Only the painting below has an inscription which clearly identifies the teacher as Jonang Chogle Namgyal. The other two sculpture have the inscription Chogle Namgyal but it is not certain as to which of the two famous Chogle Namgyal figures is intended, Jonang or Bodong.
Jeff Watt 10-2020
Chokle Namgyel (phyogs las rnam rgyal), who is also known by the name Chokyi Gyelpo (chos kyi rgyal po), was born in the western region of Ngari (mnga' ris) in 1306. As a young child he received teachings from several Tibetan masters and studied Sanskrit with the Indian or Nepalese paṇḍita Umapati (u ma pa ti). In 1313, when he was eight years old, he traveled to the central Tibetan region of Tsang and began the study of Madhyamaka philosophy with the expert scholar Tsangnakpa (gtsang nag pa) and other teachers. He also studied epistemology, the literature of the vehicle of perfections, abhidharma, the monastic code, and tantric subjects at different monasteries for some years.
In 1325 Chokle Namgyel studied at the great monastery of Sakya (sa skya) and also at Drakram (brag ram dgon). At this point he was a strong advocate of the rangtong (rang stong) view. He then visited many monasteries in central Tibet and Tsang for further studies and during this trip received the nickname Chokle Namgyel, “Victorious in All Directions” because of his consummate skill in debate. He returned to Sakya, where he was again victorious in debate, and also traveled to several other places in central Tibet and Tsang, including Zhalu Monastery (zhwa lu) Monastery. There he received teachings from the great master Buton Rinchen Drub (bu ston rin chen grub), but did not feel that he gained further understanding as a result.
Chokle Namgyel next returned to Drakram monastery, where he heard about the incredible reputation of the Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1361) and how he had built an amazing and unprecedented stupa at Jonang Monastery (jo nang dgon). When he heard that Dolpopa was teaching a system that did not agree with most previous philosophical tenets, Chokle Namgyel decided to go to Jonang and discuss this in person. Chokle Namgyel’s teacher at Drakram, Konchok Sangpo (dkon mchog bzang po), encouraged him, saying Dolpopa was a peerless holy man unlike any other in Tibet, and remarked that Chokle Namgyel might well gain a better understanding by meeting him.
In 1333, when he was twenty-seven years old, Chokle Namgyel arrived in Jonang just as Dolpopa was finished teaching a huge assembly. He gave a letter to one of Dolpopa’s attendants, requesting an audience, and was invited into the master’s quarters. According to tradition, when the curtain was parted he beheld the unbearable brilliance of Dolpopa’s body and prostrated. Perceiving the wondrous aroma of moral discipline and the major and minor physical marks of a buddha on Dolpopa’s body, Chokle Namgyel immediately felt that Dolpopa actually was a buddha. He presented a small offering, and Dolpopa asked about his family and where he had come from. Unable to control his trembling voice, Chokle Namgyel replied that he was from Ngari and had come to central Tibet and Tsang to study. They had a detailed conversation and then Dolpopa spoke in depth, comparing the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, abhidharma, and the monastic code. When Chokle Namgyel heard Dolpopa’s words and countless scriptural quotations he did not know, he felt like he was the water in a cow's hoofprint next to the Ganges River, and thought, “I don’t understand the Dharma!”
Chokle Namgyel made a request to study Kālacakra, and Dolpopa bestowed the great Kālacakra initiation and taught the completion-stage practices of the six-branch yoga and the great Vimalaprabhā commentary to the Kālacakra Tantra. Chokle Namgyel found it difficult to understand these teachings, but this improved after he later received the commentary on the tantra again from Dolpopa’s major disciple Kunpang Chodrak Pelzang (kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang, c.1283-c.1363) and studied the key points of the philosophical tenets. Then he also received teachings on Sanskrit grammar and other subjects, including the Vimalaprabhā once more, from Dolpopa’s major disciple Sabzang Mati Paṇchen Lodro Gyeltsen (sa bzang ma ti pan chen blo gros rgyal mtshan, 1294-1376). During these years Chokle Namgyel received all of Dolpopa's teachings on exoteric and esoteric subjects.
At the age of thirty-four Chokle Namgyel traveled to Lhasa to gild the famous images of the Buddha in the Jokhang (jo khang) and Ramoche (ra mo che) temples. He then declined many invitations to teach and instead returned to Jonang to be with Dolpopa, where he also received many teachings from Dolpopa’s major disciple Jonang Lotsāwa Lodro Pel (jo nang lo tsA wa blo gros dpal, 1292-1361). Chokle Namgyel was next invited to Ngamring Chode (ngam ring chos sde), where he taught the Vimalaprabhā and was appointed to the monastic seat when he was thirty-nine years old. When Jonang Lotsāwa, who held the monastic seat at Jonang monastery, died in 1354, Dolpopa invited Chokle Namgyel back to Jonang and he assumed the monastic seat for either the next four or six years. He then retired to the hermitage of Sekharchung (se mkhar chung).
After Dolpopa passed away in 1361, Chokle Namgyel returned to Jonang and assumed the monastic seat again for the next fifteen years. He taught the Vimalaprabhā there when he was sixty years old. At seventy-two years of age he traveled to Lhasa and central Tibet, where he gave extensive Kālacakra teachings. After returning to Jonang, he was again invited to Sekharchung, and, according to legend, only through his clairvoyance escaped ambush on the road by the evil warlord Jangpa Siddhi (byang pa sid d+hi) and his troops, who had previously murdered the great Jonang master Kunpang Chodrak Pelzang (kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang, 1292-1376) in a similar situation.
Chokle Namgyel passed away at the age of eighty-one. Various miraculous events are said to have occurred, and that wonderful images and relics appeared in his remains after cremation.
Cyrus Stearns is a scholar based in Washington State, USA. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1996.
Published August 2008
Rgyal ba jo bzang dpal bzang po. 2004. Chos kyi rje kun mkhyen chen po yab sras bco lnga'i rnam thar nye bar bsdus pa ngo mtshar rab gsal. In Dpal ldan dus kyi ’khor lo jo nang pa’i lugs kyi bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thar, Byang sems rgyal ba ye shes, ed, Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004, pp. 143–209.
Ngag dbang blo gros grags pa. 1992. Dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ’byung rgyal ba’i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba’i sgron me Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992, pp. 37–38.
Taranatha. 1983. Dpal dus kyi ’khor lo’i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkho. In The Collected Works of Jo-nang rje-btsun Taranatha, vol. 2: pp. 1–43. Leh: Smanrtsis Shesrig Dpemdzod, pp. 36–39