Padmasambhava: Stages of the mystic path

Padmasambhava was an Indian master of the tantric sect who was brought to Tibet in the eighth century by King Trisong Detsen (742 to 797). The king was attempting to build a Buddhist monastery but had met with much resistance; he brought Padmasambhava to assist him, and Samye Gompa was completed. The subject of many myths and legends, little is known about him historically, apart from the fact that he eventually left Tibet.

Padmasambhava’s main consort was said to be Yeshe Tsogyal, another semi-legendary figure who was an important realized teacher in her own right. She received Dzogchen teachings directly from Padmasambhava and a number of important texts are attributed to her.

According to Alexandra David-Neel (1937), Padmasambhava’s reputation for licentiousness may have been no more than wishful hagiography: “Padmasambhava belonged to the degenerate sect of tantric Buddhism. Yet, nothing proves he was naturally intemperate, as some of his followers wish to make us believe to justify their drunkenness.” (p. 13)

Stages of the mystic path

1. To read a large number of books on the various religions and philosophies. To listen to many learned doctors professing different doctrines. To experiment oneself with a number of methods.

2. To choose a doctrine among the many one has studied and discard the other ones, as the eagle carries off only one sheep from the flock.

3. To remain in a lowly condition, humble in one’s demeanour, not seeking to be conspicuous or important in the eyes of the world, but behind apparent insignificance, to let one’s mind soar high above all worldly power and glory.

4. To be indifferent to all. Behaving like the dog or the pig that eat what chance brings them. Not having any preference among the things which one encounters. Abstaining from any effort to seize or avoid anything. Accepting with equal indifference whatever comes: riches or poverty, praise or contempt; giving up discrimination between virtue and vice, honourable and shameful, good and evil. Feeling neither grief nor shame for one may have done, and feeling neither elation nor pride on account of what one has accomplished.

5. To view with perfect equanimity and detachment the conflicting opinions and the various manifestations of the activity of beings. To understand that such is the nature of things, the inevitable mode of action of each entity and to remain always serene. To look at the world as a man standing on the highest mountain of the country looks at the valleys and the lesser summits spread out below him.214

6. It is said that the sixth stage cannot be described in words. It corresponds to the realization of the Void, which in Lamaist terminology means the inexpressible reality.215

214. Compare Dhammapada: “When the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness, he, the wise one, climbing the terraced heights of wisdom, looks down upon the ignorant. Free from sorrow, he looks upon the sorrowing crowd, as one that stands on a mountain looks down upon them that stand upon the plain.” The Dhammapada is a work belonging to the Buddhist canonic scriptures in the Pali language.
215. In a general way, one must understand here, the realization of the non-existence of a permanent ego, according to the Tibetan current fomula: “The person is devoid of self: all things are devoid of self.” (David-Neel, pp. 164-165)

Confucius said, “At fifteen my mind was set on learning. At thirty my character had been formed. At forty I had no more perplexities. At fifty I knew the Mandate of Heaven (T’ien-ming). At sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard. At seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing moral principles.” (Wing-Tsit Chan)

David-Neel, Alexandra (1937). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. London: Penguin Books. (

Wing-Tsit Chan (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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