The Ten Pillars of Tibetan Buddhism
Ten Tibetans are especially singled out for their foundational role in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet.
1. THÖNMI SAMBHOTA (THON MI SAM BHO TA) [619? – D.?]
Thönmi Sambhota was born in Thu area of Yorwo Lunggu in Tibet approximately in 619 c.e., and demonstrated a very outstanding intelligence from a very young age. At the age of fifteen, he was sent to India by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, where he studied for seven years. After returning from India, Thönmi Sambhota developed the Tibetan script, which was derived from the devanagri and other Indian scripts, and formulated the written Tibetan language, for the first time. He became one of the most important ministers of the King.
King Songtsen Gampo (569-650 or 617-650) prepared the way for transmission of the buddhist teachings. He is regarded as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. He married Bhrikuti (a princess) of Nepal and Wen Cheng (a princess) of China, each of whom brought a sacred statue of Buddha Shakyamuni to Lhasa. Thönmi Sambhota played an important role in arranging for these Buddha statues to be brought to Tibet. Songtsen Gampo built the first Buddhist temples in Tibet and established a code of laws based on buddhist principles. During his reign the translation of Buddhist texts into Tibetan began.
2. VAIROCHANA (BE RO TSA NA) [B. ? – D.?]
The great Tibetan Translator Vairochana was born in the Nyemo area of central Tibet during the time of King Trisong Detsen. He was one of the first seven Tibetan monks. Padmasambhava recognized his outstanding qualities and potentials, and he was sent to India to study with Shri Simha. He also is one of the three main masters to bring the Dzogchen teachings to Tibet.
3. KAWA PALTSEK (SKA BA DPAL BRTSEGS)
Kawa Paltsek was a direct student of both Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita. He was one of the most important contributors to the translation of the Tibetan Tripitaka and the Nyingma Gyübum. He was born in the Phenpo Valley and became an eminent translator in accordance with a prophecy by Padmasambhava. He was one of the first seven monks ordained by Shantarakshita. He received Vajrayana teachings from the great master Padmasambhava and attained unimpeded clairvoyance. “Kawa” is a place name and “Paltsek” means “Mountain of resplendence.”
4. CHOKRO LUYI GYALTSEN (COG RO KLU’I RGYAL MTSHAN)
Chokro Luyi Gyaltsen was an early Tibetan translator of great importance and one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava. He worked very closely with the great Indian masters Vimalamitra, Jnanagarbha, Jinamitra, and Surendrabodhi. He is very important to the continuation of the Vinaya lineage (monastic lineage) in Tibet. After attaining realization at Chuwori in central Tibet, he aided Padmasambhava in transcribing and concealing terma treasures. The great tertön Karma Lingpa (14th century) is regarded as a reincarnation of this great master.
5. YESHE DE (YE SHES SDE)
Yeshe De was a great Tibetan translator and disciple of Padmasambhava. He participated in the translation of more than 200 texts into Tibetan and was one of the greatest translators of Tibet. He was also known as Nanam Yeshe De (sna nam ye shes sde), or Zhang Yeshe De (zhang gi bhan dhe ye shes sde).
6. LOCHEN RINCHEN SANGPO (LO CHEN RIN CHEN BZANG PO) [957-1055]
Lochen Rinchen Sangpo was the first translator of the New Translation School or New Mantra School period, which began in the late 9th and early 10th century. Translations from the 7th through the 9th centuries, up to and including King Triral, are called the “Old School of Early Translations” (snga ‘gyur rnying ma), and later ones are known as the “New Schools of Later Translations” (phyi ‘gyur gsar ma). The New Schools are Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug; the Old School refers to Nyingma. See Buddhism in Tibet for more about the schools.
Sangpo was born in Ngari region of western Tibet in 957 C.E. He was ordained at the age of thirteen by the Abbot Yeshe Zangpo. The King of Ngari sent him to Kashmir and India to study buddhism, where hstudied with over seventy five panditas of India and became well-versed in the sutras and tantras. He invited many Indian panditas to Tibet and is one of the great Tibetan translators who contributed to the translation of the Kagyur and Tangyur into Tibetan. It is said that his translations consists of about 17 volumes in Kagyur, 33 volumes in Tangyur, and over 100 volumes of tantras. He edited the earlier translations as well. He passed away in 1055.
7. DROMTÖN GYALWE JUNGNEY (‘BROM STON PA RGYAL BA’I ‘BYUNG GNAS) [1005-1064]
Dromtönpa was a heart son of the great Indian master, Atisha and the founder of Reding Monastery in central Tibet. He was born in western Tibet in 1005 and was named Chöphel. At an early age, he studied with Geshe Yung Chögon and later received the upasaka vow from Nanam Wangchuk Dorje, who conferred the name, Gyalwe Jungney. He studied the Madhyamaka philosophy, tantras, and other teachings from Khenpo Setsun. He studied Sanskrit with the great Indian master, Smritijnana. At the age of thirty, he met Atisha in Western Tibet and became his student. At the age of fifty-four, he founded Reding Monastery. He built the stupa for the relics of Atisha when he passed away, and the students of Atisha continued to study and practice under Dromtönpa. He became the main lineage holder of the Kadampa tradition of the Atisha. He composed many texts and passed away in 1064.
8. NGOK LOTSAWA LODEN SHERAB (RNGOG LO TSA BA BLO LDAN SHES RAB) [1059-1109]
Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab was born in 1059. At the age of seventeen, he studied with Ngok Lekpe Sherap, who was his uncle. After a year, he began to travel to India with Tsen Khawoche and others to study with great Indian masters. He studied with many Indian panditas for seventeen years and then returned to Tibet in 1092 C.E., and became one of most important Tibetan translators. He translated the pramana (logic/valid cognition) literature and abhisamaya-alamkara (ornament to clear realization) literature and made a great contribution to the buddhism of Tibet. He taught extensively and became the second seat holder of the Sangphu Neuthok monastery, which was founded in 1071 C.E. by the Ngok Lekpe Sherap, who was the first seat-holder of Sangphu Neuthok Monastery. Ngok Loden Sherap passed away at the of fifty-five, in 1109.
9. SAKYA PANDITA (SA SKYA PANDITA KUN DG’A RGYAL MTSHAN) [1182-1251]
Sakya Pandita was one of the five forefathers of Sakya and the grand son of Kunga Nyingpo. He became a student of Drakpa Gyaltsen, who was his uncle, and began studying logic, languages, astrology, medicine, and many topics of buddha dharma. He mastered all the subjects he studied and became one of the most well-known thirteenth-century Tibetan masters and scholars. At the age of twenty-three, he received the full monastic ordination from Panchen Shakya Shri Bhadra. At the age of twenty five, he became the throne-holder of the Sakya and taught dharma for many years. He later became teacher of the Mongolian emperor and exercised political power on behalf of the Mongols. He is also known as Sapen (sa paN).
10. GÖ-KHUKPA LHEYTSE (‘GOS KHUG PA LHAS BTSAS) [EARLY 11TH CENTURY]
Gö-Khukpa Lheytse was born in the Tsang Tana region of central Tibet and was a contemporary of Marpa Lotsawa. He first studied in Tibet and then traveled to Kashmir, India, and Nepal. He studied with seventy-two Panditas of India and mastered the Sanskrit language and Buddhist teachings. He translated many scriptures into Tibetan and contributed to the translation effort of Kangyur and Tangyur. He is one of the most important translators in the New Translation School, after Lochen Rinchen Sangpo.