Summary and Keywords
The Bka’ gdams pa (pronounced “Kadampa”) emerged as a distinct tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in the 11th century ce. The most common understanding of the name in Tibetan sources is that this tradition taught the complete word of the Buddha (bka’) as explained in the instructions (gdams) of the Indian teacher Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna (982–1054). This is sometimes specified as referring to his instructions on the graded path (lam rim) toward Buddhahood that were later adopted and propagated by the Dge lugs pa (pronounced “Gelugpa”) school, beginning with Tsong kha pa’s (1357–1419) influential Lam rim chen mo. It is commonly assumed that during the 15th century, the Bka’ gdams pa were absorbed into Tsong kha pa’s reform movement of the “new Bka’ gdams pa” (bka’ gdams gsar ma), later known as the Dge lugs pa, but further research is needed on this issue.
Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna, also known by his Indian honorific title Atiśa[ya] or Adhīśa, was invited to western Tibet by its rulers and arrived there in 1042. At the request of King Byang chub ’od (984–1078), he composed his famous “Lamp on the Path to Awakening” (Bodhipathapradīpa; Tib. Byang chub lam sgron), which became an important model for Tibetan works on the graded path to awakening. He then accepted an invitation to central Tibet where he spent the rest of his life. He passed away in Snye thang near Lhasa in 1054.
Several of Atiśa’s Tibetan students played an important role in the development of Buddhism on the Tibetan plateau. However, it is his student ’Brom ston Rgyal ba’i ’byung gnas (pronounced “Dromtön Gyelway Jungnay,” 1004–1064) who is traditionally regarded as the founding father of the Tibetan Bka’ gdams pa lineage since his students became instrumental in spreading the Bka’ gdams pa teachings in central Tibet. In addition to the lam rim, they became famous for their instructions on “mental purification” or “mind training” (blo sbyong, pronounced “Lojong”), which is meant to free the mind from attachment to the ego and generate the attitude of the “awakening mind” (Skt. bodhicitta). Lam rim and blo sbyong became highly popular doctrinal and didactic genres and have had an impact on Tibetan Buddhism far beyond the Bka’ gdams pa and Dge lugs pa traditions.
The Bka’ gdams pa are often perceived as a tradition with an emphasis on monasticism and Mahāyāna ethics, rather than on yogic and tantric practice. However, it should be kept in mind that Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna himself had grown up in the tantric traditions of Bengal. His work on the stages of the path to awakening includes instructions on tantra, but states that tantric practice may not contradict the vows taken (thus excluding antinomian practices for monastics). The early Tibetan Bka’ gdams pa masters take the same stance and promote the idea that Pāramitānaya (i.e., non-tantric Mahāyāna Buddhism) and tantra have the same validity and lead to the same goal, thus trying to strike a balance between the two approaches.
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