A SHINING MASS OF DHARMA: The Extraordinary and Vast Collected Works of Jetsun Tāranātha. New website and translation on his Life and Works

Introduction

For the New Moon today, the first day of the sacred month of Saga Dawa tomorrow,and the recent commemoration of Jetsun Tāranātha’s passing  (May 17th), I am happy to launch and announce a brand-new website and first ever published English translation of the outline/contents of Tāranātha’s Collected Works, see https://taranathascollectedworks.com. 

To accompany the launch, here is an overview and brief analysis of the contents of his works and the new website and translation. In this article,  I discuss the following topics:

  • Editions, Outline and Contents of the Works
  • The new website
  • My own previous research and translations connected to Tāranātha
  • Other English-language research and translations on Tāranātha’s Works and Life
  • Tāranātha’s life-stories and autobiographies
  • Revival of Tāranātha’s legacy after the 17th Century destruction and takeover of Tāranātha’s monastery, texts and incarnation recognition by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelugpa

I have been interested in the life and the works of Jetsun Tāranātha for several years now. Particularly, since I translated his Commentary on the Heart Sūtra as a postgraduate, and then studying and translating texts on the Kālacakra within the Jonang tradition (see here for works on Kālacakra, and here for Jetsun Tāranātha).  

The main aim of the new solo project, which began last year, is to translate Tāranātha’s collected works outline into English and provide that as a website/free resource to the general public. The Collected Works is one of the biggest and influential in the Tibetan Buddhist canon from a single author, with 23 Volumes of around 370 texts (in the Dzamthang edition).  The translation of this outline of the Collected Works will hopefully  give people an introduction to the scope, depth and breadth of Tāranātha’s compositions, knowledge and practice, as well as his extremely significant status within Tibetan Buddhism.

As contemporary research is revealing, Tāranātha’s life-story is inspiring indeed, for more on that see below. However, he also suffered significant repression during the violent takeover of Tibet by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug powers. For example, the Tagten Phuntsog Ling monastery was unlawfully confiscated and taken over by the Gelugpas, and Jonang texts sealed and banned from being disseminated and published.  And as I recently wrote about here, Tāranātha’s reincarnation recognition was taken over by the Dalai Lamas as the Jetsun Khalka Dampa lineage, a lineage that is not recognised by the Jonang lineage in Tibet and which they have no say or participation in. Thus it is hoped that this project also helps to restore and promote Tāranātha’s life and works to their deserved place.

Of course the information about the works could be a lot more detailed. I haven’t actually studied the vast majority of texts that are in the collected works, I have only looked at the outline, the titles and also some brief information that was given on the BDRC website where the collected works have been uploaded. Nonetheless, I hope that this first step in becoming more aware of the contents of the collected works will lead onto further activity and interest in Tāranātha’s works. For other research and translations I have done on other Collected Works, such as Longchenpa and Gampopa, see here.

On the new website, where there are English translations of the texts I have provided information about that too. However, if people are aware of other translations that exist of some of these texts, then please do let me know. I would also like to give special thanks to fellow translator, Ives Waldo, for providing helpful feedback and suggestions on my draft translation of the outline (on my request), and to members of the Jonang community  Great Middle Way Buddhist Association in the USA, for kindly being as financial sponsors of the project. This article is also available to download as a .pdf file here.

May the legacy, scholarship, expertise, wisdom and experience of Jetsun Tāranātha that shines out of the volumes of these works, like hundreds of blazing lights, shine ever more brightly without extinguishment!

Music? Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, Shining Light by Annie Lennox….”You’ve always been a thorn in their side, but to me you’re a shining light.”

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 19th May 2023.

THE COLLECTED WORKS: AN OVERVIEW OF EDITIONS, OUTLINE AND CONTENTS

For the full translated outline of the Collected Works (with the original Tibetan), see the new website section here. I re-produce it in the Appendix here below. 

Editions

In terms of extant editions online, the BDRC website lists the following: There appear to be three main editions of Tāranātha’s Collected Works available/listed online at the BDRC. I have listed these below:

  1. Leh, Ladakh edition (based on Tagten Phuntsog Ling edition, 4. below)
  2. Dzamthang, Tibet edition
  3. Peking, China edition

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Source: Phun-tshogs-gliṅ Edition. 17-volume (1982-1987). Smanrtsis Shesrig Dpemzod. C. Namgyal and Tsewang Taru. Leh, Ladakh. Sung ʼbum tā ra nā tha (rtag brtan phun tshogs gling gi par ma). Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW22277.

2. Dzamthang edition (2000)

Source: Dzamthang Edition. 23-volume (2000) rJe btsun Tā ra nā tha’i gsung ’bum. (ʼdzam thang par ma). Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW22276.

3. Peking Edition (2008)

Source: Peking (Pedurma) 45-volume Edition. In U-Med script. gSung ʼbum tā ra nā tha (dpe bsdur ma). Krung goʼi bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2008. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW1PD45495.

There is also an edition of the Collected Works by the Drungo Borigpa Publishers (gSung ʼbum tā ra na tha (bris ma). Par gzhi dang po, Krung Go’i Bod Rig Pa Dpe Skrun Khang, 2008. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW1PD77570).

Outline and Contents – 23 Volumes of 371 texts

To give a brief overview of the outline and contents (the translated outline of all the titles is in the Appendix below and on the new website), this outline is based on the 23-volume Dzamthang, Tibetan edition (ʼdzam thang par ma, purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW22276) in U-chen script. It has around 370 texts contained within it, shows the astonishing legacy, breadth and depth of Tāranātha’s knowledge, authorship, practice, lineage and expertise in historical research, Sutra and Tantras.

The collection includes significant works not only on the important philosophical view of Empty-of-Other (Zhentong), but also in particular, deities such as Kālacakra, Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṁvara, Yamāntaka, Hevajra, Vajrayoginī, Tārayoginī, Chod and Niguma’s Yogas and Mahamūdra. The Volumes can be summarised as follows (based on the Dzamthang edition):

  • Volume One: Liberation Stories. 8 texts. Contains liberation-stories (namthar), several of which are secret autobiographies.

  • Volumes Two-Four: Kālacakra. 40 texts. with one volume dedicated to the six yogas of Kālacakra, including important sadhanas and commentaries on the mandala and deity of Kālacakra, such as Meaningful to See (Thongwa Donden) and Hundred Blazing Lights (Ogya Barwa). 

  • Volume Five: Guhyasamāja. 20 texts. Sadhanas, rituals, supplications, praises and instruction manuals and commentaries on the mandala and deity, Guhyasamāja.

  • Volume Six: Yamāntaka /Vajrabhairava (Shin-je). 21 texts. Sadhanas,  empowerment rituals, supplications, praises and instruction manuals and commentaries on on the mandala and deity of  Yamāntaka.

  • Volumes Seven-Nine: Cakrasamvara. 30 texts. These volumes demonstrate how the Cakramsamvara deity was an important part of Tāranātha’s practice and lineage, with many sadhanas and empowerment rituals, supplications, praises and instruction manuals and commentaries on the deity, mandala and the dakinis, in particular from the lineage of Kṛṣṇācārya.

  • Volume Ten: Songs/Dohas. 17 texts. This volume contains songs and dohas by renowned Indian Mahasiddhas, such as Kṛṣṇācārya. As well as several commentaries and instructions on Vajrayana/Tantra.

  • Volume Eleven: Hevajra. 20 texts. Sadhanas and empowerment rituals,  instruction manuals and commentaries on the mandala and deity of Hevajra.

  • Volume Twelve: Vajrayoginī, Tārayoginī and Niguma’s Yogas. 30 texts. This volume contains many sadhanas, empowerment rituals, supplications, praises and instruction manuals and commentaries on the female deity, Vajrayogini/vārahī, and also Tāranātha’s unique lineage of Tārayoginī. For more on that see Thomas Roth’s article, here. In addition, there are several texts about the Indian yogini, Niguma’s yogas, of which Tāranātha was also a lineage holder of the Shangpa Kagyu. The most extensive research and translation work on Tāranātha’s Niguma texts and tradition has been done mainly by Lama Sarah Harding. 

  • Volume Thirteen: Great Wrathful One/Mahākāla. 20 texts. Sadhanas and empowerment rituals,  instruction manuals and commentaries on the mandala and Dharma Protector, Mahākāla.

  • Volume Fourteen: Consecration rituals, White Tara, Torma offerings. 40 texts.

  • Volume Fifteen:  Ocean of Deities (Yidam Gyatso) and Hundred Root Sadhanas (Drub Tsagya). 4 texts.

  • Volume Sixteen: Śakyamūṇī Buddha. 4 texts. Praises and instructions on the Bhagavan Muni.

  •  Volume Seventeen: Seven-Descents/Transmissions Lineage (Kabab Dun) and explanations of sacred sites. 20 texts. This volume contains several texts on liberation-stories of masters within the Seven-Descents Lineage, and explanations of important and sacred Jonang sites. It also contains the Word-for-Word Commentary on the Heart Sutra (translated by Adele Tomlin (2017).

  • Volume Eighteen: Zhentong Mādhyamaka (Empty-of-Other view). 20 texts. This volume is the philosophical centre-piece of the Collected Works, containing many of Tāranātha’s profound texts on the Empty-of-Other (Zhentong) view such as Essence of Empty-of-Other (translated by Jeffrey Hopkins); Ornament of the Zhentong Madhayamaka (translated by Ives Waldo/Khentrul Rinpoche). The Twenty-One Profound Meanings (translated and analysed by Klaus-Dieter Mathes )

  • Volume Nineteen: Sanskrit grammar, pronunciation and reading. 4 texts. This volume shows the skill and expertise of Tāranātha on Sanskrit, he was a translator of Sanskrit texts.

  • Volume Twenty: Biographies,  Supplications, Niguma tradition, Three Aspects of Ḍākinī, Chod and Phowa. 30 texts. This volume contains some liberation-stories, texts from Niguma tradition (lineage supplications and instruction texts) and sadhanas, instruction manuals and empowerment rituals on Chod. Tāranātha was an important practitioner and lineage holder of Chod, and his texts are still used and cited today by Chod practitioners and teachers. For example, texts like the Chod Empowerment That Opens the Door to Space (Namkha Gochey). The most extensive research and translation work on Tāranātha’s Chod texts and tradition has been done mainly by Lama Sarah Harding. 

  • Volume Twenty-One: Various including Protectors/Torma Offerings. 38 texts. Various texts including torma offerings, rituals to Dharma Protectors and deities. 

  • Volume Twenty-Two: Vajrabhairava and Explanation of Mahayana. 4 texts.

  • Volume Twenty-Three: History and description of the Mang-Yul (myang yul) district of Tsang. 1 text.

The new website – an online resource and catalogue of research and translations on Tāranātha

As you can see from the screenshot above, the new website not only has a translated outline of the Collected Works and information about the various editions,  but also several other sections including one on ‘English Language Translations/Resources’ and Tāranātha’s connections with Jonang and Shangpa Kagyu. 

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE RESEARCH AND TRANSLATIONS ON TĀRANĀTHA
My own previous research and translations 

a) Kālacakra – Meaningful to See and Hundred Blazing Lights

Jetsun Tāranātha authored many of the most important texts on Kālacakra in the Jonang tradition, which are considered to be part of the Dro Lineage of Kālacakra, and essential study elements for Kālacakra practitioners today. In particular, the texts called Meaningful to See (Thongwa Donden) and Hundred Blazing Lights (O Gya Barwa), for more on those texts, see here.  

2) Word-for-Word Commentary on the Heart Sutra and the Empty-of-Other (Zhentong) view

The reason why I became more interested in Tāranātha was also during my postgraduate degree, I translated and did a very detailed introduction to his word-for-word commentary on the Heart Sūtra, which is considered to be an Empty-of-Other (Zhentong) commentary on the Heart Sutra. This was first published as a book by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in 2017, and is available as a second edition now see here.   I published an excerpt from my detailed Introduction of this book, and the Jonang Empty-of Other Great Madhyamaka view here

So it was these two activities, first, translating Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra, but then also translating some of his texts on Kālacakra in particular, Meaningful to See (Thongwa Donden ) and One Hundred Blazing Lights .And also some shorter texts such as one he wrote on the 21 Taras, that led me into becoming more and more interested in Jetsun Tāranātha and his life and his works.  For other articles I have written on Kālacakra, see here; for  articles on Tāranātha, see here.

For an audio recording of a talk I gave at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Nepal in 2018 on the book, see here (my talk starts at 1:14). For a Dharma Talk published by Tricycle Magazine this month on the two views of emptiness, Empty-of-Self (Rangtong) and Empty-of-Other (Zhentong), according to Tāranātha and other great Tibetan masters, see here.

Other English-language research and translations – History of Buddhism, Empty-of-Other, Chod and Niguma

For a current list of books, research and translations in the English-Language of Tāranātha’s works, or about him, see the new website section listing here.

One of the first texts to be translated into the English language was  Tāranātha’s History of Buddhism in India. This valuable text became very influential not only in Tibetan culture, but also in the English language speaking world and is still cited today when referring to historical figures in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.

However, after that, not many texts were translated until recently when there was more of an academic interest in Tāranātha and the Jonang view of Zhentong, the Empty of Other view, a view that was also shared by the Kagyu and Nyingma Masters (such as the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje) but is considered to have been really developed in terms of particular terminology by one of the main Jonang masters, Kunkhyen Dolpopa. So within the academic world, there are several papers which were written and published about Tāranātha’s works and some of his commentaries by academics such as David Templeman and Klaus-Dieter Mathes. 

For example, there is a commentary on Zhentong called The Essence of Zhentong, which was translated into English by scholar-translator, Jeffrey Hopkins. In addition, Michael Sheehy has also translated several Tāranātha texts when he set up the Jonang Foundation website a few years ago. Sheehy recently wrote about Tāranātha’s secret consort and one of the very few Jonang  lineage holders, Kunga Trinley Wangmo, for more on that see A Woman’s Voice : the Autobiography of Kunga Trinley Wangmo, (Zhentong lineage holder and secret consort of Tāranātha)

Other than that the main area of interest in terms of translating Tāranātha’s works is in relation to his works and compositions on Chod, Niguma’s Yogas and in relation to Shangpa Kagyu by Lama Sarah Harding.  However, there are still texts which have not been translated, which were composed by Jetsun Tāranātha on Niguma and the Shangpa Kagyu.  

Tāranātha’s Life-stories and autobiographies

Volume One of Tāranātha’s Collected Works contain several life-stories and secret autobiographies, and these are listed in the outline of the Collected Works website here.  In terms of his English-language translation of his biographies and life stories, there is not a huge amount of literature out there. Generally, most of the work on that topic has been done by David Templeman who did a PhD on Jetsun Tāranātha’s life. He is considered to be the main expert on Jetsun Tāranātha’s life stories as well as other topics.   

As contemporary research is revealing, Tāranātha’s life-story is inspiring indeed. From a very young age he studied with great indian yogins and masters and became an expert practitioner and translator in the Vajrayana and Sanskrit:

When Tāranātha was fourteen years old, the Indian adept Buddhaguptanātha (d.u.) arrived in Tibet. This master became one of Tāranātha’s most important teachers, passing to him countless transmissions of tantric initiations and esoteric instructions. Tāranātha stated that his understanding of the secret mantra teachings was due to the kindness of Buddhaguptanātha alone.

Several other Indian yogins and scholars, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, came to Tibet during Tāranātha’s lifetime, such as BālabhadraNirvāṇaśrī, Purnananda, Purnavajra, and Kṛṣṇabhadra. They gave him instructions, taught scholarly topics, and joined him in translating Sanskrit manuscripts into Tibetan. Several of Tāranātha’s translations are now included in the Tibetan canonical collections of the Kangyur and Tengyur.

He was not only a lineage holder of the Jonang, but also of the Shangpa Kagyu. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye was so smitten in admiration of Tāranātha that many of his works included word-for-word copies of Tāranātha’s words, particularly on Kalacakra, and he would commemorate Kongtrul every year, without fail. For more on Kongtrul’s first trip to the Jonang monastery to get their lineage transmissions, see Murder plots, omens, black magic and Kālacakra: Tantric hero Jamgon Kongtrul’s dangerous first trip to Jonang monastery.

The 17th Century destruction and takeover of Tāranātha’s monastery, texts and incarnation recognition by the 5th Dalai Lama/Gelug

In 1642, eight years after Tāranātha’s death, an alliance of Mongol armies led by Gushri Khan violently overthrew and defeated the U-Tsang rulers and enthroned the Fifth Dalai Lama. According to most historical accounts, in the year 1650, the Fifth Dalai Lama sealed and banned the study of Jo-nang Empty-of-Other texts, prohibiting the printing of such texts throughout Tibet. Then in 1658, the Jonang rTag-brtan-dam-chos-gling Monastery (built by Tāranātha near the original site of Jonang) was forcibly converted into a Ge-lugs Monastery — officially initiating the demise of the Jonangpa in U-Tsang. The carving of the blocks came to an end, the printing of impressions from the blocks stopped, and the recognition of the re-embodiment of the Jonang Jetsun prohibited. All of the Jonang monasteries and hermitages in central Tibet were seized and the remaining Jonang masters in the area began an exodus to previously established monasteries in the remote regions of Tibet. This did not only happen to Jonang either. As the 17th Karmapa also recently taught, many Karma Kagyu monasteries established by the 8th Karmapa and previous Karmapas, were confiscated and taken over by the Gelugpa or destroyed/ruined, for more on that teaching see here.

And as I recently wrote about here, his reincarnation recognition was taken over by the Dalai Lamas, into the Jetsun Khalka Dampa lineage, a lineage that is not recognised by the Jonang lineage in Tibet and which they have no say or participation in. Thus it is hoped that this project also helps to restore and promote his life and works to their deserved place.

The former Jonang Tagten Phuntshog Ling monastery violently taken over and converted to a Gelug monastery during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama onwards.

 

4 thoughts on “A SHINING MASS OF DHARMA: The Extraordinary and Vast Collected Works of Jetsun Tāranātha. New website and translation on his Life and Works

  1. Dear Adele, please include my Taranatha translation on the Jonang Foundation website: Uniting Recollection and Guru Yoga
    by Taranatha
    Translated by James Rutke

      1. Jonang Foundation.org :Library: Uniting Recollection and Guru Yoga
        by Taranatha
        Translated by James Rutke

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