Re-presenting a Famous Revelation

Dudjom Rinpoche’s Work on the ‘Ultra Secret Razor Lifeforce Vajrakilaya’ (yang gsang srog gi spu gri) of Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450–1521)


  • Cathy Cantwell Oriental Institute, University of Oxford



Tibetan Buddhist Revelations, compiling, authoring, editing Buddhist texts, Dudjom, Pema Lingpa


This article considers issues of authorship and textual development over the generations, focusing on the contributions of the erudite scholar/lama Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (bdud ’joms ’jigs bral ye shes rdo rje, 1904–1987, hereafter, Dudjom Rinpoche), to the revelations of Bhutan’s national saint, Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450–1521), on the tantric deity Vajrakilaya. Dudjom Rinpoche compiled a number of ritual practice texts for this revelation cycle, also writing commentarial instructions on them. Here, two of his compilations are examined in detail, considering how they relate to the original revelation, what they add, and what they neglect, reflecting on what they might tell us about Tibetan approaches to continuing textual production in revelatory traditions. Much of Dudjom Rinpoche’s ‘Ultra Secret Razor Lifeforce’ Framework text for the Major Practice session (sgrub khog) reproduces virtually unchanged his earlier Framework text for the Dudjom tradition ‘Meteoric Iron Razor’, which itself draws on Guru Chöwang’s (chos dbang, 1212–1270) ‘Ultra Secret Razor’, as presented by Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa, 1646–1714), the founder of Mindroling Monastery in central Tibet. On the other hand, Dudjom Rinpoche’s main Ritual Manual (las byang) for Pema Lingpa’s cycle is more clearly rooted in the Pema Lingpa cycle, but there has been considerable re-working of the phrasing and even of some key visualisations. Some of the significant modifications were already present in an earlier Ritual Manual of the third Sungtrul (gsung sprul) or Pema Lingpa reincarnation, Tsultrim Dorje (tshul khrims rdo rje, 1598–1669), and Dudjom Rinpoche acknowledges this source. In assessing Dudjom Rinpoche’s two texts, various aspects of the productive process are highlighted, such as: the ‘blessings’ of a current generation high status lama connected with the tradition; the needs of the ritual community for familiar textual structures and liturgies; beautiful metrical verses for chanting; the integration of materials from the broader tantric heritage, but also the preservation of some highly individual elements of the revelation.


Cantwell, Cathy. 2015. ‘Different kinds of composition/compilation within the Dudjom Revelatory tradition’, In Authors and Editors in the Literary Traditions of Asian Buddhism, edited by C. Cantwell, J. Kramer, R. Mayer and S. Zacchetti. Special Edition of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 36/37, 2013/2014 (2015): 243–279.

Chöwang, Guru (gu ru chos dbang). 1979. yongs rdzogs bsgrub chen khog ’bugs in the bka’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs. Paro: Ngodrup and Sherab Drimay, Volume 1: 299–456. (TBRC Resource Code: W23819).

Drakngak Lingpa (drag sngags gling pa). 2005. sprul pa’i gter chen bdud ’joms drag sngags gling pa’i gter chos, Volume Hum. Taiwan (publication details given in Chinese).

Dudjom bka’ ma: Rñin ma Bka’ ma rgyas pa compiled by Bdud-’Joms ’Jigs-bral-ye-ses-rdo-rje. 1982–1987, 58 volumes. Kalimpong: Dupjung Lama. (TBRC The Expanded Version of the Nyingma Kama Collection Teachings Passed in an Unbroken Lineage, W19229, 0448–0505).

Dudjom Rinpoche. 1975. pad gling ’khrung rabs rtogs brjod dad pa’i me tog gyi kha skong mos pa’i ze’u ’bru, in Pema Lingpa Collected Works: Volume Pha, 14: 601–629.

———. Collected Works: The Collected Writings and Revelations of H. H. bDud-’joms Rin-po-che ’Jigs bral ye shes rdo rje. 1979–1985, 25 volumes. Kalimpong: Dupjung Lama. (TBRC bDud ’joms ’jigs bral ye shes rdo rje’i gsung ’bum, W20869 0334–0358).

Holly Gayley. 2003, ‘Introduction’ to Sarah Harding (trans) The Life and Revelations of Pema Lingpa, 1–28. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa) Collected Works: rig ’dzin padma glin pa yi zab gter chos mdzod rin po Che. 1975–1976, 21 volumes. Thimphu: Kunsang Tobgay (TBRC W21727). Specifically consulted here: the phur pa yang gsang srog gi spu gri, mostly found in Volume Ma, 16, and taking up the whole of that volume.

Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa) smin gling gter chen rig ’dzin ’gyur med rdo rje’i gsung ’bum. 1998, 16 volumes. Dehra Dun: D.G. Khochhen Tulku (TBRC W22096). In particular, compilations of Guru Chöwang’s ‘Ultra Secret Razor Vajrakilaya’: rdo rje phur bu yang gsang spu gri’i las byang kun bzang rol mtsho, Volume 9: 275r–301, and dpal rdo rje phur bu’i sgrub pa chen po’i rim pa gsal bar byed pa dngos grub kyi dga’ ston, Volume 9: 305r–332v.

Tsewang Dongyal, Khenpo (mkhan po tshe dbang don rgyal). 2003. dus gsum rgyal ba’i spyi gzugs/gter chen bdud ’joms ’jigs bral ye shes rdo rje ’gro ’dul gling pa rtsal gyi rnam thar ye shes rdo rje’i ’od zer. Sarnath: Pema Samye Chokhor Ling Nyingmapa Buddhist Monastery. (An English version is available as Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal. 2008. Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche. Samye Translation Group. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Tsultrim Dorje (tshul khrims rdo rje, the third Pema Lingpa Sungtrul), dpal rdo rje phur pa srog gi spu gri’i las byang gdug pa tshar gcod. n.d, n.p. Manuscript (27 folios) held in the collection of the royal family of the Pin (sprin) valley, Spiti; photographs kindly supplied by Namgyal Henry.




How to Cite

Cantwell, C. (2017). Re-presenting a Famous Revelation: Dudjom Rinpoche’s Work on the ‘Ultra Secret Razor Lifeforce Vajrakilaya’ (yang gsang srog gi spu gri) of Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450–1521). Buddhist Studies Review, 33(1-2), 181–202.



Reuse in Tibetan Buddhist Texts