Tashi Tobgyel

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Tashi Tobgyel b.1550 - d.1603

Name Variants: Chogyel Tashi Tobgyel; Chogyel Wangpoi De; Guru Tashi Tobgyel; Jangdak Karma Guru Chogyel Wangpo; Karma Guru Tashi Tobgyel; Karma Guru Tashi Tobgyel Wangpoi De; Tashi Tobgyel; Tashi Tobgyel Wangpoi De

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Jangdak Tashi Tobgyel (byang bdag bkra shis stobs rgyal, 1550-1602) was born into the wealthy Jangpa (byang pa) family who traced their lineage back to the king Tri Songdetsen (khri srong lde btsan, 742-796). His father, the king of the Jang (byang) region in Tsang (gtsang), was named Jangdak Namkha Rinchen (byang bdag nam mkha' rin chen, d.u.) and his wife was named Chokyong Dzomchen (chos skyong 'dzom chen). He was born in the Tsenga Palace (pho brang rtse lnga) in 1550, the iron-dog year of the ninth sexagenary cycle. Other sources place his birth at 1540, though this is less likely given the dates of his son and followers.

When he was still a young boy, Jonangpa Kunga Drolchok (jo nang pa kun dga' grol mchog, 1507-1565/66) gave him the name Tashi Tobgyel Wangpoi De (bkra shis stobs rgyal dbang po'i sde) and gave him a long life empowerment called Tukdrub Sangwa Dupa (thugs sgrub gsang ba 'dus pa). The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 02 legs ldan rdo rje, 1452-1564) identified him as the reincarnation of Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wangyel (mnga' ris paN chen pad+ma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542), although this designation was apparently not without controversy; the Fifth Dalai Lama wrote several pages defending the identification.

Lekden Dorje became the boy's principal teacher, imparting the main transmissions of the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasures tradition. Tashi Tobgyel grew up in the palace receiving various teachings from some of the most renowned masters of his day, many of whom had been students of his predecessor, including Tukse Lodro Gyeltsen (thugs sras blo gros rgyal mtshan, d.u.); Drenchok Pelden Lodro (dren mchog dpal ldan blo gros, 1527-1596); a Sakya teacher named Zhegonpa Sonam Tsemo (zhe dgon pa bsod nams rtse mo, d.u.); Rinchen Puntsok Chokyi Gyelpo (rin chen phun tshogs, 1509-1557), the seventeenth abbot of Drigung Monastery ('bri gung dgon); Lochen Ratnabhadra (lo chen rat+na b+ha dra, 1489-1563); the Second Peling Sungtrul, Yenpa Lode (pad gling gsung sprul 02 yan pa blo bde, 1536-1597); Jampa Chokyi Gyeltsen (byams pa chos kyi rgyal mtshan, d.u.) of Nub Monastery (gnubs dgon); Rigdzin Nyida Ozer (rig 'dzin nyi zla 'od zer, d.u.); and Tashi Pel (bkra shis dpal, d.u.).

In his early life, Tashi Tobgyel is credited with establishing a monastery named Sangngak Tekchokling (gsang sngags theg mchog gling) as well as building many small temples. A number of scholars taught at this new establishment including Lekden Dorje; Kyil Khangpa (dkyil khang pa, d.u.); Pelding Rabjampa (dpal sdings rab 'byams pa, d.u.); and Zhung Gyashongpa (gzhung brgya gshongs pa, d.u.). This center focused on the Nyingma tantras, especially the Guhyagarbha.

In 1564 Tashi Tobgyel saw that Lekden Dorje was near death. Legend has it that Tashi Tobgyel wept and begged him to lengthen his life. He replied that as Tashi Tobgyel loved him so much, he would take rebirth as his son. After Lekden Dorje passed away Tashi Tobgyel organized extensive funerary prayers and rituals, and built his memorial reliquary in precious metals.

At the age of thirty, Tashi Tobgyel's family and the practitioners of the Jangter Tradition lost favor with Prince Kunpang Lhawang Dorje (kun spangs lha dbang rdo rje, d.u.), the most powerful among the nine sons of Zhingshak Tseten Dorje (zhing shag tshe brtan rdo rje, d.u.), the King of Tsang. He and his family were expelled from their home to U, where they found refuge in the palace of Chonggye Taktse (phyong rgyas stag rtse) in southern Tibet. This was a significant move as this was the same family to which the Fifth Dalai Lama would be born a century later, to great consequence for the Jangter community in the future.

Tashi Tobgyel eventually married Yidzin Wangmo (yid 'dzin dbang mo, d.u.), the princess of his new found home in Chonggye. In accordance to his teacher's promise, Yidzin Wangmo gave birth to a son who was soon recognized as the incarnation of Lekden Dorje. The son was named Ngakgi Wangpo (ngag gi dbang po, 1580-1639). Tashi Tobgyel taught his son reading and writing, and gradually transmitted all of the Jangter teachings and rituals he had learned from his own teacher, his son’s previous incarnation.

During this time, he continued to engage in conflicts the royal family of Tsang. Written insults were exchanged: according to Dudjom Rinpoche, the Tsang King reportedly said "You, the so-called 'Powerful One' [a play on Tashi Tobgyel's name] are a powerless Khampa. I banish you into the city of the hungry ghosts!" Tashi Tobgyel replied, "You, the so-called 'Field' [a play on the king's name], in whom the ten fields are complete, I hereby send into the mouth of Rāhula!" After this heated exchange, Tashi Tobgyel reportedly engaged in performing wrathful spells against the King, including recitations of Mañjuśrī Yamāntaka and the Razor of the All-Pervading Rāhula. Soon after, the King of Tsang was dead. In his hagiographical literature, in which Tashi Tobgyel is credited with causing the death, it is said that through "liberating" him in this way, he actually secured the king's birth in higher realms.

Following this bout of violence, Tashi Tobgyel re-committed himself to his peaceful activities, and began to travel around Tibet with his son teaching, discovering treasures, and promoting the Jangter tradition. Their travels brought them to Mon, Kongpo, Kham, and possibly as far as China, where they engaged in healing people from epidemics and mediating conflicts.

The titles of his known treasures include Karma Guru (kar+ma gu ru) and Tsedrub Kusum Rikdukor (tshe sgrub sku gsum rigs 'dus skor), which he revealed from Tsangrong Khambu Lung (gtsang rong kham bu lung) and Rongchung Lhanglhang Drak (rong chung lhang lhang brag); Magyu Nyingpo Donsum (ma rgyud snying po don gsum) which he recovered from a golden stupa at Lhodrak Dzonga (lho brag mdzod lnga); and Nyongdrol Pemaraga (myong grol pad+ma rA ga) from the Ārya temple at Samye. He is said to have revealed numerous other treasures but their names and details remain unknown.

At Gyala (rgya la) in Kongpo he discovered treasure then gave teachings and empowerments on his revelations. One story relates that during these teachings, a heavy storm showered on the participants, but the open-air sand maṇḍala he had created for the occasion remained completely unaffected. On another occasion, a clear print is said to have formed on a rock when he waved his hand towards it. He reportedly met with the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (karma pa 09 dbang phyug rdo rje, 1556-1601/03) who was impressed by his scholarship and tantric power. When Kongpo was under great danger of flooding, the local people had requested the Ninth Karmapa to save them. Instead, he recommended they approach Tashi Tobgyel for help, who according to his biography was able to control the river and save the people.

Tashi Tobgyel finally returned to central Tibet after an extended period of traveling with his son. By this time it is said that those who had previously been against him, having heard of his accomplishments during his long time away, now viewed him more favorably. He gave teachings, reading transmissions, performed rituals and gave empowerments from the Jangter tradition, including the Kunzang Gonpa Zangtel (kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal), to a gathering of disciples that included his son, Ngakgi Wangpo.

He established a new tantric community north of the Brahmaputra river which he named Guru Pema Evaṁ Chokgar (gu ru padma e waM lchog sgar). Members of this community studied the Jangter rituals, style of terma, and religious music and dance. The location was later developed and expanded by Ngakgi Wangpo, who re-established the community as a monastery called Tubten Dorje Drak Evaṁ Chokgar (thub bstan rdo rje brag e vam chog sgar), or simply Dorje Drak. The monastery became the main center for the Jangter tradition and at one point had over fifty branch monasteries.

Ngakgi Wangpo was Tashi Tobgyel's main disciple and lineage holder. Two of his other main students were known as Chade Terton (ca sde gter ston, d.u.) and Trinle Namgyel ('phrin las rnam rgyal, d.u.).

Tashi Tobgyel composed a biography of Padmasambhava that he is said to have completed in 1602/03 when he was fifty-three, although the dating of the text is unclear. The biography, An Ocean of Excellence: A Biography of the Great Saint Padmasambhava (rig 'dzin grub pa'i dbang phyug chen po pad+ma 'byung gnas kyi rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar phun sum tshogs pa'i rgya mtsho, and has been outlined by Blondeau (see source list also for a reference to the modern publication of the work).

He passed away at age fift-three; according to legend, his year of death had been predicted by a previous terma cycle, which read, "Be careful—the life-path will be precipitous at fifty-three" (lnga bcu rtsa gsum tshe yi 'phrang la gzab).

A golden reliquary was built in his memory that was later moved to Dorje Drak and expanded by Rigdzin Ngakgi Wangpo.




Blo bzang 'phrin las. 2009. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, p. 1494. TBRC W26372

Blondeau, A.M. 1980. “Analysis of the biographies of Padmasambhava according to Tibetan tradition: classification of sources.” In Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, pp. 45-52. Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi, eds. Warminster: Aris and Philips.

Bkra shis stobs rgyal. 1976 (1602?). Rig 'dzin grub pa'i dbang phyug chen po pad+ma 'byung gnas kyi rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar phun sum tshogs pa'i rgya mtsho. Gangtok: Sherab Gyaltshen Lama. TBRC W8873.

Don rdor and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna. Lhasa: bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, pp. 615-616. TBRC W19803

Kun bzang 'gro 'dul rdo rje. 2004. Thub bstan rdo rje brag dgon gyi byung ba mdo tsam drjod pa ngo mtshar bai DU r+ya'i phreng ba, p. 49. TBRC W00KG03797

Kun bzang nges don klong yangs. 1976. Bod du 'byung ba'i gsang sngags snga 'gyur gyi bstan 'dzin skyes mchog rim byon gyi rnam thar nor bu'i do shal. Dalhousie: Damchoe Sangpo, pp. 269-277. TBRC W19708

Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho. 2009. Gter ston chos rgyal bkra shis stobs rgyal gyis spyan drangs pa'i gter chos khag gi skor. In Gsung Bum, Vol. V, pp. 197-210. Beijing: krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W1PD107937

Pad+ma 'phrin las. 1972. Chos rgyal bkra shis stobs rgyal dbang po'i sde'i rnam thar. In Bka' ma mdo dbang gi bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar, pp. 461-478. Leh: S.W. Tashigangpa. TBRC W21523

Rag ra ngag dbang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan. 1990. Deb ther khag lnga. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, p. 226. TBRC W22021.


Samten Chhosphel
May 2013