Life of Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche

Biographies | Tibetan MastersAlak Zenkar Rinpoche | Tibetan MastersShechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche

English | བོད་ཡིག

Alak Zenkar Rinpoche

Shechen Gyaltsab

Further Information:

The Life of Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal (1871-1926)

by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche

The supreme master Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal was born in a place called Dzokyi Tsolung, which belongs to the regions of Lhatok and Derge, in the Iron Sheep year of the fifteenth calendrical cycle (1871). His father, Sherab, belonged to the Adro clan and his mother, Namkha Drolma, was the daughter of a family of Drongpa officials.

He was recognized by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo as the reincarnation of Orgyen Rangjung Dorje, given the name Gyurme Pema Tenzin Khedrup Gyatsö’i De, and ceremoniously installed on a great Dharma throne as the fourth Gyaltsab, or ‘regent’, of Shechen Tennyi Dargye Ling monastery. From his own uncle, Pema Wangchen—or Kyi Yang as he was widely known—he learned how to read and received teachings on the common sciences, including The Mirror of Poetics,[1] the three systems of Sanskrit grammar (known as Kalāpa, Candrapa and Sārasvata), The Treasure Mine of Composition,[2] the major texts of the ‘white’ and ‘black’ astrological traditions and so on.

He received the vows of a novice monk from Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Damchö Özer and was given the name Pema Namgyal. He went on to receive full ordination from Gemang Khenpo Yönten Gyatso,[3] and maintained the outer pratimokṣa discipline without the slightest transgression in terms of what should be adopted or abandoned. He studied the discipline of the bodhisattva vows with masters such as the great Khenpo Karma Tashi Özer, the fifth Rabjam Rinpoche and so on, and followed all the points of the inner training of the bodhisattvas concerning what to do and what not to do, so that his mind became completely filled with bodhicitta, and he sought only to benefit others.

From Jamgön Khyentse Wangpo, he received empowerments and instructions on the practices of the Nyingma kama and terma, such as Kagye, Gongdü and Vajrakīlaya. He also studied many traditions of the Sarma schools of secret mantra, including Je Rinpoche’s Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lamrim Chenmo) and Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s Pointing Out the Dharmakāya. He received the ripening empowerments, liberating instructions and supporting transmissions for the Treasury of Precious Termas (Rinchen Terdzö) from Jamgön Lodrö Thaye and Zurmang Trungpa Rinpoche, Karma Chökyi Nyinche.[4] The sublime Kongtrul Rinpoche also bestowed on him an explanatory reading transmission for all three volumes of his Treasury of Knowledge (Sheja Dzö), from the opening verses of homage through to the colophon at the end. Kongtrul Rinpoche placed the texts on his head and granted him formal permission to transmit these teachings in future.

He also received the Treasury of Kagyü Mantra (Kagyü Ngak Dzö) and the Collection of Nyingma Tantras (Nyingma Gyübum). He received the Treasury of Instructions (Damngak Dzö) and the Treasury of Extensive Teachings (Gyachen Kayi Dzö) in their entirety, together with the empowerments, reading transmissions and instructions, from the great Khenpo Karma Tashi Özer.

From Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, he received the Great Secret Commentary on the practice of Yangdak, the cycle of Jampal Dzogpachenpo, An Explanation of the Kagye, Entrance to the Way of Knowledge (Khenjuk) and he was able to clarify the difficult points in the major texts of sūtra and mantra. He also received clarifications on his own practice.

In addition, he relied on such great masters as the fifth Shechen Rabjam, Khenpo Kunpal, Kathok Situ, Palpung Gyatrul Kunzang Tenpe Nyima, Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Vajra and Patrul Jigme Chökyi Wangpo as his teachers. His studies were vast and included a great number of commentaries and collected writings of the great masters of the past. Most notably, he received the reading transmission of the precious Translated Words of the Buddha (Kangyur) on two occasions, from Barchung Choktrul Thubten Gelek and from the great Troshul Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso.

For more than twenty years, he focused his practice on the key points of the generation and completion phases, with the result that his qualities of experience and realization reached the very highest level. He gained all the advanced realizations of the paths and bhūmis, and through taking to heart the essential points of the practice of Clear Light Dzogpachenpo, he purified the fixations of the conceptual mind. As he gained naturally arising realization, the great treasure of his wisdom mind overflowed.

The brilliant light of his enlightened activity in explanation, debate and composition shone in all directions, and many great masters and holders of the teachings became his students, including Dzongsar Khyentse Jamyang Chökyi Lodrö, the sixth Shechen Rabjam Kunzang Tenpe Nyima, Jamyang Loter Wangpo, Dilgo Khyentse Rabsal Dawa, the incarnation of Kongtrul, Palden Chökyi Wangchuk, Pema Drime Lekpe Lodrö, Dzogchen Lingla Tulku, Khenpo Sochö, Abu Lhagang, Kathok Khenpo Nüden and many others, just like a garland of stars in a constellation.

The writings of this great master fill thirteen volumes and can be summarized in sections equal in number to the stages of realization, or bhumis:

  • To begin with, there is the virtuous beginning ensuring a worthy project reaches completion, which in this case is the first section for gathering the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, a cycle of preliminary practices and rituals for making offerings.
  • Secondly, in order to make the composition even more beneficial, there is the second section, which is a collection of praises.
  • Thirdly, to ensure the spontaneous fulfillment of the twofold benefit of self and other, there is the third section of prayers, including prayers for masters' longevity.
  • Fourthly, there is the virtuous main part, which clarifies the meaning of the texts, beginning with a section on the history of the teachings in order to generate confidence.
  • The fifth section is on grammar, poetics, astrology and so on, to clarify the common sciences.
  • The sixth section consists of advice in order to highlight what is to be adopted and what is to be avoided.
  • The seventh section consists of instructions on the general teachings.
  • The eighth section consists of the uncommon practices of the generation and completion phases and commentaries of various kinds.
  • The ninth section includes his miscellaneous writings on various topics.
  • The tenth includes prayers of dedication, aspiration and auspiciousness.

The exact names of the different texts are given in the index to his writings, The Garland of Jewels.

In this way, this great master undertook the three practices of listening, reflecting and meditating for his own benefit, and the three activities of teaching, debating and writing for the benefit of others.

Finally, at the age of fifty-five, in the Fire Tiger year of the fifteenth calendrical cycle, on the eighteenth day of the fifth month, he demonstrated merging his wisdom mind into the dharmadhātu, the inseparable union of basic space and wisdom.

Written out of devotion by Thubten Nyima.

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, Rigpa Translations, 2005.

  1. སྙན་ངག་མེ་ལོང། (Kāvyādarśa) by the Indian scholar Daṇḍin (c. 6-7th century).  ↩

  2. སྡེབ་སྦྱོར་རིན་ཆེན་འབྱུང་གནས། by Minling Lochen Dharmaśrī (1654-1718).  ↩

  3. Author of the famous two part commentary on Jigme Lingpa’s Treasury of Precious Qualities (yönten dzö).  ↩

  4. 1879?-1939. The tenth in the line of Zurmang Trungpa incarnations. The eleventh was Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987).  ↩

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