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Jigme Lingpa Biography

Jigme Lingpa ('jigs med gling pa) was born in 1729 or 1730 (d.1798) in the Yarlung Valley of Tibet, not far from the dynastic tombs of Chonggye ('phyong rgyas). At the age of six he was moved to the 15th century Nyingma monastery Palri Wosel Tegchen Ling (dpal ri 'od gsal theg chen gling) in Chonggye. According to his autobiography, Jigme Lingpa went to the monastery with a group of monks from Kham after one of the monks died near his home. At Palri, despite the inspiration that drew him from home at such an early age, he apparently had little interest in monastic pursuits and spent his time in idle play.

Things changed at the age of thirteen, when Jigme Lingpa began his training in earnest, studying with Ngawang Lobzang Pema (ngag dbang blo bzang padma, d.u.), who gave him the name Pema Khyentse Wozer (pad+ma mkhyen brtse 'od zer). Nesarwa Ngawang Kunga Lepai Jungne (gnas gsar ba ngag dbang kun dga' legs pa'i 'byung gnas, 1704-1760) gave him his getsul vows. Neten Kunzang Woser gave him teachings in Nyingma treasure cycles such as the Droltig Gongpa Rangdrol (grol tig dgongs pa rang grol) of Trengpo Drodul Lingpa (phreng po 'gro 'dul gling pa, 1517-1584) and key Nyingma scriptures such as the Lama Gongdu (bla ma dgongs 'dus). He also studied Indian Buddhist classics with his relative, Zhanggom Dharmakirti (zhang sgom d+ha rma kI rti).

At Palri Jigme Lingpa also met the great master Thukchok Dorje (thugs mchog rdo rje, d.u.) and received several important transmissions from him, including Mahamudra and the Yeshe Tongdrol (ye shes mthong grol) of Tennyi Lingpa (bstan gnyis gling pa, 1480-1535). He went on to study with a number of other teachers such as Tendzin Yeshe Lhundrub (bstan 'dzin ye shes lhun grub, d. 1795) and Tangdrogpon Pema Choggrub (thang 'brog pa pad+ma mchog grub, d.u.), training in both Nyingma kama and terma as well as certain tantric cycles from the new translation traditions.

When he was twenty-eight, Jigme Lingpa entered a three-year retreat at Palri, basing his practice on a number of popular treasury cycles such as the Droltig Gongpa Rangdrol (grol tig dgongs pa rang grol) of Drodul Lingpa. During this retreat he experienced numerous visions of deities, most famously one, on a winter night in 1757, in which he found himself at the great Jarung Kashor (bya rung kha shor) stupa in Boudhanath, Nepal. There a wisdom dakini bestowed on him the Longchen Nyingtig (klong chen snying thig) treasure cycle, a revelation later classified as "mind treasure" (dgongs gter). He is said to have kept the revelations secret for seven years, despite the urging of his associates.

At the age of thirty-one Jigme Lingpa entered a second three-year retreat, this time at the Upper and Lower Nyang caves at Samye Chimpu. During this retreat he experienced three visions of Longchenpa Drime Wozer (klong chen pa 'dri med 'od zer, 1308-1364) in which he received that master's blessing of body, speech, and mind. According the tradition, in the visions Longchenpa encouraged Jigme Lingpa to disclose his visionary treasures and teach them to others. In one of the visions Longchenpa gave him a book, saying that it contained all the key instructions that he had not expanded in his Trilogy of the Natural Ease of Mind (ngal gso skor gsum), thus giving Jigme Lingpa permission to compose his own masterpiece, the Yontan Dzod (yon tan mdzod). In the third vision Jigme Lingpa's mind merged with Longchenpa's in the expanse of primordial purity, and Longchenpa confirmed that Jigme Lingpa was a master of absolute realization.

During his second retreat Jigme Lingpa wandered the Chimpu valley giving teachings to an increasing number of disciples and highly placed patrons. When he emerged from retreat in 1762, with the patronage of the Dabden Yungdrung Kyilwai Tsal family ('dab ldan gyung drung 'khyil ba'i tshal), he established a hermitage in Chonggye, Tsering Jong (tshe ring ljongs) where he ultimately began to transmit the Longchen Nyingtig. Now actively patronized by a number of prominent aristocratic families, his fame grew to extent of being occasionally conscripted to perform rituals on behalf of the Tibetan government in Lhasa.

Jigme Lingpa never fully ordained, living as a tantrika, with a topknot and robes. He may have had several consorts, including a woman from the Dabden Yungdrung clan that, known as Yungdrung Kyilwa, and a nun named Tsang Gyangru Palding Jetsunma (gtsang tgyang ru dpal sdings rje btsun ma). He never publicly acknowledged the patrimony of his only known son, Nyinche Wozer (nyin che 'od zer, d.u.), who was born late in his life.

Jigme Lingpa had several close relationships with hierarchs of traditions other than the Nyingma. He taught and studied with Ngawang Kunga Lodro (ngag dbang kung dga' blo gros, 1729-1783) the thirty-second Sakya Tridzin (sa skya khri 'dzin), who encouraged him to compose his scholarly works, chief among them the Yontan Dzod, a work belonging to the stages of the path genre which he wrote between 1779 and 1781. He was also close to the third Drigung Chungtsang, Chokyi Nyima ('bri gung chung tshang 03 chos kyi nyi ma, 1755-1792), of whom his son, Nyingche Wozer was recognized as the reincarnation and enthroned at Drigung in 1797.

It was in the Nyingma tradition that Jigme Lingpa had his greatest influence. He aided in the restoration of Chuwori (gcung bo ri), a monastery outside of Lhasa established by Tangtong Gyalpo (thang stong rgyal po, 1361-1485), befriending the head incarnation, the sixth Chagsam Tulku Lobzang Chodan (lcags zam sprul sku 06 blo bzang chos ldan, d.u.). Jigme Lingpa also worked to restore Nyingma temples, such as the imperial-era Zhwai Lhakang and Samye.

Most importantly, Jigme Lingpa had a number of disciples from Kham who went on to significantly impact their home region, although he himself never visited the region. Chief among these were Jigme Trinle Wozer, the first Dodrupchen (rdo grub chen 01 'jigs med 'phrin las 'od zer, 1745-1821), and Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu ('jigs med rgyal ba'i myu gu, 1765-1842). He also trained several leading lamas of Dzogchen and Katog, including the sixth abbot of Dzogchen, Namka Tsewang Chogdrub (nam mkha' tshe dbang mchog grub, b. 1744), and Getse Pandita Gyurme Tsewang Chogdrub of Katog (kaH thog sge rtse 'gyur med tshe dbang mchog grub, 1761-1829), who edited his collected works.

Perhaps of equal importance to his training of Nyingma lamas from Kham and the subsequent spread there of the Longchen Nyingtig teachings was his involvement with the royal family of Dege. The Dege king Sawang Kundrub Dega Zangpo (sa dbang kun grub bde dga' bzang po, 1768-1790) and his wife Tsewang Lhamo (tshe dbang lha mo, d.u.) visited Jigme Lingpa in 1788, meeting him for the first time. At the time Jigme Lingpa was in retreat at Tsering Jong, and when he heard that they royal family with their large entourage was coming, he sent word to meet him at Samye so as to spare his small hermitage community the burden of such a large group. Jigme Lingpa developed a close relationship with the queen, whom he described as "very intelligent, with good propensities," despite rushing through the teachings he gave her and urging them to leave quickly, so as to lesson the impact of their royal demands on the local people. When her husband died two years later, Tsewang Lhamo assumed control of Dege on behalf of her infant son, elevating Jigme Lingpa's disciple, Jigme Trinle Wozer, to a prominent status that was perceived as a significant threat to the court's traditionally Sakya religious leadership. Things ended poorly; the year Jigme Lingpa died, 1798, a wave of anti-Nyingma violence swept Dege. Tsewang Lhamo was imprisoned and exiled, dying soon afterwards, and a number of Nyingma lamas were executed or exiled.

It was under the queen's sponsorship, between 1794 and 1798, that Jigme Lingpa oversaw the printing of his edition of the Nyingma Gyubum (rnying ma rgyud 'bum), a compilation of all Nyingma tantra, in twenty-eight volumes. He had begun gathering and copying texts for the collection back in 1771, soon after leaving his second three-year retreat. He based it on Ratna Lingpa's edition, no longer extant, in forty-two volumes.

Jigme Lingpa passed away in 1798, at the age of sixty-nine, at his seat at Tsering Jong. His immediate reincarnations include the three masters Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje, 1800-1866; body incarnation), Dza Paltrul Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (rdza dpal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887; speech), and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyang mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892; mind).


Dilgo Khyentse. 1999. The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel: The Practice of Guru Yoga According to the Longchen Nyingthig Tradition. 1988. Reprint, Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Dudjom Rinpoche. 2002. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, trans. Boston: Wisdom.

Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, pp. 69. ff.

Grags pa 'byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 241-242.

Goodman, Steven. 1983. The 'Klong-Chen Snying-Thig': An Eighteenth Century Tibetan Revelation. Ph.D., The University Of Saskatchewan.

Goodman, Steven. 1992. 'Rig-dzin Jigs-med gling-pa and the Klong-Chen sNying-Thig.' In Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation. Edited by Ronald Davidson and Steven Goodman, 133-147. Albany:: State University of New York Press.

Gyatso, Janet. 1999. Apparitions of the Self. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gyatso, Janet. 1997. 'From the Autobiography of a Visionary.' In Religions of Tibet in Practice, Donald S. Lopez, ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press (369-375).

'Gyur med thse dbang mchog grub. 1985. Kun mkhyen chos kyi rgyal po rig 'dzin 'jigs med gling pa'i bka' 'bum yong rdzogs kyi bzhugs byang chos rab rnam 'byed. In The Collected Works of 'Jigs med gling pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer (1730-1798), vol. 5, pp. 1-25. Gangtok: Pema Thinley.

'Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas. 1976. Gter ston brgya rtsa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo v.1 pp. 291-759. Paro: Ngodrup and Sherab Drimay, p. 727-735.

'Jigs med gling pa mkhyen brtse 'od zer. 1985. Yul lho rgyud du byung ba'i rdzogs chen pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer gyi rnam par thar pa legs byas yongs 'du'i snye ma. In The Collected Works of 'Jigs med gling pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer (1730-1798), vol. 9, pp. 1-502. Gangtok: Pema Thinley. Also published in 1998, Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

'Jigs med gling pa mkhyen brtse 'od zer. 1985 (c.1767). Klong chen snying thig le'i rtogs pa brjod pa dakki'i gsang gtam chen mo. In The Collected Works of 'Jigs med gling pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer (1730-1798), vol. 7, pp. 21-29. Gangtok: Pema Thinley. (See Gyatso 1999, p. 273 for other editions).

'Jigs med gling pa mkhyen brtse 'od zer. 1985 (c.1767). Gsang ba chen po nyams snang gi rtogs brjod chu zla'i gar mkhan. In The Collected Works of 'Jigs med gling pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer (1730-1798), vol. 7, pp. 31-64. Gangtok: Pema Thinley. (See Gyatso 1999, p. 273 for other editions).

'Jigs med gling pa mkhyen brtse 'od zer. 1985 Rdzogs chen pa rang byung rdo rje'i rnam thar do ha'i rgyan. In The Collected Works of 'Jigs med gling pa rang byung rdo rje mkhyen brtse'i 'od zer (1730-1798), vol. 9, pp. 509-519. Gangtok: Pema Thinley.

Nyoshul Khenpo. 2005. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Translated by Richard Barron. Junction City, California: Padma Publication.

Pelzang, Khenpo Ngawang. 2004. A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher. Translated by Padmankara Translation Group. Boston: Shambhala.

Smith, Gene. 2001. Among Tibetan Texts. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 21-26.

Tulku Thondup. 1996. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.

van Schaik, Sam. 2000. 'Sun and Moon Earrings: The Teachings Received by 'Jigs med gling pa.' Tibet Journal, vol. 25: 4, pp. 3-32.

van Schaik, Sam. 2004. Approaching the Great Perfection: Simultaneous and Gradual Methods of Dzogchen Practice in the Longchen Nyingtig. Boston: Wisdom.

Alexander Gardner, April 2010 [Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. April, 2010].

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