Gyergom Tsultrim Sengge

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Gyergom Tsultrim Sengge b.1144 - d.1204

Name Variants: Gyergom Nyipa; Gyergom Tsultrim Sengge

Gyergom Tsultrim Sengge (gyer sgom tshul khrims seng+ge) was born a member of Khangsar (khang gsar) family which formed part of the Begu (be gu) branch of the Gyer (dgyer) clan. His name at birth was Chokyi Sengge (chos kyi seng ge). His father, named Konchok Kyab (dkon mchog skyabs), was a military commander (dmag dpon). His family served as hereditary chiefs of the area of Trandruk (khra 'brug) Temple in the Yarlung Valley. His mother was Gyeltsama Dode Gyen (rgyal tsha ma mdo sde rgyan).

He being the elder of two brothers, his younger brother Chodor (chos rdor) continued the family tradition and became a chief, while he took novice ordination at age eleven, under the name Tsultrim Sengge. It is more usual for the opposite to take place, with the eldest son carrying on the family name. As a young novice, Tsultrim Sengge already had the task of serving as an overseer (dpon gnyer) of Trandruk (khra 'brug) Temple. His studies in those days were focused on the Guhyasamāja texts under Geshe Hor (dge bshes hor), who initiated him into Guhyasamāja under the name of Dorje Gyelpo (rdo rje rgyal po)

Like so many others in those times, Tsultrim Sengge heard of the fame of Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170) and was determined to meet him. We know that Pakmodrupa had a regular daily routine, and each day when Pakmodrupa would make his way to the teaching assembly people would cover his path with their shirts and robes, hoping he would step on them. Tsultrim Sengge could find a place only at the far edge of the road, but the master made a detour in order to step on his cloth, pausing long enough to say, “The vajra holding monk is very powerful.” Tsultrim Sengge protested that he was only a novice and not a monk, but Pakmodrupa just repeated his words. At the assembly, Tsultrim Sengge experienced the overpowering combination of bliss, clarity and freedom from troubling thoughts that characterizes meditative experience.

Tsultrim Sengge went back home to fetch provisions, intending to return as quickly as possible. But meanwhile his father had been captured by his enemies, and he had to go and fight them. Meanwhile, Pakmodrupa had passed away, and in his despondency, Tsultrim Sengge resolved to find another teacher. He first thought to meditate under a disciple of Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nam rin chen, 1079-1153) named Neljor Choyung (rnal 'byor chos g.yung, d.u.), but on the way he went to see a Zhije teacher called Mel Kawachenpa (mal ka ba can pa, d. 1211). Not wishing to have monks in his circle, Mel at first refused to allow him inside. But then he heard how Tsultrim Sengge had boiled his tea in a dog dish without cleaning it first. This convinced him that there was a bit of the yogi in him after all, so he was accepted.

While meditating in a cave at Kawachen, Tsultrim Sengge had a vision of a ḍākinī who was suffering from the pollution disorder known as drib (sgrib). Gyergom introduced her to her own mind and the ailment vanished. She then offered him a skull-cup full of nectar, which he drank and experienced immaculate bliss. Released from his retreat he began, with the authorization of his teacher, to teach the other monks.

Later on Tsultrim Sengge did at last meet Neljor Choyung who taught him Mahāmudrā, among other teachings, and sent him out to wander aimlessly. He subdued a number of local spirits and had many visions, including visions of siddhas who granted him their precepts. It was in 1181 that he founded the monastery of Shukseb (shug gseb) in the upper valley of Nyepu (sne phu). The site is said to have been a practice cave of Machik Labdron (ma gcig labs sgron, 1055-1149), the famous Chod master. He worked there for twenty-four years, and had numerous disciples. Gyelkharwa (rgyal mkhar ba, d.u.) succeeded him in the abbacy of Shukseb.

Although Shukseb Monastery was at some point taken over by the Geluk School, in the first half of the twentieth century it was once again made into a center for the special teachings of the Shugseb Kagyu by the famous Nyingma woman teacher Shukseb Jetsun Choying Zangmo (shug gseb rje btsun chos dbyings bzang mo, 1853-1950). Destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, Shukseb has since been restored as one of the most active nunneries in Tibet today, especially cultivating the practices of Chod and Nyingtik (snying thig).




Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 890-893.


Dan Martin
August 2008