The All-pervading Melodious Drumbeat: The Life Of Ra Lotsawa

Paperback | July 21, 2015

byRa Yeshe SengeTranslated byBryan J. CuevasIntroduction byBryan J. Cuevas

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The story of Tibet’s notorious master of Buddhist sorcery—translated for the first time into English

An essential sacred text of Tibetan Buddhism, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat tells the wondrous story of Ra Lotsawa Dorjé Drak. Though he was can­onized as a saint and a fully enlightened buddha, the eleventh-century Ra Lotsawa’s life story presents a darker path than those taken by Siddhartha Gautama and Milarepa. Viewed by some as a mur­derous villain and by others as a liberator of human suffering, Ra Lotsawa used his formidable power and magical abilities to defeat his rivals, accumulate wealth, and amass a devoted following. His life offers a rare view into the often overlooked roles of magic and sorcery in the Buddhist tradition. Despite this sinister legacy, his fame also rests on an illustrious career as a translator of Buddhist scriptures, through which he helped spark a renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet. This spirited new translation gives readers in English their first opportunity to encounter one of the most colorful and memorable figures in Tibetan Buddhist history.

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The story of Tibet’s notorious master of Buddhist sorcery—translated for the first time into EnglishAn essential sacred text of Tibetan Buddhism, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat tells the wondrous story of Ra Lotsawa Dorjé Drak. Though he was can­onized as a saint and a fully enlightened buddha, the eleventh-century Ra Lotsawa’s l...

RA YESHÉ SENGÉ was the eldest son of Ra Lotsawa’s nephew. He lived in Tibet’s western province of Tsang around the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and is traditionally renowned as the first patriarch of what came to be known as the “Western tradition” of Ra Lotsawa’s spiritual lineage.BRYAN J. CUEVAS is the author of Travels i...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 7.73 × 5.1 × 0.71 inPublished:July 21, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0142422614

ISBN - 13:9780142422618

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Map of Ra Lotsawa’s TibetIntroductionAmong the illustrious Buddhist saints of Tibet, Ra Lotsawa Dorjé Drak stands tall as one of the most notorious figures in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibet and neighboring Tibetan-speaking regions, his name is widely known, his story legendary, and in many respects he is equal in celebrity to Tibet’s beloved poet Milarepa (1040–1123), his younger contemporary. Indeed, if Milarepa is Tibet’s ideal Buddhist contemplative yogin, who in a single lifetime transformed himself from great sinner to great saint, then Ra Lotsawa is his shadow double. He is the paradigmatic sinister yogin, Tibetan Buddhist antihero, who deployed his formidable powers and magical abilities to best his religious competitors and to gain abundant riches, worldly authority, and vast spiritual influence. As a wonder-working cleric and itinerant translator of Buddhist tantric scripture, Ra Lotsawa Dorjé Drak (or Ralo, as he is more commonly known) was an infamous master and formative propagator of the esoteric meditation practices and forceful rituals centered on the Buddhist wrathful deity Vajrabhairava (“indestructible terrifier”), and his frightful divine alter-egos Black Yamari (“enemy of death”) and Yamantaka (“ender of death”). Ralo is renowned as having “liberated” (that is, ritually killed) through these powerful rites more than a dozen of his Buddhist rivals, including most famously the son of Milarepa’s guru, and in addition subjugated countless local leaders, vicious demons, and others he perceived as antagonistic to his spiritual mission. Faithful supporters of his tradition interpret his actions as heroically virtuous, his motivation as twofold: promulgation of the Buddhist dharma and subjugation of its enemies.Ra Lotsawa’s celebrated achievements, however, were not confined to the promotion of hostile practices and magical assaults in defense of Buddhism, but notably included translations from Sanskrit of major Indian tantric Buddhist scriptures—hence the name Lotsawa, an honorific Tibetan term for “translator” reserved for only the most learned of Buddhist linguistic scholars. Ralo is in fact ranked among a select group of early translators who ignited the grand renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet (c. 950–1200) following the collapse and fragmentation of imperial unity. Ralo’s translations were later incorporated into the official Tibetan Buddhist canon and significantly influenced the expansion of tantric Buddhism and the popular Vajrabhairava cult throughout Tibet well beyond this pivotal period. His legacy lives on down to the present day within several of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but especially in the tantric traditions of the Gelukpa (“virtuous ones”), the school of the Dalai Lamas.The Tibetan text translated here, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat, is the only surviving complete and autonomous biography of Ra Lotsawa. It is one of the longest hagiographical narratives of the Tibetan renaissance translators and early yogic virtuosi, ascribed by tradition to Ralo’s grandnephew, Ra Yeshé Sengé, who flourished sometime in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. That being noted, the exact date of composition of the present text is unknown and there are sound reasons for calling its antiquity and even its authorship into question. But no matter its actual provenance, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat represents the version of Ra Lotsawa’s life that is most popular among Tibetans, the one that paints the most recognizable portrait of him, and the singular one that endures to this day in the Tibetan imagination. As readers will soon discover, the book is filled with extravagant accounts of Ralo’s travels, magical exploits, and miraculous achievements, as well as the more conventional episodes in the life of a Buddhist saint: his wondrous birth, remarkable childhood, quest for his guru, enlightenment, meritorious works, and expansive preaching career. Before we review these events in the life of Ra Lotsawa, it may be worthwhile to first situate this ever-so-controversial personality in historical context and to introduce some of the significant facets of his unique transmission of Buddhist teachings that he propagated and helped to popularize across the Tibetan religious landscape.RA LOTSAWA AND THE RENAISSANCE OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURYBuddhism was officially stripped of its privileges as the imperial religion of Tibet in the year 842 with the assassination of the tyrannical emperor Lang Darma (r. 838–42) at the hands of a loyalist Buddhist monk. This marked the end of the period referred to in Tibetan records as the “early promulgation of the teaching” (bstan pa snga dar), which had begun two hundred years earlier in the seventh century at the dawn of Tibetan imperial power, the age of Buddhism’s first introduction into Tibet. The collapse of the Tibetan empire followed soon after the death of Lang Darma and, in the words of indigenous historians, Tibet splintered into pieces. Internal succession disputes led to the dispersal of the royal families to different regions of the country, which became gradually dominated by territorial feuds and the shifting authorities of various local clans. Buddhism, however, did not entirely disappear from the Tibetan religious arena. Despite the lack of royal support, the religion continued to survive in areas outside the tumultuous and fractured region of central Tibet. In this loose environment, Buddhism was cultivated in a variety of nonmonastic forms and developed without centralized control. These diverse religious movements were largely diffused throughout the country by the efforts of wandering yogins and self-styled religious savants, many of whom claimed lineage descent from authentic Indian Buddhist masters. Scholars have speculated that it was during this so-called “dark age” that some of these religious groups formulated their own creative systems of Buddhist practice and elaborated on earlier esoteric traditions translated during the height of Tibet’s dynastic period in the eighth and ninth centuries.By the time Ra Lotsawa became active in the eleventh century, a new wave of Buddhism had begun to sweep across the country, in part the result of a revival in far eastern and western Tibet of an institutionally based monastic Buddhism. This renaissance would come to be described as the “later promulgation of the teaching” (bstan pa spyi dar) and it was during this era that new competing Buddhist sects began to emerge in Tibet supporting new tantric transmissions arriving from Kashmir, India, and Nepal. These emerging groups, later to be known collectively as the Sarmapa, the “new tradition,” explicitly and contentiously set themselves apart as distinct from the earlier forms of esoteric Buddhism claimed to have been practiced during the imperial period and throughout the dark age. This older Buddhism was labeled the “ancient tradition,” or Nyingmapa, which also closely paralleled the evolving Bön religion. Although the differences between the traditions are largely attributed to doctrinal disagreements and questions concerning the authenticity of specific scriptural transmissions, the influence of political and economic factors also played a significant role in separating the divergent groups. In particular, the independent kingdoms of western Tibet were in an exceptionally strong position to attract Buddhist teachers from India and Nepal and to support concentrated scholarly activity, which included the mass importation and translation of authoritative Indian Buddhist scriptures and esoteric practices. These kingdoms were also quite capable of providing the material support needed for refurbishing old temples and monasteries that had fallen into ruin and establishing new Buddhist institutions.Many of the new Buddhist sects that developed in this resurgent environment rejected the validity of the old religious systems that had previously flourished during the era of the “early promulgation,” arguing that the texts upon which these “ancients” grounded their traditions were for the most part inauthentic Tibetan fabrications that had led to widescale corruption of Buddhist practice. Such criticism sparked organized efforts to translate authoritative Sanskrit Buddhist sources previously untranslated and to correct those works that had been translated in the earlier period. The kings of Gugé in western Tibet sent nearly a dozen trained Tibetan scholars to study in Kashmir for this purpose, including most notably the great translator Lochen Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055). Decades later, in 1076, the Gugé king convened a translation conference at the royal monastery of Toling, where various learned scholars from India and Nepal were invited to consult with Tibetan translators about their ongoing work. Ra Lotsawa was one of the translators chosen to participate at this distinguished council.Ideally, the translators of this period were trained in Sanskrit grammar and well educated in the intricacies of Buddhist philosophy, which they studied with qualified Indian teachers. In addition, they were required to be experienced in Buddhist practice, especially with respect to the tantric literature, and to have received the requisite esoteric initiations and oral instructions. The common procedure for producing translations of Buddhist manuscripts from Sanskrit involved working closely with an Indian scholar, a pandita, whose task it was to explain the words and meaning of the text and to resolve questions about its correct interpretation. In some cases after a translation was completed, the pandita might also examine the Tibetan work and suggest corrections.In order to establish effective working relationships with Indian scholars, the Tibetan translators frequently had to travel long distances and at great cost to meet with them. Many Tibetan scholars in this period spent years studying abroad in India, Nepal, Kashmir, and other neighboring regions and trained at such celebrated Buddhist monasteries as Nalanda and Vikramalasila. The journey south was often quite treacherous, having to brave difficult terrain, or be threatened by thieves and bandits along the roads, or exposed to sweltering heat and foreign diseases. But the hazards of travel were not the only complications faced by the translators, for they often had to compete as well with other traveling scholars for funding and support from local kings and rulers. We see in Ralo’s biography that such competition between translators at times even led to open and violent conflict; an issue to be discussed further below.Traveling and working in this way under royal or aristocratic auspices, the eleventh-century Tibetan lotsawas succeeded in bringing to Tibet a wealth of new Buddhist material, particularly the new tantric systems then current in India and neighboring regions, such as those associated with Guhyasamaja, Cakrasamvara, Hevajra, and Vajrabhairava—the latter linked especially to Ra Lotsawa’s own translation efforts. Over time these new esoteric systems would become most valued among the sectarian proponents of the diverse Sarmapa schools of Tibetan Buddhism—the Kadampa, Sakyapa, and the various branches of Kagyüpa—which began to emerge from the eleventh and twelfth centuries onward.VAJRABHAIRAVA: RA LOTSAWA’S FEARSOME PATRON DEITYRa Lotsawa is especially recognized for his translations of the tantras and associated liturgies of Vajrabhairava, Black Yamari, and Six-Faced Yamantaka. He made four extended trips to Nepal and twice visited India to obtain the texts and practices associated with this trio of Buddhist wrathful deities. There he worked closely with two Nepali scholars renowned for their expertise in these traditions—namely, the lay tantric priest Guru Bharo (Dipamkara Sri) and the great pandita Meñja Lingpa (Mahakarunika). The cycle of tantric teachings that Ralo received from these masters, and translated with their assistance, belong to a class of advanced esoteric literature called Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra (Sanskrit, yoganiruttara-tantra, Tibetan, rnal ’byor bla na med pa), whose principal texts began to appear in India between the eighth and tenth centuries. Tibetan tradition further divides this supreme tantra class into two categories: “mother tantras” (ma rgyud) and “father tantras” (pha rgyud), depending on the degree of emphasis placed on either the cultivation of wisdom (mother) or the practice of method (father). There are three types of father tantras, determined by which one of the three fundamental afflictive emotions—desire, hatred, or ignorance—they utilize as their principal method. The Vajrabhairava cycle is an example of a father tantra of the second type, manipulating the energy of hatred or anger on the path to enlightenment. Such tantras are characterized by the preeminence of fierce, terrifying deities and the acquisition of superhuman powers to be used for a variety of worldly purposes and higher spiritual goals.The three fearsome deities at the center of Ralo’s Vajrabhairava tradition are all considered wrathful emanations of Mañjusri (“gentle splendor”), the bodhisattva of wisdom, who, with his gleaming sword of insight, cuts the root of samsara, or the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. In Mañjusri’s wrathful aspects, one of his primary roles is the subjugation of death and impermanence, which are personified in the frightening form of Yama, the Lord of Death. As such, the three deities of this tantric cycle, led by the figure of Vajrabhairava, are identified as varieties of a broader class of wrathful deity known as Yamantaka, the “ender of Yama.”Yama has a long history in India. As early as the rg Veda (c. 1200–900 BCE) he was recognized as the first mortal and the first being to travel to the world beyond. In his role as the great pioneer of the afterlife, Yama became the sovereign ruler of all mortal beings who must follow him after death along the same path. He is thus identified in the early Indian Buddhist literature as the lord of ghosts (pretas) who dwells in the underworld (pretaloka) five hundred leagues below the earthly human realm, where he sits in judgment, determining each individual’s future destiny and meting out rewards and punishments in accord with the nature of past actions (karma). In this capacity he is also known as Dharmaraja, the “King of the Law.” Yama is therefore conceived as the supreme Lord and Judge of the Dead and the very embodiment of death itself. In the Buddhist tantric traditions, Yamantaka is the awesome force that subjugates and converts him.There are variations of the story of Yama’s subjugation. The general account has it that Yama was defeated by Mañjusri himself in his terrifying form as Yamantaka the destroyer, but one particularly emblematic variation that is evoked in the literature of Ralo’s tradition is linked to the foundational tale of the Buddha’s defeat of the demon Mara on the night of his awakening. Mara is the Satan-like figure in Buddhist legend whose name means “bringer of death,” and thus he and Yama share symbolic affinity and are frequently conflated. Here in this version of the story, when Sakyamuni was sitting in meditation under the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya just before his enlightenment, Mara approached him accompanied by an army of thirty-six million demons and set out to disrupt the Sage’s meditative concentration. Sakyamuni, unshaken by the demonic onslaught, rose up within the mandala of Yamantaka and defeated the demon and his minions, placing them all on the path to enlightenment. In this way the Buddha, by the fearsome power of Yamantaka, not only overcame Mara’s lethal attacks, but he also succeeded in converting him and his demon armies to Buddhism.Common in Buddhist conversion tales of this sort is the notion that the subjugator acquires the characteristic qualities of the opponent he overcomes. Thus in defeating Yama, Yamantaka gains the powers of Yama, which include his abilities to terrorize and control the noxious forces of worldly existence, as well as incidentally Mara’s power to seduce and ensnare; but most important, he gains mastery over death itself and all that is associated with it. In the earliest Buddhist tantric sources, Yamantaka is himself depicted as a converted deity, bound under oath and placed among the great wrathful protectors of Buddhism. Once subjugated, his powers were then harnessed for a variety of supportive purposes, such as the destruction of obstacles on the path to liberation and the suppression of anti-Buddhist adversaries (followed then, of course, by their conversion).Yamantaka’s special attributes extend beyond those he acquired from conquering Yama and the demon Mara. In his identity as Vajrabhairava, we also find features associated with another Indian deity with ancient roots. Bhairava is the terrifying form of the deity Siva, who in classical Hinduism is the lord of yogins and god of destruction. Siva is generally depicted as a wandering yogin, naked and smeared with ashes, his matted hair bundled atop his head. He is the divine ascetic who meditates in the charnel grounds, enjoying the company of ghouls and ghostly spirits. An extensive mythology of Siva is developed in the epic Mahabharata (300 BCE–300 CE), suggesting the existence of an important cult dedicated to this deity by about the beginning of the Common Era. However, it is not until the age of the Gupta dynasty (c. 320–550 CE) that distinct and independent Saiva sects began to appear in India. Early on within these Saiva cults, groups of ascetics were practicing various forms of yoga motivated by the notion that union with Siva, especially in his fierce form as Rudra, the wild god of chaos and disease, was paramount to liberation. The yogic figure of Rudra-Siva best represented the religious ideals of these wandering yogins.Myths about Siva were utilized to symbolically substantiate the religious quests of these developing Saivite groups. In one such popular myth, Siva visits the god Brahma and is praised by four of Brahma’s five heads. The fifth head, however, issues forth an obnoxious sound and Siva, offended by the obscenity, promptly cuts the head from Brahma’s body. In the orthodox Brahmanical tradition, Siva’s violent act, the murder of the supreme brahmin, represented the penultimate of trangressions, a crime that demanded severe punishment. Siva is thus compelled to undergo a great penance as public testimony to his felony, termed Mahavrata in the Hindu law books. This required that he be excluded from society and forced to wander for twelve years as a naked beggar carrying the skull (kapala) of his murdered victim; the skull, impaled on a staff of bone known as the khatvanga, was to be used also as the penitent’s begging bowl. Siva is identified here as Bhairava, the “terrifier,” a later form of the feral Rudra.The tale of Bhairava’s beheading of Brahma served as the founding myth of an extreme medieval Saiva sect known as the Kapalikas, the “skull bearers,” who were roundly condemned by their contemporaries for deliberately adopting the practice of the Mahavrata penance in imitation of their beloved deity. They were rebuked as well for engaging in other sorts of transgressive behaviors, such as ritual intercourse in the cremation grounds and the sacramental consumption of intoxicants for the purpose of achieving the bliss of immortality and superhuman powers (siddhis). The peculiar styles and practices of the ascetic Saiva groups, like the Kapalikas, exerted a profound influence on the Buddhist tantric traditions that were emerging between the eighth and tenth centuries, which Tibetans would later classify as Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra. The Buddhist tantras of this period, including the tantras of Vajrabhairava, drew upon and incorporated much of the fear-provoking imagery and cremation-ground accoutrements typical of this darker strand of Saiva worship, though recast in Buddhist form. Indeed, Buddhist tantric tradition acknowledges its close relationship to Saivism, though somewhat surreptitiously, as evident in the many myths throughout the Buddhist tantras of the assimilation of Siva through his subjugation, usually in his form as wrathful Mahesvara, the “great lord.” These myths clearly concede the link between the two systems, but subordinate the figure of Siva in demonstration of the superior liberating power of the buddhas and in turn the triumph of Buddhism over its Saiva competitors.In the Vajrabhairava tantras, Siva as wrathful Mahesvara is given the name Bhairava, and the prefixing of the term “vajra” to his name—the preeminent symbol of power in the Buddhist tantra vehicle (Vajrayana)—is interpreted as a definitive sign of Bhairava’s wholesale transformation and conversion to Buddhism. As we have already noted, the subjugation and conversion of non-Buddhist deities and the subsequent acquisition of the defeated deity’s special attributes is a common theme in Buddhist tantric literature. We again see this at work in a version of Vajrabhairava’s mythic origins that circulated among the followers of Ralo’s oral tradition in Tibet. The basic story is preserved in The Wondrous Faith: An Extensive History of the Tantra Cycle of King Yamantaka (1631) by the seventeenth-century Tibetan historian Taranatha (1576–1634). He relates that long ago in the incalculably distant past, the fierce demigod Matanga (“outcaste”) conquered the great warlord Six-Faced Kumara (“youthful one”), son of the god Mahesvara, and thereby gained dominion over the universe. Mahesvara, summoning his demonic armies into action, rushed immediately to his son’s defense. The terrified Matanga called out in prayerful supplication to the bodhisattva Mañjusri, who then came directly to assist him. Rising up in wrathful form, Mañjusri subdued the furious Mahesvara and trampled his demon hordes. Afterward, Mañjusri brought them back to life, cared for them, and established them on the true path of Buddhism.Thus Vajrabhairava, as wrathful emanation of Mañjusri, answered the call of his devoted follower and in his defense conquered and compassionately converted Bhairava Mahesvara and all his ghoulish forces. And in so doing, just as Yamantaka achieved the particular qualities of Yama and Mara upon their defeat, Vajrabhairava similarly came to possess all the unique powers associated with Bhairava, while also assuming his distinctive traits—notably his terrifying ferocity, yogic prowess, and control over pernicious gods and demons. Likewise, the tantras of Vajrabhairava teach that the practitioner initiated into its secrets will be able to acquire the very same powers and thereby accomplish the supreme feat of liberation from samsara for the benefit of all living beings. Such qualities Ra Lotsawa is renowned to have possessed in abundant measure and are celebrated with great exuberance throughout his biography. But it was his specific use of those powers that contributed most to his controversial reputation and established him as Tibet’s paradigm of the fearsome Buddhist sorcerer. What precisely were these powers that Ralo wielded, and how does the tradition make sense of them?BUDDHIST MAGIC, SORCERY, AND COMPASSIONATE VIOLENCECommon to all Buddhism is the notion that superhuman powers and wonder-working abilities are attained through advanced meditation and that magical prowess is a natural consequence and testament of high spiritual achievement. Magic has always been deeply embedded in Buddhist thought and has long been tied inextricably to conventional Buddhist forms of ritual action. This vital dimension of Buddhism, however, is not often acknowledged or too often ignored. The reasons for this are tangled up in the long and convoluted history of the term “magic” in Western discourse, with its mostly negative connotations, but derive also from certain closely related modernist assumptions about Buddhism as a rational, empirical philosophy fully compatible with science. Magic has no place in this constructed image of Buddhism, for it insists that magic is inconsistent with true Buddhist beliefs and must be divorced from the loftier ideals of the Buddha’s original message—this in spite of overwhelming textual and historical evidence to the contrary. Fortunately, in recent years, this superficial picture of Buddhism and the presumptions underlying it have been called into question and are now being corrected. Still, it must be emphasized that the reality of magic and the legitimate acquisition of thaumaturgic powers have never been questioned by Buddhist tradition dating back to its earliest formations in India. Magical attainments are mentioned unambiguously and described at great length in Buddhist canonical scriptures, in mainstream writings on Buddhist practice, and practically everywhere in the biographies of Buddhist saints. The life of Ra Lotsawa is one particularly illustrative and compelling Tibetan example of the unquestioned acceptance of magic in Buddhism.In some of the earliest Buddhist sutras from the Pali canon, we find standardized lists of the various magical powers possessed by the Buddha and certain other practitioners advanced in meditation—powers which are repeatedly claimed to be produced at the higher stages of meditative realization. Most famously in the Samaññaphala Sutta (“Discourse on the Fruits of the Contemplative Life”) from the Digha Nikaya, these comprise the five supernormal cognitions (Pali, abhiñña, Skt. abhijña, Tib. mngon shes): wonder-working powers, clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathic knowledge, and the knowledge of past lives. The general qualification of these as “cognitions” serves to reinforce the fundamental link that Buddhism recognizes between knowledge that is cultivated through meditation and actual accomplishment—or, in other words, in Buddhism to know something is to gain mastery and control over it. The first category, the wonder-working powers (P. iddhi, Skt. rddhi, Tib. rdzu ’phrul), encompasses the widest array of paranormal abilities, including the powers of physical transformation and multiplication of the body, as well as the ability to appear and disappear at will, to pass unhindered through walls, mountains, and other solid objects and surfaces, to walk on water, to fly cross-legged through the air, to manipulate the elements (earth, water, fire, and air), to touch the sun and moon, and to travel to the heavenly realms. All of these supernormal cognitions are traditionally regarded as mundane powers that can be developed by any advanced ascetic, whether Buddhist or not, and thus they are representative of the diversity of magical arts that were common to most, if not all, Indian ascetic traditions of that period. The one power exclusive to Buddhists, however, which is said to be achieved only through the specialized practices of Buddhism, is the attainment of liberation from samsara, the supreme feat, which the Pali scriptures often add as a sixth supernormal cognition—namely, knowledge of the cessation of karmic impurities. Thus from this early perspective, even Buddhist enlightenment is seen as a special type of magical achievement.These same supernormal cognitions were accepted in the Mahayana as well and assimilated into the hallmark figure of the bodhisattva, the compassionate savior who achieves awakening and remains in the realm of rebirth for the benefit of suffering beings. Demonstrations of such powers were viewed both as proof of the bodhisattva’s spiritual realization and as expedient means (Skt. upaya) for engendering faith among the devoted, vanguishing rivals and converting them to the Buddhist path, and delivering all sentient beings from suffering. The Mahayana scriptures are filled with narrative examples describing the enlightened displays of these supernormal powers, which not only serve to illustrate the myriad ways in which buddhas and bodhisattvas liberate themselves and others, but also reveal the intimate link between magical attainments and the expression of foundational Mahayana doctrines such as the two truths, dependent origination and emptiness, the illusion of reality, the three embodiments of a buddha, and so on.The Buddhist tantras are also firmly grounded in these basic Mahayana principles and, like all of Buddhism, universally acknowledge the efficacy of magical powers on the Buddhist path. Tantric Buddhism, however, adds a further set of paranormal abilities that are said to be achieved in advanced meditation and through specific yogic and ritual practices. These are called siddhi (Tib. dngos grub), translated variously as “yogic powers,” “magical feats,” or “spiritual attainments,” and are commonly listed in a standard eightfold scheme as follows: invincibility with the sword, dominion over the underworld, invisibility, immortality and suppression of disease, the medicinal pill, the ability to fly through the sky, swift-footedness, and the magical eye ointment. Similar eightfold lists can also be found in the Saiva tantras, which again indicates shared influences between the two traditions. The Buddhist list is not static and numerous other powers are frequently elaborated in the tantric literature. What is distinctive about all the various magical powers in the Buddhist esoteric traditions is that they are not just viewed as the products of advanced meditative states, but much more essentially as the direct powers of certain deities that are channelled by the tantric practitioner to accomplish a variety of pragmatic goals. These goals are broadly grouped into four categories, which Tibetans simply call the “four actions” (las bzhi): pacification (zhi), enrichment (rgyas), subjugation (dbang), and ferocity (drag), defined more specifically as pacification of illness and demonic obstructions; the augmentation of life span, merit, and pleasures; control over the three worlds; and the hostile actions of killing, dividing, and paralyzing. These four activities, characterized in some sources as “lower acts” (smad las), designate a wide assortment of magical actions, including the standard eight siddhis, and function in contrast to the so-called “higher acts” (stod las) that have as their goal liberation from samsara. They are achieved primarily through specific rituals called sadhana (Tib. sgrub thabs) that evoke the tantric deities.In the Buddhist tantras that began to appear in India between the eighth and tenth centuries, later classified in Tibet as Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra, these evocation rituals are performed during the so-called “generation stage” (Skt. utpannakrama, Tib. bskyed rim) of tantric practice, the first phase of a two-stage path to buddhahood. Briefly, the generation stage involves a series of meditative techniques and ritual actions designed to transform the practitioner’s awareness of ordinary forms, sounds, and thoughts and to enhance recognition of these as expressions of a specific enlightened buddha, the so-called “chosen deity” (Skt. istadevata, Tib. yi dam). This deity’s enlightened essence, its body, speech, and mind, are ritually encapsulated in the gestures of mudra, in the sounds of mantra, and in the image of its mandala. During this stage, through intricate meditative visualization, the practitioner gradually generates the mandala of the chosen deity, whom he imagines to be one and the same entity as himself, and invokes the deity’s presence through the gestures of mudra and mantra recitation, or in some cases by the use of other ritual devices, such as effigies, talismans, and so on. Once manifest through this generation process, the deity may then be requested or coerced to grant the practitioner its special divine powers, which he may use for any purpose he wishes. These powers are the aforementioned siddhis and constitute the magical and wondrous abilities of the Buddhist tantric yogin, known as a siddha (Tib. grub thob), or “accomplished master.”The second phase of tantric practice, called the “completion stage” (Skt. sampannakrama, Tib. rdzogs rim), does not prioritize the acquisition of magical powers, but instead emphasizes a series of advanced yogic techniques involving the manipulation of the psychophysical energies of the subtle body—the subtle winds (Skt. vayu, Tib. rlung) and essence drops (Skt. bindu, Tib. thig le) within the central channels (Skt. nadi, Tib. rtsa)—to bring about transformative and progressively blissful states of consciousness. These techniques are ideally accomplished through employing the services of a qualified female consort (Skt. mudra, Tib. phyag rgya), who in sexual union with the yogin helps him facilitate the required movement and control of the subtle energies. Ra Lotsawa is described in the biography as having engaged in such practices with several young girls as partners, igniting more than a few scandals. The entire completion-stage process is said to culminate ultimately in actually becoming a buddha, the chosen deity at the center of the tantric mandala.Both stages, generation and completion, are taught in all tantras belonging to the Unsurpassed Yoga class, some more explicitly than others. Generally, the completion-stage practices tend to be a predominant focus of the “mother” tantras, like the Hevajra and Cakrasamvara, whereas the methods of the generation stage, along with the subsequent procurement of superhuman powers to accomplish the four actions, are usually more pronounced in the “father” tantras, like those of Vajrabhairava and Yamantaka.Ra Lotsawa is renowned in Tibet as just this sort of Buddhist adept, a siddha who, having mastered the generation and completion stages of tantric practice, achieved the divine powers of Vajrabhairava and controlled those powers at will. His biography is dominated by accounts of his use of those powers for both spiritual and worldly ends, mostly to provoke faith in the effectiveness of the Buddha’s teachings, especially those of Vajrabhairava, and to attract disciples, to protect, nurture, and heal those suffering from illness or troubled by demons, and to accumulate vast amounts of wealth and material resources needed for preserving the dharma, its sacred images, and its institutions. But the biography also describes him utilizing his potent tantric powers to forcefully combat his rivals, both human and nonhuman, to punish and avenge and even to destroy them. It was Ralo’s uninhibited use of his magical abilities for such violent ends that led to his enduring notoriety as Tibet’s master of Buddhist sorcery.The common Tibetan term for Buddhist sorcery is ngönchö (mngon spyod), meaning “deliberate action,” or “magical assault,” equivalent to the Sanskrit abhicara, and corresponding to the fourth category of the four tantric actions introduced earlier. The term is defined in Tibetan dictionaries as “fierce activities; the action of slaying or ‘liberating’ (bsgral) enemies, demons, and obstructors through the power of mantra.” Here in the text of Ra Lotsawa’s life, another term is preferred, the word tu (mthu), which means literally “force” or “power” and in this sense is also similar to the term “ferocity” (drag) by which the fourth action is typically labelled. In Tibetan vernacular, however, the word tu frequently connotes something malevolent, an evil action of the sort we might more easily recognize as black magic or witchcraft. Although the precise distinction between tu and ngönchö remains ambiguous, both terms share the meaning of sorcery understood as a type of hostile magic. What is clear, at least from the perspective of his followers, is that Ra Lotsawa did not work an evil magic, but instead, in typical Buddhist fashion, controlled and directed his ferocious powers with a bodhisattva’s compassionate intentions. His rivals, though, had quite the opposite view. This ambiguity is an essential facet of Ra Lotsawa’s popular image portrayed most colorfully in The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat.How does the tradition justify Ra Lotsawa’s magical assaults? The tantras and associated literature that describe aggressive rites, as do those of Vajrabhairava, invariably justify such actions as acceptable—forceful but benevolent—by acknowledging that there are in fact some persons against whom violent rites and spells may legitimately be performed; these are individuals who are thought to be profoundly deluded or confused and hence in need of immediate and dramatic help. They are included among a common list of evildoers worthy of “liberation”—those who denigrate the teachings of the Buddha or try to corrupt the community of monks, for instance. From this point of view, then, violent rites are to be executed only with the purest of compassionate intentions and only by practitioners with the requisite skill to lead the “liberated” victim’s consciousness to the pure realm of a buddha. But a stern warning usually follows: the sorcerer without this skill or without the right motivation is assured a rebirth in the lowest hells. A sinister practitioner of this sort works a very evil magic, exceeding the accepted typology of the four actions, and risks harming himself in the process. So Buddhist magic and sorcery, if both are to be counted as legitimate, must share the same compassionate motivation: to free living beings from delusion and deliver them from suffering. The two differ only in their expedient strategies, whether peaceful or wrathful, employed to bring this goal to fruition.The justification of violence on the grounds of compassion was already attested in the Mahayana long before the tantras elaborated on the idea as their foundational theme and, adding to it, promoted the use of the bodhisattva’s yogic powers for aggressive and defensive purposes. Perhaps the most influential validation of compassionate violence in Mahayana scripture comes from a famous episode in the Upayakausalya Sutra (“Discourse on Skillful Means”), entitled the “Story of the Ship’s Captain,” which is cited explicitly in one of the many spiritual songs attributed to Ra Lotsawa to give scriptural support for his violent actions. The story relates that the Buddha in a previous life was once a ship’s captain named Great Compassionate (Mahakarunika) who had set sail with a company of five hundred merchants in search of wealth. Among them was a villainous thief armed with a short spear, who had come on board to rob and attack them. One night in a dream the deities who dwelt in the ocean informed Captain Great Compassionate of the thief’s murderous intentions. They also reminded him that the merchants on the ship were actually bodhisattvas advancing toward awakening. If he were to tell the merchants about the thief’s plans, they would likely kill him and thus suffer the bad karmic results in the great hells below and reverse their spiritual progress. If, on the other hand, he were to stay silent, then the thief would carry out his designs to murder the merchants and everyone else on board. Captain Great Compassionate deeply reflected on how best to handle this ethical predicament. After seven days he concluded that the only way to prevent the thief and the merchants from engaging in the act of killing, sparing them all the “hundred thousand cosmic aeons” of negative consequences, was to slay the thief himself and to personally bear the karmic burden. And so without doubt or hesitation and “with great compassion and skill in means,” he stabbed the thief to death. The thief in turn was reborn in a heavenly realm.The story sets a Buddhist paradigm and establishes that there are exceptional circumstances in which violent action is entirely justified, but only if such action is based on divine insight and profoundly compassionate motives. Here, it is the ship’s captain, the Buddha-to-be, who is capable of assessing the precariousness of the situation and perceives in it the hidden network of interdependent causes and conditions and the full range of karmic repercussions. Selflessly willing to take upon himself the accruing bad karma, he then compassionately makes use of his tactical skills (upaya) to insure the most auspicious outcome for all living beings involved. His underlying motivation is not driven by anger or hatred, delusion or desire, but by a wise and genuine compassion. The bodhisattva’s violence thus becomes an act of superior virtue.This idea of compassionate violence is also thoroughly embraced in the Buddhist tantras, where it rests philosophically on another principal Mahayana position: the view of emptiness of self and phenomena and the nonduality of subject and object. As an extension of the core Buddhist teaching of “no-self” (Skt. anatman, Tib. bdag med)—meaning no intrinsic self-existence, no essence—the Mahayana doctrine of emptiness (Skt. sunyata, Tib. stong pa nyid) asserts that neither self nor phenomena exist as substantial, independent, permanent realities, despite how they appear to ordinary deluded minds. This is not to say that persons and things do not exist at all, but rather they do not exist as ordinary beings perceive them to exist—that is, as stable, solid, and concrete. From this it also follows that objects perceived in the phenomenal world and the subject perceiving them are equally empty of inherent existence and thus ultimately identical, inseparable. The same holds for the distinction between samsara and nirvana, which under meditative scrutiny are seen in truth to be equivalent, leading the tantras to assert that awakening can actually be attained by utilizing the afflictions and impurities of worldly existence, such as lust and anger and indulgence in alcohol and sex. Adopting such a perspective, tantric Buddhism places special emphasis on the wisdom of nonduality (Skt. advaya, Tib. gnyis med) as an expression of true enlightenment. When such wisdom is combined with compassionate skillful means in the case of the bodhisattva’s apparent violent actions, there is in reality no violence committed since there is no real victim of the act and no real agent of the action. Ra Lotsawa himself echoes this position on a number of occasions. From the point of view of awakening, then, the true nature of the bodhisattva’s violence manifests from a mind of great compassion that directly perceives the emptiness of self and other and is implemented as an expedient strategy to liberate ignorant beings and place them on the path to buddhahood.OVERVIEW OF THE LIFE OF RA LOTSAWAThe All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat follows all of the standard conventions of Tibetan Buddhist hagiography: the saint’s wondrous birth, remarkable childhood, apprenticeship under one or several qualified Buddhist masters, spiritual realization and enlightenment, gathering and teaching of disciples, meritorious works, and a model death that produces relics accompanied by miraculous signs of saintliness. As sacred biography, the text is written for the faithful and intended to engender or heighten feelings of devotion and wonder toward the saint whose life and deeds are recounted in its pages. In its general plot structure, panegyric style, and reliance on familiar formulas and time-honored stock motifs, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat fulfills the expectations of its traditional Tibetan audience, underscoring and amplifying the soundness of enduring Buddhist truths while demonstrating the superior virtues of its principal hero. In this way, the biography also serves a polemical function, self-consciously promoting the supremacy of Ra Lotsawa and his Vajrabhairava teachings over and against other Buddhist traditions, old and new in Tibet, which were prevalent in his day, and some that continued to be propagated long after he had left this world. Ralo’s conflicts with authorities who represent these various competing systems are a persistent theme throughout the biography. Needless to say, Ra Lotsawa’s biography, like all hagiographical narrative, is concerned above all with religious truths expressed in the life of its saint and less so with factual truth verifiable by the principles of historical method. Still, even though it would be unprofitable to read the text as an impartial document of historical fact, the biography does contain credible and reliable historical realities and, if nothing else, undoubtedly reflects genuine Tibetan Buddhist cultural values and shared mentalities.The precise year of Ralo’s birth is not given in the biography, but other sources record the year as 1016. This date seems to have been arrived at by counting backward sixty years from the date of the famous Toling council at Gugé in 1076, an event that is securely established in the historical record. Tibetan histories verify that Ralo was one among several revered translators who participated in this imperially sponsored assembly in western Tibet and our text confirms that he was around sixty years old at that time. The biography states that Ralo was born in a place called Langyul in the valley of Nyenam, known today as Nyalam county near the Nepal border. He was born the middle child of five sons to a family belonging to the minor aristocratic clan of Ra, which boasted a long line of lay tantric priests specializing in the old teachings of the Nyingmapa. His father, Ratön Könchok Dorjé, was an adept in the practices of the blood-drinking Yangdak (“immaculate”) Heruka and the wrathful Vajrakila (“indestructible nailing dagger”), two of the most significant deities in the Nyingma traditions of Buddhist tantra. His mother, Dorjé Peldzom, is said to have possessed the special marks of a particularly auspicious type of yogic consort. We read that Ralo’s grand arrival had been previously forecast in a number of recorded prophecies, a few of which are quoted in the opening pages of the biography, and his birth was heralded by a series of divine visions appearing in dreams to both his mother and father. In these visions Ralo is clearly identified as the bodhisattva Mañjusri, who has chosen to take this human birth for the benefit of all living beings.The reach of Ralo’s future mission in the world is signaled early on by a spectacular event that is said to have occured six months after his birth when Penden Lhamo, the patron goddess of Tibet, took him from his mother’s lap and carried him on a miraculous flight everywhere around Tibet. His parents were so astonished upon his return that they named him Ngotsar Jungné (“source of wonderment”) and because he survived the breathtaking journey, the people of Nyenam called him Chimé Dorjé Tok (“deathless indestructible lightning bolt”).In keeping with the conventions of Tibetan hagiography, Ralo is portrayed as a remarkable prodigy. The biography recounts that from early childhood he was already possessed of extraordinary compassion, and that he could understand the meaning of his dreams, recall his past lives, and effortlessly enter the highest states of meditative tranquility. By the age of six he could read and write, memorize Buddhist scriptures by simply reading their words out loud, and retain every word he heard from his father and other religious instructors. In addition, he very quickly became skilled in all the various specialized arts and crafts, which he mastered by simple observation, and this earned him yet another name, Sherap Jungné (“source of wisdom”) At nine his father initiated him into the practices of Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila, which of course he excelled in with little effort. However, he would later discover, after experiencing much stress and difficulty in his meditations, that these deities were not really suited to him.Though Ralo is portrayed here as a saintly child, the biography also hints at his more volatile nature, describing him as a willful and abusive lad quick to hurl insults at his elders and even strike at them physically. Such disagreeable behavior forced his father to send him away in solitary retreat. When introduced to the young girl named Jomo Gemajam who had been arranged to be his childhood bride, he at first rejected her. The girl was from a prominent family from the nearby village of Drikyim and we can assume that, following traditional Tibetan social custom, the marriage had been designed to seal alliances between the two families. The text is vague on this matter, but other biographical accounts of Ralo’s life relate a more sordid tale. Jamgön Amézhap (1597–1659), for example, in his Sunlight Illuminating All of Mañjusri’s Dharma: An Eloquent History of the Sacred Tantra Cycle of Glorious Yamantaka (1633), tells us that the girl found Ralo so ugly and mean-spirited that she was distressed about the arrangement, refused to marry him, and ran away. Ralo, furious by her rejection, waited for her alongside a narrow path, grabbed her when she passed by, and spitefully cut off her nose. Afterward a prosthetic nose made of copper was fashioned for her and painted gold; she thus became known as Princess Golden Nose. Alternatively, in Taranatha’s The Wondrous Faith, the girl is said to have run off with another man. All this led to a violent feud between the two families, culminating in the Drikyim waging war against the Ra clan in Langyul. Ralo was compelled to seek revenge. In these alternate accounts, this conflict is given as the reason Ralo makes the journey to Nepal, to obtain teachings on hostile sorcery and black magic. Here our text tells a gentler version, though the feud between families and Ralo’s magical vengeance and heroic victory are gloriously recounted in a later chapter.The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat relates that soon after the young Ralo had experienced terrible troubles while attempting the rites of Yangdak Heruka, four divine maidens appeared to him in a dream and persuaded him to leave home for Nepal to obtain a special transmission of the dharma. With some reluctance, his parents finally allowed him to go. Alone, he made the perilous journey south to the magnificent city of Yerang (Patan) in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley, which the text describes in fanciful and picturesque detail. There he met his prophesied guru, identified simply by the name Bharo, which historically was not actually his personal or family name but rather an aristocratic title used in Nepal from the eleventh century onward to designate a member of the merchant caste. We are not given any further information about this master, but in the colophons of Ralo’s Vajrabhairava translations in the Tibetan Buddhist canon he is identified by the fuller name Bharo Chakdum (phyag rdum), this second name meaning literally “maimed hand.” Other sources supply the additional information that he received this name early in life after his hands were amputed by a disgruntled king as punishment for insubordination. In one of the earliest available accounts of Bharo Chakdum from The Garland of Wish-Fulfilling Jewels Satisfying the Hopes of Trainees: A History of the Mañjusri-Yamantaka Guru Lineage (1628) by Khöntön Peljor Lhündrup (1561–1637), it is noted that the young Bharo, intent on seeking revenge against the king, fled north to Oddiyana (the fabled place of origin of numerous tantras, known today as the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan) to acquire mastery in the secrets of Saiva sorcery. Unfortunately, however, these occult practices caused him to go insane. Out of despair, Bharo sought the blessings of the Indian Buddhist siddha Padmavajra and in his presence converted to Buddhism. He then requested from him initiation into the practices of Vajrabhairava and the wrathful goddess Vajravarahi (“indestructible sow”), and was thereby healed of his delirium. Later, through meditative realization, he subjugated the king and his retinue and quelled their punitive judgments. Afterward they humbly offered their devotion to him. It was in this way that Bharo became a recognized master and principal lineage holder of these two powerful tantric Buddhist systems.From Bharo, Ralo first received the rites and instructions of Vajravarahi, which almost immediately he had to use as a defense against the magical assaults of an irate Hindu yogin, the villain Purna the Black, whom he had earlier offended in front of the famous Swayambhu Stupa. Ralo was successful in countering the attacks, and Purna the Black in humilation took his own life. Emboldened by his success, Ralo returned to Bharo to request additional practices, but the guru denied that he had anything more to give and disappeared. Thus begins an extended and delightful drama of Ralo’s thwarted attempts to find his absent guru and to obtain from him the coveted teachings of Vajrabhairava. After an exhaustive and ultimately edifying quest across every region of the country—a journey that serves in the narrative as Ralo’s spiritual trial and preparation—the text has him eventually reconnect with Guru Bharo and in a grand crescendo receive the teachings he had long been seeking.On Ralo’s return home to Nyenam in the company of his first disciple (referred to anonymously in the text as the Nepali Lotsawa), he was hailed by a traveling merchant in a small market town on the southern border of Tibet. In response to the merchant’s queries, Ralo sang a spontaneous song of realization (mgur), the first of forty-four of such spiritual poems attributed to Ralo—allegedly in his own words—that are interspersed throughout the work. Like the more widely celebrated songs from The Life of Milarepa, and even more so—in narrative structure—from Milarepa’s Hundred Thousand Songs, Ralo’s spiritual songs in many ways form the core of the biography and serve a variety of narrative purposes. Some songs function merely as dialogue in verse, others review or highlight specific life events that had already been recounted in prose, while the vast majority of them offer concise expressions of Ralo’s personal experience of awakening as well as practical instruction on all manner of fundamental Buddhist teachings, Mahayana philosophy, and tantric doctrine and practice, often in explicit justification of his controversial actions. In their purpose and stylistic form, these spiritual songs belong to a long-established Tibetan tradition of poetic expression widely acknowledged to have been influenced by Indian vernacular styles of tantric song (doha, vajragiti, and caryagiti) and closely associated with the early Buddhist mahasiddhas, such as Tilopa, Krsnacarya, and Saraha.Ralo returned home to find that his bride Jomo Gemajam had been kidnapped to be married off to a family in Drikyim and that a war had subsequently ensued between the families in Nyenam. Ralo’s brothers had also been imprisoned and his mother and father brutally attacked. His parents pleaded with him to use his newly acquired sorcerer’s powers against the villages of Drikyim, and Ralo agreed to do so. This is the first of numerous episodes in the biography in which Ralo is described as deploying the powers of Vajrabhairava to defend against and subjugate his enemies. His sorcery was successful, Jomo Gemajam and his brothers were released, and the Drikyim were thoroughly decimated. With a bodhisattva’s compassionate intentions, he then guided the “liberated” victims to Mañjusri’s buddha realm.Ralo would later travel again to Nepal to receive final instructions on the fearsome practices of Vajrabhairava from Guru Bharo. At that time Ralo invited the guru to visit Tibet, but Bharo declined and suggested instead that Ralo journey to India to study with the famous panditas there and to request monastic ordination. What follows is a wonderful description of his pilgrimage to some of the most important Buddhist sacred sites of India, which are described here in remarkably accurate detail. In the midst of his travels, he stayed for awhile at the great Buddhist monastic university of Nalanda, a few miles north of Rajagrha in the modern-day state of Bihar. There he met Panchen Meñja Lingpa, known also as Mahakarunika, under whom he took his vows and became a fully ordained Buddhist monk. It was on this occasion that he received his name Sri Vajrakirti, Glorious Dorjé Drakpa.Meñja Lingpa became Ralo’s second root guru. Again, the biography gives little background information about him other than the fact that he was a Nepali pandita and abbot of his own monastery in the Kathmandu valley that bore his name, Meñja Ling. Taranatha, in his seventeenth-century history The Wondrous Faith, states that Meñja Lingpa was of noble birth and thus he also carried the title of Bharo, which the author critically notes had led some careless historians in his day to foolishly conflate Ralo’s two masters. Since Meñja Lingpa was thought to be an exceptionally gentle and caring person, Taranatha adds, he was nicknamed Mahakarunika (“great compassionate one”). He lived as a monk and had studied with several prominent Indian teachers, including the siddha Padmavajra, who we recall was also Guru Bharo’s Vajrabhairava mentor. Thus the Vajrabhairava transmission Meñja Lingpa handed down to Ralo was directly aligned with the same lineage he had earlier received from Bharo Chakdum. In addition, Ralo also obtained from the great pandita numerous mainstream Buddhist teachings, including Dharmakirti’s Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition and Asanga’s Five Dharmas of Maitreya, as well as seminal tantric works, such as those of Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, Guhyasamaja, Red Yamari, and Mahakala. The biography relates that Ralo left India and followed Meñja Lingpa back to his monastery in Nepal, where he stayed and studied with him for over six years. Meñja Lingpa himself eventually traveled to Tibet and spent a number of years there assisting Ralo in revising and correcting his translations of the Vajrabhairava cycle and its related texts and also worked closely with several other important Tibetan translators.Ra Lotsawa left Nepal to introduce the new revelation of Vajrabhairava to Tibet with altruistic intentions of securing the good fortune and enlightenment of the Tibetan people. According to the biography, he accomplished this by traveling constantly all over the land, demonstrating through miracles and magic the superior effectiveness of his distinctive system of esoteric Buddhist practice and instruction, gathering masses of devoted followers, converting skeptics, defeating opponents, and ripening countless numbers of accomplished disciples. In this sense, we might say The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat depicts Ralo as driven by a missionary imperative and frames his life as a spiritual travelogue, describing one long and adventurous itinerary across the Tibetan heartland (in traditional terms referring to the two great provinces of Ü and Tsang). Ralo’s route took him from his home near the border of Nepal through other nearby areas in southwestern Tibet; north to Jangtang, the high plateau; back down to Sakya; then through Lhatsé and the northern Tsang valleys of Mü, Tanak, Shang, and Uyuk; then to Nyang; from Gyantsé through the Rong valley; further west to Ngari, to the kingdoms of Gugé, Purang, and Mangyul; and from there back home to Tsang and the valleys of Ukpalung, Topgyel, and Nyemo; then through southern and central Tibet; to Lhasa and the Kyishö and Penyul valleys; to Samyé and south to Yarlung and Chongyé; east to Dakpo and Kongpo; and ultimately to his final resting place at Den in the upper Kyishö valley, northeast of Lhasa. Most of the places on Ralo’s itinerary and the routes that connect them exist today and remain vibrant Buddhist landmarks in the contemporary Tibetan landscape, but the text also preserves the memory of many lost and forgotten sites and their ancient place names. This is one aspect of the biography beyond its literary appeal that contributes to its historical significance and provides evidence that might help to fix a date for the work, or at least specific portions of it.Throughout his travels Ralo is described as tirelessly performing innumerable acts of benefit. Wherever he went he sponsored copies of the Buddhist scriptures; facilitated the production of stupas, statues, and painted images; made abundant offerings to all the monasteries and donations to every monk; gave charitably to the poor and destitute; ransomed captive animals and set them free; supported the livelihoods of fishermen and hunters, having persuaded them to give up their nonvirtuous occupations; placed restrictions on access to the roads to protect against thieves and bandits; built ferry boats and bridges; settled disputes and vendettas; and secured the release of prisoners. Moreover, he also invested much of his time refurbishing old and dilapidated temples and sanctuaries. In this regard, he was particularly renowned for having rescued and restored to its former glory the temple complex of Samyé, Tibet’s first and most treasured Buddhist monastery built in the late eighth century and damaged by fire in 1106. He even founded two of his own modest institutions: the demon-taming temple Dündül Lhakhang at his home in Langyul, and the mountain hermitage of Sang Ngak Chö Dzong in the central Tibetan Den valley. The latter would become his primary seat of religious activity during his final years and the site of his memorial. All these meritorious projects he funded with seemingly inexhaustible supplies of gold and precious materials, which he received in steady streams from his devout patrons from every corner of Tibet. The biography meticulously records and itemizes these gifts and registers the numbers of his followers in stultifying numeric detail as if to prove beyond any and all objection the veracity of Ra Lotsawa’s spiritual capital. But Tibetan tradition largely remembers him for his more provocative activities.Most references to Ra Lotsawa in Tibetan sources acknowledge his notorious reputation in Tibet and cite the oft-repeated line that he had “killed thirteen accomplished bearers of esoteric knowledge,” and possibly even more, through Vajrabhairava sorcery. Taranatha remarks, in The Wondrous Faith, that “there is no calculating the number of incorrigible people whom he vanquished, one and all, by killing, banishing, rendering, paralyzing and the like. All the lotsawas and learned scholars who turned the wheel of dharma had to resign before the mighty Ralo.” Such sources frequently assert as well that his actions were in every case compassionately motivated—this in keeping with the distinctive Buddhist ethical principles of the Unsurpassed Yoga Tantras. These acts of magical violence receive considerable attention in The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat and in large measure mark the story it tells of Ralo’s Buddhist mission in Tibet.The biography relates that the first target of Ralo’s aggressive sorcery was, aptly enough, a prominent master of the old tantric rites of Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila. These were the same rites his father had also practiced but which for Ralo had brought only troubles in his youth. His tantric opponent was named Shakya Lodrö, a member of the noble Khön clan. The Khön were the ancestral family of the Sakyapa (“grey earth”) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most influential of the new Sarmapa schools to emerge at the start of the Renaissance period and whose hereditary succession of religious leaders would come to dominate central Tibetan politics from the late eleventh through the mid-fourteenth century. Khön Shakya Lodrö was in fact the father of the founder of Sakya monastery, Könchok Gyelpo (1034–1102), the first institutional patriarch of the powerful Sakya lineage. The text describes Khön Shakya Lodrö as envious of Ralo’s developing influence, and in an attempt to get rid of his potential rival, he spread insults and accusations against the integrity of his teachings and sent forth his divine female guardians to attack him. Ralo’s disciples begged him to respond to this with lethal force, but the text shows him to have been reluctant to do so—that is, until Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, appeared to him in a vision and convinced him that Shakya Lodrö was a suitable candidate for violent rites and that such actions were legitimate expressions of a buddha’s benevolence.Thus with Avalokitesvara’s blessing and the fierce rites of Vajrabhairava, Ralo slayed his opponent and dispatched his consciousness into Mañjusri’s care. The biography then adds that the loyal defenders of Shakya Lodrö vowed revenge and raised an army in retaliation, but Ralo scattered them in all directions with his wonder-working powers, and in the end, as testament to the superiority of the Vajrabhairava teachings over those of Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila, Shakya Lodrö’s disciples abandoned their former loyalties and became fervent disciples of Ra Lotsawa.In the biography, Ralo’s contest with Khön Shakya Lodrö is followed soon after by a second violent encounter, this one in a two-part episode involving another Vajrakila master known as Langlap Jangchup Dorjé. He is a figure recognized in later histories as an important early lineage holder of the special Vajrakila transmissions practiced in the Nyingmapa tradition. The first incident here is peculiar in that it describes Langlap as the only opponent Ralo faces in the text who was actually successful in magically defeating him, at least initially. Ralo, prompted by a vision of the goddess Tara, makes his second journey to Nepal and on to India to receive further instructions from Guru Bharo and other teachers in order to effectively strike back against this Vajrakila master. Following the accounts of Ralo’s adventures in Nepal and India, the text concludes the story. Upon his return to Tibet, Ralo once again engaged Langlap in magical combat, only now it was Langlap who staggered under the full might of Ralo’s Vajrabhairava powers. After Langlap’s Vajrakila protectors had surrendered to Ralo as his humble servants, the once proud challenger and his disciples were finally eliminated.The Nyingma histories sympathetic to Langlap tell a different and much shorter tale. The Nyingma apologist Sokdokpa Lodrö Gyeltsen (1552–1624), for example, in his Waves of a Wondrous Ocean: The Origin and History of Glorious Vajrakila (1609), notes that Ralo was so terrified by Langlap’s superior powers that he begged for mercy and respectfully bowed to him in humiliation. Nowhere is Ralo described as coming back and defeating the Vajrakila master. Sokdokpa ends his story by citing a verse of village gossip that is said to have circulated among the locals at that time: “The Yama scholar succumbed to the nailing dagger”—in other words, Ralo was defeated by Langlap’s Vajrakila powers. Interestingly, this same disgracing rumor is repeated in The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat, but here the text indicates that it served only to embolden Ralo’s determination to obtain in Nepal the forceful Vajrabhairava practices he needed to secure retribution for Langlap’s offenses against him.The fact that our biography includes an unflattering account of Ralo’s defeat by his Vajrakila competitor and verbatim reference to the gossip that this setback inspired suggests that the author of The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat may have been familiar with the Nyingma version of the story and perhaps even knew Sokdokpa’s text. The addition of Ralo’s triumphant sequel might then be more appropriately interpreted as a creative effort to claim victory for its central hero in deliberate response to an opposing narrative. This raises historical issues about the composition of the biography, but also highlights a characteristic feature of the hagiographer’s craft—namely, propaganda. The magical contests in these episodes function polemically to exalt and glorify the saintly protagonist while denigrating his rivals and the tantric transmissions they represent. In Ralo’s case, his biography aims to promote the supremacy of the Vajrabhairava revelation and its liberating powers, which Ralo embodies. The tantric systems identified in the text as competing (ineffectively) against this new revelation include not only the older traditions of Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila, which were central to the fierce rites of the Nyingma and Sakya orders, but also a host of other rival Buddhist esoteric practices and their sectarian affiliates prevalent in Tibet from the eleventh century onward. These conflicts and magical battles that Ralo wins through Vajrabhairava sorcery are narrated in lively detail in The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat. In addition to the accounts of him vanquishing Khön Shakya Lodrö and Langlap Jangchup Dorjé, we also read of his slaying a master of the lion-headed goddess Simhamukhi named Setön Sönam Özer, and forcefully “liberating” the renowned translators Gö Lotsawa Khukpa Lhetsé, scholar of Guhyasamaja; Zangkar Lotsawa, master of Vaisravana; Gyü Lotsawa Mönlam Drak, adept of Cakrasamvara; and Nyen Lotsawa, accomplished master of Black Ayuspati, an alternate form of Yamantaka. There are also accounts of him vanquishing three Hayagriva yogins, slaying a monk practitioner of the goddess Sitatapatra named Geshé Kyo Dülwa Dzin, and, most famously, killing Darma Dodé, master of Hevajra and son of Milarepa’s teacher Marpa the Translator (c. 1002–1081). All told, the biography forwards Ralo’s magical triumphs as undeniable evidence of the glory of Vajrabhairava and as testament to Ralo’s enlightened wisdom and compassion for all living beings.While stories of missionary travels, meritorious deeds, thaumaturgic powers, and fierce acts of liberation form the foundation of the saintly life of Ra Lotsawa as a compassionate bodhisattva, the depiction of his wondrous death verifies his status as a fully enlightened buddha. In its last episodes, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat relates that when Ralo reached the astonishing age of one hundred and eighty he decided his mission in Tibet was complete and therefore announced to his disciples that it was time for him to depart this world. In Buddhism, mastery over death, including the extraordinary ability to control its timing and its natural processes, has always been recognized as a mark of one who has achieved liberation from samsara. Moreover, narrative accounts and visual representations of the remarkable deaths of enlightened Buddhist saints, frequently employing the literary paradigms set by the canonical stories of the Buddha’s own passing, have throughout Buddhist history held tremendous value for devoted followers and their religious communities, both as sources of inspiration and as certification of the beloved teacher’s supreme achievement.The portrayal of Ralo’s death begins with him in the company of all his disciples who had gathered from regions far and wide. For their benefit he reiterated the liberating powers of the practice of Vajrabhairava, whose authentic oral transmissions he had obtained on four separate journeys to Nepal and India. He then delivered prophecies, appointed his nephew Ra Chörap to be the upholder of his lineage, and to his most trusted students imparted his final instructions on how to properly memorialize his remains. At sunrise he passed away and departed to the pure land of Khecara, the buddha realm of his patron goddess Vajravarahi. Following the conventions of Buddhist sacred biography, the text describes the numerous marvels and miraculous signs of saintliness that accompanied Ralo’s death.The text then tells us that when Ra Chörap and the other disciples began the customary funeral services, the master appeared to them in a series of visions over the course of several weeks and made grand pronouncements of his divine accomplishments. Ralo first appeared in the guise of an Indian pandita, then in the form of a tantric sorcerer. Later, when the funeral rites were concluded, he appeared as Vajrabhairava and finally in the form of Heruka, the wrathful buddha. This last vision occurred soon after his disciples, in fulfillment of Ralo’s dying testament, had wrapped his corpse in fine silk cloth, placed it “inside a casket made of five priceless jewels,” and laid it gently “inside a stupa that had been built in the middle of the Denda plain.”We should note here that earlier in this episode Ralo is described as having prophesied that his stupa would survive a terrible flood and that five generations later his remains would be removed and transferred to a new monastery near Lhasa on the occasion of its founding. Prophecies are commonplace in Tibetan Buddhist hagiography and very often conceal valuable clues about the date of the texts in which they appear. This is so because the events they allude to, usually far removed from the life of the saint, are much more likely to have been closer in time to that of the saint’s hagiographer. Using prophecy to frame allusions to known historical facts, which may have been familiar to the hagiographer’s own contemporary audience, was a standard literary device for granting that prophecy, and the words of the saint to whom it is attributed, an uncontested authenticity. Ralo’s prophecy in this case is just this sort of curious historical statement, for indeed, later sources speak of the transfer of Ralo’s relics to the great Gelukpa monastery of Drepung, which was founded in the year 1416. Khöntön Peljor Lhündrup, who is perhaps the first to record this event in his The Garland of Wish-Fulfilling Jewels, notes that in 1416 a high official from the ruling house of Néu Dzong named Namkha Zangpo (fl. c. 1390–1430), an avid patron of the Gelukpa order, took a boat at midnight across the Kyichu river, extracted the casket of relics from the stupa in Den valley, and brought it to Drepung, where the relics were then placed inside a statue of Vajrabhairava. Akuching Sherap Gyatso (1803–1875), a prominent nineteenth-century Gelukpa scholar and antiquarian from Amdo, adds the additional detail that Namkha Zangpo had offered the relics to Jamyang Chöjé (1379–1449), the founder and first abbot of Drepung, and that it was he who personally deposited the Vajrabhairava reliquary in the monastery’s tantric temple. He is also said to have returned one of Ralo’s fingers as an offering to his patron, the Néu Dzong official. Thereafter the statue of Vajrabhairava housing Ralo’s relics became an object of veneration by all the monks of Drepung. Reference to this significant fifteenth-century event in a biography of Ralo’s life purported to have been written by his grandnephew Ra Yeshé Sengé several hundred years earlier in the twelfth century raises obvious historical questions about the text’s date and authorship. Space does not permit us to address such conundrums here, but in the end, regardless of its origins, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat remains the only complete biography of Ra Lotsawa that is available to us, and the primary source that Tibetans for generations haved turned to for the story of his life. The text is thus essential for understanding the legend of this notorious master of Buddhist sorcery and how through his many tribulations and triumphs he came to popularize his unique transmission of the Vajrabhairava tradition in Tibet.BRYAN J. CUEVASNote on the TranslationThe Tibetan text of The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat is presented as a continuous narrative without any internal divisions or line breaks. Shifts in action and decisive changes in setting or location are often merely called out in the flow of the narrative by the Tibetan expression de nas, “after that, next,” and occasionally these scene changes occur abruptly, without pause, in the very middle of a sentence. For someone reading the text in the original language, the effects of this stylistic form and the relentless rolling pace of the narrative can be overwhelming, a heavy drumbeat indeed. The devotional fervor of the Tibetan text is palpable, to say the least. Thus, for the sake of convenience and greater clarity for modern readers, I have introduced formal chapters and section breaks in my translation. Topic headings for the individual sections are included at the beginning of each chapter.The anonymous author of the text’s colophon records that the biography was originally printed in Lhasa in 1905 with material support from the family of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1876–1933) and claims that this was the first-ever printed copy of the Life of Ra Lotsawa in Tibet. Since then, this same 1905 work has been reprinted in numerous Tibetan-language editions, including a modern typeset version published in Beijing in 1989. In my translation I have relied mainly on this modern edition and when necessary checked this against a digitally scanned copy of the 1905 print for consistency.I recognize and remain critically sensitive to the unique challenges a translator must confront in transposing a text from one culture to another. My aim in the translation was to preserve and to convey with fluency the literary spirit of the Tibetan text as closely as possible but not so closely as to diminish the eloquence of the English language. With a broad readership in mind, I have tried to the limits of my abilities to render the translation in an accessible and graceful style, free of stilted and specialist jargon. That said, I have generally employed the Sanskrit rather than Tibetan forms of the more commonly known Buddhist terms and deity names and have kept Tibetan proper names and places in their native forms, rendered phonetically. In most instances I have left these words untranslated.AcknowledgmentsI have joyfully acquired numerous debts while researching and translating this work and preparing it for publication. I am especially indebted to Hubert Decleer and Peter Alan Roberts, both of whom have for many years studied the life of Ra Lotsawa and were so generous to share with me their own translations and knowledge of the text. Per Sørensen and Cameron Bailey kindly took time out of their busy schedules to read through an initial draft of the translation with great care and proposed many improvements. I am sincerely humbled by the faith and generosity of numerous other friends and colleagues who supported this project in various ways; most of all I wish to thank Tsering Gyalpo, Matthew Kapstein, Donald Lopez, Trent Pomplun, Andrew Quintman, Kurtis Schaeffer, Gareth Sparham, and David Gordon White. I am thankful also to Jeff Watt for introducing me to the rare and wonderful painting of Ra Lotsawa that graces the cover of this book and for granting permission for its use. In addition I would like to thank my father, John Cuevas, for illustrating the fine map of Tibet. My wife Tamara provided her usual astute criticisms and made suggestions for refinement with much love and patience. Above all, my parents, Janice and John, have always supported my peculiar endeavors unconditionally and for that and so much more, I am forever grateful. Financial assistance was generously provided by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.PROLOGUEOm Svasti!Manifestation of all the Victors in their manifold buddha realms,Central figure in all the mandala circles without exception,Root of spiritual attainments and supreme source of happiness and well-being—To this supreme and benevolent lama, from the depths of my heart, I bow down.All-Pervading Sovereign, Glorious Vajrasattva (Indestructible Being) and,Indistinguishable from him, the lamas who personify a buddha’s four embodiments;Wish-fulfilling gems, source of all spiritual attainments—To these kings who have the power to grant whatever one desires, I bow down.Through the kindness of the genuine and supreme lamas of the lineage,May all living beings attain the high rank of mighty Vajradhara (Scepter Bearer),