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The Legacy of the Seven Tsenpos from Sky: Unique Ancient Dynastic Era

The Dynasty of the Tsenpos: A Legacy Through Tibet’s Ancient History

In the annals of Tibetan history, from the first Tsenpo, Nyatri Tsenpo, to the seventh, Sitsab Tsenpo, these rulers are collectively known as the “Seven Divine Kings.” Their reigns marked the beginning of a dynastic era that shaped the cultural and political landscape of Tibet. The lineage of these kings, inheriting the throne from their forefathers, played a pivotal role in the consolidation and expansion of control over Tibetan territories. Their contributions are an integral part of Tibetan history, leaving an indelible mark on the development of Tibetan society.

Transmission and Loss of Historical Records

Our ancestors preserved their stories and achievements through oral traditions and various other means, providing us with valuable historical materials. However, these records faced periods of discontinuity and loss over different epochs. The introduction of Buddhism into Tibetan society sparked a prolonged struggle with the indigenous Bon religion, profoundly influencing the political, economic, and cultural development of the Tibetan Empire. This religious transition not only impacted Tibet’s ancient history but also led to the disruption of historical continuity, especially concerning the period from Nyatri Tsenpo to the reign of Tride Tsukten.

The Impact of Buddhism on Tibetan History

Before the 7th century AD, the Bon religion independently flourished in Tibet, and historical accounts from this era primarily derive from Bon sources. The advent of Buddhism in Tibet saw rapid growth and attempted suppression of Bon practices, including the destruction of many Bon scriptures. This religious shift also resulted in the loss of a portion of ancient Tibetan historical materials. Subsequent historical records often carried biases towards their respective religious perspectives, making detailed accounts of the history between Nyatri Tsenpo and Songtsen Gampo, spanning over thirty generations of Tsenpos, exceedingly rare. After the second Tsenpo, historical materials become even scarcer.

In many Tibetan historical texts, the reigns of multiple generations of Tsenpos are succinctly summarized with phrases like “the Seven Divine Kings, the Six Virtuous Kings, the Five Dharma Kings,” and so forth. This brevity extends to discussions on the political philosophies and governance methods of the Tsenpos during the first 27 generations, often encapsulated in the phrase, “During that time, the Tsenpos governed the Tibetan Empire with ‘Zhong,’ ‘Deu,’ and ‘Bon’.” Detailed understanding of this period has become somewhat elusive due to the scarcity of comprehensive historical documents.

The Legacy of the “Tsenpo of the Sky” in Tibetan History

In the annals of Tibetan history, the reign of the first seven Tsenpos, collectively known as the “Tsenpo of the Sky,” marks a pivotal era. Starting with Nyatri Tsenpo and spanning to Sitsi Tsenpo, these rulers laid the foundations of Tibetan governance and cultural development. Their stories, as recounted in the historical text “The Banquet of the Sages,” offer insights into their reigns, the influence of maternal lineage, the deepening of divine kingship ideology, the development of the Bon religion, and the traditions of their times.

Maternal Influence and Divine Kingship

According to “The Banquet of the Sages,” the names of the six Tsenpos following Nyatri Tsenpo—Mutri, Datri, Sotri, Mietri, Datri, and Sitsi—were derived from their mothers’ names, indicating a potential linkage to matrilineal traditions. However, given the historical period’s context, the absence of substantial evidence for a matrilineal society leads to skepticism about this interpretation. The text highlights the growing prominence of divine kingship thoughts during their reigns, asserting the Tsenpos’ supernatural abilities to traverse the heavens and earth from a young age. This portrayal aims to elevate the Tsenpos’ stature, solidify the concept of divine kingship, and uphold the ruling class’s interests.

Lifespan and Funeral Customs

The Tsenpos’ lifespans are described as relatively short, with a tradition where elder Tsenpos would ascend to the heavens upon reaching the age where their successors could ride horses, possibly indicating an early practice of cremation. The narrative suggests that Tsenpos would vanish like rainbows into the sky, with their tombs constructed in the heavens—possibly a metaphorical reference to the cremation process, where the soul ascends with the smoke.

The Role of Bon Religion

Each Tsenpo was protected by a “Gxin” (a Bon religious master), with historical records detailing the names and contributions of these protectors. The era of the “Tsenpo of the Sky” not only saw the flourishing and promotion of the Bon religion but also the construction of Bon temples by each Tsenpo. These efforts attracted many Bon monks and scholars, significantly contributing to the development of the region. Although historical documentation is scarce, it is evident from subsequent history that during their reigns, Tibetan politics, economy, and culture, especially the Bon religious culture, saw substantial advancement.

The Rise of the Yarlung Dynasty: Nyatri Tsenpo, The First Monarch

The Yarlung Dynasty, pivotal in the annals of Tibetan history, was founded by Nyatri Tsenpo, the first monarch of Tibet. Born in the Wood Mouse year according to the Tibetan calendar, corresponding to 417 BCE, in the region of Powo Bon in present-day Bomi County, Qiongduo Township, Xiamokar Village, Tibet. His father was named Tö Rangmang Nyé, and his mother, Xiamozu. Nyatri Tsenpo was the youngest of nine siblings, initially named Tö Rangmang Nyé Ubu Ré by his parents, a testament to the familial hopes and the legacy he was expected to inherit.

The Legend of Nyatri Tsenpo

Tales of Nyatri Tsenpo’s extraordinary abilities and strengths marked his early life, including a tongue that could cover half his face, webbed fingers, and unparalleled physical strength. Observers often interpreted these traits as signs of his divine right to lead. Known for his headstrong and combative nature from a young age, he frequently engaged in conflicts with local leaders. During one such altercation, outnumbered and alone, he fled to the Yarlung Valley. It was here, amidst his flight, that he encountered a group of fleeing Yarlung slaves in search of a new leader. Recognizing his inherent leadership qualities, they promptly declared Nyatri Tsenpo as their king.

This serendipitous meeting marked the beginning of Nyatri Tsenpo’s ascent to power. Together with his newfound followers, he launched an offensive against the Yarlung, successfully conquering the region and laying the foundation for what would become a formidable Tibetan empire.

Establishment of the Yarlung Dynasty

In 360 BCE, Nyatri Tsenpo officially established the Yarlung Dynasty, thus becoming the first monarch of a unified Tibet. One of his significant contributions to Tibetan civilization was the construction of the Yumbulagang, which is considered Tibet’s first palace. This edifice not only served as a royal residence but also as a symbol of centralized governance and spiritual authority.

Nyatri Tsenpo’s reign set in motion the development of Tibetan culture, politics, and society. His leadership style, marked by both mythical abilities and tangible achievements, exemplifies the integration of the divine and the earthly in Tibetan kingship. The foundation of the Yarlung Dynasty under Nyatri Tsenpo heralded a new era in Tibetan history, characterized by expansion, cultural development, and the consolidation of power that would influence the region for centuries to come.

Expansion and Legacy of the Yarlung Dynasty’s Early Monarchs

The Yarlung Dynasty, under the leadership of its founding monarch Nyatri Tsenpo, marked a significant era of expansion and consolidation in the history of Tibet. Nyatri Tsenpo not only unified the various kingdoms of the Tibetan Plateau, excluding Ngari, under his rule but also established a sophisticated administrative system to govern this vast territory.

The Governance and Spiritual Leadership of Nyatri Tsenpo གཉའ་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ་

Nyatri Tsenpo appointed the Luo and Niang families as his chief ministers, reflecting his strategic approach to governance by entrusting key roles to trusted families. He recognized the importance of spiritual guidance by venerating Tsémé Mikyö Dorje and Dromi Qhagyar as his principal spiritual teachers. During his reign, he and his ministers established legal frameworks at “Chingwa Dzä,” where they formulated and enacted laws to govern the Tubo (Tibetan) empire, laying down a legal foundation to guide the dynasty’s rule.

Nyatri Tsenpo’s queen, Namu Mu (or Mu Tsosa), gave birth to Mutri Tsenpo in 355 BCE. Tragically, just as Mutri Tsenpo learned to ride a horse, Nyatri Tsenpo passed away in 345 BCE (Wood Pig year in the Tibetan calendar), signaling the end of the first monarch’s reign and the beginning of Mutri Tsenpo’s.

Mutri Tsenpo: The Second Monarch མུ་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ

Mutri Tsenpo, born in 355 BCE (Fire Tiger year) at Yumbulagang (in present-day Nedong County, Changzhu Town, Sangzhudeqing Village of Shannan region), was the son of Nyatri Tsenpo and Queen Namu Mu. He upheld his father’s legacy by advancing the spiritual practices of the Bon religion, taking Jé Ulang Tse as his spiritual master and constructing the Bon monastery, “Koma Nyingkhor.”

Mutri Tsenpo deeply engaged in the spiritual teachings of the Bon religion, studying texts like the “Angry Vajra Sutra” under the guidance of Langkana Wodoje and practicing meditation at “Jiangtuo Divine Mountain.” His reign was notable for inviting 108 Bon scholars from Zhangzhung and building 37 Bon assembly halls, reflecting his commitment to the spiritual and cultural enrichment of his kingdom. Furthermore, he initiated reforms in Tibetan script, enhancing its form and utility.

Mutri Tsenpo’s queen was Sajia Princess Dingding Ma, and their son, Dingtri Tsenpo, succeeded him. Mutri Tsenpo passed away in 272 BCE (Earth Ox year in the Tibetan calendar).

Dingtri Tsenpo: The Third Monarch དིང་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ

Dingtri Tsenpo, the son of Mutri Tsenpo and Sajia Princess Dingding Ma, continued the spiritual and administrative advancements of his predecessors. He esteemed Jé Umin Ga as his spiritual master and further contributed to the Bon religious infrastructure by constructing the temple “Kumayangzhi.”

The details of Dingtri Tsenpo’s reign, including the exact dates of his birth and death, are less documented. However, his efforts to sustain the religious and cultural legacy of the Yarlung Dynasty, alongside the expansion and governance initiated by Nyatri Tsenpo, underscore the early monarchs’ significant contributions to the formation and development of Tibetan civilization.

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The Succession of the Yarlung Dynasty’s Early Kings


Sotri Tsenpo: The Fourth Monarch སོ་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ་

Sotri Tsenpo, the fourth king of the Yarlung Dynasty, was the son of Datri Tsenpo and his queen, Sotang Tang. He revered the Bon master Jé U Wiga as his spiritual guide and constructed the Bon temple Mure Gugyong to honor the religion. His queen was Du Family’s Princess Meme, and their son was named Metri Tsenpo. The details of his birth and death remain unknown.

Metri Tsenpo: The Fifth Monarch མེར་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ

Metri Tsenpo, succeeding Sotri Tsenpo, was born to Sotri Tsenpo and Princess Meme of the Du family. He followed Bon master Tsémi Söngmän as his spiritual guide and built the Bon temple Sowa Jyongla to continue the religious traditions established by his predecessors. His queen, Darlagamu, bore him a son named Datri Tsenpo. Like the kings before him, the specifics of his life’s beginning and end are not documented.

Datri Tsenpo: The Sixth Monarch གདགས་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ་

Datri Tsenpo, the sixth king, was the progeny of Metri Tsenpo and his queen, Darlagamu. He chose Bon master Tangbo Miqing as his spiritual guide and erected the Bon temple Yongzhong Lazi, signifying his devotion to the Bon faith. His queen was named Slar Wenmu, and their son was Sitsi Tsenpo. The historical records do not detail the dates of his birth or death.

Sitsi Tsenpo: The Seventh Monarch སྲིབས་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ་

Sitsi Tsenpo, the seventh and final king in the line known as the “Tsenpo of the Sky,” was the son of Datri Tsenpo. His mother was Slar Wenmu. He appointed Bon master Jé U Shaga as his spiritual teacher and constructed the Bon temple Koma Rujen, furthering the dynasty’s religious contributions. His queen was Salang Lujé, and their son was named Zhigong Tsenpo. Sitsi Tsenpo passed away in the Fire Turkey year of the Tibetan calendar, circa 84 BCE.

Legends recount that these seven kings climbed into the sky using a rope upon their death, ascending to heaven, which earns them the collective title “Tsenpo of the Sky.” Their celestial ascent highlights their divine status and concludes their earthly reigns, mystically closing the early chapter of Tibet’s Yarlung Dynasty.

The Esoteric Buddhism Development During the “Tsenpo of the Sky” Era

During the era of the “Tsenpo of the Sky,” the Bon religion’s tantric practices saw significant advancement. The second monarch, Mutri Tsenpo, notably studied the “Angrily Vajra Sutra” from the Bon master Langkana Wodoje. Additionally, he undertook meditation practices on the sacred Mount Gang Tuo. Following his reign, the dynasty invited 108 Bon scholars from Zhangzhung and constructed 37 temples to accommodate the spiritual practices and teachings.

Authorities categorized the temples into four groups: “Uru (within present-day Lhasa) Thirteen Temples,” “Yaoru (within present-day Southern Tibet) Seven Temples,” “Yeoru (within present-day Western Shigatse) Eight Temples,” and “Rularu (within present-day Eastern Shigatse) Nine Temples,” with a total of 69 masters overseeing them. These included nine great achievers, nine great sages, nine great divine power holders, and forty-two masters of the religion.

The Nine Great Achievers:

Mutri Tsenpo, Hare Jiba, Dawe Lewe, Anu Chadha, Seni Kuwu, Sempa Tuqing, Woben Tochu, Woben Toze and Temi Teg

གྲུབ་པ་ཐོབ་པའི་གཤེན་དགུ་ནི། མུ་ཁྲི་བཙན་པོ། ཧ་ར་ཅི་པ། སྟག་ཝེར་ལེ་ཝེར། ཨ་ནུ་འཕྲག་ཐག སད་ནེ་གའུ། ཟིངས་པ་མཐུ་ཆེན། སྤེ་བོན་ཐོག་འཕྲུལ། སྤེ་བོན་ཐོག་རྩེ། ཐད་མི་ཐད་ཀེ་བཅས་སོ། །

The Nine Great Sages:

Experts in various fields such as continuation teachings, tantric essentials, rhythmic scriptures, “Hundred Thousand Sutras” compilation, logic, “Mandala of the Essence Sutra,” conceptual linguistics, yoga techniques, and conceptual practice.

 མཁས་པ་མི་དགུ་ནི། རྒྱུད་ལུང་མན་ངག་ལ་མཁས་པ་སེ་ཤ་རི། སྔགས་ཀྱི་གབ་གསང་ལ་མཁས་པ་ལྡེའུ་གྱིམ་ཚ། ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པའི་མདོ་སྡེ་ལ་མཁས་པ་མེ་ཉག་མཁར་བུ། འབུམ་གྱི་འགྲེལ་རྐང་ལ་མཁས་པ་མཐའ་བཞི་བུམ་བུ་ཆོངས། རིགས་བསྒྲེ་ལ་མཁས་པ་སྤེ་བོན་གཏོ་རྒྱལ། དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་ཕྱི་ནང་གསང་གསུམ་ལ་མཁས་པ་རྒྱ་བོན་འབྲི་ཐ་སྣ་པ། སྒྲ་སྐད་བྱེ་བྲག་ལ་མཁས་པ་དམུ་གཤེན་ཏིང་ཝེར། སྤྲོ་བསྡུའི་དོན་ལ་མཁས་པ་འགྲོ་མགོན་ལྷ་དཔལ་ཀླུ་རིང༌། ལྟ་སྒོམ་སྤྱོད་པ་ལ་མཁས་པ་ཁྱུང་པོ་གྱེར་ཟླ་མེད་རྣམས་སོ། །

The Nine Great Divine Power Holders:

Individuals reputed for their supernatural abilities, such as lifting mountains, influencing nature, turning the sea into foam, and performing other miraculous feats.

མཐུ་བོ་ཆེ་མི་དགུ་ནི། གངས་རི་སོར་མོས་འདེགས་པའི་ལི་བོན་མུ་ཆོ། རྩི་ཤིང་རང་སྡུད་བྱེད་པའི་གཅོ་གྱིམ་བུ་ལན་ཆོ། གནམ་ས་གོ་བཟློག་ནུས་པའི་རྒྱ་བོན་མུ་ཆོ། རྒྱ་མཚོ་བལ་འདབས་ལ་སྤུར་བའི་སུམ་པ་མུ་ཕྱ། ཧས་པོ་རི་མེའི་ཞགས་པས་བཅིངས་པའི་ཁུ་བོན་མཐོང་གྲགས། བདུད་སྲིན་དངོས་སུ་བཀུག་པའི་ཞང་ཞུང་མུ་ཆོ། ཡར་ཆབ་གྱེན་དུ་བཟློག་པའི་ལྗང་ཚ་འཕེན་སྣང༌། རི་རབ་མཛུབ་རྩེས་གསོར་བའི་འཇང་བོན་འཕེན་སྣང༌། སྐྱི་གཙང་གོམས་པས་འཇལ་བའི་རྨ་བོན་ཐུགས་དཀར་བཅས་སོ། །

The Forty-Two Great Masters:

This group included ten national teachers, ten administrative advisors, ten border guardians, ten protectors of the “Subi Thousand Households” area, and two masters in charge of blessings and wealth attraction, summing up to forty-two religious masters.

བོན་ཆེན་བཞི་བཅུ་རྩ་གཉིས་ནི། རྒྱལ་གྱི་སྐུ་འཚོ་བའི་གཤེན་བཅུ། བློན་གྱི་གྲོས་འཚོ་བའི་གཤེན་བཅུ། རྒྱ་བོད་ཀྱི་མཐའ་སྲུང་བའི་གཤེན་བཅུ། སུམ་པ་སྟོང་སྡེའི་སྨད་ན་སྲུང་བའི་གཤེན་བཅུ། བཀྲ་ཤིས་གཡང་ལེན་ངོ་སྤྲོད་གཉིས་ཏེ་བཞི་བཅུ་ཞེ་གཉིས་སོ། །

These developments during the “Tsenpo of the Sky” era were pivotal in enriching the spiritual landscape of Tibet, blending mysticism with governance, and laying the foundations for religious practices that continued to influence subsequent generations.

Conclusion

The reign of the “Tsenpo of the Sky” remains a significant, though enigmatic, chapter in Tibetan history. Despite the lack of extensive historical records, their contributions to the development of Tibetan society, the establishment of the Bon religion, and the strengthening of divine kingship ideology have left an indelible mark on the cultural and spiritual landscape of Tibet. Their legacy, embodied in the temples they built and the societal advancements they fostered, continues to resonate in the historical narrative of Tibet.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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