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Tishri Repa Sherab Sengge

ISSN 2332-077X

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Tishri Repa Sherab Sengge b.1164 - d.1236

Name Variants: Drogon Tishri Repa; Sherab Sengge



The child later renowned under the name Tishri Repa was born in Damsho Narmo ('dam shod snar mo) in the year 1164. He studied reading, writing and arithmetic under the tutorship of Wangseng (dbang seng) until he was in his thirteenth year when he met Barompa Darma Wangchuk ('ba' rom pa dar ma dbang phyug, 1127-c.1199) for the first time.

Although Barompa was surely his most important teacher, the future Tishri Repa also studied extensively with other great Kagyu Lamas of his times, especially Zhang Yudrakpa Tsondru Drakpa (zhang g.yu brag pa brtson 'grus grags pa, 1123-1193), Taklungtangpa Tashi Pel (stag lung thang pa bkra shis dpal, 1142-c.1209), and Yelpa Sanggye Gompa (yel pa sangs rgyas sgom pa). Almost all of his teachers were Kagyupas, but he also received Lamdre (lam 'bras) teachings according to the tradition of the woman Zhama (ma gcig zha ma, 1062-1149). Later, he studied at both Taklung (stag lung) and Drigung Til ('bri gung mthil) monasteries.

His novice monk vows were received at age twenty-five at Yelpa Monastery, together with the name Sherab Sengge (shes rab seng ge). He took complete bhikṣu ordination at age thirty-two at Drigung. In 1195 Sherab Sengge left for northeastern Tibet, and in the following year he visited the city of Lingchu (ling cu) in Minyak (mi nyag), which is the Tibetan name for the Tangut Kingdom, known as Xixia in Chinese.

The Tanguts, who had a language and script all their own, had long been followers of Buddhism. Hearing of his presence there, the Minyak king issued a proclamation that Tishri Repa could build a monastery in a place of his own choosing. By about 1200, he had started building several monasteries, and in another two and a half years they held about two thousand monks (later and perhaps less reliable sources give this figure as ten thousand). It was in 1206 that the Minyak king offered him the title Tishri Repa. Tishri, is a borrowing from Chinese dishi (帝師), ‘imperial preceptor,' while Repa means ‘one who wears [white] cotton robes.' Tishri Repa continued to receive the patronage of four successive Tangut kings.

Although they would only a few decades later be pounding on the gates of Europe, one of the first countries attacked by the Mongol army was the kingdom of the Tanguts. During their first attack in 1209, Tishri Repa along with other Tibetan lamas who were there at the time performed rituals to turn them back. The Mongol conquest in 1226 dealt a blow to Tanguts' culture and identity from which they never recovered. Those who could escape the destruction mostly fled into Tibetan territories, and Tishri Repa escaped with them. He occupied the years of his old age teaching monks and making donations to the monastic community with the wealth he brought back with him. He also built a famous silver reliquary to house the remains of Barompa Darma Wangchuk. Even if very few of his writings are known to survive apart from some spiritual songs and a lengthy work about Mahāmudrā, he is said to have written a collective biography of teachers of the Barom, Drigung and Taklung lineages combined. He passed away while traveling in eastern Tibet in 1236. His funerary stupa was built there at the place known as Merchen (mer chen).

Among the most famous and intriguing of Tishri Repa's disciples was one named Repa Karpo (ras pa dkar po). Repa Karpo a native-born Tangut (born 1199) with the ordination name Sherab Jangchub (shes rab byang chub), held in addition to the Barom Kagyu teachings the esoteric transmission of the Orgyen Nyendrub (o rgyan bsnyen sgrub) which he received directly from Orgyenpa Rinchen Pel (o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, c.1229-1309) himself. He died in 1262.

The following is a prayer Repa Karpo sang in honor of his teacher. In a manner typical of Kagyu guru-devotions, he praises the body, speech and mind of his teacher as indistinguishable from Buddhahood:

Namo Guru.
His unchanging Vajra Body blazing with the marks of Buddhahood,
the Lama remains here like a completely full moon.
His stainless Speech, famed in all directions,
roars out the teachings on Voidness without ceasing.
Precious One dwelling in the Isle of Pure Light,
blazing with inexhaustible wheels of ornaments,
I beseech you, O Precious Repa.
Bless me, O compassionate lord of beings.
Repa, Father! Keep me in your compassion.

 

Sources

 

Puchung Tsering. 2001. The Early History of the Barom Kagyu School and the Biography of Darma Wangchuk. Masters thesis, University of Oslo, at pp. 11-13.

Sperling, Elliot. 2004. “Further Remarks Apropos of the 'Ba'-rom-pa and the Tanguts.” Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 1-26.

Sørensen, Per K., Guntram Hazod and Tsering Gyelpo. 2007. Rulers on the Celestial Plain. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, pp. 102-3.

Tshe dbang rgyal. 1994. Lho rong chos 'byung. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, pp. 213-220.

 

Dan Martin
August 2008

 

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