The Shangpa tradition of study and practice is based on the sutras and the tantras and its diffusion spreads far beyond any specific school. As Jamgön Kongtrül used to say, the listening, reflecting and meditating abilities of those who follow Khyungpo, the King of the Yogis, are inconceivable and widely spread.
The Shangpa tradition has never been summed up in only one transmission with its own coherence or in one institution that would be its exclusive repository, even in the time of Khyungpo Naljor. Kongtrül Rinpoche always said about this fact: “if no summary of all the aspects of this tradition existed at its origins, what would be the purpose to do it today?”
However, if for didactic reasons, one wished to make a summary, it is possible to see it from three progressive approaches of the path: exposition, debate and practice.
The two first elements infused a number of schools and lineages, particularly the Jonangpa school. Unfortunately, the chaotic history of that school would require a extensive research study in order to identify, in its exposition and debate corpus, what comes from Khyungpo Naljor himself.
However, the progressive approach of the meditative practice has remained famous and includes five great cycles: from Niguma; Sukhasiddhi; Dorjé Denpa (the Tibetan name of Abhaya/Vajrasanapa); Maitripa and Rahula.
In the presentation by Jamgön Kongtrül, the teachings and practices of the Shangpa Kagyü lineage are on one hand the “Five Golden Dharmas” and on the other hand, various other transmissions.
The “Five Golden Dharmas” of Niguma
The teachings and practices special to the Shangpa Kagyü lineage are “The Five Golden Dharmas of the Shangpa” (tib : shangs pa gser chos lnga), on account of Khyungpo Naljor having offered Niguma much gold for these teachings.
They are likened to a tree with its roots, trunk, branches, flowers and fruit:
The roots: the Six Doctrines of Niguma (rtsa ba ni gu chos drug)
The Vajrapadas say, with reference to the Six Doctrines:
Matured by the four empowerments,
endowed with faith and strenuousness,
training in the preliminaries on impermanence, revulsion for and the shortcomings of samsara,
whoever strives upon this surpreme path,
will attain Buddhahood within six month, a year or during this life!
Accordingly, an individual who is spiritually matured by receiving the empowerments of the five Tantras which are taught in the “Ocean of Jewels of the Great Tantras”, or of the mandala of Śri-Cakrasaṃvara, and the transmitted blessings of the Six Doctrines, and who has well practised the common preliminaries, first purifies himself (or herself for that matter) by means of the practice of “The empty Enclosure of A” (a’i stong ra). Then, by way of the practice of “The Path of Skillfull Means”, the warmth of well-being blazes naturally. Through the yoga of “Illusory Form” attachments and aversions dissolve naturally. Through the yoga of “Dream” the subtle bewilderment (which underlies all bewilderment) is naturally cleansed. By way of the yoga of “Clear Light” ignorance is naturally dispelled. Establishing these four as the root, the defilements which arise in the bewilderment of the four states of being (waking, deep sleep, dream and meditative absorption) are removed. The remaining two, “Transference of Consciousness”, by which Buddhahood is attained without having realised it in meditation, and the “Intermediate State”, by which the Sambhogakaya-aspect of Buddhahood is realised, are practiced as an appended meditational sequence for those who are lacking in strenuousness and acumen, whereupon, according to the grades of excellence, mediocrity or inferiority, one becomes liberated in one or another of the three intermediate states.
The trunk: the Mahamudra of the Amulet Box (sdong po phyag chen ga’u ma)
The scholar-saint Khyungpo Naljor was exceedingly proud of the Vajrapadas which contain the precepts of the essential points which can not be formulated intellectually. He therefore inserted the paper rolls upon which they had been written into a small Nepalese amulet-box and wore them around his neck. Thus these precepts became known as the “Mahāmudrā of the Amulet-Box”. One first cultivates tranquility (zhi gnas) and insight into the nature of reality (lhag mthong) by way of the preliminary practice of “The natural settling of Body, Speech and Mind” (rang babs gsum). Then, in the actual practice, the invocation of the vajra-like primordial awareness allows one to steal a glimpse that introduces Mahāmudrā, whereupon, through the natural dissolution of the four faults (which would otherwise obstruct further progress), all doubts in respect to the nature of mind-as-such are resolved. In the final practice, one sustains the three Kayas which have come about spontaneously and, by relying on extraordinary means of boosting the practice and removing obstacles, Mahāmudrā, which is the heart of the doctrines of all Sutras and Tantras, as well as the very essence of all meditational precepts, becomes fully manifest as the natural liberation which is the realisation of the four Kayas.
As mentioned above, the “Amulet-box Mahāmudrā” is called thus because Khyungpo Naljor kept and wore the instructions in such a box around his neck. To this Taranatha adds: “There are many who wish to introduce all sorts of more profound or esoteric explanations for its name, such as ‘the jewel of mind is inserted into the amulet-box of means and wisdom.’ All of that talk is just meaningless gossip and an expression of confusion!”
Adapted from a booklet by Prof. Matthew Kapstein – which encourages copying and free distribution:
The branches: the Three Carry-Overs (of phenomena and appearances) onto the path (yal kha lam khyer rnam gsum)
By carrying over onto the path all phenomena of appearance, sound and thought, through the essential understanding that in actuality they are the Guru, the deity and apparitional, in a matter of months or a year one realises the unity of clarity and emptiness as surpreme bliss and the three Kayas are naturally realised.
Adapted from a booklet by Prof. Matthew Kapstein – which encourages copying and free distribution:
The flowers: the White and Red Forms of the Khecari (me tog mkha’ spyod dkar dmar)
By means of particularly exalted supplication and meditational topics one arouses the sun- and moon-coloured forms of the “Victoriously Transcendent Vajra-Lady” (bcom ldan ‘das ma rdo rje btsun mo) and the “Inner Heat” of the unity of bliss and emptiness, which is based on both passion and its dissolution in the four centres, blazes up. Supported by that, one comes to voyage in the space of surpreme unity.
Adapted from a booklet by Prof. Matthew Kapstein – which encourages copying and free distribution:
The fruit: the Immortal and the Infallible (‘bras bu ’chi med ’chugs med)
The body is set upon the path of spiritual freedom through the practices of the 32 yogic exercises through which immortality is achieved. Because ones own mind is primordially unborn, it is established as immortal and surpremely liberated in and of itself. This bodily mass, which is nothing but the fruit of karmic ripening, is an assembly of inanimate matter, devoid of any basis for a determination of birth or death. In fact, if one has confidence, based on the realisation that the body itself has arisen as a mere mental projection, and that mind is devoid of birth and death, then the bodily form becomes fixed in the Mahāmudrā, the boundless expanse in which there is no erring due to bewildering appearances and phenomena, as the very embodiment of the divine. It is taught that through the application of even just some of these precepts, the embodiment of transcendent unity (zung ‘jug gi sku) may be attained during this lifetime, and that by merely hearing them, one may achieve Buddhahood in the Sambhogakaya-aspect of the Victorious Ones during the intermediate states.
Adapted from a booklet by Prof. Matthew Kapstein – which encourages copying and free distribution
There are also additional transmissions such as (to name just a few):
The “Six Doctrines of Sukhasiddhi” (su kha siddhi chos drug)
The “Six Doctrines of Sukhasiddhi”, another type of Six Doctrines, very similar to the Six Doctrines of Niguma or those of Naropa, from among the teachings of the Shangpa Kagyu, handed down from the dakini Sukhasiddhi in person to Khedrub Khyungpo Naljor, but also in visionary experiences to other masters such as Mokchokpa Rinchen Tsondrü, Thangtong Gyalpo, Jetsün Tāranātha and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, to name just a few.
The “Combined Accomplishment of the Four Deities” (lha bzhi dril grub)
An elaborate guruyoga practice, one of the core practices of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, focusing upon the idealized form of the guru as Buddha Vajradhara. The four deities surrounding him are the Six-armed Mahakala, Vajrayogini, Avalokiteshvara and Green Tara. In the tradition there are two empowerments for the practice, a stand-alone one for the practice as such and one among the Thirteen Empowerments of the Protector.
The practice originates with the Indian Mahasiddha Shavaripa and was transmitted to Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, by both Maitripa and Rahula. Apparently Sukhasiddhi also held a lineage for this practice, but it is not quite clear whether Khyungpo Naljor received it from her as well or not. Shavaripa had a vision of the Six-armed Mahakala while meditating in a cave not far from Bodhgaya. Soon thereafter Vajrayogini, Avalokiteshvara and Green Tara appeared to Shavaripa as well and, as the protector before them, offered their sadhanas to him. He then combined them into a single practice with the addition of the guru as Vajradhara. Maitripa learned it from him and wrote it down. Rahula was blessed by a vision of the deities at birth. While Khyungpo Naljor received the transmission from Maitripa in India, Rahula came to visit him in Tibet and gave it to him once again. Khyungpo Naljor was famous for being able to visibly manifest the deities above his head. He did so shortly before he passed away and gave the empowerment to students a final time while saying, “This is how you should practice!” His immediate lineage holder, Mokchokpa Rinchen Tsondrü, did the practice exclusively for seven or eight years during a twelve-year meditation retreat. His main student, Kyergangpa Chökyi Senge, did the practice for only twenty-one days and as of then had a constant vision of the deities above his head.
The practice is considered so profound because it includes everything necessary for the swift attainment of liberation and enlightenment. From the instruction manual by Jamgon Kongtrul:
“The contemplative practice of the Lama Vajradhara grants the highest accomplishments in this very life. Speedy attainment of the stages of the path depends upon two factors. Dispelling of hindrances and enhancement of contemplative experience. The ultimate method for dispelling outer hindrances is that of the Protector; for inner ones that of Tara. The very best method for the outer enhancement of loving kindness and compassion is the practice of Avalokiteshvara; for the inner enhancement of bliss and heat we practice Vajrayogini. Thus a single session of this practice covers every stage of the path. […] You can accomplish this in three months of undistracted practice. Meditation upon this without fail at each dawn session, brings about ordinary and extra-ordinary accomplishments!”
In his instruction manual on Six-armed Mahakala, the previous Kalu Rinpoche mentions in a note:
“At the time of approach, accomplishment and application of activities, this practice of the “Combined Accomplishment of the Four Deities” is indispensable. […] Complete this practice according to its sadhana and commentary, and you will dispel all outer and inner obstacles and receive blessings.”
The “Master and Protector Inseparable” (bla ma mgon po dbyer med)
bla ma mgon po dbyer med or bla mgon dbyer med for short, one of the three main aspects of the practice of the Six-armed Mahakala of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, the other two being “Dispelling Contamination” (grib sel) and “Magnetizing the Dakinis” (mkha’ ‘gro dbang ‘dus)
The Five Tantra Classes (rgyud sde lnga)
rgyud sde lnga; rgyud sde lha lnga – the “five tantra classes”; or “deities of the five tantra classes”
The main yidam practice of the Shangpa Kagyü tradition. It brings the deities of the Guhyasamaja tantra, Mahamaya tantra, Hevajra tantra, Chakrasamvara tantra and Vajrabhairava tantra into a single mandala, imagined within the body of Chakrasamvara. Khyungpo Naljor received the transmission for this practice several times from various masters, first from one of his six main teachers, the Indian pandita Vajrasana. A very profound and efficient practice which brings about experience and realization swiftly.
Jamgön Kongtrül mentions in his instruction manual:
“The learned and accomplished Khyungpo Naljor said : ‘Laden with lots of gold, I travelled all parts of India – its east, south, west and north – but not anywhere did I find instructions more profound or to the point than these.’ Three times did he swear to the truth of this statement! He also said ‘Put this into practice! If signs of success do not appear in due course, Vajradhara and I will have deceived you. If you practice this continuously, you will go to the pure realms after three years. This is for sure!'”
The Five Deities of Chakrasamvara (bde mchog lha lnga)
bde mchog lnga; ‘khor lo sdom pa lha lnga – the “five deities of Chakrasamvara”
Chakrasamvara is usually depicted in union with his consort Varjayoginī. He comes in a simple five deity mandala in his two-armed single-faced form and surrounded by four dakinis; as a twelve-armed and four-faced form surrounded by sixty-two deities; as well as in several dozen different many-armed and multiple-faced forms with many retinue figures, some peaceful some wrathful. The three main lineages of Cakrasaṃvara transmission, teachings and practice, which originated with the Indian Mahasiddhas Luipa, Ghantapada and Krishnacharya were all transmitted to Tibet and exist to the present day. It’s teachings and practices are mainly based on the Śrī cakrasaṃvara nāma mahāyoginī tantra rāja, which is however better known as the Śrīherukābhidhāna
Hayagriva according to Kyergangpa’s tradition (skyer sgang rta mgrin)
Aka Secret Accomplishment Hayagriva (rta mgrin gsang sgrub)
A Hayagriva practice discovered as a treasure teaching by Nyemo Tertön Sangye Wangchen (snye mo ba sangs rgyas dbang chen; aka rgya gong ri pa sangs rgyas dbang chen, 12th century) and Kyergangpa Chökyi Senge (1143-1216). Lama Kyergangpa was particularly devoted to the deity Hayagriva. Accordingly, in his dream practice, he visited the pure realm of Guru Padmasambhava repeatedly and received the full transmission of the rta mgrin gsang sgrub or “Secret Accomplishment Hayagriva.” As advised by Guru Rinpoche, he also requested these transmissions from a treasure revealer in Tibet, known as Nyemo Tertön. He greatly surprised the Tertön with his requests for this practice because the Tertön had kept his discovery of these teachings a complete secret. Two times the Tertön withheld some secret oral instructions, only to be asked specifically for them later. Thus it became apparent that Kyergangpa could only have been advised to ask for them by Guru Rinpoche in person. Kyergangpa spread this teaching among his students and it eventually became popular with several lineages. This Hayagriva cycle of teachings continues to be practiced among Shangpa Kagyu practitioners to the present day and is also very popular among Gelugpa practitioners.
mgon po phyag drug pa, aka myur mdzad mgon po, myur mdzad ye shes kyi mgon po, myur mdzad ye shes kyi mgon po phyag drug pa, etc.
The Swift-acting Six-armed Awareness Protector, the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its followers, commonly known as the Six-armed Mahakala, a wrathful emanation of the Great Compassionate One, Arya Avalokiteshvara, a dharmapala whose transmission originated with the Indian Mahasiddha Shavaripa. The transmission was received by Khedrub Khyungpo Naljor, both in India and Tibet, from his teachers Maitripa and Rahula. The Six-armed Protector is the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its practitioners to the present day. Ever since the incomparable Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa received these transmissions from Jagchen Jampa Pal, the Six-armed Protector is also one of the main protective deities of the Gelugpa school. There are also other lineages of Six-armed Mahakala practice, but they all go back to Khyungpo Naljor’s original introduction of this cycle of empowerments, teachings and practices into Tibet. The sole exception is the Six-armed Mahakala treasure teaching revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and included in his collected terma treasures, the Chokling Tersar.
White Protector Wish-fulfilling Jewel
The White Protector Wish-fulfilling Jewel mgon dkar yid bzhin nor bu, aka nor bu dbang gi rgyal po, the main variant form of the black or blue-black Six-armed Mahakala, main protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition. Included among the “Thirteen Empowerments of the Protector. ” After Khedrub Khyungpo Naljor‘s original introduction of this teaching cycle into Tibet, the two main forms of the six-armed protector became popular with all the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Whereas the blue-black form of the protector is practiced mainly for protective purposes, this semi-peaceful white form is worshiped mainly for wealth and prosperity, and particularly to relieve the suffering of poverty of others. As Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche used to inform the many who requested this empowerment from him, to attempt to practice this, or any other wealth deity for that matter, with the sole aim of becoming rich oneself, would the worst of motivations and completely wrong!
From the instruction manual by Jamgon Kongtrul:
“If you have worshiped either protector, black or white, with the sole aim of gaining power or wealth for yourself, you have created obstacles for the attainment of the supreme accomplishment and not even your ordinary hopes and wishes will be fulfilled!”
The Thirteen Empowerments of the Protector
A series of empowerments for the various aspects of the “Swift-acting Six-armed Awareness Protector” (myur mdzad ye shes kyi mgon po phyag drug pa) commonly known as the Six-armed Kamala, who is considered a wrathful emanation of the Great Compassionate One, Arya Avalokiteshvara. He is the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its practitioners to the present day. Included among the thirteen empowerments are the regular wrathful black form known as the “Dispeller of All Obstacles” (bar chad kun sel) and the semi-peaceful white form known as the “White Protector Wish-fulfilling Jewel” (mgon dkar yid bzhin nor bu), which are the two main aspects of the protector. Whereas, as his name suggests, the wrathful black “Dispeller of All Obstacles” is practiced for protective purposes, the semi-peaceful white “Wish-fulfilling Jewel” is worshiped mostly as a wealth deity. There are also the yellow, red, green and maroon protector, and the protector with various configurations of retinues, with or without consorts etc. A special transmission of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, originating with the Indian Mahasiddha Shavaripa, which was received by Khedrub Khyungpo Naljor, both in India and Tibet, from his teachers Maitripa and Rahula. Ever since the incomparable Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa, and one of his main students, Khedrub Je Geleg Palsang, received these transmissions from Jagchen Jampa Pal, and again from Müchen Namkhe Naljor, the Six-armed Protector is also one of the main protective deities of the Gelugpa school. There are also other lineages of Six-armed Mahakala practice, but they all go back to Khyungpo Naljor’s original introduction of this cycle of empowerments, teachings and practices to Tibet. The sole exception is the Six-armed Mahakala treasure teaching revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and included in his collected terma treasures, the Chokling Tersar.