The following is a short life story of Guru Rinpoche (also referred to as Padmakara in the text) extracted from The Precious Garland of Lapis Lazuli, a collection of the life stories of the 108 main tertons written by Jamgon Kongtrul the First and found in Volume I of his Treasury of Precious Termas called the Rinchen Terdzod. Rinchen Terdzod is a highly revered and widely practiced set of Sadhanas and Terma practice cycles and commentaries which was envisioned by the Rime movement founders and compiled mainly by Kongtrul:
Padmakara has influenced countless beings through the Vajrayana teachings and in particular through the activity of the profound terma treasures. This great master was not an ordinary person on the path or just a noble being on one of the bodhisattva bhumis but an emanation of both Buddha Amitabha and Shakyamuni, who appeared in order to tame the human beings and spirits difficult to convert. Even the great bodhisattvas are incapable of fully explaining his life example but in brief I will narrate it as follows:
In the dharmakaya realm of the Luminous Vajra Essence he has by nature attained perfect enlightenment since the very beginning as the liberated ground of primordial purity. He is renowned as the original protector, Unchanging Light.
In the self-manifest sambhogakaya realm of the Thunder of the Drum of Perfection, he spontaneously manifested as the boundless wisdom array of the five Buddha Families of the Immense Ocean possessing the five certainties.
As the external manifestation of this self-appearing display, in the countless sceneries of bodily forms in buddhafields of the five families consisting of the semi-manifest natural nirmanakaya realms of Mahabrahma, he appears to all the bodhisattvas on the ten bhumis. Since these all are the cloudbanks of Guru Rinpoche's wisdom display, the 'inexhaustible wheel of adornment,' he is known as the All-Holding Lotus.
By the power of these wisdom displays he appears in countless worlds of the ten directions as the magical apparition of nirmanakayas who tame beings. In particular, it is taught that only in this Saha world-system he illuminates fifty worlds with the lamp of the teachings of Sutra and Tantra appearing as the eight manifestations to tame beings in the different parts of the world.
The Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal had a vision in which she saw a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche called Immense Vajra Ocean in the direction to the east. Each of the pores in his body held one billion realms and in each realm there were one billion world systems. In each of these world systems there were one billion Guru Rinpoches who each created one billion emanations. Each of these emanations carried out the activity of taming one billion disciples. She then saw the same display in each of the other directions and in the center. In this world of Jambudvipa, Guru Rinpoche is known as a single nirmanakaya who tames beings, but according to the different capacities and giftedness of people he is perceived in various ways.
The history of the Oral Transmission of Kilaya and most Indian sources explain that he was born as the son of a king or a minister in Uddiyana; while the terma treasures for the most part narrate that he was miraculously born. In some texts he is said to have appeared from a bolt of lightning at the summit of Mount Malaya. Each of these wondrous stories differs in many ways. This is indeed a topic that lies far beyond the reach of an ordinary person's intellect.
I shall now limit the explanation down to a mere seed, the life of Guru Rinpoche according to his miraculous birth as it appears in the terma teachings:
In the land of Uddiyana situated to the west of Bodhgaya there was an island in a huge lake on which appeared a multicolored lotus flower through the blessings of the buddhas. From his heart center, the buddha Amitabha sent into the bud of this lotus flower a golden vajra marked with the letter HRIH, which miraculously turned into a small child eight years of age, holding a vajra and a lotus, and adorned with all the major and minor marks of perfection. The child remained there teaching the profound Dharma to the devas and the dakinis on the island.
At that time Indrabodhi, who was the king of the country, had no sons. He had already emptied out his treasury by making offerings to the Three Jewels and giving alms to the poor. As a last resort, he embarked with his minister Krishnadhara on a journey on the great lake in order to find a wish-fulfilling jewel. On their return, first Krishnadhara and later king Indrabodhi met the miraculous child. The king regarded him as an answer to his prayers for a son and brought him to the palace where he was given the name of Padmakara, the Lotus Born. Padmakara was then asked to sit on a throne made of precious gems and given lavish offerings by all the people.
The prince grew up, bringing countless beings to maturation through his youthful sports and games. He married the princess Prabhadhari and ruled the kingdom of Uddiyana in accordance with the Dharma. At that time he perceived that he would be unable to accomplish the immense welfare of beings by governing a country, so he asked Indrabodhi the permission to leave, which was not granted. In an act of play, he then pretended that his trident slipped out of his hand, fell and killed the son of one of the ministers. He was then sentenced to be expelled to a charnel ground. So he remained in Cool Grove, Joyful Forest and Sosaling, engaging in the conduct of yogic disciplines. During this time he received empowerment and blessings from the two dakinis Tamer of Mara and Sustainer of Bliss. When bringing all the dakinis of the charnel grounds under his command, he was known as Shantarakshita.
Padmakara returned to Uddiyana, to the island in Lake Danakosha where he practiced the Secret Mantra and the symbolic language of the dakinis through which he brought the dakinis of the island under his command. He then practiced in the Rugged Forest and was blessed with a vision of Vajrayogini. He bound under oath all the nagas of the lakes as well as the planetary spirits and was invested with supernatural powers by all the dakas and dakinis. Thus he became renowned as Dorje Drakpo Tsal, Wrathful Vajra Power.
He then journeyed to the vajra throne in Bodhgaya where he showed many miracles. People asked who he was and when he replied that he was a self-appeared buddha they did not believe but instead defamed him. Seeing the many reasons to have a teacher, he went to Zahor where he took ordination from Prabhahasti and was given the name of Shakya Senge, Lion of the Shakyas. He received the teaching on Yoga Tantra eighteen times and had visions of the deities. Then he went to the female master Kungamo who was the wisdom dakini Guhya Jñana appearing in the form of a nun. He asked for empowerment and she changed him into the letter HUNG, which she then swallowed and emitted through her lotus. Inside her body he was bestowed the entire outer, inner and secret empowerments and purified of the three obscurations.
Later, he met the eight great knowledge-holders and received the Eight Sadhana Sections. He received the Magical Net from the great master Buddha Guhya and Dzogchen from Shri Singha. In this way he studied and received all the sutras, tantras and sciences from numerous learned and accomplished masters of India. He became adept by learning a topic just once and had visions of all the deities even without practicing. At this time he was known as Loden Choksey and displayed the manner of perfecting the vidyadhara level of maturation.
He then went to the country of Zahor where he magnetized Mandarava, a qualified dakini who was the daughter of king Vihardhara. Taking her as his sadhana support, they practiced for three months in the Maratika Cave after which the buddha Amitayus in person appeared, conferred empowerment upon them, and blessed them to be inseparable from himself. They were given one billion tantras on longevity and accomplished the vidyadhara level of life-mastery.
Having attained the vajra body beyond birth and death, they went back to the kingdom of Zahor to teach. While begging for alms, they were arrested by the king and his ministers and burned alive. But the master and his consort inspired them with faith by displaying the miracle of transforming the pyre into a cool lake, in the center of which they sat on a lotus flower. In this way they caused all the people to embrace the practice of the Dharma and established them in the state beyond falling back in samsara.
Padmakara then returned to convert the people of Uddiyana. While begging for alms, he was recognized and burned in a huge pyre of sandalwood. The master and his consort again appeared unharmed on a lotus flower in the center of a lake, wearing a garland of skulls symbolizing the liberating of all sentient beings from samsara. Because of showing this miracle he was then renowned as Padma Tötreng Tsal, Powerful Lotus of the Garland of Skulls.
He remained in Uddiyana for 13 years as the king's teacher and established the whole kingdom in the practice of the Dharma. During this time he gave the empowerment and teachings for the Dharma Ocean Embodying All Teachings (Kadü Chökyi Gyamtso), through which the king and the queen, as well as all the destined ones, accomplished the supreme vidyadhara level. He was then known as Padma Raja, the Lotus King.
In accordance with a prophecy in the Sutra on Magical Perception, Padmakara transformed himself into the monk Wangpo Dey in order to convert king Ashoka. Having established Ashoka in unshakable faith, during a single night he erected in this world one million stupas containing the relics of the Tathagata. He also subdued several non-buddhist teachers, was poisoned by one king but remained unharmed and, when was then thrown into a river, made the river flow upstream dancing about in mid-air. Through that he became known as Powerful Garuda Youth.
Moreover, Padmakara manifested himself in the form of Acharya Padmavajra, the master who revealed the Hevajra Tantra, as well as the Brahmin Saraha, Dombi Heruka, Virupa, Kalacharya and many other siddhas. He practiced in the great charnel grounds where he taught the Secret Mantra to the dakinis. He subdued the outer and inner mundane spirits and named them protectors of the Dharma. At that time he became known as Nyima Özer [Skt. Suryaprabha].
When five hundred non-buddhist teachers were about to defeat the Dharma in debate at Bodhgaya, Padmakara challenged them and was victorious. Some of the teachers resorted to evil spells, but Padmakara scattered them by means of a wrathful mantra given by the dakini Tamer of Mara. The rest converted to Buddhism and the banner of the Dharma was raised to the skies. At that time he became known as Senge Dradrok, Lion's Roar. Up to this point he had exhausted the three defilements and resided on the vidyadhara level of life-mastery, the stage of having fully perfected the supreme path.
Proceeding to the cave of Yangleshö, situated between India and Nepal, he met Shakya Devi, the daughter of a Nepalese king, whom he accepted as his sadhana support and consort. While practicing Vishuddha Heruka three powerful spirits created obstacles, preventing rainfall for three years and causing disease and famine. Padmakara sent messengers to India asking his masters for a teaching that could counteract these obstacles. Two men returned loaded with the Kilaya scriptures and the obstacles were spontaneously pacified the very moment they arrived with the scriptures in Nepal. Padmakara and his consort then attained the supreme siddhi and abided on the vidyadhara level of mahamudra.
Guru Rinpoche perceived that the practice of Vishuddha Heruka brings great accomplishment, but that practice is like a traveling trader who meets with many hindrances, whereas Kilaya is like an indispensable escort. Due to this coincidence, Guru Rinpoche composed many sadhanas combining these two herukas. At that place he also bound under oath the sixteen mundane protectors of Vajra Kilaya.
Padmakara visited other kingdoms where he taught the Dharma: Hurmudzu in the vicinity of Uddiyana, Sikojhara, Dharmakosha, Rugma, Tirahuti, Kamarupa, and Kancha, as well as many others. It is not sure when he went to the land of Droding, but the tantric teachings he gave there on Hevajra, Guhyachandra Bindu, Vishuddha, Hayagriva, Kilaya and Mamo are still continued till this present day.
Padmakara is generally regarded to have lived in India for 3600 years benefiting the teachings and the sentient beings. But it seems that some learned people accept that to be half-years and simply a generalization. In order to convert people in Mongolia and China Padmakara emanated in the form of the king Ngonshe Chen and the yogi Tobden. Moreover, he appeared in the country of Shangshung as the miraculously born child Tavi Hricha who gave the instructions on the hearing lineage of Dzogchen and led many worthy disciples to the attainment of the rainbow body.
In this way Padmakara's activity for bringing people to the path of liberation by means of appearing in various places, in various forms, speaking various languages, is indeed beyond measure.
Now I will describe how Padmakara came here to the land of Tibet. When king Trisong Deutsen, an emanation of Manjushri himself, was twenty years of age, he formed a strong aspiration to spread the sacred teachings of the Dharma. He invited Khenpo Bodhisattva from India who taught the doctrine of dependent origination and the ten virtuous actions. A year later the foundation was laid for a huge temple but the spirits of Tibet created obstacles and prevented the building. In accordance with the Khenpo's prediction, the king sent five runners to invite the great master Padmakara to come. Having foreknowledge of this, Padmakara had already gone to Mangyül between Nepal and Tibet. On the way to Central Tibet, he went via Ngari, Tsang and Dokham, and miraculously visited all of the districts where he bound under oath the 12 Tenma Goddesses, the 13 Gurlha and 21 Genyen, as well as many other powerful spirits.
At the Tamarisk Forest at Red Rock he met the king of Tibet. Then he proceeded to the top of the Hepori Mountain to bring gods and demons under his command. He laid the foundation for Samye and saw it through to completion, employing also the gods and demons who had earlier hindered the building. In five years the work was completed for the temple complex of Glorious Samye, the Unchanging and Spontaneously Accomplished Temple, including the three temples of the queens, which was built to resemble Mount Sumeru surrounded by the four continents, eight subcontinents, sun and moon, and the wall of iron mountains. During the consecration ceremony five wondrous signs occurred. The king then wished to translate the scriptures and establish the Dharma so he had many intelligent Tibetan boys study to become translators. Inviting other masters of the Tripitaka from India, he had the Khenpo ordain the first seven monks and gradually establish an ordained sangha. Khenpo Bodhisattva and Padmakara, and the other panditas together with Vairochana, Kawa Paltseg and Chogro Lui Gyaltsen and the other translators, then rendered into Tibetan all the existent Buddhist scriptures on Sutra and Tantra as well as most of the treatises explaining them.
Vairotsana and Namkhai Nyingpo were sent to India where Vairotsana studied Dzogchen with Shri Singha while Namkhai Nyingpo received the teachings on Vishuddha Heruka from the great master Hungkara. They both attained accomplishment and spread the teachings in Tibet. King Trisong Deutsen then requested empowerment and instruction from Padmakara. At Chimphu, the hermitage above Samye, the great master disclosed the mandala of Eight Heruka Sadhanas into which he initiated nine chief disciples including the king. Each of them was entrusted with a specific transmission and all nine attained siddhi through practicing the respective teaching.
Padmakara gave numberless other profound and extraordinary teachings connected with the three inner tantras to many destined students headed by the king and his sons and the 25 disciples in Lhodrak, Tidro and many other places.
Guru Rinpoche remained in Tibet for 55 years and six months; 48 years while the king was alive and seven years and six months afterwards. He arrived when the king was 21 (810 A.D.). The king passed away at the age of 69. Padmakara stayed for a few years after that before leaving for the land of the rakshas.
Padmakara visited in person the 20 Snow Mountains of Ngari, the 21 places of practice in Central Tibet and Tsang, the 25 sacred places of Dokham, the three hidden valleys, and numerous other places each of which he blessed to be a sacred place of practice. Knowing that a descendant of the king would later try to destroy Buddhism in Tibet, he gave many predictions for the future.
Conferring with the king and the close disciples, Padmakara concealed countless terma teachings headed by the eight personal treasures of the king, the five great mind treasures, and the 25 profound treasures. The reasons for hiding these termas were to prevent the teachings of Secret Mantra to be destroyed, to avoid [...] the Vajrayana's [being] corrupted or modified by intellectuals, to preserve the blessings and to benefit future disciples. For each of these hidden treasures Padmakara predicted the time of the disclosure, the person who would reveal them, and the destined recipients who would hold the teachings.
He manifested in the terrifying wrathful form of crazy wisdom in the thirteen places named Tiger's Nest binding all the mundane spirits under oath to serve the Dharma and entrusted them to guard the terma treasures. At that time he was named Dorje Drollö.
To inspire faith in future generations, he left an imprint of his body at Bumtang, handprints at Namtso Chugmo and footprints at Paro Drakar as well as in innumerable other places of practice. After the death of king Trisong Deutsen, Padmakara placed Mutig Tsenpo on the throne. He performed a drubchen at Tramdruk where he entrusted the profound teachings to Gyalsey Lhaje, the second prince, and gave him the prophecy that he would benefit beings by becoming a revealer of the hidden treasures in thirteen future lives.
It is impossible to count exactly how many students in Tibet received empowerment from Padmakara in person, but the most renowned are the original 25 disciples, the intermediate 25 disciples and the later 17 and 21 disciples. There were 80 of his students who attained rainbow body at Yerpa and also the 108 meditators at Chuwori, the 30 tantrikas at Yangdzong, the 55 realized ones at Sheldrag. Of female disciples there were the 25 dakinis and seven yoginis. Many of these close students had bloodlines that have continued until the present day.
When about to leave for the land of rakshas to the southwest, the king, the ministers and all the disciples tried to dissuade Padmakara from parting but to no avail. He gave each of them extensive advice and teachings and departed from the pass of Gungtang, riding on a horse or a lion, accompanied by numerous divine beings making offerings. At the summit of the glorious Copper Colored Mountain on the Chamara continent he liberated Raksha Tötreng, the king of the rakshas, and assumed his form. After that, he miraculously created the palace of Lotus Light endowed with inconceivable decorations and also emanated a replica of himself on each of the surrounding eight islands where they reside as kings who teach the eight herukas' sadhanas.
At present he dwells on the vidyadhara level of spontaneous presence in the form of the regent of Vajradhara, unshakable for as long as samsara remains. Full of compassion he sends out emanations to benefit beings. Even after the teachings of the Vinaya have perished he will appear among the tantric practitioners. There will be many destined disciples who attain rainbow body. In the future, when Buddha Maitreya appears in this world, Padmakara will emanate as Drowa Kundul and spread the teachings of Secret Mantra to all worthy people."
Translated by the Erik Pema Kunsang, and included in Dakini Teachings, © Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1990.