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This portrait of Atiśa originated from a Kadam monastery in Tibet and was gifted to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1993. In this depiction, Atiśa holds a long, thin palm-leaf manuscript with his left hand, probably symbolising one of the many important texts he wrote, while making the gesture of teaching with his right hand.[1]
Bornc. 982 CE
possibly Vikrampura
Diedc. 1054 CE
EducationOdantapuri, Madhyamaka
Senior posting

Atīśa (c. 982–1054) was a Buddhist religious leader and master from Bengal.[2] He is generally associated with his work carried out at the Vikramashila monastery in Bihar.[3] He was one of the major figures in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia and inspired Buddhist thought from Tibet to Sumatra. He is recognised as one of the greatest figures of medieval Buddhism. Atiśa's chief disciple, Dromtön, was the founder of the Kadam school,[4] one of the New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism, later supplanted by the Gelug tradition in the 14th century which adopted its teachings and absorbed its monasteries.[5]

In 2004, Atiśa was ranked 18th in the BBC's poll of the greatest Bengalis of all time.[6][7][8]

Early life


Vajrayogini a village in Vikrampura, the most probable place for Atiśa's birthplace, was one of the capitals of the Pala Empire, an ancient kingdom of Bengal.[9] Similar to Gautama Buddha, Atiśa was born into royalty.[10] His father was a king known as Kalyānaśrī and his mother was Prabhavati Sri.[11][12] One of three royal brothers, Atiśa went by the name of Candragarbha during the first part of his life. In fact, it was not until he travelled to Guge and encountered King Jangchup Ö (Wylie: byang chub 'od, 984–1078) that he was given the name Atiśa.[citation needed]



According to Tibetan sources, Atiśa was ordained into the Mahāsāṃghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight by the Abbot Śīlarakṣita and studied almost all Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools of his time, including teachings from Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Tantric Hinduism and other practices. He also studied the sixty-four kinds of art, the art of music and the art of logic and accomplished these studies until the age of twenty-two. Among the many Buddhist lineages he studied, practised and transmitted the three main lineages were the Lineage of the Profound Action transmitted by Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View transmitted by Nagarjuna and Candrakīrti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience transmitted by Tilopa and Naropa.[13] It is said that Atiśa had more than 150 teachers, but one key one was Dharmakīrtiśrī.[14] Another notable teacher of his during his time at Vikramashila was Ratnākaraśānti.[15]

Teachings in Sumatra and Tibet

Mural of Atiśa at Ralung Monastery, 1993.

Tibetan sources assert that Atiśa spent 12 years in Sumatra of the Srivijaya empire and he returned to India in 1025 CE which was also the same year when Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty invaded Sumatra.[16] Atiśa returned to India. Once back, the increasingly knowledgeable monk received much attention for his teachings and skills in debate and philosophy. On three separate occasions, the monk Atiśa was acclaimed for defeating non-Buddhist extremists in debate. When he came into contact with what he perceived to be a misled or deteriorating form of Buddhism he would quickly and effectively implement reforms. Soon enough he was appointed to the position of steward, or abbot, at Vikramashila which was established by Emperor Dharmapala.[citation needed] He is also said to have "nourished" Odantapuri.[17]

Atiśa's return from Suvarnabhumi, where he had been studying with Dharmakīrtiśrī, and his rise to prominence in India coincided with a flourishing of Buddhist culture and the practice of Buddhism in the region, and in many ways Atiśa's influence contributed to these developments. According to traditional narratives, King Langdarma had suppressed Buddhism's teachings and persecuted its followers for over seventy years. According to the Blue Annals, a new king of Guge by the name of Yeshe-Ö sent his academic followers to learn and translate some of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts.[18] Among these academics was Naktso, who was eventually sent to Vikramashila to study Sanskrit and plead with Atiśa to come teach the Dharma in his homeland. Travelling with Naktso and Gya Lōtsawa, Atiśa journeyed through Nepal on his way to Tolung, the capital of the Purang Kingdom. (Gya Lōtsawa died before reaching Tolung.) On his way, he is said to have met Marpa Lōtsawa. He spent three years in Tolung and compiled his teachings into his most influential scholarly work, Bodhipathapradīpa, or Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The short text, in sixty-seven verses, lays out the entire Buddhist path in terms of the three vehicles: Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna, and became the model for subsequent texts in the genre of Lamrim (lam rim), or the Stages of the Path,[19] and was specifically the basis for Tsongkhapa's Lamrim writings. Here Atiśa met Dromtön, or Dromtonpa, who would become his primary disciple, regarded as both an enforcer of later propagation ethical standards and a holder of Atiśa's tantric lineage.[20]

According to Jamgon Kongtrul, when Atiśa discovered the store of Sanskrit texts at Pekar Kordzoling, the library of Samye, "he said that the degree to which the Vajrayana had spread in Tibet was unparalleled, even in India. After saying this, he reverently folded his hands and praised the great dharma kings, translators, and panditas of the previous centuries."[21]



His books include:

  • Bodhipathapradīpa (Wylie: byang chub lam gyi sgron ma)
  • Bodhipathapradipapanjikanama (his own commentary on Bodhipathapradīpa / byang chub lam gyi sgron ma)
  • Charyasamgrahapradipa contains some kirtan verses composed by Atiśa.
  • Satyadvayavatara
  • Bodhisattvamanyavali
  • Madhyamakaratnapradipa
  • Mahayanapathasadhanasangraha
  • Shiksasamuccaya Abhisamya
  • Prajnaparamitapindarthapradipa
  • Ekavirasadhana
  • Vimalaratnalekha, a Sanskrit letter to Nayapala, king of Magadha.

See also



  1. ^ "Portrait of Atiśa [Tibet (a Kadampa monastery)] (1993.479)". Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. October 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  2. ^ "Reincarnation". Dalailama. The Dalai Lama. Archived from the original on 14 May 2015. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  3. ^ Jan Westerhoff (2018). The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-19-873266-2.
  4. ^ POV. "Tibetan Buddhism from A to Z - My Reincarnation - POV - PBS". PBS. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Kadam - The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region". The Treasury of Lives. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  6. ^ "Listeners name 'greatest Bengali'". 14 April 2004. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  7. ^ "International : Mujib, Tagore, Bose among 'greatest Bengalis of all time'". The Hindu. 17 April 2004. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  8. ^ "The Daily Star Web Edition Vol. 4 Num 313". The Daily Star. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  9. ^ "Dipankar Srijnan, Atish". Banglapedia.
  10. ^ Maha Bodhi Society, The Maha Bodhi, Volume 90, p. 238.
  11. ^ "Atisa Dipamkara". The Treasury of Lives.
  12. ^ "ATĪŚA ou ATĪSHA". Encyclopædia Universalis (in French).
  13. ^ Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, Snow Lion Publications, pages 154-186
  14. ^ Buswell 2014, p. 247.
  15. ^ "Ratnākaraśānti". Encyclopedia of Buddhism Online.
  16. ^ Atisa and Tibet: Life and Works of Dipamkara Srijnana by Alaka Chattopadhyaya p.91
  17. ^ Chattopadhyaya, Alaka; Atīśa (1981). Atīśa and Tibet: Life and Works of Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna in Relation to the History and Religion of Tibet. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 126. ISBN 978-81-208-0928-4.
  18. ^ bstan pa'i mgon po (1974). Blue Annals. Lokesh Chandra.
  19. ^ "Atisa Dipamkara". The Treasury of Lives. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Dromton Gyelwa Jungne". The Treasury of Lives. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  21. ^ Tulku & Helm 2006, p. 74.