Padmasambhava (lit. “Lotus-Born”), also known as the Second Buddha, was a sage guru from Oddiyana, northwestern Classical India (in the modern-day Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). Padmasambhava is said to have transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet, Bhutan and neighboring countries in the 8th century AD. In those lands, he is better known as Guru Rinpoche (lit. “Precious Guru”) or Lopon Rinpoche, or as Padum in Tibet, where followers of the Nyingma school regard him as the second Buddha. He is, moreover, considered to have been an emanation of Buddha Amitabha, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Kuan Yin Bodhisattva.
Padmasambhava introduced the people of Tibet to the practice of Tantric Buddhism. He is regarded as the founder of the Nyingma
tradition. The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingma tradition actually comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to Padmasambhava.
“Nyingma” literally means “ancient,” and is often referred to as “Nga’gyur” or the “early translation school” because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the eighth century.
Nyingma maintains the earliest tantric teachings. The Nyingmapa incorporates mysticism and local deities shared by the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, which has shamanic elements. The group particularly believes in hidden terma treasures. Traditionally, Nyingmapa practice was advanced orally among a loose network of lay practitioners.
Monasteries with celibate monks and nuns, along with the practice of reincarnated spiritual leaders are later adaptations, though Padmasambhava is regarded as the founder of Samye Gompa, the first monastery in the country. In modern times the Nyingma lineage has been centered in Kham in eastern Tibet.
The Vajra Guru (Padmasambhava) mantra Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum is favoured and held in esteem by sadhakas. Like most Sanskritic mantras in Tibet, the Tibetan pronunciation demonstrates dialectic variation and is generally Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung. In the Vajrayana traditions, particularly of the Nyingmapa, it is held to be a powerful mantra engendering communion with the Three Vajras of Padmasambhava’s mindstream and by his grace, all enlightened beings. In response to Yeshe Tsogyal’s request, the Great Master himself explained the meaning of the mantra although there are larger secret meanings too. The
14th century tertön Karma Lingpa has a famous commentary on the mantra.
Tantric cycles related to Padmasambhava are not just practiced by the Nyingma, they even gave rise to a new offshoot of Bon which emerged in the 14th century called the New Bön. Prominent figures of the Sarma (new translation) schools such as the Karmapas and Sakya lineage heads have practiced these cycles and taught them.
Some of the greatest tertons revealing teachings related to Padmasambhava have been from the Kagyu or Sakya lineages. The hidden lake temple of the Dalai Lamas behind the Potala called Lukhang is dedicated to Dzogchen teachings and has murals depicting the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava established Vajrayana Buddhism and the highest forms of Dzogchen (Mengagde) in Tibet and transformed the entire nation.