February 9, 2011

Lotus-Born Padmasambhava? ~ Linda Lewis

Photo: Wonderlane

One usually thinks of the buddhadharma as the get-down religion…

… no god, no blind faith–just meditation, acknowledgment of suffering and a way to develop compassion. So what’s this about Padmasambhava being born on a lotus in the middle of Lake Dhanakosa? Sounds like “virgin birth” all over again. Or is it? As with most things in the vajrayana, there is an outer and inner meaning to the idea of Padmasambhava’s birth.

Padmasambhava, or Padmakara (which literally means lotus-born in Sanskrit) was that rare individual unstained by previous karma. Thus “lotus born” indicates that he only appeared to need a path in order to demonstrate to others that there was a way to liberation, and to learn the skills to tame and bring others onto that path. Being born on a white lotus symbolizes inherent purity–the view that we are all basically good. This is not meant in a dualistic way of good versus bad, for the lotus is actually nurtured by the mud of the lake bottom. This inner view is a far cry from original sin.

The story goes that Padmasambhava was born on a lotus in the middle of this lake in the Swat Valley of present-day Afghanistan, perhaps not far from where Bin Laden is hiding these days. At that time, this was Uddiyana, a prosperous Buddhist kingdom in a fertile river valley on the trade route between Persia and India. There he was discovered, looking more like an eight-year old child than an infant.

When Indrabhuti, the king of Uddiyana, first saw Padmasambhava, he asked the boy:

“Who are your parents?
Where is your country?
What are you doing here?”

These are the same questions we ourselves might ask in astonishment if we were to see a child seemingly alone in the middle of nowhere. But the child answered:

“My father is Awareness, Samantabhadra.
My mother is prosperous Samantabhadri.
My country is Dharmadhatu.
I eat dualistic thought as food.
My work is to subdue klesha (conflicting emotions).”

Obviously this was no conventional child!  But this is the very unconventional vajrayana view.

Padmasambhava’s awareness and insight are his parents. Our own awareness and insight are what help us grow up. Space is his country–everywhere and nowhere–just as space surrounds us and permeates everything, accommodates everything. He nourishes himself by feasting on the seeming duality of appearance and emptiness. Even without practice we can see the impermanence of everything, and thus glimpse the emptiness of the vivid displays that appear before our eyes. But if we train in meditation then like Padmakara, we can conquer whatever emotions–for example, greed, aggression, or bewilderment–arise.

In the vajrayana we are presented with the full-blown enlightened view; and the path is simply the invitation to step into that view. So this unstained child is actually each one of us as a tantric beginner.  We are being invited to maintain awareness and insight. We are warned not to get stuck, not to cling.

The rest of story is best told by the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his book, Crazy Wisdom. It is important to see the inner meaning of Padmasambhava’s training and adventures, his journey from the royal court of Indrabhuti to the charnel ground called Cool Grove, Northeast of Bodhgaya. There he meets his vajra master Shri Simha, who doesn’t give him pointing-out instructions immediately. Instead, he is sent to a female guru in order to subdue his pride from having been a prince.

So, what is sometimes called the “ground” of this story is the unborn, primordially pure mind of Padmasambhava and of us all. And what is called the “path” involves both Padmasambhava and our journey to discover how to manifest skillfully in order to benefit others. Padmasambhava’s story is comprised of many exciting events, which take place from Uddiyana to various kingdoms in India–then to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. His story seems somewhat mythic in proportion, but it is important to remember the inner meaning, which has direct relevance to us today.

Perhaps in the next article we can explore the final fruition of Padmasambhava’s adventure in Tibet…

Linda Lewis met the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and immediately moved to Boulder, Colorado to be a part of his young and vital sangha. The predominant themes in her life have been teaching in contemplative schools–Vidya, Naropa, and the Shambhala School in Halifax, Nova Scotia–and studying, practicing, or teaching his Shambhala Buddhadharma wherever she finds herself.

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Beth Williamson Feb 9, 2011 10:31pm

What's maybe more to the point, it's lovely how Linda makes Padmasambha so personal.

Beth Williamson Feb 9, 2011 10:24pm

Linda placed the inner and outer Padmasambhava right on top of each other. In this way I'm happy to be reminded of my participation in both the relative and absolute. Interfacing them makes it clear how they are both different and related. I always appreciate keeping these two realities very clear. They are each so immediate, constant, and liberated when allowed to co-exist as they are. Informed by many, many years of practice and study, this article sparkles with intense clarity.

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