The Karmapas, Chogyur Lingpa and Vajrakīlaya

Vajrakīlaya

Rumtek monastery, the seat of the Gyalwang Karmapa in Sikkim, India[1], is currently performing the annual Vajrakīlaya ritual in the tradition of The Seven Profound Cycle Phurba (Zab bdun phur ba) tradition of treasure-revealer, Chogyur Lingpa.

Monks at Rumtek monastery, Sikkim constructing the Vajrakīlaya sand mandala (August 2020)
Vajrakilaya drubchen, Rumtek monastery, Sikkim (August 2020)

As I wrote about here and here, the 14th and 15th Karmapas had very close connections to Chogyur Lingpa. This article first pulls together some resources on the history and origin of Vajrakīlaya, the Chogyur Lingpa termas and the connection to the 14th, 15th and 16th Karmapas. To conclude, I share my own personal ‘vision’ of the 16th Karmapa and the Vajrakīlaya deity during the Vajrakīla drubchen at Benchen Monastery, November 2018.

Vajrakīlaya

Vajrakīla Heruka (dor je phur ba) is the wrathful form of the Buddha Vajrasattva. His distinctive iconographic trait is that he holds the dagger called phurba (Kīla). Indeed, the word “Vajrakilaya” designates both the kīla, and its ritual use, and the deity. Also known as Vajra Kumara (Vajra Youth) or Vajrakīlaya, is also said to be the activity aspect from the set of Eight Herukas (ka gye) of the Mahayoga Tantras of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and a principal meditational deity for both the Nyingmapa and Sakyapa. Vajrakilaya The study of Vajrakīla can be divided into three major subjects: (1) the early Nyingma and Sakya Traditions, (2) the later ‘Revealed Treasure’ (Terma) traditions and (3) the Purba Drugse Chempa of the Bon Religion.

Vajrakilaya – Indian in origin

Martin Boord (1993) claims that “the existence of a Kīla cult among the Buddhists in eighth century India…must now surely be accepted as established” and that it has been “conclusively demonstrated that all the basic doctrines and rituals of Vajrakīla had their origin in India.” Robert Mayer, one of the leading scholars of the kīla literature, shares the same view, Mayer says of Boord’s work, “our understandings of the deity are quite similar” insofar as both do not doubt that “the phur-pa and the deity are Indic.”

Tibetan tradition, which Boord credits as generally credible, holds that the entire corpus of Indian kīla lore was systematized by Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and the Nepali Śīlamañju, while on retreat together at Yang-le-shod (present-day Pharping, Nepal). According to Boord, “it precisely during this retreat that the many strands of kila lore were finally woven together into a coherent masterpiece of tantric Buddhism and thus it helps to illuminate the process by which tantric methods were being related to soteriology at this time. Beautifully codified in terms of both theory and practice, this divine scheme of meditation and magic was subsequently transmitted to Tibet and became established there as one of the major modes of religious engagement. So much so, in fact, that many previous writers on Tibet have actually assumed the kila cult to be of Tibetan origin.”

Padmasambhava and the Vajrakīlaya dance for Samye Monastery

Robert Beer (1999) explains the relationship of Vajrakilaya with Samye monastery n Tibet, and the importance of the sadhana to both Padmasambhava’s enlightenment, and his twenty-five ‘heart disciples’:

”In the biography of Padmasambhava it is recorded that he travelled to the northern land of Kashakamala, where the cult of the kīla prevailed. Later, whilst meditating on the deity Yangdak Heruka (Skt. Vishuddha Heruka) in the ‘Asura Cave’ at Parping in the Kathmandu valley, he experienced many obstructions from the maras, and in order to subjugate them he request the Kīla Vitotama Tantras to be brought from India. Having established the first Tibetan monastery at Samye, the first transmission that Padmasambhava gave to his 25 ‘heart disciples’, in order to eliminate the hindrances to the propagation of the buddhadharma in Tibet, were the teachings of the Vajrakilaya Tantra. From its early Nyingma origins the practice of Vajrakilaya as a yidam deity with the power to cut through any obstructions was absorbed into all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Another account by the 5th Dalai Lama that connects the deity to the building of Samye Monastery in Tibet says:

”The Samye Monastery or Samye Gompa is the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet, was most probably constructed between 775 and 779 CE under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen of Tibet who sought to revitalize Buddhism, which had declined since its introduction by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. The monastery is located in Dranang, Shannan Prefecture. It was supposedly modeled on the design of Odantapuri monastery in what is now Bihar, India. The 18th century Puning Temple of Chengde, Hebei, China was modeled after the Samye Compa. According to tradition, the Indian monk Shantarakshita made the first attempt to construct the monastery while promoting his sutra-centric version of Buddhism. Finding the Samye site auspicious he set about to build a structure there. However, the building would always collapse after reaching a certain stage. Terrified, the construction workers believed that there was a demon or obstructive thoughtform in a nearby river making trouble. However, when Shantarakshita’s contemporary Padmasambhava arrived from northern India, he was able to subdue the energetic problems obstructing the building of Samye.

According to The Fifth Dalai Lama, Padmasambhava performed the Vajrakīlaya Dance and enacted the rite of ‘thread cross’ or Namkha to assist King Trisong Deutsen and Shantarakshita clear away obscurations and hindrances in the building of Samye: “The great religious master Padmasambhava performed this dance in order to prepare the ground for the Samye Monastery and to pacify the malice of the lha [local mountain god spirits] and srin malevolent spirits in order to create the most perfect conditions.” He went on to say that after Padmasambhava consecrated the ground he erected a thread-cross – a web colored thread woven around two sticks – to catch evil. Then the purifying energy of his dance forced the malevolent spirits into a skull mounted on top of a pyramid of dough. His tantric dance cleared away all the obstacles, enabling the monastery to be built in 767. The dance was memorialized by the construction of Vajrakīlaya stupas – monuments honoring the ritual kilya (purba) daggers – at the cardinal points of the monastery, where they would prevent demonic forces from entering the sacred grounds. The abovementioned quotation makes reference to the relationship of the Vajrakīlaya/Phurba to the Stupa; and mentions torma and namkha. Moreover, the building of Samye marked the foundation of the original school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma. This also helps explain how Padmasambhava’s tantric-centric version of Buddhism gained ascendence over the sutra-based teaching of Shantarakshita.’’ For more, see video here.

In early times there were some disputes about the authenticity of the Vajrakīla practises. The great Sakya Pandita (sa skya pan di ta kun dga’ rgyal mtshan 1182-1251) found a fragment of the Sanskrit original of the Vajrakīla Root Tantra, (the rdo rje phur pa rtsa ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu or Vajrakīlayamulatantrakhanda, in the library of Samye monastery. In the margins of this text were supposedly notes which indicated that it had belonged to Guru Padmasambhava himself. Sakya Pandita translated it into Tibetan. This text is nowadays included in the Nyingma Kama (rnying ma bka’ ma), together with an extensive commentary on it by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899) (the dpal rdo rje phur pa rtsa ba’i rgyud lugs dum bu’i ‘grel pa snying po bsdus pa dpal chen dgyes pa’i zhal lung).

Terma tradition the ‘Seven Profound Cycles’ (Zab Dun)
Chogyur Lingpa, revealer of several treasures on Vajrakilaya

The  Seven Profound Cycles (zab pa skor bdun) are seven collections of practices revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa in 1856, one of them was a kīla cycle. The revelation is in The collected rediscovered teachings of gTer chen mChog gyur gling pa (vol.s 12-20). See Most of the major gter ston had a Vajrakīla gter ma, sometimes even several. Chokgyur Lingpa  had three: Zabdun Phurba (zab bdun phur pa), corresponding to the Maha Yoga class; Lung lug Phurba (lung lugs phur pa), corresponding to the Anu Yoga class; and Sangthig Phurba (gsang thig phur pa) which corresponds to the Ati Yoga class of the Three Inner Tantras.

Seven Profound Cycle Vajrakila mandala in Rinchen Terdzo

In terms of English language information about this terma revelation, the most extensive reference to it is Andreas Doctor’s book Tibetan Treasure Literature (2005, pp. 88-89) which contains details of the revelation, a translation of the Zabdun Phurpa commentary (with the Tibetan ) and complete catalogue overview of the cycle (which I have listed at the end of this post):

The cycle is also mentioned by Alexander Gardner in the Treasury of Lives bio:

”Over the course of the fire dragon year (early February 1856 to late February 1857) Chokgyur Lingpa visited three sites he would become closely linked to: Okmin Karma (‘og min karma) above Karma Gon; Namkhadzod in his home valley, near where he would later found Neten (gnas brtan) monastery; and Danyin Khala Rongo in the upper Dzachu (rdza chu) Valley, revealing treasure in the presence of witnesses at each site, including the [14th] Karmapa. These were the main treasure and supplementary material for the Zabpa Kor Dun (zab pa skor bdun), and additional revelations related to the Barche Kunsel, which are listed as caskets six, seven, and eight in Khyentse Wangpo’s enumeration.”

I could not find any extensive reference to it in the Life Story of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo by Jamgon Kongtrul.

I have completed an English translation of the Lineage Prayer for the Zabdun Phurba which I will introduce and upload shortly.

Karmapas and Vajrakīlaya

The 14th Gyalwang Karmapa received the “Vajrakīlaya (Dorje Phurba) Tantra” directly from Chogyur Lingpa and therefore was able to introduce the Cham ceremonial dances, which enacted the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava, and founded the Phurpa Drubchen during the month of Saga Dawa at Tsurphu Monastery.  Recently, HH 17th Karmapa spoke about how the Cham dance of Tsechu (Tenth Day) was also instituted by the 14th Karmapa, see video here.

I have already written about here how the 15th Karma pa (mKha’ khyab rdo rje 1871-1922) was the lineage holder of a treasure of Vajrakīlaya revealed by Zilnon Namkhe Dorje, that contained within it the Immortal Life-Essence practice of Guru Rinpoche and Mandārāva. He first met and received teaching and counsel from Khyentse Rinpoche (mKhyen brtse rin po che) at Dzongsar (rDzong sar) in 1887-8 (See dPal rgyal dbang Karma pa sku phreng bcu drug pa tshun rim par byon pa’i rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs p.246-9).

In the Collected Works of 15th Karmapa there is also an instruction text called the Dance of Kīlaya (phur pa’i gar yig / mchog gling zab bdun).[2] The text is about the performance of the sacred dance of Vajrakīlaya, based on the zab bdun rgyud zab sgyu ‘phrul, a treasure cycle of Chogyur Lingpa ; written in accordance with the learned AcAryas of Tshurphu (mtshur phu).

The 15th Karmapa also wrote two texts[3] connected to the Kīlaya of the ‘Whispered’ Lineage ( snyan brgyud phur pa)[4] practices for protecting, averting, and dispelling evil forces by means of Vajrakīlaya rites of the snyan brgyud phur pa; written in 1918 at the request of Tsewang Tenzin Palden Chokyi Nyima (mkhar mgo’i sprul sku tshe dbang bstan ‘dzin dpal ldan chos kyi nyi ma); set down in writing by Jamphel Tsultrim (‘jam dpal tshul khrims). The 16th Karmapa also received the transmission of Chogyur Lingpa’s works, see here.

Personal experience – Benchen Monastery Vajrakīlaya Drubchen, November 2018

I myself have received the Vajrakīlaya empowerment from both HE Garchen Rinpoche and HE Schechen Rabjam Rinpoche. I also attended the Vajrakīlaya drubchen held at Benchen Monastery, Pharping, Nepal in November 2018 (see photo below) and video clips here. Initially, it did not get off to the best of starts when I (and a few others) were asked to leave the Drubchen on the first day, due to not being able to commit to attending the whole thing. However, we were told to leave while we were sitting in the temple just before introduction to the mandala! Apparently, they had forgotten to tell people about this before they entered the temple. I was quite upset by it and so afterwards (particularly due to my new close relationship with Sangye Nyenpa) I changed my prior plans (to attend the empowerments of HE Tai Situ Rinpoche in Bodh Gaya) to attend the whole Drubchen (which Sangye Nyenpa had told me be would still be permissible).

Vajrakilaya Drubchen, Benchen Monastery 2018 (I am wearing red seated on steps)
Vajrakilaya Drubchen, Benchen Monastery 2018 (I am wearing red seated on steps)

I was glad I did. At this Drubchen (the first one I had attended) I had a profound vision and direct communication with HH 16th Karmapa and the deity, Vajrakīlaya who clearly told me that ‘people often do terrible things, even kill others, to hold onto money, power and name and to be VERY careful and not to forget it’ and ‘that the car crash of Jamgon Kongtrul 3rd was not an accident’.  The 16th Karmapa ‘vision’ (which at times was inseparable and merging with the deity) told me to ‘stay with Sangye Nyenpa’. I told Sangye Nyenpa about this immediately afterwards. He did not think I was mad or crazy and told me he was romantically and sexually in love with me and continued to message me daily and helping me personally with translations (and other things) culminating in the translation and publication of his White Tara commentary and other texts. (Later, I (and some of my supporters) was silenced, bullied, impersonated, threatened and slandered online after sharing my concerns privately about Sangye Nyenpa and his denigrating and hostile conduct towards me and other women that has been ongoing for years, without him showing any sign of responsibility, remorse or changing).

The following day, the 7th head of the Nyingma tradition. Khatok Rinpoche suddenly died in the same location Pharping, Nepal, due to an ‘accident’ falling down a hill (while accompanied by an attendant) and apparently was left there for a few hours before help arrived. A bizarre coincidence indeed. Khatok Rinpoche was the “Golden Throne” holder of the Kathog monastery, founded in 1159 by Dam pa bde gshegs (Shes rab seng ge), on a mountain ridge shaped like the letter ‘Ka’, high above the village of Hor po in southern Dege (sDe dge). It was the oldest and foremost monastic centre of the Nyingma tradition in Khams, reestablished in the mid-17th century by the great treasure revealers Dudul Dorje (Rig ’dzin bDud ’dul rdo rje) and Longsal Nyingpo (Rig ’dzin Klong gsal snying po), with the support of the rulers of sDe dge.

I am not a great practitioner and have no special qualities, and normally such ‘experiences’ are better not spoken about (often due to others disbelieving it and creating negative karma as a result) which is why I have not revealed it publicly until now. Of course, there have been numerous other supramundane spiritual experiences that I would not speak about publicly. However, in the interests of truth, justice, healing, forgiveness and faith in the deity, I believe it is beneficial to share this experience now. It left a lasting and deep impression on me not only of the immense power and omniscience of Vajrakīlaya but also of the Karmapas’ connection to it, that remains with me to this day.

I hope and pray that soon HH 17th Karmapa will be able to return to Rumtek, India and dance Vajrakīlaya! May this article help to remove obstacles to the life and activities of the Karmapas and to the flourishing of all the Vajrakīlaya traditions.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 25th August 2020.

Vajrakilaya Dance

Rumtek monastery, August 2020

Mantra recitations
Endnotes

[1] HH 16th Karmapa arrived in Sikkim in 1959 and chose Rumtek, over all other sites, as his main seat in exile. Rumtek monastery was originally constructed by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 1740 and continued to be the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time before being destroyed. However, with the arrival of the 16th Karmapa, Rumtek regained its lost glory. His Holiness, Gyalwa Karmapa began the construction work of the new monastery in 1961 and was assisted in his effort by the Sikkim Royal family as well as the Indian Government. Finally, on the Tibetan New Year’s day (Losar) in 1966 , the inauguration of the new seat called, “The Dharmachakra Centre, a place of erudition and spiritual accomplishment, the seat of the glorious Karmapa.” was officially accomplished by the 16th Karmapa.

Opposite the entrance of the institute, a small hall houses the four metre high Golden Stupa which contains the ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa ( he died in 1981). Behind the stupa, the statue of Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) stands in the centre with four great Kagyu teacher – Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milerapa – on his sides. The statues of the previous 16 Karmapa are also seen arranged on the sides of the hall.

[2] mChog gling zab bdun rdo rje phur pa’i smad las drag po’i gdab kha dang ‘brel ba’i gar gyi yi ge rig ‘dzin brgyud pa’i zhal lung ‘khrul med du bkod pa – in Collected Works of 15th Karmapa, W22081, Volume 10: 313-352, 20 ff. (pp. 303-342).  Colophon: de ltar bsgral ‘chams gter chen zhal khrid rgyas bsdus sna tshogs bzhugs pa las/ gzhung gi dgongs pa mi ‘gal zhing / tshog dang mthun pa’i lag len snying por bsdus pa khyer bde ba ‘di byed po karma ka kha s+pha ra Na badz+ra yis gdan sa chen po mtshur phu’i slob dpon mkhas pa rnams kyis zhal sgor btun te bris pa …

[3] sNyan brgyud phrin las phur pa’i gnad tig gi smad las drag po’i srung zlog bsad pa’i las rim khyer bder bkod pa srid pa thal ‘byin rdo rje’i mtshon char/ In Collected Works of 15th Karmapa, W22081, v. 6: 183-230,  24 ff. (pp. 175-222). Colophon: ces pa’ang nyer mkho’i cha rkyen du ‘dan mkhar mgo’i sprul pa’i sku tshe dbang bstan ‘dzin dpal ldan chos kyi nyi ma nas ‘di ltar sbyor shig pa’i bskul ma gnang ba’i g.yar khral du sangs rgyas karma pa’i mtshan ‘dzin dus zhabs kyi phur pa mkhan po mkha’ khyab rang byung bde ba’i rdo rjes gter gzhung gi dgongs pa srog tu bzung / rigs mthun nas kha bskang ste/ rdo rje ‘dzin pa’i phyag bzhes kyis brgyan pa’i khul du byas nas/ rab byung bco lnga pa’i sa rta rgyal zla’i nya la grub par sbyar ba’i yi ge pa ni ‘jam dpal tshul khrims kyis bgyis pa

[4] This appears to be referring to the third of the Seven lineages of transmission (brgyud pa bdun), that of the oral transmission from special individuals (gang zag snyan brgyud). In Tibet, the oral transmission of the Dzogchen teachings started with Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra and Vairotsana, and has continued in an unbroken lineage to this day.

  1. mind direct transmission of the buddhas (rgyal ba dgongs brgyud)
  2. sign transmission of the awareness-holders (rig ‘dzin brda brgyud)
  3. oral transmission from special individuals (gang zag snyan brgyud)
  4. entrustment transmission of dakinis (mkha’ ‘gro gtad [rgya’i] brgyud)
  5. transmission of aspiration and empowerment (smon lam dbang bskur brgyud)
  6. transmission of compassionate blessings (thugs rje byin rlabs brgyud )
  7. the authoritative ultimate transmission (bka’ babs don bryud
Further Reading
  • Fragment of the Vajrakīla Root Tantra (vajrakīlaya-mūla-tantra-khaṇḍaḥ (sic); rDo rje phur pa rtsa ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu)
    • English translation: Fragment of the Vajrakīla Root Tantra, translated by Martin J. Boord, in A Bolt of Lightning From The Blue (Berlin: edition khordong, 2002), pages 79-90.
    • Colophon: This fragment of the root tantra of Vajrakīla was translated [into Tibetan] by the illustrious Sakya Pandita in accordance with an original Indian manuscript that had actually belonged to the ācārya Padmasambhava. Requests having been made, it was set down in writing in Shangs Sreg-zhing in the district of gYas-ru (eastern Tsang).
  • Accomplishment of the Supreme Activity: A Method for Reciting the Fragment of the Vajrakīla Root Tantra (phur ba rtsa dum rgyud kyi bklags thabs phrin las mchog grub), by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.
    • English translation: Supreme Siddhi Activities, A companion manual for reading the Fragment of the Vajrakilaya Root Tantra, translated by Gyurme Avertin, 2018.
  • Mayer, Robert (1999) “Tibetan Phur.pas and Indian Kīlas”, in: The Tibet Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, Dharamsala, spring 1999, p. 3-42. 
Catalogue of Zabdun Phurba texts (as compiled by Andreas Doctor (2005))

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