How to recognise a Spiritual Guide Part 3

II.D How Buddhism spread to Tibet


Tibet was, until its uninvited invasion by the Chinese in 1959 one of the last few totally Buddhist countries. The birth place of Buddhism, India lost most of its heritage, monastic communities, libraries and Monasteries during the systematic Moslem invasions of the 11th Century and for the most part of the original manuscripts of the Buddha’s Teachings as well as the later commentaries from great Indian Pandita have been destroyed then or since. The hagiography of the introduction and spread of Buddhism in Tibet was prophesised by Lord Buddha himself, who refers to Tibet as the Land of Snow whose tutelary deity is Avalokiteshvara[1], the Buddha of compassion.


It is told that Tibet was a land first covered by a large sea, and as the sea receded, it became populated by what is known in Tibetan as “non humans”[2], beings who, according to Buddhist cosmology belong to the realms of animals and hungry ghosts; among them are ghosts and ogres, wild and ferocious beings who constantly war with each other and destroy any trace of goodness. Avalokiteshvara, been the emanation of the Compassion of all the Buddhas, saw that it was time to tame these beings and open this vast wilderness to the blessings of the Dharma.


 Having been told by the Buddha himself that he was the One to take care of this land, Chenrezig manifested as a monkey in the jungles of the vast land and took as a female companion an ogress who herself was an emanation of the compassionate Tara[3]. Out of their union, six children were born, who, in effect represent a being from each of the six realms of Samsara. As the waters receded and the land became covered by virgin forests and high mountains, the six children multiplied among themselves and are said to be the ancestors of the six clans of Tibet[4].


At first they were roaming freely, enjoying the bounty of the forests, but as food became exhausted, they started to quarrel among themselves and eventually decided to look for a leader to help settle their differences. At the same time, in the Indian continent, an unusual child was born to a royal cast. He had webbed fingers and toes and thus his parents banished him from their kingdom, not knowing who this being was. The child was said to have wandered to the border of Tibet, were he was found by shepherds. Not understanding what the child answered when he was asked where he came from, and since he then had pointed towards the sky, they took him to be an emanation of the gods and carried him back on their shoulders to their own. Having elected him as their leader, they made a throne of stone for him and thus he was named Nyathri Tsenpo[5]. This child, however, was said to be an emanation of the Bodhisattva Sarvanivaranaviskambhin.


There was no religion at this time in Tibet, only a local form of shamanism developed and still remain to this day. It is under King Thotori Nyengsten[6]who was an emanation of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra that the Buddhadharma first came into Tibet. Precious caskets containing scriptures and artefacts once fell on the roof of his palace, and although the time was not ripe to decipher them, the accompanying prophecy that their meaning would be revealed after five generations came to pass with the next Dharma King, an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, named Songsten Gonpo.


This King saw that Tibet had no script nor proper language at that time and thus send Thumi Sambhota, a brilliant youth to India, who Mastered all the available knowledge at the time and returned to Tibet to formulate both Tibetan calligraphy and Grammar, setting the view for all forthcoming translations of the Buddhist canon. Songsten Gonpo also married two princesses, one Nepalese and one Chinese, who brought in their dowry precious statues of Buddha Akshobya[7] and Sakyamuni.


It is during the later reign of King Trisong Deutsen in the eighth century, though that Buddhism became firmly established in the Land of Tibet. This king, who is the most famous ruler in the history of Tibet, was a combined emanation of the three deities Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, the Buddha of Power and Manjushri, the Buddha of Enlightened Knowledge. At that time, the main religion in Tibet was a local form of shamanism known as Bon[8]. King Trisong Deutsen saw the need to bring enlightened Teachers to his country to bring benefit to his people. He was also seeking to build a magnificent temple and thus sought the help of one of the greatest Masters of his time, Khenpo Shantarakshita.


Khenpo Shantarakshita arrived in Tibet and set about to bestow, vows, empowerments and Teachings.   Khenpo was a great Practitioner who had Mastered Bodhicitta but could not tame the ferocious spirits and demons who roamed all over Tibet. At his prompt, the King then invited the incomparable Indian Mahapandita Guru Padmasambhava, whom the Tibetan call with deep faith and devotion Guru Rinpoche – the precious Guru. [9]Guru Rinpoche, himself an emanation of Amitabha, tamed with his wrathful powers all the evil beings threatening the establishment of the dharma and further taking their life essence, bound them under oath to become what is known still today as the Dharma Protectors.


Guru Rinpoche then set about to complete the construction of the King’s great vision, Samye Monastery and became, along Khenpo, the first Buddhist Master, expounding in particular the tantric Teachings as prophesied by Lord Buddha during his life time, whilst Khenpo propagated mainly the vinaya Teachings to an expanding Tibetan Sangha.


Guru Rinpoche had 25 Main disciples; among them his Tibetan consort Lady Yeshe Tsogyal and the King with an assembly of his sons, ministers and devotees. He introduced all the known teachings, which he had received from his own Masters, including Garab Dorje, Shri Singha, Manjushrimitra, etc. His influence however, went well beyond his contemporary, for in his enlightened insight, Guru Rinpoche foresaw troubled times ahead in the history of Tibet and set about with his consort Yeshe Tsogyal and the disciples to write and conceal all his teachings all over the Land of Tibet.


Hidden in rocks, water, under the ground or in the sky, as well as imprinted in the mind of those of his disciples who had realised those particular instructions, all the teachings were preserved in a form which was prepared for the frame of mind of the people, who in the future would come to rediscover and practice them. These Teachings, unique to the old School[10]are known as Ters or re-discovered treasures and the fortunate beings who uncover them are emanations of the erstwhile original disciples who are known as tertons.


Thus this period, from the eight century, at the time of his arrival in Tibet until the ninth century with the advent of a king hostile to Buddhist teachings who tried to destroy all bases in Tibet, is referred to as that of the Nyingma Tradition (Old Translation School) of Tibetan Buddhism.


Although many outer monastic institutions were destroyed as well as many texts which had been translated from the great Translator, Vairocana and his students all the teachings were preserved intact through Guru Rinpoche’s great compassion and foresight in the form of treasures hidden all over Tibet in many different forms.  These treasures were rediscovered in the course of time, again according to the need of the people living at particular times by great Masters, who themselves had totally realized and actualised those Teachings at the time of Guru Rinpoche and still are today. Thus this skilful mean kept the Nyingma Tradition totally authentic, unadulterated, and perfectly adapted to the times.


However after the evil King Langdarma a new wave of translations of mainly tantra text started with Translator Rinchen Sangpo whith Buddhism entering a new phase of spead, yet not flourishing in th esame manner as the previous golden era.


[1] Chenrezig

[2] Mima yin

[3]  Tara is the embodiment of feminine compassion born from a tear of Chenrezig

[4] Sometimes it is said they formed only four clans

[5] The we carried on a stone throne

[6] Twenty seven kings after Nyathri Tsenpo

[7]  Another name for the Buddha of the Vajra family

[8] is still practiced today and is sometimes mistakenly confused for Nyingma rites

[9] See appendix fort short Biography of Guru Rinpoche

[10]  See appendix the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism

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