Known as Pema Jungné (‘the lotus-born’) or Guru Rinpoche (‘the precious guru’) in Tibet, Padmasambhava is seen as the true founder of Tibetan Buddhism, a second Buddha who established the dharma in the land of the red-faced men. Padmasambhava is said to have been invited to Tibet to help found the first Tibetan monastery, Samyé, and tame the local demonic forces that were obstructing the establishment of the monastery.
In the earliest histories, Padmasambhava’s role is limited to this, and perhaps to introducing the technology of irrigation to the valleys of Central Tibet. In later histories, Padmasambhava’s role is far greater. In particular, his is said to have concealed uncountable books and sacred objects throughout Tibet, for discovery when the time became ripe. The discoverers are the famed tertön and the hidden treasures are the terma.
Despite his importance to Tibetan Buddhism there are few early manuscript sources on Padmasambhava (most of which have been discussed by Jacob Dalton and Kenneth Eastman). One of the rare and important sources is IOL Tib J 321, a 10th century manuscript containing a commentary on a tantra called the Upāyapāśa attributed to Padmasambhava. The commentary survived into the later tradition, but the attribution to Padmasambhava was lost. The authorship of the commentary is suggested in two places. The first is a simple note that states: “This was taught by Padmasambhava without any fabrications of his own.”
The second is a verse that is attached to the end of the commentary, praising “Padmarāja”. An interlinear note confirms that this is Padmasambhava: “Acārya Śāntigarbha examined this and found it free from error; afterwards he praised Padmasambhava.”
Śāntigarbha is an obscure figure in Tibetan history, one of the Indian gurus invited to Tibet along with Padmasambhava, who was involved in the transmission of tantras to Tibet. Although the attribution of this text to Padmasambhava is fairly well-known, Śāntigarbha’s verses of praise to Padmasambhava have never been translated or discussed (as far as I know):
Homage to Padmarāja, beyond the world,
The great marvel, attainer of the supreme accomplishment,
Who brought out of the valleys
The great and secret instructions of the tathāgatas.
/dngos grub mchog brnyes ya mtshan chen po’i/
/’jig rten ma gyur pad ma rgyal po yis/
/de bzhin gshegs pa’i man ngag gsang chen rnams/
/klung nas bkrol mdzad de la phyag ‘tshal lo/
Two things about these verses interest me very much. The first is the similarity of the first line (the second line in my translation) to the Seven Line Prayer, a much more famous set of verses of praise to Padmasambhava which is still recited today. Śāntigarbha’s verses seem to have been a forerunner and source for the Seven Line Prayer. The second interesting aspect of these verses is the reference to bringing secret instructions out of the valleys. The “valleys” may be a reference to Oḍḍiyāna, Padmasambhava’s homeland, which also happens to be where many tantras are said to have entered the human realm. The association of Padmasambhava with the revelation of tantras (not found in any history) is a surprising link to the later terma tradition, not in the traditional sense in which he is said to have concealed the terma, but as a revealer of treasures himself, a model for the later tertöns.
Finally, just in case I have given the impression that Padmasambhava actually wrote this manuscipt, let me be clear that he didn’t. The scribe has signed the manuscript, and we can see that he was a local to the Dunhuang area, probably a Chinese from Ganzhou, who went by the name Kamchupa Buoko.
1. Dalton, Jacob. 2004. “The Early Development of the Padmasambhava Legend in Tibet: A Study of IOL Tib J 644 and Pelliot tibétain 307.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124.4: 759-772.
2. Eastman, Kenneth. 1983. “Mahāyoga Texts at Tun-huang”. Bulletin of Institute of Buddhist Cultural Studies (Ryukoku University) 22: 42–60.
3. Germano, David. 2002. “The Seven Descents and the Early History of rNying ma transmissions.” The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism (eds Helmut Eimer and David Germano), Leiden: Brill. 225–263.