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Padmasambhava

by Dr. Davide Torri

Padmasambhava (Sanskrit) "the lotus-born," Guru Rinpoche (Tibetan), "the precious master."

He is one of the most important characters of Tibetan Buddhism. Sometimes called "the second Buddha" (Tibetan Sangs-rgyas gnys-pa), he is credited for the diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth and ninth centuries. His life is told in several hagiographic texts, dating since the twelfth century.

Padmasambhava was born from a sacred mantra, the syllable hri, which fell from the heart of Amitābha into a lotus flower floating over the waters of the Danakosha lake. This miraculous child was taken to the royal palace, where king Indrabodhi adopted him. He became thus the designated heir to the throne of the kingdom of Oddiyana (Swat Valley, Afghanistan), with the name of Pema Gyalpo.

As a prince, he married the princess Bhasadhara. After few years, he disappointed his father and was thus sent into exile. He settled into a graveyard into the wilderness, becoming friend of the dakinis and meditating upon life and death. He started to travel from graveyard to graveyard, always studying the sacred texts and meditating, and he became disciple of various spiritual masters.

Once a master himself, he traveled extensively through northern India and Nepal, winning many people to the Buddhist faith. He performed also miraculous feats, and his name became widely known as one of the greatest master of his age.

He was subduing various demons in the mountains of Nepal and Bhutan when he was reached by emissaries sent by Trisong Detsen, King of Tibet. The king was building a Buddhist monastery in Samye, but he was confronting the fierce opposition of local deities and their worshipers. With his exorcist powers, Padmasambhava defeated them and the great Samye monastery was finally built and consecrated.

He then gave initiation to his new Tibetan disciples, the king among them. He took as spiritual consort the queen Yeshe Tshogyal, and traveled with her, hiding in secret caves holy texts to be discovered in the future, the so-called gter-ma, "spiritual treasures."

After that, he left Tibet for the demon-land, where he established the Pure Land called "The Glorious Copper Mountain" (Tibetan Zangs-mdog dpal-ri).

Iconography:
The usual image of Padmasambhava is the one of a young man with a white face with thin moustaches, seated on a lotus made up of the sun and the moon, in the so-called "lotus posture" (Sanskrit padmasana). Wearing three robes (white, blue, red), he raises his right hand holding a Vajra; his left hand holds a skull-cup with the Nectar of Immortality. Sometimes he holds also the Kathvanga, a staff adorned with human heads and skulls.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Guru Rinpoche
    Padma 'byung gnas
  • Etymology:
    The lotus-born

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