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Indian Adept: Padampa Sanggye Biography

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Padampa Sanggye

Padampa Sanggye died 1117? (pha dam pa sangs rgyas) was probably born during the eleventh century in an area identified as the district of Kupadvipa, the province of Carasi?ha, the land of Bebala; this may correspond to a port city in the modern day area of Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India. According to the Blue Annals, his father Viryavarman was from a family of jewel merchants; others have suggested that his father was a sea captain. Dampa's mother, Barasaha, was from a family of incense-makers. He is said to have been a "seven-birth Brahmin" (skye ba bdun pa), an epithet for one born as a Brahmin seven births in a row.

Following the death of his father when he was fifteen, Dampa was ordained with the name of Kamalasila by Ksemadeva at Vikramasila, a famous monastic institute of learning in contemporary northern Bihar. With fifty-four renowned siddhas, both male and female, he studied topics including Sutra, Grammar, Tantra, and Mahamudra. Dampa travelled widely throughout his life and spent many years practicing meditation in places such as Bodh Gaya and Svayambhunath Stupa, as well as in jungles and cemeteries throughout south Asia, including the famous cemetery of Sitavana where many Buddhist adepts practiced.

Dampa is said to have travelled to Tibet on either three, five or seven occasions, spending varying amounts of time during each visit. Among the names used to refer to him are "Black Acarya" (AtsAra nag po) and "Little Black Indian" (rgya gar nag chng), with "black" most likely denoting the dark color of his skin. According to the Blue Annals, on his first visit throughout lower Khams, Dampa was unable to find any students to teach, but he prophesied that he would find students on subsequent visits. On his second visit to the area of Ngari he found several students amenable to Buddhist teachings. On his third visit to Tibet, he was invited by Mangra Serpo (rmang ra ser po) to Tsang, where he taught Chod to Mangra Serpo and Kyo Sonam Lama (kyo bsod nams bla ma, d.u.). This is probably the same visit, dated following soon after the death of Atisa, during which Dampa taught Zhije (zhi byed sgro nma skor dgu) to Drapa Ngonshe (grwa pa mngon shes, 1012-1090) and Cewal Garpa (lce dbal sgar pa, d.u.) in Ding ri. On his fourth visit, he spent time practicing at Nyel (gnyal) and travelled through U. On his fifth visit, he is said to have returned to Dingri from travelling through China and meditating at Wutai shan, where he would remain there teaching and in retreat until his death.

Dampa is associated with the area of Dingri in south Tsang where he spent much of his time. He was renowned as a pragmatic teacher who taught his male and female students through non-verbal gestures, the bestowing of auspicious objects, and verbal aphorisms and dialogues, through which he dispensed not only advice on spiritual practice but also on quotidian behavior. His teaching style was highly symbolic, with movements imbued with meaning. His appearance signified his asceticism and high level of yogic attainment: he wore little clothing or jewelry. Students from near and far came to learn from him; he is reported to have said that he had as many students as there were stars above Dingri.

Dampa is remembered for his support of women practitioners, and he was keenly aware of the specific mundane difficulties they had to overcome in order to devote their lives to practice. The Dingri One Hundred (ding ri brgya rtsa ma), taught to his students at Dingri Langkhor (glang 'khor), is probably the best-known work attributed to him. Many of his teachings were transmitted through his foremost disciple who was known as Kunga (kun dga', 1062-1124). It is assumed that Dampa knew the Tibetan language, but students such as Kunga translated his symbolic gestures and utterances and edited his writings.

According to some Tibetan histories, Dampa taught Chod to Machik Labdron (ma gcig lab sgron, 1055-1149), who is generally said to have originated the teaching. In some cases it is said that the only connection between Dampa and Machik is that she saw him from afar. In any case, the histories and the practices of the Zhije tradition, with Dampa at its head, and the Chod lineage, with Machik as the founder, have long been intertwined.

His teachings came to be characterized in three lineages: Early, Intermediate and Late. The Early transmission lineage included the sadhana of Yamantaka, as well as three cycles of Zhije passed to a Kashmiri student known as Jnanaguhya and then to Onpo Lotsawa (ong po lo tsA ba, d.u.) and to Purang Lochung (spu hrangs lo chung, d.u.). The Intermediate transmission lineage included foundational precepts, including those taught to one of his main students, Magom Chokyi Sherab (rma sgom chos kyi shes rab, b. 1055). The Late transmission lineage refers to the teachings he gave during his final residence at Dingri: many prominent figures came to receive teachings from him, which he gave according to their abilities. Accordingly, it is said in the Blue Annals that although his students achieved liberation through his teachings, his teachings and his students were not generally known.

Name Variants: Dampa Gyagar; Dampa Gyagar Nakchung; Dampa Sanggye; Mipam Gonpo


Chos kyi seng ge. 1974. Zhi byed dang gcod yul gyi chos 'byung rin po che'i phreng ba thar pa'i rgyan. In Gcod kyi chos skor, pp. 411-597. New Delhi: Tibet House.

Dpa' bo gtsug lag phreng ba. 2003. Chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dga' ston. Sarnath, India: Vajra Vidya Library, 1369-1371.

Martin, Dan. 2005. "The Woman Illusion? Research into the lives of Spiritually Accomplished Women Leaders of the 11th and 12th Centuries." In Women in Tibet, eds. Janet Gyatso and Hanna Havnevik. New York, NY: Columbia. 49-82.

Martin, Dan. 2006. "Padampa Sanggye: A History of Representation of a South Indian Siddha in Tibet." In Holy Madness: Portrait of Tantric Siddhas, ed. Rob Linrothe. New York, Rubin Museum of Art. 108-123.

Martin, Dan. 2008. "The Tingri Hundred." http://tibeto-logic.blogspot.com/2008/12/tingri-hundred.html

Ma gcig lab sgron. 1974. Phung po gzan skyur gyi rnam bshad gcod kyi don gsal byed. In Gcod kyi chos skor. Byams pa bsod nams, ed., pp. 10-410. New Delhi: Tibet House.

Machik Labdron. 2003. Machik's Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod: A Complete Explanation of Casting Out the Body as Food (Phung po gzan skyur gyi rnam bshad gcod kyi don gsal byed). Sarah Harding, trans. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.

Pha dam pa sangs rgyas. 1978/9. The Tradition of Pha Dampa Sangyas: A Treasured Collection of his Teachings Transmitted by T[h]ug[s] sras Kun dga', ed. Barbara Nimri Aziz, 5 vols. Timphu, Bhutan: Kunsang Tobgey.

Pha dam pa sangs rgyas. 2008. Lion of Siddhas: The Life and Teachings of Padampa Sanggye. David Molk and Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, trans. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.

Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.

Michelle Sorensen, March 2011