“Even a hundred thousand Kings appear ordinary next to the Wrathful Lady.”
“If you recite sixty million mantras with a mala made of red sandalwood. You will become the wheel-turning King of the six realms and tame all sentient beings.” – Kurukullā Tantra
Recently, I have taken two online empowerments with HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche online. The first, on May 12 2021, was the female lineage practice of 1000-armed Chenrezig, by Gelongma Laksmi, see here (more on her lineage and life in another post). The second, on 5th June 2021, Dakini Day, was that of Kurukullā (also known in some traditions as Red Tara). The entire teaching and empowerment can be viewed online here. Before the empowerment, Garchen Rinpoche gave a teaching on the importance of bodhicitta, what a deity and empowerment is, some history of the lineage and tradition of the Kurukullā practice, the fundamental purpose of magnetizing /bringing under control and the actual root samaya/commitment of any empowerment compared to the branch samayas.
I have written before about Kurukullā, particularly in connection to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s works on her, these posts can be read here.
Lineage and Tradition – Hevajra Tantra, King Sahaja Lalita and Thubten Nyingpo Rinpoche
The empowerment and sādhana that 8th Garchen Rinpoche gave are from the tradition of the King Sahaja Lalita, whose heartbroken Queen tried to win him back with a magical spell that led to him meeting Kurukullā in person and attaining siddhis. I have not been able to find much information online about this King [currently I have no access to a library so all my research is done online]. Jetsun Taranatha lists the works of Sahaja Lalita in his History of Buddhism in India. He is named in the Guru Lineage that passed on down to the Sakya master, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo: “the great Vajradhara, the holy Kurukullā, Raja Sahaja Lalita, Vajrasana the Greater, the Younger Amoghavajra, Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drag, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), etc.”  Kurukullā in this tradition is asccoiated with the Hevajra Tantra in the lineage of Sahaja Lalita.
The sādhana practice distributed by the Garchen Insitute in Germany is said to have come from the Thought of Hevajra, composed by the master Sahaja Lalita. This practice came from the Jewel Garland of Sādhanas compiled by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa.
After the empowerment, Drupon Tsering Rinpoche gave an oral transmission of two Kurukullā texts one from the fifty empowerments of Drigung Dharmakirti (Rigdzin Chokyi Dragpa is said to be Drikung Dharmakirti and also the first Kyabgon Chungtsang) and the other a terma (it is not clear, but someone suggested that it is ‘The Lotus Hook of Attainment: the Daily Recitation of Ārya Tārā of Overpowering Activity from the Wish-fulfilling Tantra of the Primordial Lord (dpal gdod ma’i mgon po dgos ‘dod nor bu’i rgyud las dbang mdzad Ar+ya tA re’i rgyun bsnyen dngos grub pad+ma’i lcags kyu/) from Terton Osel/Ozer Dorje’s (otherwise known as Kyura Duddul Dorje (bdud ‘dul rdo rje))’s cycle of Red Tara, and is included in his collected works. The video of the aural transmission can be seen here.
Garchen Rinpoche states that he received this practice lineage from one of his root teachers, called Konchog Thubten Nyingpo Rinpoche (see photo below for current incarnation of this teacher). I was able to find this information about this teacher and his lineage here:
“The first incarnation known as Thubten Nyingpo was the younger brother and close disciple of the great 19th century Drikung Treasure revealer Nuden Dorje. The first Thubten Nyingpo Rinpoche became a great siddha, highly accomplished in the practices of Chöd and Vajrakilaya. Students of the Drikung lineage should note that the present Thupten Nyingpo’s previous incarnation was one of the root Drikung teachers of the present Garchen Rinpoche.
Students of the Drikung lineage should note that the present Thupten Nyingpo’s previous incarnation was one of the root Drikung teachers of the present Garchen Rinpoche. At an empowerment that Garchen Rinpoche gave in 2004, he mentioned that the Lama whom he received this empowerment from, as well as all The 50 Empowerments of Lord Jigten Sumgon, was the previous Tulku Thubten Nyingpo. In this lifetime, H.E. Garchen Rinpoche is Thubten Nyingpo’s root lama, and they are very close. Likewise, Gar Rinpoche told his students at a teaching in New York State in 2004, that Rinpoche’s students should make every effort to receive teachings from Tulku Thubten Nyingpo, that they should run, not walk, to go and receive teachings from Thubten Nyingpo Rinpoche!”
Interestingly it says that Thubten Nyingpo Rinpoche’s incarnations can be traced back to Atsara Sale, who lived in 9th century Tibet. Atsara Sale, one of the heart sons of Guru Rinpoche, was renowned as a great practitioner of Vajrakilaya, and a consort of Yeshe Tsogyal.
For the benefit of beings (which is the title of the extraordinarily moving film made about Garchen Rinpoche’s life, available to watch and download here), I have typed up the transcript of Rinpoche’s Kurukullā empowerment teaching (based on the excellent oral translation by Ina Bieler), for those who attended or were unable to. May it be of benefit!
All phenomena and others are ‘powered’ by the same essence
“Generally, in the world, people receive many empowerments and I have given many. Today it is Kurukullā. Sometimes, newer disciples think there are so many different empowerments and deities but it is not like that. A Buddha is the embodiment of the three kāyas (forms). So when one attains enlightenment one possesses the three qualities of these kāyas. The dharmakāya quality is like space. Within that space of dharmakāya, the enlightened mind qualities of all the buddhas of the three times is one. To give an example, it’s like electricity. In the end, there is only one thing called electrical energy. That is related to what is called sambhogakāya. Electricity can do all sorts of things. Sometimes it can be beneficial, sometimes it can be harmful. However, it is electricity that allows the different countries in the world to connect, move around or do anything. It all depends on electricity. So, depending on the individual motivations of people, some people use electrical power for harmful purposes, some for good uses. Ultimately, it’s still the same electricity, the essence of that never changes. So there is always this potential that electricity has. What one does with it that is up to oneself. So, the Dharmakāya is like space and within the expanse of that kāya the Buddhas are said to all be unified and one. Within the expanse of primordial wisdom they are all one.
How are they all one? The dharmakāya is the great Mother. The rupakāya or nirmakāya are form emanations. There are various form emanations that manifest out of this dharmakāya according to the specific needs of sentient beings to be tamed. For example, the nirmanakāyas and sambhogakāyas manifest anywhere in the six realms of samsara in the individual forms of those beings. The sambhogakāya manifests like a rainbow in the sky and benefits mainly those individuals with pure karmas.
So, the deity of today’s empowerment is a sambhogakāya and is also an emanation of Tara and also an emanation of the Dharmakāya, mother. The Buddha also himself expressed so many names of Tara, around hundred names of Tara, and there are the twenty-one names of Praise to Tara. Kurukullā is one of those twenty-one and is an emanation of Tara appearing to benefit sentient beings, which is a union of method and wisdom. From a pure perspective, everything is the union of method and wisdom.
From a worldly, impure perspective there is the ordinary union of male and female, due to the attachment that creates samsara. However, the pure union of method and wisdom creates buddhahood. This impure perception of self and other leads to attachment and samsara proliferates.
The importance of bodhicitta
For today’s empowerment, therefore, it is important to understand the deity from whom you received the empowerment and yourself as the person receiving the empowerment. The benefit of understanding that relation is when you understand it, if you receive just a single empowerment you are connecting to all the deities, the pure illusory form of all deities. From an impure perspective there seems to just separation, there are all the different sentient beings in samsara, with different hopes and perceptions of things. From that perspective, we cannot bring things into a single essence. Only when we see it how it really is, then we can bring it together into a single essence. In the beginning, we should think in this way.
According to Buddhist practice, whenever we receive empowerments or teach Dharma we always start with taking refuge and cultivating bodhicitta. This is the foundation and very important. Why is that? For the refuge, in order to realize things as they are, we need to rely on the three jewels to understand that. The Buddha showed the path like shining a light on how things really are. After taking refuge, then there is the motivation of bodhicitta (the mind of awakening). The reason is because we wander in samsara because we cling to this existence of self and other. The antidote to that is the relative bodhicitta [wishing to free oneself and all being from suffering and bring to awakening]. So, begin with thinking I must accomplish the benefit of sentient beings. The moment one thinks that way, one is not thinking about oneself alone. The actual refuge is to cultivate bodhicitta. The benefit of cultivating bodhicitta is that when you do that, first of all bodhicitta and love is benefiting others. Self-grasping is what creates samsara and is like an ice block that needs heat to melt. Love, melts that ice block. So, it accomplishes the dual purpose for oneself and others simultaneously. So, one should enter the empowerment with the wish and thought to benefit sentient beings.
The deity from whom we receive the empowerment is called a wisdom being. A wisdom being is a manifestation of the five kinds of wisdom. The disciple who receives the empowerment is like an unripe flower, like the seed of a flower. So, our ordinary external body comprises the five elements and our inner mind there are the five afflictive mental states. When these afflictions mature, they mature into the secret five wisdoms. In order to mature, we receive the maturing empowerment. Today is a maturing or ripening empowerment. As we perceive things in separate and differing ways, various sadhanas and deities appear in order to benefit beings according their specific capacities. However, we have to understand that they all have the same meaning. So if you engage in practice on the basis of bodhicitta then your body, speech and mind will mature into the five illusory rainbow lights from of the deity. The empowerment is for the purpose of maturing the mind.
The history of Kurukullā and the Queen’s spell to get back her King
Next the history of Kurukullā. This deity belongs to the Tara family and is referred to as the subjugating /magnetizing Tara, she is renowned as the principal one in the mandala of the 21 Taras. The Hevajra Tantra says, “the goddess born from a HRI, is red and has four arms. She holds an arrow and a bow and an Utpala flower and a hook. If you simply visualize her, you will gain control over the three worlds.”
Her sadhana was written by the Acharya Sahaja Lalita. In the past, this person was a mighty and wealthy Indian King called Sahaja Lalita. He was known for his exceptionally large entourage of queens. Once he was separated for a long time from one o the main queens. The queen sent her maid to the nearest town to get a magic spell with the power to magnetize the King. She met a girl who gave her a bowl of food and said offer this enchanted food to the King. It will make him return to you. The maid returned and presented the food to the Queen. But the Queen was suspicious. Thinking that the food might be poison, she threw it away into the ocean. The food then fell into the hands of the Naga King, enchanted him instead and he had a child with the Queen. Rumours spread and came to the attention of the King He returned home at once intent on punishing his wife thinking she had been unfaithful. The Queen explained and then the King summoned the girl who had offered the food. The girl who was an emanation of Kurukullā appeared before the King and blessed him. Thus he attained the ordinary and supreme siddhis and became renowned as the Acyara Sahaja Lalita.
The sadhana belongs to the Mother Tantras of the Annutara Yoga Tantras. In the tantras it says: “Even a hundred thousand Kings appear ordinary next to the Wrathful lady.” In the Kurukullā Tantra is says: “If you recite sixty million mantras with a mala made of red sandalwood. You will become the wheel-turning King of the six realms and tame all sentient beings.” I received this lineage from one of my root gurus, HE Konchog Thubten Nyingpo.
Now hearing this story about Kurukullā, you might just focus on the words and think ‘this a deity where I can magnetise and bring something or someone under control’. There might be a tendency to think this worldly way, such as ‘how can I get something for me this way?’ This is because we see ourselves in a dualistic way, as self and others. If you practice the deity with that kind of motivation, there will be both qualities but also faults.
So, how should one approach the practice? It should be connected to the nature of emptiness. What does ‘bringing under control’ or magnetising’ really accomplish? It means you bring under control or magnetise your own perceptions and outshine the perceptions of others, which means you bring under control your own negative thoughts and afflictive emotions, that’s most important. When you bring under control your own afflictions, you are outshining others’ afflictions, then you are helping others by outshining theirs, and thus helping them bring their afflictions under their control. That is the meaning of that. To subjugate and bring under control your own afflictions and thoughts, this particular deity is very precious. It is wisdom that controls the afflictive emotions or subjugates them. having done that, then the specific enlightened activities of that deity will naturally emerge. However if you just approach it in a very literal way, and think ‘oh it is a magnetizing deity’ or use it for samsaric or worldly activities, then qualities might come but also there will be many faults. One must also understand that the teachings of the Vajrayana are extremely profound, and approach it from that perspective when you engage in practice. Use it as a way to magnetise and bring under control, your own afflictive emotions and thoughts and not necessarily only on the outer level. Once you have done that, then naturally the outer enlightened activities will manifest for the sake of others. What you should have foremost in mind when doing this practice is accomplishing the benefit of others.”
After the empowerment, Garchen Rinpoche concluded with some advice about the nature of mind, the samaya and commitment to practice the deity:
“The nature of mind
Milarepa said there is no difference between mind and space. It is quite easy to understand this mind beyond birth and death. It is the mind beyond thinking, and you can find it if you meditate.This is the mind of all the deities is the union of clarity and emptiness (seltong). Clarity means you clearly know the mind is empty and there is not a single though and you are aware of it. Rest within this seeing, without thinking anything, such as ‘it is’ or ‘or is not’ without thinking anything at all. That lucid empty state is what we call the nature of the mind, or mahamudra, or Dzogchen or Madhayamaka, the Middle Way. That is the ultimate mahamudra. You decide on that, it has that decisiveness about it. You know. You saw it. This seeing of the nature of mind is what we call Buddha. Milarepa said do not look for the Buddha outside of yourself. The Buddha is actually the quality of the nature of mind.
All deities are in essence one and the same
At the end of the empowerment, it is said that the life force of the empowerment is to keep the samaya. The root samaya of even hundreds of empowerments is always the same. There is only one root samaya, which is two-fold. On the relative level, the samaya is to cultivate bodhicitta, especially cultivate immeasurable love for all sentient beings. On the ultimate level is to know that self and other is inseparable non –dual. If you have that root samaya that is actually the same as accomplishing the deity. It is that samaya that brings the heart of the deity, of all the deities, into one single essence. Therefore, keep the samaya in that way. When you practice a deity it is very important to understand that no matter which deity you practice, that all the deities are complete within this one deity. For example, if you practice Tara, you think all deities are complete within her. All the Buddhas are complete within this one deity. One has to completely decide about that and be certain about that.
In the specific commitment you take, you say ‘I am going to engage in this practice continuously’, however as we have received many different empowerments it’s difficult to practice all of them. So what you really commit to, is to practice continuously your one main deity, knowing that all the deities are contained within that one. Also, it is said that the highest supreme samaya is always to sustain a state of non-distraction, to cultivate immeasurable love.
The root samaya of love and compassion for all
There is sometimes confusion about what it means to keep samaya. Normally, we think it means I have to practice this deity and do this mantra. We think the formal practice is the samaya and think if you do that practice, is keeping samaya. However, all of that is just branch samaya, the root samaya is love and compassion. It is what actually happens between people, between disciples, between friends, between the guru and disciples, between a mother and her child and so forth. The actual samaya is love and compassion, and altruism is the only antidote to self-grasping. The root samaya must be kept between your companions and fellow disciples. So maintaining genuine love for those around you, surrounding you, that is what it means to keep samaya. In order to protect and sustain your love you need to have patience. If you lose patience, you lose your love. Actually if you just have that samaya you are keeping all your vows. You keep the Vajrayana, Bodhisattva and all three types of vows. That is most important. It is your connection to others with great love. You should see that as important.
Normally, people disregard that and do not think that is so important. They don’t see being kind and loving as the same as keeping samaya, as long as they do their recitations. Then, they start fighting with each other and don’t get along but they feel OK about it because they practice the deity. What is actually happening is they are throwing away their root samaya and protecting their branch samaya. However, that in the long run will not be very helpful. It’s like when you want a tree to grow, but you don’t pour any water into the root, eventually it will dry out. Even if you take care of the branches really well. On the other hand, if you just keep pouring water into the roots, even if some of the branches break it will be fine, it will keep growing. So in any context, with your Dharma friends, or any people, treat them with love and kindness and compassion. That is the actual root samaya.”
Written, transcribed and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 8th June 2021. May it be of benefit in helping all of us attain the fully awakened state and powers of Kurukulla!
As musical themes? 🙂
Shaw, Miranda (2006). “Kurukullā: Red Enchantress with Flowered Bow”. Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton University Press. pp. 432–447.
Vessantara (2003). “Kurukullā and the Rite of Fascination”. Female Deities in Buddhism: A Concise Guide. Windhorse Publications. pp. 79–81
 In Vajrayāna that enlightened activity is spoken of in terms of four modes, or types, of activity: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying. It is the third of these, magnetizing (or bringing under one’s control) that is the special field of Kurukullā, and it is to deploy that particular quality of enlightenment that a practitioner would undertake her practice.
 Two texts were given during the oral transmission by Drupon Tsering Rinpoche, 50 Empowerments of Dharmakirti, Drigung and the other a terma, Gyurwa Dondo Dorje. I did not catch the titles or names very well and have requested the Garchen Institute to clarify them. See video of the lung here:
 See p.413 in History of Buddhism in India, by Alaka Chattopadhaya and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Motilal Banarsidass, 2nd edition (1990)).
 Within the Sakya Lineage the Golden Dharmas are divided into three sets of three and then four miscellaneous initiations added giving it the name Thirteen. The three sets are standard for all enumerations of the Thirteen. The first set of three is the Three Red Ones commonly referred to as the Marmo Kor Sum, or Kachod Kor Sum (Cycle of Three Khechara). They are (1) Vajrayogini of Naropa, Naro Khechara, (2) Vajrayogini of Indrabhuti, Indra Khechara and (3) Vajrayogini of Maitripa, Maitri Khechara. These three practices all arise from the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras. For each of these it is believed that Vajrayogini appeared in person before the Mahasiddha that the tradition is named after. It is not historically clear which Maitripa or Indrabhuti is being referred to, nor is it clear in the Indrabhuti lineage if the Virupa is the same as the Lamdre Virupa.
The second set of three is the Three Great Red Ones (Marpo Kor Sum): (4) Kurukulla of the Hevajra Tantra from the lineage of Sahaja Lalita, (5) Takkiraja of the Guhyasamaja Tantra and (6) Maharakta Ganapati associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra.
The third set is the Three Small Red Ones (Marchung Kor Sum): (7) Kurukulla-Tara of the Vajrapanjara Tantra, (8) Red Vasudhara of the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and (9) Tinuma, the activity form of Vajravarahi, also of the Chakrasamvara cycle.
The four standard remaining deities are (10) Black Manjushri from the lineage of the siddha Jetari, (11) Shabala Garuda from the Kalachakra Tantra and the lineage of Naropa, (12) Simhanada Lokeshvara from its own tantra and (13) Red Jambhala from the Chakrasamvara Tantra and the lineage of mahasiddha Virupa.
Alternates are the dakini (14) Simhamukha associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra, (15) Amaravajradevi also of the Chakrasamvara Tantra and (16) the Nine-deity Amitayus Buddha from his own Tantra.