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Biographies: The Lineage of Tinley Gyamtso Lama,
the Bardok Chusang Rinpoche

Bardok Chusang Rinpoche with H.H. the Dalai LamaIn the late seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth century, the active "Practice Tradition" of the yogis and yoginis of Tibet seemed to be gradually dying out, due to a lack of disciples seriously motivated by a vocation for real meditation.

Fortunately, in the 18th century, the living practice tradition was given a fresh impetus by two exceptionally wise and holy Lamas, Tai Situ Chokyi Jung-ne of the Karma-Kagyu school and Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu of Ka'thog monastery belonging to the Nyingma school. The efforts of these spiritual leaders to keep alive the contemplative instruction lineage of the yogins of Tibet initiated a mystical renaissance.

An important aspect of the revival fostered by this union of Kagyu and Nyingma masters was a wish to go beyond the limited boundaries of isolated schools of practice. This effort culminated in the nonsectarian (Tib: ris-med, pronounced Ri-me) movement founded especially by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who is known as "the Great", and Paltrul Rinpoche, Mipham Namgyal Rinpoche, Khontrul Lodroi Taye, Kunzang Palden Rinpoche, along with others, all of whom looked to His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa as their precious wish-bestowing jewel. The Rimé or "nonsectarian" movement was largely a reform movement, and an attempt to get back to a contemplative yoga practice as the basis for attaining self-realization. The movement was chiefly centered in far eastern Tibet.

A leading yogi who came out of the eastern revival was the now famous Lama Shakyasri, a great Yogi and disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. Shakyasri's chief disciple was Tipun. And Tipun was the root master of our beloved Lama, the Venerable Bardok Chusang Rinpoche, who resides in Boudhanath, Nepal.

Lama ShakyasriTipun is the title of Ngawang Pema Chögyal, who was born in 1877 at Chem-re, Ladakh. At an early age Pema Chögyal was placed in Trakthog Gompa, a Nyingmapa institution, where he completed his early education by the time he was fifteen. This brilliant boy then set forth on a pilgrimage, to travel to various sites throughout Tibet. His journeying eventually brought him to the region of Tsari, where he settled down for a considerable period of time.

It was while he was a serving a Lama in Tsari that Pema Chögyal first began to hear about the venerable Ka'gyu-Nyingma master Shakyasri. Consequently, when the old Lama for whom he was working passed away, he decided that he must go in search of Shakyasri and beg the master to accept him as a disciple. He knew that Shakyasri lived in Kham, towards the east, where the Rimé movement had its centre. So he set forth by foot on a long journey, which was both hazardous and fraught with danger of every kind. Kham at this time was both rugged and filled with marauding bandits. More over, there was a local war going on. Nevertheless, Ngawang Pema Chögyal persisted in his search. Such is the path of yoga. And as it is said, when the disciple is ready then the master will appear. Pema Chögyal eventually found Shakyasri. He also managed to convince Shakyasri to return with him to Tsari.

In Tsari the wisdom-master Shakyasri acquired a great number of disciples. His fame had preceded him. Soon people flocked to him, to receive his blessing or to listen to his public teachings. Those seeking the Path of Liberation also came to him, and in him they found an authentic Master who could teach them the secret way of mystical yoga. There grew up around Shakyasri a number of thriving communities of saints.

So large was the number of disciples, that Shakyasri couldn't instruct all of them effectively. So he appointed teaching assistants. The foremost of these was Ngawang Pema Chögyal, and it was by virtue of his role as a teaching assistant that he acquired the title "Tipun" (Tib: khrid-pon, instructor of the teachings) - a name by which he would ever after be known.

When Shakyasri passed away, Tipun became chief of his master's establishment. This religious establishment was now an extensive organization, and the demands upon Tipun's time and energy were enormous. Indeed, lesser men would at this point have  been resigned to a mere administrative role for the rest of their lives. But Tipun quickly came to see that organizational duties, and giving public talks, were only destroying the whole purpose of Shakyasri's original aim, which was to revive and promote "actual practice". In other words, the operation of running the organization was quickly superseding the purpose for which the organization had been founded. So Tipun decided to give the organization up.

TipunTipun left and went into retreat. He moved to Tsib-ri, in the county of Dingri, and there found an isolated cave in the mountains, which he made his own. He remained there, in that cave hermitage, for the next three years, with neither attendant nor patronage. No one even knew where he had disappeared to. He simply went away, and started to devote himself to genuine meditation practice, living on the most meager supplies.

Some three years later he moved to La-chi, which is another isolated spot. Milarepa had lived and meditated for many years in La-chi. Now, Tipun lived there like a second Milarepa, imbibing the mystical ambrosia of true Yoga.

Gradually word got out as to where Tipun was residing. It was apparent, now, that he was indeed a great saint, and so individual disciples began to appear, begging him to guide them on the spiritual Path. Although pressed by many to teach—that is, to come out and give public teachings and empowerments—Tipun refused to deviate from his set course. If someone wanted to learn from him, they had to live the life of practice with him. He had no interest in becoming a famous Lama, nor was he tempted to give public Dharma-talks to large gatherings. Tipun adamantly remained true to his commitment to the old Ka'gyu-Nyingma tradition of practice.

Tipun resided far out in the wilderness. On the mountain slopes, in the little valleys, all around where he lived, there sprouted up small encampments of genuine yoginis and yogis. Most of these took vows, and became Buddhist monks and nuns. Individuals financed their ability to live in these small hermitages as best they could. It was certainly a hard life.

Bardok Chusang Rinpoche as a young manOver time many high Lamas of Tibet, many renowned great Tulkus, went to Tipun to live the life under his example and guidance. These high Lamas had to live just as the regular disciples did. However, thanks to their presence, Tipun was able to inquire about and gradually gather a vast library of practice texts. Down through the centuries, indeed through the millennia, yogis have recorded their experiences. They have compiled instruction booklets, describing the practical methods of meditation, based on personal experience. The books they wrote were not philosophical dissertations, nor theoretical or theological treatises. The "practice texts" of the yogis and yoginis of the Himalayas were carefully recorded accounts of their experiments and investigations into the nature of the human mind. These text have become a priceless treasure, in which several thousand years of technical yogic knowledge has been gathered. Most of this knowledge deals directly with the nature of the mind, and the path to Enlightenment. Other aspects of knowledge include the methods to awaken the psychic powers inherent in the human being. Some describe "out of the body" experiences to distant world-systems, or particular yogic visions and investigations. Tipun made a concerted effort to have these "practice texts" gathered from all over Tibet and India. This became the central library of the movement.

Tipun's movement was equal for women and men. A group of some twenty women, in training as yoginis, occupied one hermitage. Eight women, taking the vows of nuns, came together and quickly formed another hermitage. These women built their own huts, using local stone and plaster, and organized their food together, so that they could commit themselves to undistracted Yoga practice for the rest of their lives. Another group of thirteen women formed yet another hermitage on a neighboring mountain.

In all, well over a hundred men and women trained in the life of the spirit under Tipun's leadership. And Tipun himself remained true to his own practice.

Tipun lived to the grand old age of 81. When he died, there was said to be many signs that a fully accomplished yogi had passed from this world into eternal Nirvana. When an assembly of mourning disciples gathered to pray at his funeral, a miraculous rain of flowers fell out of the clear sky upon them.

The Venerable Bardok Chusang Rinpoche
Palden Mipham Tsuthop Tinley Gyamtso Lama

Bardok Chusang RinpocheVenerable Bardok Chusang Rinpoche was born in the county of Dingri (Tibet) to a family of nomads. At an early age he was discovered by a select party of Lamas who were searching for the reincarnation of their former Abbot. Through meditation, they had had a number of visions and indications, informing them to look for the rebirth of the Abbot of their monastery in the region of Bardok, which is in the county of Dingri, not far from Mt. Everest. When they found the child, they put him to the test. A number of objects were placed in front of the boy and he was expected to pick out just those items which had been his in a previous life: a rosary, a particular cup, some clothing. Rinpoche knew at once which were "his" possessions, and which were not. He also knew precisely what the Lamas were doing, and told them in detail about his former monastery.

Bardok Chusang Rinpoche is recognized as the incarnation of an eleventh century Indian yogi-saint named Pa Dampa Sangye, the founder of a system of spiritual practice known as Chöd.

As a child at the monastery he was extensively educated and became a learned scholar. He always had a yearning, however, for the Path of the Yogin. Thus, once he was old enough to do so, he became the disciple of Tipun and spent many years in meditative retreat in the mountains. Rinpoche has performed the traditional three year retreat several times. He is one of the most experienced Yogis of Tibet alive today.

In 1950 and through the cultural revolution of the 1960's, life in Tibet and in the county of Dingri was devastated.

During the persecution, Chusang Rinpoche managed to escape into Nepal. Dingri, fortunately, is not far from the border. Rinpoche, like other refugees who succeeded in getting out, was lucky. He started a new life in Kathmandu. And there he lives to the present day.

Chusang Monastery before the desctruction of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.Like his root Guru, Tipun, Chusang Rinpoche refuses to teach. He gives no public lectures. He speaks scathingly of Lamas who make a living from selling the Dharma or empowerments in exchange for money and prestige in the West. He lives a very quiet life, devoted to practice. And those who do learn from him, do so by following his example.

Late in life Rinpoche married. One of his sons is the head Lama of a Gelugpa monastery in the Kathmandu valley, highly honored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Another son is a fully trained Tibetan medical doctor. One daughter has chosen the way of the nun and when not spending her time in prayer, gives aid to her aging father.

Rinpoche possesses a deep humility. He likes to honor others but prefers to be unconsidered himself. He likes to greet others, before being greeted. He takes no high role, but assumes the attitude of a modest person. He has a genuine respect for people of spiritual rank or education, but no feeling of the same towards himself. He is profoundly aware of the transience of worldly position, wealth or even scholarship. He loves all sentient beings, and his love for the Buddha, for all the cosmic Buddhas and for humanity itself, has made him value and respect every person.

Rinpoche is our living example of the practice lived by a married yogi in the world today.

Dharma Fellowship and the Chöd Lineage

Some twenty or more years ago the Venerable Bardok Chusang Rinpoche placed into the hands of the western Tulku Kunzang Palden the woodblock text of the Ka'dro Nyingtig tradition of Chöd. This initiated a long odyssey not only to translate the text, but to discover a way to complete the practice in English without deviating from the pure, rich sounds of the Tibetan melody.

Chusang Monastery before the desctruction of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.Chöd is an ancient shamanic ritual, during which the adept surrenders himself out of compassion for all living beings. It involves a beautiful, sonorous yogic dance, using hand drum and bell. Using the haunting tones of a song that captures the sense of the great Himalayan range, high above the tree line, the yogini and yogi transport themselves to a transcendental state, beyond the limits of the body, where worship takes on the form of unspeakable bliss.

Recently Rinpoche has expressed his approval of our English performance of this ancient, beautiful musical rite. Previously we students had practiced Chöd in Tibetan. "Before, you were as if blind," said Rinpoche. "but now that you can perform it in English, now it is as if you can finally see!"

Our transmission (Tib: rlung) of Chöd practice comes down from Princess Yeshe Tsogyal to Jigme Lingpa, through Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, through Shakyasri, through Tipun, through Bardok Chusang Rinpoche, to the members of the Karmapa's Dharma Fellowship. The inner blessing that passes with this blessed female lineage of Chöd is therefore very special indeed. We are all blessed by it. And our Chöd practice is therefore quite extraordinary.

Chusang Rinpoche is now elderly, therefore it is up to us to carry on his transmission and keep these precious teachings alive. It is with this very thought in mind that we reach out, looking eagerly towards those few younger men and women who, aspiring towards the Spiritual Path, come with the desire to learn and practice in this our ancient unique Yoga tradition.


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