Drapa Ngonshe

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Drapa Ngonshe b.1012 - d.1090

Drapa Ngonshe (grwa pa mngon shes) was born in the male water mouse year, 1012, to a father named Zhangtag Karwa (zhang stag dkar ba), who named him Tagtsab (stag tshab). His mother was named Lhase Shewa Gronma (lha sras sha ba sgron ma).

For five years he worked as a shepherd, and then took ordination at Samye (bsam yas) from Yamshud Gyelwa O (yam shud rgyal ba 'od), a disciple of the great Lume Sherab Tsultrim (klu mes shes rab tshul khrims) of the Eastern Vinaya tradition that preserved the prātimokṣa ordination after the collapse of the Tibetan Empire and the loss of imperial patronage of the monasteries. His ordination name was Sherab Gyelwa (shes rab rgyal ba). He was called “Drapa” because he was closely associated with the Dranang Valley (grwa nang) and “Ngonshe” because he knew (shes) the Abhidharma (mngon pa).

After receiving a tantric transmission from his uncle, Zhangton Chowar (zhang ston chos bar, 1053-1135), while serving as abbot of Gonpa Ripuk (dgon pa ri phug), he became instrumental in convincing other Eastern Vinaya monks to adopt tantric practices, to the consternation of several of his colleagues and disciples, including Kuton Tsundru Yungdrung (khu ston brtson 'grus g.yung drung, 1011-1075), the abbot of Solnak Tangboche (sol nag thang bo che) and a disciple of Lume Sherab Tsultrim.

Later in life he returned his vows and lived as a layman at Namoche (gnas mo che) in Lag (glag) where he taught tantras and built stupas. After taking on numerous disciples from Yarlung, he received an invitation to visit there, where he met Padampa Sanggye (pa dam pa sangs rgyas, d. c.1117) and received transmission and teachings of the Zhije Dronma Kor Gu (zhi byed sgron ma skor dgu). He later received Chod (gcod) teachings from Machik Labdron’s (ma gcig labs sgron, 1055-1149) disciple Kor Nirupa (skor ni ru pa). Machik Labdron herself had previously been his disciple in Prajñāpāramitā. In Yarlung he established the tantric community of Putang Chenye (phu thang spyan g.yas).

In addition to his building of temples and his dissemination of new tantric teachings, Drapa Ngonshe is credited with discovering the Four Tantras, the root texts of the Tibetan medical tradition. According to legend, he revealed these from Samye in 1038, where they had been hidden by Vairocana. He supposedly passed them on to his disciple Upa Dargye (dbus pa dar rgyas), who in turn entrusted them to Tsoche Konkyab ('tsho byed dkon skyabs). The latter finally gave it to Yutok Yonten Gonpo (gyu thog yon tan mgon po), and they form the basis of present day Tibetan medicine.

When he was seventy, in 1081, Drapa Ngonshe established Dratang monastery (grwa thang) in Dranang, which he was still constructing when he passed away at the age of seventy-nine.




Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, p. 94 ff.

Dudjom Rinpoche. 2002 The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Translated by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein. Boston: Wisdom, p. 753 ff.

’Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas. 1976. Gter ston brgya rtsa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo Paro: Ngodrup and Sherab Drimay, p. 45B.6 ff.

’Jam dbyang mkhyen brtse’i dbang po. 1972. Mkhyen brtse’i chos ’yung. In the collected works of 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, vol. 11 (da). Leh: S. W. Tashigangpa, p. 411.3 ff.


Ron Garry
August 2007