QUERY> Vinapa

Teed Rockwell's picture

Dear colleagues,

I'm looking for an English translation of any text written by a bodhisattva known as Vinapa. I’d also like to find any historical and biographical information about him.  Vinapa is described in a brief story in the book "Buddha's Lions: Lives of the 84 Siddhas", (trans. James Robinson, 1979 Dharma Press) which contains a series of short stories about great Vajrayana yogis. He was a son of the royal family of the kingdom of Gahahuri. This story quotes Vinapa as saying he could only become enlightened if he could keep playing his musical instrument. His Guru Buddhapa told him "give up distinguishing the sound of the vina from the hearing of it".

I am working on an article about music as spiritual practice in Buddhist traditions. Does anyone know anything about any texts Vinapa might've written, or anyone who has written anything about him? According to the Index of Buddha’s Lions, Vinapa has two texts present in the Bstan-'gyur:

2396 Guhyabhiseka-prakarana-nama

3221 Vajradakini-nispanna-krama

I don't know what any of this means, but I'm hoping some of you might. I believe these are references to the library of Buddhist commentaries which has been reprinted by Tarthang Tulku’s Dharma Press

Has anyone translated these into English? If so can I get a copy, or if not, does anyone know anybody who might be persuaded to translate them?


Teed Rockwell

Lecturer Emeritus,
Sonoma State University

Categories: Query

Dear Teed Rockwell,

I do not think that the texts you mention have been translated, or even studied. I would also suggest some caution about the historical value of the traditions of the mahasiddhas; the tales were mostly based on oral accounts that had a legendary character, and the names of some of the mahasiddhas may be no more than sobriquets disguising the true authors.

Your project on music in Buddhist traditions appears interesting and worthwhile. In case you have missed them, here are two references which, besides being valuable in and of themselves, contain bibliographies that you may find helpful:



(Note that these titles may be accessed also through some libraries and other book dealers.)

good luck with your article,
Matthew Kapstein
EPHE, Paris

Thanks for the reply. What I am interested in is not so much the actual music that was played for spiritual practices. Rather I'm interested in teachings which show how any kind of music can become the basis of a spiritual practice. That seems to be what is happening for Vinapa. Even if the stories are only legends, they could contain advice which might overlap with other traditions.

This looks fascinating, thank you so much. As I expected, there are a lot of differences between the Theravadan and the Vajrayana on this issue, but more similarities than I would have expected. I will definitely read this,

Dear Teed,

I echo (no pun intended) Matthew Kapstein's comments on Vīṇāpā. Like many Indian Buddhist siddhas (Vajrayāna "adepts") he might be more "a literary event" than an historical human being. For background on Buddhist siddhas see Péter-Dániel Szantó, "Siddhas" [2019] in the Brill Encyclopedia of Buddhism: https://www.academia.edu/39780050/2019b_Siddhas

Like Matthew, I am not aware of any studies of the two Tangyur texts you mentioned (as is the case with literally hundreds of other texts in this collection). Merely looking at the titles, though, I'd be surprised if their content has much to offer you.

Some random notes on music in Buddhist texts

1) A famous example of the use of music, in the broadest sense of the term, to illustrate/teach Buddhist doctrine is found in the Lalitavistara:

[Lalitavistara Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit GRETIL E-Text after Vaidya ed. pp. 127–128]:

yatha tantri pratītya dārū ca hastavyāyāma trayebhi saṃgati |
tuṇavīṇasughoṣakādibhiḥ śabdo niścarate tadudbhavaḥ || 13.114 ||

atha paṇḍitu kaści mārgate kutayaṃ āgatu kutra yāti vā |

vidiśo diśi sarvi mārgataḥ śabdagamanāgamanaṃ na labhyate || 13.115 ||

tatha hetubhi pratyayebhi ca sarvasaṃskāragataṃ pravartate |
yogī puna bhūtadaśanāt śūnya saṃskāra nirīha paśyati || 13.116 ||

skandhāyatanāni dhātavaḥ śūnya adhyātmika śūnya bāhyakāḥ |
sattvātmaviviktam anālayā dharmākāśasvabhāvalakṣaṇāḥ || 13.117 ||

This passage is quoted in Candrakīrti's Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya ad Madhyamakāvatāra 6.35 and in Śāntideva's Śikṣāsamuccaya [GRETIL Sanskrit E-Text after Bendall ed. p. 241, with lots of different readings]. The Śikṣāsamuccaya is available in two English translations, most recently: Charles Goodman,The Training Anthology of Śāntideva (OUP 2016).

2) See similarly the Vina sutta: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.205.than.html

I also [vaguely] recall an oral teaching of a story in which the Buddha humbled the greatest vīṇā (lute/guitar) player of his time by taking up a lute and blowing the arrogant musician off the stage in a kind of Guitar Hero contest. Perhaps others on the list can provide textual references. And of course now the web is littered with images of the Buddha playing guitars and lutes...

3) You might want to examine the motif of the great drum teaching impermanence in "the Heaven of the Thirty-Three": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trāyastriṃśa#See_also This article does not mention the drum but, again, maybe others on the list can provide textual references. Also, there is an important Mahāyāna sutra titled Mahābherī ("great drum") in which the Buddha compares his teaching on "buddha nature" to the sound emitted by a great drum: cf. https://nirvanasutranet.com/the-mahabheriharaka-sutra/

4) Finally, I just noticed this on academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/97711556/The_Challenges_and_Opportunities_of_Buddhist_Music_Discipline_in_a_New_Era_The_Practice_and_Application_of_Mind_and_Body_System_in_Chinese_Buddhist_Chanting

I haven't read it, but it looks closely related to the topic you are studying.

With best wishes,

John Newman

New College of Florida