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The First Gangteng Tulku: Gyalse Pema Thinley

In this and the following sections is presented an account of the successive reincarnations of the founder of Gangteng Sangngak Chöling Gönpa, Gyalse Pema Thinley who took successive rebirths for the benefit of sentient beings, just as the other Enlightened Ones have also taken rebirth for the sake of sentient beings.

Gyalse Pema Thinley was born to father Dawa Gyaltsen, who himself was the son of Tertön Pema Lingpa and considered to be the emanation of Hayagriva (Tamdin). His mother was Buthri, the daughter of local ruler of Choekhor in Bumthang. He was born amidst miraculous and auspicious signs in the Male Wood Rat Year of the 9 th Rabjung, in 1564. He could flawlessly relate the past life stories of Khenchen Tshultrim Peljor, thus leaving no doubt as to the true incarnation of the Khenchen’s. The young Tulku had amazing signs such as the white mole in between the eye-brows, his excreta smelt of musk (Lartsi) and on the lower path of the body was a clear imprint of stripes of a tiger. In the middle of his forehead was the clear mark of the sun and moon.

Even father Thuksé Dawa Gyaltsen declared that the young Tulku will be the activity lineage holder of his father, Tertön Pema Lingpa, and appropriately named him Pema Thinley and conferred on him all the core teachings and instructions.

In addition to receiving teachings from his father, Gyalse Pema Thinley also received the teachings and instruction from Drupchen Dendrup Pelbar, 2 nd Peling Gyalwa Tendzin Drakpa and Gyalse Tenpai Jungney. Moreover, realizing that it would be excellent to follow the monastic discipline, he received full ordination as a monk in a ceremony presided over by the abbot Rinchen Sherab, and in the presence of hundreds of other monks at Tshogchen Geduengang which was the monastic seat founded by Penchen Shakya Shribadra.

Also, having traveled to Darlung region, from Khenpo Kunpang Ngawang Chödrak, he received the complete teachings, blessings, empowerments of the 8,000 verses of Prajnaparamita. In the course of time, he became famous both in Tibet and Bhutan as one who is a pure vinaya holder and industrious to his works and religious practice. As a sign of realization, he left his hand and foot prints on the rock cliff. From Yarlam Tshanpai Dra Karpo, he extracted a clear naturally arisen image of Guru Tshoki Dorji on stone which is today in the Gangteng Monastery.

As prophesied and blessed by his grand father, Rigdzin Pema Lingpa and also being the meditation centre of the 2 nd Peling Gyalwa Tendzin Drakpa, the place was blessed for the successful propagation of the Dharma, Gyalse Pema Thinley built the great Gangteng Gönpa including the body, speech and mind objects of the Buddha, with the main objectives of promoting the Buddha Dharma and to tame sentient beings during the degenerate times through skillful means. Moreover, he also instituted the Sangha or the community of practitioners in the newly built Gönpa.

In addition, he was able to frequently see visions of the family of 100 peaceful and wrathful deities, Vajrasattva in the form of Garab Dorji, Vimalamitra, Shrisingha and Guru Rinpoche. He was also able to communicate with the protecting deities (Dharmapalas) as if talking person-to-person and was able to bring the eight categories of evils to servitude. It is said that the protecting deity Rahula was always present with him, like a shadow, and helped him in fulfilling his wishes.

He visited and re-consecrated the Tang Khangrap Lhakhang, Chel Thegchen Choekhor Tsuglakhang and Kunzang Drak Zimkhang. He also founded the Trakar Lhakhang in Chumey and instituted the new monastic school. He also conducted numerous empowerments, oral transmissions and discourses and constructed body, speech and mind representations of the Buddha, besides conducting around 125 drubchens.

Moreover, in Gangteng Gönpa, he initiated the monastic disciplines called Ling Toed and Ling Maed, which continue to this day.

Amongst his eminent disciples are included Kuenkhen Tshultrim Dorji, Thuksé Nyida Longyang, Drukpa lineage holder Tsewang Tendzin, Dongkar Tulku, Nayphu Tulku, Datong Tulku, Chumey Jetsun etc. besides many other lineage Lams and high officials who offered their deepest respects and received blessings and teaching from him.

As his popularity and fame spread, even the great Drukpa Rinpoche Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel developed great regard and admiration of Gyalse Pema Thinley and often remarked that he must request the teachings of Pema Lingpa from Gyalse Tulku. However, this wish could not be fulfilled and later, Lam Zhabdrung regretfully said, “Although I must receive the sacred teachings from Gyalse Pema Thinley, I had to make do with receiving it from Chöje Ngawang”.

When Gyalse Pema Thinley paid a visit to Pungthang Dewa Chenpoi Phodrang, Zhabdrung Rinpoche made elaborate arrangements to receive the Gyalse Tulku in full tradition with incense smoke filling the sky in Zomthangkha. When he arrived, Zhabdrung Rinpoche stepped down from the throne and prostrated equally, thus showing his highest respects and regards to Gyalse Pema Thinley. Lam Zhabdrung’s high regard and respect for Gyalse Pema Thinley was further enhanced by their conversations on the Dharma and his personal conduct. While parting, they exchanged numerous gifts, advises and Lam Zhabdrung resolved that he would request the entire Peling teachings from Gyalse Tulku.

Thus, having fulfilled the Buddha activity, at the age of 80, in 1642, coinciding with the auspicious 10th day of the 9th month of the 11 th Rabjung, amidst wondrous and auspicious signs, Gyalse Pema Thinley demonstrated the act of passing into parinirvana.