The 8th Tai Situpa, Tāranātha, Shentong and the Golden Stupa at Sherab Ling

It was an inspiring and moving experience indeed to visit and pay homage to the golden relic stupa of the 8th Kenting Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne (chos kyi ‘byung gnas) (1700-1774) that is housed at Sherab Ling monastery in Himachal Pradesh, India.  The monastery itself was founded in 1975 by the current 12th Tai Situpa, Pema Donyo Nyinje Wangpo (pad ma don yod nyin byed dbang po) (b.1953).

12th Tai Situpa, Pema Donyo Nyinje

The  golden stupa (containing the relics and ‘sacred remains’ (kudung) of the 8th Tai Situpa)  was consecrated in year 2000 (see photos below). In this brief article, I will share a little information about the stupa and the 8th Tai Situ.

Statue of 8th Tai Situpa at Sherab Ling monastery

The Tai Situpas and Shentong

The Tai Situ incarnations began when the Sixth Karmapa recognized Tashi Namgyel as the reincarnation of his teacher Chokyi Gyeltsen, a lama of Karma Gon Monastery in Kham who had received the Chinese imperial title from a Ming envoy.  Not only the Jonang, but the Kagyu, Nyingma, and some Sakya lamas (such as Sakya Chokden)  were holders and propagators of the Shentong view as I have written about here before.

After the suppression of the Jonang school and its texts and the texts of Sakya Chokden by the Tibetan rulers in the seventeenth century, under the spiritual rule of the 5th Dalai Lama, various shentong views were propagated mainly by Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas. In particular, the eighth Tai Situpa (1700–1774) and Katok Tsewang Norbu (1698–1755)—Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas, respectively, and their close colleagues—were very instrumental in reviving shentong among their own lineages.

In 1727, the Eighth Tai Situ, established the great Palpung Monastery seat, near Derge, Tibet with the great support of the Dharma King of Derge Temba Tsering. It is the seat of four lines of incarnate lamas, the best-known being the Tai Situpa[6] as well as the Jamgon Kongtrul and the Second Beru Khyentse. The temple has historically been associated with the Karmapas: for instance, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa, was enthroned first at Palpung before traveling to his main seat at Tsurphu Monastery in Ü-Tsang. Palpung is also said to be known for its huge library with more than 324,000 texts and an art collection of more than 10,150 thangkas. It was also leading in the fields of spiritual painting and the Situ Rinpoche is the founder of Karma Gadri painting style.

The monastery was partially destroyed in the late 1950s during the Cultural Revolution. The construction efforts by the 12th Tai Situpa have been in progress.

As one online biography says about the 8th Tai Situpa:

….[he] not only possessed profound insight and wisdom but became known as the Situ Panchen or Mahasiddha Situ, due to his many other excellent qualities. He excelled as a scholar in Sanskrit, Nepali, Mongolian, and the Chinese languages. He mastered astrology and medicine and was also a creative thangka painter and sculptor. He was a poet and author of many texts. His famous Tibetan Grammar is still the foremost advanced text in practical use today. Chökyi Jungne founded Palpung Monastery in eastern Tibet, which became the monastic seat of the Tai Situpas as well as an important centre of learning and culture. With his disciple Tenpa Tsering, he established the Dege Printing Press that produced over half a million wood block prints. One of his major activities there was editing and seeing to the printing of the woodblock editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur. This is now known worldwide as the Dege edition and considered one of the best original prints of these most sacred texts of the Tibetan tradition. The activities of Situ Panchen flourished widely and he restored or established monasteries, retreats, and study centres all over Tibet and Jang. He recognised and enthroned the Thirteenth Karmapa and the next incarnation of Shamar Rinpoche. He gave the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the Thirteenth Karmapa, Dundul Dorje. He passed away in 1774 at the age of seventy-five.

He is said to have visited Nepal on two occasions and was praised there by the Indian scholar Jayamangala for the depths of his learning and understanding. On his second visit there, in 1748, he met again with Kathok Tsewang Norbu and received from him many transmissions of the Jonang tradition, especially on the view of Shentong. For an overview of his collected works, see the index for his Situ Chökyi Jungne Sungbum. For a more detailed biography of his life (including how at the age of nine, someone poisoned him out of jealousy!) see the Palpung monastery version here.

Except twelve incarnations crowned as Kenting Tai Situ until now, according to some historical records and especially thangkhas painted personally by the 8th Tai Situpa, which were recently uncovered during the renovation of Palpung Monastery, the lineage also contains incarnations such as Dombipa, Sri Singha, Darikapa, Marpa, Tāranātha and so on, a total of seventeen incarnations.  Statues of these great master incarnations are also present in the golden stupa temple, see photo of Tāranātha below.

Statue of Taranatha at Sherab Ling monastery, India.

The 8th Tai Situpa Golden Relic Stupa

Golden Stupa containing the relics of HE 8th Tai Situpa.

In 2000, the golden stupa containing the relics of the 8th Tai Situpa was consecrated by HE 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche at Sherab Ling monastery, India. The 12th Tai Situ’s current and long-time personal secretary, Lama Tenam explained to me in a conversation how the precious relics and ‘kudung’of the 8th Tai Situ were received from the Palpung monastery in Tibet.  When the Chinese soldiers destroyed much of the Palpung monastery and also the kudung stupa of the 8th Tai Situpa housed there, fortunately, the people at the monastery were able to hide and keep most of the treasures contained within it, including most of the precious relics and body remains of the 8th Tai Situpa.

When the 12th Tai Situpa later visited Palpung Monastery, Tibet, they offered back these treasures to Rinpoche, who decided to leave half these precious relics with the monastery in Tibet and brought the other half to the monastery in India.  These relics and kudung were then placed inside the golden stupa at Sherab Ling monastery where they remain to this day.

Circumambulating the stupa was a powerful and moving experience indeed.  I offered thanks and gratitude to the 8th Tai Situpa and prayed that the Shentong teachings and lineages flourish, and that all the obstacles and unharmonious conditions facing the Kagyu lamas and lineage be swiftly removed.

Statue of 8th Tai Situpa at Sherab Ling monastery, India, in the golden stupa temple.

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