Ra Lotsāwa Dorje Drakpa

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Ra Lotsāwa Dorje Drakpa b.1016 - d.1128?

Name Variants: Dorje Drak; Ralo Dorje Drakpa

Ra Lotsāwa Dorje Drak (rwa lo tsA ba rdo rje grags) was born in 1016, in Nyenam, in a place called Nangyul (snye nam / gnya' nang snang yul), on one of the most important Nepali-Tibetan trade routes. His father was Raton Konchok Dorje (rwa ston dkon mchog rdo rje) and his mother was Dorje Peldzom (rdo rje dpal 'dzom). His father was a lineage holder of the Nyingma tradition Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakīla, and he passed these on to his son. According to tradition, soon after birth the goddess Remati took him into her robe and traveled across Tibet for two months.

At the age of fourteen Ralo made his first trip to Kathmandu, arriving in Patan during a period of some political social instability, but great cultural fluorescence. Despite the considerable details of his sojourn there given in the (probably) thirteenth-century hagiography, recent scholarship has shown that little of the information given can be trusted, from the name of the monastery in which he resided to the circumstances of his ordination, where he was given the name Dorje Drak.

Ra Lotsāwa attended the Fire Dragon Religious Conference (me 'brug chos 'khor) that convened in 1076 under the sponsorship of King Tsede (mnga ' bdad rtse lde, d.u.), the nephew of the famous King Jangchub O (byang chub 'od, d.u.) of the Guge (gu ge) kingdom in western Tibet. This meeting of many of the the most important teachers or the era, both Tibetan and Indian, was dedicated to encouraging new and more accurate translation work. Following the meeting he went to Kashmir, accompanied by five other young Tibetans, including Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab (rngog blo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109). Another young man who went with him to India was Nyen Lotsāwa Darma Drak (gnyan lo tsA ba dar ma grags).

Ralo is said to have trained under a master named Bharo, a title given to newly influential members of the merchant class. The Blue Annals gives the teachers name as Bharo Chakdum (bha ro phyag rdum). Bharo was a specialist in the Vajravārahī and Vajrabhairava ritual systems, the transmission of which Ralo received during this first visit. According to the hagiography, during this first trip he already displayed his penchant for magical combat, engaging with a Shaivite teacher whose doctrine he insulted, driving the Shaivite to suicide. In addition he trained with a Mahakaruna, a master in Naropa's lineage of disciples. From him he received a number of tantric initiations, including the Cakrasaṃvara and the Namasamgiti.

Returning to Tibet, Ralo quickly became enmeshed in clan feuds over property and marriage arrangements, and he used his new magical abilities to do battle with his enemies. Many of his enemies were translators and lamas propagating in competing tantric systems, and Ralo infamously engaged them in combat. Khon Skyakya Lodro ('khon shakya blo gros, d.u.), a member of the Khon family that would later initiate the Sakya tradition and a holder of the same Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakila lineages, saw in Ralo a serious rival to his influence and survival as a sought-after teacher. He accused Ralo of propagating a non-Buddhist teaching, one that would lead all Tibetans to Hell. According to the hagiography Ralo slew Shakya Lodro with the killing rite of Vajrabhairava, and witnesses saw Vajrabharava in the sky carrying the 58-deity maṇḍala of Yandak Heruka as a sign of the Vajrabhairava's superiority. Shakya Lodro's disciples and feudal subjects then became disciples of Ralo.

Later a similar contest arose between him and Langlab Jangchub Dorje (lang lab byang chub rdo rje, d.u.), another important Vajrakila master. Ralo had gone to pay his respects to the venerable teacher, but Langlap, like Shakya Lodro, dismissed Ralo as a purveyor of non-Buddhist magic. In the ensuing contest, however, Ralo was defeated, his disciples slain by Langlab's superior magic. According to the hagiography Ralo then experienced a vision of Tara, who sent him to Nepal for further instructions from Bharo and other Nepali masters. Upon his return to Tibet he once again engaged Langlap, this time emerging victorious and slaying the Nyingma lama.

It was during the second trip south than Ralo is said to have gone to India and ordained at Nalanda.

Ralo claimed to have murdered thirteen lamas. Among them were translator Gyu Monlam Drakpa (rgyus smon lam grags pa, d.u.), the translator of the Cakrasaṃvara Samvarodaya Tantra, Go Lotsāwa Khukpa Letse ('gos lo tsA ba khug pa lhas brtses, d.u.), the translator of the Guhyasamāja, and Marpa Chokyi Lodro's (mar pa chos kyi blo 'gros) son Darma Dode (dar ma mdo sde).

Go Lotsāwa had questioned the legitimacy of Ralo's teachers, and is said to have engaged in black magic against Ralo, rites drawn from the Guhyasamāja. The conflict drew in hundreds of villages, and some when residents marched against Ralo and accused him of harming them, he conquered them with his magic, leaving them vomiting blood, and Go Lotsāwa lost his life.

In addition to challenging rivals to competing tantric systems, Ralo spent his wealth renovating temples in southern Tsang and Lhato, including Samye, Tibet's first monastery, which had been damaged by fire in 986. He also sponsored translations, the copying and recitations of scripture, and the installation of statues.




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Alexander Gardner
December 2009