“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou
“Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs.” –Frank Harte
“History is written by the victors.” –-Winston Churchill
So as the final part of my Ladakh research trilogy for 2022, I offer a short post with original and previously unseen/unpublished photos of one of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh, Tiger’s Nose (Stagna) monastery, founded in the late 16th century by a Bhutanese scholar and saint, Chosje Modzin . I briefly mentioned this monastery in my previous post about the Dalai Lamas in Ladakh and the Drugpa Kagyu master, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who was also the main teacher of the 17th Century Ladakhi King Senge Namgyal.
In Tibet, and in Ladakh, the Drugpa Kagyu were one of the most influential and important lineages of Tibetan Buddhism with great spiritual masters like Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje and his student, the famed Orgyenpa (who was a teacher of Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa).This does not claim to be a comprehensive, historical survey of the monastery or Drugpa Kagyu in Ladakh (Tibet and Bhutan), rather my own personal, first-hand experience and photos of visiting the monastery and attending a Lama Chopa puja there on one of the most sacred Buddhist days, Chokhor Duchen (the first turning of the wheel of Dharma by Buddha), as well as an overview of the historical accounts, the Drugpa Kagyu monasteries in Ladakh and their current status and activities.
On Chokhor Duchen, Tibetans and Ladakhi Buddhists traditionally visit the local monasteries in the area to make offerings and participate in the pujas held there. I am a big believer in letting karma direct the flow and so ended up being at Stakna monastery on Chokhor Duchen and sitting for a beautiful and moving Lama Chopa puja for the Drugpa Kagyu teacher, and unifier of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Lhakhang in which the puja was held, had not only a stunning old statue of Zhanbdrung, which I was seated directly in front of during the whole puja but also old wall paintings that had been preserved (but not painted over) from that time period. The wooden frames of the original monastery were still visible while sitting inside.
As the puja developed and the drums, bells and horns ebbed and crescendoed, I felt an overwhelming painful and emotional surge of memories, literally leaking out of the walls and statues, in particular the statue of Zhabrung Ngawang Namgyal as if his spirit was almost possessing me. Visions and sound sof bloodshed, violence, fighting, shouting men on horses with sharp swords, and people’s sadness and suffering in the grounds below the monastery, surrounded by spectacular dry, golden mountains. Tears were freely pouring from my eyes (and I struggled to maintain some composure in front of the people present) my heart opened in deep, unbearable sadness at the horror and the pain, compassion and love and hope.
As the torma was taken out of the temple, I mentally visualised and drew all the energy/memories and suffering into it and I heard a voice, as if from the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel statue and then the stunning, shimmering, bright scarlet red Vajrayogini painting on the wall next to me, speak that: ‘Past is past. Activity is now the most important. The Drugpa Kagyu must make a new start and forget the past.’ Mental visions of Vajrayogini descending in small and large forms and the whole monastery complex and area became one giant Vajrayogini, as if she was completely subsuming and blessing the entire place with her form and mantra. With the torma gone, it was like some energy had really shifted. I realised then, as I always had known, that objects, places, songs and even mountains contain within them deep, energetic memories (and within myself of course). The more powerful the activities of a time and place, the more the memories are stored deep within the objects and the minds. For more on the Temple at Stakna monastery and descriptions and photos of the images and statues within it, never before published, see below.
So what happened and why are the Drugpa Kagyu not as influential anymore in Ladakh, Tibet or exile India as the other four main Tibetan Buddhist lineages (five if one includes Jonang)? That is not an easy question to answer and this post offers some suggestions but not answers. First, I share a little history, my visit, photos and personal experience of Tiger’s Nose monastery. Then I give an overview of the Drugpa Kagyu history, their most prominent and well-known lamas, their connection to Ladakh and Bhutan. Then I look at more contemporary activities such as the remarkable Drugpa Kagyu Kung Fu nuns and the recently reported (2014) ‘forced conversion’ of Drugpa Kagyu monasteries to Karma Kagyu in Chinese-occupied Tibet, which the 4th Gyalwang Drugpa requested help from India for, yet is something which HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje denied all support or knowledge of. In any case, ‘past is past’ and the time is ripe for the Drugpa Kagyu to shine and prosper and share some of their unique and precious texts and termas for the benefit of all sentient beings and the teachings.
To accompany this short essay, I am also launching a new website page for research on sacred places and pilgrimages, see here. This includes prior work I did on the pilgrimage sites in Sikkim associated with the Jamyang Khyentse lineage and Milarepa’s sacred places.
Music? The six stanzas of Mahamudra Guru Yoga, written by Gyalwa Gotsangpa and chanted by a Drugpa Kagyu nun. For amazing visuals of Stakna monastery with contemporary music by Kaamin, see here. For the emotional memories, The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand….”Memories, may be beautiful and yet. What’s too painful to remember. We simply to choose to forget.”
May all the Kagyu lineages unite and come together as holders of the Marpa and Milarepa lineages, with the added protection of the newly founded Drugpa Kung Fu nun lineage!
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 5th August 2022.
TIGER’S NOSE (STAKNA) MONASTERY – HISTORY AND CURRENT ACTIVITIES
Tiger’s Nose monastery is located 25 km from Leh on the banks of Indus River. It takes about half an hour to reach from Central Leh in a taxi or scooter. The roads are smooth and easy to navigate and the mountainous surroundings are literally ‘out-of-this world.’ Dry, golden arid mountains, with occasional snow-capped peaks for the highest ones. I would recommend going on scooter or motorbike there if possible. The monastery is the only Drukpa Kagyu one headed by a Bhutanese lama, Stakna Rinpoche, whereas the other Drukpa monasteries in Ladakh are of the Gyalwang Drukpa’s school, such as the one based at Hemis. This split in the Drukpa Kagyu lineage occurred in the 17th century when there was a dispute over who was the true reincarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa. For more on that see below.
The monastery was established in the 16th Century by a Bhutanese saint and scholar named Choje Modzin (I have not been able to find much information about him, so if anyone has any, please send). The Stakna monastery is situated on a hilltop that resembles a nose of a tiger. At the Stakna monastery houses, 30 monks. The literal meaning of the word ‘Stakna’ is “tiger’s nose”. At the top of the monastery, just below the small yet beautiful, old temple, there is of the most amazing views of the important Indus river (see photo of me there with the river behind, but my mobile phone camera does not do it much justice).
The officials of the Stakna monastery are the successive reincarnations of Stakna Tulku (see photo). Another Drugpa kagyu monastery in Ladakh is Hemis Monastery, one of the oldest and largest monasteries in the region is headed by the 4th Gyalwang Drugpa (for more on the two different heads of Drugpa Kagyu see below). A short film of the 5th Stakna Rinpoche at the Stakna monastery, can be seen here.
The Stakna Monastery temple
On Chokhor Duchen (this year, 1st August 2022), Tibetans and Ladakhi Buddhists traditionally visit the local monasteries in the area to make offerings and participate in the pujas held there. I am a big believer in letting karma direct the flow and so ended up being at Stakna monastery on Chokhor Duchen and sitting for a beautiful and moving Lama Chopa puja for the Drugpa Kagyu teacher, and unifier of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
When I arrived at the monastery, after taking some photos of the remarkable moutainous views all around, I went into the main (yet small temple). A monk appeared who I was able to speak in Tibetan to and ask about the objects, paintings inside the temple. After asking permission, I took these photos (see below) and have added details about them as told to me by the monk. He showed me around and kindly answered my questions.
The Lhakhang in which the puja was held, had not only a stunning old statue of Zhanbdrung, which I was seated directly in front of during the whole puja but also old wall paintings that had been preserved (but not painted over) from that time period. The wooden frames of the monastery were still visible while sitting inside. I first saw three small relic stupas, the middle one of which is said to house relics of Stakna Rinpoche (see photos).
Then I was led into a room where several statues of Drugpa Kagyu lamas were housed. The monk told me the one of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was an old statue, newly painted. I immediately felt the eyes and face of statue held a lot of power, more on that below.
As the Lama Chopa puja started with about twenty monks chanting (and a lovely recording of it playing on the speaker next to me), with the ancient melodies drums, bells and mantras resounding to a crescendo and then silence, I felt an overwhelming surge of emotions and memories literally leaking out of the walls and statues and mental visions of bloodshed, violence, fighting men on horses with swords, deep trauma, sadness and suffering in the grounds below the monastery, surrounded by spectacular dry, golden mountains.
As the torma was taken out of the temple, I imagined all the memories and suffering went into it and heard a voice, as if from the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel statue and the stunning, shimmering, bright scarlet red Vajrayogini painting on the wall next to me, speak that ‘Past is past. Activity is now the most important. The Drugpa Kagyu must make a new start.’ Tears started freely rolling from my eyes and I felt my heart open in sadness and compassion and love and hope. When the torma left the temple, it was like some energy had really shifted. I realised then, as I always had known, that objects, places, songs and even mountains contain within them deep, energetic memories. The more powerful the activities of a time and place, the more the memories are stored deep within the objects and the minds.
LEH PALACE TEMPLE
The other Drugpa Kagyu temple I visited this time in Ladakh was one at the stunning Leh Palace. Again, with permission I took photos of some of the statues and objects inside. It contained a photo of the 12th Gaylwang Drugpa and also one of the most remarkable and moving statues of Guru Rinpoche I have ever seen in person (see photo).
DRUGPA KAGYU IN TIBET, LADAKH AND BHUTAN
The First Drugchen – Tsangpa Gyare (1161 – -1211)
The Drukpa lineage was founded in the Tsang region of Tibet by Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), a student of Ling Repa Pema Dorje (1128-1188, a student of Phagmo Drupa) , who mastered the Vajrayana practices of the mahamudra and Six Yogas of Naropa at an early age. “ Druk” in Tibetan means “Dragon” and it also refers to the sound of thunder. In 1206, Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje is said to have seen nine dragons fly up into the sky from the ground of Namdruk, and flowers fell from the skies everywhere. and he named his lineage “Drukpa”. In his Treasury of Lives bio it says:
‘Calling the day night,’ as the saying goes, he applied himself with renewed energy to the spiritual practices and had such fine meditative experiences that he was unable to get off of his cushion. Telling his teacher about these experiences, Lingrepa said, “That’s all. From now on you will be having unadulterated realizations.”
A little while later, he would have experiences in which the whole external world would turn into something like a thin shell or a mist, and this would make him extremely happy. Lingrepa said, “Well, that’s what we call realization. It would be great if you could keep it up.”
Although Tsangpa Gyare did study scriptural texts with Lingrepa, he also went for specialized tantra studies, as did most early Kagyupas, to a member of the Ngok (rngog) family. In his case he studied with Ngok Dorje Sengge (rngog rdo rje seng ge).
As a tertön or “finder of spiritual relics”, he discovered the text of the Six Equal Tastes, previously hidden by Rechung Dorje Drakpa, the student of Milarepa:
While the finding of textual treasures (gter ma) is usually associated with the Nyingma school, it is not exclusively so, and Tsangpa Gyare is credited with the discovery of important treasures. When Tsangpa Gyarepa was deciding on a place for an extended retreat, Lingrepa had urged him not to go to Tise or Tsāri as was common in those days. He sent him instead to Kharchu (mkhar chu), a river valley that leads into what is today called Bhutan. There he discovered the text of a teaching said to have been authored by the Indian Tipupa (ti phu pa) that was granted to his disciple Rechungpa Dorje Drak (ras chung pa rdo rje grags, 1085-1161). According to legend, since there were no suitable vessels for the teaching at the time, Rechungpa concealed the text in Kharchu. The secret of its place of concealment was passed on through the lineage through Sumpa Repa (sum pa ras pa) to Lingrepa, who told Tsangpa Gyarepa where to look for it. This was the The Six Cycles of Equal Taste (ro snyom skor drug).
The Drukchen incarnation line, originated in the fifteenth century when the Gya clan that controlled Ralung Monastery identified a boy of the clan, Kunga Peljor, as the reincarnation of the monastery’s founder, Tsangpa Gyare, and gave him the title of the Second Drukchen. The Third Drukchen was found outside of the Gya clan, which continued to control Ralung, and henceforth the line was based elsewhere.
Disciple and nephew of Tsangpa Gyare – Omre Dharma Sengye (1177-1237)
The disciples of Tsangpa Gyare Yeshi Dorje (1161–1211), the first Gyalwang Drukpa, may be divided into two categories: blood relatives and spiritual sons. His nephew, Onre Darma Sengye (1177–1237), ascended the throne at Ralung, the main seat of the Drukpa lineage. Darma Sengye guided the later disciples of Tsangpa Gyare, such as Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189–1258), onto the path of realization, thus becoming their guru as well. Darma Sengye’s nephew and their descendants held the seat at Ralung and continued the lineage. A prominent disciple of Dharma Sengye, was Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1208–1276) who in 1222 went to establish the Drukpa Kagyu teachings in the valleys of western Bhutan.
THREE VICTORIOUS ONES OF DRUGPA KAGYU, LOWER, MIDDLE AND UPPER DRUGPAS – Gotsangpa Dorje and his student Ogyenpa
Gyalwa Lorepa, Gyalwa Gotsangpa and his disciple Gyalwa Yang Gonpa, are known as Gyalwa Namsum or the Three Victorious Ones in recognition of their spiritual realization. The followers of Gyalwa Lorepa came to be called the ‘Lower Drukpas’. The followers of Gyalwa Gotsangpa came to be called the ‘Upper Drukpas’. And the followers of Onre Darma Sengye came to be called the ‘Middle Drukpas’.
The Upper Drukpa (stod ‘brug) was founded by Tsangpa Gyare’s disciple Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorjé (rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje, 1189-1258), a highly realized yogi who had many disciples. His main disciples were Orgyenpa Rinchenpel (o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, 1230—1309), Yanggönpa ( yang dgon pa), Chilkarpa (spyil dkar pa) and Neringpa. For a translation I did of a Gotsangpa text, called the Eight Swirling Spears, see here.
Orgyenpa, who was also a disciple of Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama, became a great siddha who traveled to Bodhgaya, Jalandhar, Oddiyana and China. In Oddiyana he received teachings related to the Six Branch Yoga of the Kalachakra system known as the “Approach and Attainment of the Three Adamantine States” (rdo rje gsum gyi bsnyen sgrub) and, after returning to Tibet, founded the Orgyen Nyendrup tradition and wrote many works including a famous guide to the land of Oddiyana. Ogyenpa had many disciples including Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama, Kharchupa (Wylie: mkhar chu pa, 1284—1339) and Tokden Daseng (Wylie: rtogs dan zla seng).
THE DEATH OF 4th GYALWANG DRUGPA AND ZHABDRUNG NGAWANG NAMGYAL – ‘THE FOUNDER OF BHUTAN’
After the death of 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, in 1592, there were two rival candidates for his reincarnation. Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, one of the candidates, was favored by the King of Tsang and prevailed. His rival, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, was then invited to Western Bhutan and eventually he unified the entire country and established Drukpa as the preeminent Buddhist school from Haa all the way to Trongsa. However, this happened at the time the Ladakhi King is reported to have asked Drugpa Kagyu to help him fight off the Mongolian invaders in Ladakh, backed by the 5th Dalai Lama and Ganden Phodrang government. For more on that see here.
The Drukpa lineage was divided from that time on into the Northern Drukpa (Dzongkha: བྱང་འབྲུག་, byang ‘brug) branch in Tibet headed by the Gyalwang Drukpa and the Southern Drukpa (Dzongkha: ལྷོ་འབྲུག་, ho ‘brug) based in Bhutan and headed by the Zhabdrung incarnations.
CURRENT SITUATION AND ACTIVITIES
Contemporary Drugpa Kagyu teachers and leaders
Ever since Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal appointed Pekar Jungne as the 1st Je Khenpo, the spiritual head of all monasteries in Bhutan, successive Je Khenpos have acted to date as spiritual regents of Bhutan(an elected office, not a tulku lineage). who is the chief abbot of the Dratshang Lhentshog of Bhutan.
The Northern Drukpa are now led by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa or incarnations of the Gyalwang Drukpa. For a recent interview with him, see here. For an interview with a much younger 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, apparently done in Ladakh in 1998, see here. For a 2012 interview with VOA Kunleng (English subtitles) see here. In the 2012 interview, he speaks about his female empowerment actitivies and how the Drugpa Kagyu had the biggest nunnery in Tibet, with 6000-7000 nuns, but that it is no longer there.
In Kham, Tibet, Khamtrul Rinpoche traditionally has been the most prominent Drugpa lineage master, and is said to still command a huge number of followers there. The 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche is based in India and his most well-known western follower is the British woman and founder of a nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.
Another ninth Khamtrul Rinpoche Jigme Pema Nyingje was recognized by the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa, and said to be confirmed by HH 14th Dalai Lama. He is now studying at the Tango Buddhist College in Bhutan.
Reuniting the lineage
Unlike previously where the lineage was divided geographically into Northern, Middle and Southern Drukpa, the Drukpa lineage masters today often cross these traditional borders and communicate to strengthen the lineage and the teachings. In April 2009, the first of a yearly event known as the Annual Drukpa Council (ADC) was held on Druk Amitabha Mountain in Kathmandu, Nepal. More than 40 masters of the lineage from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet attended this event and over 10,000 lay practitioners and at least 1,000 monks and nuns or more met on this occasion. This was the first time an annual event for the Drukpa lineage involving all the three major branches will be held, as a concerted effort to reunite the strengths of the Drukpa lineage and to mend the historical connections of different monasteries and organizations.
In July 2007, when the lineage celebrated its 800-plus-years’ legacy in Shey, Ladakh, more than 100,000 attended the event that included celebrations and prayers, as well as mask dancing by 300 nuns. This event, boasted the first firework in the Himalayas, the first 800 sky lanterns being lit in the Himalayas and the first 12,000 biodegradable balloons sent to the sky, was covered by international media.
Guinness World-Record Breaking Tree-Planting
In 2010, the Gyalwang Drukpa launched an initiative to plant one million trees in Ladakh, as part of the ‘one million trees’ campaign initiated by Wangari Maathaï, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As part of this initiative, the Gyalwang Drukpa led the Live to Love volunteers to break the Guinness World Record twice for most trees planted simultaneously. The first in October 2010, 9,313 volunteers planted 50,033 trees within half an hour, breaking their first Guinness World Records for the “Most Trees Planted” category. In October 2012, they broke again the Guinness World Records for the same category, with over 9,800 volunteers planted nearly 100,000 trees, safeguarding villages from mudslides and cleaning polluted air.
Drugpa Kagyu Kung Fu nuns and cycling for female empowerment
One the most interesting things I learnt about the Drugpa Kagyu and my brief research into them is the recent phenomenon of their Kung Fu nuns who cycle to raise awareness and funding for female empowerment. The Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa lineage is led by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. The famed “kung fu nuns” hail from Druk Gawa Khilwa Nunnery at Druk Amitabha Mountain in the hills of Kathmandu and Naro Photang Nunnery on the outskirts of Leh, Ladakh. In March 2022, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) honoured the Kung Fu Nuns with the International Women’s Day Award at a ceremony here for their extraordinary achievements in the field of women empowerment, disaster relief, environmental conservation and breaking societal barriers.
As is well-known these days, most nuns and female practitioners were treated in an inferior, and sometimes derogatory manner by patriarchal, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, teachers and insituttions. The Drugpa Kagyu Kung Fu nuns are an example of a very different kind of female empowerment, but a valid one nonetheless. Heroes in the Himalayas, these strong women delivered supplies to hard-to-reach villages after an earthquake struck Kathmandu in 2015. The kung fu nuns have also taught self-defense classes for women and biked 14,000 miles to protest the human trafficking of women and girls.
For a video about the nuns and their unique activities, see here:
So how is it that the Drugpa Kagyu became less widely known and famous than the other main Tibetan Buddhist lineages? It is hard to pinpoint one reason but as the Stakna monastery temple and statue seemed to say, it is all about activities. Although, clearly the Drugpa Kagyu have been doing some remarkable activities, but perhaps these have gone unnoticed or unrecognised to some extent. Some have said the Gelug hegemony and takeover of Tibet and Ladakh since the 5th Dalai Lama onwards also led to the destruction of Drukpa Kagyu, which some say is evidenced in a recent teaching given by the 14th Dalai Lama here (Tibetan only). Other reasons are the split of the leadership of Drukpa Kagyu and the two different choices of Khamtrul Rinpoche. In addition, the activities of all the Gyalwang Karmapa, the heads of the Karma Kagyu, in Tibet and exile has been extraordinarily influential and unique, including the current incarnation, 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
In any case, ‘past is past’ and the time is ripe for the Drugpa Kagyu to shine and prosper and share some of their unique and precious texts and termas for the benefit of all sentient beings and the teachings. May all the Kagyu lineages unite and come together as holders of the Marpa and Milarepa lineages, with the newly founded Kung Fu nun lineage!
 Interestingly, Ling Repa is said to have broken his monastics vows with a woman:
“Once, while on a begging round, Pema Dorje irrevocably broke his vows when he was seduced by a woman named Menmo (sman mo). Lingrepa explained his failure to keep his monastic vows as being a karmic result of his prior rebirth as Viryaprabha. Viryaprabha was one of sixty monks who slandered some other monks, monks who happened to be bodhisattvas, for teaching dharma to women. This story is told in the Ratnakuta collection of sutras.”
Also, Ling Repa faced more issues, after he had married Menmo and they had both become white-cotton clad yogis, and they were living with his teacher, Phagmo Drupa:
“But Pema Dorje’s living in the community together with Menmo was offensive to some of the monks, who started saying things such as: “As a rule our teacher doesn’t like yogis, especially yogis with consorts. But he likes Lingrepa very well.” Eventually Pakmodrupa asked that Menmo be sent away.”
“Lingrepa founded a monastery, Napu Gon, (sna phu dgon) near Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag), earning him the ephithet Napupa. He also began a religious community called Ralung (rwa lung), where his main disciple, Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (gtsang pa rgya ras ye shes rdo rje, 1161-1211) would later build the famous monastery by the same name.”
Gyalwang Drukpa Leads “Kung Fu Nuns” on Bicycle Pilgrimage to New Delhi (2016)
Treasure of Lives Biography – The First Drukchen, Tsangpa Gyare
Treasure of Lives Biography – Ling Repa
Treasure of Lives Biography – Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
Tsewang Ngedrup (2021) Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and the Process of State Formation in Bhutan (17 th to Early 20 th Century)
The Dragon Yogis, An Uncommon Path – YouTube
The Drukpa Lineage of Ladakh – YouTube