The Lineage of the Tai Situpas

The Incarnation of the Tai Situpas is clearly predicted by the great Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava, in his Command seal of Prophecies - 'Lungten Kagyama'. As the great Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye put it:
"The appearance of the Tai Situpa is like the appearance of the Buddha; The loving protector of beings, Tai Situpa, is in essence inseparable from the victorious Karmapa, although he appears sometimes as the Karmapa's spiritual master and sometimes as his disciple. Not even a tiny fraction of the lives of the Karmapa and the Tai Situpa - the spiritual father and son can be accurately seen or described by ordinary beings. Tai Situpa had already been full awakened and enlightened but by the force of his compassion, he continually worked for the welfare of others for as long as life remains in the universe"
The incarnation of the Tai Situpas span over more than six hundred years and whose history is integral to the religious and scholastic development in Eastern Tibet, particularly Kham, where Palpung his monastic seat was located.
The history goes back prior to the time the title of the Tai Situpa was bestowed upon this line of tulkus, to the time of the Indian mahasiddhas, or "great accomplishers," who gained renown for their sanctity, often accompanied by miracles. According to the tradition, the Tai Situpa is an emanation of the bodhisattva Maitreya, the next Buddha, and of Guru Padmasambhava, and has incarnated as numerous mahasiddhas of Indian and Tibetan origins who have appeared since the time of the historical Buddha. Dombipa, King of Magadha and disciple of Virupa, is one such mahasiddha who is mentioned as one of the early incarnation. He was a saintly man who practiced tantra secretly for twelve years before he abdicated in favor of a contemplative life in the wilderness. Denma Tsemang, one of the twenty-five main disciples of Padmasambhava, was another incarnation who was noted for his phenomenal memory. Another Tibetan incarnation of considerable significance was “Marpa Lotsava" (1012-1097) the great translator who traveled thrice to India to get the transmissions and empowerments that formed the core instructions of the Kagyu Lineage.
The incarnation of Drogon Rechen (1148-1218) established the bond between the Tai Situpas and the Karmapas, a link which exists to this day. Drogon Rechen was one of the principal students of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193), and since that time these two high incarnate lamas have maintained a continuous guru-disciple interrelationship, which has been instrumental in the continuity of teachings and practices of the Karma Kagyu Lineage.
Other incarnations as yogis of considerable attainment such as Yeshe Nyingpo and Rigowa, followed the line of Drogon Rechen. Yeshe Nyingpo was the disciple of the extraordinary second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283). Another incarnation with unusual spiritual power was the Ming minister, Tai Shing Chen the disciple of the fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa (1384-1415), who traversed the great seas to invite the mahasiddhi Virupa and the sixteen arahats.
Chokyi Gyaltsen (1377-1448) was the first incarnation to bear the title Tai Situ, which was conferred upon him in 1407 by the Chinese emperor Yong Lo of the Ming Dynasty. The complete title in Chinese is quite lengthy and is often shortened to Kuang

Ting Tai Situ, which in essence is translated as "far-reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command." Chokyi Gyaltsen was a close disciple of the fifth Karmapa, and was appointed by him to the position of head instructor of Karma Gon, the Karmapa's chief monastery at the time which is located in Eastern Tibet.
Tashi Namgyal (1450-1497), the second Tai Situpa was recognized and enthroned by the sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dhondhen (1416-1453), who later gifted him the Karma Gon Monastery. Karma Gon (c. 1185) housed many Sanskrit texts and was known for its library as well as for the exquisite art that embellished it. Until its recent destruction it provided a unique example of the finest of Tibetan carving, sculpture, painting, and scholarship. It was the original seat of the Karmapas, founded by the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.
The third Situpa, Tashi Paljor (1498-1541), and the fourth Situpa, Chokyi Gocha (1542-1585), continued the beneficial work at Karma Gon and other monasteries within its sphere of influence in Eastern Tibet. Situ Tashi Paljor discovered the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554), and was one of his principal teachers. Chokyi Gyaltsen Palzang (1542 - 1585) the fifth Tai Situpa was distinguished by the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1556-1603), who bestowed upon him the Red Crown in acknowledgment of his high level of spiritual accomplishment. The fifth Situpa built the large Yermoche Monastery and added several existing ones while the Karmapa was away in China.
Situ Mipham Chogyal Rabten (1658-1682), the sixth Tai Situpa, was a yogi credited in the texts with miracles that seem fanciful to the modern materialist mind, such as hanging prayer beads from a sunbeam and leaving footprints in rocks. The seventh Tai Situpa, Mawe Nyima (1683-1698), was the son of the king of Ling and died at an early age.
Of all the incarnations, the eighth Tai Situpa, Chokyi Jungnes (1700-1774), may well be the most extraordinary to date as Prof. Lokesh Chandra has noted that Situ was the last of the great Tibetan Lotsava. “It is remarkable that when the art of Lotsava was a matter of history, yet there lingered in Situ the aura of the Lotsava.” (Autobiographies and Diaries of Situ Panchen, edited by Lokesh Chandra, 'Sata Pitaka' series, Vol.77, Internatonal Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi, 1968. pp5 - 17)
He was a sage of great insight, a Sanskrit scholar, a doctor and an innovative thanka painter. In 1727, under the patronage of the Dherge King, Tenpa Tsering, he founded the Palpung monastery, which subsequently became the seat of the Tai Situpas and the famous printing press in Dherge and revised the entire Dege edition of the Kangyur text. The reputation that this edition enjoys for critical work is a testament to his careful scholarship.
He was a linguist who taught in Sanskrit, Nepalese, Chinese and Tibetan. He traveled widely to China, Tibet and in Nepal where he was held in awe by Jayamangla, a pandit from Benares who remarked that a person of Situ's accomplishment would be honored with seven parasols in India. His commentary on Tibetan grammar and teaching on Tibetan poetry was a milestone in his own time and is very much in use today. He revived the Karma gadri style of thanka painting and the Zur medical lineage and the Tsurstis tradition of the astrological knowledge. That these traditions thrive today is due to his mammoth effort.