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.