37th descendant of Sanggye Tenpa lineage

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Sanggye Tenpa (sangs rgyas bstan pa) was born around 1638. He was the son of Lupel (klu ‘phel, d.u.), the seventh king of Dege and the head of the royal family in its thirty-seventh generation, by his second wife, whose name is not recorded. He was said in his youth to be the reincarnation of the ninth-century translator Chokro Lui Gyeltsen (cog ro klu’i rgyal mtshan).

He was sent to Ngor Ewaṃ Choden Monastery(ngor e wa+M chos ldan) in Tsang (gtsang) where he received monastic vows from Lhundrub Pelden(lhun drub dpal ldan, 1624-1697), the twenty-fourth abbot of the monastery. Lhundrub Pelden gave him Lamdre (lam ‘bras) teachings and transmissions. He also studied with the twenty-fifth abbot, Sanggye Puntsok (sangs rgyas phun tshogs, 1649-1705), and a lama named Kunga Chopel (kun dga’ chos ‘phel).

He studied under the most prominent Kham-based Nyingma lamas of his era, including Katok Rigdzin Longsel Nyingpo (kaH thog rig ‘dzin klong gsal snying po, d.u.), Nyima Drakpa (nyi ma grags pa, 1647-1710), the First Dzogchen Drubwang, Pema Rigdzin (rdzogs chen grub dbang 01 padma rig ‘dzin, 1625-1697), and theFirst Shechen Rabjam, Tenpai Gyeltsen (zhe chen rab ‘byams 01 bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, 1650-1704).

In 1675, following the death of Lachen Chemchok (bla chen che mchog), the second abbot of the royal monastery, Lhundrubteng (lhun grub steng), he was enthroned to the abbacy. At Gonchen he repaired the Samdrub Tongdrol Chenmo temple (bsam grub mthong grol chen mo gtsug lag khang).

During his tenure he invited his instructors from Ngor monastery to Dege. They established various monastic disciplines and teaching systems, which made considerable contribution in development of Sakya tradition in Dege.

At the same time, he was an early exemplar of the Dege governments’s eccumenical religious patronage, in which Nyingma and Kagyu monateries were also patronized. This tendancy was not without territorial advantages; by taking into his patronage influential religious leaders and sponsoring the creation of new monasteries, Sanggye Tenpa and his family was able to gain control of territories in which those lamas were active. In 1685, the wood-ox year of eleventh sexagenarian cycle, Sanggye Tenpa sponsored Pema Rigdzin in founding Rudam Dzogchen Orgyen Samten Ling (ru dam rdzogs chen o rgyan bsam gtan gling), a project in which he was a collaborator with the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso(da la’i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682), by then the ruler of central Tibet. He also patronized Pelyul Namgyel Jangchub Ling (dpal yul rnam rgyal byang chub gling).

In 1688, Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltsen, a Drukpa Kagyu master and an important figure in the nascent Bhutanese government, arrived in Dege on the invitation of Sanggye Tenpa. For seven years, Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltsen acted as a close advisor to the king, granting teachings and performing rituals for the royal family. When Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltsen was requested to return to his native country, Sanggye Tenpa is said to have stated, “We cannot find a lama like you even by searching with a torch lit during daytime; now that we have finally found you, how can we possibly let you leave? You must stay here until I die.” When Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltsen did return to Bhutan, he came bearing an enormous amount of riches from the king; the amount was said to have filled the Desi’s treasury.

The opportunity to forge a connection with Karma Kagyu tradition, which was strong in western Kham, presented itself when to high ranking incarnations were identified in Dege: the Eighth Tai Situ, Chokyi Gyeltsen (ta’i si tu chos kyi ‘byung gnas, 1699/1700-1774), and the Twelfth Karmapa, Jangchub Dorje (karma pa 12 byang chub rdo rje, 1703-1732). Invoking a law that recognized incarnations were forbidden to leave Dege without the permission of the king, Sanggye Tenpa prevented the two children’s departure for Tsurpu Monastry (mtsur phu), the main seat of the Karma Kagyu, for several years, apparerently extracting promises to establish Karma Kagyu institutions in Dege in the future. In 1707, when the delegation from Tibet was leaving with the Eighth Situ, the boy visited Sanggye Tenpa at his Chakra Samdrubtse (lcags ra bsam grub rtse) palace.

He was instrumental in printing the Prajñāpāramitā in Eight Thousand Verses, which is seen as a key moment in the development of the famous Dege Printing House (sde dge par khang).

Sanggye Tenpa passed away in 1710 at the age of seventy-two.
Source: The Treasury of lives

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