The First Pakpa Lha, Pakpa Dechen Dorje

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The First Pakpa Lha, Pakpa Dechen Dorje b.1439 - d.1487

Name Variants: Gyelwa Pakpa Lha; Pakpa Dechen Dorje; Pakpa Lha 01

Pakpa Dechen Dorje ('phags pa bde chen rdo rje) was born in Nopa (rno pa), at the foot of the Nyenchen Tanglha (gnyen chen thang lha) mountain range, in 1439, the earth-sheep year of the seventh sexagenary cycle. His father was Kuchor Tokden Sanggye Pel (ku chor rtogs ldan sangs rgyas dpal), a highly realized yogi who had studied under nearly sixty great masters including Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419). His grandfather, Tashi Gyeltsen (bkra shis rgyal mtshan) was a master of the Bon religion. He had at least one brother, named Drungpa Jamyang Zhonnu (drung pa 'jam dbyangs gzhon nu, d.u.).

It is said that Dechen Dorje's mother, Sanggye Tsomo (sangs rgyas mtsho mo) had a dream at the time of conception of the child in which an Indian yogi came to her and, claiming to be the mahāsiddha Mitra Yogi (1198-1199), asked her for a lodging. In the same dream a man in white robes arrived and told her to give him accommodation, after which he dissolved in her body, stimulating in her the sensation of great bliss. Sanggye Tsomo died when Dechen Dorje was fifteen years old.

Sanggye Pel was later identified as an incarnation of Kawa Peltsek (ska ba dpal brtsegs), an important eighth-century translator who was direct disciple of both Padmasambhava and Śāntarakṣita, and he was said to have supernatural powers such the ability to walk on water and to fly from one peak to another and so forth.

Dechen Dorje was given lay vows and the name Jampel ('jam dpal) at the age of three, and he received teachings, initiations and empowerments from his father. When he was six, his father died and he was taught reading and writing by masters Jampel Shenyin ('jam dpal bshes gnyen) and Drakpa Shenyin (grags pa bshes gnyen). According to legend, the orgin of his title came when the boy was eight. A lama named Sempa Chenpo Chopak (sems pa chen po chos 'phags, d.u.) gave him novice monk vows and said, “Because you have miracle powers, your name will be Mongal Bu.” “No! I am called Āryadeva!” the child replied, and the lama agreed him with the Tibetan version of the name, Pakpa Lha ('phags pa lha) and it continued as the title of the lineage since then to the present.

Pakpa Lha is said to have had tremendous mental faculties, able to quickly memorize large texts and understand their meaning, and an innate knowledge of Sanskrit mantras. He studied texts of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions under about forty-four masters. Among his teachers were Tsondu Bum (brtson 'grus 'bum, d.u.), who was a direct disciple of Drubchen Namkha Gyeltsen (lho brag grub chen nam mkha' rgyal mtsan, 1326-1401, one of the tantric masters of Tsongkhapa; Jangsem  Shakya Rinchen Pel (byang sems shA kya rin chen dpal, d.u.), Gyelse Sharlungpa (rgyal sras shar lung pa, d.u.), Trukhang Lotsāwa Sonam Gyatso (khrus khang lo rtsA ba bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1424-1482), and his elder brother, Drungpa Jamyang Zhonnu.

Pakpa Lha studied under a number of masters at the Geluk monastery of Ganden (dga' ldan), among whom Choje Rongton Lobzang Drakpa (chos rje rong ston blo bzang grags pa) was his main tutor. Lobzang Drakpa was not only a master of the Geluk curricula but also of the Kagyu and Sakya traditions as well. Pakpa Lha accordingly received vast and detailed teachings, transmission, initiation, empowerment, and general and esoteric instructions on major topics of sutra and tantra from this master. He also received instructions on practice of Guhyasamāja from Trichen Lodro Chokyong (khri chen blo gros chos skyong, 1389-1463), the Fifth Gaden Tripa. Lobpon Jinpa Pel (slob dpon sbyin pa dpal), Drakpa Zangpo (grags pa bzang po), and Lama Pelden (bla ma dpal ldan) were among the other teachers from whom he received some important teachings and instructions.

In 1466, the fire-dog year of the eighth sexagenary cycle, at the age of twenty-eight, Pakpa Lha was fully ordained by Baso Chokyi Gyeltsen (ba so chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1402-1473) at Ganden. Some sources have it that he was ordained only at the age of forty, in 1478, the earth-dog year by Baso Chokyi Gyeltsen and Jamyang Choje ('jam dbyangs chos rje). Because Baso died in 1473, this is clearly not the case.

Pakpa Lha regularly participated in traditional monastic practices such as the "three basics" (bi-monthly confession, summer retreat, and the retreat closing ceremony), the six-session guru yoga, and immediate confession upon noticing any violation of vows. He also commonly donated whatever her received to his lamas and fellow monks, and regularly gave to beggars.

Later in life Pakpa Lha lived as an itinerant monk, wandering from place to place and always making prayers and giving teachings to general public on karma, the law of cause and effects. He is said to have maintained an impartial position regarding the various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, and he strongly emphasized impartiality when studying the sutra, tantra and treatises of any sect such as Mahāmudrā, Lamdre, Lamrim, and so forth.

Pakpa Lha established a number of hermitages such as Yerpa Lhari Nyingpo (yer pa lha ri snying po), Longpo Riwo Chopel (long po ri bo chos 'phel), Tashi Drakra (bkra shis brag ra), Khachod Ritro (mkha' spyod ri khrod), To Menteng Ritro (stod sman steng ri khrod), Len Ritro (len ri khrod), Shagte Puk  (shag te phug), and so forth. Pakpa Lha also founded numerous monasteries, including Tashi Cholung (bkra shis chos lung) and Pende (phan bde) in Nyangpo (nyang po); Nyi-da Tang (nyi zla thang) in Longme (long smad); Nyimaling (nyi ma gling), Pakdha Samdup Ling (dpag mda' bsam grub gling), Trang-ne Gor (krang gnas sgor), Trang-ka Dong ('phrang kha gdong), Tangda Jangchub Ling (thang grwa byang chub gling), Ganden (dga' ldan), Dawa Tang (zla ba thang), Demo Loseling (de mo blo gsal gling), Gu Tashi Gang (rgu bkra shis sgang), Tekchen Jampa Ling at Yegang (ye gang du theg chen byams pa gling), Potod Gangnag Gang (spo stod sgang nag sgang), Powo Chudho Gon (spo bo chu mdo dgon), Kanam Gon-nying (kA nam dgon rnying), Lho Chotritang (lho chos khri thang), Drukha Gon (gru kha dgon), Gyu Riwoche (rgyu ri bo che), Deki Nyima Ling (bde skyid nyima gling), and so forth.

In the temples of these hermitages and monasteries Pakpa Lha installed a great many of statues and other objects of faith and introduced learning and practices of sutra and tantra traditions, some of which became the particular specialty of the monastery, such as the Guhyasamāja tantra at Tashi Cholung.

Pakpa Lha's compositions include Brief and Detailed Notes on the Maṇḍala of the Verbal Transmission of Cakrasaṃvara (bde mchog snyan brgyud kyi dkyil 'khor zin bris che chung), and also The Necklace of Sharp Minded People: the General Meaning [of the Cakrasaṃvara tantra] (spyi don blo gsal mgul rgyan), and so forth.

The list of disciples of Pakpa Lha is extensive. Among them were his elder brother Drungpa Jamyang Zhonnu and Drungpa Sanggye Pel (drung pa sangs rgyas dpal), from whom he also received teachings. Others included Geshe Drachung Yongten Gyatso (dge bshes grwa chung yon tan rgya mtsho), Drungdrub Chenpa (drung grub chen pa), Drung Tsangpa (drung gtsang pa), Lama Nyima Gyeltsen (bla ma nyi ma rgyal mtshan), Lobpon Gedun Pel (slob dpon dge 'dun 'phel), Khenchen Dawa Zangpo (mkhan chen zla ba bzang po), Lama Pakchok Shenyin (bla ma 'phags mchog bshes gnyen), Neten Nyima Ozer (gnas brtan nyi ma 'od zer), Neten Kunga Gyeltsen (gnas brtan kun dga' rgyal mtshan), Choje Sanggye Peljor (chos rje sangs rgyas dpal 'byor), Zhiwa Lha 01 Pelden Chokdrub (zhi ba lha 01 dpal ldan mchog grub, 1454-1523), Drubtok Ngawang Pelchok (grub thob ngag dbang dpal mchog), who was originally his herdsman, and Konchok Jungne (dkon mchog 'byung gnas). His disciples also included prominent lamas from Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma monasteries as well as Geluk.

After leading and giving teachings to a great number of disciples and followers, in 1487, at the age of forty-nine, on the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the fire-sheep year of the eighth sexagenary cycle, Pakpa Lha passed away at Draksum Tsochupu in Gamnang (sgam nang brag gsum mtsho chu'i phu). His remains were initially taken to the Dapu Dochen Monastery (mda' phu mdo chen dgon) but were later transferred by Lama Jangchup Nyingpo (bla ma byang chub snying po) to Tashi Cholung (bkra shis chos lung) and put in a large golden reliquary called “Serdong Tashi Wober” (gser gdong bkra shis 'od 'bar) meaning the Auspiciously Glittering Golden Reliquary”.




Anonymous. 1986. Bod kyi lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad gzhi'i rgyu cha gdams bsgrigs. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. Vol. 9, pp. 1-7.

Anonymous. 2001. Rgyal ba 'phags pa lha'i skyes rabs dang po bde chen rdo rje zhing. In Zhal snga bka' brgyud kyi thun mong ma yin pa'i chos 'byung, vol. 1, pp. 16-97. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang.

Byams pa chos grags. N.d. Chab mdo byams pa gling gi gdan rabs. Chamdo: Chab mdo par 'debs bzo grwa par btab, pp. 123-205.

Mkhas grub shAkya lha dbang. 2001 (1640). Zhal snga bka' brgyud kyi thun mong ma yin pa'i chos 'byung. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, p. 16-97.

Rab byams pa blo bzang dbang phyug. N.d. 'Phags pa lha sku phreng dang po nas drug pa 'tsho gzhes bar gyi mdzad pa rag rim.


Samten Chhosphel
June 2010