Reader’s Guide: Dudjom Rinpoche

Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, who passed away in 1987, came from a long line of the some of the greatest masters of Buddhism in India and Tibet. A direct descendant of Tibet's king Trison Detsen, the pearls in his succession of rebirths include the Buddha's disciple Shariputra, the Brahmin Saraha, Rongzompa, Dudjom Lingpa, and many more in between. Known as a great terton, or treasure revealer, Rinpoche was also known for his many works preserving the wider Nyingma tradition. His Collected Works in Tibetan consist of twenty-five volumes.

Once Tibetans went into exile in the 1950s, the Dalai Lama asked Dudjom Rinpoche to take the title of the head of the Nyingma School, a position that previously did not exist but was beneficial to the tradition, especially in the time of exile.

The Books

His Holiness's major work in English is his The History of the Nyingma School, which until the recent publication of The Complete Nyingma Tradition (three volumes thus far with several more on the way), was the largest work published on any school of Tibetan Buddhism. It remains an indispensable resource.  A significant chunk of it has been re-translated as part of another work due out in 2019 as well.

The scope for these readers’ guides is not inclusive of an extensive biography—that role is filled very well by Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal's Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. This wonderful biography includes an overview of Dudjom Rinpoche’s previous incarnations; his own account of his birthplace and parents; his birth as predicted by Guru Rinpoche; his recognition and enthronement; his receiving of teachings and initiations; his activities including termas, or spreading the teachings; restoring texts; his passing; and more.

Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche's Heart Advice is an incredible collection of Rinpoche's writings and one that is meant to be revisited over and over. The first section is a translation of Essential Advice for Solitary Meditation Practice that he wrote for retreatants at Ogmin Pema Ösel, his retreat center in Tibet. This includes fifty selections on Heart Advice (zhal gdams). According to Rinpoche himself, he wrote this in order to:

"Present essential advice for solitary meditation practice in an easily accessible way. My words will place direct instructions for the practice of innermost secret Great Perfection in the palm of the hands of fortunate individuals. Their previous lifetimes’ positive aspirations and pure karmic propensities have led them to feel heartfelt trust in the teaching of the profound secret Great Perfection and in the Lama who reveals it; and they wish to take their practice to completion. For them, this text will provide an open gate to the path of Great Perfection."

The second section is a translation of The Celebration of Fortunate Ones: A Compilation of the Cycle of Songs of Realization and Songs of Tantric Gatherings, as found within the Collected Works of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, volume ah, pages 269–90. This collection comprises four songs of tantric gatherings and five songs of realization. In addition, there is the profound and beautiful song of tantric gatherings from Dudjom Lingpa’s Tröma cycle.

The third section encompasses the majority of the supplication prayers (gsol ’debs) section from His Holiness’s Collected Works, volume ah, pages 1–105. The few prayers omitted are ones Dudjom Rinpoche wrote at the request of students for a supplication prayer to his or her Lama.

The final section contains a set of aspiration prayers that come from the aspiration prayers section called The Ship of Entirely Pure Benefit and Happiness: A Compilation of Aspiration Prayers from Dudjom Rinpoche’s Collected Works, volume ah, pages 427–79.

Counsels of My Heart is a small books with great impact. In these teachings, Dudjom Rinpoche calls upon us to follow the Buddha’s instructions to “get a grip on our minds.” He points the way to giving up our habitual ways of behaving in order to liberate ourselves from suffering. He also offers advice on how to view the Vajrayana teachings—which are said to be so powerful that they can be dangerous if misunderstood or practiced incorrectly. He says the most important point is to study the view of the Great Perfection, which is, essentially, that all phenomena are empty by nature. But this mustn’t cause us to fall into the trap of acting on our own meager understanding. He says: “Like eagles soaring in space, we should be clearly convinced of the view, but at the same time we should heed the karmic principle of cause and effect.”

This book features talks to students presented in Dudjom Rinpoche’s characteristically incisive and direct style, bringing the timeless heart-counsels of this great teacher, who was known for not mincing his words, vividly to life.

A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom is an incredible book. In the Nyingma tradition, including of course the Dudjom Tersar lineage, the ngondro, or foundational practices, are essential. Two of the most famous texts for ngondro practice among Nyingmapas is Patrul Rinpoche's Words of My Perfect Teacher and Khenpo Ngwang Pelzang's A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, both based on the Longchen Nyingtik tradition of ngondro. These are essential works are for anyone engaged in ngondro practice. However, in Torch, Dudjom Rinpoche presents his own unique take and presents the Dudjom Tersar–specific practices, which differ from—but fully complement—the Longchen Nyingtik.

See also Padmakara's Stephen Gethin who translated this volume discuss it and compare it to The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

Stephen Gethin on a Torch Lighting the Way To Freedom from Shambhala Publications on Vimeo.

Sunlight Speech That Dispels the Darkness of Doubt contains five works of Dudjom Rinpoche translated by his eldest son and great master in his own right, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. These include:

  • Praise to Dudjom Lingpa
  • The Sadhana of Fully Enlightened Supreme Vajrasattva, Called "The Daily Practice of the Profound Path, Contained in Essence"
  • The Assembly Palace of Great Flawless Exaltation, Radiant Lotus Light
  • Calling the Lama
  • The Guru Yoga of Receiving Wish-Fulfilling Great Flawless Exaltation

On the Path to Enlightenment


On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters, an anthology put together by Matthieu Ricard, contains Dudjom Rinpoche's famous Ri Chod, or advice for retreatants, comprising about ten pages.

Further Resources

Here is a video of Dudjom Rinpoche from the classic film by Arnaud Desjardins, The Message of the Tibetans

Other Titles by His Holiness:

  • Inborn Realization
  • Perfect Conduct: Ascertaining the Three Vows
  • Bountiful Cow of Accomplishments
  • A section in The Great Gate: A Guidebook to the Guru’s Heart Practice.

Lotsawa House

Another great resource is the collection of free translations from Lotsawa House.

The Dudjom Lineage

The Dudjom incarnation line is based on a prayer Dudjom Rinpoche wrote himself, which lists his previous incarnations. This prayer is called A Chariot of Devotion, A Supplication to the Lives and Liberation of the Great Nirmanakaya Treasure Revealer Heruka Dudjom Lingpa. In it, one can find his main previous incarnations. The list below is adapted from the Rigpa Wiki:

  1. Yogi Nuden Dorje Chang: tutor of a 1,000 princes who, countless ages ago during the aeon of the Buddha Pranidhanaraja, vowed to appear as Sugata Möpa Ö Tayé (Skt. Adhimukta), the 1,000th and last buddha of this Fortunate Aeon.
  2. Shariputra
  3. Saraha
  4. Krishnadhara: chief minister of Indrabhuti of Uddiyana
  5. Humkara
  6. Khye'u Chung Lotsawa
  7. Smritijnana
  8. Rongdzom Pandita Chokyi Zangpo (1012–1088)
  9. Dampa Deshek (1122–1192)
  10. Palden Ling Je Repa: one of the founders of the Drukpa Kagyü school
  11. Sakya Trizin Chogyal Phakpa (1235–1280)
  12. Drum Khar Nagpopa: Khampa yogin who meditated in dark retreat for 18 years.
  13. Hewa Chojung: Khampa magician and subjugator of enemies of the Dharma.
  14. Traktung Dudul Dorje (1615–1672)
  15. Katok Gyalse Sönam Deutsen: as head of Kathok Monastery, he restored and preserved the tradition of the monastery.
  16. Dudul Rolpa Tsal: yogin, teacher of Jikme Lingpa
  17. Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904)
  18. Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987)
  19. Like many great masters whose abilities are not constrained by our ordinary or linear logic, there are two recognized yangsis: