An Aspiration for the Teachings of the Early Translation Lineage to Flourish

As the title indicates, this is an aspiration for the teachings of the Ngagyur Nyingma, the Early Translation Lineage (or: School) of the Nyingma to flourish, which was composed by the great Jamgön Mipham Gyatso. This aspiration has a brief introduction followed by twenty-five verses and an ending colophon, all focusing specifically on the teachings of the Nyingma lineage, which Mipham reorganized and reinvigorated through his prolific teaching, debate, and composition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

At the request of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche we undertook this translation and worked closely with Surmang Khenpo from Surmang Monastery in Tibet, and later with Changling Rinpoche from Shechen Monastery in Nepal. Changling Rinpoche advised us to consult the commentary of Shechen Gyaltsap (one of Mipham’s close students and editor) on this now classic aspiration. Shechen Gyaltsap’s 250-page commentary is an explication the view of the Nyingma, with the last 50 pages being a tsik-drel, a word-by-word commentary on Mipham’s root text.

At one point while working with Changling Rinpoche, when we asked about the compressed complexity of the text, he commented, “It’s said that if you want to understand how learned Mipham was, you should study this aspiration. And if you want to understand how learned Shechen Gyaltsap was, you should study his commentary on this aspiration.” Or, as Mipham himself said in his colophon:

These teachings of the essence of the all the victorious ones, the glorious lotus-born buddha, the deathless victorious one arisen in a lake, which are renowned as the Early Translation Lineage of the Nyingma, are our source for all the teachings of the Victorious One. This is the unerring excellent path that delights the victorious ones through its special qualities of many great, profound, pith points and its completely pure view and meditation.

This aspiration poetically chronicles the history and development of the dharma from India to its establishment through the Nyingma lineage in Tibet, to its flourishing as the main proponent of the ati teachings. Except for the first and third verses where we call on the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and sthaviras (elders) of India, and the great progenitors of dharma in Tibet, the three roots of the gurus, yidams, and protectors, each verse ends with “May the teachings of the Lake-Born victorious one flourish.” This is the main point of the aspiration—that the teachings of Padmasambhava, the main source of the Buddha’s teachings for the Nyingma lineage, will flourish and spread.

After the first four verses about how the Buddha’s teachings were introduced in India and then initially brought to Tibet, verses 5 through 12 continue to tell the story of how the dharma spread throughout Tibet, the Land of Snow. After this, verses 13 through 22 praise the excellence and profundity of these teachings, particularly as expressed and taught by the Nyingma lineage. The final three verses, 23 – 25, are more specific aspirations for the teachings, the teachers, and the patrons and students to spread and flourish throughout the entire world.

Here follows some specific identification of the meaning of some of the verses and terms that may not be immediately obvious. The verses are not numbered in Tibetan or English, but verse numbers are given below for easier identification.

Dharma Kings: According to Shechen Gyaltsap’s commentary, “Kings” refers to the victorious ones and their heirs, such as: Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, and King Trisong Detsen (see below).

verse 1:
Sugatas: (San. “one who have gone to, arrived at, bliss”) An epithet of the buddhas, which emphasizes the blissful quality of the realization of the enlightenment.

King of the Shakyas: the Buddha, who was born a prince of the Shakya clan in India, and thus another name of the Buddha is ”Shakyamuni,” or “Sage of the Shakyas.”

eight sons of the Victorious One and the sthaviras: eight main disciples of the Buddha (Victorious One) who became bodhisattvas (awakened beings) are: Mañjushri, Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, Kshitigarbha, Sarva-nirvarna-vishkambhin, Akashagarbha, and Samantabhadra. The sthaviras (elders) were also disciples of the Buddha, usually known as the sixteen sthaviras, who were all arhats (realized ones), with many arhats under their protection.

verse 2:
Teacher: the Buddha

verse 3:
Abbot, Master, and Dharma King: Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, and King Trisong Detsen (see below)

emanated lotsawas and panditas: “emanated” as they are the nirmanakayas (emanation bodies) of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. “Lotsawa” is a title of respect given to the Tibetan translators, and “panditas” refers to the great Indian scholars and masters they worked with.

kama and terma: “kama” refers to the words of the Buddha transmitted orally from person to person. “Terma” are treasure teachings that were hidden by Padmasambhava, either in the earth (Tib. sa-ter) or in the minds of realized teachers (Tib. gong-ter), and then revealed by them at the appropriate time for the benefit of beings.

Mamo, Protector, Rahula, Vajrasadhu: These are some of the main dharma protectors of the Nyingma lineage. “Mamo” refers to Ekajati, and “Protector” to Mahakala. Please see other commentaries on the daily chants for descriptions of these.

three classes of arrogant spirits: (Tib. drekpa) Here, these arrogant, tough, non-human spirits are classified into three groups of mother, father, and non-dual types, which represent the three poisonous kleshas of passion, aggression, and delusion. Here they are ruled and transformed into wisdom by Ekajati, Mahakala, and Rahula respectively.

verse 4:
Sage: the Buddha

verse 5:

The emanations of the sattvas of the three families,
The vajra body, speech, and mind of the victorious ones
of all directions and times,
Made the sun of benefit and happiness shine in the Land of Snow.
May the teachings of the Lake-Born victorious one flourish.

Here, “the sattvas of the three families,” are understood as the three principal bodhisattvas of wisdom, compassion, and power; or Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani of the buddha, padma, and vajra families respectively. And their respective “emanations” are the progenitors of dharma in Tibet: the great Dharma King Trisong Detsen; the accomplished Master Padmasambhava; and the great Abbot Shantarakshita, who embody the vajra body, speech, and mind of all the victorious ones. Together, they all caused ”the sun” of dharma “to shine in the Land of Snow (Tibet).” And so, “May these teachings of the Lake-Born victorious one (Padmasambhava) flourish.”

verse 6:

Assembly of victorious ones and your great noble heirs,
In accord with your intention you took birth as a display of emanations
And raised the jewel victory banner of the stainless teachings
of the Victorious One.
May the teachings of the Lake-Born victorious one flourish.

Here, according to Shechen Gyaltsap’s commentary, respect and devotion are paid to the early Tibetan translators (lotsawas) of Vairochana, Kawa Paltsek, Chokrolu Gyaltsen, and Namkhe Nyingpo, who were “emanated “ as a “display” of the great scholars (panditas) of India, in accord with the intention of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, in order to spread the buddhadharma in Tibet.

verse 7:
This verse pays homage to the work of the early translators of dharma in Tibet, who are noted in the previous verse.

the great gate of light: the gate of dharma

verse 8:
This verse is an expression of how the teachings of the Nyingma lineage are complete and need no other traditions for fortunate students to practice the true dharma.

verse 10:
Abbot from Sahor: Shantarakshita, famous for establishing the vinaya (monastic rules of discipline and conduct) in Tibet.

Nagarjuna:  The great India master and proponent of the view of madhyamaka, teachings on the middle way. The conduct and view of these two great teachers were united by Padmasambhava and sealed as law by King Trisong Detsen.

verse 11:
three profound inner tantras: the tantras of maha yoga, anu yoga, and ati yoga.

dharmakaya rainbow body: According to Shechen Gyaltsap, here, “dharmakaya” refers to the realization of mind, and “rainbow body” to the manifestation of an awakened body, which happen simultaneously and inseparably.

verse 12:
This verse details in rather condensed and code-like manner how the eight vidyadharas each received one of the sadhana cycles of the eight logos of the mahayoga tantra from Dakini Mahakarmendrani at the Shankarakuta Stupa in the Sitavana charnel ground in India. And then how Padmasambhava received their combined transmission from this dakini, and soon after also received the individual sadhana cycles of the eight logos from the respective eight vidyadharas.

At this point in the aspiration there is a shift from recounting and praising the history of the spread of dharma in India and Tibet, to a more general praise of the profound teachings of the Nyingma.

verse 13:
great casual yana and great fruitional secret mantrayana: refers to the mahayana and vajrayana respectively.

verse 14:
sophists: (Tib. tog-ge ngan) Literally, “bad logicians,” Changling Rinpoche commented that these are people not only with faulty logic, but who rely on unending words and non-stop conceptual thoughts, a logic that never comes to a definitive ending.

verse 16:
primordial purity: (Tib. ka-dak), also translated as “alpha-pure” this is the fruition of the path of trek-chö, or “cutting through.”

spontaneous presence: (Tib. lhündrup) this is the fruition of the path of tögal, or “crossing over.” Together these two vast and profound paths lead to the fruition of dzokchen, the great perfection.

verse 20:
Sovereign Manjushri-vajra: an epithet of Manjushri, referring to his vajra, or indestructible, manifestation.

verse 21:
three completely valid cognitions: (San. pramana, Tib. tse-ma) refers to the three accepted, valid, and reliable ways of knowing: direct perception (Tib. ngön-sum), inference (Tib. je-pak), and  scriptural authority (Tib. lung).

verse 22:
victory banner: one of the eight auspicious symbols, is used here to exemplify the superior qualities of the Buddha’s teachings.

At this point, the aspiration shifts from praising the excellence of the teachings and aspiring that they may flourish, to culminating in three final verses of specific aspirations for the teachings, teachers, and patrons and students to spread these teachings throughout the entire world.

glorious lotus-born buddha, the deathless victorious one arisen in a lake: refers to Padmasambhava, who was miraculously born from a lotus (padma) in the midst of Lake Dhanakosha, and later attained the level of the vidyadhara of deathless long-life at the Maratika Cave in Nepal.

Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso: one of the many names of Mipham, which means, “Unconquerable, Gentle-Voiced, Completely Victorious Ocean.”