Biography of the First Neyphug Trulku, Yongdzin Ngawang Dragpa (1525-1599)

The initial emanation of Yongdzin Ngawang Dragpa goes back to the time of Tathagata of Limitless Light. Born as Brahman Geden at that time, it was under the auspices of this Buddha that he first attained enlightenment. Later, he manifested as Acharya Yeshe Yang, a prominent translator who was one of the 25 Chief Disciples of Guru Padmasambhava in Tibet. While Yeshe Yang was translating and encrypting some treasure letters, Guru Padmasambhava reiterated his former emanations and prophesized how he will be born as the Terton (Treasurer Revealer) Ngawang Dragpa. The prophecy says:

Thus, as prophesized, Yongdzin Ngawang Dragpa was born in 1525 at Kunzangling, Bhutan, to father Kunga Namgyal and mother Guru. From a tender age, he studied under his maternal uncle, Lama Maniwa Palden Ozer, and learnt philosophy and the art of reading and writing.

When he was 15, Kathogpa Sonam Gyaltshen of Mon, who was then residing at Taktsang, Paro, was invited to perform rituals for the death anniversary of his teacher Maniwa. As he escorted the master back, he received the complete teachings of the Nyingma Kabum (the collected works of Nyingma Masters).

In the village between the south and west of Samye,
Nearby the east of the glorious Tiger's Nest (Paro),
At the place called as Kunzangling (the Land of Samantabhadra)
To the father called by the name Kunga Namgyal
And to the mother Guru, you [Yeshe Yang] shall be born!!

You will have seven or eight brothers and sisters,
Five destined disciples and ten patrons,
One consort possessing traits of Dakini and one son!
There will be countless spiritual sons associated by the means of prayers,
And even those connected to you on single occasions,
Will all be led to my abode by you!

At the age of 17, he followed the master Drung Drung Rinchen Choedor who was the emanation of Trulku Paljor Gyaltshen, and realized the non-dual views of the Mahamudra and Atiyoga (the Great Seal and the Great Perfection). Following this, he established the hermitage Bodmo Rinchen (Bumree Samten Tsemo) and attained the supreme Siddhi of the Mahamudra while meditating there. Thereafter, he possessed such powers that he could fare through the celestial mansions of the Five Buddha Families without any hindrances. In 1550, he established Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo Monastery in Paro.

Once, at the celestial mansion of Guru Padmasambhava at the Copper Colored Mountain, Padmasambhava prophesized that his destined masters were Terton Pemalingpa and his spiritual son, Thugse Dawa. Accordingly, he went to Bumthang (central Bhutan) but was unable to meet Pemalingpa as he had already passed away. When he went to see Thugse Dawa, the spiritual son of Pemalingpa, he was told about the prophecy that Pemalingpa gave when he was about to pass away, it said, "From the direction where the sun sets, a popular son, who upholds our mandala teachings will come and you shall pass on the teachings and these articles to him." As per this prophetic mandate, Thugse handed over the treasure inventory to the Yongdzin. From Thugse and Gyalse Sangdag, he received the entire treasure doctrines of Pemalingpa along with empowerment and pith instructions of both Kama (injunctive) and Terma (treasure) teachings.

As he perfected the great display of experiential realization, he could leave imprints of his hands and foot on rocks at total ease. From Kyichu Monastery in Paro (built by Chinese Princess Wen Cheng, the royal consort of King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet), he recovered one of the Five Envoy-statues of Guru Padmasambhava (8th century) that grants liberation merely upon seeing it. It is believed that there are five such treasure statues of Guru Padmasambhava of which this is one. These statues are known as the Kutshab Ter Nga, the "Five Envoy Statues of Guru Padmasambhava." He also recovered the pills made up of the essential drops of Guru Padmasambhava. From Chumed Trakhar, Chumophug, Gonthsephug, he extracted amrita of longevity and flesh of the Brahman who reincarnated for seven successive rebirths. Just by the means of this flesh alone, he placed countless sentient beings on the path of liberation!

In accordance with the fervent insistence of his disciples and patrons and for the purpose of benefiting sentient beings, he established several monasteries and hermitages from Bumree Samten Tsemo (Bodmo Rinchen) to Thegchen Tsemo (Neyphug), Osal Choling at Phurdokha, Zabdon Choling at Monrikha, Dechencholing in Wangdiphodrang, and Datong Monastery. Amongst these hermitages and monasteries, Bumree Samten Tsemo and Thegchen Tsemo were his principle seats of spiritualism.

As he was the custodian of the Terton Tsering Dorje of Dongkarla during his earlier days, he was thus known as the Yongdzin meaning "guardian." As he became one of the seven spiritual sons of Terton Pemalingpa, he was thus also known as "Terton" meaning treasure revealer. While recovering treasures, he took the fortunate lady Nordzin as his spiritual consort who gave birth to his son, Choeje Rigdzin. He wrote his autobiography, a book of key-instructions, answers of refutations, which have been collected as one whole volume.

Finally, he passed away at the age of 74, during the Earth Hog year in 1599, on the 8th day of the Second Month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar.

Accounts of the Successive Reincarnations and of the Present Yangsi, the 9th Neyphug Trulku

From the Terton Ngawang Dragpa to the present Yangsi, Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima, nine emanations of Neyphug Trulkus have come so far. Except for the autobiography of first Yangsi, the biographies of the latter reincarnations were lost to fire when the residence of the seventh Yangsi was gutted. However, we are presenting some brief accounts of all the Trulkus in reference to the accounts that are mentioned in the biographies of other masters who lived contemporary to each of the Trulkus. Reference is also made to the "Catalogue of the Neyphug Monastery," written by the Seventh Yangsi, Namdrol Dorje.

A) The Second Yangsi, Zhabdrung Sangag Gyaltshen (1600-1661)

The Second Yangsi, Sangag Gyaltshen, was born when Bhutan was under the sovereignty of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the spiritual and temporal leader who introduced the Drukpa Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism to Bhutan. The Yangsi carried out all spiritual activities as per the direction of Zhabdrung Rinpoche and Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, and thus the five monasteries established by preceding masters were supported and protected by the Government of Bhutan. However, he maintained the Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo Monastery autonomously and this monastery still remains the principle seat for all the Neyphug Trulkus.

Being highly learned and an accomplished master, even Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay's relative, Drupthop Jinpa Gyaltshen, received teachings from him. Jinpa Gyaltshen on being asked by his disciples about who was his root teacher, he said, "I have four exceptional root teachers and one of them is Zhabdrung Sangag Gyaltshen who is the emanation of Acharya Yeshe Yang." He was so highly accomplished that even the great Rahula and Damchen, protectors of the Dharma, served him at his command revealing their actual forms. Therefore, he constructed a separate Gonkhang (chapel of the protectors) for Ekadzati, the guardian of Mantras, and the other two protectors, Rahula and Damchen. An annexed residence to the main temple was also built for him. He constructed the representations of enlightened speech by writing down the entire Kangyur (the injunctive canon of Buddha) and several other Pustakis (volume of texts) that appeared in his pure visions and all these are still dearly cherished today.

B) The Third Yangsi, Thuchen Ngawang Padma Gyaltshen

Thuchen Ngawang Padma Gyaltshen served Ganteng Trulku Tenzin Legpai Dondrub and Penlop Dragpa Gyatsho as his root teachers. He was highly learned and was a powerful adept of mantras. He displayed such power by averting the war between Bhutan and Tibet and was thus known as "Thuchen," the great master of mantric power. He renovated the main temple constructed by his predecessors and furnished it with sacramental attires, substances and offerings to the enlightened body, speech and mind of the Buddhas. Most importantly, he started a center for clay-sculpture, and to this date, the Heyphug tradition of clay-sculpture is the most authentic and renown in the world. Even his relative, Choglay Namgyal, was a great erudite and accomplished master who left great imprints in this monastery and helped to preserve the Buddha Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings. The Third Yangsi Rinpoche passed away in 1716, corresponding to the Fourth Day of the Eight Month of the Fire Monkey year in the Bhutanese lunar calendar. His root teacher Penlop Dragpa Gyatsho performed the final rites.

C) The Fourth Yangsi, Sangdag Nueden Dorje

The fourth Yangsi, Sangdag Nueden Dorje was a highly realized master as he always abided in the state of appearances as deities, sound as the mantras and consciousness as the primordial wisdom by wearing the costumes of Black Hat Dance at all times. By the means of approach and accomplishment of the protector Rahula, he brought the protector Damchen under his command. The 10th Desi (political leader), Gongsa Mipham Wangpo, ruled Bhutan at that time. His contemporaries were Zhabdrung Choglay Namgyal and the Second reincarnation of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, Jigme Norbu. During this period, Bhutan confronted a tough rebellion by the Tibetans and the Fourth Yangsi was invited to the Government Headquarters in Punakha. There, he performed the wrathful ritual of Rahula that displayed terrifying spells of power and repelled all Tibetan attacks from its root. Thereafter, Bhutan never saw any threat from the hands of Tibetans and he won much respect from the Government. In recognition of his services, the government offered him the Jazhag Monastery in Thed (Punakha) and Dzekor village in Paro, which are still registered as the property of Neyphug Monastery.

The statues depicting the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava, the life-size statues of the five Damchen families, and the statue of the supreme protector Rishi Rahula of the Neyphug monastery were constructed during this time. Sangdag Nueden was a powerful mantric adept as were his third reincarnation. Both the government and kingdom benefited by means of his wrathful yet enlightened activities of the Mantrayana to reverse the occasional threats from Tibetans, and such a master came at the most fortunate time! It was also during his time that he made friends with Nyizergang Trulku of Shar and started the tradition of passing down the exceptional instructions of the Rishi Rahula through entrusted successors, and this is still practiced today.

D) The Fifth Reincarnation, Kunzang Rinchen

The Fifth reincarnation, Kunzang Rinchen alias Kunga Namgyal, was exceptionally skilled in the art of architecture and the science of indigenous healing. He strengthened the center of clay-sculpture and established a school for practicing indigenous healing. The "Tendoe" for the Five Class of Gyalpo-spirits, Rahula, and Damchen was built. "Ten" stands for support while "doe" is a device used for trapping evil spirits which is made of a cross wood and its ends are connected beautifully by threads of five colors. Thus, "Tendoe" here means the support on which these spirits abide. There was one spirit belonging to the class of protector Damchen's retinues who used to seriously inflict harm to those who touched and felt him and used to disgrace the master occasionally. The master once again subdued this spirit and reinforced him with stricter and fresh vows to guard the Buddha Dharma and was expelled far away.

Trulku served Jigme Lingpa as his root teacher from whom he received the entire cycle of Nyingthig (heart-essence) teachings of Guru Rinpoche and was given the name Dechen Gocha (Armor of the Great Bliss). It is said that all his enlightened activities for the benefit of sentient beings and preserving the Buddha Dharma were accounted at length in his biography, most unfortunately, this was gutted by fire before it could be published during the time of Seventh Reincarnation. It is highly regrettable that we are not even able to get mere information of when he was born and died.

E) The Sixth Reincarnation, Je Sonam Gyaltshen

The Sixth reincarnation, Je Sonam Gyaltshen, according to the "Supplication towards the Garland of Reincarnations," and other narrative sources, indicates that he was known by another two names -Yonten Gyaltshen and Sherab Gyaltshen. He lived contemporary to the 26th Desi, throne-holder Tsultrim Dragpa, who was the fourth emanation of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. It is also mentioned in the "Catalogue of Neyphug Monastery," that under the auspices of the throne-holder Tsultrim Dragpa, the sixth Yangsi constructed sacramental accessories like vases, long-life tormas (ritual oblation) all made of gold and silver, and skull-cups for the monastery used during the empowerments.

F) The Seventh Reincarnation, Namdrol Dorje

The Seventh reincarnation, Namdrol Dorje was also known as Tenpai Nyima, lived contemporary to the 25th Je Khenpo (spiritual leader of Bhutan) Sherab Gyaltshen of Goray. They were such close friends that they taught profound instructions to each other. He renovated both the exterior and interiors of the retreat hermitage, Bumree Samten Tsemo. In 1864, when the master's residence annexed to the main temple caught fire, the main temple was heavily damaged. In the same year, 1864, corresponding to the 14th Rabjung Cycle (a period of sixty years), 15th Day of the First Month of Wood Ox year, he initiated the reconstruction of the temple starting from the foundation, and the new monastery was completed in 1868. Accounts state that his capable brother assisted him, and they completed the construction of the temple and newly furnished it in such a way that it looked more splendid than before.

He composed the "Catalogue of the Temple of Neyphug," displaying his great skill in poetry and these writings are still visible on the door of temple. Whatever we are able to present here is solely because of the greatness of these writings by him. When we read through this catalogue, we can assume that the Seventh Yangsi was indisputably an accomplished and learned master who realized the non-duality of the Great Seal and the Great Perfection.

G) The Eighth Reincarnation, Sangye Dorje

The Eighth reincarnation, Sangye Dorje or Yeshe Gyaltshen, was born in the Earth Monkey year, 1907. Even as a child he remembered his past lives and this enabled him to be recognized as the unmistaken reincarnation of Namdrol Dorje, the seventh Yangsi. He was then invited to the monastery and joined the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan. There he studied the teachings from Jamgon Ngawang Thinley and Nyizer Trulku. He later returned to his monastery and actualized the realization of the Great Seal after receiving instructions from Togden Yeshe Gyaltshen of Do Choten. He was married and had some children. He passed away in 1975.

H) The Ninth Reincarnation, Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima

The current Ninth Reincarnation is Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima. He was born to father Tsultrim Tharchin and mother Ani Rigzang in 1980. His father hails from Yagang Pirbi under the Mongar district in eastern Bhutan. His mother is from the Thegchen Norbugang under Punakha district in western Bhutan. She is the niece of the Eighth Yangsi, Sangye Dorje.

When his mother conceived him, she had many dreams and saw signs that foretold about the birth of an extraordinary child. One month after his conception, his mother dreamt a crystal pillar as high as the sky with a white sheep and a small bronze vessel filled with milk next to it. She then held the sheep and sprinkled the milk as an offering. Again after 2 months, she dreamt dribbling nectar above Neyphug Monastery. At the same time, all the people of Do Choten saw one end of the rainbow fall over his mother's house while the other end fell on the monastery. The Lhashing (celestial tree) just below the house unseasonably bloomed twice. One day, as his mother walked at Panglog pass on the way to Do Choten, she wondered about the reverberating thunder and looked up. She saw two nun-like figures but when she got closer to them they transformed into a radiant ball of five colors that became two crystals. She picked them up and these were later inserted as dharani (spiritual sustenance) of statues. When his mother was about to give birth, she dreamt of two rising suns over the horizon and the blowing of a white conch mounted on a throne.

Soon, on the 23rd Day of the Fourth Month, in the Iron Monkey Year of 17th Rabjung Cycle, 1980, the Ninth Yangsi was born. When he was delivered, he was actually wrapped up by a white scarf-like womb and wore a meditation-like strip through his navel. Moreover, everyone witnessed a light of five colors radiated to his residence through the windows from the pinnacle of the Neyphug Monastery. When he visited Neyphug monastery for the first time, everyone saw that his house and the monastery being connected by a light of five colors. On entering the temple, a fireball descended from above, which was considered an extremely auspicious omen.

At the age of four and a half when he was able to speak, he started to say, "Neyphug Monastery is my monastery," and insisted on being taken there. When he was escorted to the monastery, he went directly over to the throne used by the previous reincarnations and sat in cross-legged posture. He even recognized the cups and attires of his predecessors very distinctly, but owing to the modest status of his parents, the matter was kept silent for sometime.

At the age of six, under the patronage of the Royal Queen Mother, the Late Ashi Phuntso Chodon, and Tenzin Dondrub, the Je Khenpo at the time, he was admitted to the Sangha Community of Central Monastic Body in Thimphu. During that time, the child became seriously ill. Predictions and fortune-readers all favored the reading that it was the magical display by the Protector of Neyphug Monastery, and that it would remain incurable unless the Yangsi was given the regard of his previous glory.

Then, when he was nine years old, the Buddha Vajradhara in human form, the Late His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, recognized the child as the unmistaken reincarnation of the Yongdzin Ngawang Dragpa and conferred "Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima" (the Lord of Speech, and the Dharma-sun of Exegesis and Accomplishment) as his name. In the same year, His Holiness enthroned him with a grand ceremony at the Jowo Chapel of Kyichu Monastery in Paro, and inducted him to his principle monastery, Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo, and granted him several empowerments and teachings. His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche shared in the celebrations of this auspicious day.

A controversy arose between two groups regarding the recognition of the Yangsi. However, the Yangsi was able to create miraculous harmony by passing a test that was conducted by the group who denied him. During the test, he was made to cast dice and challenged that if he would be the Yangsi he should fetch the right dice-number that belonged to the Protector of Neyphug Monastery. He did this right away and thus brought all the disbelievers and his supporters into one platform of unflagging faith and devotion!

Gradually, he was enrolled in the monastic school of Dechen Phodrang, Thimphu, and then at Dodedrag Institute. Under the guidance of his maternal uncle, the then Drapai Lopon, Yonten Gyaltshen, he studied the mandala sadhanas (rituals), grammar, and elementary philosophies of Buddhism. Then, as per the visionary suggestion of the Royal Queen Mother, the Late Ashi Phuntsho Chodon, and Yangsi's own interest, he traveled to Mysore, South India, and was admitted at Ngagyur Nyingma Institute in 1995. NNI is one of the foremost centers for higher Buddhist learning founded by the Supreme Head of Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness Drubwang Penor Rinpoche, who is also the 11th Throne-holder of Palyul Tradition, one of the six mother monasteries of the Nyingma Lineage.

During the academic breaks, according to the advice of the Late Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, and the late Je Khenpo Nyizer Trulku, Yangsi did a number of short retreats, mainly comprising the Tsa-sum recitation and each of them brought wondrous signs of attainment. From His Holiness Drubwang Penor Rinpoche, he received the complete Rinchen Terdzod (precious collection of treasure teachings) empowerment, empowerments on the trilogy of Sutra, Illusory Net, and Mind and the rare empowerments of Anuyoga. From His Holiness Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche, he received Oral transmission of Rinchen Terdzod and empowerments of the Northern Treasure teachings revealed by Rigdzin Goedemchen, and Jatson Nyingpo's collected treasures teachings

During his time at NNI, he studied a wide range of subjects from the most basic to the highest teachings of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. After nine years of advanced studies, as Professor of Buddhism studies, he has an in-depth understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practices. While at NNI, owing to his capable leadership and wisdom, he served as the Vice Librarian over the vast infrastructure of the Buddhist Library at Namdroling Monastery. In 2000, he officially represented Bhutan during the month-long religious tour of Asia that further confirms that he is one of the jewels of Bhutan. In recent years, he has been invited to give teachings and empowerments throughout Asia, and is a popular teacher because of his warm personality, compassion and wisdom.

Thus, it was our sincere aspiration and supplication that the Yangsi live a long healthy life and complete his noble deeds to serve the purposes of fulfilling the wishes of sentient beings and preserving the endangered Buddha Dharma!