The Tsalpa Kagyu Lineage of Shang Rinpoche
Shang Rinpoche (1123-1193)
Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha, represents the essence of the historical Buddha's realization of enlightenment and is the formless Dharmakaya, which is the dimension of reality that enlightened beings perceive. Vajradhara is also the quintessence of all the Buddhas of the three times of past, present, and future. Vajradhara is the convergence of the three different aspects or 'bodies' of the Buddha - the body of physical emanation, the body of enjoyment earned as the reward of practice, and the formless reality body of ultimate enlightenment. The Kagyu linage originates with Vajradhara.
The color of Vajradhara's body is like a deep blue empty sky that symbolizes the vastness and limitlessness of an enlightened mind. This is called the Dharmakaya. Vajradhara's two arms are crossed in front of his chest. His right hand holds a vajra, a small ritual sceptre which symbolizes skillful means. His left hand holds a bell, which symbolizes wisdom. These two Dharma instruments are the ultimate representations of "ultimate non-duality" and the "non-duality of existence". That is, in fact, the manifestation of Mahamudra, the ultimate state that all Kagyu practitioners seek to attain - realization of the ultimate nature of mind.
As the father of the Kagyu lineage, the teachings of the Indian sage Tilopa and his exemplary practice shine as brightly as a diamond. Tilopa is viewed as the reincarnation of Chakrasamvara, an important deity in the Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Vajradhara is the main true master of Tilopa who directly gave him much profound secret Dharma. This included Mahamudra meditation. Even today, through the unbroken blessing and help of the lineage, Tilopa's enlightened wisdom has helped an unlimited number of sentient beings dash towards the ultimate state of liberation.
The second patriarch of the Kagyu School, Naropa was born the son of a Bengali chieftain. Because Naropa did not care about the vanities of the world, he diligently practiced Buddhism. This eventually led him to achieve his wish when his spiritual understanding earned him the chancellorship of Nalanda University. He also became the 'Gatekeeper' of the Northern College. Through the guidance of the enlightened female being (dakini) named Vajra Yogini, Naropa left Nalanda and was able to find his root master, Tilopa, who immediately put him through difficult tests. Through the experience of 12 major and 12 lesser hardships, he was able to purify his bad karma and emotional defilements. Naropa was thus able to attain great blessings and complete purification from his master, Tilopa, which finally allowed him to reach the Pure Land of Vajradhara.
The life of the great Tibetan master Marpa exemplifies the ancient story of the spiritual aspirant who journeys to India to seek the Dharma and bring it back to his homeland. He brought a limitless number of important lineage sutras and Dharma teachings back to Tibet. He then translated these from Sanskrit into Tibetan, which benefited the Tibetan people greatly. These sutras became the Danzhu'er and Ganzhu'er of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
Although Marpa was a lay practitioner with a family, he achieved an incomparable level of enlightenment that resembled the purity of a lotus grown from mud. For Marpa, the suffering of cyclic rebirth (samsara) and the absolute freedom of enlightenment (nirvana) were the same. In his eyes, all the phenomena of the world were the same as the stainless Buddha nature. Because of this, Marpa was able to live in this world without being contaminated by it.
The honorable Milarepa is Tibet's highest representative of a yogi practitioner who truly achieved through practicing the Dharma. Milarepa's most extraordinary contribution to Buddhism was his use of his own life to explain the interconnectedness of the lesser (Hinayana), greater (Mahayana), and secret (Vajrayana) vehicles within Buddhism. Without the concepts of renunciation from the lesser vehicle and the altruistic pursuit of enlightenment for the sake of all beings (bodhicitta) from the greater vehicle as a foundation, the expedient means of the secret vehicle would be like a tower without a base. The honorable Milarepa exemplified the path of practice and the achievement of the three vehicles of Buddhism.
The essence of the enlightenment of the Honorable One was expressed clearly through his beautiful songs. Whoever listens to these songs will have the seed of enlightenment planted in his mind. Many of his songs have been translated into foreign languages and spread throughout the world.
The coming of the Honorable Milarepa's first disciple, the great master Gampopa, was predicted by Milarepa's master Marpa. The great master Marpa once predicted in a song that in the future Milarepa would have an outstanding disciple, who would be Gampopa. The tutelary deity (yidam) Vajra Yogini once also made a prediction to Milarepa that he would have twenty five disciples who would achieve great things. Gampopa was to be his heart disciple, the greatest of those twenty five disciples. Milarepa had also seen Gampopa while in a luminous meditative state. Through his meditative powers, he blessed Gampopa, which caused a manifestation of Milarepa to appear and beckon to Gampopa. Because of the destiny that brought Milarepa and Gampopa together, Tibetan Buddhism has prospered and spread like the rays of the midday sun. Gampopa had four main disciples: Shang Tsalpa Tsondu Dakpa, the founder of the Tsalpa Kagyu school; Barompa Darma Wangchug, the founder of the Barom Kagyu school; Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, the founder of the Phagdru Kagyu school; and Düsum Khyenpa, founder of the Karma Kagyu school.
Shang Yudrakpa Tsondru Drakpa, also known as Gungthang Lama Shang or simply Shang Rinpoche, was a highly accomplished master prophesied by Buddha Shakyamuni. Shang Rinpoche was also a mind emanation of Padmasambhava. Lama Shang had studied under 44 teachers of whom 6 were his root masters. In particular, he studied briefly under Gampopa and had received the full Kagyu lineage from Gompo Tsultrim Nyingpo or Gomstul (Gampopa's nephew and lineage heir). Gomstul also entrusted Shang with the responsibility of maintaining peace in Lhasa and restoring holy sites including the Jokhang Temple. Shang Rinpoche founded the Tsalpa Kagyu lineage and constructed numerous monasteries including Tsal Gungthang just a short distance north of Lhasa. Lama Shang was renowned for his teachings of Mahamudra and his profound instructions have been passed down through generations of achieved practitioners until the present day. Due to his extraordinary achievement and legendary influence, Shang Rinpoche is also known as one of the “Three Jewels of Tibet”. In 1193, many auspicious signs accompanied Shang Rinpoche's parinirvana (passing). His body could not be lit by ordinary fire, but was instead cremated by his own inner wisdom fire. Moreover, his eyes, tongue and heart remained completely intact and fused together. This precious relic was housed in the stupa that had previously been constructed by Shang Rinpoche himself.