Mahāsiddha Practice, the sixteenth volume of The Treasury of Precious Instructions, contains works that could not be included among those of the eight major schools presented in the earlier volumes—hence their designation as “miscellaneous instructions” (khrid sna tshogs). This should not, however, be taken to suggest that they are texts of minor interest, or that they consist of a variety of texts having little in common with one another, or even that they have nothing to do with the eight schools. Indeed, the first text in this volume has everything to do with them: it is a ritual honoring the teachers of all eight lineages, which makes its inclusion at the beginning of this volume entirely appropriate. As for the other texts, they are all concerned with the Indian mahāsiddhas, either conjointly or individually, and two-thirds of the volume is devoted to the works of one mahāsiddha in particular: Mitrayogin, whose profound teachings on introducing the nature of the mind can hardly be considered of minor interest even if they are comparatively less well known.
Mahāsiddha means literally “great accomplished being” and in this context refers generally to exceptional tantric practitioners who had gained the highest accomplishment, the realization of the nonconceptual wisdom of Mahāmudrā, the Great Seal. Many of them expressed their attainments in songs of realization, or dohās, examples of which are given in the empowerment in chapter 2. The lives of eighty-four Indian mahāsiddhas were celebrated by Abhayadatta in his Caturaśītisiddhapravṛtti in the late eleventh or early twelfth century. This work clearly describes the extent to which some of these dedicated tantrikas eschewed the conventions of the day to seek spiritual advancement in charnel grounds, brothels, and similar supposedly undesirable surroundings. Others followed more conventional lifestyles but used their environments or particular trades to achieve an inner transformation of their minds.
Some of the Indian mahāsiddhas such as Padmasambhava, Nāropa, and Āryadeva were of vital importance in transmitting the Vajrayāna teachings to Tibetan masters who subsequently passed them down through the lineages of the eight major schools, and their teachings are included in the corresponding volumes of The Treasury of Precious Instructions. Other great siddhas, like Shāntideva, famous for his composition of The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryāvatāra), and Nāgārjuna, author of the Root Verses of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) and other important treatises, are revered by all schools.
Apart from the first text, which is absent from the Palpung edition and appears to have been inserted into the Shechen edition, the works in this volume can be divided into two principal groups. The first of these consists of four texts featuring the eighty-four mahāsiddhas: an empowerment ritual for conferring the mahāsiddhas’ blessings, a sādhana including detailed offering and praise sections, a guru yoga practice that can be adapted to any mahāsiddha of one’s own choosing, and finally a series of teachings given by some of these mahāsiddhas to a yakṣhinī in a charnel ground.
The eighty-four mahāsiddhas were not, of course, the only highly realized tantric practitioners in India. Included in the guru yoga in chapter 4 are two sixteenth-century siddhas, Shāntigupta and his disciple Buddhagupta, who visited Tibet and taught Tāranātha. And the second main group of texts, occupying almost two-thirds of this volume, have their origin in the teachings of another mahāsiddha, Mitrayogin (also known as Jagatamitrānanda or Ajitamitrayogin), who lived from the mid-twelfth to the early thirteenth century—rather too late to be included in Abhayadatta’s Lives. He was one of the few siddhas, as distinct from paṇḍitas, who actually visited Tibet, where he was known as Mitrajoki. The esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries is reflected in one of the texts in this volume where he is referred to as “the eighty-fifth lord of yogis.” Kongtrul himself clearly regarded Mitrayogin highly. In the first text in this volume, the eight principal teachers of the Eight Great Chariots are visualized on an eight-petaled lotus, with Guru Padmasambhava in the center of the lotus and the other seven disposed around him: it is Mitrayogin whom Kongtrul asks us to visualize on the unoccupied eighth petal.
Details of Mitrayogin’s life and activities emerge as we read through these texts, including an account of his twenty wondrous deeds, which is also to be found in The Blue Annals. His tantric teacher is said to have been Lālitavajra, whose own guru, Tilopa, had such an important influence on the teachings of the Kagyupas.
Aside from Mitrayogin’s twenty wondrous deeds, three events in his life are of particular interest to readers of this volume. First, though not necessarily in chronological terms, is the period of practice he undertook in a charnel ground, during which he concentrated on the sādhanas of six tantric deities—Mañjushrī, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapāṇi, Amitāyus, Tārā, and the Yellow Jambhala—and subsequently received instructions from them in a vision. The empowerment and authorization rituals for these deities, along with the instructions related to their sādhanas, make up the first group of texts in this volume associated with Mitrayogin. However, the only sādhana texts included here are those of Avalokiteshvara and of the protector of these teachings, Draklha Gönpo. All these instructions that Mitrayogin received were kept extremely secret and only transmitted, orally, to one disciple at a time. They were eventually written down, principally by the fourteenth-century Tibetan master Öpak Dorje. Although Mitrayogin visited Tibet, he does not appear to have introduced these teachings to Tibetan masters himself. Precisely when they entered Tibet is not clear, as little seems to be known of the masters in this particular lineage. Mitrayogin’s disciple Shrīputra transmitted the teachings to Drakpa Rinchen. The colophon of the text in chapter 12 suggests that it was at this point they were translated, without specifying whether into Tibetan or a different Indian language, and the fact that Drakpa Rinchen (grags pa rin chen) is a Tibetan name does not necessarily mean that he was actually a Tibetan, for the other name with which he appears in these texts is Girti Ratna—a Tibetanized spelling of the Indian name Kīrtiratna. Drakpa Rinchen transmitted them to Buddhashrī (another Indian, presumably—the same Buddhashrī with whom Tropu Lotsawa studied in Nepal?). He in turn gave them to the Tibetan Öpak Dorje, who, as has been mentioned, was the first to write them down.
The instructions in these texts include both the generation and perfection stages (bskyed rim and rdzogs rim, also called the development and completion phases). The former relates to the visualization of the deity and recitation of the corresponding mantra. The latter, in this tradition, includes the practices of sustained calm or calm abiding (zhi gnas; Skt. shamatha), profound insight (lhag mthong; Skt. vipashyana), illusory body (sgyu lus), dream (rmi lam), luminosity (’od gsal), the intermediate state (bar do), and transference (’pho ba). Only the instructions on Avalokiteshvara contain all seven of these.
A second event in Mitrayogin’s life, highlighted in the last group of texts, was his vision of Avalokiteshvara (after twelve years practicing his sādhana), in which he received the Mahāmudrā mind teaching Resting in the Nature of Mind, a twenty-five-verse poem that introduces the awareness-emptiness nature of the mind and allows gnosis or primordial wisdom (ye shes) to blossom. This poem is complemented by a detailed commentary, a text correlating the verses with scriptural sources, a series of notes showing how to put the poem into practice, a guide on how to teach it, a song of experience based on the poem, and a prayer to the lineage masters who transmitted it. The root verses of Resting in the Nature of Mind are grouped in the Tibetan pecha with a number of other “mind teachings,” which in this translation are placed after the series of texts directly concerned with Resting in the Nature of Mind. These other teachings comprise a short work on an introduction to the nature of the mind, three sets of three pith instruction introducing the three buddha bodies, and a poem in thirty verses in which Mitrayogin expresses the realization he experienced when he heard Resting in the Nature of Mind, followed by an explanation of the latter by Mitrayogin’s disciple Jampa Pal. The volume concludes with a pith instruction by Mitrayogin called Three Quintessential Points and three texts associated with it: a lineage prayer, a method for putting the instruction into practice, and a recitation text for use in daily practice.
The third important event as far as we are concerned, and of particular significance with respect to his Tibetan heritage and the lineage of Resting in the Nature of Mind and other mind teachings, was Mitrayogin’s meeting with the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa Jampa Pal (1172?–1236?). Tropu Lotsawa met the great siddha while studying in Nepal with Buddhashrī. Deeply impressed by Mitrayogin, he could not imagine himself returning home without inviting the Indian to visit Tibet. So important was this for him that, unable to accept Mitrayogin’s repeated refusals, he attempted suicide, and it was only then that the great siddha finally agreed to join him on his return journey, as is related in chapter 26. Mitrayogin stayed in Tibet for a year and a half, teaching and translating. Before leaving Tibet, he consecrated the land on which Tropu Monastery would be built and a giant statue of the buddha Maitreya erected. Tropu Monastery thus became a center from which his mind teachings spread throughout Tibet, passed down by such realized lineage masters as the omniscient Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364).
As with the other volumes in The Treasury of Precious Instructions, the texts in this sixteenth volume fall into three general categories: source texts, empowerments, and instructions and practice texts. However, this arrangement is not strictly adhered to, and for the seven empowerments in Mitrayogin’s lineage, there are only two corresponding sādhanas, the practices of the other five deities being described in instruction manuals but without recited sādhana texts.
The texts in this volume were translated by Stephen Gethin of the Padmakara Translation Group at the invitation of Eric Colombel and Tsadra Foundation, who have generously and patiently funded this project and many others over the past years. The translation would have been impossible without the help of the lamas who answered numerous questions on difficult points: Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku, Taklung Matrul Rinpoche, Dagpo Rinpoche and Matthieu Ricard, and Khenpo Sönam Tsewang. I am also indebted to my colleagues Drupgyu Anthony Chapman, Elizabeth Callahan, Sarah Harding, Wulstan Fletcher, Helena Blankleder, John Canti, and Greg Seton for their support and help with researching related material. Finally, thanks are due to Nikko Odiseos, Anna Wolcott Johnson, Tracy Davis, and the Shambhala team, whose encouragement and expertise have shaped this book.
- See George N. Roerich, trans. The Blue Annals, 1949, 2nd ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976).
- The Indian name Kīrtiratna translated into Tibetan would be grags pa rin chen (Drakpa Rinchen). Throughout this volume, his Indian name is rendered variously as Girti Ratna, Gīrti Ratna, and Ghirti Ratna. For the sake of consistency we have used the first of these spellings throughout.
- Further details of Mitrayogin’s and Tropu Lotsawa’s extraordinary lives can be found on the Treasury of Lives website (treasuryoflives.org).