Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

My Photo
Location: Kolozsvár/Cluj, Budapest, Oxford, ibi ubi

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ārali and Rigi - an odd pair (I)

I spent the last few days inputting the canonical material relating to the Ārali tantras. It's not much: two short tantras in the Bka' 'gyur (Tōh. 426 and 427) and merely one anonymous sādhana in the Bstan 'gyur (Tōh. 1658). The latter was translated by Bu ston and hence predates the first part of the fourteenth century.

According to Bu ston's classification (in the Rgyud sde rnam bzhag rgyas pa) these two tantras form a sub-class of their own under the broader family of the Heruka-tantras, the other sub-classes being the vast corpus of Śamvara-tantras along with those of the Hevajra, Buddhakapāla and Mahāmāyā.

When I first came across these tantras a few years ago, I was under the impression that they were fabricated in Tibet. I have no idea why I thought this, perhaps because of the odd names of the main deities. I should have suspected that there must have been some kind of evidence with Bu ston (since he considers it 'original').

Since then - with the help of Prof. Sanderson - I came across some evidence that at least the Vajrārali was known on the Indian subcontinent. A manuscript fragment from Cambridge (Or. 158, uncatalogued by Bendall) dating from 1162 AD has on its title page "vajrāmṛtatantra || vajrāralitantra || buddhakapālatantra ||". Unfortunately the fragment has bits and pieces of the Vajrāmṛta and the Buddhakapāla only. Since then, at a lecture held in Oxford, Prof. Harunaga Isaacson has signaled the identification of one folio with the actual text, also kept in Cambridge.

The first thing that strikes one as odd about this small corpus are the titles themselves. The expression 'ārali' is seen earliest in the yoginītantras (as far as I know) in a mantra in the Sarvabuddhasamāyoga. In a mahāyoga context, Āryadeva uses it more than once in his Caryāmelāpakapradīpa and all seem to mean a kind of 'play' (rol pa) associated with the Buddhas. Wedemeyer, as far as I can remember, always translates it as 'extensive play'. The etymology remains uncertain, but it is to be noted that all permutations of a/ā and l/ll seem to occur.

It should also be noted that this is not the interpretation that Bu ston seems to have preferred. We may surmise this only indirectly however. In a closing note after his synopsis of the Vajrārali he states that in some Tibetan collections the title is 'Heruka rol pa'i rgyud' (*Herukāralitantra?), but this he considers a total lie: ''dir rgyud 'bum kha cig tu He ru ka rol pa'i rgyud ces bya ba bris pa yod de | de ni rdzun ma yang dag zhig go ||.'

'Rigi' is even stranger. In this corpus the word occurs only in the Rigi-ārali-tantra, there 'Rigi' is the main goddess - far more than a mere consort to the Heruka 'Ārali', she is actually the teacher of the tantra. There seems to be one occurrence where 'rigi' is glossed as simply 'ḍākinī': ri gi mkha' 'gro mar ni gsung (D 179a). As far as I can tell, 'rigi' occurs only once in the yoginītantra corpus as the name of an entity, namely in a nebulous introductory line of the Catuṣpīṭhatantra: 'rigīnāṃ jñānam īśvaram'. However, Bhavabhaṭṭa glosses it not as 'ḍākinī' as we would expect from the line above but as 'buddhas': rigīnāṃ buddhānāṃ jñānam īśvaraś ca.

It is quite evident that the Vajrārali is much earlier that the Rigi-ārali. As I said above, the consort appears only in the second tantra, and this scripture betrays close connections with other yoginītantras. Such Hevajra-specific elements as the 'four blisses' and so on are missing from the Vajrārali but are there in the Rigi-ārali. Sacred places (pīṭha, kṣetra, cchandoha, etc. and their upa- varieties) from the Śamvara-tantras also turn up here. I believe that any future, closer study should take into account the possibility that the Rigi-ārali is a recycled variant of an older cult of Vajrārali.

Labels: , ,


Anonymous H.I. said...

Thank you for posting on such an interesting topic. (Might one hope blog-posts on all the yoginītantras, in due course?)

A few notes.

>When I first came across these tantras
>a few years ago, I was under the
>impression that they were fabricated
>in Tibet. I have no idea why I thought
>this, perhaps because of the odd names
>of the main deities

Perhaps you had a subconscious memory of the fact that some Tibetan
authors have suspected the 'Thirty-two' (or 'Twenty-four')
'Rali tantras' to be Tibetan compositions?
(See e.g. Stearns 'Luminous Lives' n. 62 on p. 220-221.)
Note that although Sa skya Paṇḍita suspected the 'Twenty-four Rali',
the Vajrāralitantra and Rigi-āralitantra are not among this group but
are rather two of the three 'Aralitantras/Arallitantras' accepted as authentic
by the Sa skya pas--together with perhaps the Anāvilatantra (if rnyog/snyog pa med pa'i a ra li is to be identified as this). According to Sa paṇ in his Reply to the Questions of the Translator from Chak these three are among the tantras with a 'living tradition of study' which he learned from Śākyaśrībhadra.

>I came across some evidence that at
>least the Vajrārali was known on the
>Indian subcontinent.

The single folio that was mentioned in the lecture which you refer to, is of the Rigi-āralitantra.
Since from its appearance it was originally part of the same codex of which the largest known surviving
fragment is Cambridge Or. 152 (referred to by you), I have suggested (for the first time, as
far as I can now reconstruct, in a letter in 1997 to A.S.)
that for whoever included 'Vajrāralitantra' on the title-page table of contents, that title
was meant to subsume both these short tantras, and that the codex contained directly after the
Vajrārali the Rigi-. There is some relevant evidence, relating to i.a. lengths of texts and
folio-numbers, which I will not go into here. In any case, the Cambridge codex gives us 'on the Indian subcontinent'
evidence for not just the Vajrāralitantra. There is more; without attempting to be exhaustive, let us
note that Raviśrījñāna, in his Amṛtakaṇikā, quotes the Rigi- (with correct attribution);
and that Abhayākaragupta, in his Āmnāyamañjarī, quotes (with attribution) from both of these
tantras. There are other such quotations and references in Indian texts, surviving in Sanskrit manuscript or in Tibetan
translation, some of which take us back a little further than
Raviśrījñāna and Abhayākaragupta.

Your hypothesis regarding the relationship of the two texts is of course a plausible one.
Let's hope that someone will soon take up the study of these materials seriously.

Sorry that this comment has become so long! Looking forward to more yoginītantra-posts.

5:00 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Thank you for this comment (much more informative than the post, actually). I'm not sure whether I am the right person for more yoginī-tantra posts. At any rate, a short overview of these two tantras will follow soon-ish. I'll also try to look up the quotations.

Thanks again!

5:20 pm  
Anonymous Chr. Wedemeyer said...

Hey PDSz, thanks for noting my work on the Caryāmelāpakapradīpa. However, "extensive play" only occurs as the translation of āralli-vistaraḥ (f. 57a); elsewhere on the same page, it occurs as "play"—as it does on ff. 65b and 71b. The only other occurrence in the CMP is f. 61b, where I cop out and just render mahāralli as "great āralli"!

Also, I can't be sure without checking the larger context, but it does not seem to me that Bu-ston is quibbling with the interpretation of the term āralli itself, but rather with the authenticity of the Tantra with that particular name. But I can't be sure from the passage you have provided and without greater attention than I can spare just now.

Thanks for your blog!

6:50 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Hello Christian! Thanks for dropping in and making that more precise. I did not have your book at hand when writing this meddle.

Indeed, as you say, the Bu ston passage could be interpreted in that way, i.e. that there is a tantra with the name 'Heruka rol pa'i rgyud' [related to the Āralis] but this is a fabrication. The only thing that bothers me is that 'bris pa' which I took to refer to the writing on the title page or something similar. Had he referred to a spurious scripture he might have stated things differently.

The sentence otherwise occurs after the synopsis of the two Ārali tantras (Śatapiṭaka ed. vol. Ba. page 459) where he gives two controversial points related to the corpus. This is the latter - the other is that 'some' consider the tantra to be a shared tantra (cha mthun gyi rgyud) of the Hevajra but Bu ston says that there does not seem to be any evidence for such a claim (de la shes byed yod pa mi 'dra'o ||).

Anyway, I have to go deeper into this, especially now with such a distinguished audience.

7:16 pm  
Anonymous Chr. Wedemeyer said...

Just getting back now, PDSz, on bris pa in Bu ston: hopefully not too little too late. The word bris pa is regularly used by Bu ston in his writings about the canons (e.g. Bstan 'gyur dkar chag) to refer to inclusion of a work therein. In a forthcoming paper on pseudepigrapha in the Tibetan Canons, I translate several passages of this kind where, for lack of a better word, I render bris pa "inscribe" in the sense of "put in, include."

E.g.: on a Pañcakrama Commentary attributed to Nāgabodhi, he writes (Bstan ’gyur dkar chag, f. 34a5–6): mdzun ma yin par ’dug na’ang sngar kyi rnams kyis kyang bris ’dug pas bris so |; “although it is a fake, since earlier [editors] inscribed it [in the canon, I also] do."

I also just love the expression "mdzun ma yang dag": an "authentic" (or, as you elegantly put it, "total") fake!

Thanks, and best wishes!

6:40 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

thanks Christian, and it's never too late, and certainly not 'little' as well, since it does make sense.

eagerly awaiting your paper. will there be anything on the Anāvila-tantra (Rnyog pa med pa'i rgyud)?

all the best,


11:05 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home