bla ma dge 'dun rin po che (bla ma dge 'dun rin po che)
The life of Gendun Rinpoche Tokden of Kyodra
Lama Gendun Rinpoche was born in the year of the Earth Horse (1918) in the area of Nangchen, close to Singka Dzong (Fortress of Clarity), in the Kham region of Eastern Tibet. It is a holy place where there exists the peak of a white rock venerated as being the birthplace, in circumstances which became legendary, of the ascetic Sangye Yerpa who was nourished by the milk of a Dzo (female Yak), and later meditated in a cave of the mountain where he attained complete realization. On the side of the rock one may see a “Dharma Wheel” which spontaneously appeared, impressed in the stone.
Rinpoche’s father Mongje Dargye was a carver of mantras on wood and on stone. His mother was called Gadoma and was the daughter of Tchapti Lhazo.
At about the age of seven, Rinpoche began his apprenticeship in the monastic way of life. During this period of education, Rinpoche accomplished a number of solitary retreats. At the age of seventeen he received the major monastic ordination of Gelong, and in his twenty first year he entered the Karma Kamtsong retreat center in his monastery in order to carry out the traditional retreat of three years and three months.
Applying the instructions concerned with the practice of the Tsa and Lung, he no longer wore any other clothing than a single white cotton sheet, and due to his realization of the yoga of Tummo heat, he developed the ability to cause ice to melt. Even in mid-winter he remained in his cell without heating and filled it with warmth through the power of his meditative absorption. A further sign of his mastery of meditation was that he felt neither hunger nor thirst and he ate only a very small amount of food.
He obtained direct and definitive understanding of all the states of the mind, even the most subtle ones. Inwardly practicing the Bodhicitta, he maintained love and compassion towards all beings. Outwardly, the perfection with which he kept the Vinaya discipline, right down to the most minor precepts, led to him becoming a source of praise and inspiration. Nevertheless, at no time did this cause him to develop vanity or hypocrisy. By contrast, when he became the object of malicious remarks, he remained constantly serene and replied solely in a manner as to bring happiness.
He remained several more years at Kyodrag, maintaining strict retreat and he applied himself intensely to solitary meditation. His door was closed and his only visitor was the cook who took care of him and kept the key to his cell. One day, his Root Lama, Tulku Tendzin of Kyodrag, came to visit him, opened the door of his cell and told him: “Now, it’s time to go out. Your meditation has reached its conclusion. You have obtained realization of the practice, it’s no longer useful for you to stay in retreat. You are truly a holder of the Blessings and from now on you can remain among the multitude and accomplish the welfare of beings. Your realization is unshakeable, you are like a rock of gold. You can be sure of that ! Now, act according to your own will.
In spite of these words, Rinpoche stayed in retreat. Following a second visit from Tendzin Rinpoche, as well as forceful insistence from Khenpo Mingyur, a Siddha who resided at the monastery and one of his Root Lamas, he finally accepted to follow their orders and left his retreat. Rinpoche then undertook a pilgrimage, visiting the holy places of Tibet and Nepal, making abundant offerings and accomplishing powerful wishing prayers.
After a year had passed, he continued with his practice meditating in different caves blessed by great Siddhas of the past such as Guru Rinpoche and Milarepa. It is there that Rinpoche completed his realization. Although it is difficult for an ordinary person to measure the qualities of an enlightened being, the power of his grace and the warm radiance of his compassion are immediately felt.
Gendun Rinpoche is also eminently recognized for his ability to subdue and convert non human beings, malicious spirits, those who cause all kinds of imbalances, physical and mental sickness, evil influences and obstacles from which humans suffer. In 1959, when events in Tibet gathered force and the military occupation became complete, Rinpoche was still to be found in retreat A protecting deity then appeared and directed him to leave for the South, assuring him of her present and future protection. Without any knowledge of which route to take, Rinpoche left.
Relying on the power of refuge of the Three Jewels, he succeeded in crossing the Chinese lines and arrived in India without being troubled by the dangers of the journey. Once in India, Rinpoche went to find His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa who entrusted to him the direction of a newly established monastery in eastern Bhutan. He continued in this position for three years. Then, thanks to the kindness of His Holiness, he was able to go to Kalimpong and stay at the house of a sponsor. There he remained in semi-retreat for a further twelve years. Each year, Rinpoche went to the monastery of Gyalwa Karmapa at Rumtek where he received numerous transmissions from His Holiness.
In 1974 when H.H. Karmapa was preparing to make his first voyage to the West, He spoke to Rinpoche in the following terms: “I’m going to travel to Europe and to America. Westerners, not knowing the Holy Dharma, suffer greatly since their minds are disturbed by pride, jealousy, desire and hatred. The Holy Dharma alone can provide a remedy to their suffering. If the conditions for the development of the Teaching are gathered together, you will be responsible for spreading it in Europe. There’s nothing to discuss, I know the signs; I know that you are a Lama who has brought his practice to its conclusion. The time has come for you to accomplish the benefit of beings. “Rinpoche recalls his reaction: “I felt crushed by the prospect of such a task. I remained speechless, unable to reply. His Holiness then placed his hand on my head and said to me, smiling: ‘Thank you for your promise!.”
On his return from Europe, His Holiness confirmed his decision. “A benefactor, Mr Benson, has offered me part of his property in France. An important center needs to be established there for the diffusion of the Holy Dharma. Many people will then be able to have access to the Teaching and that will be of great benefit to Westerners. Therefore, you are to go to Europe. Don’t worry, you have the necessary karma to accomplish this task. The time has come for you to put it into action.” “I am the Karmapa, if you have a little faith in the name of the Karmapa, you must believe what I say.”
Thus His Holiness concluded laughing. “I am an old man.” I responded. His Holiness replied: “It’s true that you are older than I am. Nevertheless, I will depart before you, and you will see me again as a child. Your activity is very closely linked to my own. You will reappear again for two lives, very close to myself, after which you will manifest complete Buddhahood.”
In 1975, Lama Gendun Rinpoche arrived in France and took up residence in Dordogne, at the place chosen by His Holiness Karmapa as his European seat.
This brief and edited account of the outer activity of Lama Gendun Rinpoche of Kyodrag has been based principally on the words of Rinpoche himself, which came in response to repeated requests from the retreat people at Kundreul Ling . We are most grateful to Venerable Lama Gawang for having provided us with supplementary biographical information. Translation and formulation of the text completed at Kundreul Ling in August 1989. Mangalam.
- "The Madman's Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of a Modernist Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel" by Donald Lopez, Jr.; SnowLion Publications; google books