Gelong Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai LamaSeptember 10, 1973
This volume consists of a complete translation from the Tibetan of
The Biography of Atisha
by Gurugana Dharmakaranama, together with extracts from
The Spread of Buddhism in Tibet c
ompiled by the Tibetan Teachers' Training College atDharamsala, India, which have been added to make the story complete by giving anaccount of Atisha's visit to Tibet.
Atisha, an Indian monk of royal birth, who was born in 980 A.D., enteredTibet in the year 1038 and died near Lhasa in 1052 A.D. The author of agreat number of learned works and founder of the Kadampa sect from whichthe present-day Gelugpa sect is derived, he is so profoundly reverenced forhis wisdom that Tibetans regard him as an incarnation of ManjushriBodhisattva. Above all he is honored for purifying Tibetan Buddhism of certain doubtful tendencies and restoring the great Mahayana doctrine in itspristine purity.Part of the charm and interest of this book lies in its being an authenticexample of Tibetan historical writings. The reverential approach tends topoetic truth rather than to historical accuracy, but it would be wrong to treatthe more fabulous incidents as having no foundation in fact. For example,the picturesque passage in which Atisha's companion, Bhumisara, isdepicted as destroying the palace of a heretical goddess and gravely injuringMaheshvara, King of Heretics, besides obliterating the black tent of theBonpo King of the Shangshung by hurling thunderbolts upon them from theocean where his ship was becalmed, is not intended to be taken literally, butto represent the prowess of Atisha and his companions in rooting out falseteachings that obscured the light of the Dharma. For the rest, the book contains many passages of great beauty, some edifying discourses in theDharma and some delightful poetry of which much of the excellence hasbeen lost in the process of translation.The method used to render the work into English resembles, in a veryhumble way, that of the great translators who translated the MahayanaCanon from Sanskrit into Tibetan. That is to say, it is the work of a teamconsisting of people with different sets of qualifications. One of us has ascholarly knowledge of Tibetan and a fair command of English; another isan English writer with a knowledge of Buddhism and some acquaintancewith the Tibetan background; the third possesses an adequate knowledge of both languages. First a very literal translation was made, then the Englishwas refined, after which the resulting text was compared very carefully withthe original and all the obvious errors eliminated. Our purpose has been tomake the English rendering as faithful as possible to the Tibetan within the