If you saw someone drowning, what would you do?
If you knew lifesaving, you might jump in the water and immediately try to rescue them. If you could not swim, then you might throw them a life-preserver, attached to a rope. If you could do neither one of these things, then perhaps you would call for someone to help. You would not whisper, but you would shout as loudly as you possibly could. You would try to do something.
Or, would you just stand there, silently, and watch them drown?
— — — — —
I may be criticized for doing this, but now I will write about White Mahakala: mGon dkar yid bzhin nor bu: the Rapid Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness, the Jewel, King of Power. Specifically, I will write about his brief daily practice.
There are traditional ways of doing this, but herein is not one of them.
I do not know lifesaving, I cannot swim, and I do not have a rope. But when I look around, I feel that I must do something. So, I am earnestly and loudly calling out. Having many times personally received and experienced the benefit of profound compassion throughout an endless succession of lifetimes — just as you have — maybe this is the very smallest thing I could do.
Origin of Mahakala
An inconceivably long time ago, Avalokitesvara gave rise to bodhicitta. As eons passed, he reached the tenth stage of a bodhisattva, and vowed to remain in samsara in order to liberate beings from suffering.
“If ever I break this vow,” he said, “may my body break into a thousand pieces.”
Still more eons passed, during which he engaged in continuous activity on behalf of all sentient beings, to vouchsafe their liberation. However, there came a time when his clairvoyant understanding of things as they seem caused him to think that his efforts were all in vain.
That moment of doubt was sufficient to break his vow, whereupon his body shattered.
Immediately perceiving a bodhisattva in great distress, Buddha Amitabha appeared and reassembled the pieces into the eleven-faced thousand-armed form of Avalokitesvara we all know today.
Buddha Amitabha counseled Avalokitesvara: “You must make an even stronger vow this time!”
A stronger vow? How could such a thing be possible? Stymied by the vast challenge, Avalokitesvara fell into a swoon that lasted for seven days. When he regained consciousness, he did so with the idea that by appearing in a wrathful form, he could train sentient beings, protect sentient beings, and provide for sentient beings.
His idea was quite straightforward: he decided to accomplish this three-fold activity simply by granting wishes.
This vow crystallized in his heart as a blue-black syllable HUNG, which transformed into Mahakala, empowered with the body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity of all the Buddhas of the three times.
Origin of the Teachings and Practices
So, that is how it begins.
There came a time, when Avalokitesvara was visiting a town in India called Rajastan, when he encountered a dancer, in whom great faith was spontaneously born. Because of devoted offerings to Avalokitesvara, the dancer came to reincarnate as a human named Shavaripa: Master of the Solitudes. This happened six hundred years after Buddha passed into nirvana, or around the beginning of our common era.
Shavaripa stayed in the famous charnel ground called Cool Grove, engaged in meditation. One day at dawn, a damaru drum sounded in the sky, and Mahakala appeared. He offered Shavaripa his heart mantra and all his practices, included among which was the practice of White Mahakala.
A thousand years passed, until one day a yogi named Maitri Gupta was compelled by prophesy to visit a place called Mount Glory. Upon doing so, he encountered Shavaripa, from whom he received teachings. Thereafter, he was able to directly communicate with Avalokitesvara himself, and in response to his heartfelt prayers, there has been an emanation of Mahakala in Cool Grove charnel ground ever since.
Cool Grove charnel ground, India, as it appears today.
Thereafter, it happened that a fellow named Rahula became rather disgusted with his life, and decided to go to the graveyard and just wait for death. Maitripa came by, encountered Rahula, and heard his story. He then offered the sadhana of the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Mahakala to Rahula, saying that it could result in siddhis in as brief a period of time as one month or one year.
So, the practice I am going to discuss originates with the Indian Mahasiddha Rahula, who received it from his guru, Maitripa. Whether or not Maitripa received this from his guru, Shavaripa, I simply do not know, but it seems likely.
In turn, Rahula gave this practice to the Tibetan Mahasiddha and Shangpa Kagyu lineage master Khyungpo Naljor (978-1129), from whence it passed to Mokchokpa Rinchen Tsondru (1110-1170), Kyergangpa Chokyi Senge (1143-1216), Rigongpa Sangye Nyenton (1175-1247), and then to Sangye Tenpa Tsondru (1213-1285).
From Sangye Tenpa I have never bothered to trace the lineage with absolute precision, but I can say it is highly probable that it passed through Thangtong Gyalpo, and in some fashion — perhaps through the Karmapa — reached Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), from whence it passed to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. Indeed, with the Third Dalai Lama (1543-1588), White Mahakala became the protector of Mongolia. From Thangtong Gyalpo, it is likewise probable that the lineage also passed through Je Drolchok (1507-1566), and Taranatha (1575-1634).
I have not followed the thread in the 17th and 18th centuries. My knowledge of it resumes in the 19th century with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813 – 1899), and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892). In the 20th century, it passes to Jamgon Khyentse Oser (1904-1953), and finally to the Shangpa lineage holder, Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989).
Transmission in the 20th Century
Kalu Rinpoche introduced this practice to America and Taiwan 20 years ago, in a series of empowerments held in several different cities.
The circumstances were quite remarkable. Every place he gave the empowerment and every person who attended received a continuous rain of tangible benefits for years afterward. The sphere of influence extended not only to involved individuals, but also to entire regions.
Two decades ago, the future in these places may have seemed uncertain; yet, today, these venues have become centers of Dharma practice, culture, social tranquility, and economic prosperity. This is a testament both to the efficacy of an uninterrupted lineage practice, and the limitless beneficence of a living bodhisattva. No mere words can describe the extent of Kalu Rinpoche’s manifest compassion and generosity — he was Mahakala.
I was there, and I saw with my own eyes. He became absolutely indistinguishable from White Mahakala.
This is Part 1 of a 5 part series:
Part 2: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-2-of-5.html
Part 3: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-3-of-5.html
Part 4: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-4-of-5.html
Part 5: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-5-of-5.html
For further reading:
Nicole Riggs, trans. “Nectar Rain of Realization: The Story and Cycle of Teachings on Mahakala, the Glorious Six-Armed Wisdom Protector,” in Like An Illusion: Lives of the Shangpa Kagyu Masters (Eugene: Dharma Cloud, 2001) Note that this work has been criticized by other translators for liberties taken in changing gender identifiers, and for omission of long passages.
Kunga Thartse Rinpoche, History of the White Mahakala Practice for Treasure Vases. A brief introduction, avaliable online.