Atisha Dipankara Srijnana

Atisha was born 980 in Vikramapura in Bengal and died in Tibet 1054. According to Tibetan sources, he was ordained into the Mahāsāṃghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight by the Abbot Shīlarakṣita 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 Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View transmitted by Nagarjuna and Chandrakīrti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience transmitted by Tilopa and Naropa.


Graphic by unknown Tibetan artist

Lama Govinda, who travelled extensively in Tibet between 1947 and 1949, tells us in “The Way Of The White Clouds”, how Atisha came to Tibet:
The king of Guge, who was then residing in Tholing, sent a delegation to Bengal to ask the famous pundit Atisha to come to his court. Atisha declined the invitation, for his services were equally needed in his own country.
The King thought that his presents had been too small and therefore organised an expedition to the northern border of his country, where gold could be found. But unfortunately he fell into the hands of his enemy, the King of Garlog, whose country lay across the borders and who demanded a huge sum as ransom.
His son thereupon collected funds for the release of his father; but when he reached Garlog, it was found that the amount was not sufficient. Before returning, in order to procure the missing sum, he met his father. The king, however, exhorted him not to spend all his gold on an old man like him, who at the best had only a few years more to live, but to send it instead to Atisha and to tell him that he prized his visit more than his life, which he would gladly sacrifice for the cause of the Dharma. The son took leave from his father with a heavy heart. He was never to see him again.
Another delegation was sent to India. When they told Atisha all that had happened, the great teacher was deeply moved and exclaimed: “That king was really a Bodhisattva! What else can I do but obey the will of such great a saint!”


The ruins of Tsaparang, once the capital of the kingdom of Guge in West-Tibet, where Atisha lived for several years. ©Helfried Weyer in “Tsaparang – Tibets großes Geheimnis”

Atisha left us many writings. Here is an excerpt from Atisha’s Great Seal Bestowed upon Gönpawa:

At the time of practice: [Seated] on a pleasant seat with a cross-legged posture and the other [six] of the seven qualities* of Vairocana, meditate on [876.15] the four immeasurables** for all sentient beings. Then, all things that appear and exist in samsara and nirvana are one’s own mind. Eradicate the misunderstanding that the mind truly begins, remains, or comes to an end, [recognizing] it as unfabricated, unceasing, unthinking, and unestablished. Do not examine previous thoughts afterward; do not greet later thoughts beforehand; in the present do not observe anything all. As clarity is vividly established in the state of nonconceptuality, settle into it in a relaxed and composed [manner].
When random thoughts arise, those passing thoughts [877.1] are from the outset self-originated co-emergent mind-itself. For as long as [thoughts] abide, they abide as the co-emergent mind-itself, and although in the end they dissolve, they dissolve into the coemergent itself, and vividly release into the state of dharmakaya. For example, passing clouds that arise in the pure sky, at first arise from the sky, abide for a while in the sky itself, and dissipate in the end, dissolving into the sky itself.

When you [877.5] understand thus that nothing surpasses the co-emergent, and meditate, then four aspects of yoga will
successively appear. When, within the clear essence of mind, the vivid clarity of the lack of intrinsic nature does not diverge, this is called the yoga of one-pointedness. At the time that [yoga] arises in the [mental] continuum, and a worldly appearance is slightly apprehended as true, at times you think that a good meditation has occurred, and at times, when cognition is bereft of the moisture of dharmata, you think you are stable, [but] thoughts undergo multiple
ups and downs. When you have apprehended the special instructions, have repeatedly and unwaveringly entered equipoise [877.10], and expanded the nature of cognition that has entered into meditation, then non-conceptuality is bereft of all extremes of proliferation, such as existence and non-existence, permanence and annihilation, coming and going, and so forth. That realization [of everything] as the dharmakaya is called the yoga bereft of proliferations. At the time this is generated in the continuum, all previous dharmas that have passed, conventional fabrications, are cut off.

When that [experience] arises in one’s mental continuum, then all past phenomena turn into emptiness and conventional proliferations are severed. Like an impoverished person finding a treasure, through cultivating this, all appearances of the worlds of inanimate and sentient beings are understood as one’s own mind, and the nature of one’s own mind is understood to be unproduced—that is the yoga of multiplicity as having one taste. When that arises in the mental continuum, then, through the realization that appearances that variously appear as the concepts of graspable object and grasping subject are the mind itself, co-emergent as the dharmakaya, purified thoughts return to their own abode. When you meditate in this way, then your own cognition is liberated from meditator and meditation object, and as equipoise and post-meditation do not exist, objects and their subjects are cognized as non-dual—that is called the yoga of nonmeditation.

* The seven qualities of the sitting position of Vairocana (rnam snang chos bdun) are having: (1) the legs crossed, (2) hands on the lap, (3) back straight, (4) shoulders spread, (5) head with chin slightly lowered, (6) tip of the tongue touching the palate of the mouth, and (7) eyes gazing past the tip of the nose.
** The ‘four immeasurables’ (catvåry apramånåni, Tib. tshad med bzhi) also known as the four ‘abodes of Brahma’ (brahmavihåra), are the contemplations of immeasurable love (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (upeksha).