In Tibetan Buddhism the Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus (said to be reincarnated lamas) in the Kagyu school. According to tradition, the Tai Situpa is an emanation of the bodhisattva Maitreya, who will become the next Buddha, and who has been incarnated as numerous Indian and Tibetan yogins since the time of the historical Buddha.
Chokyi Gyaltsen was the first incarnation to bear the title Tai Situ, conferred upon him in 1407 by the Yongle Emperor of China in the Ming Dynasty. He was a close disciple of the 5th Karmapa who appointed him as abbot of Karma Goen, the Karmapa's principal monastery at the time. The full title bestowed was Kenting Naya Tang Nyontse Geshetse Tai Situpa which is shortened to Kuang Ting Tai Situ. The full title means "far reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command".
The current and 12th Tai Situpa, Pema Tönyö Nyinje, was born in a farming family named Liyultsang in 1954 in the village of Palmey, which is part of Palyul (dpal yul) or Baiyü County, in Sichuan Province, China that was formerly part of the old principality of Dege (Tibetan: སྡེ་དགེ, Wylie: sde dge, ZYPY: Dêgê).
At the age of twenty-two, Situ Rinpoche founded his own new monastic seat, Palpung Sherab Ling in Himachal Pradesh, in Northern India. He traveled widely making his first visit to the West in 1981 to Samyé Ling Monastery in Scotland.
The 12th Tai Situpa was instrumental in recognizing Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the two candidates claimed to be the 17th Karmapa, whom he coronated at Tsurphu Monastery outside Lhasa in August 1992. He also recognized Choseng Trungpa, born on February 6, 1989 in eastern Tibet, as the reincarnation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Lineage of the Tai Situpas
- Lord Maitreya
- Guru Rinpoche-Padmasambhava
- Bang Tobchen
- Dombi Heruka
- Sri Singha
- Gyim Shang Shab
- Lochen Denma Tsemang
- Marpa Lotsawa
- Pangkhen Ozer Lama
- Rabten Kunzang
- Rinpung Ngawang
- Gonpo Tsultrim Nyingpo
- Drogon Rechen
- Naljor Yeshe Wangchuk
- Ringowa Rinjung
- Ta Shing Chen
- Norbu Samphel
1. Chokyi Gyaltsen(1377–1448)
The first Tibetan incarnation conferred the honorific title "Kenting Naya Tang Nyontse Geshetse Tai Situpa" by the Chinese Emperor Tai Ming Chen (Yungle) in 1407. The title, in shorter form "Kenting Tai Situpa"; or "Tai Situ", means "far reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command", the Emperor also conferred on Kenting Tai Situpa the titles "The Empowerment Master with Perfection, Magic, Subtle and Compassion".
The 1st Kenting Tai Situpa was born in the fire-pig year, in the family of Karma Pakshi in the region of Karma Gon monastery. He became a disciple of the 5th Gyalwa Karmapa. From the Gyalwa Karmapa, the Kenting Tai Situpa received the empowerments and teachings of Mahamudra in their entirety, and was appointed as the head instructor at Karma Gon Monastery. At that time, Karma Gon monastery was the main seat of Gyalwa Karmapa.
Kenting Tai Situpa traveled to China with the Karmapa. The Chinese Emperor Tai Ming Chen (Yungle), an emanation of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, conferred the honorific title "Kenting Naya Tang Nyontse Geshetse Tai Situpa" on Chokyi Gyaltsen as well as a black crown, a crystal seal and other gifts.
Kenting Tai Situpa spent most of his life meditating in caves and became a perfect example of the Buddha's teachings. For his no attachment to the honor and reputation, he was called "A great master who is limitless Indifference, or giving up all things". He died aged 71.
2. Tashi Namgyal (1450–1497)
The 2nd Kenting Tai Situpa was born in the iron-horse year, into a royal family of Tibet. He was recognized by the 6th Gyalwa Karmapa. The Karmapa enthroned him and bestowed to the Kenting Tai Situpa the entire lineage. The 6th Karmapa also gave Karma Gon Monastery to be under the complete guidance of the 2nd Tai Situpa. Karma Gon Monastery became famous for its collection of Sanskrit texts, artwork and scholarship.
The 2nd Kenting Tai Situpa became a tutor to the 7th Gyalwa Karmapa. He visited many parts of Tibet, giving teachings and empowerments. He was highly venerated by the Chinese Emperors who granted to the 2nd Kenting Tai Situpa an imperial edit written with golden ink and a crystal seal and other gifts. There were many auspicious signs of accomplishment appeared when he died.
3. Tashi Paljor (1498–1541)
The third Kenting Tai Situpa was born in the earth-horse year to a family descended from the kings of Tibet. He was recognized and enthroned by the seventh Karmapa and from him he received the complete teachings. He resumed the responsibilities of the lineage of Kenting Tai Situpas at Karma Gon monastery.
The 7th Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso, said that he and Situ Tashi Paljor were inseparable. The Kenting Tai Situpa found and enthroned Mikyo Dorje, the eighth Karmapa, and offered the complete teachings to the Karmapa.
The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje declared at childbirth that he was the Karmapa and brought himself to the attention of the 3rd Kenting Tai Situpa. Without any doubt, Kenting Tai Situpa confirmed the child to be the 8th Karmapa. Kenting Tai Situpa told the child's parents to keep good care of him.
The Kenting Tai Situpa died at age 43 at Karma Gon. After the Kenting Tai Situpa's passing, the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje proved himself to be the true Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery by demonstrating his power of recollection. The 8th Karmapa was then enthroned by Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
4. Mitrug Gocha (1542–1585)
The 4th Kenting Tai Situpa was born in Tsigyu, near Surmang, in the water-tiger year. He was recognized and enthroned by the 8th Karmapa, from whom he received all of the teachings. The Karmapa acknowledged the Kenting Tai Situpa as a disciple identical to himself. Kenting Tai Situpa continued as the great leader of Karma Gon Monastery, renowned for his knowledge and insight.
The 4th Kenting Tai Situpa in turn recognized and found the 9th Gyalwa Karmapa. Kenting Tai Situpa bestowed the long life empowerment of Amitayus on the Karmapa after his discovery. The Kenting Tai Situpa's recognition was later on confirmed by the prediction letter left behind by the 8th Karmapa, which was in the possession of the 5th Shamarpa.
5. Chokyi Gyaltsen Gelek Palzang (1586–1657)
THE RED CROWN
The 9th Karmapa bestowed upon the head of the 5th Kenting Tai Situpa a Red Vajra Crown of Radiant Gold, which mirrored the Karmapa's own Black Vajra Crown. The Red Crown symbolizes the inseparability of the Karmapa and Kenting Tai Situpa. Through seeing the Red Crown, which is presented in a ceremony even today by the Kenting Tai Situpa, one is instantly and irreversibly set onto the path of enlightenment and receives the blessing of the Bodhisattva Maitreya.
The 5th Kenting Tai Situpa constructed Yermoche Kagyu Monastery, which housed hundreds of monks and had a stunning one-hundred sixty pillars in the main hall. Kenting Tai Situpa also restored numerous other temples in Tibet.
Kenting Tai Situpa traveled to Jangsadam at the invitation of the King and bestowed teachings to numerous devotees. He was also bestowed by he Chinese Emperor the titles "The Kindness Master who performs empowerments" and "The Master of Ming", and many other gifts.
6. Mipham Trinlay Rabten (1658–1682)
The sixth Kenting Tai Situpa, Mipham Trinlay Rabten, was born in Mesho, Dege to the family related to Dege King Kunga Phuntsok Phundo. He was recognized and enthroned by Choying Dorje, the tenth Karmapa who passed all of the teachings to him. He studied at Tsurphu and Karma Gon monasteries where he impressed everyone with his great learning and insight.
The sixth Kenting Tai Situpa was a great Sanskrit scholar, astrologer, doctor and a fine painter. Many beautiful thangkas were made by his hand, and he also composed the Sung Bum a compendium of all knowledge.
When war and conflict broke out in central Tibet due to the Mongol invasion, the Kenting Tai Situpa went with the Gyalwa Karmapa to Yunnan, in southern China. There, the Kenting Tai Situpa died. Many highly auspicious signs were seen by all at that time. His disciples were numerous.
7. Lekshe Mawe Nyima (1683–1698)
Kenting Tai Situpa was immediately recognized as the reincarnation of the Kenting Tai Situpa and was nurtured spiritually by the 11th Karmapa Yeshe Dorje. Unfortunately, he died at young age before having received the full transmission and essence of the Kagyu teachings.
8. Chokyi Jungne (1700–1774)
9. Pema Nyingche Wangpo (1774–1853)
The ninth Kenting Tai Situpa, Pema Nyingche Wangpo, was born in Yilung, near Derge in Kham, eastern Tibet in the year of the wood-horse. He was recognized by the Karmapa and Pawo Rinpoche, who had received a prediction from Guru Rinpoche in a vision concerning Kenting Tai Situpa's rebirth.
At the age of five years he was formally enthroned and received all of the teachings of the lineage from Karmapa Dudul Dorje, Shamar Chodrup Tenzin, and Dzigar Dorje Drakpa, amongst other accomplished masters.
The ninth Kenting Tai Situpa renovated Palpung monastery and made countless precious offerings to many monasteries of all traditions. He authored over two hundred treatises and combined the traditions of the Tibetan lineages.
He became the root-lama to the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Chogyur Dechen Lingpa. The 9th Kenting Tai Situpa started the Rimey (Nonsectarian) movement of Tibet, which was later on firmly established and expanded upon by his disciples, in particular by the Jamgon Kongtrul of Palpung. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's root guru was none other than the 9th Kenting Tai Situpa.
He spent most of his life in deep meditation and was a renowned scholar and teacher and performed many miracles such as leaving footprints in rock. Kenting Tai Situpa's wisdom was well-known. In one case, he even surprised a monk with his omniscience: Kenting Tai Situpa reprimanded the monk for his alcoholism. Even though the monk thought his weakness was done in secrecy, evidently it could not pass the all-knowing wisdom eye of the Kenting Tai Situpa.
At the age of 61 years he entered the retreat centre at Palpung, Drubde Samtenling, and practiced the teachings for eighteen years. At the age of 79 he died. At that time the sky was filled with rainbows and there were many other highly auspicious signs.
10. Pema Kunzang Chogyal (1854–1885)
- In the year of the wood-tiger,
- In Tang-Lha's land,
- The emanation of Samantabhadra,
- Guide of beings, will appear.
The tenth Kenting Tai Situpa, Pema Kunzang Chogyal, was born in Namtso in Jang, near to a lake, in the male wood-tiger year. His formal enthronement was performed by the fourteenth Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje and the first Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.
From an early age, Kenting Tai Situpa displayed many spontaneous miracles and higher perception. Through the activity of his accomplishment, Kenting Tai Situpa crossed the Yangtse river in flood season on horseback. He also descended the Heaven's Ladder at the retreat center on horseback, and rode an untamed horse from Derge to Palpung in two hours. Many people found flowers in the horse's hoof-prints; it is said that Khyentse Rinpoche has some of these in his possession.
In Denkhok, one person leading a wild bull met Kenting Tai Situpa on the road. Kenting Tai Situpa remarked, "Don't keep that bull of yours!" The man ignored Kenting Tai Situpa, thinking, "What won't such a wild monk say?" Later, that bull killed the man.
Once, when traveling to central Tibet, Kenting Tai Situpa's entourage came to a river swollen by the monsoon rains. Everyone said that it would be impossible to cross and began to pitch their tents. Kenting Tai Situpa gave everyone a fierce scolding and all of the persons entered the torrent at his command. They reached the other side without incurring any harm whatsoever.
Such stories about Pema Kunzang were common, but still he was criticized as being "the wild Situ". In response to this one of his spiritual masters, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo praised him saying, "He is really the precious master from Oddiyana (Guru Rinpoche) in the flesh."
Although the 10th Kenting Tai Situpa was generally given to wild behavior, such as wearing masks and costumes, drinking alcohol, competing in horse races and shooting rifles, he scrupulously avoided sexual relations because all of the Kenting Tai Situpas have appeared only as holders of pure monastic discipline.
He spent the whole of his life perfecting the Kagyu teachings and became a Siddha. He left many of his footprints on rocks and was able to walk up sheer mountain faces. At the age of thirty-two, in the year of the wood-bird, he died. There were numerous highly auspicious signs. Ongen Rinpoche helped Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye setup the memorial ceremonies and constructed a stupa in honor of the 10th Kenting Tai Situpa.
11. Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo (1886–1952)
The 11th Kenting Tai Situpa was born in the male fire dog year in Lithang. There were many unusual and highly auspicious signs at that time. The 15th Gyalwa Karmapa drew a map describing the place Kenting Tai Situpa reborn. The map was so detailed that even a dog tethered in front of the house was drew. Pema Wangchog was found absolutely accurate according to the prediction of the Gyalwa Karmapa. At the age of four years, he was recognized by the Gyalwa Karmapa and taken to the great Palpung monastery.
The 11th Kenting Tai Situpa renovated thoroughly the main shrine and shedra of Palpung monastery, expanded the printing press and produced many new printing plates. He also made many fine dresses for Lama Dances.
Kenting Tai Situpa was renown to be a strict disciplinarian, enforcing monastic rules and harshly punishing those who were hypocrites or damaging their practice. He closely guided the various satellite monasteries of his in Tibet. He traveled to and taught at over one hundred and eighty monasteries, all which were guided by him. All these activities and the merits of Kenting Tai Situpa brought huge offerings and assets to Palpung Monastery. These assets include horses, sheep, yaks, salt lake...etc. Some group, including Nyingma school and Bon school, even donated their monasteries as offerings. As a result, Kenting Tai Situpa became responsible for recognizing the monasteries' tulkus.
Kenting Tai Situpa was held by all with great respect, awe, admiration and fear. After the 15th Karmapa's passing, the Karmapa's attendant Jampal Tsultrim hid for months believing that Kenting Tai Situpa would punish him. However, the attendant finally revealed that he possessed the sacred letter of prediction, which matched exactly with the proceedings Kenting Tai Situpa was already undertaking to find the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.
Kenting Tai Situpa later recognized the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and performed his enthronement and ordination. He transmitted the complete teachings to him and bestowed all the initiations, explanations and empowerment.
At about the age of 50 he visited the great Surmang monastery, and performed there many miracles. Kenting Tai Situpa spent the rest of his life partly in meditation and partly giving teachings to his many disciples. At the age of sixty-seven, he died amidst many auspicious signs.
After the 11th Kenting Tai Situpa's passing, Karmapa Rigpe Dorje wrote in a poem praising the Kenting Tai Situpa, "May we meet again and again." The Karmapa's aspiration came true, as the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa was found and became the disciple of the 16th Karmapa. And again, later on, the 17th Karmapa was found and became the disciple of the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa.
12. Péma Tönyö Nyinjé (1954-)