Articles about Buddhism

A remarkable life

Published on November 24, 2012

Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpotché was one of the last masters from this generation of great lamas who completed their education and training in Tibet. He was one of the leading masters of the Nyingma tradition, and spent nearly 30 years of his life in retreat and meditation in order to profit from the vast teachings he’d received. 

Rinpotché wrote many poems, meditation texts, and commentaries, and was a tertön, a discoverer of precious texts (termas) that revealed the great instructions hidden by Padmasambhava. He was one of the chief masters of direct training of the Great Perfection, but also an exemplar of the non-sectarian Rimé Movement. Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpotché was renowned for his ability to convey the teachings of each Buddhist tradition in its own terms. 

Scholar, sage, poet, and teacher of masters, Rinpotché’s majestic presence, simplicity, dignity, and his humor were an unending source of inspiration to those who met him. He was born in 1910 in the Denkhok Valley, and soon the blessing of the illustrious Mipham Rinpotché.
Rinpotché displayed an intense desire to immerse himself in a spiritual life, but his father had other plans for him. His two older brothers had been taken from the family and entered monasteries. One brother had been identified as the reincarnation of a lama and the other aspired to be a physician. Rinpotché’s father would have been very happy to see him follow the example of his elder brothers, but couldn’t accept the suggestions of several master scholars that Rinpotché was a reincarnated lama. Rinpotché suffered serious burns at the age of ten, and was bedridden for nearly a year. Some wise lamas predicted that he wouldn’t survive long if not allowed to follow a spiritual path. The lamas were so insistent and persuasive that Rinpotché’s father, accepting their advice, agreed that the boy could follow his wishes and pursue his aspirations. 

At the age of 11, Rinpotché met his principal tutor, Shéchen Gyaltsap, who identified him definitively as the reincarnation of the wise spirit of the first Djamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (1820-1892). Khyen-tsé means “wisdom” and “love.” Shéchen Gyaltsap, who lived in in a retreat above the monastery, shared with Rinpotché the essential introductions and specific teachings of the Nyingma tradition. Rinpotché also studied with many of the great masters, including two of the greatest scholars of the time, Khenpo Shenga, a disciple of Patrul Rinpotché, and Khenpo Thupga. The young Rinpotché received instruction from more than 50 tutors and spiritual masters. 

From the ages of 13 to 30, however, Rinpotché, spent most of his life in solitary retreats at the grottoes and hermitages above his home village of Sakar, in Denkhok. 

Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpotché then spent many months with Dzongsar Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö (1896-1959), who was a reincarnation of the first Khyentsé. After receiving varied introductory instruction from Khyentsé, Rinpotché told his teacher that he wished to spend the rest of his life in solitary meditation. His master, however, replied, “It is now time for you to teach and to transmit to others all of the precious teachings that you have received.” From that moment, Rinpotché devoted all his time toward the welfare of all beings with the inexhaustible energy that is the hallmark of the Khyentsé. 

Upon leaving Tibet, Khyentsé Rinpotché traveled all over the Himalayas, in India, Southeast Asia, and in the West to transmit and explain Dharma to his many disciples. 

He lived for many years in Bhutan, where he had many disciples from the royal family to humble peasants. Wherever he was, Rinpotché woke up well before dawn to pray and meditate for several hours before starting a series of activities that lasted until late into the night. He accomplished an impressive amount of work each day, always with utter serenity and apparently without the slightest effort.
Rinpotché was a tireless builder and restorer of stupas, monasteries and temples in Bhutan, Tibet, India and Nepal. 

During the last years of his life, Rinpotché returned to Tibet three times, undertaking the reconstruction of the ancient Shéchen monastery, which had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. He also contributed in various ways to the restoration of more than two hundred Tibetan temples and monasteries, notably the one at Samyé.

In Nepal, Rinpotché transplanted the rich Shéchen tradition to a new home: a monastery in front of the great Bhodnath stupa, which he also made his base. Bhodnath is also the home of a large community of nuns now led by Rinpotché’s grandson and spiritual heir, Shéchen Rabjam Rinpotché. 

Following the systematic destruction of books and libraries in Tibet, only one or two copies of many works survived. Rinpotché devoted many years to publishing as much of the extraordinary heritage of Tibetan Buddhist teachings as possible, 300 volumes in all. Over his lifetime, in addition to innumerable teachings, Rinpotché twice transmitted the 108 volumes of Kangyour and the 63 volumes of Rinchen Terdzö. 

Rinpotché traveled to the West for the first time in 1975, later returning to Europe regularly and visiting North America three times. He taught in many countries, chiefly in France, where he had a base in Dordogne, Tashi Pelbar Ling. There he received visitors who came from across the world to hear his exhaustive teachings, as well as several groups of practitioners who undertook the traditional three-year retreat. 

Through his extensive enlightened actions, Khyentsé Rinpotché dedicated his entire life to the preservation and propagation of the Buddha’s teachings. Rinpotché derived the greatest satisfaction from seeing others put these teachings into practice effectively. His reward was seeing how the ideas of Enlightenment and compassion, as they flourished, transformed the lives of those who adopted them. 

In 1991, Khyentsé Rinpotché showed signs of illness, and at dusk on 27 September 1991, in Bhutan, he asked his servants to help him sit up straight. His breathing stopped in the early morning hours and his spirit passed into absolute space.

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