Kunsang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choeling

The following article is from the Autumn, 1987 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


Of the many lineages which have come to the West, the Palyul lineage is one of the most recent and least known. Palyul was one of six major monasteries of the Nyingma and was the practice site of many great bodhisattvas: both the practice cave of Yeshe Tsogyal and the Sangdag Secret Accomplishment cave of Padmasambhava are found there. Many images of Vajrapani and the syllable Hung are found imprinted in the rocks around the monastery.

In 1665 E.E the first dharma king of Dege invited Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab, (b. 1636 C.E.), the dharma regent of both Karma Chagme Rinpoche and Terton Migyur Dorje as well as the owner of numerous termas, to head Palyul Namgal Changchub Choeling, a newly constructed monastery. Having received the title of Vajra Acharya from Terton Migyur Dorje as well as his prophecy that this monastery . . . will become an exhaustless source of dharma, propagating the Nyingma doctrine, Kunzang Sherab took charge of the monastery. In this endeavor, he was assisted by his sister, Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo, who was also a direct student of Migyur Dorje.


H.H. Penor Rinpoche

With the passage of time, the lineage continued to flourish and prosper. The main monastery grew to house over 800 monks while the total number of monks practicing in branch monasteries and retreat centers numbered over 100,000. At the time of the destruction of the monastery and community by the Communist Chinese in 1959. His Holiness Padma Norbu (Penor) Rinpoche, the eleventh throneholder of the Palyul lineage, managed to escape to India with only twelve followers. Here he began the arduous process of building a new monastery.

On the other side of the globe: In Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1982 a group of twelve people began to meet once a week in order to pray for the world. They were not affiliated with any particular religion or tradition but were united only by their desire to be of service and the belief that they could somehow be effective. At their request, Catharine Burroughs began to lead the group and give regular teachings in meditation and contemplative prayer. By the next spring, several more classes had begun.

Through an amazing set of circumstances, the business manager of Palyul Namdroling monastery, Kunzang Lama, visited the Center in the Fall of 1984. As a result scores of young monks and refugee children received sponsorship by Center members and area residents. The Center also began to sell Tibetan carpets made at the monastery. This marked the beginning of their relationship with Palyul Namdroling and H.H. Penor Rinpoche.

The next spring, His Holiness accepted an invitation for his first visit to the West and included a short visit to Washington. During that time Rinpoche talked with the teachers and members of the Center and found that in philosophical outlook and in much of their practice, they already adhered to the essence of the Buddhas' teaching: compassion for all life and meditation on the essential transcendent nature of all phenomena. After that visit, the teachings and practices of the group became totally Buddhist as this system so perfectly fit the goals and aspirations of the Center as well as its members. Shortly thereafter, several other prominent Nyingma lamas came to give further teachings which deepened ties to traditional Dharma and particularly to the Nyingma school. In the meantime the membership and activities continued to grow until a large facility was purchased in 1985.

Located just outside of Washington, D.C. and situated on eight acres surrounded by state parks and forests, the center is a beautiful place for practice and study of Dharma.

In the spring of 1987, Catherine and Michael Burroughs visited H.H. Penor Rinpoche at the monastery in South India. During that visit, he formally accepted the center as a Palyul dharma center and gave it the name Kunzang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choling, the Fully Awakened Glorious Dharma Place of Absolute Clear Light. At that time, His Holiness also recog-nized Catherine as the incarnation of Gen-yenma Ahkon Lhamo. He stated that during that lifetime, Ahkon Lhamo was recognized as a primordial wisdom dakini who demonstrated many miraculous signs of ac-complishment and was still known throughout Kham. Thus, Catherine became the first Western female tulku.

As the first Western Palyul Dharma center, Palyul Changchub Choling is the sight of His Holiness' throne and the seat of the Palyul lineage in the West. While Jetsunma continues to be the main teacher, other lamas such as the Ven. Gyaltrul Rinpoche and the Ven. Khenpo Rinpoches Palden Sherab and Tsewang Dongyal continue to visit regularly, giving teachings, empowerments, and - transmissions.

At the heart of the center's activities is the maintenance of a round-the-clock vigil of prayer and meditation for the earth. The members have been continuously practicing in two-hour shifts since April of 1985. Jetsunma has stated, Our commitment is to do all that we can for the upliftment of all life and the liberation of minds and hearts from the ravages of anger, greed, and delusion. We believe that this must be the foundation of any real change or lasting peace on this earth. We will continue this vigil until that goal is achieved. The doors to the prayer room will always remain open to anyone who shares in this com-mitment.

In the summer of 1988, H.H. Penor Rinpoche will return to America for an extended tour. At that time he will visit Ven Gyaltrul Rinpoche's temple, Tashi Choeling, in Ashland, Oregon to give the Nyingma Kama empowerments and trans-missions. In the fall, he will visit Palyul Changchub choeling outside of Washington, D.C. to give the empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzod, a collection of all the major revelations which the Padmasambvhava left in Tibet. This will be first time the Rinchen Terdzod h as been given in the west and it is also the first time His Holiness has given this teaching in this lifetime. Those interested in attending the Rinchen Terdzod should contact P.C.C.

At the request of H.H. Penor Rinpoche, the history of the Palyul lineage in Tibet and India was written down and translated. Snow Lion will soon publish A Garland of Immortal Wish-Ful-filling Trees. This is a complete account of the lives of the eleven throne holders plus other lamas, such as Karma Chegmed and Migyur Dorje who have contributed to the founding and flourishing of the Palyul lineage. The stories of the dedication, perseverance and miraculous ac-complishments of great bodhisattvas are very inspiring to those endeavoring to establish Dharma in the East. This long overdue account of one of the major lineages of the Nyingmapa school will be welcomed by practitioner and scholars alike.

Those interested in the activities of Palyul Changchub Choeling or the Rinchen Terdzod should write to the office at 18400 River Road, Poolesville, Maryland 20837 or call (301) 428-8116. Those interested in the Nyingma Kama teachings, should contact Tashi Choeling directly at 1900 Star Route, Hornbrook, California, 96044.

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