Lerab Lingpa

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Lerab Lingpa b.1856 - d.1926

Name Variants: Nyala Sogyel; Terchen Pema Dechen Rangdrol Tsel ; Terton Sogyel ; Trinle Taye Tsel ; Tsashul Tulku Sogyel

Lerab Lingpa (gter chen las rab gling pa) was born in the Nyarong Valley (nyag rong) in Kham near Treshong Khawa Lungri (tre shong kha ba lung ri), a sacred place relating to Padmasambhava, in 1856, the fire-dragon year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle. His family, named Zhiwatsang (zhi ba tshang), were wealthy descendants of a royal lineage in Nyarong. His father was called Zhiwa Dargye (zhi ba dar rgyas) and his mother was named Orgyen Dolma (o rgyan sgrol ma).

According to sources he was identified as the incarnation of Zhangben Nanam Dorje Dudjom (zhang ban sna nam rdo rje bdud 'joms, d.u.), but as the only son of his father he did not receive consent to enter the religious life. Instead, raised as a householder, he learned to hunt and fight enemies, which he did with skill. He easily learned reading and writing.

At the age of fourteen he fell ill and was advised by a lama that he should go on pilgrimage, which he did, returning with a determination to become a religious practitioner. Due to his illness he received his father's permission to join the community at Chopu hermitage (phyo phu ri khrod), where he soon regained his health. Thereafter he joined to Gar Hermitage (ri khrod sgar) where he received the treasure teachings of Longsel Nyingpo (klong gsal snying po, 1625-1692) from Lama Sonam Taye, also known as Trulzhik Chomden Dorje (bla ma bsod nams mtha' yas /  'khrul zhig bcom ldan rdo rje, d.u.). He spent roughly five years in retreat.

When he was about twenty, Lerab Lingpa travelled with Sonam Taye and some companions from the Gar Hermitage to Katok. There he studied under Pema Tsangpai Drawa (pad+ma tshangs pa'i drab ba, d.u.) who conferred on him the complete empowerment for the treasure teachings of Longsel Nyingpo and Dudul Dorje (bdud 'dul rdo rje, 1615-1672). He received related transmissions from the Second Getse, Tsewang Rigdzin Gyatso (dge rtse 02 tshe dbang rig 'dzin rgya mtsho, 1830-c.1885) who also gave teachings on Vajrakīlaya.

He visited Dzaka Sang-ngak Rabten Ling (rdza ka gsang sngags rab brtan gling) and received commentarial teachings on the esoteric instructions on Longsel Nyingpo on both its preliminary and main text. He then proceeded to Tromkok (khrom khog) and received complete teachings on Longsel Nyingtik (klong gsal snying thig) from Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (smyo shul lung rtogs bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1829-1901/02), after which he replaced his main practice with Dzogchen Nyingtik. He also studied under Nyakla Pema Dudul (nyag bla pad+ma bdud 'dul, 1816-1872), Patrul Rinpoche Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (rdza dpal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892), Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kong sprul, 1813-1899), Ju Mipam Namgyel Gyatso ('ju mi pham rnam rgyal rgya mtsho, 1842-1912), and the Third Drime Zhingkyong Jigme Yonten Gonpo (dri med zhing skyong 03 'jigs med yon tan mgon po, 1837-1898).

According to the sources, Lerab Lingpa came into possession of treasure inventories at a young age, and as a young man he engaged in the preparatory rituals for revealing treasures (gter sgrub). As with those of most prolific treasure revealers, his biography is largely a collection of treasure narratives, listing the time, place, and content of his revelations.

The first revelation of an earth treasure (sa gter), meaning the extraction of an actual physical object from a cave or rock face, occurred around 1880 at White Rock Mountain (brak dkar ri). Having received a prophesy that there was treasure to be revealed there, he undertook an arduous search, eventually falling asleep there. He woke to the sound of a rock face breaking open, exposing a small hole. This he expanded, excavating a door to a large cave in which he found a square iron trunk inside of which was a hat; a black gown (sku ber); the vajra and bell of his previous incarnation, Dorje Dujom (rdo rje bdud 'joms); a purba with a silk banner on which letters were written in gold; and drawings of a cakra and two lingas for performing rituals. According to the treasure narrative he took the objects and re-concealed the trunk. In the summer of the same year he unearthed some substances for making sacred pills and some ritual texts. He also revealed scriptural treasures from the adjoining of Pangdrak (spang brag) Mountain, but the titles of these are not known.

In 1880 He went to Dzogchen Monastery and told Khenpo Pema Vajra, (mkhan po pad+ma ba+dz+ra, 1807-1884) that he had treasure to reveal at Rudam Gangri (ru dam gangs ri), a mountain above the monastery. Pema Vajra requested to be brought along, and the two went together to a cave in front of a cave where Lerab Lingpa discovered three treasure caskets, from one of which he revealed the  Tsa Sum Pema Nyingtik (rtsa gsum pad+ma snying thig). Still at Dzogchen, Lerab Lingpa received teachings on the ninth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra from Rangshar Khenpo Kunzang Sonam (rang shar mkhan po kun bzang bsod nams, d.u.), who praised him for his understanding of Madhyamaka; he had previously received Madhyamaka teachings from Ju Mipam.

In 1886, the fire-dog year of the fifteenth century, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo gave him the address of a treasure at Khyentse's own sacred site above Dzongsar Monastery (rdzong sar dgon), Pema Shelpuk (pad+ma shel phug). On the eighth day of the eighth month of the following year he successfully revealed from there scriptural treasures relating to Dzogchen that were packed inside a square trunk made of copper. Subsequently he revealed treasure of some sacred-substances necessary for certain tantric rituals from Akarpuk (a dkar phug).

At the age of thirty-three, in 1888, on the twenty-fifth day of the second month of earth-mouse year, he revealed a treasure relating to Avalokiteśvara, including teachings and practices, a statue, and a five-pronged vajra.

That same year he visited Lhasa at the invitation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Tubten Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 13 thub bstan rgya mtsho, 1876-1933), to whom he gave many teachings, and who became and important patron and collaborator, reportedly even participating in the deciphering of some of Lerab Lingpa's treasures. During this visit he exhibited his treasure objects at the Jokhang.

In 1890, back in Kham, he revealed treasures relating to Padmasambhava and the ḍākinī from Gangkar Drakzong (gangs dkar brag rdzong) at Rudam Gangri. He then entered into retreat for the following three years. Around this time he assisted Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul in performing certain rituals and revealed treasures from Dechen Sangdrak (bde chen gsang brag) that included a statue and some prophesies of Padmasambhava. Soon he revealed some treasures from Drakmar Sangpuk (brag dmar gsang phug) that included three paper rolls containing various sādhāna, including that of Kīla, and some sacred pills.

Back in Kham, in 1895 he revealed a major Kīla treasure, the Yang Nying Pudri (yang snying spu gri) from a cave above Jamgon Kongtrul's hermitage, Tsadra Rinchen Drak (tsA 'dra rin chen brag), with Kongtrul himself in attendance.

Receiving another invitation from the Dalai Lama, who requested a statue of Padmasambhava that he had discovered, he returned to Lhasa, visiting as well several places around the city and revealing treasure, including two Tārā practices, one at Yarlung Sheldrak (yar lung shel brag) and one at Chakpori (lcags po ri).

He briefly returned to Kham and then quickly went back to Lhasa to give further teachings and transmissions to the Dalai Lama and continuing to reveal treasures across the area to much public attention. He sat a Vajrakīlaya retreat at the Potala Palace in 1899, and other retreats in Yerpa and Samye. Later he also did retreat for prayer for the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the crisis of Tengyeling Monastery (bstan rgyas gling) after its failed assassination plot against him, in which he himself had been implicated. In 1900 the Thirteenth Dalai Lama fell ill frequently, had a low appetite, and grew physically weak. He noticed that his health deteriorated whenever he wore boots presented to him by Terton Sogyel. When the boots were examined a mantra hidden in the sole of the boot was discovered, which was meant to cause harm to the Dalai Lama. The government questioned Terton Sogyel who declared his innocence and told them that when he wore the boot he also began to bleed from the nose. He told the officials the boots were a gift from another lama from Nyarong who was renowned for his magical powers. That lama confessed, and laid the blame on the former Regent, the Ninth Demo, Ngawang Lobzang Trinle Rabgye (de mo 09 ngag dbang blo bzang 'phrin las rab rgyas, 1855-1899). Terton Sogyel successfully pleaded for clemency for those involved in the plot, and then moved to Yerpa (yer pa) where he spent about a year.

At the age of forty-seven, in 1902, he revealed further treasures, including the means for eliminating physical illnesses, ritual texts, and empowerments on the deity Tanak Lhachikpa (rta nag lha gcig pa). He also discovered, the following year, some treasures related to Kīla, which he kept secret for four years.

In 1904 he returned to Kham, apparently fleeing the British Younghusband invasion of Tibet. and he is said to have founded Khemar Monastery (khas dmar dgon) at Pema Dzong (padma rdzong) in Golok that year, with the aid of Dodrubchen. In 1910 he performed rituals from his Kīla treasure, the Purba Gyepa Yangsang Tropai Lejor (phur pa rgyas pa yang gsang khros pa'i las sbyor), after which he experienced a clear vision of Lhamo Ekajatī (lha mo e ka dza tI).

In 1912 he revealed some treasures containing prophesies and advice from Pomra in Tomagyel (stod rma rgyal spom ra). With assistance of the Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (rdo grub chen 03 'jigs med bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1865-1926) who later became one of his main disciples, he transcribed some scripture of certain family of buddhas (bde gshegs mched brgyad sgrub thabs), and also mantras and rituals (gzungs mchog), an empowerment on Medicine-Guru (gu ru sman bla’i zab dbang), and scriptures on Supreme Accomplishments (mchog sgrub) from the yellow scrolls he had previously received.

1916 he gave teachings on Patrul Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo's ((rdza dpal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po), 1808-1887) Kunzang Lamai Zhelung (kun bzang bla ma’i zhal lung), known in English as the Words of My Perfect Teacher, and related esoteric instructions on both the preliminary and actual teachings in accordance with the Oral Transmission (snyan rgyud) to a Lama Lungtok (bla ma lung rtogs). He also gave various teachings that included Dzogchen Nyingtik (rdzogs chen snying thig) to his disciples. In 1918, he arranged for the carving of wooden blocks to print his treasure revelations, visiting Setong (bse stong) to raise funds for the project; twenty volumes were eventually carved, of which seventeen were published in 1985.

In 1921 he revealed treasures from Lake Tsokarma (mtsho dkar ma) that included a large case enclosed with two separate cases, one containing statues and the other filled up with sacred substances for various purposes in performing tantric rituals. The following year he transcribed empowerment liturgies for his Purba Gyachen Rolpa (phur pa rgya chen rol pa'i dbang mchog) revelation at the residence of Gemang Kyabje Dorjechang (dge mang skyabs rje rdo rje 'chang) in Śrīsiṁha Hermitage (shri sim ha'i ri khrod). Subsequently he gave empowerment to Gemang Kyabje followed by several empowerments to lamas and devotees including the Fifth Dzogchen Tubten Chokyi Dorje (rdzogs chen 05 thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872-1935) at Dzogchen Monastery.

In 1923 he had clear vision of Padmasambhava with a retinue of ḍākinī in a mass of light above the sky, and received instructional teachings. The following year he transcribed a Hayagrīva treasure that he had discovered earlier. His transcription also included liturgies relating to Dorje Drolo, the seventh among the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava.

At the age of seventy, in 1925, Lerab Lingpa gave final teachings to disciples and devotees gathered from various places. Among his closest disciples were Drodul Pema Garwang Lingpa (gro 'dul pad+ma gar dbang gling pa, 1901-1965) and the Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (rdo grub chen 03 'jigs med bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1865-1926). Then, concluding his treasure activities, he assigned protector deities to those of his revelations that remained incomplete, and reconcealed them. The following year, on the tenth day of second month of fire-tiger year of the fifteenth sexagenary cycle, Terchen Lerab Lingpa passed into nirvana. His son, Kelzang Tobgyel (skal bzang stobs rgyal), became a teacher and carried on his lineage.

Among his reincarnations are Sogyal Rinpoche, born in 1947 and recognized by Jamyang Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959) and Khenpo Jigme Puntsok (mkhan po 'jigs med phun tshogs, 1933-2004).




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'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan. 1996. Rgyal ba kaH thog pa’i lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp.144-145.

Nyoshul Khenpo. 2005. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Richard Barron, trans. Junction City, California: Padma Publication, pp. 513-514.

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Samten Chhosphel
September 2011