Biography - Zurpoche Śākya Jungné

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Biography of Zurpoche Śākya Jungné

by Christopher Bell

(Dudjom 1992, p.618)

NameZurpoche Śākya Jungné
Wylie namezur po che shAkya 'byung gnas
Tibetan nameཟུར་པོ་ཆེ་ཤཱཀྱ་འབྱུང་གནས་
Name etymologyClan name-Great-Clan of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni-originate, occur-location, holy place.
The Zur clan elder, Originating Place of the Śākya clan
Naming historyZurpoche was believed to be an emanation of the deity Yangdak Heruka (ཡང་དག་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ་) by Lachen Gongpa Rapsel (བླ་ཆེན་དགོངས་པ་རབ་གསལ་), who bestowed on him full monastic ordination, and so there was no need to change his name from the one he was born with, which was Śākya Jungné. (Dudjom 1992, p. 618)
Person typeReligious: Lama. བླ་མ་
Ethnicitybod:a mdo. ཨ་མདོ་བ་
OccupationLhajé ལྷ་རྗེ་
Biographical SummaryZurpoche Śākya Jungné is the first of the three great Zurs, to whom the transmission of the Nyingma teachings fell during the time of the later spread of Buddhism in Tibet (phyi dar). As such, it is said that he 'planted the roots' of the Nyingma tradition. Zurpoche was born in East Tibet in 1002 C.E. and died in Tsang, Central Tibet, in 1062 C.E. He became learned in several Nyingma textual lineages, such as the Net of Magical Illusion tantra, and received many more after he was fully ordained. He established several hermitages with his disciples and built the monastic complex of Ukpalung, thus earning him the alternative name of Ukpalungpa. Since his main practice surrounded the tantric deity of Yangdak Heruka, he constructed an image of the god and his entourage of eight deities at the meditation center of Trampa in lower Shang. He also built a temple at Dropuk and took on many disciples, the most historically significant being his nephew Zurchung Shérap Drakpa, the second of the three great Zurs. Given these various localities, Zurpoche's main sphere of activity was in Central Tibet. Aside from Zurchung, Zurpoche had an important relationship with the great 11th-century translator Drokmi, who bestowed many teachings on Zurpoche.
Birth date (Tibetan)chu pho stag. ཆུ་ཕོ་སྟག་
Birth date (international)1002 C.E.
Birth place (Tibetan)Dokham, in the region of Yardzong or Sarmo. མདོ་ཁམས་ཀྱི་ས་ཆ་ཡར་རྫོང་ངམ་གསར་མོ།
Death date (Tibetan)chu pho stag. ཆུ་ཕོ་སྟག་
Death date (international)1062 C.E.
Death placeTsang, at the Hermitage of Trampa in Shang. གཙང་གི་ས་ཆ་ཤངས་ལ་སྲམ་པ་གྲུབ་ཁང།
FamilyGrandfather: Zur Sherap Jungné ཟུར་ཤེས་རཔ་འབྱུང་གནས་
Father: Zang Mikpoche. བཟངས་མིག་པོ་ཆེ་ (Dudjom 1992, p. 617, states that the father may also have been a figure named Atsara. By yet another genealogy discussed on this page, Zang Mikpoche is Zurpoche's grandfather and his father is Zurzang Shérap Jungné.)
Mother: Dewacham. བདེ་བ་ལྕམ་
Brothers: Lhajé Menpa, Gomchen Śākade, and Gomchen Dorjung. ལྷ་རྗེ་སྨན་པ་དང་སྒོམ་ཆེན་ཤཱཀ་སྡེ་སྒོམ་ཆེན་རྡོར་འབྱུང་།
Nephews: Ami Shérap Zangpo and Jotsün Dorjébar. ཨ་མི་ཤེས་རབ་བཟང་པོ་དང་ཇོ་བཙུན་རྡོ་རྗེ་འབར།
Main teacherNyang Yeshé Jungné མྱང་ཡེ་ཤེས་འབྱུང་གནས་
TeachersChe Śākyachok, Nyennak Wangdrak, Tökar Namkhade, Dre Trochungpa, and Rok Śākya Jungné.
Main DiscipleZurchung Sherap Drakpa. ཟུར་ཆུང་ཤེས་རབ་གྲགས་པ་
DisciplesThe "Four Peaks": Zurchung Shérap Drakpa, Minyak Jungdrak, Zhang Dröchungwa, and Zanggom Shérap Gyelpo.
The "Eight Crowns of the Peak": Lorok, Lotung Śākagyel, Tarok, Tsak Lama, Sumpa Wangtsul, Ölgom, Sumpa Logya, Chaktön Namkha.
Spheres of activityUkpalung, Trampa in Lower Shang, Tak, and Dropuk in Nyari, all within Tsang. གཙང་གི་ས་ཆར་འུག་པ་ལུང་དང་ཤངས་མདའ་སྲམ་པ་ཐག་ཉ་རི་སྒྲོ་ཕུག
SectNyingmapa. རྙིང་མ་པ་


I chose to translate these three sources to produce a diverse sampling of brief but concise Tibetan discussions concerning Zurpoche Śākya Jungné.

From the Deb ther sngon po

Thus, regarding the lineage of Zur, Lhajé Zurpoche’s grandfather was Zur Shérap Jungné. Zur Shérap Jungné’s son was Zang Mikpoche. Zang Mikpoche’s sons were Lhajé Zurpoche, Lhajé Menpa, the great meditator Śākade, and the great meditator Dorjung. Because Zurpoche practiced celibacy, he had no sons. Lhajé Menpa also had no sons. The son of the great meditator Śākade was Ami Shérab Zangpo. His son was Ami Sherlo. His four sons were Lhajé Zurpel, Khampa, Wangé, and Jogön. Wangé had two sons, Ami Heru and Wangön. Ami Heru’s son was Zur Öpo. His two sons were Śākgön and Śāka Ö. The son of the great meditator Dorjung was Jotsün Dorjébar. His son was Zurnag Khorlo. He had two sons, Lhajé Kunga and Jotse. Kunga’s son was Gyelpo. Jotse’s son was Berre.

Lhajé Zurpoche Śākya Jungné in general met many lamas, and in particular received the [Net of] Magical Illusion and the Mind Section [of the Great Perfection] from Nyang Yeshé Jungné of Chölung. He received the Nectar [cycle of practices] from Je Śākyachok of Gegong. He received the secret empowerment and path of means from Nyennak Wangdrak of Yulsar. He received the Sūtra [which Gathers All Intentions] and the [Gsang ba snying po’i ’grel pa] bar khap from Namkhadep of Tokar. He received the exposition on primordial purity and spontaneous presence, the Great Treatise on the Stages to Enlightenment, and so forth, from Dretrochung of Nyangtö. He received the Viśuddha [cycle of practices] from Rok Śākya Jungné of Samyé Chimpu. Having met with many scholars of those [practices] and so forth, he differentiated the root tantras and explanatory tantras, he united the roots and commentaries, he united the tantras and sādhanas, and he united the sādhanas, ritual manuals, and so forth. Then he explained them to the four best people and the secret best, making five, the 108 great meditators, and so forth. Regarding that, the four best are Zurchung Shérap Drakpa—the best of view realization, the monk Minyak Jungdrak of Dré—the best of the single aspect exposition of the Magical Illusion [tantra], Zhanggö Chungwa of Rasa—the best of vast knowledge, and Zangom Shérap Gyelpo of Tsonya—the best of meditation practice. The [fifth] secret peak was Tsak lama, the best of those who consumed in addition to the Dharma. Alternatively, there are the eight secret best, Lorok, Latung Śākagyel, Tarok, Tsak lama, Sumpa Wangtsul, Ölgom, Yumpa Logya, and Chaktön Namkha; [Zurpoche Śākya Jungné] gave extensive expositions to this extremely large assembly of students.

He properly erected the temple of Ukpalung. He built the nine gods, the Great Glorious One [Heruka and his retinue] out of dough, at the Sampa meditation center in the lower valley of Shang. At that time, when [Zurpoche Śākya Jungné] went a little way up from that place, he seized a serpentine demon, which had made an abode [for itself] on the cliff of Okdong, and put him in a pot. He covered it with a skin and sealed it, then he placed it there. Because of that, that serpentine demon collected barley beer from many places and performed duties. At the time of the consecration [of the temple], an inexhaustible supply of barley beer arose from that one pot for everyone. At the time of consecration, he borrowed many cows from the villagers and slaughtered them, and the great feast of the consecration was performed. At the end of the day, the cows were handed back completely to each of the villagers. Desiring to also perform that [consecration] just so at the Tsangpo River in Lhokha, he brought that pot of barley beer. His disciple, wondering, “What is this here on the roadside?” he opened the pot, and a white snake departed from it, and thus the raising of the deity did not occur.

While he performed the Viśuddha practice at Gyawo in Tak, the great mind Drokmi sent a letter [to him] saying, “Because I do not have sufficient gold to give to the Paṇḍita [Gayadhara], you must bring more gold! [Then] I will give the profound instructions.” When he desired to depart, although his retinue [tried to] delay him, he said, “Because the words of the lama himself are accomplishment, [let us] go.” Because he requested gold from a spirit in a mountain crevice not very far from that place, that local deity there said, “Collect gold until one appears in the form of a golden animal,” and they gave [the gold] to him. Because of this, a great amount of gold appeared from a small hole, and at the end, a gold [piece] appeared that was shaped like a frog and he stopped. After arriving at Nyugu valley, he gave an additional 100 sang of gold to the translator. He also pleased [the lama] through reverential behavior, such as carrying unthreshed grain in his cloak at the time of autumn. He bestowed inconceivably [many] instructions.

When Lhajé Ukpalungpa’s fortunes were flourishing, he desired to perform a Dharma wheel party [for] Mama Yungdrung Tashi and her husband in Nyari, then he gathered the country folk and kinsmen [for it]. They asked, “Which masters were good.” And he said, “Some say, because the tantrikas are the best, one must invite a tantrika. Some say they must invite a monk. Some say they must invite a bönpo. Thus, because they disagree, we disagree. Do whatever you have faith in!” Because of this, she said, “In that case, because my provisions are sufficient, I will invite all three.” Then she invited the three kinds of revered ones. She invited the tantrika from Ukpalungpa, the bönpo from Ketsewa, and the monk from Chumik Ringmowa. The three revered ones said, “We must build a temple.” Then the three gathered and discussed building a temple together; because of this, they could not agree on the chief deity. The tantrika said, “It should be Vajrasattva;” the monk said, “It should be Śākyamuni;” and the bönpo said, “It should be Shenrap Miwo.” Because of this, they [each] built separate temples. Lhajé Ukpalungpa laid the foundation at a place below Dropukpa and, having joined with the bönpo, he built [his temple]. The bönpo said, “Because [we] still [need to] erect the gods, should we build your god as chief, and then build my god as retinue, or build my god as chief, and build your god as retinue?” Thus, [Ukpalungpa thought,] “whatever of those two [alternatives] are built, nothing good will come of it.” Therefore, he gave that temple to the bönpo. Drotön gave Dropuk [to Ukpalungpa] and he built a temple there at Dropuk. Then the three related patrons said, “Whoever puts a gilded roof on their temple will collect the flower [offerings].” The tantrika and bönpo both loaded [the roof]; the monk did not. Thus, the tantrika and bönpo both collected flower [offerings] there in turn over the year. Because of this, the monk said, “Although I did not load the gilded roof, we request our desire [to collect].” Thus they gave for one year, then they collected [offerings] every other year; and it is said that they also protected the expanse of the land annually. In that way, as soon as the inner shrine room of Dropuk was completed, it was entrusted to Gyawowa. Then Ukpalungpa passed away at the age of 61. (Gölo 1984, pp. 142-147)

From the Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod

Zurpoche Śākya Jungné was born in the Water Male Tiger year—the international year of 1002—prior to the establishment of the sixty-year cycle system. He died in the Water Male Tiger year—the international year of 1062—of the first sixty-year cycle. In general, he served many lamas and completed his practices in the sūtras and tantras, along with the the auxiliary sciences. In particular, he received the Net of Magical Illusion and the Mind Section of the Great Perfection from Nyang Yeshé Jungné. He received the secret empowerment and path of means from Nyen Nakwangdrak. He received the Nectar [cycle of practices] from Je Śākyachok, the secret empowerment and path of means from Nyen Nakwangdrak, the Sūtra which Gathers All Intentions and the Gsang ba snying po’i ’grel pa spar khab—Lalitavajra’s commentary on the Guhyagarbha tantra—from Namkhadep of Tokar, the exposition on primordial purity and spontaneous presence and the Great Treatise on the Stages to Enlightenment from Dretrochung, the Viśuddha [cycle of practices] from Rok Śākya Jungné, and many others. After that, he distinguished the root tantras and explanatory tantras, he united the roots and commentaries, he united the tantras and sādhanas, and he united the sādhanas, the ritual manuals, and so forth. Then he explained them to his four best disciples, his secret best—making five—as well as the 108 great meditators, and so forth. After that, he properly built the monastic complex of Ukpalung and he constructed the nine gods—the Great Glorious One and his retinue—out of dough at the hermitage of Trampa in the lower valley of Shang. Drotön gave [the area of] Dropuk to Zurpoche; the latter built a temple there and it became known as the Dropuk temple. His other name is Lhajé Ukpalungpa. He is a great master of the Nyingma secret mantra, which principally performs the Net of Magical Illusion tantra. His famous students, the four best disciples, are Zurchung Shérap Drakpa—the best of view realization, the monk Minyak Jungdrak of Dré—the best of the single aspect exposition of the Net of Magical Illusion tantra, Zhanggö Chungwa of Rasa—the best of vast knowledge—and Zangom Shérap Gyelpo of Tsonya—the best of meditation practice. The secret best was Tsak lama—the best of those who consumed in addition to the Dharma. (Kozhul and Gyelwa 1992, pp. 1531-1533)

From the Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo

Zurpoche Śākya Jungné is one among the three masters of the Nyingma secret mantra—Zur, Mé, and Wön. Zurpoche himself was born in the Tibetan Water Tiger year (1002). He lived as a layman of pure conduct. He built the temple of Ukpalung and thus he became called Ukpalungpa. He served many lamas, such as Nyang Yeshé Jungné of Chölung, and received the Net of Magical Illusion tantra, the Mind Section of the Great Perfection, the Nectar [cycle of practices], the secret empowerment and path of means, and others. It is said that he individually distinguished the root tantras, explanatory tantras, the commentaries, and the sādhanas. He established the root of the teachings of the early translations during the later spread of the teachings. He built the temple of Dropuk. He was 61 years old at the end [of his life] and died in the Water Tiger year (1062) of the first sixty-year cycle. Zurpoche himself had his four best disciples, his secret best—making five—as well as the 108 great meditators, and much more. (Dungkar 2002, p. 1813)

Biographical Analysis

Zurpoche Śākya Jungné is one of the most pivotal figures of 11th-century Tibet, a period of intense religious ferment. At this time, the great sects of Tibetan Buddhism do not yet exist, but their teaching lineages and textual foundations are beginning to coalesce into stable forms maintained by institutions or charismatic individuals. Zurpoche is one such individual, and he is considered a forefather of the Nyingma tradition—preceding the organizational designation while being greatly responsible for its development. As such Zurpoche, in retrospect, is recognized by the Nyingmapas as the first of three great Nyingma lineage holders belonging to the Zur clan. His activities, practices, and family ties are indicative of many of the attributes that will come to define the Nyingma sect in later centuries.

First and foremost, Zurpoche was a charismatic religious leader. Having mastered several teaching lineages under numerous teachers, he became a great religious leader himself and developed a sizeable following of students, disciples, and lay patrons. Despite his occasional desire for religious seclusion, Zurpoche was a powerful public figure. He traveled throughout Central Tibet—mainly in the Tsang region but as far south as the Tsangpo River in Lhokha—establishing hermitages, building temples, and performing numerous consecration ceremonies and religious feasts, usually under the auspicious of wealthy patrons. Through these diverse venues, Zurpoche taught the various religious practices he had come to inculcate in his studies and built a massive following in several areas.

With the establishment of the Ukpalung monastic complex, he maintained a congregation of monks via the great tantric college and meditation center there. He even had to settle disputes on occassion as well as religate to his disciples responsibility over his many establishments. One such dispute involved a split between his students who mainly focused on study and those who focused on rituals, with the latter being discriminated against by the former. Zurpoche resolved the dispute by chastising his students, explaining to them the individual value of each system in the effort toward liberation (Dudjom 1992, pp. 624-625). Zurpoche's travels and activities constantly revolved around teaching, performing ceremonies, and establishing new venues of religious pursuits for the local populace.

Significantly, Zurpoche's biography shares many of the motifs found in the career of Padmasambhava, the most important religious personage for the Nyingmapas. Along with teaching, going on retreats, and establishing centers of devotion and study, Zurpoche spent a great deal of time being a miracle-worker and exorcist. He healed the sick, transformed into an emanation of Yangdak Heruka, resurrected cows previously sacrificed for religious feasts, and had a constant relationship with numerous local divinities whereever he traveled. In all instances, he subjugated these divinities, either trapping a number of them to act temporarily as his servants or requiring provisions and gold from the regional spirits, and so he is depicted as a great tantric exorcist like Padmasambhava. Zurpoche’s nephew and most historically significant disciple Zurchung Shérap Drakpa (1014-1074) also falls under this motif of exorcist and miracle-worker. As the second Zur in this important clan triumvirate, Zurchung's biography usually follows quickly on the heels of Zurpoche’s, often blending with it in history and in miraculous events.

Furthermore, it is important that Zurpoche belongs to a prestigeous clan with multiple ties to the Nyingma teachings. Many of the textual traditions that Zurpoche mastered were tied to the early spread of Buddhism in Tibet (snga dar), when Buddhism was very much aligned with the Tibetan dynastic court. It was during this period also that powerful clans and families tied to the Tibetan kingship acted as the main custodians of the textual lineages popular then. The constant concern for an unbroken connection to the royal past as well as a strong clan association have thus become key features of the Nyingma sect. Given this, not only is it important that, according to tradition, the Zur clan originated from India (the land of Buddhist validation), but the fact that this clan through three generations starting with Zurpoche propagated the Buddhist teachings has proven to be a powerful narrative in the Nyingma tradition. Such a narrative proved especially important in the 12th and 13th centuries when Nyingmapas faced increasing criticism regarding the validity of their textual lineages as well as for the later development of the treasure (gter ma) tradition.

The 11th-century was an incredibly active period of the Tibetan renaissance, demarcating the beginning of religious movements and lineages that would define the Tibetan religious landscape for centuries to come. This is the century of some of the most important religious figures in Tibetan history, the founders of the major Tibetan Buddhist sects. Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (1002/1012-1097) and Milarepa (1052-1135) are considered by all Kagyü subsects to be the great founders of the Kagyü overall. Atīśa (b. 972/982), the Indian scholar, not only founded the Kadampa sect and by extension inspired the Gelukpa sect later on, but he is considered by all Tibetans to be the great reformer of Buddhism in Tibet. The great translator Drokmi Śākya Yeshé (992/993-1043?/1072?) translated the textual tradition of the Path and Fruit (lam 'bras), transmitting it to his student Khön Könchok Gyelpo (1034-1102), who founded Sakya monastery and through that the sect itself (For a detailed exposition on Drokmi, see Davidson 2005, pp. 161-209). In this century of great sectarian founders, Zurpoche equally stands out as an important founding figure of the Nyingma sect. However, in contrast to the other schools, which all fall under the designation "The New Ones" (gsar ma pa), the Nyingmapas (meaning "The Old Ones") stress that their sect began during the dynastic era and as such Zurpoche cannot be considered a founder in the same sense as those listed above. Nonetheless, given his significance as a propagator and popularizer of the antecedents of the Nyingma textual tradition, Zurpoche Śākya Jungné is considered the foremost of religious masters, essential to the development of the Nyingma school during the Tibetan renaissance period.

(For a detailed English biography of Zurpoche Śākya Jungné, see Dudjom 1992, pp. 617-635)


Title: The Blue Annals
Author: George N. Roerich
Language: English
Publisher location: Delhi, India
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Publication year: [1949] 1996
Edition (par gzhi): Second Edition Reprint
ID/Abbreviation: Roerich 1996

Title: Deb ther sngon po
Author: Gölo Zhönnupel ('Gos lo Gzhon nu dpal)
Language: Tibetan
Publisher location: Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Publisher: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang
Publication year: 1984
Composition year: 1478
Edition (par gzhi): First Edition
ID/Abbreviation: Gölo 1984

Title: Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo
Author: Dungkar Lozang Trinlé (Dung dkar blo bzang ’phrin las)
Language: Tibetan
Publisher location: Beijing, China
Publisher: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang
Publication year: 2002
Edition (par gzhi): First Edition
ID/Abbreviation: Dungkar 2002

Title: Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod
Author: Kozhul Drakpa Jungné and Gyelwa Lozang Khédrup (Ko zhul Grags pa 'byung gnas dang Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas grub)
Language: Tibetan
Publisher location: Lanzhou, Gansu, China
Publisher: Kan su'i mi rigs dpe skrun khang
Publication year: 1992
Edition (par gzhi): First Edition
ID/Abbreviation: Kozhul and Gyelwa 1992.

Title: The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History
Author: Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein, trans.
Language: English
Publisher location: Boston, Massachusetts
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Publication year: 2002
Edition (par gzhi): First Edition
ID/Abbreviation: Dudjom 1992

Title: Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture
Author: Ronald M. Davidson
Language: English
Publisher location: New York City, New York
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication year: 2005
Edition (par gzhi): First Edition
ID/Abbreviation: Davidson 2005