The foremost torchbearer of the ecumenical Rime movement, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1893-1959) dedicated his life to the study, practice, and propagation of all the schools and lineages that are collectively known as Tibetan Buddhism. The staggeringly long list of teachings he received and transmitted in turn testifies to the depth of his appreciation of all aspects of the Dharma, and the roster of his eminent students reveals how his extraordinary influence transcended sectarian boundaries.
The first half of this volume presents informal stories by many of Chokyi Lodro's teachers, students, friends, and relatives, collected by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and translated here into English for the first time. Intimate, funny, and utterly down-to-earth, these stories—supplemented by over sixty photographs—paint a tender picture of the man behind the great master, introducing readers to the characters and events in his life, and especially the challenges he faced living under the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
The second half comprises an English translation of the spiritual biography, or namtar, by Dilgo Khyentse, one of Chokyi Lodro's closest and most brilliant students. In the process of recounting the life and liberation of his beloved guru, Dilgo Khyentse reveals how he saw Chokyi Lodro as the Buddha in the flesh and provides, essentially, a blueprint of the entire path to enlightenment.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) was a highly accomplished meditation master, scholar, and poet, and a principal holder of the Nyingma lineage. A dedicated exponent of the nonsectarian Rime movement, he was respected by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and taught many eminent teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He tirelessly worked to uphold the Dharma through the publication of texts, the building of monasteries and stupas, and by offering instruction to thousands of people throughout the world. His writings in Tibetan fill twenty-five volumes.
THERE IS a particularly revealing episode in Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's biography of his teacher, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1893-1959). It tells of the arrival of Chokyi Lodro, in his fifteenth year, at Dzongsar Monastery, the home of his previous incarnation, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892.). His future residence, known as "The Garden of Immortality: was not large but had a special sanctity, for it was there that Khyentse Wangpo had remained throughout the latter part of his life, meditating, imparting instructions, and bestowing empowerments. As the young incarnation looked about the room, his teacher, Katok Situ (188o-1915), gestured towards Khyentse Wangpo's seat and then to a cushion he had placed beside it. "It would not be right: Situ told him, "for you to sit in the great Khyentse Wangpo's own seat just yet. That would be like a dog sleeping in the bed of a human being."
The seat itself was unadorned and unassuming, but it was effectively a throne—a symbol of Khyentse Wangpo's enduring presence and imposing authority. Simply to be recognized as his reincarnation, then, would not be sufficient: Chokyi Lodro would still have to earn the right to occupy such prestigious, sacred space. That he did so—swiftly, and with such resound-ing success—should not blind us to the enormity of the challenge he first faced. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was a visionary leader who guided and inspired an entire generation of influential followers. Together with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (1813-1899) and other close collaborators, he trans-formed religious life in the Kham region of eastern Tibet, initiating a non-sectarian, or Rime, movement, which Gene Smith called the "finest flower" of a nineteenth-century renaissance. Recognized as a minor incarnation in the Sakya school—one of its very first, as it was late in adopting the tulku system—Khyentse Wangpo studied with some iso teachers from all traditions. In his youth, he traveled throughout Tibet, seeking and receiving as many rare, endangered teachings as he possibly could. Later, he arranged and oversaw the compilation of these and other teachings in vast literary collections, helping to ensure their survival. A prolific author in his own right, he is known today for his inspirational prayers, liturgies, and meditation manuals, as well as his encyclopedic commentaries and sweeping surveys of Tibet's religious history, sacred sites, and monastic institutions. His extensive "treasure" (terma) revelations, including those discovered in tandem with others, especially Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa (1819-1870), form the basis of popular rituals and led to his inclusion among the five sovereign treasure revealers of Tibet.
By the end of his life, Khyentse Wangpo had amassed scores of senior disciples from all traditions. And, following his parinirvana, no fewer than seven reincarnations were recognized—a clear sign of his immediate impact. This unprecedented number was partly a result of the master's leading students each identifying a tulku of their own. Understandably, the child chosen to remain at Dzongsar, Khyentse Wangpo's principal seat, was accorded special status. But the situation was complicated when, in 1908 (or 1909, according to some sources), the original Dzongsar incarnation, Jamyang Chokyi Wangpo, died suddenly while visiting Dzogchen Monastery.
It was this tragic turn of events that first brought Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, who had originally been identified as the incarnation associated with the nearby Nyingma monastery of Katok, to Dzongsar. For some, the move would prove controversial, and Katok Situ apparently hesitated before he was eventually persuaded by his own cousin, Kalzang Dorje, who had been Khyentse Wangpo's treasurer. Ailing and close to death, Kalzang Dorje wrote to Katok Situ, expressing his fear that with their tulku gone and his own life almost at an end, the presence of Khyentse Wangpo at Dzongsar would soon be much diminished. By invoking their shared commitment (samaya) to their late teacher, he left Katok Situ with little choice but to agree. And so it was that Khyentse Chokyi Lodro found himself facing the dual challenge of proving himself to be a worthy successor and having to do so as an outsider.
But prove himself he certainly did—and remarkably quickly too. The training that all the Khyentse incarnations received was thorough enough—it had to be—but Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's was especially effective. The biography charts his remarkable rise to maturity, noting, in particular, the dedication, diligence, and humility with which he served, and later cared for, his aged tutor, Khenchen Thubten Rigdzin Gyatso. Almost as soon as he arrived at Dzongsar, he was ready to fulfill his role, and before too long, he literally took the place of his predecessor.
One of the main themes of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's namtar—the traditional term for a biography of a realized teacher or enlightened being, in which the focus is on his or her exemplary qualities and route to liberation—is how he followed and contributed to Khyentse Wangpo's original vision and ideals. Dilgo Khyentse tells us how, like his predecessor, Khyentse Chokyi Lodro sought instruction from teachers of all traditions. And the staggeringly long lists of all that he received (and later passed on) testify to his abiding appreciation and limitless enthusiasm for all aspects of the Dharma. (They are also a valuable reminder of just what it meant to be a teacher in Tibet—all the more pertinent in an age when setting oneself up as a guru requires little more than a website and a flair for self-promotion.) In the accounts of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's visionary experiences too, just as with Khyentse Wangpo, we find mention of masters and deities from every form and lineage of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. And even the lists of his many students testify not only to his great influence but also to how that influence transcended sectarian boundaries and extended even to kings and secular rulers.
The text by Dilgo Khyentse is notably similar to Jamgon Kongtrul's biography of Khyentse Wangpo, especially in its structure. It is divided, first of all, into two major sections, covering both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's life. The "ordinary" biography is also referred to as the "outer," while the "extraordinary" section has "inner" and "secret" dimensions. This threefold division—into outer, inner, and secret—is a familiar feature of Tibetan biographical writing; it was explained by Jamgon Kongtrul as follows:
The outer namtar concerns [actions] carried out in the common perception of ordinary beings to be trained. The inner namtar concerns the unique aspects of the master's own extraordinary spiritual experience. And the secret namtar concerns highly extraordinary aspects entirely beyond the scope of common people.
In Dilgo Khyentse's text, the outer, or ordinary, section is by far the longest. It is further divided into seven subtopics that, broadly speaking, cover Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's birth and recognition as a tulku; his taking of various vows and commitments; his study; his practice of meditation; his teaching and granting of transmissions; the accomplishment of various beneficial projects; and finally, his death (or parinirvana) and the ritual practices performed in connection with it. Although these might appear to be broadly chronological, they do not result in a straightforward narrative. Nor is it Dilgo Khyentse's aim to offer a dramatic or exhaustive report of events: there is no description of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's arduous journey across the Himalayas, for example. Instead, we find a particular life story recounted within a general framework, showing how Khyentse Chokyi Lodro conformed to a timeless model, or archetype, of what it means to be a student and a teacher while still manifesting in a unique and timely manner appropriate to his situation and circumstances.
The inner section concentrates on Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's experiences and visions related to the "eight great chariots of the practice lineage"—an important classification for Rime authors, which they borrowed from Trengpo Terton Sherab Ozer (1518-1584). Within this framework, and relying on Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's own records, Dilgo Khyentse reveals the rich inner life that is more fully documented in the secret biography com-piled by Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk (1911-1008). Still, the few examples that Dilgo Khyentse provides show how events and circumstances—even reading a text by a particular author—could trigger a visionary encounter. On a trip to view the dawn from the hills above Darjeeling, for example, Khyentse Chokyi Lodro recalled that Wu Tai Shan, the famous resting place of the great Dzogchen master Vimalamitra, also lay to the east. And, overcome with intense devotion, he saw the master directly, resplendent in the light of the sun and gliding towards him on its rays.
ONE DAY in the winter of 2010, the present Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Thubten Chokyi Gyatso, burst into my house in Bir like a whirlwind and ordered me to tell him all the stories I'd ever heard about Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. "We have translated the Great Biography into English," he said, "and want to publish it alongside a compilation of all the stories you know about Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. So tell me everything you've ever heard, the good and the bad. And don't leave anything out."
Settling himself comfortably on my sofa, he switched on his recorder.
THE SOURCES OF THESE STORIES
First of all, I should explain where these stories come from.
I was very young when I first met and made a Dharma connection with Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. My father, the Third Neten Chokling Pema Gyurme Gyatso, relied on Khyentse Chokyi Lodro completely. For him, Rinpoche wasn't merely an extremely precious master, he was his main root guru. My mother, Tsewang Paldron, felt the same, as did Lama Putse, Wang-chen Dorje, and our entire household, including myself. Throughout my childhood, I always felt tremendous devotion for Rinpoche, and still do. Over the years, I have also come to admire many of his students, relatives, attendants, and family members. We have all become very close. When we get together, we almost always end up reminiscing about Rinpoche, so it was from his closest friends and companions that I learnt everything I know about Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.' And for us, he was always "Rinpoche."
Dilgo Khyentse told me that Rinpoche once said, "I will be the first to go. As you will be the one who remains behind, it will be your responsibility to write my biography." Rinpoche then opened his chest and took out a scroll of papers wrapped in red brocade. He appeared to want to hand it to Dilgo Khyentse, who was still reeling from the shock that Rinpoche might "be the first to go" and wouldn't accept it. Instead, Dilgo Khyentse began to tremble.
"These papers contain what little information there is about my unique life," said Rinpoche, continuing to proffer the scroll. But Dilgo Khyentse simply couldn't summon the courage to reach out and take it—something he regretted deeply in the years to come, as it was never offered again. He included an account of this incident in the Great Biography, which, as Rinpoche predicted, Dilgo Khyentse wrote after he passed away.
Much later, when my uncle Orgyen visited Dzongsar Labrang, he found a large bundle of papers written in many different hands, including Rinpoche's. I don't know if all Rinpoche's writings were gathered there, but I do know it included lists of dead people for whom Rinpoche had been asked to pray. Initially my family looked after the collection, then Pewar Tulku gave it to Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk, who read it thoroughly and made precise copies. Pewar Tulku then commissioned print blocks of the manuscript and published every word—it has since become known as the Secret Biography. We all studied it very carefully and noticed that several years appear to be missing, which must mean that either some events were not recorded, or the records were destroyed when Dzongsar Monastery and the labrang in Tibet were razed during the Chinese occupation.
Nothing I say here could paint a clearer picture of Rinpoche's life than the existing biographies, and frankly, there's no point in trying. From a modern standpoint, some of my stories may seem pointless, but a story is a story. And as the sutras and tantras tell us that remembering and meditating on our guru brings tremendous benefit, so I can't see how talking about all the different aspects of Rinpoche's life that have been preserved in our memories over the past fifty years could ever be described as a mistake.
Dzongsar Khyentse Thubten Chokyi Gyatso told me that I must not exaggerate or lie, but I have no reason to! Lies are usually told for good reasons or to help others. Apart from that, what point is there in lying? None at all. At the same time, I can't be absolutely certain that all my stories are completely exaggeration- and lie-free, just as I can't be absolutely certain that the "truth" recorded in traditional biographies hasn't been embellished in one way or another. Basically, the only person who can verify an eye-witness account is the eyewitness himself. So anything we hear second- or thirdhand always relies entirely on the truthfulness of the narrator. And as people love to retell a good story over and over again, I have no way of knowing if the stories I've heard were colored by the prejudices of those who retold them. But I must insist that it is not and never has been my intention to pass on lies. What would I have to gain by doing so?
I first met Dilgo Khyentse in 1964 when I was twelve years old. From then on, I spent a few months with him every year until 1991, the year he passed into nirvana. Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal was his extraordinary root guru, as it was he who introduced Dilgo Khyentse to the display of intrinsic awareness. Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was his second main root teacher, and Dilgo Khyentse often spoke about him. Over the years, he told us a great deal about how Rinpoche did things and how he behaved. Dilgo Khyentse rarely said anything about Rinpoche unless he was specifically asked, but when someone showed an interest, he was more than willing to talk with them about Rinpoche, no matter who they were. But I don't think Dilgo Khyentse told these stories strictly for our benefit; it was more that he just loved talking about Rinpoche.
The Third Neten Chokling
The same can be said of my father, the Third Neten Chokling. Once he felt comfortable enough with someone to speak candidly, the conversation would always be about Rinpoche. But apart from describing his immense devotion for and pure perception of Rinpoche and their extraordinary teacher-student relationship, I don't think all my father's stories can have been firsthand accounts, because he didn't live at Dzongsar for long enough to have witnessed everything he described.
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