By: Mr. Hubert Decleer


Part II



Part II is centered around the fate of Master Atisha's chief translator, the earlier mentioned Atisha's chief translator, the earlier mentioned Virya-Mimha from the Gya clan. Her it is essential to quote first the corresponding, much shorter passage in the preceding Sacred Biography, the Universally known [NAGI: 140], in order to fully appreciate the difference:


Next, as they arrived in Nepal. the yogintranslator Virya-simha from Gya became violently ill and jowo Atisha inquired:


"What have you done?"


He replied:

" I didn't do anything (wrong), except that from one tirthika I requested an evil mantra, (for harming others). While paying him his reward, I ran out of gold, so for the missing amount I offered him some gold dust instead, but (mistrusting me) he refused, telling me to melt it down and then bring it to him. I disagreed, came to intensely dislike him (and ended up never paying the missing amount). And Since, I've been suffering from bad health.


The Jowo spoke:

"Generally speaking, already just to request a thing (like an evil mantra) is not right: but then not to tell me! There could've been a way (out, had you told me before)," and he performed a blessing, then concluded:


"It's all over,"

and thereupon Virya-Simha passed away.


Now anywhere in (the south of) Kathamandu Valley, according to local custom, if a person dies in someone else's house, his personal effects are claimed by the house owner; so therefore, that night, they set up camp in a dry riverbed and stayed there when that night Virya did pass away, most of his personal belonging could be recovered. Among the few books of his that had been entrusted to the patron there in Nepal. There was the Extensive Commentary of the [Tantric] Root Downfalls (*Mulapatti-tika), translated by the Jowo in collaboration with Virya-Simha, and this one got lost. Later it was recovered, and it is reckoned to be a model translation among the teaching translated into Tibetan.


The Jowo gave the following comment about the loss of his interpreter:


"Although I have been journeying to Tibet, It won't be of any use. With my tongue cut off, it will be of no benefit. Within the merit store for the general welfare of Tibet, there was not his one bit of positive potential to stop Virya-simha from dying"


"Guru, please do not speak like this. There are numerous other translators available, such as ' the Great' Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo, 'the Minor' Lotsawa legpa sherab, also Gewelodro, Geshe Ku(ton) Lotsawa and others, And I myself too have some tiny experience as an interpreter. So please, don't despair!" 


The Jowo told him:

"It is not up to a low ranking disciple to console in his sorrow a high placed abbot and Master, In this India of ours, the task of consoling a pandita's sorrow is reserved for the yogin, whereas for all the funeral rites of a yogin, the pandita is in charge. Still, instead of any one of all those translators mentioned, I'd rather have you, An besides, I'll be able to learn how to speak your language myself!"


The corresponding episode in The Itinerary [268-272] reaches epic grandeur, with Atisha in hot pursuit of the tirthika magician, and with an unsuccessful attempt at consciousness transference, similar to the one operated by Atisha's contemporary Marpa the Translator for his deceased son Tarmadode.


Contrary to the location of the incident proposed by the Master's sacred biography The Universally Known ("upon arrival in Nepal", apparently "[just south of] the Kathmandu Valley"), for the much more detailed Itinerary it took place after receiving travel provision form "the King of Svayambhu" (= 'of Kathmandu, presumably); and at tghe residence of one bharo from "Trishong." Since later it is said to have happened at "the royal residence" there, somewhere south or south-east from 'the Kathmkandu Valley Fortress' (Bal po'irdzong= Nuwakot), we can very tentatively reconstruct "Trishong" as an abbreviation for "Trishuli dzong." a fortress at the Trishuli confluence, and that included a guesthouse for royal guests, used upon their arrival at or departure from the kingdom. Most likely, as in later times, it doubled as a summer palace.


In matters of interpretation, dying virya-simha'a solo speech in verse is particularly difficult, with, at first, no absolute certainty as to whether author Dromton actually intended to depict him as, alternatively, raving in delirium under the black magician's spell, with empty boasts, only later to take back his earlier words and give forth a true account- or not. We postpone a detailed discussion for the postscript, after the translation of the Itinerary's account itself.


Next the King of 'All Trees' offered a vast amount of provisions, and the Newar courtier Bharo from Trishong came to welcome Atisha from afar, inviting him to his won fine residence and offering him, exquisite hospitality with flowers and expressions of homage.


While staying at his place and preparing a ritual on the night of the third day, Gya virya-simha Addressed their host:


1.         Chosen as leader by Lord (Atisha) , as the most qualified of all, was I, I, Virya-Simah, 'Lion of Persever ance'.


5.         and also in both the potala and Tushita )(Buddha Spheres)

            One body in each; furthermore, in Uddiyana

            one body and also, within Tibet, in both the regions of Kham and Dam

            (north of Lhasa)

            one emanation for sure. But it's been of not use.


[Next, turning to his companions and co-dis-ciples of Atisha, he continued:]


10.       A tirthika master in evil mantra for the sake of wealth teaches how to harm others.

            For the sake of wealth, he is even after the gold belonging to the Dharma.

            Whereas a Buddhist guru, with compassion endowed,


15.       even gives up his own life for the Dharma's sake,

            a tirthika, if he doesn't get his reward, in return

            without modesty or shame will kill his own 'son' (-disciple)


In order to turn back the activities of this perverted doctrine (at present directed against me),


20.       absolutely indispensable is a clean base such as the corpse of a brahmin who didn't stray.

Equally most necessary is to look for a second person (to perform the rite of transference)


25.       such is the life of Atisha, complete liberation.


            As for myself, an upasika is what I am, a layman practitioner

            about to go to my natural abode.

Since the people believe that I was unborn, the moment I die, (secretly) carry me to the cremation ground.


[then, once more he spoke to the host:]


30.       Actually, into that source, the mental body of Clear Light, I will dissolve.

I have been active in both India and Tibet, and for the Land of Snows, one (translator for Atisha) will be sufficient.


[Later he whispered to his friends:]


            So far I have done a lot for myself, little enough for living beings,


35.       and up to now, mine's been 9mostly) Dharma by lip-service.

            I am one without a country, without a family,

            a "lion in perseverance" (only) in worldly things.


            (What previously I said) about (my) emanation bodies, one shouldn't hold as true.


40.       if greatly "Virya", 'Perseverant', it has been in the Stages of the Path (and nothing further);

            if similar to a "Simha", Lion', it has been in acts of (ordinary) bravery.


            But if there's (one like) a pure sun, it's Nagtso

            from Karpo-ling ("Isle of White") in northern Uru's CEntral Province,

            the Superior Arya among all (of Atisha's) followers,


45.       and one who never touched meat, beer or garlic: for food, what he really enjoys besides butter and tea are "the three whites" (Yoghurt, mild and clarified butter)

Never was his behavior that of a dog or a pig.


[A last time he now turned to the host:]


            Above the groves of Dumri, the sons of the Gods are having a great time.


50.       dissolving in the hole of celestial space," is what they'll say;

            "The learned one is in a Clear Light god's body,

            many sons of the Gods are leading him away," is what they'll say.

            In his turn as Virya-simha, everything has been achieved,

            so next, Virya-simha is on his way to peace,


55.       however that may appear to the logicians."


            Thus he talked away.

That night, all of a sudden, his fever hit him more severely, so that all became alarmed. As he was all in pain, (at least) in the eyes of the world he also caused great anxiety to Atisha (who woke up and came to see him). Atisha addressed him:


            Gya Virya-simha.

            haven't you been in contact with a wrong

            teaching of some evil guru?

            Hasn't there been an evil mantra from some evil tirthika?


Haven't you been corrupted by an evil Dharma, a guidance mixed up with conceit ?


            Isn't there some remuneration for an evil mantra that you failed to pay out?

            shouldn't keep secret that you shouldn't keep secret from me ?

            Whatever there may be (of the sort), tell me now, quickly !


In reply, Gya came up with a request for help:


"What happened is that I learned from a black tirthika, Ralu by name, some evil mantra practice known as The Nine Black Mixings, for which I was to pay him two tenths of a gold ounce as his remuneration, One tenth was not completely melted down (but offered as golddust instead), and he told me, "That golddust of yours, first melt it down and give it to me then, as solid gold." While well aware that, unless I gave him the loose gold after having melted it as a payment for the evil mantra, I would probable die a violent death, still I didn't have it melted. Instead, I entrusted myself to you (Lord Atisha), someone so learned,. I felt remorse, ashamed for having (behind your back) requested an evil mantra in the first place; and I felt apprehensive about telling you. In the meantime, I now possess this evil mantra that I learned from him; but how to ward it off, (if directed against myself, that part) I do not have. Is there any means to achieve that ?"

The Jowo spoke:


"For someone like me, even with omniscience endowed, there is no way that from an evil tirthika I would ever learn evil mantras. IF after requesting it you could've told me, I would've had the means to ward it off. At present, however, it looks as if it is too late. Still (let's try"; and addressing the others present, he continued:)


"All of you go out and look for an absolutely unspoilt corpse of a brahmin boy. If it can be found, there is some possibility of warding off (the tirthika's evil mantra)." Thereupon someone by name of Pota-deva-varman performed a divination. The search party found the corpse of a brahmin boy and they placed it on top of the traced out mandala diagram. As Atisha performed the meditational rite (of consciousness transference), a hand stretching out without a body, similar to an iron claw, extracted Gya's heart and took off with it. Atisha chased it and as he was approaching the village of the black tirthika, he made the latter fall over, trampled him and, santching the heart from him; (then returned and put it back in Virya's breast. Yet by then, the heart had become severely damaged; so instead of (the original body of) Virya-simha, he made the consciousness (directly) enter the brahmin's corpse.


While he was still engaged in the meditational rite, that claw reappeared, snatched the heart out of the brahmin's corpse and was gone with it. Atisha consulted the omens about finding a(nother) brahmin corpse right then, but none was around.


Close to midnight, Virya-simha passed away as a result of his previously torn out heart. Fearing the fault of polluting the bed withing the royal residence, they carried the corpses to the cremation ground. In Virya's place (within the royal guesthouse) they put a substitute sick person to whom, in the morning, (ostensibly) they sent some medicine. While letting everyone believe he had not died, they moved beyond the territory of the Nepal Valley (Kingdom).


The symbolic explanation


Just as the tale comes to an end, and the reader still tries to adjust the unexpected image of an Atisha, here engaged in a hard core battle against a black magician, with the standard thangka icon of the gentle smiling Master, the storyteller himself intervenes with a quiet reassurance, presumably for those who couldn't take it [271]:


But others do not agree with this description and claim that, meaning wise, all this is Dharma revealed though symbols (*samaya-dharma, brda chos)


and the next two pages consist of twelve examples of such symbolic interpretation. "Examples", because there is not the slightest hint as to what is the true solution. It might be all symbolic, a story told to explain something else, like the boatman at the Ganges episode" -and the highly literary verse dialogues definitely enhance this theatrical feel to it. But then again, the original story just might mean literary what it says, not to be viewed as symbolic at all. As for this symbolic interpretation,


In fact it runs as follows:


[1] Between these two, the tirthika teacher and the buddhist teacher, there exists a crucial difference, in the sense that they aim, respectively, at (personal) enrichment and at the welfare of others.


[2] There exists a difference regarding their intention and compassion, to be understood in the sense that the one goes so far as to kill the boy he has been teaching and that the other encompasses all beings in his compassion to an equal degree.


[3] There exists a further difference with regard tot he mind set on the true Dharma and a mind that is not, in the sense that the one wants to possess even gold from melting down sacred representation of the precious Three, whereas the other would not (dream of) teaching Dharma for the mere sake of wealth. 


[4] Also, there are three aspects to 'arranging the absence' of Virya-simha's dead body:


[a] The true sphere of Avalokiteshvara does not reach (further south-east) be yond the "Kathmandu Valley Fortress' (Nuwakot); and when someone dies there are merciless disputes, about getting hold of the wealth of the deceased.


(By contrast), on this side (north-west) of the "Kathmandu Valley Fortress' is the domain of the compassionate Maha-karunika, so that even if one dies in (some) one else's house, out of compassion there will be much assistance and positive intention, without others begging for the wealth (left by the deceased).


[b] The trouble taken to make people (in the house) believe that Gya Virya-simha, as an emanation body, did not possess (=leave behind) any corpse, was because it would' be been absurd to show the corpse, If the corpse had been noticed by the resident (owner of the house), he would've come to claim the deceased's possessions, So they hid it, and spread the word that it was (a case) of no corpse (being left behind).


[c] By making (other) people believe and spread the word around that Birya was still ill (but alive)n, they dispelled the thoughts (of suspicion) among the Nepalese inhabitants (in the are)


[5] Furthermore, these saintly sages, expert in skillful means, would teach Dharma in its 'meaning requiring interpretation' (neyartha, drang don) on an extensive scale. Thus, so as to go along with the ways of worldly people, the Jowo stated that in the absence of Gya Virya-simha, his tongue was cut off and also showed that this caused him great mental pain. He(first ) stated that, unable to ward off the tirthika power, [272] henceforth he would only be able to teach the odd individual (in Tibet:); (later adding) that (for Virya-simha's case) he might be able to ward off the tirthika's evil mantra, but only if the ritually pure corpse of a brahmin, extremely hard to find, were available.


Now all of these (are instances of skillful means for conveying other meanings, of a symbolical nature):


(a) The brahmin corpse difficult to trace at short notice: it symbolizes the neces sary leisure and opportunity (ksanasampad, dal 'byor,= as required to practice the Buddha's instructions), as well as the Buddha's teaching itself, both of which are hared to encounter.


(b) Furthermore, an extremely pure brahmin corpse, difficult to find: (it symbolizes) the complete liberation according to the Pure Precepts or Kadampa (Lineage) that is like wise extremely pure hard to put into practice and hard to encounter.


(c) Also, this being the corpse of one without pollution (in his pledges): Like wise, at present, in order to fully appreciate pure liberation and practice according to vowed behavior (vrata, brtul zhugs) and so forth, in a non-defiled way is just plain hard.


(d) To ward off the evil mantra by means of the heart of the brahmin: it symbolized how, in order to ward off the obstacles against purity, one needs to rely on the pure Dharma. All of this relates to inconceivable liberation. 


(e) Also, when (Nagtso) Gungthangpa was consoling (Atisha) and when the Guru responded by telling him: "It is not appropriate that you (try to help me) in my pain", he thereby, in fact, was teaching him to act towards all without any distinction, whether important people or people of humble origins; to be friendly towards all, to act free of envy towards them, and so forth; that's what is symbolizes.


It is only indirectly, thanks to this subsequent clarification of the symbolic values, that Virya-simha's monologue becomes somewhat intelligible. The verses spoken by him, in fact, start to make sense from the moment it is made clear that Virya-simha at different times utters different messages to, alternatively, host Bharo from Trishong and, when the latter is out of earshot, to his own companions (in the above translation indicated between square brackets, with the specific addressee marked in bold). Without these 'stage directions' the monologue is close to gibberish, because replete with contradictary statements, and at first does indeed come across as someone raving in fever. We'll return to this problem below.


As for the symbolic values themselves, # [1], [2] and [3] are easy enough to understand and obviously refer to the verses 10-17 of terminally ill Virya-sinha's soliloquy, when he reflects aloud about the differences between a Buddhist teacher and a tirthika.


Things are slightly more complicated for item # [4], about why Atisha's entourage faked the absence of a dead body, as related to that same verse soliloquy.


Items [4a] and [4b] are related. If the possessions of a dying guest go to his host, then better do anything to make that host believe that this is the exceptional case of an accomplished said composed of many (immaterial) emanation bodies. He mentions several: in two Buddha spheres, in at least two regions of Tibet, in Uddiyana and India, besides, by analogy (and in between the lines), the one here in Nuwakot (verses 4-9). It is continued in verses 30-33 and 48-55, all of which one should understand as specifically directed to the host Bharo from Trishong. Why the host has to be led up the garden path is clear from the earlier mentioned alternative version taken from the biography. Most precious and irreplacable among the material belongings of Virya-simha are his books and, among these, the manuscript drafts of his translation work much of it carried out under Atisha's personal supervision.


The remaining verses one should understand as being addressed to Virya-simha's entourage, specifically the instructions in verses 28-29 ["Since the people (of Bharo's household) believe that (as an emanation body) I was unborn,? the moment I die, (secretly) carry me to the cremation ground"]. They are made co-responsible in order to help Bharo believe that there is not, nor will there be, any corpse; that Virya-simha has evaporated as a Clear Light god; and that, accordingly, host Bharo should not harbor any false hopes regarding acquisition of Virya's possessions- nor, as expressed in the biography-have any fears of seeing his house ritually polluted by the presence of the deceased.


As for the people of the neighborhood (# [4c]), it is sufficient for them to believer that Atisha's chief translator is still alive and that, not with standing his illness, the party travels on towards Tibet. Probably before anyone find out about the theft of the brahmin boy's corpse, one might add; not a laughing matter either in a hindu kingdom.


It is with the set of symbolic explanations under # [5] that the earlier insinuation (that "others do not agree with this description" and state that this is "Dharma revealed through symbols") is enforced, about the account of Virya-simha's tragic death serving as a mere parable. We are now clearly told that (according to those "others") "these saintly sages" often taught in ways that require interpretation (neyartha), meaning: not to be taken literally, It is important to point out that this does not refer to Virya-simha & friends' white lies to Bharo and the villagers of the neighborhood, bout applies to the entire story itself.


The clues offered by author Dromton are based on a first principle of hermeneutical interpretation of the text. When dealing with biographical material related to a Buddhist Mster on Atisha's level, one should always countercheck what agrees with the known ways of such a Master and what does not. Instances of the former are to be accepted as they stand. Episodes that contradict such a Master's style of behavior an bound to contain a hidden intention: either the Master has been acting in such unusual ways for a specific purpose, that should become clear at a later stage in the account: or the account it self is a parable of sorts, projected into the biography and requiring a subsequent elucidation of the symbolic values involved. For the author of the account there is not doubt. In the episode that concerns us here, Jowo Atisha has been play-acting in accordance with the ways of the world:

* When he expressed his great mental pain and claimed that

* the tirthika magic had achieved its goal, had got the better of him, because

* his journey has now turned out to be a total waste, with the loss of his chief translator:               


It should be obvious, Dromton tells us without so many words, that someone on Atisha's level of realization


* in his immense impartial compassion is beyond "mental pain", moreover,

* how could tirthika magic in any way hinder the goals of a living Buddha of his kind ?

* With or without chief translator, one should know that nothing could turn his aims into a total waste; least of all concerning a grand enterprise like his journey to Tibet.       


It would be showing a terrible lack of conviction to take any of Atisha's provisional adaptation to the ways of the world literally, he thereby argues; and gives one example in counter-argument # [5] (e). Atisha here scolds Nagtso Lotsawa for trying to son sole him: a Master doesn't need any "Poor Atisha, it's going to be alright'-consolation; and a disciple who thinks so is greatly lacking in viewing his guru as the Buddha.


By implication, not only does this apply to the "mental pain"; it also holds true for Atisha temporarily showing defeat and being at a loss. In each of these cases, he is testing out his disciples in a crisis, which is when they are likely to show their true colors. Imparting a crucial mind training directive will sink in all the better if delivered at any such moment.


And now the final leap: by further implication, the whole account of the consciousness transference too is bound to be just a story, with the symbolic meaning neatly spelled out in points [5] (a) to (d). The analogy, supposedly, is that, like his mission to Tibet, tirthika magic can not stop Atisha; so how could an undertaking like the consciousness transference possibly fail ?              


Few readers will feel inclined to grant credence to this latter argument and to go for the pretty bland symbolic interpretations of fered in its wake (why indeed the need for such a longwinded thriller, if only to explain a couple of very basic and uncontroversial doctrinal ponts?). Rather, they will tend to think that Virya-simha, by the gross infraction against his vows and commitments-basically accepting to worship spirits and paying for that knowledge by selling of the samgha's belongings -had run out of good luck, of positive karma. This is moreover a view fully in tune with Atisha's earlier lament about the sad state of Tibet and its lack of "one bit of positive potential to stop virya-simha from dying."


There is an extra reason to stick to the original tale: abounding, as it does, in realistic detail, it just makes much better sense. It was not to be that last time that the Bengali Master had to deal with the heavier guns of adversaries. It, moreover, entirely fits the picture of the period, as reflected in the study of Jowo Atisha's contemporaries and near contemporaries active in early eleventh century Nepal.


What the postscript does achieve is an attenuation of a pretty gruesome story, which the weak hearted might be more that willing to abandon, with a sigh of relief.


The Nagtso tradition of the Yamantaka, Slayer of Death


When it is stated that Jowo Atisha "chased" the heart of Virya-simha after it was snatched away by the "iron claw" of tirthika magic, we have to understand this elliptic sttememtnas a magical countemove of the Master, He does not run into the night to the tirthika's village and back again, but goes after the conjuror of the eerie appearance in vision, while in self-generation as an unnamed wrathful Yidam deity. There is good reason to believe that this Krodha from was the Slayer Of Death, probably in its black form (Krishna Yamari).


The Universally Known biography [78] limits all discussion about the Yamantaka lineage to establishing Atisha's Guru and the one preceding him:


Kamala-raksita = Krishna-charya Sr.= Jowo Atisha.


From other sources (TARI [68-74]) the anterior part of this lineage can be completed as follows:


Lalita-vajra= (....) = Buddha-jnana-pada= (...) =Shri-dhara= Kamala- raksita


and there is a direct association of the latter with Atisha and Nagtso, since they jointly translated Kamala-raksita's meditation scenario (sadhana) for the Black Slayer.


Lama Taranatha of Jonang, in his Wonders of Conviction, a transmission history of the meditational cycles of the Slayer Of Death, has different information about Atisha's place in the lineage. He provides the following teachers names for what, within the total transmission history picture, he calls the (very minor) "Nagtso tradition" [TARI, 146]:


Vajra-yogini=the weaver *Nanda-vajra= Krishna-charya= Lawpa= King Harsha-deva= Gambhira-vajra= Shri-dhara Acharya= Dharma-shri +Ratnakara [-shanti]= Shanti- bhadra


and we are made to understand that one transmission led from Ratnakara-shanti on to Atisha and to Nagtso, while some others were by Nagtso obtained from Shanti-bhadra. In-deed, Jaya-shila Nagtso Lotsawa is further recorded as having requested the Black Yamari from Atisha and next to have translated the Root Tantra, i.e. the Tantra of the Black Slayer, Body, Speech and Mind of All the Tathagatas (Sarva-tathagata-kaya-vak-chitta-Krishna-yamari-tantra). Later, after the instruction of Shanti-bhadra, he also translated (together with either Krishna Pandita or Dana-Kiriti [TARI: 128]) an early commentary on the Black Slayer  Tantra, The simultaneously Born Light (Sahaja-aloka), by Shri-dhara [TARI: 77]


Although unmentioned in the account, we can presume that Atisha carried out the transference rite accompanied by the other Yamantaka expert in the group, his younger brother Virya- chandra. We already encountered him in Atisha's entourage before, buring the Swayambhu episode, where he was seated in the row of the Indians, to Tisha's left. According to the "Kyo tradition" the lineage runs like this [TARI: 118:}


Lila-vajra (= or=) Lalita-vajra= Manjushri-mitra= Amogha-vajra Sr.= his four major disciples: (1) Devakara-chandra, (2) Krishna-charya, (3) Amogha-vajra Jr. [the Guru of Lama Kyo (sKyo) after whom this tradition is named ] and finally (4) Virya-chandra,


about whom Taranatha further informs us He achieved the feats (siddhi) of the Slayer of Dath and most probably went to Tibet. I think he is the one who stayed for a long time in the Naga monastery in Yarlung and then returned to India. The Kyo followers claim that he attained the rainbow body and lives on Shri-parvata.


Virya- chandra, in other words, is considered a major lineage holder, in a transmission different from the one received by his older brother Atisha; whereas the latter had received the teachings and instructions, but was not a lineage holder as such, as the main teacher of the generation responsible for the transmission.



A last note on Dromton's Itinerary


The Itinerary remains a difficult text: possibly because, as I have argued elsewhere, it is an unfinished work, a portion of a life story in the direction of the literary genre later to become known as the secret Biography, One could add that even its few completed section seem to be unrevised; hence the presence of sequences that appear to be poorly integrated in the over-all scenario. Such is the case with the two "nomad boy" episodes; they appear out of nowhere and sort of remain hanging in the air, don't lead anywhere; are neither  part of the plot, nor contribute to its ambience. The last one would expect, if the author absolutely insisted on including this material. would be a subsequent encounter and confrontation with King Kushala-mati or, at the very least, the news received on route that, meanwhile, neither king nor kingdom has survived, instead: nothing.


That The Itinerary was intended as a corrective to (at least an early version of) what was to become the standard Atisha biography can be considered as established. The item of symbolical interpretation which in the translation we have numbered as #[5] (e) contains a quotation of Atisha's complaint about "his tongue being cut off' which is anecdote that appears in the corresponding section of the biography (as given above), whereas one will in vain look for it in the Itinearary's own account of the episode. This clearly demonstrates that the Itinearary regard the biography as "presupposed knowledge," and its won contribution each time as an excursus or elaboration on that knowledge One possible answer to the question of "What king of excursus?" might be: in the sense of a libretto for a stage version of the same narrative, with some added spice, some extra action to enhance the story line, and plenty of local color to make that narrative come alive.


Let us for a moment return to the earlier, more specific question as to why, in Virya-simha's verse monologue, the author left out [what we referred to as] the 'stage directions', when it would've required no more that a couple of intercalated notes (Like our own above: "to Bharo", "to his companions", "again to host Bharo") to render a most difficult passage at least passably intelligible. Once more we can only come up with two explanations:


(a) the earlier argument of the Itinerary being an unfinished work that received a minimal polishing up (if not patching up) to make it publishable, but with serious gaps still visible. Next to (b) the idea of a libretto that does not really require any final touch. It provides a number of more or less completely worked out episodes ("scenes") and the verse lyrics for the spoken or sung parts; but all the rest is up to the stage director and producer. In which case even the nomad boy's appearance might just achieve what is intended; the excuse for a comic interlude, with the usual space allotted for ad libbing by the actor in that role- in the supposition that one of the standard clown figures was "the uncouth nomad". It is sufficient to compare any of the standard libretto texts meant for the Tibetan "mystery plays"- the equivalent of the dance theatre of the Sankritic world- with an actual performance to see the range of free interpretation and added scenes being enacted, for half of which the libretto does not even contain as much as a hint.


The remaining question is of course now these elements of internal critique fit in with what is known about the origins and development of the biographical tradition about Atisha.


Eimer (1982) assigns the composition of the first elaborate Atisha biography (= The Extensive or an immediate ancestor thereof), by Vinaya-dhara Slphuwa (? 1091/1100? 1166/1174), to circa 1150. The transmission was at first an oral one, starting off from sporadic interviews with Dromton and six other direct Atisha disciples [who all agreed between them], and with two indirect ones [who disagreed], plus, especially, from the extensive, orally conveyed memories from Nagtso. So from Dromton, Nagtso et al.=Rongpa Lagsorpa= Lagsorpa's four maind disciples, among whom= Vinayhadhara Sulphuwa collected the notes of his three co-disciples and, editing these together with his personal notes, compiled the mentioned first elaborate Atisha biography.


Even if the composition date of "circa 1150" is "conservatively late' (assigned on the basis of Eimer's supposition that the co-disciples' notes would not have reached Suplhuwa till after their demise, it is still close to a century after Dromton's death in 1064. How then can I speak of "a corrective" or "an appendix" to a work that, in tis final version as we now know it, would take almost another century to come into being?


(1) To start with, I have trouble with Eimer's assertion (1982: 44) that the rNam thar yongs grags [=The Universally known] is not derived from the rNam thar rgyas pa[The Extensive:] both works are descended from a common ancestor.


I persist in maintaining that The Extensive is an unfinished opus, halfway abandoned because of an impractical lay-out, improper editorship and too much additional ('late') information that was more or less haphazardly collaged onto the end of the work, where it ended taking up half of the entire volume. As such, this sacred biography was plainly "unpresentable", not a sacred biography (rnam thar) worth its name, for sure not for as towering a Master as Jowo Atisha. It was, in other words a preliminary attempt, albeit the biggest (rgyas pa) thus far undertaken.


(2) Yet even so, antecedents towards an Extensive Biography must have existed in some rudimentary stage or other well before Lagsorpa started collating the main material and further isolated data (many of them, in the last section of The Extensive, still bear the name tag of their oral source). Suffice it to say that, already at that stage, the embryo of The Extensive showed a presentational style (or compilatory 'trend') against which The Itinerary presents a literary reaction; the evocative claiming its rights against the deadeningly 'purely factual'.


Chronologically we are still groping in the dark as to what exactly was compiled or readily composed at what stage, But as to how the editors of The Volume of the Pure Precepts (bKa' gdams glegs bam) eventually viewed the matter, the situation is perfectly clear. The Universally Known was as close as they could get to a standard work .. of sorts; where it was still somewhat lacking (in vividness, in immediate impact, for a readership that required inspiration), the balance was restored by the rightful appendix; Dromton's Itinerary.


In her notes to Tsongkhapa's "Life of Atisha" (part of the forthcoming group translation of Tsongkhapa's magnum opus, the Great Exposition of the Stages on the Path or Lam rim chen mo), Dr. Elisabeth Napper most helpfully simplifies much of this information on the textual history of the Atisha biographies by pointing out that The Extensive.


is based largely on Nagtso's account of the life of Atisha. The Tibetan tradition, in fact, attributes the work to Nagtso. although the colophon states that Nagtso's account was gathered by Geshe Rongpa Chagsorpa and written down by Geshe Sulpuwa.


This synthetic view probably provides the answers we have been groping for. If The Extensive's chief author i s indeed Jaya-shila Nagtso,m with Chagsorpa for editorial assistance and Sulphuwa for editor scribe (and if then Universally Known is the orderly reworking, by Chim the Omniscient, of that same work into a presentable state), then- never mind who acted as editorial assistant and editor scribe for the Itinerary- the relation between major biographies and Itinerary basically comes down to an initial scholastic account By Nagtso and an appendix by Dromton. It so happens that Nagtso and Dromton are also the authors of the two early Hymns of Praise to the Master (in Eighty Verses and in Thirty Stanzas, respectively) that are largely accepted as the key string points of the biographical tradition, in the sense that, previous to any public teaching session on Atisha's precepts, a brief life story of the teacher would be given; and the format chosen would often be a spoken commentary to the hymn, one stanza or a couple of verses at a time- this is for instance the case with Tsongkhapa's "Life of Atisha", a commentary to Nagtso's Hymn.


This basically leaves us with two hymns and two different teaching styles, of Nagtso and of Dromton, reflected in the major biography and in the Itinerary. Everything in the latter work tends to corroborate this view, for here too, a lot is basically about young Nagtso, at times depicted with mild irony, as one who diplomatically speaking, was not always the most skillful, and nearly ruined the whole enterprise of inviting Atisha to Tibet; and about the real force guiding him from afar, the already somewhat accomplished yogin Dromton.


Together the two works provide the complete picture. The editors of Book of the Kadampas Collection clearly knew what they were doing.


37. Bal yul, 'Wool country', i.e. where the Tibetans went to sell their wool; the country in between India and Tibet. No specifics are given, but the episode seems to take place somewhere between the Therai border and Kathmandu Valley. The latter is invariably referred to as Bal po. Hence Bal po is never to be understood as Palpa, as Das [(1893) 1965], Chattopadhyaya [(1967) 1981] and others misread; based on which the latter's map too, of Atisha's journey "from Kathmandu to Tholing," is slightly 'off".


38. rTsa ltung rgya cher 'grel. Alaka Chattopadhyaya (1967) 1981: 457, # 43, traces one Mulapatti-tika in the Tibetan canonical literature, but its colophon mentions Nagtso, not Virya-simha, as its translator. The same applies for another Atisha authored text on a related subject, the Dasha-akushala-deshanza, on which see ibid. 302, n. 26. 


39. At least according to what was to become the standard sacred biography of Marpa the Translator, by Tsang-nyon Heruka. Jonang Taranatha, for one, casts heavy doubts on that account, showing that, according to the much older accounts, Marpa had died long before Tarmadode and that Milarepa was nowhere around at the time of Tarmadode's death (see D., H. 1992 for the sources).


40. Pills containing an infinitesimal amount of flesh of "one seven times born a brahmin" constitute a standard ingredient in tales of magical intervention. The ones still in circulation usually are prepared with bits of the ingredient dating back several centuries. An ancient print of a small envelope paper, collected by Prof. Kidder Smith (Asian Studies, Bowdoin College) in Kham, has the inscription: "Samaya substance liberating by tasting it, a blessed pill of a "seven born".


41. "upasaka" is of course the more correct Sanskrit; but "upasika" is the transliterated spelling most commonly encountered in the texts of the period.


42. "Indian" in thew sense that his clan name "Gya" (rGya) can, in Tibetan, be read as an abbreviation of rGya gar, 'India'. This is of course a pun, since his clan name had most certainly other unknown connotations.


43. Or "The Numerous Black Unions" (nag po dgu sbyor). A restoration of the Sanskrit title is even more problematic. Das (1893) 1965: 76, n., has "a mystic charm called the Nava Sandhi or the nine-conjunctions.


44. Gry lha go cha can. Apparently someone in the group's entourage, otherwise unknown.


45. For instance in Bod kyi thang ka, plate 51, "The trio Jo[wo Atisha], ngog [Legpa Sherab], and Drom[ton]" [Plate 52 has a biographical thanka of Dromton, probably covering the previous lives, as taught by Atisha in the Bu chos volume of the Book of the Kadampas]. The exclusively gentle image is also seen in the shorter Atisha biographies, such as the one by Tsongkhapa incorporated in his Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (lam rim chen mo); cf. The translation of that section in Doboom Tulku & Glenn Mullin 1983: 1-14.


46. Where the ferryman turned out to be Avalokiteshvara (and so, later, does a while series of Other personages in the account); ful translation in D. H. 1997a. In a forthcoming review article (D.H. 1997b), I point out certain stylistic parallels between the Itinerary and the earlier mentioned Testament Extracted from the Hollow Pillar (bKa' chems ka khol ma), this form of an account followed by a symbolic interpretation being one of them.


47. The way I understand the text, it is not tin the least implied in Gya's earlier account that the black magician directed him to steal some buddhist statuary and melt it down to make up for the missing amount; yet this is clearly what it says, bot in Gya's subsequent verse monologue and here as part of the symbolical elucidation. This is a common stylistic feature of the sacred biography genre: in the verse or song 'resume' of previous events, the odd extra bit of information is added on (every now and then also in Tsang-nyon's Life of Marpa. Jacques Bacot must have missed this and hence was mistaken in his decision to reject outright these passages from his translation as "mere repetition").


48. "On this side, (northwest) of the 'Kathmandu Valley Fortress" (Nuwakot)" is of course as seen by some one writing in Tibet. It means that majority-buddhist populations lived as far as that, with the majority-hindu sphere starting south-east from Nuwakot.


49. Which is also why, in the paragraph preceding the translation, Virya-simha's monologue was characterized as leaving the reader with:


no absolute certainly as to whether author Dromton actually intended to depict him as, alternatively, raving in delirium under the black magician's spell, with empty boasts, only later to take back his earlier words and give forth a true account.


50. So this would include author Dromton himself, called thus by the disciple/scribe receiving his words.


51. Cf. Ngawang Nyima & Lama Chimpa in Alaka Chattopadhyaya (1967) 1981: 430, based an unmentioned source:


At Nyethang, two atsaras with small bundles on their back came near the Master. Atisha told Geshe the Yogin ('Neljorpa'): "Take away their bundles" and when the latter did so and searched the bundles, he found a small box inside. As soon as the box was opened, there sprang out from it a shapr knife which stuck to the wall and remained grafted on it Atisha said, "This is how the tirthikas wanted to kill me. The knife was designed to murder me. The tirthikas want me to stop the spread of the Doctrine in Tibet."


Subsequent to this section (6), The Itinerary includes two further episodes on Atisha in Nepal, the ones dealt with in D., H. 1996, after which he crosses the border into Western Tibet. The reception granted him there is an amplification of the earlier welcome at Swayambhu and is often reckoned to have been modelled after the description of the parallel grand reception offered by King Thrisong Destsen to Padma Sambhava.


52. See D.H. 1994. A more detailed study on Bharo 'Maimed Hand' and his Tibetan disciple Vajra-kirti (cf. next note) will be incoaporated in my forthcoming work, Lightning Terror. The meditational practice and transmission history of the Shri VjraBhairava.


53. See D.LH. 1995b.


54. Elsewhere (D.H. 1996: 28), with regard to the other, older Atisha biography (The Extensive), I alluded to "some of the subsection headings, announced at the start of chapter, [that] 'never made it', are not filled in." One such heading concerns precisely the Yamari transmission, suggesting that at the time of the redaction, data were still missing. The universally Known does only slightly better, dedicating to the subject no more that the here quoted information about these two names.  It is near impossible to identify this "Krishna-charya Sr". since quite a few Siddhas belonging to different periods bear that name. My guess is that it is a nickname for Atisha's Vajrayana Guru of his youth, Rahula-gupta of Black Mountain, Krishna-giri; hence: 'the one practicing at Black [Mountain]"


55. Tha ga pa dGa' ba'i rdo rje.


56. Since the latter happened under the Indian teacher Shanti-bhadra after the translation work on the Black slayer under Atisha, theis work would appear to have been completed by Nagtso during his stay at Vikramashila. But in the next paragraph Taranatha refers to these translation as "improvements" (g'yur bcos) of previous translation attempts.


This was a period of major translation activity. also involving Nagtso's contemporary Rongzom Chosang who translated the Tri-kalpa Tantra of the Vajra Bhairava cycle (about which, see D.H. 1997c) as well as Nyo Lotsawa, Marpa's companion on his first trip to Nepal and India (and also very much Marpa's sponsor, contrary to the evil role assigned to his in The life of Marpa the translator by Tsang-nyon Heruka), stated to have translated all "three Black Slayer Tantras", works that were already rare in Taranatha's time (TAR, [77]).


The Blue annals [Roerich & Gedun Chophel translation (1949) 1976: 374] also assigns the translation of Shri-dhara's work to a collaboration between Atisha and Nagtso, and further mentions Krishna-samaya-vajra as one of the latter's teachers. Generally speaking, The Blue Annals grossly oversimplifies the very complicated transmission of the Slayer cycles, since it is indeed very difficult to solve the contradictions between the different traditions; Taranatha's being the closest to achieving this aim, after an in-depth consultation of all the sources available, He for instance disagrees with the BA's suggestion that Atisha was the first to introduce the cycles of the Slayer to Tibet (as also in Siklos 1996: 10-11, with some extra embellishments) assigning this to Zhang Lotsawa instead, a good ten or fifteen years before the Atisha-Nagtso collaboration bore its first fruits.


All this happened several decades before Vajra-kirti Rwa Lotsawa, the Tibetan student of the Newar Gurus Bharo 'Maimed Hand' and Metsa-lingpa, brought the Slayer of Death Tantras to Tibet and spread them on a large scale.


57. Also related to the transmission of the Slayer in Nepal during that period, although not directly related to Atisha and Nagtso, is the lineage of Mal Lotsawa, that started with Naropa who passed it on to Vagishvarakirti, i.e. Phamthingpa Sr., the second of 'the Brothers from Pharping', alias the Shantikara Acharya associated with Shantipur, (at Swayambhu) of the Newar tradition. He passed it on to Logkya who was also a disciple of Handu Karpao from Patan, alias Varendra-rucchi-together with Vagishvara-kriti another of Marpa Lotsawa's teachers in Nepal (= TAR [126])


58. For an account of another intervention by Atisha in self generation as the Slayer, see D., H. 1995. There, however, the form of the deity is the Red Slayer of Death (Rakta-yamari).


59. D. H. 1996: 37 and n. 23.


60. There is indeed a close relationship between sacred biography and theatrical opera versions (or "mystery plays" as I prefer to call them) derived from one or more chapters of the biographies. Elsewhere I have drawn attention to this connotation of the songs present in both genres: for the Hundred Thousand Precepts on the Mani, i.e. the Manibka' bum or royal Testament of Srongtsen Gampo (D.H. 1997b: n. 33) and for the lives of Marpa and Milarepa (D.H 1992: 22 and n. 13). This also explains the occasional appearance of one or more chapters extracted from a standard sacred biography and presented as an independent work, almost certainly to be used as a libretto for a local stage production. Mr. Tashi Tsering once showed me the manuscript of  one presumed "Sacred Biography of Tarmadode" by one Rinsang Tragpa (Rin bzang grags pa) that, apart from an additional opening invocation (Namo Guru Deva....) turned out to be a straight copy of chapter IV of "The Life of Marpa the Translator" by Tsang-nyon Heruka.


61. Echoing Eimer, robert Vitali (1996: 179) too, of late, in a monumental study on the historical sources on W. Tibet, has dismissed the Itinerary as something a hoax ("a text of doubtful authorship and date, in which any accounts sound more like pious legends" and "embellished storytelling"). His main objection concerns (1) visits by Atisha to "certain unlikely temples in W. Tibet (sTod), such as one Pemo-ling temple, nowhere mentioned in other sources" and (2) " the improbable journey by swift walking back to Kathmandu Valley, interrupting the Jowo's sojourn in West Tibet after six months and twenty-five days,..... [and his return to Tibet after]... having consecrated a royal temple in Nepal." I have countered these objections in detail elsewhere (D.H. 1996 and 1997d): but mainly it boils down to this:  


(1) The creation, by Atisha's disciples, of one monument mentioned in the Itinerary but also "nowhere mentioned in other sources" of the period, the Panch-mani five Stupas complex, turns out to exist and to have been known in the Newar tradition, and


(2) Unflattering as it may sound for the meaning of Atisha's role for the Buddhism of Tibet- sufficient reason for other Tibetan sources to ignore it-the Tham Bhail complex was a project close to Atisha's heart and his literally going out of his way for it makes absolute sense. He wanted it to be a last 'bastion' or transit station in the Sanskritic world, as a direct connection with that world for the massive translation efforts going on at the time. Even the Tibetan court keeping the young Newar princely monk as a voluntary hostage in W. Tibet for that duration, as a guarantee for Atisha's swift return there, sounds totally plausible, in all its outrageousness.


62. As is clear from the title page of the Varnasi edition by E. Kalsang: Complete Biography of Atisha, by Nagtso Lotsawa Tsultim Gyalwa. This should also account for the private joke of Vitali 1996: 217, n. 314:, when, after quoting Heater Stoddard ("...stressed by Atisha in his biography written by Nagtsho") he adds: "I apologize to the reader but I have never come across a Jo do rje rnam thar written by Nagtsho Lotsawa. The Extensive, in the tradition of Tibetan scholarship, is just referred to ion this way, as if by a standard nickname.


63. Mchims tham cad mkhyen pa. Eimer (1982: 48, n. 1) dismisses his authorship on the basis of an overview of the contents of the Universally known in a work (dated 1492) buy Lechen Kunga Gyeltsen, a Lamp to the Transmission History of the Kadampas (dKa' gdams chos 'byung sgron me [27]), and which does not fit the table of contents of that work as we now know it. Unfortunately I have no access to Kunga Gyaltsen's work.


Apart from the chief reasons already evoked, one further, more urgent reason to rework the Extensive into what eventually became The Universally Known was the presence, in the former, of numerous errors of understanding; as when the supposed proof for a given statement becomes incomprehensible, for instance when the punchline of the demonstration is distorted to that extent [not unlike in the stein (1972) translation of the dialogues in the Drugpa Kunley's authobiography]. One example is the quoted extract on the Three Brothers [NAGI: 105b-106a] where the Swayambhu story actually says just the opposite of what it is supposed to say; and can only be restored to its intended meaning by consultation of the parallel passages in other biographical sources-for which Eimer 1978 is indispensable and an incredible time-saver (it provides for each episode that parallels in all other sources !). An even more eloquent example concerns the crucial episode of the first encounter between Atisha and Rinchen Sangpo [NAGI: II, 863, p. 5=Nag 3: 259-261/2 and YONGSI: 149 (f. 51a)= NAG 3: II, 197-198, note to 260, 4th version]. Here it is clearly no the case that The Universally Known has been expanding on the Extensive, but rather that the latter, due to sloppy editing, has a lacuna, which the former fills in. Indeed in the Extensive, Atisha seems displeased simply because, at dusk, Rinchen Sangpo goes to meditate downstairs; int he Universally known, it is made clear that "the Great Translator" at other times (midnight and daybreak) goes to meditate on different floors [apparently to different chapels located on those floors, like a pujari, dkon gnyer], but, somehow, thereby also indicates something wrong in his view, which Atisha is able to detect at a glance; and through a single question to expose {for a detailed discussion of that episode, see D.H. 1997e].


64. Full translation in Doboom Tulku & Glenn H. Mullin 1983; and also in Napper (forthcoming).  


65. For access to the latter two works I am most grateful tio Dr. Franz-Karl Ehrhard, formerly of the Nepal Research Centre and Manuscript Preservation Project, Kathmandu


66. I.e. in the ph.D. Typescript form, previous to its subsequent publication. All page fref. are after this original typescript.


67. This relatively short article is to be viewed as the provisional synthesis of Dr. Eimer's Atisha studies, extending over many years, on the biographical traditions regarding the Master, It remains the most manageable overview available, something close to present day state-of-the-art research. Even if, in some of the previous notes, I can not agree with all of his conclusions, I would hereby like to express my heartfelt admiration and respect for Helmut Eimer's pioneering work, that has proved to be a tremendous help.


68. ON which see the review by Jamyang Nambgyal 1973: 91, where the missing of ht punchline in the dialogues is obliquely alluded to through the straightfaced statement: "If Stein's translation of the Holy Madman sounds occasionally wooden, the fault should be sought in the differences between Tibetan and French." (!)

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