Monday 23 May 2022
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Lotus Born

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]oubtlessly, the most powerful and legendary master of Tibetan Buddhism is Padmasambhava – the lotus born, second only to the Buddha himself. Known in the Tibetan tradition as Rimpoche, very little is certain about the historical facts of this influential figure except for his advent in the 8th century. Regardless, there are many stories and lore around his life and miraculous abilities abound in the sources.

Padmasambhava, in tradition, is deemed inseparable from Samantabhadra {Sanskrit, “Universal Worthy”, bodhisattva associated with meditative practice}, and is an emanation or essence of Amitabha or Amitāyus Buddha who is the patron of Immeasurable Life and Light.

It is believed by Tibetan Buddhists that Padmasambhava was found as an 8-year old child inside a blooming lotus in a land South West of Oḍḍiyāna which was among the 4 most powerful Shankipeethas is ancient India. Scholars believe Oḍḍiyāna might have been in the present day Swat Valley of Pakistan, though a small fraction also contend that it may have been in Odisa.

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A statue of Padmasambhava. Photographer: John Hill

At that time the ruler of the land of Oḍḍiyāna, king Indrabodhi, was residing in his palace with his queen as well as hundreds of ministers. Because the king did not have a son, on the full moon day of the fifth summer month, he made great offerings to the triple gems of Buddhism and recited the Dharma Cloud Sutra. He also opened the door of his treasuries and went on distributing alms to the poor and needy until his wealth was exhausted. The story goes that he then went to a lake in search of an inexhaustible gem to be able to perform more charities, where his minister found the 8-year old boy. The king asked the child about his father, mother, caste and country, to which the boy answered:
My father is the self-arisen Samantabhadra.
My mother is the sphere of reality, Samantabhadri.
My caste is the union of primordial wisdom and the Dharmadhatu.
And my name is the glorious Padmasambhava.

Delighted, the king took the child to his palace and raised him as a son. Later Padmasambhava married Prabhadharani, the daughter of king Chandan Gomashree, and ruled the kingdom in accordance with the Dharma. He became renown as Shikhabandh Raja or “The King With Plaited Hair.” Eventually as he got involved in the politics of kingship, his enemies managed to get him thrown out of the kingdom and forced him to live in a cremation ground known as Sitavana outside of town. But contrary to what his punishers expected, Padmasambhava, on the guidance of a Dakini, started practicing Tantrik rituals in that dangerous environment and soon acquired many powerful and rare siddhis. He moved from one cremation ground to another performing increasingly complex rituals in every place, and soon became known as Rodravajrakala – The Art of the Wrathful Vajra.

After attaining to a high state of proficiency in Tantra, he toured many religious places, engaged in debates with opponents, and is said to have displayed his superior understanding and realization of the scriptures. However debates were only a small part of the mystics life, while penance and sadhana formed the core.

Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro mention in the The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava: The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava, that in Tso Pema in Tibetan, Padmasambhava secretly taught tantric teachings to princess Mandarava, the local king’s daughter. The king found out and tried to burn him, but it is said that when the smoke cleared he just sat there, still alive and in meditation. Greatly astonished by this miracle, the king offered Padmasambhava both his kingdom and his daughter in marriage. Padmasambhava had 5 consorts who are believed to have been incarnations of different Dakinis. A Dakini in Tibetan Buddhism is a “Sky dancer”, or a force which can communicate between the physical and the astral worlds and carried souls of the dead. They are also known to act as teachers for those fit to receive their wisdom.

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Masked dance performed by Lamas in Bhutan to celebrated birth of Padmasambhava

Padmasambhava introduced the people of Tibet to the practice of Tantric Buddhism. He is regarded as the founder of the Nyingma school – Nyingma meaning ancient – which is the oldest of the 4 major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the Paro Valley in Bhutan, he brokered peace between Sendha, the king of Bumthang Valley, and a neighboring Indian king, Nauche. Padmasambhava is also said to have prophesied the founding of the kingdom of Bhutan by the legendary king Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century. On the 15th of June this year, when certain planetary combinations aligned in the skies which bear a remarkable similarity with the stars under which the great is said to have been born, many ceremonies were observed in Paro to mark the birth of this extraordinary mystic and teacher of Tantra.

His manifestations, mantra, Yoga

In Tibetan Buddhism Padmasambhava is considered to have taken 8 different forms to display 8 different attributes for the benefit of embodied beings, ranging from the most peaceful to the ferociously wrathful.

Uddiyana Vajradhara – Vajra holder from Oddiyana

Śākyasimha – Lion of the Sakyas

PadmarājaKing of the Tripitakas, worshiped as a young prince

Padmakara – Teacher of Dharma, born of a lotus

Mativat Vararuci – Related to Kashmir, this form indicates one who gathers all knowledge

Sūryaraśmi – Illuminates the darkness inside human minds

Vajra – A fierce manifestation of Vajrakilaya

Simhanāda – Lion of shastrartha, scriptural proficiency

[Vajra is a term used often in Tibetan scriptures as a symbol of indestructibility and unstoppable force. A combination of the static and dynamic aspect of Reality.]

Among all gurus who have come in the path of Vajrayana, Padmasambhava is regarded as the greatest and the most powerful. Specially his connection to the Dzogchen practices evolved into the stream known as Yoga where the seeker aims to connect his own mind to the eternal mind-stream of Padmasambhava and acquire the needed guidance on the path to realization.

“On an ultimate level,” remarked the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism from 1987 to 1991, “it is through Padmasambhava that we can realize the nature of mind and the meaning of Dzogchen or Mahamudra. For one cannot realize them without the practice of Yoga.”

Dzogchen or “Great Perfection”, also called Atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings aimed at attaining and maintaining the natural primordial state of the mind.

The most common mantra of Padmasambhava used by sadhakas and yogis is Om Ah Hung Benza Pema Siddhi Hung.

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Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan where Padmasambhava is said to have performed meditative practices

He left behind many secret teachings for future dissemination that were discovered later. For example the famous Bardo Thodol (commonly referred to as the Tibetan Book of the Dead) is believed to be his creation but had been kept hidden until a suitable yogi could rediscover it. There are many places in the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet where Padmasambhava is said to have performed intense spiritual practices. Naturally, these are now regarded as holy places in the tradition.

Clearly, without Padmasambhava’s advent, the Himalayan kingdoms of Tibet and Bhutan would never have converted to Tantrik Buddhism and the path of Vajrayana.



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Rajarshi Nandy
Rajarshi Nandy
He is a practising spiritualist, eternal pilgrim and, by profession, a technical writer. He does not belong or subscribe to a particular sect of Hinduism; he is open to the idea of exploring all of them.

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