Celebrating Padmasambhava

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Celebrating Padmasambhava

By Tasha Friedman

The path is always before you, within you, all around you. But where it will take you is a mystery, every step of the way.

Today is the birthday of Padmasambhava, one of the greatest and most enigmatic masters of Tantric Buddhism.

Here Padmasambhava describes himself:
My father is wisdom and my mother is voidness.
My country is the country of Dharma.
I am of no caste and no creed.
I am sustained by perplexity; and I am here to destroy lust, anger, and sloth.

Stories abound of his miraculous achievements, beginning with his birth: by some accounts, born naturally from his mother’s womb, while in others, appearing spontaneously on the peak of a mountain or in the middle of a lotus blossom. (Hence his name, “Born from a lotus.”)

Does it matter which is true? In the words of the great scholar and Dzogchen master Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche: “These stories are not contradictory because highly realized beings abide in the expanse of great equanimity with perfect understanding and can do anything. Everything is flexible; anything is possible. Enlightened beings can appear in any way they want or need to.

“According to the regular or conventional way of thinking, if something is black, it is not white. Usually, only one of these notions can be applied at any given time. In trying to make reality fit the limitations of our preconceptions, we grow very narrow. Working in this way will not allow us to understand the mystical or profound aspects of the universe. Our tiny peep-hole of knowledge reveals very little of the actual world. We see only what fits through that small hole. Chronological or linear thinking is characteristic of dualistic conceptions; we cannot apply it to the true nature or the state of great equanimity. Peering through such a small crack will not allow us to see much. We have to open our minds if we are interested in seeing any more.”

Padmasambhava’s work in this world was about encouraging people to open their minds, often in unusual or even shocking ways. He refused to abide by the rules and conventions of dualistic existence or to be defined in any way.

No caste, no creed, nothing at all to latch onto.

Born in what is now India or Pakistan, Padmasambhava is perhaps most famous for introducing Buddhism into Tibet in the 8th century. He did so at the request of the king of Tibet, after several other Buddhist masters attempting to found a monastery there so had been driven away by gods of the Bön tradition, the local religion.

When Padmasambhava arrived, he subdued and trapped the wrathful deities, calling each one by name. From then on, they were transformed into Dharmapalas, protectors of the Dharma.

This feat symbolizes the sublimation of emotions essential in Dzogchen, the esoteric path in which Padmasambhava is revered as a founding teacher.

With the fearlessness that comes from abiding in the View, in a lived experience of the non-dual Reality, all forms can be approached and transformed into elements of practice. Nothing must be pushed aside or turned away from. It is an absolute, uncompromising commitment to recognizing the Truth in any situation.

And from this, a divine wildness in which you can blaze through life inside-out and upside-down, unbound by ordinary, self-defensive modes of behavior.

Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal are also revered for hiding termas (esoteric texts) within rocks, statues, or the minds of certain tertons, beings with the capacity to reveal and transmit their meaning.

In this way, profound teachings could lie in wait for many centuries, until the time was right for them to be received by humanity.

Yet beyond all of his supernatural achievements, from the non-dual perspective which Padmasambhava’s words and actions demonstrated, the greatest miracle is life itself, even at its most ordinary and mundane. In this vision, there is no difference between the mundane and the spectacular, between the sublime and the unfolding of a simple moment.

Although you might not be one to discover a lost Buddhist text hidden in a rock, still, there are so many secret treasures to be found within your own being. All the greatest mysteries of the Universe are there: you only need to look.

Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.

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