Gaṇacakra Explanation

Tsok | Tibetan MastersAdzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje

English | བོད་ཡིག

Adzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje

Detail from a thangka showing a tsok offering

Further Information:

A Concise Explanation of Gaṇacakra

by Adzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje

Great universal lord, embodiment of all the families,
Glorious teacher, at your feet I bow!

Here, I shall give a concise explanation of the marvellous gaṇacakra, a method for quickly reaching the fruit of the two accumulations on the basis of the profound and swift path of the secret mantra Vajrayāna. When gathering the gaṇacakra,[1] all yogins, who have the cause characterized as knowing, the fortress of the view, and the condition characterized as engagement, the clearance of the pitfalls of cultivating samādhi, and are skilled in means, the friend or life-force of the action, should enter the gaṇacakra—the secret conduct—in order to achieve transcendence.[2] Yogins should thus strive in gaṇacakra one-pointedly for a multitude of purposes such as actualizing the result. As the omniscient Drimé Özer[3] stated:

On full moon and new moon, the 8th and the 29th,
On the 10th of the waxing moon and the 10th of the waning moon, at day and at night,
Strive in approach and accomplishment; offer the feast, fulfilment and confession.
Wholeheartedly apply the profound key points of
The yogas such as the winds, mind, channels, and bindus.
Meditating thus on the path of the union of bliss, clarity and non-thought,
One will become a vajradhara and attain perfect buddhahood, within this life-time.[4]

An overview of gaṇacakra:

  1. its essence
  2. its literal meaning
  3. its divisions

1. Essence of Gaṇacakra

The essence is the perfection of the two accumulations and the bringing of delight and fulfilment to the deities, the teacher and the vajra-brothers and sisters.

2. Literal Meaning of Gaṇacakra

The word gaṇa means gathering. The All-Illuminating states:

The gathering of the supported (delighted deities), individuals (fortunate disciples), the substances (abundant feast) and great method (excellent samādhi) is called a secret gathering.[5]

3. Divisions of Gaṇacakra

Regarding its divisions, the Four Seats[6] states:

An assembly of friends is called a gaṇa.
By eliminating conceptual thoughts, the cakra is expressed.

The divisions are:

a) outer,
b) inner
c) secret, and
d) suchness gaṇacakra.

a) Outer Gaṇacakra

The outer gaṇacakra is the accumulation of the feast substances constituting a diversity of sensory delights.

b) Inner Gaṇacakra

The inner gaṇacakra refers to a gathering of method and wisdom — that is, of vajra brothers and sisters — in equal number, or in a number that matches the number of deities, or as a large gathering. The Secret Tantra[7] states:

For the small assembly there are two, six or ten;
For the middling, the number of deities in the maṇḍala;
And for the great, even more.

A small gathering comprises the principal male and female; three pairs [six practitioners] symbolizing enlightened body, speech and mind or five pairs [ten practitioners] representing the five families. In this way there can be two, six or ten practitioners. For a middling assembly, the number of practitioners equals the number of deities in the maṇḍala. For a great assembly, there will be even more practitioners. For these gatherings, pure samaya amongst the practitioners is of vital importance.

c) Secret Gaṇacakra

The secret gaṇacakra is the offering of the inner feast, with the blazing and dripping,[8] using method and liberation—the creation and completion practices—to the deities of the three seats of completeness[9] in the city of the vajra-aggregates, one’s own body.

d) Innermost Gaṇacakra of Suchness

The secret and innermost gaṇacakra, is to take wisdom as the path and transcend the fabrications of an offering and an offerer. These practices belong to the later completion stages and should be studied by listening to the nectar-like speech of a master who holds the lineage. Through them the practitioner gains certainty and brings into experience the oral instructions that are given according to an individual’s disposition and capacity.

Now, so as to explain primarily the intent of the first two, the outer and the inner gaṇacakra, there is the preparation, the main part and the conclusion:

I. Preparation

The preparation entails eight branches that should be applied]:

1) The Branch of the Secluded Places

gaṇacakra should be offered in a place that holds the blessings of the buddhas, vidyādharas or bodhisattvas of the past. Or it should be practiced in a sacred place in which ḍākas and ḍākinīs assemble, or a place which increases the power of samādhi, experience and realization, such as in the midst of rocky, snow or forest-covered mountains, pleasure groves, or places secluded from worldly distractions.

2) The Branch of the Occasion

In such a sacred place, gaṇacakra should be offered in an auspicious year or on an auspicious month or day or when there is an important event, such as rabné rituals,[10] homa offerings,[11] the approach and accomplishment practices, initiations, festivals, or thanksgiving ceremonies.

3) The Branch of the Support, the Individuals

The individuals offering gaṇacakra should include a vajra-master who has accomplished the practices of approach and accomplishment and has experience and realization, together with an assembly of vajra-brother and sisters holding the samayas and vows.

4) The Branch of Conducive Friends

The practitioners’ view and conduct has to be in accord with the development and completion stages of the deity.[12]

5) The Branch of the Deities to be Accomplished

This entails taking as the support the maṇḍalas of the unsurpassed tantras which are more exalted than the kriyā-action tantras.

6) The Branch of Skilful Activity

Here, there are six instructions to be followed:

1) Do not perform the ritual of gaṇacakra before having requested and received permission to do so.[13]
2) Do not offer gaṇacakra before having performed the offering mudrā.[14]
3) Do not perform the liberation offering before the first portion has been offered.[15]
4) Do not make offerings to the yogins and yoginīs until the heaps have been arranged.[16]
5) Do not perform the activity, praise and invocation before having offered songs and dance.
6) The yogins and yoginīs should not get up and leave before having offered the remainder.

7) The Branch of Vows and Pledges

The root and branch samayas of the practitioners have to be undefiled.

8) The Branch of the Fruit to be Attained

The fruit to be attained is the experience of the inexhaustible adornments of the enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activity.

II. The Main Part

The Stages of Vajra Activity[17] states:

When there is a gathering of friends, this is called ‘the gathering of practitioners’. When all the ingredients are present, this is explained as ‘the gathering of blissful abundance’. When the deities and dharma protectors are gathered, this is explained to be ‘the gathering of the great assembly’. This then ensures that the continuous perfection of the two accumulations will be recognized as ‘the great gathering’.

Here, as stated, there are four points to be applied:

1) The gathering of fortunate ones
2) The gathering of wealth and abundance
3) The gathering of delighted deities, and
4) The gathering of excellent samādhi

1) The Gathering of Fortunate Ones

The assembled vajra-brothers and sisters constitute ‘the gathering of fortunate ones’. If a gathering of only men assembles, it is ‘a feast of heroes’. If a gathering of only women assembles, it is ‘a feast of the heroines’. If both heroes and heroines assemble, it is ‘a feast of method and wisdom’. If there are only yogins assembled, it is ‘a feast of yogins’. Generally, it is explained that when both vajra-brothers and vajra-sisters assemble it is called ‘the gaṇacakra’. Although this is the case, it is nonetheless crucial to check if it is appropriate to offer gaṇacakra or not. If there are breaches and violations of the samayas between the master and vajra-brothers and sisters, or if the secret conduct[18] is beyond someone’s scope, or the participants cling to pure and impure and the like, then it is inappropriate to offer gaṇacakra. It is thus important to understand what is to be adopted and what is to be avoided.

2) The Gathering of Wealth and Abundance

In the past, when the yogins and yoginīs gathered the gaṇacakra in sacred places, in India and elsewhere, the feast substances and articles were worth five hundred sang[19] of gold, or at least ten sang's worth. Hence, it is important that the feast should be a magnificent arrangement of valuable, excellent and pure substances. It is stated in the tantras:

Essentials such as dawa,
Excellent tastes such as māṃsa,[20]
Flowers, sandalwood mālās and more,
Please accept all these excellent offerings!

In particular, the yogins’ view and meditation must be in accord with the feast substances. This is stated in the Tantra of the Arising of Amṛta:[21]

Nāgas and brahmins eat clean food.
That they will be liberated, this I have not explained.
Dogs, pigs and untouchables, eat unclean food.
That they will be liberated, this I have not explained.
Therefore, listen to this scripture of definitive meaning!
Skilled yogins
Experience the nature of the distinct five families as the single dharmakāya.
Realizing this, one will be liberated. This I have explained.

This makes it clear that it is crucial for the yogins’ view and conduct to be in harmony.[22] Thus, when giving offerings to a large assembly, it should be caru foods.[23] Likewise, the offerings for a rabné ritual should be caru, so should not include impure substances such as meat, alcohol, garlic and onions. However, when practicing gaṇacakra, the indispensable substances of method and wisdom are meat and alcohol. As for the meat, unless the animal suffered for a long time from sickness or famine, or was liberated and guided by a qualified master, it is impermissible for the meat that is offered to come from an animal killed specifically for the gaṇacakra. It is best to buy ‘meat that could not be sold nine times’[24] or else one should buy ‘meat of the three purities’.[25] As for alcohol, unless an individual has reached the stage of heat[26] and is thus able to purify and transform the alcohol, it is not permitted to drink such a quantity of alcohol that one’s mindfulness is impaired. Therefore, only use a very small amount of substances such as meat and alcohol. Furthermore, offerings may include solids and liquids such as: dagyé (curd and pies), datrom (confection),[27] tsegal (ritual cakes made from a dough of flour mixed with rice beer and sweets), māṃsa (meat), kuntugyü (salts), jamdé (condiments),[28] various fruits, dzagé (alcohol), kang (bone marrow), ladu (vegetables), and yochen (garlic).[29] Arrange whatever substances you can acquire without judging them as either pure or impure. Except where they serve as enhancement for the ‘all-victorious conduct’ of supreme yogins, it is stated that it is inappropriate to add the ‘wolf substances’, such as offerings made by ‘samaya breakers’ and 'brought by widows.' [30] This gathering of whatever sensory delights one can acquire constitutes what is called the outer gaṇacakra.

Regarding the musical instruments, it is important to use those that correlate to the activity performed: for example, conches for peaceful practices, long trumpets for enriching, shawms for magnetizing and bone trumpets as well as the supreme skull drum for wrathful practices.

When offering gaṇacakra, arrange any sensual delights, such as gold, silver or silk, without any stinginess or attachment. However, even if the offerings are small, like those of a kuśalin,[31] it is the visualization and meditation that are most important. Thus, it is stated that it is sufficient to use the seasonal fruits and vegetables[32] as food and clean water as drink.

3) The Gathering of Delighted Deities

The gathering of delighted deities is the maṇḍala of whichever deities of the three roots one relies upon.

4) The Gathering of Excellent Samādhi

Each phase of the ritual should always be accompanied by the Four Gates of the Secret Mantra Scripture:

1) practicing clearly the generation phase is the gate of the words’ meaning,
2) invoking the iṣṭadevatā(s) is the gate of secret mantra,
3) focusing one-pointedly is the gate of samādhi, and
4) using secret signs and symbols is the gate of mudrā.

It is crucial to recollect the purity of deity, mantra, samādhi and mudrā.[33] Hence, the great Guru of Uḍḍiyāna stated:

Whatever activity, offering or recitation is performed,
Non-distracted, with stable samādhi,
Do not just utter the secret mantra’s words like shamans! Evoke the words’ meaning!
For practicing without samādhi is to be like a barking dog.
Even though temporarily it might seem like practice, if without meaning it is like aimlessly wandering about.
Thus practice with a proper posture, speech that is silent, and a mind that is free from discursive thought!
Thus, as it is said, an undistracted visualization is of utmost importance.

Blessing the Feast

There are various ways to bless the feast, but in general one places the substances—the delightful foods and drinks that were especially prepared for the gaṇacakra—within the feast receptacles, the kapāla(s) or vast lustrous vessel(s). Then, visualizing oneself as the deity, from the syllables raṃ, yaṃ and kaṃ in one’s heart, light shoots forth which transforms into fire, wind and water. The fire of wisdom burns away all grasping at the feast offering as entities; the wind of clear seeing (vipaśyanā) scatters all grasping thoughts; and the water of calm abiding (śamatha) washes away all remaining subtle stains of dualistic grasping. The feast substances are purified into emptiness. Again, they arise vividly as the samaya substances of the five meats, five amṛtas, immeasurable enjoyments and sensual delights. Then from the syllables oṃ, āḥ and hūṃ in one’s heart, there shoots forth white, red and blue light which dissolves into the substances. Imagine that immeasurable syllables of oṃ, āḥ and hūṃ fill the feast substances. From them light radiates out, inviting the infinite jñānāmṛta, which dissolves into, and becomes inseparable from, the samayāmṛta. Imagine that the seed syllables also dissolve into light. In this way, the untainted wisdom of samaya and jñāna, united becomes great cloud-banks of sensual delights.

Inviting the Deities to the Feast

According to some ritual traditions, there are the following six maṇḍalas: the maṇḍala of the field of accumulation, the maṇḍala of the blazing periphery,[34] the maṇḍala of restoring the breakages and impairments, the maṇḍala of the samaya of the generation phase, the maṇḍala of natural wisdom and the maṇḍala of the delightful gaṇacakra. From among them, here we are considering the maṇḍala of the delightful gaṇacakra.

Either from both the front-visualization and self-visualization or from one’s heart, inconceivable light rays shoot forth inviting all the deities residing in the infinite buddha-fields of the victors’ three kāyas[35]—the gurus, iṣṭadevatās, ḍākinīs, dharmapālas, wealth deities and treasure guardians—to take their seats in the space in front and join the feast as our guests.

First Portion of the Feast

Imagine that goddesses of sensual delights are sent out, filling the whole sky. They all carry in their hands lustrous vessels made of various jewels, all filled with food and drink. Then, imagine that as many offering substances as there are in the realms of gods and humans, and as many unique offerings as there are, sprung forth through the aspirations of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, come to join this feast and are offered as cloud-banks of excellent offerings to the deities of the maṇḍala. The gathered deities, extremely pleased and delighted, grant supreme and ordinary siddhis. Other texts explain that, in the manner of deities dissolving into other deities, the offering goddesses dissolve into the deities’ bodies. Thus, the deities’ body, speech and mind are pleased and the great accumulation is simultaneously accomplished.

Second Portion of Confession

The offering goddesses each carry a kapāla filled with the five meats and five amṛtas, and particularly with red and white bodhicitta. Focus on the offering of the great equal taste of bliss and emptiness. Confess, with strong remorse and regret, any inherently negative deeds or breakages of vows—impairments, breakages, transgressions or confusions of the vows of individual liberation, bodhisattva and mantra vehicles—incurred throughout the course of your lives in beginningless time until now, and ask for forgiveness. Imagine that the assembled deities are delighted and, filled with love, grant forgiveness. All shortcomings and flaws are purified without exception and the impairments[36] in relation to the wisdom deities are restored. Thus, gain firm confidence that in this way the four primordially protected king-like samayas[37] are actualized.

Third portion, the Liberation Offering

When the third portion feast substance is placed before the vajra-master, he or she recites “hūṃ”. Thus, the goddesses who previously blessed the sensual delights dissolve back into oneself. The third portion should not be be sanctified with the consecrated water, alcohol, or ‘inner offering’.[38] It is said that if one has a liberation effigy, one should place the third portion within it and move both to the side.[39] In any case, sprinkle that third portion which has captured the life-force(s) with non-consecrated rakta. A realized being who has liberated the self performs ‘The Buddhas’ Instructions from the Mantrika’s Triangular Ritual Fire Pit’[40] to the beings that are captured in the effigy, such as those who show all the ten grounds,[41] those who have committed the seven violations,[42] or those who belong to the five kinds of enemies,[43] all of whom are to be liberated by others with compassion. Through the vajra-master’s samādhi which fulfils the three satisfactions[44] by being stable, powerful and focused,[45] the mind is separated from the body. Then, the ‘flesh and blood’[46] is consecrated with amṛta and becomes undefiled wisdom nectar, which in turn is offered. Imagine that the deities enjoy this with delightful and wrathful expressions. All dualistic thoughts, the root of impure saṃsāra, are released into the expanse of great non-dual bliss. Thus sustaining the samādhi of the primordial purity of the three worlds[47] is the single key point which perfects all offerings of union and liberation and confession and fulfilment.

Some scriptures explain that the first portion is offered to the general bali[48] of the three roots; the second portion of confession to the bali of the ḍākinīs; and the third portion of liberation near the malign bali of the lower activities or, if one does not have this bali, to the bali of the protectors. In another tradition one would offer the first portion to the three roots’ bali and the second and third portions—the confession and liberation offerings—near the bali of the lower activity. One can also offer all three portions near the three roots’ bali. If it is not easy to offer the three portions near the balis, then it is permitted to simply offer the individual feast plates or the whole feast into in one big bowl. When one performs the fulfilment for the liberation offering, visualize the fulfilment substances through the key points of deity, mantra, mudrā and samādhi, as Samantabhadra’s vast offering clouds continuously filling the whole expanse of space. Evoke the meaning of each and every word of the ritual manual of whatever feast-offering one follows. If the ritual includes a ‘sky-offering portion’, offer this fourth portion outside the shrine room. If the ritual liturgy does not mention the fourth portion, then it is not necessary to offer a substitution.[49]

Next, the ritual assistant(s) distributes the feast to the entire assembly, beginning with the vajra-master. The ritual assistant begins with prostrations and then, with his or her left hand in the 'lotus mudrā' and holding the madana,[50] and with his or her right in the 'three-pointed mudrā', he or she recites:

Kyé! Behold all phenomena as excellent! Do not entertain doubts regarding all that is gathered. Eat, regarding brahmins, dogs, and untouchables as having the same nature![51]

The ritual assistant, with arms crossed, holds the substances of skilful means and wisdom and gives them to the vajra-master. The vajra master, with left hand in the 'lotus mudrā'; and right hand in the 'three-pointed mudrā' (thumb pressing on the little finger and remaining three fingers extended), takes the feast. It is also permitted that the vajra-master, having performed the 'lotus mudrā', takes the feast with both hands joined. Moreover, do not simply start to eat and drink in an ordinary way. Instead, distribute the substances to the assembly without favour or dislike. And do not engage in mindless entertainment such as making jokes. Also, do not be selective about which feast substances one receives. Regarding the downfall of the hawk or wolf-like behaviour, the great Guru of Uḍḍiyāna said:

If one has craving and is greedy for the feast, one will be reborn as a wolf.
If one does not know how to enjoy the feast while maintaining the three perceptions, one will be reborn a hungry ghost with a tightly closed mouth.

The three perceptions are:

  1. perception of the teacher as the heruka in union,
  2. perception of one's vajra-brothers and sisters as gods and goddesses,
  3. perception of the gaṇacakra as the siddhis.

Furthermore, it is said that there should be six satisfactions:

  1. to satisfy the deities of the field of accumulation with outer, inner and secret offerings,
  2. to satisfy the yogins and yoginīs with foods and drinks,
  3. to satisfy the wisdom maṇḍala with the essence of amṛta,
  4. to satisfy the deities of the body maṇḍala with the wisdom of bliss and emptiness,
  5. to satisfy the outer and inner ḍākinīs with the offering of songs, and
  6. to satisfy the haughty spirits with the bali.

Thus, delight in the outer, inner and secret gaṇacakra and, as stated in the great tantra, The Union of the Sun and Moon:[52]

Perform the vajra song and dance!

Therefore chant the feast songs,[53] Ema Kiri[54] and so forth. Moreover, uphold the three ‘inseparables’:

  1. the body is inseparable from the iṣṭadevatā,
  2. the speech is in essence inseparable from mantra, and
  3. the mind is inseparable from dharmatā.

The three freedoms from doubt are:

  1. to be free from doubts regarding the tantras, scriptures and the teacher’s speech,
  2. to be free from the doubts over purity and impurity regarding the maṇḍala of siddhis, and
  3. to be free from doubts regarding the secret conduct.

The three prohibitions:

  1. do not engage in careless conduct,
  2. do not harbour desire, anger or jealously, and
  3. do not sow disharmony amongst ones vajra-brothers and sisters.

The three inappropriate concepts regarding meat and alcohol:

  1. although one may be a bhikṣu, it is inappropriate to harbour concepts,
  2. although one may be a brahmin adhering to purity, it is inappropriate to harbour concepts, and
  3. although one may be a follower of the kriyā-action tantras, learned in ritual, it is inappropriate to harbour concepts.

The three types of accumulating negativity to be avoided:

  1. do not accumulate negativity towards the guide, one’s teacher(s),
  2. do not accumulate negativity towards the oral instructions of the profound path, and
  3. do not accumulate negativity towards friends on the path, one’s vajra brothers and sisters

The three things that should not be given to the public:

  1. do not give out the supports for initiations such as sindūra to the public,
  2. do not give out one’s portion of the feast—the support of the blessings—to the public, and
  3. do not give out the amṛta of accomplishment to the public.

The three secrets are:

  1. the secret of the time when the gaṇacakra is to be performed,
  2. the secret of the arrangement of the gaṇacakra, and
  3. the secret of the method of performance.

The three utterances to be avoided:

  1. do not utter disrespectful words towards one’s teacher(s),
  2. do not utter ordinary words during the gaṇacakra, and
  3. do not utter harsh words towards ones vajra-brothers and sisters.

Giving the Remainder Offering

According to the elaborate explanation, it is best to arrange heaps of human ash upon the skin of a violator.[55] The second best option is to sprinkle the grains or sand maṇḍala with scented water and rakta. At least, arrange five piles of grains upon whatever support one has. Or, as the Heruka Galpo states:

Within the maṇḍala of the remainder at the north-eastern border,
Draw with rakta E’s or crescents upon a ‘violator’s skin’.

As stated, additionally in the maṇḍala in the north-east or south-west, draw for the peaceful deities a circular maṇḍala with scented water, and draw for the wrathful deities upon violator’s skin a dharmodaya,[56] and a crescent upon a violator’s skin.

In any case, place a bhāṇḍa[57] or a copper vessel upon a stand. If you desire mainly pacifying activity, place the pure remainder within the vessel. If you desire mainly wrathful activity, place the impure remainder within the vessel. The recitation, visualisation and so forth [for the ritual] are hidden elsewhere and I shall not explain them here. As before, collect the impure remainder from the whole assembly. However, if it collecting the impure remainder is difficult because too many samaya-holders have assembled, then it is permissible not to collect the impure remainder. In brief, it is explained that the impure remainder is gathered beginning from the ends of the lines and it is excellent if each impure remainder is placed in separate vessels. According to the tradition of my most precious teacher,[58] this kind advice is given:

The pure remainder is placed upon the impure remainder of the vajra-master. Upon this is placed ‘the palgyi pabab’ – the leftover pieces of the previous offerings.[59] It is important to include an incense stick during the day and a burning candle at night, in order to avoid a direct encounter[60] with the remainder guests.

Some maṇḍala rituals advise that the remainder should be held aloft while the words of the remainder offering are recited. The pure remainder is divided and offered, except for one portion, to the maṇḍala. The remaining portion is placed and used as the pure remainder as explained above. In general, the ritual assistant sprinkles it with amṛta and rakta. In order to avoid being poisoned by an encounter with the remainder guests,[61] the 'lotus mudrā' should be performed and the remainder held with the 'garuḍa mudrā'.

If a vajra-master with realization of the view is present, some scriptures explain that each of the five families should be performed, but according to the tradition of my precious most teacher, the vajra-master should visualize his or her upper palate as vīra Hayagrīva and his or her lower palate as Vajravārāhī. Then, he or she visualizes that, from their point of union, the mind of awakening which has the nature of amṛta, and blesses the remainder by spitting three times with the 'secret space mudrā'. The first spit purifies all the faults and defects; the second transforms the remainder into the nature of untainted amṛta; and the third transforms it into enjoyments of sensual delights which multiply inexhaustibly.

If the vajra-master does not hold the highest view, the remainder is sprinkled with amṛta. Were one to spit on it, this would be comparable to the guard contaminating clean food:[62] it would lead the ḍākinīs to command harsh retribution.

Visualize the remainder feast receptacle as a kapāla or a vast and extensive lustrous vessel bubbling with wisdom amṛta. Imagine within it a variety of outer and inner offerings, such as silken tents, canopies and ribbons, flesh, blood and bones, all of which transform into inexhaustible clouds of offerings that delight the wisdom and worldly invited remainder guests. The remainder guests are those of the seven higher and lower ranks. Those of the seven higher ranks are as stated in the Heruka Galpo:

  1. those that reside in the spontaneously perfect abode of the naturally pure dharmadhātu, and
  2. those of the ranks of the heruka, who are blessed by samādhi and become the object of visualization,
  3. the male, skilful means,
  4. the female, wisdom,
  5. the khrodīs of the places,
  6. the piśacīs of the lands, and
  7. the maṇḍala of the four wisdom gate keepers.

Those of the seven lower ranks are:

  1. the thirty-two ḍākinīs mentioned in the Secret Moon-Drop,
  2. the eighteen great kiṃkaras mentioned in the Yamāntaka teachings,
  3. the three laṅgkas mentioned in the Śrī Heruka teachings,
  4. the eight jvalās mentioned in the unsurpassed Māyājāla teachings,
  5. the seven matṛkās and the four bhaginīs mentioned in the mother tantras and scriptures,
  6. the sixty-four dūtīs mentioned in the Mighty Lotus, and
  7. the twenty-eight īśvarīs mentioned in the Guhyagarbha to whom both the pure and impure remainder are offered.

Know that all these spirits and deities vary in the appearance of their bodies, faces, hands and characteristics.

The ritual assistant, counting steps of both right and left legs, walks seventy steps away from the practice place. This is called the ‘feeding pathway of the rakṣasas’. There he or she places the remainder heaped like a stand. Although there are various ways to pile the remainder, they are not explained here. Other texts also suggest making an offering of rinsing water. According to my kind teacher, in order not to be poisoned, within the shrine room and while holding the bali-plate, so that the plate faces oneself, pour rinsing water onto it.[63]

During a drupchen,[64] the lhakta, ‘the promised remainder’, is placed in the south-east of the maṇḍala, because that is where the ḍākinīs gather. Generally, it is also said to be placed in the north-east of the maṇḍala. On the day that the remainder is given, the collected remainder is placed altogether as a pile outside.

It is said that a scattered remainder will cause quarrels to arise among vajra-brothers and sisters. Do not give the remainder to beggars and the like, since this is said to lead to inauspiciousness within the country. There is no fault, however, if the remainder is eaten by birds, since they belong to the family of ḍākinīs. It is explained that one should immediately dissolve the visualized remainder maṇḍala once the remainder has been offered. Taking good care of these points regarding the remainder will ensure that the many fierce mundane and super-mundane deities invited to the remainder do not create inauspicious circumstances for you, the ritual assistant, the assembly or the nation.

Exhortation

Exhort the deities to take their previously taken samayas seriously. Recite the summoning liturgy for the bali and visualize, while maintaining the three satisfactions, that the offering of flesh and blood transforms into amṛta.

Covenant

The covenant is given to the protectors of the three classes of tantras who follow the command of the three kāya teacher(s). Thus, through the giving of the covenant, the protectors are entrusted with the activities of aiding the dharma brothers and sisters and pacifying their obstacles. Pour the rinsing water for the covenant near the bali of the sthāvarās.

Sthāvarās[65]

The sthāvarā goddesses, as previously commanded by Padmasambhava, are entrusted with the four activities,[66] such as the protection of Tibet against the threats of heretics and barbarians. In order to avoid angering the sthāvarās, visualize a white silken curtain surrounding the sthāvarā offering.

Suppression Dance

In order to suppress the hidden retinue of ghost and spirits, it is crucial that you place the seal while maintaining the view of the inseparability of emptiness and compassion.

Again, recite the offering, praise and confession prayers. Then receive the siddhis, dissolve and re-emerge, dedicate and recite aspirations and prayers of auspiciousness. Here, I shall not explain the individual visualisations for these practices.

III. Showing the Excellent Benefits of Gathering the gaṇacakra

It is stated in The Two Segments:[67]

Whatever one eats, all the sensual delights
For the practitioners will transform into siddhis.

As it is said:[68]

The faults of the transgressions of samaya will be dispelled,
Everything unfavourable will be defeated,
One will accomplish whatever one desires,
One will gather the accumulation of merit,
All food will bestow siddhis,
The remainder deities and spirits will be satisfied.
Through the ritual of the gaṇacakra,
Which swiftly grants the prophecy for receiving
The siddhi of mahāmudrā,
One will reach the desired goal.

The Vajra-Net[69] states:

Amongst the accumulations of merit, gaṇacakra is supreme.
All one's wishes for this life will be accomplished,
Negative forces and obstacles will be pacified.
In the next, in the realm of the victorious vidyādharas,
One will reach the level of Samantabhadra.

The Saṃvarodaya[70] states:

Abundant happiness,
Freedom from disease, a virtuous mind,
[All] wishes will be fulfilled and final release will be attained.
Thus abundant siddhis will be gathered.

The Naturally Arisen Perfection Tantra states:[71]

The qualities of gaṇacakra are as follows:
The obscurations of countless past and future lives
Will all be purified in a mere instant in the presence of the peaceful and wrathful deities.
Wherever one is born in lives to come
One will never lack necessities,
The wheel of Dharma will never cease to turn for you
And one will always have abundant wealth, enjoyments,
Sustenance and belongings.
These are the temporary benefits.
There are also the higher qualities that one will receive:
In the intermediate state, one will recognize one’s own perception as the wisdoms.[72]
Being liberated there, one will remain on the unchanging ground,
Sending forth emanations throughout the three thousand-fold universe
To benefit beings.
Qualities like this one will attain!

Yeshé Tsogyal said:

On the tenth of the waxing moon and on the tenth of the waning moon,
On the eighth and the fifteenth,[73]
Gather the gaṇacakra and make offerings.
Offering the gaṇacakra merely once will close the doors to the lower realms,
And you will not even return and take birth as a human again.
Understand that this can be established with certainty, through logic.

And, the eminent scholar Padma Legdrub[74] said:

In essence, therefore, the qualities of performing the gaṇacakra are immeasurable. Through it, you will perfect the activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and subjugating. You will restore all impairments and breakages of samaya. You will delight and satisfy the deities, gurus, oath-bound protectors, and vajra brother and sisters. All unfavourable and unwanted circumstances will be dispelled. You will perfect the two accumulations of merit and wisdom. You will simultaneously accomplish supreme and ordinary siddhis. Through this, you will obtain benefits too vast to describe. Since this is the special, profound circumstance, the condition and method of secret mantra, the unsurpassable vajrayāna, I urge you to strive continuously with diligence!

And, Machik Labdrön said:

Amongst all the conditioned virtues, there is no greater merit than gathering the gaṇacakra.
Gathering the gaṇacakra once, one will be liberated from the age of famine.[75]
Gathering the gaṇacakra twice, one will become a universal monarch of the thousand-fold universe.
Gathering the gaṇacakra thrice, one will attain the supreme and ordinary siddhis.
Gathering the gaṇacakra for a fourth time, attaining the stages of the herukas, one will spontaneously accomplish the twofold benefit,
And one will travel unobstructedly to the buddha-fields. Thus the benefits are immeasurable!

Longchenpa said:[76]

Its excellent benefits are as follows:
The accumulations of merit and wisdom will be perfected,
All transgressions of the samayas will be restored,
Assemblies of ḍākas and ḍākinīs will come and gather in the places of the practitioners and accomplish the activities,
The masters and the gathering of the deities of the maṇḍala will be delighted,
The ocean of samaya-bound guardians will guard and protect you,
Your current life will be long, without disease,
You will enjoy renown and a vast gathering of helpers and enjoyments.
Whatever you wish for will be effortlessly and spontaneously accomplished.
The supreme and ordinary siddhis will be attained.
All obstacles and negativities will be purified
And thus, in a future life, you will attain unsurpassable awakening.
Like this you will obtain unthinkable and unspeakable qualities!

Whatever merit may arise from this composition, I dedicate to sentient beings throughout space!
May all sentient beings thus perfectly attain the result of the two accumulations!
Whatever shortcomings there may be, due to confusion,
I admit and confess, with the omniscient ones as my witness!

At the earnest requests of my disciple, the learned monk and scholar Drakyab Sherab[77] and others, I, Gyurme Dorje, wrote this text at Tashi Gephel Ling.[78] May virtue and goodness abound!

| Translated by Stefan Mang, 2018. Many thanks to Gyalse Tulku Rinpoche, Tulku Rigdzin Pema Rinpoche, Drokpa Tulku, Lama Öpak, Khenpo Tsöndru Zangpo, Khenpo Pema Namgyal, James Gentry, Adam Pearcey, Han Kop, Peter Woods and Kaleb Yaniger for kindly providing suggestions and clarifications. Edited by David Teasdale and Libby Hogg.

Bibliography

Tibetan edition and English translation based on

  • A ’dzom rgyal sras ’gyur med rdo rje. “Tshogs kyi rnam bshad bsdus pa.” In A ’dzoms rgyal sras ’gyur med rdo rje’i gsung ’bum, Volume no. 2: 1a-12b. Dkar mdzes bod rigs rang skyong khul, Dpal yul rdzong. PRC: A ’dzom chos sgar, 199?.

Primary Sources

Kangyur
  • Tōh. 368: Bde mchog nyung ngu, Rgyud, Ka 213a1-246b7.
  • Tōh. 373: Śaṃvarodayatantra, Bde mchog 'byung ba'i rgyud, Rgyud, Kha 265a1-311a6.
  • Tōh. 381: Sampuṭanāmamahātantra, Yang dag par sbyor ba'i rgyud chen po, Rgyud, Ga 73.b–158.b
  • Tōh. 418: Kye’i rdo rje mkha’ ’gro ma dra ba’i sdom pa’i rgyud kyi rgyal po, Rgyud, Nga 13b5-30a3.
  • Tōh. 428: Catuṣpīṭhatantra, Rgyud kyi rgyal po gdan bzhi pa, Rgyud, Nga 181a1-231b5.
Tengyur
  • Tōh. 2494: Ratnarakṣita, Tshogs kyi ’khor lo’i cho ga yid bzhin nor bu, Rgyud, Zi 249a1-254a7.
Nyingma Gyübum
  • “He ru ka gal po chen po las/ tshogs kyi ’khor los mnyes par bya ba dang/ lhag mas mnyes par bya ba’i brtag pa ste nyi shu gnyis pa’o/.” In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 24/, 316a-320b. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin/: mi rigs dpe skrun khang/, 2009.
  • “Nyi zla kha sbyor gsang ba’i rgyud chen po.” In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 5/, 262a-363a. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009.
  • “Rdo rje sems dpa’ sgyu ’phrul dra ba gsang ba me long gi rgyud chen po las/ lam gyi khyad par ma lus pa bshad pa’i le’u ste bcu gcig pa’o/.” In In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 13/, 245a-253b. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009.
  • “Thig le kun gsal chen po’i rgyud/” In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 6/, 35b-127b. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009.
  • “Thams cad bdud rtsi lnga’i rang bzhin las/ ma hA yo ga’i don gyi lung dang sgrub thabs bdud rtsi chen po ’bum sde las btus pa’i/ bam po chen po lnga pa/.” In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 25/, 94a-96a. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009.
  • “Zhes dzogs pa rang byung chen po’i rgyud las/ spyi tshogs bsgral ba’i lung bstan pa’i le’u ste bco lnga pa’o.” In Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 4/, 90a-92a. Ed. Thub bstan nyi ma. Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009.
Tibetan Commentarial Literature
  • Dri med ’od zer. “Sems nyid ngal gso.” In Gsung ’bum/ dri med ’od zer/ deb nyi shu pa/, 1-89. Pe cin: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.
  • Dri med ’od zer. “Tshogs mchod kyi rim pa yid bzhin rgya mtsho/.” In Gsung ’bum/ dri med ’od zer/ dpal brtsegs/ mes po’i shul bzhag, 189-200. Pe cin/: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang/, 2009.
  • ’Jigs med gling pa. Bla ma dgongs ’dus kyi cho ga’i rnam bshad. Gser rta rdzong: Gser ljongs bla ma rung lnga rig nang bstan slob grwa chen mo, 2005.
  • Sa skya paṇḍita. “Tshogs ’khor cho ga.” In Sa skya bka’ ’bum/ glegs bam gsum pa/ (3), 8b-21a. Kathmandu: Sachen International, 2006.
  • Sna tshogs rang grol. “Tshogs ’khor rnam bshad mdor bsdus nyer mkho dngos grub sbrang rtsi’i zil mngar/.” In Gsung ’bum/ sna tshogs rang grol/ glegs bam ja pa/ (7), 367-378. Gangtok: Mgon po tshe brtan, 1979.
English

Secondary Sources

  • Boord, Martin. The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla. Tring: The Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1993.
  • Mayer, Robert. A Scripture of the Ancient Tantra Collection: The Phur-pa bcu-gnyis. Oxford: Kindsdale Publications, 1996.
  • Pickens, Sophie. “Divine Blue Water: The Contamination Purifying Smoke Offering Performed by The Great Master Padmasambhava.” MA Dissertation, Rangjung Yeshe Institute of Kathmandu University, 2012.

  1. Tib. tshogs kyi ’khor lo bskor ba. Lit. ‘to gather the gaṇacakra’. While the verb bskor ba in Tibetan primarily means ‘to turn’, in this context bskor ba means to gather (as/in) the maṇḍala of gaṇacakra. It is difficult to translate the Sanskrit term gaṇacakra and its Tibetan equivalent, tshogs kyi ’khor lo, into sensible English. Thus, here I have chosen to render tshogs kyi ’khor lo as gaṇacakra. Whenever Adzom Gyalse uses the Tibetan abbreviation, tshogs, depending on the context, I have rendered the term either as feast or as gaṇacakra.  ↩

  2. Tib. la dor ba. Here a synonym for la zla ba. Lit. to transcend. This implies the transcendence of world conventions. (Oral clarification by Tulku Rigdzin Pema Rinpoche.)  ↩

  3. That is Longchenpa (Klong chen pa, 1308-1364). This quotation is from Longchenpa’s Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind (Sems nyid ngal gso). See: Dri med ’od zer, “Sems nyid ngal gso,” in Gsung ’bum/ dri med ’od zer/ deb nyi shu pa/ (Pe cin: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009), 63.  ↩

  4. Longchenpa instructs yogins to especially strive in practice on the 8th (Medicine Buddha & Tārā), the 10th (Guru Rinpoche), the 15th (New Moon & Amitābha), the 25th (Ḍākinī), the 29th (Dharmapāla) and the 30th (Buddha Śākyamuni) day of the Tibetan calendar.  ↩

  5. The full title of the tantra is The Tantra of the Great All-Illuminating Bindu (Thig le kun gsal chen po’i rgyud). The Great All-Illuminating Bindu is a tantra of the outer cycle (phyi skor) of the pith-instruction class (man ngag sde) of the Great Perfection (Rdzogs chen) teachings. It provides an outline and explanation of the view, meditation and terminology of the Great Perfection, the highest teachings of the Nyingma School. I was unable to locate the quote passage within the tantra. For a Tibetan edition of the tantra, see: “Thig le kun gsal chen po’i rgyud/,” in Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 6/, (Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009), 35b-127b. Please note that Adzom Gyalse has added the explanations in brackets (yig chung) to the quoted passage. For this section, The literal meaning of gaṇacakra, and for the explanation of The inner gaṇacakra, Adzom Gyalse follows very closely the presentation of gaṇacakra as given by Longchenpa in his Guhyagarbha Tantra commentary Dispelling Darkness in the Ten Directions (Gsang snying ’grel pa phyogs bcu mun sel). For an English translation of the relevant section, see: Longchen Rabjam, The Guhyagarbha Tantra: Secret Essence Definitive Nature Just As It Is, transl. Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2011): 482-484. (Please note that my translation differs from that of Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro.) For the Tibetan, see: Dri med ’od zer, “Rgyud gsang ba snying po’i ’grel pa/,” in Gsung ’bum/ dri med ’od zer/ deb nyer gsum pa/ (Pe cin: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009), 373-374.  ↩

  6. Although the Tibetan title Gdan bzhi suggests that this verse is from the Catuṣpīṭhatantra, I was unable to locate the quote within the tantra or one of its satellite texts. It might be a) a passage from a Tibetan commentary on the Catuṣpīṭhatantra, b) a misattribution or c) it could be that gdan here refers to a chapter or section of a different text.  ↩

  7. Tib. gsang rgyud. Eng. Secret Tantra. I was unable to determine to which specific tantra this refers.  ↩

  8. This is a reference to the visualization employed in the practice of Inner Heat (Gtum mo).  ↩

  9. Tib. Gdan gsum tshang ba’i lha. Eng. the deities of the three seats of completeness. Often referred to as the maṇḍala of the three seats [of completeness] (gdan gsum [tshang ba’i] dkhyil ’khor). The three seats are 1) aggregates (skandha) and elements (dhātu), 2) the sense fields (āyatana), and 3) limbs (aṅga). In 1) reside the tathāgatas, in 2) reside the male and female bodhisattvas, and in 3) reside the male and female wrathful deities.  ↩

  10. The pratiṣṭhā or ‘rabné’ ritual (rab gnas) is a practice of consecrating a representation of enlightened body, speech and mind, such as a stūpa or a statue.  ↩

  11. The homa or ‘jinsek’ offering (sbyin sreg) is a fire oblation in which offerings are made into fire, symbolizing the deity.  ↩

  12. That is that the practitioners must act in accord with the view and conduct prescribed by the tantra practiced. Thus, do not practice gaṇacakra in the company of people who have not received the initiation, who do not abide by the samayas, or who harbour wrong views and behave inappropriately. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal)  ↩

  13. This often takes the form of formal verse, requesting the vajra-master to preside over the ceremony, recited by the ritual assistant (las kyi rdo rje). The verse may be as follows: “Please direct your mind towards sanctifying, purifying and consecrating the feast substances.” (tshogs kyi yo byad rnams bsangs sbyang byin gyis brlab pa la thugs gtad par zhu/). The ritual assistant would then recite a similar request before the offering of each portion of the feast. The above line serves as a mere sample and may differ from one ritual tradition to another.  ↩

  14. The offering of the feast or the portions of the feast should go along with the appropriate mudrās for each of the offerings.  ↩

  15. The feast must be performed in the correct order as laid out by the ritual liturgy.  ↩

  16. Tulku Rigdzin Pema Rinpoche explains that this means that one should not offer the feast to the yogins and yoginis until the three portions have been offered.  ↩

  17. The Stages of Vajra Activity (Rdo rje las rim) likely refers, as also suggested by Sangye Khandro, to a commentary attributed to Buddhaguhya entitled Stages of Vajra Activity [for the Māyājāla] (Māyājālavajrakarma, [Sgyu ’phrul dra ba] rdo rje las [kyi] rim pa). However, I was unable to find the quote within this text. Instead, I found the quoted passage within The Magical Net of Vajrasattva, The Mirror of All Secrets (Vajrasattvamāyājālaguhyasarvādarśa, Rdo rje sems dpa’i sgyu ’phrul dra ba gsang ba thams cad kyi me long) attributed to the translators Vimalamitra and Jñānakumāra. In his commentary Dispelling Darkness in the Ten Directions Longchenpa likewise attributed the passage to The Stages of Vajra Activity. Thus, The Stages of Vajra Activity may be a misattribution, or another title for The Mirror of All Secrets, or the title used for yet another commentary which quotes The Mirror of All Secrets. For the Tibetan quotation within The Mirror of All Secrets, see: “Rdo rje sems dpa’ sgyu ’phrul dra ba gsang ba me long gi rgyud chen po las/ lam gyi khyad par ma lus pa bshad pa’i le’u ste bcu gcig pa’o/,” in Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 13, ed. Thub bstan nyi ma, (Pe cin/: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang/, 2009), 249a-249b.  ↩

  18. This refers to the secret conduct (gsang spyod) that the tantra requires the practitioners to abide by.  ↩

  19. A sang (srang) was a Tibetan unit of weight equivalent to the Chinese liang (tael). One sang is about 37.5 grams.  ↩

  20. Further below, Adzom Gyalse explains da-wa (zla ba) as the offering articles of da-gyé (zla rgyas) and da-bram (zla bram), and māṃsa as meat.  ↩

  21. Tib. Bdud rtsi ’byung ba’ rgyud. Eng. The Tantra of the Arising of Amṛta. This tantra belongs to the cycle of scriptures dedicated to the iṣṭadevatā Amṛtakuṇḍalī (Bdud rtsi yon tan). Amṛtakuṇḍalī is one of the Kagyé, the eight Mahāyoga iṣṭadevatās of the Nyingma School. For the quoted passage, see: “Thams cad bdud rtsi lnga’i rang bzhin las/ ma hA yo ga’i don gyi lung dang sgrub thabs bdud rtsi chen po ’bum sde las btus pa’i/ bam po chen po lnga pa/,” in Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 25/, (Pe cin/: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang/, 2009), 95a-95b.  ↩

  22. The tantra quoted above reveals that for the gaṇacakra to lead to liberation, the practitioners who join the gaṇacakra must have an unbiased attitude towards the feast substances. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal)  ↩

  23. Tib. tsA ru, Skt. caru. The Tibetans borrowed this term from the Sanskrit. The Tsikdzö Chenmo (Tshig mdzod chen mo) explains that it consists of pure substances such as ‘three whites’ (i. e. milk, butter and curd). Monier Williams defines the Sanskrit term caru as an oblation (of rice, barley and pulse), boiled with butter and milk.  ↩

  24. Tib. rab tshong dus dgu ’grims (pa’i sha). ‘Meat that could not be sold nine times’. This refers to meat that could not be sold due to its poor quality. The idea is that this meat comes from an animal that has died naturally or has been suffering long-term from natural causes. Thus it is of poor quality. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal.)  ↩

  25. Tib. rnam gsum dag pa. The three purities. This means that it is not permitted to buy meat if one has 1) heard (thos), 2) seen (mthong), or 3) doubts (dogs pa) that the meat was killed for the gaṇacakra.  ↩

  26. Heat (drod) is the first of four stages of the path of joining (sbyor lam), of the five paths (lam lnga) of the mahāyāna.  ↩

  27. Tib. thud. A confection of roasted barley, butter, sugar and dried curd.  ↩

  28. This refers to condiments and seasonings (tshod pa) that are added to some traditional Tibetan foods, such as dried cheese, dried fruits, roots etc.  ↩

  29. Adzom Gyalse here provides a list of traditional Tibetan offering articles, which are referred to by specific vajrayāna terms, and only used in the context of the gaṇacakra. Adzom Gyalse then explains which term refers to which substance. Since these terms have no meaning outside the ritual context, I have left them untranslated.  ↩

  30. Adzom Gyalse further stresses the purity of the offerings. With this Adzom Gyalse taps into the traditional belief in pollution (grib) and contamination (mnol). This implies the belief that substances or offerings that were obtained through negative actions or improperly handled pollute the ritual and destroy its power. For a discussion of this belief in pollution and contamination, see: Sophie Pickens, Divine Blue Water: The Contamination Purifying Smoke Offering Performed by The Great Master Padmasambhava, MA Dissertation, (Rangjung Yeshe Institute of Kathmandu University, 2012), 21-27.  ↩

  31. Tib. ku sā lu. Skt. kuśalin. While in Sanskrit the term has a variety of meanings, in Tibetan Buddhist works it mainly refers to someone who takes a very simple approach to life and does not appear to do much in the way of conventional activity but who meditates internally.  ↩

  32. This implies offerings that are naturally present, and thus no money or only very little money has to be spent on obtaining them. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal.)  ↩

  33. For an explanation of ‘recollecting the purity’ (dag dran), see: Getse Mahāpaṇḍita Tsewang Chokdrup, ‘Husks of Unity: A Clarification of the Development Stage Rituals’, in Jigme Lingpa, Patrul Rinpoche and Getse Mahapandita, Deity, Mantra and Wisdom, transl. Dharmachakra Translation Committee, (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2006), 132.  ↩

  34. Tib. ’bar ba mtshams kyi dkyil ’khor. The maṇḍala of the deities and spirits that reside at the border of the main maṇḍala. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal.)  ↩

  35. Tib. sku gsum rgyal ba’i zhing khams. Eng. buddha-fields of the victors’ three kāyas. This refers to the nirmāṇakāya, saṃbhogakāya and dharmakāya fields of the buddhas.  ↩

  36. By acting in inappropriate ways with respect to the samaya connection that we share with the deities, we impair the samayas and thus the connection that can bring us to enlightenment. (Oral clarification by Khenpo Pema Namgyal.)  ↩

  37. This is a reference to the four uncommon samayas of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen): 1) non-existence (med pa), 2) openness (phyal pa), 3) spontaneous presence (lhun grub), and 4) singularity (gcig pu).  ↩

  38. Tib. nang mchod. Lit. inner offering. This refers to amṛta.  ↩

  39. The third portion with or without the liberation effigy is moved to the side, so that when the feast substances are blessed, the thrid portion is not blessed together with the feast substances. See: Khenpo Chemchok, “The Words of the Vidyadhara That Bestow the Majesty of Great Bliss: Notations on the Rigdzin Düpa, the Inner Sadhana for the Longchen Nyingtik Cycle,” in The Gathering of Vidyadharas: Text and Commentaries on the Rigdzin Düpa, edited and translated by Gyurme Avertin, (Boulder: Snow Lion, 2017), 72.  ↩

  40. ‘The Buddhas’ Instructions from the Mantrika’s Triangular Ritual Fire Pit’ (sngags grub khung kha nas sangs rgyas pa’i gdams ngag) is a technical term used to refer to the liberation ritual performed by the vajra-master. For an explanation, see: Khangsar Tenpe Wangchuk. “The Light of the Sun and the Moon—Generation and Perfection Stages: Notes Explaining the Words of the Rigdzin Düpa, the Inner Sadhana for the Longchen Nyingtik Cycle,” in The Gathering of Vidyadharas: Text and Commentaries on the Rigdzin Düpa, edited and translated by Gyurme Avertin, (Boulder: Snow Lion, 2017), 154.  ↩

  41. The ten grounds [of liberation] ([bsgral ba'i] zhing bcu) refer to the ten evil deeds which, when all enacted by a single enemy, make that enemy suitable for liberation. Such a person or spirit is called ‘an enemy showing all ten grounds’ (zhing bcu tshang ba'i bstan dgra). According to the Nyingma School these are: 1) a general enemy of the Three Jewels (dkon mchog spyi dgra), 2) the personal enemy of the vajra-master (rdo rje slob dpon gyi sgos dgra), 3) a samaya corruptor (dam nyams pa), 4) one who has contravened samaya (dam las log pa); 5) one who has shared secret samayas with those who are improper vessels for the path of secret mantra (dam la 'khus pa ste gsang ba snod ngan la spel ba), 6) one who arrives at a congregation of practitioners and berates them (sgrub pa'i 'du bar 'ong nas gshe ba), 7) one who, like the chief of a band of armed robbers, harms everyone (yongs la gnod pa'i jag dpon lta bu), 8) one called ‘hostile to samaya’ – who is the sort who needs to be exorcised (dam dgra zhes bya ba ste bzlog pa mkhan lta bu); 9) one whose style of negative conduct is non-virtuous through-and-through (mi dge ba kho na longs spyod pa ngan pa'i ngang tshul can) and 10) beings of the three lower realms (ngan song gsum).  ↩

  42. The seven violations (nyams pa bdun) are to forsake; 1. the life-force, 2. the authentic meaning, 3. the teachings, 4. the samayas, 5. karma; and to violate 6. out of wrong-view or 7. from desire. (yang srog sa nyams pa/ don las nyams pa/ bka' las nyams pa/ dam las nyams pa/ las kyi nyams pa/ mtshan mas nyams pa/ 'dod pas nyams pa bcas so/) According to Kangsar Tenpe Wangchuk ego-clinging is here identified as the seven violations. See: Khangsar Tenpe Wangchuk, “The Light of the Sun and the Moon—Generation and Perfection Stages: Notes Explaining the Words of the Rigdzin Düpa, the Inner Sadhana for the Longchen Nyingtik Cycle,” in The Gathering of Vidyadharas: Text and Commentaries on the Rigdzin Düpa, edited and translated by Gyurme Avertin, (Boulder: Snow Lion, 2017), 155.  ↩

  43. Tib. sku dgra rnam lnga, Eng. the five kinds of enemies. These are: 1) to be a personal enemy of the vajra-master (rdo rje slob dpon gyi sku dgra), 2) to be a general enemy of the mahāyāna (theg pa chen po’i spyi dgra), 3) to denigrate the secret mantrayāna (rdo rje theg pa smod pa), 4) to harm the entire kingdom (rgyal khams yongs la ’tshe ba), 5) to harm the yogins (rnal ’byor par gnod pa).  ↩

  44. The vajra-masters samādhi, or meditative concentration, must have the power to be able to fulfil the three satisfactions (’tsheng pa gsum). This implies that 1. the being liberated is satisfied since its mind is liberated into the dharmadhātu; 2. the deities are satisfied upon receiving the flesh and blood that has been transformed into wisdom nectar; and 3. the yogin performing the ritual is satisfied, since as a result of the ritual his or her life force increases. (Oral clarification by Drokpa Tulku)  ↩

  45. Tib. log rdugs ’byams dang bral ba. Lit. not reversing, or being weak and scattered. In order that the practitioner does not accumulate negative karma, the practitioner’s samādhi should be stable, by clearly visualizing him or herself as the deity. In order for the liberation to be effective, the weapon used for the liberation must be visualized as the powerful kīla. The practitioner must remain focused on the object of liberation—the enemy of egohood—visualized as Rudra. (Oral clarification by Drokpa Tulku based on Jikme Lingpa’s explanation.) Jikme Lingpa states: “Visualize yourself as the deity so that the ritual does not reverse. Visualize the weapon—the dagger—clearly as the kīla so that the ritual is effective. Visualize the object of liberation as Rudra so that the ritual is focused.” (mi ldog pa’i phyir du rang nyid lhar gsal/ mi rdugs pa’i phyir du sgrol byed phur pa ki la ya gsal/ mi ‘byams pa’i phyir du bsgral bya’i rudra dngos su gsal/) ’Jigs med gling pa, Bla ma dgongs ’dus kyi cho ga’i rnam bshad, (Gser rta rdzong: Gser ljongs bla ma rung lnga rig nang bstan slob grwa chen mo, 2005), 288. For a further explanation, see also: Khangsar Tenpe Wangchuk. “The Light of the Sun and the Moon—Generation and Perfection Stages: Notes Explaining the Words of the Rigdzin Düpa, the Inner Sadhana for the Longchen Nyingtik Cycle,” in The Gathering of Vidyadharas: Text and Commentaries on the Rigdzin Düpa, edited and translated by Gyurme Avertin, (Boulder: Snow Lion, 2017), 153 (therein the terms have been translated as "irreversibility", "repulsiveness" and "to be without sympathy").  ↩

  46. Please note that here flesh and blood (sha khra) refers to a red-painted bali made from flour and butter that is used at this point and not to actual flesh and blood. The same applies for the phrase of ‘flesh and blood’ used later on in the commentary.  ↩

  47. Tib. srid gsum. Eng. the three worlds. These are: 1) the nether world of the nagas (sa ‘og klu’i srid pa), 2) the surface world of humans (sa’i steng mi’i srid pa), and 3) the upper world of the gods (gnam steng lha’i srid pa).  ↩

  48. The bali or torma (gtor ma) within Tibetan Buddhism is a ritual cake, usually hand-moulded from butter and flour and coloured with dyes, which can symbolize a deity, a maṇḍala, an offering, or even a weapon. In this case it represents a specific maṇḍala.  ↩

  49. This means that it is not necessary to offer the fourth portion or a substitution.  ↩

  50. Adzom Gyalse uses the Sanskrit term madana to refer to the alcohol that is offered during the gaṇacakra.  ↩

  51. This verse encourages the participants to drop all conceptual thoughts while enjoying the feast substances. Although Adzom Gyalse merely indicates which passage should be recited, for the sake of clarity, the entire verse is provided here following the frequently quoted version by Sakya Paṇḍita. Sa skya paṇḍita, “Tshogs ’khor cho ga,” Sa skya bka’ ’bum/ glegs bam gsum pa/ (3), (Kathmandu: Sachen International, 2006), 13a. (’dir ni chos rnams bzang por ltos/ ’du ba rnams la the tshom med/ bram ze khyi dang gdol pa yang/ rang bzhin gcig pa nyid du zo/)  ↩

  52. The Union of the Sun and Moon (Nyi zla kha sbyor) is one of the seventeen tantras of the pith-instruction section (man ngag sde) of the Great Perfection. The tantra presents an explanation of the ’bardos’ or ‘intermediate states’ (bar do) and is the source of the often recited ‘vajra song’ (rdo rje’i glu). The line that Adzom Gyalse quotes is likely an abbreviation of the following lines from The Union of the Sun and Moon: “de phyir rdo rje’i glu len cing/ rtag tur do rje gar yang bya/” See: “Nyi zla kha sbyor gsang ba’i rgyud chen po,” in Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 5/, (Pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009), 266a.  ↩

  53. The feast song (tshogs glu) is an aspirational song melodiously entuned when offering the feast to the assembled. See, for example: Jikme Lingpa's Song of the Feast  ↩

  54. This refers to the famous ‘vajra song’ (rdo rje’i glu), named after its beginning syllables ‘ema kiri’, taught in the Tantra of the Union of the Sun and Moon (Nyi zla kha sbyor). For this vajra song, see: The Song of the Vajra  ↩

  55. Tib. zhing lpags. Eng. violator’s skin. The skin of a being who has fulfilled the ten grounds of liberation. See the section above on the liberation offering for more details. Rather than using the skin of an actual human being, a painting or drawing of a skin is more commonly used and sometimes also animal skin. (Oral clarification by Drokpa Tulku.)  ↩

  56. Tib. chos ’byung. Skt. dharmodaya. Eng. source of phenomena. This is a technical term referring to the drawing of a special triangle used within vajrayāna rituals.  ↩

  57. Tib. bhandha. Skt. bhāṇḍa. A “vessel” or “cup” but in a ritual context can also mean skull-cup.  ↩

  58. Tib. rje bla ma. Lit. lord teacher. Adzom Gyalse uses the affectionate name ‘most precious teacher’ to refer most likely to his father and main teacher Adzom Drukpa (A ’dzom ’brug pa 1842-1924).  ↩

  59. Tib. dpal gyi pha ’bab. Lit. glorious inheritance. This is a technical term referring to the leftover pieces of food that haven fallen off the offering plates.  ↩

  60. Tib. gdong thug bzur. Lit. to avoid a direct encounter. Since the remainder guests can be potentially harmful, the ritual assistant should avoid direct contact with them. Placing a candle at night within the remainder offering is said to prevent this direct encounter.  ↩

  61. In order to prevent being poisoned by an encounter (gdong dug) with the potentially harmful remainder guests, the ritual assistant holds the remainder offering with the 'garuḍa mudrā'.  ↩

  62. If the vajra-master is realized, his or her spit is considered sacred and thus by spitting on the remainder, the remainder is blessed. However, if the vajra-master is not realized, his or her spit is ordinary ’dirty’ spit and thus contaminates the remainder offering.  ↩

  63. The offering plate that the ritual assistant used in order to carry the remainder may have been contaminated by the remainder guests in the process. Thus, in order to prevent being ‘poisoned by’ the plate, the ritual assistant pours rinsing water onto the plate and thus cleanses the plate of any potential contamination.  ↩

  64. Drupchen (Sgrub chen), literally ‘vast accomplishment’, is a form of intensive tantric group practice, wherein a group of practitioners continuously practice a particular sādhana in a specially prepared place for several days. Bringing together a vast array of methods of the Vajrayāna, this form of practiced is considered to yield vast accomplishment for all the participants.  ↩

  65. The sthāvarā (Bstan ma) are female protector deities bound under oath by Padmasambhava. For an account of the binding of the sthāvarās at Yangleshö, see: Yeshe Tsogyal, The Lotus-born: the life story of Padmasambhava, (Boston: Shambhala, 1999), 52-54; and: Martin Boord, A Bolt of Lightning from the Blue, (Berlin: Khordong 2002), 119-120. For more information on the sthāvarās, see: Robert Mayer, A Scripture of the Ancient Tantra Collection: The Phur-pa bcu-gnyis, (Oxford: Kindsdale Publications, 1996), 128-132. The oral lineage of Vajrakīla recounts two separate occasions where the sthāvarās were bound, in Nepal and Tibet respectively: Martin Boord, The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila, (Tring: The Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1993), 107-109 & 121-122.  ↩

  66. The four activities are: 1. pacifying (zhi ba), 2. enriching (rgyas pa), 3. magnetizing (dbang ba), 4. wrathful/subjugating (drag po).  ↩

  67. The Second Segments, (Brtag pa gnyis pa) is commonly used to refer to The Tantra of Hevajra, He Who Affords Protection Through Nets of Ḍākinīs (Tōḥ. 418, Kye’i rdo rje mkha’ ’gro ma dra ba’i sdom pa’i rgyud). For the quoted passage, see: D 418: Kye’i rdo rje mkha’ ’gro ma dra ba’i sdom pa’i rgyud kyi rgyal po, Rgyud, Nga, 27b.  ↩

  68. Although Adzom Gyalse does not name the source of this quotation, the relevant passage appears to be from The Wish-fulfilling Jewel: A Ritual Manual for g Gaṇacakra (Tshogs kyi ’khor lo’i cho ga yid bzhin nor bu) preserved in the Tengyur and attributed to Ratnarakṣita. See: D 2494: Ratnarakṣita, Tshogs kyi ’khor lo’i cho ga yid bzhin nor bu, Rgyud, Zi 249a.  ↩

  69. Tib. Rdo rje drwa ba. Eng. The Vajra-Net.  ↩

  70. Tib. Sdom ’byung. Skt. Saṃvarodaya. An abbreviation for The Tantra of the Arising of Śaṃvara (Tōh. 373, Bde mchog [sdom] ’byung ba’i rgyud). For the quoted passage, see: D 373: Bde mchog [sdom] ’byung ba’i rgyud, Rgyud, Kha, 275a.  ↩

  71. The tantra entitled Naturally Arisen Perfection (Rdzogs pa rang byung gi rgyud) is one of the eighteen tantras of the pith-instruction class of the Great Perfection teachings. For the quoted passage, see: “Dzogs pa rang byung chen po’i rgyud las/ spyi tshogs bsgral ba’i lung bstan pa’i le’u ste bco lnga pa’o” in Snga ’gyur rgyud ’bum phyogs bsgrigs/ pod 4/, (Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009), 91b-92a. The same passage is also quoted in Tsele Natsok Rangdrol’s gaṇacakra commentary. See: Tsele Natsok Rangdrol's Sweet Droplets of the Honey of Accomplishment  ↩

  72. This refers to the five aspects of primordial wisdom (ye shes lnga): 1. wisdom of dharmadhatū, 2. mirror-like wisdom, 3. wisdom of equality, 4. wisdom of discernment, and 5. all-accomplishing wisdom.  ↩

  73. Here Yeshé Tsogyal instructs the yogins to especially strive in practice on the 8th day (Medicine Buddha & Tārā), the 10th (Guru Rinpoche), and the 25th (Ḍākinī) day of the Tibetan calendar. Please also note that the quotation from Drimé Özer at the beginning of this Adzom Gyalse’s commentary gives a similar instruction.  ↩

  74. That is Tsele Natsok Rangdrol. Here Adzom Gyalse quotes Tsele Natsok Rangdro’s short gaṇacakra commentary. For a Tibetan edition and an English translation, see: Tsele Natsok Rangdrol's Sweet Droplets of the Honey of Accomplishment  ↩

  75. Tib. mu ge’i bskal pa. Eng. the age of famine. This refers to a specific period of degeneration in our universe. Accordingly, the degeneration of the emotions of beings, causes the destruction of the universe. As a result of this destructions beings will at one point go through a period of seven-year long famine. This is ‘the age of famine’.  ↩

  76. The passage comes from Longchenpa’s Wish-fulfilling Ocean: The Stages of the Feast Offering (Tshogs mchod kyi rim pa yid bzhin rgya mtsho). See: Dri med ’od zer, “Tshogs mchod kyi rim pa yid bzhin rgya mtsho/,” in Gsung ’bum/ dri med ’od zer/ dpal brtsegs/ mes po’i shul bzhag/, (Pe cin: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009), 175-176.  ↩

  77. Drakyab Sherab (Brag g.yab shes rab)  ↩

  78. Tashi Gephel Ling (Bkra shis dge ’phel gling) is the actual name of the encampment commonly referred to as Adzom Gar (A ’dzom sgar), the main seat of Adzom Gyalse. It is located in Tromtar, on the southern bank of the Dzing River (’Dzing chu).  ↩

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