His Holiness Drikung Khyabgon, Chetsang Rinpoche.1
Phiyang Monastery - Seat of the Drikung Kagyupa in Ladakh
Entrance stupas to Phiyang Monastery - view towards the Zanskar Mountain Range.
Drikung Kagyu is one of the eight branches of the Kagyu Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Jigten Sumgon Ratnashri (1143-1217), who was a disciple of Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo. He, in turn, was one of Je Gampopa’ four main disciples. The Drikung Kagyu Lineage continues remaining prominent in Ladakh to this day.
Shrine in the Dukhang.
Chenrezig, Lord of Compassion.
Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, Rinchen Pal
Phagmo Drupa was born in the year 1100 C.E. in Kham, eastern Tibet, into a poor family that “made its living by impure means. However, Phagmo Drupa remained undisturbed amidst the family’s misconduct. At the tender age of four, he took the vows of a novice monk and began his training on the spiritual path. He travelled to Central Tibet to receive further training from masters residing in the vicinity.”2 Before meeting Lha-je Gampopa, he had learned art, logic, medicine, language, and metaphysics under the guidance of many well-known masters. In particular, “under the Jetsun Sakyapa he made a thorough study of the Lamdre teachings of the Sakyapa School and became renowned for his vast and profound wisdom in these areas. He could also remain meditating for days in the states of bliss, clarity, and non-conceptualization.”3 Furthermore, “In all his activities he exercised complete humility and fairness towards everyone, regardless of their social status and material well-being. He was particularly compassionate towards the less fortunate and was constantly giving them his own possessions, even though he did not have enough for himself. In practice, Phagmo Drupa spent most of his time in contemplation and meditation.“Despite his spiritual accomplishments, Phagmo Drupa still felt that he needed the guidance of a qualified master on the path. He therefore went to Taklha Gampo Monastery. Upon the sight of Gampopa and after a brief discussion with him, Phagmo Drupa immediately recognized his own wisdom mind.”4
During one of their discussions, “Phagmo Drupa recounted his achievements in the meditative state. Lord Gampopa, who was stirring a bowl of tsampa at the time, held out a piece of dough and said, ‘This dough is more useful than your realization.’ At that moment, all Phagmo Drupa’s pride left him. Lord Gampopa then instructed him directly, pointing out the nature of the mind. Within a few days, Phagmo Drupa actualised fully the direct realization of Mahamudra. The skin of his ordinary state suddenly peeled away and at that moment Phagmo Drupa said, ‘All my other great teachers lacked the one necessary word.’ Therefore, Phagmo Drupa received the complete lineage teachings and instruction on meditation. In accordance with Gampopa’s intention, he emphasized the five-fold path of Mahamudra (Bodhicitta, Yidam, Four Kayas of Guru Yoga, Mahamudra, and Dedication), which encompass the complete teachings of the Buddha, both Sutra and Tantra.“Phagmo Drupa established a monastery in Central Tibet, fully transforming that area into a Sambhogakaya Buddhafield. He gathered many thousands of disciples, among who were eight great Kagyu Orders. (…) The four major and eight great Kagyu Lineages act like brothers in one family, benefiting countless sentient beings in different parts of the world.”5
Phagmo Drupa practiced meditation for the remainder of his life, serving as an example for others in both word and deed. At the time of his death in 1170, “a congregation of disciples witnessed a miraculous transference of a golden dorje of light from the heart of Phagmo Drupa to the heart of Ratnashri.”6
Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon, Ratnashri
In the northern hemisphere, amongst the snowy ranges,a Ratnashri will come forth. This extraordinary being,acquiring worldwide fame, will greatly further my teachings.7-- Yeshe Yongsukyepa Sutra
In the year 1143 C.E., “Ratnashri (Jigten Sumgon) was born to Naljor Dorje and Rakshesatsun. Early in his life, Jigten Sumgon met with great masters and received all aspects of the teachings. At the age of 25 he met Phagmo Drupa, from whom he received the complete lineage teachings. To fully absorb these in his mind, he practiced day and night until, at the age of 35, he attained Buddhahood in the Achung Cave. There he sang the spiritual song of a yogi:
In three nights and four days,my karma and obscurations were purified.I realized the cause and effect of interdependent origination,the treasure of the profound tantra revealed itself.In the oneness of the great luminosity,the two fixations of meditation and activity were purified.I recognize that I am a lord of yogins.”8
Karma Choying taught, “Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon Ratnashri is believed to be an embodiment of the Buddha of the Three Times and a reincarnation of Nagarjuna.”9 In Prayer Flags it is stated, “Nagarjuna was one who realized the profound emptiness free from extremes. His coming was foretold in many Sutras by the Tathagata, and he was reborn as the meditating Bhikshu Rinchen Pal, the Protector of the Three Worlds, the Great Drikungpa.”10
At the age of 37, “he established the main seat of Drikung (in Tibet), which he named Changchubling. Here he emphasized the importance of moral discipline and Bodhicitta as the basis of Buddha’s teachings. Since his mind was one with the mind of all Buddhas, he was able to guide all Bodhisattvas and sentient beings according to the degree of their receptivity and understanding.“When the First Karmapa, Düsum Khenpa, visited Drikung Thil, he saw Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon Ratnashri as the Buddha himself and, developing great faith in him, received his teachings. The kings of India, China, and Tibet all recognized him, and Maldro Zichen (a king of the Nagas) offered to maintain the growing number of disciples at Drikung Thil. Thus Drikung reached to the heights of spiritual and academic excellence. Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon sent many disciples to the sacred places such as Mount Kailash, Lache (Lapchi north of Kathmandu, Nepal), and Tsari (near Arunachal Pradesh).”11
Once, when Jigten Sumgon was residing at Drikung Thil Monastery in Tibet, “he gathered his students in a meadow behind the monastery and asked them to perform displays of their miracle powers. All but one were able to comply with their guru’s request, and this disciple, Rinchen Drak, suddenly died from shame. When the undertakers tried to dismember his corpse in order to feed it to the vultures, the body resisted the knife. Jigten Sumgon placed his walking stick on the heart-centre of the corpse and sang The Song that Clarifies Recollection. It ends with the lines,
Since nothing lasts and all must die, Rinchen Drak, don’t be attached.If your mind is still attached, transfer it to your guru’s heart.
“Rinchen Drak’s body was then cut open and found to contain numerous relics. There were so many of these that they had to be swept together with brooms. (…) The cemetery where this miracle occurred was thereafter referred to as Tenchakgang (‘Gathering relics’). There Jigten Sumgon opened a mandala for the purification of the lower realms. He placed the relics under a large slab of stone. Under that slab he also created a light that will burn until the end of the kalpa and which benefits the minds of those whose bodies are brought there, causing them to be free from birth in lower realms.”12
Taklung Dorje, one of the eight disciples of Phagmo Drupa, saw “the immeasurable increase in the activities of Jigten Sumgon, sent offerings to him, and said, ‘I have further teachings given by our guru. It would be of great benefit if you were to receive these.’ In reply, Jigten Sumgon sent offerings of his own, including this song he composed:
I bow at the feet of glorious Phagmo Drupa.By the great kindness of glorious Phagmo DrupaI experienced bliss. I obtained the confidence of Bodhicitta.
I, a yogin, realized the unity of view, meditation, and action.There are no sessions to practice. In non-effort, I, the yogin am happy.This happy yogin experiences joy. This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
I, a yogin, realized the unity of the guru, my mind, and Buddha.I have no need of superficial devotion. In non-effort, I, the yogin, am happy.This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
I, a yogin, realized the unity of parents, yidams, and the six types of beings.There is no need for the superficial benefit of others.In non-effort, I, the yogin, am happy. This happy yogin experiences joy.This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
I, a yogin, realized the unity of the sutras, the tantras, and their commentaries.I have no need of written texts. In non-effort, I, the yogin, am happy.This happy yogin experiences joy. This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
I, a yogin, realized the unity of this life, the next, and the bardo.There is no boundary of death. In non-effort, I, the yogin, am happy.This happy yogin experiences joy. This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
Day and night, in all six times, through strong devotion,I am always with the authentic guru. I, the inseparable yogin, am happy.This happy yogin experiences joy. This experience of joy is the guru’s kindness.
This song of the Six Confidences I offer to the ear of glorious Taklung Thangpa.I don’t feel I attended the guru for a short time.He accepted me, and taught me fully.”13
Jigten Sumgon belonged to one of the most prominent Tibetan clans, “known as the Miu Dhondruk clan. He crowned Khenchen Gurawa Tsultrim Dorje (1154-1220) as the first throne-holder of the Drikung Kagyu Order. Beginning with Tsultrim Dorje, the Drikung Kagyu Order had up to 23 throne-holders, who were descendants of the Kyura clan and served as the head of the order.”14 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen wrote, “Of the first 24 successors of the Lord Drikungpa, most belonged to the Kyura clan. However, this hereditary lineage was discontinued after the 23rd successor reincarnated as Drikung Kyabgon (Protector) Chetsang, an emanation of Arya Chenrezig. His younger brother, who succeeded him, reincarnated later as Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang, an emanation of Padmasambhava and Arya Manjushri.”15
As to Drikung Chetsang and Drikung Chungtsang, the “24th throne-holder is Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Konchok Khriley, who was recognized as the second reincarnation of Konchok Rana (1590-1654); he was the 22nd throne-holder. The 23rd throne-holder was Kunkyen Rigzin Chokyi Drakpa (1595-1654), who was recognized as the first Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang Rinpoche. Konchok Rana was the elder brother of Kunkyen Rigzin Chokyi Drakpa. This is the reason why the reincarnations of Konchok Rana are referred to as Chetsang (‘the elder’) and the reincarnations of Kunkyen Rigzin Chokyi Drakpa are known as Chungtsang (‘the younger’). Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang and Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang are like the sun and the moon of the Drikung Kagyu world. They have served as throne-holders and have kept an unbroken lineage of all the teachings, both oral transmissions and textual explanations, until the present day. The current reincarnation of Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang is Tenzin Kunzang Trinley Lhundrup. He is the 37th throne-holder and the 7th reincarnation of Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Konchok Rana. Nowadays, he lives at Jangchub Ling Monastery in Dehradun. The current reincarnation of Drikung Chungtsang is the 36th throne-holder, Konchok Tenzin Chokyi Nangwa. He lives in Tibet.”16
During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Drikung Kagyu School established more hermitages in the area around Mt. Kailash and in smaller kingdoms on the Himalayan Plateau. Important foundations are in Lower Ladakh, in the region around Lamayuru, (e.g., Wanla, Alchi, Saspol, and Phiyang). In the 15th century, the newly founded Gelugpa School established itself in Ladakh and became the focus of patronage (e.g., Spituk, Likir, and Tikse). In the 15th century, an eminent Drikung teacher, Choje Danma, brought the Drikung Lineage to prominence in Ladakh for a short period of time and rebuilt the second major Drikung Monastery at Phiyang. In the 17th century, Togdan Rinpoche initiated another revival of the Drikung School in Ladakh. His successors settled at Phiyang Monastery, which remains their seat until today.17
His Holiness, the present Drikung Kyabgon, Chetsang Rinpoche “has restored 60 of its monasteries in Tibet, including five nunneries. There are more than 50 monasteries in Ladakh, each with a resident Lama. There are also five monasteries in Nepal and five newly constructed monasteries in different parts of India. Drikung Dharma centres and temples have been established in Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Malaysia, Taiwan, Chile, Canada, and throughout the United States. It can truly be said that the Drikung Kagyu Lineage is once again flourishing under the care and direction of its protector, His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche.”18
Offering light in the Gompa of Phiyang.
May virtue increase!Photos of Ladakh and shrine in this short account taken by Gaby Hollmann (1983), compiled in 2006.
1 Photo courtesy of Dana e.V., Munich, 1998.2 Phagmo Drupa, in the site: Drupa.org, March 2006.3 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, Drikung Kagyu, in the site: Drikung.org, March 2006.4 Phagmo Drupa, ibid.5 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, Drikung Kagyu, ibid.6 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, The Life of Lord Jigten Sumgon, in the site: Drikung.org, March 2006.7 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, About the Drikung Kagyu School, in the site: Geocities.com/Ratnasripj, March 2006.8 Prayer Flags. The Spiritual Life and Songs of Jigten Sumgon. Translated by Khenpo Rinpoche Konchog Gyaltsen, Tibetan Meditation Centre, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 23.9 Drikung Kagyu, in the site: Tripodasia.com/Karmachoying, March 2006.10 The introduction to Supplication to the Kagyu Gurus for the Mist of Great Blessings was written by Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. Translated by Ven. Lama Sonam Jorphel & Ngawang Tsering, in: Prayer Flags, p. 28.11 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, The Life of Lord Jigten Sumgon.12 Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, The Life of Lord Jigten Sumgon; reprinted from Prayer Flags, pp. 35-37.
13 Prayer Flags, ibid., pp. 31-32.14 Drikung Kagyu, in the site: Tripodasia.com/Karmachoying.15 Brief Biography of His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon, Chetsang Rinpoche, in the site: members.aol.com, March 2006.16 Drikung Kagyu, ibid. See the introduction to the chapter on Lamayuru above.17 See C. Luczanits, The Drikung Kagyu in Ladakh. 800 Years of History, in the site: AchiAssociation, March 2006. See especially John Harrison, Wolfgang Heusgen, Holger Neuwirth & Christian Luczanits, The Restoration of the Guru Lhakhang, summer 1998, 12 pages. Copyright Western Himalayan Archives, Vienna, October 2001. The Guru Lhakhang is a 16th century monument situated on a cliff above the hamlet of Phiyang.18 “Brief Biography of His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon, Chetsang Rinpoche,” in: Prayer Flags, ibid., p. 3.