Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Miscellaneous - Amulet Box

པར་ཤིང་སྣང་བརྙན། སྣ་ཚོགས། 版画 (多种)
(item no. 81607)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1900 - 1959
Lineages Buddhist
Material Silver
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Object/Concept

Interpretation / Description

Amulet Box (Tibetan: gau) with a photo of Gaton Ngagwang Legpa (Ngawang Lekpa).

Ngawang Lekpa (ngag dbang legs pa) was born at Ga Medzinda (sga smad 'dzin mda') in Yushu (yus hru'u), Kham in the wood-mouse year of 1864. He was the son of Kunga Trakpa (kun dga' grags pa) and Lhamo Dronma (lha mo sgron ma). While in the womb his mother dreamt that her body was a monastery. Again, Lhamo Dronma had a vision of seeing the protector Citipati dancing by the cave of Ngawang Shedrub Gyatso (ngag dbang bshad sgrub rgya mtsho, d.u.) who in turn told her that her son was the incarnation of Ngor Ewam Ponlob (ngor e wam dpon slob).

Lama Ngawang Shedrub, well versed in the practices of Vajrayoginī, taught Ngawang Lekpa to read. During this period of his life although living near a Drigung Kagyu ('bri gung) monastery was always running away from home trying to reach the Sakya monastery of Tarlam (thar lam) some distance away. At age seven, he received monastic vows from the Fifty-third Ngor Khenchen, Dorje Chang Kunga Tenpa'i Lodro (ngor mkhan chen 53 rdo rje chang kun dga' bstan pa'i blo gros, 1822-1884), in addition to transmissions and instructions in Lamdre, Hevajra, and white Sarasvati. Ngor Khenchen gave him the name Tsultrim Gyeltsen (tshul khrims rgyal mtshan). He also stated that the boy was a reincarnation of a lama of Tarlam monastery, allowing the boy to take up residence at that Sakya monastery.

At the age of nine Ngawang Lekpa completed the retreats of White Tārā and Bhūtaḍāmara Vajrapāṇi. In front of Ngawang Shedrub, at the age of ten, he completely received the initiation and instructions of Vajrayoginī in the tradition of Naropa. From the ages of twelve to sixteen he was looked after by Lodro Zangpo (blo gros bzang po) and it was a very difficult period of time for him. At the age of sixteen, from Khenpo Tutob Wangchuk Jamyang Tendzin Trinle (mkhan po mthu stobs dbang phyug 'jam dbyangs bstan 'dzin phrin las, d.u.) he received the entire Four Lineages of Mahākāla in the two armed form, outer, inner and secret.

After completing a three month retreat accomplishing one hundred million of the short mantra and six million four hundred thousand of the long, Ngawang Lekpa had several signs of accomplishment, including a vision in which he saw Mahākāla. Further, during the retreat the offering torma grew thick black hair like those of a yak, and in the sun they reflected many different colors like a rainbow. In the Caturmukha Mahākāla history text the growing of black hair from the torma is a sign of attaining the siddhis. This is also found in the biographies of many great lamas. The Four Lineages of Mahākāla are from 1) Vajrāsana, 2) Gayadhara, 3) Mel Lotsāwa (mal lo tsa ba), and 4) Kashmiri Paṇḍita Śākyaśrī. From Khenpo Tutob Wangchuk he also received the very extensive initiation and instructions of Naro Vajrayoginī, the transmission for the Collected Works of Morchen Kunga Lhundrub (rmor chen kun dga' lhun grub, 1654-1726), and other teachings.

At the age of eighteen, after seeing animals being slaughtered, Ngawang Lekpa became vegetarian, a diet that was accompanied by a life long fondness for rock candy. He stayed at Ngor Ewaṃ Choden (ngor ewaM chos ldan) Monastery for two years, receiving from Khangsar Khenpo Ngawang Lodro Nyingpo (khang gsar mkhan po ngag dbang blo gros snying po, b. 1811) the three preliminary entrance initiations of Bhūtaḍāmara, Uṣṇīṣavijayā and Parṇaśavari, afterwards he received the Lamdre Tsogshe, the transmission for the teachings of Tartse Paṇchen Cho Chod (thar rtse paN chen chos mchod) scriptural readings, and the initiation and instructions for Śrī Caturmukha. As is the custom at Ngor Ewam, during this Lamdre, Ngawang Lekpa received full bhikṣu ordination and was given the name Ngawang Lekpa.

After Ngor, Ngawang Lekpa travelled to Sakya where he received Vinaya instruction from Rabjam Sherab Chopel (rab 'jam shes rab chos 'phel), and the Three Vows of Sakya Paṇḍita Kunga Gyeltsen (sa skya paNDita kun dga' rgyal mtshan, 1182-1251) in front of the abbot of the Lhakang Chenmo (lha khang chen po) Jampa Cho Tashi ('jam pa mchod bkra shis, d.u.). He received blessings from the Thirty-third Sakya Tridzin, Kunga Tashi (sa skya khri 'dzin 33 kun dga' bkra shis, 1792-1853). During the summer he received the Vajramala teaching together with the scriptural reading.

Having returned to Ngor he received Lamdre teachings from Khunu Lama Choktrul Jamyang Sherab Gyatso (khu nu bla ma mchog sprul 'jam dbyangs shes rab rgya mtsho, d.u.), as well as Ngorchen Konchok Lhundrub's (ngor chen kon mchog lhun grub, 1497-1557) “Three Visions” and “Three Tantras;” Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo's (ngor chen kun dga' bzang po, 1382-1456) “The Moon's Rays;” and Tsarchen Losel Gyatso's (tshar chen blo gsal rgya mtsho, 1502-1566) “The Sun's Rays.” He also received Generation and Completion stage Hevajra teachings, the eighty-deity Mahākāla of the Ngor tradition, and a transmission of the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra. Ngawang Lekpa was so popular at Ngor that when he began to depart for Kham the dharmapāla are said to have caused him a knee injury to prevent his leaving.

Passing through Lhasa to visit the Jowo, Ngawang Lekpa returned home to Tarlam monastery in Kham, traveling in layperson's robes as was his custom while traversing long distances. There he entered an eight month Hevajra retreat.

At the age of twenty-one Ngawang Lekpa went to meet Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1821-1893). On the way to Dzongsar (rdzong sar) he stopped at the Dolma Lhakang (sgrol ma lha khang) in Denkok (ldan khog), a temple tended by the royal family of Dege. There, he made extensive offerings of butter lamps, spending all his money, he prayed for her help in his studies and for reaching enlightenment. He was unable to arrange a meeting with Khyentse, and was not permitted entrance to a series of initiations Khyentse was giving. Instead, he first received teachings from the Dzongsar Khenpo Yonten Dondrub (dzong sar mkhan po yon tan don grub, d.u.). From Minyak Khenpo Norbu Tendzin (mi nyag mkhan po nor bu bstan 'dzin,b. 1835) he received Madhyamaka teachings; from Tsering Tashi (tshe ring bkra shis), the secretary to Jamyang Khyentse, he received teachings on grammar, and poetry and the like. These three khenpos told Jamyang Khyentse about Ngawang Lekpa and, when Jamgon Kongtrul (jam mgon kong sprul, 1813-1899) arrived to request many teachings Ngawang Lekpa was permitted to attend.

Having returned to Yushu, Ngawang Lekpa received Lamdre teachings at Jyegu Dondrub Ling Monastery (skye rgu don 'grub gling), where the Fifty-eighth Ngor Khenchen Rinchen Dorje (ngor mkhan chen 58 rin chen rdo rje,1837-1901) was visiting. Back at Tarlam he performed a two-hundred-day nyungne (myung gnas) fasting retreat. For the next few years his teaching responsibilities prevented further retreat. However, with the unwavering desire to enter retreat, he requested instructions from Jamyang Khyentse on the guru yoga of Sakya Paṇḍita. During the preparations Ngawang Legpa had a dream in which he saw Khyentse sitting in the middle of a maṇḍala wearing black robes, surrounded by ten gurus also wearing black. When Ngawang Lekpa reported the dream, Jamyang Khyentse gave him an additional Panjarnatha Mahākāla initiation as a means to protect him from obstacles. Ngawang Lekpa also commissioned a large painting of Sakya Paṇḍita for use in his retreat.

At the age of thirty-seven Ngawang Lekpa entered retreat, remaining until he was fifty-five. His door was sealed with only a hole for food to enter through. Sitting in his meditation box he promised to never lay down. For twelve months he meditated on impermanence. For refuge he performed every prayer, long medium and short, several times for a total of twenty-four sets of one-hundred-thousand; for prostrations, the source of homage being Sakya Paṇḍita, accompanied by Sakya Paṇḍita's four-line prayer, he accomplished forty-one sets of one-hundred-thousand. For Vajrasattva, he completed eighteen sets of one-hundred-thousand and cured digestive problems in the process. For the Guruyoga, again with Sakya Paṇḍita as the source of veneration he accomplished twenty-five sets of one-hundred-thousand guruyoga prayers; for the maṇḍala offering – ten sets of one-hundred-thousand “Thirty-Seven Heaped Prayer.” He performed one hundred sets of one-hundred-thousand of the short Mahākāla mantra and twenty-two sets of one-hundred-thousand of the long mantra. For Green Tārā he performed one-hundred sets of one-hundred-thousand. For Avalokiteśvara he recited one-hundred-million; he made one hundred thousand butter lamp offerings and seven- hundred-thousand water offerings. During retreat he never cut his hair.

During the retreat Ngawang Lekpa experienced many auspicious dreams and signs. He dreamed that Khyentse gave him a golden statue of Mañjuśrī, symbolizing his understanding of Lamdre and all the teachings of Sakya, and a block of Chinese ink so as to write many commentaries. Ngawang Shedrub Gyatso gave him the head bead from a mala and an eye symbolizing that he was his foremost student. One day, taking seven Mañjuśrī pills, he dreamt he was given a lotus made of tsampa, yellow in color written all over with the Mañjuśrī mantra; after eating this his entire body became covered and filled with the mantra. Another time, doing prostrations to Sakya Paṇḍita, from the mouth on the painting light came out to fill the entire room. After this he prayed very hard and saw the fingers of the painting move. Later he could see not only the fingers move but also the painting smile, enough that he could see Sakya Paṇḍita's teeth. This happened a total of three times. He also dreamt of making offerings to a certain Virūpa mural at Ngor Ewam; the Virūpa became real and said to him, “My dharma will not stay long in Tibet.” He also had many dreams of the five founders of Sakya and of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Also, Ngawang Lekpa was able to clearly visualize all one hundred fifty-seven deities of the Hevajra internal body maṇḍala, something that is said to be next to impossible.

After fifteen years Ngawang Lekpa completed his retreat. Taking up his teaching responsibilities once again, he gave the entire Drubtab Kuntu (sgrub thabs kun 'dus), the collected sadhanas of the Sakya tradition compiled by Khyentse Wangpo and Loter Wangpo (blo gter dbang po, 1847-1914). He traveled the region teaching Lamdre, including to Dezhung (sde gzhung) monastery, where he met the young Dezhung Kunga Tenpai Nyima (sde gzhung kun dga' bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1906-1987) returning to Tarlam with a sizable sum of donations, which he spent on the reconstruction of Tarlam, between 1919 and 1921. He constructed a three story high gold Buddha flanked on the right by Sakya Paṇḍita and on the left by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, both of gold and two stories high.

Ngawang Lekpa gave Lamdre Lobshe nine times in all, four of them at Dezhung Monastery twenty days travel away. Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse chos kyi blo 'gros, 1893-1959), Dezhung Ajam (sde gzhung a 'jam, 1885-1952), Dezhung Kunga Tenpai Nyima, and Pende Zhabdrung (phan sde shabs drung) all received the Lamdre transmission from Ngawang Lekpa. He gave the initiation and complete teachings of Naro Kachodma (naro mkha' spyod ma) twenty-two times; the initiation and complete teachings of Mahākāla Drak Dzong ten times; the initiations and complete teachings of the five maṇḍalas of Mahākāla three times; the Nine Deity Vajra Bhairava of the Rwa Tradition and the Rwa Tse Sems (rwa rtse sems) teachings eight times; the Thirteen Deity Bhairava from the Tsar tradition three times, and the White Tārā Cintacakra eight.

In regards to his passing, at age seventy-eight, Ngawang Lekpa expressed the wish to be reborn as a lama of either of the four Ngor Labrangs and continue to help Sakya and Ngor, but because he felt that that Sakya and Ngor lamas would not stay long in Tibet, he stated that he would go to Sukhāvatī instead.

Ngawang Lekpa had many special pills from Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul, and others, and of Padmasambhava, Mañjuśrī and so forth. He mixed all of these into one bowl and prayed to be reborn in the Buddha Realm of Sukhāvatī and pass away quickly. He gave the appearance of becoming very sick and moved to Dezhung Rinpoche's room just outside of the monastery; Dezhung Rinpoche was away at this time. He called for his brother and divided up the pills between himself, his brother, the two abbots of the monastery and whoever else was there. Many others sat outside. A painting of the Buddha Amitabha was placed in front of him. With his left hand in meditative equipoise and the right in the mudra of generosity he recited one round of Avalokiteśvara mantra, shouted “HIK” and passed away. His body was kept for three days, as is Buddhist custom, and then burnt. Fire rituals of many different deities were performed and a stupa was made for his ashes. His remaining possessions were offered to the monks of many different monasteries. Many of his personal religious articles were left to Dezhung Rinpoche Lungrik Nyima who had lived at Ngawang Lekpa's side from the age of ten until thirty years old.

Jeff Watt [added 2007]


Kun dga' bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan. 1981.Sga ston ngag dbang legs pa'i rnam thar. New Delhi: Gonpo Dorje.

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