|Origin Location||Central Tibet|
|Date Range||1300 - 1399|
|Material||Ground Mineral Pigment|
|Collection||Rubin Museum of Art|
|Catalogue #||acc.# P1998.23.8|
The paper these cards are painted on was carbon dated to between 1174 and 1293 AD
These twenty-two cards (#'s 734 through 755) represent members of a group of religious teachers called RIG DZIN. Rig dzin means "holder of knowledge or awareness" (rig pa knowledge 'dzin pa, to hold, sanscrit: Vidyadhara). These masters are considered to be highly accomplished due to their meditations and ritual practices.
The title "knowledge holder " may refer to all masters who transmit esoteric teachings to their disciples, but there is a distinct group of eight masters, said to have meditated near Bodhgaya, to which Padmasambhava belonged during his studies in India. In this series of initiation cards, instead of the distinct group of eight Indian masters, there are both Tibetan and Indian masters' names on these initiation cards. Some of the Tibetans are known as disciples of Padmasambhava who were famous religious teachers traditionally believed to have lived in 8th to 9th century, in Tibet and the neighboring vallies in Bhutan. There is also the female disciple and consort of Padmasambhava, Ye shes mtsho rgyal, who is represented in this series as one of the teachers.
The biographical literature for Padmasambhava was codified during the lifetime of the lama Myang ral (1124-1192 or 1204) who wrote the earliest known biography, but two other major biographies were compiled in the fourteenth century by rDo rje gling pa (1346-1405). The tradition of the group of the Rig dzin is present in the earliest biography by lama Myang ral, but more fully developed as rituals in the writings of Sangs rgyas gling pa (1340-1396).
Among the cards there is mention of Mahamudra, which is the third of the four levels of knowledge in a classification of the Mahayoga teachings according to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. However there is a mention of dKa' brgyud lineage of lamas, who also venerate Padmasambhava, and his teachings; the dKa' brgyud pa having a separate group of Mahamudra teachings. It would seem possible that this series of initiation cards was used in dKa' brgyud pa religious tradition, but there is no indication of regional provenance by dialect or language as far as I have been able to determine.
references: The Lotus-born, the life story of Padmasambhava, translated by Erik H.Schmidt, Shambhala Publications, Boston 1993. The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Eva M. Dargyay, Samuel Weiser, Inc., New York, 1977 The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Dudjom Rinpoche, translated by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1991.
Dr. Amy Heller
Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: nyis hum hum the one who (hears or see?) the purity of the god of personal meditation, (this is) the teacher dGa' rab rdo rje, his esoteric name is rDo rje ro lang de ba rtsal (Vajra strength of joy who wakens the dead). We beseech you to come here. May those with good fortune obtain transmission of the best initiation, (by the mantra) Om a hum Vajra gu ru hu hum la nhi shin rtsal la:
in printed letters the name dGa' rab rdo rje (his name means Vajra of perfect happiness).
Twenty two among the knowledge holders
Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: hum hum yi dam lha'i dag thon pa (recte> either thos pa, to hear, or mthong pa, to see): sloon (abbreviation.slob dpon) gar rab rdo rje dpal gyis gsang mtshan ni: rdo rje ro lang de ba brtsal te: 'og mi (sic: 'og min) gnas na bzhugs: 'dir gshegs skal ldan 'di la dbang mchog bskur du gsol: om a hum badzra gu ru hum hum la nhi shin rsta la:
printed letters: dga' rab rdo rje
rigs 'dzin nyer nyis
Special Features: (Cursive script (Umay))