A Brief History of the Ripa Lineage

The Ripa Lineage was first established in Tibet in the 12th or 13th century by the Dharma practitioner Senge Wangchuk, the lineage founder, in the Bharom Kagyu tradition, one of the four major schools of the Kagyupa tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. The Lineage traces its origin to past authorities and ultimately to the founder of Buddhism. It was in the beginning of 18th century that the Ripa Lineage became more prominent, with the advent of one of the great masters or Tantric mystics in Tibet known by the name of ‘Je Pema Deje Rolpa’ (1803-1880). Je Pema Deje Rolpa was the first throne-holder and 2nd Ripa Tulku. He was the discoverer of the visionary treasure-teachings of his father Terton Rigzin Shiney Dorje, and his consort Sang-Yum Kyidmotso. He was recognized by the 13th Karmapa, Dhud-Dhul Dorje, as the reincarnation of the highly accomplished Tantric Yogi of the Kagyu tradition, Ripa Pawo. Ripa Pawo had gone to Nangchen, in Kham, where he became ‘a child of the mountains, clothing himself in mist, befriending wild animals, unconcerned with fame, food or clothing.’

Je Pema Deje Rolpa spent years following in the footsteps of his predecessor, wandering in solitude from one power place to another. As spiritual realizations dawned within him, his realization and spiritual accomplishments became widely acclaimed. He became simply known as ‘The Ripa Lama,’ ‘RI’ meaning mountain and ‘PA’ indicating dweller, or the one who dwells in the mountains and secluded retreat.’ He made the wilderness his companion and as his biography notes: “He took air for his food and dressed in clouds.” Carefree and fearlessly awake, the Ripa Lama was ultimately inspired to benefit countless beings by sharing his profound spiritual experience.

His main teacher was the Nyingma master Pema Gyepe Dorje, the 4th holder of the Tagsham lineage. Guided in a vision by Padmasambhava, Je Pema Deje Rolpa journeyed to a valley in Tibet’s eastern province of Kham called Nyima Puk, the ‘Valley of the Sun,’ in that exalted setting, he witnessed dragon-symbols of power, grace and magic – rising into the sky with resounding roars. With this auspicious sign, he laid the foundation of ‘Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery,’ later founding the Monastery in 1830, which became the main seat of the Ripa Lineage in Tibet. He is regarded both as an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal’s consort, Arya Sale and as the speech emanation of Tagsham Nuden Dorje.

Pema Deje Rolpa met his future root guru, Tagsham Samten Lingpa, a principle Terton of the time, and became the perfect holder of the Tagsham traditon, a ‘Vast Treasury of Terma Teachings.’ He practiced in strict retreat, and mastered the view, meditation and conduct of Trek-chod, and the four visions of Thod-gal, of the Great Perfection tradition of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Terton Orgyen Samten Lingpa, also known as Tagsham Nueden Dorje, made him the holder of his vast Terma treasures. Tagsham’s Terma teachings also include the most extensive Life Story Account of Yeshe Tshogyal. Tagsham teachings come from a time prior to Je Pema Dejed Rolpa, and consist of the Nyingma Cycle of Teachings originated from Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and her primary consort Arya Sale.

The Ripa Lineage developed as a hereditary line during the lives of successive masters. In Tibet, the tradition flourished until the Chinese invasion with more than 500 monks and nuns in residence at Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery, and a community of tens of thousands of lay practitioners and supporters. An equal number of wild animals mingled freely amongst the monastic centers, retreat places, and caves. The lineage also represents the ascetic yogic tradition of both the Nyingma and Kagyu practices. The Ripa family line began during the 12th century as a hereditary lineage in the Barom Kagyü tradition, but it became firmly established with its present name because of Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa, a highly realized yogi whose realization and activity made the family decidedly Nyingma in orientation more than 180 years ago.