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Subject: Tsembupa Martri

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There are many different sacred Buddhist traditions that depict the various forms of Avalokiteshvara. Most of these traditions only have an initiation ritual and at best a very short daily ritual practice. Preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there are seven principal traditions
that contain extensive teachings on the practice of Avalokiteshvara. The first of these is the [1] King's Tradition (gyal lug) of Tri Songtsen Gampo, [2] Bhikshuni Shri Tradition (gelongma palmo lug) of the Kashmiri nun, Gelongma Palmo, [3] Kyergangpa Tradition (gyergang lug) of the Shangpa Kagyu School, [4] Tsembupa Tradition (tsembupa lug) of the Sakyas, [5] Dagyal Tradition (dagyal lug) of the Nyingma Treasure (terma) tradition, [6] Maitri Yogin and [7] the Karma Chagme Tradition (karma chagme lug) joining the philosophical systems of mahamudra and dzogchen with compassion.

Video: Lokeshvara & the Tsembupa Tradition

'Martri' is a Tibetan word that refers to very deep and profound teachings. The practice of Avalokiteshvara has a number of traditions referred to as 'martri' as mentioned above. The Tsembupa Martri, originating with the Tibetan teacher Tsembupa Darma Wozer (13th century), is particularly popular with the Sakya and branch traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

The special characteristic of the Tsembupa Martri is that it is a teaching rather than a practice based on a specific initiation. The teaching combines both generation stage and perfection stage yoga and is focused on the meditational form of any figure of Avalokiteshvara, Chaturbhuja, Simhanada, Khasarpanna, based on the selection and choice of the practitioner.

Jeff Watt 2-2007

Extracted from the Blue Annals (pages 666-667) of Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal (1392-1481) using the digitized text of THDL.

14.8 The Tsembu Instruction (dmar khrid tshem bu lugs kyi skabs). {Chandra 925; Chengdu 1213; Roerich 1043}.
The doctrine known as the Clear Exposition of the Siddha tshem bu pa (grub thob tshem bu pa dmar khrid) also belongs to the Cycle of the Great Merciful One (Mahākaruṇika). Nairātmā bestowed it on the siddha gnyan tshembu pa named dar ma 'od zer. He was born at Shad sgo dar. He did not accept the monastery of ston mo lung, and others which were offered to him by rngog btsun dkar mo, practised meditation only on the mountain of g.yas ru, and attained spiritual realization.

He had six disciples to whom he imparted precepts. He bestowed them on a kalyanānamitra of 'bring mtshams lchim lung and on the scholar of the yul la monastery. These two also attained spiritual realization, and later sent on three occasions offerings to him.

He also {R1044} bestowed (precepts) on his younger brother spyil po dbang phyug grags and on his attendant che brag pa, as well as on rnog btsun dkar mo. These also attained spiritual realization with the help of this doctrine. spyi bo lhas pa byang chub 'od studied many suutras and Śastras, but he did not know how to practise them combined. He therefore went to lha sa to pray to the Lord (jo bo), and there he met gnyan tshem bu pa, and understood him to be a siddha. He made his request to him, and the Teacher understood him to be a suitable vessel (snyod ldan) and bestowed on him the phyi theg pa lam rim spungs kyi don khrid and the nang gsang sngag skyi dmar khrid.

He practised according to them, and attained spiritual realization. He imparted them to byang chub tshul khrims, the upādhyāya of stag bde brag dmar. The latter bestowed them on the Bodhisattva lha btsun pa, the upādhyāya of phyi 'brum dgon gsar. The latter on zhang kun spangs pa. It became one of the great guide books of the jonangpas. This (Doctrine) spread in all directions, and great was the benefit. Some of the methods of exposition appear to agree with those of Mahamudra. In other texts it was described as agreeing with the pratyahara (restraining the organs, sor sdus) of the Saddaṅga yoga.

Also there existed a Lineage of the dmarkhrid (detailed exposition) of the Cycle of the Great Merciful One (Mahākaruṇika). The nun Lakssmi (dge slong ma dpalmo) imparted it to dpal gyi bzan po (Śrībhadra). The latter on rinchen bzang po (Ratnabhadra), who imparted it to Atiśa. The latter bestowed it on yol chos dban. The latter on Rog ston. The latter on rtse ston lo sras. The latter on zhang ston chos dbang. The latter on phra ston zhig po. The latter on rnal 'byor skyabs se. The latter on rin po he ne mig pa. The latter on the upādhyāya rin byung. The latter on the upādhyāya sangs gzhon. The latter on the bla ma kun brsod pa. The latter transmitted it to mkhas grub chos dpal, father and son.

The Chapter on the dmar khrid (detailed {(17b)} exposition) of the method (lugs) of tshem bu pa. The Chapter on the Cycle of the Great Merciful One (Mahākaruṇika).

Tsembupa Martri Tibetan Text Authors:
- Ngulchu Togme Zangpo
- Tsarchen Losal Gyatso
- Shamar 5th, Konchog Yanlag
- Lochen Ratnabhadra
- Jonang Kunga Drolchog
- Lochen Gyurme Dechen
- Jonang - - Taranata
- Sanggye Puntsog
- Zhuchen Tsultrim Rinchen
- Ngulchu Dharmabhadra
- Changkya Rolpai Dorje
- Reting Tri Trul
- Jamyang Kyentse Wangpo
- Khenchen Ngagwang Lodro Rinchen
- Others...
Biography: Tsembupa Darma Wozer (13th century)

Tsembupa Darma Wozer (tshem bu ba/pa dar ma 'od zer) was born into the Nyen (gnyan) clan in Shabto (shab bstod), western Tibet. We do not know much about his studies, but if he is the same Darma Wozer who figures in lineage lists of several of the works of Maitreya, it suggests that he was a scholar of some importance.

After Tsembupa finished his studies he became a hermit and began to meditate, mostly in the Yeru region. His name "Tsembupa," which means tailor, derives from the fact that he spent so much time patching his ragged clothes.

He was offered the monastery of Chumik Tonmolung (chu mig ston mo long) by Ngoktsun Karmo (rngog btsun dkar mo), but refused the post because, as he put it, "somebody else wants it, so you should give it to him." He then began to live in various retreat sites.

After practicing for many years, he eventually had a vision of Avalokiteśvara, which served as the basis for a new method of meditation on the deity. He passed on the tradition to six disciples, the most important of which was Chiwo Lhepa Jangchub Wo (spyi bo lhas pa byang chub 'od), and over time it became one of the five great systems of Avalokiteśvara practice in Tibet, the Tsembu System (tshem bu lugs). The other four are the Kyergang (kyer sgang), Pelmo (dpal mo), Dagyel (zla rgyal), and Mitra (mi tra) systems, each named after the particular Tibetan or Indian saint who founded them.

Although popular in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsembupa's Avalokiteśvara system is today preserved mostly in the Sakya and Geluk traditions. The practice was especially popular with the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), who both received and gave Tsembupa’s teachings many times.

Despite the similarity in their names, Tsembupa should not be confused with Nyel Darma Wozer (gnyal dar ma 'od zer), a Vinaya expert who lived two centuries earlier.

José Cabezón is the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Chair in Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Published July 2020. Treasury of Lives.