Choggyur Lingpa (1829-1870) was a Terton, treasure revealer, in the 19th century and descended from the hereditary Baram Kagyu line. He was also a contemporary and friend to both Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He discovered many termas that are still popular within the Kagyu and Nyingma Traditions.
Jeff Watt [updated 8-2017]
Choggyur Lingpa Biography
Choggyur Lingpa, 1829-1870, (mchog gyur gling pa) was born at the base of the sacred mountain Namkadzod (nam mkha' mdzod) in Nang chen (Nangchen) on the tenth day of either the sixth or the tenth month of the female earth ox year (August 9 or November 5, 1829). His father was a "mad mantrika" named Pema Wangchug (padma dbang phyug) and his mother was a "straightforward woman" named Tsering Yangtso (Tshe ring g.yang mtsho). His father was reputed to have been related to a minister in the Nangchen court named Acag Dru (a lcags 'gru), the source, perhaps, of the claim that Choggyur Lingpawas related to minor Nangchen royalty. The clan name was Kyasu (skya su). Kunzang Choktrul (kun bzang mchog sprul), the incarnation of the treasure revealer Mingyur Dorje (mi 'gyur rdo rje), gave the boy a name that is recorded as either Konchog Tenzin (dkon mchog bstan 'dzin) or Norbu Tenzin (nor bu bstan 'dzin) (konchog and norbu being near synonyms).
By Choggyur Lingpa's own account he received numerous teachings and met several lamas in his youth. He entered the Taklung Kagyu (stag lung bka' brgyud) monastery Palme Tegchen Evam Gatsel Ling (dpal me theg chen e vaM dga' tshal gling) in Nangchen as a novice, and was given monk's vows from Pawo Tsulag Trengwa VIII Chokyi Gyalpo (dpa' bo gtsug lag 'phreng ba VIII Chos kyi rgyal po). At some point he transferred to the Drugpa Kagyu ('brug pa bka' brgyud) monastery at the capital, Nangchen Gar, a move that has been explained as being in response to a local law stipulating that each family send one son to the royal monastery.
Choggyur Lingpa's early treasure revelations are recorded in multiple ambiguous and confused narratives. He himself wrote that before his thirteenth birthday he was visited by a vision of Padmasambhava, and that this was followed by "many unwanted and confusing apparitions," some of them reportedly unintelligible, others apparently clear signs that he would reveal treasure. After he announced publicly that he would extract treasure from Namkadzod, one of his early teachers, Ngedzin Pusiri (gnas 'dzin pu si ri) at Pelme monastery, specifically forbade him from doing so. Nevertheless, the first four of his treasure revelations date to this period, including one of his most successful, the Barche Kunsel (bar chad kun sel), said to have been revealed in October 1848 from Danyin Kala Rongo (zla nyin kha la rong sgo), when Choggyur Lingpa was only 19 years old.
Biographies of Choggyur Lingpa report that his colleagues in Nangchen scorned him, rejecting his claims to be a treasure revealer, and in his autobiography he expresses considerable frustration at this inability to gain acceptance. The nickname by which he was known during this period, Kyasu Terton (skya su gter ston), might be rendered in English as "the so-called treasure revealer of the Kyasu clan." Ultimately, when he was twenty-five Choggyur Lingpa left Nangchen for Derge, in search of patrons who might legitimize his treasure-revealing status. The biographies have it that Choggyur Lingpa was expelled from his monastery, ostensibly for making mistakes during a ritual dance. But if he was in fact expelled, it is likely that it was due to his assertions that he was a treasure revealer, which possibly included his having taken a consort. Although this is nowhere explicit in the biographies, there is sufficient reason to believe that Choggyur Lingpa began his relationship with his main consort, Dekyi Chodron (bde skyid chos sgron), before he left Nangchen in 1853.
Little is known about Dekyi Chodron save that she was from Nangchen, the sister of Choggyur Lingpa's disciple, the treasure revealer Barwei Dorje ('bar ba'i rdo rje) and that she was the mother of two of Choggyur Lingpa's three children. The first child was his eldest son Wangchug Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje), aka Tsewang Dragpa (tshe dbang grags pa), who died at the age of twenty-four or twenty-seven sometime prior to 1892. The second of her children was Choggyur Lingpa's daughter Konchok Paldron (dkon mchog dpal sgron), who lived to the age of seventy. Choggyur Lingpa's second son, Kunzang Jigme Tsewang Norbu (kun bzang 'jigs med tshe dbang nor bu) was born to a niece of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyang mkhyen brtse'i dbang po), in 1856. Thus Choggyur Lingpa must have begun his relationship with Dekyi Chodron at least by the beginning of 1855 in order for her son to have been born before Choggyur Lingpa's second son. Because Choggyur Lingpa was in Derge from 1853 to 1856, it is probable that Dekyi Chodron had gone with Choggyur Lingpa when he left Nangchen for Derge, and that they had already begun their relationship.
An ambitious twenty-five-year-old in search of religious authorization in eighteenth-century Khams, Choggyur Lingpa would easily have been drawn to Derge, the largest and most vibrant religious and political region in Khams. He went first to the great Kagyu monastery of Palpung (dpal spungs), and was able to secure an audience with Tai Situ IX Pema Nyinche Wangpo (ta'i si tu IX padma nyin byed dbang po) in early 1853. It would appear that Choggyur Lingpa gained entrance by means of a treasure prophecy he presented to Tai Situ that, in effect, proclaimed that their meeting was predetermined. The prophesy Choggyur Lingpa offered also contains perhaps the earliest claim that he was the reincarnation of Lhase Murub Tsanpo (lha sras mu rub btsan po), the second son of the Tibetan emperor Trison Detsen (khri srong lde'u btsan), an identification that became standard to his hagiography.
Tai Situ declined to authenticate Choggyur Lingpa's treasures, but he did introduce him to Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kon sprul) and Dabzang Tulku (zla bzang sprul sku). Although neither Dabzang Tulku nor Jamgon Kongtrul affirmed Choggyur Lingpa at that time, both later became important collaborators. At Palpung in July 1853 both lamas gave him important vows, and so have come to be listed as Choggyur Lingpa's second and third master: Dabzang Tulku gave Choggyur Lingpa the bodhisattva vow, and 'Jam mgon Kong sprul gave him tantric vows.
Having failed to obtain authorization at Palpung, Choggyur Lingpa left at the beginning of 1854. He initially followed in Jamgon Kongtrul footsteps, arriving at Dagam Wangpug (zla gam dbang phug), a cave in the Terlung (gter klung) Valley where Jamgon Kongtrul was practicing. Choggyur Lingpa assisted in the cave's consecration, and he recorded receiving his sole pure vision revelation, the Bima lhadrub (Bima lha sgrub), at that time.
Over the next two years, as Choggyur Lingpa traversed the region between Derge and the Terlung Valley, he repeatedly came into contact with Khyentse Wangpo, meeting him three times at his monastery, Dzongsar (rdzong sar), between October 1853 and November 1855. Although the details are fairly confused, it is clear that Khyentse Wangpo ultimately embraced Choggyur Lingpa as a close collaborator. At the first encounter he gave Choggyur Lingpa an empowerment from the Purba Yangsang Putri (phur pa yang gsang spu gri). It is not clear whether this meeting was in fact a personal audience or was part of a public empowerment. Either way, Choggyur Lingpa's first private meeting with Khyentse Wangpo was facilitated by Jamgon Kongtrul, who had dispatched Choggyur Lingpa to the area to perform rituals for a patron. In a curious letter of introduction to Khyentse Wangpo that is preserved in several sources, Jamgon Kongtrul wrote that while the would-be treasure revealer had presented what he claimed were his revelations, he was leaving the matter of their authenticity to Khyentse Wangpo to decide. Roughly a year later, in the beginning of 1855, Choggyur Lingpa stayed with Khyentse Wangpo for a month, receiving further empowerments and teachings. Khyentse Wangpo recorded experiencing visions while performing the empowerments, notably of the Dzogchen protector Ekajati, who predicted that the two would soon reveal their mutual treasure, the Dzogchen De Sum (rdzogs chen sde gsum). A third meeting occurred in late 1855; Khyentse Wangpo reported that during an empowerment ceremony at that time he loosened the knots in Choggyur Lingpa's subtle body and bestowed on him his treasure name: Orgyen Drodul Choggyur Dechen Shigpo Lingpa (O rgyan 'gro 'dul mchog gyur bde chen zhig po gling pa).
In 1856 Choggyur Lingpa returned to Nangchen, stopping over at Palpung to visit with Jamgon Kongtrul. There he cured Jamgon Kongtrul of an eye disease that Choggyur Lingpa linked to Kongtrul previous incarnation of the imperial era translator Vimalamitra, an identification Choggyur Lingpa might have been the first to assert. Dabzang Tulku accompanied Choggyur Lingpa from there, acting as a sponsor when he reached the famous Kagyu monastery Karma Gon (karma dgon) and encountered the 14th Karmapa, Tekchog Dorje (theg mchog rdo rje). Over the course of the fire dragon year (early February 1856 to late February 1857) Choggyur Lingpa visited three sites he would become closely linked to: Ogmin Karma ('og min karma) above Karma Gon; Namkadzod in his home valley, near where he would later found Neten (gnas brtan) monastery; and Danyin Kala Rongo in the upper Dzachu (rdza chu) Valley, revealing treasure in the presence of witnesses at each site, including the Karmapa. These were the main treasure and supplementary material for the Zabpa Kor Dun (zab pa skor bdun), and additional revelations related to the Barche Kunsel, which are listed as caskets 6, 7, and 8 in Khyentse Wangpo's enumeration.
By the eleventh month of the fire dragon year, or January 1857, Choggyur Lingpa was back in Dzongsar with Khyentse Wangpo. Over the next years the two of them together composed liturgies for the treasure cycles they had each revealed over the previous ten years, with Jamgon Kongtrul occasionally acting as scribe. In January 1857, the two opened a cave site that was to be Khyentse Wangpo's main hermitage, Pema Shelpug (padma shel phug). Although this was not the first time Choggyur Lingpawas involved in a site consecration, it was his first "public revelation" (khrom gter), meaning that large crowds had gathered to witness, and it was the first for which he served in the official capacity of the treasure revealer ? the man who produced the physical proof of Padmasambhava's presence and thereby confirmed the sacred nature of the site. In that position Choggyur Lingpa extracted two treasures, including the Dzogchen De Sum (rdzogs chen sde gsum) which had been foretold by the deity Ekajati two years earlier and was a revelation shared by Khyentse Wangpo.
From Dzongsar Choggyur Lingpa next traveled to Palpung to assist with the consecration of Jamgon Kongtrul hermitage, Tsandra Rinchen Drag (tsa 'dra rin chen brag), in February 1857. His welcome there was in sharp contrast to his first arrival at Palpung nearly five years earlier, which went virtually unnoticed and was followed by a series of disappointing rejections. Now, conches were blown, banners were hung, and flowers fell from the sky. As Jamgon Kongtrul recorded in his own autobiography, Choggyur Lingpa gave him numerous empowerments from his treasure texts, a clear sign that Jamgon Kongtrul now viewed him as an authentic treasure revealer. This transition of status is marked Jamgon Kongtrul's use of language in his autobiography; prior to this event, Jamgon Kongtrul referred to Choggyur Lingpa only as "Kyasu Terton," indicating his hesitancy to affirm Choggyur Lingpa's authenticity.
As part of the process of consecrating Tsandra Choggyur Lingpa announced that the place was one of twenty-five great sites in Khams, and he immediately walked up-valley to a site called Pawo Puggi Wangchen Drag (dpa' po phug gi dbang chen brag) to reveal a list of great sites in Khams. This was a treasure text titled "A Brief Inventory of the Great Sites of Tibet Composed by Padmasambhava, the Wise One of Oddiyana." Item number 23 on the list of sites is Tsandra Rinchen Drag, the "mind-aspect of the Buddha attribute." During the revelation of this, his 11th treasure casket according to Khyentse Wangpo's list, Choggyur Lingpa also discussed with Padmasambhava whether Jamgon Kongtrul selection for the Rinchen Terdzod (rin chen gter mdzod) were appropriate or not (they were). When he returned, Choggyur Lingpa and Jamgon Kongtrul completed the site's consecration with the help of Khyentse Wangpo, who was on his way to Derge.
Choggyur Lingpa joined Khyentse Wangpo and the two traveled together to the capital city to perform a medical sadhana, presumably for the royal family. They also opened a sacred site there, Dri Nyendong ('bri gnyan sdong). This site is included as the site of the body-aspect of the buddha attributes on the recently revealed list of great sites. It is a small mountain that is visible from the royal palace, and is considered a protector of the kingdom. As part of its consecration Choggyur Lingpa revealed a treasure, casket number 12 on Jamyang Khyentse's list. Jamgon Kongtrul may or may not have been with them in Derge, but he did join them for the next site consecration of what appears to be a tour of great sites on the list. This was the activities-aspect of the buddha attributes, Sengchen Namdrag (seng chen gnam brag), which they consecrated with feast offerings, smoke purifications, and further treasure revelations, Choggyur Lingpa's 13th through 17th caskets, including texts, medicine, and relics. For at least some of the revelations the young King of Derge, Pelden Chime Tagpei Dorje (dpal ldan 'chi med rtags pa'i rdo rje, 1840-1898?), joined the party as a witness.
Choggyur Lingpa left Derge soon after the above revelations, traveling to nomadic regions across the Drichu ('dri chu) from Derge and from there up to Nangchen, where he stayed at Ogmin Karma for some time. He revealed several treasure caskets along the way and many during his stay in Nangchen, casket numbers 18 through 24; some of these were in the presence of the 14th Karmapa. It was possibly during this extended stay that he established the first of his monastic seats, Tsike (rtsi ke), the seat of the Tsike, or Kela Choggyur Lingpa line of incarnations. The monastery, located near Menda (sman mda'), in Chamdo (chab mdo) county, Tibet, derives its name from its location at the confluence of the Tsi (rtsi) and Ke rivers. The monastery later also became the main residence of Terse Tulku (gter sras sprul sku), the reincarnation line of Choggyur Lingpa's second son, Wangchug Dorje.
In 1859 Choggyur Lingpa was back in Derge, staying at Palpung with Jamgon Kongtrul and Khyentse Wangpo. The early 1860s was a period of great activity by the famous triumvirate, still known today as the "Khyen Kong Chog De Sum (mkhyen kong mchog sde gsum)" The three worked together to reveal, decipher, and record treasure, and they traveled throughout the Derge kingdom in the service of the royal family, performing rituals to pacify and empower the landscape. At the beginning of the decade Choggyur Lingpa and Khyentse Wangpo went together to the capital, where they were welcomed in a manner befitting state chaplains. Joined by Jamgon Kongtrul there, they spent several days performing pacification rites and empowerments for the benefit of the kingdom, including the Nyingma Kama Minche (rnying ma bka' ma smin byed) in addition to their own treasure cycles.
The three continued their service to the royal family the next year, with the declaration from Choggyur Lingpa that a new monastery should be built in Tro Mandala (khro maNDala), a narrow valley between Derge city and the Trola (khro la) pass. According to the biographies, the three lamas performed a number of rituals at Tro Mandala, largely concerning the subjugation on the local deity. Returning to the capital, Choggyur Lingpa outlined his plans for building the temple to the Queen (probably Choying Zangmo (chos dbying bzang mo, 1815-1892), the widow of Damtsig Dorje (dam tshig rdo rje, 1811-1852), and offered her a statue of Padmasambhava. The temple, Choggyur Lingpa argued, was needed to prevent the onslaught of Gonpo Namgyal (mgon po rnam rgyal), the warlord from Nyarong (nyag rong) who was currently building his armies and expanding his territories. Unfortunately, the monks at the royal monastery, Lhun-grub Teng (lhun grub theng) and the Derge steward, Tashi Gyatso (bkra shis rgya mtsho), refused the request, reportedly due to an unwillingness to allow the government to sponsor a new non-Sakya institution. Although there is currently a monastery at the site, it dates to the 12th century, and was converted from Bon to Sakya in the 1880s; it would seem the three were not successful in building the new temple.
The three lamas returned to Palpung to continue the building of Kongtrul hermitage. It was at this time that Choggyur Lingpa revealed his gazetteer for the site, casket #25 on Khyentse Wangpo's list of his treasures. He also prophesized that a temple should be constructed there and he instituted a yearly vase ritual at the main monastery for its benefit. They were joined there by the 14th Karmapa.
Following several more trips around the kingdom, Choggyur Lingpa returned to Nangchen where he remained for the next three years, mostly in retreat at Ogmin Karma. In 1864 he went over to Neten Gang (gnas brtan sgang) and Yegyel Namkadzod (ye rgyal nam mkha' mdzod). He extracted treasure (caskets #26-29) and performed various rites to consecrate the places, including feast offerings and purifications.
By early 1866 Choggyur Lingpa was back in Derge where he resumed his peregrinations, giving treasure empowerments and consecrating local sacred sites on both sides of the Drichu River. He visited Palpung and the capital during the summer. In the capital, which had recently suffered a long siege during the Nyagrong war, the he joined Jamgon Kongtrul and Khyentse Wangpo in offering empowerments to the King and his ministers and to the general public, and they reconsecrated the Derge printing house, which had been desecrated by Gonpo Namgyal during his occupation of the town.
In November of 1866 Choggyur Lingpa and Khyentse Wangpo spent roughly two weeks consecrating a site called Chime Karmo Tagtsang (chi med dkar mo stag tshang), a cliff site in the valley directly to the east of Dzongsar. (The site is currently the long-term retreat hermitage for the Dzongsar monastic college.) The route to the site was a great circumambulation starting at the monastery and passing Pema Shelpug, where the two performed public rituals before proceeding on across a high pass and down into the Rongme (rong med) valley. According to a narrative of the event preserved both on the back of a painting and also in Choggyur Lingpa's autobiography, they arrived on November 2 with a host of attending monks. Their party gradually grew to include an audience of local farmers and herders and ultimately the King of Derge and his retinue.
The cave site is on the south-facing cliff between a high summer pasture and a long narrow forested valley. On the first few days they performed smoke offerings and oblations, and they surveyed the site, identifying a main meditation cave, a Guru cave, and a Yeshe Tsogyal cave. To access the caves, little more than slight indentations in the steep cliff-face, required ropes and ladders hewn from juniper trees. With a growing audience below, they used fire and axes to hack into the rock and enact the extraction of treasure objects. The Derge King arrived on November 12, and Jamgon Kongtrul came the following day and assisted them in their feast offerings and other public rituals. In the evening of the November 16th the entire party stayed awake into the night singing and dancing, and the royal family was shown the caves. The following day Choggyur Lingpa revealed further treasure, which he displayed to the crowd, and gave a public empowerment ceremony.
On the 18th of November, 1866, the party, possibly including the King, went up the valley to a lake named Senggu Yumtso (seng rgod g.yu mtsho), the "Wild Lion Turquoise Lake," almost 15,600 feet above sea level. In an often-repeated story of the days spent there, Khyentse Wangpo and Choggyur Lingpa did battle with a naga, forcing it to relinquish the treasure it guarded. Choggyur Lingpa reported that he used a net made out of his robe to recover it, while other accounts have it that he failed in this endeavor, only retrieving the treasure box after Khyentse Wangpo had subjugated the naga, but not before Choggyur Lingpa broke his rosary, scattering the beads all over the shore. Khyentse Wangpo enumerated the revelations at Rongme as caskets number 30 through 32.
Khyentse Wangpo, and Jamgon Kongtrul then continued their activity together, with a retreat in Terlung and public empowerments of Choggyur Lingpa's treasure cycles. In late January, 1867, the three formally re-enthroned the King of Dege, presumably performing the reinvestiture to restore authority damaged by the Nyagrong War, although this remains unclear. According to Jamgon Kongtrul, Choggyur Lingpa composed an especially beautiful benediction for the ceremony, but the speech does is not preserved in any of the biographical sources. They circumambulated the town along the tops of the valley walls, and successfully performed a tummo practice, melting ice with the heat of their bodies. Choggyur Lingpa further gave the King empowerments from his treasure cycles.
Following the enthronements rites, the three lamas went to Katog (KaH thog) where they met with that monastery's leading lamas, including the 2nd Getse Tulku, Tsewang Rigdzin Gyatso (Dge rtse sprul sku 02 Tshe dbang rig 'dzin rgya mtsho), the Mogtse (rmog rtsa) and Shingkyong (zhing skyong) Tulkus. Conflict arose around the seating arrangements, leading Jamgon Kongtrul to criticize the Katog patriarchs for their pride. Choggyur Lingpa nevertheless performed consecrations and empowerments, including his Barche Kunsel, and received several transmissions from the monastery's venerable Nyingma lamas.
In early 1867 Choggyur Lingpa assisted with the consecration of Kongtrul second hermitage, Dzongshod Desheg Dupa Podrang (rdzong shod sde gshegs 'du pa pho brang), high above the north bank of the Dzing River, which flows into the Drichu at Horpo. It was at this time that Choggyur Lingpa and Khyentse Wangpo invested Jamgon Kongtrul with his treasure name, Chime Tanyi Yungdrung Lingpa ('chi med bstan gnyis g.yung drung gling pa) officially authorizing him to reveal treasure. Jamgon Kongtrul later identified Rdzong shod as site #20, on the list of the great sites of Khams, the attributes-aspect of the buddha attributes. From Dzongshod Choggyur Lingpa travelled up the Terlung valley and over to Yilhun (yi lhun) and to Dzogchen (rdzogs chen). He met with the 4th Dzogchen Rinpoche, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (mi 'gyur nam mkha'i rdo rje), and where Choggyur Lingpa revealed treasure, casket #36, at that monastery's sacred site, Rudam Gangtro Dewachenpo (ru dam gangs khro bde ba chen po). The site figures as the main site of the buddha-attributes on Choggyur Lingpa's list of sacred sites of Kham. Supposedly also included in the casket was a gazetteer for the site.
Soon afterwards Choggyur Lingpa embarked on a year-long trip to Central Tibet. He visited Tsurpu (mtshur phu), Drikung ('bri gung), and other major Kagyu monasteries, and performed frequent treasure empowerments. He was able to meet the 14th Karma pa at Tsurpu, as well as the 9th Pawo, Tsuglag Nyinche (dpa' bo 09 gtsug lag nyin byed) and the 9th Gyaltsab Yeshe Zangpo (rgyal tshab 09 ye shes bzang po). He visited Samye (bsam yas), Dorje Drag (rdo rje brag), and Mindroling (smin grol gling), and then returned to Khams. Back in Nangchen he established Neten, his second monastic seat, at Namka Dzod. The monastery is the seat of the Neten Chogling line of his incarnations.
Choggyur Lingpa passed away soon after, in 1870, at Neten, while planning a trip to Bhutan. His body was placed in a reliquary, where it remained until its destruction during the Cultural Revolution.
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