Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (Bengali: অতীশ দীপঙ্কর শ্রীজ্ঞান Ôtish Dipôngkor Srigên, IAST: Atiśa Dīpaṃkara-śrījñāna; Dīpaṃkara-śrījñāna Atiśa; Chinese: 燃燈吉祥智; pinyin: Rándēng Jíxiángzhì) (980–1054 CE) was a Buddhist teacher from the Pala Empire who, along with Konchog Gyalpo and Marpa, was one of the major figures in the establishment, of the Sarma lineages in Tibet after the repression of Buddhism by King Langdarma (Glang Darma), also, in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana Buddhism in Asia and inspired Buddhist thought from Tibet to Sumatra.
Atiśa is most commonly said to have been born in the year 980 in Vajrayoginī village in Bikrampur, the northeastern region of Bengal (located in modern day Bangladesh). His homestead in the village is still known to the local people as the "Ponditer bhita" (the homestead of the Pundit - a learned man).
The exact years of his birth and Death are widely disputed. Some sources indicate that Atiśa was born in 982 and died in 1054, while more recent studies contend that his life began in 980 and ended in 1052. In any case, it is unanimously recognized that Atiśa lived to the age of seventy-two.
It is noteworthy that, while no direct connections can be made to the birth of Atiśa, the year 980 also saw a major Power shift in Bengali politics as the resurgent Pala dynasty seized control of the region, disposing of the incumbent Kamboja rulers. Atiśa was allegedly born into royalty, and it would be intriguing to know whether his royal status stemmed from one of these two contemporaneous contending powers.
The image of Flowers falling from the sky appears in the episode of Shakyamuni Buddha's attainment of perfect Enlightenment, and the emergence of a rainbow canopy symbolizes the reincarnation of a Bodhisattva.
Though the city's exact location is not certain, it presently lies in the Munshiganj District of Bangladesh, and continues to be celebrated as an early center of Buddhist cultural, academic, and political life.
Similar to Shakyamuni Buddha, Atiśa was born into royalty; the palace in which he was raised, aptly named the Golden Banner Palace, "had a golden victory banner encircled by countless houses and there were great numbers of bathing-pools encircled by 720 magnificent gardens, forests of Tal (Borassus flabellifer) trees, seven concentric walls, 363 connecting Bridges, innumerable golden victory banners, thirteen roofs to the central palace and thousands of noblemen".
When Atiśa learned from his parents of the crowd's status as his own subjects, he prayed that they may "be possessed of merit like that of [his] parents, rule kingdoms that reach the summit of prosperity, be reborn as sons of kings [and] be sustained by holy and virtuous deeds."
Such an interpretation of Atiśa's first public appearance, found in Buddhist texts and historical accounts, strongly reinforces a couple of critical components of Buddhist Philosophy. The story clearly gives an impression of Atiśa as a spiritually advanced and relatively enlightened individual at only eighteen months old.
As such, the prince is seen to have acquired enough merit through virtuous actions in previous lives such that it carried over to dictate both his favourable experience as a venerated prince and enlightened personality as a compassionate individual.
He had become "well-versed in Astrology, writing and Sanskrit" by the age of three, "able to distinguish between the Buddhist and non-Buddhist doctrines" by the age of ten, and would eventually become a master of the teachings of Mahayana, Hinayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism under the guidance of over 100 different instructors.
Therefore, as he turned the customary age of eleven years old, surrounding him with the luxuries and extravagance of royalty, Atiśa's parents commenced the decorative courtship and matrimonial preparations so that the prince might find a bride among the kingdom's beautiful young women of nobility.
On the eve of his wedding, Atiśa experienced a momentous encounter with the Vajrayana goddess Tārā, who would continue with him as a guiding spirit until the end of his life. Tārā explained to the prince that in his past lives he had been a devout Monk.
If he should acquiesce, Tārā continued, then "as an elephant sinks deeply into the swamp, [he], a hero, [would] sink in the mire of lust." Essentially, Tārā's manifestation is symbolic for the prince's meaningful realization of his own karmic potential.
With this revelation at the forefront of his consciousness, Atiśa renounced his kingdom, family, and social status in order to find a spiritual teacher—or as he told his parents—to go on a hunting trip.
Buddhist sources assert that, while feigning a hunting trip, an adolescent Atiśa made the acquaintance of the brahmin Jetari, a Buddhist recluse and renowned teacher. Jetari taught the young man three things:
- Dharma and Sangha and
- Bodhichitta, described as the mind-oriented aspiration towards Enlightenment with the intent of benefiting all Sentient beings.
In Nalanda, Atiśa received once again brief instruction regarding the Bodhisattva vows under the spiritual guide Bodhibhadra, who in turn advised him to seek out a teacher renowned for his perfect meditation of perceiving emptiness, Vidyakokila.
It is during this stage of study that Atiśa became aware of pure human nature and the fundamental freedom inherent to every sentient being's existence; a freedom exclusive of physical attachments and mental bondage.
Coming from a background of nobility and material wealth, Atiśa's realisation of value as a freely determined product of perception represents a relative challenge and an alteration of life principles with substantial ontological ramifications.
Upon completing his training for meditations on nothingness and emptiness, Atiśa was advised to go study with Avadhutipa, a Vajrayana master. Though Avadhutipa consented to instruct the still young Atiśa, he required that the prince first consult the Black Mountain Yogi.
Finally, the Black Mountain Yogi insisted that, before Atiśa continue in his studies, he gain permission from his parents to be formally acquitted of royal responsibility, summoning eight naked yogis and yoginis to escort the prince back to Vikramapura.
Driven forth by his parent's approval, Atiśa went back to Avadhutipa to continue his studies, learning the Madhyamaka Middle Way and various tantra practices. At one point, he assumed a slight amount of pride in his accomplishments.
Therefore, in his twenty-ninth year, Atiśa was formally declared a Monk under an ordination of the great Śīlarakṣita, and given the new name of Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna, meaning "He Whose Deep Awareness Acts as a Lamp."
One asked the other what the most important practice for attaining Enlightenment was, and the other duly replied that "the practice of Bodhichitta, supported by loving kindness and great Compassion is most important."
Thus, at the age of thirty-one, the Monk arranged for a perilous journey, traveling for thirteen months to Sumatra in order to study under the reputable Suvarṇadvipi Dharmakīrti, sometimes called Dharmarakṣita and known in Tibetan as Serlingpa (Wylie:Gser-gling-pa), a supposed master of Bodhichitta.
According to Tibetan sources, Atiśa was ordained into the Mahasamghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight by the Abbot Śīlarakṣita and studied almost all Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools of his time, including teachings from Vishnu, Shiva, Tantric Hinduism and other beliefs.
Among the many Buddhist lineages he studied, practiced and transmitted the three main lineages were the Lineage of the Profound Action transmitted by Maitreya/Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View transmitted by Manjushri/Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience transmitted by Vajradhara/Tilopa, Naropa.
Atiśa's return from Sumatra and rise to prominence in India coincided with a flourishing of Buddhist culture and the practice of Dharma in the region, and in many ways Atiśa's influence contributed to these developments.
Some Tibetans, for example, believed that "ethical self-discipline and tantra were mutually exclusive and that Enlightenment could be achieved through intoxication and various forms of sexual misconduct."
According to the Blue Annals, new king of the Western Tibetan kingdom of Guge by the name of Lha Lama Yeshe Yod, however, was a strict believer in Dharma and so sent his academic followers to learn and translate some of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts.
He believed that he was getting too old for travel and had much unfinished work at the monastic college. On the evening following his declination, however, he received a vision in which his tutelary guide Tārā informed him that his trip to Tibet would be very successful: not only would he greatly honour and assist the Tibetans, but he would also find a dedicated disciple and further contribute to the spread of Dharma. In exchange for these benefits, however, he would only live to seventy-two years.
At Ngari, he was very impressed with the king's request for "a teaching of the people […] had (Atiśa) been asked for advanced empowerments into tantric deity systems […] he would have been far less pleased" .
It was during the three years Atiśa spent in this town that he compiled his teachings into his most influential scholarly work, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and encountered the disciple forecast by Tārā, Dromtonpa.
Atiśa Dipankara Shrijnana (Bengali: অতীশ দীপঙ্কর শ্রীজ্ঞান Ôtish Dipôngkor Srigên) (980-1054 CE) was a Buddhist teacher from the Pala Empire who, along with Konchog Gyalpo and Marpa, was one of the major figures in the establishment of the Sarma lineages in Tibet after the repression of Buddhism by King Langdarma (Glang Darma).
First, he refined, systematized, and compiled an innovative and thorough approach to Bodhichitta known as "mind training" (Tib. Lojong), in such texts as A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and established the primacy of Bodhichitta to the Mahayana tradition in Tibet.
He also wrote several Books on Buddhist scriptures, medical science and technical science in Tibetan. Dipamkara wrote several Books in Sanskrit, but only their Tibetan translations are extant now. Seventy-nine of his compositions have been preserved in Tibetan translation in the Tengyur (bstan-sgyur). Following are his most notable Books:
- Bodhi-patha-pradipa or Bodhipathapradīpa (Tib. Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-ma)
- Shiksa-samuchchaya Abhisamya
Atisha Dipamkara Shrijñana (Skt. Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrijñāna; Tib. ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་, Atisha Marmézé Pal Yeshé; Wyl. a ti sha mar me mdzad dpal ye shes) or Jowo Jé Palden Atisha (ཇོ་བོ་རྗེ་དཔལ་ལྡན་ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་, jo bo rje dpal ldan a ti sha) ( A-di-xia Fa-Wang ) (982-1054) was a great Indian master and scholar, and author of many texts including the Lamp for the Path of Awakening.
One of the main teachers at the famous university of Vikramashila, he was also a strict follower of the monastic rule and was widely acclaimed for the purity of his teaching. Indian Dharma King who brought the Dharma to Tibet from India in 1042. One of the "seventeen great panditas" and holder of the "mind training" or lojong teachings.
Wrote Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment to provide a simple guide for the Tibetans. He spent the last ten years of his life in Tibet, teaching and translating texts, and was instrumental in reinvigorating Buddhism there after a period of persecution. His disciples founded the Kadampa school.
Chief among Atisha's Tibetan disciples were the three known as "Khu, Ngok, and Drom," who were renowned as emanations of the three main bodhisattvas—Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapani: Khutön Tsöndru Yungdrung, Ngok Lekpé Sherab and Dromtön Gyalwé Jungné.
- Decleer, Hubert. 'Atisha's Journey to Sumatra', in Buddhism in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., Princeton University Press, 1995
- Decleer, Hubert. 'Atisha's Journey to Tibet', in Religions of Tibet in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., Princeton University Press, 1997
- Eimer, Helmut. 'The Development of the Biographical Tradition concerning Atisa (Dipamkarasrijnana)' in The Journal of the Tibet Society, Vol. 2 (1982), pp. 41-51
- Seyfort Ruegg, David. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1981, pp. 110-113
- Sherburne, Richard, trans. The Complete Works of Atiśa Śrī Dīpaṃkara Jñāna. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 2000.