Nubchen Sanggye Yeshe

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Nubchen Sanggye Yeshe b.832? - d.962?

Name Variants: Nub Sanggye Yeshe; Sanggye Yeshe

Sanggye Yeshe (sangs rgyas ye shes) was born into the Nub (gnubs) clan in the Dra (sgrags) region of U (dbus) in 832. His father was Selwa Wangchuk (gsal ba dbang phyug) and his mother was Chimo Tashi Tso (mchims mo bkra shis 'tsho). His birth name was Dorje Tritsug (rdo rje khri gtsug). Sanggye Yeshe was his ordination name; his tantric initiation name was Dorje Yangwang Ter (rod rje yang dbang gter).

At the age of seven he began studying with Odren Pelgi Zhonnu ('o bran dpal gyi gzhon nu), who heads a long list of luminaries with whom he studied. He received tantric initiation from Padmasambhava, his flower landing on the maṇḍala of Yangdak Heruka, the wrathful form of Mañjuśrī. Nubchen practiced Yangdak in Padmasambhava's meditation cave of Drak Yangdzong (sgrags yang dzong), in his home valley, where is is said to have inserted a kila dagger in the rock wall. The list given of the Indian masters who he met in Tibet includes Śrī Siṃha, Vimalamitra, and Kamalashila, who ordained him. He also trained with Nyak Jnyanakumara (gnyags dznya na ku ma ra) and his disciples Sokpo Pelgyi Yeshe (sog po dpal gyi ye shes) and Zhang Gyelwai Yonten (zhang rgyal ba'i yon tan), both of whom had also been disciples of Ma Rinchen Chok (rma rin chen mchog).

Nubchen is said to have traveled to India and Nepal seven times, where he studied with numerous tantric preceptors, including Prakashalamkara (possibly the same person as Sukhodyotaka), from whom he received the root Mahāyāna tantra, the Gonpa Dupai Do (dgongs pa 'dus pa'i mdo). The master sent Nubchen to Gilgit for additional training in the tantra.

Sanggye Yeshe had numerous visions of deities, both enlightened buddhas and worldly protectors, while practicing in caves and hermitages in Tibet, India, and Nepal, and he is said to have gained considerable magical abilities.

In his birth valley, below Drak Yangdzong, Nubchen established a hermitage for himself and his followers, but his practice was interrupted by the end of Imperial support for Buddhism during the reign of Langdarma (glang dar ma) in the mid-9th century. Dudjom Rinpoche's History contains many stories of Nub's activities during the disorder that resulted from the withdrawal of support, including an episode in which he frightened Langdarma with a display of magic.

Despite the alleged demise of Buddhism in Tibet following Langdarma's reign and assassination, Nubchen continued his work, composing several treatises, including the Munpai Gocha (mun pa'i go cha), an important early commentary on the Gonpa Dupai Do that had a significant impact on the formation of the Nyingma school.

Among Nuchen's principle disciples were Pagor Lonchen Pakpa (spa gor blon chen 'phags pa), Dru Legpai Dronma (bru legs pa'i sgron ma), Ngen Yonten Chok (ngan yon tan mchog), and So Yeshe Wangchuk (so ye shes dbang phyug).

Nubchen is reported to have lived for more than one hundred years. Some sources say one hundred eleven (Dudjom), some say one hundred and thirty years (ming mdzod), remaining alive until the reign of Pelkhortsan (dpal 'khor btsan, r. 906-924).

His incarnations include Tsasum Terdak Lingpa (rtsa gsum gter bdag gling pa), Gya Zhangtrom Dorje Obar (rgya zhang khrom rdo rje 'od 'bar), Orgyen Drime Kunga (o rgyan dri med kun dga'), Terton Barwai Dorje (gter ston 'bar ba'i rdo rje) and the twentieth century lama Trulzhig Adeu Drubrik Kyuchog ('khrul zhig a lde'u 08 grub rigs khyu mchog).




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Dudjom Rinpoche. 2002. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, trans. Boston: Wisdom, 607-614.

Grags pa 'byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 937-938.

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Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, p. 104-105.

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. 71.

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Alexander Gardner
December 2009