King Trisong Detsen

Today, the Jnanasukha March issue of the Dakini Day news had an interesting article on one of the great dharma kings of Tibet.  This was a very interesting biography to read:

The second of the three most famous Dharma Kings was Trisong Detsen.  In fulfillment of a prophecy, King Trisong Detsen (790-844) ascended to the throne at the age of thirteen, four generations after Songtsen Gampo.

Across the board, he is recognized as the monolithic force that established Buddhism as the state religion of Tibet.  Traditionally, this achievement is linked to his partnership with Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava, such that the three are referred to as khen lob cho sum — the Scholar Shantarakshita, the Dharma Master Padmasambhava, and the Dharma King Trisong Detsen.

There are Dunhuang manuscripts which recount the glory of King Trisong Detsen’s activities in establishing the complete traditions of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet.

King Trisong Detsen’s mother was Chinese.  Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal was one of his five wives.  He had three sons who were devoted to Padmasambhava and one daughter, Pema Sel, who was restored to life at the age of eight by Padmasambhava, who entrusted her with the Great Perfection cycle of Khandro Nyingthik.  She later incarnated as Terton Pema Ledreltsal (13th century), Longchenpa (14th century), and Terton Padma Lingpa (15th century).

In pursuit of his spiritual intentions, the King sought out many Buddhist teachers in China, Nepal, and India.  Most notably, at age twenty, he sent Jnanakumara to fetch Shantarakshita (aka Khenpo Bodhisattva), the abbot of Nalanda, and to bring back the heisted Shakyamuni statue.  When he tried to build a great temple like Odantapura in India, he met with heavy opposition from Bon practitioners, his ministers, and one of his own wives.  The spirits of Tibet were also very displeased and to retard any progress in the construction of Samye, they embarked on a campaign of daily natural disasters such as disease, floods, storms, famines.

On Shantarakshita’s recommendation, the King sent five envoys to escort Padmasambhava, the Oddiyana vidyadhara, to central Tibet to deal with the disruptive situation.  According to His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Padmasambhava came to Tibet in the Iron Tiger Year of 810.  Some say he was already 1,000 years old.  In any case, Padmasambhava subdued the spirits and bound them to serve the Buddhist doctrine and its followers.  As a result, the great temple of Samye, Sublime Palace of Inconceivable Self-Manifestation, was completed in five years.  It is said that during the consecration of Samye, the statues walked around discussing the Dharma!

Thereafter, using his wealth and power, King Trisong Detsen proceeded to systematically institutionalize Buddhism.  At Samye, he hosted the famous several year-long debates between Indian and Chinese Buddhism, after which he declared Indian Buddhism to be the official religion of Tibet (792).  He requested Shantarakshita to conduct the first monastic ordination ceremonies for monks and nuns.  He gathered exceptional translators such as Vairotsana, Kawa Paltsek, Chokro Lui Gyaltsen, and others to translate both sutra and mantra teachings from Sanskrit into Tibetan.  He brought a hundred and eight great Indian scholars, such as Vimalamitra and Buddhaguhya, to Tibet.  He sent others to India to receive and bring back teachings from great masters such as Shri Singha and Humkara.

He himself requested Padmasambhava to bestow the first tantric empowerment in the caves of Chimphu above Samye.  The King was the only one of Guru Rinpoche’s twenty-five mahasiddha disciples who did not attain the rainbow body.  However, he composed Dharma texts and is known for his mastery of Chemchok Heruka.

On a mundane level, he made his country prosperous and, through military exploits, he made Tibet into a superpower.  Through a treaty with the Chinese, he obtained the Lake Kokonor region (Amdo).  He ruled Kashmir, formed an alliance with Siam, and tried to expand westward into Arab lands.  In Lhasa, there is a pillar that pays homage to his military glory.

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, with tears in his eyes, that:

“If one were to fill every canyon, every gorge, every hole on earth with gold as high as Mount Meru, not even a fraction of the kindness of King Trisong Detsen could be repaid!”

His death was predicted by Vairotsana whom the King, under pressure from his xenophobic ministers, had, at one time, banished from central Tibet.  Among his rebirths are Nyang Rel Nyima Ozer, Guru Chowang, Jigme Lingpa, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.  He is considered an emanation of Manjushri.


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