Old Tantras


རྙིང་རྒྱུད། · rnying rgyud/


Pratantra


Seventeen works representing a small selection of the many tantras of the Ngagyur Nyingma (“earlier translation”) tradition (Toh 828-844).

Texts: 25 Translated: 0 In Progress: 3 Not Begun: 22
Title
Toh  828

The Sovereign, All-Creating Mind of Enlightenment


བྱང་སེམས་ཀུན་བྱེད་རྒྱལ་པོ། · byang sems kun byed rgyal po/
bodhicittakulayarāja
Title variants
  • chos thams cad rdzogs pa chen po byang chub kyi sems kun byed rgyal po/
  • sarvadharmamahāśantibodhicitta­kulayarāja

In progress
Toh  829

The Sūtra of All-Gathering Awareness (or The Sūtra that Gathers All Intentions)


ཀུན་འདུས་རིག་པའི་མདོ། (མདོ་དགོངས་པ་འདུས་པ།) · kun 'dus rig pa'i mdo/ \(mdo dgongs pa 'dus pa/\)
samājasarvavidyāsūtra
Title variants
  • de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi thugs gsang ba'i ye shes don gyi snying po rdo rje bkod pa'i rgyud rnal 'byor grub pa'i lung kun 'dus rig pa'i mdo theg pa chen po mngon par rtogs pa chos kyi rnam grangs rnam par bkod pa zhes bya ba'i mdo/
  • sarvatathāgata­cittajñāna­guhyārthagarbhavyūha­vajratantra­siddhiyogāgamasamājasarva­vidyāsūtra­mahāyānābhisamaya-dharmaparyāyavivyūha­nāmasūtra
  • spyi mdo dgongs pa 'dus pa/
  • sangs rgyas kun gyi dgongs pa 'dus pa'i mdo chen po/
  • [Note: translated from Burushaski, a language of the Hunza, Nagar, and Yasin valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite its initial title, which is similar to that of Toh 831, this text is commonly referred to by the title given in the chapter colophons, mdo dgongs pa 'dus pa, The Sūtra that Gathers All Intentions.]

Not Started
Toh  830

The Lightning Wheel of Magnificent Gnosis


ཡེ་ཤེས་རྔམ་པ་གློག་གི་འཁོར་ལོ། · ye shes rngam pa glog gi 'khor lo/
jñānāścaryadyuticakra
Title variants
  • de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gsang ba/ gsang ba'i mdzod chen po mi zad pa gter gyi sgron ma/ brtul zhugs chen po bsgrub pa'i rgyud/ ye shes rngam pa glog gi 'khor lo zhes bya ba theg pa chen po'i mdo/
  • sarvatathāgata­guhyamahā­guhya­kośākṣayanidhidīpamahā­pratapasādhanatantra­jñānāścaryadyuticakra­nāmamahāyānasūtra

Not Started
Toh  831

The Sūtra of All-Gathering Awareness


ཀུན་འདུས་རིག་པའི་མདོ། · kun 'dus rig pa'i mdo/
vajrakulatantra­piṇḍārtha­vidyāyogasiddha
Title variants
  • de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi thugs gsang ba'i ye shes don gyi snying po khro bo rdo rje rigs kun 'dus rig pa'i mdo rnal 'byor grub pa'i rgyud ces bya ba theg pa chen po'i mdo/
  • sarvatathāgata­cittaguhya­jñānārthagarbha­krodhavajrakula­tantrapiṇḍārtha­vidyāyogasiddha­nāmamahāyānasūtra
  • rgyud kyi rgyal po chen po rdo rje bkod pa kun 'dus rig pa'i mdo/

Not Started
Toh  832

The Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real [the 22 chapter Guhyagarbha tantra]


གསང་བའི་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་རྣམ་པར་ངེས་པ། · gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid rnam par nges pa/
guhyagarbhatattvaviniścaya
Title variants
  • dpal gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid rnam par nges pa/
  • śrīguhyagarbhatattvaviniścaya

Not Started
Toh  833

The Magical Net of Vajrasattva, the Mirror of All Secrets


རྡོ་རྗེ་སེམས་དཔའི་སྒྱུ་འཕྲུལ་དྲ་བ་གསང་བ་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་མེ་ལོང། · rdo rje sems dpa'i sgyu 'phrul dra ba gsang ba thams cad kyi me long/
vajrasattva­māyājāla­guhyasarvādarśa
Title variants
  • rdo rje sems dpa'i sgyu 'phrul dra ba gsang ba thams cad kyi me long zhes bya ba'i rgyud/
  • vajrasattva­māyājālaguhya­sarvādarśanāmatantra

In progress
Toh  834

The Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real [the "80 chapter" Guhyagarbha tantra]


གསང་བའི་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་ངེས་པ། · gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa/
[no Sanskrit title]
Title variants
  • gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa/
  • brgyad cu pa/
  • [Note: commonly referred to as the "80 chapter" tantra (brgyad cu pa) although in fact it has 82 chapters]

Not Started
Toh  835

The Noble Lasso of Methods, the Lotus Garland


ཐབས་ཀྱི་ཞགས་པ་པདྨོའི་ཕྲེང་བ། · thabs kyi zhags pa pad+mo'i phreng ba/
[no Sanskrit title]
Summary

Reconstructed stemmatic edition of the tantra together with its Tengyur commentary (G 2716, Q 4717; not found in Degé) in a restored version, IOLTibJ321.

Title variants
  • 'phags pa thabs kyi zhags pa pad+mo'i phreng zhes bya ba/

In progress
Toh  836

The Tantra of the Great Magical Net of the Goddess


ལྷ་མོ་སྒྱུ་འཕྲུལ་དྲ་བ་ཆེན་པོའི་རྒྱུད། · lha mo sgyu 'phrul dra ba chen po'i rgyud/
devījālamahāmāyātantra
Title variants
  • lha mo sgyu 'phrul dra ba chen po zhes bya ba'i rgyud/
  • devījālamahāmāyātantranāma

Not Started
Toh  837

The Great Guru, from The Secret Nucleus Definitive With Respect to the Real


གསང་བའི་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་ངེས་པའི་བླ་མ་ཆེན་པོ། · gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa'i bla ma chen po/
[no Sanskrit title]
Title variants
  • gsang ba'i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa'i bla ma chen po/

Not Started
Toh  838

The Secret Tantra of the Wheel of Mañjuśrī's Four Activities


འཇམ་དཔལ་ལས་བཞི་འཁོར་ལོ་གསང་བའི་རྒྱུད། · 'jam dpal las bzhi 'khor lo gsang ba'i rgyud/
mañjuśrīkarma­catuścakra­guhyatantra
Title variants
  • 'phags pa 'jam dpal las bzhi 'khor lo gsang ba'i rgyud/
  • āryamañjuśrī­karmacatuścakra­guhyatantra

Not Started
Toh  839

The Great Tantra of Aśvottama's Display


རྟ་མཆོག་རོལ་པའི་རྒྱུད་ཆེན་པོ། · rta mchog rol pa'i rgyud chen po/
aśvottamavīṇāsamatāmahātantra
Title variants
  • de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi dgongs pa bla na med pa gsang ba rta mchog rol pa'i rgyud chen po zhes bya ba/
  • sarvatathāgata­buddhānuttara­guhyaśvottamavīṇāsamatā­mahātantranāma
  • [Note: title translated on the basis of the Tibetan. The Sanskrit is dubious.]

Not Started
Toh  840

The Most Profound Secret Tantra of Śrī Heruka's Compassionate Display


དཔལ་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ་སྙིང་རྗེ་རོལ་པའི་རྒྱུད་གསང་བ་ཟབ་མོའི་མཆོག། · dpal he ru ka snying rje rol pa'i rgyud gsang ba zab mo'i mchog/
śrīheruka­karuṇakrīḍitatantra­guhyagambhīrottama
Title variants
  • dpal he ru ka snying rje rol pa'i rgyud gsang ba zab mo'i mchog ces bya ba/
  • śrīheruka­karuṇakrīḍitatantra­guhyagambhīrottamanāma

Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  The Sap of the Five Amṛtas, Quintessence of Great Accomplishment


ཐམས་ཅད་བདུད་རྩི་ལྔའི་རང་བཞིན་དངོས་གྲུབ་ཆེན་པོ་ཉེ་བའི་སྙིང་པོ། · thams cad bdud rtsi lnga'i rang bzhin dngos grub chen po nye ba'i snying po/
sarvapañcāmṛtasāra­siddhi­mahadgatahṛdaya
Title variants
  • thams cad bdud rtsi lnga'i rang bzhin/ dngos grub chen po nye ba'i snying po mchog

Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Homage to Brahmā and Other Sages, Deities, Nāgas, and Human Bodhisattvas


ཚངས་པ་ལ་སོགས་པ་དྲང་སྲོང་དང་ལྷ་དང་ཀླུ་དང་མིའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་རྣམས་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། · tshangs pa la sogs pa drang srong dang lha dang klu dang mi'i byang chub sems dpa' rnams la phyag 'tshal lo/
amṛtarasāyana [Toh.]
Title variants
  • tshangs pa la sogs pa drang srong dang lha dang klu dang mi'i byang chub sems dpa' rnams la phyag 'tshal lo/
  • amṛtarasāyana/ tanajhaya/ praśasta­pramaṇaśrīkranapraśastaya­namo
  • [This chapter and others appear to be named by their expressions of homage. See also their colophon titles.]

Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Homage to the Blessed One, the Great King of Non-Duality


བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་གཉིས་མེད་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཆེན་པོ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། · bcom ldan 'das gnyis med kyi rgyal po chen po la phyag 'tshal lo/
prajñābhagavānmahārāja
Title variants
  • prajñābhagavanmahārājā

Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  [Liberating the Five Great Fruits??]


འབྲས་བུ་ཆེན་པོ་ལྔ་བསྒྲལ་བ། · 'bras bu chen po lnga bsgral ba/
uttāraṇamahādarapañca
Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Homage to the Sugatas of the Five Families


རིགས་ལྔ་བདེ་བར་གཤེགས་པ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། · rigs lnga bde bar gshegs pa la phyag 'tshal lo/
kulapañcabuddhaya namaḥ
Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Homage to Amṛtakuṇḍalī


བདུད་རྩི་འཁྱིལ་བ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། · bdud rtsi 'khyil ba la phyag 'tshal lo/
amṛtakuṇḍalyai namaḥ
Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Transmission of the Vase of Amṛta


བདུད་རྩི་བུམ་པའི་ལུང། · bdud rtsi bum pa'i lung/
amṛtakalaśasiddhi
Not Started
Toh  841
Eight Great Sections [starting with] The Quintessence of Great Accomplishment Whereby All Things Have the Nature of the Five Nectars

  Homage to the Blessed Mañjuśrī the Intelligent


བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་འཇམ་དཔལ་རྣོན་པོ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། · bcom ldan 'das 'jam dpal rnon po la phyag 'tshal lo/
bhagavādmañjuśrītīkṣṇāya namaḥ
Not Started
Toh  841A

A Fragment from the Vajrakīlaya Root Tantra


རྡོ་རྗེ་ཕུར་པ་རྩ་བའི་རྒྱུད་ཀྱི་དུམ་བུ། · rdo rje phur pa rtsa ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu/
[no Sanskrit title]
Title variants
  • rdo rje khros pas zhe sdang gcod/
  • [Note: not mentioned in Toh, and has no initial title. It is an extract from Toh 439, and represents Vajrakīlaya in this sequence of 8 texts (838-844) on the "eight classes of accomplishment" (sgrub sde brgyad) of Mahāyoga.]

Not Started
Toh  842

Tantra of the Flaming Ḍākinī


མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་མེ་ལྕེ་འབར་བའི་རྒྱུད། · mkha' 'gro ma me lce 'bar ba'i rgyud/
ḍākinyagnijihvājvālātantra
Not Started
Toh  843

Root Tantra of Vajramantrabhīru


དྲག་སྔགས་འདུས་པ་རྡོ་རྗེ་རྩ་བའི་རྒྱུད། · drag sngags 'dus pa rdo rje rtsa ba'i rgyud/
vajramantrabhīrusandhimūlatantra
Title variants
  • vajramantrabhīru­sandhimūla­tantranāma

Not Started
Toh  844

The Tantra of Lokastotrapūja


འཇིག་རྟེན་མཆོད་བསྟོད་སྒྲུབ་པ་རྩ་བའི་རྒྱུད། · 'jig rten mchod bstod sgrub pa rtsa ba'i rgyud/
lokastotrapūjakalpamūlatantra
Not Started

Warning: Readers are reminded that according to Vajrayāna Buddhist tradition there are restrictions and commitments concerning tantra. Practitioners who are not sure if they should read translations in this section are advised to consult the authorities of their lineage. The responsibility, and hence consequences, of reading these texts and/or sharing them with others who may or may not fulfill the requirements lie in the hands of readers. See “Unrestricted access” below.

Old Tantras

This section of the Kangyur contains a small selection of tantras translated in the early, “imperial” period of translation in Tibet (i.e. the 8th and early 9th centuries, prior to the persecution by King Langdarma in the mid 9th century), associated with what later came to be known as the “ancient tradition of the early translations” (snga ’gyur rnying ma).

Some four hundred tantras were translated from Sanskrit and other languages during this early period, under the royal patronage of King Trisong Detsen and his successors. However, as tantras they were treated with great secrecy, and were not listed along with the other, non-esoteric texts translated at the time in catalogues such as the Denkarma (ldan dkar ma). Nor, because of their perceived sanctity, were they submitted to the process of terminological and orthographical standardization that took place in the early 9th century. Lineages of their transmission and practice were maintained through the period of persecution and destruction of Buddhist institutions under Langdarma and during the century of rebellions and general disintegration that followed (and have been maintained down to the present day), but in the eleventh century a different set of tantras—those to be found in India at the time—began to be introduced to Tibet by Rinchen Zangpo, Drokmi Lotsāwa, Marpa Lotsāwa, and others. These formed the beginning of the “new translations” (gsar ’gyur) of the “later spread” of the teachings (phyi dar) and became the tantric corpus of the new traditions that gradually emerged and developed over the centuries that followed.

It was scholars who owed allegiance to the traditions of these new translations, and had little interest in the tantras of the early period, who first catalogued and then compiled the translated canonical texts into the systematic collections that became the Kangyurs, starting with Butön Rinchen Drup (1290-1364), whose inventory of canonical texts in translation laid the foundation. The exclusion from the Kangyur of the old tantras was partly based on doubts regarding the authenticity of their Indian sources, for the new wave of Tibetan translators, visiting India and Nepal many centuries after the early period and in many cases for relatively brief and localized visits, unsurprisingly found little evidence of the tantric traditions encountered elsewhere by their forbears.

However, it would be difficult to conclude that the compiler scholars were not also influenced by partisan considerations, over-zealous reformist ideals, and even politics. In the struggles of the post-imperial period, strikingly polemical edicts against the practice and practitioners of the early tantras were written by Lha Lama Yeshé’o (947-1024) the king of Gugé in western Tibet (a fifth generation descendent of Langdarma), by the 11th century translator Go Khukpa Lhetsé, and by other critics.

Even so, most Kangyurs (those of the Tshalpa lineage, including the Degé) do contain this very limited selection of early tantras. According to a text by Ngaki Wangpo (ngag gi dbang po, probably Longchenpa, in rgol ngan log rtog bzlog pa'i bstan bcos), it may have been the 14th century Narthang scholar Üpa Losal Sangye Bum who was responsible for the inclusion of this section.

These comprise only some of the principal texts representing the three classes—Mahāyoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga—into which the Nyingma tradition divides what it designates the inner tantras nang rgyud, the equivalent of the Anuttara / Niruttara class of the Sarma traditions).

Atiyoga is represented here only by Toh 828, The All-Creating Sovereign (kun byed rgyal po), from the Mind Class (sems sde), the lowest of the three subdivisions of Atiyoga.

Anuyoga is represented by Toh 829, known best as The Sūtra That Gathers All Intentions (mdo dgongs pa ’dus pa) but here with another title derived from its root, Toh 831, The Sūtra of All-Gathering Awareness (kun ’dus rig pa’i mdo); and by Toh 830, The Magnificent Lightning Wheel of Awareness (ye shes rngam pa glog gi ’khor lo), although in some classifications this is categorized as a Mahāyoga text.

The remainder of the texts in the section, Toh 832-844, belong to the much more numerous Mahāyoga tantras. These are classified into tantras (rgyud sde) and means for attainment (sgrub sde).

The first section, the tantras, comprises a basic cycle of 18 tantras derived from the major corpus of tantra texts known as the Magical Net, the Māyājāla (sgyu ’phrul dra ba), to which Toh 832 and 834, two versions of the tantra The Secret Nucleus, the Guhyagarbha (rgyud gsang ba’i snying po); Toh 833, The Magical Net of Vajrasattva (rdo rje sems dpa’i sgyu ’phrul dra ba); and Toh 836, The Tantra of the Great Magical Net of the Goddess (lha mo sgyu ’phrul dra ba chen po) all belong. Toh 835, The Noose of Methods (thabs kyi zhags pa), a fragmentary version of an originally larger text, is classified as a supplementary tantra.

The second, the means for attainment, is classified according to the meditational deities whose practice is described in each text. Of these, here, Toh 838 deals with Mañjuśrī-Yamāntaka, 839 with Hayagrīva, 840 with Śrīheruka, and 841 with Vajrāmṛta, while Toh 842, 843 and 844 focus on the three mundane deities Mātaraḥ, Vajramantrabhīru, and Lokastotrapūjā, respectively. The text representing the practice of Vajrakīla, widespread in the Nyingma tradition, is a fragment not catalogued in Toh but here numbered 841A.

Note that there are a few tantras translated in the early period found not here, in the Old Tantra section, but in the main Tantra Collection, as they are shared by the Nyingma and Sarma traditions (though often using different translations). They include the Mañjusrīnāmasaṃgīti (Toh 360), the Guhyasamāja (gsang ba sdus pa, Toh 442), and the Māyājāla (sgyu ’phrul dra ba, Toh 466).

A separate, much larger collection of tantras considered canonical by the Nyingma tradition, called the Nyingma Gyubum, exists in several versions (and translations of its works will, it is hoped, be added to the 84000 collection).

Further reading

Gyurme Dorje, The Guhyagarbhatantra and its XIVth Century Commentary Phyogs-bcu mun-sel, PhD thesis. University of London, SOAS (1987).

E. Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau (Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism), Boston, Wisdom Publications (2001).

Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, tr. Dorje, G. and Kapstein, M., The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History, Boston, Wisdom Publications (1991).

Wangchuk, Dorji, “An Eleventh Century Defence of the Authenticity of the Guhyagarbha Tantra,” in Eimer and Germano (eds.), The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism (PIATS 2000). Leiden, Brill (2002).

See also section 6, chapter 4 in: Jamgön Kongtrul (’jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas), shes bya kun khyab, Delhi: Shechen Publications (1997). Translated as Guarisco, E. and McLeod, I (trans.), The Treasury of Knowledge: Book 6, Part 4, Systems of Buddhist Tantra, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications (2005), chapters 17 and 20.

Unrestricted access

The decision to publish tantra texts without restricted access has been considered carefully. First of all, it should be noted that all the original Tibetan texts of the Kangyur, including those in this Tantra section, are in the public domain. Some of the texts in this section (but by no means all of them) are nevertheless, according to some traditions, only studied with authorization and after suitable preliminaries.

It is true, of course, that a translation makes the content accessible to a far greater number of people; 84000 has therefore consulted many senior Buddhist teachers on this question, and most of them felt that to publish the texts openly is, on balance, the best solution. The alternatives would be not to translate them at all (which would defeat the purposes of the whole project), or to place some sort of restriction on their access. Restricted access has been tried by some Buddhist book publishers, and of course needs a system of administration, judgment, and policing that is either a mere formality, or is very difficult to implement. It would be even harder to implement in the case of electronic texts—and even easier to circumvent. Indeed, nowadays practically the whole range of traditionally restricted Tibetan Buddhist material is already available to anyone who looks for it, and is all too often misrepresented, taken out of context, or its secret and esoteric nature deliberately vaunted.

84000’s policy is to present carefully authenticated translations in their proper setting of the whole body of Buddhist sacred literature, and to trust the good sense of the vast majority of readers not to misuse or misunderstand them. Readers are reminded that according to Vajrayāna Buddhist tradition there are restrictions and commitments concerning tantra. Practitioners who are not sure if they should read translations in this section are advised to consult the authorities of their lineage. The responsibility, and hence consequences, of reading these texts and/or sharing them with others who may or may not fulfill the requirements lie in the hands of readers.

Translation and editing of the titles

The titles (as in all sections) have been translated on the basis of the short Tibetan title given in the Degé Kangyur, taking into account the Sanskrit.

The original Sanskrit titles of the various major tantras are well attested and pose only a few problems here and there. However, in the case of the many lesser known works, the Sanskrit, as given at the beginning of the various Tibetan works in the Degé canon (D) and reproduced with some corrections in the Tōhoku Catalogue (Toh), is often problematic. Not infrequently it is a back translation from the Tibetan title, with Sanskrit adjectives in the wrong places, compounds that are inverted, and other evidence that it was composed following the Tibetan and adopting its word order.

We have done our best to interpret such titles in the most likely fashion, but that has often meant privileging the Tibetan rather than following the Sanskrit word order. In rendering the Sanskrit titles, we have added some word breaks and corrected simple and obvious mistakes such as missing or wrong saṃdhi, wrong long and short vowels, missing retroflex consonants, etc. Many, but not all, of the amendments made by the Tōhoku Catalogue have been adopted. Where the title already contains one or more words with case endings, we have added the case endings to the final words (kalpa, tantra, etc.) in the interest of consistency. We have not, however, attempted to rearrange odd Sanskrit word order or make other such substantial changes. It seemed better to correct only what was obviously wrong in the Sanskrit and leave the rest more or less as it was, not attempting what would, in effect, be a retranslation.

For attested proper names we have used the Sanskrit; the rest (including obscure cases) we have translated. In general, the difficulties involved in translating the tantra titles are in many respects much greater than in the case of the sūtras. That said, we consider this a needed start, even if certainly not a final result. In short, what we present here is provisional and should be taken as such.

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