Repa Shiwa Ö (12th century)
Melong Dorje (1243-1303)
SEVEN INCARNATIONS OF THE DZOGCHEN PONLOP LINE
Namkha Ösal (?-1726)
Pema Sangngak Tenzin (1731-1805)
Namkha Chökyi Gyatso (1806-1821?)
Jigme Chöying Ösel (?)
Kunchok Tenpe Nyima (?)
Jigtral Tsewang Dorje (1925-62)
Karma Sungrap Ngedön Tenpa Gyaltsen (1965-present)
Repa Shiwa Ö (12th century)
Shiwa Ö was one of the “eight great heart sons” of Milarepa, the most famous yogi-saint of Tibet. The story of his meeting with Milarepa (1052-1135) is told in “The Meeting At Silver Spring”, one of The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, translated by Garma C.C. Chang.
According to the Songs, Shuye Tarma Wangchuk, the person who was to become known as Shiwa Ö, was the young scion of a wealthy Tibetan family. Although aware of Buddhist practices, he was preoccupied with his life as a wealthy playboy. As a rich Tibetan nobleman, he owned, inter alia, immaculately tailored clothes, expensive jewelry, a fine steed, estates, an exquisitely adorned bow and arrow, and an extraordinary knife in a jewel-encrusted sheath.
On his way on horseback one day to meet some friends at celebratory gathering, Tarma Wangchuk approached a river. There he saw Milarepa, barely clothed in his beggar’s rags, laying by the riverbank. Professing feebleness due to old age, Milarepa requested Tarma Wangchuk to help him across the river, but the latter, repelled by Milarepa’s appearance, declined. Tarma Wangchuk then attempted to ford the river with his horse, but as his horse floundered in the current, he was amazed to see Milarepa walk by him on the water, across the river.
A night before, in Jetsun Milarepa’s dream, he saw a dark-complexioned lady bringing a young boy, about twenty years old, and said to Milarepa: “your heart has eight pieces and this is one of them,” and disappeared. Milarepa then thought, she was a dakini prophesizing that I will have eight close students who are like my heart. This is beginning of the concept of the”eight heart sons” of Milarepa.
Realizing that Milarepa was an accomplished master, he petitioned Milarepa to accept numerous offerings in exchange for providing him with teachings. He offered Milarepa his various possessions, including his horse, clothes, jewelry, weaponry, and estates. Milarepa successively declined each offering, with verses such as the following:
Listen to me, ingenuous young man!
From my hut’s roof in the snow mountain
Flows the quintessence of milk and nectar.
Though it is not made of gold or jewels,
I would not pour it into earthenware.
Around this waist of mine, the poor man of strong will
Is tied to a cotton belt of fanatic devotion!
The absence of pretense and hypocrisy
Is the pattern of my belt
Bright wisdom is my knife,
Its sheath, the confidence of the Three Measurements.
Faith and diligence in Dharma is my gold-and-silver cord.
The beauty of the Dharma is the glory over all.
Lest goddesses punish me,
I have never asked for wealth or money
When teaching in the past,
Nor shall I do so now.
Dear boy, you may go home;
I do not want your gifts.
Milarepa, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, translated by Garma C.C. Chang (Oriental Studies Foundation 1962), at p. 172.
In this way, Milarepa again and again pointed out that when one had accomplished the dharmic equivalent of every material possession, Tarma Wangchuk’s material offerings had no value. Desperate, Tarma Wangchuk offered to indenture his sister to Milarepa as a servant, but still Milarepa declined, again telling Tarma Wangchuk to go home.
In despair, Tarma Wangchuk realized that material possessions were of no value to Milarepa, and confessed the error of his misguided attempts at offerings to Milarepa, even suggesting he would commit suicide should Milarepa refuse to instruct him in the correct path. In response to Tarma Wangchuk’s sincere plea, Milarepa relented. Pursuant to a prophetic dream, Milarepa knew that Tarma Wangchuk had the capacity to become a great disciple. With his strong connection to the path, Milarepa saw that Tarma Wangchuk was capable of benefiting from the teachings. Milarepa gave him instructions to free himself from attachment.
Tarma Wangchuk practiced diligently for four months. At Milarepa’s instructions, he obtained various teachings and abhishekas (empowerments) from the translator, Bari Lotsawa. Then he lived and studied with Milarepa for five years. Milarepa transmitted to him the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Mahamudra of Maitripa, and after he accomplished these, Milarepa transmitted to him the pith instructions of the whispered lineage. Milarepa renamed Tarma Wangchuk as “Repa Shiwa Ö,” which means “the cotton-clad yogi of light of peace.”
Repa Shiwa Ö from that time never wore leather shoes, never dressed himself in anything other than one piece of white cotton-clad as clothing, never accumulated more than two days of provisions and never returned to his homeland. He abstained from fixating merely on words and practiced continuously. Eventually, he attained the perfect enlightenment in his lifetime.
This account is based on The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.
Melong Dorje (1243-1303)
Melong Dorje was born as a son of Yogi Samye. At the age of nine, he received his novice vows from Yogi Zalungwa and Khenpo Selungpa. He spent many years of his youth reciting Prajnaparamita Sutras and deepening his understanding of the nature of reality.
At the age of sixteen, while he was reciting the Prajnaparamita Sutra on behalf of a sick person, he achieved the realization of the nature of how things are. Through practicing meditation, he experienced some clairvoyance, and then wandered without fixed abode, practicing great austerities. He followed Dowo Repa of Tsurphu and many other masters, and visited numerous sacred places.
At the age of eighteen, he met Trulshik Senge Gyabpa, a lineage holder of the Vima Nyingthik and student of Guru Jober, who transmitted the Vima Nyingthik lineage to Melong Dorje. Drupchen Melong Dorje manifested attainment through his practices. Six days after practicing Ngondro he had continuous visions of Vajrasattva. When he was engaging in the actual practices, he met the lineage masters in a dream and received blessings.
At the age of 23, he received Vajravarahi and many other terma teachings from Sangye Repa. He had a vision of Vajravarahi, Samantabhadra, and many other masters such as Vimalimitra, Padasambhava, Yogi Zalungwa, and Phakmo Drupa. While he was practicing in Tunglung Valley, he heard a very beautiful voice of a Dakini prophesize that he would cut the continuity of birth in samsara.
While he was practicing at Kawa Chen, he saw red Vajravarahi and Yogi Zalungwa in the sky. At the cave of Kyikyi Phuk, experience blazed forth while dancing, he left many footprints in stone, and with his finger many times wrote the name of the cave in rock. These marks in the stone can still be seen in the present day.
Thus blessed by numerous visions of the great Bodhisattvas and founders of the lineage, Melong Dorje was directly empowered in the Atiyoga, the Dzogchen teachings by Vajrasattva. He had thirteen main masters. Amongst them, he obtained the definitive realization of the essence from incomparable, kind masters Yogi Zalungwa, Dowo Repa of Tsurphu and Trulshik Senge Gyabpa.
Because of his exceedingly great strength in yogic discipline and action, Melong Dorje was able to destroy delusion and enjoy the samaya of sacred mantrayana without acceptance or rejection. Through the strength of his yogic awareness-activity, he could, upon seeing a vulture gliding through the sky, fly in the sky like the bird, and he was able to knead rocks like mud, and so forth. Renowned for his yogic powers, possessed of impeccable conduct, Melong Dorje aided many beings in the hidden valleys of Khenpa Jong, Senge Dzong and Kharchu.
His major disciple was the master Kumaraja (Kumaradza) to whom he transmitted the Vima Nyingthik teachings. He discovered precious instructions of Vimalamitra, which became known as the Melong Nyingthik.
Even though the given prophecy of his lifespan was 37 years, because of the request and supplication of master Kunga he lived for 61 years and passed into parinirvana in a mountain pass called Durtrö La. During this time, everyone saw a great light and sound, which disappeared into the northern direction. When his body was cremated, there were many wondrous signs, such as five rays of different-colored lights emanating from the sky upon his cremation stupa. As it is taught in the tantras, five-colored relics appeared from the ashes of his cremation ground, a sign of his achievement of the five kayas.
He was about ten years older than his contemporary, the great yogi Orgyenpa. His heart disciple was Vidyadhara Kumaraja.
Melong Dorje’s Vima Nyingtik Lineage
Nyang Tingdzin Sangpo
Chetsun Senge Wangchuk
Trulshik Senge Gyabpa
Drupchen Melong Dorje
3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje & Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam
Vidyadhara Kumaraja’s primary master, from whom he received the Vima Nyingthik lineage, was Melong Dorje. It is notable that Vidyadhara Kumaraja also received many teachings from Orgyenpa together with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (the originator of the Karma Nyingthik lineage), when the latter was seven years old. Later the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, received the Maha Ati lineage from Vidyadhara Kumaraja, as well as had a vision of Vimalamitra dissolving into the spot between his eyebrows and achieved the complete realization of Maha Ati or Dzogpa Chenpo (Dzogchen). From then on, the well-known Karma Nyingthik arose from the great expansive treasure of the heart of Samantabhadra.
This account is based on Religious History (1990 ed.), pp. 207-213, by Guru Tashi, who wrote between 1807 and 1863.
Namkha Ösal (?-1726) the 1st Dzogchen Ponlop
The first in the line of Dzogchen Ponlop incarnations was Namkha Ösal (mid 17th Century-1726), a great wandering yogi, ascetic, and accomplished meditation master of eastern Tibet. Holder of the Nyingthik teachings, he widely taught and transmitted the lineage of Dzogchen Khadro Nyingthik and is said to have been an emanation of the 12th Century yogi Repa Shiwa Ö, one of the eight heart sons of Milarepa, and of the earlier Nyingthik lineage holder, Melong Dorje (1243-1303). Ponlop Namkha Ösal worked together with Drupwang Pema Rigdzin, the first Dzogchen Rinpoche, to establish in 1685 the renowned Nyingma seat ofDzogchen Monastery. After the death of the Drupwang Pema Rigdzin, the Ponlop Namkha Ösal became the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery.
He was born in Do-Kham Nakshoe to the family of the Yogi of Setsa, a great lay tantric adept who conquered many vicious negative energies through his yogic activity. From a young age, Namkha Ösal displayed many signs of the ripened potential of the Mahayana family and practiced the yogic discipline of tantra. Named Lodro, he performed many activities that showed the accomplishment of the Vajrayana practices.
The name of Namkha Ösal (Clear Light of Sky) refers to the nature of the sky, as in the quotation:
The name’s basis is the sky’s characteristic;
The characteristic of the sky does not exist.
Whoever truly realizes how it is,
That is a bodhisattva.
A great Kagyu yogi transmitted to him the Cycles of Equal Taste, the Six Dharmas of Naropa, the Ear-Whispered Lineage teachings of Rechungpa, and other instructions on the profound path of Mahamudra. He practiced very diligently and accomplished the practices of nadi, prana and bindu. In order to enhance the Yogic Discipline of Insight, he sustained his practice of Avadhuti, and wandered without fixed abode. He specially visited the sacred place Tsari, regarded as being Deva Koti, and which is one of the Twenty-four Sacred Places of Tantra.
He shortly thereafter met Drupwang Pema Rigdzin at Khenbar Samten cave and studied with him. Drupwang Pema Rigdzin transmitted many teachings to him, including Dzogchen instructions, and in particular, the Dzogchen Khandro Nyingthik.
They traveled back to eastern Tibet and when they reached the Rudam valley in Derge region, Drupwang Pema Rigdzin saw the auspicious signs to build the main seat. At this time Namkha Ösal also assumed many administrative responsibilities in his work with Drupwang Pema Rigdzin surrounding the founding of the renowned Dzogchen Monastery, Orgyen Samten Choling.
For many years he practiced in various solitary places and retreat centers in the Do-Kham region of Eastern Tibet. He realized the ultimate nature of Dzogchen and perfected the Four Visions.
While practicing at the cave of Mokhyim, Drupwang Pema Rigdzin passed into parinirvana and Namkha Ösal became the throne-holder of Dzogchen Monastery. Under his direction and management, Dzogchen Monastery continued to grow. He specially was known for establishing and guiding the retreat center, where he gave Dzogchen Khandro Nyingthik instructions yearly. He led many monks and lay sangha on the meditation path, teaching them in various ways, from merely recognizing the pointing out instructions to increasing their realization. Encouraging many to do life retreats, with great kindness he provided necessities for those lacking resources. He extensively expanded the meditation centers at Dzogchen and under his guidance, many practitioners became realized and experienced yogis.
He also founded Lekgon Monastery in Lingtsang. He traveled to different monasteries and gave numerous teachings, instructions and provided guidance to many. He also oversaw the building of many statues and other developments at the monastery. Because of his power in meditative samadhi, he had clairvoyant power and many other signs of accomplishment.
After fulfilling his activity in benefiting countless beings and the completing other innumerable activities, including recognizing and enthronement of next incarnation of Drupwang Pema Rigdzin, passing down the lineage transmission of Dzogchen Khadro Nyingthik, in the male fire horse year (1726) he passed into parinirvana amidst numerous wondrous signs. Many relics appeared in his cremation ground, even arising from the ashes many years after his funeral.
His main disciples were the reincarnation of Drupwang Pema Rigdzin, Gyurme Thekchok Tenzin, Ponlop Namka Ösal’s brother Je-ön Pema Kontrol Namgyal, and many other eminent masters of the time.
This account is based on Religious History (1990 ed.), pp. 784-87, by Guru Tashi, who wrote between 1807 and 1863.
Pema Sangngak Tenzin (1731-1805) the 2nd Dzogchen Ponlop
Pema Sangngak Tendzin was born in Powo Gang to the nomadic family of Gephen in the Iron Female Pig Year. His father’s name was Samphel and he was recognized, and invited to Dzogchen Monastery by the Dharma King of Derge, Chogyal Tenpa Tsering, and The First Dzogchen Rinpoche. He was enthroned at Dzogchen Monastery, the seat of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, where Dzogchen Rinpoche performed the hair cutting ceremony and gave him the name Pema Sangngak Tenzin, meaning “the holder of the secret mantra teachings of Padma.”
From an early age, he did not eat any meat. At the age of ten, he travelled to central Tibet with Dzogchen Rinpoche and received the novice vow from Dorje-trak Shaptrung of the Dorje-trak Monastery, one of the six major seats of the Nyingma lineage.
He received many teachings and transmissions from Mindroling Gyalse Rinchen Namgyal, heart son of the Lodrak Gyurme Choktrup Palbar, Palri Trulku Losang Pema. Specifically, Dzogchen Rinpoche, Gyurme Thekchok Tenzin, and many others, gave him the complete empowerments, transmissions and instructions of the profound secret Dzogchen lineage, which he practiced diligently. He studied astrology and other sciences, and Nyitrak Choktrul Rinpoche was one of his teachers. However, his main emphasis was practice and he spent eleven consecutive years in strict retreat.
He traveled, taught and benefited many beings and also received many material offerings, which he spent mostly on dharma activities such as sponsoring practices and building stupas. In particular, he sponsored the carving of over 100,000 stone Mani mantras and built a library with all the woodblock printed texts of Kangyur, Tengyur and other texts available in that day.
Many people of the time regarded him as a realized master yet most of the time, he acted as a hidden yogi and hence generally did not engage in giving teachings, instructions and empowerments. He made an exception with the first Dodrupchen Jigme Thrinle Ozer, to whom the second Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche transmitted the Khandro Nyingthik. Dodrupchen also conferred upon the second Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche the transmissions of Longchen Nyingthik.
Two or three times a year, the second Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche instructed students in practices, and inspired all devotees to exert themselves in the path of meditation. He had complete clairvoyance and everyone completely trusted and relied on his prophetic guidance.
After directing Dzogchen Monastery for three years, benefiting numerous beings, he left for the retreat center and mainly stayed in retreat and occasionally gave instructions to other devoted students.
At the age of 74, the Female Wood Ox Year, amidst wondrous signs, he passed into parinirvana at the main seat, Dzogchen Monastery. Many relics appeared from his cremation ground.
This account is based on Religious History (1990 ed.), pp. pp. 808-11, by Guru Tashi, who wrote between 1807 and 1863.
Namkha Chökyi Gyatso (1806-1821?) the 3rd Dzogchen Ponlop
The third Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche served Dzogchen Monastery as abbot, and trained in the study and practice of the buddhadharma. He received teachings and transmissions at a young age (approximately seven years old), including the Nyingthik lineage from Dodrupchen, along with Dzogchen Rinpoche, Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje and many other masters. The third Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche dedicated the remainder of his life to extending the life of Do Khyentse, and entered into parinirvana at a young age.
Jigme Chöying Ösal (?) the 4th Dzogchen Ponlop
The fourth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche mastered the traditional meditative and educational trainings and was the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery. He spent many years in retreat and through his activity continued to keep the vision of Guru Padmasambhava strong.
Kunchok Tenpe Nyima (?) the 5th Dzogchen Ponlop
The fifth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche was born into the family of Gyakong. His father’s name was Gyakong Palden and Dzogchen Khenpo Shenga Rinpoche was also born into the Gyakong family. The fifth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche was recognized and enthroned by the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Thubten Chokyi Dorje. He was fully trained in buddhist philosophy, meditation and other vajrayana buddhist practices, and spent most of his life in retreat in Pema Thang, Lotus Field, near Dzogchen Monastery. He passed into parinirvana in his early thirties.
These accounts are based on Religious History (1990 ed.), by Guru Tashi, who wrote between 1807 and 1863.
Jigtral Tsewang Dorje (1925-1962) the 6th Dzogchen Ponlop
The sixth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Thupten Jigdral Tsewang Dorje, was the younger brother of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa. He was born in Denkhok region of Derge, Kham, to the family of Athub Tsang in the year of the Water Dragon of the 16th Rabjung. His father was Tsewang Phuntsok and his mother was Kalsang Chodron. The sixth Ponlop Rinpoche was recognized by the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, who conferred on him the name of Thupten Jigdral Tsewang Dorje. As a brother to His Holiness the Karmapa, he was known as Je-ön (relative of a high lama) Ponlop Rinpoche.
While a youth, he studied with Khenchen Thupten Nyendrak of Dzogchen Monastery. Later he received the full Dzogchen transmissions and instructions in the Longchen and Khadro Nyingthik lineages from Khenchen Pema Thekchok Loden, widely known as Khenpo Lhagong and other masters.
In addition to his duties at Dzogchen Monastery, the sixth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche spent a lot of time with His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the Gyalwa Karmapas in Central Tibet. In 1959, the Sixth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and the Sixteenth Karmapa escaped together from Tibet to Sikkim, India, the location of Rumtek Monastery, and the seat of the Gyalwa Karmapas in India. The sixth Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche spent most of his life in strict retreat, very disciplined, and a realized master. He stayed at Rumtek until his death in 1962, at the age of thirty-seven.