The following article is from the Summer, 1995 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

H.H. Orgyen Kusum Lingpa Teaches in America

by Victoria Huckenpahler

His bulldog face can vary its expression from wrath to radiant compassion to childlike glee in rapid succession; he calls himself a beggar lama and a son of Vajrapani. These apparent contradictions are but facets of one wisdom display continually enacted according to the needs of students by one of Tibet's greatest living lamas, H. H. Orgyen Kusum Lingpa.

To be in His Holiness's presence is to touch the face of ancient, magical Tibet in its undiluted power. In him one experiences not only the full weight of an unbroken tradition, but a vastness of view which effaces the dividing line between what is generally termed myth, and reality; the two are merely pitched at different levels on the scale of consciousness.


H.H. Orgyen Kusum Lingpa and Kelly Lynch, Director of Orgyen Kachod Ling.

With the vajra pride of one who has realized Dharma practice through innumerable lifetimes, His Holiness matter-of-factly recounts his succession of extraordinary in carnations'. At the time of Gesar of Ling [the Tibetan epic hero], I was one of his thirty principal warriors; I was so strong that I could pick up an elephant with one hand and was thus one of the few not slain in the wars waged on Hor and Jang. My name was Jamtrul Yulai Topgyir because I wore armor of solid turquoise. I have also been the Indian mahasiddha Trilwupa and Lhalung Palgyi Dorje, who killed King Langdarma [the persecutor of Buddhism, slain with an arrow in 842 C.E.]. During the lifetime of Machig Labdron (the noted female practitioner and founder of Chod), I was one of her principal students, known as Shang Murthi Nyongpa Rangzin, or Self-Secret Crazy One of Shang.

In this lifetime His Holiness was born in 1933 in Achak Drayu on the Amnyi Machen Nyendop sacred mountain which is known as the Kailash of Eastern Tibet. His advent was prophesied in scriptures by the first Dodrup Chen, Jigme Trinley Oser; by Terton Nyima Dragpa; and by the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Migyur Namkhai Dorje. A fourth-generation ngagpa, His Holiness was the son of the tantric adept Washi Lama Lhundrup Gyatso and the yogini Padma Lhamso. His father died when he was three, at which time His Holiness took refuge vows and the hair-cutting ceremony from the ninth Panchen Lama, Thubten Chokyi Nyima.

He describes himself in his youth as having been very naughty, as bad as any three spirited children! Nonetheless, he progressed in his studies with a number of saintly teachers, including Ahkon Khenchen Losang Dorje, a geshe rabjampa who completed study on over one hundred of the most important scriptures, and of whom His Holiness was principal disciple for over forty years; the two emanations of the fourth Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, Thubten Trinley Palzangpo and Rigzin Jalu Doije; Gyaltrul Wangpo, Khenchen Lobsang Namtak who gave him the Dzogchen Nyingthik transmission, and with whom he lived many years; and Palyul Chogtrul Rinpoche from whom he received the Namcho and Ratna Lingpa transmissions. In addition, from the age of thirteen His Holiness began receiving, at regular intervals, visions of Guru Padmasambhava and V^jrayogini. Both continue to transmit instructions and prophecies to him.

His Holiness's mother died when he was sixteen years old, and as her remd as a beggar and chodpa, and he delights in recounting how When I encountered stingy householders, I would purposely sing melodious and heart-rending vajra songs to make them cry, to break them down, so they would end up plying me with their finest delicacies! He also recalls from his days as a chodpa that if fellow practitioners got wind of the time and place of a yogi's chod practice, they would invariably try to play tricks on him. These yogis had immediate deluded reactions, he notes. It was hilarious. Nor was His Holiness above such pranks: once, when another monk was performing chod, the young Kusum Lingpa scared the would-be yogi out of his wits by sticking his hand through a hole in his tent and pulling his hair!

Around this time His Holiness made pilgrimages to Lhasa and Samye where he had visions of all his past and future lives. It was then that he recognized that in the future he would be reborn as Sangpa, the eldest son of the twenty-fifth regent of Shambhala. His exceptional bravery will enable him to triumph in a seven-day war waged with bombs by the people of this earth on the inhabitants of Shambhala. He also received a prophecy that in over one hundred lifetimes he would reveal one thousand volumes associated with the hidden treasures of the five directions.

Not long after, His Holiness began revealing prosperity treasures, practices which have the ability to confer bounty in degenerate times. Later, at the age of thirty-two, he revealed a body treasure of Vairocana which he is now offering to students in the West, the practice of Orgyen Jambhala. With the certitude of one who has realized the practice, His Holiness states that the revelation of this terma reversed his fortunes right away, bringing unaccustomed plenty, and can do the same for anyone who diligently follows it. Since then, he has become known as one of the greatest living tertons, having revealed the three classes of termas: those received directly from the mind; crazy termas which can manifest in the yogi as unconventional behavior; and secret termas, which can only be revealed by one who is the owner of all 18 families of terma.

Making a point not to mingle Dharma with more mundane issues, His Holiness passes over the twenty-three years during which he was held in a Chinese-run prison in Tibet, preferring to emphasize the blessings of Padmasambhava and Vcyrayogini through which he feels he has been able to come to the West and offer teachings. Other Lamas in Tibet are much greater that 1, he states, but I am the one to visit America and be a part of things here. Although today he is responsible for five monasteries in Tibet, the principal one being located in Golok in the country's eastern region, His Holiness began accepting invitations in 1994 to teach at the American Dharma centers of Chagdud, Gyaltrul, and Trungpa Rinpoches, and at Kunzang Palyul Choling, directed by the female American tulku Ahkon Norbu Lhamo. On his return to the US in the spring of this year, he also founded a small center in Crestone, Colorado, and one in Los Angeles which he guides along with his son, Tulku Hungkar Dorje, who has been recognized as the reincarnation of Do Khyentse Yeshe Doije, and whom His Holiness says will be a greater Lama than he. His Holiness has personally appointed his student, Kelly Lynch, to act as center director. During his visits to America, His Holiness has taught over three thousand people and has given refuge vows to more than five hundred.

His Holiness's teaching style is largely intuitive. He may give formal initiations or recount stories of long-ago Tibet. After an evening of unexpected hilarity he ended, When I was young, I had many funny encounters with so-called pure Dharma practitioners and the pranks pulled on them, so sometimes when I'm teaching, these stories come up in my mind. I like to tell them because I like to laugh. Tomorrow we'll try to have more Dharma teachings, but if these stories come out again, I can't control myself!

But he can as easily manifest a wrathful mode, giving stern advice to practitioners falling into complacency. When he has a strong wish, he will so repeatedly and forcefully return to the topic that it is easy to believe he is a manifestation of Vajrapani; an energy field emanates from him that is palpable. At one Dharma center he admonished the ordained sangha for three successive evenings on everything from the hours they were keeping (You should arise and begin practice at 4 a.m.; sleeping until 8 a.m. and staying up late is inauspicious) to the overall efficiency of the organization. It is one of his functions, he reveals, to clear obstacles, particularly at Dharma centers. But at the end, he suddenly beamed radiantly and said, I think I've been too hard on you; now I will tell you some jokes!

It is indeed His Holiness's radiance which is most powerfully felt, even beneath his controlled display of wrath. (Interestingly, the Tibetan word for wrath, dragpo, connotes force rather than anger.) Looking into his face as one receives his blessing, one understands the meaning of the term non-objectified compassion. His Holiness does not just offer love; he has become love, and though the practitioner might receive rigorous correction when needed, he or she would never be abandoned.

His Holiness can also be humble, earthy, and psychologically astute. Recently, his heart advice to students included: The great lamas are the ones who think of themselves in a humble sense and don't put themselves in a special place, but down with the ranks of the people, and even lower than the people, as a beggar lama. If you remain as a beggar lama, you are really in a position to benefit beings. On another topic: Non-recognition of the true nature of mind is unclean. That is why what is in your mind is as unclean as what comes out in the toilet! If even our best friend could see what is in our mind, it would be embarrassing. And if everyone could see what is in our mind, we would be in an ongoing state of litigation! He also gave counsel on practices for the deceased and on the correct attitude toward possessions as a preparation for our own death. In America, when people die the most important thing is what clothes you put on the corpse so it will look pleasing to those who view it. I can assure you this is harmful for the bardo consciousness because it doesn't release it from attachment. As Buddhist practitioners, do virtue like reciting the Mani mantra or accomplishing the peaceful and wrathful deities of the bardo pantheon. When you are in the bardo, my words will come true in your mind and you will understand then whether or not one should be kind to one's relatives at the time of death. It is good for the bardo consciousness not to leave behind much wealth because it causes attachment. Spend your endowments on virtuous purposes now. Don't accumulate too much or have big plans for the future. This in not the way of Dzogchen. You should have a mind that's directed more toward the present.

His Holiness is spiritually and emotionally generous, bestowing blessings on everyone individually, no matter how late the teachings end or how fatigued he is. Generally, he offers twice as many teachings as appear on the official schedule. And watching him in his leisure hours is a reminder of the unceasing effort made by those who fulfill their Bodhisattva vows. When he is not actively teaching or giving spiritual advice, His Holiness is fingering his mala and reciting mantras, or looking for someone to benefit. While waiting at one east coast airport, he scanned the crowd, his eyes settling on a woman seated opposite him. Since he speaks no English, he began pantomiming to get her attention, knowing that even fleeting contact could plant a seed that would flower in future lives.

His Holiness plans to return to America to continue teaching and guiding his centers. Anyone interested in receiving teachings when he returns can write Kelly Lynch, Director, Orgyen Kachod Ling, 1042 S. Kensington Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019.

His Holiness is a force of nature, a living repository of Tibet's most exalted spiritual traditions, a great terton and siddha. He is not to be missed!