Sunday, October 25, 2009

Terton Kunzang Dechen Lingpa: A Moving Account

The other day, we published a post about Terton Kunzang Dechen Lingpa, and his son, Dungse Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche. This was illustrated with a larger version of the photograph you see at left, and a number of people wrote in to say how much they enjoyed that photograph.

One reader, in particular, privately wrote what struck me as a  moving account of how that picture came to be taken. I have decided to publish his remarks here, albeit anonymously, because I do not want to embarrass him, or paint him with guilt by association with Black Tenpa of the Mojave. Nevertheless, those of you "in the know" will probably recognize this famous lotsawa by his writing style. I am told that the Mossad has a whole section devoted to writing style recognition, so if you don't figure out who this is, you can always call Tel Aviv and I am certain they'll be only too happy to drop whatever it is they are doing in order to assist you.

In all events, herewith our anonymous, famous lotsawa's comments. I am not ashamed to tell you that certain passages herein rather uncharacteristically caused me to shed tears:

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That photo was taken by Dr. Hershoff, Rinpoche's physician at the time, in a Dharma-patron's backyard in Woodstock New York in the summer of 2001. Thanks to the good doctor's quick-witted antics and endearingly broken Tibetan, Rinpoche was happy to assume whatever pose or mood was requested of him, so  the essence of the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava were captured on 35 mm film in the space of a half-hour or less.

Later when Rinpoche was relaxing in a lawn chair, he said to a few students gathered around him: "You don't realize this, but I am actually Guru Rinpoche and you are his twenty-five disciples. I have reached the stage of exhaustion of phenomena (cho nyi zepa). In truth there is for me no form, no sensation, no perception, no karmic formation, no consciousness, no form, no smell, no sense consciousness or object of sense consciousness and so forth; there is no self or other and no distinction of 'Buddhas' and 'sentient beings'; everything remains in the naturally perfect state of pure equality. From the depths of my heart I wish there were some way you could all be made to understand the truth in this, but you do not see it."

Then Rinpoche went silent and tears fell from his eyes.

Normally stories like this are not supposed to be shared publicly, but I thought it might provide additional inspiration if Tenpa's faithful words in praise of Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche and his son, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche, were corroborated.

In other circumstances Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche was extremely humble and would always introduce himself to new American audiences by declaring himself to be utterly devoid of qualities. Many times I heard him say that he never attended school and had not so much as a tutor to learn the alphabet. Orphaned at the age of five, he learned to read by looking over the shoulders of other children while they recited their lessons, or of lamas while they performed pujas.

By the blessing of Guru Rinpoche--whom Rinpoche beheld in visions many times even as young child due to his intense, overwhelming devotion--he not only learned to read and write, he became naturally realized without studying with a human teacher. Later, with the encouragement of his uncle who was a monastery abbot, he began to record Termas. In his late teens or early twenties, for several months Rinpoche did menial work at Mindroling in order to receive the Rinchen Terdzo empowerments from the previous Shechen Gyaltsab.

Still unsure of the validity of his Terma, he visited Dujom Rinpoche, presented his Ter and received confirmation of their authenticity. After receiving a few empowerments and brief instructions for practice from Dudjom Rinpoche, he went into retreat to practice them.

As I recall Rinpoche saying, though he wished to do so, he could not become a close disciple of a famous lama because he had no material wealth, no education, no social connections and no mundane skills to speak of. Rinpoche often said that the reason he drew many disciples to himself, even though he never intended to do so and "in spite of having no social status, no reputation and no qualities", was because of the "small glimmer" of bodhicitta and compassion that others could see, and found attractive in him.

For these reasons and especially because of his unfathomable devotion, Rinpoche's main teacher was always Guru Padmasambhava, who taught  him in the course of many dreams and visions. Otherwise, before leaving Tibet, Rinpoche spent much time in retreat and lived hand-to-mouth. On one occasion I listened while Rinpoche recounted some of his memoirs for a documentary film maker, where he divulged a few details of his practices and experiences, for instance how those saved his life while practicing in the high mountains, when a massive earthquake occurred that killed several tens of thousands of people. As the film interview ended Rinpoche quickly added: "To be honest, this is just a small fragment of my outer namtar. My  inner and secret namtars are inconceivable; were I to recount them, they would never be finished." As the filmmaker was not a practicing Buddhist and would not have understood what "inner" and "secret namtars" were, I suspect Rinpoche mentioned this as gift to inspire faith in one or two disciples that were present.

I once asked Rinpoche what his ter-skal or "Terma allotment" was in his present birth. Without hesitation he replied, "Were it not for the limiting circumstances of this life, such as karmically connected disciples, and especially because of my health situation, there would be about one hundred and twenty-five volumes." When asked about what sorts of Termas remained unrevealed, Rinpoche said, in effect, "anything and everything". There was practically no deity or type of practice that Rinpoche could not reveal, provided the circumstances were propitious. Specifically I recall him mentioning unique, never-before-seen inner yogas of rtsa-lung and thabs-lam; mo-thabs (divination)--phra-mo or mirror divination in particular; "eight volumes, one for each of the eight accomplishment-deities of transmitted precepts (sgrub-pa bka'-brgyad)"; as well as texts on medicine and astrology. Those would have been just a small fraction of what Rinpoche could not reveal in his last emanation.

In spite of his poor health, when requested by an American disciple to reveal a medium-length practice of Manjushri, Rinpoche consented immediately and worked intermittently over the course of two or three months during which time he was several times at the brink of death due to pneumonia and his heart condition. He also nearly went blind as a side-effect of his heart medicine but Dr. Hershoff intervened just in time. I observed Rinpoche writing several Termas. He wrote everything in an Indian school-childs composition book on ruled paper--his poems, dreams as well as some Ter. The Termas I saw there were written in flawless cursive handwriting, straight from enlightened mind to paper, without a single word crossed out. He also revealed a Garuda practice, at the request of a disciple in Los Angeles. I personally photocopied that material, some thirty or forty pages of manuscript, including special practices (las-sbyor) for medicinal preparations, and many fine-print pith instructions interspersed with a complicated liturgy. All was written down without a single edit, except for minor punctuation.

In his Ter and personal writings, in spite of having no education, Rinpoche's mastery of poetics and composition was flawless. Most Tibetan lamas and Tulkus cannot write that well even after decades of immersion and association with great scholars and spiritual masters--much less reveal Terma.

Truly Kunzang Dechen Lingpa and his revelations of Terma were, and are,  most timely expressions of Guru Rinpoche's kindness for beings living in these dark and difficult times. If anyone has faith in Rinpoche's lineage, by all means one should make a connection with Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche.

The teaching and traveling Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche does for Healing Chod and other Dharma activities is extremely difficult and stressful at times for him. The group spends five or six months a year away from home, in a foreign country, completely dependent on the faith and generosity of people that oftentimes have little understanding of the subject of Buddhism. They must constantly bear in mind the external objective of their travels--fundraising to complete the monastery and support the community--when in fact they would rather be only practicing Dharma. Few things are more stressful for a Dharma practitioner than to have to focus on money and material resources rather than Dharma itself. While it is enjoyable for Americans to spectate at Dharma teachings or be healed by sleeping two whole days in a Healing Chod, I wonder how many of us realize how difficult it is for Rinpoche to deal with this whole business?

Against his personal inclinations which are those of pure Dharma practitioner, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche has visited America out of selfless devotion to the Dharma and to benefit beings--especially by completing the Zangdokpalri Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, according to his father's visions in which he received Guru Rinpoche's command to construct the monastery.

At the end of their recent trip to Mexico, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche and his entourage were stopped at the airport by Mexican customs when it was discovered they were carrying cash -- their Mexican earnings plus a bundle of dollars offered to them in America. In spite of not knowing Spanish, Rinpoche argued and resisted for more than two hours as the Mexican police tried to extort ten thousand dollars. Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche told them straightforwardly, "I won't give you anything. More than one hundred people depend on me in India. This money belongs to them, for spiritual purposes, and not to me. You can't have it." Finally the police let them board the plane without paying a single bribe. Travelling the globe to do Healing Chod is not much fun.

Now that Zangdokpalri is nearly ready for consecration, it is not guaranteed that Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche will return to the Americas unless there is a strong aspiration on the part of practitioners here. Moreover, the visa situation for monks and nuns travelling from India to the U.S. has become very restrictive; the long-term visas of the Zangdokpalri monks, nuns and yogis have mostly run out and in most cases are not likely to be renewed. Religious worker visas to the U.S. are nearly impossible to come by for anyone from an 'Oriental' country, or with any shade of brown skin for that matter. By all means we should seek to connect with Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche and other great teachers, while the opportunity exists -- it won't be there forever."

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So, that is what our correspondent had to say, and although my knowledge of these affairs is sorely limited, I could not agree with him more. As mentioned in our previous post, I have been studying Kunzang Dechen Lingpa's writings for a little more than two years now, and I find them breathtakingly beautiful at every turn. His poetic "voice" is at once distinguishable from other tertons, yet really beyond comparison. He writes as a best friend would write -- really, an unsurpassed best friend, sending you heartfelt, very pithy advice on the quickest and best way to get from here to here.

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4 reader comments:

Cliff said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! Making aspirations now!

Unknown said...


I'm grateful for your posting about my teacher and his son. I am the disciple who requested the Garuda practice and would like to reach out to your anonymous lotsawa...can you help me make contact?


Editor said...

Ahem (!)

André said...

Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung!

Long live the Dharma.

May all beings be at peace!