Today it is fifteen years since the passing of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. To commemorate him, here is a short teaching on his life.
From "The Power of Experience and Realization Blazing Forth," spoken by Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche
I would like to tell you about the outer, inner and innermost life story of my father and guru, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. I will describe what I have heard with my own ears and seen with my own eyes. Of course I didn't meet him when he was young, but I have heard many stories, and I personally witnessed the latter part of his life. One of his unique qualities was his warmth. His heart was full of great love and compassion. Even by ordinary social conventions, he had a really good character. He had no intentions other than to help beings. He was open-minded, possessing a vast, all-encompassing frame of mind. This was how any normal, worldly person would describe him.
When Rinpoche was a young child he received the pointing-out instruction from his father, Chimey Dorje. Describing this experience later, he commented, "I realized the natural face of mind in actuality."
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche had an incredible respect for the Three Jewels. He said that among all Buddhist masters, Buddha Shakyamuni was the first to catch his attention by triggering enormous faith and devotion. He was equally moved by the Dharma, the teachings he had been given, and he had a high regard for the sangha who maintain the practice of these teachings.
Among the masters in the Kagyü lineage, he showed great affection for and immense faith in Milarepa. Among the Nyingma lineage gurus, it was Longchen Rabjam. Merely hearing the names of these two masters, he experienced such uncontrived devotion that tears would come to his eyes and the hairs on his body would stand on end.
From his early years, he considered his root gurus to be Samten Gyatso, his father Chimey Dorje, and Kyungtrül Rinpoche, a master from Kham. He also connected with Jamgön Karsey Kongtrül, the son of Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Karmapa. From him Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche received the entire Rinchen Terdzö, the great treasury of precious termas.
In addition, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche considered Rangjung Rigpey Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, his root guru. The kind of appreciation he had for the 16th Karmapa was nothing less than that of being in the presence of the Buddha in person. He never thought of the Karmapa as an ordinary human being in a material body of flesh and blood. Therefore, when the Karmapa asked him to do anything, be it a spiritual or a secular task, he wouldn't hesitate for a second to carry out his guru's wish. This was exactly how Naropa served the great Indian master Tilopa. When Tilopa commented, "Someone who was truly my disciple would jump off this cliff!" Naropa jumped without hesitation. Of course he was seriously injured, but Tilopa restored his body to its former state. Naropa underwent many such trials. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was similarly ready to sacrifice life and limb to carry out any wish the Karmapa had. People who knew him closely witnessed this unique devotion.
As for Gyalwang Karmapa, he had the deepest trust in Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, since he saw him with pure perception as Chokgyur Lingpa or Guru Chöwang in person. Many times, while staying at Rumtek in my youth, I noticed that whenever the Karmapa received a letter from my father, he immediately placed it on the top of his head before opening it. I used to wonder, "Why does he treat a letter from Daddy as being so special?" At the same time, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche saw the Karmapa as the very embodiment of all the Kagyü masters - Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarepa. In this way their relationship was as close as between spiritual father and son. This is what I know from spending time with the Karmapa at Rumtek. When the 16th Karmapa needed a mantradhara (an accomplished Vajrayana practitioner) to perform certain ceremonies, he would insist that Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche do it and no one else.
Among the masters of the Nyingma School, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was close to the late Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse. I can best describe their relationship as one of indivisible minds - like father and son. Dilgo Khyentse would ask my father to clarify any doubt or uncertainty, and Tulku Urgyen would use the opportunity to expand the expression of nondual awareness even further. Their mutual respect and pure appreciation was tremendous. Dilgo Khyentse regarded Tulku Urgyen as being Guru Chöwang, and Tulku Urgyen regarded Dilgo Khyentse as Manjushri.
Let me also mention Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, the master who was the life-pillar of the Nyingma School of Early Translations for our times. This learned and accomplished person received the empowerments and transmissions for Chokgyur Lingpa's terma Dzogchen Desum, the Three Sections of the Great Perfection, from our Rinpoche in Lhasa. Dudjom Rinpoche later said: "Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche is the present heart-son of Chokgyur Lingpa, both in terms of Dharma and of family lineage. He is someone whose power and strength of realization has fully bloomed. In terms of the Dzogchen levels, he has gone through the four visions and has arrived at the final stage known as 'the exhaustion of phenomena and concepts.' In other words, he is someone who has fully perfected the great strength of primordially pure awareness. Such a person is rare indeed."
Likewise, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche had a deep appreciation for my father. He often commented that in these times it is very rare to find someone with such a deep realization of Dzogchen. In this way, many accomplished and learned masters offered lofty words of praise. But how did Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche behave? He always partook of simple food, wore simple clothing, and had a simple, low seat.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche gave instructions to hundreds and hundreds of foreigners, and transmitted the sacred Künzang Tuktig to many of them. Often these teachings took place in the form of yearly seminars at which both he and Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche would teach. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche would introduce the participants to the Buddha's teachings during the seminar, and at the end Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would give the pointing-out instruction. There were many who experienced a taste of liberation, and many who recognized the nature of mind and gained a profound understanding.
I personally wondered how this could be possible in such large gatherings, as traditionally the pointing-out instruction is given to small groups. I have asked several great masters and this is what they told me: Once the strength of awareness is perfected through the path, certain signs automatically occur; for instance, the 'threefold blazing forth' and the 'threefold magnetizing.' These entail the blazing forth of experience, realization and samadhi. Due to the strength of Rinpoche's nondual awareness, the power of his experience and realization blazed forth and burned brightly. Through this, it became possible for others to experience a taste of the true nature of mind. This reminds me of Mipham Rinpoche's words: "Through the blessings of the realization of the ultimate lineage being transmitted to our hearts, may we obtain the great empowerment of awareness display."
Due to Tulku Urgyen's realization of the ultimate lineage, the expression of awareness as blessings combined with the openness created by his students' faith. This coincidence enabled many of them, regardless of their level or capacity, to recognize the nature of mind in a single instant. This evidently happened for hundreds and hundreds of students. This was Rinpoche's unique way of benefiting beings.
Over the years Rinpoche gave instructions in ngöndro, the preliminary practices, and in semtri, guidance in understanding and training in the nature of mind, to local people as well as foreigners. He truly turned the wheel of the Dharma throughout his entire life.
Some people wonder what Rinpoche's main personal practice was. We can only surmise this from his instructions to us. For instance, he would always say, "No matter what you do, no matter what situation you are in - whether walking, sitting, eating or lying down - always suspend your attention within the nature of nondual awareness. That's it!" This was his main practice: to simply remain as naked dharmakaya awareness.
One day, shortly before he passed away, I went in to see him and made this request: "We need to do some ceremonies to support your health. You have to remain for our sake, for the sake of the teachings and all beings." "You don't have to worry about me," he said smiling, "I won't die for a couple of years." Although his body was in quite bad shape and he must have been very uncomfortable, he could truly laugh and joke about the prospect of passing away, without any fear or worry. He was like a true yogi who is joyful and at peace even when on the verge of death - not a flicker of despair or attachment to anything. During his last months I spent several weeks with him at Nagi Gompa. Because of having perfected the view; he never showed any anxiety or fear whatsoever. This was the kind of sky-like yogi he was. I feel lucky to have even met such a person.
Here are some of the essential points he taught us students before passing away. With each passing moment all of us approach death. Not a single person in this world lives forever. Once we are born, our death is assured. Nevertheless, if we practice in a genuine way, it is certain that there will be benefit in both this and future lives. This was one of his main teachings - inspiring his disciples to practice by making them face the fact of their mortality.
Once we were inspired by the reality of death, he would tell us, "Don't regard futile worldly aims as being worthwhile!" In this way he would teach us the four mind-changings: the difficult to obtain freedoms and riches of a precious human rebirth, the impermanence created by the inevitability of death, the causes and consequences of karmic actions, and the painful quality of samsaric existence.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's main teaching structure was the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, which is identical with Longchen Rabjam's Four Teachings. These are turning one's mind to the Dharma, making one's Dharma practice the path, letting the path clarify confusion, and letting confusion dawn as wisdom. In connection with the fourth point - letting confusion dawn as wisdom - he would then usually give the pointing-out instruction.
The pith instructions of Dzogchen form the essence of all Buddhist teachings. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche gave these instructions in a style that was concise, simple, and comprehensible, with a gentle concern that was warm with blessings. This was the way in which he could communicate the profound essence of the Dharma and point out the nature of mind to many people simultaneously, ensuring that the stream of their being became temporarily liberated. This is the outcome of having reached perfection in the view, and in this he was unmatched.
He would often tell his followers, "Everything is impermanent, and no fleeting thing is worth pursuing. But if we practice the Dharma in an authentic way this will surely help us, both now and later." Practicing the Dharma was his main teaching and testament!
Once I asked him what was the most important practice for myself and other followers. His answer was, "Regard devotion and compassion as the most vital!" He emphasized that devotion and compassion are indispensable to recognizing the nature of mind when one receives the pointing-out instruction. A famous saying goes: "A closed-up person gives rise to no good qualities, just like a scorched seed will never sprout." Once you have the openness of faith which allows you to see the guru bestowing the profound instructions as a buddha in person, then it is possible for the transmission of the ultimate lineage to take place by introducing the nature of realization, and so to recognize nondual awareness without a flicker of doubt. So regard devotion to be of vital importance.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche also often used the phrase, 'emptiness suffused with compassion.' He would say, "All sentient beings without a single exception have been, and therefore are, our own parents. Cultivate all-encompassing compassion! In our Vajrayana tradition, devotion and compassion are regarded as the most important."
He also told me that disciples who want to practice the Chokling Tersar, especially the teachings of Barchey Künsel and Künzang Tuktig, must go through the complete path of the preliminary practices (ngöndro), the main part, and the additional practices. "Simply practicing the ngöndro alone would be enough," he often said, "because the ngöndro is even more profound than the main part. The person who sincerely goes through the 'four times one hundred-thousand practices' will purify physical misdeeds by means of bowing down, verbal misdeeds by means of the Vajrasattva mantra, mental misdeeds by means of the mandala offerings, and their combination by means of Guru Yoga. The reason is that we need to purify our obscurations and gather the accumulations. While it may be possible to glimpse the nature of emptiness without any purification, due to our past karma and temporary circumstances, this glimpse is rapidly covered up again and forgotten. So don't delude yourselves; please apply yourselves wholeheartedly to the ngöndro practices."
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche said this over and over again. Once you allow these preliminary practices to take effect by purifying your obscurations, then you will automatically recognize the nature of mind, and your realization of the view will unfold further and further.
Another important point he mentioned was this: "Tell all your disciples to keep their view as high as the sky, but to be as refined in what they do as tsampa (barley flour)." Some practitioners may convince themselves that they have an incredibly high view, so high that they needn't worry about the consequences of their actions. That is definitely not all right. Look at Rinpoche's example: he lived with completely pure discipline. In the same way, no matter how high your view is, you should be equally gentle and courteous to others, never frivolous or crude.
That was one point. Another was, "Tell them that all vajra friends will go towards enlightenment as one group, as a single mandala. Therefore keep harmony within the sangha; be kind to each other and observe the precepts with purity. Then the incredibly profound teachings of Vajrayana will take effect."
These are some of the last points my precious father told me. Beside this I don't have much to say. Let me just add these additional words of his advice: "Look really well into the nature of your minds. This is the essence of all the Dzogchen teachings. Recognize first; decide on that recognition; then gain confidence in that. It is not enough to only recognize the nature of mind; we need to develop the strength of this recognition, and then attain stability. That's it! Practice well so that you become fully trained. Generate even more devotion and compassion than you already have, because this will allow your experience and realization to naturally expand. This is what all your students should be told."
I feel I should tell you, his followers, this as well: Whoever personally received the pointing-out instruction from Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche is extremely fortunate. It's like having the end of the golden garland of the lineage placed in your hand. If you also bring this instruction into experience through practice, then it is certain your guru will continue to behold you from the unmanifest dharmadhatu. The true guru will awaken from within your heart. It is said, "The guru is not outside, but within." This means that you are face to face with the true guru the same moment you recognize the nature of mind. Please understand this!
Finally, to those of you who connected to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche through his books, I would like to say the following. Don't concentrate only on the words on the pages! Turn your attention onto itself and look into the nature of your mind! In a moment of devotion or compassion, if you simply allow your mind to mingle indivisibly with the guru's, you can truly understand the Dzogchen teachings. That would be truly excellent!