In the center of this mandala Guru Padmasambhava is seated on a lotus throne. Guru is wrapped in heavy robes, and wears a hat with a half vajra and a peacock feather on top. His right hand is holding a vajra or dorje, while the left hand, held in the lap, holds skull-cup with a vase filled with nectar of immortality, a symbol of transitory nature of matters, signifying that, for the true believer, death is a joy that leads to the ambrosia of immortality or nirvana meaning eternal, timeless shunyata. A flaming trident tipped khatvanga (staff) is clamped against his left shoulder, which symbolized the three vertical flows or energy channels that are stimulated by yoga and that rise from the lower body to the skull. The wrinkles of frown on the forehead of Padmasambhava indicate the hidden wrathfulness that comes to light on exorcising and overpowering forces.
As mentioned above Padmasambhava was a great yogi, originally from Swat Valley of northwest region of modern Pakistan. According to tradition Once upon a time, in the great city of Jatumati in the Indian continent, there dwelt a blind king named Indrabodhi or Indrabhuti, who ruled over the country of Udyana. The death of his only son plunges the palace in deepest sorrow. In their distress the king and people cry unto the Buddhas with offerings, and their appeal reaching unto the paradise of the great Buddha of Boundless Light – Amitabha – this divinity sends, instantly, like a lightning flash, a miraculous incarnation of himself in the form of a red ray of light to sacred lake of that country. That same night the king dreamt a dream of good omen. He dreamt that a golden thunderbolt had come into his hand, and body shone like the sun. In the morning the royal priest reports that a glorious light of the five rainbow tints has settled in the lotus-lake of Dharmakosha. Then the king, whose sight has been miraculously restored, visits the lake and embarking in a boat, proceeds to see the shining wonder, and finds on the pure bosom of the lake a lotus-flower of matchless beauty, on whose petals sits a lovely boy of eight years old, and shining like a god. The king, falling on his knees, worships the infant prodigy exclaiming – “Incomparable boy! Who are you? Who are your father and mother?” To which the child made answer, “My father is wisdom. My mother is voidness. Mine is the country of Dharma. I am sustained by clarity and perplexity”. He is Padmasambhava. The lake symbolizes his eight manifestations. Seeking an immediately efficacious doctrine, Padmasambhava traveled to the highest heaven. Vajrasattva revealed to him all sound (nama) mantra and all appearances (rupa) as enchantment. He learnt the Mahayoga tantra and contemplated the truths blended into one and activated completion through ritual. Like as Second Buddha, Padmasambhava came into the world, west of Bodhgaya in Udyana by apparitional birth. He is the Dharmakaya or absolute reality. But for the sake of the world he exhibits two kinds of supernatural forms – the purity, in which he appears in the divine and human realms, and the impure, in which he appears to the lower orders of beings.
As the HRIH went out from the heart of Amitabha and settled on a lotus flower, an eight-year-old boy, endowed with all knowledge, was born. Thereafter, he was seen by king Indrabhuti, who invited him to his palace and adopted him as his son. Subsequently he consecrated him as king. When grown up Indrasena realized that the world was devoid of reality, and renounced his kingship. Padmasambhava after renouncing the kingship went to the cremation ground near Bodhgaya, which was a famous resort of yogins, and gained emancipation of mind through the higher practices. Thence he journeyed to Bengal, Assam and Nepal to preach the Dharma.
Padmasambhava was renowned for his knowledge of Buddhist tantric dharanis and of their efficacious application. He was invited to Tibet by the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (8th century A.D.) and the famous Buddhist acharya, Shantirakshita to help in the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Padmasambhava helped them in the establishment of Samye monastery in Tibet. He tamed many local deities and initiated Tantric Buddhist teachings in Tibet. He is said to have subdue all the malignant gods, sparing only those that became converted to Buddhism and that promised to be defenders of the doctrine. Padmasambhava, in his turn, promised to enroll them in the Mahayana Pantheon and to see that they were properly worshipped. He thus succeeded assimilating parts of local Bon religion into Vajrayana Buddhism. Padmasambhava claimed to have received from the Dakini the books from which he acquired his miraculous powers. Padmasambhava is regarded as a major spiritual ancestor of all Tibetan Buddhists in general and the father of the Nyingma sect in particular. Tibetans usually call him Guru Rinpoche, or Precious Teacher with reverence and consider him as a second Buddha. He founded Lamaism in Tibet. In course of time Padmasambhava was deified and incarnated into eight forms, one for each of eight important actions he performed during his lifetime.
The square of the mandala has been constructed to face in four cardinal directions. According to Tibetan convention, east is in front, and south, west, and north follow in the clockwise direction. Protector deities live in the four gateways. Over the gates are houses with decorations. There is a Dharma Wheel in the upper center of the houses, flanked by two deer. Either side of deer, umbrella has been depicted. The square is surrounded by three circles. The outer circle is of wisdom fire or fire fence, which is stylistically rendered here. Fire symbolizes knowledge and without knowledge(prajna) there is no possibility of arriving at supreme understanding. Here fire also means that believers who enter the mandala are purified, as it were, and at their passage through the purging fire, their ego and all their illusions will burn away. Then is a circle of vajra or dorje; it designates sunya or void, which cannot be cut or destroyed, but it destroyed all evils. This circle is followed by a circle of lotus petals. Here the spiritual realm begins and one enters the mandala of Padmasambhava.
The top center of this thangka depicts Amitabha, the Buddha of infinite light who is seated on lotus throne in clouds. Goddess White Tara is seated on the left corner. She is seated on lotus flower on clouds. She is the goddess of long-life. Goddess Green Tara is seated on the right corner. She is also seated on a lotus throne in clouds. Goddess Green Tara helps devotees overcome dangers, fears and anxieties. Moreover she helps one cross over from danger to safety or from suffering to happiness. On the lower register, Arapachana Manjushri is seated in the left corner; Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Transcendent wisdom. His right hand holds a flaming wisdom sword and left holds a lotus flower over which is scripture of divine wisdom. With his flaming sword, Manjushri ensures that humans will gain knowledge and insight. He cleaves the clouds of ignorance with it but also uses it in the morning to chase away the demons of night and thus brings light into the darkness. This darkness-ness a double meaning is thus spiritual darkness and ignorance. The bottom center depicts spiritual peaceful offering. Wrathful Vajrapani, a celestial Bodhisattva, who represents the concentrated power of all Buddhas is standing in alidha posture on moon disk on lotus throne against wisdom fire aureole. His left hand holds a vajra, the indestructible weapon and his left hand is in threatening gesture (tarjani-mudra) and holds a noose, which binds the meditator to the highest wisdom.
All the figures are brilliantly drawn painted. The extended silk brocade is decorated with stylized flowers and auspicious symbols. This painting is very much suitable for sadhana and practices.
This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on “Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)”.