The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

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Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

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The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche

The second in the line of Jamyang Khyentse incarnations was Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who was so great it is difficult for me even to utter his name, yet still I do so as a way to benefit others. His full name was Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Rimé Tenpe Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo.[1] His secret name, given by the third Dodrupchen Rinpoche Tenpe Nyima during a special empowerment of Rigdzin Düpa, was Pema Yeshe Dorje. Since this great master, the sovereign lord of the mandala, lived relatively recently, there are many people still alive today who can remember his life and bear witness to what I shall now recount.

The previous incarnation, Pema Ösel Dongak Lingpa, passed into parinirvāṇa and absorbed his wisdom mind into the heart of the great paṇḍita Vimalamitra in the Five-Peaked Mountain range of Wu T’ai Shan in China. Then, in order to benefit the teachings and beings in the Land of Snows, he reappeared in five incarnations, as predicted in the terma prophecies. The vajradhara Jamgön Lodrö Thayé oversaw the recognition of these incarnations one by one. Each of the main heart-sons of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo took charge of an incarnation. For example, the one Jamgön Kongtrul took charge of and installed in Palpung was called Beru Khyentse. One incarnation was enthroned at the main seat of Dzongsar, and another at Dzogchen monastery. One incarnation was recognized by Pönlop Loter Wangpo and called Galing Khyentse. All these incarnations emulated their predecessor in their unparalleled qualities of learning, experience, realization and enlightened activity. But of them all, the one who stands out like a jewel ornamenting the top of a great banner of victory was Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.

The nephew and supreme heart-disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, did not have a reincarnation at his monastery of Kathok, and so with one pointed and fervent petitions, he requested the vajradhara Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye to find a further incarnation for Kathok. Jamgön Kongtrul said that he had already recognized the body, speech, mind and qualities emanations, but if requested, he could recognize the activity emanation. Even so, he warned that it would be difficult for this emanation to benefit the main seat of the monastery. He explained that if he were to become a heruka practitioner, he would bring greater benefit. Kathok Situ then requested him to identify the child, and Jamgön Kongtrul saw that he would be born in the year of the snake, as the son of Rigdzin Tsewang Chokdrup, who in turn was the son of the great Serpa tertön.

The father’s family could be traced back to the great tertön Düdul Dorje and included many other authentic treasure revealers. His mother’s family was from Amdo, and she was a descendent of the great master Sergyi Chadral. He was born in the Water Snake year, and there were many wonderful signs and extraordinary portents, but his mother and father were both great renunciate practitioners themselves and did not get too excited about these things, so they kept no record of them, nor did they record any of the astrological information.

Just as he had been requested by Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, Jamgön Kongtrul recognized the child as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse. Then, at the age of eight, he was invited to take his seat in Kathok monastery. On the day he arrived in Kathok, the entire surrounding region of Horpo and Kathok was completely covered with snow, so that everywhere was white, which was something very unusual for the region, and people took it to be a very positive sign for the future. On an auspicious day, Kathok Situ Rinpoche performed the hair-cutting ceremony in the main temple in the presence of the great Buddha statue, and gave him the name Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. Amongst the other tulkus and the people in the monastery at that time he was known simply as Tulku Lodrö.

When he learned reading from his tutor, he could read without any difficulty, and he memorized several Sakya practice texts and the Reciting the Names of Mañjuśrī simply by reading them once. This was a sign that he was reawakening his memory from his former life. I sometimes tease some of the tulkus in our monastery and say, “My lama memorized Reciting the Names of Mañjuśrī as a child, even without studying it, and you tulkus have been reciting it for months and still can’t memorize it!”

One night he was in a retreat cave in the hill behind Kathok, sitting on a carpet beside his tutor and reciting prayers. While he was reciting The Dhāraṇī of the Vajra Subduer, he could clearly see Kathok Monastery down below, shining brightly in the light of the full moon, and at that moment he had a vision of the great monastic centre of Sakya, as clear as if he was actually there, and clearly remembered his life as Ratna Vajra. He remembered all the details of his life and all that he possessed as clearly as if it had been just the previous day.

On one occasion Kathok Situ Rinpoche held a meeting with all the tulkus residing in Kathok monastery and asked them to do a special dream divination and look for any indications of who they had been in their previous incarnations. When they came back to report what they had found some tulkus said they must be the incarnation of this or that great lama who had appeared in their dreams. Some said they had dreamed of Vajrakīlaya or of Tārā, or some other deity. When they asked Tulku Lodrö—as he was known at the time—about his dreams, he said that he had not dreamt of anyone unusual, only an ordinary Tibetan man in the central Tibetan style of dress, a long white chuba with a blue overcoat, and turquoise earrings, and his hair tied back in a topknot. When he said this, Situ Rinpoche looked surprised, and said how incredible it was. “Amazing”, he said, “But could it really be?” All the other tulkus teased him, saying, “We are the incarnations of these great masters, but Tulku Lodrö was just this ordinary guy from Central Tibet.” But later on, he realized this was a sign that he had been King Trisong Detsen.

As a child, Jamyang Khyentse used to explore everywhere and was always looking to experience new things. Once, when his tutor had gone out for a while, he started rifling through the cupboards and when he found a big bottle of mercury, he drank the lot. When the tutor returned he saw drops of mercury on the floor, and then looking into the cupboard he saw that the bottle was empty. He told Tulku Lodrö to get up, but as he did so, drops of mercury trickled down his robes. The tutor said, “There was a bottle of mercury in my cupboard, where is it?” To which Jamyang Khyentse replied, “I drank it.” The tutor just stared at him. Later the tutor went to see Situ Rinpoche and said, “Tulku Lodrö really is exceptional. He drank an entire bottle of mercury and didn’t even get so much as a headache. I don’t think he can be an ordinary child.”

He was also fond of watching dances and entertainments, and so on occasions when he felt like watching some kind of show, Ekajaṭī, the Glorious Protectress of Secret Mantra, would appear to him and at his request she would split open her chest to reveal the entire three-realm universe.

In another dream he had while he was young he went to the temple of Tramdruk, where a great mandala had been prepared in readiness for an empowerment. There he saw Guru Rinpoche seated upon a tall throne, with many people seated in rows ready to receive the empowerment. In the row in front of him, he saw a monk and a lady in Tibetan dress and several others, and next to him was a man in ordinary lay dress. Together, they all received empowerment from Guru Rinpoche. Later in his life he realized that the monks seated in front of him had been Vairocana and Namkhe Nyingpo and others from whom he—King Trisong Detsen—had received empowerment. The lady had been Yeshe Tsogyal. Even though he was the king of Tibet at the time, it would not have been right for him to sit in front of his teachers.

At the age of thirteen, Jamyang Khyentse completed his studies and was sent by Kathok Situ to travel around Horkhok and Dzachukha to gather funds for the monastery. As it says in his verse autobiography, he also went to the kingdom of Ling:

I met the Dharma king and queen of Ling,
And explained the Gang Gi Loma from memory.
With devotion they remembered their lama,
And both king and queen shed tears.
From that time on, they became my patrons,
With pure vows, generosity, devotion and kindness.

As this says, he gave an elaborate commentary on the Gang Gi Lodrö, the famous prayer to Mañjuśrī, to the king of Ling, who was a tertön, and his queen and other members of the royal family. They had been students of the previous Jamyang Khyentse and when he taught they were so moved by their memories that the king and queen actually shed tears, and saw him as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in person. From this time on, they became his patrons.

Then he went on to Dzachukha and Adzom Gar. Before he arrived there, Adzom Drukpa Natsok Rangdrol had three dreams in which he saw his root teacher, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He understood this to be an indication that the tulku from Kathok whom he was expecting was the actual incarnation of his teacher Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and so he organized a special welcome with a tremendous procession. Adzom Drukpa wore a special red robe and tied his hair in a special way. All the students sang the Song of the Tsok Feast (tsok lu) while they waited, and Adzom Drukpa himself went a great distance ahead to welcome Jamyang Khyentse. At this time, Adzom Drukpa made a great offering of all that he had received in donations. Later in his life, Jamyang Khyentse looked back on this and said that it had been such a great offering that it would be almost impossible for anyone to match it.

During the summer retreat at Kathok monastery when he gave teachings on the Aspiration Prayer of Sukhāvatī and other subjects, he inspired many thousands of scholars with the brilliance of his explanations.

For three years, while his tutor was ill, Jamyang Khyentse worked hard to fetch water, gather firewood, look after him and so on. He had no help from anyone else, but did it all on his own. Later on, he would say this had been a supreme method for gathering merit and purifying his obscurations. He used to say, “I purified a little of my negative karma by really serving my teacher.” His teacher was very strict, and used to beat him whether there was good reason or not. Later in his life whenever he shaved his head you could see all the scars from the beatings. It was at the end of his thirteenth year that the tutor passed away.

It was around the same time that the ‘body incarnation’ of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who was holding the main seat of Dzongsar, was in Dzogchen monastery to receive the empowerments and transmissions of the Precious Treasury of Termas (Rinchen Terdzö) from the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Dorje, and passed away prematurely at the age of thirteen. When this happened, the lama who was in charge of Dzongsar monastery at the time, another nephew of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo called Kalzang Dorje, sent a letter to Situ Rinpoche in which he wrote, “The tulku here at our seat of Dzongsar has passed away, and I myself am very sick and close to death. Please send the tulku you have in Kathok to take up the Khyentse seat here at Dzongsar. If you refuse, it could damage your samaya with Jamyang Khyentse the Great. This is my dying request.”

Situ Rinpoche read the letter again and again and thought that had the lama still been alive there would have been a chance to discuss the matter with him, but he knew that he had already passed away. So he knew that for him to ignore the request would be tantamount to disobeying his own teacher and he had no other option but to take Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö to Dzongsar. He took him there himself. So it was that Jamyang Khyentse entered the monastery of Dzongsar Tashi Lhatse at the age of fifteen.

When Kathok Situ and Jamyang Khyentse arrived in Dzongsar, they went to the main quarters of the late Jamyang Khyentse. Kathok Situ said to the young Jamyang Khyentse, “You must stay here, but I do not dare to do so. I will go to my own room.” Before Situ Rinpoche returned to Kathok he performed an enthronement ceremony for Jamyang Khyentse, and even though there were only a few monks and lamas present, it was done very elaborately with a long speech on the five perfections and so on. On the first night, when he was wondering where he was supposed to sleep, he looked about the room and saw something made of wood that looked almost like a bed with an animal skin rug, and he thought to himself that this must be the place. So he slept there. Some years later when Kathok Situ came back and came into the residence, Jamyang Khyentse asked him to be seated and pointed to the wooden bed. Kathok Situ responded by saying, “How could I dare sit there?” And instead, he prostrated to it and touched his forehead against it again and again. Then he looked about the room and said to Jamyang Khyentse, “Where do you sleep?” Jamyang Khyentse pointed to the bed, and said “I sleep there.” At which point Kathok Situ looked disappointed and said, “Ah, it is true what they say: where a man sleeps, a dog also sleeps.” For a while he didn’t say anything, then he added, “In this bed slept the master of all the lineages of the Buddha’s teachings in Tibet. Do you think it is right for you to sleep here too?” Then Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö said, “Maybe I should not sleep there from now on.” But Kathok Rinpoche said, “No, you carry on. It's alright.”

Around this time, there was a slight conflict between followers of the incarnation discovered by Loter Wangpo and the supporters of the other incarnations. Before the conflict could develop, the king of Derge sent his own emissary, a minister called Jagö Tobden, who stated very clearly that Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was the one to stay in the main seat of Dzongsar, and the other incarnation was to stay in Galon monastery. This judgement settled the matter and prevented further disagreement.

When Jamyang Khyentse heard that Pönlop Rinpoche Loter Wangpo was about to give the empowerments of the Compendium of Tantras (Gyüde Kuntü) he travelled to receive them. Loter Wangpo had a vision of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, which he took to be a sign that this incarnation was unlike any of the others, and so he himself went to receive him. They prepared a very high seat with silk cushions and made elaborate offerings, according Jamyang Khyentse the very highest honour. Loter Wangpo himself gave all the transmissions from the Compendium of Tantras when they got to the section of the unsurpassed yoga tantras. In particular, when it came to the introduction to the nature of mind, it was done according to the Sakya tradition, with a week spent on the investigation and mind-training, culminating with the lama transmitting his realization to the student. At this time, the mind of the student became inseparably united with the master’s wisdom mind and he gained all the qualities of realization.

In later years, when Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had studied with somewhere between fifty-five and sixty main teachers, he said that of them all, he considered Loter Wangpo to be his root master, referred to him as “The Vajradhara Loter Wangpo” and said his kindness was incomparable.

He received only the unsurpassed (Skt. niruttara) yoga tantra section from the Compendium of Tantras, because by this time his father, Yabje Tsewang Gyurme, had been waiting for him for almost a year back at Dzongsar, having travelled there specifically to grant him the most important empowerments and transmissions from the Nyingma school. So without receiving the other sections, he returned to his seat at Dzongsar.

When he arrived, his father Yabje Rigdzin Chenpo gave him the transmissions of Sangye Lingpa’s Lama Gongdü, the Kagye, the Chokling Tersar, and all the major transmissions of the kama and terma one after another for a period of two years.

At the age of fifteen, he began to teach a few monks of Dzongsar Monastery, giving them teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom (Skt. prajñāpāramitā). He also received many teachings and empowerments from Kathok Situ Rinpoche, who was one of his principal root teachers, and also received the monastic vows.

When Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche came to Dzongsar Monastery, Jamyang Khyentse received the long-life empowerment of Könchok Chidü from him and requested him to stay in Dzongsar in order to grant more teachings and empowerments. Shechen Gyaltsap said that he could not stay because the water in the Dzongsar region was not so good for his health and he would have to return to Shechen monastery. But before he left, he said, “You are welcome to come and see me there, and since you are the incarnation of my master, I would be happy to give you teachings and empowerments, if that is your wish.”

That summer, he went to Shechen monastery, arriving during the summer retreat. Gyaltsab Rinpoche was presiding over a ceremony in the main temple, but Jamyang Khyentse was in such a hurry to meet him that instead of sending a message and waiting to greet him formally, he went straight inside. As he entered, the assembly was reciting the prayer for the spread of the teachings by Chokgyur Lingpa known as Ten Directions and Four Times[2] and they had just reached the line: “May all the precious masters, the splendour of the teachings, reach everywhere like the sky.” They requested him to go up to the lama’s residence, and then Gyaltsab Rinpoche left the assembly and went up to join him. Gyaltsab Rinpoche told him how auspicious it was that he had arrived at that moment during the practice, and he kept repeating those two lines from the prayer as he prostrated to Jamyang Khyentse.

Then they went up to the retreat area above Shechen and pitched a little cotton tent. Shechen Gyaltsab granted him the Compendium of Sādhanas (druptap kuntü), Nyingtik Yabshyi and Damngak Dzö and other empowerments. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had also been invited to Shechen monastery at the time, and was enthroned by Shechen Gyaltsab in his quarters.

Shechen Gyaltsab and Kathok Situ both emphasized again and again that in order for the teachings to last into the future, both study and practice would need to be thoroughly established. They said that without study and practice, the teachings would become lifeless. In accordance with their advice, Jamyang Khyentse decided to establish a study centre (shedra) to benefit the teachings and help ensure the stability of the Dharma in future.

At around this time, the king of Derge, Tsewang Düdul, was being enthroned at Derge Gönchen, and the highest lamas in the region were all invited to participate in the ceremony. Jamyang Khyentse went there and the great khenpo Shenga Rinpoche was also there at the time. Khenpo Shenga had been teaching at the Palpung shedra but a slight problem had arisen and so he had gone to Derge. When he met Khenpo Shenga, Jamyang Khyentse said, “I am thinking of establishing a shedra at Dzongsar in Kham-jé and I will need a khenpo. Would you be able to come?” For a moment, Khenpo Shenga did not say anything in response. Then, after a while, he said, “Yes. That will be extremely beneficial. I will certainly come.” Later in life, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche looked back on this and said that nothing else in his life had been as auspicious.

After he returned to Dzongsar, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month, work began on the monks’ quarters and the temple in Kham-jé, by renovating the Three Buddha Families Temple (riksum lhakhang) that had been established there by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. During that time, the Khyentse Labrang was rather poor. They did not have much that could be traded besides a few bags of grain, packages of tea and salt. Of course, they had images and representations of enlightened body, speech and mind, but they were not goods to be traded. This meant that when they had begun the work of preparing the ground and so on, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche travelled to the Horkhok area in order to raise funds.

During his travels, he visited the home of the Lakar family, where a great tertön called Ati Tertön was staying and reciting prayers for the family. At the request of the Lakar family, Jamyang Khyentse stayed and performed practices for three days. He performed a ceremony for summoning the spirit of abundance (yanguk) and granted a long-life empowerment of Chimé Pakma Nyingtik. When he was giving the empowerment, Ati Tertön also came to receive it. At the time, he was not as well known as he would later become. When the long-life empowerment was finished and everyone was sitting in silence, Ati Tertön stood up and starting speaking spontaneously. “Today has been very auspicious,” he said, “We have been fortunate enough to receive the long-life empowerment of Chimé Pakma Nyingtik from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s own incarnation.” At this point he touched the heads of the two young girls, Tsering Chödrön and Tsering Wangmo, who at that time were very young, and said, “Later on when Jamyang Khyentse becomes a great vajradhara, these two will be part of his assembly of ḍākinīs, and at that time even I might have the good fortune to be of some small service. It has all been very auspicious.” Jamyang Khyentse was completely taken aback by this. “What is this person saying?” he asked. “I have never heard anything like it!” But years later when he looked back on this, he said, “That tertön must have really known something.”

Gradually the Dzongsar Kham-jé shedra was completed, and Shenga Rinpoche became the first in the line of khenpos.

In many of the Sakya monasteries in Eastern Tibet there was a tradition of going to the main mother monasteries in Central Tibet. In the case of Dzongsar, this meant going to the Ngor monastery. So in keeping with this custom, when he was about twenty-four years old, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö went to Central Tibet and visited many of the holy places in the region together with a small group of attendants.

When he arrived at the great Ngor monastery, as a follower of the Thartse line, he stayed in the residence of Thartse Shapdrung, and whilst there he received the teachings of the Lamdré Tsokshé.[3] Just like his predecessor Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who had been the most supreme of mantra practitioners—a vajradhara bhikṣu—he went to Orgyen Mindroling in order to receive full monastic ordination from Khenpo Ngawang Thupten Norbu.

When he went to Lhasa he met the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso and the regent, and visited the three sacred pilgrimage places of Samye, the Jokhang and Tramdruk, all the while making vast offerings. He was twenty-four when he arrived in Central Tibet, twenty-five when he took the vows of a fully ordained monk, and so he must have been about twenty-six when he returned to Eastern Tibet.

On his way back, he passed through Chamdo, where the very great and accomplished master, the previous Chamdo Pakpa, invited him to Jampa Ling in order to give a series of empowerments. Even though Chamdo Pakpa was a very high ranking lama of the Gelukpa school he came to receive the empowerments. In his address, made before a vast assembly of people from the region, Chamdo Pakpa declared, “At this time there is no greater lama in the whole of Tibet than Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.” Some of the more stubbornly conservative geshes were completely moved to hear such a statement from the great Chamdo Pakpa, and wept in devotion. The representatives of the government in the area also requested Jamyang Khyentse to perform certain practices in order to remove obstacles there.

He also passed through the two seats of the incarnations of Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, the monasteries of Neten and Kela. From the second Neten Chokling Ngedön Drubpe Dorje, a student of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, he received many empowerments, including the Dzogchen Dé Sum and the Tukdrup Barché Kunsel. While he was staying there, Neten Ngedön Drubpe Dorje offered to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö his very own attendant named Tsering Wangyal, who is still alive today in Kham at the age of 92 but was only thirteen years old at the time. The boy could not go with Jamyang Khyentse straight away because his mother did not want him to leave, but he went to Derge a few years later and served Jamyang Khyentse from that time on, so that he is now a very well known and respected person in Kham.

Then he went to Kela, the seat of the other incarnation of Chokgyur Lingpa, Kela Chokling Könchok Gyurme Tenpe Gyaltsen, from whom he received Lhatsün Namkha Jigme’s Rigdzin Sokdrup and Tukdrup Sampa Lhundrup and other transmissions.

On the way back to Derge, he heard the news that Kathok Situ Rinpoche had passed into parinirvāṇa. When he heard this, Jamyang Khyentse prayed again and again and united his mind with the mind of his teacher. As a result of this, Situ Rinpoche actually appeared to him and over several days imparted all his final instructions and unfinished advice. For the next few years, he had many visions by day and dreams by night in which Situ Rinpoche appeared to him and imparted advice. This is written clearly in Jamyang Khyentse’s own autobiography. He says they could communicate whenever he wished, which was undoubtedly a sign that their two wisdom minds had merged inseparably.

When he returned to Dzongsar, he sent a message notifying Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche of his safe arrival and telling him that the trip to Central Tibet had been a success. In return, Gyaltsab Rinpoche sent a letter saying, “Kathok Situ Rinpoche has passed away and I am very old and close to death myself. The Nyingma teachings are in danger of fading away, like a lamp whose oil has all been used up. You must now take responsibility for looking after these teachings with all your incomparable compassion.” In fact, in that year of 1926 no less than seven great masters passed away, including the Karmapa Khakyab Dorje, Kathok Situ Rinpoche, Shechen Gyatsab Rinpoche and Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima.[4]

When Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche passed away, Jamyang Khyentse was invited to Shechen to perform the rituals of gong dzok (the fulfilment of intentions) and erect a reliquary stūpa. He spent the first night of his journey in a place called Pawok, where he had a clear vision of the wisdom body of Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who gave him the entire transmission of empowerments and instructions from the Treasury of Precious Termas, and imparted advice. In the same vision, he saw very clearly all the details of where the reincarnation would be born, including details about the house, with its particular prayer flags and so on. When he arrived at Shechen, he successfully performed all the ritual practices.

Some time before his journey to Central Tibet, when there had been a little conflict in Dzongsar between the parties of the different Khyentse incarnations, Kathok Situ had arrived and said to Jamyang Khyentse, “Maybe you should not stay. I think it is better if you come back to Kathok.” Tulku Lodrö, as he was known then, considered this for some time before saying, “For my whole life up to now, I have never done anything against your wishes, but because this matter is so important I have really thought about it. When I first came here to Dzongsar, it was you who installed me here. I have now been here a little while, but it would not be right for me to abandon my position here over such a small thing. I should stay and do all that I can to serve the monastery. While you are in Kathok monastery there is nothing I can do there that you can not do even better yourself, but in the event that you can no longer stay there for some reason, I promise to return for a full fifteen years and do all I can to serve the monastery.” Kathok Situ Rinpoche had been completely stunned by this. For a while he was speechless, then with tears in his eyes, he said, “I am older than you, and I am supposed to know more than you. But with what you have just said you have proved that you are wiser than me. You could not have made a better decision.”

So now Jamyang Khyentse went back to Kathok, where he completed the construction of the Mahāmuni Temple, with its enormous buddha statue, that Kathok Situ had started himself, as well as a three-storey model of Zangdopalri heaven of Guru Rinpoche made from copper gilded with gold, and he oversaw the production of almost two thousand thangkas. He invited Khenpo Ngakchung to the shedra. In short, for fifteen years he worked to serve Kathok monastery and fulfil the vision of his teacher. After the passing away of Kathok Situ, the observance of the monastic discipline in Kathok had declined and it was difficult to oversee all the various houses within the monastery, so Jamyang Khyentse appointed Khenpo Kunpal, the disciple of Mipham Rinpoche, together with Khenpo Jorden and Khenpo Nüden to take charge and they established very strict discipline.

Kathok Monastery was a great seat with a history stretching back almost a thousand years[5] and a wealth of sacred objects and representations of body, speech and mind. So Jamyang Khyentse felt they should compile an inventory of all the monastery’s treasures. There were so many treasures that just to write a record of all those in a single room took a full three months.

At this time he would spend only a few months each year in Dzongsar, and mostly stayed in Kathok. In Kathok he was very strict and punished people severely for breaking the rules. In Bir there is an old man called Drupa Rikgyal who was a monk in Kathok at this time. He says that even though we all know that Jamyang Khyentse was one of the greatest bodhisattvas in the world, at Kathok he was so wrathful that he was feared like Yama, the lord of death. He told me that whenever they heard the news that Tulku Lodrö was coming up from Horkhok, the entire valley would shiver in fear.

When the reincarnation of Kathok Situ Rinpoche was recognized by the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche Thubten Chökyi Dorje, in accordance with Jamyang Khyentse’s own visions, Khyentse Rinpoche and Khenpo Ngakchung performed elaborate ceremonies for his enthronement. At this time, due to Khyentse Rinpoche’s tremendous care for the monastery and also because Khenpo Ngakchung was teaching and in charge of studies, they produced an incredible number of learned scholars. On the eve of the enthronement, a khenpo called Jamyang Lodrö was told by Khyentse Rinpoche and Khenpo Ngakchung that he would be required to speak the following day, during the ceremony on the topic of the Perfection of Wisdom. The prospect of speaking in the presence of these two great masters was enough to scare him out of his wits. He lay awake all night long wondering what he was going to say, but no thought came to his mind. By the time the sun rose, he felt a strong urge to run away, but decided that that was not an option. When he went into the temple, he saw the throneholders of Kathok, such as Drime Shingkyong Gönpo and the incarnation of Getse Mahāpaṇḍita, as well as Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and Khenpo Ngakchung, and the incarnation of Situ Rinpoche seated on his throne. Jamyang Khyentse said to him, “You are very learned in the scriptures, but you have no money, so you can not afford expensive robes. Today, in order to create the right auspicious connection, I will lend you my own.” Jamyang Lodrö took the robe and sat down, but he was no longer aware of how or where he sat. Then, as a feast was offered with all kinds of fine bowls filled with tremendous delicacies, it came time for him to speak. His mind was totally blank, but he recited several prayers to the lama, and put on the robes he had been given. When he stood up to speak, he found that all his fears had gone away. He did three prostrations and, closing his eyes, he began his talk with the homage. As he spoke he had no thought of time, but just concentrated entirely on what he was saying. He had been told to speak quite elaborately, so he gave the most elaborate teaching he possibly could. Eventually one of Jamyang Khyentse’s attendants called Jamdra came up to him and said it was time to stop. They offered him a very long scarf. When he opened his eyes and looked up he saw that it was already dark and the stars were shining. He had begun in the morning, just after sunrise!

When Jamyang Khyentse, the reincarnation of Situ Rinpoche and Khenpo Ngakchung retired to their quarters, they all agreed that the teaching on the prajñāpāramitā had been extraordinary. They said it was a clear sign that all the work they had done for Kathok monastery had been a success. Right up until its destruction by the Chinese red army, Jamyang Khyentse continued to oversee the running of Kathok monastery.

The lineages of the Lamdré Tsokshé were held by Ngor monastery, but Jamyang Khyentse still wanted to receive the uncommon lineages for the Lamdré Lopshé[6] that came from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. The king among all the holders of this particular oral lineages was Gatön Ngawang Lekpa. So even though Jamyang Khyentse had met him in Gakhok, he was invited especially to come to Dzongsar where he transmitted the teachings of the Lamdré Lopshé endowed with the “four authenticities.”[7]

In the past, Gatön Ngawang Lekpa had gone to Dzongsar Monastery with the intention of receiving this Lamdré Lopshé transmission from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, but was forced to wait for several years. During this time he was ignored and even considered unfit to enter the assembly. The monks of Dzongsar and the people of the local valley nicknamed him Gambema, which means something like ‘vagabond’, because he looked so ragged and his clothes were all torn and tattered. When he was invited back to Dzongsar in order to pass these teachings on to Jamyang Khyentse the people said, “These days it seems even someone like Gambema is being called ‘Jamgön Rinpoche’ and treated like a great dignitary.”

While Ngawang Lekpa had been staying in Dzongsar the first time, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye had come to visit Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. All the monks and lamas lined up in procession to receive Jamgön Kongtrul who was very old at the time and had to walk very slowly with the aid of two attendants. When he came to the place where Gambema stood in the crowd, he rested for a little while, and as he stood there, he gazed into the sky and then coughed up some phlegm and spat it onto the ground. Gambema leapt up immediately and took the phlegm in his hand and ate it. In that moment he experienced a realization of the natural state as vast as space itself. This meant that he was, in a sense, a disciple of both Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrul. Later on, he became the greatest living master in the Sakya tradition, who, with his immense respect for the Sakya teachings, served the tradition enormously.

Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen, of the Gakhok region, who was an incredibly learned and accomplished master and a very strict monk, was also a student of Ngawang Lekpa. On one occasion, Ngawang Lekpa Rinpoche went around the rooms of all his students, and opened up their torma boxes in order to see what they were practising. When he went to the room of Jamyang Gyaltsen he found the tormas for the lama, yidam and khandro of the Longchen Nyingtik. When he saw this, he thought to himself: “Jamyang Gyaltsen is incredibly learned. I had thought that he would go on to uphold the pure Sakya tradition, and make a great contribution to its development in the future. Now even he is practising Nyingtik! It seems most of the learned and accomplished lineage holders in Sakya are becoming followers of the Nyingma school. The Nyingma tradition is becoming as well known as the sun and moon, while the Sakya school is certainly on the wane.” He was so concerned by this situation, that he could hardly sleep.

Later Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen went to Dzongsar and met with Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and Pönlop Loter Wangpo, and asked them what he could do to further the Sakya tradition. Loter Wangpo and Jamyang Khyentse both said, “If you really want to make a contribution to the Sakya school, then you must publish the collected works of Gorampa.”[8] Since the Tibetan government had long ago banned the printing of Gorampa’s writings, Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen had to spend many years searching throughout Central Tibet before he had found all the texts and was ready to take them back to Kham. He put all the books together in a sack and tied it to the back of a mule and started on his way. When he reached the Derge region, he had to cross a narrow bridge over the Drichu river, but as he did so the mule slipped and fell, and with it went the sack of texts. When he saw this, Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen was distraught. He called out to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Pañjaranātha[9] and Four-armed Mahākāla, and put on his robe and his hat and invoked them. As he did so, the mule miraculously came ashore.

When they began the work of publishing the works of Gorampa, many obstacles arose, so Jamyang Khyentse, Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen, and an assembly of 108 monks assembled on the twenty-fifth of the month in the Namgyal protectors’ shrine at Dzingkhok monastery to perform many hundreds of thousands of fulfilment offerings to the protector deity Pañjaranātha. To people watching from a distance, it looked like the temple was on fire, and many people came on horseback to see what was happening. At the end of the practice, all the obstacles were overcome. You should know that the fact that Gorampa’s collected works are available today is due entirely to the kindness of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.

The protector shrine of Dzing Namgyal Gönkhang had been established by Chögyal Pakpa[10] on his way to China, and was considered exceptionally sacred. Over time, it had become slightly dilapidated, so Jamyang Khyentse decided to renovate it. When the renovations were complete, he came to perform the rabné ceremony of consecration together with about twenty monks. When it came to the part of the practice for dispelling obstacle-makers, as the chöpön was offering the frankincense in front of the image, Jamyang Khyentse directed his wisdom mind and the image of Mahākāla—which is about two storeys high—was seen to shake. The master of ceremonies who was standing before the statue with the incense thought that there was an earthquake and ran and jumped out of a window.

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had a very special connection with the wisdom form of Mahākāla known as Pañjaranātha (Gurgyi Gönpo), who appeared to him in visions throughout his life, issuing prophecies, protecting him from obstacles and so on.

In a monastery called Dra Gön, which was behind Derge Gönchen, there was a retreat centre for the Sakya oral lineage that had fallen into disrepair, but Jamyang Khyentse used his own funds, together with a contribution from the King of Derge, to sponsor rebuilding. From then on, until the destruction in the 1950s, it became an important centre of practice.

A few years before this, Jamyang Khyentse had seen how his activity was becoming very vast and how his fame and reputation were spreading throughout Tibet, and he realized he needed someone to assist him in all his various projects. So it was that his own nephew, Tsewang Paljor, was chosen to become his secretary and personal assistant at the age of just thirteen.

When they were renovating the retreat centre at Dra Gön, they faced a lot of obstacles. When Jamyang Khyentse came to the site, he saw that this was because of the presence of a shrine to the protector Shugden. So one day Jamyang Khyentse assumed a wrathful form and expelled Shugden from the protector temple in Derge Gönchen. There are many amazing stories that could be told at this point about Jamyang Khyentse and Shugden, but I do not feel it would be appropriate.

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö considered that he had five principal root teachers. Of them all, the one who introduced him to the natural state of mind, and whose kindness therefore exceeded all the others, was the Vajradhara Loter Wangpo. Loter Wangpo was so short and plump that when he gave empowerments, he could not perform some of the mudrās with the vajra and bell, and when he sat on a throne, he could not sit with his legs crossed. Those with faith and devotion saw him as Mahākāla. His second root teacher was Kathok Situ Rinpoche Chökyi Gyatso. The third was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Gyurme Pema Namgyal. The fourth was Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima.

When Jamyang Khyentse went to Dodrup Gar, Dodrup Rinpoche had already taken vows never to leave his hermitage and never utter a word of ordinary speech to anyone for the rest of his life. When Jamyang Khyentse arrived there was a very elaborate welcome procession and Dodrup Rinpoche himself came to the front door of his hermitage with his two attendants. When they went inside and sat down, Dodrup Rinpoche said after a long pause, “Are you tired?” These were the only words of ordinary speech he uttered during the later part of his life.

Then Jamyang Khyentse received many empowerments and teachings from the Nyingtik. Especially during the Palchen Düpa, Dodrup Rinpoche gave him the secret name Pema Yeshe Dorje, which was taken to be an indication that he was not only the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, but also of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje.

At that time, Jamyang Khyentse also went to visit the tertön widely known as Tertön Sogyal, but whose terma name was Lerab Lingpa. He received all the empowerments and oral transmissions for Lerab Lingpa’s terma revelations that he could. Lerab Lingpa was ill at the time, and in order to recover he asked that the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva be recited as many times as possible in Dzongsar Monastery. It is recorded that when this was done, his illness cleared up and his health greatly improved. Even after Lerab Lingpa had passed into parinirvāṇa, he still appeared to Jamyang Khyentse on many occasions in his wisdom body, and granted all the remaining empowerments he had not been able to give before.

From Adzom Drukpa Rinpoche Natsok Rangdrol, he received the empowerments and transmissions for Nyingtik Yabshyi and other cycles, and their two minds merged as one. Together with Gyarong Tulku he received teachings on Yeshe Lama, the empowerment of the creative power of pure awareness (rigpé tsal wang) and the long-life empowerment of Könchok Chidü from the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Dorje. As I said earlier, Jamyang Khyentse also received a vast number of empowerments from his own father. He received the oral transmission for many of Gorampa’s works from Lama Jamyang Gyaltsen. The teacher from whom he received most of his scholarly education, on Madhyamika, the treatises of Maitreya and other aspects of Buddhist philosophy, was Khenpo Kunpal. From Tulku Tashi Paljor, better known as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche—with whom he was one in wisdom mind—he received the empowerments and oral transmissions of the Treasury of Kagyü Mantra Teachings (kagyü ngak dzö) and many of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s own profound termas. From Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje, who is still alive today, he received the transmission of Sera Khandro’s terma teachings.

In fact, he was prepared to receive transmissions from anyone who held an unbroken lineage which had not been contaminated by breakages of samaya, without any concern about rank or fame. If you read the list of teachers from whom he received empowerments and oral transmissions, and commentaries on texts, even the brief list given in his verse autobiography, it will astound you. This does not include all the transmissions he received. In fact, the complete list of all that he received is in three full volumes.[11]

If we consider his contribution to preserving the tradition of study, he established the Kham-jé shedra at Dzongsar. Through his great kindness in founding this shedra, many great khenpos have appeared, even down to the present day, who have been among some of the most learned masters of Tibet. From the first khenpo, the great Khenpo Shenga, down to Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk, who is currently the head of Dzongsar Institute in India, there have been thirteen khenpos. Among those to pass through the shedra were the great Khenpo Appey, Khenpo Rinchen,[12] Khenpo Pedam[13] in Tibet, and Dhongthog Tulku who now lives in Seattle. Even Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, who is very famous in the West these days, studied in Kham-jé shedra for a while. The khenpos who graduated from Kham-jé also established many study centres of their own throughout Tibet. Not only that, he also established the great Gyüdé shedra in Kathok, which also brought tremendous benefit to the teachings.

In Karmo Taktsang, he established a great retreat centre for the practice of the essential instructions from the eight great chariots of the practice lineage, and especially for the practice of the terma revelations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrul. Many of the former retreat masters who practised there are still alive. Through renovating the retreat centre at Dra Gön, he ensured that the lineage of practice for the Sakya Nyengyü has continued down to the present day.

If we consider the statues and images he commissioned, there was the Great Maitreya statue in Kham-jé, whose face alone measured thirteen times the length of Jamyang Khyentse’s own hand. Shakabpa wrote in his famous history of Tibet, that this was the largest copper and gold statue of Buddha in Eastern Tibet. He also established the temple called Tse Lhakhang. If we tried to list all the stupas he had built, the statues and thangka paintings he commissioned, or the books he had printed and copied, we would not be able to count them. Even Tsewang Paljor, Jamyang Khyentse’s secretary, who worked on these projects for most of his adult life, would not be able to list everything.

When these images had been completed, he did not keep them in his own monastery, but sent them to where they were needed most. There was hardly any monastery in the Kham region that did not receive offerings of images, books, and stupas, as representations of the enlightened body, speech and mind, from Jamyang Khyentse.

If we consider the time he spent practising in retreat, throughout his whole life he would spend the winter months in retreat, and some years, he spent the whole year in retreat. If you look into his biography, and all the practices he did, you can not find any practice for which he did not complete the recitation. He completed the recitation for the most important practices three or four times. The names of these practices are listed in his verse autobiography. For example, he recited the Dukkar Chokdrup ten thousand times.

The accomplishment he gained as a result of all this practice was unlike that of any other master in Tibetan history. We can say this because his written accounts are unlike any others. There may have been masters who had greater experiences, and did not write anything down, but we cannot say. He left one large volume recording all the visions and prophetic dreams and so on that he had. Unfortunately, this only covers about two-fifths of his life. Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk made a copy of it and then had it published as the secret biography in one large volume. In the Nyingma lineage of Longchen Nyingtik, it is well known that Longchen Rabjam appeared in visions to Jigme Lingpa three times, during which he empowered him with the blessings of his body, speech and mind. Whereas, in the written accounts that we have, Jamyang Khyentse mentions having no less than seventeen visions of Longchen Rabjam—and that is just from the part of his life that is recorded. If you look at a list of all the masters or deities who appeared to him and issued prophecies and so on, there is hardly any master or deity of the Sarma or the Nyingma traditions that is not mentioned If I were to list them all here, we would run out of time.

To him, the whole universe of appearance and existence appeared as infinite purity. For example, when he went to the summit of Tiger Hill above Darjeeling to watch the sunrise, the light of the sun manifested in the form of Vimalamitra. When he went to Bodh Gaya, every day, as he went into the presence of the Buddha statue, he had visions in which he saw Buddha Vajradhara at the Buddha’s heart, and Buddha Samantabhadra at the heart of Vajradhara. As he came to the temple of Bodh Gaya, he saw four-armed black Mahākāla, who spoke to him directly and requested a torma. He realized he did not have the torma-offering text, but said to his ritual master Lodrö Chokden that it would be fine to recite the text of the Mahākāla Tantra from the Kangyur, and so that is what they did. When he prayed beneath the bodhi tree, he had a vividly clear vision in which he saw all the 1002 buddhas of this age, together with all their retinues of shravakas and male and female disciples. When he went to the cave of the mahāsiddha Śāvaripa in the Cool Grove charnel ground, he saw Śāvaripa directly and was empowered with his wisdom mind, so that his whole body shook. In the accounts it says this was witnessed by Gönpo Tseten. When I asked Gönpo Tseten about this, he said that he had seen Jamyang Khyentse gazing into space and uttering “Ah!” as his body started shivering, and he had been worried that his master might be getting sick.

Unfortunately, I can not speak at length about his secret biography and all these visions in detail, because it would take me at least a week.

| From talks given in Lerab Ling, 23rd and 24th August, 1996. Originally translated by Sogyal Rinpoche. Retranslated and edited by Adam Pearcey, 2005.


Version: 2.2-20231217

  1. If translated this name means something like Gentle Melody (Mañjughoṣa) of Wisdom and Love, Understanding of Dharma, Glorious and Excellent Victory Banner of the Non-Sectarian Teachings.  ↩

  2. This prayer is also called The Aspiration of the Vajradhātu Maṇḍala.  ↩

  3. In the early sixteenth century, the Lamdré (Path with its Result) teachings developed into two major lines of transmission: the general presentation known as tsokshé (tshogs bshad) and the secret presentation known as lopshé (slob bshad).  ↩

  4. Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa also passed away in this same year according to some accounts. The year of Karmapa Khakhyab Dorje's passing is usually given as 1921/22. Katok Situ passed away in late 1925.  ↩

  5. Kathok Monastery was founded in 1159 by Dampa Deshek.  ↩

  6. See note 3 above.  ↩

  7. Authenticity of the teacher, of direct experience, of the scripture (i.e. the Hevajra Tantra) and the treatise (i.e. Virūpa’s Vajra Verses). For more information on Gatön Ngawang Lekpa and the Lamdré teachings, see The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception by Deshung Rinpoche.  ↩

  8. Gorampa Sonam Senge 1429–1489. One of the greatest philosophers in Tibetan history, whose works now form a large part of the curriculum in Dzongsar shedra in Bir, India.  ↩

  9. Gurgyi Gönpo (gur gyi mgon po), a Sakya protector.  ↩

  10. 1235–1280. The Sakya hierarch recognized as the ruler of Tibet by Kublai Khan.  ↩

  11. This list of all that he received (gsan yig) is not to be found in his collected works. It is one of the major missing works of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö that were not brought out of Tibet. The others are his comprehensive guide to the pilgrimage places of Central Tibet and his diary. He is also said to have written a commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, but this too is lost.  ↩

  12. A teacher of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche and many other lamas.  ↩

  13. i.e., Khenpo Pema Damchö.  ↩

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