Nyak Jñānakumara

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Nyak Jñānakumara 8th cent.

Name Variants: Nyak Jnyanakumara; Nyak Yeshe Zhonnu

Jñānakumara (dznya na ku ma ra), also known by the Tibetan version of his name, Yeshe Zhonnu (yes shes gzhon nu), was born into the Nyak (gnyags) clan in Po ('phos), in Yarlung (yar lung) in the mid eighth century. His father was Takra Lhanang (stag sgra lha snang) and Suza Gonkyi (sru bza' mgon skyid). Because of an unusual mole on his neck that resembled a crossed vajra, he was given the name Gyelwe Lodro (rgyal ba'i blo gros).

He received his ordination from Śāntarakṣita, and was initiated by Padmasambhava into the Vajrāmṛṭa (rdo rje bdud rtsi) maṇḍala, one of the eight Heruka, after which he practiced at Yarlung Sheldrak (yar lung shel brag), obtaining the ability to bring forth water from the earth. Padmasambhava also initiated him into the Kabgye (bka' brgyad), and his flower fell on the on the central deity of the maṇḍala, Chemchok Heruka (che mchog he ru ka). But Jñānakumara is primarily known for his Vajrakīla practice and transmission, which he received from Vimalamitra. His transmission lineage is known as the Nyak Lugs Purba (gnyags lugs phur ba).

Nyak Jñānakumara seems to initially have had a difficult time finding sufficient support for his activities. Following the death of King Tri Songdetsen (khri srong lde'u btsan) he was, along with most translators, driven from the court by a hostile queen, Tsepongza (tshe spong bza') and slandered by his brother, Nyak Geton (gnyags dge ston), who claimed that Jñānakumara was a practitioner of black magic. He was driven out of Chim (mchims) by an angry shepherd whose flock Nyak had scattered, and he was pursued by a hunter in U after he inadvertently startled his prey. It was at the end of these ordeals that Vimalamitra transmitted the Vajrakīla teachings to him, giving him the power to resist such obstacles and put and end to his tendency to flee danger. He used his new strength to obliterate the family of the shepherd and murder his brother. Jnyanakumara's disciple Wodren Pelgyi Zhonnu ('o bran dpal gyi gzhon nu), tore out Geton's heart himself.

Nyak assisted Vimalamitra in the translation of the Guhyagarbha Tantra (gsang ba'i snying po), the root text of the Mahāyoga, and he was central in the transmission of Padmasambhava's commentary on it, the Man-ngag Tawai Trengwa (man ngag lta ba'i phreng pa). He is considered an early master of the three Mahāyoga scriptures, the Gonpa Dupai Do (dgongs pa l'dus pa mdo), the Māyājāla (rgyud sgyu l'phrul drva ba) and the Guhyagharba. Nyak also transmitted the Semde (sems sde) and Longde (klong sde) Dzogchen teachings to Sokpo Pelgyi Yeshe (sog po dpal gyi ye shes, d.u.) and Wodren Pelgyi Zhonnu, both of whom taught Nubchen Sanggye Yeshe (gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes, c.832-c.962).

Nyak is known to have combined in one person the “four great rivers of transmitted precepts” (bka'i chu babs chen po bzhi) derived from the great masters Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, Vairocana, and Yudra Nyingpo (g.yu sgra snying po). These were, respectively: textual exegesis; the hearing lineage; the blessing and empowerments; and the practical techniques. He is considered the first of the three originators of the three lineages of the Kama, (bka' ma), or spoken transmission of the Nyingma tradition (the other two were Nubchen Sanggye Yeshe and Zurpoche Śākya Jungne (zur po che shAkya 'byung gnas.)

Nyak's most accomplished students were known as the “eight glorious adepts of Vajrakīlaya:” Pelgyi Yeshe, Odren Pelgyi Zhonnu, Nyenchen Pelyang (gnyan chen dpal dbyangs), Taksang Pelgyi Dorje (thags bzang dpal gyi rdo rje), Lamchok Pelgyi Dorje (lam mchog dpal gyi rdo rje), Tarje Pelgyi Trakpa (dar rje dpal gyi grags pa), Tra Pelgyi Nyingpo (dra dpal gyi snying po), and Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje (lhalung dpal gyi rdo rje).

His reincarnations included Ramo Shelman (ra mo shel sman) and Charrong Eyi Menpa (byar rong e yi sman pa).


Dudjom Rinpoche. 2002. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, trans. Boston: Wisdom.

Bradburn, Leslie, ed. 1995. Masters of the Nyingma Lineage. Cazadero: Dharma Publications, 1995, pp. 41-42.

Smith, Gene. 2006. “Siddha Groups and the Mahasiddhas in the Art and Literature of Tibet”. In Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, p. 71.

'Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas. 2007. Gter ston brgya rtsa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo. New Delhi: Shechen, v.1 pp. 378-379.

Gu ru bkra shis. 1990. Gu bkra'i chos 'byung. Beijing: Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, pp.242-245.

Ron Garry
August 2007