The Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima

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The Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima b.1865 - d.1926

Name Variants: Dodrubchen 03 Jigme Tenpai Nyima; Dowa Drubchen Jigme Tenpai Nyima; Jigme Tenpai Nyima

The Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (rdo grub chen 03 'jigs med bstan pa'i nyi ma) was born in 1865, on the eighteenth day of the second month of the wood ox year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle. His parents belonged to the Achak dru (a lcags ’gru, or just lcags ’gru) lineage of the Nub clan (gnubs) of the Chakong (lcags khung) tribe. His birthplace was the sacred site Cakri Wobar (lcags ri 'od bar) in the upper Ma valley (rma khog) in the Chakong region of Golok, from which the tribal name of the residents derives.

Jigme Tenpai Nyima was the eldest of eight sons of Dudjom Lingpa (bdod ’joms gling pa, 1835-1904), who named him Kunzang Jigme Tenpai Nyima Trinle Kunkyab Pelzangpo (kun bzang ’jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma phrin las kun khyab dpal bzang po). His mother was named Sonam Tso (bsod nams ’tsho). His seven younger brothers were all recognized as tulkus as well, most of who remained associated with their elder brother’s monastic community. Among his brothers was Tulku Drime Woser (sprul sku dri med 'od zer), the consort of the famous female treasure revealer Sera Khandro Kunzang Dekyong Wangmo (se ra mkha' 'gro kun bzang bde skyong dbang mo, 1892-1940).

The Fourth Dzogchen Drubwang, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (rdzogs chen drub dbang 04 mi ’gyur nam mkha’i rdo rje, 1793-1870) recognized him as an incarnation when he was very young, and in 1870 he was enthroned at Yarlung Pemako (yar klung padma bkod) monastery. He trained first with Khenpo Pema Vajra (rdzogs chen mkhan rabs 08 pad+ma ba+dz+ra, d. 1887) at Dzogchen monastery (rdzogs chen dgon pa), where he received teachings in the  Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra from Dza Patrul Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (rdza dpal sprul o rgyan ’jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887). However, studying did not come easily, and he is said to have cried so frequently out of frustration while sleeping that in the morning his face was stuck to his pillow. Fortunately, following a dream in which Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje, 1800-1866), his previous incarnation’s master, gave him a book that aided students in comprehending difficult philosophical texts his training improved significantly.

When Jigme Tenpai Nyima was eight years old Dza Patrul invited him to Dzagyel monastery and, at his request, the boy gave a teaching on the  Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra before a large audience. Dza Patrul was so moved by the teaching that he declared to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (’jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, 1820-1892) that here was proof that the Buddhist teachings were not in decline.

In addition to Khenpo Pema Vajra and Dza Patrul, Jigme Tenpai Nyima also studied with Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Ju Mipam (’ju mi pham), Jamgon Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso ('jam mgon kong sprul yonten rgya mtsho, 1813-1899), Terton Sogyel Lerab Lingpa (gter ston bsod rgyal las rab gling pa, 1856-1926), Gyelrong Namtrul Kunzang Tekchog Dorje (rgya rong nam sprul kun bzang theg mchog rdo rje) and Japa Alak Dongag ('gya' pa a lags mdo sngags), among others, training in the full range of Buddhist subjects including Vinaya, Madhyamaka, Prajñāpāramitā, Abhidharma, and Vajrayāna texts from the Nyingma and Sarma traditions. He is frequently said to have studied with Zhechen Wontrul Gyurme Tutop Namgyel (zhe chen dbon sprul 'gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal, 1787-1854), but given their dates this is impossible.

Of the Nyingma teachings, he trained in the Compendium of Intentions (dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo), the Māyājāla (sgyu 'phrul), and the Dzogchen Semde (rdzogs chen sems sde), the root tantras of the Maha, Anu, and Atiyoga traditions; as well as the Eight Commands (bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ’dus pa), the United Intent (dgongs ’dus) and the Vajrakīlaya (phur ba). He also trained in the later Nyingtik cycles such as the Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig), with which his incarnation lineage is so closely associated.

Jigme Tenpai Nyima received instruction in both Nyingma and Sarma teachings, and while he is credited with harboring no ill will towards the Sarma, he evidently held the Nyingma view to be superior. He composed his first work, a commentary on the Guhyagarbha Māyājāla tantra titled The Celebration of Elegant (Lekshe Gaton; legs bshad dga’ ston) when he was twenty-one; later in life he decided that it was too heavily influenced by Sarma views, and he composed a second, The Key to the Treasure Trove (Dzodkyi Demig; mdzod kyi lde mig).

According to Tulku Thondup, the inspiration for the second commentary was sparked by a parting gift from Ju Mipam as he went into retreat at Rongme Karmo Tagtsang (rong me dkar mo stag tshang) – a verse instruction on philosophical points. Contained in it was the line “At thirty-five the obstructions will be cleared and you will uphold your own lineal tradition.” At the age of thirty-five Jigme Tenpai Nyima restudied the Eight Commands and realized that his view was in error. Correcting his view, he then wrote his second commentary on the Guhyagarbha.

With the patronage of the local Golok chieftain, Pema Bum (padma ’bum), Jigme Tenpai Nyima expanded his previous incarnation’s monastic establishment, Tsangchen Ngodrub Pelbar Ling (gtsang chen dngos grub dpal ’bar gling). Most of the monks were refugees from Yarlung Pemako in Serta, the monastery founded by his previous; the monks apparently had fled Golok during the expansion of Gonpo Namgyel. He rebuilt the main temple and a large stupa some time in the 1880s.

At Tsangchen Ngodrub Pelbar Ling, popularly known as Dodrubchen monastery, Jigme Tenpai Nyima served as a tireless teacher. He taught the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra one hundred times, and the Guhyagarbha over forty times. Unfortunately his health failed and he retired to a hermitage some two miles from the monastery, on the mountain called Dzime Tralep (rdzi med kra leb), at the site of an old temple dedicated to Tangton Gyelpo (thang ston rgyal po).

At the hermitage Jigme Tenpai Nyima largely restricted his teachings to his primary disciples and collaborators: Terton Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, Dorje Drak Rigdzin Chenpo (rdo rje brag rig ‘dzin chen po), the Third Katok Situ, Chokyi Gyatso (kaH thog si tu chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880-c.1923) Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyang mkhyen brtse chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959), Tsultrim Zangpo (tshul khrims bzang po, d.u.), and Dartang Choktrul Jigme Chokyi Dawa (dar thang mchog sprul 'jigs med chos kyi zla ba, 1894-1958), among others. Remaining in strict seclusion, Jigme Tenpai Nyima nevertheless gave annual empowerments to select disciples who dedicated themselves to completing their samaya.

Jigme Tenpai Nyima aided Terton Sogyal Lerab Lingpa in decoding several of the latter’s treasure revelations, but was not himself a treasure revealer. Although he insisted on strict observance monastic vows at Dodrubchen monastery, he himself never took anything but the initial novice vow.

He composed five volumes of writings. These include Memories of a Bodhisattva (byang chub sems dpa’i bzung), a particularly original work that is highly praised in multiple sectarian communities; the two commentaries on the Guhyagarbha tantra mentioned above; The Commentary on Hidden Treasures (gter gyi rnam bshad); and Bringing Happiness and Suffering onto the Path (skyid sdug lam khyer).

Three people were recognized as the reincarnations of Jigme Tenpai Nyima. One was Rigdzin Jalu Dorje (rig 'dzin 'ja' lus rdo rje, 1927-1961). Another was Yarlung Tenpai Nyima (yar lung bstan pa'i nyi ma). The third was Tubten Trinle Pelzangpo (thub bstan 'phrin las dpal bzang po, b. 1927). The reincarnation of Jalu Dorje, recognized as the Fifth Dodrubchen, is Tubten Longyang Rigdzin Gyatso (rdo grub chen 05 thub bstan klong yangs rig 'dzin rgya mtsho).




Tulku Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.

Nyoshul Khenpo. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Translated by Richard Barron. Junction City, California: Padma Publication, 2005.

Collected Miscellaneous Writings of the Successive Embodiments of the Rdo Grub chen. 1977. Gangtok: Lama Dodrup Sangyay. (pp. 403-419)

Rdo grub chen thub bstan phrin las bzang po. 1985. Rdo grub chen ’jigs med phrin las ’od zer gyi ’khrungs rabs rnam thar. Gangtok, Sikkim: Pema Thinley (21-36).



Ron Garry and Jakob Leschly
August 2007