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Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170): [p127] one of the three principal students of Gampopa, the founder of the Pagdru Kagyu School. Eight of his students went on to found eight further schools; Drigung, Taglung, Drugpa, Yamzang, Tropu, Martsang, Yelpa and the Shugseb. These became known as the Eight Smaller Schools of the Kagyu Tradition.

Jeff Watt, 8-2005

Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo

Pagmodrupa (1110-1170) was brought up by poverty stricken parents in the southern Kham. His father was named Wena Atar (we na a thar) and his mother was Tsunne (btsun ne).

They died when he was a youngster of about seven years. His one younger brother, later known by the name Dampa Desheg (dam pa bde gshegs), would found a very important early Nyingma monastery in Kham called Katog (kaH thog). It is said that before he was three, Pagmodrupa could remember how he was once a monkey during the time of the past Buddha Kashyapa. He forgot about it when his parents fed him tainted meat, but recovered this past-life memory later in life, after meeting Gampopa.

When his parents died, Pagmodrupa was placed under the care of his paternal uncle, a monk who also had employment outside his small monastery, Chakyi Temple (bya khyi lha khang) as a household priest (mchod gnas). This uncle sponsored his noviciate, while he in turn helped his uncle by working on a number of things, such as illustrating manuscripts. He had a natural talent for art and calligraphy, mastered reading and writing with no difficulty. He then acted as a record keeper for the monastery's abbot, Kenpo Tsultrim (mkhan po tshul khrims) for whom he also scribed in silver letters one volume of the One Hundred Thousand Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita).

When Pagmodrupa was about twenty years old, taking with him a few turquoises for financing, he made the very long journey to the central parts of Tibet. There, after his full ordination, at age twenty-five, and following several years of study in various places - at first primarily Kadampa teachers, and later teachers of practically every tantric lineage that then existed - he found a teacher to whom he would devoted about twelve years of his life. This was one of the most renowned early tantric masters of the Sakya school, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (sa chen kun dga' snying po). During his time with Sachen he primarily studied and practiced the Lamdre (lam 'bras). He composed a compendium of Lamdre teachings, which still survives, called the Pedzodma (dpe mdzod ma).

His two years with Gampopa were quite intensive. At first, when he went to Gampo together with Shang Yudragpa (zhang g.yu brag pa), Gampopa was indisposed and not receiving visitors, so he spent four days carrying earth and stone for building a chorten. At their first meeting, he saw Gampopa as a genuine lama identical to Buddha. Gampopa demonstrated to him the insufficiency of his spiritual practices, and he very soon realized the Mahamudra under Gampopa's guidance. His years of restlessly seeking spiritual guidance came to a decisive conclusion. Some of Pagmodrupa's dialogs with Gampopa about meditation may still be read today.

A hermit in an area to the east of city of Tsetang (rtses thang), a place called Pagmodru (phag mo gru) which means 'Sow Crossing,' handed over to him his meditation hut. It was a place of great natural beauty, with plenty of juniper trees. Gradually other meditators came there and built their own huts, which formed the original nucleus for the Densa Til (gdan sa thil) Monastery. This would become the 'mother' monastery for hundreds of other monasteries, and in these early times it was often called simply Densa, "The Headquarters." Densa Til may still be visited today, although it has lost almost all its former splendor.

During the time that Tibet was ruled by the Pagmodru Dynasty (1350-1481 CE), the magnificent chortens that served as their royal tombs were built here. On the other hand, the place where the simple grass with willow framework meditation hut of Pagmodrupa once stood - it survived until the middle of the 20th century - is still considered the most holy site in the monastery. It is from the place name Pagmodru that both Pagmodrupa and the later Pagmodru Dynasty received their names. When Pagmodrupa taught there, it is said that the monks would cover the ground of his route from his hut to his Dharma teaching chair with their hats, clothing and khatag scarves. Monks were attracted from far-flung places due to widespread reports that, with scarcely any exceptions, those who attended Pagmodrupa's teachings would all have very powerful meditative experiences.

Here is a brief sample of Pagmodrupa's teachings, with their emphasis on meditation. It is taken from the Jewelled Ladder (rin chen them skas):

The persons who rely [on these philosophies]
may have achieved certainty through their own intellects
in their various diverse views,
but since they have neither understood nor realized these
through meditation practice,
theirs are views devoid of realization.

Not just for three limitless eons,
but even for a million they may follow their procedures.
Still, there is no squeezing oil from husks.
They may plow and hoe the winter ground,
but come spring there will be no result.
Those who want to go east
waste their steps going west.
People suffering from the sweltering heat
desire shade, but surely, if they go again and again
to bask by the bonfire,
they will just go on suffering from the heat.

Pagmodrupa viewed himself as a servant of all sentient beings, and whatever donations he received went to the welfare of the entire monastic community. He ate the same food as the others. He was very strict about his personal observance of the vinaya rules and expected the same from his community. He did not consider any task too lowly, and was known to carry water and gather ashes. He went on begging rounds with the other monks, a practice well known in Theravada Buddhist countries, but exceptional in Tibet. He was in the habit of keeping in seclusion during the waning phase of the moon, but during the waxing phase he would give teachings every afternoon. Many of these teaching sessions called tsogcho (tshogs chos) were recorded in writing, and they make for fascinating reading.

When Pagmodrupa died in 1170, the event was accompanied by a number of wondrous signs of his sainthood. About 1600 monks attended his funeral. His many lay and monastic followers decided to build a chorten to enshrine his remains. A team of Newar artisans, headed by Manibhadra, did much of the work on it. Besides portraits of the Mahasiddhas, it had 2,170 images of various forms of Buddha.

Sometimes the lineage of Pagmodrupa is called the Pagdru Kagyu (phag gru bka' brgyud), or this term is used as a way of including all the lineages that descended from his disciples. The most important and the best known of these lineages or schools were the Drugpa Kagyu, which came from his disciple Lingrepa; the Drigung Kagyu, which came from Jigten Gonpo; and the Taklung Kagyu from Taklungtangpa.

Name Variants: Dorje Gyalpo; Drogon Dorje Gyalpo; Khamton Dorje Gyalpo

A brief chronology of Pagmodrupa's life:

1110: Birth.

1118: Took novice vows, receiving the name Dorje Gyalpo.

1131: Traveled to central Tibet.

1134: Took full monastic vows.

ca. 1139-1151: Stayed at Sakya, studying with Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (sa chen kun dga' snying po).

1151: Went to Gampo to meet Gampopa.

1153: Death of Gampopa.

1154: Pagmodrupa started teaching to assemblies of monks (tshogs chos), who increased in number from 30 to 50 to 300 to, in the year 1170, 900 (another source says 800).

? Visited Sakya Monastery once more, just before the death of Sachen in 1158.

1158: Arrived at the future site of Densa Til, where he stayed in a meditation hut for the remainder of his life.

1165: Lingrepa and Taklung Tangpa became his disciples, and many more huts were built.

1170: Death.


Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 552-563.

Tucci, Giuseppe. 1956. To Lhasa and Beyond. Rome: Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, pp. 127-9.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. 1990. The Great Kagyu Masters. Ithaca: Snow Lion, pp. 204-19.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen, 1986. Prayer Flags: The Life and Spiritual Teachings of Jigten Sumgon. Ithaca: Snow Lion, pp. 22-28.

'Jig rten mgon po. 2001. 'Gro mgon phag mo gru pa'i rnam thar nyam len rin chen mi zad pa rgya mtsho'i gter. In The collected works (bka' 'bum) of kham gsum chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang ratna sri (skyob-pa 'jig-rten-gsum-mgon). New Delhi:

Drikung Kagyu Ratna Shri Sungrab Nyamso Khang, vol. 3, p. 219-255.

Dpal chen chos kyi ye shes. South Gorge Dharma History, pp. 306-321.

Dan Martin, August 2008

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].

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