Tibetan Buddhism, from which most of the technical terms in the Secret Doctrine are drawn, has been hitherto almost an “unknown land” in the study of World-Religions; and the closely allied school of Nepalese Buddhism, with its Sanskrit Scriptures, has been, perhaps, known even less. Recently, however, valuable texts, such as the Buddha Charita and the Jâtaka Mâlâ have shed much light on the Nepal schools, and the work of Sharat Chandra Das, C.I.E., in the Tibetan Scriptures, summarized to some extent in the first number of the Buddhist Text Society of India’s Journal, gives us much invaluable insight into the little-known schools of Tibet, and, more important, promises in the future to give us much more.
From the sources mentioned we have drawn certain facts as to the history and doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism, which may be summarized as follows. Buddhism was originally introduced into Tibet about a thousand years after Buddha’s death, that is, about the year 450 A.D. Translations of Indian Buddhist Scriptures into Tibetan were made in the centuries that followed, the Buddha Charita, or Life of Buddha, being translated in the seventh or eighth century of our era. Owing to the opposition of the Bon religion, however, Buddhism seems to have gained no firm foothold in Tibet before the time of King Thi-sron-deu-tsan, in the first half of the eighth century.
At the invitation of this King, two learned Indian Buddhists visited Tibet, and formally introduced the religion of Buddha as the state religion. These were Shânti Rakshita, also called Achârya Bodhisattva, a native of Gaur, and high priest of the monastery of Nâslanda, who attended to the moral regulation and discipline of the Tibetan Church; and Padma Sambhava, who took charge of the ceremonial liturgy.
Shânti Rakshita, who was first invited, as we have seen, by the Tibetan King, was a Rajput, as, it may be noted, was Gautama Buddha himself. Ananta, who undertook the translation of the Buddhist scripture into Tibetan, at the instance of the same King, was a Kashmiri, probably a Kashmiri Brâhman.
When Shânti Rakshita Achârya Bodhisattva began to preach Buddhism in Tibet, he was, say the legends, violently opposed by the Gods and Demigods of the Bon religion. The Indian sage represented to the King that:
Unless they, the demigods and genii, were subdued by mystic charms, it would be impossible for him to do Buddhist religious work in Tibet, for they would exert themselves to endanger the King’s life. Accordingly, he advised the King to send for Achârya Padma Sambhava, who was possessed of extraordinary occult powers and mystic resources. Padma Sambhava suppressed many evil spirits and demigods by mystic charms. On their agreeing under solemn compact to be friendly to Buddhism, he set them free. He summoned all the gods and demigods of Tibet to appear before him, and compelled them to enter under oath into a covenant for defending Buddhism.
Many temples were built in Tibet; the Kashmiri sages Jina Mitra, Dâna Shila and others, taking up their residence in the temple called Khrims Khaṅ gliṅ, observed the rules of Vinaya, or the moral discipline of ordained monks. The Chinese Hoshangs perform ed mystic meditation—dhyâna—in the temple called Mi-gyo bsam gtan gliṅ. The work of writing and grammatical study was done in the temple called Brdos-byor Tshaṅs-pahi gliṅ. The treasures and stores of the grand monastery were kept in the temple called Dkor-mdsod Pehar gliṅ. The work of preaching was conducted in the temple called Vairochanahi gliṅ.
After Shânti Rakshita’s death, the Chinese and Indian schools of Buddhism in Tibet again came into collision. Kamala Shîla, a disciple of Shânti Rakshita, was summoned from Magadha to defend the Indian school. When he arrived, the discussion between the two schools was formally opened. The King of Tibet presided at the assembly as chief umpire, taking his seat in the middle of the hall. The chief Chinese Hoshang headed eight rows of seats which were allotted to his followers, and Kamala Shîla sat at the top of the left rows of seats, which were occupied by the Tsen-min-pa, or Indian school. The King placed a garland in the hands of each of the disputants, and commanded that whichever suffered defeat should present his garland to the winner, and leave the country for ever.
The Chinese Hoshang’s position was, that as virtuous acts lead to heaven, while sinful acts lead to hell, neither can result in the liberation called Nirvana. The sky, he said, is equally obscured by a white or a black cloud; hence Nirvana must be reached by absolute, intellectual, and bodily inactivity.
Kamala Shîla replied that knowledge comes by discernment; that wisdom comes by knowledge, and that liberation comes by wisdom. Hence the liberation of Nirvana depends on discernment, which implies mental activity. If the mind is entirely inactive, he said, it cannot realize the illusive nature of existence; hence inactivity cannot lead to Nirvana, while discernment, which involves activity, can, and does, lead to Nirvana.
The King decided in favour of Kamala Shîla, and the Indian school became dominant in Tibet. The next great leader of the Indian Tibetan school was Dîpankara Shrî Jñâna, also called Atîsha, who was born about nine hundred years ago. He also was a Rajput, like Shânti Rakshita.
Preferring the practice of religion to the ease and pleasures of this world, he began the study of the meditative science of the Buddhists, which consists of the Tri-shikshâ or three studies: Morality, Meditation arid Divine Learning; and for this purpose he went to the vihara of Krishnagiri to receive his lessons from Rahula Gupta. Here he was given the secret name of Guhyajñâa Vajra, and initiated into the mysteries of Esoteric Buddhism.
He took the vows of a Bodhisattva a acquired “far-seeing wisdom.”
Dipankara Shrî Jrñâna Atîsha afterwards proceeded to Tibet. A legend relates an adventure he met with on the way. When proceeding towards Nepal, he arrived at the deserted camping ground of a herdsman; there he found three puppies left uncared for, and took them in the folds of his garment, saying, “Ah, poor little ones, I pity you,” and went on his way.
A Nepal Râjâ coveted a little sandal-wood table which belonged to the saint, and caused some robbers to waylay him for the purpose of securing it.
The saint remarked: “The hill-men will come to rob us in the morning.” In the morning, when they met with the robbers on the way, Atîsha uttered some charms, drawing some mystic figures on the ground, and walked ahead of all. The rest of the party who followed him saw the robbers sitting on their right and left with bamboo bows. So when they passed, walking in silent paces, the robbers were thrown into a glamour, though their eyes were still open, like those of a statue.
Atîsha, surrounded by his companions and several other monks, altogether thirty-five in number, rode towards Tholin.
The horse on which the great sage rode ambled gently like the walking of the golden swan. At times Atîsha lifted himself in the air a cubit above the saddle, not touching it at all, with a view to be distinguished from the others. His demeanour, personal beauty, though sixty years old, and his pleasant appearance made him worthy of divine honour. A smile was ever present on his face, and Sanskrit mantras were always on his lips.
The generals that accompanied him sang the song of welcome.
The senior General addressed Atîsha in the following terms: Oh thou, the most accomplished and gifted Pandit, who hast come here from India, like the image of a god responding to the prayer of all Tibet, great is thy mercy to us. Thou art like the wishing-gem, able to give what is asked of thee. Though in this country there is wanting the religious prosperity which India possesses, yet there are many advantages here which would be vainly sought for in India. Here in the country of Purgyal (Tibet) there is no scorching heat, and everywhere there are sparkling fountains and pellucid streams. In winter the climate of Tibet is not rigorous. In the sheltered side of the. mountain’s of Tibet there is generally warmth, which makes this country delightful in winter. In the spring season here people hardly suffer from any scarcity of food, and the five kinds of grain are cultivated for a harvest of plenty. In autumn the country becomes a mass of emerald by the abundance of vegetation in the fields, as well as in the hills and dales.
Arrived at Tholin, Dîpankara Shrî Jñâna Atîsha preached the profound Mahâyâna Doctrine, and wrote several works on the principles and cult of the general and esoteric branches of Buddhism, among which Bodhipatha Pradîpa (Light on the Path of Enlightenment) is preeminent. Under his guidance the Lamas of Tibet discovered what is called the “real and sure path of the exalted excellence.” During his twelve years’ residence in Tibet, he visited almost all the important cities and holy sites and preached the holy law with extraordinary success. He was the spiritual teacher of HBrom-ston, the founder of the Grand Hierarchy of Tibet.