Sri Pada, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2022
Despite the pandemic and all its restrictions, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and his monks were able to successfully hold a series of drupchens at the holy sites of India towards the end of 2021. Continuing this ‘winning streak’, Rinpoche then brought a large contingent of lamas and monks from Chokling Monastery to Sri Lanka, to hold a drupchen of Tukdrup Barche Kunsel at the sacred mountain of Sri Pada (Adams Peak). A number of foreign students were also able to travel to Sri Lanka to join the drupchen and for their benefit, Rinpoche shared these introductory words about the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and about the special significance of Sri Pada for the different Buddhist traditions.
The Advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
According to Sri Lankan legend, there was once a girl from Tamil Nadu in India who had a child with no father. She explained that the father was a lion. But because she couldn’t take care of the child, she left him in a cave. The lion came and took care of the child. When he grew up, he started the lineage of the Sri Lankan people. He did not really look like a human being, but more like an animal. That is the Sri Lankan legend. In fact, you can see a lion on their flag.
The Buddhist teachings arrived and spread in Sri Lanka at the time of King Ashoka. Ashoka’s father had about one hundred children from his many wives. When Ashoka heard that his father was terminally ill, he travelled to the capital, Patna, and killed all his siblings. But Chanda, the pregnant wife of his elder brother, escaped to a low-caste village where she gave birth, unbeknown to Ashoka. Years later, the child became a Buddhist monk. Everyday King Ashoka would look out from the roof of his palace and each day around lunchtime he would see this monk coming to beg for alms. One day Ashoka called the monk to the palace. “When Ashoka walked into the room where his throne was covered with a white umbrella adorned with gold, he found the monk already seated on the throne. Ashoka was surprised and asked the bikshu what it was all about. The monk explained to the king that he was a follower of the Buddha, and that he was an arhat who had reached a high level of realisation. His name was Samudra. He converted Ashoka to Buddhism, and later, Ashoka sent arhats in every direction in order to bring the Buddhist teachings to the rest of the world—in Burma, Sri Lanka and many other countries.
Ashoka sent Mahinda and four monks to Sri Lanka. They stayed in the forest on a mountain until, one day, the king of Sri Lanka, King Tissa, went hunting on this mountain. When the king first saw the monks, he thought they were yakshas and was going to shoot them with his bow and arrow. But the monks levitated in the sky, displaying their power, and said “we are here because Ashoka sent us to help you.” The moment King Tissa heard Ashoka’s name, he was immediately inspired, and invited the monks to his palace. Later, Mahinda ordained many monks in Sri Lanka.
King Tissa had a daughter, Anula, who wanted to become a nun. Mahinda explained to her that he and his companions could not ordain her because they were monks. Only bikshunis could ordain her. So the princess asked what they could do. The monk said, “I have a sister in Patna who is a bikshuni. Her name is Sanghamitta. Why don’t you invite her? She is also an arhat.” King Tissa sent many lavish gifts such as right turning conches, rhinoceros horns and the like to invite Sanghamitta. King Ashoka was delighted to hear that Sri Lanka developed an interest for the dharma, so much so that he cut the right branch of the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, placed it in a golden vase and sent it to Sri Lanka, together with ten bikshunis who set sail for Sri Lanka. This helped to establish Buddhism on the island. After the drupchen, we will go Anuradhapura to see the bodhi tree sent by Ashoka. Gendün Chöpel confirmed that it is really the authentic original tree sent by Ashoka. Experts have dated this tree to be 2,500 years old. Many wars and battles have been fought in the region but no damage has ever come to the tree. It is the genuine tree of enlightenment.
The Tooth Relic
The second story I want to tell you about is the Buddha’s tooth. After Buddha passed in parinirvana, his body was cremated but his four canine teeth were not burnt. Each of the four great kings of that time received one. One tooth was given to the King of Kalinga, the region near Kolkata. The king kept it in his possession for a long time and made many offerings to it. But one day Hindus attacked his kingdom and injured him with an arrow. Knowing that his enemies wanted to destroy the Buddha’s tooth, the King gave it to his daughter and told her to take it to Sri Lanka. The daughter hid it in her hair to smuggle it to Sri Lanka. This is the tooth that is now enshrined in Kandy’s main temple. There are many stories related to the Portuguese invasion of Sri Lanka and the tooth, but despite all that, the Sri Lankans say that the Tooth Temple in Kandy still contains the authentic tooth. They actually used to show it, and Khandro Tsering Chodron had the opportunity to see it. But now they no longer display it because of the Muslims. You can however still see the stupa where it is enshrined. This sacred tooth is revered by the Buddhists of all vehicles.
Buddha’s Visit to Sri Lanka
According to Mahayana, Buddha went to Sri Lanka using his miraculous abilities. He flew there and landed on Mount Malaya where he left a footprint and taught the Lankavatara Sutra.
After the drupchen, we will climb the peak and see the footprint.
This is according to the Mahayana tradition, but Sri Lankan Buddhists also accept that the Buddha came to Sri Lanka and left a footprint, even though they are not followers of the Mahayana. For us, since we are followers of the “greater” Mahayana, we of course agree with that.
Vajrayana and Mount Malaya
According to the Mantrayana vehicle, Sri Pada is the most sacred place in this world. Matam Rudra was residing on top of Mount Malaya. All the buddhas of the ten directions manifested together in the form of Hayagriva and Vajravarahi and liberated Matam Rudra.
It is also the place where the teachings of Secret Mantra Vajrayana were first taught in this world. The most important sacred places for the Vajrayana are the twenty-four sacred places, the thirty-two sacred lands and the eight great charnel grounds, which are also sacred to Hindus.
The first time the tantra teachings were transmitted in this world was on Mount Malaya, on which occasion all the tantras were taught. Twenty-four years after Buddha passed into parinirvana, the Five Excellent Ones of Sublime Nobility, who were five great beings with exceptional qualities—a god, a naga, a yaksha, a rakshasa and a human being, Vimalakirti—gathered on Mount Malaya where Vajrasattva taught them the tantras exactly as he taught them in Akanishtha. They received both the tantra and sadhana sections of tantric teachings. They did not keep them too long in this world. Instead, they concealed the tantras in space. When the right time came, all the tantra teachings descended on the roof of the palace of King Ja. The teachings of the sadhana section were hidden in the Dechen Tsekpa (Shankarakuta) stupa, where they remained hidden until Guru Rinpoche and the eight great vidhyadharas retrieved them from the stupa. That is when the Vajrayana teachings started to spread in this world. In those days, every man and woman exposed to the Vajrayana teachings became a mahasiddha. That is why we say that this place, Mount Malaya, is the source of the Vajrayana teachings.
Before the Tibetans did not know clearly where Mount Malaya was. They had different theories. Some would say this is not a place where you can actually go because it is too dangerous—you could be attacked by tigers, panthers or elephants. Nowadays we do not have problems with these animals. Also, there used to be a lot of thunderbolts falling on Mount Malaya making it difficult to visit.
When we came last time, in 2015, we practised the root of all tantra teachings—the Minling Dorsem sadhana. This year, since the teachings of the sadhana section include the three roots, we will perform the lama practice of Tukdrup Barche Kunsel.
Sacred places are really important for people like us. For beings who can consecrate sacred places such as the Buddha, it makes no difference. But us, we need to receive the blessings of the place. We cannot bless places so they become sacred but we try to emulate that in our practice as we actualise the infinite purity of all that appears and exists.
Sri Pada is one of the most famous sacred places of Buddhism. It is sacred to all three vehicles, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Before only monks were allowed to climb the mountain. At the same time, Hindus say that Rama came here and that the footprint is that of Rama. Christians and Muslims say it is the footprint of the first man, Adam.
Q: The footprint is 1,80 metre. Isn’t it a bit large?
R: When Buddha leaves a footprint, it can be different sizes. He does not have to apply his foot right on the stone, but he can make an imprint just by having his foot over it. Not like us who need to really press to make an imprint on the ground. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo once left an imprint of his hand in a rock by just extending his hand in the direction of the rock.
Q: Did Guru Rinpoche come here?
R: Of course. Most probably many times.
Translated by Gyurme Avertin