Introduction

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Foreword

In his vast work The Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDams ngag rin po che’i mdzod), Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, that most eminent of Tibetan Buddhist masters, collected together all the empowerments, instructions and practices of the eight great chariots of the practice lineages. Not only that, but he himself received the complete transmissions for all the practices, accomplished them including the retreats, and preserved them in his own mindstream. He then passed on the transmissions to his own students and all who requested them.

The Treasury of Precious Instructions exemplifies how Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye’s whole life was dedicated to teaching and spreading the dharma, whether it be sutra or mantra, kama or terma, old or new translation school, free of sectarian bias. Without his supreme efforts, many traditions of Tibetan Buddhism would have been lost.

The teachings of the Buddha have now spread throughout the Western world, and there is a growing need for major texts to be translated into English so that Western dharma students and scholars have access to these essential teachings. I was, therefore, delighted to hear that having successfully published a translation in ten volumes of Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye’s Treasury of Knowledge (shes bya kun khyab mdzod ), the Tsadra Foundation has embarked on a second major project, the translation of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, and I would like to express my gratitude to them. May their work be of benefit to countless sentient beings.

His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Bodhgaya
February 21, 2016

Translator's Introduction

The Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDams ngag rin po che’i mdzod) is the fourth of the so-called five great treasuries compiled or composed by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye (1813–1900), who also signed as Karma Ngawang Yönten Gyatso in some of the texts herein. Kongtrul was one of the greatest Buddhist masters of Tibet. His accomplishments were so vast and varied that it is impossible to do them justice here. The reader is referred to an excellent short biography in the introduction to the first translated volume of another of his great works, The Treasury of Knowledge, or the lengthy Autobiography of Jamgön Kongtrul. Even if his achievements had consisted solely of his literary output represented in these five treasuries, it would be difficult to comprehend his level of scholarship.

Unlike The Treasury of Knowledge, which is Kongtrul’s own composition, his other four treasuries may be considered anthologies. Kongtrul’s stated mission was to collect and preserve without bias the teachings and practices of all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly those that were in danger of disappearing. The English publication of The Treasury of Knowledge in ten volumes and the forthcoming translations of this Treasury of Precious Instructions in some eighteen volumes, of which this is the first, can attest to the success of his endeavor, perhaps even beyond what he had imagined.

The Treasury of Precious Instructions is, in some ways, the epitome of Kongtrul’s intention. He first conceived of the project around 1870, as always in close consultation with his spiritual friend and mentor, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. The two of them, along with many other great masters, such as Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and Mipam Gyatso, were active in an eclectic trend in which the preservation of the texts of Tibetan Buddhism was paramount.[1] It was with Khyentse’s encouragement and collaboration that Kongtrul had created The Treasury of Knowledge—his incredible summation of all that was to be known—and compiled the anthologies of The Treasury of Kagyu Mantra and The Treasury of Precious Hidden Teachings. This next treasury expanded the scope by aiming to collect in one place the most important instructions of all the main practice lineages.

Kongtrul employed a scheme for organizing the vast array of teachings that flourished, or floundered, in Tibet during his time into the Eight Great Chariots of the practice lineages (sgrub brgyud shing rta chen po brgyad), or eight lineages that are vehicles of attainment. This he based on a much earlier text by Sherap Özer (Skt. Prajñārasmi, 1518–1584).[2] The structure and contents of that early text indicate that the seeds of the so-called nonsectarian movement (ris med) of the nineteenth century in eastern Tibet had already been planted and just needed cultivation. The organizing principle of the scheme was to trace the lineages of the instructions for religious practice that had come into Tibet from India. This boiled down to eight “charioteers”—individuals who could be identified as the conduits between India and Tibet and who were therefore the sources of the practice lineages, all equally valid in terms of origin and comparable in terms of practicum. This scheme of eight practice lineages became a kind of paradigm for the nonsectarian approach championed by Kongtrul and his colleagues.[3]

The Treasury of Precious Instructions implements this scheme in a tangible way by collecting the crucial texts and organizing them around those eight lineages. The very structure of the Treasury thus stands as a statement of the nonsectarian approach. With all these teachings gathered together and set side by side—and each one authenticated by its identification with a direct lineage traced back to the source of Buddhism (India)—maintaining a sectarian attitude would be next to impossible. Or at least that must have been Kongtrul’s hope. In explaining his purpose for the collection, he states:

Generally speaking, in each of the eight great mainstream lineages of accomplishment there exists such a profound and vast range of authentic sources from the sutra and tantra traditions, and such limitless cycles of scriptures and pith instructions, that no one could compile everything.[4]

Nevertheless, he made a good start in The Treasury of Precious Instructions, which he kept expanding over the years until at least 1887. The woodblocks for the original printing—carved at Palpung Monastery, where Kongtrul resided in his nearby retreat center—took up ten volumes. An edition of this is currently available in twelve volumes as the Kundeling printing, published in 1971–1972.[5] With the addition of several missing texts, an expanded and altered version was published in eighteen volumes in 1979–1981 by Dilgo Khyentse. Finally, in 1999 the most complete version became available in the edition published by Shechen Monastery, which is the basis for the current translations.[6] The structure of this enhanced edition, of course, still centers on the eight lineages, as follows:

1. Nyingma (the “Ancient Tradition”), volumes 1 and 2;
2. Kadampa (the “Transmitted Precepts and Instructions Lineage”), volumes 3 and 4;
3. Lamdre (the “Path with Its Result”), volumes 5 and 6;
4. Marpa Kagyu (the “Precept Lineage of Marpa”), volumes 7 through 10;
5. Shangpa Kagyu (the “Precept Lineage of Shang”), volumes 11 and 12;
6. Zhije (“Pacification”), volume 13, and Chöd (“Severance”), volume 14;
7. Jordruk (the “Six Yogas” [of Kalāchakra]”), in volume 15; and
8. Dorje Sumgyi Nyendrup (“Approach and Accomplishment of Three Vajras,” also called by its founder “Orgyenpa”), in volume 15.

Volumes 16 and 17 are devoted to various other cycles of instruction. Volume 18 comprises mainly the Hundred Guides of Jonang and also includes the catalog to the whole Treasury.

Volume 14: Object Severance

May One Father Dampa’s Pacification of Suffering
and One Mother Lapdrön’s Severance of Evil Object—
radical methods to sever self-fixation—be clouds of dharma
that fill the vault of space and shelter all beings in times of degeneration.[7]

The sixth practice lineage of the Eight Great Chariots is Zhije, or Pacification of Suffering (sdug bsngal zhi byed). This lineage is traced to the Indian adept Dampa Sangye, often called Father Dampa (Pha dam pa). Severance, or Chöd (gcod), is considered a subsidiary of Pacification. While some aspects of the lineage can be traced to Dampa Sangye, the two systems of practice are quite separate, and there are no texts attributed to Dampa Sangye concerning Severance practice as it developed in Tibet. The undisputed progenitor of the Severance tradition was the Tibetan woman known as Machik Lapdrön. However, as an indigenous school, Severance did not warrant separate classification within the schema of the Eight Great Chariots. It is ironic in a way that while Severance holds a unique position of pride for Tibetans because it was founded by a native Tibetan and supposedly spread to India in a reverse trajectory, that very fact keeps it as an adjunct system. Pacification of Suffering, which is rarely practiced these days, is the subject of volume 13 in The Treasury of Precious Instructions, while Machik’s Severance is the subject of this fourteenth volume.

Machik Lapkyi Drönma (or Drolma) (Ma gcig Lab kyi sgron ma/grol ma), “The One Mother, the Light of Lap,” was born in the town of Tsomer in the Lapchi region of Tibet in 1055, according to sources.[8] She was, of course, a remarkable person, rising above the oppressive limitations most women in the culture experienced and developing one of the great teaching traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Her life of trials and accomplishments is readily available now both in Tibetan and in Western languages.[9] Of notable significance for her lineage were her connections with Dampa Sangye through her own guru Sönam Lama, direct experiences of the goddess Tārā, and realizations of the perfection of wisdom. In fact, she is often considered an emanation of the Great Mother (the perfection of wisdom), which is reflected in the appellation One Mother. During her long life of nearly a century, this one mother transmitted her realizations and practice systems to her children, grandchildren, and countless spiritual disciple-children. Though some of the teaching lines seem no longer extant, the Severance tradition continued to expand from those original disciples along a dizzying array of lineages (which will not be tackled here), until it pervaded the entire Himalayan region. Now, in the twenty-first century, the global proliferation of new texts and interpretations seems barely to have slowed down.

Almost every writer on the Severance tradition mentions this enormous proliferation of texts. A short anecdote from Jonangpa Kunga Drölchok’s Lineage Stories from the Hundred Guides in volume 18 of this Treasury describes the situation as early as the sixteenth century:

Regarding Object Severance, the only definite writings from India are the great and small poems by Āryadeva the Brahmin. These are not in the Tengyur of U-Tsang. She who was self-liberated in Tibet, the Lady Mother Machik, greatly expanded on this. One time a Shākya geshe came to visit Rinchen Gangpa and found him sitting inside a four-pillared room. All around him the room was filled with stacks of cloth-bound volumes. The geshe asked, “What are all these volumes?” He replied that they were exclusively about the Severance of Machik. [The geshe] was astonished and exclaimed, “You have so many texts on Object Severance!” He replied, “If one collected in a single location all the texts on Object Severance, they would not fit in an entire valley.” As this story illustrates, there are a lot![10]

So how was Jamgön Kongtrul to fit them all into a single volume of his Treasury of Precious Instructions? Although one can find enough information on how and why he created the Treasury in general, it is more difficult to understand his specific choices to include what must have been a tiny fraction of the available texts on the subject. The most apparent pattern in this “paradigm of the nonsectarian approach” is that, other than the few ancient source texts, almost all the texts included in this volume come from the Kagyu tradition, specifically the Karma Kagyu lineage and its subsects of Nedo and Zurmang. The only exceptions are the texts of Tāranātha, tracing back to the visionary Samten Özer, which may be considered the Jonangpa lineage.

Despite the success and popularity of the Severance practice, and perhaps because of its particular yogic character emphasizing the wandering lifestyle, the tradition never developed monastic institutions with successions of lineage holders like the other major traditions. Thus it was “available” to be adopted by other schools when their affiliated masters made a connection with it. For instance, there is a thriving Severance system within the Nyingma of both kama (original) and terma (rediscovered) texts. A few of the latter are in Kongtrul’s Treasury of Hidden Teachings. The same is true for the Gelukpa school, at least since the time of Tsongkhapa (1357–1419). But it does appear that it is in the Kagyu lineage, at least since the time of the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), where Severance was pointedly cultivated and held in such a prominent place in the roster of practices. And in the massive record of transmissions received by Jamgön Kongtrul, the comparatively short section on Severance reveals only Kagyu and Jonang transmissions, which may be another very practical reason that he chose these particular texts.[11]

In the catalog of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, Kongtrul organizes the contents of this volume into three major sections: first, the ancient source or “root” texts, along with a few commentaries on them; next, the required empowerments that “open the door” to effective practice; and finally, the guides—liturgies for practice and their explanations. This sequence was maintained in the Kundeling edition but for some reason was changed around in the Dilgo Khyentse and Shechen editions. Although I have relied on the most complete Shechen edition for these translations, it seemed to make more sense to follow Kongtrul’s original order, indicated in the Kundeling edition’s table of contents. Short introductions have been offered at the beginning of each text, so only a brief survey of the contents will be made here.

Source Scriptures and Their Commentaries

Three primary source texts are provided: the “grand poem” by Āryadeva the Brahmin entitled Esoteric Instructions on the Noble Perfection of Wisdom; Machik’s Great Bundle of Precepts; and Heart Essence of Profound Meaning by Jamyang Gönpo (b. 1196 or 1208), probably the earliest commentator in the lineage. As noted earlier, the Āryadeva poem is the only source text of Indian origin. Kunga Paljor’s commentary on it and Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s commentary on the Great Bundle are also included. There is also a commentary on a text called A Hair’s Tip of Wisdom, very likely a source teaching by Machik that has not been found as a separate text. Then there are two more “bundles” (tshom) attributed to Machik, though it seems clear that only Another Bundle and its attached Vajra Play could actually be notes by her disciples based on her teachings, while the Essential Bundle is someone’s gloss of her teachings. Finally there are the three sets of eight Appendices, also collections of what might be notes on Machik’s teachings but unlikely to be her direct compositions. Of these three, only The Common Appendices are cited in later Severance instructions and might validly be attributed to Machik.

All the texts contain remarkable material. What seems most interesting in the early texts that can safely be attributed to Machik Lapdrön is that the visualization of dismembering the body and offering it to spirits—which has become the hallmark of Severance practice—is barely and only indirectly mentioned.[12] What is taught in these earliest iterations is the fundamental view of the perfection of wisdom. Machik’s particular realization of this essential Buddhist teaching came to her through understanding the idea of “evil” or “devil” (bdud; Skt. māra)[13] while reciting the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. So there is no shortage of references to devils throughout the source texts, and no question that the primary goal of these teachings is to deal with those devils, whether they are conceived of as demons, as adverse circumstances, as ego, or as ultimate evil and ignorance. Simply put, the term used to describe that process is chöd (gcod, “to sever or cut”), not in the sense of cutting up a corpse but of attaining definite resolution of one’s fears and obstacles—the “object” or “field” (yul) to be severed—through the profound realization of emptiness and compassion. Thus we get the full title of this practice tradition: Severance of Evil Object (bdud kyi gcod yul). The body donation practice (lus byin) seems to have developed later and is considered the postmeditation activity. As Kongtrul has stated:

[T]his unbroken tradition of ripening and liberating instructions has the sutras on the perfection of wisdom as the scriptural source of its view and the various methods which distinguish the Mantra Vehicle.[14]

Door-Opening Empowerments

With the development of Mantra techniques, it became necessary for practitioners to receive the empowerment or initiation, one of the three requirements for tantric practice along with the reading transmission and the instructions. This section includes two: an authorization ritual (rjes gnang), similar but simpler than an empowerment (dbang), by Rinchen Senge; and an empowerment by Jonang Tāranātha. Both carry the signature phrase of Severance—opening the sky door—in their titles. In addition, there is a text of notations used to supplement the instructions and liturgies of Tāranātha’s ritual. Many of the liturgies that are so familiar in Severance practice are included in these texts. All Severance empowerments hark back to an important mystical experience in Machik’s life during an empowerment from her guru that became known as the “dharma empowerment bestowed on the mind,” meaning initiation into ultimate reality.[15]

Instructions and Guides

The many texts included in the section of instructions and guides are varied and not so varied, as the same beloved liturgies are used again and again in the Severance tradition. Only Karmapa Tekchok Dorje’s Source of All Qualities attempts to actually identify their original authors. All of the fourteen texts in this section represent the later Severance tradition, which tends to emphasize the body-offering practice with its complex visualizations. Most of them are practice liturgies, supplications, healing rituals, and communal feast offerings, along with instructions on how to implement those practices. For an actual commentary, Kongtrul added his own well-known Beloved Garden, probably the most closely followed instruction among modern-day practitioners. With so much material collected here in this volume, it would be redundant to attempt a description of the Severance practice in this introduction. The reader should refer to Kongtrul’s own overview of Severance in The Treasury of Knowledge as well as various Western-language publications, transcripts, and dissertations.[16] The last text in this volume is called Essence of Auspicious Renown: A Ritual of Offering and Supplication to All the Gurus of the Holy Dharmas of Pacification and Object Severance Together, which describes exactly what it is. This is Kongtrul’s grand finale to both volume 13 on Pacification (forthcoming) and this volume 14 on Severance. His colophon in this text can stand for the whole volume:

The Treasury of Precious Instructions contains the deep meaning of the essence of the Eight Great Chariots of the practice lineages unified like a priceless gem. Here, the focus was the branches of the Teachings of Pacification and Severance. It was written by Karma Ngawang Yönten Gyatso, or Gyalse Lodrö Taye, who practices the yoga of being nobody, in the retreat place Kunzang Dechen Ösal Ling at the heart of Devīkoṭi Tsādra Rinchen Drak in the upper hermitage of Palpung. May virtue increase.[17]

Acknowledgments

None of this would have happened without the initial inspiration of Kyapje Kalu Rinpoche, who started his wayward child–translators on the first project of rendering Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge into English. That tremendous undertaking was finally completed thanks to the unflagging determination of all the translators and the generous support of the Tsadra Foundation, which averted our flagging, just in time. It is fitting and auspicious that we now advance Rinpoche’s intention with the translation of another of Kongtrul’s great treasuries, which contains the actual instructions that were the subject of The Treasury of Knowledge. Ringu Tulku Rinpoche has long envisioned such a translation of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, and his encouragement has provided further momentum and support. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche expertly conferred the needed empowerments and transmissions at Benchen Gönpa in Nepal over a two-month period in 2014. Through it all, Eric Colombel of the Tsadra Foundation has remained the steadfast benefactor. Truly I cannot adequately express my gratitude and admiration.

For this volume in particular, I am most grateful for all fellow translators, whose work constantly adds to the collective knowledge of the material. I especially appreciate those who worked on The Treasury of Knowledge, which, as Kalu Rinpoche had foretold, turns out to be an invaluable resource. I thank those Tibetans whom I constantly pestered for clarification (and who actually know Tibetan!), especially Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, and Dolmakyab. Finally, I thank my editor Tracy Davis, whose propensity for precision is a perfect counterbalance to my perplexity.

Technical Note

The anthology of Tibetan texts translated here is the fourteenth volume (Tibetan pha) of the Shechen edition of The Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDams ngag rin po che’i mdzod). This volume is titled simply Volume Two of Pacification and Severance (Zhi gcod pod gnyis pa) or The Branch: Severance of Evil Object (Yan lag bdud kyi gcod yul). Thus it covers the practice of Severance (gcod), a branch or subsect of Pacification (zhi byed). Page numbers in curly brackets { } throughout the texts indicate the Arabic page numbers in this Shechen edition. (Cross-references found in the endnotes to the texts in this volume refer to these bracketed numbers.) Those numbers are not entirely consecutive because, as noted earlier, it was more sensible to order the texts according to the so-called Kundeling edition, which follows Jamgön Kongtrul’s Palpung woodblocks.

In addition to these two editions of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, a newer, edited digital collection (Dingri Volumes) containing most of these texts was consulted, as well as any other editions of individual texts that were available to me. It was not practical to cite every mistake or variance in words, so only the most significant have been mentioned in the endnotes, where variant translations or enhanced explanations of certain passages are provided.

Throughout this book, any text found in square brackets [ ] has been added by the translator. This includes bracketed headings as well as many missing lines from familiar prayers and quotations, which were indicated by the ubiquitous “etcetera” (la sogs pa) and which assume that the practitioner has memorized a vast repertoire of liturgy. I hope this saves some trouble. With a few exceptions, Tibetan and Sanskrit technical terms have been rendered into English to the best of my ability. However, the range of texts, authors, historical periods, and dialects represented in this anthology is so wide that a given term cannot always be translated in the same way every time it occurs. Wherever similarity in context and meaning permits it, I have tried to maintain consistency in translation.

In the main body of the translations, Tibetan names of persons, spirits, and places appear in the phonetic system that has been developed for The Treasury of Precious Instructions by the translators of the Tsadra Foundation. This includes the use of the umlauted ö (as heard in the English push and pull). A final e in Tibetan words is pronounced as ay. In the endnotes and bibliographies, Tibetan words are transliterated according to the extended Wylie system, with the modification that the initial root letter is capitalized in proper nouns and text titles.

For Sanskrit phonetics, traditional diacritics for romanization are used with the following modifications in proper names to aid in pronunciation: ṛi, ch, sh, and ṣh rather than , c, ś, and . Mantras remain in standard diacritics. Reconstructed Sanskrit is indicated on first instance and in the endnotes with an asterisk. If a Tibetan or Sanskrit term has entered common English usage and appears in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, then it is treated as an English word (e.g., lama, chakra, mandala).

In the bibliography and endnotes, the various references from classical Indian works in the Kangyur and Tengyur are identified whenever possible according to the numbers in the Tohoku catalog (Toh.) of the Derge edition of these collections: A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons (Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur), published by Tohoku Imperial University. In addition, the Lhasa Kangyur has sometimes been used, as it is found in the searchable database of the University of Vienna, Resources for Kanjur and Tanjur Studies (rKTs). Citations and references from various Tibetan masters are often located in their respective Collected Works (gsung ’bum) or as autonomous texts that most often may be located in the indispensable digital library at the Tibetan Buddhist Research Center (TBRC) using their catalog numbers.

The majority of the texts in this volume are liturgical practices, commentaries, rituals, or a combination of all of those. Wherever the Tibetan is written in metered verse, the translation follows roughly the same line breaks to give a sense of its rhythm. However, it is quite impossible to replicate in English the repetitive, exact meters of the monosyllabic Tibetan, which lends itself so well to chanting. Nevertheless, I hope that something of the lyrical quality comes through this cumbersome rendition that is perhaps too attached to accuracy.
  1. . ’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse dbang po (1820–1892), mChog ’gyur bDe chen gling pa (1829–1870), Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846–1912), and many more masters were involved in this movement, such as Kongtrul’s guru Si tu Pad ma nyin byed (1774–1853), and some authors in this collection, such as Karmapa Theg mchog rdo rje (1798/9–1868/9). See E. Gene Smith, “’Jam mgon Kong sprul and His Friends,” in Among Tibetan Texts, pp. 247–50; Jamgön Kongtrul, Treasury of Knowledge: Esoteric Instructions, pp. 25–48; Ringu Tulku, The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great, and so forth.
  2. The specific text by Shes rab ’od zer that expounds the eight chariots is Meditation’s Ambrosia of Immortality (sGom pa ’chi med kyi bdud rtsi). A study of this has been done by Marc-Henri Deroche: “’Phreng po gter ston Shes rab ’od zer (1518–1584) on the Eight Lineages of Attainment.” According to Deroche, “This text may be considered as an (if not the) original source of the ‘ris med paradigm’ of the eight lineages of attainment” (p. 17). It is interesting to note that the eight lineages are arranged in a different sequence in that text—Nyingma, Kadampa, Shangpa Kagyu, Lamdre, Marpa Kagyu, Zhije, Jordruk, Dorje Sumgyi Nyendrup—which may have been more chronological than Kongtrul’s preferred order.
  3. . One finds this idea developed in the volume on esoteric instructions in The Treasury of Knowledge, where Kongtrul describes in incredibly condensed detail the basic principles and sources of these eight lineages. It is expounded in the catalog of The Treasury of Precious Instructions (DNZ, vol. 18), published in English as The Catalog of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, trans. Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima). Also see Stearns, Luminous Lives, pp. 3–8, where the verse from Prajñārasmi was first brought to my attention.
  4. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, Catalog, p. 21. Translation by Richard Barron.
  5. The Treasury of Precious Instructions. gDams ngag rin po che’i mdzod (DNZ) 12 vols. (Delhi: N. Lungtok and N. Gyaltsan, 1971–1972). Known as the Kundeling printing.
  6. The Treasury of Precious Instructions. gDams ngag rin po che’i mdzod (DNZ) 18 vols. (Delhi: Shechen Publications, 1998). Known as the Shechen printing.
  7. From Jamgön Kongtrul’s final aspiration prayer in the Catalog (DNZ, vol. 18, p. 546).
  8. Since confusion abounds regarding Machik’s birthplace, I will pursue it a bit here. For instance, a mistake in Roerich’s translation of The Blue Annals (p. 124) gives her birthplace as “Khe’u gang,” which in the Tibetan text (Gö Lotsāwa, Deb ther sngon po, p. 1142) is actually her paternal clan name (rus), while her birthplace is given as g.ye labs, which would be phoneticized as Yelap (not Gyelab), leading to repeated errors in some Western sources. This is just one example. According to MCE, she was born in “a town called Tsomer, in the lower part of so-called Tamshö in Ei Gangwa in the Lapchi region” (yul lab phyi e’i gang bar tam shod bya ba’i smad du / grong khyer mtsho mer bya ba) (p. 59). In Khamnyön Dharma Senge’s Religious History of Pacification and Severance, we find “the town called Tsomer in the lower area of Ei Damshe in Tibet” (bod yul e’i dam shed kyi smad yul grong mtsho mer) (f. 21a). The spelling variations are quite confusing. I tentatively propose that the town is present-day Tsome (mtsho smad, in “lower Tso” county), which is administered from the capital at Tamzhol (“Tamshö”?), according to Gyurme Dorje’s Footprint Tibet (pp. 215–16). This is in south central Tibet, below Samye and the Yarlung valley, close to the Bhutanese border. The snow peak Yarlha Shampo is visible from here (ibid.), a sacred site that plays an important role in Machik’s biographies. Drapa Ngönshe, one of Machik’s early teachers, is also known to be from this area (ibid., p. 173). Not far to the north is Eyul (e yul, “the area of E”), which might be the E in Ei Gang (e’i gang, “the mountain of E”?) and e’i dam shed (?) and pronounced the same as in g.ye labs. The name E refers to the place where three rivers come together to form a shape similar to the Tibetan letter E (ཨེ) (BD, p. 3140–41). Lapchi, or just Lap, the most important word of all, is more confusing, especially as spelled unusually in The Blue Annals as labs. A spelling of la phyi (“other side of the pass”) might be pronounced as “lapchi” and is an important mountain range that was also frequented by Milarepa. But a separate district called “Lap” has not been located. “The Light of Lap” needs to be shown more brightly by future scholars.
  9. For example, MCE and Edou, Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd.
  10. Khrid brgya’i brgyud pa’i lo rgyus, in DNZ, vol. 18, pp. 74–75. Kun dga’ grol mchog (1507–1566) was an eclectic master of Sakya, Shangpa Kagyu, and other systems but mainly associated with the Jonang monastery.
  11. Tashi Chöpel, Record of Teachings Received, pp. 772–78.
  12. . I have pursued this subject in some detail in a paper delivered at the Thirteenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies: “Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd? A Survey of the Early Sources.” http://wordpress.tsadra.org/?cat=75.
  13. In Sanskrit, māra is a nominalized form of the verbal root mṛ-, “to die,” and can be associated with actual death or spiritual death. It was personified in the Perfection of Wisdom scriptures and elsewhere as the familiar figure of the Buddha’s antagonist, who played a role similar to the “devil,” which is the term I have chosen. The Tibetan translation of māra as bdud complicated matters, since there were already hordes of spirits called bdud in Tibet before the advent of Buddhism. Whatever the specific referent, it gestures to negative or obstructing forces, so I have also used “evil.” Some examples from the early texts in this volume are the devil of belief in intrinsic existence, of merely mental emptiness, of making dharma a big project, of clinging to the reality of accomplishing enlightenment, of actual things, of depression and despair, of obstinate reification, etc. For further discussion, see MCE, pp. 33–42.
  14. Treasury of Knowledge: Esoteric Instructions, p. 278.
  15. MCE, pp. 69–71.
  16. Treasury of Knowledge: Esoteric Instructions, pp. 276–88.
  17. Ch. 29, pp. 445–46.