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Chapter 1: Atisha the Thrice Great

That’s why for those who have experienced religion, all the scriptures become utterly useless, all methods become nonessential. When the goal is achieved the path is forgotten.

Atisha is one of the rare masters, rare in the sense that he was taught by three enlightened masters. It has never happened before, and never since. To be a disciple of three enlightened masters is simply unbelievable - because one enlightened master is enough, but this story that he was taught by three enlightened masters, has a very metaphorical significance also. And it is true, it is historical too.

The three masters that Atisha remained with for many years were, first Dharmakirti, a great Buddhist mystic. He taught him no-mind, he taught him emptiness, he taught him how to be thoughtless, he taught him how to drop all content from the mind and be contentless. The second master was Dharmarakshita, another Buddhist mystic. He taught him love, compassion. The third master was Yogin Maitreya, another Buddhist mystic. He taught him the art of taking the suffering of others and absorbing it into your own heart: love in action.

This could happen because all these three masters were great friends. They had started their search together; while they were on the way they had remained together, and when they attained they were still together.

Atisha became a disciple of Dharmakirti. Dharmakirti said to him, “I will teach you the first principle. For the second you will go to Dharmarakshita, and for the third to Yogin Maitreya. This way you will know all the three faces of the ultimate reality, the three faces of God - the trinity, the trimurti. And this way you will learn each face from the person who is the most perfect in it.”

These are the three ways people reach to the ultimate. If you reach through emptiness you attain the other two also, but your path remains basically that of emptiness - you know more about emptiness, so emptiness will be emphasized in whatsoever you teach.

That’s what happened in Buddha’s case. He had attained through emptiness, hence his whole teaching became emptiness-oriented. There is no God in Buddha’s teaching, because God is a thought, content, an object - God is the other, and Buddha had attained by dropping the other. Buddha had attained by emptying his mind totally, hence there is no place for God, no place for anything at all. His path is the purest via negativa.

That was also the case with Dharmakirti. He was the perfect master of emptiness, a master par excellence of emptiness. And when Atisha had learned how to be empty, the master said, “It will be better for you to go to Dharmarakshita for the next step, because he has attained from a totally different path. Just as you can reach Everest from different sides, he has reached from a totally different path: the path of compassion. I can also teach you the path of compassion, but my knowing about that path is only known from the top.

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