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The Buddha Tree

    The tradition of propitiating worldly beings as protectors is roughly as old as Tibetan Buddhism itself. It dates back to the ninth century when the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen, invited Shantarakshita from India to teach Buddhism in Tibet. The local spirits proved hostile to this foreign religion and actively obstructed the efforts of the Indian spiritual master. Shantarakshita then advised the Tibetan king to invite Guru Padmasambhava, a tantric adept from India, to deal with these hostile spirits. Accordingly, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) came to Tibet and subdued the most powerful spirits. Once vanquished, the spirits were bound by oath to act as Dharma Protectors. Thus, worldly protectors began to play a role in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. One day, before the king and his ministers, Padmasambhava summoned one of the Four Great Kings, (the protectors of the four directions often depicted around the doors of Tibetan temples) into the body of a young man. Using the youth's body as a medium, the clairvoyant deity identified the spirits who were creating trouble. The deity pronounced that the spirit Thangla was responsible for the lightning strike on Marpori (the Red Hill that became the site of the Potala Palace) and that the spirit Yarla Shampo had provoked the flood which washed away the Phangthang Palace. This was the first occasion in Tibet in which a worldly deity was summoned into the body of a human being, who acted as its physical medium. Through the medium, the deity gave predictions and advice. Subsequently other protectors have also come to be used as oracles.


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