more precise
citations from TZ's Chapters One, Five, Ten and the final words of Chapter Forty-two (see the notes to the relevant chapters of
our editions of TZ and TZComm below for the quotations). In an incomplete text from his miscellaneous writings (thor bu),
Rong zom (1976: 397-398) offers a citation from Chapter Two, which, like Klong chen pa's citation of a different part of
Chapter Two, also parallels the commentary TZComm rather than the root text TZ. Elsewhere however, Rong zom (1976: 375,

The Textual Sources and their Significance

The evidence of TZComm suggests that in adopting such an outlook in his Phyogs bcu'i mun sel, which
became so definitive for much of the later rNying ma pa, Klong chen pa was not innovating: on the contrary,
such interpretations were current five hundred years before his time.
One example of how such interiorisation works in TZComm is the description of empowerment rites
found in its Chapter Three. Usually, empowerments are described in terms of complex ritual procedures
using various implements. But here, in the verse cited from the root text, Vairocana says to Vajrasattva,
"Great Being, empowerments are obtained through the expressive power of one's own innate awareness." 13
The tiny marginal notes in the Dunhuang manuscript of TZComm observe, "Empowerment can be obtained
both through ritual articles and through awareness.14 Here, (it is) through the expressive power of
awareness."15 TZComm itself explains, "When one is aware of the sameness of all dharmas, (this) is called,
obtaining empowerment through (one's own) natural qualities: that is what is meant."16 After expounding
further on this inward interpretation of empowerment, TZComm concludes with a citation attributed to a
tantra that was to become a famous rNying ma scriptural title, the Rampant Elephant: (Glang po rab 'bog):
'Not indeed from anywhere within the worlds of the ten directions / Can the buddha be found to come;/ Since
the buddha is the aware nature of mind/ Do not seek the buddha anywhere else.'17
Another aspect of this interiorization process is TZComm's exegetical interpretation of all ostensibly
pragmatic tantric rituals towards transcendental rather than mundane goals. Towards the end of TZ, for
example, we find a series of short chapters on the four rites in which homa and phur pa rituals are used to
achieve the apparently this-worldy goals of destroying, captivating, enriching and pacifying. But according
to TZComm's exegesis, these four rites are not simply concerned with the outer performance of burnt
offerings rites and liberating troublesome beings through striking an effigy with a phur pa and so on, but
with the transformative power of the ritual in the path to enlightenment. Each phur pa comes to embody an
aspect of understanding so that it can infuse the object of the rite with the realisation it exemplifies: for
example, the wrathful phur pa is, "a single phur pa of [the nature of] mind",18 and the pacifying phur pa is
"the elemental nature's faultless essential pure awareness, the sam dhi phur pa, so it pacifies everything
through its natural qualities".19 At the end of each of the chapters on the four rites, the ritual description is
concluded with a verse further glossing the meanings in unambiguously soteriological terms, attributed, as in
the extract from the Rampant Elephant above, to various named rNying ma tantras. TZComm in this way
cites or refers to a good number of other tantras, including several with titles corresponding to prominent
members of the Eighteen Tantras of Mah yoga. However, we have not located the quoted passages in the
extant scriptures of the same names, and it appears that they may not be intended as exact citations in any
case (see below, Textual Analysis, Section f, p.84-86).
As indicated by our discussion of the empowerment rites above, the Dunhuang manuscript version of
TZComm enjoys the added feature of copious marginal notes in a tiny handwriting, expanding on the
commentary. These anonymous marginal annotations are a valuable source of historical data, and exist
nowhere else, since the Tenjur versions of TZComm did not reproduce them. For example, they mention
W ntigarbha on one occasion and three times speak of Sambhava or Padmasambhava, and in this and other




408) offers short lemmata from Chapter One, using words that coincide closely with the extant root text TZ. There is also a
further apparent citation (1976: 392-393) we have not located within the extant versions of the Thabs zhags literature.
See our TZ edition for this statement: sems dpa' chen po dbang 'di dag ni rang gi rig pa'i rtsal gyis thob bo/.
Here and below, the annotation uses rigs, seemingly for rig. This is not uncommon in Dunhuang and other old texts. There
are also some instances in the manuscript's main text (eg. below, 11v.6, where the Tenjur version gives rig).
dbang la yang yo byed kyis thob pa dang rigs pa thob pa gnyis la 'dir ni rigs pa'i rtsal gyis (11v.4).
chos thams cad mnyam pa nyid du rig pa na/ dbang rang bzhin gyis thob bo zhes bya ba'i don to/ (11v.5-6).
/glang po las kyang // phyogs bcu 'i 'jig rten gang nas kyang / /sangs rgyas rnyed par yong myi 'gyur/ /rig pa'i sems nyid sangs
rgyas te//sangs rgyas gzhan du ma tshol cig / zhes 'byung ba lta bu 'o/ (12r.6-12v.1).
sems kyi phur pa gcig (64v).
chos nyid ma nor par rig pa nyid ting nge 'dzIn gyi phur pa yin te/ thams cad rang bzhin gyis zhi bar 'gyur (75v-76r).


ways (see below p.87, 95-98) help to shed light on the pre-history of the rNying ma tradition. In particular,
they make it unambiguously clear that the Thabs zhags literature was seen by the annotator as specifically
associated with Padmasambhava. We can only estimate that they were copied into the Dunhuang
manuscript20 in the mid to late tenth century, but the dating of Dunhuang texts remains too primitive to
permit any real certainty. In short, the Dunhuang manuscript of TZComm adds considerable weight to the
evidence for substantial representatives of what we now call rNying ma Mah yoga being already present
before the Dunhuang caves were closed, or even earlier: for our stemmatic analysis shows that a Tibetan
archetype of the root text, which we have sought to restore in our edition, must pre-date the Dunhuang
manuscript.21 But such continuity is hardly surprising, since TZ itself still exists within the NGB, and most
of TZComm still survives in the Tenjur, even if somewhat neglected.
However, it is worth pointing out that there are some uncertainties in the exact list of deities in all
surviving versions of the texts. TZ seems to have some inconsistencies between its mantra list for the
peaceful deities in Chapter 9, and its mudr list in Chapter 10, which moreover, appears not to be entirely
complete nor in the most logical order throughout. TZComm to some extent fills in the gaps in the deity lists,
especially in Chapter 7 for the peaceful maala and in Chapters 12 and 13 for the wrathful maala. Yet it
also adds slightly to the confusion, suggesting some names for the peaceful deities which seem at odds to
those given in the mantra and/or mudr lists, and seeming to introduce a few further inconsistencies of its
own (see the Appendix below for tables of the principal deities). In both surviving versions, TZComm's
Chapter 13, which specifies the female deities of the wrathful maala, appears to be rather corrupt in parts,
and includes further female deities without specifying quite how they fit with those presumed to be the main
set (assuming that the usual consorts and female attendants of the ten Wrathful Deities [khro bo bcu] are
intended to constitute the principal wrathful females, an assumption consistent with Chapter 12's list of the
male deities). Furthermore, Chapter 11 which also in other respects does not fit entirely comfortably with
the text as a whole (see e.g. below, p.39 note 7) lists further wrathful female deities not included in Chapter
13. We cannot be sure, but a possible contributory reason for the later rNying ma pas' relatively lower level
of interest in the Thabs zhags tradition, in comparison with, say, that of the rGyud gsang ba'i snying po,
might be these uncertainties and corruptions in the texts inherited by the tradition.22
The Dunhuang Manuscript as a valuable source from the 'Time of Fragments'
Perhaps nowhere in the Buddhist world do questions of the production and reception of texts, of textual
and cultural translation, and of the historical transmission of Buddhism across time and place, appear so
fascinating yet more obscure and less understood, than in the occasion of the early transmission of Tantric
Buddhism to Tibet. This is because for a crucial period of one hundred and fifty years, from the mid-ninth to
the start of the eleventh century, much of the Tibetan historical record was obliterated, within a period of
civil war and the collapse of the Tibetan state.
We know a little more about what happened before that disaster. Although refracted and patchy, we do
possess some historical records of the efforts of Tibetan emperors to introduce Buddhism to their country
between the eighth century and the mid-ninth century, in what is traditionally termed the early diffusion of
Buddhism in Tibet (snga dar). We have sources describing their invitation of famous foreign Buddhist
masters to Tibet, including W ntarakita, KamalaX la and many others. Likewise we have sources for their
Imperially sponsored Buddhist foundations, their huge official translation and lexicographic projects, and the


We present evidence below (see p. 32-33) which suggests that they were copied from a previous exemplar.
This is because the Dunhuang version already incorporates indicative scribal errors shared by the Tshal pa Kanjur and
Bhutanese NGB versions, but avoided by the texts of the South Central NGB and the local Kanjurs (see Textual Analysis,
Section d below, especially p.50-54).
These uncertainties remain even today, when modern reprographic technologies facilitate such easy comparison of multiple
witnesses, such as the Dunhuang manuscript, and the local Kanjur versions that originate from such far flung regions of Tibet.
TZ's textual problems might have seemed even more intractable in the past, before such technologies existed.

The Textual Sources and their Significance

way they handled some of the controversies following the introduction of the foreign religion to Tibet. Yet
after the mid-ninth century, when the three great empires of the Tang, the Uighurs and the Tibetans
simultaneously suffered political calamity, our historical record in Tibet becomes much thinner. Tibet enters
its notorious 'time of fragments' (sil bu'i dus) and for around one hundred and fifty years we know very
little about what went on.
However, when the historical record picks up again with the so-called later diffusion of Buddhism to
Tibet at the turn of the eleventh century (phyi dar), we seem to encounter a country transformed. The
evidence suggests that Tibet had entered the 'time of fragments' with Buddhism still working to
institutionalise itself at a grass roots level, but it seems to have emerged as a country more or less
predominantly Buddhist at all levels. Tibet entered the 'time of fragments' as a disintegrating empire ruled by
martial aristocratic clans, but emerged one hundred and fifty years later with old and new leading families
alike striving to project themselves as a religious aristocracy. As Samten Karmay has observed (1988: 9), it
had entered the 'time of fragments' as a country where the state actively propagated exoteric Buddhism, but
severely restricted, curtailed and some would say even outlawed the translation and practice of the more
radical types of esoteric tantric Buddhism that used k p lika imagery; it emerged from the period as a
country overwhelmingly dominated by such radical forms of tantric Buddhism, with a substantial associated
tantric literature, both indigenous and translated. It had entered the 'time of fragments' with no single
religious specialist identified as the national patron guru; it emerged from the period with a cult and legend
of Padmasambhava as a national patron guru clearly developing. It had entered the 'time of fragments' with
nothing much resembling the clerical Bon religion of today; yet shortly after the period, we find the present
form of the Bon religion beginning to emerge.23
It appears that arguably the most significant transformations in Tibetan history occurred within a one
hundred and fifty year period for which we have only the slenderest record of events. Moreover, the
transformations of this period established fundamental cultural patterns of great importance that still persist:
this was truly a formative period in Tibetan history, out of which came the highly influential rNying ma or
"Ancient Tantra" school, with its hereditary tantric lineages, its powerful cult of Padmasambhava, and the
Mah yoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga tantric systems that remain so hugely popular to this day. In this context, it
is interesting to note that the social-historical origins of the Yoganiruttara or Yogin tantras favoured by the
Tibetan New Translation schools is equally obscure. Although hugely influential to this day, we know very
little about the conditions or circumstances of their production south of the Himalayas at a time not distant
to, and under conditions of political decline not entirely different from the sil bu'i dus in Tibet.24
In many popular discussions of Tibet's conversion to Buddhism, terminological confusion arises through
an unreflective and simplistic use of the Tibetan terms, snga dar and phyi dar. Especially if not analysed too
carefully, Tibetan historians seem to speak of only two main phases of Buddhist dissemination: a late eighth
to mid-ninth century Imperially sponsored snga dar, and a late tenth to eleventh century phyi dar beginning
with the new translations of Smtij nak rti and Rin chen bzang po. In much traditional writing, rNying ma
tantras are primarily linked with Padmasambhava and the associated Imperial period and counted as snga
dar. But this can become an occasional source of confusion, with some voices inaccurately allocating the
first proliferation of the rNying ma tantras to a snga dar understood as late eighth to mid-ninth century, and
some other voices equally inaccurately allocating it to a phyi dar understood as late tenth to eleventh century.


Jacob Dalton (2011: 5-8) discusses the sil bu'i dus as a culturally creative period which later came to symbolise chaos and
darkness, in contrast to the Imperial glory which preceded it. This characterisation is generally apt, although it is also true that
rNying ma pa historians were not wholly negative about the period, retaining some positive memories of the continuity of their
lineages throughout the era.
This point point is made very clearly by Pter-Dniel Sznt in his description of 'The Dark Ages in India', the opening section
of his article, "Before a Critical Edition of the Sampua", in Cppers, Mayer and Walter forthcoming. The most sustained
attempt so far to investigate or speculate about the social-historical origins of the Yogin tantras is Ronald Davidson 2002.


The evidence found so far suggests that even though such k p lika-style texts did exist in India at the time of
Khri Srong lDe'u btsan (Sanderson 2009: 145ff.) and so might have been then translated into Tibetan in some
restricted manner, the widespread proliferation and popularisation of what we now call rNying ma tantras
came later. It began either towards the very end of empire (we have little direct evidence for this, but the
possibility cannot be discounted), or, more certainly, in the hundred and fifty years after the fall of empire,
for which we have plentiful evidence from Dunhuang. This means it actually occured after the snga dar as
popularly defined, but before the phyi dar as popularly defined. The rNying ma tantra's first proliferation
could be said to be located in the snga dar only if one clearly understood the snga dar to persist in full flood
continuously up to the late tenth century; but some do not interpret it that way, instead implying the real snga
dar to be co-terminous only with the late Empire, and wrongly seeing the post-Imperial century and a half as
a chaotic 'time of fragments' (sil bu'i dus), in which no such major cultural proliferation could have
happened. The mistake here is perhaps a failure to understand that religious culture, and especially tantric
religious culture, can genuinely flourish in politically chaotic conditions. It might have been more felicitous
for some purposes if the Tibetan chos 'byung authors of the past had instead adopted a three-part convention,
counting the rNying ma tantras' first widespread dissemination as a bar dar, a third and culturally distinctive
middle phase of Buddhist expansion falling between snga dar and phyi dar, and which gathered steam
during the sil bu'i dus. But the first priority of Tibetan historians was to connect the rNying ma tantras with
Padmasambhava and other famous personalities of Khri Srong lDe'u btsan's reign, so that they were more
conspicuously concerned with the putative Imperial first seeds of rNying ma tantrism than with its
historically very late-Imperial, or more verifiably post-Imperial, development and proliferation. One should
add, learned traditional historiography could be far more complex than any such simplistic snga darphyi
dar binary. Dudjom Rinpoche, for example, systematically divides the rNying ma propagation into three
periods in his Chos 'byung, in saying that the rNying ma tantric teachings "fell first to gNyags, fell to gNubs
during the intermediate period, and fell to Zur in the end" (Dudjom 1991: 599).25 Several authors even
employed the term bar dar, although with a number of quite different meanings, and perhaps few if any in
the exact sense that we discuss here.
In the last few years, following the digitisation and wider distribution in usable form of a significant
proportion of the archaeologically recovered Dunhuang Tibetan texts, some evidence from the obscure sil
bu'i dus is beginning to become more easily available. Yet this too has inherent limits. Current scholarship
believes that internal textual clues can help locate a few of these documents (such as the Annals) to the
Imperial period, and a few others, such as PT 849, to the late tenth century (Kapstein 2006: 10-17). Yet given
the currently still preliminary nature of Tibetan palaeographic scholarship, it remains beyond our capability
accurately to locate the bulk of the Dunhuang tantric texts to precise decades within the long stretch of the
'time of fragments', so that in the absence of clear evidence, it is hard to draw conclusions about tantric
developments through this important period. It is currently suggested by some scholars that the Dunhuang
manuscript collections came from a storehouse of the Three Realms (Sanjie) Monastery. Rong Xinjiang
reports that in the tenth century, a monk of this monastery named Daozhen collected considerable additions
to his monastery's library stocks, so that a proportion of the Dunhaung texts might originate from Daozhen's
efforts (Rong Xinjiang 2000; see also Takeuchi, forthcoming). However, the store also contained earlier
materials, from the time of the Tibetan occupation of Dunhuang and throughout the intervening period.
Yoshiro Imaeda discusses a number of features of the history of the collection, but like many other scholars,
emphasises how little we know about the provenance of the various documents (Imaeda 2008). The library
cave contained texts from a very long period, from Imperial times until the eleventh century, and moreover,
documents were removed in the early twentieth century without proper records of which part of the cave they
came from, so unfortunately, we can never know. Hence we need to exercise caution in fixing dates for
manuscripts with no clear clues. In addition, even if we were able to date them all accurately, the Dunhuang

Dudjom Rinpoche understood gNubs to have lived for 111 years, beginning as a direct student of Padmasambhava, and
continuing 37 years beyond the death of Glang dar ma (Dudjom 1991: 607-614).

The Textual Sources and their Significance

texts at best comprise a partial and possibly unrepresentative sample of the total manuscript corpus of their
time, moreover all taken from a single multi-ethnic location, situated at a geographical and political
extremity of the Tibetan cultural world.
Nevertheless, despite such limitations, the Dunhuang documents are quite extensive, and do offer our best
available sources for understanding an extraordinarily important period in Tibetan history. On the horizon
are other promising sources, the most important of which are the great volume of so far largely unread
contemporaneous Tang dynasty Chinese sources describing Tibet and the Tibetans, as well as the findings of
ongoing largely Chinese archaeological excavations within Tibet.26 Of the Dunhuang sources, however,
there is no doubt that the manuscript of TZComm we examine in this book is an exceptionally fine specimen.
It offers possibly our best and certainly our most sustained window into the early doctrinal world of the
tantric systems that were later to be known as rNying ma pa. Moreover, depending on the date of the original
composition, it potentially offers a comparatively early window into the initial phases of the type of radical
Buddhist Tantrism that was eventually to become dominant in Tibet, in which skull-bearing cemeterydwelling k p lika symbolism was prominently employed.


The huge quantity of unexplored Tang dynasty sources that could shed some light on Tibet in this period are described by
Bianca Horlemann in her article, "Tang Dynasty (618907). Sources for Tibetan Empire Studies: A Bibliographic Essay", in
Cppers, Mayer and Walter, forthcoming. The extraordinary potential of archaeological excavations for elucidating this
period is made clear in the contributions to the same volume of Guntram Hazod, "The Plundering Of The Tibetan Royal
Tombs: An Analysis of the Event in the Context of the Uprisings in Central Tibet of the 9th/10th Century", and of Amy
Heller, "Observations on Painted Coffin Panels from Tibetan Tombs". A more comprehensive review can be found in the PhD
dissertation of Tao Tong 2008.

A Summary of the Salient Points of our work on the Thabs zhags Textual Tradition
First, scrutiny of the textual variants of the twenty-one different versions of TZ we consulted exposed four
distinctive textual groupings and four unique single witnesses.
One of the textual groupings, and three of the single witnesses, descend unproblematically from an
archetypal TZ text, it would appear quite independently of one another. These direct descendants of an
archetypal TZ text are the three surviving witnesses of the South Central NGB recension, and the local
Kanjurs of Tawang, Hemis and Bathang.
We can deduce that two further textual groupings of TZ descended from a word-by-word commentarial text
that contained the root text as lemmata, that is, they extracted TZ from a version of TZComm that had
contained TZ as lemmata. The first of these comprises the eight Tshal pa Kanjur texts (which here must
include the sDe dge xylograph NGB because it re-used the woodblocks of the sDe dge Kanjur), and the
second comprises the four Bhutanese NGB manuscripts.
A fourth textual grouping and a fourth single witness have still retained their full commentarial character and
are thus witnesses to the root text only through the lemmata they contain: these are the three extant witnesses
to the Tenjur redaction of TZComm, and the single witness Dunhuang manuscript TZComm.
Second, analysis of the patterns of indicative errors within these four textual groupings and four single
witnesses resulted in a stemma codicum that felicitously had more than two lines descending directly from
the archetype, a necessary condition for the application of stemmatic reasoning to arbitrate between
conflicting readings. The analysis also offered clear evidence for the existence of two hypearchetypes, and
weaker evidence for the possible existence of a third. (i) A variety of errors and other readings shared
between the Tenjur, Dunhuang manuscript, Tshal pa Kanjur, and Bhutanese texts indicated that these
witnesses must all descend from a common ancestor not shared by any of the others, which we designated
hypearchetype b. Thus when taken together, these four constitute a major branch of the transmission, united
in error against the South Central NGB and the three local Kanjur texts. (ii) The Dunhuang manuscript, Tshal
pa Kanjur, and Bhutanese NGB versions share indicative errors, notably a significant accidental loss of text
in the final section of Chapter Ten, which does not afflict the Tenjur, nor the South Central NGB, Tawang,
Hemis and Bathang witnesses. The material in question is necessary to TZ, so that even prior to our belated
collations of Tawang, Hemis and Bathang, it was already evident that the South Central redaction could not
have simply added the passage as an expansion. With this and other indicative errors, we can infer
hypearchetype c, common ancestor of the Dunhuang manuscript, Tshal pa Kanjur, and Bhutanese NGB
versions, and itself a descendant of hypearchetype b. (iii) A third possible hypearchetype is d, which, if it
existed, was a version of TZComm from which descended the Tshal pa and Bhutanese versions of TZ.
But the crucial point arising from stemmatic analysis is that we have five separate branches descending
directly and independently from the archetype: hypearchetype b, the South Central NGB editions, Hemis,
Tawang and Bathang. Through their testimony, we can by logical deduction identify many readings with a
high probability of their having been in the archetype.
It is perhaps instructive to reflect on one of the implications of this second point above: contrary to
popular expectation, the Dunhuang manuscript does not represent a pristine ancient version avoiding all the
scribal errors accumulated through centuries of copying since the eleventh century sealing of the Dunhuang
cave library. On the contrary, repeated cycles of copying have also left their damaging mark on the
Dunhuang manuscript itself. It has its own unique errors, such as the accidental loss of passages of root text
lemmata found in all other versions, and the misplacement of other passages, presumably the result of
disarranged folios during a previous copying. Moreover, as noted above, it shares many errors, including a
major omission, with some of the more popular extant witnesses of TZ, yet these errors are avoided by other
more obscure witnesses in the form of the South Central NGB and the local Kanjur texts. So for those who
may doubt the antiquity of the rNying ma tantras, it is worth reflecting not only on the self-evident external
evidence, namely that the existence of the Dunhuang manuscript demonstrates that TZ and TZComm must
date from some point prior to this late tenth or early eleventh century copy. One must in addition reflect on

Salient Points on the Thabs zhags Textual Tradition


the historical and also bibliographical implications of the internal evidence, which now shows that a lessfavoured branch of the extant NGB transmission, and some decidedly obscure local Kanjurs, are in many
ways our most reliable surviving witnesses, reproducing readings from a source older still than the
Dunhuang manuscript's two deducible error-bearing ancestors b and c. The ancestor of the South Central
NGB and local Kanjur texts was therefore as yet untainted by the combined transmissional faults of b and c,
which the Dunhuang manuscript shares with the more popular extant editions such as the sDe dge NGB,
Tshal pa Kanjur and Bhutanese NGB. We have no certain way of dating this earlier Tibetan version of TZ
(which is of course our archetype a). Although it is not logically possible to draw temporal conclusions of
any reliable historical significance purely from transmissional evidence, the layering and density of
transmissional errors already accumulated in b and c and hence already reflected in the tenth or eleventh
century Dunhuang manuscript, render it eminently possible (albeit unprovable) that a goes back a long way,
perhaps even as far as the Imperial period. It is worth adding that the South Central NGB may transpire not
only to represent a transmission established in a specific regional area. It is possible that its original source
may have been a rDo rje Brag manuscript, or even one from sMin grol gling, and thus could have been much
more culturally central than might be supposed from the currently known extant witnesses.
Third, it has also been possible to recover significant sections of TZComm lost or misplaced in one of its
two extant versions but found in the other: the Dunhuang manuscript has proven invaluable in restoring long
sections lost from the Tenjur versions, while conversely, some much smaller but still significant omissions
and misplacements in the Dunhuang manuscript can be recovered from the Tenjur.
Fourth, although TZComm incorporates the entirety of TZ as lemmata, it is not always clear or consistent
in marking these lemmata as such. A little unexpectedly to us, it further transpired that this fuzzy
demarcation between lemmata and commentary within the body of TZComm eventually issued into
significant differences between the three currently most popular recensions of TZ itself, namely the Tshal pa
Kanjur (including the sDe dge NGB), the Bhutanese NGB, and the South Central NGB. As we have
intimated above, investigation revealed that both the Tshal pa Kanjur and the Bhutanese NGB derived from
separate efforts to extract or reconstruct TZ from out of TZComm. Yet because the lemmata were not clearly
demarcated, their redactors made different decisions at various points about what was root text and what was
commentary. Thus, the Tshal pa Kanjur version has some erroneously lengthened sections where their
redactor mistook parts of TZComm as TZ. The Bhutanese NGB recension likewise both adds and omits
materials at different points. The South Central NGB recension by contrast is descended from an archetypal
TZ and was never confused in reconstruction from TZComm. The contrasting decisions about which
passages of TZComm constituted the lemmata account for all significant recensional differences between
these three currently popular versions of TZ. Virtually all other variations are transmissional in nature,
purely scribal errors afflicting one version or the other, or minor spelling corrections and so forth.
Furthermore, although we have been able to conclude through stemmatic analysis that it is the South Central
NGB and three local Kanjur recensions which accurately reflect the original boundaries of TZ, it would have
been hard or impossible to adjudicate between the different recensions in this way without stemmatic
analysis: were it not for stemmatics, the different recensions of TZ would all ostensibly offer equally good or
bad claims. Yet such unresolvable indeterminacy in itself offers a valuable clue to understanding the manner
in which the rNying ma textual tradition has existed over the centuries, and how it can accommodate a
certain level of variation within its texts across their different recensions and editions.
Fifth, the statements found in the Dunhuang manuscript suggesting its strong connection with
Padmasambhava invited a comparative study with the Man ngag lta phreng (Pith Instructions on the
Garland of Views), the one work which modern scholars see as credibly attributable to Padmasambhava.
Our comparative study showed no indication that the texts were by the same author. Perhaps more
interestingly, what we do find in the Dunhuang manuscript's mentions of Padmasambhava is an early
association of the figure of Padmasambhava at the highest level of the Mah yoga transmission, not simply as



a human scholar composing a commentarial work, but rather as a realised being, in some ways recognisable
from the later gter ma traditions.
Finally, the Dunhuang manuscript of TZComm is one of the most valuable items in the British Library's
Stein collection. It is a fortunate and remarkable textual survival, portraying a highly developed Mah yoga
system from post-Imperial Tibet. Its teachings claim to derive from Padmasambhava's tradition. In them, we
find a detailed exposition of tantrism as a path to enlightenment, doctrinally similar to the rGyud gsang ba'i
snying po, and striking in the way it turns even the ostensibly most worldly of rites towards a soteriological
purpose. We hope our edition of it might stimulate some interest in a more popular re-appropriation of this
remarkable text, as happened with the Sagh as tra following Prof Giotto Canevascini's edition (1993) of
the Gilgit manuscript. We are gratified to hear word of its inclusion in a forthcoming redaction of the rNying
ma bKa' ma.1

As yet we have no confirmation or details, but we understand that the Dunhuang manuscript version of TZComm may be
included in a new bKa' ma apparently being compiled in Eastern Tibet.

e) A Summary of The Commentary on A Noble Noose of Methods, the Lotus Garland Synopsis ('Phags
pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad ma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa'i 'grel pa)
Chapter 1 The Two Truths
TZComm begins with a twofold classification of the Mah y na spiritual path, as consisting of the Vehicle
of Characteristics, involving bodhisattva conduct, spanning a period of three aeons, and the Vajra Vehicle,
involving the Secret Mantra, and bringing realisation in this lifetime. In this Vajra Vehicle, all dharmas are
subsumed under the three maalas and the total purification of all objects and domains of experience brings
the enlightened qualities. The text title is glossed in terms of the features of the Vajra Vehicle: Noble since it
indicates accomplishment in one lifetime, and the Buddha's own practice; Noose since it represents the nonabandonment of sas ra, and Methods since evil beings are liberated through its great compassionate action.
In the image of the Lotus Garland, Lotus symbolises wisdom and Garland symbolises methods. Synopsis
indicates that it represents a summary of all the key scriptural sources. The root text begins with Vajrasattva
offering to Vairocana and Vairocana teaching in response the sameness of all outer and inner dharmas,
summed up in the two truths. The commentary elaborates that ultimate truth is the primary cause without
essential nature, so that all dharmas arise without characteristics, while relative truth is the result, since they
appear like an illusion, as a creative display. With this understanding, everything becomes pure, and all
activities become the Two Accumulations. However much one may be immersed in all phenomena,
understanding the ultimate cause prevents the two kinds of obscuration, so this is the Accumulation of
Primordial Wisdom, while the immersion itself constitutes the Accumulation of Merit. The root text states
that by means of the vajra of even awareness, the ten bodhisattva levels are unified in evenness. The
commentary explains how each of the bodhisttva perfections are to be practised with this view. Since one
does not fall into habitual tendencies while immersed in phenomena, one is endowed with the fruits of the
Perfection of Giving. Since one has pure awareness of the karma of defilements as none other than complete
purity, this is the Perfection of Ethics. Having patience towards dharmas and not becoming defiled even
during conflicts, is the Perfection of Patience. Being aware of the four aspects of the conduct in everyday
life as the Accumulations of Merit and Wisdom, is the Perfection of Effortless Diligence. The Perfection of
Absorption is maintaining awareness of the five senses as the five family buddhas and the five sense objects
as their five consorts, and that there is no movement from the dharmadh tu even when the mind is agitated,
so that through a Vajra-like Sam dhi, everything is entered into without obstruction. Awareness that the
dharmas of sas ra in which one is immersed, and those of nirv a are not different, is the Perfection of
Wisdom. Being aware of all defiled dharmas as the utterly pure dharmas, the purposes of self and others and
liberation are achieved. This is the Perfection of Skilful Methods. Awareness that oneself and the
enlightened are not different, and that all fields of experience and activity are utterly pure, is the Perfection
of Aspiration. Since being aware that sas ra and defiled action are nothing other than nirv a and
complete purification, the suppression of sas ra and defilement is the Perfection of the Buddha powers.
Having realised that the person and dharmas have no self, so being aware that the habitual tendencies do not
even have their own essence, and not moving from such a primordial wisdom awareness at any time is the
Perfection of Primordial Wisdom. The fruits of these are that the ten bodhisattva levels can be perfected
instantaneously in this very life.
The results of virtuous and sinful actions are not nonexistent, but just as a light appearing within
darkness, so dark thoughts dissipate naturally when the light has come. By awareness of all phenomena in
their sameness nature, they are accomplished as buddha. There are four aspects of sameness: 1. the
sameness of the outer world's five objects and the Tath gatas; 2. The sameness of the inner mental
consciousnesses and the five primordial wisdoms; 3. The sameness on the relative level of the senses and
their objects, and their mode as male and female deities; 4. Their ultimate sameness in their birthless and
deathless mode. Without these awarenesses, non-virtuous actions make you fall into lower realms. Without
awareness, the buddha fields may be seen as the hells, but with awareness, the hells are seen as buddha
fields. If one is aware of the sameness of all dharmas, then virtuous and sinful dharmas are the same, and

A Summary of The Commentary


arise as the accumulations of merit and wisdom. If one engages in everything, in sameness, then in this very
lifetime, the state of omniscience is achieved.
The pleasures of the five senses are the natural qualities of the five kinds of offerings. Desire is the
Buddha Body of Supreme Enjoyment. Hatred, rage and wrath are the power of great compassion. If
conjoined with emptiness, without self, sentient beings' distorted behaviours can be joined with the truth of
non-duality. Since emanations are sent forth, hatred is the Emanation Body. Since all dharmas are
encompassed within complete non-conceptuality, delusion is the Dharmak ya. Therefore, by not abandoning
the three poisons, they become the three Buddha Bodies; this is the short path.
Even if one were to work only on abandoning defilements, there are one hundred and ninety-eight of
them. Having abandoned these, one would achieve the fruit of the Arhat level. Then, having abandoned the
primordial defilement of what is to be known, through countless aeons, one will become a buddha. In this
way, like the Wr vakas, one may see the defiled and the pure dharmas separately. Yet if one is aware of the
utterly defiled phenomena as without self nature, they are completely pure, and there is no abandonment.
The level of omniscience is attained in a single moment. There is no need to tarry for a future buddha there
will be accomplishment in this life.
Chapter 2 The Samayas
The root text says: "Delusion, hatred, pride, desire and jealousy: are the code of commitments in which
there is nothing to guard against; they are the samayas which are vajra." Delusion is the samaya of
Vairocana: it lacks any abandonment of ignorance, and lacks any accomplishment of awareness, for they are
both of one taste in the dharmat . Hatred is the samaya of Akobhya, because it tames all beings, even
though not moving from the dharmadh tu. Pride is the samaya of Ratnasambhava, because it is enduringly
fixed in being aware of the truth of the sameness of dharmas. Desire is the samaya of Amit bha, because it
is determined to bring everything under its power. Jealousy is the samaya of Amoghasiddhi, jealous in
resenting the sending out of virtue and sin, when the sameness of dharmas is not realised. In short, if one
enters into the sameness of dharmas, and becomes endowed with self-aware primordial wisdom, there is
nothing to guard or not to guard. But if this is not accomplished, and one lacks the primordial wisdom
sameness in the mind, but does not guard samaya, then one arrives in the deepest of the hells.
The major samayas are the three aspects of purity, the five samayas, the five sacred foods, the samayas of
the absence of virtue and sin within phenomena, and of the lack of purity and impurity in foods. If these
samayas are unimpaired, then even if one engages in the five evils or poisons, one is not tainted by their
faults. This is the body vajra. Even if one says various things with the speech, one is untainted, and this is
the speech vajra. Being aware in this way is the mind vajra.
Chapter 3 Empowerment
The root text states: "these empowerments are obtained through the expressive power of one's own innate
awareness." Through the three maalas, when one is aware of the sameness of all dharmas, this is known
as obtaining empowerment through one's own natural qualities.
Means and wisdom are the great empowerments, so the root text instructs that vajra and bell are to be
held with awareness, and thus, all the dharmas of nirv a and sas ra are mastered. The male head of the
family is skilful means, the sambhogak ya, while the female head is wisdom, the dharmak ya. The
bodhicitta arisen from their consecration is the nirm ak ya. This is the empowerment of the three buddha
bodies. The vajra, the sign of means, is to engage in all phenomena. The bell, the sign of wisdom, is
awareness of all phenomena as illusory. Hence, all the phenomena of sas ra and nirv a, are engaged in
and brought under control. The Glang po is cited: "Since the buddha is the aware nature of mind, do not
seek the buddha anywhere else."


Textual Analysis

Chapter 4 Offering
It is crucial to understand "the supreme sacred offering". Because all enlightened and ordinary beings
partake of the dharmadh tu sameness, the yogin who is aware that they are not separate and not
differentiated, constantly engages in the five desirable sensual enjoyments. Through gratifying oneself, all
the noble ones are delighted; and by consecrating sas ra in this way, all sentient beings also become
liberated and blissful. Thus should the yogin perform offerings at all times.
In performing the burnt offerings rite, with the sam dhi that the noble ones and oneself are inseparable,
through the five seed syllables within one's own body, transformed into the celestial palace, the noble ones
are clearly visualised seated in the middle. The mouth is the homa fire offering pit, the tongue is the chief
deity, along with his emanations, and the hands are the homa's vajra ladles. Since one is endowed with the
mind of a noble one, one will be unmistaken as the almighty deity, so in this way, the food offering, adorned
by embellishments, should be made.
Chapter 5 The Sam dhi maala
To explain the opening of the three maalas, the root text says: "Transcending the [eleventh
bodhisattva] level of universal light, becoming the Lotus-Eyed [Buddha], by means of the great consecration
of awareness, the naturally existent maala (rang bzhin dkyil 'khor) absorbs and emanates". The
dharmak ya abides all-pervasively. Then by the consecration of effortless awareness, it is like self-arisen
light, radiating and re-absorbing. Arisen from the dharmak ya consecration and absorbed into it again, the
maala abides with its own natural expression without any characteristics. Thus, the root text continues:
"Endowed with the [thirteenth bodhisattva level of] the assembled wheel of syllables, the major and minor
[buddha] marks all emanate from it. It is endowed with those whose forms are ravenous and fierce, and with
the swift males and females as messengers".
The five buddhas arise from the five syllables, and the five female buddhas arise from the five primordial
wisdom objects, and so too arise the sixteen male and sixteen female bodhisattvas, their total number of
thirty-two related to the major buddha marks. Each of the sixteen bodhisattvas has a diadem of the five
families, and these five times sixteen amount to a total of eighty, which are connected to the minor buddha
marks. The male and female wrathful deities are fierce towards the extremes of eternalism and nihilism.
The messengers go everywhere without going, indicating they are no different from the dharmadh tu. Since
they are all self-arisen, with no exertion, this is called the naturally existent maala (rang bzhin kyi dkyil
The root text describes this as, "the vital seed vajra (thig le rdo rje)". Here, vital seed is the dharmadh tu.
Vajra is the mode of appearing as the male and female deities. The deep meaning is that it is what is known
as the vajradh tu maala. This sam dhi maala brings realisation of the absence of self within the
person. The yogin, without needing effort, realises whatever arises as the expressions of these male and
female deities.
Chapter 6 The Representational maala
The root text asserts that the five elements are the tath gatas, and that moreover, each of the five are
within each one. The commentary elaborates that space is Vairocana, earth is Akobhya, water (or fire) is
Ratnasambhava, fire (or water) is Amit bha, while air is Amoghasiddhi. Also, earth on its own has hardness,
cohesion, heat, and mobility, and each of the five are latent within space. The other elements can be
understood similarly. Body is the form realm, speech is the desire realm, and mind is the formless realm.
Body is the sambhogak ya, mind is the dharmak ya, and speech is the nirm ak ya.
The root text says: "the five wisdoms and the five classes of beings are indistinguishable... by the mantra
and mudr empowerment, one's entire field of experience becomes the maala". Since the Tath gata and
oneself are not separate, there is no need to invite the Buddha from elsewhere. All speech is mantra, so there

A Summary of The Commentary


is no special reciting of essence mantras. Moving the body is the ritual mudr , so there is no need to uphold
mudr s. The mantra and mudr s are empowered by the creative power of the pure primordial wisdom
awareness of this great self identity.
The five faculties are the five male consorts, while their five objects are the five female consorts. The
body is Vairocana. The eye is Akobhya. The ear is Amit bha. The nose is Ratnasambhava. The tongue is
Amoghasiddhi. All forms are Vajral sy (Vajra Charm); all sounds are Vajrag t (Vajra Melody); all smells
are Vajram l (Vajra Garland); all tastes are Vajranty (Vajra Dance); all touchables are Samantabhadr .
The term for the maala, the Assembled Centre and Circle (tshogs kyi dkyil 'khor) is glossed as follows.
Everything is gathered together and assembled through the consecration of oneself, so it is an assembly. It is
called, centre since everything emanates from one's own mind, and since all the primordial wisdoms are
emanated from the pure dharmat . With pure awareness, dharmas and mind become the same, so everything
is said to be centred in the mind. The reason it is called, circle, is because primordial wisdom, without centre
or circumference, is within everything, actively pervading and perfecting it.
Applying the technique of recognising the complete purity of the various aspects of the mind and
consciousness, they become the five primordial wisdoms and the five buddha families. [The Tenjur version
of this section is quite differently worded from the Dunhuang manuscript version, and seems rather more
coherent (see TZComm edition p.254-255), but following this passage, it then omits all the next text, up until
the final section of Chapter Ten.]
"Bodhicitta is the supreme siddhi." Without bodhicitta, even if one attains the divine superknowledges,
there will be no siddhis of the Buddha, nor understanding of the dharmadh tu nature. Doubts are the
dharmadh tu, so doubts are not cleared away. Since dharmas are not other than mental confusion, confusion
itself is unborn, unmoving in the expanse of incomprehensible non-conceptuality.
The means unite indivisibly with the wisdom, and the seed syllables are surrounding. Offerings should be
made to the lama. Uttering the appropriate mantras, and focusing on the syllables at the tip of the vajra and at
the centre of the lotus, the lotus petals are parted. Moving with the triple h , inconceivable light emanates,
and offerings are made to the Noble Ones. The bodhicitta flows down and is unified in the private place.
The bliss of the dharmat satisfies all sentient beings, thus bringing their benefit. The outer offering
goddesses are the various sensations, while the four inner goddesses relate to the inner union. When the
bodhicitta is produced, one meditates in absorption in the unborn, and on the mah mudr sam dhi. If the
mind wanders, one meditates on the absorption and emanation of tiny vajras. Uniting in desire with the
mah mudr , the bodhicitta's natural qualities are meditated on in the immanent reality of great bliss.
Meditating within the sam dhi of unborn bodhicitta is the dharmak ya. The great bliss engendered through
the bodhicitta's natural qualities, is the buddha body of merit. The absorption and emanation of tiny vajras is
the nirm ak ya. Spontaneously unifying the three buddha bodies, together with the goddesses, one
becomes aware in a naturally non-conceptual manner.
Chapter 7 The characteristics of the deities and the stages of the Maala's Array, the consecrations of
the five principal males and the five principal females, the sixteen male and the sixteen female
The root text explains that the buddha bodies of the maala deities, in all their seemingly diverse
appearances, are entirely like jewels, so that all enlightened purposes and deeds will be achieved by
meditating on them. The commentary elaborates on the specifics of these deities of the peaceful maala.
They consist of twenty-five male and twenty-five female deities, divided into five groups of five. Each
group is headed by one of the five Buddhas (Vairocana, Akobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amit bha,
Amoghasiddhi) and their consorts. These deities are embodied in the outer world and its beings,
differentiated by family. The tath gata family is golden, the vajra family is white, the jewel family is blue,


Textual Analysis

the lotus family is red, and the karma family is green. They are "like jewels", since they are clear and blaze
with light, with stunning colours and shapes. Their mudr s are the wheel for the tath gata family, the vajra
for the vajra family, the jewel for the jewel family, the lotus for the lotus family, and the sword for the karma
If one meditates on means and wisdom combined, the three kinds of siddhis will be attained. The objects
of the twenty-five primordial wisdoms are identical in their dharmadh tu character, yet arise separately.
Depending on one another, the means and wisdoms combine, and are endowed with bodhicitta. Consecrated
by primordial wisdom, the countless forms become one, while simultaneously, through awareness, becoming
countless different buddha bodies. Their suchness clear and radiating, they resemble jewels.
The deities are placed on the body parts with mantra syllables, and sensual experiences are transformed in
this way. Thus, Vairocana and his consort are uniting upon the head, and the four other pairs of their group
are on the eyes, ears, nose and tongue. Awareness of the emptiness nature of the seed syllable, there is
seeing in the mode of non-seeing, hearing in the mode of non-hearing, and so on, and in this manner, seeing
is universally activated, and so too the other sensual perceptions. Associations of the seed syllables and their
relationship to each other are given.
The vajra family deities are on the fingers of the right hand, with Akobhya in union with his consort
upon the middle finger. The right hand of the noble person is forceful in everything, so it is the right hand
which is used, since the male and female deities of the vajra family vanquish all opposing m ras and all
siddhis are received.
The left hand of the noble person assembles every need and enables one to hold to the sacred. Thus, on
the middle finger is Ratnasambhava and his consort, with the other deities of the jewel family on the other
fingers. The primordial wisdom of sameness is non-abiding, so for this reason it burns up abiding in views
in terms of self.
Upon the middle toe of the left foot are Amit bha and his consort, and the other deities of the lotus family
are on the other toes. The left foot of the noble person in a leaping posture is held stably. Likewise, the male
and female deities of the padma family desire in the mode of desirelessness, and since this is made stable, it
is the left foot.
Amoghasiddhi and his consort are upon the middle toe of the right foot, and the other pairs of deities of
his family are on the other right toes. The right foot of the noble person in a leaping posture causes one to
arrive at the other shore, and likewise these deities bring accomplishments.
Chapter 8 The accomplishment of siddhi
The yogins and yogin s realise the ultimate meaning of the three maalas in their inseparable cause and
effect. The yogins are meditated on as the twenty-five in the circle of the five buddhas, and the yogin s are
meditated on as the twenty-five in the circle of the five objects. Thus, the yogin s generate joy. The smooth
jewelled lotus circles are offered with bright beaming smiles, so that the joyful plunging vajras magnetically
invoke clouds of bodhicitta. When the bodhicitta flows, it is offered to the deities of the maala with the
exclamation, "a la la la ho!"
Many emanations are produced, and ritual activities of the four types are performed. With the mantras
and mudr s of the buddha families, the buddha family deities' natural qualities are generated in the medicinal
elixir, and creative seeds are produced in one's heart and in all the sense faculties. Drinking them in, the
supreme siddhi is obtained. Ultimately, consecrated by the conjunction of awareness and the spatial field's
nature, the arising of awareness which unmistakably realises the ultimate meaning is the bodhicitta and this
is Vajrasattva. Through this, subject and object dualism is transcended and the thirteenth (bodhisattva) level

A Summary of The Commentary


is attained, the supreme siddhi. The sGron ma brtsegs pa is cited as saying: "The bodhicitta becomes the
supreme siddhi, called, essential self-arisen awareness."
The root text continues: "The yogin, possessing the female vajra holders, bestows empowerment onto the
garments and offering foods, the substances of accomplishment, and in consuming (them), (they) are
transformed into the supreme siddhi". The offerings are made with the appropriate mantras and mudr s. As
they are consumed, the siddhis of vajra longevity are obtained. This means that the non-conceptual dharmat
is the buddha body. This essential nature is dressed in various appearances, and it appears within awareness.
Within the thusness of awareness, materiality is vanquished and consumed.
Then the yogin possessing the female vajra holders, consecrates the sounds of the songs and words as the
essence of buddha speech, and they are transformed into the supreme siddhi. The songs are heard in the ten
directions of the world, and m ras are subdued through splendour. This means that the spatial field of the
inseparable male and female deities pervades everywhere and the awareness nature of the spatial field is the
sound which is heard.
Then the yogins, meditating on the male and female deities, emanate out all the movements of dance and
display in various light rays, and once again gather them in, meditating on the deities and their assembly
blazing and turning into light, so that supreme siddhi is attained. In other words, when all the male and
female deities are conjoining at one moment, even the individual families are indefinable. At once, the vajra
also transforms into a precious jewel. Visualising the transformations blazing in amassed light, the
realisation is the supreme siddhi.
Chapter 9 Mantras
The mantras are given for all the peaceful deities described in Chapter 7. The mantras come forth from
the buddha body, speech and mind vajras. First comes the mantra for Vairocana, then his accompanying
four male deities, then Akobhya, with his four male bodhisattvas, and so on. Then there are the five female
buddhas, followed by the list of female bodhisattva goddesses, starting with the four in the first group,
continuing with those in the the second, third, fourth and fifth groups, and ending with four concluding
mantras. Since the list is self-explanatory, the commentary adds little, although the Dunhuang manuscript's
annotations attach the names of the deities to their mantras.
Chapter 10 Mudr s
The root text makes the point that when one is actually the male and female deities, the body possessing
them at the five limbs (as described in Chapter 7 above), every movement is mudr . Meditating on the hands
as means and wisdom, the various hand mudr s are made. A description is given of all the mudr s for the
peaceful maala, and as in Chapter 9, the commentary makes no elaboration. Following the opening
mudr s, each mudr is given a name which identifies the deity whose mudr it is. The list begins with the
mudr s for the five buddhas, followed by those for the male bodhisattvas (apart from Vairocana's group), and
then continues with the female deities in a slightly less obvious order. The first four appear to be for four of
the principal females, and with some anomolies, the female bodhisattvas are given starting with the second
group. The Dunhuang, Tshal pa Kanjur and Bhutanese texts have a shared omission at the end of this
chapter (and the Tenjur only picks up the final lines following its omission of text starting in Chapter 6), but
the South Central NGB and local Kanjur manuscripts (apart from Hemis, which is missing these folios)
complete the list appropriately, although a few anomolies in the list as a whole remain (see the table of
peaceful deities in the Appendix, and especially note 3).
Chapter 11 Cutting off Vidy Mantras
Throughout the vast reaches of the ten directions of the world, the incomparable five male and female
deities' consecrations for accomplishment are infinite. The male and female bodhisattvas are now joined by
male and female wrathful deities with great powers of sorcery, who protect the world. The great heart vows


Textual Analysis

of yore are expressed: since all and every world without exception is unified with the Conqueror's field, one
aspires to unify with the mah mudr . Those possessing the sorcery of the great spiritual warriors are
requested to consecrate one's noblest intentions for accomplishment through the consecration of great
compassion. Prostrations are made to the buddha emanations unified with the three realms, and a sam dhi
called, "wrathful display" is entered for the purpose of dealing with the harm caused by evil mantras. It is
explained that the tath gatas' body, speech and mind vajras already discussed will be effective.
Then the Victorious One entered into a sam dhi called, "vajra weapon", and from his body, speech and
mind vajras, secret mantras were emitted, weapons fell and Vajrap i collapsed with his retinue. The
Victorious One revived him and explained the rituals to accomplish this secret mantra in future times.
On a sun maala, the Great Glorious Blood-drinker is to be invited. He has a smokey coloured body,
dark russet brown hair, three heads and six arms, and his heads are red, smokey coloured and black. In the
three right hands, he wields a large corpse staff, a human skull-cup filled with blood, which he stirs with a
vajra. In the three left hands, he holds a noose of corpse intestines, a huge garua hawk, and from the belly
of a thin corpse, rips out and eats the internal organs. On the crown of his head, Vairocana himself is seated.
Akobhya is on his right shoulder, Ratnasabhava on the left; Amoghasiddhi is on the right foot, and
Amit bha on the left.1
A vajra wheel is sent forth from the syllable bhru, and the vidy mantras of the swift females are
invoked to summon the evil spirits. An effigy is drawn, and singing vajra invocation songs, the messengers
are commissioned. The evil vidy mantras embodied in the effigy are put into a triangular homa container,
fire is ignited, and the evil perpetrators are called up by waving the scarf. Their vidy mantras are burnt.
The carnivorous spirits come for the feast. There is a further ritual attack; singing and brandishing the vajra,
the deities are dissolved into oneself. Then magical hybrid deities are summoned from the different
directions, their mantras are given, gtor mas are offered and they are entrusted with action. A variation on
the visualisation of the deity is given for destructive action. Then further wrathful goddesses are visualised
in the different directions of the outer circle, Sihamukh and so forth (the lion-, tiger-, fox-, and dog-headed
etc.) Five seed syllables are then to be recited. With h , the principal deity is generated; with ha, the four
inner goddesses are generated; with he, the four outer goddesses; with pha, all enjoined to be wrathful; while
with the final h , all blaze with yellow primordial wisdom light.
The chapter ends with a description of the tshogs feast offering rite. Prostrations are made with a request
for the evil ones who destroy samaya to be destroyed. With the practices of ritual union and liberation in the
great tshogs feast, the majestic splendour of the wrathful deities of buddha body, speech and mind will expel
all evil spirits. So majestic songs are sung at the feast and everyone becomes joyous. Having bound the
vajra lotus mudr at the forehead, further mantras are recited. The circle of the retinue attending the tshogs
feast praise the principal deity with song. The principal deity is delighted; he replies in a song which
bestows the samaya. Goddesses strike the drums and sing melodies.
Chapter 12 The Maala of the Wrathful Male Deities
[Note that the Dunhuang manuscript contains a passage near the end of its Chapter 12 which in fact was
misplaced, actually belonging in Chapter 13.]
The chapter gives a description of the wrathful male maala deities, with glosses throughout on the
imagery's significance. The root text begins: "In the middle of an expanse of radiating and re-absorbing
light rays, which blaze like the fire (at the end) of the aeon, the great wrathful deities abide, positioned in a
posture of stretching (the right legs out) and bending (the left inwards)." In order to tame by intimidating
and destroying the m ras, obstacles, and so on, all the worldly realms blazed up in a great fireball, and light

Note that this placement fits with the schema for visualisation of the five buddhas at the parts of the body in Chapter 7 above.

A Summary of The Commentary


rays radiated from it. The wrathful deities were abiding in the middle, scowling with glaring eyes. The
burning fire of light rays are the five primordial wisdoms entered without obstruction, and they swirl within
the nature of the spatial field, embracing it within a non-dual sam dhi, transcending the extremes. The
stretching of the legs indicates wisdom, while the bending of the legs indicates means, together uniting in
non-duality with the nature of the spatial field.
The root text says: "The central Great Blood-drinker is displayed in a form with nine heads and eighteen
arms; vajra-filled wings raised up (at the shoulders), and also eight legs." The heruka lord has a white
central head; the right is red and the left green. The next row's central head is yellow, the right light blue,
and the left light red. The final row's central head is black, the right reddish maroon, and the left dark green.
His hair is dark russet coloured, whirling upwards. He has a necklace of dried skulls, and a garland of fresh
wet heads as a shoulder belt. His body colouring is black, but sometimes he assumes other colours and body
forms. In the first two right and left hands, he stirs with a vajra and drinks from a skull-cup of blood. The
two hands beneath these pull out and consume the heart of a fresh human corpse, while the next two wield a
noose made from the innards of a human corpse. The hands beneath grasp a child's corpse and swallow it
whole and the next hands hold sun and moon maalas to his heart. The following pair of hands brandish
weapons which transform into different types, and the two beneath these hold up magical hybrid deities. The
two hands below hold maalas of wind and fire, scattering and burning up all worlds, while the next two
hold a water maala and mountains, tossing about and suppressing the worldly realms. The two hands
beneath hold a chest of jewels and a wish-fulfilling casket, creating armour protecting the yogins and
bringing them the attainments of siddhis.
His form (with nine heads?) represents the nine successive abidings in equilibrium, also not different
from the dharmat . The arms are also the eighteen dh tus; awareness of them the eighteen emptinesses.
Through eighteen primordial wisdoms, substantiality is destroyed, and this expresses means. Nine eyes look
no-where other than the dharmat ; eighteen eyes look to the eighteen emptinesses, and so these express
Thus, means and wisdom are unified, so the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are seen as the
eighteen emptinesses; and eighteen times six makes one hundred and eight wrathful male deities. The objects
perceived by the wrathful male deities are the forms seen, and the sounds, smells, tastes, touchables and
mental dharmas, and their eighteen times six emptinesses, so the wrathful females also number one hundred
and eight.
Similarly, all dharmas are the male and female wrathful deities. The wings filled with vajras are raised
up, covering the worlds, and this means that primordial wisdom emanates from the dharmadh tu and
pervades everywhere. The first two right and left legs trample on male and female mah k las, the next two
trample on male and female mah devas, the next pair on ganeas, and the final two on vinayakas. This
trampling of the eight worldly gods indicates the vow to mount upon the eight complete liberations, to
meditate on the four dhy nas and the four equilibriums, and to realise the dharmat .
The root text continues: "His maala is of wrathful deities, with three heads, six arms, wings, and six
legs, upon vajra rock, with the stance of worldly protectors paying homage." The ten wrathful deities (khro
bo bcu) in the retinue of the Xr heruka are listed and described. Their names and some of their features are
consistent with other sources, and the list conforms to the usual sequence, apart from the deity of the above
direction, who is listed last instead of first. Although a standard set, there are some variations in the
appearance of the ten. In this case, they have similar colour schemes to the usual group given in most
Vajrak laya sources (such as Chapter 20 of the Myang ngan las 'das pa'i rgyud chen po in the NGB, see
Cantwell and Mayer 2007: 207-215), and also their first two hands similarly stir skull-cups of blood with
vajras. The specific implements given in their middle two hands are also generally the same or similar to
those given in Vajrak laya sources, while the final pair of hands are different since the Vajrak laya set simply


Textual Analysis

roll phur pas in their lower hands. Yet some of the extra implements found in the list here are present in the
Myang ngan las 'das pa'i rgyud chen po list. Then the names of the ten male attendant magical hybrid
deities ('phra/phra men) are given. They correspond exactly to the list of male magical hybrid deities to the
right of each wrathful deity in most Vajrak laya sources, each having the expected animal head.2 Here,
unlike the Vajrak laya sources, they wield corpses in their right hands, which they are about to eat, and in
their left hands, they carry weapons which can transform into anything needed.
All these deities have arisen from primordial wisdom as though as from the mind and the dharmas arisen
from the mind, and from primordial wisdom consecrations.
Chapter 13 The Glorious Vajra R kas s
The chapter concerns the wrathful female maala deities, who are said to have the same number of arms
and legs as their male counterparts, and they hold bells in their first right hands. The principal female is 'Jigs
byed chen mo (Bhairav ), further called Ral pa gcig ma (Ekaja ) in the commentary, who, however, is not
described. The set of ten female wrathful deities (khro mo bcu) have exactly the same names as those found
in the usual lists, such as in the Vajrak laya texts (see the discussion of the male set appearing in Chapter 12),
but the final four appear to be given out of order (see Appendix note 13). At this point, the Dunhuang
manuscript seems to have an omission, but the text given in the Tenjur version of the commentary is itself
perhaps a little garbled, and not all appropriate here. This text adds further goddesses and twelve inner
messengers, who are then referred to in the passage below in the Dunhuang text also. It also adds description
which is not altogether coherent. Then the list of female magical hybrid deities ('phra/phra men ma) is
given, in exactly the standard order, except that the lizard-headed, associated with the above direction, is in
most sources given at the top of the list, but here, in accordance with the order of the directions in Chapter
12, is given at the end of the list.
The root text then specifies that the student should cast a jewel or flower into this maala, the usual
procedure during empowerment, through which the appropriate deity for the student to focus on is
ascertained. The text adds that if the student then cultivates the deity wherever it lands, accomplishment will
follow. The student is shown the samaya of engaging in all the virtuous and non-virtuous dharmas.
Engaging in virtue is to be a Wr vaka, while engaging in non-virtue is to be a common sentient being. Here,
however, all dharmas are understood relatively as the male and female wrathful deities, and ultimately they
are the same, all equally unborn and unceasing. Then with (the master?) brandishing the vajra, (the student?)
accepts (the samaya?) and all the deities are beckoned and offerings made. At this point, the deities are
absorbed into one's body. The Lord Heruka pervades the whole body, H kara is absorbed into the brain
centre, Vijaya into the forehead, Hayagr va into the region between the mouth and the chest, and so on, such
that all the ten wrathful deities are absorbed into different body parts. The principal deity or the chosen deity
becomes the whole body, and the messengers are absorbed into all the pores of the body hairs. The wrathful
female deities are then similarly absorbed. Through this primordial wisdom consecration, the spatial field
and the primordial wisdom should be unified in sameness within the essential dharmadh tu.
Glosses on the female magical hybrid deities are then given, in terms of their names or the animal
represented by their specific head, connected with features of the meditations transforming ordinary
experience. As a group, they are said to be known as magical hybrid deities ('phra/phra men ma), since their

The list of ten males and ten females are common in the Vajrak laya literature, including liturgies widely used in
contemporary times, such as the bDud 'joms gNam lcags spu gri cycle (see bDud 'joms Rin po che Volume Tha: 99-103), and
the Sa skya Phur chen (17v-21v). In the early Vajrak laya commentary known as the 'Bum nag, the imagery of the specific
animal heads is glossed in terms of metaphorical associations between the features of the animal and the specific wrathful
deity they accompany. For instance, the vivid variegated colouring (bkra ba) of the Dharma eye of the eastern wrathful deity,
Vijaya, is connected with the tiger-headed magical hybrid deity because of the tiger's stripes (bDud 'joms bka' ma edition,
Vol.Tha: 340.5-6; Boord 2002: 188).

A Summary of The Commentary


universal love is the spatial field consecration and with the primordial wisdom consecration, (they) are
consuming all material things. They are accomplished in the ordinary body, the spatial field as the body, and
the primordial wisdom as the limbs, and then they emanate from out of the pores of the skin. The root text
says that they go everywhere more swiftly than snapping the fingers, and the commentary explains that these
swift females, consecrated by the dharmadh tu, go everywhere without travelling since the spatial field
pervades everywhere. Further analogies follow, relating to the concealing female, the inciting female and the
killer female.
If the samaya should be broken, the female deities will cause the heads of the transgressors to burst. The
commentary explains that when the appropriate actions have not been accomplished, this transgresses against
the dharmadh tu and the spatial field's primordial wisdom unified in sameness. Thus, the transgressor will
come to circle around under the power of perverted thoughts. So this is said to be the samaya bursting the
Chapter 14 The Mantras for the Wrathful Male Deities and for ritual action combined together
The mantra for casting the flower is given along with the invitation mantra (presumably, for the casting
and invitation as described in Chapter 13 above). Then the mantra for the principal deity (o badzra kro dha
shri he ru ka h / a a a h pha/)3, is followed by a version of the standard mantras for the ten wrathful
male deities. Finally, mantras enjoining the four ritual actions, and the seed syllables of the five classes of
beings complete the chapter. As in Chapter 9, the commentary adds little, although again the Dunhuang
manuscript's annotations attach the names of the deities to their mantras.
Chapter 15 The Mantras for the Vajra R kas s
This short chapter gives the mantra for the female r kas (the archetype probably had o badzra kro dha
h , which some editions emend to o badzra kro dhe h ) and the awareness mantras for the female
magical hybrid deities. There are two mantras to commission them; then syllables for dissolution, and for
the completion of ritual actions. The usual set of mantras for the ten wrathful female deities is not given.
Chapter 16 Mudr s
The opening point is similar to that made at the beginning of Chapter 10, in discussing the mudr s for the
peaceful deities. Here, it is explained that having understood the sameness of everything, all bodily
movements become mudr s. While Chapter 10 dealt with the hand gestures for the peaceful buddha family
deities, this chapter describes the full bodily postures needed to embody the various wrathful deities. First,
the positions to assume for the principal heruka deity are given, making the body like a vajra shape, and
becoming a single-spoked, a nine-spoked and an eleven-spoked vajra. The postures for each of the ten
wrathful male deities are then outlined, and these are followed by those for the magical hybrid deities as a
group. Once again, virtually all the text in this section is from TZ, and little elaboration is added by the
commentary, although the Dunhuang manuscript's annotations add a few clarifications, including the
appropriate mantras to accompany the movements of the wrathful deities (corresponding to their mantras as
given in Chapter 14).
Chapter 17 Ritual Actions
Invitations, offerings, and praises are made to the central Blood-drinker and the ten wrathful deities. The
chapter ends with a praise (omitted in the Dunhuang manuscript), giving the words for a praise of the hatred
vajra (zhe sdang rdo rje) and retinue, through whom all worldly realms are obliterated.

It is not entirely clear if this second phrase, a a a h pha/, is also intended as part of the principal male deity mantra, or if it
is a separate mantra.


Textual Analysis

Chapter 18 The Destructive Ritual

The series of chapters on the four rituals begins the sequence with the destructive ritual action (drag po'i
las), describing it in terms of the fierce actions of the vajra magical hybrid deities ('phra-men), seizing and
offering the evil spirits to the wrathful deities as food. The commentary supplies an inner interpretation, that
through the ritual, the viewing of sentient beings as substantial is consumed by its own true nature. The
active sense faculties are removed since in the context of the six primordial wisdom emptiness consecrations,
material things seen as solid wholes contradict their essential genuine nature. Thus, their qualities are made
to degenerate or they are naturally brought into sameness.
The magical hybrid deities are meditated upon as hindering the actions of and inciting divisions between
the objects of the rite, since material and one-sided accomplishment contradicts emptiness and sameness,
creates divisions within the tantric group and prevents ultimate accomplishment.
Chapter 19 The Destructive Homa
For the destructive fire ritual, the triangular hearth is prepared with three black phur pas and iron wire or
black rope. Thorny wood is used for the fuel, and the substances include poison, blood, black mustard,
realgar powder and iron filings. For the ritual, the magical hybrid deities are dispatched to summon the
objects who will burn up in the fire. The flesh mixed with the vegetarian burnt offerings is offered to all the
deities. Vajra songs are sung, and the offerings of the flesh, blood and bones of the elemental spirits are
consumed with delight by the deities. In conclusion, the commentary explains that the primordial wisdom
fire of buddha body, speech and mind burns up factors which are not conducive. With the striking arrows of
the primordial wisdom consecration, the deities delight in these factors, which naturally become conducive
to buddha body, speech and mind.
Chapter 20 The Phur pa for Destruction
The phur pa needed for destruction is described, made out of iron or black wood and featuring a head,
knot and three-sided blade. The commentary explains that Heruka and Ral pa gcig ma (Ekaja ) are
meditated upon above the knot, and the male and female wrathful deities around the sides in appropriate
order. The rite of striking with it is said to transfix and take the life of the object, even if the object is a god.
Through the non-dual primordial wisdom emptiness consecration, the male and female wrathful deities strike
with the single phur pa of the nature of mind, and nothing is not permeated by this.
Chapter 21 The Destructive gTor ma
The recipe for making the destructive gtor ma is given, including iron filings, poison and gravel, mixed
with blood and mashed beans or black grains. In offering the gtor ma, a mere sight of it causes the vomiting
of blood. The commentary explains that this means that by meditating in thusness, with primordial wisdom
emptiness pervading everywhere, there will naturally be ruin and rot.
Chapter 22 The Destructive Ritual Union
The destructive ritual of union is described in terms of the male wrathful deity beating his hammer within
the female wrathful deity's mortar, thus beating the rite's object. The commentary explains that the
dharmadh tu nature is the mortar, with the spatial field of pure awareness the beating hammer. A concluding
remark on destructive rituals gives the instruction that black clothes should be worn for these practices.
Chapter 23 Conferring (transference of) Abode
The teaching on conferring the consciousness of the objects of the destructive ritual is described. The
doors of ordinary rebirth closed, the consciousness is taken up with the syllable h and elevated with the
syllable pha to the wombs of the female deity in union with the male deity in the place of Akaniha, thus
effecting liberation. The commentary adds meditations on each of the ordinary destinies to close the doors
in each case, involving recognition of the true empty nature of the emotional afflication associated with each
realm. For instance, the cause for sentient beings falling into hell is to experience hatred as though it has

A Summary of The Commentary


substantial reality. Recognising that hatred in fact has no real nature, the mind of hatred is not born, and this
closes the doors of hell. The same reasoning is applied to the other emotional afflictions and birth in the
other realms. The final meditation is of activating the male and female union of awareness within the
dharmadh tu spatial field, one's own belly as Akaniha, producing bodhicitta through which one's own
consciousness becomes accomplished.
Chapter 24 The Captivation Ritual
The chapters on captivating rituals are opened with an invitation to the male and female wrathful deities to
alight upon the eight spokes of the semi-circular maala, and then the making of offerings of songs, dance
and red items. The root text says that the vajra of passion, along with the retinue, captivates the objects of the
rite with passionate attraction, and as a result, all the worldly realms are entirely captivated.
The five types of garments are worn and the magical hybrid deities are sent out, summoning the objects of
the rite, and then they are gathered, along with their qualities of success and brilliance, by the Great Wrathful
deity, using the method of passionate attraction. They are thus captivated and will then do whatever is
desired. The commentary's interpretation is that the emptiness dharmadh tu pervades all, so outer and inner
things are indistinguishable. With the primordial wisdom of passionate awareness, one is aware that the outer
world is not different from oneself, so the outer is naturally attracted, revolving around oneself.
Since everything is oneself, it can be seen as, "the great self", with everything as one's own emanation.
The senses are transformed, and everything appears beautiful. With the awareness of this inseparability of
self and others, even the thoughtless become joyful and excited.
Chapter 25 The Captivation Homa
For the captivating fire ritual, the semi-circular hearth is prepared with five red phur pas and red boundary
rope. Fragrant smelling wood is used for the fuel, and the substances include copper filings, molasses, red
mustard and a drawing of the hearts of the rite's object, painted with shellac. In making the burnt offerings,
the vajra magical hybrid deities are meditated upon, burning up the thoughts of those who are unhelpful and
unfriendly towards you, and they will then obey you, and will start to think helpfully. The interpretation is
that the view regarding the self and all discursive thoughts arisen from it are burnt up in the primordial
wisdom emptiness fire. In the state of sameness, their great self-nature and single taste are said to cohere
together. Discursive thoughts are the great cause for sas ra, so they are termed, unhelpful, and primordial
wisdom awareness without self, is termed, helpful thoughts, freed from sas ra. Likewise, if there is
awareness that self and other are not different, others will also cohere together naturally, and come to think
Chapter 26 The Phur pa for Captivation
The phur pa needed for captivation is described, made out of copper or red-coloured wood and featuring
a head, knot and a semi-circular blade. The wrathful deities are visualised around the phur pa, and the rite of
striking with it captivates and brings everyone under control. The commentary explains that the pure
awareness's primordial wisdom phur pa will strike universally, and since there is no separation between
oneself and everything else, everything is naturally captivated.
Chapter 27 The Captivating gTor ma
The recipe for making the captivating gtor ma is given, including copper filings, molasses, mashed red
rice and other red grains. In offering the gtor ma, a mere sight of it causes the objects to become obedient.
If it is eaten, they will obey any commands whatsoever and become joyful too. The commentary explains
that since the dharmadh tu has no characteristic marks, it is all-pervasive. There is nothing to set apart the
great self-identity, and it will naturally captivate everything.


Textual Analysis

Chapter 28 The Captivating Ritual Union

The captivating ritual of union is described in terms of union of the maalas of the male and female
wrathful deities, which means that all will be captivated joyfully. The commentary explains that since the
dharmadh tu has no characteristic marks, it is all-pervasive, so the primoridial wisdom awareness unites with
it in non-duality. The unerring pure awareness of this non-dual state is bodhicitta, and it will naturally
captivate blissfully.
Chapter 29 The Increasing Ritual
The increasing rituals begin with an invitation to the deities to alight upon the eight spokes of the square
maala, and then the making of offerings of songs and yellow items. The root text says that the pride vajra,
along with the retinue, instantaneously increase the great successes and brilliance of the worldly realms.
The five types of garments are worn and the male and female wrathful deities, along with the magical
hybrid deities, are meditated upon as increasing the qualities of success and brilliance. If this meditation is
done, it will be actualised in a great self-identification. The commentary's interpretation is that the emptiness
dharmadh tu without characteristic marks pervades all, so the whole universe is indistinguishable from
oneself. Due to the primoridial wisdom awareness of this, all meritorious deeds, actions and so forth, are
oneself, or belong to oneself. If one is meditating on this, then it is like the sun arising in the skies, hot due
to the natural qualities of the sun, and also, since the heat itself is the sun, or the sun is light, so the light is
the same as the sun. All is a single identity, or the qualities belong to themselves.
Chapter 30 The Increasing Homa
For the increasing fire ritual, the square hearth is prepared with four yellow phur pas and yellow boundary
rope. The offered substances are the five types of jewels, the five medicines, the five grains, boiled rice pulp
and melted butter. In making the burnt offerings, the meditation is that all one's successes increase. The
interpretation is that with the dharmadh tu mirror-like primordial wisdom, the five male and the five female
principal deities arise as buddha body; the sixteen male and sixteen female bodhisattvas arise like the
buddha's major marks, and the five-fold diadems of each deity arise as the minor marks. The primordial
wisdom burns up material substance and it increases through its own natural qualities.
Chapter 31 The Phur pa for Increasing4
The phur pa needed for increasing is described, made out of gold or yellow-coloured wood and featuring a
head, knot and a four-sided blade. The deities are visualised above the knot, and the rite of striking with it
brings accomplishment and increases successes and brilliance. The commentary explains that the
sambhogak ya is the sam dhi phur pa, which increases successes and brilliance naturally.
Chapter 32 The Increasing gTor ma
The recipe for making the increasing gtor ma is given, including gold dust, mashed yellow rice grains,
milk and honey. In sending forth the gtor ma, successes and brilliance will increase and spread. The
commentary explains that since the dharmadh tu has no characteristic marks and is all-pervasive, with
nothing to set apart this great self-identity, it will naturally bring increase, and this is known as giving and
sending out primordial wisdom awareness.
Chapter 33 (numbered 31 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Increasing Ritual Union
The increasing ritual of union is described in terms of union of the maalas of the male and female
deities, and meditating on emanating bodhicitta. The commentary explains that if you meditate on taking
pleasure and increasing enjoyment, it will be accomplished accordingly. With union in the sam dhi maala,

Note that Chapters 31 and 32 are missing from the Dunhuang manuscript, so the summary of these chapters relies on TZ and
the Tenjur version of the Commentary.

A Summary of The Commentary


pure awareness is the bodhicitta, so great enjoyment naturally increases.

Chapter 34 (numbered 32 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Pacifying Ritual
The pacifying rituals begin with an invitation to the deities to alight upon the eight spokes of the circular
maala, and then the offering of melodies and white offering gifts. The root text says that the delusion
vajra, along with the retinue, instantaneously pacify the vast extent of the worldly realms.
The five white garments are worn and the deities, along with their retinues, are meditated upon as
pacifying all disturbances, harm and evil. If this meditation is done, pacification will be instantaneous. The
commentary's interpretation is that the dharmadh tu emptiness sam dhi of primordial wisdom pacification
will pacify everything by pervading all.
Chapter 35 (numbered 33 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Pacifying Homa
For the pacifying fire ritual, the circular hearth is prepared with six white phur pas. Silver filings and
white substances are offered. In making the burnt offerings, the meditation is that all disturbances are
pacified. The commentary's interpretation is that the dharmadh tu sam dhi pacifies all discursive thoughts
through its own natural qualities, and the deities will also be venerated by this.
Chapter 36 (numbered 34 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Phur pa for Pacifying
The phur pa needed for pacifying is described, made out of silver or white-coloured wood and featuring a
head, knot and a round blade. The deities are visualised around the knot, and the rite of striking with it while
meditating on the deities pacifying would even pacify a god. The commentary explains that the elemental
nature's faultless essential pure awareness is the sam dhi phur pa, so this pacifies everything naturally.
Chapter 37 (numbered 35 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Pacifying gTor ma
The recipe for making the pacifying gtor ma is given, including silver and mashed white rice grains etc.,
mixed with milk. In sending forth the gtor ma, even gods will be pacified. The commentary explains that
since the essential nature of the dharmat of all dharmas is to pacify, so primordial wisdom awareness
accordingly pacifies through pervading all material things.
Chapter 38 (numbered 36 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Pacifying Ritual Union
The pacifying ritual of union is described in terms of the accomplishment of the male and female deities,
generating majestic power and consecration, and pacifying everything. The commentary explains that the
dharmadh tu is in itself pacification, resembling the male and female deities in combining the dharmadh tu
and primordial wisdom awareness, and naturally pacifying. Thus, everything is pervaded with its
consecration, so everything becomes peaceful.
Chapter 39 (numbered 37 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) Summing up [all] the Ritual[s]
The root text says that the mudr which has no characteristic marks and the substantial mudr s arisen out
of it are explained by the warrior bodhisattva as unspecifiable, so the wise will be accomplished in doing
whatever they enjoy. The commentary adds that everything is the mudr without characteristic marks and
everything has arisen from the dharmak ya. So if there is awareness of the flawless dharmak ya, and the
yogin engages in any meditations, mudr s and marks of whatever type he likes, and commences the four
ritual actions, there must be accomplishment.
Chapter 40 (numbered 38 in the Dunhuang Manuscript) The Benefits of the Accomplishment
The root text says: "Through destructive [ritual], all are tamed; through captivation, the supreme union
is also accomplished. By increasing, [this accomplishment] is increased in the form of majestic splendour.
Through pacification, Supreme Bliss is also accomplished."


Textual Analysis

Through destructive performance, all gods and demons will be tamed. By captivating rituals, supreme
enjoyment will be experienced. Increasing rituals will stimulate successes and brilliance, while pacifying
rituals will bring attainment of supreme bliss. This is the great accumulation of merits, and the awareness
that there is nothing with characteristic marks is the great accumulation of primordial wisdom. Thus, the
four types of rituals should be continually engaged in, bringing this ultimate mah mudr into awareness.
Even if one deity is accomplished as explained above, the countless resultant siddhis will be inconceivable.
Chapter 41/42 (final unnumbered chapter in the Dunhuang Manuscript, which together with the Tshal pa
Kanjur and Bhutanese tradition, loses the title to Chapter 41 and thus the chapter division)
Chapter 41 (= Final Chapter Part 1 in the Dunhuang Manuscript), The Maala of the Great
The characteristics of the maala are that it is the maala of the Great Captivator (dbang chen bsdus
pa), and within it, the circular base indicates that the dharmadh tu is unfabricated. Abiding within the
circular base, made as a wheel with angled spokes, signifies that within the unfabricated dharmadh tu, the
consecrated deities proceed from its very nature. Made with four huge corners, which bring the entire
inanimate and animate universe under control, signifies increasing great bliss. From the centre, close to the
spatial field, the female deities are looking outwards, signifying seeing, the bodhisattva's approach to the
spatial field. The five male bodhisattvas looking inwards, signify viewing the approach to the spatial field.
Further glosses are given to the directions in which the other deities are looking, some looking inwards and
some outwards. The male and female wrathful deities as a whole look outwards, signifying the vanquishing
and taming of outer material substances and adversaries.
The spatial field resembles the maala of the sun. Primordial wisdom knowledge is clearly luminous
like the sun's light; its consecration is like the sun's warmth and heat. Its vanquishing of outer material
substances and so on is like the sun drying out and burning up objects.
The female deities signify pure awareness of the dharmadh tu, within the spatial field, while the male
deities spontaneously vanquish material substance and adversaries, and by their unification, the male and
female wrathful ones activate the four ritual actions and protect the world with compassion. The protection
of the world is demonstrated by the worldly gods and n gas, gathered into the retinue.
The eight auspicious symbols signify captivating everyone. They show the auspiciousness of remaining
unaffected by the bonds of sas ra, even while engaging with it, and of remaining unaffected by the
Xr vaka's bias towards peace, even while engaging with nirv a. Thus, this is the auspiciousness of not
being overawed by anything. The glorious endless knot is the auspiciousness of being endowed with
primordial wisdom knowledge. The wheel represents captivating all, and the auspiciousness of turning the
wheel of the dharma. The jewel is the auspiciousness of being endowed with inexhaustible treasure. The
lotus is the auspiciousness of not being in sas ra's thrall. The parasol is the auspiciousness of being
untormented by the afflictions. The flask is the auspiciousness of being endowed with the supreme taste of
elixir. The conch is the auspiciousness of proclaiming the sounds which intimidate all adversaries. The fish
is the auspiciousness of satisfying the stream of all worlds and sentient beings of the five classes, with great
The four continents consecrated by the five families demonstrate to sentient beings of the five classes that
they have the natural qualities of the tath gatas. This is also the affirmation that their benefit is
accomplished through compassion.
In this, the male and female principal deities, each with a fivefold retinue, do nothing whatsoever. The
twenty male and female bodhisattvas treat everyone as an only child, and through their love, together with
the male and female wrathful deities, they see all outer and inner material things like a hunter seeing game

A Summary of The Commentary


animals. By the force of such aversion, everything is unified in the spatial field itself. In this union, even
while engaging in the dharmas of sas ra, there is great enjoyment since one is unaffected by the bonds of
the emotional afflictions, so this is the accomplishment of desire. Through the shining of the natural
condition of the spatial field of the dharmat , there is jealousy. Since the dharmat is unfabricated, this is
delusion. The dharmat is victorious over the three realms, so this is pride.
The consecrations of the five retinues of each of the five buddhas are located at the five parts of the body
(see Chapter 7 summary above). The male and female wrathful deities and their retinues share the
consecrations of their specific buddha families. Deeds involving solidifying are the work of the vajra family.
Those involving heating relate to the jewel family; moistening is connected with the lotus family, and
moving with the action family. The hallmark of the tath gata family is that these deeds are universally
accomplished from complete equilibrium.
The absence of inherent existence in solidifying, heating and the other deeds listed above constitutes the
consecrations of the five female buddhas and their retinues. The ability to perform action is the sign of the
male bodhisattvas, while the absence of inherent existence in this ability is the female bodhisattvas.
Likewise, pure awareness is the male and female wrathful deities. Although everything is absorbing and
radiating, in all outer and inner dharmas, these features are similarly to be seen.
Chapter 42 (= Final Chapter Part 2 in the Dunhuang Manuscript), with various titles, The Conclusion
or Ultimate Perfection in the South Central and local Kanjur root text versions; Praising the Wondrous
in the Bhutanese version; Synopsis of the King of Reflections in the Tenjur version; untitled in the
Dunhuang and Tshal pa Kanjur versions)
Vairocana addresses the Victorious One with a series of praises of the features and qualities of the
wrathful deities. For instance, their dark russet brown locks of hair coil upwards, to reach the summit of
existence, while their scowling eyes are taming perverted views. Baring their vajra fangs causes the root of
birth and death to be cut, and their body, speech and mind consecrations appear in their various implements.
Their loving rays of light flash like lightning and awesome voices roar like thunder. Moreover, the
consecration of great compassion activates the consecration within oneself, and these deities' attributes are
the primordial wisdom which transcends concepts. Their wrath has the natural condition of sameness and
generates enjoyments, in its vajra absorption and radiation. These verses of praise end the root text, with a
final visualisation of the maala being absorbed within the heart. The commentary adds a slightly cryptic
passage, perhaps first saying that the emergence from out of sameness means that when a noble being in pure
awareness has produced sounds articulated in speech, these are called, tantra, and the vajra wheel is thus
turned in Akaniha. Relying on this, the Buddha/Protector's body, speech and mind secrets are yogically
accomplished, so this (the speech, tantra or the Buddha's three secrets) is considered flawless. There is a
final verse praising Padma rgyal po, who unravels the great secret pith teachings from the expanse.


In this section, we explore the question of what Padmasambhava may or may not have had to do with TZ
and TZComm. This question is raised by a four line verse of homage at the close of TZComm, as well as the
mention of Padmasambhava three times in the set of marginal annotations in small writing which occur
throughout the Dunhuang manuscript. Other scholars, following Kenneth Eastman's short discussion of this
text in the 1980's (Eastman 1983: 49-52), have assumed they represent Padmasambhava as author of
TZComm,1 but as we show below, the references are not unambiguous. For textual reasons which we
explain above (see Textual Analysis, Section b, p.32-33 above), it seems clear that these annotations do not
merely represent the reflections of a single reader of the manuscript. Rather, it is probable that they had been
written on the exemplar of the text which was copied by the Dunhuang scribe, and that they had thus been
copied along with the main text at least once. We might therefore perhaps consider them to reflect an
ancient teaching lineage on TZ, even if these teachings are no longer replicated in any other extant source.
Here we are concerned with only one characteristic of the content of these comments on the text, that is,
three somewhat enigmatic references to Padmasambhava, one right at the beginning of the text when
explaining the title, and two near the end. Unfortunately for us, the annotator makes no clear statement about
Padmasambhava's role in the text, rather as though he assumes the reader already knows this, and the point
of the annotations is simply to draw attention to some aspect of that role. Put together, the three comments
would seem to indicate TZComm, or perhaps TZ, as the work of Padmasambhava or at the least, as
representing his teachings, or as having some association with him.
Padmasambhava's Pith Instructions on the Garland of Views
As well as our analysis of TZ and TZComm, we made a comparison between the doctrines, language and
terminology of these compositionsand in particular TZCommwith another genuinely early work
attributed to Padmasambhava, the Man ngag lta phreng (Pith Instructions on the Garland of Views,
henceforth MTph), to see whether any obvious links between the two approaches can be discerned. In brief,
we can say simply that there are some similarities, but the style and content of these different kinds of texts
do not provide us with close parallels. MTph aims to provide a comprehensive classification of views, with
special attention given to the tantric path, while TZ and TZComm give a more limited classification of the
variety of paths, focusing primarily on the single Vajray na perspective they represent. Moreover, TZComm
says little about stages through which the practitioner should progress, since it is principally concerned with
expressing and elaborating on its vision of the ultimate sameness of the dharmas of sas ra and nirv a, and
the total purity of the defiled dharmas as the enlightened body, speech and mind of the tantric deities.
Specifically, MTph's initial categorisation of erroneous views is not parallelled in TZComm, although
ordinary beings (sems can phal ba) are mentioned in TZComm's Chapter 13. Both texts start with a twofold
classification of the path into the Vehicle of Characteristics (mtshan nyid kyi theg pa) and the Vajra Vehicle
(rdo rje'i theg pa), but the way they describe these is rather different. In MTph, the Vehicle of
Characteristics is subdivided into the Xravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva paths, while for TZComm,

Eastman himself expresses some caution, finally concluding, "It appears... that we have one of the few surviving works of
Padmasambhava" (1983: 50, my emphasis). Jacob Dalton (2004: 763 note 17), states rather more positively that, "in the
interlinear notes to the Dunhuang versions of the Thabs kyi zhags pa pad mo'i 'phreng ba commentary (ITJ321), the
commentary is attributed to Padmasambhava". An article from Sam van Schaik (2008: 47) also states that, "the Dunhuang Ms
IOL Tib J 321 contains a colophon which states that Padmasambhava was the author of the commentary". However, van
Schaik reassesses the evidence in his blog (dated June 2007 but presumably written after the article), where he no longer refers
to a colophon and writes, "Finally, just in case I have given the impression that Padmasambhava actually wrote this manuscipt,
let me be clear that he didn't". However, it seems that he simply means that the manuscript is no autograph copy, since he
continues to speak of , "the attribution of this text to Padmasambhava", and interprets one of the annotations in this way (see
p.96, note 16 below).


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

the twofold division is simply that of Mah y na in contrast to Vajray na (Dunhuang ms.1r.2-4), so that in
TZComm, the Vehicle of Characteristics relates to the bodhisattva path. This includes, for example, the ten
p ramit s, regarding which TZComm mentions the associated long time scales (gradual accomplishment)
and difficulties (various ascetic practices). Pratyekabuddhas are only briefly mentioned in the Dunhuang
manuscript's marginal notes, and nowhere in the main body of TZComm. Wr vakas occur in TZComm's
Chapters 1, 13,2 and 41, where TZComm on each occasion contrasts the tantric perspective with that of the
Hearers.3 MTph's characterisation of the bodhisattva path does not differ materially from TZComm (both
mention the ten p ramit s), but rather than detailing its inadequacies, MTph's emphasis is instead on the
bodhisattva perspective itself, and how it understands the lack of any inherent nature (rang bzhin) ultimately,
while particular characteristic marks identified at the relative level are to be seen as illusory.
MTph divides the Vajra Vehicle into different tantra classes; TZComm does not. TZComm's Vajra Vehicle
the Ultra Great Vehicle of the Great Vehicle (theg pa chen po['i] yang theg pa chen po) is similar to
MTph's inner yoga method tantra (rnal 'byor nang pa thabs kyi rgyud). But TZComm does not have MTph's
division into the techniques of Generation, Completion (or Perfection), and Great Completion/Perfection
(bskyed pa'i tshul, rdzogs pa'i tshul, rdzogs chen po'i tshul). None of these three terms (nor the standard
categories used in the tradition of the Generation and Completion Stages (bskyed rim, rdzogs rim) are
mentioned in TZComm, even if the teachings they represent may be implicitly present.
For MTph, the maala is gradually established by the three sam dhis, using the Generation technique. In
TZComm, the three sam dhis are not discussed.4 In general in TZComm, there does not seem to be a sense of
the maala building up gradually it appears to be complete from the outset.
MTph's Completion technique is classified into ultimate and relative. The ultimate corresponds in part to
TZComm's fourth type of sameness, as given in Chapter 1: ultimate sameness in the birthless and deathless
mode (don dam par skye 'gag med pa'i [Gt par] tshul du mnyam pa'o). This follows a listing of three other
types, relating to 1. the outer world's five objects and Tath gatas; 2. the inner mental consciousness(es) and
five primordial wisdoms; 3. the senses and (their) objects on the relative (level) and (their) mode as gods and
goddesses. This fourth kind of sameness is also referred to in Chapter 13 (given in error within Chapter 12
in the Dunhuang manuscript), the sameness of all dharmas, ultimately equally unborn and unceasing. MTph
mentions its ultimate Completion technique in relation to the male and female deities, ultimately unborn and
unceasing (rdzogs pa'i tshul ni don dam par skye 'gag med pa'i lha dang lha mo). It adds that the nonconceptual ultimate middle way, is to be unmoving from the dharmadh tu. TZComm includes a brief mention
of the ultimate middle way (don dbu ma) once in Chapter 7, in relation to a meditation on seed syllables.
MTph's relative Completion technique is to meditate clearly on the Noble One's R pak ya ('phags pa'i
gzugs kyi sku). This term is not used in TZComm. Then MTph speaks of being accomplished through
meditating in sameness without any adulteration (mnyam la ma 'dres par bsgom pas 'grub), which does
sound reminiscent of TZComm's approach, but the words, without any adulteration (ma 'dres par), are not
used in TZComm.
MTph's Great Completion/Perfection technique (rdzogs chen po'i tshul) seems in keeping with
TZComm's ethos throughout. The second verse of the root text TZ's Chapter 6 is similar to MTph's
expression here, stating that all worldly and transcendent dharmas are indistinguishable, primordially the

The relevant passage is mistakenly placed within Chapter 12 in the Dunhuang manuscript.
Here, TZComm explains that the Vajray na is not gradual and not biased towards the peace of nirv a, and that its ultimate
and relative truths are summed up in the doctrine of sameness, which is quite unlike the Xr vaka view. Wr vakas are virtuous
and unlike ordinary beings, but the view of the sameness of all dharmas is superior.
There is one reference to the three sam dhis in the annotations to the Dunhuang manuscript (Ms 66r: (it is) the three sam dhis
which activate the union of the male and female deities), but it is not altogether clear whether or not the reference refers to the
three as usually explained, and in any case, they do not occur in the main text of TZComm.

Pith Instructions on the Garland of Views


maala of body, speech and mind. MTph supplies a tantra citation not in the root text TZ but similar in
approach equating the vajra skandha limbs with the five buddhas. TZComm's Chapter 41 (Ms 81v-82r)
outlines a series of associations, the Buddha Akobhya as the right hand or arm and the right sides of the
ribs, and so forth. TZComm's Chapter 6 expresses a similar view, with associations made between the
elements and the wisdom deities. However, TZComm gives the elements as the male deities, space as
Vairocana and so on, while MTph associates the elements with the five consorts. But then TZComm adds
that the five faculties are the five male consorts, while the five objects are the five female consorts. Overall,
then, the sentiment of this section in MTph is exactly the same as TZComm, but the specific associations
vary. Similarly, TZComm would be in entire agreement with MTph's statement that the three planes of
existence are totally pure, although the exact point is not parallelled in TZComm.
Apart from four inner goddesses mentioned Chapter 6, TZComm does not group the deities into sets of
fours in the way that MTph does. Unlike MTph, Samantabhadra and Samantabhadr are not a prominent pair
in TZComm. Kun tu bzang mo occurs in the list within TZComm Chapter 5 as the first of the female consorts,
and in Chapter 6 as one of the female deities (all touch is Samantabhadr ), and also in the list of mudr s in
TZ Chapter 10, but neither kun tu bzang po nor kun tu bzang mo are given explicitly in the list of deities of
the peaceful maala of TZComm's Chapter 7, nor in the mantras in TZ's Chapter 9. In any case, the few
references to kun tu bzang mo do not amount to MTph's assertion of Samantabhadra as the nature of the
mental consciousness, bodhicitta, and Samantabhadr as the nature of conditioned and unconditioned objects.
There is a similar focus on finding Enlightenment by looking into one's own mind. TZComm's Chapter 3,
with reference to the Glang po, states: Since the buddha is the aware nature of mind, Do not seek the buddha
anywhere else.5 TZComm, however, has nothing quite like MTph's citation that all dharmas are in the mind,
mind dwells in space, and space no-where. There is also no close parallel in TZComm to MTph's citation that
all dharmas are empty in their essential nature, that they are primordially totally pure, entirely clear light,
nirv a in nature, promordially the completely perfected buddhahood. But clearly, this is entirely in line
with TZComm's teaching.
MTph devotes a lengthy section to a presentation of the methods involved in the Great
Completion/Perfection. Here, there is an emphasis on yid ches (conviction or trust). The word does not even
occur in TZComm. Apart from a couple of references to paying respect and making offerings to the lama
(one of which is only found in the Dunhuang manuscript's annotations), there is little emphasis on devotion
or faith even empowerment is emphasised as taking place through one's own pure awareness. Of course,
MTph is stressing the gaining of conviction through one's own experience, but there is the suggestion that it
is through conviction or faithful believing in the depths of one's mind, that the realisation comes.
MTph gives a classification of four aspects of understanding (rtogs pa): 1. understanding of the single
cause (rgyu gcig par rtogs pa); 2. understanding the technque using the seed syllables (yig 'bru'i tshul rtogs
pa); 3. understanding through consecration (byin gyis rlob kyis rtogs pa); 4. direct realisation (mngon sum
par rtogs pa). TZComm does not use this classification, but its content could be seen as consistent with it.
For example, the single cause of all phenomena could be said to be expressed in TZComm's Chapter 1, that
the cause is the ultimate truth, all dharmas arising without characteristics, while the relative truth of them
appearing like an illusion is the result. For the second aspect, TZComm's Chapter 7 gives associations of
mantra syllables in a similar although not identical way to that of MTph, and much more extensively than the
MTph's short passage. There is nothing in TZComm like the imagery of dyeing the cloth which MTph uses to
illustrate the tantric transformation through consecration, but the concept of consecration (byin rlabs) recurs
throughout TZComm, and the focus on both the real empty nature and the wisdom manifestation. Direct
realisation is clearly expressed throughout TZComm and is fundamental to its vision.

rig pa'i sems nyid sangs rgyas te/ sangs rgyas gzhan du ma tshol cig. By comparison, in MTph we find: 'dus byas dang 'dus
ma byas pa'i chos thams cad rang gi sems las gud na med... rang sems so sor rtogs pa ni/ sangs rgyas byang chub de nyid do/


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

In MTph, ultimate perfection in these four aspects takes place through the Three Characteristic marks
(mtshan nyid gsum).6 TZComm does not refer to these characteristic marks. They are mentioned briefly by
the Dunhuang manuscript's annotator in Chapter 1.7 The annotator's language is clearly in line with MTph's
list, which speaks similarly of a progression through the set of three. However, there is nothing in the root
text TZ or TZComm resembling MTph's elaboration using a further set of 1. connections/union ('brel ba); 2.
requirements (dgos pa); and 3. the ultimate requirements of the requirements (dgos pa'i yang dgos pa).
Nonetheless, although not expressed in these terms, TZComm's perspective is entirely in line with MTph's
discussion of these features. In TZComm's Chapter 1, the Vajray na is described in terms of sameness, and
the result of buddhahood mentioned as free from accepting and rejecting; MTph defines requirements,
through the characteristic mark of engagement, in a similar manner (thams cad ye nas sangs rgyas pa'i
mnyam pa chen po la blang dor med par spyod pa ni 'jugs pa'i mtshan nyid do). MTph speaks of the ultimate
requirements in terms of the actualisation of the endless embellished wheel of enlightened body, speech and
mind (sku gsung thugs mi zad pa rgyan [brgyan] gyi 'khor lo mngon sum gyur pa). TZComm does not use
these terms, but clearly, the entire text and commentary is developing such a vision.
MTph divides the path into striving in the fourfold practices of Approach, Close Approach,
Accomplishment and Great Accomplishment. This classic yogic progression is not referred to in TZComm.
There is little mention of striving in TZComm, so for instance, in Chapter 1, there is a reference to perfecting
effortless diligence ('bad pa med pa'i brtson 'grus). The content of these MTph practices, however, is not
dissimilar from the Thabs zhags in approach, although again, the specifics are different. Approach is defined
in terms of applying the antidote so that dharmas are realised as uncontrived, primordially in the nature of
buddhahood. Here, we witness wording which does not occur in TZ or TZComm (gnyen pos bcos su med
par..) but clearly, the practice is in keeping with TZComm. Close Approach relates to realising oneself as the
deity primordially, a theme which runs throughout TZComm's maala descriptions. Accomplishment and
Great Accomplishment are connected with the consort practice, and are a little reminiscent of imagery given
in Chapters 6-8 of TZComm, although again, the specifics vary.
MTph follows the outline of these stages with a section on entering the maala of the Great Perfection.
Here, there is an elaboration of the stages of the empowerment ritual which interprets their significance in
terms of the appropriate meditative understandings associated with them. Although all the meanings are
inner glosses and not very different from the ethos of the Thabs zhags texts, in TZComm, even the
empowerment rite remains unelaborated. The emphasis in Chapter 3 is on empowerment through one's own
natural awareness, while the discussion on entering the maala in Chapter 13 stresses understanding unborn
and unceasing sameness. MTph describes the final stage of the Great Perfection as the Wheel of Syllables at
the stage of the Great Accumulation (yi ge 'khor lo tshogs chen gyi sa). This is a widely used term for the
culmination of the inner Vajray na path, often described as the thirteenth bh mi. The Wheel of Syllables is
referred to in Chapter 5 of the root text TZ,8 in the context of the natural expression of the sam dhi maala.

These categories remain very much a part of contemporary Mah yoga exegesis: the late Dudjom Rinpoche, for example,
analysed them in his survey of rNying ma doctrine, the bsTan pa'i rnam gzhag, citing verbatim from MTph: rtogs pa rnam pa
bzhi'i tshul rig pa ni shes pa'i mtshan nyid (Awareness (through) the methods of the four aspects of understanding is the
characteristic mark of knowledge); yang nas yang du goms par byed pa ni 'jug pa'i mtshan nyid (repeated familiarity with this
is the characteristic mark of engagement); goms pa'i mthus mngon du gyur ba ni 'bras bu'i mtshan nyid (and direct experience
through the inherent power of this familiarisation is the characteristic mark of the result). See Karmay's edition of MTph
(Karmay 1988: 167); also Dudjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje 1991, Vol 1: 265; Vol 2: 111; and bDud 'joms Rin po che 1979-1985,
Volume Kha: 310.
The annotations in TZComm's Chapter 1 (1r.5) present them as: "When (one) understands through the Characteristic mark of
Knowledge, by the inherent power of becoming familiarised with the Characteristic mark of Engagement, the Characteristic
mark of the Fruit is accomplished as Buddha Body, Speech and Mind." (shes pa'i mtshan nyid gyis rtogs na 'jug pa'i mtshan
nyid gyis goms pa'i mthus 'bras bu 'i mtshan nyid sku gsung thugs su 'grub bo).
It is also described as representing the Great Accumulation (tshogs chen) in most of the versions, but the Dunhuang
manuscript and the Bhutanese NGB version have it rather that it is endowed with the assembly (or accumulations, tshogs can).

Pith Instructions on the Garland of Views


In this case, the term is shared but the content is a little different in that MTph is speaking of the fruit
accomplished when the great siddhi is attained, while the elaboration in TZComm is discussing the natural
presence of full enlightenment, and the arising of the buddhas from the seed syllables.
MTph has a section pointing out that only mentally superior persons can understand primordial
enlightenment, and thus, others should practise more gradual paths, and the teaching is taught as the "ultra
secret vehicle" (yang gsang ba'i theg pa, an expression not occurring in TZComm) so as not to disturb such
ordinary people. TZComm, on the other hand, does not concern itself with the problems of those who do not
yet understand its profound teachings, and mainly uses the word secret (gsang) in the term, secret mantra
(gsang sngags), without explaining its rationale. The implication at the end of the final chapter, where the
buddha body, speech and mind secrets (gsang ba) are discussed, is that they are secret since inaccessible or
hidden to most.
MTph in conclusion discusses the different types of ascetic conduct and practices of those who accept the
different views it has discussed. The only parallel in TZComm is the contrast it draws in Chapter 13, using
different phrasing from MTph, between the approach of Xr vakas, practising virtue and avoiding non-virtue,
with the Vajray na sameness teaching taught in TZComm. The ethical dilemmas mentioned by MTph, in
which bodhisattva compassion may need in some cases to take precedence over the basic precepts, are not
discussed in TZComm.
MTph cites the dam tshig chen po'i mdo which draws on the classic Buddhist imagery of the lotus to
illustrate that those established in the Buddha vehicle remain pure in morality while engaging in the
afflictions, like a lotus in muddy water. A similar point is made in different words in TZComm's Chapter 1 in
discussing the text's title, and the sentiment is also present in TZComm's brief treatment of the lotus in the list
of the auspicious symbols given in Chapter 41. However, there does not need to be any direct connection
between the two teachings. The lotus is a ubiquitous Buddhist symbol and this interpretation of it simply
expresses a general Vajray na perspective.
Thus, we can conclude that although there may be a number of parallels to TZComm in the teachings
given in MTph, these are not especially striking. Clearly, they are different kinds of texts: a root tantra and
the commentary elaborating on its specific ethos on the one hand, and a scholarly outline of progressively
more advanced types of perspectives within the Buddhist teachings on the other hand. If Padmasambhava's
teachings are represented in both MTph and TZComm, he did not leave any obvious clues in the content and
styles of the texts which would confirm this.

The Evidence from the Commentary and its Dunhuang witness

Apart from the annotations on the Dunhuang manuscript, there is only one firm indication that the Thabs
zhags transmission owes anything to Padmasambhava, and this is in the homage at the end of the
commentary, which we discuss below. As most tantric scriptures, the root text, TZ, is in the anonymous
voice of the buddhas. TZ lacks any translator's colophons, apart from the Bhutanese and South Central NGB
editions, which share a final colophon identifying Vimala and gNyags J nakum ra as translators. This
colophon is not shared by the local Kanjurs and it seems most unlikely that the identification descends from
the archetype. Colophons may be detached and added to texts and to the catalogues of textual collections,
and the relative geographical proximity between Bhutan and the South Central regions mean that it is quite
likely that the attribution might have been more recently shared between the two textual traditions. In any
case, there is no mention of Padmasambhava. Apart from what appears to be a scribal signature given at the


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

very end of the Dunhuang manuscript in the small writing of the annotations,1 neither the Dunhuang nor the
Tenjur versions of the commentary have any obvious authorial colophon, ending simply with the statement
that the text ends here, using the usual formula with the text title followed by rdzogs so.
However, the Tenjur versions are placed in a section of texts associated with names from the early rNying
ma pa historical accounts, including Padmasambhava. In particular, in all three of our Tenjur editions,
TZComm immediately follows a commentary on the Dur khrod khu byug rol pa, which is attributed to
mTsho skyes rdo rje, most likely to be identified with Padmasambhava.2
More specific evidence of an association within TZComm itself is a four line verse of homage
immediately preceding the final colophon. In the Dunhuang manuscript, it is separated by the page layout
from the rest of the text, and includes a new opening yig mgo, as though it might have been appended to the
text. No such setting is witnessed in any of the Tenjur versions, where the verse is explicitly included within
TZComm's final chapter, since its colophon refers to the chapter ending as well as the text ending. Whether
an integral part of the final chapter, or an addendum, the verse pays homage to, "he who has attained the
supreme siddhi, of great wonder, Padma rGyal po [The Lotus King] (who) is not worldly; (he who) unravels
from the expanse the tath gata's great secret pith instructions".3 There are two questions here: is this verse
paying homage to Padmasambhava, and if so, what is it indicating about him in relation to the text?
We are now in the position to answer the first question with a clear positive. At first sight, it may not
seem certain that this verse refers to Padmasambhava at all, even though the annotator seems to take it as
doing so. Taken on its own, there are only two hints. The name, Padma rGyal po [Lotus King], came to
refer to one form of Padmasambhava in the Guru Padma rnam thar literature, although we have not seen it
used in other Dunhuang manuscripts. Secondly, the first line of this eulogy consists of a few words which at
a later date are found, in a different order, in the famous supplication and prayer to Padmasambhava, the
Seven Syllable Supplication (tshig bdun gsol 'debs), but the coincidence of these few words in a different
order can hardly claim any significance.4

"Written by Bo'u-ko of Kam-cu (Ganzhou?)" (kam cu pa bo'u ko gis bris). The fact that the note is given in small writing
would seem to imply that it is not to be considered part of the main text itself. It is probable that this apparently Chinese name
is that of the scribe of this manuscript copy, but it is also possible, since the name is given in the small writing of the
annotations, that it represents the author of the annotations, which as mentioned above, have been copied from the exemplar.
Nyang ral, for instance, uses this name in his hagiography: see below p.94. This commentary is found also in the bKa' ma shin
tu rgyas pa (Volume 62: 403-756), and the expanded version of the bDud 'joms bKa' ma (Volume Thu 70: 249-594). Its
colophon (reproduced in the Tenjur and bKa' ma versions) refers also to Lotus Skull-Garlanded (padma'i thod phreng),
another name for Padmasambhava, as overseeing the translation and editing of the text. In full, it reads: "Here ends the
extensive commentary on all the tath gatas' body, speech and mind secrets, the Charnel Ground Cuckoo's Display, called the
Elixir's Vital Seed, composed by the (Vajra) Master, Lake-Born Vajra (mtsho skyes rdo rje). In the presence of the Indian
Scholar Lotus Skull-Garlanded, the chief editor, the Translator J nakumara, edited, translated and codified it" (de bzhin
gshegs pa thams cad kyi sku dang gsung dang thugs gsang ba dur khrod khu byug rol pa'i rgya cher bshad pa/ bdud rtsi thigs
pa zhes bya ba slob dpon mtsho skyes rdo rjes mdzad pa rdzogs so/ /rgya gar gyi mkhan po padma'i thod phreng gi zhal snga
nas/ zhu chen gyi lo ts ba dzny na ku ma ras zhus nas bsgyur te gtan la phab pa'o).
dngos grub mchog brnyes ya mtshan chen po 'i [Tenjur: yis]/ /'jig rten ngam gyur [bsTan 'gyur: ma 'gyur] pad ma [Tenjur:
padma'i] rgyal po yis [Tenjur: las]/ /de bzhin gshegs pa'i man ngag gsang chen rnams/ /klung [Tenjur: klong] nas bkrol mdzad
de la phyag 'tshal lo//
The words are terms often used in association: "supreme siddhis" (dngos grub mchog) everywhere imply enlightenment; they
are often said to be discovered (rnyed pa), and describing them as wondrous (ya mtshan) need not be more than a coincidental
use of the same words. However, it is interesting that another old source also has a slightly similar categorisation of
Padmasambhava. A surviving manuscript copy of the ninth century 'Phang thang ma catalogue of translations, which begins
with a list of Indian masters, apparently representing the captions of illustrations on the earlier scroll from which the scribe
copied, describes him as: u rgyan gyi pa i ta grub pa brnyes pa'i pad ma 'byung gnas (dKar chag 'phang thang ma/ sgra
sbyor bam po gnyis pa 2003: f.1v.4; see also below, note 13).

The Evidence from the Commentary and its Dunhuang witness


Following up the hint that the name, Padma rGyal po, may connect this verse with the Guru rnam thar
hagiographies, and the phrasing of the verse as so enticingly evocative of Padmasambhava's later mystique,
we looked for similarities within the Zangs gling ma, the early gter ma hagiography of Guru Padma revealed
by Nyang ral Nyi ma 'od zer (1124-1192). And we found a closely parallel verse of praise to the great guru:
Final Verse of the Commentary to the 'Phags pa
thabs kyi zhags pa padma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa
(Dunhuang manuscript IOL Tib J 321 [Ms], f.84r;
bsTan 'gyur: Golden [Gt] rgyud 'grel Bu, 78-321,
Peking [Qt] rgyud 'grel Bu, 129b, sNar thang [Nt]
rgyud Bu 228)

fddddddddd [Ms d]

Nyang ral, Nyi ma 'od zer Slob dpon padma 'byung

gnas kyi skyes rabs chos 'byung nor bu'i phreng ba
zhes bya ba, rnam thar zangs gling ma (based
primarily on the Kathmandu National Archives
manuscript in dbu med (IMG_1670+1671, reel
E2703/10, f.16r.5-16v.1).5


fdddd[Ms dd] d [Ms dd] dddddddf

ddd [GtQtNt




fd [Ms d] dddddddf


(I) prostrate to he who has attained the supreme (I) prostrate to and praise the (buddha) body who
siddhi, of great wonder,
has attained the supreme siddhi, of great wonder,
Padma('i) rGyal po [The Lotus King] (who) is not the body of incomparable realisation, Padma rGyal
po [The Lotus King];
(he who) unravels from the expanse

you (who) unravel from the expanse

the tath gata's great secret pith instructions.

the tath gata's great secret pith instructions.

It is clear that the verse is simply a variant on the phrasing, the first words of the second line a clear
improvement on TZComm's slightly obscure 'jig rten ma 'gyur. Nyang ral follows up the praise with a
further statement that the Guru then received two names: Padma Thod 'phreng, since he was wearing a
garland of skulls, and Padma rgyal po, since he had been made a king's son.6 Thus, the Zangs gling ma uses
the name, Padma rgyal po, for the Guru at exactly this point. It is worth adding that the name is not used
repeatedly in the Zangs gling ma: the Guru is mostly referred to as Padma 'byung gnas, or simply by the title,

Lewis Doney of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, has worked on critically editing Nyang ral's
Guru Padma hagiography. He argues convincingly that the earliest and historically most influential recension is that
represented by two manuscripts in the National Archives in Kathmandu and two manuscripts from Bhutan, which he classifies
as ZL3. The version of ZL3 used here is Lewis Doney's discovery in the Kathmandu National Archives. We have emended
rtog in line 2 to rtogs, found in all the other witnesses of ZL3. The Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo version (Paro: Ngodrup and
Sherab Drimay, Kyichu Monastery, 1976, Volume Ka: 25), which has more recently become the most widely used version,
incorporates later material. It gives a variant second line (rtogs ba bla med mchog tu gyur pa yis/) for this verse.
zhes bstod nas/ thod pa'i 'phrengs pa sku la gsol bas/ padma thod 'phrengs du btags/ rgyal po'i sras mdzad pas/ padma rgyal
por btags/ (Kathmandu National Archives, IMG_1671, reel E2703/10, f.16rv.2-3).


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

Slob dpon (master, guru). But as in the Guru's later hagiographies, many of the incidents related in the text,
and especially in the first part of the text focusing on the Guru's training and activities before the period in
Tibet, are followed by a note that at that time he was called by such-and-such a name. In the earlier
description of King Indrabodhi's discovery of the lotus-born emanation and his installation as the king's son,
the name he is given is, rGyal po mTsho skyes rdo rje (King Lake-born Vajra; p.9).7
In the fourteenth century Padma bKa' thang shel brag ma of O rgyan gling pa, we find a fully developed
system of the eight principal names of the Guru (gu ru mtshan brgyad, or sku gcig mtshan brgyad, Padma
bKa' thang Chapter 19: 88-9), which include Padma rgyal po,8 and the name is also used during the narrative
of his enthronement as a prince following his birth upon a lotus.9
It would seem that there is little doubt that the Padma('i) rgyal po who is praised at the end of TZComm is
none other than the Great Guru Padmasambhava, eulogised in the same manner as that used in the slightly
later hagiographical literature.10 It is worth adding that the first line of the praise occurs also just above in
Nyang ral's hagiography (IMG_1670, reel E2703/10, f.15v.4), again within a four line verse in the context of
the King of U rgyan's astonished wonderment at the sight of the Guru in union with his consort arising from
a lotus.
Assuming this identification of Padma('i) rgyal po in TZComm is correct,11 the significance of the homage
depends on whether it is seen as the final part of the text of TZComm, or whether it is an addendum. If it is
an addendum, it might be praising the author of TZComm; but if it is part of the main text, as seems likely by
its positioning in the Tenjur version, and the fact that even in the Dunhuang version it occurs before the
concluding text title, then it is the authorial voice of TZComm itself that is praising Padma rGyal po. The
context of the preceding lines of TZComm would seem to increase that likelihood that this eulogy is in fact
an integral part of the final chapter of TZComm. TZ's final chapter or section consists of a series of praises to
the maala deities, and their consecrations of oneself, and ends with a line cited by Klong chen pa in his
Phyogs bcu'i mun sel commentary on the rGyud gSang ba'i snying po root Mah yoga tantra, to the effect that
the maala becomes invisible through absorbing into the deity's own heart. The commentary adds further
lines which would seem to eulogise TZ as enlightened speech called "tantra", flowing from the
Buddha/Protector's turning of the vajra wheel, flawless and bringing realisation. The final verse praising
Padma rGyal po would seem to fit perfectly well with the tone of this passage, which is also written in the
same seven syllable meter and four line verse form.



The name mTsho skyes rdo rje (Lake-born Vajra), continues to be used in the narrative, both in praises (Rin chen gter mdzod
chen mo Volume Ka: p.22, 24), and in the Guru's self-appellation (p.48). It became one of the principal names for the Guru as
a meditational deity, used in many cycles of ritual meditative practices.
There is a set of homages to the group in Chapter 19; the one for Padma rgyal po reads: thabs mkhas rgya chen padma'i lho
phyogs su: ye shes klong chen padma rgyal por sprul: rin chen mkha' 'gro ma tshogs 'khor gyis bskor: cir snang rig pa gang la
gang 'dul bzhugs: padma rgyal po'i sku la phyag 'tshal bstod: (1985 edition, p.145). Again, in Chapter 41, there is a shorter
set of praises to the eight. The one for Padma rgyal po reads: khams gsum srid gsum dbang du sdud: padma rgyal po'i sku la
bstod: (1985 edition, p.281)
For instance, Chapter 18 begins with King Indrabodhi bestowing the name upon him (de la khye'u bzhugs rgyal por mnga'
gsol nas: mtshan yang padma rgyal por zhes byar btags: (1985 edition, p.145). The name, mTsho skyes rdo rje, which the
Zangs gling ma gives at the time of the "birth", is also used in this story at the site of the emanation. Then, Chapter 20 refers
to the Guru again with the name, Padma rgyal po, beginning with the words: de nas rgyal sras pad ma rgyal po yis: (1985
edition, p.147), and below, it speaks of him as the stainless supreme (buddha) body, Padma rgyal po, the second buddha who
is the lamp of the world (padma rgyal po'i sku mchog dri ma med: sangs rgyas gnyis pa 'jig rten sgron ma khyod: (1985
edition, p.148).
This is not the only textual parallel we have found between Dunhuang manuscript sources and Nyang ral's revelations. A
more substantial parallel in found within his bKa' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa, which we will be discussing in a forthcoming
It is just possible that the verse was picked up by Nyang ral and given a different connotation from that in TZComm, but this
would seem a little unlikely, and clearly the annotator understands the text to refer to the great guru.

The Evidence from the Commentary and its Dunhuang witness


Perhaps, then, TZComm is implying that Padmasambhava is associated with the creative production of
enlightening tantric text, which has just been extolled in the preceding lines. Another possibility is that the
praise is focusing not on the composition of the text as such, but rather on the enlightening potential of its
teachings, teachings which are quintessentially those of the Great Guru. This might seem to make all the
more sense when we consider the context for the parallel verse in Nyang ral's hagiography. Here, following
the earlier praise mentioned above, the king pays obeisance and the Guru teaches him that one's own mind is
the unborn dharmak ya. Immediately realising it as such, the king and his retinue attain the acceptance of
the unborn nature of dharmas. The amazed king then praises the Guru in the words of our verse. It may not
be entirely arbitrary that the context for the close of TZComm is some words of conclusion that realisation is
accomplished through the teaching, and this follows the final teaching of the root tantra on dissolving the
maala into the heart. Of course, this is not an exact parallel, but perhaps similar enough that we can reflect
that the verse is not simply a praise of the Guru's qualities, but a celebration of amazement at the ultimate
tantric teachings he embodies.
So far, we have considered only the main text of TZComm. If we then turn to the annotations, two
Padmasambhava references are given in this last section of the text. The final reference is placed directly
under the first line of the homage, and reads: The master W ntigarba, having examined and (found it/him)
flawless, is praising Sambhava.12 [See IOL Tib J 321, folio 84r, image 85_83v-84r on the accompanying cd]
W ntigarbha is known in early sources as a contemporary and colleague of Padmasambhava, often associated
with the Yogatantras. He is mentioned as the consecrator of the Imperial temple at bSam yas at the start of a
manuscript copy of the ninth century 'Phang thang ma register of translations authorised by the Tibetan
state.13 W ntigarbha continues to play an important role alongside Padmasambhava in later rNying ma
literature as one of the so-called Eight Vidy dharas of India, whom the rNying ma pa revere as important
founders of their Mah yoga tradition, and several of whom figure quite visibly in the Dunhuang literature.14
Although the annotator seems to assume we know, it is not clear exactly what he is implying about
W ntigarbha's role in TZComm. He may be indicating that W ntigarbha is the author of TZComm which
includes this final verse. Alternatively, he may be suggesting that W ntigarbha's words of praise from
elsewhere are inserted here, or that W ntigarbha has appended a homage to the text of TZComm. This third
possibility is rendered a little unlikely considering that the homage is placed within the text rather than after
the colophon, and we have noted that the Tenjur version even more clearly integrates the verse. It is hard to
judge between the other two possibilities. Since this is the first time the annotator has mentioned
W ntigarbha while writing notes on some eighty-five folios of text, and since W ntigarbha is also not named
in an authorial colophon, it seems unlikely the annotator is assuming we will take W ntigarbha as TZComm's
author. But even if he is suggesting merely that some lines composed by W ntigarbha are being drawn upon


slobs dpon shan ting gar bas brtags nas ma nor nas/ sam ba bha la stod pa 'o/ (f.84r.5)
See dKar chag 'phang thang ma/ sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa (2003: Plate 2, f.1v.6-7; p.2: rgya gar gyi slob dpon bsam yas kyi
rab gnas mkhan sha ting gar bha). The surviving manuscript copy is doubtless a good deal later. It is hard to say whether
we can trust that W ntigarbha was mentioned in the original ninth century document. Yet certainly, in listing the great Indian
masters at the start of the manuscript, the copyist mentions that the large paper scroll which he was copying contained
captioned drawings of these figures (de rnams ni shog dril chen po'i stod na sku gzugs bris pa rnams kyi kha yig yin/, f.1v.78), so we can surmise that his list reproduces the earlier captions. Elsewhere, the great fourteenth century canonical scholar Bu
ston mentioned W ntigarbha as co-translator of the Sarva-durgati-pariXodhana-tejo-r jasya tath gatasya arhato samyaksabuddhasya kalpa-n ma, and from the lHan kar ma (AKA lDan kar ma), we know that this was amongst the early
translations of W ntigarbha's time (Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt 2008: 177, item 323). Martin 2006 (entry on W ntigarbha) notes
that Bu ston's Yogatantra history (135.1, 140.1) lists his works and mentions his Yogatantra explanations, 'Bru 'grel rgan po.
As far as we are currently aware, without having made an exhaustive search, at least five out of this list of eight masters have
turned up so far in various Dunhuang tantric texts: MajuXr mitra in IOL Tib J 331.1 and in IOL Tib J 1774 , Prabhahasti
seems perhaps to be referred to (as "pra be se") in PT 44 (Cantwell and Mayer 2008: 60), Padmasambhava in several (PT 44,
PT 307, IOL Tib J 321), W ntigarbha in IOL Tib J 321; Vimalamitra (bye ma la mu tra, f.1) in IOL Tib J 644 and IOL Tib J
688 (on rosaries); MajuXr mitra, H kara (and Buddhagupta) in IOL Tib J 1774 (slob pon nI 'bu ta kub ta dang/ shI rI man
'ju dang/ hung ka ra).


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

and inserted here, we have seen that the placement of the verse appears to fit appropriately as the text's own
final flourish.
What then is the annotator saying about this praise? The implied object of W ntigarbha's examination is a
little ambiguous. He seems to say that W ntigarbha finds either Padmasambhava's teaching flawless, or
perhaps Padmasambhava himself [See IOL Tib J 321, folio 84r, image 85_83v-84r on the accompanying cd].
Quite likely, the word ma nor (flawless) is picking up on the line in the text above. The previous verse
concludes that due to speech flowing forth when the great Protector turned the vajra wheel, the enlightened
body, speech and mind secrets have been accomplished and realisation attained, so this is explained as
simply flawless.15 Thus, the word flawless perhaps applies to the tantra's teachings (referred to in the homage
as: the tath gata's great secret pith instructions [de bzhin gshegs pa'i man ngag]), which are to be associated
with Sambhava. An alternative is that it is Sambhava himself who W ntigarbha examines and finds flawless.
In fact, the realisation indicated as flawless in the line above could also be intended to refer to the
accomplished Sambhava, even if this is certainly not explicit in the text. In either case, it is clear that the
annotator takes it as given and not worthy even of explicit comment that the text owes its inspiration to
Sambhava, whether as the representative of the teachings expounded, whether as the composer of TZComm,
or even as the producer of TZ.
The second annotation referring to Padmasambhava, which occurs at the end of the folio above,
reinforces the impression that the annotator is drawing our attention to Padmasambhava's association with
the teaching presented in the root text and commentary [See IOL Tib J 321, folio 83v, image 85_83v-84r on
the accompanying cd]. TZ ends with the maala dissolution in the heart. This follows a concluding praise
of the deities of wrath with the natural condition of sameness, generating enjoyments and emanating and
reabsorbing. The final section of TZComm then begins with the commentarial words, "Since [it] has
emanated forth from out of sameness/evenness, (the) emergence means that..." (mnyam las phros te byung
ba'i don, 83v.6-84r.1). Beneath the first part of this explanation, the annotation adds: "this demonstrates
[that it] is not created by Padmasambhava idiosyncratically", or possibly, "Padmasambhava demonstrates
[that this] is not an idiosyncratic creation" (pad ma sam ba bhas rang gz[or?] byas pa ma yin bar ston,
83v.6). It is most likely that the comment is glossing the phrase in TZComm with which it is directly linked
(mnyam las phros te...).16 Quite what the note is suggesting about Padmasambhava's role in TZ's and/or
TZComm's teaching, however, is not entirely clear, again, presumably because the writer assumes that we
already know this, and he is focusing on commenting on the implications of that role or the content of that
teaching. At the least, however, it would suggest an association between Padmasambhava and the teaching
presented in the text, possibly TZComm, but again, perhaps TZ. If the annotation means, "this demonstrates
[that it] is not created by Padmasambhava idiosyncratically", then the positioning of the comment at the end
of the root text, several lines before the end of TZComm, would imply that it can only be TZ with which
Padmasambhava is linked, and which he has in some sense created or produced. The phrase, emanated forth
from out of sameness/evenness, seems to refer not only to the root text's preceding discussion of the deities,
but also connects with the next words of the commentarial elaboration, which eulogises the emergence of the
noble being's speech as "tantra". The implication of the annotation might therefore be that the phrase,
emanated forth from out of sameness/evenness, shows that the emergence of the speech of the tantra (referred
to on the next line) is not idiosyncratically produced by Padma, but produced through such a natural
emanation. In this case, the annotation suggests that Padmasambhava may have produced or inspired TZ.


mgon po bdag nyid chen po yis/ /rdo rje 'khor lo bskor ba na/ /ljags kyi dbang po bkram las [Gt pas] gsungs/ /de las brten te
mgon po'i [Gt yis]/ /sku gsung thugs kyi gsang ba rnams/ /rnal 'byor sgrub pas [Gt bsgrub pa] rtogs bya'i phyir/ /ma nor tsam
du bshad pa yin/ (Dunhuang Ms f.84r).
Our understanding here is a little at variance to Sam van Schaik's (2007) interpretation that the words rang gzor byas pa ma
yin bar refer to Padmasambhava's composition of TZComm as without fabrications of his own. However, van Schaik's overall
point, that Padmasambhava seems to be indicated as the architect of the teaching given in the text here, would indeed seem to
be implied.

The Evidence from the Commentary and its Dunhuang witness


On the other hand, if the annotation means, "Padmasambhava demonstrates [that this] is not an
idiosyncratic creation", then it might be drawing attention to the teachings on the natural process of the
maala emanating and reabsorbing, teachings which are to be seen as Padmasambhava's. In this case, the
annotation might be interpreting the words of commentary here (emanated forth from out of
sameness/evenness), implying that it is Padmasambhava's teaching that the process of the maala emanation
is not idiosyncratic. Alternatively, the annotation might not be interpreting the commentarial words, but
instead enlarging upon and adding to their interpretation of TZ s teaching. Padmasambhava's demonstration
would then be embodied in the words of TZ above, concerning the wrath with the natural condition of
sameness, producing vajra absorption and emanation.
Whichever specific connotation the annotation has, we need to add the caveat that it is perhaps not
intended for us to take the reference to Padmasambhava's demonstration or to his non-idiosyncratic creation
as representing his composition of the actual words of the text, whether of TZ or TZComm. The comment
may simply be linking Padmasambhava to the teaching (or the production of the teaching) presented here,
but it is certainly quite possible that the assumption of this annotation is that Padmasambhava is the main
architect of the text, most probably of TZ, but possibly of TZComm, or even of the entire text of root verses
and commentary.
The first reference to Padmasambhava in the manuscript comments on the words in the text title, pad ma
'phreng gi don bsdus pa'i 'grel pa', [see IOL Tib J 321, folio 1r, image 01_1r on the accompanying cd]
saying that the Buddha has summarized (the meanings) and Sambhava produced (them). This cryptic
comment might suggest that the Buddha condensed the meanings in TZ ('bu tas bsdus), while
Padmasambhava expanded them into TZComm (sam ba bhas byas [where byas = 'grel byas, cf 'grel pa byed
pa]). Alternatively, it might once again suggest that Sambhava is to be associated with TZ itself, that is, that
Sambhava has produced the Buddha's synopsis. Had the annotator wished to indicate that Sambhava
produced TZComm, he might have positioned this final part of the comment beneath the word, 'grel pa'
(commentary), rather than appending it to the comment connected with the word, bsdus pa (summarized). It
may even be that the word padma in TZ's text title may carry a further implication as well as the general
symbolic connotations of the word, lotus, in Buddhist literature. That is, as well as a "Lotus Garland
Synopsis", the title could be read as, "Padma's Garland Synopsis".17
Even if the comment is intended to imply that Sambhava was responsible for TZComm rather than TZ, the
wording by which Sambhava is linked to the Buddha's composition would suggest a close association with
the production of Buddha Word. And the imagery of the Buddha condensing the meaning, which is then
unravelled by Sambhava, might suggest some resonance with the kind of process which became central to
the gter ma tradition, by which the mystic revealer decodes and expands on the condensed kin script of
the initial revelation.
Clearly, questions still exist about these references to Padmasambhava. Do they suggest that
Padmasambhava was a great commentator or that he inspired the teachings given in TZComm, or are they
hinting even more that he was a revealer of tantras? We are unable fully to resolve these issues. One
conclusion from this examination of Padmasambhava's connection with TZ and TZComm is that we do not
appear to be dealing with a Padmasambhava represented merely as an ordinary human tantric scholar,
perhaps editing a text or composing its commentary. Rather, the final verse of TZComm itself gives every
impression of Padmasambhava mythologised as a fully realised and wondrous tantric master, eulogised in

TZComm's gloss on the title restricts itself to associating lotus with wisdom and garland with means, lotus further implying
that habitual tendencies do not develop despite engagement in all phenomena (pad ma [Qt padma] ni shes rab kyi rtags te [Nt
to]/ chos thams cad la spyod [QtGtNt dpyod] kyang [QtGtNt insert: /] bag chags su mi 'gyur ba'o/, Dunhuang ms. 2r).
However, it is not impossible that the additional connotation relating to Padmasambhava may have seemed obvious, just as the
fact that a lotus is a flower is not worthy of any remark.


Padmasambhava, the Thabs zhags and its Commentary

the same terms we find used of him in Nyang ral's hagiography, linked to the profound vajray na teachings
of TZ, an enlightened figure perhaps implied to be at the basis of the textual tradition. The additional three
annotations relating to him in the Dunhuang manuscript only reinforce this impression. At the start of the
text, Sambhava is made responsible for producing the Buddha's condensed language. In the final chapter, he
is either said to produce the speech of the tantra naturally, or to demonstrate TZ's teachings on natural
emanation, while at the end, W ntigarbha is said to confirm and celebrate Sambhava's realisation.