Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times by Ngawang Zangpo (Snow Lion) To Tibetan Buddhists, Guru Rinpoche is a Buddha. This book recounts Guru Rinpoche's historic visit to Tibet and explains his continuing significance to Buddhists. In doing so, it illustrates how a country whose powerful armies overran the capital of China and installed a puppet emperor came to abandon its aggressive military campaigns: this transformation was due to Guru Rinpoche, who tamed and converted Tibet to Buddhism and thereby changed the course of Asian history.
Four very different accounts of his story are presented: two Buddhist (one by Jamgon Kongtrul and one by Dorje Tso); one according to the pre‑Buddhist Tibetan religion, Bon; and one based on Indian sources and early Tibetan historical documents. Also included are a set of supplications to Guru Rinpoche, as well as Jamgon Kongtrul's visualizations written to accompany these supplications. The result is the most extensive set of materials on Guru Rinpoche ever to appear in a Western language. The material is deeply imbued with Tibetan spirituality and the biographical material is mostly legendary.
Guru Rinpoche succeeded in implanting the practice of tantric Buddhism throughout the Himalayan region, particularly in Tibet. Although he left the region well over a thousand years ago, he is still remembered vividly and invoked regularly by Tibetan‑speaking Buddhists, for whom his presence remains alive. Except for the Buddha Shakyamuni, no other human being is so deeply venerated by the Tibetans; Guru Rinpoche is often referred to as "the second Buddha." He towers above all later masters who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet or those Tibetans who went to India in search of instruction. The many tales told of his life, such as those included in this book, portray him as an individual who had overcome human limitations and could act freely for the good of the world. Whether or not we choose to believe what might seem only legends, Guru Rinpoche was undeniably responsible for transforming the spiritual and secular life of the people of the Himalayan region and he remains the single most significant influence in modern Himalayan tantric Buddhism.
The main portion of Guru Rinpoche contains translations of Tibetan texts written on the subject of this great Indian Buddhist master of the eighth and ninth centuries. Guru Rinpoche's arrival in Tibet marked a radical change in the country's religious and political orientation. And it is he whose presence still accompanies Tibet's Buddhists, and those who practice Himalayan tantric Buddhism, whenever they turn their hearts toward the refuge of their faith. He is their, and our, "second Buddha."
How can we express in English what effect Guru Rinpoche had on those who met him? The word charisma does not even begin to cover it. A fitting image is this: We see the stars and the moon at night, but when the sun arrives, they disappear. We may be able to see the moon in the daytime, but it seems inert. The stars do not leave the heavens, the moon always shines with the same intensity, but the sun shines so many times brighter that the other lights of the heavens seem to vanish.
That was and is Guru Rinpoche. His awe‑inspiring presence had nothing to do with the media or publicity, political power or wealth. In the eighth century, he walked over the Tibetan border from Nepal accompanied by a few Nepalese craftsmen whom he soon sent on ahead to Lhasa. He was a foreigner, from an area of India that had fought wars with Tibet not long before, and he traveled alone on foot with what he could carry. As we will see in the translated accounts of his life below, he set about transforming Tibet, from the underground (the spirits, gods and demons) up. While no consensus exists for the duration of his stay, this much is clear: he left Tibet's Buddhists with the indelible feeling that their land was now blessed. As Jamgon Kongtrul was fond of saying whenever he broached the subject, "There was no area of Tibetan soil larger than a horse's hoof untouched by Guru Rinpoche's feet." And, he might have added, no Tibetan Buddhist heart untouched by his spiritual influence. This was Guru Rinpoche's effect.
This collection joins a number of translations devoted solely to Guru Rinpoche's life, notably The Lotus‑Born, The Life and Liberation o f Padmasambhava, and The Legend of the Great Stupa, and many others that contain long passages describing his acts and teaching, such as the indispensable Nyingma School o f Tibetan Buddhism by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the many wonderful works by Tulku Thondup, including Masters of Meditation and Miracles and Hidden Teachings of Tibet, and the precious translations by Eric Perna Kunsang, including Dakini Teachings.
In general, the books just mentioned speak in unison of Guru Rinpoche's life‑they provide the traditional "lotus‑born" account that is common to the treasure texts. Easily the most outlandish and extravagant version of Guru Rinpoche's life and acts, the account of his life that begins with his birth from a lotus remains the most important to practicing tantric Buddhists.
To that classical picture of Guru Rinpoche this book adds two very different versions of his life: the Tibetan non-Buddhist (Bon) account and an account based on Indian and early Tibetan chronicles. While these short texts share their main subject and unanimously accord Guru Rinpoche his rightful place of honor, they diverge from the traditional account in significant ways. The main point that begs for attention and explanation is that of his birth. The treasure texts recount unanimously his birth from a lotus; other sources provide details of his human parents. How can we resolve this?
To begin with, it should be obvious that belief in Guru Rinpoche's miraculous birth is not an article of faith. Among the six classes of beings identified in Buddhism, beings in hell and the gods in heaven also take parentless, miraculous birth, but no one regards them as a spiritual refuge on the basis of their unusual mode of birth. We take refuge in the LotusiBorn Master because his enlightened mind is suffused with inconceivable wisdom and compassion, because his teaching leads us from here to enlightenment, and because his continued presence in countless forms, including our instructors and spiritual companions, accompanies us each step of the way. A person's total disbelief in the LotusiBorn's lotus birth shocks and dismays no one; another's total confidence in his miraculous birth is picturesque but not spiritually significant in itself.
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