Atisha – Buddhist Scholar and Teacher

While there may be some controversy regarding the actual date of his birth and of his death, it is widely accepted that Atiśa Dipankara Shrijnana, referred to simply as Atisha, was a notable Buddhist teacher from the Pala Empire and one of the most influential figures in establishing the Sarma Buddhism lineages in Tibet. The most commonly accepted belief is that Atisha was born in the year 980 in a town located in modern day Bikrampur, Bangladesh, which at the time fell into the geographical region known as Bengal. Located to the south of Dhaka, Bikrampur lies in the Munshiganj District of Bangladesh, and is renowned for its historical role in Buddhism, being the birthplace of notable Buddhist scholars and teachers, including Atisha, also referred to as Atish Dipongkor.

Although it remains unproven that Atisha was born in 980, Buddhist scholars agree that it is noteworthy that during that year there was a significant shift in Bengali political power with the resurgence of the Pala dynasty that ousted the Kamboja rulers. It is believed that Atisha had been born into royalty, hence he is often referred to as Prince Atisha, but it’s unclear as to whether his royal ancestry was from one of these warring dynasties. Nevertheless, in traditional accounts his birth is seen as a fortuitous occasion which caused flowers to rain down upon the area, while a rainbow canopy appeared and the gods sang hymns resulting in the people being joyful. Some of these events are typical of Buddhist literature, but what is seen as particularly significant is that the birth of Atisha resulted in happiness for sentient beings – an aspect of the Buddhist faith which requires adherents to dedicate their lives to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Agreement over Atisha’s exact place of birth continues to elude scholars, but they do appear to agree that he was raised in the Golden Banner Palace which is described as having countless houses, bathing pools, gardens, forests of Tal palm trees, hundreds of connecting bridges, seven concentric walls and innumerable golden banners. The palace, which no longer exists, was said to have housed thousands of noblemen.

Atisha was known as a dedicated scholar of Buddhism, as well as for his great ability as a teacher and his skill in debating and philosophy. He was quick to steer Buddhists back to the right path when he came across teachings that had strayed, and he dedicated his life to assisting fellow Buddhists in attaining their desired state of enlightenment.