Thursday, 24 December 2009

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, student of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme
A good friend and accomplished film maker once told me: "Documentary production is mostly a series of missed opportunities". This becomes painfully obvious when most of the prospective interview subjects are quite elderly and spread all over the world.
When the Tibetan diaspora was scattered across the planet in the years following 1959, so were the students, family and acquaintances of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. One of them, Ngapoi, became an ally of the Chinese and moved to Beijing. Today he is mostly remembered for signing the Seventeen Point Agreement with the Chinese Communist government in 1951, accepting Chinese sovereignty in exchange for guarantees of autonomy and religious freedom.
Born into a Lhasa aristocratic family in 1910, part of his education took place in Britain. In 1936 he started a career as a politician and took up a post at Chamdo in Eastern Tibet where he eventually became governor.
Several sources confirm that he received teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro although it is not clear what he received and when. It was due to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's good connection with Jigme that another one of his students, Master Bisong, a Chinese traveling to Central Tibet in 1937 on a quest for knowledge and adventure, was able to obtain a rare transit visa from Chamdo to Lhasa.
Not always do a man's political actions reflect his spiritual journey or personal character. When the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet was released in 1997, portraying him as a collaborator, Ngapoi felt deeply hurt and accused the film makers of 'sheer fabrication' and 'a vicious personal attack'.
Unfortunately all memories of the man behind the politician have been drowned out by the political debates surrounding the fate of Tibet. Somehow I had always harbored an unrealistic glimmer of hope that one day I might be able to interview him about his time spent with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, his impressions of the great Rime master and how his Buddhist training may have shaped his political journey. After all he always remained loyal to the Tibetan people although for many he seemed to be working in the wrong camp.

Ngapoi, father of no less than 12 children and presiding over a clan of more than 60 people, passed away on December 23, 2009, in Beijing at the age of 99

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Pema Yeshe Dorje

Thangka of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö in the form of Pema Yeshe Dorje, courtesy of Jeff Watt at For the zoom-able image go to Himalayan Art. Original photograph part of the Shechen Archives Photography Collection

In the 1920's Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö spent several months at the hermitage of the third Dodrupchen Rinpoche Jikme Tenpe Nyima receiving empowerments and teachings. During an extraordinary empowerment into the mandala of Rigdzin Düpa Dodrupchen gave him the secret name Pema Yeshe Dorje.

Many scholars have seen this as an indication that Dodrupchen considered Jamyang Khyentse to be also an incarnation of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800-1866), a student of the first Dodrupchen Rinpoche Jikmé Trinlé Özer (1745-1821) and a teacher and friend to the second Dodrupchen Jikmé Puntsok Jungné (1824-1863)

Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje from Rigpa Wiki

Later Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö wrote of his visit to Dodrupchen:
I went to the encampment of Do in the North and
Met the omniscient Tenpe Nyima.
I received the empowerment of Rigdzin Dupa and Ladrup Tiklé Gyachen,
The teachings on Longchen Nyingthig, and
The Outline of Guhyagarbha.
He constantly gave me instructions and advice.
He gave me the permission to propagate
His writings, with no need of having the verbal transmission (lung).
With great kindness, he gave me all his care.
quoted from Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996

a rather romantic view of the main entrance gate to Dodrupchen Monastery in East Tibet / CC BY-NC 2.0

For more some translations of writings by the third Dodrupchen Tenpe Nyima visit his page on

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Japanese Agent in Tibet

During our research into the life and times of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, we have been gathering material from a great variety of sources to gain a better understanding into the world of Tibet before the Chinese invasion of 1950, leading to Jamyang Khyentse’s pilgrimage to Central Tibet, a journey that ended in exile in 1956. As we know, he died just a few months after the flight of the fourteenth Dalai Lama to India, which marked the final incorporation of Tibet within the Peoples Republic of China in 1959.
To take you with us on our journey into some of this diverse literature, we will share with you a few of the intriguing insights we have gained.

First in this series will be the book “Japanese Agent in Tibet”, as told by Hisao Kimura to Scott Berry and published by Serindia in 1990.

Hisao Kimura came from a world that until the middle of the 19th century had been a feudal society. Like Tibet, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan had tried to protect its way of life from the outside world, particularly the modernizing forces let loose by European colonialism that created the circumstances for revolutionary changes through Asia. Their resistance was swept aside with the Meiji Restoration following the forced opening of Japan to trade with the European powers when Commander Perry of the USA Navy, forced the Japanese to sign the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. Similarly, in 1904 Francis Younghusband led a British expedition into Tibet in order to force the Tibetan government based in Lhasa to open up Tibet for trade with Britain, and in the process enable the British to pursue their political interests in containing Russian influence in Central Asia.
However, the outcomes were vastly different for these two societies steeped in their traditions and their sense of unique culture. The Japanese embraced modernity with a passion, deciding that the only way to preserve their culture was to match the Europeans in their military might and technology. By 1905, they shocked the Western world when they defeated the Russians, and in 1931 they invaded and colonised Manchuria. This was the beginning of their grand vision to become the dominant 'modernising' power in East Asia, which brought them into sharp conflict with both China and the West.
Through the interdependence of these great events, the young Kimura found himself in Manchuria learning the Mongolian language. And thus the stage for his great adventure as an undercover agent in Tibet was set.

During the 1940s, when Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö established himself as one of the most important Buddhist masters in East Tibet, other events unfolded across Tibet and its neighbouring countries that would soon plunge his world of spiritual pursuit into chaos, as Japan, Russia, China and Britain sought to secure their territorial interests in Central Asia.

From 1945 Hisao Kimura becomes caught up in these events, first as an undercover agent for the Japanese intelligence services in Mongolia, then on a mission for the British intelligence in Kham and finally providing information for US counter intelligence when he returns to Japan. Hisao Kimura gives an engrossing account of his many adventures that take him into Tibet via the northern border at Ningxia province, into the Qaidam, then to Kumbum Monastery and through Golok county across Qinghai to Ngakchuka and on to Lhasa. Later he travels to Kalimpong, Nepal and the Buddhist sites of the Ganges valley, before returning to the Tibetan border regions of Kham. He spends some time travelling back and forth between Kalimpong and Lhasa from where he is finally deported to India. He eventually makes his way to Calcutta where he surrenders to the Indian authorities. After a short time in jail, he is repatriated to Japan.
Kimura’s account is especially valuable for its acute observations on the trials and dangers in the daily life of pilgrims and other travellers between Mongolia, Tibet and India, his cunning takes on both the merits and the shortcomings of old Tibet, the rule of the Tibetan nobility in particular and finally his portrait of life in Kalimpong, the 'Casablanca of the East' in the last decade before the fall of Tibet.

In 1943, at the age of twenty-one, Kimura, assuming the identity of a Mongolian monk ‘Dawa Sangpo’, is dispatched to Xinjiang in order to collect intelligence on Chinese supply lines in central Asia. Kimura, with his two Mongolian companions, passes through a confusing maze of opposing armies, robbers, murderous tribes and forbidding deserts until they eventually reach Kumbum Monastery.

Kimura (center) with his two Mongolian companions Danzan and Tserentso in 1943 before setting off

Here they are witness as the six year old incarnation of the Panchen Lama receives his monastic vows. Their attempt to reach Xinjiang is foiled by Muslim warlord Babu Noyen who detains them for almost a year. Finally released in May 1945 they travel to Lhasa in a large caravan escorting Takster Rinpoche, the elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama and one of the abbots of Kumbum. On the way they meet the regent Reting Rinpoche who invites Dawa Sangpo to become his disciple, but Kimura politely declines. Reting agrees to trade their camels for use of Reting’s own variant of the ‘ula’, the traditional government transport system by which horses and yaks could be requisitioned from the public by travelling officials.

While in Lhasa, cut off from all contact with his homeland, Dawa Sangpo hears reports that Japan has been defeated in the war. Unable to believe the news he persuades his two Mongolian companions to accompany him on a pilgrimage that takes them to India and finally to Kalimpong where the rumours are confirmed. In a local cinema he watches a newsreel showing images of the Japanese Emperor’s unconditional surrender and the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bombs dropped by the Americans. Hsiao becomes a ‘spy without a country’.
In Kalimpong, at the Himalayan Hotel, Kimura meets its Sikkimese-Scottish owner, David McDonald, who many years earlier had acted as an interpreter for the Younghusband expedition into Tibet and who is now a key figure for any new arrivals into Kalimpong. He connects with Tharchin Babu, publisher of the only Tibetan newspaper, the Tibet Mirror.
Tarchin is fluent in Tibetan, Urdu, Hindi, Nepali and English, and although a convert to Christianity, remains committed to the welfare and independence of Tibet. He proves to have extensive contacts with the secret world of British intelligence who are preoccupied with the ‘Great Game’, the struggle for power and influence in Central Asia.
“Since Tharchin made it a habit to be helpful by printing leaflets and guide maps to the sacred places, as well as clearing out a warehouse across from the printing press for the pilgrims to use, he was often the first person they called on. This was extremely valuable to his position in the intelligence network.”

In the late 1940s, Kalimpong, excised by the British from Bhutan to become part of India, could be rightly described as a nest of political intrigue, involving British, Indian and Chinese spies, refugees from Tibet, China, India and Burma, with a sprinkling of Buddhist scholars, monks and lamas.
“Like the tree-clad slopes of a dormant volcano, the calm everyday surface of Kalimpong life disguised feverish underground activity. This was mostly Chinese-inspired, with agents sent via Tibet to ferret out what they could about events in India; but there were also anti-government Tibetan exiles and reformers, anti-Chinese Tibetans, White and Red Russians, and a whole medley of other agents working for a variety of causes in this cozy little town”.

By 1956, when Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and his party reach Gangtok and later Kalimpong, India had already gained its independence from the British Empire. Still the north-east frontier remained a hotly contested zone, this time between India and the Communist Chinese, and the fleeing Tibetans caught in the middle.

modern day Kalimpong

Up until the late 1950’s Kalimpong had been a great centre of trade, the terminus of the mule caravans that carried goods between India and Tibet and thence western China. As a British hill station, it was also a jumping off point for many of the better known Western explorers and scholars of Tibet—people such as Marco Pallis, John Blofeld and Alexandra David-Neel. It was through Kalimpong to Darjeeling that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had fled the Chinese in 1910 – with some help by David McDonald, then British Trade Agent in Gyantse.

The Himalayan Hotel, Kalimpong 734301, Darjeeling District, west Bengal, India Book a room!

Here he had been educated in the ways of the modern world by the Tibetan speaking British Political Officer, Colonel Charles Bell, from here he made his triumphal return to Lhasa where he formally declared the independence of all of Tibet, including Kham, on February 13th 1913.
After working for some time at Tarchin Babu’s printing press, Kimura, with his much improved conversational Tibetan, and some rudimentary knowledge of English, is recruited by the north-eastern frontier’s head of British Intelligence Eric Lambert. The British never even suspect he is Japanese!

In 1946 he is asked to travel into the troubled border regions of Kham to report on the activities of the Chinese nationalist and communist forces. To fulfil this mission he joins a caravan of over 100 mules returning to Tibet, led by a Khampa warrior monk. On the way he learns how to behave like a true Khampa. For, as he observes,
“It is not language and physical features alone that enable one to pass into another identity, but more subtle things like the way one moves and the jokes one tells.”
His descriptions of his journey to Kham not only highlight its rugged terrain and the many challenges it poses to any traveler, but he also poignantly describes the mounting tensions between the Khampas and the administrators and soldiers of the Central Tibetan Government.
“I was disturbed by the way in which the soldier and officials of the central government treated the local inhabitants. Time and time again we had met refugees fleeing from misrule, and bullying by Tibetan soldiers was carried on openly in the town. The province of Kham was governed directly from Lhasa and one of the four shapes [cabinet ministers] was placed here and rotated every 3 years. Soldiers and minor officials were rotated as well, and they tended to think of Kham not as a place to be well governed but as a source of wealth to be squeezed dry. Over and over again the Khampas had risen in rebellion, just as they had risen against the Chinese.”

The Tibet Mirror Press published its last issue in 1962.
One can download the entire paper as a pdf from Columbia University!

After accomplishing his mission at Jyekundo, Kimura and his companion return on a grueling journey to Lhasa. They are captured and tortured by suspicious Khampas and robbed multiple times by locals who are so desperately poor that there isn’t anything they would not consider stealing. Finally they return to Lhasa starving and more dead than alive. Again he is a spy without an employer as British India has ceased to exist and all posts formerly held by the British are now occupied by Indians.
After he recovers he starts up a business of trading goods between Kalimpong and Lhasa. He meets wealthy merchants but also a few Tibetan revolutionary intellectuals, such as Gendün Chöphel and Phuntsok Wangyal, who were keen to modernize Tibetan society, and therefore at odds with the conservative Tibetan Government.
Together with Phuntsok Wangyel, a young Khampa nationalist in Lhasa, he drafts a new constitution for Tibet, drawing in part on the Japanese constitution that was the result of the Meiji Restoration in 1867.

A Tibetan Revolutionary - the Life and Times of Papa Phuntsok Wangye
by Goldstein, Sherap and Siebenschuh

Tarchin Babu entrusts him with a letter for Gendün Chöphel, the famous scholar and radical who has just been released from prison in Lhasa, saying
“Men of genius often have fragile minds. I’d like you to take a letter to him for me: and to let me know how you find him. Crucial times are ahead for Tibet. The entire face of Asia is changing all around us, and we can’t afford to lose men like him.”
Hsiao writes about Chöphel:
“He was known as one of the most learned and extraordinary contemporary Tibetans. [ ] In Kalimpong he had naturally gravitated to that group of dissidents which was ever-present, had issued revolutionary pamphlets calling for radical change in the Tibetan government and had been deported by the British in the last days of their rule as a result.”
“[ ] Though he had definite leanings toward Communism and Socialism, he was too much of an individual to have been a good party member and too much of a Tibetan to be pro-Chinese. Like all the best Tibetan reformers of the time he believed simply that Tibet must put its own house in order before it was too late.

Gendun Chöphel - the Angry Monk (click for movie website)

In 1950 Kimura is repatriated to Japan, where he is debriefed for almost a year by US counter-intelligence, eager to find out all they can about the Chinese and their newly acquired territories. He later takes up an academic position as professor of Central Asian Studies at Tokyo’s Asia University, and is able to provide support to Taktser Rinpoche, who arrives in Japan to attend the second World Buddhist Conference and remains stranded without a country when the Indian Embassy refuses to extend his travel papers.
In the epilogue Kimura shares his analysis of the events of the 1950’s and a few interesting pieces of trivia and among others describes how in 1965 Dr. Maruki, who ran a large hospital and nurse training school, started a program by which each year 5 Tibetan youths would receive scholarships to study in Japan. Among the first five was Pema Gyalpo who later became the representative of His Holiness’s government in exile for Japan and East Asia.
He concludes by decrying the shortcomings of modern affluent yet hedonistic Japanese society, calling for historic self reflection:
“The tragedy from the war was not that we lost, but that we learned so little from our defeat, and emerged with no real identity.”
The book is available from Serindia publications or you can preview it at Google Books

Friday, 21 August 2009

Rigpa View Magazine features Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

The summer 2009 edition of the Rigpa Journal 'View Magazine' is now available for sale. It features a 14 page article on the life of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö , including many rarely seen photographs. It is available in English and French and can be ordered online here for the price of only 10 Euros.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Photos by Wonderlane and their stories

Here are some findings from Linda Lane's amazingly eclectic 'Wonderlane Photostream' on Flickr:

Relics of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö on display at the Guadalajara Expo, Mexico as part of the Maitreya Project Relic Tour

In 2005 Sogyal Rinpoche offered some precious relics of Jamyang Khyentse that he had inherited from his father Tsewang Paljor, to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The Maitreya Project is an ambitious endeavor to erect a 500ft / 152m bronze statue of Buddha Maitreya at Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh in northern India, large enough to accomodated temples, exhibition halls, a museum and a library. A collection of more than 1,000 Buddhist relics will be permanently housed in a shrine near its heart. Next to some important relics of the Buddha and his disciples, it will also contain remains of many masters connected in various ways with the life story of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.

photos by Linda Lane

In good company (from top left): Dudjom Rinpoche, HH the 16th Karmapa, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche; (from bottom left) Gwang-Chin Master, relics that were discovered as a ter (hidden treasure), Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, RigdzinTrinley

If you would like to know more about the role of relics in Buddhist practice you may want to read David Germano's Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist Relic Veneration in Asia available here.


Also have a look at this great set of photos from 1976:

Dilgo Khyentse with Sakya Dagchen

In early 1954 a hundred lay people followed by a hundred monks left Dzongsar and went to receive Sakya Dagchen Rinpoche and his family; Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Dilgo Khyentse, Dhongthog Rinpoche, and Pewar Rinpoche rode on horses, wearing golden hats. This was the first time that Dagmo Kusho, the wife of Sakya Dagchen and niece of Dezhung Rinpoche, saw Dilgo Khyentse. She still remembers how she was immediately impressed by how tall he was and how he would follow Jamyang Khyentse everywhere, assisting him with everything he did. In the following months the three lamas, Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Dilgo Khyentse and Dezhung Rinpoche along with their families and attendants would spend many days at a mountain retreat discussing religious topics, having agreed not to engage in mundane talk.
Seventeen years after the passing of their teacher Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and HH Jigdral Dagchen Rinpoche met again when Khyentse Rinpoche visited Sakya Monastery in Seattle. The scholar Chris J. Wilkinson, an early student of Dezhung Rinpoche at the University of Washington, was there to take the photographs.

And finally you may come across this photo:

Stefan Eckel, Volker Dencks, H.E. Dagmo Kusho-la and Nina de Eichas after a two hour interview at Sakya Monastery in September 2007.

Although it was late in the evening after a few hours of practice in the monastery, Dagmo-la had kindly agreed to sit for a third interview with us. While the previous two sessions had focused on recollections from her time at Dzongsar in 1954 and particularly her memories of Khyentse Sangyum Khandro Tsering Chödrön, this time we were asking about her experiences when coming to the West and the challenges she faced when raising her five children in this new environment, working full time while simultaneously attending two great lamas. We can read a lot about her childhood and early years in Tibet in the wonderful autobiography Princess in the Land of Snows, and I do hope that one day Dagmo-la will also share the very moving and inspiring stories from her 'second life' in a book.

(Linda Lane took the pictures and kindly drove Dagmo-la home that night)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Prince and I - The Story of Apa Pant

When the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan delegation crossed the Sikkim border in November 1956, they were welcomed by the Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal and the Indian representative in Sikkim, Apa Pant. For the following three months Apa Pant was in charge of organizing the Dalai Lama's journey through India, visiting pilgrimage places, but also enabling the Tibetan leader to solicit foreign support for his people under siege.

HH Dalai Lama together with Chogyal Tashi Namgyal
in Gangtok 1957

Some thirty years later my mother presented me with a little book entitled ‘Das Sonnengebet’ (Sun Prayer). I was just about to develop an interest for all things exotic, so I decided to give the seemingly simple yoga exercises a try. For several months I continued to practice the Surya Namaskars and then I must have moved on to something else that was equally exciting and new, but the flavors of discipline and sanity that came with performing a regular exercise stayed with me for much longer.

Just recently, when researching Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s students in Sikkim, I found that Apa Pant had not only been the highest Indian political officer in Sikkim at the time, but also that he was an ardent practitioner of the Surya Namaskar. This stirred my memory and I phoned my mother to send me the book. Unbelievably she still found it sitting on some dusty shelf.

Sure enough the same Apa Pant who had requested Jamyang Khyentse again and again for the ultimate instruction on how to meditate (as described in chapter 5 of Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) was the author whose instructions for yogic exercise I had followed with great curiosity many years before I even knew anything about Tibetan Buddhism.
Parshuram Rao Pant 'Apa Sahib', Padma Shri [1912-1991]

Apa Pant was born in 1912 as the eldest son of the Raja of Aundh. He took his M.A. at Oxford, and was called to the Bar before his return to India in 1937. For the next ten years he was involved in an unusual constitutional experiment by which his father Bala Sahib, aided by Mahatma Gandhi and Maurice Frydman, handed over power to the people of Aundh as an early test of village-level self government in British India. [see also Aundh Experiment]

HH Meherban Shrimant Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS 'BALA SAHIB', Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh [1868-1951]

Many credit the Raja, Apa Pant's father, for popularizing Surya Namaskars as a simple physical exercise by introducing it to schools as a form of education for the all-round development of an individual. He was not only a benevolent ruler, but also an avid painter know for his beautiful illustrations of the Ramayana

Rishyashringa Lured into Ayodhya by Dancing Girls
Detail from 1911 painting by Bala Sahib

In 1948, Apa Pant was chosen by the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to be India’s Commissioner in British East Africa. From 1951 to 1961 he was made political officer in Sikkim and Bhutan with control over Indian Missions in Tibet.

Apa Pant with Indira Gandhi (center) and the Queen of Bhutan (right) at Dzong in September 1958 [PDI]

In 1956 Apa Pant helped facilitate the Indian invitation to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to by way of the Sikkim Crown Prince Thondup Namgyal.
monks lining up in Gangtok in January 1957
for the return of the Dalai Lama from his tour of India

Jamyang Kyentse returned from his pilgrimage to India and Nepal around Losar 1957, just after HH Dalai Lama had returned to Lhasa via Gangtok. It was probably during this time that Apa Pant became a student of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. As Sogyal Rinpoche recounts in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
“Apa Pant told me this story. One day our master Jamyang Khyentse was watching a "Lama Dance" in front of the Palace Temple in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and he was chuckling at the antics of the atsara, the clown who provides light relief between dances. Apa Pant kept pestering him, asking him again and again how to meditate, so this time when my master replied, it was in such a way as to let him know that he was telling him once and for all: "Look, it's like this: When the past thought has ceased, and the future thought has not yet risen, isn't there a gap?"
"Yes," said Apa Pant.
"Well, prolong it: That is meditation."
In the colophon to his teaching "Opening the Dharma" Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö writes:
"This 'Opening the Dharma' was written at the request of the Governor of Sikkim, Apa Sahib, by a Tibetan holding the name of Jamyang Khyentse's emanation (from Dzongsar), stupid Chökyi Lodrö, who, with an extremely good heart, wrote uninterruptedly. May this virtue bring benefit to the Holy Dharma and to all those wandering in Samsara."
It was this very teaching that HH Sakya Trizin's sister Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding happened to hear on radio while playing with her transistor in Sakya.

When, just after Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had passed away, all of Gangtok was suddenly lit up by a strange, unearthly light, hours after dark, Apa Pant was the first to call and inquire what on earth it could be. (See also the recollections of HH Sakya Trizin in the film: A Tribute to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö)

Later Apa Pant held diplomatic appointments in Indonesia, Norway, the UAR and as High Commissioner in London from 1969 to 72. As the Indian ambassador to Italy he welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama once again who, visiting Europe for the first time, had made it his priority to meet Pope John Paul VI.

He authored several books some of which contain several references to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, to whom he refers as the 'Great Khentse Rimpoche':
• Surya Namaskars: An Ancient Indian Excercise
• An Unusual Raja: Mahatma Gandhi and the Aundh Experiment
• An Extended Family, or Fellow Pilgrims
• A Moment in Time (his autobiography)
• Undiplomatic Incidents
Apa Pant passed away in 1992

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Celebrating the anniversary in France

One week ago in Lerab Ling: Ancient wisdom and high tech

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A Tribute to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

To mark the 50th anniversary of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö's parinirvana, we have quickly assembled this short compilation from our ever-growing archive of film and photographs. (Make sure that you have the latest version of the Flash video player. You can get the Flash player for free from Adobe. You may need to restart your computer after installing)

Although little known in the West, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was of the greatest importance for the spread of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings over the Western hemisphere. At that time in Tibet there was no other master that received the respect from followers of all traditions. Since he himself, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, had gathered, studied, practiced and taught all the different lineages of Tibetan Buddhism everyone claimed him as a great teacher of their very own tradition.

As His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama pointed out, during the inauguration of the Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Institute of Dialectics in 2004, he never traveled without boxes to carry all the hats that are necessary to perform the rituals for each one of the major schools. Although he had mastered all of them, he took great care never to mix and dilute the different traditions, but performed every ritual with minute accuracy according to the scriptures. He was known to change even his dress, voice and language according to the background of the author of a text, thus ensuring the authenticity of its transmission.

The early 20th century was not an easy time in Eastern Tibet. Yet despite the turmoil that surrounded him he accomplished a vast number of tasks for the benefit of the teachings. Carried by his prophetic insight their effects were felt not only there and then, but have resonated far into the future and far beyond Tibet.

His incredible learning, his serenity and warmth, his love and respect for the Buddha's teachings and his tireless work to preserve them, combined with his galvanizing personality and charisma had made him a reference point for many of the important lamas that later taught and practiced in countries across the entire world. Many of these teachers have pursued their studies either at Dzongsar or in one of the over eighty other colleges that had been founded by Kham-je Shedra graduates.

When, in the late 1950's, the Tibetans were scattered like 'peas thrown on a drum', both the dharma of transmission and the dharma of realization miraculously managed to survive the destruction of monasteries, libraries, and centers of learning. This almost unprecedented preservation of a wisdom culture under the most difficult of circumstances can be largely attributed to the life and work of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.

This short film portrays only a few of his many disciples: HH Sakya Trizin, H.E.Dagmo Kusho, Sogyal Rinpoche, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, Ngari Tulku Rinpoche, Khenchen Kunga Wangchuk and Khenchen Appey.

For a longer list of his students, albeit still incomplete, please look here.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Western Anniversary of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

Ajanta Cave 26
The Buddha's parinirvana

According to the western calendar today marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of one the greatest masters of early 20th century Tibetan Buddhism, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. He entered into his final meditation (thug dam) in the palace temple in Gangtok, which had been his home since coming into exile from Tibet in 1956. His death was kept a secret until his final passing into parinirvana three days later, when suddenly an incandescent light illuminated the sky over Gangtok, hours after nightfall.

Sogyal Rinpoche, using the examples of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa and Kalu Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, describes the death of a master:
"A realized practitioner continues to abide by the recognition of the nature of mind at the moment of death, and awakens into the Ground Luminosity when it manifests. He or she may even remain in that state for a number of days. Some practitioners and masters die sitting upright in meditation posture, and others in the "posture of the sleeping lion." Besides their perfect poise, there will be other signs that show they are resting in the state of the Ground Luminosity: There is still a certain color and glow in their face, the nose does not sink inward, the skin remains soft and flexible, the body does not become stiff, the eyes are said to keep a soft and compassionate glow, and there is still a warmth at the heart. Great care is taken that the master's body is not touched, and silence is maintained until he or she has arisen from this state of meditation."

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Last Days in Gangtok

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö in Gangtok (approx. 1959)

The first indication we had that my master was going to die was through Gyalwang Karmapa. He told Karmapa that he had completed the work he had come to do in this life, and he had decided to leave this world. One of Khyentse's close attendants burst into tears as soon as Karmapa revealed this to him, and then we knew. His death was eventually to occur just after we had heard that the three great monasteries of Tibet—Sera, Drepung, and Ganden—had been occupied by the Chinese. It seemed tragically symbolic that as Tibet collapsed, so this great being, the embodiment of Tibetan Buddhism, was passing away
- Sogyal Rinpoche in 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying',
revised and updated edition, Harper San Francisco, 2002, page 273.

A few months before, at Losar that year, when a ritual dance was being performed at Kham-je Shedra back in Tibet, many of the older monks had a vision of him, appearing in the sky. Early one morning, soon afterwards the caretaker of the temple opened the door and there was Khyentse sitting in the Buddha Maitreya's lap.

Lama dances at Dzongsar Monastery
(Photo by Stefan Eckel)

As he had given them his promise that he would once again return to be with them in Kham many feared that this might have been the last farewell. When the Buddha Shakyamuni had passed into nirvana at the age of eighty his disciples observed many unusual signs in nature, amongst them a gentle earthquake. Around the beginning of June 1959, just such a gentle tremor shook Gangtok—the sign of the impending death of a great being.
The news of his frail health spread quickly. Dudjom Rinpoche wrote a letter to Dhongthog Rinpoche suggesting that he should come as soon as possible. When he arrived in Gangtok he was not allowed through to see his ailing master, but when Jamyang Khyentse heard that Dhongthog Rinpoche had come from Delhi he insisted on seeing him right away and gave him some final personal advice.

Dhongthog Rinpoche (left) with his attendant
in Calcutta 1957
(courtesy of Dhongthog Rinpoche)

Meanwhile H.H. Sakya Trizin and his family, after abandoning Sakya had decided to take up residence at Lachen near the Sikkimese border. Soon they received a message from Gangtok, urging them to come quickly, as Jamyang Khyentse was ill.
One night, when Sakya Trizin was staying down at the Gangtok Bazaar, some disciples came and urged him to come to the Palace Gompa quickly. When he arrived he was greeted by Jamyang Khyentse who scolded him jokingly saying, "No, no, I am all right. You don't need to worry. Why have you come late at night like this?"
Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche had also arrived, along with his father and younger brother, who had never met Jamyang Khyentse before. Several times they tried to see him, but with no success. One day, merely by chance, on the lawn in front of the Palace Gompa, where Jamyang Khyentse was enjoying the sun, in the company of Sogyal Rinpoche and two other monks, they were reunited after not having seen each other for five years.
His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was there together with Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, Tashi Jong Khamtrul Rinpoche and a group of khenpos who had arrived from Dzongsar in Tibet. Everybody had been making offerings of pujas and prayers for his long life.
There were at least four doctors struggling to save his life. Two were under the orders of the Queen of Sikkim, the third was a famous, yet unconventional doctor from Rebkong in Tibet. There was also Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche, who later founded the Chagpori Institute of Tibetan Medicine in Darjeeling.

Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche (with Sogyal Rinpoche)
teaching at Rigpa London in 1986

Yet all their efforts were in vain. Mayum Tsering Wangmo, the mother of Sogyal Rinpoche and Dzogchen Rinpoche, remembers how she would spend days preparing dozens of little delicacies for him to eat, but he would only nibble at them a little to avoid upsetting her. A few weeks earlier he had fallen badly and hurt his knee so that it had become difficult for him to walk. Yet he continued to give advice and transmissions to his disciples, who remember him always in good spirits, hiding his illness from them as much as possible.
As Sogyal Rinpoche mentions in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, it took the words of Gyalwang Karmapa for them to accept the fact that he would soon pass on.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Why Explore the Life of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö?

When Volker asked me to help him research the material he had gathered on Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, it was like a dream come true. For me researching the life and times of this master of masters, has been pure guru yoga, opening my heart and mind to the stream of wisdom that has come to us, down the centuries, through the lives and teachings, the precious pith instructions, the secret know-how of these masters. They did not live in a peaceful Shangri-la. They lived in a world that was just as rent by political turmoil, economic hardships and occasional violence as besets us today, yet it is in this world that they practiced the dharma and gained realization, which they passed on to their disciples in this sacred chain of bodhisattva commitment, that now falls to us.

Of course, as a student of Sogyal Rinpoche, I have long been aware of the significance of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, but it was not until I visited Lerab Ling for the 1992 three month retreat, that I made a direct spiritual connection to him.

I remember very clearly how each morning, after breakfast I would visit the shrine in the large white tent where we were receiving the teachings. There, in front of the photo taken of Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, sitting in Dzogchen meditation posture at the Samdrup Palace in Lhasa, I would pray to him: ‘Thank you for nurturing this precious lama as your gift to us, his western students. May the gaze in your eyes be born in my mind’, and then I would go back to my retreat room, and continue my practice.

It was not until many, many years later, in 2004, that I found myself traveling to Tibet with the young Amnyi Trulchung Rinpoche. His root master is Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, the other incarnation of Tertön Sogyal, who had such a dramatic impact on the revival of the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, following the dark years of the Cultural Revolution.

I traveled with him through East Tibet, then across to Lhasa and down to Samye, Chimpu and Mindroling, before going overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu. I thought the dharma had largely died out in Tibet, but this journey to Tibet taught me that it still lived on, thriving in the gars established by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and Achuk Rinpoche in East Tibet and quietly coming to life in many, many small monasteries and hermitages off the beaten track. On this journey I drank in the spirit of the Khampa people, the fierce and courageous humour in the face of great difficulty, and I longed to know more and more about the history of my lineage masters and the world that had shaped them. I sat and chanted with the nuns at Chimpu, before climbing up to spend some time in the very cave where Jigme Lingpa received the wisdom nectar of the Longchen Nyingtik in his visions of Longchenpa, to which Sogyal Rinpoche has been introducing me over the many years that I have been his student.

Understanding the life and times of Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö is a key that can help us understand this spiritual heritage in all the cultural richness and social complexity that has shaped Tibet and China, giving us some basis for understanding how the dharma might once again become an important spiritual resource for the peoples of modern China, fast becoming one of the great economic and political powers of our world.

Barbara, aka Grey Fox

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Leaving Tibet

According to the Western calendar, June 12 of this year marks the 50th anniversary of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö's parinirvana. He passed away at the Tsuklakhang, the Royal Chapel in Gangtok, Sikkim, where he had spent most of the last three years of his life as the guest of Chogyal Tashi Namgyal (1914-1963).

In 1955/56 Crown Prince Thondup Namgyal traveled to Lhasa with a special mission on behalf of India's Prime Minister Pandit Nehru: An invitation for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to join the celebrations for the 2,500 year anniversary of the birth of Buddha, which would enable him to forge international alliances, drawing attention to the threats his people was facing. At the same time Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and his party had arrived on their pilgrimage and secret flight from Kham and had taken up lodging at the Samdrup family home, right across from the Jokhang temple. Coincidentally the prince
's first wife, Sangey Deki, was a member of the Samdrup family, and so Thondup Namgyal met Jamyang Khyentse at Samdrup Podrang, inviting him to join in the great Buddha Jayanti, via Sikkim.

However Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was not keen to leave Tibet. Many times he talked about how he wanted to return to Dzongsar as quickly as possible. Around Losar 1956, following a divination, the omniscient Sixteenth Karmapa Rigpé Dorje, urged him strongly to avoid even going to South Tibet and instead to seek refuge in Sikkim. During his stay in Lhasa his fame had spread throughout the holy city and many members of the aristocracy had begun to request blessings and teachings. This gathering of influential personalities raised an alarm with the Chinese authorities, so that, after spending his last month in Tibet at Sakya, Jamyang Khyentse saw no other way than to turn south for Sikkim, traveling in the footsteps of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama who had escaped Chinese troops by fleeing to Sikkim in 1909. In his party were Khandro Tsering Chödron, the Lakar family, and about forty other members of their families and entourage.

Gangtok in January 1957
– Khangchendzonga in background
(photo by India Ministry of Broadcasting)
Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had a special connection with Sikkim. Like the King of Sikkim, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, he was considered an incarnation of Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé who, with his revelation of the Rigdzin Sokdrup (‘Accomplishing the Life-force of the Vidyadharas’) had established the Dzogchen teachings in Sikkim in the 17th century. In his autobiography Jamyang Khyentse clearly recalled these memories from his former life.

Crossing the rugged terrain of the Himalayas that took them from the high, arid plateau of Tibet across mountain trails, glaciers and snow-bound passes, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and his party travelled down into the tropical rainforests of Sikkim through Lachen via the Sebu Pass.

At the invitation of the Chogyal, they took up residence in Gangtok's Royal Chapel. During summers, when the hot and humid monsoon sweeps up from the Indian plains, they would move to Kalimpong and Darjeeling where the climate was more agreeable. Everywhere he went he gave teachings and empowerments to disciples who had begun to cross the border in increasing numbers as conditions deteriorated in Tibet.

Sogyal Rinpoche remembers that despite the illness that would soon claim his life, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö continued to radiate humour and spiritual luminosity:

“He used to stay in the palace monastery in Sikkim where there's quite a large ground and every afternoon he would go there and drink tea and sit there, and all his disciples would sit around him and he would give a teaching.”

Sogyal Rinpoche also recalls their first visit to a cinema in Darjeeling where they watched a documentary about wildlife and, to the delight of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, a filmed version of the Ramayana, the Indian epic attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki (ca. 400BCE).

Jetsun Kushok Luding
, elder sister of H.H. Sakya Trizin, recollects that when they were still in Sakya, while anxiously listening on their radio for news about the turn of events in Lhasa, one day they miraculously tuned into the voice of Jamyang Khyentse on All India Radio, as he was giving a teaching titled 'Opening the Dharma'. So far, no amount of searching in the archives of A.I.R. has been able to produce this precious recording of his voice.

Ngari Tulku Rinpoche, about fourteen years old at the time, remembered how Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö stayed true to the tradition of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrul giving teachings according to the different capacity and temperament of whatever people came to see him. He recalled to us that the top floor of the Tsuglakhang was always packed with some of the highest lamas. Among them were Gyalwang Karmapa from nearby Rumtek, Chatral Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Trinlé Palbar, Kachu Rinpoche, Dhardo Rinpoche, Dhongthog Rinpoche, Trulshik Pawo Dorje, Khamtrul Rinpoche, Thartse Ken Sonam Gyatso — to name a few!

In those days not only Tibetan lamas and disciples received teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. Among others his students included the Sikkim royal family, the Indian Diplomat Apa Pant, the translator Sonam Tobgay Kazi, and even a handful of western Buddhists, namely the scholar John Driver, the journalist and humanitarian Robert Godet, and English bhikṣu and FWBO founder Urgyen Sangharakshita.

In an interview with us he vividly recalls:

“At certain points in the initiations that he gave, he would be visualising the bodhisattvas, and I could see that as he did so, he was sort of looking up with a beautiful smile, a very beatific expression, as though he could actually see those bodhisattvas floating there in the air before him, and he gave a sort of smile of recognition, “Ah yes, you are there again.”

Monday, 11 May 2009

1996: The Incredible Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche

In August 1996 Orgyen Tobgyal arrived in Lerab Ling, Sogyal Rinpoche's retreat centre in France, for the first time. With him came a very young Neten Chokling Rinpoche, the reincarnation of Pema Gyurme, (the Third Neten Chokling and father of Orgyen Tobgyal), as well as a troupe of monks from his monastery in Bir to perform various ceremonies. Lerab Ling was then only five years old, the temple still a large white tent where students and teachers alike, huddled against the cold, stormy weather that frequently visits this mountain top throughout the year.

Orgyen Tobgyal's visit profoundly changed and advanced a lot of things around here when, over the next few years, he and his monks performed many
drupchös, including lama dances and the constructions of elaborate mandalas. Towards the end of the summer retreat, in his inimitable style of a great orator, Orgyen Tobgyal gave an elaborate and captivating speech about the Life of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. Many of Sogyal Rinpoche's students had already formed a close, personal bond with Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö through the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, first published in 1993. Further deepening our knowledge, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche's speech covered a vast scope of Tibetan Buddhist history and geography, beginning with Vimalamitra, to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and then to Chökyi Lodrö's life at Katok Monastery and later Dzongsar Monastery. This opened our eyes for a deeper understanding of the lineage to which we had been introduced by Sogyal Rinpoche, and sparked our eagerness to learn more.

It was
this teaching, which stretched over two days, that broke the ground for our present research.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Master of Masters

Born in 1893 in Kham, Eastern Tibet, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was recognized as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo the Great. Enthroned at Katok, he moved to Dzongsar Monastery when he was fifteen years old and became known as the second Dzongsar Khyentse. He overcame various difficulties and hardships and his extraordinary qualities of learning and realization quickly became known throughout Tibet.
He studied with over fifty masters from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and developed a reputation of being a Rimé master par excellence. Many of the new generation of lamas who would bring Tibetan Buddhism to the West began to see him as their master. Thus he became a teacher and guide for Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dezhung Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche. He was a major influence on a very young Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, who first met him in 1945. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche studied with him for two years and has expressed his deep devotion on many occasions. He is also mentioned with awe by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche in his biography. Tarthang Tulku reveres him as his root teacher. The two heads of the Sakya Khön family, Sakya Trizin and Sakya Dagchen, not only received teachings and empowerments, but treasure their memories among the happiest of their lives.
Many more masters could be listed here. We have conducted more than forty interviews over the past six years and we hope to present some of our findings to you in this blog.

May all be auspicious!