Black Magic, Murder, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Black Magic, Murder, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead

“I mentioned briefly in the preceding chapter that the arrangement of the texts of the Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Bardo, in the form that is most accessible to us today, was the work of a controversial treasure revealer from Kham named Rikzin Nyima Drakpa. The various western-language translations of the Liberation Upon Hearing, immortalized as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, were and continue to be based on Nyima Drakpa’s standard redaction.  Hence this rather unfamiliar figure is of great significance to our understanding the Tibetan history of the Liberation Upon Hearing from the late seventeenth century onward.  …Regrettably, not much is available about Rikzin Nyima Drakpa in either Tibetan or western-language sources, apart, from a rather extensive biographical account of his activities in Guru Tashi’s Religious History … Such meager representation in the Tibetan literature is undoubtedly a consequence in part of sectarian rivalries.  …  Nonetheless, it is more than clear that Nyima Drakpa was an active revealer of treasures and a prolific author. So then why are his life and work not easily accessible? The answer is simple, although the details are rather vague and indefinite.

… According to rumor, Nyima Drakpa is alleged to have utilized his extraordinary powers of ‘black magic’ to provoke the untimely death of the tenth Karmapa Choyin Dorje (1605-1674). Religious mania and vengeful arrogance are offered as possible reasons behind this ruthless act of murder. But why exactly was Nyima Drakpa the one blamed for this crime?  How did he earn such a terrible reputation when the fact is that during most of his life he seemed to have been a beloved miracle worker?  By some accounts, Nyima Drakpa was actually in great demand for his spiritual prowess and control over the host of demons plaguing Tibetans and their world. He appears then to have been a rather fierce yet benevolent guardian of Buddhism and perhaps tragically misunderstood religious savant.  More important, in addition to his influential role as guru and exorcist too many of Tibet’s chief aristocrats of the day, he also played a leading and active role in the promulgation and standardization of the Liberation Upon Hearing. …

… We know that in Nyima Drakpa’s later years he had become the subject of much anger, jealousy, and even fear among some of his contemporaries. … What does bear repeated emphasis, however, is that the scarcity of the works of Nyima Drakpa and the relative paucity of information regarding his life can be linked directly to Jamgon Kongtrul’s decision to erase this treasure revealer from history.  If it were not for Nyima Drakpa’s unsavory reputation and alleged violent activities, then certainly we would know more about this sorcerer from Kham.”  – (p.180-181)  The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Bryan J. Cuevas

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