Padmasambhava is one of the most revered historical figures in Tibet . A Mahasiddha (Dubthob) from India , he traveled to Tibet in the eighth century to conquer the indigenous demons and disseminate the dharma. There are eight main manifestations of Padmasambhava in Tibetan iconography. The most popular manifestation, and the name by which he is known by in Tibet , is Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Teacher.
Padmasambhava, the Lotus – born – popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master — is revered throughout the Himalayan ranges as a Second Buddha. Invited from India in the eighth century to subjugate the forces inhibiting the spread of Shakyamuni's teachings, he managed to transform hitherto hostile powers into guardians and protectors of the pure dharma and, in the process, left an indelible mark on the entire Himalayan region.
Guru Rinpoche is surrounded by various adepts and deities of the Nyingma order. Presiding over all, in the center of the highest plane of the painting, is Amitabha Buddha, whom Padmasambhava is considered to be an emanation. By his sides are Padmasambhava's consorts, the Indian princess Mahadarava and the Tibetan dakini ( khadama ) Yeshe Khado.
This Thangka is a typical image of Guru Rinpoche. He is seated in Vajraparyankasana, the meditation posture with feet hidden to represent his esoteric nature. His body aureole is golden and bejeweled while the background has pink lotus, the supreme lotus of Shakyamuni Buddha. To those of the Nyingma sect, the "Sect of the Old" that Guru Rinpoche initiated, Padmasambhava is cherished like a second Buddha.
Guru Rinpoche is wearing lavish robes, representing the amount of honor he received in coming to Tibet . His characteristic head-dress has the ear – lappets turned up so that he can listen to all beings. Guru Rinpoche is holding a skull – cap filled with tantric liquids, a vajra, and a staff with a banner, human heads, and a trident ( khatvanga ). A banner is one of the eight auspicious symbols ( krashi taggyad ) and a trident ( tsesum ) symbolizes the Three Jewels (Konchog sum) and the tripitaka ( denod sum ). In his right hand Guru Rinpoche holds a vajra in Vajratarjani mudra.
In quite a literal sense, Guru Rinpoche's mark is to be found throughout the Himalayan ranges in and around the many caves he used for meditation. At these sites one can still see handprints and footprints of the Precious Master impressed into solid rock, mute testimony to the extraordinary power this fully accomplished yogi and tantric magician exercised over the external and internal elements.
Now, in the pure depth of the heavens, Vajrasattva, allowing the Metamorphic Body to be seen, seared upon an elephant, holding a golden vajra to his heart with his right hand, and with his left hand holding a silver bell at his side, crowned with the ornaments of the Five Transcendent Buddhas, his body covered with all the perfect ornaments, decorated with bones at the shoulders, at the wrists, and at the ankles, brilliant with the white glitter of crystal. Perfectly learned in the Mahayoga, Vajrasattva reveals as a dwelling the celestial palace of the three Baskets, reveals as gods and goddesses the whole internal essence, reveals as Mantra the entire murmur of the words, reveals as enchantments everything which is of body, speech, and mind. And he sets forth the Tantras of the Mahayoga, which are, according to the whole classification, five hundred thousand, and the whole of which forms the eighteen root Tantras.