Transmission and continuity are key points in the Buddhist tradition. The living teachers must not die out; true spiritual realization must be imparted from teacher to disciple. Great Tibetan masters are not isolated mystics. Their wisdom, rooted in the fertile earth of their own confidence and perseverance, has slowly ripened in the sun of their teacher’s blessings and wisdom. There are many ways to please one’s teacher and repay his kindness, but the way considered best of all is to put his teachings into practice until genuine realization dawns in one’s own mind.
Of this way, Khyentse Rinpoche’s life was a perfect example. Besides his two main teachers, he studied with more than fifty outstanding masters from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Having entirely integrated the teachings into his own being, he could then impart them to thousands of disciples. Among those disciples, a few became true holders of the teachings, his spiritual heirs, and are continuing the lineage today.
Trulshik Rinpoche, born in 1924, is not simply a lineage holder; he is also the principal depository of Khyentse Rinpoche’s “mind treasures,” as specifically predicted in the texts of these treasures. He is also the main bestower of monastic vows in the Nyingma lineages and has ordained several thousand monks.
in the 1960’s, after a pilgrimage to Namo Buddha in Nepal, Khyentse Rinpoche dreamt one night that he was climbing a lofty mountain. At the summit was a small temple. He entered, and inside, side by side, his own former teachers–the three main lamas of Shechen monastery: Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Shechen Rabjam, and Shechen Kongtrul. Khyentse Rinpoche prostrated himself before them and, singing in sorrowful verse, asked them how they had suffered at the hands of the Chinese (all three of them having perished in Chinese jails in the early sixties). With one voice they replied, also in verse, saying, “For us birth and death are like dreams or illusions. The absolute state knows neither increase nor decline.” Khyentse Rinpoche expressed his wish to join them soon in the buddhafields, since he saw little point in remaining in a world where the teachings were vanishing fast and most teachers were but spurious impostors. At this point, Shechen Kongtrul, gazing at Khyentse Rinpoche with a piercing stare, said, “You must toil to benefit beings and perpetuate the teachings until your last breath. Merging into one, the three of us will come to you as a single incarnation, a helper to fulfill your aims.”
H.E. Ven. Yangthang Tulku is a highly revered Lama in the Nyingmapa Lineage of Tantrayana Buddhism. He is known to be the embodiment of Vimalamitra, a Dzogchen Master regarded as the chief propagator of Buddhism in Sikkim. In his past life he was also the great terton Lhatsen Namkha Jigmed from Sikkim whose treasures are included in the Rinchen Terzod. But he is perhaps most well known as the reincarnation of Dorje Dechen Lingpa, the Tertön from Dhomang, who has successfully retrieved many Terma Buddhist scriptures which were secretly concealed by Padmasambhava. Only the truly accomplished Dharma practitioner prophesied by Padmasambhava, can reveal these sacred treasures.
At the very moment that Dhomang Terchen’s incarnation was born (1923) in Sikkim, all directions in the sky in Sikkim resounded in thunder, “I am here!” He was discovered exactly as described, born into the Yangthang family. This is why Rinpoche is known now as Yangthang Rinpoche. A second emanation was born in Sikkim and was brought up together with his older counterpart. When Yangthang Rinpoche was invited back to his monastery in Tibet, the younger emanation also insisted upon joining him. The two young boys departed with their party, playing and performing many miracles along the journey.
Upon returning to Dhomang Monastery both tulkus were put in the hands of Sogtrul Rinpoche and many other lamas at Dhomang. They were given the finest and best education with Khenpo Pema from the Palyul Mother Monastery as their personal instructor. Thus, both tulkus were able to fully complete all their studies. In addition to mastering the extensive training in practices of his lineage, Yangthang Rinpoche was completely trained in the Kangyur and Tangyur, and in the works of Longchenpa.
In Tibet, before the Cultural Revolution, Yangthang Rinpoche gave the entire Kangyur transmission and many other great empowerments. He became the head of Dhomang Monastery and carried out all the administrative duties personally.
After remaining in retreat for more than 20 years under harsh conditions, Ven. Yangthang Rinpoche moved to Pelling, West Sikkim in 1958. That same year, the Communist Chinese captured and killed Sogtrul Rinpoche and the younger tulku. In 1959, Yangthang Rinpoche fled Dhomang. He was later captured by the Chinese, and imprisoned for 22 years. While imprisoned, he helped many fellow prisoners who could not bear the hardship to die peacefully by performing P’howa, transferring their consciousness to Pure Lands. Though he witnessed and experienced much torture, he bears no resentment to his captors, only compassion. In fact, he became a spiritual advisor to some of the guards. When people express sympathy about his imprisonment, Rinpoche says that because of Dharma, his mind was freer in prison than worldly people experience in the best of circumstances.
Following the death of Mao Tse Tung he was released. He returned to Dhomang to find his monastery completely dismantled. He then obtained permission to go to Sikkim. As a simple yogi he traveled back and forth to Nepal and Bhutan, receiving transmissions and empowerments from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and His Holiness Dodrubchen Rinpoche.
In 1985, while circumambulating the Great Stupa in Bodhanath, Yangthang Rinpoche met with Gyaltrul Rinpoche, who at that time was leading a group of his American students on pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of the Dharma. These two lamas had not seen each other in 26 years. Fleeing from the invading Communist Chinese, they had initially left Dhomang together but parted company at a fork in the road. One fork led Gyaltrul Rinpoche to freedom in India, the other led Yangthang Rinpoche to imprisonment. At the request of Gyaltrul Rinpoche, Yangthang Rinpoche first came to the U.S. in 1990. He gave many profound teachings and transmissions, and was enthusiastically welcomed wherever he taught. Yangthang Rinpoche returned to the U.S. for a second tour of teaching and transmission in 1997, and for a third tour in 2002. In between his travels to the United States, Europe and Asia, Rinpoche has gone back to his root temple, Dhomang Temple in Sichuan, China to rebuild and refurbish the dismantled temple.
Among the Tertons, exceptional manifestations have been given the title ‘Lingpa’ in acknowledgment of their remarkable qualities. Like Ratna Lingpa, Karma Lingpa, Chogyur Lingpa and others, Dorje Dechen Lingpa revealed many volumes of treasures and was an undisputed realized master, a manifestation of the wisdom and compassion of all the Buddhas. Moreover, Yangthang Tulku is of course also an emanation of Vimalamitra, just as Kyabje Penor Rinpoche was. Vimalamitra’s wisdom is inseparable from Guru Rinpoche’s, the source of the blessings of all the revealed treasures. Yanthang Rinpoche is known as a compassionate, humble, no-nonsense Dzogchen master and one of the principle lineage holders of the Nyingmapa Lineage. He is widely recognized for the quality and depth of his realization, the power of his attainment, and the purity of his transmissions.
Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche, the 11th throne holder of Palyul Lineage, has pronounced that “There is no difference between myself and Yangthang Rinpoche.” Gyaltrul Rinpoche has stated that “Yangthang Rinpoche is the great achiever of Dharma, an extremely precious gem in this modern age.” Venerable Yangthang Rinpoche currently resides in West Sikkim.
One of the questions that often comes up for Western practitioners is why is lineage important? As long as you find a teacher you like, what difference does it make if he or she has a lineage or not?
Here is what His Holiness, the 12th Gyalwa Drukpa, head of the Drukpa Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, has to say about that:
Many years ago in India, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Thailand many people got enlightened, with the support and encouragement of wise and experienced teachers. Not many people are experiencing this kind of spiritual enlightenment in the West, in modern life and times. Why not? Because they are depending too much on the intellect; they’re not depending on the lineage blessings and experience. You can learn, you can know, but not necessarily be accomplished. You can be very big in your head, but that doesn’t mean anything, except your head will be very heavy. And the teachings won’t go to the heart because there’s no lineage, no transmission of the authentic mind-to-mind non-conceptual blessings, from wisdom heart to your heart.
Q. What is it about authentic lineage that is passed on or transmitted?
A blessing. The blessing is something very mysterious, actually. It is not only mysterious, it has a lot of substance. There are also years and decades, centuries of experience here, amidst the blessings and teaching. There’s an unbelievable sense of transformation of your mental state, liberating your mind and opening your heart. How can I express it, because it’s like tasting honey? It’s sweet. But sweet means what? It’s inexpressible. I feel very happy, delighted, delicious, but I can’t express it—until you taste it, and then we can share something of the experience together. This is one aspect of the blessing, of course, which a book cannot give you.
But this is not the only important aspect. What I care about is that the blessing is truly transforming. Your life transforms into the divine state of mind. Even though you live the same way, everything is different—concepts, precepts, everything is different. Yesterday maybe you were unhappy; perhaps you were stealing, cheating, drinking, or simply dissatisfied or depressed. But last night perhaps by good karma you have seen the appropriate guru and have been inspired to change and today you have changed.
This is not necessarily overnight, it may take years or decades but time doesn’t matter. It changes everything, the whole world, your whole attitude. Your whole life can be transformed. From my point of view, if there is no guru, there is no way to get enlightenment. I’m one hundred percent sure. You have to have a personal transmission from a qualified genuine guru, one who has the lineage and is qualified to give this. If you don’t have the lineage, your practice and path is uncooked, unfinished. If you don’t have a human master who gave you the lineage, it cannot be received from a book. (From an interview, “Blessings Like Honey”, with His Holiness by Lama Surya Das)
So His Holiness is saying that without a lineage, there is no blessing to be passed on to the student. Without a lineage of masters behind the teacher, the teacher really is not qualified to teach.
Karma Chagme (Raga Asya) was a well-known Drikung Kagyu lama who also served as Tertön Migyur Dorje’s attendant for years. Tertön (Treasure Revealer) Migyur Dorje was the founder of the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School. He revealed many teachings that he received directly from the deities themselves. He started receiving them when he was just a young boy. Karma Chagme literally followed the young tertön around to write down everything that was revealed to him as the revelations could happen at any time. Here is what Karma Chagme had to say about lineage:
The crucial, primary qualification of a spiritual mentor is stated by Naropa, “The qualification of a spiritual mentor is that he possesses the lineage.” The Single Meaning of the Vajra Speech states, “There is great profundity in the connection within the lineage of the holy Dharma.” The real lineage of the realization of this Dharma, which transfers blessings, is the unbroken rosary of Buddhas. (From A Spacious Path to Freedom, by Karma Chagme , commentary by Ven. Gyaltrul Rinpoche, translated by Alan B. Wallace, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1998, p.22)
The Palyul Lineage became known in Tibet for the purity of its teachers and the level of accomplishment they had.
Each of the great throne and lineage holders of the Palyul tradition became well known as great scholars of sutra, tantra and the outer and inner sciences. The successive throne holders and monks of the mother and branch Palyul monasteries practice the vinaya code of ethics as the foundational discipline. Upon this foundation, the second root practice, the mind training of the great vehicle of Mahayana called bodhicitta is placed. The aspirant trains to develop both aspirational and practical bodhicitta for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings.
The tradition of practice that these highly disciplined monks strictly enforced has caused The Palyul Lineage to become known as the tradition of accomplishment. (From www.palyul.org)
Therefore when one is examining a teacher, it is crucial to also examine his or her lineage. If there is no lineage, there can be no accomplishment by the student. Jetsunma says that lineage gives the student security, the trust that the teachings are authentic and have been proven over time again and again. Without that, as sentient beings we do not have the ability to discriminate between true teachers and false teachers.
The most senior living lineage-holder of the Palyul Tradition, Tulku Thubten Palzang Rinpoche (“Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche”), was born in the year of the Fire Rat (1936). He was discovered by the great Khenpo Ngaga Rinpoche, the same Khenchen who confirmed the recognition of our late Holiness, Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche.
Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche was a younger classmate and dear friend of His Holiness along with Dzongnang Rinpoche. The three young tulkus studied and practiced as brothers under the direct guidance of Khenchen Ngaga and received teachings and empowerments together from many realized masters. As a youth, Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche was present when His Holiness Penor Rinpoche completed Ngondrö. He has described the single-pointed zeal and physical hardships endured without complaint through which His Holiness completed all of the recitations and accumulations.
Among the empowerments Tulku Rinpoche has received are Rinchen Ter Dzöd (“Precious Terma Treasury”) from Chötrul Rinpoche and the Dam Ngang Dzö (“Treasury of Essential Instruction”), the Do Wang Drangtsi Chu Gyun (Anu Yoga Empowerment-“Continual Flow of Nectar”) from Khenpo Legshed Jordan. From Lungtog Rinpoche, he received all the Longchen Nyingthig empowerments and oral transmission teachings. From Khenpo Khyentse Lodrö, he received the Du Do Drelwa (Anu Yoga Commentary) and many other empowerments and transmissions.
Tulku Rinpoche has spent the majority of his life in Palyul, Kham, overseeing the rebuilding of Palyul Monastery. However, while making sure we have the physical buildings where all can study and practice the teachings, most important has been his activity to save and preserve the texts of teachings. Through great effort, personal danger and the blessings of all the lineage masters, Tulku Rinpoche has managed to collect texts that were nearly destroyed. The Kama teachings, for instance, were scattered in personal collections throughout the local area and the world. These he assembled in the Palyul Library, and had re-carved into wooden blocks based upon the copies. He has also preserved some of the original wooden printing blocks of the Nam Chö which remarkably had escaped destruction through being mistaken by those who would do so for firewood. The original pre-1959 library held wood blocks for 50 volumes. Thanks to Tulku Rinpoche’s hard work, and with the addition of the Kama teachings, the library today holds printing blocks of more than 110 volumes. It has likely become the world’s largest wood block library for texts related to Kama collected in one place. Because of this effort, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was able to obtain the texts required to carry through the series of retreats known as Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, now regularly given in Namdroling Monastery and in the US Retreat Center.
Biographies often mention that Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche is renowned for his expertise in the detailed instructions of all the ritual activities such as Mudra (hand gestures) and Cham (sacred lama dance). This understates his mastery. It is because of his capacity to know all of the most minute details of the elaborate rituals for Drupchen (twenty-four-hour a day, seven-day prayer ritual) and Accomplishment Ceremonies that these teachings have been preserved. He also knows how to play nearly all of the sacred musical instruments and has taught these. To understand the extent of his knowledge, we must know that ordinary aspirants generally can remember just one of the instruments. The monastic retreats within Palyul Monastery, Kham, are all also overseen by Tulku Rinpoche. Fortunately for us, Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche has been able to confer these teachings to hundreds of aspirants, insuring they are remembered for generations to come. In this way, granting teachings and empowerments based on these texts and based on his knowledge of all of the rituals of Palyul, Tulku Rinpoche has spent many years caring for and nurturing the entire Palyul lineage.
Free from the stain of partiality, Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche’s activities are like a great ocean of enlightened conduct for the benefit of the teachings and all sentient beings. For Palyul students, we know him for his profound humility and for a devotion to and faith in His Holiness Penor Rinpoche so deep and so vast, it makes eyes tear and hearts tremble in appreciation to observe. In the region of Palyul, he has served as His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s surrogate. Along with His Holiness, he has been a major contributor in preventing these teachings from falling into extinction. Now, we pray, with visits to Asia and the West, he will continue to propagate these teachings to the world.
The 5th Karma Kuchen Rinpoche was born in the year of Iron Dog (1970), along with many auspicious signs in Southern India, to a noble religious family. When he was two years old, the late His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche, and H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche notified his parents that their son was quite a special child, and they should send him to the monastery for training as a monk.
H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche was sent to the monastery at the age of four, where he studied and perfected the teachings of Namcho (Sky Teachings) preliminaries (ordinary and extraordinary), Tsalung and up to Dzogpachenpo under the direct guidance of H.H. Penor Rinpoche. He also took the Bhikshu and Bodhisattva vows, and received the Namcho, Ratna Lingpa’s revelations and Rinchen Terzoed empowerments from H.H. Penor Rinpoche. In addition, he received many teachings under the late H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, and many other great siddhas.
He displayed infinite wisdom and understanding of Vajrayana and Mahayana teachings when he gave a long discourse at the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute in the presence of many high Khenpos. In 1994, at the instructions of H.H. Penor Rinpoche, he went to deepen his studies at the main Palyul Monastery in Tibet where the retreat centers and a Buddhist Institute are also located. H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche often gave lectures at the request of his students at the Dharma Institute. There he was recognized as the Fifth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche by Tulku Thubzang Rinpoche and Khenpo Acchu.
In 2000, on August 14th, H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche was formally enthroned at the main Palyul Monastery in Tibet. This was considered an important event in the Buddhist world. Equipped with inconceivable wisdom, modesty, grace and boundless compassion, he has vowed to bring peace and happiness to all sentient beings and spread the supreme Dharma in the 10 directions.
Significant achievements of H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche since his arrival in Tibet are that he has built many temples, Stupas, prayer wheels, images of deities and other objects of veneration and faith. Under the direction of Penor Rinpoche, he has also built a very grand and magnificent temple on the monastery premises.
Of the many remarkable qualities that he possesses, the most striking quality is his strict and pure observance of all the vows of a monk. He is thus the embodiment of pure conduct in these degenerate times.
The Third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche,
Thubten Leshed Chokyi Drayang, also known as
Do-Ngag Shedrub Tenzin Chog-Lei Namgyal
(1932 – 2009)
The third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche was born in the year of the Water Monkey (1932) in the Powo region of Kham, in South-Eastern Tibet. Details of his birth were exactly as described in the prophecy of Thubten Chokyi, the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche. The incarnation of the second Drubwang Pema Norbu was recognized by Khenpo Ngaga Rinpoche. At the age of four, the small child was enthroned by Thubten Chökyi Dawa and Karma Thekchok Nyingpo at the Palyul Monastery. There he began his study in sutra and tantra from a full range of Nyingma lineages and received all the transmissions and empowerments from Khenpo Ngaga Rinpoche, the second Chogtrul Rinpoche, the fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, Khenpo Legshed Jordan, Khenpo Lodrö, Pema Jigmed, and other eminent Masters at the time.
The third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche applied himself diligently in dharma practice. It took a mere seventeen days for him to complete one hundred thousand accumulations of prostrations in the Ngondro preliminary practices of Nam Chö Dzogchen’s Liberation in the Palm of the Hand. Under the guidance of his root guru, he went into a four-year retreat and attained accomplishment in all the stages of the practices he received. By the time they came out of the retreat, Chogtrul Rinpoche proclaimed that the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche was the only lama at the time who held the entire lineage of Terton Migyur Dorje’s Nam Chö and Ratna Lingpa’s revelations.
During the 1950s, the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche made numerous pilgrimages across Tibet to all the major holy sites to which he made generous offerings. He continued to propagate Buddha Doctrine far and wide through the sponsoring and supporting of a diversified range of compassionate activities. In 1959, the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche decided to relocate to India for the sake of preserving Buddha Doctrine for the sake of all sentient beings. Accompanied by a small group of monks, he settled in the region of Bylakuppe in Mysore, South India.
In the year of the Water Rabbit (1963), under the personal supervision of the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche, the Thekchog Namdrol Shedrub Dargye Ling (Namdroling monastery) commenced its first phase of construction. Since its beginning as a small bamboo temple with a handful of monks in 1963, the main seat of the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche in India now includes numerous temples, Stupas, primary schools, dratsang, shedras, a retreat center, nunnery, guest house, old people’s home and hospital. It has evolved to become the largest Tibetan monastery in India with an ordained sangha of over six thousand monks and over one thousand nuns. Apart from propagating Buddha Doctrine in India and in Tibet, to where he has made return visits since 1982, the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche established many dharma centers around the world, including the USA, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, Bhutan, United Kingdom, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and Portugal.
On the evening of 27th March 2009 (the first day of the second Tibetan month), the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche departed from this world and entered the meditative state of thugdam. After spending six and a half days in the meditative state of luminosity, on the morning of Friday 3rd April 2009, he released his body from meditation and entered Parinirvana. His body is currently enshrined in the Zangdokpelri Temple at Namdroling Monastery.
References: Pathgate Institute of Buddhist Studies
A Garland of Wish-Fulfilling Trees by Ven. Tsering Lama Jampal Zangpo
The Fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, Thegchog Nyingpo
(1908 – 1958)
The fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, Thegchog Nyingpo was born in the fifteenth rabjung year of the Earth Monkey (1908). He was recognized in accordance with the prophecy of the fifteenth Karmapa Khakyab Dorje and authenticated by Drodul Lama Azom Drugpa. After being enthroned as the tenth Throne Holder at the Palyul Monastery, he began his study in sutraand tantra and received all the lineage transmissions from the second Drubwang Pema Norbu, the Dzogchen Khenpo Rigdzin Odzer, Jamgon Tai Situ Pema Wangchog Gyalpo, Drodul Lama Azom Drugpa and Kathog Khenpo Legshed Jordan. He excelled in all the teachings he received and attained an all-encompassing mind that merged with the true nature of transcendental reality. Soon after the completion of a three-year retreat during which his main practice was Ratna Lingpa’s Three Kaya Accomplishment, Thegchog Nyingpo commenced his service to all sentient beings by giving teaching, transmission and empowerment to a multitude of followers. During his lifetime, he commissioned the making of many thangkas and statues, having scores of Dharma texts printed, old temples renovated, new constructions erected, and gave generous support to a great many sangha communities elsewhere.
When Thegchog Nyingpo was fifty-one years of age, he decided it was time for him to pass beyond this world and transferred his life essence into the body of rainbow luminescence leaving nothing tangible behind.