Garab Dorje, Sukha the Zombie


by Zeljka Jovanovic 

After I have passed into nirvana,
In the Western land of Oddiyana,
The divine lady of Dhanakosa will bear a fatherless son, Vajra-He,
Who will uphold the genuine teaching.

 — The Root Tantra of Dratalgyur (sgra thal’ gyur)

Once there was an island called Dhanakosa in Oddiyana, West India, which was inhabited solely by creatures called ‘kosa’, who had bodies like those of men, the faces of bears and claws of iron. This island was encircled by many wonderful trees, including sandalwood. That is why, it is said, it was called Dhanakosa (Treasury of Wealth). In Dhanakosa there was a great temple called Sabkarakuta, which was surrounded by six thousand eight hundred small temples. It was a place perfectly endowed with splendor and wealth. 

On this island there was a king named Uparaja, and his queen, Alokabhasvati. Their daughter Sudharma was ordained as a nun and lived in a tiny thatched cottage on an island covered with golden sand, where she practiced yoga and meditation. One night, she dreamt of a white man who placed a crystal vase sealed with the syllables OM A HUM SVAHA upon her head. Soon after that she gave birth to a son. Being a pure nun, she was so upset and ashamed that she cast the baby into a pit of ashes and sang in distress: 

To what race does this fatherless child belong?
Is he other than some mundane demon?
Is he a devil? Brahma? or yet something else? 

Three days later she found the child healthy, happily playing with ashes. She was convinced that the child was an incarnation. She took him to the palace and bathed him. Many dakinis appeared and made offerings to the wonder-child. Spontaneously and without learning, the child recited essential tantras out of his clarity. 

When he was seven, he asked several times and finally convinced his mother to let him debate with five hundred learned panditas, and defeating all of them, instructed them in Dzogchen. The panditas gave him the name Prajnabhava (The One Whose Being is Wisdom). The King was so pleased that he named the boy Garab Dorje (Joyous Vajra, or Immutable Joy). Because his mother had once thrown him into the ashes he was also known as Rolang Dewa (Sukha the “Zombie”), and Rolang Thaldog (Ashen Zombie). 

Later, Garab Dorje went to a mountain called “Where the Sun Rises”, and on the terrifying precipice called Surjaprakasha, where the frightening spirits roamed everywhere, spent the next thirty-two years living in a small hut and practicing meditation. During that time, in a vision, he received from Vajrasattva all the texts and complete oral instructions of 6,400,000 Dzogchen verses. 

Garab Dorje had many powers, such as the ability to walk through rocks, stone and water. Many people saw him surrounded by light, and were inspired to have faith and devotion. Garab Dorje attracted many disciples, including the pretas and dakinis, as well as many learned scholars. 

Then, on the summit of Mount Malaya, together with three dakinis (Vajradhatu, Pitasankara and Anantaguna), he spent three years recording the teachings of Dzogchen. On one occasion, Garab Dorje went with a spiritual daughter of Rahula, who had psychic powers, to the great Sitavana cremation ground near Vajrasana (Bodhgaya), and taught many fearful dakinis and savage beings. 

At that time, Manjushrimitra had a vision of Manjushri, who gave him the following prophecy: “If you want to attain Buddhahood, go to the Sitavana cremation ground”. He went, of course, and spent the next seventy-five years studying with Garab Dorje. After transferring all the instructions and advice to Manjushrimitra, the master passed into nirvana. Before he dissolved his body into the Body of Light, Garab Dorje left his “Final Testament”. It is said that a casket of gold the size of a fingernail dropped into Manjushrimitra’s hand. It contained the famous “Tsik sum ne du” (tshig gsum gnad du breg pa), the “Three Principles which Penetrate the Essence”: the direct introduction, not remaining in doubt, and continuing in the state, which is the essence of Dzogchen teaching. 

Garab Dorje also appeared to Vairocana in the cremation ground called “Place of Smoke” (du ba’i gnos), and revealed to him 6,400,000 verses of Dzogchen. Afterwards, Manjushrimitra divided the 6,400,000 verses of Great Perfection into three series – Semde, Longde and Mennagde. Manjushrimitra, the main disciple of Garab Dorje, taught many practitioners, countless animals, and “ugly dakinis”, and remained in contemplation for one hundred and nine years. 

Sources: The Crystal and the Way of Light, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche;
The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Dudjom Rinpoche;
Crystal Mirror, vol. V;
Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Eva M. Dargyay; 

NB: The terms “Sukha the Zombie” and “Ashen Zombie” were taken from Dudjom Rinpoche’s source.

Reprinted from The Mirror issue No. 46, September-October 1998.

Zeljka Jovanovic, the author of this article, was born and grew up in Belgrade, present day Serbia. At a young age she travelled to the East and spent several years in retreat, studying with different Tibetan masters including the famous Chatral Rinpoche. Returning to Europe she became Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s student and followed his teachings until her untimely death in 2011. She translated more than twenty of Rinpoche’s books into Serbo-Croatian and was one of the twenty-five practitioners studying for the fourth level of Santi Maha Sangha, did millions of mantras and many personal retreats, trying to integrate practice with her daily life, raising three children alone.

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