Padmasambhava: The Teacher for Our Time

Presented to the members of the Buddha Center on Sunday, October 11, 2020

All dates refer to the Common Era, unless indicated otherwise. The biography below will soon be revised and expanded to include the material in the Tibetan biography of Padmasambhava by Taranatha ((1575–1634) (see Bibliography).

Padmasambhava was a born Buddhist mystic who flourished in the 8th century. He was probably born about 732, though estimates differ. Although his hagiography is couched in symbolic allusions, he is referred to The Testament of Ba, which may be dated as early as the ninth century. It seems likely, therefore, that underneath the mythology there is a core of real historical fact, and many scholars recognize Padmasambhava as an historical person. His name means “lotus born.” He is also known as Guru Rinpoche (“Precious Teacher”). Padmasambhava introduced Buddhist Tantra to Tibet and is credited with the conversion of the Tibetan people to Buddhism. He also participated in the construction of Samye, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery, between 787 and 791, along with Santaraksita (725-788). It appears that he was a waterworks expert, as he is reputed to have diverted streams and rivers for irrigation purposes. Statues and paintings of Padmasambhava may be recognized by his piercing gaze, facial hair, and child-like appearance, as well as a skull cup full of ambrosia that he holds in his left hand. This “ambrosia” is soma, the famous nectar of the rishis, widely regarded as an entheogen or psychedelic drug.[1] 

According to tradition he originated in Oddiyana, a country conventionally identified with the Swat Valley, in Pakistan,[2] which was famous for its magicians. Perhaps these were the same magicians “from the east” who travelled west in pursuit of the star of Christ? Sixth century Chinese texts refer to missions from the Kingdom of Oddiyana to the Chinese court. Padmasambhava was a member of the Yogacara sect, which holds that “only consciousness” exists, the essential nature of which is “suchness” or emptiness. Padmasambhava attained enlightenment near Kathmandu, Nepal, after which he taught at Nalanda University in India, at a site visited by the Buddha.  Padmasambhava is regarded as the teacher of the millennium of degeneration (末法), which began about the year 1000.[3]   

King Trisongdetsen (r. 755-797) invited Padmasambhava to Tibet about 787,[3.1] at the suggestion of Santaraksita, the abbot of Nalanda University. Indigenous shamanistic forces were said to be opposing the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet, which Padmasambhava overcame by occult means. The Nyingma, founded by Padmasambhava, is the second largest Buddhist sect in Tibet, and practises Tantric ritual, worship, and yoga, based in part on a series of inspired texts, called termas or “treasure texts.” Termas are a fourth category of revelatory text, along with sutta, sutra, and tantra. The famous Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol, 14th cent.) is one such terma. These were attributed to Padmasambhava and his immediate disciples. “Terma discoverers” are known as tertons. The first terton was Sangyé Lama (1000-1080).[4]

Tibetans believe that Padmasambhava, like Siddhartha Gautama (c 480-c 400 BCE), was a fully enlightened master, whose coming was predicted by nineteen different sutras and tantras, especially the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (100-220):  

Impermanence is the nature of all created phenomena. Death being inevitable, the time for my passing into Nirvana has arrived. Of this you should not grieve. Twelve [hundred] years after my passing, there shall come forth a man, the Lake-born Lotus, from north-west Uddiyana, who shall be yet wiser and more powerful than myself. It shall be he who will promulgate the way of Secret Mantra.

Interestingly, Padmasambhava left Tibet about 804. 804 – 1200 = 397 BCE, a date which is only now becoming accepted by scholars as the historical date of the Buddha’s parinirvana,[5] and is also confirmed by the Lotus Sutra, and 804 + 1200 = 2004; thus, the midpoint of the Buddhist era of 5000 years is 2104. This period, the period of the 21st century of the common calendar, centred on 2059, is surely an extraordinary period of human history, characterized by climate change and scientific and technological transformation, and is also a time of Buddhist renewal corresponding to the Dharma Transmission to the West, when all Buddhist traditions will be unified in the ekayana prior to the manifestation of Shambhala some 365 years hence.

Padmasambhava is regarded as an emanation of the wisdom of the Buddha, who continues to emanate enlightened beings out of compassion for the world from his discarnate state. The highest Buddhist teaching is Dzogchen (aka Atiyoga), which was transmitted to Padmasambhava by the yogi Garab Dorje and thus transmitted to future generations through his disciples, including the yogini Yeshe Tsogyal (757-817), his consort or Shakti, who also became his spiritual heir. The termas constitute the sacred literature of Dzogchen. The essential teachings of Dzogchen are the transcendence of duality and the realization of the infinite potential of human consciousness.  Padmasambhava is also believed to have attained the Rainbow body, sometimes referred to as the Body of Light, the “glorified body” of Paul.[6] Through devotion to Padmasambhava and understanding the totality of the universal flux as his display, one can remove negative obscurations, increase intelligence, develop profound knowledge, free oneself from egoistic and negative emotions, deepen spiritual growth, awaken using self-discipline and renunciation, subdue negative influences, and dispel mental and emotional obstacles. By these means, one achieves long life, good health, peace, happiness, and ultimately enlightenment.

Padmasambhava, like all Buddhas, is beyond good and evil. A story to illustrate this point is that Padmasambhava is said to have dropped, apparently intentionally, a trident on the son of a harmful minister at the age of 13. The child was on the point of dying and being reborn in the lower realms. Thus, the child was liberated and reborn in a Buddha realm. Historically true or not, this story illustrates the principle that good and evil are just another form of duality. They too must be transcended. Laozi makes exactly the same point in the Tao Te Ching.[7] The true sage has a “crazy wisdom” or morally ambiguous aspect. [8] After this, Padmasambhava was banished from Oddiyana and spent many years meditating and practising yoga in the cemeteries of northern India where he received many blessings and spiritual empowerments, as well as Bodhgaya, where the Buddha was enlightened.

Padmasambhava himself appears to have written a number of instructions with his Tibetan editor, including a commentary on a Mahayoga Tantra known as the Noose of Methods (possibly the Tantra itself), the Garland of Views, the Vajravidharana-dharani, and others. Based on these texts, Padmasambhava seems to have been interested in the Mahayoga class of Tantra, in which the universe is visualized as the play of the divine, especially the deity Vajrakila, a divine thought-form that clears obstacles and obscurations and embodies the activities of Buddha mind.

Renowned Buddhist scholar Dr. Herbert Guenther has written his own commentary on a number of old termas that he attributes to  Padmasambhava, entitled The Teachings of Padmasambhava (1996). This is the only explanation of the original teachings of Padmasambhava that I know of in English.

According to Guenther, Padmasambhava was probably a refugee from the Arab incursions throughout the Middle East. After establishing a reputation as a religious scholar and adept, he became embroiled in the anti-foreign hysteria that resulted from the Samye Debate (aka Great Debate) of 792-794, and was forced to leave the country under ambiguous circumstances, whence he travelled to the southwest. Tradition says that as he crossed the border he turned towards Tibet and prophesied that great troubles would afflict Tibet in the future because he was unable to complete his work there. It is to be noted in the context of the current troubles that the anti-foreign hysteria focused on Chan Buddhism, including the expulsion of the Chinese from Tibet. Karma is ubiquitous and indefatigable.


Padmasambhava’s writings fall into two groups. One group reflects his extraordinary vision and experience and is rich in original symbolic references. His main questions are who are we, what have we lost, and what are we going to become, in the form of a dialogue between a teacher and a disciple that takes place in a spiritual world. Padmasambhava produced these writings together with his editor/translator, Kaba Paltseg. The Tibetan government sealed these writings.

The second category also deals with visionary experiences of an imaginal-psychological character. More conventionally Indian in style, they were edited by Vairocana. Padmasambhava’s thinking was unorthodox, even heretical, and may have been seen as subversive and better to be kept secret.

Padmasambhava begins with experience in its intuitive immediacy. The experiencer feels its dynamic universality, but he is so intertwined with it that as the experiencer he is the world just as the world we experience is the experiencer. Padmasambhava’s thinking is “anthropo-cosmic.” To the extent that humanity stands at the centre of his vision and interest, his anthropo-cosmic way of thinking is like that of Gnosticism, but also differs from it. Padmasambhava does not think that humanity is the creation of a God or a demiurge, but that consciousness evolves out of its own innate potential. Therefore, being human is inherent in reality itself. In its dynamics, it expresses itself in creative symbols. These are “epiphanies of its mystery” that are understood in the immediacy of their experiencing before they are shaped into distinct patterns of meaning and/or images by the universal (non-local) mind. The experiencer as a ubiquitous and indeed infinite omnipresence is not the same as or identifiable with the ego, which is a secondary, emergent phenomenon within and of a larger whole that in itself is irreducible to anything. Padmsasambhava has called this “felt dynamics” “sheer intensity” or “individuated energy” in the sense of “one’s core creative force,” which precedes any name or label that one may assign to it, much like Laozi’s conception of Te.

The dynamics of this power at the core of creation, or, rather, creating, manifest through images and symbols that carry within them a luminous, radiant quality. Thus, we are essentially luminous beings living in the immediacy of these images. We cannot interpret them without appreciating them in terms of our being in the world and in the world of nature. Thus, these images and symbols are also physical, and therefore they are sensual. The immediacy of sheer physical experience is not found anywhere else than in the images or patterns, experienced and experienceable, that in turn lead to different interpretations depending on the perspective of the experiencer, the “act of observation.”

Padmasambhava’s “intrapsychic dialogue” lets the Teacher, who is “utterly free from the limitations set by the categories of rational thought,” respond to the question of the “Little Man who is the whole’s self-manifesting Light,” about the emergence of the whole’s brilliant and radiant functionality. Everything owes its existence to this intensity/energy.

The uniqueness and sovereignty of his thinking shows itself at its best in this creative understanding. Padmasambhava’s holistic vision transcends the traditional division between mind and matter, the emotional-instinctual and the spiritual, in two related experiential practices, viz., spyi-ti (“general” or “universal”) yoga and yang-ti (“continuous” or “higher”) yoga, where the term yoga itself is understood as a “leap.” Spyti-ti yoga is “the leap that aims high,” whereas yang-ti yoga is “the leap that makes the one who takes it supreme.”

According to Jean-Luc Achard,[10] spyi-ti yoga contains the instructions that directly introduce one to one’s true nature, “the Great Primordial Purity,” described as the union of Emptiness and Clarity, corresponding to Primordial Purity and Spontaneity respectively, and is radically non-dual and trans-rational. It is also declared to be swift and easy. It is associated with the practice of guru yoga and sky gazing, though technically the practice of spyi-ti yoga is no practice. It is identical with the Samadhi of Suchness in Mahayoga. In the spyi-ti yoga, passion is naturally liberated rather than being renounced or transformed, and is its own unique path. Spyi-ti is specifically associated with Padmasambhava.

Padmasambhava’s unique visionary world is threefold. The planes of reality incorporate many different images, ideas, and contexts. The upper plane is divine. The middle plane is the “in between” human world. The lower plane is demonic. Padmasambhava’s world has no creator-God or demiurge. Padmsambhava’s world is, moreover, psychological and experiential, ranging from the instinctual or demonic (what we would call today the unconscious or perhaps the “shadow,” following Jung) to the ethereal or divine (superconscious, supramental?). It is the reflexive self-expression or self-presentation of the psyche to itself. Elemental female psychic forces or spirits (dakini), psychic images, symbols, or archetypes, whatever conceptual framework you prefer, transmit Padmasambhava’s account of this lived experience to the reader. One thinks immediately of Jung’s theory of the anima.

The upper plane in this threefold world is transcendent and dynamic. Padmasambhava refers to the “vortex-like swirling immensity of the sky.” The quotation describes a mental state that is intense and intensive (vortical) and extensive (spatial). The vortex is of the sky; therefore, space is inherently dynamic. Space is utterly pure and translucent to the experiencer and is also a symbol. Space is brilliant, radiant, superconscious, and ecstatic. The vortex is the energy of the totality within and out of which arise the semantic distinctions of thoughts and meanings. Thus arise the errors of mistaken identifications and misplaced concretizations that are one’s existential being. This is what is meant by the title, “The Purity-Translucency of the Vortex-like swirling immensity of the Sky.” This phrase further implies a preexisting structure, architecture, substructure, or infrastructure that underlies and patterns our organic experiencing, which is therefore universal. Thus, the universal is inherently proliferating but ignorant, the state of “no-information” (avidya). The upper plane becomes structural, territorial, visual, etc., which we symbolize as a vast palace. Jung recognizes the symbol of the palace, castle, etc. as an archetype of the self and especially the unconscious. The vastness of the palace is likened to the incarnation or embodiment of universal (non-local) consciousness, in some specific space, subject to karma (time). Nevertheless, the palace remains a symbol of the essential nature of the experiencer, where male and female archetypes exist in a continuously blissful union. The male archetype is called “He Whose Crown Jewel Is Firmly Planted On His Head.” The female archetype is named “Sovereign Mistress of the Phenomenal World.” This image is both psychological and ontological. 

The crown jewel is the precious jewel of dharma, “firmly planted” on the head, site of the “energy centre of bliss supreme,” the sahasrara-chakra located at the “crown” of the head. This bliss or ecstasy is the natural superconscious state of mind, symbolically identified with the light of the sun (“thousand-spoked”).

The female archetype is the principle of impermanence, the realization of which is emancipation. In a phrase that is eerily reminiscent of quantum physics, Padmasambhava describes the samsaric world of phenomenality as “that which lights up and is interpreted probabilistically,” i.e. the energetic network of potentials that manifest as patterns of consciousness, meaning, and thought in and through samsaric phenomena. If reality is probabilistic it is characterized by patterns of meaning that are continuously changing and shifting including the “act of observation” that itself gives meaning, structure, and reality to experience. This is prajna (wisdom), which is non-rational or irrational and includes morality. Wisdom is not something that can be manipulated or which seeks to manipulate. It is out of that sphere altogether. Padmasambhava symbolically refers to the meanings (memes) of wisdom as the children of the female archetype. The corollary of wisdom is upaya (practice, praxis), identified with the male archetype. The intensive nonduality of wisdom and praxis means that any change in the energy of one affects and is responded to by the energy of the other. This “nondual duality” is effectively represented by love. Padmasambhava focuses on the inner or psychological dimension of love, which he identifies with “empowering energy.” 

The essence of this union is the dakini, a psychic female force that expresses the interaction of the polarities and the transformation that triggers the free flow of energy, symbolized as two intermingled streams of red and white nectar. Together they represent the amrita or soma, the divine draft of immortality. Red is the colour of intinctuality, white of spirituality. Together they produce a child that is both emotional-instinctual and spiritual, and by uniting actually transcends the binary. This structure is also found in Hebrew Kabbalah, where it is called the Tetragrammaton.  However, this is another story.

The child as the product of the binary is that which gives meaning and value to the process. Duality is resolved in unity, which is intrinsically dynamic and energetic. The spiritual and the instinctual polarities express themselves through language, symbolism, or speech, centred on the throat (the throat chakra).

This dialectic is resolved in the proto-spiritual dimension of the heart, whence it manifests as compassion. Similarly, we associate feelings with the heart. Throat and heart, speech and spirituality, articulate man’s pre-egological being in the context of the sense of our bodily being in the world. The body is the crown jewel of the head. This body is not the ordinary body, but an ecstatic body, luminous, charismatic, enlightened, and full of infinite possibilities, a Body of Light.

In The Splendour of the Sun and the Moon, Padmasambhava has the Dakini say:

The radiant light of the moon purifies the mental darkness of ignorance;
The radiant light of the sun increases wisdom.

Guenther identifies the sun with praxis and the moon with wisdom. The unity of wisdom and praxis is the Clear Light of Buddha nature. In a remarkable prophecy of Einstein’s theory of space-time, in which physical objects are curvatures (and thus vortices) in space, Padmasambhava describes the sun and the moon as the “quintessence of the sky … in its field-like dimension [Buddha field].” Since they are the essential dynamic energies of this dimension, they illuminate the entire universe. “Mental darkness of ignorance” includes emotional implications and implies intellectual and spiritual blindness.

The human world is called the “in-between plane” (bardo). Just as on the top plane there are no gods as commonly understood, so on the human plane there are no humans (as commonly understood). Like the top plane, the “in-between plane” is an imaginal energetic world with extensive existential implications. A palace is hidden deep within this plane as a symbol of the exquisite mystery of life. It replicates the citadel of the top plane in miniature. Macrocosm becomes microcosm, and microcosm reflects macrocosm. Immeasurability is reduced to measurability by its self-geometrization in a  mandala structured as a palace. In fact, mandalas are 2D representations of 3D constructions, which resemble blueprints. Padmasambhava compares the universe to an amulet box. Inside is a Precious Jewel which is the lived experience of the noble individual, as an expression of human potential. Thus, the universe is both closed or enclosed by structure and open in its infinite degrees of freedom. It is the finitization of the Infinite.

This palace is not static but dynamic. Guenther expresses a live process structure as “lighting up.” This process of universal illumination refers to the inherently dynamic principle of the “in between” plane of praxis. The paradigmatic character of the palace refers to wisdom as meaning. The unity of praxis and wisdom may be conceptualized as a gigantic thought experiment. This corresponds to modern scientific speculations concerning a “virtual” universe or even a multiverse.

The system described is fundamentally hierarchical. The top plane is the highest and most abstract concept of a pure land or buddha-field. It forms a kind of spatial extensity that remains fundamentally human. The only ultimately satisfactory explanation of the human phenomenon is that reality is essentially human. Thus, the sheer intensity of “thinking’s thinking” is the polarity that allows the top plane to manifest in the dimension of space. This dyad must be understood as a process of discovering what it is to be human as a thought experiment that originates in an imaginal “above” that manifests in an imaginal “below.” 

The palace is inhabited by the archetypal Father, the Anthropos (the Tibetan wordliterally means “child” or “children”), and the Mother or “consort.” The palace and its inhabitants are purely energetic/informational constructs. Guenther identifies the Anthropos, the Child, or “Man of Light” as he prefers it with the individual, at its most abstract level. This is the mind stream, which is fundamentally differentiated and kinetic. Thus, the dynamics of the individual psyche reflect far more abstract archetypal structures like the palace with its divine triad. We also find the “man of light” in Sufism, described by Henry Corbin as “the hidden spiritual man,” “the individual par excellence,” “the spiritual hero,” the guide, “the Perfect Nature,” “the divine light … within you,” “the precious gem.”[11] This is of course the Tathagatagarbha or “Buddha nature” in Buddhist diction, the “Inner Guide” of Vishnu Bhaskar Lele or Sri Aurobindo, whose name also means “lotus.”

The palace is the psyche, as described in the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, a pure energy/information system that is embodied in the body as lived. It is characterized by innate clarity and awareness. This “body as lived” or flesh is neither matter nor mind but a fusion of the two and more. It is not merely substance but a fundamental element of Being. Its essential tendency becomes alight and radiates beyond itself. This luminous quality is intervolved with a quality of agitation, excitation, or excitability. Thus one “lights up with pleasure,” “shines with joy,” or “glows with ecstasy.” Therefore, excitation/excitability is a fundamental quality of being. In the thinking of Padmasambhava reality itself is cognitive. The “all excitation/excitability” is the cosmic human’s growth into its superconscious ecstatic intensity. Thus Padmasambhava refers to the Anthropos as a Magician, “the Lord of phantasms” or illusions.

The consort of the Man of Light is called “Brilliancy’s Blaze.” She is described as beautiful and clear-minded. Like the Man of Light, she fuses materiality and immateriality, visibility and invisibility, and physicality and spirituality in a single symbol. The trans-binary union of the Man of Light and Brilliancy’s Blaze generates a fire that is both cosmic and psychic, that leaps up and consumes the entire universe. The anthropic universe as we understand it is annihilated. Padmasambhava refers to the ashes that are blown away by the wind (prana) of the void.[12]The fire that leaps up from the “in-between” plane is related to the water or rain of nectar that pours down from above. Water is nourishing and life-giving, fire life destroying. The descending rain of nectar as water divides into two red and white streams. They are envisioned and felt by the experiencer in physical emotions associated with the male and female energies.

The upward leap of fire is not only experienced as destructive of samsara but also as purifying so that samsara may be experienced in its essential purity. Similarly, the descent of the rain of nectar materialized in the binary of red and white streams may be experienced as a closure. The upward leap of fire may be experienced as a process of dematerialization and opening up to the very being of the whole. Thus, water and fire constitute the twin dynamics of life itself. What is the relationship between this all-consuming fire as an “opening up” and the “utter  void” referred to by the Mahaguru and his consort? Guenther addresses this question in the context of modern physics, in which he identifies the void with the vacuum’s zero-point energy that is essentially ineffable. The void is the real formative matrix that patterns itself both in its unobservable substructure as well as in its subatomic structure, which finally constitute our ordinary sensory experience.

The streams of red and white nectar, or water and fire, suggests a mythological Buddhist motif called the Twin Miracle. It was supposed to have been performed seven years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, at the age therefore of 42, in the city of Savatthi. The Buddha emitted fire from the crown of his head and water from his feet at the same time. They then alternated back and forth, generating all of the colours of the rainbow, which expand to illuminate the cosmos. The Buddha also performed the Twin Miracle at Kapilavastu, the place of his birth. Here the Buddha levitated as well. Variations include the creation of a jeweled walkway in the air and the Buddha’ creating duplicates of his own body. He then stages a dialogue with himself offering dharma instruction, culminating in the creation of the Abhidharma. e then givThe Twin Miracle is a mark of Buddhahood and the power of dharma. Padmasambhava clearly understands that the Twin Miracle, not as a historical, but as a symbolic story.

Thus, the “in-between” plane of the threefold cosmos “lights up” and comes to presence as the radiance of the void. This coming to presence is experienced as an authentic interior vision that moves from within out, not from without in. The primary image is that of the throne, which has the highest existential significance as the seat of authority traditionally associated with kingship. The outward-directed perspective is limiting, whereas the inward-directed perspective is expanding. Ontologically the throne is the centre of the universe. Psychologically it is the centre of the self (not to be confused with the empty ego bubble). Either way, as a centre, orientational points are implied. Thus, the throne assumes the character of a quaternary or a mandala, the second image. The third image, a numinous moon, symbolizing spiritual gnosis or realization arises from the centre of the mandala, dissipating all darkness. Its light grows out of the emptiness of the void, like the waxing moon in the darkness of night or a virtual particle. Guenther recasts Padmasambhava’s poetic diction and imagination in the language of phenomenology: Human spirituality is based on the body, itself based on the light or energy of Being. Matter is energy, energy is information, information is consciousness, consciousness is empty, emptiness is dynamic, the dynamic posits the static which posits the “dual non-dual” original intuitive fact of consciousness, which is intentional, factual, and ineffable. 

These three symbols – throne, mandala, moon – present a unifying experience that cannot be expressed in ordinary language. It is normally obscured by the spiritual darkness of ignorance, in which the emotional veils and blindfolds predominate as the sedimentations of karma. This programs subsequent experience within the framework of one’s being in the world. The  rational/intellectual obsession that denies what it cannot analyze cannot see this, however. These layers, consumed by the fire of insight, reveal the preciousness that we are by virtue of our universality. This shines forth as the inherent clear light of the buddha-nature that is our own unique essence. Through this, we experience ourselves as pure energetic beings. Padmasambhava distinguishes between the inherently energetic nature of being human and its luminous projection. This is also the source of the experiencer’s errancy; we chase after the semblance of light in illusory objects rather than the light itself. To understand human potential without misinterpreting its unfolding is the ultimate value of a physical life lived authentically, with awareness reality “as it is.”  

This description of the threefold cosmos ends with a description of the subterranean lower plane. This is the demonic world of beings that consume flesh and blood. In this domain the archetypal Father is the demon called Dzala-raksa, the literal meaning of which is unknown, and the archetypal Mother is a black demoness of Death called the All-Liberating Mother (Kun-sgrol-ma). Like an astronomical black hole, together they generate an enormous cosmic storm that sucks into itself everything in the phenomenal world, including all the labels and ideas (i.e., information), removing the dirt and debris of all of one’s notions and emotions, intellectual postulates and constructions. This leaves a space that is devoid even of the notion of a void, an utter emptiness that appears full. 

The description of the bottom plane exemplifies life on the “in-between” plane before the self-renewal of the human-centred universe began. That is, everything on the “in between” plane” is consumed by fire and the ashes dispersed by a strong wind. This shattering experience explains the fearsomeness of the lower plane. We tend to cling to our habits, believing them to have universal validity. Instead, all of this has been annihilated, leaving only fearsome and malevolent demons. In Kabbalah, these are known as the q’liphoth, the “shells” of creation. These are not evil in themselves but warn us to abandon desirous attachment. Their blackness and death is just us reflected in their eyes. Thus, we must face and indeed transcend death in order to experience the freedom, openness, and radiance of Being. The archetypal mother is described as “the black demoness of death who frees us completely.” This view of the demonic is in stark contrast to the Judaic conception derived from Zoroastrianism, in which evil is hypostasized as an external agency to be objectified, repressed, and ultimately destroyed. We see this dynamic playing itself out in the history of the world today, characterized by conflict and mutual annihilation.

The threefold cosmos is an imaginal or symbolic world. It is both process and structure. By “structure” we mean nothing static, but intervolved dynamic dimensions that are only accessible through an inner understanding that makes humanity central to the anthropo-cosmic process. Being in the middle, without beginning or ending, birth or death, does not contradict the apparent vertical or temporally coherent hierarchy of the process-structure of the dualistic interaction of the male and female principles in space. Together they constitute the horizontal plane. It is from the middle or centre that humanity spreads out into and connects with all of the dimensions of reality.

Wherever we look, we find the binary principle at work. This includes the duality of visible and invisible, divine and demonic, light and dark, good and evil. Is not being human the embodied play of opposites? This dyad represents the interplay of external forces. Experiencers share another binary deep within. This only has meaning with us. That is the binary of the archetypal Father and the archetypal Mother, and their archetypal Son, the infant Anthropos, the Child or Little Man of Light.

According to Padmasambhava, the Forefather Pre-beginning is the commander who wears space as his garment. He is seated on the earth as his throne. He has tied the stars and planets together as a belt. The fog is a cap on his head. The rainbow is his royal banner. He holds the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left. He eats the phenomenal and interpreted world, and swallows the oceans. The imagery is apocalyptic, familiar to us from the Book of Revelation and Jewish apocalyptic literature. He rips out and devours the hearts of all living beings, filling their bodies with bliss. Thus, they become spiritually awakened and immortal. The archetypal Mother is majestic and powerful. She is the archetypal image of nature as created and creating. She is the sovereign lady and queen of the whole phenomenal and interpreted world. She is the source of life, the all-ground, the great powerful one of the multiverse. Living beings are born from her and die within her, but they do not increase or decrease in numbers. Nothing ceases, nothing is filled, and nothing is voided.

Finally, the Man of Light or Anthropos occupies a temple that is nothingness radiating into the dimension of space. He wears a luminous garment, with a five-coloured rainbow as his belt, the clouds a cap on his head, and the wind as his horse,[13] with ripples of water as a bridle. In his right hand, he holds a sword, which he uses to cut down and eradicate all erroneous thoughts. He holds the sun and the moon as a lamp in his left hand, which he uses to dispel ignorance. Having drunk the amrita, the elixir of immortality or deathlessness, he harmonizes the actual and the potential. He has a wish-fulfilling jewel tied to his heart. He sees the dimension of space, sleeps in the oceanic dynamic, and sits between the sun and the moon. He enters into the fivefold light and is carried away by a black sandstorm. There is nothing static about Padmasambhava’s threefold cosmos. It is a process or process structure in which the three planes are higher dimensional orientation points.

This cosmos closes in on itself as the whole of Being. Each progressive closure is symbolized as a citadel, a palace, and a temple. The symbolism induces feelings of awe, reverence, and the sacred. Thus, the observer as experiencer becomes an essential part of the process. He is the Son. He is the offspring of the Infinite intensity of Being as the archetypal Father, and the infinite possibilities of extensity that are the archetypal Mother. The vision is intensely luminous. One might call this threefold unity of Father, Mother, and Son the pleromatic family, referring to the Gnostic pleroma, the spiritual universe as the abode of the Divine and the “fullness” or wholeness of divine powers and their emanations. However, whereas Gnosticism is reductionist, Padmasambhava’s thinking is evolutionary. The Son descends into the world, not as a saviour (which Guenther dismisses as “dominance psychology”), but as the one who has to live and realize themself as fully human. The symbolic allegory perpetuates itself simply because it enlivens the mystery of life.



617. Namri Songtsen, the 32nd King of the peoples of Tibet, has a son named Tri De-songtsen (Ch: Chi Tsung-lung-tsan), better known as Tri Songtsen Gampo.

629. Laghman, an independent nation prior to Hiuen Tsiang’s time, has certainly become a tributary province of Kapisa by this time.

633. Songtsen Gampo married.

635-640. Amsuvarman is of the Thakuri dynasty and a feudatory of the power­ful Buddhist king Harshavardhana of Kanauj. 

636. Songtsen Gampo moves his capital from the Yarlung valley to the mount of Lhasa.

637. Reign of Amsuvarman, whose name means “Shining Armor,” is mentioned by Hiuen Tsiang.

639-640. Amsuvarman dies and after his death, the Tibetans succeed in installing King Narendra-deva as his successor.

642. “King Ta-mo-yin-t’o-ho-szu” of Uddiyana sends a gift of camphor and an embassy to the Emperor of China.

649. Songtsen Gampo dies of the plague, and the throne descends to his grandson, Mangsong Mangtsen, who is still only a child. This leaves the Tibetan Empire in the hands of the capable regent Gar Tongtsen.

651. The King of Kings, Yazdagird III, of Persia. The latter, fleeing eastward, meets his death near Merv. With the death of Yazdagird, last of the Sassanid dynasty, the southern Bedouin hordes of Islam for the first time march onto the soil of Iran and begin their great, rapacious advance eastward. 

663. Ibn Samurah fights his way into Kabul.

665. A party of Uddiyanean ambassadors present themselves at the Chinese Court, and granting the length and hardships of the journey, it is practical to assume that the embassy’s presence is a direct response to Ibn Samurah’s raid. 

666-667. Gar Tongtsen returns victoriously to Lhasa, where he dies of fever a year later, leave power in the hands of his son. 

680. Subhakarasimha’s father is King Buddhakara of Kalinga. When the elder son of the family inherits the throne, Prince Subhakarasimha enters a monastery in Caritra on the seacoast of Kalinga.

699. Disgrace and suicide of Gar Tridang Tsendro.

714-715. Subhakarasimha’s stays briefly in Uddiyana on his journey to China.

716. After leaving Uddiyana, Subhakarasimha makes his way north over the Hindu Kush into Central Asia. He suffers sickness and is attacked by bandits, but survives the difficult journey, arriving in Chang-an, the imperial capital of China.

719. Hsuan-tsung Emperor of China is hard pressed to block the advances of the Tibetans, on the one hand, and the Muslim Arabs, on the other.

720. Six years after Subhakarasimha’s visit, the T’ang Annals state that the Emperor sends ambassadors to Uddiyana to confer the investiture on the new king. King Indrabhuti, the famous adoptive father of Padmasambhava, succeeds to the throne.

732. According to the ancient, written Ka-ma tradition of the cycle of Vajrakilaya teachings, Padmasambhava is the son of a royal heir, Prince Mahusita of Dhanakosha, in Uddiyana. Originally given the name Dhanaraksita, which means “Protector of Charity,” he was born in the year of the Water Monkey.

745. The Chinese Court is suddenly seen to confer upon the king of Kapisa the double investiture of “king of Kapisa and Uddiyana.”  Supposedly, the young heir causes the death of Bhadralaksana, the child of a baron of the realm. Another version has it that he killed the mother and child of a minister of King Indrabhuti by letting fall from the roof of the Palace a sceptre and a trident. 

748. Mention of tribute from the King of Kapisa ascertains that Uddiyana has become a vassal state. 

755. Tri-song Detsan succeeds to the throne of his father and brings the warlords of Tibet under his personal control.

755-797. Reign of Tri-song Detsan, son of a Chinese princess and the ruling Emperor of Tibet.

768-809. Reign of the Emperor Dharmapala.

783. The Emperor Dharmapala signs a peace treaty with the young Tri-song Detsan. 

784. Second expedition is made by Santaraksita.

787. Samye Monastery, Tibet’s first sizeable Buddhist academy, is to be built. In the Fire Hare year, construction begins.

791. Samye Monastery is completed in the year of the Iron Sheep. Under the supervision of Santaraksita acting as Upadhyaya, Danasila as Acarya, Jinamitra as father-confessor, and the ten other Bhikkhus gathered at Samye, the noble minister Ba Trizi renounces the world and is ordained as a monk. He receives the name Ba Ratnaraksita. Then Ba Salnang, Pagor Vairocana, Gyalwa Choyang, Ma Rinchen-chok, Kawa Peltsek, and La-sum Gyalwa Chanchub are also ordained. The ordination ceremony occurs in the first fortnight of the month of spring in the Iron Sheep year. Collectively this first group of Tibetan monks is known as the “Seven Probationers” because they are a test to see if Tibetans are suitable for the monastic life. 

797. Trisongdetsen abdicates the throne in favour of his son Mu-ne Tsanpo and goes into Meditation Retreat.

798-804. Reign of Mu-ne Tsanpo.   

803. Death of Trisongdetsen.

804. In the Wood Monkey year the Lord departs from Tibet, escorted by the young Emperor Mu-ne Tsan-po, the nobility, the people, and especially by his favoured disciples, to the Mang-yul Pass. He goes, it is said, towards the southwest, to the Sacred Red Moun­tain of Lankapuri. Laghman’s status is still have that of a Buddhist province of Kapisa (Shambhala) (contemporary Afghanistan).

870. Kingdom of Shambhala comes under Muslim domination.

950. King Indrabhuti of Uddiyana marries his sister, Laksminkara, to the “Hindu king of Lankapuri.” 

1001. The old fort at Nandana is occupied by the Hindushahi rulers when they flee from their capital at Wahind after their defeat by Mahmud of Ghazni.

[1] See Mike Crowley, Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayana.

[2] Other proposed locations include Odisha (formerly Orissa), India or “the Middle Near East and the Iranian lands extending into Turkestan and Central Asia”  (Guenther, Teachings of Padmasambhava, p. 4). Elsewhere Guenther says that it extends “from south of the Aral Sea into the Iranian plateau” (What Is Yoga?).

[3] Different authorities say 1012/13, 1025, 1027, or 1052.

[3.1] Hajime Nakamura says “”Padmasambhava was born in Ujjaini [ a city in Ujjain district of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh], and via Bengal entered Tibet in 747 A.D.” (Indian Buddhism, p. 337).

[4] Other important tertons were Nyangral Nyima Özer (1124–1192), Guru Chowang (1212–1270), Rinchen Lingpa (1295–1375), Rigdzin Gödem (1307–1408), Sangye Lingpa (1340–1396), Dorje Lingpa (1346–1405), Ratna Lingpa (1403–1478), Kunkyong Lingpa (1408–1489), Pema Lingpa (1445/50–1521), Tennyi Lingpa Padma Tsewang Gyalpo (1480–1535), Namchö Mingyur Dorje (1645–1667), Jigme Lingpa (1729–1798), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892), Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa (1829–1870), and Sera Khandro Kunzang Dekyong Wangmo (1892–1940).

[5] See Heinz Bechert, ed., When did the Buddha Live? The Controversy on the Dating of the Historical Buddha, p. 30; K.T. Sarao, “Date of the Buddha,”; Sarao, “Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism,”; etc.

[6] “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (I  Cor. 15:42ff.). Cf. Phil.  3:21.

[7] Eg., chapters 2, 20, 77.

[8] See, for example, the Brahmajala Sutta, the Angulimala Sutta, the Sutta Nipata, etc. Morality, being binary, is samsaric and therefore relative and illusory.

[9] This section is based on Herbert Guenther, The Teachings of Padmasambhava, consisting of the Introduction and Chapter 1.

[10] The View of Spyi-Ti Yoga.

[11] See Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.

[12] “In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining that is not completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice. That is what Dogen meant when he said, ‘Ashes do not come back to firewood.’ Ash is ash.” Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, pp. 48f. Cf. the Lotus Sutra. Padmasambhava’s and Suzuki’s description strongly resembles Aleister Crowley’s description of the attainment of mastery in the ninth vision in his collection of Enochian visions, The Vision and the Voice.

[13] Hence, the familiar Tibetan wind horse, shamanic symbol of the human soul.

[14] Based on “Lord Padmasambhava, Embodiment of All the Buddhas,”


Achard, Jean-Luc. “The View of Spyi-Ti Yoga.”

Crowley, Aleister. The Vision and the Voice. Newburyport, MA:  Weiser Books, 1999.

Crowley, Mike. Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayana. 2nd ed. Sante Fe: Synergetic Press, 2019.

Dalton, Jacob. “Padmasambhava.” The Treasury of Lives.

Dharma Fellowship of Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa. “Lord Padmasambhava, Embodiment of All the Buddhas.”

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———-. “What Is That Which Is Called Yoga: A Tibetan Buddhist Perspective.

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Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. 1980; rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.

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Tiso, Francis V. Rainbow Body and Resurrection: Spiritual Attainment, the Dissolution of the Material Body, and the Case of Khenpo A Cho. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2016.

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Angulimala Sutta.
Brahmajala Sutta.
Garland of Views.
King James Bible.
Lotus Sutra.
Mahaparinirvana Sutra.
Noose of Methods.
Sutta Nipata.
Tao Te Ching.
Testament of Ba.
Tibetan Book of the Dead.