Great Image [Shambhala Sale Edition]

The Life Story of Vairochana the Translator

Author : Ani Jinba Palmo

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Great Image [Shambhala Sale Edition]

Book Details

  • Publisher : Shambhala Publications
  • Published : 2004
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 334
  • Size : 228 x 150mm
  • Category :
    Sale Books
  • Category 2 :
    Tibetan Buddhism: General
  • Catalogue No : 21835
  • ISBN 13 : 9781590300695
  • ISBN 10 : 1590300696
Wisdom Price : £6.60
Publishers Price : £22.00 (Save 70%)
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New/Red dot copies. A translation of the Great Image, the autobiography of Vairochana, one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhist history. Vairochana was renowned as a great translator and yogi-scholar and his life story is important not only from a historical standpoint, but also because it is spiritually inspiring.

The Great Image is the autobiography of Vairochana, as told to a group of his students near the end of his life in the eighth century. The story includes details of Vairochana's sixteen trials, which include such episodes as his escape from attack by wild animals, from am ambush by soldiers and robbers, from imprisonment, and from attempted poisoning. The book also includes a history of how the Buddha's teachings were passed from one Indian sage to the next throughout the centuries, via a lineage that included kings and prostitutes, until they were brought to Tibet by Vairochana.

"The great translator Vairochana, crown ornament of all Indian and Tibetan scholars, who was equal in realization and accomplishment to the second Buddha from Oddiyana, extended the life force of the Buddhist teachings and living beings in Tibet in one lifetime." Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

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The Significance of This Biography


OUT OF HIS limitless compassion, the Buddha has sent forth many emanations-kings, ministers, normal people, prostitutes, even animals. Due to individual karma and pure perception, beings could meet them. Others were not able to recognize these emanations because they lacked the karma and merit. Instead, they would become envious and angry and so rob or kill the normal people, have intercourse with the prostitutes, worship the kings and ministers, and use the animals for their own benefit.

Though Tibet was a country of barbarians, the Buddha sent many emanations, such as King Trisong Deutsen, Padmasambhava, and Shantarakshita, who established the doctrine in Tibet. People like Thonmi Sambhota went through countless difficulties to create the letters of the alphabet.

In that dark land, many translators, headed by the great Vairochana, translated countless Dharma texts. Contemporary translators are quite inferior. These days translators are only motivated by the desire for fame or titles. They do not know Tibetan very well, rely on dictionaries, and jot things down without really knowing anything about practice or context. Vairotsana, on the other hand, never translated anything before he received many teachings and had practiced and realized them. He was also a great inventor of words, unlike contemporary translators who try to invent new words. For example, if tong pa nyi is translated as emptiness, it falls into the extreme of void. But when Vairotsana translated the word shunyata, he considered it from many angles and came up with tong pa-nyi, which expresses a lot of potential, the complete opposite of the word "empty."

I would like to suggest that you not read this biography as an ordinary novel. Reading novels about love and anger only creates attachment or hatred accordingly. Reading complicated books will just cause dullness. Many philosophical texts have already been translated into English, so I feel that it is now very beneficial to make biographies available. You see, worldly life is based on mimicking. Whoever mimics best is the most successful, even among Dharma practitioners. Anyone who wants to be a genuine human being has to mimic someone; for example, all the great lamas of the past mimicked the buddhas and bodhisattvas. People sometimes say, "I don't know what the Dharma is or how to practice it," while holding a difficult book on Madhyamaka. They are like travelers without a guide. If they would read biographies, they would know how the great beings of the past lived, how they found their guru and treated and served him. By reading their biographies you can learn how tolerant you should be. You would no longer expect the highest teachings at your first meeting with a guru or expect great experiences as soon as you received teachings. Nor should you keep changing gurus or expect good dreams. Seeing how the great beings of the past acted will help one's practice very much. Biographies, like this one, can have a very positive influence on your life, so you should keep an open mind about it. You may find that there is a lot of repetition, but in one's daily life things are repeated all the time. You should be tolerant when reading these repetitions; it is Tibetan style to repeat things.

Just by reading such biographies one will gain understanding about how to live and practice. But mere understanding is not enough; you need to put what you have learned into action. So I would like to explain some Dharma. As this is not an ordinary biography, the view, meditation, and action are explained in detail. So, if you do not know the main points of the Dharma, it will be difficult to understand this biography. If you have some understanding of the Dharma, you will understand how to practice Buddhism, Mantrayana, and especially Dzogchen.

There are many general Dzogchen teachings, but it is very hard to find a real Dzogchen practitioner, a Dzogchenpa. There is a difference between those two. The Buddha said: "Don't depend on a person, depend on the teachings." Of course, one has to depend on the teachings, but it is important for beginners to have an example of how to practice and approach the teachings. It is said that the Buddha taught more than 84,000 different methods to cure the defilements of sentient beings. He is the supreme doctor to cure sentient beings' diseases of conflicting emotions. Ordinary doctors only give medicine for one particular disease, but the Buddha has countless different ways to subdue the different defilements of countless different beings. Some beings have more anger, some more desire, and some more ignorance. Some methods teach to give up the defilements, some that the defilements have no essence, some how to use the defilements on the path, and others that desire is useless and should be abandoned. These are methods to subdue those who think mostly about themselves and don't have the ability to benefit others in an elaborate way. The Buddha himself cut his hair, wore robes, carried a begging bowl, and through his twelve acts subdued beings, teaching them how to live, to give up desire, practice celibacy, and so on. In harmony with the social mores of 2,500 years ago, he lived in a particular way and taught specific methods. For those who do not think only about themselves, who have a broader mind, are more responsible, have more capacity to benefit others, who have the guts to listen! to the ultimate teachings, the Buddha did not teach them to shave their heads, wear robes, and so forth. They could wear fancy clothes and have long hair. Since for them desire was hollow, it was useless to abandon it. For them, the Buddha manifested in sambhogakaya form. Such people might have strong desire, but they can accept everything; whatever teaching is given to them fits in their brain. Such beings are like rare jewels. For one and the same conflicting emotion the Buddha taught countless different methods in countless different forms and places, using completely different styles and words.

Subduing one's mind is of foremost importance; as the Buddha said:

"Tame your own mind, that is my doctrine." Many different methods exist for taming the mind. Some people say that there is a mind, some that there is no mind; some say that objects and mind are different, others that objects and mind are inseparable. Whatever the case, taming one's own mind is still the most important point. All worldly happiness and suffering is experience; nothing solid exists that is not dependent on one's own experience. For example, if one thinks that behind the mountain there is a lake, it depends on one's experience; you can call that "the expression of one's personal experience." There is impure experience, such as hells, hungry ghosts, animal realms, birth, death, illness, and old age, as well as pure experience, such as the kayas and wisdoms. Yogis practicing the path have experiences that buddhas and sentient beings do not have. What buddhas see is one thing, what sentient beings see is another, and what yogis see is something else again. However, it is all mind.

In the snowy land of Tibet many great beings and learned ones established many Dharma institutes, argued about the doctrine, wrote commentaries, established monasteries, colleges, and innumerable methods to subdue the mind. Some would say that mind has to be destroyed, some that it has to be transformed, and some that it has to be analyzed. Likewise, there are countless extraordinary methods. Among these extraordinary methods Dzogchen is one of the best, as it combines appearances and emptiness, as well as awareness and emptiness. Indivisible awareness and emptiness is the trekcho practice, and indivisible appearances and emptiness is the thogal practice. This combination makes the Dzogchen path unique. Though it contains many high words and so forth, the Dzogchen teachings are just another way to tame the mind.

Many places are mentioned in this biography, such as Akanishta and other buddha-fields, about which the ordinary reader will understand little, if anything. In this worldly realm you have to know where things come from; even if you are buying a pen, you should know where it was made, and so on. People are in the habit of asking where things come from, where they were made, etc. Similarly, it is important to understand the history of everything; by doing so you can inspire people by providing information about people and things. For example, if you provide good information about somebody, people will accept that person, and so on. In general, each religion has its own history. It is important to know who gave the teachings and where they originated. The ordinary history of the Buddha explains that he performed twelve acts, such as being conceived in his mother's womb, taking birth in Lumbini, and so on, until he passed into nirvana. All three vehicles are in agreement that the Buddha taught three sets of teachings. But when it comes to the extraordinary history people often ask, "Where did this Vajrayana teaching come from? There are no facts about where it was taught and to whom. Where did it originate? The history books don't say where it was taught!" So they do not believe in it and think Vajrayana is not a Buddhist teaching. Some say the Vajrayana teachings, especially those of Dzogchen, are Bonpo, and some say they are Hashang.

So, in brief, the outer history is that of Shakyamuni and the inner history is that of Samantabhadra, which is beyond time and so lacks dates and such. Usually, people like to hear about what came first and what came last; but to describe Samantabhadra in this way is impossible. Samantabhadra is not subject to limits of time, place, or physical conditions. Samantabhadra is not a colored being with two eyes, etc. Samantabhadra is the unity of awareness and emptiness, the unity of appearances and emptiness, the nature of mind, natural clarity with unceasing compassion-that is Samantabhadra from the very beginning. His retinue is not separate from him; it is the five buddhas teaching Dharma to those of highest capacity. The five buddhas do not teach accepting or abandoning anything good or bad, such as samsara is bad and nirvana is good. As the term samsara does not even exist, neither is there any relief from samsara or attainment of enlightenment. That is the actual truth. The five buddhas explain the real nature of things without words or phrases, beyond explaining or explanation; but due to our defilements, we do not accept this fact. On the other hand, yogis with pure vision will recognize the five buddhas, not as five-colored forms but as the pure nature without any defilement. As Samantabhadra is not something made by the mind, he cannot teach anything mind-made, such as time. Nor is where he teaches conditioned, such as a place you can reach by train, like Bodhgaya or Sarnath. It is not limited by any distance, boundary, or center, and the wheel of Dharma never ceases turning. This is the secret history of the doctrine.

So, while reading this biography, you should use Vairotsana as an example of how to act, practice, and contemplate and try to become like him.

Prapoutel, France, 1990

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