Reverberation of Sound

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The Reverberation of Sound, or Drataljur (Tibetan: སྒྲ་ཐལ་འགྱུརWylie: sgra thal 'gyur), is the root tantra of the Seventeen Tantras of the Upadesha-varga.

These Seventeen Tantras are to be found in the Canon of the Ancient School, the 'Nyingma Gyubum' (Tibetan: རྙིང་མ་རྒྱུད་འབུམWylie: rnying ma rgyud 'bum), volumes 9 and 10, folio numbers 143-159 of the edition edited by 'Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche' commonly known as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Thimpu, Bhutan, 1973), reproduced from the manuscript preserved at 'Tingkye Gonpa Jang' (Tibetan: གཏིང་སྐྱེས་དགོན་པ་བྱངWylie: gting skyes dgon pa byang) Monastery in Tibet.[1]


Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

  • 'Reverberation of Sound', 'Direct Consequence of Sound Tantra', 'Penetration of Sound', 'Interpenetrating Vibration', 'Transcendental Sound', (Tibetan: སྒྲ་ཐལ་འགྱུརWylie: sgra thal 'gyur)
  • Drataljur (sGra-thal-’gyur chen po’i rgyud); Skt., Shabda maha prasamga mula tantra.[2]

Parsing of the Sanskrit and analysis

  • 'Shabda' (Devanagari: शब्द): 'sound', 'word' or 'speech'.
  • 'Mahā' (Devanagari: महा): 'great', 'total', 'grand', 'complete', 'sublime'
  • Prasaṅga (Devanagari: प्रसङ्ग): event, happening, incidence, [logical] consequence, argument, conclusion, discussion of sacred works
  • Mūla (Devanagari: मूल): Mula (astrology) is symbolized by reticulated roots or an ankusha, roots, reticulum, foundation, base, (ruled by Nirṛti, or the 'adharma' the lawlessness of nonduality the 'Primordial Dharma' (Sanskrit: asamskṛta-dharma))
  • Tantra (Devanagari: तन्त्र): a weaving, a loom, a wyrd of warp and weft, web, net[work], matrice, matrix, matri*[arch] (continuum, mindstream)


Generally in the Buddhadharma, sound as an object of discourse and a created 'phenomena' (Sanskrit: dharma) is 'impermanent' (Sanskrit: anitya) because of being a product, it is 'conditioned' (Sanskrit: samskṛta-dharma). Philosophical 'views' (Sanskrit: drishti) or 'conclusions' (Sanskrit: siddhanta) on the nature of sound are very important in all Dharmic Traditions, traditions of Dharma and dharma schools of thought. The nature of sound is of particular importance to the early Buddhadharma as it was one of the ways Shakyamuni differentiated his teachings from the prevailing views of his time which held the sounds of the Vedas to be eternally authoritative. As a general rule, Buddhist systems emphasize that sounds do not of their own accord inherently express their meanings but are arbitrary conventions, socially determined and understood by consensus. Historically, Shakyamuni was reactionary to the status of the 'revealed authority' (Sanskrit: apauruṣeya) of the Vedas the ritual incantations and sounds of which were held as permanent and eternal. In the Vedic system, the sound and sign of the syllable or visible mantra was held to be none-other than what it communicated. This is understood in Linguistics and Semiotic Theory as motivated language or appropriated language where the signifier 'appropriated' the essence or quality of the signified. For example, the sound, sign and signified were all the same in essence. Early Buddhardharma as a general rule ostensibly rejected such reified 'essences' (Sanskrit: svabhāva) as it was such views that supported the notion of the 'self' (Sanskrit: atman) which in turn supported the rigidity of the Varnashrama dharma social system of caste that Shakyamuni challenged (Williams 1980, 1981). But this is not always the case in the Buddhadharma as the sound in the title of this tantra denotes the immutable, unconditioned, uncreated, 'primordial sound' (nada). It is in this notion that the Tantra of the Vajrayana and Mantrayana and that of Sanatana Dharma are in accord.

The exoteric and esoteric motifs of sound and speech as permutations and evocation of mantra and bija in the Buddhadharma and the wider tradition of Dharma is ubiquitous. For an entry into this discourse refer Three Vajras. Sound is also to be understood as the 'nada', the primordial sound, the unmade sound, sound is a metaphor for spiritual energy, sound is a metaphor for the vibration of the luminosity of the Five Pure Lights. The Lights are constituted by thigle. Light here is also a metaphor. All thigle are mala or garlands, vajra-chains of spell-letters the oneness and unity of which is the mandala of reverberating spell-letters which is the Thirteenth Bhumi of Rongzompa. They are conceptual tools, all upaya are tools, all tools are let go, released as they are but supports for mind.

The great debate of sound internalized in the Buddhadharma

There is an embedded irony in Thal 'gyur and Prasanga in that the 'consequence' in Prasangika dialectic, the reductio ad absurdum of Madhyamaka thought, pointing out an undesired consequence of a proposition or premise, those who made assertions or held such premises were given the name retrospectively, Svatantrika. One such stock example was the nature of sound and in refuting the phyogs snga or the snga rgol phyi rgol gnyis la mthun snang grub nges kyi tshul gsum 'god pa'i ngag. That is, against maintaining sound is produced but permanent: the' dharmin sound', is unproduced, because it is permanent or, the dharmin sound is impermanent, because it is produced, phyogs snga sun 'byin par mi 'dod pa'i thal ba 'phen pa'am, rgol phyi rgol gnyis la mthun snang grub nges kyi tshul gsum 'god pa'i ngag dper na, sgra rtag par 'dod pa'i gang zag gi ngor, sgra chos can, ma byas par thal, rtag pa'i phyir, zhes pa lta bu sun 'byin pa dang, yang na, sgra chos can, mi rtag pa yin par thal, byas pa'i phyir, zhes pa lta bu tshul gsum tsang ba'i ngag go.

Western discourse has favoured the Gelugpa view of this debate, the champion of which is Chandrakirti who challenged Bhavaviveka. As a general rule the Gelugpa favour the Prasangika. As a general rule the Nyingma view does not foreground the Prasangika over the Svatantrika as this would be an extreme view, a fallacy and failing of the Gelugpa . Indeed, as an evocation of the Two Truths the continuum of Svatantrika-Prasangika interpenetrate and mutually inform and are both of value in pointing to an 'inconceivable' (samye) truth.


The Drataljur states that the theoretical view of Ati Yoga coincides with the Madhyamaka Prasangika and that there is no contradiction between them.[2]

From the emic perspective of the Nyingma and the lineages of oral instruction they venerate and according to the teachings of Namkha'i (1991) rendered into English by Vajranatha (1996: p.11)[3], Mañjuśrīmitra is held to have codified the indivisible Three Series of Dzogchen into the Mind Series, Space Series and Instruction Series; whereas Gyatso (1998: p.300, note 53) makes the salient observation that the earliest textual source of this triune so far documented is the Drataljur.[4]

Primary resources

English translations

This tantra has not as yet has been completely rendered into English nor made generally available.

The Seventeen Tantras are quoted extensively throughout Longchenpa's (1308 - 1364?) 'The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding' (Tibetan: གནས་ལུགས་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཛོདWylie: gnas lugs rin po che'i mdzod) rendered in English by Barron and Padma Translation Committee (1998).[5] This work is one of Longchenpa's Seven Treasuries and the Tibetan text in poor reproduction of the pecha has been graciously made available online by Dowman and Smith.[6]

Barron et. al. (1998: pp. 208-209) render an embedded quotation of this tantra within their translation of Lonchepa's 'Way of Abiding' (Wylie: gnas lugs) that discusses a Dzogchen perspective of buddha-nature (Wylie: sugata-garbha):

"Moreover, owing to their circumstances, among ordinary beings
there is not a single one who is not a buddha.
Because their nature is in harmony with naturally occurring timeless awareness,
samsara is never something existent.
Therefore, each being is naturally a buddha.
Once one realizes what the process of birth really is, abiding in the womb is the basic space of phenomena,
the coming together of body and mind is the conneciton between basic space and awareness,
and abiding in the body is the three kayas.
Aging is the falling away of phenomena and the end of appearances based on confusion,
illness is the experience of the nature of phenomena,
and death is emptiness, impossible to identify.
Therefore, ordinary beings are buddhas."[7]

In the Inner Tantras or esoteric yana of the Nyingma, the Mahayoga-yana, the Anuyoga-yana and the Atiyoga-yana; the buddha-nature is generally referred to as sugata-garbha rather than other renderings that denote other Buddhadharma schools of thought. 'Ordinary beings' is a rendering of 'sentient beings' and does not just denote the human experience. 'Buddha' denotes the potential of the continuum of the base and not that of the waxing of the path and the fullness of the fruit. That said, due to the indivisibility of the Two Truths it also denotes Buddha-potential as well as Buddha-actuality or Buddha-fruition through the disciplines, sadhana and skillful means of the Buddha-path. The continuums of base, path and fruit are a triune, interpenetrating and indivisible as the gankyil. 'Samsara' is to be understood more as a quality of the mindstream and a dimension of experience rather than a location. 'Timeless awareness' is a gloss of 'jnana'. 'Basic space of phenomena' is a rendering of 'dharmadhatu'. 'Phenomena' is a gloss of 'dharmas'. 'Confusion' is a rending of avidya or marigpa which is not the absence of rigpa but its adventitious obscuration.

Inline citations

  1. ^ Guarisco, Elio (trans.); McLeod, Ingrid (trans., editor); Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, Kon-Sprul Blo-Gros-Mtha-Yas (compiler) (2005). The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Six, Part Four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-210-X, p.520
  2. ^ a b Capriles, Elias (2004). Clear discrimination of views pointing at the definitive meaning the four philosophical schools of the Sutrayana traditionally taught in Tibet with reference to the Dzogchen teachings. Source: [1] (accessed: Monday October 12, 2009), p.5
  3. ^ Namkhai, Norbu (1991, author) & Vajranatha (1996, translator). Forward' in Vajranatha (1996). The Golden Letters. First Edition. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559390506, p.11
  4. ^ Gyatso, Janet (1998). Apparitions of the Self, the Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01110-9 (cloth: alk. paper), p.300, note 53
  5. ^ Barron, Richard (trans), Longchen Rabjam (author): Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding. Padma Publishing (1998) ISBN 1881847098
  6. ^ Source: (accessed: Sunday October 11, 2009)
  7. ^ Barron, Richard (trans), Longchen Rabjam (author): Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding. Padma Publishing (1998) ISBN 1881847098, pp.208-209


  • Paul M. Williams (1981). 'On the Abhidharma Ontology'. Journal of Indian Philosophy 9 (3).
  • Paul M. Williams (1980). 'Some Aspects of Language and Construction in the Madhyamaka'. Journal of Indian Philosophy 8 (1).

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