Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche came to America in 1979 and has resided here ever since. But from the time of his birth in Eastern Tibet, in 1930, to his arrival in the States, a story has arrival in the States; a story has unfolded as remarkable as any I have ever heard. This is that story.
First, I want to set Rinpoche's story in some sort of context, for there are many things he simply will not tell you, even though this is his autobiography. He will not speak of his seemingly boundless compassion, a compassion that to us, his students, defines his very being. He will not talk of his profound awareness of the absolute nature of mind, an awareness he seems to be living and transmitting twenty-four hours a day. He will not tell you of the thousands and thousands of people whom he has served as a scholar, artist and poet. Few of his remarkable accomplishments over the past decades-especially those in the West-will you find in this autobiography, and you cannot know from his narrative that this man has enhanced the lives of an incredible number of people though his profound transmission of the spiritual path.
When Rinpoche arrived in Los Angeles on October 24, 1979, he and his wife-to-be, Jane, first went to San Francisco. In mid-1980 he was asked to visit Eugene, Oregon, in order to teach an overview of Tibetan medicine to a group of American doctors. At the request of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche he remained in the Eugene area as a resident lama of Yeshe Nyingpo, the name gives to Dudjom centers in the United States. Several years later, responding to students who wanted to ensure that there would be a seat in the West for future Chagdud incarnations, Rinpoche established the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation.
The original Chagdud Gonpa, founded in 1131, is one of the few monasteries in Eastern Tibet to have survived the Communist Chinese invasion. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, as the sixteenth incarnation of the original founder of that monastery, set up the first seat of Chagdud Gonpa in the West at River House (later renamed Dechhen Ling). In Cottage Grove, Oregon. There, as in all Chagdud Gonpa centers, instruction was offered in the methods and wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, including the arts, philosophy and meditation practices of the Vajrayana Buddhist Tradition.
In the fall of 1 988 Rinpoche and his students acquired 286 acres in northern California's Trinity Mountains, and Rigdzin Ling, Chagdud Gonpa's main center, was born. The heart of the development at Rigdzin Ling, will be a traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple, or lha khang (literally, abode of deities), which will include an extensive display of Vajrayana sculpture and decorative arts.
Presently, the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation has seven centers on the West Coast as well as centers in Brazil and Switzerland. Rinpoche's other projects include the Maha-karuna Foundation, which provides support for poor and infirm Tibetans in the refugee communities of India and Nepal's the Tibetan Library, which purchases and preserves rare and irreplaceable Tibetan texts; and Padma Publishing, dedicated to making the works of the Nyingma tradition available in English, as well as translating and editing Rinpoche's own teachings. He has also created major Buddhist statues in the United States and has trained several Westerners in Tibetan art.
Rinpoche travels constantly, stopping only to lead retreats. To those who urge him to slow down, he explains, "I am still gathering my students. Perhaps some of the dharma seeds I plant now will ripen in future lifetimes. Vajrayana bonds are very strong and are not dissolved by the illusory displays of death and birth. We meet and meet again until ultimately we recognize that we are inseparable in enlightened Buddha nature."
When Rinpoche's family, students and friends began asking his to write down the experiences that make up this volume, he saw no reason to record his life. He said that he did not want to write the usual Tibetan namtar, an account of a lama's life in which human failings are glossed over by the sheen of spiritual attainment. Although Rinpoche is a tulku, a recognized incarnation of a highly realized lama, he himself teaches that tulkus, being born into the realm of humans, must deal with very human issues in establishing the continuity of their spiritual path from one life to another. The essential attributes of a tulku combine a powerfully directed intention to work for the welfare of all living beings with the meditative realization to sustain this intention throughout this life and through the turmoil of the intermediate state between death and rebirth.
The combination of pure intention and great realization that produces a tulku also produces an extraordinary life, as Rinpoche demonstrates, and the requests that he write his story persisted until he finally yielded to them and began this book. He did not emphasize the achievements that have so defined his experience, but mostly his human foibles and his mistakes, using these to make teaching points, essentially at his own expense.
Anybody who knows Rinpoche will realize that he would write his story in no other way. Never mind that he is one of the greatest living masters of Dzogchhen, the Great Perfection, the highest Buddhist teachings. Never mind that he took the ground-breaking step of fully ordaining a Western woman as a lama or that he is one of the first Tibetan masters to take Westerners completely into his confidence and trust, and to train them according to the teachings of the Great Perfection. Never mind that all of his students have unlimited access to him literally twenty-four hours a day. None of this has made its way into the following pages. Although Rinpoche teaches many categories of Vajrayana Buddhism, his realization of the Great Perfection informs his presentation of every level of teaching and is at the heart of his transmission. Of the three major categories of the Buddha's teachings, the first, Hinayana, emphasizes the basic meditation practices of concentration and insight, and sets as its goal liberation from suffering through renunciation and cutting al attachment. The second, Mahayana, emphasizes the path of compassion and selfless motivation to work for the benefit of sentient beings until all are enlightened. The third, Vajrayana, emphasizes the revelation of mind's true nature, using many skillful methods of which the Great Perfection is the highest and most direct.
Anybody who knows Rinpoche will realize that he would write his story in no other way. Never mind that he is one of the greatest living masters of Dzogchhen, the Great Perfection, the highest Buddhist teachings. Never mind that he took the ground-breaking step of fully ordaining a Western woman as a lama or that he is one of the first Tibetan masters to take Westerners completely into his confidence and trust, and the train them according to the teachings of the Great Perfection. Never mind that all of his students have unlimited access to him literally twenty-four hours a day. None of this his made its way into the following pages. Although Rinpoche teaches many categories of Vajrayana Buddhism, his realization of the great Perfection informs his presentation of every level of teaching and is at the heart of his transmissions.
On the three major categories of the Buddha's teachings, the first, Hinayana, emphasizes the basic meditation practices of concentration and insight, and sets as its goal liberation from suffering through renunciation and cutting all attachment. The second, Mahayana, emphasizes the path of compassion and selfless motivation to work for the benefit of sentient beings until all are enlightened. The third, Vajrayana, emphasizes the revelation of mind's true nature, using many skillful methods of which the Great Perfection is the highest and most direct.
Rinpoche's life demonstrates how Great Perfection realization becomes thoroughly integrated with the conduct of daily activities. Mind's boundless, absolute nature, nakedly apparent to him in moments of visionary experience as a young child, became the central thrust of his spiritual path thereafter in finding teachings that would allow him to stabilize those glimpses. Throughout his last turbulent period in Tibet following the violent conquest by the Chinese communists and during the difficulties of being a refugee in India and Nepal, there was a profound continuity in his spiritual perspective and a deep, powerful current of compassion. In one of his published teachings he says:
The key to all is pure-heartedness, one's own selfless aspirations, one's pure motivation. Your actions and those of another may not be so different; the difference is in the heart, in the motivation for what you do. And that's what makes all the difference in the outcome of your actions in the world. You must have the purity of your own heart, the purity of your own stance and intentions toward others and the world around you. This is the seed of all inner peace.
When one is in the presence of Chagdud Rinpoche, one is aware that this is a Large-scale human being, a man of great qualities, humor and sincerity. As one of his students put it:
Sometimes he flashes forth with words that have a stunning impact, like a lightning bolt. Then, after the shock comes a freshness, like the clean air that follows a thunderstorm. The whole environment of one's being feels purified. As for Rinpoche, he is immovable. His love is still there. His kindness is still there. The incom-prehensible vastness of his mind that holds all the phenomena of our own is still there.
Asked why he finally wrote his autobiography after ignoring requests to do so for many years, he replied, "My life is a lesson in impermanence, and impermanence is the foremost teacher of the spiritual practitioner." Chagdud Thulku's story can be read on many level-as a colorful, often humorous adventure story; as an inner, spiritual journey; and as a teaching on how one person attains the perspective of absolute truth amid life's uncertainty. As such it is both inspiring and encouraging, and highly relevant to anyone who seeks ultimate meaning in this time of dire prediction.
Back of the Book
Chagdud Tulku's story can be read on many levels-as a colorful, often humorous adventure story; as an inner, spiritual journey; and as a teaching on how one person attains the perspective of absolute truth amid life's uncertainty. As such it is both inspiring and encouraging, and highly relevant to anyone who seeks ultimate meaning in this time of dire prediction.
This fascinating book is in essence a powerful lesson in impermanence and extraordinary compassion. Rinpoche writes with compelling honesty about the experiences of a man who has lived many lifetimes even in this one lifetime. A rare treasure, this is an important book that reveals the depth and resilience of the human spirit
Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, a master of the highest Tibetan Buddhist teachings, has given us a wonderful gift, a spiritual autobiography that is a teaching for our uncertain times. For his childhood with his mother, Delog Dawa Drolma, one of Tibet's most accomplished women practitioners, to his eacape from Tibet, we are afforded a rare and candid glimpse into the life of one of the great tibetan tulkus and lamas.
Tibetan conversations and even dharma discourses are filled with stories, stories to pass time stories to illustrate points. The stories of Tibet that I told to my western students fascinated them and they often urged me to write them down.
After entreaties from many people the writing of this book was catalyzed by Lisa Leghorn. I told my stories on tape and Tsering Everest my interpreter rephrased my English which is still not perfect. My wife Jane Tromge then reworked the transcriptions of the tapes so that the oral narrative became this book. She received encouragement and editorial assistance from Lisa, Mary Racine, Bob Tajima, Linda Baer and many other people in a process I thought would take a few months but in the end has taken almost four years.
Now I am preparing for another journey into Tibet again uncertain about Chinese permissions and the conditions we will find. At home for the United States is really my home and I am a citizen I have numerous students many well grounded in spiritual practice. Artworks are being created texts are being published and an enormous prayer wheel in California spins the blessings of hundreds of millions of mantras in all directions. Though the play of impermanence will gather and disperse may any virtue endure and benefit forever.
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