Tulku Sang Ngag
B. Alan Wallace
Predicting the birth of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Orgyen Dechen Lingpa said that “in the future in Tibet, on the east of the Nine Peaked Mountain, in the sacred buddhafield of the self-originated Vajravarahi, there will be emanation of Drogben, of royal lineage, named Jñana. His beneficial activities are in accord with the Vajrayana, although he conducts himself differently, unexpectedly, as a child with astonishing intelligence. He will either discover new terma or preserve the old terma. Whoever has connections with him will be taken to the Ngayab Ling (Zangdok Palri), the Copper Colored Mountain.”
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche is considered to have been an emanation of many great beings. Some terma teachings hold that he was the body emanation of Drogben Khyeuchung Lotsawa, one of the twenty-five heart disciples of Guru Padmasambhava, the speech emanation of dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, and the mind emanation of Guru Padmasambhava. Other termas hold that Guru Padmasambhava and dakini Yeshe Tsogyal reincarnated together, combining their actual presence in the birth and form of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. He was recognized and revered as a master from the day he was born. A great tertön, over the course of his long life he revealed many important, profound teachings, but he was always humble and casual. He was a householder, a family man, and his bearing was that of an ordinary person.
Historically, great tertöns have appeared just before periods of great upheaval. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, was born in 1904 in the Pemakö region of southeastern Tibet, fifty years before the Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet. He appeared exactly at the time when a presence such as his was necessary to ensure the survival and preservation of the endangered religious and cultural traditions of Tibet.
His Holiness’ previous incarnation, the great Dudjom Lingpa, had told his disciples: “Now in this degenerate age, go to the secret land of Pema Köd. Whoever relies on me, go in that direction. Before you young ones get there, I the old one will already be there.” This came to pass exactly as he predicted. His incarnation, the young Dudjom Rinpoche, was recognized at the age of three, and enthroned.
As the young Dudjom was taught, whatever he learned he could comprehend through a mere indication. His studies began with reading and writing, followed by instruction from many great siddhas and masters in both the ordinary and extraordinary branches of knowledge. The ordinary branches include the subjects of grammar, poetry, diction, astrology, and medicine. The extraordinary branch began with studies on various foundational texts, continued with works on Madhyamaka and Prajnaparamita, and followed with study of Nyingma tantra texts from both the kama and terma lineages. He absorbed these teachings and completely gained their realization. For a vast array of tantras and sadhanas he learned the ceremonial formalities associated with them: mandala creation, torma preparation and ornamentation, mudras, melodies and rhythms, ritual musical instruments and their use; even such details as the correct method of wrapping a text or rolling a thangka were not overlooked. In this way he preserved the lineage teachings of the great masters of the Vajrayana.
As soon as His Holiness received the teachings he put them into practice. From the ngöndro accumulations to the practices of the two stages (of generation and completion, kyerim and dzogrim), he was diligent and practiced as much as he could, and results came with very little effort. He dissolved all dualistic fabrications. The veil between meditation and postmeditation disappeared. Through the path of the four visions of the spontaneous clear light, both samsara and nirvana appeared pure from the beginning. The universe of all existing phenomena arose as the mandala of the kayas and wisdoms. He beheld inconceivable wrathful and peaceful deities of the three roots face to face, and the dharmapalas fulfilled his every request. Free from the limitations of the hopes and fears of the eight worldly concerns, he never acted with pretense or hypocrisy. Through action of skillful means, without partiality, he led both high- and low-ranking individuals, according to their capabilities, onto the path that leads directly to liberation. Thus he was a great siddha, a fearless sky yogi, and a great captain of enlightenment.
His Holiness left Tibet for India in the mid-1950s. Expatriate Tibetans flocked round him, and he always helped them. By example and through meditation and practice instruction, he preserved, strengthened, and revitalized the lineage teachings. He was responsible for a renaissance in Tibetan studies. His many accomplishments, his inconceivable legacy to us, may be grouped in the following six extraordinary activities, through which he ensured the continuance of the Vajrayana as preserved within the Tibetan traditions, and benefited countless beings:
His twenty-five volumes of writings are considered the most profound and influential in Tibetan Buddhist history. They include his own terma revelations, poetry, historical treatises, and commentaries on the terma revealed by past masters, the kama teachings, and philosophy, as well as works on the ritual arts and yoga, covering topics such as instrumental and vocal music, chanting, lama dance, and esoteric practices such as tsalung, tummo, and trulkhor.
He collected, compiled, and edited the complete kama teachings of the Nyingma School, many of which were scattered throughout Tibet and surrounding areas and thus in danger of being lost. He edited the existing thirteen volumes, added thirty-eight more volumes, and then published the kama in its entirety.
He gave the empowerments and teachings of the Rinchen Terzöd, the Treasury of Precious Treasures, an unprecedented ten times, to countless thousands of people, including many great masters, khenpos, and tulkus, thus securing and strengthening this vital tradition for generations to come.
He gave the transmission of all the Kangyur teachings, inspiring his students as to their importance, thus securing textual study and meditation practice based upon the foundational teachings of the Buddha.
In the 1960s—the most difficult time in Tibetan history—he, along with other masters and academics, rekindled the Tibetan educational system by editing the course books used by Tibetan primary and secondary school children.
He was unanimously proclaimed by all Nyingma masters and devotees to be the head of the Nyingma School, the first ever in Tibetan history. He served in this capacity from the time of his appointment in the early 1960s until his death in 1987, uniting all the subschools of the Nyingmapa and invigorating the tradition as a whole.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche entered into mahaparinirvana on January 17, 1987, at his home in Dordogne, in southern France. There were many signs of his great realization—visual, auditory, and tactile: Within and around the house, rainbows and spheres of light appeared, beautiful sounds were heard, and beautiful fragrances were present. His complexion remained bright and clear, just as a living person, and his body was flexible and soft to the touch, without a trace of rigidity.
The Dzogchen tantra, Blazing Relics of Buddha-Body describes signs of realization observable to others when a great master leaves the body, as well as the meaning of the signs. In particular, it states that the complexion of one who has merged the child and mother clear light luminosity states remains bright; even if the body is left for as long as twenty-five days it will remain fresh. And fragrances are emitted, more pleasant than camphor, saffron, and sandalwood.
Before His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s body was embalmed, it was observed by lama-disciples to be both getting smaller and becoming less dense, a process called ö-du-zhu, which may be translated as “melting away”. This is another sign of great Dzogchen realization. Following its embalming, his body was taken to Orgyen Dongak Chökhorling, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, where it was placed in a stupa built within the main temple. As his body was being placed in the stupa, spheres of light appeared, inside and outside the monastery as well as around neighboring buildings as well. Inside these buildings, some took these spheres of light to be stains and tried to wipe them off windows. Other witnesses reported seeing, within the spheres of light, buddhas, such as Vajrasattva and Guru Padmasambhava, and beautiful landscapes. Many people witnessed and were inspired by these occurrences, not just devotees but also others who did not know the dharma, even some who were avowed skeptics regarding such phenomena.
Note: the source material for the bulk of this brief biography of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche has been taken from Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, by Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal (Snow Lion, 2008).