Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche 1910–91

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–1991) was a highly accomplished meditation master, scholar, and poet, and a principal holder of the Nyingma lineage. His extraordinary depth of realization enabled him to be, for all who met him, a foundation of loving-kindness, wisdom, and compassion. A dedicated exponent of the nonsectarian Rime movement, Khyentse Rinpoche was respected by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and taught many eminent teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He tirelessly worked to uphold the Dharma through the publication of texts, the building of monasteries and stupas, and by offering instruction to thousands of people throughout the world. His writings in Tibetan fill twenty-five volumes.

Courtesy of shechen. Used by permission.

Dilgo Khyentse Tashi Peljor (dil mgo mkhyen brtse bkra shis dpal ‘byor) was born in the Denma (ldan ma) region of Derge (sde dge), in Kham, to the Dilgo (dil mgo) family, which claimed to be descended from the royal lineage of the ninth-century king Tri Songdetsen (khri srong lde’u btsan). The family, known by the same name as the village where they were based, had been major patrons of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (‘jam dbyang mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, 1820-1892). His father, Tashi Tsering (bkra shis tshe ring, d. 1932) was the son of a Derge minister, Tashi Tsepel (bkra shis tshe ‘phel), and both were disciples of Khyentse Wangpo. His mother, the daughter of a Derge minister, was named Lhaga (lha ‘ga’). He was born on the third day of the third month of the iron-dog year, 1910, while Ju Mipam Gyatso (‘ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846-1912) was giving a teaching on Kālacakra to his household. When he was just one month old, Ju Mipam gave him blessings and the name Tashi Peljor (bkra shis dpal ‘byor). For the next two years, until he passed away, Ju Mipam frequently gave Mañjuśrī blessings and empowerments to the boy and his family.


Dilgo Khyentse’s elder brother was the Ninth Benchen Sanggye Nyenpa, Karma Shedrub Tenpai Nyima (ban chen sangs rgyas mnyan pa 09 karma bshad sgrub bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1897-1962), a major tulku based at the Karma Kagyu monastery Ga Benchen (sga ban chen dgon) in Yushu. Dilgo Khyentse dearly loved and respected this brother, and composed a biography of him, which can be found in the first volume of his collected works. The eldest son of the family, also named Shedrub, was a companion for much of his life.

Certain circumstances before his birth led many people, including Dzogchen Khenpo Zhenga Zhenpen Chokyi Nangwa (rdzogs chen mkhan po gzhan dga’ gzhan phan chos kyi snang ba, 1871-1927) and Adzom Drukpa Pawo Dorje (a ‘dzom ‘brug pa dpa’ bo rdo rje, 1842-1924) to believe that Dilgo Khyentse was the rebirth of his father’s own root guru, Wonpo Tenga Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (dbon po bstan dga’ o rgyan bstan ‘dzin nor bu) of Gemang Monastery (dge mang dgon pa) in Dzachuka, Kham. An older brother had previously been identified as the tulku, but he had died, and the Fourteenth Karmapa, Tekchok Dorje (karma pa 14 theg mchog rdo rje, 1798/1799-1868/1869) had declared that the tulku’s reincarnation would again be a son of Tashi Tsering. Prior to Dilgo Khyentse’s birth, his mother miscarried, unknown to the lamas looking for the rebirth of Wonpo Tenga, a fact used to explain why Tashi Peljor did not receive this recognition.

Tashi Peljor’s father was loath to let his son be recognized as a lama, despite repeated indications that he was indeed a tulku. When the boy was just one year old Jamyang Loter Wangpo (‘jam dbyangs blo gter dbang po), a disciple of Khyentse Wangpo, declared the boy an incarnation of Khyentse Wangpo and asked that the boy be given to him to train. Ju Mipam, possibly out of personal distrust of the tulku institution, advised Tashi Tsering to refrain from accepting the identification and keep Tashi Peljor at home, and despite Loter Wangpo’s continued insistence, he refused his requests. Along with Loter Wangpo, the Fifth Dzogchen, Tulku Tubten Chokyi Dorje (rdzogs chen sprul sku 05 thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872-1935) and the Khangsar Khenpo (khang gsar mkhen po) of Ngor Ewam Chode (ngor e wam chos sde), also requested the boy for their monasteries. In addition, The Third Katok Situ, Chokyi Gyatso (ka thog si tu 03 chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880-1925) declared that the boy was the reincarnation of the Third Karma Kuchen, Ogyen Dongak Chokyi Nyima (karma sku chen 03 o rgyan mdo sngags chos kyi nyi ma, 1854-1906) of Pelyul Monastery (dpa’ yul dgon).

In 1912 the Fourth Shechen Gyeltsab, Pema Namgyel (zhe chen rgyal tshab 04 padma rnam rgyal, 1871-1926) visited the Dilgo family during the funeral services for Ju Mipam, and asked Tashi Tsering to give Tashi Peljor to Shechen Monastery (zhe chen dgon). This request he accepted, although Tashi Peljor remained with his family for several more years. In 1916, while the Dilgo family was on pilgrimage to Tibet, the Fifth Taklung Matrul, Ngawang Tendzin Nyima (stag lung ma sprul ngag dbang bstan pa’i nyi ma) told Tashi Peljor that his son was surely an incarnation, and asked whether he would make him a monk or a layman. Tashi Peljor declared that the boy would remain a layman, stressing that the family had a great deal of wealth to administer.

In 1919 Tashi Tsering brought his family to Shechen to meet with Adzom Drukpa. The lama cleared obstacles for the family and encouraged Tashi Tsering to make his young son a monk. Informed that Ju Mipam had instructed Tashi Tsering to not cut Tashi Peljor’s hair until he was twenty, Andzom Drukpa nevertheless administered novice vows, cutting just a small piece of Tashi Peljor’s hair. He gave the boy the name Orgyen Kyab (o rgyan skyab). He also gave Tashi Peljor the transmission for the preliminary practices of the Longchen Nyingtik. At both Shechen and Dzogchen Monastery (rdzogs chen dgon) Tashi Peljor met high lamas who gave transmissions and foretold that obstacles would arise were he not to ordain.

One evening, while playing in the kitchen of his estate with a brother, Tashi Peljor was severely burned on the left leg when he knocked over a large cauldron of boiling soup. A lama named Rigdzin Tekchok (rig ‘dzin theg mchog) performed a healing rite, which slightly eased the pain, but the boy remained bedridden for half a year. The result of the accident was that the many lamas who had previously urged Tashi Tsering to make his son a monk were given serious consideration, and Tashi Peljor himself declared that he wished to ordain. A teacher named Lama Osel, a disciple of Ju Mipam, gave the boy novice vows and cut his hair and gave him robes. But despite the insistence of several lamas that he be enthroned, Tashi Peljor continued to remain at home.

At the end of Tashi Peljor’s convalescence Khenpo Zhenga visited his family on his way to Jyekundo (skye dgu mdo) where he was charged by Loter Wangpo to establish a monastic college. Considering that boy to be the reincarnation of his own master, Wonpo Tenga, Khenpo Zhenga urged him to join him there. Together with his elder brother, Shedrub Tenpai Nyima, Tashi Peljor went to the great Sakya monastery in Jyekundo, Jyegu Dondrub Ling (skye rgu’i don ‘grub gling) to begin his formal studies. In the fourth month of the sheep year, 1919, he took novice vows with Khenpo Zhenga, receiving the name Jigme Rabsel Dawa Kyenrab Tenpa Dargye (‘jigs med rab gsal zla ba mkhyen rab bstan pa dar rgyas). Throughout his youth he was referred to as Tulku Selga, an abbreviation of Rabsel Dawa.

Courtesy of Shechen. Used by permission.At Jyegu Dondrub Ling Tashi Peljor first studied the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, which Khenpo Zhenga instructed him to teach to his mother soon after. Next he studied the Madhamikāvatāra, beginning in 1920. At the end of the year Khenpo Zhenga moved to his hermitage, Gyawo, above Dzogchen Monastery on the slopes of Trori Dorje Ziltrom (kho ri rdo rje zil khrom). Not wanting to terminate his instruction of the young Tashi Peljor, Khenpo Zhenga invited the boy to accompany him, giving him instructions in the Words of My Perfect Teacher (kun bzang bla ma’i bshad lung) and basic Madhyamaka treatises such as Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. With his brother Shedrub, Tashi Peljor sat a one-month Vajrakīla retreat at Sakar Samdrubling (sa dkar bsam ‘grub gling), in Derge, using Ju Mipam’s Kīla Manual (rgyud lugs ‘phur ba), at one point using his Kīla visualization to punish a runaway servant. For the next few years he and his brother continued to receive teachings from lamas of Dzogchen Monastery and to sit short retreats.

In the summer of 1924 Tashi Peljor, together with his elder brother, traveled to Shechen to meet the Fourth Shechen Gyeltsab, Padma Namgyel (zhe chen rgyal tshab 04 pad+ma rnam rgyal), who was then in retreat in a hermitage above Shechen. The aged lama gave the brothers a series of empowerments, including Terdak Lingpa Gyurme Dorje‘s (gter bdag gling pa ‘gyur med rdo rje, 1646-1714) Mindroling Vajrasattva (smin grol gling rdo rje sems dpa’) and Guru Chowang‘s Purba Yangsang Putri (phur ba yang gsang spu gri). They also received empowerments at that time from Shechen Kongtrul Pema Drime (zhe chen kong sprul pad+ma dri med, 1901-1960), and Tashi Peljor memorized the root Guhyagarbha Tantra. This was the first time Tashi Peljor engaged in serious study of the Vajrayāna. Shechen Gyeltsab also gave the three the reading transmission for Ju Mipam’s collected works, using block prints from Derge, Shechen, and elsewhere, as well as remaining manuscripts.

Leaving Shechen for a short time, with his brother the Sanggye Nyenpa, Tashi Peljor went to Dzogchen and Pelpung Monastery (dpal spung) to receive additional teachings from Khenpo Zhenga and the Eleventh Situ, Pema Wangchok Gyelpo (si tu 10 pad+ma dbang mchog rgyal po, 1888-1952). While at Pelpung they also studied grammar and poetics with the senior chant master, Tendzin Dorje (bstan ‘dzin rdo rje).

After meeting with Pelpung Situ on the first day of the new wood mouse year, Tashi Peljor and his brother Shedrub were given leave to return to Shechen to receive Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Instructions (gdams ngag mdzod) with Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (rdzong sar mkhye brtse chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959), who had requested it. Because Shechen Gyeltsab was at that time preparing to administer novice vows to several young disciples, Tashi Peljor requested to retake his vows with his new master, receiving the new ordination name Gyurme Labsum Gyeltsen (‘gyur med lab sum rgyal mtshan). It was an auspicious time to return to Shechen, as Gyeltsab was just them opening the new monastic college, and Tashi Peljor was able to participate in the many teachings and transmissions as part of the consecration.

During these teachings and empowerments Shechen Gyeltsab formally enthroned Tashi Peljor as a reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, giving him the name Gyurme Tekchok Tenpai Gyeltsen (‘gyur med theg mchog bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan). The formal recognition seems to have deepened the warm relationship that Tashi Peljor enjoyed with Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.

Until Shechen Gyeltsab passed away in 1926 Tashi Peljor never travelled far from Shechen, residing at the hermitage to be near Gyeltsab Rinpoche. He studied with numerous lamas there, including training in the Guhyagarbha with Khenchen Tubten Chopel (thub bstan chos ‘phel) using Longchenpa’s commentary Dispelling Darkness in the Ten Directions (gsang snying ‘grel pa phyogs bcu mun sel), and sat retreats putting into practice what he had been taught.

Following his master’s death Tashi Peljor went into secluded retreat, staying in a cave in Denkok with his brother Shedrub and two attendants below in a small house. Although bears occasionally harassed the residents of the house, the cave was accessible via ladder alone, so they was left unmolested, save for the presence of many birds and a small dog that met an unfortunate end, eaten by a leopard.

In the late summer of 1932 a boy named Gyurme Pema Dorje, was enthroned as the Fifth Shechen Gyeltsab (zhe chen rgyal tshab 05 ‘gyur med pad+ma rdo rje, d.1959). As part of the enthronement many of Tashi Peljor’s teachers came to Shechen and he received numerous empowerments and transmissions.

In 1934, at the age of twenty-five, Tashi Peljor suffered a severe fever that brought him close to death. Deciding that taking a consort and living the life of a tantrika would improve his health, he renounced his novice monastic vows and paired with Khandro Lhamo (mkha’ ‘gro lha mo), with whom he had two daughters. It is a widely held belief in Tibet that in order to reveal treasure one must practice sexual yoga, and thus the new arrangement was considered by his community to have opened the door to the possibility of revealing treasures, something he was urged to do by Chokyi Lodro and the Tenth Zurmang Trungpa, Karma Chokyi Nyingche (zur mang drung pa 10 kar+ma chos kyi nyin byed, c.1879-1939). It was a transition that Tashi Peljor made not two years after the death of his father, who had been so resistant to his becoming a monk, and yet who had been very proud of his son’s accomplishments as a cleric.

The following year he revealed the first section of one of his most celebrated treasures, Pema’s Heart Essence of Longevity (pad+ma tshe yi snying thig) at Doti Gangkar (rdo ti gangs dkar), near Ladro Samdrub Lhaden Chokor Ling (gla gro bsam ‘grub lha ldan chos ‘khor gling) in Nangchen. The revelation was completed the following year at Pema Shelpuk (pad+ma shel phug), a treasure site opened by Khyentse Wangpo and Chokgyur Lingpa (mchog ‘gyur gling pa, 1829-1870) near Dzongsar Monastery (rdzong sar dgon)

In 1944 Tashi Peljor spent an extended period of time at Dzongsar with Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, who gave him the transmission for the Nyingma Kama and for Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasure of Knowledge (shes bya kun khyab). They visited the sacred sites of the Mesho valley where in the nineteenth century Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul, and Chokgyur Lingpa had revealed treasure and engaged in other rituals. Tashi Peljor performed feast offerings and decoded treasures the three earlier masters are said to have revealed. At the start of the wood bird year, 1945, Khyentse Chokyi Lodro gave him and one hundred other lamas the transmission and empowerments for the Rinchen Terdzod (rin chen gter mdzod), the collection of revealed treasures compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul.

The next year Tashi Peljor traveled around Kham, visiting sacred sites of Chokgyur Lingpa’s treasure revelations and monasteries. In Nangchen he met the holders of Chokgyur Lingpa’s lineage, including Terse Tulku Gyurme Tsewang Tenpel (‘gyur med tshe dbang bstan ‘phel, d.u.), the reincarnation of Chokgyur Linga’s son Wangchuk Dorje (dbang byug rdo rje, d.u.). There he also met the two reincarnations of Chokgyur Lingpa, the young Third Tsike Chokling (rtsi ke mchog gling 03, c.1940-1952) and the Third Neten Chokling, Pema Gyurme (gnas brtan mchog gling 03 padma ‘gyur med, 1928-1974), whom he had befriended during the Rinchen Terdzod transmission at Dzongsar the year before. Examining the treasure objects of Chokgyur Lingpa, Tashi Peljor found and decoded a sheet of ḍākinī script, producing a treasure cycle of the Kabgye (bka’ brgyad).

In the early years of the Communist rule in Kham Tashi Peljor continued his religious activity. He traveled to Nangchen, giving and receiving teachings at Zurmang Dutsitil (zur mang bdud rtsi mthil), Trangu (khra ‘gu dgon pa) and other monasteries in the region. In Derge he performed rites for the wellbeing of the Derge Kingdom. He stayed in Rebkong (reb kong) for a year, where he gave the transmission for the Rinchen Terdzod and opened a sacred place at Amye Machen (a myes rma chen). Back in Dzongsar, Tashi Peljor received teachings from the Forty-first Sakya Tridzin, Ngawang Kunga Tekchen Pelbar (sa skya khri ‘dzin 41 ngag dbang kun dga’ theg chen dpal ‘bar, b.1945), who was then traveling to China. The Sakya Tridzin resided at Dzongsar for about a year with his wife and small children, giving teachings to increasingly large crowds. Tashi Peljor gave him a long-life empowerment from one of his treasures.

During a short trip to Nangchen Tashi Peljor revealed a major treasure cycle, Nyak Kilaya (gnyag lugs phur ba) at Karma Gon (karma dgon), returning to Sakar to decode it. He went to Dzongsar to show it to Khyentse Chokyi Lodro and while there he wrote liturgies for the sadhana, daily practice, exorcism, and empowerment.

Soon after, in 1956, when Tashi Peljor was forty-six, he left Kham for Lhasa. While staying at Khampa Gar (khams pa sgar) in Nangchen Chinese soldiers had come to Sakar looking for him. For several weeks his wife delayed them, telling them Tashi Peljor had gone to one place or the other and sending messengers after him. Finally she decided it was no longer safe for her to remain, and, taking only a bag of tsampa to allay suspicion, she went to Tashi Peljor and they made plans to travel immediately to Lhasa, interrupting teachings he was giving with the Eighth Khamtrul Tulku, Dongyud Nyima (khams sprul sprul sku 08, don brgyud nyi ma, 1930-1979).

Khyentse Chokyi Lodro had already left for Sikkim and Tashi Peljor used his ostensible pilgrimage as a staging for his own escape into exile. He remained in Lhasa for several years, until the situation there became critical. In Lhasa, in 1956 he gave four months of Guhyagarbha teachings; at Tsurpu Monastery (mtshur phu dgon) he gave the transmission for the complete treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa. Around that time his brother Shedrub passed away.

He also visited Mindroling Monastery (smin ‘grol gling) for a month, and, in Lhasa he met  Dudjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje (bdud ‘joms ‘jigs bral ye shes rdo rje, 1904-1988) for the first time. He also encountered the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tendzin Gyatso (ta la’i bla ma 14 bstan ‘dzin rgya mtsho, b. 1935) while performing a feast offering in the Jokang (jo khang), later formally meeting him in Norbulingka (nor bu gling ka) with Sakya Tridzin. At that meeting he was too shy to remain in the room, but soon after he returned for an audience. The Dalai Lama asked Sanggye Nyenpa whether his monastery had been destroyed, and Sanggye Nyenpa replied that it had.

Courtesy of Shechen. Used by permission.Not long after the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa fled, Tashi Peljor and his family also left Tibet, as the Chinese were increasingly threatening high lamas from Kham with forced return. They fled with other families and members of the Khampa guerilla fighters to Bhutan, via the Drula and Dora passes. For twelve days they were detained on the border until the government permitted their entrance to the country. Staying only a few weeks in Bhutan, relying on the charity of the local people in the villages he passed through, he continued to Kalimpong, India, where he stayed with Dudjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje.

Tashi Peljor remained in Kalimpong for several years, shifting occasionally to Bhutan and Sikkim to visit the remains of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, who passed away there in 1959, and to give the transmission and empowerments for the Rinchen Terdzod to his reincarnation. In 1961 he was invited to Bhutan to serve as the head of the monastic college in Thimphu, remaining there until the winter of 1962, when he received the unhappy news that his brother Sanggye Nyenpa had passed away in Sikkim, and he learned that his youngest daughter was ill. Dechen Wangmo (bde chen dbang mo) died in Lucknow, in early 1963.

In 1965 Gelong Pema Dorje of Nyimalung monastery in Bumthang invited Tashi Peljor to Bhutan. He arrived in the wake of serious civil strife, and began his activity with pacification rites. He soon was given a Bhutanese passport, and Bhutan became his main residence for the remainder of his life.

One evening Tashi Peljor received a dream in which Shechen RabjamShechen Kongtrul, and Shechen Gyeltsab, who had all died in Chinese custody, appeared together. They told Tashi Peljor that they would all three incarnate into one person, setting the stage for him to recognize his grandson, Jigme Chokyi Sengge, born to his daughter Chime Wangmo, as the incarnation of three of his own teachers; he was given the title of the Seventh Shechen Rabjam (zhe chen rab ‘byams 07 ‘jigs med chos kyi seng+ge, b. 1966).

For the next three decades Tashi Peljor dedicated himself to preserving the Nyingma tradition, traveling across Bhutan, India, and Nepal to give teachings, transmissions, and empowerments.

He first visited the West in 1975. He made three trips to North America and numerous visits to Europe, especially to France, where he established a three year retreat center in the Dordogne region.

In 1980 Tashi Peljor built Shechen Tenyi Dargyeling (zhe chen bstan gnyis dar rgyas gling) in Boudhanath, Nepal, which became the principle seat of Shechen outside of Kham. It is led by Shechen Rabjam, and is a center of publishing of Nyingma scripture.

Courtesy of Shechen. Used by permission.In 1985 Tashi Peljor traveled to Tibet as part of an official Bhutanese delegation. In Lhasa he presided over the consecration of a new statue of Padmasambhava in the Jokang. He was able to visit Shechen and Dzogchen, which were being rebuilt. During a second trip, in 1988, he stayed at Shechen for some time and was able to give public teachings, reopening the monastic college there. In Derge he reconsecrated the printing house. He also visited Dzongsar and gave public teachings there as well, having to be carried on a pelanquin via Pelpung. He was able to also visit Pelyul and Katok as well. During his third trip, in 1990, he presided over the reconsecration of Samye (bsam yas). Overall, as soon as Tibetans were allowed to rebuild their religious institutions, Tashi Peljor was involved in the reconstruction and reconsecration, and the training of the monks, personally funding an enormous amount of the work and offering his guidance wherever he could.

Even in the last years of his life, Tashi Peljor’s extraordinary energy and vigor were little affected by his advancing age. He passed away on September 27, 1991, in Bhutan. His main lineage holders are his grandson Shechen Rabjam, and many other lamas who spent years receiving teachings and empowerments from him. His reincarnation, Dilgo Yangsi, was born on June 30, 1993, the son of the Fourth Tsike Chokling, Mingyur Dewai Dorje (rtsi ke mchog gling mi ‘gyur bde ba’i rdo rje, b.1953) and the grandson of Tulku Orgyen Tsewang Chokdrub Pelbar (sprul sku o rgyan tshe dbang mchog grub dpal ‘bar, 1910-1996), and enthroned at Shechen in December 1997.

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