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Brief history of Secret Buddhism in Tibet

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The Transmission Lineage

 The Almighty Buddha Great Sun or Mahavairocana Buddha preached Secret Buddhism. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva who was the former attendant of Sakyamuni Buddha became Vajrapani Bodhisattva, attendant of Vairocana Buddha. Tathagatha Mahavairocana resides in the heaven of Mahesvara (or Mahamahesvara) in the palace of the Diamond Dharma realm. He preached the secret teachings to Vajrapani Bodhisattva and other Bodhisattvas from the ten directions through his Incarnate Body, Sakyamuni Buddha, on the seventh day of his enlightenment.

This could be called the original creation of the True Words sect. Vajrapani Bodhisattva received the ceremony of Abhisekha to inherit the precious Dharma of Vairocana Buddha. His mission was to impart the teachings to the world. He had written The Mahavairocana Sutra and the Vajrasekhara Sutra. Each has about ten thousand invocations, and he created the Garbhadhatu Mandala and the Vajradhatu Mandala. The Garbhadhatu Mandala: This type of Mandala is a picture symbolizing the universe and Garbhadatu Mandala means the Womb Realm. According to Mahavairocana Sutra:

 “Garbhadhatu describes the fetus and its soul coming from the predestined union of the parents. It grows from the wind of Karma and a child is born complete with bones, tendons and inner organs, bearing his parent's ethnicity. In the same way, as the practitioner learns the virtues of compassion taught by the True Word sect, he will slowly develop peace and compassion in his heart which results in beneficial actions for humanity and joy to the Dharma Realm. When his merits are complete, he can reach superior wisdom and get accepted into the lineage of the Buddhas. It is by imitating the Buddha's holy fetus of love and wisdom that one can reach the realization of the Three Secrets, or Enlightenment”.

 The Vajradhatu Mandala: According to Vajrasekhara Sutra, this Mandala represents the unchanging nature of the absolute truth, which is compared to the “sturdiness” and “sharpness” qualities of the diamond that cannot be destroyed although it can destroy all. The sturdiness of the absolute Truth prevents it from being destroyed, and the sharpness of Buddha's Wisdom destroys all obstacles to reveal the ultimate Truth. The diamond is also the most precious material among others and the most invincible among all weapons.

It represents the unbreakable and eternal Body of Law, which has no death, no past life, and no after life. The same diamond-like quality of the absolute truth represents the real nature of the “Middle Path” that is paved with numerous merits. This invincible weapon, among others represents the invincible logic of the Emptiness doctrine that stands against all afflictions. Human beings, celestial beings or the Buddhas cannot create such a doctrine. Vajrapani Bodhisattva put these two major Sutras in the Iron Tower of the South Heaven, where they remained for centuries until Nagarjuna opened the tower. The legend said that Nagarjuna, by the power of Adhistana, saw Vajrapani transmit the teachings and entrusted the two Sutras to him.

Vajradhatu Mandala

Nagarjuna Bodhisattva (150-250 AD) came from southern India. He was the founder of eight Mahayana sects. Being exceptionally bright, he mastered all contemporary religious philosophies. His viewpoint was so solid that no one from the The Great Vehicle School (Mahayana) after him could surpass his explanation of the basic philosophy of Buddha's teachings. Secret Buddhism and other Mahayana sects have laid their foundation on his principle of Emptiness (Madhyamika-Castra). He was held in such veneration that he was regarded as the incarnation of Amitabha Buddha. Nagarjuna transmitted the Dharma to Nagabodhi, who was an adept monk at Nalanda University.

Nalanda University was the largest and first Buddhist monastery in India, from which came many proficient Buddhist teachers of the Mahayana sects as well as from other countries. Many founders of the doctrine who succeeded each other in preaching the doctrine, such as Asangha and Vasubandhu, had taught at this university. When Nagabodhi was over one hundred years old, Hieun-Tsang of China came over in the year 633 AD to receive the Dharma from him. After receiving the Dharma from Nagarjuna, Nagabodhi transmitted the teachings and preached in the southern region of India and Ceylon. Nagabodhi was over 700 years old. Secret Buddhism spread northward to Tibet, China and Japan, and southward to Ceylon, Burma, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos to became the two main North and South Secret branches.

Kwan Yin Bodhisattva

 The people in Tibet did not have a serious religion before the introduction of Secret Buddhism. Bon Polytheism was the traditional religion for Tibetans. They worshipped Genies, evil spirits and Demons. They prayed to anyone that helps satisfy their worldly desires. The religious practitioners made their living by selling charms and performing voodoos. They have thousands of tricks to cheat the ignorant people by creating debased superstitions. Tibetan history noted that Buddhism was introduced in 137 B.C. A Buddhist monastery was built and let to fall into ruins. It was because Buddhism was too complicated for people to understand and this had to do with their lack of education, their superstitious beliefs, and their materialistic view towards religion. Thus, the first attempt to preach Buddhism failed. In the year 371 A.D a number of missionaries came to Tibet.

They taught the religion of compassion and forgiveness with little results. The converts were still few. In the 7th century the Tibetan King, Srong Tsan Gampo became an admirer of Buddhism. He sent an envoy to India to inquire and obtain Buddhist scriptures. He invited monks to Tibet to explain the Dharma and to translate the Sanskrit scriptures. Padma Sambhava and his eight incarnations According to legend, [Avalokistesvara]] (Kwan Yin) appeared in the dream of Gampo and reminded him of his past life. Since then the king devoted himself to Buddhism, and wanted it to become the national religion. The king had two queens who were fervent Buddhist devotees.

One was Princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal and the other was princess Wen-Chen, the daughter of King Tang De Zong. Both had greatly contributed to the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. Most monasteries in Tibet worshipped King Srong Tsan Gampo and the two queens, honoring their services to society of the Triple Jewels. A. The Old Secret Sect In the 8th century, King Thrisrong De Tsan (740-786) received two eminent monks from India. They were Santarakshita and Padma-Sambhava. They were enlightened expert masters in debating the Dharma.

They possessed magical powers that helped them propagate the Dharma successfully. Both came to be admired by the native people and the conservative monks. From that time on, Tibet became a Buddhist country with higher learning in religious philosophy. In 747AD Padmasambhava, an Indian Sage came to Samye in Tibet on the king's invitation and established a monastery where he taught the Mahayana doctrine. The Tibetan people called him Guru-Rimpoche (the precious teacher) or Padma Jungne (the Lotus Born). He was the famous professor of Esoteric Sciences at Nalanda University. In 749 AD he officially founded the school of ancient Esoteric Buddhism Adiyoga.


 The majority of people in Tibet converted to Buddhism. Tibet had greatly evolved thanks to its influence. The education and civilization made rapid progress, which lasted more than 500 years. B. The Madhyamika Sect In the 14th century, a monk came forward and reformed the then declining religion. He was Tsongkhampa, born in the northern region of Tibet in the Am Do province. He was a master in debate and exposition of the Dharma. Since the development of Buddhism over 500 years, and especially in the last 100 years, Buddhism had alarmingly deteriorated. The monks were more preoccupied with their family's matters than with the purity of the mind.

They seldom meditated, even though meditation was known to be the only way to have wisdom and liberation. Instead of focusing on religion, they devoted themselves to sorcery, magic, and exorcism, using spells and charms, fortune telling, and got involved in divinations. They resorted to tricks to mesmerize and to make people donate to them out of fear and respect. Instead of using the best ways to benefit the world, and convert people, they perverted and abused the Dharma. Such was the The Potala 56 Buddhist clergy; the lay worshippers were even less educated. They were weak and greedy and practiced religion only for selfgain.

All of them had contributed to the damage of Buddha’s philosophy. Seeing this sullied situation, Tsongkhampa decided to guide the monks and the laymen back to the right path. He advised them to be chaste and to observe the religious rules. He attacked bad traditions and the wrongful worship and rituals of Deities. Tsongkhampa not only used deep logic to fight off arguments and to wake people up, he also demonstrated supernatural powers to win their faith. He rapidly attracted a great number of followers and re-established peace and order in the Buddhist temples.

Tsongkhampa was well known throughout Tibet. Numerous famous monks had come from central Asia and from neighboring countries to study with him. In 1409 AD, he founded the Ganden monastery in Lhasa. It was a big temple. His followers grew to such an extent that his disciples had to start two other major monasteries, Drepong and Dera. When he died, the number of disciples from the three monasteries was over thirty thousand. The Tibetan and Mongolian people considered him a Buddha coming to this world to institute religion for Tibet. Tibetan people still say: “First Sakyamuni Buddha, last Tsongkhampa”. The religious reformation of Tsongkhampa had a lasting result until later generations. His sect was called Madhyamika or “Contemplation of the Middle Way”. From this originated the Kahdampa sect whose ruler is the Dalai Lama.


 Tsongkhampa transmitted the teachings to his disciple Gedungrubpa and entrusted the religion that he reformed and named Lamaism. Since then the head of Lamaism, the Dalai Lama ruled Tibet, overseeing its religious and political aspects. By tradition before the Dalai Lama dies, he will reveal his next rebirth location. The assembly of Lamas will go there to find the infant successor who is supposed to be the Dalai Lama's reincarnation, and bring him back for coronation as the next ruler. The Dalai Lama was revered as a Buddha (Arhat Buddha) in his lifetime. He resided at the Potala palace in the city of Lhasa. Under him was the Panchen Lama, who was also regarded as a living Buddha. He helped the Dalai Lama manage the temples and take care of the monks. He resided in Trashi Lump in the fort of Shigatse. In Tibet, the monks selected all government officials.

There were many monasteries in the capital of Lhasa. Some of them were very large and had as many as ten thousand monk residents. Everyone in Tibet turned to Buddhism, which became the national religion. C. The Kargyutpa Sect (the sect of monks wearing cotton) The members of the Kargyutpa sect were the followers of the Mahamudra sect (Great Mudra) who used Dharani, Mudra and Yantra in meditation. By tradition, Tilopa, who lived in the 2nd century AD, received the philosophical teaching of the Mahamudra through the spiritual power of Dorge Chang Buddha.

The teachings became the basic tenets of the Kargyutpa sect. Tilopa transmitted it to Naropa, who was an eminent teacher of mystic sciences at Nalanda University in India. Naropa transmitted the secret teaching to Marpa who came to India and returned to Tibet as an accomplished priest to start the Kargyutpa Sect and teach Secret Buddhism to Tibetans. Among them are four outstanding disciples who reached the glorious liberation. Tsurton Wangay was from the east country of Dol. He had the character of a Lion and possessed the Secret wish-fulfilling gem of the Secret Doctrine. His “strong-as-claws” determination helped him look upward as he achieved liberation. Ngogdum Chudor was from the South. He was compared to a tiger having the Secret Dharma for its striped fur.

His claws had dug deep into the four great virtues of a Bodhisattva. He looked upward as he had departed from all illusions in the illusionary world and went freely to wherever he pleased. Meton Tsompo was the pillar of the West. He was compared to an eagle having the Secret Dharma for its wings. He had forever escaped the traps and pitfalls of this illusory world, and was free to fly anywhere because he had attained liberation. The high pillar of the North was Thogapa (meaning delightful to hear), also named Milarepa of Gung Thang Country. He was deeply tinted with Secret Dharma. His life was a permanent endurance like the big rock where birds came and built their nests. He was a great man who had quit the common life to achieve liberation. Marpa’s traditional robe had been handed down to his followers, and his sect has developed a good reputation by his successor Milarepa.


 Milarepa or Milathogapa lived from 1055 to 1135 AD. The life of this extraordinary knight began at the age of seven. He was still naive when he started to experience this world's hells, the hell of human's endless greed and the hell of his own burning hatred against his uncle. The latter had stolen all his family's properties after his father died. The destitute seven-year-old Milathogapa endured many hardships until he reached the age of fifteen. Then riding on his horse, he set out to find a sorcerer and learnt black magic so he could avenge his helpless, but very 60 proud mother. He found his teacher and upon completing his learning, he used his magic skills to kill forty to fifty people that were related to his two deadly enemies, his cruel uncle and aunt. He also destroyed their crops and their property. Afterwards, Milathogapa deeply regretted his actions.

He was intensely disturbed and wanted to find a teacher and learn the way of cultivation. He wished to be enlightened and liberated and he would sacrifice anything including his life to obtain this goal. The path of great virtue and great austerity became Milathogapa's destiny. He finally met his predestined guru who was the great translator Marpa, the original founder of the Kargyutpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. After he was thrown eight times by Marpa to the bottom of the pit of despair, the Deities cleansed his sins. He then received the secret teaching from Marpa and after prostrating himself to say good-bye to Marpa; he headed for a deserted cave in the mountain to meditate on the way of supreme liberation. His mission was to become enlightened so that he could help sentient beings. He had made the same vow as Prince Siddhartha had made 17 centuries earlier under the Bodhi tree in India.

If he failed to reach enlightenment he would never return to ordinary life. Milarepa spent ten years in the snowy mountains of the Himalayas pursuing the ascetic path. His body became weak due to lack of food and inadequate clothing. Milarepa had thus dedicated himself completely to the truth, uniting his heart with heaven and his soul with the Great Being. He had become one with the eternal truth and essence of the wonderful universe. Having attained enlightenment and liberation for himself, Milarepa was able to save sentient beings in the three realms by singing beautiful hymns. His voice was soft and flowing like the song of the bird Karavinka.

It sounded like the whistling of trees and leaves, as high as the mountain top and as deep as the abyss. His voice came from the slope of the gloomy and deserted mountains of the Himalayas, and slowly spread to the highest peak of the snow-covered Mount Everest close to the eternal clouds and rains. This was the voice from a transcendent intelligence and superior art of the enlightened Tibetan Saint, Jesun Milarepa, Great Yogi of Tibet. Wearing only thin ragged clothes and carrying a small, but powerful cane that resounded clearly the rhythm of his footsteps, Milarepa climbed up successive slabs of rocks as he came out of his ten years seclusion.

He had spent the time in continuous meditation and application of the supreme powers of the Secret Doctrine. Milarepa's successor was not Rechung who recorded Milarepa’s biography, but was the first disciple of Milarepa, Dvagpolharge or “Je-Jampopa”. Je-Jampopa died in 1152 AD, two years after he had established the monastery of T’surika, which was the founding communal palace of the Kargyutpa Sect. Since then the Guru tradition of this sect continued on without interruption. Tibetan Buddhism included Secret Buddhist sects. All the three sects of Ancient Secret Adiyoga, Madhymika, and Kargyutpa were right for Tibet's situation. They grew rapidly and soon became deeply rooted in the people’s mind, making Tibet the largest Secret Buddhist country in the world. However, during the period between World War I and II, Tibet Secret Buddhism has gradually degenerated.

 The Sutras belonging to the various tantric Buddhist sects were translated into Chinese in the early fourth century A.D. Srimitra, habitants of Pai Country (Kuccha, a white skin tribe), had translated a few scriptures on charms symbols, mystic sentences, some mantras, and verses praising the Deities and Saints. In reality they could not be considered as the representation of a high aspiration. The pure Secret Buddhism sect began with the following tantric masters, who came to China (between713-765 AD) during the Tang Dynasty. A. Subhakarasimha (637-735) He was once the king of Orissa; however he fled the throne and became a monk at Nalanda University. He studied Secret Doctrine with Nagabodhi, the 4th patriarch. He often traveled to the southern regions of India where Nagarjuna’s Doctrine of Emptiness was most popular. Subhakarasimha was proficient in the Emptiness doctrine and the Doctrine of “The Unique Dharma Realm” as well as having a profound understanding of yoga meditation techniques, the Dharanis and Mudras. He traveled to Kasmir and Tibet and arrived in Ch'an-An in 716 AD, the fourth year of the Tang Dynasty. The Emperor Xuan Zong (685-762AD) received

 him with great respect and made him “teacher of the state”. In 717 AD, he translated the Sutra of the Vajarasekhara Crown. He died at the age of ninety-nine. At the same time Wu’ Xi'ng, a Chinese scholar, traveled to India and met Yi Jing (another Chinese scholar) in Nalanda. Wu’ Xi'ng had collected many Sanskrit scriptures but died on his way home. The documents he gathered were sent to the monastery of Avatamsaka in Ch'an-An. Having heard about the scriptures, Subhakarasimha selected some important ones and started translating the Mahavairocana Sutra and other scriptures in 725 and 726 AD with the help of a Chinese disciple.

At the time, whenever Subhakarasimha initiated the ceremony to preach the Dharma, he had the spiritual powers from the Buddhas to perform many miracles and converted many people to Buddhism. B. Vajrabodhi (663-723AD) Vajrabodhi was from southern India. He too came from a princely family. He received religious training at Nalanda. At the age of 15, he went to West India to study the treatise on human's intelligence for four years with Dharmakirti, and went back to Nalanda to receive the great precepts. He diligently studied the laws (Vinaya) and essay on the Middle Path (Madhayamira) for six years with Santabodi. For the next three years he studied the doctrine of forms and researched on the Yogachna essay of Asangha, on Intellectualism (Viynaptimara) of Vasubandhu, and the debate on the middle path essay of An Hui, together with Jinadhadra (Madhyantavibhaya of Sthimati Bodhisattva) in the city of Kapilavastu in North India. Seven years later he researched on the Vajrasekhara Sutra and other secret scriptures from Nagabodhi in South India.

In 720 AD, Vajrabodhi arrived by way of the South Sea with Amogha and his disciples to Ch'an-An, the capital of the Tang Dynasty now called Xi 'An. Obeying the imperial decree, he had altars put up in two temples for the celebration of initiation ceremonies. He translated many secret scriptures, such as Vajrasekhara Sutra and others. His scriptures contained many terms from the Doctrine of Form. Every time he set up the altars and preached the Dharma, miraculous things happened. He could cause rain to fall, give orders to Gods and Demons, and eliminate disasters. Such performances were said to be his normal routine.

 C. Amoghavajra (705-774 AD) Amoghavajra, from northern India, was an outstanding disciple of Vajrabodhi. He was a novice at the age of 15 when he came to Canton, and with his teacher, he traveled to Luo Yang. He received the Great Precepts at the age of 20. In twelve years he developed a complete understanding of the doctrine of form, both in theory and in reality. After finishing his study with Vajrabodhi, he continued to learn about the Garbhakosa Mandala with Subhakarasimha.

After the death of Vajrabodhi, he left China and returned to Ceylon, India where he met the renowned Nagabodhi who initiated him into the secret doctrine. He looked for more Sutras and received more scriptures on Yoga. He often consulted with talented scholars in Secret doctrine in India. He went with his students, altogether 37 people, to see the Dharma Master Samantabhadra and researched the Doctrine of Vayra-Sekhara Vajrabodhi Yoga and Mahavairocana-Gharbhakusa. He then returned to Ch'an-An, bringing with him a wealth of Sutras. Amoghavajra was the personal teacher of the Emperor during three successive dynasties: Tang Xuan Zong,

Su Zong and Dai Zong. He translated 110 sets of scriptures, composed of 143 books, including the most important “Vajrasekhara Sutra”. These are the scriptures that the Italian professor Tucci and the Japanese professor Ono simultaneously discovered. ProfessorTucci had found the Sanskrit version in Tibet and professor Ono brought it to light. The explanation of the Sutra was in pictures, and Zhi` Zho`ng (a Japanese monk), brought it back from China in 853 AD. The discoveries from the two erudite professors had determined the uniqueness of Secret Buddhism in China, Tibet and Japan.

Amoghavajra transmitted the doctrine to five disciples: Ha'n Guang, Hui`Lang, Ta'n Zhe`n, Jue' Cha`o and Hui Guo. Hui`Lang transmitted the Dharma to [[Qia`n Zhu]', Zhu' Chua'n, De' Mei, Hui` Jin, and Zha`o Zhe`ng, a layman. Hui Guo transmitted to Yi Zao and Kukai from Japan. The latter went back to Japan and successfully spread the religion. D. I-Xing (683-727) I-Xing or Ichigyo was the student of Subhakarasimha. Ichigyo was proficient in the Three Treatises, meditation, T’ien- T’ai doctrine, and the science of horoscope calendar. He once helped Subhakarasimha translate the “Mahavairocana Sutra”.

From listening to the explanations of his teacher, he was able to write explanations about this Sutra, which was called Mahavairocana Sutra Expose. It was composed of twenty books and was considered the essential sacred books of Secret Buddhism. It contained many teachings of the T’ien-T’ai sect, as he was an erudite scholar on T'ien T'ai's philosophy. The text was transmitted without revision until Zhi`Ya'n, who was a student of both Subharkarasimha and Wen Gu`, a disciple of Vajrabodhi, revised it and named it the “Meanings of Mahavairocana Sutra”. The eastern Secret Buddhism continued to use the initial unedited scriptures while the T’ien-T’ai sect used the edited one. Ichigyo studied with both Subhakarasimha and Vajrabodhi. Both teachers transmitted the doctrine and rituals of Vajradhatu and Garbhakosa to him. Some said that Ichigyo considered the Vajradhatu doctrine more important. Ichigyo was a scientist with superior wisdom. He was the personal teacher for Emperor De Zong. The following diagram shows the transmission lineage in China:
1. Subhakarasimha (673-735)
2. I-Xing (Ichigyo) 2. Amoghavajra
3.Yi Lin 3. HuyenChieu
4. Shun Xiao 4. Hui Kuo
5. Dengyodaishi 5. Kukai (Kobodaishi)


1. Vajarabodhi (663-723)
2. Amoghavajra 2. Ichigyo (I-Xing)
3. Yi Zao 3. Hui Kuo
4. Yi Zheng 4. Dengyodaishi
5. Ci Jie Ta da shi 5. Hui Ze'
6. Yoka Daishi

 Four superior Buddhist priests and others had brought the theory and practice of Buddhism to Japan. From that time, Secret Buddhism was organized and thoroughly systematized by Kukai, who was the great master Kobo at Koyosan (mountain of Koyo). Kobo was also the founder of the Shingon sect in Japan. He was a fine artist of sculpture and calligraphy. His works of literature were admired both in China and Japan. The Secret Sect, or Diamond Vehicle, might be represented by Kobo who had compiled the complete Secret Doctrine in Japan. To understand the position of the Secret Doctrine, it is necessary to sketch the civilization process brought by Buddhism to this country.