Ngaktrin Tulku Samten Gyatso

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ངག་ཕྲིན་སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་བསམ་གཏན་རྒྱ་མཚོ། -(ngag phrin sprul sku bsam gtan rgya mtsho).

Small Biography

Vimalamitra manifest in person, Samten Gyatso
Extract from "Blazing Splendor, The Momoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche"

Tulku Samten Gyatso was Konchok Paldron’s eldest son. In terms of incarnation lineage, he is the fourth in the line of reincarnations of a great accomplished master by the name Tsangsar Ngawang Trinley. The first Tsikey Chokling once had a vision in which he saw that Samten Gyatso was an emanation of Vimalamitra. This is why he is mentioned as ‘Vimalamitra manifest in person’.

Samten Gyatso was an invaluable upholder and advocate of Chokgyur Lingpa’s termas, and was the one who undertook the task of compiling them. He sought out any teaching, wherever it was available, and thus received all the empowerments, reading transmissions and instructions of the Tersar. He received whatever Karmey Khenpo was in possession of, but the major portion he received at Riwoche in Kham from Tersey Tsewang Norbu personally, like ‘a vase filled to the brim’. During these teachings, the important tulkus, headed by the three Jamgon lamas of Riwoche, would assemble in Tsewang Norbu’s private chamber in the evenings to receive advice, clear up difficult points within their own experience and so forth. Samten Gyatso was there too, dressed as a simple monk, always humbly sitting in the back and taking the lowest seat. On one occasion, Tsewang Norbu said with glaring eyes, “Hey! The two of you think you are tulkus of Chokgyur Lingpa! You there, you think you are an incarnation of Chokgyur Lingpa’s son, Tersey Tsewang Drakpa! You are all so proud! But that humble monk, Samten Gyatso, is not proud at all, and yet, when it comes to spreading the teachings, none of you three will be his equal! That monk will be the pillar to uphold Chokgyur Lingpa’s teachings!” That is what Tsewang Norbu predicted one evening, in front of everyone.

Later, when Tsewang Norbu was about go to Central Tibet, he came to Tsangsar Dzong, our family estate. One night, when he was with Samten Gyatso, Tsewang Norbu said, “We won’t meet again in these bodies. Nevertheless, I entrust all my possessions to you.” Then he gave everything he had — his clothing, brocade garments, ritual implements and so on — to Samten Gyatso. “From this day forth, this is all yours. We won’t meet again in this life and even if we do, it won’t make any difference.”

Samten Gyatso gave the New Treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa three times in Central Tibet. Many great lamas received the transmission then, including the omniscient Drukchen Rinpoche, Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche and the three masters with the title Jamgon who resided at Jang Taklung. Later on, he went back to Kham and at the request of Nangchen Tsoknyi, the guru of the King of Nangchen, Samten Gyatso offered the complete Chokling Tersar transmission at Nangchen Tsechu Gonpa. At Namgyal Tse in Surmang, at the sponsorship and request of Surmang Tentrul, many lamas received the Tersar transmission, including Tentrul himself, Surmang Garwang, Dzigar Kongtrul and others; all together there were eighteen major masters among the gathering of 300 lamas. After this, Samten Gyatso proceeded to Derge where he offered Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche parts of the Tersar, including the Tukdrub cycle. At another point, when the son of the 15th Karmapa, the reincarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, visited the seat of Chokgyur Lingpa, Samten Gyatso gave him several transmissions, most notably the empowerment for Tukdrub Barchey Kunsel. These were the major transmissions Samten Gyatso gave, but, of course, he bestowed empowerments upon an untold number of lesser known lamas and practitioners.

Samten Gyatso was uncompromising about hiding his inner qualities; he would never mention a single word about them. All he would say was that he trained in the state of composure from the time he was eight years old. Nevertheless, he was a ‘vajra holder endowed with the three precepts.’ Among monks, he outwardly lived like a true shravaka and, from an early age, his tongue never touched meat or wine. Inwardly, his heart was full of the virtues of a bodhisattva — inconceivable great compassion and devotion. On the innermost level of Vajrayana, the 15th Karmapa said, “These days, Samten Gyatso is probably the only person who has fully realized nondual awareness and holds the perfect, unmistaken view of the Innermost Essence of the Great Perfection.”

I’m not just praising someone in my own family, like ‘the lower lip praising the upper lip,’ but, in all honesty, almost no other master living in Kham possessed such a high view and realization, nor such commanding presence and majestic brilliance. Within the kingdom of Nangchen, he became the greatest lama of his time – even the King accepted him as his personal guru. The king had been losing one son after the other, so both the Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche advised him to regard Samten Gyatso as his chief lama and adviser. Consequently, Samten Gyatso remained at the royal palace for three years and during this time no other prince passed away.

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