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You are here : Home > Reading Room > Guhyagarbha Tantra : An Introduction
Guhyagarbha Tantra : An Introduction
Guhyagarbha Tanta : An Introduction

This article is the first of a six part series which brings you Gyurme Dorje's extensive and remarkable introuduction to the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the flagship tantra of the Nyingma School of the Tibetan Buddhism.




1. The Nyingma School and the Three Inner Classes of Tantra

The all-embracing maôçala of the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities which is revered as the highest expression of the Mahäyoga class of Unsurpassed Yogatantra within the eighth century Indo-Tibetan tantra tradition was first brought to the attention of the western world through popular translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bar do thos grol chen mo), a section of Karma Lingpa's revelation: Peaceful and Wrathful Deities: A Profound Secret Teaching [entitled] Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] Enlightened Intention (Zab chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol). Through the pioneering translations and commentaries of Kazi Dawa Samdup, Evans Wentz and C. G. Jung, the imagery of this classic text has acquired far-reaching recognition on account of its importance for the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of death and the rebirth processes. Little is known, however, of the tantra-text on which this maôçala and its various gter ma revelations, including that of Karma Lingpa, are based.

The Guhyagarbha Tantra which is the primary source describing this maôçala is a highly influential text within the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, otherwise known as the "translation school of the ancients" (snga' 'gyur rnying ma). It is this tradition which has maintained the teaching-cycles and texts introduced to Tibet during the royal dynastic period of the eighth and ninth centuries, through to the epoch of the Indian scholar Smötijñänakïrti and prior to that of Lochen Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055). The Nyingmapa are those who have adhered to this "earlier dissemination" (snga' dar) and cultivated its traditions over succeeding centuries through study, meditation, composition, and the revelation of concealed texts or treasures (gter ma). A comprehensive account of the philosophical perspective and historical transmission of this school can be found in Dudjom Rinpoche's modern compilation, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. By contrast, the adherents of the later Buddhist lineages such as the Kadampa, Sakyapa and Kagyupa which evolved in Tibet during the "subsequent dissemination" (phyi dar) of the teachings by Atiâa, Drokmi Lotsäwa, Marpa Lotsäwa and their contemporaries are generally known as Sarmapa, "followers of the new schools".

Although the designations "Nyingma" and "Sarma" were undoubtedly applied retrospectively, it is clear that by the eleventh century the two periods of Buddhist expansion in Tibet had become sufficiently distinguishable, enabling Rongzom Paôçita to attribute six superiorities to the ancient translations in his Precious Jewel Commentary (dKon mchog 'grel). In his view, the ancient translations of the Nyingma tradition are distinguished by the greatness of their royal benefactors, by the sanctity of the early Buddhist shrines, temples, and monasteries in which they were prepared, by the calibre of their translators, and the enlightened attributes of their supervising paôçitas, as well as by the lavish offerings made at the time when they were commissioned. Lastly, the Indic sources on which the ancient translations are based are said to have been propagated and transmitted through pure unadulterated lineages during the period when Buddhism reached its zenith in India, before the devastation caused by the Islamic incursions and Hindu resurgence.

As far as the technique of the ancient translations is concerned, Rongzompa makes the following additional remark:

Concerning the translations themselves: Since the translators of the past were emanations, they established the meanings correctly. For this reason their works are easy to understand and, on plumbing their depths, the blessing is great. But the translators of the later period were unable to render the meaning and made lexical translations following [merely] the arrangement of the Sanskrit texts. Consequently, their forced terminology is hard to understand, and on plumbing the depths the blessing is slight. Therefore, they are dissimilar.

Certain linguistic distinctions between the so-called semantic and lexical translation methodologies will be considered below in the context of the debate surrounding the origins of the Guhyagarbha Tantra. Generally speaking, the simple versification of texts like the Guhyagarbha stands in marked contrast, for example, to that of the Kälacakra Tantra, which is considered by many to epitomise the most complex of the later translations.

Despite Rongzompa's entrenched position which was designed purposefully to counter the prejudice expressed against the ancient tantras by certain advocates of the new translation system, the Nyingma tradition for the most part remained aloof from the subsequent sectarian rivalries of Tibetan political life- whether in the conflict between Sakya and Drigung or in the civil war between the Karmapa backed Tsangpa administration and the Gelugpa hierarchy. Their philosophy and spirituality have however continued to exert influence on the later traditions until recent times. Important figures such as Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), Yungton Dorjepel (1284-1365), the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) have contributed immensely to the evolution of the Nyingma teachings, notwithstanding their affiliation to other schools. As a study of the chos 'byung genre of Tibetan Buddhist historiography reveals, Tibet's great thinkers, scholars and meditators from all traditions could freely teach each other without sectarian inhibitions.

It is in the Nyingma system that the Buddhist teachings are classified according to a hierarchical gradation of nine vehicles or nine sequences of the vehicle (theg pa rim pa dgu), extending from the most exoteric sütras to the most esoteric tantras. S.G. Karmay in his "Origin and Early Development of the Tibetan Religious Traditions of the Great Perfection" has traced the development of this ninefold classification through a comparative study of the writings of Padmasambhava, Kawa Peltsek, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, Longchen Rabjampa and others. The synthesis outlined in the Anuyoga text sPyi mdo dgongs pa 'dus pa and elaborated by the Mindroling tradition refers to the first three sequences (àrävakayäna, Pratyekabuddhayäna and Bodhisattvayäna) under the heading "vehicles which control the cause of suffering" (kun 'byung 'dran pa'i theg pa), to the middle three (Kriyätantra, Ubhayatantra and Yogatantra) as "vehicles of the outer tantras of austere awareness" (phyi dka' thub rig pa'i rgyud kyi theg pa), and to the last three (Mahäyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga) as "vehicles of overpowering means" (dbang bsgyur thabs kyi theg pa). According to Lochen Dharmaârï, the enumeration of nine is itself provisional because the structure may be simplified, e.g. into the twofold classification of Hïnayäna and Mahäyäna, or extended, e.g. by adding the mundane Manuêyayäna or Devayäna. Indeed, in the final analysis, there may be as many vehicles as there are thoughts in the mind, while, from the resultant or absolute standpoint, there is said to be no vehicle at all. The following verses from the Laûkävatärasütra (T. 107) are quoted in support of this position:

As long as there are perceptions,
The culmination of the vehicles will never be reached.
When the mind becomes transformed
There is neither vehicle nor mover.

The integrated structure of these nine provisional vehicles is also mentioned in key texts, such as the principle Mental Class (sems sde) tantra of the Great Perfection (rdzogs pa chen po) system, the All-Accomplishing King (Kun byed rgyal po'i rgyud, T. 828):

Existentially there is only one,
But empirically there are nine vehicles.

The distinctions between them are discussed in the many philosophical treatises of the Nyingma school which focus on spiritual and philosophical systems (siddhänta, Tib. grub mtha'), and notably in Longchen Rabjampa's Treasury of Philosophical Systems (Grub mtha' mdzod), Lochen Dharmaârï's Oral Transmission of the Lord of Secrets (gSang bdag zhal lung), and Dudjom Rinpoche's Fundamentals of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism (bsTan pa'i rnam gzhag). All these sources make the most basic distinction between the first three or sütra-based vehicles which advocate a graduated, causal approach to enlightenment (byang chub) or buddhahood (sangs rgyas nyid) and the last six or tantra-based vehicles which maintain the resultant view that buddhahood is primordially or atemporally (ye nas) attained, and realised as such by the removal of the obscurations covering enlightened mind (byang chub sems).

The term "tantra" (rgyud) actually means "continuum", referring to the threefold continuum of the ground (gzhi'i rgyud), continuum of the path (lam gyi rgyud) and continuum of the result ('bras bu'i rgyud), which respectively demarcate the unrealised abiding nature of reality (gnas lugs), the means by which it is realised (thabs), and the fruitional buddha-body (sku) and pristine cognition (ye shes) resulting from that realisation. It is this structure of ground, path and result around which the tantra-texts, both Nyingma and Sarma are developed, as we will see below with reference to the Guhyagarbha Tantra. At the same time, the term tantra also refers to the four classes of texts which assume this threefold structure. The four classes are the texts of Kriyätantra, Ubhayatantra (or Caryätantra), Yogatantra and Yoganiruttaratantra, which are differentiated and discussed at length in the above treatises. The last of these subdivisons, according to the Nyingma school, comprises the texts of Mahäyoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga, the "vehicles of overpowering means" or three classes of inner tantras (nang rgyud sde gsum), which form the principal subject matter of the Nyingmapa commentarial tradition. It is important that the distinctions between these three are now comprehended because, as we shall see, the Guhyagarbha Tantra has been interpreted from divergent Mahäyoga and Atiyoga perspectives.

When the three classes of inner tantras are contrasted, Mahäyoga is said to emphasise the ground or basis of the realisation of buddhahood, i.e. the abiding nature of reality (gnas lugs), Anuyoga the path or skilful means which bring about realisation and Atiyoga the result itself, the full-fledged presence of buddha-body (sku) and pristine cognition (ye shes). Alternatively, from the standpoint of meditative stability (samädhi), Mahäyoga focuses on the generation stage of meditation (bskyed rim), Anuyoga on the perfection stage (rdzogs rim), and Atiyoga on the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen).

In the words of Menyak Khyungdrak, an eleventh-century holder of the Nyingma lineage:
Though the three aspects of generation and perfection are present in them all, Mahäyoga emphatically teaches the generation stage [of meditation], Anuyoga emphatically teaches the perfection stage [of meditation], and the Great Perfection is effortless with respect to both stages.
Longchen Rabjampa, in his Mind at Rest (Sems nyid ngal gso), adds:
Mahäyoga emphasises [control of] vital energy and the skilful means of the generation stage.
Anuyoga emphasises [control of] seminal energy and the discriminative awareness of the perfection stage.
Atiyoga emphasises the pristine cognition in which everything is without duality.
And according to Kyoton àäk-ye of Gongbu:
Mahäyoga stresses conduct,
Anuyoga stresses meditative stability,
And Atiyoga stresses the view.

As these authors state, Mahäyoga emphasises the ground in its perspective, the generation stage in its meditative technique and ritual activities in its conduct, Anuyoga emphasises the path, the perfection stage of meditative technique and meditative stability, and Atiyoga emphasises the result, the Great Perfection or the view itself. We shall observe however that tantra-texts such as the Guhyagarbha, despite their classification within Mahäyoga, necessarily contain elements of all three, and it is for this reason that divergent exegetical traditions later developed.

The dispositions of those who would aspire to the three inner classes of tantra are also mentioned in the Tantra of the Great Array (bKod pa chen po), which says:

For one who would transcend the [mundane] mind
There is the generation phase.
For one who would possess the essence of mind
There is the perfection phase.
And for those who are supreme and most secret
There is the Great Perfection.

Longchen Rabjampa in his Great Chariot (Shing rta chen mo) elaborates:

The father tantras of Mahäyoga are the natural expression of the skilful means of appearance, intended on behalf of those requiring training who are mostly hostile and possessed by many ideas; the mother tantras of Anuyoga are the discriminative awareness of the perfection stage which is the reality of emptiness, intended for the benefit of those who are mostly desirous and delight in the tranquility of the mind; and the non-dual tantras of Atiyoga are revealed as the natural expression of their non-duality, intended for the benefit of those who are mostly deluded, but who are energetic.
When these three classes are considered distinctly, each is analysed according to its essence, etymology and classification, as in the following account derived from Lochen Dharmaârï's Oral Transmission of the Lord of Secrets (gSang bdag zhal lung), which represents the opinion of the "distant lineage of the transmitted precepts" (ring brgyud bka' ma).


The essence of Mahäyoga practice is that liberation is obtained through union with the indivisible superior truth (lhag pa'i gnyis med bden pa) by relying emphatically on the generation stage of meditation in which skilful means is employed (thabs kyi bskyed rim). The Sanskrit term mahäyoga is defined as the "great union" of the mind with non-dual truth. The classification includes the topics of empowerment (dbang bskur) and entrance ('jug pa), view (lta ba), discipline (tshul khrims), meditation (sgom), conduct (spyod pa) and result ('bras bu).

At the outset, four empowerments are conferred, enabling Mahäyoga to be practised. The vehicle is then entered through three successive phases of meditative stability, namely: great emptiness (stong pa chen po) which purifies death, great compassion (snying rje chen po) which purifies the intermediate state after death (bar do) and the seals and attainment of the maôçala-clusters (phyag rgya dang tshom bu tshogs sgrub) which purify the three phases of life by establishing the practitioner's true nature to be the maôçala of deities.

The view maintained by Mahäyoga practitioners holds ultimate truth (don dam bden pa) to be spontaneous awareness (rig pa) without conceptual elaboration, relative truth (kun rdzob bden pa) to be the ideas or mental energy of that awareness which manifest as a maôçala of buddha-body and pristine cognition, and the superior indivisible truth to be the unity of these two- emptiness and pure appearance.

Discipline in the context of Mahäyoga refers to twenty-eight commitments (dam tshig) that are upheld in relation to meditative practice, renunciation and attainment. Meditation here comprises both non-symbolic meditative stability in the nature of ultimate reality and the symbolic meditations of the generation and perfection stages. In the generation stage, the maôçala of meditational deities is gradually visualised through the aforementioned three successive meditative stabilities, in which deity and thought processes are indivisible. In the perfection stage, the visualisation emphasises the control of the energy channels, currents of vital energy and focal points of seminal energy (rtsa rlung thig le), either within the meditator's own subtle body (rang lus steng sgo) or else when in union with a yogic partner (gzhan lus 'og sgo).

The conduct observed by practitioners of Mahäyoga implies that the defilements and dissonant mental states of cyclic existence (saæsära), as well as the rites of forceful "liberation" (sgrol) and sexual practices (sbyor) can be engaged without attachment because they are retained as skilful means. Lastly, the result attained by practitioners of Mahäyoga is the actualisation of the five buddha-bodies (sku lnga) in this very lifetime or in the intermediate state after death.


The essence of Anuyoga practice is that by relying on the perfection stage of meditation, emphasising discriminative awareness (shes rab rdzogs rim), liberation is obtained through the unifying realisation of the expanse of reality (dbyings) and pristine cognition (ye shes), without duality. The Sanskrit term anuyoga is defined as "subsequent yoga", i.e., that which links Mahäyoga to Atiyoga or which reveals the path of desire (chags lam) subsequent on the experience of discriminative awareness.

As to the aforementioned six classificatory topics, Anuyoga has thirty-six basic and eight hundred and thirty-one ancillary empowerments which are conferred in relation to to all nine sequences of the vehicle, including the sütras; and it is entered through the spontaneously perfect non-duality of the expanse and pristine cognition.

The view maintained by Anuyoga practitioners is that all phenomena are the primordial maôçala of Samantabhadrï (ye ji bzhin pa'i dkyil 'khor), the uncreated awareness is the pristine cognition or spontaneously present maôçala of Samantabhadra (rang bzhin lhun grub kyi dkyil 'khor), and the supreme bliss of their offspring is the fundamental maôçala of enlightened mind, without duality of expanse and pristine cognition (byang chub sems kyi dkyil 'khor).

Discipline in the context of Anuyoga refers to the nine categories of commitments described in the sixty-sixth chapter of the Sütra which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dgongs pa 'dus pa, Derge Vol. 7). Meditation here comprises the path of means (thabs lam) which utilises the energy channels, currents of vital energy and focal points of seminal energy either with reference to the meditator's subtle body or in union with a yogic partner, and the path of liberation (grol lam) which comprises the non-conceptual meditative stability in the nature of reality and symbolic meditative stability in the nature of the meditational deities, who are said, here, to appear instantly "in the manner of a fish leaping from the water."

The conduct observed by practitioners of Anuyoga implies that all things are regarded with an attitude of sameness, and that acts of consecration, blessing and skilful means can be effectively performed. Lastly, the result attained by practitioners of Anuyoga is the actualisation of the twenty-five resultant realities ('bras bu chos nyer lnga) of the buddha-level within one lifetime.


The essence of Atiyoga practice, also known as the Great Perfection (rdzogs pa chen po), is that liberation occurs in primordial buddhahood (ye nas sangs rgyas pa), without renunciation, acceptance, hope or doubt. The Sanskrit term atiyoga is defined as the "highest union" because it is the culmination of all vehicles, and of both the generation and perfection stages.

As to the aforementioned six-fold classification: the empowerment of the expressive power of awareness (rig pa'i rtsal dbang) is initially conferred, and the vehicle is then entered, without engaging in mundane activities.

The view maintained by Atiyoga practitioners is that all things of cyclic existence (saæsära) and nirväôa are present as primordial buddhahood within the unique point of seminal energy (thig le nyag gcig) , identified with the buddha-body of reality (chos sku).

Discipline in the context of Atiyoga includes the observance of commitments known as nothingness or ineffability (med pa), openness (phyal ba), uniqueness or oneness (gcig pa), and spontaneous presence (lhun grub). Meditation here comprises the three classes of the Great Perfection- Mental, Spatial and Esoteric Instructional (sems klong man ngag gi sde gsum)- the last of which includes the most advanced techniques of Cutting Through Resistance (khregs chod) and All-Surpassing Realisation (thod rgal).

The conduct observed by practitioners of Atiyoga is devoid of acceptance or rejection. Lastly, the result attained by practitioners of Atiyoga is that the goal (buddhahood) is reached at the present moment, on the level of spontaneously perfect Samantabhadra.

Taking all these points into account, the prime distinction between the three inner classes of tantra is therefore that Mahäyoga, the basis, cultivates the realisation of primordial buddhahood in a gradual manner, Anuyoga does so in a spontaneous or perfect manner, and Atiyoga is the Great Perfection underlying both approaches- the goal itself.


According to the Nyingma tradition, some four hundred texts representative of these three inner classes of tantra were translated from Sanskrit and other languages, into Tibetan during the eighth and early ninth centuries, under the royal patronage of King Trisong Detsen and his successors. This great literary achievement was brought about at Drajurling in Samye through the combined efforts of invited foreign scholars (paôçita) and indigenous Tibetan translators (lo tsä ba), of whom the names of over sixty are recorded in the extant colophons of the texts they translated.
The texts were not publicly taught but applied in practice with great secrecy, in accordance with the ancient Indian tradition, by the first generation Tibetan students of Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and other great accomplished masters in the remote meditation hermitages at Chimphu, Dra Yangdzong, Chuwori, Yerpa and Sheldrak. Many of the neophytes, including Nyak Jñänakumära, are consequently said to have manifested the supreme and common spiritual accomplishments (siddhi), and to have established their own teaching lineages. For this reason, the esoteric higher classes of tantra were excluded from the lDan dkar ma catalogue of translations, which was compiled during the early ninth century by two foremost students of Padmasambhava, as a list of all the exoteric texts (sütras, vinaya and so on) that had been translated for wider propagation. Then, when concerted efforts were made in the early ninth century to standardise the terminology and orthography of the early exoteric translations, the more esoteric texts representing the three classes of tantra were left unaltered on account of their secrecy and great sanctity. This is recounted in the sGra sbyor bam gnyis, an important ninth century manual on the transliteration and translation of Sanskrit terms, which in fact says:

Because of their great strictness the inner tantras of the secret mantras are not here set forth.
During the persecution of King Langdarma (r. 841-846) which followed, the institutions of monastic Buddhism were dismantled in the Tibetan heartlands, but the esoteric practices of the inner tantras were secretly maintained by Nubchen Sangye Yeshe and his contemporaries in the vicinity of Lake Yamdrok. The subsequent assassination of Langdarma weakened the royal dynasty, and the country soon disintegrated in the wake of three catastrophic rebellions. Later, in the eleventh century, when the new wave of translations was introduced to Tibet by the likes of Rinchen Zangpo, Drokmi Lotsäwa, and Marpa Lotsäwa, polemical edicts were written against the practice of the early tantras by Lha Lama Yeshe-o (947-1024) the king of Gu-ge in far-west Tibet, who was a fifth generation descendent of Langdarma, and by Go Khugpa Lhe-tse. It is largely for this reason that these texts were not eventually included in the Tibetan Tripiåaka (Kangyur), which is essentially a 14th century compilation of the later translations. Even so, the Kangyur does includes a short selection of early tantras in its rNying rGyud section (T. 828-844), which may have, as Ngagi Wangpo claims, been inserted during the 14th century by Upa Losal Sangye Bum. These comprise only the principal texts representing each of the three classes, namely- the Tantra of the All-Accomplishing King (Kun byed rgyal po, T. 828) which exemplifies the Mental Class (sems sde) of Atiyoga, the Sütra Which Gathers All Intentions (mDo dgongs-pa 'dus pa, T. 829) and its root the All-Gathering Awareness (Kun 'dus rig pa, T. 831) along with the Flash of Splendour (Ye shes rngam glog, T. 830) which represent Anuyoga, and a series of tantras belonging to the Mahäyoga class, viz. T. 832-844, which will be discussed below (see pp. 00-00).

For such reasons, the complete Collected Tantras of the Ancient Tradition (rnying ma'i rgyud 'bum) came to be compiled independently of the Tibetan Tripiåaka. It was through the determined efforts of the Zur family that the bulk of the early tantras, later to be excluded from the Kangyur, were stored at Ugpalung in Tsang, which was the main centre of Nyingma activity in the Tibetan heartlands from the era of Zurpoche àäkya Jungne (late tenth/ early eleventh century) until the fourteenth century. Zurpoche gathered these early tantras from all possible sources, including some in the possession of his contemporary Rok àäkya Jungne, who imparted them through their mutual student Zangom Sherab Gyalpo. Zurpoche then introduced the systematic study and practice of the tantras at his college and hermitage in Ugpalung, while his successors Zurchung Sherab Drak (1014-74) and Zur àäkya Senge (1074-1135) widely disseminated the teaching of the early tantras from their nearby hermitages at Drak Gyawo and Drophuk respectively.

Slightly later, in 1192 or 1206, Drogon Namka Pelwa, the son of the illustrious treasure-finder Nyangrel Nyima Ozer, commissioned a new manuscript edition of the early tantras, inscribed in gold (rgyud 'bum gser bris ma), probably based on the Ugpalung collection, at his ancestral residence of Mawachok in Southern Tibet. This was undertaken as an act of devotion, coinciding with the death of his father.

Then, in the early 14th century, a descendent of the Zur family named Zur Zangpopel utilised the material resources, which he had obtained in the form of commissions and gifts from the Mongol emperor Buyantu (r. 1311-1320), to prepare printing-blocks for twenty-eight texts of the early tantras and their commentaries, which were preserved at Ugpalung, including the Guhyagarbha Tantra (T. 832), and its celebrated Indian commentary by Viläsavjara, the so-called sPar khab Commentary (Guhyagarbhamahätantra-räjaåïkä, P. 4718). He is said to have printed a thousand copies of each and distributed them to students. This account cannot be corroborated because the xylographs and their copies are no longer extant, but, if true, the project would certainly rank among the earliest Tibetan attempts to introduce woodblock printing. It is possible, as Bryan J. Cuevas has noted, that the manuscript version of the Collected Tantras that was formerly preserved at Thandrok Monastery in Kongpo was brought there around this time, because the third generation lineage-holder of Karma Lingpa, one Gyarawa Namkha Chokyi Gyatso (b. 1430) received the transmission there.

At any rate, the dissemination of the early tantra texts remained somewhat tenuous until the fifteenth century, when the treasure-finder Ratna Lingpa (1403-1471) made great efforts to gather source materials from all quarters, including the provisional set of the Collected Tantras which was preserved at Ugpalung, and he received their complete transmission from the aged Megom Samten Zangpo of Tsang, who alone held their continuous lineage at that time. Later, Ratna Lingpa integrated these texts with certain other tantras in his possession, including some that had been revealed as gter ma in the preceeding centuries, and he compiled two new manuscript editions of the Collected Tantras in 40 short-length volumes, at Lhundrub Palace, his residence in Drushul, the earlier one inscribed in black ink, and the later one in gold. He transmitted the collection many times to ensure their continuity through the succession of his own familial line and that of the treasure finder Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), which are both intimately connected with the Lhodrak border region and neighbouring Bhutan. In this way, the lineage was transmitted from Ratna Lingpa through: Tshewang Drakpa (his elder son); Ngawang Drakpa (his younger son); Ngawang Norbu (his grandson); Norbu Yongdrak; Gyelse Norbu Wangyal; Peling Sungtrul III Tshultrim Dorje (1598-1669); Garwang Tsultrim Gyeltsen of Bonlung; Peling Thuk-se IV Tendzin Gyurme Dorje (1641-ca1702); Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa of Mindroling (1646-1714); Peling Sungtrul IV Ngawang Kunzang Dorje (1680-1723); Peling Thuk-se V Gyurme Chodrub Pelbar (ca. 1708-1750); Pema Dondrub Drakpa; Peling Sungtrul VI Kunzang Tenpei Gyeltsen (1763-1817); Bakha Kunzang Rigdzin Dorje; Peling Sungtrul VIII Kunzang Tenpei Nyima (1843-1891); Bakha Rigdzin Khamsum Yongdrol; Orgyan Namdrol Gyatso; and Gendun Gyatso; from whom it subsequently descended to the late Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904-87).

It appears that two extant manuscript versions of the Collected Tantras, those of Tsamdrak (mtshams brag) and Gangteng (sgang steng) in Bhutan, could well be derivatives of Ratna Lingpa's compilation. The latter has recently been photographed by Robert Mayer, but not yet catalogued. The former, in 46 short-length volumes, has been reprinted in photo offset format in Chengdu. A printed index to this edition was initially prepared by Anthony Barber in Taipei and included within the Taipei edition of the Tibetan Tripiåaka. More recently, this has been expanded into a full internet version, including all chapter titles and colophons, by David Germano's project at the University of Virtginia.

Yet, the proceess of redaction did not end with Ratna Lingpa. During the early seventeenth century Gongra Lochen Zhenpen Dorje (1594-1654), a native of Sikkim, studied under Peling Sungtrul III Tshultrim Dorje and Sodokpa Lodro Gyeltsen (1552-ca1624); and he is best known as a teacher of Sangdak Trinle Lhundrub (1611-62), the father of Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa, of Mindroling. He prepared manuscript copies of the Collected Tantras on three occasions, integrating the compilations of Zur Zangpopel and Ratna Lingpa. The first copy was retained at his monastery of Gongra Nyesang Dorjeling in Tsang, while the other two were despatched to Kham and Kongpo. The Sakyapa lama Sangye Dorje is reported to have brought one of these manuscripts to Takbu Drakmar Monastery in the Yangtze gorge region around this time.

The great treasure-finder Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa (1646-1714), founder of Mindroling Monastery, who enjoyed the patronage of the Fifth Dalai Lama, is known to have prepared a new manuscript of the Collected Tantras in 23 long volumes (pod chen), inscribed in silver and gold, and based on four earlier manuscripts in his possession: those of Ugpalung, Kongpo Thangdrok, Tsangrong Monastery, and his own ancestral seat at Dargye Choling. According to his brother Lochen Dharmaârï (1654-1717), this new manuscript edition had a more methodical structure and also a catalogue in one volume, but it is, alas, no longer extant, Mindroling having been sacked by the Dzungar Mongols in 1717. However, one of his students Dalai Qutuqtu Ngawang Sherub Gyatso from Amdo succeeded in copying the manuscript, and on returning to Amdo, he prepared a newer version in 30 volumes, inscribed in black ink. This was one of the sources utilised in the compilation of the Derge xylographic edition and it was considered at that time to be accurate and reliable.
Meanwhile, in the late 17th century, another copy of the Mindroling manuscript was brought to Takbu Drakmar monastery by Kunzang Namgyel and Kunzang Lodro, who integrated it with the earlier manuscript from Gongra Nyesang Dorjeling, and produced their own version. Their compilation was yet another important source utilised in the preparation of the Derge xylographic edition.

Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), a native of Chongye Pelri, whose revelations of the Innermost Spirituality of Longchenpa (Klong chen snying thig) are widely practised at the present day, resolved to prepare a new manuscript edition of the Collected Tantras following the destruction of the Nyingma monastic centres of Dorje Drak and Mindroling by the Dzungar Mongols. Backed by numerous sponsors, headed by Chakzam Rinpoche of Chuwori, during the years 1771-2 he did prepare a new manuscript edition in 25 volumes- 26 with the addition of his own catalogue, including altogether 384 texts, with the first five pages of each volume written in ink made of the five precious substances: gold, silver, turquoise, coral and pearl, and the remaining folios in black ink on a white background (skya chos). The manuscript included fifty frontispience icons depicting lineage-holders, two on the first page of each volume, and it was housed at his native residence in Chongye Pelri. The sources that he utilised included the provisional collection from Ugpalung that had been recompiled by Kunpang Drakyel, the aforementioned manuscript from Thangdrok in Kongpo, the 40 volume manuscript of Ratna Lingpa from Drushul, the 23 volume manuscript from Mindroling, and the Fifth Dalai Lama's Record of Teachings Received (gSan yig). Although his manuscript is no longer extant, he was the first to prepare a detailed catalogue and history of this collection, entitled the Narrative History of the Precious Collected Tantras of the Ancient Translation School; the Ornament Covering All Jambudvïpa (sNga 'gyur rgyud 'bum rin po che'i rtogs pa brjod pa 'dzam gling tha grur khyab pa'i rgyan). All later compilers have relied on this catalogue which is included in the nine volumes of his Collected Works. The structure of this catalogue suggests that the tantra texts of Atiyoga occupied the first nine volumes (in the sequence: Mental Class, Spatial Class and Esoteric Instructional Class). The tantra texts of Anuyoga were contained in volumes 10 and 11, while those of Mahäyoga occupied volumes 12-25.

The independent kingdom of Derge was a vital centre for the evolution of the non-sectarian (ris med) movement during the 18th and 19th centuries. King Tenpa Tsering (1678-1738) brought Derge to the zenith of its power by conquering the outlying grasslands of Dzachuka, where Dzogchen and Zhechen monastereies are located. In 1729 he founded the celebrated Derge Parkhang, which was completed in 1750 by his successors. Here, a new xylographic edition of the Kangyur was edited by Situ Chokyi Jung-ne of Pelpung (1700-74) and a new edition of the Tengyur commentaries by Zhuchen Tsultrim Rinchen. Although Derge Gonchen itself espoused the Ngor tradition of Sakya, Nyingma influence reached its height here during this period. The king's successor Sawang Zangpo died in his 25th year and power was then held by his Queen Gajeza Tsewang Lhamo during the infancy of the crown prince. The queen was closely aligned with Jigme Lingpa's student Dodrubchen I Jigme Trinle Ozer (1743-1821), who aroused her interest in and devotion to the Nyingma tradition in particular.

In 1794 Rigdzin Thok-me Lingpa, a student of the influential treasure-finder Nyima Drakpa, donated one thousand silver srang to support the carving of a set of xylographs for the Collected Tantras. The queen then commissioned Getse Paôçita Gyurme Tshewang Chodrub of Katok and Pema Namdak to collate and edit a new master edition, which was prepared between 1794 and 1798, along with further sets of xylographs for the Collected Works of Longchen Rabjampa and Jigme Lingpa. This new compilation of the Collected Tantras, which is still extant in Derge Parkhang, having survived the Cultural Revolution intact, comprises 26 long-folio volumes, and 414 texts, printed in vermilion ink. There are 56 icons depicting lineage holders, from Samantabhadra to Prince Tsewang Dorje Rigdzin of Derge, two on the frontispiece folio of each volume.

This compilation is renowned for its distinct editorial methodology, outlined by Getse Paôçita himself, in his accompanying catalogue, entitled Discourse Resembling A Divine Drum (bDe bar gshegs pa'i sde snod rdo rje theg pa snga 'gyur rgyud 'bum rin po che'i rtogs pa brjod pa lha'i rnga bo che lta bu'i gtam.) which was written in 1797. As he states therein, various sources for the Collected Tantras were consulted, including the aformentioned manuscripts from Chongye Pelri, Amdo, and Takbu Drakmar, as well as others from Katok, Pelpung, Gonjo Jasang Solu, and Dzogchen- the last of these having been compiled by Dzogchen II Gyurme Thekchok Tendzin (1699-1757) on the basis of the earlier Gongra and Mindroling manuscripts. Individual texts within the collection were then compared with other well established editions, including the Seventeen Tantras of the Esoteric Instructional Class (rDzogs chen man ngag rgyud bco bdun). In some cases, texts, such as Guhyasamäja Tantra, overlapped with the tantras of the new translation schools, and in others the terminology was checked against that employed in the Seven Treasuries of Longchenpa (Klong chen mdzod bdun). Sanskrit transcriptions were standardised, and archaicisms sometimes replaced by new orthography. The proof readers also claim to have frequently resorted to intellectual reasoning during the editorial process.

The actual catalogue to the Derge edition of the Collected Tantras, which is appended to Getse Paôçita's treatise, naturally follows the order of the texts as they were compiled in Derge. Volumes 1-6 (KA-CHA) contain the tantra texts of Atiyoga, here ordered in the sequence: Yang ti cycle, sPyi ti cycle, Esoteric Instructions (Yang gsang bla med cycle, gSang ba cycle, Phyi nang cycles), Spatial Class and Mental Class. Volumes 7-8 (JA-NYA) contain the text of Anuyoga, and Vols 9-24 (TA-YA) the texts of Mahäyoga. Volume 25 (RA) contains supplementary texts of Atiyoga, and the catalogue is placed at the end, in Volume 26 (A).

Copies of this Derge xylographic edition and catalogue are to be found outside Tibet. Short modern catalogues of the compilation, omitting chapter titles, have been produced by Thubten Chodar (op cit, pp. 58-254), Jean-Luc Achard (electronic journal, 2003), Giacomella Orofino, Cathy Cantwell, Adelheid Pfandt and others. Partial longer catalogues including all chapter titles and colophons have also been prepared in unpublished formats by Giacomella Orofino and Jean-Luc Achard. Much of this previous work is now being transformed into an internet version at the University of Virginia.

There is also an elegant extant manuscript of the Collected Tantras, that bears some doxographical relationship to the Derge edition, in thirty volumes (originally 33 vols.), twenty-nine of which are housed in the India Office Library in London (Waddell Collection, 1904-5), and the other (vol. 1) in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It has been suggested that this manuscript, now known as the Rigdzin edition, is possibly the work of Trinle Dudjom Gonang Choje (1726-1789), a student of Katok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755) whose icon is given pride of place in the introductory volume. The manuscript has been comprehensively catalogued by Robert Mayer and Cathy Cantwell in an internet version, and a published paper version is forthcoming (see Cantwell, Mayer and Fischer, 2000).

Then there is the Kyirong manuscript, attributed to students of Trinle Dudjom Gonang Choje, and preserved in Kathmandu. The Kyirong area where Katok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu himself passed away is known to have been a centre for Nyingma activity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This manuscript has been documented by Franz Karl Ehrhard, who also made available photocopies of a traditional catalogue for the Nubri edition of NW Nepal, with which it has a doxographical relationship.

In 1973, a new Indian reprint of the Collected Tantras was prepared under the patronage of HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche based on a manuscript preserved at Tingkye. This reprint comprises thirty-six volumes, of which vols. 1-10 include the tantra-texts of Atiyoga, vols. 11-13 include the sütra and tantra-texts of Anuyoga and vols. 14-33 include the texts of Mahäyoga. Volume 34 contains Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa's catalogue, while volumes 35-36 contain the index of Gyurme Tshewang Chodrub. A modern catalogue to this edition of the Collected Tantras by Eiichi Kaneko was published in Japan in 1982, and this work is currently being reformatted for internet publication at the University of Virginia.

The reader should also be aware that there are other partial extant compilations, some of which correspond to sections of the Collected Tantras, such as the Seventeen Tantras of the Nyingma School (rNying ma'i rgyud bcu bdun), and others which contain considerable variations, such as the The Rgyud 'bum of Vairocana. In fact, since so many distinct manuscript versions of the Collected Tantras have been produced over the centuries by diverse lineage-holders with their own distinctive regional affiliations, it is not surprising that they frequently differ in their content and arrangement.
It is on account of its widely recognised editorial accuracy that reference numbers to the prestigious Derge xylographic edition are given precedence in the present work. However, some references are also made to the Tingkye edition, on account of its convenience and accessibility. Readers should also be aware that the arrangement of the Derge edition differs markedly from that of Jigme Lingpa's earlier catalogue by including extensive series of tantra texts discovered as gter ma, as well as Lochen Dharmaârï's commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra and a supplementary anthology of Atiyoga texts in volume 25.

Although at this juncture, a systematic study of the literature contained in Derge vols. 1-8 (KA-NYA) and vol. 25 (RA) would contribute definitively to our knowledge of Atiyoga and Anuyoga, it is the immediate concern of this introduction to focus on the texts of Mahäyoga, since it is within the Mahäyoga category of the 'Gyud 'bum that the Guhyagarbha Tantra is to be found, despite the connection with Atiyoga which has been drawn by some later Tibetan commentators.


The texts of Mahäyoga are divided into two classes- tantras (rgyud sde) and means for attainment (sgrub sde). The former (Derge vols. 9-14, Tingkye vols. 14-19) comprise the exoteric corpus of literature from which the latter, the esoteric practices (Derge vols.15-24, Tingkye Vols. 20-33), are drawn. Tingkye vols. 31-32 also respectively contain the general tantras (spyi rgyud) and the particular tantras (sgos rgyud) associated with the original Indian gter ma recension of the Tantra of the Gathering of the Sugatas of the Eight Transmitted Precepts (sGrub chen bka' brgyad dbe 'dus kyi rgyud), from which the later Tibetan gter ma cycles of the Eight Transmitted Precepts (bka' brgyad) derive.

The class of means for attainment (sgrub sde) has five main sections, corresponding to the five supramundane meditational deities, viz. Yamäntaka ('Jam dpal gzhin rje gshad pa'i rgyud skor, Derge vols. 15-17, Tingkye vols. 20-22, T. 838), Hayagrïva/ Aâvottama (dPal rta mgrin padma dbang chen rta mchog rol pa'i rgyud sde rnams, Derge vols. 17-18, Tingkye vols. 23-24), àrïheruka (dPal yang dag thugs kyi rgyud sde rnams, Derge vols. 18-19, Tingkye vol. 25), Vajrämöta ('Chi med bdud rtsi yon tan gyi rgyud sde rnams, Derge vols. 19-20, Tingkye vol. 26, T. 841), and Vajrakïla/ Vajrakumära (bCom ldan 'das dpal rdo rje phur pa'i rgyud sde rnams, Derge vols. 20-22, Tingkye vols. 27-29). The following three mundane meditational deities are also included: Mätaraë (Ma mo srid pa'i dzong lung chen mo yum bzung ma'i dngos grub chen mo'i rgyud rnams dang ma mo rtsa rgyud 'bum tig gi skor, Derge vols. 22-23, Tingkye vols. 30-31, Vol. 33, T. 842), Lokastotrapüjä (bstan srung 'jig rten mchod bstod, Derge vol. 24, Tingkye vol. 32, T. 844), and Vajramantrabhïru (rmod pa drag sngags, Derge vol. 24, Tingkye vol. 32, T. 843).

The class of tantras (rgyud sde) is otherwise known as the Eighteen Tantrapiåaka of Mahäyoga, a basic cycle of texts traditionally held to have been subdivided from the Hundred Thousand Verses of the Magical Net (sGyu 'phrul stong phrag brgya pa) by Kukkuräja, on whom see below, pp. 00-00. Different enumerations of these Eighteen Tantrapiåaka have been recorded in the works of Longchen Rabjampa, Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa, Terdak Lingpa, Zhechen Gyaltshab Pema Namgyel and others.

In the Thunderous Melody of Brahmä, A General Introduction to the Mantras (sNgags kyi spyi don tshangs dbyangs 'brug sgra), Longchen Rabjampa (1308-63) classifies the eighteen according to buddha-body, -speech, -mind, -attributes, -activities, and all-embracing universality as follows:

Langchen Rabok, the tantra representing the body aspect of buddha-body (sku'i sku rgyud Glang po rab 'bog);
Langpo Churjuk, the tantra representing the speech aspect of buddha-body ( sku'i gsung rgyud Glang po chur 'jug);
Buddhasamäyoga, the tantra representing the mind aspect of buddha-body (sku'i thugs rgyud Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor);
Riwo Tsekpa, the tantra representing the body aspect of buddha-speech (gsung gi sku rgyud Ri bo brtsegs pa);
Padma Wangchen, the tantra representing the speech aspect of buddha-speech (gsung gi gsung rgyud Padma dbang chen);
Candraguhyatilaka, the tantra representing the mind aspect of buddha-speech (gsung gi thugs rgyud Zla gsang thig le);
Tsemo Dupa, the tantra representing the body aspect of buddha-mind (thugs kyi sku rgyud rTse mo 'dus pa);
Cikle Tropa, the tantra representing the speech aspect of buddha-mind (thugs kyi gsung rgyud gCig las 'phros pa);
Guhyasamäja, the tantra representing the mind aspect of buddha-mind (thugs kyi thugs rgyud gSang ba 'dus pa);
Dronme Barwa, the tantra representing the body aspect of buddha-attributes (yon tan gyi sku rgyud sGron me 'bar ba);
Dutsi Samaya Bumde, the tantra representing the speech aspect of buddha-attributes (yon tan gyi gsung rgyud bDud rtsi samaya 'bum sde);
àrïparamädya, the tantra representing the mind aspect of buddha-attributes (yon tan gyi thugs rgyud dPal mchog dang po);
Paltreng Karpo, the tantra representing the body aspect of buddha-activities (phrin las kyi sku rgyud dPal phreng dkar po);
Mamo Gyulung, the tantra representing the speech aspect of buddha-activities (phrin las kyi gsung rgyud Ma mo rgyud lung);
Vidyottama Bumde, the tantra representing the mind aspect of buddha-activities (phrin las kyi thugs rgyud Bidyotamala 'bum sde);
Thabzhak, the tantra representing the body aspect of all-embracing universality (spyi'i sku rgyud Thabs zhags);
Damtshik Kopa, the tantra representing the speech aspect of all-embracing universality (spyi'i gsung rgyud Dam tshig bkod pa);
Guhyagarbha-Mäyäjäla, the tantra representing the mind aspect of all-embracing universality (spyi'i thugs rgyud gSang ba sgyu 'phrul).

Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa (1504-66) in his Scholar's Feast of Doctrinal History (Chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dga' ston), enumerates the eighteen differently, but with the same basic sixfold classification:

Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor, Glang chen rab 'bog, Glang chen mtshor zhugs te sku'i rgyud gsum;
Zla gsang thig le, gCig las 'phro pa, Du ma 'phro pa ste gsung gi rgyud gsum;
gSang ba 'dus pa, Ri bo brtsegs pa, rTse gcig 'dus pa ste thugs kyi rgyud gsum;
dPal mchog dang po, bDud rtsi mchog dang po, Yid bzhin nor bu'i rgyud ste yon tan gyi rgyud gsum;
Karma ma la, sGron me 'bar ba, Kilaya yig 'bru bcu gnyis te phrin las kyi rgyud gsum;
sGyu 'phrul dra ba, Dam tshig bkod pa, Thabs kyi zhags pa ste spyi'i rgyud gsum.

The enumeration which generally gained acceptance from the time of Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa onwards and which corresponds quite closely to the structure of the Tingkye manuscript edition of the Collected Tantras is that given by Zhechen Gyaltshab Pema Namgyel (1871-1926) in his Pool of White Lotuses: an Abridged Discourse on the Origin of the Eight Chariots forming the Lineage of the Means for Attainment (sGrub brgyud shing rta brgyad kyi byung ba brjod pa'i gtam mdor bsdus legs bshad padma dkar po'i rdzing bu), and inferred by Dudjom Rinpoche in The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History:

The five great tantras of buddha-body, speech, mind, attributes and activities are respectively Buddhasamäyoga (Derge vols. 11-12, Tingkye vol. 16, T. 366-7), Candraguhyatilaka (Derge vol. 12, Tingkye vol. 16, T. 477), Guhyasamäja (Derge vol. 12, Tingkye vol. 17, T. 442-3), àrïparamädya (Derge vol. 12, Tingkye vol. 17, T. 487), and Karmamäla (Derge vol. 12, Tingkye vol. 17); the five tantras concerned with means for attainment are Heruka rol pa (Derge vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 18), rTa mchog rol pa (Derge vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 18, T. 839), sNying rje rol pa (Derge vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 18, T. 840), bDud rtsi rol pa (Derge vol 13, Tingkye vol. 18), and Phur pa bcu gnyis pa (Derge vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 19); The five tantras concerned with conduct are Ri bo brtsegs pa (Tingkye vol. 6), Ye shes rngam glog (Derge vol. 7, Tingkye vol. 12, T. 830), Dam tshig bkod pa (Derge vol. 5, Tingkye vol. 12), Ting 'dzin rtse gcig (Derge vol. 2, Tingkye vol. 8), and gLang chen rab 'bog (Derge, vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 19); the two supplementary tantras are rNam snang sgyu 'phrul drva ba (Tingkye vol. 19, T. 466) and Thabs kyi zhags pa (Derge vol. 13, Tingkye vol. 19, T. 835); and the single tantra which summarises all the others is Guhyagarbha (Derge vols. 9-11, Tingkye vols. 14-16, T. 832-837).
All these doxographical systems in common give precedence to the Guhyagarbha Tantra and its cycle of texts, known as the Magical Net (Mäyäjäla/ sGyu 'phrul drva ba), whether it is classified as the tantra representing the mind aspect of all-embracing universality (spyi'i thugs rgyud), the tantra of universality (spyi rgyud), the universal among tantras of universality (spyi'i spyi rgyud), or the single tantra which summarises all the others (thams cad kyi bsdus don lta bu'i rgyud sde gcig). This is also implicit in the name of the original basic tantra from which all these eighteen texts were reputedly subdivided by Kukkuräja.


The corpus of tantra texts known as the Magical Net (Mäyäjäla), to which the Guhyagarbha Tantra belongs, comprises both an eightfold and a fourfold division. It is indeed remarkable that this extensive cycle of texts has until relatively recently been ignored by western scholarship, when it would seem to merit the same attention given by Edward Conze and his successors to the Prajñäpäramitä literature, a renowned voluminous cycle within the sütra tradition. Early historical and literary references to certain texts connected with the Mäyäjäla cycle are found in the Dunhuang manuscripts, as well as in the writings of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (fl. 9th century) and Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (fl. 11th century), as S.G. Karmay has indicated. Among Nubchen's compositions there is reported to have been a Commentary on the Realisation of the Eighty Chapter Magical Net (sGyu 'phrul brgyad cu pa'i mngon rtogs 'grel) which is no longer extant.

The earliest extant specific references to the eightfold and fourfold divisions per se are probably to be found in the various recensions of the Injunctions of Padmasambhava (Padma'i bka' thang), among which the Injunctions of Padmasambhava Discovered at Crystal Rock (Padma bka' thang shel brag ma), an extant gter ma source attributed to Yarje Orgyan Lingpa (1323-c.1360) contains the following verses:

The fourfold division of the Magical Net including the Magical Net of Vairocana (rNam snang la sogs sgyu 'phrul sde bzhi dang),
The eightfold division of the Magical Net including the Guhya[garbha], Magical Net of Vajrasattva (gSang ba rdor sems sgyu 'phrul sde tshan brgyad).
The same text additionally asserts that Padmasambhava himself drew up the eightfold division of the Mäyäjäla cycle (sGyu 'phrul sde brgyad) with the assistance of the translators Kawa Paltsek and Chokrolui Gyeltsen.
Sangye Lingpa (1340-1396) in the Golden Rosary Injunction of Padmasambhava (bKa' thang ser phreng), provides the following complete enumeration of the eightfold division, indicating the distinct emphasis of each text:

1. Tantra of the Secret Indestructible Reality, from the Magical Net, which reveals mind and pristine cognition to be naturally [manifesting] (sems dang ye shes rang la bstan pa'i rgyud sGyu 'phrul rdo rje gsang ba);
2. Forty-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net, which presents the aspects of buddha-activity (phrin las kha tshar ston pa'i rgyud sGyu 'phrul bzhi bcu pa);
3. Tantra of the Indestructible Spiritual Teacher, from the Magical Net, which crystalises the essence of the empowerments (dbang gi ngo bo mngon du gyur pa'i phyir sGyu 'phrul rdo rje bla ma'i rgyud);
4. Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net, which discloses the commitments and the esoteric instructions concerning the view (dam tshig dang lta ba'i man ngag ston pa sGyu 'phrul le lag don bsdus kyi rgyud);
5. Eight-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net, which is the key to this entire tantra [cycle] (rgyud kyi lde mig tu gyur pa'i rgyud sGyu 'phrul le'u brgyad pa);
6. Tantra of the Goddess, from the Magical Net, which manifests the play of spiritual emanation (rol pa mngon du gyur par bya ba'i phyir Lha mo sgyu 'phrul gyi rgyud);
7. Eighty-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net, which supplements the preceding texts (de rnams kyi ma tshang ba kha skong ba'i rgyud sGyu 'phrul brgyad bcu pa);
8. Tantra of Manjuârï, from the Magical Net, which expounds the supreme ultimate pristine cognition (don dam ye shes chen po bshad pa 'Jam dpal sgyu 'phrul drva ba'i rgyud).

This, significantly, is the enumeration of the eightfold division to have been accepted by later historians and commentators, such as Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa (1504-1566), Sodokpa Lodro Gyeltsen (1552-1624), and Lochen Dharmaârï (1654-1717). In Pawo's Scholar's Feast of Doctrinal History (Chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dga' ston), these eight primary texts are described in the following terms:

1. Guhyagarbha, the root-tantra which presents all things as naturally manifesting (thams cad rang snang du ston pa rtsa rgyud gSang ba'i snying po);
2. Tantra of the Goddess from the Magical Net, which clearly describes the play of spiritual emanation (rol pa mngon par brjod pa Lha mo sgyu 'phrul);
3. Eight-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net, which is a presentation of the maôçalas (dkyil 'khor ston pa sGyu 'phrul brgyad pa);
4. Forty-chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net, which is a presentation of buddha-activities (phrin las ston pa sGyu 'phrul bzhi bcu pa);
5. Tantra of the Spirtual Teacher, from the Magical Net, which emphasises the empowerments (dbang gtso bor ston pa sGyu 'phrul bla ma);
6. Eighty-chapter Tantra from the Magical Net, which conclusively presents the array of buddha-attributes (yon tan mthar phyin par ston pa sGyu 'phrul brgyad bcu pa);
7. Great Tantra, from the Magical Net, which comprehensively presents all the piåakas (sde snod yongs la khyab par ston pa sGyu 'phrul dra ba chen po);
8. Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net, which emphasises the commitments (dam tshig gtso bor ston pa sGyu 'phrul le lag).

The same author also provides a set of four exegetical tantras (bshad rgyud), which do not correspond to the so-called fourfold division of the Magical Net (sGyu 'phrul sde bzhi), namely:

1. Nucleus of Pristine Cognition, which gradually presents the path of liberation (grol lam rim gyis ston pa ye shes snying po);
2. Mirror of Indestructible Reality, which immediately presents [the path of liberation] (cig char ston pa rDo rje me long);
3. Penetration of Indestructible Reality, which gradually presents the path of skilful means (thabs lam rim gyis ston pa rDo rje thal ba);
4. Ocean of Indestructible Reality, which immediately presents [the path of skilful means] (cig char ston pa rDo rje rgya mtsho).

The standard enumeration of the fourfold division of the Magical Net (sGyu 'phrul sde bzhi) is that given by Longchen Rabjampa in the following passage from his Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Phyogs bcu mun sel), and already implied in the writings of Yarje Orgyan Lingpa:

This [cycle of the Magical Net] also comprises four sections, namely, the Tantra of Vajrasattva, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10), which presents all things of cyclic existence (saæsära) and nirväôa to be naturally manifesting and indivisible; the Tantra of Vairocana, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye vol. 19, T. 466) which extensively presents ritual activities and feast-offerings; the Tantra of the Goddess, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 11, Tingkye vol. 15, T. 836) which clearly presents the play of spiritual emanation; and the Tantra of Mañjuârï, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye vol. 15, T. 360) which comprehensively presents the vehicles [that lead to buddhahood].
Longchen Rabjampa additionally claims that the eightfold division is a subclassification of the above-mentioned Tantra of Vajrasattva, from the Magical Net, providing us with a different enumeration:

The Tantra of Vajrasattva from the Magical Net itself has eight sections, namely, the Tantra of the Secret Nucleus (Guhyagarbha Tantra, Derge, vol. 9, Tingkye vol. 14, T. 832) which presents mind and pristine cognition as naturally manifesting; the Forty-Chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye Vol. 14) which perfectly presents the buddha- activities; the Eight-Chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye Vol. 14) which perfectly presents the maôçalas; the Tantra of the Spiritual Teacher, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 11, Tingkye vol. 14, T. 837) which clearly presents the empowerments; the Tantra of Supplementary Points, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye Vol. 14) which emphatically presents the commitments; the Eighty-Chapter Tantra, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 11, Tingkye Vol 14, T. 834) which extensively presents buddha-attributes; the Mirror of Indestructible Reality (Derge vol. 11, Tingkye Vol. 15, T. 833) which clearly presents the symbolic body-colours and hand-held implements of the hundred deities; the Oceanic Tantra, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 10, Tingkye Vol. 15) which clearly presents the generation stage of meditation; and the Penetrating Tantra, from the Magical Net (Derge vol. 11, Tingkye Vol. 15) which clearly presents the path of skilful means.

Of the texts included in the eightfold division by Sangye Lingpa, and later by Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa, Sodokpa Lodro Gyeltshan and Lochen Dharmaârï, Longchen Rabjampa assigns the Lha mo sgyu 'phrul and the 'Jam dpal sgyu 'phrul to the fourfold division, substituting for them three exegetical tantras- rDo rje me long, sGyu 'phrul rgya mtsho, and sGyu 'phrul thal ba.

The tantra texts of this Mäyäjäla cycle which are now extant comprise three volumes of the Derge xylograph collection (vols. 9-11) and two volumes of the Tingkye manuscript (vols. 14-15), along with a substantial portion of volume 16 and one text in volume 19. In Tingkye they are hierarchically arranged, with the texts accepted by both systems as root tantras (rtsa rgyud) first, followed by the exegetical tantras, although one should note that there is some ambiguity because three of the latter are held to be root-tantras by Longchenpa and another two are held to be root-tantras by Sangye Lingpa and Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa. The titles of these extant tantras are listed below, along with a brief resume of each. The detailed contents of the three versions of the Guhyagarbha in particular are given in the tables which follow, and the Tibetan chapter titles and pagination for the entire section may be found in the modern catalogues published by Kaneko and others.

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