The First Dzogchen Drubwang, Pema Rigdzin

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The First Dzogchen Drubwang, Pema Rigdzin b.1625 - d.1697

Name Variants: Dzogchen 01 Pema Rigdzin; Dzogchen Drubwang 01 Pema Rigdzin; Pema Rigdzin; Rashi Terton

The First Dzogchen Drubwang Pema Rigdzin (rdzogs chen grub dbang 01 pad+ma rig 'dzin) was born in 1625 in Puwo Rashi (spu bo ra zhi), near Riwoche (ri bo che). His father was a highly skilled Nepali artisan (bzo rig) named Belpo Tashi (bal po bkra shis), and his mother appears to have been the sister of Kunzang Sherab (kun bzang shes rab, 1636-1698), the founder of Peyul Monastery (dpal yul dgon) in southern Derge. His parents took him to Chamdo Jampa Ling (chab mdo byams pa gling), where his father found work. There he studied reading and writing, and some time after the age of ten, no doubt due to family connections, he became an attendant to Karma Chakme (karma chags med, 1613-1678), one of the greatest Kagyu masters of the seventeenth century, who would be one of his most important teachers.

Karma Chakme gave Pema Rigdzin instructions in both spoken word (bka' ma) and terma (gter ma), the two streams of Nyingma teachings, as well as instruction in the Kagyu traditions, and Pema Rigdzin spent three weeks in meditation on Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen in a secluded spot. He gave him empowerments and transmission in a number of important treasure cycles, such as Ratna Lingpa's (rat+na gling pa, 1403-1479) Lamai Shidrak (bla ma'i zhi drag) and Vajrakīlaya, Nyangrel Nyima Ozer's (nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136-1204) Black Hayagrīva, and Karma Lingpa's (kar+ma gling pa, 14th c.) Shitro Gongpa Rangdrol (zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol). Following these and other teachings he spent a period of time doing yogic practices such as tummo (gtum mo) and tsalung (rtsa lung).

According to Guru Tashi, from the age of twenty-three to twenty-nine he practiced what he had been given, and then traveled in search of additional teachings. He went first to Powo (spo bo), in southeastern Tibet, where he encountered the treasure revealer Dudul Dorje (bdud 'dul rdo rje, 1615- 1672), who gave him the transmission of his own treasures (which he later passed on to Karma Chakme) and of the Dzogchen Nyingtik (rdzogs chen snying thig). Alternately, the Dzogchen Chojung has it that he went to Powo at age twenty-four.

He also received empowerments in Hayagrīva and Vajrayoginī from a disciple of Jatson Nyingpo ('ja' tshon snying po, 1585-1656), becoming a key figure in the continuation of that transmission. From the Second Baka Tulku, Rigdzin Chokyi Gyatso (rba kha sprul sku 02 rig 'dzin chos kyi rgya mtsho, d.u.), a disciple of Dzogchenpa Sonam Wangpo (rdzogs chen pa bsod nams dbang po, 1547-1625), he received additional Dzogchen teachings and empowerments such as the Khandro Nyingtik (mkha' 'gro snying tig). It is said that having received the Dzogchen teachings the ḍākinī gave him the key to unlock future treasures, and he became widely known as the Dzogchenpa from Kham (khams pa rdzogs chen pa).

After three years in Powo, Pema Rigdzin again met Karma Chakme, presumably in Nangchen, where the king was supporting numerous religious teachers. This was around the time that the later's colleague Namcho Mingyur Dorje (gnam chos mi 'gyur rdo rje, 1645-1667) was first revealing his famous Namcho treasure cycle, which Karma Chakme was involved in transcribing and for which he wrote numerous liturgies. In Nangchen Pema Rigdzin also met a young boy who would become a main disciple, the somewhat controversial treasure revealer Nyima Drakpa (nyi ma grags pa, 1647-1710). Dudul Dorje, who Pema Rigdzin encountered in Yelpuk (yal phug), affirmed the young treasure revealer's authenticity to Pema Rigdzin, explaining that he had granted Nyima Drakpa the authority of lineage holder of his own Vajrakīla revelations. At that time Dudul Dorje and Pema Rigdzin gave Nyima Drakpa ordination vows.

In 1663, at the age of thirty-nine, Pema Rigdzin went to U, accompanied by his new disciple, Nyima Drakpa, then sixteen. They went to Reting (rwa sgreng) and Taklung (stag lung) and made offerings to the monks, and went on to Lhasa. There they had an audience with the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), who was then at the height of his power. Pema Rigdzin gave the Dalai Lama empowerments and instruction in Dzogchen, and, pleased with his teachings, the Dalai Lama praised him highly.

Pema Rigdzin continued his pilgrimage, visiting Tsurpu (mtshur phu), Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag), Samye (bsam yas), Drak Yongdzon (sgrags yang rdzong) and other sites, making offerings to lamas and monks. At Samye in particular Pema Rigdzin and Nyima Drakpa made offerings for its ongoing restoration. They remained at Samye for three years, entering retreat at Chimpu (mchims phug).

They then moved on to Lodrak where they encountered Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa, 1646-1714), who gave them empowerments and related teachings. They also met Ngadak Chokyi Wangpo (mnga' bdag chos kyi dbang po, d.u.), from whom they received empowerments and teachings on Nyangrel Nyima Ozer's Kabgye Deshek Dupa (bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa) and Guru Drakpo Deshek Dupa (gu ru drag po bde gshegs 'dus pa), among others. They also met the reincarnation of Ngari Terton Pema Garwang (mnga' ris gter ston gar dbang rdo rje, 1640-1685) who gave them additional teachings and empowerments. At Layak Guru Lhakang (la yag gu ru lha khang) they met the Third Peling Sungtrul, Tsultrim Dorje, (pad gling gsung sprul 03 tshul khrims rdo rje, 1598-1669). (Alternately, it was at Samye that they met the Peling Tulku). Also in Lodrak they visited sites associated with the Kagyu tradition, such as Sekar Gutok (sras mkhar dgu thog). At Dakla Gampo they received teachings from Gampo Tulku Zangpo Dorje (sgam po sprul sku bzang po rdo rje, b. 1636), and at Rechung Puk (ras chugs phug) they met the Rechung incarnation, and received transmission of the Rechung Nyengyud.

In 1668, at the age of forty-three, Pema Rigdzin went on to Tsari and there, accompanied by Nyima Drakpa, he went into retreat for three years. Apparently the young disciple occasionally went to Dakpo and Kongpo to receive offerings, building up a following and a large ego. Pema Rigdzin, while supporting and authorizing his disciple, apparently was forced to admonish him on numerous occasions due to his pride and excess. A decade later, in 1687, back in Kham, during the establishment of Dzogchen Monastery, Pema Rigdzin scolded Nyima Drakpa for unearthing Bon treasure at Rudam, and insisted that the younger treasure revealer reconceal them. Despite the scoldings, a clear sign of Pema Rigdzin's confidence in Nyima Drakpa was the fact that he asked him to take the abbacy of the new monastery, a duty Nyima Drakpa declined.

Following the Tsari retreat Pema Rigdzin returned to Kham, separating from Nyima Drakpa, who went westward. Pema Rigdzin taught widely, taking as his close disciple Namkha Osel, who would later be known by the title Dzogchen Ponlop (rdzogs chen dpon slob nam mkha' 'od gsal, d. 1726), the first in a line of incarnations associated with Dzogchen Monastery. He also met again with Karma Chakme, and resided for long periods of time in hermitages such as Karwa Samtenpuk (mkhar ba bsam gtan phug).

Pema Rigdzin was also known as a treasure revealer, by the name Rashi Terton (ra zhi gter ston). He revealed a cycle called Guru Drak (gu ru drag) from Duri Namchakdrak (bdud ri gnam lcags brag).

In the 1670s Pema Rigdzin again went to Tibet, stopping for retreat in Yerpa (yer pa) and Shangzampu (shang zam phu), to the north of Lhasa. His fame was considerable at this time, and he was requested by the major monasteries – including Sera and Drepung – to give teachings. At Yerpa he met Rabjam Tenpai Gyeltsen (rab 'byams pa bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1650-1704), who became one of his most prominent disciples. He also is said to have given treasure empowerments to the Karmapa, presumably either the Tenth, Choying Dorje (chos dbyings rdo rje, 1604-1674) or the Eleventh, Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje, 1675-1702) and to the Zharmapa, presumably the Seventh, Yeshe Nyingpo (zhwa dmar 07 ye shes snying po, 1631-1694).

Pema Rigdzin again met the Fifth Dalai Lama, who gave him a prophecy from one of his own treasure revelations, the Yeshe Zigngor (ye shes gzigs ngor):

In Gye (rgyas) and Rudam (ru dam), enclosed by white [snow mountains]
in Dokham, where the sun rises –
you, who are named Pema, prophesied by Orgyen [Padmasambhava]
will establish an institution, when the time is right,
to repair the degeneration of the teachings and beings
and to tame the border people by means of religion.

Joined by Nyima Drakpa, Pema Rigdzin continued on to Kailash and Ngari, after which Nyima Drakpa headed south, and Pema Rigdzin returned to Kham. Not only was he charged by the Dalai Lama to establish a seat in Rudam, but also Karma Chakme had urged him to build in the Dege region.

In 1684 Pema Rigdzin established a hermitage called Orgyen Samtenling (o rgyan bsam gtan gling) in the valley of Rudam Kyitram (ru dam skyid khram), to the northeast of the Dege capital. He did so with the support of Sanggye Tenpa (sangs rgyas bstan pa), the king of Derge and third abbot of Lhundrubteng. The leader of Lingtsang, Gonpo Lhundrub (gling tshang mgon po lhun grub) also contributed funds for construction.

Pema Rigdzin's numerous disciples joined him at the hermitage, chief among them Nyima Drakpa, Dzogchen Ponlop, and Rabjam Tenpai Gyeltsen. Pema Rigdzin taught at what eventually developed into Dzogchen Monastery for another thirteen years before passing away at the age of seventy-three.


Incarnations of the Dzogchen Drubwang line:

Dzogchen Drubwang 02 Gyurme Tekchok Tendzin ('gyur med theg mchog bstan 'dzin, 1699-1757)
Dzogchen Drubwang 03 Ngedon Tendzin Zangpo (nges don bstan 'dzin bzang po, 1759-1792)
Dzogchen Drubwang 04 Mingyur Namkai Dorje (mi l'gyur nam mkha'i rdo rje, 1793-1870)
Dzogchen Drubwang 05 Tubten Chokyi Dorje (thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872-1935)
Dzogchen Drubwang 06 Orgyen Jikdrel Jangchub Dorje (o rgyan 'jigs bral byang chub rdo rje, c. 1935-1959)




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Alexander Gardner
December 2009