Part Three - History of the Situpa Line
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
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