Pelden Tashi

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Pelden Tashi b.1688 - d.1743

Name Variants: Alak Gyelwo; Alak Gyelwo 01 Pelden Tashi; Chucha Rigdzin Pelden Tashi; Rigdzin Pelden Tashi

Pelden Tashi (dpal ldan bkra shis) was born in 1688 in the village of Gyelwo Chucha (rgyal bo chu ca), Rebkong. His father was Tseten Gonpo (tshe brtan mgon po), who was later known as Ngakpa Chobum (sngags pa chos 'bum). His mother was Gyasa Pakmotar (rgya bza' phag mo thar). He had seven brothers and three sisters. Locals know him as Alak Gyelwo (a lags rgyal bo), after the name of his native village.

Pelden Tashi started reading and writing at the age of five, and by the age of nine, he had developed a strong interest in reading religious texts. At the age of eleven he learned to paint. He was ordained as a monk when he was thirteen years old. Until the age of seventeen, he studied with his uncle, thereafter receiving empowerments and transmissions from Dorje Lobpon Manipa (rdo rje slob dpon ma nib a) at Rongwo monastery (rong bo thos bsam chos 'khor gling), the main Geluk monastery of Rebkong. Pelden Tashi was a follower of the Nyingma tradition, but it was quite common for many of his background to first receive training in the Geluk tradition. Thus, from the age of twenty three to twenty five, he studied at the philosophy college (mtshan nyid grwa tshang) in Rongwo monastery.

At the age of twenty-five Pelden Tashi travelled to U-Tsang. Legend has it that while en route the weather turned bad, and, in order to prevent flooding, he divided the Drichu River into two parts, and because of his miraculous intervention the locals' faith in him grew. After visiting Reting (rwa sgreng) and Taklung monastery (stag lung dgon pa), he made his way to Ganden (dga' ldan) monastery, where some monks unsuccessfully begged him to stay. He then stayed for four years at Tashi Gomang of Drepung monastery ('bras spungs bkra shis sgo mang). There he received the empowerment and transmission of Dorje Khyungtra (rdo rje khyung khra) from Ponlop Choki Lodro (dpon slob chos kyi blo gros, 1688-1742). Having come down with smallpox while there, he consulted the nearby Nechung (gnas chung) and Gadong (dga' gdong) oracles. They advised him to follow the Dzogchen instructions of Zurchen Tulku (zur chen sprul sku).

Because of Pelden Tashi's embrace of the Nyingma tradition, he experienced some discrimination from the abbot and the disciplinarian at Tashi Gomang. That same year, in 1717, the Dzungar Mongols invaded Tibet, and they unleashed a horrifying persecution of many Nyingma communities. Rigdzin Pelden Tashi escaped to Kham and remained at Kham Sinmo Dzong (khams srin mo rdzong) in Riwoche, the seat of Terton Nyima Drakpa (gter ston nyi ma grags pa, 1647-1710). After spending some time in retreat, he returned to U and had an audience with the seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso (bskal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757). He also studied in Mindroling (smin grol gling), Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag) and Nagsho Drongna Gon (nag shod 'brong sna dgon).

At the age of thirty-eight, Pelden Tashi returned to his native place in Rebkong and gave his first teaching to seven tantric practitioners at Belgi Khargong Lakha ('bal gyi mkhar gong la kha), said to have been the meditation place of the Bodhisattva of Bol ('bol gyi byang chub sems pa) and one of the eight holy sites in Rebkong as prophesied by Padmasambhava. The following years, he travelled widely around Rebkong and other places to give empowerments and transmissions to celibate and non-celibate tantric practitioners. It is said that through his efforts, the Nyingma tradition spread across the region.

Rigdzin Rapel Ling (rig 'dzin rab 'phel gling), the monastery in his native village, gradually became his monastic seat. There he summoned all the tantric practitioners from Rebkong and gave them many transmissions and empowerments, among others a revelation of Nyangrel Nyima Ozer's (nyang ral nyi ma 'od zer, 1136-1204), the Kabgye Desheg Dupa (bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa). He then established in each tantric practitioners village four dharma sessions a year, re-introduced the tenth-day ritual dedicated to Padmasambhava, and amended the rules and regulations of the tantric practitioners. Because of such efforts and dedication, Rigdzin Pelden Tashi is regarded as the founder of the Rebkong tantric practitioner community. His legacies are the prayer sessions such as the Ganacakra Feast Offering for the Ḍākinīs (mkha 'gro tshogs skor) and The Eight Sadhana Teachings Deities (bka' brgyad sgrub chen), which are still performed by tantric practitioners throughout the Rebkong area.

Two main lineages or branches divide the Rebkong tantric practitioners community –  the three seats on the “shaded” side (srib kyi gdan sa gsum), who follow the tradition of Mindroling, and the three monasteries on the “sun-lit” side (nyin gyi dgon pa gsum), who emphasise the teachings of Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig). Rigdzin Raphel Ling is one of the main monasteries of the tantric community of the shaded side.

Like many tantric masters of his time, Rigdzin Pelden Tashi received an ecumenical training. Among his teachers were Geluk, Nyingma, and Kagyu masters such as Sherab Tashi (shes rab bkra shis, 1647-1716) from Rongwo monastery; Pema Gyurme Gyatso (pad ma 'gyur med rgya mtsho, 1686-1718) and Gyelse Yizhin Lekdrub (rgyal sras yid bzhin legs grub, 1679-1718), the two sons of Terdag Lingpa (gter mdag gling pa, 1646-1714); Lobzang Pema Trinle (blo bzang pad ma 'phrin las, 1641-1717) of Dorje Drak; Ponlop Choki Lodro from Drepung monastery, Pema Tekchog Tenpa Gyeltsen (pad ma theg mchog bstan pa rgyal mtshan, 1712-1771), the Geluk scholar Lobzang Nyendrak (blo bzang snyan grags, d.u.), Geshe Jampel Gyatso (dge bshes 'jam dpal rgya mtsho, 1672-1706), Khargong Sanggye Gyatso (mkhar gong sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) and Rinchen Orgyen Tendzin Drakpa (rin chen o rgyan bstan 'dzin grags pa, d.u.).

Rigdzin Pelden Tashi died at the age of fifty-five, in the year 1743. It is said that when he died, his adversaries (ie. some Geluk monks and scholars) proclaimed a ban to look for his reincarnation and his followers were prohibited from printing his teachings. However, his lineage continued with Lobzang Tsultrim Namgyel (blo bzang tshul khrims, d. 1784) who was identified as the second Alak Gyelwo.

Incarnation line of the Alak Gyelwo

Lobzang Tsultrim Namgyel (blo bzang tshul khrims, d. 1784)
Dzogchen Choying Topden Dorje (rdzogs chen chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje, 1785-1848)
Ngakchang Dorje Namgyel (sngags chang rdo rje rnam rgyal, d. 1908)
Drime Lodro (dri med blo gros, 1909-1933)




Lce nag tsang hum chen & Ye shes 'od zer sgrol ma, eds. 2004. “Rig 'dzin rab 'phel gling”. In Reb kong sngangs mang gi lo rgyus phyogs bsgrigs, p. 26-34. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Hum chen & Nyi zla, eds. 2002. Rig 'dzin chen po dpal ldan bkra shis kyi gsung rstom phyogs bsgrigs. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Dondrub, Yangdon. Forthcoming. “From Hermit to Saint: The Life of Nyang snang mdzad rdo rje (1798-1874)”. In Ancient Treasures, New Discoveries. PIATS 2006: Tibetan Studies. Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Bonn, 2006. eds. H. Diemberger and K. Phuntsho. Leiden: Brill.


Yangdon Dondrub
April 2010