Kathok History & Early Lineage Masters

Kathok Monastery

Source Of The Nyingmapa Kathok Tradition

The advent of Tibetan Buddhism began in the dynasty of Ancient Tibet during the reign of the 29th King Lha Thothori Nyantsen.  When it came to the era of the 33rd King Songtsen Gampo in 629 CE, during the monarchy of Chinese Emperor Tang Taizong, court alliances were forged with the Tang Dynasty’s imperial office and the Nepalese king through marriages. Princess Wencheng and the Nepalese Princess Tritsun were invited to Tibet and their dowry included a Shakyamuni Buddha statue and copious volumes of Buddhist scriptures.    In order to install the statue and Buddhist scriptures and also partially as a geomantic remedy for the inauspicious shape of Tibet which resembled a female demon, the construction of the Larger and Smaller Jokhangs (Jowo Buddha temples) and 108 other monasteries ensued.  At that time, despite numerous monasteries being constructed, there remained a dearth of Tibetan monastics.  Songtsen Gampo then sent many people to study Sanskrit and Pali in India, amongst whom a high officer Thonmi Sambhota created the Tibetan Language which is currently being used, exerting a far-reaching influence on the latter-day development of Tibetan Buddhism.

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Kathok Monastery

Kathok Monastery in 2013

Kathok Lineage is the first amongst the lineages in the Nyingma School. Its history stretches far back. Its essence is extraordinary and vast. It is the primary source of the present six lineages of Nyingma school.  Some stanzas from a song says:

At this eastern place named Kathok
Lion-roar prophecy of the Guru
Thirteen times blessed by Padmasambhava
Mountain shaped like a prone sleeping lion
Termas deeply hidden in the neck of lion

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Google Map of Kathok Monastery

Early Lineage Masters

Kathok Monastery Founding Master, Dampa Desheg

(1) Kathogpa Chenpo Thampa Desheg

The founding master of the Kathok Monastery, Dampa Desheg, was the actual Manjushri himself, not being in the least different from Manjushri.  He was also known as Sherab Sengge Pobpa Thaye.  Dampa Desheg was once the great Indian highly accomplished Arhat Bharadvaja and later became Shantideva.  He also emanated as Yeshe Tsogyal in Tibet and as the Nyak translator Yeshe Zhonnu as well as other emanations.  He was born in the Kham region, in a place called Di-dza Kang in Chuzhi Kangdrug (Six Rivers & Six Ridges).  His father was a yogi (a tantric practitioner) by the name of Changpa Paldrag.  His mother was Tsangmo Rinchen Gyan.  His father had four sons and one daughter.  His elder brother was the founder of the Phagdru Kagyu school, Phagmo Drubpa Dorje Gyalpo.  Dampa Desheg was the second son. 

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The Second Lineage Master, Jetsun Rinpoche Tsangton Dorje Gyamtsen

(2) Choje Tsangtonpa

Tsangton Dorje Gyamtsen, who was the emanation of the Vajra-like mind realization of all Buddhas – Akshobhya, was born in the fire snake year of the second sexagenary cycle with unusual auspicious signs in a village in the Buborgang region of Kham, to the family of Tsangchen.  In his early years, he was already very conversant with reading and writing Tibetan. 

When Tsangton was 17, he visited a teacher with whom he had very deep karmic ties: Kathok’s founding master – the omniscient unsurpassed jewel – Dampa Deshek Rinpoche.  From then on, he served his teacher whole-heartedly and followed his teacher to Minyak (Western Xia), Ling and other places, benefitting beings according to their conditions.  He not only served his Guru meticulously, but also diligently and incessantly studied to improve himself and to absorb the nectar of the Buddhadharma.

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The Third Lineage Master, Jetsun Jampa Bum

(3) Jampa Bum

Jampa Bum, the emanation of the Krishnacharin (Nagpo Chodpa) was the successor of Tsangton Dorje Gyamtsen (the second throne holder of Kathok Monastery).  The lineage master Dampa Desheg Rinpoche once prophesized to Tsangton Dorje Gyamtsen that “Jampa Bum would uphold the doctrine by displaying a compassionate aspect to teach sentient beings. You teacher and student should both stay in this monastery, this will not only extend the duration of the Dharma but will also accomplish all activities.”

Jampa Bum who possessed the sublime qualities of a peaceful emanation, was born in the Earth Pig year of the third Tibetan sexagenary cycle in a place called Drida Zalmogang.  He was born into a family of the Ngupa clan.  In his infancy, Jampa Bum’s previous tendencies were awoken and he was able to recall effortlessly many events of his past lives.  Without formal lessons, he mastered Tibetan reading and writing. 

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(whose termas were the main source of current Kathok practices)

Rigdzin Dundul Dorje - The Great Vidyadhara, Mara-Destroying Vajra

The Great Terton Rigdzin Dundul Dorje

Rigdzin Dundul Dorje, the king of hidden treasures who has already attained the ten bhumis of liberation, was born in the Ngul-phu village in the district of Si of Derge in West Kham, in the family of Phuro.  From his infancy, he was free of the stains of worldliness, and possessed the refined characteristics of a noble being.  He comprehended and mastered the studies of Tibetan literature, calligraphy and medicine without any difficulties.  When he was six, his innate qualities were kindled and he enrolled in the Derge’s prestigious Pal Lhun-drub Teng college of Buddhist studies.  He took ordination under Kunga Gyatso and was named Kun-ga So-nam Cho-phag  He studied the major Sakyapa texts industriously in the college, gained deep knowledge of them, and was well respected and commended by his teachers and peers.  One day, he left his footprint in a stone at the eastern door of the main temple as if it were made of clay.  Those who witnessed it marveled at the occurrence and it was said to be an important place to visit for those who came to that mountain for pilgrimage.  The footprint can be seen to this day.

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Terton Longsal Nyingpo - The Nirmanakaya Emanation Of All Buddhas

Rigdzin Longsal Nyingpo

The famous Terton Longsal Nyingpo was born in the district of Dra-wa neighboring the sacred site of Kampo.  In his childhood, he met the great accomplished master Tenpa Gyamtso received the ripening empowerments of the Kathok lineage and was given the Dharma name, “Wangdrag Gyamtso”.  When Longsal Nyingpo was reaching seven years old, he began to study Tibetan and mastered it without much effort.  Since his infancy, Longsal Nyingpo was endowed with a deep renunciation mind and evoked propensities of his past lives which included wisdom that encompassed all topics of the authentic Dharma. 

When Longsal Nyingpo was 22, on his way to Kathok, he chanced upon Ga Cho-kyong Gyamtso who transmitted to him the teachings on Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen; later A-rdo Konchog Gyamtsen transmitted to him the uncommon secret mind transmission of Gongpa Zangthal (Transparent Wisdom Mind).  In this way, Longsal Nyingpo received numerous pith instructions.

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