17th century Central Tibeten thanka of Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra, Rubin Museum of Art

17th century Central Tibeten thanka of Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra, Rubin Museum of Art

File:Guhyasamaja in Yab-Yum.jpg

Guhyasamaja Tantra, or Esoteric Community Tantra, (tib.:gSang ba 'dus pa'i rgyud) (Sanskrit: "Treatise on the Sum Total of Mysteries", also called Tathāgataguhyaka ("The Mystery of the Tathagatas [Buddhas]") is a tantra whose practice is important to many schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was one of the 18 major Tantras of the Nyingma school, a central practice of Marpa the Translator (albeit not transmitted to his famous disciple Milarepa), and central to early practice of the Sakya School, from whom it exercised a particular influence on the Ganden, later Gelug, tradition.

Origin of the tantra

The Guhyasamaja, or "Secret Assembly," Tantra was developed at an early date in history to aid the Buddhist practitioner in understanding and practicing Tantric Buddhism to attain enlightenment. These are the basic texts of the Tantric—an esoteric and highly symbolic—form of Buddhism, which developed in India and became dominant in Tibet.

The Guhyasamaja Tantra is considered in the Indian commentarial tradition to be the most important of the Mahāyoga Tantra-s (by Tibetans to be a major Tantra of the bla med rgyud or so-called anuttara-yoga-tantra, class of texts) and probably dates to the seventh century C.E. This tantra is often known as the supreme and king of all other Highest Yoga Tantras because it is taught to students of Tantric Buddhism first; it is their mastery of this yogic path that allows them to study other tantras.

Guhyasamaja provides the earliest known Buddhist textual definition of Tantra

The Guhyasamaja Tantra provides the earliest known Buddhist definition of the term "tantra":

Tantra is called continuity, and this tantra is classified into three aspects: ground, together with its nature, and inalienableness. Nature is the basic cause, ground is called the method, and inalienableness is the result. The meaning of tantra is contained in these three.[1][2]


His consort is called Sparshavajra or Adhiprajna. The consort Adhiprajna is consubstantiated with Guhyasamaja, whom she encircles, and possesses the same attributes. She has three faces: red, light blue, and white. Her original hands embrace the (yab) at the back, the upper hands hold the flaming jewel and wheel, while the lower ones carry the sword of wisdom (prajna-khadga) and lotus. Both the deities are adorned with the costumes and ornaments of a Bodhisattva.


One of the methodologies employed by the devotee's guru, or spiritual teacher, in understanding the "transformative" nature of Heruka deities is the meditational process. In essence, the Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra Mandala is intended to teach the Buddhist practitioner to visualize him or herself as the central paired-deity in the meditational process, in this case Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra and Sparshavajri. Further, the goal of this tantric meditational mandala is for the devotee to realize that he or she is the generator and the emanator of this particular system, and is therefore considered to be the paired-deity in the center of the painting. It is the "transformation" deity, or Heruka deity in the center of the painting that leads the practitioner to enlightenment. Moreover, the practitioner acquires the wisdom and the compassion of the central deity, the four jina, or "victor" Buddhas and their Prajnas, when following this explicit path of the Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra cycle.

Tsongkhapa composed 18 volumes of collected teachings, with the largest amount being on Guhyasamāja tantra. These 18 volumes containing hundreds of titles relating to all aspects of Buddhist teachings and which clarify some of the most difficult topics of sutrayana and mantrayana teachings. among them "The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja (gSang-'dus rim-lnga gsal-sgron)"

The Gelug-Kagyu tradition

In Tibet, Akshobhyavajra is particularly favoured by the Gelug Order, most likely for the antiquity of his texts. The Guhyasamaja Tantra, translated in the 8th century A.D., was one of the first Sanskrit works to be translated into Tibet.

According to the Guhyasamaja-Mahakalparaja, the central deity of the mandala of Akshobhyavajra is Vajradhara, the cosmic consciousness, spotless brightness, which owing to its inner law, must expand into manifold universe, gradually disintegrating in the process, but finally returning to initial unity. Vajradhara in the mandala is Akshobhyavajra who multiplies and irradiates in five ways, symbolically arranged in a mandala with a centre and four cardinal points.

Western scholarship

Guhyasamaja literature

Tibetan and Sanskrit titles

The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra; cf., The Guhyasamaja Tantra.

The Guhyasamaja Tantra (Guhyasamaja Tantra; gSang-'dus rtsa-rgyud).

  • "Lamp that Integrates the Practices," A Treatise on the interpretation and practice of the Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage] attributed to Āryadeva (Caryāmelāpaka-pradīpa; sPyod pa bsdus pa'i sgron ma).
  • Buton (Bu-ston Rin-chen grub), An Explanatory Discourse on [Chandrakirti's] "An Illuminating Lamp [for 'The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra']" (sGron-gsal bshad-sbyar).
  • An Illuminating Lamp [for "The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra"], a commentary on the root tantra, attributed to Candrakīrti (Pradīpoddyotana; sGron-gsal).
  • A Lamp to Clarify the Meaning of the Generation Stage of Guhyasamaja (dPal gsang-ba 'dus-pa'i bskyed-rim-gyi don gsal-bar byed-pa'i sgron-me).
  • Sershul (Ser-shul dGe-bshes Blo-bzang phun-tshogs), Notes on the Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage] (Rim-lnga zin-bris).
  • A Lamp for Clarifying the Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage] (Rim-lnga gsal-sgron).
  • Precious Sprout, Deciding the Difficult Points of (Chandrakirti's) "An Illuminating Lamp [for 'The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra']" (sGron-gsal dka'-gnas-kyi mtha'-gcod rin-po-che'i myu-gu).
  • The Pure Stages of the Yoga of Guhyasamaja (gSang-'dus rnal-sbyor dag-rim).
  • A Treasury of Commentaries on the Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage] (Rim-lnga 'grel-mdzod).


  1. Henning, E. (2005). Introduction to the Six Yogas. Source: [1] (accessed: Sunday August 31, 2008)
  2. rgyud ni rgyun chags zhes bya ste // rgyud de rnam pa gsum du 'gyur // gzhi dang de yi rang bzhin dang // mi 'phrogs pa yis rab phye ba // rang bzhin rnam pa rgyu yin te // gzhi ni thabs zhes bya ba'o // de bzhin mi 'phrogs 'bras bu ste // gsum gyis rgyud kyi don bsdus pa'o //

Further reading

For an excellent and thorough treatment of the Indian sources of this tradition, focused on a complete translation of the Caryāmelāpakapradīpa, see:

Āryadeva's Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa): The Gradual Path of Vajrayāna Buddhism according to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition. Ed. and Trans. Christian K. Wedemeyer. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies/Columbia University Press, 2007.

bo:ལྷ་བསང་ཏུ།et:Guhyasamāja tantra

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