Jikten Gonpo Rinchen Pel b.1143 - d.1217
Name Variants: Dorje Pel; Drigung Kyobpa Jikten Gonpo; Drigungpa Rinchen Pel; Jigten Sumgon; Kyobpa Jikten Gonpo; Rinchen Pel; Tsunpa Kyab; Welbar Tar
Jikten Gonpo Rinchen Pel ('jig rten mgon po rin chen dpal) was born to an illustrious clan called the Kyura (skyu ra) at a town in Kham called Tsungu (tsu ngu), in 1123. His father was a tantric specialist in Vajrabhairava practices, and even headed a group of five hundred practitioners. His mother had some sympathies with Bon, so after his birth she called a Bonpo for the naming ceremony. His first name was thus a Bon name, Welbar Tar (dbal 'bar thar). This was later changed to Tsunpa Kyab (btsun pa skyabs), and later on Dorje Pel (rdo rje dpal)
Already as a young child, Tsunpa Kyab demonstrated an aptitude for memorization, reading and meditation. By age eight he encountered the face of the yidam, and in the following year he started instructing others in meditation. He was the sort of person who simply could not bear to see other beings in distress. Once he found a dog that had nearly died of hunger. No other food being available, he vomited out the contents of his stomach in order to feed it. He was even known to offer massages to lepers. When there was a widespread famine, his father went so far as to sell his Vajrabhairava texts in exchange for barley to feed his family. Years later Jikten Gonpo would tell this story with the comment, “Never get married. If you do you will have children, and if you are unable to feed them you will end up selling all your refuges like my father did, since eating is necessary.”
Tsunpa Kyab's father died when he was fifteen, and his mother passed away a year later. He was forced to support himself and his siblings from donations he received in return for reading scriptures in people's houses. When a younger sister married a man named Akhar (a mkhar) as his second wife, she was unable to withstand his abuse and committed suicide. Akhar no doubt felt regret and had a change of heart, becoming an important patron for Jikten Gonpo in his early years of meditation retreats. Akhar's name also appears on the back of a magnificent circa 13th-century painting of Marpa.
In those days Tsunpa Kyab was sought out for his blessings, which proved capable of curing serious diseases. Once a thief stole an ox and a horse from Akhar, and then proceeded to Tsunpa Kyab's hermitage and demanded to have everything he possessed. Before long he was satisfied that there was nothing there worth stealing, so he left. But that very night while enjoying a beer with his friends he fell down dead. This and other incidents led people to believe that his Dharma protector was especially powerful.
One day Tsunpa Kyab asked a Tibetan paṇḍita who had just come back from U-Tsang about the teachers there. This is how he first heard the name of Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170), and he immediately resolved to become his student. The biography says his heart was stirred up by devotion just like the leaves of a tree fluttering in the wind. He was twenty-five when he traveled to U. Upon his arrival at Densatil (gdan sa thil), he was unable to meet Pakmodrupa for three days. Then he went into his presence bearing gifts of brocade and a horse. Pakmodrupa refused to accept the horse, saying that doing so would be an omen that he would soon leave for another place, perhaps even die. Tsunpa Kyab felt as if he were being scolded, and wept, begging to be accepted as a disciple. Pakmodrupa said, “I will take special care of you, and grant you all the teachings you desire, so why the unhappiness?” Over the course of just two days he received the entire span of Pakmodrupa's teachings, from generating bodhicitta up through Mahāmudrā. He concentrated so intently on the practices that he hardly had a chance to prepare food or even time to eat. Sometimes he just drank water with ashes mixed into it, or heated his gruel by burning tree leaves instead of wood.
Although Tsunpa Kyab experienced the highest realizations of Mahāmudrā, all this time he was a layperson, and Pakmodrupa often urged him to become a monk. He did take the Bodhisattva vows along with the name Rinchen Pel, but he remained a layperson for the two and a half years (some say thirty-two months) he stayed with Pakmodrupa.
When Pakmodrupa died, Rinchen Pel went on to study with a master of Lamdre (lam 'bras) teachings named Tsilungpa (tsi lung pa), and a number of other teachers of various schools. Then he went into a five-year retreat at Yechung (dbye chung) where he concentrated on generation and completion process meditations. Later, during another two-year retreat at Yechung he unfortunately contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy in his foot. At first he felt that he was the lowest of the low, but then it occurred to him how fortunate he was to have the highest teachings from Pakmodrupa including those on the post-mortem state and transference so that he had no need to fear death. Finally, he felt sorrow at the thought that there were so few people who have these teachings. Then while meditating he felt the disease going out of his foot like dust swept away in the wind, or like a field being plowed. Eventually he had a vision of a giant snake-spirit going to another valley and at last he fully recovered. Based on his own experience he devised a practice that other victims of the disease could use to cure themselves.
At the age of thirty-five Rinchen Pel finally fulfilled his teacher's wishes by taking monastic vows. It was the year 1177. For a while he served as abbot of Densatil, where he required the monks' strictest adherence to the Vinaya rules of discipline. Then he went to meditate at a place that was then occupied by the teacher called Lama Menyag (bla ma me nyag). About a hundred students gathered around him there, and in 1179 he established Drigung Jangchub Ling ('bri gung byang chub gling). After some years of traveling at the invitation of various patrons who wished to receive his teachings he once more settled down at Drigung. By the early 1190's there were as many as four thousand monks attending his teachings, as many as thirteen thousand by the year 1200. During this time he often recommended that his serious students do retreats at the holy places of Tsari (tsa ri) in the east, Mount Tise (ti se) in the west, and Lachi (la phyi) in the south.
As an elderly man his fame had reached as far as the kingdoms of the Tanguts, the Khitans and China. Since he had become a vegetarian at the time he became a monk — he was a lifelong teetotaler — he refused the medicine made of yak lungs prescribed by his doctor. As his health declined, he passed on the abbot's chair to Gurawa (gu ra ba), and while seated in meditation posture entered the Dharma Realm. When his body was cremated his skull did not burn in the fire, but was found to have a complete maṇḍala of Cakrasaṃvara inscribed inside it. His nephew and disciple Sherab Jungne (shes rab 'jung gnas) took responsibility for building the Ornament of the World ('dzam gling rgyan) as a reliquary for his remains to serve as a focus of devotion for future generations.
Jikten Gonpo and his Drigung lineage are best known for the set of teachings known as The Five Profound Paths of Mahāmudrā (phyag chen lnga ldan). Some of his sayings were collected by Sherab Jungne into what is known as the Single Intention (dgongs gcig), teachings of a profoundly philosophical character further developed in commentarial works written in the following generation. Some of Jikten Gonpo's teachings were collected by yet another disciple into what is known as the Heart of the Great Vehicle's Teachings (theg chen bstan pa'i snying po). In recent times, the Drigung lineage has continued to flourish both inside Tibet and among Tibetan exiles in Nepal and India. Today it may be found in practically every part of the world.
Dbon shes rab 'byung gnas. 1995. Skyob pa'i rnam thar phyogs bcu dus gsum ma. Dehra Dun: 'Bri gung bka' brgyud rdo rje dbyings gtsug lag slob gnyer khang.
Dkon mchog rgya mtsho. 2003. 'Bri gung skyob pa 'jig rten gsum mgon gyi rnam thar snying bsdus. Lhasa: Lha sa bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.
Khenpo Konchog Gyeltsen. 1984. Prayer Flags: The Life and Spiritual Teachings of Jigten Sumgon. Ithaca: Snow Lion.
Khenpo Konchog Gyeltsen. 1990. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Ithaca: Snow Lion (Ithaca 1990), pp. 220-69.
Liu Kuo-wei. 2001.'Jig rten mgon po and the Single Intention (dgongs gcig): His View on Bodhisattva Vow and Its Influence on Medieval Tibetan Buddhism. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 596-601.
Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2202. Three-Vow Theories in Tibetan Buddhism. Wiesbaden: Verlag, pp. 329-35.
Sperling, Elliot. 1987. "Some Notes on the Early 'Bri-gung-pa Sgom-pa." Journal of the Tibet Society, pp. 33-56.
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- Historical Period