Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Teacher

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 13904)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Kadam, Sakya, Kagyu, Drigung (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Material Metal, Mercuric Gild
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Monastic

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Chokyi Gyalpo Drime Ozer (13135-1407 [P1485]).

Above the prop[er left shoulder is a folio book with a small figure of white Vina Sarasvati seated in front. It is likely that a figure of Manjushri was placed over the right shoulder above the now missing lotus and sword.

'Homage to Kunkhyen Chokyi Gyalpo Drimed Ozer!'

Jeff Watt, 9-2023


Chokyi Gyelpo (chos kyi rgyal po) was born in 1335, the wood-pig year of the sixth sexagenary cycle, in the morning of the eighth day of the ninth lunar month, in Drigung Zhume Jonma ('bri gung gzhu smad 'jon ma). His father, Kunga Gyeltsen (kun dga' rgyal mtshan), was the younger brother of Chunyipa Dorje Rinchen (bcu gnyis pa rdo rje rin chen, 1278-1314), the ninth abbot of Drigung Til Monastery ('bri gung mthil dgon) and Nyergyepa Dorje Gyelpo (nyer brgyad pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1283/1284-1350/1351) the tenth abbot. He was thus a member of the powerful Kyura (skyu ra) clan that had controlled Drigung since its founding.

Dorje Gyelpo gave him preliminary ordination at the age of eight, with the name of Dzamling Chokyi Gyelpo ('dzam gling chos kyi rgyal po). A teacher named Nubton Zhonnnu Pel (gnubs ston gzhon nu dpal, d.u.) gave him transmission and instructions for Cakrasaṃvara, Guhyasamāja, Kālacakra, and other tantric systems.

The next year, when he was nine, in the main temple of Drigung, Duldzin Rinchen Gyeltsen ('dul 'dzin rin chen rgyal mtshan, d.u.), acting as abbot, and Chogowa Zhonnu Pel (chos sgo ba gzhon nu dpal), acting as ācārya, gave him novice vows.

At the age of eleven Chokyi Gyelpo went to the Kadam monastery of Takpu (stag phu) where he received teachings on Hevajra and other systems.

Dorje Gyelpo gave him the transmission and instructions of the Drigung teachings, including Five-fold Precious Garland of Mahāmudrā (lnga ldan nor bu'i phreng ba) and the Six Yogas of Nāropa (na ro'i chos drug).

In 1350 or 1351, following the death of his uncle Dorje Gyelpo, Chokyi Gyelpo was made abbot of Drigung Til, at the young age of seventeen.

During the first years of his tenure the senior Drigung Gompa ('bri gung sgom pa), or civil administrator, was Kunga Rinchen (kun dga' rin chen, d.1352). Under Kunga Rinchen's leadership Drigung opposed the expansion of the Pakmodru (phag mo gru) territories, and in fact took the opportunity to attempt to increase Drigung's own holdings. After giving protection to a Mongol prince who had gone to Tibet to force the Pakmodru leader Jangchub Gyeltsen (byang chub rgyal mtshan, 1302-1363) to cease his hostilities, in 1952 a division of the Drigung army from Meldro (mal gro) went on the offensive and invaded the valley of Wonpu ('on phu). The Pakmodru counter-invaded and when the main Drigung army swept in, it was defeated at a place called Dragor (bra sgor). Kunga Rinchen escaped, and the junior Gompa, Śākya Zangpo (ShAkya bzang po) brought in more troops from Tsekha (rtse kha) and Penyul ('phan yul), which were defeated as well. Drigung thus lost its ability to resist Pakmodru expansion, and its second bid in less than one hundred years to be a major political force in central Tibet.

Chokyi Gyelpo took ordination at the age of twenty-two from a Duldzinpa Chokyi Gyeltsen (mkhan po 'dul 'dzin pa chos kyi rgyal mtshan) acting as abbot and a lama named Delek Zangpo (bde legs bzang po) acting as time keeper. Duldzinpa Chokyi Gyeltsen gave him instructions on the Vinaya, the five books of Maitreya, the Bodhicaryāvatāra, and other topics. Among his other prominent teachers were the First Zhamarpa, Tokden Drakpa Sengge (zhwa dmar pa 01 rtogs ldan grags pa seng ge, 1283-1349), and the Sakya scholar Yakde Paṇchen (g.yag sde paN chen, 1299-1378). Other teachers whose names are given include Tsechenpa Dondrub Pelzang (rtse chen pa don grub dpal bzang), Lochen Tsultrim Gonpo (lo chen tshul khrims mgon po), and Jamyang Sonam Gyeltsen ('jam dbyangs bsod nams rgyal mtshan).

He restored and reconsecrated the Drigung hermitages of Dangdo (ldang mdo) and Godpuk Dzong (rgod phug rdzong).

He once went to the Jamne Yumtso ('jam ne g.yu mtsho) in the northern region of Lhari (lha ri) to cure some disciples of unspecified illnesses, and there met the young Fourth Karmapa, Rolpai Dorje (karma pa 04 rol pa'i rdo rje, 1340-1383), with whom he had a conversation on the fine points of doctrine and also discussed poetics. Chokyi Gyelpo traveled briefly, at the age of twenty-nine, going to the Dakpo and Kongpo regions on pilgrimage to the sacred mountains there and to spread the Drigung teachings. He made offerings in the memory of Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, 1079-1153).

He was a prolific publisher, producing editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur and the writings of the Kagyu lineage masters. He produced a Kangyur between 1354 and 1363, employing hundreds of scribes. Later, in 1389 he sponsored an edition of the Tengyur and had a collection of biographies of the Kagyu hierarchs written.

Chokyi Gyelpo served as abbot of Drigung until 1395, at the age of sixty-one, installing Dondrub Gyeltsen (don grub rgyal mtshan, 1369-1427) as his successor. He went into retreat at the Drigung retreat center of Terdrom (gter sgrom) until his death in either 1399 or 1407.

Among his main disciples were Lapchi Namkha Gyeltsen (la phyi nam mkha' rgyal mtshan, 1372-1437), Mangom Wozer Sengge (sman sgom 'od zer seng ge, d.u.), Sabzang Pakpa Zhonnu Lodro (sa bzang 'phags pa gzhon nu blo gros, 1358-1412/1424), Drigung Lotsāwa Maṇikaśrījñāna ('bri gung lo tsA ba Ma Ni ka shrI dzA na, 1289-1363), and Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419), who traveled to Drigung to receive teachings from him.

(Alexander Gardner is Director and Chief Editor of the Treasury of Lives. He completed his PhD in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan in 2007. He is the author of The Life of Jamgon Kongtrul The Great).

Published May 2014


Bstan ’dzin pad+ma’i rgyal mtshan. 1977. ’Bri gung gdan rabs chos kyi byung tshul gser gyi phreng ba. Bir: D.Tsondu Senghe, pp. 189.1 ff.

Grags pa ’byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp 1214-1216

Khenpo Konchog Gyeltsen. 2006. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Ithaca: Snow Lion, p. 270.

Dkon mchog rgya mtsho. 2004. Gdan rabs 11 'dzam gling chos kyi rgyal po. In 'Bri gung chos 'byung, pp. 378-392. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W27020.

Kun dga’ rin chen. 1972. Miscellaneous Writings (Bka’ ’bum Thor bu) of ’Bri gung Chos rje Kun dga’ rin chen, reproduced from rare manuscripts from library of Tokden Rimpoche of Gangon. Leh: S.W. Tashigangpa, pp. 125-143.

Petech, Luciano. 1990. Central Tibet and the Mongols -- The Yuan- Sa-skya Period of Tibetan History. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, pp. 113-114.

Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, p. 610.

Schaeffer, Kurtis R. 2004. “A Letter to the Editors of the Buddhist Canon in Fourteenth-Century Tibet: The ‘Yig mkhan rnams la gdams pa’ of Bu ston Rin chen grub. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 124, No. 2 (Apr.-Jun.), pp. 265-281.

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. September 2023].

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection: Sotheby's New York (Sculpture, September, 2023)
Tradition: Drigung Kagyu Main Page
Subject: Teachers with Figure or Deity Attributes