Yabzang Choje Chokyi Monlam

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Yabzang Choje Chokyi Monlam b.1169 - d.1233

Name Variants: Chokyi Monlam

Yabzang Choje Chokyi Monlam (g.ya' bzang chos rje chos kyi smon lam) was born in 1169 into the ancient illustrious Nub (snubs) clan at a place in the Yarlung Valley called Marmo Khandro (dmar mo mkha' 'gro). Since his older sister died before he was born, he was effectively the eldest of nine children, although most of them tragically died young. During the feasts that followed his birth he was named Darma Rinchen (dar ma rin chen).

When he took novice vows at about age fifteen he given the name Chokyi Monlam. Several years later he received the complete bhikṣu vows. At first he concentrated on studying the monastic rules for about six years, memorizing some of the key Vinaya texts. At the same time he harbored the intention of mastering the “heart of the teachings,” Mahāmudrā.

In his twenty-eight year Yabzang Choje heard that one of Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo's (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170) prominent disciples Zarawa Kalden Yeshe Sengge (zwa ra ba skal ldan ye shes seng ge, d. 1207) was staying nearby. Their first meeting, it is said, was a genuine meeting of minds. It is said that Yabzang had a special Mahāmudrā realization as soon as he first beheld the place where Zarawa stayed.

He received from Zarawa the main Mahāmudrā teachings along with the cycle of Avalokiteśvara, but he studied very seriously with other teachers as well. From a grandson of Machik Labdron (ma cig lab sgron, 1055-1149) named Khambu Yale (kham bu ya le) he learned Chod, and from Kelden Jangye (skal ldan byang yes) he learned the Zhije teachings transmitted through Padampa Sanggye's (pa dam pa sangs rgyas) disciple Kyo Sonam Lama (kyo bsod nams bla ma, d.u.). Sometimes Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (gtsang pa rgya ras ye shes rdo rje, 1161-1211) and Zhang Yudrakpa (zhang g.yu brag pa, 1123-1193) are counted among his most important teachers. He also met and received teachings from the Nyingma master Zhikpo Dutsi (zhig po bdud rtsi, 1149-1199).

In the year 1207, with financial support from Darma Gon (dar ma mgon), Yabzang Choje founded Yabzang Monastery (g.ya' bzang dgon) on the side of a mountain shaped like an elephant. As is usual in such foundations, first a large number of geomantic features of the landscape had to be examined and local spirits required propitiation. There are many stories telling how he converted local spirits into protectors of Buddhism. He decorated the inside of the main temple with painted mural paintings of scenes from the Avatamsaka and Karandavyuha Sutras. Since his teacher Zarawa died in the following year, he erected a special memorial chorten for him at Yabzang.

Around this time, probably soon after the founding of the monastery, a regional religious assembly was called at Shambu Chel (sham bu bcal), and Yabzang was invited to head the monastic council. The number of ordained monks that attended, said to have been fifteen thousand, might seem improbably high, but similarly amazing numbers are reported for other religious gatherings of those times, and surely the number of monks was rapidly growing. Another three hundred people attended the assembly in order to seek ordination.

After Yabzang Choje's death, an event accompanied by numerous miraculous events, a golden reliquary eleven cubits high was built for his remains by his attendant Rinchen Jose (rin chen jo sras, d.u.). Later this attendant would become abbot of Yabzang Monastery and expand it considerably.




Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 653-9.

Tsering Gyalbo, Guntram Hazod and Per K. Sørensen. 2000. Civilization at the Foot of Mount Shampo: The Royal House of lHa Bug-pa-can and the History of g.Ya'-bzang. Vienna: Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Padma dkar po. 1992. Chos 'byung bstan pa'i padma rgyas pa'i nyin byed. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, p. 551.

Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, pp. 1874-5.


Dan Martin
August 2008