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Atisha Atisa Dipankara Srijñana (Bengali: ???? ?????? ?????????, romanizedôtis dipônkôr srigyen; 982-1054) was a Buddhist religious leader and master. He is generally associated with his work carried out at the Vikramashila monastery in Bihar. 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. Atisa's chief disciple, Dromtön, was the founder of the Kadam school, 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.

In 2004, Atisa was ranked 18th in the BBC's poll of the greatest Bengalis of all time.

Table of contents
  1. Early life
  2. Studies
  3. Teachings in Sumatra and Tibet
  4. Writings
  5. See also

Early life

Palace life

Bikrampur, the most probable place for Atisa's birthplace, was the capital of the Pala Empire as it was of the ancient kingdoms of southeast Bengal. Though the city's exact location is not certain, it presently lies in the Munshiganj District of Bangladesh, and continues to be celebrated as an early center of Buddhist cultural, academic, and political life. Similar to Gautama Buddha, Atisa was born into royalty. His father was a king known as Kalyanachandra and his mother was Shri Prabhavati. Raja Srichandra of Chandra Dynasty was his grandfather. One of three royal brothers, Atisa went by the name of Candragarbha during the first part of his life. In fact, it was not until he traveled to Guge and encountered King Jangchup Ö (Wylie: byang chub 'od, 984-1078) that he was given the name Atisa.


According to Tibetan sources, Atisa was ordained into the Mahasamghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight by the Abbot Silaraksita 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, practiced and transmitted the three main lineages were the Lineage of the Profound Action transmitted by Asanga and Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View transmitted by Nagarjuna and Candrakirti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience transmitted by Tilopa and Naropa. It is said that Atisa had more than 150 teachers, but one key one was Dharmakirtisri. Another notable teacher of his during his time at Vikramashila was Ratnakarasanti.

Teachings in Sumatra and Tibet

Tibetan sources assert that Atisa 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. Atisa 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 Atisa 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. He is also said to have "nourished" Odantapuri.

Atisa's return from Suvarnabhumi, where he had been studying with Dharmakirtisri, 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 Atisa'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. Among these academics was Naktso, who was eventually sent to Vikramashila to study Sanskrit and plead with Atisa to come teach the Dharma in his homeland. Travelling with Naktso and Gya Lotsawa, Atisa journeyed through Nepal on his way to Tolung, the capital of the Purang Kingdom. (Gya Lotsawa died before reaching Tolung.) On his way, he is said to have met Marpa Lotsawa. He spent three years in Tolung and compiled his teachings into his most influential scholarly work, Bodhipathapradipa, 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: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, and became the model for subsequent texts in the genre of Lamrim (lam rim), or the Stages of the Path, and was specifically the basis for Tsongkhapa's Lamrim writings. Here Atisa met Dromtön, or Dromtonpa, who would become his primary disciple, regarded as both an enforcer of later propagation ethical standards and a holder of Atisa's tantric lineage.

According to Jamgon Kongtrul, when Atisa 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."


His books include:
See also

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