’Khordong gTérchen Tulku Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche

Incarnation of Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal


Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche (’Khor gDong gTér chen sPrul sKu Chhi ’med Rig ’dzin Rin po che, 1922–2002) was the Holder of the Khordong gTér and the Khordong gTérsar. Although not the Head of Dorje Drak (rDo rJe Brag – one of the Six Ma-gön, the six ‘Mother Gompas’ of the Nyingma Tradition), Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was considered by many to be the Holder of the Chang gTér – the Northern gTérmas – the gTérma lineage of Dorje Drak.

In addition to being a consummate Mahayogi and prodigious scholar, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was a master of medicine – expert in two Chinese systems of acupuncture as well as the Tibetan system and the acupuncture of his own medical gTérma. He was a master of the sciences and the arts. He was a Sanskrit scholar, an architect, an expert on all aspects of Vajrayana, and a Lama with surprising knowledge of other traditions. Beyond all this he was a gTértön.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche—speaking of the parinirvana of Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche—said:
Zilngön Lingpa was widely known in the world as Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche – The Deathless Awareness Holder. ‘Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin’ is one of the sobriquets of Padmasambhava, and indeed he was—as a gTértön—a Mind emanation of Padmasambhava. With his parinirvana his deathlessness is apparent in the practice experience of all who received transmission from him and who cultivated the experience of that transmission. For them he is Chhi’mèd – deathless.

Due to gTértön Zilngön Lingpa’s wrathful wisdom demeanour and his ruthless annihilation of mundane appearances, his fame was not widespread among Western people seeking teachers. His fame tended to manifest in the disquieting rumour of rigpa – born from the rumour of his modes of devastating the self-obsession of those who sought him out with self-serving intentions. He wreaked havoc in the neat gardens of domesticated religious observance. He wrought perplexing disorder in the realms of conventional spiritual organisation and the codified proprieties of mundane comprehension.

gTértön Zilngön Lingpa was unpredictably unpredictable – a master of Wisdom-chaos par excellence who entered into the realm of creation and destruction with incomprehensible fervour and savage aplomb.

Zilngön Lingpa was Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s name as a gTértön – the discoverer of the Khordong gTérsar and the incarnation of Khalden Lingpa. It was Zilngön Lingpa who recognised the incarnation of ’a-Shul Pema Legden.

In the 19th century two great incarnations of Taksham Nuden Dorje appeared, according to the mandate of Padmasambhava. These two incarnations were: Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal of the ’ö-Chung Clan in Nyi-khok; and Ga’wang Düd’jom Lingpa of the A-kyong Clan in Golok. Ga’wang Düd’jom Lingpa was the previous incarnation of the preëminent 20th Century gTértön Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche – Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje who revealed the Düd’jom gTérsar practised so widely both in the East and in Western countries.

This incarnation line is traced back to the previous æon, in which Sang-gyé Rinchen Nyingpo (Sangs rGyas Rin chen sNying po) gave transmission to four great beings: ’ö Pa’mèd (’od dPag ’med – boundless light); Chenrézigs (sPyan ras gZigs – pervasive penetrating vision); Chana Dorje (phyag na rDo rJe – thunderbolt wielder); and Nuden Dorje (nus lDan rDo rJe – undeposed powerful thunderbolt). Through the inspiration of Sang-gyé Rinchen Nyingpo they committed themselves to act continuously for the liberation of everyone and everything everywhere.

In this æon, Nuden Dorje first incarnated as Shariputra, the foremost disciple of Buddha Shakyamuni. He then took rebirth as Dorje Hung-dzé (rDo rJe Hung rDzad – Mahasiddha Humkara), one of the eight Preëminent Rig’dzins (bKa’ babs rig ’dzin chen po brGyad – the eight great vidyadharas). The eight are as follows:

1. Jampal Shényen (’jam dPal bShes gNyen – Manjushrimitra, the Rig’dzin of Body) received the transmission of Jampalyang.

2. Lu-drüp Nyingpo (kLu sGrub sNying po – Nagarjuna, the Rig’dzin of Speech) received the transmission of the Lotus of Power (pad ma dbang rTa mGrin – Hayagriva).

3. Dorje Hung-dzé (rDo rJe hung mDzad – Mahasiddha Humkara, the Rig’dzin of Mind) received the transmission of Yang-dag Heruka (yang dagt he ru ka – Vishuddha).

4. Dri’mèd Shé-nyèn (dri med bShes gNyen – Vimalamitra, the vidyadhara of Qualities) received the transmission of Düdtsi Men (bDud rTsi sMan – Essence Medicine).

5. ’ö-Kyi Langpo (’od kyi gLang po – the Rig’dzin of Activity, Prabhahasti) received the transmission of Dorje Phurba (rDo rJe phur pa – Vajrakilaya).

6. Norgyi Legchar (nor gyi legs sByar – the vidyadhara of Mamo, Danasanskrit) received the transmission of Bötong (rBod gTong).

7. Zhi-wa’i Nyingpo (zhi ba’i snying po – the Rig’dzin of fierce mantra, Shintamgarbha) received of the transmission of Möpa (dMod pa).

8. Sangwa’i Dawa (gsang ba’i zla ba – the Rig’dzin of coercion, Guhyachandra) received of the transmission of Lokapala (’jig rten sKyong).

Dorje Hung-dzé received the lineage of Buddha Garab Dorje (Sangs rGyas dGa’ rab rDo rJe) who first transmitted the teaching of Dzogchen in the world. He received also the transmission of chu-len (bCud len – living on the essence of the elements rather than eating food) from the Dzogchen adept Gaga Siddhi in a secret cave in the Karakoram Mountains on the border of Afghanistan (sTag gZig). Realising the fulfilment of this practice, Dorje Hung-dzé attained invisibility.

When the Tantric Buddha Padmasambhava brought Vajrayana to Tibet, Nuden Dorje incarnated as DoWang Khyéchung Lotsa, one of the twenty-five closest disciples of Padmasambhava. He received many transmissions of wisdom from him at Chhimphu, Thamdrug, and Zhi-trö Dé-drö in the company of Khandro Chenmo Yeshé Tsogyel (mKha’ ’gro Chen mo Ye shes mTsho rGyal). He remained close to Padmasambhava for the entire duration of his sojourn in Tibet. Khyéchung Lotsa had the power to attract the birds of the air with mudras. By this means he was able to teach beings at many levels of existence the nature of reality and enable them to achieve realisation.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche recounts:
This quality of Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche came across strongly to me in a letter he sent me in 1979 in which he wrote: ‘… as I write to you in Cardiff, I am watching the birds that have come from Siberia to the local river and are now returning home. They have large wings and as they fly towards their home in the evening the sound is like the noise at the time of storm. It is fantastic to watch and I make the wish that you will be here to watch them with me.’ Sadly I was never able to travel to Santiniketan in West Bengal – but I was able to spend a great deal of time with Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche in Cardiff where we sat together and watched the birds on Roath Park Lake. Rinpoche enjoyed throwing bread to the birds, and they became unusually tame – taking the bread from his hands. Once in Holland two enormous ravens landed on Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s shoulders and sat for a surprising period of time. This was the day when Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was due to give a Mahakala empowerment, and, as ravens are connected with this protector – the meaning of this event impressed me with the awesome seriousness of what was to take place.

Nuden Dorje was incarnated as Gyalwa Thöndrüp, the principal pupil of Ma-gÇig Labdrön – the Mother of gÇod.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
When Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche first gave the transmission of the vajra melody of the Lama’i Naljor of Ma-gÇig Labdrön in Cardiff, he told the apprentices that this was the melody that Ma-gÇig Labdrön had taught him in his life as her son – Gyalwa Thöndrüp. He told us that he had asked her for a short and simple practice of Lama’i Naljor and she had given him this practice with this melody. He told us that he could still clearly hear her voice. This was a wonderfully powerful and poignant transmission and all who heard Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche give this explanation were deeply moved with the sense in which time was no obstacle to one who dwells in the non-dual state.

Gyalwa Thöndrüp was incarnated as Namgyal Gönpo, the son of gTértön Rig’dzin Go’dem, who discovered the Chang gTér – Northern gTérmas. Namgyal Gönpo was incarnated as the following Lamas: Mahasiddha Sang-gyé Palzang; Mahasiddha Tong-chö Répa; Mahasiddha Bum-pa; gTértön Chenpo Düd’dül Dorje; and finally as Taksham Nuden Dorje (sTak sham nus lDan rDo rJe) before the incarnation line divided into the lineages of Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa of the ’ö-Chung Clan in Nyi-khok; and Düd’jom Lingpa of the A-kyong Clan in Golok. These were both exceedingly great masters who were conspicuously powerful and taught profusely.

Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal discovered the twenty-three volumes of Khordong gTérma, as well as other gTérmas of varied types. He discovered the ritual implements which embody the wisdom energy of Dorje Tröllö (the large dorje and phurba which were owned by Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche as Holder of the Lineage of Khordong gTérchen Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal). He also discovered the Do-dom Thong-ba Ton-den, a stone gTérma box—two feet in circumference—which carries the impressions of the hands of Yeshé Tsogyel and the index finger print of Padmasambhava. Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal possessed many siddhis – he could fly, remain below water, or vanish completely.

He lived to the age of 63 and on the day of his death rainbow phenomena appeared in the sky emanating from the hill where he attained parinirvana. The next incarnation—Düd’dül Dorje Rinpoche—died at the age of 5. The second incarnation, Khalden Lingpa (mKha’ lDan gLing pa), lived to 37 years of age and discovered two important volumes of gTérma and a Sa gTér casket. Khalden Lingpa was the Tsawa’i Lama of ’a-Shul Pema Legden (’a Shul Pad ma Legs lDan,1849-1911). Khalden Lingpa, knowing of his early demise, directed ’a-Shul Pema Legden toward Khyungchen Aro Lingma and consequently he became her sang-yab and disciple. ’a-Shul Pema Legden was the previous incarnation of Aro Yeshé – the son of Aro Lingma, and previous incarnation of Ngak’chang Rinpoche.

Khordong gTérchen Tulku Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche—the third incarnation of Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal—was born on the full moon day of the fifth month of the water-dog year (1922). He was first recognised by Tulku Tsurlo Rinpoche, and later: Zhi-Shen Ögyen Chemchog Rinpoche, gTértön Sonam Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Avam gTértön Rinpoche, DoKhyentsé Rinpoche, Kyabjé Sakya Trichen Rinpoche, Jagchen Pema Rig’dzin Rinpoche, Kyabjé Minling Trichen Rinpoche, and Panchen ’ö-Ti-ni Rinpoche. Three tang-ril divinations were performed in which various names were submitted. With each divination only one name emerged – Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, and no doubt remained that this was the true incarnation of Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal.

When Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was four years old, he was enthroned at Khordong Gompa as the holder of the lineage of Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa Tröllö-tsal. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was also recognised as an emanation of Khyéchung Lotsa’s Body, as an emanation of Nanam Dorje Düd’jom’s Speech, and as an emanation of Padmasambhava’s Mind.

Nuden Dorje Dro’phang Lingpa built a number of gompas according to the instruction of Padmasambhava, and according to the predictions of Rig’dzin Pema Thrin-lé Rinpoche. His previous disciples had built twelve other gompas in eastern Tibet, and these were the charges given to the four-year-old Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche at his enthronement. It was a heavy responsibility, but one which he assumed with ease, confidence, and dignity.

At the age of nine, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche took a stone in his right hand and squeezed it, thereby altering its shape.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche said of himself as a young incarnation: ‘I was rough and naughty, and at times my teacher used to have to lock me inside my room – but due to my faith in Padmasambhava I was always able to escape without breaking the door or the lock.’

At the age of ten, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche discovered two important volumes of gTérma and an iron gTérma box. After his tenth year, he went on his first pilgrimage to receive teachings and empowerments from Rig’dzin Chenpo Nyam-né Dorje, and from other Lamas. After two years of pilgrimage, seeking empowerment and instruction from great Lamas, he returned to Khordong to complete his training with Tulku Tsörlo Rinpoche. He also trained under Ba-né Tulku Ögyen Ten’dzin Rinpoche, Khenpo Sang-thar Rinpoche, Khenpo Lödrö Rinpoche, Tulku Chö-ying Gyamtso Rinpoche, Khordong Khenpo Lotö Jig’mèd Rinpoche, and other great masters of the time. He studied philosophy, logic, grammar, khyil’khor, astrology, and Vajrayana under the direction of Tulku Tsörlo Rinpoche. After the completion of his training, Tulku Tsörlo Rinpoche gave him seven important instructions and predictions:

1. To leave Khordong gompa at the age of eighteen and become a wandering practitioner in the mountainous lands of Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal.

2. To go into three and a half years’ solitary retreat in Tso Pema – Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh, India.

3. Not to defend himself in any way when at the age of 28 he would be attacked by a robber.

4. To fly in the sky at the age of 37.

5. To take steps—before the age of 60—to save one of his eyes from losing its power.

6. To go back to Khordong to return all the Khordong transmissions at the time they are needed.

7. To live to be 80 years or 125 years.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche told me with certain amusement in 1988 that the fourth instruction was fulfilled when he flew by æroplane to Italy at the invitation of the Tibetologist Giuseppe Tucci. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche took the instructive predictions of Tulku Tsörlo Rinpoche extremely seriously, however, and the fact that he flew by æroplane did not mitigate in any way his complete faith in his teacher. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche said that when he was about to turn 37 years of age that he wondered just how his flight would be achieved and whether he was going to have to enter rTsa rLung retreat to make it possible. Then the letter from Giuseppe Tucci arrived and it was clear to him that this is what his Tsa-wa’i Lama foresaw.

In a letter to Ngak’chang Rinpoche dated August 1988, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche wrote:
I have observed all these instructions as I was asked and now, at this age of 65 years, I am awaiting to observe the last two. In order to observe the instructions of my most venerable teacher Tulku Tsörlo, I left my gompa at the age of 18 years. It was at 11 o’clock on the full moon night of the fifth month of the earth rabbit year (1939) that I set out from there. After crossing the cold Nyi-chu River, I turned back one last time on my gompa. It was colourful. It was too sad for me as I was looking, and suddenly as I stood there all the good memories came flooding in me: the fellow practitioners, my Lamas, my childhood, disciples, and all those years I spent in study and training. It was my Lama’s instruction to leave my gompa and so I was leaving; but it was not a wishful departure with a happy heart. My heart was heavy and determined to fulfil the instructions of my Lama. Since then I have followed his instructions most sincerely and with great care until this day.

In the year of 1984, and at the age of 62 years, I received an important letter. It was from Ra-yab Böngtrül Rig’dzin Palzor, who had remained in charge of Shikchong, one of my gompas. The letter came through Tulku Thöndrüp, who went to Tibet to visit his gompa of DoDrüpchen. Several other letters also came to me, and their message was all the same. They requested me to come back to my gompa in order to give them the Chang gTér, Khordong gTérsar, and the many other transmissions of which I am the Lineage Holder. They requested me to come back to Tibet in order to give spiritual guidance to the remaining practitioners who had been without direction for so long. These letters came from: Khenpo Thubten Lödrö, my chief disciple at Shik-chong gompa; ’ongbo Sonam ’ö-Sel, who had been left in charge of Khordong Gompa; Yi-drang Géku, proctor of Khordong gompa; and Shérab Dorje Rinpoche, my brother. I received these last named letters through DoDrüpchen Rinpoche of Chörten Gompa in Sikkim. These fervent requests reminded me of my Tsa-wa’i Lama’s fifth instruction which I had promised to carry out.

After contemplation, I decided to visit my homeland and my gompa, because in the lineage of teaching practised at my gompas, I am the only Lineage Holder left alive on this earth. My son Ögyen Chenchö Lama and I were given the Chinese visas easily and flew from Calcutta to Beijing. From Beijing we flew to Cheng-du, and from there by road to Khar-nya chu through Ta-chin-lo, Ta-ngo, and Kan-zé. Wherever we went we were given warm and friendly reception by the Tungko [Chinese] officials. We were hosted at dinners and taken to visit Chinese Buddhist temples in Beijing and Cheng-du which we were pleased to see were in good shape and had never been destroyed. During our stay in Beijing I met HH the Panchen Lama for two hours and discussed the current situation of Buddhism in Tibet and was satisfied that things had changed. I talked to him regarding my gompa and its restoration, and he assured me all possible help.

From Khar-nya chu we travelled as far as we could by jeep but reached a weak wooden bridge so we had to leave the vehicles there. Across the wooden bridge a large crowd of my own people from Khordong had assembled to receive me and they took us from there on horseback. The ride took six hours, which was hard because after many years I am unaccustomed to horse-riding. On the way we were met by many people, who had gathered along the route to offer us tea and nourishment. We stopped at Déwa-nang, a place where Nuden Dorje had been reborn, and from there I saw my gompa again for the first time since the full moon night when I was 18. I could not hold my tears and was unable to utter a word. All the memories came at that moment, and I realised that I would not be able to see the shrine that once stood there. What I saw of my gompa was a ruin. Only supporting columns remained of what was once a gorgeous gompa. It was then I realised the value of my Lama’s instruction. He had foreseen the future situation of Dharma in Tibet, and wanted to save the essential transmission which should not be lost. The destruction of a building is not the destruction of a lineage of transmission. I had left Tibet at the age of 18 years along with the gTérmas of my lineage, and now I was bringing them back to be practised once more.

As soon as we reached the gompa we performed the needed rites for ten days, after which I gave empowerments for a further 22 days. Then I went to Sér-ta district and gave empowerments for 52 days. On this journey we also visited Shik-chong and Ba-ne gompas. I returned to India on the fifth of December with renewed determination to help my people according to the instruction of my Lama.

Many remarkable and inspiring reports have followed Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s visit to Tibet. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s manifest siddhis were witnessed by over a thousand east Tibetans, including Chinese officials who were so taken aback that a marked difference in attitude followed his visit. Prior to Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s visit the Chinese government did not allow the recognition of incarnations – but subsequent to his visit this restriction was lifted.

During his visit, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche consecrated a great chörten at Sér-ta, during which 2,000 practitioners, both monastic and gö kar chang lo, together with 111 incarnations and khenpos and 15,000 lay people, gathered in the largest valley of Kham Sér-ta Gorgon-thang. The rite—which began at half past ten in the morning—commenced with Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche invoking the lineage power of Padmasambhava, Yeshé Tsogyel, Khyéchung Lotsa, Nuden Dorje, Tulku Tsörlo Rinpoche, A’phang gTértön Rinpoche, and Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche – Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje.

After this invocation a rainbow appeared across the Sér-ta River and arced across the entire valley of Gorgon-thang and remained glimmering in the sky until half past four in the afternoon. While he was performing the consecration of the chörten, a translucent white ring encircled him and the chörten. Within this ring of light three rainbow coloured spheres appeared, and people reported that they saw many different things within these spheres. Most people reported that they saw five white vultures wheeling around the chörten as if dancing in flight. At the moment the vultures appeared, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche threw a white katag into the air and it remained suspended in mid-air above the chörten for 24 hours.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
Throughout his life Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was known for his siddhis and his power to control the weather. In Tibet he averted many hailstorms that would have ruined harvests. In India he caused similar changes in the weather. When he came to Wales in the spring of 1986, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche interrupted several days of continuous rain in order that our students, who had come to share in a seaside picnic, would not be disappointed. During the picnic, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche gave a number of Dzogchen teachings and informal symbolic transmissions. It was a vastly joyful occasion. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche shocked me by asking me to give Dzogchen pointing out instructions to the assembled students and, knowing Rinpoche to be intolerant of dissembling – I held forth briefly and surprisingly without the usual trepidation I would have felt in his presence. That it was such a profoundly happy occasion—and Rinpoche’s wrathful demeanour appearing utterly in abeyance—allowed me to inadvertently assume a naturalness which would otherwise have been somewhat difficult.

The rocks upon which we sat had become completely dry and warm in the miraculous March sunshine – but no sooner was the picnic over—and Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche back in our car—than the torrential downpour recommenced. On the car journey home Rinpoche regaled us with remarkable accounts of Khordong and told us of picnics he had enjoyed as a young Lama in Tibet.

When—at the end of his visit to Cardiff—we drove Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche back to London, he again stopped the rain in order that I could see the road. The rain had become so intense that driving had become dangerous at anything more than about 20 miles an hour. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was concerned that the journey should not take too long and thus cause us to return to Cardiff late at night.