The Treasury of Knowledge, Book One: Myriad Worlds

The following article is from the Spring, 2003 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


In Tibetan religious literature, Jamgon Kongtrul's Treasury of Knowledge in ten books stands out as a unique encyclopedic masterpiece embodying the entire range of Buddhist teachings as they were preserved in Tibet.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (1813-1899), a pivotal figure in eastern Tibet's non-sectarian movement, was one of the most outstanding writers and teachers of his time.

This first book of The Treasury, which serves as a prelude to Kongtrul's survey, describes four major cosmological systems found in the Tibetan tradition those associated with the Hinayana, Mahayana, Kalachakra and Dzogchen teachings. Each of these cosmologies shows how the world arises from mind, whether through the accumulated results of past actions or from the constant striving of awareness to know itself.

We expect the entire Treasury in ten books to be available during the next three years.

Here's an excerpt.

The Perspective of the Tantra of the Wheel of Time

Most agree that in the formation [of the world] the mind is the agent, subtle particles and the moving and stationary winds are the objects acted upon,

And the [winds' motions) are the means of creation.

In order that the perspective of the Tantra of the Wheel of Time may be easily understood, we will explain it in detail employing the format of act, agent, and object acted upon. In the example of a potter who makes a pot, the [creation of the] pot is the act, the potter is the agent, and the clay is the object acted upon. The production process involving the belt, wheel, etc., is the means of creation. Since the act [the creation of the pot] and agent [the potter] are different in substance, the three-fold [format] of act, agent, and object acted upon, posited in relation to the cause and effect of material objects, is a valid one.

[As a second example] when sense consciousness understands a blue appearance as blue, the understanding of blue as blue is the act. Sense consciousness to which blue appears is the agent. Blue is the object acted upon. The blue aspect [appearing] is the means in the process [of understanding blue]. In relation to consciousness understanding an object, the act and the agent are identical in substance. Therefore, [in this case,] the threefold [format] of act, agent, and object acted upon is a nominal one.

Of these two [examples], the former will be used here to explain how the physical world is formed. First, what is the agent that corresponds to the potter? Candrakirti's Introduction to the Central Way states:

The mind itself creates living beings

And the great variety of worlds where they live.

It is also taught that all forms of life are produced from evolutionary actions;

But without the mind, there would be no action.

Thus, generally speaking [the agent that creates the world] is the minds of beings in general and in particular the minds of those beings who have performed concordant actions (such as those that impel them to be born in the same world-system). Principally, [the agent] is the radiant awareness nature of the mind of each being.

What is the means of creation that corresponds to (the production process employing] the [potter's] belt and so forth? The means of creation is described in the following way: from the mind's radiant awareness which is accompanied by the three [factors] of semen, blood, and energy-winds, the three inner lights dawn. Following that, the eighty instinctive conceptions arise. These conceptions activate the instincts (that were created by previous virtuous and non-virtuous actions and that are imprinted on the mind) so that they approach the stage in which the form [of the world] manifests [as their result]. At this point, energy-winds that have a similarity with consciousness—which are only manifestations of the [instincts created by the] actions of beings—depart from one world-system and wander in order to form another world-system, moving into the space left empty after the dissolution of the previous world-system. The motions of these energy-winds are the means of creation [of the world]. This is analogous to the movement of a person's vital energy-wind which departs from the corpse after death and wanders until entering a womb in order to be reborn; the movement of this energy-wind is considered to be the means of creation of the body of a person.


In the formation f a world-system, the mind is the agent the environment and inhabitants are the objects [created], and creation is accomplished by evolutionary actions.

What are the elements acted upon, corresponding to the clay? [These are twofold]: [First are] the subtle particles that remain scattered during the period when the world-system has been emptied [of manifest form]. These particles are not perceived by the limited eye [consciousness of an ordinary person] but appear to the eye [consciousness] of a yogi. [Second are] the supports for these particles, the energy-winds that have a similarity, with consciousness. These two elements are analogous to the internal phenomena acted upon during the fetal development of the human body—the semen and blood of the parents, and the ten energy-winds. The very subtle particles that remain scattered [after the destruction of a world-system] are termed emptied since they are merely a manifestation of mental instincts and not the object of sense perception.

Two action energy-winds, one mobile and one stationary, are referred to as "having a similarity with consciousness": one energy-wind wanders in order to create a new world when a previous world-system has been destroyed; the other energy-wind remains stationary and does not move elsewhere. They are said to have a similarity with consciousness not because they are of the nature of consciousness but because they display an attribute in common with consciousness, just as semen and blood are said to have attributes in common with the moon and sun.

What similarity do these energy-winds have with consciousness? Consciousness itself lacks color and shape, but due to its character of manifestation, consciousness exhibits various lights. Likewise, the nature of the two action energy-winds is that of space. Nevertheless, they manifest six lights, which cannot be perceived by the senses but are seen by the eye consciousness of the yogi. Therefore, the energy-winds have a similarity with consciousness [i.e., the lights).

These energy-winds manifest three principal lights (green, blue, and black) and other secondary ones. Ten energy-winds, such as the vital [energy-winds] and so forth, are produced from these lights. The ten energy-winds are classified into three [groups] according to their functions: holding energy-winds, churning energy-winds, and shaping energy-winds. Which of the ten energy-winds perform which functions? With regard to the microcosm [i.e., the human body], the chapter [of the Wheel of Time Tantra] "Ascertaining the Microcosm" states:

Oh Lord of Humanity, the body is created through time in this way: The seeds that are present in the lotus [i.e., womb] are retained by that which holds [i.e., the energy-winds related to the element of earth] and then coalesce by [the action of the energy-winds related to the element of] water.

After, the body is brought to maturation by [energy-winds related to the element of] fire, tastes, and tastes being consumed. Its growth is caused by [the energy-winds related to the element of] wind.

[The energy-winds related to the element of] space also provide room for growth.

This process, applied to the macrocosm [i.e., the universe], is explained as follows: The pervading and gift of the gods [energy-winds] (related to the water element) gather the subtle particles [that remain in space following the destruction of the previous world-system]; the naga and wealth king [energy-winds] (related to the earth element) solidify this conglomerate of particles. These are the four holding winds.

The churning winds, the ascending and lizard [energy-winds] (related to the fire element), enhance the conglomeration of particles by their churning action. Following the churning and enhancement of the conglomeration of particles, the shaping energy-winds, the heat-accompanied and turtle [energy-winds] (related to the wind element), shape it while developing and placing it in various locations in space. The vital and downward-voiding [energy-winds] assist all these winds, as their nature is to facilitate [their functions].

Moreover, with respect to the microcosm, the human embryo develops from the semen and blood of the parents through the gelatin and the oblong stages to the fish [-shape] and later periods of fetal development.

With respect to the macrocosm, other spherical foundations have not yet formed. First, during the period of space, the subtle particles, characterized by emptiness, remain scattered. Later, the moving and stationary vital winds (explained above) collide with the subtle particles and cause them to move and cohere. This is the period during which the most refined essence of wind is activated. Just as sparks are produced by striking stones, lightning is generated from the motion and collision of the subtle particles. This is the period during which the most refined essence of fire is set in motion. This produces water which appears like a fine drizzle. This is the period during which the most refined element of water is set in motion. The fine drizzle causes a rainbow to appear in space. This is the period during which the most refined essence of earth is set in motion.

These motions produce a great body of water. When the body of water is churned [by winds], its essence becomes the coarse elements. In the microcosm, this corresponds to the turtle-shape period [of fetal development] during which the four limbs and the head start to emerge.

[Once the coarse elements are produced,] the shaping winds form Mount Meru, the continents and so forth. This corresponds to the pig-shape period [of fetal development]. Gradually, the world's configuration forms in its entirety, from the wind sphere foundation up to Mt. Meru.

Thus, the power of the different energy-winds produces all the various sizes, shapes, and configurations that appear within our world-system. The distinct action energy-winds themselves are the result of the different manifestations of mind imprinted with instincts [derived from] evolutionary actions. These [different manifestations) are produced by the manifestation of the six lights that are coexistent with the six elements.

How the coarse world-system is formed from the six lights [is explained] in the Glorious Tantra Iof the Wheel of Time], beginning with the statement:

In the left branch is the white blaze.

The lights can be explained by using a format of [two sets of] seven pairs: The green light at the zenith and the blue light at the nadir, which are characterized by the radiant awareness of total emptiness, produce two energy-winds, the vital and the downward-voiding. The black blaze in the east, characterized by approaching fullness, produces the macrocosmic heat-accompanied and six other energy-winds. The red blaze in the south, characterized by increase, produces the seven fires; these are the five wrathful planets—Fire of Time, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—plus Lightning and the Horse-faced Fire. The white blaze in the north, characterized by the dawning of inner light, produces the seven waters: the five peaceful planets—Eclipser, Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Long Tail—plus the rain and the ocean. The yellow blaze in the west, characterized by coarseness, produces the seven earths: subtle earth, coarse earth, subtle minerals, coarse minerals, subtle stars, coarse stars, and rainbows. These are the two sets of seven pairs: the earths and winds of the west and east, and the fires and waters of the south and north. There is a single pair, space and pristine wisdom, at the zenith and at the nadir. The elements of this latter pair are the pervading factors and the former fourteen constitute the pervaded field.

As implied by this explanation, the shapes and the colors of the four sides of Mt. Meru and of the continents and so forth are created by the six lights.

In conclusion, in the formation of a world-system, the mind is the agent, the environment and inhabitants are the objects [created], and creation is accomplished by evolutionary actions. Most discourses and tantras agree with this presentation.

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