Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Vajrayoginī - Preface

Her Visualization, Rituals, and Forms


My interest in the Buddhist tantras—and in sādhana meditation in particular—really began while I was in Oxford studying under Professor Alexis Sanderson. It was the inspiration of his research, as well as his personal encouragement, that led me one day to a Sanskrit manuscript in the Bodleian Library dating from the twelfth or thirteenth century, and preserved on palm leaves in a lovely, rounded kuṭila script. The text comprised a collection of some fifty sādhanas—meditation and ritual works—all of which were concerned with the practice of Vajrayoginī, a deity of the highest tantras. With Professor Sanderson’s help, and the untiring support of Dr. Harunaga Isaacson, I set about the tasks of editing the texts and attempting to understand their contents. Without the knowledge of these two outstanding scholars, I could hardly have begun to fathom the complexity of the Buddhist tantric traditions, let alone begin my doctoral thesis. The thesis was completed in 1999 and was entitled Vajrayoginī: Her Visualisation, Rituals and Forms. This book is an adaptation of that thesis.

Taken as a whole, the texts in the manuscript form a so-called garland of sādhanas (sādhanamālā), which in this case includes praise verses and commentarial passages alongside the ritual and meditation manuals of the sādhanas themselves. This book focuses upon one Sanskrit sādhana from this unique collection, the Vajravārāhī Sādhana by Umāpatideva. At the same time, I hope to give a flavor of the breadth and richness of the other works in the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā. For while they all center upon Vajrayoginī as the generic deity, they describe many manifestations. Indeed, the collection contains over fifty iconographical descriptions, within which we can discern about twenty distinct forms of Vajrayoginī, some of whom—such as Vajrayoginī —are significant tantric deities in their own right. In fact, although the collection receives the late title Guhyasamayasādhanamālā (GSS), the Secret Pledge Sādhana Collection, a more suitable title might have been the *Vajrayoginīsādhanamālā, the Vajrayoginī Sādhana Collection. I have therefore attempted to draw from all its major works in the course of this study and, in the opening chapters, I survey the diverse forms and practices of Vajrayoginī in India, according to this collection. In this way, I hope the book will serve a double purpose: examining, from our textual evidence, the cult of Vajrayoginī in India prior to 1200 C.E., and shedding light on tantric sādhana meditation.

The decision to base the study upon a single sādhana from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā was made for several reasons. While scholarly interest in the Indian Buddhist tantras has increased in recent years, our knowledge of their vast array of texts remains in its infancy and will only improve as scholars produce critical editions of surviving texts along with informed study based upon them. The difficulty of drawing accurate conclusions from the texts currently available is due to the fact that the umbrella term “Buddhist tantra” actually covers a bewildering variety of methods, practices, and systems. These competed in India within a highly fertile and inventive environment over several centuries. Even contemporary accounts in the eleventh to twelfth centuries that describe a range of different systems, such as Abhayākaragupta’s encyclopedic Vajrāvalī or Jagaddarpaṇa’s derivative Kriyāsamuccaya, cannot be taken as conclusive evidence for practice on the ground, as those authors themselves struggled with the various currents of opinion without necessarily reaching their own conclusions. In addition, the meanings of many terms remain obscure and will only come to light when a far broader field of reference is available.

Given this complexity, and the need to clarify so many aspects of tantric practice, I chose to focus my study upon a single feature of the whole. Key pieces of the overall picture are therefore missing. I give only the briefest sketch of the initiations that were the necessary preliminary to sādhana practice, and only a hazy description of the place of sādhana in the tāntrika’s overall scheme of spiritual practice. And there are many points where my conclusions are at best provisional. Within these limitations, I have attempted to highlight those practices that characterize the Indian traditions of Vajrayoginī. In so doing, I hope to reveal how our particular author adapted earlier sources and responded to his own scriptural heritage, absorbing new trends and reflecting different developments within the highest Buddhist tantras.

The sādhana that I have edited, translated, and studied here is the Vajravārāhī Sādhana (GSS11) by Umāpatideva, an early-twelfth-century author from northeastern India. This work is a fruitful subject because of the length, clarity, and excellence of its composition. It was also desirable to choose a work from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā collection that was as yet unpublished, because some primary sources dealing with Vajrayoginī and Vajravārāhī are already available in recent editions, including some studies in European languages. For a long while, the main academic accounts of Vajravārāhī and Vajrayoginī were the iconographical descriptions given by Benoytosh Bhattacharyya in The Indian Buddhist Iconography (1924) and by Marie Thérèse de Mallmann’s Introduction à l’Iconographie du Tântrisme Bouddhique (1975), both of which contain some errors (e.g., n. 228). These works draw heavily on Bhattacharyya’s edition of the Sādhanamālā (1925 and 1928), which contains fewer than a dozen complete Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī sādhanas, all of which also appear in the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā. More recent studies also focus on selections from the Sādhanamālā sādhanas, such as the short study of Vajravārāhı by Mallar Mitra (1999: 102–29), which is too brief to be fully comprehensive. A beautiful collection of sculptures of the deity from different phases of Tibetan art have been published by von Schroeder (1981, 2001); however some of his iconographical comments are also erroneous (e.g., n. 83). A few other Sanskrit editions of Vajrayoginī sādhanas have been published, such as the short Vajravārāhīsādhana by Advayavajra (=GSS3) by both Louis Finot (1934) and Richard O. Meisezahl (1967), a Trikāyavajrayoginīsādhana (≈GSS25) by Max Nihom (1992), and a handful of sādhanas from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā in Dhīḥ (namely, GSS5, GSS10, GSS26, GSS42, and GSS43), as shown in the appendix. Published editions of highest tantric texts also provide an important resource for a study of Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī, especially those from the Cakrasaṃvara tradition, such as the Yoginīsaṃcāratantra with both its available Sankrit commentaries, edited by J. S. Pandey (1998), and some chapters of the Saṃvarodayatantra (possibly a later Nepalese composition) edited and translated by Shin’ichi Tsuda (1974).

The paucity of publications for the Indic Vajrayoginī tradition is in stark contrast to the number of Sanskrit manuscripts that must once have existed. Bongo Butten no Kenkyū (BBK) catalogs just over a dozen Vajrayoginī texts not found in the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā, appearing within works such as the Yab skor (BBK: 261) and Yum skor (BBK: 273–77), commentaries on the Tattvajñānasaṃsiddhi (BBK: 279–80), the Jvālāvalīvajramālātantra (BBK: 493–94), as well as the later Nepalese Vajravārāhīkalpa in thirty-eight chapters (BBK: 261)—although many sādhana materials listed here are also found in our collection (details in the appendix). We can deduce the existence of yet more Indian Vajrayoginī sādhanas from the number of translations in the Tibetan canon that have no extant Sanskrit original. In an index to the Bka’ ’gyur and Bstan ’gyur published in 1980, there are about forty-five sādhanas with Vajrayoginī or Vajravārāhī in the title, very few of which have (as yet) been correlated with a Sanskrit original by the compilers of the index. The popularity of the Vajrayoginī transmissions in Tibet is remarked upon in the Blue Annals (Roerich 1949–53: 390), which states, “The majority of tantric yogis in this Land of Snows were especially initiated and followed the exposition and meditative practice of the system known as [the Six Texts of Vajravārāhī] Phag-mo gZhung-drug” (p. 390). What is now known of her practice derives mainly from Tibetan Buddhism, in which Vajrayoginī (Rdo rje rnal ’byor ma) and Vajravārāhī (Rdo rje phag mo) are important deities.

Perhaps the main emphasis on forms of Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī (the names often seem to be used interchangeably) is found in the bKa’ brgyud schools. This lineage is traced back to the siddha Tilopa (c. 928–1009), who had many visions of the deity, and who passed on oral transmissions to his pupil, Nāropa (c. 956–1040). Nāropa also had many visions of ḍākinī forms, the most famous of which is recounted in his life story, dated to the fifteenth and sixteenth century, in which Vajrayoginī appears to him as an ugly old hag who startles him into abandoning monastic scholasticism in favor of solitary tantric practice. However, this account does not appear in the earliest biographies (Peter Alan Roberts, personal communication: 2002).

The form of Vajrayoginī especially associated with Nāropa in Tibet is Nā ro mkha’ spyod; “Nā ro [pa]’s tradition of the ḍākinī” or “Nāro’s khecarī ” (lit., “sky-goer”). This form is discussed below, as it is closest to that of Vajravārāhī described in the Indian sādhana translated here by Umāpatideva.

Several different practices of Vajravārāhī/Vajrayoginī were transmitted in the numerous traditions of the Tibetan bKa’ brgyud school, through various teachers; for example, through the translator, Mar pa (Mar pa Chos kyi blo gros, 1012–97) into the Mar pa bKa’ brgyud, and through Ras chung pa (Ras chung rDo rje grags pa, 1084–1161) into the several branches of the Ras chung sNyan rgyud, and yet another through Khyung po rnal ’byor, founder of the Shangs pa bKa’ brgyud (eleventh–twelfth centuries) apparently from Niguma (sometimes said to be Nāropa’s sister). This complex matrix of lineages continued in Tibet within the various bKa’ brgyud traditions. In the Karma bKa’ brgyud, the oral transmission was written down in the form of a sādhana by the third Karma pa, Rang byung rdo rje (b. 1284) (Trungpa 1982: 150). However, it is a sādhana by the sixth Karma pa (mThong ba don ldan, 1416–53) that serves as the basis for the main textual source in this school. This is the instruction text composed in the sixteenth century by dPa’ bo gTsug lag phreng ba (1504–66). Vajravārāhī also appears in bKa’ brgyud versions of the guruyoga, in which the devotee worships his guru (in one popular system, Mi la ras pa) while identifying himself as Vajravārāhī. Examples include the famous “four sessions” guruyoga (Thun bzhi’i bla ma’i rnal ’byor) of Mi skyod rdo rje, the eighth Karma pa (1507–54), and the Nges don sgron me, a meditation manual by the nineteenth-century teacher Jam mgon Kong sprul (1977: 119ff.), itself based on a sixteenth-century root text, the Lhan cig skyes sbyor khrid by the ninth Karma pa (dBang phyug rdo rje, 1556–1603). While Karma bKa’ brgyud lamas around the world today frequently give the initiation of Vajravārāhı, they observe a strict code of secrecy in imparting the instructions for her actual practice; however, published accounts of some practices within some bKa’ brgyud schools are now available.

Vajrayoginī is also an important deity within the Sa skya school. According to Lama Jampa Thaye (personal communication: 2002), her practices were received into the Sa skya tradition in the early twelfth century, during the lifetime of Sa chen Kun dga’ snying po (1092–1158), first of the “five venerable masters” of the Sa skya. Sa chen received from his teachers the initiations, textual transmissions, and instructions for three forms of Vajrayoginī. The first is a form derived also from Nāropa, and again called Nā ro mkha’ spyod or “Nāro’s khecarī” (although it is entirely different from the Tilopa-Nāropa-Mar pa transmission of Vajravārāhī in the bKa’ brgyud in that the deity has a different iconographical form with a distinct set of associated practices). The second is a form derived from the siddha Maitrīpa, known therefore as Maitrī Khecarī (Metri mkha’ spyod ma; see fig. 18). The third is derived from the siddha Indrabhūti, known therefore as Indra Khecarī (Indra mkha’ sypod ma; see fig. 6). This form is sometimes also known as Indra Vajravārāhī, although as a deity in her own right, Vajravārāhī has received much less attention among Sa skya pas than the Khecarī lineages.

These three forms are traditionally considered the highest practices within a collection of esoteric deity practices known as The Thirteen Golden Dharmas of Sa skya (Sa skya’i gser chos bcu gsum), as they are said to lead directly to transcendental attainment. However, it was Nāro Khecarī who became the focus of most devotion in the Sa skya tradition, and the practice instructions associated with her sādhana were transmitted in the form of eleven yogas drawn from the siddha Nāropa’s own encounter with Vajrayoginī. The most influential exposition of this system of eleven yogas emerged in the sixteenth century; known as The Ultimate Secret Yoga, it is a composition by ’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse dbang phyug (1524–68) on the basis of oral instructions received from his master, Tsar chen Blo gsal rgya mtsho (1494–1560). Since that time, the eleven yogas “have retained great importance in the Sa skya spiritual curriculum” (ibid.). The practices have retained their esoteric status for Sa skya pas, and are “secret” in as much as one may not study or practice them without the requisite initiations and transmissions.

In the eighteenth century, it appears that the Sa skya transmission of Nāro Khecarī and the eleven yogas entered the dGe lugs tradition. This seems to have occurred in the lifetime of the Sa skya master, Ngag dbang kun dga’ legs pa’i ’byung gnas. His exact dates are unclear, but the next Sa skya lineage holder is his pupil, Kun dga’ blo gros (1729–83). Ngag dbang kun dga’ legs pa’i ’byung gnas is in fact the last of the Sa skya lineage holders given in dGe lugs sources (he appears as “Näsarpa” in the list given by K. Gyatso 1999: 343–46), and from this point, the dGe lugs lineage prayers reveal their own distinct sequence of transmissions (ibid.). The dGe lugs pa had originally focused upon Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī in her role as consort to their main deity, Cakrasaṃvara, following the teaching of Tsong kha pa (1357–1419). Cakrasaṃvara was one of the three meditational deities, along with Yamāntaka and Guhyasamāja, whose systems Tsong kha pa drew together as the foundational practices of the dGe lugs school. In this context, Tsong kha pa’s explanatory text, Illuminating All Hidden Meanings (sBas don kun gsal) is apparently the main source on Vajrayoginī (K. Gyatso 1999: xii); and she has actually been described as Tsong kha pa’s “innermost yidam, kept very secretly in his heart” (Ngawang Dhargyey 1992: 9). This claim, however, was probably intended to bolster Vajrayoginī relatively recent presence in the dGe lugs pantheon, as the Sa skya tradition of eleven yogas was only popularized in the dGe lugs in the twentieth cenutury, by Pha bong kha (1878–1941). According to Dreyfus (1998: 246), “Pa-bong-ka differed in recommending Vajrayoginī as the central meditational deity of the Ge-luk tradition. This emphasis is remarkable given the fact that the practice of this deity came originally [i.e., as late as the eighteenth century] from the Sa-gya tradition and is not included in Dzong-kha-ba’s original synthesis.” The Vajrayoginī practice passed on by Pha bong kha and his pupil, Kyabje Trijang, focuses on the set of eleven yogas; and despite their esoteric, and therefore highly secret, nature—and the absolute prerequisite of receiving correct empowerments—explanations of these practices have been published and are widely available in English: by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (1991/99), Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey (1992), and Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin (1997).

The rNying ma has also drawn the practices of Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī into its schools. Her presence is read back into the life of Padmasambhava, the eighth-century founder of the rNying ma, who is said to have received initiation from Vajravārāhī herself following his expulsion from the court of King Indrabhūti (Dudjom 1991: 469). Other important rNying ma lineage holders are also traditionally associated with the deity. For example, in the life story of Klong chen Rab ’byams pa (1308–63), as given by Dudjom Rinpoche (1991), he is said to have received visions of both a white Vārāhī and a blue Vajravārāhī, who foretell Klong chen pa’s own meeting with Padmasambhava (ibid.: 577, 581). It is also Vajravārāhı who leads him to the discovery of the treasure text (gter ma), Innermost Spirituality of the Ḍākiṇī ((Man ngag) mkha’ ’gro snying tig), the meaning of which is explained to him by Yeshe Tsogyel (Ye shes mtsho rgyal) (ibid.: 586). This identification between Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī and Yeshe Tsogyel is significant—although Yeshe Tsogyel tends to be identified at different times with most of the major female deities of the tradition, such as Samantabhadrī and Tārā (Dowman 1984: 12; Klein 1995: 17). In the account of Yeshe Tsogyel’s life, a gter ma discovered in the eighteenth century (and now translated no fewer than three times into English), she is at times clearly identified with Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī (e.g., Dowman 1984: 38, 85, 178); indeed, her saṃbhogakāya is said to be that of the deity (e.g., Gyelwa Jangchub in Dowman 1984: 4–5, 224; Klein 1995i: 147; J. Gyatso 1998: 247). The identification of Yeshe Tsogyel with Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhı is also suggested by Rig ’dzin ’Jigs med gling pa (1730–98), whose Ḍākkī’s Grand Secret Talk is revealed to him by a “paradigmatic” ḍākinī, whom J. Gyatso (1998: 247) concludes is Yeshe Tsogyel herself. Various guruyoga practices within the rNying ma also formalize the connection between Yeshe Tsogyel and the deity. For example, in ’Jigs med gling pa’s mind treasure, the Klong chen snying thig, the devotee longs for union with his guru as Padmasambhava, while identifying himself (and his state of yearning) with Yeshe Tsogyal in the form of Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī. In other guruyoga practices, such as The Bliss Path of Liberation (Thar pa’i bde lam), the practitioner identifies directly with Vajrayoginī, who becomes “the perfect exemplar of such devotion” (Rigdzin Shikpo 2002: personal communication).

Over and above the deity’s ubiquitous involvement in guruyoga meditations (a feature, as we have seen, of many Tibetan traditions), her popularity as a main deity in her own right is revealed by the growing number of liturgies devoted to her practice in the later rNying ma traditions. Robert Mayer (personal communication: 2002) mentions entire ritual cycles devoted to Vajravārāhī, such as a volume entitled, Union of All Secret Ḍākinīs (mKha’ ’gro gsang ba kun ’dus kyi chos skor). This was composed by the eminent nineteenth-century figure, ’Jams dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, who believed it to be the “further revelation” (yang gter) of a gter ma dating back to the thirteenth century. The original gter ma revelation was by the famous female rNying ma gter ston Jo mo sman mo, herself deeply connected with Vajravarahi (ibid.; Allione 1984: 209–11). This volume is entirely dedicated to an important form of Vajravārāhı in rNying ma practice, which is related to the gCod tradition, from Ma gcig lab sgron ma (1031–1129) (Allione ibid.: 142–204). Here, the deity takes the wrathful black form of (ma cig) Khros/Khro ma nag mo or Krodhakālī, also sometimes identified as Rudrāṇi/ī (Mayer op. cit.). Patrul Rinpoche (1994: 297–98) describes an iconographical form that, apart from its color, is much the same as that of Indraḍākinī (for a full tangka of Krodhakālī with retinue, see Himalayan Art, no. 491). In full, however, this is an extremely esoteric practice and, in the case of the principal bDud ’joms gter ma cycles at least, is regarded as “so secret and powerful that practitioners are often advised to either take it as their sole practice, or not seek the initiation at all” (Mayer op. cit.).

Tibetans also recognize a living reincarnation trulku (sprul sku) of Vajravārāhī (rDo rje phag mo). The first trulku was a pupil of Phyogs las rnam rgyal (also known as ’Jigs med grags pa and as Chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1376–1452), the learned Bo dong Paṇ chen of the monastery Bo dong E (probably a bKa’ gdams pa foundation in 1049). A Bo dong pa Monastery was subsequently founded at bSam sdings by the side of Yar ’brog mtsho (Yamdrog Lake), referred to as Yar ’brog bSam sdings dgon pa, and it was here that the trulku of rDo rje phag mo became established (Rigdzin Shikpo 2002: personal communication). The first abbess is one of the most famous incarnations, memorable for escaping from an invasion in 1717/19 of the Dzungar Tartars by apparently causing everyone in the monastery to appear as a herd of grazing pigs. But later incarnations have also been revered, and famed for their connection with Vajravārāhı, until the present trulku (b. 1937/38) who became an eminent official in the Chinese administration (Simmer-Brown2001:185–86;cf.Taring1970:167;Willis1989:104).

The pervasiveness of Vajrayoginī /Vajravarahi in Tibet is attested by her appearance also within the Tibetan Bön tradition. Peter Alan Roberts (personal communication: 2002) has translated a meditation text by Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan (1859–1934) that focuses on the development of the experience of “the wisdom of bliss and emptiness” (bde stong ye shes), with “heat” (gtum mo/caṇḍālī) as a sign of accomplishment. The work is entitled The Inferno of Wisdom (Ye shes me dpung) and draws on Bön compositions going back to the eleventh or twelfth century gter ma texts. It describes a wrathful, cremation-ground ḍākinī named Thugs rjes Kun grol ma (“She Who Liberates All through Compassion”) who is clearly a form of Vajravārāhī. She is ruby-red in color, adorned with skulls, and stands on one leg in the dancing posture; a black sow’s head protrudes from her crown, and she brandishes a chopper aloft, holds a skull bowl of fresh blood to her heart, and clasps a skull staff in the crook of her left shoulder. The symbolism governing her attributes, as well as the metaphysical context of emptiness, all appear in typical Vajravārāhī sādhanas in the Buddhist tantric traditions.

The practice of Vajrayoginī /Vajravārāhī is not exclusive to Tibet, however. In Nepal, Vajrayoginī is popularly worshiped as one of a set of four vārāhīs or yoginīs: Guhyeśvarī (also worshiped as Prajñāpāramitā, Nairātmyā, and Agniyoginī), Vidyeśvarī of Kathmandu, Vajrayoginī of Sankhu, and Vajrayoginī of Pharping (Slusser 1982: 256, 327). There are several temples of Vajravārāhī and Vajrayoginī in the Kathmandu Valley, for example, at Chapagaon Grove (ibid.: 325–26, 341), and at the hilltop temple of Pharping (ibid.: 331). In Sankhu, Vajrayoginī is the tutelary deity of the town, and her temple is dedicated to the fierce cremation ground goddess “Ugratārā Vajrayoginī” (Slusser 1982: 72 with n. 141). Here, Vajrayoginī is also identified with Prajñāpāramitā, “mother of all tathāgatas,” and is considered the spouse of Svayambhū or fidibuddha, who is housed in a smaller shrine on the same site, while in the Hindu version of the local myth, she is identified with Śiva’s consort, Durgā (Zanen 1986: 131). Gellner (1992:256) comments that in Nepal, “Vajrayoginī seems…to play a role in uniting exoteric deities, such as Tārā or Kumārī and the Eight Mothers, with the consorts of the secret tantric deities, viz. Vajravārāhī…Jñānaḍākinī… and Nairātmyā.” Gellner goes on to describe tantric rites of initiation in current Newar practice that are taken mainly by Vajrācārya and ⁄ākya males (ibid.: 169–270). Here, “Tantric initiation (dīkṣā) means primarily the initiation of Cakrasaṃvara and his consort Vajravārāhī” (ibid.: 268). The rites of initiation themselves are considered highly esoteric and are guarded with secrecy (ibid.: 273–80). Gellner’s description—gleaned with difficulty from a learned informant—provides a rare insight into the modern-day practices. The first part of the initiation focuses upon Cakrasa˙vara, and is based on handbooks that follow the twelfth-century exegetical work, the Kriyāsamuccaya. The second part of the rite focuses on the consort Vajravārāhī (or “Vajradevī”) and is based upon material taken from the Saṃvarodayatantra, but also upon as yet unidentified sources (ibid.: 272). Despite drawing from early tantric sources, the rites currently in use in Nepal have been substantially altered in the process of taming and adapting them to suit tantric initiates who are householders (ibid.: 300ff.). Nevertheless, the preeminence of Vajravārāhī in the tantric pantheon is retained in the modern Newar system. The series of rites that comprise the tantric initiation culminates with initiation into the practice of Vajravārāhī, thus indicating her supreme position within the hierarchy of Newar religious practice (ibid.: 280; cf. ibid.: 261–62).

From this brief overview of the practices of Vajrayoginī and Vajravārāhī outside India, it should be evident that we are dealing with a deity of major significance within tantric Buddhism. It is therefore unsurprising to find, within the burgeoning of modern publications on the highest tantras, a number of works that also relate to the subject. Some impressive studies on the ḍākinī have appeared, such as the detailed monograph by Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt (1992) and valuable explorations by Janet Gyatso (1998) and Judith Simmer-Brown (2001). Such studies tend to range also across other academic disciplines; notably, the image of the yoginı or ḍākinī has inspired a large body of crosscultural and feminist theological discourse.

My own approach is predominantly textual: I have explored the contents of a major Sanskrit source that sheds light on the Indian origins of Vajrayoginī practice and underpins later traditions. The importance of the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā to the study of Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī can hardly be overstated. Within this, I have restricted the scope of my work to Sanskrit sources (and as I do not know Tibetan, I am greatly indebted to others in the few instances where I cite Tibetan texts). My aim has been, simply, to represent my sources as faithfully as possible, either by translating or summarizing their contents. Although this type of undertaking may itself be prone to, perhaps even determined by, all kinds of subjective and cultural interpretation and selectivity by its author, I have tried to present the material in a manner that is more descriptive than interpretive. For example, my use of the masculine pronoun throughout reflects the usage in my source material; this, despite the fact that the practice of Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī was—and certainly is—undertaken by women as well as men. What I hope emerges here is as accurate a record as I am able to give of the early origins of the cult from the textual evidence that remains to us.

I have begun in chapter 1 by locating Vajrayoginī within the complex traditions of the Buddhist tantras. I then turn to the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā itself and explore what is known of its provenance, both of its authors and of the tantric sādhana that makes up the bulk of its contents. Chapter 2 forms a survey of all the different forms of Vajrayoginī within the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā, and also of the various ritual contexts in which these forms are evoked. It therefore gives an overview of the cult in India as it emerges from these texts. Chapter 3 is a study of one particular sādhana from the collection, the Vajravārāhī Sādhana by Umāpatideva, which is divided into its own distinctive meditation stages and final ritual portion. The Sanskrit edition (with notes) and the translation to the sādhana follow chapter 3. The appendix gives a list of all sādhanas in the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā (with witnesses where I have found them) and a summary of their contents.


It is a great delight to acknowledge the generosity of my teachers, colleagues, friends, and family. My debt to Professor Alexis Sanderson in guiding me through my doctoral thesis has already been recorded, and I thank him for his continued scholarly help and kind encouragement. Dr. Harunaga Isaacson has all along been a patient and untiring teacher and friend; with unique care, he commented upon earlier drafts of this book, never demuring when I presented him with ever-changing versions. Despite all their corrections, many mistakes no doubt remain, the responsibility for which are mine alone. Many colleagues have also contributed substantially, with no small investment of time and energy, among whom I am particularly grateful to Professor Gudrun Bühnemann, Dr. Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt, Lama Jampa Thaye, Dr. Robert Mayer, Rigdzin Shikpo, Dr. Peter Roberts, Dr. Geoffrey Samuel, and Dr. Jan-Ulrich Sobisch and also to the librarians of the Indian Institute Library, Oxford, and to Adrian Hale, formerly of Wolfson College library, Oxford. For their comradeship and help during the years of the doctorate, I would like to thank Dr. David Burton (Dharmacāri Asaṅga), Dr. Kei Kataoka, Philip Purves (Dharmacāri Vijaya), Dr. Judit Törzsök, Dr. Som Dev Vasudeva, and Dr. Wan Doo Kim, not forgetting musical interludes with Isabelle Phan, and the constancy of Girindre Beeharry. For his practical resourcefulness and kindness during my time at Oxford, I also thank Professor Richard Gombrich. My research was made possible by financial support from a number of bodies: the British Academy, the Boden Fund, and the Spalding Trust, and more recently from St. Martin’s College.

In dedicating this book to my teachers, I am able to include my loving parents, with whom this journey really began. And I rejoice in the merits of Venerable Urgyen Sangharakshita, who inspired me to set out on the spiritual path, and whose example is a daily reminder of what is possible. I am also blessed with exceptional friends, among whom it is a joy to thank Tejananda—whose contribution would take a book in itself to acknowledge—and Vassikā. Indeed, my heartfelt gratitude goes to all my leonine friends who have helped in so many ways to bring this book about. Finally, my thanks go to E. Gene Smith at Wisdom Publications for looking favorably at my unwieldy doctoral thesis, and to my editor, David Kittelstrom, whose patient care and eagle eye have transformed it into a book.

The generosity of my publishers has allowed me to bring together sixteen color plates in this volume, and a large number of line drawings. For helpful advice in this respect, I thank Mr. Robert Beer, Dr. Martin Brauen, Professor Lokesh Chandra, Dr. Günter Grönbold, and Professor Deborah Klimburg-Salter. Above all, it is a pleasure to thank Dharmacāri filoka for his considerable contribution in providing so many fine line drawings, effortlessly conjured up, as it seemed, from the descriptions of the Sanskrit texts. These have been generously funded by The Spalding Trust, and Dharmacāri Padmakara. I hope that this study of Vajrayoginī will prove a useful offering to the ever growing literature on the rich traditions of Buddhism.


Elizabeth English
August 2002


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© Elizabeth English, Vajrayoginī (Wisdom Publications, 2002)

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