For this full moon today, am happy to publish the first English language translation of Chapter One – A Hundred Blazing Lights by Jetsun Tāranātha. Below is a reproduction of my detailed Introduction/Summary. For more information about the text, its editions and origin etc., see here. The full translation of Chapter One can be downloaded via email request here.
Chapter One – A Hundred Blazing Lights by Jetsun Tāranātha
In the opening, first chapter of A Hundred Blazing Lights: Supplementary Commentary on ‘Meaningful to See’, Tāranātha pays homage to the magnificence and uniqueness of the Kālacakra practice tradition. He lets the reader know that the path of six vajra-yogas[i] is the only one to follow to quickly attain full enlightenment in one body and one lifetime. Using quotes and examples from various tantras and mahasiddhas, as well as his own experience, he lists seven main points that demonstrate why Kālacakra is the pinnacle and ultimate intention of all the sutras and tantras, in being the clearest and least hidden, and why all practices so on have as their ‘ultimate intention’ the path of six-yogas that leads to the realisation of the ultimate nature, the union of unchanging bliss of great compassion and the emptiness that possesses all the supreme qualities of empty forms.
The seven points listed in the opening chapter about the Kālacakra path of practice is it:
- pulls out the elixir[ii] of the complete meaning of all the sūtras and tantras,
- is the supreme pinnacle of all the vehicles,
- is the source of all worldly and supra-worldly siddhis [accomplishments],
- is the one supreme path of ultimate liberation followed by all the Buddhas of the three times,
- is the starting point and entrance to the way of all the yogic powers,
- is the quickest and direct path that guides one to the level of a Buddha, in one life with one body, for a person endowed with a vajra-body of the six elements.
He asserts that even though other practices and paths have different names, there is no other path than the six-yogas that lead to the ultimate enlightenment of the union of unchanging bliss of great compassion and the emptiness that possesses all the supreme qualities of empty forms which is ‘the essence of this Dharma itself and which abides permanently’:
Furthermore, the distinctive qualities of the unexcelled yogas of the vajra vehicle of secret mantra are the uncommon and special characteristics of the unchanging bliss of great compassion[iii]and the emptiness that possesses all the supreme qualities of empty forms[iv]. The union of these two is that which has the essence of emptiness-compassion. The only way of practising Dharma, in terms of the path of union, is the path of the six-branch yogas alone. I guarantee there are no other paths.
1.Pulls out the essential elixir[v] of the complete meaning of all the sūtras and tantras
The first point gives a brief explanation why the six-yogas are the essence of all the sutras and tantras by quoting other popular and well-known traditions in Tibet such as the five stages of Nagārjuna with the assertion that the hidden intention of those practices is the six-yogas.
2. The supreme pinnacle of all the vehicles
In the second point, Tāranātha explains why the pinnacle of all the Buddhist vehicles (or yanas) is Kālacakra:
‘’It is the ‘ultimate’ or ‘pinnacle’ of all the vehicles of path and result, since it contains the results of the six branches of vajra-yoga, the ultimate pinnacle of all the vehicles of the Tripitaka teachings of the Buddha, is the glorious Kālacakratantra.’’
He further explains that normally one does not talk about ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in terms of Highest Yoga Tantra. Yet, he asserts one can say this about the Kālacakratantra in terms of it being more extensive and profound than the other Highest, Unexcelled Yoga Tantras:
‘’It is not just that compared to the other highest, unsurpassable yoga tantras it [the Kālacakra tantra] clearly teaches the vajra-yogas, but that compared to the presentation of the six vajra-yogas in some other tantras, they either are not so clear, or abridged versions, or not as complete as that which is produced in the glorious Kālacakra. Since in this King of Tantras [Kālacakra] here, the teachings of this profound path are the most profound, vast and extensive, completely perfect, without anything hidden, separated or disordered, it is the most supreme and highest. Therefore, by teaching clearly and directly, it is the supreme pinnacle that is unique from other [teachings]. In terms of the innermost aspiration and ultimate intention, it is the ultimate intention of all the vehicles.’’
3. The source of all worldly and supra-worldly accomplishments
In the third point, Tāranātha explains why only the six vajra-yogas can lead one to the ultimate siddhi of the supreme, genuine enlightenment, the accomplishment of Mahāmudrā. He divides the common siddhis into small, medium and great, which are accomplished via the generation stage. However, even the four great activities of pacifying and so on:
‘…are not the actual siddhis, and merely similar to it, they are known as subtle incidental accomplishments. Nowadays, due to the spread of human wealth, merely having only a few clothes and food is called an accomplishment!’
4.The one supreme path of ultimate liberation followed by all the Buddhas of the three times
In the fourth point, Tāranātha explains that all the Buddhas attained enlightenment by practising the path of the vajra-yogas and that to attain full enlightenment one has to practice Mantrayāna but also the ultimate path of the completion stage, the six vajra-yogas:
Abiding on the Sūtra path alone for some time will not ultimately bring us to the full, complete enlightenment. There is absolutely no other method for doing that which involves not entering the Mantrayāna path. However, this Mantrayāna path, is not only the path of the three lower tantras, such as the path of Excellent Yoga Tantra, generation stage and the all-encompassing activities and so on. To accomplish the unsurpassable mind of enlightenment one must depend on the ultimate path of the completion stage. Likewise, other than the completion stage of stages of the six yogas alone, there is no other path than that.
5. It is the starting point and entrance to the way of all the yogic powers
In the fifth point, Tāranātha first gives an explanation of the term ‘yoga’ and who is a yogin:
Furthermore, even though there are many yogis within the groups of non-Buddhists and so on, worldly [practises], listeners and self-realisers, ordinary level bodhisattvas, they are merely called yogis but they are not yogis that have the yogic powers. Those that are endowed with the yogic powers are Buddhas and Noble Arya Bodhisattvas. All those yogis who have such powers are Kings, Leaders or Cakravartins (The Dharma Kings who turn the wheel). They are like that since they hold the understanding of the way the Buddhas practised.
He then asserts that other paths, practices by Bodhisattvas, mahasiddhas such as Saraha, Indrabhuti, Āryadeva, Nāgārjuna, Ghantapada, Krishnacarya, Virupa, Nāropa, Marpa and Go Lotsawa and the great Mahasiddhas have stated that:
…the final superior path is that of the vajra-yogas. The ultimate intention and melody [dbyangs] is the same, that of [attaining] all the yogic powers.
6.The quickest and direct path that guides one to the level of a Buddha, in one life with one body, for a person endowed with a vajra-body of the six elements
The sixth point is an extensive analysis of the meaning of the terms, one life, one body, vajra-body and six elements.
Possessing a vajra-body of six elements is an important feature in the attainment of enlightenment. In terms of the six elements, they are: earth element, water element, fire element, wind element, space element and the primordial awareness element. Tāranātha explains:
Here when talking about the formless realm[vi], one applies a negation word [less] to make ‘less’ (without) form but there is form[vii][in that realm]. Yet, all sentient beings with a body do not have all of the six elements, they mostly make use of five elements, putting to one side the primordial awareness element. Human beings are fortunate in having all five elements, the sixth primordial-awareness element pervades all the others. This is why as a human being, unlike other types of beings who possess less elements, it is easier and possible to attain enlightenment
Thus it is taught, that for someone endowed with the six elements, the siddhi of the supreme primordial awareness kāya can be accomplished in one life, with one body; this is not taught for others [endowed with less elements]. Even though it is not impossible to do that [without some of the elements], this is very rare.
Tāranātha also gives an interesting explanation why the human body, that has all the elements, is the most effective for gaining enlightenment in one lifetime and one body, due to the ‘more pronounced’ (or coarser) presence of the other elements:
In terms of the primordial awareness element, this pervades all the five elements. If the other elements are subtle, the primordial awareness is also subtle. If the other elements are more pronounced, the primordial awareness is also more prounounced. So the coarser the elements of that which it pervades, such as the human body endowed with the five elements, the pervading primordial awareness is also much stronger and greater. This is what we call being endowed with the six elements.
Tāranātha analyses what is not meant by this term before stating that:
In terms of ‘one life’, the meaning/purpose of the supreme accomplishment of one life is until the death state arrives before the next life, abandoning the impure body without casting off this fully ripened karmic body, and transforming it into a primordial awareness body is known as ‘the supreme accomplishment in one life’ or the ‘realisation of Mahāmudrā’ or the ‘accomplishment of the non-dualistic primordial awareness kāya’ or the ‘attainment of union’.
The meaning of the supreme accomplishment with ‘one body’
Tāranātha distinguishes between an ordinary ‘karmically ripened’ body that one takes up and discards from life to life and the body that becomes ‘purer and purer’ which transforms in one lifetime into the primordial-awareness kāya.
Generally, body means the ‘karmically ripened body’, It is not that which is exhausted in terms of the previous life and next life, but [the body] that becomes purer and purer and manifestly transforms; it is the uninterrupted, karmically ripened body of flesh and blood that transforms. Since it is not the body that one renounces and leaves behind [when dying] and it is not a second karmically ripened body that one newly appropriates [in the next life], it talks about ‘one body’.
In terms of the ultimate reality, it is the ‘primordial awareness kāya’, since that is the ‘body’ of the natural state.[viii] When the karmically ripened body is exhausted, even though one sees it [the primordial awareness body] clearly, it is not a body that one has newly appropriated. As the primordial awareness kāya is not itself a body [in the ordinary sense with a shape and colour], it is not the basis for applying the conventional label of one body.
The ‘most direct and quickest path’
Tāranātha reminds us here that other paths take eons to achieve and that only the six vajra-yogas can bring attainment of full awakening in one lifetime:
Furthermore, one cannot attain Buddhahood on the path of the hearers and solitary-realisers. The Pāramitā path, takes three innumerable eons; the lower paths of tantra take eight [action tantra] or three eons [performance tantra] and sixteen lifetimes [yoga tantra] and so on, it is a long path. The attainment of Buddhhood in one lifetime is not explained in the generation stage of the unexcelled yoga tantra path. Only the completion stage of the vajra-yogas alone is the most direct and quickest path.
7) In the Primordial Buddha Kālacakra Tantra, the six-branch Mahāmudrā of the profound path of vajra-yogas is clearly taught and not hidden
In the final point, Tāranātha explains that the Kālacakra tantra clearly teaches the six vajrayogas, unlike other tantras and then give explanations of the terms ‘Mahāmudrā’, ‘vajra’yoga’ and ‘profound’. He says of the Tantra:
In all the other different King Tantras, the meaning [of the profound path of the Vajra Yoga] is secret and hidden by vajra words. In the supreme Primordial Buddha glorious Kālacakra tantra the meaning is not hidden and is clearly taught….
As for the Kālacakra [tradition], in the extensive root tantra of the supreme Primordial Buddha Kālacakra of 12 000 lines it is taught clearly and extensively. In the condensed Kālacakra tantra the meaning is not hidden and is taught clearly. It is different from other condensed tantras [the meaning is hidden and not clear].
May this first translation and edition of Chapter One of ‘A Hundred Blazing Lights’ be of benefit to beings, the teachings and the Kālacakra traditions!
Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, 2nd September 2020. Copyright Dakini Publications, 2020. Full translation of Chapter One can be downloaded on request.
- The Chariot that Transports One to the Four Kāyas by Bamda Gelek Gyatso. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Library of Tibetan Works and Archive, 2018).
- A Hundred Blazing Lights: Supplementary Commentary on ‘Meaningful to See’ by Jetsun Tāranātha . Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020).
- Innate Kālacakra: Instruction Texts and Recitations. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2019).
- www.kalacakra.org (website of recently passed, Edward Henning)
- The Inner Kālacakratantra: A Buddhist Tantric View Of The Individual. Vesna Wallace (Oxford University Press, 2001).
- As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Edward A. Arnold Editor, (Snow Lion Publications Ithaca, New York, 2009).
- Kālacakra Tantra. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1998).
- Meaningful to See: Guidance on the Profound Path of the Vajra-Yogas by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020).
- Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2017).
[i] The six vajra-yogas (ṣaḍañga-yoga, rdo rje’i rnal ‘byor yan lag drug) of Kālacakra are the completion stage and main practices of the Kālacakra tradition. They are:
- so sor sdud pa – withdrawal (Skt. pratyāhara)
- bsam gtan – mental focus (Skt. dhyāna)
- srog rtsol – wind control (Skt. prāṇāyāma)
- ‘dzin pa – retention (Skt. dharāṇā)
- rjes dran – consummation (Skt. anusmṛiti)
- ting nge ‘dzin – absorption (Skt. samādhi)
[ii] The Tibetan term is bcud, which means ‘taste’, ‘elixir’ or ‘essence.
[iii] mi ‘gyur ba’i bde ba snying rje chen po.
[iv] rnam kun mchog ldan gyi stong gzugs stong pa nyid. This is a specific term used by the Jonang and advocates of the view of Empty-of-Other, which places emphasis on the ‘fullness’ and qualities of the empty ultimate nature (Tathagata) and not on its absence of conventional, dualistic phenomena only (the Empty-of-Self view). For more on this term, see ‘Introduction’ in TOMLIN 2017.
[v] The Tibetan term is bcud, which means ‘taste’, ‘elixir’ or ‘essence.
[vi] Formless realm (arūpadhātu; gzugs med khams) — the third of the three realms, where gods without any form dwell in four types of perception spheres. The four perception spheres (skye mched mu bzhi); Infinite Space (nam mkha’ mtha’ yas); Infinite Consciousness (rnam shes mtha’ yas); Nothing Whatsoever (ci yang med pa); Neither Existence Nor Non-existence (yod min med min). Being the highest possible state in worldly existence, this fourth sphere is also called the Peak of Existence (srid pa’i rtse mo). For more detail on this in the Kālacakra Worldly Cosmos see the Mandala section of this commentary.
[vii] They are considered to have subtle form. In the highest yoga tantras (Guhyasamāja , etc., and their commentaries) maintain that beings of that realm do have form since all sentient beings possess a very subtle body of wind and mind (shin tu phra ba’i rlung sems), the very subtle wind being light of five colors. The Kālacakra Tantra and its commentaries assert that beings of the formless realm also possess very subtle particles of the five elements, as well as a subtle white vital essence (khu ba). Commentaries on Guhyasamāja and other tantras state that every sentient being possesses the indestructible red and white vital essences of the very subtle wind and mind, always present without even the briefest moment’s interruption. See also WALLACE 2001.
[viii] gnyug ma’i lus [the subtle life grasping wind or dvangs ma’i lus of inseparable mind and wind, continuous from begiinningless samsara to buddhahood]