Tsangton Dorje Gyeltsen

ISSN 2332-077X

Print this Biography
Cite this biography

Tsangton Dorje Gyeltsen b.1137 - d.1226

Name Variants: Dorje Gyeltsen ; Katok Larab 02 Dorje Gyeltsen ; Tsangton Rinchen

Tsangton Dorje Gyeltsen (gtsang ston chos rje rdo rje rgyal mtshan) was born to the family of Tsangchen (gtsang chen) at a place called Barong ('ba' rong) in the Buborgang region of Kham (bu 'bor sgang; probably an alternate for spo 'bor sgang) in 1137, the fire-snake year of the second sexagenary cycle. Details of his parents and childhood are not known other than that he learned reading, writing, memorization of prayers and related topics in his home town.

At the age of seventeen in 1153/54, Dorje Gyeltsen met Dampa Deshek Sherab Sengge (dam pa bde gshegs shes rab seng+ge, 1122-1192) who later became his root-guru and with whom spent the remainder of his life. He travelled widely with the Sherab Sengge to a number of places in Kham that included Minyak (mi nyag), Jang ('jang), and Ling (gling) regions that took them about three years. While serving the lama he studied with much endeavor. For about two years from 1157 he stayed in Dritira Monastery ('bri ti ra dgon) in Driduri ('bri dus ri) for intensive studies and practice.

In early 1159 he accompanied Dampa Deshek in his search for the location where he was prophesied to establish Katok Dorjeden (kaH thog rdo rje ldan) Monastery. He worked closely with Dampa Deshek building the new monastery, laying the foundations of the buildings and establishing the teaching schedule, giving empowerments and instruction to the new community. He also engaged in retreat.

Dampa Deshek is said to have chosen him as his successor after experiencing a vision in which the lower part of the valley in which Katok is located was filled with water, over which was an extremely bright light. A deity informed him that the light was a throne for his disciple who abides in the eleventh bhūmi, known as "all-bright" (kun du 'od kyi sa), the state of full enlightenment. Dampa Deshek announced to Dorje Gyeltsen that he was the one referred to in the vision, at which point Dorje Gyeltsen had a vision of the maṇḍala of Heruka and the forty-two Peaceful Deities, Pelden Lhamo and Mahākāla, and also recollected his past lives as Lotsāwa Yeshe Chok (lo tsA ba ye shes mchog) and the Indian master Vajrapāṇi. Dampa Deshek gave his disciple Dorje Gyeltsen a scholar-hat (paN zhu) and an old gown (ber thul rnying pa) to entail as his successor on the seat of the lineage of Katok Monastery.

At the age of fifty-six in 1192, the water-mouse year in the third sexagenary cycle, following the nirvana of Dampa Deshek, Dorje Gyeltsen ascended to the throne of the abbot of Katok Monastery. He served the monastery focusing mainly on the education, practice, and disciplines of monks under his abbotship. He taught all subjects from sutra and tantra, and led the practices with no strings in any aspect that earned him a great popularity with the name “Katok Choje Rinpoche” that spread long across the region and gradually throughout Tibet.

Katok Choje Dorje Gyeltsen gradually received thousands of followers from U-Tsang as well as Kham and Amdo who were accepted as his devotees and disciples, and granted them vows as per their requirement. He led the summer retreat (vārṣika) and Vajra-master in all important tantric ritual performances. He was said to be humble, living a very simple lifestyle, and very kind and full of compassion. He maintained the monastic laws strictly in accordance with Vinaya, and, as abbot, expelled those monks who were found in violating monastic codes.

Like his teacher, Choje Dorje Gyeltsen was open to multiple Buddhist teachings, maintaining the Nyingma teachings as well as Kadam and Kagyu lineages.

A story is told of a conflict between Dorje Gyeltsen and the important Karma Kagyu teacher Pomdrakpa Sonam Dorje (spom grag pa bsod nams rdo rje, 1170-1249), a principle disciple of Sanggye Rinchen Peldrak (sangs rgyas ras chen dpal grags, 1148-1218) and teacher to the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (karma pa 02 karma pak+Shi, 1204-1283). It seems that Pomdrakpa was envious of Dorje Gyeltsen's growing fame, and set about investigating his teaching. He immediately experienced a vision in which Dorje Gyeltsen, in a magnificent palace, was surrounded by a great host of deities. Following similar visions, he went to Katok to take teachings and empowerments, including the Māyājāla, from Dorje Gyeltsen, becoming a disciple and friend.

Katok Choje Rinpoche Dorje Gyeltsen passed into nirvana in 1227, on the twentieth day of the twelfth month of the fire-dog year of the third sexagenary cycle, at the age of ninety. Alternate dates for his passing are 1216. A reliquary was built and installed beside that of Katok Dampa Deshek.

Jampa Bum (byams pa 'bum, 1179-1252) succeeded him as the third abbot of Katok.




Bradburn, Leslie, ed. 1995. Masters of the Nyingma Lineage. Cazadero: Dharma Publications, 1995, pp. 118-119.

Dge slong lding po. Shar kaH thog pa dam pa bde bar gshegs pa'i rnam thar bsdus pa grub mchog rjes dran. pp. 1a-30b.

Dudjom Rinpoche. 2002. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, trans. Boston: Wisdom, pp. 691-693.

'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan. 1996. Rgyal ba kaH thog pa'i lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 33-36.


Samten Chhosphel
March 2011