Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje

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Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje 8th cent.

Name Variants: Pelgyi Dorje

Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje (lha lung dpal gyi rdo rje) was born in Dromto Gungmoche ('brom stod gung mo che), east of Lhasa on north bank of Kyichu (skyid chu). Lhalung, his clan name, derives from the name of the place with which the clan was associated. He is also reported to have been born in Lhodrak, at a place called Lhalung. Some sources have it that his family name was Taknya Zang (stag nya bzang), but this is likely a mistake. He fought on the eastern front against China, where he grew disillusioned by the carnage and sought out the religious life. According to some sources, while in battle a dharani fell from his helmet which foretold that when he died he would be reborn in a hell realm.

To avoid this fate, Pelgyi Dorje went to Samye (bsam yas) and was ordained by Vimalamitra. He was accompanied by his brother Rabjor Wangpo (rab l'byor dbang po), also known as Tsunpa Pelyang (btsun pa dpal dbyangs). At Samye Pelgyi Dorje also received bodhisattva vows and Vajrayāna empowerments from Padmasambhava. One Dunhuang document records that he was ninth in a succession that had jurisdiction over an area that included Samye (not, as stated by Samten Karmay, that Pelgyi Dorje was the ninth abbot of Samye).

Pelgyi Dorje also received Abhidharma teachings from Jinamitra and Kawa Peltsek (ska ba dpal brtsegs, d.u.), which he is credited with disseminating in Kham. From Vairocana he received the semde (sems sde) and longde (klong sde) Dzogchen teachings, a transmission he passed on to Nyak Jñyānakumara (d.u.).

Pelgyi Dorje practiced in Dribki Karmo (grib kyi dkar mo) valley, where is his said to have attained the ability to pass freely through rocks, and fly from mountain to mountain.

Pelgyi Dorje is famous for assassinating King Tri Udumtsen (khri u dum brtsan), better known as Langdarma (glang dar ma, r. 841‑842). Langdarma was the brother of Tritsuk Deutsen (khri gtsug lde brtsan), also known as Relpachen (ral pa can). Relpachen expanded the size of Tibetan Empire to its greatest extent and is remembered in Tibetan religious history as a great patron of Buddhism. Tibetan histories, which generally disparage Langdarma and blame him for the collapse of the Tibetan empire, claim that he lacked Relpachen's skill at warfare, and lost much of the territory Relpachen and earlier rulers had won. Forced to scale back the government's lavish support of religious institutions, Langdarma is depicted in Buddhist histories as a viciously anti-Buddhist ruler who executed and banished monks and closed monasteries.

The story that is most commonly told about the assassination is that Pelgyi Dorje was meditating in a cave in Yerpa (g.yer pa) when he heard of Langdarma's persecution of Buddhism. He resolved to save both the religion and the King through murder – the rational being that dead the King would be prevented from accumulating the terrible karma of harming Buddhism. Although later histories attempt this justification by claiming Pelgyi Dorje was a tantrika skilled in the art of “liberation” of enemies, it is evident from an early inscription in Yerpa that he was in fact a monk. This is also attested by an anecdote told that when Pelgyi Dorje fled to Amdo he was asked to serve in a quorum to ordain a new monk; he refused on the grounds that he had committed murder and was no longer qualified to ordain others. Further, if Samten Karmay is correct and Pelgyi Dorje was the ninth abbot of Samye, he was most certainly a monk.

Pelgyi Dorje is said to have murdered the king while performing a ritual dance, a bow and arrow concealed in the long robe of his costume. He then fled on a white horse that had been colored black with charcoal, and wearing the black side of a reversible two-toned robe. Crossing a river, the horse was washed white, and Pelgyi Dorje reversed the robe to show the white side, thereby evading soldiers in pursuit.

This entire episode has been called into question, however, as it now appears that the earliest biographical descriptions of Pelgyi Dorje make no reference to it at all.

Retiring either to Yerpa or to Amdo, after a long life spent in solitude, Pelgyi Dorje passed away, displaying the rainbow body. His reincarnations include the First Pelyul Pema Norbu (pad nor 01 pad+ma nor bu, 1679-1757), Chakri Rigdzin Nyima Drakpa (chags ri 01 rig 'dzin nyi ma grags pa, 1647-1710), and the Zurmang Trungpa Tulkus (zur mang drung pa sprul sku), starting with Kunga Gyeltsen (zur mang drung pa 01 kun dga' rgyal mtshan).




Dalton, Jacob. 2011. The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 78.

Gtsug lag 'phreng ba. 1986. Chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dga' ston. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, p. 365

Gu ru bkra shis. 1990. Gu bkra'i chos 'byung. Beijing: Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, p. 175.

Samten Karmay, 2003.”King Langdarma and his Rule.” In Alex McKay, ed., Tibet and Her Neighbors, pp. 57-68.  London: Edition Hansjörg.

Smith, Gene. 2006. “Siddha Groups and the Mahasiddhas in the Art and Literature of Tibet.” In Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, p. 72.

Tarthang Tulku. 1975. Bringing the Teachings Alive. Cazadero, CA: Dharma Publishing, pp. 80-82; 117-118.

Yamaguchi, Zuihō. 1996. “The Fiction of King Dar-ma’s Persecution of Buddhism”. In Du Dunhuang au Japon: Études chinoises et bouddhiques offertes à Michel Soymié, ed. by Jean-Pierre Drège, pp. 231–258. Geneva: Droz.


Arthur Mandelbaum
August 2007