|Preface to the
|The following preface is drawn with the kind permission of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama from a good will message delivered at the conference on the one thousand year celebration of Atisha's birth.|
The venerable Jowo Je Atisha was not only important to Indians, but he showed inconceivable kindness to Tibetans as well, and we should be especially mindful of him on this occasion in celebration of the millennium since his birth.
Buddhism was first introduced and developed in Tibet during the reigns of the three great kings (Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Deutson, and Ralpachen), when the Indian masters Shantirakshita and Padma Sambhava laid the foundations of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana teachings. The traditions they established almost disappeared during the rule of King Langdarma, and for more than seventy years after this, the sangha was non-existent. Although thereafter Lochen Rinchen Zangpo of Nga Ri and Lachen Gongpa Rabsel of lower Tibet gradually built up the sangha again, there developed the attitude that the sutras and tantras were in total contradiction, like hot and cold. Moreover, because the meaning of the tantras was misconstrued, the monastic practice of moral discipline (vinaya) was endangered.
At this time there appeared the kings Yeshe Yod and Jangchub Yod, who were unable to bear the state into which Tibetan Buddhism had fallen. At great personal effort they sent Gyatsundru Senge and Nagtso Lotsawa to India to invite Atisha to Tibet.
The master Atisha arrived during the reign of Jangchub Yod, and he spent three years in Nga Ri, nine between Yerpa and Nyetang and then another five in various other places in central Tibet. Thus he dedicated the final years of his life to the cause of Dharma in Tibet, restoring it where it had disappeared, strengthening it where it still existed, and reforming it where wrong ideas had crept in. This he accomplished by means of disseminating the unmistaken oral transmission teaching whereby one individual can practice all aspects of the Buddha Dharma, including both the Sutrayana and Vajrayana, in a single session.
His teaching represented the very heart of all Buddha's words, combining the vast instructions given by Maitreya to Asanga and his brother Vasubhandu with the profound legacy transmitted by Manjushri to Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. Thus he established and disseminated the pure and stainless Buddha Dharma in both Hinayana and Mahayana aspects, the latter including the Vajrayana.
His tradition, which has come down to us today in an unbroken line of gurus beginning with his chief disciple Dromtonpa, came to be known as the Kadampa Order. Their trademark was this synthesis of the various vehicles (yanas), as expressed by their saying, "The external practice is moral discipline (i.e. Hinayana); the inner practice is the bodhi-mind (i.e. Mahayana); and, practiced in secret, is the secret mantra (i.e. Vajrayana)." In the Kadampa Order, these three were taken as interconnected, intersupportive aspects of training.
The fact that we today still have access to all aspects of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana paths is very much due to the work of the Venerable Atisha. Thus it is excellent if on this occasion we can honor him in our minds and offer prayers to him. More importantly, we should meditate on the sublimely altruistic bodhisattva spirit which is based on love and compassion. Atisha himself made this his principal practice, and he suggested to his disciples that they do the same. If we can follow this advice, perhaps his kindness will be repaid, at least in part, and his wishes fulfilled.
H.H, the Dalai Lama
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