Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Situ PenchenSi tu paṇ chen and the House of Sde dge
Rémi Chaix, École pratique des hautes études & Center for Himalayan Studies, CNRS
JIATS, no. 7 (August 2013), THL #T5747, pp. 17-48
Section 2 of 7 (pp. 19-22)

The Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud Order, Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul skus, and the House of DergéSde dge

To understand the context and the origin of this relationship, in which the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud order (also called Kamtsang KagyüKaṃ tshang bka’ brgyud) and the House of DergéSde dge established through the Eighth SitupaSi tu pa a relationship based on more or less convergent interests and expectations, it is necessary to address some issues concerning Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud order and the SituSi tu incarnation lineage in seventeenth-century KhamKhams.

Firstly, from the time of his official recognition as the Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku by the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud authorities, the child was vested with his incarnation lineage’s history and heritage. As this history and heritage was what made him “attractive” to the king of DergéSde dge, here is a brief explanation.9

The founder of the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud order, Karmapa Düsum KhyenpaKarma pa dus gsum mkhyen pa (1110-1193), was born in KhamKhams (TreshöTre shod) and founded two of the order’s major institutions there: Kampo NenangKam po gnas nang (1164) and Karma GönKarma dgon (1184). After a succession of eight abbots, including Drogön Rechen’Gro mgon ras chen (1148-1218) and PomdrakpaSpom brag pa (1170-1249), the abbatial throne of Karma GönKarma dgon was held by Karma PakshiKarma pakshi’s (1206-1283) younger brother, ChögyelChos rgyal. Then, for more than ten generations, the abbots of Karma GönKarma dgon were selected from among his descendants. Some of these abbots were granted titles and seals from the Yuan authorities, including the SituSi tu title in the early fourteenth century. After the transmission of [page 20] authority from uncle to nephew, Chökyi GyeltsenChos kyi rgyal mtshan (1377-1448), who is recognized as the first of the SituSi tu’s incarnation lineage, ascended the throne towards the end of the fourteenth century. In 1413, by virtue of his status in Karma GönKarma dgon, the Ming emperor, Chengzu (r. 1403-1424), granted Chökyi GyeltsenChos kyi rgyal mtshan the title of “anointing, pure and merciful, penetratingly wise, national preceptor” (guanding yuantong miaoji guoshi), along with a crystal seal and an edict.10 After he relinquished the throne, the SituSi tu title was borne by his successor and nephew, Shakya ZangpoShākya bzang po, whose own nephew and great-nephew were later recognized as the Second and Third Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku.

The recognition of the Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku among ChögyelChos rgyal’s descendants came to an end with the fourth incarnation, Mitruk Chökyi GochaMi ’khrugs chos kyi go cha (1542-1585?), recognized by Karmapa Mikyö DorjéKarma pa mi bskyod rdo rje (1507-1554). The Fifth SitupaSi tu pa, Chökyi Gyeltsen ChimaChos kyi rgyal mtshan phyi ma (1562/86?-1632/57?), officially received his national preceptor (guoshi) title, his seal, and his hat the day he received his full ordination from the Ninth KarmapaKarma pa in TsurpuMtshur phu. He then acted as the order’s ambassador in KhamKhams and was invited by the king of Jangsatam’Jang sa tham, preparing the ground for the Tenth KarmapaKarma pa’s exile in the 1640s.

The Sixth SitupaSi tu pa, Chögyel MipamChos rgyal mi pham (1633?-1682), was recognized by the Tenth KarmapaKarma pa in the family of Künga PüntsokKun dga’ phun tshogs, the second abbot of DergéSde dge’s royal monastery.11 This recognition formed the first link between the House of DergéSde dge and the Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku. But not long after his enthronement in Karma GönKarma dgon, Chögyel MipamChos rgyal mi pham had to abandon his monastery because of Guśri Khan’s (1582-1654) military expedition in KhamKhams (1639-40) and joined the Tenth KarmapaKarma pa in his exile in Jangsatam’Jang sa tham. On the way, he stayed a while in DergéSde dge, where he entrusted the royal family with some religious objects (tensumrten gsum) until his return. He also visited the hermitage of Penjor GangDpal ’byor sgang, where he had been invited by some lamas, including an uncle of Situ PenchenSi tu paṇ chen (KüngaKun dga’). According to Situ PenchenSi tu paṇ chen,12 the Sixth SitupaSi tu pa predicted he would be reborn here and become the “owner” (dakpobdag po) of the hermitage’s books and religious objects. He also mentions that the Sixth SitupaSi tu pa, frustrated by the situation in Jangsatam’Jang sa tham, asked the KarmapaKarma pa permission to leave his body and take rebirth as someone as powerful as the Chinese Emperor in order to benefit the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud teachings. The KarmapaKarma pa strongly opposed this plan. The Sixth SitupaSi tu pa never returned to northern KhamKhams and passed away in Yunnan.

The Eleventh KarmapaKarma pa recognized his reincarnation as the son of the LingtsangGling tshang’s chief. But Gönpo LhündrupMgon po lhun grub, a follower of the SakyaSa skya NgorNgor tradition, refused to give his son over to the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud order. The child, Lekshé Mawé NyimaLegs bshad smra ba’i nyi ma (1683-1698), died at a young age and was never entrusted with [page 21] the SituSi tu title. Situ PenchenSi tu paṇ chen even thought that it was not necessary to include him in the incarnation lineage of the Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku.13

In addition, Situ PenchenSi tu paṇ chen also states that the first Situ TrülkuSi tu sprul sku belongs to an extensive lineage of incarnation, in which he includes some Indian and Chinese charismatic figures such as Ḍombhi Heruka and GyimshangGyim shang (alias Jampel Sangwa’Jam dpal gsang ba) as well as Marpa Chökyi LodröMar pa chos kyi blo gros (1012- 1097) and a manifestation lineage (namtrül rimgyürnam sprul rim brgyud), among whom figures Gomchung Sherap JangchupSgom chung shes rab byang chub, Drogön Rechen’Gro mgon ras chen, and Rigowa Ratna BhadraRi mgo ba ratna bhadra (1281-1343).14 This lineage history clearly gives more prestige to the SituSi tu incarnation and bestows on him a long-standing and charismatic spiritual heritage.

Secondly, one has to consider the striking fact that during the seventeenth century most of the highest ranking Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud trülkusprul skus were born in Eastern Tibet: the Tenth KarmapaKarma pa (1604) and the Seventh ZhamarpaZhwa dmar pa (1631) in GolokMgo log, the Fifth PawoDpa’ bo (1649) in TauRta’u, the Sixth GyeltsappaRgyal tshab pa (1659) in GyeltangRgyal thang, the Eleventh KarmapaKarma pa (1676) in MarkhamSmar khams, and finally the Sixth and the Seventh SitupaSi tu pa in DergéSde dge and LingtsangGling tshang, respectively. The concerted effort to identify their highest trülkusprul sku in this region suggests that the order believed that conditions there were favourable. This “attractiveness” must have been due to the Karma KagyüpaKarma bka’ brgyud pa’s political situation in Central Tibet causing the fall of the Tsang DepaGtsang sde pa in 1642 and the seizure of most of their monasteries by the GelukDge lugs authorities.

At the turn of the eighteenth century the order faced again an unexpected situation. During an eight-year period, the five leading hierarchs passed away,15 creating a power vacuum that threatened to destabilize the order. Before he passed away in 1702, the Eleventh KarmapaKarma pa had just recognized and enthroned the Eighth ZhamarpaZhwa dmar pa (1695-1732) and convinced the Desi Sanggyé GyatsoSde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653-1705) to allow the young boy to be enthroned at his monastery, YangpachenYangs pa can. Thus, the pressure on the two regents, Treho ZhapdrungTre ho zhabs drung bstan 'dzin dar rgyas and Goshri Döndrup NyingpoGo shri don grub snying po (b. 1664), was indeed very high.

Following the instructions of tertöngter ston Migyur DorjéMi ’gyur rdo rje (1628-1708), the two regents identified the incarnations of the Eight SitupaSi tu pa and the Twelfth KarmapaKarma pa in DergéSde dge. In 1704 the Eighth SitupaSi tu pa was officially recognized in Penjor GangDpal ’byor sgang, in a family of LingtsangGling tshang’s old nobility, the AloA lo clan. This family had a long-standing connection to the Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud tradition, and some of the young boy’s uncles had attended the Sixth SitupaSi tu pa’s visit some years earlier. For his part, the Twelfth KarmapaKarma pa, Jangchup DorjéByang chub rdo rje (1703-1732), was born to descendants of the Second KarmapaKarma pa’s brother and was recognized in 1706.

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Lastly, the Kingdom of DergéSde dge emerged during the 1630s and expanded its territory at the occasion of Guśri Khan’s military expedition against Beri Dönyö DorjéBe ri don yod rdo rje (d. 1640). Sanggyé TenpaSangs rgyas bstan pa (r. 1675-1710), king and abbot of DergéSde dge since 1675, called upon charismatic lamas of the SakyaSa skya NgorNgor and the NyingmaRnying ma traditions and patronized the foundation of new institutions (such as DzokchenRdzogs chen in 1685), as his predecessors had done. At the end of the seventeenth century, he developed an interest in expanding the influence of DergéSde dge in western areas where the Drukpa’Brug pa and Karma KagyüKarma bka’ brgyud benefited from a strong presence, and he was therefore interested in taking KagyüBka’ brgyud lamas as his court chaplains. The biographies of Seula Jamgön Ngawang GyeltsenBse’u la byams mgon ngag dbang rgyal mtshan (1647-1732),16 a Drukpa Kagyü’Brug pa bka’ brgyud lama from Bhutan (Drukyül’Brug yul) who stayed in DergéSde dge for almost six years, confirms this “multi-sectarian” policy he promoted in the kingdom to win the support of the theses orders. The support for KarmaKarma bka’ bgyud institutions could also find its justification in a traditional account mentioning that the Seventh KarmapaKarma pa, Chödrak GyatsoChos grags rgya mtsho (1454-1506), had made a prophecy to Ngu ChödorRngu chos rdor, an ancestor of Sanggyé TenpaSangs rgyas bstan pa, that his descendants would obtain dominion over a large territory in the future.17


[9] This complex history will be discussed at greater length in a forthcoming article: “Karma dgon and the Si tu pas.”
[10] Elliot Sperling, “Si-tu Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan and the Ming Court,” Lungta, no. 13 (2000): 23-27.
[11] Situ Chökyi JungnéSi tu chos kyi ’byung gnas, Té Situr Böpa Karma Tenpé Nyinjékyi Rangtsül Drangpor Jö Dridrel Shelgyi MelongTa’i si tur ’bod pa karma bstan pa’i nyin byed kyi rang tshul drangs por brjod dri bral shel gyi me long, 5.
[12] Situ Chökyi JungnéSi tu chos kyi ’byung gnas, Té Situr Böpa Karma Tenpé Nyinjékyi Rangtsül Drangpor Jö Dridrel Shelgyi MelongTa’i si tur ’bod pa karma bstan pa’i nyin byed kyi rang tshul drangs por brjod dri bral shel gyi me long, 6.
[13] Situ Chökyi JungnéSi tu chos kyi ’byung gnas, Té Situr Böpa Karma Tenpé Nyinjékyi Rangtsül Drangpor Jö Dridrel Shelgyi MelongTa’i si tur ’bod pa karma bstan pa’i nyin byed kyi rang tshul drangs por brjod dri bral shel gyi me long, 7.
[14] As an introduction to Situ Chökyi GyeltsenSi tu chos kyi rgyal mtshan’s (1700-1774) biography, Situ Chökyi JungnéSi tu chos kyi ’byung gnas, Drupgyü Karma Kamtsang Gyüpa Rinpoché Nampar Tarpa Rapjam Norbu Dawa Chushelgyi TrengwaSgrub brgyud karma kam tshang brgyud pa rin po che’i rnam par thar pa rab ’byams nor bu zla ba chu shel gyi phreng ba, 574-575.
[15] The Seventh ZhamarpaZhwa dmar pa in 1694, the Seventh SitupaSi tu pa in 1698, the Sixth GyeltsappaRgyal tshab pa in 1698, the Fifth PawoDpa’ bo in 1699 and the Eleventh KarmapaKarma pa in 1702.
[16] Yonten Dargye and Per Sørensen, Play of the Omniscient: Life and Works of Jamgön Ngawang Gyaltshen an Eminent 17th–18th century Drukpa Master (Thimphu: National Library and Archives of Bhutan, 2007), 93-113.
[17] Situ Chökyi JungnéSi tu chos kyi ’byung gnas, Dergé Kangyur KarchakSde dge’i bka’ ’gyur dkar chag [Table of Contents of the Dergé Kangyur] (Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1989), 288.

Note Citation for Page

Rémi Chaix, “Si tu paṇ chen and the House of Sde dge: A Demanding but Beneficial Relationship,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 7 (August 2013): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5747 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Rémi Chaix, “Si tu paṇ chen and the House of Sde dge: A Demanding but Beneficial Relationship,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 7 (August 2013): 17-48, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5747 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Chaix, Rémi. “Si tu paṇ chen and the House of Sde dge: A Demanding but Beneficial Relationship.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 7 (August 2013): 17-48. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5747 (accessed ).