The Clear Mirror

The following article is from the Spring, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

A Traditional Account of Tibet's Golden Age

by Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen, translated by McComas Taylor and Lama Choedak Yuthok

315 pp., 16 line drawings, 2 maps, #CLMI $16.95

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A rich blend of history, legend, poetry, adventure and romance, The Clear Mirror is a treasuretrove of the traditional narrative and folk wisdom of Tibet. It presents in full the often-cited but elusive accounts of the origins of the Tibetan people, the coming of the Dharma to Tibet, and the appearance of Avalokiteshvara as the patron deity of Tibet.

Compiled in 1368 from earlier histories as well as a rich oral tradition, the text treats the era during which Buddhism came to Tibet, the city of Lhasa was established as the capital, and the Jokhang and Ramoche temples were founded.

The compiler, the renowned Sakya scholar Sonam Gyaltsen, narrates the traditional accounts in an engaging and highly readable style, in his words, to give pleasure to the faithful and to those who desire a history of the propagation of the Teachings'. Written to inform and entertain, the book has maintained a preeminent position in Tibetan society and is still popularly read today.

Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), born into the powerful Khon family that ruled much of Tibet, was teacher and mentor to many great masters of all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He is still widely revered for his scholarship and sanctity.

Lama Choedak Yuthok was born in a yak-hair tent in Central Tibet in 1954. After becoming a monk and studying for twelve years under the Most Venerable Chogay Trichen Rinpoche, he completed a three-year solitary retreat. Since 1982, he has served as interpreter for prominent teachers from all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. McComas Taylor lives in Canberra, Australia, in a house inspired by the fortress-monasteries of the Himalayas, amid a jumble of children, books and treasures garnered from the natural world.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

The sublime Avalokiteshvara realised that the time was ripe for the religious conversion of sentient beings in the snowy land of Tibet, and four rays of light emanated from his body. The ray that arose from his right eye reached Nepal and illuminated everything in that land, including the king, Amshuvarman, and his naga-palace in the city of Kathmandu. The ray of light then gathered as one and entered the womb of King Amshuvarman's consort. After nine months had passed and the tenth month had begun, an especially exalted princess was born. None in the whole world was as sublime as she: her skin was white, her complexion tinged with red, from her mouth wafted the scent of hari-sandalwood and she was accomplished in all fields of knowledge. This then was the Nepalese Princess Tritsun.

The ray of light that emanated from Avalokiteshvara's left eye reached China and illuminated everything in that land, including the emperor, Taizong, and his palace Trashi Trigo in the city of Zimshing. The ray of light then gathered as one and entered the womb of the emperor's consort. After nine months had passed and when the tenth month had begun, an especially exalted princess was born. None in the whole world was as sublime as she: her skin was blue, her complexion tinged with red, from her mouth came the scent of the blue utpala-lotus and she was versed in all fields of knowledge. This then was the Chinese Princess Kongjo.

The ray of light that arose from the mouth of Avalokiteshvara fell upon the Chu-gyagpa Precipice of Dragla in the snowy realm of Tibet and became the aspect of the Dharmakaya, the mystical antidote that subdues barbarity: this then was the Six-Syllable Mantra.

The ray of light that arose from the heart of Avalokiteshvara reached Tibet and illuminated everything in the Land of Snows, including the Jampa Mingyur Ling, the Palace of Immutable Loving-Kindness', in Nondra Totsel, and King Namri Songtsen himself. The ray of light then gathered as one and entered the womb of the king's consort, Driza Tokarma, Princess of Dri, and auspicious signs appeared in all directions. After nine months had passed and when the tenth month had begun, in the Fire-female-ox Year [617], an especially sublime son was born. Upon his head was Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light. His hands and feet bore the sign of the Dharmawheel and his hair was heaped up in a spiral coif. The buddhas blessed him, the bodhisattvas made auspicious pronouncements, the deities caused flowers to fall like rain and the earth shook in six different ways.

Three different perceptions of this event arose: to the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, it appeared that the sublime Avalokiteshvara, having planned the liberation of sentient beings in the snowy land of Tibet on the basis of the power of prayers in former times, shining like a brilliant lamp in the darkness of this wild region, had cast his gaze upon the precious continent. In the perception of the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Stages, it appeared that Avalokiteshvara, with the intention of leading the sentient beings of this wild and snowy realm to the Dharma, manifested himself as a king who would strive to benefit beings by means appropriate to each. In the perception of the common black-headed people, it appeared that a son of unsurpassed wonder had been born to the king.

By the time this royal prince attained his majority, he excelled in the arts, astrology, physical pursuits and the five fields of knowledge, and he was endowed with many fine qualities. The ministers exclaimed, This sovereign of ours possesses every quality, and his mind is truly profound [gampo]!' and he therefore became known as Songtsen Gampo. When he was thirteen years old his father died, and he took the throne.

The Dharma-king Songtsen Gampo meditated upon the following question: Whither in this snowy land should I go to strive for the sake of sentient beings?' and eventually reached this resolution: As my forefather Lhatotori Nyenshal, the emanation of the sublime Samantabhadra, resided upon the summit of Marpori, the Red Hill, in Lhasa, I shall follow in his footsteps and remove to that place, which is set about with pleasing, auspicious trees, to strive for the benefit of sentient beings'. Having spent one last night at Nondra Totsel, the king and his retinue broke their fast the next morning and travelled as far as Yamtrang, where they unloaded their baggage at the foot of the Precipice of the Six-Syllable Mantra. They sent their animals out to pasture and made camp, and the king bathed himself in the river. When Minister Nachenpo beheld in the water a scintillating multicoloured ray of light, he exclaimed, What is this, O King? It is most wondrous that such a light should appear in the river!' The king replied, Great Minister, heed well! The Six-Syllable Mantra has appeared upon these rocks in this wild and snowy land. The mantra is the path that leads all beings to liberation; the collected essence of the thoughts of every buddha; the source of all benefits, happiness and qualities; the antidote that subdues barbarity; the Dharma that this snowy land deserves; the quintessence; the mystical six syllables that are the words of the Dharmakaya; the most excellent speech. These lights themselves will benefit the multitude of beings!' As soon as the king made offerings to the rock, varied rays of light arose and struck the cliffs on the opposite side of the gorge. As both sides were linked by rainbow-coloured lights, this place was named Jandang, Rainbow-light'. Images of the deities also appeared spontaneously on the rocks at that time. [These images of Avalokiteshvara, Khasarpani, Hayagriva and so on were carved again in relief by Nepalese sculptors at a later date.] Songtsen Gampo eventually reached Lhasa, built a palace on Marpori and dwelt there. ä_æ

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