Padmasambhava Buddhism


Padmasambhava (in German: Lotosgeborener; also: Guru Rinpoche, Guru Padma, Padina Sambhava or Padmakara; 8th century AD to 9th century AD) is considered the founder of Buddhism in Tibet at the time of King Thrisong Detsen (756 to 796) in Tibet.

Life and work

There are only few historically confirmed facts about Padmasambhava's life, his existence is surrounded by legends to a great extent. He grew up as a foster son of King Indrabhuti in what is now Pakistan.

He is said, as recorded among other things in the seven-line prayer in the Ngöndro exercises of the Nyingma tradition, not to have been born of a woman, but to have been miraculously born on a lotus in a lake in Oddiyana.

The land of Oddiyana, which can be traced by Buddhist scriptures, is now believed to be in the ancient region of Gandhara. Various sūtras of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni pointed to his coming, for example, the Nirvana Sutra, the Spotless Goddess Sutra, and the Sutra of Inconceivable Mysteries.

Padmasambhava is considered to be an incarnation of the Buddha Amitabha, in whom the siddhis of all Buddhas of all times manifested.

According to tradition, he was adopted as a son by the king of Oddiyana, but later banished from the kingdom for allegedly killing the son of a minister.

Further, the narratives about his life tell that he studied the five classical sciences of India as well as astrology, was ordained as a monk by Prabahasti in India, and subsequently received the teachings of the outer and inner Tantras from many Indian masters.

He was a disciple of the "Eight Knowledge Holders of India" (Hungkara, Manjushrimitra, Nagarjuna, Prabhahasti, Dhanasamskrita, Vimalamitra, Rombuguhya and Shantigarba) and many other masters. He received the teachings and empowerments of the "Great Perfection" (Dzogchen) from Garab Dorje and Sri Singha.

Princess Mandarava of Zahor was Padmasambhava's Indian tantric consort, and Princess Yeshe Tsogyal of Kharchen was his most important tantric consort in Tibet. Both are often shown on thangkas at Padmasambhava's side.

Foundation of Samye Monastery

The life stories of Padmasambhava contain many accounts of his supernatural work. He is said to have subdued the spirits and demons of the snow country who opposed Buddhism through tantric powers and bound many of them to the Buddha's teachings as Dharma protectors.

Padmasambhava was instrumental in establishing the first Buddhist monastery, Samye, because of his special abilities. With the establishment of this monastery (in 769 or 775) by the Tibetan king Thrisong Detsen (759-797), the first wave of translations of Buddhist scriptures from India to Tibet began.

From this first translation period, beginning at the end of the eighth century, emerged the school of "Old Translations" (Nyingma), in contrast to the second translation period, beginning in the eleventh century, from which developed the "New Schools" (Sarma) of Tibetan Buddhism (Kadam, Kagyü, Sakya, and Gelug).

The Nyingma tradition traces its tradition to the introduction of the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) at the time of Thrisong Detsen by Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra (a learned siddha), Vairocana and their hundreds of disciples, the abbot Shantarakshita of Nalanda, and the scholar Kamalashila.

More than a hundred scholars and translators gathered at that time and translated the teachings of Sutra and Tantra from Sanskrit into Tibetan. Many of the esoteric teachings, especially those on Dzogchen ("Great Perfection") were brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and Vairocana.

Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava

The activity of Padmasambhava is represented in his life stories in the form of symbolic Buddha activity. For the different activities Padmasambhava took different manifestations according to the tradition. Of these, the so-called "Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava" (Tib.: gu ru mtshan brgyad) are of particular importance:

Guru Dorje Drölö (tib.: gu ru rdo rje gro lod)
Guru Loden Chogse (tib.: gu ru blo ldan mchog sred)
Guru Nyima Öser (tib.: gu ru nyi ma 'od zer)
Guru Orgyen Dorje Chang (tib.: gu ru o rgyan rdo rje 'chang)
Guru Pema Gyelpo (tib.: gu ru pad ma rgyal po)
Guru Pema Chungne (tib.: gu ru pa ma 'byung gnas)
Guru Sengge Dradog (tib.: gu ru seng ge sgra sgrog)
Guru Shakya Sengge (tib.: gu ru sha kya seng ge)

Sengge Dradrog represents the subjugation of non-Buddhists, Dorje Drölö represents the concealment of termas and the binding of spirits by oath, and Nyima Öser represents the subjugation of demonic spirits.

25 disciples

Of Padmasambhava's disciples, the so-called 25 disciples of Chimphu have become famous for their high realization and manifestation of siddhi. These are:

Trisong Detsen (Tib.: ཁྲི་སྲོང་ལྡེའུ་བཏཟན, khri srong lde'u btzan)
the translator Tsemang of Denma (Denma Tsemang; tib.: ldan ma rtse mang)
Dorje Düdjom of Nanam (sna nam pa rdo rje bdud 'joms; minister Thrisong Detsens, sent to Nepal to invite Padmasambhava)
the translator Drokben Khyechung Lotsawa (also: Lokyi Chungpa; tib.: lo ki chung pa)

Gyelwa Changchub of Lasum (tib.: la gsum rgyal ba byang chub)
Gyelwa Chogyang of Nganlam (ngan lam rgyal ba mchog dbyangs)
Gyelwe Lodrö of Dre (tib.: 'bre rgyal ba'i blo gros)
the translator Jnanakumara of Nyak (Tib.: gnyag jna na ku ma ra; also: Jnanakumaravajra, Nyag Lotsawa)
the translator Kawa Peltseg (tib.: ska ba dpal brtsegs)

Khandro Yeshe Tshogyel of Kharchen (tib.མཁར་ཆེན་བཟའ་མཚོ་རྒྱལ,mkhar chen bza' mtsho rgyal)
Könchog Chungne of Langdrö (tib.: lang gro dkon mchog 'byung gnas; minister Thrisong Detsens and translator)

Lhapal Shönnu, the Sokpo (Tib.: sog po lha dpal gzhon nu)
Namkhe Nyingpo of Nub (Tib.: gnubs nam mkha'i snying po; one of the first Buddhist monks in Tibet, translator)

the translator Nanam Shang Yeshe De (tib.: zhang sna nam ye shes sde)
Pelgyi Dorje of Lhalung (lha lung dpal gyi rdo rje; who killed Langdarma)
Pelgyi Sengge of Lang (tib.: rlangs dpal gyi seng ge)
Pelgyi Wangchug of Kharchen (tib.: mkhar chen dpal gyi dbang phyug; the father of Yeshe Tshogyel)

Pelgyi Wangchug of Odren (tib.: 'o dran dpal gyi dbang phyug)
Pelgyi Yeshe of Drogmi (brog mi dpal gyi ye shes)
Rinchen Chog of Ma (rma rin chen mchog; one of the first Buddhist monks in Tibet; translator)

Sanggye Yeshe of Nub (Tib.: gnubs sangs rgyas ye shes)
Pelgyi Sengge of Shubu (shud bu dpal gyi seng ge; minister of Thrisong Detsen, translator)
the translator Vairocana (tib. བཻ་རོ་ཙ་ན,bai ro tsa na)
Yeshe Yang of Ba (tib.: sba ye shes dbyangs)

the translator Yudra Nyingpo of Gyelmo (rgyal mo g.yu sgra snying po)
Other important disciples of Padmasambhava included the translator Chogro Lui Gyeltshen (cog ro klu'i rgyal mtshan), the Bon master Drenpa Namkha, the princess Pema Sel (daughter of Trisong Detsen), the princess of Zahor Mandarava (man da ra ba me tog).

Terma tradition

A distinctive feature of the Nyingma tradition is the "hidden treasures" (terma). Padmasambhava and his closest disciples hid hundreds of texts, ritual objects and relics in secret places to protect the teachings of Buddhism from destruction by the Tibetan king Lang Darma (reigned 836-842), who was hostile to Buddhism.

Thus, two types of transmission emerged in the Nyingma tradition: the so-called "long" lineage of transmission from master to disciple in an unbroken lineage, and the "short" lineage of transmission of the "hidden treasures."

The uncovered termas were later rediscovered by masters with special abilities, so-called "treasure finders" (tertons), and transmitted to their students. These masters were often regarded as incarnations of the 25 main disciples of Padmasambhava.

Thus, through the centuries, a multi-layered system of transmission lines emerged, constantly supplementing the teachings of the Nyingma schools with "fresh" teachings, each appropriate to its time, to lead disciples to awakening (bodhi).

Important tertöns included Nyangrel Nyima Öser (1124-1192), Guru Chöwang (1212-1270), Rigdzin Gödem (1307-1408), Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405), Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892).

Occasionally, however, tertöns also appeared in the three new schools. Among these Sarma Tertons were the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatsho (1617-1682) and the, originally from the Sakya lineage, master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892).

In the Buddhist context, however, hidden treasures are not something completely new. Termas have already been found in India. For example, Nagarjuna is said to have discovered the last chapter of the "Prajnaparamita Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Verses" as a terma in the mythological realm of the Nagas.

The Six Great Seats of the Nyingma

The life stories of Padmasambhava largely agree that he stayed in Tibet for 55 years and led many disciples to awakening during that time. According to Nyingma tradition, Padmasambhava is still working in this world to lead sentient beings to liberation, and his blessings are available to all who turn to him.

The main monasteries of the Nyingma school in Tibet are Mindrölling, Dorje Drag, Pelyül, Dzogchen, Shechen and Kathog. From these "great seats" of the Nyingma, a large number of Nyingma monasteries derive their origin.

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