Taglung Tangpa Chenpo, Tashi Pel (1142-1210): founder of Taglung Monastery (1180), central Tibet - north of Lhasa, the head monastery for the Taglungpa sub-lineage of the Kagyu School.
Jeff Watt [updated 5-2018]
Taglung Tangpa Tashi Pel (1142-1209/1210)
Taglung Tangpa Tashi Pel (stag lung thang pa bkra shis dpal) was born in 1142 at a place named Yangsho Bongra Teng (g.yang shod bong ra steng) in the Markham (smar khams) area of Kham. His paternal clan was the Gazi (ga zi). His father was a construction worker.
His mother died very soon after his birth, and he did not get on well with his father's second wife. He tried several times to run away to join a monastery, but his father stopped him. Only when he was eighteen did he succeed in escaping to Tangkya (thang skya), not the famous seventh-century temple in the Meldro (mal gro) Valley north of Lhasa, but rather another establishment by the same name in Kham. There he was ordained and received the name Tashi Pel (bkra shis dpal).
At Tangkya, Tashi Pel studied the main texts of the Kadampas. It is said that seeing the hard conditions of the workers in the surrounding area, he felt a strong commiseration with them and vowed to help. Thinking the best way would be to study Buddhism in India, his attempts to travel there were thwarted a number of times.
Once he slept in a bed with a portrait of Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170) above the pillow. He felt an extraordinary veneration and experienced the signs of warmth that precede spiritual realizations. Thinking he really must meet this teacher and receive precepts from him, he dreamt he met a black woman in a thicket full of thorns and embraced her. She said, "There will be no obstacles since you are blessed by the divine yidam." As he awoke he beheld the thirteen-deity mandala of Cakrasamvara.
There was an old woman in Tangkya who was a delog ('das log), a person who had returned from the dead. She told him he would have many disciples, many of whom would have liberating realizations. Later while traveling in U Province, he dreamed about climbing a high ladder. A man on top of it stretched down his arm and pulled him up.
Tashi Pel was twenty-three, the year 1165, when he first visited Pagmodru. Pagmodrubpa told him he should make himself a willow hut, but not to take longer than a day to build it. Soon after his arrival, he became Pagmodrubpa's attendant. Pagmodrubpa identified Tashi Pel as a rebirth of his own Kadampa teacher Jayulwa Zhonnu O (bya yul ba gzhon nu 'od, 1075-1138). At the same time, Pagmodrupa encouraged him to study with other teachers since all these teachings would be useful in the future when he would have students of his own.
Tashi Pel often acted as a scribe for Pagmodrubpa, and was constantly taking notes. Ultimately he eventually developed such an amazing memory that he had no need to take further notes. They say that the words of his teacher were as clear in his mind as mantras carved on a rock.
For six years Tashi Pel studied with Pagmodrubpa, until the latter's death, in 1170. In the next years he resided at Kadam monasteries, taking the complete bhik?u vows in 1172. There are problems being sure about the exact date, but sometime in 1180 or 1181 he began to build the the first permanent structures at Taglungtang Monastery. In the years before that, Taglungtangpa had visited the area and blessed it, and resided in temporary shelters or caves.
At first there were only eight (possibly eighteen) monks who stayed there in caves and grass huts. Even before he began coming to the spot it had been a site for solitary meditations of several past masters, including the Kadampa master Potowa Rinchen Sel (pu to ba rin chen gsal, 1027-1105), Karag Gomchung (kha rag sgom chung, d.u.) and others. Taklungtang would be Tashi Pel's residence for the remaining three decades of his life, although three times he paid visits to Densatil (gdan sa thil) and made large endowments, including over a thousand sacred volumes.
Just like his teacher Pagmodrubpa, health permitting, Taglung Tangpa would teach during the first half of the month, and during the waning phase of the moon he would generally keep a very strict retreat. He was a complete vegetarian and a teetotaler. He would never enter the homes of laypeople.
Tradition has preserved for us something not often found in the life story of a saint, which is a record of his daily routines. He would rise early and wash with water infused with dharanis. An attendant would replace all the old offerings on his altar with fresh ones. At the break of dawn he did ma??ala offerings and sat in meditation for a long time. During breakfast he broke silence and heard reports from his attendant on matters affecting the community. He resumed silence after breakfast until noon, when he would have a bowl of soup. After lunch he would seat himself on the Dharma Lion Throne and teach Mahamudra to his disciples. His schedule was similar during the second half of the month, only that he did not teach or accept visitors, even if he was known to make exceptions for visitors from Kham.
Taglung Tangpa's last years might seem uneventful, but they were entirely occupied by his meditation and teaching activities. We might gauge his success as a teacher from the fact that a monastery that was started with only eight or eighteen monks became a flourishing community of three thousand, with as many as five thousand gathering there for his last rites. Many of the monks had visions during the funeral ceremony, and it is said that his heart, tongue and eyes emerged unburnt after the cremation. Not only did his remains produce crystalline spheres called ringsel (ring bsrel) in five different colors, these ringsel rained down from the smoke that drifted away from the fire.
Name Variants: Mangala Shri; Taklung Tashi Pel; Taklung Tri 01 Tashi Pel; Tashi Pel
Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 610-21.
Russell, Jeremy. 1986. 'A Brief History of the Taglung Kagyu.' Choyang (Chos dbyangs). vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 120-127.
de Rossi Filibeck, Elena. 1994. 'A Manuscript on the Stag lung pa Genealogy.' In Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Fagernes 1992. Per Kvaerne, ed. Oslo: The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, pp. 237-240.
Tshe dbang rgyal. 1994. Lho rong chos 'byung. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, pp. 453-92.
Stag lung ngag dbang rnam rgyal. 1992 (1609). Stag lung chos 'byung. Lhasa: bod ljong bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, pp. 195-229.