Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Padmasambhava - (Main Form)

པད་མ་འབྱུང་གནས། 莲花生大士
(item no. 90161)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1600 - 1699
Lineages Nyingma
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche (Tibetan: pe ma jung ne. English: Lotus Born) the principal founder, along with Shantarakshita and King Trisong Detsen, of Buddhism in Tibet. This unique painting depicts Padmasambhava surrounded by his life-story in chronological order, according to the Treasure (Terma) Tradition of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. This composition is very unusual and rare. It is more typical to see paintings depicting Padmasambhava surrounded by his principal Eight Forms in a non-chronological order. The different visual forms are used to highlight the important life events in the biographies of Padmasambhava. This painting depicts more than eight forms. (See a page of detail images, the Padmasambhava Outline Page and Padmasambhava Iconography Sub-sets).

Pemasambhava Pema Jungne Biographical Details

[1-2] Birth and Childhood. The life-story begins at the top right of the painting and moves clockwise around the central figure. Padmasambhava is portrayed as a small child, white in colour, born atop a pink lotus in the middle of Dhanakosha lake, in the Kingdom of Orgyan. At the side of the lake the miraculous birth is discovered by a Minister who then tells of the event to the childless King of Orgyan, Indrabhuti. Padmasambhava, known as Padmakara at this time, is escorted to the palace and enthroned as the crown prince of the Kingdom; visually portrayed in the top right corner.

[3] Cool Grove Charnal Ground. Below the birth and palace scenes and slightly to the left, after leaving the palace, Padmasambhava is portrayed as an orange coloured mahasiddha like figure seated in the charnal ground of Cool Grove (Sitavani) with his back to a stupa. During this time he recieved teachings from two Dakinis named Tamer of Mara and Sustainer of Bliss. In this form and at this time he is known as Shantarakshita. This form of Padmasambhava is almost identical to the form known as Nyima Ozer as he represented in the principal Eight Forms.

[4] To the right, Padmasambhava appears as Dorje Dragpo Tsal, wrathful, blue in colour, holding a vajra and bell, dwelling in the Rugged Forest, subduing nagas and planetary spirits. The daemon Rahu (eclipse) is portrayed at the side with nine heads, and maroon in colour. The nine heads represent the eclipsing and controlling of the nine planets.

[5-6] Zahor Kingdom. Below that, Padmasambhava travels to the land of Zahor and takes ordination as a monk from the teacher Prabhahasti and receives the name Shakya Sengge. In this form he appears as a Buddha, wearing monk's robes, and holding a black begging bowl. Directly below, he is known as Loden Chogse, richly attired with a turban crown, he holds a damaru drum in the upraised right hand and bowl in the left. This form depicts Padmasambhava as having recieved all of the Vajrayana Tantric teachings after studying with many famous teachers such as Buddhaguhya and Shri Simha.

[7] Maratika Cave. Again at the lower left Padmasambhava is depicted in the Maratika Cave in the land of Zahor. Seated in the meditation posture and with the hands placed in the lap, he meditates on the visualizations of Amitayus pictured in the space above, in a circle of light. At this time he is known as Chime Pema Tsal, or Guru Pema Tsal. [8] City of Zahor. Leaving the cave of Maratika, Padmasambhava travels to the capital of Zahor to teach and beg for alms. At the right side of the composition Padmasambhava is depicted in the garb of a monk and holds a skullcup in the upraised right hand. The king of Zahor, depicted in front, is displeased and arrests Padmasambhava and sets about burning him alive. Padmasambhava transforms the fire into a cool lake seen here with the fire pushed out to the edge. He then manifests himself seated on a lotus in the middle of the lake.

[9] Orgyan Kingdom. After that, Padmasambhava returned to the land of Orgyan and again displeased those rulers and was burned in a pyre of sandalwood. Once again Padmasambhava changed the fire into a cool lake with a lotus seat in the middle. He and the consort Mandarawa appeared together in the middle wearing a garland of human heads. At this time he was known as Padma Totreng Tsal. (This narrative is not represented in the painting). Inspiring faith in the inhabitants of Orgyan he remained and taught for thirteen years as Padma Raja. At the bottom right corner, he is dressed as a king and holds aloft in the right hand a damaru drum and in the left hand a mirror reflecting all things as they are. In a bowed posture the king listens intently at the side.

In some biographies of Padmasambhava the form known as Nyima Ozer with his stories and adventures is placed between the Orgyan Kingdom Story and the Bodhgaya Story.

[10] Bodhgaya. Moving to the left, a single episode in Padmasambhava's life is represented with two images. First he is depicted in his usual form in debate with four non-Buddhist teachers. When some of these teachers resort to magic spells after being defeated, Padmasambhava manifests in the wrathful blue form of Sengge Dradog, surrounded by orange flames, and utterlly destroys the four teachers. The deity Simhamukha, a teaching received from the Dakini Tamer of Mara in the Sitavani charnal ground, is pictured directly above Padmasambhava.

[11] Nepal, Yanglesho Cave. Again to the left, Padmasambhava is seated next to an elaborate mandala lying flat on a shrine with ritual objects arranged on all four sides. In his extended right hand is a kila (purba) peg and in the left a skullcup. Three daemon spirits lie on their backs having been defeated by the power of the Vajrakila practice special for removing obstacles on the spiritual path.

[12] At the lower left is Orgyan Dorje Chang, blue in colour, embracing the Indian consort Mandarawa. In this form Padmasambhava is said to have taught the celestial beings in the heavens. This form along with accompanying stories is not found in a consistent chronological order between the various life-story texts of Padmasambhava.

[13] Tibet, Samye Monastery. At the bottom left corner Padmasambhava, in his form as Pema Jungne, having been invited to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen, is depicted with the King and two accompanying figures. Below the King are four figures representing four indigenous types of Tibetan mountain and nature spirits. It was these spirits that were creating obstacles to the completion of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye Chokor Ling. To the right side is the monastery with a black stupa visible in front and a red stupa behind. A large Tibetan stone edict stands at the entrance.

Twenty-five Disciples. Directly above, Padmasambhava holds a damaru drum and a vajra bell. He bestows upon the King and his retinue, including Yeshe Tsogyal, initiation into the Eight Pronouncment Heruka.

[14] Tiger's Den. For the purpose of subduing the daemons and spirits of Tibet and surrounding Himalayan regions, Padmasambhava appeared as the wrathful Dorje Drolo at the thirteen mountain retreats each known as the Tiger's Den, or lair. The most famous of these is Paro Taktsang in Bhutan.

[15-16] Remaining Years in Tibet. At the middle left side of the painting are many images of Padmasambhava in rocky caves and snowy mountains. As examples, four handprints and four sets of footprints mark sacred places where he spent time in meditation retreat. All of this represents the years spent in Tibet visiting and blessing the twenty snow mountains of Ngari, the twenty-one sacred places of U-tsang, the twenty-five sacred places of Dokham, and the three hidden valleys (beyul).

[17-18] Copper-coloured Mountain. At the top center, Padmasambhava is depicted leaving Tibet from the Gungtang Pass, mounted on a white horse framed by cushions of white cloud. After having arrived at the Copper-coloured Mountain on the Chamara continent of daemon spririts far to the west, he liberated the daemon king called Raksha Totreng and then manifested the palace of Lotus Light where Buddhist teachings are continually taught.

"Miraculous buddha arising from a lotus, unborn, undying, possessing a vajra body, performing the activity of all buddhas of the three times; homage to Padmasambhava." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

Considered principal among the many teachers to bring Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century, Padmasambhava has numerous forms representing outer, inner and secret aspects. Within the Oral (Kama) Tradition of the Nyingma School, Padmasambhava was born in Northern India as the son of a king, or minister. In the Treasure (Terma) Tradition he was born on a lotus in Dhanakosha lake in the kingdom of Orgyan (Uddiyana, Urgyan) as an emanation of Amitabha Buddha. This painting follows the Treasure Tradition of the Nyingma.

Jeff Watt 9-2006

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [Extensive inscriptions beneath each narrative vignette]

Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [It is not currently known if there are inscriptions on the back]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Padmasambhava Main Page
Collection: Private I
Padmasambhava: Eight Forms & Life Story (Single Painting)
Painting Main Page: Painting & Composition Types (Flat Art/Two-dimensional Art)
Padmasambhava: Painting Masterworks
Padmasambhava: Eight Forms (Single Painting)
Padmasambhava: Life Story Main Page
Subject: Initiation Rituals
Subject: Narrative Examples (Greyscale)
Subject: Life Story Paintings Main Page