Vision of Samantabhadra - The Dzokchen Anthology of Rindzin Godem

Turpeinen, Katarina, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Nemec, John, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hueckstedt, Robert, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia

This dissertation discusses the Dzokchen (rdzogs chen) or Great Perfection anthology of Rindzin Gödem (1337-1408), The Unimpeded Realization of Samantabhadra (kun tu bzang po'i dgongs pa zang thal) and The Self-Emergent Self-Arisen Primordial Purity (ka dag rang byung rang shar). Gödem’s anthology is one of the landmarks of the fourteenth century Dzokchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In the centuries after it was revealed, it was more influential than the works of Longchenpa, a luminary philosopher of the tradition, and an older contemporary of Rindzin Gödem.

My study elucidates the contents and internal dynamics of Gödem’s pivotal anthology, examines the distinctive contributions of the work in the history of the Great Perfection, and discusses how this large Tibetan anthology of revealed, or treasure (gter) literature, participates in creating a tradition. Chapter One focuses on the life and corpus of Rindzin Gödem, and Chapter Two analyzes the anthology as a whole, discerning its structure, agents, interrelations and unifying themes. The next three chapters examine Gödem’s contributions in the domains of narrative, ritual and contemplation and philosophy, and the last chapter explores the relationship of Rindzin Gödem and Longchenpa, the two towering figures of the fourteenth century Dzokchen tradition.

Gödem’s anthology contains a wide variety of texts, genres, topics and practices pertaining to both Dzokchen and normative tantra, such as transmission narratives, empowerments, deity yoga rituals, cutting (gcod) practices, Buddha-voiced tantras, texts on death and bardos, pith instructions on direct transcendence (thod rgal), breakthrough (khregs chod) and subtle body yoga, scriptures to be placed in and worn as liberatory amulets, philosophical commentaries, and biographical stories of visionary experiences. All this multitude of genres and practices is, nevertheless, fashioned into an artfully integrated literary whole, featuring the integration of natural Dzokchen approaches with effortful tantric techniques, as well as unifying the various Great Perfection transmissions attributed to Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra and Vairocana. The fourteenth century Dzokchen tradition retains an element of metaperspective, and can thus accommodate many topics that are contextualized in the Dzokchen agenda and view. The format of an anthology is well-suited for this agenda, because it allows a variety of voices ranging from divine figures to mythical Indian masters and Tibetan agents, thus also creating a continuum of authority that legitimates the Tibetan voices.

The most significant tool of integration in the anthology is narratives. The tales of creation, transmission and prophetic revelation create the landscape, in which all the philosophical ideas and contemplative practices gain a deeper sense of belonging to a tradition. The most important narrative theme is the vision of Samantabhadra (dgongs pa zang thal), which is the compassionate project of the primordial Buddha to benefit the world via his teachings, most prominently Gödem’s anthology, and emanations, who impact the course of history, such as the Buddha Śākyamuni. The vision of Samantabhadra gives the anthology its distinctive character, and unifies all the divine and mundane agents into the maṇḍala of Samantabhadra, as well as integrates all the topics, and even the audience, as part of the primordial Buddha’s plan to enlighten all beings who come into contact with the vision contained in Gödem’s revelation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tibetan Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Great Perfection, Dzokchen, treasure revelation, visionary, meditation, contemplation, tantra, Seminal Heart, subtle body yoga
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