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ARTICLE: Exhibition on Atisha Dipankara Jnanasri
Tuesday, 12 February 2013 04:47

Exhibition on Atisha Dipankara Jnanasri

Atisha Dipankara Srijnana, the spiritual father of HH the Dalai Lama, was born in the villageVajrayogini in Bikrampur region of Bengal, currently in Bangladesh, in 982 CE. He was a great saint-philosopher of 10th-11th century, the last among the great Indian teachers who went abroad for dissemination of knowledge systems. He is almost forgotten in India over the past centuries but has been venerated for nearly 1000 years as an outstanding personality in countries where Buddhism prevails, as a shining symbol of peace, compassion, humanism, self-sacrifice, harmony and amity who devoted his energies to the dissemination of Dharma to Odanrapuri, Vikramasila,Somapuri, Nalanda and most of the other universities and monastic complexes. He played a singular role in infusing wisdom and resurgence of Buddhism, laying a foundation of Buddhism in all its purity. His preaching electrified the monks as well as the common people with a new concept of moral purity, self sacrifice, nobility of character, idealism, revolutionized the social, religious and cultural lives of the people in Tibet. The people and the kings of Tibet made sacrifices to invite him to reform and reinvigorate the lax corrupt and decaying conditions.

Atisha had received, practiced, and mastered the instructions on Theravada, Mahayana , andVajrayana schools of Buddhism, and non-Buddhist schools of his time, including Vaisnavism,Saivism and Tantrism, studied sixty-four kinds of arts including music and logic, and accomplished them by the age of twenty-two, was ordained into the Mahasanghika lineage at the age of twenty-eight. He was regarded highly by all the traditions of Buddhism in India at the time.

At the age of thirty-one, Atisha set off for a perilous journey, to Sumatra in order to study under the reputable Suvarnadvipi Dharmakirti. Goddess Tara was his guiding spirit and continued to be so until the end of his life. Atisha remained there for twelve years. After over a decade of intensive training, he returned to Magadha. Soon he was appointed to the position of steward, or abbot, at the venerable Buddhist university Vikramasila, established by the King Dharmapala of Bengal and rose to prominence. In the 11th century, the Tibetan King Byang-chub ‘Od invited Atisha when monastic Buddhist tradition of Tibet had been nearly wiped out after King Lang-dar-ma's intolerant reign. He has been an important figure for last ten centuries in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition because he revived, refined, systemized, and compiled an innovative systematized, and compiled an innovative and thorough approach to bodhichitta known as "mind training" (Tib. lojong), in such texts as A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and established its primacy to the Mahayana tradition in Tibet.

Atiśa wrote, translated and edited over 200 books from Sanskrit into Tibetan. He also wrote several books on Buddhist scriptures, medical science and technical science in Tibetan. Several books written by him in Sanskrit are extant only in Tibetan translations now.

Atisha spent nine years in Nyetang, a town near Lhasa, where he discovered Tibetan libraries with impressive collections written in both Sanskrit and Tibetan. He passed away in AD 1052 at the prophesied age of seventy-two in a village near Lhasa. He was enshrined near his last permanent home in the town of Nyetang. Atisha's closest disciple, Dromtönpa, the principal disciple of Atisha kept his legacy, and this became later known as the Kadampa tradition of Buddhism. This was later revived by the Tibetan teacher Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the Gelug tradition.

The essence of the teachings of Atisha played a valuable role both for the monastic and lay societies a millennium ago. Researching, reminding and reviving the unexplored avenues of the life and legacy of Atisha, is essential for enhancing systems of our times and writing a forgotten page in Indian history. The world today is suffering from over advancement of technology, fuelling greed, hunger and violence. Values and social conventions are losing ground.

Wherever Buddhism prevails, Atisha is remembered as the highest of all venerable. He was the last outstanding Indian Buddhist teacher who went abroad to spread the message of the Buddha. Indian historians have not documented his life and activities.

Thus after silence for centuries, India is celebrating through an international conference and exhibition, the moments when Atisha Dipandara Jnanasri, went to the land of snow sacrificing his life.

The chief disciple of Atisha established Kadampa sect which later became Gelukpa the history of Dalai Lamas can be traced back to the one who was named the first Dalai Lama, ‘Gendun Drup’, an outstanding disciple of Tsongkapa, who himself was a follower of Atisha.

The exhibition currently on at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi till 23rd January 2013, tries to portray the trans-cultural renaissance through photo documentation from Bangladesh, the birth place, Indian monasteries where he studied and was indoctrinated, Indonesia, where he went on a perilous journey to study under the world renowned teacher Dharmakirti, Vikramasila University where he had a lengthy career as the Rector/abbot, Nepal, the route that he took to go to Tibet, and the monasteries and temples in Western and Central Tibet, (China) where he stayed.

The monasteries and temples where he visited or lived, preached, rendered Sanskrit texts in to the language of the people there preserve his memories and relics. Murals from the walls of partly ruined monastic establishments are brimming with the subtle aroma of Dharma. Atisha with an angelic gaze is flowering of mind in barren land. Graceful monasteries rise against steep craggy hills eternal pure water of wisdom flows through the desert.

Contribution of documentation from remote areas, by several scholars, archaeologists, explorers and spiritual leaders, to this exhibition, have made it a home coming of Atisha.

The international conference and exhibition is a celebration of peace, compassion, love and sacrifice, symbolized by Ven. Atisha. He preached the union of Means (upaya) and insight (prajna), Six Paramitas : charity, virtue, effort, patience, meditation and wisdom, sunyata, associated withNagarjuna and Candrakirti, universal emancipation. The first five of these are according to Atisha the upayas upon which one can build wisdom. According to him moral conduct is of supreme importance for a true Buddhist. He showed a progressive and clear structure for a path to enlightenment.