Biography of Pema Lingpa

Pema Lingpa was hailed as the fourth of the five kingly tertons, or treasure-finders. He was the last of the five pure incarnations of King Trisong Deutsen’s daughter, the royal princess Pemasel. His father was Tondrup Zangpo of the Nyo clan; his mother was Trongma Peldzom. Since, in his previous life, he had been the omniscient Longchen Rabjam, his birth, in 1450 C.E. at Mon Bumthang, in Bhutan, was attended by many omens, and he came into this world fully enlightened. Thus, he learned various texts, crafts, and much else, without instruction.
On the tenth day of the seventh month of the Monkey year, 1476, in his 26th year, in the place called Yige Trukma, Padmasambhava appeared to Pema Lingpa. Guru Rinpoche blessed him and placed in his hands an inventory of 108 great treasures. The following year, he brought forth from the famous Lake Mebar the first of the profound treasures of this inventory: the Cycles of the Luminous Expanse of the Great Perfection (dzogchen longsal-gyi kor). Surrounded by a multitude of people, he entered the lake without hesitation, holding a burning lamp in his hand. When he reemerged from the lake, the lamp in his hand still burned, and he carried under his arm a great chest that contained the treasure. Everyone was amazed, and, convinced of his extraordinary qualities, became firmly established in the faith. After that, Pema Lingpa’s reputation covered the land of snow like the sun and the moon.

In a similar miraculous way, he discovered the Great Perfection, the Gathering of Samantabhadra’s Intention (dzogchen kunzang gong-dü) at Samye Chimpu, a holy area near Samye Monastery. From these two treasure sites, he subsequently brought forth numerous other treasures that form the essential practices of the Nyingma lineage to this day.

Pema Lingpa discovered a profusion of sacramental objects, such as images, books, and stupas. He discovered the flesh of one born seven times as a Brahman, which liberates when tasted. And he discovered images of Guru Padmasambhava. He also unearthed the temple of Lho Kyercu, which had not previously been visible, and which was similar to the temple of Peltsap Sumpa at Samye. The temple he unearthed can still be seen today.

Among the riches Pema Lingpa discovered were the life-supporting turquoise gems of the Dharma King, Trisong Deutsen, the seamless robes of the Princess, a clairvoyant mirror, and many other sublime riches of the royal dynasty.

But although Guru Rinpoche had placed in his hands an inventory of 108 treasures, Pema Lingpa revealed fewer than half of them. And so, when the terton was approaching death, his son asked permission to find others. The master replied, “It will be hard for you to find the treasures, but if you purely guard your commitments and pray to me, you may perhaps find a few minor ones.” Accordingly, his spiritual son, Dawa, brought forth some of the treasures.

The vast and wonderful deeds of Pema Lingpa, of liberating and benefiting immeasurable beings, were inconceivable. He prophesied that he would become the Buddha named Vajragarbha in the Buddhafield of the Lotus Array, and that all those presently associated with him would be reborn in that realm as well, and become the disciples of that Buddha.

There is a prophetic declaration among Pema Lingpa’s revealed treasures concerning the host of disciples who became his spiritual sons:

Ten thousand will be associated by [the force of] past deeds.
One thousand two will be associated by aspiration.
Those associated through the profound essential point will be eleven.
Seven will be mandala-holders.
And three will be spiritual sons, dear to his heart.

In fulfillment of this prophecy, an inconceivable number of disciples appeared. Among them, the foremost included six treasure-finders who were emanations, six greatly accomplished masters, and six great sons who manifested the signs of accomplishment. Tsultrim Paljor, the great preceptor of Conangpa residence, Nangso Gyelwa Tondrup, and Tulku Chokden Gonpo were the three spiritual sons whose realization was the same as that of Pema Lingpa himself. And among his four sons, his spiritual son, Dawa, who was the emanation of Avalokitesvara, had inconceivable expressive powers of blessing, and his enlightened activities were very extensive. He became one of Pema Lingpa’s main lineage holders, and was honored by numerous great masters throughout Tibet.

The transmission of Pema Lingpa’s profound doctrines was gradually passed down and propagated by Tulku Natsok Rangdrol and Umdze Tondrup Pelbar, renowned as incomparable doctrine-masters; and by Sungtrul Tsultrim Dorje (also known as the emanation of his spiritual son, Dawa), who occupied a seat at the Lhalung Monastery in Lhodrak. Pema Lingpa’s lineage has spread throughout Bhutan and Tibet. Thus, the entire stream of its empowerments, transmissions, and guidance from a number of great masters has continued, unbroken, up to the present.

The Seventh Bhakha Tulku

Known as Künsang Tenpai Gyaltsen, the seventh Bhakha Tulku was born unfolding the lotus of knowledge of the sutras and tantras in 1799, the year of the Earth Sheep. In that lifetime he was the son of the seventh Pema Lingpa. Pema Lingpa gave his son the aural transmission, treasure teachings (kama and terma), the pure vision lineages of the old translation tradition, and, in particular, the complete Dharma cycles of Pema Lingpa — the empowerments, teachings, and special instructions. Among all his father’s students, Bhakha Rinpoche was the only one to whom the realization of the absolute lineage was transferred. He became the holder of the teachings, and, through that, the spiritual heart-son — even more precious than a physical son.

Later, the eighth Pema Lingpa, Künsang Tenpai Nyima, became the seventh Bhakha Rinpoche’s disciple, and received from this master the old translation tantras (the Nyingma Gyü Bum); the Seven Treasures of Longchenpa; the Trilogy of Ease (Ngalso Korsum); the Whispered Lineage of T’hangtong Gyalpo; and the teachings of Guru Chöwang and Pema Ledrel Tsal. Bhakha Tulku also gave the eighth Pema Lingpa (his former father) the complete empowerments, instructions, and stream of transmission of the Pema Lingpa Dharma Cycle, as well as the collected writings of Pema Lingpa’s fifth heart-son incarnation (the fifth Thuksey Rinpoche).

The seventh Bhakha Tulku traveled extensively, spreading the empowerments, transmissions and instructions of the Pema Lingpa teachings among his students, and in this way, he did a great service to the Dharma in general, and to the Pema Lingpa teachings in particular.

The Eighth Bhakha Tulku

Rigdzin Khamsum Yongdröl, the eighth Bhakha Tulku, was known as a united incarnation of Dorje Lingpa and Pema Lingpa. From early childhood on, the lotus of his intelligence unfolded. He attended the eighth Pema Lingpa (his disciple in his previous lifetime), receiving the common treatises on logic, the uncommon sutras and tantras, the general oral and treasure lineages, and, in particular, the complete Pema Lingpa Dharma Cycle. The eighth Pema Lingpa directed the master, Bhakha Tulku, to go to Kham, where he received an abundance of teachings from various spiritual masters, including Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö T’haye. Of particular interest is the fact that he received from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo the empowerment lineage of Pema Lingpa’s Tsedup Norbulam Khyer (“Integrating the Jewel of Long Life”), which had heretofore been lost. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had received these empowerments and instructions in a pure vision, directly from Pema Lingpa himself. Thus Bhakha Tulku became the first to receive this particular short lineage. Bhakha Tulku passed it on to Jigme Rangdröl Dorje, also known as Lama P’huntsog, who in turn greatly spread the transmission lineage of this empowerment. The eighth Bhakha Tulku then offered the complete empowerments and instructions of the Pema Lingpa Dharma Cycle back to his teacher, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö T’haye.

The eighth Bhakha Tulku, Rigdzin Khamsum Yongdröl, practiced in all these places: Tharpaling, Kündrak, Shugdrag, Tamshing, and at Dorje Lingpa’s seat, Buli Ogmin Lhundrup Chöling. He also compiled information about holy places such as Shugdrag and Kundrak. The eighth Bhakha Tulku was an accomplished artist, and in Bumthang, in the temple of Uru Rangbi, he made statues of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, as well as an image of the eighth Pema Lingpa, which we can still see today. He compiled and collected the Norgyam Thinley Nyingpo, Ngakso Yeshe Chugyun, Tsedrup Norbu Lamkhyer, P’hagmo Yangsang Lamë, and the sadhana of Chagdor Tumpo. Many years later, the great treasure finder, Düdjom Rinpoche, gave great praise to his compilation of Khamsum Yongdrol, as well as that of the fifth Thugsey Rinpoche.

In the latter part of his life, the eighth Bhakha Rinpoche settled in Lagyap Khenlung and Lhalung, in Bhutan. He was also the throne holder and main teacher of Lhalung Monastery, where he cherished all the monks, giving them Dharma teachings as well as material support. Thus this master greatly served the Dharma in general, and, in particular, the lineage of Pema Lingpa.

The Tenth Bhakha Rinpoche

The present Bhakha Rinpoche was first recognized as the incarnation of Pema Lingpa by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodro, who asked his family take good care of him and to keep him safe from defilements and impurities.

After receiving the empowerments and transmissions of the Rinchen Terzöd and Düdjom lineages from His Holiness Düdjom Rinpoche at Yurigon Monastery, in upper Powo, Bhakha Rinpoche went to Kongpo with His Holiness, where he received more precious teachings, including the 13 cycles of the Pema Lingpa treasures. He then practiced intensely under His Holiness’ guidance.

After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, living in Bhutan, he again received all 13 cycles of the Pema Lingpa treasures from Tamshing Lama P’huntsok, the main holder of the Pema Lingpa lineage in Bhutan. He practiced thoroughly all the teachings he received with Thuksey Rinpoche in retreat in holy places such as Shugdrag and Kundrag.

Today, the tenth Bhakha Tulku Rinpoche is venerated as the holder of this great unbroken lineage by all his contemporary teachers at the main Pema Lingpa seat, Lhalung Monastery, in Tibet, as well as at Tamshing Monastery, in Bhutan.

Bhakha Rinpoche and Pema Lingpa

The ten incarnations of the Bhakha Tulkus are known as the combined wisdom manifestations of the great Tertön Dorje Lingpa (the third of the five tertön kings), and Tulku Chogden Gönpo (the main disciple of the great tertön, Pema Lingpa, who, in turn, was the fifth pure rebirth of Lhacham Pema Sel). Since Pema Lingpa was the immediate incarnation of the great 14th century Nyingma master, Longchen Rabjam, this means that all the Bhakha Tulkus, from the first to the present Bhakha Rinpoche, have been Longchen Nyingthik (i.e. Longchen “heart essence”) practitioners.