More on the Recently Rediscovered Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section

By David Reigle on March 31, 2018 at 11:52 pm

Not long after my July 9, 2017, post, “Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section Rediscovered,” I received valuable input on it from three persons, all highly accomplished scholars and translators. I am very grateful to them for this. I delayed posting this information, thinking that I might also be able to add something about the contents of this text. This turned out to be a bigger task than I expected, because of the possibly controversial nature of some of its contents, and I ended up not doing so. So after this too long delay, I here post and discuss the valuable information that I received from these three.


The Title

First, on the title, Harunaga Isaacson kindly pointed out that my translation of it is not accurate. I had written: It is the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara section, the section on “the good qualities possessed by the best guru.” This may give the general meaning, but the Sanskrit title cannot be construed this way. It must be construed as: “Bearing/Holding the good qualities of the best guru.” Further, Prof. Isaacson noted that the Sanskrit title given in the text might possibly be a back translation into Sanskrit from Tibetan, and therefore might not be the original title. The Tibetan title by which the text is usually quoted by Tibetan writers, given on the title page of the Tibetan text, is bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung pa [ba]. This, as he suggested, would more likely represent Sanskrit Guru-guṇa-parigraha, for which he suggested an English translation, “Taking/Seizing on the good qualities of the teacher.” He further noted that this is reminiscent of the famous line, often quoted also by Kālacakra authors: ācāryasya guṇā grāhyā doṣā naiva kadācana. This may be translated as: “The good qualities of the teacher should be apprehended/perceived, never the faults at any time.” Prof. Isaacson later added that even the Tibetan title that is given in the opening lines as the translation of the Sanskrit title, Gtso bo[r] bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa [ba], might suggest as a possible underlying Sanskrit title something like Pradhāna-guru-guṇa-grahaṇa rather than the given Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.


The Text and Its Authenticity

As John Newman reminded me, he had referred to this text already in a note to an article published in 1987. I had a memory of this, and actually looked for it, but could not find his reference before I made my post. He had written that this text was known to Bu ston, who was one of the main compilers of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, but it was not included in the Narthang manuscript Kangyur that he helped compile. This Narthang manuscript Kangyur became the (or a) basis, whether directly or indirectly, for most (if not all) of the later blockprint Kangyurs, which helps to explain why this text is absent in them. John Newman in his article, “The Paramādibuddha (the Kālacakra Mūlatantra) and Its Relation to the Early Kālacakra Literature,” Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 30, 1987, p. 99 note 17, wrote:

“Bu ston (writing ca. 1322) reports three erstwhile sections of the Kālacakra mūlatantra whose authenticity was questioned: (1) lCe spyang rol pa, (2) rDo rje glu gar, and (3) bLa ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba (Nishioka 1983: 70; index #1551-1553). Phur lcog Ngag dbang byams pa lists the same three texts in his dkar chag to the sNar thang Kanjur: sNar thang bka’ ‘gyur, KA, f. 104a/3-4 (I am indebted to Ven. Jampa Samten for pointing this passage out to me). Ngag dbang byams pa says these texts are not in the sNar thang Kanjur because Bu ston did not insert them among the tantras. Even so, he adds that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba accepted these texts as authentic. He also mentions that they appear in the dkar chag of dBus pa bLo gsal, one of the editors of the Old sNar thang Kanjur. It is possible that these texts still exist in one of the gsung ‘bum or other text collections of the Karma bKa’ rgyud school.”

The reference to Nishioka 1983 is to “Index to the Catalogue Section of Bu-ston’s ‘History of Buddhism’ (III),” Annual Report of the Institute for the Study of Cultural Exchange, The University of Tōkyō, vol. 6, 1983, pp. 47-201. There we read, p. 70:

“bkol ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu gyi jo’i ‘gyur | yang bkol ba’i rgyud lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba dang gsum | ‘di rnams kha cig ma dag par ‘dod do ||”

Besides giving the three texts listed by John Newman, this tells us that they were translated by Gyi jo, the Tibetan lotsawa who worked with the Indian teacher Bhadrabodhi to produce the first ever Tibetan translations of Kālacakra texts, including the Kālacakra-tantra and its large Vimala-prabhā commentary. It also tells us that these three texts were regarded as “not pure” (ma dag pa), i.e., not authentic as John Newman put it better, by “some” (kha cig), the “some” remaining unnamed.

The dkar chag, the index or table of contents volume, of the Narthang Kangyur (snar thang bka’ ‘gyur), provides further information, as summarized by John Newman. This dkar chag is to the later Narthang blockprint edition. The Tibetan, from the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 106, p. 267, lines 17-21, is:

“rtsa rgyud kyi dum bu bla ma’i yon tan yongs bzung dang rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud | ce spyang tshogs rol gyi rgyud de rtsa ba’i rgyud gsum du grags pa | bu ston gyis rgyud du ‘jug par ma mdzad pas ‘dir yang med | karma pa rang byung rdo rje | dpa’ bo gtsug lag ‘phreng ba bcas la rgyud rnam dag tu bzhed | dbus pa blo gsal gyi dkar chag tu’ang yod do ||”

After listing the three texts, this tells us that they were not included among the tantras (in the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) by Bu ston, so they are also not included here (in the new blockprint Narthang Kangyur). It then says that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (1284-1339, the Third Karmapa) and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba (1504-1566, Kagyu author of Chos ‘byung khas pa’i dga’ ston, “History of Buddhism: A Scholar’s Feast,” an important historical work comparable to Bu ston’s Chos ‘byung, History of Buddhism), accepted them as “pure” (rnam dag), i.e., authentic. It adds that they are also found in the dkar chag (of the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) written by dBus pa bLo gsal (13-14th century).

To these sources may now be added the data from the dkar chag of the very old Yunglo Kangyur (g.yung lo’i bka’ ‘gyur), also written Yongle (from the Chinese). This was the first blockprint edition of the Kangyur, produced in 1410 C.E. Its data on this has become conveniently available in the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 105, p. 384, lines 14-16:

“rtsa mi’i rgyud gsum du grags pa lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzungs ba gsum | rgyud yang dag du mi mdzad pas ma bkod do ||”

This source indicates Tsa mi (rtsa mi) as the translator of these three texts, rather than Gyi jo as was stated by Bu ston in the catalogue section of his Chos ‘byung, “History of Buddhism.” The colophon of the rediscovered Para-guru-guṇa-dhara (as I will continue to call it) also indicates Tsa mi as the translator (see below). Like the dkar chag of the Narthang edition, this dkar chag says that these texts were not included (in the Yunglo edition) because they were not considered to be authentic. By whom they were not considered to be authentic is not stated.

Regarding another one of these three texts besides the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, namely, the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud, we also have some material from it. This was found, again thanks to the ability to search the extensive Buddhist Digital Resource Center database of digital Tibetan texts. The Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje begins his Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i mchod pa’i cho ga with a long quotation from the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud. This is in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 12, folio side 573 ff., and also in his gsung ‘bum available at the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, vol. 10, folio sides 455-469.


The Translator

According to the colophon, as pointed out to me by Cyrus Stearns, the translator of this text is Tsa mi Sangs rgyas grags pa. This agrees with what the dkar chag of the Yunglo edition of the Kangyur says. Here is the colophon (folio side 639, lines 3-4):

rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta || bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba || rgya bod gnyis kyi skyes cig po || me nyag chen po pa zhes grags pa’i || mkhas pa sangs rgyas grags pas bsgyur || se ston lotstsha ba la gnang ||

This tells us, as explained by Cyrus Stearns, that the text was translated by the pandit Sangs rgyas grags pa, who was both an Indian pandit (rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta) and a Tibetan translator (bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba). He was called Me nyag chen po pa (or Mi nyag pa) because he was from Mi nyag, a part of eastern Tibet near China. He had come to India when he was young, where he lived for a long time, becoming an Indian pandit. In fact, he is said to have been the only Tibetan ever to have become an abbot of a major Indian monastery (Nālandā and/or Vajrāsana). He is usually referred to in short as Tsa mi (or rTsa mi). The last phrase of the colophon tells as that he gave this translation to Se ston lotsawa, who was one of his main disciples.

Tsa mi, living in India, translated the entire Vimala-prabhā commentary into Tibetan. This is not the translation of the Vimala-prabhā that was included in the Tengyur, and it was long presumed to be lost. But it, like the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, was recently recovered and was published in the same series. Its first three chapters are found in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 3, and its last two chapters are found in vol. 4, immediately before the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.

According to the Rwa tradition as reported by Bu ston, translated by John Newman (The Wheel of Time, 1985, p. 69, or his 1987 thesis, The Outer Wheel of Time, p. 84), Tsa mi and Somanātha and Abhayākara-gupta and others were co-disciples of Kālacakrapāda the younger. The translations of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimala-prabhā made by Somanātha and ‘Bro lotsawa are the ones that are now found in the Kangyur and Tengyur. Since Tsa mi and his co-disciples lived within two generations from the time of the introduction of the Sanskrit Kālacakra texts into India, there would be no reason to suspect a corruption in the transmission lineage of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara to the translator Tsa mi.

Something I noticed in the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also speaks for its authenticity as an originally Sanskrit text. The one known and undisputed section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra is the Sekoddeśa. It is written entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter, have eight syllables per metrical foot. This meter was always translated into Tibetan in metrical feet having seven syllables. Most of the Tibetan translation of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also consists of metrical feet having seven syllables. However, at folio side 612, line 5, it switches from a seven-syllable metrical foot to a nine-syllable metrical foot. It then switches back to a seven-syllable metrical foot on folio side 617, line 6. The nine-syllable metrical feet indicate a change in meter in the Sanskrit original. A forger would hardly have made this change in a text that was expected to be entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment

  • Robert Hütwohl says:

    Excellent bloodhound-detective work, David. This deeper investigation has brought up possible unresolvables. Nevertheless, very worthwhile. A lot of work to do!

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