According to Buddhist belief, many spiritually evolved beings appear regularly in the world. These highly realized beings take rebirth selflessly with the definite objective of serving humanity through compassion and generous deeds. In Tibetan culture, these extraordinary beings are known as Tulkus. A fine illustration of their activities is recounted here in the manifestation of the twelve unbroken successions of the glorious line known as Zurmang Gharwang.
In Tibet the life stories of eminent lamas are frequently told and read with much enthusiasm, it is as though one is receiving initiation from the exalted masters themselves. They are believed to be excellent stimuli for prompting inner awakening, and serve as unfailing inspiration for the development of limitless good qualities.
The wondrous incarnations of Zurmang Gharwang are translated and compiled based on centuries old records still existing today in the Zurmang Complex of Monasteries in Qinghai.
It is hoped that through the reading of these remarkable deeds, one may experience an inexhaustible wealth of peace and happiness, and find encouragement to transverse the various paths and stages leading rapidly to supreme realization.
Experience as such, was said to be immeasurable, inconceivable and inexpressible except through the vigorous practice of Bodhichitta and guru-devotion, which is transmitted only from ear-to-ear, and heart-to-heart!
The earliest manifestation of the glorious Lord of Refuge known as Zurmang Gharwang can be traced as far back as the 14th century, to the time of the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, Deshing Shegpa (1384-1425).
The First Gharwang was born as Trung Mase, the son of a learned sage of the renowned Mase family in Minyak, eastern Kham.
Remarkable portents accompanied his birth the entire region was curiously illuminated by a celestial light, the skies were filled with rainbows, and fragrance permeated the air. Even at a very young age, Trung Mase displayed the characteristics of a spiritually advanced person. In due course, he severed all worldly concern in preference of a spiritual path.
Among his first teachers was the acclaimed Michok Kunchog Dorje, belonging to an ancient lineage called Chizchen. From him, Trung Mase received many Kagyudpa and Nyingmapa teachings, including the Six Yogas of Naropa, and Khandro Nying-Thig (The Innermost Essence of the Dakinis). He became so accomplished in these meditations that numerous omens occurred confirming his attainment.
Further quest for the liberating teaching brought Trung Mase to Tsurphu, near Lhasa, the Seat of the Glorious Karmapa. He arrived whilst the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa was giving teaching to the lay community.
In his innate wisdom, Trung Mase perceived Karmapa to be the sacred embodiment of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, riding on a snow lion. As the day progressed, in the course of empowerment, he saw His Holiness assuming the form of Dorje Phagmo. He felt so blissful that he was totally immersed in Samadhi, free from all thoughts.
As he approached the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa for blessings, His Holiness instantly recalled the ancient prophecy of the great Indian Guru Mahasiddha Tilopa which concerned a pledge to return after the teachings he received directly from the Celestial Buddha Vajradhara had been transmitted through thirteen successive lineage holders.
These teachings formed the core of the Whispering Lineage. Among them, the Ocean of Samvara, the Ocean of Vajra, the Ocean of Heruka, the Ocean of the Dakinis, the Ocean of Action and the Ocean of Activities, as well as the Tantra of Jyorwa Yeshi Khagyor, the Tantra of Heruka Bhadra, the Tantra of Nyingpo, the Tantra of the Vajra Dakinis, the Tantras of Dechok Dorje Trengwa, the Tantra of Dakini Sangwai Zo, and the Tantra of Vajradhara Self-Appearance.
His Holiness recognized immediately that the young Trung Mase was the omniscient emanation of the glorious Tilopa, and concurred that he was destined to become the unequivocal holder of the incomparable Zurmang Kagyud Lineage and a successful disseminator of Buddha Dharma.
His Holiness personally ordained the young bikksu, bestowing upon him the name of Mas Lodroe Rinchen Pal, which means “The Precious Jewel of Wisdom”, as if in anticipation of his future grandeur.
Thereafter, Lodroe Richen Pal remained at the feet of his root lama in Tsuphu, and received from him many empowerments, textural transmissions and important Kagyud doctrines including the supreme teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Mahamudra philosophy of Tilopa, and the oral instructions of the Secret Mantra. He also received in its entirety, the complete oral instructions of the Zurmang Kagyud tradition.
For ten long years, Trung Mase engaged himself in strict retreat, often under conditions of the utmost austerity. Consequently, he emerged as the most spiritually evolved student of the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa. His learning and insight was said to be so extraordinary that he became widely known as Dubchen Mase. The word Dubchen in Tibetan means “Great Saint”, and is the equivalent of Mahasiddha in Sanskrit.
Later, at the command of the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, Dubchen Mase proceeded to Kham in order to benefit the beings there. He was told explicitly to establish a monastery on a particular site on which two great rivers converge before flowing steadily downhill, where the terrain resembled a red horse that was split open. In accordance with a prediction of Dorje Narjolma, this was the precise location of Cakrasambhavaâ€™s Speech Abode, and is auspiciously blessed by the deity to ensure the complete success of religious practice.
Holding these instructions dear to his heart, Dubchen Mase travelled the length and breadth of Tibet, in search of a corresponding site. By and by, he arrived at a beautiful valley in Yoshung, and felt instinctively that this was the place foretold by his teacher.
Seeking for an auspicious confirmation, he walked around the village with his alms bowl, reciting the Arya Manjushri Namosamgita (The Song In Praise of The Holy Manjushri). When he got to the part which says, “chokyi gyaltshen legpa dzug” which literally means, “Fly high the victorious banner of Buddha Dharma”, a woman came out of her house and offered food in his bowl. He perceived this apparent goodwill to be an excellent sign and portent for the future, and decided to build a retreat centre there.
Prior to its construction, Dubchen Mae performed many pujas and made vast Torma offerings to appease the protecting deities of the region. From the four directions, springs of water sprouted instantaneously from the ground. Many mundane and wisdom deities miraculously appeared, making immense offerings to Dubchen Mase, pledging unflagging support to fulfil his aspirations.
On one occasion, when Dubchen Mase inquired as to where his attendant had disposed of the torma, the reply was that of “a place with many corners”-that was how Zurmang Monastery derived its name. Zurmang literally means “Many Corners”.
At age forty-three, when he was nearing the end of his activities, Dubchen Mase predicted that he would gain enlightenment in the Pureland of Bon Nyen Dang where the air is filled with wondrous fragrance.
Thereafter, he miraculously dissolved into light, leaving only his hair and fingernails to mark his passing. He was thus known as mkhaâ€™spyod-pa, the Heaven-Gone One.
The Second Zurmang Gharwang
The second Zurmang Gharwang incarnate was known as Trung Choden Pal. He was the grandson of Trung Mase, born eight years after the demise of the First Gharwang.
He received strenuous religious training from the distinguished yogi disciples of the First Gharwang Tulku, many of whom had attained siddhis. He was initiated into the sacred Cakrasamvara Dance by Tartse Junmo, the dakini consort of the late Trung Mase. Until this day, the practice of the Cakrasamvara Dance is still an important tradition of Zurmang.
As the spiritual community grew by leaps and bounds, the Second Gharwang Tulku endeavored to fulfill the aspirations of his followers by building many more retreat huts on the hillsides. He also initiated the construction of a large assembly hall known as Trungsema where the sangha could congregate to do their practice.
When the Sixth Gyalwa Karmapa Tongwa Donden visited Zurmang to consecrate the Dechentse Retreat Center, he was so delighted with the excellent progress that he imparted innumerable important teachings of the Karma Kamtsang Tradition to the Second Gharwang.
During the major part of his life, spanning a total of twenty years, the Second Gharwang incarnate spent long periods in meditation. He was known to be a most vigorous practitioner. It was with a steely determination that he declared, “May the mountains be my witness, until there is fruition to my practice, I will not venture beyond them”.
As he was known to have observed his precepts purely, by the profound power of his stainless morality, the gods were so delighted in seeing his glorious silhouette on the desolate mountains that they brought him nectar for his sustenance, thus he had no need for the food of common man.
As an illustration of his mastery over the practice of Tummo, he once went to the top of a snowy mountain clad only in a thin cotton robe, and meditated continuously for three days in the freezing cold of winter.
The Second Gharwang was also a consummate scholar and brilliant philosopher. Untiringly, he compiled the entire teachings of Trung Mase into a single volume, and composed many practical guides to advanced texts. He was considered the foremost spiritual master of the time, and people came from far and wide to hear him teach, as well as to receive blessings from him.
The Third Zurmang Gharwang
The Third incarnate tulku on the golden rosary of the Zurmang Kagyud Tradition was known as Gyatso Pedma Lodroe. His main teacher was the Seventh Gyalwa Karmapa, Chos Trag Gyamtso, and the Second Gyaltsab Tulku, Tashi Namgyal.
He was a brilliant scholar and practitioner. He studied and practiced to perfection the various treaties of the Sustras and Tantras; in particular, the yidam practice of Jyorwa Shi Khagyor and Drolsungma. He was so adept in his meditation, that he was able to have a clear vision of his Tutelary deities.
The Third Gharwang incarnation was also known to be an excellent artist and fine sculptor. In his life time, he crafted many wonderful Buddha images in the Zurmang Complex of Monasteries; including the legendary golden statue of Dorje Chang that allegedly gave teaching.
He was also largely responsible for the majority of frescoes and tangkas existing in Zurmang at the time. Unfortunately, a great many of these treasures were lost or destroyed over the long, turbulent years.
The Fourth Zurmang Gharwang
The name of the Fourth Zurmang Gharwang Tulku was Karma Gyaltshen Lodroe Namgyal. He was born in Kongpo amidst many auspicious omens, and was in complete accordance to the unerring vision of Kunchog Lama, who was a learned disciple of the Karmapa.
The Fourth Zurmang Gharwang incarnate was a person of tremendous spiritual attainment. As a young child, he often spoke articulately of his previous lives. With uncanny clarity, he recounted his days in India as the Incomparable Tilopa; and prior to that, to an earlier time when he was a disciple of the Buddha known as Richen Choedak Chang.
It was during this period of time that young Karmapa (The Eighth Gyalwa Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, aged eight) visited Zurmang, and experienced a series of visions revealing to him unreservedly the many details of his previous incarnations.
The Fourth Gharwang was an accomplished practitioner. When he engaged himself in the Zurmang Nyengyud practice, he received tremendous lineage blessings, and innate wisdom spontaneously appeared. Because of his deep realisation, he became a principal teacher of the Mahamudra Lineage, especially adept in the profound teaching of the Six Yogas of Naropa.
Extolling his superior spiritual qualities, the Chinese emperor bestowed upon him the honorary title of Khentin, which in brief means, “Indisputably, a great master”.
The Fourth Gharwang Tulku entered mahaparanirvana at a relatively young age of twenty-nine. At the time of his passing, his close disciples saw their esteemed master flying high above them in the sky, heading in the direction of the Western Pureland; then miraculously reappearing again to give teachings appropriate to the occasion. Many other auspicious signs also manifested marking the demise of a Mahasattva.
The Fifth Zurmang Gharwang
The Fifth successive incarnation of the Zurmang Gharwang Tulku was known as Karma Tenchog Lodroe Nyingma. His main teachers were the Gyalwa Karmapa and the excellent Sharmapa.
The Fifth Gharwang Tulku was a prolific scholar. In this fruitful incarnation, he composed six volumes of the treasured text known as the Trungon Kunga Namgyal, which contains a full explanation of the extensive Zurmang Nyengyud practices. He taught widely and attracted many new disciples through the power of his profound teachings.
Besides, his spiritual and artistic brilliance, the Fifth Gharwang incarnate was known to be a budding architect. The combination of his personal fame and the success of his predecessors resulted in a large sangha and a pressing need for rapid expansion. The Fifth Gharwang embarked on a massive building program which transformed Zurmang into a magnificent complex of monasteries with an enviable reputation for being a fine centre for studies and practices.
Similarly, he received the honorific title of Khentin from the Chinese emperor. He passed away at the age of sixty.
The Sixth Zurmang Gharwang
The life of the Sixth Zurmang Gharwang Tulku, Rinchen Nyingpo, was one of the most enchanting incarnations. Through numerous, ingenious displays of innate ability, he amply manifested the signs of having completely mastered all relative and ultimate aspects of phenomena, which are beyond the scope of ordinary man.
The birth of the Sixth Gharwang incarnate was prophesised by a Terton of the time, who claimed that “one would come with the name Nyingpo, and he would be a great being that firmly established many fellow beings on to the path of liberation.”
Even before his birth, the young tulku could be heard reciting prayers inside his mother’s womb. When he was barely three months old, he was seen climbing with unbelievable agility to the roof top, much to the alarm of his family. Fearing for his safety, his uncle hastily restrained him from proceeding further. As a result, the auspicious interdependent link of events was considered broken, and he was not recognized as the Gharwang incarnate until he was much older, at the age of twelve.
There existed at the time, a minor controversy regarding the identity of the genuine Gharwang incarnate. There was then, a widespread belief that a young nephew of the previous tulku was the rightful successor. However, the legitimate heir to the Lion Throne soon demonstrated his superiority through a spectacular display of his inconceivable power.
As a young child, he was able to shrink a metal spoon by folding it up three times. He often hung his clothes on the ray of a sunbeam, and ordered numerous chores to be done by his Protector who remained invisible to the naked eye. He was even able to perform the entire sequence of the traditional Zurmang Cakrasamvara Dance without it being taught to him. Moreover, he often disclosed intimate details of his past lives that were known only to his closest disciples.
In this most extraordinary incarnation, the Sixth Gharwang Tulku performed over a hundred million Amitayus and Chenrezig puja. He also collected an entire Kangyur totalling a hundred and four volumes, written completely on gold and silver leaf.
By this time, Zurmang had grown into a vast complex of monasteries comprising a Sherda (Buddhist Institute for Higher Studies), thirteen meditation centres and an affiliated nunnery catering exclusively to the female sangha. The main monastery at Namgyal-tse was home to five incarnate tulkus, and some two thousand lamas and monks. It was counted among the largest monastic institutions in all of Tibet, and commanded considerable respect as an excellent place of learning and practice, far exceeding many other religious establishment.
Unfortunately during this time, religious sectarian disputes had plunged Tibet into turmoil. In the midst of widespread and indiscriminate destruction of monasteries across the country, Zurmang was attacked by the zealous folowers of Gusri, the Khan of the Oirat Mongols. The Sixth Gharwang was captured. He was heavily chained and handcuffed. Despite this indignity, he repeated astounded his captors by melting the wrought iron cuffs.
Witnessing this remarkable feat, the Mongolians quickly realized they were in the presence of a highly spiritual being and were filled with remorse. They prostrated before him in humble devotion and hastened to release him. As a mark of repentance, the Mongolian ruler bestowed upon him the title of Peihutuktu, granting him the use of a personal seal, ceremonious hat and robe to mark the extension of his authority over the entire province.
At the age of sixty five, the Sixth Zurmang Gharwang dissolved into dharmakaya amidst great lamentation. Concluding a truly magical life, his heart, tongue and eyes leapt out simultaneously from the funeral pyre at the time of his cremation. Many rinsels were recovered from the ashes, and seed syllables were visible o his skull cap. For days, the sky was filled with rainbows, and showers of fragrant flowers rained down from heaven.
The Seventh Zurmang Gharwang
The Seventh in the long, illustrious line of Zurmang Gharwang was known as Choschung Namgyal. Throughout the entire period of her pregnancy, the mother-to-be heard the incessant echoes of a conch hailing the imminent arrival of a great being. In the Tibetan tradition, the sound of a conch also symbolizes the flourishing of dharma, and the manifestations of myriad Buddha activities.
Many auspicious omens were present at his birth. Much to the astonishment of his mother, the remarkable child was born with his hands in mudra; as if he was supplicating the wisdom deities. No sooner had he emerged from his mother’s womb, then the child sat in the Vajra position and spoke as eloquently as an adult; whilst thunderbolts roared in the sky.
An even more unusual event took place when the child was four years old. One day, while he was playing outdoors with his companions, they suddenly deserted him for no apparent reason. He stamped heavily on the ground to express his annoyance, and the imprint of his footstep was said to have remained embedded on the ground thereafter.
Coincidentally, His Holiness, the Gyalwa Karmapa was passing through the region; the anxious parents took the opportunity to consult His Holiness concerning the rather irregular behavior of their son. They were given many protective cords and in turn, told to redirect their inquiry to Chetsang Tulku who was temporarily in charge of Zurmang, in the absence of their Supreme Abbot.
A year later, when the child was presented to the two tulkus of Zurmang, namely the Venerable Chetsang and Lopon Dorje-with impeccable composure, the young Tulku summoned his servant to fetch a daimaru, and further astounded his visitors with a faultless performance of the entire Zurmang Cakrasamvara Dance. It was through this remarkable demonstration, he proved beyond all doubt that he was indeed, the omniscient incarnation of Zurmang Gharwang.
The Seventh Gharwang was only concerned with study, meditation, teaching, and upholding the tradition of the Oral Instruction Lineage of the Karmapas. His learning was so vast that he became one of the main teachers of the Tenth Gyalwa Karmapa.
It is interesting to note that since the day the First Gharwang became a disciple of the Fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, a boundless, auspicious connection had been forged between them. This strong intimate spiritual link spans the centuries, endearing the two successive incarnates to each other, utterly transcending time and space.
The Seventh Gharwang entered mahaparinirvana at the age of fifty three. At the time of his passing, countless rainbows hung over the sky of Zurmang. During the time of his cremation, the funeral pyre lit itself spontaneously, and many rinsels were recovered from the ashes.
The Eight, Nineth Tenth Zurmang Gharwang
The name of the Eight Gharwang incarnation was Karma Choschung Gyudme, Records from The Life Stories Of The Sixteen Incarnations of The Gyalwa Karmapa indicate that he was among the search party for the Twelfth Gyalwa Karmapa, which tends to confirm his unexcelled position as a major Kagyudpa tulku.
At the time of his birth, a rainbow appeared vertically, like a pillar standing erect in the sky. He was formally recognized by His Eminence Pawo Tulku, and took refuge with the Thirteen Gyalwa Karmapa. His principal teacher was the Tenth Sharmapa, Mipham Chosdrup Gyamtso.
However, the life and deeds of the glorious Eight Gharwang Tulku remain obscure, as monastic records marking this period of time were largely destroyed due to the rather unsettling conditions typical of our era.
For the same reason, little is known of the Ninth Gharwang incarnation beyond that he was Choschung Tarjee, and cross reference with the biographies of other imminent tulkus indicates that the Tenth Gharwang, Yondu Ningpo was one of the main teachers of the Second Jamgon Kongtrul.
The Eleventh Zurmang Gharwang
The Eleventh Zurmang Gharwang was born in Riwochi, into the prominent family of Samdong Chang. His father was Samdong Trukpa, a minister of the region; whilst his mother Yeshe Tsuldron was known to be an accomplished practitioner.
The identification of the Eleventh Gharwang incarnate was revealed by the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa when he was barely eight years old.
It was alleged that the Eleventh Zurmang Tengah Tulku approached the young Karmapa who until then, was playing merrily in the fresh outdoors, and asked reverentially for indications surround the brith of the new Gharwang incarnation. His Holiness stopped playing momentarily, and drew a detailed map on the ground leading to the successful discovery of the young Gharwang.
The main practice of the Eleventh Gharwang were the Four-Armed Manjushri, as well as the Protector Yamantaka. He was a close disciple of the Second Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and officiated at the funeral rites of the latter.
Throughout the years of 1956 and 1957, the Eleventh Gharwang felt instinctively that dramatic changes would soon take place in Tibetan society, he taught relentlessly, and gave empowerments widely in order to benefit the people.
As the situation deteriorated, he entrusted to his mother a Zambala statue which was said to be part of the exquuisite Terton treasure made exclusively by celestial hands. He instructed her in the devotional practice of Zambala, and pledged that the blessings of the deity would remain with her and keep her safe. Later, as he felt he could no longer fulfil his aspiration, he considered it more favorable to leave his body and re-incarnate at a more auspicious time.
The statue meanwhile, was carefully preserved by a faithful servant of his late mother, and miraculously restored to the present Gharwang Rinpoche during his first tour to Zurmang in the summer of 1991.