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An Introduction to Practitioners in Lifetime Retreat at Traling Monastery

by Tulku Karzang Dorje

This is something I wrote a few years ago. I recently asked it be translated in order to share the
almost overwhelming feelings of joy and inspiration I have at the dedication and courage of the
practitioners in lifetime retreat at Traling Monastery. My teacher Khenpo Panchen Dawa for
example, has spent most of his life practicing on the hill overlooking Traling and there are many
places where people practice like this.

It has been almost 1000 years since the Kathok Lineage – one of the three major lineages in the
Nyingmapa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism – was established in Kham and Amdo, Tibet.
Although in its history it has experienced times of flourishing and times of decline, Traling has
always been an important satellite monastery of the Kathok Lineage. During recent centuries in
particular, the distinct status of Traling Monastery is of paramount significance for the lineage.

Traling is a relatively large and famous monastic complex in the Golok area (Qinghai Province).
Many venerable monks and great masters from this monastery are famed throughout Tibet: Tulku
Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche, Khenchen Padma Lodro, Siddha Khenpo Tarding Rinpoche, Lingtrul
Rinpoche Chöying Dorje – the tulku of Ling Lama Chöje Dorje, Vajra Master Khenpo Panchen
Dawa, the learned Kunzang Gyaltsen – founder of the orphan school affiliated with the Lion &
Dragon Palace at Traling.

Khenpo Padma Lodro – highly valued and entrusted by Khenpo Münsel Rinpoche – was given
special recognition after the passing of Münsel Rinpoche when he was enthroned. He is a great
master and lineage holder of Dzogpa Chenpo and has become one of the authorities on Dzogchen
teachings in Golok. He has established many retreat centers all over Tibet. Regardless of his
old age and weakness, every year he travels tirelessly as far as Samye Monastery in Central Tibet,
as well as to Mainland China, in order to propagate the Dzogchen teachings and guide disciples in

I am very fortunate that every time I return to Tibet, I have the opportunity to visit a group of
practitioners who are in lifetime retreat in the hills behind Traling Monastery, and to bring them
some modest offerings. Every time I do this it is a time of reconnection with my lineage and a
renewal of devotion. As is well known, living conditions are quite hard and material comforts
are insufficient in Golok. However, the infinite Dharma joy that radiates out from these
practitioners during our communication has affected me deeply. In today’s materialistic age, it is
really rare and precious that they practice the Dharma so diligently. Their perseverance is
worthy of rejoicing and praise. Each and every one of these practitioners is excellent and I
admire them greatly. However I would like to share with you, my dharma friends, some deeds of
two of these special practitioners.

The first one is called Gelok Lama. He is nearly 50 years old, with dark skin and a lanky build.
It is said that he has achieved the signs of realization of the rainbow body: knowing others’
thoughts, transcending time and space without hindrance, etc. Personally, when I first met him I
experienced a feeling of complete exposure – as if he were totally able to behold my entire being.
I then understood that he is not at all living as an ordinary person. He was prophesied by Kyabje
Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche to realize the rainbow body in this very life. His only possessions are
poverty and peace, as well as a group of vultures. Every day he shares his already very limited
food with this group of vultures and often chants scriptures to them. I once heard him say with
my own ears, that his way of calling the vultures over was to chant the Seven Line Prayer once.
If you have ever been to a sky burial ground in Tibet, you would be deeply impressed by the
ferocity and barbarity of the vultures. However at the feet of this realized being they seem so
gentle and obedient. One of my very dear teachers, Khenpo Kuncho, told a story about how he
witnessed Gelok Lama feeding vultures yoghurt from his hand. The wild creatures would turn
their heads sideways since their large beaks prevented them from holding their heads upright to

Once Gelok Lama was invited to Kathok monastery in Kham by Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche. This
is a distance of about 1000 miles. After he arrived the monks noticed a strange looking vulture
in the area, where there usually are none. When Gelok Lama came out of his dwelling he
recognized it as one of the vultures from Traling. Apparently it had followed him and when he
left Kathok monastery, the vulture did as well.

Gelok Lama is an unassuming, humble and kind person, but sometimes he shows the demeanor
and miraculous power of his realization. Once he was sitting in his retreat cave meditating,
locked in from the inside. Suddenly he manifested on top of the mountain. He completed a
session of deep meditation on the mountain top and then returned to his cave where he found he
was unable to re-enter due to the lock. He had to find a shepherd boy who was small enough to
climb in through the little window and unlock the door. This is a powerful sign of his
accomplishment, as he can pass through solid rock and emerge in his physical body. When he
wishes to connect with his root gurus, he is able to become one with them and communicate
completely through the power of his realized mind. I believe that these are special signs of outer
and inner accomplishment.

One of the biggest problems for a practitioner in a mountain retreat can be a lack of water.
People who have lived in this situation, like myself and my teacher Panchen Dawa, are so very
aware of the significance of water to retreat practitioners. One of our favorite stories is how
Gelok Lama has miraculously excavated clean and clear springs so that each and every one of the
practitioners in mountain retreat can enjoy a personal spring of water. This has become a
much-told story and miracle in Tibet.

The other practitioner I will tell of is Lama Tharpa, a young man from Guangzhou. He used to
study with Vajra Master Tsophu Toro Rinpoche (now passed away), then he studied with
Khenchen Padma Lodro. The first time I went to see him, he had already been in retreat for four
years and said that he would continue. Under his long hair – not trimmed for years – is a young
and dynamic face. The harsh external environment coupled with the language barrier did not
diminish his perseverance. When I met him in retreat, he was very happy and talkative. He
told me that his little sister’s family had immigrated to Vancouver, Canada many years ago and
had always wanted to help him immigrate abroad as well. However, he politely declined. I
tentatively asked whether he still had worldly concerns, whether he still cherished the hustle and
bustle of city life, and whether he still had difficulty in breaking away from the entanglement of
affections. He told me that if he had left this pure land of snow, his life would have withered.
His answer shocked me deeply. Without a deep understanding of Buddhadharma, he surely
would not be able to say anything like that. In consideration for the feelings of affection of his
sister’s family, I asked if I might take a picture of him and carry it to her in Canada. He agreed
with joy and took some time tidying up. In the resulting photo, he looked pure and solemn.

There are more than a dozen other practitioners who are in lifetime retreat on the hill behind
Traling Monastery and in the nearby sky burial ground. They are also filled with moving
Dharma joy and inspiration, which I hope to have the opportunity to share with you later.

I pray that one day I can be like these practitioners in mountain retreat who have abandoned all
worldly concerns, free from the hustle and bustle of cities and free from disputes and conflicts.
In the pure land of spirituality, I aspire to purify my humble heart and soul. Every moment of
every day there are practitioners in profound meditation whose concerns are not the worldly
attachments that so occupy our thoughts and activities and bind us to the energies of samsara. So
much of our lives are spent in endless, meaningless activity. However when I think of these
great practitioners, hope wells up in me and I am embraced by the beauty and truth of the
Buddhadharma. This is an unending source of inspiration to me and I share it with you to inspire
and encourage you as well. I close with this powerful aspiration prayer from the Excellent Path
of Omniscience of the Longchen Nying Thig:

Ho. Deluded by various appearances – like the reflection of the moon in water –
sentient beings are wandering through the samsaric chain of lives. In order for
them to be relaxed in the luminescent sphere of self-awareness, I shall develop the
Bodhicitta by the practice of the four Boundless States.

May All Sentient Beings Return to Their Original Purity!

Translated by Tuptan Palden and edited by Mary Pat Thompson and Steve Ayers