Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Spiritual Master Padmasambhava

14th century
Western Tibet or Ladakh
Copper alloy
H. 23 3/4 in. (60.3 cm); W. 18 3/4 in. (47.6 cm); D. 13 in. (33 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, The Vincent Astor Foundation, Eliot C. Nolen, T. Rowe Price Services, Inc. and Sir Joseph Hotung Gifts; Seymour and The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Funds, 2012
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 253
This portrait of the Indian mystic Guru Padmasambhava (literally, “lotus born”) is one of the earliest known effigies of the Buddhist saint. He is believed to have gone to Tibet in the late eighth century at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen. There, he became the leading propagator of tantric Buddhism and helped found the Nyingma Order. He became widely revered, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche. Characteristically, he holds a vajra (thunderbolt scepter), symbolizing the clarity of pure Buddhist thought, and a skull cup (kapala), symbolizing detachment. Missing from this work is the khatvanga staff that originally rested across the upper left arm, where a fixture is present.

The guru sits in cross-legged meditation, revealing rarely seen sandals of a type that may have originated in Central Asia or China. With his slightly tilted head and open expression, he seems accessible, attentive, and spiritually alive. Copper and inlaid silver detailing imbue his expression with heightened sensitivity, while his richly decorated robes, distinctive cloth cap, and distended earlobes distinguish him as a spiritual ruler. Adding further to the sculpture’s importance is the dedicatory inscription from a royal patron named Kunga Gyalpo, an otherwise unknown ruler from Western Tibet or Ladakh.
Inscription: Inscribed in Tibetan: “This statue of Padmasambhava . . . was made for Kunga Gyalpo, Ruler and Lord of Men”

Inscription on the lowest rim of the base:

*|| na mo gu ru padma ye||
blo dpon[1] chen po padma 'byung nas[2] kyis ||
sku 'dra 'thong pas[3] dngos bgrub,[4] dtsol[5] ba 'di||
mi dbang sa skyod[6] kun dga' rgyal mo yei'[7] ||
sangs rgyas stan dar stan[8] 'dzin[9] ku[10] rim dang||
chab srid mnga' 'bangs 'tha[11] nas rgyas phyir dang||
khyad par ?[12]
yab yum la sog[13] thug gongs[14] rdzogs pa'i phyir||
lhag bsam dag pa'i[15] thug[16] gong14 e ma 'tshar[17] ||
kra[18] shis par shog bcig||

Veneration to the Lotus Teacher!
Seeing this likeness of the great master Padmasambhava
grants attainments (siddhi).
[In this way] the ruler of man, protector of the realm, queen Künga,[19]
gradually spreads the Buddha’s teaching through teachers
to the very edge of the dominion,
[May] father, mother and others, by fulfilling [the Guru’s] intention
[Attain] the spiritual [stage of] pure intent. Amazing it is finished.
May there be auspiciousness.

Translation Heather Stoddard:
"Salutations to the Lotus Guru! This statue of Padmasambhava, the Great Master of Studies which bestows "magic" power when seen, was made for Kunga Gyalpo, Ruler and Lord of Men, so that the teaching of the Buddha shall spread and be upheld and so that ritual prayers may be said for the ruler, and so that his political dominion might grow and more especially for the sake of his own [literally, fleshly] father and mother that they may perfectly realize their intentions. How astonishing the power of pure and sincere intentions! May all be auspicious!!" *

—Transl. Christian Luczanits, June 18, 2014.

[1] Read slob dpon.
[2] Read gnas.
[3] Read mthong bas.
[4] Read grub.
[5] Read stsol.
[6] Read skyong.
[7] The double vocal and their location above the ya is clear, but it probably has to be read ye 'i or even yes.
[8] Read bstan.
[9] བསྟན་འཛིན་ Translation of the Sanskrit "śhasanadhara". "Holder of the teachings" or "holder of the doctrine"; usually used in reference to the buddhist teaching but can be used to mean a holder of the doctrine of other system of religious doctrine. The phrase is a very common name amongst Tibetans.
[10] Read sku.
[11] Read mtha' ?
[12]There is an illegible sign there, possibly a numeral, but following it is a blank space before the text continues with the next verse. There is no space for nine syllables however, and there is no sign of a loss here either.
[13] Read sogs.
[14] Read thugs dgongs. ཐུགས་དགོངས་ 1) An [Hon] form of dgongs pa which itself is the [Hon] for sems pa, meaning the thought or state of mind involved when something is being actively considered. 2) Used not as an [Hon] but in reference to ones own mind. e.g., thugs dgongs gtong ba "to give thought to something", "to turn something over in mind", "to give your attention (meaning thought) to something"
[15] = ལྷག་བསམ་རྣམ་པར་དག་པ་ "The completely pure special intent". 1) Acc. [NDS] the name of the second of dge ba'i rtsa ba gsum "the three roots of virtue" q.v.; དགེ་བའི་རྩ་བ་གསུམ་ phrase> "The three roots of virtue". Translation of the Sanskrit [NDS] "trīṇi kuśhalamūla". II. In the conventional theg pa chen po Mahāyāna there is the following formulation. Nāgārjuna [NDS] gives: 1) byang chub tu sems bskyed pa "arousal of the mind for enlightenment"; 2) lhag bsam rnam par dag pa "complete pure superior intent"; and 3) nga dang nga yi ba'i rnam pa yongs su spangs pa "overall abandonment of the aspects I and mine".
[16] = ལྷག་བསམ་དག་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་ "The arousal of mind of the pure, special thought". One of sems bskyed bzhi four categories of the sems bskyed nyer gnyis twenty-two arousals of mind q.v. There are lhag bsam dag pa'i sems bskyed bdun seven types of arousal of bodhicitta in this category, corresponding to seven levels of the practitioner in this level q.v.; ལྷག་བསམ་དག་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་བདུན་ phrase> "Seven arousals of mind of the pure, special thought". These correspond, in order, to the bodhicitta aroused by the bodhisatvas dwelling on the first to seventh bhumis. They are: 1) gter lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like a treasure"; 2) rin chen 'byung gnas lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like a source of precious things"; 3) rgya mtsho lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like an ocean"; 4) rdo rje lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like a vajra"; 5) ri rgyal lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like the king of mountains"; 6) sman lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like medicine"; 7) bshes gnyen lta bu'i sems bskyed "arousal of mind like a spiritual friend".
[17] Read ཚར་བ་ v.i. tshar ba/ tshar ba/ tshar ba//. "To be done / finished / completed / over". Often used with other verbs to give the perfect past tense. E.g., [TC] lab tshar ba yin/ "is finished talking"; slob sbyong byas tshar ba/ "has done the studies"; las don tshar la khad/ "on the verge of finishing the job". E.g., tshogs 'du tshar 'dug/ "the meeting is over".
[18] Read bkra.
[19] Reading yis.
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