Ra Lotsawa the Yamantaka hero
Yamantaka or Vajrabhairava is practiced within the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug schools. More prominently in Sakya and held as a supreme golden tantra within the Gelugs. Je Tsongkapa himself as well as the 7th Dalai Lama and many other scholars have written numerous commentaries on the rites, rituals, meditations, stages and paths and retreats on Yamantaka. Yamantaka’s meditational path was highly recommended by Je Tsongkapa himself. In fact the main yidam or meditational practice of Gaden Shartse Monastery for the last 600 years is Yamantaka. All students in Gaden Shartse Monastery are required to memorize the path and practice of Yamantaka from a young age as Yamantaka rites and rituals are carried out very often. The Gelugs hold Yamantaka as one of the heart practices that is very efficacious to purify the most heinous karmas during the degenerate age. Yamantaka is the wrathful form of Manjushri and therefore can confer superior intellectual comprehension of the most subtle points of knowledge leading to high realizations. Yamantaka is emptiness in deity form and therefore very powerful to alleviate obstacles internal and external. Yamantaka is a favorite practice to do for healing, extension of life and general well being. Many great masters, teachers, scholars and Geshes hold Yamantaka as their supreme and main practice since the time of Je Tsongkapa and rightly so that many have gained very high realizations from this practice brought from India to Tibet with great hardship by Ra Lotsawa the supreme tantric path.
For political and spiritual reasons depending, when Ra Lotsawa started teaching, initiating his students into the practice of Yamantaka, many of the contemporary lamas of his day were dead against him. Dead against Yamantaka. They claimed Yamantaka has no valid lineage from India and is obscure. No yidam would have a water buffaloe’s head. That Yamantaka’s practice is evil and will bring misguided people to the hells. Yes, by doing Yamantaka you will end up in hell! Imagine proclaiming that today? Who would listen? No one.
Not only did the famous and leading lamas of the day advise strongly against the Yamantaka practice, they were all against Ra Lotsawa himself condemning him and using magic as means to kill or defame Ra Lotsawa. Ra Lotsawa was called to be in magic duels always. Many attempts were made on his life. Some of the lamas genuinely felt Yamantaka is a demonic practice that will lead others to the three lower realms. While others were jealous their system of practice would be outshined by this new practice. Some of the Yamantaka haters were well known lamas and had influence in their day therefore much damage was done to the reputation of Ra Lotsawa and Yamantaka’s tantra. This system of practice did not altogether disappear but in fact showed many miraculous signs of it’s superiority and swiftness in granting siddhis/realizations and attainments therefore Ra Lotsawa never backed down, relented or stop his practice of Yamantaka. Ra Lotsawa stubbornly hung on to this practice and taught the path to his personal students. Ra Lotsawa never gave up in his faith in Yamantaka and the master who conferred this practice to him no matter how much the public reviled him for this. Ra Lotsawa suffered very much and was scorned, belittled and spat upon. He was the butt of many jokes and nasty rumours to defame him because he held on to Yamantaka’s path. No religious freedom is right.
It was much later in fact a few hundred years later when the Dharma King Tsongkapa found the Yamantaka practice, investigated deeper into it, read the existing commentaries, did the retreats and practices and received many auspicious signs that he reconfirmed Yamantaka as a valid and pure practice that can grant practitioners enlightenment in one lifetime to the zealous. Tsongkapa engaged in Yamantaka practice and received many good omens and therefore disseminated this practice among his own students and Gaden Monastery. From there it spread like wildfire. With a lama of Tsongkapa’s caliber and reputation endorsing Yamantaka’s validity, it spread far and wide and strong up till today. Since then Yamantaka has become one of the main tantric practices of the Gelugpa School of Buddhism along with Cakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja tantric paths. All three are studied in Gyuto and Gyume Tantric colleges. They are called the Three Kingly tantras. All Gelugpa monks will have this initiation of either the 13 Deity Yamantaka or Solitary Yamantaka or both. The majority of Gelug monks will engage in the Yamantaka practice daily and retreats when they are free. It took time for Yamantaka to take root because the reputation was damaged at first by the more famous anti-Yamantaka lamas who spoke against.
What is interesting is similar to Yamantaka, Dorje Shugden is called a negative practice, a demon and will lead people to the hells. Sounds familiar. History repeating itself again? Although abused, threatened, spat upon many Gelug Lamas cling on strongly to the practice of Dorje Shugden. They do not give up nor disrespect the master who initiated them into Dorje Shugden’s practice. The Dorje Shugden lamas are ostracized and everyone has segregated them away, yet they never give up their practice. More famous lamas of today have anti Dorje Shugden talks and publications and discourage Dorje Shugden even criticizing heavily the lamas who teach this path just like what Ra Lotsawa had to endure. By logic, study, practice and meditation these countless great masters can see the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden and therefore never give up the practice no matter how strong the opposition is. There are many who practice Dorje Shugden as a genuine spiritual path regardless of the reputation it brings them.
I guess if something is meant to be fantastically beneficial in the long run, then when the practice is about to take off, there will be much opposition and obstacles. This is brought on the karma of the beings in this age. But like Yamantaka, I am sure Dorje Shugden’s practice will become prevalent and mainstream in the near future. It will grow from strength to strength into currently and into future generations taking a stronger hold and become more firm. The key is that the lamas practicing are firm, unafraid and confident to continue initiating students into this path. I just thought it was a relevant comparison of how Yamantaka started out just like Dorje Shugden’s ban now.
May you be blessed by Ra Lotsawa the indelible master and the King of Secrets, Yamantaka Himself!
Ra Lotsāwa Dorje Drak (rwa lo tsA ba rdo rje grags) was born in 1016, in Nyenam, in a place called Nangyul (snye nam / gnya’ nang snang yul), on one of the most important Nepali-Tibetan trade routes. His father was Raton Konchok Dorje (rwa ston dkon mchog rdo rje) and his mother was Dorje Peldzom (rdo rje dpal ‘dzom). His father was a lineage holder of the Nyingma tradition Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakīla, and he passed these on to his son. According to tradition, soon after birth the goddess Remati took him into her robe and traveled across Tibet for two months.
At the age of fourteen Ralo made his first trip to Kathmandu, arriving in Patan during a period of some political social instability, but great cultural fluorescence. Despite the considerable details of his sojourn there given in the (probably) thirteenth-century hagiography, recent scholarship has shown that little of the information given can be trusted, from the name of the monastery in which he resided to the circumstances of his ordination, where he was given the name Dorje Drak.
Ra Lotsāwa attended the Fire Dragon Religious Conference (me ‘brug chos ‘khor) that convened in 1076 under the sponsorship of King Tsede (mnga ‘ bdad rtse lde, d.u.), the nephew of the famous King Jangchub O (byang chub ‘od, d.u.) of the Guge (gu ge) kingdom in western Tibet. This meeting of many of the the most important teachers or the era, both Tibetan and Indian, was dedicated to encouraging new and more accurate translation work. Following the meeting he went to Kashmir, accompanied by five other young Tibetans, including Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab (rngog blo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109). Another young man who went with him to India was Nyen Lotsāwa Darma Drak (gnyan lo tsA ba dar ma grags).
Ralo is said to have trained under a master named Bharo, a title given to newly influential members of the merchant class. The Blue Annals gives the teachers name as Bharo Chakdum (bha ro phyag rdum). Bharo was a specialist in the Vajravārahī and Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) ritual systems, the transmission of which Ralo received during this first visit. According to the hagiography, during this first trip he already displayed his penchant for magical combat, engaging with a Shaivite (follower of Shiva) teacher whose doctrine he insulted, driving the Shaivite to suicide. In addition he trained with a Mahakaruna, a master in Naropa’s lineage of disciples. From him he received a number of tantric initiations, including the Cakrasaṃvara and the Namasamgiti.
Returning to Tibet, Ralo quickly became enmeshed in clan feuds over property and marriage arrangements, and he used his new magical abilities to do battle with his enemies. Many of his enemies were translators and lamas propagating in competing tantric systems, and Ralo infamously engaged them in combat. Khon Shakya Lodro (‘khon shakya blo gros, d.u.), a member of the Khon family that would later initiate the Sakya tradition and a holder of the same Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila lineages, saw in Ralo a serious rival to his influence and survival as a sought-after teacher. He accused Ralo of propagating a non-Buddhist teaching, one that would lead all Tibetans to Hell. According to the hagiography Ralo slew Shakya Lodro with the killing rite of Vajrabhairava, and witnesses saw Vajrabharava in the sky carrying the 58-deity maṇḍala of Yandak Heruka as a sign of the Vajrabhairava’s superiority. Shakya Lodro’s disciples and feudal subjects then became disciples of Ralo.
Later a similar contest arose between him and Langlab Jangchub Dorje (lang lab byang chub rdo rje, d.u.), another important Vajrakila master. Ralo had gone to pay his respects to the venerable teacher, but Langlap, like Shakya Lodro, dismissed Ralo as a purveyor of non-Buddhist magic. In the ensuing contest, however, Ralo was defeated, his disciples slain by Langlab’s superior magic. According to the hagiography Ralo then experienced a vision of Tara, who sent him to Nepal for further instructions from Bharo and other Nepali masters. Upon his return to Tibet he once again engaged Langlap, this time emerging victorious and slaying the Nyingma lama.
It was during the second trip south than Ralo is said to have gone to India and ordained at Nalanda.
Ralo claimed to have murdered thirteen lamas. Among them were translator Gyu Monlam Drakpa (rgyus smon lam grags pa, d.u.), the translator of the Cakrasaṃvara Samvarodaya Tantra, Go Lotsāwa Khukpa Letse (‘gos lo tsA ba khug pa lhas brtses, d.u.), the translator of the Guhyasamāja, and Marpa Chokyi Lodro’s (mar pa chos kyi blo ‘gros) son Darma Dode (dar ma mdo sde).
Go Lotsāwa had questioned the legitimacy of Ralo’s teachers, and is said to have engaged in black magic against Ralo, rites drawn from the Guhyasamāja. The conflict drew in hundreds of villages, and some when residents marched against Ralo and accused him of harming them, he conquered them with his magic, leaving them vomiting blood, and Go Lotsāwa lost his life.
In addition to challenging rivals to competing tantric systems, Ralo spent his wealth renovating temples in southern Tsang and Lhato, including Samye, Tibet’s first monastery, which had been damaged by fire in 986. He also sponsored translations, the copying and recitations of scripture, and the installation of statues.
By Alexander Gardner is Executive Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and the Director and Chief Editor of the Treasury of Lives. He completed his PhD in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan in 2007. Published December 2009.
One can visit this clear and concise website for more information and good reads. I highly recommended this site. The information here on Ra Lotsawa was extracted from this website for non-profit purposes and strictly to disseminate knowledge.
Yamantaka or Vajrabhairava was the special system of Tantra brought and proliferated in Tibet by Ra Lotsawa. Many of the leading Sakya and Nyingma lamas of the days proclaimed that Yamantaka is a demon and should not be worshipped and that Ra Lotsawa was bringing many to the hot hells. They had many magical spells against Ra Lotsawa to stop the proliferation of Yamantaka or they simply wanted to kill him. Some of these lamas were jealous he would attract attention, fame and sponsorship and some were genuinely concerned he was proliferating a demon. Some said no Buddha can have a Buffalo head and there is no valid system of practice of this deity coming from India.
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