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Part Three - History of the Situpa Line

First of four concerning the Tai Situpas The origins of the Tai Situ lineage The early Tai Situ incarnations The later Tai Situ incarnations

The second Tai Situpa, Tashi Namgyal (I450-1497), was recognized and enthroned by the sixth Karmapa, who later gave Karma Gon Monastery to him. Karma Gon (c. II85) was known for its library, which contained many Sanskrit texts, as well as for the exquisite art that embellished it. Until its recent destruction it provided a unique example of the best of Tibetan caning, sculpture, painting, and scholarship. It was the original seat of the Karmapas, founded by the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (III0-1193).

The third Situpa, Tashi Paljor (I498-I54I), and the fourth Situpa, Chokyi Gocha (I542-1585), continued the beneficial work at Karma Gon and other monasteries within its sphere of influence in Eastern Tibet. Situ Tashi Paljor discovered the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (I507-1554), and was one of his principal teachers. He in turn became the teacher of the fourth Situpa. Chokyi Gyaltsen Palsang (I586-I657), the fifth Tai Situpa, was distinguished by the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, who bestowed upon him the Red Crown in acknowledgment of his high level of spiritual accomplishment. The fifth Situpa built the large Yermoche Monastery and added to several existing ones while the Karmapa was away in China.

Situ Mipham Chogyal Rabten (I658-1682), the sixth Tai Situpa tulku, was a yogi credited in the texts with miracles that seem fanciful to the modern materialist mind, such as hanging prayer beads from a sunbeam and leaving footprints in rocks. The seventh Tai Situpa, Mawe Nyima (1683-1698), was the son of the king of Ling and died at an early age.

Of all the incarnations, that of the eighth Tai Situpa, Chokyi Jungne (I700-1774), may well be the most extraordinary to date. He was a sage of great insight, a Sanskrit scholar, a doctor, and an innovative thangka painter. Even as a child he was a brilliant scholar and known for his ability to accurately predict future events. In 1727 be founded Palpung, the monastery in Dege that was subsequently the seat of the Tai Situpas. He was invited to China with the twelfth Karmapa, Changchup Dorje, but he remained behind to look after the monastery.

When the Karmapa and the eighth Shamarpa died within a few days of each other in China, Situ Chokyi Jungne was left with the responsibility of the Karmapa's monasteries in addition to his own. He became the teacher of the thirteenth Karmapa, Dundul Dorje, of the ninth Shamarpa, and of Tenpa Tsering, the king of Dege. With the patronage of the Dege king, who had asked him to revise the Kangyur and the Tengyur, the eighth Tai Situpa set up the Dege Printing Press at Lhundrup Teng. Texts printed there were of such excellent quality that they have been reprinted in modern facsimile editions, with copies residing in Tibetan archives throughout the world. He was a linguist who taught in Sanskrit, Nepali, and Chinese, and his text on Tibetan grammar is still in use today. The eighth Tai Situpa traveled widely in Tibet, Nepal, and China. He composed numerous texts on astrology and medicine, and he established styles of drawing and painting that were later developed and passed on by his students. Palpung Monastery itself became one of the most important monastic centers in Tibet, and it developed a unique scholarly and artistic tradition which radiated to subsidiary monasteries in places as far flung as Shitzang, Yunnan, Chinghai, and Szechwan. With the Dege king's sponsorship he established many monasteries besides Palpung.

Situ Chokyi Jungne was an outspoken critic of the hypocrisy and greed that was rampant in some monasteries at the time. He deplored those who violated their vows and sacrificed compassion in favour of exploiting others for gain or fame. He characterized them in one poem as "charlatan gurus" who "attain the siddhi of the fourteen root downfalls" and "sow the seeds of hell without purpose." He was an inspiration to his students, a number of whom became masters in their own right. He predicted the details of his next incarnation before he passed away.

The ninth Tai Situpa, Pema Nyinje Wangpo (I774-1853), mastered scholarly disciplines at an early age, and it was under his influence in the stimulating intellectual climate of Palpung that a renaissance of Buddhist thought was precipitated. He recognized the innate greatness of the child who was to achieve renown as Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, the primary genius of the nineteenth century renaissance now called the Rime, or "non-sectarian," movement. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (I813-1899) was one of the truly magnificent scholars in the history of Tibet; he called upon his profound knowledge of all traditions, from the Bon family into which he was born to the other lineages he later studied. Situ Pema Nyinje had the ability to recognize genius and foster it, and he did so without making sectarian distinctions, which were all too common at the time. As a result he was surrounded by some of the finest minds of his age. He was one of the main teachers of the fourteenth Karmapa, and he was closely associated with the yogi Chogyur Lingpa and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who became important figures in both the Nyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions.

The ninth Situpa spent the last thirty years of his long life in retreat, during which time he often amazed his monks at his seeming omniscience in managing monastery affairs from his seclusion. One story is told about how he admonished a monk to stop drinking, much to the monk's surprise. The monk naturally thought his weakness was well hidden, at least from the head lama who was holed up in strict retreat.

Situ Pema Kunsang (1854-1885), the tenth Tai Situpa, was recognized and enthroned by his former illustrious students, the fourteenth Karmapa and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. He spent his relatively short life as a yogi who developed extraordinary powers through his meditation practices.

The eleventh and immediately previous Tai Situpa, Pema Wangchok Gyalpo (1886-I950), was another incarnation with the reputation of tremendous power and productivity. He was evidently quite a character as well. People are still around who remember him, and some recount anecdotes about his tough and relentless discipline. He expanded Palpung Monastery, which by his time was the center of administration for the spiritual and temporal needs of thirteen monastic estates in different provinces of Central and Eastern Tibet. His representatives were sent to each of those communities to handle administrative and religious affairs.

He himself traveled constantly to teach and refine conduct and discipline in the 180 monasteries under his care. He was held in awe by everyone, due to his reputation as a stickler on monastic propriety who had no qualms about delivering beatings to offenders. He recognized the sixteenth Karmapa's incarnation without benefit of seeing the fifteenth Karmapa's predictive letter, which had been spirited away after the latter's death by an absconding monk who was afraid of Situ Pema Wangchok. When the letter was finally recovered, it confirmed that the tulku recognized by the Tai Situpa was correct, supporting every detail. The eleventh Situpa was the main teacher of the sixteenth Karmapa.

First of four concerning the Tai Situpas The origins of the Tai Situ lineage The early Tai Situ incarnations The later Tai Situ incarnations