Gyelse Tsewang Gyurme

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Gyelse Tsewang Gyurme mid 19th cent.

Name Variants: Tsewang Gyurme

Peer reviewed

Gyelse Tsewang Gyurme (rgyal sras tshe dbang 'gyur med) was the eldest son of the great Treasure Revealer (gter ston) Kundrol Sangtsel (kun grol gsang rtsal, 1833-1893), also known as Tsewang Drakpa (tshe dbang grags pa) and Dechen Lingpa (bde chen gling pa). Kundrol Sangtsel had been deeply involved in religious exchanges with the Kagyu lama Kongtrul Lodro Taye (kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas, 1813-1899) and the Sakya lama Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892), as well as other important figures of the New Bon (bon gsar) tradition in Eastern Tibet. Tsewang Gyurme's mother was named Karma Peldron (karma dpal sgron). The exact dates of his birth and death are still unknown, but he was most probably born after 1855.

During his early childhood Tsewang is said to have manifested an unusual devotion for the teachings, and to have learned to read and write without difficulty. Later, when he was of age, he received from his father numerous blessings (byin rlabs), initiations (dbang), as well as reading authorizations (lung) of all outer, inner, secret and innermost secret teachings of Bon. His father and other local masters also gave him teachings and transmissions of all the ritual methods for drawing mandalas, liturgical chants, etc.

As a young adult, Tsewang performed his training in sutra and tantra practices during strict retreats after which he requested his father the direct introduction to the nature of the mind (sems nyid ngo sprod), as well as all reading authorizations and essential guidance (dmar khrid) in the practice of Dzogchen. After receiving these teaching, he went directly into retreat and practiced without interruption, until the wisdom of awareness (rig pa'i ye shes) arose in his continuum. At that time, his deluded thoughts ('khrul rtog) and karmic traces (bag chags) are said to have been entirely purified within the base of his own natural state (gnas lugs). He was thus able to experience the single flavor (ro gcig) of appearances and his own mind (snang sems dbyer med) and reached the realization of the absolute body endowed with great bliss (bde chen bon sku).

According to later, indigenous historians of Bon, Tsewang Gyurme was a peculiar master. Extraordinary feats and magical wonders are commonplace elements within Tibetan hagiographical works and the author of the compilation of the Atri lineage — Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen (shar rdza  bkra shis rgyal mtshan, 1859-1934), a direct disciple of Tsewang Gyurme himself — uses these themes repeatedly instead of providing explicit historical information which would help build a clearer picture of this master. Thus, according to Tashi Gyeltsen, Tsewang Gyurme is said to have been able leave footprints and handprints on rocks, to travel to numinous places in order to participate in feast offerings (tshogs) with awareness holders (rig 'dzin), and so forth. He further states that when Tsewang Gyurme was performing his Yidam practice, his own body would emit sparkles, the water in his ritual vase would boil spontaneously, his meditation cell would be filled with lights, while non-human entities (mi min) would present him their vital essence (srog snying) as offering, and so forth.

Throughout his life, Tsewang Gyurme played a crucial role in the diffusion of both Eternal Bon (g.yung drung) and New Bon (bon gsar) teachings in Eastern Tibet. He is generally associated with the numerous lineage transmissions that were held by his father, Kundrol Sangtsel, as well as with the latter's own terma (gter ma) revelations. He is in particular associated with the lineage transmission of the Triple Proclamation of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen bsgrags pa skor gsum) for which he is said to have produced a xylographic edition, as well as with the complex teachings centered on the tutelary deity (yi dam) Welpur Nakpo (dbal phur nag po) revealed by his father. These teachings went on to become quite popular among the Bon communities in eastern Tibet and are still being practiced in the later tradition of Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen.

Tsewang Gyurme was also an important lineage holder of the Atri (a khrid) system of meditation that he passed on to Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen; he is counted as the thirtieth holder of the tradition.

Because of his training and his role in transmitting the lineages he inherited from his father and other masters, Gyelse Tsewang Gyurme was deeply involved in the spread of Dzogchen instructions as they are conveyed in both Eternal Bon and New Bon traditions. Beyond the strict Atri line of transmission, he is remembered as taking an active part in the diffusion of the Contemplative Embodiment of the Three Bodies (sku gsum dgongs 'dus), which was the main Dzogchen cycle revealed by his father in 1858, at Kongpo Bonri (kong po bon ri).

Tsewang Gyurme's own disciples mostly hailed from Amdo, Kham and the intermediary regions between these two provinces. The main one among these was Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen, who is counted as the thirty-first lineage holder of the Atri teachings.




Achard Jean-Luc. 2007. Les Instructions sur le A Primordial — Volume I : Histoire de la Lignée. Sumène: Editions Khyung-Lung, pp. 106-108.

Achard Jean-Luc. 2004. Bon po Hidden Treasures, A Catalogue of gTer ston bDe chen gling pa's Collected Revelations, Brill, Leiden, p. xxiii.

Shar rdza bkra shis rgyal mtshan. 1990. Man ngag rin po che a khrid kyi bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar padma dkar po'i phreng ba ces bya ba. In Shar rdza bka' 'bum, vol. 13, pp. 1-90. Chamdo.


Jean-Luc Achard
May 2013