Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche
Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche (1924-2011), the teacher whose great kindness we remember with so much gratitude, was one of the last great masters to have completed a truly extensive study, training and practice of the Tibetan (Buddhist tradition within the extraordinary cultural environment of Tibet before the invasion by the Chinese communist régime. He was the close disciple of many of the greatest masters of his time including Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Later he was himself to become a respected teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself. He was the holder of an important monastic lineage as well as of many precious instructions and transmissions.
Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, Ngawang Chökyi Lodro, was the incarnation of Zhadeu Trulshik of Dzarong. He was an emanation of the Bodhisattvas Vajrapani and Manjushri and since the time of the Buddha, he manifested a succession of births for the benefit of beings.
In India, he was the Buddha’s own disciple Ananda; the great master Aryadeva; and the great Abbot Shantarakshita. In Nepal, he was Phamthingpa Vāgiśvarakīrti (Ngawang Drakpa).
In Tibet, he was Thönmi Sambhota, the minister of King Songtsen Gampo and author of the first texts on Tibetan grammar. He was also the great translator Vairotsana; he was Milarepa’s close disciple Rechungpa; Melong Dorje; the omniscient Longchenpa; the great siddha Lekyi Dorje of Lhodrak; and Zhadeu Trulshik Kunga Rinchen.
These are just a few among Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche’s previous lives, more of whom are mentioned in the prayer to his successive rebirths—but in truth, the full scope of an enlightened being’s activities is unfathomable even to great bodhisattvas, let alone to ordinary people like us.
Trulshik Rinpoche’s father, Tenzin Chödar, traced his ancestry back a member of the Indian Licchavi clan who is said to have been carried to Latö in Tibet on the back of Palden Lhamo in the guise of a bear. His mother Jamyang Wangmo, was a descendent of Önre Dharma Senge, the nephew of Tsangpa Gyarepa the founder of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition. His parents still lived in Önre’s house in the district of Nakartse, near Yamdrok Taklung in lower Tsang. And it was in Önre’s meditation cave on the hill above the family house that Trulshik Rinpoche was born, amid many miraculous signs, on the tenth day of the ninth month of the Year of the Wood Mouse (6 November, 1924).
Once, when Rinpoche was four years old, he was taken to visit Dzatrul Rinpoche, Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, who had been a close disciple of the previous Trulshik Rinpoche. While he was there, many memories of his previous life arose in Trulzhik Rinpoche’s mind and he recounted them at length to Dzatrul Rinpoche, who had witnessed the events with his own eyes. Convinced that the young boy was the incarnation of his teacher, Dzatrul Rinpoche recognized and enthroned him, and subsequently guided him as his root teacher, transmitting to him all the teachings of his predecessor.
Trulshik Rinpoche studied extensively at the monastery of Mindröl Ling, a great centre of learning of the Nyingma Tradition. It was there that he received full monastic ordination according to the Vinaya lineage of Lachen Gongpa Rabsel, of which he was to become one of the principal holders. Trulshik Rinpoche was renowned for the purity of his monastic discipline.
It was at Mindröl Ling also that he studied the teachings of the sutra and tantra vehicles, as well as various other branches of learning. In all, Trulshik Rinpoche received teachings from more than thirty important teachers. These included Minling Dodzin Rinpoche, and the famous woman lama Jetsün Shuksep Rinpoche. Rinpoche also received teachings from several masters of the Geluk Tradition. These included Lhundrup Tsöndru Rinpoche of Ganden, Phurchok Jamgön Rinpoche and Gendun Tashi Rinpoche of Drepung, the Ganden throne-holder Ling Rinpoche, the Assistant Tutor Serkong Rinpoche and from the present Dalai Lama himself. In the Sakya Tradition, Trulshik Rinpoche received teachings from Sakya Drolma Podrang Rinpoche, Phuntsok Podrang Dakchen Rinpoche, Luding Khenchen Jamyang Tenpa’i Nyima Rinpoche, and especially from the great Rimé master Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodro.
All these important teachings were not mere studied but also put into practice. Trulshik Rinpoche completed many strict three-year retreats and spent all his available time in study and practice. It is computed that Rinpoche spent as much as sixty years of his life in closed retreat.
Following the instructions of Dzatrul Rinpoche, Trulshik Rinpoche became the Abbot of the monastery of Dzarong Dongak Chöling where he upheld and propagated the Buddhist teachings. In particular, every year—first at Dongak Chöling and later in Thubten Chöling, his monastery in Nepal—Rinpoche guided his disciples (monks, nuns, and laypeople) through a seasonal practice of the preliminaries of the Cycle of the Great Compassionate One (Jowo Thugje Chenpo), the Five Points of the Great Northern Treasure, and the practice of Dzatrul Rinpoche’s arrangement of Gyalse Thogme’s Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas.
Following the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, Trulshik Rinpoche left Tibet and established a monastery in the isolated Solu Khumbu region of Nepal, not far from Mount Everest. Here he established his principal seat as the head of a large and flourishing community of monks, nuns and lay practitioners.
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
In 1962 in Kalimpong, at an event that he himself sponsored, Trulshik Rinpoche received from Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche the empowerments, reading transmissions and explanations of the entire Nyingma Kahma. It was on this occasion that he first met Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and received from him, as a preliminary connection, a commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Letter to a Friend. Khyentse Rinpoche then conferred on him his own profound treasure cycle, the Nyakluk Phurba. From that moment onwards, Trulshik Rinpoche regarded Khyentse Rinpoche as his principal teacher, and in addition to receiving teachings from him, he offered to Khyentse Rinpoche some of the rare teachings of which he himself was the holder. This mutual relationship of teacher and disciple was very extraordinary, and teachings passed between them like the contents of one vessel poured into another.Trulshik Rinpoche received a vast range of teachings form Khyentse Rinpoche, including the complete Dam-ngak Dzö and other important collections. He eventually became the holder of all Khyentse Rinpoche’s teachings; and as one of his closest and most senior disciples, he was responsible for indentifying and enthroning his incarnation.
His Holiness the Dalai-Lama
For a number of years before his parinirvāna, Khyentse Rinpoche had been transmitting to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a large collection of teachings from the Nyingma tradition, including the principal texts of the Maha, Anu, and Ati sections of the inner tantras. The honour of completing the transmission of these teachings, following the death of Khyentse Rinpoche, fell to Trulshik Rinpoche. He offered His Holiness the empowerments and teachings of the Drupthap Döjo’i Pumzang compiled by Minling Terchen Rinpoche (who had transmitted the teachings of the Nyingma Tradition to the great fifth Dalai Lama). This was followed by the major writings of Longchen Rabjam, such as the Ngalso Khorsum, the Seven Treasures, and the Nyingtik Yabzhi. To these teachings of the Nyingma Tradition, were added important teachings of the Geluk Tradition of which Trulshik Rinpoche was the sole holder.
The trip in Nepal
Trulshik Rinpoche was also the teacher of many other great masters, including His Holiness Sakya Trizin. To Gyalwang Drukpa, he transmitted the Rinchen Terdzö at Thubten Chöling. And to Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche and Dudjom Yangsi Rinpoche, as well as to many lineage-holders of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, he bestowed several major cycles of teachings at Shechen Monastery in Nepal. These included the Damngak Dzö, the Nyingma Kahma, and the Nyingtik Yabzhi.
Trulshik Rinpoche devoted all this time and energy to the preservation and promotion of the Buddhist teachings and practice. In his later years, he travelled all over the world and many lamas of all traditions regarded him as a unique reference point, revered for his vast learning, his integrity, his disarming simplicity, and above all his unequaled realization and profound spiritual experience.
Kyabje Rinpoche visited several countries in Asia, including Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia. He also travelled to the West, visiting the USA and numerous countries in Europe including Spain, Portugal, England, Finland, Belgium and Holland. Most especially, he visited France on several occasions over many years and took all the students of Chanteloube under his care, instructing the fortunate disciples in the three-year retreats, and the parallel retreat groups, as well as large public gatherings. At La Sonnerie, he gave the entire Drupthap Kundu, as well as many empowerments from the discovered treasures of Kangyur Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche. On one occasion when he was giving the empowerment of Kangyur Rinpoche’s treasure, the Shower of Blessings (tshig bdun bla sgrub), which he himself had received from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he remarked that he felt that he had received the empowerment directly from Kangyur Rinpoche himself. For he said that, when (during the transmission of the Nyingma Kahma given by Dudjom Rinpoche in Kalimpong) he first met Kangyur Rinpoche and heard his voice, he had received the blessings of his body, speech, and mind. And their minds had mingled.
Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche’s enlightened activities continued unabated well into his eighties. He continued to work for the benefit of the Dharma and beings with an energy and enthusiasm that belied his age. Even in his final years and despite his gradually failing health, he continued to instruct disciples both in Asia and in Europe, spending time also in his monastery at Thubten Chöling with his large community of monks, nuns, and retreatants.
Trulshik Rinpoche also undertook the construction of a new monastery: Dzarong Mindrol Thubten Dongal Chöling above Sitapaila in the hills above Kathmandu. He personally supervised the building and himself conducted the important ceremonies at every stage of the construction. These included the consecration of the ground, the positioning of consecrated vases, images, mantras and yantras within the pillars and beams of the main temple and so on. He declared on several occasions that the reason for the construction of the monastery was to remove obstaces in the world in general and especially for the people throughout the Himalayan region. Hence the choice of this particular site, which has a view of the three important stupas of the Kathmandu Valley: Swayambhūnāth, Namo Buddha, and Boudhanāth.
The hill on which the monastery is located and which overlooks the whole valley is associated with the Buddha Vairochana; the nearby hill of Swayambhūnāth is associated with the Buddha Vajrasattva; the hill on which the Tergar monastery is placed is associated with the Buddha Ratnasambhava; the hill behind the monastery is associated with Buddha Amitabha; and the high, forested hill of Nāgārjuna to the north is associated with Amogasiddhi. In other words the new monastery is in the centre of the mandala of the five Dhyani Buddhas.
It was here, in his residence of Phakma’i Gatsal, the “Garden of Noble Tara”, just above the monastery, that on September 2, 2011 that Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche passed away peacefully at the age of 87.
Anyone who makes a connection with this great teacher, whether they met him physically or not, will be guided by him until enlightenment. It is therefore of the utmost importance to pray to him and to merge one’s minds with his.
Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche is an enlightened being who manifested in this world in order to guide us until our mind become one with his enlightened mind.
On many occasions, Trulshik Rinpoche said that his own personal practice was based upon the well-known verse of Shantideva :
As long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.
Since this was Kyabje Rinpoche’s constant aspiration, we can be confident that he will return swiftly to continue his enlightened activity for the benefit of all beings.
This account is based on a biography of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche composed by his nephew and chief attendant, Kusho Ngawang Tsephel, adapted and updated by Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche and Pema Wangyal Rinpoche in September 2011. Translated and edited by the Padmakara Translation Group.