Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
He acted as a spiritual guide for thousands of students worldwide.
His father was Sera Khato Tulku, a lama in the Gelugpa sect. His mother was Dawa Drolma, who was widely considered to be an emanation of Tara and was from a Sakya family, and had a profound influence on her son's spiritual life.
By the time he was three years old, he was recognized as the incarnation of the previous Chagdud Tulku, and soon thereafter traveled to Temp'hel Gonpa, a monastery about two or three days by horseback from Tromtar. As he recounts in his autobiography, The Lord Of The Dance:
- For the next seven years, until I went into three year retreat at the age of eleven, my life would alternate between periods of strict discipline in which my every move would be under the surveillance of my tutors and interludes in which my suppressed energies would explode. Throughout, I had many visions, many clairvoyant experiences, many extraordinary dreams, and within these, I sometimes had glimpses of absolute open awareness.
After this retreat he received numerous teachings, empowerments, and oral transmissions, from various spiritual masters. One of them, Sechen Rabjam Rinpoche, told him that Tara meditation would be one of his major practices.
From Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche he received the Rinchen Terzod empowerments, and caught his first glimpse of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who was attending the empowerments. By 1946 he entered his second three year retreat, this time under the guidance of the Tromge Trungpa Rinpoche. Near the conclusion of this retreat, the death of Tromge Trungpa forced him to leave before its completion. He then returned to Chagdud Gompa in Nyagrong, and after staying there for a while, proceeded on a pilgrimage to Lhasa with an entourage of monks.
He then did an extended retreat at Samye, the monastery built by Guru Padmasambhava, and afterwards attended empowerments given by Dudjom Rinpoche, who would become a main teacher as well as a source of spiritual inspiration for him.
After this in 1957 he stayed for a year in Lhasa, Tibet, in the same household as Khenpo Dorje, whom he regarded as his root lama. Among his other teachers were Shechen Kongtrul, Tulku Arig and Dudjom Rinpoche.
During 1958, his last year in Tibet, Chagdud Tulku was advised to marry in order to have a companion and helper in the unsettled times to come. He later wed Karma Drolma, the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Kongpo. Later, in exile in India, they would have a son and a daughter, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche and Dawa Lhamo Tromge.
Following Tibet's invasion by China in 1959, Chagdud Tulku escaped along with Khenpo Dorje to India, after enduring hunger, and many close calls, where it looked like they would not make it out. His route took him through Padma Kod region of Tibet, and his party came out from there into the Naga land area of India.
In India Rinpoche lived in a number of Tibetan refugee resettlement camps ─ Kalimpong, Orissa, Dalhousie, Bir, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi. He practiced Tibetan medicine, and was much in demand as his fellow refugees had trouble coping with the heat, and subtropical diseases found in India.
The process of trying to get a visa went on for three years, and was ultimately unsuccessful.
In the fall of 1977 empowerment cycles were given in Kathmandu, Nepal by Dudjom Rinpoche in order to propagate the sacred lineages to a new generation. Chagdud Tulku decided to travel there in order to receive all the empowerments of the Dudjom treasures from Dudjom Rinpoche. Hundreds of tulkus, scholars, yogis and lay practitioners gathered at Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's monastery for these empowerments. About his experience he says this in his autobiography:
- During my stay in Nepal I received empowerments and oral transmissions for all the treasures he had discovered in this life and in his previous life as Dudjom Lingpa.
While attending them Chagdud Tulku met an older lama from Western Tibet, Lama Ladakh Nono, who was known for doing mirror divinations. He subsequently did a mirror divination for Chagdud and told him he should go to the West and benefit many people there by teaching the Dharma. He also predicted that a Western woman would come into his life and that this would be good.
Afterwards he invited her to lunch, and shortly after this he gave her some teachings. A month or so later he accepted her offer to serve as his attendant in retreat after the empowerments. This retreat lasted for several months, after which Dudjom Rinpoche among other things suggested Chagdud go to America to teach.
The early years of his teaching in the Americas was spent in Eugene, and Cottage Grove, Oregon. In 1983, at the request of his students, he established Chagdud Gonpa Foundation. He soon ordained his first lama, a Western woman named Inge Sandvoss, as Lama Yeshe Zangmo (in 1987).
Additionally in the time period of 1980 through 1987 he traveled widely and gave many teachings, accompanied by his interpreter, Tsering Everest. He invited many other Lamas such as Dudjom Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and Kyabje Penor Rinpoche to Oregon where they bestowed many empowerments and teachings. He also helped set up Padma Publications which eventually published his two books: The Lord of the Dance, and Gates to Buddhist Practice.
With the assistance of Richard Baron, Padma Publications also began the monumental task of translating Longchenpa's Seven Treasuries from Tibetan into English, three volumes of which have been published to date.
In 1987 he returned to Tibet for the first time since 1959. He traveled to Kham, visiting the three monasteries of his youth, and actually bestowed empowerments to the monastic staff there. His son, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche, traveled with him to Tibet and the next year immigrated to the United States, entering a three-year retreat a few months after his arrival. Then in 1988, after land was acquired in the Trinity Alps of Northern California, the main seat of Chagdud Gonpa Foundation was created there as Rigdzin Ling.
In 1992 he received an invitation to teach in Brazil and he would become a pioneer insofar as spreading the Dharma in South America. Throughout the 1990s he maintained an extensive teaching schedule, put some of his senior students into three year retreats, and helped to establish many Chagdud Gonpa centers throughout the Western Hemisphere. These include more than 38 Dharma centers under Chagdud Tulku's supervision and inspiration, in USA, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Switzerland and Australia. The best known are Rigdzin Ling in Junction City, California and Khadro Ling, his main center in Três Coroas, Brazil.
In all his teachings he was known for stressing pure motivation in doing spiritual practice. He once wrote, "In the course of my Buddhist training, I have received teachings on many philosophical topics and meditative methods. Of all teachings, I find none more important than pure motivation. If I had to leave only one legacy to my students, it would be the wisdom of pure motivation. If I were to be known by one title, it would be the 'motivation lama.
In 1995 he moved to Khadro Ling, in Río Grande do Sul, Brazil, and it became the main seat of his activities for the rest of his life. Before moving to Brazil, Chagdud Tulku enthroned Lama Drimed Norbu (Alwyn Fischel) one of his main Western students, head lama of the Chagdud Gonpa foundation and gave him authorization to teach the Great Perfection teachings.
In the next few years, he traveled in South America, giving teachings in Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, in addition to different parts of Brazil. He also continued to travel to his centers in the United States, and made frequent visits to Nepal, a return to Chagdud Gompa in eastern Tibet and a visit to mainland China.
During this same time period, in addition to leading Drubchens and month long Dzogchen retreats, he also trained his students in the sacred arts of sculpture and painting, as well as ritual dance, chanting, and music.
In July 1998, the empowerments of the Taksham Treasures were bestowed by Terton Namkhai Drimed in the still incomplete temple. This temple was followed by an enormous prayer wheel project, perhaps the largest in the Western Hemisphere, then eight magnificent stupas, and a monumental statue of Akshobhya Buddha. In the same period, in Parping, Nepal, Rinpoche built a new retreat center where eight people began training according to the Kat'hog tradition under Kyabje Getse Tulku.
While Chagdud Rinpoche kept up a tremendous amount of Dharmic activity, in the last few years of his life he was somewhat slowed down by diabetes, and in 1997, he entered a clinic and was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. In the last year of his life Rinpoche's body began to hinder his outer activities. He tired more easily, and travel became difficult. In 2002, he cancelled a trip to the United States, which had been scheduled for October, and instead entered strict retreat.
In the last week of his life, he concluded this retreat on Tuesday, November 12, worked with a student artist to complete a statue of Amitabha, talked with many of his students, and led a training in phowa (transference of consciousness at the moment of death) for more than two hundred people. He continued teaching with great vigor until about 9 pm on Saturday night November 16. Then on Sunday morning of the 17th, at about 4:15 a.m., Brazilian daylight time, he suffered massive heart failure while sitting up in bed.
According to his son, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche then remained in a state of meditation for almost six full days. The ability to remain in meditation after the breath stops is known as (t'hug dam).
- After his last breath, my father remained in a state of meditation for almost six full days that prevented the usual deterioration of his body. The ability to remain in a state of meditation after the breath stops is well known among great Tibetan masters, but circumstances have rarely allowed it to occur in the West.
- Until the sixth day, Friday, November 22rd, Rinpoche showed no physical signs that his meditation had ended. In the interim we were in constant consultation with a lawyer and other officials about local customs and regulations.
Friday midday, his meditation ended and his mind separated from his body. Within hours, his appearance changed. He took on the signs typical of those occurring within the first 24 hours of death.
Afterwards his ku dun (the physical body) was flown to Kathmandu, Nepal, and then to the retreat center in Parping. During the forty-nine days that followed, Getse Tulku Rinpoche and Jigme Tromge Rinpoche led ceremonies in Parping, to purify inauspicious circumstances to Rinpoche's rebirth and to generate great merit through offerings and practice.
A year later on the full moon of December 8, 2003, Rinpoche's cremation was held on Jigme Rinpoche's land in Parping, with Kyabje Mogtza Rinpoche, one of the highest lamas of Kat'hog Gonpa, serving as Vajra Master.
At Brazil Gonpa the project of Padmasambhava's Pureland has been realized, the Consecration having taken place in the meantime. To build a replica of Zangdog Palri was Chagdud Rinpoche’s last wish and great project before he died in 2002.
Chagdud Rinpoche made it a point to not only ordain many western lineage holders and lamas, but to surround himself with powerful female practitioners. Over half of the 30 some-odd westerners he has ordained as lamas have been women..." The first lama whom he had ordained as Lama Yeshe Zangmo was a Western woman named Inge Sandvoss.
As a "true Dzogchen master" he authorized at least one western teacher to teach Dzogchen, Lama Drimed - there may be more. In September 2010, Lama Drimed offered his resignation to the Board of Directors of Chagdud Gonpa Foundation from his positions as Spiritual Director and President of the Foundation, while remaining an ordained lama with authorization to teach the Great Perfection.
- Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (1993). Gates to Buddhist Practice: Essential Teachings of a Tibetan Master. Padma Publishing.
- Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (2000). Life In Relation To Death. Padma Publishing, 2nd edition.
- Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (1992). Lord of the Dance: Autobiography of a Tibetan Lama. Padma Publishing.