Summary of Empowerment
Degé Kangyur, vol. 77 (rgyud, ka), folios 14.a–21.a.
Translated by the Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
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 this translation are advised to consult the authorities of their lineage. The responsibility for reading this text or sharing it with others who may or may not fulfill the requirements lies in the hands of readers.
The Summary of Empowerment is considered to be the only extant portion of the root text of the Kālacakratantra. According to the Buddhist tantric tradition, the Sekkodeśa was transmitted by the Buddha in his emanation as Kālacakra, to Sucandra, the first king of Śambhala. The text’s 174 verses cover a wide range of topics. After a short introduction to the eleven empowerments that constitute a gradual purification of the aggregates, body, speech, mind, and wisdom, the treatise turns to the so-called “sixfold yoga.” It begins by teaching meditation on emptiness via the contemplation of various signs, such as smoke or fireflies. Following the description of the control of winds and drops within the body’s channels and cakras, along with the signs of death and methods of cheating death, the text goes on to describe the three mudrās—karmamudrā, jñānamudrā, and mahāmudrā. After a concise criticism of cause and effect, the text concludes by describing six kinds of supernatural beings closely related to the Kālacakratantra, along with their respective families.
This translation was made by the Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group (Konstantin Brockhausen, Susanne Fleischmann, Katrin Querl, and Doris Unterthurner) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes (Vienna University).
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Summary of Empowerment (Sekoddeśa) is considered to be the only extant portion of the Paramādibuddha, i.e., the root text of the Kālacakratantra (Skt. Mūlakālacakratantra) in twelve thousand verses. According to the Tibetan tradition, the Buddha, in his emanation as Kālacakra, taught it to Sucandra, the first king of Śambhala, in Dhāṇyakaṭaka, near today’s Amarāvatī in Andhra Pradesh.1 Initially the root text encompassed five sections, on the worldly realm, the inner realm, empowerment, practice, and wisdom (Skt. jñāna, Tib. ye shes), respectively. It is not clear, however, in which section the Sekoddeśa belonged.2 Later, the eighth king, Mañjuśrī Yaśas, condensed the Paramādibuddha into the Laghukālacakratantra (Toh 362); and his successor, Puṇḍarīka, added a commentary, called Vimalaprabhā (Toh 845 and 1347). Today, these two texts form the core of the Kālacakratantra literature.3
There are two extant Tibetan translations of the Sekoddeśa. The first was produced by Dro Lotsawa Sherap Drakpa (eleventh century) and the Kashmiri paṇḍita Somanātha, and is included in all known versions of the Kangyur except for the Phukdrak Kangyur, which contains instead a second translation, made by Ra Chörap (eleventh century) and the Nepalese paṇḍita Samantaśrī. Giacomella Orofino has published a critical edition of the Tibetan translations of the Sekoddeśa.4
Only a small part of the Sanskrit text in its original form exists (two manuscripts of the first leaf), but substantial passages are found as citations in commentaries, particularly Raviśrījñāna’s Amṛtakānikāṭippanī.5 The missing parts have been reconstructed by Raniero Gnoli based on Nāropa’s Sekoddeśaṭīkā—also extant in Sanskrit6—and the resulting Sanskrit edition was published as an appendix to Orofino’s critical edition of the Tibetan translations. Gnoli’s reconstruction proves to be of great value, as it is not merely a retranslation into Sanskrit from the Tibetan. Based on this edition, Orofino has translated the Sekoddeśa along with Nāropa’s commentary into Italian.7 Recently, Philip Lecso has published an English translation of the Sekoddeśa, this time along with the short commentary called Sekoddeśaṭippaṇī (Toh 1352).8 We found this helpful but not entirely trustworthy. In 2009, Orofino published a reliable English translation of verses 129 to 160 of the Sekoddeśa, along with the corresponding passages of Nāropa’s commentary.9
For our present translation, we relied mainly on Dro Sherap Drakpa’s Tibetan translation of the text, comparing it to Ra Chörap’s and the Sanskrit. Orofino’s and Gnoli’s editions proved very reliable, so that our work could be entirely based on them. We compared the text to the various Sanskrit citations, which account for roughly 40% of the text. We have not provided detailed philological annotations, and it should be noted that in some passages, when the Tibetan was unintelligible on its own, we have had to translate the passage according to our understanding of the Sanskrit. We have, of course, checked our rendering against Philip Lecso’s and Giacomella Orofino’s translations as well. Our translation has also profited from a careful study of Nāropa’s commentary in both its Sanskrit original and Tibetan translation.
Despite the title Summary of Empowerment, only the first twenty-three verses—roughly one-eighth of the text—concerns the succession of eleven empowerments that the adept must undergo. The remaining parts deal with the sixfold yoga (verses 24–92), encompassing a detailed description of the channels, winds, and signs of death, including astronomical considerations concerning the relation of micro- and macrocosms; mudrās (93–128); a criticism of cause and effect, and the lack of passion (129–160); and the supramundane beings and their respective families (161–174).
The text begins with a request by Sucandra, who asks the Buddha to grant a brief description of the sevenfold, threefold, and unsurpassable empowerments in order to achieve mundane and supramundane accomplishments. In answering this request, beginning with verse eight, the Buddha elaborates on eleven empowerments, which are conferred upon practitioners of diverse capacities.
While the first seven empowerments are for the attainment of worldly accomplishments, the four higher empowerments are for achieving the supreme accomplishment of buddhahood. Thus, although the eighth empowerment is called a vase empowerment, it is the first within the group of higher empowerments.
In his Sekoddeśaṭīkā, Nāropa compares the eleven empowerments to steps on a staircase leading up to the palace of the achievement of the two types of accomplishment. The first seven empowerments constitute the lower steps; they are the appropriate means for a yogin who seeks worldly accomplishments on the level of relative truth.11 In this way, they are meant to “introduce the childish”—that is, disciples at the beginning of the path.12 Subsequently, these seven empowerments are explained as a process of purification (Skt. viśuddhi, Tib. rnam dag), which in itself is an important concept in tantric Buddhism.13
The first seven empowerments can therefore be understood as the purification of body, speech, mind, and wisdom. In sets of two, beginning with the water and the crown empowerments, they purify body, speech, and mind, respectively. The seventh empowerment, the permission empowerment, purifies wisdom (see verse 11).
In the more elaborate presentation that follows (verses 12–14), these empowerments are linked to a gradual purification of certain aspects of existence, namely the five elements, the five psycho-physical aggregates,14 the ten perfections, great immovable bliss and buddha speech, objects, and sense faculties, the four immeasurables, and complete buddhahood, respectively.
Following the exposition of this gradual purification, in verse 14 the need for a maṇḍala made of colored sand is mentioned. According to Nāropa, such a maṇḍala is indispensable for the first seven empowerments, although it is not necessary for the four superior empowerments:
Within the four superior empowerments there are three superior worldly empowerments: the vase and secret empowerments, and the empowerment of wisdom from a prajñā. The fourth superior empowerment is nonworldly, and on the authority of Nāropa, it is a synonym for mahāmudrā.16
In terms of purification, the four superior empowerments purify body, speech, mind, and wisdom, respectively. They also correspond to the level of maturity of the adept, which is elucidated when they are compared to the level of a child, an adult, an elder, and a universal ancestor. In the context of the sexual yoga that accompanies the empowerments, the last four stages are further elaborated upon as states of moving, again moving, vibrating, and beyond vibration.
Following the description of eleven empowerments, the Summary of Empowerment turns to the so-called sixfold yoga (Skt. ṣaḍaṅgayoga, Tib. yan lag drug gi rnal ’byor), which is a well-known succession of meditative practices within Tantric Buddhism.
The six “limbs” (aṅga, yan lag) are withdrawal (Skt. pratyāhāra, Tib. so sor sdud pa), meditative absorption (Skt. dhyāna, Tib. bsam gtan), breath control (Skt. prāṇāyāma, Tib. srog rtsol), retention (Skt. dhāraṇā, Tib. ’dzin pa), recollection (Skt. anusmṛti, Tib. rjes dran), and meditative concentration (Skt. samādhi, Tib. ting nge ’dzin).
Withdrawal (verses 24–26) gets its name from the fact that the sense faculties are withdrawn from their respective outer objects and applied to inner objects, which consist of reflections of emptiness. These are divided into signs that appear when meditated on during the night and during the day, respectively:
• Smoke - dhūma, du ba.
• Mirage - marīci, smig rgyu.
• Firefly - khadyota, mkha’ snang.
• Lamp - pradīpa, sgron ma.
In the second limb, concentration (verses 27–34), five mental aspects are applied to these signs. According to Vajrapāṇi, as cited in Nāropa’s commentary, these are insight, examination, analysis, joy, and immovable bliss. They constitute a progressive focus of the mind on the empty.18 In the Summary of Empowerment, the yogin’s meditation on these signs of emptiness is likened to a virgin seeing a magical image in a divinatory mirror (verses 29–34).
In the verses that Nāropa attributes to the discussion of the limb called control of the winds (verses 35–76), the channels, winds, and maṇḍalas (i.e., energy centers) within the body are described at length. In order to master this stage, the aspirant must exert control over the vital wind (Skt. prāṇa, Tib. srog) and the downward-moving wind (Skt. apāna, Tib. thur sel), which flow in the channels above and below the navel, respectively. In this way the yogin can cheat the signs of death, i.e., excessive winds within the channels that ultimately cause death.
Having thus been seated in the lotus position, after having practiced control of the winds, one should fix the mind to the drop in the middle of the white sixteen-petaled lotus, which is located at the level of the forehead. [The root text says that] “one should fix the vital wind to the drop”; this is primarily the characteristic of [the fourth limb,] retention.19
As far as the last two limbs—recollection and absorption—are concerned, Nāropa describes in detail the process of purification of the yogin’s elements, which takes place through the descent of the blood element and the ascent of the semen. Step by step, the fourth state (which is experienced during sexual union), the state of dreamless sleep, and the dreaming and waking states are transformed into the pure bodies of the dharmakāya, the saṃbhogakāya, and the nirmāṇakāya respectively (verses 90–92).
As mentioned, the sixfold yoga makes use of various channels, energy centers, and winds. According to the tradition of Kālacakra, there are 72,000 channels in the body that carry the vital wind. The middle channel (Skt. avadhūtī, Tib. kun ’dar ma) runs from the crown of the head (Skt. uṣṇīṣa, Tib. gtsug tor) to the navel and is associated with Rāhu. Along the middle channel, one visualizes several energy centers (Skt. maṇḍala, Tib. ’khyil ’khor) or wheels (Skt. cakra, Tib. ’khor lo), compared to lotuses, from which smaller channels, called petals (Skt. dala, Tib. ’dab ma), branch off. These wheels are situated at the crown of the head (4 petals), at the forehead above the eyebrows (16 petals), at the throat (32 petals), at the heart (8 petals), at the navel (64 petals), and at the genital region (32 petals). Altogether there are 156 petals. Above the navel, the two channels on either side of the avadhūtī are called lalanā (on the left) and rasanā (on the right), with the former being associated with the moon and the latter with the sun. The vital wind circulates in these two channels. At the navel cakra, the channels change their positions: below the navel, the lalanā is situated in the middle and its function is to excrete feces; the rasanā is located on the left and serves to excrete urine; and the avadhūtī—called śaṅkhinī below the navel—is situated on the right and carries semen. The vital wind below the navel is designated the downward-moving wind (Skt. apāna, Tib. thur sel). The task of the yogin is to stop the circulation of the wind in the left and right channels, and to direct the vital wind toward the middle channel. In verses 35–76, the Sekoddeśa deals extensively with the winds and channels. Alternative names for the channels that are mentioned there are given in the glossary.20
Verses 58–66 speak of maṇḍalas, through which the vital wind flows. The directions of movement of wind in the maṇḍalas are associated with the elements, and the vital wind flows through the elements in a given order. It flows to the center (space), then above (wind), to the right (fire), to the left (water), and below (earth). In the two nostrils, the wind flows differently: in the left nostril it passes the elements starting with space; and in the right, it starts with earth in reverse order. The left nostril is associated with formation, and the right with dissolution.
For those destined for premature death, the days in which the vital breath flows excessively in one of the two side channels (lalanā and rasanā) are called death signs (verses 70–74b), or days of ariṣṭa, and mark the beginning of the remaining three years of life.
For those born in an odd zodiac sign (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, or Aquarius) the death signs will appear in the left channel and are called moon death signs. For those born in an even zodiac sign (Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, or Pisces) the wind will flow excessively in the right channel, and such days are called sun death signs. This excessive flow of wind—caused by an imbalance of the three humors of air, bile, and phlegm—takes place for a certain number of days within twelve periods, or stages, associated with the zodiac signs and represented by a twelve-petaled lotus at the navel. In the remaining days of each period the wind circulates regularly, that is, equally in both channels. As the wind circulates excessively in the petals of the lotus, beginning with one day in the first petal for the moon death signs and five days for the sun death signs, it causes the petals to dry up, one by one. With each petal that dries up, the days of ariṣṭa in the remaining petals increase by a certain number. Once having circulated in the eleventh petal, the element of rajas, constituted by the bile humor, dries up together with the petal. In the twelfth petal, the wind circulates in the opposite side channel for two days, drying up the element sattva, constituted by phlegm. Finally, the wind flows in the center of the lotus, the middle channel, for one last day, drying up the element tamas, constituted by wind.
By contrast, the natural death process (verses 74c–76)—death ascending in the middle channel—takes place after a lifespan of ninety-six years and ten and a half months, and it lasts for three years and one and a half months.21 At the beginning of this final period of life, the breath flows for one day irregularly, that is, in one channel only, and then again for one day regularly. Following that, it flows for two days regularly and for two days irregularly, and so on, up to thirty-three days. For an odd number of days, flowing irregularly, it flows in the left channel; for an even number of days, it flows in the right. Finally, it flows for one more day in the middle channel, completing a life cycle of one hundred years. As a result of this entire process, the left and right channels and the five maṇḍalas of the elements dissolve.22
In order to counteract the death signs, the winds must be forced into the middle channel, where they are applied to the drop that is identified with the semen and the moon. Through the ignition of the feminine principle, caṇḍālī, the adept must cause the descent of this drop from the crown of the head to the genital organ. In its descent, the semen passes through four phases, which are characterized by their respective joys (Skt. ānanda, Tib. dga’ ba):23
Another topic of the Summary of Empowerment is the three types of mudrā, namely the action mudrā, the wisdom mudrā, and the mahāmudrā. Nāropa understands these three mudrās to constitute the means of accomplishment.
The action mudrā (karmamudrā) refers to an actual female consort of the yogin, and thus is described as the cause for bliss in the desire realm. The wisdom mudrā (jñānamudrā) is a visualized consort in the form of a deity, and is understood to be the cause of bliss in the form realm. The mahāmudrā is a magical image, a reflection emerging from space as the result of meditation.
As for the mahāmudrā, she is a reflection emerging from space. From passion for her—meaning meditation on her, a meditation that is carried on in its own sphere—arises bliss that lacks vibration. Lacking vibration means that vibration extending outside, i.e., the emission from the vajra jewel, is stopped.25
Apart from the causal aspect of mahāmudrā, there is a resultant mahāmudrā, which is characterized by great abandonment and great realization. Resultant mahāmudrā thus encompasses the actualization of luminosity, which has the nature of the abandonment of all defilements together with their imprints, and the realization of the dharmakāya, the inseparable nature of all buddhas.26
From verse 129 onward, the Summary of Empowerment elaborates on the relationship between the mind and its stains, and their abandonment. First, various possibilities for such a relationship are refuted (e.g., the stains arising without the mind, or remaining indestructibly within it):
Next, the treatise turns to passion born from the non-emission of semen as the main cause of abandoning suffering, urging the reader to avoid emission—and thus a state without the passion needed in tantric passion—under all circumstances:
Starting with verse 146, it is explained that, conventionally, the reflection of emptiness serves as the cause for immovable bliss—the result. In ultimate reality, however, this distinction does not hold, as there is no duality:
In the last part of the text, followed by the concluding verses, the six supramundane beings are presented (verses 161–72). From meditation on the mahāmudrā, a reflection—Kālacakra in union with his prajñā—emerges from space, and in this process the six self-arisen supramundane beings appear, each at a specific cakra (verses 161–63). These beings and the corresponding parts of the body are as follows: Vajrasattva (secret part), Mahāsattva (navel), Bodhisattva (heart), Samayasattva (throat), Vajrayoga (forehead), and Kālacakra (crown of the head). In verses 164–69, these supramundane beings are presented again, together with their epithets27 and explanations of their names.
The verses that follow (170–72) correlate these deities with the “families” of the six aggregates (wisdom, sensation, consciousness, matter, karmic formations, and discrimination); the six elements (wisdom, fire, space, earth, wind, and water); the six sense faculties (mind, eyes, ears, body, nose, and tongue); and the six cognitive objects (mental objects, visible objects, sounds, tangible objects, odors, and tastes).
We have tried to use brackets and parentheses precisely but sparingly: where we have used them, the additions are ones we deemed indispensable for the understanding of the text. Parentheses are used for our explanations in the few contexts that require them, while square brackets indicate our insertions.
It was translated, edited, and finalized by the Kashmiri paṇḍita Somanātha and the Tibetan translator and monk Dro Sherap Drakpa. Rinchen Gyaltsen retranslated, edited, and corrected it in accordance with the commentary (Skt. ṭīkā) of glorious Nāropa.
Even in the worldly art of love one avoids fast emission. All the more should a tantric yogin avoid emission, thus not creating suffering in accordance with tantras. To be sure, the Kālacakra prescribes the avoidance of emission.
Verses: 161–63; Aspect: cakras
Verses: 164–69; Aspect: purifies*
Vajrasattva: threefold existence
Verses: 170; Aspect: aggregates [**]
Mahāsattva: sensation [feeling]
Samayasattva: matter [form]
Vajrayoga: karmic formations
Kālacakra: discrimination [perception]
Verses: 171ab; Aspect: elements
Verses: 171cd; Aspect: faculties
Verses: 172ab; Aspect: objects
Bodhisattva: mental objects
Vajrayoga: tangible objects
Kālacakra: visible objects
Verses: 172ab***; Aspect: objects reordered
Vajrasattva: mental objects
Mahāsattva: visible objects
Samayasattva: tangible objects
* Tentative interpretation.
** Alternate common designations in brackets.
*** Reordered to match v. 171cd.
dbang mdor bstan pa (Sekoddeśa). Toh 361, Degé Kangyur vol. 77 (rgyud, ka), folios 14.a–21.a.
Orofino, G. A Critical Edition of the Tibetan Translations, With an Appendix by Raniero Gnoli “On the Sanskrit Text.” Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1994 [Toh 361].
Sahajavajra. gnas pa bsdus pa (Sthitisamāsa). Toh 2227, Degé Tengyur (rgyud, wi), folios 92.a–99.b.
Gnoli, R. and Giacomella Orofino. Iniziazione: Kālacakra. Milano: Adelphi Ed., 1994 [Toh 361].
Sferra, F. and Stefania Merzagora. The Sekoddeśaṭīkā by Nāropā (Paramārthasaṃgraha). Rome: Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente, 2006 [Toh 1353].
Grönbold, G. The Yoga of Six Limbs: An Introduction to the History of Ṣaḍaṅgayoga. Translation from the German by Robert L. Hütwohl. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Spirit of the Sun Publications, 1996.
Khedrup Norsang Gyatso. Ornament of Stainless Light: An Exposition of the Kālacakra Tantra. Translated by Gavin Kilty. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004.
Lecso, P. “The Sekoddeśaṭippaṇī: A Brief Commentary on the Summary of the Initiation.” In As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, edited by Edward A. Arnold, 51–92. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.
Orofino, G. “The Mental Afflictions and the Nature of the Supreme Immutable Wisdom in the Sekoddeśa and Its Commentary by Nāropa.” In As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, edited by Edward A. Arnold, 27–50. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.
Sferra, F. “The Concept of Purification in Some Texts of Late Indian Buddhism.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 27, no. 1–2 (1999): 83–103.
Wallace, V. A. The Inner Kālacakratantra: A Buddhist Tantric View of the Individual. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- dngos grub
- las kyi phyag rgya
Lit. “action seal,” a worldly (human) consort. Also rendered here in Sanskrit as “karmamudrā.”
- dang po’i sangs rgyas
- dar ma
- glo bur
Also rendered in this translation as “externally added.”
- ’char ba
- dus sbyor
- rdul phran
- kun ’dar ma
Also rendered in this translation as “middle channel.”
- dril bu
- gnyis su med pa
Also rendered here as “without duality,” “nonduality,” “nondual.”
- mi ’dzags pa
- bde ba
Bliss of descending bodhicitta
- byang chub sems ’pho’i bde
- byang chub kyi sems
- byang chub sem dpa’
One of the self-arisen supramundane beings.
- sangs rgyas skad
- ’khor lo
Cakra at the forehead
- mdzod spu’i khor lo
- ’bab ma
Channel of excrement
- bshang ba’i rtsa
Channel of Rāhu
- sgra can rtsa
Channel of semen
- khu ba ’bab
Channel of urine
- gci ba’i rtsa
- mtshan nyid
- lhan skyes
Commentaries that indicate the entirety of the meaning
- ’grel bshad
- ’grel bshad
- dam tshig
- bsam gtan
- rnam shes
- cod pan
Crown of the head
- gtsug tor
- mun can
Daughter of a barren woman
- mo gsham bu mo
- gti mug
- lha min
In Tibetan, māra is usually rendered as bdud; lha min usually translates asura (“demigod”).
- ’dod khams