39. 11th Situpa 1886 – 1953
“Glorious conqueror of the hordes of the four maras,
Lord Pema Wangchug, I supplicate you.”
— “Supplication and Offerings to the Kagyü Gurus”
The Eleventh Kenting Tai Situpa, Pema Wangchug Gyalpo, was born in the fire-dog year in Lithang, East Tibet, exactly in accordance with the predictions that were made about all incarnations of the Tai Situpa Rinpoches by Guru Padmasambhava in “The Command Seal of Prophecies,” a hidden teaching discovered by Terton Sangye Lingpa (a major Treasure Revealer who lived from 1340-1396). Many auspicious signs manifested at his birth.
When he was 4 years old, he was recognized by the Fifteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje, as the reincarnation of Pema Kunzang Chögyal, the Tenth Situ Rinpoche. The Karmapa took him to the seat of the Tai Situpas at Palpung Monastery in Kham, East Tibet, and enthroned him with the sacred Red Vajra Crown as the eleventh in the line of succession. Pema Wangchug received the extraordinary Kagyu Lineage transmissions and instructions from the Fifteenth Karmapa, his Root Guru. He studied with many greatest masters of the time, specifically with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great and Khenchen Shenga Rinpoche, and became an accomplished scholar of the Sutras and Tantras.
Even though he travelled through Tibet extensively and looked after the 108 monasteries associated with Palpung, Situ Pema Wangchug expanded and renovated Palpung Monastery. It is said that he was a strict disciplinary master and didn’t let anyone get away with malpractices. His disciples admired and respected him, but some also feared him. After His Holiness the Fifteenth Karmapa passed into Parinirvana in 1871 (Pema Wangchug was 15 years old at that time), his attendant, Jampäl Tsultrim, feared being punished and therefore hid the prophecy letter that His Holiness had given him in which he indicated his rebirth. When Jampäl Tsultrim did give the prediction letter to His Eminence, it proved to match exactly the signs that His Eminence saw. He found the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, enthroned him many years later with the sacred Black Vajra Crown, and transmitted all Kagyü Lineage empowerments and general and specific teachings to him.
When he was 50 years old, Tai Situpa visited Zurmang Monastery that is situated in the district of Nangchen, Kham. He performed many miracles there. A few historical notes about Zurmang from one of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s major books, “The Treasury of Knowledge”: “The Karma Kamtsang Kagyü is the lineage headed by the Karmapa incarnations (…). Within that there are also the other great successions, such as that of the Tai Situ, Gyaltsap, Zhamar, Pawo, and Dreho incarnations. This is the root lineage. There are also two main branches of Kamtsang Kagyü: the Zurmang and Nedo. The Zurmang tradition began with Mase Tokden Lodrö Rinchen (b. 1386), also known as Trung Mase, who was a student of the fifth Karmapa Dezhin Shekpa. (…) The succession of his students that have held the seat of the dharma lineage constitute the Zurmang Kagyü.” The Zurmang Monastery in Kham is the seat of the Trungpa Rinpoches in Tibet and is presently being restored after its destruction during the Cultural Revolution by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
In 1940, His Holiness Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the Sixteenth Karmapa, composed a song that is simply entitled “ A Song” while he was together with His Eminence on his visit to Palpung Monastery. Long before the Communist Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Karmapa predicted his flight to India and supplicated Situ Rinpoche, who was now approximately 54 years old:
“In the springtime, a cuckoo comes as a guest.
In the fall when the harvest ripens,
it knows where to go:
Its only thought is travel to the east of India.
In the lofty land of Tibet, the inhabitants, high and low,
“And in particular, you, Tai Situ, the Lord and
Who remains above the crown of our head,
May your activities, like the sun and moon set in space,
Be continuous, stable, and without hindrance.
I pray that we meet again and again.”
Alexander Berzin tells us: “In the mid-twentieth century, the Eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche (…) established an institute for Buddhist textual study at Palpung Monastery in Derge, Kham. (…) The Eleventh Tai Situ then requested the Sixteenth Karmapa (…) to establish a similar institute of study at Tsurpu (in Central Tibet). Subsequent to this request, the Karmapa received a vision of the great Nyingma translator Vimalamitra, who had introduced the dzogchen lineage from India to Tibet. In this vision, Vimalamitra also advised the Karmapa to establish a center 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 Tsurpu when the Chinese invasion occurred.”
Pema Wangchug Gyalpo, the Eleventh Tai Situpa, spent the rest of his life partly in meditation and partly giving teachings to his many disciples. At the age of 67, he passed away amidst many auspicious signs.
An Overview of the Incarnations of the Tai Situpas
The homepage of Tai Situpa at Sherab Ling tells us: “Many great and precious Lamas are recognized as emanations of the Tai Situpas by realized masters of the lineage, such as Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. The following are a few of them: Maitreya, Dombipa, Shri Sindha, Darikapa, Jampäl Sangwa, Denma Tsemang, Marpa, Pang Khenchen Özer Lama, Taranatha, Rabten Kungzangpäl, Norbu Sampel, Ngawang Jigten Wangchuk, and Gonpo Tsultrim Nyingpo.” There were four incarnations of Tai Situpa that preceded the Situ Lineage who did not hold the title that was given by the Chinese Emperor to Chökyi Gyaltsen, the Fifth Tai Situpa, in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments. The four were;
Drogön Sangye Rechen (1088-1158), 8th master in the Golden Kagyü Rosary;
Nyäljor Yeshe Wangpo (1220-1281);
Rigo Ratnabhadra(1281-1343), 17th master in the Golden Rosary; and
Situ Drungche Sate Shingchen (1345-1376).
The line of successors holding the title “Tai Situpa” are:
I st Tai Situpa, Chökyi Gyaltsen (1377-1448);
II nd Tai Situpa, Tashi Namgyal (1450-1497);
III rd Tai Situpa, Tashi Päljor (1498-1541);
IV th Tai Situpa, Chökyi Gocha (1542-1585).
V th Tai Situpa, Chökyi Gyaltsen Pälzang (1586-1657) – Simhanada writes: “During Situ Rinpoche’s fifth incarnation, the Gyalwa Karmapa bestowed upon the Tai Situpa the Red Vajra Crown. This crown symbolizes the Tai Situpa’s enlightened qualities and his inseparability from the Karmapa. Just seeing this Vajra Crown plants a fertile seed for enlightenment and it is the cause to be reborn among the retinue of the Buddha Maitreya.”
VI th Tai Situpa, Mipham Chögyal Rabten (1658-1682);
VII th Tai Situpa, Mawe Nyima (1683-1698);
VIII th Tai Situpa, Chökyi Jungne (1700-1774), 32 nd master in the Golden Kagyü Rosary;
IX th Tai Situpa, Pema Nyingche Wangpo (1774-1853), 35 th in the Golden Rosary;
X th Tai Situpa, Pema Kungzang Chögyal (1854-1885);
XI th Tai Situpa, Pema Wagchug Gyalpo (1886-1952), 39 th in the Golden Rosary.
XII th Tai Situpa, Pema Dönyö Nyingje Wangpo (b.1954) – Simhanada recounts: “Terton Chogyur Lingpa predicted in the 19th century: ‘The 17th Karmapa's mind shall be blended together with Kenting Tai Situ's mind. Through this, the teachings will flourish.’ Such a clear prophecy has been fulfilled. Inseparable from the Gyalwa Karmapa, the present and 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche was the regent of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. Tai Situpa is now the principle teacher to the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje.”
Long-life prayer for His Eminence the present Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche:
Prostration to Lama Dorje Chang.
Homage to Vajradhara.
Glorious embodiment of countless activities in the Golden Kagyü Rosary of universal fame; holder of the realization of the teachings of the three solitudes without grasping, crown jewel adorning the doctrine and all beings, please remain our support.
By virtue of your study, examination and exposition of numerous teachings you are the master holder of Lord Shakyamuni’s Tripitaka, realized and undefiled, supreme noble being, holder of the three ordinations, holy lord of the tenth level, please remain our support.
Regent of Pema, the teacher of profound reality, the fourth of the lotus order, Amogha, the lord of the wheel with the sovereignty of the ocean of mandalas adorning your head, holder of the central pillar of the Kagyü Lineage, please remain our support.
Possessing the heart treasure of a superior Bodhisattva, practicing for many ages the play of Bodhicitta and emanating like Kunduzangpo’s offerings, your greatness is unequalled and you have no rival, please remain our support.
Glorious Vajra Siddha of the supreme secret path, ever perfect one, out of the self-liberated, all-pervading Dharmadhatu, you appear as the lord of the five families, completely devoid of the defilement of illusion, diamond master of perfect liberation, please remain our support.
Holder of the tradition of superior learning and discipline, having the rising sun of the Kagyü doctrine as your crest ornament, possessing the sovereignty of the three emanation families, Pema Dönyö Nyingje, please remain our support.
By the power of this prayer made without deception, by the great blessing of the certainty of the Three Roots, and by the previous activity vows of the Dharmapalas, may you remain immutable like the vajra.
This prayer for the long life of Pema Dönyö Nyingje Drubpa was composed on the sincere request of the exalted Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, by the Sixteenth holder of the Karmapa signs, at Palpung Dharma Center, Tubten Chökor Ling. May virtue increase!
Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “The Golden Rosary,” “Kagyu Lineage histories” (2008).
Sherab Ling, “Previous Emanations” & “Lineage of the Tai Situpas,” Himachal Pradesh, India (2008).
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, “The Treasury of Knowledge – Book Eight, Part Four: Esoteric Instructions,” translated & annotated by Sarah Harding from the Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group under the direction of Venerable Bokar Rinpoche, Ithaca, N.Y., 2007, pages 139-140.
Simhanada, “The 11 th Tai Situpa” (2008).
Alexander Berzin, “A Brief History of Tsurpu Monastery,” in: Berzin Archives (2003/2008). Original version published in: “ Chö-Yang, Year of Tibet Edition” (Dharamsala, India, 1991).
May the jewel of the teachings spread to all parts of the world and remain!
(With special gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for benefiting practitioners immensely. Compiled by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for mistakes, Munich, Sept. 2008.)