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Life Stories of Great Masters

of the Past

Dudjom Rinpoche
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (short)
Mipham Rinpoche
Second Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
Patrul Rinpoche
Jigme Lingpa
Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje
Longchen Rabjam
Dudjom Lingpa
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (long)

Dudjom Rinpoche

Kyabjé Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-87) - one of Tibet’s fore- one of the most outstanding yogins, scholars and medita-
most yogins, scholars, and meditation masters. He was rec- tion masters of recent times, who inspired not only awe in
ognized as the incarnation of Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904), those who met him, but also devotion and deep affection.
whose previous incarnations included the greatest masters, After the flight of the Tibetans into exile, it was Dudjom
yogins and panditas such as Shariputra, Saraha and Khye’u Rinpoche who was the first master to be accorded the title
Chung Lotsawa. Considered to be the living representative of Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Bud-
of Padmasambhava, he was a prolific author and revealer dhism, the ‘oldest’ school introduced into Tibet in the 8th
of the ‘treasures’ (terma) concealed by Padmasambhava. A century by Guru Padmasambhava.
prolific author and meticulous scholar, Dudjom Rinpoche
wrote more than forty volumes, amongst the most well- Dudjom Rinpoche was born in 1904, into a noble family
known of which are his monumental Fundamentals and in the south-eastern Tibetan province of Pemakö, which is
History of the Nyingma School. one of the four ‘hidden lands’ of Padmasambhava. He was
recognized as the incarnation of Dudjom Lingpa (1835-
Over the last decade of his life he spent much time teach- 1904), a famous tertön or discoverer of concealed ‘trea-
ing in the West, where he helped to establish the Nyingma sures’ (terma), particularly those related to the practice of
tradition, founding major centres in France and the United Vajrakilaya. Dudjom Lingpa had intended to visit southern
States. Tibet to reveal the sacred land of Pemakö, but as he was
unable to do so, he predicted that his successor would be
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, was born there and reveal it himself.
In his youth, Dudjom Rinpoche studied with some of the
most outstanding masters of the time. He began his studies
with Khenpo Aten in Pemakö, before attending some of
the great monastic universities of Central Tibet—such as
Mindroling, Dorje Drak and Tarjé Tingpoling—and East
Tibet—such as Kathok and Dzogchen. But it was to Mind-
roling that he returned to perfect his understanding of the
Nyingma tradition. Foremost among his many teachers
were Phungong Tulku Gyurmé Ngedön Wangpo, Jedrung
Trinlé Jampa Jungne, Gyurme Phendei Özer and Minling
Dordzin Namdrol Gyatso.

Dudjom Rinpoche’s main area of activity was in Central

Tibet, where he maintained the Mindroling tradition,
and especially at Pema Chöling and his other seats in the
Kongpo and Puwo regions of southern Tibet. He became
renowned throughout Tibet for the depth of his realiza-
tion and spiritual accomplishment, as well as for his unsur-
passed scholarship.

Unique in having received the transmission of all the ex- tion. This monumental history of the Nyingma School is a
isting teachings of the immensely rich Nyingma tradition, masterpiece which presents, for the first time, a great deal
Dudjom Rinpoche was especially renowned as a great ter- of new material on the development of Buddhism in Tibet,
tön, whose termas are now widely taught and practised, and will remain the authoritative work on the subject.
and as the leading exponent of Dzogchen, the ultimate
teaching within Tibetan Buddhism. Above all else, he was At the invitation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dudjom
regarded as the living embodiment of Padmasambhava, Rinpoche also wrote a history of Tibet. Another major
and his representative for this time. A master of masters, part of his work was the revision, correction and editing
he was acknowledged by the leading Tibetan teachers of of many ancient and modern texts, including the whole of
his time as possessing the greatest power and blessing in the Canonical Teachings (kama) of the Nyingma School, a
communicating the nature of mind, and it was to him that venture he began at the age of 74. His own private library
they sent their students when prepared for this ‘mind-di- contained the largest collection of precious manuscripts
rect’ transmission. In fact, Dudjom Rinpoche was the root and books outside Tibet.
teacher of many of today’s most prominent masters.
After leaving Tibet, Rinpoche settled first in Kalimpong,
He was no less famous as an author and a meticulous in India, and later in Kathmandu, Nepal. At a time when
scholar. His writings are celebrated for the encyclopaedic it seemed threatened with extinction, he played a key role
knowledge they display of all the traditional branches of in the renaissance of Tibetan culture amongst the refugee
Buddhist learning, including poetics, history, medicine, as- community, both through his teaching and his writing. He
trology and philosophy. A writer of inspirational poetry of established a number of vital communities of practitio-
compelling beauty, he had a special genius for expressing ners in India and Nepal, such as Zangdok Palri in Kalim-
the meaning and realization of Dzogchen with a crystal- pong, Dudal Rapten Ling in Orissa, and the monasteries
like lucidity. at Tsopema and Boudhanath. He actively encouraged the
study of the Nyingma Tradition at the Tibetan Institute for
Amongst the most widely read of his works are the The Ny- Higher Studies in Sarnath, and continued to give teach-
ingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Its Fundamentals and ings according to his own terma tradition, as well as giving
History; which he composed soon after his arrival in India many other important empowerments and transmissions,
as an exile and which is now available in English transla- including the Nyingma Kama, the Nyingma Tantras and
the Treasury of Precious Termas (Rinchen Terdzö). Dordogne area of France, and there in August 1984 he gave
his last large public teaching.
When Dudjom Rinpoche was eight years old, he began to
study Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara with his teacher Or- Dudjom Rinpoche was undoubtedly a fully realized mas-
gyen Chogyur Gyatso, a personal disciple of the great Pa- ter, yet, every day he would rise hours before dawn in or-
trul Rinpoche. When they had completed the first chapter, der to practise; in the mornings he would pray for all those
his teacher presented him with a conch shell and asked him who had taken refuge in him, and in the evenings for those
to blow it towards each of the four directions. The sound it who had died. Continually he prayed that all those who
made to the East and to the North was quite short, in the saw him, heard him, came in contact with him or even
South it was long, and in the West longer still. This was to thought of him would be freed from suffering. He always
be an indication of where his work in later times would be made a point of being accessible to people from all walks
most effective. Kham, in the east of Tibet, had been the of life, and anyone who had the good fortune to meet him
birthplace of Dudjom Lingpa, who had already been very could not fail to be touched by his warmth, simplicity and
active in that region. In the South, throughout the Himala- vivacious sense of humour, as much as they were awed by
yan regions of Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and Ladakh, Dudjom his presence, deep wisdom and vast learning.
Rinpoche had many thousands of disciples; when, on one
occasion, he gave teachings in Kathmandu intended only
for a few lamas, between twenty-five and thirty thousand
disciples came from all over India and the Himalayas.

In the final decade of his life, in spite of ill-health and ad- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche c.1910-1991
vancing years, he devoted much of his time to teaching in
the West, where he successfully established the Nyingma Vajrayana master, scholar, poet, teacher, and head of the
tradition in response to the growing interest amongst Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism
Westerners. He founded many major centres including
Dorje Nyingpo and Orgyen Samye Chöling in France, He was born in the Denkhok Valley at Kham Derge, East-
and Yeshe Nyingpo, Urgyen Chö Dzong and others in the ern Tibet in 1910 to a family directly descended from the
United States. During this historic period, he tirelessly gave ninth century King Trisong Detsen. His father was a min-
teachings and empowerments, and under his guidance a ister to the King of Derge. When he was seven years old, he
number of Western students began to undertake long re- was publicly recognized as the reincarnation of Jamyang
treats. Dudjom Rinpoche also travelled in Asia, and in Khyentse Wangpo by Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche (1871-
Hong Kong he had a large following, with a thriving centre 1926) at Shechen, one of the six principal monasteries of
which he visited on three occasions. the Nyingmapa school. During the next few years Dilgo
Khyentse received full schooling from various tutors, in
In 1972, 1976 and 1979 he visited London at the invita- addition to training in meditation, and in the study of the
tion of Sogyal Rinpoche, who travelled with him during his
tours of the West as his translator and aide. In 1979 he spent
the whole month of May at the centre of Dzogchen Orgyen
Chöling in north-west London, which was later to become
Rigpa. He gave public talks, empowerments and teachings
in central London, and special Dzogchen instructions to
small groups. It was at this time that a unique 16mm. film
was made of him teaching and practising meditation.

Over the years that followed, Dudjom Rinpoche conducted

a number of summer retreats at Urgyen Samye Chöling in
France. Eventually, `the wanderer, Dudjom’, as he some-
times used to sign himself, settled with his family in the
Dharma in general, and of Tantra specifically. teaching, yet he found time for extensive scholarship and
composed numerous poems, meditation texts and com-
His root Guru was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and mentaries. He was also a Terton (a discoverer of spiritual
Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1893-1959) was his treasures), discovering numerous termas and was one of
other main spiritual master. After he completed what are the leading masters of the pith-instructions of Dzogchen,
known as the Preliminary Practices (Ngöndro), Khyentse the Great Perfection, and one of the principal holders of
Rinpoche spent most of the next thirteen years in silent the Longchen Nyingtik tradition.
retreat in remote hermitages and caves near his birthplace.
In 1980, he founded the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Mon-
After completing his retreat at the age of twenty-eight, astery in Nepal, where he transplanted the Shechen tradi-
Khyentse Rinpoche spent many years with Dzongsar Khy- tion to a new home near the great stupa of Boudhanath,
entse Chokyi Lodro. After receiving from Khyentse Chokyi just northeast of Kathmandu. At this location over the years
Lodro the many empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzo he gave many teachings, turning the wheel of the Dharma
(the collection of Revealed Treasures or termas), Dilgo countless times for hundreds of other lamas, disciples, and
Khyentse requested to spend the rest of his life in solitary students from around the world. Over this same time pe-
meditation. But Khyentse Chokyi Lodro’s answer was: “The riod, and up until his paranirvana in 1991, Dilgo Khyentse
time has come for you to teach and transmit to others the Rinpoche was involved in publishing as much of Tibet’s
countless precious teachings you have received.” extraordinary heritage of Buddhist teachings as possible,
over three hundred volumes altogether.
Additionally he received teachings at Palpung Monastary
from the eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche, and full instruction By followers of Tibetan Buddhism he is regarded as having
on the ancient Guhyagarbha Tantra and its various com- been a great teacher of teachers, a realized being, who was
mentaries from Khenpo Tubga at Kyangma Ri-tro. In all he also remarked upon as being a genuinely good human be-
studied with over fifty great teachers from all the various ing. His entire life was devoted to the preservation and dis-
oral and practice lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. semination of the Buddha Dharma and he is still regarded
with awe and amazement throughout the Tibetan diaspora,
As his own teaching career developed, he became renowned and western centers of Tibetan Buddhism. His importance
within Tibet for his ability to transmit the teachings of each within the Nyingma school in the 20th century was all-
Buddhist lineage according to its own tradition. Later on pervading. He was one of the few Tibetan Lamas accorded
His Holiness the Dalai Lama would regard Dilgo Khyentse the honorific title of “ His Holiness”. Following the death
Rinpoche as his principal teacher in the Nyingma tradi- of Dudjom Rinpoche in 1987, he became the head of the
tion and of Dzogchen. In the 1950s, as rebellions broke out Nyingma School, and remained so until his own death in
in Kham in response to the imposition of Chinese Com- Bhutan on 28 September 1991.
munist rule, Khyentse Rinpoche and his family escaped to
central Tibet, leaving behind his precious library of col- Final cremation ceremonies were held for him over a three
lected Dharma books and most of his own writings. day period near Paro in Bhutan, in November 1992 and
were attended by over a hundred important lamas, the
Then in 1959, as the takeover of Lhasa became certain, Royal Family and ministers of Bhutan, five hundred west-
Khyentse Rinpoche, his family and a few disciples decided ern disciples and a huge crowd of some fifty thousand dev-
to leave Tibet, and headed for Bhutan. The royal family otees.
of Bhutan invited him to stay there and teach, and as his
reputation spread he attracted many new disciples, and he
became the foremost Buddhist teacher in Bhutan.

Later, as he made frequent visits to give teachings to H.H.

the 14th Dalai Lama at Dharamasala in India, he began
giving teachings all over the Himalayas, India, Southeast
Asia and the West. His life became a continual flow of
Mipham Rinpoche
Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912) - a great Nyingma master
and writer of the last century, student of Jamgön Kongtrul,
Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo and Patrul Rinpoche. Blessed
by Manjushri, he became one of the greatest scholars of his
time. His collected works fill more than thirty volumes. His
chief disciple was Shechen Gyaltsab Pema Namgyal.

Mipham Rinpoche was born in the region of Derge in

eastern Tibet. At the age of fifteen he undertook eighteen
months of intensive retreat on Manjushri. He later confid-
ed to some of his students that from then on he had always
been able to understand any text he read. Patrul Rinpoche
taught him on the famous ninth chapter of the Bodhich-
aryavatara, ‘Wisdom’, and himself confirmed that after
just five days’ teaching, Mipham Rinpoche had completely
mastered both the words and meaning of the text. Mipham
Rinpoche also received and mastered innumerable teach-
ings and transmissions from Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo
and Jamgön Kongtrul, as well as from masters of all tradi- designed and built a machine that flew; but soon disman-
tions throughout Tibet. He always took to heart Je Tsong- tled it again, saying that such things were just distractions.
khapa’s famous advice that the teachings should be regarded
first and foremost as practical guidance for life rather than Shortly before he passed away, he told his attendant Lama
merely as intellectual speculations. Mipham Rinpoche had Ösel:
an enormous impact in re-awakening a deep reverence and
interest in the Nyingma and Dzogchen teachings. His con- Nowadays, if you speak the truth, there is nobody to listen;
tribution to the Rimé movement is inestimable. if you speak lies everyone thinks it is true. I have never said
this before: I am not an ordinary person; I am a bodhisat-
His principal students were the great Shechen Gyaltsap tva who has taken rebirth through aspiration. The suffer-
Rinpoche, and his attendant and secretary, Lama Ösel. His ing experienced in this body is just the residue of karma;
other close students included many of the greatest lamas but from now on I will never again have to experience kar-
of the time: Katok Situ Chökyi Gyatso; Shechen Rabjam mic obscuration. … Now, in this final age, the barbarians
Rinpoche; Tertön Sogyal; the third Dodrupchen, Jikmé beyond the frontier are close to undermining the teach-
Tenpé Nyima; the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche; Adzom Druk- ing. [So] there is no point whatsoever in my taking rebirth
pa and many others. He also blessed and gave transmis- here…I have no reason to take birth in impure realms ever
sions to the young Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche, to whom he again.
gave the name ‘Mangala Shri Bhuti’.
Mipham was a prolific writer; three hundred and twenty-
two of his Dharma works have come down to us. Apart
from these, he composed more than thirty-five books on a
range of subjects including medicine; poetry (particularly
the Gesar epics); logic; cosmology; astrology and divina-
tion; alchemy; painting and sculpture; and engineering.
For example, there is an oral tradition that at one time he
Khyentse Tulku at Dzongsar Monastery, Chokyi Lodro
moved his residence to Dzongsar, the seat of Khyentse
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodrö Wangpo. With Khenpo Champa Wangchuk he studied Ab-
(1893-1959) hidharma, Abhisamayalamkara, and Madhyamakavatara.
Soon he himself started to teach many texts to selected stu-
Conditions for His Birth dents at Dzongsar.

Kyabje Khyentse Chokyi Lodro of Dzongsar (Second At seventeen, from Thartse Ponlop Loter Wangpo he
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche ) was the greatest received the Sakya transmissions of Lamdre Lopshe, the
master of many lineages of this century. tantra of Hevajra, and other scriptures. At eighteen, from
his father he received the transmissions of Rinchen Terdzo
He was born in the Water Snake year of the fifteenth Rab- and the terma teachings of Chokling. At nineteen, from
jung (1893) at Rekhe Ajam near Kathok Monastery. His fa- Khenpo Samten Lodro he received Drupthap Kuntu and
ther was a tantric master called Gyurme Tsewang Gyatso, other transmissions.
the grandson of Terton Dudul Rolpatsal, and his mother
was Tsultrim Tso. His father named him Jamyang Chokyi At twenty-six, he went to Dzogchen Monastery and re-
Lodro. At the age of six, Khyentse Rinpoche learned to read ceived ordination as a monk from Khenpo Jigme Pema
texts with his uncle with little effort. Losal. Also, from Shechen Gyaltsap he received transmis-
sions of Chang ter, Minling ter, and many other teachings.
When he was seven, Kathok Situ Chokyi Gyatso, the That same year, he established a shedra called Khamche at
nephew of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, brought him to Dzongsar Monastery. He invited Shenphen Chokyi Nang-
Kathok Monastery and recognized him as the activity- wa (aka Zhen-ga, 1871-1927) of Dzogchen Monastery as
manifestation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, as proph- the first khenpo to teach at the new shedra. Later it be-
esied by Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso. Kathok Situ performed came a famous institution from which many great scholars
the hair-cutting ceremony and named him Jamyang Lodro emerged.
At twenty-eight, he went to Golok for many months’ visit
His Receiving Teachings to see the third Dodrupchen, Jigme Tenpe Nyima, son of
the famous terton Dudjom Lingpa. He received the em-
Kathok Situ assigned his own tutor, Khenpo Thupten powerments of Rigdzin Dupa and Ladrup Thigle Gyachen.
Rigdzin, to Khyentse, and under his tutorship, Khyentse He also received teachings on Yeshe Lama, Longchen Ny-
Rinpoche studied prayers, grammar, astrology, Sanskrit, ingthig, and The Outline of Guhyagarbha-mayajala-tantra.
and many scriptures. From The Second Kathok Situ, he re- From Konme Khenpo of Dodrupchen Monastery he re-
ceived the transmission of Nyingthig Yabzhi, Longsal cycles, ceived the transmissions of the Damcho Dechen Lamchok
and many other scriptures, and Situ became the most im- cycle discovered by the first Dodrupchen as a terma. From
portant person for his spiritual path and secular life. From Terton Sogyal he received Vajrakila and Trolihik transmis-
Adzom Drukpa in Trom Valley he received Longchen Ny- sions.
ingthig, Gongpa Zangthal, Lama Yangtig transmissions,
and the introduction to Trekcho meditation. At thirty-two, at Shechen Monastery, he again received
many transmissions, including Dam-ngak Dzo and
When Khyentse Rinpoche was thirteen, his tutor passed Changter from Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal, who be-
away and so he studied Domsum, Yonten Dzo Yizhin Dzo came one of his important teachers.
Khenjuk, and the texts by Asanga with Kathok Situ, Khen-
po Kunpal, and many others. At thirty-three, he went on a pilgrimage to Central Ti-
bet. At Mindroling Monastery he took the ordination of
When he was fifteen, because of the death of the young a monk from Khenpo Ngawang Thupten Norbu for the
second time, as his predecessor had been ordained at this
monastery in the lower Vinaya lineage.
Just before his return from Central Tibet, Kathok Situ Urgyen Rinpoche one could ask him for clarification about
died. After that, for about fifteen years, Khyentse also some point, in any of the termas from any of the numerous
looked after the administration of Kathok Monastery. He lineages, and he always had an answer.
built many religious monuments, restrengthened the scrip-
tural college, and enthroned the new tulku of Kathok Situ, There were many incidents of his displaying powers. Once
as recognized by the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche. he blessed a new image, and it became hot to the touch.
When he blessed the Mahakala image of the Dzang Ma-
From Kathok Khenpo Ngawang Palzang he received hakala temple, the image moved as if it were alive. When
transmissions of the Khandro Yangtig, Longsal, and Dudul he prepared ambrosia, beams of light arched around the
cycles. In total, he studied with about eighty masters from temple. At the time of an empowerment of Vaishravana,
all the different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. gold dust rained through the air. Many times the distribu-
tion of a small amount of blessing pills or nectar became an
His Great Realizations inexhaustible supply for a huge assembly of devotees.

He accomplished many meditations and recitation of nu- His Great Activities

merous sadhanas of both Old and New traditions of tantra,
including the fivefold hundred-thousand accumulation of He gave numerous transmissions of Nyingma, Sakya, and
ngondro and the recitation of the sadhanas of Takhyung Kagyu teachings to disciples of various Buddhist traditions
Barwa, Sengdongma, Ladrup Thigle Gyachen, Vajrakila, of Tibet, including the empowerments of Yabzhi three
Tara and Palchen Dupa of Longchen Nyingthig, and the times and of Longchen Nyingthig many times and teach-
Ladrup of Khandro Yangtig. ing on Yonten Dzo three times.

He had many visions, accomplished many attainments, His main Nyingma disciples included: Kyabje Dudjom
and manifested many spiritual powers. According to Tulku Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche,
Kyabje Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche, Kyab-
je Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Kyabje Dungsay
Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Ven. Tarthang Tulku Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
Rinpoche, Ven. Sogyal Rinpoche, among oth-
ers. His main Sakya disciples were Kyabje De- by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche
zhung Rinpoche and H. H. Sakya Trizin. His
main Kagyu disciples included the second Jamyang Khyentse was born in the region of Yaru Khyungchen Drak in
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Sangye Nyenpa Dilgo in Derge, East Tibet, on the fifth day of the sixth Tibetan month
Rinpoche, and his main Gelug disciple was of the Iron Dragon year during the fourteenth sexagenary cycle. His
Kyili Kyabgon Rinpoche. father was Rinchen Namgyal and his mother Sönam Tso.

At the age of sixty-three, travelling through Jamyang Khyentse learnt to read at the age of four or five, and from an
Lhasa he reached India. He went on a pilgrim- early age his intelligence grew so keen he was able to master reading,
age to all the sacred places of Buddhism in In- writing and other skills without any difficulty. At twelve, he was recog-
dia and Nepal. Then he made the Palace Chapel nized by Thartse Khenchen Jampa Kunga Tendzin as the incarnation
of the king of Sikkim his main temporary resi- of the great khenpo of Evam Tharpatse, Jampa Namkha Chimé, and he
dence and continued to give endless teachings was given the name Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo Kunga Tenpé Gyalts-
and transmissions to devotees from all walks of en Palzangpo. At twenty-one, he received full ordination from Minling
life. Khenchen Rigdzin Zangpo. In all, he had more than one hundred and
fifty teachers, who were great masters from all four major schools, from
His Entering into Parinirvana the regions of Ü and Tsang, as well as eastern Tibet, including Minling
Trichen Gyurme Sangye Kunga, Shechen Gyurme Thutob Namgyal,
At the age of sixty-seven, with the Chinese Sakyapa Dorje Rinchen and the great khenpo brothers of Thartse, as
Communist invasion of Tibet underway, he
again became seriously ill. Prayers and rituals
for his long life were performed day and night,
by all the lineages in Sikkim. Despite these
devoted spiritual efforts, he died. According
to Sogyal Rinpoche he died in the ‘sleeping
lion’s posture’, a yogic posture, and remained
in a subtle meditative state for three days. His
body was kept in state for six months, as dis-
ciples throughout the Himalayas came to pay
their respects. His body did not display the
usual signs of decomposition during this time.
His cremation was performed at a stupa at
Tashiding, Sikkim, and his remains are kept in
the Royal Chapel of Sikkim. On the sixth day
of the fifth month of the Earth Pig year of the
sixteenth Rabjung (1959), he passed away amid
signs of lights, earthquakes and sounds. Today
most of his remains are preserved in a small
golden stupa at the Royal Chapel of Sikkim.

well as many other exponents of the scriptures learned in tions of the Buddha’s enlightened body. As representations
the five sciences. of enlightened speech, he commissioned the carving of
woodblocks for almost forty volumes of texts and was re-
Through his studies in the ordinary sciences of craft, sponsible for around two thousand volumes being copied
medicine, grammar and logic, and the various secondary out by hand. As representations of the Buddha’s enlight-
disciplines, as well as the major treatises of the causal ve- ened mind, he commissioned the construction of more
hicle of characteristics on Madhyamika, Prajñaparamita, than a hundred stupas in gold and copper, the foremost
Vinaya and Abhidharma, and the profound instructions of of which was the great stupa at Lhundrup Teng. To house
the tantras such as Chakrasamvara, Hevajra and Guhyasa- these representations of enlightened body, speech and
maja, as well as the Guhyagarbha and the Kalachakra and mind, he built some thirteen temples and shrines, large and
other tantras of the resultant vehicle of Secret Mantra, he small, where the members of the sangha received venera-
dispelled any doubts and misconceptions. tion, and undertook regular daily practices and periodic
ceremonies. In addition, he offered timely aid to monaster-
He received these teachings in their entirety and in the ies damaged during the civil disturbances and unrest of the
proper way, imbibing all the ripening empowerments, lib- time, and made vast donations to support offerings and so
erating instructions and supporting reading transmissions on. He advised officials from China and Tibet, as well as the
from the whispered ‘mouth-to-ear’ lineage into the glori- kings and ministers of Derge, and in doing so brought rec-
ous ‘eternal knot’ of his wisdom mind. onciliation. Such were his unparalleled deeds in the activity
sphere of work to benefit the teachings and beings.
With great diligence, and forsaking all physical hardship,
he received the reading transmissions for about seven hun- Bringing to an end such vast and magnificent deeds, he
dred volumes in total, representing the complete unbiased demonstrated passing into nirvana on the twenty-first day
teachings of India and Tibet, including especially whatever of the second month of the Water Dragon year during the
transmissions still remained for the Precious Translated fifteenth sexagenary cycle.
Teachings of the Victorious One (Kangyur), the Collection
of Nyingma Tantras (Nyingma Gyübum), and the Trans- Moreover, it was this great master who was responsible for
lated Treatises (Tengyur). arranging the major collections such as The Compendium
of Sadhanas, and it was through his enlightened activity
Not only did he come to possess infinite learning, he also that Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche’s Five Treasuries, Pönlop
developed unsurpassable qualities of experience and real- Loter Wangpo’s Compendium of Tantras and Palyul Gya-
ization through perfecting the practice of meditation. In trul Dongak Tenzin’s Collection of the Twenty-seven Man-
time, his fame spread throughout Tibet and the name of dalas of the Nyingma Kama were all compiled and edited.
Pema Ösal Dongak Lingpa, ‘holder of the seven special So it was that his enlightened activity continued, bringing
transmissions (ka bab dün)’, was heard everywhere like all these teachings to his own fortunate followers and so
claps of thunder resounding through the land. many other students of the Dharma.

All that he himself had received of the sutras, tantras and Composed by the devoted Thubten Nyima
pith instructions, he passed onto his disciples in accor-
dance with their own inclinations and karmic fortune. By
continuously giving empowerments, transmissions and
teachings, he ensured that his followers were thoroughly
grounded in the complete non-sectarian teachings of the
Buddha, and established many on the path of maturation
and liberation.

With the offerings he received from devoted disciples, he

commissioned the crafting of around two thousand statues
of the Buddha, made from gold and copper, as representa-
Patrul Rinpoche
Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) - an enlightened master, who,
though he lived the life of a vagabond, was one of the most
illustrious spiritual teachers of the nineteenth century. His
principal teacher was Jikmé Gyalwé Nyugu, a great mas-
ter who was one of the foremost students of Jikmé Lingpa.
From Jikmé Gyalwé Nyugu he received no less than twenty
five times the teachings on the preliminary practices of
the Longchen Nyingtik, as well as many other important
transmissions. From time to time he would write a text
of his own and these treatises were later collected into six
volumes of his writings. Among them is The Words of My
Perfect Teacher, Kunzang Lama’i Shelung.
tsa-lung practice and Dzogchen, and studied many of the
Dza Palge Tulku or Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche was born in cycles of practice found in the canonical scriptures (kama)
the Earth Dragon year of the fourteenth calendrical cycle in of the Nyingma school. Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje intro-
Getse Dzachukha, in the nomadic area of northern Kham, duced him directly to the pure awareness of rigpa while
to a family with the name of Gyaltok. He was recognized by exhibiting wild and eccentric behaviour. He trained for a
Dodrupchen Jikmé Trinlé Özer as the incarnation of Palgé long time in the Longchen Nyingtik tsa-lung practices, and
Samten Phuntsok and was given the name Orgyen Jikmé he received immense amounts of nectar-like Dharma from
Chökyi Wangpo. Dzogchen Rinpoche Mingyur Namkhé Dorje and other
At an early age, he learned to read and write without any
difficulty. He took ordination with Khen Sherab Zangpo. While dwelling for long periods near Dzogchen Monastery
With Dola Jikmé Kalzang, Jikmé Ngotsar, Gyalsé Shenpen in the isolated hermitages of Rudam, such as the Yaman-
Thayé and other teachers, he studied the Trilogy of Find- taka cave and the Long Life cave, he put all his energy into
ing Comfort and Ease, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Secret the practice of meditation and attained a realization that
Essence Tantra and many other works related to sutra and was as vast as space.
tantra, as well as the ordinary sciences. From Shechen Ön-
trul Thutob Namgyal, he received the reading transmis- From the age of thirty, he travelled to Serthar, Yarlung Pe-
sion for the Translated Word of the Buddha (Kangyur) and makö and other places, teaching extensively on the Secret
teachings on Sanskrit grammar. He received the transmis- Essence Tantra to gatherings of fortunate vidyadharas. To
sions for the Kangyur and Tengyur in their entirety, to- assemblies in Serthar and in the upper and lower regions
gether with the excellent writings of the omniscient father of the Do valley he bestowed countless gifts of the Dharma,
and son of the Nyingma tradition, as well as the works of teaching on The Way of the Bodhisattva, Mani Kabum, As-
Sakya Pandita, Lord Tsongkhapa, and many other great piration Prayer of Sukhavati and so on. He put an end to
masters of the old and new translation schools, and by robbery and banditry and abolished the custom of serving
studying and reflecting on them with diligence and persis- meat at special gatherings.
tence and without any sectarian bias, he attained a perfect
level of scholarship. He went to Dzamthang and studied the six yogas with
Tsangpa Ngawang Chöjor, and he went to Minyak, where
Not only did he receive instruction on the Longchen Ny- he had extensive discussions with Dra Geshe Tsultrim
ingtik preliminaries some twenty-five times from Jikmé Gy- Namgyal on the prajnaparamita and other topics. In this
alwé Nyugu, he completed the required practices the same way, he went about as a renunciate, having abandoned all
number of times. In addition, he received instruction on worldly concerns, and worked impartially for the sake of
others, without any fixed agenda or itinerary.

In Shri Singha college at Dzogchen Monastery and at Pemé

Thang and other places, he turned the wheel of Dharma
uninterruptedly, teaching on the five treatises of Maitreya,
the Middle Way, Abhidharma, Secret Essence Tantra, Trea-
sury of Precious Qualities, Ascertainment of the Three
Vows and other topics. In particular, when he taught on
The Way of the Bodhisattva in the vicinity of Dzogchen
Shri Singha for several years in succession, large numbers
of flowers called Serchen, with between thirty and fifty pet-
als, blossomed all of a sudden, and they became known as
‘bodhicharyavatara flowers.’

When Tertön Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa took the terma of

Demchok Sangye Nyamjor from Rudam Kangtrö, the snow
hermitage at Dzogchen, he appointed Patrul Rinpoche as
the custodian of this and other cycles, including The Heart
Essence of the Three Families (Riksum Nyingtik), and of-
fered him all the necessary empowerments, reading trans-
missions and instructions. Three Sets of Vows and Treasury of Precious Qualities as
widespread as the very stones and earth throughout the up-
He went to Kathok Dorje Den, where he offered prostra- per, middle and lower regions of East Tibet. In particular,
tions and circumambulated the reliquaries of the three when the tradition of teaching the Secret Essence Tantra,
great masters Dampa Deshek, Tsangtön Dorje and Jampa and the traditions of experiential guidance and tsa-lung
Bum. At the request of Situ Choktrul Chökyi Lodrö and practices for the Longchen Nyingtik were just like lamps
others, he gave extensive explanations on The Way of the whose fuel is almost spent, through his great kindness
Bodhisattva to the whole assembly of monks. He went to he revived them and made them even stronger and more
major monasteries of the Riwo Gendenpa tradition such widespread than before.
as Sershul, Labtridu, Chuhor and others and taught elab-
orately on The Way of the Bodhisattva and other topics. The chief disciples of this great master who did so much to
Since he taught clearly and succinctly, relating everything preserve and spread the teachings of the vajra essence of
to the key points of practice, even many holders of the title clear light included such learned and accomplished mas-
Geshe Lharampa scattered flowers of praise and bowed be- ters of the Nyingma school as Kathok Situ Choktrul Chökyi
fore him in devotion. Lodrö, the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche Thupten Chökyi Dor-
je, Gyarong Namtrul Kunzang Thekchok Dorje, the second
He established a teaching centre in the vicinity of Dzagyal and third Dodrupchens, Jikme Phuntsok Jungne and Jikmé
Monastery. When repairing the great complex of walls of Tenpe Nyima, Dechen Rigpé Raldri, who was the son of Do
‘mani’ stones (do-bum) built by his previous incarnation Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, the supreme incarnation Shenpen
Palge Samten Phuntsok, it became exceedingly beautiful Chökyi Nangwa [i.e., Khenpo Shenga], Adzom Druktrul
and even bigger and taller than before, and thereafter be- Droddul Dorje, Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, Ju Mipham
came known as the Patrul Dobum. Namgyal, Khenchen Pema Damchö Özer [aka Khenpo
Pema Vajra], Nyoshul Lungtok, Alak Dongak Gyatso and
This great master devoted his life entirely to study, contem- others. In addition, his disciples included many great mas-
plation and meditation for his own benefit and teaching, ters and holders of the teachings of the Sakya, Gelugpa
debate and composition for the sake of others. In so doing, and Kagyü schools, such as Sershul Lharampa Thubten,
he helped to make the teaching and study of texts such as Palpung Lama Tashi Özer and Ju Lama Drakpa Gyaltsen.
The Way of the Bodhisattva, the treatises of Maitreya, the
Finally, on the eighteenth day of Saga Dawa in the Fire Pig year of the fif-
teenth calendrical cycle, he displayed the signs of dissolving his form body
into the all-pervading space of reality. Jigme Lingpa (1730-
Patrul Rinpoche composed countless works to suit the individual minds
of his disciples and fulfil their aspirations, and although they cherished Jigme Lingpa was regarded as an incarna-
these and kept them for themselves, they were not collected by the master tion of both King Trisong Deutsen and
himself or by his attendants, and thus many of them were never carved into Vimalamitra. His most enduring contri-
printing blocks. Those which were printed and which are now to be found, butions to the Tibetan tradition are his
like nectar upon which we might feast our eyes, comprise volumes equal revealed teachings, the Longchen Ny-
in number to the six paramitas. Amongst these compositions, we find all ingthig, the diverse body of literature he
manner of works, including commentaries on and structural outlines (sa composed, and the amazing lineage of
bcad) for the treatises of Maitreya, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Treasury of realized masters that have followed in his
Precious Qualities and other texts, profound crucial instructions for guid- wake, which includes Patrul Rinpoche, Do
ing students experientially, such as The Words of My Perfect Teacher, col- Khyentse Yeshe Dorje and Jamyang Khy-
lections of advice and miscellaneous writings including The Drama in the entse Wangpo.
Lotus Garden, collections of praises and so on. In all that he wrote, he never
went into excessive detail simply to show off his knowledge, but explained Unlike many masters of the Tibetan tradi-
things in order to fit the capacity of students. tion that went on to compose influential
philosophical treatises, Jigme Lingpa did not receive extensive educational training.
Neither was he a recognized reincarnation,
a tulku. Instead, his great realization came
directly through practice. In particular,
it came from a series of three visions he
had of the great master Longchenpa while
in retreat at the Samye Chimpu. In these
visions, Jigme Lingpa received the entire
transmission of Longchen Rabjam’s works,
both their words and meanings, and his
mind eventually merged completely with
that of Longchenpa’s.

Following his pivotal retreat at Samye

Chimpu, Jigme Lingpa went on to found
one of the most influential lineages in the
Nyingma tradition. In the centuries since
his passing, the inheritors of the Longchen
Nyingthig have proven to be some of the
greatest scholars, meditation masters and
realized yogis in recent history. Many of
his literary works, particularly the Trea-
sury of Precious Qualities (Tib: yon tan
mdzod), continue to be widely studied in
Nyingma educational institutions, while
his works on tantric practice, such as the
famed yeshe lama, are among the most
commonly taught practice manuals.
amongst the most brilliant and original writers in Ti-
betan Buddhist literature. He was the author of over
200 works, of which only about twenty-five survive,
and amongst which the Seven Treasuries (Dzö Dun)
and Three Trilogies are most well-known. It was he who
brought together into a cohesive system the teachings
of Vima Nyingtik and Khandro Nyingtik, on which he
wrote the ‘Three Yangtik’ or Inner Essencess.

As Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche explains: “Kunkhyen

Longchenpa’s Seven Treasuries (Dzö Dun) were written
to elucidate the extraordinarily profound meaning of
the seventeen main Tantras of Dzogpachenpo as well as
the teachings of all Nine Yanas. For the purpose of the
actual practice of Dzogchen according to these Tantras,
Longchenpa gathered his own termas as well as those
of Chetsün Senge Wangchuk (who was later reborn
as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo) and Pema Ledrel Tsal
(Longchenpa’s previous incarnation) in the form of the
thirteen volume collection known as the Nyingtik Yab-
shyi. This Yabshyi is the practice aspect of Longchenpa’s
writings, and the basis of the Old Nyingtik. In it he
synthesized the Vima Nyingtik of Vimalamitra and the
Dudjom Lingpa Khandro Nyingtik of Guru Rinpoche and explained all
the practical details in the light of his own realization.”
(bdud ‘joms gling pa) (1835-1904) - A great adept and tertön
whose terma revelations fill twenty volumes. He was consid-
ered to be the emanation of Khye’u Chung Lotsawa, one of the
twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche. He was the father of
eight important tulkus, the eldest of whom was Dodrupchen
Jikmé Tenpé Nyima. His immediate incarnation, born even
before he himself passed away, was Dudjom Rinpoche.

Longchenpa (Longchen Rabjam)

Longchenpa (klong chen pa) - (1308-1364), also known as
Longchen Rabjam, ‘Infinite, Vast Expanse of Space’, or Drimé
Özer, was one of the most brilliant teachers of the Nyingma
lineage. He systematized the Nyingma teachings in his ‘Seven
Treasures’ and wrote extensively on Dzogchen. He transmit-
ted the Longchen Nyingtik [Tib.] cycle of teachings and prac-
tice to Jikmé Lingpa, and it has since become one of the most
widely practised of traditions.

Sogyal Rinpoche writes: .

The figure of Longchen Rabjam stands out as one of the
greatest Dzogchen masters in the Nyingma tradition, and
Khempo Jigme Phuntsok
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was born in the Dhok region of
Dhokham in 1937. His family were nomads. At the age of
2 he was recognised as Terchen Lerap Lingpa (1852-1926).
He studied Dzogchen at Nubzor Monastery, received nov-
ice ordination at 14, and at the age of 22 he became fully
ordained monk.

In 1959 he made the crucial decision to remain in Kham

rather than flee to India. Between 1960 and 1980 he re-
turned to a nomadic lifestyle in order to avoid falling vic-
tim to the Cultural Revolution.

In 1980 he started a small hermitage which grew into the

Serthar Buddhist Institute (also called the Larung Gar Bud-
dhist Institute, near the town of Serthar (Chinese Seda),.
With the help of the late Panchen Lama, Serthar Buddhist
Institute acquired the status of academy which meant that
the institute did not have to follow the regulations of hav-
ing to impose upon itself a fixed ceiling on the number of
students it could have, unlike other regular Tibetan mon-
asteries. That was the one reason why the Serthar Buddhist
Institute managed to attract such a large number of student Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje

The Institute’s popularity grew until there were 8500 stu- (1800-66) - The body (and/or mind) emanation of Jikmé
dents at the site, including about 1000 ethnic Chinese as Lingpa. He was said to be the son of the protector Nyenchen
well as students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tanglha. His main teacher was the First Dodrupchen, Jik-
Malaysia. mé Trinlé Özer. His life featured many miraculous events,
In 1987 Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok made a pilgrimage to the especially during his childhood, and in later life he lived
sacred mountain of Wutai Shan where he taught the 37 as a hunter, like some of the mahasiddhas of ancient In-
practices of the Boddhisattavas vows to an unprecedented dia. He famously introduced Patrul Rinpoche to the nature
gathering of Tibetans, Chinese, Mongolians and others. of mind while beating him and dragging him by the hair.
His incarnations included the first Alak Zenkar Rinpoche,
In 1990 Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok traveled to India, where
Pema Ngödrup Rolwe Dorje (1881-1943).
he met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then he traveled
to many countries, including Nepal, Bhutan, the United
States, Canada, England, France, Germany, Taiwan and
Hong Kong where he taught extensively on Tibetan Bud-
dhism and culture.

Around 1999 the Sichuan United Work Front pressed

him on the issue of his support for the Dalai Lama, and
demanded that he reduce the number of students at the
Institute (either to 150 or to 1400, depending on reports).
Jigme Phuntsok refused. In summer of 2001 several thou-
sand members of the People’s Armed Police and the Public
Security Bureau descended on the site, razing its structures
and dispersed its students. The event attracted internation-
al media attention.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok died of heart failure in 2004, at

the age of 70.
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche (1932-1999) was
born in 1932 in the Dergé region of Kham.
His mother and grandmother, a disciple
of the master Nyoshul Lungtok, encour-
aged his interest in the Dharma, and at the
age of five he joined a local Sakya monas-
tery. He then studied with Rigdzin Jampal
Dorje, receiving teachings on Mahamudra
and beginning the twelve year training of
a khenpo, which he concluded at the age of
twenty-four. He was also to master the Six
Yogas, Lamdré, Kalachakra and Chöd, and
spent several years studying at Katok mon-
astery, all the while combining his studies
with meditation retreats and intensive prac-
tice. Khenpo counted twenty-five great mas- by many eminent masters to serve as khenpo in their monasteries. In the
ters as his principal teachers, of whom the early seventies, he spent several years at Penor Rinpoche’s monastery in
most central in his life was Shedrup Tenpé Mysore, South India, later teaching in the Kalimpong area, where he fell
Nyima, the reincarnation of Nyoshul Lung- ill and was cared for by the family of Kangyur Rinpoche. On the advice
tok. From him, from the age of seventeen of Lopön Sönam Zangpo, he married Damchö Zangmo. He travelled to
at Nyoshul monastery he began to receive Switzerland for medical treatment, and then spent eight years in the Dor-
the teachings of Longchen Nyingtik and dogne area of France, sometimes teaching at the three year retreat there.
particularly the Great Oral Lineage of Pith
Instructions (Mengak Nyengyü Chenmo) As his health improved, invitations came from many quarters. He trav-
of Dzogpachenpo. This became Khenpo’s elled to teach in India, Nepal, Taiwan, France, Britain, Switzerland,
special lineage, a lineage which passed back Germany and the US, taking up residence in Thimpu in Bhutan, where
to the Primordial Buddha in an unbroken he had many students. Twice he visited Tibet, with Dilgo Khyentse
line, through such extraordinary masters as Rinpoche in 1990, and then with Penor Rinpoche in 1992. He wrote
Khenpo Ngakchung, Nyoshul Lungtok, Pa- a definitive History of the Dzogchen Nyingtik, containing the biogra-
trul Rinpoche, Jikmé Lingpa, Longchenpa, phies of the lineage masters, and a remarkable collection of poetic songs
Vimalamitra, and Padmasambhava. Khenpo of realization.
passed these teachings on to a few close dis-
ciples, as well as to a number of the greatest Nyoshul Khenpo was such a consummate master of Dzogpachenpo,
masters and lineage holders of his time. and such an authority on the teachings of Longchenpa, that his disciples
regarded him as Longchenpa in the flesh. He was the teacher of many
In 1959 he made a narrow escape from Ti- of the younger generation of lamas, as well as a number of western Bud-
bet. In India, conditions were hard, and his dhist teachers. He became one of Sogyal Rinpoche’s most beloved mas-
life veered between extremes, at first beg- ters.
ging on the streets of Calcutta and living
among the sadhus, and then giving empow- Nyoshul Khenpo passed away in France in August 1999. No one who
erments to huge assemblies and to incarnate met him can ever forget his extraordinary presence or the spirit in
lamas. He received teachings from Dudjom which he taught, which embodied so perfectly the fathomless ease and
Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the vastness of Dzogpachenpo.
16th Gyalwang Karmapa, and was requested
The Life of Nagarjuna
by Alexander Berzin (excerpts)

Nagarjuna (Klu-grub), together with

Asanga (Thogs-med), were the two
great pioneers of the Mahayana tradi-
tion. Nagarjuna transmitted the lineage
teachings of the profound view of void-
ness from Manjushri, while Asanga
transmitted the lineage teachings of the
extensive bodhisattva practices from

Nagarjuna was born into a brahmin

family probably around the mid-sec-
ond century in South India in Vid-
arbha, a kingdom lying in present-day
Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. He
was predicted in various sutras, such
as The Descent into Lanka Sutra (Lan-
kar gshegs-pa’i mdo, Skt. Lankavatara
Sutra). At birth, a soothsayer predicted
he would live only seven days, but if his
parents made offerings to a hundred
monks, he could live to be seven years
old. Fearing for his life, at age seven, his the abbot of Nalanda. There, he expelled eight thousand monks who were not
parents sent Nagarjuna to Nalanda Mo- keeping the vinaya monastic rules of discipline properly. He also defeated five
nastic University in North India, where hundred non-Buddhists in debate.
he met the Buddhist master Saraha. Sar-
aha told him that if he became a renun- Two youths, who were emanations of the sons of the naga king, came to Na-
ciate and recited the Amitabha mantra, landa. They had about them the natural fragrance of sandalwood. Nagarjuna
he would lead a long life. Nagarjuna did asked how this was so and they confessed to him who they were. Nagarjuna
so and then joined the monastery, re- then asked for sandalwood scent for a statue of Tara and the nagas’ help in
ceiving the name “Shrimanta.” constructing temples. They returned to the naga realm and asked their father,
who said he could help only if Nagarjuna came to their realm beneath the sea
At Nalanda, Nagarjuna studied sutra to teach them. Nagarjuna went, made many offerings, and taught the nagas.
and tantra with Ratnamati – an emana-
tion of Manjushri – and, with Saraha, Nagarjuna had known that the nagas had The Hundred Thousand Verse Pra-
especially The Guhyasamaja Tantra jnaparamita Sutra (Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa stong-pa brgya-pa, Skt.
(dPal gsang-ba ‘dus-pa’i rgyud). In ad- Shatasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra) and requested a copy. When Buddha
dition, he learned alchemy from a brah- had taught Prajnaparamita, far-reaching discriminating awareness (the per-
min, and gained the ability to transmute fection of wisdom), the nagas had taken one version of it back to their realm
iron into gold. Using this ability, he was for safekeeping, the gods another, and the yaksha lords of wealth yet another.
able to feed the Nalanda monks during Nagarjuna brought back the hundred thousand verse version, although the
famine. Eventually, Nagarjuna became nagas kept the last two chapters to ensure that he would return and teach them
further. Later, the last two chapters were filled in with the gether each year. When they join, Nagarjuna will return
last two chapters of The Eight Thousand Verse Prajna- and teach again. All in all, Nagarjuna lived six hundred
paramita Sutra (Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa brgyad years. (...)
stong-pa, Skt. Ashtasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra) . This
is why the last two chapters of these two recensions are Nagarjuna’s most famous disciple was Aryadeva (‘ Phags-
the same. Nagarjuna also brought back naga clay and built pa lha) (...).
many temples and stupas with it.

Once, when Nagarjuna was teaching Prajnaparamita, six

nagas came and formed an umbrella over his head to pro- The Life of Atisha
tect him from the sun. Because of this, the iconographic
representation of Nagarjuna has the six nagas over his Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey; Dharamsala, India: Library of
head. From this event, he got the name Naga. And from Tibetan Works & Archives, 1982.
the fact that his skill in teaching Dharma went straight to
the point, like the arrows of the famous archer Arjuna (the Childhood and Renunciation of Princely Life
name of the hero in the Hindu classic, Bhagavad Gita), he
got the name Arjuna. Thus, he became called “Nagarjuna.” In eastern India, in the land of Jahor, in the city of Bangala,
in the Golden Banner Palace, lived King Kalyana the Good
Nagarjuna later traveled to the Northern Island (North- and Queen Prabhavati the Radiant. The royal palace was
ern Continent) to teach. On the way, he met some chil- crowned with thirteen golden roofs, one set atop the other,
dren playing on the road. He prophesied that one of them, and magnificently adorned with 25,000 golden banners. It
named Jetaka, would become a king. When Nagarjuna re- was surrounded by countless parks, pools, and beautiful
turned from the Northern Island, the boy had in fact grown gardens. The kingdom was as rich as the ancient, opulent
up and become the king of a large kingdom in South India. dynasties of China.
Nagarjuna stayed with him for three years, teaching him,
and then spent his last years elsewhere in his kingdom, at The royal couple had three sons, Padmagarbha, Chandra-
Shri Parvata, the holy mountain overlooking modern-day garbha, and Shrigarbha. It was this second prince, who
Nagarjunakonda. Nagarjuna wrote for the King A Pre- grew up to become our illustrious teacher, Atisha (Jo-bo
cious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali). This rje dPal-ldan A-ti-sha) (982-1054).
was the same king to whom Nagarjuna wrote A Letter to
a Friend (bShes-pa’i spring-yig, Skt. Suhrllekha), namely When Atisha was eighteen months old, his parents held
King Udayibhadra (bDe-spyod bzang-po). (...) his first public audience at the local temple, Kamalapuri.
Without any instruction, he prostrated to the venerable
King Udayibhadra had a son, Kumara Shaktiman, who objects inside and spontaneously recited, “Because of the
wanted to become king. His mother told him that he could compassion of my parents, I have attained a precious hu-
never become king until Nagarjuna died, since Nagarjuna man life rich with the opportunity to view all you great
and the King have the same lifespan. His mother said to ask figures. I shall always take from you my safe direction (ref-
Nagarjuna for his head and since Nagarjuna was so com- uge) in life.” When introduced to his royal subjects outside,
passionate, he would undoubtedly agree to give it to him. he prayed to realize his fullest potential in order to satisfy
Nagarjuna did in fact agree, but Kumara could not cut his their every need. He also prayed to be able to take the robes
head off with a sword. Nagarjuna said in a previous life, he of a spiritual seeker who has renounced family life, never to
had killed an ant while cutting grass. As a karmic result, be proud, and always to have compassionate sympathy and
his head could only be cut off with a blade of kusha grass. loving concern for others. This was most extraordinary for
Kumara did this and Nagarjuna died. The blood from the such a young child.
severed head turned into milk and the head said, “Now I
will go to Sukhavati Pure Land, but I will enter this body As Atisha grew older, his wish to become a mendicant
again.” Kumara took the head far away from the body, but monk increased ever stronger, but his parents had different
it is said that the head and the body are coming closer to- expectations. Of their three sons, he was the brightest, and
Atisha immediately set off with all his horse-
men and there, from Bodhibhadra, he again
received the bodhisattva vows and teachings.
He was next directed to the great Vidyakokila
for further instruction and then on to the fa-
mous Avadhutipa. This latter master advised
the boy to return home, treat everyone re-
spectfully, but try to see the drawbacks of such
a luxurious life and then report back.

Atisha’s parents were delighted to see him and

thought at last he would settle down, take a
wife, and prepare for his future rule. However,
the lad informed them that he had in fact gone
in search of a spiritual teacher for guiding di-
rection. He confessed that all he wished was to
lead a quiet, contemplative life and had come
for permission to take leave of his princely du-

Shocked at his words, his parents tried to dis-

suade him from leaving. They said he could
combine both lives and offered to build se-
questered monasteries near the palace and
let him study, feed the poor and so on. They
pleaded with him not to return to the jungle.
the auspicious omens at his birth helped convince them that he should But, Atisha told them he had not the slightest
be the royal successor. Therefore, when the boy reached eleven, the cus- attraction to royal life. “To me,” he said, “this
tomary age for marriage at that time, they made elaborate preparations golden palace is no different from a prison.
for him to take a bride. The princess you offer is no different from a
daughter of the demons, the sweet food no dif-
On his wedding eve, the Buddha-figure (yidam) Tara appeared to Atisha ferent from the rotted flesh of a dog, and these
vividly in a dream. She told him that for 500 consecutive lives he had satin clothes and jewels are no different from
been a mendicant monk and therefore not to have any attraction for rags from the garbage heap. From this day on-
the transitory pleasures of this world. She explained that an ordinary wards, I am determined to live in the jungle
person caught up in them would be relatively easy to rescue, like a goat and study at the feet of the master Avadhutipa.
trapped in quicksand. But, as a royal prince, he would be as difficult to All I ask is for some milk, honey, and brown
extract as an elephant. The boy told no one about this dream, but on sugar and I shall take my leave.”
other grounds cleverly excused himself from this marriage.
There was nothing his parents could do but
Having firmly resolved to find a spiritual teacher, but telling his parents consent to his request and so Atisha returned
he wished to go hunting, Atisha now left the palace with 130 horse- to the jungle with these provisions and an
men. First, he met in the jungle the holy Jetari, a man of the brahmin embarrassingly large entourage of royal atten-
priestly caste who was living as a Buddhist recluse. From him, the lad dants they insisted accompany him. Avadhuti-
formally accepted a safe direction in life and took the bodhisattva vows. pa now sent the young prince to the master
This holy man then sent him to the sequestered monastic university of Rahulagupta, on the Black Mountain, to enter
Nalanda and the spiritual master Bodhibhadra. the practice of tantra. Atisha arrived with all
his horsemen and told this vajra master how
he had studied with many teachers, but still was unable to ied at the monastic university of Odantipuri with the great
shake off his bondage to royal life. Rahulagupta conferred Dharmarakshita, the author of the famous lojong (blo-sby-
upon him his first empowerment, which was into the prac- ong, mind-training) text for cleansing our attitudes, The
tice of Hevajra, a Buddha-figure with which to bond his Wheel of Sharp Weapons. They focused on all the Hinaya-
mind. He then sent him back to the palace with eight of his na or modest-minded measures to take as a vehicle leading
disciples, four male and four female, dressed scantily in the to liberation, but Atisha was always dissatisfied. He longed
bone ornaments of mahasiddhas, great adepts with actual for the fastest way to realize his fullest potential.
His vajra master Rahulagupta told him, “It does not mat-
For three months, Atisha stayed in the environs of the ter how many pure visions you receive, you must train to
palace with these strange new companions, behaving in a develop caring love, compassionate sympathy, and a bo-
completely unconventional and outrageous manner. In the dhichitta aim totally dedicated to benefiting others and to
end, his parents were forced to give up all hopes for their achieving enlightenment.” He advised him to commit him-
precious son. Thinking him to have gone mad, they gave self wholeheartedly to the Buddha-figure Avalokiteshvara,
full permission for him to leave with his rather unsavory- to bond his mind closely with him and work to become en-
looking friends and be gone once and for all. lightened so that he could best free everyone from samsara,
uncontrollably recurring existence. Only with this achieve-
Studies in India and the Golden Isle ment would he realize his fullest potential.

Atisha immediately ran back to his master Avadhutipa and At Vajrasana, the Vajra Seat, at modern Bodh Gaya, while
now, from the age of twenty-one to twenty-five, studied circumambulating the great stupa relic monument for
intensively the Madhayamka middle way outlook of real- honoring the Buddha, Atisha heard two statues whisper-
ity. During this period, he also studied with many other ing to each other in a niche overhead. One asked the other,
highly accomplished teachers and became extremely well “If you wish to achieve enlightenment as quickly as pos-
versed in all systems of tantra practice. In fact, he became sible, in what should you train?” “A totally dedicated heart
rather proud of his erudition and felt he was rather clever of bodhichitta” was the reply. And while circumambulating
with these hidden measures to protect the mind and that the cupola of the monument, a statue of Buddha, the Van-
he had mastered all their texts. But then, he received a pure quishing Master Surpassing All, spoke to him saying, “O
vision of a dakini, a celestial maiden whose movements mendicant monk, if you wish to realize your fullest poten-
are unimpeded by ignorance, who held in her arms many tial quickly, train in love, compassion, and bodhichitta.”
volumes on the everlasting streams of such tantra systems.
She told him, “In your land, there are only a few such texts, At that time, the most famous master holding the complete
but in our land there are so many,” After this, his pride was teachings on how to develop bodhichitta was Dharmamati,
deflated. the Sublime Teacher from Suvarnadvipa, the Golden Isle.
Thus, with a group of 125 learned monks, Atisha set off
One day, he decided to go off and devote all his energies on a ship of merchants bound for the Golden Isle, mod-
to the tantra practices in order to realize his fullest poten- ern Sumatra. In those days a long ocean voyage was not an
tial in his very life. His vajra master, Rahulagupta, then ap- easy affair and they had a particularly difficult passage with
peared in a dream and advised him not to do so and desert storms, whales, and losing their way. It took thirteen ardu-
everybody, but to become a mendicant monk. He should ous months to complete their journey, but Atisha remained
continue in this manner with steady practice and achieve undaunted throughout.
perfect enlightenment in its due course of time. Thus, at
the age of twenty-nine, Atisha received from the stable el- When they finally landed, Atisha did not go at once to the
der, Shilarakshita, the robes of a spiritual seeker who has famous master, but stayed instead for a full two weeks with
renounced family life and was given the name Dipamkara a group of this master’s disciples. He prodded them over
Jnana, “He Whose Deep Awareness Acts as a Lamp.” and again for information about their teacher and insist-
ed on his full biography. This shows us the importance of
During his first two years after taking robes, Atisha stud- thoroughly examining a spiritual master and checking his
or her qualifications before going to study. erate or misinformed practices, he would immediately re-
form them. His fame spread throughout India. Because of
Meanwhile, this Sublime Teacher from the Golden Isle had his compassion and insight, he was revered as the crowning
heard of the arrival from India of the learned scholar and jewel of the erudite masters. He conferred the greatest ben-
his mendicant companions on their spiritual quest. He as- efit, however, on the people of Tibet, the Land of Snow.
sembled his own community of monks for the welcome
and when Atisha arrived, they performed together many Although the Buddha Dharma had been brought to Ti-
formal ceremonies auspicious for the future. He also pre- bet several centuries earlier through the efforts primarily
sented Atisha with a Buddha statue and predicted that one of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava (Gu-ru Rin-po-che
day he would tame the minds of the people of the northern Pad-ma ‘byung-gnas) and several others, this early flow-
Land of Snow. ering suffered a great setback due to repression by King
Langdarma (Glang-dar-ma) (863 – 906). Few practitio-
Atisha stayed in the Golden Isle for twelve years, avidly ners were left and afterwards many points were no longer
training with this master. First, he studied A Filigree of properly understood. Many felt that the practices of ethical
Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamaya-alam- self-discipline and tantra were mutually exclusive and that
kara) the Triumphant Maitreya’s guideline instructions for enlightenment could be achieved through intoxication and
fathoming the Omniscient One’s Sutras of Far-reaching various forms of sexual misconduct. Others believed that
Discriminating Awareness (Sher-phyin-gyi mdo, Skt. Pra- likewise contradictory were the teachings of Hinayana and
jnaparamita Sutras). He then gradually received the full Mahayana, leading respectively to liberation and enlight-
teachings on extensive behavior from the lineage of Mai- enment.
treya and Asanga, as well as those of the special lineage on
exchanging selfishness for concern with others, which the Saddened by this degenerate condition, the Tibetan king
bodhisattva Shantideva, a spiritual son of the Triumphant, YesheWö (Ye-shes ‘od) wished very strongly to invite a
had received directly from the ennobling, impeccable Man- learned master from one of the great monastic centers of
jushri himself. After Atisha gained, through these methods, India to come to Tibet and clarify the confusion. Not know-
a full-realization of a bodhichitta aim, he returned to India ing specifically of Atisha, he sent twenty-one young men to
at the age of forty-five and resided thereafter mostly at the study Sanskrit and locate a suitable master. All but two died
sequestered monastic university of Vikramashila. of the heat. Unable to invite anyone, but having learned the
language, the new translators Rinchen-Zangpo (Rin-chen
All in all, Atisha studied with 157 great teachers, but he bzang-po) (958 – 1051) and Legshe (Legs-bshad) returned
had such exceptional reverence for this magnificent teach- to the king and informed him about Atisha.
er from the Golden Isle and the measures he imparted that
tears would well in his eyes whenever he mentioned or As soon as he heard his name, the king decided that this
heard his name. When later asked by his Tibetan disciples Atisha was the person who was needed. Wasting no time,
if this display of emotion meant that he favored one of his he sent a second party of nine, headed by GyaTsönSeng
teachers above all others, Atisha replied, “I make no dis- (rGya brtson-‘grus seng-ge), with much gold to invite this
tinctions among all my spiritual mentors. But because of master. But the eight companions died as well and, unable
the kindness of my sublime master from the Golden Isle, to bring Atisha, GyaTsönSeng stayed on in India. When
I have gained peace of mind and the dedicated heart of a news of this second failure reached Yesheywo, he decided
bodhichitta aim.” to lead an expedition himself to collect more gold for yet
another party. But on this mission, he was captured on
Inviting Atisha to Tibet the Nepalese border by the rival King of Garlog (Gar-log,
Qarluq), who wished to prevent the further spread of Bud-
After Atisha’s return to India, he protected and upheld the dhism in Tibet.
Triumphant One’s hallowed Dharma by three times defeat-
ing in formal debate non-Buddhist extremists. Within the King YesheWö’s nephew, Jangchubwo, was informed either
Buddhist fold, he established many institutes of learning to give up this mission to India or to raise an amount of
wherever he traveled, and whenever he saw signs of degen- gold equal to the size of his uncle in order to secure the
hostage’s release. The nephew traveled about the kingdom, him to the palace and, insisting that the translator sit on
but was only able to collect gold equal to the King’s torso the royal throne, pleaded with him. “My uncle died so that
and limbs. He could not raise the additional gold for his Atisha could be invited to Tibet. If his wish is not fulfilled,
head. When the Garlog ruler demanded the full measure of the troubled people of this land will surely fall into terrible
ransom, the nephew requested permission to see his uncle. rebirths. I beg you to save these unfortunate beings.” The
young king then broke down and wept. Nagtso had no
He was taken to a dark prison cell enclosed by iron bars. choice but to accept and brave the hardships of yet another
There he explained the situation to his uncle, who was in journey to India.
chains and very frail, and said he would continue to search
for the remaining gold. “Do not give up hope,” he told his The translator set off with 700 gold coins and six compan-
uncle, “for I shall raise the ransom. I could wage war with ions. The King escorted them for several days and, before
this Garlog king, but many would be killed. Buying your taking his leave, reminded Nagtso to tell Atisha, “This is
freedom seems best.” the last of the gold in Tibet and my uncle was the last of
Tibet’s great men. If he has any compassion for others, he
“My dear nephew,” the aged King replied, “I never expected must come. If the barbarians of Tibet have such concern for
you to have such compassion and wisdom. I am pleased the Dharma and he has none, then Buddhism has indeed
that you understand the evils of violence, but now you must weakened and there is no hope!” The King then turned
forget about me. Instead, use all the gold you have collect- back to his palace.
ed to invite to Tibet the great master Atisha. I have died
countless times in previous lives, but I am sure I have never On the way to India, the delegation met a young boy who
before sacrificed myself for the Triumphant One’s Dharma. asked the purpose of their journey. When told, he was very
Now I am very happy to do so. Whomever you send to In- pleased and said, “You will be successful in your quest if
dia, please have him tell Atisha that I have given my life for you always recite this prayer, ‘I make obeisance to and take
the welfare of my subjects and the Dharma so that he could safe direction from Avalokiteshvara. I request that the Tri-
be brought to Tibet. Although I have not had the fortune umphant One’s Dharma flourish in Tibet.’” When asked
to meet him this lifetime, I have fervent hopes that I can in who he was, the boy said they would find out in due time.
the future.” The nephew submitted to his uncle’s command
and departed, nearly overcome by grief. Eventually, the travelers reached the sequestered monastic
university of Vikramashila late one night and camped at the
Jangchubwo, now became King of Tibet. He decided that gates. In a room above, lived Gyatsonseng, the Tibetan who
the best person he could send on this third mission would had led King Yesheywo’s second mission. When he heard
be the translator Nagtso (Nag-mtsho Lo-tsa-ba), who had voices speaking his native tongue, he looked down with
already been to India several times. The new king invited great surprise and, seeing the party camped below, asked
why they had come. The Tibetans excitedly related their months, an important monastic ceremony was held. As ev-
story, and even disclosed that the purpose of their mission eryone was required to attend, the travelers hoped that at
was, in fact, to bring Atisha himself back to Tibet. Gyatson- last they would catch a glimpse of Atisha. As they watched
seng warned them not to reveal their aims so openly. He and waited, many great masters made their entrance. Some,
advised them to leave their gold with the boy posted at the like the famous Naropa, came surrounded by a huge reti-
gate and come to see him in the morning. The travelers did nue. Others were preceded by attendants bearing flowers
so and the small boy told them to rest and to trust him. and incense. Finally, Atisha arrived. He was dressed in old
tattered robes, with the chapel and storehouse keys tied to
Early the next day, the lad woke them and asked why they his waist. The Tibetans were sorely disappointed with his
had come. When they told him everything, the boy said unimpressive appearance and asked Gyatsonseng if they
crossly, “You Tibetans talk too much! You must keep this could invite one of the other more glamorous masters in-
quiet. Otherwise, there will be much interference. Impor- stead. Gyatsonseng told them, “No, Atisha has a very spe-
tant things should never be done in haste, but always slowly, cial close bond with Tibet and, despite his appearance, he
carefully, and in secret.” He then returned their gold coins is the one you must bring back.”
and led them into the enormous monastic grounds.
Finally, a secret meeting was arranged. Nagtso presented
The party met an old man who greeted them and asked Atisha with the gold coins piled high on a round mandala
where they were from and why they had come. Again, they offering plate and told him the history of how the hallowed
made no attempt to hide anything and the old man scolded Dharma had degenerated in Tibet. Relating the story of
them, “If you continue indiscreetly like this, you will never King Yesheywo’s sacrifice and repeating the words of both
accomplish your goal. Tell your mission only to Atisha.” the uncle and nephew, Nagtso pleaded with him to come.
He then offered to show them to Gyatsonseng’s room. Al-
though he walked slowly with a cane, no one could keep Atisha told them they were very kind and that he had no
up with him, for he too, like the small boys before, was an doubt that those Tibetan kings were in fact bodhisattvas.
emanation of Avalokiteshvara, overseeing their mission. He was aware of the problems and sincerely respected the
King for his sacrifice, but they must try to understand he
Now the Tibetans decided on a plan of action. Gyatsonseng was getting on in years and had many responsibilities as
told them to say they had come to study Sanskrit. “Our keeper of the monastery’s storehouse. He hoped it would
chief abbot, the elder Ratnakara, is Atisha’s superior and be possible to come and returned their gold for the journey
regards him very highly. If he hears of your real purpose, he home. “Meanwhile,” he told them, “I must consult with my
will make sure you never even meet Atisha.” personal yidam.”

The next morning, they reported to the Abbot and present- That night, Tara appeared to Atisha in a pure vision and told
ed him with half their gold coins. They told him that in the him his journey would be a complete success. He would
past many of their countrymen had come to India seeking benefit the Tibetans enormously and would find among
to invite to Tibet such erudite masters as Atisha. However, them a disciple with an especially close bond to him. This
they had come to study and become learned themselves. would be an upasaka, a man with lay vows, and he would
The venerable elder was greatly relieved and said, “By all spread the Dharma even further. “But,” she told him, “if
means do that. Do not misunderstand. It is not that I have you remain in India, you will live to be ninety-two, whereas
no compassion for Tibet, but Atisha is one of our most if you go to Tibet your life span will be seventy-two years.”
highly realized masters, especially in terms of his bodhi- Atisha now felt confident to go with the Tibetans and that it
chitta. If he does not remain in India, there is no hope for was worth the sacrifice of twenty years of his life if he could
the Buddha’s teachings to be preserved in their birthplace.” truly benefit others. He would have to find some clever
The Abbot, however, was still highly suspicious of these means to obtain leave from his shrewd abbot.
foreigners and prevented them from meeting Atisha.
First, he asked permission to make pilgrimages to the east,
The Tibetans, convinced that their ploy had worked, be- south, and west of Vikramashila. This was granted and he
gan to attend classes and bided their time. After several visited a number of holy places. He then asked to make a
teacher’s wish that I visit India three times. Now, I must
make this final journey.” They also met the aged translator
Rinchen-Zangpo, but he too was unable to help. “As you
can see by the white hair on my head,” he said, “I am very
old. I have worked all my life without ever the chance for
intensive practice.” Thus, Atisha went on, forced to rely on
Nagtso’s limited skills.

After two years of travel, the party finally arrived in Upper

Tibet (sTod, western Tibet) at the city of Ngari (mNga’-ri),
the capital of Yesheywo’s kingdom. Both the household-
ers and the monks formed a grand procession and invited
Atisha to stay at the nearby sequestered monastery. The
Indian master was overjoyed at this enthusiasm for the
Triumphant One’s teachings and was greatly surprised at
the number who had taken the robes of a spiritual seeker.
Many learned people came from all over Tibet. He was so
impressed with the profundity of their questions concern-
ing the Sage Buddha’s sutras and tantras that he wondered
why they had gone to so much trouble to invite him when
similar journey to the north, but the Elder, sensing his hid- there were already so many masters. However, when he
den motive, refused. quizzed them back as to how these two sets of preventive
measures formed an integral whole, they were unable to
The Tibetan delegation was thrown into great despair and answer. Atisha now knew the purpose of his mission.
decided the only hope was to tell the Abbot the entire truth.
The stable Elder pretended to be angry, and the Tibetans One day, King Jangchubwo requested a teaching for the
immediately fell to their knees and pleaded for forgiveness. people of Tibet. “We do not want one on measures that are
“My reasons for not wishing to give you Atisha are the same so vast and profound we shall be unable to adopt them,” he
as before,” the Abbot began, “but because the need of Tibet said. “What we need is something that will tame our minds
is so great, I am willing to let him remain in your land for and enable us to deal with our everyday impulsive behavior
three years. However, you must promise to return him to (karma) and its results. Please teach us the measures you
India after that time.” Overwhelmed with joy, the Tibetans yourself take.”
pledged their word.
Atisha was so enchanted by the simplicity and sincerity of
Reforming and Revitalizing the Dharma in Tibet the King’s request that in later years he referred to him as
“my excellent disciple.” Had he been asked for advanced em-
Thus, at the age of fifty-three, Atisha set out on the long powerments into tantric deity systems or for practices con-
journey to the Land of Snow. On route, the translator Gyat- ferring special powers, he would have been far less pleased.
sonseng fell ill and died. In grief, Atisha declared, “Now Thus, he spent three years at Ngari giving discourses later
my tongue has been cut out!” Then Nagtso humbly bowed compiled into A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (By-
before him and said, “Please do not worry. Although my ang-chub lam-gyi sgron-ma, Skt. Bodhipathapradipa), the
Sanskrit is not perfect, it will surely improve. There are oth- prototype for all future texts on this subject.
ers as well who maybe can serve you.”
The points he always emphasized in his talks with the peo-
In Nepal, they met the great eye-opening translator Marpa ple earned him the nicknames, “Sublime Teacher of Safe
(Mar-pa Lo-tsa-ba) (1012 – 1099), who was on his way to Direction (Lama Refuge)” and “Sublime Teacher of Impul-
India for the third time. Atisha invited him to be his inter- sive Behavior and Its Results (Lama Cause and Effect).” He
preter, but Marpa excused himself by saying, “It was my was very pleased with this and said, “Even hearing such
names might prove beneficial.” has written has benefited us all. I merely ask that he now
compose and send us his own commentary to it.” This is
Throughout this time, Atisha kept watch for his future chief how Atisha’s own explanation of the difficult points of this
disciple, the Tibetan layman prophesied by ennobling, im- important text (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-ma’i dka’-‘grel)
peccable Tara, but he had still not appeared. One day, the came to be written.
Indian was invited to a patron’s house for lunch and, as he
was a strict vegetarian, was served traditional toasted barley Soon, Dromtonpa invited Atisha to travel further north to
cakes (tsampa). When he left, he asked for a few extra piec- Central Tibet and visit Lhasa. On the way, they stopped at
es and some butter. At that very same moment, the revered Samyay, the first monastery built in Tibet. Atisha was very
Dromtonpa (‘Bron-ston rGyal-ba’i ‘byung-gnas) (1004 impressed by the library’s Sanskrit and Tibetan collections
– 1064), the awaited upasaka layman, arrived at Atisha’s and said that he did not think that so many Sanskrit Bud-
house. He asked the attendants, “Where is my sublime Ma- dhist texts existed even in India at that time.
hayana guru?” They replied, “Atisha is having lunch with
his patron. If you wait here, he will return shortly.” Altogether, Atisha spent seventeen years in the Land
of Snow (...) until his death at the age of seventy-two as
Dromtonpa could not wait. Instead, he ran quickly toward prophesied by Tara. Atisha’s body was embalmed and en-
the patron’s house. Atisha and Dromtonpa met in one of shrined at Nyetang.
the streets. Although they had never seen each other be-
fore, there was an immediate mutual recognition because Nagtso the translator recalled that not once during the long
of their close bond from previous lives. Dromtonpa made time they had been together had Atisha ever said or done
prostration and Atisha, offering him the barley cakes, said, anything unpleasant. Teaching an integrated path of sutra
“Here is your lunch. You must be very hungry.” The layman and tantra, the great Indian master accomplished the enor-
ate the cakes and used the butter to make a butter-lamp of- mous task of reforming and revitalizing the spread in Tibet
fering to his newly found spiritual master. From that time of the Triumphant One’s complete Dharma. In fact, it is
onwards, he offered such a lamp each night without fail. due to his kindness that these hallowed measures have sur-
vived in their original form up until the present.
After Atisha had been in Ngari three years, he set out with
the translator Nagtso for the return to India. But, a war on
the Nepalese border prevented their passage. Nagtso be-
came extremely anxious since now it appeared impossible
for him to keep his promise to the Abbot of Vikramashila.
Atisha immediately calmed his fears by saying, “It is useless
to worry about a situation that is beyond your control.”

Greatly relieved, Nagtso wrote the Abbot a letter, explain-

ing how their good intentions had been thwarted. As par-
tial recompense for his absence, Atisha sent with it a copy
of A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. He also request-
ed permission to stay in Tibet for the remainder of his life.
They then returned to Ngari.

Atisha’s text was subjected to meticulous scrutiny and the

committee unanimously agreed to its outstanding worth.
The presiding king was even moved to remark that it would
not only benefit the ignorant Tibetans, but the sharp-
minded Indians as well. When the Abbot of Vikramashila
read the text, he wrote to Nagtso the translator, “I have no
more objections to Atisha’s remaining in Tibet. What he
gave me a Manjushri empowerment and said, ‘Throughout
all your future lives, I will take care of you.’ I feel that this
The Life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche blessing of his was the single most important event in my
By Matthieu Ricard
“When I was a year old, a great lama of the Sakya lineage,
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one the five immediate re- Loter Wangpo, came to my house. He was the foremost
embodiments of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, was born in Sakya disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He gave me
1910 as the fourth son of the Dilgo family, which traced its his blessing, chanted some invocations, and said to my
descent from the great ninth century king of Tibet, Trisong mother, ‘This is a child different from all others.’ He gave
Detsen. The family home, his birthplace, was in the valley me a bead from Jamyang Khyentse’s rosary, which he wore
of Denkhok in Kham, the eastern most of Tibet’s four main around his neck. He also gave me a long ceremonial scarf of
provinces. Kham was made up of many small kingdoms, of white silk, saying: ‘This boy is the emanation of my teacher,
which the largest and most influential was Derge. Khyentse Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. For three days in a row I have
Rinpoche’s grandfather, Tashi Tsering, and later his father, had dreams and visions of Khyentse Wangpo, and when I
were both ministers to the king of Derge. saw the boy I had no doubt at all.’

Khyentse Rinpoche’s elder brother had been recognized as “In any important matter, my father would seek advice from
the incarnation of Sangye Nyenpa, a great teacher whose Mipham Rinpoche, and at this time Mipham Rinpoche
seat was Benchen. Despite being very religious, his father said, ‘It is still a little too early to publicly recognize the
was not happy at all, because his first son was already a boy as Khyentse’s incarnation. It might provoke obstacles.’
monk and he had no wish to let all the others embrace the So for the time being my father did not offer me to Loter
monastic life. Khyentse Rinpoche recounts: “While my Wangpo, nor was I sent to Dzongsar Monastery.
mother was pregnant with me, her fourth son, the family
went to visit Mipham Rinpoche, a great lama who lived in “When I was two years old, Mipham Rinpoche died, and
a hermitage about an hour’s walk from our estate. Mipham Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche came to participate in the fu-
Rinpoche immediately asked if my mother was pregnant. neral ceremonies. During his stay, I visited him regularly.
This my parents confirmed, and asked him if it was a boy or He told my father that I should be brought to him later at
a girl. ‘It is a son,’ said Mipham Rinpoche, ‘and the moment Shechen monastery, as I would be of benefit to the Bud-
he is born it is important that you let me know.’ dhist teachings and beings. My father asked him what in-
dications he had of this. Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who
He gave my mother a protection cord and some blessed rarely spoke of such things, replied that the night before he
pills of Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom, to be given to had had a dream in which the image of Tseringma, the Pro-
me at birth. The day I was born, before I had any of my tectress of Long Life, in our temple turned into the goddess
mother’s milk, a lama duly wrote on my tongue the syl- herself and told him to take care of this child, who would
lable Dhi, the seed syllable of Manjushri’s mantra, using the be of benefit to the teachings. My father, who was very di-
powdered pills mixed with saffron water. rect, said that if this was really true he would allow me to
go to Shechen. But if it was just for me to occupy a throne
When I was three days old my parents took me to see at the monastery and get caught up in ecclesiastical politics
Mipham Rinpoche, who said something to the effect that he would not let me go. Gyaltsap Rinpoche assured him
I was a special child. From birth, I had long black hair that that I would be of benefit to the teachings and to beings, so
came down over my eyes. My father asked if it should be my father agreed to let me go. However, I was then still too
cut, but Mipham Rinpoche said no and tied it up himself young to be sent to Shechen.”
in five bunches, like Manjushri’s hair. At my mother’s re-
quest, he gave me a name, Tashi Paljor (Auspicious Glory), When the family traveled on pilgrimage, other great lamas,
writing it down himself on a slip of paper that my mother such as Taklung Matrul and Adzom Drukpa said that the
afterwards always kept in her prayer book. A while later, child must be an incarnate lama. But his father did not want
my parents took me to see Mipham Rinpoche again. He to let him become a lama, for there was a large family, an
estate, and much land to look after. However, as Khyentse To the north-east of Derge lies Shechen, one of the six prin-
Rinpoche recounts: cipal monasteries of the Nyingmapa school. It was there
that Khyentse Wangpo and Lama Mipham’s close disciple
“That same year I was burnt very seriously. Summer on our Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche (1871-1926) formally recog-
estate was the busiest time of the agricultural year, during nized and enthroned the young Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
which we employed many workers. To feed them all, huge as one of the five incarnations of this great lama. The boy
quantities of soup were cooked in an enormous cauldron. was then twelve years old. Khyentse Rinpoche tells of those
One day, playing with my brother, I fell into the cauldron golden years he spent with his teachers:
of boiling soup. The lower half of my body was so badly
scalded that I was bedridden for many months, seriously “When we arrived, Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s attendant greeted
ill despite the many long-life prayers that my family recited us with two ceremonial scarves, one for myself and one for
for me. my elder brother Nyenpa Rinpoche. He conveyed Gyaltsap
Rinpoche’s wish that the two of us wait for an auspicious
“My father asked me in desperation, ‘What ceremonies do date to meet him, for it would be the first time we had ever
you think will help you get better? If there’s anything that met him at Shechen. Shedrup, however, having been there
can save your life, we must do it!’ before, could visit him whenever he wished.

“What I wanted most was to be a monk, so I replied, ‘It “We waited for three days before receiving word; and to
would help if I could wear monk’s robes.’ My father gave his me, waiting to meet my teacher for the first time, those
word, and quickly got some robes made. When I had them days seemed very long. At long last we were taken up to
laid over me in bed, I felt overjoyed. I also had placed on his retreat quarters. Gyaltsap Rinpoche was wearing a yel-
my pillow a bell and ritual hand-drum. low jacket lined with fur, instead of monastic robes. His
hair, curling at the ends, had grown long enough to fall
“The very next day I asked Lama Osel, Mipham Rinpoche’s around his shoulders, for he rarely left his retreat hermit-
life-long attendant, to come and shave my head. I was told age. We were seated and served sweet saffron rice. Gyalt-
that a few of our old retainers wept that day, lamenting, sap Rinpoche wanted to know all about the teachers Ny-
‘Now the last Dilgo son has taken vows, that’s the end of enpa Rinpoche had met and the teachings he had received.
the family line.’ But I was so happy that soon my health Nyenpa Rinpoche answered his questions for about three
improved and the risk of an untimely death receded. I was hours.
then ten years old.”
“Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s hermitage was perched on a spur of
the mountainside about forty-five minutes’ walk above
Shechen Monastery. The path up to this beautiful spot was
quite steep, and slippery during the rainy season. From the
window you could see the monastery and the river down
below in the valley, framed all around by mountains snow-
covered for most of the year.

“Gyaltsap Rinpoche was indisputably one of the most

learned and accomplished lamas of his time. Once he start-
ed a three year retreat, but after only three months to ev-
eryone’s surprise he emerged saying that he had completed
his intended program. The next morning, his attendant no-
ticed that a footprint had appeared in the stone threshold
of his hermitage. That stone was later removed by disciples
and can still be seen nowadays at Shechen Monastery.

“The monastery used to house more than two hundred

monks. Their abbot was Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, an-
other of my principal teachers, and it was he who used to ordination as a novice monk from Gyaltsap Rinpoche.”
instruct the monks and give them empowerments. He also
visited other monasteries to teach, traveling extensively as Before meeting Shechen Gyaltsap, Khyentse Rinpoche had
far as Central Tibet. spent many months studying Buddhist philosophy with
the greatest scholars and hermit of his time named Khenpo
“Also at Shechen was a third great lama, Shechen Kongtrul Shenga. He received teachings from him on The Way of the
Rinpoche. He lived on the other side of the mountain tor- Bodhisattva and on Madhyamika (“middle way”) philoso-
rent from Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s hermitage, on the flat top phy.
of another promontory in the mountainside a delightful
place of meadows covered in summer with yellow flowers. It is at Shechen, that Khyentse Rinpoche meet Jamyang
Shechen Kongtrul was a great meditator and, like Shechen Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, who had also come to receive
Gyaltsap, took no part in the monastery’s administration, teachings from Shechen Gyaltsap. At the end of the teach-
which was looked after by Shechen Rabjam.” ings, Gyaltsap Rinpoche enthroned the young boy as the
incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s mind. Khy-
“For several months, Shechen Gyaltsap gave us all the most entse Wangpo had five incarnations, who where respec-
important teachings from the Nyingma tradition. While tively the emanations of his body, speech, mind, qualities,
he was giving empowerments, I was often overwhelmed by and activity. Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was the incarnation
the splendor and magnificence of his expression and his of his activity. Khyentse Rinpoche explains:
eyes as, with a gesture pointing in my direction, he intro-
duced the nature of mind. I felt that, apart from my own “On the morning of the enthronement I climbed up the
feeble devotion that made me see the teacher as an ordi- path to the hermitage. Inside, a large throne had been set
nary man, this was in fact exactly the same as the great up. Shechen Kongtrul, who was still very young then, was
Guru Padmasambhava himself giving empowerments to holding incense, and Shechen Gyaltsap was dressed in
the twenty-five disciples. My confidence grew stronger and his finest clothes. They told me to sit on the throne. They
stronger, and when again he would gaze and point at me, chanted verses describing the five perfect conditions the
asking ‘What is the nature of mind?’ I would think with perfection of time, place, teacher, teaching, and disciples.
great devotion, ‘This is truly a great yogi who can see the Gyaltsap Rinpoche performed the ceremony and gave me
absolute nature of reality!’ and began to understand myself sacred objects symbolic of the body, speech, mind, qualities
how to meditate.On my next visit to Shechen, I received and activity of the Buddhas. Then he presented me with a
written document, which said:

‘Today I take the son of the Dilgo family and recognize

him as the re-embodiment of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. I
name him Gyurme Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen, Immutable
Victory Banner of the Supreme Vehicle. I entrust him with
the teachings of the great masters of the past. Now, if I die
I have no regret.’

“So these, and other occasions over a period of about five

years, were the times I spent with Gyaltsap Rinpoche at
Shechen. While there, I lived not in the monastery itself
but at the retreat center up the hill.

“Then I went back home. I stayed in retreat for about a year

in a cave. During the winter, without coming out of retreat,
I asked the learned Khenpo Thubga to come and give me
detailed teachings on the Tantra of the Secret Quintessence.
He went through it three times altogether, and I learnt by
heart both the root text and Longchenpa’s three hundred
page commentary.

“Some time later, I went to Kyangma Ritro where Khenpo

Thubga lived. There was no monastery or other buildings
there, only tents. It was there, at the age of fifteen that I
learned in a letter from my father that Gyaltsap Rinpoche To free yourself from samsara and attain the omniscience
had died. For a moment my mind went blank. Then, sud- of enlightenment you have to rely on an authentic teacher.
denly, the memory of my teacher arose so strongly in my Such a teacher always thinks, speaks and acts in perfect ac-
mind that I was overwhelmed and wept. That day I felt as cord with the Dharma. He shows you what to do to make
if my heart had been torn from my chest. I went back to progress on the path, and what obstacles to avoid. An au-
Denkhok and started a period of retreat in the mountains thentic spiritual teacher is like the sail that enables a boat to
that would last for thirteen years.” cross the ocean swiftly.

Khyentse Rinpoche tells us about the importance of the If you trust his words, you will find your way out of sam-
spiritual master: sara easily. Enlightenment is not something that can be ac-
complished just by following your own ideas; each separate
“A crystal takes on the color of the cloth upon which it is stage of your practice, whether based on the sutras or tan-
placed, whether white, yellow, red, or black. Likewise, the tras, requires an explanation from a qualified teacher.
people you spend your time with, whether their influence
is good or bad, will make a huge difference to the direction It is said that the Buddhas of the past, those of the present,
your life and practice take. and those to come have all achieved or will achieve Bud-
dhahood by following a teacher.”
Spending your time with true spiritual friends will fill you
with love for all beings and help you to see how negative at- Khyentse Rinpoche himself was to become the archetype
tachment and hatred are. Being with such friends, and fol- of the spiritual teacher, someone whose inner journey led
lowing their example, will naturally imbue you with their him to an extraordinary depth of knowledge and enabled
good qualities, just as all the birds flying around a golden him to be, for whoever met him, a fountain of loving kind-
mountain are bathed in its golden radiance. ness, wisdom and compassion. To achieve these extraordi-
nary qualities, Khyentse Rinpoche spent most of the next speak a single word. At noon, after lunch, I used to relax
thirteen years in silent retreat. In remote hermitages and a little and study some books; I never wasted time doing
caves deep in the steep wilderness of wooded hills near his nothing at all. My brother Shedrup often encouraged me
birthplace in the valley of Denkhok, he constantly medi- to compose prayers, spiritual songs and poems, which he
tated on the wish to bring all sentient beings to freedom thought would give me practice in writing. I found it easy
and enlightenment. He tells us about those years he spent to write, and by the end of that period I had written about
in retreat: a thousand pages; but later, when we fled Tibet, it was all
“I practiced from the early hours before dawn until noon,
and from afternoon late into the night. At midday I read That cave had a very clear feeling about it, and there were no
from my books, reciting the texts aloud to learn them by distractions. I let my hair grow and it got very long. When
heart. I stayed in a cave at Cliff Hermitage for seven years, I practiced ‘inner warmth’ I experienced a lot of heat, and
at White Grove for three years, and in other caves and huts day and night for years, in spite of the very cold climate, I
for a few months at a time, surrounded by thick forests and wore only a white shawl and a robe of raw silk. I sat on a
snow mountains. My cave had no door, and small bears bearskin. Outside everything was frozen solid, but inside
used to come and snuffle round the entrance. But they were the cave was warm.
unable to climb the ladder into the cave. Outside in the
forest lived foxes and all sorts of birds. There were leopards Later, I moved to White Grove. There I made myself a small
not very far away, too; they caught a small dog I had with wooden hut with one small window. Khyentse Rinpoche’s
me. A cuckoo lived nearby, and he was my alarm clock. As wife, Khandro Lhamo, tells us:
soon as I heard him, around three o’clock in the morning,
I would get up and start a session of meditation. At five “Rinpoche would never lie down at night; he slept sitting
o’clock I made myself some tea, which meant that I had no up straight in his wooden box. In the evening, after supper,
need to see anyone till lunchtime. In the evening I would he would start his session and not speak until lunchtime
let the fire go out slowly so that next morning the embers the next day. At lunchtime his brother would call me and
were still hot enough to be stoked up again. I could revive we would all have lunch together, and talk a little. Then,
the fire and boil tea in my one big pot without getting up right away, Rinpoche would start another session and not
from my seat, just by leaning forward. I had a large number see anyone till evening. At White Grove, where Rinpoche
of books with me. The cave was quite roomy high enough spent three years in retreat. That was after our first daughter
to stand up in without hitting my head on the roof but Chimey was born. Even after his retreat, Rinpoche would
slightly damp. Like most caves, it was cool in summer and only stay at the family house for a week or two at a time
retained some warmth in winter. before returning to his hermitage.”

I lived in the cave at Cliff Hermitage without coming out of After completing his retreat at the age of twenty-eight, Khy-
retreat for seven years. My parents would come to see me entse Rinpoche spent many years with Dzongsar Khyentse
from time to time. I was sixteen when I started that retreat. Chokyi Lodro (1893-1959), who was, like him, an incarna-
I sat all the time in a four-sided wooden box, occasionally tion of the first Khyentse. Khyentse Rinpoche considered
stretching my legs out. Shedrup, my elder brother, was my Chokyi Lodro his second main teacher and had immense
retreat teacher, and he told me that unless I took a walk respect for him. After receiving the six-month empower-
outside sometimes I might end up quite deranged; but I ments of the Collection of Revealed Treasures from him,
felt not the slightest wish to go out. Shedrup was practic- Khyentse Rinpoche told him that he wished to spend the
ing, too, in partial retreat in a hut nearby. With him was rest of his life in solitary meditation. But Khyentse Chokyi
an attendant who from time to time went to fetch provi- Lodro was adamant. ‘Your mind and mine are one,’ he said.
sions from our house, three hours away by horse. When I ‘The time has come for you to teach and transmit to oth-
returned to Kham in 1985, I met that attendant again, still ers the countless precious teachings you have received.’ So
alive.” from then on, Khyentse Rinpoche worked constantly for
the benefit of all living beings with the tireless energy that
“For five or six years I ate no meat. For three years I did not is the hallmark of the Khyentse lineage. He tells of the times
he spent at Dzongsar:

Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was also a finder of concealed trea-

sures, and once he told Khyentse Rinpoche: ‘You must find
many treasures with which to benefit others. I had a dream
last night. There were clouds in the shapes of the eight aus-
picious symbols and many other forms, and with them in
the sky were many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. From those
clouds fell an abundant rain of nectar, benefiting beings.
You must spread your treasure teachings.’ He asked me to
give him the empowerments for some of my treasures, and
I offered them to him.”

In one of these terma visions, Khyentse Rinpoche saw the

complete mandala of the Buddha of eternal life appear on
the surface of a lake in eastern Tibet. Following this vision,
he wrote a whole volume of teachings and spiritual prac-
tices. Altogether, Khyentse Rinpoche’s spiritual treasures
fill five volumes.

Khyentse Chokyi Lodro then asked Khyentse Rinpoche

to go Rekong in Amdo province and teach the Treasury
of Rediscovered Teachings. Khyentse Rinpoche gave these
precious empowerments and teachings over four months
to one thousand nine hundred yogis. Khyentse Rinpoche
met and studied with many other masters, fifty altogeth-
er, receiving their teachings like a vase being filled to the Wangdi Potrang, someone heard the news on a small radio
brim. that Khyentse Choyi Lodro had died in Sikkim. By then
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was forty-nine. He then went to
By the late 1950s, as the war began to rage in Kham, Khy- perform the cremation of Khyentse Choyi Lodro in Sik-
entse Rinpoche and his family made a narrow escape kim. In Kalimpong and Darjeeling he also met other great
to central Tibet, leaving everything behind, including lamas such as Dudjom Rinpoche and Kangyur Rinpoche
Rinpoche’s precious books and most of his own writings. with whom he exchanged teachings.
Together, they went on an extensive pilgrimage in U and
Tsang. Then, for six months, Khyentse Rinpoche sat be- At the request of the royal family, Khyentse Rinpoche went
fore the famous Crowned Buddha statue in Lhasa to re- to live in Bhutan. He became a schoolteacher near Thim-
cite one hundred thousand offerings of the mandala of the phu, the capital. Soon his inner perfection drew many dis-
universe. An epidemic was raging in Lhasa, and so he also ciples to him and, as the years passed, he became the fore-
performed many ceremonies and prayers for the sick and most Buddhist teacher in Bhutan, revered by all from the
dying, turning a deaf ear to his family’s fears that he himself King to the humblest farmer.
would be infected. During the epidemic, his mother and
his elder brother, Shedrup, both died. Bhutan is a mountain kingdom that has managed to remain
unconquered and independent ever since Vajrayana Bud-
From Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapa, to the north west dhism was first introduced in the eighth century by Guru
of Lhasa, Khyentse Rinpoche, his family and a few disciples Padmasambhava, and then by the fifteenth century Bhuta-
decided to go in exile. They reached the Bhutanese border nese terton Pema Lingpa and the influential seventeenth
with hardly anything left to eat. The Bhutanese government century Tibetan teacher Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
gave them hospitality. When they reached a place called Buddhist culture has been able to flourish unimpeded, and
its values are deeply embedded in people’s minds. Every
hill is topped by a small temple, surrounded by prayer flags
flapping in the wind. Prayer-wheels are kept in motion day
and night by torrents and rivulets. Mountain and forest are
dotted with hermitages in which retreatants devote their
time to meditation.

Several times a year, Khyentse Rinpoche would perform

large ceremonies called drupchen, or ‘great accomplish-
ment’, lasting from eight to fourteen continuous days and
nights. Once Khyentse Rinpoche spent two weeks at the
Tiger’s Nest Cave, at Paro Taktsang. There he made offer-
ings of one hundred thousand butter lamps and gave many
teachings and empowerments. While he was there, he had
a vision of the great eighteenth century lama Jigme Lingpa,
who had a book on his head, tied up in his hair, and wore
a white robe and a striped red and white shawl. He put his
hand on Khyentse Rinpoche’s head and told him: ‘You are
the heir of my teachings, the Heart Essence of Vast Space
(Longchen Nyingthig). You may do with them whatever
you wish.’ Jigme Lingpa also told him that to maintain
peace in Bhutan and to ensure the preservation of the Bud-
dhist teachings, four large stupas should be built. Each stu-
pa should contain one hundred thousand miniature clay
stupas. This was done accordingly.

After escaping from Tibet and arriving in India, Khyentse that Khyentse Rinpoche might study it or read from it the
Rinpoche became one of the main teachers of His Holiness next day. Khyentse Rinpoche thanked the scholar politely,
the Dalai Lama. He had first met him in Lhasa on several but put the book down on his table, resumed the conversa-
occasions. Not long after Khyentse Rinpoche’s had reached tion he had been having with his visitors, and then went to
India, all the main lamas of the four schools of Tibetan sleep.
Buddhism gathered in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s seat
in India, to offer prayers for his long life and discuss the The next day, when the time came to give the lecture in
preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings in exile. The the presence of the Dalai Lama and the learned assembly,
Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools were asked to choose Khyentse Rinpoche stood up, opened the book for the first
a representative to offer His Holiness a mandala symboliz- time, and holding it without turning the pages delivered
ing the whole universe. On such occasions, whoever makes a highly erudite discourse lasting some two hours. At the
the offering traditionally starts by delivering a long, eru- end, during the offering of the Eight Auspicious Objects to
dite speech describing the universe according to Buddhist His Holiness, a clap of thunder was heard as he took the
cosmology and the fundamental tenets of Buddhist history conch shell in his hands.
and doctrine. Usually, a great scholar would compose such
a discourse over a few weeks and read it out on the day, but Everyone was struck by Khyentse Rinpoche’s learning,
Khyentse Rinpoche was only asked to give the discourse which thereafter was well known among the Tibetan com-
the day before. Nevertheless, he accepted without much munity in India. The next day, as Khyentse Rinpoche was
formality. A scholar heard what had happened and felt sor- saying goodbye to him, His Holiness said: ‘That was an aus-
ry that Khyentse Rinpoche had been asked to give such an picious sign yesterday with the thunder, was it not?’
important lecture without preparation. He brought him a
book containing the text of a similar lecture, and suggested Later the Dalai Lama asked Khyentse Rinpoche to his resi-
dence in Dharamsala many times. Over the years, Khy-
entse Rinpoche offered him most of the major teachings
from the Nyingma tradition. The Dalai Lama says about
Khyentse Rinpoche:

“Khyentse Rinpoche is one of my most important gurus.

Since my very first meeting with him I have had clear in-
dications of a special karmic relationship with him. Later
I received teachings from him, for which today I feel very
grateful. He is a great practitioner and a great scholar, not
to mention his hidden qualities. I particularly appreciate
his non-sectarian attitude. In spite of his fame and his huge
following, he always remains very gentle and humble. This
is very remarkable. The Buddha explained in great detail
the qualities of an authentic guru. All of these qualities I
found in Khyentse Rinpoche.”

Khyentse Rinpoche’s achievements in different fields each

seem more than enough to have filled a whole lifetime.
Twenty years or so spent practicing in retreat; an aston-
ishing depth and breadth of teaching, taking up at least
several hours a day over half a century; twenty-five large Often complementing or shedding light on the works of
volumes of written works; numerous major projects to pre- great masters of the past, Khyentse Rinpoche’s own writings
serve and disseminate Buddhist thought, tradition and cul- form a veritable encyclopedia of practice texts, commen-
ture overseen by him in all these undertakings, Khyentse taries, prayers, poems and advice. But Khyentse Rinpoche
Rinpoche tirelessly gave form to his lifelong dedication to was more than just a great scholar. There is no doubt that
Buddhism. what he considered most important, and what gave him the
greatest satisfaction, was that the teachings he had himself
His knowledge of the enormous range of Tibetan Buddhist realized and transmitted, were put into practice by others.
literature was probably unparalleled, and he inherited
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s determination to preserve He taught in every free moment of the day, tirelessly re-
and make available texts of all traditions, particularly those sponding to all requests for instruction and spiritual guid-
in danger of disappearing. Khyentse Rinpoche’s lifetime ance. He would often teach all day for months on end to
saw Tibet’s unique heritage threatened from the outside by gatherings ranging from a few dozen to several thousand
the great upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Innumer- people. Even after a full day of teaching, he would grant
able books in countless monastery libraries were system- some individual request and teach one person or a small
atically destroyed, and few of the lamas and scholars who group in his room until late at night. During all-day ritu-
fled into exile managed to bring their precious books with als, while everyone else took their lunch break, he would
them on the hurried and hazardous journey, often arriving eat quickly and use every remaining minute before the cer-
with little more than the clothes they stood up in. In most emony resumed to give someone an explanation of a few
cases, nevertheless, the texts survived, even if only in one pages of a meditation text or philosophical commentary.
or very few copies. Gradually gathering momentum over
two decades, as the funds and manpower became available, Anyone who ever heard Khyentse Rinpoche teach was
the huge task of re-publishing almost the whole of Tibetan struck by his remarkable delivery. Glancing rarely at the
literature began. Khyentse Rinpoche himself, through his written text, he would speak effortlessly at a steady rate,
efforts over the years to edit and publish important texts, evenly, without strong emphasis, in a ceaseless stream
preserved nearly three hundred volumes for posterity. with no pause or hesitation, as if reading from an unseen
book in his memory. Somehow the subject would always
be uniformly covered from beginning to end, in just the death or any physical manifestation. But shortly afterward
allocated time, pitched precisely at the audience’s level of he was again showing signs of illness, and for twelve days
understanding. Spoken by him, even a few simple words was almost completely unable to eat or drink. On 27 Sep-
could open the door to a whole succession of new insights tember 1991, at nightfall, he asked his attendants to help
into spiritual life. him sit in an upright position and went into a peaceful
sleep. In the early hours of the morning, his breathing
Wherever he was, Khyentse Rinpoche would rise well be- ceased and his mind dissolved in the absolute expanse.
fore dawn to pray and meditate for several hours before
embarking on an uninterrupted flow of activities until late Thus Khyentse Rinpoche’s extraordinary life came to an
into the night. He accomplished a tremendous daily work- end, a life spent entirely in study, practice and teaching
load with total serenity and apparent effortlessness. from an early age. Wherever he was, day or night, in the
same uninterrupted flow of kindness, humor, wisdom and
Profoundly gentle and patient though he was, Khyentse dignity, his every effort had been directed to the preserva-
Rinpoche’s presence, his vastness of mind and powerful tion and expression of all forms of the Buddhist teaching.
physical appearance, inspired awe and respect. With close
disciples and attendants he could be very strict, for he knew At the request of disciples from Tibet and all over the
that a good disciple “grows strong under strong discipline.” world, his body was preserved for a year using tradition-
He never spoke harshly to visitors or those not committed al embalming methods. It was also taken from Bhutan to
to him, but with his own disciples he was uncompromising Shechen Monastery in Nepal for several months, so that
in making sure that they never got away with shabby be- more people could come to pay their respects. Every Friday
havior, words and thoughts. To those living near him it was (the day of his death) for the first seven weeks, one hundred
also somehow obvious that he could see clearly through thousand butter lamps were offered on the Bodhnath stupa
any pretence or hypocrisy. Although the Buddhist teach- near Shechen Monastery. The whole Tibetan community
ings point out that there is no better witness than one’s own joined the monks to help prepare and light the lamps.
mind, his loving yet formidable presence had a powerful
influence on his disciples and ensured that their minds did Finally, his remains were cremated near Paro in Bhutan, in
not wander. November 1992, at a three-day ceremony attended by over
a hundred important lamas, the Royal Family and minis-
In early 1991, Khyentse Rinpoche began to show the first ters of Bhutan, five hundred western disciples and a huge
signs of ill health while teaching in Bodhgaya. Completing crowd of some fifty thousand devotees -- a gathering un-
his program there nevertheless, he traveled to Dharam- precedented in Bhutan’s history.
sala and without apparent difficulty spent a month giving
important empowerments and transmissions to His Holi- Many great men and women, apart from their particu-
ness the Dalai Lama, which the latter had been requesting lar genius in science or the arts, are not necessarily good
for many years. Back in Nepal, as spring advanced, it be- human beings. Khyentse Rinpoche was someone whose
came obvious that his health was steadily deteriorating. He greatness was totally in accord with the teachings he pro-
passed much of the time in silent prayer and meditation, fessed. However unfathomable the depth and breadth of
setting aside only a few hours of the day to meet those who his mind might seem, from an ordinary point of view he
most needed to see him. He was obliged to cancel a fourth was an extraordinarily good human being. Those who lived
journey to Tibet, where he had planned to visit Shechen near him, even for ten or fifteen years, say that they never
monastery once again. Instead, he chose to spend three witnessed a single word or deed of his that harmed anyone.
and a half months in retreat opposite the Tiger’s Nest, Paro His only concern was the present and ultimate benefit of
Taktsang in Bhutan, one of the most sacred places blessed others. Here was a living example of what lay at the end of
by Padmasambhava. the spiritual path the greatest possible inspiration for any-
one thinking of setting out on the journey to enlighten-
After his retreat, Rinpoche seemed to be in better health. ment.
He visited several of his disciples who were in retreat and
spoke to them of the ultimate teacher, beyond birth and From “Rabsel” Issue 5 - Shechen Publications