… to appreciate is to be continually delighted
Ngak’chang Rinpoche (sNgags ’chang chos dByings o rGyan rTogs lDan rin po che) was born in Hannover, Germany in 1952 of an English father and German mother. His maternal grandmother was Clara Schubert (niece of the wife of the composer Franz Schubert).
His childhood was spent in the South of England. At the age of eleven, he developed an interest in Vajrayana Buddhism through a book of Tibetan art and culture he discovered in the school library. He went on to become an outstanding art student (gaining a first class honours degree and teaching qualification) with a particular interest in thangka painting – Vajrayana awareness-imagery.
In the early 1970s he travelled to the Himalayas of India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Ladakh. Ngak’chang Rinpoche sought teachings in a non-sectarian manner from Lamas from all schools. In particular he received teachings from many of the most revered teachers of the Nyingma school. His five main Lamas are Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche, Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, Khordong gTértrül Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, Lama Khamtrül Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche. He also studied with Könchog Rinpoche, the abbot of the Nyingma Gompa in Tso Pema. This was a time when it was still possible to meet and study intimately with many of the greatest living Vajrayana Buddhist teachers. Sadly, most of these Lamas are now deceased.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche has accomplished all the traditional practices and received all the necessary empowerments and transmissions of a Nyingma Lama. He completed four years of solitary retreat in caves and tsam-khangs in the Himalayas. He undertook many pilgrimages to the sacred places of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel and underwent considerable privation in the course of his travels. Since Ngak’chang Rinpoche did not come from a wealthy family he subsidised his lengthy sojourns in India and Nepal entirely through factory work and manual labour in Britain between his travels. During this period he spent as much time as he could studying and practising in the East – even though it meant living in extremely basic conditions often with little to eat.
With the encouragement of his Root Lamas to begin his third Lama ’khorlo (bLa ma ’khor lo – turning the wheel of teaching and empowerment), he returned to Britain in 1979. It was not clear to Ngak’chang Rinpoche how he should begin to teach as he had no connections in the British Isles in terms of Vajrayana – but adventitiously he was invited to teach at the Tibetan Centre in Raglan by a Western nun called Tsultrim Zangmo. Great interest was shown in this first evening talk and Ngak’chang Rinpoche was requested to return to give a full weekend of teaching. It was from that weekend that his first students emerged and from that point on a sangha was established. These students were Ngala Nor’dzin and Ngala ’ö-Dzin. It was here also that Ngak’chang Rinpoche met his Sang-yum, Khandro Déchen Tsédrüp Rolpa’i Yeshé.
In 1989, he was awarded a doctorate in Tibetan Tantric Psychology from the University of West Bengal (Shantiniketan) through one of his main teachers, the great gTértön and Speech Incarnation of Padmasambhava – Kyabjé Khordong gTérchen Tulku Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche.
Between 1979 and 1988 Ngak’chang Rinpoche made
several short visits to his Lamas in between working as a temporary
on-call truck driver. Of this Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
It has been extremely valuable to me to
have worked for a living in the areas where people have fewer choices.
Manual labour is not the most common background for those in the field of
conveying Vajrayana to Western people – and I appreciate the insight it
has given me into the prevalent human condition. I know what it is like to
endure night shifts, alternating three-shift work, and to come home tired
from work that is not vividly creative or fulfilling. I also know what it
is like to have the freedom of having no career and no comprehensible
direction other than Vajrayana. Khordong gTérchen Tulku Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin
Rinpoche once said to me that if I placed my trust entirely in the
teachings of the gTérmas I would always survive, and that thought has
sustained me though every difficulty. Having said that, I regard myself as
having had a relatively easy life in comparison to what is possible. If
any of this experience has value – I would say that it is ‘appreciation’ –
whatever I may lack as a Lama, I have learned that to appreciate is to be
Ngak’chang Rinpoche was recognised as the Aro Tulku (A ro sPrul sku), the incarnation of Aro Yeshé (a siddha from the first half of the twentieth century) by Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche. Aro Yeshé was the son of the extraordinary twentieth century female visionary Khyungchen Aro Lingma – who was herself the incarnation of Jomo Menmo. Jomo Menmo was in turn the incarnation of Ma-gÇig Labdrön – who was the incarnation of Yeshé Tsogyel (see Lineage Invocation of the Aro gTér).
Ngak’chang Rinpoche was then recognised as the incarnation of ’a-Shul Pema Legden by Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche. ’a-Shul Lama was a yogi, a visionary artist, gTér-scribe, and a spiritual son of the mahasiddha Khalden Lingpa (the prior incarnation of Zil-ngön Lingpa – Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche).
In this life Ngak’chang Rinpoche, together with Khandro Déchen ( A ye sPrul sKu mKha’ ’gro bDe chen tshe grub rol pa’i ye shes), are the Mind Lineage Holders of the Aro gTér – the Pure Vision gTérma Cycle of Khyungchen Aro Lingma, received by her directly from Yeshé Tsogyel (the enlightened consort of the Tantric Buddha Padmasambhava).
Ngak’chang Rinpoche is the author of:
Rainbow of Liberated Energy (Element Books, 1986)
Journey into Vastness (Element Books, 1988)
Wearing the Body of Visions (Aro Books,1995)
Spectrum of Ecstasy (Aro Books, 1997; Shambhala Publications, 2003)
Roaring Silence (Shambhala Publications, 2002)
Entering the Heart of the Sun and Moon (Aro Books, 2009)
Rays of the Sun (Aro Books worldwide, 2010)
In the mid -1990s Ngak’chang Rinpoche gave several keynote presentations at international psychology conferences for the British Psychological Society, and the Association of Transpersonal Psychology in the USA. He has been a visiting lecturer at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California and has contributed articles to several books, journals, and magazines on the subject of Vajrayana Psychology. Since the turn of the century, however, he has retired from this area of endeavour to concentrate on giving private retreats for his personal students, training teachers, writing books, and composing practice materials. He nevertheless maintains a commitment to giving two public retreats a year in Britain and the USA. He also occasionally fulfils teaching requests from Buddhist organisations such as the Shambhala Centres – particularly in San Francisco.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche is a Vajrayana calligrapher, poet, thangka painter, multi-talented Vajrayana craftsman, exponent of Yogic Song, and Lama-dance. He and his Sang-yum Khandro Déchen are the spiritual directors of the Confederate Sanghas of Aro in Britain, North America, Europe, and Scandinavia. They have encouraged the founding of several other sanghas through their disciples They teach twice a year in the USA, in New York and California.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen are the parents of two children. Their son Düd’dül Dorje was born in 1996 and their daughter Künzang Tsodrön was born in 2003. Both children were named by Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen continue to travel to Nepal to visit Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel and receive the transmission of their three displays (the Dzogchen mode of bLa ma’i rNal ’byor: presence display, personality display, and life-circumstances display).
Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen make it a priority in their teaching activities – as a couple – to help students to view their relationships and family lives as spiritual practice. As representatives of a lineage founded by a woman, they are keen to help women become spiritual practitioners and teachers. To date Ngala Nor’dzin Pamo and Ngakma Shardröl Du-nyam Wangmo have undertaken teacher training and have emerged as Lamas with their own sanghas of apprentices.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche is known particularly for his presentation of Dzogchen sem-dé (rDzogs chen sems sDe) and the Khandro Pawo Nyi-da Mélong Gyüd (mKha’ ’gro dPa bo nyi zLa me long rGyud) – although he specialises in Dzogchen long-dé and Dzogchen men-ngag-dé with his personal students. Both Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen teach mainly within the ethos of Dzogchen and enjoy cordial informal teaching scenarios with their apprentices in Britain and the USA.