Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdröl (Zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol, 1781 – 1850)
Shabkar has born and grew up in the region of Amdo, near the border between Qinghai and Gansu. He traveled to Central Tibet (U-Tsang region, with Lhasa at its center), Tsari, Mountain Kailash, and Nepal. While he was on his pilgrimage, he gave a lot of teachings and sermons to the people on their pilgrimages, and local people as well. Moreover, when he went to these sacred places, he met a lot of prestigious religious and political figures, such as the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Rinpoche, Ngawang Nyentrak Rinpoche, and so on, and gave and took a lot of great advice on Buddhist philosophy and practice.
According to his autobiography, he had been Avalokiteshvara, Manjushrimitra, Trenpa Namkha, Milarepa, the Glorious Gyalse Thokme, the Lord Lodrö Gyaltsen, and Thangtong Gyelpo. Among these previous incarnations, the one that Shabkar emphasized the most wass “Milarepa,” because the most significant teacher of Shabkar’s, Chögyal Ngakyi Wangpo, was considered to be the reincarnation of Marpa the Translator, who was a spiritual master of Milarepa.
He is also quite famous for being very generous to the poor and those who needed his help. According to Religions of Tibet in Practice edited by Donald S. Lopez, there is no “evidence that Shabkar charged a formal ‘fee’ for his teachings,” (p356) and Shabkar himself also emphasized that he tried to help a lot of people in difficult situations and be generous to most of the people that he met on his pilgrimages.
Shabkar is also praised for being quite flexible in his beliefs. Even though in his time many different Buddhist sects were competing with each other, Shabkar tried to respect all the different sects, and he is actually described as knowing “not, as is usually the case, only well-known Indian Buddhist scriptures and the Tibetan representatives of just the author (Shabkar)’s own sect, but also past masters who adhered to several different traditions.” (Lopez, 356) We could also find out that Shabkar emphasized a lot about Buddhist philosophy and doctrine by reading his own biography, “The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin.” (Ricard trans., 2001) He constantly tells his disciples and the people to whom he gives sermons that they should live by the doctrines of Buddhism; among them, Shabkar tended to emphasize not slaughtering any animals.
According to Matthieu Ricard, who is the translator of the autobiography of Shabkar, there are two different versions of Shabkar’s namthar (Tibetan hagiography); the first one is The King of Wish-granting Jewels That Fulfills the Hopes of all Fortunate Disciples who Seek Liberation, the detailed narration of the life and liberation of the great vajra-holder Shabkar, refuge and protector for all sentient beings of this dark age, which is a translation of Shabkar’s autobiography until the age of 56. The second part of the autobiography covers his life from the age of 56 to his death.
Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr, Religions of Tibet in Practice. (Princeton, 1997)
Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol. The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin. Translated by Matthieu Ricard, et al. (Snow Lion, 2001)