Shanpa Kargyu Golden Dharmas
Part I: Lineage & Outline


Revealed upon the request of the Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen & his patron Dr. C. T. Shen
Translated, with assistance from Dezhung Rinpoche, by Matthew Kapstein


In Chenian Booklet No. 86 Non-Death Yoga, Yogi Chen revealed the Non-Death Yoga text imparted to him by Kalu Rinpoche. There he also pointed out that there should be no mention of Death in the practice of Non-Death Yoga, and that the Oneness of three Times (Past, Present, and Future) should be included in the practice. When this text was imparted personally to him by Kalu Rinpoche, Rinpoche kindly helped him to translate the original Tibetan text, sentence by sentence, into Chinese. It worked out that way, because Rinpoche knew Chinese to some extent, while Yogi Chen knew a little Tibetan. Nevertheless, Yogi Chen still worried about possible omissions or errors due to his limited knowledge of the Tibetan language. So years later he, together with his patron Dr. C. T. Shen, requested Kalu Rinpoche to reveal the Shanpa Kargyu Golden Dharmas so that they may be fully translated by some experts on the Tibetan language. Kalu Rinpoche kindly sent Dezhung Rinpoche over to the United States on this mission. Under the patronage of Dr. C. T. Shen, the original texts were translated into English by Matthew Kapstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions. Upon comparison of the two versions it becomes clear that the Chenian version is sound and that his suggestions are relevant.

Part I: Lineage & Outline consists of two articles: "The History of the Shangs-Pa Lineage" and "The Shangs-Pa Teaching." Part II: Non-Death Yoga contains "The Shangs-Pa Teaching of Deathlessness." All these articles remain intact except the chart showing "The Transmission of the Doctrines of Niguma" is placed right at the beginning of Part I instead of its original place in Part II to facilitate an overall view of the Lineage. Also the mistaken statement that Niguma was the wife of Naropa has been rectified. (She was his sister.)

We hope that the readers will find this material helpful and learn more through comparing the various accounts on Non-Death Yoga.

May the blessing of the Shanpa Lineage be with us without end!

Under the guidance of Yogi Chen,
Yutang Lin, October 1981


The Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma is an instruction manual which explains in considerable detail the system of advanced mediational practices belonging to the sampanna-krama (Tib. rdzogs-rim) precepts of Vajrayana Buddhism according to the Tantras of the anuttara-yoga class. In particular, it describes the "Six Doctrines," into which these practices are often analyzed according to the system of the yogini Niguma, who is frequently referred to as the sister of the Mahasiddha Naropa. The text bears the full title Zab-lam Ni-gu Chos-drug gi Khrid-yig Zab-don Thang-mar brDal-ba, which may be rendered freely in English as "An Instruction Manual for the Profound Path of the Six Doctrines of Niguma, the Diffusion of Profound Meaning." Its author was the astoundingly prolific scholar and Tantric master of the Jo-nang-pa school of Tibetan Buddhism, Taranatha (b. 1575), who is best known to the learned public for his "History of Buddhism in India" and other historical writings.

At the present time little is known of the life of Niguma. It may reasonably be hoped that further study of Tibetan texts which discuss the history of her lineage will shed some light on this matter. Nonetheless, the available documents all state that she had received the Six Doctrines, as well as the precepts of the Mahamudra, not from any human guru, but in a vision of the Adi-Buddha Vajradhara himself. Thereafter, she herself attained perfectly pure state of existence and disappeared from the view of ordinary mortals. She continued to exist, however, in the form of a dakini of enlightened awareness in the Sambhogakaya aspect of Buddhahood. In this form she was occasionally encountered by yogins of purified spiritual vision. One such was the Tibetan translator Tshul-khrims mGon-po (b. 1086)*, who is better known by the epithet Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa, i.e., the "Yogin of the Khyung-po clan." It was he who became the sole recipient of Niguma's entire transmission, for the Buddha Vajradhara had 'sealed' the lineage by requiring that for seven generations one, and only one, disciple could be instructed in these profound and esoteric precepts.

* Blue Annals, p.728. This date is almost certainly incorrect. However, Tshul-krims Mgon-po was active during the late 11th and early 12th centuries.

Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa appears to have been an extremely active transmitter of the Dharma, for in addition to the doctrines of Niguma, he introduced numerous precepts of the yogini Sukhasiddhi, and of the siddhas Rahula, Maitri-pa, Vajrasana and others into Tibet. While his own lineage, known as the Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud-pa after the monastic sect of the teaching in Shangs, failed to survive as an independent sect possessing its own monastic establishments and hierarchy, its teaching was absorbed into the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism--chiefly into the Sa-skya-pa, Jo-nang-pa, bKa'-bryud-pa and dGe-lugs-pa and thus, continued to be transmitted. While many masters, as, for example, Taranatha, took a special interest in this tradition, the task of initiating a methodical recompilation of the entire Shangs-pa tradition to the extent that it survived was not begun until the mid-Nineteenth century. The first great product of that effort was the compilation by the great eclectic master 'Jam-mgon Kong-sprul bLo-gros mTha'-yas (1813-1899) of the Shangs-pa doctrines which he included in that monumental collection of spiritual precepts, the gDams-ngag-mdzod, where they occupy the sixth volume. It is here that the Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma is found.

Kong-sprul Rin-po-che's catalogue (dkar-chag) of the gDams-ngag-mdzod includes both a summary of the history of the Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud and a summary of their teaching. As these passages help to clarify the historical and the doctrinal context in which Taranatha's Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma is to be examined translations of them are presented here. The bibliographical details are provided below.

GDAMS NGAG MDZOD. compiled by 'Jam-mgon Kong-sprul bLo-gros mtha'-yas. Published xylographically at dPal-spungs, sDe-dge in nine volumes. Reproduced in twelve volumes by N. Lungtok and N. Gyaltsan, Delhi,1971.

ZAB DON THANG BRDAL MA by Taranatha. xylograph in 51 folia in gDams-ngag-mdzod, sDe-dge ed., volume CHA (=6). Delhi reprint, volume VIII, plates 333-433.

GDAMS MDZOD DKAR CHAG. (full title: sgrub-brgyud shing-rta chen-po brgyad kyi smin-grol snying-po phyogs gcig bsdus-pa gdams-ngag rin-po-che i mdzod kyi dkar-chag bkra-shis grags-pai rgya-mtsho). sDe-dge ed. volume A (=final volume), 84 folia. Delhi ed., volume XII, plates 621-787.

The History of the Shangs-Pa Lineage
-gDams-mdzod dKar-chag 17A6-18A4

The scholar-saint Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa, who was prophesied by the Victorious One (Jina/ gGyal-ba, i.e. Sakyamuni Buddha) to be "a srvaka endowed with great miraculous powers (rddhi/ rdzu-'phrul)," initially entered by stages into the religions of his forefathers, the Bon and the Ancient School (of Tibetan Buddhism, the rNying-ma-pa). He became learned in each and gained abilities, but, because the time (for the fulfillment of) the prayerful intention of enlightened conduct had arrived, that alone did not satisfy him. Therefore, he journeyed to India. He studied the doctrines of Sutra and Tantra without limit before the feet of one-hundred-fifty panditas and siddhas, of whom the foremost were his four fundamental gurus, Vajrasanapada and the others.

In particular, he actually met with the dakini of primordial awareness (jnana-dakini/ ye-shes-kyi mkha'-'gro-ma) Niguma, who had really received the doctrine from Vajradhara and dwelt in the third pure stage (dag-pa'i sa gsum/ rrtiya-suddha-bhumi)*, and with Sukhasiddhi, and he received profound precepts and really realized the five Tantras in the five centers of his body1. Thus, it may be adduced that he became a great lord of siddhas who was indistinguishable (in attainment) from the supreme mahasiddhas such as Saraha-pada, etc. Because he made his seat at Zhang-zhong in the Shangs district of Western gTsang he is renowned as the guru of Shangs (bla-ma Shangs-pa) and the holders of his lineage are renowned as the "Shangs lineage of Transmitted Precepts" (Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud-pa).

* i.e., the tenth Bodhisattva-bhumi.

He lived for one-hundred-fifty years2 and caused the spiritual maturation and liberation of an inconceivable number of people. Among his disciples, who included eighteen thousand kalyana-mitras and others, the foremost were the "Five Early Disciples" and the "Six Later Disciples." Among them the recipient of the sole lineage of Vajradhara's secret instructions was rMog-lcog-pa Rin-chen brTson-'grus3 alone. Thence it was transmitted in successive stages through dbOn-ston sKyer-sgang-pa, Sangs-rgyas gNyan-ston and, finally, the lord of beings sTon-pa. This seventh precious master, the Dharmasvamin sTon-pa, in accord with the prophecies of Vajradhara and the dakini of primordial awareness (Niguma) released the adamantine seal of the sole lineage and his accomplished disciples caused (this doctrine) to cover Jambudvipa and its surrounding islands. Among them the foremost holders of the lineage were gTsang-ma Shangs-ston, gZhon-nu-grub of bSam-sdings and 'Jag-chen rGyal-mtshan-'bum. These three scholar-saints established the precepts in writing. From 'Jag-chen rGyal-mtshan-'bum and gZhon-nu-grub of bSam-sdings there emerged seats of the lineage and lines of disciples beyond limit. From gTsang-ma Shangs-ston came the disciple Khyung-po Tshul-mgon4 and other especially great men who became renowned as the "Seven Later Precious Masters." In addition, there were lineages without limit which spread from the Dharmasvamin sTon-pa's direct disciple gSer-gling-pa bKra-shis-dpal, from the lines of disciples of dKon-mchog-mkhar of La-stod and others.

Afterwards, the mahasiddha Thang-stong rGyal-po5 received both the "Upper Tibetan Lineage" and the "Lower Tibetan Lineage" separately and achieved spiritual realization of them. (In a vision) he was taken as the direct disciple of the dakini of primordial awareness (Niguma) and there came forth in three stages a close lineage (i.e. visionary) transmission which continues to exist at present. Additionally, the Most Venerable Kun-dga' Grol-mchog6 received twenty-four versions of the distant lineage transmission (i.e. the precepts transmitted in unbroken lineage from Khyung-po rNal-'byor'pa). Together with the wonderful and extremely close lineage through which he directly received the precepts from the dakini there were then twenty-five versions of the transmission. These are brought together here in the "Instruction Manual" of the Venerable Taranatha.7

The cycle of doctrines concerning the special dharmapala of the scholar-saint Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa, the "Efficacious Lord of Primordial Awareness" (Myur-mdzad ye-shes mgon-po, i.e. the six-armed form of Mahakala), formerly spread almost everywhere through the Upper Tibetan Tradition. Later, it spread through most of the sects through the Lower Tibetan Tradition which came from the lineage of Ri-gong. In particular, the Most Precious Master (Tsong-kha-pa) and his spiritual sons made this their foremost dharmapala so that the three (Tibetan provinces of) dbUs, sTsang and Khams, and as far as Mongolia and China were pervaded with the worship, praises, sadhanas and rites invoking the activity (of six-armed Mahakala). (Nonetheless), at the present it appears that those who hold to the golden doctrines which are the roots (of the Shangs-pa teachings) as an independent tradition are extremely rare8.

The Shangs-Pa Teaching
-gDams-mdzod dKar-chag 26B2-27B6

Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa, a scholar-saint who was endowed with five ultimate realizations9, received fully the essential wisdom of one-hundred-fifty Indian panditas and siddhas and, so, came to be renowned as one unrivalled (in the knowledge of) limitless approaches to the doctrine. In general, therefore, one cannot make a one-sided estimation of the extent (of his teaching). Furthermore, even in reference to the last of the three usual categories--formal exegesis of doctrinal texts, logical argument, and meditative practice (bshad-rtsod-sgrub-gsum)--into which the stages of the (Shangs-pa) path are classified, there are five (major groups of) precepts: The teachings of Niguma; of Sukhasiddhi; of Vajrasanapada; of Maitri-pa; and of Rahula. And even with reference to the foremost of these, the teachings of the dakini of primordial awareness, Niguma, the Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud-pa (recognize such varied recensions as): the extensive version, (consisting of) the fifteen most exalted precepts of the Indian dakini; the condensed version, (consisting of) the precepts of the "three bodies" (lus-gsum); and the extremely condensed version, which summarizes (the whole of the teaching) in (the precepts of) the deathless and naturally liberated nature of mind.
Nonetheless, according to the widely renowned custom of the single lineage of the adamantine seal, there are five "Golden Doctrines" of the Shangs-pa:

  1. The roots are the Six Doctrines of Niguma.
  2. The trunk is the Mahamudra.
  3. The branches are the three ways of carrying-over (ordinary phenomena) onto the path (lam-khyer-gsum).
  4. The flowers are the white and red forms of Khecari.
  5. The fruit is (the realization of mind as) deathless and unerring.

These precepts were recorded on the basis of the adamantine verses (Vajrapada/ rdorje'i tshig-rkang) of Vajradhara and of the Jnanadakini. Thus, even the meditation topics and the formulae of supplication are not fabricated, altered, or corrupted by the thoughts of an ordinary individual, and, so, are like refined gold.

A) The Six Doctrines of Niguma10:

The Vajrapadas say, with reference to the Six Doctrines:

Matured by the four empowerments11,
    endowed with faith and strenuousness,
Practicing the preliminary meditations upon
    impermanence, disgust (with samsara), and the
    hazards (of samsara), Whoever strives at this supreme path,
Will attain Buddhahood within six months, 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"12, or of the mandala of Sri-Cakrasamvara13, and the transmitted blessing of each (of the Six Doctrines)14 and has well practiced the common preliminary meditations, first purifies himself by (the practice of) "the purifying empty enclosure (created by) the syllable A"15. Then, (by the practice of) the "Path of Skillful Means" (upaya-marga/thabs-lam)16, the warmth of well-being blazes naturally.

By (the yoga of) the "Apparitional Body," attachment and aversion dissolve naturally.
By (the yoga of) the Dream, the subtle bewilderment (which underlies all bewilderment) is naturally cleansed.
By Limpid Clarity, ignorance is naturally dispelled.

Establishing these four as the root (of the practice), the defilements which arise in the bewilderment of the four states of being17 are removed. The (remaining) two, Transference (of consciousness), by which Buddhahood is attained without having realized it in meditation (during this life), and the Intermediate State (antarabhava/bar-do), by which the Sambhoga-kaya of the Buddha (is realized), 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 States18.

B) The Mahamudra19:

The scholar-saint Khyung-po rNal-'byor-pa was exceedingly proud of the Vajrapadas which contain the precepts of the essential points which are incapable of intellectual formulation. Therefore, he inserted the paper rolls (on which they were written) into a small Nepalese amulet-box to wear around his neck. Thus, the precepts became renowned as the "Amulet-box Precepts of the Mahamudra" (phyag-chen ga'u-ma). One first cultivates tranquility (samatha/zhi-gnas) and insight into the nature of reality (vipasyana/lhag-mthong) by the preliminary practice of the "natural disposition of body, speech and mind" (rang-babs-gsum). Then, in the fundamental practice, the calling-down of the diamond-like primordial awareness causes one to steal a glimpse which introduces (the Mahamudra), 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 Trikaya20 which has come about spontaneously, and, by relying on extraordinary means of boosting the practice and removing obstacles, the Mahamudra, which is the heart of the doctrine of all sutras and tantras, and the essence of all meditational precepts, becomes fully manifest as the natural liberation which is (the realization of) the four Kayas.

C) The Three Carry-Overs21:

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 realizes the unity of) clarity and emptiness as supreme bliss and the Trikaya is naturally realized.

D) The White and Red Forms of Khecari22:

By means of particularly exalted supplications and meditational topics one arouses the solar- and lunar-colored (forms of) the Victoriously Transcendent Vajra-Lady (Bhagavati-Vajrayosit/ 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 centers, blazes up. Supported by that one comes to voyage in the space of supreme unity23.

E) The Realization of Mind as Deathless and Unerring24:

The body is set on the path of spiritual freedom through (the practice of) thirty-two yogic devices by which deathlessness is achieved. Because one's own mind is primordially unborn, it is established as deathless and as supremely liberated in and of itself. The bodily mass, which is 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 realization that the body itself has arisen as a mere mental projection, and mind is devoid of birth or death, then bodily form becomes fixed in the Mahamudra, the boundless expanse, in which there is no erring due to bewildering appearances, as the embodiment of the divine. It is taught that through even some of these precepts the embodiment of transcendent unity (yuganaddha-kaya/ zung-'jug'-gi-sku) may be attained during this lifetime, and that by merely hearing them, one may achieve Buddhahood in the Sambhogakaya of the Jinas during the Intermediate State. It says in the Vajrapadas:

Those who experience in practice this supreme path,
During this lifetime or the Intermediate State, but not at  some other time,
In the indivisibility of emptiness and bliss naturally realize the Trikaya,

And go forth to journey in utterly pure space25.

It appears that of the doctrines of the dakini of primordial awareness Sukhasiddhi only the most profound "Six Doctrines of the Path of Skillful Means"26 and the Mahamudra precepts of pure primordial awareness remain27. The "Sadhana which Subsumes Four Deities"28, a precept of the mahasiddha Rahula, and (the precepts of) the "Efficacious Lord of Primordial Awareness" (Mahakala)29, a profound doctrine of Maitri-pa, also still exist. These appear really to possess a continuous transmission of spiritual experience and blessing.


All references to the gDams-ngag-mdzod are given according to the Delhi reprint.

    (1) The correspondence betweenthe five centers and the five tantras is as follows:

    Body: Guhyasamja
    Speech: Mahamaya
    Mind: Hevajra
    Accomplishment: Cakrasamvara
    Enlightened Action: Vajrabhairava

    (2) 'Gos Lo-tsa-ba regarded this as a symbolic statement (Blue Annals, p.733). It is most likely, however, that Khyung-po rNal--'byor-pa did live well into his nineties at the very least.

    (3) rMog-lcog-pa was widely respected as a magnificent representative of renunciation and arduous practice, so much so that he became one of the few masters thought to merit comparison with Mi-la-ras-pa. The small monastery he founded was the only Shapgs-pa center to maintain an independent existence until comparative recent times.

    (4) He would seem to have been an incarnation of the great Khyung-po 'Nal-byor-pa

    (5) This visionary teach of the Fifteenth Century is famed for not only spiritual and literary achievements, but for the engineering of iron suspension bridges as well.

    (6) A master of the Jo-nang-pa school, 1495-1566.

    (7)The "Instruction Manual" referred to here is, of course, the Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma. The twenty-five versions of Niguma's precepts it subsumes do not include that based on Thang-stong rGyal-po's visions. This latter is transmitted separately, the fundamental text being given in note 1 above.

    (8) See note 3.

    (9) The five ultimate realizations correspond with the five tantras as given in note 1 above:

    Guhyamaja: Apparition and Dream
    Mahamaya: Limpid Clarity
    Hevajra: Inner Heat
    Cakrasamvara: Karmamudra
    Vajrabhairava: Enlightened Action

    (10) In addition to the Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma and the work of Thang-stong rGyal-po mentioned in note 7 above, the gDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII includes a number of other works devoted to these precepts, see plates 434-504.

    (11) These are: a) the empowerment of the vase (bum-pa'i dbang).
    b) the esoteric empowerment (gsang-ba'i dbang).
    c) the empowerment of transcent awareness (shes-rab ye-shes kyi dbang).
    d) the empowerment of the verbal metaphor (tsig-gi-dbang.)

    (12) The five tantras are those refereed to in notes 1 and 9. The rituals for their empowerment are not found in the dDams-ngag-mdzod. Presumably, the "Ocean of Jewels..." referred to is Taranatha's collection of those and other similar rituals, though I am not certain of that at present.

    (13) The empowerment for the mandala is found in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, plates 192-222.

    (14) The ritual for conferring the blessing of the Six Doctrines is found in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, plates 1-77.

    (15) dag-byed A'i stong-r(w)a. Described in Zab-don Thang-brdal-ma, 341-346.

    (16) This term often refers to all Six Doctrines, but here refers only to the gTum-mo, the Inner Heat.

    (17) Waking, deep sleep, dreaming, and meditative absorption.

    (18) This lifetime as intermediate between birth and death, dream as intermediate between wakeful periods, and the Intermediate State between death and rebirth.

    (19) dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 309-314 and 505-517 contains the available texts dealing with the Shangs-pa Mahamudra teachings.

    (20) Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. When four Kayas are mentioned, the Svabhavikakaya is added.

    (21) This practice is detailed in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 314-319.

    (22) The Khecara practices are found in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 518-543.

    (23) This last sentence defines the word "Khecari", which means "sky traveller".

    (24) Detailed in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 319-325.

    (25) See note 23 above.

    (26) Here the Path of Skillful Means" does refer to all six doctrines. Sukhasiddhi's version of them is found in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 544-578.

    (27) Detailed in dDams-ngag-mdzod, vol. VIII, 579-619.

    (28) dDams-ngag-mdzod vol. VIII, 599-619.

    (29) dDams-ngag-mdzod vol. VIII, 325-332, and 864-1059.

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