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The First Adzom Drukpa, Drodul Pawo Dorje

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Adzom Drukpa Drondul Pawo Dorje (a 'dzom 'brug pa 'gro 'dul dpa' bo rdo rje) was born in 1842 in Tashi Dungkargang (bkra shis dung dkar sgang) in the Tromtar / Tromkok (khrom tar / khrom khog) region of Kham. His birth name is not known. Pawo Dorje's father was Adzom Sonam Gyatso (a 'dzom bsod nams rgya mtsho), an accomplished practitioner, and his mother was named Aga (a ga). She was the daughter of Adzi Adotsang (a 'dzi a sdo tshang). His parents had five daughters and four sons among whom Pawo Dorje was the second son. An elder brother was also recognized as an incarnate lama, known in sources only as Wontrul Rinpoche (dbon sprul rin po che), and based at Katok.

The Second Katok Situ Chokyi Lodro (kaH thog si tu 02 chos kyi blo gros) and the Third Drime Zhingkyong Jigme Yonten Gonpo (dri med zhing skyong 03 'jigs med rig 'dzin mgon po, 1837-1898) recognized him in infancy as the reincarnation ofAdzom Rigdzin Sanggye Tashi (a 'dzom rig 'dzin sangs rgyas bkra shis, d.u.), who had foretold that he would take rebirth in his own immediate family; however, what his relationship to Pawo Dorje's family is not clear. Drubtob Gyelwai Jangchub (grub thob rgyal ba'i byang chub), a Drukpa Kagyu lama of Tromtar claimed that the child was also an incarnation of the Fourth Drukchen Pema Karpo ('brug chen 04 pad+ma dkar po), hence his title Adzom Drukpa. Despite the additional recognition, he did not become a lineage holder of the Drukpa Kagyu teachings. He was also said to be an incarnation of Ma Rinchen Chok (ma rin chen mchog), one of the first seven Tibetans to ordain as Buddhist monks in the eighth century,

A legend explains the origin of the Adzom name: the family, apparently of Mongolian ancestry, traced its lineage back to Tashi Bum (bkra shis 'bum), a minister of Sonam Norbu, the ruler in Yonru in Amdo during the era of the Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 03 bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1543-1588). A member of the family, Lama Sanggye Tashi, had five brothers all called Tashi; the five Tashis were each identified as incarnated lamas. A servant named Khage (kha dge) said of this, “A tser-mo! (Wonderful!) All five boys are Tashi and all of them are lamas!” He further said, “Adzompo” (What a fortunate occurrence!). Following that a newly established residence was called “Adzom Labrang” and its lamas and successors were known by the title of “Adzom.”

Pawo Dorje received his refuge vow from Zhechen Wontrul Gyurme Tutop Namgyel (zhe chen dbon sprul 'gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal), who gave him the name Pema Do Ngag Lhundrub Zangpo. At age twelve he received empowerments and instructions in the treasures of Longsel Nyingpo (klong gsal snying po, 1625-1692) cycle from Katok Situ. Tradition has it that Situ also instructed him in other teachings of the Nyingma as well those of the Sakya, Kadam, Zhije and Chod. He also received Cho teachings from Wonpo Jigme (dbon po 'jigs med) of Nyukgya, the lineage of Trulzhig Wangdrak Gyatso ('khrul zhig dbang drag rgya mtsho) Pawo Dorje also studied with the Pelyul Gyatrul Do Ngag Tendzin (dpal yul rgya sprul mdo sngags bstan 'dzin), receiving additional treasure lineages such as Namcho Mingyur Dorje (nam chos mi 'gyur rdo rje, 1645-1667) and Ratna Lingpa (ratna gling pa, 1403-1479). Nyakla Pema Dudul (nyag bla pad+ma bdud 'dul, 1816-1872) instructed him to remain a layman and let his hair grow long in the style of a tantrika, and gave him transmission of the Gongpa Dupai Do (dgong pa 'dus pa'i mdo). The advice to remain a layman was repeated by Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Dorje (rdzogs chen mkhan po pad+ma rdo rje), a disciple of Dza Patrul Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (rdza dpal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887), who gave Pawo Dorje the transmission of the Lama Yangtik (bla ma yang thig).

Chief among Pawo Dorje's teachers were Dza Patrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892). Dza Patrul gave him preliminary practice instructions from his Kunzang Lamai zhelung (kun bzang bla ma'i zhal lung) as well as numerous empowerments and transmissions. Khyentse Wangpo gave transmissions of Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig) and numerous other treasure lineages. At Khyentse's suggestion Pawo Dorje received the transmission of the Rinchen Terdzo (rin chen gter mdzod) and the Kagyu Ngagdzo (bka' brgyud sngag mdzod) from Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kong sprul). He received the Jangter (chang gter) transmission from Dorje Drak Khenpo Gyeltse Rigpai Raltri (rgyal sras rig pa'i ral gri), a son of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje, 1800-1866), and Katok Jewon Pema Gyeltsen (kaH thog rje dbon pad+ma rgyal mtshan) gave him the transmission of the Nyingma Gyubum (rnying ma rgyud 'bum) Other eminent lamas he studied with include Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (smyo shul lung rtogs bstan pa'i nyi ma) and Ju Mipam Gyatso ('ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846-1912), who taught him many of his own compositions.

Other teachers included Khenchen Tashi Ozer (mkhan chen bkra shis 'od zer, 1836-1910), Dzaka Chktrul Kunzang Namgyel (dzaH ka mchog sprul 02 kun bzang rnam rgyal, d.u.), the Fourth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (rdzogs chen 04 mi 'gyur nam mkha'i rdo rje, 1793-1870), Do-ngak Tendzin (mdo sngags bstan 'dzin, 1830-18972), Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye ('jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas, 1813-1899), and Minling Jetsunma Trinle Chodron (smin gling rje btsun ma 'phrin las chos sgron, d.u.) who later gave him detail commentary and training in Chod.

When Pawo Dorje was twenty-two he debated between renovating the monastery built by his previous incarnation, Kegu (ke 'gu), which had fallen into disrepair, having been seriously damaged during the Nyarong conflict, or constructing a new monastery altogether. He sat a retreat and is said to have received a prophecy from a ḍākinī, but the message was unclear; when he went for clarification from a local yogin, he was told that he should repair the old monastery first. He thus installed new pemba – the cornice made of horizontal sticks customarily painted red. Some sources suggest that he established Kegu himself, and that it was his work there -- including a one-storey high clay statue of Śākyamuni Buddha, that was destroyed during the Nyarong conflict.

Later, the Derge minister Pema Lekdrub (pad+ma legs grub) became in charge of religious affairs in Tromtar and charged Pawo Dorje with building a new center for monks from the Nyoshul (smyo shul) and Gyasho (rgya shod) regions. The center, named Puntsog Gatsel Ling (phun tshogs dga' tshal gling), was established as a border taming temple, with many monk quarters and buildings with several stories. Pawo Dorje, however, resisted residing there, and soon left on a lengthy pilgrimage, visiting most of Khams as well as Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Around the age of twenty-two he went to Katok for the nirvana-prayer for his late elder brother Ontul Rinpoche. At that time Katok Situ Rinpoche offered him five sacred bronze statues, of Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara, Tārā, Amitāyus, and Vajradhara; Vajrayāna texts of Padmasambhava; bell of Tsopu Drubchen (mtsho phu grub chen 01 chos dbyings rang grol, d.u.); and a tantric musical instrument of Moktsa Choying Dorje (rmog rtsa chos dbyings rdo rje, d.u.) as objects representing body, speech, mind, and activity respectively, and then requested him to give teachings to followers. His teachings to beginners were focused mainly on bodhicitta, training of mind, and preliminary explanation of various tantric practices, and gradually Dzogchen in detail with profound instructions. A large number of disciples were said to have gathered from Dokham, U-Tsang, Mon (now in India), Nepal, China, and Mongolia.

Once he was invited by a family called Dungda Chushotsang (dung mda' chu shod tshang) at their home for ritual-prayer for several days during which he had chance in their shrine to read the Lamrim Chenmo by Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419). It seems he had previously felt doubts regarding the Geluk view, as the reading inspired him to recite the migtsema prayer to Tsongkhapa a hundred-thousand times by way of confession of his negative thoughts.

Some twenty years later the ḍākinī's prophesy finally came clear: Pawo Dorje was to build a new monastery. In 1886 Pawo Dorje established Adzom Gar (a 'dzom gar) in Tromtar, on the southern bank of the Dzing River ('dzing chu). Its main temple was grandly ornamented and filled with scripture, stupa, paintings and statues, including a form of Padmasambhava, Guru Nangsi Silngon (gu ru nang srid zil non) , reportedly made by the treasure revealer Rinchen Lingpa's (rin chen gling pa) own hand. To the south of the new community is the Padmasambhava site of Dungral Drakkar (dung ral brag dkar), and a location of Pawo Dorje's treasure revelation.

He accepted a girl called Tashi Lhamo (bkra shis lha mo) daughter of a popular merchant Budo (bum dos) for his wife at the recommendation of Jamgon Kongtrul. He had a son named Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje (a 'dzom rgyal sras 'gyur med rdo rje) who was educated mainly by him and later became a noted master and whose reincarnations continued his tradition.

How much of the construction of Adzom Gar was accomplished by Pawo Dorje, and how much by his son and successor, Gyurme Dorje, is unclear. During Pawo Dorje's life it was largely a loosely organized encampment more than a formal monastery; today it is one of the larger monasteries in Tromtar, with a monastic college and a printing house, as well as a large central temple and other buildings.

In 1917, the fire-snake year of the fifteenth sexagenary cycle, they faced brutal attack and raid by Chaktring forces (phyag phring dmag) that viciously damaged the encampment. However, the commander of the force, Lobzang Tashi (blo bzang bkra shis), was strongly impressed by Adzom Drukpa and became his devotee, and returned all the looted animals and property, even giving compensation to individuals harmed. When the commander apologized for the assault Adzom Drukpa is said to have responded, “How can we practice patience if there are no enemies? You may kill them if their karma deserves death!”

Pawo Dorje then prepared for an extended journey. He packed up all texts and wooden printing blocks and sent them to Katok, and sent other materials to Pelyul. He gave his disciples a lengthy teaching and entertained their questions and then sent them to their home regions. He started his journey towards Lingtsang (gling tshang) and went on to Lekgon (legs dgon) where he spent the winter. He visited Dzogchen Monastery, and, in 1919, the year of earth-sheep he set his journey to Denkock ('dan khog) through the mountains in Dzachu (rdza chu) where he spent couple of months in meditation. He then travelled widely through Gulok ('go log), Sertar (gser thar) and so forth where he gave extensive teaching of their requirement to a large number of disciples from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. At Zhechen monastery, he came into close contact with the family of the young Dilgo Khyentse. Pawo Dorje took the young boy under his protection, administering the novice vows and clearing obstacles for his family.

In 1921, the year of iron-bird, he was invited to a monastery in Tromkok by Jampa Tendar, a cabinet minister (gzhung sa’i bka’ blon byams pa bstan dar) and the Military Commander-in-chief of the Lhasa government in Derge. He was also invited by the Third Katok Situ Rinpoche, and also at the same time he was recalled with his promise to return after three years to his seat by Pelyul Rinpoche and others.

In 1923 he spent the summer in Chotrishi (chos khri gshis) and gave teachings. The following year, back at Adzom Gar, on the third day of the twelfth month of the lunar year, or February/March 1924, he felt ill and his disciples there and elsewhere began extensive prayer to extend his life. He advised the disciples to study and practice Dzogchen and in the evening he shared some of his experiences of clear visions of some tantric deities such as Peaceful and Wrathful Mahāyāmī and Vajrakīla, and also predicted that some ḍākinīs would arrived to take him away. It is said that on the night before he died, around midnight, people saw strange rays of light that did not reflect on surfaces. At the dawn he passed into nirvana at the age of about eighty-three and sat in tukdam for about ten days. His body was kept in state for sixty days, after which a grand cremation ceremony was held. A clay reliquary was built to hold his body and installed with rites and rituals performed by lamas and monks of Chogar, Katok and Pelyul monasteries. His reincarnation, Tubten Pema Trinle (thub bstan pad+ma 'phrin las) was recognized by Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje.

Among his main disciples were Khenpo Kunzang Pelden (mkhan po kun bzang dpal ldan, 1862-1943), Terton Sogyal Lerab Lingpa (gter ston bsod rgyal las rab gling pa, 1856-1926), the Third Katok Situ Orgyen Chokyi Gyatso (kaH thog si tu 03 o rgyan chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880-1923/25), the Third Getse, Gyurme Tenpa Namgyel (dge rtse 03 'gyur med bstan pa rnam rgyal, 1886-1952), The Fourth Moktsa Jikdrel Chokyi Langpo (rmog rtsa 04 'jigs bral phyogs kyi glang po, d.u.), Tubten Gyeltsen Ozer (thub bstan rgyal mtshan 'od zer, b.1862), Khyentse Jamyang Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959), Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje (a 'dzom rgyal sras 'gyur med rdo rje, b.1895?), Choying Rangdrol (chos dbyings rang grol, 1872-1952), Drejongpa Tubten Chonyi ('bras ljongs pa thub bstan chos nyid, d.u.), the fifty-fourth Ngor Khenchen Kunga Tenpai Gyeltsen (ngor mkhan chen 54 kun dga' bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1829-1870), Ayu Khadro Dorje Peldron (a g.yu mkha' 'gro rdo rje dpal sgron, 1839-1953), and Khunu Lama Tendzin Gyeltsen (khu nu bla ma bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan, 1895-1977).


A ’dzom rgyal sras ’gyur med rdo rje. 1945. Rje’btsun grub pa’i dbang phyug rig ’dzin ’gro ’dul dpa’ po rdo rje’i rnam thar skal bzang yid kyi gdung sel. Blockprint, A ’dzom gar.

'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan. 1996. Rgyal ba kaH thog pa’i lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, p.142.

Bradburn, Leslie. Masters of the Nyingma Lineage. Cazadero: Dharma Publications, 1995.

Bstan ’dzin nor bu. n.d. A ’dzom lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Manuscript collected at A ’dzom gar. A verson of the same text is published in Dkar mdzes khul gyi dgon sde so so’i lo rgyus gsal bar bshad pa, Beijing: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1995, vol. 3, pp. 140-146.

Nyoshul Khenpo. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Richard Barron, trans. Junction City, California: Padma Publication, 2005.

Rig ’dzin ’gyur med rdo rje. N.D. Rje btsun grub pa’i dbang phyug rig ’dzin ’gro ’dul dpa’ bo rdo rje’i rnam thar skal bzang yid kyi gdung sel, a ’dzom chos sgar, dkar mdzes bod rigs rang skyong khul, dpal yul rdzong, ff. pp.1a-108a. TBRCW1CZ2549.

Tulku Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.

Alexander Gardner with Samten Chhosphel
December 2009


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 with Samten Chhosphel