Historical background of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche's life and times
From around 640 to 842 CE, Tibet was in a phase of expansion during which it
absorbed the state of Zhang-zhung, and then substantial Chinese, Nepalese
and other territories surrounding it. It was near the end of this period,
that under royal patronage, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery was founded at
It is Padmasambhava's journey through the Tibetan landscape during which he subdues and binds a succession of named deities at specific places that is at the core of accounts of his life. These events, mythical, legendary or historical have consequences for practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism today since they determine the way in which these beings are perceived and treated, in visualization, the making of representations and in other practices.
That is the most important aspect of his work, and the reason why he is referred to as Guru Rinpoche, being regarded as the "second Buddha." As a consequence, he is often considered the most important siddha or accomplished yogi, and he is the central figure in the lineages that continue to preserve and transmit the siddha tradition.
~ from 1995 paper by Prof. Geoffrey Samuel of Newcastle U., Australia
Some Tibetan parents cry out, "Guru Rinpoche," if a baby falls down or seems in danger. ~ Don Farber, Tibetan Buddhist Life. 2003.
Pema Kat'hang is the name for the various biographical material
concerning the life of the Guru, whose dates [see above] are also given as
ca. 730 - 805. The material is especially associated with the Nyingmapa
tradition. The one attributed to Yeshe Tsogyal (d. 817) is known in
English as The Lotus-Born.
The 8 Secluded Places of Practice: Appendix to Precious Teacher
Drak Yong Dzong:
Forms of the Guru
8 Forms of Guru Rinpoche as Observed in the Calendar
At regular intervals, one day is dedicated to the Guru. On each of these days, an event in his life is commemorated which corresponds to one of his eight forms. The first 3 in the year, beginning in the western lunar month after the winter solstice follow below. [details from Snow Lion Practice Calendar].
1. Guru Rinpoche renounces his kingdom, practices yoga and meditation in the great charnel ground of Sitavana, [Cool Grove] and attains liberation. Gathering under him the matrikas and dakinis, he is known as Guru Shantarakshita: Guardian [Protector] of Peace.
2. Guru Rinpoche receives rabjung ordination* from Buddha's favourite disciple, Ananda. He shows unparalleled understanding and mastery of both sutra and mantra, and is known as Guru Shakya Senge [Lion of the Shakyas] and, Guru Loden Choksé.
3. The king of Zahor tries to burn Guru Rinpoche alive. But he transforms the fire into lake Rewalsar [tso- pema] and establishes the Dharma in the land of Zahor, taking Mandarava as his consort. He is know as Guru Chimè Pemajugnè [Immortal Lotus-born].
4. When Tirthikas [disputing philosophers] from South India attempt to harm the Buddha Dharma, Guru Rinpoche with his great power vanquishes them along with their gods and guardians. Raising the Victory Banner of the Dharma, he is known as Guru Sengé Dradok- the Lion's Roar.
5. Birth of Guru Rinpoche, Guru Rinpoche Day: At sunrise Guru Rinpoche is miraculously born amidst dazzling radiance in a lotus bed on Lake Danakosha. Turning the Wheel of Dharma for the dakinis, he is know as Guru Tsokyé Dorje - Guru, the Lotus-Born Vajra.
6. The Tirthikas from Tamradvipa throw Guru Rinpoche into the Ganges. Rising from the water, he reverses the flow of the river and performs a Vajra Dance in the sky. The Tirthikas are inspired with devotion, and begin to follow the Dharma. Guru Rinpoche is known as Guru Khading Tsal- Guru soaring in the sky like the garuda .
7. Guru Rinpoche takes the form of Vajrakumara at Yang Leshö in Nepal, and subdues the local deities and negative forces. He performs the sadhana of Palchen Yangdak and atttains the Vidyadhara stage of Mahamudra realization. He is know as Guru Dorje Tötreng- Vajra Guru, Garland of Skulls.
8. Guru Rinpoche arrives in central Tibet. He subdues all the hostile negative forces, founds the great monastery of Chö-Khor Pal-gyi Samyé and lights the lamp of the Holy Dharma of the Sutra and Mantra teachings. Guiding his twenty-five disciples and the king to liberation he is known as Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born Guru.
*ordination: within the context of Buddhism, this is not an accurate expression.
Urgyen: Where is it?
Odyana or Urgyen in Tibetan is the name given for the boyhood home of Guru Rinpoche; Wu-chang-na, in Chinese. The word is often used as a synonym for noble when it appears in prayers.
L. A. Waddell. Buddhism of Tibet. NY: Dover Publishing (1895) 1972:
but in footnote 3, says that ". . . Sir H. Yule, the great geographer, writes (Marco Polo, i, 155) : ‘Udyana lay to the north of Peshawar, on the Swat river, but from the extent assigned to it by Hwen Tsang, the name probably covered a large part of the whole hill region south of the Hindu Kush, from Chitral to the Indus, as indeed it is represented in the Map of Vivien de St. Martin (Pelerins Bouddhistes, ii.)
It was regarded by Fa Hsian as the most northerly Province of India, and in his time the food and clothing of the people were similar to those of Gangetic India."
This kingdom is today generally understood to be around Mandi in Bihar.
Five Consorts, or "Wisdoms," of Guru Rinpoche
Mandarava of Zahor, considered an emanation of Vajravarahi's Body
Yeshe Tsogyal of Tibet, emanation of Vajravarahi's Speech
Belmo Sakya Devi of Nepal is considered an emanation of Vajravarahi's Mind
About the Lesser-known Consorts
Belmo Sakya Dema (or Sakya Devi) was Guru
Rinpoche's first Nepali consort. He
(The shrine of Sankhu Vajrayogini is now known as the temple of Ugratara where the female deity is depicted wielding a sword and as such is called Khadga Yogini.)
Belmo's legend tells how a local queen died in childbirth, but when her corpse was taken to the cremation ground the tiny daughter survived. Suckled by the monkeys, she is raised by them. When she was found by Padmasambhava, he noticed that her hands and feet were webbed (one of the characteristics of an enlightened being. ) He takes her with him to P'harping at the southern end of the Valley, where he teaches and initiates her
Many years later, when Tsogyel visited Yanglesho, the Guru's former consort
was still practicing as a yogini. Some Tibetans think that the
Raj-Kumari, the so-called Living Goddess of Kathmandu, is an emanation of Belmo
She grew up and managed to earn her living as a spinner and weaver of cotton. When Yeshe Tsogyel was on her second visit to Nepal, she came across the 14-year old girl and took her under her wing renaming her, Kalasiddhi. Dowman explains that here kala means humours as in "bodily essence."
She accompanied Tsogyel to Tibet's first Buddhist monastery, Samye, and to
the Master's retreat centre at Chimphu. There, she becomes his consort to
further the progress of Buddhist tantra in Tibet. When Guru Pema leaves
for the Southwest, Kalasiddhi is left in Yeshe Tsogyel's care and receives
transmission of zap-lam from her.
Finally, Tsogyel succeeded in subduing the spirits and also the hostile locals, and so the king grants her a boon. Tsogyel then asks him for his daughter, and she changes her name from Khyidren to Chidren.
Soon after, Khyidren accompanied Tsogyel to Womphu, Taktsang in Tibet, where
The life of the Guru Rinpoche is retold through-out the year. On the
tenth of every lunar month, one of twelve essential incidents is
recounted. At the larger Nyingma monasteries and temples, dances are
performed in the Guru's honour. Since it is believed that he was born in
the 6th month, in Bhutan that is when the cycle begins.
Just as it is said of Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Rinpoche was able to transmute
the fire into water. The Guru appeared as a lotus blossom in the midst of
the lake that resulted. The King of Zahor became a follower of Guru
Rinpoche and his kingdom (usually believed to be in Bengal) became a Buddhist
~ Bhutanese version of The 12 Deeds