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GENEALOGICAL NARRATIVE OF CHOD TRANSMISSIONS

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by Michelle Janet Sorensen



While the previous text provides a direct source linking Machik with Rangjung Dorje, here I will present a broader genealogical study in order to contextualize Rangjung Dorje within the development of Chod and to indicate his importance as a transitional figure. Drawing from the chronological table that I have compiled during my research on the spread of Chod, here I provide a narrative summary of the key figures associated with the tradition, generally categorized by century, in order to provide a genealogy of possible transmission connections between Machik Labdron and Rangjung Dorje.


11th and 12th Centuries

As I discussed above, while there were some teachings that would provide a base for the development of Chod prior to the mid-eleventh century, most significantly The Great Poem by Aryadeva the Brahmin, we do not see the coalescence of a body of work on the theme of Chod until the teachings attributed to Machik Labdron. There are several historical figures that are commonly mentioned as teachers of Machik. Drapa Ngonshe (1012-1090), the famous gter ston

who recovered the Rgyud bzhi treatises on medicine, is said to have been her first teacher. Other teachers of Machik include the Nyingma Bka' ma teachers Skyo ston (Skyo chen) Sakya ye shes and Sonam Lama, who are said to have both received Zhije (and possibly Chod) teachings from Padampa Sangye. While it is likely that Machik and Padampa Sangye met, as I explained above, Chod lineage lists commonly link Machik to Padampa Sangye through these two Nyingma figures.194


Machik's teachings of Chod were passed to her primary disciple, Gyalwa Dondrub (n.d.), who is often referred to as her “son,” though he was likely her spiritual son and not her biological one. Gyalwa Dondrub's grandson, Tonyon Samdrub (n.d.), is also sometimes referred to as the “son” of Machik. Gyalwa

Dondrub became the teacher of ‘Jam dbyangs mgon po (n.d.). In two chapters of The Great Explanation collection, Tonyon Samdrub is presented as the main recipient of Machik's teachings, although there is evidence that she teaches him through visions—appearing as Vajrayogini in one episode—rather than in her historical embodied form. Tonyon Samdrub's direct teacher, Kham bu ya le, was himself the student of ‘Jam dbyangs mgon po. Tonyon Samdrub was the teacher of Khugom

Dharmasengge. In Dharmasengge's Zhije and Chod History, the figure of Gnyan chung Lo tsa ba is mentioned as a transmission link between Tonyon Samdrub and Khugom Dharmasengge; however, the Bstan rtsis ka phreng lag deb states that he was born in the early 13th century. Dharmasengge is the interlocutor with Machik in one of the sections of The Great Explanation which discusses how a Chod practitioner should behave and practice meditation.

Another lineage that appears to have been transmitted from Machik sprul sku—the emanation form of Machik—through Tonyon Samdrub is sometimes referred to as the “Gsang sngags kyi brgyud” (“the Secret Mantra Lineage”) or the “Slob brgyud rnams” (“the Disciple Lineage”); this seems to have been a lineage of

predominantly oral teachings. According to Dharmasengge's Zhije and Chod History, Gangs pa rmug sang was encouraged by Machik (probably in emanation or sprul sku form) to find Tonyon Samdrub to receive teachings on the ‘Phags pa bdud kyi gcod yul. After he studied and meditated with Tonyon Samdrub, he received the name “Gangs pa Rmug sang” and was allowed to transmit the oral teachings. One of the sections of The Great Explanation collection of Chod

teachings is presented as a dialogue between Gangs pa Rmug sang and Machik Labdron on the Chod perspective regarding various types of Negative Forces (Dud) and manifestations of benefit and harm, or gods and demons (lha dre), a topic I discuss further in chapter five. According to The Blue Annals, Tonyon

Samdrub had twenty-one male and female disciples and eighteen accomplished daughters (sras mo grub thob), among whom was the peerless Gangs pa Dmu yan (1145). Gangs pa Dmu yan is remembered for his acts of freeing animals, his wealth, his institution of the continuous recitation of the Bka' ‘gyur, and his role as a mediator between Tibet and an area called Gser gyu (China?). Gangs pa Dmu yan's son was Gangs pa Lhun grub, whose son was Sangs rgyas bstan bsrung, the father of Gangs khrod ras pa.

According to sources including The Blue Annals and the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), the Chod teaching lineage during the twelfth century passed from Dharmasengge to Dol pa Zang thal, who was also known as Dbus ma Zang thal. According to The Blue Annals, Dol pa Zang thal dressed as a layperson rather than a monastic and passed away at 56 years of age in Lower Lugs. Rgya nag gcer bu was the student of Dol pa Zang thal, and the teacher of Chodpa Sangs rgyas rab ston. Sangs rgyas rab ston might be the first to

have the title of “Chodpa” (“Gcod pa”) attached to his name in the historical records. Chodpa Sangs rgyas rab ston's student was Rtogs ldan Sangs rgyas dge slong (n.d.); from his name, we can presume that Rtogs ldan Sangs rgyas Dge long was an ordained monk (dge slong) who emphasized his yogic practice (rtogs Idan), probably within the ‘Brug pa Kagyu tradition. Rtogs ldan Sangs rgyas Dge long is documented as a Chod teacher of Dharma ba dzra, who in turn would be the teacher of Sangs rgyas ston pa Brtson ‘grus seng ge, a figure who is discussed in more detail below.

Also living at some time during this period were the mysterious figures of Byams pa bsod nams, who was likely the editor of the eight sections of The Great Explanation that follow the two Rnam thar sections, and Gangs pa (the identity of whom has been discussed by Edou [1996] and Harding [2003]). One figure from this period for whom we do know dates and some details is Phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po (1110-1170). There is a text attributed to him entitled the

Ku sa li'i tshogs gsog, which has overtones of Chod praxis. He founded the Phag mo gru pa Kagyu lineage and Gdan sa thel monastery in 1158. ‘Bri gungs ‘Jig rten gsum mgon po rin chen dpal (1143-1212/17) was the founder of the ‘Bri gungs Kagyu, and also transmitted Ku sa li offering teachings, which have similarities to some Chod offering practices. Although the available records for these figures in the eleventh and twelfth centuries do not allow us accurately to date them, following their transmission lineage allows us to begin to construct a genealogy for the transmission of Chod.

At about the same time, the renowned Rmog lcog pa Rin chen brtson ‘grus (1110¬1170) was the primary disciple of Mkhas grub khyung po rnal ‘byor (990-1139), who studied under Sukhasiddhi, Niguma, Rahula, Maitripa and Vajrasanapa before founding the Shangpa Kagyu. He is also said to be from the same family clan as Milarepa. The Shangpa Kagyu were important transmitters of Chod teachings, as will be seen below. Gene Smith discusses how the Shangpa Kagyu

was aggressively assimilated by the Geluk: “This pattern of growth through incorporation of lesser sects was especially common in Gtsang. The rebirth of the First Dalai Lama as the son of Grub chen Kun dga' rgyal mtshan resulted in the end of a hereditary line of Shangs pa Kagyu lamas” (2001, 124). This assimilation might have been happening at the time of Sangs rgyas ston pa Brtson ‘grus seng ge, a figure discussed below. In her discussion of the Second Dalai Lama Dge ‘dun rgya mtsho's transmission lineage of Chod, Elena de Rossi- Filibeck notes the connection between the Shangpa and the Dalai Lama lineage: “Sangs rgyas ston pa, Mkhas grub chos rje and Shangs ston pa . . . figure also in the list of dGe ‘dun rgya mtsho as teachers of the principal doctrine of Gcod (bstan thog gcig ma)” (1983, 48).


13th Century

Rgod tshang pa Mgon po rdo rje (1189-1258) was a student of Gtsang pa Rgya ras pa, one of the early patriarchs of the ‘Brug pa Kagyu transmission lineage. In particular, he is credited with founding the Stod (upper) tradition of the Brug pa Bka' (Dkar) brgyud Rgod tshang monastery north of Leh, Ladakh. He is the author of a teaching that bears some similarity to Chod, the Tshogs bsog mchod sbyin gyi zhal gdams (Oral Instructions on Completing the Accumulations

[of Merit and Wisdom] Through Giving Homage and Offerings). As Edou (1996, 188 n. 2) has also observed, the offering practice described by Rgod tshang pa Mgon po rdo rje includes the visualized separation of body and mind, and the offering of one's aggregates to a host of guests for the generation of merit. Dharmasengge mentions Rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje in the context of listing Chod traditions that come from India and Tibet, along with Padmasambhava's gter ma teachings, Naropa's ro gcig teachings, and Thang stong rgyal po's visions.

Although it is difficult to establish a Chod lineage in the Sakya school, the earliest figure I have found is Rin chen seng ge, a 13th-century Sakya scholar remembered for his transmission of the Lam ‘bras teachings. Although he is remembered as a Sakya scholar, he was also referred to as “Gcod yul pa Ratna sing ha” and authored a text entitled Phyag rgya chen po gcod kyi gdams pa nam mkha' sgo ‘byed, which appears to be one of the earliest texts directly concerning the Chod technique of “Opening the Gates of Space” (nam mkha' sgo ‘byed) and explicitly interpreting Chod within a Mahamudra (phyag rgya chen po) paradigm.


Tsondru Senge

The next significant figure in the Shangpa Kagyu transmission lineage of Chod is Tsondru Senge (Brtson ‘grus seng ge). Numerous Chod texts are attributed to him, including a rnam thar, the Ma gcig lab kyi sgron ma'i rnam thar dang gcod

kyi chos skor ma ‘ongs lung bstan bcas pa. This text may be a (or even the) source text for the well-known rnam thar included in The Great Explanation. At this point in my research, I believe that Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge (Sangs rgyas ston pa Brtson ‘grus seng ge) is the same person as Kunpang Tsondru Senge (Kun spangs Brtson ‘grus seng ge). According to The Blue Annals,230 Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge was the seventh and final holder of the single line Ni gu

transmission (following him, the Ni gu lineage was transmitted more widely) and became the abbot of Sangs rgyas Gnyan ston (743ff.). He was from a Bon po family (Yan gal dar po at Sil ma). He received Chod teachings from Machik sprul sku at Gangs bzang when he was ten years old. He was ordained before Bla ma

Tsa ri ras pa at the age of thirteen and given the name Tsondru Senge; however, Bla ma Tsa ri ras pa passed away before he was able to study extensively with him. He received extensive Chod teachings from Sum ston ras pa, also known as Dharma ba dzra, who prophesied that Tsondru Senge would widely

disseminate these Chod teachings. Tsondru Senge received the cycle of Hevajra from Bla ma Dbu ma pa. He received the initiation of Amitayus from Bzang yul pa, which was said to have extended his life when he was expected to have an early death; however, Bzang yul pa proscribed Tsondru Senge from transmitting the Amitayus initiation until he was thirty and recommended that he take full monastic ordination when was nineteen, which he did in the presence of the

preceptor Chos rgyal. Bla ma Spang po ba transmitted teachings—including the doctrines of Zhang ‘tshal pa—to him. He is also said to have received teachings from Bla ma Glang phug pa, Acarya Tshogs ston Sakya, Bla ma Khro ‘grus, who is mentioned earlier in this reconstruction of a Chod chronology, and whose dates overlap those of Kunpang Tsondru Senge as

given in Timeless Rapture (1110-1170). Dharmasengge lists a “Mon gcod Brtson ‘grus seng ge” as following Kunpang Tsondru Senge in the Chod lineage. The identity of Kunpang Tsondru Senge in Dharmasengge's chos ‘byung always places him before Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, who is subsequently followed by Mon gcod

Brtson ‘grus seng ge, which would contraindicate that Rmog lcog pa Brtson ‘grus (sen ge) is the same as Mon gcod Brtson ‘grus seng ge. However, I have had little success in finding details about a figure by the name of “Mon gcod Brtson ‘grus seng ge.” Rmog lcog pa Rin chen brtson ‘grus (1110-1170, TBRC P1984) was the primary disciple of Mkhas grub khyung po rnal ‘byor (990-1139), who studied under Sukhasiddhi, Niguma, Rahula, Maitripa and Vajrasanapa before

founding the Shangpa Kagyu. He is also said to be from the same family clan as Milarepa. His teachers included Khyung po rnal ‘byor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, A seng, Bsod nams rin chen, and Nyag mo dge bshes. His students included Chos kyi seng ge (1154-1217, an early Shangpa expert, not either of the Chodpas) and Kun dga' bsod nams. Mon gcod Brtson ‘grus seng ge and Rmog lcog pa Brtson ‘grus may be the same person (given the phonetic similarities of “Mon gcod” and “Rmog lcog”), but they are not the same as Sangs rgyas ston pa/ Kunpang Tsondru Senge.


230 See also Dharmasengge 1974, 56b-58b. The biography of Sangs rgyas ston pa Brtson ‘grus seng ge provided by Jamgon Kongtrul in his Dpal ldan shangs pa bka' bryud kyi do ha rdo rje'i tshig rkang dang mgyur dbyangs phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa thos pa don ldan byin rlabs rgya mtsho (translated into English

as Timeless Rapture: Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters by Ngawang Zangpo) closely follows the Deb ther sngon po. phu ba, Bla ma Sakya pa, Acarya Gtsang pa, Acarya Jo stan, Acarya Siddha, Mkhar rgya ba, Acarya Jo rgyal and Khams ston.

Tsondru Senge travelled to learn meditation from Bla ma Rngog ston, who was reputed to be more learned and accomplished than Sakya Pandita and Gro phu Lo tsa ba. However, upon Tsondru Senge's arrival, Rngog ston had a vision encouraging him to travel to Yol phu to receive teachings in the practice of “illusory body” (sgyu lus) and “dream yoga” (mi lam zin) from Ri gong pa, who was believed to be a great yogin and accomplished master of the state of

clear light” (‘od gsal) in secret. Before they were able to travel to meet with Ri gong pa, Rngog ston passed away and Tsondru Senge delayed his travels to Yol phu for three years. When they finally met, after Ri gong pa chastised him for the delay (the arrival of Tsondru Senge had been predicted by the

Acarya Gzhu pa nag po, who had also since passed away), Tsondru Senge beseeched Ri gong pa for a transmission of the teachings of the Bla ma Shangs pa. According to The Blue Annals, Ri gong pa gradually transmitted the teachings and their methods. Tsondru Senge would later transmit numerous prophesies before passing away in Ri gong at the age of 72.

The TBRC lists a figure known as Sangye Tsondru Sengge (Sangs rgyas Brtson ‘grus seng ge, TBRC 95). He was born in 1207 at Kha rag rtsa'i sil ma gdung rus ya ngal dkar po and passed away in 1278 at Ri gung dgon pa in Yol phu, the last of the Ni gu chig brgyud. TBRC P95 does not list “Kunpang” as an alternate title. Under “Details” for this figure, TBRC notes that according to its previous TSD table tree (although their source is not provided), Sangye Tsondru Senge was affiliated with the Shangpa Kagyu transmission lineage. According to this TBRC listing, Sangye Tsondru Senge received the Gcod kyi chig brgyud transmission from

Machik sprul sku in 1216. He is said to have received the rab byung vows, as well as the name “Tsondru Senge,” from Bla ma Tsa ri ras pa in 1219. Other teachers listed here include Slob dpon sregs (from whom he is presumed to have received the teachings of Mgon po phyag drug) and Sum ston ras pa, who

transmitted the Gcod skor. His final vows were received from Mkhan po chos rgyal can. Other teachers listed under “Details” include Bla ma Glang phug pa, Slob dpon Tshogs ston Sakya, Bla ma Khro phu ba, Bla ma Sakya pa, Slob dpon Gtsang pa, Slob dpon Jo ston, Slob dpon Grub thob, Mkhar rgyab pa, Slob dpon Jo rgyal, and Khams ston. Sangye Tsondru Senge is said to have met Sangs rgyas Gnyan ston Chos kyi shes rab at Yol phu ri gung, where he received the Shangs

chos chig brgyud. There is an earlier reference in The Blue Annals to Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge as a scholar who was also a disciple of the Kadampa Dge bshes Sne'u zur pa Ye shes ‘bar (1042-1118). Glang lung pa was said to have approached him for advice on whether or not the method of Atisa could serve as a Path (Roerich 1976, 297, 299). Another section of The Blue Annals suggests that Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge was an abbot of Dpal gsang phu monastery for six years, following in the lineage of Rin chen bzang po (Roerich 1976, 329).

The story is somewhat different if one considers the information that is recorded under TBRC P95 “Associated Persons.” According to “Associated Persons,” Sangye Tsondru Senge was a student of Dharma ba dzra (the Chod practitioner discussed earlier) and Chos kyi shes rab (1175-1255), the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu site Ri gong. Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge is listed as the teacher of Gtsang ma Shangs ston (1234-1309), who is discussed further below, as well as Gnas rnying pa A'i Seng ge (b. 13th c.) and Rin chen ‘bum (b. 13th c.). In addition, he is recorded here as the teacher of two important Shangpa Kagyu teachers, ‘Jag chen Shes rab tshul khrims (b. 13th c.) and Mkhas grub Bsam sdings pa Gzhon nu grub (b. 13th c.).

Although Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Sengge was the last of the holders of the single lineage Ni gu teachings, he did pass the teachings to other students. According to sources including The Blue Annals, one of his foremost students was Mkhas grub Shangs ston of Khong rkyan Yang khan, who was mentioned above. Mkhas grub Shangs ston studied dharma from a young age, being ordained as a novice at thirteen. He became learned in Prajnaparamita, Pramana, Yogacara and Madhyamaka, and studied with Kadam and Kagyu scholars, including Mdo ba Karma pa. Following these studies, he heard of Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Sengge and

travelled to Ri gong to study with him. Dharmasengge mentions Mkhas grub Shangs ston receiving Chod teachings from Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Sengge in his Zhije and Chod History (58b-61b). Mkhas grub Shangs ston is remembered as a great master of Shangpa Kagyu. The Blue Annals notes that, although the Ni gu gcig brgyud ended with Tsondru Sengge, numerous students would afterward attain enlightenment in this tradition, but the details of these transmissions are difficult to apprehend. This source notes that Rmog chog pa (1110-1170) was a contemporary of Dpal Phag mo gru pa (also 1110-1170), Skyer sgang pa was a contemporary of ‘Bri khung pa, Sangs rgya gnyan ston was a contemporary of Spyan snga, and Sangye Tonpa was a contemporary of Yang dgon pa.

The Shangpa Kagyu teaching lineage of Chod seems to have been passed from Mkhas grub Shangs ston to his student Rtogs ldan ‘Od rgyal (b. 13th c.), about whom little is known. From Rtogs ldan ‘Od rgyal the teachings were transmitted to Bkra shis rgyal mtshan (b. 13th c.), who then transmitted them to Kun dga' ye shes (b. 13th c.). I have not been able to find any record of writings by these figures; however, a figure named Rinchen Sengge from this period does have a Chod text attributed to him, as discussed above.

Another transmission lineage of Chod seems to have been passed from Sangye Tonpa Tsondru Senge in the 13th century to Rin chen ‘bum, and then to Dzo ki ras pa, and on to A ri ka pa. From A ri ka pa, the teachings were transmitted to Kun dga' bzang po, through ‘Gro mgon Mdzes snying, and then to Bsod nams rin chen. Unfortunately, little is known about these figures.


Rangjung Dorje and lineages of Chöd

The importance of Rangjung Dorje in the Chöd tradition is attested to by his appearance in a range of lineage texts. In the colophon for Rangjung Dorje's Zab mo bdud kyi gcod yul khyi khrid yig,249 250 251 which the author alternatively refers to as the Gcod kyi don bsdus ba'i tshigs su bcad pa rdzogs, the transmission lineage provided begins with the Buddha and continues with Manjughosa (Manjusri), through to Aryadeva, Padampa Sangye, Machik Labdrön, Kham bu

ya le, Dznya na dzwa la, Nam mtsho and finally to Rangjung Dorje. This transmission lineage from the Buddha to Rangjung Dorje is the same as the one given in the Ring brgyud gsol ‘debs discussed above. However, it differs from that included in The Blue Annals (also discussed above), which suggests that the lineage through Kham bu ya le is then transmitted into the Gangspa line—to Tönyon Samdrub (aka Sham po Gangspa, the first Gangspa), to Gangspa Rmug sang and Gangspa Dmu yan, and then to Gangspa Lhun grub.

A number of other lineage texts position Rangjung Dorje as an important inheritor of the Chöd tradition. Dharmasengge's Chos ‘byung lists Rangjung Dorje in a Chöd lineage referred to as Zung ‘jug brgyuddzin. This lineage begins with Khugom Chökyisengge, and moves through Sangs rgyas ston pa and Gzhon nu grub to Rangjung Dorje. Padma dkar po's Zhe chen chos ‘byung (discussed above) states that the Ru pa'i Chöd lineage began with Rangjung Dorje, Gnam mtsho do pa, and Mi bskyod rdo rje. This information is repeated by Jamgön Kongtrül in his Treasury of Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab mdzod). Dpal ldan tshul khrims'

Chos ‘byung kun gsal me long (discussed above) lists two traditions of Chod, one from Machik Labdron and one from Tonyon Samdrub.254 The tradition from Machik is further subdivided into four lineages including one that, although within the tradition of Machik, appears to be initiated by ‘Phan yul gyi rtsi dar ma. This lineage passes to Gnam mtsho ba Mi bskyod rdo rje, and then to Chos rje Rangjung Dorje. According to Dpal ldan tshul khrims, the

transmission is passed in two lines from Rangjung Dorje. The first is to Dpal mkha' spyod pa (1350-1405), a figure who is also mentioned in the Gcod ring brgyud gsol debs discussed above. The second is to A mes byang chub rdo rje, Ri mo ‘bab pa Bsod nams rin chen (1362-1453), and then to Go Lotsawa Zhonnupel, the author of The Blue Annals. As we see from this range of transmission texts, Rangjung Dorje is positioned as a key inheritor of Chod, which indicates his important role as preserver and interpreter of the tradition.

In this chapter I have begun the process of closely analyzing representations of Chod lineages from a variety of sources in order to learn how Chod develops as it is affiliated with different historical figures, institutions and contexts. As I noted above, scant attention has been paid to the ways in which Chod changed as it was described by commentators from different perspectives. My preliminary analysis suggests how various factors—including institutional affiliations, doctrinal concerns, and historical changes—have influenced the description and representation of Chod transmissions, and thus

how Chod has been preserved and renewed. By emphasizing the temporal and doctrinal contexts of the lineage sources that trace the historical development of Chod, we can also better appreciate how different Tibetan schools interpreted, appropriated, and transformed the tradition. The next chapter of my study will explore how Chod is contextualized within different Buddhist philosophical discourses and how such contexts have influenced its development.



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