The Practice Manual of Noble Tārā Kurukullā
- tshul khrims rgyal ba
Degé Kangyur, vol. 81 (rgyud ’bum, ca), folios 29.b–42.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
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 Practice Manual of Noble Tārā Kurukullā is the most comprehensive single work on the female Buddhist deity Kurukullā. It is also the only canonical scripture to focus on this deity. The text’s importance is therefore commensurate with the importance of the goddess herself, who is the chief Buddhist deity of magnetizing, in particular the magnetizing which takes the form of enthrallment.
The text is a treasury of ritual practices connected with enthrallment and similar magical acts—practices which range from formal sādhana to traditional homa ritual, and to magical methods involving herbs, minerals, etc. The text’s varied contents are presented as a multi-layered blend of the apotropaic and the soteriological, as well as the practical and the philosophical, where these complementary opposites combine together into a genuinely spiritual Buddhist work.
Translation by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee.
Translated by Thomas Doctor from the Tibetan of the Degé Kangyur, with continuous reference to an English translation and critical edition of the extant Sanskrit manuscripts by Wieslaw Mical. English text edited by Gillian Parrish.
This translation has been completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The very foundation of all Buddhist paths is the recognition of the unsatisfactory nature of saṃsāra, the cycle of conditioned existence, and the quest for liberation from it. Building upon that basis, the Great Vehicle holds that saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are indeed inseparable and that the goal of all practice must be the liberation from suffering, not only of oneself, but of all other beings. It is a debated point as to whether tantra has its own unique view. Where there is unanimity, however, is that the path of the tantras adds a panoply of methods that enable the practitioner to achieve the goal of the Great Vehicle swiftly and effectively.
The tantras are concerned principally with the stages of “deity yoga.” With the guidance of a skilled teacher and after suitable preliminary training and empowerment, the practitioner is introduced to, and subsequently trains in recognizing, the divine nature of the world and its inhabitants. This is symbolically centered on the generation of the deity as the embodiment of enlightenment in one of its many aspects—a depiction in terms of form, sound, and imagination of the very goal to which the practitioner aspires. Through various modes of such practice, which differ according to the different levels of tantra, the practitioner is able to recognize, access, and actualize his or her own innately enlightened nature.
The female deity Kurukullā, whose practice is the subject matter of this text, has a particular place and orientation amid the pantheon of meditational deities. Like all deities, she is a personification of buddhahood in its entirety. As a female deity, she is understood to embody the wisdom aspect of enlightenment (i.e., emptiness), and as a form of the savioress Tārā, herself a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, she personifies all-embracing compassion. But her particular quality is related to the “activity” of enlightenment. Many Great Vehicle scriptures describe the spontaneous and effortless activity of buddhas for the benefit of beings. In Vajrayāna that enlightened activity is spoken of in terms of four modes, or types, of activity: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying. It is the third of these, magnetizing, that is the special field of Kurukullā, and it is to deploy that particular quality of enlightenment that a practitioner would undertake her practice.
While there are as many as thirty-seven Kurukullā sādhana liturgies included in the Tengyur, and many more in the indigenous Tibetan literature, the text translated here is the only work in the Kangyur that focuses on Kurukullā. Rather than being a systematic presentation of one form of practice, it takes the form of a compendium of varied elements—ranging from formal sādhanas to traditional fire offering ritual, and to magical recipes and methods involving herbs, minerals, and other ingredients—from which a practitioner might draw in order to constitute a range of Kurukullā-centered practices. The text’s varied contents are presented as a multilayered blend of the apotropaic and the soteriological, as well as the practical and the philosophical.
The text’s pattern of contents is in keeping with the term kalpa that figures in the title. An ancient meaning of the word kalpa, already found in the Ṛgveda, is “sacred rule” or “precept,” applying, in particular, to ritual procedures. As such, the scriptures that carry this term in their title are mostly ritual compendia or manuals of ritual practice. With the emergence of Vajrayāna a number of these works appeared, such as the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa, the Kurukullākalpa, and the Vajravārāhīkalpa. As these titles might then suggest, they are ritual compendia for their specific deities.
The word kalpa derives from the root kḷp, which means “to prepare” or “to arrange.” This meaning is also reflected in the contents of the works that belong to this genre—they are primarily concerned with the technicalities of the ritual rather than with philosophical debate about the principles involved. This is not to say, however, that the latter is altogether absent. Genre-wise, kalpas are closely related to tantras, inasmuch as they are divinely revealed by the Buddha or one of the great bodhisattvas, such as Avalokiteśvara or Vajrapāṇi. Moreover, both kalpas and tantras are concerned with a particular deity, or set of deities, and aim to guide the practitioner in the rituals and practices related to that deity.
The Tibetan version of The Practice Manual of Noble Tārā Kurukullā1 is structured into five chapters, whereas the Sanskrit has essentially the same content, structured into eight. Chapter 1 begins with the statement of its authenticity, and for this the text declares that it is a direct literary descendant of the tantra of The Arising of Tārā (Tārodbhava). These Kurukullā teachings, as found in our text, were given by Lord Avalokiteśvara on the Potala mountain, in response to a plea by a female audience consisting of different classes of semidivine beings. Responding to their request, Avalokiteśvara begins to explain Kurukullā worship and its requisites, which include the drawing of the deity’s image (Kurukullā in her four-armed, seated form), the eighteenfold pūjā, the mantra, and the gathering offering. The main three benefits of this practice are the ability to enthrall beings, to increase wisdom, and to remove poison.
These benefits all have a spiritual dimension if the practitioners possess a bodhisattva attitude: with loving kindness they will be able to control wild animals, with compassion they will deliver the entire world from pain, and by becoming identical with Tārā-Kurukullā, they will be able to provide assistance to beings in need. The practice of compassionate virtue is the key to this success.
In Chapter 2 there follows a description of the sādhana of the wish-fulfilling tree, through which one makes offerings to the buddhas and provides sentient beings with all that they need. This sādhana of the wish-fulfilling tree is followed by the main sādhana of the Kurukullākalpa. It is introduced by the statement that the mind is the sole “reality,” and because this is so, the key to attaining buddhahood is the cleansing of the mirror of mind. The means by which to accomplish this cleansing is this very sādhana. As it follows the formal structure of a typical Yoginītantra sādhana with its prayers, worship, visualizations, etc., it is unnecessary to recount here all the traditional details.
After summoning the “wisdom being,” one requests an empowerment, and along with the empowerment one is given the injunctions regarding the follow-up practice. The sign of success is that the lotus-mudrā formed with one’s hands at the end of the six-month practice period will burst into flames. By proceeding as described, the practitioner will attain the three enlightened bodies and will thereby be able to enact the great deeds of the Buddha.
At this point in the text, there is an interruption in the descriptions of the empowerment and of the samaya-pledges (which are resumed much later in the text), and we have instead a discourse, given by Vajrapāṇi, on the three enlightened bodies, followed by a Nāgārjuna-style exposition of the doctrine of emptiness. When asked how the mudrās, mantras, maṇḍalas, and siddhis should be interpreted in the context of emptiness, Varjapāṇi explains that they too are part of the chain of dependent origination—i.e., that the accomplishments are achieved in dependence on the mudrās, the mantras, and so forth.
Chapter 3 begins with a section containing various methods and related information on the main types of Kurukullā activity—enthralling, increasing wisdom, and removing poison—with discussion of the deeper spiritual implications of these three acts. We are told what materials should be used as mālā beads for these three types of activity, and are given specific instructions on the lighting of sacrificial fires (the shape of the fire pit, the type of firewood, etc.) and on the substances used as offerings. Some methods further described involve medicinal plants and other materials. The teacher also points out the more profound purposes: by enthralling beings with the mind of loving kindness one can establish all of them in enlightenment, by increasing intelligence one can attain the perfection of wisdom and achieve liberation, and by removing poison one brings peace to the world.
Further, we are given instructions on the method of visualizing the syllable hrīḥ (the seed syllable of Kurukullā) on different parts of the body and told the benefits arising from that: if it is on the clitoris, then enthrallment will follow; if on the chest, wisdom will increase; if between the teeth, one will remove poison. Connections are explained between the removal of faults of the body, speech, and mind, and the acts of enthrallment, removing poison, and increasing wisdom, respectively. There is also a connection between removing poison (in the spiritual sense) and increasing wisdom. When the poison of ignorance is neutralized, desire is pure wisdom. It is explained that the goddess Pāṇḍarā (implicitly identified with Kurukullā) is, in essence, desire. Her nondual passion is, however, completely free from poison and thus none other than wisdom.
The section on these different methods ends with a description of other Kurukullā magical practices, mostly for bringing results other than the main three outcomes specified above. These include a yantra for warding off snakes, amulets for enthrallment and protection, and rituals for bringing wealth with the help of drawings or a cowrie shell (the latter is also said to help one obtain a kingdom or even win at dice).
In Chapter 4 we return to the description of the empowerment and the samaya ritual. This includes the description of the Kurukullā maṇḍala and the divination wherein a flower is tossed into the maṇḍala. After the divination, the initiand is told to observe secrecy regarding their practice and is given the samaya injunctions. The practitioner is instructed to rely on red substances, abstain from nonvirtue, accomplish all the qualities associated with the perfections, and respect and pay homage to all women.
Once the samaya has been received, the four empowerments are bestowed, using water from the four jars of “the arrow,” “the bow,” “fearlessness,” and “the lotus.” An offering maṇḍala is described, with eight pitchers containing precious substances, along with a “pitcher of victory.” The disciple, suitably attired, is ushered into the maṇḍala and taught a secret method to control the nāgas. The Kurukullā dhāraṇī is now given—a lengthy formula aimed at bringing rain and prosperity. Further methods involving interaction with nāgas are also described—for stopping excessive rain, for curing leprosy and snakebites, and also for magically summoning and enthralling nāga women.
Chapter 5 contains three nidāna stories, which are accounts of situations that prompted the Buddha to give the Kurukullā teachings. The first story is about the Buddha’s son, Rāhula, who, while being “pulled” (i.e., subjected to a particular kind of magic) by a nāga, recites the Kurukullā mantra and is miraculously transported into the Buddha’s presence. Witnessing thus the power of Kurukullā’s mantra, he requests from the Buddha the Kurukullā teachings.
The second story is about Mahākāla and Hārītī. Mahākāla, not being happy in his marriage with the ill-tempered demoness Hārītī, neglects his duty to protect the teachings. The Kurukullākalpa is then taught to help Hārītī enthrall Mahākāla, and in this way mend things between these two unhappy lovers. As this is successfully accomplished, great happiness ensues.
The third story is about Rohiṇīkumāra, a boy who, although born with auspicious marks, is dull-witted. His father asks the Buddha about possible ways to increase Rohiṇīkumāra’s intelligence, and in response the Buddha teaches the boy the Kurukullākalpa. As a result, Rohiṇīkumāra acquires great learning and wisdom.
The next section treats of alchemy (applied in combination with the Kurukullā mantra), which, as may be expected, is meant to bring the accomplishments of sky-travel and longevity. Here we find instructions on (1) producing a mercury preparation that will enable the alchemist to fly through the sky as well as give him the power to enthrall women, (2) producing silver using a specially processed mercury (this is meant to lead, eventually, to the ultimate benefit for oneself and others), and (3) attaining the accomplishment of longevity by employing special plant-preparations.
The last part of chapter 5 describes the magical use of herbs and other substances (in combination with the Kurukullā mantra), as well as amulets, yantras, and other practices, which may be described as magical. Some of these means include an ointment protecting one from wild elephants; a paste, which, when smeared on shoes, will enable the wearer to walk on water; an incense for the well-being of monks; an ointment to stop children from vomiting breast-milk; inscribed amulets affording protection and bringing good fortune; an amulet to be worn on one’s forearm to bring wealth; an alms bowl inscribed with the Kurukullā mantra, which enables the owner to procure alms in a place where they are difficult to obtain; various methods of enthrallment; a method to prevent miscarriage; methods to ensure easy childbirth; remedies for breast diseases; practices meant to prevent premature graying of the hair; a paste meant to help women secrete vaginal lubrication (for pleasurable lovemaking); a remedy for premature ejaculation; a method for putting out a fire by sprinkling it with wine; and enthrallment methods involving yantra. Other wished-for results include obtaining a fine son, healing different types of fever, curing eye diseases, overcoming impotence, and finding buried treasures. Finally, the closing passages of the chapter once more ground the text and its teaching in the compassion of Avalokiteśvara, and beyond him in the infinite activity of the buddhas throughout space and time.
The final colophon in the Tibetan text gives the names of its two translators: the Indian Kṛṣnapaṇḍita and the Tibetan Tsültrim Gyalwa (1011–ca. 1068), also known as Naktso Lotsawa. The latter was a prolific translator who was sent to India to invite the Indian master Atiśa Dipaṃkāraśrījñāna (982–1054), met and studied with him at the monastic university of Vikramaśīla, and accompanied him on his journey to Tibet. With Atīśa and Kṛṣnapaṇḍita, Tsültrim Gyalwa translated numerous classical texts of both sūtra and mantra.
This English translation was prepared on the basis of the readings of the Degé Kangyur found in the Comparative (dpe bsdur ma) edition. The translation emerged in a process of continuous reference to a critical edition of the extant Sanskrit manuscripts and an English translation from the Sanskrit already prepared by one of the collaborators in this project.2 As the various Sanskrit manuscripts of the Kurukullā are not readily available and present important variants, we have decided to include the critical edition as an appendix to this translation.
While endeavoring to produce a rendering of The Practice Manual of Noble Tārā Kurukullā informed by the full range of available Sanskrit and Tibetan manuscripts and editions, we have nevertheless retained the primary objective of translating here the Tibetan text contained in the Degé Kangyur. Where the Tibetan text is open to multiple interpretations, the English translation follows the Sanskrit manuscripts whenever this can be done while staying within the field of meanings conveyed by the Degé text. In general, words in Sanskrit have been reconstructed on the basis of the Sanskrit manuscripts rather than the Tibetan transliterations. Where the translation diverges from the explicit message of the Tibetan manuscript, the discrepancies have been noted. There are numerous further instances where the Tibetan and Sanskrit texts differ. These can be appreciated through a comparison with the forthcoming annotated translation from the Sanskrit.
Abbreviations (notes 1–22)
|H||Lhasa (zhol) Kangyur|
|K||Kangxi Peking Kangyur|
|KY||Yongle Peking Kangyur|
See Appendix Prologue for abbreviations in notes 23–900.
The bibliography contains the publications that we have referred to as well as background reading on Kurukullā and Tārā in India and Tibet. Information on the Sanskrit manuscripts consulted is given at the beginning of the critical edition.
’phags ma sgrol ma ku ru kulle’i rtog pa (Āryatārākurukullākalpa). Toh. 437, Degé Kangyur, vol. 81 (rgyud ’bum, ca), folios 29.b–42.b.
’phags ma sgrol ma ku ru kulle’i rtog pa. Toh. 437, bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–9, vol. 81, pp. 127–69.
’phags ma sgrol ma ku ru kulle’i rtog pa. Stok 403. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma). Leh: smanrtsis shesrig dpemzod, 1975–80, vol. 95 (rgyud ’bum, nga), folios 316.b–435.a.
Bandurski, Frank (1994). Übersicht über die Göttinger Sammlung der von Rahula Sankrtyayana in Tibet aufgefundenen buddhistischen Sanskrit-Texte (Funde buddhistischer Sanskrit-Handschriften, III). (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den Turfan-Funden: Beiheft ; 5). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994.
Bendall, Cecil. Catalogue of the Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge, p. 178, 1992.
Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh. The Indian Buddhist Iconography: mainly based on the Sādhanamālā and cognate Tāntric texts of rituals. 2nd edition. Calcutta: K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1958.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh, ed. The Sādhanamālā. 2nd edition. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1968.
Matsunami, Seiren (1965). A Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Tokyo University Library. Tokyo: Suzuki Research Foundation, 1965.
Mehta, R. N. “Kurukullā, Tārā and Vajreśī in Śrīpura.” In Tantric Buddhism: Centennial Tribute to Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharyya, edited by N.N. Bhattacharyya. Reprint. New Delhi: Manohar, 2005.
Pandey, Janardan Shastri, ed. Kurukullākalpaḥ. Rare Buddhist Texts Series, 24. Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 2001.
Shaw, Miranda Eberle. Buddhist Goddesses of India, ch. 22. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Snellgrove, David. The Hevajra Tantra: a critical study. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Willson, Martin. In Praise of Tārā: Songs to the Saviouress: source texts from India and Tibet on Buddhism’s great goddess, selected, translated, and introduced by Martin Willson. Boston, MA.: Wisdom Publications, 1996.