“I met the great being, the Nyewo Goshri Tulku Tashi Namgyel, an emanation of Milarepa’s disciple Zhiwa Wo (zhi ba ‘od) and of the bodhisattva Peljor Dondrub [1st Goshri Gyeltsab]. He gave me the Mahāyāna fasting vows and empowerments, blessings, and pith instructions including Avalokiteśvara Ocean of Victors (rgyal ba rgya mtsho), Vajravārāhī, and Mahākāla Bernakchen. I esteemed him highly with unbreakable respect and made him the object for gathering merit and confessing negative actions.” – Past Deeds of Mikyo Dorje by 8th Karmapa
Happy to announce this biographical publication on Treasury of Lives of one of the 8th Karmapa’s main (and first) teachers, 2nd Gyeltsab Rinpoche. Tashi Namgyel (rgyal tshab 02 bkra shis rnam rgyal, 1490 – 1516). It is the first in a set of bios am producing on the 8th Karmapa’s main teachers for a translation and research project. The new biography can be read here. For more on the Goshri Gyelstab lineage and my own connection to the current 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche, see here and here. A brief, edited summary of the 2nd Gyeltsab’s life is below.
Recognition by 7th Karmapa
In the water-pig year, 1503, the Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso (karma pa 07 chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454–1506), recognized Tashi Namgyel as the reincarnation of his teacher, the First Gyeltsab, Peljor Dondrub (dpal ‘byor don grub, 1427–1489). Peljor Dondrub had been a student of the Sixth Karmapa, Tongwa Donden (karma pa 06 mthong ba don ldan, 1416–1453), who had given him the title Gyeltsab (rgyal tshab), meaning “regent.” The Ming Zhengtong Emperor (正統, r. 1435–1449 and 1457–1464), is said to have given Peljor Dondrub a golden seal with the title of National Preceptor (guoshi國師), which is written “goshri” in Tibetan. The lineage is thus commonly known as the Goshri Gyeltsab (go shri rgyal tshab). Peljor Dondrub, in accordance with an instruction letter given him by the Sixth Karmapa, identified and trained his reincarnation, the Seventh Karmapa.
In honor of his elevated status, in the water-pig year, 1503, the Seventh Karmapa gave Tashi Namgyel a red crown with a golden emblem, which the Tsurpu Gyeltsab incarnations have henceforth worn.
8th Karmapa incarnation – dispute between two candidates
The 2nd Gyeltab’s biography is a short, and at times, sad one. He became embroiled in a bitter battle between two candidate camps for the title of the 8th Karmapa. Although this biography does not go into detail about the 8th Karmapa’s life (that information will be in the 8th Karmapa’s biography itself)[i], it is clear from historical accounts, that Mikyo Dorje was the correct candidate.
Interestingly, the recognition of the 8th Karmapa was also hotly disputed with two candidates brought forward. According to tradition, the 7th Karmapa left prediction letters for his future rebirth with the 2nd Gyeltsab and 3rd Tai Situ, Tashi Peljor (ta’i si tu 03 bkra shis dpal ‘byor, 1498–1541). Even though the signs were clear early on that Mikyo Dorje was the correct candidate, matching almost everything written in the 7th Karmapa’s prediction letter, another candidate was put forward by a father from Amdowa, who had money and political influence. He managed to persuade most of the Kagyu Great Encampment at that time that his son was the correct candidate.
Even though, 2nd Gyeltsab had never thought the Amdowa boy was the 8th Karmapa, he still had to play a key role in easing tension and stopping conflict within the Great Encampment and agree to a public examination of both boys, with hundreds of people present. it is said that even rituals were used to try and scare and harm Mikyo Dorje by Ngagpas in favour of the Amdowa boy.
Eventually, after having some sacred dreams pointing yet again to Mikyo Dorje as the 8th Karmapa, as well as threats of violence and civil unrest, in the second lunar month of 1513, the 2nd Gyeltsab enthroned him as the 8th Karmapa and apparently, peace and harmony were restored at the Great Encampment.
As Mikyo Dorje had previously declared (prior to his enthronement) that the son of Lama Amdowa was a tulku of Zurmang, he offered him the title of Zurmang Chetsang Tulku (zur mang che tshang sprul sku). His father, Lama Amdowa, refused to remain at the Encampment, however, despite the Gyeltsab’s and Karmapa’s assurances that he and his son would be treated with respect if they remained. After leaving, they were apparently captured and imprisoned, and their supporters fled. Mikyo Dorje is said to have then summarized his birth and early years to the 2nd Gyeltsab:
“From when I died in the tiger year (stag lo, 1506) until my rebirth in the hare year (yos lo, 1507) I stayed in the pure realm of Tuṣita with Maitreya and in the pure realm of Sukhāvatī and was happy. At that time, because people had broken their faith, I thought it would be pointless to come here for the time being. When [thinking so] the protector Maitreya and the wisdom-ḍākinīs said, “you have to take rebirth in the world (jambudvīpa).” Having taken rebirth, until this year I have stayed in Lhorong.”
Vows Bestowed and Teachings Given
In 1513, the 2nd Gyeltsab gave Mikyo Dorje the eight precepts of daily fasting, the upavāsatha vows, and the name Chokyab Drakpa Pel Zangpo (chos skyabs grags pa dpal bzang po). A few months later, Gyeltsab performed a hair cutting ceremony together with bestowing the ‘going forth into homelessness,’ or novice vows (rab byung, pravrajyā).
The 2ndGyeltsab served as the seven-year-old Mikyo Dorje’s first teacher. He taught him to read and write and bestowed the empowerments of Hayagrīva and Vajravārāhī, as well as instructions on Jinasāgara, Vajrayoginī, and Mahākāla.
The 8th Karmapa’s devotion to the 2nd Gyeltsab was such that he considered his reincarnation, the 3rd Gyeltsab, to be his teacher and not his student or inferior.
After being officially recognised, the upavāsatha vows and his first name, Chokyab Dragpa Palzang (Chos skyabs grags pa dpal bzang) were given to 8th Karmapa by 2nd Gyaltsab Rinpoche who became his first main teacher, taught him to read and write and gave him his first Vajrayana empowerments.
In 1515, the Second Gyeltsab fell ill and passed away. He was only twenty-nine years old. There were rumors that he was poisoned, and that his body was not carefully looked after and buried in sand without honors to hide the suspected murder. These events were written about in a letter by the Eighth Karmapa criticizing and scolding the people in the encampment. This letter is no longer extant but it is cited in Six Kamtsang Gurus and Students written in the eighteenth century by Karma Zhenpen Gyatso (karma gzhan pan rgya mtsho) at the time of the Thirteenth Karmapa, Dudul Dorje (karma pa 13 bdud ‘dul rdo rje, 1733–1797). Likewise, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography briefly mentions that these events happened. Sanggye Peldrub also describes many similar events in his commentary on the Good Deeds. Nevertheless, relics are said to have appeared in the sand where he had been buried.
The Eighth Karmapa identified Tashi Namgyel’s reincarnation, the Third Tsurpu Gyeltsab, Drakpa Peljor (mtshur phu rgyal tshab 03 grags pa dpal ‘byor, 1519–1549).
8th Karmapa’s Four Main Teachers
Four subsequent teachers are mentioned as crucial to the 8th Karmapa in the spiritual biographies:
(i) Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor, (Sangs rgyas mnyan pa bKra shis dpal ’byor (1445/1457–1510/1525, sometimes called the mahāsiddha of Denma (gDan ma),
(ii) Dumoma Tashi Ozer (bDud mo ma bKra shis ’od zer (b. 15th century, d. c.1545)),
(iii) Khenchen Chodrub Senge (mKhan chen Chos grub seng ge (b. 15th century)), and
(iv) Karma Trinleypa Chogle Namgyal (Karma ’phrin las pa I Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1456– 1539)).
The 8th Karmapa named them the ‘four great masters’ (rje btsun chen po rnam pa bzhi), for through them he said had accomplished the removal of obscurations and the accumulation of good purification (bsags sbyang)[iii].
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 16th July 2021.
[i] I first became interested in the work of 8th Karmapa while translating his supplication to one of his main teachers, the first Sangye Nyenpa (see here) and studying some of his work on Empty-of-Other. Also, 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, has taught many times on Mikyo Dorje’s philosophical texts such as One Hundred Short Instructions.
In terms of the life of 8th Karmapa, the most extensive account of it in the English language is currently found in The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal, by Jim Rheingans (2017). The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje recently gave extensive teachings on the life and teachers of the 8th Karmapa, see bibliography.
A khu A khra, dge slong byang chub bzang po. 2004. Rgyal ba kun gyi dbang po dpal ldan karma pa mi bskyod rdo rje’izhabs kyi dgung lo bdun phangyi rnam par thar pa nor bu’i phreng ba. In Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, vol. 1, pp. 33–106. Lhasa. W8039.
Chos kyi ‘byung gnas. 1990. Rgyal tshab gnyis pa bkra shis rnam rgyal (1490-1518). In Gsung ‘bum/ chos kyi ‘byung gnas, vol. 11, pp. 695–695. Sansal: Palpung Sungrab Nyamso Khang. W26630.
Mi bskyod rdo rje, Karmapa VIII. 2004. Mi bskyod rdo rje’i spyad pa’i rabs. In Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, vol. 1, pp. 350–387. Lhasa. W8039.
Karma gzhan phan rgya mtsho. 2008. Kam tshang bla ma yab rsas drug gi nam thar. Xining, Qinghai, Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe sgrun khang. W1AC400.
Sangs rgyas dpal grub. 2004. Rgyal ba spyan ras gzigs dbang brgyad pa’i rnam thar legs spyad ma’i don ‘grel gsal ba’i sgron me. In Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, vol. 1, pp. 150–329. Lhasa. W8039.
Rheingans, Jim. 2017. Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal. A Religious Life and Instructional Texts in Historical and Doctrinal Contexts. Hamburg: Numata Buddhist Studies.
Seventeenth Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje. 15 February – 17 March 2021. Teaching on Two Autobiographical Praises by Eighth Karmapa. Based on video recordings in Tibetan and English oral translation. Online video links on http://www.youtube.com/Karmapa.
Tomlin, Adele. 2021. “The Second Tsurpu Gyeltsab, Tashi Namgyel,” Treasury of Lives. https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Tashi-Namgyel/P10582
Gtsug lag phreng ba. 1986. Chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dga’ ston. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. W7499.