Brief History of the Palpung Lineage
We would like to share a little bit of information about the Palpung lineage. It has a long and interesting history that has inspired countless dharma practitioners. Palpung has always been considered an extraordinary centre for the accomplishment of the three trainings of study, meditation, and dharma activity. In this way it has provided a precious vessel for the accumulation of blessings in the areas of both scholarship and practice. For this reason the name "Pal Pung" has been applied to this institution which is derived from the combination of the two words for the glorious union of study and practice.
Guru Rinpoche has said that there are twenty five secret places within Tibet and that Palpung was one of these wonderful sites. It was referred to as Deva Konti Tsanda Rinchin Dak. Jetsun Marpa also prophesied about the special qualities of this place and said that it would be the source of much dharma where the Kagyu doctrine would flourish. The area is very beautiful. It is located 3950 metres above sea level in eastern Tibet in a place called Do Kham Gang Tuk "Six Mountains" and located between the Dilung and Dalung Rivers. It is located in Dida Salmogang in the district of Derge. People consider this to be a beautiful location because it is not to high and not to low and is blessed with moderate temperatures. The surrounding rocks of the red and white mountains contrast with beautiful forests of green trees and many medicinal plants and flowers. The rivers are pure and clean and fill the area with a beautiful sound of running water.
In the period 1181 to 1189, a man called Chopa Jigten Wangchuk the founder of the Drikung Kagyu sect sent his disciple Palden Jangchub Lingpa from Drikung Til Monastery in Tibet to Palpung to transmit Drikung Kagyu teachings and oversee the building of a chanting hall for Jangchub Ling Monastery which was used before the founding of Palpung. On two neighbouring mountains he built two other buildings, Drakngak Teaching Institute and Uche Retreat Centre. Thousands of monks come to study and practice texts of the Kagyu lineage in this area. After many generations of activity it slowly lost its influence and became less and less of a teaching centre for the Kagyu practice. At this time it became more associated with the Sakya lineage. A local Sakyapa ruler Oglen was influential in transforming the politics of the monastery into a Sakyapa monastery. There was a wandering Sakya monk of high rank from Ngari in western Tibet who came to Derge in 1290. His name was Rabjam Tsultrim. He liked Palpung’s beautiful landscape, which resembled "three elephants playing in water." Eventually this monastery was destroyed by fire when a kitchen worker named Abra carelessly left a cooking fire unattended.
Many centuries later the Twelfth Karmapa Jang Chub Dorje prophesied the coming of a great Kagyu teacher. The Eighth Situ Cho Kyi Jungne was born in the region of Derge in 1699 in the village of Alo Dingre. His father was Ngawang Tsering and his mother's name was Thranguma. The ruler of the Derge region Tenpa Tsering insisted that he stay in Derge even though he was traditionally supposed to go to the Karma Gon Monastery in Chamdo. He received teachings from the Twelfth Karmapa as well as a Nyingmapa lama Rigzhen Tsewang Norbu and Sharma Cho Kyi Dundrop. He was a very diligent student of the five traditional sciences of language, medicine, art, logic and astrology. He also accomplished the inner teachings and was considered to be the most famous teacher and practitioner of his time. He wrote fourteen volumes of commentaries on the five sciences and various other texts.
The ruler Tenpa Tsering began to build Palpung Monastery in 1727 and completed it in three years. The Eighth Situpa taught at this monastery passing on his expertise in the five sciences. Some of his most famous students were the Thirteenth Karmapa Dundul Dorje, Khamtrul Rinpoche, and various others from the Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelukpa lineages.
Palpung is divided into a mother temple and branch temples. The mother temple has a large and small sutra hall, one lecture hall, and three meditation halls. The more than 180 branch temples are spread over several Chinese and Tibetan districts. The students from these branch monasteries travel to Palpung Monastery to study ritual, retreat practices, and scholarly texts. When the great scholar Bey Tsewang Kunchab arrived in Palpung he made the remark that beings from the four directions were very fortunate to be able to come to study at such a great monastery.
The Palpung Rinpoches are Tai Situ Rinpoche, Kongtrul Rinpoche, Palpung Khyentse Rinpoche, and Ongon Rinpoche. The Ninth Situpa was the teacher of the Great Jamgon Kongtrul, Chogyur Lingpa and Khyentse Wangpo. The Tenth Situpa, Pema Kunsang was an accomplished crazy yogi who was considered to be an emanation of Guru Rinpoche, the physical form. His root teacher was the Great Jamgon Kongtrul. The Eleventh Situpa was Pema Wangchok. He was a wrathful yogi who was a great scholar and was the main teacher of the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. the Twelfth Tai Situpa the present incarnation resides in India. For further information about the Twelfth Tai Situ please refer to www.sherabling.org
Palpung Monastery was a well run and well organised institution which produced many texts, medicinal products, metal craft, and kept large numbers of animals and farm products. The artistic works of the Palpung lineage included numerous thangkas painted in the Karma Gar painting style. For instance, the Eighth Tai Situ was famous for his drawings and paintings of the life of the Buddha as well as beautiful landscapes with birds and animals. Samples of these thangkas can be seen today in art collections around the world, notably in the collection of the Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. During the Cultural Revolution many of the cultural and religious objects were destroyed so the thanka paintings in these collections are very precious.
With the financial assistance and support of The Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche the community refurbished the monastery and installed a 15 metre tall by 8 metre wide Maitreya statue as well as built a new shedra (college of Buddhist studies). They restored two meditation halls. The temple now has 375 monks, four rinpoches, three of whom live in exile, Situ Rinpoche, and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Kalu Rinpoche. There are a few khenpos and Ongen Rinpoche who still live in Tibet and look after the monastery.
In 1975 Sherab Ling Monastery was built by the Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche in Himalchal Pradesh India in order to carry on the traditions and lineage of Palpung. This community includes a monks retreat centre, a nun's retreat centre, a monastic college, and an institute to study tantric rituals. Almost 600 people live in this community from young monks and nuns to elder lamas who spend their time teaching and sharing the rich Palpung traditions. You can visit there website at www.sherabling.org or www.dharma-world.com.
In April 2002 Lama Karma Phuntsok under the direction of The Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche was able to establish a new Palpung centre in Canada and it is his hope that this centre carries on with the preservation and spreading of the dharma for which the Palpung community is well known.