Second Dalai Lama
His Life and Teachings
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The extraordinary life story of the second Dalai Lama, who was known as "the Mad Beggar" due to his lack of attachment to worldly things, brought together with translations of his spontaneous songs of the ecstasy of enlightenment. Previously published as Mystical Verses of a Mad Dalai Lama.
"For me the Second Dalai Lama was the greatest of all the early Dalai Lamas. He possesed exceptional qualities and during his life became both a great scholar and an accomplished practitioner. He himself admitted that he had achieved a profound realization of shunyata, or emptiness, the ultimate level of reality...The Second Dalai Lama typically signed most of his writings "the Mad Beggar Gendun Gyatso." Sometimes he also used the name Melodious Laughing Vajra, and sometimes "the Yogi of Space." When he calls himself "Mad Beggar", he is referring not to his having no possessions, but to his not being attached to anything. When you have no attachment, you are freed of all worldly concerns. This is an important theme in tantric teachings according to which a practitioner uses sensual objects without becoming attached to them. The implication of "Mad" here is that when a person gains experience of emptiness his perception is as different from that of ordinary people as a madman`s. Due to his realization of emptiness a practitioner completely transcends the conventional way of viewing the world." The Dalai Lama.
Read an extract of this title
Tibet, located at the center of Asia, covers a territory of over two million square miles. A land of towering mountains and fertile valleys, the average altitude at which Tibet's people live is twelve thousand feet above sea level.
In ancient times Tibet served as both a crossroads to and a buffer state between Asia's superpowers: Persia to the west, India to the south, Mongolia to the north, and China to the east. Undoubtedly Tibet absorbed cultural influences from all four. However, in more recent times (since the mid-seventh century A.D.) Tibet has been principally a cultural satellite of India and a stronghold for the teachings of the Buddha.
His Holiness the present Dalai Lama once somewhat humorously summed up the situation for me in a private audience that I had with him in the mid-1980s. He commented, "We adopted our spiritual traditions from India, the mother of the greatest religions in the East; we took our culinary arts from China, the Eastern land with the best cooking; and we adopted the Mongolian style of dress, as the Mongolians had the most colorful sense in clothing."
The Buddha was born approximately 2,500 years ago in Lumbini, which is located on the Nepalese side of the present India-Nepal border. He is said to have visited and taught in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, which is a mere hundred miles from Tibet. Thus there must have been informal contacts with Buddhism and Tibet's indigenous religions from the earliest days. Little of this has been recorded, however, for in those ancient times, Tibet did not have a written script; or if it did, nothing of it has survived.
One of the first recorded contacts occurred in the fourth century, during the rule of King Lha Totori of Yarlung. At that time an Indian monk is said to have visited the court and left a casket of Buddhist items, including a few scriptures and images. (As the legend puts it, these ~. . . fell from the heavens.") The king felt that his country was not yet ready for the introduction of such a highly sophisticated spiritual tradition as Buddhism, and thus no effort was made to translate or study the texts. Nonetheless, he did recognize their worth and treated them with great reverence. He ordered that they be stored with care and prophesied that after several generations their significance would be appreciated by his people.
This prophecy was fulfilled in the mid-seventh century during the rule of King Songtsen Gampo. In order to consolidate his rule and establish stable relations with his neighbors, King Songtsen took five wives. Three of these were Tibetan, the fourth from Nepal, and the fifth from China.
Both the Nepalese and Chinese queens were Buddhists and deeply impressed him with their spiritual sensitivity. He decided to introduce Buddhism formally into his country in order to bring the benefits of this civilization to his people. Another account states that, as a condition of the Nepali queen agreeing to marry him, he consented to build her a hundred and eight Buddhist temples and monuments; the result was his own immersion in Buddhist practice.
However, he felt that the Tibetans did not possess a tradition of letters capable of expressing in translation the complex ideas embodied in the Indian Buddhist philosophical texts. Therefore he sent a group of twenty-five Tibetans to India for the purpose of developing a script and grammar suitable for this purpose. Under the leadership of Tonmi Sambhota, this team (or rather, those of them who survived the precarious journey to the Indian tropics) chose a Kashmiri version of the Gupta Sanskrit script as their working basis and formulated a grammar for Tibetan centered on the dialect of the Yarlung Valley, the residence of King Songtsen.
In addition to creating a script and a well-articulated grammar, Tonmi Sambhota and his assistants translated numerous Indian works into Tibetan, including some of those that had been in storage from the time of King Songtsen's ancestor King Lha Totori.
Thus the foundations of Buddhism were established in Tibet and, over the centuries to follow, Buddhist knowledge flowed into the Land of Snows in a steady stream, the movement perhaps suffering periodic setbacks during the reign of the occasional unenthusiastic king but generally building in momentum. By the twelfth century, when India fell to Thrkic colonization and Buddhism disappeared from within the land of its birth, much of the most important literature that existed in Buddhist India had already been translated into Tibetan. Tibet then came to play an increasingly important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Asia. Today it is the form of Buddhism practiced from Siberia and Buriat of the eastern Russian republics to the Himalayan kingdoms to the north of India, such as Ladakh, Spitti, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and so forth. The Tibetan literary language developed by Tonmi Sambhota in the mid-seventh century is used in all these regions by the intelligentsia, much as Latin was adopted as the international language of intellectuals throughout Europe during the occident's classical period. Indeed, as Sarat Chandra Das wrote in the introduction to his Dictionary of Tibetan published in 1892, Tibetan became such an important literary language that as late as the end of the nineteenth century, a knowledge of it was considered a prerequisite of a learned person throughout Central Asia.
During the early period of its Buddhist experience, Tibet had absorbed transmissions from both India and China, as well as a number of smaller Buddhist neighbors. By the late eighth century, the Tibetan empire had consolidated its rule over much of Central Asia, including large tracts of northwest China (most significantly Thn-huang) and Thrkestan (including Kotan), thus exposing itself to many different Buddhist influences.
However, Tibet's direction changed radically in 792 A.D., following a grand debate at Samyey Monastery between the followers of the Indian and Chinese schools. The Indians were victorious, and as a result, the Tibetan emperor Trisong Deutsen thereafter discouraged the use of the Chinese script in Tibet as well as editions of texts translated from Chinese and announced that henceforth all translations into Tibetan should be made directly from Sanskrit sources. Tibet had formally cemented its marriage to India and Indian Buddhism. This policy continued throughout the reigns of Trisong Deutsen's son liii Senalek and grandson Tn Ralpachen.
In the early centuries of Buddhism in Tibet, most monasteries and practice hermitages were founded by a lama who had gone to India to study, carried particular lineages back with him, and then founded spiritual centers for the transmission of his doctrines. Others were founded by Indian masters who visited Tibet and passed their lineages on to various disciples, who in turn established training centers.
These days there is a tendency to speak of "schools" or "sects" of Tibetan Buddhism. When this is done, it is common to refer collectively to all lineages propagated in Tibet before the mid-eleventh century as the Nyingma, or "Ancient School." The distinguishing characteristic of the traditions classified as Nyingma is that they rely upon the language of the lexicons created during the seventh and eighth centuries and are based on scriptures translated during that period and using that approach to technical terminology.
Most of the Nyingma lineages today regard their most important forefather as Guru Padmasambhava, popularly known to Tibetans as Guru Rinpochey. This master from Oddiyana of northwest India (present-day Swat, Pakistan, which lies near Afghanistan), visited Tibet in the mid-eighth century and oversaw the construction of Samyey, Tibet's first monastery. He also formed a team of disciples who systematically translated many important tantric treatises from Sanskrit and updated the older translations made during King Songtsen Gampo's time. Guru Rinpochey's flamboyant tantric lifestyle continues to appeal to the Tibetan imagination.
The eleventh century saw a thorough revision of the translations made from Sanskrit as well as of the approach to Buddhist technical terminology. All lineages that emerged after this time and based on this revised linguistic formula are referred to as Sarma, or "New Schools."
Many "New Schools" were born in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, based on the new translations and using the new lexiconography. There is a tendency to speak of three principal ones: the Kadam, inspired by the visit of the Indian master Atisha Dipamkara Shrijnana (popularly known to the Tibetans as Jowo Atisha) to Tibet and formulated into a successful movement by his chief Tibetan disciple, a layman by the name of Lama Drom Tonpa; the Sakya, founded by Konchok Gyalpo from the lineages of the Indian mahasiddha Virupa and the translator Drokmi Lotsawa, and systemized by Kunga Nyingpo; and the Kargyu, founded by the Tibetan layman Marpa Lotsawa and his yogi-poet disciple Milarepa and systemized by Milarepa's chief disciple Gampopa.
However, although the above three "New Schools" achieved predominance over the course of the centuries to follow, numerous other schools of significance also appeared during this renaissance period. Most of these lineages have since disappeared as independent entities and have been absorbed by the four super-schools mentioned above. Included in these are the Shangpa Kargyu, to which the Second Dalai Lama's father belonged, which had been founded by the Tibetan yogi Kyungpo Naijor largely from the lineages of the Indian female mystics Niguma and Sukhasiddhi; the Zhijey, founded by the Indian mahasiddha Padampa Sangyey and his female disciple, the mystical Machik Labdron, a lineage to which the Second Dalai Lama's grandmother was primarily devoted; the Rvaluk and also the Jonang, these latter two having been enthusiastically studied by both the First and Second Dalai Lamas.
The next major development in Tibetan religious history came in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries with the advent of Lama Tsongkhapa, whose ordination name was Lobzang Drakpa. Tsongkhapa studied in almost fifty Tibetan monasteries and collected together the most important New School lineages. Later he founded Ganden Monastery near Lhasa to preserve and transmit these under one roof. The school descending from him, which soon eclipsed all others and became the largest throughout central Asia, is known as the Gelug.
Essentially Tsongkhapa took the philosophical approach of the Kadam School that had been founded by the Indian master Jowo Atisha, and to it added various tantric lineages from the other traditions. Therefore the Gelug order is sometimes also referred to in Tibetan literature as the Kadam Sarma, or New Kadam.
All Dalai Lamas have belonged to the New Kadam tradition by monastic ordination. (Even the Sixth, who refused to take higher monastic ordination, had nonetheless received his novice ordination from the New Kadam lineage.) For this reason the Second Dalai Lama opens many of his mystical songs and poems with a verse of homage to Atisha and/or Lama Tsongkhapa.
Most Dalai Lamas have also in their personal spiritual lives practiced a combination of the Nyingma and Gelug lineages. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama mentions in his Foreword, this tradition was initiated by the First Dalai Lama and established as a tradition by the Second. It has continued to the present day, with only the Seventh and Eighth in the line deviating from it.
Mullin, Glenn H and Dalai Lama [Seventh]
Mullin, Glenn H and Dalai Lama [Seventh]
Strober, Deborah H and Strober, Gerald S