Ati?a D?pa?kara ?r?jñ?na
This distinctive portrait of Ati?a originated from a Kadam monastery in Tibet and was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1933 by The Kronos Collections. In this graphic depiction, Ati?a holds a long, thin palm-leaf manuscript with his left hand, which probably symbolizes one of the many important texts he wrote, and he makes the gesture of teaching with his right hand.
(now in China)
|Other names||Otish Diponkor Shrigan|
|Known for||The major figure in the establishment of the Sarma lineages in Tibet.|
Ati?a D?pa?kara ?r?jñ?na (Bengali: ? , romanized: otish dipônkor sriggan; Standard Tibetan: ?; Chinese: ; pinyin: ) (982 - 1054 CE) was a Bengali Buddhist religious leader and master from the Indian subcontinent. He was one of the major figures in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia and inspired Buddhist thought from Tibet to Sumatra. In 1013 CE, he traveled to the Srivijaya kingdom and stayed there for 12 years and came back to India. He is recognised as one of the greatest figures of classical Buddhism, and Atisa's chief disciple Dromtön was the founder of the Kadam School, one of the New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism, later supplanted by the Geluk tradition in the fourteenth century, adopting its teaching and absorbing its monasteries.
In 2004, Ati?a was ranked number 18 in BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time. He was highly interested and respectful of ancient India's legendary educational feats, including the establishment of Vikramshila and Nalanda, two of the nation's most glorious centres of learning.
Bikrampur, the most probable place for Ati?a's birthplace, was the capital of the Pala Empire as it had been of the ancient kingdoms of southeast Bengal. 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 Gautama Buddha, Ati?a was born into royalty. His father was a king known as Kalyana Shri and his mother was Shri Prabhavati. One of three royal brothers, Ati?a went by the name of Candragarbha during the first part of his life. In fact, it was not until he traveled to Guge and encountered King Jangchup Ö (Wylie: byang chub 'od, 984-1078) that he was given the name Ati?a.
According to Tibetan sources, Ati?a was ordained into the Mah?sghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight by the Abbot larak?ita and studied almost all Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools of his time, including teachings from Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Tantric Hinduism and other practices. He also studied the sixty-four kinds of art, the art of music and the art of logic and accomplished these studies until the age of twenty-two. Among the many Buddhist lineages he studied, practiced and transmitted the three main lineages were the Lineage of the Profound Action transmitted by Asa?ga and Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View transmitted by Nagarjuna and Candrak?rti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience transmitted by Tilopa and Naropa. It is said that Ati?a had more than 150 teachers, but one key one was Dharmak?rti?r?.
Tibetan sources assert that Atisa spent 12 years in Sumatra of the Srivijaya empire and he returned to India in 1025 CE which was also the same year when Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty invaded Sumatra. Ati?a returned to India. Once back, the increasingly knowledgeable monk received much attention for his teachings and skills in debate and philosophy. On three separate occasions, the monk Ati?a was acclaimed for defeating non-Buddhist extremists in debate. When he came into contact with what he perceived to be a misled or deteriorating form of Buddhism he would quickly and effectively implement reforms. Soon enough he was appointed to the position of steward, or abbot, at Vikramashila established by Emperor Dharmapala.
Ati?a's return from Suvarnabhumi, where he had been studying with Dharmak?rti?r?, and his rise to prominence in India coincided with a flourishing of Buddhist culture and the practice of Buddhism in the region, and in many ways Ati?a's influence contributed to these developments. According to traditional narratives, King Langdarma had suppressed Buddhism's teachings and persecuted its followers for over seventy years. According to the Blue Annals, a new king of Guge by the name of Yeshe-Ö sent his academic followers to learn and translate some of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. Among these academics was Naktso, who was eventually sent to Vikramashila to study Sanskrit and plead with Ati?a to come teach the Dharma in his homeland. Travelling with Naktso and Gya L?tsawa, Ati?a journeyed through Nepal on his way to Tolung, the capital of the Purang Kingdom. (Gya L?tsawa died before reaching Tolung.) On his way, he is said to have met Marpa L?tsawa. He spent three years in Tolung and compiled his teachings into his most influential scholarly work, Bodhipathaprad?pa, or Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The short text, in sixty-seven verses, lays out the entire Buddhist path in terms of the three vehicles: H?nay?na, Mah?y?na, and Vajray?na, and became the model for subsequent texts in the genre of Lamrim (lam rim), or the Stages of the Path. Here Ati?a met Dromtön, who would become his primary disciple, regarded as both an enforcer of later propagation ethical standards and a holder of Ati?a's tantric lineage.
According to Jamgon Kongtrul, when Ati?a discovered the store of Sanskrit texts at Pekar Kordzoling, the library of Samye, "he said that the degree to which the Vajrayana had spread in Tibet was unparalleled, even in India. After saying this, he reverently folded his hands and praised the great dharma kings, translators, and panditas of the previous centuries."
Following are his most notable books: