There are many books on Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche written by foreign scholars, but upon the command of His Majesty The King, Bhutan now has its first ever book on Guru Rinpoche written by Bhutanese authors with a Bhutanese perspective.
The Director of the Department of Culture, Nagtsho Dorji, said, “In 2016 His Majesty The King gave a Royal Command to the then Home Secretary Dasho (Dr) Sonam Tenzin to start work on a Bhutanese book on Guru Rinpoche under the project ‘Life and Spiritual Legacy of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan’. The book is a work on Guru Rinpoche through a Bhutanese lense.”
The project was implemented to preserve and promote the Bhutanese account of Guru Rinpoche’s life and legacies and to enhance the spiritual wellbeing of the population with a clear understanding of the life and legacies of Guru Rinpoche.
The outcome of this project is the publication of the book entitled, ‘The Life and Deeds of Padmasambhava: A Bhutanese Chronicle.’
The research team of the book undertook visits to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal etc to do ground research for the book, refer to various sources and even within Bhutan researchers visited various holy sites and other places to gather more information for the book.
In that sense, the book not only brings new and more in-depth information on Guru Rinpoche for international scholarship, but it also does a deep dive into Guru’s visits to Bhutan and his influence on the country.
Nagtsho Dorji said that in international books on Guru Rinpoche the parts on Bhutan are only mentioned briefly or in the passing. She said that as a result, the works and deeds of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan are lost out, and so the book throws beautiful insight on Guru’s time in Bhutan, its impact and how even to his day the teachings and influence of Guru continues to flourish in Bhutan.
The Director of the National Library and Archives Dr Yonten Dargye said the book highlights the religious, cultural and even political impact of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan.
He said that on the religious front every Buddhist sect follow and revere Guru Rinpoche with his impact on all of them and there are many pilgrimage sites in Bhutan associated with the Guru. On the cultural front he said that Chams or religious mask dances in Bhutan started after the visits of Guru and Rinpoche and even existing Bhutanese cultural practices like Driglam Namzha, Kabney and others originated during the time of Guru Rinpoche.
On the political front Dr Yonten gave the example of Sindhu Raja and he said the practice of Nangka-Nangdrig in Bhutan was inspired from the time of Guru Rinpoche.
Dr Yonten said that an important outcome of the research was that the researchers could establish that Guru Rinpoche’s first visit to Bhutan was around 750 AD and not 748 or 746 AD as mentioned in some school textbooks. This was the first of his three visits in person and apart from that there were many more visits through miracles.
The book initially got a research grant from the Government of India through the National Library and Archives of Bhutan and an initial copy of the book was ready by 2018.
However, subsequently more review and editing was done and the project got funding from the RGoB for publishing copies of the book.
The book was formally launched on 3rd November during the meeting of the Chhoedey Lhentshog which had representation from the Zhung Dratshang, Nyingma Community, Anim Chhoedey, Hindu Dharma Samudai and others.
Nagtsho Dorji said that the book was written by late Dasho Sangay Dorje, former Secretary of Dzongkha Development Commission and Dzongkha Specialist, Dr. Karma Phuntsho, Writer and Director of Shejun Oral Literature Project and Loden Foundation, Kunzang Thinley, Writer and Researcher, KMT, and Gyonpo Tshering, former Research Specialist, of National Library and Archives.
This project was implemented by the National Library and Archives under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs in the year 2016 with funding support from the Government of India.
The Department of Culture said that Padmasambhava, who is affectionately known as Guru Rinpoche or Precious Teacher in Bhutan, plays a very significant role in the spiritual, religious and cultural and political life of Bhutan. Hence, he is considered as the patron saint of Bhutan.
It said that traditional Bhutanese followers of Padmasambhava believe that he has traversed the Bhutanese landscape in person or through miracles so much so that not even a space as much as the hoof print of a horse is left untouched by him. Yet, not a single biography of Padmasambhava, out of about two dozen full biographies, which exists today, mention his life and works in Bhutan in detail.
The book, containing 13 chapters, synthesizes the accounts of the life and deeds of Padmasambhava, found in over three dozen biographical writings on Padmasambhava, and also adds the accounts of his works in Bhutan, which are not adequately mentioned in the existing biographies of Padmasambhava.
The book is written in a simple eloquent Choekey so that all traditional scholars in the Himalayas as well as those educated in Dzongkha can access it. It combines a narrative and analytical using both traditional writing styles and modern historiographical analysis and academic rigour.