The Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (Kagyu Ngag Dzo) – Composition, Sources, Contents and Editions

The Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (bka’ brgyud sngags mdzod) is one of the Five Treasuries (mdzod lnga) compiled and composed by Kagyu and Rime lineage holder and master, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (’Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas (1813-1899)) – for a short, yet informative biography, see here). It is a compendium of mandala rituals, maturing empowerments and liberating instructions, originally transmitted by important Kagyu lineage holder, Marpa the Translator (1012-1097), to Ngokton Choku Dorje (rngog ston chos sku rdo rje, 1036-1102) – for more details see below.

Considering the importance of this text to the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, in particular, it is surprising to find little written about it in English. I am grateful to the French translator, Karma Sangye Tenzin, for sending me a copy of a section from the PhD thesis, A Lineage in Time – The Viscisstudes of the Ngogpa Kagyu from the 11th through 19th Centuries (EPHE, 2017), by Dr. Cecile Ducher, part of which goes into significant detail about the history, content, sources and editions of of the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras. This blog post is in no way comparable to that in terms of thoroughness and detail, so for those with the time and interest I would recommend reading it, see below for download.

In this short, introductory article, I pull together various online sources, extracts from Ducher’s work, as well as provide a brief catalogue of the currently available extant editions of this compendium.


Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (1813-1899) at the centre accompanied by hand and foot prints – from a three painting set depicting Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa in the other two compositions. An inscription on the back of the the painting states that it was commissioned by the tantric student Tashi Chopel [TBRC P6173] when Kongtrul was 85 years old in 1898 a year before the passing of Kongtrul in 1899. (Image and text reproduced from Himlayan Art Resources website).

Composition

The Treasury compendium was compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul between 1853-1854. According to Kongtrul’s Treasury of Lives biography:

”The period of Tsadra’s development coincided with the beginning of Jamgon Kongtrul’s literary output. He created one of the largest collections of writings, both edited writings and compositions, of any Tibetan scholar. His combined literary output is traditionally known as the Five Treasuries. Four of the five were inspired by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, whom Kongtrul also credits with providing the conceptual framework of “five treasuries,” something that Khyentse apparently saw in a dream. His training for the editing work appears to have begun about a decade after he arrived at Pelpung. In 1841 he had been tasked with cleaning up the monastery’s library, during which he had a dream of Mañjuśrī, who gave him instructions on the many methods for organizing the Buddhist teachings. Around the same time he had also been put in charge of editing the block prints for several collections of scripture.”

”The first of the Five Treasuries that Jamgon Kongtrul began work on was the ten-volume Treasury of Kagyu Tantras (bka’ brgyud sngags mdzod), a compendium of tantric liturgical texts based on material originally transmitted by Marpa Chokyi Lodro (mar pa chos kyi blo gros, 1012-1097) to his disciple Ngokton Choku Dorje (rngog ston chos sku rdo rje, 1036-1102), the lama to whom Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1040-1123) once fled when Marpa refused to give him teachings. Khyentse Wangpo encouraged Kongtrul to create the collection in 1853 when he found the existing collections to be inadequate for proper transmission. Kongtrul began work on the collection that year, following the death of the Ninth Situ, and completed it the following year, in the summer of 1854. Two years later, in the summer of 1856, he gave the first transmission at Pelpung Monastery to Khyentse Wangpo and about twenty other lamas from Pelpung and neighboring monasteries such as the Sakya monastery of Derge Gonchen (sde ge dgon chen) and the Nyingma monastery of Dzogchen (dzogs chen). He gave the transmission seven times in all.”

Kongtrul explains the circumstances and conditions of the composition of the work in his autobiography and in the introduction to the first volume of the Treasury (see DUCHER 2017: 74-75):

”In the early 1850s, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse dbang po) had travelled to the main seat of the Ngog, Thre Zhing (sPre’u zhing), where he had a vision of Marpa and had received a prophecy that Kongtrul should codify the rNgog maṇḍalas. From 1852, and more insistently in 1853, he requested Kongtrul to make new manuals for the rNgog maṇḍalas. Karma Tenpa Rabgye (Karma bsTan pa rab rgyas (19th c.)), one of the 9th Situ’s disciple, remarked that although Karma Chagme (Karma Chags med)’s manuals were without mistake and full of blessing, they had the defect of being too condensed, although that made them quite convenient to carry. As the continuity of most earlier manuals were on the verge of interruption, it was in effect quite difficult to do group or personal practices on these tantras. It would thus have been good to have new manuals before it was too late and the transmissions was lost. Khyentse, when granting Kongtrul teachings on the rNgog maṇḍalas, argued for his part that these transmissions were incomparable, but the continuity of the old manuals was often interrupted and, in later manuals, the specific import of each tantra was not always clear, so that one often had to rely on post-hoc additions to give a complete transmission. Faced with these requests, Kongtrul wondered whether he was suited for such a work and asked confirmation and omens from his masters and colleagues. Then, in June 1853, the 9th Situ, who was considered an emanation of Marpa, died. As the omens for the composition were good and as Kongtrul wished to honor the memory of his deceased master by creating a collection including all of Marpa’s tantras so that it would be available in Palpung (dPal spungs), he finally accepted the request and started his task by compiling the manuals for the Hevajra transmission.

Over the next year, he consulted all available materials, compiled what was suitable and composed new manuals, all the while doing personal practices on these tantras. During the process, he was blessed first by the visit of the 6th Traleb Yeshe Nyima (Khra lebs Ye shes nyi ma (19th c.)), who held the complete transmission of the works of the 4th Zhamar (Zhwa dmar). Traleb was the recipient of a very pure lineage coming from Belo Tshewang Kunkhyab (’Be lo tshe dbang kun khyab (18th c.)), a disciple of the 8th Situ, who himself had received several lines of transmission from the 4th Zhamar, including the Drigung (’Bri gung) one mentioned above. Additionally, in the spring of 1854, Kongtrul was granted the transmission of the complete works of Tāranātha by Karma Osel Gyurme (Karma ’Od gsal ’gyur med (d.u.)), and he completed a first version of his work in the summer of that year.”

”He then revised the collection several times (in 1856, 1881 and 1886), enriching it with the new transmissions he was receiving from various masters. He transmitted it completely for the first time in the spring of 1860, to the 14th Karmapa Thegchog Dorje (Theg mchog rdo rje (1798-1868)). He transmitted it again to the 15th Karmapa Khakyab Dorje (mKha’ khyab rdo rje (1871-1922)) in Tsa ’dra in 1887, together with the entire range of Karma Kagyu (bka’ brgyud) transmissions. On that occasion, many more lamas came to receive the transmission, so that the hermitage was completely full.” (DUCHER 2017 : 84)

Kongtrul also states in his autobiography (see BARRON 2003:96) that in the fifth month of the Water-Tiger year (1854-55): 

There, I codified the texts for some thirteen tantras; in addition to those that
were already well-known, I included some of the other tantras transmitted by Marpa. These included the sadhanas, mandala rituals, and other necessary texts, as well as instructions on the stages of completion, formal authorizations, and cycles concerning the guardian deities. I gave this collection the title The Tantric Treasury of the Kagyü School. With this, I completed the work that I had begun the year before. On a number of occasions (I can’t pinpoint when), I dreamed of excellent signs that I was receiving blessings. I received some amazing prophecies concerning the tantras of Marpa. I saw prophecies by Naropa written on the walls of many temples. In the center of a delightful temple, in which all the tantras were housed, I saw the deity Vajra Chaturpitha Yoga, blue like the sky; it was as though I actually met the deity. And I opened a cloth scroll, said to be a blessed object copied by Rechungpa and Karma Pakshi from Chakrasamvara on Sinpori Mountain; inside I clearly saw the syllables Om ah hum hrih in Sanskrit, whereupon I felt faith and received the four levels of empowerment. However, I didn’t note these experiences down at the time, so now I can’t recall much of what happened.

Kongtrul mentions the Tibetan works that precede him and differentiates five stages of source writings available to him and that he consulted in order to compile the work (from DUCHER: 72-73):

  1. The earliest Tibetan texts by Mar pa [commentaries on Hevajra and Pañjara]; the manuals composed by Ngog Zhewang Dorje (rNgog Zhe sdang rdo rje) as well as his commentary on the Two Segments [i.e. the Hevajratantra, called] Likeness of a Precious Ornament; the Collected [Works] of Gar (mGar [bKra shis dbang phyug]) and Tsag rTsags [Dar ma rgyal po, who were mDo sde’s main disciples]); the “Old rNgog maṇḍalas,” which are compilation of manuals by later rNgog such as Kun dga’ rdo rje, Thogs med grags pa, Rin chen bzang po, and so on.
  2. The Karmapas. The manuals composed by the Venerable Omniscient Rangjung Dorje (Rang byung rdo rje [3d Karmapa, 1284-1339]) on the three—Hevajra, Cakrasaṃvara and Guhyasamāja—as well as on Mahāmāyā, and so on; and by his successors: the Venerable Thongwa Donden ([mThong ba] Don ldan) the 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyatso ([Karma pa, Chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506]); [the 8th Karma pa] Mikyo Dorje (Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507- 1554)); the Great Jamyang ( ’Jam dbyangs [Don grub ’od zer]) from Tsurphu (mTshur phu (14th-15th c)), and so on, that is to say the main Kamthsang (Kaṃ tshang) tradition, in which many manuals on most tantras of the Mar rNgog [tradition] were composed.
  3. The “Manuals on rNgog Maṇḍalas” composed by Thrimkhang Lochen Sonam Gyamtso (Khrims khang Lo chen bSod nams rgya mtsho). They provide outlines and clarify practices on the basis of the Old rNgog Maṇḍalas. Based on these, the manuals of the Lord Chennga (sPyan snga). He was a disciple of the 5th Karma pa Dezhin Shegpa (bDe bzhin gshegs pa (1384-1415)) and a master of Lochen Sonam Gyatso. He was the abbot of Tshurpu Monastery for 45 years and developed the Tshurpu tradition of astrology have the wise vision endowed with the two forms of knowledge which thoroughly strains the stains of errors.
  4. The great Venerable Jo nang [Tāranātha, 1575-1634] cleaned the general hybridations and crossovers [which had crept in] the rNgog practices and composed manuals which purely and unmistakably expound the Indian root texts and Mar pa’s interpretation.
  5. Lord Karma Chagme (Chags med) summarized thoroughly the extensive initiation texts which are set in for example the Old rNgog Maṇḍalas by unifying the self and front [generation stages], thus speeding up the empowerment.”

Kongtrul states that: ” I mainly took as a base the writings of the Lord sPyan snga [the 4th Zhwa dmar] and the Venerable Jo nang [Tāranātha], which are unmistaken as to the meaning and have a majestic blessing.”

Ducher notes in a footnote (81: n253) that:

”In the collection, there are two types of texts, those composed by Kongtrul and those composed by other authors. In all, there are 126 texts. Out of these 126, 70 were authored by Kongtrul (55,6 %), 37 by other authors (29,3 %), two texts are tantras (1,6 %) and sixteen (13,5 %) are anonymous. Among texts by other authors, five come from Tāranātha, but none from the fourth Zhamar or Karma Chagme. Most of the others come from Karma Kagyu hierarchs, three from Buton Rinchen Drub (Bu ston Rin chen grub), and eight from rNgog masters (all on Dud sol ma).”

 

Contents

The complete Tibetan titles and texts within the volumes have not been translated or published in English as a collection. Ducher explains that:

”There are several generally available tables of contents for the KGND. A short presentation and table of contents is translated in the end of Kongtrul’s Autobiography; a list of titles of the 1982 edition is displayed on TBRC and on the Rangjung Yeshé Wiki. There are also two catalogues of teachings received, by Dilgo Khyentse (Dil mgo mkhyen brtse) and Dudjom Rinpoche (bDud ’joms Rin po che). Above all, there is Kongtrul’s introduction, which presents the origin of the transmissions, the contents, the circumstances of composition, as well as a short presentation of the transmissions themselves and of their respective lineages.”

Several empowerments of the entire Treasury have been given by Kagyu and Nyingma masters in recent years, such as HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche (who has given it several times).

I recently translated a schedule of the empowerment of the Treasury, by HE 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche (see below). The empowerments started on 1st March 2019 in Bhutan at the Karma Drubde Nunnery (a nunnery set up by the Kagyu yogi-scholar, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamsto Rinpoche). The empowerments and transmissions normally take three to six weeks (depending on the lama) in total.


Vajravarahi Five Deity Mandala. This painting is dated to the early 16th century because of the presence of seven images of Karmapa wearing the characteristic black hat. The 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyatso lived between 1454-1506. The composition can be dated to circa 1500 or even a little earlier. Reproduced from Himalayan Art Resources here.

There is also a nice resource, with images, of the general contents condensed into six volumes on the Himalayan Art page. However, the best and most thorough detail on the contents can be found in DUCHER 2017:78-84.

Kongtrul’s Three Divisions

In the Introduction and Outline of the Treasury (1982 edition) Kongtrul divides it into three Sections – Initial Virtue (thog mar dge ba), Middling Virtue (bar du dge ba), Final Virtue (tha mar dge ba).

  1. Intitial Virtue

Ducher explains: ”The first of the six volumes is made up of what Kongtrul considers auspicious for a beginning: White Tāra, Amitāyus and Marpa’s three special deities—Uṣṇīṣavijayā (gTsug tor rnam rgyal ma), Green Tāra (sGrol ma ljang mo) and Vajrasattva from King Dzaḥ (rGyal po dzaḥ nas brgyud pa’i rdo rje sems dpa’). He also includes the practice of Vajrapāṇi to dispel obstacles, and practices on the master (bla ma mchod pa) to open the doors of blessing…… He indicates at the end of the presentation of the initial virtue that the empowerments of this part only consist in authorizations of practice (rjes gnang). Complete empowerments to a tantra (dbang) are only in the second part. As one cannot technically receive an authorization of practice before having had one’s mind matured by an empowerment, the transmission of the KGND set can be granted in the order of the manual only if the student already received a complete empowerment. If that is not the case, the master should start with the transmission of the highest yoga tantras of the second part, and then proceed with the first part and end with the third, protectors. ”

Kongtrul includes sādhanas and activity rites for the main transmissions of Hevajra, Nairātmyā, Mahāmāyā, Catuṣpīṭha, Nāmasaṃgīti, and Guhyasamāja. He also includes instructions (khrid) on their perfection phase, excepting for Cakrasaṃvara, which, he says, are well preserved elsewhere.

2. The Middling Virtue

This is the heart of the collection, from volume two to five. It consists in sixteen transmissions associated with thirteen highest yoga tantras.

”The first three transmissions in the collection (Hevajra nine deities, Nairātmyā fifteen deities and Pañjāra combined families) belong to the Hevajra cycle. The perfection phase associated with it is called merging and transference (bsre ’pho). It was the main practice of Mar pa and the rNgog, and is the one expounded in most detail in the KGND. Four maṇḍalas (Peaceful Cakrasaṃvara Vajrasattva from the Saṃputatantra, Cakrasaṃvara five deities, Vajravārāhī five deities and Six Cakravartin Cakrasaṃvara from the Abhidhānottaratantra) are associated with the Cakrasaṃvaratantra and two of its explanatory tantras. Their perfection phase is called the six doctrines of Nāropa (nā ro chos drug). Following in the footsteps of Mi la ras pa and many of the Karma pas, most practitioners of the Karma bka’ brgyud school rely on Cakrasaṃvara as their main practice, hence the continuity of the six doctrines as they are practiced in relation with Cakrasaṃvara is assured, and Kong sprul does not include instructions on them. Mahāmāyā is expounded through both the main maṇḍala in five deities and instructions on the perfection phase, as is Buddhakapāla, with a maṇḍala of twenty-five deities and its perfection phase. As far as Catuṣpīṭha is concerned, there are the two maṇḍalas of Yogāmbara (the male deity) and Jñānaḍākinī (the female deity), together with the perfection phase of that tantra. ….

Additionally, Kongtrul includes two transmissions of Mar pa that belong to the mahāyogatantra class, Guhyasamāja and Nāmasaṃgīti. Tantras in that class are distinguished according to the three poisons, desire, anger, and ignorance. Guhyasamāja belongs to the desire class….

Kongtrul includes three more cycles of the father tantras in order to cover mahāyoga tantras of the anger type, although these transmissions do not come from Mar pa. These are the cycles of Yamāntaka five deities according to Birvapa’s tradition, Vajrabhairava nine deities according to Mal Lo tsā ba’s tradition, and Vajrapāṇi five deities according to Ras chung pa’s tradition. No specific perfection phase is included. In the end of the fifth volume, Kong sprul gathers several Mar pa bKa’ brgyud rituals that do not rely on one tantra in particular but explain more general aspects of Mar pa’s transmissions such as gaṇacakras (tshogs mchod), consecrations (rab gnas), empowerments, and so on. Kong sprul does not explicitly mention these texts in the catalogue, hence they tend to be displaced or lost in the various editions. ” (From DUCHER 2017: 82-83).

3. Final Virtue

”In the sixth volume are collected texts that make up the final virtue, with four cycles of protective deities. The first is a transmission of the wisdom-protector Four-Arm Mahākāla with thirteen deities. ….The second, Vajramahākāla, is derived from the Pañjaratantra and was passed through the rNgog….Third is the cycle of Dhūmāṅgārī (Dud sol ma), which is derived mainly from the Catuṣpīṭhatantra and became the central protective deity of the rNgog pa bka’ brgyud teaching. …Closing the collection is the transmission of the five bKra shis tshe ring ma, a group of female protectors particularly associated with Mi la ras pa and the “lineage of practice” (brgub brgyud). ”

The 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche explained to me that the reason the Third Section, the Protectors, are not in the public schedule of the empowerments in Bhutan is because they are only given to people who will practise them in a three year retreat so are not given publicly. He stated that was the instruction he was given by HH Dilgo Khyentse on that.

Editions of the Text

Kongtrul’s Edition

Ducher explains that: ”Kongtrul completed a first version of the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras in the summer of 1854. He then revised the collection several times (in 1856, 1881 and 1886), enriching it with the new transmissions he was receiving from various masters. Kong sprul was based in Palpung (dPal spungs) Monastery, in Khams, located to the south of the capital city of sDe dge. From the 1850s, he lived in the nearby retreat centre of Tsadra Rinchen Drag (rTsa ’dra rin chen brag), about one hour walk up the mountain behind Palpung. Kongtrul’s Five Treasuries were all initially printed at the Palpung printing house, which is located a few hundred meters from the main temple. ”

There are three sourced editions listed of the Treasury on the TBRC website.

Bhutanese edition, 1982

The first is an edition published in Bhutan, 1982 by Lama Ngodrup at the request of HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It is eight volumes in length, and was expanded by Dilgo Khyentse to include special teachings concerned with Vajrapani according to the Ngok tradition (W20876). This is the edition that Ducher relies on in her thesis, the reason for that being that: ”The 1982 edition by Khyentse (mKhyen brtse), on the other hand, corresponds exactly to the catalogue set by Kongtrul, with no text missing, and with a continuous numbering in each volume. It is probably for this reason that it became the reference edition, and is the reference for the present study. ” (DUCHER: 78).

Palpung, 2010

The second edition is a block print was published in India, 2010, by the
Palpung Sungrab Publishing House. Its contents have been condensed into three volumes (W8LS31021) .

Palchen

A third edition listed is a modern computer print of five volumes, published by Palchen Choling Shesel Publishing ( dpal chen chos gling shes gsal dpe skrun khang ) ( W3CN3118).

Other editions not uploaded on TBRC are one by Jamyang Khyentse, that has been catalogued in terms of its original sources (it seems) in Tibetan wylie by the late translator-practitioner, Edward Henning here.

Shechen Publications, 2004

The edition is the one being used by 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche for the transmissions in Bhutan. It is a pecha block print edition published by Shechen Publications in 2004. Below is a photo of the preface in English to it (photos courtesy of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, I have not seen this edition in person). The preface states that this edition was done under the direction of HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and that, ‘the original three-volume Palpung (spal pungs) edition (which fills Vol. 1-6 of it) has been supplemented by five additional volumes (vol.7-11). The two first ones pertain to the cycle of Vajrapani (phyag na rdo rje) in the wrathful form of rdor rje gtum po. The three last volumes comprise extensive commentaries on the rgyud bla ma, the rgyud brtag gnyis and the zab mo nang don. An earlier edition of the eight first volumes is the one published in Paro in 1982, see above.

HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche told me that he received the transmission himself from HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at Kuje Lhakhang, Bumthang, Bhutan when he was nine years old. He did not receive the extended edition as published by Shechen, which was compiled afterwards, and so does not give those additional volumes in his own transmissions of the texts.

In conclusion, as Ducher also states, there has been little written in English about the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras, despite it being a text of importance for the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, as well as a text of historical importance of the Marpa-Ngog lineages. Ducher’s thesis discusses this Treasury in detail and for that reason it is worth reading that section on it if you can. If you don’t then I hope this brief introduction on it here helps people to get more an idea of the extraordinary texts contained within it and how it came about.

KGND-in-Céciles-PHD-thesis
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