Padmasambhava can be regarded a historical figure, who then became shrouded in legendary and mythical accounts, and then finally became idealized, iconized, metaphysicized, and transcendentalized. The idea of Padmasambhava and what he stands for thus become more interesting and significant. Those who are skeptical of “Padmaism” but do not even have an iota of doubt about Padmapāṇism or Avalokiteśvaraism, should pause for a moment, and ask if Padmapāṇi was born at all, and if so, when and where. If not, what does the whole thing mean to Mahāyāna? But this is not my concern here.
I recall dGe-’dun-chos-’phel stating that one could trace most of the continents and subcontinents mentioned in the Buddhist meta-geography in Jambudvīpa, so to speak, not mythical places but concrete locations in Jambudvīpa. I, too, have a feeling that one is so used to thinking in terms of mythical places that actual places on earth seem implausible. Let us take, for examples, Klu’i-yul (Nāga country), gNod-sbyin-gyi-yul (Yakṣa country), Dri-za’i-yul (Gāndhāra country), and Srin-po’i-yul (Rākṣasa country). Nāgārjuna “invited” the Śatasahasrikā from the Nāga country and Padmasambhava departed for the Rākṣasa country. These places are inaccessible to ordinary human beings as far as the assumption goes. But it turns out, for example, that the Gāndhāra country is a real or actual place on earth. So, my question is: How about the Rākṣasa country? Is it a real/actual place on earth?
The textual sources of Padmaism state: “I am [now] going to the Rākṣasa country in the South-West” (nga ni lho nub srin po’i yul du ’gro). Furthermore, “I am going; I am going to the Rākṣasa country” (nga ’gro srin po’i yul du ’gro). Recently, some Tibetan scholars have written something online about the location of the Rākṣasa country. The issue is that there is the idea of Rākṣasa country and of Rākṣasa continent/island (Srin-po’i-gling), and the latter is identified with Cāmara/Ḍāmara continent (rNga-yab). The two directions that we find in these contexts are South-West (lho nub) and North-West (nub byang). One should not forget that directions are dependent on one’s perspective. It is true that Rākṣasadvīpa is associated with Rāvaṇa and Laṅkā. It would seem that if we identify the Rākṣasa country with Rākṣasadvīpa, then the direction South-West would be more reasonable. The Tibetan traditions, not just those associated with Padmaism, seem to have two different identifications of the Rākṣasa country, one Rāvaṇa’s Rākṣasadvīpa (i.e. Laṅkā) and the other Oḍḍiyāna (or Oḍiyāna, Oḍyāna, Oḍḍayana, Uḍiyāna, Uḍyāna, Uḍḍayana) in the Swat valley. These two places seem to have been conflated and confused. Kaḥ-thog Tshe-dbang-nor-bu (TBRC) lists several places in that area including Kashmir (Kha-che), Gilgit-Baltistan (Bru-sha), Bactria/Tocharistan (Tho-gar), and Rākṣasa country (Srin-po’i-yul). There are some more places listed. Perhaps Rākṣasa country is to be seen as a specific region within the broader domain of or in the precinct of Oḍḍiyāna. This is, in my view, exactly what F. W. Thomas does and places Rākṣasa country in the South-West of Oḍḍiyāna (Thomas 1935: 291). I personally am inclined to think that when Padmasambhava said “I am [now] going to the Rākṣasa country in the South-West” (nga ni lho nub srin po’i yul du ’gro), he meant that he just wanted to go back home!