Jetsun Tāranātha, Jonang, Shangpa Kagyu, Kalu Rinpoche and the White Hat Karmapa, Tsa Tsa Rinpoche
Several great Kālacakra six Vajra-yogas masters of Kagyu, Nyingma and Jonang were also Shangpa Kagyu lineage holders and practitioners. For example, most people associate Jetsun Tāranātha as being a master of the Jonang lineage, however, he was also one of the most important lineage holders of Shangpa Kagyu. This brief article gives an overview of the Shangpa Kagyu, its connection to Jonang, Tāranātha’s connection to the lineage, as well as my compiled catalogue of the extant texts composed by Tāranātha on the Shangpa Kagyu.
Even though the Shangpa Kagyu (shangs pa bka’ brgyud) are considered to be one of the eight great practice lineages[i] (of which Kālacakra is also one), few scholars have written about this relatively unknown school , see bibliography below. Contemporary masters of the lineage include Bokar Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche and Tenga Rinpoche. The Treasury of Lives states:
The Shangpa Kagyu tradition was initiated in the eleventh century by Khyungpo Neljor, who received the Mahāmudrā teachings in India from Niguma, the wife or sister of Nāropa. He established the monastery of Zhangzhong Dorjeden in the Shang valley in Tsang. A single line of transmission, said to have been initiated by the Buddha Vajradhara and taught first to Niguma, and which passed from Khyungpo Neljor
through Mokchokpa, Wonton Kyergangwa Chokyi Sengge, Nyenton Rigung Chokyi Sherab, and Sanggye Tonpa Tsondru Senge, was known as the transmission of the seven precious Shangpa. In the thirteenth century Sanggye Tonpa passed the lineage on to multiple disciples and the Shangpa teachings were written down. The Shangpa lineages were largely absorbed into the institutional organizations of the Marpa Kagyu, Geluk, Sakya and
Jonang, although it was partially revived in the nineteenth century by Jamgon Kongtrul; his two personal hermitages, Tsadra Rinchen Drak and Dzongsho Deshek Dupa are both Shangpa Kagyu institutions. The Shangpa teachings are known as the Five Golden Doctrines, which include the Nigu Chodruk, a grouping similar to the Nāro Chodruk of the Marpa Kagyu.
In terms of Niguma, she was also called Yogini Vimalashri, or Vajradhara Niguma, or Jñana (wisdom) Dakini Adorned with Bone (ornaments) or The Sister referring to her purported relationship to Buddhist mahasiddha, Naropa. She was also sometimes called Nigupta, which is explained by Taranatha as follows (from Harding, 2011:7) :
Most sources agree that she was born into a rich Brahmin family in the town (or monastery) of Peme in Kashmir in the 10th or 11th century. Her father was named Santivarman (Zhi ba’i go cha) and her mother was called Shrimati (dPal gyi blo gros ma). According to different sources, Niguma was either the sister or
consort of Naropa. Her family relationship with Naropa is not entirely clear from the existing sources. Harding (2011) discusses the available evidence and concludes that Niguma was Naropa’s older sister, not his wife or consort.”[ii]
Sukhasiddhi is also one of the female founders of Shangpa Kagyu and root lamas of Kungpo Neljor. She was born in west Kashmir to a large, poor family and was the mother of three sons and three daughters. Once she gave a beggar the only food in the house and was expelled from home. She traveled to Oḍḍiyāna, thought to be the land of dakas and dakinis, and there she met Virupa, a mahasiddha who became her guru. Very quickly Sukhasiddhi became completely realized. According to one biographer[iii]:
“Sukhasiddhi was one of the five root lamas of Khyungpo Naljor. She bestowed the four complete empowerments for the Uncommon Secret Practices, Six Doctrines’ secret practices and the Three Fold Oral Instructions. Then Sukhasiddhi gave him all of the mother tantra instructions, which cause enlightenment in a matter of
mere years or months. Among Khyungpo Naljor’s root Lamas, the other four of whom were Niguma, Rahula, Maitripa and Vajrasanapa, Sukhasiddhi certainly was the kindest, said he. She promised to guide and protect all future lineage masters and followers, and indeed there are many instances in the biographies of later
Shangpa masters in which she appeared to them in visions and gave guidance and profound instructions to them, some of which are included in the collected Shangpa texts (shangs chos). Such occurrences are indeed reported to the present day.”
According to Wikipedia:
“In the west, the principal teacher of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage was the first Kalu Rinpoche, Karma Rangjung Kunkhyab (kar lu rin po che karma rang byung kun khyab) (1905-1989). He received the lineage teachings in the early 1940s when he went for training at Tsa Tsa Monastery in Eastern Tibet. He trained with the Abbot of the monastery, the 8th Tsa Tsa Drubgen, Yizhin Norbu, also called Karma Singhe and the White Crown Master. The Karma Kagyu regent Tai Situpa described Yizhin Norbu as “one of the most learned and accomplished Kagyu masters now living.”
There, Kalu Rinpoche received the complete cycle of the Shangpa teachings during a closed retreat. Tsa Tsa monastery is also a major Dakpo Kagyu Centre and preserves the Rimé movement. The Tsa Tsa Drubgen Yizhin Norbu died in the middle of June, 2005. The Shangpa traditions are currently held by his regent and successor the second Gyalten Thongwa Rangdrol.
After the first Kalu Rinpoche died, his student Bokar Tulku Rinpoche became the main lineage holder. After Bokar Tulku Rinpoche died, Yangsi Kalu, a young tulku who finished a Shangpa three-year retreat in September 2008, became the holder of the seat of the lineage (the monastery of Sonada in northern India).
The other current holders of the Shangpa lineage are the lamas who have been entrusted by Vajradhara Kalu Rangjung Künchab, for example Norla Rinpoche, Denys Rinpoche, as well as Ven Mogchok Rinpoche currently living and teaching in France. A list of Kalu Rangjung Kunchab contemporary heirs is available on Shangpa Resource center web Site.
However, after publishing this, French translator, Thierry Karma Sangye Tenzin, published a short piece of research in response to this challenging the Wikipedia version of Kalu Rinpoche’s transmission. He states that according to Tibetan primary sources on the life of Kalu Rinpoche, in particular, he relies on a text on the history of Kalacakra, written by Bokar Khenpo and master, Khenpo Donyo, and concludes that Kalu Rinpoche did not get the Kalacakra or Shangpa Kagyu transmission from Tsa Tsa Rinpoche but rather from Norbu Dondrub of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Tsadra monastery, Tibet.
In terms of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage of Tsa Tsa Drupgon Rinpoche in Tibet, according to one biographical source, the first Tsa Tsa Rinpoche was a student of the 7th Karmapa and was given a white hat by the 8th Karmapa, similar to the black one worn by the Karmapas. For more information about the hat and his lineage see the Himalayan Art article here. I have been unable to trace the Tibetan source text cited in it though. Regarding the Tsa Tsa monastery in Tibet:
“Tsatsa Monastery is the principal temple in the Lingtsang region of Kham, Tibet (Dege, Sichuan, China). Very close to this location is the birth place of Ling Gesar – within walking distance. Although the region of Lingtsang is now included within the greater Dege region, in the past Lingtsang was the principal kingdom with the Lingtsang Gyalpo as the King of the entire region.
In the past there have been eight Tsatsa incarnate Lamas. Recently the 9th was recognized as a small child in the area of Lingtsang, Kham. The 7th Tsata Drubgon lived during the exciting time of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul in the 19th century. From the time of Kongtrul the 7th and 8th Drubgon have
maintained the history, teachings, initiations and special precepts of the Shangpa Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism according to the teachings of Jamgon Kongtrul. During tha last half of the 20th century, in India Kalu Rinpoche maintained the Shangpa Tradition and in Tibet Tsatsa Drubgon maintained the Shangpa Kagyu. Today in the region of Lingtsang and Kangdze there are both monasteries and retreat centers following the Shangpa Tradition albeit under the overall supervision of the Karma Kamtsang Tradition to which Jamgon Kongtrul belonged.”
This is an excerpt from this online article on the ‘White Hat Karmapa’. (UPDATE OCTOBER 2020: Since this article was written, Himalayan Art Resources have now uploaded a video on the White Hat of the Kagyupas, see here.
There are two Shangpa Kagyu retreat centres in Eastern Tibet set up by the first Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye: Tsandra Rinchen Drak in Dege founded in 1859, and Dzongsho Deshek Dhupe Phodrang in Peyul, in 1867. Sheehy (2014) has produced a map of Shangpa sites in Tibet here.
“Kunga Drolchok was especially devoted to the practices of the Shangpa Kagyu (shangs pa bka’ brgyud) tradition, which he received from the master Gyagom Lekpa Gyeltsen (rgya sgom legs pa rgyal mtshan, d.u.) and other teachers. He met the ḍākinī Niguma in a vision and taught the Shangpa transmission of the Six Dharmas of Niguma (ni gu chos drug, d.u.) more than one hundred times to many masters from different traditions.”
Michael Sheehy also reports (2009):
“The Jo nang lineage of the Shangs pa is alive and well among the Jo nang pa. The major figure to accumulate and synthesize the instructions of this lineage was Kun dga’ grol mchog (1507-1566). However, the intersection between these lines occurred several generations prior to him. The lineage tree suggests that the 13th century master Khyung po Tshul khrims mgon po received transmission from Mkhas grub Gtsang ma
Shangs ston (1234-1309) who was four generations removed from Khyung po rnal ‘byor. Kun dga’ grol mchog then received the Bsam sdings, ‘Jag pa, and Thang lineages, as well as instructions in the visionary presence of the wisdom dakini Niguma. By the time of Kun dga’ grol mchog’s disciples, such as the master ‘Gyur med bde chen (1540-1615), practices and instructions associated with the Shangs pa were deeply embedded within the Jo nang tradition. One question that needs further exploration is to what extent these exchanges were made or at least initiated during the lifetime of Thang stong rgyal po (1361-1485)?”
The second main Jonang master and Shangpa Kagyu lineage holder is Jetsun Tāranātha (rje btsun tA ra nA tha, 1575-1634). Many of Tāranātha’s texts are still used for Shangpa Kagyu empowerments and sadhanas, see previous post on that here and catalogue of his Shangpa works below. According to the Shangpa Kagyu Foundation, most of the Shangpa transmissions Tāranātha received from Chöku Lhawang Drakpa (chos sku lha dbang grags pa)[iv], who himself had received the entire Shangpa tranmssion from Kunga Drolchok.
“In about 1588 he invited the young Tāranātha, who had been recognized as the reincarnation of Kunga Drolchok, to Jonang. There he passed the monastic seat of Jonang to Tāranātha and gave him many teachings, such as the six-branch yoga of Kālacakra, the great Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra, and the Shangpa teachings of the Six Dharmas of Niguma (ni gu chos drug).”
Michael Sheehy asserts, however, that the later Jonang master, Bamda Gelek Gyatso, was the first Jonang master to write about the Shangpa Kagyu lineage with ‘erudition and creativity’. His reasons for saying this are not given though:
“As inheritor of Kun dga’ grol mchog’s legacy and throne at Jo nang, Tāranātha (1575-1635) took a keen interest in the Shangs pa, writing numerous commentaries and expanding the core practice texts of the tradition. Although the lineage continued uninterruptedly for the next several generations after Tāranātha,
and was received by Jo nang masters in Amdo, it was not until the ‘Dzam thang master ‘Ba’ mda’ dge legs (1844-1904) came onto the scene that this practice lineage would be commented on within the Jo nang tradition with any degree of erudition or creativity. ‘Ba’ mda’ Lama wrote several works related to the
Shangs pa, including an extensive explanation of the Six Teachings of Niguma that is considered the authoritative work for Jo nang pas. This lineage then passed onto ‘Jam mgon kong sprul (1813-1899), and in more recent times was represented by such great masters as the late Kalu Rinpoche and his disciple Bokar Rinpoche.”
However, I could only find two specific texts from the Niguma tradition in the Dzamthang edition of Bamda Gelek’s Collected Works on TBRC (W23899). These texts, as well as some on the practice of the Shangpa Kagyu mandala of the five deities, are in Volume 18. One of his compositions ‘The Garland of the White Lotus‘,
an instruction text on the five deities of Shangs pa, (rgyud sde lnga’i gtso ‘dus mngon rtogs kyi khrid yig padma dkar po’i phreng ba) is also included in a newly published book, ‘Ornament of the Enlightened
Intention of the practice of the six yogas of Niguma’, an anthology of Shangpa instructions and poems on the Six Dharmas of Niguma by various Jonang authors (2010). (ni gu’i chos drug grub pa’i dgongs rgyan, jo nang brtse chen mtho slob rtag brtan lnga rig dar rgyas gling, TBRC W1KG5786).
Apart from Niguma’s text entitled Mahamudra as Spontaneous Liberation, the school’s teaching and practice is centered around the so-called Five Tantras (Mahakala-, Chakrasamvara-, Hevajra-, Mahamaya-, and Guhyasamaja Tantra), and the five golden dharmas of the Shangpas (Tshangs pa gser chos lnga); a group of teachings envisioned as forming a tree:
A practice text on the 5 deity mandala of the Cakrasamvara according to the system of ni gu ma and the shangs pa bka’ brgyud pa. ni gu lugs kyi bde mchog lha lnga’i mngon rtogs. TBRC W22277. 11: 355 – 366. An empowerment text on the abhiseka of the 5 deity mandala of cakrasamvara according to the system of ni gu ma and the shangs pa bka’ brgyud pa. ni gu lugs kyi bde mchog lha lnga’i dbang chog. TBRC W22277. 11: 367 – 397.
Instructions on the 6-fold teachings of ni gu ma according to the shangs pa bka’ brgyud pa. zab lam ni gu chos drug gi ‘khrid yig zab don thad mar brdal ba zhes bya ba bklags chog ma. TBRC W22277. 11: 399 – 506. · Condensed instructions on the 6-fold teachings of ni gu ma. ni gu’i ‘khrid yig bsdus pa TBRC W22277. 11: 507 – 520. ·
Instructions on the yogic practices associated with the 6-fold teachings of ni gu ma. ni gu’i ‘khrul ‘khor rtsa ‘grel. TBRC W22277. 11: 555 – 568.·
Compilation of essential biographical and historical works from the shangs pa bka’ brgyud tradition. dPal ldan shangs pa’i chos skor gyi ‘byung khungs yid kyi mun sel/ rgyal ba’i bstan pa rin po che spyi’i rnam bzhag las ‘phros pa’i dpal ldan shangs pa’i chos skor gyi ‘byung khungs yid kyi mun sel. TBRC W1PD45495. 34: 226 – 317.·
Instructions on the preliminary practices according to the lineage of the indian yogini ni gu ma, and a supplication to the Kālacakra lineage. ye shes mkha’ ‘gro ni gu’i dbang bka’ che chung rnams kyi sngon du ‘gro ba’i chos bcu dang lngar dbye ba’i khyad par. TBRC W1PD45495. 39: 226-235.·
Work on the practice associated with the deities of the mandala of mayakaya-mahesvara, a teaching of the shangs pa bka’ brgyud. sGyu lus dbang mo che bskur tshul gyi lag len. TBRC W1PD45495. 39: 243-259.· Essential instructions on the mahamudra of the indian yogini ni gu ma. gser chos phyi ma bzhi’i snying po. TBRC W1PD45495. 39: 260-262.
Advice and explanation on practices associated with a dakini during the sampannakrama according to the shangs pa bka’ brgyud. mkha’ ‘gro rnam gsum gyi zhal gdams gung bsgrigs te nyams su len bde ba. W1PD45495. 39: 318-324.
Song to Niguma. ni gu’i mgur in Ni gu’i chos drug grub pa’i dgongs rgyan, jo nang brtse chen mtho slob rtag brtan lnga rig dar rgyas gling, TBRC W1KG5786: 184. For a talk on Shangpa Kagyu by Translator/scholar Lama Sarah Harding, see this video here.
Ni gu’i chos drug grub pa’i dgongs rgyan, jo nang brtse chen mtho slob rtag brtan lnga rig dar rgyas gling, TBRC W1KG5786. ‘Ornament of the Enlightened Intention of the Practice of the Six-yogas of Niguma’, an anthology of Shangpa instructions and poems on the Six Dharmas of Niguma by various Jonang authors (2010). Sarah Harding Niguma, Lady of Illusion. Ithaca, New York, USA, 2011
Matthew Kapstein, “The Shangs-pa bKa’-brgyud: an unknown school of Tibetan Buddhism”. In Studies in Honor of Hugh Richardson, ed. Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi. Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1980 pp. 138-144. Kapstein, Matthew T. 2005. “Chronological Conundrums in the Life of Khyung po rnal ‘byor: Hagiography and Historical Time.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, vol. 1, no. 1. Roerich, George, trans. 1996.The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 728- Smith, Gene. 2001. “The Shangs pa Bka’ brgyud Tradition.” InAmong Tibetan Texts. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 53-57..
[i] Eight Practice Lineages aka the Eight Great Chariots of the Practice Lineage (sgrub brgyud shing rta chen mo brgyad) — the eight principal traditions which ‘transported’ the Buddhist teachings from India to Tibet. They are:
Nyingma—the teachings of the kama, terma and pure vision traditions within the Nyingma School of Ancient Translations, which had come down in an aural lineage transmitted by countless learned and accomplished masters, all thanks to the kindness of Khenpo Shantarakshita, Guru Padmasambhava and the Dharma-King Trisong Deutsen.
Kadam—the divine teachings of the Old and New Kadam traditions, founded by the incomparable and glorious Lord Jowo Atisha and further developed through the magnificent efforts of Lobsang Drakpa, who was Manjushri in person.
Lamdré/Sakya—the essential instructions of the ‘Path with its Result’ (Lamdré), the heart-essence of the mahasiddha Virupa, which came down to the glorious Sakyapa founders and their heirs, and were then passed on by the various lineages including those of Sakya, Ngor and Tsar (sa ngor tsar gsum).
Kalachakra/’Six Branch Practice of Vajrayoga’ (sbyor drug)—the ‘Six-Branched Application’, which emphasizes the Vajra Yoga of the perfection stage of the splendid Kalachakra, and which came to Tibet from the noble Dharma-kings of India and others such as Kalapada in early, intermediate and later phases, and developed into seventeen traditions, which were then brought together and passed on by the renunciate Tukjé Tsöndru and others.
Shyijé and Chö—the noble teachings of the ‘Pacifying of Suffering’ Tradition coming from Padampa Sangyé together with the profound teachings on the objects of severance, or Chö, which were passed on by Machik Lapdrön and others.
‘Approach and Accomplishment of the Three Vajras’—the teachings bestowed on the mahasiddha Orgyenpa Rinchen Pal by the mother of the buddhas, Vajrayogini herself. The Jonang and Gelug schools are not part of this list because they formed within Tibet.
[ii] Harding (2011) explains:
“The elusiveness of Niguma is typical of the lore of the dakini, the very embodiment of liminal spiritual experience. Additionally the difficulty of pinpointing historical information may well be due to the lack of ancient sources from India and the lack of concern about such mundane matters by the Tibetan masters who
encountered her in dreams and visions and maybe in person. After all, when confronted with the blazing apparition of the resplendent and daunting dark dakini bestowing cryptic advice, a background check would be rendered irrelevant. Indian Buddhist hagiographies are virtually unknown, whether of men or women. In
Tibet, where hagiography became a prolific genre in its own right, those of women are extremely rare, for all the usual reasons. It is in the experience of those heroes who encountered the dakini that one finds the most information, and these experiences are invested with the value of spiritual meaning.”
[iv] “Lhawang Drakpa was born in Tö, Western Tibet. At first he received training in the Upper Drukpa Kagyü tradition as well as in the Oral Tradition of Rechungpa. He also received the teachings of the Nyingma school. Later, after he had met with Jetsün Künga Drölchok and attended upon him, he received the
transmissions and teachings of the Jonang and Sakya schools. All of these teachings he received in their entirety, with nothing whatsoever left out. Most importantly however, he received from Künga Drölchok the complete transmission of the teachings and practices of the Shangpa Kagyu, which were closest to his heart.
Putting these teachings into practice, he truly erected the victory banner of accomplishment. Experiences and realisations were overflowing from within, and he fully mastered the practices of channels and subtle energies. He attained the deathless vajra-body and lived for more than 120 years. Where the Sakya, Kagyü, Jonang and Shangpa traditions are concerned, he had many students who came to study and practice these
under him. In particular, he passed on the Shangpa tradition in its entirety into the hands of its owner, the All-knowing Jetsün Jonang Tāranātha, and invested him with the responsibility of its continuation. Shortly after this, he passed away into other realms. The majority of his precious remains were enshrined in a golden reliquary in Draktö called Tashi Öbar. For as long as it remains as a support for the offerings
of beings, it will be a cause for their rebirth in the pure realms. Chöku Lhawang Drakpa later manifested as one of the masters of Droggé monastery (jo nang ‘brog dge dgon nges don bsam ‘grub gling), which is to the present day one of the largest and most important Jonang monasteries in Amdo.” (Taken from Shangpa Kagyu Network and Foundation website).
[v] Collected Works by Tāranātha (1575-1634). Scanned from reprints acquired from Takten Puntsok Ling Monastery. Pages and orderions are missing from the example printed. Includes Dolpopa’s commentary on the Uttaratantra in vol. 17. gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha (rtag brtan phun tshongs gling gi par ma. TBRC W22277. c. namgyal & tsewang taru, leh. 1982-1987. Block Print.
[vi] Collected Works by Tāranātha (1575-1634). Combines versions from the Dzamtang and Ladakh printings. jo nang rje btsun tA ra nA tha’i gsung ‘bum dpe bsdur ma. Published by krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang 2008. TBRC W1PD45495.