H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche History of Tibetan Text in Tibetan Text
Kybje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one the five immediate reembodiments of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, was born in 1910 as the fourth son of the Dilgo family, which traced its descent from the great ninth century king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen. The family home, his birthplace, was in the valley of Denkhok in Kham the easternmost of Tibet’s four main provinces. Kham was made up of many small kingdoms, of which the largest and most influential was Derge. Khyentse Rinpoche’s grandfather, Tashi Tsering, and later his father, were both ministers to the king of Derge.
Khyentse Rinpoche’s elder brother had been recognized as the incarnation of Sangye Nyenpa, a great teacher whose seat was Benchen. Despite being very religious, his father was not happy at all, because his first son was already a monk and he had no wish to let all the others embrace the monastic life.
Khyentse Rinpoche recounts: “While my mother was pregnant with me, her fourth son, the family went to visit Mipham Rinpoche, a great lama who lived in a hermitage about an hour’s walk from our estate. Mipham Rinpoche immediately asked if my mother was pregnant. This my parents confirmed, and asked him if it was a boy or a girl. ‘It is a son,’ said Mipham Rinpoche, ‘and the moment he is born it is important that you let me know.’
He gave my mother a protection cord and some blessed pills of Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom, to be given to me at birth. The day I was born, before I had any of my mother’s milk, a lama duly wrote on my tongue the syllable Dhi, the seed syllable of Manjushri’s mantra, using the powdered pills mixed with saffron water.
When I was three days old my parents took me to see Mipham Rinpoche, who said something to the effect that I was a special child. From birth, I had long black hair that came down over my eyes. My father asked if it should be cut, but Mipham Rinpoche said no and tied it up himself in “five bunches, like Manjushri’s hair.” At my mother’s request,
he gave me a name, Tashi Paljor (Auspicious Glory), writing it down himself on a slip of paper that my mother afterwards always kept in her prayer book. A while later, my parents took me to see Mipham Rinpoche again. He gave me a Manjushri empowerment and said, “Throughout all your future lives, I will take care of you. I feel that this blessing of his was the single most important event in my life.
“When I was a year old, a great lama of the Sakya lineage, Loter Wangpo, came to my house. He was the foremost Sakya disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He gave me his blessing, chanted some invocations, and said to my mother, “This is a child different from all others.” He gave me a bead from Jamyang Khyentse’s rosary, which he wore around his neck. He also gave me a long ceremonial scarf of white silk,
saying “This boy is the emanation of my teacher, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. For three days in a row I have had dreams and visions of Khyentse Wangpo, and when I saw the boy I had no doubt at all.”
“In any important matter, my father would seek advice from Mipham Rinpoche, and at this time Mipham Rinpoche said, ‘It is still a little too early to publicly recognize the boy as Khyentse’s incarnation. It might provoke obstacles.’ So for the time being my father did not offer me to Loter Wangpo, nor was I sent to Dzongsar Monastery.
“When I was two years old, Mipham Rinpoche passed away, and Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche came to participate in the funeral ceremonies. During his stay, I visited him regularly. He told my father that I should be brought to him later at Shechen ‘monastery, as I would be of benefit to the Buddhist teachings and beings. My father asked him what indications he had of this. Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who rarely spoke of such things, replied that the night before he had had a dream in which the image of Tseringma,
the Protectress of Long Life, in our temple turned into the goddess herself and told him to take care of this child, who would be of benefit to the teachings. My father, who was very direct, said that if this was really true he would allow me to go to Shechen. But if it was just for me to occupy a throne at the monastery and get caught up in ecclesiastical politics he would not let me go. Gyaltsap Rinpoche assured him that I would be of benefit to the teachings and to beings, so my father agreed to let me go. However, I was then still too young to be sent to Shechen.”
When the family travelled on pilgrimage, other great lamas, such as Taklung Matrul and Adzom Drukpa said that the child must be an incarnate lama. But his father did not want to let him become a lama, for there was a large family, an estate, and much land to look after. However, as Khyentse Rinpoche recounts:
“That same year I was burnt very seriously. Summer on our estate was the busiest time of the agricultural year, during which we employed many workers. To feed them all, huge quantities of soup were cooked in an enormous cauldron. One day, playing with my brother, I fell into the cauldron of boiling soup. The lower half of my body was so badly scalded that I was bedridden for many months, seriously ill despite the many long-life prayers that my family recited for me.
“My father asked me in desperation, ‘What ceremonies do you think will help you get better? If there’s anything that can save your life, we must do it!’ “What I wanted most was to be a monk, so I replied, ‘It would help if I could wear monk’s robes.’ My father gave his word, and quickly got some robes made. When I had them laid over me in bed, I felt overjoyed.
I also had placed on my pillow a bell and ritual hand-drum. “The very next day I asked Lama Osel, Mipham Rinpoche’s life-long attendant, to come and shave my head. I was told that a few of our old retainers wept that day, lamenting, ‘Now the last Dilgo son has taken vows, that’s the end of the family line.’ But I was so happy that soon my health improved and the risk of an untimely death receded. I was then ten years old.” excerpts taken from Rabsel No. 5 1997
To the north-east of Derge lies Shechen, one of the six principal monasteries of the Nyingmapa school. It was there that Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Mipham’s close disciple Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche (1871-1926) formally recognized and enthroned the young Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as one of the five incarnations of this great lama. The boy was then twelve years old. Khyentse Rinpoche tells of those golden years he spent with his teachers: “When we arrived, Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s attendant greeted us with two ceremonial scarves, one for myself and one for my elder brother Nyenpa Rinpoche.
He conveyed Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s wish that the two of us wait for an auspicious date to meet him, for it would be the first time we had ever met him at Shechen. Shedrup, however, having been there before, could visit him whenever he wished. “We waited for three days before receiving word; and to me, waiting to meet my teacher for the first time, those days seemed very long. At long last we were taken up to his retreat quarters.
Gyaltsap Rinpoche was wearing a yellow jacket lined with fur, instead of monastic robes. His hair, curling at the ends, had grown long enough to fall around his shoulders, for he rarely left his retreat hermitage. We were seated and served sweet saffron rice. Gyaltsap Rinpoche wanted to know all about the teachers Nyenpa Rinpoche had met and the teachings he had received. Nyenpa Rinpoche answered his questions for about three hours.
“Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s hermitage was perched on a spur of the mountainside about forty-five minutes’ walk above Shechen Monastery. The path up to this beautiful spot was quite steep and slippery during the rainy season. From the window you could see the monastery and the river down below in the valley, framed all around by mountains snow-covered for most of the year.
“Gyaltsap Rinpoche was indisputably one of the most learned and accomplished lamas of his time. Once he started a three year retreat, but after only three months to everyone’s surprise he emerged saying that he had completed his intended program. The next morning, his attendant noticed that a footprint had appeared in the stone threshold of his hermitage. That stone was later removed by disciples and can still be seen nowadays at Shechen Monastery. The monastery used to house more than two hundred monks.
Their abbot was Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, another of my principal teachers, and it was he who used to instruct the monks and give them empowerments. He also visited other monasteries to teach, traveling extensively as far as Central Tibet.” “Also at Shechen was a third great lama, Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche. He lived on the other side of the mountain torrent from Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s hermitage,
on the flat top of another promontory in the mountainside a delightful place of meadows covered in summer with yellow flowers. Shechen Kongtrul was a great meditator and, like Shechen Gyaltsap, took no part in the monastery’s administration, which was looked after by Shechen Rabjam.”
“For several months, Shechen Gyaltsap gave us all the most important teachings from the Nyingma tradition. While he was giving empowerments, I was often overwhelmed by the splendor and magnificence of his expression and his eyes as, with a gesture pointing in my direction, he introduced the nature of mind. I felt that,
apart from my own feeble devotion that made me see the teacher as an ordinary man, this was in fact exactly the same as the great Guru Padmasambhava himself giving empowerments to the twenty-five disciples. My confidence grew stronger and stronger, and when again he would gaze and point at me, asking ‘What is the nature of mind?’, I would think with great devotion,
‘This is truly a great yogi who can see the absolute nature of reality!’ and began to understand myself how to meditate. On my next visit to Shechen, I received ordination as a novice monk from Gyaltsap Rinpoche.”
Before meeting Shechen Gyaltsap, Khyentse Rinpoche had spent many months studying Buddhist philosophy with the greatest scholars and hermit of his time named Khenpo Shenga. He received teachings from him on The Way of the Bodhisattva and on Madhyamika (“middle way”) philosophy.
It is at Shechen, that Khyentse Rinpoche meet Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who had also come to receive teachings from Shechen Gyaltsap. At the end of the teachings, Gyaltsap Rinpoche enthroned the young boy as the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s mind. Khyentse Wangpo had five incarnations, who where respectively the emanations of his body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity. Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was the incarnation of his activity. Khyentse Rinpoche explains:
“On the morning of the enthronement I climbed up the path to the hermitage. Inside, a large throne had been set up. Shechen Kongtrul, who was still very young then, was holding incense, and Shechen Gyaltsap was dressed in his finest clothes. They told me to sit on the throne. They chanted verses describing the five perfect conditions the perfection of time, place, teacher, teaching, and disciples. GyaltsapRinpoche performed the ceremony and gave me sacred objects symbolic of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activity of the Buddhas.
Then he presented me with a written document, which said: ‘Today I take the son of the Dilgo family and recognize him as the re-embodiment of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. I name him Gyurme Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen, Immutable Victory Banner of the Supreme Vehicle. I entrust him with the teachings of the great masters of the past. Now, if I die I have no regret.’ “So these, and other occasions over a period of about five years, were the times I spent with Gyaltsap Rinpoche at Shechen. While there,
I lived not in the monastery itself but at the retreat center up the hill. “Then I went back home. I stayed in retreat for about a year in a cave. During the winter, without coming out of retreat, I asked the learned Khenpo Thubga to come and give me detailed teachings on the Tantra of the Secret Quintessence. He went through it three times altogether, and I learnt by heart both the root text and Longchenpa’s three hundred page commentary.
“Some time later, I went to Kyangma Ritrö where Khenpo Thubga lived. There was no monastery or other buildings there, only tents. It was there, at the age of fifteen, that I learned in a letter from my father that Gyaltsap Rinpoche had passed on. For a moment my mind went blank. Then, suddenly, the memory of my teacher arose so strongly in my mind that I was overwhelmed and wept. That day I felt as if my heart had been torn from my chest. I went back to Denkhok and started a period of retreat in the mountains that would last for thirteen years.”
Khyentse Rinpoche tells us about the importance of the spiritual master: “A crystal takes on the color of the cloth upon which it is placed, whether white, yellow, red, or black. Likewise, the people you spend your time with, whether their influence is good or bad, will make a huge difference to the direction your life and practice take.
Spending your time with true spiritual friends will fill you with love for all beings, and help you to see how negative attachment and hatred are. Being with such friends, and following their example, will naturally imbue you with their good qualities, just as all the birds flying around a golden mountain are bathed in its golden radiance.
To free yourself from samsara and attain the omniscience of enlightenment you have to rely on an authentic teacher. Such a teacher always thinks, speaks and acts in perfect accord with the Dharma. He shows you what to do to make progress on the path, and what obstacles to avoid. An authentic spiritual teacher is like the sail that enables a boat to cross the ocean swiftly.
If you trust his words, you will find your way out of samsara easily. Enlightenment is not something that can be accomplished just by following your own ideas; each separate stage of your practice, whether based on the sutras or tantras, requires an explanation from a qualified teacher.
It is said that the Buddhas of the past, those of the present, and those to come have all achieved or will achieve Buddhahood by following a teacher.” Khyentse Rinpoche himself was to become the archetype of the spiritual teacher, someone whose inner journey led him to an extraordinary depth of knowledge and enabled him to be, for whoever met him, a fountain of loving kindness, wisdom and compassion.
To achieve these extraordinary qualities, Khyentse Rinpoche spent most of the next thirteen years in silent retreat. In remote hermitages and caves deep in the steep wilderness of wooded hills near his birthplace in the valley of Denkhok, he constantly meditated on the wish to bring all sentient beings to freedom and enlightenment. He tells us about those years he spent in retreat:
“I practiced from the early hours before dawn until noon, and from afternoon late into the night. At midday I read from my books, reciting the texts aloud to learn them by heart. I stayed in a cave at Cliff Hermitage for seven years, at White Grove for three years, and in other caves and huts for a few months at a time,
surrounded by thick forests and snow covered mountains. My cave had no door, and small bears used to come and snuffle around the entrance. But they were unable to climb the ladder into the cave. Outside in the forest lived foxes and all sorts of birds. There were leopards not very far away, too; they caught a small dog I had with me. A cuckoo lived nearby, and he was my alarm clock. As soon as I heard him,
around three o’clock in the morning, I would get up and start a session of meditation. At five o’clock I made myself some tea, which meant that I had no need to see anyone till lunchtime. In the evening I would let the fire go out slowly so that next morning the embers were still hot enough to be stoked up again. I could revive the fire and boil tea in my one big pot without getting up from my seat, just by leaning forward. I had a large number of books with me.
The cave was quite roomy high enough to stand up in without hitting my head on the roof but slightly damp. Like most caves, it was cool in summer and retained some warmth in winter. I lived in the cave at Cliff Hermitage without coming out of retreat for seven years. My parents would come to see me from time to time. I was sixteen when I started that retreat. I sat all the time in a four-sided wooden box, occasionally stretching my legs out. Shedrup, my elder brother, was my retreat teacher, and he told me that unless I took a walk outside sometimes I might end up quite deranged; but I felt not the slightest wish to go out. Shedrup was practicing, too,
in partial retreat in a hut nearby. With him was an attendant who from time to time went to fetch provisions from our house, three hours away by horse. When I returned to Kham in 1985, I met that attendant again, still alive.” “For five or six years I ate no meat. For three years I did not speak a single word. At noon, after lunch, I used to relax a little and study some books;
I never wasted time doing nothing at all. My brother Shedrup often encouraged me to compose prayers, spiritual songs and poems, which he thought would give me practice in writing. I found it easy to write, and by the end of that period I had written about a thousand pages; but later, when we fled Tibet, it was all lost.
That cave had a very clear feeling about it, and there were no distractions. I let my hair grow and it got very long. When I practiced ‘inner warmth’ I experienced a lot of heat, and day and night for years, in spite of the very cold climate, I wore only a white shawl and a robe of raw silk. I sat on a bearskin. Outside everything was frozen solid, but inside the cave was warm.
Later, I moved to White Grove. There I made myself a small wooden hut with one small window. Khyentse Rinpoche’s wife, Khandro Lhamo, tells us: “Rinpoche would never lie down at night; he slept sitting up straight in his wooden box. In the evening, after supper, he would start his session and not speak until lunchtime the next day. At lunchtime his brother would call me and we would all have lunch together, and talk a little.
Then, right away, Rinpoche would start another session and not see anyone till evening. At White Grove, where Rinpoche spent three years in retreat. That was after our first daughter Chimey was born. Sometimes, Rinpoche’s elder brother, Nyenpa Rinpoche, would come and spend a few months in retreat near by. Even after his retreat, Rinpoche would only stay at the family house for a week or two at a time before returning to his hermitage.”
After completing his retreat at the age of twenty-eight, Khyentse Rinpoche spent many years with Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1896-1959), who was, like him, an incarnation of the first Khyentse. Khyentse Rinpoche considered Chökyi Lodrö his second main teacher and had immense respect for him.
After receiving the six-month empowerments of the Collection of Revealed Treasures from him, Khyentse Rinpoche told him that he wished to spend the rest of his life in solitary meditation. But Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was adamant ‘Your mind and mine are one,’ he said. ‘The time has come for you to teach and transmit to others the countless precious teachings you have received.’ So from then on,
Khyentse Rinpoche worked constantly for the benefit of all living beings with the tireless energy that is the hallmark of the Khyentse lineage. Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was also a finder of concealed treasures, and once he told Khyentse Rinpoche: ‘You must find many treasures with which to benefit others.
I had a dream last night. There were clouds in the shapes of the eight auspicious symbols and many other forms, and with them in the sky were many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. From those clouds fell an abundant rain of nectar, benefiting beings. You must spread your treasure teachings.’ He asked me to give him the empowerments for some of my treasures, and I offered them to him.”
In one of these terma visions, Khyentse Rinpoche saw the complete mandala of the Buddha of eternal life appear on the surface of a lake in eastern Tibet. Following this vision, he wrote a whole volume of teachings and spiritual practices. Altogether, Khyentse Rinpoche’s spiritual treasures fill five volumes. Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö then asked Khyentse Rinpoche to go Rekong in Amdo province and teach the Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings.
Khyentse Rinpoche gave these precious empowerments and teachings over four months to one thousand nine hundred yogis. Khyentse Rinpoche met and studied with many other masters, fifty altogether, receiving their teachings like a vase being filled to the brim. By the late 1950s, as the war began to rage in Kham, Khyentse Rinpoche and his family·made a narrow escape to central Tibet, leaving everything behind,
including Rinpoche’s precious books and most of his own writings. Together, they went on an extensive pilgrimage in U and Tsang. Then, for six months, Khyentse Rinpoche sat before the famous Crowned Buddha statue in Lhasa to recite one hundred thousand offerings of the mandala of the universe. An epidemic was raging in Lhasa, and so he also performed many ceremonies and prayers for the sick and dying, turning a deaf ear to his family’s fears that he himself would be infected. During the epidemic, his mother and his elder brother,
Shedrup, both passed on. From Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapa, to the north west of Lhasa, Khyentse Rinpoche, his family and a few disciples decided to go into exile. They reached the Bhutanese border with hardly anything left to eat. The Bhutanese government gave them hospitality. When they reached a place called Wangdi Potrang, someone heard the news on a small radio that Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had passed
away in Sikkim. By then Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was forty-nine. He then went to perform the cremation, of Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö in Sikkim. In Kalimpong and Darjeeling he also met other great lamas such as Dudjom Rinpoche with whom he exchanged teachings.
At the request of the royal family, Khyentse Rinpoche went to live in Bhutan. He became a schoolteacher near Thimphu, the capital. Soon his inner perfection drew many disciples to him and, as the years passed, he became the foremost Buddhist teacher in Bhutan, revered by all from the King to the humblest farmer.
Bhutan is a mountain kingdom that has managed to remain unconquered and independent ever since Vajrayana Buddhism was first introduced in the eighth century by Guru Padmasambhava, and then by the fifteenth century Bhutanese tertön Pema Lingpa and the influential seventeenth century Tibetan teacher
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Buddhist culture has been able to flourish unimpeded, and its values are deeply embedded in people’s minds. Every hill is topped by a small temple, surrounded by prayer flags flapping in the wind. Prayer-wheels are kept in motion day and night by torrents and rivulets.
Mountain and forest are dotted with hermitages in which retreatants devote their time to meditation. Several times a year, Khyentse Rinpoche would perform large ceremonies called drupchen, or ‘great accomplishment’, lasting from eight to fourteen continuous days and nights. Once Khyentse Rinpoche spent two weeks at the Tiger’s Nest Cave,
at Paro Taktsang. There he made offerings of one hundred thousand butter lamps and gave many teachings and empowerments. While he was there, he had a vision of the great eighteenth century lama Jigme Lingpa, who had a book on his head, tied up in his hair, .and wore a white robe and a striped red and white shawl. He put his hand on Khyentse Rinpoche’s head and told him:
You are the heir of my-teachings, the Heart Essence of Vast Space (Longchen Nyingthig). You may do with them whatever you wish.’ Jigme Lingpa also told him that to maintain peace in Bhutan and to ensure the preservation of the Buddhist teachings, four large stupas should be built. Each stupa should contain one hundred thousand miniature clay stupas. This was done accordingly.
After escaping from Tibet and arriving in India, Khyentse Rinpoche became one of the main teachers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He had first met him in Lhasa on several occasions. Not long after Khyentse Rinpoche’s had reached India, all the main lamas of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism gathered in Dharamsala,
the Dalai Lama’s seat in India, to offer prayers for his long life and to discuss the preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings in exile. The Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools were asked to choose a representative to offer His Holiness a mandala symbolizing the whole universe. On such occasions, whoever makes the offering traditionally starts by delivering a long,
erudite speech describing the universe according to Buddhist cosmology and the fundamental tenets of Buddhist history and doctrine. Usually, a great scholar would compose such a discourse over a few weeks and read it out on the day, but Khyentse Rinpoche was only asked to give the discourse the day before. Nevertheless, he accepted without much formality.
A scholar heard what had happened and felt sorry that Khyentse Rinpoche had been asked to give such an important lecture without preparation. He brought him a book containing the text of a similar lecture, and suggested that Khyentse Rinpoche might study it or read from it the next day. Khyentse Rinpoche thanked the scholar politely, but put the book down on his table, resumed the conversation he had been having with his visitors, and then went to sleep.
The next day, when the time came to give the lecture in the presence of the Dalai Lama and the learned assembly, Khyentse Rinpoche stood up, opened the book for the first time, and holding it without turning the pages delivered a highly erudite discourse lasting some two hours. At the end; during the offering of the Eight Auspicious Objects to His Holiness, a clap of thunder was heard as he took the conch shell in his hands.
Everyone was struck by Khyentse Rinpoche’s learning, which thereafter was well known among the Tibetan community in India. The next day, as Khyentse Rinpoche was saying goodbye to him, His Holiness said: ‘That was an auspicious sign yesterday with the thunder, was it not?’
Later the Dalai Lama asked Khyentse Rinpoche to his residence in Dharamsala many times. Over the years, Khyentse Rinpoche offered him most of the major teachings from the Nyingma tradition. The Dalai Lama says about Khyentse Rinpoche: “Khyentse Rinpoche is one of my most important gurus. Since my very first meeting with him I have had clear indications of a special karmic relationship with him. Later I received teachings from him,
for which today I feel very grateful. He is a great practitioner and a great scholar, not to mention his hidden qualities. I particularly appreciate his non-sectarian attitude. In spite of his fame and his huge following, he always remains very gentle and humble. This is very remarkable. The Buddha explained in great detail the qualities of an authentic guru. All of these qualities I found in Khyentse Rinpoche.”
Khyentse Rinpoche’s achievements in different fields each seem more than enough to have filled a whole lifetime. Twenty years or so spent practicing in retreat; an astonishing depth and breadth of teaching, taking up at least several hours a day over half a century; twenty-five large volumes of written works;
numerous major projects to preserve and disseminate Buddhist thought, tradition and culture overseen by him in all these undertakings, Khyentse Rinpoche tirelessly gave form to his lifelong dedication to Buddhism. His knowledge of the enormous range of Tibetan Buddhist literature was probably unparalleled,
and he inherited Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s determination to preserve and make available texts of all traditions, particularly those in danger of disappearing. Khyentse Rinpoche’s lifetime saw Tibet’s unique heritage threatened from the outside by the great upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Innumerable books in countless monastery libraries were systematically destroyed,
and few of the lamas and scholars who fled into exile managed to bring their precious books with them on the hurried and hazardous journey, often arriving with little more than the clothes they stood up in. In most cases, nevertheless, the texts survived, even if only in one or very few copies. Gradually gathering momentum over two decades, as the funds and manpower became available,
the huge task of re-publishing almost the whole of Tibetan literature began. Khyentse Rinpoche himself, through his efforts over the years to edit and publish important texts, preserved nearly three hundred volumes for posterity.
Often complementing or shedding light on the works of great masters of the past, Khyentse Rinpoche’s own writings form a veritable encyclopedia of practice texts, commentaries, prayers, poems and advice. But Khyentse Rinpoche was more than just a great scholar. There is no doubt that what he considered most important,
and what gave him the greatest satisfaction, was that the teachings he had himself realized and transmitted, were put into practice by others. He taught in every free moment of the day, tirelessly responding to all requests for instruction and spiritual guidance.
He would often teach all day for months on end to gatherings ranging from a few dozen to several thousand people. Even after a full day of teaching, he would grant some individual request and teach one person or a small group in his room until late at night. During all-day rituals,
while everyone else took their lunch break, he would eat quickly and use every remaining minute before the ceremony resumed to give someone an explanation of a few pages of a meditation text or philosophical commentary.
Anyone who ever heard Khyentse Rinpoche teach was struck by his remarkable delivery. Glancing rarely at the written text, he would speak effortlessly at a steady rate, evenly, without strong emphasis, in a ceaseless stream with no pause or hesitation, as if reading from an unseen book in his memory.
Somehow the subject would always be uniformly covered from beginning to end, in just the allocated time, pitched precisely at the audience’s level of understanding. Spoken by him, even a few simple words could open the door to a whole succession of new insights into spiritual life.
Wherever he was, Khyentse Rinpoche would rise well before dawn to pray and meditate for several hours before embarking on an uninterrupted flow of activities until late into the night. He accomplished a tremendous daily workload with total serenity and apparent effortlessness. Profoundly gentle and patient though he was,
Khyentse Rinpoche’s presence, his vastness of mind and powerful physical appearance, inspired awe and respect. With close disciples and attendants he could be very strict, for he knew that a good disciple “grows strong under strong discipline.” He never spoke harshly to visitors or those not committed to him,
but with his own disciples he was uncompromising in making sure that they never got away with shabby behavior, words and thoughts. To those living near him it was also somehow obvious that he could see clearly through any pretence or hypocrisy. Although the Buddhist teachings point out that there is no better witness than one’s own mind,
his loving yet formidable presence had a powerful influence on his disciples and ensured that their minds did not wander. In early 1991, Khyentse Rinpoche began to show the first signs of ill health while teaching in Bodhgaya. Completing his programme there nevertheless,
he traveled to Dharamsala and without apparent difficulty spent a month giving important empowerments and transmissions to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which the latter had been requesting for many years. Back in Nepal, as spring advanced, it became obvious that his health was steadily deteriorating.
He passed much of the time in silent prayer and meditation, setting aside only a few hours of the day to meet those who most needed to see him. He was obliged to cancel a fourth journey to Tibet, where he had planned to visit Shechen monastery once again.
Instead, he chose to spend three and a half months in retreat opposite the Tiger’s Nest, Paro Taktsang in Bhutan, one of the most sacred places blessed by Padmasambhava.
After his retreat, Rinpoche seemed to be in better health. He visited several of his disciples who were in retreat and spoke to them of the ultimate teacher, beyond birth and death or any physical manifestation.
But shortly afterward he was again showing signs of illness, and for twelve days was almost completely unable to eat or drink. On 27 September 1991, at nightfall, he asked his attendants to help him sit in an upright position and went into a peaceful sleep. In the early hours of the morning, his breathing ceased and his mind dissolved in the absolute expanse.
Thus Khyentse Rinpoche’s extraordinary life came to an end, a life spent entirely in study, practice and teaching from an early age. Wherever he was, day or night, in the same uninterrupted flow of kindness, humor, wisdom and dignity, his every effort had been directed to the preservation and expression of all forms of the Buddhist teaching.
At the request of disciples from Tibet and allover the world, his body was preserved for a year using traditional embalming methods. It was also taken from Bhutan to Shechen Monastery in Nepal for several months,
so that more people could come to pay their respects. Every Friday (the day of his death) for the first seven weeks, one hundred thousand butter lamps were offered on the Bodhnath stupa near Shechen Monastery. The whole Tibetan community joined the monks to help prepare and light the lamps.
Finally, his remains were cremated near Paro in Bhutan, November 1992, at a three-day ceremony attended by over a hundred important lamas, the Royal Family and ministers of Bhutan, five hundred western disciples and a huge crowd of some fifty thousand devotees a gathering unprecedented in Bhutan’s history.
Many great men and women, apart from their particular genius in science or the arts, are not necessarily good human beings. Khyentse Rinpoche was someone whose greatness was totally in accord with the teachings he professed. However unfathomable the depth and breadth of his mind might seem,
from an ordinary point of view he was an extraordinarily good human being. Those who lived near him, even for ten or fifteen years, say that they never witnessed a single word or deed of his that harmed anyone. His only concern was the present and ultimate benefit of others. Here was a living example of what lay at the end of the spiritual path the greatest possible inspiration for anyone thinking of setting out on the journey to enlightenment.