“It [Chakrasamvara] was then given to Marpa Lotsawa from Tibet, and he gave it to Milarepa, who then gave it to Je Gampopa, who gave it to 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, who holds the five sets of five deity practices. Among those sets of five, this is the five-deity Chakrasamvara and so became a special practice of the Karma Kagyu tradition.”
–12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche on five-deity Chakrasamvara practice
On 9th April 2023, HE 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche bestowed the five-deity Chakrasmavara empowerment in Sikkim. In this short research note, I give a brief overview of texts on the five-deity Chakrasamvara [Skt: Cakrasaṁvara] of the First Karmapa’s five sets of five deity practices. I have already written about and translated the sadhanas of the five deity Tamdrin here, and five-deity Tara here.
Previously, I translated the short daily sadhana practice of the five-deity Chakrasamvara contained in the 1st Karmapa’s Collected Works, see article here. It is attributed to Rangjung Dorje so could also be written by the 2nd or 3rd Karmapa. In any case, for those who have the empowerment and would like to practice it, please contact me here for a free copy.
There is also a longer sadhana (around 70 folios) in the Collected Works of the 8th Karmapa, on the five-deity Chakrasamvara here[i].
I have already received this empowerment a couple of times in Karma Kagyu and Drigung Kagyu lineage, and due to there being an electricity outage and not knowing it was being livestreamed on FB, I was unable to take this one live. However, I have since listened to it, and provide a full transcript of his short teaching on it below (see video livestream here).
Interestingly, despite the 17th Karmapa’s recent annual teaching to the nuns, and his being a forerunner of improving the status of nuns and female practitioners, I did not see any women going up to get the empowerment substances and blessing with the male tulkus and monks during the empowerment. So still seems like a long way to go on that. The issue seems to be with the predominantly male monastic tulku system itself.
Music? For Ghantapa, the Bell-holder the devotional bliss of Nada Aradhana from Sounds of Isha, You Can Ring My Bell by Anita Ward. For ecstatic, blissful loving and passionate embrace of the deity, Gorecki by Lamb and Into My Arms by Nick Cave.
Dedicated to the flourishing of the Karmapas’ legacy and activities and to the realisation of the Chakrasamvara deity!
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 11th April 2023.
The three main traditions of Chakrasamvara and Ghantapa
The 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche taught that there are three main traditions of Chakrasamvara: Luipa, Ghantapa and Krishnacharya. I have written about these traditions and Mahasiddhas here.
For more on Ghantapa’s life-story, and how he changed from celibate monk to siddha with wife and child, see here (part of which I have extracted below):
“”So,” said the king, savoring every moment, “the monk who refused to come to my palace because I was a sinful man has a whore’s daughter as a lover with whom he has produced a bastard child, and to top it all off – he drinks liquor!”
“I am without fault,” replied Ghantapa calmly. “Why do you insult me?”
Again, the king repeated his accusation. And again the crowd began to make catcalls. Finally, Ghantapa hurled both his son and the jug of liquor onto the ground. This so frightened the earth goddess that she trembled with fear. The ground gaped open and a geyser of water spurted forth.
The child was instantly transformed into a thunderbolt and the jug of liquor into a bell. Whereupon the yogin, bearing thunderbolt and bell, levitated with his consort into the sky, where they became the deities Samvara and Vajra Varahi joined in father-mother union. They hovered over the heads of the king and the multitude as the waters rose higher and higher.
“We take refuge in the master!” screamed the drowning people. But Ghantapa remained adamant in his samadhi of immutable wrath.”
Ghantapa came to be known as “The Bearer of the Bell,” and his fame rang out to all the corners of the earth. Possessing the glorious power and virtue of a Buddha, the yogin ascended into the Paradise of the Dakinis with his consort.”
According to Himalayan Arts website: “In the thangka image here, at the bottom center is the King Devapala, standing with the hands upraised, who having insulted the mahasiddha, the latter now with vajra-anger, and dropping a large blue pot of alcohol, causes the Goddess of the Earth to incur a flood. A regretful Devapala and a lone subject, with reverence call out for help, with the hands reverently joined in the gesture of petitioning. Instantly, on hearing the needful plea the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara appears standing at the bottom right, white in colour and wearing a krishnasara deer skin over the left shoulder, proceeds to save the kingdom by averting the flood. The now remorseful king, requesting teachings, receives the parting words of the mahasiddha and consort as they ascend to the pureland of the Dakinis. At the top left is a bodhisattva from the standard set of eight great bodhisattvas.”
Five-deity Chakrasamvara and the First Karmapa
In the First Karmapa’s Collected Works, there are several texts connected to the five-deity Chakramsavara. I list them here below for reference:
- Indian root text of Chakrasamvara[ii] བདེ་མཆོག་རྒྱ་གཞུང
- Directly realisation (sadhana practice) the five-deity Chakrasamvara[iii] བདེ་མཆོག་ལྷ་ལྔའི་མངོན་རྟོགས
- Practice of the Torma of Chakrasamvara[iv] བདེ་མཆོག་གི་གཏོར་མའི་མངོན་རྟོགས
- Indian root text of the fire offering of Chakrasamvara བདེ་མཆོག་སྦྱིན་སྲེག་རྒྱ་གཞུང
- Inner offering of Chakrasamvara བདེ་མཆོག་གི་ནང་གི་མཆོད་པ
- Pacifying fire ritual of Chakrasamvara[vi] བདེ་མཆོག་ཞི་བའི་སྦྱིན་སྲེག
- Precious Garland: Empowerment of the five-deity Chakrasamvara བདེ་མཆོག་ལྷ་ལྔའི་དབང་གི་ཆོ་ག་ནོར་བའི་ཕྲེང་བ
12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche’s Teaching for the Five-deity Chakrasamvara empowerment
“First, as this is the general tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, give rise to Bodhicitta, give rise to the state of wishing to bring all sentient beings to awaken into full enlightenment. So whatever Dharma activity one is doing, one should always dedicate it for benefiting sentient beings. It is wrong to do it to do it only to benefit oneself.
During the time of Buddha, in the beginning, the teachings of Buddha which were commonly known was Theravada or Sravaka Buddhist, At that time, Mahayana was somewhat hidden from the general public.
Then, Buddha Shakyamuni passed away and the teachings were transmitted from one regent to another. Usually, we talk about seven or eight regents of Buddha. In some of the histories, Nagarjuna is also sometimes spoken about as a regent of Buddha. It was during the time of Nagarjuna that the Mahayana became more accessible to the general public.
During that time, we talk about the four classes of tantra in Vajrayana Buddhist. The two first classes of tantra we talk about as Kriya Tantra and Charya Tantra. These first classes also flourished at the same time when Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India.
At the same time, the highest class of tantra, Anuttara Yoga Tantra, also flourished gradually. In the beginning it was promoted mainly by Indrabhūti and Saraha. They had many great students, and they brought the tantric teachings into India and they became widespread.
Among the Highest Yoga Tantras are also three classifications: father, mother and non-dual tantra. Among these, the Chakrasamvara is the mother tantra. There are three main Mahāsiddha traditions of Chakrasamvara: Luipa, Ghantapa (Drilubpa), Krishnacarya (Nagpopa). These are the three great masters of Chakrasamvara. Because of them there were countless mahāsiddhas of Chakrasamvara tantra.
So, as the teachings of Buddhism declined, in one way the teachings of the Highest Yoga tantra flourished more and more. This is because in this degenerate age, the negative mental states, especially human beings, is stronger. And gets stronger as times goes on. At the same time, the teachings of Highest Yoga tantra flourish. So among the people with strong negative emotions who have the ability to transform those negative mental states into wisdom with the Vajrayana methods. They can be transformed into wisdom without necessarily abandoning them.
So, earlier I talked about three traditions of Chakrasamvara, the one we will get today is from Ghantapa (Drilbupa). In this tradition there are five deities in one mandala. It is also taught in the Chakrasamvara Tantra, it is taught somewhere at the end of the root text of this tantra. It was then given to Marpa Lotsawa from Tibet, and he gave it to Milarepa, who then gave it to Gampopa, who gave it to 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, who has the five sets of five deities. Among those this is the five deity Chakrasamvara among those five sets and so became a special practice of the Karma Kagyu tradition.”
Video of empowerment teaching is here (Tibetan only):
[i] Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. “rJe dus gsum mkhyen paʼi thugs dam lnga tshan lnga las bde mchog lha lngaʼi mngon par rtogs pa rje karma brgyad pas mdzad pa.” gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje, vol. 25, 2004, pp. 235–308. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW8039_1EEE2E.
[ii] Karma pa 01 dus gsum mkhyen pa. “bDe mchog rgya gzhung.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 303–07. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_1EE0EC.
[iii] “bDe mchog lha lngaʼi mngon rtogs.” Ibid., pp. 307–11.
[iv] “bDe mchog gi gtor maʼi mngon rtogs.” Ibid., pp. 312–15.
 Ibid. “bDe mchog gi nang gi mchod pa.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 318–21. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_EE7B40. [BDRC bdr:MW3PD1288_EE7B40]
[vi] Ibid. “bDe mchog zhi baʼi sbyin sreg.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 321–23. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_94E32B. [BDRC bdr:MW3PD1288_94E32B]