WHO ARE THE KADAMPAS?
‘Ka’ refers to Buddha’s teachings and ‘dam’ refers to Atisha’s instructions on Lamrim (the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, also known as Kadam Lamrim). ‘Kadam’ therefore refers to the union of Buddha’s teachings and Atisha’s instructions, and sincere practitioners of Kadam Lamrim are called ‘Kadampas’. There are two Kadampa traditions, the ancient and the new. Practitioners of the ancient Kadampa tradition appeared to emphasize the practice of Kadam Lamrim of Sutra more than the practice of Tantra. Later, Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples emphasized the practice of Kadam Lamrim of both Sutra and Tantra equally. This new tradition founded by Je Tsongkhapa is called the new Kadampa tradition.
Kadampas sincerely rely upon Buddha Shakyamuni because Buddha is the source of Kadam Lamrim; they sincerely rely upon Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, and upon the Wisdom Dharma Protector, indicating that their main practice is compassion and wisdom; and they sincerely rely upon Arya Tara because she promised Atisha that she would take special care of Kadampa practitioners in the future. For this reason, these four enlightened holy beings are called the ‘Four Kadampa Guru Deities’.
The founder of the Kadampa tradition is the great Buddhist Master and scholar, Atisha. Atisha was born in AD 982 as a prince in East Bengal, India. His father’s name was Kalyanashri (Glorious Virtue) and his mother’s name was Prabhavarti Shrimati (Glorious Radiance). He was the second of three sons and when he was born he was given the name Chandragarbha (Moon Essence). The name Atisha, which means Peace, was given to him later by the Tibetan king Jangchub Ö because he was always calm and peaceful.