Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche

gTértön Pema Ga’wang Do-ngak Lingpa (1910-1991)


Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche – Tashi Paljor (sKyabs rJe lDil mGo mKhyen brTse Rin po che – bKra shis dPal ’byor) was also known as ’ö-Sel Trülpa’i Dorje Rinpoche (’od gSal sPul pa’i rDo rJe Rin po che) and as Gyür’mèd Thekchog Tenpa’i Gyaltsen Rinpoche (’gyür ’med theg mChog bsTan pa’i rGyal mTshan Rin po che).

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche – gTértön Pema Ga’wang Do-ngak Lingpa (Pad ma dGa’ dBang mDo sNgags gLing pa) was one of the foremost meditation masters, poets, and scholars of the Nyingma Tradition. He was highly respected by many prominent Lamas of all traditions, and by thousands of disciples throughout the world. He became the Supreme Head of the Nyingma Tradition on the passing of Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche – Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was a truly wonderful Lama and a great inspiration. The overwhelming joy he emanated in terms of his appreciation of Dharma was tremendously influential – even in terms of the questions I put to him concerning the gTérmas of Khyungchen Aro Lingma. The enthusiasm he expressed with respect to my responsibility in making this gTérma available was extraordinary. He encouraged me to write down as much as possible in order that nothing would be lost. He presented me with a set of ivory implements which have never left my near proximity: an ivory teng’ar, and ivory damaru, an ivory phurba, and an ivory takdröl. Sadly, I was not able to receive personal teachings beyond the early 1970s as Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche became increasingly needed by others – especially the young Nyingma Trülkus who required teaching and transmission from him. The time I was able to spend with him, however, shall remain with me always as a reminder that realisation is possible in one life and one body. In 1980 I was fortunate enough to receive many empowerments from Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche – both in France and Britain. On one of these occasions Khandro Déchen and I received the bSod nams Pur ba (Dorje Phurba drüpthab) of gTértön Sonam Gyaltsen.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was the Lama of the royal family of Bhutan. He completed his education and training in Tibet – where he spent twenty-two years in retreat. Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was born in Denkhok Valley, eastern Tibet, in 1910, to a family descended from the royal lineage of Chögyal Trisong Détsen. His father was a minister to the King of Der-gé. When still in his mother’s womb, he was recognised as an incarnation by the illustrious Nyingma Lama Mipham Rinpoche (’jam mGon ’ju mi pham rGya mTsho, 1846-1912). Mipham Rinpoche named him Tashi Paljor and gave him the empowerment of Jampalyang (’jam dPal dByangs – Manjushri).

As a young boy, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche displayed a strong desire to engage with Vajrayana. His two elder brothers had already left home driven by the same desire. One became a doctor and the other was recognised as a Trülku.

At the age of ten, Khyentsé Rinpoche became severely ill for nearly a year. Lamas advised that unless he was allowed to embrace Vajrayana he would not live long. Yielding immediately to these entreaties, his father agreed that Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche should devote himself according to his wish. Therefore, at the age of eleven Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche entered Séchen Gompa in eastern Tibet, one of the six Mother Gompas of the Nyingma Tradition. His Tsawa’i Lama, the Séchen Gyaltsap (the throne holder of Séchen and Mipham Rinpoche’s heir), formally recognised and enthroned him as a Mind incarnation of the first Khyentsé Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (’jam dByangs Khyen rTse dBang po, 1820-1892). Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo was the Lama who—in collaboration with the first Jamgön Kongtrül—inspired the Vajrayana renaissance in Tibet in which the Ri’mèd Movement was central. All contemporary non-sectarian Tibetan Lamas draw inspiration from the Ri’mèd movement they inaugurated.

With regard to Ri’méd, Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
Ri’mèd is a subject both of great inspiration and great confusion. Ri’mèd is often translated as ‘non-sectarian’, but the direct translation is ‘without boundaries’. There is nothing special about being non-sectarian – that is the way every practitioner should be – but Ri’mèd is far more than simply non-sectarian. Ri’mèd also tends to be misunderstood in the West as being an eclectic approach to practice – but this is entirely incorrect. Ri’mèd is not a path, Ri’mèd is fruitional. The Ri’mèd masters were those who, having accomplished the practices of their own tradition, set out to accomplish those of other traditions. Another misunderstanding concerning Ri’mèd is as being a system of syncretism. This is also entirely incorrect. The Ri’mèd masters, having accomplished the practices of their own tradition and those of other traditions – never mixed them. The Ri’mèd masters always gave teachings and empowerments exactly in the style in which they were given, according to the specific traditions from which they originated. Practitioners who have not accomplished the practices of the lineage to which they belong can say they are inspired by Ri’mèd, but they cannot describe themselves as Ri’mèd. Only accomplished masters can describe themselves in such terms. Although Khandro Déchen and I have received teachings and empowerments from many different lineages, we cannot claim to be Ri’mèd – we can only claim to be inspired by Ri’mèd.

The Khyentsé Trülkus are incarnations of several key Lamas in the development of Vajrayana. These include: Longchen Rabjampa (kun mKhyen kLong chen rab ’byams, 1308-1363 – the brilliant and prolific fourteenth century author and ngakpa); Jig’mèd Lingpa (’jigs ’med gLing pa, 1729-1798 – who founded the Longchen Nying-thig tradition); Chögyal Trisong Détsen (Chos rGyal khri srong de’u bTsan, 790-844); and Dri’mèd Shé-nyèn (dri med bShes gNyen – Vimalamitra).

At Séchen, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche studied and meditated with his Tsa-wa’i Lama in a hermitage high above the main gompa buildings. It was during this time that Séchen Gyaltsap gave him all the essential Nyingma empowerments and instructions. He studied with over fifty great masters, including the Dzogchen Khenpo Shé-nga, who imparted his own major works.

Before Séchen Gyaltsap passed away, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche promised his Tsa-wa’i Lama that he would teach whomsoever asked. From the age of fifteen to twenty-eight, he spent most of his time in retreat, living in isolated caves or beneath overhanging rocks in the mountainous countryside near his birthplace in the Denkhok Valley.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche spent many years with Dzongsar Khyentsé Chökyi Lödrö (rDzong gSar mKhyen brTse ’jam dByangs chos kyi bLo gros,1896-1959 – also an incarnation of the first Khyentsé). From Dzongsar Khyentsé he received all empowerments of the Rinchen gTér dzöd (rin chen gTer mDzod) ‘Great Jewel Treasury of gTérmas’ (a collection of important gTérmas of Padmasambhava, Dri’mèd Shé-nyèn and Kunrig Nampa Namdzé of Pa gor [pa gor kun rigs rNam par sNang mDzad] Vairochana of Pagor).

After receiving this, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche wished to spend the rest of his life in solitary retreat, but Jamyang Khyentsé Chökyi Lödrö did not agree, saying: The time has come for you to teach and give transmission to others. And on hearing this advice Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche devoted himself constantly to his disciples.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
During the time in which I was able to speak personally with Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche, he told me that at one time he had wanted to stay in retreat for the rest of his life but that Jamyang Khyentsé Chökyi Lödrö demurred, telling him that he would not countenance such a prospect. Jamyang Khyentsé Chökyi Lödrö told him that the time had come to teach others and to give transmissions. He then suggested that I do likewise, as—after all—if I did not pass on the Dzogchen gTérmas of Khyungchen Aro Lingma, no one would. Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was extremely caring and supportive. He told me that I was kind-hearted and that more kindness was needed in the world. His final words to me were that I should never lose my kind-heartedness and intrinsic love of people. On hearing this and on taking my leave I wept almost all the way back to my lodgings. That Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche thought me to be kind-hearted was almost unbearable in view of my own apprehension of myself. It remains my wish to live up to those words before I die.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche travelled across the entire Trans-Himalayan region, to Southeast Asia, and to the West, giving teachings and transmissions to his many disciples. He was often accompanied by his spiritual wife, Sangyum Lhamo, and his grandson and Dharma-heir Rabjam Rinpoche (Rab ’byams Rin po che).

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche transplanted the Séchen tradition to Bodha, in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, by building a magnificent gompa near of the Great Chörten. This is now the principal seat of Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche and his incarnations, over which Rabjam Rinpoche currently presides.

In India, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche built a new chörten at Dorje Den (rDo rJe gDan, the site of Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment at Bodhgaya in Northern India), and planned to construct chörtens in each of the seven other great pilgrimage places sacred to Buddha Shakyamuni in Northern India. After the destruction of books and libraries in Tibet, many texts existed only as disparate copies, and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was instrumental in saving an extraordinarily extensive collection of Vajrayana teachings of which many were published and widely distributed. For example, Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche Published the 63 volume Rinchen gTérdzod (rin chen gTer mDzod) ‘Great Jewel Treasury of gTérmas’, a collection of important gTérmas of Padmasambhava, Dri’mèd Shé-nyèn, Pagor Nampa Namdzé and their closest disciples, gathered by Jamgön Kongtrül (’jam mGon kong sPrul blo gros mTha’ yas yon tan rGya mTsho,1813-1899) with the help of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was a gTértön who also composed meditation texts, commentaries, and poetry. He was an exemplary exponent of the Ri’mèd movement, renowned for his ability to transmit the teachings of each Vajrayana lineage according to its own specific tradition. He was a Lama venerated by many Lamas of the Nyingma and Kagyüd lineage, and was one of the important teachers of Rig’dzin Chenpo Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and gave many teachings, including the Dzogchen transmission of the tsig-sum né-dèk (tshig gSum gNad brDeg – Three Phrases Striking the Vital Point – the final teaching of Garab Dorje to Jampal Shé-nyèn) to his senior students. Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche took exceptional interest in the kyil’khor of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and was incomparably encouraging with respect to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s manifestation of Dharma in the West.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was one of the principal holders of the Longchen Nying-thig (kLong chen sNying thig). Through his extensive activity, he devoted his life to the preservation and dissemination of Vajrayana. He made several visits to the West and taught in many different countries. He spent protracted periods at his European seat, Séchen Tengyi Dargyé Ling (Dordogne, France), where Western people from many different countries were able to receive extensive teachings and undertake three-year retreat programmes under his guidance.

Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche attained parinirvana in September 1991 to the great sadness of Lamas and disciples of both Nyingma and Kagyüd lineages.