His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
By Ngakpa Gawang
Feb 4, 2007, 14:03

"It was said merely to see his face ensured eventual liberation"

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was respected in Tibet and the world at large as his generation’s most extraordinary poet, scholar, philosopher and meditation master of the Mahayana, Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions. He was one of the main lineage holders of the Dzogchen Longchen Nyingthig traditions and was head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism following the death of HH Dudjom Rinpoche in 1987 until his own death in 1991.

He was born in the Denhok Valley at Kham Derge, Eastern Tibet in 1910 to a family directly descended from the ninth century King Trisong Detsen. His father was a minister to the King of Derge. Before birth he had already been recognised as a tulku by Mipham Rinpoche amongst others. His father was set against him following his brothers into monastic life but during a serious illness lasting a year from which the boy was not expected to survive he recanted at Dilgo Kyentse’s ‘last request’. At the age of 11 following an almost immediate recovery he took the vows of a monk and entered Shechen Monastery in Kham. This is one of the six principal Nyingma Monasteries. His root teacher at that time was HH Shechen Gyaltsap, who was Mipham Rinpoche’s successor. It was he who formally recognised and enthroned him as the mind incarnation of HH Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-92) who was one of the main proponents of the Rime movement and an emanation of Manjushri. The lineage of Khyentse Tulkus include some of the most extraordinary masters in the development of Buddhism: Longchenpa; Jigme Lingpa; King Trisong Detsen and Vimalamitra.

He spent much of his time whilst at the monastery studying and meditating under his teacher’s direction in a hermitage set a little way above the main buildings. He received from Shechen Gyalsap all the essential Nyingma empowerments and instructions.

As his practice developed he received teachings from more than 50 great masters. These included Dzogchen Khenpo Shenga who taught him his Thirteen Great Commentaries. Before Shechen Gyaltsap died Dilgo Khyentse promised him that he would without fail teach anyone who asked for the Dharma. At 15 years of age he commenced a series of solitary retreats in caves and isolated huts in the mountains near where he was born.

When he became seriously ill again he was advised by his teacher to take a consort as is required practice for a terton (a finder of concealed teachings) within the Nyingma tradition. His wife was Khandro Lhamo. During his life his visionary revelations brought Padmasambhava’s essential teachings directly to us.

At the age of 28 he completed his retreats and thereafter took teachings from Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö who like Dilgo Khyentse was also one of the five incarnations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. After he received empowerments on the Rinchen Terdzo he decided to spend the rest of his life in solitary meditation. Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had other ideas however and Dilgo Khyentse commenced a teaching career sharing the treasures he had received which was tirelessly unbroken for the rest of his life. Whatever his circumstances at the time he rose before dawn, practised for several hours and then undertook a gruelling schedule of teaching and other activities without regard for himself until late into the night. He taught to anyone who made the effort to come to him, without exception.

During the Chinese takeover of Tibet he escaped with his wife, children and followers as soldiers arrived looking for him and to confiscate his family’s property. He took a teaching post at a school in Bhutan but rapidly his reputation grew as a fully realised master. He became the spiritual leader of all Bhutan and the King of Bhutan’s personal spiritual advisor, but also travelled extensively to teach in Europe, the United States and on three occasions in Tibet as well. Although a Nyingma Master he was an exponent of the Rime movement and was well known for his ability to teach each Buddhist Lineage from within its own tradition. Even when he was in the last year of life he went to Dharamsala to give transmissions and empowerments for a month to HH the Dalai Lama who regarded him as his principal Dzogchen teacher.

He established dharma centres in Bhutan, India and the West. He inaugurated the reconstruction of Shechen Monastery which had been destroyed in during the Cultural Revolution in 1960. He built a new stupa at Bodhgaya where Shakyamuni Buddha attained realisation under the Bodhi Tree. He instigated a major programme of reprinting important texts which might otherwise have been lost to future generations as a result of the continuing problems in Tibet and wrote 25 books himself. He established a traditional three year retreat programme in European and American Centres including at his European Seat, Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling in Dordogne.

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche died in Bhutan on 28th September 1991.

His reincarnation has been recognised as  the son of Chokling Rinpoche, Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche who was born in Nepal on 30th June, 1993, Padmasambhava’s birthday.  

His enthronement took place at Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal in December 1996.

I am deeply indebted to  Matthieu Ricard for Journey to Enlightenment: The Life and World Of Khyentse Rinpoche, Spiritual Teacher from Tibet: (Aperture) and to others who have provided insights which they may recognise!

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