Atisha’s life story

Atisha’s early life

Atisha was born in the year 982 AD in East Bengal. He was born into a royal family and was given the name Chandragarbha, meaning “Moon Essence”. He was later given the name Atisha, meaning “peace,” by the Tibetan king Jangchhub Ö. It is said that at the time of his birth there were many auspicious signs, and that from his very early childhood Prince Chandragarbha displayed an unusually peaceful and compassionate nature, and an aspiration to spiritual practice.

The young prince also had a special connection with Tara, the female Buddha embodying all the Buddhas’ activities of great compassion. At the time when Atisha’s parents planned to arrange a marriage for him, Tara manifested to Atisha and counseled him not to be attached to his kingdom or worldly life in general. She advised the prince that he had a strong karmic potential to become a great spiritual teacher, as a result of meditation and practice in previous lives. Inspired by Tara’s words, Atisha formed the firm determination to practice Dharma and to attain enlightenment.

Atisha’s search for a master

The prince’s first step on the path to enlightenment was to find a spiritual master who would instruct him in meditation and the Buddhist teachings. He sought out a number of renowned Indian masters of his day such as the great teacher Jetari, who first gave him teachings on taking refuge and on bodhichitta; Bodhibhadra, who lived at the great monastery of Nalanda; Vidyakokila, known to have attained the perfect realization of the wisdom perceiving emptiness; Rahulagupta, known as the Black Mountain Yogi; and Avadhutipa, the great vajrayana master.

From India to Indonesia

At the age of twenty-nine, Atisha experienced a vision in which Rahulagupta appeared to him. The Black Mountain Yogi told him that it would be most beneficial for his practice and for the Dharma if he were to take ordination as a monk. Atisha had several more dreams in which his teachers and deities appeared and gave him similar advice. Following this direction, Atisha received ordination from the great master Silarakshita and was given the name Dipamkara Srijñana.