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David Germano


BUDDHISM IS THE ONE INDIGENOUS RELIGION IN ASIA WITH A LONG AND continuous record of successful migration, an impressive two and half millennia history from its northern Indian origins to the furthest reaches of Asia in every direction. This process has been marked as much by transformation and diversity as by continuity and unity, whether we look to its literatures, doctrines, practices, or institutions. Yet within this diversity, there is a persistent and even defining concern with the figure of the Buddha(s), whether serene or horrific, celibate or sexual, historical or cosmic, iconographic or doctrinal, ritual or contemplative, objects of emulation or objects of negation. These figures proliferated in the shimmering pure lands, dense mandalas, and alternative cosmologies of later forms of Buddhism, while the simple historicity of a north Indian founder of a religion underwent similar transformations to the point of including primordial figures whose defining identity was their lack of historicity and temporal development, massive cosmological Buddhas who create and host entire galaxies, and intimate interior Buddhas pervading the body’s interior. And yet within this diversity and divinity, there has remained a consistent humanist association stemming from the human origins of Buddhas, and the rejection of a creator deity who sits outside of interdependence, even when this rejection sits side by side with rhetoric that celebrates “Buddha” or “bodhicitta” in terms that seem all but indistinguishable from such a divine, creative force.

With this humanism, there comes an equally persistent problem of presence and absence, of how a discrete, specific Buddha is present in this

ordinary world of samsara when his/her self-transfiguration by definition involves extrication from that world. It is thus not surprising that wherever we find Buddhism, we also find a concern for what could only be termed “relics”—bits and pieces of the Buddha, or Buddha-like historical figures, which have retained a material presence in the world even when the Buddha has departed or is only accessible in brief glimpses of visionary experience or ritual evocation. Relics have been one of the most omnipresent and sought after phenomena of Buddhist material culture, often presented in recent scholarship as a way to mediate the Buddha’s historical absence following death. Relics and statues of the Buddha are in many ways considered as the living Buddha, that is, as radically active agents, rather than a mere remainder from, or image of, a distant past. This quality of personhood or agency has been demonstrated through examination of concrete social practices surrounding relics and statues, including the attribution of such classic characteristics of ownership of property, the ability to be murdered, and so forth. In Mahayana traditions, this persistent agency of the Buddhas in material form has been further formalized in the theology of the “three Bodies” of a Buddha: a Buddha’s innermost recesses become coterminous, in some sense, with reality (dharmata\), and out of this matrix a vast array of material forms both animate and nonanimate are emanated. We might thus speak of relics and emanations, which are unified in their divine agency and derivation, but different in being perceived as persistent forces that are a legacy of the past in contrast to newly emergent manifestations that are a direct outflow of the present. In practice, however, these distinctions are far from clear.

Relics can be pieces of the material body—a tooth, a bone, dried up flesh, odd crystalline derivates of the cremated body, or material items associated with a Buddha—clothing, ritual items, or other possessions. They can also be verbal, as encapsulated in the Buddhist scriptures, believed to have persisted orally in the hearts and minds of disciples before being committed to written, canonical form. Indeed it has been argued that stupas, images, and a wide spectrum of other items believed to derive from, emulate, represent, or incarnate a Buddha’s presence should be considered relics.1 “Relics” also extend from the historical Buddha to other Buddhas, divine figures, and historical personages in a given tradition’s lineages. In the present volume, such relics are analyzed across a variety of situational contexts and functions—intellectual, ritual, social, literary, and political—and across an equally diverse array of cultural contexts—India, Japan, Thailand, and China. In this chapter I will turn to yet another cultural context, namely, Tibet, and to yet another situational context, namely, a philosophical interpretation of relics in relationship to Buddha-nature. Thus I will be concerned with the philosophy of the production of relics rather than practical issues of their subsequent use, thereby showing that there is not always a clear bifurcation between high intellectual traditions and a detailed interest in the material phenomenon of relics.

The Tibetan tantric tradition known as the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) systematically relates the bodily relics of a saint to the constellation of concepts and practices that assert a bodily presence of Buddha-nature within all living beings. It emerged in Tibet by at least the ninth century, though claiming almost entirely to be Indian revelations concealed in Tibet during the eight and ninth centuries. It appears, however, that in fact its many variant traditions and corresponding bodies of literature emerged at different periods over many centuries as original Tibetan developments. The earliest public Great Perfection traditions in the ninth century are marked by the absence of presentations of detailed ritual and contemplative technique and by the absence of “funerary” Buddhism. Then there is a gradual incorporation of diverse ritual and contemplative techniques and funerary elements culminating in the eleventh-century rise of the Seminal Heart (snying thig), which was systematized in the fourteenth century by Longchenpa (klong chen pa, 1308–1363). “Funerary” Buddhism signifies the late Indian Buddhist tantric obsession with death on multiple fronts: (1) the focus on charnel grounds and their corpses, (2) funerary rituals, (3) the signs of dying and death (particularly relics), (4) “intermediate processtheory (bar do, Sanskrit antara\bhava), and (5) contemplative yogas based on death.2 In this process of transformation, we find a concern with relics blossoming in conjunction with an elaborate tantric synthesis revolving around death, vision, and the body in relationship to Buddhas. I will show how relics are closely tied with Buddha-nature theory inscribed within an elaborate and architectonic philosophical synthesis. We thus will see that the traditional connection of Buddha-nature with birth, womb, and genesis is here balanced by associations with cemeteries, death, and relics, with tombs as much as with wombs.


We will begin with The All-Creating King, the chief tantra of the early strata of the Great Perfection. These early texts are characterized by a lack of reference to funerary Buddhism, and a general tendency toward aestheticization, which abstracts from discrete particulars, whether ritual and contemplative processes or any other type of concrete detail. Thus, while The All-Creating King devotes its seventeenth chapter to a discussion of relics, it is an abstract and metaphorical account:

Then the All-Creating King, the enlightening mind, spoke about holding on to his own Bodily bones (sku gdung): O Great Heroic Being, grasp this! If you continually hold on to these Bodily bones and precious (relic) spheres (ring bsrel), you will be equal to me, the All-Creating, the original ancestor of the Victorious Ones.

Then the Adamantine Heroic Being made this inquiry:

O original ancestor of all the Buddhas of the three times, teacher of teachers, the All-Creating King! As to continually holding on to the Bodily bones and precious (relic) spheres, “Bodily” refers to the Bodies (sku, ka\ya) of which Victorious Ones? “Bones” refers to the bones of which Buddhas? How should “precious (relic) spheres” be understood?

The All-Creating King’s response:

Listen, O Great Heroic Being! “Bodily” is the Spiritual Bodies of my sons, the threefold Victors. “Bonessignifies my mind in the Victors of the three times. If you hold on to this, Heroic Being, continually and without temporal [break], it is the receptacle of offering to all the Buddhas of the three times. This should be understood as the referent of “Bodily bones and precious (relic) spheres.”

The Adamantine Heroic Being made a further inquiry:

O teacher of teachers, the All-Creating King! Even if the Bodily bones and precious (relic) spheres are thus, how do you offer to the Buddhas of the three times therein? What are the virtues to be had in offering?

The All-Creating King’s response:

Listen, O Great Heroic Being! You worship these Bodily bones and precious (relic) spheres of mine by continually seeing the Buddhas of the three times as your own mind. Having attained indivisibility with the virtues of that [act], you will become as potent as the King who creates all phenomena.3 “Precious relic spheres” (ring bsrel) are generally etymologized as “held/proliferating (bsrel) for a long time (ring),” based upon the notion that unusual crystalline spheres collected out of cremation and other contexts are supposed to grow in number over time if kept in careful stewardship. The passage above plays off this etymology to reinterpret the stock phraseBodily bones and precious relic spheres”—usually referring to material residue of various types from the remains of a Buddha or saint—as “perpetually embodying the realization of the body and mind of the Buddhas.” The content and style of this passage is typical of the text, with its twin rhetorical strategies in interpreting normative Buddhist categories of theory and praxis: deconstructing them via a resolute denial of their cogency and reinterpreting them allegorically as applying to facets of the primordial enlightened mind (byang chub sems, Sanskrit bodhicitta). Bodhicitta is explicitly identified as the personified speaker of this tantra, as well as creator of the cosmos. The passage translated above is an example of the allegorical strategy, though the overall effect is still to suggest a negation or at least devaluation of the conventional understanding of theories and practices relating to relics.

There hardly seems any flesh to these bones, either our own or those of the Buddhas. This is in line with the text’s general tendency to devalue the phenomenal characteristics of discrete items constituting one’s ordinary experience in preference for an emphasis on the in-visible reality body of the Buddha (chos sku, Sanskrit dharmaka\ya), also referred to as the “enlightening mind,” “the enlightened nucleus of Buddhas” (de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po, Sanskrit tatha\gatagarbha), “ground” (gzhi), and the “All-Creating King.” At the core of this notion is reality’s (chos nyid, Sanskrit dharmata\) absence, latency (nang gsal), and indeterminacy, the total converse of our ordinary cyclic existence (sam≥sa\ra) with its manifest structures (phyir gsal) of discrete things and karmic laws of cause and effect forming a prison. While normally reality’s virtual character entails its retreat from the field of our awareness, the tantra asserts its primacy as the source, ongoing reality, and ultimate destination (‘byung gnas ‘gro) of ordinary modes of existence. The generalized phenomenological correlate to this emphasis on reality in this virtual sense is a turning from focal modes of attention (dmigs pa) on discrete manipulatable items (chos, Sanskrit dharma) to diffusive modalities (dmigs med) expressed as a “letting-go” (cog bzhag), which opens out to the all-embracing field (dbyings, Sanskrit dha\tu) constituting such discrete items. In traditional Great Perfection terms, this is characterized as the difference between karma (las) and gnosis (ye shes, Sanskrit jña\na), the world of discrete forms in rigid hierarchies in contrast to emptiness interpreted positively as a fluid web of paradoxical presences (med bzhin snang ba).5 This simple dyad can be explored perceptually in terms of meditative processes, hermeneutically in terms of the different types of textuality, institutionally in terms of a contrast between diffuse village-based lay movements and more formal monastic organizations, and indeed in terms of the interpretation of any classic Buddhist phenomena.

The text here utilizes this opposition to undercut relics as discrete physical items from which authority almost physically emanates, whether physical remnants of a Buddha or saint; miraculous excrescence from such remnants; or their possessions, texts, or other traditional categories of sacred relics suitable for worship and installation within a stupa. Such rhetorical tactics could have undercut scholastic ventures as well as popular practices, but we know too little about the significance of relic worship or stupas during this period or indeed any socioreligious contexts in the tenth century to determine what ideological significance such rejection might have had. For instance, it is not clear that authors of these texts shared the elitist approach and fundamental distrust of popular religiosity attributed by Faure to some elements of Chan, since such rhetorical strategies need not be automatically interpreted literally to signify a disregard for the object of denial.6 But at least textually or philosophically, the overwhelming stress is on absence as well as rhetorical disembodiedness in the body of the text; the “relics” of the Buddha are none other than one’s own mind, and their possession seems a bit intangible, to say the least. It is a discourse of the bare bones, and perhaps we can characterize the coming transformation of relics in the tradition as a discovery of the radical agency of these bones: they have something to say and a fully embodied presence with which to speak.


The early foundational literature of the Seminal Heart is a collection of seventeen tantras revealed in Tibet gradually from the eleventh to the twelfth centuries, which were then systematically interpreted in the fourteenth century by the tradition’s great systematizer, Longchenpa in The Treasury of Words and Meanings and The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle.7 The Seventeen Tantras range from lengthy texts surveying diverse issues to succinct texts discussing single topics.8 For instance, The Tantra of the Sun and Moon’s Intimate Union9 is devoted to the subject of intermediate processes (bar do) and forms the earliest known literature outlining the characteristic doctrines and practices later shaped by Karmalingpa (kar ma gling pa, 1327–1387) into The Liberation upon Hearing in the Intermediate Process.10 The Blazing Relics Tantra is instead devoted to relics and issues surrounding the moment of death from the perspective of the

survivors.11 In contrast to The All-Creating King, this tantra discusses at length the types of relics and other odd signs emerging in the death of a saint.12 These are each correlated with the varying levels and nature of realization of the person in question, indicating that this detailed account of relics in part concerns the generation of belief, a legitimization of the deceased and the lineage s/he incarnated. But the manifestation of such marks is also explicitly connected to the theory of Buddha(s) located physically within human interiority and thus embedded within the broader architecture of the Seminal Heart. The Blazing Relics Tantra presents relics as a subset of a discussion of “signs” (rtags) marking enlightenment—“living” signs manifest in a visionary’s body, speech, and mind by force of contemplation, while relics mark enlightenment within death. Its three chapters correspond to signs emerging in a visionary’s body, speech, and mind (1) in the present due to contemplation in past lives, (2) in the present as immediate feedback on success in present contemplative

endeavors, and (3) after death indicating attainments in the immediate postmortem future. The tantra is thus organized around signs relating to contemplative practice in the past, present, and future. Much of the text is focused on relatively straightforward accounts of the phenomenology of different contemplative practices along with descriptions of the various capacities thereby attained. Despite this, the text’s overall title of “blazing relics/bones” (sku gdung) points to relics as its overarching organizational rubric, in which capacity it signifies generally the bodily markers or transfigurations that authentic contemplation generates—literally, “the body’s bones blaze.” Its centrality no doubt derives from the importance of relics in Tibetan Buddhist practices concerning death and postmortem interpretation of sanctity but also from the tradition’s philosophical interpretation of the body and its indwelling gnostic agency described in terms reserved for a Buddha(s).

Chapter 1 unfolds in response to a question from the audience asking what the signs are like for an enlightened individual. The Teacher responds by talking about the signs of enlightened Body, Speech, and Mind manifesting in someone via previous training. For example, training on the Buddha’s Body results in physical marks, which tend to be of three types: wrinkles, protrusions of skin, and light colorations in shapes resembling auspicious items such as ritual implements or sacred syllables appearing. Chapter 2 deals mainly with this life and signs that correspond to success in various Great Perfection practices. In contrast to Longchenpa’s The Treasury of Words and Meanings, the signs tend to be more external indicators (such as flying through air, walking on water, or

remembering teachings) rather than phenomenological indicators linked to procedures of contemplative practices. Chapter 3 unfolds in response to a D≥a\kinê asking what type of signs emerge when a yogi is unable to successfully bring contemplation to its fulfillment and dies. Buddha Vajra Holder’s (rdo rjechang) response surveys five topics: Body images, bones, lights, sounds, and earthquakes. He correlates material events at death such as odd material objects appearing at cremation, strange phenomena observed in the surrounding environment, and so on to the timing of liberation for the deceased visionary—whether at death, four days later in the postdeath intermediate process, or otherwise.

Longchenpa’s The Treasury of Words and Meanings has eleven chapters corresponding to the essential rubrics of the tradition and only includes topics he understands as crucial within a practice-oriented digest (lag len).13 The fact that the ninth topic corresponds to the discussion of relics in The Blazing Relics Tantra, citations of which pervade it, thus signifies that Longchenpa views relics as a vital topic within the overall system.14 Just like the tantra, it concerns the psychophysical and visionary signs manifesting in the practitioner’s body, speech, mind, and external environment as realization deepens in his/her contemplative path. Such analyses are presented as an aid for the practitioner to empirically observe his/her own progress, keeping alert for stagnation, deviation, and other pitfalls, as well as aiding teachers in evaluation and sequential instruction of disciples. The variety and remarkable nature of many of the signs are also intended to serve as a curb against intellectual hubris for those who may mistake intellectual comprehension with experiential realization, as the former will not issue forth in the extraordinary psychic powers and other measures marking the latter. Three sections correlated to the past, present, and future again constitute the bulk of the chapter: (1) the signs marking proper progress in the Great Perfection’s contemplations,15 (2) the signs naturally occurring in one’s current body, speech, and mind indicating successful engagement in these practices during previous lifetimes,16 and (3) the external environmental signs and internal signs evident in a person’s death and cremation.17

The first section is a complement to the contemplative practices discussed in the preceding chapter, with signs ranging over the feeling of being able to fly, an astonishingly youthful complexion, internal sensations, and psychic capacities. The discussion focuses on the specific transformations occurring in the different elements of the visions in direct transcendence contemplation (thod rgal). It is of note that much of the imagery involves the spontaneous unfolding of visual images of Buddhas and lights from within the body, strikingly similar to the postmortem events discussed elsewhere in the text. The practice of direct transcendence itself involves the use of postures, gazes, and breathing exercises to stimulate a spontaneous flow of visions that gradually shape into visions of Buddhas.

The second section describes the diverse signs naturally occurring in one’s current body, speech, and mind indicating successful engagement in these practices during previous lifetimes. These range from a natural capacity for concentration to birthmarks which are remarkably similar to classic auspicious symbols. While the manifestation of such contemplation within the practitioner’s speech and mind is more straightforward (eloquence, clairvoyance, etc.), the signs manifesting within a practitioner’s body are of particular interest. The Blazing Relics Tantra describes these living bodily relics as follows:

(i) A conch spiraling to the right, Or wrinkles going upwards like three tips [of a vajra, trident and so on], Or, likewise the letter Om≥ Will emerge in image or naturally protrude On the expanse of the forehead Of whoever tunes into the Blissful Ones. Whoever has such signs emerge Previously spiritually trained on the Buddha’s Body; That yogi who trains on this Will in two lifetimes attain The time of utter assurance In being inseparable from the Buddha’s Body. Thus you should value highly in this very life Diligence in meditative cultivation, Without allowing obstructions to gain sway. (ii) The fortunate individual Who previously spiritually trained On the Speech of all the Buddhas, Has images or protruding shapes On the right and left side of the throat: An eight petaled lotus, Conch spiraling to the right, Or likewise the tip of a silk prayer flag curling upwards, Iron hook or sword, Or marked by the letter Ah. The individual who has these marks Has previously spiritually trained On the Speech of all the Buddhas, And thus in two lifetimes will come to attain the definitive fruit As s/he becomes one with Enlightened Speech. Also with this you should value the absence of obstructions— When you meditatively cultivate the Enlightened Speech without any obstructions It is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt it will be attained. (iii) Whoever has previously become experientially familiar With the Mind of the Buddhas, Will find their body marked by the following signs: At the location of the heart Is an upright trident and vajra, Or likewise a four spoked wheel, Flesh glowing in the form of a trident, The shape of precious jewels, Or the mark of the letter Hu\m≥. The person for whom these emerge Is a fortunate one who has experientially familiarized himself With the Mind of the Buddhas; When diligent in meditative cultivation, Without obstructions in three lives There can be no doubt that s/he will be expansively awakened Within the man≥d≥ala of the Buddha’s Mind.18

Longchenpa explains19 the rationale for these signsmanifestation with respect to the primordial ground of being and nonbeing.20 The Enlightened Body, Speech, and Mind are present naturally within all living beings as the all-pervading primordial potencies or self-emergent dynamic qualities of the ground, and thus by previous spiritual refinement and training they become manifest in the present. They also indicate imminent realization—bodily signs indicate that by further training on the Enlightened Body one will attain the adamantine Body in two lifetimes, verbal signs indicate that adamantine Speech can be accomplished within two births, and mental signs indicate enlightenment within three lifetimes. However, he also stresses that the signs are not ultimate indicators and that everything depends on one’s current actions21—hence the signs should motivate further practice. Otherwise the positive karma that led to those signs will become mixed with current negative karma and result in subsequent birth in the form realms, the god Brahma’s level, and as a demi-god respectively (corresponding to the signs of Body, Speech, and Mind).22

Longchenpa concludes the chapter with an analysis of what we would consider “relics” proper: the various external environmental signs (such as weather, earthquakes, or strange appearances) and internal signs (such as relics or marks on bones) evident in a given person’s death and cremation. These signs are interpreted as indicating an advanced visionary’s postmortem spiritual realization (i.e., his/her possible enlightenment within death or in one of the phases of postdeath experience). The manifestation of these signs is clearly understood as the coming to the fore of the latent Buddhas based in the body rather than something fashioned anew by dint of diligent yogic practice.

The Treasury of Words and Meanings23 cites The Blazing Relics Tantra in its division of a quintet of signs marking saintly death: images on bones, small spheres emerging from the cremated remains, lights, sounds, or earthquakes. The signs of saintly death are described as “the signs of freedom for those with the right karmic fortune” or “the signs of a practitioner gaining the optimal measure of freedom”: When one passes beyond misery [i.e., death/nirvana],

The images of Spiritual Bodies, bones, and Likewise lights, sounds, And earthquakes are present.24

While the components of this fivefold classification in general are common aspects of Buddhist signs of saintly death, the interpretative detail, as we shall see below, is seamlessly interwoven with the Seminal Heart’s distinctive ideology of a radically active Buddha-nature. Earlier in the chapter, Longchenpa25 cites The Tantra of the Adamantine Hero’s Heart-Mirror’s threefold classification of the signs of saintly death: (1) ascertaining the measures and signs of freedom in this very life for those of supreme diligence in practice; (2) the measures and signs of freedom in the postdeath intermediate process; and (3) the measures and signs of gaining respite in a pure land following death:

Hey friends, teach the precepts thus to those individuals who abide within this teaching. As indicatory omens of a person passing beyond misery in transcendence, these occur. If you stay alone your experience is joyous; your body is as light as cotton fluff; you don’t long for companionship with people; you feel as if you could fly through the sky; when these appearances cease there is a joyous mood; you are unattached to body and life; your mind doesn’t get wrapped up within any appearances whatsoever; cognition is radiantly clear without any depressed quality, and is naturally at ease; you are comfortable in company; no emotional distortions whatsoever are able to rise up, and though emotional distortions may arise, you don’t cling to them with reifications; no attachment develops to attractive forms and there is no aversion to unattractive forms; considerations of food and drink don’t come about by virtue of the potency of your contemplation; and when in the company of people you will act in accordance with others’ mental states. These are the indicatory omens of completely transcending misery.

Transcending misery (mya ngan las ‘das pa, Sanskrit nirva\n≥a) is twofold: the perfect ultra-pure expansive awakening, and the perfect manifest expansive awakening. The perfect ultra-pure expansive awakening is the expansive awakening of Buddhahood devoid of any remainder of the psycho-physical components, while for the person of the perfect manifest expansive awakening, lights, sounds, bones, earthquakes and so forth emerge. Light is of two types: appearance in the manner of a luminous home [circular in appearance], and appearance in the manner of a ladder, with light in vertical pillars or bands. The light appearing as if a house indicates that in five days stability is attained, and the person is perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened; the light appearing as if a staircase indicates that in seven days s/he is perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened. Sound is also of two types: if it emerges in a humming fashion, then in seven days s/he is perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened; if it emerges like a roaring sound then in fourteen days s/he is perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened.

As for bones, they are fivefold: the color blue indicates being perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened in the pure realm of the Illuminating One (Vairocana); the color white indicates being perfectly and manifestly expansively awakened in the pure realm of the Adamantine Hero (Vajrasattva); the color yellow indicates the pure realm of the Precious Matrix (Ratnasambhava); the color red indicates the pure realm of Limitless Illumination (Amita\bha); and the color green indicates the pure realm of the Efficacious One (Amoghasiddhi). If a variety of colors occurs, that individual will proceed to the site of the spontaneous fulfillment of these five Buddha-Bodies.

The Spiritual Body-images as well are twofold: the peaceful Bodies, and the wrathful ones. If the peaceful Bodies manifest, the deceased obtains stability the moment these appearances cease, and is unable to emit Emanational Bodies. If the Wrathful Bodies manifest, s/he obtains stability right there and in twenty one days can emit Emanational Bodies.

If those signs don’t manifest, final enlightenment will be delayed by one more birth, and then it is impossible that they won’t manifest just like that. In this way lights, sounds, bones, Spiritual Body-images, or at least the “precious (relic) spheres” on upwards manifest.26 In conversations with contemporary figures from the Great Perfection tradition, the subject of relics has come up frequently as part of a general category of physical proof of mysticism or the materialization of psychic powers. These include the manifestation of “precious (relic) spheres” (ring bsrel) as tiny translucent spheres from cremated corpses, a sacred item such as a stupa, or in rare cases a living person; footprints and handprints in stone, handwriting on conch shells, or odd marks resembling sacred syllables or designs on a lama’s body in the forms of wrinkles or discolorations. These are all a matter of considerable interest in Tibetan religious culture from lay to monastic, from the highest rinpoche to the lowliest monk. For example, I was told by a reliable source that the famous Khenpo Jikme Phuntshok (mkhan pojigs med phun tshogs) on a visit in the early 1990s to Bylakuppe, India, was very interested in getting Penor Rinpoche (pad nor rin po che) to write a mantra on a conch shell after hearing that such handwriting produced a protruding image on the shell.

Monks within the relevant lineages often relay stories of the famous nineteenth-twentieth-century master Khenpo Ngakchung (mkhan po ngag chung, 1879–1941) having light colored designs of the symbolic hand implements of the five Buddhas on his body and wrinkles on his nose tip in the shape of an “A” syllable (which in some ritual contexts of introduction for special disciples would seem to emanate light rays). The patterns evident in skin from various shades of coloration are particularly a focus of attention in religious circles, with dark discolorations considered inauspicious, while lighter marks are auspicious. Penor Rinpoche is also said to have many such white marks on his body, particularly white spheres around his waist. Even “precious (relic) spheres” are in some cases said to come from living persons; one such instance I have heard of again relates to Penor Rinpoche. He gave one of his teeth to his attendant Kunzang lama (kun bzang bla ma), who kept it in a box. Later this produced small, white, very translucent spheres, which then themselves have continued to multiply. I have encountered considerably more enthusiasm than skepticism on these issues, especially when the subject of discussion pertains to the person’s own root teacher or recent lineage masters. Such discussions usually tend to revolve around convincing the listener of the genuine sacredness of the person in question and are often framed by obviously genuine exhortations to the listener to be thus inspired to diligence in contemplation.27 The fact that such legitimization is also indirectly, yet clearly, an authentication of the disciple, that is, the speaker, is hard to miss, even if sincere respect is also manifest.

Conversely, disparaging remarks tend not to be about the phenomena in general, but rather directed toward others, that is, other lineages about which the speaker may have little invested. One conversation I remember in particular concerned a famous Tibetan teacher who died in the United States, after which his Western disciples gathered together “relics.” Some visiting lamas were invited to view the relics subsequently but to their disappointment found that “mere bones” were the object of valorization. The disparaging character of the remark was clear (see figure 3.1).

Just as direct transcendence contemplation involves images of Buddhas literally projecting from the visionary’s eyes as an exteriorization of internal Buddhas into experience, this first category of signs involves images of Buddhas protruding from the cremated bones of the saint so as to be visible to the naked eye. The Blazing Relics Tantra classifies them as twofold in accordance with the peaceful and wrathful Buddhas (in life, the former is located in the heart and the latter in the skull within the subtle body’s internal map):

In the passage beyond misery of one of the select, By cremating what remains of the body (His/her contaminated material remainder), Two types of Bodily Images show up on the bones, Corresponding to the peaceful and wrathful Bodies. For whoever tunes into the deity yogas Visualizing the forms of these two types of Spiritual Bodies, Images of both forms will manifest at death; Should both become evident in death, This indicates s/he will thus come to be possessed of the assurance

Of the great originally pure essence, Without even having to pass onto the postdeath intermediate process. If the peaceful Bodiessigns show up, It indicates that in five days s/he will see the truth, And dissolve into the expansive awakening of Buddhahood. Should the wrathful Bodies’ sign show up, It indicates s/he will come to be freed in five instants Within the postdeath intermediate process of reality, O D≥a\kinê!

The corresponding section in The Supreme Vehicle discusses these images in terms of their essence, classifications, causal impetus, location, and fruit.29 The opening description of the variety of images is identical to passages laying out the initial visionary appearances of Buddhas within direct transcendence contemplation. Longchenpa then clearly specifies that these relics are to be understood as activated aspects of the visionary’s primordial Buddha-nature, thereby supporting the direct transcendence imaging of “truth” as a body-based process of unfolding rather than a more epistemological process of correspondence:

Their essence is the manifestation of the deities’ appearance—a single Body, a half body, Mother-Father consort pairs, a cluster of deities, a full man≥d≥ala, or their concordant images of stu\pas, “wheels,” vajras, precious items, lotuses, crossed vajras, swords and so forth. Manifesting from the sustained practice of the developing and perfecting phases of tantric meditation are letters, hand emblems, half Bodies and single Bodies, while from the complete perfection of these two meditative phases there manifests the pairs in sexual union, clusters of deities and the man≥d≥alas . . . Their causal impetus is twofold. Their essential cause is the primordial presence of the luminously radiant Spiritual Bodies and “bones” within all sentient beings, whereas in the current context a practitioner’s vivid visualization in the developing and perfecting meditative phases acts as the causal impetus of these images’ direct manifestation, as they emerge out of his/her body’s vibrant energies being thus concentrated. When merely latently present these Spiritual Bodies are unripened in their own being, while when directly manifest the ripened Spiritual Bodies and bones appear clearly . . . In terms of location, they predominantly show up on the skull or backbone. Although they may show up elsewhere as well, for Great Perfection practitioners these Bodily images emerge via experientially tuning into radiant light, and thus are taught as emerging from these two locations (where our internal radiant light is especially concentrated) . . .

In terms of corresponding meditative fruit, the manner of these images’ manifestation indicates the sequencing in this practitioner’s attainment of freedom. If both peaceful and wrathful images emerge, when in dying the practitioner’s consciousness dissolves into the sky, s/he becomes free right when this sky arises (original purity’s natural radiation), and thus is expansively awakened without passing through the postdeath intermediate process of reality. Thus these practitioners are included within the category of those who become freed within this very life, since their freedom takes place in the latter portion of the process during which they become separated from their current life’s physical basis (i.e., death). If the image of a peaceful Body emerges, as soon as this vision (i.e., of the “sky”) ceases, the self-presencing visions of radiant light will dawn and the practitioner will become free in five contemplation-days. “Contemplation-days” refers to contemplation’s stability, which can be short or long depending upon the practitioner.

If the image of a wrathful Body emerges, after death “the guiding rope of the Adamantine Hero” emerges from the practitioner’s eyes, and as the self-presencing of sounds, lights, and rays manifests s/he will be freed in five instants.

This is followed by a long discussion of how those freed within original purity without passing through the postdeath intermediate process cannot emit Emanational Bodies right then and there, though this ability emerges subsequently as the ground’s spontaneous dynamics reawaken within the empty energy of enlightenment. This is opposed to those practitioners who become freed within the postdeath intermediate process of reality, who can emit emanations in the forms of the six types of living beings following twenty-one days of contemplation, which is a direct continuation of the energy of his/her style of awakening: The Adamantine Hero’s Heart-Mirror says: “If the image of a peaceful Body should manifest, after death as soon as this vision (i.e., of the “sky”) ceases, the practitioner gains stability, though s/he cannot emit Emanational Bodies (sprul sku, Sanskrit nirma\n≥aka\ya). If the image of a wrathful Body should manifest, (the practitioner) gains stability right there, and is able to emit Bodies of Emanations in twentyone days.”

The practitioner for whom a peaceful Body-image manifests focuses on the path of radiant light, thus becoming directly free within the site of original purity. In this way, the self-presencing emanations don’t emerge from the intermediate process—since this site of originary purity is devoid of the emanationsappearances, it is not a dimension where the self-presencing emanations manifest from your own side. However, since that dimension is the pure grounding potential of the Enjoyment (longs, Sanskrit sambhoga) and Emanational Spiritual Bodies which manifest to and for others (“other-presencing”), enlightened activity for others’ welfare does eventually emerge in dependence upon it. Even so it must be recognized that original purity in itself is devoid of any manifest dimension of emanations.

When the practitioner for whom a wrathful Body-image manifests frees him/herself through recognizing the triad of sounds, lights and rays (of the postdeath reality intermediate process) as self-presencing, s/he remains for a while in the manifestation of the spontaneously dynamic ground-presencing, and thus completes twenty-one days of contemplation. Subsequently the six types of living beingsexperiences manifest through the impure gateway of self-presencing cyclic existence, while through the pure gateway Emanational Bodies diffuse forth in forms corresponding to those requiring spiritual training, and thus efficaciously act for others’ welfare. Like a magical illusion acting for illusory ends, these self-presencing emanations efficaciously act within this self-presencing world. Having emitted emanations, it is necessary that prior to that you have already taken hold of freedom, since if you are not free yourself there is no way any benefit to others can derive from a person who has not perfected his/her own spiritual telos. These emanations are explained as resembling shooting stars, and while they in fact endure longer than that, are uncertain in duration.

Having erred as to this discussion of whether or not the freed practitioner is able to emit emanations (in a “self-presencing” style rather than “other-presencing” style), many fret over whether or not a Buddha is able to act for others’ spiritual benefit following his/her expansive awakening—this is a major mistake. In the Great Vehicle (theg chen, Sanskrit mahaya\ na\ ), it is not believed that there are any Buddhas that once expansively awakened don’t or can’t act for others’ benefit, and in fact that is impossible. The significance of whether or not emanations can be emitted is as follows: those who are freed directly within original purity without pausing within the postdeath intermediate process’s manifestation of the gateways to spontaneous presence, lack emanations, since the impure “training fields” of emanations don’t manifest at this time. If, once the gateways to spontaneous presence subsequently remanifest, the enlightened ones didn’t act for others’welfare by means of emitting emanations within these impure appearances, cyclic existence’s appearance would not subside. Thus to perfectly complete the Buddhasactivities which were not perfected in self-presencing fashion (i.e., right out of the very force of awakening, as opposed to subsequently emerging due to extrinsic considerations such as disciples’ needs), emanations are then dispatched by these newly enlightened ones. Having emptied out cyclic existence through these emanations’ efficacious action, again these manifest emanations proceed to the site of original purity as they dissolve inside the eight gateways to spontaneous presence. Since this site of original purity is beyond manifestation or non-manifestation, the individual three Spiritual Bodies are not directly differentiated within it aside from its being their pure source potential. Thus you should understand the way in which once the ground-presencing dawns externally out of its dimension, the benefiting of others comes about.


Literally the honorific form of bone, gdung also signifies “heritage” or “lineage” (the bone connection), or the “remains” of a dead person (since bones survive the decay or burning of flesh and tissue). However, in addition to signifying “bodily remains,” in the present context it refers to tiny luminous spheres filled with color found amidst the cremated remains of a saint. The sense of “heritage” or “descendants” is present in the sense that these derive from one’s affinity with the individual Buddha families and embody their energy. In addition they are the “progeny” or effect of one’s spiritual endeavors in this life, which culminates in a death that gives birth to “bones,” earthquakes, and so forth, as well as the subsequent limitless display of enlightened activity. The term translated below as “precious (relic) spheres” (ring bsrel, Sanskrit óarêra), often translated into English as “relics,” appears to have two senses etymologically: “multiplying long afterwards” and “to hold, keep or revere for a long time.” The former sense is connected to belief that these spheres physically divide and multiply long after their initial emergence, while the latter sense would appear to indicate that these are items of enduring value. In colloquial Tibetan, the term is used to refer to such minute spheres rather than the general bodily remains and is used with the verb to descend or happen (‘babs). This distinction is the basis of the story I cite above concerning how some Tibetan lamas were dismayed by Western Buddhists claiming to possess “precious relic spheres” but in fact having only “bones.”

The Blazing Relics Tantra classifies the “bones,” these tiny spheres that emerge from the cremated remains of a saint, as fivefold in dependence upon the five Buddha “families” (rigs). Correlating this to Longchenpa’s discussion of Buddha-nature in The Treasury of Words and Meanings’ third chapter with its emphasis on the five “families,” this again emphasizes how these signs are simply the manifestation of indwelling forces signified as “Buddhas.” The five are named with evidently Tibetan transmutations of the standard Sanskrit term for relics, óarêra:

Shariram is the bones of the Blissful Ones’ family And likewise Bariram Is the bones of the adamantine family. Churiram is the precious family’s bones, And seriram is the lotus family’s. Similarly Nyariram is the activity family’s bones.

Longchenpa characterizes the tantra’s following detailed explanation as indicating these bonesindividual colors, size, causal substance, and locations. The specificity of bodily location echoes the very specific locations indicated for the mind, gnosis, Reality Body (dharmaka\ya), and universal ground (a\laya) in the fourth chapter of The Treasury of Words and Meanings. In addition to such detailed mapping out of the body being a strong evocation of the physical inherence of the “Buddha” within all life, it illustrates how the entire spectrum of philosophical inquiries pursued elsewhere in abstract language is additionally thought out through the detailed medium of the body’s interiorities and capacities. From the same tantra: (i) Shariram is a lucent white, A lustrous sphere with shining color The size of a single pea.

It ripens from the vibrant quintessence of bone And thus condenses into a sphere,

Emerging from the head of one who has actualized the path’s meditative techniques. (ii) Bariram is a dark blue The size of a white mustard grain, Or single small pea. It is the concentration of warmth’s vibrant quintessence And emerges from the space between the ribs, O D≥a\kinê! (iii) Churiram is yellow in color, The size of a mustard seed, and the vibrant quintessence of blood; It emerges on top of the liver. (iv) Seriram is a lucent red, Also a mere mustard seed in size; It is synthesized from the concentration of bodily elements, And emerges from the kidneys of the fortunate one, O D≥a\kinê! (v) Nyariram is an emerald green, The size of a mustard seed with radiant color; From the vibrant quintessence of cognition, It emerges atop the lungs. All of these are unified in a general spherical shape, And have a depth-hue of the five colors.34

Longchenpa characterizes these “bones” as indestructible and contrasts them to another type of minute sphere that emerges in the cremated remains, which he labels “precious (relic) spheres.” These are liable to destruction by the elements, and my own experience among contemporary Tibetan communities is that while the former are extremely rare, these latter are a quite common phenomenon. Longchenpa interprets the latter as a sign indicating the practitioner has found respite within a pure land of emanations following death. He cites The Blazing Relics Tantra thus: Similar to these bones

Are the subtle and fine “precious (relic) spheres,” Which are a mere sesame seed or dust mote in size, And are liable to destruction by the elements; Their presence indicates the deceased practitioner has gone to the pure land of emanations. Bones in contrast cannot be destroyed by anyone at all, And with this hardness impervious to all fear,

All these practitioners attain the fearless expansive awakening of Buddhahood.35 In prefacing the first citation in The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, Longchenpa again describes these as a manifestation of a primordially present Buddha-nature inherent in all living beings. Thus these passages on relics not only legitimize such rhetorical assertions, but also are themselves granted a philosophical significance:

Since in general all living beings are primordially expansively awakened, the nature of the Buddhas’ five spiritual affinities is present within them in both an individualized and non-individualized fashion. However the affinity and sustaining life-force of their (particular) Buddha-body is not ripened into the five bones and thus is only a latent presence. The attuned practitioner ripens them into direct manifestation by training on the path of the radiant light nucleus, and by one of this quintet (shariram and so on) thus emerging in your death, you will be freed within your particular spiritual family.36 In followup remarks37 Longchenpa clarifies that the particular Buddha family manifesting in a practitioner’s bones indicates that in the postdeath intermediate process of reality the practitioner will see the Body corresponding to his/her own spiritual family and thus become free as s/he is enlightened within that Buddha’s pure land. In this way, whether one type of “bone” or all five types together manifest in a person’s remains following death, it is a sign indicating that the practitioner will become free as a Buddha of that familial lineage in his/her vision of the five families’ mandalic cluster.

The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle indicates that the color correspondences (based on these bones embodying the five Buddha families) are for the “peaceful bones,” while the color correspondences for the “wrathful bones” are given from The Self-Arisen Tantra as follows:38 shariram is a lucent white, churiram is a black-blue, bariram is a burnt yellow, nyariram is a dark purple, and panytsaram (corresponding to seriram) is a dark red-green. He also cites39 The Adamantine Hero’s HeartMirror to the effect that the color blue corresponds to being perfectly awakened within Illuminating One’s (Vairocana) pure realm, the color white to that of the Adamantine Hero (Vajrasattva), the color yellow to that of Precious Matrix (Ratnasambhava), the color red to that of Limitless Illumination (Amita\bha), and the color green to that of the Efficacious One (Amoghasiddhi); multicolored bones signify proceeding to the site of the five Spiritual Bodiesspontaneous presence.

As to their respective sizes, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle40 says that the shariram are the size of a “mon” pea (i.e., from the regions south of central Tibet), which is equivalent to the size of a white pea. The others are as big as a white mustard seed, or a small pea, and are lustrous, condensed, and spherical. As for the “causal impetuses” described here, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle identifies these as relating to the “peaceful bones,” while the “wrathful bones” are specified from The SelfArisen as deriving from the following quintessences:41 shariram from the gray matter of the skull, churiram from blood’s vibrant quintessence, bariram from the joints’ vibrant quintessence, nyariram from marrow’s vibrant quintessence, and panytsaram from the body’s four elements’ vibrant quintessence.

Finally, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle42 says that with the peaceful bones the deceased is free within the site of the spiritual family ascertained to be his/her own particular manifestation, while with the wrathful bones s/he obtains respectively the Reality Body, the Enjoyment Body, the Emanational Body, the Body of Efficacious and Meaningful Manifest Enlightenment, and the Body of Unchanging Adamantine Reality. Thus in the latter list Longchenpa has correlated the five as given in The Self-Arisen to the standard enumeration of five Spiritual Bodies—The Self-Arisen specifies that with shariram you obtain the unborn, with churiram the efficacious and meaningful (also translatable as the Efficacious One), with bariram the Enjoyment Body, with nyariram the Emanational Body, and with panytsaram the adamantine reality itself.

The difference between the bones and “precious (relic) spheres” is dealt with at length in The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle.43 The precious (relic) spheres are spherical and possess different combinations of the five colors. As to their causal impetus, they emerge from the condensation of the white and red quintessences and the vibrant quintessence of flesh, bones, warmth, and breath, whereas the “bones” emerge from the utter quintessence of these vibrant quintessences. As for the location where they develop and emerge, it is between the body’s joints or between its flesh and skin. As for the location of their ripening, since they exist in all the bones, flesh, and skin, they subsequently emerge from all over. In particular there are four types: those emerging from the flesh, skin, and bones; those emerging from the blood, lymph, and quintessence; those emerging from warmth; and those emerging from breath. The corresponding colors are white, red-yellow, red, and green-blue.

As for the fruit of the precious (relic) spheres, fortunate ones who have meditated on the “heart-essence” teachings will find respite in the pure land of natural emanations, while for others the effect is uncertain. Some will be born in high rebirths, some will be born in miserable rebirths, and so forth. This is because they can also manifest in ordinary living beings, birds, dogs and other animals, evil people, and virtuous teachers overly given to intellectual pursuits. The difference between the precious (relic) spheres of an ordinary individual and those of a Buddha is that the latter are extremely vibrant and clear, while the former are not, the latter possess the five lights, while the former lack them, and the latter are the tree of enlightenment, while the former are merely its leaf. Finally, if it is hoped that precious (relic) spheres will be retrieved from a cremated body, then it is important not to overdo the burning—unlike “bones,” the precious (relic) spheres will be destroyed by too much exposure to the heat.


Light is at the heart of the Seminal Heart system. A distinctive description of odd shapes of light gradually forming into pure lands of Buddhas is at the heart of its innovations in cosmogony, contemplative practices, and postdeath theory. Thus the manifestation of various patterns of light as a classic sign of saintly death is described in terms directly drawn from that context. Longchenpa classifies lights into encircling walls, vertical pillars, and horizontal beams in accordance with The Blazing Relics Tantra:

Light has three aspects: For whomever light-walls of encircling hoops Emerge in the wake of their cremation, This person will attain the definitive fruit. Within the first part of the postdeath intermediate process Should pillars of light emerge, Without the intermediate process manifesting, this person Is expansively awakened into Buddhahood in an instant. If the light manifests in horizontal beams, At the end of the postdeath intermediate process S/he will attain manifest enlightenment.44 The Supreme Vehicle discusses light in terms of its essence, causal impetus, divisions, and fruit: Light’s essence is the natural radiance of the five colors.

Its causal impetus: light is summoned forth at the time of passing away (indicating both transcendence and death) through the conjunction of the dyadic natural radiation deriving from the practitioner’s experiential tuning into his/her internal vibrant elements and awareness. As for its internal classifications, it can be seen as the triad of vertical pillars, horizontal beams, and encircling hoops of light, or alternatively this light is found in the manner of a staircase leading into the sky, and in its arriving at the sky’s center it manifests as a luminous circular house. As for the corresponding fruit it indicates, if the light emerges in encircling hoops, you will be free in the first intermediate process. If it emerges like vertical pillars leading you into the sky, you will be free without proceeding through the intermediate process of reality by directly passing to original purity. If it is beams of light, the practitioner will be free during the final intermediate process. If staircases of light are found around the deceased’s body, house, or crematorium’s walls, in seven days of contemplation s/he will become free in the four unified primordial gnoses (a phase of the postdeath visions explained in the tenth chapter of The Treasury of Words and Meanings). If the light emerges like a luminous house, s/he will be free in five days at the manifestation of “clusters” of deities (also a phase in the postdeath visions). . . .

Here also when the ground’s spontaneous presence manifests, the enlightened one radiates forth emanations. In this external diffusion of emanations from within its range for the benefit of sentient beings in the worldsten directions, their welfare is actualized by two forms of emanation in the “training environments” (i.e., our impure worlds being “fields” where living beings need, and may receive spiritual teachings)—emanations as self-presencing reflection-forms corresponding to the six types of livings beings, and emanations as other-presencing (see above) self-characterized concrete-forms corresponding to the six types of living beings.45 My translation emphasizes the architectural imagery of light in these visions, terminology drawn straight from the tradition’s descriptions of a visionary experience of light flowing from the internal divinity of the Buddha-nature to gradually pervade the sky in the form of pure lands.46 Longchenpa’s interpretation is explicit, describing the lights of a saintly death as an exteriorization of inner divine light that echoes the explosion of cosmogonic light as well as its manifestation in the contemplative practice of “direct transcendence” (see figure 3.2).


The odd sounds marking a saintly death are interpreted in terms of the Seminal Heart’s distinctive and unusually strong concern for sound, evident in its core tantra, The Tantra of Unimpeded Sound, which introduces motifs relating to sound not found elsewhere in esoteric Buddhism.47 Longchenpa divides these funerary sounds in accordance with their particular direction and aural quality,48 citing The Blazing Relics Tantra as follows:

If the sound is particularly resonant In a spot near to the eastern direction From the resting place where s/he has passed away, This practitioner is of the adamantine family. Likewise if in the southern direction, The sound indicates a manifestation of the family of preciousness, While if in the west, it is thus the lotus family. In the north, it is the family of action, And similarly to the zenith (above) it is the family of the realized (tatha\gata). The nature of such sound is That it can be distinguished as peaceful or wrathful— There is roaring and humming, a staccato of sharp jangling sounds, And a smooth flow of long mellifluous sounds respectively. If the death is marked by such sounds, It indicates the deceased has obtained the fruit Of the Spiritual Body of Complete Enjoyment.49

The Supreme Vehicle discusses sound in terms of its essence, divisions, causal impetus, and fruit. In so doing it emphasizes the peaceful and wrathful dualism so pervasive of the tradition’s iconography, in addition to the fivefold Buddha family emphasized in the preceding. These also directly echo the description of sound in direct transcendence and postmortem visions of internal Buddhas emerging out of the body: Sound’s essence is resonance in the auditory faculty. Though sound can be classified into melodious, discordant, and neutral types, in this context there is said to be two: the drum roll of the peaceful deities, a long and smooth flowing sound, and the thunder clap of the wrathful deities, fierce and short, which can also be expressed as “humming” and “roaring” sounds respectively. As to its impetus, in general sound’s causation is said to stem from the condition of two things striking against each other in space’s openness, while here it emerges via the causal impetus of obtaining meditative stability. As for the fruit it indicates, the practitioner attains the Spiritual Body of Enjoyment, and the diffusion of Emanational Bodies from within it. Furthermore, by the long, smooth flowing humming the practitioner attains stability regarding the peaceful Bodies in seven days of contemplation, while by the short and fierce staccato of roaring s/he is freed in terms of the wrathful Bodies in fourteen days. The five spiritual families apply to both of these (peaceful and wrathful), and the examination of the characteristics indicating which of the five spiritual families the practitioner becomes free in is as follows. If the sound resonates to the east of the deceased practitioner’s residence or the place where his/her corpse has been carried and cremated, s/he accomplishes expansive awakening in the adamantine family; the south indicates the preciousness family; the west indicates the lotus family; in the north the action family, and sound emerging from above indicates the realized ones’ family.50


The final sign of saintly death is the ancient motif of earthquakes (sa g.yo). Since the term for “earth” is the same used in describing stages (sa, Sanskrit bhu\mi) of realization, it enables a word play: the earth quaking (g.yo) marks the visionary’s impelling (g.yo) him/herself to a new spiritual level. Longchenpa thus interprets earthquakes in terms of very specific stages of realization attained by the deceased. In The Treasury of Words and Meanings, he simply cites The Blazing Relics Tantra: The individual for whom earthquakes emerge Obtains the “spiritual level” of a Listener At the same time of his/her being divested of breath. Likewise if in three days after death The earthquake comes to pass, S/he attains the level of a Self-Awakened One. If it emerges in six days, S/he enters the level of an “Awakening Hero/ine” (Sanskrit bodhisattva). O D≥a\kinê! Should the earthquake come to pass In nine days, S/he will be able to enjoy at his/her own pleasure The status of “the spiritually aware” (rig ‘dzin, Sanskrit vidya\dhara). For the one with the fortune of earthquakes appearing, The fruit of expansive awakening will not manifest, But rather s/he will continue for a long time to train in and remain within The spiritual levels and paths.51

The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle discusses these earthquakes in terms of their essence, causal impetus, internal classifications, and corresponding fruit: Its essence revolves around the lower foundation of the physical environment, which supports and sustains living beings. Its causal impetus is that the deceased individual’s potency incites winds, which thus cause the earth to quake. As to its internal classifications, there is the quartet of an earthquake, an intense earthquake, an even greater earthquake, and a widespread major earthquake.

As to its corresponding fruits, earthquakes are a sign marking common people who belong to the family of Spiritual Heroes and so forth52 and die while training in the preliminaries (for direct transcendence contemplation) though they haven’t seen the gateway of this (probably referring to direct transcendence visions), or the life-transference (i.e., death) of those involved in practices for the intellect wrapped up in objective references,53 or even those ordinary individuals who wear “liberation upon wearing” amulets with aspiration and diligence towards the spiritual paths.

Furthermore, if the earthquake occurs in the center of that area as soon as the deceased is without breath, that practitioner attains the vision of a Listener’s “white exalted level,” and then continues to train in its seven subsequent stages—with the stages of “spiritual affinity,” “the eighth,” “vision,” “diminishment,” “realizing completion,” “listener,” and “self-awakened.” These are the eight levels of the inferior path.55 If the earthquake takes place from the eastern direction three days after death, the practitioner has attained the level of a Self-Awakened One, with its four successive stages of neophyte, once-returner, nonreturner, and vanquisher.

If the earthquake is in the south within six days, the practitioner has gained the level of a Spiritual Hero. Herein are the ten causal spiritual stages of Intense Joy, the Stainless, the Illuminating, the Radiant, the Difficult to Refine, Coming to the Fore, Dispersion Far Away, the Unwavering, Superior Wisdom, and Clouds of Spirituality, as well as the eleventh fruitional stage of Universal Light.

If the earth should quake nine days after death from the zenith together with a little sound, the practitioner has attained the stage of the Spiritually Aware, which has the four stages of maturation, mastery of life span, the great seal, and spontaneous presence. Furthermore, since these individuals will not quickly attain their respective definitive spiritual fruits, it is said that from this attainment of the first in their particular succession of meditative stages up until they successfully master those stages’ total perfection, these practitioners remain a long time in the intervening period.56


These accounts of relics must thus be understood within the tradition’s own broader discursive architecture. Following The Seventeen Tantras, Longchenpa’s Treasury of Words and Meanings uses a structure of “eleven adamantine topics” to present the Seminal Heart’s system. (1) A cosmogonic “ground” is presented as a primordial pure potentiality, which is an absence brimming with possibility. It ceaselessly gives rise from its interior self-contained potentiality to exteriorized actuality in the groundpresencing, which is described in terms of traditional Buddhist representations of pure lands. Two paths open up in this process, the first of which is the liberation of a primordial Buddha Samantabhadra upon self-recognizing this process, involving dissolution of all structures. (2) The second path is the process of straying and pollution as the distorted worlds of suffering and alienation materialize out of that formless primordiality via a lack of such self-recognition. This process is characterized by the fabrication of rigid laws and structures. (3) The ground’s primordial purity and virtual potentiality continue to pervade all living beings with its fivefold dynamics as an “enlightened nucleus” or “Buddha-nature.”

(4) Longchenpa next turns to the location of primordial gnosis within one’s body/mind and its relationships to one’s ordinary distorted psychic activity. This consists of differentiating between two linked pairs—the BuddhasReality Body (chos sku, Sanskrit dharmaka\ya) and primordial gnosis (ye shes, Sanskrit jña\na), in contrast to ordinary beingsuniversal ground (kun gzhi, Sanskrit a\laya) and mind (sems, Sanskrit citta). The focus is on an ongoing fluid intelligence that constitutes, yet remains distinct from, ordinary existence. We thus have a psychological version of the source-derivative opposed pair first presented cosmologically in the first two topics. (5) The fifth topic is subtle body theory, that is, tantric physiology presenting the pathways via which gnosis operates within one’s own body. This functions to internalize the pseudo-cosmogonic account of topic one within ordinary experience and the human body. (6) Four gnostic lamps are the operators enabling this inner gnosis to manifest through the “gateways” of the practitioner’s eyes into the external space surrounding him/her, where s/he can contemplatively tune into its inner significance. The forms gnosis takes externally are pure lands. (7) This concerns the objective sphere or “expanse” (dbyings, Sanskrit dhatu\ ) in which this gnostic energy exteriorizes itself and the key points of contemplation with regard to this expanse as well as the awareness or “intelligence” (rig pa) that is an inherent quality of the expanse. (8) The eighth topic presents the specific contemplative techniques and systems that will ultimately enable one to reexperience the primordial grounds and thus eradicate corporeality and neurosis. These practices culminate in the spontaneous vision of pure lands known as “direct transcendence” contemplation.

(9) This describes the various external and internal psycho-physical and visionary signs that should be used as indicators informing one’s progress in deepening contemplative realization that stays on track toward the goal of ultimate enlightenment, as well as a discussion of relics stemming from the death of a saint. (10) This is an analysis of the phases in dying and postdeath “intermediate processes” with an eye toward the special opportunities they afford for spiritual enlightenment. (11) Finally, Longchenpa discusses the nature of the activities and gnosis issuing directly from the ground (i.e., a “Buddha”) as the ultimate climax of the entire process.

While by just looking at its discussion in The Blazing Relics we could doubt the centrality of this expanded notion of relics within the overall tradition, its placement here dispels any such doubts. In fact contemporary Nyingma lamas frequently stress that particularly striking examples of relics or bodily based marks can only stem from the practice of direct transcendence, a practice unique and central to the Seminal Heart. Following the lengthy eighth chapter devoted to Seminal Heart contemplation, Longchenpa turns to a discussion of the types of experiences and psychophysical effects or capacities generated by those procedures. The turn toward issues of death at the chapter’s end then naturally leads into the tenth chapter on postmortem intermediate process theory and praxis, which is presented as being a supplement to the preceding two chapters for those practitioners unable to bring their contemplation to fruition prior to death. While the overarching term for the ninth chapter is thus literally “signs” or “marks” (rtags), it simultaneously constitutes an expansion of the notion of “relics” as the traces and signposts of spiritual realization.

The manifestation of the Buddha’s indicators manifesting in the practitioner’s body during this life and at death is intertwined with the system’s overall emphasis on Buddha-nature as the core of everyone’s physical being (topic three). The pseudocosmogonic discussion of the ground and its presencing (topic one) is an exteriorized dramatization of the Buddhanature’s unfolding, a process with the two interpretative pathways of Samantabhadra and sentient beings (topic three). This is then relocated within the self-structuring interiority of a distinctively human space in the subtle body discourse (topic four to five), an interiority that thus functions as the ultimate source of value and authority since the ground is identified as the always potent Buddha. Given the strong emphasis on the Buddha-nature as life’s ongoing source and ordinary psycho-physical structures as its distortion, we could characterize the ordinary individual as conventionally the relics or “remains” of the Buddha. In other words, our lived bodies are both womb and tomb to the Buddha; they are the site of both the pure lands and cyclic existences correlating to the environments set up by the Buddha’s two types of absence—the divine absence deriving from the Buddha’s own retreat into the perpetual internally radiant (nang gsal) creative absence (med pa) of the Reality Body and the mundane absence deriving from the nonrecognition and latency of this force in ordinary individuals.

Thus the third topic’s treatment of Buddha-nature concludes with an extended reverie on the human body as a temple, that is, the living Buddha’s natural setting; one of the main images of topic one is the “youthful-body-within-a vase,” evoking the still dynamic Buddha now entombed within an obscuring funerary urn. Topics six through eight then present the means by which one’s relationships to this interiority and its structuration can be reapproached. Two important themes running throughout this are absence and pure lands. The Buddha is understood as a continuing virtual presence with the moment of enlightenment (byang chub, Sanskrit bodhi) being a full dissolution of all structure or manifest actuality into the original purity (ka dag) of the internal expanse (nang dbyings, Sanskrit dha\tu). Yet at the same time this absence that is at the core also gives birth always to a culture, represented as the mandalic retinues that constitute pure lands. In these contexts, the ninth topic of signs or relics, is powerful evidence of this indwelling presence of the Buddhaas-absence and the pure lands to which he inexorably gives rise. They also function as signposts both to lead the practitioner into this evolving new configuration of experience and relationships and to invest specific Teachers with authority within these alternative pure cultures. The tenth topic then explores in general the issue of reformulation that takes place in crucial periods of breakdown and collapse, while the eleventh topic is a meditation on the nature of the new pure land that comes into being as a result of all the preceding.

It is of interest that the theme of the ultimate Buddha being a type of cemetery in which sentient beings and Buddhas alike perish is a motif in several of the tantras in their presentations of the “view” of the Great Perfection. For example, The Tantra of Self-Arising Awareness:

I am the cemetery of all the Buddhas! The cemetery grounds of the unchanging exists in me. I am the locus of all sentient beings, Where their karmic propensities appear in deceptive bodily forms.57 Subsequently: The non-conceptual adamantine body itself Emerges authentically also from your own body— The funerary grounds of the Buddhas are placed Within sentient beingsown bodies. The yogi who understands this Within the sky of pure consciousness, Should take it into his/her experience with deepening attunemnt.58 Finally:

I am the great cemetery, The cemetery of all Buddhas and sentient beings! All the Buddhas of the three times emerge From my inspiring blessings.59 The Great Esoteric Unwritten Tantra: The esoteric emotional distortions are my magical displays, Buddhas and sentient beings are my funerary grounds— I, the all creating, am a great intrinsically radiant manifestation.60 The Tantra of the Lion’s Perfect Dynamism: If you “liberate” the Buddha and dispatch him to the cemetary For the sake of the manifestation of the three Enlightened Bodies The realization of self-aware self-presencing will ensue. . . . If you “liberate” all sentient beings simultaneously In order to experience the dimension of insight, All appearances become empty. If you kill yourself In order for compassion to be unceasing, You will meet with the object of self-awareness.61 The Garland of Precious Pearls Tantra: Because it is adorned with the expanse of reality, The gnostic body of all the Buddhas Is the cemetary of all Buddhas and sentient beings.62

All of these passages make a consistent association of the death of the Buddha, and implicitly his relics, to the bodies of sentient beings. The passages are all embedded within classic Great Perfection rhetoric expousing a negative theology of transcendence of formal structures and programs, even classic Buddhist ones. The rhetoric is also marked by the tendency in radical forms of tantra to claim that transgression can free the mind, while extreme states of human being can also be the locus for extreme realizations of truth, as well as the use of coded language. Finally the rhetoric is marked by lengthy celebrations of “I,” with the divine speaker essentially coterminous with reality—“I am the ancestor of all the Buddhas!”—and thus at the center of all existence, transcendent of all conventionalities, replete and omnipresent.

The significance of this motif is even clearer when we turn to another passage in The Tantra of Self-Arising Awareness, which devotes its eighty-fifth chapter to the subject of how the Buddha leaves behind “supports” (rten) for his Enlightened Body, Speech, and Mind after death.63 All of the Buddha Youthful and Mighty Hero’s retinue together petition him, asking what will be those “supports” after he passes into nirvana. They ask for a detailed prophecy of events after his death, and thus the chapter is presented as an account of this Buddha’s legacy, his enduring presence after his manifest absence. The support for his Body is the triad of “Bodies (images on bones), bones and precious (relic) spheres,” and he describes the fivefold nature of bones in detail.64 The support for his Mind is the inner luminosity he leaves behind in the tsitta (i.e., subtle heart) of all living beings, while the support for his Speech is the more traditional body of canonical teachings he leaves behind, which culminate in the present tantra. He also says that his “manifestations” (snang ba) will be in the eyes of all living beings as the blazing lamps one must gaze upon in direct transcendence praxis. While partially a traditional account of the enduring presence of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind as his postnirvana legacy, it also makes very clear the intimate identification of the relics of the Buddha with the Buddha-nature contained within our body’s interior.

This focus on the Buddha as an absence that is productive of presence points to a valorization of the unarticulated other that underlies all articulation of self, whether construed as focal modes of attention and the organism’s unconscious processes, community life and its organization, or the hermeneutical play of reason and the principle of reason.65 Thus conceptions of presence and absence are more complex than notions of “true” or “imagined” presence mitigating “actual” absence. In the Seminal Heart tradition, absence is instead seen as laced with intelligence (rig stong) and profoundly active when one has the wisdom to leave it in itself as the invisible, without feeling compelled to replace it with real or imagined presence. In this way this indwelling absence gives rise to mandalically patterned visual images that are its reflection (gdangs), which the visionary can perceive in direct sensory immediacy (mngon sum); when listened to instead of looked for, this absence emerges as the Buddha’s Reality Body “without face or hands” (zhal phyag med), which speaks in strange voices yielding the literary equivalent of glimpsed pure lands. When one lets go (cog zhag), the Buddha emerges as a radically active agent within the womb/tomb of one’s body, not a vague potential or the result of painstakingly constructive activity. With the qualification that the stupa or relic chamber has now become the human body, it echoes Schopen’s characterization of the relic as “a living presence animated and characterized by the same qualities that animated and characterized the living Buddhas.”66 This is in fact the central dialectic of the Seminal Heart, between the invisible ground and visible worlds of appearances, a dialectic imaged by the Buddha’s absence as invisible being in contrast to a visible present, the Buddha’s visionary coming to light (snang ba) within the field (dbyings) opened up by contemplation in contrast to his ultimate dissolution back into reality at the vision’s end. The ongoing tension between these oscillating relations between the visible and invisible is mediated by the human body, which in part explains the intense focus on physically locating every key doctrinal facet: the “universal ground” within the aorta, the mind between the lungs and heart; the relics in the kidneys, liver, and elsewhere; the wrathful deities within the skull; or the ground-presencing within crystal channels within the body’s center.

Since the body also has social meaning and significance, these conflicts over understanding of the body also inscribe cultural struggles, especially when the ultimate authority in Tibetan culture, the figure of the Buddhas themselves, is what is at stake. Though this notion of indwelling Buddha is all about absence and latency, paradoxically proof requires discrete material things. Thus along with the stress on the apophatic discourse of the ground, we find an emphasis on concrete signs of legitimization and authority. In direct transcendence the pure land can be seen directly (mngon gsum) with one’s own two eyes naturally (rang bzhin gyis). Relics too offer such physical evidence, from the letter A outlined in the tip of a nose to the sparkling spheres found in the funerary ashes of a saint.

The discussion of relics is thus closely intertwined with the Buddhanature theory that forms the backbone of Seminal Heart thought. Throughout the tradition we find this constant focus on the Buddha as an active agent similar in general to the continuing conception in Indian Buddhism of relics as a means of making the Buddha present again:67 “[T]he relics are characterized by—full of—exactly the same spiritual forces and faculties that characterize, in fact constitute and animate, the living Buddha . . . [;moreover,] the relic is not a part or piece of the departed Buddha that is there in the chamber, but the Buddha himself who is wholly present there.” The literature stresses the literal living presence of the Buddha as the premier active agent within all life, the spontaneous ground that gives rise to all of samsara and nirvana. Not only does this agent well up as a voice within refusing all efforts to quiet it, but physically it was believed to continually imprint marks on saints’ very flesh and bones and to give rise in death to small spheres, which would then continue to multiply in living ferment long afterward. Thus this Buddha force can still shake one, light up one’s life, mark one’s bones, surge up from within—earthquakes, lights, bodies, bones, and relics.


I have tried to present systematically one of the most important Tibetan literary traditions with regard to classifications of relics. I have shown how relics are treated within a broader topic of signs of contemplative practice, as well as how they are integrated into the mainstream of a philosophical system. The analysis and classifications of “relics” as powerful icons or living presences are deeply contextualized within the tantric contemplations and theories that form its matrix. Focusing exclusively on relics as lingering physical influences or residues of a deceased saint, or even as making present an absent Buddha/saint, can thus be misleading. The Seminal Heart tradition suggests an alternative strategy complementing the desire to make the Buddha(s) present again, namely, to preserve and value the otherness of the Buddha’s absence precisely as the ongoing source of renewed vision.

Important issues that I have not dealt with adequately at this point include biographical discussions of how these groups were treating or experiencing relics on the ground during this time period, as well as the larger issue of material evidence for mysticism, around which a whole cult formed in the Nyingma tradition with the “treasure” (gter ma) movement. The latter involves such things as the omnipresent stone “chests” (sgrom bu) from which visionary documents are revealed, which are similar to stone relics containing the literary heart of saints. In addition, the tradition is driven by very complex notions of the body—the Buddha’s multiple bodies, subtle body discourse, embryogeny, and so on—and more nuanced consideration of relics in this light is necessary. Finally, I have limited my treatment to the philosophical and contemplative materials, but the Seminal Heart also includes an extensive body of narrative literature in which relics figure prominently.68 This final body of literature is particularly interesting in its discussion of disembodied forces called “the three sources of the teachings” (bstan pa’i btsas gsum)—essentially a flying statue, book, and vajra—which suggest that relics, statues, and so forth are not just the legacy of the historical Buddha but are themselves originally generative forces that create Buddhas in their own right. Thus it may well be that in some systems relics precede Buddhas, however paradoxical that may seem at first glance. However tentative my conclusions may thus be, the paper has both sketched out an alternative significance to “relics” and the Buddha’s absence in an important Buddhist tradition, and the importance of fleshing out seemingly discrete topics within their broader literary contexts, even if such contexts remain at present only the bare bones.


1. See Yael Bentor, “On the Indian Origins of the Tibetan Practice of Depositing Relics and Dha\ranê≥ s in Stu\pas and Images,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, no. 2 (1995): 248–61; and idem, “The Content of Stu\pas and Images and the Indo-Tibetan Concept of Relics,” forthcoming. 2. See the discussion in David Germano, “The Funerary History of the GreatPerfection (rdzogs chen),” in The Journal of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (volume one, forthcoming, see

3. The All-Creating King (kun byed rgyal po), ch. 17, in Tk 1:65.7–66.6 (see note 8 for the sigla). This is translated in E. K. Neumaier-Dargyay, The Sovereign All-Creating Mind—the Motherly Buddha (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 98–99. The translation here is my own. 4. See a description of similar rhetorical strategies in Chan in Bernard Faure,The Rhetoric of Immediacy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). 5. Guenther interprets this dyad in terms of “process and structure,” thoughhe ultimately interprets gnosis in terms of “process-structures.” See Herbert Guenther, From Reductionism to Creativity: rDzogs-chen and the New Sciences of the Mind (Boston and Shaftesbury: Shambhala, 1989). 6. Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy, 87–95, and many other passages.

7. Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings (tshig don mdzod) (Gangtok, Sikkim: Sherab Gyaltsen and Khytense Labrang, 1983); and idem, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle (theg mchod mdzod) (Gangtok, Sikkim: Sherab Gyaltsen and Khytense Labrang, 1983). All further citations will refer to these texts by the English titles for ease of reference by the nonspecialist.

8. The Seventeen Tantras (rgyud bcu bdun). These are located in most editions of The Collected Tantras of the Ancients (rnying ma rgyud ‘bum), a canon existing in different editions available at (in I use abbreviations in the citations to signify editions, followed by the volume and page numbers (i.e., Tk 4:43–45): 1. Tk (gting skyes ed., Thimphu, Bhutan: Jamyang Khytense Rinpoche, 1973). 2. Tb (mtshams brag ed., Thimphu, Bhutan: National Library of Royal Government of Bhutan, 1982). 3. Ab (a ‘dzom ‘brug pa ed., New Delhi: Sanje Dorje, 1973).

9. The Tantra of the Sun and Moon’s Intimate Union (nyi ma dang zla ba kha sbyor ba rgyud), in Tb 12:491–560 and Ab 3:152–233. 10. Karmalingpa (Kar ma gling pa), Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State (Bar do thos grol) belongs to a larger cycle, The Profound Doctrine of Wisdom’s Natural Freedom (in Encountering) the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities (zab chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol) (Delhi: Sherab Lama, 1975–76). This has become well known in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, such as Karmalingpa, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, trans. Francesca Freemantle and Chogyam Trungpa (Boston and London: Shambhala Publications, 1987).

11. The Blazing Relics (sku gdungbar ba), in Ab 3:15–151. Its three chapters take place within a dramatic setting involving a dialogue between the Teacher Vajra Holder (rdo re ‘chang, Sanskrit Vajradhara) and a D≥a\kinê. 12. As Martin indicates, this text deals with the particular issue of “signs ofsaintly death” rather than the general classifications of relics per se. See Daniel Martin, “Crystals and Images from Bodies, Hearts and Tones from Fire: Points of Relic Controversy from Tibetan History,” in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, ed. Ihara Sho\ren and Yamaguchi Zuiho\ (Narita: Naritasan Shinshoji, 1992), 184. 13. See Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 160.1.

14. Chapter 9 of Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 411–437.4 corresponds to chapter 22 in Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:356.1–399.1. The latter text is essentially an expansion of the former text. 15. Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 411.4–424.3 and 427.6–43

3.6. 16. Ibid., 424.3–427.6. 17. Ibid., 433.6–437.4. 18. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 790.5 and Ab 120.2. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:358.5. 19. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:357.4–359.7. 20. Ibid., 2:358.2 ff. 21. Ibid., 2:361.4–7. 22. Ibid., 2:359.5 ff.

23. Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 433. 24. The Tantra of the Adamantine Hero’s Heart-Mirror (rdo rje sems dpa’snying gi me long gi rgyud), in Tb 12: 193–245 and Ab 1:315–88. This specific citation is in Tb 808.3 and Ab 142.4. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:383.2. This passage provides a general outline for the ensuing discussion. 25. Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 413.

26. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 238.5 and Ab 377.4. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:371.4. 27. I would agree with Martin’s characterization of Tibetan relic cults emphasizing “the miraculous nature of some of the relics in and of themselves” rather than “the wonder working power of the relics” (see Dan Martin, “Crystals and Images,” 183), though in many contexts this is definitely not the case. In the latter contexts, relics themselves become active agents working wonders. 28. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 808.7 and Ab 143.2. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:383.6 and 384.6. 29. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:383.3–386.3.

30. See Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 478.6, for a description of these five. This “guiding rope” is discussed subsequently as “path to the Adamantine Hero’s interior” (464.1)—in our present context the reference is to the five-colored light-cord rather than the four-colored one. 31. Rather than the emanations being self-presencing out of the force ofenlightenment’s own dynamics, they are other presencing, impelled forth out of empty potential by the needs and perspectives of others.

32. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:385.1–386.3. 33. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 809.5 and Ab 144.1. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:386.6. 34. Ibid., Tb 810.3 and Ab 144.5. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:388.4. 35. Ibid., Tb 811.2 and Ab 145.5. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:390.1. 36. The corresponding section on “bones” is in Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:386–390.2. 37. Ibid., 2:386.7–387.2. 38. Ibid., 387.4–6. 39. Ibid., 387.2. 40. Ibid., 387.6–7. 41. Ibid., 388.1–3. 42. Ibid., 389.1–2. 43. Ibid., 389.2–390.2.

44. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 811.6 and Ab 146.3. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:390.7. 45. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:390.2–391.4. 46. “Pillars” literally means “standing upright” (i.e., vertical rays of light),“walls” the “circumference,” though the term can refer to “walls” around a city, and “beams” the corbels, or the “ribs” of a tent (i.e., horizontal rays of light). These are discussed in detail within David Germano, Mysticism and Rhetoric in the Great Perfection (forthcoming). 47. The Tantra of Unimpeded Sound (sgra thal ‘gyur rgyud), Tb 12:1–173 and Ab1:1–205. For an example of the tantra’s distinctive practices regarding sound, see David Germano, “The Elements, Insanity, and Lettered Subjectivity,” in Religions of Tibet in Practice, ed. Donald Lopez (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 313–34.

48. Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 436. 49. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 812.2 and Ab 146.6. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:391.7. 50. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:391.4–392.4. 51. The Blazing Relics Tantra, Tb 812.6 and Ab 147.4. It is cited by Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle 2:393.4. 52. This evidently signifies those who have taken the bodhisattva vows, generated the altruistic desire for enlightenment, and so forth in their involvement with the exoteric Mahayana teachings. 53. See Longchenpa, The Treasury of Words and Meanings, 313 ff, for a description of these practices, which are subordinated to Seminal Heart practices proper characterized as “for those to whose intellects awareness is self-manifest.” 54. These are amulets containing graphic representations of mandalas or scriptures believed to have the potency to grant liberation merely by “wearing,” though here faith is described as activating them.

55. These represent the standard list of eight levels or grounds of spiritual progression used to systematize the path of Hinayana, corresponding to the famous “ten stages” of a bodhisattva in Mahayana. 56. Longchenpa, The Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle, 2:392.4–393.7. 57. The Tantra of Self-Arising Awareness (rig pa rang shar chen po’i rgyud), in Tb 11 323–696 and Ab 1:389–855. This specific citation is in ch. 34, Ab 546. 58. Ibid., ch. 51, Ab 640. 59. Ibid., ch. 78, Ab 785. 60. The Great Esoteric Unwritten Tantra (yi ge med pa’i gsang ba rgyud chen po), in Tb 11:298–322 and Ab 2:215–44. This specific citation is in ch. 1, Ab 222. 61. The Tantra of the Lion’s Perfect Dynamism (seng ge rtsal rdzogs chen po’i rgyud), in Tb 12:560–712 and Ab 2: 245–415). This specific citation is in ch. 8, Ab 346.

62. The Garland of Precious Pearls Tantra (mu tig rin po che phreng ba’i rgyud), in Tb 12 304–93 and Ab 2:417–537. This specific citation is in ch. 4, Ab 436. 63. The Tantra of Self-Arising Awareness, ch. 85, in Tb 689.2–693.4 and Ab 844.3–849.2. 64. Ibid., 848. 65. See, for example, the chapter entitled “Toward a Postmetaphysical Rationality” in John Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 209–35. 66. See Gregory Schopen, “On the Buddha and His Bones: The Conception ofa Relic in the Inscriptions of Na\ga\rjunikon≥d≥a,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 108, no. 4 (1988): 533. 67. Ibid., 532 and 535. 68. See my forthcoming Prophetic Histories of Buddhas, D≥a\kinês, and Saints in Tibet from Princeton University Press.