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T?ran?tha on Padmasambhava’s lotus-birth

posted by Greg Zwahlen

According to Tibetan tradition, the eighth-century yogin Padmasambhava was born as an eight-year-old child on a lotus blossom in Lake Dhanakosha. His name, in fact, literally means “Lotus Born.”
This is what the early 17th-century Tibetan historian T?ran?tha had to say about that:

Some small-minded persons, equipped only with the faith of fools / Have written many fabricated histories to inspire others. / Most people are so foolish that such fraudulent and unsound words and meanings might in fact increase their faith, / But when wise readers see or hear of these words, they are startled and amused and for this reason develop doubts in all pure teachings and individuals./ Such books are the work of demons: what could be more harmful?


(Quoted in Guru Rinpoché: His Life and Times, by Ngawang Zangpo. page 154)

Seems like an appropriate sentiment for our times.


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posted July 14, 2009 at 7:06 pm


Could you elaborate a little? What is an appropriate sentiment for our times? Any thoughts on the tradition of describing miraculous events in hagiographies and the lense through which these accounts should be viewed? Is calling other writers small-minded and equipped with the faith of fools part of the appropriateness of sentiment that you see as beneficial for our times?
I realize you may have been in a rush to get this thought out, but the paucity of context and clarity of assertion is confusing.



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ellen9

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:55 am


gzza,
Thanks–this is a really interesting passage and I second your evaluation of it.
etc.,
I understand your request for context. I actually read “appropriate” not as a prescription but as a description. Calling “writers small-minded and equipped with the faith of fools” not a recommendation for appropriate speech, but rather an appropriate description of how contemporary readers may view those writers. Modern readers may well find the miracles of hagiographies a turn-off — it may increase their doubts and make them less likely to study or practice.
On the other hand, as T?ran?tha notes, in other times and settings such stories may increase faith.
Context is everything.



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gza

posted July 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm


Etc, you are right that I didn’t elaborate or contextualize adequately.
What I felt was particularly appropriate was the idea that well-intentioned deception, particularly in the form of inflated hagiographies, ultimately does more harm than good.
As far as how we might relate to miraculous events in hagiographies and the lens through which these accounts should be viewed – hmm. I don’t know that I could generalize about that. I am probably more open to fantastical things than most modern people overall, but I guess I just feel like in the case of Padmasambhava the embellishment was so egregious that it was obvious even to Tibetans who were much more open to such things than modern people generally are.
I find in my case, Padmasambhava is more relatable not as a “Second Buddha” for whom no claim is too outrageous, but more as a historical mahasiddha who acted in concert with other siddhas in Nepal and Tibet (which is what the earliest available textual sources indicate was the case).



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