Introducing Samye Institute's Vajrayana Membership

Atisha

ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་
a ti sha mar me mdzad dpal ye shes
Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna
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Author: Samye Institute
Last Updated: July 15, 2022

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Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna was the second son in a royal house in eastern India. His birth name was  Candragarbha. According to Tibetan sources, Atiśa studied with a number of the Indian mahāsiddhas, including Jetari, Kāṇha, Avadhūtīpa, Ḍombipa, and Nāropa. He is said to have received the bodhisattva vow at Nālandā University from the master Bodhibhadra. He reported that he ordained at the age of twenty-nine after having a dream in which the Buddha himself urged him to take monastic vows.

He voyaged to Sumatra where he remained for twelve years, training in bodhicitta with the monk Guru Suvarṇadvīpa. When he returned to India, he took up a teaching post at Vikramaśila.

Tibetan annals include long stories detailing the lengthy process of inviting Atiśa to Tibet. The king of Purang, Lha Lama Yeshe Wo, was a descendent of the Yarlung kings whose dynasty ended when the Tibetan Empire collapsed in 842. Greatly disturbed by the state of Buddhist practice in the fractured state, he sent a mission to Kashmir in order to obtain genuine texts and to receive teachings. Of the original group of twenty-one young Tibetans, only two survived the trip to return.

One was the translator Rinchen Zangpo ( 958-1055), who established many in Western Tibet and what is now Ladakh. Rinchen Zangpo told the Purang kings about the famous teacher Atiśa. King Yeshe Wo had collected large sums of gold to entice Atiśa’ to give up his post at Vikramaśila and teach in Tibet. According to the stories, at this time Yeshe Wo was kidnapped by the Qarlug Mongol ruler. The Mongolian demanded a ransom of all the gold which the king had planned to offer to Atiśa. Yeshe Wo bravely told his kinsman Jangchub Wo that he would remain a captive or die so that Atiśa could be brought to Tibet.

The leadership of Vikramaśila did not agree to the move, and the annals describe many plots to spirit Atiśa away.  Finally, however, Tārā herself advised him to make the trip, indicating that although his own lifespan would be shorter, he would benefit more beings.

In 1040 Atiśa left India, arriving after two years of travel at Tolung the capital of the Purang Kingdom. He remained Tolung for three years, giving teachings that eventually became recorded as the renowned text, Bodhipathapradīpa, or Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The pith sixty-seven verses describe the Buddhist path according to three vehicles: Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna. This text served as a model for an emerging genre of Lamrim, or Stages of the Path literature.

From Tolung, he then traveled to the central lands of U and Tsang, where he taught regularly at monasteries. Then Atiśa spent five years at Nyetang, in the southern Kyichu valley south of Lhasa. A temple erected there a year after Atiśa’s death, marks the place where his body was preserved. In 1056, his heart disciple Dromton established Reting Monastery, the first seat of the Kadam tradition.

The Bodhisattva’s Garland of Jewels

by Atiśa Dīpaṃkara

In the language of India: Bodhisattvamaṇyāvalī

In the language of Tibet: changchub sempé norbü trengwa (byang chub sems dpa’i nor bu’i phreng ba)

In the English language: The Bodhisattva’s Garland of Jewels

Homage to great compassion!
Homage to the deities who inspire faith and devotion!
Homage to the masters!

Be done with doubt and indecision,
And embrace your practice with all your heart.

Shake off lethargy, dullness and laziness,
And strive always with enthusiasm and joy.

Mindful, vigilant and careful,
Guard the doorways of your senses at every moment.

Three times each day, three times at night,
Again and again, examine your thoughts.

Make plain your own failings,
But don’t look for faults in others.

Make known the good points of others,
But keep quiet about your own best qualities.

Let go of craving for gain and honour,
And give up the urge for profit or fame.

Cultivate love and compassion,
And make your bodhicitta stable.

Avoid the ten unwholesome actions,
And make your faith and confidence be strong.

Except from The Bodhisattva’s Garland of Jewels by Atiśa Dīpaṃkara.