1st Thrangu Tulku
The First Thrangu Tulku-
Sherab Tenpay Gyaltsen (1436–1487)
The first Thrangu Rinpoche, Sherab Tenpay Gyaltsen was born in the Male Fire Dragon Year of the seventh cycle (1436). The names of his parents and so forth are not known. However this was the time of the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Donden who was born in 1416.
When the Karmapa went to Karma Gon, the second of his three monasteries, he saw rituals from other traditions being recited and asked what their purpose was. Since there were no such texts for his own tradition, he was asked about their origin. as a result, the Karmapa prepared the ritual texts for the sadhanas and mandala rituals of Vajra Varahi, Jinasagara and so forth. At that time the Thrangu lama had the opportunity to receive the empowerments, transmissions and key instructions.
The 6th Karmapa passed away at the age of thirty-eight in the Water Bird Year (1453). The Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso was born in the Male Fire Dog Year (1454) and the Thrangu Lama became a disciple whom he cared for affectionately.
The Karmapa went to Tsarshi Lhudrup Monastery (whose ruins can still be seen today) near Thrangu in 1463 when he was ten years old. The Thrangu lama was definitely one of the Karmapa’s attendants at that time and accompanied him to the site which would later become Thrangu Monastery. The Thrangu lama developed an exceptional resolve and made great aspirations although he was not able to found the monastery at that time.
Later in the Male Wood Horse Year (1474) when the Karmapa was twenty-one, they returned to that area by way of Surmang and established Thrangu Monastery. This area is now known as Qinghai. The Karmapa said “Plant a Dharma community on a sun seat” and so at the age of thirty-nine the Thrangu Lama Sherab Tenpay Gyaltsen founded a monastery on the site known to this day as Nyilung Nang or “In Sun Valley”. The location was the birthplace of Kyopa Jigten Sumgon, the founder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage and also the site of the large Kyura Monastery until Jigten Sumgon moved to Drikung Monastery in Central Tibet. Thus it was a place with both blessings and history.
A group of the 7th Karmapa’s students who had strong meditation practice lived in a multi colored tent and were called “The ones in the colorful (thra) tent (gur). They became the sangha of the new monastery so it was named Thragur or “colorful tent”. A few generations later the spelling changed to Thrangu.
The Thrangu Sherab Tenpay Gyaltsen built a temple and the practices of the five deities of Vajra Varahi and the nine deities of the Jinasagara that came from the 6th Karmapa flourished there. These practices continue without decline to this day. Sherab Tenpay Gyaltsen performed great benefit for Buddhism and beings until passing away at the age of fifty-two in the Fire Sheep of the eighth cycle (1487)
2nd Thrangu Tulku
The Second Thrangu Tulku-
Gendun Senge (1489–1558)
The second incarnation, Thrangu Rinpoche Gendun Senge, was born in the Female Earth Bird Year (1489) near his monastery to a family descended from the Kyura, The 7th Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso recognized him and indicated that he was an emanation of one of Guru Rinpoche’s twenty-five mahasiddha disciples, Shubu Palgyi Senge. He named the tulku Gendun Senge. At that time, Chodrak Gyatso was thirty-six.
Gendun Senge received many empowerments and instructions from the 7th Karmapa and Gendun Senge regarded him as his root lama. As the sangha grew at Thrangu Monastery and the teachings flourished a second temple was built to accommodate everyone.
Chodrak Gyatso died in 1506 at the age of fifty-three. The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje was born in the Female Fire Rabbit Year of the ninth cycle (1507) and was invited to Thrangu Monastery in 1514 at the age of eight. According to The Golden Garland, “He went to Tsarshi and saw the deities of Tara at the Tara Rock. He went to Tsi Ngur and saw Kyopa Rinpoche. Gendun Senge invited him to Kyura in Chutso Shong”. Nowadays, Chutso Shong is a small pond in the summer that dries up in the winter and the Mahakala dance is performed there.
He also met the 4th Shamar Chen Nga Chokyi Drakpa and the Mahasiddha Sangye Nyenpa. He followed the two of his lamas, receiving innumerable empowerments and key instructions from them. In particular, he also studied the mandala rituals from Ngok’s tradition according to the manuals written by the 4th Shamar and initiated new grand pujas of them. The tradition of the empowerments, transmissions and practice were preserved uninterrupted and Jamgon Rinpoche described how magnificent this deed was in the index to the “Treasury of Kagyu Mantras”.
Gendun Senge brought benefit to the teachings and beings and nurtured the sangha until he passed away at the age of seventy in the Earth Horse Year of the ninth cycle (1558).
3rd Thrangu Tulku
The Third Thrangu Tulku-
Karma Rigsang (1559–1625)
The 3rd Thrangu Tulku Karma Rigsang was born in the Earth Sheep Year of the ninth cycle (1559). He was recognized by the 5th Shamar Konchok Yenlak. Karma Rigsang built a large new Mahakala temple at Thrangu Monastery. According to oral histories, when the 7th Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso performed the opening ceremonies after founding the monastery, there was an old woman digging droma (wild sweet potatoes) which was a good omen. “You should not stay here” he said to her “We are building a monastery here”.
“It would be fine to build the monastery up there and also to build it down there,” she replied. Because of this incident there was an upper and lower monastery. The lower temple was in a location where the sky and earth made a triangle and so it was a wrathful place. Karma Rigsang thought this was a good location and built a large new Mahakala temple there. He began a tradition of continual practice of the three roots: the practice of Guru Rinpoche Konchok Chidu as the guru, the self, frontal and vase visualizations of Vajra Varahi as the yidam, and the offerings to the Bernakchen as the dharma protector. He followed Shamar Konchok Lama as his teacher and received many empowerments, transmissions and instructions from him. He established the practice of the Great Mahakala Puja on the instructions of Sharmapa. Since there were the ruins of the previous seat of the Drikung, he also instituted the recitations of oblations to Achi. During the lama dance for the actual practice he followed the tradition of Dechen Yangpachen in establishing the ritual of four different dances during the summoning of the local protector Parol; the two-armed sun and moon, Drolging the skeleton and the dark blue demon.
Later he received from the 6th Shamar Chonyi Wangchuk many special empowerments, transmissions and instructions which he taught and spread to others. Since he lived at the same time as Surmang Trungpa Kunga Namgyal, he had a very strong connection with him and it seems they would give each other teachings. He thus brought great benefit to Buddhism and to beings until passing away at the age of sixty-seven in the Female Wood Ox Year of the tenth cycle (1625).
4th Thrangu Tulku
The Fourth Thrangu Tulku-
Karma Namgyal (1626–1694)
The 4th Thrangu Tulku Karma Namgyal was born in the Male Fire Tiger Year of the tenth cycle (1626). He was recognized by the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje. In general he behaved simply and had few activities but he was extremely diligent in his practice and thus had great miraculous powers.
At that time, the Mongol armies had conquered Qinghai region and brought the strife of war to the region of Dokham. Soldiers arrived at the monastery and their general, Hor Chokyap stormed into the Great Mahakala temple where an old monk was playing the drum. The general saw him suddenly disappear into the drum so he stabbed the drum with a knife and tore it down out of hatred and pride. He then took the drum and cast it off the Genyen Dong but it rolled back up and went into the Mahakala temple. He followed it back up but when he reached the door of the temple he spat up blood and died.. The drum was unharmed and can been seen up to this day. While this was happening, the soldiers were brewing and drinking tea near a good spring. When they heard the story of the general’s death, they fainted from grief and terror and so the spring became known as the “Fainting Enemy Spring”.
In any case, because of Karma Namgyal’s miraculous powers, he was able to protect the monastery from being destroyed or vandalized. He lived to the age of sixty-nine providing great service to beings and the teachings until his death in the Wood Dog Year of the twelfth cycle (1694).
5th Thrangu Tulku
The Fifth Thrangu Tulku-
Sherab Gyatso (1697–1768)
The 5th Thrangu Tulku Sherap Gyatso was born in the Fire Ox Year of the twelfth cycle (1697) and was recognized by the 11th Karmapa Yeshe Dorje. He performed great deeds and had great mental powers. He established the tradition of holding a Grand Mani Puja based on the Great Compassion Guhyasamaja practice following the manuals prepared by the great scholar and meditator Karma Chakme. This tradition has been preserved to the present day following the detailed and extensive Nedo tradition of preparing sand mandalas, making tormas, chanting melodies and so forth.
The 2nd Traleg Rinpoche Nyima Gyurme had performed extensive activity but the 3rd and 4th Traleg Rinpoches, Nyima Salche and Chogyal Nyima were both yogis who stayed in an isolated mountain retreat called Tserlung Putra. Thrangu Lama Sherap Gyatso invited the 5th Traleg Trinley Nyima to Thrangu Monastery and invested him as the master of the teachings.
Traleg Rinpoche then built a third temple. The two worked together and as a result the new temple was large and of excellent craftsmanship and the sangha thrived. There are stories of many great masters such as Sewo Nyima Latak coming there.
The Mongolian governor Lobsang Tenzin brought conflict to Qinghai and in 1728 the Chinese army forcibly deposed him. Among this and other events it was a tumultuous time but through Sherap Gyatso’s skillful means, the temple and monastery were not harmed in any way. He lived serving the teachings and practicing meditation until the age of seventy-two when he passed away in the Male Earth Rat Year of the thirteenth cycle (1768).
6th Thrangu Tulku
The Sixth Thrangu Tulku-
Kunkhyap Nyima (1769–1819)
The 6th Thrangu Tulku Kunkhyap Nyima was born in the Earth Ox Year of the thirteenth cycle (1769) and was recognized by Situ Chokyi Jungne. He had all three qualities of being learned, venerable and good and had extremely great merit as well. Due to this there began the custom of calling the following incarnations “Thrangu Kunkhyap Nyima” when supplicating them.
When he was young he saw Guru Rinpoche in person at a place called Thri Putsuk though the servant accompanying him was confused by strong wind and didn’t see it. An old thangkas painting depicting this event could still be seen in the Ladrang until modern times.
Thrangu Kunkhyap Nyima invited Belo Tsewang Kunkhyap to the monastery and he corrected their practice of the Ngok mandalas. Belo also pained the mandalas on the upper ceilings of the temple.
He also enthroned the reincarnation of the 6th Traleg Yeshe Nyima on a golden throne. Yeshe Nyima invited Lodro Nyima from Surmang to stay at the monastery as his representative. The 1st Lodro Nyima lived in Surmang. He is the one who appears as one of the lineage lamas of the Karling Peaceful and Wrathful deities. It was the 2nd Lodro Nyima who came to Thrangu Monastery. Similarly Traleg Yeshe Nyima gave all the empowerments and the transmissions of the tantras of the Marpa Tradition to Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche thus preserving and spreading the empowerments and transmissions of Hevajra and other tantras. This is described in the life story of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.
Later Thrangu Kunkhyap Nyima went to Central Tibet. He made strong Dharma and worldly connections with the Eighth Gyaltsap Chopal Sangpo who had been born in Jangyul. When he went on pilgrimage to Samye, the protector Pehar gave him a flag and spear and promised to accomplish his activity. Because of this, there began the custom of the Thrangu Ladrang making oblations to Pehar.
He spent a long time at Tsurphu, main monastery of the Karmapas, and gathered all the ritual objects and dance costumes in order to institute the Great Tenth Day Festival at Thrangu Monastery. While on the way back to his monastery he heard the terrible news that the monastery had been destroyed in an earthquake. He passed away on that spot. The young 3rd Lodro Nyima Rinpoche also passed into nirvana in the earthquake. At that time, in the Earth Rabbit Year of the fourteenth cycle (1819), Thrangu Kunkhyab Nyima was fifty-one. Most of his possessions were lost of the road but among what remained were nine paintings featuring the eight Indian Mahasiddhas and five paintings featuring the Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Beings. These could be seen in the Ladrang in modern times.
7th Thrangu Tulku
The Seventh Thrangu Tulku-
Karma Ngedon Gyatso (1822–1877)
The 7th Thrangu Tulku Karma Ngedon Gyatso was born in the Water Horse Year of the fourteenth cycle (1822) in a household called Drukhang Ngontsang. Later the great scholar and meditator Dru Jamyang Drakpa was also born into the same family. Karma Ngedon Gyatso did not appear to have great qualities and continually recited Manis. He completed seven hundred million recitations of the MANI mantra. Together with Traleg Rinpoche Nyima, he rebuilt the monastery after it had been destroyed in the earthquake and following Karmapa Tekchok Dorje’s advice they invited the great Terton Chokgyur Lingpa to the monastery and he performed the ceremony of taming the earth. They established an elaborate “Embrace of Means and Wisdom” long life puja with lama dancing based upon the pure visions of the great Terton.
The 14th Karmapa came and made the masks for the protector in the great Mahakala temple. On the top of the Mahakala temple there were Mahakala and consort and a black umbrella with the five members of the retinue, each of which has its own life stone and life chakra. Later he enthroned the reincarnation of the Traleg Yeshe Nyima, the 7th Traleg Kunkhyap Nyima.
The 1st Zuru Tulku, who was identified by the great Terton Chokgyur Lingpa as the dharma master of the White Amitayus and who also was known as an emanation of the Elder Bakula, lived in Tsurphu and headed the Zuru monastic community. The 2nd Zuru Tulku was born in Jago and spent his life simply at a mountain retreat called Zuru Dong. The 3rd Zuru Tulku was born in Dru Seru and brought to Thrangu Monastery. The later incarnations all live at Thrangu. The 4th Zuru Tulku was born near the monastery and became very skilled in rituals, lama dancing and so forth.
The 4th Lodro Nyima Mingyur Shepa Tsai, who had extraordinary and unusual qualities went forth and became fully ordained on the same occasion as Thrangu Karma Nyedon Gyatso, so they were Dharma brothers.
The 7th Thrangu Tulku identified and enthroned the next incarnation of Lodro Nyima. He continued his activity on behalf of the teachings until the age of iffy-six when he demonstrated how to pass away while sitting in meditation at Gyam Gyal Doti Gangkar. This was in the Fire Ox Year of the fifteenth cycle (1877).
8th Thrangu Tulku
The Eighth Thrangu Tulku-
Karma Tenzin Trinley Rabgye (1879–1932)
The 8th Thrangu Tulku Karma Tenzin Trinley was born in the Earth Rabbit Year of the fifteenth cycle (1879) and was recognized by both the 10th Situ Pema Kunsang and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.
In 1896 when he was eighteen, the Nyakrong war brought a time of great turmoil, but because of his protection and service no great harm befell the monastery.
The 2nd Palpung Wontrul Karma Tekchok sent a letter along with a donation, saying that they should establish a retreat center for the Six Yogas of Naropa and he also sent Dzage Lama Tashi Lhadar as a retreat master for that purpose. He provided facilities to construct the retreat center and make preparations and everything came to fruition.
Likewise Khyungpo Khenpo Karma Ozer, a Khenpo who had studied many texts with Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo, was invited to the monastery. He instituted a tradition of performing the three fundamental rituals including the rainy seasons retreat with great care for all the details. At that time, a prosperous and generous monk from Betsang Pedar Monastery sponsored the construction of a temple for the rains retreat.
Thrangu Karma Tenzin Trinley enthroned the 5th Zuru Tulku Chokyi Senge who recited two hundred million Vajrakilaya mantras.. He also enthroned the 6th Lodro Nyima Rinpoche who was born in Lhasa and the 8th Traleg Rinpoche Shedrup Chokyi Nyima. When great masters including Mipham Jampal Gyepa Dorje, who was Manjushri personified and the great realized master Shakya Shri came to the monastery, the Thrangu Tulku received many key instructions and profound teachings from them. He became very well known for his clairvoyance and great powers. He subdued several fearsome ghosts and demons and protected many people from danger, fear, death and insanity. He continued this extraordinary activity until passing away in the Water Monkey Year of the sixteenth cycle (1932) at the age of fifty-three.
9th Thrangu Tulku
The Ninth Thrangu Tulku-
Karma Lodro Ringlug Mawai Senge (1933)
I, Karma Lodro Ringluk Maseng am said to be the 9th reincarnation of the Thrangu Tulkus. I gained a precious human body in the Female Bird Year of the sixteenth cycle (1933). Though I myself have no confidence or proof at all, Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo and the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje recognized me in a wondrous way and so I had the opportunity to enter the gate of the Dharma. Subsequently, Traleg Shedrup Chokyi Nyima invited Khenpo Lodro Rabsel from Shechen Monastery to found a monastic college and though I lacked enough intelligence or diligence to develop any qualities, I did have the fortune to listen and contemplate. Later I encountered many difficulties during a tumultuous time but because of the cool shade of the 16th Karmapa’s compassion, I was very fortunate to at least develop an unmistaken virtuous mind. This is my own story.
Because some people who are close to me made persistent and unrelenting requests for me to write a history of the Thrangu tulkus, I have written this based on the oral and written histories with some points clarified from other life stores.