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The Succession of Lives of the Lhodrak Terton Kunzang Dechen Lingpa
This image replicates a wall painting at His Holiness Kunzang Dechen Lingpa’s
Zangdokpalri temple in Arunachal Pradesh, India. It shows his succession of lives and
features important figures from Tibetan Buddhist history. Each one of these figures
warrant in-depth analysis and description of their lives. Therefore, for the benefit of
those who would like to know more, I have included a list of further reading at the end
of this excerpt. Viewed as a sacred image this thangka has deep religious significance
for followers of the Buddhist tradition and of HH Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche. In
the spirit of how the image is intended to be understood and received, what follows is a
brief description, of each of the figures depicted, from a traditional Buddhist
1. Desheg Rinchen or Ratnaśikhin the Jeweled Crown: Identified as the last or final
Buddha of the first of the immeasurable eons. He is often included in the list of the first
seven Buddhas.
2. Drubchen Sarahapa, Saraha or Sarahapāda: Usually depicted holding an arrow,
the Mahāsiddha Saraha is considered to be one of the founders of Buddhist Vajrayāna,
particularly of the Mahāmudrā tradition. His spiritual poetry and songs are gathered in
a manuscript entitled Dohakośa, ‘Treasury of Rhyming Couplets' Sarahapāda is
generally believed to have born in Eastern India in the late 8th century or early 9th
century CE to a Brahmin family and studied at the Indian Buddhist monastic university
3. Drubchen Kukuripa or Kukkuripa the Dog Lover: Well known in the Buddhist
tradition is the story of how this Indian Mahāsiddha gained spiritual insight by caring
for a stray dog. Kukkuripa was also known for his tantric songs of realization; three of
his verses appear in an early East Indian compilation called Charyapada dating from the
8th-12th centuries.
4. Jampel Shenyen or Mañjuśrīmitra: An Indian Buddhist scholar considered to be
one of the chief disciples of Garab Dorje, the first human teacher of the Great Perfection
teachings (from whom Mañjuśrīmitra received direct transmission). The division of the
Dzogchen teachings into three series of Sems sde, ‘mind class’, Klong sde ‘expanse class’
and Ma ngag sde ‘pith instructions class’ is attributed to him. Mañjuśrīmitra is also
thought to have transmitted the Dzogchen teachings to Sri Singha, who in turn, is
believed to have been the teacher of Vimalamitra.
5. Drimed Shenyen or Vimalamitra is regarded as one of the main fore-fathers of
Dzogchen. Vimalamitra was one of the Indian masters, along with Padmasambhava who
was invited to Tibet by emissaries of King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century CE.
Vimalamitra is a central figure in Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayāna; he concealed treasure
teachings known as the Vima Nyingthig ‘Secret Heart Essence of Vimalamitra’ one of the
seminal heart teachings of the ‘pith instruction class’ cycle of the Great Perfection teachings.
Vimalamitra is also the spiritual fountainhead of the Melong Dorje lineage to which
Longsel Nyingpo and Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche are both connected.
6. Langdro Konchog Jungney was an 8th century minister at the court of King Trisong
Detsen in Tibet; he later became one of Padmasambhava’s 25 disciples. The Nyingma
treasure revealers, Ratna Ling pa (1403-1471) and Longsel Nyingpo (1625-1692) are
considered to be among his emanations.
7. King Ralpacan (9th century CE) One of the three Tibetan Dharma Kings and an
important figure in the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. In traditional histories, he
was assassinated by anti- Buddhist ministers.
8. Karma Düsum Khyenpa, The Knower of the Three Times (1110 – 1193) The First
Karmapa was a disciple of Gampopa (1079 -1135) who received the oral transmission, (of
teachings that were later to be known as those of the Kagyu lineage) from Tibet's great yogi,
Milarepa (1052 - 1135). One of Düsum Khyenpa’s main disciples was Kadampa Desheg
(1122-1192) founder of the Kathok Nyingma lineage. Düsum Khyenpa is also
considered to be one the first recorded examples of a Tibetan reincarnate lama, as
before his death he left a letter describing the conditions of his rebirth.
9. Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) was a famous and pre-eminent Tibetan scholar and lama
whose activities led to the formation of the Gelugpa tradition in the 14th century. He
was believed to have received teachings from masters of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Tsongkhapa drew inspiration from the teachings of Atisha and placed great emphasis
upon debate, the study of logic and the monastic moral code vinaya. He also taught
extensively on how to bring the Sutra and Tantra teachings together as well as writing
numerous commentaries and summarizations on philosophical Buddhist teachings
10. Longsel Nyingpo (1625-1692) was a treasure revealer influential in the rebuilding
of one of the ancient Nyingma monasteries, Kathok (originally dating from the 12th
century CE), in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham. In the mid 17th century CE, he
became its head lama and brought about a profound transformation of its
administrative and religious programs. Longsel Nyingpo was considered to be an
emanation of one of Padmasambhava’s original 25 disciples, Langdro Konchog Jungnay.
Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche as a young boy was recognized as an incarnation of
Longsel Nyingpo and therefore is linked with all of this figure’s previous incarnations.
11. Ratna Lingpa (1403-1478) was a prominent Tibetan Nyingma treasure revealer
and one of the compilers of the Nyingma canonical texts known as ‘The Collected Tantra
of the Ancients’ Nyingma Gyubum. He is also considered to be reincarnation of Langdro
Konchog Jungnay.
12. Jedrung Jampa Jungnay or Jedrung Rinpoche (1856-1922) was the 7th abbot of
Riwoche Monastery in Kham. Jedrung Rinpoche was primarily known as a Kagyu lama,
but he also was a master of the Nyingma tradition, and a renowned treasure revealer.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when thousands of Tibetans fled Kham during the
atrocities of the Chinese general Zhao Erfeng (1845-1911), Jedrung Rinpoche led
approximately 2,000 followers in search of the mythical hidden land of Pemako; where
he built a temple called Karmo Ling. However, the refugees experienced difficult
relations with the local people and many of them eventually returned to Kham. Jedrung
Rinpoche remained in Pemako with many disciples, and it was there that he
encountered the renowned Lama, scholar and treasure revealer, Dudjom Rinpoche
(1904-1988), who became one of his closest disciples.
Amongst the thirteen volumes of Jedrung Rinpoche’s writings is a revealed longevity
sādhana called The Secret Heart Drop of Padma, Pad ma gsang thig. In the 1950s the
disciples of Jedrung Rinpoche in Pemako, offered the temple to Kunzang Dechen Lingpa
before he escaped to India in 1962.
Further Reading:
Dowman, Keith 1986 Masters of Mahāmudrā: Songs and Histories of the Eighty-four
Buddhist Siddhas. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Dudjom Rinpoche (new edition) 2005 The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its
Fundamentals and History. Wisdom Publications.
Khenpo, Nyoshul 2005 A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of
Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage. Padma Publishing: Junction City.
Schaeffer, Kurtis R. 2005 Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of the
Buddhist Poet-Saint Saraha. Oxford University Press, USA.
Stein, R. A. 1972 Tibetan Civilization Stanford University Press.
Thondup, Tulku 2000 Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist
Masters of India and Tibet. Shambhala Publications: Boston.