The Kālacakra Heart Seed-syllable


This page has been prompted by a conversation between the present writer and David Reigle. We both contributed to the book: "As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama", Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.

David's article is entitled: "Sanskrit Mantras in the Kālacakra Sādhana". This can be found here, on Google books and here, in pdf format. Unfortunately, in the last paragraph of this he reproduced an error by a previous writer, and the present article constitutes his correction to this.

This highlights a difficulty faced by anybody editing or translating Kālacakra materials. We are certainly lucky that not only do several translations survive in Tibetan of both the Kālacakra Tantra and its commentary the Vimalaprabhā, but we also have several original Sanskrit manuscripts of both texts. But mantras pose a problem. Not only are there variations between the original Sanskrit texts, there are differences between the Tibetan translations and the Sanskrit originals, and also inconsistencies between the Tibetan texts.

This applies both to long mantras and single characters, such as highlighted in the present discussion. It is important to get the mantras right, as far as one can, for as David correctly points out in his article: "The great majority of Sanskrit mantras have clear meanings that were meant to be understood". He later adds, suggesting that English translations of meditation practices should also include translations of the mantras, that: "One can then do the prescribed meditations with greater understanding of what is occurring."

Many might ask if Tibetan translators did not agree with this as they did not translate the mantras into Tibetan? Indicating that understanding the meaning and contemplating it in the meditation was clearly important, the Tibetan texts very often give the Tibetan translations of mantras, either in whole in instruction texts or as annotations in practice materials, a practice I feel we should adopt with English translations. David Reigle's correction article follows.

Correction Regarding the Kālacakra Heart Seed-syllable

Abhayākara-gupta in his Niṣpannayogāvalī describes 26 Buddhist tantric maṇḍalas for visualization in meditation, of which Kālacakra is the 26th. He tries to give the heart seed-syllable (hṛd-bīja) for the primary deity of each of the 26 maṇḍalas. For Kālacakra, he gives this as hūṃ (long u), as found in almost all known Sanskrit manuscripts and Tibetan blockprints. Benoytosh Bhattacharyya's 1949 printed Sanskrit edition of this text, based on three Sanskrit manuscripts, also gives it as hūṃ (long u) in accordance with them. Then in 2004 a new critical edition of the Niṣpannayogāvalī was published, based on more and older Sanskrit manuscripts, and also several Tibetan blockprints. The editor, Yong-hyun Lee, calls attention to the problem of the heart seed-syllables, especially in regard to Kālacakra, in his Introduction, p. xv:

"Probably the most formidable textual problem of the NPY [Niṣpannayogāvalī] is restoring the correct seed-syllables and heart-mantras which are prescribed mostly at the end of each chapter of the NPY. A satisfactory resolution of this problem seems at first sight to depend on their identification in the tantras related to the NPY. Even the use of all available Sanskrit MSS and the Tibetan translations would not help us without this work. There are, however, two problems for this identification: First, it is not easy to find them in the tantras; second, there is no guarantee they are the correct seed-syllables and heart-mantras, unless the tantras have been critically edited. Moreover, even though we have critically edited Sanskrit texts, some seed-syllables and heart-mantras may be disputed; the seed-syllable of Kālacakra seems to be one of the best examples, i.e. hraṃ versus hūṃ [long u]."

Here Yong-hyun Lee adds a footnote:

"I would prefer hraṃ to hūṃ, following the critical edition of the Vimalaprabhā (VP II) and the oldest Sanskrit MS of the NPY. See verse 82 of the third chapter of the KCT (VP II 80, 14 & 22). . . . There is a possibility that the editor of the VP misread the reading of the most excellent manuscript Ca. On hraṃ, the seed-syllable of Kālacakra, see also Tanaka 1994: 60."

"Tanaka 1994" is a book in Japanese, titled Haippamikkyo kālacakratantra, published in Osaka by Tohoshuppan. I do not know what K. Tanaka says about hraṃ in this book.

Yong-hyun Lee did indeed accept hraṃ as the correct reading for the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable (hṛd-bīja) in his critical edition of the Niṣpannayogāvalī, where it is given on p. 113. He there says in a footnote that this was emended in accordance with N 1, an abbreviation for what is by far the oldest and best Sanskrit manuscript we have of the Niṣpannayogāvalī, and that Bh, N 2, K, KT, N 3, N 4, S, and T all have hūṃ (long u). These are abbreviations for the other Sanskrit manuscripts and Tibetan blockprints that he used. Then he refers us to "verse 82 of the third chapter of the KCT (VP II 80, 14 & 22) in which hraṃ is found."

When Yong-hyun Lee kindly sent me a copy of his book, I did check the reading of "the most excellent manuscript Ca," i.e., the very old palm-leaf manuscript of the Vimalaprabhā preserved at the library of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, which I have a microfilm of. Dr. Lee was right in saying that "There is a possibility that the editor of the VP misread the reading" of this manuscript, on verse 82 of chapter three. Contrary to the footnote to "hraṃ" in line 22 on p. 80 of vol. II of the printed edition of the Vimalaprabhā, saying that manuscript Ca has "hūṃ," this manuscript in fact has "hraṃ" there. At this point, having little leisure to check this any further, I accepted that Yong-hyun Lee's adoption of hraṃ as the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable was correct. This led to my statement in the last backnote of my article in As Long as Space Endures, p. 315, that now needs to be corrected.

Three months ago, Edward Henning emailed me, questioning my statement given there. He wrote:

"I wonder why you consider the 'hraṃ' on p.80 to be the seed? It is certainly the basis of the second or third most important mantra for Kālacakra, but I do not see why it should be called the seed.

"In the couple of lines following the sentence that concerns "hraṃ", we are told that the seed of Viśvamātā is "phreṃ", that the mantra of both deities together is "hkṣmlvryaṃ" and that the awareness-seed for the generation of Kālacakra himself is "huṃ" (as is so often the case, the Tibetan has a short huṃ and the Sanskrit a long one.) Are you suggesting perhaps that "hraṃ" is the seed for both deities together?

"Also, on p.59-21, we have "huṃ" identified as the seed (sa bon, bīja) of Kālacakra, and as the character which is to be drawn in the centre of the maṇḍala. No separate one is given for the consort here.

"Also, during the sādhana (p.177-25), after Kālacakra and the retinue dissolve into a ball of light, when requested by the goddesses to reappear, the ball of light changes into a "huṃ" and then a vajra. Surely, that is exactly what we mean by a seed? (Again, for these two, most Sanskrit ms. have long, Tibetan has short.)"

In answer to the first question that Edward raised, I relied on Abhayākaragupta in Yong-hyun Lee's critical edition of his Niṣpannayogāvalī when calling hraṃ the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable (hṛd-bīja), thinking that Abhayākaragupta had a much wider knowledge of Kālacakra than I do. But I, too, had wondered why this was not more clear in the Vimalaprabhā. Edward's questions led me to then look more carefully at the hraṃ in verse 82 of chapter 3 of the Kālacakra Tantra and the Vimalaprabhā commentary thereon. At the time I received Yong-hyun Lee's edition, I did not have time to thoroughly look into what he wrote therein, but only checked the reading of the Calcutta manuscript of the Vimalaprabhā at the place he referred to. Looking later, I see that the hraṃ refers to the six mantras that are placed on the six "limbs" (aṅga) starting with the heart, also found on p. 33, lines 12-14, all beginning with "hr". Further, the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the next verse calls the six "hr" syllables the upahṛdaya, not the hṛdaya or heart mantra. It is possible that Dr. Lee (and K. Tanaka?) did not realize that. So hraṃ would not be the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable.

The following verse, chapter 3, verse 83, as Edward said, tells us that huṃ is the awareness or wisdom (jñāna) seed-syllable of Kālacakra. This agrees with the other reference he gave, to p. 59, line 21 (verse 57), where the huṃ syllable is the seed of Kālacakra. These provide strong evidence in favor of the hūṃ (long u) reading found in almost all of the known Niṣpannayogāvalī manuscripts. The hūṃ (long u) reading is also found in all the Tibetan editions cited and reported by Yong-hyun Lee, four of which I was able to check myself (the Tibetan translation of the Niṣpannayogāvalī made by Śākya Śrībhadra found in the Peking, Narthang, Derge, and Co-ne editions of the Tengyur). In the absence of support for hraṃ from the Kālacakra Tantra and Vimalaprabhā, the only remaining source for this is what is described as being by far the oldest and most correct Sanskrit manuscript of the Niṣpannayogāvalī. This manuscript had been reproduced in the 1991 book, Niṣpannayogāvalī: Two Sanskrit Manuscripts from Nepal. But I did not have it, and I waited for three months to try to see it.

Then, since the evidence against hraṃ was already quite sufficient, I decided that I should not wait any longer to post the correction. So I contacted Edward to let him know and to get his permission to quote him, and the next day I received from him not only his permission but also a scan of the folio in question! As I suspected might be the case, this good old palm-leaf manuscript actually has huṃ (short u) for this syllable, not hraṃ. In old Newari script, the short u is hard to distinguish from the subjoined r. The difference is often minute, and it is very easy to misread these. With the lack of support from this last remaining source, the case for hraṃ as the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable has evaporated. We no longer have to use the qualifying word "almost." We can now say that Abhayākaragupta in all known Sanskrit manuscripts and Tibetan blockprints of his Niṣpannayogāvalī gives hūṃ as the Kālacakra heart seed-syllable (hṛd-bīja).

The only question now remaining is whether it is huṃ (short u) or hūṃ (long u). This old Sanskrit manuscript is our sole Niṣpannayogāvalī witness for huṃ (short u), as even the Tibetan translations of this text all have hūṃ (long u). But this is another question for another time.

    Last updated 6 November 2010.
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