Khandro Déchen

biographic notes

Khandro Déchen (mKha’ gro bDe chen tshe grub rol pa’i ye shes) was born in 1960 in Newbury in the Royal County of Berkshire, England. She attended a grammar school where she worked diligently and gained qualifications commensurate with her application. Khandro Déchen is known for her application and ability to accomplish whatever it is to which she sets her mind.

Khandro Déchen rode horses as a girl and is a keen horsewoman who rediscovered her interest in riding through preparation for a Confederate Sanghas of Aro pilgrimage to Montana. (Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje indicated that there was a Hidden Land of Padmasambhava in the Northwest of Montana.) Khandro Déchen is currently studying the curriculum of the British Horse Society in riding and stable management.

She took refuge in the vajra sangha of the Aro gTér lineage at the age of 21. She became the sang-yum (spiritual consort) of Ngak’chang Rinpoche in 1992, and they married on the 6th of April 1995.

They have a son named Düd’dül Dorje – born on the 18th July 1996, and a daughter named Künzang Tsodrön – born on the 11th of April 2003. Both children were named by Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel. Düd’dül Dorje’s Western name is Robert E Lee Togden – reflecting Khandro Déchen and Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s interest both in honour and in history. Künzang Tsodrön’s Western name is Ræchel Renate Tresise Togden. Tresise was Khandro Déchen’s maiden name and is a link to her Cornish family – and Renate is Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s mother’s name. Togden is Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen’s married family name.

As a Lama representing a family lineage of the Nyingma gö-kar chang-lo’i dé, Khandro Déchen approaches motherhood as a central aspect of her life as a Mind Lineage Holder. Before assuming the shared pastoral care of apprentices and disciples (as part of a ‘teaching couple’) she was a Macmillan Nurse (hospice home care nurse advising on symptom control and counselling) with a university degree in nursing. She is known for her warmth, gentleness, and the humour of her approach with individuals.

Khandro Déchen is a uniquely gifted thangka painter and thangka painting teacher who is recognised as having an extraordinary capacity for giving life to the images of the Aro gTér lineage Lamas. She paints the major references for practice within the Confederate Sanghas of Aro, and provides paintings and line drawings for Aro publications. Her thangkas and line drawings can be seen on the Aro website. Her life’s work is dedicated to painting the entire Aro gTér cycle of one hundred and eleven awareness-beings, and disciples train as thangka painters under her direct supervision. She regards awareness-imagery as her major means of teaching and influence.

Khandro Déchen extends her rôle as a thangka painter into the dimension of sacred movement through the performance of gar ’cham (sGar ’chams – Tantric dance). The performance of Aro gar ’cham is also a means through which she teaches and gives transmission.

Khandro Déchen is revered as an example of what it is to ‘live the view’, and Ngak’chang Rinpoche regards her as his most important teacher in this respect. She inspires people through her radiance and surprising simplicity rather than through giving formal public teachings. When accompanying Ngak’chang Rinpoche on teaching events, Khandro Déchen’s style is to make sporadic interjections rather than to give discourses – she prefers to speak personally with individuals rather than to address groups, and teaches primarily through ‘personality-display’. She is known for her mirror-transmission which can only be given by female Lamas of the Aro gTér lineage.

Khandro Déchen Tsédrüp Rolpa’i Yeshé is the living poetry of spacious wonderment and dynamic vastness. Simply to sit with her, to be in the vajra ambiance of her ease, is not only great joy but also the potency of mysterious transmission. In the sublime Vajrayana tradition the possibility inherent in the presence of the dakini is the richest form of blessing. I have sat at the feet of Khandro Déchen and count myself lucky to have had such a possibility. I have received transmission from Khandro Déchen and felt as if the whole history of inner and secret Tantra was vividly alive as space and liquid vibrancy pouring from some paradoxical dimension of immediacy and impossible distance. To watch the motion of her gÇod drum, to feel the dignity and power of her demeanour, to encounter the naked electricity of the four empowerments from her, both in formal transmission and casual moments, has, for me, been to enter, face to face, the living presence of the great female masters of Nyingma lineage history. So long as living women, nirmanakaya dakinis, like Khandro Déchen continue to offer their blessings, the lineage of the ancient teachings will survive without flaw.

She has recently completed the writing of a book with Ngak’chang Rinpoche on vajra-romance, entitled ‘Entering the Heart of the Sun and Moon’ (Aro Books, 2009). This book is a commentary on Aro Lingma’s Khandro Pawo Nyi-da Mélong Gyüd’ – the mirror which reflects the sun and moon of the khandros and pawos.