The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje

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The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje b.1452 - d.1565

Name Variants: Dorje Drolo Tsel; Dudjom Dorje; Lekden Dudjom Dorje; Lekden Je; Nyida Drakzang; Nyida Ozer; Pema Nakpo

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The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 02 legs ldan rdo rje) was born at Lhundrub Choding (lhun grub chos sdings), in a town named Lowo (glo bo), or Lowo Matang (glo bo ma thang), in Ngari (mnga ris). His birth year was likely 1452, although some sources put it at sixty years later, in 1512.

Lekden Dorje's family was said to have descended from the early kings of Tibet. His father, Jamyang Rinchen Gyeltsen ('jam dbyangs rin chen rgyal mtshan, 1445-1558), was a well known tantric yogi, revered by some as an incarnation of Marpa Lotsāwa Chokyi Lodro (mar pa lo tsA ba chos kyi blo gros, 1012-1097). He had eight sons, five of whom -- Dondrub Dorje (don grub rdo rje), Wangyel Dorje (dbang rgyal rdo rje), Rinchen Dorje (rin chen rdo rje), Sanggye Dorje (sangs rgyas rdo rje), and Kunzang Dorje (kun bzang rdo rje), were considered to be emanations of the five Buddha families. Their sixth son, Gonpo Lekden Dorje (mgon po legs ldan rdo rje), was considered to be an emanation of the deity Gonpo Lekden (mgon po legs ldan). Of the eight sons, only Lekden Dorje and his younger brother, Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wanggyel (mnga' ris paN chen pad+ma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542), are known to history.

Lekden Dorje began studying reading and writing with his mother, at the age of seven. It is said she frequently advised the young boy to become a hermit, based on her belief that she had received Padmasambhava's blessings while carrying him in her womb. His father performed his tonsure ceremony and gave him the ordination name Nyida Drakzang (nyi lza grags bzang). It seems that the name Lekden Dorje was derived from a prophesy made by Kunkyong Lingpa (kun skyong gling pa, 1396-1477). Tradition relates that his father loved him so much that he spoiled him, and he became so mischievous that the local people gave him the nick name "Evil-spirit Lekden".

According to his hagiography, it was the death of a beloved aunt that first inspired Lekden Dorje to seriously engage with the Buddhist teachings. He began by receiving commentarial teachings, empowerments, and reading transmissions on the sixty-five maṇḍalas of Dowang (mdo dbang dkyil 'khor drug cu re lnga) from his father at Lowo Matang Lhundrub Choding Monastery (glo bo ma thang lhun grub chos sdings dgon pa), and continued to receive a great variety of tantric teachings from his father for the next three years, particularly related to the Guhyagarbha Tantra. After this cycle of teachings were complete, his father instructed Lekden Dorje to take care of his brother, Pema Wangyel.

Lekden Dorje soon adopted the lifestyle of an itinerant student, traveling extensively across U-Tsang in search of teachings. It is said that his teachers, numbering over one hundred, spanned every tradition. At one point he made a pilgrimage to Kyirong (skyid grong) where he visited the Kyirong Jowo (skyid grong jo bo), a famous statue of Buddha Śākyamuni, and then proceeded to other sites such as Jangchub Dzong (byang chub rdzong), Dorje Dzong (rdo rje rdzong), Dribma Dzong (grib ma rdzong), and Dzongkar (rdzong dkar), searching out teachers and receiving a great range of instructions.

He caught small pox while traveling in the Neshang (sne shang) region but it is said he was able to cure himself through powers gained by his tantric practice. He went on to receive teachings on the Khandro Nyingtik (mkha' 'gro snying thig) and Six Yogas of Niguma from Namkha Sherab (nam mkha' shes rab, d.u.), and then returned to his hometown of Lowo where he received many empowerments from his brother, including Four-Arm Avalokiteśvara, Heruka, and numerous treasure teachings. This was followed by a series of teachings, empowerments, and instructions from his father on many topics including the Scripture of the Great Assemblage ('dus pa’i mdo), a root tantra of the Anuyoga class. At this time he also received instructions on the Teaching Cycle of the Eight Great Vajrapāṇis (phyag rdor che ba brgyad bskor) from Sanggye Kyabpa (sangs rgyas skyabs pa, d.u.), and the oral lineage of Rechungpa Dorje Drakpa (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161) from Rabjampa Konchok Samdrub (rab 'byams pa dkon mchog bsam grub, d.u.).

Lekden Dorje then accompanied his brother on a pilgrimage to Samye (bsam yas) Monastery. They stayed for seven days in a nomadic tent performing rituals that included an extensive land blessing ceremony. During the course of their stay they established a small community of tantric practitioners named Evaṁ Chokgar (e waM lcog sgar).

After their stay at Samye Monastery, Lekden Dorje and his brother continued on to Nepal, where they received teachings from the yogis who were practicing at various sacred sites. At Yanglasho (yang la shod), a cave outside of Kathmandu he met Shakya Zangpo (shA kya bzang po, d.u.), posthumously known as the First Yolmo Tulku (yol mo sprul sku).

Shakya Zangpo had been a principal student of Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen (rig 'dzin rgod ldem chen dngos grub rgyal mtshan, 1337-1408/09), the founder of the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasures tradition. Shakya Zangpo recognized Lekden Dorje as the incarnation of Godemchen, and subsequently gave him Jangter empowerments and teachings. They then entered a year-long retreat at Riwo Pelbar (ri bo dpal 'bar) with Lekden Dorje acting as Shakya Zangpo's attendant, over the coarse of which he received the complete transmission of Rigdzin Godemchen's treasure cycle.

Upon returning to Lowo, Lekden Dorje and Pema Wanggyel learned that their mother had passed away. They performed funerary prayers and rituals that included making extensive offerings to local teachers and passing out alms to a large number of beggars. Lekden Dorje served his father as an attendant for a year, then again sat for a yearlong retreat in Tangkya cave (stang skya). Once his retreat was completed, he accompanied his brother to Dolpo, where he received teachings on the Vajramāla tantra, Lamdre (lam 'bras), and Nāro Khacho (nA ro mkha' spyod) from Tengchen Khenpo (steng chen mkhan po, d.u.).

During this period Lekden Dorje set about editing a one-volume collection of root, branch, and supplementary texts on the "graded path of tantra" (gsang sngags lam rim ma bu cha lag). He began teaching from his newly edited edition, during which he was known to supplement his commentary with lines from the teaching-songs of Milarepa.

During this time he maintained his relationship with Shakya Zangpo, serving his as attendant and ritual-leader (mchod dpon) whenever Shakya Zangpo was invited to perform rituals. While traveling at Ngamring Dedrol (ngam ring bde grol) he encountered Tukse Namkha Gyeltsen (thugs sras nam mkha' rgyal mtshan, d.u.), another of his predecessor's disciples who gave him transmissions and empowerments from the Riwo Trazang treasure cycle (ri bo bkra bzang pa'i lugs kyi gter chos), another of Rigdzin Godemchen's revelations.

After these teachings were complete, Lekden Dorje entered a retreat at Riwo Pelbar that lasted a total of ten years. When the retreat was completed, Lekden Dorje returned to Ngamring Dedrol where he met his brother. Pema Wanggyel asked him to once again accompany on his travels to U and Tsang. They spent a year in Tsang and then proceeded to U and Tsang where they visited Lhasa and Gungtang, receiving teachings at many places from various lamas.

It was while meditating in a cave at Samye during this trip that Lekden Dorje began his career as a treasure revealer. In one of the many visions he experienced then, various dharma protectors told him of the location of a treasure he was to reveal. According to tradition, he soon after uncovered two paper scrolls from a place called Drakmar Drinzang (bgrag dmar mgrin bzang).

At Wonpu Tashi Chobuk Hermitage ('on phu bkra shis chos sbug ri khrod), Rechungpa Kunga Ozer (ras chung pa kun dga' 'od zer, d.u.) organized a teaching session in which Lekden Dorje gave practical commentary on the Dzokpa Chenpo Kunzang Gongpa Zangtel (rdzogs pa chen po kun bzang dgongs pa bzang thal), a collection of Dzogchen teachings revealed by Rigdzin Godemchen, known as Zangtel for short. He is also said to have performed rituals for making rainfall.

At Taktsang (stag tshang), he is said to have discovered an ancient cave that contained what was said to be Padmasambhava's throne and numerous other sacred objects. He revealed many treasure texts from this location, including tantric teachings on Guru Drakpo Ugu (gu ru drag po dbu dgu) and a wrathful text on Hayagrīva called the Tamdrin Soktrok Drekpa Zilngon (rta mgrin srog 'phrog dregs pa zil ngon). Tradition relates that 10,500 footprints in the rock, one hundred naturally emerged statues and seed syllables in the rock were found, which could still be seen at this location until recent times. Lekden Dorje then entered another strict retreat at Jato Monastery at Samye (bsam yas phu 'ja' stod dgon pa), during which he subsided solely on a soup made of stinging nettles. After he completed his retreat, his brother instructed him to give teachings at Won Monden ('on sman ldan).

Lekden Dorje traveled to Drigung Monastery ('bri gung) at the invitation of the seventeenth abbot, Rinchen Puntsok (rin chen phun tshogs, 1509-1557) to give teachings on the Nyingma tantras. Afterwards, he visited Tsurpu ('tshur phu) Monastery in Tolung (stod lung). He revealed two treasures entitled the Compendium of Essential Teachings of Dzogchen (rdzogs chen snying po bsdus pa) and Mahāmudrā: the Mirror of Mind (phyag chen sems kyi me long) at Partsang Drak ('phar tshang brag) in Tolung and gave many teachings on the Zangtel at Taklung Drak (stag lung brag). These lectures  were later edited at Chuwori Chakzam Tse Monastery (chu bo ri lcags zam rtse'i dgon pa) and formed the core commentarial teaching on the Zangtel. He also revealed treasure texts on Lama Kusumma (bla ma sku gsum ma) and Rituals for Accomplishing Nedak Kyin Tingma  (gnas bdag skyin mthing ma'i sgrub skor) from Tsogyel Puk ('tsho rgyal phug).

He then set out once again to Nepal, intending to practice in the country's holy places for at least another year. En route, he visited the Namjom Temple in Trazang (bkra bzang rnam 'joms lha khang) where he received teachings and is said to have had a vision of Rigdzin Godemchen. According to tradition, he subsequently revealed items relating to the Kagye Rangshar, or Self-Appearing Eight Sadhanas (bka' brgyad rang shar gi cha lag), and restored some of Rigdzin Godemchen's treasures that had been neglected, and relocated treasures that had been lost. Among these was a treasure text for accomplishing the Six-Arm Mahākāla (mgon po phyag drug pa'i sgrub skor).

During his time at Trazang he built a temple and continued to give teachings, instructions, and empowerments, but his trip to Nepal was cut short when he received the news that his brother Pema Wanggyel had passed away. He quickly returned to Lhasa where he performed funerary prayers and rituals. He eventually returned to Drigung, where he offered some of his newly discovered treasures.

He again set off, this time towards Sikkim. Along the way, he revealed a treasure relating to long-life practice entitled Accumulation of Nectar for Eternal Life at Lhari Rinchen Nyingpo (lha ri rin chen snying po). In Sikkim, known in Tibetan as Dremojong ('bras mo ljong) or Dremoshong ('bras mo gshong) -- Valley of Rice -- he participated in  "opening" the region for Buddhist (and Tibetan) activity, a process which had begun with Godemchen and the famous treasure revealer, Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450-1521). Among the sacred sites he is credited with opening are Orgyen Jawo Puk (o rgyan 'ja' 'od phug) and Drakkar Tashi Ding (brag dkar bkra shis sdings).

After returning to U, Lekden Dorje spent most of his time in the Chuwori and Won areas, where he partnered with a woman named Nyemo Cham Khyentsema (snye mo lcam mkhyen brtse ma, d.u.). She later gave birth to their son, Jangpa Gyelse Pema Chogyel (byang pa rgyal sras pad+ma chos rgyal, d.u.), who was recognized as an emanation of Tangtong Gyelpo (thang stong rgyal po, 1361-1485). He then again went into retreat (it is not known whether his consort accompanied him).

His practices were not restricted to Nyingma traditions. In his later life he also practiced new-translation tantras such as Cakrasaṃvara, Guhyasamāja, and Yamāntaka. According to his hagiography, he became such a powerful master that the commitment-bound spirits (dam can) were under his direct command. His accomplishments in this area were such that the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), praised him with the comment, "It seems in the later periods no one has been born superior to this Great Rigdzin in terms of their overall power and accomplishment in tantra and miracles."

Lekden Dorje left Chuwori for the northern region of Tibet in order to teach Jangdak Tashi Tobgyel (byang bdag bkra shis stobs rgyal, 1550-1603), the young man who he recognized as the reincarnation of his late brother, Pema Wanggyel. They met in Ngamring (ngam ring), where Lekden Dorje gave him essential instructions on the oral transmission and revealed treasure lineages of the old translation school (snga 'gyur bka' gter).  Lekden Dorje gave him the title Chogyel (chos rgyal), meaning "dharma king", and predictions regarding his future. Tashi Tobgyel went on to establish a large community where Lekden Dorje served as abbot until his death. This is most likely Sangngak Tekchokling Dratsang (gsang sngags theg mchog gling drwa tshang).

Lekden Dorje's principal disciple was Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug, 1524-1568), who served as the fourteenth abbot of Zhalu Monastery (zhwa lu). Lekden Dorje gave him empowerments on the Scripture of the Great Assemblage, and made him the transmission-holder of his teachings. His other main disciples included his son, Pema Chogyel; Drigung Rinchen Puntsok; Chogyel Tashi Tobgyel; the Fourth Drukchen, Pema Karpo ('brug chen 04 pad+ma dkar po, 1527-1592); Japa Tripon Tsokye Dorje (bya pa khri dpon mtsho skyes rdo rje, d.u.); Wangchuk Rabten (dbang phyug rab brtan,1558-1638), who served as the eighteenth abbot of Zhalu; and the Second Yolmo Tulku, Namkha Gyajin (yol mo sprul sku 02 nam mkha' brgya sbyin, d.u.).

Lekden Dorje passed away in 1565, according to some sources, at the age of one hundred and thirteen. (The alternate date of 1625, also a wood-ox year, is unlikely given that his reincarnation was born in 1580.) Some of his disciples suspected his death was due to murder by black-magic. His body was brought to Chuwori for cremation and a reliquary was built in his memory. Legend has it that before his death Tashi Tobgyel wept and begged him to lengthen his life. Lekden Dorje replied that as Tashi Tobgyel loved him so much, he would take rebirth as his son.

Evaṁ Chokgar was later enlarged by Tashi Tobgyel, and subsequently moved and reestablished as a monastery on the north bank of the Tsangpo River by Lekden Dorje's reincarnation, Rigdzin Ngakgi Wangpo (ngag gi dbang po, 1580-1639), who was Chogyel Tashi Tobgyel's son (in apparent conformity to Lekden Dorje's prediction). The monastery eventually became Tubten Dorje Drak Evaṁ Chokgar Monastery (thub bstan rdo rje brag e wam chog sgar dgon pa) or simply Dorje Drak, rising to prominence as one of the six "mother monasteries" of the Nyingma tradition in Tibet. It lent its name to the incarnation line: Godemchen and Lekden Dorje were posthumously given the incarnation title of the First and Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, respectively. (Some enumerations, however, begin with Ngakgi Wangpo, who is thus alternately known as the First or the Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin.)




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Samten Chhosphel
May 2013