Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Tingrian Couplets in the Meditation Manual

Padampa in Saspola Cave, Ladakh
Photo by Rob Linrothe

Here you will find on offer translations of six Tingrian Couplets. They were preserved in a 15th-century Nyingma & Kagyü meditation manual composed by Khedrup Yeshé Gyeltsen. Those interested in Tibeto-logical details can read all the way to the end of the blog if they like. 

The Tingri Gyatsa, or Tingri Hundred is a widely renowned monument of Tibetan literature, always attributed to the authorship of Padampa Sangye, the south Indian meditation master who died in Tibet in 1105 or 1117 CE. Like Kabir’s Dohas, it’s all in two-line verse form. Each couplet ought to end with a vocative, “[oh my] Tingrians!” And I should add, the word “my” is not intended as an expression of ownership, but one of affectionate concern. Now you know what a Tingrian Couplet is, and you are welcome to read a few samples just below.

I realize these couple of verses may not be enough for everyone, so with those less easily satisfied people in mind I’d like to offer a complete English translation (Tibetan text also supplied) of one version of the Tingri Hundred:

Tap here

If you feel you could use some introduction and discussion, go back to our blog of December 2008, the one with the title “The Tingri Hundred”:

• 1 •

Dampa said,

Delusions are not there in the base, they arise incidentally.

Comprehending this characteristic is enough, my Tingrians.

• 2 •

Lord Dampa Gyagar said,

If you are unable to renounce sangsaric dharmas,

even knowing all the scriptures is of no help.

• 3 & 4 •

By Dampa:

When your own aims are not fulfilled you do the aims of others no good.

First of all, do your practices, my Tingrians.

Forming easy relations with delusive appearances, you mix with them.

Bring understanding in their wake, my Tingrians.

• 5 •

If there is something you are attached to, that same thing also binds you.

There is no need for it whatsoever, my Tingrians.

• 6 •

By Padampa Gyagar:

Of all the virtues, rejoicing in others’ success is the best.

Don’t be envious of others my Tingrians.

§   §   §

Bibliographical affairs

I made use of one particularly fine cursive manuscript version of a previously unstudied (and needless to say untranslated) text by a teacher of Katok Monastery named Khedrup Yeshé Gyeltsen. I want to give him the dates 1395 to 1458 CE simply because that’s what I find in Cuevas’ book and Ehrhard’s essay, both listed below. However, Chatral Rinpoche’s history of Katok Monastery gives him a birthdate of 1455, sixty years later, so there is room for discussion. For the time being we can at least be satisfied that he lived in the 15th century. He exists in the BDRC database (see no. P10291), but no dates were there when I looked earlier today. 

I would say that there is nothing remotely comparable to his meditation manual, but that isn’t quite true. It reminds you overall of a much better known anthology of quotations about meditation, the one by Takpo Tashi Namgyal. The latter, written a century later, is entirely a Kagyü work. It scarcely quotes from works of Nyingmapas and Zhijepas, whereas this meditation manual from Katok Monastery explicitly states in its opening words that it encompasses “Zhi Rdzogs Phyag.”  That means Zhijé, Dzogchen and Mahâmudrâ.  We don’t often see them in a triad like this.*

(*Indeed, searching through the 15 million pages of the BUDA database in less than half a minute turns up only three positive matches, and wouldn’t you know, all three of them appear to share the same authorship with the meditation manual.)

Folio 1 verso. Notice the phrase zhi rdzogs phyag gsum in the middle of line 3.

  • Another difference is that the meditation manual starts out with a lengthy section covering the normal topics of preliminary practices, or sngon-'gro, that we are accustomed to finding in tenrim (bstan-rim), and lamrim (lam-rim) texts. These topics include contemplations on impermanence, the rareness of human rebirth, and so on. I think you know about these things already.

  • As far as Zhijé materials are concerned, the meditation manual embraces a lot more than just the few Tingrian couplets we’ve in this weblog. Most remarkably, it has an entire section near the end, running from folio 523 to 550, filled with material from the Kunga questions-and-answers texts (I haven’t identified which one yet, but you can be sure I will be looking into this sometime soon).

Chatral Rinpoche (Bya-bral Sangs-rgyas-rdo-rje, 1913-2015), Dpal Kaḥ-thog-pa’i Chos-’byung Rin-chen Phreng-ba, Snga-’gyur Bstan-pa’i ’Byung-gnas Kaḥ-thog Rdo-rje-gdan (n.d.), in 221 pages, composed between 1985 and 1988. TBRC no. W3CN3398. 

The biographical sketch of Khedrup Yeshé Gyaltsen is found at pp. 53-55. Here we find his Dzogchen and Marpa Kagyü (that means Smar-pa Bka'-brgyud, not Mar-pa Bka'-brgyud) studies emphasized, with no mention of Zhijé. We do find mention of his composition of our meditation manual, on p. 54, with the title Phyag-rgya-chen-po'i Khrid-gzhung Snying-po Don-gyi Man-ngag Rgya-mtsho'i Gter-mdzod. It’s intriguing to know that he spent much of his later life in meditation retreats in regions of far eastern Tibet, in the neighborhoods of the holy mountain Kawa Karpo, and even in ’Jang, or present-day north Yunnan. He may have even visited Shangrila, made virtually real only recently.

Bryan Cuevas, The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2003), p. 144.

Franz Karl Ehrhard, “Kaḥ thog pa Bsod nams rgyal mtshan (1466-1540) and His Activities in Sikkim and Bhutan,” Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 39, no. 2 (November 2003), pp. 9 26. At p. 9 please note the dates of our author. The same date for him, along with an alias Bu-’bor Ye-shes-rgyal-mtshan, may be found in Cuevas’ book.

Matthew T. Kapstein, ed., Tibetan Manuscripts and Early Printed Books, Cornell University Press (Ithaca 2024), in 2 vols. 

I urge you, order this exceptionally interesting and beautiful book, then look at vol. 1, p. 131. Figure 4.7 shows the title page, in color, of a different manuscript of the meditation manual than the one I used. It labels as its source The British Library Board, Or.15292, dating the manuscript to ca. 16th century.  To see it in black-and-white, see TBRC no. W1CZ892. Its title-page title is Rdzogs-pa-chen-po Snying-po Don-gyis Gter-mdzod. This manuscript has quite a few very well executed miniature paintings, but seeing them in TBRC’s poorly scanned microfilm is more than a little sad.

The label says it’s Garab Dorje

Khedrup Yeshé Gyaltsen (Mkhas-grub Ye-shes-rgyal-mtshan), Mkhas-grub Dznyâ-na-ke-tus* mdzad-pa'i Man-ngag Rgya-mtsho, a cursive manuscript in 587 folios.  TBRC no. WA3CN2867.  

This is the only version I’ve made use of here (I supply the original folio numbers, not “image numbers” that are no more than accidental byproducts of the scanning process), even though there are at least three other versions of it that are possible to locate at BUDA website. Their titles are different, so best of luck finding them. One advantage of the version I used is that it marked the persons or texts it quotes from with red letters most of the time. That made it very simple to find the quotations I did find.

(*Technically Sanskrit ketu ought to be tog,  ‘pinnacle,’ in Tibetan. However, dhvaja-ketu (rgyal-mtshan-gyi tog, ‘pinnacle of the victory banner’) is such a common phrase, you could see how the two parts could get confounded. That’s how Dznyâ-na-ke-tu can be a Tibskritic form of Ye-shes-rgyal-mtshan. Is it clear? Putting the names of respected Tibetan teachers into Sanskritic form isn’t just a game they play. It shows respect.)

Takpo Tashi Namgyal (Dwags-po Bkra-shis-rnam-rgyal, 1513-1596?), Mahāmudrā: The Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Shambhala (Boston 1986). A fresh translation by Elizabeth Callahan was published not long ago. 

The problem of the author’s identity has been addressed and solved by Matthew Kapstein and David Jackson, and I believe them, but there is no way you can make me go into all that discussion right now.


Try going to the website of Katok Monastery at this address, and then look for "Yeshe Gyamtsen." The work we used here can be found there, listed among the thirteen primary sources for teachings at Katog. Its title is given in English as “Ocean of Mahamudra Core Instructions.” This is interesting, as other versions of the title lead you to think it would be exclusively devoted to Dzogchen.


From my Tibeto-logical research perspective, I was very excited to find these few quotations of Tingrian couplets. Why? First of all, just because I’ve found so little evidence for them between the 13th and 17th centuries. I always assumed or felt fairly sure they would have been known to many throughout that time, but even just a little more evidence is nice to see. Another matter: If you put the various versions side by side and compare them (as I have done, in a document that isn’t quite in good enough shape to share), you can see that over the centuries significant transformations took place. Some verses are made to yield quite different messages, and this is not always due to accidental misreadings of the manuscript by careless scribes. Sometimes motivated changes are the only explanations with feet on them. Our Tingrian Couplet no. 1 already supplies a good example.

I believe I have good enough reasons to support me if I say that the only Tingrian couplets Padampa actually composed was a set I call the Tingri Thirteen (or should that be Tingri Twelve?). These couplets were pronounced by Padampa as part of his last will and testament shortly before his death in 1105 or 1117. I’ve been meaning to put up a translation of it, but it needs more polishing. 

A much longer set was pronounced by his disciple Kunga shortly before his own death seven years later on. Both versions (for short I call them versions A and B) are 100% exclusive to the Zhijé Collection, or so I had thought until today. To my amazement, our meditation manual preserves two lines from the introductory verses to Kunga’s 118 Tringrian couplets (and it is therefore not technically a Tingrian couplet, but nonetheless...). It also quotes two couplets (nos. 3&4, above) that have parallels only in B, which tells us our 15th-century author had the Kunga version available to him. I can’t imagine how. (See now the added Postscript below.)

I would understand if you were to voice loud objections, criticizing the existing broad acceptance of all hundred or so Tingrian couplets as being by Padampa himself, when here we find the larger set is indeed spoken by Kunga. The introduction to Kunga’s set clarifies this. He is reading from something he had written down previously, and he insists that it does represent the essence of Padampas teachings. As I understand it, they were written after the model of the Tingri Thirteen as a homage, incorporating Padampa’s ideas and perhaps quite a few of his exact words, but, yes, written by Kunga.

Let me quote from my draft translation of the most relevant passage:

Standing before the yogis gathered here in glorious Tingri,

All people of stainless insight,

Great Sons happily abiding together. 

It isn't right for me to be giving this kind of muddled speech,

I who am like a firefly in the presence of the sun.

Still, these are the basic essentials of the teachings that came from Dampa,

So with affectionate thoughts I have set them down in writing.

Later on we will not meet, so listen as I read them to you now.

The intertextual connectedness between all the different versions is a subject I’ve been thinking over for a long time, but we can say that connections between A and the later versions C through F are quite few. Connections between B and the later versions are more evident and numerous, yet fully identical couplets are rare. Looking only at the later versions C through F, we can identify two recensions I believe are basic ones. I’ve called them the monkey and rhino recensions in an earlier blog. But as I said before, these critical reflections of mine about authorship have no bearing whatsoever on the Buddhist truth and/or spiritual authority of the texts themselves. The Tingrian couplets are great Tibetan poetry. Together they are a monument to the Tibetan language, a source of wisdom and inspiration regardless of your ideas about religions, and a trigger for reflection on life and its [mis]guided aims, no matter who wrote which one when. 

I know I should end on an uplifting note, but somehow I’m inclined to do nothing of the sort. These poetic lines from the meditation manual that follow are not Tingrian couplets, and neither could they be verified in any other source at my disposal as yet. It’s about disenchantment with religion. You can find them on folio 511 recto, line 3:

de yang pha dam pa rgya gar kyis /
dang po dad pa skyes pas gnam du dil dil mchong /
bar du dad pa yal ba ri kha (~re kha) rjes kyis gang /
tha ma dad pa log pas 'khor ba'i rting rdo btags / ces gsungs so //

Padampa Gyagar had something to say about that:

When faith first arose, you leapt freely into the sky. 

In the meantime faith dissolved, and you were full of erased sketches.

In the end faith was reversed, and sangsara’s anchor was tied fast.

Keep the faith, my friends, no matter what.

Philological scratchpad

Tingrian Couplet One (22r.2)

dam pas /

'khrul pa gzhi la med de glo bur byung /

mtshan nyid go bas chog go ding ri pa /

Dampa said,

“Delusions are not there in the base, they arise incidentally.

Comprehending this characteristic is enough, my Tingrians.”

Our new source for this verse certainly supports the readings of version B over C.  The second line of Version C reads quite differently, and yields a meaning that is less radically formulated* even while it introduces the potentially problematic concept of a ‘creator’ for delusion,** saying: “Look at the characteristics of its creator, my Tingrians” or “Inspect it for the marks of its maker”?

(*A reader of centuries gone by may have had problems with the idea that just comprehending the incidental character of delusion would be in itself sufficient for Enlightenment. These qualms may have lead them to imagine ways to improve it. **I don’t expect it to make sense very quickly, but Buddhists don’t award creator status to Brahma the way most other Indian religions do, although they do credit him with the narcissistic idea that he was the creator, the idea that world-creation happened because of his wish. Brahma, as a creator figure, does supply Buddhists with a myth of origins for delusion itself.)

-C12- (compare B51 and D37)

'khrul pa gzhi la med de glo bur gyur ||

byed mkhan mtshan nyid ltos shig ding ri ba ||

-B51- (compare C12 and D37)

'khrul pa gzhi la myed de blo bur byung /

mtshan nyid go bas chog go ding ri ba /

Tingrian Couplet Two (215r.1)

rje dam pa rgya gar gyis 

'khor ba'i chos la mi 'byung ma nus na / 

sde snod ma lus shes kyang phan mi thogs / ces gsung /

Lord Dampa Gyagar said,

“If you are unable to renounce sangsaric dharmas,

even knowing all the scriptures is of no help.”

These two lines belong uniquely and to my utter amazement to the Kunga version (version B) at the end of the introductory section that immediately precedes the first couplet, with Kunga doing the speaking:

skyid kyang 'gro dgos rin chen gling gi myi /

bstan yul ma yin 'jig rten brang ba'i sa /

'khor ba'i chos la yid 'byung ma nus na /

sde snod ma lus shes kyang phan mi thogs /

dam pa'i gdams pa yin no ding ri ba /

Even if he’s contented there, 

the man in the jewel island still has to go.

This world is no permanent abode.  

It’s nothing more than a travellers’ lodge.

If you are unable to renounce sangsaric dharmas,

even knowing all the scriptures would be no help.

This is the teaching of Dampa, my Tingrians.

Tingrian Couplets Three and Four (388r.1)

  • Note: I quote the larger context here starting at folio 388 recto, line 1, but only the couplets are translated.

dam pas /

bdud kyi 'jug pa dang po bya ba yin / rang lu (~chu) nang du 'jugs nas gzhan skal par thon par gar 'ongs skabs 'dir rang gis 'phel ba chad / gzhan la phan mi 'dog pas gzabs 'tshal / yang bsgrubs pa'i dus su gzhan don byar mi rung / dge sbyor 'phel ba chad do rang bzhin pa (~sa?) / 

rang don ma 'grubs gzhan don mi 'byung bas / 

thog mar bsgrub pa gyis cig ding ri pa / 

'khrul pa'i snang ba 'brel sla sru ba yin /  

go ba rjes la skyol cig ding ri pa /  

By Dampa,

“When your own aims are not fulfilled you do the aims of others no good.

First of all, do your practices, my Tingrians.

“Forming easy relations with delusive appearances, you mix with them.

Bring understanding in their wake, my Tingrians.”

For comparison (both verses are only found in B):


rang don ma bsgrubs gzhan don myi 'ong pas /

thog mar bsgrub pa gyis cig ding ri ba /


'khrul pa'i snang ba 'dris par sla ba yin /

go ca rjes la khol cig ding ri ba /

It's easy to get entangled in delusive apparitions.

Keep armour on your backs, my Tingrians.

The written similarity, particularly in a cursive manuscript, between go-ba, understanding, and go-ca (=go-cha, both spellings are found in Dunhuang texts), armor or military equipment is a problem, admittedly, although I believe the reading go-ba carries more weight, has more immediately cogency.

Tingrian Couplet Five (389v.5)

gang la zhen pa yod na de yang 'ching /

cis kyang dgos pa med do ring ring pa [~ding ri ba] / ces gsungs /

If there is something you are attached to, that same thing also binds you.

There is no need for it whatsoever, my Tingrians.

It is odd that this couplet doesn’t seem to exist in versions B or D, while the segment “de yang ’ching” finds no collaboration in any of the previously recorded versions. Still, I believe our new version is preferable.

For comparison:

-C16- (compare E14 and F14)

gang la zhen pa byung na de yang thongs ||

cis kyang dgos pa med do ding ri ba ||

-E14- (compare C16)

gang la zhen pa yong pa de blos thongs //

cis kyang dgos pa med do X  [3v]


Note:  Correct yong-pa to yod-pa.

Tingrian Couplet Six (467v.5)

pha dam pa rgya gar kyis /

dge ba'i nang nas rjes su yi rang mchog /

gzhan la 'phrag dog ma byed ding ri pa / ces gsungs pas /

By Padampa Gyagar:

“Of all the virtues, rejoicing in others’ success is the best.

Don’t be envious of others my Tingrians.”

For comparison:


dge ba'i nang nas rjes su yi rang mchog /

gzhan la phrag dog ma byed ding ri ba /

• • •

Postscript (July 20, 2024)

This dark and unclear detail clipped from a Shakyamuni Buddha thangka from the Giuseppe Tucci collection, can be better seen of you go here:

Once you are there, scroll down to the second painting. One thing I see significant about this is that Padampa is on the Kagyü side of the painting, balanced off by Gelugpa monks on the other side. If this is indeed as it says a 15th-century painting, it makes even more sense to find Padampa on a thangka likely made in an emerging Gandenpa/Gelugpa context. And we are reminded that the First Dalai Lama (1391-1475) had a family background of Zhijé practitioners.

To analyze what you see here a little more, the white blanket being the only clothing loosely wrapped around the lowest part of the body, and the ankles-crossed/knees up seating posture are both fairly secure diagnostic features of Padampa. The fact that he has ornaments on his otherwise unclothed torso and arms is frequent (its correctness is historically questionable if we rely on the earliest sources), but along with the flowers in his hair this might seem to point to (or indicate conflated with) the iconography of Virûpa. Still, I have no doubt it is Padampa who is depicted here.

The same painting also features in a 5-minute Asia Society video. I will try to embed it here, although if the embedding is unsuccessful you will see a jumble of letters and numbers that lead nowhere:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share" referrerpolicy="strict-origin-when-cross-origin" allowfullscreen></iframe>

If you do not see the video here just above, scroll down to the end of this blog because it might be "embedded" there. If not, go to YouTube and use their search facility to search for the following title, using the quote marks around it:  

“A Closer Look at Tibetan Thangkas”

I just wanted to tag on this bit of artistic evidence that helps us to argue for popular knowledge of Padampa in the 15th century, as if any such argument were needed.

Perhaps yet more persuasive would be more literary sources quoting from “his” Tingrian Couplets. I do know of some.

Most relevent here and now is one couplet quoted in the 15th-century Sakya teacher Müchen Könchog Gyaltsen's (1388-1469) Supplement to the Oral Tradition, as contained in Thupten Jinpa, tr., Mind Training: The Great Collection, Wisdom (Boston 2006), at p. 483: 

The master Dampa states: 

“Contemplating the sufferings of samsara pierces my heart; 

People of Dingri, laugh not at these matters.”  

The Tibetan for it reads: 

rje dam pa'i zhal nas | 

'khor ba'i sdug bsngal bsam na snying rlung ldang || 

'di la gad mo mi bro d[i]ng ra ba ||


With nothing to say about the translation already given, except to say that it’s a great one, I still try my hand at it:

“At thought of the bad points* of sangsara my heart pressure rises.
Nothing to laugh and dance about here, my Tingrians.”
(*I follow the text of B108 by reading nyes-dmigs in place of sdug-bsngal.) 

What impresses me almost as much as its very serious message with plenty of confirming evidence in today’s world, is that this couplet is uniquely found in Kunga’s set (version B), no. 108 of the 118 couplets. This does make the meditation manual’s  use of the Kunga set not quite unique, or only nearly unique.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Initiation Cards with a Lineage

Slob-dpon ’Bu-ta Kug-ta

I’ll admit the drawings may not be the finest of fine art. Still, undeniably pleasing overall. Face it, the coloration, plain clumsy, may have been added by a later owner. The black ink drawings themselves display an early style, one without a doubt inspired by a strong Pāla Era aesthetic. The more obviously odd aspects are the royal folds that rise up like stubby wings behind their shoulders, and the Indian pandita hats that look more like military helmets. The catalog, likely judging from the stylistic evidence, places their making in the 13th or 14th centuries. I would be inclined to move that back a century or more, seeing how the writing on the back of each card suggests it.*

(*This evidence includes the post-vowel use of 'a, in cases regarded as unnecessary by later scribes, the position of the "i" vowel above its root letter, and the relatively archaic ways of writing Indic names in Tibetan. On this last matter, more below.)

Since the writing is in cursive letters of the kind we don’t expect every Tibetanist to read with ease, I’ve transcribed the card backs in their entirety in an appendix at the end of this blog. This will also make the names available to internet searches in the future. I have added a series of alternative lineage lists, which ought to give you material for hours of entertainment if you should feel inclined.

These cards, called tsakali,* were created to serve in ritual contexts. Usually the words on the back are the ritual repetitions pronounced while the cards are held up and displayed to the people attending. These particular cards were meant to bring down the blessings of the transmission lineage during an empowerment. Even more than that, the past masters are requested to grant the empowerment that they themselves received at one time. Which empowerment? you might ask. 

(*The word tsa-ka-li is there to be found in a couple of Kanjur and Tanjur texts, and it must be a transcription of some Indic term that would look like *cakali or the like, yet the Indic term hiding behind those Tibetan letters has never been identified as far as I can know at this minute.)

They belonged to some ritual cycle of the Nyingma school, and clearly the one named Nubchen (Card 11) had much to do with it. Some push his birth back into the 8th century, but his period of activity seems to fall between 850 and 950 CE more or less. His work Lamp for Contemplation’s Eye has particularly prominence as a work that likely does date back to the post-dynastic era, or the Period of Fragmented Dominion. It has been much studied by Buddhologists but only recently translated in full by Dylan Esler.

I suppose the original 26 cards are kept in Munich, in the State and City Library there. What is more sure is that their digital scans are up on that library’s website. I recommend having a look at the entire set there, because here in this noncommercial educational blog you will only see the one I’ve chosen as our frontispiece. Go to, or just click on, this stable, permalinked URL:

Then use your German, even if it is small, to work your way to the PDF download of the entire set (hint: tick the box next to “Ja” the first chance you get), or if your German just isn’t up to the task, ask any German-speaking child for hilfe.

You will notice as soon as we leave the Indian (+Card 7, the one Newar) part of the lineage, the hats change from pundit hats to flat-brimmed ones (only two such hats, the rest go bareheaded). Many of the Tibetans are styled as Lha-rje, physician, and most of them belong to the So family, an important family transmission for various teachings of the Nyingma, numbered among the six most important lineage families before the time of Longchenpa.*

(But the So family lineage of the Nyingma is to be disambiguated from the So family lineage of the Middle Transmission of Zhijé, another matter altogether. Both can be called "So Tradition," or So lugs.)

Not incidentally, I believe that not even one of the figures is depicted in monastic attire. For most part they are white-robed practitioners, renunciates that may also keep some kind of family life.

As the So lineage of Mahāyoga and Dzogchen teachings was such an important one for several centuries following the 10th century, we shouldn’t complain that most of the later names in our tsakalis are obscure, unknown and undatable. To the contrary, we should be happy that the artworks are adding to our store of information. 

Seeing that there are thirteen members in the succession following the late 10th-century activities we might very roughly calculate the date when the set must have been drawn. If one generation lasts 30 years, it would come out to around 1365 CE, but if only 20 years it would be 1235. So I suppose the dates supplied in the catalog are more likely to be correct than my own guestimation. This is a question worth returning to later.

Still, I’d like to push back at this by pointing out the rather archaic ways of spelling some of the Indic names, in particular the subject of our frontispiece, Buddhagupta (Card 6). His name is given on the verso of his portrait as “Slob-dpon ’Bu-ta Kug-ta.” To put the matter briefly (see Schaik for more), one of the preciously rare Dunhuang Dzogchen texts, the Sbas-pa’i Rgum-chung, is a work by Buddhaguhya that plays upon both the k[h]ug-[r]ta* part of his name meaning the cātaka, a bird well known in Sanskrit poetry. It has no other food than the raindrops it catches in its beak as it flies through the sky. The ‘small craw’ (rgum chung) is the same sky-harvested birdfood ready to be transmitted to the chicks in their nest. I think that made sense. Did it?  ’Bu-ta is a form of the word ‘Buddha’ much in use in the Matho fragments and found as well in the Zhijé Collection (ergo pre-Mongol Era). 

(*Spelled khug-sta in a couple of Dunhuang texts [OTDO].) 

Other early Tibetan transcription conventions are betrayed in Card 10, with Gnya'-na in place of the later Dznyā-na; in Card 9, Bhi-ma-la-mu-tra, more often in early times spelled Bye-ma-la-mu-tra (yes, for all appearance it does indeed mean piss in the sand... The mu-tra is Sanskrit mūtra) for the later Bi-ma-la-mi-tra or Vimalamitra (‘Impeccable Friend’); and even the name for Garab Dorjé, often regarded as the human revealer of Dzogchen, appears with the odd-looking spelling Rga-rab-rdo-rje, a spelling nevertheless thoroughly vindicated in the pre-1200 CE Matho fragments (nos. v185 and v433 birchbark fol. 105). Lo and behold, here below you can see his name written on birchbark. Have a long, hard look at the first line, and notice the name of Grags-ldan-ma on the 2nd:

Note “Slob-dpon Rga-rab-rdo-rje” on line 1,
Matho v433, scan no. 105

As you may know, Dga’-rab-rdo-rje has sometimes been with little security and much hope re-Sanskritized as Prahasavajra, Prahevajra or the like, based on the assumption the Tibetan name means Supremely Happy Vajra. Now it looks like it really means Supremely Aged Vajra (*Jarottamavajra?). The two seem like opposite ends of a spectrum, don’t they? One could be a comedian, but the other is more like some wizened one, aged beyond all reckoning. It’s interesting that the tsakali depicts him in a typical Buddha form although we all know the story how he was born of a virgin mother. I’ve even seen him depicted as some manner of royalty, with a royal turban.

In Matho v185 we find not only that same demonstrably old spelling Rga-rab-rdo-rje, a little later on we find a precious mention of So Ye-shes-dbang-phyug (Card 12) in the context of a prayer, where his name is spelled oddly even if its oddness is of little consequence. The passage from the prayer reads, “to the sacred body So Ye-se-dbang-phyug who taught the [Dzogchen] view all wound up in a ball.”

lta ba sgang dril ston mdzad pa / so ye se dbang phyug gi sku la /

Is it too much to hope that some old students of Dzogchen have found out something new today? New, okay, but was it useful? That’s another matter entirely. That depends on who you are and what questions you are ready to ask. For myself, all questions are worth asking.

§   §   §


Works to work with (a narrowly selective list)

  • For a remarkably comparable set of Nyingma lineage tsakalis for use in empowerments, go to Himalayan Art Resources website, and see nos. HAR 744 through 755. Go here, and when you are finished reading click on “Next item” until you have seen them all. This set of 22 (?11?) cards was painted on paper that has been carbon dated to between 1174 and 1293 CE. The description of these cards was done by Amy Heller. This demonstrates that the set in Munich is not unique. There are others.

Buddhagupta (Sangs-rgyas-sbas-pa), Sbas-pa'i Rgum-chung.  See Namkhai Norbu, Sbas pa'i rgum chung: The Small Collection of Hidden Precepts, A Study of an Ancient Manuscript on Dzogchen fron Tun huang, Shang Shung Edizioni (Arcidosso 1984). For the English see E. dell'Angelo, tr., The Little Hidden Harvest, Shang Shung Edizioni (Arcidosso 1996), or the translation by Karen Liljenberg, a PDF for free download at, with the title “Small Hidden Grain.”

Jacob P. Dalton, “Lost and Found: A Fourteenth-Century Discussion of Then-Available Sources on gNubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes,” Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 49, no. 1 (2013), pp. 39-53. At pp. 43 and 48 you may find the accounts of the spirit youths who granted him special powers. It shouldn’t be dismissed, as it may indeed be the original core of what is and was known about his career.

——, “Preliminary Remarks on a Newly Discovered Biography of Nupchen Sangyé Yeshé,” contained in: Benjamin E. Bogin & Andrew Quintman, eds., Himalayan Passages, Wisdom (Somerville 2014), pp. 145-161.

Dylan Esler, “On the Life of gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas ye-shes,” Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines, vol. 29 (April 2014), pp. 5-27. 

——, The Lamp for the Eye of Contemplation: The Samten Migdron by Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, a 10th-Century Tibetan Buddhist Text on Meditation, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2022). 

Gnubs-chen Sangs-rgyas-ye-shes, Sgom-gyi Gnad Gsal-bar Phye-ba Bsam-gtan Mig Sgron (also called Rnal-'byor Mig-gi Bsam-gtan), S.W. Tashigangpa (Leh 1974).  For the English, move your eyes up a little.

Herbert V. Guenther, tr., “The Natural Freedom of Mind, Long-chen-pa,” Crystal Mirror, vol. 4 (1975), pp. 112-146. Look here. In his brief introduction, Tarthang Tulku names the six Kama transmission lineages that were in place when Longchenpa synthesized them as So, Zur, Nub, Nyag, Ma and Rong.

Matthew Kapstein, “The Sun of the Heart and the Bai-ro-rgyud-’bum,” contained in: Françoise Pommaret and Jean-Luc Achard, eds., Tibetan Studies in Honor of Samten Karmay, Amnye Machen Institute (Dharamshala 2009), pp. 275-288. It is of particular interest here that the Indic and earliest Tibetan figures in the lineage largely correspond, although this represents a Zur transmission, and the text may date to the mid-12th century (see pp. 279-281, noting the spellings Bud-dha-kug-ta for Buddhagupta, Bye-ma-la-mu-tra for Vimalamitra and Bsnyags Gnya’ for Gnyags Dznyā-na-ku-mā-ra).

Dan MartinA History of Buddhism in India and Tibet: An Expanded Version of the Dharma’s Origins Made by the Learned Scholar Deyu, The Library of Tibetan Classics series no. 32, Wisdom Publications (Somerville 2022). At pp. 630-631 is the brief story of how So Ye-shes-dbang-phyug encountered Nubchen in the company of Ya-zin Bon-ston [~Ya-zi Bon-ston]So’s and Ya-zi’s main activities appear to be located in the mid- or late-10th century (and as pointed out before, in a recent blog, Ya-zi was likely taken from Turkish, meaning ‘scribe’). Each of the four chief disciples of Nubchen had his own particularly approach that was distinguished by a particular metaphor. So’s specialty was teaching the Dzogchen views all wound up together in a ball (lta-ba sgang-dril). 

John Myrdhin Reynolds, “The Life of Garab Dorje,” contained in Idem., The Golden Letters, Snow Lion (Ithaca 1996), pp. 179-189. Translated from a history that ought to date to the mid-12th century, if it is truly by Zhang-ston Bkra-shis-rdo-rje, and if his dates are indeed 1097-1167 CE. On p. 183, “Zombie Bliss” (see Card 5) is given as one of Garab Dorjé’s four given names, which gives us some reason for pause.

Sam van Schaik, “Early Dzogchen I: The Cuckoo and the Hidden Grain,” posted at the Early Tibet blogsite on January 8, 2008. I particularly want to point out the discussion about early spellings in Tibetan of the name of Buddhagupta and the meanings of khug-ta and rgum chung.

Francis V. Tiso, Rainbow Body and Resurrection, North Atlantic Books (Berkeley 2016).  This book, enlightening and thought-provoking for myriad reasons, has a lengthy discussion of Garab Dorjé’s life (“The Life of Garab Dorje: A Commentary,” pp. 252-273).

= ± = ± = ± = ± = ± =


Initiation Cards (inscriptions on versos)

Note: I have given each card an Arabic number for easy reference, although they are numbered by the use of keyletters following Tibetan alphabetic order.

Card 1

{KA} ±// dpal kun tu bzang po ni / bzhugs ni mi mngon dbyings na bzhugs / bdag gi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gi 'gon [~mgon] du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol / yon bdag rnams la byin kyis rlab tu gsol lo /

Card 2

{KHA} ±// dpal rdo rje sems dpa' ni / bzhugs ni 'og min chos kyi dbyings na bzhugs / bdag gi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog bskur du gsol // sems dpa' rtsal la byin kyis rlobs

Card 3

{GA} ±// slob dpon rga rab rdo rje [~dga' rab rdo rje'] ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje bde' byed rtsal [~rdo rje bde byed rtsal] / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bhugs / bdag gi drogs [~grogs] mdzod / gnas 'dir 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol / rdo rje mos pa rtsal la dbang skur tu gsol 

Card 4

{NGA} ±// slob dpon 'jam dpal bshes gnyen ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje gzhon nu rtsal / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bzhugs / bdag gi drogs gnas 'dir 'gon du 'dre / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog bskur du gsol / rdo rje drag po rtsal kyi dgongs pa gong nas gong du yar du gsol /

Card 5

{CA} ±// slob dpon ro langs bde ba ni / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bzhugs / bdag gi 'dre // gnas 'dir bdag gi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol / yon bdag rnams la 'byor pa rgyas par mdzad du gsol 

Card 6

{CHA} ±// slob dpon 'bu ta kug ta ni gsang mtshan rdo rje gsang rdzogs rtsal / bzhugs ni 'og min bdag gi gyi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir dag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol // rdo rje mos pa rtsal kyi dgongs pa gong nas gong du yar du gsol lo 

Card 7

{JA} ±// slob dpon bal po hum ka ra ni / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bzhugs / bdag gi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol / yon bdag tshe dang longs spyod rgyas par mdzad du gsol

Card 8

{NYA} ±// slob dpon pad ma 'byung gnas ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje thod 'phreng rtsal / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bzhugs / bdag gyi 'grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol // dgongs pa spel du gsol 

Card 9

{TA} ±// slob dpon bhi ma la mu tra ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje gro 'o lod / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bdag gi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol //

Card 10

{THA} ±// slob dpon gnya' na ku ma ra gsang mtshan (g.yu sgras tagso /) rdo rje grub pa'i rter [~gter] / gsang mtshan (bhi ma las tags so) dri med zla shar rtsal / gsang mtshan (mkhar chen dpal gyi dbang phyug gis tagso) thig le rtsal rgod rtsal / gsang mtshan (rgyal mchog g.yangs [~rgyal ba mchog dbyangs]) rdo rje grub pa rtsal / bla med dgongs pas rigs 'dzin gnas na bzhugs / bdag gi 'dre gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la / dbang 

Card 11

{DA} ±// snubs sangs rgyas ye shes rin po ches / g.yung rung rin chen rter gnas su / yid dam gsal bar sgoms pa'i tshe stobs chen rdo rje rdzas mchog 'di / nam mkha'i mthongs nas yas mar babs / bdag gi lag pa g.yas pas zin / ye shes rdo rje'i dbang mchog thob / 'ol mo tshal du sgoms pa'i tshe / mngon sum dri za phru gu byung / sangs rgyas khyod yin mtshan btags ste / dam pa'i don la dam tshig bsres / rdo rje ming gi dbang yang thob / gang bzangs gnas su sgoms pa'i tshe / gnod bzhin phrug gu gngon [~mngon] byung nas / 'dod yon lnga'i mchod yon stabs / yun [~spun?] gyi 'khor du rtan dam bcas / che ba'i yon tan dbang yang thob / kling rgu mtsho' 'dram [~gling dgu mtsho 'gram] sgoms pa'i tshe / klu phrug mngon du byung pa'i tshe / ro brgya ldan pa'i mchod pa drangs / yang dag slob mar dam tshig nos / sdug pa sel ba'i dbang yang thob / dur khrod lhas su sgomgs pa'i tshe / yid dags phrug gu mngon du byung / zhabs la drags te mchi' ma byung / ci sgo nyan par g.yar dam bcas / mthu rtsal mnyems pa'i dbang yang thob / phyi rabs slob ma gang yin rnams / 'dren pa'i las can chen po 'dis / phan pa'i lha'i dbang nos la / bskur thabs dbang skur rgyal po bzhin / dbang bskur 'di rnams thob par shog //

Card 12

{NA} ±// lha rje ye shes dbang phyug kyang gsang mtshan byang chub bde' chen rter [~byang chub bde chen gter] / bla med rgongs pas rigs 'dzin gnas na bzhugs / bdagi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs // skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol //

So Yeshé Wangchuk depicted in 1973 ed.
of Nyingma Tantras, vol. 19

Card 13

{PA} ±// lha rje so skal po yang / gsang mtshan rdo rje bzhad pa rter / bla med dgongs pas rigs 'dzin gnas na 'dre / bdag gi grogs mdzod gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol //

Card 14

{PHA} ±// lha rje dbang gi rtsug tor yang / bla med dgongs pas rigs 'dzin 'dre gnas na bzhugs // bdag gi grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol //

This figure is surely identifiable with the Dbang-gi-gtsug-tor listed by BDRC as P8LS15578, for even though there is no other information supplied, he *is* associated with the So family transmission of Rta-mgrin.

Card 15

{BA} ±// lha rje so rgyal po yang / bla med dgongs pas rigs 'dzin gnas na bzhugs / bdag gyi 'grogs mdzod / gnas 'dir bdag gyi 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol / 

Card 16

{MA} ±// lha rje so chung chos se [~chos kyi seng ge? ~chos yes?] yang / gsang mtshan rdo rje bde' grub rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi skal ldan /

[Here the concluding lines begin to be shortened, their endings left off.]

Card 17

{TSA} ±// lha rje so ra tsa 'bar [~rgyal po 'bar?] yang gsang mtshan rdo rje gzi ldan rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi skal ldan //

*See BDRC Person ID P8LS15579, but there is no particular information supplied.

Card 18

{TSHA} ±// slob dpon lha rje chos ye shes [~chos kyi ye shes] ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje mos pa rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan /

Card 19

{DZA} slob dpon lha rje brtan pa yang / gsang mtshan rdo rje drag po rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan //

Card 20

{WA} ±// slob dpon lha rje rgyal tsha 'gon po yang / gsang mtshan rdo rje drag po rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan /

Card 21

{ZHA} ±// slob dpon lha rje rgyal tshab ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje drag po rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan / 

[This seems to largely repeat the previous one.]

Card 22

{ZA} ±// slob dpon rdo rje seng ge ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje drag po rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan /

Card 23

{'A} ±// slob dpon bder gshegs rin chen ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje grub pa rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan /

Card 24

{YA} ±// slob dpon sku phangs don grub ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje myu gu rtsal / bla med dgongs pas / bdag gi / skal ldan /

Card 25

{RA} ±// slob dpon drin can rdo rje 'gon [~rdo rje mgon] ni / gsang mtshan rdo rje bdud 'du rtsal [~rdo rje bdud 'dul rtsal] / bzhugs ni 'og min gnas na bzhugs / bdag gi drogs mdzod / gnas 'dir 'gon du gshegs / skal ldan rnal 'byor 'di la dbang mchog skur du gsol /

Card 26

Note: This final folio, inscribed on both sides (the only folio with no miniature drawing), actually belongs to section {DA}, above.  There obviously wasn't room for all the information on the back of that card.

±// snubs sangs rgyas ye shes rin po che ni / g.yung drung rin chen gter gnas su / yi dam gsal bar sgoms pa'i tshe / stobs chen rdo rje rdzas mchog 'di / nam mkha'i mthongs nas yas mar babs / bdag gi lag pa g.yas pas zin / ye shes rdo rje'i dbang mchog gsol [?] / 'ol mo tshal du sgoms pa'i tshe / mngon sum dri za phru gu byung / sangs rgyas khyod kyi dbang yang thob / gangs bzangs gnas su sgoms pa'i tshe / gnod bzhin [~gnod sbyin] phru gu mngon byung nas / 'dod [verso] lnga'i mchod yon bstabs / yun gyi 'khor du rten dam bcas / che ba'i yon tan dbang yang thob / gling rgu mtsho' 'dram sgoms ba'i tshe / klu phrug mngon du byung pa'i tshe / ro brgya' ldan pa'i mchod pa phul / yang dag slob mar dam tshig nos / sdug pa sel ba'i dbang yang nos / dur khrod lhas su sgoms pa'i tshe / yi dags phrug gu mngon du byung / zhabs la tags te mtshe' [?] ma byung / ci sgo nyan par g.yar dam bcas / mthu rtsal mnyams pa'i dbang yang thob / phyi rabs slob ma gang yin pa / dbang skur rgyal po thob par shog*

(*Notice the inverted brief 3- or 4-letter inscription at the top of the page floating there alone. A large blotch of ink obscures most of it, so much I haven't been able to transcribe it.)


Lineage lists for comparison  

1. So family lineage

Source:  Record of Teachings Received by the Fifth Dalai Lama, vol. 4, fol. 276:

so lugs kyi brgyud pa ni  /   hûm kâ ra nas  /  rdo rje bzhad pa  /   padma sam bha wa  /  nam mkha'i snying po  /   bee ro tsa na  /  g.yu sgra snying po  /   gnyags dznyâ na ku mâ ra  /   sog po dpal gyi ye shes  /   gnubs sangs rgyas ye shes  /   so ye shes dbang phyug  /   sras kal po  /   sras dbang gi gtsug tor  /   sras rgyal po  /  chos kyi seng ge  /   ye shes rdo rje  /   râ dza 'bar  /   dar ma brtson 'grus  /   dar sri  /   'tsho rdo rje 'od  /   dar ma kun dga'  /   dar ma snying po  /   zhang byang chub sems dpa'  /   'gos dngos grub rgyal mtshan man gong ltar ro  /   /

2. A Phurpa transmission lineage of the So family

Source:  Record of Teachings Received by the Fifth Dalai Lama, vol. 4, fol. 290:

phur pa lcags lugs sam so lugs kyi brgyud pa ni  /   slob dpon chen po nas  /   lcam dpal gyi mchod gnas  /   so ye shes dbang phyug  /  sras kalpo  /   dbang phyug gtsug tor  /   so rgyal po  /   so râ dza 'bar  /   so chos seng  /  so dar ma snying po  /   so dar ma seng ge  /  slob dpon â seng  /   darma brtson 'grus  /  sras gzi brjir  /  'gos dngos grub rgyal mtshan  /   sras gcung po  /   'gos dngos grub mgon man 'dra  /   

3. A So family Mahāyoga lineage

Source:  Brag-dkar Chos-kyi-dbang-phyug, Zab-rgyas Chos-tshul Rgya-mtsho-las Rang-skal-du Ji-ltar Thob-pa'i Yi-ge Rnam-grol Bdud-rtsi'i Bum-bzang Kha-skong dang bcas-pa, contained in: Gsung-'bum, Khenpo Shedup Tenzin (Kathmandu 2011), vol. 2, at p. 91. BDRC Work ID no. W1KG14557. The context appears to be a general transmission of Mahāyoga, or the Sgyu-'phrul Zhi-khro.

གཉིས་པ་གནས་ལུང་སོགས་མན་ངག་གི་བརྒྱུད་པ་ནི། ཆོས་སྐུ་ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ། ལོངས་སྐུ་རྒྱལ་བ་རིགས་ལྔ། སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་གསང་བདག་ཕྱག་རྡོར།ཡང་སྤྲུལ་དགའ་རབ་རྡོ་རྗེ། སློབ་དཔོན་འཇམ་དཔལ་བཤེས་གཉེན་ལ། རོ་ལངས་བདེ་བའི་དངོས་གྲུབ། སློབ་དཔོན་སངས་རྒྱས་གསང་བ། རྒྱ་གར་ཧཱུཾ་ཆེན་ཀ་ར། ཨོ་རྒྱན་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས། པཎ་ཆེན་བི་མ་མི་ཏྲ། ལོ་ཙཱ་རྨ་གཉགས་རྣམ་གཉིས། གནུབས་ཆེན་སངས་རྒྱས་ཡེ་ཤེས། སོ་ཡེ་ཤེས་དབང་ཕྱུག །སོ་ལྷ་རྗེ་ཀལྤོ། སོ་དབང་གི་གཙུག་ཏོར། སོ་ལྷ་རྗེ་རྒྱལ་པོ། སོ་ལྷ་རྗེ་ཆོས་སེང་། སོ་ར་ཙ་འབར་བ། སོ་དྷརྨ་སྙིང་པོ། བླ་མ་གྲུབ་ཐོབ་ཁ་མེ། བླ་མ་འབྲོམ་སྟོན་རྡོ་རྗེ། གར་སྟོན་རྟོགས་ལྡན་ཆེན་པོ། རྒྱལ་བ་མ་བདུན་རས་ཆེན་མན་གོང་ལྟར་རོ། །

4. Description of a thangka painting of the So family lineage

Ibid., vol. 7, pp. 297-302:

Note: I’ve corrected the error-filled OCR by consulting with the text behind it. I’ve tried to make all the personal names blue, drawing attention to them for ease of comparison. It is also interesting to read the iconographical instructions, and compare these to what we actually observe in the tsakali. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap.

sgyu 'phrul zhi khro bla ma brgyud pa khro thung gi brgyud rim ltar thang sku bzhengs na bri yig lam tsam brjed thor bkod pa yod/

sgyu 'phrul zhi khro'i bla ma brgyud pa'i bri yig ni / dbus su kun bzang longs sku yum med pa / de'i spyi bor rigs bdag kun bzang yab rkyang / de'i g.yas su rdor sems spyir btang gtso rkyang / g.yon du dga' rab rdo rje rdo rje dril bu thugs kar bsnol thabs su 'dzin pa / dbu la gtsug tor yod pa zhabs rdor skyil sprul sku rab byung chas / yang rdor sems kyi g.yas su 'jam dpal bshes gnyen paN chen gyi cha lugs / phyag g.yas thugs shar chos 'chad / g.yon pus mo'i steng du glegs bam 'dzin pa / dga' rab rdo rje'i g.yon du ro langs de wa grub thob kyi chas can g.yas sdigs mdzub / g.yon kA pa la bdud rtsis gang ba 'dzin pa / de bzhin g.yas g.yon go rim bzhin sangs rgyas gsang ba paN chen gyi chas can phyag g.yas thugs kar chos 'chad / g.yon mnyam bzhag gi glegs bam /  [p. 298] g.yon du hUM ka ra paN chen chas g.yas pus mor sdigs mdzub / g.yon mnyam bzhag pusti/ g.yas su pad+ma 'byung gnas paN chen gyi cha lugs g.yas rdo rje 'dzin cing / g.yon mnyam bzhag gi steng ka pA la bdud rtsis bkang ba / gru mor kha TAM ka / g.yon du bi ma la mi tra g.yas thugs kar chos 'chad / g.yon pus steng glegs bam 'dzin pa paN chen gyi chas ldan / g.yas su lo tsA ba rma rin chen mchog bod btsun stod rjen stod g.yogs sngon po phyed pa zur zhal phyag gnyis mnyam bzhag glegs bam paN zhwa sna ring leb zhwa / g.yon du lo tsA ba gnyags dznyA na ku ma ra zur zhal gong 'dra glegs bam dbu zhwa gong mtshungs / g.yas su gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes khro tshul sma ra ag tshom phod ka thun ru / dbu skra li rog / phyag gnyis g.yas phur pa gdengs pa / g.yon bhandha thugs kar 'dzin pa / zhabs rol stabs / g.yon du so ye shes dbang phyug ral pa rgyab snyil thun ru / mdung dmar te phyu pa dkar po'i phyi nang [p. 299] gzan dkar gsol ba / phyag g.yas rdo rje thugs kar / g.yon pus steng glegs bam / g.yas su lha rje gal po gsang gos sngon po/ rngul gzan dmar po / ral thod / g.yas sdigs mdzub / g.yon thugs kar rak+sha'i phreng ba / 'di gnyis zur zhal / g.yas su so dbang gi gtsug tor phod ka / rol stabs ral pa can / g.yas nam mkhar sdigs mdzub / g.yon ka pA la zur zhal / g.yas su lha rje rgyal po lcang lo / phyu pa dkar po / gzan dkar gyi smad dkris / g.yas phreng ba / g.yon pus steng phur pa / g.yon du lha rje chos rje stod sham sku stod na bza' gzan bcas dkar chas ral pa can phyag gnyis pus steng bdud 'dul gyi phyag rgyas phreng ba 'dren pa / g.yas su so ra dza 'bar ba dkar chas sku stod gos yod pa lcang lo / g.yas rdo rje pus steng / g.yon mnyam bzhag ka pA la / g.yon du so dharma snying po phyu pa dkar po / gzan dmar / ral pa can g.yas g.yon phyag gnyis [p. 299] thugs kar rdor dril bsnol thabs su 'dzin pa / yang g.yas su grub thob kha me ral thod sgom thag grub thob chas ras gzan / g.yas ka pA la / g.yon sa non / phyal chen po / g.yon du 'brom ston rdo rje dkar chas phyu pa gzan dmar / ka pA la thugs kar sman mchod sbreng tshul zhal sprod / g.yas su gar ston rtogs ldan ral thod ras pa'i chas sgom thag stod rjen mnyam bzhag ka pA la / g.yas su ma bdun ras chen sgom sham dwags zhwa / glegs bam / chos 'chad / g.yas su gdan sa rin chen rab byung sgom zhwa 'di gnyis zhal sprod / sa non mnyam bzhag glegs bam sems skyil / g.yon du chos rje ston pa paN zhwa sne thung dmar zing / g.yas su sangs rgyas dbon chen rab byung paN zhwa gong 'dra zhal sprod phreng ba sa non gnyis ka 'dra / chos rje dbang phyug mtshan can dang / bsod nams snying po gnyis dbu zlum dge slong chas / chos 'chad glegs bam zur zhal / lhun grub bkra shis dang / mgon po'i mtshan can gnyis [p. 301] rab byung chas / paN zhwa leb zhwa zhal sprod / glegs bam phreng ba / kun dga' gzi brjid paN zhwa sne thung rab byung chas / glegs bam chos 'chad / che mchog rdo rje ral can rgyab snyil sngags chas / stod gos g.yas phur pa gdengs thabs / g.yon thugs kar rdo rje / khro 'dzum can 'di gnyis zhal sprod / dkon mchog rdo rje / nam lhun gnyis ral pa rgyab snyil / dkar chas rdo rje thod pa / nam seng nor bu bde chen gnyis sngags 'chang dkar chas / ral thod can bgres nyams rol stabs zhal sprod / glegs bam chos 'chad / bstan nor rgyal sras seng+ge gnyis dkar chas / lcang lo zhal sprod / 'gyur med rnam rgyal dang / rtsa ba'i bla ma gnyis sngags chas sam yang na me kha li dmar po / lcang lo / dbu zhwa pad+ma kha 'bus / glegs bam / shel rdo / chos 'chad / gong gsal rnams phal cher dkar chas / sngags chas / rab byung spel ma zur zhal / phyag mtshan phyag stabs 'dra gang chags [p. 302] rig pas dpyad la bri / 

'di 'dra zhig a byung ma byung gzigs mdzod / rnam thar gyi bab byas na 'di 'dra zhig ka yin nam bsam 'ol tshod tshod kyis lam tsam bris/ [smaller font size:] zhes pa 'di'ang lan rde dpal lding nas mdo chen pa bag dro'i mtshan can gyi gsung gis bskul ba'i g.yar khral du brag dkar ba dharma shwa ras so // dge'o // //

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I’m still trying to work out the implications, but the name Rdo-rje-mos-pa-rtsal is twice given as the name of the person who is undergoing empowerment (see Cards 3 and 6). The identical name is later given as the secret initiatory name of Physician Chos-ye-shes (Card 18). This suggests that there once existed an earlier version of the set of cards that ended with Card 18 (that set of 18 would have been made specifically for use at Chos-ye-shes’ initiation). If the maker of the full set of cards that we have today copied exactly the writings on the backs of the earlier cards, including their spellings, then we could securely date those early spellings of names like 'Bu-ta-kug-ta and Rga-rab-rdo-rje within the pre-Mongol era, which would suit me just fine, but as I said, I’m still thinking. I do believe that the set as we have it was done by a single artist and a single scribe. Do you see evidence to the contrary?

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