Biographies: Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) was born of a noble family in Derge, in far eastern Tibet. When still in his mother's womb, the family went to visit the renowned Lama Mipham Namgyal Rinpoche. The saintly Mipham Rinpoche not only perceived, without being told, that the mother was pregnant, but also announced that the child would be a boy. Mipham Rinpoche, using his great clairvoyance, knew without question that the boy to be born was the reincarnation of a renowned, enlightened Tibetan master known as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
Later, when the child was born, the family went a second time to see Mipham Rinpoche. On that occasion it is said that Mipham Namgyal promised the little baby as follows: "Throughout all your future lives, I vow to assist you!" He then named the child Tashi Paljor.
Lama Mipham did not live long enough to see Tashi Paljor develop into a young boy, but he left instructions with some of his leading disciples concerning how the child was to be guided and trained.
When Tashi Paljor was a boy of seven he was publicly recognized as the reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo by Sechen Gyaltsab, a very great Lama and a leading disciple of Mipham Namgyal Rinpoche. Since Tashi Paljor was a member of the Dilgo family, he came to be known as the Dilgo Khyentse.
Sechen Gyaltsap then gave Tashi Paljor, the Dilgo Khyentse, the ritual vajra, bell and the seal that had personally belonged to Mipham Rinpoche, and which Mipham had himself received at an earlier date from his personal guru Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. All this occurred in the high lands of Tibet, at the beginning of this century.
Along with his root guru Sechen Gyaltsap, Dilgo Khyentse had many great teachers. At Palpung monastery he studied under the eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche. He quickly learnt the basic techniques of meditation: Calm-abiding (shamatha) and Penetrative-insight (vipasyana). Then, by studying under several Ka'gyu and Sakya Masters, Dilgo Khyentse broadened his understanding of meditation by integrating into his practice traditional levels of wisdom.
At Kyangma Ri-tro he became the disciple of Khenpo Tubga, from whom he recieved full instruction on the ancient Guhyagarbha Tantra and its various commentaries. Then during three months of hard spiritual discipline at the Dingkok Retreat Center he completed what are known as the Preliminary Practices (ngon-dro), so as to enter into the experience of the tantra in the true sense. Consisting of a series of spiritual exercises, the Preliminary Practices are the foundation work that leads one into the path of Supreme Yoga Tantra.
During all the time that he was learning to train his mind through meditation, and while expanding his knowledge of the Dharma in general and of tantra specifically, Dilgo Khyentse also attended a full schooling. These school lessons he received from various tutors.
As he matured in his spiritual development, he involved himself in the practice of "nerves and energy" (Skt: nadi-vayu, Tib: tsa-lung) and what in the West is generally called the'raising of Kundalini' (Skt: Candali, Tib: Tu-mo). To complete these powerful practices he lived in a cave for many years, clad only in the thinnest of white cotton robes. His seat was an old bear-skin.
When performing spiritual practice, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche developed such inner heat that even the coldest weather could not affect him. Where others would have died from exposure, the ascetic Khyentse Rinpoche went naked in the deep snow and ice.
Rinpoche spent years in retreat. His wife records that all night long Rinpoche would remain seated in meditation. "Rinpoche would never lie down at night," she said. "he slept sitting up straight in his wooden meditation box." He would begin his meditation session each evening after supper and continue uninterrupted until near noon the next day. Then, after eating and resting for about an hour, he would right away begin another session of practice, and not see anyone until evening. This was his strict retreat schedule, which he maintained year after year, even in the midst of married life.
Dilgo Khyentse's wife also tells us that he was an avid reader during these early years. His retreat hut was so small that books would have to be piled up on the porch. Rinpoche feasted on these ancient texts for many years, while also putting into practice the sacred teachings contained in their pages.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was a terton, a Tibetan term for someone able to reveal hidden wisdom-texts and materialize sacred objects, or in other words, what the Tibetan people call spiritual treasure. Since he was considered to be such a terton, his Gurus and meditation teachers decided that it was essential for him to be married. This is why Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche did not follow the practice of his forebears, men like Sechen Gyaltsap and Mipham Namgyal, who were all celibate monks.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and his wife remained passionately in love throughout their lives. Theirs is a story of human awakening coupled with mutual love. It is a very moving story for many of us in the West, who in our deep appreciation for romantic love, naturally tend to prefer the married life over that of the monk or nun.
When the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet, which they did in the late 1950s, Dilgo Khyentse Rirnpoche was one of those lamas who had to flee with his noble family into exile, over the border into neighbouring Bhutan. From Bhutan he managed to get to Sikkhim, but along the route lost all of his possessions, including all his precious books. For many years, in consequence, Dilgo Khyentse lived in extreme poverty and misery as a refugee in Kalimpong. This situation did not get better until he made a spiritual pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment. After that pilgrimage life for him and his family seemed to noticeably improve.
During this period of abject poverty, very much alone and cut off from his homeland, Dilgo Khyentse was forced to face all the weaknesses of human nature. He never lost faith. Through every struggle, every loss, he continued to battle with himself in search of the Truth. With every ounce of energy in him, he waged unceasing war against the defilements, against his own negative emotions, in an effort to acquire that highest of all conditions: a truly pure heart.
Dilgo Khyentse Rirnpoche became the respected Spiritual Master for the royal family of Bhutan. What is more, as his fame as a living saint grew amongst the Tibetan community in exile, even His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, began to look to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche for instruction and guidance. With time Rinpoche became one of the Dalai Lama's teachers, and a friend. Thus gradually a great monastery and training center grew up around him in Nepal. Now, after his death, this monastery remains an eternal monument to his greatness.
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was eventually viewed by the Tibetan people, and by his many disciples, including the Dalai Lama, as a true living Buddha, a fully awakened human being. He was given the highest respect and even awed worship by the Tibetan people in his own lifetime; a veneration that continues now that his reincarnation has been found. He has been without question the greatest living Tibetan exemplar of the Way of Enlightenment in our generation.
Seeing Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in meditation, on his meditation seat, was an amazing experience. He had what seemed a huge, massive body, almost naked—like a big bear—and seemed to radiate a most tangible warmth and love imaginable. His smile, and the look in his soft brown eyes, was such as to melt the coldest of hearts. He was goodness incarnate.
My last memory of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is of him seated on his throne in the great Sechen Monastery of Nepal; his large, warm hand is upon my head, bestowing his profound blessing. I cannot adequately describe in words the overwhelming sense of kindness, and the amazing impersonal radiance of his great love, that seemed to come with that gesture.
A little while later Khyentse Rinpoche went to Bhutan, where he began to show signs of illness, and was for several days quite unable to eat or drink. Then, four days before passing away, he wrote on a slip of paper, "I shall go on the nineteenth." Sure enough, the very next day (the nineteenth on the Tibetan calendar) near nightfall, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche propped himself upright with help from two of his attendants and entered meditation. In the early hours of the morning his breathing ceased as he passed over into Nirvana.
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