Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Biography

Khyentse Rinpoche was born in 1961 into what he describes as a ‘hard-core buddhist family’ in the ‘staunchly buddhist country’ of Bhutan. At the age of seven, he was recognized by His Holiness Sakya Trizin as the main incarnation of the incomparable Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the spiritual heir of one of the most influential and admired 19th century incarnations of Manjushri (the Buddha of Wisdom), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

At a time when sectarianism threatened to decimate the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in a unique collaboration with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Taye and Chogyur Lingpa, Khyentse Wangpo was responsible for initiating and promoting Rimé (non-sectarianism) throughout the Land of Snow, effectively breathing new life into all schools of Buddhism, and rescuing many lineages from complete extinction. The present Khyentse Rinpoche continues in the same spirit, always remaining faithful to the specifics of each school and lineage he serves, without mixing anything up or omitting the tiniest detail.

Rinpoche also goes out of his way to promote traditional practices that have begun to slip out of fashion, particularly that of oral transmission (lung), for example spending three months over the winter of 2006-7 transmitting the entire Kangyur (Word of the Buddha) to monks and lay practitioners at the Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Institute of Dialectics in Chauntra, India.

Having received an extensive traditional buddhist education, Rinpoche attributes any understanding he may have of buddhist philosophy and theory to his years of study at Sakya College in India. He also received exhaustive practical guidance from many masters from all traditions, who were amongst the last generation to have been educated in Tibet; his main teacher, the master who ‘sits on the crown of my head,’ was the now legendary Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

In the early nineteen-eighties, Rinpoche made his first trip abroad to teach in Australia, and to all intents and purposes has not stopped travelling since, founding several international organizations along the way to support and broaden the scope of his activities. Siddhartha’s Intent organizes, distributes and archives his teachings; Khyentse Foundation provides the financial support necessary to fulfil his aspirations; 84000 oversees the translation of the Word of the Buddha into modern languages, Lotus Outreach directs a wide range of projects to help refugees, and particularly abused and underprivileged women and children, and Lhomon Society, founded in 2010 to promote sustainable development in Bhutan through education, among others.

Rinpoche is the author of several books about Buddhism that have been translated into many languages;  for example: ‘What Makes You Not a Buddhist’ (2006), ‘Not For Happiness’ (2012) and ‘The Guru Drinks Bourbon?’ (2016). He is also well-known outside the buddhist world for the feature films he both wrote and directed, ‘The Cup’ (1999), ‘Travellers and Magicians’ (2004), ‘Vara: A Blessing’ (2012), ‘Hema Hema’ (2016) and ‘Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache’ (2019).

Buddhadharma is currently being assimilated into a number of different cultures as the Buddha’s teachings continue to spread throughout the world. But as Rinpoche is at pains to point out, while the cultural packaging that comes with Tibetan Buddhism is often optional, the Buddhadharma itself requires no modernization. Shakyamuni was a Buddha and therefore omnipotent, so every word he uttered, every tradition he instigated, every aspect of his legacy, is as appropriate and necessary today as it was during his lifetime. This is the message Rinpoche emphasizes continually when he teaches, focusing primarily on the buddhist ‘view’ rather than the ethnic backdrop it is set against, never hesitating to draw attention to the flaws and corruptions that have crept into contemporary spiritual paths, and fearlessly laying bare the challenges faced by teachers and students of the Buddhadharma in the 21st century.

Khyentse Lineage

From the time of the historical Buddha to the present day, an unbroken succession of great beings have achieved enlightenment and have dedicated themselves to teaching others the path that leads to awakening. Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet over several generations, starting with King Songtsen Gampo in the 6th century AD, and was finally established as the state religion under King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century AD. In Tibetan Buddhism there is a widespread tradition of recognizing the reincarnations of highly realized teachers. Such incarnations are known as tulkus. They take rebirth out of compassion, and to carry on the responsibilities of their previous incarnations. The Khyentses are such a lineage of reincarnate tulkus.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

(1820-1892)

“Great chariot of the entire Buddhist teaching, Spiritual friend caring for students without distinction, Free from doctrinal bias, crown jewel of all teachings, I supplicate you!” – Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye

Jamyang Khyentse the Great, born in 1820, was regarded as an exceptional master – a scholar, mystic, author, and meditator par excellence. In his youth he travelled all over Tibet, receiving innumerable spiritual teachings, including lineages that were almost extinct. He is known to have studied with over 150 of the greatest Buddhist masters of his day. In his late thirties he retired to a small room in the Sakya monastery of Dzongsar, near Derge in eastern Tibet, where for the remainder of his life he practised and mastered the teachings he had received. In many cases he revived the lineage, writing commentaries and passing on the instructions to individuals capable of holding them. He was regarded as the last of the Five Tertön Kings who were prophesised by Guru Padmasambhava in the 9th century, and he held the Seven Transmissions of treasure teachings. His collected works consist of 35 volumes, covering all aspects of mysticism and scholarship, and he also worked closely with his student and colleague, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, on that master’s famous Five Treasuries.

He was an authority on all the different teachings of Buddhism in Tibet, as well as the pre-buddhist Bön teachings. Shunning sectarian bias, he encouraged his students to appreciate the profundity of all the existing traditions. This approach became known as Rimé, or the nonsectarian approach. He passed away in 1892, predicting that he would reincarnate in several forms.

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

(1893-1959)

Born in 1893, Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche was recognized as one of the incarnations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and acquired his name as he took responsibility for Dzongsar monastery. 

Like his predecessor, he received teachings from a wide variety of teachers, and held and propagated many lineages of meditation practice. He greatly expanded Khamje College, and under his guidance Dzongsar monastery became a great centre of learning.

Almost all of the great lamas of the Nyingma, Kagyü and Sakya traditions of that generation received teachings from this outstanding master. The late Chögyam Trungpa met him as a young man, and recalls:

On our arrival [at Dzongsar], we found that there were more visitors than residents; they had come from all the different Buddhist schools of Tibet, for the seminary specialized in a great variety of teachings. We were given accommodation in the monastery and made an appointment to be received by Khyentse Rinpoche the following day. Our party went together for a formal introduction, exchanging the traditional scarves etc. after which the lama talked to me alone. His room had been left exactly as it was in the time of the great Khyentse and still seemed to exude the power of his spirituality. Khyentse came down from his throne and sat on a cushion in front of me with a welcoming smile. There was a sense of peace, happiness and warmth all around him, but there was also a sense of awe, his words were so profound. (Born in Tibet, 1966)

In the 1950s, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche settled in Sikkim, where he became the guru of the royal family, residing at the palace monastery until he passed away in 1959.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tashi Paljor

(1910-1991)

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was born in 1910 and was recognized by the great lamas Loter Wangpo and Mipham Rinpoche as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. His principal teacher was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and he was also the heart-son of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. In his teens and early twenties, he stayed in retreat in the mountains of Kham, after which he was encouraged to teach.


Chögyam Trungpa writes fondly of his childhood memories of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

“I felt drawn to him as if he had been my father; and thus I often addressed him without any shyness or doubt. He welcomed me as the reincarnation of his own guru, and since I was still only a child of ten he brought me toys and sweets. He was very tall and dignified and never seemed in a hurry. Whatever he did was expressed to perfection, in fact he surpassed anyone I had ever met; his writings were equally remarkable, and added to this he was a poet and had a gift for telling delightful stories.” (Born in Tibet, 1966)

In the years that followed the exodus from Tibet, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche became a pillar of the buddhist educational system and a seemingly inexhaustible source of teachings. In addition to possessing in abundance the qualities of an authentic spiritual master, he was the epitome of selflessness and generosity, travelling wherever he was invited to teach. Dilgo Khyentse would offer teachings endlessly, from early morning to late at night, and would rise at 2-3 every morning to practice until 9. Although he undoubtedly was always immersed in the expanse of unconditional wisdom, to set an example for his students by showing how to practice, he spent in all over 20 years in retreat. Rinpoche became the chaplain of the Royal Family of Bhutan, as well as a tutor of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Through his teaching and the printing of many rare books, he was responsible for the continuation of many teachings that would have been lost during the cultural changes of the past century. He built stupas and established several retreat centres and monasteries, including the great Shechen Monastery in Nepal. His collected writings are published in 25 volumes. He passed away in 1991.

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