Padmasambhava the Lotus-born – popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master – is revered throughout the Himalayan ranges as Second Buddha. In invited from India in the eight century to subjugate the forces inhibiting the spread of Shakyamuni’s teachings, he managed to transform hitherto hostile power into guardians and protectors of the pure dharma and, in the process, left an indelible mark on the entire Himalayan region.
In quite a literal sense, Guru Rinpoche’s mark is to be found throughout the Himalayan ranges in and around the many caves he used for meditation. At these sites one can still see handprints and footprints of the Precious Master impressed into solid rock, mute testimony to the extraordinary power this fully accomplished yogi and tantric magician exercised over the external and internal elements.
Guru Rinpoche embodies the ultimate attainment of the Vajrayana and the power, both temporal and spiritual, associated with this peerless attainment. These powerful attributes are reflected in (Plate 27), which shows Guru Rinpoche wearing an expression of great force and concentration while holding various implements of power such as the vajra scepter, skull-cup and trident staff. He is dressed not only in the robes of a monk but also in the garments of a king to indicate that he is a member of both worldly and religious royalty. The artist has depicted the waters beneath Guru Rinpoche’s throne as swirling and turbulent to enhance this impression of all encompassing power.
Concerning his birth, Guru Rinpoche himself said:
Some people believe that I revealed myself upon the pollen
bed of a lotus in the Dhanakosha Lake in the country of Orgyen;
some people believe I was born as Prince of Orgyen; and other
believe that I came in the flash of a thunderbolt to the Namchak
hilltop; there are many distinct beliefs held by different individuals
and peoples, for I have appeared in many forms.
However, twenty four years after the parinirvana of the
Buddha Shakyamuni, the Adibuddha of Boundless light,
and from the heart of the great compassionate one, I
Padma, the Lotus Born Guru, was emanated as the syllable
HRI. I came like falling rain throughout the world in
Innumerable billions of forms to those who were ready to
receive me. The actions of the enlightened ones are in-
comprehensible! Who is to define or measure them!5
As his biography relates, Guru Rinpoche was adopted by King Indrabhuti of Orgyen who made him his heir. This set the stage for padmasambhava, as Prince of Orgyen, to perform many of the same deeds that Shakyamuni performed as prince Siddhartha. He married the daughter of a neighboring king, lived luxuriously in the royal household and eventually, renouncing that life in favor of pursuing a greater destiny, departed from his father’s kingdom to give himself over to austerities. He then went to Benares where he learned astrology from Arjuna, a member of the Shakya clan, and later studied medicine, languages, composition and various arts and crafts mastering them all.
Finally he met Ananda, who had been the personal attendant of the Buddha, received ordination as a Buddhist monk, and practiced both the sutra and tantra aspects of Buddha’s teachings. Form the guru Garab Dorje, an emanation of Vajrasattva, he received instructions on the Great Perfection, “ His experience of these Great Perfection ( Tib. Dzongchen) teaching has been described as follows:
All the deities and the buddhas came to padma’s aid. Some created a lake, some cast aside the wood. Some unrolled the oil-soaked cloth, some fanned him. On the seventh day afterwards the king looked forth and, seeing that there was still smoke coming from the pyre, thought to himself, “This mendicant may have been, after all, some incarnation,” and he sent ministers to investigate. To their astonishment they saw a rainbow-enhaloed lake where the pyre had been and surrounding the lake all the wood aflame, and at the center of the lake a lotus blossom upon which sat a beautiful child with a dew-like perspiration. Eight maidens of the same appearance as mandarava attended the child.
Today this lake remains an important pilgrimage spot and is considered a particularly blessed site for meditative practice.
Of all Padmasambhava’s enlightening deeds, those the Tibetan people cherish most relate to his introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism into the Land of Snow. King Trisong Detsen – himself considered an incarnation of Manjushri – invited him to remove the obstacles hindering the construction and consecration of Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in that land. Subjugating these evil forces and transforming them into protectors of the dharma, Padmasambhava not only established Samye (c.779) as a center for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout Tibet, but laid the foundation for what later become known as the Nyingma tradition. His twenty five closest disciples mastered and transmitted the various aspects of Guru Rinpoche’s teachings, and through a succession of such great lineage lamas as Longchen Rabjampa(1308-1363)9 and Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798)10 these teachings have been passed on and are still practiced today.