Indrabhuti (Skt. Indrabhūti; Tib. རྒྱལ་པོ་ཨིནྡྲ་བྷུ་ཏི་) aka Indrabodhi, plays a vital role in the tantra revelation myth of both Sarma and Nyingma schools. Indrabhuti can refer to several kings from Oddiyana or Zahor who were key figures in the early transmission of the Vajrayana teachings.
Although there are various tantra revelation myths, among them, the Indrabhuti myth became the most prominent. Among the Indrabhuti myths we find again different versions and Tibetan scholars have favoured one or the other depending on their own tradition. It appears that these myths were orally recounted, since they do not appear in the tantras themselves but first appeared in commentarial literature. Only later were they integrated into the tantras.
Tantra Revelation Myth
One of the earliest of these tantra revelation myths is found in Jnanamitra’s commentary. Accordingly, during the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, since there were no fit vessels to receive the tantric teachings, they were only taught in Tushita heaven. After the Buddha had passed away, due to the pure faith of the people of the country of Zahor, Vajrapani brought the tantric scriptures to Zahor. Though King Indrabhuti encountered scriptures, he could not make sense of them. And so he sent for the famous teacher Kukuraja and requested clarification. However, Kukuraja was unable to understand the teachings as well. In Kukuraja’s despair, Vajrasattva appeared to him in a vision and transmitted to him the meaning of all the tantric scriptures. In turn Kukuraja initiated the king Indrabhuti and the people of Zahor into the tantric teachings.
In the Narthang Kangyur and Peking Kangyur editions we find a total of 26 works attributed to an Indrabhuti. Only 22 of them are included in the Derge Kangyur, and all of those are also found in the others editions. The works are a variety of commentaries, praises, ritual manuals and sadhanas on the topics of Dakini Vajrapanjara (Skt. Ḍākinīvajrapañjara), Samputa (Skt. Saṃpuṭa), Chakrasamvara (Skt. Cakrasaṃvara), Hevajra, Vajrayogini, Sarvabuddhasamayoga, Vajrasattva, Kurukulle, Ganapati, Mayajala , Guhyagarbha, Aparajita (Skt. Aparājitā) and other general topics. The colophons of the texts respectively state that they were composed either a) in the presence (Wyl. zhal snga) of Indrabhuti, b) by the great teacher (Wyl. slob dpon chen po) Indrabhuti, c) by the king (Wyl. rgyal po) Indrabhuti, d) at the feet (Wyl. zhabs) of Indrabhuti, e) by the middle (Wyl. ‘bring ba) Indrabhuti, and f) by the king Indrabhuti in/of Oddiyana.
Indrabhuti, One or Many?
If we consider these works in terms of their size or length, we could likely conclude that they were written by one Indrabhuti. However, given the different countries (Oddiyana and Zahor) as well as the different commentarial literature on earlier as well as later tantras attributed to Indrabhuti, which probably appeared over a period of at least more that 200 years, scholars have suggested that there was more than one author named Indrabhuti. In this respect, the most common proposition is that there were three:
- Indrabhuti the Great or Elder (Tib. ཨིནྡྲ་བྷུ་ཏི་ཆེན་པོ་, Wyl. i n+dra b+hu ti chen po)
- Indrabhuti the Intermediate or Second (Tib. ཨིནྡྲ་བྷུ་ཏི་བར་པ་, Wyl. i n+dra b+hu ti bar pa)
- Indrabhuti the Younger (Tib. ཨིནྡྲ་བྷུ་ཏི་ཅུང་པ་, Wyl. i n+dra b+hu ti chung ba or ཨིནྡྲ་བྷུ་ཏི་ཆེན་པོ་སྲས་, i n+dra b+hu ti chen po'i sras), aka Lawapa, Kambalapāda, or Shakraputra — the son of Indrabhuti the Great
- Indrabhuti, the King of Oddiyana, who was the adoptive father of Padmasambhava. See Padmasambhava's Biography
The second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi was in favour of this “three Indrabhuti” model and he used it as a skillful way to explain the origin and spread of the Vajrayana teachings. In his works he relates the three Indrabhutis to the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya manifestations of Vajradhara and Vajrapani. Considered in this way, each manifestation of Indrabhuti was responsible for the propagation of increasingly profound levels of tantric teachings and practice.
Dudjom Rinpoche adds to this debate on whether Indrabhuti was one or many by pointing out that the manifestation of sublime beings defies dualistic perception and cannot be assessed in an ordinary state of mind. Accordingly, then, if the manifestation of sublime beings cannot be fathomed, their activity as well as their dwelling places must equally defy our ordinary understanding of the world. For Tantra this does not constitute a problem, but rather is an intended situation that reveals a dimension which lies beyond our day-to-day experience. What Tantra then seeks to indicate is the infinite range of possibilities, manifestations and activity of enlightened beings.
King Dza or Ja (Tib. རྒྱལ་པོ་ཛ་, Wyl. rgyal po dza) of Zahor, the first human recipient of the Mahayoga teachings as well as an important figure in the transmission of Anuyoga, has been varyingly identified with either one of the first three Indrabhutis.
Dudjom Rinpoche writes:
- Some say that King Ja was none other than Indrabhuti the Great, who had been empowered by Buddha Shakyamuni himself, but others maintain that he was Indrabhuti's son. Some even believe him to have been Indrabhuti the Intermediate. Therefore there are various seemingly contradictory opinions; but since the emanations of sublime beings are beyond the imagination of ordinary persons, perhaps they are all correct! And yet, upon examination of the chronology, we find he is described as a contemporary of master Kukuraja. For this reason, he may well be an intermediate Indrabhuti. Moreover, the great accomplished master Kambalapada and this king were contemporaries, whether or not they are in fact one and the same person. He also lived around the same time as Vidyavajra, Saroruha, and Jalandharipa.
- Wedemeyer, Christian K., Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 79 – 95.
- The first tantra that includes the tantra revelation myth is the Düpa Do. See Dalton, Jacob P., The uses of the dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo in the development of the rnyinng-ma school of Tibetan Buddhism, (Asian Language and Cultures: Buddhist Studies. The University of Michigan, 2002), 39 – 67.
- This myth is found in his commentary (D 2647) entitled 'phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa tshul brgya lnga bcu pa'i 'grel pa (Skt. ārya-prajñāpāramitā-naya-śatapañcāśatikā-ṭīkā): “... sar ba buddha sa ma yo ga la sogs pa sde chen po bco brgyad phyag na rdo rje’i byin gyi rlabs kyis za hor gyi yul du gshegs pa dang | za hor gyi rgyal po Indra bhu tis mdo sde dag bltas na brda ma phrad nas sngon gyi las kyi dbang gis na mngon par shes pa thob pas bltas na yul gyi dbus yul ma la pa na a tsarya ku ku ra nyin zhing khyi stong tsam la chos ‘chad...” The myth is in its full length is translated and discussed by Ronald M. Davidson. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002): 242 – 245.
- Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J., On the Edge of Myth and History: Za hor, its Place in the History of Early Indian Buddhist Tantra, and Dalai Lama V and the Genealogy of its Royal Family, (Shanghai: Zhongxi Book Company, 2013), 122 – 123.
- Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History, (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1991), 459.
- Ibid., 458-459.
- Dalton, Jacob P. The uses of the dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo in the development of the rnyinng-ma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Asian Language and Cultures: Buddhist Studies. The University of Michigan, 2002: 39 – 67.
- Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002: 239 – 245.
- Davidson, Ronald M. “Hidden Realms and Pure Abodes: Central Asian Buddhism as Frontier Religion in the Literature of India, Nepal and Tibet.” In Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 3rd ser. no. 4, 2002: 153-181.
- Donaldson, Thomas E. Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa: Text. Vol. 1. Abhinav Publications, 2001.
- Dudjom Rinpoche. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1991.
- Gendun, Chopel. Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
- Harrison, Paul. “Mediums and Messages: Reflections on the Production of Mahāyāna Sūtras,” The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2003: 115 – 151.
- Huber, Toni. The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
- Karmay, S. G. "King Tsa/Dza and Vajrayana." In Strickmann, M. (ed.), Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, MCB 20, 1981: 192 – 211.
- Nathan Katz, 'A Translation of the Biography of the Mahāsiddha Indrabhūti, with Notes' in Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 12, no. 1 (1975), pp. 25-29.
- Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Exegesis of Kashmiri” in Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d’Hélène Brunner / Tantric Studies in Memory of Hélène Brunner, edited by Dominic Goodall and André Padoux, Collection Indologie 106, Pondicherry: Institut français d'Indologie / École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2007: 231–442.
- Tulku Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2014.
- Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J.. “On the Edge of Myth and History: Za hor, its Place in the History of Early Indian Buddhist Tantra, and Dalai Lama V and the Genealogy of its Royal Family.” In Bangwei Wang, Jinhua Chen and Ming Chen, eds., Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History. Shanghai: Zhongxi Book Company, 2013: 114 – 164.
- Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J.. “Za hor and its Contribution to Tibetan Medicine, Part One: Some Names, Places, and Texts,” in Bod Rig Pa'i Dus Deb, Journal of Tibetology 6, 2010: 21 – 50.
- Wedemeyer, Christian K. Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013: 79 – 95.