Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Protector: Begtse Chen (Narrative & Myth)

Begtse (Narrative) | Begtse Chen Main Page

Beg tse, also known as Yamshu Marpo, in a previous life was born as the younger of two sons of Indian royalty, named Drakye (“Born Famous”). His older brother was named Drakden (“Renowned”) and was the bodhisattva who would, in a future life, go on to become the Buddha Shakyamuni. Drakden adhered to Buddhist doctrines while Drakye was a non-Buddhist, and the two brothers constantly argued over religion. Finally, to resolve their dispute, they had a dice competition with the understanding that the loser would have to convert to the winner’s religion. Drakden won and demanded that his brother accept the Buddhist dharma, but Drakye refused and tried to run away. Drakden gave chase and was finally was able to run him down, but still Drakye stubbornly refused to accept Buddhism. However, Drakden made a pronouncement, commanding Drakye to become a Buddhist protector deity in a future life. Drakden bestowed him with a copper helmet, a coral staff, and a leather bow and arrows as symbols of power, and gave him the title “The Lord of Life, Yamshu Marpo.”

Later, soon after Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, in the North-western charnel ground of Marutse, two copper eggs were born to demonic parents. These eggs came to life and flew around of their own accord. They flew up into the heavens and attacked the gods, then flew down under the earth and attacked the nagas. They even threatened their parents, who in fear begged Mahadeva (Lha chen) and his consort Ekajati for help. Mahadeva threw his trident at the eggs, splitting them open, and out jumped Yamshu Marpo and his sister, who became his consort – hence Beg tse and his consort are often referred to as “Chamsing” (“brother-sister”). Mahadeva empowered them as the supreme king and queen of the tsen. Beg tse is regarded as the father of other major tsen deities, such as Tsi’u Marpo.

It is said that Mahadeva transmitted the practice of Chamsing to the Indian teacher Acharya Nyiwo, who passed it down to other Indian teachers, including the Mahasiddha Naropa, before it was transmitted to Tibet. There appears to be a close mythic relationship between Lha chen and Beg tse to the point where they were, in certain contexts, conflated. Lelung Zhepe Dorje identifies Beg tse as an esoteric form of Lha chen, and a hybrid form of Lha chen-Beg tse is attested in art. There is also literary evidence that the central Tibetan king Pholane Sonam Tobgye (r. 1729-1747) was poetically identified with Lha chen, and also explicitly regarded as an emanation of Beg tse.

Cameron Bailey, February 8th, 2016

References:

Kalsang, Ladrang. 1996. The Guardian Deities of Tibet. Dharamsala: Little Lhasa Publications.

Lin, Nancy. 2011. Adapting the Buddha’s Biographies: A Cultural History of the “Wish-Fulfilling Vine” in Tibet, Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries. PhD Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley.

Sle lung Rje drung Bzhad pa'i rdo rje. 'Dam can bstan srung rgya mtsho'i rnam par thar pa cha shas tsam brjod pa sngon med legs bshad.' 2 vols. Leh: T.S. Tashigang, 1979.