The blessing lineage

I have mentioned in my last post that the two most ancient and most important available commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub have a different internal structure and that the different vajra statements that they chose as their starting point tell much about the commentaries’ natures. Dorje Sherab chose for his beginning the statement that “all the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature” (see the posting “dGongs gcig 1.1”). Now it is time to turn to the first vajra statement of Rinchen Jangchub:

“This teaching that is transmitted through a lineage is profound and marvellous.”

As in all vajra statements, here too it is helpful to know its background. In this case the statement seems to have a specific view in mind, namely the idea held by some people that they possess a teaching that they realised in themselves, not depending on the guru’s oral instructions, teachings, which they felt were ‘poured out’ over them, or that were hidden in the earth before they emerged, or in cracks of trees, or that rained down on them from the sky. The particular idea that these people hold is that these Dharmas are “marvellous profound teachings that others don’t have” and that they contain the supreme intention of Dharma. This last point implicitly means that those people hold the view that such teachings are better than other teachings of the Buddha, because they do not come down through a long lineage of masters, i.e. they claim that their “short” lineages have more authenticity or blessing power than the “long” lineages. And that again implies that teachings with long lineages lose their authenticity and blessing power over time.

Here the intention of Jigten Gonpo is that the ‘edge’ (Tib. zur) of the words that transmit the meaning is not lost through a ‘mouth-to-mouth’ lineage from the perfect Buddha down to one’s root guru, and the meaning transmitted through an ‘ear-to-ear’ lineage does not turn into a fabrication or into merely nice words, and the transmission of blessing through a ‘mind-to-mind’ lineage is not interrupted just because the lineage is long. In fact, just those Dharmas that are transmitted through an unbroken lineage of realised masters with intact pledges (Skr. samaya) and blessing are profound and marvellous. Rinchen Jangchub provides four reasons why a Dharma must be transmitted through such a lineage.

(1) When the Buddha found unsurpassable awakening, he was requested by the evil Mara to enter nirvana, whereupon he replied: “I will not pass into nirvana until I have not taught the Dharma to those who are worthy vessels of the Dharma.” And that is the first reason why it is necessary to transmit the teachings through a lineage of worthy vessels: The Buddha himself made it a priority.

(2) In all mantra teachings and in particular in the supreme yoga tantra the wording of the text is intentionally twisted and the vital instructions are hidden. Yet people enter into such Dharmas just as they like, and having thus entered these Dharmas as they like without relying on a guru, they grasp a Self and grow attached to it and they hold on to this delusion by thinking “this Dharma is mine.” Since these teachings they hold on to are nothing but self-fabricated concepts, because they have not been transmitted by an authentic master, such people do not pass beyond samsara, because through self-grasping and delusion samsara is not abandoned. That is the second profound reason why the teachings need to be transmitted through a lineage of authentic masters: an inauthentic approach produces only further concepts.

(3) The mantra Dharmas are practised to obtain ordinary and supreme accomplishments, but obtaining these depends solely on the guru. That is so because the enormous amount of spiritual merit that must be accumulated to reach accomplishment can only be gathered by following the instructions of a guru who is endowed with the special characteristics. The characteristic that makes a guru authentic is that he or she has obtained realisation having received the transmission of words, meaning, pledges, and blessing through an unbroken lineage of masters. If the accumulations are not gathered by following such a guru, one’s unmeritorious karma is not overcome. If one does not overcome that karma, the inborn wisdom that is free from all proliferation of conceptual thinking cannot be actualised. If, on the other hand, one follows the instructions of such a guru, all this is reversed: one overcomes unmeritorious karma and inborn wisdom will arise.

(4) The gurus of the transmission lineage have not only realised the Dharma, but they have also removed obstacles when faults and mistakes arose, and with regard to the qualities that arose, they enhanced the realisation. When one studies the biographies of the great gurus of the various transmission lineages, one often learns that their path was full of obstacles. In fact, it seems as if the obstacles become ever more powerful the closer the practitioner gets to the highest fruition. Well known are the examples of the Buddha himself, who had to overcome the hordes of Maras just before he fully awakened, and of Jigten Gonpo, whose greatest obstacle before awakening came in the form of a naga with its retinue residing in his body, causing leprosy. In general, it is said that the mantra path is full of obstacles and false realisations. Look at the encounter between Gampopa and Milarepa! Gampopa used to say that if Milarepa would not have shaken his believe in his own previous achievements and led him on the path through many obstacles, he would have been born for millions of life-times in the realms of the gods, where he would have wasted all his wholesome accumulations. To counteract all those obstacles and false realisations, the former masters have developed methods to remove obstacles (Tib. gegs sel) and to enhance the realisation (Tib bogs ‘don). And that is the fourth reason why the Dharma that is transmitted through a lineage is profound and marvellous: expert removing of obstacles and enhancement of realisation come as a free gift.

Having given these four reasons, Rinchen Jangchub also quotes a doubt. Somebody says: “But does it not happen that through practise experience and actualisation arise without a lineage?” And Rinchen Jangchub replies: It does happen that an experience not held by one’s guru arises in the mental continuum, but such experience does not have the benefits described above and it is unreliable and perishes fast—it is merely like the joy of a full stomach.

At this point it is perhaps also necessary to discuss a misunderstanding concerning this vajra utterance. Sometimes people believe that Jigten Gonpo here makes a statement against the treasure teachings (gter ma), where the lineages are short because several centuries can be bridged over by concealing teachings that much later are rediscovered by a guru, or ‘treasure finder’ (gter ston), who has a connection with the guru who concealed the teaching (mostly Padmasambhava). But that is not the case. In fact, Jigten Gonpo made it very clear through his public teachings that the disparaging of Dharmas such as the treasures revealed by treasure-finders is a great fault.♦ 1

This aspect was of course of great interest for Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, who held many treasure lineages. In his commentary on the dGongs gcig on this point he defends treasure teachings against attacks, saying:

All the [mahayana] instructions of the Buddha remained hidden [before they surfaced] ♦ 2 and the tantras of the Glorious Four-Armed Lord [Mahakala] were taken from a stupa!

And, moreover, he also quotes the famous words of Lord Maitreya from the Uttaratantrashastra 5.19]:

Whatever has been expounded by those of a perfectly undistracted mind
solely in accordance with the teachings of the Victorious One
and conducive to the path for obtaining liberation,
I also place on my head like the Buddha’s [own] instruction.

This can again be understood in the context of dGongs gcig1.1, according to which the Buddha didn’t invent the Dharma (and thus only what is stated by him alone would be Dharma), but he only discovered and revealed the true reality that is true and valid at all times and in all regions of the universe. That means that other beings, too, can discover the Dharma, but it is still not possible that what they discover—if it is true reality—would contradict what the Buddha had said. Such teachings can therefore also be traced to the Buddha, they are neither ‘pilfered’ nor ‘self-fabricated.’ Yet, still, who would be able to discover Dharma in such a way? Since no one enters the bodhisattva stages without gathering the necessary accumulations in this and in previous life times, and since these enormous amounts of spiritual merit can only be accumulated by following the instructions of authentic teachers, no one discovers the Dharma without an authentic transmission lineage. And furthermore, if a short lineage is authentic, there certainly must be an authentic transmission from the one who conceals the teaching to the one who recovers it.

Thus to claim that a short lineage is more authentic and has more blessing power than a long one is simple beside the point. A lineage is only authentic when its transmission of words, meaning, pledges, and blessing is unbroken. Any Dharma taught in a lineage that is like that is profound and marvellous, no matter how long or short its lineage is.


1 See for instance Jigten Gonpo’s collected works (Dehra Dun edition), vol. 1, p. 180: “Some defame the instructions of the Tathagatas, saying things like ‘only this Dharma of mine is Dharma, what the others practise is not Dharma,’ ‘the mantra of the Nyingmapas is not Dharma,’ ‘the practice of Vajrapani is not Dharma,’ and ‘mental inactivity (amanasikara) is not Dharma.’ They create attachment, aversion and delusion. Since the ripening [of such conduct] with the result ‘samsara’ and ‘lower realms’ is pitiful, having seen and heard a great number of scriptures of the Sugata with your eye of discriminating wisdom arising from study, reflection and practice, you should never disparage (gang la yang skur ba mi ’debs) [any teaching]!”

2 Andreas Doctor (Tibetan Treasure Literature: Revelation, Tradition, and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 2005: pp. 17 and 35) has shown that the apologetic argument, that “commonalities between the Treasures and the generally accepted Indian Mahayana canons” existed can be found as early as Ratna gLing-pa Rin-chen-dpal (1403-1478/79).


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