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!