Tropu Lotsāwa Jampa Pel

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Tropu Lotsāwa Jampa Pel b.1172? - d.1236?

Name Variants: Jampa Pel; Nub Jampa Pel

Tropu Lotsāwa Jampa Pel (khro phu lo tsA ba byams pa dpal) was born in 1172, in Lower Shab Valley (shab smad) in Tsang Province. His father was Jopen (jo phan), and his mother Segmo Salje (bsregs mo gsal byed).

He learned to read and at age eight he went to stay with his illustrious uncle Gyeltsa Rinchen Gon (rgyal tsa rin chen mgon, ). He soon received novice vows and the name Tsultrim Sherab (tshul khrims shes rab) under Gyeltsa and his cousin (or, in some sources, uncle) Kunden Repa (kun ldan ras pa, ). As a teenager he traveled to various centers of learning in Tsang, including Sakya Monastery. The subjects included logic and Madhyamaka, but perhaps most significant for his future career was his study of Sanskrit under Shang Gewa (zhang dge ba). When he received full monk ordination at age nineteen, it was again under his two relatives. From then on he was known by the name Jampa Pel (byams pa dpal), “Glory of Maitreya.”

When Gyeltsa was on his deathbed, he predicted his nephew's future, "Like a brass horn, your good fortune will widen at the end." After attending to the funeral arrangements he went to Nepal where he studied both sutras and tantras under a great paṇḍita named Buddhaśrī, who was born in Bhaktapur of Indian parentage.

When Jampa Pel returned home a few years later he brought with him the Indian tantra practitioner Mitrayogin, whose teachings had a great impact on Tibetan Buddhism, even if he only stayed for a year and a half. After accompanying Mitrayogin back to Nepal, Jampa Pel invited Buddhaśrī to visit in 1200. He translated for Buddhaśrī for two years in various parts of U-Tsang. Then, in 1204, he traveled with several students by way of the Chumbi Valley to a trade market in Assam to invite Śākyaśrībhadra, who was seventy-eight years old at the time, and staying in Jagaddala Monastery. During Ṥākyaśrī's decade-long stay in Tibet, Jampa Pel acted as his translator, earning him the title of Tropu Lotsāwa.

Previously, when he was twenty-four, studying with Buddhaśrī in Nepal, he had a cloth painting of Maitreya made, and Buddhaśrī predicted that he would succeed in his dream to build an eighty-cubit-high image of the future Buddha. Sketches were made and plans drawn up when he was twenty-nine, and the building began two years later. The giant Maitreya made of gilded copper was completed and the final consecrations done when he was forty-one.

According to legend, when Śākyaśrībhadra performed the consecration, he said, “I myself am entirely incapable of performing the royal honors of consecration. Reverend Maitreya of Tuṣita, you see and know this, so I ask you to do it.” There were melodies and perfumed scents that seemed to come out of nowhere, and showers of flowers drifted down from the clear sky. A huge ball of light was seen to dissolve into the image, which inspired Tropu Lotsāwa to compose a hymn in praise of Maitreya. He translated it into Sanskrit for the sake of Śākyaśrībhadra, who told him, “This comes from the blessing of Maitreya, so you must not feel any pride of authorship.”

After Śākyaśrībhadra returned to India Jampa Pel went to Drigung Til ('bri gung mthil) to study with Jikten Gonpo Rinchen Pel ('jig rten mgon po rin chen dpal, 1143-1217). Jikten Gonpo is said to have transmitted the complete works of Marpa Chokyi Lodro (mar pa chos kyi blo gros, 1012-1097), Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1040-1123), and Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, 1079-1153), as well as his own teachings.

The greater part of the considerable sum needed to finance this stupendous construction project came from the offerings given to the visiting Indian pundits, who left Tibet with little more than what they had brought with them. Unfortunately it is said that this devotional and artistic monument, like so many others, was destroyed during the Dzungar Mongol invasion of 1717, perhaps in 1718. Today it is possible to visit the temple in Shab Valley, although it lies in ruins.

The original inspiration for the giant Maitreya is found in a text that Tropu Lotsāwa translated, composed by the Indian Nairitipa, and still preserved in the Tengyur. Although sadly gone, the Tropu Maitreya inspired several other giant Maitreya statues in temples throughout the Tibetan plateau, including the one in Tashilhunpo Monastery built by the Gendun Drub, the First Dalai Lama in 1463, which stood twenty-five cubits high. This Tashilhunpo image was replaced during the period of World War I by a twenty-six-cubit gilded Maitreya, said to be the highest gilded statue in existence in the world. If we were to roughly estimate the Tibetan cubit at one half of a meter, we could calculate the height of the Tropu Maitreya at forty meters, or about one hundred thirty feet. One source says that a sixteen-storey building was built to house it.

After Tropu Lotsāwa's death in 1236, he was succeeded in the Tropu Kagyu lineage by several illustrious figures including Tropu Sempa Chenpo (khro phu sems dpa' chen po, d.u.) who is said to be his physical son, although born only after his death. There were also Chegompa (lce sgom pa), the woman teacher Machik Rema (ma gcig re ma) and many others. The most famous by far of the later followers of the Tropu Kagyu was Buton Rinchen Drub (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290-1364), who originally stayed at the temple in Tropu before moving to Zhalu Monastery. By Buton's time, the Tropu lineage, already influenced by Sakya and Lamdre in its founding years, underwent still stronger influence from the nearby Sakya Monastery. In any case, it was through the broad learning and lasting influence of Buton that numerous practice lineages of the Tropu Kagyu entered into other schools, including the Sakya, and later on the Geluk.




Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 708-11, 1063-71.

Tshe dbang rgyal. 1994. Lho rong chos 'byung. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, pp. 331-5.

Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J. 1995. "Two Biographies of Sakyasribhadra, The Eulogy of Khro phu Lo-tsa-ba and its "Commentary" by bSod-nams-dpal-bzang-po: Texts and Variants from Two Rare Exemplars Preserved in the Bihar Research Society, Patna, a Review Article." Journal of the American Oriental Society.


Dan Martin
August 2008