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The Great Image: The Life Story of Vairochana the Translator

The Great Image: The Life Story of Vairochana the Translator

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by Ani Jinba Palmo, Dilgo Khyentse, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

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This book is the autobiography of the great scholar and translator Vairochana, as told to a group of his students near the end of his life in the eighth century. Responsible for bringing seminal Buddhist teachings to Tibet from India, his deep understanding of the Dharma was what enabled him to translate the essence of enlightened mind, conveyed in the Sanskrit texts,


This book is the autobiography of the great scholar and translator Vairochana, as told to a group of his students near the end of his life in the eighth century. Responsible for bringing seminal Buddhist teachings to Tibet from India, his deep understanding of the Dharma was what enabled him to translate the essence of enlightened mind, conveyed in the Sanskrit texts, with great accuracy.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The great translator Vairochana, crown ornament of all the Indian and Tibetan scholars, who was equal in realization and accomplishment to the second buddha from Oddiyana, extended the life force of the Buddhist teachings and living beings in Tibet in one lifetime."—Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

"We should read biographies of sublime beings and ponder their qualities in order to receive their blessings and go beyond time and space as they have done."—Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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A Summary of the Text

Zenkar Rinpoche

the great Dharma Senge found six different copies of
these different editions, he edited together a definitive version which he had
carved on woodblocks and printed. This text describes the life of the supreme
Vairotsana, his place of birth, the names of his parents, and his name as a
child. He himself had five names during his life. When he was eight years old,
he met King Trisong Deutsen, studied languages, and acted as his outer and
inner minister for seven years. At the age of fifteen, he went to India to
search for the pith instructions.
the actual journey and the sixteen hardships he went through.

first chapter describes the appearance of the effortless doctrine coming from
Akanishta. This doctrine was taught through four kayas: the svabhavikakaya
doctrine was taught through clarifying self-pointing-out, the dharmakaya
doctrine was taught by direct self-liberation, the sambhogakaya doctrine was
taught through self-essence, and the secret kaya was taught through the method
of great bliss.

second chapter describes the doctrine being taught in gradual stages to those
without the good fortune of understanding and realization. Particularly in the
realms of the World of Endurance, the Buddha Shakyamuni and others tamed beings
in whatever way was effective. In the celestial realms the doctrine was first
taught through the vehicle of characteristics and secondly through the Secret
Mantra Vehicle. The Secret Mantra consists of the outer tantric doctrine of the
Muni and the inner magnetizing vehicle, comprised of the Maha Yoga tantras, the
Anu Yoga transmissions, and the Ati Yoga teachings. The Maha Yoga tantras first
appeared when King Ja received transmission through seven dreams. When the
books and an image of Vajrapani descended on the roof of his house, King Ja
started practicing the first chapter of the Vajrasattva tantra. After
practicing for six months, he had a vision of Vajrasattva, who gave him a staff
and a Dharma wheel and empowered him. After that he fully understood the texts
and then classified them into eighteen tantras.

second chapter deals with the Anu Yoga transmissions. The five noble beings
went to the top of Mount Malaya and fervently prayed to all the buddhas, who
discussed their request and decided to send Vajrapani. So Vajrapani went to
Mount Malaya and taught the
of the Embodiment of the Realization of All Buddhas.
in Oddiyana he gave the glorious Yangdag tantras and instructions to the
nirmanakaya Prahevajra.

third chapter describes how the special Ati Yoga doctrine came to the celestial
and human realms. The Secret Mantra teachings appeared because the six
necessary conditions were present. In the Heaven of the Thirty-three, the god's
son Sem Lhagchen (Adhichitta in Sanskrit) had a very special dream. He prayed
to the buddhas, who invoked Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva then emanated Vajrapani
from his heart, gave Sem Lhagchen a precious wheel, and called him Sattvavajra.
After receiving the mind essence of the five buddhas, Vajrapani gave the
empowerment of direct anointment to Adhicitta, along with the empowerments and
instructions of
Miraculous Scriptures, Threefold Spontaneous Accomplishment, Great Sphere,
Unchanging Finness, Immediacy of Awareness, Nondual Mingling, Vajra Statement,
many other empowerments and tantras. All these were given in an instant, and
Adhicitta was empowered as a regent. That concludes the third chapter, about
the doctrine coming to the three celestial realms.

fourth chapter describes the Ati doctrine coming to the human realm. In the
Dhanakosha district, King Dhahena Tab's daughter Parani, who was a nun, saw a
swan that was an emanation of Vajrapani, which touched her three times with its
beak. When the time had come, a five-pronged vajra issued from her heart, which
transformed into a small child. This was Prahevajra. Prahevajra was empowered
by Vajrapani, who gave him the complete empowerment of direct anointment and
all the other empowerments, tantras, instructions, etc., so that Prahevajra
became the lamp of the doctrine. He received and realized the complete root and
explanatory tantras, the
Thousand Sections of the Ninefold Expanse,
branch tantras of the five buddhas, and all the tantras of the Lord of Secrets.
He directly attained enlightenment through Ati Yoga and then gave the Dzogchen

transmitted all this to the son of Brahmin Palden Dekyong, Manjushrimitra, who
was also called Sarasiddhi and Samvarasara. He attained accomplishment in
Yamantaka and wrote the
on Bodhichitta Written in Pure Gold on Stone.
mind lineage of the buddhas includes everyone up to Prahevajra. This concludes
the fourth chapter.

fifth chapter describes the general lineage from Prahevajra's grandfather King
Dhahena Tab, his son Thuwo Raja, Princess Parani, Naga King Nanda, Yakshini
Changchubma, the prostitute Barani, the Kashmiri abbot Rabnang, the abbot
Maharaja from Oddiyana, Princess Gomadevi, Atsantra Aboke, the earlier
Kukkuraja, the sage Bhashita, the prostitute Dagnyima, Nagarjuna, the later
Kukkuraja, the later Manjushrimitra, Devaraja, Buddhagupta, Shri Singha, the
nun Kungamo, and Master Vimalamitra.

special lineage described in this chapter goes as follows: Prahevajra,
Manjushrimitra, and Shri Singha to Vairotsana. Then there is a lineage of seven
through Prahevajra, Manjushrimitra, Dhahena Tab, and so forth down to Shri
Singha, who passed it on to Vairo. The special lineage was the Distinguishing
Brahmin's Cycle, the Resolving King's Cycle and the Instruction Cycle Directly
Pointing Out Self-Liberation. Of these three, the instruction cycle belongs to
the mind lineage of the buddhas. Prahe gave these instructions to
Manjushrimitra and bestowed the empowerment of direct anointment on him. Then
he gave him the five root tantras, such as
of Wisdom, Universal Light,
twenty-five branch tantras including
entrustment of the precious treasure revealing Prahevajra's mind essence, the
seven streams of empowerment including the empowerment of direct anointment,
and the secret initiation, and empowered him to protect the doctrine through
the three

this to Devaputra, it was transmitted through Naga King Nanda, Yakshini
Changchubma, the monk Kukkuraja, and Shri Singha. This is the symbolic lineage
through the awareness of the vidyadharas. This completes the fifth chapter.

sixth chapter describes the effortless doctrine coming to Tibet. During the
reign of Lha Thothori Nyentsen [also known as Nyenshel], the doctrine began;
during the reign of Songtsen Gampo, it was established; and during the reign of
Trisong Deutsen, it developed. The first transmission was by Padmasambhava, the
second by Shantigarbha, the third by Buddhaguhya, the fourth by Humkara, and
the fifth by Vairotsana, who taught the doctrine beyond cause and effect.

was born in Tsang Nyemo. His father was called Pagor Hedo and his mother Drenza
Karkyi. His birth name was Genjak Tangta. At the age of eight, the king took
him to Samye where he studied with the two masters, Padmasambhava and
Shantarakshita. He was ordained as a monk and learned many languages. He used
five different names for his translations. For Sutrayana translations he used
the name Yeshe De, for Mantrayana translations Vairotsana, for Bon translations
Genjak Tangta, for astrology translations Indravairo, and for medicinal
translations Chobar. He served as outer and inner minister for three years and
as the king's personal attendant for three years. At the age of fifteen, he
promised to go to India, a commitment that no one else could make, which was
his first trial. His second trial was the preparation for the journey. His
third trial was being blocked by the snow and nearly dying. Escaping the
nonhuman obstacles was his fourth trial. His fifth trial was escaping robbers,
his sixth trial was escaping wild animals, and his seventh trial was crossing a
narrow path with nowhere to go. His eighth trial was escaping the bamboo swords
of the border guards by performing a miracle. His ninth trial was escaping
wolves and other wild animals that came to eat his horse's corpse and wanted to
eat him as well. His tenth trial was escape from Magadha in India. His eleventh
trial was his escape from the snakes at Krisha, and his twelfth trial was
escaping King Bhibhira's prison sentence. His thirteenth trial was escaping
from a poisonous sulfur lake in Magadha. His fourteenth trial was escaping the
beatings from Mon tribesmen in Avadhuti. His fifteenth trial was escaping the
masks and snakes in Arya Palo and his sixteenth trial was to get rid of the
poison that women gave him in Edhakesha. When he arrived in central India, he
heard that the most learned and realized master was Shri Singha. The
instruction teachings were to be kept very secret, but his attempts to get them
through various skillful means were successful, and he received them all from
Shri Singha. He then learnt speed walking to move quickly. This concludes the
eighth chapter, describing Shri Singha giving the entire doctrine to Vairotsana.

ninth chapter describes how, through speed walking, Vairo returned to Tibet and
on the way met the proud king called Rahula Bhibhi. He tamed this king through
his instructions. The tenth chapter describes his arrival in Tibet.

eleventh chapter describes him teaching the common and special instructions
while remaining in Tibet for about five years. During that time, the Indian
Dharma king decided to send people to slander him, resulting in the king of
Tibet being forced to get rid of Vairo. Trying to avoid this fate, however, the
king pretended to kill Vairo by throwing a beggar in the river. Later, the king
was actually forced to banish him. Vairo sang many songs about his hardships
and predicted that Tibet would be ruined and that the queen would go to hell.
He begged them to let him stay, but due to past karma he was forced to go to
Tsawarong. The king and ministers escorted him by horse; they asked his advice
about the future so he gave many predictions. This concludes the eleventh
chapter about being banished to Tsawarong.

twelfth chapter describes how the people from Gyalmo Tsawarong threw him into a
frog hole for three days and then into a louse pit for seven days. Vairo told
them that in his last life there he was a prince called Puma who had killed
many frogs and lice and that this was the karmic result of that. The queen of
Tsawarong and her attendants and subjects then offered confession and did many
prostrations. Next he met Prince Yudra, who became his main student. Vairo
trained the prince in the nine precepts and thirteen courages and then gave him
all the teachings. When Vairo was reciting the
Space Tantra
the louse pit, though he heard it only once, Yudra memorized it. Some editions
mention that Yudra told the people of Tsawarong to take Vairotsana out of the
pit; other editions mention that Vairo paid for Yudra, who was the son of King
Rinchen and Queen Tsogyal, bribing them to give Yudra to him. So there are
three different stories. Taming the gods and demons, Vairo miraculously had a
stupa built in one day, which appeared like a stupa from the outside and was a
temple inside. During the daytime, he gave teachings on the Causal Vehicle, in
the evening he taught the inner Secret Mantra, and at night he gave Yudra and
some others the instruction teachings. Yudra's realization became equal to that
of Vairotsana. During that time, King Trisong Deutsen invited Vimalamitra from
India to Tibet. Vairo told Yudra to go to Tibet, prove that his teachings were
superior, and spread the instruction teachings in Tibet. This concludes the
twelfth chapter.

thirteenth chapter describes Vairo going to China and receiving teachings from
Chinese masters and yogis such as Kusula Bhitigarbha, Dharmabodhi, Vajra Sukha
Deva, Pandita Barma, Tsenda Ritropa, Mahabodhi, Shri Ani, Hashang Bhibi, Surya
Ghirti, Satipa, and so forth— altogether nineteen great yogis and yoginis.
Then he went back to Tsawarong.

the instructions he received from the Chinese masters he gave to Yudra in
Tsawarong. Yudra gave them to Nyag Jnana Kumara, who gave them to Sangye Yeshe,
who gave them to Sogpo Palkyi Yeshe. Then Yudra went to Tibet and met
Vimalamitra in Samye. Everyone was extremely devoted and respectful.

his way back to Tsawarong Yudra met Pam Sangye Gonpo, who had heard stories
about Vairo; having become very devoted, he went to see Vairotsana. Then Yudra
met Gya Lodro Shonnu and gave him all his instructions. He then went to lower
Do Kham, met Bes Dorje Gyaltsen, and gave him many tantras and instructions.
Then he went to Tsawarong where he met Vairo. Telling him everything, he
praised him in eleven verses; Vairo was very happy. At that time, the Tibetans
discussed and decided to invite Vairo back to Tibet. Three people were sent to
invite him back, and he promised to come.

Vairo prepared to return to Tibet, and Queen Dru and the others saw him off
with a very elaborate farewell. On the way he met Pam Mipham Gonpo, a very old
man. Vairo instructed him by putting him in the right posture with a stick and
a meditation belt and small sticks to keep his eyes open. Upon receiving the
teachings, he attained immediate realization and embraced Vairotsana. At that
time Mune Tsenpo passed away. Vairo and Yudra arrived during the funeral in the
presence of a large gathering of people. Invited to sit in the center of the
assembly, Vimalamitra and Yudra sat on either side [of Vairotsanal and did the
elaborate funeral ceremonies. Then they started an institute and turned the
wheel of Dharma in an elaborate way. Everyone did confession to Vairotsana, and
he accepted and forgave them. He again told them about all his hardships in
India to obtain the instruction teachings. At that time Shantarakshita,
Vimalamitra, and a gathering of 108 translators would meet at the Translation
Hall and translate the sutras and tantras. All the texts that they translated
miraculously manifested from the divine realms,
and sacred dakini places as well as from Oddiyana, Nalanda, and so forth
through the two masters. These texts still exist today because of the kindness
of these great masters. Vairotsana also translated mixed texts of medicine and
astrology as well as many thousands of tantra classes and instructions. From
twenty-six hundred tantras he translated sixty-two million instructions. He
then transformed into the form of Tairochana and dissolved into the space of
he came back and stayed in Samye Chimphu for one year. Then he went back to
Tsawarong once more, where he was invited to Kham. In Kham he stayed in the
Rong Chamchen Hermitage. At that time Vimalamitra and other
to visit him, and they translated the Sadhana Sections. The first lineage is
the teachings that Vairo secretly gave to Trisong Deutsen, that is, the Five
Earlier Translations of the Mind Class and the
Expanse Inst
which he received in India. The middle lineage is the teachings that Yudra gave
to Nyag Jnana Kumara and Ma Rinchen Chok. The last lineage is the teachings
that Yudra gave to Pam Mipham Gonpo, Gya Lodro Shonnu, and Bes Dorje Gyaltsen.
He again went to Samye Hepori for a brief stay, at which time the king offered
a large feast offering. Vairo told Pam Mipham Gonpo to benefit beings for five
hundred years and Yudra to benefit beings for three hundred years. He said that
among his students 170 would attain the rainbow body Then he dissolved into a
blue dot with a white syllable A in the center and dissolved into space. He
then variously appeared as Vairochana, a vajra, light, Ananda, Shakyamuni, a
sacred text, and so forth.

Vairotsana was about to finally pass away into the pure lands, Yudra asked him
about his future emanations. He said he would appear as Atisha from Zahor, as
Drawa Ngonshe, as Dorje Lingpa, as Rechung Dorje Trakpa, as Jonang, as the one
called Yak, as Zangkar Lotsawa, as the siddha Kharnak, as Kunkyong Lingpa, as
Phagmo Drupa, as Myogom Repa, and as many other emanations. Litsa Tsultrim Dron
arrived and attained the same realization. Then Yudra and Jingyon's son and
others asked Vairo to relate his biography, and Yudra wrote it down. This
biography is a real treasury of the buddhas, the ultimate history, and the
image that truly represents Vairotsana. It is the index of the effortless

answer to the request for the essence of the teachings, Vairo gave many
instructions saying not to get involved in samsaric activities, not to Ignore
those to be tamed, not to search for the buddha outside, and that if they had
faith and devotion, they were inseparable from him. After that he flew into the
sky, his right hand playing a damaru, and dissolved into space. That concludes
the thirteenth chapter.

am very grateful that Ani Jinba Palmo from Holland, a student of Dilgo Khyentse
Rinpoche and other great masters, who knows quite a few languages, who studied
and practiced the Kagyu and Nyingma teachings, and who keeps the outer Vinaya
accordingly, translated this life story of the great translator Vairotsana. I
am confident that this translation will directly and indirectly benefit
innumerable readers.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"The great translator Vairochana, crown ornament of all the Indian and Tibetan scholars, who was equal in realization and accomplishment to the second buddha from Oddiyana, extended the life force of the Buddhist teachings and living beings in Tibet in one lifetime."—Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

"We should read biographies of sublime beings and ponder their qualities in order to receive their blessings and go beyond time and space as they have done."—Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Meet the Author

Ani Jinba Palmo, born and educated in Holland, is a nun in the Tibetan tradition. She was a student of and translator for Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche until his death in 1991. She currently divides her time between retreats in Nepal and India and translating for Tibetan teachers in the United States and Europe.

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