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Elena Pakhoutova . Art Treasures Picturing Padmasambhava

Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche as he is known to Tibetans, is one of the most popular subjects in the visual culture of the Tibetan-speaking Himalayan regions and the Tibetan plateau. This legendary tantric master is credited with enabling, almost single-handedly, a successful introduction of Buddhism into 8th century Tibet and is celebrated in Tibetan literary, historical and biographical sources as the Second Buddha. Second in significance historically only to the Buddha Shakyamuni, Padmasambhava is considered to be more closely involved in creating the Tibetan cultural identity. He is also praised for ensuring the continuous flourishing of Buddhist teachings in Tibet. His life stories say that, foreseeing troubled times in the future, he concealed numerous teachings throughout the Himalayan lands to be discovered as ‘treasures’ (T. terma) when needed in the future. Those discovering the terma, known as ‘treasure-revealers’ (T. tertön), are the reincarnations of Padmasambhava’s disciples. Due to their karmic link with the master, forged when they were his students in their past lives, they are able to find, remember, transcribe and share the teachings with others in their present life. Many of today’s Tibetan Buddhist practices trace back to Padmasambhava, and both the literary and visual traditions of the terma teachings are rich and complex.

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May/June 2018
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