Visiting Vikramashila-Bihar, Nepal: the forgotten and neglected Kālacakra pilgrimage site of Kālacakra lineage holder and Indian master, Vibhūticandra

While in Nepal, I was intrigued to visit a place in there that one of the major Kālacakra lineage holders and Indian masters of the 12th Century, Vibhūticandra (1170-1230) rNal byor zla ba) not only taught and studied at, but where he is said to have directly received the teachings on Kālacakra and the six vajra-yogas from the Indian master, Shavaripa. The place, Stam Bihar, Nepal is in modern day Thamel, Kathmandu and is sometimes referred to as Vikramasila-Bihar or Stham-Bihar. This small monastery is said to have been established by Dipamkara Atisa (982- 1054). It was also said to have been visited by Tai Situ Penchen Chokyi Jungne (Si-tu Pan-chen Choskyi ‘byung-gnas) in 1723.

Vibhūticandra – Indian Siddha and Kālacakra and Six Vajra-Yogas lineage holder

Kālacakra mandala

Before posting some photos and details about this place as it is today, I will give a little background information about Vibhūticandra. I first learnt about this amazing Buddhist master while translating into English, Tāranātha’s text ‘One Hundred Blazing Lights’ (his magnum opus on the Kālacakra six vajra-yogas). In that text, in a section entitled ‘Confidence in the Teacher’, Tāranātha goes into detail on the seventeen distinct lineages of Kālacakra (see my translation of that here) that came into Tibet from India, and then goes onto describe the short and long lineages of Vibhūticandra, which are considered, along with the Dro lineage, the most important one for Jonang. Another excellent resource on his life is that by Cyrus Stearns in his Journal of International Buddhist Studies article The Life and Legacy of Vibhūticandra (1996):

“Vibhūticandra was born in the latter half of the 12th Century and first came to Tibet in 1204. He was active and influential for several decades in the transmission and translation of both sutra and tantra teachings. He traveled to Tibet three times, and one of the works he translated himself into the Tibetan language has been passed down to the present as an important tantric practice in living transmission. This text is the Stages of the Six Yogas (Rnal ‘byor yan lag drug pa), a fundamental text on the practice of the sadangayoga of the Kālacakra-tantra, directly revealed to Vibhūticandra by the legendary mahasiddha Savaripa.”

See below for a discussion of this text. According to Tāranātha, the two Kālacakra lineages of Vibhūticandra, listed as belonging to the seventeen Kālacakra lineages compiled and collated by Jonang master, Kunpang Chenpo are:

  • The indirect [or long] lineage of Vibhūti. The lineage in which Pandita Vibhūticandra received the Six Yogas, of the tradition of the adept Anupamarakṣita [Peme Tso], from the master Ratnarakṣita.
  • The direct [or short] lineage of Vibhūti. Called so because in the monastery Stambihar, Nepal, Vibhūti had a direct experience when siddha Śavaripa revealed his face directly bestowing the Six Yogas.

Tāranātha says that:

”Out of all the various different lineages, in terms of the preliminaries, the main and final practices, from beginning to end, these are all contained in the oral instruction texts of the Dro tradition, because, compared to all the others, they are most extensive oral instructions. Also, since all the [Dro] lineage lamas attained direct signs of great accomplishment, the received blessings of their oral transmission are incomparable.

After that, the main lineage is the short lineage of Vibhūticandra, since the instructions are profound and words are new, the received blessings of their oral transmission are also great. In all the three times, the beginning, middle and end, the teachings are like the arrangement of a jewelled display.”

In a following section on the short lineage of Vibhūticandra, Tāranātha mentions:

“Afterwards, Vibhūti became a Khenpo at the monastery of Stam Bihar[1] and taught many systems of entering the Dharma. There he also established an independent institute for the study of the major works of Abhayākaragupta such as Munimatalamkara, the Upadeshamanjari, and the Avali Trilogy.[2]In particular, he placed strong emphasis on both the teaching and practice of Kālacakra. Earlier in his life, he had met face to face with the yidams Vajravahari[3] and Manjushri. Later, he also came face to face with Kālacakra and Chakrasamvara. While giving the empowerment of Chakrasamvara, at the time the primordial awareness descended, present were two monks of extremely good fortune. One was a Nepali called Ktishri, and the other one from India, called Manorta. When the space primordial awareness descended, they completely vanished without a trace from the audience of those receiving the empowerment. These amazing signs and so on happened many times.

Vibhūti then went again to Tibet in order to benefit many beings. He translated himself (without a native speaker) many treatises on the Sutra and Mantrayana. Then he arrived again in Nepal. He had become quite old by this time. Once, when [Vibhūticandra] had become very old, a young yogin with bone loops fixed in his ear lobes appeared. He was briefly welcomed, and then shown to a verandah. A junior pandita studying grammar there watched him. When there were several amazing signs, such as no circulation of breath, and his body changing into various colors and shapes, he told the master, pandita [Vibhūticandra].The pandita invited the yogin in, who replied immediately and without hesitation to every question [Vibhūticandra] mentally asked him. So finally, he [Vibhūticandra] asked, “Who are you?” “I am the siddha, Shavaripa,” he replied. Overjoyed and devoted, Vibhūticandra asked to be accepted as a follower, and [Shavaripa] taught the six yogas [of Kālacakra]. [Vibhūticandra] recorded it in writing, which is this small extant text.[4]

In general [Shavaripa] satisfied him with infinite profound oral instructions, and blessed his mindstream. It is also stated that he actually stayed for about twenty-one days.Then [Vibhūticandra] asked him, “Where will you go?” “I will go from here to Oddiyana, and benefit a few who are fortunate. Then I will go straight to Sri Parvata [Dpal-gyi-ri],” he replied, and disappeared. At that, due to the force of the blessing, the master Vibhūticandra instantly reached the culmination of experience and realization, and achieved the signs of the ultimate qualities of the branch of ‘retention’. Soon thereafter, Vibhūticandra decided that the instructions he had received from mahasiddha Shavaripa, which have since become known as the direct, or short, transmission of Vibhūticandra would be of great benefit to many people in Tibet[5].

Stam Bihar, Nepal

So, as someone interested in Kālacakra and how it came from India and Nepal into Tibet, how could I not visit the place where one of the major lineage holders lived, studied and taught?

Travelling down the dusty streets of touristy Thamel in Kathmandu, it would be easy to miss and pass by the small building nestled in between restaurants and shops. Only the architectural style and sign at the front of the building denote there is a Bihar.

Most of the building was in a state of disrepair and there was construction work all over it. A man allowed me to take a picture of the golden Buddha statue of Atisha.

Nowhere in sight was any sign that such great masters had lived and taught here. So, on a gross and physical level, it was disappointing and rather tragic that such a heritage site had been allowed to wither neglectfully that way. On the other hand, there was something still in the framework of the building, the beautiful lattice work on the doorway, which was a reminder that something unusual and precious had been here.

It was not until I left the building, and got back into the taxi that I wished I had stayed longer. The impermanence of it all was shattering and moving at the same time. Without the texts, such masters, the Dharma and these profound practices- like that building – would now be long forgotten. Thus, it is due to the kindness of translators and practitioners like Vibhūticandra, who often travelled and went to great lengths to deliver and spread these teachings, that we have them with us today. One can never underestimate the importance of preserving and translating the precious Dharma teachings, as one may be producing a text that will survive the process of time and neglect, and be the single light and thread that allows it to thrive and survive.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, September 2018.


[1]See STEARNS 1996, n.37:

“This monastery is said to have been established by Dipamkara Atisa (982- 1054), and is often known by the name Tham-bahil, or Vikramasila-Bihar. It is in the Thamel district of modern Kathmandu.”

[2] From STEARNS 1996:

“These early 12th century works by Abhayakaragupta, as found in the Peking edition of the Tibetan Tripitaka, are as follows: Thub pa’i dgongs pa’i rgyan (Munimatalamkdra), vol. 101, #5299, 71b.3- 398b.3. Man ngag gi snye ma shes bya ba rgyud thams cad kyi skyed rdzogs thun mong du bstan pa (Upades’amanjari-ndma-sarvatantrotpannopapannasdmdnya- bhdsya), vol. 87, #5024, 77.4.5-86.2.4. Dpal ‘jam pa’i rdo rje la sogs pa’i mngon par rtogs pa kun las btus pa rdzogs pa’i rnal ‘ by or gyi phreng ba (Sri-manjuvajrddi-kramabhisamayasamuccaya- nispanna-yogdvali, vol. 87, #5023, 47.5.6-77.4.5. Rdzogs pa’i rnal ‘byor gyi phreng ba (Nispanna-yogavali), vol. 80, #3962, 126.3.4-154.2.8.Dkyil ‘khor gyi cho ga rdo rje phreng ba {Vajrdvali-ndma-mandalopdyikd), vol. 80, #3961, 79.1.1-126.3.4.”

[3]Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo). A sambhogakaya manifestation of the female buddha Samantabhadri. She is also one of the chief yidam deities of the Sarma Schools, as well as a wisdom dakini.

[4] According to STEARNS 1996:

‘The “small extant text” referred to by Tāranātha is the Stages of the Six Yogas (Rnal ‘byor yan lag drug pa (Yogasadahga-nama)), Peking Tripitaka, vol. 47, #2091, 258.4.2- 258.5.1. Vibhūticandra translated it into Tibetan himself. This is a very important text for the six yoga tradition in general, and the Jo-nang-pa transmission in particular. Another transmission of the six yogas from Shavaripa was later received by the Indian master Vanaratna (1384-1468), who taught it extensively in Tibet.’The Rnal ‘byor yan lag drug pa (Yogasadanga) spoken by mahasiddha Savaripa to Vibhūticandra at Stham Bihar in Kathmandu is the most important core text (mula, rtsa-ba) for the direct transmission (nye brgyud) of the sadahgayoga perfection stage practices of the Kālacakratantra as practiced in Tibet. The very succinct verse definitions of each of the six branches of the practice found in this short work are quoted as authoritative speech in virtually every sadahgayoga instruction text written in Tibet. The special importance of this transmission for the Jonang-pa tradition is underscored by the fact that Kun-spangs Thugs-rjebrtson-grus (1243-1313), wrote the only known commentary to it.

[5]From WALLACE (2001: 30):

“He himself translated his Sadangayoganama (Rnal ‘byor yan lag drug pa) into Tibetan. According to the Tibetan six-phased yoga tradition, the Sadangayoganama is the direct transmission of the six-phased yoga practice that Vibhūticandra received from Shavaripa during his stay at Stham Bihar monastery in Kathmandu, upon which he attained dharana, the fourth phase of this yoga. In subsequent centuries, this text became one of the most important and authoritative texts for the direct transmission of the Kdlacakratantra’s six-phased yoga in Tibet, especially in the Jonangpa tradition. According to Taranatha, the teachings on the six-phased yoga that Shavaripa revealed to Vibhūticandra were based on the dohas of Saraha, and Saraha’s yogic practice itself was based on the six-phased yoga.

In the Sbyor ba yan lag drug gi rdzogs rim gyi gnad bsdus pa, Tshong kha pa (fourteenth- fifteenth centuries), following his teacher Bu ston, cites the Indian lineage of Anupamaraksita in this way: Anupamaraksita—Sndhara—Bhaskaradeva—Dharmakarasanti—RavisrTjnana—Ratnaraksita—Vibhūticandra.”

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