Annual India Tours
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt
gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity.
These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Duncan Jan 12 1992
In receiving teachings we have an opportunity to accumulate good karma, especially since the intentions of the Buddha are to help us gain realization to lessen our suffering and bring us towards enlightenment. So with the motivation that only we would not be benefitting ourselves, but also having a mind that says I would like to benefit other sentient beings too! With this motivation we have the better cause of gaining realization because in only having selfish intent, although we may strive to accomplish some realizations, the selfish mind is very often is the principal cause of our suffering. So by trying to be more open minded, motivating for the benefit of all, we actually can eliminate one of the many causes of suffering for ourselves. And also because we become more positive, in the sense that we have a greater vision in our dharma practice, then also we accrue more positive karma, and with that realizations come more easy.
We are going to start a series of teachings from Atisha. In the tenth and eleventh century he was a contemporary after the time of Milarepa and Marpa. He was a very wonderful saint. I thought I would like to introduce you to Atisha as an individual and his practice as recorded in history.
Atisha was an important person in the Tibetan tradition. In Tibetan Buddhism, Padma Sambhava brought Buddhism to Tibet by invitation of the king in about the eighth century and helped them build Samye monastery and such just outside of Lasa. These teachings lasted about one hundred years until a Tibetan king called Lang Dharma more involved with shamanism came to the throne and tried in various ways to kill the monks and destroy Buddhism. He did a great deal of damage for about fifteen years and then was killed. I believe his nephew took the throne and Buddhism was not strongly supported but still was there. The problem cam about, that many of the old texts were corrupted and the practices were not very clear. Principally it is said that the practice of tantracism and the practice of the vinaya, the strong moral code, made quite a break in themselves. So people were very moralistic and strict or there was a great deal of emphasis on intercourse and the tantras were corrupted in that way and not purely transmitted. Certainly there were no bridges made between basic teachings of Buddhism and the more higher aspects of the Buddhist practice. So the Buddha dharma in Tibet became quite difficult.
From that point some people went to India to try to bring dharma to Tibet. Even some scholars went to learn sanskrit and came back. But none were very realized or had an encompassing mind to understand the full scope of the dharma. So all they had was a validation of the vinaya coming from the scholars coming over the o\border, or people that went over the border and received tantric initiations and such came back with some special esoteric teachings, but again could not bridge it back to the more fundamental Buddhist tenants.
With this being the case, a particular kind of Tibet YesheO, decided to improve the situation and thereby amassed quite a bit of gold to invite a saint into Tibet. With some money he sent someone off to Nalanda Monastery in India, home of ten thousand monks. A massive university. They there inquired as to the greatest teacher around, and were told of Atisha, but he was very busy and were sent back. Again the king, having heard of Atisha's skills, became enthusiastic and spend a great deal of time amassing a large amount of gold. In doing that, he went to another kingdom and was captured by another king who was anti Buddhist. He was locked away. The kings nephew heard of this and marched to the fortress and demanded the release of his uncle, which was refused, and it looked like there were going to be a lot of people hurt. The king did ransom his prisoner for the equivalent weight in gold. The nephew went back and took some of the gold his uncle had managed to amass, and managed to gain enough gold to equal his body, but not his head. But he felt that was a lot of gold and went back and offered the gold.
The neighborhood king said, no, I want it all, or none. Anyway the nephew was allowed to talk to his uncle. The uncle said, I am very old, I cannot accomplish a great deal even if I got out of prison. All of the gold will have gone to this evil person and nothing great will have been accomplished. So I would rather sacrifice my life for the sake of the dharma. Please take the gold and send it to India with the appropriate emissary and invite Atisha. Because I can see this as meaningful, tell Atisha that I have sacrificed my life for him to come here. We the Tibetans, need the dharma. We have aversion to ideals about dharma, we need it very badly. With this he sent his nephew away and died shortly thereafter.
Once back home, the nephew chose a particular translator who spoke good sanskrit to travel to India with the gold. He was hesitant but once the story of the king was explained to him by the nephew who shed many tears, he felt himself a great need for the dharma to be brought to Tibet. So the translator decided to go. With eight or nine other people, he travelled to India.
Atisha was born into a king's family in Bengal, a very rich and prosperous place. He was the elder son born under auspicious signs. At the age of three or four he mastered sanskrit and was taught general philosophy yet quickly became interested in Buddha dharma. By the age of eight he had sought out Buddhist teachers and taken refuge and such. At the age of ten he asked his father for an army to scout out the neighborhood to see what was going on. In doing that, he gave himself a ticket to visit various Buddhist gurus. One great sage gave him teachings and initiations and such and sent him to another guru. Atisha then rode in with his group of a hundred people and received other teachings. They did this for about six months and then came back to the palace. Begging to pursue the spiritual path, his father allowed him since he was quite young to go back and study with some Buddhist masters under the blessings of his father. At the age of sixteen or seventeen, Atisha was well educated in the Buddhist tenants.
He came back to his father at this time and a marriage was arranged. Atisha insisted that the woman be special. So he wrote a poem about the qualities of the girl he wanted. To Atisha's back luck they found someone who fitted the bill! She had to be compassionate, open minded, non sectarian, and have Padma in her name. The couriers found her drawing water from a well, took her back, and thus she was wed to Atisha who then had to accept her!
Having married her, he did not consummate the marriage because they were both still very young. But he again requested time to go off to see his guru! He did so and received some special tantric teachings on the Heruka tantra, and with this the guru told him as he had been sucked into the secular life, he wanted him to act like a yogi, so gave him all the special teachings on the Heruka yogis who rub their bodies in ash, mat their hair, and such. Atisha with eight other yogis then went back to the kingdom and acted insane! In this way everyone was freaked out.
The king inquired of Atisha what he was about and Atisha informed him that he wanted to follow the dharma and not be involved with a lay life, even though his wife was without blemish. The bride was called in and questioned. The prince said said she beguiles me all the time, and therefore was faulty. The girl said, if you don't want me and want to pursue the dharma, I will let you go and will accept the blame. With this, the marriage was dissolved and Atisha was allowed to pursue his spiritual path.
Around the age of twenty he entered Nalanda monastery and spent the next twenty years educating himself as a Buddhist and became very scholastic. In previous lives he had been a monk with great intellect and therefore quickly mastered all the Buddhist tenets. But about the age of forty two, he realized he still had not received the essence of the teachings. Particularly some of the lineages of the transmission of bodhicitta which was still not satisfactory as far as he was concerned. Even though he was receiving teachings on bodhicitta, still it wasn't good enough for him. As it was, there were two lineages for bodhicitta. One from Matreya Buddha to Asanga, down through the various sages and saints, and the second from Manjushri to Nagarjuna to Chandrakirti and Shantideva. Neither he found were properly transmitted by the various people in India.
In searching around, he discovered in Indonesia, there was a particular saint named Serlingpa who held all lineages of bodhicitta. So he went to Calcutta with twenty or thirty other monks in search of the teachings, hired a boat and travelled thirteen months down the Malaysian coast and ended on the shore of Indonesia. At one point on the ocean a great storm arose and Atisha as a practitioner of Yamantaka tantra, meditated on red Yamantaka and completely subdued the demons creating the storm.
In Indonesia Atisha found the guru Serlingpa and spend twelve years taking the transmissions of the teachings of bodhicitta. When he came back to India, he was fifty four years old and became one of the abbots of the northern gate of the Nalanda monastery. After four years or so, the Tibetans show up.
The Tibetans arrived at the age and being very stupid, didn't realize that it would not be easy to ask for Atisha to come to Tibet. He was the crown jewel of realization for the Indian Buddhist scholars. Being the crown jewel, it would be very difficult for the Indians to release him. But the Tibetans arrived at the gate in the evening and immediately said they would like to see Atisha. The gate keeper chastised them and sent them off to sleep under a tree. The next morning the Tibetans came back and then said they would like to stay at the monastery to study. They went to a particular section reserved for immigrants and it took six months before they got close to seeing Atisha.
When they did, it was not even like a formal interview because Atisha was very protected. But when they finally went to see him, it is said that the translator smuggled in a lump of gold the size of a person's head. A big chunk of gold went before Atisha and offered a mandala and then explained the whole story of all the trials and tribulations, the death of the uncle, the keen interest of nephew to bring Atisha to Tibet, and the actual situation of the dharma in Tibet, the morality teachings as completely separated from the tantric teachings, there was no harmony between the various buddhist groups, and a great deal of distortion.
At that time Atisha was moved by the gesture. It was difficult for him to accept. I believe it is said he returned the lump of gold to the translator and sent him off and for another six months pondered what he would do. During this time it is said he had various visions of Tara and other Buddhas which indicated he had a karmic connection with Tibet, and he had particularly one special student. But on the other side, he still had his responsibilities to the monastery and was not free togo. And he was in his Fifties! He finally did a retreat to Tara who manifested and told him if he went to Tibet, his life would be twenty years shorter yet the benefit to Tibetan people and Buddhism would far exceed what could be accomplished by staying in India! With this pronouncement, he decided it would be beneficial togo!
Even then it was not easy. He had his own gurus still alive, and his own guru was in the monastery and still very possessive of Atisha and would not easily let him go. So Atisha told his guru he would like to go on pilgrimage to Nepal and make offerings to the various places that Padma Sambhava and some of the previous saints have been! I will then accumulate merit and also spread the dharma a little bit, so I would like a three year leave of absence from the monastery. His guru asked how he would go and Atisha explained there were the Tibetan translator and his company who would be returning to Tibet and he would go with them. So it was arranged. It is said the translator was called in front of Atisha's guru and given a strict order that in three years time Atisha must return to Nalanda monastery or would be cursed!
They then traveled off to the border of Tibet. In Kathmandu they got to the border of Nepal and Tibet and there basically settled for about a years time and gave teachings. At this time he wrote "The Light on the Path to Enlightenment". This text is the basis of all the Lam Rim texts. All of the teachings that you receive here are all on the basis of the Lam Rim. Up to that point, never had there been a text which put together all the path so nicely.
Having stayed there a year, the translator was getting quite anxious because his promise was to return Atisha to Nalanda within three years. Asking Atisha to consider going back, although he had not got to Tibet, he had written this particular text for the Tibetans and could offer that. But as they tried to go back, they ran into a civil war in Nepal and were not able togo back. So Atisha again did prayers and meditations and had an indication that he had one very supreme disciple yet to meet, a Tibetan! If he left at that time back to Nalanda, he would not meet his disciple. And with this situation, he was nervous to leave too fast. The translator on his side was anxious to get Atisha back to Nalanda. So there was trouble with a large civil war going on.
So Atisha said to get you off the hook with my guru, I would like to take this text that I composed from you Tibetans, and send it with a letter saying, I am unable to go further coming back to you because of civil war. But here is something which I have composed which is of some interest, maybe it will do, and I would like to stay longer in Nepal and Tibet, if it appropriate!
When the courier arrived in Nalanda monastery, he presented the texts to the Indian scholars who were blown away by the clarity of the text! They were very inspired by what he had written and realized that his interaction with the Tibetans had inspired Atisha to write something that was not common to the way they had been looking at the Buddhas and then practicing.Because Atisha was being called upon to think of the dharma in a more integrated fashion rather than all these vast texts and study which they traditionally did. So they were happy because it was a new vision on an old set of teachings. With this, the guru and the various scholars in Nalanda returned a letter to Atisha saying that he could stay.
So Atisha had the blessings to go to Tibet. It is said as he travelled towards Lasa, Dom Domba a layman who was his chief student, then met with Atisha and together they travelled onto Tibet. I believe Atisha lived about fourteen years in Tibet at the age of seventy two during which time he wrote many texts and established the Buddha dharma in Tibet and cleared a lot of misunderstandings. Because of his time in Tibet, the Nephew established what is called the kings translation team comprised of three people who were fully skilled in Tibetan and Sanskrit, and two or three capable of doing both. With these eight people, all texts had to be translated with the same words, the same vocabulary, the same definition to them. so they set up a basic dictionary and then all texts were re translated within the light of the new presentation.
In that way it is said that the presentation of Buddhism from the Time of Atisha was said to be the cleaning of all the misunderstandings and very sound and special teachings were established in Tibet. And a great majority of Sanskrit available in India at that time were translated perfectly into the Tibetan language.
That might not seem important, but within a hundred years the muslims moved in and completely destroyed Nalanda monastery. By the thirteenth century Buddhism was eradicated from India. So from the greater view, Atisha's coming to Tibet was really instrumental. Because of that, many of the texts in sanskrit were not lost but transmitted into Tibet and carried on in a lineage which was not lost. In this way, with a few special circumstances, a very pure dharma form India, Kashmir, was transmitted into Tibetan in a very pure form. In that way, for ourselves today, we have opportunity to know that our lineage of Buddhism from Lord Buddha down to the present day has been kept very pure.
The teaching will start next week will be the teaching of bodhicitta called the Mind Transformation like the Rays of the Sun. It was Ling Rinpoche principal teaching he enjoyed very much. The particular transmission of this text was lost in the last hundred years for whatever reason. What tends to happen is one lineage might e very special but it gets taught to one person as a transmission and everyone else gets the teachings but not the transmission. That person moves away and maybe teaches one or two others, gives them the transmission, and they move in their separate ways. Then later one comes to the original place and inquires of the transmission, and people had the teaching but did not get the transmission for it and don't know who has it!
This means the pure transmission, from teacher to student has been broken or lost. So the text does not carry the blessings it could carry. Anyway, Ling Rinpoche pursued and found the lineage of this text, received it and used it as his style of presentation of bodhicitta teachings. It is very special because it is not just bodhicitta according to Asanga's way, or according to Manjushri and Nagarjuna's way. Rather, it is the integration of these practices. And also has a great deal of what is called pith instruction. We will be studying this for awhile.
Essentially although from all the teachings I have received, although high tantras can be very beneficial, although other teachings can be very good, the real essence of blessing for all of us in our practice is in the teachings of bodhicitta. So for whatever development you do within the realm of bodhicitta, it will go far beyond this lifetime in benefits you acquire. In many teachings such as in acquiring a technique that gave you clairvoyance. Like maybe you could read another person's mind. Or other peoples previous lifetimes. Although that might be an interesting power and though you might have some interesting imprint in a future lifetime, regarding that psychic power, it does not guarantee in anyway whatsoever that you are going to be maintaining a spiritual practice or path. You have some access to spiritual data, but it dies not mean you are a spiritual person. Whereas if yon develop bodhicitta within the realm of direct understanding the nature of reality, in that realization are the blessings which go on for many lifetimes because it is a change of attitude. With that, the karma you accumulate, everything changes. Because the creator, which is your own mind, is taken deeper into a more realized position. And the benefits of that far exceed gaining some small clairvoyant vision or such.
In that way you should have some interest in studying bodhicitta and in trying to develop it. And the teachings of Atisha are very good. Very realistic in their approach. It is a matter of taking the teachings and make our minds open and there is great benefit for ourselves.
There are many interesting stories of this lineage for example, Don Dempa was a wonderful person from previous lifetimes because he had unbelievable faith in the Buddha dharma. When he was young, he pursued various teachings. His level of devotion was so strong, it is said that once as he was taking teachings, he was also hired as the stable boy. Once he came across the wife of the teacher milking the cow without anything to sit on. So he then sat down and allowed her to sit on his back. He had such strong devotion to the guru, anything related to the guru was an offering to the guru. It is said also, because of his intensity of practice, he almost abandoned sleeping. He would sleep in the stable and all night long recite mantra and prayer and this way bless all the animals in the barn. When he first heard of Atisha, it is said that the hairs on the back of his head stood on end and he got goose bumps on his body. Because of this he sought Atisha's presence and thereby moved toward Nepal in prayer. Every morning he would wake with prayer that me would have the chance to look upon Atisha's body to receive whatever teachings he had! In this way, as he walked towards the border of Nepal, he offered prayers. Finally when he met Atisha, it was a great thing for himself!
Of course, Atisha had received dreams that he was his special student! Anyway!
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