THREE IMPORTANT SOURCES FOR TRANSMISSION LINEAGES
by Michelle Janet Sorensen
The three texts that I will consider here each contribute something specific to my project of complicating the commonly depicted picture of Buddhist Chod. The rnam thar chapters of The Great Explanation establish precedents for later lineage constructs. The Blue Annals, as a highly regarded historical document, contextualizes Chod more broadly within Tibetan Buddhism. This source also provides details about key figures in the Chod tradition that suggest
alternate lineage constructions that were developing in the transitional period of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The Ring brgyud provides an example of an explicit effort to codify a transmission lineage from Machik Labdron to the Third Karma pa Rangjung Dorje. As I explain in chapter six, the texts I have translated in the appendices establish the relationship between Machik and Rangjung Dorje as perhaps the most historically important in the transmission and renewal of the Chod tradition.
A. The Great Explanation rnam thars
The earliest sources available to me thus far which present transmission lineages for Chod are the two rnam thar texts about Machik which are collected in The Great Explanation. These two rnam thar are usually taken to be a single biography. However, close reading reveals sufficient discontinuity between the first and second chapters to suggest that they were not meant to be considered as contiguous, but rather are two distinct life stories. According to the
colophon, the biographies in The Great Explanation were redacted by Namkha Gyaltsen, with the assistance of Bkra' shis rgyal mtshan, and they were collected by ‘Byams pa bsod nams. In the edition most commonly circulating at present, there are explicit editorial notes stating not only that Namkha Gyaltsen has edited these two texts and added his own material, but also that an author who identifies him (her?) self as “Shes par ‘bum” has added further materials. The following interpretations, which speculate on how Namkha Gyaltsen and Shes par ‘bum have both preserved and renewed the transmissions and history of Chod by reconstructing details about lineage transmissions and their own roles as editors, are based on my own translations of the primary texts.
In the first rnam thar, the narrative recounts a meeting between Padampa Sangyé and Machik. Padampa Sangyé arrived in Tibet to meet with Machik as a very young woman (apparently when she was still a reader for Lama Drapa Ngonshé) whom he believed to be an embodiment of an Indian pandita called Bhadra from Potari. After greeting her as a Primordial Wisdom dakini, he observes that her arrival in Tibet to help all sentient beings is a marvel worth rejoicing over. When Machik asks Padampa Sangyé how she can proceed to help all sentient beings, he states, “You, girl, should disclose your secret faults, crush
indecision, give unflaggingly, eliminate obscurations, realize attachments, wander severe places! Knowing that all beings are like space, in severe places, seek the buddha within yourself.” Before he leaves, he makes the prophecy: “Your teaching will be like the sun rising in the sky!” Shortly after this
passage, we are told that Machik receives teachings from Kyoton Sonam Lama that are in the transmission lineage of Sutra teachngs from Padampa Sangye, although none of these are specifically affiliated with Chod. After receiving these teachings, Machik performs many amazing activities, including flying through the air, chanting in Sanskrit, and casting out her body as food to spirits (‘dre) (Lab sgron 1974, 35).
A third mention of Padampa Sangye and Machik meeting occurs in the first rnam thar. This time, Padampa Sangye goes to Grwa thang, where he has heard that Machik is doing pilgrimage. In this episode, it is explicitly stated that Padampa Sangye gives teachings directly to Machik and others, including a direct introduction to Nam mkha' sgo byed. In addition, we are told that he gives teachings to Machik on Zhije and Chod practices, all of which she “completely took to heart.” The list of teachings given here is: a Zhije Cycle' Instruction on the Six Chod Banquets (tshogs); the Zhije “hung” Cycle; the Bare Cycle
of Instructions; the Three Cycles of Teachings on “phat”; the Symbolic Teachings of Utpala; Mahamaya; the Two-faced Lady; the Profound Path of Guru Yoga of the Precept Lineage (bka' brgyud); instructions on the transference of consciousness into another body (‘pho ba grong ‘jug) and entering the excellent path of the crucial points of guiding the body and mind; the crucial personal instructions through the subtle drop of simultaneous teachings on the manner of
training in the illusory body, dreams and the intermediate state (bar do); and the personal instructions of the secret precepts on
“‘Khrül Chod” [the “cutting of illusion”], together with the eight instructions on the Chod practice of accomplishing in one sitting the visualization of the great charnel grounds (Lab sgron 1974, 41).
In the narrative of the second rnam thar, Machik travels to meet Padampa Sangyé in Dingri. Padampa Sangyé informs Machik that he does not have any teachings more profound than those he has already given her, though he can give her a teaching from the “profound” Prajnâpâramitâsûtra. He then tells her of a teaching on how to invite a retinue of guests— including the Great Mother, the female embodiment of Prajnâpâramitâ—and how to make a great banquet for them, along with offerings; because of receiving yogic abilities through the power of the blessings from making this banquet and the offerings, the
practitioner will have a long life clear of obstacles (Lab sgron 1974, 54-55). Machik requests that Padampa Sangyé give her this teaching, for which they make a mandala offering, during which Machik directly recognizes Padampa Sangyé himself as Red ManjuSrT. Along with the initiation for this sadhana practice, it is said that Padampa Sangyé gave her other teachings, including an uncommon personal instruction on the profound instruction and empowerment of the blessings of the teachers of the Speech Lineage (bka' brgyud bla ma'i byin rlabs kyi dbang dang gdams pa zab mo thung mongs ma yin pa'i man ngag), as well as many secret teachings, including the bare instruction of the science of inner development, the distinctive meaning of entering the middle path, and physical yoga practices for making one's wind energies (rlung) suitable.
The second mention of Padampa Sangye in the narrative of the second rnam thar is in the context of a discussion of Grub se, a figure sometimes considered to be Machik's younger son. The narrative tells of Padampa Sangye being invited to Zangs ri for a great celebration for Grub se becoming a renunciant.
Grub se is given the name of Tonyon Samdrub and Padampa Sangye gives him many teachings. Tonyon Samdrub, when making supplication prayers to them, would refer to Padampa Sangye as his “father” and Machik as his “mother”; according to this account, this is how Padampa Sangye came to be known as “Pha” (“father”) Dampa.
The last mention of Padampa Sangye in the narrative of the second rnam thar (prior to the addenda by Namkha Gyaltsen and Shes par ‘bum) is in a passage describing how Machik faces doubt and cynicism about the authority of her teachings as Buddhist Dharma. Three expert teachers arrive from India to review the legitimacy of her teachings and the validity of her claims regarding past incarnations as Indian men. The expert teachers listen to her claims, including her description of relics that she has left behind in Pho ta ri from her embodiment as Smon lam grub. Even though those gathered believe Machik's
teachings and the stories about her previous births, and thus their doubts are dispelled, Padampa Sangye is invited in order to prevent the arising of any further doubts or disbelief (sgro ‘dogs nges par chod). Padampa Sangye is then requested to travel to India with the expert teachers and to bring back a relic; he himself keeps the relic in order to support his personal practice. Here the rnam thar narrative explicitly spells out the efforts that have been made to legitimize Machik's Chod system as authoritative Buddhist teachings through the intervention of Padampa Sangye.
This second rnam thar is followed by a note by Namkha Gyaltsen in which he states that he has included his own addendum. Within this addendum is a further composition that is self-attributed to Shes par ‘bum. This additional material has a structured discussion of transmission lineages that appear to be meant to complement the narrative discussions of transmissions of teachings in the bodies of the two rnam thar. In this second rnam thar and the annotations by
Namkha Gyaltsen and Shes par ‘bum, many categories for the transmission lineages are first elaborated. These categories of transmissions, although they are sometimes reordered or combined, create precedents for later authors who reconstruct the lineages of Chod.
According to the addendum by Namkha Gyaltsen, Dharma lineages based on her personal experience (thugs la ‘khrungs pa'i myong chos) were transmitted by Machik Labdron through a family line of her sons and daughters, and through 116 dharma lineage line holders; these lineages began with Machik and did not
exist prior to her. This comment by Namkha Gyaltsen provides very few details, neglecting to identify the biological or spiritual children who received the teachings, or the dharma lineage holders. One can only surmise that this is an early version of what will later be delineated as the “sras brgyud” (usually translated as the “son lineage”) and the “ston (or “slob”) brgyud” (the “teaching” or “student lineage”).
The next section is an insertion, composed by Shes par ‘bum, into Namkha Gyaltsen's addendum. This section presents two different categories of transmission lineages—which can be characterized as Sutra and Tantra—to Machik Labdron. Three slightly different lineages of Sutra Chod are distinguished in the insertion by Shes par ‘bum. First, the thabs rgyud, or “lineage of liberative technique,” stresses the development of bodhicitta and the accumulation of merit from the aspect of conventional truth. This lineage runs from Buddha Sakyamuni through Manjusri, Aryadeva (the spiritual son of
Nagarjuna), Aryadeva the Brahmin, Padampa Sangye, Skyo [ston] Sa kya ye shes, and Sonam Lama (and both his uncle and nephew) to Machik Labdron. Second, the shes rab rgyud, or “lineage of knowledge,” emphasizes the accumulation of knowledge from the perspective of ultimate truth. This lineage is transmitted from Yum Chen mo (the Great Mother, Prajnaparamita), Tara, Sukhasiddhi, Aryadeva the Brahmin, Padampa Sangye, and Kyoton Sonam Lama to Machik. The third
Sutra lineage is the gnyis med rgyud, or “nondual lineage,” which unites the two accumulations of liberative technique and knowledge. This lineage also begins with Yum Chen Mo, who transmits teachings to Sakyamuni, Tara, Manjusri, Aryadeva, Aryadeva the Brahmin, Padampa Sangye, Kyoton Sonam Lama, and finally Machik.
Although this has not been explicitly noted by translators such as Harding or Edou, Shes par ‘bum characterizes the Sutra lineage as the “Personal Instructions on the Speech Lineage.” If this title were actually to refer to a lineage from the “Kagyu school,” it is odd that such important figures as Naropa, Maitripa and Marpa are not acknowledged. Rather, it seems like the “Lineage of Means” operates to assert the connection from Machik back through to Buddha Sakyamuni in an orthodox fashion, situating Chod within the paradigm of buddhavacana for legitimation.
It is curious to note that all three tributaries of the Kagyu Personal Instruction Lineage foreground the two Aryadevas, with an effort to connect Aryadeva the Madhyamaka scholar with Aryadeva the Brahmin, the maternal uncle of Padampa Sangye. This connection actually seems more important to the author than other links between important figures. Though as I noted above, many important Kagyu figures are not included in these lineages, the presence of Sukhasiddhi (Su ka siddhi) —an important supramundane figure traditionally linked with
Kagyu lineages (in particular the early Shangpa Kagyu) — is worth noting. Though Padampa Sangye is included in all three Sutra transmission lists, none describes Machik receiving Chod teachings directly from Padampa Sangye.
The second category of transmission lineage mentioned by Namkha Gyaltsen is the Secret Mantra (or Vajrayana) lineage, which originates with Rdo rje ‘chang chen po (the great Vajradhara), is passed to the Eminent Lady Sgrol ma (Tara), and is then bestowed upon Machik. By dividing the transmission lists into these categories, Shes par ‘bum here establishes the legitimation of Chod through both Sutra and Tantra lineages. In the next chapter, I will discuss how Machik herself legitimates her philosophy through the union of Sutra and Tantra traditions.
Shes par ‘bum also provides lineage lists of those who received teachings from Machik. The recipients listed for the lineage of both Creation (bskyed rim) and Completion (rdzogs rim) teachings are Tonyon Samdrub; Gangs pa rmug sangs; Gangs pa lhun grub; Sangs rgyas bstan bsrung; Mnyam med rdo rje ‘dzin pa; Gangs pa rin po che; Bla ma rdo rje; Stong zhig Namkha Gyaltsen; and Bkra' shis rgyal mtshan. The system of Creation and Completion delineated here
includes teachings on the mantra practices of tshe sgrub kyi skor (a cycle for attaining a long life); Zhi rgyas dbang drag gyi sbyin sreg (burnt offerings for pacification and destruction); and las bzhi'i me mchod (a fire offering for the four activities [of pacifying, increasing, magnetizing and subjugating]). In addition, the Personal Instructions on the Speech Lineage includes teachings according to the Prajnaparamita system on the Four
Empowerments of Meditative Stabilization, and the empowerments and gtor ma associated with the banquet offerings for the five families. Shes par ‘bum considers these teachings to be a combination of Sutra and Mantra, which is based on the empowerment of Transforming the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. Shes par ‘bum claims that the system of Creation and Completion, along with the tradition of Chod, is uncorrupted up to Namkha Gyaltsen. Shes par ‘bum states that the Creation and Completion system was severed with the instruction of Bkra' shis rgyal mtshan, which was only approximated based on empowerments and banquets.
The text then returns to the addendum composed by Namkha Gyaltsen. This section lists the recipients of the transmission of a teaching referred to as “a hundred empowerments and a hundred feasts”; the list of recipients includes Tonyon; Gangs pa rmug sangs; Grub chen pa; Mkhas grub chen po; Skye med gnam mtsho; Mnyam med rin po che; Ras chen gzhon nu; and Bsod nams rdo rje. Namkha Gyaltsen here uses literary conventions to emphasize the authoritative
preservation and transmission of the Sutra, Mantra, and Union of Sutra and Mantra instructions to Tonyon Samdrub: these instructions “were kept in the heart of Machik” and “all of them, without exception, were taken to heart by Tonyon.” Namkha Gyaltsen then notes that Gyalwa Dondrub completely “takes into [his] heart” Machik's Personal Instructions on the Speech Lineage (bka’ brgyud don gyi man ngag), Personal Instructions of the Prajnaparamita cycle (phar phyin skor gyi man ngag), and the Prajnaparamita cycle together with the Uncommon Instruction on the Essential Points of Profound Meaning (zab pa’i don gnad kyi gdams pa thun mong ma yin pa dang bcas pa phar phyin gyi skor).
The four “Ornament Daughters” (sras mo rgyan bzhi), along with Chokyisengge, are the direct recipients of the cycle of the Union of Sutra and Mantra; the cycle of the Dharma of Heart- produced Experience (thugs las ‘khrungs pa’i myong chos kyi skor); the Profound Path of the Four Empowerments of the Mother Tantra Dakini (ma rgyudmkha’ ‘gro’i dbang bzhi’i zab lam); Mahamaya; the Profound Activity of Guru Yoga (bla ma’i rnal ‘byor zab las ma); the Three Cycles of Visualization from the Perspective of the Protectors of the Three Families (rigs gsum mgon po’i sgo nas dmigs pa skor gsum); the Personal Instructions on the Special Avalokitesvara Meditation (khyadpar spyan ras gzigs sgompa’i man ngag); the Knot of Precious Jewels (rin po che’i rgya mdud ma); and the
Vajra Verses. Namkha Gyaltsen seems less concerned to demonstrate the authoritative transmission of other teachings, using less emphatic language to mention that Manjughosa of Stod sde and Grol sde rgyal ba'i ‘byung gnas were among the sixteen recipients of Machik's oral transmission of the infinitely scattered Cavernous Instructions of the [[[Prajna]]] Paramita (pha rol phyin pa la khog phug pa’i gdams pa kha ‘thor ba’i mtha’ yas pa gcig). Namkha Gyaltsen then discusses Machik's son Grubpa, who visited her because of faith due to conditions at the time he reached the age of forty-two: “Machik, having seen that the time had come to discipline [him], gave him instruction. Having taken the lay precepts, he was given the name of Gyalwa
Dondrup. When he reached forty-eight, he attained spiritual accomplishment.” He taught in many spontaneous ways, including speeches, songs and so forth. Gyalwa Dondrup had two sons: the eldest was a householder known as Tshangs dbang rgyal, and the youngest took monastic vows and was called Khams bu ya le. Tshangs dbang rgyal had three sons: the eldest was Dam pa ston chung, and the youngest one was Skye med ‘od gsal chen po. The middle one was renowned as
Tonyon Samdrub. Namkha Gyaltsen records the significance of the name of Tonyon Samdrub's daughter: because she was born on an occasion when he was involved in a dispute and was unable to formulate a response to his unnamed opponent, she was called Lan thog ma (“Lightning response”). Lan thog ma was considered an emanation of Machik, and she was renowned for spreading the teaching of Mahamudra Chod and expanding its lineage.
Whereas Namkha Gyaltsen is concerned with charting how the teachings passed from Machik to her community of Dharma descendants, Shes par ‘bum tries to legitimate Chod by establishing formal lineages that reach back to Sakyamuni. Shes par ‘bum also tries more clearly to identify and distinguish teachings associated with the Sutra, Mantra/Tantra and Unified teachings of Chod. If the interpolation by Shes par ‘bum was in fact (as it appears) composed later than Namkha Gyaltsen's commentary, it indicates an increasing formalization in the legitimation of Chod lineage traditions.