Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Tangtong Gyalpo

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 65932)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Shangpa Kagyu and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Lay Person

Gender: Male

TBRC: bdr:P2778

Interpretation / Description

Tangtong Gyalpo Tsondru Zangpo (1385/61-1464/85). Tangtong Gyalpo was famous for building iron bridges throughout Tibet as well as creating many new medicinal formulas for both healing and longevity. Many of these formulas are still used today. Tangtong Gyalpo is credited with the invention of Tibetan opera (theatre) known as Achi Lhamo. It is thought by some that he developed opera as a way of funding his various bridge building projects. Others dismiss the idea entirely and find no relationship between Tangtong Gyalpo and Achi Lhamo. (See a large selection of detail images, Tangtong Gyalpo Main Page and Tangtong Gyalpo Outline Page).

No artist has yet been identified who created this amazingly beautiful and detailed set of paintings. The other two paintings known to be from this same set are the first painting, or central painting, and the 'right 3rd'. Neither of these paintings have been physically seen by the HAR staff, nor have images of the backs of these two paintings been seen. It is possible that artist information might be found on the back of the first painting in the set.

This painting has an inscription located at the top center on the back of the composition as well as on the back brocade. The inscription is a location reference placing it at the 'right 4th' in the complete set of displayed compositions. At this time only two other paintings from this same set are known to exist. Many of the individual narrative vignettes are numbered. On this painting the numbers begin with 170 through 210.

Tangtong Gyalpo typically appears as an old man with long white hair, a long white beard, and depicted in a seated posture. Sometimes he is shown with a very dark complexion - dark brown. There are no typical hand attributes for Tangtong Gyalpo, but, he sometimes holds a medicinal pill in the upraised right hand, or a link of chain in the right hand - extended across the knee. The left hand can hold a skullcup in the lap, a long-life vase, or a combination of the two. He is generally depicted in a very relaxed seated posture, the feet bare.

Tangtong Gyalpo was very closely related to both the Sakya and Shangpa Kagyu Tarditions. He is even aknowledged as the founder or patriarch of a specific line of Shangpa known as the Chagzam Lineage. Most of the written works of Tangtong Gyalpo, of which there are not many, are meditational practices of various sorts that he developed based on 'Pure Vision' experiences gained at particular locations throughout Tibet. The other written materials are works related to Shangpa Kagyu meditation practices. Within the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism there is a vast corpus of literature alleged to be from the hand of Tangtong Gyalpo dealing with the many 'Revealed Treasure' teachings he uncovered during his lifetime and countless travels throughout Tibet, Bhutan and the Himalayan regions.

The dates of Tangtong Gyalpo are not precisely known because of the different sources of the time not being in agreement (1385/61-1464/85). He can however be easily placed in the 14th/15th century because of the historical accounts of people that he met and the accounts of people who met him.

The Numbered Image above follows the Tibetan inscriptions on the painting. Therre are both Tibetan numbers and short descriptive texts describing the event in Tangtong Gyalpo's life. The coloured dots show the placement of Tibetan text where there is no number, or the number is effaced. There has been no attempt to reconstruct or guess the sequence of the missing numbers.

Jeff Watt 4-2011 [5-2012]
Karma Gellek 5-2012

See two other paintings from the same set: example 1, example 2. Example 1 is the first composition in the set of paintings.

Numbered Image & Translation of Inscriptions:
170. Arrived in Kyirong. Stayed with Pagpa ('phags pa) [Arya Avalokiteshvara sculpture] at Kyirong for seven days.
171. Left for Dzongka (rdzong kha). Chopal Zang sent [his] consort to offer poison to the siddha [Tangtong Gyalpo]. [The practice of] Medicine Buddha cured the poisoned siddha.
172. Left for Mt. Kailash (Gang Tise ). Circumambulated the Mapam Lake.
173. At Sharal [lake] gave blessing to fish outside the water.
(174) At Guge Purang he saw the three silver images of Khache. On a flat stone, seated in [vajra] meditation posture he created hand prints. [He] met a mendicant, a monk and a businessman from Mangyul. At Dradun Temple he was offered animals and butter by farmers and nomads. [He] was thrown into water. [He] walked over water.
175. Saw Vajravarahi at the charnel ground of Rashmishara.
176. At Karihana Cave [in front of a] self-arising form of Arya [Avalokiteshvara].
177. Left for Namgyal Lhatse (rnam rgyal lha rtse) where he was offered with gold and copper, etc. "Having been born thrice helps sentient beings immensely," Siddha said.
178. Seated on the Yungdrung Ling throne [he] was attacked with stones and beaten by the Bonpo. Seated on a pile of stones the Bonpo confessed.
179. Tied up, Gyaltsen Pal [and others] shot arrows [at the siddha].
(180) Having traveled to Dingri Langkor he saw the form of Padampa Sanggye and held the white reliquary stupa in hand.
181. Left for Lachi where he saw Guru Dragpo Tsal (brag rtsal) and a mass of light at Drigung ('bri khung). [He was] recieved by Tseringma.
182. On top of a snake he crossed a river, walked up to Drichu and saw OM, AH, HUM and Vajradhara (rdo rje 'chang).
183. Stayed at Nenang. Crossed over the Kyari Pass. Walked on water. Met Paljor Sherab (dpal 'byor shes rabs) in Dotu (mdo stod).
184. At Tole (?) [he] Saw the Buddha and subjugated yakshas.
185. Aiming an arrow at Dragtsen (Brag btsan la phyag mda' gnang).
186. In front of Bumtso ('bum tsho) [he] was offered various foods by eight spirits.
189. Saw Dorje Legpa wearing a blue garment.
190. Zhang Iron [Bridge]. Giving advice to Genyen Dolpa (genyen rdol pa) at Zawa Pulung (zaba phu lung). Bridge Keeper.
191. Asked to make a hand print on stone by Lhakya Zangpo (lha skya bzang po).
192. Prince Nyima Zangpo (nyi ma bzang po) was born at Rangjung Cave (rang byung) cave.
193. Offered gold by a woman.
(194)At Shelkar, Sonam Zangpo offered him a silver cup.
195. At Ngamring, a nobleman offered him gold and turquois.
196. Gyaltsen Palzang (rgyal mtshan dpal bzang) offered gold.
200. A rain of grain [descends]. Norzang made an offer at Ripung.
201. Offered an alms bowl to Jowo [in Lhasa]. In Lhasa [he] generously eliminated starvation. The goods of Kalzang became grain. She offered garments to [him]. Children.
202. At Guru Temple, Droding (spro sdings), etc., [he] manifested forms. In the cave [he] received treasure instructions. At Mon Bumtang he left foot [and hand] prints
203. Stayed at Sekhar (sras mkhar) for three days & met a Lotsawa.
- Through giving [he] dispelled the famine at lhasa.
204. Stayed ten days at Lomon Cave.
205. One of the businessmen from Bumtang ('bum thang) was saved by the Siddha (Tangtong Gyalpo).
206. At Upper Nyal, a self-arising Avalokiteshvara image [appeared] on a dog's bone.
207. At Lower Nyal, [he] met a teacher with students.
208. Performed a ritual of Amitayus at Charog Monastery. [He] left for Lhodrag [mkhar chu] Dung Shalye and Palgyi Samye.
209. Visit Lorong Stupa, heard the sound of a conch shell.
210. Traveled to Dragyang Dzong cave, Shadbhuja [Mahakala] appeared at the right, Panjarnata at the left, Chaturbhuja and Legden behind and Vaishravana in front. [He] proceeded to cut trees, create charcoal and make iron.

Karma Gellek 5-2012

Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: Right fourth.

Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: g.yas bzhi.

Special Features: (Printed script (Uchen))

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Painting Sets: Narrative & Life Story Painting Sets
Painting Sets: Main Page
Tradition: Sakya (Founding Teachers & Others)
Collection of RMA: Iconographically Rare Works
Collection: Private 21
Painting Style: Kham Riwoche Region (15th-20th century)
Subject: Teacher Painting Page
Teacher: Tangtong Gyalpo (Masterworks)
Teacher: Tangtong Gyalpo Main Page