vajrayoga

Tārāyogīni Tantra & Practice

This post is titled, The Transmission of the Tantra and Practices of Tārāyogīni ( Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma ): A Little-Known Jonang Specialty . By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

jf_tarayogini_01.jpg Tarayogini Tarayogini

The Jonang tradition was and is well-known for holding and continuing to propagate several unique transmissions, such as various strands of Kālachakra transmissions and various traditions of its six-limbed vajrayoga; the Mahāsṃavāra Kālachakra, 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 Tāranātha (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.

Embodying the Kalachakra

Marveling at how the ultimate is described as expressions, and thinking about how to relate this ongoing theme to Kālachakra practice, I happened upon a short piece by the late Lama Ngawang Kalden from Dzamthang that strikes at the heart of this matter.

In a compilation of his writings and talks, there is a short text within his Cycle of Instructions for Visualizing the Profound that has a passage on how the ultimate manifests as contemplative experience through the vajrayana process of embodying the Kālachakra deity.

Dolpopa's Experience

IMG_1146_1.JPG Carving of Dolpopa, Jonang

With "expressions of emptiness" on my mind, I thought it might be nice to reflect on Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen's experience of this quintessential phenomena, and how this experience acted as a pivotal point in his understanding zhentong.

This of course raises larger ― more lingering ― questions, such as: How is zhentong understood by the Jonangpa?; What links the vajrayoga practices of the Kālachakra with zhentong?; What "evidence" do we have that expressions of emptiness are actual phenomena? [1] ; etc.

Though these broad and overarching questions lie beyond the scope of this short post, these are issues that I'd like to gravitate towards in future posts. Here, I'd like to draw from the narrative of the Jonangpa, or at least one episode in the biographical account of Dolpopa's life that roots his experience of this phenomena within his realization of zhentong.

Expressions of Emptiness

When we think about emptiness, there is usually an intimation of absence. That is, a lack of presence is implied. However, in zhentong contemplative thinking, the recognition of the ultimate real implies an acknowledgment of presence, a constant luminous presence.

Perhaps one of the most interesting twists in this paradox of absence and presence is what I referred to in an earlier post as, "expressions of emptiness." [1] The technical term that I'm translating here is śūnyatā-biṃba in Sanskrit or stong pa nyid kyi gzugs brnyan in Tibetan (commonly abbreviated as, stong gzugs and translated, "empty form"). Since this is such a key term and prevalent notion in the vajrayoga process of the Kālachakra and tantric zhentong worldview, and since my earlier mentioning of it elicited such excitement, I thought to sketch a few notes on the idea here.

Kalachakra Practice I

In preparation for the upcoming Kālachakra retreat, I thought to revisit some of the central themes on Jonang Kālachakra practice that have inspired many of my conversations with friends and inquirers on the subject. Though much of this can be found in my outline of the practice curriculum, it may be helpful to discuss this again here. [1]

To begin, its important to distinguish what are "ngöndro" ( sngon 'gro ) or the preliminary practices in the Jonang Kalachakra practice tradition, and what are "ngözhi" ( dngos gzhi ) or the primary practices. Although this is a division that is found among the Tibetan tantric traditions...

The First Jonangpa

Throughout my readings on the Jonangpa in English, I've noticed the (all too) common attribution of either Yumo Mikyo Dorje or Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen as the "founder" of the Jonang tradition. [1] Though Yumowa was a major figure in the transmission of the Drö Kālachakra lineage as it was received by the Jonangpa, and was a prominent forefather of the tradition, its unlikely that he even heard the word "Jonangpa" in his lifetime.

jf_kunpangpa_1.jpg Kunpangpa

The term was coined during the time of Kungpang Thukjé Tsöndru (1243-1313), [2] the master who later inherited the Drö Kālachakra lineage as it was transmitted through Yumowa, and the first in the lineage to settle in the valley named " Jomonang ." He was the 1st Jonangpa.