Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava: An Introduction

This is a special offering for everyone: a magnificent and in some ways cross-culturally seminal discourse on the Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava, given by the late Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, in May 1992, at Padma Gochen Ling, in Monterey, Tennessee. This nearly eight hour discourse was translated by his brother, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. As stated in the colophon of this work, the tapes were then transcribed by members of the Turtle Hill Sangha and edited by Padma Shugchang. 

We now reproduce the work in its entirety, with the kind permission of Turtle Hill Sangha, and the very best wishes of Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar. Because of its length, we will be presenting it as a five-part series this week, culminating on Sunday, which is Guru Rinpoche Day. So, you will want to collect and save all parts. 
This presentation is in keeping with our wish to make certain fundamental teachings available to everyone during the coming year. As Padmasambhava's followers, we can -- and will -- accomplish great things, when we learn to set aside any transient differences we may experience, and unselfishly work together for the benefit of all sentient beings. Rich appreciation of our shared tradition's fundamentals makes that possible. May your efforts in this regard bring you comfort and joy.
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.
                        -Guru Padmasambhava 
The year of the monkey is known as the year of Guru Padmasambhava. It is a very special time during which to discuss his teachings. According to the lunar calendar, today is the twenty-ninth day of the month, tomorrow is the new moon, and the day after tomorrow is the first day of the third month of the Tibetan calendar. All these aspects are very auspicious. I take this as a sign that you all have a special connection with Guru Padmasambhava, so I feel very happy to be here.

Those of you who are practicing on Guru Padmasambhava through visualization, chanting the Seven Line Prayer and reciting the Vajra Guru Mantra already know something about who Guru Padmasambhava is. But for those who aren't familiar with him or the benefits of practicing on Guru Padmasambhava, I will give a brief introduction so that you will be in a better position to receive teachings about his various emanations.

In the Tibetan language, Guru Padmasambhava is generally referred to as Guru Rinpoche, which means "precious master." Guru Rinpoche is a totally enlightened being, a fully awakened one, a buddha. He did not become enlightened gradually or start practicing the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and eventually gain enlightenment.

Guru Rinpoche incarnated as a fully enlightened being. Through his form, primordial wisdom manifested in the world to benefit all sentient beings.

Buddha Shakyamuni actually predicted Guru Padmasambhava's appearance. Nineteen different sutras and tantras contain clear predictions of his coming and activities.

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni announced his parinirvana to the students who were with him at the time. Many of them, particularly Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and personal attendant, were quite upset upon hearing this. So Buddha turned to Ananda and told him not to worry: "Eight years after my parinirvana, a remarkable being with the name Padmasambhava will appear in the center of a lotus and reveal the highest teaching concerning the ultimate state of the true nature, bringing great benefit to all sentient beings." Buddha Shakyamuni said that Padmasambhava would be even more enlightened than himself. Of course, Buddha Shakyamuni was fully enlightened and there is no higher realization, but by the Buddha's manner of expression, we can begin to understand the importance of Guru Padmasambhava. Some accounts hold that Guru Rinpoche is a direct reincarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha Shakyamuni also said Padmasambhava would be an emanation of Buddha Amitabha and Avalokitésvara and referred to him as the embodiment of all the buddhas of the three times. Many prophecies indicate that Guru Rinpoche would be a fully enlightened buddha, appearing in this world to help sentient beings.

For the most part, Buddha Shakyamuni presented Hinayana and Sutra Mahayana teachings, while Guru Padmasambhava taught the Vajrayana. Both revealed the complete and perfect path to awakening so that individuals of all capacities would be able to benefit. The absolute level of the Buddha's teaching is beyond conception. If it did not go beyond the conceptual level, there would be no need to change our normal way of understanding things. To help us realize the primordial nature, Buddha Shakyamuni taught again and again that we must transcend clinging to ordinary dualistic conceptions, narrow attitudes, close mindedness, traditional rules, beliefs and limitations.

The ultimate meaning of the highest teaching is not readily understood by sentient beings. This is why Buddha Shakyamuni kept silent for forty-nine days after his enlightenment. He thought, "I have realized the most profound and subtle dharma, the clear light free of all complexity. However, this is much too deep for normal people to understand. Therefore, I will remain silent." He knew how hard it would be to communicate the truth of his insight. Although he eventually taught tirelessly for forty-five years, his first thought reflects the extraordinary nature of the state into which he had awakened relative to mundane ideas and conceptions.

Sutra is a Sanskrit word meaning "condensed or summarized." Scripture bearing this title indicates that these teachings were directly communicated in the world in order to provide a clear understanding of both the relative and absolute aspects of our existence. They provide knowledge with which a practitioner can realize buddhahood.

Most of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings address ordinary beings and offer a direct means of understanding the nature of our experience. It is a non-esoteric view which appeals to common logic, with tenets that can be verified by close observation of the elements which constitute our everyday world. With this knowledge, you can move toward enlightenment. This is the basic intention of Sutra Mahayana.

The Vajrayana is also known as Tantra. Tantric teachings are based upon the Sutra Mahayana, but offer additional means and methods. Vajrayana practices encourage us to take a deeper look at our perceptions, to understand the primordial nature and learn to maintain mind in that state. The Sutras may be called general teachings which clarify the nature of conditional mind and perception, while the Vajrayana reveals the secret structure of phenomena and is for more advanced practitioners. Although they share the same foundation, the Vajrayana goes further toward understanding transcendental reality. To practice both Sutra and Tantra together can bring enlightenment within this life, even within a very short period of time. Such acceleration distinguishes Vajrayana techniques.

The Buddha only gave Vajrayana teachings privately, to select groups of disciples. Because the essence and even the form of these higher teachings is beyond common conception, they are also known as secret teachings. After the Buddha entered mahaparinirvana, these secret doctrines were preserved by a host of wisdom dakinis.

When Guru Rinpoche appeared as the reincarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni, he revealed the Vajrayana teachings in their entirety. This is why Guru Rinpoche is known as the Buddha of the Vajrayana.

Our present knowledge is limited to the inputs of the six sense-consciousnesses. There is a horizon to what you can see. You hear sounds within the spectrum detectable by human ears. The flavors and fragrances you are aware of are within the limits of your senses of taste and smell. What you feel is conditioned by your sensitivity, and what you think reveals the parameters of your mental concepts. We do not really extend beyond that. These six define the frontiers of our knowledge and comprise the individual point of view. We can ignore what lies beyond our senses and imagine such things cannot exist, but there really is much more to life than what we perceive.

We only notice one percent and habitually ignore the ninety nine percent still to be discovered. Our knowledge is very limited. We shouldn't block our ability to learn by assuming that what we cannot see does not exist and is not possible. This kind of thinking obstructs further knowledge. It is as if we don't really want any illumination.

We block all openings and sit there in the dark. You must open the door. This is the initial form of ignorance to be recognized. It is always necessary to stay open and be aware that there is an infinity of knowledge still to be discovered.

For example, if somebody next to you were threading a needle, it would be pretty obvious what they were doing, whereas from a hundred yards away, you would see neither the needle nor the thread. You might even imagine that there was no needle simply because you couldn't see it. This is the limitation on knowledge gleaned through the power of the eye. It doesn't mean there is nothing there. You just don't see it. There are a great many things to be discovered beyond our present understanding.

Beings who realize great equanimity discover the infinite energy of the true nature and can perform many beneficial activities using their eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. They will not always act conventionally or in ways we normally understand. They may do things which don't fit in with our common perceptions. Phenomena which seem to go beyond physical limitations are sometimes referred to as miracles. At times, those who have the capacity will display miraculous phenomena in the common world. People who don't believe in the possibility of miracles think these stories are myths, metaphors or fairy-tales. In truth, there are people who can do amazing things, just as the ancient masters did. Don't ignore certain aspects of the universe by thinking those are just stories. The universe contains an infinite variety of wondrous qualities and activities.

These actions are incomprehensible from the ordinary, mundane viewpoint. They manifest to help destroy all conventional approaches to knowledge. Ego-based discrimination and habits have separated the world into samsara and nirvana. These dualistic notions are the only real cause of unhappiness. Guru Padmasambhava breaks through that dualistic pattern to lead us into perfect enlightenment, beyond conception.

In order to have a deep understanding of the meaning of Guru Padmasambhava's activities, it is important to keep an open mind. We must go beyond our present conceptual limitations. See your tendency to doubt and criticize, and how that fills your mind with contradictions. Don't restrict your mind to the tyranny of having to affirm or deny. Most of our decisions are based in simplistic conceptual polarities. We ignorantly believe in the adequacy of this way of thinking and assume that what we don't see does not exist. If you create sharp divisions and cling to narrow definitions of subject and object, whatever you see will always appears in the context of those limitations. When you see something, you can say, "Yes, that exists," but what you do not see in the state of direct perception is easily denied. In Buddhism such views are known as obscurations or dualistic conceptions. They do not lead to true knowledge or wisdom, but are based in ignorance. It is ignorance which defines the world and puts limitations on our vision. We have to break through this barrier in order to understand the perfect activities of Guru Padmasambhava's emanations and the infinite possibilities of the true nature.

Dissolving fixed conceptions and not clinging to the limitations of sentient perception reveals the vastness of the true nature, the sphere of great equanimity. By breaking down the walls of rigid thinking, we merge with this evenness, seeing everything as inseparable and flowing in continuous transformation. This is also known as interdependent origination. In the Dzogchen teachings, it is called the unimpeded openness of the true nature.

Dzogchen is the highest teaching, but more precisely, Dzogchen is the real situation, the reality of all phenomena. Practice helps us break through the walls of ego-clinging and merge with the infinite expanse where anything is possible and everything arises perfectly without moving out of the sphere of equanimity. All of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings, from the Hinayana on through to Atiyoga, are designed to transcend dualistic conceptions and actualize the full range of marvelous activities that arise within this profound equanimity. This is the central point of the Dharma and the inspired intention behind the actions of every great master. Guru Padmasambhava's teachings offer a direct path to actualize this understanding. The siddhi of his activity is especially powerful and effective in destroying the solidity of dualistic concepts and fixed opinions, and in awakening us to true freedom.

Wisdom dakini Yeshe Ts'ogyal said that Guru Padmasambhava has nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine biographies. That's a lot of biographies! These biographies are divided three ways: those relating the one hundred and eight activities of Guru Rinpoche according to his dharmakaya buddhahood, accounts told according to his sambhogakaya nature, and works chronicling his activities as a nirmanakaya buddha.

On the dharmakaya level, Guru Rinpoche is known as the primordial buddha, Samantabhadra. Inseparable from Buddha Shakyamuni and all fully enlightened beings, he lives as those who are never obscured or deluded, always free in the ultimate sphere of dharmakaya. He is our true nature, which is also known as all-pervading primordial wisdom because it suffuses every external and internal object in the ten directions unceasingly and is known as the dharmakaya Guru Padmasambhava. Fully awakened, this great equanimity is completely free of all conditional marks or complexities.

The dharmakaya continuously emanates five wisdoms in all directions. These appear as the five dhyani buddhas or the families of wrathful, semi-wrathful, and peaceful conquerors and their retinues. All these buddhas are Guru Padmasambhava in sambhogakaya form, emanating wisdom light to liberate all sentient beings in the six realms. Different emanations of Guru Rinpoche appear in each of the six realms as well as in every direction within those realms to teach sentient beings according to their capabilities and gradually lead them all to enlightenment. There are one hundred million Guru Padmasambhavas' helping sentient beings throughout the universe.

These represent his nirmanakaya aspect. Guru Rinpoche may take any number of forms within any realm. He is not limited to appearing in any particular guise. His character and way of teaching will vary depending on the sentient beings to be instructed.

In the mundane sense, Guru Padmasambhava's activities are called "miraculous," but from the viewpoint of absolute reality, these are not unusual phenomena. They are the natural, spontaneous activity of the true nature. From the perspective of realization, our normal, everyday activities are somewhat odd and unnatural. In this sense, we are great magicians, conjuring up something totally unreal.

When Guru Padmasambhava appeared on earth, he came as a human being. In order to dissolve our attachment to dualistic conceptions and destroy complex neurotic fixations, he also exhibited some extraordinary manifestations. If we try to compare our situation and capacities with that of Guru Padmasambhava and other realized beings, we will run into some difficulty. Our actions are based in dualistic ideas and habit patterns while Guru Padmasambhava's activities arise spontaneously out of the great equanimity of the true nature. Non-dual activities are incomprehensible within the scope of dualistic understanding.

A famous Tibetan master named Sakya Pandita told of a man who journeyed to a country totally inhabited by monkeys. When he arrived, all the monkeys gathered around to examine him. They were amazed. "How strange!" they thought, "This is the most unusual monkey we have ever seen. He has no tail!" Similarly, deluded sentient beings hear of the activities of enlightened beings and think that such stories must be mythical or magic because they do not meet our preconceived ideas of how the world works.

There are many stories explaining how Guru Padmasambhava was born. Some say that he instantly appeared on the peak of Meteorite Mountain, in Sri Lanka. Others teach that he came through his mother's womb, but most accounts refer to a miraculous birth, explaining that he spontaneously appeared in the center of a lotus. 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.

Buddha Shakyamuni taught that there are infinite world systems containing an infinite number of sentient beings. Therefore, there are also countless emanations of enlightened beings to serve their awakening. There are thirty-six other world systems which are near our own. Each one hosts a different emanation of Guru Padmasambhava. I will tell you about one of these worlds. To the east of here is a world where the concept of poverty does not even exist. Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava have both emanated there to give Sutra and Vajrayana teachings. Being so strong and wealthy, it was only through the teachings that people in this world learned about poverty and imbalances like we have on earth. Upon hearing of this, they thought, "Oh, what a wonderful place! If only it was like that here, we could practice generosity and serve others. There is something very special in the acts of giving and receiving. It would be nice if we had that kind of situation in our world." This is an example of the influence of Guru Padmasambhava on beings in one of the thirty-six relatively nearby worlds.

Our own world is divided into six realms; gods, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hell realms. To help liberate all sentient beings, there is a special buddha as well as eight emanations of Guru Padmasambhava, in each of those realms. That is, there are eight emanations of Guru Padmasambhava in the god realm, eight in the asura realm, and so on. Each emanation displays unique qualities in relation to the beings to be served and might be unrecognizable by any outer signs. In the human world he displayed one hundred and eight activities. These are summarized within his twenty emanations and are most easily comprehensible as the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava. I am going to focus on these eight in the human realm as they embody his most beneficial activities on behalf of all beings.

Now you might wonder, "Why are there eight emanations instead of seven or nine?" Eight is a very special number in Buddhist philosophy. There are many meanings associated with the number eight. In a geographic sense, the eight emanations symbolize that Guru Padmasambhava offers assistance to all sentient beings in the eight directions. According to the abhidharma, the elements which make up both the external universe and the inner dimensions of sentient beings are based on eight original, very subtle atoms. These are the foundation our world is constructed on. Even the finest particles consist of aggregations of these eight. Four are known as the atoms of fire, water, earth and wind. These comprise the desire realm. Because our world has qualities of the form realm as well, there are another four atoms having to do with the aspects of shape, smell, the past and the present. Although they are very small, all eight of these hold together and give rise to coarse atoms and molecules. Nobody created these things, no one ordered them to be like this. They are just part of the natural formation of the world. There is not much more that can be said about them.

This interpretation still relates to the external level.

On the inner level, there are the eight consciousnesses. Five are related to the sense organs; eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. The sixth is the mind consciousness, the seventh is emotional consciousness and the eighth is known as the subconscious storehouse or ground consciousness. These eight consciousnesses outline the science of the inner world. Mind is vast and profound, the depth from which everything arises. The outer world emerges from and reflects this inner world. So subjectively, these eight emanations are related to the eight consciousnesses.

Also, in learning to actualize knowledge of the true nature, we practice the Eightfold Noble Path to full realization. The inner tantras contain many other teachings relating to the number eight. Our physical structure has eight big bones, there are eight major energy pathways and eight general divisions which define ego's territory.

Externally, this is symbolized by the eight great charnel grounds. In elaborate mandalas, you will find eight cemeteries, eight trees and eight stupas, eight bodies of water, eight nagas and eight gods. Eight is the number of completion in Vajrayana mandala space.

The Eight Emanations of Guru Padmasambhava are quite popular in Tibet. Many different meanings and symbols are associated with them. Externally, Guru Rinpoche's emanations may be seen as reflections of his all-pervading nature. Internally, they are the eight consciousnesses. The transformation of the eight consciousness into the five wisdoms is the secret way to understand the theme of these descriptions. Taken together, the eight manifestations communicate all three levels of meaning.

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5 reader comments:

Karma Phuntsok said...

I for one welcome and appraciate this Padmasambhava theme and will go home and practice as a result.


Anonymous said...

Aah, a couple of posts reprinting Buddhist teachings.

Getting worried that your politically motivated focus on the politics surrounding the Karmapa are ruining your unjustified reputation as a genuine Buddhist?

A knowing reader.

pemaoser said...

Thanks so much for this!

Anonymous said...

Deep thanks from my heart for this jewel that gives me courage and clarity.
I´m speechless. Will remain like that.

Andrey Khumreyo Pazinich said...

Thank you!