The Guhyagarbha mandala from Katok
As Kyabje Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche has said, "The ultimate source for the entirety of Sutra and Tantra is the King of Tantras, The Guhyagarbha, Glorious Secret Essence." The Guhyagarbha Tantra summarizes the heart of all eighteen great Mahayoga tantras and is the general tantra of the category of enlightened mind. This Secret Essence Tantra is the most advanced and extensively studied tantra within the Nyingma lineage; and its twenty-two chapters elucidate how to correctly view the ground, traverse the path, and ultimately reach the result-fully enlightened buddhahood.
The tantra of the Glorious Secret Essence (the Guhyagarbha Tantra) extracts the essence of the eighteen Mahayoga tantras and is also the general tantra of enlightened mind. The twenty-two chapters of this tantra describe the three tantras of the ground path and result and explain the topics of tantra needed to perfect the practice.
Studying the Secret Essence is crucial for all who seriously wish to learn any of the three inner tantras, as Mahāyoga is the foundation of all the inner tantras and the Secret Essence is the root tantra of Mahāyoga. The great Mipham writes, “One must learn the tantric trainings by relying on Mahāyoga, as it teaches the ground, path, and result of all tantric cycles.” He also says, “Correct understanding of the visions of all three inner tantras depends on understanding the Secret Essence.” The Secret Essence is also the source of numerous teachings on the one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities, one volume of which—the Tibetan Book of the Dead—is quite popular in the West.
Translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro
The twenty-two chapters of this tantra elucidate how to correctly view the ground, traverse the path, and ultimately reach the result—fully enlightened buddhahood.
The first part of this book includes the Tibetan and English translation for the root tantra itself.
The second part of this volume is a translation of the extensive com1nentary on The Guhyagarbha Tantra called Thorough Dispelling of Darkness throughout the Ten Directions written by the omniscient Longchenpa, who was an actual emanation of Samantabhadra. His word-for-word commentary gives uncommon explanations regarding all stages of Vajrayana practice, including comprehensive teachings from the Dzogchen point of view on how to practice and accomplish the path to enlightenment. The author includes complete explanations of the peaceful and wrathful mal).cJalas, as well as practical instructions needed to attain the four states of vidyadharahood.
We have two translations of Mipham Rinpoche's famous commentary on the Guhyagargbha:
Essence of Clear Light: An Overview of the Secret Commentary "Thorough Dispelling of Darkness throughout the Ten Directions"
By Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche
Translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro
This commentary on the Secret Essence by Mipham Rinpoche illuminates all the crucial points of the entire path of Secret Mantra Vajrayana. The teachings contained in Essence of Clear Light are not only useful for dharma practice in general but are especially applicable for the practice of the three innermost yogas of Secret Mantra. For that application there are the eleven topics well known throughout the teaching of tantra that are clearly elucidated in this text. The topics are: the nature as it is, the view immovable, samadhi forsaking the pass, conduct the array, mandala traversing the stages, empowerment not transgressing, samaya pursuing the goal, accomplishment presentation to the places, offerings the manifestation, enlightened activity binding, mudra and recitation, and mantra. These topics are the crucial points of the path through which the common and supreme siddhis are brought to fruition.
As Mipham Rinpoche points out in this commentary, if these topics are not understood, then there is no other method through which the final result on the path can be achieved. In brief, this excellent text brings an undeniable understanding that all dualistic phenomena arising from the ignorance of grasping and fixating are primordially pure as the truth of inseparable purity and evenness, or the great dharmakaya. Aside from realizing this view, there is no other method through which to receive the genuine wisdom transmission of the lineage of the vidyadhara masters. This doctrine of the great secret, the Guhyagarbha Tantra is the heart essence of a million wisdom dakinis and the path that was traversed by the accomplished vidyadharas of India and Tibet.
By Mipham Rinpoche
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
Mipham's explanation of this text, here translated for the first time, is one of the most celebrated commentaries on the Tantra of the Secret Essence, which today occupies an important place in the tantric curriculum of Tibetan monastic colleges. Luminous Essence is a specialized guide meant for initiated tantric practitioners. To fully appreciate and assimilate its message, it should be studied under the guidance of a qualified teacher by those who have received the appropriate empowerments, reading transmissions, and oral instructions.
By Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpa'i Nyima
Translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro
As the author Dodrupchen Tenpa'i Nyima himself has said, this glorious Secret Essence Tantra possesses eight great features. It is the king of all tantras, pinnacle of all vehicles, origin of all doctrines, general commentary for all scriptural transmissions, core wisdom, intent of all the victorious ones, ultimate state of all results, path that all tathagatas have embarked upon, and great path of all true practitioners. Commentary to the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the Key to the Precious Treasury, synthesizes the meaning of all eighteen Mahayoga tantras from the perspective of the author's personal realization and authoritative scholarship. As the means through which serious practitioners can realize the truth of inseparable purity and evenness, this teaching is the guide for knowing how to internalize the Secret Mantra path of the generation and completion stages.
Th ere are a number of major commentaries3 on the Secret Essence; however, Ihas become one of the four most popular commentaries. It was written by the Third Dodrupchen, a highly
respected scholar and adept. Referring to the Third Dodrupchen’s famous treatise about memory, the Th irteenth Dalai Lama noted, “Today, a writer of this quality is very rare in this land.” The present Dalai Lama has frequently praised the Third Dodrupchen’s writings, too. He says, “Reading Dodrupchen was as if he were stroking my head in confirmation, giving
me confidence that my insight was not unfounded.”
The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra, Books 15 to 17: The Essential Tantras of Mahayoga
Two of the books of the Complete Nyingma Tradition, the masterpiece and most extensive presentation of the Nyingma thought and practice available in English, are focused on the Guhyagarbha Tantra. The two books present the entire text of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, in Tibetan and English, together with the interlinear sections of one of its most important commentaries, Dispelling the Darkness of the Ten Directions, by the outstanding fourteenth-century master Longchen Rabjam. Also included is Choying Tobden Dorje’s rewriting of Candragomin’s inspirational Extensive Commentary on the Sublime Litany of the Names of Manjushri.
By Ringu Tulku
Ringu Tulku provides several pages on the Guhyagarbha Tantra in his elucidation of the Ri-Me (Rimé) tradition, including its transmission from King Ja to his son Kukuraja to Lialitavajra and Buddhaguhya, who wrote the famous commentary, The Commentary on the Distinctions. Other Indian commentaries include those by Chandragomin and Guru Rinpoche (The Great Explanation by Padma).
The next section describes the Guhyagarbha teaching lineages in Tibet, highlighting masters like Vimalamitra, Ma Rinchen Chok, Nyak Jnanakumara, Nupchen Sangye Yeshe, Katog Dampa Desheg, Rongzompa, Longchenpa, the Zur lineages, and many more.
The following section delves into the three styles of teaching on the tantra:
- Teaching Like an Arrow Held at the Tip, which explains the entire ground, path, and fruition by using only the title of the text
- Teaching Like a Spear Held in the Middle, in which the cause is the view, characterized by understanding; the condition is the meditation, which is characterized by
engaging; and the result of treading the path is the four vidyadhara levels.
- Teaching Like a Sword Held at the End, in which the whole tantra can be taught by grouping everything into the four ways of appearing: the way the ground nature appears, the deluded way that wrong understanding appears, the way the path appears for those to be tamed, and the way the result appears for the buddhas.
A Garland of Views presents both a concise commentary by the eighth-century Indian Buddhist master Padmasambhava on a chapter from the Guhyagarbha Tantra on the different Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical views, including the Great Perfection (Dzogchen), and an explicative commentary on Padmasambhava’s text by the nineteenth-century scholar Jamgön Mipham (1846–1912).
Padmasambhava’s text is a core text of the Nyingma tradition because it provides the basis for the system of nine vehicles (three sutra vehicles and six tantra vehicles) that subsequently became the accepted way of classifying the different Buddhist paths in the Nyingma tradition.
Mipham’s commentary is the one most commonly used to explain Padmasambhava’s teaching. Mipham is well known for his prolific, lucid, and original writings on many subjects, including science, medicine, and philosophy, in addition to Tibetan Buddhist practice and theory.
By Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo and Heidi Koppl
This is a translation and study of the great Rongzom Mahpandita's Establishing Appearances as Divine which is usually described in the present-day Nyingma tradition as a commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra. If one accepts this classification, it would lend further testimony to Rongzom’s general fondness for the Guhyagarbha teachings and his attempt to validate these teachings through the style of discourse usually associated with the classical dialectical approach. Considering that the initial thesis of Establishing Appearances
as Divine follows almost verbatim that of Padmasambhava in his Garland of Views, a treatise that itself is based on the Guhyagarbha, one may reasonably conclude that the
traditional classification of Establishing Appearances as Divine as a text pertaining to the Mahāyoga class of Tantra is valid.
By Mipham Rinpoche and Douglas Duckworth
The Guhyagabha Tantra (or Secret Essence Tantra) appears throughout this work since it is so central to the Nyingma tradition.
Here is an excerpt from one section, but there is a lot more in the book.
The Secret Essence Tantra is the most important tantra in the Nyingma tradition. It comes from a group of eighteen tantras known as the Māyājāla (“the magical net”). The metaphor of the net is significant; it is also used in a sutra where we find the famous image of the jeweled net of Indra, which is said to extend across the universe. It has a jewel at each point where the threads cross, and each jewel reflects each and every other jewel in the entire net. The net is a metaphor for the universe: the whole universe is contained within each single part. The finite is part of the infinite, while the infinite is constituted by and reflected within the finite. The metaphor aesthetically illustrates an important theme in Great Vehicle Buddhism in general and in tantra in particular, namely, the inseparability or unity of nirvana and samsara. Nirvana is not held as somewhere else out there, separate from samsara, like a separate and transcendent infinity apart from the finite. Rather, nirvana is to be discovered within the
nature of samsara. Likewise, the ultimate truth is not to be found separate from the relative truth but within it.
In addition to containing the metaphor of the net, the Secret Essence Tantra also extends a theme of universal buddha-nature—the doctrine that all beings have the innate potential to become buddhas—to embrace a view that everything is already the buddha. Thus, the Secret Essence Tantra reveals an important turn within Buddhist thought: a shift from Buddhanature (tathāgata-garbha), the universal potential for enlightenment, to the secret-nature (guhya-garbha), the affirmation of universal enlightenment right now. This turn toward an immanent absolute is a major feature of the tradition of tantra in Tibet, as well as in Buddhist traditions across East Asia.
By Jigme Lingpa with commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje (Kangyur Rinpoche)
Translated by Padmakara Translation Group
The second volume of Jigme Lingpa's masterpiece relies heavily on the Guhyagarba Tantra in its presentation of Vajrayana and Dzogchen. It quotes liberally from it throughout.
By Herbert V. Guenther
World-renowned Buddhist scholar Herbert V. Guenther here offers an early study study of the Dzogchen or Ati tradition of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Matrix of Mystery explores man's ability to preserve as well as transmit essential insights into the structure of reality.
Utilizing a key root Buddhist scripture, the Guhyagarbha ("Matrix of Mystery"), along with dozens of commentarial Tibetan textual sources, Guenther presents the most profound teachings of the Buddhist tradition, which represent the culmination of religious thought and practice in Tibet. In relating these teachings in modern scientific and humanistic perspectives, he demonstrates how, in many cases, the traditional religious and modern secular perspectives on the nature of reality interface.
Professor Guenther discusses the mandala and the deities that reside therein; the organizing principles of body, speech, mind, quality, and action, the three bodies of the buddha (trikaya); the inseparability of prajna and skillful means; and the complex field of Buddhist iconography. Throughout, quotations from numerous Tibetan sources are used to illustrate various teachings. His book will appeal to any serious student of Tibetan Buddhism.
Note: You may also find Khenpo Palden Sherab's Splendid Presence of the Great Guhyagarbha: Opening the Wisdom Door of the King of All Tantras a useful resource.