Biographies: Lord Padmasambhava, Embodiment of all the Buddhas
There is no doubt in the mind of every practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism that the second most unique and extraordinary exemplar of our whole lineage after Pramodavajra himself, was the powerful Lord Padmasambhava, the Wisdom Master who was chiefly instrumental in bringing the tradition to Tibet. Known as the Lotus Guru (padma-guru), the Saint Lama (guru Rinpoche) of Tibet, and as a "second Buddha", Padmasambhava1 shines with the incomparable brightness of the morning star in the world's firmament of stellar saints. Long before he was born, mystics and prophets were signaling his advent. During his life he drew the respect and veneration of kings and emperors and after his death the multitude made his memory into an imperishable icon of the Absolute.
To properly appreciate the liberating life-story of this Great Incarnation, it is necessary to view him in the appropriate historical context, and to accomplish this we must look again at that once magical land in the north-west corner of the Indian subcontinent, known as the sacred garden-like Kingdom of Uddiyana. It was in Uddiyana that Padmasambhava was born.
We are able to catch a glimpse of the lost kingdom of Uddiyana through records and writings found in China. Chinese annals record missions from the Kingdom of Uddiyana to the Chinese Court in the years 502, 511, 518, and 521. In general these sixth century contacts between Uddiyana and Imperial China are representative of the alliance which the countries of Central Asia and the North-West depended upon to protect themselves from the tribes of the north, as also the rising military presence of Tibet in the east.2
In 642 A.D., a " King Ta-mo-yin-t'o-ho-szu" 3 of Uddiyana is said to have sent a gift of camphor and an embassy to the Emperor of China. This is the year that the Arabs succeeded in defeating the King of Kings, Yazdagird 111, of Persia. The latter, fleeing eastward, met his death near Merv in 651. With the death of Yazdagird, last of the Sassanid dynasty, the southern bedouin hordes of Islam for the first time marched onto the soil of Iran and began their great, rapacious advance eastward. The kings of the Orient had cause to fear the coming of the Arabs. These southerners were savagely barbarian; a patchwork of desert tribes woven together by the threads of a fanatical monotheism and a religion which encouraged them to slay with the sword those whom they could not convert to their personal dominion. " Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day," says the Koran (Sura 9:29), " ...until they pay you tribute out of hand, having brought them low."
The inexorable expansion of the Arabs spread along two fronts: the first moved through Nishapur to Herat, Merv and Balkh, reducing the northern provinces of Persia; the second passed south by way of Sistan (Sijistan) to the Helmand. In 650 Abdallah ibn Amr began the yet further push forwards across the desert of the Dasht-i-Lut. He was followed over the years by succeeding Moslem armies which, through continuous raids, massacres and looting, systematically transformed the wondrous flower-garden of Persian civilization and Mazdean or Buddhist culture into a scorched wasteland. Today all these lands lie under the yoke of Arabic culture.
The Turkish Shahi kingdom of Kapisa-(with Kabul on the south as its capital) and the central Afghan massif of Ghor (now the Hazarajat), held against the invader, and for many centuries remained unconquered and primarily Buddhist. In 663 A.D. Ibn Samurah fought his way into Kabul, but his success was only temporary. Nevertheless, reading the T'ang Annals, we note that a party of Uddiyanean ambassadors presented themselves at the Chinese Court in 665 A.D., and granting the length and hardships of the journey, it is practical to assume that the embassy's presence was a direct response to Ibn Samurah's raid. Kapisa's strength, backed by the armies of Imperial China, acted as a major bulwark against Islam penetrating the Pamir, and significantly protected Uddiyana.
In 672 an Arab governor of Sistan, Abbad ibn Ziyad, raided the frontier of Al-Hind and crossed the desert to Gandhara, but quickly retreated again. The marauder Obaidallah crossed the Sita River and made a raid on Kabul in 698 only to meet with defeat and humiliation. Vincent Smith, in Early History of India, states that the Turkishahiya dynasty continued to rule over Kabul and Gandhara up until the advent of the Saffarids in the ninth century. Forced by the inevitable advance of Islam on the west, they then moved their capital from Kapisa to Wahund on the Indus, whence they continued as the Hindushahiya dynasty. This was in 870 A.D. and marks the first time that the Kingdom of Shambhala actually came under Moslem domination. The Hindushahis recaptured Kabul and the rest of their Kingdom after the death of the conqueror Yaqub but never again maintained Kapisa as their capital.
Meanwhile another power was on the upsurge. This was Tibet. In 617 A.D. Namri Songtsen, the 32nd King of the peoples of Tibet, had a son named Tri De-songtsen (Ch: Chi Tsung-lung-tsan), who is better known as Tri Songtsen Gampo.4 This young ruler (he was 13 when he ascended the throne in 630) quickly squashed the attempted coup that accompanied his father's assassination and then proceeded with the systematic and bloodthirsty reduction of all traces of opposition to his control over the Tibetan Plateau. Having married his sister to the king of Suvarnadwipa, he conspired with her in the latter's ambush and murder.5 Following upon the death of the last descendant of the matriarchal dynasty of Suvarnadwipa, the armies of Tibet streamed westward along the Indus and north toward the vast basin lands of the Tarim.
A few years6 after the conquest of Suvarnadwipa, Tri Sontsen Gampo sent his minister, Gar Tongtsen to the Nepalese king Amsuvarman,7 to ask for the hand of his daughter, the princess Bhrikuti-devi, in marriage. The Tibetans had conquered parts of upper Burma and areas of Nepal, and King Amsuvarman was eager to contract an alliance. It appears that Bhrikuti-devi was responsible for converting the barbarous king of Tibet to Buddhism.
Meanwhile Tri Sontsen Gampo had also been seeking the hand in marriage of Wen-ch'eng Kung-chu, the daughter of the Tang Emperor T'ai-tsung. The Chinese princess already had a suitor in the person of T'o-ki-ki, khan of the Eastern Tartars (T'u-ku-hun). Fearing the advantage which the Tartars would gain through a marriage with the Imperial House of China, and desirous of Wen-ch'eng for himself, Tri Songtsen Gampo sent his armies against the Tartars and defeated them. Having then recruited (or conscripted) 200,000 troops in all8, Tri Songtsen Gampo lay siege and conquered the city of Sung-p'an in Sze-ch'uan. This action was followed by warfare against China itself, in which the Tibetans proved victorious. Overnight Tibet had grown into a major power with whom the Chinese were quick to seek a treaty. This is long before the epoch of the Mongols and their empire under Genghis Khan.
In 641 the minister Tao-tsung, prince of Chiang-hsia, escorted the Chinese princess Wen-ch'eng as far as the border of Tibet, where she was received by Tri Songtsen Gampo. In Lhasa they were married.
Songtsen Gampo, being the founder of the Tibetan Empire and a patron of civilization in that country, and having, due to the prompting of his two wives, initiated the planting of Buddhism in Tibetan soil, is justly one of the most famous sovereigns in Tibetan history.9 In keeping with the awe in which he is held by the people, he has also been canonized as an incarnation of the celestial Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara; while his wives have likewise been declared incarnations of Green Tara and White Tara, respectively. But as Waddell10 so pointedly has made clear, Songtsen Gampo's apotheosis into the Buddhist archetype of unconditional love and mercy, as Avalokitesvara, is incongruous in face of the reality of his character as one of the greater warlords of Oriental history. He did, however, accomplish much good by introducing culture and the art of writing into the country.
Songtsen Gampo died of the plague in 649 A.D. and the throne descended to his grandson, Mangsong Mangtsen, who was still only a child. This left the Tibetan Empire in the hands of the capable regent Gar Tongtsen, who immediately embarked on a series of campaigns in Central Asia, taking from China the Indo-European kingdoms of Khotan, Kucha, Karashahr and Kashgar. In 666 A.D. Gar Tongtsen returned victoriously to Lhasa, where he died of fever a year later, leaving power in the hands of his son. In fact power was held by the Gar family for a considerable period, until the disgrace and suicide of Gar Tridang Tsendro in 699. The warlike activity and expansion of the Tibetan Empire continued unabated through the reign of the Hsuan-tsung Emperor of China, and we read that the latter, in 719 A.D., was hard pressed to block the advances of the Tibetans, on the one hand, and the Moslem Arabs, on the other.
Gilgit is a small state that borders on the north of Uddiyana. Between 720 and 726 the King of Baltistan moved his seat westwards to Gilgit out of fear of the Tibetan advance. It becomes apparent as we sift through the records, that more and more territory on the edges of Uddiyana was being eaten up by the expanding Tibetan Empire during this period. Although the King of Baltistan, newly settled in Gilgit, remained loyal to his alliance with China, the nobility and peoples of Baltistan are said to have gone over to the Tibetan side. We can justifiably surmise that similar pressures were certainly felt in Uddiyana. This becomes clear in 745 A.D. when the Chinese Court is suddenly seen to confer upon the king of Kapisa the double investiture of " king of Kapisa and Uddiyana."
Only twenty-five years previously the Chinese had invested the king of Uddiyana as the ruler of his lands. In the interim Uddiyana appears to have lost its independence. History does not state the reason for this change in Chinese policy, but a good guess is that Uddiyana had attempted to align itself with Tibet and the Chinese countered by backing Kapisa in the overthrow of the Uddiyan royal house. Mention of tribute from the King of Kapisa in 748 A.D. ascertains that by that date Uddiyana had become a vassal state. As we shall see, it was in the very midst of this turmoil and change that Padmasambhava was born and spent his youth.
Fortunately we are able to catch yet another glimpse of events in Uddiyana from the biography of an Indian monk who passed through the country early in the 8th century. Subhakarasimha was a monk from Magadha who stopped in Uddiyana on his way to China. Later in China he became famous as a teacher of the Yoga tantras. The Chinese called him Shan-wa-wei.
Subhakarasimha descended from the Sakya prince Amritodana, an uncle of Sakyamuni Buddha. Due to unrest in Magadha (Central India), his ancestors, centuries earlier, had moved eastwards, eventually becoming the rulers of Kalinga (Odra), modern Orissa in the east. Subhakarasimha's father was King Buddhakara of Kalinga. When the elder son of the family inherited the throne in circa 680 A.D., Prince Subhakarasimha entered a monastery in Caritra on the seacoast of Kalinga. Eventually he graduated to the great University of Nalanda in Central India and, as a disciple of the Master Dharmagupta, became a learned expert in the Mahavairocana-tantra.11 After the death of his teacher he set forth to teach in China.
That aspect of Subhakarasimha's journey to China which interests us is his brief stay in Uddiyana between the years 714 and 715 A.D.12 Pei, in the Wen-yuan ying-huo reports that he was commissioned to teach the profound Mahavairocana-tantra to the son of the khatun of Uddiyana. The term khatun is a Turkishahiya title for Queen. This implies that the King of Uddiyana, " Ta-mo-yin-t'o-ho-szu," mentioned in the Chinese records for the year 642, was deceased. A Queen, or Khatun, was on the throne, and she had a son and heir-a boy who was sufficiently mature to be involved in the higher scholastic Sanskrit studies of Yoga tantra. This boy must have been the young Indrabhuti, the king of Udiyana who figures so prominently in the biography of Lord Padmasambhava.
Six years after Subhakarasimha's visit, in 720 A.D., the T'ang Annals state that the Emperor sent ambassadors to Uddiyana to confer the investiture on the new king. Therefore, 720 A.D. must mark the date that King Indrabhuti, the famous adoptive father of Padmasambhava, succeeded to the throne.
Amongst the legendary stories that have grown up around the memory of King Indrabhuti there is one in particular that is most fascinating. We are told that the old King, now blind, is unable to have a son. As in many a classical fairytale, some kind of 'wound' represents the sovereign's infertility. Here the wound appears as blindness. But the wound, the royal infirmity, does not infect the king alone. Infertility pertains to the whole kingdom. The land is impoverished by famine. The crops will not grow. The royal treasury is exhausted. Consequently, to find a cure, the Blind King must enter upon a quest for that magical blue pearl of the sea known as the Wish fulfilling Gem.13 Those familiar with medieval European culture will recognize that this story is, in fact, an early source of that great collection of aristocratic literature and poetry commonly known as the Grail Myth, which began to circulate in the West shortly after the first Crusades.14
Dr. W. Y Evans-Wentz should probably be credited as the first to introduce the story of 'King Indrabhuti and the Wish-fulfilling Gem' to English readers in his The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, published by Oxford University Press in 1954. Evans-Wentz's translation15reads:
King Indrabhuti (or his chief Minister, as the case may be) is said to go by ship to the Isle of jewels, where after many trials and dangers, the Azure Lady places in his hands the priceless Stone, which is the Wish-fulfilling Gem. Through the healing powers of the Stone his blindness is cured. His infirmity is healed. In the Padma Ka-yang, a late biography of Lord Padmasambhava, the restoration of Indrabhuti's sight leads immediately to the king being able to see the divine eight year old child (i.e., Padmasambhava) sitting in the midst of a jeweled lotus floating on the calm surface of Dhanakosha lake. The King adopts the child and makes him his heir.16 Thus through the mystic Wish-fulfilling Gem the King acquires a son, the land yields a rich harvest once more, and the treasury becomes filled with wealth.
Here we are dealing with an early source of the Grail Myth. But there is an even more ancient rendition of this legend. Some time back, archaeologists digging in the remains of the Temple of Nippur in Mesopotamia came upon a collection of four thousand year old clay tablets. When translated it was discovered that these tablets told a very ancient story about the Deluge and its survivor-Hero. The survivor's name was Ziusudra. In the story recounted on the tablets it was said that, after the Deluge, Ziusudra was made to reside as an immortal in the Isle of Dilmun.
Scholars have now established that the ancient Isle of Dilmun is the modern island of Bahrain. They have likewise found that the story of Ziusudra is an early version of the famous Assyrian Epic of Gilgamesh. In the latter, the Deluge survivor is called Utnapishtim. In the Hebrew bible, of course, he is known as the Patriarch Noah.
According to the Assyrian legend, Utnapishtim is visited on the Isle of Dilmun by Gilgamesh who is in quest for the secret of immortality. This secret, Gilgamesh learns, is acquired through a mystical flower. In order to obtain the flower of immortality, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he must attach weights to his feet and descend to the bottom of the ocean. Gilgamesh follows these instructions and on the sea floor plucks the magical flower of immortality, the blue Pearl. The quest completed, Gilgamesh takes his prize back to Erech, his home city in Mesopotamia. This is not, however, the end of the story. While Gilgamesh is sleeping, a serpent cunningly comes out of a water hole in the ground and swallows the pearl, winning an immortality that is henceforth denied to man.
Pearl fishing was a major occupation in ancient Dilmun. At Qulaat, on the island of Bahrain, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a palace dating back to 1700 B.C. Beneath the floor of the palace they discovered seven bowls each containing the skeleton of a water snake and a tiny blue bead. These talismanic bowls must have been laid down before the palace was constructed as a magical seal against ill fortune and death.
Here we have the elements of the Indrabhuti story: a healing stone (the blue pearl) protected by serpents in the depth of the sea, and a magical Isle in the ocean where this stone, the flower of regeneration, might be acquired.
It is quite remarkable to be able, in this manner, to trace backwards from the troubadour songs of medieval Europe to the legends surrounding a mystic King of eighth century Uddiyana, and from thence to the dawn of civilization itself in Mesopotamia. But we must also remember that Indrabhuti was a factual historical character, and his adopted son, the great saint Lord Padmasambhava, likewise possessed a factual existence.
Now that we have outlined the historical context into which he was born, it is time to outline the story of Lord Padmasambhava's life. His life can be concisely outlined in twelve heroic acts and, therefore, this is how we shall present it:
There are many different accounts concerning Padmasambhava's birth. It is commonly stated that he was miraculously born from a lotus-flower on Dhanakosha lake in Uddiyana. In fact his very name, " Lotus-born" (Padmasambhava), has undoubtedly encouraged such a belief. Some believe that he was the natural son of the king of Uddiyana. And some have claimed that he descended in a flash of light onto the peak of Mount Namchak. The Bonpo of Tibet state that he was the son of a Bon siddha named Drenpa Namkha. Although there are various different accounts of his birth, the generally accepted orthodox view amongst Tibetans today is that Lord Padmasambhava was born miraculously and at the age of eight from within a sacred flowering lotus bud in the center of the lake of Dhanakosha. He was then adopted by King Indrabhuti of Uddiyana. His miraculous 'lotus-birth' and adoption at the age of eight is the theme of all the revealed Treasure-texts17 of Tibet.
However, although it is the tradition of the revealed Treasure-texts that he was born miraculously from a lotus, according to the ancient, written Ka-ma tradition of the cycle of Vajrakilaya teachings, he was the son of a royal heir, Prince Mahusita of Dhanakosha, in Uddiyana. Originally given the name Dhanaraksita, which means " Protector of Charity" , it is stated that he was born in the year of the water monkey (732 A.D.). Thus his mundane birth and status as a prince of Uddiyana may be pinpointed as a fact of history.
The seemingly conflicting stories of Lord Padmasambhava's birth may likewise be easily resolved if we understand that the revealed Treasure-texts are not meant to be ordinary historical treatises, but rather, poetic descriptions of an esoteric spiritual reality. In so far as Padmasambhava, as a Divine Incarnation, represents the ageless Enlightened-mind (bodhicitta) itself, the spiritual reality of his birth is pictured as an emergence from out of the lotus heart of the Boundless Luminosity of the Absolute. 18 Like a vibrant singularity of divine Love (represented iconographically in the texts by a red tonal "Hrih-gnoseme") unfolding in the manner of a lotus from the midst of universal Mind symbolized by the sacred lake of the Treasury of Charity (dhanakosha), he emerged self-born in the temporal world of duality for the sake of alleviating countless beings from the hell of earthly suffering. In this sense his spiritual reality transcends time and place.
For Buddhists, the Lord Padmasambhava represents a second Buddha. For the Hindus he is the deathless Mahavatar (Great Avatar), the eternal youth, or Kumara. For the Christian he is the Christ-consciousness. The Himalayan yogis know him as the foremost of their great Saints, or Mahasiddhas, while amongst the sages he is known as the supreme Magi (mahamuni). For some initiates he is known as Arunagiri babaji, the holy master of the Sacred Red Mountain. In our tradition he is the Paramguru, the supreme Guru of those who follow the way of Tantra.
According to the Mahaparinirvana-sutra, when Buddha Sakyamuni was about to pass away, at Kushinagar in Nepal, he said:
In the Manjusri-nama-sangiti we read:
In various Tantra texts we likewise find innumerable other prophecies which tell of the coming of this foremost of incarnate Buddhas. There he is described as the one who will act to preserve the 'secret wisdom' of the Orient during the dark era, the so called Kali-yuga, that was to come, when the " Mlecchas" (barbarians) would overrun the East and destroy Buddhism in India. In fact this great Sage did save the old wisdom, by transplanting it into Tibet, where Buddhism was to survive untouched by the Moslem invasion, behind the high snowy ranges of the Karakorums and Himalaya. Since then, for the last millennium, it has been he who, in spirit, has overshadowed the mystical evolution of all those souls aspiring to transcend the mire of material limitation.
Was it concerning this special saint that even Jesus prophesied when he reportedly spoke about one coming after him who would promulgate a Universal Truth? In the Gospel o f john we read: " ...For if I go not away, the 'Parakletos' shall not come to you; but if I go, then he shall be sent to you. And coming... he, the spirit of Truth, will guide you into the Universal Truth (aletheian pasan), for he will not speak from the 'ego' (autos), but from that heard and prophesied for the future shall he speak to you. " 19
At the age of eight the princely child was adopted by King Indrabhuti and made heir to the throne of Uddiyana. At that time he was given the name Padmaraja, the Lotus Prince.20 The child was surrounded by all the luxury of the royal court and, when he came of appropriate age, was engaged to Princess Bhasadhara, the daughter of King Candrakumara of Simhapura.21 It was Indrabhuti's wish to have the boy brought up in the palace and educated in the ways of royal government, so as to eventually become a wise sovereign over his people. Unfortunately the tide of events swirling around the kingdom of Uddiyana were quickly moving beyond King Indrabhuti's control.
An alarming event occurred in 745 A.D. As mentioned above, the T'ang Annals record for that year, the investiture of the King of Kapisa with rulership over Uddiyana. In the Padma Ka-yang an equally disturbing tale is told. Supposedly, the young heir caused the death of Bhadralaksana, the child of a baron of the realm. Another version has it that he killed the mother and child of a minister of King Indrabhuti by letting fall from the roof of the Palace a scepter and a trident. Thus, in Evans-Wentz's The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, we read:
It is in consequence of the evil act of killing the son of a baron, or the mother and child of a minister, that the young prince is banished from the Kingdom. The prince's banishment is further explained as corresponding to the Buddha Sakyamuni's renunciation of worldly life. The young Lotus prince must leave behind not only his kingdom but also his new bride.
In actual fact, the storming of the land and city by evil forces, the tragic death of a noble son, and Padmasambhava's banishment to foreign lands, reflects the changes wrought when the powerful lords of Kapisa seized, as we know they did, control of the Swat Valley. Uddiyana was defeated and utterly lost its independence. Whatever happened to Indrabhuti we do not know, but it is probable that he was slain, or perhaps as a blind captive, was dragged ignominiously back to Kabul in chains. At any rate Padmasambhava fled in the direction of Kashmir.
Padmasambhava's route of escape is fairly evident. There was only one direction for him to go. About 30 kilometres north of the old capital of Mangalapura he must have taken the ancient trail over the Shangla Pass to present day Besham on the Indus River, a 70 kilometre trek. From Besham he would have had to make the long hike up the Indus, past Dassu and the famous Buddhist rock carvings of Shatial and Chilas, until many days later he could have entered the relative safety of Baltistan. The latter country is formed by the long valley of the Indus from where it meets the Karakorum Highway at Gilgit up to Skardu. On this perilous journey Padmasambhava would have skirted around the sandy base of 26,660 foot high Nanga Parvata, the ninth highest peak in the world. Its name means "Naked Mountain" and it is a towering sentinel standing at the westernmost end of the Himilayas. On the north slope of Nanga Parvata the fleeing prince and his escort would have had the opportunity to camp in safety on the idyllic alpine pastures known as Fairy Meadows, from whence since the remotest ages pilgrims have had the opportunity to glimpse with awe the breathtaking beauty of Nanga Parvata's snow clad peak. A single days march from the Fairy Meadows would have brought Padmasambhava into the domain of Baltistan.
Now Baltistan, or Greater Pu-lu as we find it called in the Chinese annals, was under the protection of Tibet. It is interesting in light of further developments, that so early in his life Padmasambhava came within the orbit of Tibetan imperial designs, and that he found in Tibet a protector. As Christopher Beckwith has cogently pointed out, " One may also conclude that a major reason for so many Indian Buddhist sages coming to Central Tibet from Kashmir, and notably, the famous Padmasambhava from Udiyana, was the simple fact that Tibet then ruled much of this region." Thus Lord Padmasambhava's work in Tibet late in his life may well have been the result of ties forged in his youth.
Nothing is really reported concerning Padmasambhava's life in Kashmir. He lived, some say, with wandering yogis and saddhus, in exile from his homeland. Others report that it was during this period that he acquired worldly knowledge and skill in various crafts. Howbeit, in Kashmir he earned the name Sthiramati, the Youthful Genius. 23
On pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya (the site where Buddha Sakyamuni had attained enlightenment), the Yogi-Prince became a disciple of Bhikshu Prabhahasti.
The Vidyadhara Prabhahasti was born in the royal house of Kashmir.24 He received ordination from the Master Santiprabha of Citavara and studied the Vinaya Discipline from Punyakirti of Maru. Then he went to Nalanda University. Later he received teachings in Mahayoga tantra from Vidyadhara Humkara. After winning accomplishment he extracted the Vajrakilaya doctrines from the Shankarakuta Stupa located in the Sitavana cremation ground, and practicing the same, eventually acquired Enlightenment.
With the Kashmiri pandit Ananda acting as the master (acarya) and Prabhahasti acting as the preceptor (upadhaya), Padmasambhava received the full ordination of a Buddhist monk. He then received the ordination name of Bhikshu Sakyasimha, the Lion of the Sakyas.25 Living in the Bodh Gaya area, he disciplined himself in the path of virtue and contemplation, while receiving instruction in the Vinaya Discipline from Ananda and instruction in philosophy, logic and metaphysics from Prabhahasti. Then he was told, " Go to the Sitavana cremation ground26 and study the traditions of the Vidyadharas living there."
In the Sitavana cremation ground near Bodh Gaya he received empowerment and instruction from Vajra Humkara in the practice of Vajrasattva. Then when he was a little matured, he received special transmission into the wrathful aspects of the great Bodhisattvas from the eight great Insight-holders, or Vidyadhara. Each of these Vidyadharas taught him a unique sadhana, or spiritual practice, based on their own realization and on the practice by which they had attained Enlightenment. Thus he acquired eight sadhana practices. These practices pertain to what is known as the Mahayoga tantra.
Here is a list of the eight Mahayoga teachers: Vidyadhara Manjusrimitra
came from Suvarnadwipa and was proficient in the secret practice of the
wrathful Bodhisattva Manjusri, called Destroyer of Death (Yamantaka).
Vidyadhara Nagarjuna-garbha came from Bengal and was proficient in the
secret practice of the wrathful Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, called
Hayagriva. Vidyadhara Vajra Humkara, who came from Nepal, was proficient
in the secret practice of the wrathful Bodhisattva Vajrapani,
called Sri Samyak Heruka. Vidyadhara Vimalamitra came from Hastivana in
the West and was proficient in the secret practice of the wrathful Bodhisattva
Samantabhadra, called Vajramrita. Vidyadhara Prabhahasti came from
Zahor (modern Mandi south of the Kulu Valley at the foot of the Himalayas)
and was proficient in the secret practice of the wrathful Bodhisattva
Nivaranavishkambin, called Vajrakilaya. Vidyadhara Dhanasamskrita
came from Gandhara and was proficient in the secret practice of the wrathful
Bodhisattva Akasagarbha, called Matarah, or
Of the eight Vidyadharas whom Lord Padmasambhava studied under in the Sitavana grove, it should be noted that initially the chief guru was Vajra Humkara, the guru of his teacher and abbot Prabhahasti.27 We have already described how Humkara met with Sri Simha in a forest and received from the latter the fundamental instructions for the Sadhana of the Lord, Vajrasattva. It was after practicing for six months with his yogini-wife in the cave of Lang-le-sho in Nepal that Humkara gained the final Great Seal28 of Buddhahood and beheld the Divine Being (Vajrasattva) face to face.
There were close ties between the various teachers and spiritual guides who were involved in Padmasambhava's life. It is not surprising therefore, that Vajra Humkara told his disciple Padmasambhava to go and study at the feet of his own beloved guruji, Sri Simha. Going to the Cina Valley, Padmasambhava found Sri Simha living as a yogi in a cremation ground. He begged for enlightenment. According to Evans-Wentz's translation:
From Sri Simha, the prince of yogis received the mystical tantric empowerments and teachings. Then in various cremation grounds inhabited by yogis and yoginis in Cina, and in the famous Eight Sacred Cremation grounds of India, the diligent practitioner Padmasambhava struggled to attain realization. Living like an ascetic hermit, he was known as Suryabhasa Yogi, the Sun-ray Mystic.
Then Padmasambhava, the Sun-ray Yogi, went to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. At that time the main Buddhist center of Nepal consisted of the royal town of Patan founded by the Emperor Asoka in the third century B.C. Four ancient stupas, said to have been erected by Asoka, still stand at the four quarters of the perimeter of modern Patan. But rather than stay as a monk in one of the many renowned monastic houses of Patan, Padmasambhava went to Parphing, which lies in the hills to the southwest of Kathmandu.
Today at Parphing, among other temples and shrines, there is a very famous Buddhist temple dedicated to the feminine aspect of Buddha, known as Vajrayogini, the Divine Mother. This temple was in existence in the eleventh century when it was occupied by the famous Mahasiddha Naropa, the guru of the Tibetan Master Marpa, but it is unlikely that it was there in Padmasambhava's time. Nevertheless the presence at that site of some form of worship of the Divine Mother is quite likely. Not far away there is also the Hindu sacred site of Dakshinkali, likewise dedicated to the feminine principle of Divinity. From ancient times, therefore, a goddess cult was probably associated with the Parphing area. This would also imply that it was a region inhabited by practicing yoginis and women saints.
High on the mountain side above Parphing is the little cave of Lang-le-sho where Padmasambhava and his consort, the lovely Nepalese princess Sakyadevi, lived together.30 This is the site where, earlier, Vajra Humkara and his consort had attained Enlightenment. Lang-le-sho is a very sacred place.
From Lang-le-sho one can see out over the beautiful valley lands below. The fields are yellow with sesame in spring, and later in the year varieties of flowers give them a multitude of colourings. In the cloudy distance can be seen the glorious snow covered peaks of the castle-like Himalayan mountains, beyond which lies mysterious Tibet. Looking south-east one sees the old road falling away through the mountain valleys to the dusty plains of India. The cave where Padmasambhava and Sakyadevi resided is high on the hill face, in a pleasant location bathed by the warmth of the Nepalese sun. There is fresh water close by.
In the cave of Lang-le-sho they jointly practiced the sadhana of VAJRASATTVA as Sri Samyak Vajra Heruka (Tib: Yangdag Heruka), merging their hearts with absolute Divinity, while dissolving themselves in the bliss of transcendental union. The spiritual practice of Sri Samyak Heruka-" diamond-mind of all the Buddhas" -begins with the mar-me gu pa, or Nine Lamps practice, which is very profound. But although they practiced for about twelve months, obstacles arose and they did not succeed in acquiring true union, or mahamudra, with Divinity. Obstacles also manifested on the external plane. Disease and famine caused by drought spread throughout the Kathmandu Valley.
" O lord of my heart," said Princess Sakyadevi to her beloved consort, " it is appropriate to enquire of the guru the proper action to take when the loyal disciple is faced with many obstacles."
Acting on this advice, Padmasambhava wrote a missive to Vidyadhara Prabhahasti, beseeching his guidance. He then sent two of his disciples, a Nepalese couple named jila-jisa and Kunla-kunsa, to Nalanda University in India where the great Vidyadhara Prabhahasti was teaching.
Bound by compassion for his beloved disciple and heir, the guru sent two mule-loads of Vajrakilaya-practice texts. Immediately all the obstacles afflicting the course of progress were eradicated and Padmasambhava began to meditate with renewed ease. It is said that as soon as jila-jisa and Kunla-kunsa arrived on the outskirts of Khatmandu with the mule-load of sacred texts, it began to rain and the drought came to an end. Consequently Padmasambhava is recorded as having declared: " Sri Samyak Heruka is rich in accomplishments, like a wealthy merchant; but Vajrakilaya practice is essential for protection, like an armed knight."
It is said that when the King of Yogis performed the powerful Vajrakilaya rites, he made it rain by subduing three kinds of elemental spirits. These spirits, or forces, are referred to as Nagas or serpentine spirits of water, Yakshas or giant spirits of the earth, and Kumbhandas or sylph-like spirits of air. He mastered these primitive spiritual forces through mastery of the Garuda or phoenix-like spirit of fire.
Invoking Vajrakilaya, the activity of all the Buddhas, for the overpowering of obstacles and demonic-.forces, Padmasambhava and Sakyadevi developed their contemplative practice on the basis of their earlier practice of Sri Samyak. They dissolved themselves together as a unity, in the Father-Mother icon of the Absolute, with the aim of mutually realizing nondual Buddhahood.
Through the progress of their ecstatic dance of contemplation, during the delightful union of the vajra in the serene lotus of the absolute ground of Being, the blended solar and lunar refined bindus (" seed-essences" ) of their psychic nerve-systems gradually blazed up in the heart-cakra into intense light, so that the essential energy of the lower cakras and the crown Great Bliss cakras of their two bodies burst into incandescence, irradiating their united minds with waves of rapture and joy.
In a state of intense bliss, Padmasambhava and Sakyadevi realized the infinite reality of the Primordial Buddha Mind, the All-Beneficent Lord (Samantabhadra), who's absolute love is the unimpeded dynamo of existence. Experiencing the succession of the four stages of ecstasy, their mutual state of consciousness increased from height to height. And thus, meditating on Supreme Vajrasattva Heruka as the translucent image of compassionate wrathful (energized) activity, they together acquired the mahamudra of Divinity and attained complete Great Enlightenment.
In an exulted state of mind, upon emerging from the cave where their meditations had taken place, Padmasambhava placed his hand against the rock face of the mountain, leaving impressed for ever in stone a miraculous handprint. His handprint can to this very day be seen outside the entrance of Lang-le-sho cave, where he and his consort Sakyadevi attained simultaneous Enlightenment.
A little after their attainment of Great Enlightenment, Padmasambhava and Sakyadevi were joined at Lang-le-sho by two other enlightened Masters. These were Silamanju, who came from the Kathmandu Valley, and the famous Vimalamitra. Vimalamitra, you will remember, had previously met Sri Simha and was a disciple of Jnanasutra. All of these saints lived together for some time.
Then Padmasambhava was asked to come to Nalanda University to debate against a number of proud Hindu intellectuals who were drawing many away from the practice of the Dharma by means of their brilliant scholastic arguments. Consequently he left Nepal and once more ventured down into the hot plains of India.
Having vanquished the Hindu scholars through means of impeccable logic, the five hundred chief professors of Nalanda University conferred on him the honorary title of Maha-pandita,31 or great Pandit, and he was given the name of Vadisimha, fierce Lion of Debate.
A group of Hindu religious who had been defeated by the Lord in the great debate at Nalanda University became so enraged that they determined to attempt assassination. Seizing Lord Padmasambhava while he was out walking one day near the Ganges River, they dragged him to the bank of the river and threw him down into the fast rushing waters. Then they began to stone him. Yet miraculously Padmasambhava merely floated, unharmed, in a meditative pose, on the surface of the river, while each stone, as it struck his body, turned instantly into a delicate flower. In a very short time his luminous bodily form was surrounded by flower petals, dancing on the sparking waves, and the mob, who had only moments earlier felt such enmity towards him, was completely awed by what they saw.
Then the precious Lord thought it was time he propagated the Dharma in different parts of the world, beginning with the Himalayan kingdom of Zahor (modern Mandi and the Kulu Valley). The sovereign of Zahor was King Arshadhara, a powerful ruler of a small state closely aligned with the Tibetan Empire. The brother of the King of Zahor was a renowned Buddhist monk and scholar known as Upadhyaya Santaraksita. The king also had a daughter called Mandarava. It was in Zahor that the great Master was first addressed as Lord Padmasambhava,32 the Lotus-born Guru, and was praised as a second Buddha.
Princess Mandarava had many suitors, but not wishing to be married to any of them, she had abandoned worldly life and become a Buddhist nun. She lived in a royal convent of nuns in Zahor.
Lord Padmasambhava became Mandarava's teacher and soon they became tantric lovers. When King Arshadhara heard that his daughter was involved with a man, and not understanding the situation, he ordered that the culprits should be punished. The King's officers therefore had the princess dragged from her convent and thrown into a pit. They seized Lord Padmasambhava, flogged him, and bound him to a stake, to be burnt. They then set fire to the stake.
Unbelievable as it might seem, the Lord's transfigured body was invincible to the elements. Fire could not touch him. Although he looked and appeared physical, his body was so highly developed into what is called a " rainbow-body" that it behaved more like a light-image or like a type of energy, rather than an ordinary material body. When the King's men burnt him at the stake, he miraculously escaped injury. Then rain is said to have extinguished the flames. The rain caused floods to pour into the valley where he was bound. When the storm cleared and the smoke from the pyre was gone, instead of a charred corpse, what the witnesses saw was an image of the yogi and yogini together on a lotus, in the midst of a small lake, in the holy form of the eternal Vajrasattva.
Whether this miracle actually occurred or not, it is certain that Lord Padmasambhava and Mandarava both escaped harm. A sacred lake near the town of Mandi is today shown as the site where this miracle occurred.
Afterwards Lord Padmasambhava married Princess Manadarava and together they departed for the Maratika Cave in the Himalayas to perform the sadhana of Amitayus, the Bodhisattva of Vitality and Longevity. The mystic couple continued to live in Nepal for many years after that.
Meanwhile King's Arshadhara's famous brother, Upadhyaya Santaraksita, was invited by the Bengalese Emperor Dharmapala of eastern India to take part in a peace mission to Tibet. Tri-song Detsan, son of a Chinese princess and the ruling Emperor of Tibet (755-797 A.D.), had been educated in Buddhism during the reign of his father. With the death of his father, however, a powerful minister named Manshang had driven all the Chinese monks and scholars out of Tibet. Manshang was a great military leader who extended Tibetan rule over the greater portion of Yunnan and Si-Chuen, but his attempt to suppress Buddhism in favour of the Bon religion resulted in his downfall. In 755 A.D. Tri-song Detsan succeeded to the throne of his father and brought the warlords of Tibet under his personal control.
Emperor Tri-song Detsan (742-803) was the thirty-seventh sovereign of Tibet in lineal descent from King Nyatri Tsenpo (c. 127 B.C.). His father was the Emperor Mei Agtsom-chen and his mother was a Chinese princess, Chin Ch'eng Kun-chu, daughter of Li-lung Chi of the Imperial House of China. His parents were Buddhists of the Chinese Ch'an (or Zen) school. He was enthroned in the year 755 A.D. as sovereign ruler of the Twelve Provinces of Tibet and of the subject kingdoms of Central Asia. He was, at that time, merely thirteen years of age.
By means of ceaseless combat the Tibetan army had brought to their knees most of the chieftains of Central Asia, even taking Chang-an, the Imperial Capital of China, which they held long enough to negotiate a payment of tribute. While China was reeling under the humiliating sting of Tibetan belligerence, India was seeing larger and larger chunks of its frontier territories falling into the Northerner's orbit of power. Consequently, in 783 A.D., the Emperor Dharmapala (768-809) was more than ready to sign a peace treaty with the young Tri-song Detsan. Besides, on behalf of Tri-song Detsan, the Tibetan minister Salnang of Ba had been secretly exploring connections with Indian Buddhism for years.
When Santaraksita met with the Tibetan Emperor, Tri-song Detsan asked him to define his system of instruction. Santaraksita answered that his practice was to follow that which could be proved by means of rational examination and to avoid all that did not agree with reason. This rational approach to the Dharma pleased Tri-song Detsan and he gave permission for Khenpo Santaraksita to promulgate Buddhism in Tibet.
The Bodhisattva Santaraksita's first attempt to teach in Tibet was a failure. Powerful political factions in the country, allied to the indigenous Bon cult, strongly opposed him. Old noble families, supporters in the past of men like Manshang, forced Santaraksita to retreat back to Nepal.
A second expedition was made by Santaraksita in 784 A.D. However the gentle scholar made little head-way amongst an aristocracy that was generally concerned with chivalry and personal advancement, rather than religion or spiritual development. It is said that it was for this reason that Upadhyaya Santaraksita recommended to the Emperor Tri-song Detsan that the enlightened Saint, Lord Padmasambhava, should be invited to the Tibetan Court. As soon as Tri-song Detsan heard the name of Lord Padmasambhava, his heart was seized with an unquenchable desire to meet the divine Guru. Therefore the minister Salnang was sent to Nepal to extend the imperial invitation.
In the spring of 786,33 by the Tibetan reckoning a Fire Tiger year, the Precious Lord, or " Guru Rinpoche" as he is most commonly known in Tibetan, set forth across the high passes of the Himalaya. On the Tibetan frontier, in Mangyul, he was met by five royal ministers to escort him to the Imperial Palace. In the valley of Tsang he was greeted by a messenger with a white horse. Riding in state to the town of Turdlung, he was welcomed with a grand reception. Then in the Tamarisk Garden near Red Rock, he was royally received by the Emperor.
With Padmasambhava's presence in the country opposition melted. Fresh enthusiasm for Buddhism on the part of various noble families made it possible for Santaraksita to initiate the plans for founding a major Buddhist establishment in the heart of Tibetan territory. Consequently the Lord Padmasambhava, through the power of his blessings, exorcised the negative, demonic numina of the land and consecrated the site upon which Samye Monastery, Tibet's first sizeable Buddhist academy, was to be built. In the year 787 A.D. (Fire Hare year) construction began.
The second Buddha then went back to Nepal. Construction of Samye continued for the next four years. Samye Monastery was completed in 791 A.D., the year of the Iron Sheep. After the completion of Samye, Langdro Nangzer, Nyer Tagtsen Dongzi and Senggo Lha-lung-zi were sent to Vrikramasila University in India. They brought back with them twelve monks of the Sarvastivada Order. Then the first candidates for monastic life were selected. First, under the supervision of Santaraksita acting as Upadhyaya, Danasila as Acarya, Jinamitra as father-confessor, and the ten other Bhikkhus gathered at Samye, the noble minister Ba Trizi renounced the world and was ordained as a monk. He received the name Ba Ratnaraksita. Then Ba Salnang, Pagor Vairocana, Gyalwa Choyang, Ma Rinchen-chok, Kawa Peltsek, and La-sum Gyalwa Chanchub were also ordained. The ordination ceremony occurred in the first fortnight of the month of Spring in the Iron Sheep year of 791 A.D. Collectively this first group of Tibetan monks were known as the "Seven Probationers" because they were a test to see if Tibetans were suitable for the monastic life. When after a number of years they proved that they had adapted well to monastic conditions, then the Emperor gave his permission for Tibetans in general to apply for ordination.
This marks the founding of the Nyingma School in Tibet. There are four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism: the Nyingmapa, or followers of the Venerable Ancients; the Kargyupa, or followers of the Oral Transmission; the Sakyapa, or followers from the Sakya-region; and the Gelugpa, or followers of the school of Virtue. The Nyingmapa were the first to be founded and they are known as the mother school. The other three schools, collectively called the New Schools (sarmapa) and known as the sons, were founded later, starting in the 11th century. All four main schools and their secondary branches, adhere to the Sarvastivada Order of Buddhism.
The school becomes the vehicle which carries, like a vessel, the inspiration of the Bodhisattvas from age to age. As Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche used to say, the Nyingma school is not an institution with membership cards and dues paying members, nor does it has a central leader or government. The Nyingma are a collection of sacred lineages, heavenly teachings, and divine revelations, transmitted by spiritual Masters who are sovereign in their own right. These are monks, nuns, yogis, yoginis, and both male and female Lamas, who compose the school. All, in their own way, are servants of holy Dharma.
A school like this is outer, inner and secret (Tib: Chi- Nang-Sang). The outer, exoteric aspect of the school is the visible part, including the historical entity founded by Khenpo Santaraksita, Danasila, Jinamitra, etc., and the first Tibetan probationers. The inner, esoteric aspect consists of the transmission of the six tantra-yana lineages, the priceless teachings of human transformation, and the corpus of the Dzogchen teachings, along with the inner experience of the seekers who are practicing those teachings. On the inner level, there is a definite connection with something transcendental. The secret level of the school cannot be conceived of by ordinary individuals. In this sense it is " self-secret" . That which is self-secret has, in part, to do with the school's influence on the destiny of all humanity.
It was not until seven years after his first visit that our Lotus Master came once again to the auspicious realm of Tibet. By that time not only had Samye Monastery been erected and the Seven Probationers installed in its precincts, but the contemplative hermitage center of Chimpu had been founded.
From the first moment of laying eyes once again on the precious Lord, Tri-song Detsan was fired with faith and devotion. The Emperor begged for tantric teachings. Consequently, in the new Retreat Center of Chimphu, Lord Padmasambhava conferred the sacred Empowerments of the sadhanas of the Eight Mandalas of Mahayoga Tantra upon his chief Disciples.
It is customary for the disciple to offer a mandala of the whole material world to his or her guru in exchange for instruction. Such a mandala is a symbolic renunciation of the worldly condition. Tri-song Detsan went to extreme lengths in making his mandala offering. He actually gifted his entire empire into the guru's hands. Seating Lord Padmasambhava on a jewel-encrusted throne, he offered the four districts of Central Tibet along with Tsang as the center of the mandala; eastern Kham province and his territories in China and Jang as the eastern realm; Jar, Kongpo and Bhutan as the southern realm; the kingdoms of Hor, Central Asia and Changthang as the northern realm; Kailash, Zang-zung, Baltistan and Hunza as the western realm. He arranged pieces of gold and silver to represent the sun, moon and stars, and as an offering of sensual delight he bestowed Yeshe Tsogyal, princess of Karchen, one of the ladies of his harem. This was no mere symbolic gesture. The Emperor legally bestowed his possessions in this manner on Padmasambhava.
Lesser spiritual leaders might readily have been enticed by the power, wealth and vast lands placed in his hands. Guru Padmasambhava, however, was unmoved by material desire. He thanked the humble Emperor, but returned the proffered gifts. The princess Yeshe Tsogyal alone he accepted, taking her only on 100 Suvama Sampradaya condition that she freely become his disciple, which she did. With his deep insight and foreknowledge he had seen in her heart the potential to become his successor and spiritual heir. He therefore was glad to retain her in his company when handing back to Trisong Detsan the empire of Tibet. To the latter he explained that the priceless Dharma was beyond material value, and although the Emperor's act of renunciation was indeed appropriate, nevertheless spiritual truth could never be bartered for with mere gold or property. Besides, in the holy book, A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, 34 it is written, " Our great Teacher did not permit the donation of property for the attainment of the spiritual path."
In similar ways the Lord gradually tamed the Emperor's heart and made him a disciple worthy to receive the light of understanding. He taught Tri-song Detsan, imbued with the spirit of warfare, to lay down his weapons of fear and embrace the gentle Buddhist law of love and compassion. He taught him how to become a devotee of the spirit of Truth.
Lord Padmasambhava also said to the Emperor,
When the time was right, Lord Padmasambhava bestowed on the imperial disciple the mystical Empowerment and Oral Transmissions for Mahayoga practice. He gave the blessings of the lineage of Masters and bestowed on Tri-song Detsan an ocean of grace to plant within him the seeds of Enlightenment. Through the power of the Lord's blessing, the intellect of the Sage-Emperor acquired the wished for treasure of treasures: an unobstructed vision of his own true nature. At that moment Tri-song Detsan perceived a panoramic glimpse of the whole continuum of time and space, with a million galaxies of world-systems displayed like jewels strewn across the cosmic expanse before him. He saw within the multitudes of worlds the bewildering array of living entities: time-bound creatures flickering into birth and death, ever repeating endless cycles of propagation, caught in the struggle of desire. And he realized simultaneously the greater mystery of life; the insubstantial, awesome, timeless nature of Gnosis-the underlying identity of the omniscient state of knowledge inadequately described by mystics as God or Buddhahood or the Diamond Being. Caught for no longer than the blink of an eye within the pulse-beat of the Guru's heart, the Imperial disciple experienced the silent dance of the cosmos, and marveled at the perfect harmony of the ceaseless cosmic continuum displayed by transcendental timeless awareness. Such was the force of Padmasambhava's empowerment that, for a split second in eternity, Tri-song Detsan was directly introduced to ultimate Reality.
During the ritual of Empowerment the offering flower of the Emperor fell on the mandala of Vajramrita, the Diamond Ambrosia of transcendental attributes. This meant that the most appropriate spiritual practice for the Emperor to undertake would be the sadhana of Vajramrita. Consequently by following that practice Tri-song Detsan rapidly acquired realization and accomplishment.
The Sage-Emperor abdicated the throne in 797 in favour of his son Mu-ne Tsanpo (ruled 798-804) and went into Meditation Retreat, where he practiced meditation until his death in 803 A.D. The treatises which Tri-song Detsan wrote and which still exists in the archives of the Nyingmapa School are known as the Ra Yangdak pai Tsadma and the Bum-tik. In these texts we see the hand not of a sword wielding king, but of a real sage, who through strenuous religious practice and meditation, won through to Enlightenment.
But that is not the end of the story, for Tri-song Detsan has continued to reincarnate down through the centuries, in his beloved land of Tibet. His most recent incarnation was the famous Nyingma Lama known as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The latter was one of the last of the generation of great lamas who completed their spiritual education in Tibet prior to the Chinese Communist invasion. Having spent twenty-two years of his life in Retreat, he became a principal holder of Longchenpa's Nying-t'ig lineage. When he had to flee Tibet, he successfully transplanted the complete Sechen tradition to Nepal. He also became a major guru of the Dalai Lama in the Dzogchen tradition. Therefore it can readily be said that Sage-Emperor's dedication to the protection, patronage and continuation of Lord Padmasambhava's teachings in Tibet still exists even in the present.
Besides the Emperor of Tibet, Padmasambhava had a great number of other disciples. The predominant members of his following consisted of: the Twenty-five Imperial Disciples; the Eighty Disciples of Yerpa, all of whom attained rainbow-body; the 108 Great Contemplatives of Chu-wo Mountain; the 30 Great Ngakpas (tantric masters) of Yang-dzong, in the Drak Valley; the Twenty-five sainted female Dakinis; the fifty-five Realized Ones of Shel-drak, in the Yarlung Valley; and the seven precious Yoginis.
Having taught her the innermost Heart Point(Nying-t'ig) doctrine of Dzogchen, he empowered Yeshe Tsogyal, the princess of Kharchen, as his spiritual heir. She fully practiced his instruction and attained enlightenment in her lifetime. Then she too accepted disciples and passed on the precious teachings. The succession of Dzogchen Masters that descends from her is known as the Khadro Nying-t'ig lineage. In this manner Lord Padmasambhava imparted to future generations his way to Enlightenment.
Padmasambhava founded many academic centers to teach the theory and practice of the Vajrayana. The Emperor and the court acclaimed him the foremost of sages. And following his advice, the Emperor established in Tibet a twofold division of the religious community, granting equal status to both divisions, viz., the community of ordained monks and nuns, and the community of ordained yogis and yoginis. Thus the great Lord in this manner founded the school of the Nying-ma-pa, or Ancient Ones, a branch of the Sarvastivada Order of Buddhism, in Tibet.
The great Master also, perceiving that the world would increasingly need special teachings in the ages to come, left behind various secret deposits of instruction. At thirteen sacred locations throughout Tibet he manifested, while meditating in the cave of Paro Tagtsang (" Tiger's Nest" ) of Bhutan, in the fierce energetic aspect known as Dorje Drollo, and together with Princess Yeshe Tsogyal, he deposited in a miraculous manner a great number of occult Treasure-texts (Terma) for future disciples who would be able to understand them.
At the same time he deposited sacred Treasure in other countries of the world too.
He also implanted into the psychic continuum of 108 especially great disciples the mystical keys for the eventual revelation of these hidden Treasure-texts, so that in future reincarnations they would be able to discover and bring them to light. In Tibet those reincarnated adepts who, through the centuries, have in this way been able to reveal Padmasambhava's hidden teachings, are known as Terton Lamas, or Treasure-finders.
There are many wonders connected with the work of the Tertons. The Lord left behind a collection of written prophesies specifically detailing when, how and where each of the chosen Tertons would reveal their particular treasures. Thus, down through the ages, a select adept has drawn forth from their hiding place in certain rocks, temples, lakes, etc., the ancient yellow scrolls deposited long ago by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal.
The Sage-Emperor Tri-song Detsan abdicated in favour of his son Mu-ne Tsan-po35 in the latter part of the year 797 A.D. and went for the remainder of his life into a religious retreat. He died circa 803 A.D.
When in 804 A.D. (Wood Monkey year) it came time for the Lord to depart from the great land of Tibet, he was escorted by the young Emperor Mu-ne Tsan-po, by the powerful nobility, the people, and especially by his favoured disciples, to the Mang-yul Pass. He went, it is said, towards the southwest, to the Sacred Red Mountain of Lankapuri, where he took possession of the Padmavabhasa Palace and ruled as a king of righteousness.36 Eventually he entered the pure Field-dimension of Akanishta where he abides in spirit to this day.
In some of the colourful legends told about him, it is said that on the Mang-yul Pass he climbed onto a celestial Changshe-Ta and flew away like a shooting star, passing out of sight into the depths of the shining Tsky. Some accounts declare that the vehicle which carried him into the heavens was a Ta-chok37 or sacred white horse, other stories state that he rode a sky-faring tiger. When he arrived at Lankapuri he converted the presiding ruler, an ogre named Rosary of Skulls. Others say that he incarnated and took possession of the body of this evil king Kapalamala, so as to convert the country to the gentle ways of true Dharma. Thus he came also to be known as Vajra Kapalamala, which is a name of the Hindu god Siva.
A precedent for ancient tales of an evil king in a land called Lankapuri is to be found in the Ramayana Epic, where the ten headed King Ravana is said to rule on Mt. Malaya in the southern ghats of Malabar. In the Lankavatara-sutra the Buddha is made to convert this King Ravana to the sacred Dharma. There are so many different legends about the precious Master that it would be impossible to repeat them all.
Such is the life story of the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, the incomparable Saint Lama (guru Rinpoche) of the Land of Snow. The school of the Nying-ma-pa which he founded exists to this day, along with all their ancient records and sacred teachings.
The Lord is iconographically pictured in the form of Vajradhara (i.e., Vajrasattva), the Uddiyana Diamond-holder, sitting on a broad lotus in the midst of Dhanakosha lake, with the Indian princess Mandarava and the Tibetan princess Yeshe Tsogyal, his two leading disciples, with him. In this image he is painted deep blue to represent his primordial, sky-like nature. In this manner he is shown as the Primordial Buddha. The line of Dzogchen masters is pictured above his head.
In Tibetan art he is also shown as a group of eight, representing eight major events in his life. These eight Tibetan iconographical forms, with their usual paraphrases, are:
Many other names and attributes are also given to him. He is truly the archetypal Sage and Saint, and the mystical Prince of the kings of this earth. For the Dzogchen adept he is the supreme example of the perfect, accomplished yogi-master. For Tibetan Buddhism as a whole he is the living embodiment of compassionate Buddhahood.
1 Padmasambhava, meaning "Born of the Lotus", is Pe-ma lung-ne in Tibetan. Many titles and names have been applied to him. He is called Guru Padma, or the Lotus Guru, and is even more popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, or Saint Lama, the precious holy Supreme One. Like Nagarjuna before him, he has been acknowledged a "second Buddha" after Sakyamuni. He has also been called Arunagiri Babaji, the holy mystic of Red Mountain, the eternal youth (Kumara), and the Mahavatar or Great Incarnation of the world. " As an objective man," wrote H. P Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, vol. I, p.208, " he is the mysterious (to the profane) yet ever present Personage about whom legends are rife in the East, especially among the Occultists and the students of the Sacred Science. It is he who changes form, yet remains ever the same. And it is he again who holds spiritual sway over the initiated Adepts throughout the whole world... He is the " Initiator" , called the Great Sacrifice. For, sitting at the threshold of Light, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know—aye, neither on this Earth, nor in its heaven? Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-Life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few Elect may profit by the Great Sacrifice... It is under the direct, silent guidance of this MAHA-(great)-GuRu that all the other less divine Teachers and instructors of mankind became, from the first awakening of human consciousness, the guides of early Humanity."
2 vide C. I. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton, NJ 1987.
3 " Ta-mo-yin-t'o-ho-szu" represents the Chinese orthography of an Indo-European name. What the Sanskrit version of this name would have been is anyone's guess. Tucci says: " Perhaps the first four characters may transcribe a Prakrit Dhammenda (Dharmendra); as to ho-szu one may suppose, hasa, joy, smile. But a name Dharmendrahasa is hardly possible."
4 Tsepon Shakabpa, Tibet, A Political History, NY 1984.
5 Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton 1987. The legality of Songtsen Gampo's claim over Zangzung, if there can be said to have been anything legal in the slaughter of the king and the rape of the country, may have rested in the matriarchal rights of Se-mar-kar (Songtsen Gampo's sister), who upon marriage would have become the Matriarch and hence the chief ruler of the land.
6 The Gyalrab Selwai Melong, or " Crystal Mirror of Royalty" , states that Songtsen Gampo was 16 on his marriage with the Nepalese princess, who was then 18, and three years later he built his P'o-dang Mar-po, or " Red Palace" , on the Red Mountain of Lhasa. Since he was born in 617, this would mean that he was married in 633 A.D. and moved his capital from the Yarlung valley to the mount of Lhasa in 636 A.D. However, the Chinese records, which most scholars take to be more accurate, place the marriage in 639, three years after the building of the new Palace.
7 Amsuvarman, whose name means " Shining Armor," is mentioned by Hiuen Tsiang as reigning about 637 A.D. In several inscriptions ranging from 635 to 640 it appears that he was of the Thakuri dynasty and a feudatory of the powerful Buddhist king Harshavardhana of Kanauj. After the death of the latter he apparently became independent. He died in 639-640 A.D. and after his death the Tibetans succeeded in installing King Narendra-deva as his successor.
8 Tsepon Shakabpa, Tibet, A Political History, NY 1984.
9 L. A. Waddell, Tibetan Buddhism, NY 1972 ed.
10 Ibid. Waddell, for all his anti-Tibetan prejudices, is nevertheless correct in stating that Songtsen Gampo " was not the saintly person the grateful Lamas picture, for he is seen from reliable Chinese history to have been engaged all his life in bloody wars, and more at home in the battlefield than the temple."
11 Mahavairocanabhisambodhi-vikurvati-adhisthana-vaipulyasutra. See Minoru Kiyota, Shingon Buddhism, (BBI),1978, for a scholarly analysis of this Yoga-tantra tradition.
12 After leaving Uddiyana, Subhakarasimha made his way north over the Hindu Kush into Central Asia. He suffered sickness and attacks by bandits, but survived the difficult journey, arriving in Chang-an, the imperial capital of China, in 716 A.D.
13 Skt: Cinta-mani. This is represented in art as a bluish colored stone as large as a crystal ball. Mani literally means "stone", in contrast to the word "jewel" (ratna). The term Cinta means "thought". The Cintamani is literally the "thought-stone" or the stone which magnifies one's thoughts, i.e., fulfils one's wishes.
14 Wolfram von Eschenbach, an early thirteenth century Bavarian knight, is one of the earliest composers of a European Grail story. In his long and colourful poem, Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach described the Grail as a " stone of the purest kind" called lapsit exillis. " By the power of that stone," he said, " the phoenix burns to ashes, but the ashes give him life again. Thus does the phoenix molt and change its plumage, which after is bright and shining... There never was a human so ill but that, if he one day sees that stone, he cannot die within the week that follows. And in youth he shall not fade... This stone is also known as the Grail."
15 Evans-Wentz's text, An Epitome of the Life and Teachings of Tibet's Great Guru Padmasambhava, isa translation of U. rgyan. u. u. pa. dma.'byunggnas. gyi. rnam. thar gyas.pa. gser gyi. phreng. ba. thar. lam. gsal. byed. bzhug. so., but his production is now very much dated. Evans-Wentz was not familiar with Tibetan and employed Lama Karma Sumdhon Pal, Lobzang Mingyur Dorje, and Kazi Dawa-Samdup, none of whom were skilled in English, to produce a translation which he then edited. Nevertheless Evans-Wentz deserves special credit for his heroic efforts to introduce Tibetan texts to the Western world.
16 In the Grail legends the hero Parceval/Purcell becomes the adopted heir of the Grail Kingdom simultaneous with the healing of King Anfortas' mysterious thigh wound. The land too becomes fruitful. There is an actual instance in medieval history where this 'Grail Legend' merged with an historical event: namely when Eustache I (b. 1009) was adopted by Ernicule, Count of Boulogne. Eustache 1, a model for the Parceval character, was the grandfather of Baudoin, the first King of Jerusalem of the Crusading period.
17 The Nyingma school possesses two kinds of tantric scripture: the Kah-ma, or "Sacred Word" that has been handed down since very ancient times, and the Ter-ma, or "Sacred Treasure", which in different periods has been discovered or revealed by various saintly treasure finders (Terton). Ter-ma can include both those texts which from time to time are discovered hidden away in old temple crypts, etc., and what are known as books of Revelation.
18 Skt: Buddha Amitabha, the Boundless Luminosity of Absolute-being (buddha). Lord Padmasambhava has been called the divine incarnation or Tulku of Amitabha. Scholars have suggested that Amitabha here corresponds with the Persian "Ahura Mazda". He is also thought of as an aspect of Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist archetype of love and compassion, especially as the latter, likewise, is called " the son of the Buddha" , or son of the Infinite Light (Amitabha).
19 John 16:5-14
20 Tib: Pema Gyalpo.
21 Simhapura was a kingdom south of Uddiyana in what today is called the Salt Range. Hiuen Tsiang refers to it as Sang-ho-pu-lo and locates its capital where today stands Khetas. The temples, shrines, fort and bathhouses of Khetas, once sacred to Avalokitesvara and later to the Hindu god Siva, are now deserted. Marriage contracts or engagements were made between the parents of the prospective couple in India at very early ages. Padmasambhava was probably twelve years of age when such a contract was formed. The children are officially married by Indian custom from that point on, but they do not begin living as a married couple until much later. The term "engagement" therefore, in this context, is more suitable than saying "marriage".
22 Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford 1954. If Padmasambhava was born in 732 A.D., then he would have been 13 years old when Uddiyana was overrun by the Kingdom of Kapisa. This is confirmed also in another manner: Tsele Natsok Rangdrol says that, " Padmasambhava stayed five years in the royal palace of Uddiyana." He was adopted at eight and he stayed five years, means that he was thirteen when he went into exile.
23 Tib: Lo-den Chokse. If Padmasambhava was born in 732 A.D., then the years spent in Kashmir would have been roughly from the age of 13 to 20. The latter age of 20 is assumed only on the basis that the next event in his life mentioned in the various accounts is his ordination at Bodh Gaya. The full ordination of a Bhikkshu, or Buddhist monk, such as was received by Padmasambhava, is not given until the person has attained maturity. He must therefore have been at least 20 years of age.
24 In Dudjom Rinpoche's The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism it is stated that he was born in the royal house of Western India. Tibetan historians declare that Prabhahasti and Sakyaprabha were one and the same person. They state that when the great Vinaya teacher Sakyaprabha, born in Western India, went from Kashmir to Bodh Gaya, he became a tantric practitioner and henceforth was known as Prabhahasti. This view is not feasible for a number of reasons. Sakyaprabha lived during the reign of King Gopala. Born in Western India, he became a famous Vinaya teacher in Kashmir. His preceptor was Punyakirti and his three chief students were called Sakyamitra, Sakyaprabha II, and Sakyasimha. Prabhahasti was born in Zahor, his preceptor was called Santiprabha, and his chief student was Sakyasimha (i.e., later known as Padmasambhava).
25 Tib: Sakya-sengge (sa.kya.seng.ge).
26 This is the same cremation where a generation earlier Sri Pramodavajra had first spread the Dzogchen teachings.
27 That Humkara was the chief influence on Padmasambhava during this period is based not on what is said in the biographies, but in the fact that Padmasambhava's chief spiritual practice, following his stay in Sitavana, consisted of the Sri Samyak Heruka sadhana. Afterwards he augmented this sadhana with the Vajrakilaya practices that he received from Prabhahasti. It should be noted that Prabhahasti was himself a disciple of Humkara. 202 Suvarna Sampradaya.
28 Mahamudra, Great Seal, the profound realization of self and all phenomena as the Divine.
29 Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford 1954. A better translation of this passage, but not substantially different, may be found in The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, vol. 1, page 222, as published by Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, CA., 1978.
30 Princess Sakyadevi was the daughter of King Sukhadhara of Nepal.
31 Tib: Panchen. The name Vadisimha is in Tibetan Sengge Dra-drok (seng.ge.sgra.sgrogs). Since he was known as Bhikshu Sakyasimha, this is nova significant change in name. It might be debatable whether he was addressed as a Mahopadhyaya (Tib: Khanchen) or a Mahapandita (Tib: Panchen), but there are some reasons why the latter would seem to have been the proper title.
32 Tib: Lama Pema-jungne (bla.ma.pa.dma.byung.nas).
33 If Padmasambhava was born in the Water Monkey year of 732 as the sacred texts state, then he would have been 54 years of age when he made the difficult journey into the Land of Snow.
34 Bodhisattvacaryavatara, by the Mahasanghika saint Bhikshu Santideva. The line is quoted by Gerasimova, Obnovlencheskoye Dvizhentye Buryatskogo Lamaistskogo Dukhovenstva, Ulan Ude, 1983, p. 66.
35 Mu-ne brTsan-po, 798-804 A.D.
36 Prof. Tucci, Preliminary Report on an Archaeological Survey o f Swat, states that " Lankapuri is, as known, Laghman." Laghman, an independent nation prior to Hiuen Tsiang's time, had certainly become a tributary province of Kapisa by 629 A.D. Since Kabul was not overrun - and then only temporarily - by the Moslem invasion until as late as 870 A.D., Laghman's status would still have been that of a Buddhist province of Kapisa (Shambhala) in 804 A.D. The Sanskrit name of the country was Lampaka and Hiuen Tsiang lists it as Lan-po. The sacred mountain in question would be that of Sri Aruna Parvata, Aruna " the Red" , now thought by some to be the Chehel Dukhtaran peak. Eminently logical as Prof. Tucci's argument may sound, Laghman was not Padmasambhava's " Lankapuri." Sometime around 950 A.D., a certain King Indrabhuti of Uddiyana married his sister, Laksminkara, to the " Hindu king of Lankapuri." This latter, a kingdom south of Uddiyana (and definitely not Laghman), we can identify with Hiuen Tsiang's Simhapura in the Salt Range, for just as Ceylon is known as Sri Lanka today, and anciently Lankapuri, so also has it been known as Simhapuri; the names are interchangeable. The actual site of the ancient Padmavabhasa Citadel in the Salt Range is still open to question: it could be near Malot, not far from Ketas (the ancient capital of Simhapura), where now stands the red sandstone remains of some eighth century Kashmiri style temples; or it could have been at Mount Sukesar (4,992 ft), the highest peak in the Range. The latter may be the Arunachala, the " Red Mountain" of Padmasambhava's biography. Near Mount Sukesar, at Amb, are the signs of a ruined Hindu town with fortified walls and temples that go back to the eighth century. Jean Fairly, The Lion River, who visited the Salt Range in the 1970s, talks of " the bald redness of the mountains" rising from the barren yellow desert of the plains. Another but less likely location for the Guru's final residence would be the old fort at Nandana, later occupied by the Hindushahi rulers when they fled from their capital at Wahind after their defeat in 1001 A.D. by Mahmud of Ghazni.
37 The Best of Horses, is closely related to Pegasus, or the Wind Horse, which carries on its back the Cintamani jewel. The Messiah rides just this horse: " I saw heaven open and behold, there was a white horse, and the one there on was called Faith and Truth... His eyes are a flame of fire, and many diadems crown his head, and he has a name written which no one knows except himself. He was clothed in garments red as blood and has been called the Logos of God. And the armies of heaven follow him on white horses..."
Kagyu Tradition -
Dharma Fellowship -
Dharma House -
NYC Center -
© Copyright Dharma Fellowship, 2005-2014.