Translation's Introduction to the Zhije Empowerments by Sarah Harding
zhi byed snga phyi bar gsum gyi dbang chog rnams phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa bklags pas grub pa
The nineteen empowerments and authorization rituals in this section were all authored by Minling Lochen Dharmashrī, “the Great Translator of Mindroling Monastery.” Without the efforts of this amazing master, much of the transmission would have been lost. Jamgön Kongtrul says as much in The Catalog of The Treasury of Precious Instructions:
- While there were extensive common and uncommon sections of this dharma cycle [of Pacification] and the three transmission lineages were previously widespread, these days only their names remain. But Minling Lochen Dharmashrī exerted great effort to receive whatever transmission existed [at the time], and composed manuals (yig cha) and ritual liturgies (bklags chog). It is due to his great kindness that at least the fundamental elements of the ripening empowerments and liberating instructions of the early, middle, and later transmissions, particularly those of Dampa Kunga’s system, now appear.
Lochen Dharmashrī, also known by his novice ordination name of Ngawang Chöpel Gyatso (1654–1718), was born as the fifth of seven siblings, the most famous of whom was his older brother Padma Garwang Gyurme Dorje (1646–1714). Known as Terdak Lingpa or Minling Terchen, “the Great Treasure Revealer of Mindroling,” he had established the Nyingma monastery of Orgyen Mindroling in the Gva Valley with support from the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in 1676 and went on to have an illustrious career. There is no doubt that he was the chief inspiration and root guru for his younger brother Dharmashrī, who often stated that his main mission was to uphold and spread the teachings and treasures of his “lord guru.” Dharmashrī wrote extensive commentaries on Terdak Lingpa’s treasures as well as on many important Nyingma source tantras and on basic Buddhist ethics, and together these two lamas played a huge role in the transmission of the Nyingma lineage. Mindroling became an important center of study and practice.
So it is not surprising that in the many brief biographies of Lochen Dharmashrī, or in the annals of Mindroling, his vast contributions to the Nyingma school completely eclipse any mention of his crucial role in the lineage of Pacification, as Kongtrul here indicated. It is only in his own meticulous autobiography that the record is clear. But this autobiography, subtitled A True Story, Elixir for the Ears, records teachings received and practiced from nearly every one of the Eight Great Chariots of the practice lineages in Tibet. It is here that the incredible extent of this master’s body of work comes into focus. Even the astronomical numbers of mantra recitations from all those practices are recorded, after which he humbly hopes that somehow a seed was planted!
But to the subject at hand, he records, “In the Year of the Male Wood Rat (1684), I received from Jagö Chökyong Gyaltsen the guide to the Six Dharmas of Niguma, and from Lodrö Tenpa of Dingri all of the guides of the three transmissions of Pacification. In particular, the guide of the So [system] and, of the five paths, the path of accumulation guide, which I cultivated as experiential guidance for a year.” Both of the masters he cites can be found in the Pacification lineages, and Dharmashrī’s own biographies of them are in his Collected Works. Also hidden among his huge list of compositions, he records writing “all the empowerment rituals and guidance manuals for the three transmissions of Pacification.”
This autobiography was written in 1713, when Lochen Dharmashrī was in his sixtieth year. He actually went on to compose more texts before his tragic assassination in 1718 at the hands of the Dzungar Mongols. Although these Tibetan Buddhist Mongols were apparently targeting Nyingmas and Bönpos in Tibet, violence is rarely about theology and mostly about power, usually short-lived. About 80 percent of the Dzungars were annihilated a few decades later by the Manchu Qing dynasty. The son and daughter of Terdak Lingpa returned from exile to rebuild Mindroling, which still exists, with branches in India and around the world.
These empowerments, along with Dharmashrī’s commentary, Distilled Elixir, and lineage supplication, Golden Garland, constitute nearly 80 percent of this Pacification volume in the Treasury, proving Kongtrul’s point. The final colophon of the empowerments states that composition was started in 1705 (“in ruthless times”) at Zangri Lhundrup Rapten and completed in 1706 at Mindroling. It consisted of a single handwritten manuscript in headless script (dbu med), currently in the possession of BDRC but not available. That text might reveal something of Dharmashrī’s sources, but until then one can only draw a few conclusions. The early source we have of Pacification is the five-volume Zhije Collection, originally four volumes written sometime around 1250. Volume 1 includes several texts for empowerments associated with the Ālikāli Tantra, including the main ones, a summary outline of it, and a supplementary description for its implementation (lhan thabs). It is clear from considerable replication that this was the source for Dharmashrī’s main empowerments of the later transmission. The sources for the early and middle transmissions remain unclear, as do the many ritual authorizations of other deities, although as Kongtrul notes, many of those deities were widely practiced among most lineages, and it would not have been difficult to create a ritual liturgy. One other early source of note was the inclusions in volumes 92 and 125 from the huge collection by Bodong Chokle Namgyal (1376–1451). One unique text in volume 92 is a “tantra” entitled Black Stainless Wrathful Tantra. This concerns the protector Aghora and is certainly a viable source of Dharmashrī’s ritual here. Also in that volume is a Chakrasaṃvara sādhana, another possible source. The local deities particular to Dampa’s lineage and monastery of Dingri, such as Kuṇḍurīka and Aparājita, may have had some early prototypes as well. In any case, Jamgön Kongtrul received the empowerments of the later transmission directly in the long line from Dharmashrī. These lineage names are given in Tashi Chöpel’s Record of Teachings Received. As for the others, we find the following remarkable statement in Kongtrul’s catalog:
- After Lochen Dharmashrī, the succession was interrupted and does not exist. However, deities and mantras are essentially the same, and one can find them in abundance elsewhere, so in fact the lineage is not broken. Not only that, Dampa Sangye actually revealed his form of timeless awareness to my lord guru, master of the Seven Transmissions, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and bestowed in visions the instructions and authorization rituals. I then pleaded with him, and through his great aspiration to preserve this teaching with its empowerments, ritual authorizations, and reading transmissions, he kindly granted them.
So that takes care of that.
The empowerments included in this section were not all mentioned in Kongtrul’s catalog, and it seems not all of them were in the original edition of the Treasury. The same empowerments that are in Dharmashrī’s Collected Works follow so closely on the DNZ that it is not clear which one is copied from which, both of them being twentieth-century publications. The more recent Dingri Volumes contain analogs of these empowerments, but they take the form of practice services (sgrub mchod) and self-entrances (bdag ’jug). I cannot say if this indicates another early version or an adjustment. They also have been supplemented by the addition of prayers that are indicated only by “et cetera” (sogs) in the other editions. This is no doubt very useful if one were to actually put the texts into practice. For the sake of space, I have not followed suit in most cases, but rather stuck closely to the format in Kongtrul and Dharmashrī. In indicating what parts are instructions to the preceptor (not indented), what parts are to be read aloud by the preceptor (indented), and what parts are to be repeated by the disciples (indented further and enclosed in quotation marks), I have followed Dharmashrī’s Collected Works.
- 1 Zhi byed snga phyi bar gsum gyi dbang chog rnams phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa bklag pas grub pa, in DNZ, vol. 13 (pa), pp. 39–297. LDS, vol. 18, pp. 10–203. Listed as being in vol. 10, but noted in a Japanese website as “not found in Dehra Dun gsung ’bum”: http://ci.nii.ac.jp/ncid/BA42849640.
- 2 DNZ, vol. 18, pp. 416–17. See Catalog, p. 48.
- 3 Lochen Dharmashrī, Autobiography of Dharmashrī, in Collected Works, vol. 2, f. 265a.
- 4 Ibid., f. 275a.
- 5 See Mindrolling Lotus Gardens history project for both a history of Dharmashrī as well as evidence of contemporary activity. www.lotusgardens.org.
- 6 Martin, “The Early History of the Later Peacemaking Lineage,” p. 4.
- 7 Ā li kā li rin po che dbang gi ’khor lo, sa bcad ’khor lo gsal ba’i sgron me, and dbang gi ’khor lo’i lhan thabs, altogether pp. 115–228.
- 8 bka’ babs bdun. See Tāranātha, The Seven Instruction Lineages.
- 9 DNZ, vol. 18, p. 519.