Vanaratna, the Six Yogas of Kālacakra and the Śāntapurī Vihāra, Swayambhūnath

Photo of statue of Vanaratna from ‘Treasury of Lives’ website.

I was delighted to read this week that the Treasury of Lives published a new biography of the Indian Bengali Pandit, Vanaratna (nags kyi rin chen (1384-1468)), translated by Alexander Gardner. Very little has been written about this important Vajrayana and Kālacakra master in the English language. Vanaratna’s biographies are mentioned also in Himalayan Passages: Tibetan Studies. Vanaratna’s biography was also included in the Kālacakra section of the Blue Annals, although he is a great master of other tantras such as Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini. It states in the Blue Annals (Chapter 10, R797-804) :

Vanaratna was one of the last Indian teachers to teach extensively in Tibet. ‘gos lo tsāba himself received teachings directly from the Vanaratna, including the complete system of Kālacakra teachings. Vanaratna is particularly noted for the refinements he made to tantric practices. For example, ‘gos credits Vanaratna with restoring certain generation and completion stage precepts that had become obscured (R 802). In another case, Vanaratna changes one Cakrasamvara practice to “without signs” (mtshan ma med pa) instead of “with signs” (mtshan ma dang bcas pa).

This brief article will focus on his Kālacakra activities and visits to Nepal. Here are some excerpts from the Treasury of Lives biography in relation to his connection to Kālacakra:

Vanaratna was born in 1384 in eastern Bengal. According to the sketch of his life in the Blue Annals by Go Lotsāwa Zhonnu Pel (‘gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal, 1392-1481), the name of his birthplace was Sadhagara, and he was born the son of a king named Udayakīrti and a queen named Kumārī.

At a stūpa known as the Śrī Dhānyakaṭaka-mahācaitya Vanaratna studied with a master named Nāgabodhi. According to legend, it was here that Vanaratna had a vision of the Mahāsiddha Śabarapāda, also known as Śavaripa, who gave him a transmission of the Six Branch Yoga teaching of the Kālacakra…..

At age eight, at a monastery called Mahācaitya, Vanaratna received novice vows from Buddhaghoṣa, acting as upādhyāya and Sujataratna, who served as ācārya. These two masters served as his teachers, and ordained him at the age of twenty. Buddhaghoṣa gave him the tantric initiation of Vajrayoginī at age thirteen, the Kālacakra when he was fifteen, and would later appear to him in visions in Nepal and continue his transmissions.

[In South India] at a stūpa known as the Śrī Dhānyakaṭaka-mahācaitya Vanaratna studied with a master named Nāgabodhi. According to legend, it was here that Vanaratna had a vision of the Mahāsiddha Śabarapāda, also known as Śavaripa, who gave him a transmission of the Six Branch Yoga teaching of the Kālacakra.

[After a visit to Tibet in 1426] Unable to connect with the Pakmodru regime, Vanaratna decided to return to Nepal. The Blue Annals has him at this point receiving Kālacakra and Cakrasaṃvara transmissions from Buddhagoṣa and a Śrī Shawari Wangchuk (shrI sha ba ri dbang phyug) at the Śāntapurī Vihāra at Swayambhūnath. This was the second Kālacakra transmission Vanaratna received; its lineage is traced in the Blue Annals as follows: Avalokiteśvara, Ācārya Anupamarakṣita, Śrīdharanandana, Bhāskaradeva, Sūryaśrījñāna, Dharmākaraśānti, Ratnarakṣita, Narendrabhodhi, Muktipakṣa, Śākyarakṣita, Sujata, Buddhagoṣa.”

Vanaratna receiving an initiation from Tara. Art is from the collection of LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Śāntapurī Vihāra at Swayambhūnath

I have never visited this Vihar in Nepal, where Vanaratna spent time and received the Kālacakra and Cakrasaṃvara transmissions from Buddhagoṣa and a Śrī Shawari Wangchuk, but it is now on my list of places to visit there. I was told by a Nepali friend and scholar that the current vajracharya there is the only one allowed to enter the Vihar. Below is a photo of him in front of it.  A news documentary was made about the restoration of the Vihar in June 2019, see here:

In an article by Keith Dowman about Shantipur here, he includes in his description about Śāntapurī Vihāra a passage by Chokyi Nyima (Chos kyi nyi ma: Bal po gnas kyi dkar chag ):

The Santapuri temple was founded during the lifetime of the Acarya Ngag-dbang-grags-pa (Vagisvarakirti), this being the power place where the Acarya attained Rainbow Body and where the remains until this day. The temple has two lower levels, and I have heard that in the deepest of the levels is an image and mandala of Sri Kalacakra….

Keith Dowman disagrees and says:

Chokyi Nyima is alone is believing that the deity of the secret shrine (the agama-che, usually located on the first floor of the pagoda temple of the viharas) is Kalacakra. This is one of the Valley’s principal residences of Cakrasambara. And Santi-deva is not mentioned in any other source as having visited Nepal.

Here is a photo of the current Vajracharya of Śāntapurī Vihāra in Swayambunath:

(In Photo: Vijaya Vilash Vajracharya. Photo credit: Naresh Man Bajracharya)

Recommended Reading and Bibliography

Alexander Gardner, “Vanaratna,” Treasury of Lives,

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. 2002. Life and Travels of Lo-chen bSod-nams rgya-mtsho (Lumbini International Research Institute Monograph Series 3). Lumbini: Lumbini International Research Institute.

Ehrhard, Franz-Kark. 2004. “Spiritual Relationships between Rulers and Preceptors: The Three Journeys of Vanaratna (1384-1468) to Tibet.” In The Relationship Between Religion and State (chos srid zung ‘brel) in Traditional Tibet. Christopher Cupper, editor. Lumbini: Lumbini International Research Institute, 245-266.

Gos Lotsāwa Zhonnu Pel. Mkhas pa chen po dpal ldan nags kyi rin chen gyi rnam thar. W23938 and W8LS37367

Hori, Shin’ichiro. 2008. “In the Wake of a Buddhist Monk in 15th-Century Eastern India: The Manuscripts of Sanskrit Grammatical Texts Originally Owned by Vanaratna.” in Bulletin of the International Institute for Buddhist Studies (BIIBS), vol. 1, pp. 145-60.

Isaacson, Harunaga. 2008. “Himalayan Encounter: The Teaching Lineage of the Marmopadeśa Studies in the Vanaratna Codex 1.” Manuscript Cultures, vol. 1, pp. 2-6.

‘Jam mgon kong sprul yon tan rgya mtsho. 1973. Phyogs med ris med kyi bstan pa la ’dun shing dge sbying gi gzugs brnyan ’chang ba blo gros mtha’ yas kyi sde’i byung ba brjod pa nor bu sna tshogs mdog can. Bir: Tibetan Khampa Industrial Society. TBRC W20880. See also TBRC W23723.

Mathes, Kaus-Dieter. 2008. “The Śrī-Śabarapādastotraratna of Vanaratna.” In Bauddhasāhityastabakāvalī: Essays and Studies on Buddhist Sanskrit Literature Dedicated to Claus Vogel by Colleagues, Students, and Friends. Dimitrov von Dragomir, Michael Hahn, and Roland Steiner, editors. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica 36, pp. 245-268.

Manandhar, Eliz, ‘The Shantipur Story’ ECS Nepal, June 2018.

Punya Prasad Parajuli. 2014. “Vanaratna and His Activities in Nepal in Fifteenth-Century Nepal.” In Himalayan Passages: Tibetan and Newari Studies in Honor of Hubert Decleer. Andrew Quintman and Benjamin Bogin, editors. Boston: Wisdom, pp. 289-300.

Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.

Shastri, Lobsang. 2000. “Activities of Indian Panditas in Tibet from the 14th to the 17th Century.” In Tibet, Past and Present, Tibetan Studies, Vol I, pp. 129-145, Proceedings of the Ninth IATS Conference. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Trimkang Lotsawa Sonam Gyatso. Chos kyi rje paṇ chen nags kyi rin po che’i zhal snga nas kyi rnam par thar pa. W1CZ1887 and W1CZ1056.

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