Shanpa Kargyu Golden Dharmas
Part II: Non-death Yoga


Revealed upon the request of the Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen & his patron Dr. C. T. Shen
Translated, with assistance from Dezhung Rinpoche, by Matthew Kapstein

The Shangs-Pa Teaching of Deathlessness


The various systems of meditation and yogic practice which were transmitted to the great translator Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa by the dakini Niguma, and which together form the central teaching of the Shangs-pa bka'-brgyud lineages, are most often likened to a tree. Its roots are the six yogic doctrines; its trunk, the mahamudra; its branches, the three ways of carrying an enlightened awareness over to all one's activities; its flowers, the sadhanas of the white and red aspects of Khecari; and its fruit is the teaching of the deathlessness of body and mind. Like the parts of a tree, these five "Golden Doctrines" are not wholly separate, unrelated things, but reveal an intricate and subtle interrelationship that is often belied by the apparent simplicity of any single one of them in isolation. This is most striking in the case of the last of the five, the doctrine of deathlessness, with which we are concerned here.

The Shangs-pa teaching of deathlessness, or the "precepts of body and mind as deathless and without deviation" (lus sems 'chi-med 'chugs-med kyi gdams-ngag), first arose as a synthesis of two distinct instructions: that of the deathlessness of mind, which had been transmitted to Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa by Niguma herself; and that of the deathlessness of body, which had been transmitted to Sangs-rgyas gNyan-ston, the sixth master of the lineage, by a yogin of the lineage of a certain Dur-khrod Nag-po1. The precepts for meditation were combined, though it is not clear just when this occurred, but the custom of initiating the disciple into the practice through the conferral of two separate empowerments has been retained down to the present day2.

Of the teachings of the earliest Shangs-pa masters, very little is available to us at the present time. A complete catalogue of extant works was compiled during the 19th century by 'Jam-mgon Kong-sprul bLo-gros mTha'-yas3, the eclectic master of the Dharma who was an important reviver of the Shangs-pa practices. Many of the works listed therein are perhaps to be found in the library of the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche. Nonetheless, four songs based on the precepts of deathlessness and composed by the masters of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries were included by Kong-sprul Rin-po-che in an anthology of Shangs-pa yogic songs, and these have been included here in translation. In addition to their great intrinsic interest they are of value for the evidence they provide concerning the original structure of the teachings upon which they are based; they confirm entirely, that the later visionary works which are our main record for these precepts do not depart much from the original teaching.

It is the work of the bridge-building saint Thang-stong rGyal-po that the precepts of deathlessness are most extensively documented. His beautiful Vajra Song (pp.142-143) follows the tradition of the early masters of expressing and transmitting one's realization of these precepts in verse. Curiously, Kong-sprul Rinpoche makes no mention of this song in his catalogue. Nonetheless, it is with another work of Thang-stong rGyal-po that the study of the doctrine of deathlessness should be begun, Instructions on the Deathlessness of Body and Mind (pp. 144-152). This is the most extensive single text on the subject available, and it is in the light of it alone that our other sources must be interpreted. Like the author's other works on the doctrines of Niguma, it is based not on the oral transmission directly, but on his vision of the dakini herself. Kong-sprul Rinpoche describes this visionary transmission:

The later rebirth of the omniscient Dol-po, (a veritable) Buddha4, was the mahasiddha (known as) brTson-'grus bZang-po, or Thang-stong rGyal-po, etc.,--one body endowed with five names. He received from the Bodhisattva sByin-pa bZang-po the oral transmission of the distant lineage renowned as the "Upper Tibetan Lineage of Ri-gong", which had been transmitted from mKhas-grub Shangs-ston's disciple Mus-chen rGyal-mtshan dPal-bzang. Achieving direct spiritual experience of it he was taken into the following of the Jnanadakini (Niguma) herself, and a 'close lineage' emerged in three stages: first, Niguma actually appeared at Ri-bo-che in gTsang (and granted) guidance for meditation on the six doctrines, the mahamudra, the "carry-over", deathlessness, and the Guru indivisible from Mahakala (i.e. the six-armed Mahakala); second, at the root of the juniper-tree of the Demon Fort in mDog-smad (she conferred) the empowerments for each; and third, (she bestowed) the precepts of Khecari, which came forth symbolically without words. These were transmitted in separate lineages from Mang-mkhar-ba bLo-gros rGyal-mtshan, rGya-sgom Legs-pa rGyal-mtshan, and others, and the oral transmission has remained unbroken to the present day.5

Thang-stong rGyal-po's manual is supplemented by an abbreviated set of instructions derived from the writings of the great Kung-dga' Grol-mchog, who had also received a visionary transmission of the Shangs-pa teachings, in addition to the oral instructions of twenty-four different lines. His short work on deathlessness is, however, based on a currently unavailable text by an early master of the Shangs-pa, bSam-sdings gZhon-nu-grub. Finally, the liturgies which accompany the actual sadhana have been included following the writings of Kong-sprul Rinpoche (pp.155-163).

While the texts translated here do provide a complete record of the Shangs-pa precepts of deathlessness it is also clear that one group of instructions is missing: those concerning the thirty-two special yogic exercises which should be mastered by the yogin as an introduction to the practice (see p.144 and note 11). Texts relating to such disciplines were seldom distributed openly, but were usually passed on in manuscript by the teacher conferring the instructions. Further information concerning this in the case of the Shangs-pa tradition would probably be available with the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche.

Returning now to the question of how the teaching of deathlessness relates to other Shangs-pa doctrines, the scheme by which the initiatory empowerments of the lineage are classified, groups it and a number of other doctrines together as the "Five Transmitted Teachings of the Mahamudra" (phyag-chen bka' lnga).6 These, in turn, are regarded as profounder versions of precepts which have already been taught in the six yogas, the precepts on deathlessness being seen as a profounder version of the yoga of the intermediate state7. Indeed, Taranatha's discussions of the Shangs-pa yoga of the intermediate state suggests that the teaching of deathlessness is, in fact, an elaboration of the first section of the teaching on the intermediate state, the "Spontaneous Arisal of the Dharmakaya in the Pristine Luminosity of the First Intermediate State."8

There is, furthermore, a system by which the whole of the Shangs-pa path is classified in terms of extensive, abbreviated, and extremely abbreviated redactions, of which the last two are of some interest here. While there are no complete texts devoted to these available, Kong-sprul Rinpoche has summarized them in his Shes-bya Kun-khyab mDzod.9 There, it is revealed that the abbreviated redaction consists of the doctrines of the "three bodies", and that the extremely abbreviated concerns the deathless nature of the mind. The doctrine of the "three bodies" forms an important part of the background for the doctrine of deathlessness and seems to have particularly influenced Thang-stong rGyal-po's work, in the context of which a more detailed discussion of this point will be found (see pp.144-145 and note 12).

I am indebted to the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche for his kind and patient assistance, without which I might have been at a loss to interpret some of the more obscure passages. No doubt, there are still many improvements to be made in this work, owing, of course, solely to the limitations of my own understanding, but I do hope that this will serve as an adequate beginning. May it be of benefit to all living beings!

The Song of the Deathless Vajra of Mind

by rMog-lcog-pa Rin-chen-brtson-'grus (12th cent.)
(extracted from the Shangs-pa mGur-mtsho, ff.
21A1-4, = gdams-ngag-mdzod vol. VIII, p. 797)

This is the essence of (the doctrine of) deathlessness, by which Buddhahood is attained without meditation,
By the force of spiritual experience of these precepts, (which consummate) Sutra and Tantra.
In this way this body, the product of karmic evolution,
Naturally emerges as the body of primordial awareness.

The evolved body becomes the embodiment of the deity;
Pristine, no attachment to it--one meditates thus.
It is inseparable from mind,
And, for mind, substantial reality cannot be established:
Then, where does one find there something that dies?

So-called "death" is merely an idea:
Ideas and concepts, the phenomena of samsara and nirvana can not be established as real.
The object and the cause of transmigration dissolve naturally at the very point of their origin.

The consciousness in which absolute meaning is found,
Is deathless, unlimited; it is the supreme fruit.
Remembering this, Buddhahood is revealed:
This, the vital heart of the dakini, must be held to like life itself.

(This song of) one's own mind as deathless and naturally liberated, a composition of Ratna-virya (=rMog-lcog-pa Rin-chen brTson-'grus), is completed. I requested (these precepts) of the Guru of Shangs (i.e. Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa), having made offering with fifty measures of gold, and practiced them to the attainment of spiritual experience.

The Vajra Song Which Introduces The Deathlessness of Mind

by dbOn-ston sKyer-sgang-pa Chos-kyi-seng-ge

Namo Guru!
By day, the form of the deity, (unity of) appearance and emptiness,
Is realized to be without illness and death.
When dying, if just the eyes become clear,
The agonies naturally subside, the Sambhoga-kaya is obtained.
But even if there is little hope for that clarity,
Then during the intermediate state, by force of former practice,
The Sambhoga-kaya, supreme bliss, arises spontaneously:
As if a stone were cast in a limpid pond.
And until samsara is emptied
The needs of others are fulfilled, spontaneously, without limit.

(This song of) one's own mind as deathless and naturally liberated was composed by the Venerable Dharmasimha (i.e. Chos-kyi-seng-ge). I requested (these precepts) of the Incomparable Rin-chen (rMog -lcog-pa Rin-chen brtson-'grus) having offered one hundred measures of gold, thirty 'bri (the female of the Yak) and one fur-lined cloak, and then practiced them until (their meaning) was directly experienced.

(from the Shangs-pa mGur-mtsho, 23B1-4,=p. 802)

The Adamantine Statement Teaching
The Deathlessness of Mind

by gNyan-ston Ri-gong-pa Chos-kyi-shes-rab

I bow before the feet of Dharmasimha, (who is)
Naturally liberated, supreme bliss, unconditioned.

As for the mind which intermingles,
Pristine luminosity and a deity's form, with reference to the body evolved by karmic patterns;
It is realized to be without any basis for illness or death;
Samsara and nirvana, acceptance and rejection, dissolve naturally.
Knowing that for but a moment,
When the breath is cut short, the agonies and torments,
The sufferings - all of them - naturally subside.
Intermingling, then, pristine luminosity and the deity's form,
There is neither birth, nor death; there is no affirmation, no negation.
There is nothing to be realized, no realizer.
The object of meditation and the meditator dissolve naturally.
And by the two Rupa-kayas,
For as long as the ocean of samsara does not empty,
The needs of others will be fulfilled,
Spontaneously, without interruption.

This precept, by which Buddhahood may be attained in a matter of months, or years,
I have properly realized,
By the grace of the Guru, sKyer-sgang-pa.
The yogin who has cast this life from his mind,
Meditating on this, for seven days, will achieve liberation.

(This song of) one's own mind as deathless and naturally liberated, which was composed by the Venerable Dharmaprajna (i.e. Chos-kyi-shes-rab), is completed. I requested (these precepts) of the Glorious sKyer-sgang-pa, having offered ten small measures of gold and one fur-lined cloak, and then practiced them until (their meaning) was directly experienced.

Thus, the impeccable, profound precepts of one's own mind as deathless and naturally liberated, as composed by three Gurus, (are completed).*

(from the Shangs-pa mGur-mtsho, ff. 25B5-26A3,=pp. 806-807)

* It appears that this song, and the two preceding it, were transmitted together.

Precepts Granted Concerning The Deathlessness of Mind

by Sangs-rgyas sTon-pa brTson-'grus Seng-ge

I bow to you; deathless, primordial awareness
Of the Jinas, Buddhas of the three times.

After creating an enlightened attitude, and practicing the Guru-yoga,
One performs supplications, and then,
One's body (becomes) a deity's body, (unity of) appearance and emptiness, (and this is united with) mind.
The substance of mind and the deity's form, which are indivisible,
Is emptiness, which, by the Buddhas,
Has not been seen, is not seen, shall not be seen.
There, there is no cause for illness, no cause for death,
No samsara or nirvana, no affirmation or negation.
If one realizes its meaning for just an instant,
Or remembers, hears, or cognizes it,
Though conditions be poor, and memory failing,
The sufferings and agonies of death will naturally subside,
And in the first intermediate state pristine luminosity,
The Sambhoga-kaya will become indivisible; and the Nirmana-kaya
Spontaneously, uninterruptedly (will fulfill) the needs of others.

This deathlessness, the realization of the Jina,
Is set forth for the sake of my most excellent disciple.
By that virtue may beings to the limits of the universe
Realize the meaning of deathless, primordial awareness.

(This song of) one's own mind as deathless and naturally liberated, which was written by the Venerable Viryasimha (i.e. brTson-'grus Seng-ge) on behalf of an impeccable spiritual son, an exceedingly fine disciple (probably = mKhas-grub gTsang-ma Shangs-ston), is completed. I requested (these precepts), having offered five hundred loads of barley, seven small measures of silver, one yak-cow hybrid, and a fine piece of clothing made of Bhutanese cotton, and then practiced until (their meaning) was directly experienced.

(from the Shangs-pa mGur-mtsho, ff. 27A7-27B5,=pp. 809-810)

The Vajra Song of Mind,
Deathless and Naturally Liberated

by Thang-stong rGyal-po

With respect of body, speech and mind I supplicate
The Venerable Guru, the Buddha.
This sham concept, "death",
Attains to no substantial reality - it is the way things naturally are.
The body and mind associated with death
Are deathless, naturally liberated, Mahamudra.
The body evolved through karma, being inanimate, does not die.
As for sub-conscious patterning - how could one die in a dream?
Mind in and of itself becomes the naturally luminous form of the deity,
Pristine and empty, free from attachment, like the moon's reflection.
This natural, abiding condition, empty, unelaborated,
Is free from illness, free from death,
Without nirvana, without samsara.
Everything is the play of one's own mind's bewilderment.
The manifestations of that play are pristine, but unceasing.
Unceasing, they are unborn and dissolve in totality.
How wonderful! This deathless, primordial awareness,
Which is devoid of birth, cessation and static continuation.
Experience is left without attachment,
And one meditates integrating this with all activity.
Whoever practices in that way, for a while,
Dissolves at death into the totality of the Dharmakaya.
In the intermediate state achieves the Jina's Sambhoga-kaya,
And by the Nirmana-kaya guides living beings.
May you experience this, o fortunate ones!

Thus, the adamantine statement of the Venerable Mahasiddha (Thang-stong rGyal-po) of the deathless and naturally liberated (is completed).

(from the Shangs-pa mGur-mtsho, ff. 29B4-30A1,=pp. 814-815)

Instructions on the Deathlessness of Body and Mind:
An Appendix to the Doctrines of Niguma

by Thang-stong rGyal-po (15th cent.)
(gDams-ngag-mdzid, vol. VIII, pp. 319-325)

Namo Guru! (=Skt. namo gurave)

In order to achieve spiritual experience of the precepts of the deathlessness of body and mind, which are appended as the very essence10, one who has first refined the nadis, bindu and vayus by means of the thirty-two devices11 sits on a comfortable seat, either in cross-legged or lotus posture, whichever is comfortable. Then, after beginning by going for refuge, creating an enlightened attitude, and (the practice of) the Guru-yoga, he must think as follows:

    That which is called "death"--is it a death of the body, or a death of the mind? If one thinks then that the body dies:

    Now, is it the physical body, evolved by karma, which dies? Or is it the body as a sub-conscious patterning? It certainly cannot be the former. This body being only inanimate matter--flesh, blood, bone, skin, etc.,--heaped together, where is death found in reference to it? If it were to be found there, then why do earth and stones, etc. not die as well?

    Furthermore, the body as a sub-conscious patterning is not that which dies. If it were to die, then by dying in a dream one would necessarily have died in fact. If that were the case, the individuals who have dreamt of dying could not have awakened from sleep, because having so died, they could not revive.12

    In sum then, when the thrust of previous karma is exhausted the mind no longer resides in this body, which has evolved through karma, and it is merely this which is labelled "death." Therefore, no real meaning can be established for death.

Thinking thus, one must meditate on this until one has decisively established the deathlessness of the body.

If one thinks that it is the mind which dies, then in order to achieve spiritual experience of the special precept called, "Mind, Deathless and Naturally Liberated", one begins by going for refuge and creating the enlightened attitude. Having done so, (one visualizes that) all at once one becomes Cakrasamvara, blue in color, standing atop a lotus and solar disc, surmounted by Bhairava and Kalaratri. His right leg is outstretched, pressing the belly of Kalaratri, and his left leg is bent, pressing the head of the doubled-up figure of Bhairava, black in color. He has one face, two arms, and three eyes, and his face grimaces, baring fangs. At the peak of the bound up pile of matted hair on the crown of his head is a jewel, and to the left the crescent of the moon in its first phase. Atop the central tuft is a visva-vajra. His two hands, holding bell and vajra, embrace his consort. He possesses five dry human skulls for head-ornaments, a necklace of fifty severed heads, and the six bone ornaments. His tiger-skin skirt hangs loosely and he is endowed with the nine dramatic airs.

In his lap is his consort Vajra-varahi, red in color, holding aloft in her right hand a flaying-knife (khadga), her index finger pointing menacingly, and holding in her left a blood-filled skull-cup, with which she embraces her consort. She is naked, has three eyes, and her hair hangs loose. Her figure is voluptuous and her breasts full. She has head ornaments of dry skulls and the necklace (of dry ones, too). She is endowed with the five bone ornaments, her left leg is outstretched, and her right bent, wrapped about her consort. The couple stand in the midst of the blazing flames of primordial awareness. One meditates clearly upon this.

Meditating, then, that the Guru is above the crown of the head one supplicates him.

Then, there are three sections which are concerned with application to the means for achieving spiritual experience (of the precepts of the deathlessness of mind):

I. The Preliminary Practice

One imagines that at (the level of) the scalp at the crown of the head of the father-consort is a blue HUM*, radiating blue light and completely outshining even the exceedingly clear figure of the deity. Then, light pours forth from the HUM, and the space between the brows (of the deity) becomes brilliantly clear. Then, (the radiance spreads) down to the nose. With the blood-vessels standing out clearly the three eyes glare brightly. Then, by stages, (the light proceeds) down to the throat, heart, belly and to the genitals. Then, down to the knees, ankles and nails (the body) becomes brilliantly clear. One meditates until it is so.

* HUM =

That is the outer refinement of the father-consort.

Then, again, blue light pours forth from the HUM. Descending from the opening at the crown of the head down to (the level of) the nose and then the throat, (the inside of the head) becomes pale blue. Then, one meditates that (by stages the light spreads) down to the heart, belly, genitals, knees, ankles, and the insides of the toes, (so that all become) brilliant, clear blue, of the nature of light. This is the inner refinement of the father-consort.

In the same way, one imagines that at the scalp on the crown of the head of the mother-consort there is a red BAM** radiating red light. Red light proceeds from it and, just as above, effects both the outer and inner refinement of the mother-consort. In particular, one meditates on the vagina and breasts as brilliant red. Thus, one distinctively visualizes the colors.

Then, beginning with the central eye of the father-consort one visualizes the eyes in turn. One visualizes separately the matted locks, the way vajra and bell are held, the mouth baring four fangs, the stance of the feet, the physical attitude of flirtation, the blazing flames, and so forth. Thus, one meditates upon the shape. In the same way, one meditates by stages upon the shape of the mother-consort.

** BAM =

Then one meditates in stages on the father-consort's crest-jewel, his crescent-moon, visva-vajra, six bone ornaments i.e. circlets, earrings, throat ornament, arm and ankle bracelets, belt, and cremation ashes, and her head ornaments of dry skulls, necklace, etc. Thus, one visualizes the ornaments.

One should meditate on that couple united as consorts as the unity of clarity and emptiness which is supreme bliss, and as being of the nature of pristine luminosity. Furthermore, one should think that they are of the nature of light in that with respect to clarity there is perfect completion without adulteration, and with respect to emptiness there is no substantial nature that can be established at all. As such, there is nothing but one's own mind, in and of itself, appearing in the form of a deity. Besides that, there is no external fact that can be established as truly existent. One should meditate until one achieves complete certainty regarding this.

It is, for example, like a dream, or the reflection of the moon in water. Just so, in a dream one may dream of various objects, without those objects having come to one, or one's mind having gone to them, but owing, instead, to mind's involvement with sleep, which causes mind itself to appear variously, without anything besides that that can be established as truly existent. This is known from the example of the moon in the water. similarly, when one considers where one's own mind, which is exceedingly clear in the form of a deity (of the nature of) pristine luminosity, might come from, where it goes forth to, and where it abides, one makes certain that it neither comes from anywhere, nor goes anywhere, nor abides anywhere, but is the absolute union of clarity and emptiness, free from the limits of all psychological elaborations. One's own mind, which is thus inseparable from the form of the deity, was not even seen by the Buddhas of the past, nor will it be seen by those of the future, nor is it seen by those of the present. Thinking thus, one meditates.

II. The Main Body of the Practice

In order to realize through meditation that this mind - which is pristine and empty, and of which substantial nature is not established - is deathless, there are four meditation topics relating to deathlessness.

1. With reference to one's own mind, pristine and empty, which is unseen by the Buddhas of the three times, illness cannot be established. Because the manifestation of illness is the manifestation of one's own mind intermingled with ephemeral karmic patterns and psychological negativity there is not, in an absolute sense, any basis for illness. Because there is not (any such basis) then there is no illness which is a result. Thinking thus, one meditates until one decisively realizes mind to be without illness.

2. With reference to such a mind death cannot be established. That which is called "death" is merely a way of labeling what appears as the separation of this inanimate body and ephemeral mental processes. If it is thoroughly analyzed, (it is found to be) devoid of that which is to transmigrate, as well as a cause for transmigration. (It is) emptiness of which there is no true reality at all. One meditates until one establishes complete certainty that this is so.

3. Regarding whether or not there be any basis for the attainment of Buddhahood with reference to such a mind, there is no basis for the attainment of Buddhahood. The nature of mind, both at the time of being a "sentient being" and at the time of being a Buddha, is no different in that it is (the unity of) pristine luminosity and emptiness. "Buddha" is merely a label for that utterly pure nature of mind devoid of all ephemeral taints. Thinking thus, one meditates.

4. If one considers the nature of that (unity of) the form of the deity and one's own mind, pristine and empty, samsara cannot be established. Because samsara cannot be established as real in truth, (the reality of) one who revolves through samsara cannot be established. Thinking thus, one meditates until one becomes decisively certain that samsara is the manifestation of one's own mind's bewilderment.

III. The Concluding Practice

In that way, making certain that one's own mind is deathless, one meditates unwaveringly while developing certainty. If one derives the full advantage (of these precepts) by supplicating the Guru, meditatively cultivating compassion for living beings, and dedicating the virtue for perfect Enlightenment on behalf of all living beings, then, even one who has committed the five inexpiable sins would, at the time of death or during the intermediate state, attain Buddhahood. And if that is the case, then leaving aside (the benefits of) a regular practice of meditation, if one who has few obscurations and is spiritually fortunate distinctly visualizes the entire form of the deity, or even a part, at the time of death, then, just as if there were a catapult, or a stone thrown in a limpid pool, or a full moon rising just as the sun was setting, he would attain Buddhahood in the Jina's Sambhoga-kaya; and without straying from the Dharma-kaya he would, through the two Rupa-kaya, fulfill the needs of living beings, spontaneously and uninterruptedly, by whatever means that would be required.

Without such precepts, even if one were to make great efforts for the achievement of the path, then, just as no butter comes from churning water, it would be meaningless fatigue. But, endowed with such precepts, should one undertake to achieve spiritual experience, then (just as if) one had drunk of the extracted essence of all sutras and tantras, the consumptive illness of the bewilderments of karmic patterning and psychological negativity would be removed, and one would certainly go forth to voyage in the space (of transcendent unity). Because this is such a precept, one must undertake to achieve the spiritual experience of it. There is no profounder precept than this in either India or Tibet. It is a doctrine through which intelligent and vigorous men and women might attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime.

One meditates, following the logic of these (precepts), with regard to whether or not this inanimate body and this mind, pristine and empty, might deviate from samsara to Buddhahood, or deviate from Buddhahood to samsara, or from vicious states of existence to pleasant states, etc., until one establishes decisive certainty that body and mind are without deviation.

This clear set of meditations on deathlessness and deviationlessness, which belongs to the doctrinal cycle appended to the essential (doctrines of Niguma), doctrines through which the diligent might attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime, was practiced according to the instructions of the dakini (Niguma) by the madman of the district sTong (i.e. Thang-stong rGyal-po) until (the meaning) was directly experienced. Having done so, the entire body of the essential (doctrines of Niguma) together with the appended doctrines, was set down at the holy site of Ri-bo-che, in the Tiger Year, during the period from the eighth day of the sixth lunar month to the fifteenth of the seventh, with bKa'-bcu-pa bLo-gros rGyal-mtshan acting as scribe. In order to achieve, properly, spiritual experience of this impeccable doctrine, having cut away the entanglements of this lifetime, all should strive to make strenuous efforts, for it is conductive to the good, with respect to the lasting aspiration through which great purposes are achieved.


Instructions for the Precepts of
The Deathlessness of Mind

extracted from the zab-khrid brgya dang
brgyad-kyi yi-ge by Kun-dga' Grol-mchog

The instructions for (the precepts of) the deathlessness of mind are as follows:

Having started out by going for refuge and creating an enlightened attitude one distinctly visualizes oneself as Sahaja-Cakrasamvara in union with his consort. On the pile of hair on the crown of the head of the father-consort is a blue HUM, and on that of the mother consort a (red) BAM. Fixing one's mind on the appearance of the two syllables, of which the blue and red lustre outshines even the form of the deity, (one visualizes that) there gradually emerges from the two syllables, blue and red light of the nature of bliss, and like the sunlight at dawn shining on the summit of a snow-capped peak. Everything touched by the light becomes clarified inside and out, like lapis and ruby covered with mud and then rinsed clean.

At the top of the matted-pile of hair of the father-consort is the wish-fulfilling gem. To the left is the moon in its first phase, and just above the lower bundle of hair is a visva-vajra. The black pile of hair (is bound by) a circlet of bone with hanging pendants. Between the five dry skulls, which are head ornaments, are pendant-vajras strung together. (He wears) the silken scarves of a warrior. His three eyes are (predominantly) red, blue in the center and pale at the edges, and the bridge of his nose is high. His forehead is broad. His mouth is smiling and his earlobes are long. At the upper and lower lips of his laughing mouth the points of his teeth and fangs are just visible. His neck is stout, his upper body full. With his two hands he holds vajra and bell and embraces his consort. His bone throat-ornament, earrings, necklace, arm and wrist bracelets, belt and ankle-bracelets are all brilliantly white. His tiger-skin skirt hangs loose in back. With right leg bent and left extended, (he stands atop) a lotus and solar-disc, pressing upon Bhairava and Kalaratri.

The mother-consort smiles and is wrathful and wild, her black hair hanging in disarray. She holds flaying-knife and skull-cup and embraces the father-consort about the neck. Her bone ornaments are resplendent white. Her breasts are full. With her right leg extended and her left bent, she is in sexual union with the father-consort. One visualizes that the conjunction of their blue and red light forms an enclosure.

Then, one cultivates the conviction that one's own mind is deathless and untainted by the stain of birth or death. Doing so, one establishes meditative absorption in reference to the form of the deity, which appears without any substantial reality.

With mind appearing as entirely delighted
At the uncontrived natural disposition of Mind,
This, the very face of supreme liberation,
Is written without any attempt at transmission.

This was abridged from the instruction manual of bSams-sdings gZhon-nu-grub. (gDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. XII, pp. 532-533)

Liturgical Selections

I. Going for Refuge

The visualization:

The environment becomes a great Pure Land.
In the sky before me, on a Leonine Throne,
Atop lotus-seat, solar-seat and lunar-seat is my fundamental Guru,
His bodily form as it actually is, resplendent and lustrously blazing.
He is the consummation of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha;
The consummation and very nature of all
Gurus, devas, dakinis and dharmapalas assembled.

To you, Precious Guru,
I and the six classes of beings, throughout all space--
With my parents of this life, and
Hated enemies, malignant spirits, obstacles and local divinities as foremost amongst them--
All afflicted by severe and unbearable suffering, and
Having no protection or hope, but you,
Deliver up our devotions in awareness of your omniscience,
And with great respect of body, speech and mind,
We go for refuge all at once. Do seize us up through your compassion!

Then one recites the following one-pointedly, as many times as possible:

All living beings, mothers (of my previous lives), throughout the extent of the universe,
Go for refuge to the Precious Guru, the very consummation of all refuges.

At the closing of the session of refuge:

By force of devoted respect the Guru melts into light.
Dissolving into me, the Guru and my own mind become inseparable.

One meditates briefly in equipoise.

II. Creating the Enlightened Attitude

The extent of living beings is the extent of space.
Of them all, not a single one has not been my parent,
And each has benefitted me through countless lives.
Though they wish to be happy, they achieve misery,
And wander through limitless samsara. How pitiful this is!

I shall release them from this ocean of misery.
By all means, I shall establish them in the true happiness of
The Perfect Buddha's condition.

For that, because no other means might suffice,
During this life I shall attain to Vajradhara, (the embodiment of) transcendent union.
To do so I must meditate with great perseverance on the short path
Of the profound and secret dakini's oral transmission.

Considering this intensely, one then recites three or more times:

For the sake of all living beings throughout space
I must attain to the state of Maha-Vajradhara, transcendent union.
Therefore, I undertake to achieve spiritual experience of the profound path of deathlessness and natural liberation.

III. The Guru-Yoga

The visualization:

In the sky before me, on a Leonine Throne, surmounted by the variegated lotus,
On solar-, and lunar-seats sits the Guru, Vajradhara,
Resplendent, and perfect in his lustrousness.
From his heart, light-rays shine and summon forth all the Gurus of the lineage,
And the peaceful and wrathful deities, Perfect Buddhas of all times and places,
The excellent Dharma, transmitted and realized, the assembly of the Arya-Sangha,
And the dakinis and dharmapalas; and they all dissolve into him.
He becomes the consummation of all precious jewels, to whom, alone, it suffices to deliver up one's devotions.

If one may be released from the vicious states of samsara by merely hearing your name,
What, then, of supplication?
Therefore, I and all living beings of the six classes, throughout the universe,
Of whom the foremost are my parents, enemies, obstacles and the local divinities,
Supplicate you, with one-pointed devotion of body, speech, and mind,
So that by even the atoms of the four elements
The steady murmur of supplication's spontaneous sound is proclaimed.

Then, one repeats the following many times, with intense devotion:

Precious Guru, who subsumes all Buddhas of the three times!
For the sake of all living beings, cause me to throw off my egotism deliberately!
Cause desirelessness to arise in my mind!
Cause me to realize mind as deathless and naturally liberated!

After supplicating the Guru in that manner, one prays three times, thus:

Precious Guru, who subsumes all Buddhas of the three times!
For the sake of all living beings,
Please grant me the empowerment of samadhi!

One then receives the empowerment:

The three syllables in the Guru's three centers are distinct:
From the OM at the forehead OMs and white light pour forth.
Dissolving in my forehead, I obtain the empowerment of the vase.
Obscurations of body removed, I am empowered to practice the creative stage of meditation.

The seed of the nirmana-kaya being sown, realization is born.
From the AH at the throat AHs and red light pour forth.
Dissolving in my throat, I obtain the secret empowerment.
Obscurations of speech removed, I am empowered to invoke blessing in myself.
The seed of the sambhoga-kaya being sown, realization is born.

From the HUM at the heart HUMs and blue light pour forth.
Dissolving in my heart, I obtain the empowerment of transcendent awareness.
Obscurations of mind removed, I am empowered on the path of the envoy.
The seed of the dharma-kaya being sown, realization is born.

The Guru melts into light and becomes intermingled inseparably with myself.
I obtain the fourth empowerment and the obscurations of trance are removed.
I am empowered to meditate upon transcendent unity beyond conception.
The realization of the four kayas is made manifest.

Devotedly meditating upon this, one places one's mind in equipoise for some time. After the session one must maintain devoted respect, thinking:

Spiritual father! Spiritual father! The Guru, spiritual father, is omniscient!
To you, gracious fundamental Guru, I offer supplication!

OM =

AH =


IV. The Main Body of the Practice

The preliminary practice peculiar to this yoga:
So-called "death" pertains to this body or mind.
The physical body, evolved through karma, is inanimate, like earth or stone;
And the body as a sub-conscious patterning is as in a dream of dying.
"Death" has no real meaning; it is only a label.
On a lotus and solar-seat, surmounted by Bhairava and Kalaratri, my own mind
Becomes Cakrasamvara, dark blue, with three eyes.
His piled-up locks are marked with a crescent moon and vajra.
Grimacing fiercely, he is adorned with a garland of heads and bone-ornaments.
He embraces his consort with vajra and bell, and his tiger-skin skirt hangs loose.
He shows the nine dramatic airs, and stands with right leg extended.

Varahi is red, with three eyes, and hair hanging loose.
In the fullness of youth, with a garland of skulls,
And ornamented with five symbolic adornments.
She embraces (her consort) while seizing skull-cup and knife.

They stand in the midst of flames of primordial awareness.
Above the head sits my fundamental Guru on the complete four-fold seat.

Visualizing this one performs supplications to the Guru. Then, one practices the outer and inner refinements, beginning with the father-consort:

At the scalp at the crown of the head of the father-consort, the deity manifest with great clarity,
Is an even clearer blue HUM.
Light rays gradually come forth from it,
And all becomes brilliantly clear
To the brow, neck, heart, navel, genitals, and to the soles of the feet,
As if sunlight were striking a crystal.
Again, the HUM radiates blue light, which enters the fontanel opening.
To the soles of the feet (all is) brilliant blue.
The radiant form of the deity has become a lustrous mass of light.

To effect the outer and inner refinements of the mother-consort one repeats the preceding passage, replacing the words "father-consort", "blue" and "HUM" with "mother-consort", "red" and "BAM", respectively.

With shape and ornaments they are complete, pristine and unadulterated.
Being empty, substantial reality is not established: they are the embodiment of transcendent union.
One's own mind has arisen as a deity, like the manifestation of a dream;
True reality not established; devoid of coming, going, abiding.
This mind is not seen by the Buddhas of the three times.

The main body of the practice consists of establishing certainty regarding four points:

Therefore, mind itself, pristine and empty, is without illness.
Regarding emptiness, death can never be established.
"Buddha" is just a word, nothing to be newly obtained.
Because there is no one who revolves through samsara, samsara cannot be established.
Everything is merely the manifestation of the bewilderment of one's own mind.
Deciding this now, the deathless stronghold is won.

The Conclusion:

Thus, becoming confident that body and mind are deathless,
Without deviating at all towards samsara or nirvana,
Having recovered from all the consumptive illness of the bewilderments of karmic patterns and psychological negativity,
May the Trikaya spontaneously arise at this very moment!

V. Final Dedications

Through the virtue obtained here
May I be always endowed
With Maha-Vajradhara's attainment, (which is common to) all Buddhas.
And may all living beings achieve this as well.

Activity for the attainment of perfect Enlightenment,
And what activity precedes from perfect Buddhahood:
May I practice both those activities,
Which are extolled by the vajra of Enlightenment.

May the glory be upon us of the Guru and deity,
The fulfillment of all fine virtues!
May the glory be upon us of the dakini and dharmapala,
Who effect all enlightened action.

Not seizing as mine
All virtues amassed,
I dedicate them to the unsurpassed reality of what is,
On behalf of all beings, none excepted.

The foregoing liturgical selections were drawn from two works by 'Jam-mgon Kong-sprul bLo-gros mTha'-yas (1813 -1899) by the translator. The texts utilized were:

a) Ye-shes mkha'-'gro Ni-gu las brgyud-pa'i zab-lam gser-chos-lnga'i sngon-rjes ngag-'don rdo-rje'i tshig-rkang byin-rlabs 'od-'bar from the gdams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, pp.620-634.

b) dpal-ldan Shangs-pa'i gser-chos-lnga'i rtsa-tshig 'khrul-med rdo-rje'i rgya-mdud. ibid. pp.635-651.


    (1) Shes-bya Kun-khyab mDzod, HUM 213B4. See also Blue Annals, p. 743; Roerich has, evidently, thought that 'Chi-med refers here to the rites of the Buddha Amitayus, rather than to the distinctive Shangs-pa doctrine of deathlessness.

    (2) The rites for these empowerments may be found in Zhwa-lu Ri-sbug sPrul-sku bLo-gsal bsTan-skong's dPal-ldan Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud-kyi gzhung bka'phyi-ma-rnams phyogs-gcig-tu bsgril-pa'i phyag-len bde-chen snye-ma'i chun-po, 5A4-8B3, (gdams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, pp.86-93).

    (3) dPal-ldan Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud-kyi gser-chos rin-po-che'i mdzod yongs-su phye-ba'i dkar-chag bai-du-rya'i lde' u-mig ces-bya-ba, dPal-spungs ed. in 26ff. (Hereafter referred to as dkar-chag.)

    (4) Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab rGyal-mtshan, a master of the Kalacakra doctrines, and founder of the Jo-nang-pa school.

    (5) dkar-chag, 4A6-4B5. The same passage is found in Shes-bya Kun-khyab mdzod, OM, 188B4-189A1.

    (6) The five are reckoned somewhat differently by the various lineages. bLo-gsal bsTan-skyong, op. cit., p. 86, considers them to be the "Amulet-box Precepts of the Mahamudra", the deathlessness of body, the deathlessness of mind, the "carry-over" of the five poisons, and the three ways of carrying enlightened awareness over to all one's activities. In this, he is certainly following the Jo-nang-pa tradition. mKhyen-brtse, however, seems to be following the tradition of Thang-stong rGyal-po when he states the five to be the Amulet-box Precepts, the three ways of carrying over enlightened awareness counted separately, and the "carry-over" of the five poisons being omitted altogether. See Shangs-pa gser-'phreng, Leh 1970, intro. p.2.

    (7) bLo-gsal bsTan-skyong, op. cit., p. 102.

    (8) Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma, ff. 46B1-6(=gdams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, p.424).

    (9) HUM 215A1-215A4. A translation of these passages will be available shortly.

    (10) Throughout the text there appears an ambiguous pun on the words Ni-gu and nying-khu, meaning "Niguma" and "essential substance" respectively.

    (11) A text on these thirty-two yogic exercises composed by Sangs-rgyas sTon-pa brTson-'grus Seng-ge was available to Kong-sprul Rin-po-che and was still being transmitted at that time. See dkar-chag 14A6-14B2.

    (12) The physical body, which is a product of karmic conditions (rnam-smin-gyi lus), and the body as a subconscious patterning (bag-chags-kyi lus) are the first two of the aforementioned "three bodies" (p.115). The latter means that we have acquired the psychological habit of conceiving of ourselves as our bodies, and that this habit is most fully revealed in dream; for we could dream of ourselves in any form were it not for such patterning. Dreams of death, however, indicate that the pattern may be broken without our actually dying. Therefore, life and death are not dependent on such patterning. It is in the yoga of the dream that this issue is mostly fully considered . The third of the three bodies, which is not relevant to the yoga of deathlessness, is the "mental body" of the intermediate state.

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