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You are here : Home > Books > Tantra > Tantra: Vajrayana Buddhist
Cakrasamvara Tantra
The Discourse of Sri Heruka: Sriherukabhidhana


Extract :
Series Editor's Preface

The Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Tantric tradition is one of the most profound and vast products of indian and Tibetan civilizations. Though some have been inclined to read the literature of this tradition as being the perverse product of a community of delusional and sociopathic yogins, they still acknowledge that it provides a remarkable wealth of data on the contents of the human individual subconscious and collective unconscious-a rich mine of insight for depth psychological researchers. More seriously, it seems much more likely (and more realistic) that this literature represents the normally esoteric codification of the manuals for and results of extraordinary psychic explorations on the part of sophisticated, determined, and courageous Indian and Tibetan philosopher-adventurers, which is how yogin and yogini adepts (siddha) might properly be described. These individuals were practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism, immersed in the evolutionary world of the bodhisattva who lives in a time-stream of millions of lifetimes, aiming to evolve-through the meritorious activities of generosity, morality, and tolerance, and through the psychic and sustained intellectual development of contemplative skill and wisdom-insight-toward the evolutionary summit of buddhahood.

They define buddhahood as the total and eternal freedom from suffering-attained through the perfection of the understanding of the self and the universe and the processes of life and death-conjoined with the perfection of the compassion that enables a buddha-being to assist others in their own evolutionary progress with maximal effectiveness. They progress within the Mahayana way from the exoteric practice of the transcendences (paramita) to the esoteric practices of the Tantras in order to accelerate such evolutionary development, compressing into a single lifetime or a few lifetimes biological and psychological transformations that would normally take lifetimes of positive efforts during thousands or millions of deaths and rebirths.

The Tantric communities of India in the latter half of the first Common Era millennium (and perhaps even earlier) were something like "Institutes of Advanced Studies" in relation to the great Buddhist monastic "Universities." They were research centers for highly cultivated, successfully graduated experts in various branches of Inner Science (adhydtmavidya), some of whom were still monastics and could move back and forth from university (vidyalaya) to "site" (pitha), and many of whom had resigned vows of poverty, celibacy, and so forth, and were living in the classical Indian sainysin or sdhu style. I call them the "psychonauts" of the tradition, in parallel with our "astronauts," the materialist scientist-adventurers whom we admire for their courageous explorations of the "outer space" which we consider the matrix of material reality. Inverse astronauts, the psychonauts voyaged deep into "inner space," encountering and conquering angels and demons in the depths of their subconscious minds.

These Tantric communities seemed to have understood full well the real dangers of falling prey to the forces lurking in such psychic depths- hence the secrecy and warnings of the dangers of the Tantras. As a skillful response to such dangers, the mandala universes of the Tantric imaginaire- such as that of Chakrasamvara, located on the summit of Mount Meru in the Buddhist cosmos, and associated with Mt. Kailash on earth-are realms wherein such explorations can be conducted safely. Just as astronauts have to wear elaborate metal and plastic space suits to venture into the moonscape or the pressureless reaches of outer space, so the holographically visualized life-forms (isthadevata, or "chosen deities") such as Chakrasamvara are embodiments and identities that the adepts can inhabit in order to penetrate areas where otherwise their normal embodiments and identities would be destroyed. These inner scientist adepts claim to have developed such extreme stability of contemplative attention and imagination that they can persist in the continuum of awareness from waking into lucid dream state, and that in the latter they can consciously manifest their body as that of a systematically imagined divine buddha-form, acting in the dream with the identity of being a perfect buddha-deity of the Chakrasamvara mandala palace community. They further claim that they can build on that ability and do the same thing in contemplatively induced out-of-body experience, manifested when the ordinary, coarse body has been stabilized in cataleptic trance, in simulation of near-death and post-death, between-state (antarabhava, bar do) experiences. They thus contend that they can traverse death and rebirth in these subtle, dream-like planes numerous times in a single lifetime, and that they can thereby radically accelerate their evolutionary progress toward what they define as the buddha condition.

Our understanding of these ideas and practices is complicated by the fact that these psychonauts lived in societies in various Indian nations and in Tibet wherein there were numerous other spiritual practitioners who were not Mahayana Buddhists, but tribal shamans, local sorcerers, and religious worshippers of Mahavira, Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti in India, and later in Tibet of the buddha-deities of the Ban practitioners, possibly derived from Zoroastrian deities. Among these, the Shaivite adepts seem to have been the most closely associated with the Chakrasamvara community, since the world of this Tantra seems intimately interactive with the forms of the esoteric Shaivite world. This is all the more interesting, since Shiva himself seems almost a yogin or adept god-"God" as a yogin-with the creation and destruction of the world being the practice of a divine yogin.

The Buddhist myth of Chakrasamvara seems to take aim at the destructive aspect of Shiva-the "world-destroyer" Rudra aspect for which he is well known-seeking to overwhelm its forms and transmute its energies into the bodhisattva enterprise. The most terrible symbol of this is the depiction of the buddha-deity Chakrasamvara standing with his two feet planted on deity forms, his right foot on the back of the neck of Rudra, and his left on the breasts of his consort, Kalaratri. Hindu scholars in the past have understandably found this insulting; and it certainly would be an aggressive affront if these forms were intended for public display. However, they were of course not so intended. Rather, these are esoteric imaginary forms; they are intended as aids (counter-archetypes) to enable one to overwhelm the archetypes of familiar cosmic deities-of whom one is in awe or is deeply afraid-in one's own deep psyche as one rises to the challenge of directly confronting naked reality, without depending on God or Goddess to know everything and to take care of everyone but assuming those responsibilities oneself out of the abundantly messianic drive of the bodhisattva. This powerful symbol thus represents oneself maturing into union with the divine enlightened identity, not depending on any enlightened or divine being outside oneself. This is similar to the shocking Ch'an Buddhist expression, "If you meet a buddha on the road, kill him!" Nobody is getting killed here, and no Rudra is being insulted in the Tantra; it is simply a matter of the practitioner overcoming within herself or himself any vestige of the childish imaginings that the goal state of divine enlightenment is anything outside of one's own self, or belongs to anyone other than oneself.

The present study, critical edition, and annotated translation of the major scripture of the Mother Tantra division of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras represents a remarkable achievement on the part of Dr. Gray. It would have been exceptional at the hand of a senior scholar with decades of experience, and so is all the more admirable as the work of a young scholar in the early part of his career, though it has taken him about a decade to bring it up to this outstanding level. Immersing ourselves in this scripture, as we did in the process of editing Dr. Gray's amazing work, is an exhilarating and somewhat daunting process. There is even a tinge of dread, as its enlightened author prudently intended it to be kept esoteric, not to be widely available to an unprepared public, in order of course to avoid the types of dangers outlined above. Because of the tremendous importance of this major source of the Mother Tantra division of Unexcelled Yoga, Dt Yarnall and myself honored the extraordinary work of David Gray by making strenuous efforts to make sure every detail was clarified, every potentially misunderstandable point was meticulously presented. In this way we have endeavored to follow the example set by His Holiness the Dalai Lama who in forewords to several books on Buddhist Tantra (some including descriptions and representations of rather fierce ritual images) has expressed his wise counsel to the effect that, "Well, traditionally (and probably still now) it would be better not to publish this at all; but if it is going to be published inevitably anyway, it is important to explain it clearly and authoritatively so as to avoid damaging misunderstandings."

Sigmund Freud, in discovering and expounding the subconscious with its id, frill of polymorphously perverse eros and murderous thanatos, unbridled lust and aggression, is not urging us to go out and commit incest, rape, and murder. Yet many people still today do think of Freud as perverse, or at least a bit unsavory, as they themselves live in denial that such impulses exist in the civilized human mind, and of course especially in themselves. Educated persons with any knowledge of psychoanalytic theory and practice, of course, are quite clear on the greatness of Freud et al.'s discoveries and contributions. The modern reception of the Buddhist and Hindu Tantras has been similarly mixed, thought of as "obscene" (Snellgrove), "vulgar" (de la Valle Poussin), "atrocious," "transgressive," and so forth. Of course, we must accept the possibility that they all may be right-we indeed may be encountering here a perverse, demonic cult, sanitized by centuries of pious rationalization. But we must likewise accept the possibility (as I certainly believe) that we are encountering some of the results of an extraordinary inner science, which explored the unconscious of the individual to learn how to transform its energies from negative to positive. Whichever the case, for the moment the present work stands as a major milestone in our progress toward understanding and more fully appreciating this complex, ancient tradition.

We are very pleased and proud to publish this magnificent work today, and so to provide another key resource that makes possible the beginnings of the solid study of this recondite and important tradition. Though the Tantra itself is a part of the Kangyur, not the Tengyur, its translation is fully interconnected with numerous commentaries from the Tengyur, and so it fits perfectly into our Treasury. Therefore, I congratulate David Gray, intrepid translator and meticulous scholar, for this wonderful accomplishment, I thank Dr. Yarnall for his great effort and painstaking care in designing and editing such a complex text, and we invite modern explorers of the Buddhist Tantras to encounter, for the first time, a clear picture of the root textual source of the cult of Chakrasamvara, the "Superbliss Wheel" Buddha.


Robert A. F Thunnan
Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
Director, Columbia Center for Buddhist Studies
President, American Institute of Buddhist Studies
President, Tibet House US

February 18, 2007
New Year's Day, Fire Pig Year


Author's Preface

This book is a study and translation of the Cakrasamvara Tantra, a Buddhist ritual text composed in India during the eighth century by an unknown author or group of authors. It is a work of central importance to the development of tantric Buddhism in India, and it remains an important scripture in many tantric Buddhist communities. Its study and practice is maintained by the Newar Buddhist community in the Kathmandu valley, as well as by many Tibetan Buddhists, not only in Tibet itself but in other regions influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, including Mongolia, Russia, China, and elsewhere, as Tibetan lamas have been living and teaching in diaspora.

The first part of this work consists of a study of the Tantra and its historical significance. While not exhaustive, it does explore a number of important issues, including the dating and provenance of the text and its commentarial tradition. I highlight evidence indicating that the Cakrasamvara Tantra developed in a non-monastic setting, and was composed via the active appropriation of elements of both text and practice belonging to non-Buddhist groups, most notably the Kapalikas, an extreme and quasi-heretical Saiva group focusing on transgressive practices.

Since appropriation invariably entails transformation, I also explore the strategies taken by Buddhists to transform the Cakrasamvara Tantra into a bona fide Buddhist text. These strategies included both active erasure of Saiva elements and the addition and overlay of standard Buddhist terms and concepts. They also include the development of a mythic discourse that explains this appropriation in a manner that privileges the Buddhist perspective, and reduced the Saiva other to a subordinate position. Buddhists also advocated internalized meditative practices that bracketed and neutralized the transgressive exercises that are actually prescribed by the text.

These changes apparently took place as the text and its concomitant tradition of ritual and meditative practice were incorporated into the curricula of several monastic Buddhist communities in Northeastern India, most notably at Vikramasila in what is now West Bengal, where a number of the text's commentators thrived. This process was underway by the ninth century, and continued unabated until these institutions were destroyed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Fortunately, by this time the Cakrasamvara tradition, in both its textual and praxical manifestations, was already transmitted to and established in Nepal and Tibet. Its transmission is ongoing, largely due to the work of Tibetan lamas and their disciples around the world.

The second section of this book is an annotated translation of the Cakrasamvara Tantra. It is based on my own edition of the incomplete Sanskrit manuscripts, the Tibetan translations, and extensive consultation of the Sanskrit and Tibetan commentaries. My edition of the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts will soon be forthcoming. The Cakrasamvara Tantra is a difficult and obscure text, so its translation necessitated frequent and sometimes lengthy annotations. Many of these consist of discussion and analysis of the disparate sources, which often disagree on the reading of a given section of the text. Many also consist of my translations from the commentaries, often accompanied by the Sanskrit when I am working from manuscripts or hard to-obtain Indian editions. I generally do not provide the Tibetan when quoting from the texts in the Kangyur and the Tengyur; unless otherwise noted, I work mainly from the now widely available sde-dge edition of the Tibetan canon.

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