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Lingrepa Pema Dorje (gling ras pa pad+ma rdo rje) was born in 1128, in upper Nyang (smyang stod), the general area that includes the city of Gyantse (rgyal rtse) in south-central Tibet. His father, a member of the Lingme family (gling smad) was an expert in tantra who earned his living as a doctor and astrologer. When he was seven a field was sold to pay for his apprenticeship to a doctor named Ramen (ra sman). His medical studies were going well when at age twelve, his father died. At age sixteen he took novice vows, and he studied, among other things, the Six Lamps (sgron ma drug) of Pelyang (dpal dbyangs). Later Lingrepa would write his own Six Lamps under the inspiration of these Nyingma texts.
Once, while on a begging round, Pema Dorje irrevocably broke his vows when he was seduced by a woman named Menmo (sman mo). Lingrepa explained his failure to keep his monastic vows as being a karmic result of his prior rebirth as Viryaprabha. Viryaprabha was one of sixty monks who slandered some other monks, monks who happened to be bodhisattvas, for teaching dharma to women. This story is told in the Ratnakuta collection of sutras.
Supported by Menmo's relatively well-to-do family, the two went as a pair to study the Rechung Nyengyu (ras chung snyan rgyud), first under Kyungtsangpa Yeshe Lama (khyung tshang pa ye shes bla ma, 1115-1176) and later, when Pema Dorje was thirty-four, under Sumpa Repa (sum pa ras pa). Husband and wife both put on the white cotton robes that were worn by Milarepa (mi las ras pa, 1040-1123) and his student Rechungpa Dorje Drakpa (ras chung pa rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161). According to tradition, one day, on their way to a meditation retreat, they happened to hear the name of Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170). Just hearing the name, Pema Dorje got goose flesh and immediately set off to his seat at Densatil Monastery (gdan sa mthil) to gain an audience with him. At the time, he was thirty-seven years old. One source describes the meeting as follows:After receiving teachings from Pakmodrupa, Pema Dorje vowed to take a seven-year retreat to meditate on them. He broke his vow after only five days, and said to his teacher:
At their meeting Lingrepa thought to himself, "This is in reality a Buddha. These trees and flocks of birds are only his emanations." His mind was content and all ordinary understanding ceased. All obscurations were quieted. He perceived the pure actuality of all dharmas. All his doubts were instantly cut off. He did not even ask for a word of explanation. Later he said, "When I received the light of knowledge through his mastery of Buddhist scripture, it was as if I were granted the Eye of Wisdom." He continued:
"You said I should meditate on the primordial significance, so I meditated on it. Emptied of meditation and meditator, I was finished. I saw no reason to keep a meditation retreat."
The guru was pleased and said, "Your realization is sublime like that of the great Saraha beyond the Ganges."
But Pema Dorje's living in the community together with Menmo was offensive to some of the monks, who started saying things such as: “As a rule our teacher doesn't like yogis, especially yogis with consorts. But he likes Lingrepa very well.” Eventually Pakmodrupa asked that Menmo be sent away.
Lingrepa founded a monastery, Napu Gon, (sna phu dgon) near Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag), earning him the ephithet Napupa. He also began a religious community called Ralung (rwa lung), where his main disciple, Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (gtsang pa rgya ras ye shes rdo rje, 1161-1211) would late build the famous monastery by the same name.
When Pakmodrupa passed away he sang a funerary song at his cremation, comparing Pakmodru to Kuśinagara, the place where Buddha Śākyamuni passed into Parinirvana. In his later years, Lingrepa seems to have come into some property, which he used to generously support the giant image of Buddha at Tsel Gungtang (tshal gung thang), just a few miles upstream from Lhasa. This image, quite famous in its day, has been restored and may still be seen. He composed a number of works, the most famous being his collection of inspired songs. In the Drukpa Kagyu tradition, his Guru Yoga text is still in common use. Other works by him were criticized, by some, for being too original.
Five miracle stories are traditionally told about him. In one of these stories, when the criticisms of his commentaries were spreading, he went to a side valley of Napu (sna phu) and asked, “Who is disagreeing with me?”
Since no one would answer his question, and he could see that they were being haughty, he put bookbinding boards like those used to bind Tibetan scriptures on the front and back of his body, tied himself up with bookbinding straps, and flew back and forth in the sky, singing a song which began, “Am I not a volume of the Sacred Dharma?”
Needless to say, his critics were brought down to size, and they “filled the whole earth with parasols of their reverent praises, calling him a mahāsiddha .”
Lingrepa died in 1188, clenching his teeth after two men who had broken their tantric vows came into his presence. Tsanpa Gyare attended to the funeral rites and later erected a stupa as reliquary for his remains.
Dan Martin is a scholar based in Israel. He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1991. Published August 2008.
[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].
Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 659-664.
Martin, Dan. 1979. “Gling-ras-pa and the Founding of the 'Brug-pa School.” The Tibet Society Bulletin, vol. 13 (June), pp. 56-69.
Miller, W. Blythe. 2005. “The Vagrant Poet and the Reluctant Scholar: A Study of the Balance of Iconoclasm and Civility in the Biographical Accounts of Two Founders of the 'Brug pa Bka' brgyud Lineages” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 369-410.