Guru Rinpoche is undoubtedly one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism. He is recognized by many other names like Padmasambhava, or the literal translated English equivalent names, 'Lotus Born' and 'Precious Born.' The name 'Padmasambhava' literally means 'born from the lotus,' alluding to the nature of his birth, i.e., self emerging from a lotus upon a lake that adds to his mysticism and divinity.
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The Lotus-born guru is famously known for his mastery of tantric Buddhism, who played a crucial role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet during the 8th century. Subsequently, Guru Rinpoche is regarded as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and even regarded as the "Second Buddha" by some. Regardless he is highly revered by Buddhists, especially those practicing Vajrayana Buddhism.
So Guru Rinpoche Day is an auspicious observance in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that commemorates and celebrates the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava, more famously known as Guru Rinpoche. Let us celebrate the great Guru Rinpoche in this article for his extraordinary life and his legendary legacy of Dharma.
Celebrating Guru Rinpoche Day (June 28th)
Guru Rinpoche Day is marked by a celebration to commemorate and revere Guru Rinpoche's birth, life, and legacy to honor the enlightened qualities and blessings of Guru Rinpoche. Every 10th of the lunar months is celebrated as Guru Rinpoche Day, each commemorating 12 different deeds of Guru Rinpoche. For example, the Precious Guru's auspicious birth is commemorated on the tenth day of the sixth lunar month in the Tibetan calendar (typically falls in the months of June or July in the Gregorian calendar), which falls on June 28th this year, i.e., on June 28th of 2023.
As much as the Guru Rinpoche days are to celebrate Guru Rinpoche and his holiness, it is also an opportunity for all the devotees to reverend Guru Rinpoche's teachings of Dharma and connect with his divinity. It is believed that on this propitious day, Guru Rinpoche's holiness is particularly powerful; hence is the most appropriate time to accumulate merit, purify negative energy, and develop wisdom and compassion. Practitioners can find these days as a guiding light to their spiritual growth.
These days, Buddhist practitioners engage in various rituals to honor and connect with Guru Rinpoche. Elaborate puja (a ritual ceremony) is performed in monasteries and homes to invoke the blessing of Guru Rinpoche. In such pujas, sacred mantras and prayers associated with Guru Rinpoche are chanted, and various offerings are offered in reverence of the Precious Guru. While these pujas can be pretty elaborate, simple meditative sessions to cultivate mindfulness, deepen the connection with Guru Rinpoche, and gain insights into the nature of reality is an equal way of celebrating Guru Rinpoche Day.
Many devouts even embark on pilgrimages to sacred sites primarily associated with Guru Rinpoche's life and teachings to commemorate the auspicious day. The most famous pilgrimage site is the Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, in Bhutan. This breathtaking monastery clings to the side of a cliff and is believed to be the sacred site where Guru Rinpoche meditated.
These pilgrimages allow individuals to deepen their spiritual connection and receive the blessings of these sacred places. Additionally, retreats focused on Guru Rinpoche's practices and teachings are conducted, providing practitioners with an immersive environment to nurture their spiritual growth.
Significance of each month Guru Rinpoche Day
The Precious Guru journeyed throughout India and the Himalayan regions to enlighten people about Dharma, particularly the transforming teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism. Alongside his teachings, he performed innumerable miraculous deeds to benefit all sentient beings. Significantly, on the 10th lunar day of each month, Guru Rinpoche manifested twelve great deeds, which Vajrayāna practitioners commemorate through intensive practice and supplication.
Phakchok Rinpoche, a revered spiritual teacher, offers monthly teachings on the lunar 10th day to inspire and refocus students amidst daily life. Samye Institute has recorded and archived these teachings for a decade, covering diverse topics. Vajrayāna practitioners find solace, reminded of Guru Rinpoche's profound impact and the transformative power of Vajrayāna Buddhism. They deepen their connection to Guru Rinpoche through monthly practice, fostering spiritual growth.
These teachings encompass meditation, mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, integrating their wisdom into daily life. The observance of Guru Rinpoche's twelve great deeds rekindles devotion and strengthens commitment, deepening understanding of awakening. It reminds practitioners to dedicate time to intensive practice, allowing Guru Rinpoche's teachings to penetrate hearts and minds. Let us honor the lunar 10th day, embracing the teachings by Phakchok Rinpoche and Samye Institute as they guide us on the path of spiritual transformation and awakening.
- 1st Month: Renouncing the Kingdom
The first month, also known as the hare month, marks his transformative journey. This month, Guru Rinpoche renounced his kingdom and immersed himself in yoga and meditation practices within the serene environs of Sitavana, aptly named the "cool grove," the particular space where he achieved liberation. He brought all the goddesses, the matrikas, and dakinis, earning him the title of Santaraksita, which symbolizes his role as the 'protector of peace.'
- 2nd Month: Becoming Sakya Senge
In the second month, also known as the dragon month, Guru Rinpoche receives monastic ordination (rajbung) by Ananda, a devout disciple of the Buddha. Displaying unmatched proficiency in both the sutras and the tantras, he garnered the name Śakya Senge, the "Lion of the Sakyas," underscoring his vast knowledge and mastery of Buddhist teachings.
- 3rd Month: Triumph over Adversity
In the third month, or the snake month of his extraordinary journey, Guru Rinpoche faced a perilous trial when the King of Zahar attempted to burn him. However, with his profound powers, the guru transformed the raging flames into the serene lake known as Tso Perna or Rewalsar. Moreover, he established the Dharma in Zahar and took Mandarava, the king's daughter, as his spiritual consort, earning the epithet Guru Pema Jungne, the "Lotus-Born Teacher."
- 4th Month: Devotion Through Miracles
During the fourth or the horse month, Guru Rinpoche and his consort Mandarava encountered the deluded ministers and people of Odidiyana (Orygen) who sought to burn him and his consort alive. However, in unwavering devotion, the guru transformed the threatening flames into another sacred lake. Emerging from the lake, seated upon a lotus, he instilled profound devotion in the king, his ministers, and the people. This extraordinary event led to his recognition as Pema Dorje Tsel, "the Guru with Vajra and Lotus."
- 5th Month: Adversary Philosophical Extremes
In the fifth month, or the sheep month, the Tirthikas, philosophers with extreme views, aimed to undermine the Dharma in the Southern region of present-day India. However, Guru Rinpoche defeated the Tirthikas and their associated deities and protectors with his immense power and unwavering resolve. His resounding victory over the forces of ignorance and his unwavering commitment to the Dharma earned him the appellation Guru Sangge Dradog, the "Lion's Roar Guru."
- 6th Month: The Mysterious Birth of Guru Rinpoche
On the 10th day of the sixth month or the monkey month, at the break of dawn, Guru Rinpoche mysteriously emerged from a radiant light in Lake Dhanakosa. Upon his birth, he turned the wheel of the Dharma, imparting profound teachings to the dakinis. This auspicious event led to his recognition as Guru Tsokye Dorje, the "Vajra Lake-Born Guru."
- 7th Month: Triumph over Adversaries
During the seventh month, also known as the bird month, his remarkable journey, Guru Rinpoche encountered opposition from non-Buddhists, the tirthikas in Tamradvipa. They callously threw him into the mighty river Ganges. However, the guru was not deterred by such opposition; he rose from the depths, reversed the river's flow, and performed a mesmerizing Vajra dance in the sky. Witnessing such an extraordinary performance, the oppositional party was inspired to embrace the Dharma. Henceforth is known as Guru Khading Tsel, "the Guru Who Flies Like a Garuda."
- 8th Month: Transforming Poison into Nectar
In the eighth month or the month of the dog, adversaries attempted to poison Guru Rinpoche to undermine his influence. However, he transmuted the poison into amrita, the elixir of immortality. Illuminated by his inner radiance, he inspired faith and admiration even in those who opposed him. This remarkable feat earned him the title Guru Nyima Ozer, "the Sun-Ray Guru."
- 9th Month: Wrathful Form and Spiritual Attainment
Guru Rinpoche assumed the wrathful form of Vajrakumara at Yang Le Sho in Nepal during the ninth month, or the pig month of his spiritual odyssey. Through his immense power, he subdued the local deities and the hostile forces that obstructed the path to enlightenment. Simultaneously, he engaged in the profound practice of Yangdak Heruka and attained the esteemed level of Vidyadhara, representing his profound realization of Mahamudra. Henceforth, he was known as Guru Dorje Totrengtsel, "the Guru with the Vajra Garland of Skulls."
- 10th Month: Establishment of the Samye Monastery
In the tenth month, or the rat month, Guru Rinpoche arrived in Central Tibet, wherewith his enlightened wisdom, he founded the illustrious Samye Monastery, becoming a beacon of spiritual guidance. He illuminated the lamp of the Dharma, offering teachings on sutra and tantra. Under his guidance, his twenty-five disciples and King Trisong Detsen found liberation. He was revered as Guru Padmasambhava, "the Lotus-Born Guru," an embodiment of compassion and wisdom.
- 11th Month: Becoming the Vajra-Wrathful Guru
During the eleventh month, known as the ox month, Guru Rinpoche traveled to Bhutan, assuming a wrathful form to subdue the local deities and protectors. Through his sublime skill, he transformed them into guardians of the termas, hidden teachings passed down through tertons, the discoverers of termas. The guru initiated them into secret oral transmissions, bestowing profound wisdom upon them. He acquired the name Guru Dorje Drolo, "the Vajra-Wrathful Guru," representing his powerful presence and ability to tame negative forces.
- 12th Month: Union of the Spiritual and the Royal
In the final month, also the tiger month, Guru Rinpoche was invited to Oddiyana by King Indrabhuti. The king recognized Guru Rinpoche's spiritual prowess and proclaimed him as the heir to the throne. Additionally, Guru Rinpoche married Princess Bhasadhara, further cementing the harmonious union. From that moment onward, he was revered as Guru Pema Gyalpo, the "Lotus-Prince Guru," symbolizing his elevated status and divine connection.