Lineage Masters



Despite the many layers of legend that have accreted around Padmasambhava, scholars generally agree that a renowned Indian tantric master by that name did visit and teach in Tibet in the late eighth century. Our earliest evidence for his activities comes from several tenth-century manuscripts found in the so-called "library cave" of Dunhuang. Pelliot tibétain 44 is a small booklet devoted to the tantric deity Vajrakīla. It describes the master's time in India and Nepal prior to his trip to Tibet. According to this account, he gathered the texts and performed the rites for The Hundred Thousand [Verse] Tantra of Vajrakīla (phur bu'i 'bum sde) at the Asura cave in Yanglesho (yang le shod), Nepal. During this same period, he is also said to have tamed four troublesome Se (bse) goddesses and bestowed upon them new Buddhist names. On gaining accomplishment in the practices of Vajrakīla, the master then performed a series of miracles, including the magical diversion of a stream for irrigation purposes.

Pelliot tibétain 307 is a scroll containing several texts on the seven mothers (ma bdun), a set of seven goddesses native to the Tibetan landscape. The framing narrative for the rites found therein tells how, in accordance with the buddhas' earlier subjugation of Rudra, Padmasambhava and the Tibetan Lang Pelgyi Sengge (rlang dpal gyis seng ge, 8th century) tamed the seven mothers and bestowed on them oaths and new names as protectors of Secret Mantra. Now led by Dorje Kundrakma (rdo rje kun grags ma), formerly named Kongla Demo (rkong la de mo), the Buddhist mothers are finally supplicated for their assistance.

Also possibly significant is the Dunhuang manuscript IOL Tib J 644, which contains a text on the nine vehicles (theg pa dgu). In its discussion of the Kriyā tantras, there appear a number of narrative threads that are found woven into certain later biographical accounts of Padmasambhava's activities. Thus, for example, the ideal Kriyā-tantra practitioner meditates in an Asura cave, attains a vision of his deity, reveals a new stream, and so on. Such details suggest that the biographies of this master were woven from historical fact as well as traditional memes and narrative themes.

In addition to the above-mentioned biographical snippets, the Dunhuang archive also contains a lengthy commentary titled the Lotus Garland Synopsis (padma 'phreng gi don bsdus pa), a commentary on the Mahāyoga tantra known as the Noose of Methods (thabs kyi zhags pa). Both the commentary and its tantra are preserved in later canonical collections, but only in the Dunhuang version are their connections to Padmasambhava so clearly spelled out; only there do several interlinear notes appear to suggest that the commentary was written by none other than Padmasambhava. Some scholars, it should be observed, have proposed that these notes might be interpreted to mean that the eighth-century master wrote the tantra itself, but a more straightforward interpretation would suggest the commentary.

Another text that many scholars have suggested may have been written by the historical Padmasambhava is the Garland of Views: A Pith Instruction (man ngag lta ba'i 'phreng ba), and still others are also possible, such as his supposed commentary to the Vajravidāraṇā-dhāraṇī (Toh. 2679). Taken together, these writings provide some sense of the historical master's eighth-century interests. We can at least say that he appears to have been deeply involved in the Buddhist tantras, including those of the Mahāyoga class and in particular, perhaps, those relating to the deity Vajrakīla.

During the later dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet (phyi dar), Tibetan literature exhibits an ever-increasing interest in Padmasambhava. The Testament of Wa/Ba (dba'/sba bzhed), parts of which may date from the tenth or eleventh centuries, is an early history of the imperial period that includes a brief narrative of the eighth-century master's visit to Tibet. Here we see many of the details that would become so well known in later years: The monk Śāntarakṣita suggests to King Tri Songdetsen (khri srong lde brtsan, c. 742-800) that he invite Padmasambhava to assist with the founding of Samye (bsam yas), Tibet's first Buddhist monastery. On his arrival, the master offers a series of prophecies and tames Tibet's local spirits who are resisting the introduction of Buddhism. The Testament of Wa also has the master overseeing several irrigation projects in the area around Samye. Such details have led some scholars to suggest that irrigation, and the spirit taming that would have entailed, may have been an area of particular expertise for the master. In the end, however, these same irrigation activities run him afoul of the king and his ministers, and he is soon forced to leave the country. On his way out, Padmasambhava pauses at the border to make a final prophecy, predicting trouble for Tibet and its Buddhists because of his not having been able to complete his activities.

Many of these themes are picked up and developed in subsequent biographies. Particularly influential was the Copper Palace (zangs gling ma), a treasure revelation discovered by Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1124-1192). This was the first complete hagiographical account of Padmasambhava's life. Many of its narratives were also incorporated into Nyangrel's history, the Flower Nectar: The Essence of Honey (chos 'byung me tog snying po sbrag rtsi'i bcud) and then further expanded in the famous Pema Chronicles (padma bka' thang), another revealed hagiography discovered by the fourteenth-century treasure revealer Orgyen Lingpa (o rgyan gling pa, b. 1323). By the time of this figure, the legends of Padmasambhava were well established in Tibet, his role within the Nyingma tradition's treasure tradition clearly predominant.

According to these legends, Padmasambhava was born amidst miraculous circumstances and grew up a prince in Oḍḍiyāna, in northwestern India. As a youth, the prince turns to tantric practice, and before long, the local people force his father, the king, to send him into exile. Padmasambhava then travels around India, receiving teachings and practicing in sacred charnel grounds. Eventually he arrives in Yanglesho, where he gathers the texts of Vajrakīla, ends a drought by defeating some troublesome local spirits, and gains realization. While in Nepal, he receives King Tri Songdetsen's invitation and proceeds to Tibet, where he battles a now much-expanded series of local Tibetan spirits, helps to establish Samye, and leaves while pronouncing many ominous prophecies regarding the future of Buddhism in Tibet.

Of particular note in these later accounts are the master's involvements with the princess Yeshe Tsogyel (ye shes mtsho rgyal), as well as his concealment of various treasures for discovery by later reincarnations of his twenty-five principal disciples (rje 'bangs nyer lnga). Scores of Padmasambhava biographies have been produced as treasure texts, each adding new material to his rich biographical tradition. And because place is so often central to the revelation of treasure, countless religious sites that the eighth-century master is believed to have visited are scattered across today’s Tibetan Plateau.

In the later treasure traditions, e.g. that of Guru Chowang (gu ru chos dbang, 1212-1270), Padmasambhava is depicted as having eight manifestations (gu ru mtshan brgyad), each of which reflect a different aspect of the master's miraculous activities: Shākya Sengge (shAkya seng ge), Padmasambhava, Nyima Ozer (nyi ma 'od zer), Sengge Dradrok (seng ge sgra sgrog), Dorje Drolo (rdo rje gro lod), Tsokye Dorje (mtsho skyes rdo rje), Pema Gyelpo (padma rgyal po), and Loden Chokse (blo ldan mchog sras). These eight manifestations are frequently depicted in art both individually and as a group, and some, such as Dorje Drolo, have developed into popular deities with liturgical traditions of their own.

Through these means, Padmasambhava has become central to the treasure traditions of the Nyingma School. This is quite unlike the traditions witnessed prior to the fourteenth century, when Vimalamitra and other masters often served as the original teachers of revealed treasure, and, of course, within the treasures of the Bon religion. Whereas early Bon texts tend to depict the master negatively, as an enemy of their traditions, later writings of the New Bon (bon gsar) sometimes claim him as one of their own, adding Bon interpretations of his birth, episodes in Zhangzhung, and so on to their renditions of the master’s biography.

Jacob Dalton is Assistant Professor of Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Published June 2014 Updated June 2015

Jacob Dalton, "Padmasambhava," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

King Trisong Detsen

In the 8th century, the influence of the Kingdom of Tibet extended from what is now China and Iran to the Ganges River in India. Tibet was the military power of central Asia.

Buddhist teachers had been coming to Tibet for some time but their influence had been limited. According to tradition, the Khenpo Shantarakshita had been teaching there for some time but was unable to establish anything permanently. He advised the king to invite Padmasambhava, an adept in the branch of Buddhism known as Mantrayana or Tantrayana.

The work of Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita and King Trisong Detsen (790-858 CE) can easily be found elsewhere. Together they established Buddhism in Tibet setting the stage for the next twelve hundred years of Tibetan culture and life.

Before leaving Tibet, Padmasambhava was requested by his Nepali consort Shakya Devi to leave teachings for future generations. With the help of Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava hid teachings in various places. Known as treasures (Tib. gter), they were intended to inspire future generations by providing both methods of meditation practice which are fresh and objects of support to inspire and deepen practice.

Tulku Zangpo Drakpa

Ritropa Zangpo Drakpa (ri khrod pa bzang po) is said to have been born in a tiger year, almost certainly in the first part of the fourteenth century, and so likely either the water tiger (1303), the wood tiger (1315), or the fire tiger year (1326). His birthplace was somewhere in the traditional province of Southern Lato. This is a vast region that stretches along the border with Nepal and includes the present-day counties of Dingri (ding ri), Nyalam (gnya' lam), and Kyirong (skyid grong) This approximation of his natal land is likely based on his known activities in the mountains of Dingri and his concern with the welfare of the royal dynasty of Mangyul Gungtang (mang yul gung thang), which was centered in the city of Dzongkha (dzong kha) in Kyirong County (skyid rong). Nevertheless, he is also known to have ventured northeast into Lhartse (lha rtse), which is in the western reaches of the traditional province of Tsang.  

Just as the available sources do not identify his specific birth place, they also do not name his parents or any other family members, although some sources refer to him as "Manglam" (mang lam) Zangpo Drakpa, which suggests that might be his birth region.

While still a youth, Zangpo Drakpa was affiliated with the Dakpo Kagyu. Although one nineteenth century source refers to him as a monk, he is more frequently described as a wandering mountain hermit, who was an expert meditator specializing in Mahāmudrā. He is also referred to as a Kusulupa (ku su lu pa), which is a title meaning "exorcist" or "mystic" that is used for Chod (gcod) practitioners. The titles of his treasures, discussed below, suggest that he was known for subduing local divinities and producing ritual practices that reinforced his mystical accomplishments. The available sources do not mention any of his teachers by name, nor do they mention any specific temples or monasteries to which he paid allegiance.      

According to the vast majority of the biographical sources, Zangpo Drakpa experienced a pair of prophetic visions that lead to his career as a treasure revealer. The first is known as the prophecy of the snowy Bule mountains (gangs ri bu le), for it is in a cave of Mt. Shri (shri ri) within this mountain range that he received his first instructions regarding treasure. In the most elaborate account, the spirit (gnod sbyin) of the Bule mountains took the form of a boy wearing a white, silken turban and engaged in a lengthy, dream-like conversation with Zangpo Drakpa. The encounter concluded with the boy beseeching the meditator to travel to the temple of Drompa Gyang (grom pa rgyang) in Lhartse County (lha rtse) to extract treasures that were concealed there by Padmasambhava and his disciples. This temple was one of the structures featured in the seventh century geomantic network established by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo (srong brtsan sgam po, c. 617-c.650). Despite the urgency with which the boy spoke, Zangpo Drakpa ignored the spirit, treating it merely as a distraction to his meditation.

Later, while travelling as a beggar in Langkhor (glang 'khor), which is also in Dingri (ding ri), Zangpo Drakpa met a meditation master who said that his name was "Nyanam Lagom" (snya nam la sgom), which means something like "he who meditates while asleep." The meditation master, who tradition maintains was a manifestation of Padmasambhava himself, commanded Zangpo Drakpa to follow the instructions of the Bule prophecies that were previously transmitted to him in a dream-like state.

Finally convinced of the importance of his visions, Zangpo Drakpa traveled to the Gyang (rgyang) district in Lhartse, where he extracted treasures from two different locations. The first cache was discovered as prophesized at Drompa Gyang. The second cache was discovered in one of Padmasambhava's retreat caves, known as Gyang Yonbulung (rgyang yon bu lung), in the same district. It is significant that both of these sites are associated with the imperial period of Tibetan history, which is when treasure texts are believed to have been concealed by Padmasambhava and others.

These treasures were extracted in the final month of summer in the year of the water tiger (1362), which is one of the few complete dates that are provided in the sources.

At Rulak Drompa Gyang, he found the scrolls within a statue of a local deity known as Gonpo Jampa or "friendly protector" of Gyang (rgyang gi mgon po byams pa). At this location, there were thirty-six scrolls: twenty eight scrolls of the Sādhana for the Tamdrin Empowerment (rta mgrin dbang gi bsgrub thabs), four of the Treasures intended for the King of Gungtang (gung thang rgyal po la gsungs pa), one of the Sādhana of Gonpo Jampa, the Protector of Gyang (mgon po byams pa'i sgrub thabs), and three of the Sādhana of the Spirit of the Bule Mountains (gnod sbyin bu le'i sgrub thabs).

At Gyang Yonbulung, he discovered the following nineteen scrolls: seven scrolls of the Sādhana of Avalokiteśvara ('phags pa spyan ras gzigs kyi sgrub thabs), two of the Sādhana and Subjugating Mantras for the Nāgas (klu'i gsang bsgrub drag sngags dang bcas pa), four of the Treasures intended for the King of Gungtang (gung thang rgyal po la gsungs pa), and six of the Sādhana of Vajrapāni (phyag na rdo rje'i sgrub thabs).

Within this total collection of fifty-five, there was a small group of eight scrolls that contained treasures Zangpo Drakpa concluded were intended for his fellow treasure revealer Rigdzin Godemchen (rig 'dzin rgod ldem chen, 1337-1409); this collection consisted of the following nine titles: The Supplication in Seven Chapters (gsol 'debs le'u bdun) for the King of Gungtang, The Blazing Wheel Exorcism (phyir zlog 'khor lo 'bar ba), The Heart-Essence of the Final Testament (zhal chems thugs kyi thigs pa), The Inventory of the Northern Treasures (kha byang gter gyi bang mdzod), The Lantern that Reveals the Northern Ways (lam byang gsal ba'i sgron me), The Essential Ladder-Rung: An Extensive Treasure Inventory (snying byang rgyas pa gnad kyi them bu), The Middle-length Ray of Compassion ('bring po thugs rje'i 'od zer), The Condensed Iron Hook of Compassion (bsdud pa thugs rje'i lcags kyu), and Seven Instructions of the Seminal Heart (snying thig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun ma).

Guru Tashi's History also mentions a guidebook (gnas yig) for Mt. Pelbar (ri bo dpal 'bar) and instructions for building a temple there. This is significant as Mt. Pelbar is most likely another name for Mt. Shri, one of the most important early centers for the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasure Tradition, of which both Zangpo Drakpa and Rigdzin Godemchen were early propagators.

The Inventory and the Seven Instructions are important within the Jangter because they are later used to legitimize the treasure activities of Rigdzin Godemchen. It is also interesting that several of these texts are exorcistic in nature and suggest that he interacted with local divinities with skill. When Zangpo Drakpa's entire collection of treasures is considered, it appears that a fair amount of his activities were aimed at acquiring the patronage of the royal family of Mangyul Gungtang, which traced its heritage to the great monarchs of the Tibetan Empire and in many ways represented the last of the surviving remnants of the imperium. Although the kingdom flourished during the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries as a result of its close relationship with the Sakyapa, when that regime collapsed in the mid-thirteenth century, Mangyul Gungtang also experienced political instability. It appears that Zangpo Drakpa believed that his treasures held the power to stabilize the kingdom. For example, the final chapter of The Supplication in Seven Chapters, advises the kings of Gungtang to trust in the guidance of these treasures in order to secure the longevity of the kingdom. While the biographical sources do not mention any episodes in which Zangpo Drakpa attempted to contact the royal family directly, his treasure successor, Rigdzin Godemchen, diligently sought the patronage of the kings and was eventually rewarded with a royal edict that publicly consummated their relationship.

It is said that through his prophetic foresight, Zangpo Drakpa knew that the subset of eight scrolls mentioned above were destined to be wielded by another treasure revealer. In 1365, he therefore dispatched an entourage of three companions, headed by Tonpa Sonam Wangchuk (ston pa bsod nams dbang phyug), to deliver the scrolls with insightful instructions for identifying the individual who would use them. The majority of the biographical sources emphasize the part of the instructions that prophetically describe the group's future encounter with Rigdzin Godemchen and the happenstance manner in which they will eventually meet, leaving the reader with the impression that the treasure scrolls were passed between unrelated parties.

In The Ray of Sunlight, which is arguably the oldest of the historiographic sources of the Jangter tradition, the instructions to the three companions and the transmission of the scrolls are presented in a more complete form that reveals the preexisting connection, albeit indirect, between Zangpo Drakpa and Rigdzin Godemchen. According to this source, the three companions were also told that if they could not find someone who matched the prophetic description, they should seek out Zangpo Drakpa's trusted friend named Kyechok Darzang (skye mchog dar bzang). Kyechok Darzang was also the root teacher of Rigdzin Godemchen's maternal uncle named Ritropa Sanggye Tenpa (ri khrod pa sangs rgyas bstan pa). In fact, as soon as Rigdzin Godemchen received the scrolls from the three companions, he brought them to his uncle for review. Sanggye Tenpa then brought his nephew and the scrolls to see Kyechok Darzang, the very person who would have received the scrolls if the companions had not located Rigdzin Godemchen.

None of the biographical sources mention any further details of Zangpo Drakpa's life after he dispatched the three companions with the eight treasure scrolls.

Jay Valentine is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Troy University. His research focuses on the history of the Jangter Treasure Tradition. Published June 2016

Jay Valentine, "Zangpo Drakpa," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


RIGDZIN GODEM, The First Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen (rig 'dzin rgod ldem chen dngos grub rgyal mtshan) was born in Nyenyul (gnyan yul), also known as Toyor Nakpo (tho yor nag po), to the east of Mount Trazang (bkra bzang) in Lato Jang (la stod byang). The date of his birth is recorded as the tenth day of the first month of the fire-ox year, 1337. His father was Lobpon Dudul (slob dpon bdud 'dul), who belonged to the family of Namolung (sna mo lung) whose ancestry was said to trace back to a Mongolian king named Gurser (gur ser). His mother was named Jocham Sonam Khyedren (jo lcam bsod nams khye 'dren). They gave him the name Ngodrub Gyeltsen.

Lobpon Dudul was a tantric yogin with expertise in the practice of the Purbu Zeumuk Gu (phur bu ze'u smug gu), an early cycle of the deity Vajrakīla, and the young Ngodrub Gyeltsen studied these doctrines together with those of the Māyājāla and Mātaraḥ and so on under his tutelage. He is said to have demonstrated remarkable skill in both understanding and practice from a very early age, perfecting the samādhi of Vajrakīla by the time he was eight years old. Following the death of his father he continued to be educated by his mother.

According to legend, when he was eleven years old three feathery growths appeared on the top of his head; by the time he was twenty-three there were five. Because these growths looked like the feathers of a vulture, he became famous as Godkyi Demtruchen (rgod kyi ldem 'phru can), ‘the one with vulture’s feathers’, which is generally shortened to Godemchen. Later in life he became known as Rigdzin Chenpo (rig 'dzin chen po; mahāvidyādhara) and this title has been held ever since by each of his successive incarnations.

In 1364 a lama by the name of Manglam Zangpo Drakpa (mang lam bzang po grags pa, d.u.) apparently revealed certain texts that prophesied another man was destined to reveal important treasures. The following year he entrusted these to a Vinaya master named Tonpa Sonam Wangchuk (ston pa bsod nams dbang phyug, d.u.) and two companions with the precise instructions to pass them on to "a yogin carrying a statue or rosary in his hand" who they would encounter to the east of Mount Zangzang and who would begin to engage them in a conversation concerning the king of Gungtang (gung thang), the legitimate heir of the ancestral rulers of Tibet.

The story continues that a week or so later, as the three travellers were eating a meal on the bank of a stream near Draklung Monastery (brag lung dgon) in northern Yeru (g.yas-ru), Godemchen arrived there from Namolung carrying in his hands a brass image of Vajrakīla and a rosary. "Have you heard that lord Tashi De (bkra shis lde; the king of Gungtang) died today?" he asked. "This is not good. Has the very essence of the earth gone bad?" As he spoke, the three travellers recognized the fulfillment of Manglam Zangpo Drakpa's prophecy and so handed over all the treasure scrolls and a sealed letter of good wishes.

Upon his return to Namolung, Rigdzin Godemchen interpreted the rising of the planet Jupiter in the eighth lunar mansion (the lunar calendar's commemoration of the birth of the Buddha) as a sign that the time had come to take out the key to the treasures. At the first crack of dawn on the eighth day of the snake month in the year of the fire horse, 1366, there came from the east a beam of white light "like the trunk of the wish-fulfilling kalpalatā" that struck the summit of Mount Trazang and a spot beneath that was indicated by a light fall of snow. Thus, from the vicinity of three stones markers (rdo ring) within a cavity of hard white rock beneath the summit, Godemchen unearthed the first of the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasures, in the form of seven paper scrolls. In order to compensate for the removal of these scrolls, Godemchen buried another treasure in their place and the resultant cavity, known as Lungseng (rlung gseng) is reported to be still in existence today. During the new year celebrations of the following year, as Godemchen reached the age of thirty, a tree spontaneously grew up there which is also said to have remained until now.

A remarkably elaborate description of his next revelation describes how two months later, on the fourth day of the sheep month of 1366, Godemchen was engaged in bestowing the empowerment of Vajrakīla upon his disciples. During the preliminary section of the rite, just as he was establishing the maṇḍala of deities within the bodies of his disciples, he interrupted the rite and led his followers up into the mountains that looked like "a heap of poisonous snakes" (dug sbrul spung 'dra) to reveal treasure.

The hagiographies describe the air as sweetly scented and filled with rainbows as Godemchen guided his disciples to the southwest face of the mountain where the atmosphere glowed with ruby-red light in the splendor of the setting sun. They climbed up to a mountain cave and Godemchen went inside and began to pray, leaving two disciples, Lama Dopawa Sanggye Tenpa (bla ma do pa ba sangs rgyas bstan pa, d.u.) and Rigdzin Gonpo (rig 'dzin mgon po, d.u.) stationed beneath the entrance. As the sky grew dark following the setting of the sun, the rock cave began to tremor and shake as a sign that the master of the treasures had arrived. At midnight they lit a number of butter lamps and by their light the group was able to discern upon the rock the clear image of a crossed double vajra (viśvavajra).

When Godemchen pressed beneath that mark with the symbolic key to the treasures, it opened like a door onto a triangular chamber within which they found a pale blue snake with a yellow belly, as thick as a man’s arm. It was lying in a coil with its face to the southeast upon a square blue stone, the top of which was marked in nine sections with silver colored nails so that it resembled the back of a tortoise. The coils of the snake looked like an enormous eight-sided precious stone and upon its heart were three gem-like excrescences from which were extracted a roll of paper and a jewel. Resting upon the blue stone slab, concealed within the serpent’s coils, lay a maroon leather casket, the fivefold repository of the Jangter.

From the central compartment of deep red leather, Godemchen took out the four volumes of the Kunzang Gongpa Zangtel (kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal), the central Dzogchen text of the Jangter. From within this section he also took out the teachings of Lama Rigdzin Dungdrub (bla ma rig 'dzin gdung sgrub) and other texts of tantric practice, together with the Dzogchen texts of Vajrakīla, three kīla daggers wrapped in maroon silk, thirty paper scrolls wrapped in blue silk, relics such as hair from the heads of Padmasambhava and his disciples, and other sacred articles.

The front (eastern) compartment of the box was fashioned of white conch shell and contained texts of the Gyudre Ladokpa (rgyu 'bras la ldog pa) cycle as well as teachings on the similarity of the awakened mind to the sky (dgongs pa nam mkha' dang mnyam pa'i chos) and the root tantra texts of the Kadak Rangjung Rangshar (ka dag rang byung rang shar) cycle concerning the natural presence and arising of primordial purity.

The golden southern chamber of the chest contained teachings on the fourfold practice of approach and attainment of the deity (snyen sgrub rnam pa bzhi'i chos) and the texts of the Sangdrub Guru Drakpo Tsel (gsang sgrub guru drag po rtsal) and Kagye Drakpo Rangjung Rangshar (bka' brgyad drag po rang byung rang shar). Also in this chamber were found texts relating to Vajrakīla in his form as Mahottarakīla with nine faces and eighteen hands.

From the western compartment of red copper, Godemchen took out the Tendrel Khyeparchen (rten 'brel khyad par can) and the Chidrub Drowa Kundrol (phyi sgrub 'gro ba kun grol)  which form part of the Tendrel Chodun (rten 'brel chos bdun) cycle. He also took out a volume in which were found the Tamdrin Drekpa Wangdu (rta mgrin dregs pa dbang sdud), the Khorde Wangdu ('khor 'das dbang sdud) and the Mahādeva (lha chen) teachings, as well as a further volume containing the Jangchub Sempai Chowang (byang chub sems dpa'i spyod dbang).

Within the black northern compartment of iron were found the most violent of all the wrathful ritual texts, including many Vajrakīla texts, together with other teachings concerning "grinding the enemies and obstructers to dust" (dgra bgegs thal bar rlog pa'i chos), texts said to be as pernicious as the stem of a poisonous plant (dug gi sdong po lta bu). He also found there eight treatises on the compounding of ritual medicine (sman gyi tshad byas pa), as well as further commentaries and instructions on ‘thread cross rituals’ (mdos) but it seems that not all of these texts were transcribed and disseminated.

Deposited in the four corners of the cave were found to be precious treasures dedicated as offerings to the guardian protectors, including the four soul turquoises of the king and other jewels. These precious offerings were left undisturbed.

Taking away the five treasuries of teachings, but leaving undisturbed, the sources state, the many jewels and precious substances meant as offerings to the guardian deities, Godemchen organized each of the sections into one hundred and one parts and rearranged the folios of yellow paper into pairs like mother and son, marked with the seed-syllables of the four guardian goddesses of the gates. He then taught the doctrines contained therein to his chosen pupils.

These teachings became known as the Jangter in order to distinguish them from the Lhoter (lho gter), or Southern Treasures that had been revealed in previous centuries by Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136-1204) and Guru Chowang (gu ru chos dbang, 1212-1270). Tibetan historians group these three men together as the body, speech and mind emanations of Padmasambhava.

Godemchen is also credited with unearthing the keys to numerous ‘hidden lands’ (sbas yul), and he is personally credited with the opening of seven of these: Sikkim, known in Tibetan as Dremoshong ('bras mo gshongs), Deden Kyimolung (bde ldan skyid mo lung), Bepa Pemetsel (sbas pa padma'i tshal), Rolpa Khandro Ling (rol pa mkha' 'gro gling), Gyelkyi Khenpolung (rgyal kyi mkhan po lung), Lhai Podrangding (lha'i pho brang sdings) and Dromokhu (gro mo khud).

Regarding Sikkim, in 1373 Rigdzin Godemchen is said to have worked several miracles there and blessed the "White Rock Cave" (brag dkar phug) of Tashi Ding (bkra shis lding) as a place for meditation. He is also said to have revealed treasure from the peak of Gangchen Dzonga (gangs chen mdzod lnga), a sacred mountain there.

Apart from the treasures which he himself revealed, Godemchen is credited with producing the inventories to treasures that would be revealed in the future by others.

In 1389, at the age of fifty-two, Godemchen was appointed the role of personal preceptor to the king of Gungtang, Trigyel Chokdrubde (khri rgyal mchog grub lde, d.u.), who gave him possession of the region of Riwo Pelbar (ri bo dpal 'bar) in Mangyul. As an offering to the sovereign, Godemchen presented a kīla dagger called Sisum Dudul (srid gsum bdud 'dul), which he said had been used by Padmasambhava himself at Yangleshod cave in Nepal, together with other objects and teachings and empowerments. He is said to have reconcealed some of his treasure at Riwo Pelbar for later generations to rediscover. He also is said to have reconcealed treasure at Kyimolung.

During his time in Gungtang, Godemchen founded the monastery of Se Trazang (se bkra bzang dgon). This later became the seat of his son and heir to his lineage, Namgyel Gonpo (nam rgyal mgon po, d.u.), as well as the seat of a line of incarnations known as the Seton Lama (se ston bla ma).

Rigdzin Godemchen passed away in Zilnon (zil gnon), Sikkim, at the age of seventy-one in 1408, the year of the male earth mouse. The large number of teachings and special tantric precepts that he handed down to posterity were transmitted through three lineages known as the Mother, Son and Disciple lines. Roughly seventy-five years later a young charismatic lama, a holder of the Jangter tradition, Lekden Dorje (legs ldan rdo rje, 1452-1565), claimed to be the reincarnation of Godemchen. His reincarnation, Ngakgi Wangpo (ngag gi dbang po, 1580-1639), established Dorje Drak Monastery (rdo rje brag dgon) as the seat of the Jangter tradition, and took the title of Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin; Godemchen and Lekden Dorje thus became the First and Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, respectively.

This essay was adapted from Gathering The Elements: The Cult of the Wrathful Deity Vajrakīla according to the Texts of the Northern Treasures Tradition of Tibet. Berlin: Wandel Verlag, 2013.

Martin Boord earned his PhD at the School of Oriental and African studies at the University of London in 1992. He has published widely on the topic of Vajrakīla. Published May 2013

Martin Boord, "The First Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


Namgyel Gonpo, son of Rigdzin Godem

Namgyel Gonpo was born in Ngamring (ngam ring) in the province of Lato Jang (la stod byang) in the earth-rabbit year, 1399. He was the son of Rigdzin Godemchen (rig 'dzin rgod ldem chen, 1337-1409), the founding revelator of the Northern Treasure Tradition (byang gter). His mother was also an accomplished practitioner and teacher; she was known as both Master Pema (slob dpon pad+ma) and Lama Pema (bla ma pad+ma). At some point after the passing of Godemchen, she was the consort of the Indian Paṇḍita Vanaratna (paN chen nags kyi rin chen). Tradition maintains that Master Pema was Vajravārahī, an important female deity of the Northern Treasure Tradition.

The majority of Namgyel Gonpo's life from birth to death unfolded in the vicinity of Trazang (bkra bzang), a practice center and temple complex that his father established as the seat of the Northern Treasure Tradition around 1366.

He received the empowerments and guidance instructions for the primary treasure cycle of the Northern Treasure Tradition—the Great Perfection anthology entitled The Unimpeded Realization of Samantabhadra (kun tu bzang po'i dgongs pa zang thal)—directly from his father at the age of six. Tradition holds that when the religious community at Trazang recognized young Namgyel Gonpo's potential, they assembled before Rigdzin Godemchen and beseeched him to transmit the entirety of his learning to Namgyel Gonpo so that the worthy son could succeed the father as patriarch of the tradition. Before his death in 1409, Rigdzin Godemchen reportedly had already named his son as regent and transmitted to him all of the Northern Treasures, two cycles of the Seminal Heart of the Great Perfection (rdzogs pa chen po snying tig rnam gnyis), the Secret Magical Net (gsang ba sgyu 'phrul), the Ancestral Vajrakīla (pha chos rdo rje phur pa), the revelations of Guru Chowang (gu ru chos dbang, 1212-1270), the Eight Herukas (bka' brgyad), and other assorted teachings of the new and old translations.

Namgyel Gonpo continued to train from the age of ten under the supervision of his mother and his elder cousin named Dorje Pel (rdo rje dpal, b. late 14th c.), who was the primary ritual attendant and maternal nephew of Rigdzin Godemchen.

Namgyel Gonpo passed away at the age of twenty-five, in 1424. Chroniclers of the Northern Treasure Tradition explain his early demise as having been both an intentional act – a teaching on morality and mortality for his disciples -- and as the consequences of violating tantric precepts. The specific events that ultimately resulted in Namgyel Gonpo's demise are recorded in The Garland of Light: Lives of the Masters (bla ma rnams kyi rnam thar 'od kyi 'phreng ba), composed by the man who claimed to be Namgyel Gonpo's reincarnation, Sanggye Pelzang (sangs rgyas dpal bzang). It seems that the residents of a nearby hermitage who maintained a Hayagrīva chapel had requested Namgyel Gonpo and his mother to come to their hermitage and transmit the Dzogchen empowerments and teachings. Dorje Pel warned his disciple that he was too young to perform such deeds but Namgyel Gonpo proceeded to give the teachings without his teacher's consent. Dorje Pel learned from a vision soon after the event that Namgyel Gonpo's longevity had been compromised as a result of his actions.

Although Namgyel Gonpo married a woman named Wonmo Khandro (dbon mo mkha' 'gro) at the age of eighteen, their union did not produce any children.

It is said that he excelled at wrathful tantric practices and set many students on the path toward liberation, but none of his students are explicitly named in the biographies other than his cousin, Dorje Pel, who was also his teacher. According to the records of the Fifth Dalai Lama (ta la'i bla mo 05, 1617-1682), Namgyel Gonpo also transmitted teachings to Dorje Gonpo (rdo rje mgon po), who was one of Rigdzin Godemchen's earliest disciples, Sonam Zangpo (bsod nams bzang po, 1341-1433), Sangye Wonchen (sangs rgyas dbon chen), Rigdzin Sangngak Dongpo (rigs 'dzin gsang sngags sdong po), and Donyo Gyeltsen (don yod rgyal mtshan), who transmitted the Northern Treasures to Tangtong Gyelpo (thang stong rgyal po, 1361-1486).

Jay Valentine is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Troy University. His research focuses on the history of the Jangter Treasure Tradition. Published January 2018

Jay Valentine, "Namgyel Gonpo," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


LEKDEN DORJE, The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 02 legs ldan rdo rje) was born at Lhundrub Choding (lhun grub chos sdings), in a town named Lowo (glo bo), or Lowo Matang (glo bo ma thang), in Ngari (mnga ris). His birth year was likely 1452, although some sources put it at sixty years later, in 1512.

Lekden Dorje's family was said to have descended from the early kings of Tibet. His father, Jamyang Rinchen Gyeltsen ('jam dbyangs rin chen rgyal mtshan, 1445-1558), was a well known tantric yogi, revered by some as an incarnation of Marpa Lotsāwa Chokyi Lodro (mar pa lo tsA ba chos kyi blo gros, 1012-1097). He had eight sons, five of whom -- Dondrub Dorje (don grub rdo rje), Wangyel Dorje (dbang rgyal rdo rje), Rinchen Dorje (rin chen rdo rje), Sanggye Dorje (sangs rgyas rdo rje), and Kunzang Dorje (kun bzang rdo rje), were considered to be emanations of the five Buddha families. Their sixth son, Gonpo Lekden Dorje (mgon po legs ldan rdo rje), was considered to be an emanation of the deity Gonpo Lekden (mgon po legs ldan). Of the eight sons, only Lekden Dorje and his younger brother, Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wanggyel (mnga' ris paN chen pad+ma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542), are known to history.

Lekden Dorje began studying reading and writing with his mother, at the age of seven. It is said she frequently advised the young boy to become a hermit, based on her belief that she had received Padmasambhava's blessings while carrying him in her womb. His father performed his tonsure ceremony and gave him the ordination name Nyida Drakzang (nyi lza grags bzang). It seems that the name Lekden Dorje was derived from a prophesy made by Kunkyong Lingpa (kun skyong gling pa, 1396-1477). Tradition relates that his father loved him so much that he spoiled him, and he became so mischievous that the local people gave him the nick name "Evil-spirit Lekden".

According to his hagiography, it was the death of a beloved aunt that first inspired Lekden Dorje to seriously engage with the Buddhist teachings. He began by receiving commentarial teachings, empowerments, and reading transmissions on the sixty-five maṇḍalas of Dowang (mdo dbang dkyil 'khor drug cu re lnga) from his father at Lowo Matang Lhundrub Choding Monastery (glo bo ma thang lhun grub chos sdings dgon pa), and continued to receive a great variety of tantric teachings from his father for the next three years, particularly related to the Guhyagarbha Tantra. After this cycle of teachings were complete, his father instructed Lekden Dorje to take care of his brother, Pema Wangyel.

Lekden Dorje soon adopted the lifestyle of an itinerant student, traveling extensively across U-Tsang in search of teachings. It is said that his teachers, numbering over one hundred, spanned every tradition. At one point he made a pilgrimage to Kyirong (skyid grong) where he visited the Kyirong Jowo (skyid grong jo bo), a famous statue of Buddha Śākyamuni, and then proceeded to other sites such as Jangchub Dzong (byang chub rdzong), Dorje Dzong (rdo rje rdzong), Dribma Dzong (grib ma rdzong), and Dzongkar (rdzong dkar), searching out teachers and receiving a great range of instructions.

He caught small pox while traveling in the Neshang (sne shang) region but it is said he was able to cure himself through powers gained by his tantric practice. He went on to receive teachings on the Khandro Nyingtik (mkha' 'gro snying thig) and Six Yogas of Niguma from Namkha Sherab (nam mkha' shes rab, d.u.), and then returned to his hometown of Lowo where he received many empowerments from his brother, including Four-Arm Avalokiteśvara, Heruka, and numerous treasure teachings. This was followed by a series of teachings, empowerments, and instructions from his father on many topics including the Scripture of the Great Assemblage ('dus pa’i mdo), a root tantra of the Anuyoga class. At this time he also received instructions on the Teaching Cycle of the Eight Great Vajrapāṇis (phyag rdor che ba brgyad bskor) from Sanggye Kyabpa (sangs rgyas skyabs pa, d.u.), and the oral lineage of Rechungpa Dorje Drakpa (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161) from Rabjampa Konchok Samdrub (rab 'byams pa dkon mchog bsam grub, d.u.).

Lekden Dorje then accompanied his brother on a pilgrimage to Samye (bsam yas) Monastery. They stayed for seven days in a nomadic tent performing rituals that included an extensive land blessing ceremony. During the course of their stay they established a small community of tantric practitioners named Evaṁ Chokgar (e waM lcog sgar).

After their stay at Samye Monastery, Lekden Dorje and his brother continued on to Nepal, where they received teachings from the yogis who were practicing at various sacred sites. At Yanglasho (yang la shod), a cave outside of Kathmandu he met Shakya Zangpo (shA kya bzang po, d.u.), posthumously known as the First Yolmo Tulku (yol mo sprul sku).

Shakya Zangpo had been a principal student of Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen (rig 'dzin rgod ldem chen dngos grub rgyal mtshan, 1337-1408/09), the founder of the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasures tradition. Shakya Zangpo recognized Lekden Dorje as the incarnation of Godemchen, and subsequently gave him Jangter empowerments and teachings. They then entered a year-long retreat at Riwo Pelbar (ri bo dpal 'bar) with Lekden Dorje acting as Shakya Zangpo's attendant, over the coarse of which he received the complete transmission of Rigdzin Godemchen's treasure cycle.

Upon returning to Lowo, Lekden Dorje and Pema Wanggyel learned that their mother had passed away. They performed funerary prayers and rituals that included making extensive offerings to local teachers and passing out alms to a large number of beggars. Lekden Dorje served his father as an attendant for a year, then again sat for a yearlong retreat in Tangkya cave (stang skya). Once his retreat was completed, he accompanied his brother to Dolpo, where he received teachings on the Vajramāla tantra, Lamdre (lam 'bras), and Nāro Khacho (nA ro mkha' spyod) from Tengchen Khenpo (steng chen mkhan po, d.u.).

During this period Lekden Dorje set about editing a one-volume collection of root, branch, and supplementary texts on the "graded path of tantra" (gsang sngags lam rim ma bu cha lag). He began teaching from his newly edited edition, during which he was known to supplement his commentary with lines from the teaching-songs of Milarepa.

During this time he maintained his relationship with Shakya Zangpo, serving his as attendant and ritual-leader (mchod dpon) whenever Shakya Zangpo was invited to perform rituals. While traveling at Ngamring Dedrol (ngam ring bde grol) he encountered Tukse Namkha Gyeltsen (thugs sras nam mkha' rgyal mtshan, d.u.), another of his predecessor's disciples who gave him transmissions and empowerments from the Riwo Trazang treasure cycle (ri bo bkra bzang pa'i lugs kyi gter chos), another of Rigdzin Godemchen's revelations.

After these teachings were complete, Lekden Dorje entered a retreat at Riwo Pelbar that lasted a total of ten years. When the retreat was completed, Lekden Dorje returned to Ngamring Dedrol where he met his brother. Pema Wanggyel asked him to once again accompany on his travels to U and Tsang. They spent a year in Tsang and then proceeded to U and Tsang where they visited Lhasa and Gungtang, receiving teachings at many places from various lamas.

It was while meditating in a cave at Samye during this trip that Lekden Dorje began his career as a treasure revealer. In one of the many visions he experienced then, various dharma protectors told him of the location of a treasure he was to reveal. According to tradition, he soon after uncovered two paper scrolls from a place called Drakmar Drinzang (bgrag dmar mgrin bzang).

At Wonpu Tashi Chobuk Hermitage ('on phu bkra shis chos sbug ri khrod), Rechungpa Kunga Ozer (ras chung pa kun dga' 'od zer, d.u.) organized a teaching session in which Lekden Dorje gave practical commentary on the Dzokpa Chenpo Kunzang Gongpa Zangtel (rdzogs pa chen po kun bzang dgongs pa bzang thal), a collection of Dzogchen teachings revealed by Rigdzin Godemchen, known as Zangtel for short. He is also said to have performed rituals for making rainfall.

At Taktsang (stag tshang), he is said to have discovered an ancient cave that contained what was said to be Padmasambhava's throne and numerous other sacred objects. He revealed many treasure texts from this location, including tantric teachings on Guru Drakpo Ugu (gu ru drag po dbu dgu) and a wrathful text on Hayagrīva called the Tamdrin Soktrok Drekpa Zilngon (rta mgrin srog 'phrog dregs pa zil ngon). Tradition relates that 10,500 footprints in the rock, one hundred naturally emerged statues and seed syllables in the rock were found, which could still be seen at this location until recent times. Lekden Dorje then entered another strict retreat at Jato Monastery at Samye (bsam yas phu 'ja' stod dgon pa), during which he subsided solely on a soup made of stinging nettles. After he completed his retreat, his brother instructed him to give teachings at Won Monden ('on sman ldan).

Lekden Dorje traveled to Drigung Monastery ('bri gung) at the invitation of the seventeenth abbot, Rinchen Puntsok (rin chen phun tshogs, 1509-1557) to give teachings on the Nyingma tantras. Afterwards, he visited Tsurpu ('tshur phu) Monastery in Tolung (stod lung). He revealed two treasures entitled the Compendium of Essential Teachings of Dzogchen (rdzogs chen snying po bsdus pa) and Mahāmudrā: the Mirror of Mind (phyag chen sems kyi me long) at Partsang Drak ('phar tshang brag) in Tolung and gave many teachings on the Zangtel at Taklung Drak (stag lung brag). These lectures  were later edited at Chuwori Chakzam Tse Monastery (chu bo ri lcags zam rtse'i dgon pa) and formed the core commentarial teaching on the Zangtel. He also revealed treasure texts on Lama Kusumma (bla ma sku gsum ma) and Rituals for Accomplishing Nedak Kyin Tingma  (gnas bdag skyin mthing ma'i sgrub skor) from Tsogyel Puk ('tsho rgyal phug).

He then set out once again to Nepal, intending to practice in the country's holy places for at least another year. En route, he visited the Namjom Temple in Trazang (bkra bzang rnam 'joms lha khang) where he received teachings and is said to have had a vision of Rigdzin Godemchen. According to tradition, he subsequently revealed items relating to the Kagye Rangshar, or Self-Appearing Eight Sadhanas (bka' brgyad rang shar gi cha lag), and restored some of Rigdzin Godemchen's treasures that had been neglected, and relocated treasures that had been lost. Among these was a treasure text for accomplishing the Six-Arm Mahākāla (mgon po phyag drug pa'i sgrub skor).

During his time at Trazang he built a temple and continued to give teachings, instructions, and empowerments, but his trip to Nepal was cut short when he received the news that his brother Pema Wanggyel had passed away. He quickly returned to Lhasa where he performed funerary prayers and rituals. He eventually returned to Drigung, where he offered some of his newly discovered treasures.

He again set off, this time towards Sikkim. Along the way, he revealed a treasure relating to long-life practice entitled Accumulation of Nectar for Eternal Life at Lhari Rinchen Nyingpo (lha ri rin chen snying po). In Sikkim, known in Tibetan as Dremojong ('bras mo ljong) or Dremoshong ('bras mo gshong) -- Valley of Rice -- he participated in  "opening" the region for Buddhist (and Tibetan) activity, a process which had begun with Godemchen and the famous treasure revealer, Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450-1521). Among the sacred sites he is credited with opening are Orgyen Jawo Puk (o rgyan 'ja' 'od phug) and Drakkar Tashi Ding (brag dkar bkra shis sdings).

After returning to U, Lekden Dorje spent most of his time in the Chuwori and Won areas, where he partnered with a woman named Nyemo Cham Khyentsema (snye mo lcam mkhyen brtse ma, d.u.). She later gave birth to their son, Jangpa Gyelse Pema Chogyel (byang pa rgyal sras pad+ma chos rgyal, d.u.), who was recognized as an emanation of Tangtong Gyelpo (thang stong rgyal po, 1361-1485). He then again went into retreat (it is not known whether his consort accompanied him).

His practices were not restricted to Nyingma traditions. In his later life he also practiced new-translation tantras such as Cakrasaṃvara, Guhyasamāja, and Yamāntaka. According to his hagiography, he became such a powerful master that the commitment-bound spirits (dam can) were under his direct command. His accomplishments in this area were such that the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), praised him with the comment, "It seems in the later periods no one has been born superior to this Great Rigdzin in terms of their overall power and accomplishment in tantra and miracles."

Lekden Dorje left Chuwori for the northern region of Tibet in order to teach Jangdak Tashi Tobgyel (byang bdag bkra shis stobs rgyal, 1550-1603), the young man who he recognized as the reincarnation of his late brother, Pema Wanggyel. They met in Ngamring (ngam ring), where Lekden Dorje gave him essential instructions on the oral transmission and revealed treasure lineages of the old translation school (snga 'gyur bka' gter).  Lekden Dorje gave him the title Chogyel (chos rgyal), meaning "dharma king", and predictions regarding his future. Tashi Tobgyel went on to establish a large community where Lekden Dorje served as abbot until his death. This is most likely Sangngak Tekchokling Dratsang (gsang sngags theg mchog gling drwa tshang).

Lekden Dorje's principal disciple was Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang phyug, 1524-1568), who served as the fourteenth abbot of Zhalu Monastery (zhwa lu). Lekden Dorje gave him empowerments on the Scripture of the Great Assemblage, and made him the transmission-holder of his teachings. His other main disciples included his son, Pema Chogyel; Drigung Rinchen Puntsok; Chogyel Tashi Tobgyel; the Fourth Drukchen, Pema Karpo ('brug chen 04 pad+ma dkar po, 1527-1592); Japa Tripon Tsokye Dorje (bya pa khri dpon mtsho skyes rdo rje, d.u.); Wangchuk Rabten (dbang phyug rab brtan,1558-1638), who served as the eighteenth abbot of Zhalu; and the Second Yolmo Tulku, Namkha Gyajin (yol mo sprul sku 02 nam mkha' brgya sbyin, d.u.).

Lekden Dorje passed away in 1565, according to some sources, at the age of one hundred and thirteen. (The alternate date of 1625, also a wood-ox year, is unlikely given that his reincarnation was born in 1580.) Some of his disciples suspected his death was due to murder by black-magic. His body was brought to Chuwori for cremation and a reliquary was built in his memory. Legend has it that before his death Tashi Tobgyel wept and begged him to lengthen his life. Lekden Dorje replied that as Tashi Tobgyel loved him so much, he would take rebirth as his son.

Evaṁ Chokgar was later enlarged by Tashi Tobgyel, and subsequently moved and reestablished as a monastery on the north bank of the Tsangpo River by Lekden Dorje's reincarnation, Rigdzin Ngakgi Wangpo (ngag gi dbang po, 1580-1639), who was Chogyel Tashi Tobgyel's son (in apparent conformity to Lekden Dorje's prediction). The monastery eventually became Tubten Dorje Drak Evaṁ Chokgar Monastery (thub bstan rdo rje brag e wam chog sgar dgon pa) or simply Dorje Drak, rising to prominence as one of the six "mother monasteries" of the Nyingma tradition in Tibet. It lent its name to the incarnation line: Godemchen and Lekden Dorje were posthumously given the incarnation title of the First and Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, respectively. (Some enumerations, however, begin with Ngakgi Wangpo, who is thus alternately known as the First or the Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin.)

Samten Chhosphel is an independent scholar with PhD from the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) at Sarnath, Varanasi, India. He has a Master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, Boston, MA. After serving as the In-charge of Publication Department of CUTS for  26 years, he immigrated to the United States in 2009 and is currently an adjunct Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, and Language Associate in Columbia University. Published May 2013 Samten Chhosphel, "The Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


NGAGI WANGPO, The Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

The Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Ngakgi Wangpo (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 03 ngag gi dbang po) was born at Drapchi Choding Monastery (dra phyi chos lding dgon pa) in U in 1580, the iron-dragon year of the tenth sexagenary cycle. His father, Jangdak Tashi Tobgyel (byang bdag bkra shis stobs rgyal, c.1550-1603), had been a close student of the Second Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Lekden Dorje (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 02 legs ldan rdo rje, 1452-1565), and was known as the incarnation of Lekden Dorje's brother, Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wangyel (mnga' ris paN chen pad+ma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542), an important lineage holder in the Jangter (byang gter), or Northern Treasures tradition. His mother, Yidzin Wangmo (yid 'dzin dbang mo), was descended from the legendary kings of Chonggye ('phyong rgyas).

Legend has it that when Lekden Dorje was about to pass away, 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. According to tradition, as soon as he was able to speak, Tashi Tobgyel's son proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of Lekden Dorje and was able to identify his predecessor's attendants and religious objects. Tashi Tobgyel formally recognized his son as the incarnation of his own teacher -- and of the brother of his own previous incarnation -- and thus appoint him as the main lineage holder of the Jangter tradition.

Ngakgi Wangpo began studying reading and writing with his father around the age of five or six. Tashi Tobgyel gradually transmitted everything he had learned from Lekden Dorje to his son, and arranged for the transmission of whatever teaching lineages he had not received from other teachers. After gaining competence in these teachings and their practices, Ngakgi Wangpo embarked on a series of meditation retreats at various sacred places in southern Tibet connected to Padmasambhava, including Chonggye and Yarlung Sheldrak (yar klung shel brag).

Afterwards, he continued eastwards, with his father, passing through Kongpo (kong po), Mon (mon), and Kham (khams), and possibly into China. Along the way they are said to have healed the sick, tamed epidemics, and mediated conflicts. He also is said to have revealed treasure, although this might refer to minor miracles such as opening springs.

During this period central and southern Tibet was rife with sectarian conflict and political turmoil due to fighting between the then-independent kingdom of Tsang and the growing power of Geluk institutions in Lhasa. At one point, Lhawang Dorje (lha dbang rdo rje, d.u.), a powerful son of the King of Tsang, Zhingzhak Tseten Dorje (zhing zhag tshe brtan rdo rje, d.u.), ended their family's relationship with the teachers of the Jangter tradition, and forced Tashi Tobgyel and his son to leave Tsang.

They spent time in Chonggye and Drigung ('bri gung), where it is said they practiced violent mantras against their enemies. Further sectarian violence between the Drigung and Sakya schools eventually brought in outside armies from Hor, while continuing fighting between Tsang and Lhasa eventually resulted in a full scale invasion by the Mongol Army. It was against this backdrop of discord that Ngakgi Wangpo engaged in his partisan activities that included performing rituals at Samyetil (bsam yas mthil), Chimpu (mchims pu), and Drak Yang Dzong (bsgrags yang rdzong).

In 1618, the year of earth-horse in the tenth sexagenary cycle, fighting between the newly formed Geluk leadership in Lhasa and the kingdom of Tsang reached a new height, and the Tsang forces reached a place called Lumpa (lum pa), where Ngakgi Wangpo was staying at the time, and he again went on the road.

While he was staying in Won Mentang ('on sman thang), the Third Yolmo Tulku, Tendzin Norbu (yol mo sprul sku 03 bstan 'dzin nor bu, 1589-1644), who was an incarnation of Shakya Zangpo (shA kya bzang po, d.u.), one of the first lineage holders of the Jangter tradition, arrived to study with him. Ngakgi Wangpo gave him many empowerments, transmissions, and teachings from the Jangter tradition. One story relates that when Yolmo Tulku had expressed concern that certain forces were deliberately creating obstacles to his practice, Ngakgi Wangpo advised that among the many esoteric Nyingma instructions, some of them could be employed towards "wrathful action," as he and his father had performed earlier.

Ngakgi Wangpo once again set off on a teaching and pilgrimage tour where he visited numerous locations on the invitation of his many devotees. His journeys brought him to Yarlung (yar klung), Trandruk (khra 'brug), and Zapulung (za phu lung) in southern Tibet, where he is said to have brought many local deities under his command. He returned to Tokgyel (thog rgyal) in Tsang where he performed rituals for the local rulers at Evaṁ Chokgar (e waM lcog sgar), which had been founded by Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wangyel and his brother Lekden Dorje, Ngakgi Wangpo's previous incarnation. Then, at Samye Monastery, he engaged in intensive purification practices by offering one hundred thousand full prostrations, circumambulations, butter lamps, and by creating numerous offering tormas.

The community of Evaṁ Chokgar, which had originally been located near Samye, was later enlarged by Ngakgi Wangpo's father, Jangdak Tashi Tobgyel. When the Jangter tradition lost favor with the government in Tsang, Ngakgi Wangpo moved the community to the north bank of Brahmaputra River and established it as a monastery. He named this new institution Tubten Dorje Drak Evaṁ Chokgar (thub bstan rdo rje brag e waM lcog sgar), commonly known as Dorje Drak Monastery. It eventually rose to prominence as one of the six major Nyingma monasteries in Tibet, responsible for preserving the Jangter tradition. Ngakgi Wangpo became the first throne-holder of Dorje Drak Monastery. Some sources name him the First Dorje Drak Rigdzin, but most sources count him as Third, after his predecessors, Rigdzin Godem and Lekden Dorje, who were posthumously named the First and Second Dorje Drak Rigdzins.

Sources disagree on the year of Dorje Drak's founding. It is variously given as 1610, the iron-dog year of the tenth sexagenary cycle; 1618, the earth-horse year of the tenth sexagenary cycle; 1630, the iron-horse year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle; and 1632, the water-monkey year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle, though 1632 is the most commonly agreed upon date.

At the new monastery Ngakgi Wangpo installed the golden reliquary containing his father's remains, and he firmly established the ritual traditions and monastic dances (gar 'chams) that had been developed by his father. He also introduced new forms and traditions that have been preserved until modern times.

Ngakgi Wangpo by this point had developed a considerable reputation as a ritualist. At one point after the establishment of Dorje Drak he visited the region of Drakar (brag mkhar), which was known to be the home of many bandits and outlaws. He is said to have wiped out their activities forever with his magic. He later performed some work for Depa Drakhapa (sde pa brag kha pa, d.u.), then the ruler of the Samye region. He eradicated obstructing spirits by performing a wrathful fire-ritual (drag po'i sbyin sreg), a task that had earlier been unsuccessfully undertaken by the famous Terton, Jatson Nyingpo (gter ston 'ja' tshon snying po, 1585-1656). He is also known to have performed various activities at Podrang Neudong Tse (pho brang sne'u gdong rtse) and Samding (bsam sdings), at the request of his devotees. He gave many empowerments and transmissions from the Jangter tradition at Podrang Gongri Karpo (pho brang gong ri dkar po) to a large group of disciples led by the Third Yolmo Tulku, Tendzin Norbu. Legend has it that at one point he left a clear footprint in the rock outside Dorje Drak monastery

Ngakgi Wangpo's fame grew to such an extent that he counted the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (tA la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), as one of his students. The Fifth Dalai Lama compiled his official biography, and the Jangter tradition would go on to play an important role in the newly formed government in Lhasa.

There are many legends relating Ngakgi Wangpo's skills as a mediator and miracle worker. In one story, Drula Monastery ('bru la dgon) had a one-story golden statue of Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419). Soon after its installation, the monastery caught fire three times and experienced many additional problems. Ngakgi Wangpo was requested to perform a divination in order to uncover the problem. He pointed out that the mantras filling in the statue were incorrectly sequenced and gave them the correct order. After this had been rectified, the problems at the monastery ceased.

Another story relates that at one point a group of lay people approached him for help making rainfall. In response, he built two vase-shaped stupas, called Samdrub Bumpa (bsam grub 'bum pa), or "Wish Fulfilling Vases," in a single day with the help of the local villagers who had requested his help. Afterwards, he instructed them to pray to the stupas in case of drought, epidemic, conflicts, or whatever problem might occur in the future. This activity was apparently efficacious, as his fame continued to grow and he became renowned for having the power of clairvoyance.

He continued to mediate conflicts and is said to have brought peace to the Powo (spo bo) region of Kham and caused the retreat of a Mongol army, presumably through his powers of wrathful mantra. He continued to bestow teachings and empowerments on request, and is said to have inspired many to give up thievery and other negative deeds merely by being in his presence. He is said to have settled a developing conflict between the Jangter community and a group Kongpo traders by threatening the leader of the traders with his tantric power, and is said to have pacified many tribal conflicts and clashes in his region of southern Tibet, subjugating fierce people who later became his devotees.

At one point, he visited Katok Monastery (kaH thog dgon pa), one of the major Nyingma institutions in Kham, where he gave extensive teachings. In return he received many valuable offerings including gold, silver, turquoise, horses, and tea-blocks. Afterwards, he traveled to see the Tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje (karma pa 10 chos dbyings rdo rje, 1604-1674), although the location of the meeting is not known; possibly at his seat at Tsurpu (mtshur phu), although it could have been almost anywhere, as the Karmapa was frequently on the road. It is said that during the trip a group Mongolians plotted to ambush them but they remained unharmed due to Ngakgi Wangpo's miraculous powers.

In Kham he gave empowerments, transmissions, and instructions at many major monasteries such as Katok and Dzongsar (rdzong gsar). After his extended teaching tour through eastern Tibet, he returned to Dorje Drak monastery via Lhasa, where he was received at Ramagang (ra ma sgang) by his younger brother, Rigdzin Trinle Namgyel (rig 'dzin phrin las rnam rgyal, d.u.), and his assistants.

He was then invited to an area in the Yarlung valley named Chonggye Taktse ('phyong rgyas stag rtse), where he stayed for an extended period giving teachings, empowerments, instructions, and reading transmissions. At the end of his residence, he performed extensive rituals for removing obstacles and participated in monastic dances to commemorate his departure. Afterwards, he traveled to Samye on the invitation of the local ruler, Depa Drakhapa (sde pa brag kha pa, d.u.). He sat for a weeklong retreat with a few of his disciples in Chimpu (mchims phu), an area of meditation caves and temples near Samye, and is said to have revealed a treasure text that was fated to have been passed to a lama named Choje Dungkar Repa (chos rje dung dkar ras pa, d.u.), although this never came to pass.

Ngakgi Wangpo's fame grew until he became known to the Manchu leaders who were soon to conquer China and rule as the Qing Dynasty. One of these, either Nurhaci (努尔哈赤, r. 1616-1626) or Hong Taiji (洪太極, r. 1626-1643), awarded him the imperial designation of "Rigdzin Hutuktu," in recognition of his scholarship and success in pacifying conflicts.

Some of his other prominent disciples included Zurchen Choying Rangdrol (zur chen chos dbyings rang grol, 1604-1669), another teacher to the Fifth Dalai Lama; the Third Yolmo Tulku Tendzin Norbu; the Third Longchen Tashi Namgyel (klong chen 03 bkra shis rnam rgyal, d.u.); and Kunzang Wangpo (kun bzang dbang po, d.u.).

On the tenth of the third month of the earth-hare year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle, presumably in May 1639, Ngakgi Wangpo, appearing in good health, gave advice in regards to current and future events concerning the welfare of the Evam Chokgar Community. Afterwards, he immediately made arrangements for a confessional prayer ceremony followed by an unusually detailed dedication. He returned to his room and passed away, at the age of sixty.

Yolmo Tulku Tendzin Norbu and Zurchen Choying Rangdrol organized extensive funeral rites for their late teacher. They supervised Dorje Drak monastery until Rigdzin Pema Trinle, who they identified as the Fourth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, was enthroned in 1646.

Samten Chhosphel is an independent scholar with PhD from the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) at Sarnath, Varanasi, India. He has a Master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, Boston, MA. After serving as the In-charge of Publication Department of CUTS for  26 years, he immigrated to the United States in 2009 and is currently an adjunct Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, and Language Associate in Columbia University. Published May 2013

Samten Chhosphel, "The Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Ngakgi Wangpo," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


PEMA TRINLEY, The Fourth Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Rigdzin Pema Trinle (rigs 'dzin padma 'phrin las) was born into the noble Janak (bya nag) family at the private palace of Monkhar Namseling (mon mkhar rnam sras gling) on the south bank of the Tsangpo opposite Samye Monastery (bsam yas), which is still standing. His father was Karma Puntsok Wangpo (karma phun tshogs dbang po) and his mother was named Rigdzin Buti Wangmo (rig 'dzin bu khrid dbang mo).

At the age of six the boy was recognized by the Third Yolmo Tulku, Tendzin Norbu (yol mo sprul sku 03 bstan 'dzin nor bu, 1589-1644), and Zurchen Choying Rangdrol (zur chen chos dbyings rang grol, 1604-1669), as the reincarnation of the Third Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Ngakgi Wangpo (rdo rje brag rig 'dzin 03 ngag gi dbang po, 1580-1639) and was enthroned on the seat of Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag).

Both Tendzin Norbu and Choying Rangdrol had been close disciples of Ngakgi Wangpo, the man responsible for locating Dorje Drak at its present site. Because of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso's (ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682) patronage of the Jangter (byang gter) tradition and of Dorje Drak (in contrast to other Nyingma lineages and institutions that had close ties to the defeated Tsang King), the Fifth Dalai Lama took a strong interest in the young Dorje Drak incarnation, protecting Dorje Drak and giving Pema Trinle refuge vows and, later, full ordination as well, bestowing on him the name Lobzang Pema Trinle (blo bzang pad+ma 'phrin las).

Pema Trinle studied with the Dalai Lama's own Nyingma teachers, including Zurchen, Menlungpa Lochok Dorje (sman lung pa blo mchog rdo rje, 1595-1671), Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje (smin gling gter chen 'gyur med rdo rje, 1646 –1714), and Kangyurwa Gonpo Sonam Chokden (bka' 'gyur ba mgon po bsod nams mchog ldan, 1603-1659).

The breadth of Pema Trinle's learning in both sutra and tantra was legendary. He practiced many teachings from the Sakya tradition, as well as his Nyingma heritage, but he was known principally as a matchless master of the formidable Jangter rituals. In this capacity he served for decades as the chief ritual officiator of the new Tibetan state, presiding over elaborate ceremonies such as the final consecration of the Potala Palace (po ta la) and longevity rites for the young Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (tA la'i bla ma 06 tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho, 1683-1706).

Unlike most of his predecessors, Pema Trinle was a prolific and accomplished author, whose writings on a variety of subjects, chiefly the Nyingma tantras, filled some thirteen volumes. Among his more important works was one on the empowerment of the main Anuyoga tantra, the Gongpa Dupai Do (dgongs pa 'dus pa'i mdo), which became a central text in the tantra's transmission. (The work is titled 'dus pa mdo'i dbang chog dkyil l'khor rgya mtsho'i 'jug ngogs.) The composition was specifically commissioned by the Fifth Dalai Lama, and reflects the exclusion of Nyingma lineages out of favor with the Fifth Dalai Lama. He was also a treasure revealer, and his disciples included many of the eminent religious figures of the early eighteenth century. Like his predecessors, he also opened and developed several sacred places, including one at Drak Yangdzong (sgrags yang rdzong).

Through the 1660s and 1670s Pema Trinle greatly expanded Dorje Drak Monastery. He also gave extensive teachings on various topics from sutra, tantra, and common subjects regularly to over two thousand monks gathered at the monastery from near and far. It became a showpiece of aesthetic excellence and a center of the monastic arts, setting a precedent for its more ambitious twin, Mindroling.

In 1717, when he was seventy-seven, Pema Trinle was murdered by Mongol Dzungar invaders during their anti-Nyingma and anti-Bon rampage, and Dorje Drak was burned to the ground.

Samten Chhosphel is an independent scholar with PhD from the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) at Sarnath, Varanasi, India. He has a Master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, Boston, MA. After serving as the In-charge of Publication Department of CUTS for  26 years, he immigrated to the United States in 2009 and is currently an adjunct Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, and Language Associate in Columbia University. Published December 2009, Updated October 2012 Samten Chhosphel, "The Fourth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Pema Trinle," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Kelzang Pema Wangchuk, The Fifth Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Samten Chhosphel, "The Fifth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Kelzang Pema Wangchuk," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Kunzang Gyurme Lhundrup, The Sixth Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Samten Chhosphel, "The Sixth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Kunzang Gyurme Lhundrub," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Ngawang Jamyang Mingyur Lhundrup Dorje, The Seventh Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Samten Chhosphel, "The Seventh Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Ngawang Jampel Mingyur Lhundrub Dorje," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Kelzang Pema Wangel, The Eighth Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Samten Chhosphel, "The Eighth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Kelzang Pema Wanggyel," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Tupten Chowang Nyamnyi Dorje, The Ninth Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo

Samten Chhosphel, "The Ninth Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Tubten Chowang Nyamnyi Dorje," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Thangtong Gyalpo


Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal   

Harry Einhorn, "Ngari Paṇchen Pema Wanggyel," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Tashi Topgyal

Samten Chhosphel, "Tashi Tobgyel," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


Zur Choying Rangdrol

Yolmo Tulku Shakya Zangpo

Tenzin Norbu, The Third Yolmo Tulku

Benjamin Bogin, "The Third Yolmo Tulku, Tendzin Norbu," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,


Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso, The Fifth Dalai Lama


Alexander Gardner, "The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 10, 2018,

Biographies of  Dorje Pel, Rigdzin Godem’s primary attendant and nephew (b. late 14th c.); Jampa Shenyen (b. early 15th c.); Dorje Gonpo, an early disciple of Rigdzin Godem (b. 14th  c.); Ngakwang Drakpa, nephew of Dorje Gonpo (b. early 15th c.); and Sangye Pelzang, the re-embodiment of Namgyel Gonpo (b. 15th c.) can be found in a paper by Dr. Jay Valentine in the scholarly papers section.