Taktshang: a Buddhist legend

By Kinley Dorji, Kuensel Online, March 30, 2005

Timphu, Bhutan -- The legend of Taktshang (tiger?s lair) evolves from tantric mythology when, in 747 AD, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) chose a cave on this sheer rock face to meditate and, assuming his wrathful form, Guru Dorji Droloe, astride a tigress, subdued the evil spirits that were haunting the region. Taktshang thus became one of the most important monuments to the establishment of Buddhism in Bhutan and one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Buddhist world.

<< Taktshang Monastery, Bhutan

Guru Rinpoche?s principle consort, Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal, also meditated in the cave that has come to be known as the Pelphug - or the Drubkhang.

The Pelphug, which is the most sacred sanctum of Taktshang, is the essence of Taktshang?s spirituality and the unique monastery, with 10 main temples and numerous sacred spaces, is built around it.

The vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singye Samdrup, is recognised today as the guardian deity of Taktshang. The sanctity of Taktshang was also strengthened, over the centuries, by numerous saints and Lams who visited the site and meditated in the Pelphug.

Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktshang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Buddhism.

After Guru Rinpoche departed from Bhutan his principle disciple, Langchen Pelkyi Singye, returned to Taktshang to meditate. He passed away in Nepal and his Kudung was brought back to Taktshang by his disciple, Damchen Dorji Legpa. Today the Kudung of Langchen Pelkyi Singye lies in the Chorten lhakhang.

In the 11th century the famed yogi, Mila Repa (1052-1135), meditated at Taktshang. It was here that, when asked about his ability to survive without physical nourishment, he composed his famous song, the exposition of Ten Signs (Tag Chu) of yogic attainment.

In the 12th century, Mahasiddha Pha Dampa Sangye, the famous Indian saint also meditated at Taktshang. His disciple, the famous yogini Machig Labdron, is believed to have left a foot-print on a rock at Taktshang known today as Machigphug.

Around the same time, Duesum Khenpa Karmapa Choekyi Dragpa (1110-1193), who founded the Karma Kagyu in Tibet, also made a pilgrimage to Taktshang.

In the 13th century, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1154-1252), the founder of the Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan, Gyalwa Lhanangpa (1164-1224), the founder of Lhapa Kagyu, and the famous monk, Rinchen Moenlam, also meditated at Taktshang.

In the 14th century the Indian Buddhist Saint, Nagi Rinchen, visited Taktshang and, in the 15th century, Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo (1385-1464) is said to have discovered important hidden manuscripts during his meditation at Taktshang.

In the 16th century, Terton Pema Lingpa discovered the religious texts of ?Kuenzang Yathig? and ?Kagyed Yangsang Lamed? after intense meditation in Taktshang.

Known religious leaders visited Taktshang throughout Bhutanese history, including successive Je Khenpos. The late Geshe Geduen Rinchhen was born in a cave near Taktshang.

Taktshang saw significant development as a monastic site in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel took over its custody. The plan to build a lhakhang at Taktshang was originally that of Zhabdrung himself. It was at Taktshang, during the Tibetan war of 1644/46, that he and his Tibetan Nyingmapa teacher, Terton Rigdzin Nyingpo, first performed the ritual associated with the Tshechu, invoking Padma Sambhava and the protective deities to achieve victory over invading armies.

The local deity of Taktshang came to the Zhabdrung, in a meditative vision, in the form of a black man and offered Taktshang to him, saying that if he took it, he could ensure that no one could ever steal it. As it turned out Bhutan?s successes in battles against Tibetan forces defined the country?s history but the Zhabdrung was never able to carry out his plan to build the celebratory lhakhang.

The fourth Druk Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, was a part of the Zhabdrung?s entourage as a young monk. It was during the course of one such tour of the Paro valley, in 1692, that Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye travelled to the Taktshang Pelphug. There, upon the cliff, he organised the celebration of the Tshechu and commanded that the foundation be laid for a lhakhang dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, to be called the Guru Tshen Gyed Lhakhang (temple of the Guru with eight manifestations).

The work on the lhakhang began by the 10th month of the Water Monkey Year and the two-storied lhakhang was completed by 1694. He had assigned his chief artisan, Dragpa Gyamtsho, to supervise the construction of the lhakhang, a fete that was accompanied by many auspicious signs and miracles.

Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye once again travelled to Taktshang in 1694 to perform the consecration ceremony on the completion of the lhakhang. At that time the tradition of the annual celebrations was established. The Drubkhang is still opened once a year during the annual ceremony which is performed by 71 members of the Dratshang (monk body) led by the Tshennyi Lopon (Master of Metaphysics).

Between 1961 and 1965, the monastery was renovated by the 34th Je Khenpo, Shedrup Yoezer. Additions were made in 1861-65 and 1982-83, and then in 1992.

On April 19, 1998, the temples of Taktshang were destroyed in a tragic blaze that remains unexplained today. On April 23, 1998, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck visited the site and personally recovered a number of the precious nangtens from the ruins. Comforting a gathering of shocked devotees at the site, His Majesty promised that this precious monument would be restored to its former glory.

On March 26, Bhutan saw history revived when the nation celebrated the consecration of the nye that had been restored to a new grandeur, symbolising the preservation and strengthening of Buddhism, one of the world?s great religions.

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