An introduction to the study of Lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s Lta mgur
Lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s (1717–1786) Lta mgur, a collection of songs on the correct view, is a short but seminal work that expresses the idea of emptiness and dependent origination. A characteristic feature of the Lta mgur is the frequent usage of metaphors. Throughout the work, the author uses the metaphor of “old mother” (a ma rgan mo) to describe emptiness, and that of “brother” (jo jo) to describe dependent origination; the author himself is described metaphorically as “mad little son” (bu chung smyon pa). The Lta mgur provides a vivid description of the process by which the author recognizes (ngo shes) his missing mother, i.e., emptiness, with the assistance of his brother, i.e., the reasoning of dependent origination.
The Lta mgur was composed in 1767 CE when Lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje was fifty-one years old and staying at Mt. Wutai (Ri bo rtse lnga). Shortly after that, several commentaries were written by his successors belonging to both Dge lugs pa and non-Dge lugs pa schools, each from different viewpoints. First, Dkon mchog ’jigs med dbang po (1728–1791), one of Lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s disciples, composed a commentary from the viewpoint of Madhyamaka philosophy. Then, another Dge lugs pa scholar, Khri chen bstan pa rab rgyas (1759–1815/16) interpreted the Lta mgur from the perspective of Tantra, and hence was criticized by Dbal mang dkon mchog rgyal mtshan (1764–1853). Furthermore, two commentaries on the Lta mgur were written by Rnying ma pa scholars: Kaḥ thog dge rtse mahāpaṇḍita ’gyur med tshe dbang mchog grub (1761–1829) believed that the idea underlying the Lta mgur was none other than “Great Perfection” (rdzogs chen), while Mi pham ’jam dbyangs rnam rgyal rgya mtsho (1846–1912) analyzed the same text in the context of the non-sectarian movement (ris med).
Thus, it is interesting to observe that, although the author himself belongs to Dge lugs pa, scholars both inside and outside that tradition accept his Lta mgur. The abundant usage of symbolic expressions has allowed the Lta mgur to be interpreted diversely.