Surmang Dutsi Til is part of the Surmang group of monasteries, started in the fourteenth century by Trungmase, a student of the fifth Karmapa. The first Trungpa, Kunga Gyaltsen, was a principal student of Trungmase. Kunga Gyaltsen was an incarnation of the Indian teacher Dombhipa, who had foretold the location of Surmang Dutsi Til monastery.
Surmang is closely connected with the teachings of such remarkable Kagyu teachers such as Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, and the Karmapas. Many of the Trungpas carried forth this tradition by themselves becoming renowned teachers. For example, Kunga Namgyal, Trungpa IV, was considered the most important Kagyu teacher of his time and wrote extensive commentaries on mahamudra. The eighth Trungpa was one of the major thangka painters of the Gadri school of artists. The tenth Trungpa was an important link in the ongoing Rime movement. The eleventh Trungpa, Chökyi Gyatso, was already an accomplished teacher in his teens. Forced into exile at age 19 in 1959, he went on to become a seminal figure in the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, the founder of Shambhala International and author of numerous dharma books. He was empowered as a Vidyadhara by the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa.
Read a passage from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s autobiography, Born in Tibet, describing Surmang Dutsi Til in its Glory.
Other teachers who traditionally reside at the Surmang monasteries and are thus closely connected with the Trungpas include the Garwang, Tenga, Rölpe Dorje, and Chetsang (Aten) lineages. The first Garwang Rinpoche was a foremost student of Trungmase and became abbot of Surmang Namgyaltse monastery, a tradition that continues to the present day. The current Garwang Rinpoche, who resides in Sikkim and has started dharma centers in SE Asia, met the Shambhala sangha at the consecration of the Great Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center. Other examples of well-known teachers from these lineages were the third and fifth Chetsang Rinpoches, who were renowned artists, and the sixth Chetsang Rinpoche, who was said to have been the most prominent teacher in Kham (eastern Tibet) in his time. The first Rölpe Dorje was the teacher of the Tai Situ Rinpoche of that time.
Surmang Dutsi Til is noted for its close association with the meditational deities Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini, who are embodied in the Dutsi Til landscape. Surmang is the principal center for the Chakrasamvara dance, which is once again performed at Dutsi Til each year. Surmang is also closely associated with the teachings of the six yogas of Naropa. Another practice attribute of Surmang is the presence of hidden teachings (terma). The eleventh Trungpa was a major terma discoverer (terton). An important site where he recovered terma was near Kyere monastery, another monastery of the Surmang group whose abbot, Damchö Tenphel Rinpoche, is the Vidyadhara’s younger brother.
Surmang was a major participant in the Rime (nonsectarian) movement, which was started in the nineteenth century by Khyentse, Jamgon Kongtrul, Mipham, and Paltrul Rinpoches, among others. The Jamgon Kongtrul and Trungpa tulkus have since intertwined as teacher and student for several generations. The current Mipham Rinpoche is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the son of the Chogyam Trungpa and now leader of Shambhala International. Another of Chögyam Trungpa’s sons, Gesar, is the current Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen.
The multiple ties between Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, his family, and by extension, his students, to the Shambhala and Gesar lineages include his familial membership in the Mukpo clan, the clan of Gesar, the famous warrior king of Tibet.
Although it has its own particular sets of teachings and teachers, Surmang has had historically close ties to numerous other monasteries of the Nyingma and Sakya, as well as Kagyu schools, and their teachers and practice traditions. These include Palpung, Karma, Benchen, Thrangu, and Khampagar monasteries, along with many others. Particularly notable for the eleventh Trungpa was Sechen, whose lineage holders Jamgon Kongtrul, Khyentse, Rabjam, and Gangshar Rinpoches were major dharma figures in his life.
This complex interweaving of dharma heritages is now the inheritance of the Twelfth Trungpa, Chökyi Senge.