A Brief History

A Concise History of the Sublime Dharma, the Pacification of Suffering

This wondrous and blessed dharma tradition, the Pacification of Suffering (sdugbsngalzhibyed, duḥkhapraśamana) [1] is endowed with extraordinary, countless great qualities. They can be condensed in simple form in terms of the five perfections of place, teacher, time, retinue, and teaching.

The perfect place was the area of Bartani in the north, also known as the glorious land Tingri Langkor in the Upper Valleys, a place prophesied by the buddhas, such as our teacher Śākyamuni, by the gurus such as Śrī Saraha [2], Serlingpa [3], and so on, by yidam deities like Lord Vajrapāṇi [4] and others, and by the ḍākinīs, such as Vajra Nairātmā [5].

As for the perfect teacher, in south India in Betala, the market-place of Chara Siṅgha, in
AD Ācārya Kamalaśīla [6], also known as the Precious One from Bhārata, Padampa Sangye (Paramabuddha), was born to his father Larahasti and his mother Samādhibhadrī, both of Brahmin caste. Under the tutelage of the linguist Tukjé Jungné (Source of Compassion, Karuṇākara) of Somari Temple, he learnt to read and write, and studied the general sciences and many types of sport. At Vikramaśīla, he was ordained by Abbot Gewé Jungné and studied to perfection the Vinaya-piṭaka [7]. He took the bodhisattva vow from Ācārya Āryadeva and Guru Serlingpa

zhije-lineage-treeand became expert in the bodhisattva-piṭaka [8]. From Śrī Virūpā he received in their entirety the four empowerments of secret mantra and became expert in the vidyādhara-piṭaka [9]. Thus he became a mahāpaṇḍita, a supreme scholar. Then, relying upon the teacher, in the manner of śrāvaka [10],while emulating the excellent qualities of the guru, at Senggé Dzong he engaged in the approach of the four annointments [11], taking them as the core of his mind training, and thereby unlimited realization dawned within him, thus cutting through all mental concepts and doubts from within. When engaging in the practice of accomplishment of realization-body, in the form of a pratyekabuddha [12], he made a staunch commitment to his yidam deity [13] and by internalizing the meaning of the sūtras he gained mastery over boundless pure visions. Thereby, infinite signs of accomplishment and wondrous qualities arose. When engaging in the benefit of others as a heroic and splendid bodhisattva, he enacted the activity of entreating the male and female doctrine protectors to work and thereby pure auspicious circumstances arose from within. This mighty bodhisattva then travelled through all corners of the world, far and wide, gathering all disciples with good fortune and fulfilling their needs and wishes according to their capacity, whether high or low.

As for the perfect time, the Precious Master of India traveled to Tibet three times. During his last visit, in 1097, he travelled to the blessed area of Dingri Langkor, and there in 1117 passed into parinirvāṇa [14].

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As for the perfect retinue, he had countless disciples from his first and second visits to Tibet. From among the disciples he connected with during his last visit, the principal ones were Bodhisattva Kunga (Ānanda), the four gate-keeper yogins, the one hundred and eight close disciples such as the heart son Gyagom, the twenty-five Trulshiks (those who had dissolved delusion), the twelve disciples endowed with the seat, the twenty-two yoginīs, NgadakTsedé, and the Nepalese practitioner Bharo, amongst others.

As for the perfect teaching, the root teachings he taught were the sublime dharma teachings that appease suffering (sdugbsngalzhibyed, duḥkhapraśamana,the Pacification of Suffering) given during his three visits to Tibet, and the branch teachings of cutting through māras (Chö, cheda) [15], the profound Perfection of Wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) [16], together with its subsidiary aspects. From among these teachings, the stainless amṛta-like [17] elixir of the Shyiché lineage that was transmitted during Padampa’s final visit to Tibet contains general teachings and extraordinary teachings. The general teachings include the sūtras, tantras, and their practical application; the oral transmission of the strictly secret lineage; a collection of sesamum-like subtleties (phra thig); and a vast collection of detailed, refined explanations. The extraordinary teachings include an overview-exposition of the tantras; the empowerments and instructions on the path; and the vase-like secret treasury. They also include the following essential root teachings: the cycle of teachings that condense and summarize; the subsidiary, branch-like cycle of teachings; the hanging leaf-like cycle of teachings; the beautiful flower-like cycle of teachings; and the ripened fruit-like cycle of teachings.

Moreover, these teachings are unique in that they were unheard of by other Indian and Tibetan scholars at the time and had not been translated in Tibet in the past. With love and compassion for his Tibetan disciples, the precious Indian master, Padampa Sangye unveiled outwardly the heart extract of the three piṭakas [18], inwardly the life-force of the four sections of tantra [19], secretly the scalpel that opens one’s eyes to the essential meaning, and innermost secretly the sealed teachings of the ḍākinīs. For the benefit of future

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generations, he gave all of these to Guru Bodhisattva Kunga: the supreme lineage, the instructions of the yidam deity, which is like attaining a royal decree; the general lineage, the instructions of the fifty-four yogins and yoginīs, which is like the quintessential elixir; the amazing lineage, the instructions of the thirty-six sovereigns, which is like custom-made medicine from the most skilled of physicians; the extraordinary lineage, which is like the heart blood of the ḍākinīs poured out on a field, like arriving at an island of jewels. Such is this stainless lineage of teachings; it is the pith of all practice lineages, a path which fulfils one merely upon encountering it, an elixir that penetrates upon contact, containing crucial points that get to work as soon as they are understood, a teaching which brings benefit upon simply encountering it. This is the lineage that has been transmitted in four streams. It benefits everyone without discrimination—the old and young, the sharp and dull—and frees all beings, whether they be beggars, invalids, cripples, old or young, from saṁsāra into awakening.

Thus it is said.


End Notes

[1] The term duḥkhapraśamana occurs in the ‘Heart of Wisdom’ (Prajñāhr̥daya) and refers to the mantra of the Prajñāpāramitā, which accomplishes the pacification of all suffering as is thus called ‘Pacification/pacifier of all suffering’ (sdugbsngalthams cad rabtuzhi bar byedpa’Isngags, sarvaduḥkhapraśamanamantra). The original Sanskrit being praśamana it may be more accurate to translate as ‘Pacification’ rather than ‘Pacifier,’ although it is understood that the sense is that it refers to what accomplishes the pacification (just like dependent arising is called ‘the pacification of all elaborations’).

[2] ŚrīSaraha is always counted among the list of great realized masters, such as the list of 84 Mahāsiddhas, often as the foremost among them.

[3] Serlingpa, the Dharmakīrti of the ‘Golden Island’, is believed to have been from South East Asia, perhaps somewhere in Indonesia. He composed an important commentary on the ‘Ornament of Realization’ (Abhisamayālaṁkāra), which is still extant in Sanskrit, and other works. He was the teacher of Phadampa Sangye, and also Dīpaṁkaraśrījñāna and Ratnākaraśānti, who travelled to his Golden Island to learn from him.

[4] Vajrapāṇi is the bodhisattva entrusted with holding the secret teachings of all the Buddhas.

[5] Nairātmā or Nairātmyā is the female counterpart of Hevajra, one of the most important meditational deities in the Yoginītantras. Nairātmā means ‘Selflessness.’

[6] Ācārya Kamalaśīla is one of the most celebrated Indian Madhyamaka masters. Some of his major philosophical works include the Madhyamakāloka; an extensive commentary on ĀcāryaŚāntarakṣita’s Tattvasaṁgraha, which is a vast compendium of non-Buddhist and Buddhist views analysed from the Madhyamaka standpoint; a detailed commentary on the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā; the three Bhāvanākrama, explain the steps of śamatha and vipaśyanā within a Mahāyāna context, which resulted from the great debate of Samye, and further condensed as the Bhāvanāvatāra; and several other texts.

[7] The Vinaya Piṭaka, the ‘Basket of Disciplinary Guidance,’ is the collection of the Buddha’s teachings dealing with the appropriate conduct for ordained monks.

[8] The bodhisattva vow is the vow to become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva piṭaka is the collection of the Buddha’s teachings dealing with the bodhisattva path.

[9] The vidyādharapiṭaka here refers to the collection of teachings of secret mantra as taught by the Buddha, which require an initiation and include a vast array of meditative techniques.

[10] śrāvaka is either a ‘listener’ or ‘someone makes other listen’ and it refers to those who practice for the sake of overcoming the suffering of saṁsāra for oneself, learning through listening from others, and eventually teaching others.

[11] ‘Anointment’ (abhiṣeka) is an initiatory practice for secret mantra. Tantra of the highest category often include a set of four such annointments.

[12] pratyekabuddha or ‘solitary awakened one’ refers to those who practice for the sake of overcoming the suffering of saṁsāra for oneself, without learning through listening from others.

[13] yidam deity (iṣṭadevatā) is one’s own main meditative deity, a feature of secret mantra practice.

[14] parinirvāṇa means ‘complete nirvāṇa’ and is the supreme state with the Buddhist tradition.

[15] The practice of Chod (cheda), or ‘Cutting off the Domain of the Māras’ was rendered very popular by Machig Labdron, considered an emanation of the Perfection of Wisdom. This practice was also translated from Tibetan into Sanskrit, and to this day we can find a short cheda-like practice in the Sanskrit version of Ācārya Vanaratna’s Five Nails.

[16] The ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ is the foremost among the six Perfections to be practiced and accomplished in order to realize Buddhahood: Morality (śīla), Forbearance (kṣānti), Valour (vīrya), Meditation (dhyāna) and Wisdom (prajñā). The term ‘Perfection’ translates the Sanskrit pāramitā, which is connected to either ‘reaching the other shore (pāra)’, in the sense of completely mastering something, or to ‘supreme’ (parama).

[17] amr̥ta means ‘without death’ and refers to a famed elixir of immortality.

[18] The three piṭakas (‘Three Baskets’) are the collection of the Buddha’s teachings: the SūtraPiṭaka (the ‘Basket of the Discourses’), the AbhidharmaPiṭaka (the ‘Basket of Higher Doctrine’) and the VinayaPiṭaka (the ‘Basket of Disciplinary Guidance’).

[19] The four sections of tantra are: kriyātantra, caryatantra, yogatantra, yoganiruttaratantra (the term ‘anuttarayoga’ is probably a wrong back-translation from Tibetan, although it is now popular in English).