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The Gathering of Intentions

The Gathering of Intentions: A History of a Tibetan Tantra

Jacob P. Dalton
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 272
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    The Gathering of Intentions
    Book Description:

    The Gathering of Intentionsreads a single Tibetan Buddhist ritual system through the movements of Tibetan history, revealing the social and material dimensions of an ostensibly timeless tradition. By subjecting tantric practice to historical analysis, the book offers new insight into the origins of Tibetan Buddhism, the formation of its canons, the emergence of new lineages and ceremonies, and modern efforts to revitalize the religion by returning to its mythic origins.

    The ritual system explored in this volume is based on theGathering of Intentions Sutra, the fundamental "root tantra" of the Anuyoga class of teachings belonging to the Nyingma ("Ancient") school of Tibetan Buddhism. Proceeding chronologically from the ninth century to the present, each chapter features a Tibetan author negotiating a perceived gap between the original root text-theGathering of Intentions-and the lived religious or political concerns of his day. These ongoing tensions underscore the significance of Tibet's elaborate esoteric ritual systems, which have persisted for centuries, evolving in response to historical conditions. Rather than overlook practice in favor of philosophical concerns, this volume prioritizes Tibetan Buddhism's ritual systems for a richer portrait of the tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-54117-6
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    As anyone encountering Tibetan Buddhism for the first time will soon discover, the panoply of tantric ritual systems can be overwhelming. Tibetan culture has been shaped by some of the most elaborate and esoteric ritual systems in the world. Already in early medieval India, the tantras had introduced into Buddhism a plethora of ritual practices, but only in Tibet were so many of them preserved, transmitted through countless lineages, and interwoven to produce still further systems. Given the complexity of the situation, where should the interested student begin? What are the historical relationships among these many varied tantric systems? Between...

  5. 1 ORIGINS: MYTH AND HISTORY (pp. 1-29)

    TheGathering of Intentionsstands astride multiple worlds. Termed a sutra, anāgama(Tib.lung), and a tantra, it is said to have been translated into Tibetan by an international team of scholars working in Nepal and Brusha, both ancient Himalayan kingdoms located along the Indo-Tibetan border. It is considered the fundamental tantra of the Anuyoga class, a category of Buddhist tantras that lies between the more familiar classes of Mahāyoga and Atiyoga that comprise the Nyingma School’s tantric system. But perhaps most important for its enduring influence within Tibet, theGathering of Intentionsconstitutes a powerful mythic bridge between...


    When the tantras first arrived in Tibet, Tibetans were slow to compose full-blown commentaries on these esoteric works. In accordance with the texts’ rhetoric of secrecy and transgression, the imperial court prohibited their translation and circulation. Even after the empire’s gradual collapse in the late ninth century, early Tibetan tantric authors mostly limited themselves to scattered notes, short instructional texts, and ritual manuals. The few early Tibetans to write longer commentaries stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule, and above all of them stands Nupchen Sangyé Yeshé, the great protector of tantric Buddhism during Tibet’s age of fragmentation.¹ Born...

  7. 3 THE SPOKEN TEACHINGS (pp. 48-64)

    In the year 1002 c.e., one Śākya Jungné was born into the Zur clan in Yardzong, in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham. The youth ordained under Gongpa Rabsel (953–1035), the famousvinayamaster from Amdo, to the north. He spent his first years studying under his grandfather, then departed for central Tibet. There he went to Yarlung, the ancient seat of the Pugyel dynasty just south of Lhasa, where he practiced the rites of the Kriyā tantras. Before long, however, all the rules and obligatory procedures of these lower tantras drove him onward, farther west to Tsang province,...


    Tantric initiations (and even a single initiation ceremony) can serve multiple purposes. For the dedicated few, they open a door to future practice, but for most they simply represent an opportunity to receive blessings and generate merit. For the tantric professional, initiation can effect a transmission of the lineage, a passing of religious authority from master to disciple. For the spiritual materialist, an initiation may be something to collect and thereafter be trotted out as badge of pious honor. Initiation is thus a formal ceremony, a polysemic floating signifier, the ritual significances of which are often not understood by and...


    Lineage is crucial to Tibetan identity. One may be born into an ancestral line (or two), receive novice vows from one teacher, be ordained by another, study philosophy in one monastic tradition, live in another, receive initiations from any number of tantric masters, and even be the incarnation of several figures of the past. Many lineages can act upon a single individual, inspiring and shaping his or her identity from multiple angles. But lineage is not only constitutive; it is itself constituted. It operates in a reciprocal relationship with its present-day holders, at once shaping and being shaped by them....

  10. 6 THE MINDRÖLING TRADITION (pp. 97-113)

    If Pema Trinlé’s writings on the Sutra Initiation tradition reflect the interests of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the only slightly later Mindröling tradition shows more the influence of the Great Fifth’s famous regent, Dési Sangyé Gyatso (1653–1705). In 1681, Sangyé Gyatso completed hisPure Crystal Mirror: Guidelines for Clarifying Regulations and Prohibitions in Twenty-One [Chapters]. In this work, the new regent sought to systematize the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Ganden Podrang, and over the next twenty years he composed many other texts similarly aimed at classifying and arranging Tibetan political life around the Dalai Lama government. Through encyclopedic lists,...

  11. 7 RETURNS TO THE ORIGIN (pp. 114-132)

    In 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled Lhasa and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army into exile. That same year, Khenpo Khyentsé Lodrö, a.k.a. Khenpo Nüden, gathered some of the most promising young lamas of Pelyul monastery in eastern Tibet for several months of intensive teachings on theGathering of Intentions. They retreated to a small house that had been built just for the occasion, atop a mountain above their home monastery. The location and the number of students were no accident. In the minds of the participants, this isolated peak was a second Mount Malaya, a reflection of the mythic...

  13. NOTES (pp. 149-210)
  14. GLOSSARY (pp. 211-222)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 223-238)
  16. INDEX (pp. 239-246)