This post follows Lotus-Born Padmasambhava. It’s about Padmasambhava, a great Buddhist teacher responsible for bringing Buddhism to Tibet, from India. ~ ed.
All of us are Buddha from the beginning.
In the first article on Padmasambhava, we looked at the inner meaning of the term “Lotus Born,” and discovered that it symbolizes inherent purity—that we are all originally good. This does not apply exclusively to Padmasambhava—it means that all of us are Buddha from the beginning.
This view is based on our essential nature, which comes down to pure awareness. That is the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be a sentient being. Duality and conflicting emotions cover this essential awake nature but are not intrinsic to it. That is both the “ground” of Padmasambhava’s story and the view of vajrayana.
In the previous article we also described the “path” as stepping into that view, which takes constant practice. Every time we get stuck, cling, fixate, separate self from other—we can pop ourselves out of that confused state of mind with insight and awareness. We can remember the view [overall point]. Part of our journey includes learning how to manifest skillfully in order to benefit others. Even enlightened figures of seemingly mythic proportions like Padmasambhava had to make this journey.
The story goes that in the 8th century, King Trisong Detsun invited two mahapanditas (teachers Shantirakshita and Vimalamitra) from India in order to spread the buddhadharma in Tibet. This was during the T’ang dynasty in China, when Tibet was entering history as a great power and eventually conquered China. Shantirakshita and Vimalamitra dutifully brought with them a great collection of sutra and vajrayana texts to translate into Tibetan. But Shantirakshita’s monastic and mahyana efforts—and even Vimalamitra’s tantric but very Indian approaches—were countered by the wild and powerful indigenous Bonpos. Bonpos are otherwise known as earthy shamen, animistic priests and frightening exorcists. The popular Bon beliefs were rooted well in the rough Tibetan soil, and the two Indian masters who had lived sheltered, secure and scholarly lives had no idea how to deal with the local forces when they rose up in revolt.
When Shantirakshita tried to build the first monastery in Tibet, the Bonpos took it apart stone by stone at night! When lightening and thunder storms struck Central Tibet, causing flash floods, the harvest was destroyed and Tibetans believed the Bon spirits were displeased with the attempt to introduce the buddhadharma.
The Indian panditas felt out-matched, undone and unwelcome. Shantirakshita confessed to the King, “I have mastered love and compassion, but [these forces] cannot be subdued by such peaceful methods. Only wrathful methods will work.”
Shantirakshita knew that Padmasambhava was up to such a challenge, and suggested that King Trisong Detsun invite him to tame the forces of Bon.
The king’s emissaries found Padmasambhava in Nepal. When they offered him gold, he flung it in the ten directions as an offering to the dharma, so that it might spread everywhere. Although he agreed to come to Tibet, he wanted to travel on foot to make a connection with the rugged mountain terrain, cold climate and different customs of the Tibetan people.
On arrival he faced the resistance of the stubborn and savage Bonpos, but he rose in relation to the obstacles they put in his way. Padmasambhava’s journey on foot to Tibet had taught him a great deal about this country, its primitive beliefs and conventions that ruled daily life. He wanted to transplant the essential buddhadharma in Tibet; he didn’t have any notion of “Indian-izing” a foreign land. On his journey, he had developed great affection for the Tibetan people and enjoyed being in a country free from familiar reference points. Everything was fresh and wakeful. Because of this “crazy wisdom” openness, he saw the Bon energy and was able to harness that energy for the dharma.
Padmasambhava became more wrathful, powerful and scary than the Bonpos. Manifesting as Dorje Trollo (Indestructible Wrathful Compassion) he seemed bigger than life—especially since he was, according to legend, riding a hungry pregnant tigress! What? Yes, he boggled the minds of the Bonpos and believers in Bon. And in their full stop, wondering mind-gap, he converted these “demonic forces” into dharma protectors. He made it so that the Bonpos now helped to build Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
It is interesting to note that Samye means beyond thought. Padmasambhava’s crazy wisdom was so abrupt and non-conceptual, that he outdid the Bonpos in their own game of spectacle, smoke and mirrors. In doing so he was able to destroy their primitive beliefs about reality—that phenomena and self are solid.
The new dharma protectors now helped to build Samye. The three levels of the monastery were completed with surrounding buildings and a wall surmounted by 108 stupas in only five years, when it had been anticipated to take at least ten.
The Bonpos respected Padmasambhava. They were in awe. But although Padmasambhava was uncompromising, he had not used his power for himself, but for the dharma. Thus he was able to tame these seemingly untamable beings and bring them to the path of liberation.
Padmasambhava’s spontaneous awareness joined with wrathful compassion displays the crazy wisdom “fruition” of the story. He pacified, enriched, magnetized and destroyed whatever needed to be pacified, enriched, magnetized and destroyed—beginning with his first steps on his journey into Tibet, to his taming the Bonpos.
Now Shantirakshita was able, as Abbot of Samye, to ordain the first seven Tibetan monks. And he and Vimalamitra could now set about translating sutras and tantras into Tibetan.
Because Padmasambhava spent the rest of his life in Tibet practicing and teaching, he became known in Tibet as the “Second Buddha.” What he taught was the view of primordial purity—the “ground.” The inner meaning of his story serves as a reminder of this view, and it also reminds us to apply it to ourselves; in so doing we practice that view as “path.”
And finally, the inner meaning of the story is encouragement to us to manifest skillfully in the world in order to benefit beings—the “fruition.”
Padmasambhava’s charisma impressed itself firmly in the hearts of Tibetans and he continues to be an enduring symbol of the victory of wisdom and compassion over narrow, materialistic and self-serving beliefs.
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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