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Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana

By Devik Balami at
Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana

Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana was a renown Buddhist Bengali religious leader and was one of the important Buddhist scholars in the area of spreading Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia. He was also recognized as one of the important personality of classical Buddhism. In the early 11th century, he traveled to the Srivijaya Kingdom and stayed there for 12 years and then returned to India. His chief's disciple Dromton was the founder of the Kadam School, a New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The early life of Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana

The probable birthplace of Atisa is Bikrampur, capital of the Pala Empire, one of the ancient kingdoms of southeast Bengal. This location presently lies in the Mushiganj District of Bangladesh which is regarded as an early center of Buddhist cultural, academic, and political life.

Atisa was born in the royal family. His father was King Kalyana Shri and mother Queen Shri Prabhavati. The name, Atisa, was given by King Jangchup O when he traveled to Guge, before having the name, Atisa, he was popularly known as Candragarbha.

Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana's studies

In his early period, he studied both Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. His studies mainly include teachings from Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Tantric Hinduism and other practices. He also gained knowledge on the sixty-four kinds of art, the art of music and the art of logic. He completed these subjects at the age of twenty-two. Regarding the Buddhist lineages, he learned mainly three lineages- the Lineage of the Profound Action founded by Asanga and Vasubandhu, the Lineage of Profound View founded by Nagarjuna and Candrakirti, and the Lineage of Profound Experience founded by Tilopa and Naropa. But at the age of twenty-eight, he ordained into the Mahasamghika Lineage by the Abbot Silaraksita. It has recorded that Atisa had more than 150 teachers but the key one was Dharmakirtisri.

Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana's works

It is assumed that Atisa spent 12 years in Sumatra of the Srivijaya empire. He then returned to India in the early 11th century CE. When he returned, he was a more knowledgeable monk than before. He also received lots of attention for his teachings and skills in debate and philosophy. It was recorded that Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana was praised for defeating non-Buddhist extremists in the debate on multiple occasions. It was also recorded that when he stumbles upon in any circumstances where he perceived anything to be a misleading or deteriorating form of Buddhism. Then he would quickly implement the reforms and these were also effective implementations. Observing these qualities, he was appointed to the position of abbot at Vikramashila which was established by Emperor Dharmapala.

It has been documented that the Buddhism in India was suppressed but with the rise of Atisa, the Buddhism also flourished there. Likewise, as documented in Blue Annals, Guge King, Yeshe-O sent academic followers to learn and translate Sanskrit Buddhist texts. Among the academician, Nagtso was one of them. He visited Vikramashila to study Sanskrit. When he reached there, he learned about the greatness of the monk Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana and hence he requested Atisa to teach the Dharma in his homeland, Ngari. Atisa went to Ngari and was very pleased with the request of King to teach the Dharma to the citizen and also advanced empowerments into tantric deity systems. He spread the teachings of Buddha as well as compiled his teachings into the most influential scholarly work, Bodhipathapradipa. After his demise, his disciple Dromton furthered his work and later established Kadam School.

It's the fact that Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana was the important Buddhist monk who spread the Buddhism. As the Buddhism was spreading the Buddhist arts- Buddha Statues, Buddha Images, Murals, etc.- were also increased and was created in different places to remind the message and teachings of the Buddha as according to the various Buddhist scriptures. Hence, along with the imminent scholars like Atisa, there are several artists who helped to spread and preserve the Buddhism. But the works of the scholarly monks should not be forgotten as they have impacted the lives of the people directly.