The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

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Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

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The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche


In Tibet, the Land of Snows, the teachings of the Buddha were transmitted in many lineages. It is often said that the study lineages were supported by 'ten great pillars,'[1] and the ‘eight chariots’[2] or practice lineages were supported by ‘eight great pillars.’[3]

The teachings that were transmitted from India to Tibet from the seventh century reign of the Dharma King Songtsen Gampo[4] until around the ninth or tenth century came to be known as the Ancient Teachings of the Early Translations (Ngagyur Nyingma). This name ‘Nyingma’ or ‘Ancient Ones’ was not something the Nyingmapas came up with themselves; it was first used by the schools of the ‘New Tradition’, or ‘Sarma,’ because they saw the Nyingma as an ancient tradition in comparison with their own. The period of transition between old and new schools is usually given as the era of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055). Whatever translations appeared before his time are called ‘Ancient’, whereas his own translations and those that came later are called ‘New’ or ‘Modern.’ This is how the scholars of the past explained the difference.

Among the Sarma or New Schools, the Sakya and Kagyü developed at around the same time. There was also the Old Kadampa tradition. Then came some other new traditions, such as the New Kadam (also called the Gelukpa), the Shangpa Kagyü, Tropu,[5] Bodong,[6] and Shije and so on.

Generally speaking, it seems to me that whenever something new comes along, at first it is not very well known, and in order to bring it to people’s attention, it needs to be promoted enthusiastically, usually by making repeated claims about how good it is. That is generally how things work. In Tibet, the New Schools applied the term Nyingma in order to dissociate themselves from the older traditions. In effect, they were saying, “That is the old tradition. We represent something different. We are the new schools.”

In fact, it is only in their names that these schools differ. In reality, all the major traditions followed in Tibet come from just a single source: the Buddha. Not only that, they are all alike in that they offer instructions on how to follow the path leading to liberation and omniscience within a single lifetime.

Even so, as the times degenerate and grow from bad to worse, the Dharma tradition also declines, and so there came to be a division into the Nyingma and the Sarma, and even within the Sarma many different schools arose. In the Kagyü alone, there are four major sub-schools and eight minor ones. In the Sakya School, there is the division into the three main branches of Sakya, Ngorpa and Tsarpa. In the Kadam School, there is a division between the old and new Kadampas. All the traditions have divided and become more and more fragmented over time, and unfortunately this has meant that the relationships between different branches have not always been harmonious.

You might disagree with what I am saying here. I need to back it up; otherwise it could seem as if I am just expressing an opinion. Let’s take the Kadampa tradition first of all. The Precious Lord Tsongkhapa, who was Mañjuśrī in person, composed some eighteen volumes of writing which still exist today. But of those, there are some which are widely studied and practised and highly treasured within the Gelukpa School, and there are also some sections of his writings which are not valued so highly. His commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā known as the Golden Rosary of Fine Explanations (lek shé ser treng), for example, and certain other writings are considered to be closer to the old Kadampa tradition and the ancient schools, and so they are no longer held in very high regard by Gelukpa scholars.

Then, if we consider the Sakya school, its real origins are within the Nyingma school, but amongst the three main branches, we find that the Ngor branch no longer practise the so-called ’ancestral teachings’ (yab chö) of the Sakya school, such as the practices of Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakiīaya.

In the Nyingma too, although there has not been any decline in the compassion and blessing of Guru Rinpoche, there have been many tertöns who have appeared through the centuries, each revealing their own particular terma cycles. Over time, the followers of particular terma traditions have emphasized their own lineage to the neglect of others. By now, after so many tertöns and so many terma cycles, there is almost nothing left that you could point to as being common to the whole Nyingma School.

This was the state of the Buddha’s teachings in Tibet—fragmented and threatened by sectarianism—when there appeared the two great emanations of Mañjuśrī, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye.

Previous Incarnations

You might wonder who Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo really was. The simple answer is that he was Mañjuśrī in person. To talk about Mañjuśrī, and explain who he is, would be difficult even for a great bodhisattva who has attained the bhūmis. Such a bodhisattva could speak with his vajra tongue for an entire aeon, and still he would not finish recounting Mañjuśrī’s enlightened deeds and listing his qualities.

Nevertheless, confining ourselves to the limited perspective of ordinary beings, we can say a little about the earlier emanations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. In the noble land of India, during the time of Buddha Śākyamuni, he was Śāriputra, the most gifted of the Buddha’s disciples in terms of wisdom. And among the eight great vidyādharas, he was Mañjuśrīmitra, the one who received the transmission of Yamāntaka. He was also the mahāsiddha Vajra Ghaṇṭipa, the great yogi who attained realization through the one-pointed practice of Cakrasamvara, and who could travel to celestial realms without leaving his ordinary body behind, united with his consort, and taking along his children in the form of a vajra and bell. He was also the crown ornament of the five hundred learned paṇḍitas, the great Vimalamitra, who made the teachings of the Great Perfection shine like the sun throughout the whole of Tibet.

Later he was also the paṇḍita Pratiharanandamati,[7] and here there is a story I wish to tell. Often the incarnations of Jamyang Khyentse have problems with their intestines quite soon after birth, and no matter how much medicine they take, it doesn’t seem to help. You might wonder why this is. When viewed with the eyes of wisdom, this problem, it seems, can be traced back to Jamyang Khyentse’s life as the paṇḍita Pratiharanandamati. On one occasion, while Pratiharanandamati was meditating one-pointedly in his hermitage on a deserted mountainside, a ḍākinī appeared to him and predicted that even staying there alone and practising one-pointedly, he would meet a great enemy of the buddhist teachings. “When this enemy comes,” she explained, “you must liberate him. If you do not, it will prove a great obstacle to the teachings.”

As he sat there, he tried to discover who this enemy of the teachings might be. He soon discovered that the king of the land, who was a follower of the tirthikas, was on an excursion nearby in the forest, together with all his ministers. He could see that they were eating a meal and talking together. “Today,” one of them was saying, “we are in a fine place and it is an auspicious time. While we are all gathered together, the king and all his ministers, we should decide upon some great plan for the future, a project for the good of the kingdom that we could put all our energy into.”

Several of the ministers put forward ideas for ways they could trade and make money. Others disagreed and suggested they should sponsor a religious project instead. Finally, one cunning minister stood up and explained that what prevented their own religion from becoming dominant throughout the kingdom was Buddhism, and so he proposed they ransack and destroy all the buddhist monasteries in the region.

As soon as the paṇḍita heard this and saw what would result, he instantly performed the practice of Yamāntaka and manifested in the form of a huge and terrifying ox with long, piercing horns. He ran towards the king and his ministers and liberated them all by running his horns through their stomachs, piercing their intestines. The intestinal problems experienced by the Khyentse incarnations are the karmic result of this event.

Although I will not mention them all here, he also appeared as many other learned paṇḍitas and accomplished yogins in the land of India. Then in Tibet, he appeared as the great Dharma-king Trisong Detsen, and immediately afterwards, in his very next incarnation, he was the heir of the teaching cycle known as The Ocean of Dharma that Gathers all the Teachings (Kadü Chökyi Gyatso),[8] Gyalse Lharje Chokdrup Gyalpo.

In all, there were five great tertöns who were combined emanations of both King Trisong Detsen and Gyalse Lharje:

  1. Their body manifestation was Ngadak Nyang Rinpoche.
  2. Their speech manifestation was Guru Chökyi Wangchuk.
  3. Their mind manifestation was Changdak Tashi Tobgyal.
  4. Their quality manifestation was Ngari Pandita, Pema Wangi Gyalpo
  5. Their activity manifestation was the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso.

From the time of the very first tertön, Sangye Lama, up until his incarnation as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Gyalse Lharje appeared as thirteen tertöns. There were other emanations too, but these were just the ones who were tertöns.

In addition to these, Jamyang Khyentse was also Dakpo Lharje, or Gampopa. He was Nesarwa Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk, and Sakya Pandita. In fact, if you really look into the list of his previous lives, it seems as though there was hardly any great learned or accomplished master who was not one of Jamyang Khyentse’s former incarnations.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo himself stated that he was the body incarnation of Trisong Detsen, the speech incarnation of Guru Rinpoche, the mind incarnation of Namkhai Nyingpo, the quality incarnation of Gyalse Lharje, and the activity incarnation of Langdro Lotsāwa.

Birth and Childhood

As indicated in the ancient prophecies, his place of birth was in Kham, in the district of Derge, in a place called Terlung. Just as mentioned in the prophecies, the earth there is in the shape of a snake, and there is a rock in the shape of a garuḍa. The line in the prophecy stating ‘In the family line of Nyö’[9] means that the family of his birth, which was the Dilgo family, was in the line of Nyö, the same family line as that of the great Terdak Lingpa. The name Nyö, which means ‘crazy’, dates back to the time when a god came down from the heavens to this human world. It is said that he became tainted through mixing with impure human beings, and this human contact made him crazy.

Some time before Jamyang Khyentse was born, the great Khenpo of Ngor, Thartse Jampa Namkha Chime was staying in Derge and had become very ill. At that time, the king of Derge requested him not to pass into parinirvāṇa but to remain longer in this world. He added that if this was not possible, and he could not extend his life any further, he should definitely return to instruct beings in another incarnation. The king made this request again and again. Thartse Jampa Namkha Chime did not say anything to the king directly, but to those around him he said that it was very difficult for someone in the bardos to choose their place of birth. However, if someone did have the choice, he said, then to be born as a son of Trungyik Rinchen Wangyal would ensure a very good basis for leading a positive life and benefitting the teachings.

Before Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s birth there were many extraordinary signs and miracles that foretold his coming. When he was born, the placenta was wrapped around his body in the shape of a monastic robe, and his hair was already long enough to reach his ears. Within a few months of his birth, he received the blessing of Mañjuśrīmitra and Guru Rinpoche. And it is said that Ekajaṭī, the Protectress of the secret mantra, cared for him as if he was her very own child.

When Jamyang Khyentse was very young, and the family was living in a big tent in the Terlung area, every morning when he left the tent he would see a big image of Guru Rinpoche in the rock. Later on, when he thought about this, he realized that there must have been a kutsab image of Guru Rinpoche hidden there as a terma.

At the age of eight, when he was in an isolated place, and was about to fall asleep, he suddenly heard an extraordinary sound of ‘Dhīḥ!’—which is the seed-syllable of Mañjuśrī—and at that moment his ordinary mind ceased completely and he was brought into the presence of the great masters Mañjuśrīimitra and Guru Rinpoche, who gave him empowerments and teachings. From that moment on, his wisdom became fully developed, and he could remember the details of many thousands of former lifetimes.

Instead of playing ordinary games, as a child, he would make elaborate mandalas out of mud and dung, and play with phurbas he had shaped out of wood. On one such occasion, he said he was performing a drupchen of Kadü Chökyi Gyatso, and recited many sections of the practice aloud. Even at this age, all the deities of the mandala appeared clearly and vividly to his mind. Unfortunately, the family employed a rather inept servant who was completely unaware of what was going on, and thought that Khyentse Rinpoche was simply making a big mess. He destroyed all the mandalas and cleared them away with his feet, and then scolded the young Khyentse Rinpoche, but in doing so, he incurred the wrath of the ḍākinīs and died the very same night.

With only the slightest tutoring from his father in reading, writing and reciting, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo became extremely proficient.

On one occasion, Yeshe Tsogyal appeared to him in the form of an ordinary lady and gave him the prophetic guide for the discovery of a terma.

The family had been followers of the Ngorpa tradition of the Sakya School for many generations. In fact, the great Ngorpa khenpo Jampa Kunga Tendzin was to become Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s root master. When he was travelling through Derge, Jampa Kunga Tendzin gave some money to Jamyang Khyentse’s father and said, “Your son is the incarnation of Jampa Namkha Chime. You must give him to Thartse Labrang.” In reply, the father said, “I will not give my son away in exchange for money, but if it will be of some benefit to the Dharma, then I will gladly have him become a monk.” Following this, Jamyang Khyentse went to live in the monastery of Dzongsar Tashi Lhatse.

At around this time, he entered into retreat in a cave called Sachen Puk, and performed a sādhana of Mañjuśrī based on the Gang gi Lodrö prayer. Early one morning, Mañjuśrī appeared very clearly in the centre of the mandala and let a blue utpala flower fall from his heart. When the flower touched Jamyang Khyentse’s own heart centre, all the darkness of ignorance completely cleared away and the light of his wisdom became fully developed.

At the age of fourteen, he was not able to discover a particular terma and this created an obstacle. The obstacle manifested when he was invited to the Gönna Labrang[10] and served some rotten meat, which made him so severely ill that for seven days it seemed as if he were barely alive. Except for his faint breathing, all signs of life disappeared. When he eventually recovered, he had lost his memory, and was only able to recognize his mother. He had to re-learn everything all over again, and he later said that after this his wisdom was only a quarter of what it had been before.

In his own pure experience, during this period he had travelled to the Glorious Copper-Coloured Mountain and been received by Guru Rinpoche, who told him, “The auspicious circumstances for your present lifetime are not of the best kind. They may not even be of the intermediate level, but they will be of the lowest kind. You should now return.” And with that, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo regained consciousness.

Following this experience, he made great efforts to master all the rituals and practices of the Ngorpa tradition.

Generally speaking, whenever you recount the life and liberation of a great master, there are three main topics: the master’s outer life, his inner life and his secret or innermost life. The traditional accounts are mainly concerned with a master’s enlightened qualities; they are not like modern biographies of famous people, which have a lot to say about what the person ate for breakfast, what they drank, where they stayed and all the things they did there and so on.

His Studies

If we now consider the outer life and liberation of Jamyang Khyentse, he twice went to Central Tibet, travelling throughout both Ü and Tsang. In total, he spent thirteen years studying day and night with masters from all traditions, receiving empowerments, transmissions and instructions.

Jamyang Khyentse himself said that he had four main root masters. Of these, the most important was the great Ngorpa Thartse khenpo, Jampa Kunga Tendzin. Then there was Thartse Pönlop Naljor Jampal Zangpo. Another of his root teachers was Shalu Losal Tengkyong. And the other main root lama was Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye. These were the main four, but altogether he had more than 150 teachers. Amongst these, there were many who were also tertöns, such as the great Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. Amongst his Sakya teachers, several were from the ruling Sakya families. In the Nyingma tradition, his teachers included the Mindroling throne-holders Gyurme Pema Wangyal[11] and Gyurme Sangye Kunga,[12] as well as Mindroling Jetsünma Trinle Chödrön,[13] who were all from the family line of Terdak Lingpa, and the fourth Dzogchen Rinpoche Mingyur Namkhe Dorje. More than seventy of his teachers were lamas belonging to the old and new Kadampa traditions. He also had a few Bönpo teachers.

If we consider all the teachings he received during these thirteen years, whilst he was studying with these masters in central Tibet and Kham, they include the teachings of the Nyingma School from the kama and terma, as well as all the teachings of the Sarma. There were teachings from the ten great pillars of the study lineage and transmissions from the eight great chariots of the practice lineage. He also received the transmissions for all the Words of the Buddha included in the Kangyur and the commentaries of the Indian masters contained in the Tengyur. In all, if we were to add together all the teachings he studied and for which he received the transmission, they would amount to more than 700 volumes.

He himself said that he did not simply receive these teachings; he studied them and came to know their meaning. He also said that there was perhaps nobody more learned than him at that time, because of all the study he had done. If anyone ever asked him which tradition he belonged to, he would reply simply that he was a buddhist.

Representations of Body, Speech and Mind

In order to house the representations of enlightened body, speech and mind, over the course of his life he established thirteen temples. He commissioned more than two thousand gold and copper statues, and three thousand more crafted from clay or stone.

When we consider his contribution in producing representations of enlightened speech, it is said that he copied almost every volume of teaching that he received. In those days there was no other way to copy a text besides writing it out by hand. In addition, he was responsible for printing many texts from woodblocks. According to his biography, written by Jamgön Kongtrul, he published a total of more than ten thousand volumes.

If you ever have the chance to see one of these volumes published by the Khyentse Labrang, you will be amazed by the quality of the printing and the materials that were used. On each one it clearly says the date on which it was first commissioned and the date when it was completed, and it shows how much gold and silver was given to cover the cost. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche could just pick up a volume and tell immediately whether it was from the Khyentse Labrang or not, just by feeling its weight and checking the quality of the paper. He didn’t even need to look at the label.

In terms of representations of the Buddhas’ mind, he oversaw the building of many great stupas, including the ‘Single Ornament of the World’ stupa at the Derge Gönchen monastery and also the serdung at Dzongsar. In total, he had more than two hundred stupas made out of gold and copper, and over two thousand made from wood or clay and other materials.

Teaching and Practice

It is well known that the main activities needed to ensure the preservation of the Dharma are teaching and practice. In this regard, there was a hardly any teaching that Jamyang Khyentse received which he did not then pass on to others. The great collections of teachings and practices which we see today, such as The Precious Treasury of Termas (Rinchen Terdzö), The Treasury of Kagyü Mantras (Kagyü Ngak Dzö), The Treasury of Essential Instructions (Damngak Dzö), The Treasury of Knowledge (Sheja Kunkhyab Dzö), The Compendium of Tantras (Gyüde Kuntü), The Compendium of Sādhanas (Druptap Kuntü) and so on, were all compiled solely through the kindness of Jamyang Khyentse.

You might object to this and say that The Compendium of Tantras and The Compendium of Sādhanas were put together by Jamyang Loter Wangpo, and the Five Treasures were the work of Jamgön Kongtrul. You might wonder what Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had to do with all this. In fact, the one who really searched everywhere for all the empowerments and transmissions contained in these collections such as The Compendium of Tantras and The Compendium of Sādhanas was Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Of course, at that time he was not able to receive them all from just one person. He had to search for thirteen years going from one master to the next. Then finally, after all those years of effort, he transmitted all that he had received to Loter Wangpo and instructed him to arrange them into proper collections with a clear structure. He told Loter Wangpo to do this.

In a similar way, it was Jamyang Khyentse who first received all the terma cycles of the 108 major tertöns, together with those of many of the minor tertöns. He then transmitted them to Jamgön Kongtrul, who arranged them into The Precious Treasury of Termas.

The copper pumba (vase), which Jamyang Khyentse used when giving empowerments, and which Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö later inherited, had to be mended twice because it wore out through so much use. For that to happen was simply unheard of before Jamyang Khyentse’s time.

This should give some idea how much he did to spread the teachings.

If we think about his contribution to the lineage of practice, then it is well known that from the age of forty-five until the age of seventy-three, he never once left his residence, which was known as the ‘Joyful Grove of Immortal Accomplishment’, in Dzongsar Tashi Lhatse. It would be impossible for anyone to say how many mantras he recited during that time, or how many practices he accomplished. Nevertheless, the ultimate fruition of the practices of approach and accomplishment can be measured in terms of experience and realization, and we can say something about his level of realization, because Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche tells us about it.

On one occasion, Jamgön Kongtrul visited Dzongsar when Jamyang Khyentse was around seventy years of age, and while they were talking together, Jamyang Khyentse said to Jamgön Kongtrul, “I have studied with more than 150 teachers. Among those, I have had four main teachers, and of those you are the only one who is still alive. I feel I should now offer you my realization[14] from all the practice I have done throughout my life.” When he described his realization and attainments from all the practices—from the development and completion phases, up to the ultimate fruition he had experienced through the practice of Dzogchen—Jamgön Kongtrul was completely lost for words. He says he felt humbled and wondered how he could ever begin to evaluate such an incredible depth of realization. Nevertheless, he knew that if one were to look into the instruction texts of the Sarma and the Nyingma traditions, then according to the Mahāmudrā tradition, Jamyang Khyentse’s realization would be described as the state of ‘non-meditation’, in which all phenomena are realized to be of a single taste. Whereas according to the Dzogchen teachings, Jamyang Khyentse had reached the state of the exhaustion of all phenomena within the expanse of reality. Kongtrul Rinpoche said he was left in no doubt that Khyentse Rinpoche’s wisdom mind was no different from that of the great Paṇḍita Vimalamitra or Guru Rinpoche himself. In turn, when Jamgön Kongtrul offered his realization, Jamyang Khyentse said that he had reached the level of awareness reaching full maturity corresponding to the practice of trekchö.

To put it simply, throughout his entire life, Jamyang Khyentse continuously held aloft the victory banner of spiritual practice.

As for his style of teaching, whenever a follower of the Gelukpa came to see him, he would put on a yellow hat and teach according to the tantras and pith instructions of the old and new Kadampa schools, giving instructions on practices like Lojong, so that a Gelukpa practitioner would think he was the great Je Tsongkhapa in person. In fact, the great and learned Geshe Jampa Puntsok of Lithang, who was without rival as a scholar throughout the whole Gelukpa School, was also a disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

Whenever a student from the Kagyü School came to request teachings, he would put on the hat of Gampopa and teach Mahāmudrā from the preliminaries, such as the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, onwards, and people would feel as if no Kagyüpa meditator even came close to his level of realization. Many Kagyü masters actually wrote in their histories that they felt as if he was Milarepa in monks’ robes. Other Kagyü disciples saw him as Gampopa in person. Included among his students were the fourteenth and fifteenth Karmapas, as well as the Situ Rinpoches, Pema Kunzang and Pema Wangchok Gyalpo.

For Nyingma students, he was the actual representative of Guru Rinpoche, who had been given the name Ösel Trulpe Dorje by Vimalamitra and the name Pema Ösel Dongak Lingpa by Guru Rinpoche. He was simply the king of all tertöns.

The Sakyapas themselves will say that the current strength of their lineages—of the Sakya, Ngor and Tsar traditions—and the fact that they have remained unbroken to this day, is largely due to the kindness and dedication of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

Whichever tradition he was teaching upon or whatever empowerment he was giving, everything—even down to the way he held the vajra and bell and the style of his chanting—would be done precisely according to the tradition of that particular lineage. He would never combine bits and pieces from different traditions so as to mix things up like tsampa in a begging bowl.

His Students

Generally it is said that for a master to be called exceptionally great, he must produce exceptionally great students. If we think about the students of Jamyang Khyentse, then there were about one hundred who were such great masters in their own right that they each had thousands of followers and left behind huge collections of writing, amounting in some cases to as many as forty or fifty volumes.

The great Mipham Rinpoche Jampal Gyepe Dorje, who was one such student, said in his writings that Jamyang Khyentse was, “The great master of all the Buddha’s teachings in the Land of Snows, the ultimate Vajradhara.” Mipham Rinpoche said that when you consider the learning and accomplishment of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, there was simply no other master in Tibetan history with whom he might be compared, and that it is unlikely that there will be anyone of his calibre again in the future.

There were five disciples of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who were great tertöns: Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, Lerab Lingpa, Bönter Tsewang Drakpa, Khamtrul Rinpoche Tenpe Nyima, and the old king of Ling, Lingtsang Gyalgen.

These were some of the disciples who spread his teachings, and who helped to promote the tradition we know as Rimé. Rimé was not a new tradition created by mixing all the old traditions together. ‘Rimé’ means to have faith and pure perception for all the teachings of the Buddha, in the recognition that they are all equally valid means for bringing about liberation and omniscience, and, with this in mind, to practise the various methods of approach and accomplishment, having received the appropriate empowerments, transmissions and oral instructions.

One master who upheld this tradition and whom many of us had the great good fortune to meet was Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He was someone who had the greatest respect for all the lineages of the Buddha’s teachings. Someone like him, who is a genuine follower of the great Rime tradition, will only have the greatest respect for all the teachings of the Buddha, and never look upon them with wrong view or disparage them in any way. It was Jonang Jetsün Tāranātha who said that there is not much point killing one parent in order to save the other, and by the same token, it will never be acceptable to further one tradition by destroying another.

His Parinirvāṇa

If I were to talk in detail about the life of this learned and accomplished master, it would take much longer than we have available now, and I am afraid that in any case I do not have the knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the auspiciousness during his life was not of the greatest or medium level, but only of the lowest level, and so it was that at the age of 73 his wisdom mind was absorbed into the heart of Vimalamitra.

On the 24th day of the twelfth Tibetan month, one month prior to his passing away, he had all his old papers burned, and then on the 25th he offered a tsok feast. Then, almost a month later, on the 21st day of the first lunar month, he scattered flowers and recited verses of auspiciousness, and then washed and put on a clean robe. He sat facing in the direction of Vimalamitra, and, entering into one-pointed samādhi, he merged his wisdom mind with the wisdom mind of Vimalamitra.

Some time later, and in exact accordance with the prophecies found in the terma texts, he returned to benefit the teachings and beings of Tibet in five further emanations of his enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activity.


This outer life story of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo that I have recounted is not something I made up. It is based on the writings of his actual disciples, who wrote what they saw and heard from the master himself. Of all the biographies of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the main one is the one he himself composed in verse form (shyal sungma). Since this was something he wrote himself, it does not exaggerate his qualities or his achievements, and if anything it downplays them. Unfortunately, I do not have time to say more, and anyway I do not have the knowledge, but I want to stress that although I have certainly missed out many details, I have not added anything that is not found in the original accounts.

His Inner and Secret Life and Liberation

Having spoken about the outer life and liberation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, I will now say a little about his inner biography.

The outstanding feature of his life was his non-sectarian attitude and respect for all the lineages of the Buddha’s teachings, which caused him to travel and receive the transmissions for the eight great chariots and other lineages from more than 150 teachers. These transmissions were are all part of what we call the long or indirect transmission (ring gyü), but he also received the shorter, more direct transmissions (nyé gyü) for each lineage. For example, when he was in Reting he received the short transmission of the Jowo Kadampas after meeting Dromtönpa Gyalwe Jungne and glorious Atiśa in a vision. It was the same for the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü, Jonang and the others. The story of how he received these shorter, more direct transmissions from the main teachers in each of the eight great chariots of the practice lineage is what comprises his inner biography.

I will not go into details now about how he received the transmissions for the eight great chariots from these famous teachers and deities during pure vision experiences because if I stop here then it might create the auspicious conditions for recounting them in future.

As for the secret biography of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, we could say very briefly that he was one of the five great sovereign terma revealers.[15] He was in fact the greatest of the five, the one empowered with what are called the 'seven great authoritative transmissions' (ka bab dün[16])—a term that could not have been applied to anyone before him and which was simply unknown before his lifetime.

From talks given in Lerab Ling, France between August 18 and 23, 1996

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2005.

Version: 2.2-20210610

  1.  Thönmi Sambhota, Bairotsana, Kawa Peltsek, Chokru Lu’i Gyaltsen, Shyang Yeshe De, Dromtön Gyalwa Jungne, Rinchen Zangpo, Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab, Sakya Paṇḍita and Gö Khukpa Lhetse.  ↩

  2.  Nyingma, Kadam, Lamdre, Marpa Kagyü, Shangpa Kagyü, Kālacakra, Shyije and Chö, Orgyenpa.  ↩

  3.  Pagor Vairochana, Dromtön, Khyungpo Naljor, Drokmi Lotsāwa, Marpa Lotsāwa, Padampa Sangye, Kyijo Lotsāwa and Orgyenpa.  ↩

  4.  The dates for Songtsen Gampo are often given as 609–698 CE.  ↩

  5.  Founded by the translator Jampa Pal (1173–1225).  ↩

  6.  Founded by Bodong Chokle Namgyal (1375–1450) who authored over 100 volumes, making him the most prolific writer in Tibetan history.  ↩

  7.  Orgyen Tobgyal says Vanaratna (Tib. nags kyi rin chen; 1384–1468), who was another of Jamyang Khyentse predecessors and an important master in the Kālacakra lineage. But the story which follows relates to Pratiharanandamati (sgo mtha’ yas pa’i blo gros), as is clear from the biography of Jamyang Khyentse composed by Jamgön Kongtrul.  ↩

  8.  A rediscovered terma (yang ter) of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo originally revealed by Orgyen Lingpa.  ↩

  9.  This is found in the terma prophecy of Thangtong Gyalpo, which is given in Dudjom Rinpoche’s history of the Nyingma School, although the translators appear to have mistaken rigs 'dzin (holder of the family line) for rig 'dzin (vidyādhara).  ↩

  10. Part of Dzongsar Monastery.  ↩

  11.  The sixth great throne-holder of Mindrolling (or Minling Trichen).  ↩

  12.  The seventh Minling Trichen.  ↩

  13.  The daughter of Gyurme Trinle Namgyal, the fifth Minling Trichen.  ↩

  14.  It is customary for students to make an offering of their realization to their teachers. It is known as tokbul (rtogs 'bul).  ↩

  15.  The five sovereign tertöns were Nyangrel Nyima Özer, Guru Chökyi Wangchuk, Dorje Lingpa, Pema Lingpa and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.  ↩

  16.  bka' babs bdun. These seven are kama (the continuous transmission of sūtra and tantra), sa ter (earth treasures), yang ter (rediscovered treasures), gong ter (mind treasures), nyen gyü (oral transmission), dak nang (visionary revelations), and je dren (revelations from memory).  ↩

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