1.1 Guru Rinpoche
“12 years after I passed away, a person more extraordinary than myself will be born in the Lake of Danakosha”
Guru Rinpoche is revered only next to Lord Buddha in the Nyingma School of Buddhism. In Bhutan, name of Guru Rinpoche comes even before the names of Buddha .It is imperative as son of this nation and dominantly Buddhist country to understand why Guru Rinpoche garnered such prominence and stature in the eyes of Bhutanese. In this chapter, the author will attempt to unravel this mystery and justify its stature.
Many believed Guru Rinpoche was born miraculously from the lotus in Danakosha Lake(presently in Kashmir) while some scholar believed that he was a monk from Kasmire whose parental names could be traced as he was not that well-known in India during that time. As he stepped his foot into Tibet, he became well-known as a tantric master.
Though Buddhism was founded in India, it went east to Thaliand, Japan and Taiwan. Buddhism was more or less imported from Tibet who in turn imported from China. However, some historian believed that 33rd King of Tibet Songtsen Gempo sent seventeen Tibetan students to study Sanskrit and Buddhism in India in early 17th centurey. The prominent among those was Thomi Samboto who invented Chokoed letters and grammars. At the time, China was already Buddhist kingdom. It can be deduced from the fact that Songsten Gampo bullied and married Princess of China famously known as Jaza in Bhutanese parlance. When Jaza came to Tibet, she was said to have brought few religious book and statues.
In 755 A.D, Thrisong Deutsen assumed Throne as 28th Tibetan King. He invited many buddist monks from India and China. Among them was Shantarakshita who attempted to build Samye Monastery. The evil spirits, deities and some Ministers who believed in Bonism were against the idea. Shantarakshita advised the king to invite Tantric Master who was meditating at time in Nepal. From Tibet, Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan for the first time.
The coming of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan must be studied in the context of his contribution to socio-political institutions of the country.
i) Contribution to Religion
Bhutan was a country with Bon faith which many Tibetans referred as Southern Land of Darkness because Buddhism which also annihilated Bonism in Tibet was considered as torch to enlightenment. However, Buddhism made foray into Bhutan much before the visitation of Guru Rinpoche. For instance, in 5th century A.D Indian monk named Buddharaksita went to Tibet through Kurichu valley accompanied by Buddhist monk called Losem Tso. However, it was Theravada Buddhism not Vajrayana Buddhism that we have today.
However, it was only after the visit of Guru that Buddhism flourished in the country. Guru Rinpoche first visited Bhutan in 746 A.D at the invitation of ruler of Bumthang Sendha Gyelp who had fled India from another prince named Naoche. Nachoe pursued Sendha Gyelp to Bumthang and in the ensuing battle, Gyelp’s son Taglam Mebar was killed. He blamed the local deities for death and desecrated many holy places including that of powerful deity Sheging Karpo. Enraged, Shelging Karpo took life force of the king. Thus Guru was invited to restore the health of king.
After the restoration of health and subduing of deities, Sendha Gyelp was converted into Buddhism marking the first teachings of Buddhism in the country. In 747, returned to Bhutan after building the Samye Monastery and met king of Bumthang again. During this visit he travelled to many parts of Bhutan including Paro, Kurtoe, Wangdue Phodrang, Trashi Yangtse, Mongar etc
Many years later, he again came to Bumthang disguised as Hara Nagpo to subdue exiled Khikha Rathoe, the child borne by one of Thrisang Thuetsen’s queens. With these three visits, he sow the strong seeds of Buddhism and blessed entire country.
Contribution to Education
The teaching of Buddha come the order of Sangha. The Sangha must be taught to read and write. During the second visit, Guru Rinpoche gave the Dzogchen teachings and laid the foundation of Nyingma School in Bhutan. He was accompanied by Great Translator called Denmang Tshamang who modified the Tibetan letters and created small letter called Jogyig which we write as of now. Thus, the first education establishment though monastic one can be attributed to him. Such type of education was only form of education till 1913.
Contribution to Political Foundation
He subdued the evil spirits. He converted the kings and people into Buddhist. From this one can deduce that guru Rinpoche reformed the Bhutanese society from Bon Community to Buddhist Community. He subtly merged some of Bon practices into tantric practices. He brought community under one umbrella of protection that is Buddhism. If a king could be converted into Buddhist, entire subjects will follow, thus he was able to established community governed by Buddhist principles.
Today Buddhism first spread by Guru Rinpoche in Bumthang became major religion in Bhutan where more than 70 percent of the total population is following. Following his footsteps, many saints visited Bhutan later and in 1616, Zhabdrung came to Bhutan and established the dual system of governance. One can only imagine the far reaching impact of Buddhism once propagated by Guru in lives of Bhutanese.