New translation project: 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’s Shentong Commentary on the Third Karmapa’s ‘Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer’

Have recently been spending significant time at Benchen Monastery, Pharping Nepal attending the teachings and Vajrakilaya Drubchen led by HE 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. While I was there in September 2018, I had the good fortune and timing to offer Rinpoche a personal copy of Taranatha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra, just before he was about to start the Wisdom Chapter teachings of the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva (see here for video link of those teachings).

HE 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche pictured here with 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

Thereafter, the auspicious connections ripened quickly and I requested, and received, the oral transmission and permission to translate Rinpoche’s excellent and accessible Empty-of-Other (shentong: gzhan stong) commentary (Chen po gzhan stong gi lta ba dang ‘brel ba’i phyag rgya chen po’i smon lam gyi rnam bshad nges don dyings kyi rol mo) on the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje’s Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer.

The Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineage, at the same time as the Jonang, were extremely important advocates and composers of texts on the Shentong view and the Sangye Nyenpa lineage were a key figures in this activity.

The 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor (1457-1525) was a disciple of His Holiness the 7th Karmapa Choedak Gyatsho and a teacher of the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. In this way, he became a part of so called “Golden Rosary”, the lineage of Kagyu forefathers. The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje who was not only a Kalacakra master (as I have written about here) but also a Shentong scholar. According to H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor’s “emanation basis” (sprul gzhi) is the future Buddha Maitreya. He is also considered to be an emanation of the Indian master Jnanagarbha (ye shes snying po), one of the teachers of the great translator Marpa.  Below is a photo of a sacred statue of the 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche:

Precious silver statue of Tashi Paljor that is kept in Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s seat in Central Tibet, known as “the silver statue [that floated] in midair”, (dngul sku bar snang ma).

According to Rigpa Wiki:

“The picture (see above) shows a precious silver statue of Tashi Paljor that is kept in Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s seat in Central Tibet, known as “the silver statue [that floated] in midair”, (dngul sku bar snang ma). It was made by the 8th Karmapa and is said to have floated in the air for seven days after the Karmapa had consecrated it. It contains some hair, bone fragments, pieces of the clothes and relic pills (ring sel) of Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor and is said to have great blessings and powers. Ven. Benchen Tenga Rinpoche says that often rituals for the sick are performed in front of this statue. If the sick person will live, the eyes of the statue will look upwards into the sky. If the person will die, then the statue’s eyes will look downwards. During the destruction of Tsurphu the statue was saved and buried on the mountain behind the monastery by one of the Tsurphu monks. Decades later, after the Tsurphu monastery was rebuilt, the same monk searched for a long time and eventually found the statue again. It is now enshrined in Tsurphu in a large silver reliquary (ga’u) as one of the most precious relics of the Karma Kagyu lineage.”

Furthermore, the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, (who wrote the Mahamudra Prayer this commentary is based on) has also been said to be the originator of the Shentong view (and language of Shentong) in Tibet, as opposed to Jonang master, Dolpopa (see ‘The Buddha Within’ by Hookham 1991, for more on that). The eight Tai Situ Rinpoche was also a major Shentong advocate, who also wrote a Shentong commentary on the Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer (Nges don phyag rgya chen po’i smon lam gyi ‘grel pa grub pa mchog gi zhal lung).

The current 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, is a widely revered Tibetan Buddhist scholar and Vajrayana master alive today. Born in 1964 at Paro Taktsang, Guru Rinpoche’s temple, in Bhutan, he was recognized by His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa, and his other root lama was the supreme Nyingma master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It is an honour and great fortune to not only meet such a great master in person but also to read his compositions and have the fortune to translate it into English. On Rinpoche’s birthday celebrations at Pharping I was spontaneously moved to write a Long-life poem for Rinpoche, Melodious Sounds of the Thunder Dragon. May it be of benefit!

Written by Adele Tomlin, 22nd November 2018.

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