Discernment: Taking the Time to Examine the Spiritual Path

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

When we think about the validity of religions—in terms of traditions, in terms of sciences internal and external, and in terms of pith essential pointing out instructions—there is no religion that equals that of Buddhism.  At this time there is no opportunity to really go into it; but in terms of the validity of the tradition which goes back for thousands of years and is documented in pechas, or scriptures, which are available at this present time, if one were really to investigate the qualities of the Buddha’s path, it is something quite extraordinary and unequalled by any other religion.  I would be more than happy to explain every single reason why in absolute detail, but there wouldn’t be time for that today, nor would there be time in the days that I have here, and you probably would become quite bored with listening to it.  So we’ll leave it at that, but please understand that these points are fully documented in the scriptures that we have available to us which date back some thousands of years.

Because of my own qualifications and so forth, at this time I can tell you all that I am a practitioner of the Buddhist religion. I am a Buddhist, and yet I can assure you that at no time in my life have I ever felt a sense of attachment to Buddhism because that is my own religion, nor have I ever felt a sense of aversion to any other religion because it was not the religion that I specifically pursue.  So please do not feel that I have any partial attitude towards my own tradition or a biased attitude towards any other tradition being inferior to it because I never have felt this way.  However, for a very long period of time I have examined not only the Buddhist religion but many other religions, and Buddhism, as practiced in the land of Tibet, is practiced according to three great lineages or rivers of this tradition which have come down over the centuries from India, China and Tibet.  Maybe many of you have heard of the Panchen Rinpoche who asked me to be personally responsible for examining the lineages and updating them and correcting any sort of discrepancies that may occur in present times.  Due to that I spent a lot of time going into further examinations of the traditions, and I came to the conclusion that the path of Buddhism is absolutely unequalled by any other.  It is absolutely superior.

Therefore I would encourage each and every one of you to carefully examine the spiritual path that you are involved in to make sure that you have not made any mistake. If you don’t examine your spiritual path and you just sort of mindlessly enter into a tradition which has no validity or true source, this is what is called delusion, ignorance. We Tibetans have a saying, “Don’t be like a dog.” If you put fresh lungs in front of a dog, the dog will just devour those lungs without even thinking for a moment, will just scarf them down.  Don’t be like this in terms of pursuing a spiritual tradition.  One should be very careful to examine in minute detail. And once one has found out for oneself through that process of analytical investigation that this is a true path and a path that is valid and has a true origin, then one can enter.  But please don’t just aimlessly enter a spiritual path without thinking.



Who Is Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo?

His Holiness Khenpo Jigmey Phuntsok gave the following commentary on the recognition of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on July 30, 1993 at Kunzang Palyul Choling in Poolesville, Maryland


Padma Norbu Rinpoche was discovered by the fifth Kongtrul Thupten Chokyi Dorje.  Thubten Chokyi Dorje by indicating who Padma Norbu Rinpoche’s parents would be. When we look at the qualities of such a recognition, we find in someone like His Holiness Padma Norbu Rinpoche has lived up to every aspect of who he has been indicated to be, in terms of being an emanation of the previous Penor Rinpoche, in terms of the qualities of his scholarship, of his honor and morality, of his excellence and of his accomplishment which are all inconceivable.  And so in terms of spiritual and secular qualities he is absolutely fully endowed and lives up perfectly to the recognition, which has been bestowed upon him.

It is someone as supreme as Mahasiddha Padma Norbu Rinpoche who with his eye of primordial wisdom awareness has understood that this is an incarnation of the previous Ahkön Lhamo.  He has not recognized her just suddenly without basing it on any type of investigation, as though it were something that he just did spontaneously when it came to his mind.  The recognition of her occurred as a process that he had been looking into for an extended period of time.  He had been checking about who she was with his own heart deities, and he received some visions from his deities giving explanations to him.  He also had other experiences in his meditation and experiences in his dreams and in the least, also received indications through divination procedures.  And so when he finally made the formal recognition, it was from a point of view of total confidence.

As for Ahkön Lhamo herself, first we have to look at the status of her brother who is Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab who came from the lower Do-Kham region of Tibet.

Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab

Secret Mantra Tradition

In terms of establishing the secret mantra tradition in this region of Tibet, there are three principal monasteries that were founded:  Kadok, Palyul, and Dzogchen.  And of these three, the Palyul mother monastery and its branches came to be, even in its time of origination, the most essential of the three monasteries for the establishment of the vehicle of secret mantra. Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab was responsible for initially establishing the mother Palyul monastery from which there are now some three hundred branch institutions.  His sister was Ahkön Lhamo and she was also very connected with him in these types of activities during their lifetime together.  But she was primarily renowned for her ability to practice the Dharma.  She was well-known as an accomplished yogini on outer, inner and secret levels who spent her entire life in practice And so this is why, later on, when she passed from that particular life she was well-known for the self-embossed syllable “ah” which appeared in her skull which was a sign of having achieved the highest accomplishment through the practice of that life.


“Ah” relic at Kunzang Palyul Choling

As a symbol of faith and devotion, it’s not an empty symbol.  It is a symbol that exists due to scriptural authority and lineage, the lineage that she belongs to, the authority of the lineage as well as the scriptural references to that authority in the lineage.  And so it is something that we can have confidence in terms of its validity.  And so, therefore, we can also have confidence in her in terms of background, from a point of view of intelligence, and from the point of view of scientific proof.

We can have total confidence then, in terms of proof, that she is an exalted rebirth.  Now in one way, in this lifetime, she appears as a common American woman, but in another way she appears very uncommon, because she has faith in the Dharma unlike that of a common person, and she has a very strong wish to be of benefit to others, which is unlike that of common people.  She has a tremendous love for her lamas and her spiritual mentors and an ability to make impressions on the minds of others, and to actually control or have some positive influence on the minds of others.  And so this sets her apart from the ranks of common folk.

Through her own wishes she traveled to India where the Dharma has existed for thousands of years.  And there she had an opportunity to listen to the teachings and receive many teachings directly from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche so as to increase her own noble qualities.

She also had an opportunity to receive the entire transmission for the Rinchen Terdzod directly from His Holiness, all of the empowerments, all of the pith essential pointing out instructions and commentaries that are found in that precious terma treasury, and she received it in a way that an elderly lama would receive it, an elderly Tibetan lama.  And so she had this opportunity to completely internalize all of those blessings, which is very extraordinary.

And from the time that the title of Ahkön Lhamo was bestowed upon her, she didn’t succumb to pride and arrogance and go on a separate pursuit, which would be of benefit to her with fame and glory.  Instead she used that title to, even more than before, do what she could to accomplish the purpose of sentient beings and the doctrine, which she has been able to establish more extensively since her title has been bestowed upon her.

And I also think that her enlightened activities have been most excellent in terms of what she’s been able to manifest, the establishment of this temple which is filled with many wondrous supports of enlightened body, speech and mind, and all of the many stupas that she has been able to erect, which are found here on the grounds which are also amazing supports for the presence of the doctrine in this world.

Then also here in the dharma center, she has established the ordained sangha in a way, which is unlike any other place, with so many disciples who have taken the vows of ordination.  This is a clear sign of her miraculous activities being manifest and her strong intention to accomplish the pure dharma in this land.  Not only that, the lay householders in the community also obviously have very strong motivation towards the accumulation of that which is wholesome and that which is virtuous.  And this unceasing effort towards prayer and practice carried on in the temple is yet a further display of her miraculous activities manifest.

What she has been able to accomplish up until now will continue to be accomplished in an even greater way in the future, and will have large effects on this country in general.  Not just here in this place but in a widespread way.  This will have an effect on many people in this country.  And so this is yet a further sign of the wide-reaching effects of her miraculous activity, which will continue to increase.

And as the Buddha said that if there is fire, there will be smoke, as a sign of the fire.  And if water; there will be a sign of water birds gathering there.  Likewise, if there is a Bodhisattva, there will be a sign of the Bodhisattva’s presence, and that means there will be external signs that are apparent and those signs are signs of bringing benefit to sentient beings.  This is something that we can notice and we then know that a Bodhisattva is amongst us.

As her students you should know how to rely upon her purely in the three ways.  And you should do your best to accomplish the stages of learning and the stages of accomplishment so that the doctrine can be firmly established in this land, so that it can be of benefit to both self and all other beings.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok






Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933 – 2004) was a Nyingma lama from the Dhok region of Kham. At the age of two he was identified as the reincarnation of the Terton Sogyal, Lerab Lingpa (1852–1926). He studied Dzogchen at Nubzor Monastery, received novice ordination at 14, and full ordination at 22 (or 1955). Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was the most influential lama of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in contemporary Tibet. A Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and renowned teacher of Great Perfection (Dzogchen), he established the Serthar Buddhist Institute in 1980, known locally as Larung Gar, a non-sectarian study center with approximately 10,000 monks, nuns, and lay students at its highest count. He played an important role in revitalizing the teaching of Tibetan Buddhism following the liberalization of religious practice in 1980.


In July 1993, HH visited KPC, ordaining a number of monks & nuns, and giving empowerment and teachings on recent termas he had revealed.