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Padmasambhava Day

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 151: Padmasambhava Day 1979

Upasakas, upasikas, mitras and friends. Everybody knows of course that today is Padmasambhava Day.

We*re not only celebrating Padmasambhava Day but we*ve also had, as most of you know, as most of you have seen, the unveiling of our Nalanda Crest. There is a sort of indirect connection one could say because there is an association between Padmasambhava and Nalanda, and there*s also an association between the symbolism of the Nalanda Crest and the symbolism of the life of Padmasambhava himself, in fact even the name of Padmasambhava himself As we may see in a minute or two, Padmasambhava was associated with the great monastic university or spiritual community of Nalanda, whose crest it is adorns our gateway. And of course part of the crest is a lotus, a lotus symbolizing spiritual birth, spiritual rebirth, and of course Padmasambhava himself symbolizes that, in fact his name Padma Sambhava means the one who is born from the lotus, the one who is spiritually born, the one even who is spiritually reborn.

Now some of you may know, some of you may remember, quite a few years ago on one of our Padmasambhava Day celebrations, I gave a talk about the life of Padmasambhava. And you may recollect that we saw then that Padmasambhava was born, so to speak (you*ll see the significance of that remark in a moment), born so to speak in India in the eighth century, that he came from a princely family, he left home like the Buddha, he became a monk, he became a Tantric teacher, a Tantric guru, became a great pundit, scholar, renowned for his psychic powers, his mastery of yoga and was altogether doing so to speak very well indeed in the world of Indian Buddhism, when there came one day to him a message, an invitation, from the kingdom of Tibet, which was of course in those days very, very far away indeed from India. And perhaps he*d never thought of going to Tibet, going to the Land of Snows, but he did think about it now, he thought very seriously and in the end he decided to go.

He was rather badly needed there it seems because some efforts were being made to introduce Buddhism into Tibet, into the Land of Snows, but there were obstacles. A great monastery, the monastery of Samye, was being built, and it was being built by someone who had also gone on invitation to Tibet, the bodhisattva Shantarakshita, usually known as the Bodhisattva Abbott, so he was trying to build this great monastery of Samye which was to be a centre for the propagation of the Dharma in Tibet, but he wasn*t able to do it. He built a little bit and then, mysteriously, when they came to look in the morning, there was nothing there. The bricks that they*d put together, the stones that they*d put together, had mysteriously all gone back to their original places. And those of you who*ve had this sort of experience, and those of you who were, until quite recently, you know, building, or re-building Sukhavati, might have almost thought some mornings when you went back to work to carry on from where you*d left off the previous night, it might have seemed as though some mysterious agency in the course of the night had undone your work and that you had to start all over again! But that was certainly the case in respect of Samye, the work was undone. And according to tradition, according to the story, according to the legends, it was the work of the nagas, it was the work of the gods and demons of Tibet. They were for some strange reason of their own not in favour of the Dharma, not in favour of the teaching of the Buddha being introduced into Tibet, into the Land of Snow, so they opposed it with all their might. And the Bodhisattva Abbott, Shantarakshita, he was a very good man.

He explained the Dharma very beautifully, the ten Ways of Skilful Action, the four Noble Truths, even the twelve links of conditioned co-production, he explained all these things, all these teachings very beautifully, very clearly, but it seems that though the king was impressed, and though the people of Tibet were impressed, the gods and demons of Tibet were not impressed at all, so they continued to undo his work. And of course in desperation Padmasambhava was eventually sent for. The Bodhisattva Abbott said to the king, "There is in India, there is at Nalanda, a great teacher, who is not only well versed in Buddhist philosophy, not only well versed in Buddhist meditation, but a master of the occult arts and the occult sciences. He will tame the gods and demons of Tibet." So Padmasambhava was sent for, and he came and he did tame the gods and demons of Tibet and that is quite an interesting story. He didn*t have to spend it seems very long, at least according to some accounts, didn*t have to spend a very long time in Tibet, some accounts mention only eighteen months, but that was enough. He subdued those gods and demons, he subdued those tremendous forces and the Dharma was eventually established very firmly, very securely, in Tibet, and Padmasambhava departed. We*re told that he departed for the Land of the Rakshitas, wherever that may be.

So this is the story, this is the story of the life of Padmasambhava as it has come down to us as it were through historical sources. This is not the whole story, this is the story which is accessible so to speak to secular history and it*s this story which, as I said a few moments ago, I recounted some years ago when we celebrated Padmasambhava Day - I believe it was at Archway, at Pundarika.

So I*m not going to repeat this story, this ordinary story, of the life of Padmasambhava in detail this evening. This evening I want to go off in a rather different direction. I want to explore a rather different dimension as it were of this whole question, of this whole story if you like, of Padmasambhava.

And I*m going to take as my starting point the fact that Padmasambhava in Tibet, especially among the Nyingmapas who regard themselves as his followers, is very often referred to as the Second Buddha.

Now that might seem rather extraordinary. You might be thinking, how could there possibly be a second Buddha? We all know that the first Buddha is Sakyamuni, and he*s called the first because at a time when the Dharma, that is to say the path to enlightenment, the path to the transcendental state of enlightenment, was not known, he opened it up yet again. There had of course been Buddhas in the previous ages of prehistory, there had been Buddhas in previous world periods, but they had come and they had gone. Their teaching had flourished for a while, then it had disappeared and was not known perhaps for thousands upon thousands of years. That is the tradition. So the Buddha appeared, or an individual, a gifted, a supremely spiritually gifted individual, appears at a time when the Dharma, when the path to enlightenment is not known, and he re-discovers that path, he opens up that path again to the fate of humanity. And because he is the first, because he shows the way and others follow after him, he is known as the Buddha. This is what Buddha means technically speaking. It*s not just the enlightened one, not just one who has realized Nirvana, not one who has reached the highest degree of human perfection, not simply that, but one who has reached it by his own efforts at a time when it was not known and not accessible. And by reaching it, by achieving it, by realizing it himself, makes it possible yet again for other people to follow that same path which he treads, and to realize that same supreme state of Nirvana, or highest human perfection. So this is what we mean by a Buddha.

And there cannot therefore be another Buddha until the Dharma has been lost again, and has to be re- discovered again. So Padmasambhava came at a time when the Buddha*s Dharma was still flourishing.

He himself studied that Dharma. He became a monk under that Dharma. He taught that Dharma. So how is it, why is it, that Padmasambhava by his followers, his Nyingmapa followers, is called the Second Buddha? What does this mean? Well, perhaps we can understand this a little more clearly if we as it were change the word Buddha..

Padmasambhava is the Guru, and in the Life of Padmasambhava, from which you*ve been reading today, or which you*ve been hearing read today, Padmasambhava is very often referred to as the Guru. So let*s not speak of the first Buddha and the second Buddha, let*s speak of the Buddha and the Guru, the Buddha being the Buddha in the full sense, and Padmasambhava being the Guru in the full sense.

You*ve got the Buddha and you*ve got the Guru. When I say Guru I don*t mean by Guru here guru in the ordinary sense of spiritual teacher, it*s much more than that as you*ll see in a minute. If we go through the Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, this big red book, you*ll find that there*s a chapter which speaks of the Buddhas and Gurus appearing at various times, different ages. It says, In such and such age, in such and such period, came such and such Buddha, and just after him there came, as it were, a second Buddha, a Guru, of that particular period. So according to the Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava you*ve not only got a Buddha coming in every period and every age, you*ve got also as it were following on his heels quite closely a Guru. So why is this, what does this mean? So it*s into this that I want to go a little bit this evening, because this is very important for understanding the significance of the life of Padmasambhava, the part which he plays in the Nyingmapa tradition and the part which he plays or that which he symbolizes plays in the sort of spiritual economy of the cosmos so to speak including our own age and our own generation.

So I want as it were to enlarge the context a bit. I*m not going to speak just of the Buddha and the Guru, I*m going to speak of four as it were personalities, or if you like, four archetypes. ...

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