Lochen Rinchen Sangpo (lo chen rin chen bzang po) (958–1055), also known as Mahaguru, was a principal lotsawa or translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet (or the New Translation School or New Mantra School period). He was a student of the famous Indian master, Atisha.
His associates included (Locheng) Legpai Sherab. Zangpo's disciple Guge Kyithangpa Yeshepal wrote Zangpo's biography. He is said to have built over one hundred monasteries in Western Tibet, including the famous Tabo Monastery in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, and Poo in Kinnaur.
Rinchen Zangpo had been sent as a young man by King Yesh-es-od, who seems to have been ruler of Zanskar, Guge, Spiti and Kinnaur, with other young scholars to Kashmir and other Buddhist centers to study and bring back Buddhist teachings to Western Tibet.
He was born in Reni (rad ni) in the district of Khyungwang in Ngari, western Tibet. He was ordained at the age of 13 by Yeshe Zangpo in Ngari, western Tibet, and was sent to Kashmir three times by Yeshe Ö, the king of Guge.
Later, he maintained a team of ten lotsawas and kept them continuously busy with translation. He edited or revised over 150 texts. Among the texts he translated were the Guhyasamaja Tantra and Chanting the Names of Manjushri.
When Atisha visited Ngari in 1042 he met Rinchen Zangpo and was initially impressed by the depth of his learning. However, when Atisha asked him how he practiced the teachings he had received he saw that he did not know how to bring them together.
- Dan Martin, 'Veil of Kashmir — Poetry of Travel and Travail in Zhangzhungpa’s 15th-Century Kāvya Reworking of the Biography of the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 CE)' in Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines vol. 14, October 2008, pp. 13-56.
- Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), page 259.
- Tsepak Rigzin, ’Rinchen Zangpo: The Great Tibetan Translator’ in The Tibet Journal, Autumn 1984, pp. 28-37.
Rinchen Zangpo (rin chen bzang po) was born in 958. Early sources do not contain the name of his birthplaces, but later biographies give the names of a town called Khatse Wingir (khwa tse wing gir) in an area of Guge (gu ge) called Nyungwam Ratna (snyung wam ratna), or, alternately Khyungwang (khyung wang).
Their clan was the Yudra (g.yu sgra), which might indicate that he was not actually ethnically Tibetan. His parents named him Rinchen Wangchuk (rin chen dbang phyug). He had an elder brother, Sherab Wangchuk (shes rab dbang phyug) and a younger brother, Yonten Wangchuk (yon tan dbang phyug).
He also had a sister, Kunring Shetso (kun sring shes mtsho). Both his younger brother and sister took religious vows; his sister's ordination name was Neljorma Chokyi Dronma (rnal 'byor ma chos kyi sgron ma).
He was ordained at the age of thirteen by Khenpo Yeshe Zangpo (mkhan po ye shes bzang po, d.u.). In 975, while still a teenager, he convinced his parents to allow him to go to India to study Buddhism.
He set off with a travelling companion named (according to some sources) Tashi Tsemo (bkra shis rtse mo) and food provided by his mother. On the road they met considerable difficulties, including theft, illness, and bizarre customs, passing into Kashmir via Spiti and Kulu.
In Kashmir he met his first teacher, Śrāddhakaravarman, and began studying Sanskrit texts on philosophy and tantric practice. He remained there for seven years, after which he went to the southeast, to Vikramaśila for several years, before returning again to Kashmir. He then returned to Tibet, possibly in 987, after thirteen years in India.
According to tradition, Rinchen Zangpo used his Buddhist accomplishments to expose a teacher who was attracting a large crowd by levitating; Rinchen Zangpo is said to have pointed a finger at him, at which point the teacher spun head over heals and fell from the sky, slinking off never to be heard from again.
The king of Guge at the time, he was then engaged in reforming Buddhism in Tibet, sweeping away what he considered the Tibetan corruptions of the religion that had arisen since the collapse of the Yarlung Dynasty in the mid ninth century.
all died in India save Rinchen Zangpo and Lekpai Sherab (legs pa'i shes rab, d.u.), the son of his paternal uncle, who became known as the Lesser Translator (lo tsA ba chung ba). He was also known as Drakjor Sherab (grags 'byor shes rab)
Whether he went first on his own or both times in royal employ, during his two trips to India (some sources have it that he went three times) Rinchen Zangpo is said to have studied with over seventy-five Indian paṇḍitas.
Among them, he learned the Yogatantras from Ratnavajra, Guhyasamāja from Nāropa, the Durgatipariśodhanatantra from a teacher whose name in Tibetan was Norbu Lingpa (nor bu gling pa), and, at Vikramaśila, he studied with Dīpaṅkarabhadra, Jinākara, and Duryacandra, whose commentary on the Cakrasaṃvara was later of significant importance for the Sakya tradition.
The name of at least one artist he hired is known: Bhidhaka, who created a statue of Avalokiteśvara of the size of his father that was installed at Gokhar Lhakhang (go khar lha khang) in Khatse (kha tse) and still exists today.
He is credited with promoting the Prajñāpāramitā literature in Tibet, having translated several important works, including the Prajñāpāramitā in 8,000 verses (Aṣṭasāhastrikā), as well as in 20,000 verses, and the Abhisamayālaṅkāra, one of the most important commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā literature. In addition to his translation work he also composed commentaries on topics such as Prajñāpāramitā, sādhāna, and abhiṣeka.
He promoted several tantric traditions, particularly Yogatantra, translating numerous commentaries on the Sarvatāthagatatattvasaṃgraha, and he was the first to introduce the Cakrasaṃvara tantra to Tibet. He also is credited with disseminating the "mother" (ma rgyud) and "father" (pha rgyud) classes of the Anuttarayoga tantra.
Rinchen Zangpo is equally famous for his contribution to the creation of temples; he is said to have constructed one hundred and eight temples, a number that Tibetans use to signify a considerable amount. His fame is such that perhaps even more than that number of small temples are now claimed to have been built by him.
Most of the attributions to Rinchen Zangpo must be taken with some suspicion, as they are the invention of later tradition. Some of the more notable contributions he is said to have made include what would have been his first major temple, after Toling, Khachar (kha char; also spelled 'kha' char and 'khab char), a royal temple sponsored by either King Lhade (lha lde, 996-1024), the nephew of Yeshe O and the uncle of Jangchub O (byang chub 'od, r. 1037-57) who invited Atisha Dīpaṃkara (982-1054) to Tibet, or, alternately, by King Khorre (khor re, r. 988-996), Lhade's father and the brother of Yeshe O.
This temple is likely near a town called Langka northwest Ladakh. Another temple was named Nyama (mya ma), now a pile of ruins near Tikse in Ladakh. He is also credited with establishing the famous Tabo Monastery in Spiti in 996.
Among Rinchen Zangpo's most prominent disciples were Ma Lotsāwa Gewa Lodro (rma lo tsA ba dge ba blo gros, 1044-c.1089) who translated the Pramāṇavārtika of Dharmakīrti, the first time a work of logic was translated in Tibet, and who was a teacher of Khon Konchok Gyelpo ('khon dkon mchog rgyal po, 1034-1102).
(The work was later retranslated by Sakya Paṇḍita Kunga Gyeltsen (sa skya pan di ta kun dga' rgyal mtshan, 1182-1251), and Śākyaśrībhadra, 1127‑1225.) Ngok Losawa Loden Sherab (rngog lo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109), the nephew of Ngok Legpai Sherab (1059-1109), the founder of Sangpu Neutog, was also a disciple.
According to the Blue Annals, four of Rinchen Zangpo's disciples were collectively known as the Four Heart Sons: Drakrin (grags rin), Gya Yetsuk (rgya ye tshuk), Gungpa Yeshe (gung pa ye shes), and Konchok Tsek (dkon mchog brtsegs).
Other names associated with him are Chokyi Lodro (chos kyi blo gros), who studied with him at Samada; Gyangpo Cholo (rgyang po chos blo); and Gungshing Tsondru Gyeltsen (gung shing brtson 'grus rgyal mtshan). He is also known to have taught Draktengpa Yonten Tsultrim (brag steng pa yon tan tshul khrims, d.u.).
When Rinchen Zangpo was eighty-five he met Atisha at Toling. At Atisha's request he listed his accomplishments and outlined his understanding. Atisha exclaimed "If there are men like you in Tibet, then there was no need for me to come here!"
But when Atisha asked him how one should practice the tantras, and Rinchen Zangpo replied that one should practice each tantra in its own way (or, more specifically, Guhyasamāja on the ground floor, Hevajra on the second floor, and Cakrasaṃvara on the top floor), Atisha exclaimed "Rotten translator! Indeed there was need for me to come! The tantras should all be practiced together!" Atisha then gave him instruction and told him to enter meditation retreat.
Following his encounter with Atisha, Rinchen Zangpo practiced for ten years. According to tradition, he wrote three inscriptions above consecutive doors to his medication cell, each corresponding to one of the three vehicles (Mahāyāna, Hīnayāna, and Vajrayāna); above outer door to his meditation cell:
"Should a thought of self-interest arise for even a single moment, may the dharmapāla split open my head." Over the inner door he wrote: "Should an ordinary thought arise for even a single moment, may the dharmapāla split open my head."
Rinchen Zangpo passed away at the age of ninety-eight in Khatse Wingir (khwa rse wing gir).
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The following biography is from the Treasury of Lives, a biographical encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalaya. The biography is written by Alexander Gardner.