Profilie: Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

The following article is from the Autumn, 1988 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Dualistic thought is the net that entraps. The holder of the kingdom is spontaneous awareness. Display arises from unmoving, unceasing awareness. Like the play of children, there is nothing to abandon, nothing to grasp.

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche received these words from the great siddha, Padampa Sangye, in a vision at the age of 6. They were the first memory he has of receiving transmission of Dzogchen (Great Perfection), the ultimate teaching and meditation on the nature of mind. The revelation of Dzogchen has been a continuous stream in his life, yet the events of his life themselves have taught him the profound truth of nothing to abandon, nothing to grasp.

Chagdud Rinpoche is a meditation master, a Tibetan physician and healer, and an artist who has created 9 major statues of Buddhist meditational deities since he arrived in the United States in 1979. The Abbot of Chagdud Gonpa in Kham (Eastern Tibet) and spiritual head of the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation in the United States, Rinpoche has dedicated his life to establishing Buddhism in the West and to establishing peace in the world.

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Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

Chagdud Tulku's training began soon after he was recognized as the tulku of the previous Chagdud, at the age of 3. His mother, Dawa Drolma, was his first teacher. She was revered as a great lama and was famous as a delog who had once left her body in a completely deathlike state, then returned to life and described the experiences of her consciousness as it travelled to different realms of being. Many highly realized lamas recognized her as the embodiment of Tara, the female aspect of enlightenment. Having such a mother, and also a sister whose extraordinary spiritual powers are renowned in Tibet even today, there has never been a doubt in Chagdud Rinpoche's mind about the capabilities of women as practitioners. The first lama he ordained in the West is a woman, Inge Sandvoss.

Chagdud Rinpoche's relationship to his mother was often that of an extremely naughty little boy to an extremely wrathful disciplinarian. Yet Dawa Drolma believed that the energy of her son's naughtiness could be channelled into practice. Practice well, she told him, and there will be some benefit from your accomplishment. With her encouragement he entered his first three-year retreat when he was 11. Her death while he was still in retreat was one of the turning points of his life, an indescribably deep experience of impermanence.

Tibet, in the hundred years prior to the Chinese conquest, was in one of the great ages of Buddhism, a period when teachings flourished, sectarianism diminished and high lamas demonstrated the extraordinary qualities that created the legends of the land of magic and mystery. Chagdud Rinpoche's training took place in the twilight of this age when the warnings of destruction already echoed like distant thunder. Yet he was able to receive teachings from many of the masters of his time, including Jamyang Chokyi Khyentse Lodru, Kenpo Ngagar, Sechhen Kongtrul, Kenpo Arak, Tromge Tulku, Kenpo Dorje, Dil-go Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche. Again and again he listened to their teachings on the nature of mind, making extensive retreats to practice what he had heard. An essential understanding of Great Perfection became the heart of all his practice.

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Nuns in Eastern Tibet.

In 1955, having just completed a second 3-year retreat, Chagdud Rinpoche went to his monastery in the Nyarong region of Kham. Spectacularly situated on a high ridge thousands of feet above a narrow river valley, it is the second oldest monastery in Kham. Rinpoche stayed for some months, then decided to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa. En route, in a visionary experience, he was warned not to return to Kham because the situation would soon degenerate. He travelled on with the recognition that he was leaving behind the homeland of his youth. He would not return for 31 years.

In Lhasa he met and took teachings from Kenpo Dorje, an unsurpassed Dzogchen master. Though the news from Kham was of intensifying violence, and the waves of violence were beginning to overtake Central Tibet, for Rinpoche it was a time of single-minded participation in teaching and practice. He had no doubt that the auspicious circumstances he had found in Lhasa would soon be dispersed, so he was intent on using them fully.

Inevitably, the Chinese military closed its grip on Lhasa and Rinpoche was forced to flee. With Kenpo Dorje he headed toward the Indian border, hiding in the mountains, avoiding the strafing of the Chinese military aircraft, waiting until the weather on the Indian plains would be cool enough that his teacher, who was over 70 years old, might have a chance of survival.

Rinpoche says of that time, Overnight we lost everything. We left behind our families, our monasteries, our texts, our ritual implements, everything that we thought precious, everything we had invested with tradition. We had no shoes, no food. We lived with the possibility of death at any moment and, indeed, many other Tibetans died trying to escape. Outwardly it was as though we suddenly had entered the realm of ghosts, always moving, hungry and expecting attack. Inwardly, we had the perspective of our practice, the recognition that even these nightmarish events were in essence empty, illusory displays of mind.

Chagdud Rinpoche and Kenpo Dorje, together with some other Tibetans who had joined them, made it safely across the border. Not long after, however, in the turmoil of resettlement, Rinpoche was separated from his revered teacher, and Kenpo Dorje died before he could see him again.

For the next two decades Chagdud Rinpoche lived in 5 or 6 settlements in India, and then he moved to Nepal. Gradually a few Western dharma students, drawn by his warmth and accessibility, became acquainted with him and asked him to visit them in the West. Rinpoche arrived in San Francisco in the fall of 1979. He moved to Oregon a year later, and now has centers and retreat lands in both Oregon and California.

When Rinpoche tells stories about where he has been he often uses the expression sat downI went to Nepal and sat down for two years. Since he has been in the West, he has travelled and taught almost continuously, yet wherever he is, even for a day or two, there is a sense that he has sat down, that he is the mountain and the winds of activity play around him. Or, as one student put it, Rinpoche has time for people, and an interest in the workings of their daily life. His clarity penetrates the very heart of issues to tap the potential for benefit.

In his teachings Rinpoche emphasizes the development of deep unstoppable, altruistic motivation to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. You must practice the essence, which is selfless love and compassion, and then try to help others to the greatest extent of your ability.

One avenue of teaching Rinpoche is developing is Bodhisattva Peace Trainings, which work with conflict resolution on an individual level and world peace on a global level. Rinpoche has said, The peacock is the symbol for the Bodhisattva, the Awakened Warrior who works for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. The peacock is said to eat poisonous plants that it transmutes into the gorgeous colors of its feathers. It does not poison itself, just as we who wish for peace must not poison ourselves. Convince your opponent as effectively as you know how, but be constantly aware of your own state of mind. If you begin to experience anger, retreat. If you can go on without anger, perhaps you will penetrate the terrible delusion that causes strife and war, and all the hellish sufferings that arise from anger.

Like many other Tibetans and particularly the lamas, Chagdud Rinpoche has a profound sense of impermanence. Last year when he returned to Kham, he was amazed that his monastery had not been devastated by the Chinese, that the lamas, monks and surrounding villagers, through skill and loyalty, had been able to protect not only the buildings, but the texts and artwork. Even so, the buildings that the Chinese had spared are now Ming into ruin and disrepair. The lamas are growing old and the young ones haven't been fully trained. His return, though joyous and triumphant, was, as one of the old monks commented, Like the living meeting the dead.

There is a certain melancholy in all this, yet for the Rinpoche it gives urgency to spiritual practice. As he has written in his book, Life in Relation to Death:

Always recognize the dreamlike qualities of life and reduce attachment and aversion. Practice good-heartedness toward all beings. Be loving and compassionate, no matter what others do to you. What they do will not matter so much when you see it as a dream. The trick is to have positive intention during the dream. This is the essential point. This is true spirituality.

For more information call Jane at (503) 942-7270 or 942-5081.

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