Gods and Sacred Mountains | Guru Rinpoche | The Life of Guru Rinpoche | The Guru in Tibet

The Call to Tibet

In the eighth century, the learned Buddhist Shantarakshita stayed with the Tibetan King Trisongdetsen who wanted to anchor Buddhism in his land. Tibet, at that time, stood strongly under the influence of the mighty and often malicious mountain gods that wanted to prevent this from happening. This conflict situation, of course, also had political motives, as the opponents of the king felt that their power would be challenged by this new religion.

Shantarakshita advised the king to bring Guru Rinpoche back to this country, as he seemed to be the only one in the position to be able to deal with these overwhelming negative forces and to spread Buddhism among the inhabitants of the Himalayas, who were hard to convince by philosophical and moral arguments alone.

The Merging of Religions

Upon arriving in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche immediately began with his work and defeated a large number of pre-Buddhist deities. However, after the defeat of these gods he neither destroyed nor exiled them, but managed to achieve a unique connection between the old beliefs and Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche committed the conquered gods through an oath to protect both man and Buddhism in the future. In the end, the quick acceptance of this new religion among the Himalayan population can be led back to this instance. The old gods stayed and found a new place in the Buddhist belief system.

In this action of the Guru, a fundamental element of the tantric doctrine of salvation is also shown. Negative energies are not destroyed or suppressed, but change or sublimate themselves to become the driving forces helpful on the way to deliverance. The lived buddhist philosophy of the Guru can be also seen in this action.

Soon after his arrival in Tibet, Yeshe Tshogyel*, a former wife of the King Trisongdetsen, became the constant companion of Guru Rinpoche. Being the emanation of a tantric Dakini* of the highest class, she became his yoga partner. She also captured the teachings of the Guru in writing and is the author of his most well-known biography.

Many of these writings were far ahead of the times. That is why they were hidden as treasures (terma*) in order to be found by treasure hunters (tertön*) as soon as their time was ripe. For this reason, today one can still take from this apocryphal literature the pure and unadulterated teachings of Guru Rinpoche.

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Free-standing mask depicting a fierce deity, wood; 17th century; height 44 centimeters; on loan from Josette Schulmann
A depicition of Guru Padma Gyalpo, the aspect of Guru Rinpoche, that shows him as the »Lotus King«. Thus he contributed spiritual and material gifts to his people.

Yeshe Tshogyel, the emanation of a mighty Dakini*; detail from a mural on fabric; 19th century; 245 x 121 centimeters; on loan from the Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
Many descriptions show next to Guru Rinpoche his most important tantric consorts Mandarava and Yeshe Tshogyel