The Mysterious Atisha



What would you do if you wanted to share about a great Tibetan Master, and you found two completely different accounts of his life?

One account speaks directly to your heart, and is the story told by an enlightened master from India. The other is the academic version told in Wikipedia and other websites, which has been passed down from human to human, and which speaks to the intellect.

Which story would you tell?

The answer speaks for itself. None of us know the truth behind either story, however I am going to tell you the heart story, for hidden within this story are the keys to open the door of wisdom, a door buried not in our minds, but deep within our hearts.

This is the story of Atisha the “thrice great”, as told by Osho in “The Book of Wisdom”.

Very little is known about Atisha’s ordinary life, about when and where he was born. We only know that he was born in India in the eleventh century. From there, his heart pulled him to the Himalayas where he met his Masters, and from there he moved to Tibet, where he transformed the consciousness of the people, and where his influence is still felt today.


So why is Atisha called the “thrice great”?

It’s because he is the only person in history to have studied under three enlightened Masters, and to have become enlightened three times.

You may well be thinking, “But how can that be? Once you’re enlightened, you’re enlightened….right?” But that’s not entirely the truth.

Self-realised (enlightened) Masters have found one path up the mountain. Whilst they sit on the top of that mountain and can see the world with clear eyes, they nevertheless have a particular path of specialty….a particular vibration from which they teach from.

Different Masters have different vibrations.

So for Atisha, he studied with three different enlightened Masters, and thus he learned three different paths up the mountain (out of the many thousands of paths that exist). These three paths blend together into the ultimate teaching.

All three of Atisha’s Masters were Buddhist mystics and great friends. They had started their search together. They had journeyed together on their path to enlightenment. And once they’d attained enlightenment they were still together, and living nearby to each other in the Himalayas.

Atisha’s first Master was Dharmakirti. When he approached Dharmakirti and asked to be his student, Dharmakirti said to him, "I will teach you the first principle [of self-realisation]. For the second you go to Dharmarakshita, and for the third to Yogin Maitreya. This way you will know all the three faces of the ultimate reality, the three faces of God - the trinity, the trimurti. And this way you will learn each face from the person who is the most perfect in it.”

In order to understand Dharmakirti’s teachings, we need to appreciate something about the Buddha. The Buddha’s innermost teachings are all about “nothingness”. They don’t talk about love, or devotion, or compassion. They talk about emptiness, awareness, presence, and the ultimate Void.

When Buddha was asked, “What have you gained through your Awakening?”, he answered “Nothing”. When he was asked what techniques he used, he answered, “No techniques”.


He realised himself through the Void.

This is very different to modern day Buddhism, where thousands of techniques exist to lead the practiser closer to the Buddha state. There are many “shoulds” and “should nots” in Buddhism, just as there are in Christianity and Hinduism and Islam and so many other religions.

But the problem with having “shoulds” and “should nots” is that they are the exact opposite of the Void. They create a polarity – a duality of right and wrong, which at its very core is a statement of division and separation.

How can we be One when we are divided?

And will these “rules” and “commandments” really take us where we need to be? Certainly they will start us on the path. They will give us an initial perspective, and the discipline around our practices….but at some point, somewhere along this road, we need to dissolve polarity if we are to become One with ourselves.

So is there a way to reach the Void directly?

That’s what happened to Atisha when he studied with Dharmakirti. Dharmakirti understood the Void; he understood Nothingness. And from this understanding, he was able to teach Atisha how to “be” no-mind, how to “be” without thoughts. He taught him emptiness, and he taught him how to drop all the content, all the little inconsequential thoughts from his mind so that he could be contentless.

And when Atisha realised this, he reached enlightenment for the first time. And he went to Dharmakirti and said, “Dear Master, I’ve got it, I want to go out and teach this”. And his master said to him, “No, not yet. Your potential is much bigger than this. On the other side of the valley is another Master, and he is the master of awareness, of witnessing – you go there, you study with him.”

And so Atisha found himself at the feet of Dharmarakshita, who taught him about love and compassion.


Dharmarakshita was a Master of Love.

He shared his love through his whole Being, as love, compassion, generosity, acceptance. We would think of this as the state of “being” Love….and that love is totally unconditional, it pours out of us, because it’s the core of our essence. This is very different to “giving” love as a commodity, which is what often happens in our relationships. Dharmarakshita was teaching Love as a state, independent of anything and anyone.

So Atisha studied with him, and through his studies he discovered Vipassana and other meditations. After a number of years of being at this Master’s feet, he reached enlightenment again, this time as the pure witness of everything that happens – as pure awareness. He finally realised that he’s not a person, he’s not a body – he is pure Love.

And once he had this realisation, he went to Dharmarakshita and said, “Dear Master, I’ve got it, I want to go out and teach this!” But his Master said, “No, not yet. On the other side of the valley is another Master, Yogin Maitreya. He’s your real master. He is a master of love in action. You go there, you study with him. When you’ve learned from him, then you are ready to teach.”

Both Dharmarakshita and Yogin Maitreya taught Atisha about love and compassion.

“But compassion has two faces”, says Osho in The Book of Wisdom. “One is inactive compassion: the meditator sits silently in his cave, showering his compassion over the whole existence. But it is a very inactive kind of compassion. You have to go to him to partake of it, he will not come to you. You will have to go to the mountains to his cave to share his joy; he will not come to you. He will not move in any way, he will not take any active step. He will not flow towards others, he will not seek and search for the people with whom he can share his dance. He will wait.”

We could call this a very “yin” (ie. receiving or feminine) type of compassion, the art of being in love with existence. This is the type of love and compassion that Dharmarakshita taught Atisha.

But the other face of compassion is the “yang” or masculine face. It takes initiative. It brings compassion out into the world in a very active way.


So what is Love in Action?

Atisha’s third Master gave him a realisation that so few people have. In our normal spiritual quest, we are searching for something. As soon as we are searching for something, we are moving away from something else. We search for love, because we don’t want jealousy. We search for compassion, because we don’t want hate. And in doing so, we create a subtle separation, a division of the whole. We want to get rid of one aspect of the whole – the negativity, the anger, the jealousy – all of the things we don’t want.

Whilst that might be our first step on the path, it’s also a trap. And thus Yogin Maitreya taught Atisha the art of taking the suffering of all Beings and absorbing it into his own heart, rather than rejecting it. And by taking it into his own heart, this energy could be transformed rather than denied.

This is indeed “Love in action”.

In The Book of Wisdom, Osho goes on to say, “And once love is active, compassion is active, you have passed through all the three dimensions of truth – you have known all. You have known utter emptiness, you have known compassion arising, you have known compassion showering. Life is fulfilled only when all these three have happened.”

During his studies with Yogin Maytraya, Atisha discovered a meditation style that embodies Love in Action.

You see, no one ever tells us, “If you feel sad/angry/hurt, can you simply let it in? Can you absorb it and not fight against it?”

Our mind screams, “No, I want to get rid of it”. But when we touch that state of love as a state, and recognise that the core of our heart is indeed a mysterious and empty Void, then we realise that it contains the space to absorb all suffering. It never gets full.

And this emptiness is not empty. Within it is the source for everything, a potent energy seed – for love, for peace, for silence, for presence, for compassion, for awareness. It contains a state of Presence that is not an object. You can’t touch it, see it, smell it, taste it. It’s a space, just as Joy is a space.


 Atisha’s Heart Meditation

Atisha’s Heart Meditation is all about transmutation – it’s about transforming one state (the state of suffering) into another state (the state of peace). Atisha was indeed one of the greatest miracle-workers and alchemists the world has ever known. Many Buddhist Monks are practicing this meditation. As we also join in, together we are leaving the earth a better place.

Click here to learn Atisha's Heart Meditation

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