Two Tibetologists

Thomas & Tucci

A few years ago I came across this photograph in the archives of the British Library. It is a portrait of two early European scholars of Tibet: F.W. Thomas and Giuseppe Tucci. It was taken in 1955 by Tucci’s photographer and partner Francesca Bonardi. Before I saw the photo I wasn’t aware that these two knew each other, or that Thomas had ever travelled to Italy. The meeting of these very different personalities is a rather intriguing event.

Guiseppe Tucci (1894-1984) was arguably the foremost non-Tibetan scholar of Tibetan history and culture (such types are still known by the ungainly neologism Tibetologist, which like the similarly ugly Buddhologist is a term likely to cause faint mirth in the uninitiated) in the first half of the twentieth century.

tucciTucci was a natural linguist, learning Hebrew and Latin in his childhood, before turning to Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese. Tucci was an explorer, making several expeditions to Western Tibet in the 30s, where he collected the materials (manuscripts, paintings and statues) for his scholarly work. And Tucci was a prolific writer. Among his many publications the Indo-Tibetica series and the two huge volumes of Tibetan Painted Scrolls are still essential reading.

In early life Tucci was a supporter of Mussolini and the philosophy of fascism, and in 1937 he was sent by the Italian Government to Japan, to strengthen cultural ties between Japan and Italy. Here he lectured and published extensively on Zen, spiritual liberation, and the art of war. After his return to Italy and the defeat of Mussolini, Tucci abandoned this vein of work, and his interest in fascist philosophy and Zen, returning to Tibetan studies.

In the mid 50s, when the photograph with Thomas was taken, Tucci had just made two expeditions to Nepal and was about to embark of on series of archaeological digs in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. He was also very active in public life, one of his achievements being the founding of the Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (IsMEO) in Rome. Several brief biographies are available online (see the references below).

*  *  *

The career of Frederick William Thomas (1867-1956) was, in contrast, conducted in the universities and libraries of England. He was a student of classics, and then a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge at the end of the 19th century and a professor at Balliol College, Oxford in the 30s. These two Oxbridge stints bookended his job as librarian for the India Office Library, where he worked for thirty years. It was here, where he had the responsibility of sorting through the thousands of Tibetan manuscripts brought back from Central Asia by Aurel Stein, that Thomas found the raw materials for his most important scholarly work.

banburyThomas had little interest in the Buddhist materials from Dunhuang, and his work focused on early Tibetan history (letters, military communiqués and the like) and folklore. Most of this work was put together and published by Thomas after he retired to a cottage in Oxfordshire, where he worked in a damp and chilly study (at least he complained often in his letters that it was so). Here he put together his great 4-volume series of historical texts Tibetan Literary Texts and Documents from Chinese Turkestan, collected narrative texts in Ancient folk-literature from North-Eastern Tibet, and a study of the extinct Nam language (his equally pioneering work on the Zhangzhung language still remains unpublished).

The photo with Tucci was taken the year before Thomas’s death. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

To his last years Thomas retained the lean and athletic figure of the strenuous sportsman. His manner was keen and affable, and he enjoyed speaking in learned company. He celebrated his retirement by undertaking a tour of India in 1938 which would have taxed the strength and energies of the most intrepid traveller. He retained the full scope of his great intellectual powers to the end, although deafness at the last diminished his social enjoyment.

*  *  *

Tucci is still, no doubt, the preëminent scholar of his time, but those of us interested in the early history and culture of Tibet still owe Thomas a great debt. It is a pity that his works are so difficult to find, apart from in the major libraries. As an attempt to make Thomas’s work more available, I’ve been trying to get his major unpublished and out-of-print catalogues up on the IDP website. You can see his work on the documents about Dunhuang from vol.II of Tibetan literary texts and documents here, and his unpublished card catalogue slips of the Tibetan manuscripts Aurel Stein found in the Tangut/Mongolian regions of Etsingol and Kharakhoto here.

I see these two figures in quite different settings: Tucci striding across the dry and desolately beautiful landscapes of Western Tibet, Thomas bent over his desk in damp, verdant Oxfordshire. Tucci, the scholar “in the field”, Thomas the “armchair scholar”. One thing they had in common was that they both published their major works before 1959, when when the Tibetan diaspora changed forever the relationship between Westerners and Tibetans, and the nature of scholarship on Tibet.

*  *  *

stamp(The stamp and postmark from the envelope containing the photograph, marked October 1956. On the back of the photo, Francesca Bonardi wrote: “Con tanti cari auguri dal Prof. Tucci e da.”)

*  *  *

Some online resources:

See also:
Gustavo Benavide. 1995. “Guiseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the Age of Fascism” In Donald. S. Lopez (ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Buddhism and Bön III: what is yungdrung?

Those who translate Buddhist texts from Tibetan into English sometimes talk in nostalgic terms of our forbears who laboured to translate the vast corpus of Sanskrit Buddhist literature into Tibetan. In contrast to the chaotic scene today, where nobody can agree on a standard English word to translate any given Tibetan term, Tibetan translators worked under a top-down system in which royal edicts decreed the correct Tibetan word to be used for every Buddhist Sanskrit term. The result was the admirably coherent and consistent canons of Tibetan Buddhism, undoubtedly one of the wonders of the Buddhist world.

When we look at the Dunhuang manuscripts however, the situation seems rather less coherent, and a bit closer to the chaos of our times. The coherence of the Tibetan canons was the result of a process, centuries long, of rethinking translation practices, revising earlier translations, and weeding out dubious texts. This process is visible in all its messiness in the Dunhuang manuscripts, and one of the ways it reveals itself to us is the many different ways a single Tibetan word is used in Buddhist translations.

One of the problems for the early translators was what to do with certain important and powerful words that came from the pre-Buddhist culture of Tibet. In some ways it was clearly beneficial to use these words, so as to give them a new, Buddhist resonance. But they came with a lot of baggage. The same problems face translators nowadays when we contemplate using Christian words like ‘hell’ and ‘sin’ to translate Buddhist concepts.

One of the most powerful and resonant words in pre-Buddhist Tibet was yungdrung (g.yung drung). It was a the key terms for the old royal religion, the mythological backdrop to the kingly lineage of the Tibetan Empire. For example, the inscription of the tomb of Trisong Detsen has the line: “In accord with the eternal (yungdrung) customs (tsuglag), the Emperor and Divine Son Trisong Detsen was made the ruler of men.” I discussed how to translate that term tsuglag in an earlier post. Here, as you no doubt noticed, I have translated yungdrung here as “eternal”. Eternity seems to be the general meaning of yungdrung in the early religion. In addition, the word was associated with the ancient Indo-European swastika design, which in Tibet was the graphic symbol of the eternal.

So, what did the early Buddhist writers and translators do with this term? Many of them just attached it to the word “dharma” (i.e. Buddhism), no doubt in an attempt to transfer its prestige from the earlier religion to Buddhism. Thus we see “the eternal dharma” (g.yung drung chos) in many Dunhuang manuscripts. Translators of Chinese Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan used it to translate nirvana. Translators of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures used it to translate the Sanskrit samyak, meaning “correct” or “perfect”, as well as various Sanskrit terms meaning “eternal”. This messy scene begins to look more like the chaos that bedevils contemporary translation efforts..

Later standardizations of translation practice in Tibet fixed yungdrung as the translation of just one Sanskrit word, sanātana, meaning “eternal”. This Sanskrit word doesn’t appear very often in Buddhist texts, where the Sanskrit word nityā is prefered, and the latter was translated by a different Tibetan term (rtag pa). So yungdrung was almost written out of Buddhist translations, but its story doesn’t end there. From the 11th century it became a central concept of the later Bon tradition, so that the later Bon tradition itself came to be known as ‘Yungdrung Bon’. There is much more to tell, but the full realization of those developments comes later than the Dunhuang manuscripts, where yungdrung is still in the process of being redefined by the Buddhists.

*  *  *

IOL Tib J 339 2rLet’s look at just one Dunhuang manuscript, in which the attempt to redefine yungdrung in the Buddhist context is unusually clear. The manuscript (IOL Tib J 339) is a the prayer with interlinear notes. One line of the prayer is an homage to “correct yungdrung” and the notes go on to spell out the difference between correct and incorrect yungdrung. I’ll translate the note here:

“Yungdrung” comprises correct yungdrung and incorrect yungdrung. Of these, incorrect yungdrung itself comprises the yungdrung of words and the yungdrung of substances. The yungdrung of words means all of the names drawn from yungdrung. The yungdrung of substances means the yungdrung of substances. Even if this yungdrung, it is still incorrect yungdrung.

Correct yungdrung means the following: when you remain as the Bhagavan Vairocana and his entourage of bodhisattvas, you take in the meaning of the unborn nature of phenomena. Then you are not endowed with birth or death. When the yungdrung of the lifespan is accepted as the [nature of] the deity, this is correct yungdrung.

The definition of incorrect yungdrung is strikingly unhelpful here: “the yungdrung of substances means the yungdrung of substances(!)”. Fortunately the definition of correct yungdrung is better. It means freedom from the constraints of birth and death, and is linked to the lifespan, so we could translate it either as “eternity” or, considering the emphasis on lifespan, “immortality”.

IOL Tib J 339 2rHere we see a Buddhist re-reading of immortality as the unborn nature of the meditation deity. ‘True’ immortality is not a long life, but the realization that transcends birth and death. I wonder if the incorrect yungdrung here refers to Chinese (especially Daoist) practices of securing long life or immortality, particularly the teachings (“the yungdrung of words”) and alchemical experiments (“yungdrung of substances”)? After all, in the previous post on this manuscript it emerged that the definition of incorrect tsuglag was aimed at Chinese practices of astrology.

*  *  *

In any case, perhaps we translators can take heart. The coherence of the Tibetan corpus of translations was the end result of a process of centuries. Take a slice out of that process (like 9th-10th century Dunhuang) and it sometimes looks as messy as the contemporary scene.

*  *  *

1. Karmay, Samten. ‘A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon.’ In The Arrow and the Spindle. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point. 104-156.
2. Stein, R.A. 1983. ‘Tibetica Antiqua I: Les deux vocabulaires des traductions indo-tibetaines et sino-tibetaines dans les manuscrits Touen-Houang.’ Bulletin de l’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient LXXII: 149-236.

Tibetan text
* g.yung drung yang dag la’ gus par phyag ‘tshal lo *
[1] g.yung drung la yang <yang> dag pa’i g.yung dang yang dag pa ma yin ba’i g.yung drung ngo/ de la yang dag pa ma yIn pa’I g.yung drung la yang/ tshIg gi g.yung drung dang rdzas gi g.yung drung ngo/ tshig gi g.yung drung shes pya ba nI/ g.yung drung [2] las dra[ng]s pa’i mying thams cad la bya/ rdzas gi g.yung drung nI rdzas gi g.yung drung la bya’o/ de yang nI g.yung drung yIn na yang yang dag pa’i g.yung drung ma yIn/ de la g.yung drung yang yIn la/ yang dag pa <ma> yin ba nI/ [3] bcom ldan ‘das dpal rnam par snang mdzad ‘khor pyang chub sems dpa’ rnams kyis bskor cing bzhugs pa de ni chos rnams gyI chos skye ba myed pa’i don thugs su chud pas skye shi myi mnga’/ sku tshe g.yung drung [4] lha du bzhes nas/ g.yung +drung+ yang dag ces bya’o/

Also in this series
Buddhism and Bon I: the religion of the gods
Buddhism and Bon II: what is tsuglag?

The Olapati

In the last post I looked at the connections between the ‘new’ schools of Tibetan Buddhism (nowadays the Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug) the Dunhuang manuscripts. I tried to show that there is a shared heritage in the sutras translated in the early period, and the sutric contemplations on topics like impermanence and karma.

Could there by any traces among the Dunhuang manuscripts of the ‘new’ tantric lineages that flooded into Tibet from the late 10th century onward? The library cave at Dunhuang was closed up at the beginning of the 11th century, so it seems unlikely, but just possible that we might be able to catch a trace of the ‘new’ lineages. What’s more, I think I have found one.

This trace is connected to the new lineages of Sakya, which derive a number of Indic siddha traditions. One of those siddhas was the famous Virūpa, the source for the transmission of the ‘path and fruit’ or Lamdré practices. Another was Virūpa’s disciple Kāṇha (also known by an number of other names, but we’ll stick to the shortest one), who is the source of another set of esoteric practices. Kāṇha was a Hindu yogin from South India, who often got into arguments with Buddhists, and was converted to Buddhism by Virūpa.

As with most of the great siddhas, there is a funny story about Kāṇha. He is said to have converted a king by taking advantage of the king’s attachment to his many queens. First Kāṇha spent some time with the queens. Then when the queens explained what had happened to the king, the king declared: “He must be killed!” Kāṇha waited for the king’s troops outside the queen’s palace. When the soldiers arrived, Kāṇha back inside. As soon as the troops followed him inside, Kāṇha appeared outside. When both the inside and outside of the palace were completely filled by the troops, Kāṇha sent forth magical emanations outnumbering the king’s troops. The king realized that Kāṇha was a siddha and bowed at his feet.

Stories aside, we don’t really have firm dates for Kāṇha. We know the lineage between Kāṇha and the great Tibetan translator Drogmi contained three people, and Drogmi was born just before the year 1000. So Kāṇha was probably teaching some time in the mid-10th century, if the traditional lineages are correct. This is just where a bit of contemporary evidence, like a Dunhuang manuscript for example, would come in handy.

Kāṇha’s most famous teaching is known by the (apparently) Sanskrit name Olapati. As a text, the Olapati the is quite mysterious. Nobody really knows what the name means (though if you’re interested, see the guesses at the end of this post). And while the Sakyapas practiced an oral instruction on the Olapati known as The Complete Path of Inner Heat they didn’t preserve the Olapati itself in their collections. But the Olapati does seem to have survived. According to two modern scholars of the Lamdré, Cyrus Strearns and Ronald Davidson, the Olapati is to be identified with a canonical text called The Four Stages attributed to a certain Kṛṣṇa (another name for Kāṇha).

Now the Dunhuang scroll Pelliot tibétain 849 contains a list of tantras. As I mentioned in a previous post, the list includes the Guhyagarbha tantra. It also includes an Olipati tantra (the spelling is slightly different, but that is true for almost all of the Sanskrit titles listed in this scroll). When I first saw this Sakya text in the list of tantras I was very surprised. None of the previous studies of this scroll had connected this title with Kāṇha’s text. Could they be one and the same?

The possibility seems less remote when we remember that Pelliot tibétain 849 dates to the end of the 10th century, and contains the notes taken down by a local from a passing Indian tantric master. This Indian master, Devaputra by name, had travelled via Tibet to China on a pilgrimage to Wutaishan, and was on his way back to India when he stopped at Dunhuang. A local called Dro Könchogpal worked with the Indian master on (among other things) a bilingual list of important tantras.

Is this Olipati tantra in our Dunhuang scroll really Kāṇha’s teaching? I think probably it is. The name is unusual enough, and may come from Kāṇha’s South Indian background. The fact that it is called a tantra in the scroll is not really problematic. The local Tibetan who wrote the scroll was not very accurate, and may have assumed he was writing down the names of tantras, when other instructional texts were being listed as well. Or Kāṇha’s teaching may have taken on the status of a tantra in some circles. So here is a siddha’s teaching that came to Central Tibet in the mid-11th century, but was known in distant Dunhuang (if only by name) half a century earlier. And that seems to confirm the traditional Sakya accounts of both Kāṇha’s dates and teachings.

To conclude on the theme of the previous post, when we see the (to later eyes, thoroughly Nyingma) Guhyagarbha tantra together with the (very Sakya) Olapati in the same list, it is a welcome reminder that sectarian divisions and rarely as fundamental as they might seem. History might seem an arcane pursuit sometimes, but it can be a useful way cutting through such divisions.

*  *  *


1. Davidson, Ronald. 2005. Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. New York: Columbia University Press [on the Olapati: pp.200-201]
2. Hackin, Josef. 1924. Formulaire sanscrit-tibétain du Xe siécle. Librairie orientaliste Paul Geunthner, Paris. [On Pelliot tibétain 849]
3. Kapstein, Matthew. 2006 “New Light on an Old Friend: PT 849 Reconsidered”. In Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Praxis: Studies in its Formative Period 900-1400. Leiden: Brill
4. Stearns, Cyrus. 2001. Luminous Lives. Boston: Wisdom Publications. [on the Yellow Book: pp.32-35]

Tibetan texts
1. Dhongthog Rinpoche, T.G. 1976. A History of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. New Delhi: Paljor Publications.
2. Nag po spyod pa (Kṛṣṇācaryā, alias Kāṇha). Gtum mo lam rdzogs [The Complete Path of Inner Heat]. In Sa skya Lam ‘bras Literature Series vol.11 pp.445-457.
3. Nag po pa (Kṛṣṇa, alias Kṛṣṇācaryā, alias Kāṇha). Rim pa bzhi po [The Four Stages]. Q.2168.

Statue of Kāṇha, from the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin. From the 2007 exhibition Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern.

And a note…
…on the name Olapati:

  • Matthew Kapstein (2006: p.20) wrote on the name Olipati, from Pelliot tibétain 849: “Oli (perhaps < Skt. āvalī) occurs in the formation of certain technical terms of haṭhayoga, e.g., vajrolimudrā, referring to the yogic practice of sexual congress. A possible interpretation might therefore be *(Vajr)olipaddhatitantra.”
  • Ronald Davidson (2005: 200-201) links the name Olapati to the canonical Tibetan text The Four Stages (Rim pa bzhi pa, Q.2168). He points out that ola survives in the (reconstructed?) Sankrit title to the autocommentary on the The Four Stages, which is Olacatustustaya-vibhaṅga (Tibetan Rim pa bzhi’i rnam par ‘bzhed pa, T.1460). Here ola is equivalent to rim pa, “stage”, while instead of pati we have the standard Sanskrit catuḥ for “four” (bzhi pa).

And another note (added on February 13th)…

The South Indian languages provide plenty of possibilities for all the elements under consideration here, ola, oli and pati. Though I am not any kind of expert in these languages, the possibility is too interesting to ignore, so I am going to speculate, based on Burrow and Emeneau’s A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary and the Cologne Online Tamil Lexicon (

Since there is no equivalent for the Tibetan bzhi po “the four” in ola/oli/pati, I wonder if the Tibetan name is not a direct translation of Olapati, but rather a descriptive name for the text? In that case, we can look a little more widely for meaning of the name Olapati:

First, ola/oli:

  1. First of all, in many South Indian dialects ōla (or ōlai or ōle) means a page or a book, by extension from the ola palm leaves that are used to make books.
  2. The Tamil noun oli can refer to any sound, to speech or more specifically, to the “loud or audible recitation of a mantra.”
  3. The verbal root oli– or olap– can mean to wash or cleanse in Tamil.
  4. In various South Indian dialects, both oḷa and oḷi have meaning of secrecy and concealment.

Now, pati/patti:

  1. We have the Tamil and Malayam verb pati, “to be imprinted, indented.” Considering that writing on Indian palm leaves is a form of imprinting or indentation, could ōla-pati mean “impressed on palm leaves”?
  2. We have the Tamil verb paṭi, meaning “to practise, habituate oneself to,” which would combine well with some of the meanings of ola/oli attested above, as well as Kapstein’s interpretation of oli.
  3. There is a Tamil noun paṭi, meaning “a step, stair, rung of a ladder, stirrup, grade, rank…” This would be a clear equivalent to the Tibetan rim pa, “stage” and could be combined with some of the meanins of ola/oli above.
  4. And finally, several dictionaries give patti as an equivalent for Sanskrit bhakti, meaning devotion, religious observance and so on. This could be combined with the meaning of oḷa/oīi above to mean “secret” or “hidden” religious observance. Bhakti is particularly associated with deity cults like that of Śīva, which ties in nicely with Kāṇha’s status as a former Śaiva yogin.

In any case, since I have not taken the morphology of these terms into account, I can hardly suggest a best reading here, but if anyone with a knowledge of South Indian languages reads this, I’d be most grateful for any thoughts.

Early Dzogchen III: The origin of Dzogchen?


The search for an origin is a seductive task, but one to be wary of. As Nāgārjūna pointed out a long time ago, nothing ever really comes into being as such. Any entity we might identify is both composite and has developed through the mutual dependence of causes and conditions. The idea of an ‘origin’ supposes that we can identify a source that is cannot be broken into composite parts and is free from any previous causes.

That said, the whole point of this website, and the materials on which it comments, is that earlier textual sources can tell as something that later sources do not. This survey of the earliest sources on Dzogchen is, then, not the search for an origin, but an examination of the character of Dzogchen as it appears in the earliest reliably dated texts.

What are the earliest reliably dated Dzogchen texts? There is The Meditation on the Awakened Mind by Mañjuśrīmitra, which is mentioned in the Denkarma, an early 9th century library catalogue. And then there are the many texts quoted by Nub Sangyé Yeshé in his Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation, written in the late 9th century. These are generally short instructional texts which overlap to some extent with the traditional list of eighteen early Mind Series (sems sde) texts.

Earlier still than these is the Guhyagarbha tantra. This tantra is nowadays thought to have been circulating in India by the eighth century (notwithstanding the Tibetan controversies over its Indic origin–see my earlier post). Dzogchen is mentioned four times in the tantra, each time in a different chapter. Let us look at two examples, first from chapter 13, which is on the practice of the perfection stage:

Thus the Great Joyous One settled into the contemplation of the cloud-array that is at the heart of the extremely secret commitment–that all phenomena are, from the beginning, spontaneously present in the great perfection (rdzogs chen).

Here we see not just the word Dzogchen, but the same basic meaning that it is given in the later tradition. The term occurs again in chapter 14, which celebrates the realization arising out of the pefection stage:

Oṃ! The great perfection (rdzogs pa che) of body, speech and mind,
Is the total perfection of enlightened qualities and activities,
From the beginning spontaneous present, perfect, and all good (kun tu bzang)
The great sphere (thig le) of the vast gathered assembly. Ho!

The sense that Dzogchen here means the realization that comes out of the perfection stage is confirmed in The Garland of Views, a treatise on chapter thirteen of the Guhyagarbha found in the Tengyur and attributed to Padmasambhava. If the attribution is correct, then The Garland of Views would probably date from before or during Padmasambhava’s time in Tibet in the 770s. We saw in the previous post a manuscript describing how Padmasambhava taught the meditation on Vajrakīlaya in the context of Atiyoga. Here the author only briefly deals with the actual practices, mainly focusing on the ideas of spontaneous accomplishment and primordial purity as the experiential climax of the practices.

In The Garland of Views, Dzogchen is the culmination of the three ways (tshul) of inner yogic practice: the ways of development (bskyed), perfection (rdzogs), and great perfection (rdzogs chen). In this text these three ways are subdivisions of the vehicle of inner yoga, but not vehicles in their own right. Remember in the last post how often we saw Dzogchen described as a “way”? Here Dzogchen is rooted in the practices found in the Guhyagarbha tantra: the visualization of deities and the experience of bliss through union. Like the manuscripts we looked at in the previous post, Dzogchen here functions as an interpretive framework for these experiences:

The way of the great perfection (rdzogs chen) is to realize that all phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are inseparable and have always had the nature of the maṇḍala of body, speech and mind, and then to meditate on that.

Finally, let us return to the Dunhuang manuscripts one more time, for one elegant piece of evidence for the association between Dzogchen and the Guhyagarbha. Pelliot tibétain 322B is a poem from the Dunhuang manuscripts which takes Dzogchen as its theme, while remaining within the frame of reference of the Guhyagarbha and Māyājāla tantras:

The teaching of the primordial, spontaneously present Dzogchen,
This sublime experiential domain of supreme insight
Is bestowed as a personal instruction for those with intelligence;
I pay homage to the definitive counsel spoken thus.

Without centre or periphery, neither one nor many,
The maṇḍala that transcends thought and cannot be expressed,
Illuminates the mind of intrinsic awareness, wisdom and knowledge;
I pay homage to the great Vajrasattva.

In the illusory three worlds which are like the limitless sky,
Many millions of emanations are present everywhere,
Surrounded by the net of insight in the expanse of sameness,
I pay homage to you, the Māyājāla.

The ten directions and the four times secretly have the nature of Dzogchen,
Which itself is the suchness of the definitive essence,
Primordial and spontaneously present, cause and effect inseparable,
I pay homage to the supreme Guhyagarbha.

The close association between early Dzogchen and the Guhyagarbha shouldn’t surprise us, really. When later tantric lineages were brought to Tibet in the 11th and 12th centuries, they came with their own frameworks for interpreting yogic practice in terms of nonconcepualization and the immanence of buddhahood. The Mahāmudrā cycles transmitted in the Kagyü schools are an obvious example. A balance of ritual or meditative practice with a view that transcends both practice and result seems to have characterised late Indic tantra. On the whole, as we know, that balance was skilfully maintained in the Tibetan tradition as well.

1. Germano, David. 1994. “Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen)“, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17.2: 203-335.
2. Karmay, Samten. 1988. The Great Perfection. Leiden: Brill. [Includes a translation and edition of The Garland of Views].
3. Norbu, Namkhai and Kennard Lipman. 2001. Primordial Experience: An Introduction to RDzogs-chen Meditation. Boston: Shambhala. [A translation of The Meditation on the Awakened Mind].
4. van Schaik, Sam. 2004. “The Early Days of the Great Perfection” in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27/1: 165–206.

Tibetan sources
Gsang ba snying po de kho na nyid nges pa (Guhyagarbha tantra). Tb.417.
‘Jam dpal bshes gnyen. Byang chub kyi sems bsgom pa [The Meditation on the Awakened Mind]. P.3418
Gnubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes. Bsam gtan mig sgron [Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation]. S. W. Tashigangpa, Ladakh, 1974.
Padmasambhava. Man ngag lta ba’i phreng ba [The Garland of Views]. P.4726

See also:
In Search of the Guhyagarbha Tantra