Introduction to the Seven Authoritative Transmissions

From Khyentse Lineage - A Tsadra Foundation Project

      In his biography of Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrul cites a reference to this set of seven that he attributes to the "vajra speech" (rdo rje'i lung) of Thangtong Gyalpo that prophesied the arrival of Khyentse Wangpo,[1] which states:

A yogi no different than myself,
Possessing five attributes,
Will be born seven hundred years from now,
In the midst of Eastern Tibet in a dragon year,
As the son of the Ga clan in the family line of Nyö,[2]
With iron element and bearing the marks of a vīra.
Due to being blessed by Pema Gyalpo,
He is known as Dongak Lingpa, Possessor of the Seven Authoritative Transmissions,
Due to being blessed by Vimalamitra,
He is known as Ösel Trulpe Dorje,
Due to being blessed by the King who is an emanation of Mañjuśrī,[3]
He is known as Chökyi Shenyen,
This great being will appear as if by magic.

      However, one of the most commonly cited references to these seven comes from another prophecy (lung bstan) found in the treasure revelation of Chogyur Lingpa, The Sacred Teachings of the Three Series of the Great Perfection (Dam chos rdzogs pa chen po sde gsum), which states:

The unbroken lineage passed down orally,
Profound treasures revealed physically and from the mind,
Treasures discovered again and recollected from the past,
Pure visions and aural lineages,
This great torrent of those seven authoritative transmissions,
Will flow down to the king and heir[4] who shall have their share.
They will perform great deeds to protect the doctrine in dark times,
And the light of this profound and vast sun will shine spectacularly.

Here we get a sense of what is meant by the term bka' babs, as well as a list of the seven types of transmission to which it refers. It should also be noted that this term can have different connotations depending on the context, and there are indeed other groups of seven.[5] However this particular configuration of these seven appears to be uniquely applied to the activities of Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa. While the more classical usage of this term generally references the lineage of a particular teaching, here the emphasis is more on the method by which the teachings were received. In other words, these categories are demonstrative of how Khyentse Wangpo came into possession of a certain set of teachings, which he later propagated to the descendants of his lineage.

      These seven, in the order that they are presented within this collection, are:

  1. the Oral Tradition (བཀའ་མ་ bka' ma or བཀའ་ནས་བཀར་བརྒྱུད་ bka' nas bkar brgyud)
  2. Earth Treasures (ས་གཏེར་ sa gter)
  3. Rediscovered Treasures (ཡང་གཏེར་ yang gter)
  4. Mind Treasures (དགོངས་གཏེར་ dgongs gter)
  5. Recollections (རྗེས་དྲན་ rjes dran)
  6. Pure Visions (དག་སྣང་ dag snang)
  7. Aural Lineages (སྙན་བརྒྱུད་ snyan brgyud)

Of these seven only the first, the oral tradition consisting of the verbal explanations and initiations passed down in a succession of teachers and their students, applies to a somewhat commonplace type of transmission that would be accessible to ordinary individuals, though in Khyentse Wangpo's case even his capacity to receive and transmit these types of teaching has visionary origins. The remaining six are more explicitly rooted in the extraordinary aspects of visionary transmission that are the purview of only the most accomplished or karmically destined practitioners. In accordance with the above verse, the first four of these are related to the revelation of types of treasures (gter ma), including the fairly standard categories of those revealed from the earth and those revealed from the practitioner's mind. In addition to those there is the rediscovery of previously revealed treasures, which was a particular speciality of Khyentse Wangpo whom revived numerous treasure revelations whose lineages of transmission had faded away over the centuries, and recollections, which refers to the ability to access memories from previous lives. The final two categories involve new visionary encounters with enlightened beings and the accomplished masters of the past.

      Kongtrul describes these seven as subdivisions of the categories of oral, treasure, and pure visions, which is a traditional triumvirate of the Nyingma school used to delineate the origins of their teachings.[6] In this context, the first of the seven corresponds to the oral teachings, while the next four correspond to the treasure teachings, and the final two correspond to the pure vision teachings. Furthermore, rediscovered treasures are considered a subset of earth treasures, recollections are considered a subset of mind treasures, and the aural lineages are considered a subset of pure visions. However, in terms of Khyentse Wangpo, these seven are detailed in the context of his secret biography, a genre which is typically concerned with visionary experiences and other miraculous events. This context is a crucial component of the Khyentse Kabab, because at its core it is a thematic collection of Khyentse Wangpo's revelations and a celebration of his visionary prowess.

      To gain the full story of the seven transmissions one could attempt to piece together a grand narrative gleaned from accounts that appear sporadically among the histories and colophons of the texts contained in the Khyentse Kabab. Though Khyentse Wangpo, himself, never attempted such a thorough treatment, we do get a concise account of these events in the autobiographical verses of his Essentialized Biography of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.[7] Composed at the behest of the Third Dodrupchen, this work would become the basis for the more expansive biography of the master written by Kongtrul,[8] a development that Khyentse Wangpo seems to foretell in the later verses of the text, stating, "Although I am [presently] unable to go on at length, it may act as the impetus for further elaboration at some other time."[9] This rings true, especially in terms of the secret section of biography, in which the terse descriptions of Khyentse Wangpo's verses are fleshed out with further details in Kongtrul's recounting of these events in his version of the biography. In the Essentialized Biography[10] Khyentse Wangpo's discussion of the seven transmissions begins with his accounts of a series of visions. The first of which occurred in his eighth year,[11] in which he was initiated into the maṇḍala of the deity Vajrakīlaya by Pema Thötreng Tsal[12] and his consort, and another in his fifteenth year, in which he travelled to the seat of the Buddha's enlightenment in Bodhgaya where he was blessed with volumes of books representing the Mahāyāna and the Vajrayāna, with a clear emphasis on the Great Perfection, by Mañjuśrīmitra, as well other encounters that Khyentse Wangpo simply alludes to in passing. The final account is of a visionary experience that occurred in his sixteenth year, in which he travelled miraculously to the pure abode of Lotus Light (pad+ma 'od) and met Guru Rinpoche on the morning of the auspicious tenth day of the holy fourth month of Saga Dawa. During this encounter Guru Rinpoche blessed the young Khyentse Wangpo with his mind (dgongs), conferred upon him the empowerment of symbols (brda), and bestowed upon him the verbal authorization for the seven authoritative transmissions, a sequence which mirrors another classic Nyingma triumvirate delineating the three modes of transmission (bka' brgyud gsum).[13] At the end of which, Guru Rinpoche stared at him with a fixed gaze and spoke the following verse:

Untarnished by objects perceived externally,
And untainted by the thoughts that latch onto them,
To sustain, without embellishment, this awareness-emptiness,
Is the mindset of all the buddhas.[14]

Having said that, the Guru and his retinue dissolved into Khyentse Wangpo, which gave rise to the experience of their minds mingling indivisibly. Thus, from then on, Khyentse Wangpo was able to naturally maintain stability in the primordially pure abiding state of reality (ka dag gi gnas lugs). This episode, therefore, marks a pivotal moment in the visionary life of Khyentse Wangpo- a veritable coronation that set the stage for the onset of his illustrious career with the establishment of the seven authoritative transmissions as his crowning achievement. Khyentse Wangpo presents the above encounter as the culmination of the prior visionary events, after which he was able to gradually obtain the seven transmissions. As the narrative suggests, he seems to emerge from this experience with the newfound confidence and purpose of a man on a mission. For the accomplishment of this endeavor he credits his faith that, when intensely focused, imbues his prayers with a potency (dad pas rtse gcig gsol btab mthus), suggesting that his prayers are indeed answered. Moreover, in Kongtrul's biography of Khyentse Wangpo, it is specifically in relation to the exponential growth in his abilities acquired through this last vision that Kongtrul begins to explicate the seven transmissions, beginning with the oral tradition.

Back to Collection Page
  1. This quote is actually from one of Khyentse Wangpo's revelations associated with Thangtong Gyalpo (see grub thob chen po'i thugs thig las khrag 'thung bde gshegs 'dus pa, pp. 371-372), which is categorized in the Kabab as a mind treasure.
  2. Though this phrase often appears as gnyos kyi rig 'dzin and is therefore translated as "the vidyādhara of Nyö", here I have followed Dudjom Rinpoche's citation of this quote in the bdud 'joms chos 'byung, in which it is written as gnyos kyi rigs 'dzin.
  3. This refers to the Tibetan Dharma king Trisong Deutsen (Chos rgyal khri srong lde'u btsan).
  4. The "king and heir" (mnga' bdag yab sras) refers to the past life attributions of Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa, whom were believed to have been the Dharma King Trisong Deutsen and his son Lhase Damdzin Murub Tsenpo, respectively.
  5. For instance, early Nyingma author's, possibly stemming from Rongzompa in the 11th century, used the term to delineate the transmission lineages of the major tantric teachings that flowed into Tibet from India. Also Tāranātha uses the term bka' babs bdun in the title of his collection of biographies of Indian masters, which is likewise organized around a set of seven tantric instructions.
  6. bka' ma, gter ma, and dag snang
  7. 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po'i rnam thar snying por dril ba.
  8. See rje btsun bla ma thams cad mkhyen cing gzigs pa 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po kun dga' bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po'i rnam thar mdor bsdus pa ngo mtshar u dum+ba ra'i dga' tshal.
  9. rgyas par spro bar ma nus mod/ slad nas spro ba'i rten 'brel 'tshal in 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po'i rnam thar snying por dril ba, p. 394.
  10. See 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po'i rnam thar snying por dril ba, pp. 391-394.
  11. Tibetans count the years of one's life in that same way that we count centuries, therefore Khyentse Wangpo would have been 7 years old in his eighth year. The same applies for the other ages mentioned.
  12. Pad+ma thod phreng rtsal, the saṃbhogakāya form of Guru Rinpoche.
  13. These three reference the different modes of transmission as they apply to different levels accomplishment. From the mind transmission of the victors, i.e. buddhas, (rgyal ba dgongs brgyud), in which realization is transferred by means of the intermingling of the minds of teacher and retinue, to the symbolic transmission of the vidyādharas (rig 'dzin brda brgyud), in which realization is transferred through the use of symbolic means such as hand-gestures or other esoteric indications, and finally the aural transmission of people (gang zag snyan brgyud), in which ones hears the teachings explained by a teacher.
  14. 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po'i rnam thar snying por dril ba, pp. 392-393.