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A Brief History of the Kathok Lineage and Monastery

Given by HH Getse Rinpoche September 28, 2007

As many people know, Buddhism came to Tibet from India owing to the compassion of three
main propagators: Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the Great Bodhisattva Khenpo, and
the Dharma King Trisong Detsen.

While there were many students and famous accomplished masters that came from Guru
Rinpoche, the most well known are the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche. One of these, Nyak
Jnana Kumaradza, became the owner and transmitter of the Nyingma teachings called Do,
Gyud, Sem Sum, which means the three categories of Sutra, Tantra and Mind teachings.

These three categories of teachings were transmitted in their entirety from master to student
as follows: From Nyak Jnana Kumaradza to to Nup Chen Sange Yeshe to So Yeshe Jungne
to Zur Chen Sakya Jungne to Zhur Chung Sherab Trakpa to Samdrak Dro Tukpa to Zamten
Gyalwe Gampo to Kathok Kadampa Deshek Sherab Senge.

Kathok Kadampa Deshek, the founder of Kathok, not only received these three categories of
Nyingma teachings in their entirety, but he also studied all of the other Dharma traditions in
existence at that time. While there was not yet a Gelug tradition, there were the Kadampa
Geshes, and from them he learned the Bodhisattva path of the Lam Rim, the gradual stages
of the path. From the Sakya master Sonam Padmo and others he received instructions on
Lam Dre, the Path and Fruition. And from the Kagyu tradition he studied from Milarepa's
students Rechungpa Dorje Drakpa, Repa Zhiwa Öd and Gampopa, whose Tibetan name was
Dakpo Lhaje, receiving all of the Mahamudra and other instructions of that tradition. So not
only had he received the lineage of the Nyingma tradition in its entirety, but also all of the
different lineages of Dharma that were being transmitted at that time. There was no Dharma
that he hadn't received and wasn't a holder of, so all of the lineages converged in him and he
studied them all.

Kathok Kadampa Deshek was born in eastern Tibet in Kham, in the area of Derge. After
having studied all of the teachings that he received, he was given Lung-Ten – a prophesy –
by both of his root teachers, Zamten Gyalwe Gampo and Dakpo Lhaje (Gampopa). The
prophesy was that if he were to go to the mountain of Kumbo, he would achieve Rainbow
Body, but if he were instead to establish a monastery of Kathok, then his teachings would
remain for 1000 years and 100,000 beings would be able to gain enlightenment there.
Following this prophesy, many manifestations of the great Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara,

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Manjushri, and Chana Dorje (Vajrapani) appeared to him, and he thought to himself, "Those
three Lords would have an opportunity to manifest and benefit beings, and so immense
benefit would come through that." And then he thought to himself, "It's OK if I don't attain
Rainbow Body as long as I can bring about this great benefit and enable others to do so." So
then he remained there in Kham and when he was about 30 years old, he established the
Kathok monastery there as a seat for receiving Dharma teachings.

The land on which Kathok Monastery was established was given by Guru Rinpoche in a
prophesy in one of his writings. And Guru Rinpoche himself spent 25 days there on that
place, so it's very blessed, one of the sacred spots in Tibet. It's called Ka Thok Dorje Den,
one of perhaps 25 very holy sites of Guru Rinpoche in the area of Do Kham. In that specific
location there is a thin flat rock that has the depiction of a double crossed Vajra, which was
called "Dorje Gatramo". And on top of that was the syllable Ka (the first letter of the Tibetan
alphabet). And so "Kathok" means, "On top of Ka". The monastery was built right there on
top of that Ka, situated with that double Dorje on that rock. And so it is a very special place.
The words, "Dorje Den" are the same in Tibetan as for Bodh Gaya. All together Ka Thok
Dorje Den means "The Vajra Seat of Kathok". This monastery was first established around
845 years ago or so (sometime around 1159 - 1162 CE).

Between Kathok Kadampa Deshek and his two main students Tsong Tsem Dorje Gyalten
and Sand Dak Jhampa Bum, they ordained and taught about 80,000 students. Their main
students were “the 3 supreme listeners of Rong-Bo”, who were from an area of Gyarong
which is near the Chinese and Tibetan border. At that time the primary Buddhist practice in
Do-Kham was the Nyingma tradition, and at that time there weren’t other schools within the
Nyingma. It wasn’t as it is today.

Then later, the next three major holders of the transmitted lineage were the Bumpa Nam
Sum, who were the three Bumpa. And they were primarily the students of Jhampa Bum, who
was mentioned before. Then after them Lhungten Bum Zhi, the four sons of Lhungten.
[Paloma interjects, “Someday I will actually know these names because I’m translating the
Kathok history.] And then they did a lot of work – they began to establish many branch
monasteries. At that time the person who stayed in the main monastery was Sonam Bumpa
of the four sons of Lhungten. Sonam Bumpa was the one that actually stayed in Kathok and
held the seat at the monastery. [Paloma adds, “So I think what it is is that each of their
names probably has Bumpa in it and they’re all four sons of one lama, so they called them
the four sons of Lhungten, or something like that.”]

So we’re not going in a completely linear manner, the three that we previously mentioned
were Sonam Bum, Yeshe Bum, and Changchup Bum. At this point there were around
180,000 students practicing within the Kathok tradition, all of them fully ordained monks and
practitioners. And these 180,000 different practitioners were not just merely individuals who
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paid lip service to the teachings and their vows, but sincere practitioners of great knowledge
and adept accomplishment. For instance, they included the omniscient Jigme Lingpa, and
the Kathok Getse Maha Pandita, and His Holiness Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, who was the
previous emanation of Dudjom Rinpoche and so forth. And so within the Nyingma tradition
we have some very famous and accomplished masters.

[Paloma adds, “This is not a linear history at this point; we’re just looking at some of the
masters that you find historical reference to, and that happen to be of the Kathok lineage.”]
At that time there were so many practitioners that when they got together for Sojong for
purification of their vows – and also for their traditional 45 day summer retreat – they of
course couldn't fit in a shrine room, so they stayed throughout the forest and valleys, which
were filled with monks. For the ceremonies they all wore their patched yellow robes, and
there were so many of them that the radiance from the yellow cloth on their backs made the
sky turn yellow with a golden shimmer.

Looking at the lineage more in chronological order, we have the Ter Chok Sum, the Lhumpa
Sum, the Lung Sem Su Yi – these were all lineage holders who have numbers and some kind
of a family name, all of whom were very accomplished masters, all of them very learned, and
all relying on the scriptures and on very pure vows of pure ordination.

Then following that there were the Sungrab Chu Sum, which is the thirteen Sungrab, then we
have ten Rabjung Suchung – probably Rinpoche says, there were thirteen of them too –
which is like the Great Exalted Khenpos that came. Then following that we have the thirteen
practitioners of Mograb, and then many different holders of the pith instructions and
teachings. Then we have Sag La Ring Jung, and Ringdzin Duddul Dorje, and he was one of
the great and famous tertons of Kathok, and following him came a whole line of accomplished
tertons, treasure revealers.

Then Lung Zhin Cho Dak Kathok Denba, and following him we have many of what they call –
Cho Dak is a complicated word in English that we don’t have a direct translation for but it’s
sort of like the owner or holder of certain Dharma practices and treasures. And the holders of
these within the Kathok who help maintain the main seat of Kathok, were many accomplished
and sacred realized masters.

And then we have the famous treasure revealers, tertons, Rigdzin Duddul Dorje and Longsel
Nyingpo, the main founders, and it wasn’t until after that the teachings spread out. We talk
about the different Nyingma monasteries that sprouted up that have different names. It was
only after this flourishing of Kathok that other Nyingma monasteries began to sprout up with
different names: Mindrol Ling, Du Drak, Payul, Dzogchen, Shekhyen, these began to spread
out next. Before that there wasn’t even the name of these different monasteries. So when
we look at the different Nyingma monasteries now, their source was the Kathok lineage, and
they sprouted from there.
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During this time the Kathok lineage began to spread throughout Kham and then throughout
the whole snowy land of Tibet, into the central regions of Lhasa and U-Sang, Mari, then into
Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkhim which then later became their own countries. Throughout all
of these regions and countries during these three or four generations when the Kathok
lineage was spreading, there wasn't any place that the Kathok tradition didn't reach.

So then when we look at the spreading of the Kathok lineage, beginning with Kadampa
Deshek Rinpoche, according to his own root teachers' prophesy there would be 100,000
fortunate Kathok practitioners that would achieve Rainbow Body at that monastery. So
between that time of Kadampa Deshek Rinpoche, the founder of Kathok, and a later
practitioner called Padma Duddul then there were 100,000 people who were within about 3 or
4 generations and who attained Rainbow Body. That's not to say that practitioners of this
lineage today have no opportunity to attain Rainbow Body, it just won't be as all-pervasive as
it was at that time. That prophesy was for these 100,000 practitioners, and the prophesy was
fulfilled.

During the major period of the flourishing of the Kathok lineage, practitioners were very
serious, always residing in extremely remote and quiet regions, in caves and forests, and so
forth. They would basically live in an extreme kind of solitude, on just enough that they could
survive without starving to death, and thus focus all of their energies on practicing, and they
were able to attain Rainbow Body. At that time there were so many of these practitioners and
it was flourishing in such a great way that oftentimes you could see rainbows sprouting out in
different areas and somebody would say, "Oh yeah, a lama must have died" in a very casual
way, because everybody was doing it, and so it wasn't considered all that unusual or
amazing, but just very commonplace, you would see all these rainbows just sort of sprouting
in the sky and they would think, “Yes, somebody must have passed on.” Not only was
Rainbow Body commonplace, but many lamas were able through Tsa-Lung and other
practices to attain all kinds of accomplishments and siddhis, and it was quite common that
they could fly and move unimpeded in these seemingly miraculous ways. At that time it was
sort of prevalent for those kinds of practitioners.

There were other prophesies about Kathok Kadampa Deshek, the founder of Kathok. He
was not, obviously, an ordinary being. The prophesies indicated that he was an emanation of
several different reincarnated masters. One was Shantideva, the great master and saint of
India. Guru Rinpoche's prophesy was that he was an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal. And
then others said that he was an emanation of the great translator Nyak Jnana Kumaradza.
These were not Kathok Kadampa Deshek's own proclamations, they were the things that
were prophesied about his coming.

There are many Kathok practitioners today, and many branch monasteries, more than 200 in
Tibet that hold the name Kathok preceding whatever individual name they have, and perhaps
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300 or more if we include the monasteries that are being built outside of Tibet and in the
west.

These days whatever monasteries we’re looking at – even of the Gelug tradition – most of the
famous lamas who were the lineage holders and ones that people followed after within their
own traditions, were followers of Kathok and had received teachings through this lineage.
Rinpoche says, “I’m not saying 100%, but the vast majority of teachers when we look at the
lineage that they came through, boils back down to and is found within the heart of the
Kathok tradition.”

They say that today when many of the Kathok monasteries gather at the main monastery for
the yearly prayer festival there are usually around 10,000 fully ordained monks and
practitioners that gather there for the prayers of the Kathok tradition.

When we look at the major historical figures within the Kathok tradition we have the five
Golden Throne Holders. These were mostly reincarnate masters of tertons, but not
completely, and they were all major participants in the holding of the lineage. The first
Golden Throne Holder is a reincarnation of Gyaltse Sonam Detsen, the son of Rigzin Longsal
Nyingpo. He was reincarnated as Kathok Chime Zhingchong. Then the Tibetan word is
"Ringchung", which means, "and all of their rebirths" so the Tulku of the first Kathok Golden
Throne Holder is always named Kathok Chime Zhingchong each time there is a
reincarnation. The second Golden Throne Holder was a reincarnation of the great terton
Namche Mingyur Dorje, who became the succession of the Moksa Tulkus, the Moksa Golden
Throne Holders. The third began with Kathok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu, whose rebirths
became the succession of the Kathok Getse Tulkus. Then the fourth was Rabo Tsundu
Gyamtso, who was one of the main lineage holders of Rigdzin Duddul Dorje and Longsal
Nyingpo, the two tertons. His succession of incarnations are the Golden Throne Holders who
are called Kathok Chaksa Tulkus. The fifth was Nyingun Sange Tashi, a great master whose
reincarnations are the Gradual Reincarnate Masters, the succession of Donyen Tulkus, the
Fifth Golden Throne Holders. These five Golden Throne Holders play very poignant and
important roles in holding the Kathok tradition, and continue to reincarnate in just that way.

In this way you can see that Kathok Gonpa is truly all-pervasive, and this is the overview of
this lineage. In particular, in Tibet when we look at the Golok region there are many Kathok
branch monasteries there even today. They vary in size. Some may have 300 monks, some
100, some 50, but many still hold the name Kathok in Golok, and in particular you have the
monastery that is related to Lingtrul Rinpoche here.
And when you look at Lingtrul Rinpoche’s history, he is said to be a reincarnation of Ling La
Chökyi Dorje, and Ling La Chökyi Dorje is known to be a manifestation of Longchenpa. This
was prophesied and is undisputed. Everyone has complete confidence in that fact.
Longchenpa is said to be an emanation of Manjushri. There are three emanations of
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Manjushri that came about. One was Sakya Mahapandita, another was Tsongkapa, that’s Je
Rinpoche, and the third was Longchen Rabjampa. It is said in many places and known by all
within the tradition particularly of the Nyingma, that when the teachings are on a decline or
deteriorating or degenerating in some way that Manjushri will emanate as a qualified spiritual
teacher to repair and restore them. And so then the three that we have on record as being
called the three emanations of Manjushri are these three, and this is commonly known.

So Ling La Chökyi Dorje had many learned and accomplished masters that he relied upon
and studied the Dharma with until he had unimpeded knowledge and understanding of all the
sutras and tantras. In the earlier part of his life he went into solitary retreat and integrated
that until he had the full realization of all of these teachings. So he remained in solitude until
that came about. Then in the later part of his life he established Tra Ling Gonpa, and he
invited many khenpos from Kathok to give many teachings, and he is very much responsible
for the flourishing of the Kathok tradition in the Golok region. Where it was declining and
degenerating he restored the teachings, and so the fact that the Kathok teachings are
flourishing and pervasive in Golok and throughout that region is much due to his kindness
and care.

So there was Ling La Chökyi Dorje who has great and vast ways in which he worked for the
welfare of sentient beings – many, many activities – and he survived pretty much until the
Chinese invasion. He died during the early 1950’s, and then Lingtrul Rinpoche was born in
1957 and was recognized at the age of 3 years by the Great Golden Throne Holder Kathok
Chaksa Rinpoche, who was a great scholar and accomplished master and revered by
everyone. And the recognition was completely undisputed.

Everyone knows for sure that Lingtrul Rinpoche is Ling La Chökyi Dorje’s reincarnate master,
and there were prophesies and many signs, and also there was the lama who recognized him
and so forth, and between all of that, there is complete certainty. Because he is who he was
said to be, and because of the Chinese invasion that was taking place full-on at that point,
they were unable at the time of his recognition to enthrone him, and to impart on him the
ritual implements and clothes and so forth of the previous master as is traditionally done.
They gave him the robes, but they didn’t give him the enthronement because of the Chinese,
and for 20 years they were very much suppressed, so those kinds of things weren’t able to
take place.

Then after Mao had passed on and the Communist Party began to get a little more relaxed to
them, there was some allowing for certain Dharma ceremonies and certain Dharma to be
practiced, at which time Lingtrul Rinpoche returned to his monastery seat at Tra Ling Gonpa
and was enthroned as the rightful Abbot of the monastery, Tulku of Ling La Chökyi Dorje.
And at that time he received the teachings from the great master Khenpo Munsel and many
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others. He received teachings and studied and contemplated the meaning and put it into
practice – study, contemplation and meditation – and he spent many years in retreat. And so
after that he was considered the rightful Abbot of the monastery.

He wished to be free of activity and so he left, leaving all forms of activity behind. He
wandered through various countries, and here he is today, and you are his students studying
with this great teacher, who have an immense amount of merit and good fortune to have such
an opportunity and to be with such a good teacher, and I’m not just saying this to sound
pretty with my mouth, but sincerely the great fortune that you have in meeting and being able
to rely on him. And so then to have faith and confidence in him and pure view of him is
important.

So then Rinpoche’s monastery has done some very successful things – managed to rebuild
the shedra and there are over 400 fully ordained monks there, and he is the Abbot, the
residing Abbot of that very great monastery. I’m not lying to you, this is true, so that’s just a
little bit about the history and the lineage of this monastery and I don’t have all the great
details here, you can look in books where they talk about the names and so forth.

[Paloma adds: “I have a supplication prayer to the Lamas of the lineage that goes through
and talks about different lists of 4 and 13 and so forth that Rinpoche spoke about, the 13
Larabs and the 13 this and that, and I have that prayer book and I left it in San Francisco.
When I return I can hand that over to Lingtrul Rinpoche. Then you can look at that for most
of the details on each of their names. Rinpoche said he didn’t remember all the details of all
the different lamas, so that’s kind of brief.”]

So then Rinpoche says if you want to check to make sure everything is correct that’s fine –
I’m not trying to make anything up or say something that isn’t already or hasn’t been recorded
in the authentic texts and so forth, but it’s possible I could have misplaced or mis-
remembered something, but that was the best I could remember off the top of my head and
give to you in all truth and honesty.

So then if you want to say you received this teaching on the lineage, Rinpoche said if you feel
like you need to, then you can say that you received that from Kathok Getse Gyurme Genbe
Semba Gyaltso. Rinpoche says you can say I said that – whether it’s true or not, who
knows? (He was teasing you).

Rinpoche said I told you what I can remember, but what I couldn’t remember I didn’t know. If
you have any questions he says if he knows the answer, he will answer them.

Question: Please tell us about Tulku Karzang.


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So it seems that Karzang Dorje is an incarnation of Puru Lama Kunzang and Puru Lama
Kunzang was said to be one of the main students of the great, accomplished and realized
master Adzom Drukpa, the great terton. And Tulku Karzang Dorje was recognized as Puru
Lama Kunzang’s reincarnation by Khenpo Pema Lodro, he’s still alive, and he is said to be
one of the primary and main students of Ling La Chökyi Dorje. Tulku Karzang’s uncle is
Panchen Dawa, and Panchen Dawa is also a lama there in their monastery and one of
Lingtrul Rinpoche’s teachers and has many great qualities and was able to impart and train
the young Tulku, and so then he had very good recognition and being a Tulku and the
training there in the monastery, but he’s still young and there’s not much to say about him at
this point. [Rinpoche hasn’t known him for a long time].

So Rinpoche said just for a brief overview, a historical look at the lineage, that would be what
I was able to give you here, but if you want more details, like very detailed teaching, a
historical reference on each of the lamas and who they were, you have to look at the actual
books on history. [Paloma reports that, “For instance, Khenpo Lodro Thaye – who is my
teacher – and I have been given a book on the history of Kathok, and we are translating it this
year. So it’s not even started but I have it in my room – some day it will be translated and
then there will be more details to look up and read on the Kathok tradition.”]

Translated by Paloma and edited by David Ayers

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