“When you listen to the sound of our river, you hear the mantra of Chakrasmavara. It’s power is secret and the river holds it forever.”
–Drupon Dechen Rinpoche about Tsurphu Monastery’s river
“In the centre of that, the Monastery of Tsurphu,
Where the meadows are like Metog Drampa [AvakIr Nakusuma name of a future Buddha]
A radiant deity: as it is, and as it appears.
In which all becomes supreme.
To that glorious Tsurphu,
Supreme place of amazing qualities, bow down!”
–excerpt from ‘Praises to Tsurphu’ written by 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.
“Glorious Tolung Tsurphu is Akanishta [Ogmin], supreme mental abode.
A place where oceans of mothers and dakinis
Come together like clouds.
The mountain behind is Avalokiteśvara,
a richly arrayed pure realm.
The mountain in front is a vast and dense forest,
a swirling, wrathful ocean.
The central mountain is Maitreya,
A joyful, mental realm of delight [Ganden].
Let us go to that pure realm where the
three roots come together like clouds!”
—16th Karmapa, the Joyful Roar of Melodious Experience
For the full moon today, and the start of the fortnight long teachings on the Marpa-Ngog Lineage by 17th Karmapa starting tomorrow, I offer a new research post on the history and lineage of Tsurphu monastery, considered to be the mind mandala of the Karmapas in Tibet and one of their most important seats there.
Padmasambhava is said to have predicted that Tsurphu would be the seat of all twenty-one Karmapas. He also predicted that although it would be destroyed many times, the monastery would remain in existence until the end of this world (for more on that, see here).
May this post and Praises to Tsurphu inspire others to ‘look at’ and visit this indestructible mandala of the Karmapas and may the Karmapas’ lineage and Dharma teachings flourish there!
Musical theme? ‘Take Me Back’ by Van Morrison: https://youtu.be/-suuzz4g2R0
Translated, edited and compiled by Adele Tomlin. 22nd August 2021.
PART I: HISTORY, LINEAGE, DESTRUCTION, REBUILDING AND RETURN OF 17TH KARMAPA
Founding of the ‘mind maṇḍala’ of Tsurphu by 1st and 2nd Karmapas
1st Karmapa’s founding of the three main seats
Tsurphu was founded by 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193) and was the last in the three main Karma Kagyu seats he established in Tibet.
Body – Kampo Nenang
In 1164, he founded a monastery at Kampo Nenang in the western side valley of Mount Genyen (དགེ་བསྙེན, dge bsnyen/upāsaka) near Lithang. At that time, he was already in his 50s, having returned to his native Kham following three long decades training in central Tibet. When a vast practice community gathered around him, he established Kampo Nenang as a base to care for their practice needs, physically as well as spiritually.
Speech – Karma Gon
Twenty years after that, Dusum Khyenpa created a second major seat, nestled among the hills alongside the banks of the Dzachu River in Chamdo, Kham: Karma Gon. Until the Eighth Tai Situpa (1700-1774) founded his own seat at Pelpung Monastery in the 18th century, Karma Gon was the main centre of the activities of the Situpa incarnation lineage.
Mind – Tsurphu
In 1159, Dusum Khyenpa visited the site of Tsurphu in central Tibet, in the valley of Tolung, which feeds into the Brahmaputra, and saw it to be the mandala of the deity Chakrasamvara. He laid the foundation for an establishment of a seat there by making offerings to the local protectors, the dharmapalas and territorial divinities (yul lha). In 1189, when he was 79 years old, he revisited the site and founded the third main seat, Tsurphu there. It was here that Dusum Khyenpa passed away in 1193. The monastery grew to hold around 1000 monks. Eventually, Tsurphu was presented in a schema that aligned these three major Karma Kagyu monasteries of Tsurphu, Karma, and Kampo Nenang respectively with the mind, speech, and body maṇḍalas of the Karmapas. 
2nd Karmapa’s restoration and Avalokiteśvara statue
The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (Kar-ma Pak-shi) (1204-1283) travelled to Tsurphu monastery, which had been badly damaged during local wars. Completely rebuilding it he spent six years there and bestowed many teachings and initiations on the Lamas, monks and lay-people. His student Dengom, is said to have built the Lhakhang Chenmo there.
Ruth Gamble (2018: 84-5) explains that:
“Karma Pakshi dedicated much of the wealth he had accrued from his sojourns at the courts of Mongol princes and emperors to the construction of a ten-span-high image of Avalokiteśvara and a building in which to house it. This project was so important to Karma Pakshi that he wrote a short liberation story about it: the Liberation Story of the Construction of the Great Deity That Ornaments the World.”
Nepotism and Power Struggles: The Holders of Tsurphu after Dusum Khyenpa up until 5th Karmapa
Interestingly, in the Blue Annals (Chapter 7 of Book 8 on the Dagpo Kagyu traditions) Zhonu Pel (gZhon-nu-dpal (1392-1481)) details the lineage of Tsurphu heads from First Karmapa onwards until his own time. The abbatial lineage at Tsurphu is believed by some to have been based on reincarnation from the monastery’s inception. However, if the information in the Blue Annals is accurate, this was not initially the case. For the first fifty years of the monastery’s functioning, the abbots were either disciples or nephews of the Second Karmapa (for full lineage list see footnote  below). Gamble (2018) refers to this control of Tsurphu by family members and the effect it had on the 3rd Karmapa (see more below about 3rd Karmapa at Tsurphu):
“He [3rd Karmapa] does, however, refer indirectly to his interactions with Karma Pakshi’s family, who continued to control the Karmapas’ monasteries. The relationship between Karma Pakshi’s family and the Karmapas’ monasteries provides, therefore, a pertinent example of how family lineages occupied monastic space, and how their claims to this space interacted with the claims of other lineage holders, like monks and reincarnates. In his autobiographical writing, Karma Pakshi claims a noble heritage for his family.
There is probably no way to prove or disprove this claim, but the fact that it was made speaks to a sense of family importance that is absent in Rangjung Dorjé’s writing. The importance of this family’s lineage is further evidenced by the control they retained over the Karmapas’ monasteries after Karma Pakshi died. Karma Monastery was closer to their ancestral lands, and evidence suggests Karma Pakshi’s family retained control of it for centuries.
The first Tai Situ reincarnate, Chökyi Gyeltsen (1377–1448), was a member of Karma Pakshi’s family, and the Tai Situ reincarnates remained the heads of Karma Monastery until Situ Panchen relocated them to Pelpung Monastery in the eighteenth century. Tsurphu Monastery was nowhere near their ancestral lands, but they gained control of it too and retained this control for nearly as long. Karma Pakshi’s familial incursion into this area was tolerated but contained by local rulers.
Orgyenpa notes the presence of Karma Pakshi’s displaced and rough “Khampa” relatives when he visits Tsurphu. The family was patronized by a local lord named Shétruk Jangtsa (better known as Dorjé Bar), who married Karma Pakshi’s niece. The Shétruk family was later defeated in battle by the Gar, who took control of the whole region. The Gar family, based at Tsel Monastery, continued its support of the Karmapas, but demanded services in return. This support enabled Karma Pakshi’s family to maintain control of Tsurpu throughout the Mongol imperial period and beyond. The abbots of Tsurpu were all from Karma Pakshi’s family until the time of the fifth Karmapa, Dézhin Shekpa (1384–1415), who was, perhaps not coincidently, Chökyi Gyeltsen’s teacher.” Gamble (2018: 52-55).
The lineage of Tsurphu heads then continued on with several Karmapas residing there until the present day 17th Karmapa (see below) who was enthroned there in 1992.
Recent times at Tsurphu – 16th and 17th Karmapas
16th Karmapa’s visions of Vimalamitra, exile in India, destruction and rebuilding of Tsurphu
In his short article on Tsurphu Monastery, Alexander Berzin explains how the 16th Karmapa had a vision of the 8th Century Dzogchen master and translator, Vimalamitra ( dri med bshes gnyen) who advised him to found an institute for study at Tsurphu prior to the Chinese invasion:
“In the mid-20th century, the Eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Wangchug Gyalpo (Tai Situ Pad-ma dbang-phyug rgyal-po), established an institute for Buddhist textual study at Pelpung Monastery (dPal-spung dGon-pa) in Derge (sDe-dge), Kham (Khams). The First Tai Situ, Chokyi Gyaltsen (Tai Si-tu Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) (1377-1448), had been a disciple of the Fifth Karmapa, and the Eighth Tai Situ, Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne (Si-tu Pan-chen Chos-kyi ‘byung-gnas) (1700-1774), had founded Pelpung in 1727. The Eleventh Tai Situ then requested the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (Kar-ma Rang-byung rig-pa’i rdo-rje) (1924-1981), to establish a similar institute of study at Tsurphu.
Subsequent to this request, the Karmapa received a vision of the great Nyingma translator Vimalamitra (Bi-ma-la-mi-tra), who had introduced the dzogchen (rdzogs-chen) lineage from India to Tibet. In this vision, Vimalamitra also advised the Karmapa to establish a centre where the teachings could be properly transmitted and studied. If this could be done, Vimalamitra promised he would emanate among its teachers and students for thirteen lifetimes.
The Sixteenth Karmapa was in the process of preparing to found such an institute at Tsurphu when the Chinese invasion occurred. In 1959, he escaped to Sikkim. He chose Rumtek Monastery to be his seat in exile.”
Hugh Richardson, in his account “Memories of Tsurphu”, in the book High Peaks, Pure Earth – Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture (Serindia, 1998) describes how he met the 16th Karmapa:
“… I was received by the Rinpoche himself in his bright, gleaming room looking out on a little flower garden in which stalked a fine peacock. His room was full of clocks of all kinds and was hung with cages of the birds he loved – budgerigars and canaries… The Rinpoche was then about twenty-three years old, a large, calm young man with a ready smile and a sense of humour.”
Richardson visited Tsurphu twice first in 1946, and a second time just before leaving Lhasa in 1950.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, a friend and contemporary of the 14th Karmapa, wrote a short history of Tsurphu, which is contained in his Collected Works. However, the 16th Karmapa had to leave Tibet in 1959 due to the Chinese invasion:
“Fighting broke out all over Tibet and Karmapa was begged by his disciples to flee the country while he had the chance. He told them not to worry, saying “It is not necessary for me to leave yet. But if the time comes you can be assured that there will be no difficulty for me”. Sometime later Karmapa sent Situ Tulku and the ninth Sangye Nyenpa Tulku to Bhutan. He gave instructions for the restoration of the Nyide Gon monastery in Lhobrag, in the South, telling the monks to go about life in their normal way. At this time a new monastery was being built for Karmapa at Kur Tod, in Northern Bhutan, under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Azi Wangmo, who had met him in Kalimpong. The monastery was finished and prepared for use. The Chinese hostilities became intolerable and future possibilities for a peaceful existence were very unlikely. Realising that the cause of the Dharma would best be served by escaping from the ever-tightening grips of the Chinese, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa decided that he had no choice but to move to more peaceful areas. Accordingly, on the fourth day of the second month of the earth boar year ( 1959), accompanied by an entourage of one hundred and sixty Lamas, monks and laymen, Karmapa left Tsurphu monastery, the ancient seat of the Karmapas since the twelfth century, and proceeded towards Bhutan.” (Douglas and White (1978: 117-8).
When in exile, the 16th Karmapa spoke a praise to Tsurphu in his song, Joyful Roar of Melodious Experience. I have re-translated and published this verse (together with the Tibetan) at the beginning of this post (for more on the Collected Works of 16th Karmapa, see Bibliography). Here is a video of the 17th Karmapa chanting a melody he composed himself of the 16th Karmapa’s song, with the first verses praising Tsurphu.
The Tsurphu complex was totally destroyed during the Chinese communist invasion of Tibet. All the 900 monks there were all driven away or killed. Until 1980, the ruins remained untouched. One monk in the 1988 film described how in the main temple there had been three big stupas that contained the relics of the Kagyu lineages teachers and statues of all the Karmapas up to the 10th Karmapa that were all destroyed manually and dynamite was used only for the Lachen statue. Only one monk, Nyermo, who didn’t leave the country survived, he is interviewed in the 1988 film. He speaks about how he promised to remain there as long as the Tsurphu monastery existed and how even though everyone was fleeing, a few others stayed and tried to save as much as possible. Then in 1965, dressed as a beggar and starving, he left and heard that the monastery was completely destroyed shortly afterwards.
However, in early 1980, when the communist Chinese government opened the Tibet-Nepal border for older Tibetans to visit family and relatives, the 16th Karmapa instructed Venerable Drupon Dechen Rinpoche to go back to Tibet to reconstruct it.
It is said that reconstruction of Tsurphu was extremely difficult because Tibetan people were very poor and any support they could provide was very limited. However, through the effort of Drupon Dechen Rinpoche (who had been asked to teach Buddhism in Canada but instead wanted to work on Tsurphu) and the devotion and dedication of the Tibetan people, many aspects of this large complex was rebuilt. After many years of hard work and dedication they completed the partial rebuilding of the main shrine and some of the other parts of the development.
Here is the fascinating 1988 documentary produced and directed by Ward Holmes (who also established the Tsurphu Foundation in Hawai to collect funds for the restoration) about the rebuilding of Tsurphu after the 16th Karmapa’s passing:
Return to Tsurphu: Recognition and enthronement of 17th Karmapa
Ogyen Trinley Dorje (born 1985) was officially recognised as the 17th Karmapa by the most senior Karma Kagyu lamas in Tibet and exile, such as HE Tai Situ and Gyeltsab Rinpoche, after the 16th Karmapa’s prediction letter was discovered in an amulet given to Tai Situ Rinpoche, before the Karmapa passed away. Details about the letter can be viewed here. The letter is also shown by a monk at Tsurphu in the 1998 documentary film of the Karmapa’s return to Tsurphu (see below).
The boy’s recognition and enthronement also received the blessing and confirmation from HH 14th Dalai Lama in exile. Although there was some doubt about the veracity of the letter by the 14th Zhamar Rinpoche, he confirmed in writing that he accepted the recognition, after a meeting with the 14th Dalai Lama in June 1992, see details of that letter here.
Orgyen Trinley Dorje was taken to Tsurphu, and in June 1992 was enthroned there by the most senior Karma Kagyu lamas and residents (and recognised by Chinese Communist government officials). Approximately 20 000 people came for the enthronement with people camping around the monastery.
It is said that the reconstruction Of Tsurphu was then brought to a completely different level. Most of the original monastery complex was restored and a new shedra was built. Many devoted students and followers of the Kagyu lineage visited the Karmapa at Tsurphu and donated their services for the effort of rebuilding the original monastery,
For a full documentary film of the 17th Karmapa’s recognition, return and enthronement at Tsurphu, including footage and interviews with Tai Situ, Gyeltsab, Tenga and Tulku Ugyen Rinpoches, see here:
Here is a video of 17th Karmapa walking the sacred mountain trail around Tsurphu Monastery that many previous Karmapas have walked around.
On September 29, 1992, the 17th Karmapa performed his first public ceremony at Tsurphu, bestowing the empowerment of Standing Red Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara). The empowerment was received by over 20,000 devotees. He was assisted by H.E. Tai Situ and H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, see short film clip of it here.
The 17th Karmapa resided at Tsurphu until he went to India in 2000. For more on his escape into exile, see here and here.
PART II: 3rd KARMAPA AT TSURPHU AND HIS PRAISES
3rd Karmapa’s Challenging Times at Tsurphu, Miracles and Retreat at Khung Dzong
In her recent book on the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (Kar-ma Rang-‘byung rdo-rje) (1284-1339), Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: The Third Karmapa and the Invention of a Tradition (2018), Ruth Gamble details how Rangjung Dorje was forced to leave his teacher Orgyenpa’s hermitage because of political upheavals and makes his way to Tsurphu Monastery, where he spends his late childhood and adolescence. Not everyone welcomes him back to Tsurphu. There are tensions between those advocating for Karma Pakshi’s family to maintain control of the monastery and those advocating for his reincarnation, Rangjung Dorje. Karma Pakshi’s family remains in control of the monastery, and he lives in a nearby retreat center. In the retreat center, he writes songs and stories that reimagine Tsurphu as the Karmapas’ maṇḍala. He also records his memories of past lives and reflects on how lonely he is. He begins making short journeys around Tsurphu. Rangjung Dorje is said to have had visions of protectors — in some tellings Mahākāla Bernagchen — who told him to go to Tsurphu:
“In contrast to the machinations of his local worldly rulers, he describes his invitations to Tsurpu, like the invitations that led to his birth, in great detail. The episode began when a Tsurpu-based yogi named Lama Nyenré (“the cotton-clad guru from Nyen”) experienced a vision of Avalokiteśvara, who insisted he visit his teacher Karma Pakshi’s reincarnation in South Latö. Lama Nyenré formed a bond with the young Rangjung Dorjé during that visit, but there was no need for the boy to leave Orgyenpa and travel to Tsurpu at this time. Then, after the Drigung uprising, Rangjung Dorjé himself experienced a vision indicating he should travel to Tsurpu. In this vision, the two protector deities, Black Coat [Bernagchen] and the nāga king known as Khanak, Lord of Mantra, tell him forcefully that it is time to go. The appearance of these two particular protectors in the narrative is not a coincidence. Black Coat—the personal protector of the Karmapas and Tsurphu— authorizes Rangjung Dorjé’s arrival at his destination.” Gamble (2018: 168-9)
There he received teachings on various topics including Kālacakra and Chod from Sherab Pel (shes rab dpal, d.u.), Nyenre Gendun Bum (gnyan ras dge ‘dun ‘bum, d.u.), and Namtsowa Mikyo Dorje (gnam mtsho ba mi bskyod rdo rje, d.u.).
“His initial welcome was positive. Lama Nyenré, not only greeted the young boy warmly but experienced a vision of him as Saraha, surrounded by all the earlier Kagyü gurus. This vision reestablishes a link between the Karmapas and this Indian mahāsiddha that Karma Pakshi first established, and it would become a central theme in Rangjung Dorjé’s early years at Tsurphu. Another teacher at Tsurphu, Darma Tönpa, who lived in a hermitage behind Tsurpu called Trashi Sarma (New Providence), experienced a similar vision, in which the entire Kagyü lineage, including Tilopa and Nāropā, demonstrated their support for the boy. After this vision, Rangjung Dorjé reported, Darma Tönpa has “an intense admiration” for him.
But while these two teachers welcomed him warmly, other Tsurphu residents were less impressed by his arrival. Rangjung Dorjé’s description of this displeasure is both oblique and diplomatic. He merely recalls the need to display a miracle for the edification of the crowd, and says that in response to that need, “Ngak Dakma (Mantra Lady), offered me a cool, pure spring, according to my wishes. And at that time, much foliage (also) sprouted from a dry branch that I planted (next to it).” Tsuklak Trengwa describes the incident in more detail:
[After Lama Nyenré’s and Darma Tönpa’s visions] there were still a few unfortunate, arrogant, faithless beings at Tsurphu. [To dispel their doubts,] Rangjung Dorjé went to a dry rocky place and said, “If I am Karma Pakshi, let a spring arise in this place.” As he spoke, a spring appeared. [Then, he held] a half-burned, twisted stick and said, “If I am Karma Pakshi’s rebirth, let this too be [reborn].” It happened as he spoke. These two became known as the “siddha spring,” and the “siddha tree.” Gamble (2018: 172-3).
For these reasons, the 3rd Karmapa spent a life of meditation in caves. After his arrival at Tsurphu, Rangjung Dorje moved into Khyung Dzong retreat cave above Tsurphu and studied under Lama Nyenre and Darma Tonpa:
“But it was in Khyung Dzong, in the land of goats, and not the central buildings of Tsurpu that Rangjung Dorjé spent most of his adolescence studying and practicing yoga. He had arrived at Tölung Valley as a seven-year-old in 1290. Tensions in South Latö were still high following the Drigung Monastery uprising of 1290, and his teacher Orgyenpa had to travel to the Mongol capitals. The songs he composed while at Khyung Dzong suggest he thought he would be returning to Orgyenpa soon, but he never saw him again. The isolation he describes in his poems was caused not only by Orgyenpa’s absence but also his precarious status at Tsurpu. Karma Pakshi’s family was in charge at Tsurpu, and although they let him stay, they did not always welcome him. Rangjung Dorjé went into retreat as a child, and he spent much of the next ten years living in the huts at Khyung Dzong, studying and conducting retreats.
There it is said, he saw the planets and stars of the inner and outer spheres revolve themselves. Later, his treatise on astrology became famous as the Tsurphu, or Tolung, System. He wrote an extensive commentary to the Kalacakra Tantra (Dus-‘khor). The Tsurpu lineage of astronomy and astrology (Tshur-lugs) developed from it. Each year, the monastery prepared and published the Tsurphu calendar and almanac (Tshur-phu lo-tho), calculated according to this tradition and it is still one of the main Tibetan calendars. (for more on that see here).
Additionally, in 1321 the famous Jonang founder and master Dolpopa (1292-1361) is said to have visited Tsurphu Monastery for the first time and had extensive discussions with Rangjung Dorje about Buddhist philosophy. It appears that Rangjung Dorje almost certainly influenced the development of some of Dolpopa’s theories, in particular, his Zhentong (gzhan stong) view of emptiness (although some have doubted if they actually met).
Gamble (2018: 176) explains that the Third Karmapa did not change the physical landscape of Tsurphu that much, but that his visions of Dharma protectors had more of an impact:
“By the time Rangjung Dorjé arrived, it was already being transformed from an ordinary sacred site into a “great sacred site” and presented as a deity’s maṇḍala. The final form of the Tsurpu maṇḍala only appeared centuries after Rangjung Dorjé’s death. His contribution to this process was, therefore, significant, but not definitive. Apart from Déchen Teng Hermitage, which he had built later in life in the hills near Tsurpu, he did little to change the region’s physical landscape, but his visions of Black Coat [Bernakchen] and Remati are part of his project to reimagine Tsurphu.”
Even a series of earthquakes were used to re-imagine Tsurphu and its connection to the 3rd Karmapa. After the series of earthquakes and visions had ended, Rangjung Dorjé began composing songs, and he continued to compose them regularly for the rest of his stay at Khyung Dzong. Twenty of the songs he composed during this period have been preserved in his collected songs, but there is a suggestion in his liberation story that he composed more.
Two Praises to Tsurphu by 3rd Karmapa
There are two praises to Tsurphu by the Third Karmapa in his collected works. The Praise translated here is the shorter one and refers to the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and the founding of Tsurphu. It is not really a poem, but more a praise of the qualities of land, water, flowers, plants and air there and how it removes the suffering of humans and animals who stay there. It does not state when and where it was composed. It may have been composed when he was still a child.
In an interesting chapter on Rangjung Dorje’s songs and praises, Gamble (2018: 108-9) explains the purpose of these compositions:
“In several places within his writing, particularly in his poetic compositions, he explicitly states that he is trying to change the way that his audience views the Karmapas’ abodes and the places they visit. Sometimes he explains that he is doing this to encourage insights in his students, and in these cases the environment becomes a focus of their meditation, a soteriological tool. But at other times, he writes of his intention to coat the places about which he is writing with a layer of poetic prestige.” (Gamble, 2018: 107-8).
Rangjung Dorje’s praises directed to places are, however, uncommon. Neither the Collected Works of his two predecessor Karmapas nor those of his other primary lineal forebears contain similar praises to places. But five out of the nine praises in his Collected Works are directed at locations: two are to Tsurpu; one to the hermitage he founded near Tsurpu, Déchen Teng; another to the sacred mountain Khawa Karpo; and the last to an unnamed mountain valley. Unlike his and others’ praises to deities, buddhas, gurus, and lineages, the purpose of these praises is not merely to celebrate the object’s good qualities. It is also, to use Rangjung Dorje’s words, to make his audience “look again” at these sites and “encourage their admiration.”
Gamble then asserts that the influence of the treasure tradition on Rangjung Dorje’s perception of places means that the three dharma kings and Padmasambhava play prominent roles within them too:
“By Rangjung Dorjé’s time, these stories had been inscribed onto Tibet’s cultural landscape not only figuratively but also physically through inscriptions in temples, murals, and other images. The stories of the three kings that Rangjung Dorjé evokes are most often associated with buildings and statues; he visits the temples they built, repeatedly praises their achievements, and frames these achievements within their emanation narratives. The Lamp That Illuminates the Flower of Poetic Decoration: A Praise to Tsurpu exemplifies his approach to them. The work asks the audience to look out from the hill behind Tsurpu toward Lhasa and imagine it in its imperial splendor:
See the Great King’s [Tri Songtsen Gampo’s] personal statue of
The naturally formed figure of the greatest of gods, the inspirational Avalokiteśvara,
the deity of which he is a manifestation;
Yes, [like this statue] he too is the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
See clearly the naturally formed palace over which this king,
This manifestation of Avalokiteśvara presided.
Look again and see that mountain on which Mañjuśrī’s Manifestation,
the Great King [Tri Song Détsen] stayed.
Look again and see that naturally formed palace upon which
Vajrapāṇi’s manifestation, Tri Relpachen, gazed.” (Gamble (2018: 113).
Gamble states that the Karmapa made people ‘look again’ at these sacred places in two ways by ‘adornment’ and deconstruction’.
SHORT PRAISE TO TSURPHU
by Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje
རང་བཞིན་དོན་ལ་མཉམ་མེད་ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྗེ། ། འགྲོ་བའི་དོན་དུ་ཐུགས་རྗེ་སྤྲུལ་པའི་སྐུ། །
དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་དང་ཆོས་རྗེ་རིན་ཆེན་གྱི། ། དགོངས་པ་མ་ལུས་ཡོངས་སུ་རྫོགས་པ་ཡིས། །
དབེན་གནས་ཆེན་པོ་མཚུར་ཕུ་དེ་ཉིད་ཀྱི། ། བསྟོད་པ་ཅུང་ཞིག་བདག་གིས་བཀོད་པར་བྱ། །
Om Sarva Swasti Siddham Hum
Unequalled Lord of Dharma, nature of the ultimate aim,
Emanation form of great compassion for the sake of beings,
Dusum Khyenpa [1st Karmapa] and Precious Dharma Lord who
With perfect, complete and unmistaken intention created
The solitary place of Great Tsurphu,
I compose a small praise to that.
དབེན་ཞིང་ཉམས་དགའ་བའི་ས་ཕྱོགས་མཚུར་ཀྱི་ཕུ། ། ཟླ་འོད་གཞོན་ནུ་ཉིད་ཀྱིས་ལུང་བསྟན་ཅིང༌། །
བསྒྲུབ་པའི་གནས་མཆོག་ཁྱད་འཕགས་ཆེན་པོ་ཡི། ། རྒྱབ་རི་དག་ནི་མཆོད་རྟེན་རྣམ་པ་ལ།
Isolated realm, enjoyable and pleasant in all directions, Tsurphu;
As prophesised by the ever youthful Chandraprabha himself [Gampopa when he heard Samadhirajasutra],
Noble, superior, great supreme abode of accomplishment, whose
Mountain behind has the aspect of a stupa.
བྱ་དང་གཅན་གཟན་རི་དྭགས་ཚོགས་རྣམས་ནི། ། སྐད་སྙན་བསྒྲོགས་ཤིང་གར་ཐབས་རྩེ་བའི་ས། །
སྐབས་སྐབས་དག་ན་ལྷ་གནས་འདྲ་བ་ཡི། ། སྤང་ལྗོངས་དག་ལ་མེ་ཏོག་སྣ་ཚོགས་ནི། །
As for birds, wild animals and deer, it is
A place of love and joy, with pleasant roars and sounds.
Sometimes, like a divine realm of
Grassy meadows with various blooms.
ཨུཏྤལ་སྤང་བརྒྱན་ཤང་ཤང་ལ་སོགས་པའི། ། མེ་ཏོག་རིགས་ནི་བསམ་གྱིས་མི་ཁྱབ་སྟེ།
དེ་དག་ཀུན་ཡང་དྲི་ཞིམ་ངད་དང་ལྡན། ། དེ་ལྟར་མེ་ཏོག་རིགས་བཞིན་སྨན་རྣམས་ཀྱང༌། །
Adorned with Uptala flower meadows, shangshang and more,
Inconceivable types of blooms,
All of them with gorgeous, fragrant scents,
Like that, the types of flowers are like medicines.
བསམ་གྱི་མི་ཁྱབ་མཐའ་ཡས་སྣ་ཚོགས་པ། ། སོ་སོ་རང་རང་དྲི་ཞིམ་ངད་དང་ལྡན། །
དེ་བཞིན་མེ་ཏོག་སྨན་རྣམས་བསྐྱེད་བྱེད་པའི། ། ཆུའི་མཆོག་གྱུར་བསམ་གྱིས་མི་ཁྱབ་པ། །
Inconceivable, infinite varieties
Each individual one with exquisite, fragrant scent.
Similarly, there is supreme water that produces
Inconceivable medicinal flowers.
གནས་ཤིང་འགྲོ་བ་སྐོམ་གྱིས་གདུངས་བ་རྣམས། ། སྐོམ་སེལ་དབུགས་ཀྱང་ཕྱིན་ཅིང་མཆོག་དགའ་ཐོབ། །
དེ་ལྟར་རིའི་མཆོག་གྱུར་དེ་ལ་ནི། ། རང་བྱོན་ལྷ་དང་ཡིག་འབྲུ་བསམ་མི་ཁྱབ། །
A place where thirsty wanderers tormented,
Can sup, breathe and attain supreme joy
Like that, the supreme mountain there,
The unfathomable, naturally-appearing deity and seed syllable.
དེ་བཞིན་སེམས་ཅན་དབུགས་སྲོག་བསྐྱེད་བྱེད་པ། ། སྔོ་སྡུམ་ཟས་ཀྱི་བྱེ་བྲག་བསམ་མི་ཁྱབ། །
དེ་ལྟར་མདུན་གྱི་རི་བོ་དེ་ཉིད་ལ། ། སེམས་ཅན་གོས་ཀྱིས་གདུངས་བར་གྱུར་པ་ལ།
Similarly, an unfathomable producer of food and sprouts,
The life force of sentient beings.
Like that, the mountain in front,
Covers the torments of sentient beings.
ཤིང་གི་རིགས་ནི་ཁྲི་ཕྲག་དུ་མ་ཡི། མེ་ཡིས་དྲོད་ནི་ཆེན་པོ་བསྐྱེད་ནས་ཀྱང༌། །
འཁྱགས་པའི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་མ་ལུས་སེལ་བར་བྱེད། ། དེ་བཞིན་སྨན་དང་མེ་ཏོག་ཆུ་ལ་སོགས།
Also, the manifold types of trees,
Produce huge, warming fires.
Eliminating completely the suffering of icy cold.
Likewise, there are medicinal herbs, flowers, water and so on.
གོང་དང་འདྲ་ཞིང་རི་དྭགས་ཀུན་ཀྱང་གནས། བྱ་དང་གཅན་གཟན་ལ་སོགས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱང༌། །
བདེ་བར་འཚོ་ཞིང་འཇིགས་པ་ཀུན་དང་བྲལ། ། དེ་ལྟར་ལུང་པ་དེའི་ཕུ་ཉིད་ན། །
As above, trees, wild animals and
All the birds, carnivorous beasts and so on,
Thrive and live happily, free from all fears.
Like that, this place of Phu [Upper];
སྤང་གཤོང་དག་ནི་གསེར་གྱི་མཎྜལ་འདྲ། ། དབེན་ཞིང་ཉམས་དགའ་ལྷའི་གནས་ལྟ་བུ། །
དེའི་རྩ་ན་གངས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ནི། ། རྒྱལ་བའི་མིང་ཅན་གནས་ཤིང་དེ་ནས་ནི། །
ཆུ་རྒྱུན་བསིལ་བའི་ངད་ནི་འབབ་བྱེད་ཅིང༌། ། སེམས་ཅན་མིའི་འགྲོ་བ་ཐམས་ཅད་ལ།
Pure, pleasant meadows, similar to a golden mandala,
Like a divine abode, isolated and joyful.
Near to that, is the King of Mountains
Bearer of the Victor’s Name, from which
A cool and sweet-smelling river flows down,
A source of bliss and well-being for
All humans and beings, quenching their thirst.
ཉ་དང་སྟོང་དང་ཚེས་བརྒྱད་ལ་སོགས་དང༌། ། ཚེས་གསུམ་ལ་སོགས་དུས་བཟང་ཐམས་ཅད་ལ། །
ནམ་མཁའ་ལ་ནི་འཇའི་གུར་ཕུབ་ཅིང༌། ། མེ་ཏོག་ཆར་པ་ལ་སོགས་འབྱུང་བའི་གནས། །
Like that, in that supreme abode itself,
On full, new moon and eighth day and so on,
The third day and all auspicious times,
A place where rainbow domes and
Flowers and more rain down in the sky.
དེའི་དབུས་ན་མཚུར་ཕུའི་དགོན་པ་ནི། ། ཇི་ལྟར་སྤང་ལ་མེ་ཏོག་བཀྲམ་པ་བཞིན། །
ཇི་ལྟ་ཇི་བཞིན་ལྷ་ངེ་ལྷམ་མེ་བ། ། ཀུན་གྱི་མཆོག་གྱུར་དཔལ་ལྡན་མཚུར་གྱི་ཕུ། །
In the centre of that, the Monastery of Tsurphu,
Where the meadows are like Metog Drampa [AvakIr Nakusuma name of a future Buddha]
A radiant deity: as it is, and as it appears.
In which all becomes supreme.
To that glorious Tsurphu,
Supreme place of amazing qualities, bow down!
མཚུར་ཕུའི་བསྟོད་པ་རང་བྱུང་རྡོ་རྗེས་བྲིས་པའོ།། །། ༈
‘Praises to Tsurphu’ written by Rangjung Dorje.
Brown, Mick. (2004) Dance of Seventeen Lives: Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17th Karmapa. Bloomsbury Publications.
Douglas, Nik and White, Meryl (1976) Karmapa: The Black Hat Lamas of Tibet. Luzac and Company.
——(2020) The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje: Master of Mahamudra (Lives of the Masters), Shambhala Publications.
—–(2018) Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: The Third Karmapa and the Invention of a Tradition. Oxford University Press.
Holmes, Ken (1995). Karmapa, Altea Publishing 1995.
Lama Kunsang, Lama Pemo, Marie Aubèle (2012). History of the Karmapas: The Odyssey of the Tibetan Masters with the Black Crown. Snow Lion Publications.
Martin, Michele (2003). Music in the Sky. The Life, Art and Teachings of the 17th Karmapa. New Age Books, India.
Tomlin, Adele (2021). Tibetan script of Guru Padmasambhava’s prophecy on 15th to 21st Karmapas, as revealed by Chogyur Lingpa. Dakini Publications.
FIRST EDITION CATALOGUE OF 16TH GYALWANG KARMAPA’S COLLECTED WORKS, TEACHINGS, INTERVIEWS, SONGS, VIDEOS (in Tibetan, English and other languages)
 “mtshur phu’i bstod pa thung ba/.” In karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 14: 70 – 72. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.
 “The Protector Dorje Pal Tseg of Nesnang, in the Khams province, requested that Karmapa visit the area, which he did, establishing the large Kampo Nesnang monastery there in his fifty-sixth year ( 1165 ). This place is noted for the huge rock upon which the Tibetan letter ‘Ka’ appears whenever a new Karmapa incarnates into this world.” Douglas and White (1976: 35).
 “Rin chen dpal bzang, Mtshur phu dgon gyi dkar chag kun gsal me long (Pe cin [Beijing], China:: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1995), 15. This transformation depended upon closer alignment between the Karmapas and Avalokiteśvara.”
 See Gamble (2018:85).
 Zhonu Pel writes that after the 1st Karmapa’s passing away up until the then current Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche, there had been 21 holders of the Tsurphu Seat, most of whom were relatives of the Second Karmapa:
- Lho Layagpa (lho la yag pa) occupied the (abbot’s) chair for two or three years.
- Dusum Khyenpa’s disciple Rangjung Sangye (rang ‘byung sangs rgyas) of Tolung Drimpa (stod lungs grim pa).
- Then, Dusum Khyenpa’s disciple Gyawa Gangpa (gya ba gangs pa).
- Then, Gyatso Lama (rgya mtsho bla ma) occupied the chair for two or three years.
- Then, Rinchen Drag (rin chen grags). These three were natives of Gyawa (gya ba).
- When Rinchen Drag was occupying the chair, Karma Pakshi (kar ma pa shi, 2nd Karmapa) came from Kham and occupied the chair.
- After him, Karmapa’s maternal nephew (snag dbon) took over the chair and was called Won Rinpoche (dbon rin po che).
- After him, the paternal (rus dbon) nephew of Karmapa, the Lama Nenangpa (bla ma gnas nang pa).
- After him, Awang Yeshe Wangchug (dbang ye shes dbang phyug), son of Tsugtor Kyab (gtsug tor skyabs), the brother of Karmapa.
- Then the latter’s son, Lama Tashi Bumpa (bla ma bkra shis ‘bum pa) took over the chair.
- After him, Lama Wangrin (bla ma dbang rin), son of Wonpo Apel (dbon po a dpal), brother of Tashi Bumpa.
- Then the chair was taken over by Tseyma Pandita (tshad ma paṇḍita), who occupied it for six months and then died. Again, Lama Wangrin occupied the chair for several years.
- Lama Rinchen Pel (bla ma rin chen dpal), a nephew of the Lama Nenangpa, was appointed by the Dharmasvāmin Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje, 3rd Karmapa), and took over the chair. He was also called the Lama Nagpo (bla ma nag po (the “black Lama”).
- After him, his cousin Lama Choyang (bla ma chos byang).
- After him, Lama Chogyel (bla ma chos rgyal), the second son of Apel (a dpal), occupied the chair for a long time. At first he held a golden seal with a crystal tho shu (<t’u shu) and the title of gu’i gung (Kuei-kung). Later (he received) the crystal seal of a Konting GuShru (kon ting gu shrI (Kuan ting kuo shih)) accompanied by a ‘ja’ sa ‘khor ma (Imperial letter of office with the images of eight or nine dragons).
- After his death, his brother Chokyi Lodro (chos kyi blo gros) took over the chair and inherited the title.
- After his death, his younger brother Kathub (dka’ thub)’s eldest son—Rinpoche Kunga Lodropa (rin po che kun dga’ blo gros pa) inherited the chair and the title for about fifteen years.
- He entrusted the chair to his brother Choki Ozer (chos kyi ‘od zer) who took it over and the title for 24 years.
- After his death, his brother the Lama Sonam Gyatso (bla ma bsod nams rgya mstho)’s eldest son Jamyang Dondrub Ozer (‘jam dbyangs don grub ‘od zer) took over the chair and title.
- When he occupied the chair, the Dharmasvāmin, Dezhin Shegpa ( de bzhin gshegs pa, 5th Karmapa) proceeded to the Imperial Court. He received a golden seal and the title of Konting Tai Gushri (kon ting ta’i gu shrI), as well as that of Ka’o min (Kuan-ting Ta Kuo-shih; Kao-ming), and then continued to act as abbot for 43 years.
- After that (the chair was occupied) by the present gu shrI ba.
 Unfortunately Berzin does not give any reference for this story though.
 “stod lung mtshur phu.” In gsung ‘bum/_mkhyen brtse’i dbang po/. TBRC W21807. 18: 440 – 442. gangtok: gonpo tseten, 1977-1980.
 “In contrast to the machinations of his local worldly rulers, he describes his invitations to Tsurpu, like the invitations that led to his birth, in great detail. The episode began when a Tsurpu-based yogi named Lama Nyenré (“the cotton-clad guru from Nyen”) experienced a vision of Avalokiteśvara, who insisted he visit his teacher Karma Pakshi’s reincarnation in South Latö. Lama Nyenré formed a bond with the young Rangjung Dorjé during that visit, but there was no need for the boy to leave Orgyenpa and travel to Tsurpu at this time. Then, after the Drigung uprising, Rangjung Dorjé himself experienced a vision indicating he should travel to Tsurpu. In this vision, the two protector deities, Black Coat and the nāga king known as Khanak, Lord of Mantra, tell him forcefully that it is time to go. The appearance of these two particular protectors in the narrative is not a coincidence. Black Coat—the personal protector of the Karmapas and Tsurpu— authorizes Rangjung Dorjé’s arrival at his destination.” Gamble (2018: 168-9)
 Quote from Gamble (2018: 167-8). “The primary foci of both these endeavors were the twin pillars of the Kagyü lineage: Nāropā’s six dharmas and mahāmudrā. His stories and songs make claims for his developing proficiency in both practices by describing a series of visions he experienced. The most frequent presences in these visions are two protector deities, Black Coat and Remati, who are linked closely with both Tsurpu and the Karmapa rebirth lineage. During this period, he also experienced a vision of the Indian mahāsiddha Saraha, a vision that included a poetic exchange. This song is the first in his Collected Songs. His collected songs also include a series of songs that he composed in Khyung Dzong between 1296 and 1300, when he was twelve to sixteen years old.2 These songs reflect his life in Khyung Dzong. They describe its environment, the subjects he is studying, and his efforts to grapple with his identity. One of their major themes, which again reflects Saraha’s influence on his writing, is the irony of composing songs about the “inexpressible” mahāmudrā. The other theme in his writing during this time is reminiscence about his past lives. While at Khyung Dzong, he wrote a song about his past lives as well as the Liberation Story of Past Lives. In stark contrast to the playfulness that he brings to these subjects, his writing from this period also reflects a melancholy theme that would reoccur in the writing of other reincarnates: loneliness. In the main, this theme is expressed through the traditional Tibetan Buddhist proclamations of “remembering the guru.” But Rangjung Dorjé also composed a new form of lament, specific to reincarnate children; he wrote songs full of doubts that he could meet the expectations of his gurus and followers.” Gamble (2018: 168).
 “After leaving Tsurphu to visit other areas and Karma Nenang Karmapa returned to Tsurphu and stayed in the Perna Chung Tsong hermitage there, engaging himself in meditation. In a vision the Siddha Urgyenpa appeared before him, explained all the special teachings of Karma Pakshi and initiated him into the inner esoteric doctrines of Siddha Tilopa. He also had a vision of Guru Padmasambhava and received his blessings. Continuing his meditation he saw the planets and stars of the inner and outer spheres resolve themselves, had a great inspiration and composed a treatise on astrology, which later became established as a new system.” Douglas and White (1976: 48-9).
 “Another way that Rangjung Dorjé’s autobiographies and songs reimagine Tsurpu, and promote his relationship with it, is to link unusual natural occurrences to his spiritual development. The first time it does this is in 1294, when a series of earthquakes is said to be a result of ten-year-old Rangjung Dorjé’s development of “impartial wisdom.” Rangjung Dorjé describes this experience as “the conviction that . . . all apparent phenomena are the mind’s magic trick.” He goes on to describe how this insight led to the unraveling of knots in his channels, which in turn led to intense visions of Black Coat, Remati, and other tantric deities, and the series of earthquakes that lasted for over a year. He describes the earthquakes as the realignment of the external sacred site with his internal subtle-body transformations. Rangjung Dorjé’s continued presence, this story suggests, was upgrading Tsurpu’s sacredness, and the earthquakes were a sign of this transformation.” Gamble (2018: 176-7).
 Mtshur phu’i bstod pa: Gnas kyi tshul gsal bar byed pa snyang ngag gyi me tog gsal ba’i sgron me rdzogs [A praise to Tsurpu: The lamp that illuminates the flower of poetic decoration], 32–40; Mtshur phu’i bstod pa thung ba [A short praise to Tsurpu], 53–55.
 “His poetry adorns sites by listing their sacred symbols and mythical associations, and describing them in poetic language, mainly synonyms and metaphors. It is found primarily in his praises to places. One of these, for example, his [longer] praise to Tsurpu, begins by aligning the Tsurpu River with the Lohita River, in northeast India. It then claims that “Śākyamuni Buddha traveled to this site as he strode through the three thousand (world systems) after manifesting Buddhahood.” After listing other celestial and awakened beings that visited its valley, it changes tack and includes a poetic, kāvya-and-geomancy-inspired reading of the landscape. In this reading, “stone mountains look like great garuḍas in flight” and “clear, cool water-lily-like snow” coats the ground.” (Gamble (2018: 123).
 Shang shang could be a crane bird or a type of flower, it is not clear.