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Teacher: Buddhashri (Sanggye Pal)

Buddhashri, Sanggye Pal | Ngor Main Page | Sakya Main Page

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Early Life and Education:

Buddhasri was born in 1339 (d.1432 [p3296]) as the son of Gusri Peljor Lekpa (gu shrI dpal 'byor legs pa) and Drolma Bum (sgrol ma 'bum) at the monastery of Gopu (sgo phu) in the Dok (mdog) region of Lato Jang (la stod byang). His father was then the abbot of Gopu, and his mother had tried to abort her unborn child by taking lots of "cleansing medicine" (sbyong sman) because she feared the shame that would come over her family if people would come to know that Peljor Lekpa had fathered a child. Buddhasri's father had once served as the attendant of the imperial preceptor Kunga Gyeltsen (kun dga' rgyal mtshan, 1310-1358), the originator of the Lhakhang Labrang (lha khang bla brang) branch of Sakya Monastery (sa skya). After 1361, Kunga Gyeltsen travelled to Yuan China and also Mongolia, where he was responsible for making the printing blocks of a commentary on the Kalacakratantra.

From his early age on, Buddhasri received the vows of a lay practitioner (dge bsnyen: upasaka) from Lama Sakya Zangpo (bla ma shAkya bzang po), who also bestowed on him the (longevity?) empowerment of Amitayus and gave him the name Sanggye Pel. Because a nanny that was taking care of Buddhasri recited as her daily prayer the Bodhicaryavatara, the young boy is said to have memorized that text. After he had learned reading and writing, he performed his first scriptural exposition by Lama Sakya Zangpo at Gopu. Under his maternal uncle Gyeltsen Pel (rgyal mtshan dpal), he pursued various studies such as of the *Dvikalpatantra (brtag pa gnyis pa'i rgyud), that is, the Hevajratantra, and on the practice of Hevajra (kye rdo rje’i lag len).

In 1361, at the age of twenty-three, in the main temple of Pel Zangden (dpal bzang ldan), Buddhasri received monastic ordination (rab tu byung: pravrajya) and full monastic ordination (bsnyen par rdzogs pa: upasa?pada) from Sabzang Mati Pa?chen Lodro Gyeltsen (sa bzang ma ti paN chen blo gros rgyal mtshan, 1294-1376) as presiding abbot (mkhan po: upadhyaya), Lochen Jangchub Tsemo (lo chen byang chub rtse mo, 1303/15-1379/80) as ceremony master (las kyi slob dpon: karmacarya), and Khenchen Sanggye Zangpo (mkhan chen sangs rgyas bzang po) as secret revealing preceptor (gsang ste ston pa'i slob dpon: raho'nusasaka). Translating his previous name Sanggye Pel into Sanskrit, he received his new ordination name Buddhasri. About that time, also festivities were held to celebrate his ordination as well as his father's impending journey to China.

In the following years, Buddhasri pursued his monastic training under such masters as Khenchen Sherab Gyatso (mkhan chen shes rab rgya mtsho) and Khenchen Gongyel (mkhan chen mgon rgyal). Under the former, he studied the Abhisamayala?kara and the Abhidharmasamuccaya, and under the latter Dharmakirti's Prama?avarttika. At Sakya, he continued his studies of the Prama?avarttika under Tokgepa Pelden Zangpo (rtog ge pa dpal ldan bzang po), who was also known as Shangpa Lochok (shangs pa blo mchog), and served the positions of letsab (las tshab) and shenyen (bshad nyan) of the Nyitok Labrang (nyi thog bla brang) until 1369, his thirty-first year.

In the meantime, Buddhasri studied under a variety of important masters of his time. One, named in his biography as Choje Kunkhyen Chenpo (chos rje kun mkhyen chen po), who can probably be identified as Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1361), recited to him the reading transmission for the mantra of Avalokitsesvara. Sabzang Mati Pa?chen conferred on him the empowerment of Kalacakra and the reading transmission for the Satasahasrika Prajñaparamita. From Gyelse Tokme Zangpo (rgyal sras thogs med bzang po, 1295-1369), he requested the instructions on the Seven Point Mind Training (blo sbyong bdun ma), the Essence of Dependent Origination (rten 'brel snying po), and Taking Happiness and Suffering as the Path (skyid sdug lam 'khyer), and also requested the ritual procedures of both generating bodhicitta according to the Madhyamaka and Yogacara systems and fasting practice. From Lochen Jangchub Tsemo, he requested that master's practical meditation instruction for the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja (gsang 'dus rim lnga'i dmar khrid), the reading transmission for Tokme Zangpo's collected writings, and, for treating an illness, the Dozaba Mengak (rdo za ba'i man ngag). He also obtained that master's blessing for the recovery from diseases. From Jonang Chokle Namgyel (jo nang phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1306-1386), he received the exposition of the Vimalaprabha. Choje Konchok Gyeltsen (chos rje dkon mchog rgyal mtshan), a disciple of Drapukpa Sonam Pel (brag phug pa bsod nams dpal, 1277-1350), bestowed on him the initiation into the ma??ala of Vajrabhairava, the Thirteen Deity Ma??ala of Red Yamantaka, the Seventeen Deity Ma??ala of Tara, and the ma??ala of Cakrasa?vara, all according to the Sakya system. Other teachers included Khenchen Kunga Pelzang (mkhan chen kun dga' dpal bzang), Gonpo Bum (mgon po 'bum), and Musepa Pelden Sengge (mus srad pa dpal ldan seng ge).

Owing to his mother's efforts to abort her unborn child, Buddhasri's physical condition was tenuous, and he was tormented by painful stomach aches. After the physicians he had consulted did not succeed to bring forth any relief, he was advised to contact the outstanding sadhika named Machik Chodron (ma gcig chos sgron), who was living at Kharteng (mkhar steng) in the Mu (mus) valley. She was said to be endowed with clairvoyant knowledge and to have cured many sick people. Machik Chodron told him that due to his previous karma, his condition would not better much in the future, but for the moment would not affect his studies too much. She taught him the Chod practice of "Opening the Door to the Sky" (nam mkha' sgo 'byed) and Buddhasri practiced it constantly. Since a longer stay at Kharteng would have interfered with his monastic studies, Machik Chodron told him to leave and go into retreat. In doing so, his physical condition is said to have slightly improved. With much effort, he continued his monastic training and completed under great physical pain his studies of the Prama?avarttika. Afterwards, Buddhasri performed an examination-round (grwa skor) at Sakya and took on the responsibility as lepa (las pa) of the Nyitok Labrang and chenyen ('chad nyan) of Chukha (chud kha), a monastery in Lato Jang.

In the mouse year of 1372, Buddhasri again approached Machik Chodron, requesting the tantric Mahamudra instruction known as Chagya Chenpo Lenchik Kyejor (phyag rgya chen po lhan cig skyes sbyor). Cultivating this instruction in meditation in some kind of roofless enclosure, he reportedly developed an excellent yogic experience. He said that it was probably at that time that the appearances of the signs of the Sixfold Yoga of Kalacakra (dus 'khor sbyor drug) manifested. He developed an aversion to worldly affairs and expressed a desire to stay and practice at Kharteng, which was rejected by Machik Chodron, however. The reason given in his biography is that she was able to foresee Buddhasri's fruitful relation with Lama Dampa Sonam Gyeltsen (bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan, 1312-1375) and Pelden Tsultrim (dpal ldan tshul khrims, 1333-1399), and thus instructed him that by all means he needed to return to Sakya.

Buddhasri reached back at Sakya in about the middle of 1372; the same time when Lama Dampa returned from his famous teaching session at Bodong E Monastery (bo dong e dgon), where he had taught a gathering of more than thirty thousand monks. When Buddhasri went to pay a visit to his future master, he met Lama Dampa while on his way from the Zhalu Khangsar (zhwa lu khang gsar) to the Shingkhang Labrang (shing khang bla brang) to give teachings. Buddhasri approached him requesting a blessing. It happened that at the same time also the erstwhile Sakya Ponchen Wangchuk Pel (sa skya dpon chen dbang phyug dpal) approached Lama Dampa, asking for some advice. As Wangchuk Pel spoke, Lama Dampa kept on reciting the blessing of Tara and holding on with his hand to Buddhasri's hair. Buddhasri was overcome by joy and developed a strong faith in Lama Dampa. Subsequently, he joined his teaching in the Shingkhang Labrang, during which Lama Dampa gave an in-depth esoteric instruction on the transference of consciousness and the intermediate state in relation to the guruyoga practice of the Lamdre.

At that time, Lama Dampa was bestowing on a couple of geshe, who had received the meditative instructions of the Six Yogas of Kalacakra, his own exegesis, the Great Introduction (ngo sprod chen mo). Wishing to receive this teaching, Buddhasri approached Pelden Tsultrim, who acted as manager of the instructions (khrid gnyer), that is, the person responsible for overseeing whether one had obtained those prerequisites, to forward his request to Lama Dampa. Pelden Tsultrim notified Buddhasri that he first needed to obtain the necessary instructions and because he had not, it would not be possible for him to take part. Nevertheless, Buddhasri insisted that he wanted to attend that teaching and thus Pelden Tsultrim forwarded his request. Remembering the blessing he had bestowed on Buddhasri, Lama Dampa gave him permission to join, even without having received the necessary instructions. By that time, the teachings had already completed the transmission for the lineage masters' biographies, but Buddhasri was able to receive the remaining parts. He remarked that his permission to attend this teaching was related to the fact that Lama Dampa knew of the slight yogic experience of the Six Yogas of Kalacakra that he had previously achieved.

Along with Buddhasri, also other students were establishing religious connections with Lama Dampa, and Buddhasri was fortunate to obtain on these occasions the teachings on mind training by Sumpa Lotsawa (sum pa lo tsA ba, 12th century) and the Extended Practice of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja (gsang 'dus rim lnga'i nyams len rgyas pa). According to his disciple and biographer, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (ngor chen kun dga' bzang po, 1382-1456), as a later outcome of the auspicious connections that Buddhasri had formed at that time, he would later on receive from Pelden Tsultrim the esoteric instructions of the Lamdre, the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja, and the Six Yogas of Kalacakra, and would gain a high level of understanding and experience of all these three.

Afterwards, Buddhasri received from Lama Dampa other teachings as well. He thrice received the ritual procedures for generating bodhicitta according to the Madhyamaka tradition, and attended a few teaching sessions on the Prama?avarttika, Kalacakra, and Sakya Pa??ita's (sa skya paN Di ta, 1182-1251) Elucidating the Sage's Intent (thub pa'i dgongs gsal).

Lamdre Training and Practice:

In 1377, Buddhasri began his studies of the Lamdre under Pelden Tsultrim in his residence at Sakya, the Shartoki Zimkhang (shar stod kyi gzim khang). From his biography, we learn that he first requested the "causal initiation" (rgyu dus kyi dbang bskur) into the colored sand ma??ala of Hevajra and afterwards received for the most part the esoteric instructions of the Lamdre such as its meditative instructions and Sachen Kunga Nyingpo's (sa chen kun dga' snying po, 1092-1158) commentaries' on Virupa's Vajra Verses (rdo rje tshig rkang).

Later on, when Pelden Tsultrim had been invited by the Lato Jang ruler Jamyang Namkha Rinchen ('jam dbyangs nam mkha' rin chen, b. 1348), Buddhasri went to visit his master while he was residing at Kacho Monastery (mkha' spyod). At that time, he once again obtained the majority of the instructions of the Lamdre and gained an excellent spiritual experience. Subsequently, he rigorously engaged himself in meditation and is said to have almost achieved the stage of the experiential appearances of the Lamdre.

Sometime later, he invited Pelden Tsultrim to his hermitage of Zhigon (zhi dgon), where his master stayed for a period of one year and five months. Offering an enormous amount of wealth, Buddhasri once again requested the Lamdre and it was now that Pelden Tsultrim bestowed it on him in its entirety. He obtained the entire path of ripening and liberation (i.e. all empowerments and instructions), cultivated the Zhung Jidawazhin Gi Tri (gzhung ji lta ba bzhin gyi khrid) in meditation until he completely achieved its direct experience, and by investigating that instruction, his understanding reached final clarification.

Within the presentation of his master's Lamdre studies, Ngorchen relates an interesting incident that resulted in Buddhasri's recovery from all those diseases he had been suffering from owing to his mother's attempted abortion. While he received the empowerment of the body ma??ala of Hevajra, Buddhasri experienced as the manifestation of yogic attainment the blissful warmth in his body and developed an insight into the lucidity and emptiness of the mind's essence. Afterwards, he joined the tantric feast offering, but felt like he had to throw up. Unable to withstand this feeling, he vomited three large globules of dark coagulated blood. He then left the assembly and again vomited lots of bad smelling and disgusting blood. From that time on, he is said to have been cured.

Buddhasri was only one of three disciples on whom Pelden Tsultrim had bestowed the entire Lamdre; the other two being Sharchen Yeshe Gyeltsen (shar chen ye shes rgyal mtshan, 1359-1406) and Minyak Rinchen Dorje (mi nyag rin chen rdo rje). Though Pelden Tsultrim bestowed the majority of the Lamdre on numerous students, only those three received the Lamdre as Pelden Tsultrim himself had obtained it from his own teachers Choje Ritropa Lodro Tenpa (chos rje ri khrod pa blo gros brtan pa, 1316-1358), Lama Dampa, and Drubchen Karpo Drakpa Rinchen Sengge (grub chen dkar po brag pa rin chen seng ge). While performing the prediction of practice at the conclusion of the Lamdre, Pelden Tsultrim gave Buddhasri the following prophecy: "You will have a long life and achieve an excellent realization. So [you] should strive at gaining experience through meditative practice. At a later time, [you] will also benefit a couple of students."

Along with the Lamdre, Buddhasri received a variety of other teachings from Pelden Tsultrim, which he, in turn, would transmit to Ngorchen later on. For instance, he obtained teachings on the meditative practices of Guhyasamaja and the majority of oral instructions on the Sixfold Yoga of Kalacakra (dus 'khor sbyor drug) that were extant in Tibet at that time. He also received the empowerment of the body ma??ala of Cakrasa?vara and the empowerments of Tara, Sarvavid Vairocana, Amitayus, and of the Pañcarak?a collection. Moreover, he received teachings on different Mahakala forms and U??i?avijaya, the reading transmission for the Tantra Trilogy of Hevajra (kye rdor rgyud gsum), the Mountain Dharma (ri chos) of Lama Yanggonpa Gyeltsen Pel (bla ma yang dgon pa rgyal mtshan dpal, 1213-1258), and the Six Dharmas of Niguma (ni gu chos drug).

Zhigon and Later Retreats:

In 1377, Buddhasri founded Zhigon in the Dok (mdog) valley of Lato Jang. The Dok valley was Buddhasri's native region, where he had been born and where his father's monastery of Gopu was located. An alternate location for the hermitage is given as Chukha (chud kha) in Lato Jang; Chukha being also the name of the monastery where Buddhasri had acted as chenyen, as well as of a locality to whose ruler Buddhasri had, at a time of famine, sold all his household belongings, investing the proceeds in barley that he donated to the needy. The relation of Chukha to Dok needs further clarification, however.

Ngorchen recorded a dream that Buddhasri experienced after having studied the Lamdre for the first time under Pelden Tsultrim at Sakya in 1377. Developing the intention to focus himself on gaining the spiritual experience of the Lamdre through meditative practice, he dreamed one night that he climbed up the mountain of his future monastic site and went to a small house, where he encountered a white pa??ita whom he considered to be the Indian master Gayadhara (994-1043), a teacher of Drokmi Lotsawa ('brog mi lo tsA ba, 992-1072/107). That pa??ita was reciting a verse from Virupa's Vajra Verses:

Through meditation on the four initiations in four sessions of the path, and in dependence on the body, the obscurations to great bliss cease and enlightenment is clear, so it is the explanatory continuum (translation according to Stearns 2006: 13).

Waking up, he made up his mind to live at that place and subsequently built Zhigon at the hermitage that he had encountered in his dream. Until his passing away, Buddhasri mainly resided at Zhigon devoting himself to practice.

It was also at Zhigon where Ngorchen approached Buddhasri for the first time. Ngorchen related in his biography of his master that he reached at Zhigon in 1408, in the third month of the mouse year, when Buddhasri was seventy-one years old. For this and the next year (i.e. 1408–1409), he stayed at Zhigon and studied under Buddhasri.

In 1410, Buddhasri remarked that he would travel to Sakya, adding that were he not to go then he would not make it there later on. Along with Ngorchen, he journeyed to Sakya and Sabzang Ganden Monastery (sa bzang dga' ldan dgon), where he resided for a total of nine months. At Sakya, he made various offerings to the statue of Srimahakala (i.e. Vajrapañjara) that is housed in the Gorum (sgo rum) temple and made a supplication to that important protector. As a result, he said that an auspicious connection that the Sakya tradition would become slightly stronger had been formed. While at Sakya and Sabzang, numerous scholars such as Yakton Sanggye Pel (g.yag ston sangs rgyas dpal, 1348-1414) requested many empowerments, meditative instructions, and esoteric instructions from Buddhasri. During that time Ngorchen completed his monastic training under him. Buddhasri then returned to his hermitage of Zhigon.

From 1411 onwards, Buddhasri secluded himself in a strict retreat for three years, which he only interrupted for granting a couple of teachings to very few important geshes. Starting in 1414, he increased his seclusion. In that same year, Ngorchen departed on his first journey to U (dbus) and when he returned to Sakya in 1417, the fifth month of the bird year, he heard that Buddhasri had fallen ill. He immediately went to visit his master, and upon his arrival at Zhigon he found Buddhasri's attendant Namkha Gon (nam mkha' mgon) waiting for him. Surprised about this reception, Ngorchen asked from whom Namkha Gon had heard about his coming. The attendant replied that for the past month Buddhasri had repeatedly said that Ngorchen had reached Sakya and that he should make preparations for his arrival at Zhigon. In particular, he was told to look out for him that day and the day before.

After his arrival, Ngorchen went to visit his master, and Buddhasri was pleased to see his disciple. The two of them drank tea and engaged in a long conversation. The next day, Buddhasri told Ngorchen about a dream he had experienced in the night of the fifth day of the fourth month. In this dream, Lama Dampa Sonam Gyeltsen had appeared, prophesying that Buddhasri's disciple would come on the eighth day. If that disciple would make supplications, Buddhasri would continue to live for another four years. This dream was interpreted by Buddhasri in the sense that Ngorchen would come to visit him very soon. Because the night of the day of Ngorchen's arrival coincided with the auspicious eighth day of the month, he advised Ngorchen to perform the ritual propitiation of Four-faced Srimahakala, who, since last year, had been of special help in his "practicing of the path" (lam sgrub pa).

After more talks over tea on the progress of Buddhasri's realization, the monastic community of Zhigon made on the tenth day supplications and performed rituals for the recovery of Buddhasri. Together with six other attendants, Ngorchen performed the drubcho (sgrub mchod) ritual of Cakrasa?vara in the tradition of Gha??apada and, by offering on a large scale tormas (gtor ma) to the ?akinis and dharmapala, they brought forward supplications. Wonpo Sherab Sengge (dbon po shes rab seng ge) requested Buddhasri to continue to live until his hundredth year. Obviously amused by this request, the latter replied as follows:

Who lives for about one hundred years? [I] am [already] long-lived. If this time Ngorchen had not come, there would have been the risk that [I] would have died. But owing to an auspicious connection, he came. Now [I] can die. [I] have not a single regret or mental obligation. Well, some time ago, it occurred that Lama Dampa said "[You] won't die [in the next] four years." Since also these cushions that you have offered today are four, [I] will live for [another] four years. Then, it is better that [I] leave [i.e. die].

After the conclusion of those ceremonies, Ngorchen stayed for one month together with his master. He reports that until his death, Buddhasri only remained in meditation and did not receive anybody except for one attendant. As he had already given away all his personal belongings, he was economically supported during his last years by the monastery of Chukha.

In 1418, the spring of the dog year, Ngorchen paid another visit to his aged master. He reports that Buddhasri was in a good physical condition and engaged in virtuous practices, advising his disciple to follow his example.

At the beginning of 1419, Buddhasri terminated his teaching activities by conferring yet unfinished teachings and retreated afterwards completely from worldly life, intensifying his practice in seclusion.

In the ninth month of 1420, Buddhasri developed a slight health problem with his legs. Only reluctantly he followed the request of his attendant and disciples to interrupt his retreat to travel to the hot springs of Lonpo (blon po) for treatment. He departed for these hot springs on the eighth day, but the hoped effect failed to appear. Even worse, he was approached by many people wanting to establish a religious connection and requesting blessings and blessed protective cords, resulting in his suffering from a "defilement" (grib). Without any improvement of his health, he returned to Zhigon on the tenth day and passed away on the evening of the fifteenth day of the ninth month of 1420.

Ngorchen's presentation of the last days of Buddhasri suggests that he might have spent that time together with his master at Zhigon. But except for his mentioning of Buddhasri's cremation and the subsequent appearance of some extraordinary relics, we are neither told by Ngorchen nor the latter's biographers whether he himself was actually engaged in the funeral services of his late teacher.

As a means to fulfill the last wishes of his late master, Ngorchen commissioned eleven large paintings in the Newari influenced painting style (bal ris) that depict the lineal masters of the Lamdre. Ngorchen commissioned them probably at Sakya and not long after his master’s passing away. Among those eleven paintings, at least three (nos. 1, 2, and 7) are known to have survived. Later on, after the foundation of Ngor Monastery in 1429, Ngorchen commissioned a set of statues of the Lamdre lineal masters consisting of a magnificent gilded image of Vajradhara and large extraordinary clay statues of the subsequent lineal masters from Nairatmya until Buddhasri, small clay statues of the entire lineage from Vajradhara until Buddhasri, and as murals of the inner shrine hall of the lamas’ residence, the lineal masters of Hevajra, Cakrasa?vara, Guhyasamaja, and countless buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Jorg Heimbel has a Ph.D. in Tibetology and Social Anthropology from Hamburg University.

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

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