Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen
Chogle Namgyal (1306-1386), who was one of Dolpopa’s fourteen major disciples, was the only master to hold the monastic seat of Jonang Monastery twice, for a total of about twenty years. He wrote many important works, especially a series of treatises on the sixfold vajrayoga of Kalachakra based on the teachings of Dolpopa. He also composed annotations to the Kalachakra Tantra and the Vimalaprabha.
Chogle Namgyal, who is also known by the name Chokyi Gyalpo, was born in the western region of Ngari. As a young child he received teachings from several Tibetan masters and studied Sanskrit with the Indian or Nepalese pandita Umapati (U ma pa ti). In 1313, when he was eight years old, he traveled to the Central Tibetan region of Tsang and began the study of Madhyamaka philosophy with the expert scholar Tsangnakpa (Gtsang nag pa) and other teachers. He also studied epistemology, the literature of the vehicle of perfections, Abhidharma, the monastic code, and tantric subjects at different monasteries for some years.
In 1325, Chogle Namgyal studied at the great monastery of Sakya and at Drakram. At this point he was a strong advocate of the rangtong (rang stong) view. He then visited many monasteries in Central Tibet and Tsang for further studies and during this trip received the nickname Chogle Namgyal, “Victorious in All Directions” because of his consummate skill in debate. He returned to Sakya, where he was again victorious in debate, and also traveled to several other places in Central Tibet and Tsang, including Zhalu Monastery. There he received teachings from the great master Buton Rinchen Drub (1290–1364), but did not feel that he gained further understanding as a result.
Chogle Namgyal next returned to Drakram Monastery, where he heard about the incredible reputation of the Dharma lord Dolpopa and how he had built an amazing and unprecedented stupa at Jonang. When he heard that Dolpopa was teaching a system that did not agree with most previous philosophical tenets, Chogle Namgyal decided to go to Jonang and discuss this in person by means of scripture and logical reasoning. Chogle Namgyal’s teacher at Drakram, Konchok Zangpo encouraged him, saying Dolpopa was a peerless holy man unlike any other in Tibet, and remarked that Chogle Namgyal might well gain a better understanding by meeting him.
In 1333, when he was twenty-seven years old, Chogle Namgyal arrived in Jonang just as Dolpopa was finished teaching a huge assembly. He gave a letter to one of Dolpopa’s attendants, requesting an audience, and was invited into the master’s quarters. When the curtain was parted and he beheld the unbearable brilliance of Dolpopa’s body, he prostrated and began to tremble. Perceiving the wondrous aroma of moral discipline and the major and minor physical marks of a buddha on Dolpopa’s body, Chogle Namgyal immediately felt that Dolpopa actually was a buddha. He presented a small offering, and Dolpopa asked about his family and where he had come from. Unable to control his trembling voice, Chogle Namgyal replied that he was from Ngari and had come to Central Tibet and Tsang to study. They had a detailed conversation and then Dolpopa spoke in depth, comparing the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, Abhidharma, and the monastic code. When Chogle Namgyal heard Dolpopa’s words and countless scriptural quotations he did not know, he felt like he was the water in a cow’s hoofprint next to the Ganges River, and thought, “I don’t understand the Dharma!”
Chogle Namgyal made a request to study the Kalachakra, and Dolpopa bestowed the great Kalachakra initiation and taught the completion stage practices of the sixfold yoga and the great Vimalaprabha commentary to the Kalachakra Tantra. Chogle Namgyal found it difficult to understand these teachings, but when he later received the commentary on the tantra again from Dolpopa’s major disciple Kunpang Chodrak Palsang (1283?–1363?), and studied the key points of the philosophical tenets, he gained an excellent understanding. Then he also received teachings on Sanskrit grammar and other subjects, including the Vimalaprabha once more, from Dolpopa’s major disciple Mati Panchen (1294−1376). During these years Chogle Namgyal received all of Dolpopa’s teachings on exoteric and esoteric subjects.
At the age of thirty-four Chogle Namgyal traveled to Lhasa to gild the famous images of the Buddha in the Jokhang and Ramoche temples. He then declined many invitations to teach and instead returned to Jonang to be with Dolpopa, where he also received many teachings from Dolpopa’s major disciple Jonang Lotsawa Lodro Pal (1299–1354). Chogle Namgyal was next invited to Ngamring, where he taught the Vimalaprabha and was appointed to the monastic seat when he was thirty-nine years old. When Jonang Lotsawa, who held the monastic seat at Jonang monastery, died in 1354, Dolpopa invited Chogle Namgyal back to Jonang and he assumed the monastic seat for either the next four or six years. Then he retired to the hermitage of Sem Karchung.
After Dolpopa passed away in 1361, Chogle Namgyal returned to Jonang and assumed the monastic seat again for the next fifteen years. He taught the Vimalaprabha there when he was sixty years old. At seventy-two years of age, he traveled to Lhasa and Central Tibet where he gave extensive Kalachakra teachings. After returning to Jonang, he was again invited to Sem Karchung, and only through his clairvoyance escaped ambush on the road by the evil warlord Jangpa Siddhi (Byang pa sid d+hi) and his troops, who had previously murdered the great Jonang master Kunpang Chodrak Palsang (1283?–1363?) in a similar situation. Chogle Namgyal later passed away at the age of eighty-one. Various miraculous events occurred, and wonderful images and relics appeared in his remains after cremation.
This summary of Chogle Namgyal’s life is based on the work of the Jonang abbot Rgyal ba Jo bzang dpal bzang po. Brilliant Marvels: Abbreviated Biographies of the Great Omniscient Dharma Lord, the Spiritual Father, and His Fourteen Spiritual Sons. In Tibetan, Chos kyi rje kun mkhyen chen po yab sras bco lnga’i rnam thar nye bar bsdus pa ngo mtshar rab gsal, 582–88. In the Collected Works of Kun mkhyen Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan. ‘Dzam thang: 1, 559–629 and published in Byang sems Rgyal ba ye shes. Biographies of the Masters in the Lineage of the Jonangpa Tradition of Glorious Kalachakra. Dpal ldan dus kyi ‘khor lo jo nang pa’i lugs kyi bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thar, 143–209. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004. The following works were also used: (1) Ngag dbang Blo gros grags pa. Moonlamp Illuminating the Glorious Jonangpa Dharma Tradition. In Tibetan, Dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ‘byung rgyal ba’i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba’i sgron me, 37–38. Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992. (2) TA ra nA tha). Necessary Discussion of the Origins of the Dharma Cycles of Glorious Kalachakra. In Tibetan, Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkho, 36–39. In The Collected Works of Jo nang Rje btsun TA ra nA tha, 2, 1–43. Leh: Smanrtsis Shesrig Dpemdzod, 1983.