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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

The Transmission of the Tantra and Practices of Tarayogini

October 20, 2008

(Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma): A Little-Known Jonang Specialty.
By Thomas Roth, a contributing author
October 15, 2008

The Jonang tradition was and is well-known for holding and continuing
to propagate several unique transmissions, such as various strands of
Kalachakra transmissions and various traditions of its six-limbed
vajrayoga; the Mahasmavara Kalachakra, the view of emptiness based
upon the insights and explications of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen
(1292-1361) known as zhentong (gzhan stong) and others. Among these
unique transmissions is one that is almost completely unknown outside
of the Jonang tradition, and apparently not very widely practiced
within it either, despite the fact that it seemingly was of rather
great importance to the great Taranatha (1575-1635) and that the
great 19th century Rimé master Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) regarded
it highly, and he wrote about it and practiced it himself.

Admittedly, Jamgon Kongtrul was not a Jonangpa, but he was at the
very heart of the non-sectarian Rimé movement and as such very
interested in the Jonang tradition. In his personal practice of the
six-limbed vajrayoga of the Kalachakra, he followed the instructions
of Dolpopa and Taranatha to the letter, and he was a major propagator
of the zhentong view in 19th century Eastern Tibet. Whenever
commemorating great masters of the past with offering rituals etc.,
Taranatha was honored with three days of ceremonies, an honor that
Kongtrul accorded no other master. Kongtrul also was an important
teacher to the great Jonang master Bamda Thubten Gelek Gyatso (1844-1904).

This particular transmission has found its way into the Kamtshang
Kagyu school via Kathog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755), and the
8th Tai Situ Chökyi Jungne (1700-1774), and has eventually become
part of one of Kongtrul's famous "Five Treasuries." But apart from
the ongoing transmission of its empowerments and practice texts,
there seems to be precious little practice going on of this unique
cycle of teachings, at least within the Kagyu schools that is.

The subject at hand is the transmission of a very special practice of
Tara, along with its own tantra, practice manuals and secret oral
instructions. This particular form of Tara is known under the name of
Tarayogani or "Drolma Naljorma" in Tibetan. It is probably one of the
last unique traditions that made its appearance in Tibet via India,
only centuries after all else was already well established there.

Tarayogini is a very wrathful form of Tara that appears eight-armed
and in a 25 deity mandala, including herself. Her tantra etc. were
introduced into Tibet by none other but the great Indian mahasiddha
Buddhaguptan tha, who was probably one of the last known Indian
siddhas of his kind.[1] He journeyed to Tibet in his mid-seventies
and met there with the not yet twenty year old young T ran tha. They
met around the year 1594 near Narthang in Central Tibet.[2] Relating
his encounters with Buddhaguptanatha, Taranatha later wrote in his
biography of the siddha,

Among the items requested that previously had never made their
appearance in the Land of Snows, there was the empowerment of
Tarayogini , the oral instructions on her generation and perfection
process meditations, together with the blessings and a commentary on
her tantra.[3]

A passage contained in one of T ran tha's secret autobiographies
tells us of the importance that this transmission was to have for himself,

The night before the Tarayogini empowerment was given ... I dreamed
of my skin becoming the parchment upon which to write down the
instructions, my ribs became the quills and my blood became the ink.
My bones and sinews became the materials with which to bind the volumes.[4]

The Dzamthang edition of T ran tha's Collected Works contains no less
than seven texts devoted to Tarayogini exclusively. The root and
subsequent tantras, a summary of the meaning of those tantras, the
mandala ritual practice, a ritual text for self-empowerment, an even
more elaborate mandala ritual that also serves as an empowerment text
and an instruction manual.[5]

When looking at the two tantras of Tarayogini, the root tantra and
the subsequent tantra, both translated from the Sanskrit into Tibetan
by Taranatha and included in his Collected Works, one can't help to
think that these must have been among the materials that Dromton
Gyalwe Junge (1005-1064) asked Jowo Jé Palden Atisha (982-1054) not
to teach in Tibet, at least not publicly. And also Taranatha himself
seems to have passed this material on to only a few of his students.
Nowadays only those who actually passed on these teachings are known
to us. At least one of Taranatha's two regents, Gyaltsab Kunga
Rinchen Gyamtso, received it from T ran tha himself and passed it on
to Khedrub Lodrö Namgyal (1618-1683) who received it both from the
Gyaltsab and Taranatha.

As a matter of fact, the Tarayogani empowerment must have been among
the last few things that Taranatha gave. In the history of the
Jonangpa by Khenpo Lodrö Drakpa (1920-1975), we read how Lodrö
Namgyal received it from Taranatha himself, who placed his vajra and
bell upon Lodrö Namgyal's head and stressed the importance of
thoroughly practicing these teachings.[6] Taranatha then passed away
on the 28th day of the same month.[7] Lodrö Namgyal later passed the
transmission on to his nephew Ngawang Thinle (1657-1723), who passed
it on to the great yogin Kunzang Wangpo.

Kunzang Wangpo was known as a mahasiddha and famous for the many
solitary retreats that he undertook. Among others, he passed the
Jonangpa transmissions, those of Tarayogini  among them, on to the
famous Nyingmapa master Kathog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755).
Tsewang Norbu, since childhood, was very devoted to both Dolpopa and
Taranatha. He himself says so in his versified autobiography.[8] That
fact seems easily explained when we read in Khenpo Lodro Draka's
Jonang history, that Kunsang Wangpo recognized Tsewang Norbu as an
incarnation of Sazang Mati Panchen Lodrö Gyaltsen (1294-1376), one of
Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen's main students.

Tsewang Norbu apparently passed the Jonang transmissions on to
various masters, among them the 13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje (1733-1797),
the 10th Shamar Mipham Chodrub Gyamtso (1742-1792), and the 7th
Gyalwang Drugpa Thrinle Shingta (1718-1766). However, the most
important among the various Kagyu masters who received these
transmissions from Tsewang Norbu, was the 8th Tai Situ Chökyi Jungne.
He and Tsewang Norbu had met for the first time around 1720 and had
quickly become close friends. As we read both in Khenpo Lodrö
Drakpa's Jonang history as well as in Situ's own diaries, the two met
again in 1748 in Nepal.[9] It is there that Tsewang Norbu passed the
transmission of the Tarayogini i on to Situ and also impressed upon
him the importance of upholding the zhentong tradition of Dolpopa in
the clearest terms. Situ later became one of the most important
promulgators of that tradition in Eastern Tibet.

The 10th Shamar Mipham Chödrub Gyamtso passed the Tarayogini
transmission on to the 9th Tai Situ Pema Ninje (1775-1853), who
transmitted it to Jamgon Kongtrul. Kongtrul also received the entire
works of Taranatha from a master whom he calls "the saintly lama
Dorlob Ösal Gyurme" (18th/19th cent.) who was a student of Tsabtsa
Tulku Karma Ratna (18th cent.) of Surmang monastery. He in turn was a
student of Surmang's Belo Tshewang Kunkyab (18th cent.) who was one
of the 8th Tai Situ's main students.[10]

Jamgon Kongtrul practised Taranatha's Tarayogini materials and
eventually composed a briefer text more suitable for daily practice
on her, as well as an offering ritual, based upon Taranatha's two
rather elaborate ma ala rituals. He also composed a very elaborate
empowerment ritual for Tarayogini, all of which is included in his
so-called "Gyachen Kadzö", one of Kongtrul's famous "Five
Treasuries".[11] Some of these materials are also found in Jamyang
Khyentse Wangpo's (1820-1892) and Jamyang Loter Wangpo's (1847-1914)
"Drubthab Kuntus", an extensive collection of sadhanas of the eight
practice lineages of Tibet.[12]

 From there onwards, this particular transmission lineage of
Tarayogini continues within the Kamtshang Kagyu school via the 15th
Karmapa Kakhyab Dorje (1871-1922), the 11th Tai Situ Pema Wangchog
Gyalpo (1886-1952), the 2nd Jamgon Kongtrul Palden Khyentse Öser
(1904-1953), the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) to my
own teacher, the Ven. Dorje Lobpon Tenga Rinpoche (b. 1932).[13]

Of course there must be parallel transmission lineages for Tarayogini
among the Jonang masters of Amdo, at least since the time of Khedrub
Lodrö Namgyal if not earlier, but I haven't been able to research
them yet. The little I have managed to find out so far is that the
practice is indeed continued within the framework of Jonangpa
practice in Amdo, but until now I haven't met anyone particularly
knowledgeable about it. One proof of its continuation among the
Jonangpas of Amdo, for instance, is the description of how to draw
the mandala  of Tarayogini in a work on mandala construction and
drawing by Tsoknyi Gyatso (1880-1940), a prominent student of Bamda

The khenpos and lamas in the two small Jonang monasteries in exile,
one in Shimla and one in Kathmandu, all know of the practice but
unfortunately only know very little about it. Without having been in
Amdo yet to research things "on site" so to speak, I can only assume
that the ongoing practice of Tarayogni may be the specialty of the
one or other Dratsang in several Jonang monasteries, probably
performed as a Drubchö for several days once a year.

Thomas Roth [Sherab Drime], Kathmandu, Nepal


1. T ran tha. Sgrol ma'i rgyud kyi byung khungs gsal bar byed pa'i lo
rgyus gser gyi phreng ba. In Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsun 'bum,
'Dzam thang, 12, 523-570. And the Bka' babs bdun ldan gyi brgyud pa'i
rnam thar ngo mtshar rmad du byung ba rin po che'i khungs lta bu'i
gtam. In Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsung 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 17, 5-161.
The transmission lineage until then came through: Jñ na kin , Telopa,
Narotapa, Dombipa, Kusalipa, Asitaghana, Jñ namitra and Shantigupta
to Buddhaguptan tha. In the Sgrol ma'i rgyud kyi byung khungs, T ran
tha relates the story how Telopa travelled to Oddiyana and received
the empowerments for the T r tantra etc. from T r herself. Therefore
I assume "Jñ na kin " to refer to T r .

2. T ran tha. Grub chen bud+dha gup+ta'i rnam thar rje btsun nyid kyi
zhal lung las gzhan du rang rtog gi dri mas ma sbags pa'i yi ge yang
dag pa. In Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsung 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 17,
311-316. T ran tha relates how Buddhaguptan tha first visited various
places in Tibet such as Samye and Lhasa etc., and they then met while
T ran tha stayed in the hermitage of Mah bodhi (bden gnas byang chub chen po).

3. T ran tha. Grub chen bud+dha gup+ta'i rnam thar rje btsun nyid kyi
zhal lung las gzhan du rang rtog gi dri mas ma sbags pa'i yi ge yang
dag pa. In Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsung 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 17, 313.

4. T ran tha. Gsang ba'i rnam thar. In Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsung
'bum, 'Dzam thang, 1, 708.

5. These are (1) 'Phrin las thams cad 'byung ba'i sgrol ma 'dus pa
don dam pa zhes bya ba rnal 'byor ma'i rgyud kyi rgyal po; (2) 'Phrin
las thams cad 'byung ba 'dus pa don dam pa las phyi ma'i rgyud kyi
rgyal po; (3) Sgrol ma 'byung ba'i rgyud kyi bsdus don gsal ba'i
sgron me; (4) Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i dkyil 'khor gyi sgrub thabs ye
shes 'bar ba; (5) Bcom ldan 'das ma sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i bdag
'jug gzhan la phan pa; (6) Rje btsun sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i dkyil
'khor gyi cho ga gzhan la phan pa zhes bya ba rgya gar mkhas pa'i
zhal gyi gdams pa phyin ci ma log pa'i yi ge yang dag pa; (7) Sgrol
ma rnal 'byor ma'i 'khrid yig bde chen myur gter all in Rje btsun tA
ra nA tha'i Gsum 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 12.

6. Ngag dbang Blo gros grags pa. Dpal ldan jo nang pa'i chos 'byung
rgyal ba'i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba'i sgron me. In Blo gros grags
pa'i Gsung 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 1, 140. Although the text itself reads
"rnal 'byor ma'i dbang skur zhu skabs ... ," it was the opinion of
Khenpo Chonang (Shimla) that this refers to "sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma".
He recalled his own teacher, Ngawang Yonten Zangpo having said so.

7. Ngag dbang Blo gros grags pa. Dpal ldan jo nang pa'i chos 'byung
rgyal ba'i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba'i sgron me. In Blo gros grags
pa'i Gsung 'bum, 'Dzam thang, 1, 140.

8. Brag dkar rta so sprul sku chos kyi dbang phyug. Dpal rig 'dzin
chen po rdo rje tshe dbang nor bu'i zhabs kyis rnam par thar pa'i cha
shas brjod pa ngo mtshar dad pa'i rol mtsho. In Ka thog rig 'dzin
tshe dbang nor bu'i Bka' 'bum, 1, 111-2.

9. Ngag dbang Blo gros grags pa. Jo nang chos 'byung rgyal ba'i chos
tshul gsal byed zla ba sgron me'i lhan thabs. Krun go'i bod kyi shes
rig dpe skrun khang, 1992, 539. And Ta'i si tu. Ta'i si tur 'bod pa
karma bstan pa'i nyin byed kyi rang tshul drangs por brjod pa dri
bral shel gyi me long ldeb. In Ta'i si tu pa kun mkhyen chos kyi
'byung gnas bstan pa'i nyin byed kyi bka' 'bum, 14, 263.

10. 'Jam mgon Kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas. Phyogs med ris med kyi
bstan pa la 'dun shing dge sbyong gi gzugs brnyan 'chang ba blo gros
mtha' yas kyi sde'i 'byung ba brjod pa nor bu sna tshogs mdog can. In
Rgya chen bka' mdzod, 16, 150.

11. 'Jam mgon Kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas. Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i
rgyun khyer dam tshig nges pa'i thig le. In Rgya chen bka' mdzod, 6,
109-119. And Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i mchod chog mdor bsdus bde chen
rol mo. In Rgya chen bka' mdzod, 6, 121-140. And Bcom ldan 'das ma
sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i rtsa ba'i dbang bskur gyi cho ga bklags chog
tu bkod pa utpal ljon shing. In Rgya chen bka' mdzod, 6, 141-283. And
Dam tshig sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma'i rig pa gtad pa'i cho ga ye shes
sgo 'byed. In Rgya chen bka' mdzod, 6, 285-295.

12. 'Jam mgon Kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas. Sgrub thabs kun btus, 4, 575-589.

13. This information is based on oral communications from Ven. Tenga Rinpoche.

14. Tshog gnyis rgya mtsho. Dkyil chog rgya mtsho'i thig tshon gsal
byed legs bshad nyi ma'i 'od zer. 'Dzam thang, 95.

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