32. 8th Situpa 1699 - 1774
“Spreading the sunlight of the teachings of the two knowledges, Lord Chökyi Jungne, I supplicate you.”-- “Supplication to the Kagyü Gurus”
The Eighth Kenting Tai Situpa, Chökyi Jungney was a sage and saint who possessed profound insight and wisdom; he was a greatest scholar of Sanskrit, Nepali, Mongolian, and the Chinese languages. He had mastered astrology and medicine too. He was also a creative thangka painter and sculptor. And so, Chökyi Jungney has come to be known by the title Situ Panchen, “Mahasiddha Situ.” In the essay on Drogon Rechen in this series of life-stories, we saw that in the 14 th century the Ming Emperor had conferred the honorific title Kuang Tin Tai Situ on Chökyi Gyaltsen during a visit of Kagyü masters to the Chinese court. Chökyi Gyaltsen then became known as the First Tai Situpa. Before receiving this title and being named so, his earlier emanations were King Indrabodhi, a disciple of Buddha Shakyamuni, then Lotsawa Marpa, and then Drogon Rechen, who was a heart-son of the First Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa. Then he manifested as Näljor Yeshe Wangpo and afterwards as Ratnabhadra. Being an emanation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, he was prophesied to become the next Buddha, the fifth of the 1,000 Buddhas to appear in this fortunate aeon.
"The appearance of the Tai Situpa is like the appearance of a Buddha. The loving protector of beings, Tai Situpa, is in essence inseparable from the victorious Karmapa, although he appears sometimes as the Karmapa’s spiritual master, sometimes as his disciple. Not even a tiny fraction of the lives of the Karmapa and Tai Situpa, the spiritual father and son, can be accurately seen or described by ordinary beings, or even by the gods such as Indra or Brahma. Tai Situpa has already attained full awakening and enlightenment but by the force of his compassion, he continually works for the welfare of others for as long as life remains in the universe."
-- Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great
Chökyi Jungney, the Eighth Tai Situpa, was born in the wood-hare year in the province of A-Lo Shekar at A-Tarong in Derge, Kham. His father’s name was Nawang Tsering, and his mother’s name was Tranguma. The Palpung Web Center tells us that “when he was 2 years old, Lama Kunchen from the Treasure Transmission Lineage of the Nyingmapas performed the Dorje Drolo ceremony for him, gave him the name Gonpo Sung, and took him to see the 11 th Karmapa at Tsurphu. The 11 th Karmapa gave Lama Kunchen a silk bag full of big black pills, a pearl with no eye, and a prophecy letter (on which was) written ‘Situ, the golden dragon born at A-Lo.’” He asked the Lama, who became the teacher of Chökyi Jungney, to offer all these to the reincarnation of Kenting Tai Situpa, and so the boy was recognized and acknowledged to be the incarnation of the Seventh Tai Situpa. It was the same year that the Eleventh Karmapa passed into Parinirvana, 1702. Chökyi Jungney met the Twelfth Karmapa, Changchub Dorje, six years later.
In accordance with predictions made by the Eighth Gyalwa Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, and predictions made by Tertön Sangye Lingpa and Tertön Taksampa Mingyur Dorje, Chökyi Jungney was recognized as the reincarnation of the Seventh Tai Situpa (whose name was Lekshey Mawe Nyima; he was the son of the King of Ling and lived a very short life from 1683 until 1698). Having performed a long-life ceremony for the Eighth Tai Situpa, the Eighth Shamar gave him the name Situ Chökyi Trinley Kunkyab Palzangpo. Before continuing with the life-story of the Eighth Tai Situpa, we do wish to offer readers more information about Tertön Mingyur Dorje than was given in the life-story of the Eleventh Gyalwa Karmapa in this series of essays and to share a few words about Sangye Lingpa.
The Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary of authors states that Yongey Mingyur Dorje’s emanation basis is Vajrapani, the Lord of Secrets, who is the single embodiment of all buddhas’ power over miracles and who was one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava, named Mutri Tsenpo, the older son of King Trison Detsen. In the brief account of how Buddhism was brought to Tibet presented in the life-story of the Eleventh Gyalwa Karmapa in this website, we learned that King Trisong Detsen reigned after Songtsen Gampo and invited many masters to Tibet to propagate the true doctrine; due to the miraculous help of Padmasambhava in the Land of Snows, the king established Buddhism as the state religion of Tibet and built the first Buddhist monastery at Samye. The treasure revealers of mainly the treasure teachings of Padmasambhava that were hidden for more appropriate times had the name “Lingpa”; there were also Rinchen Phuntsok, the great Drikung Tertön, Jatson Nyingpo, and Namcho Mingyur Dorje. Among their following reincarnations were twenty-one major Tertöns with the name Nuden, among which was the first incarnation of Yongey Mingyur Dorje. The Rangjung Dictionary recounts: “The Tenth Karmapa gave him the name Rigzin Mingyur Dorje Dragpo Nuden Tsal.” Having mastered the practices, he “subjugated and brought to the path of liberation many samaya violators, evil influences and obstructing forces who harmed the Buddhadharma and sentient beings. (…) Directly and indirectly a great number of noble beings, lamas, tulkus and sangha of all schools received his terma teachings. But his primary recipients for these teachings were predicted in his own revelations and were the sublime Tai Situ Chökyi Jungney and Tertön Kuchok Dorje. To quote his terma prediction: ‘In the Uta valley (Uk Valley in “Jamgon Kongtrul’s Retreat Manual”), Tai Situ will wield the vajra copper sword in the sky.’ And: ‘(…) You are an emanation of the Lord of Secrets. I am the buddhas of the three times, as well as Shakyamuni, who protects with compassionate light rays the beings of the dark age. Never missing the right time, the power of true aspirations, birth after birth, the guru will speak to you. Pray and don’t hold back your faith and devotion. Keep this in your heart, my worthy noble son. Strong is your samaya, princely ruler; you will greatly serve the Buddha’s teachings.’ In this way his activity to benefit beings was truly in accordance with the predictions of the master of Uddiyana. (…) Yongey Mingur Dorje’s second incarnation was born into the Batok family in the Lhatok region. His third incarnation was also born into the Batok family. The fourth incarnation took birth in Derge, in the Dalang family. The fifth incarnation was born in Derge in the Shakhar family. The sixth incarnation took birth in Derge at Mesho into the Nera family and was known by the name Nera Mingyur Dorje.” Sangye Lingpa is the name of the line of reincarnations of the second son of King Trisong Detsen. In the incarnation as Sangye Lingpa, he was the great Tertön who discovered the text “The Command Seal of Prophecies,” in which Padmasambhava foretold all the names of the Tai Situpa incarnations.
After having been officially recognized, Chökyi Jungney was given all his possessions from his previous life and enthroned at the age of 14 with the Red Vajra Crown as the Eighth Tai Situpa. The Twelfth Gyalwa Karmapa, Changchub Dorje, and the Eighth Shamarpa imparted all Kagyü Whispering and Oral transmissions and teachings to him, paving the way that he would become a leading proponent of the Kagyü Shentong-Madhyamaka Tradition. Rigzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755) gave him the sacred teachings of the Nyingma Shentong-Madhyamaka Tradition (he was Lineage-holder of the Kathok Tradition, which was briefly introduced in the foregoing essay on the Twelfth Karmapa). According to the Buddhist Resource Center, Chökyi Jungney’s other teachers were Kar-gyüd Trinley Shingta, Karma Päldrub, and Bhibhu Wati.
Having transcribed the Tengyur in two months, Chökyi Jungney made a pilgrimage to Nepal and Ladakh, returned to Päljor Monastery a year later, and then painted a set of thangkas in the Gadri style in which he depicted eight Mahasiddhas. He offered the paintings to the King of Derge. He also painted a series of thangkas that depict scenes from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni. They were painted in the Indian style and decorated with imitated Chinese embroideries. Differing from the existing Gadri style, they became known as the New Gadri School, the Karma Gadri. (For a short introduction to the Gadri Tradition, see the life-story of the Eighth Gyalwa Karmapa in this series of life-stories.)
In the year 1727 Chökyi Jungney received permission from the King of Derge to found Palpung Chökhor Ling Monastery, which became his main seat in East Tibet. Palpung, which means “Mound of Glory,” inspired the Twelfth Tai Situpa, Pema Dönyö Nyingche, when he built Sherab Ling Monastery in India centuries later. A few words about Palpung:
The Palpung Architecture Project states that “it is believed that the founder of the first monastery of Palpung was Palden Shangchub Lingpa. He was originally from eastern Dengko (now incorporated into Derge County). He successfully merged a number of small monasteries, Trana Gonpa, Langrog Gonpa, Yanong Gonpa, and Wuchen Gonpa into one big monastery. His successor was called Ngara Rinchen Tshultrim. Because Palden Shangchub Lingpa belonged to the Sakya Sect, he converted Palpung into Sakya. It is not known when the monastery was converted back to Kagyü. The most famous Derge King, Chögyal Denba Tsering, vigoriously supported Palpung and made the Eighth Tai Situpa Rinpoche the head tulku, who is considered by many to be the founder of the monastery. Palpung subsequently became the most important of the five large monasteries under the Derge King’s patronage. It is also the largest and most important Kagyü monastery in Derge.” There were three retreat centers at Palpung and therefore Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye called Palpung “the large retreat center.” The report by the Palpung Architecture Project continues: “Palpung is the traditional seat of four lines of incarnate lamas. Of these, Situ Rinpoche is the oldest and most important. Situ Rinpoche so far has had twelve generations of reincarnations. The Kongtrul line has four generations, the Khyentse line has two, and Wongen three. Currently, only Wongen Rinpoche is in residence; the others live in exile.”
The Palpung Web Center writes that the Eighth Tai Situpa revised the texts of the Kangyur, Tengyur, and many other scriptures that were kept at Derge “in order to make plates of them. His disciple, Tenpa Tsering, the King of Derge, established the Derge Printing Press. Tai Situpa successively helped the Derge Printing Press to produce over 500,000 wood block prints. These prints are such fine quality that the major ones have been reprinted in modern editions.” This production is now well-known as the Derge Edition. It is treasured as one of the best original prints of the central texts of the Tibetan tradition and is kept in libraries throughout the world.
In 1733 Situ Panchen returned to Tsurphu Monastery for a third time and then went on pilgrimage throughout Tibet, offering teachings wherever he went. Having returned to his seat in Derge four years later, he continued his literary work and completed his famous book on linguistics entitled, “Tibetan Grammar ‘Situ DrelChen’ (sum rtags kyi rnam bshad mu tig phreng mdzes) by Situ Chokey Jungney.” Prized by scholars to this day, it is available as a free download to interested students and visitors in the link “Buddhist Philosophy Texts” of the Karma Lekshey Ling Institute website. In the appendix to “Jamgon Kongtrul’s Retreat Manual,” it is stated: “’The Rain of Wisdom (mchog- gi- dngös- grub- mgon- du-byed- pa’i-myur- lam- bka’- brgyüd- bla- ma- rnams- kyi- rdo- rje’i- mgur- dbyangs- yes- shes- char- ‘bebs- rang- grol- lhung- grub- bde- chen- rang- ‘bar- nges- dön- rgya- mtsho’i- snying- po)’ compiled by the Eighth Tai Situpa.” The Tibetan version, abbreviated "Kagyu Gurtso - The ocean of the yogic songs of the Kagyu lineage” is also available in the link “Buddhist Philosophy Texts” of this website.
While on their way to China in 1735, the Twelfth Karmapa and the Eighth Shamarpa met with Tai Situpa. They told him that they would not return to Tibet and instructed him to take charge of the Karma Kagyü Lineage until their reincarnations were found. When Tai Situpa shortly afterwards heard that they had passed away, he immediately began to search for their reincarnations. With the help of his teacher, Kathok Rigzin Tsewang Norbu, he found and installed the Thirteenth Karmapa and the Ninth Shamarpa. As the Lineage-holder, His Eminence Tai Situpa was able to give the entire cycle of Kagyü transmissions and teachings to them. The Shamarpa only lived for seven or eight years. Later, the Karmapa, Kenting Situpa and Kathok Rigzin recognized the younger brother of the Fourth Panchen Lama as Shamarpa’s reincarnation. Supported by many monks of Yangchen Monastery, Shamarpa’s seat in Tibet, the Seventh Gyaltsab Rinpoche had already appointed the son of the wealthy Namsayling family as the reincarnation. This case was taken to court and it was resolved that the boy that the Karmapa, Kenting Situpa, and Kathok Rigzin had found was the authentic reincarnation of the Shamarpa. Having returned to Tsurphu and enthroned the Tenth Shamarpa, Tai Situpa returned to Nepal.
On one of his journeys to Nepal, Tai Situpa had met the Five Tseringmas, “Sisters of Long Life,” who were subdued by both Padmasambhava and Jetsün Milarepa and had become protectoresses of the Dharma. He received much advice from them. There are many stories about how they again and again appear to many practitioners of the Kagyü Lineages and guide and advise them. Palpung Web Center states that “while debating with Pandit Jaya Mangola of Kashmir, it was proclaimed by the local Hindus of Nepal that Kenting Tai Situpa must have been blessed by Lord Shiva, since they thought that was the only way he could have achieved such insight and learning.” Furthermore: “At the age of 50, according to the Tibetan medical texts, Chokyi Jungney made the famous medical pill ‘Moon Nectar Pill.’ (…) He made one kind of special pill that grew by itself more and more and spilled out of the bottle, and then the pills became all kinds of Buddha. Afterwards, Chokyi Jungney made many special pills. He became known as a skilled physician and master of Tibetan medicine. He composed and wrote a few medical books, which are deemed as valuable medical guidance till now.”
Seeing the hypocrisy that existed in many monasteries and the greed of even some teachers, Tai Situpa deplored those who violated their vows and who sacrificed compassion in favour of exploiting others. He explicitly expressed his disgust in a song. A few verses published in “The Rain of Wisdom” are:
“NAMAH SHRI GURAVE
You, Karmapa, are the refuge and protector of the world,
The guide, more excellent than all the victorious ones.
Is there time now for you to look at us,
A flock of insensitive devourers of gifts?
This is the time of the darkest of the dark age.
If you Kagyüs would consider the activity of us in samsara
And not protect us from the abyss of bad karma,
Your great kindness would be a lie.
“Kye ma! The dharmas of samsara are futile.
Especially, the activity of the dark age is futile.
In particular, hypocritical practitioners are futile.
Especially, charlatan gurus are futile.
Formerly, I was deceived by grasping at these as meaningful.
You disciples also are confused and grasp at these as meaningful. (…)
“These days, some bodhisattvas
Receive all exalted and common people with a smile,
And reward the wealthy and powerful with a meal.
They tame those with resistance through deception.
They proclaim their freedom from joy and sorrow, passion and aggression.
They also proclaim their unbiased generosity.
“Such proclamations become so widespread
That first, they who do not know pretend to know.
Secondly, they who are unaccomplished pretend to be accomplished.
Thirdly, their innermost mind aims for wealth.
Fourthly, they con and swindle.
Fifthly, they blaze like fire with passion and aggression.
“These people are completely covered up and so hidden
That they are not seen even by insightful people.
They lure people’s minds with the iron hook of material things,
And the three gates are smashed into dust.
If what you say is true, O mighty lord of the Shakyas,
What will result from such deeds in the end? (…)
“Their establishing the teachings actually destroys the teachings.
They are obsessed with their fear of sickness and death.
They perform retreats by making themselves comfortable and sleeping on the sly,
While making future plans of passion, aggression, and delusion.”
At the invitation of the Emperor Chi'en Lung, Tai Situpa travelled to China and was highly honored. He rebuilt thirteen monasteries of the Kagyü School on the way and at the same time translated many texts from Sanskrit, including prayers to Arya Tara. Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok tells us that much can be said about the practice of White Arya Tara, since the ritual is very long and complex. Chöje Lama added: “The short text that followers of the Kagyü Lineage practice was translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by the Eighth Tai Situ Rinpoche after he visited Nepal a third time and received the transmission and original text there. The summary composed by Tai Situpa contains the same meaning and is just as beneficial as the extensive text. Practicing the one or the other correctly leads to the same result. In both cases, White Tara will protect one from an untimely death, which enables one to practice the Dharma longer in this life.”
In 1763, at the age of 63, His Eminence Tai Situpa visited Central Tibet a fifth time. He went into retreat in a Drikung monastery and when he performed an offering, an emanation of Dorje Drolo, one of the eight wrathful emanations of Padmasambhava, manifested. The Palpung Web Center wrote: “Once in a Tara fire offering ceremony, many lotuses grew in the tent in which he slept. In usual time, he kept reciting mantras except short rest time at noon and night. He recited three hundred million times of all kinds of mantras. He showed many miracles like just an intention to stop a rainstorm, spreading barley to the sky and the barley straightened on the ground. He found and recognized the Thirteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Düdul Dorje, and imparted all the transmissions and teachings to him. At the age of 72, he invited the Karmapa to Palpung Monastery. He performed Taisho Tripitaka Lineage empowerments and teachings for the Karmapa. At that time, the sky was filled with colourful clouds, a sacred sign enhancing faith to the 13 th Karmapa.” Next to the Thirteeenth Karmapa, his other foremost disciples were the Tenth Shamarpa, the Gyalwa Drukpa Trinley Shingta, Drikung Chökyi Gyalwa, Nenang Pawo Rinpoche, Drubtop Chöje Gyal, Khamtrul Chökyi Nyima, and Lotsawa Tsewang Kunkhyab.
In 1774, at the age of 74, Kenting Tai Situpa was again invited to China. On the way, while meditating in the lotus posture of a Buddha, he entered into Parinirvana. It was observed that his heart-region remained warm for seven days and there was a strong smell of incense everywhere. Kenting Tai Situpa predicted his next rebirth before he passed away. It is said that his limitless activities were equal to those of Nagarjuna in India. It was also a common saying at the time: "If all of the other Kagyu monasteries came together, their activity would not be equal to that of Situ Chökyi Jungney!"
His Eminence Situ Chökyi Jungney concluded the song that is partly quoted above with the verse:
“Although I have not accomplished great benefit for the teachings and beings,
I desire to dedicate whatever little merit I have accumulated
For the welfare of the teachings and beings.
This is not just talk or lip service.
I wonder, ‘Do the lord victorious ones give thought to me?’
In the midst of the gathering of the deceitful who support one lie with another lie,
I do not add on to this chain of charlatanisms.
As I have no great entertainment of immediate diversions,
My burden of evil karma is very light;
This is the kindness of the lord guru.”
Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “The Golden Rosary” (2008).
The Palpung Web Center from the 12 th Kenting Tai Situpa & Palpung Congregation, “The Lineage,” Himachal Pradesh, India (2008).
“The Rain of Wisdom. The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus,” transl. under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa by the Nalanda Translation Com., Boston & London, 1980, pages 67-71.
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, “Jamgon Kongtrul’s Retreat Manual,” transl. & intr. by Ngawang Zangpo, Tsadra Foundation, N.Y. & Colorado, 1994, pages 30-31, 41, & 194.
Chöje Lama Phunstok, “White Tara,” in: “Audio, Teachings and others - Teachings by Lamas from Karma Lekshey Ling Institute,” KLLI website, Kathmandu, 2007.
Kagyü Thubten Chöling, Monastery & Retreat Center of Kyabje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche, directed by Lama Norlha Rinpoche, “Excerpts from ‘The Garland of Moon Water Crystal’ by Situ Chokyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Kunkhyab,” N.Y. (2008).
Simhanada, “The 8 th Tai Situ” (2008).
The Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary, “Authors – The Yongey Mingyur Dorje Incarnations” (2008).
Buddhist Resource Center , “Biographical details - chos kyi 'byung gnas,” N.Y. (2008).
Thomas Roth, “Five Sisters of Long Life,” in: RangjungYesheWiki (2008).
May all beings be happy and have the causes of happiness!
(With sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for his immense generosity, compiled & written for English-speaking visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute by gh, responsible for all inadequacies & mistakes, Munich, 2008; copyright.)