Enlightened Vagabond/Masters, and Disciples
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES INFLUENTIAL FIGURES, MASTERS, AND DISCIPLES
The following brief biographies are presented to enhance the portrait of Patrul Rinpoche by highlighting some of the notable masters and disciples associated with him. Some of these masters had a major influence on Patrul Rinpoche’s life (such as Gyalwa Longchenpa and Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa) even though Patrul Rinpoche did not meet them; some taught and inspired him (such as Jigme Gyalwai Nyugo and Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje); and some had close spiritual relationships with him (such as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo). We have also included biographies of some of Patrul Rinpoche’s disciples who figure preeminently in the two written biographies or in the oral stories. For the sake of brevity, we did not include biographies of Patrul Rinpoche’s many other disciples who are mentioned in passing or who were very young when they met Patrul.
Foremost among Patrul Rinpoche’s teachers were Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu and Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje. Other important teachers were Dola Jigme Kalzang, Kilung Jigme Ngotsar, Gyalse Shenphen Thaye, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (4th Dzogchen), Shechen Öntrul (Shechen Mahapandita Öntrul Thuthop Namgyal), Drupwang Rogza Palge, and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa.
Among Patrul Rinpoche’s many students, the most outstanding were Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, Önpo Tenga (Orgyen Tendzin Norbu), Minyak Kunzang Sönam, Jamgön Lama Mipham, and Khenpo Kunzang Palden. Other important disciples were Jigme Phuntsok Jungne (2nd Dodrupchen), Jigme Tenpai Nyima (3rd Dodrupchen), Dzogchen Khenchen Pema Dorje, Mura Tulku Pema Dechen Zangpo, Gemang Khenchen Yönten Gyatso, Trama Tulku Kunzang Dechen Dorje, and Adzom Drukpa Drodul Pawo Dorje.
Other disciples were Chökyi Lodrö (1st Kathok Situ), Drime Shingkyong, Kushog Gemang Tenpe Nyima (the tulku of Gyalse Shenphen Thaye), Khenpo Shenga (Khenpo Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa), Gyarong Namtrul Kunzang Thekchog Dorje, Lingtrul Thubten Gyaltsen, Khenpo Könchog Özer, Pema Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen (5th Shechen Rabjam), Gyurme Pema Namgyal (3rd Shechen Gyaltsap), and the 45th King of Derge, Chime Takpai Dorje (’chi med rtag pa’i rdo rje, 1840–1896) and his family.
Among Patrul’s students from the Kagyu school were, Karmai Khenpo Rinchen Dargye and Khenchen Tashi Özer. Among students from the Geluk school were Minyak Kunzang Sönam, Alak Do-ngak Gyatso, Hor Khangsar Khyabgön, and Sershul Larampa Thubten.
- 1 Adzom Drukpa (1842–1924)
- 2 Alak Do-ngak Gyatso (1824–1902)
- 3 Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa (1829–1870)
- 4 Chöying Rangdröl (1777–1853)
- 5 Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800–1866)
- 6 Dola Jigme Kalzang (early 19th c.)
- 7 Gyalse Shenphen Thaye (1800–1865/66)
- 8 Gyurme Pema Namgyal, 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap (1871–1926)
- 9 Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (1813–1899)
- 10 Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892)
- 11 Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu (1765–1842)
- 12 Jigme Lingpa (1729–1798)
- 13 Jigme Ngotsar Gyatso (18th–19th c.)
- 14 Jigme Phuntsok Jungne, 2nd Dodrupchen (1824–1863)
- 15 Jigme Tenpai Nyima, 3rd Dodrupchen (1865–1926)
- 16 Jigme Trinley Özer, 1st Dodrupchen (1745–1821)
- 17 Karmai Khenpo Rinchen Dargye (ca. 1823–?)
- 18 Kathok Situ (2nd), Chökyi Lodrö Orgyen Tenpa Namgyal (1820–1879?)
- 19 Khenchen Tashi Özer (1836–1910)
- 20 Khenpo Kunzang Palden (Khenpo Kunpel, ca. 1862–1943)
- 21 Khenpo Pema Dorje (ca. 1807–1884)
- 22 Khenpo Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa (Khenpo Shenga, 1871–1927)
- 23 Khenpo Yönten Gyatso (Khenpo Yonga, 19th–20th c.)
- 24 Lama Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912)
- 25 Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa, 1308–1364)
- 26 Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (1793–1870)
- 27 Minyak Kunzang Sönam (1823–1901)
- 28 Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (1829–1901)
- 29 Önpo Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (Önpo Tenga, 1851–1910)
- 30 Pema Dechen Zangpo, 3rd Mura Tulku (19th–20th c.)
- 31 Rogza Sönam Palge (18th–19th c.)
- 32 Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdröl (1781–1851)
- 33 Shechen Öntrul Gyurme Thuthop Namgyal (1787–1854)
Adzom Drukpa (1842–1924)
Adzom Drukpa, Drodul Pawo Dorje Natshok Rangdröl (a ’dzom ’brug pa ’gro ’dul dpa’ bo rdo rje sna tshogs rang grol) was born in the Tromtar region of Kham. He was an incarnation of the great translator Ma Rinchen Chok (ma rin chen mchog, 8th c.), one of twenty- five chief disciples of Padmasambhava, and the immediate reincarnation of Adzom Rigdzin Sangye Tashi (a ’dzom rig ’dzin sangs rgyas bkra shis, d.u.). Others considered him to be the embodiment of the great Drukpa Kagyu master Pema Karpo (’brug chen padma dkar po, 1527–1592).
Among his main teachers, in addition to Patrul Rinpoche, were Shechen Ontrul Gyurme Thutop Namgyal (zhe chen dbon sprul ’gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal, 1787–1854); Kathok Situ Chökyi Lodrö, whom he met at the age of twelve; Nyagla Pema Dudul (nyag bla padma bdud ’dul, 1816–1872), who advised him to remain a layman and let his hair grow long in the style of a ngakpa (Sanskrit mantrika), a nonmonastic practitioner of the tantras; Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo; Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye; and Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Dorje. From the age of thirteen, he devoted himself to quintessential unelaborate meditation practices.
Patrul Rinpoche gave him instructions on the preliminary practices according to his text The Words of My Perfect Teacher. He also bestowed on him empowerments and transmissions. Khyentse Wangpo gave him transmissions of Longchen Nyingthig and other Terma lineages, making him one of the spiritual heirs of the Chetsun Nyingthig (lce btsun snying thig) Dzogchen teachings. He also studied with Lama Mipham, Khenchen Tashi Özer (mkhan chen bkra shis ’od zer, 1836–1910), and the 4th Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (rdzogs chen mi ’gyur nam mkha’i rdo rje, 1793–1870).
In 1886, Adzom Drukpa established Adzom Gar, his main seat in Tromtar. He traveled widely throughout Kham, giving teachings to numerous disciples from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. His son, Adzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje (a ’dzom rgyal sras ’gyur med rdo rje, 1895–ca. 1959), became a renowned master in his own right. Among his main disciples were Khenpo Kunzang Palden (see biographical note below), Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa (gter ston bsod rgyal las rab gling pa, 1856–1926), the 3rd Katok Situ Orgyen Chökyi Gyatso, Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (rdzong sar chos kyi blo gros, 1893–1959), Yukhok Chatralwa Chöying Rangdröl (g.yu khog bya bral ba chos dbyings rang grol, 1872–1952), and Kunu Rinpoche Tendzin Gyaltsen (khu nu rin po che bstan ’dzin rgyal mtshan, ca. 1894–1977).
When the young tulku Dilgo Khyentse Tashi Paljor (dil mgo mkhyen brtse bkra shis dpal ’byor, 1910–1991) and family came to visit him, Adzom Drukpa took the boy under his protection, administering novice vows and clearing away obstacles that might hamper his longevity.
Alak Do-ngak Gyatso (1824–1902)
Japa Do-ngak Gyatso (’ja’ pa mdo sngags rgya mtsho), commonly known as Alak Do-ngak, was considered by some to be an incarnation of the great Geluk scholar Gungthang Könchog Tenpai Drönme (gung thang dkon mchog bstan pa’i sgron me, 1762–1823), the abbot of Labrang Monastery in Amdo. Foremost among his many teachers, were Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdröl and Patrul Rinpoche.
Alak Do-ngak was well versed in Sutra and Tantra teachings of both the Geluk and Nyingma traditions. His writings have been lost. Alak Do-ngak’s students included the 3rd Dodrupchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima, and the four main Khenpos of Dodrupchen Monastery: Garwa Khenpo Jigme Ösel (mgar ba mkhan po ‘jigs med ‘od gsal, ?–1926); Khenpo Könchog Drönme (mkhan po dkon mchog sgron me, 1859–1936), a.k.a. Lushul Khenpo Lobsang Kunkhyab (klu shul mkhan po blo bzang kun khyab); Amye Khenpo Damchö (a mye mkhan po dam chos, d.u.); and Ser- shul Khenpo Ngawang (ser shul mkhan po ngag dbang, d.u.). In addition, Alak Do-ngak was both a teacher and a disciple of Lingtrul Pema Lungtok Gyatso (gling sprul padma lung rtogs rgya mtsho, 1852–?).
Alak Do-ngak spent twelve years meditating on bodhichitta in a hermitage at Drakkar Gephel Ling in Amdo. He then spent a further six years in retreat focused on the developing stage (kyerim / bskyed rim) and the perfection or completion stage (dzogrim / rdzogs rim) of Mantrayana practice.
Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa (1829–1870)
Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa (mchog gyur bde chen gling pa), also known as Shikpo Lingpa (zhig po gling pa) and as Chokling for short, was born in Nangchen province in Kham. He was said to be the reincarnation of Murub Tsenpo, King Trisong Detsen’s second son. When he was a boy, as he was herding cattle, Guru Rinpoche appeared to him in person, in the form of an Indian yogi.
One day he found a small tsa tsa, a miniature stupa containing a scroll of paper with the list of all the termas he was meant to reveal in his life.229 He rst stayed as a monk at Parmi, a monastery of the Drigung Kagyu school, then at Nangchen Gar, a Nyingma monastery. By then, he had already revealed several termas, but he kept them secret.
At Nangchen Gar he was made the leader of the sacred dances. Once, while leading one of these dances, he had a vision of Guru Rinpoche with his twenty- ve main disciples performing a completely di erent dance. He joined in it, causing the other dancers to make mistakes. This was consid- ered to be unacceptable behavior, and he was expelled from the monastery. He then went to Derge area and stayed at Jamgön Kongtrul’s monastery in Palpung. When he told some people that he was a tertön, he was mocked by everyone.
At twenty- ve, Chokgyur Lingpa met the 9th Palpung Situ, Padma Nyinche Wangpo (si tu padma nyin byed dbang po 1774–1853), who acknowl- edged him as a genuine tertön. He the returned to Jamgön Kongtrul, who was very sick and who asked him to perform long-life ceremonies for him. Chokling had a strong wish to meet Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and went to Dzongsar. Khyentse Wangpo immediately said that Chokling was no di erent from Guru Rinpoche himself, adding, “For thirteen lifetimes, we have been connected like father and son.”
Khyentse Wangpo gave many transmissions to Chokling, and during the empowerment of the Lama Yangthig cycle of Longchen Rabjam, Chokling saw Jamyang Khyentse as the Indian mahapandita Vimalamitra in person. When Chokling showed Khyentse Wangpo the yellow parchment scroll for the terma of the Heart Practice That Dispels All Obstacles (thugs sgrub bar chad kun bsal), the latter said that he had an almost identical terma, which he had not yet written down. He added that they should merge these two termas into one. Khyentse Wangpo also helped Chokling put into writing many of the termas that he had not yet written down, transcribing them with his own hand. He then requested Chokling to give him the transmission for all these teachings. Chokling subsequently returned to his native Nangchen province, where he revealed thirty-six important termas. When discovering the Vajrakilaya cycle known as Zabdun Phurba, Chok- ling dug a hole in a rock and saw seventy- ve kilaya daggers emitting sparks of re. He took the main phurba, which was made of agate zi stone. The dakini script for this cycle of teachings was written on yellow parchment tied to the central hub of the phurba.
Following this, Chokling returned to Dzongsar, where at the Lotus Crys- tal Cave (Pema Shelphuk), together with Jamyang Khyentse and Jamgön Kongtrul, he revealed a terma in front of a large crowd. As the three lamas were performing some ceremonies inside the cave, at one point Chokgyur Lingpa ew up to reach the ceiling of the cave, from which he extracted the “treasure box” containing the yellow parchment for the Three Section of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen sde gsum). Everyone present was amazed.
Chokgyur Lingpa then went to Central Tibet to ful ll an earlier invitation by the 14th Karmapa, Thekchog Dorje (theg mchog rdo rje, 1798–1868). As Samye Monastery, he met Guru Rinpoche in person and revealed a pre- cious terma. During his life, Chokling visited the Zangdokpalri (Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain), , Guru Rinpoche’s pure land, three times. He had many other visions of Guru Rinpoche. Having returned to Kham, at Yegyal Namkhadzö in Nangchen he founded Neten Monastery. He then revealed many termas throughout Kham. After Chokgyur Lingpa passed away, Jamyang Khyentse saw him in a vision in a buddha eld, a vision during which he received many teachings from him.
Chöying Rangdröl (1777–1853)
Tsopu Drupchen Gyurme Chöying Rangdröl (mtsho phu grub chen ’gyur med chos dbyings rang grol) was born in Lower Sam, an area between Nyakrong and Tromtar. He was the rebirth of Druptop Drungpa Namkha Gyatso (grub thob drung pa nam mkha’ rgya mtsho, 17th–18th century), an accomplished yogi from Kathok Monastery who had taught the great Kathok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (rig ’dzin tshe dbang nor bu, 1698–1755).
Chöying Rangdröl had strong predispositions toward the dharma. Once, for instance, when receiving and empowerment from the tertön Rinchen Lingpa, he kept hearing dharma teachings within the sound of the bell that the tertön was ringing during the rituals. But as he was unable to fully com- prehend the meaning of the sentences he heard, he felt a strong urge to study and practice the dharma. Yet he rst had to become a shepherd for a while. Even at a young age, he sometimes displayed unusual powers. Once, after he had crossed a river, his companions noticed that his boots, which he had kept on, were not wet at all.
Mainly, he studied and practiced the termas of Rigdzin Longsal Nyingpo (rig ’dzin klong gsal snying po, 1625–1692). Among his teachers were Tromge Kundun Rinpoche Sönam Rinchen (khrom dge sku mdun rin po che bsod nams rin chen, d.u.), the famed scholar Getse Mahapandita, Gyurme Tse- wang Chokdrup (dge rtse maha pandita ’gyur med mchog grub, 1761–1829), and the hermit Nyingön Chatralwa Namkha Dorje (nyin dgon bya bral ba nam mkha’ rdo rje, d.u.), who gave him the name Gyurme Chöying Rangdröl.
After completing his studies, he spent most of his life in retreat in vari- ous places, including many years at Tram Tsopu; hence he became known as Tsopu Drupchen (mtsho phu sgrub chen), meaning the “greatly accom- plished one of Tsopu.” (He was also known as the Mahasiddha of Trom.)
He chie y taught the Longsal Dorje Nyingpo (klong gsal rdo rje snying po) cycle revealed by Tertön Longsal Nyingpo (klong gsal snying po, 1625– 1692). Among his many students were his nephew the 2nd Kathok Situ, Chökyi Lodrö Orgyen Tenpa Namgyal; Rigdzin Sönam Palden (rig ’dzin bsod nams dpal ldan), who lived at the seat of Longsal Nyingpo; Drupchen Nyida Kundze (grub chen nyi zla kun mdzes); the great yogi and tertön Nyakla Pema Dudul (nyag bla padma bdud ’dul, 1816–1872); and the 3rd Shingkyong, Jigme Yönten Gönpo (dri med zhing skyong ’jigs med yon tan mgon po, 1837–1898).
Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800–1866)
Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje) was born into the Akyong bandit tribe of Golok in eastern Tibet. When he was a year old, he began saying to his mother and father that unless he met a lama called Sönam Choden, he would die. When the 1st Dodrupchen came to that part of Golok, Do Khyentse’s father made it a point to meet him. His father asked if the 1st Dodrupchen knew a lama called Sönam Choden. Dodrupchen replied that yes, he did know Sönam Choden, and he arranged to go meet little Do Khyentse When the two met, Dodrupchen asked little Do Khyentse, “Do you know me?” (Only one or two people in the whole world knew that Dodrupchen ever been known by the name Sönam Choden.) The baby replied, “Yes, you are Sönam Choden. Did you desert me?”
With tears in his eyes, Dodrupchen took the child into his arms, saying, “Until just now, I couldn’t nd you! Now I’ll look after you.” Dodrupchen recognized Do Khyentse, the mind-incarnation of his teacher Jigme Lingpa, but this recognition was kept secret until it could be con rmed. Later, in the presence of Dodrupchen, the queen regent, the crown prince, lamas, o cials, and sons of Jigme Lingpa, Do Khyentse passed all formal tests, recognizing the personal e ects of his predecessor with such unfailing accuracy that everyone present was moved to joy and devotion. Dodrupchen brought Do Khyentse to Shukchen Tago, the monastery he had founded in Dokhok.
When he was ten, Do Khyentse had to be taken to Central Tibet to be enthroned formally as the mind-incarnation of Jigme Lingpa. The young boy was inconsolable at having to part from his teacher. At Yangri Gar, in Drigung, he met the son of Jigme Lingpa, Jigme Lingpa’s consort, and his nephew. He also visited Jigme Lingpa’s seat at Tsering Jong. He went to Yarlung Sheldrak, a cave that is one of ve main sites sacred to Padmasambhava, where there was a statue of Padmasambhava called “Looks Like Me.” People saw a beam of light emanate from the statue’s heart and stream into the heart of the little boy. Later, Do Khyentse said that he’d had a profound experience of pure awareness and of the primordial purity of all phenomena.
When he was twelve, he returned to Kham. Staying at the monastery of Yarlung Pemakö, he received extensive transmissions from the 1st Dodrup- chen, including those of Longchenpa’s Nyingthig Yazhi.230 When he was fteen, he met Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu and Kilung Jigme Ngotsar, two other eminent disciples of Jigme Lingpa. From the rst, Do Khyentse regarded Dodrupchen as Padmasambhava himself, and saw him surrounded by miraculous beings no one else was able to see. Once, in the presence of Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, he seemed to have fallen asleep and remained so for three whole days. When the young tulku awoke, he said he had been experiencing a profound vision of Guru Padmasambhava in a crystal palace and had received empowerment from Guru Rinpoche’s consorts, Yeshe Tsogyal and Mandarava.
When Do Khyentse was twenty, while staying at the at the court of the King of Derge, he decided he wanted to renounce the complicated life of a tulku, so full of obligations, aristocrats, and attendants. To the King of Derge, Do Khyentse announced his intention: he wished to become aa wan- dering yogi. “If I you won’t let me,” Do Khyentse told the king, “you’ll just have to lock me up!” The King of Derge was shocked, as was everyone else. They decided to consult Do Khyentse’s teacher, Dodrupchen, to whom they sent a formal letter asking for advice. The response from Dodrupchen was that Do Khyentse should leave the king’s court at once and spend a year living near Dodrupchen and receiving teachings. In this way, Do Khyentse was allowed to leave the king’s court.
When Do Khyentse arrived, Dodrupchen told his student that he did not expect to be alive much longer. He told Do Khyentse to remain with him for one year; after that, he could do whatever he wished. Do Khyentse o ered his teacher all his possessions, and Dodrupchen bestowed on him the white felt robes of a yogi and blessed Do Khyentse’s hair, which, from that moment on, he would never again cut. Over the course of this year, Dodrupchen bestowed upon his student the transmission and instruction on important Dzogchen teachings such as the Khandro Nyingthig and the Yeshe Lama.231 Do Khyentse dreamed that Long- chenpa gave him further detailed instructions on the Khandro Nyingthig.
After the year ended, Do Khyentse told Dodrupchen that his wish was still to become a wandering practitioner, renouncing home and possessions. Thus, after taking leave from his root master with great sadness, Do Khyen- tse went on his way. First he traveled to Amdo with Rogza Palge. Some months later, Do Khyentse experienced a vision of Dodrupchen: he was sitting in the sky, a radiant body amid rainbow lights, singing his spiritual testament. Rays of light emerged from Dodrupchen and dissolved into Do Khyentse’s heart. Do Khyentse fainted. When he regained consciousness, he realized that Dodrupchen must have passed away. After his teacher’s death, Do Khyentse stopped wearing the white felt robes of a yogi, and put on the ordinary black garments worn by nomads. This drew criticism from many people, not the least of whom was the King of Derge. Do Khyentse began wandering around the wildest areas of Golok, his unconventional behavior making him appear like a hunter—but if so, it would be one who would hunt animals down, kill them, and then bring them back to life.
Once, seeing Do Khyentse kill a little marmot, his uncle scolded him, saying, “How can a tulku kill animals just like a sinner?” Do Khyentse struck the rodent’s corpse with his whip. At once, the little marmot sprang back to life and scrambled o into the forest. That wasn’t enough for his uncle, who remarked sarcastically, “Oho, so now you’re doing magic tricks, too?”232 After spending time teaching in Nyarong, Do Khyentse began to live mainly in Dartsedo, often referred to as “Do”; thus, he became known as “Khyentse of Do.” His revealed treasures and teachings, including the Chö Dzinpa Rangdröl (gcod ’dzin pa rang grol, Spontaneous Liberation of Grasping), which is still widely practiced, ll nine volumes of the modern edition. He had countless disciples.
Do Khyentse returned to Dartsedo for the last years of his life. When he passed away in 1860, people said that he’d dissolved into Jigme Lingpa’s body-incarnation, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, making that great lama even more radiant than before. He remarked, and remarked: “Now this mad yogi has come to me.”
Dola Jigme Kalzang (early 19th c.)
Dola Jigme Kalzang (rdo bla ’jigs med skal bzang), was a close disciple of the 1st Dodrupchen, Jigme Trinley Özer. He became an accomplished master of his own right and one of the main holders of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage. Once, just as he was starting a three-year retreat in a cave by the Machu River (Yellow River), he heard a pilgrim chanting, with an incredibly moving melody, the chö o ering revealed as a terma by Jigme Lingpa. Dola Jigme could not resist coming out of his retreat and asking the pilgrim about this particular liturgy. The pilgrim answered that Jigme Lingpa had passed away but that his chief disciple, Jigme Trinley Özer, was living in Golok. Upon hearing Trinley Özer’s name, Dola Jigme felt boundless devotion. Driven by a deep yearning, he left his retreat and found his way into the presence of the one who was to become his root master. Dola Jigme was a teacher to Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu (who received teachings from him in 1815/16 and1820) and to Patrul Rinpoche, whom he recognized as being the rebirth of Palge Samten Phuntsok. He widely taught in major Nyingma monasteries such as Dzogchen, Shechen, and Kathok.
In the latter part of his life, he spent much time in Amdo, in the areas around Lake Kokonor, giving teachings to Tibetan and Mongolian disciples. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche related the following story about Dola Jigme Kalzang’s death: “One day, while on pilgrimage to China, Dola Jigme came to the central square of a small town where a crowd had gathered. As he approached, he found that a thief was about to be put to death in a partic- ularly cruel fashion: he was to be forced to straddle an iron horse that had been made red-hot from within. Dola Jigme pushed his way through the crowd and proclaimed: ‘I am the thief!’ A great silence fell. The presiding mandarin turned impassively to the newcomer and asked, ‘Are you ready to assume the consequences of what you have just told us?’ Dola Jigme nodded. He died on the horse, and the thief was spared.”
He thus acted out of unconditional benevolence to save the life of a stranger, even a stranger who happened to be a thief. It is hard for ordinary people to fathom the depth of a bodhisattva’s wisdom and compassion, but it is clear that Dola Jigme saw more bene t for sentient beings in doing this than in simply going his own way.
Gyalse Shenphen Thaye (1800–1865/66)
233 Gyalse Shenphen Thaye (rgyal sras gzhan phan mtha’ yas) was born in the Gemang area of Dzachukha province in Kham. From an early age he felt a strong feeling of renunciation and devoted himself with great perseverance to the study and practice of the dharma. His root master was Dola Jigme Kalzang, and he studied as well with many teachers from all schools, with- out any sectarian bias. These included the 1st Dodrupchen, Trinley Özer, whom he regarded as the Buddha in person; Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu; the 4th Dzogchen, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje; Sengdruk Pema Tashi; and the two main masters of Mindrolling Monastery, Minling Trichen234 and Minling Khen Rinpoche. He was considered to be an incarnation of Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje (1646–1714). Shenphen Thaye practiced in many sacred places, from Mount Kailash in far western Tibet to Mount Emei (Lanchen Gying Ri) in China.
He became so learned and compassionate that at some point there was hardly any lama or practitioner in Kham, from both the Old Translation (Nyingma) and the New Translation traditions, who did not considered himself his disciple. After the death of the 1st Dodrupchen, Shenphen Thaye served as the Regent of Dodrupchen Monastery for some years and initiated an annual forty- ve-day teaching and practice of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, thus reviving the transmission of this most important tantra of the Nyingma tradition. Patrul Rinpoche acted as his assistant for the rst year and then o ciated himself for the next two years. In 1842, Shenphen Thaye became the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery after it had been almost totally destroyed in an earthquake. He rebuilt the mon- astery and, in 1848, started the Shri Singha Philosophical College, where he initated a tradition of giving extensive commentaries235 upon the Thirteen Great Treatises from the Sutra tradition.
He also began gathering the collection of the Nyingma Kahma, the major texts of the Nyingma traditions that have been passed from master to disciple in an uninterrupted transmission since Guru Padmasambhava’s time. Accord- ing to Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987), “Gyalse Shenphen Thaye’s kindness and legacy to the Buddha’s teachings surpass the imagination.” His foremost students were Patrul Rinpoche, Khenpo Pema Dorje, and Shechen Öntrul Thuthop Namgyal, who were his heart-disciples, and Dagpo Thupden Yondzin in Central Tibet. He was also a teacher to Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and the 7th Minling Trichen, Sangye Kunga Do-ngak Tendzin Norbu.
Gyurme Pema Namgyal, 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap (1871–1926)
The 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap, Gyurme Pema Namgyal (zhe chen rgyal tshab ’gyur med padma rnam rgyal), was one of the main spiritual teachers and writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is considered to be the chief disciple of Lama Mipham Rinpoche. He was also a disciple of Patrul Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, Gyurme Kunzang Tenpai Nyima (5th Shechen Rabjam, zhe chen rab ’byams ‘gyur med kun bzang bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1864–1909), Khenchen Tashi Özer, and Jamyang Loter Wangpo (ngor dpon slob ’jam dbyangs blo gter dbang po, 1847–1914). He was the master of eminent twentieth-century teachers such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (’jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse chos kyi blo gros, 1893–1959), and the 6th Shechen Rabjam, Nandze Drupai Dorje (zhe chen rab ’byams snang mdzad grub pa’i rdo rje, 1910–1959).
He spent most of his life in the Pema Ösel Ling hermitage above Shechen monastery in eastern Tibet. Once, after announcing that he would spend three years in continued retreat, he came out after six months, without giving any speci c explanation. The same day, people could see a footprint clearly imprinted in the large stone that was at his doorstep. This footprint is now kept at Shechen Monastery in Kham. This was indeed an extraordinary sign that he had accomplished all that needed to be done during that partic- ular retreat. (A photograph of it can be seen in Matthieu Ricard, Journey to Enlightenment [New York: Aperture, 1996].) His collected works ll thirteen large volumes, which constitute one of the richest and most diverse collections of writings in Tibetan literature, and include lucid and profound commentaries on various aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice.
Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (1813–1899)
Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (’jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas), also known as Kongtrul Yönten Gyatso (kong sprul yon tan rgya mtsho), was born in Kham into a family of the Bön tradition and was named Tendzin Yungdrung (bstan ‘dzin g.yung drung). From an early age, he showed signs of having extraordinary capacities. He subsequently received a Buddhist education and studied four years at Shechen Monastery under Shechen Mahapandita Öntrul Thuthop Namgyal. He also took monastic vows at Shechen at age twenty. His mentor and benefactor, Tsephel, the governor from Chöde Phodrang (who was also a Drukpa Kagyu monk), then took Kongtrul to Palpung Mon- astery. There he met one of his main teachers, the 9th Tai Situ, Pema Nyingje Wangpo (ta’i si tu padma nyin rje dbang po, 1775–1853).
Kongtrul had such a bright intelligence that Tai Situ feared he was going to be recruited to serve at the court of the King of Derge. To avoid this, knowing that incarnate lamas were excused from performing such duties, Tai Situ recognized the young man as the incarnation of one of his late students, Kongpo Bamteng Tulku (kong po bam steng sprul sku), hence the name Kongtrul (kong sprul). He received the bodhisattva vows, and the name Lodrö Thaye, from the 14th Karmapa, Thekchog Dorje (karma pa theg mchog rdo rje, 1798–1868), at Karma Gön Monastery. He then received the transmission of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage from Karma Norbu (karma nor bu), as well as many teachings from the Nyingma tradition from Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje and other masters. But his main spiritual master was Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, whom he referred to as the “Omniscient Precious Master” (Kunkhyen Lama Rin- poche). Much of Jamgön Kongtrul’s activity and writings during the remain- ing sixty years of his life was either inspired by or done in concert with Khyentse Wangpo. They would work together to open sacred sites, reveal treasures, compose and edit compilations of texts, and spearhead the Rime nonsectarian movement that greatly contributed to the revival of the Tibetan Buddhism in EastTibet.
Jamgön Kongtrul also became very close to Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. These three lamas became widely known “Jam-Kong-Chog-Sum” (mkhyen kong mchog gsum), the “trio of Khyen, Kong, and Chog.” One of the matchless contributions of Jamgön Kongtrul to Tibetan Bud- dhism was the compilation of the Five Great Treasuries (mdzod chen lnga/ the correct form is mdzod chen rnam pa lnga), a vast collection of teachings, sadhanas, texts for empowerments, practice manuals, and explanations of Buddhist philosophy and practice. In his autobiography, Jamgön Kong- trul says that the thought of creating these collections never even crossed his mind, and that he compiled them at the behest of his precious master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
While he was bestowing teaching upon Jamgön Kongtrul, Khyentse Wangpo had a prophetic dream in which he saw a huge, magni cent, stupa with ve doors, one in each cardinal direction and one in the upper vase of the stupa. Inside the stupa were beautiful statues and precious texts. When Khyentse asked about the nature of those texts, someone answered that they were Five Great Treasuries. Khyentse Wangpo told Kongtrul that this dream indicated that he, Kongtrul, was the one destined to bring those Five Treasuries to reality. He also gave Kongtrul indications of the content of each treasury.
Accordingly, over many years, Jamgön Kongtrul collected, edited, or wrote (1) the Mantra Treasury of the Kagyu Tradition (bka’ brgyud sngags mdzod, 3 to 8 vols., depending on the editions); (2) the Great Treasury of Precious Redis- covered Teachings (rin chen gter mdzod chen mo, 63 to 71 vols.), which gathers the most important rediscovered teachings (termas) of the Nyingma tradi- tion and which includes the Extraordinary Treasury (thun mong ma yin pa’i mdzod), Jamgön Kongtrul’s own termas; (3) the All-Encompassing Treasury of Knowledge (shes bya kun la khyab pa’i mdzod, 4 vols.), an encyclopedia of Buddhist knowledge and traditional sciences; (4) the Vast Treasury of Teach- ings (rgya chen bka’i mdzod, 16 vols.), which gathers the remaining writings of Jamgön Kongtrul himself; and (5) the Treasury of Precious Instructions (gdams ngag mdzod, 13 or 18 vols.), which gathers the pith instructions of the eight main “chariots” of the practice lineages (sgrub brgyud shing rta brgyad, 13 to 18 vols.). It is thanks to these ve collections (which have been reedited and printed in the twentieth century under the direction of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche) that countless major and rare transmissions are still extant in our day.
Jamgön Kongtrul also spent many years in retreat in two hermitages, Tsa- dra Rinchen Trak (tsa ’dra rin chen brag), above Palpung Monastery, and Dzongshö Deshek Dupa (rdzong shod bde gshegs ’dus pa), a complex of rocky caves located between Dzongsar and Kathok. At Dzongshö, in 1867, Khyen- tse Wangpo and Chokgyur Lingpa formally enthroned Jamgön Kongtrul as a tertön under the name of Chime Tennyi Yungdrung Lingpa (’chi med bstan gnyis g.yung drung gling pa) and urged him to reveal the termas entrusted to him by Guru Padmasambhava, which he did in the following years. Jamgön Kongtrul had countless disciples, including Jamyang Loter Wangpo (’jam dbyangs blo gter dbang po, 1847–1914), Lama Mipham, Tok- den Shakya Shri (rtogs ldan shakya shri, 1853–1919), Jigme Tenpai Nyima (3rd Dodrupchen), Thubten Chökyi Dorje, the 5th Dzogchen (rdzogs chen thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872–1935), Pema Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen, 5th Shechen Rabjam (zhe chen rab ’byams padma theg mchog bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, 1864–1909), and the female master Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldrön (a g.yu mkha’ ’gro rdo rje dpal sgron, 1839–1953). Five reincarnations of Jamgön Kongtrul were identi ed.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892)
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (’jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po) was born in the Dilgo family in the Terlung (gter lung) Valley, west of Dzongsar (rdzong sar) Monastery, in the Derge province of Kham. He was given the name Khyentse Wangpo Kunga Tenpai Gyaltsen (mkhyen brtse’ dbang po kun dga’ bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan) by the Sakya master Tartse Khenchen Jampa Kunga Tendzin (thar rtse mkhan chen byams pa kun dga’ bstan ’dzin, 1776–1862), who recognized him as the incarnation of Tartse Khenchen Jampa Namkha Chime (thar rtse mkhan chen byams pa nam mkha’ ’chi med, 1765–1820). In the Sakya tradition, he received teachings from Sakya Trichen Pema Dundul Wangchok (sa skya khri chen padma bdud ‘dul dbang phyug, 1792– 1853), Zhalu Losel Tenkyong (zhwa lu blo gsal bstan skyong, b. 1804), and Ngor Khenchen Jampa Kunga Tendzin (ngor mkhan chen byams pa kun dga’ bstan ’dzin, 1776–1862).
In the Nyingma tradition, when he was eighteen he studied with Shechen Öntrul Thuthop Namgyal. He also studied at Dzogchen Monastery with Mingyur Namkhai Dorje and Khenpo Pema Dorje. But the one whom he considered to be his most precious master was Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, who came to Terlung, Khyentse Wangpo’s birthplace, when the latter was nineteen. It is said that it was like a reunion between father and son. Gyalwai Nyugu imparted many teachings to Khyentse Wangpo, including those of the Longchen Nyingthig, from the preliminaries up to the most profound Dzogchen teachings of trekchö and thögal.
According to the oral tradition told by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khyen- tse Wangpo achieved full understanding of the nature of samsara and nir- vana and of all subsequent practices when contemplating the “four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma,” which is the rst step of the so-called “pre- liminary” (but actually quite profound) practices (ngöndro). When receiving the Dzogchen teachings from Gyalwai Nyugu, he realized all things as being the manifestation of pure awareness.
Gyalwai Nyugu recognized Khyentse Wangpo as being the body- incarnation of Rigzin Jigme Lingpa and acknowledged him as being his spiritual or dharma heir. He had countless pure visions. When he was fteen, for instance, he had a vision of being transported to Bodhgaya and receiving teaching from Jampel Shenyen (Manjushrimitra), one of the eight Great Vidhyadharas of India, who eventually dissolved into him. When climbing down from the eighth oor of the stupa where he had received the teachings, he saw a burning re and was irrestibly drawn to jump into it, whereby all the de lement of his gross body were burnt out. He then turned into a body of light and thought, “I am Vimalamitra.” When he was sixteen, he traveled in a vision to the pure land of Zang- dokpalri, where Guru Padmasambhava prophesied that Khyentse Wangpo would be the holder of the seven modes of transmission (kabap dun / bka’ babs bdun).
When he was twenty-four, at Oyuk in Central Tibet, he clearly remem- bered having been Chetsun Senge Wangchok in a former life, and conse- quently revealed and put into writing the Dzogchen cycle of the Chetsun Nyingthig (lce btsun snying thig). In fact, Khyentse Wangpo is said to be the only master who received these seven transmissions: (1) teachings transmitted from master to dis- ciple through an unbroken oral lineage (Kahma), (2) earth treasures (sa gter), (3) mind treasures (dgongs gter), (4) re-extracted treasures (yang gter), (5) teachings recollected from a previous life (rje dran), (6) teachings received during “pure visions” (dag snang), and (7) teachings heard from Padmasambhava and other masters appearing in person to the tertön (snyan brgyud).
He traveled twice to Central Tibet. At Mindrolling Monastery, at the age of twenty-one, he received full monastic ordination and the name Kunga Tenpai Gyaltsen (kun dga’ bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan) from Khenchen Gyurme Rigdzin Zangpo (smin gling mkhan chen ’gyur med rig dzin bzang po, d.u.), and the bodhisattva vows from the 7th Minling Trichen, Sangye Kunga Do- ngak Tendzin Norbu (smin gling khri chen sangs rgyas kun dga’ mdo sngags bstan ’dzin nor bu). There he also studied with the great female master Jetsun Trinley Chödrön (rje btsun ‘phrin las chos sgron, early 19th c.). Over thirteen years, he traveled widely on foot, like a simple pilgrim, vis- iting hundreds of holy places, monasteries, temples, caves, and hermitages, collecting empowerments (wang/dbang), scriptural transmissions (lung), and explanations (tri/khrid) wherever he went. He thus received teachings from more than 150 masters.
Being an incarnation of King Trisong Detsen, he revealed many trea- sures and is considered to be the “seal of all tertöns.” His collected works ll thirteen volumes. His tertön names were Pema Ösel Do-ngak Lingpa (padma ’od gsal mdo sngags gling pa) and Ösel Trulpai Dorje (’od gsal sprul pa’i rdo rje). His other names, found in his writings, included Dorje Ziji (rdo rje gzi brjid) and Manjugosha. Together with Jamgön Kongtrul, Patrul Rinpoche, and Lama Mipham, he was the guiding light of the nonsectarian Rime movement. Khyentse Wangpo was very close to Jamgön Kongtrul and Terchen Chok- gyur Lingpa, with whom he exchanged teachings and shared several redis- covered treasures. At the age of twenty-four, he established his main residence at Dzong- sar Monastery, in Menshö Valley (sman shod). From age thirty-seven, he decided to devote himself to contemplative practice and vowed to never cross the threshold of his living quarters.
He had countless visions of deities and masters of the past, some of them blending with reality. Once, for instance, as he was in strict retreat, his atten- dant heard someone else talking in the innermost room. Wondering who could thus have penetrated unnoticed inside his master’s retreat, he peeped through the doorway curtain and saw Khyentse Wangpo in conversation with an old lama. After a while, when the attendant returned to take care of his master’s needs, he asked him, “Who was that person who came into your retreat?” Khyentse Wangpo replied, “You saw him? That means you have quite a pure karma. This was Vimalamitra.”
Khyentse Wangpo compiled and edited a fourteen-volume compendium of sadhanas known as Druptap Kuntu (sgrub thabs kun btus) and inspired Jamyang Loter to do the same with the thirty-two volumes of the Gyude Kuntu (rgyud sde kun btus), a collection of sadhanas and empowerments chie y practiced in the Sakya tradition. Following a visionary dream he had in 1961, Khyentse Wangpo inspired Jamgön Kongtrul to undertake redaction of the Five Great Treasuries (see the biographical note on Jamgön Kongtrul). Khyentse Wangpo had numberless disciples and was probably the most in uential teacher in Kham in his day. Before he passed away in 1892, he prophesied that he would reappear in ve incarnations (body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities). Among these, two became eminent: Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1894–1959), the activity incarnation, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–1991), the mind incarnation.
Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu (1765–1842)
Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu (’jigs med rgyal ba’i myu gu) was born in Kham in the Dzagyal Valley of Dzachukha province. As a child, he showed no interest in worldly activities but felt a strong urge to devote himself to spiritual practice. As he grew up, he was pressured by some of his family to marry and become a householder.
His mother, however, advised him to avoid such a life, as it would have created a powerful obstacle to his desire to devote himself to the dharma. She gave him a piece of silver and some provisions and so he could leave secretly. Gyalwai Nyugu thus went to meet the 3rd Dzogchen Rinpoche (nges don bstan ‘dzin bzang po, 1759–1792), before traveling on foot to Central Tibet, a journey that takes several months. At Samye Monastery in Central Tibet—the rst Buddhist monastery in Tibet, built at the time of Guru Padmasambhava—he met the 1st Dodrup- chen Rinpoche, Jigme Trinley Özer. Dodrupchen Rinpoche invited him to practice with him at the Chimphu hermitage above Samye. He advised him rst to go to Tsering Jong Monastery and meet Dodrupchen Rinpoche’s own teacher, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, to receive instruction. When Gyalwai Nyugu met Jigme Lingpa for the rst time, all ordinary appearances of this life vanished and he experienced an indescribable joy. At Tsering Jong, he received teachings and transmissions that included the empowerment for the Rigdzin Dupa practice (taken from Jigme Lingpa’s own mind treasures, the Longchen Nyingthig), the oral transmission of the Treasury of Precious Qualities, written by Jigme Lingpa, and some profound instructions on the Great Perfection.
Gyalwai Nyugu returned to Samye to practice near Dodrupchen Rin- poche. Later, while they were traveling to Lhasa, Dodrupchen fell seriously ill. He accepted his illness with great joy, an attitude that inspired Gyalwai Nyugu. While Dodrupchen was ill, Gyalwai Nyugu often would carry him on his back over long distances. Following this, Gyalwai Nyugu went into retreat for three years in the Tsang area of western Tibet. Later, he returned to Tsering Jong to receive additional teachings from Jigme Lingpa, including the dakini empowerment, Queen of Great Bliss He then went on pilgrimage to Tsari, a sacred place in southern Tibet. On his way to Tsari, after having given his shoes to a beggar, he walked a long way barefoot, even on snow. He circumambulated the Tsari Ravines (which takes several weeks), going through the lowland jungle near India as well as over the highlands and snow mountains.
In one point, risking his own life, he rescued some pilgrims who had gotten buried in the snow. During this pilgrimage, he continuously experienced all appearances as the display of the in nite purity of all phenomena. After nishing this long and dangerous circumambulation, he practiced in solitude in the higher grounds of Tsari, near its central Pure Crystal Mountain. He remained there, practicing, for nine months. When he ran out of food, he lived on boiled nettles and other wild plants. Once, when he was in retreat in Central Tibet, he went outside and looked in the direction of his beloved teacher Jigme Lingpa. A strong sense of devotion arose in him. He felt an unprecedented sense of renunciation for samsara and wept for a long time.
He contemplated the ultimate nature of mind and at one point lost con- sciousness. When he revived, all his preconceptions about the view and medi- tation had vanished. He reported his experience to Dodrupchen Rinpoche and Jigme Lingpa. The latter was very pleased that Gyalwai Nyugu had realized the ultimate nature of mind. After going back to Kham and spending more time in retreat, Gyalwai Nyugu traveled a second time to Central Tibet, where was able once again to see his master, Jigme Lingpa. After this nal meeting, he returned to his native Dzachukha. He spent twenty years in extremely austere conditions, in caves and wild places, mostly in the Trama Valley in Upper Dzachukha. He became known as the Hermit of Dzachukha (Dza Tsampa) and as Dza Trama Lama. (His reincarnation was known as Trama Tulku: Dza Trama Tulku Kunzang Dechen Dorje.)
Gradually, disciples gathered around him, living in tents on the windswept hillside. Ful lling the command of his master, in the later part of his life he tire- lessly taught all earnest students who requested teachings. During this time, he gave Patrul teachings on the preliminary practices (ngöndro) of Jigme Lingpa’s Longchen Nyingthig, no fewer than twenty- ve times. He also gave teachings on yoga (tsalung) and on the Great Perfection (Dzogchen). His ngöndro teach- ings were written down by Patrul Rinpoche as The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu become known as one of the four “fearless” sons of Jigme Lingpa, all of whom bore the name Jigme (fearless), the others being Jigme Trinley Özer, Barjung Jigme Gocha (’bar chung ’jigs med go cha, 1763–?), and the Bhutanese Jigme Kundröl (’jigs med kun grol).
After he passed away in 1842, his preserved body was enshrined as a pre- cious relic at Dzagyal Monastery. Patrul Rinpoche often said that any prayer made in the presence of this relic would be ful lled. The relic was destroyed during the Chinese invasion of Tibet, though a piece of Gyalwai Nyugu’s mummi ed heart was saved; it is now enshrined in a Guru Rinpoche statue in the main temple at Dzagyal. The author of Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu’s namtar (rnam thar, traditional spiritual biography), in 160 folios (’gro mgon bla ma rje’i gsang gsum rnam thar rgya mtsho las thun mong phyi’i mngon rtogs rgyal sras lam bzang), is unknown. A digital version was typed at Shechen Monastery in Nepal from a manuscript in dbu med (handwriting) that was o ered to Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche when he returned to Kham in 1985; it has been published by Shechen Publications.
According to the oral tradition passed on by Khenpo Pema Wangyal of Gemang Monastery and by the late Khenpo Bumther of Dzagyal, Patrul Rinpoche wrote the initial and concluding verses of his biography, while a scholarly monk from Dzagyal, who chose to remain anonymous, compiled the main section. According to Khenpo Yegyam of Barjung in Dzachukha, some autobiographical notes written by Gyalwai Nyugu himself have been incorporated into this biography by the anonymous scholar.
Jigme Lingpa (1729–1798)
Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa (rig ’dzin ’jigs med gling pa) was considered to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara as well as of Vimalamitra and King Trisong Detsen. At the age of six he entered the monastery of Palgi Riwo, the “Glo- rious Mountain,” and received the name Pema Khyentse Öser. At the age of thirteen he met his root guru, Rigdzin Thekchog Dorje. He also received instructions on the Kahma and Terma traditions from many other teachers. Without arduous study he was able, due to his inner realization, to assimilate and express the whole of the Buddhist doctrine. At the age of twenty-eight he did a three-year retreat in the hermitage near Palri Monastery and had many signs of accomplishment. He had visions of Guru Padmasambhava and his consort Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal in which the terma cycle known as the Longchen Nyingthig was revealed to him. He did another three-year retreat in the Metok Phuk (Flower Cave) at Chimphu above Samye. He had three visions of Gyalwa Longchen Rabjam, thus receiving the blessings of Longchenpa’s body, speech, and mind. In the second vision, Longchenpa handed over to Jigme Lingpa a book, saying, “Here is a text in which are explained all the profound meanings that I did not reveal in my Trilogy of Resting at Ease.” This blessing of Longchenpa’s speech, was permission for Jigme Lingpa to compose the Treasury of Precious Qualities (Yönten Rinpoche Dzö / yon tan rin po che’i mdzod, also known as Yönten Dzö). In thirteen chapters written in verse, Jigme Lingpa gave a masterful description of the nine vehicles of the Buddhist path, beginning from the foundation of the sutras and culminating in the Great Perfection, or Dzogpa Chenpo (rdzogs pa chen po), Dzogchen for short.
Because of the terseness and depth of this poetic text, several exegeses of it were soon composed. Jigme Lingpa himself wrote a two-volume auto- commentary known as the Two Chariots (shing rta rnam gnyis): one volume, dedicated to the sutra section, and one to the tantra section. Patrul Rinpoche wrote a guide for teaching the Yönten Dzö; a short, a medium, and a detailed outline; and a clari cation of the di cult points. In continuation of Patrul Rinpoche’s works, Khenpo Yönten Gyatso of Gemang (see biographical note below) wrote a two-volume commentary famed for its clarity and thor- oughness, which has become widely used. Among the several other exist- ing commentaries, the one written by Kangyur Rinpoche Longchen Yeshe Dorje (bka’ gyur rin po che klong chen ye shes rdo rje, 1897–1975) has been translated into English by the Padmakara Translation Group, under the title Treasury of Precious Qualities (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2001). At Tsering Jong in Southern Tibet, Jigme Lingpa established the hermit- age of Pema Ösel Thekchog Chöling, where countless disciples were to come from all over Tibet and the neighboring countries. Jigme Lingpa’s immediate incarnations were Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892), body-incarnation; Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887), speech- incarnation; and Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800–1866), mind-incarnation.
Jigme Ngotsar Gyatso (18th–19th c.)
Jigme Ngotsar Gyatso (’jigs med ngo mtshar rgya mtsho), also known as Getse Lama Sönam Tendzin (dge rtse bla ma bsod nam bstan ’dzin), was one the earliest important disciples of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa. His master instructed him to build a monastery in Kham, which became known as Kilung Monastery, located in Dzachukha. Jigme Lingpa named the mon- astery Ömin Rigdzin Pelgye Ling. Jigme Ngotsar succeeded Jigme Lingpa as a teacher to the King and Queen of Derge. He had many disciples, including Patrul Rinpoche. Some of his relics were incorporated in the Mani Wall built by Mura Tulku in Dzachukha.
Jigme Phuntsok Jungne, 2nd Dodrupchen (1824–1863)
Before passing away, the 1st Dodrupchen, Jigme Trinley Özer, gave a clear prediction about his next rebirth. Accordingly, the young incarnation Jigme Phuntsok Jungne (rdo grub chen ’jigs med phun tshogs ’byung gnas) was recognized by Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje and con rmed by Sakya Trinzin, the head of the Sakya lineage.236 Phuntsok Jungne was an exceptionally gifted child of beautiful physi- cal appearances and was renowned for his miraculous powers, which he displayed on many occasions, knowing people’s minds and bringing dead animals back to life.
He received the main transmissions for the Longchen Nyingthig tradition from Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu and from Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, whom he often accompanied during his short life. He was also a student of Patrul Rinpoche. He stayed for a while at Yarlung Pemakö, the seat of his prede- cessor in Serta. As the area was about to be invaded by the bloody chieftain from Nyakrong, Gonpo Namgyal, at the request of his followers, Phuntsok Jungne left for Dokhok, where he established Dodrupchen Monastery, now a large monastic estate. He then went to Dartsedo, where Do Khyentse often resided. There an epidemic of smallpox broke out. It is said that, by the strength of his bound- less compassion, Phuntsok Jungne took the epidemic upon himself. Soon after he passed away, the epidemic subsided.
The oral tradition says that before dying he stated that “a real yogi should die like a stray dog.” Accordingly he laid down in a street and died right there. Soon after, Do Khyentse arrived on the scene and kicked the body, shouting, “Why are you dying like a dog?” Dodrupchen then sat in meditation posture and remained in post-mortem meditation (thukdam) for a whole week. When Do Khyentse’s young son, Rigpai Raltri, saw this, he felt a great shock as well as boundless devotion that made him realize the ultimate nature of mind. He later said that even though he had not met Phuntsok Jungne while he was alive, the considered him to be his root teacher.
Jigme Tenpai Nyima, 3rd Dodrupchen (1865–1926)
Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpai Nyima (rdo grub chen ’jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma)—referred to for short as Dodrup Tenpai Nyima—was the son of the great tertön Dudjom Lingpa (sgas gter chen bdud ‘joms gling pa, 1835–1903). He was recognized by Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje and enthroned at the age of ve at Yarlung Pemakö, the seat of his predecessors. He began his studies at a very early age at Dzogchen Monastery with Khenpo Pema Dorje but soon became desperate about his inability to under- stand the meaning of philosophical texts. Such desperation in itself seems quite remarkable for a seven-year-old child! Then, one night, he had a dream of three lamas. The lama sitting in the middle was holding a book. “Who are you? What is this book?” asked young Tenpai Nyima.
The lama answered, “I am Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje. This volume is for helping people who cannot learn their lessons.” Tenpai Nyima asked Do Khyentse to give him the book and felt extremely happy when the master did so. After this dream, he had no di culty in understanding the most profound texts, which amazed everyon, including Patrul Rinpoche, when, at his request, Tenpai Nyima, then eight years old, taught The Way of the Bodhisattva to large crowd in Dzachukha. Even though he spoke of it only occasionally, throughout his life he had countless visions of previous masters and wisdom deities.
Tenpai Nyima studied with the greatest masters of his time, in addition to Patrul Rinpoche: Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrul, Trama Tulku, Shechen Öntrul Thuthop Namgyal, and Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa. He spent extended periods of times near Lama Mipham at Dzongsar Monastery. From the age of twenty-one, he began composing many profound trea- tises, which ll the ve (or seven, depending on the edition) volumes of his collected works. From Dzogchen Monastery, Tenpai Nyima went to Dodrupchen Monas- tery, which had become his main seat, where he had the main temple rebuilt and a large stupa erected. There the taught continually for many years. In particular, he taught The Way of the Bodhisattva one hundred times, as he had promised Patrul Rinpoche, and the Guhyagarbha Tantra forty times. Su ering from poor health, he spent the latter part of his life in retreat at Gephel Ritrö, a secluded place in what he would call the “Forest of Many Birds,” two miles above Dodrupchen Monastery. There he practiced, stud- ied, and composed treatises praised by eminent scholars, meeting only a few people from time to time. His brother, noticing his relentless e orts, once asked him when he was ever going to stop. He replied, “When I have reached perfect enlightenment.”
Many great masters came to see him and receive teachings, while he was in retreat, including Tertön Sögyal, who was a frequent visitor. In 1920, Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö came to receive teaching for several months. One day, as Chökyi Lodrö was alone with his teacher, receiving the empowerment of the Rigdzin Dupa (“Gathering of Vidhyadharas,” from the Longchen Nyingthig tradition), light rays began to shine forth from the main vase placed at the center of the mandala, and the room became lled with red light to such an extent that Chökyi Lodrö could hardly see Tenpai Nyima anymore. When the light subsided, Chökyi Lodrö realized that there was now a beautiful woman bedecked with ornaments, acting as a ritual attendant to Dodrupchen during the empowerment. Later, Tenpai Nyima told Chökyi Lodrö that the lady was none other than the protrectress of the Longchen Nyingthing teachings, Dorje Yudrönma. When receiving the Guru Yoga practice of the Tigle Gyachen,237 Chökyi Lodrö saw Tenpai Nyima as Longchen Rabjam himself.
His contemporaries have described him as being almost childlike, very easygoing, without any pride. But the depth of his realization was such that even the most haughty person felt humbled in his presence. When he died, extraordinary signs appeared, including earth tremors and rainbows.
Jigme Trinley Özer, 1st Dodrupchen (1745–1821)
Born in the Do Valley of Golok, Jigme Trinley Özer (’jigs med phrin las ’od zer) was the foremost disciple of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa and thus was the main holder of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage. He had been recognized by Jigme Lingpa as the mind-incarnation of Murum Tsenpo (one of King Trisong Detsen’s sons) and given the name Jigme Trinley Özer. He took his refuge vow with the 2nd Shechen Rabjam, Gyurme Kunzang Namgyal (zhe chen rab ’jams ‘gyur med kun bzang rnam rgyal, 1713–1769), who gave him the name Kunzang Shenphen (kun bzang gzhan phan).
He traveled four times to Central Tibet, meeting various eminent masters during his peregrinations. During his rst journey, beginning at age twenty- one, he received teachings from Situ Chökyi Jungne (si tu chos kyi ’byung gnas) and the 5th embodiment of Gampopa, Jampel Trinley Wangpo (sgam po pa ’jam dpal ’phrin las dbang po). After returning to Kham, he studied with Shechen Rabjam (founder of Shechen Monastery) and the 2nd Dzogchen Pönlop, Pema Sang-ngak Tendzin (rdzogs chen dpon slob padma gsang sngags bstan ’dzin, 1731–1805).
During his second pilgrimage to Central Tibet, he met the 13th Karmapa, Dundul Dorje (karma pa bdud ’dul rdo rje). Back at Kham, Trinley Özer spent four years in retreat in Tsering Phuk (Long-Life Cave), in the forest above Dzogchen Monastery. There, living in a very austere way, he prac- ticed the Könchog Chidu (dkon mchog phyi ’dus) cycle of Rigdzin Jatshön Nyingpo. The cave earned its name from the fact that the protectress of long life, Tseringma (tshe ring ma), used to appear to Trinley Özer and bring him curd to sustain him. In that cave, Trinley Özer had many visions. He subse- quently moved down to the Yamantaka Cave, where he practiced Chögyal Ratna Lingpa’s Vajrakilaya rediscovered treasure238 and Chakrasamvara according to the Dagpo tradition. This cave earned its name due to a vision Trinley Özer had of the wrathful deity Yamantaka, and his drawing of the Yamantaka mantra in the stone wall of the cave.
Trinley Özer felt boundless devotion toward Jigme Lingpa and decided to go to meet him. Thus, during his third journey to Central Tibet, he met his root master. Jigme Lingpa immediately identi ed the new disciple as the principal heir for his Longchen Nyingthig mind treasures. He also gave him the transmis- sion of his various writings and numerous other transmissions, such as that of the Lama Gongdu cycle of Sangye Lingpa.
Trinley Özer fell seriously ill in Central Tibet and was attended by Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, who even carried him on his back for many days. After recovering, he returned to Kham and began to spread the Longchen Nyingthig teachings. He also started to build a small monastery at Shukchen Tago, also known as Drodön Lhundrup Ling, a few miles away from what would later become the main Dodrupchen Monastery. On his fourth and last journey to Central Tibet, Jigme Trinley Özer trav- eled with another of Jigme Lingpa’s close students, Kilung Jigme Ngotsar (who would become one of Patrul’s teachers), and received many more teach- ings from their root master. Another of his students was an Amdo king of Mongolian descent, Chin- wang Ngawang Dargye (ching wang ngag dbang dar rgyas), who was the root teacher of the great yogi Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrö1. Jigme Trinley Özer established three main centers. The rst was Shukchen Tago Drodön Lhundrup at his birthplace in the Dokhok Valley. In 1810 he established a second monastery-cum-retreat-center, Yarlung Pemakö Tsa- sum Khandro Ling at Drakchen Yarlung in Serta. It is in this third place that he lived during the later part of his life, and this was also to become the seat of the 3rd Dodrupchen, Tenpai Nyima. The third center was Arik Ragya Monastery on the banks of the Yellow River. Jigme Trinley Özer was himself a tertön. Among his revelations is the mind treasure known as The Supreme Path of Great Bliss (dam chos bde chen lam mchog). He also wrote a concise commentary on Jigme Lingpa’s Treasury of Precious Qualities.
The 1st Dodrupchen passed away amid many wondrous signs. Do Khyen- tse Yeshe Dorje identi ed the reincarnation of Jigme Trinley Özer as Jigme Phuntsok Jungne.
Karmai Khenpo Rinchen Dargye (ca. 1823–?)
Karmai Khenpo Rinchen Dargye (kar ma’i mkhan po rin chen dar rgyas) was recognized as the reincarnation of the great abbot Shantarakshita, who, together with Guru Padmasambhava and King Trisong Detsen, established Buddhism in Tibet. He was a disciple of the tertön Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and was the abbot of Karma Gön Monastery in Kham.An exemplary holder of the Vinaya lineage, he was also an in uential teacher and writer, with many commentaries on the New Treasures and collected works lling four volumes.
Kathok Situ (2nd), Chökyi Lodrö Orgyen Tenpa Namgyal (1820–1879?)
The 2nd Kathok Situ, Chökyi Lodrö Orgyen Tenpa Namgyal (ka thog si tu chos kyi blo gros bstan pa rnam rgyal), was the reincarnation of the 1st Kathok Situ, Orgyen Samdrup Jigme Chökyi Senge (o rgyan bsam grub jigs med chos kyi seng ge, mid-18th c.–early 19th c., who had received teachings from Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa. He studied with Moktsa Tulku Chöying Dorje, Shechen Öntrul, Patrul Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and many other masters. He was followed by the 3rd Kathok Situ, Chökyi Gyatso (si tu chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880–1925). After holding the throne of Kathok for a while, following Patrul Rin- poche’s example he became a wandering hermit and did extensive retreats around of the snow mountain range of Shar Shingo in Tromgo and, futher away, on the Kawa Karpo Mountain in Yunnan.
A story is told that one day a pilgrim came to Kathok Situ’s cave along with the young niece of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. After receiving the lama’s blessing, the girl o ered him some tsampa. Kathok Situ, now a hermit, said, “Well, I have nothing to put it in. Just put it here in a heap on this at stone.” “Please accept the tsampa and the bag that contains it,” she said.
In front of Situ there happened to be a special o ering someone had just made to him. It was a rare kind of onyx marked with lines and eyes, called a zi (gzi)—a stone highly treasured in Tibet. Situ handed the young girl the zi stone, telling her she should wear it around her neck for protection and blessings. At rst, she refused to accept such a valuable gift, but Situ was adamant. “You must keep it,” he insisted. “It has great meaning.” After the young girl nished her pilgrimage, she went home. Not long after that, she heard that Kathok Situ had passed away. Later, that young woman’s son was identi ed as the rebirth of Kathok Situ.
Khenchen Tashi Özer (1836–1910)
Khenchen Tashi Özer (mkhan chen bkra shis ‘od zer) displayed natural com- passion from an early age. He received his lay vows at Palpung Monastery from Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and, later, novice (shramanera) monas- tic vows from Khenchen Dawa Zangpo. He studied for a long time with Jamgön Kongtrul, receiving teachings on all the major and minor Tibetan traditions. At age twenty-four, he did a three-year retreat at Palpung under the guidance of Karma Ngedön Nyingpo, a great retreat master and scholar who was a close disciple of Jamgön Kongtrul.
After completing his retreat, he went to Patrul Rinpoche and received extensive instructions on The Way of the Bodhisattva. In particular, he received the explanations on the wisdom chapter seven times. At age twenty-seven he received full monastic vows (gelong) from Khenchen Dawa Zangpo. He then studied further with the 14th Karmapa, Thekchog Dorje (1798–1868), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. After Khenchen Dawa Zangpo passed away, Khenchen Tashi Özer became the main Khenpo of Palpung Monastery. He was an exemplary holder of the monastic tradition and ordained thousands of monks and nuns. Khenchen Tashi Özer became the tutor of 11th Tai Situ, Pema Wangchok Gyalpo (1886–1952), and a teacher to many masters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Kham. In his old age, Khenchen Tashi Özer retired to the Palpung retreat center, Tsadra Rinchen Drak, where Jamgön Kongtrul had spend a great part of his life.
Khenpo Kunzang Palden (Khenpo Kunpel, ca. 1862–1943)
Khenpo Kunzang Palden (mkhan po kun bzang dpal ldan), also known as Khenpo Kunpel, was family at Gegong in Upper Getse, in the Dzachukha Valley, a few kilometers away from Patrul Rinpoche’s birthplace. He was distantly related to Patrul Rinpoche239 and became one of his closest disciples from an early age. He was also a devoted student to Lama Mipham. Though Kunzang Palden was not from a poor family—his parents owned many sheep and yaks—his father was rather stingy and did not pro- vide him with much sustenance once he became a monk. Kunzang Palden thus underwent great hardship in pursuit of his studies, often studying by moonlight or by the light of an incence stick due to his inability to a ord oil for his lamp. In admiration, some of his fellow students would tease him, saying, “Normal people tend sheep under the sunlight. Kunzang Palden tends books under the moonlight.”
He received his monastic vows from Önpo Tendzin Norbu (Gyalse Shen- phen Thaye’s nephew Önpo Tenga). He also studied at Shri Singha Philo- sophical College at Dzogchen Monastery, and with many great masters, including the 5th Dzogchen Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Dorje (rdzogs chen thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872–1935); Khenpo Pema Dorje, the 8th Abbot of Shri Singha (rdzogs chen mkhan chen padma badzra, 1807–1884); Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (’jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, 1820– 1892); the 3rd Dodrupchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (’jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1865–1926); Mura Tulku Pema Dechen Zangpo (mu ra padma bde chen bzang po, d. u.); and Khenpo Shenga (Khenpo Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa, mkhan po gzhan phan chos kyi snang ba, 1871–1927). Above all, Khenpo Kunpel accompanied Patrul Rinpoche for many years and received from him teachings and instructions on many texts, such as the Guhyagarbha Tantra. Having received many times detailed explanations upon The Way of the Bodhisattva from Patrul Rinpoche, Lama Mipham, and Önpo Tendzin Norbu, at the request of the 3rd Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyatso he composed an extensive commentary on Shantideva’s text (jam dbyangs bla ma’i zhal lung bdud rtsi’i thig pa). This work has been translated into Western languages and was published in English as The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2010). A manuscript of notes he took while receiving teaching from Patrul Rinpoche has also survived and is now kept at Shechen Monastery in Nepal in Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s library. He was as determined to teach as he had been at rst to study, and would say, “I promised Abu [Patrul Rinpoche] that I would teach continuously and that I would teach even to a pillar if no one happened to be around.”
Khenpo Kunpel also wrote short biographies of Patrul Rinpoche (Elixir of Faith; see Sources section) and Lama Mipham, as well as a commentary on Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty (nges shes rin po che’i sgron me rtsa ’grel) and Account of the Origin of the Vinaya Rules (so thar ’dul ba’i gleng gzhi). In 1906, at the 3rd Kathok Situ’s request and following the advice of Lama Mipham, he became the head of the newly founded philosophical college of Kathok Monastery, where he was assisted by Khenpo Ngawang Palzang (mkhan po ngag dbang dpal bzang, 1879–1941), also known as Khenpo Nga- kchung. After spending three years in Kathok, he returned to Dzachukha, where taught until his death. Among his main students were the 3rd Kathok Situ, Chökyi Gyatso; the 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap, Pema Namgyal (zhe chen rgyal tshab padma rnam rgyal, 1871–1926); Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (mkhyen brtse chos kyi blo gros, 1893–1959); Pöpa Tulku Do-ngak Tenpai Nyima (bod pa sprul sku mdo sngags bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1900/7–1959); and Kunu Rinpoche Tendzin Gyaltsen (khu nu rin po che bstan ’dzin rgyal mtshan, ca. 1894–1977).
Khenpo Pema Dorje (ca. 1807–1884)
Khenpo Pema Dorje (mkhan po padma rdo rje), also known as Khenpo Pedor and Khenpo Padma Vajra, was born in the Rudam area of Dzogchen. He became a student of Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, Gyalse Shenphen Thaye, Patrul Rinpoche, and Sengtruk Pema Tashi (seng phrug padma bkra shis, d.u.). He was considered to be an incarnation of the great holder of the Kahma tradition Zurchen Chöying Rangdröl (zur chen chos dbyings rang grol, 1604–1669). Khenpo Pema Dorje became abbot of the Shri Singha Philosophical College. Among his students were Önpo Tendzin Norbu, Lama Mipham, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Adzom Drukpa, Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (3rd Dodrupchen), and Gyurme Pema Namgyal, the 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap (zhe chen rgyal tshab gyur med padma rnam rgyal, 1871–1926), who was Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s root teacher.
Khenpo Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa (Khenpo Shenga, 1871–1927)
Khenpo Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa (mkhan po gzhan phan chos kyi snang ba), widely known as Khenpo Shenga (mkhan po gzhan dga’), was born to the Gya Dema (rgya sde ma) family in Kham near Yongsar, a nomadic area between Dzachu and Jekund,. He was related to Ayang Thubten (a yang thub bstan), a tulku connected with Drubju Gön (sgrub brgyud mgon), a monastery of the Drigung Kagyu (’bri gung bka’ brgyud) school. The oral tradition recounts that Shenga was a hunter in his youth. He once wounded a pregnant doe, and as he was approaching her to give the nal blow, his glance met the doe’s eyes, lled with the fear of death. Suddenly great compassion and regret welled up in his mind. Realizing his wrongdo- ings, he renounced hunting and decided to practice the dharma. He went to the Dzogchen Monastery to study under Önpo Tendzin Norbu, himself a disciple of Patrul Rinpoche, whom Khenpo Shenga also met at a young age.
Blessed by a vision of the goddess Sarasvati, Shenga soon became one of the most learned teachers of his time. His collection of commentaries and subcommentaries, known as the Thirteen Great Treatises, relies entirely upon Indian commentaries and are renowned for their clarity. An exception among Nyingma masters, Khenpo Shenga was an exclusive defender of the view of “intrinsic emptiness” (rang stong), which can also be translated as “emptiness of self-nature” or “emptiness of its own essence.” It is contrasted with the view of “extrinsic-emptiness” (gzan stong), which contends that ultimate reality is empty of all obscurations—empty of anything that is rel- ative, conditioned, and conceptually fabricated—but that it is is endowed with the qualities of the buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) Teaching for many years at Dzogchen Shri Singha Philosophical College, Khenpo Shenga had disciples belonging to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. They included, among the Sakyapas, Dzongsar Ontö Khyenrab (rdzong gsar dbon stod mkhyen rab); among the Kagyupas, Pema Wangchok Gyalpo (11th Tai Situ, si tu padma dbang mchog rgyal po, 1886–1952); and among the Nyingmapas, Khenpo Lhagyal (mkhan po lha rgyal), Pema Thekchog Loden (padma theg mchog blo ldan), Thubten Nyendrak (thub bstan snyan grags) of Dzogchen Monastery, and Serkha Thubten Chödrak (gser kha thub bstan chos grags), who was said to have become even more learned than his teacher.
Khenpo Yönten Gyatso (Khenpo Yonga, 19th–20th c.)
Khenpo Yönten Gyatso (mkhan po yon tan rgya mtsho) of Gemang Mon- astery, also known as Khenpo Yonga, was a student of Patrul Rinpoche and Önpo Orgyen Tendzin Norbu of Gemang. He studied at Dzogchen and Shechen monasteries. Among his own students were Khenpo Thubga (Bathur Khenpo Thubten Chöphel, ba thur mkhan po thub sten chos dpal, 1886–1956), who was himself a teacher to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khenpo Pema Wangyal, Khenpo Wangdi, Khenpo Wanglo (all three from Gemang), Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, and many other eminent contemporary scholars. Khenpo Wanglo of Gemang (whose full name is Trinley Wangyal) was said to be his reincarnation. Khenpo Yonga wrote commentaries on the Three Vows of Ngari Panchen, and on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, and, in particular, a very clear and detailed two-volume commentary on Jigme Lingpa’s Treasury of Precious Qualities.
Lama Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912)
Lama Mipham (Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso, mi pham ’jam dbyangs rnam rgyal rgya mtsho)—also known as Jamgön Ju Mipham and Jampel Gyepai Dorje (’jam dpal gyes pa’i rdo rje)—was born in Dzachukha province of East Tibet on the banks of the Mekong River (Tib. Dzachu). He was gifted with exceptional intelligence, and it is said that at around the age of seven he memorized the root text of Ngari Penchen Pema Wangyal’s commentary Ascertaining the Three Vows (sdom gsum rnam nges) simply by hearing a lama explain it in detail.
From the age of ten, Mipham began to compose texts on a variety of topics, including some of the most complex points of Buddhist philosophy. This earned him the nickname Little Scholar. At the age of twelve, he joined Juniong Monastery in Dzachukha, a branch of Shechen Monastery. At fteen, he met his rst important spiritual master, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje, who predicted that he would become a highly accomplished practitioner.
Mipham then spent a year and half in retreat in a hermitage above Juniong Monastery, where he had a vision of Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom. Today, in Juniong, one can still see an image of Manjushri as well as Man- jushri’s mantra carved on two large at stones by Mipham himself.
From the 5th Shechen Rabjam, Gyurme Kunzang Tenpai Nyima (’gyur med kun bzang bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1864–1909), at Shechen Monastery, Lama Mipham received the transmission for the practice of Amitayus, the Buddha of Boundless Life, according the rediscovered treasure Tsedrup Sangdu (tshe sgrub gsang ’dus) of the tertön Ratna Lingpa. Later, he did six-month retreat on each of the four main sadhana practices found in this terma. On this occasion, nectar spontaneously over owed from the main vase containing the life substances at the center of the mandala, and many signs of accom- plishment occurred. At the retreat center above Shechen Monastery, while circumambulating the mani wall erected by the great siddha Sherab Yarphel (shes rab yar ’phel, d.u.), Lama Mipham recited one hundred thousand times an essential form of Chanting the Names of Manjushri in seven verse lines, revealed as a terma by Guru Chökyi Wangchuk (guru chos kyi dbang phyug, 1212–1273).
At eighteen, he made a pilgrimage to Central Tibet, where he had deep spiritual experiences. Upon returning to Kham, he received teaching from Patrul Rinpoche on The Way of the Bodhisattva for ve days and fully mas- tered the deeper meaning of the text.
He then spent years in the presence of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, whom he considered to be his root master, and received countless empowerments and teachings from him. He also studied with Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, Khenpo Pema Dorje, Jamyang Loter Wangpo (who later also became Mipham’s student), and others teachers from all schools. Lama Mipham’s connection with Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo extended to many past lives. When Khyentse Wangpo was Jigme Lingpa, Lama Mip- ham was his disciple Chöje Drakphugpa, a great scholar from Tsang Lathö who requested Jigme Lingpa to compose an extensive commentary on his Treasury of Precious Qualities. He stayed for three years in retreat under Jigme Lingpa’s guidance at Tsering Jong.
At the entreaties of Khyentse Wangpo, Mipham began composing large commentaries on some of the major Buddhist philosophical treatises empha- sizing the view of the Nyingma school. Khyentse Wangpo once said, “In our time, there is no one on this earth more learned than Lama Mipham.” The current edition of Mipham Rinpoche’s collected works lls twenty-seven large volumes.240 In Palpung, Lama Mipham met Khenchen Tashi Özer, one of the most learned scholars of his time and they became close spiritual friends. Lama Mipham was also a greatly accomplished practitioner. He had many visions of wisdom deities, displayed miraculous powers on many occasions and had an ultimate realization of the Great Perfection. Once, while traveling through Kham, he happened to walk along a learned Geshe. At some point the Geshe told Mipham teasingly, “You Nyingma tan- tric practitioners boast about the power of mantra recitation. You even claim that by reciting a certain mantra, you can make an eagle come to you. Ha ha!”
Mipham said nothing, but a few moments later, he blew some mantras on his thumb and raised it in the air. Within no time, an eagle swooped down and picked up the Geshe’s hat in his claws. One another occasion, Mipham remained thirteen years in retreat at Karmo Taktsang—the White Den of the Tigress, a place sacred to Dorje Drolö, one of Padmasambhava’s Eight Manifestations—in a valley near Dzongsar Monastery. There, he accomplished the practices of Vajrakilaya, Hayagriva, and, in particular, Yamantaka, a wrathful aspect of Manjushri, according to the rediscovered terma of the twelfth-century master Gya Zhangtrom.241
One day, as Lama Mipham was performing a ceremony to remove obsta- cles, focused on the Black Hayagriva, someone told him, “It is said that the practice of Hayagriva is particularly powerful. The text of the practice itself describes the many signs of accomplishment that come from it. ” Mipham Rinpoche said nothing. At the end of the ceremonies, when the tormas were thrown at a rocky hillside across Karmo Taktsang, Lama Mipham gazed intensely at the hill and made a symbolic gesture (mudra) while reciting loudly the deity’s mantra. The next morning the whole hill had collapsed. While composing philosophical treatises, Mipham always kept in front of him a small statue of Manjushri. On other occasions, when the subject was particularly di cult, light rays would beam from the heart of the statue to Mipham’s heart. After this, any hesitation he had would be clari ed.
At Gothi hermitage above Sakar,242 as well as in Chamdo Dzong, Lama Mipham also practiced extensively the tantra of the Kalachakra. Once, during a cold winter, while being in Gothi hermitage, Lama Mipham returned from a short walk with a beautiful, fresh blue ower in his hand. There are indeed no owers in this area in the dead of the winter. The few people who were living at the hermitage where puzzled and asked Lama Mipham how could he have found a ower at this time of the year. After pausing for a while, Mipham answered, “It was given to me by Rigden, the King of Shambhala.” Lama Mipham was an accomplished practitioner of the Kalachakra, and he told the people that he had experienced some kind of vision in which he visited the hidden land of Shambhala. But obviously, this was more than a mere vision.243 A few years later, Mipham Rinpoche passed away at Gothi hermitage, sitting in a meditative posture, gazing into space. Among Lama Mipham’s many disciples, some of the most eminent were the 3rd Shechen Gyaltsap, Gyurme Pema Namgyal (Dilgo Khyentse Rin- poche’s root teacher), to whom Mipham Rinpoche left all this books; his heart-disciple and close attendant, Lama Ösel (dbang phyug ’od gsal ’ja lus rdo rje); Khenpo Kunzang Palden; Önpo Tendzin Norbu; Jigme Tenpai Nyima (3rd Dodrupchen); Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa (gter ston bsod rgyal las rab gling pa, 1856–1926); Thubten Chökyi Dorje (5th Dzogchen Rinpoche, thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872–1935); Pema Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen (5th Shechen Rabjam); Chökyi Gyatso (3rd Kathok Situ, ka thog si tu chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880–1925); Adzom Drukpa; Tokden Shakya Shri; Jamyang Loter Wangpo; and Geshe Bari Lobsang Rabsel (dpa’ ris blo bzang rab gsal, 1840–?), who rst debated with Mipham Rinpoche on his inter- pretation of the ninth (wisdom) chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara, and then displayed deep admiration for his wisdom.
Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa, 1308–1364)
The “omniscient” (kunkhyen) Longchen Rabjam, known as Longchenpa, is considered to have been the main exponent of the Nyingma tradition in all of history, since Guru Padmasambhava. He was born in Central Tibet as the son of the tantric yogi Tenpa Sung. At the time of his conception, his mother dreamed of a sun placed on the head of a lion illuminating the entire world. At his birth, the dharma protectress Remati appeared in the form of a black woman. Holding the baby in her arms, she said, “I will protect him,” handed him back to his mother, and disappeared. He was named Dorje Gyaltsen. Longchen Rabjam is said to be the incarnation of Lhacham Pemasel, a daughter of King Trisong Detsen to whom Guru Padmasambhava had entrusted the teachings of the Khandro Nyingthig, the Heart Essence of the Dakinis. His mother died when he was nine years old, and his father died when he was twelve. Dorje Gyaltsen went to Samye Monastery, where he received the novice vows from Khenpo Samdrup Rinchen, and was named Tsultrim Lodrö. At sixteen, he had a vision of the goddess of learning, Sarasvati, who prophesied that he would e ortlessly master all the teachings of the Buddha. At nineteen, he entered the philosophical college of Sangpu Neutok where he became learned in Buddhist philosophy, logic, grammar, and poetry, as well as in Sanskrit. He received countless empowerments and instructions upon the outer and inner tantras from various eminent masters, including Shönnu Gyalpo, Shönnu Dorje, Lama Dampa Sönam Gyaltsen (the throne holder of Sakya, bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan, 1312–1375), and the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (karma pa rang byung rdo rje, 1284–1339).
After some years, having become disgusted with the rude behavior of some scholars from Kham, Longchenpa decided to leave for solitary places, to the great dismay of some of his fellow students and teachers. He then spent ve months in “dark retreat” (done in complete darkness) in a cave above Cha Valley in Uru. At the end of his retreat, he had the vision of a dakini who prophesied that he would soon meet his root master, Rigdzin Kumaradza (rig ’dzin kumaraja, also known as ye shes gzhon nu, 1266–1343). At twenty-seven years of age, at the very moment Longchenpa met Rig- dzin Kumaradza in the highlands of Yartökyam above Samye, he felt bound- less devotion and gained inner certainty that he had nally met his root guru. He perceived Kumaradza as being the great pandita Vimalamitra in person.
Kumaradza was a disciple of the mahasiddha Melong Dorje and the lineage holder of the Vima Nyingthig teachings, the Heart Essence of Vimalamitra. The night before Longchenpa arrived, Kumaradza dreamed that a divine bird came with a large ock that carried away Kumaradza’s books in all directions. Kumaradza felt that this dream was announcing someone who was destined to hold his lineage. Later, in a dream, Vimalamitra told him that Longchenpa would become the main holder of his teachings.
Together with the Karmapa, Longchenpa accompanied Kumaradza and his other disciples for two years, receiving all the pith instructions of the Great Perfection. They lived in harsh and ascetic ways, as Kumaradza kept on moving from place to place to avoid becoming attached to any particular location. Longchenpa had very little food and used a ragged bag as both mattress and blanket to protect himself from the cold winter. Eventually, Kumaradza having bestowed all the Nyingthig teachings upon Longchen Rabjam, he proclaimed him his spiritual successor. For the six following years, Longchenpa remained in retreat in various caves around Chimphu, above Samye Monastery. He had many visions and meditative experiences, and went back regularly to Kumaradza to seek his guidance. On ve occasions, even though he owned very few possessions, Longchenpa o ered all of them to his master as a sign of utter renunciation and devotion. At thirty-one, while still in retreat, Longchenpa began bestowing empow- erment and instructions on the Vima Nyingthig to his own disciples. Soon after, his close disciple Özer Gocha found a copy of the Khandro Nyingthig, the Dzogchen cycle transmitted by Guru Rinpoche to Yeshe Tsogyal in Drigung Titro cave. The Khandro Nyingthig had been revealed as terma by Longchenpa’s previous incarnation, Pema Ledrel Tsel (padma las ’brel rtsal, 1291–1315). Longchenpa was also presented the same text by the dharma protectress Shenpo Sodrupma. To stress the importance of receiving teachings through an unbroken transmission, Longchenpa also went to receive the transmission of the Khandro Nyingthig from Gyalse Lekpai Gyaltsen, a disciple of Pema Ledrel Tsel. Then, at thirty-three, as he gave the transmission of the Khandro Nyingthig, some of the disciples saw Longchen Rabjam appearing in a sam- bhogakaya form, amid a rain of owers, while beams and circles of lights were seen all over the mountain. Longchenpa himself had a vision of Guru Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal giving him empowerments and entrusting him once more with the lineage of the Khandro Nyingthig. Guru Rinpoche gave Longchenpa the initiation name Orgyen Drime Özer (o rgyan dri med ‘od zer), and Yeshe Tsogyal gave him the name Dorje Ziji (rdo rje gzi brjid). Then, following the entreaty of the dharma protectress Yudrönma, Long- chenpa went to stay in a cave at Kangri Thökar, high above the Kyichu River, south of Lhasa. There he achieved the ultimate realization of the Great Per- fection and composed many of his most important treatises, including some of his famed Seven Treasuries.
He also had visions of the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra and of Vimalamitra. The latter urged him to extract the quintessence of the Vima Nyingthig teachings. Accordingly, Longchenpa wrote the Lama Yangthig. Vimalamitra also asked Longchenpa to restore the Uru Shayi Lhakhang temple that was built by Nyang Tingdzin Zangpo, one of the main disciples of both Guru Rinpoche and Vimalamitra, Nearby, at Drigung, there was a powerful leader, Gompa Kunrin, who was threatening the authority of Tai Situ Changchup Gyaltsen (1302–1371), who was then ruling Central Tibet. There was a prediction that a son of demons, with a body mark resembling a sword, was going to go to hell unless an emanation of Manjushri would subjugate him. Gompa Kunrin recog- nized himself in this prediction and came to think that Longchenpa was this emanation. He invited him and became his disciple. Soon, thanks to Longchenpa’s in uence, Gompa Kunrin gave up his intention to wage war against Changchup Gyaltsen. But this did not prevent Changchup Gyaltsen from suspecting that Longchenpa was taking sides against him, and he sent troops to kill him. Longchen Rabjam decided to seek refuge in Bhutan. There he had count- less disciples and established eight hermitages and monasteries throughout the country. At his main seat, Tharpa Ling Monastery in Bumthang prov- ince, he wrote part of the Seven Treasuries. There, Longchenpa had a daugh- ter and a son with his spiritual consort, the Bhutanese Kyipala. His son, Gyalse Tulku Trakpa Özer (rgyal sras sprul sku grags pa ’od zer, 1356–1409?), better known as Thugse Dawa (thugs sras zla ba), became a great scholar and one the main holders of Longchenpa’s teachings. Later, Tai Situ realized that Longchen Rabjam had done the right thing by dissuading Gompa Kunrin to wage war. He apologized, requested Longchen Rabjam to return to Tibet, and became his devoted disciple. On one occasion, Longchenpa spent two weeks in Lhasa, where he was received with great pomp. He gave bodhisattva vows and many teachings to huge gatherings of devotees. He then gave extensive teachings on the Great Perfection in various places to thousands of disciples. At the age of fty-six, Longchenpa dictated his spiritual testament, enti- tled Trima Mepai Ö (Immaculate Radiance), which is included in the Khan- dro Yangthig.
He then went to Chimphu hermitage and was soon asked to come down to Samye Monastery, where he gave extensive empowerments on the Great Perfection. During that time he became increasingly ill and announced that he was going to pass away. On the 18th day of the 12th lunar month of the Female Water Hare Year (January 24, 1364, according to the calendar system quoted in the texts, and not 1363 as often given), Longchenpa sat in a med- itation posture and his mind dissolved into absolute space. While his body was being preserved for twenty- ve days, many miraculous signs occurred. When his body relic was nally cremated, the earth trembled three times and a loud sound was heard seven times. In the ashes, his heart, eyes, and brain were found together, unburned by the erce re of the cremation. Various catalogues of Longchen Rabjam’s writings list up to three hun- dred texts. His main writings are gathered into several collections: the Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), which present the whole scope of Buddhist philos- ophy and practice; the Trilogy of Resting at Ease (ngal gso skor gsum), which presents the graded path of practice; the Trilogy of Natural Liberation (rang grol skor gsum), focused on the practice of the Great Perfection; the Trilogy of Dispelling Darkness (mun sel skor gsum), consisting of commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra; and the Heart Essence in Four Parts (snying thig ya bzhi), a most profound and complete presentation of the Great Perfection practice. The four parts of the Nyingthig Yazhi comprise (1) the Khandro Nyingthig (mkha’ ’gro snying thig) given by Guru Rinpoche to Yeshe Tsogyal and found as a terma by Pema Ledrel Tsel; (2) the essence of the former, condensed by Longchenpa as the Khandro Yangthig (mkha’ ’gro yang tig); (3) the Vima Nyingthig (bi ma snying thig) of Vimalamitra, received in a vision by Chetsun Senge Wangchok (lce btsun seng ge dbang phyug, 11th–12th c.); and (4) the Lama Yangthig (bla ma yang tig), which is the essence of the Vima Nyingthig written by Longchenpa. Finally, there is the Zabmo Yangthig (zab mo yang tig), in which Longchenpa wrote down the quintessence of all, so that it is not counted as a fth part. Two volumes of miscellaneous writings (gsung thor bu) have also survived. Longchenpa had countless disciples and is said to have reincarnated at various times in history, notably in Bhutan as the Bhutanese tertön Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa, 1450–1521).
Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (1793–1870)
Mingyur Namkhai Dorje (mi ’gyur nam mkha’i rdo rje) was the fourth incar- nation of Dzogchen Pema Rigdzin, the founder of Dzogchen Monastery. He was enthroned as abbot by Namkha Tsewang Chokdrup, from whom he received numerous teachings. At the age of seven, he manifested clear recollections of his past lives. From age twelve, for seven years in a row, he spent six months in retreat every year. He was also a disciple of three of the main studentsof Jigme Lingpa: Dod- rupchen Jigme Trinley Öser, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, and Jigme Gocha of Barjung.
Mingyur Dorje was also a student of the 3rd Rigdzin Nyima Trakpa, Mingyur Pende Gyatso (mi ’gyur phan bde rgya mtsho, 1772–1817); the 1st Shechen Gyaltsap, Pema Sang-gnak Tendzin Chögyal (rgyal tshab padma gsang sngags bstan ’dzin chos rgyal, 1760–1817); and the 3rd Shechen Rab- jam, Rigdzin Paljor Gyatso Thubten Nyinche (rig ’dzin dpal ’byor rgya mtsho thub bstan nyin byed, 1771–1809). He was introduced to the nature of mind by Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje and thereafter became free of hope and fear, and ceased to discriminate between “good” and “bad” situations, feeling, and so forth, experiencing them in the state of “one taste.”
He also became quite unpredictable and behaved in unconventional ways. He would sometimes teach with ease the most di cult texts, while at other times he explained the simplest texts in a way that seemed strange to some listeners because it had little to do with their meaning. Perhaps he was dis- connecting from the text and teaching from his heart. In 1842, an earthquake destroyed Dzogchen Monastery. Mingyur Dorje was in Derge and had had prophetic dream the same night. The next morn- ing, he announced that he should return immediately to Dzogchen, for peo- ple needed him there. He was persuaded to stay in Derge to attend important ceremonies that had just begun. A few days later, the news of the earthquake nally reached Derge, and people realized why Mingyur Dorje had been in hurry to return to the monastery. The King of Derge o ered to sponsor the reconstruction of the monastery, which was carried out by Gyalse Shenphen Thaye. When the bloodthirsty chieftain from Nyakrong, Gonpo Namgyal, arrived in Dzogchen with his troops, Pönlop Rinpoche—in an e ort to prevent an attack on the monastery—urged Mingyur Dorje to praise the warlord and tell him how poor Dzogchen Monastery was, although that was not quite the case. When Gonpo Namgyal entered, Mingyur Dorje spoke as he had been instructed, and concluded by saying candidly, “This is what Dzogchen Pönlop told me to tell you.”
Gonpo Namgyal asked him, “Where will I be reborn?” Mingyur Dorje replied without hesitation: “In hell.” Impressed by the fearless straightfor- wardness of this master, Gonpo Namgyal, instead of con scating the prop- erties of Dzogchen Monastery and harming its people, o ered a silver ingot to Mingyur Dorje and requested him to pray for him when died. Since Mingyur Dorje did not worry much about anything, he found himself surrounded by notoriously careless attendants. When he became old, on a sunny winter afternoon, one of his attendants installed him on a chair on the terrace outside his residence. When the freezing night came, he forgot to bring the abbot back inside. The next morning, when it was realized that Mingyur Dorje was not in his room, his attendants found him still seated on the terrace, with numerous blisters on his forearm. Mingyur Dorje exclaimed to his attendants, “Look, look, some pink and blue owers have blossomed on my arms. Isn’t that peculiar?” Among Mingyur Dorje’s disciples were Patrul Rinpoche, Lama Mipham, Adzom Drukpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrul, and Chok- gyur Dechen Lingpa. After his passing, Gyalse Shenphen Thaye succeeded him as the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery.
Minyak Kunzang Sönam (1823–1901)
Minyak Kunzang Sönam (mi nyag kun bzang bsod nams), a.k.a. Thubten Chökyi Trakpa (thub bstan chos kyi grags pa), was a great Geluk scholar, and a very close disciple of Patrul Rinpoche, whom he accompanied in his travels for many years. Originally from Belo Hermitage (Belo Ritrö) in Gar- thar Dzong district, he was named after the Minyak area of Kham. After receiving the teachings on The Way of the Bodhisattva numerous times from Patrul Rinpoche, he wrote an extensive commentary upon it, as well as a commentary on Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme (rgyal sras rngul chu thogs med, 1295–1369).
Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (1829–1901)
Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (smyo shul lung rtogs bstan pa’i nyi ma) was born into the Nyoshul family of the Mukpo Dong line in the kingdom of Derge. From an early age he showed an exceptional inclination towards the Dharma. He rst studied at Dzogchen Monastery with Gyalse Shenphen Thaye from whom he received monastic ordination and the name Lungtok Tenpai Nyima.
He spent twenty-eight years near Patrul Rinpoche, of whom he is consid- ered to be the closest disciple, and received from him the teachings on the Bodhicharyavatara no fewer than eighty times. He was regarded as an incar- nation of the great abbot Shantarakshita (725–788), who helped establish Buddhism in Tibet, together with Guru Padmasambhava and King Trisong Detsen. Lungtok also received teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, includ- ing Longchenpa’s Nyingthig Yazhi. When Lungtok was at Dzongsar, he o ered teachings on the Yeshe Lama, the main Dzogchen teaching of Jigme Lingpa, to a group of masters that included Jamyang Loter Wangpo and Lama Mipham.
When Lungtok turned fty, in accordance with the instructions of Patrul Rinpoche, he returned to his homeland and settled in an encampment on the top of Pema Rito Mountain in the region of Tromtar. In Tromtar he taught the young Khenpo Ngakchung and many other dis- ciples. Patrul Rinpoche predicted that Nyoshul would meet an incarnation of Vimalamitra. This prediction turned out to refer to Khenpo Ngawang Palzang, also known as Khenpo Ngaga or Khenpo Ngakchung, who became his main student. Later, he spent nine years at the dharma encampment of Nyakla Pema Dundul (nyag bla padma bdud ’dul, 1816–1872), where he taught some of the tertön’s foremost disciples, including Nyakla Rangrik Dorje (nyag bla rang rig rdo rje, 1847–1903).
Önpo Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (Önpo Tenga, 1851–1910)
Önpo Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (o rgyan bstan ‘dzin nor bu),244 also known as Önpo Tenga, was the nephew (önpo / dbon po) of the great master Gyalse Shenphen Thaye, who took care of him from an early age. At age thirteen, he received from his uncle the novice monastic vows, instructions on the preliminary practice of the Longchen Nyingthig, and many other teachings. When Önpo Tenga was fteen, Gyalse Shenphen Thaye passed away.245 After he prayed with intense grief and devotion, Shenphen Thaye appeared to him in a vision, sitting radiantly upon a cloud, dressed as an Indian pan- dita. He uttered these words: “Don’t grieve, my son! Even if I had stayed longer, I would not have had any deeper instructions to give you.” He then gave Tendzin Norbu a most profound instruction on the view, meditation, practice, and fruit of Dzogchen. Önpo Tonga’s spirits were greatly lifted. At Dzogchen Monastery, he then received from Mingyur Namkhai Dorje the transmission of most of Gyalwa Longchenpa’s writtings, including the Seven Treasures and the empowerments upon the Nyingthig Yazhi.
In 1868, when he turned seventeen, he met Patrul Rinpoche, who was to become his main teacher and whom he followed until the master’s death in 1887. He also received extensive teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Khenpo Pema Dorje, Terchen Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, Drupchen Sönam Palge, Minyak Kunzang Sönam and others. He would say, with tears in his eyes, “Regarding their qualities, all my great teachers are indistinguishable, but as far as their kindness to me is concerned, no one in the three worlds of existence can be compared to the most kind Abu [Patrul Rinpoche].”
For many years, Önpo Tenga followed Patrul Rinpoche to various secluded places. He spent altogether twelve years in retreat. He had visions of Guru Padmasambhava and many wisdom deities, and attained the ultimate reali- zation of the practice of the Great Perfection. He was also a living example of awless monastic discipline. Although he longed to spend the rest of his life as a wandering hermit like his teacher, Patrul Rinpoche instructed him to teach others. He did so tirelessly. Just to give a few examples from to Khenpo Shenga, who wrote Önpo Tenga’s biography, he taught no fewer than two hundred times The Way of the Bodhisattva, twenty- ve times the Root Verses on the Middle Way (Skt. Mulamadhyamakakarika; Tib. dbu ma tsa ba shes rab), nineteen times Chandrakirti’s Entrance to the Middle Way (Skt. Madhyamakavatara-nama; Tib. dbu ma ’jug pa), thirty-nine times the Ornament of the Sutras (mdo sde rgyan), thirty-eight times commentaries upon The Three Vows (Domsum / sdom gsum), twenty times the Guhyagarbha Tantra, nine times The Wish- Ful lling Treasury (Yishyin Dzö / yid bzhin mdzod) by Longchenpa, thirteen times Resting at Ease in the Nature of Mind (sems nyid ngal gso) and no less than forty time the Treasury of Precious Qualities.
From 1883, Patrul Rinpoche stopped giving public teachings and referred people to receive instruction from Önpo Tenga. After Patrul Rinpoche’s death, Önpo Tenga compiled in six volumes all available writings of Patrul Rinpoche. He then entrusted Khenpo Shenga to have them carved on woodblocks at Shri Singha Philosophical College at Dzogchen Monastery. Khenpo Losel did the proofreading. Mipham Rin- poche wrote a detailed table of contents.246 Among Önpo Tenga’s many disciples, we may mention his heart-disciple, the great yogi Kunga Palden, who spent most of his life in a cave-hermitage above the Middle Lake of Dzogchen Glacier Wilderness (Dzogchen Kang- trö), as well as Khenpo Trelo from Dzogchen.
In his sixtieth year, in 1910, he fell sick. Despite all supplications from his disciples and other masters to live longer, he told them, “My teachers prophesied that I would live to be sixty. Now that I have reached that age, all I can do is to prolong my life for one month.” Even though he was a icted with intense pain, he told his disciples, “When the time to die comes, if you apply the pith instructions of the two omniscient masters [Gyalwa Longchenpa and Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa], it is certain that you will not be bothered at all by physical pain.” At that time, he had many visions and saw the space around him constantly lled with radiant forms of deities appearing in the midst of multicolored dots of light. He dreamed of messengers inviting him to come to Zandok- palri, the pure land of Guru Padmasambhava. Yet, he commented, “What’s the point of trusting all these deluded perceptions?” A few days before passing away, he said, “Throughout my life, all my activ- ities have been dedicated to serving the Buddha dharma and helping others to transform themselves. Now I have understood that birth and death are nothing more than conventions and are devoid of true existence. Because of that, my mind is perfectly relaxed and at ease, and I am free from hopes and fears. But those whose minds are obscured and cling to the solidity of appearances, those who keep endeavoring in the a airs of this life, at the time of death they will carry a burden of negative actions as heavy as a mountain and will have to go without dharma, full of sadness and torments. When I think of them, I feel unbearable compassion.” At some point, he looked at the astrological calendar and said that for some days the celestial con guration was not auspicious, but that the fth of the lunar calendar was a good date to pass away. On that date, he sat upright in the meditation posture of the sages, with the right hand in the subduing mudra and the left hand resting in the equanimity mudra in his lap, in the way Guru Padmasambhava is depicted. He looked up, gazing into absolute space, and passed away. On that day, though the blue sky was immaculate, domes of rainbow light were seen, and a rumbling sound was heard several times from the western direction.
The cremation and all related rituals were conducted by Mura Tulku. Thousands of disciples and devotees came to pay homage. Mipham Rin- poche advised that a stupa be made to shelter the master’s relics. This was done, chie y with the support of Jedrung Tulku from Lingtsang and the son of the Dilgo family from Sakar (Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s father). Önpo Tenga used to say, “Because we don’t have rm conviction in the karmic law of cause and e ect, we don’t meet with much success in our spiritual practice. If, however, we were to gain such conviction, we could become like our most kind teacher, Patrul Rinpoche.”
Pema Dechen Zangpo, 3rd Mura Tulku (19th–20th c.)
Mura Tulku Pema Dechen Zangpo (mu ra sprul sku padma bde chen bzang po) was recognized by Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje as the 3rd incarnation of Mura Rigdzin Gyatso, a master from the Dzachukha area, celebrated for his boundless compassion; he was said to have attained the ultimate realization of the Great Perfection. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who in his youth met Mura Tulku, recounted a few anecdotes about this great master.247 Once, after having been rst seized, then released, by ruthless ban- dits, he told his students, “In the Yeshe Lama [the famous Dzogchen teach- ings by Jigme Lingpa], it says that someone who has reached the culminating point of the ‘exhaustion of phenomena in the absolute’ would not experience any fear even when surrounded by a hundred mercenaries threatening him with death. You know, this is exactly what happened to me.” Mura Tulku was very close to his spiritual consort, nicknamed “Apu” (an appellation normally used for man), and used to say that without her he would not survive long. It so happened that she died while having gone a few hours away from Mura Tulku’s residence. The disciples were very worried about breaking the news to Mura Tulku. Finally, a few close disciples came together and one of them told to their master, in a very somber tone, “We are sorry, but we have very bad news to tell you: Apu has passed away.” Then they waited in silence. Mura Tulku looked at them and said, “Why are you looking so despondent as if something completely unthinkable and catastrophic has happened? Don’t you remember the teachings on death and impermanence that I have been giving you time and time again? What kind of practitioners are you?”
Mura Tulku was a disciple of Patrul Rinpoche. He also extended the Mura Mani Wall, the construction of which was started by the Mura Rigdzin Gyatso. This wall was destroyed by the Communist Chinese but has now been rebuilt into a half-mile-long wall of stones carved with mantras and Buddhist scriptures. Among Mura Tulku’s disciples were Thupden Chökyi Dorje (5th Dzo- gchen Rinpoche), Lama Mipham Rinpoche, Gyurme Pema Namgyal (3rd Shechen Gyaltsap), Khenpo Yonten Gyatso, Khenpo Kunpel, Khenpo Thubga, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Rogza Sönam Palge (18th–19th c.)
Drupwang (“Powerful Siddha”) Rogza Sönam Palge (grub dbang rog bza’ bsod rnam dpal dge) was born in the district of Serta Rogza in Golok. His main teachers were Jigme Trinley Özer (1st Dodrupchen) and Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, who bestowed upon him the full transmission of the Longchen Nyingthig teachings. Rogza Palge became especially accomplished in the practices of tsalung (yogic practices on the prana and nadis) and the Great Perfection.
After the passing away of Trinley Özer, Rogza Palge followed Do Khy- entse for many years, as the latter was moving around as a wandering yogi throughout Golok and Amdo, sometimes with Rogza Palge as his atten- dant and disciple. Do Khyentse considered Rogza Palge more like a dharma brother than a disciple, since they had the same root teacher. It is said that, thanks to his capacity of swift running, Rogza Palge was able to catch deer and wild Tibetan asses (kyang) and mount them. After leaving Do Khyentse, Drupwang Sönam Palge spent many years in retreat above Karchung Khormo Olu (Patrul Rinpoche’s birthplace) and in other areas nearby, where he also taught some fortunate disciples, including Patrul Rinpoche, Dola Jigme Kalzang, and Önpo Tenga.
Sönam Palge spent the latter part of his life at the monastery of Rigdzin Chime Drupa Shedrub Gatsel in Upper Getse in Dzachukha. Like Patrul Rinpoche, Sönam Palge adopted a very inconspicuous demeanor, dressing like a layperson and shunning honors and recognition. Although there is no written biography of Sönam Palge, it is said that he passed away at eighty years of age at the village of Mamo Nakha in Doring Valley.
Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdröl (1781–1851)
Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdröl (zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol) was born among the Nyingma yogis of the Rekong region in Amdo. These yogis were renowned for their mastery of the Secret Mantrayana practices and gath- ered in the thousands to engage in meditations and rituals. They were much admired, and sometimes feared, for their magical powers. They were also famous for their hair, often six feet long, which they wore coiled on the top of their heads.
From a very early age, Shabkar showed a strong inclination toward the contemplative life. Even his childhood games were related to the teachings of Lord Buddha. By the age of six or seven, he had already developed a strong desire to practice. Visions, similar to those experienced in advanced Dzog- chen practice, came to him naturally. At fteen years of age, Shabkar felt a strong desire to “pray to the pre- cious master Guru Padmasambhava, the source of blessings.” He recited one million Vajra Guru mantras and had auspicious dreams, such as of y- ing through the air, seeing the sun and moon rising simultaneously, and nding jewel-treasures. “From then on,” he wrote, “by the grace of Guru Rinpoche I became lled with intense devotion to the Guru, a ection toward my dharma friends, compassion for sentient beings, and pure perception toward the teachings. I had the good fortune to accomplish without obstacles whatever dharma practice I undertook.” Shabkar then met Jamyang Gyatso, a master whom he venerated greatly and of whom he later had visions and dreams.
Despite his deep a ection for his mother and respect for his family, Shab- kar managed to resist their repeated requests that he marry. He eventually left home in order to pursue his spiritual aims wholeheartedly. Determined to renounce worldly concerns, Shabkar received full monastic ordination at the age of twenty and entered a meditation retreat. He let his hair grow long again, as was customary for retreatants, who did not waste time in nonessen- tial activities. As a sign of having accomplished certain yogic practices, he wore a white shawl rather than the traditional red shawl, although he contin- ued to wear the patched lower robe characteristic of a fully ordained monk. This rather unconventional attire occasionally attracted sarcastic comments from strangers, to whom Shabkar would reply with humorous songs. Shabkar left his native land behind and traveled south of Rekong to meet his main teacher, the Dharma King Chögyal Ngakyi Wangpo (chos rgyal ngag gi dbang po, 1736–1807). Ngakyi Wangpo was a learned and accom- plished Mongolian king, said to be an incarnation of Marpa the Translator, who had renounced the remnants of the vast kingdom of Gushri Khan and become a prominent Nyingma master.
After receiving complete instructions from the Dharma King, Shabkar practiced for ve years in the wilderness of Tseshung, where his meditation experiences and realization ourished. He then meditated for three years on a small island, Tsonying (“Heart of the Lake”) in the Kokonor, the Blue Lake of Amdo. There he experienced numerous dreams and visions of gurus and deities. His search for sacred places took him to many other solitary retreats: the glaciers of Machen, the sacred caves of the White Rock Monkey Fortress, the arduous pilgrimage of the Tsari Ravines, Mount Kailash, and the Lapchi Snow Range. He spent many years in the very caves where Milarepa and other saints had lived and meditated. Shabkar’s given names were Jampa Chödar (byams pa chos dar), “The Loving One Who Spreads the Dharma,” and Tsogdruk Rangdröl (tshogs drug rang grol), “Self-Liberation of the Six Senses.” He became renowned as Shabkar Lama, the “White Footprint Lama,” because he spent years in meditation at Mount Kailash, below Milarepa’s Cave of Miracles, near the famous White Footprint, one of the four footprints said to have been left by Buddha Sakyamuni when he traveled miraculously to Kailash. Shabkar was also called “White Foot” because wherever he set his feet, the land became “white with virtue,” meaning that through his teachings the minds of the people would be turned toward the holy dharma.
Wandering as a homeless yogi, teaching all beings, from bandits to wild animals, Shabkar’s pilgrimages brought him as far as Nepal, where, in the Kathmandu Valley, he covered the entire spire of the Bodhnath stupa with gold that his devotees had o ered him. In 1828, at the age of forty-seven, Shabkar returned to Amdo, where he tirelessly helped others through his extraordinary compassion. He spent the last twenty years of his life teaching disciples, promoting peace in the area, and practicing meditation in retreat at various sacred places, primarily at his hermitage in Tashikhyil.
Shechen Öntrul Gyurme Thuthop Namgyal (1787–1854)
Shechen Öntrul Gyurme Thuthop Namgyal (zhe chen dbon sprul ’gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal, a.k.a. Jamyang Gyepe Lodrö Tsokye Zhepe Drayang (’jam dbyangs dgyes pa’i blo gros mtsho skyes bzhad pa’i sgra dbyangs), also known as the Shechen Mahapandita (the Great Pandita of Shechen), was considered to be an incarnation of Songtsen Gampo’s minister, Thumi Sambhota (thu mi sam bhota), of Yudra Nyingpo (g.yu sgra snying po), of Zurchung Sherab Trakpa, and of Minling Lochen Dharma Shri (lo chen dharma shri), among others. He was the immediate reincarnation of the great practitioner Tokden Sangye Rabten (rtogs ldan sangs rgyas rab brtan), who was himself the nephew (önpo) of the highly realized master Padma Gyaltsen (padma rgyal mtshan).
He was the heart-disciple of Dzogchen Mingyur Namkhai Dorje, Gyalse Shenphen Thaye, and the 1st Shechen Gyaltsap, Pema Sang-ngak Tendzin Chögyal (padma gsang sngags bstan ‘dzin chos rgyal, 1760–1817). He was also a close disciple of the great Getse Mahapandita from Kathok, Gyurme Tsewang Chokdrup (’gyur med tshe dbang mchog grub, 1761–1829) as well as of the 6th Minling Trichen, Gyurme Pema Wangyal (’gyur med padma dbang rgyal, 18th c.). He attended altogether to fty teachers. He spent six years in retreat at Shechen retreat center, Pema Ösel Ling.
Among his most eminent students were Jamgön Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Patrul Rinpoche, as well as the 5th Khamtrul, Drupgyu Nyima (khams sprul sgrub brgyud nyi ma, 1781–1847), and Kathok Situ.