Tagphu Padmavajra (1876-1935)

The great Gelug master Longdol Lama1 was a teacher of Tagphu Garwang Chokyi Wangchuk and enumerated the spiritual Tagphu incarnation lineage as:

The Bodhisattva Dharmati, a disciple of Buddha Shakyamuni2,
The Nepali Pandita Vanaratna,
The Kadampa Sherab Dorje,
Milarepa’s disciple the Mahasiddha Sewan Repa,
Ra Lotsawa’s disciple Trehor Lobsang,
Chag Choje Pel (Chag Lotsawa),
Sonam Senge of Throphu,
Terton Zangpo Dragpa,
Chenga Dragpa Jangchug,
Tagphu Gushri Palden Dondrup,
Je Lodro Tenpa,
The Sakya master Shakya Chogden,
Tagphu Gushri Chogyal Tenzin,
Tagphu Je Ngawang Chodak Zangpo,
Tagphu Tulku Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen

Although the later, “official” Tagphu incarnations were part of the Gelug tradition, the majority of their experience was based in meditative equipoise in the isolated holy places and spiritual realms themselves rather than the scholarly institutions of monasteries and debate courtyards, much like Tagphu’s spiritual progenitor, the Indian Mahasiddha Mitrayogin. To completely comprehend the Tagphu legacy several preceding incarnations need to be briefly considered first.

Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen (1714-1762)

Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen, a contemporary and student of the Seventh Dalai Lama, was one of the first official reincarnations in the Tagphu lineage. In 1729 he was installed in Ban-dkar monastery in Nags-shod, Kham. In 1732 he entered Drepung Loseling, received a geshe degree, and later completed a three year retreat.3 His written works are collected in a two volume set.

He is one of the earlier Gelug masters to have written a commentary on the Naro Khacho form of Vajrayogini, in particular mkha' spyod ma'i rim gnyis zab mo'i nyams len which was written at the request of Changkya Rolpai Dorje.4 Tagphu Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen gave many profound dharmas to Changkya Rolpai Dorje including the Sakya Thirteen Golden Dharmas cycle and the Vajrayogini cycle. Tagphu Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen also received from Changkya Rolpai Dorje whatever transmission he had.5 Changkya Rolpai Dorje retained Vajrayogini in his sealed volume of writings (bka' rgya ma), and passed it on to Thuken Dharmavajra who wrote extensively on this. Pabongkha Rinpoche was viewed by many, including his own master Tagphu Padmavajra, as an actual later Changkya Rolpai Dorje incarnation. This indeed illustrates the heart connection established by these two masters in their previous lives and the very principle that karma is maintained over lifetimes especially in relation to one’s spiritual teachers.

Tagphu Garwang Chokyi Wangchuk (1765-1792)

Although little material is currently available about this particular incarnation, the effects of his experiences are still influencing many in the Gelug tradition profoundly. His teachers include Longdol Lama, the Second Jamyang Zhepa and the Fifth 'On Gyalse Rinpoche.6 A catalog of his collected works has been published in Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature volume 1. These collected works encompass five volumes.

In particular volume five mainly contains a number of works bound by the seal of secrecy (bka' rgya ma), which illustrates the origin of the Tagphu’s extraordinary short lineages (nye brgyud) by which he is most well known, some of which are attributed to Mitrayogin including sadhanas on Five Deity Amitayus and Gyalwa Gyatso just to name a few. It would appear in this life the Tagphu incarnation gained an additional identity based on his extraordinary meditative experiences, the nom de voyage Gar-gyi Dbang-phyug.

Virtually no information is currently available about the Tagphu incarnation(s) immediately following Tagphu Garwang.

Tagphu Padmavajra (1876-1935)

Tagphu Padmavajra ('Jam-dpal Bstan-pa'i Dngos-grub) identified himself as the Fourth Gar-gyi Dbang-phyug according to the title of the account of his secret experiences.7 Unfortunately, this autobiography is not available upon writing this account. Most details herein are gleaned from Pabongkha Rinpoche’s own biography. Pabongkha Rinpoche’s biography provides many details of this extraordinary master’s life, and most importantly those in relation to his most well-known student. Still, many years of his life are left as unturned stones for now. But perhaps it is suitable as well that the reader receive mystical experience in small doses, and await future revelation according to their karmic vision.

Tagphu Padmavajra was born in 1876, and at age 13 he entered Drepung Monastery and studied the Five Great Classic Texts. At age 19 he returned to Nags-shod in Kham. Then again at age 30 he returned to Central Tibet for a pilgrimage.8 According to Pabongkha Rinpoche’s biographer, Tagphu Padmavajra and Pabongkha Rinpoche had a strong karmic connection over many lives, much like the Three Kadampa Brothers (bka' gdams sku mched gsum), and they immediately were acquainted with each other upon meeting. In particular according to a secret prophecy from his tutelary deity, Tagphu Dorje Chang purposely came to Central Tibet and met with Pabongkha Rinpoche. The prophecy indicated it would quickly heighten his extraordinary experience and realization and would be profound auspicious sign for his life’s extensive activities to build a hermitage at the secret cave called Takden (rtag brtan) near Chuzang, which was an especially holy place for Heruka Yab Yum, and restore the earlier spiritual power of this place by means of meditation practice.9

Students of Pabongkha Rinpoche requested Tagphu Dorje Chang many hundreds of times to enumerate the earlier lives, life span, obstacle years and potential obstacle conditions of Pabongkha Rinpoche. From an earlier time Pabongkha Rinpoche had sought out someone who had unmistakably heard all of the instructions of the Lam Rim in general and in particular the complete instructions on training in bodhicitta according to the thoughts of the Second Buddha Je Tsongkhapa. Then one evening Pabongkha Rinpoche heard of the unsurpassed Dagpo Lama Rinpoche residing in the Dagpo region. At this time Pabongkha Rinpoche requested Tagphu Rinpoche for advice on when he should go to Dagpo Rinpoche and how long he should stay there. Not long afterwards, when Tagphu Rinpoche had written a prayer for Pabongkha Rinpoche to reside for hundreds of eons, Tagphu Rinpoche had a vision as described in one of his sealed, secret texts:

Then in the twelfth month in the fortunate time when the Dakinis gather, at Chuzang the fortunate gathered for a tsog festival effortlessly and spontaneously, due to this the conceptuality of subject and object was temporarily suspended, an account of these special experiences is written. Having experienced arriving at the secret cave of Lha-mo Mkhar, on the right and left of the principal Heruka Yam Yum were the pandits, yogis and yoginis of India and Tibet in a line prostrating. Having a respectful expression, the droning sound from the drums, bells and cymbals the earth began to shake, from sound of the invitation syllable and thundering recitation of the mantra my body was lifted into space. Moving by circumambulating with the vajra walk, and from the speech singing the vajra song, in the mind the special experience non-conceptual bliss and clarity was born...

Continuing the description of his experience, Tagphu Padmavajra recounts in lucid detail how he received the four initiations from Heruka Yab Yum and saw all of the deities of Heruka’s Body Mandala as clearly as stars on the surface of a still lake. Subsequently Heruka Yab Yum transformed into the aspect of a pure monk to whom Tagphu Padmavajra asked the questions above concerning Pabongkha Rinpoche. He said “the life span of the final reincarnation of Krishnacharya will be 63 years.” This was followed by other advice requested including that Pabongkha Rinpoche should not immediately go to meet Dagpo Lama Rinpoche.10

As requested by Dagbrum Jetsunma, Tagphu Padmavajra gave to seven lay and ordained individuals a sealed-by-secrecy, extremely holy Vajrayogini initiation. On the evening of the tenth of the lunar month an extensive tsog feast was celebrated. Then in connection with the new initiation manual for stag phu'i dag snang gsang ba bcu gsum that Pabongkha Rinpoche requested Tagphu Padmavajra to write, for seven or eight days Tagphu Padmavajra gave to Pabongkha Rinpoche, Ula Tulku and fifteen others permission initiations on these thirteen secret dharmas. Then at the feet of Tagphu Padmavajra, Pabongkha Rinpoche listened to a commentary on the Four Combined Annotations on the Lam Rim Chenmo, with the exception of 20 pages at the end, the table of contents and the history.11 This is a two volume version of the Lam Rim Chenmo that in addition to the Lam Rim Chenmo of Je Tsongkhapa, has annotations to the Lam Rim Chenmo by Baso Chokyi Gyaltsen (1402-1473), Jamyang Zhepa (1648-1721), Ngawang Rabten and Rinchen Dondrup.12

Then, according to Tagphu’s prophecy of searching for Heruka’s holy cave and restoring it, Tagphu Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche, Sera Me Gelong Yeshe Jinpa, Sang Yum Rinpoche went to Umbrella Mountain and made requests to the Lamas, Yidams, Protectors and Lords of the Place, offered bsangs and lifted prayer flags. In the meanwhile a shiny crow glided through the air and landed near Tagphu and Pabongkha Rinpoche. It sung various melodies in a powerful voice. It then flew by the edge of Umbrella Mountain to a cave in the neighboring mountain. It returned and landed next to Tagphu and Pabongkha Rinpoche and sang again, and in the same manner as before flew back to the same place, and so forth. Because it had clearly shown the location of the cave, Tagphu and Pabongkha Rinpoche both understood this to be Heruka’s avowed protector in the form of a crow for the purpose of showing them Heruka’s holy abode. They immediately departed for the cave and upon arriving saw a distinguished holy place established from having the qualities that were praised by the Buddha himself. It was suffused with blessings and the surrounding rocks and boulders resplendent from the experience of yoga. Tagphu Rinpoche experienced many extraordinary visions there. Like that: due to power of the heart connection of these two lamas and the blessings of the Heruka’s holy place, this preservation had come to fruition. Because of the blessed interdependence of these true words many thousands of flowers fell like rain and they returned to Chuzang.13

The mountain ridge where Heruka’s holy cave Takden resides. Photo taken by author 1/2005.

Tagphu Rinpoche, Sang Yum Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche, Demo Rinpoche, Zhide Tazur Rinpoche and a retinue of fifteen went to Dargye Zhikai Ling for several days. Then a summary of teachings from Tagphu Rinpoche at this time include:

  1. Je Rinpoche’s Complete Foundation for the Five Stages of the Completion Stage According to Guhyasamaja.
  2. An explanation according to Ganden Tagtsang Lobsang Tenpa Dargye’s writings on the Six Yogas of Naropa and physical exercises related to this.
  3. An explanation on the basis Yongzin Lingtrul Rinpoche’s lcags mkhar zur bcu drug.
  4. A presentation on Lobsang Chogyan’s sealed Gtor-chen Drug-bcu.
  5. Readings and transmissions for the uncommon Drug-bcu-ma based on Outer Accomplishment Dharmaraja, uncommon instructions on Drug-bcu-ma, a presentation of Yongzin Ling’s Drug-bcu torma offering and ceremonial earth breaking.
  6. Various initiations and transmissions for the activities related to Cittamani Tara.
  7. Reading transmission on most chapters of the initiation manual for dag snang gsang chos bcu gsum.
  8. Long life initiation in the lineage of Thangtong Gyalpo, 'Chi-med Dpal-ster.

At Zhide Temple, Pabongkha Rinpoche gave to many lay and ordained, including Tagphu Dorje Chang, E Lama Rinpoche, all of the initiations of the collected sadhanas (rin 'byung brgya rtsa). Afterwards Tagphu Rinpoche returned to Nags-shod in Kham.14

Then at age 39 Tagphu Rinpoche went to Central Tibet again for a pilgrimage of various holy mountains. When he did a retreat at Guru Rinpoche’s meditation cave Myang-phug, the dakini sign language was revealed three times and he had a vision of Guru Yab Yum, Trisong Detsen and the 25 disciples (rje 'bangs nyer lnga).15 At this time Pabongkha Rinpoche invited Tagphu Rinpoche to Chuzang Hermitage and received the following teachings from him:

  1. Four Empowerments for Chakrasamvara’s Body Mandala in the tradition of Ghantapa on the basis of Changkya Ngawang Lobsang’s syllabus.
  2. Meditation on accomplishing the combination of peace and wrath on the basis of Chuzang Lama Je Yeshe Gyatso’s writings.
  3. Explanation on Yongzin Yeshe Gyaltsen’s Essence of Nectar Mind Training.
  4. Various teachings on the development and completion stage of Guhyasamaja.
  5. Explanation on the meditation and recitation of Samayavajra.16

Tagphu Rinpoche also received an explanation on the development and completion stage of Chakrasamvara from Pabongkha Rinpoche.17 Then on the new year of 1917 Pabongkha Rinpoche, Tagphu Dorje Chang, Sang Yum Rinpoche gathered at Chuzang Hermitage and ushered in the new year with a Lama Chopa tsog and a torma offering to the Protectress 'Dod-khams Dbang-mo. Then Tagphu Rinpoche returned again to his home monastery in Nags-shod.18 Soon after, Pabongkha Rinpoche travelled to Kham and visited Tagphu Rinpoche.

Again Tagphu Rinpoche gave many teachings including teachings on Lam Rim Chenmo, Lama Chopa, a Profound Explanation on Guru Yoga of Ganden Lhagyama, an experiential explanation of the Easy Path Lam Rim. He gave many permission initiations including the Guru initiation from the Second Dalai Lama’s cycle of sadhanas. Then in 1918, with Pabongkha Rinpoche still present, Tagphu Rinpoche gave all of the initiations of Abhayakara’s tradition of Vajravali and Kriyasamuccaya. Tagphu Rinpoche also gave a teaching based on practical instruction (dmar khrid) on the Swift Path Lam Rim. While giving an initiation of Five Deity Heruka, the Mahasiddha Ghantapa Yab Yum actually came and spoke to him based on his inquiries. While performing a tenshuk based on Mitrayogin’s Five Deity Amitayus for Pabongkha Rinpoche, Tagphu Rinpoche had a vision that Mitrayogin had actually come and blessed Pabongkha Rinpoche’s life. Tagphu Rinpoche wrote requests to Pabongkha Dorje Chang’s previous lives called the Vaidurya Mala which illustrates Pabongkha Rinpoche’s previous lives. Finally as requested by Tagphu Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche wrote a work on Yellow Four Face Mahakala and departed.19

Since earlier times, Dorje Shugden was inseparable from Pabongkha Rinpoche, like the shadow of a body. In the iron bird year (1921) and several times earlier, Dorje Shugden entered a human medium to request Pabongkha Rinpoche to write a new life entrustment ritual.20 Pabongkha first wrote the “seed text” for this but felt it was inadequate. So he gave this “seed text” to Tagphu Rinpoche and made detailed requests to him. Tagphu Rinpoche later travelled to Tushita pure land and received this initiation from Je Tsongkhapa and Dulzin Dragpa Gyaltsen.21 When Pabongkha Rinpoche later came to Nags-shod in 1935 he received the continuity of this initiation from Tagphu Rinpoche (see below). The resulting manual is 'jam mgon bstan srung yongs gyi thu bo mchog/ rdo rje shugs ldan srog dbang zab mo'i tshul/ byin rlabs rin chen phung po 'dren pa yi/ yid ches nor bu'i shing rta zhes bya ba bzhugs so which integrates these writings of Pabongkha and Tagphu Rinpoche, which was completed by Pabongkha Rinpoche at Dagom Rinpoche’s monastery.22

In 1923 Tagphu Rinpoche came to Central Tibet again. At that time while Tagphu and Pabongkha Rinpoche were at Takten cave, countless dakinis through various blissful theatrics came to greet them, and they saw the actual jnanakaya of Chakrasamvara from the top of the cave. Then Pabongkha Rinpoche performed a tenshuk for the long life of Tagphu Rinpoche. At that time the residence in the cave turned into an immeasurable mandala complete in all of its characteristics and activities, unlike the cramped space seen there nowadays. At that time the tsog offering merit field was not an ordinary painting, it was comprised of actual wisdom beings. From straight out of the assembly came the Conqueror Dromtonpa who said “Son, Padmavajra, this extraordinary blissful experience in your continuum is shown as arisen on reliance on your spiritual guide, your lama, therefore always respect and happily repay their kindness with offerings.” Dromtonpa also gave prophecies on specific and general good and bad things that were coming in the future and Tagphu Rinpoche wrote these down.23

Earlier, at age 43, Tagphu Rinpoche went to Gsang-rdzong E-wam Lcog where he met Bshad-sgra Srid-blon and at age 46 restored a secret mantra college (gsang sngags dpal gyi sgrub sde).24 In 1926 Pabongkha Rinpoche came to Nags-shod in Kham, in particular to this new college and met again with Tagphu Rinpoche. As requested by Tagphu Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche gave an experiential teaching on Lam Rim to an assembly of over 600 people and a long life initiation to the college assembly. During his stay at that college, Pabongkha Rinpoche completed writing his long fulfillment ritual to Dorje Shugden The Melodious Drum which he began a year or two earlier, and checked it over.25 During that period, both Tagphu and Pabongkha Rinpoche stayed together for a long time and were naturally liberated from the speech of their inner experiences. Both performed tenshuk ceremonies for the other in order to remove obstacles to their lifespan.26

In 1935 Pabongkha Rinpoche had his final meeting with Tagphu Rinpoche in Nags-shod. Upon meeting, Pabongkha Rinpoche requested Tagphu Rinpoche for the unfinished sections of the earlier teachings he received from him on the Four Combined Annotations on the Lam Rim Chenmo, the stages of initiation for the short lineage of the Protector Dorje Shugden and other teachings.27 First as requested by Tagphu Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche gave at the new tantric college mentioned earlier an explanation and oral transmission of Je Rinpoche’s Three Principles of the Path. At that time he also instituted Je Rinpoche’s offering ceremony for the Festival of Miracles Buddhist holiday. After that Tagphu Rinpoche gave teachings on the remaining portions of Four Combined Annotations on the Lam Rim Chenmo and the short lineage initiation of the Geden Protector Dorje Shugden.28 At that time Tagphu Rinpoche also gave more initiations and teachings to Pabongkha Rinpoche on stag phu'i dag snang gsang ba bcu gsum.

That year Tagphu Dorje Chang said he saw many dakinis were coming and passed away. At that time Pabongkha Rinpoche wrote a lengthy prayer for his quick return.29 Thus the relation between Tagphu Dorje Chang and Pabongkha Rinpoche was utterly immaculate, and this accomplished extraordinary benefits for the doctrine and sublime lineages of the Geden tradition. In addition to illustrating that authentic liberating experiences can only be born from the power of a pure guru-disciple bond, these arose dependently on many additional, required factors such as prophecies of the yidams, commands of the protectors and requests of the disciples. These left subtle imprints (bag chags) in the mental continuum of the yogi Tagphu Rinpoche who was able to fulfill these through his experiences on the basis of his exalted realizations when the proper causes and conditions ripened.

In particular Pabongkha Rinpoche’s last visit to Tagphu Padmavajra not only marks the consummation of their relationship but for the practice of Dorje Shugden as well. Although most aspects of this practice were already standardized earlier, this is the genesis of the practice as bestowed by the very Jamgon Lama Tsongkhapa himself. As Arya Asanga was able to see Maitreya and travel to Tushita when he gained the perfection of meditation, likewise the bestowal of this practice from Tushita, the very heavenly prototype of the earthly Gelug lineage, was fulfilled by the sublime yogi Tagphu Padmavajra. Much like Asanga he left with a purpose and came back with a dharma that became an essential lineage.

According to Pabongkha Rinpoche’s record of initiations obtained (pha bong kha pa'i gsan yig las rjes gnang skor phyogs gcig tu bkod pa, collected works volume 2 page 69), the lineage holders of the Dorje Shugden initiation from Tagphu Rinpoche is:

  1. Jampel Nyingpo (Je Tsongkhapa)
  2. Dulzin Dragpa Gyaltsen
  3. Tagphu Padmavajra
  4. Dechen Nyingpo

This is the order of these masters displayed in this section of the Dorje Shugden merit field below:

1 rgya bod du byon pa'i bstan 'dzin gyi skyes bu dam pa rnams kyi tshan tho bzhugs so

2 Chapter 15 of Avatamsaka Sutra

3 TBRC Person RID: P336

4 TBRC Work RID: W7556

5 Denma Lobsang Dorje. (2001). Rigs dang dkyil 'khor rgya mtsho'i khyab bdag heruka dpal ngur smrig gar rol skyabs gcig pha bong kha pa bde chen snying po dpal bzang po'i rnam thar pa don ldan tshangs pa'i dbyangs snyan zhes bya ba bzhugs so (Pabongkha Rinpoche’s Official Biography). Mysore: Sera Monastic University, page 110.

6 TBRC Person RID: P295

7 gar gyi dbang phyug bzhi pa'i 'khrul 'byams gsang ba'i lo rgyus rga can skor

8 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), pp. 986-987.

9 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 271.

10 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 271-273.

11 See later, that on their last meeting decades later Pabongkha Rinpoche requests Tagphu Rinpoche for this remaining section not yet transmitted. The omission is most likely the creation of an “omen” of unfinished business that creates the conditions in the future to meet the teacher again.

12 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 273-274.

13 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 274-275.

14 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 276-277.

15 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), p. 987.

16 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 332.

17 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 332.

18 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 337.

19 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 339-347.

20 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 375.

21 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 555-556.

22 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 567.

23 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 381-383.

24 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), p. 987.

25 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), pp. 422-423.

26 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 429.

27 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 627.

28 Denma Lobsang Dorje (2001), p. 631.

29 Some sources state that the year of his death was 1922, however, this contradicts Pabongkha Rinpoche’s biography. The year of death as 1935 is also corroborated in Rolf Alfred Stein’s book Recherches sur l'épopée et le barde au Tibet on page 332 which states: “A bard’s biography received from an informant from Kalimpong (a secretary of the Lhasa government) confirms these relations and repeat in certain themes the kalmuk legend on the origins of the bard. The bard in question was a native of Nag-shod in Khams. He had first been a sheperd (lug-rji). One day, while his sheeps were grazing in the mountain, he saw in a dream a red man in armor with lots of heros (dpa'bo) of Gling. The man told him that he should not remain a shepherd, that the quest (sgrun) might be lost and that he should devote himself to it and that, in order to do that, he should go see the lama sTag-phu Rin-po-che (who would have lived in the Nag-shod and would have died around 1935). The shepherd obeyed, and the lama, who knew in advance that he would be coming, received him. He gave him the initiation (dban-bkur) and taught him prayers which helped him each time he entered a trance. But about his behavior, we will speak about it later.”