Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Drukchen Rinpoche’s monastery

Recently I came across this tiny photo on the Internet of Drukchen Rinpoche’s monastery in Tibet, too late to be included in Blazing Splendor but in fine time for this weblog. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was born near Samye while his father was on a pilgrimage to Central Tibet. To continue in his own words:

My father was very close to the eminent master Drukchen (this was the tenth incarnation in the Drukchen lineage, Mipham Chökyi Wangpo (1884-1930) whose monastery was Druk Sang-Ngak Chöling), so we went to his main seat by way of the Yarlung valley. In the upper part of the valley was the practice center known as Joyful Cave where the accomplished master Shakya Shri resided, having been invited from Kham by the Drukchen.
My parents told me that the eminent Drukchen was very kind to us. He also asked my father to perform rituals to support his health and long life. We stayed there for four or five months. So it was that I spent the first part of my life at the encampment of Shakya Shri. The Drukchen had special brocade garments made for me and my siblings; some of this brocade was made into a jacket that I wore until I left for Kham.

(Click on “comments” if you can send me a larger version of the picture).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tricycle Web Exclusive: The Nunnery of the Yoginis

THE MEDITATING NUNS My father once brought me along when he went to teach at a huge convent, with 13 retreat centers spread across a mountainside, housing close to 500 nuns. Most days you would never see any of them, but when a great lama would stop by to give teachings, there would suddenly be a sea of crimson robes. The nuns lived in small rooms, just 12 by 12 feet, with each nun in a small box about one yard square. They would sit meditating in the box all day, and sit up practicing all night. This nunnery was one of 36, most just as large, spread across all of Tibet. The one I stayed at was just one of those. When I was older, my father returned to teach at the nunnery. I happened to be there on the day once a year in the coldest month, a night when the nuns could show their accomplishment. 200 of the nuns gathered wearing just short pants as they walked in a circle, practicing tummo all night, raising their body temperature. The nuns would be sweating while we spectators were shivering. The nuns soaked their cotton sheets in warmed water; it was so cold the sheets froze as soon as they came out of the cauldron of water. 200 of the nuns soaked their sheets that night, and then put them on and—by the heat of their own bodies—drying them out. They did this eight times in one round, dipping them into water, drying them out, and then soaking them for another round. They made rounds like this the whole night. ...People wonder why such practitioners spend year after year meditating in remote dwellings. It’s because they see chasing worldly goals as nothing more than a mirage; pursuing success and social recognition, they see, are nothing but futile, distracting us from seeking enlightenment.
--from Blazing Splendor.
Read the full excerpt online at The Buddhist review TRICYCLE's website:

Color poster of the cover of Blazing Splendor

A lot of people have asked me to get a copy of the cover with the amazing photo of Fortress Peak, the hermitage of Samten Gyatso and Tulku Urgyen's former incarnation, and so, here it is.
You can download a large format of the color picture you see here. You might want it for your wall or bookstore. This is a test, and if it works out well, I have one twice the size. Remember, only click on the picture if you have a fast dial-up -- it was uploaded as 4.5 mb.
I wrote a few word about the photo on

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On the trail from Fortress Peak through Tsangsar County

We are back on the trail between Fortress Peak and Dechen Ling (the Sanctuary of Great Bliss), splendid names, aren’t they? And the autumn weather was to die for. The photo I wanted to share with you here was taken under a juniper grove while our horses relaxed in the midday sun. On the map, the two retreat places may be near, but Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s father and guru lived two days apart by horse ride. And a most spectacular ride it is!
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche rode along these trails many times, from childhood until he left for Tibet, never to return to Nangchen again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Was Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche the first lama in Malaysia and Singapore?

So far, the claim has been uncontested. In the early 1960’s, the Karmapa sent Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche to Ipoh as his personal representative. The photo here, I believe, is from that first visit. If some some of you know the story behind it or have other pictures from Rinpoche’s long stay at the Ipoh Cave, please post them here or send them to
The visit to Malaysia happened like this, in Tulku Urgyen’s own words:

Now I will tell you about my first trip to Malaysia. The English monk Lodrö Thaye had been to Malaysia and while in Ipoh three Chinese fellows – the monk Reverend Tong, Wahai and Asan – discussed with Lodrö Thaye, “We have heard about these Tibetan lamas and we would like to get an important one to come here to Ipoh. Who would be best?”
Lodrö Thaye replied, “The biggest is the Dalai Lama, below him they say it is the Karmapa.”
They then agreed that Lodrö Thaye should ask the Karmapa to send a lama to Ipoh.
In those days, Lodrö Thaye was friends with a lama at Tengpoche and asked him to go visit Malaysia. Being a Nepalese citizen, travel documents were no problem. It was all settled, they both agreed, the passport was ready but then Lodrö Thaye thought, “I was actually supposed to ask the Karmapa to send someone, so I better ask him.” I didn’t have much contact with Lodrö Thaye at this time, but before he went to see the Karmapa he come up to Nagi Gompa, to ask my advice.
First Lodrö Thaye told me, “I have three suggestions to put for to His Holiness: Sabchu Rinpoche from Swayambhu, Tengpoche Tulku and you. Would you be willing to go?”
“If the Karmapa says I have to go then I will. I’m not going to go against his word,” I said. “Otherwise, I have never been abroad and have no particular desire to do so.”
“Well then, I’ll relate that to the Karmapa,” said Lodrö Thaye.
He left for Rumtek, where he had lived before. But being talkative and moving around too much the local authorities began to suspect that he was a British spy and would not let him back in to Sikkim. In his place, George MacDonald, whom we simply called Sahib, went on ahead to ask which of the three lamas the Karmapa would recommend sending to Malaysia.
Karmapa said, “Sabchu is too old, he won’t work out. Tengpoche Tulku I don’t know personally, but I do know Tulku Urgyen – he should go.” That’s what Sahib and Lodrö Thaye came back and told me.
Sahib said, “Will you do it or not?”
“I am not going against the Karmapa’s word, so I’ll go,” I replied.
Our little gang of four robed people, were the first of our type to visit Malaysia. We got donations from the faithful Chinese Buddhists. They would hand over one envelope to the four of us to share among ourselves, except when I gave an empowerment and the donation would belong to me. The trip lasted three months and I was able to accumulate a decent amount of funds to bring back with me.
During the trip Lodrö Thaye asked, “How big of a monastery are you going to build?”
“Let’s wait and see,” I said, “I’ll build in accordance with whatever I get.”
At that time we didn’t have any plan to build Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, I was only intending to improve Nagi Gompa. Things were going well until after two and a half months, Lodrö Thaye had a plan, he had obviously carved in stone, of going to England and he insisted on seeing me on a plane back to Nepal before he would leave. In short, he cut my trip to Malaysia short. The Malaysians wanted me to stay, but to no avail. Lodrö Thaye is a willful gentleman and he got his way.
Back in Nepal, while I was conferring with Ram Lal about what to do with the funds, a letter arrived from my two sons, Chokyi Nyima and Chokling, that the 16th Karmapa had commanded them that we build a large monastery in Boudha.

-- Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, (not included in Blazing Splendor)

Swayambhu from the air

Swayambhu is, besides the Great Stupa of Boudha, one of the most spectacular monuments in the Kathmandu Valley, wrought with anscient history and legend. Also here one of the lamas from Nangchen settled down, this time Sabchu Rinpoche (number 2 from left in Kagyu temple in front of the stupa had been in the care of a Nepali lama who then ventured to Tsurphu in the 1950s and signed it over to the 16th Karmapa. The picture you see here was taken in 1965 by Ganesh Man Chitrakar, whom I never got a chance to ask. So, Ganesh Man Chitrakar, thanks to you for that great picture! (Click on the picture to see it at 153kb)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Four Nangchen lamas have landed in Boudha

This blog serves as well as a conduit for sharing some of the old photos that didn’t make it through the final selection. And the ones we find later. Today I found this old picture of four Nangchen lamas who Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche counted among his close friends (from the left): Dabzang, Sabchu, Trarig and Andzin, Rinpoches. Dabzang Rinpoche resided at Dilyak monastery where Tulku Urgyen’s father visited on occasion. The three other lamas were brothers. They were among the first to build monasteries in the Kathmandu valley, at the two main stupas.

The nun with shining diamonds for eyes

She was one tough little lady, that’s for sure. As a little girl she knew Chimey Dorje, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s father who lived the Sanctuary of Great Bliss (Dechen Ling). And of course she knew Chimey Dorje’s family, including Tulku Urgyen whom she served during his stays at the hermitage. After the “Cultural” revolution put an end to spiritual practice in Tibet and Kham, Ani Jangchub remained behind, hiding in the caves and continuing her practice. The couple of days Marcia and I spent there, a special experience was to see the inner beauty that shone through her face as she daily would come and just hang out in our room, ask a few questions, give a few answers herself, but most sit still as a little sweet bird. There was a look and a brightness in her eyes that repeated caught me by surprise, at once sorrowful and detached, at peace in her grimy outfit. Propably the poorest and rishest person alive. She was happy to see us while she didn't know us at all. The tears in her eyes at times must have been from fond memories. Her last words: “Tell Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche that I was just left behind here and will never see him again in this life.”

Friday, August 19, 2005

A rogue turned siddha

One of the more dominant figures in Blazing Splendor was Chimey Dorje, grandson of the great treasure master, a rogue turned siddha, and father to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. The view on this picture is from the stupa containing his remains at the distant hermitage Dechen Ling. Marcia and I reached this hermitage-nunnery after two days on horseback from Lachab through a spectacular landscape. Mac (George MacDonald had sponsored the restoration of this stupa on a previous visit. At Dechen Ling we saw one of Tulku Urgyen's female disciples who has taken the vow to stay in retreat for the rest of her life. More about Chimey Dorje on

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Padmasambhava - the Lotus-Born master, and his terma treasures

At the end of the eighth century, Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born, arrived in Tibet. As the primary master of Vajrayana, he accompanies every one of the thousand buddhas of this eon. He had twenty-five main disciples; in later incarnations those disciples were reborn as tertöns, who revealed teachings Padmasambhava had hidden to benefit people of coming times.
My root guru, Samten Gyatso, had incredible faith in Padmasambhava and would tell me how he marveled at the words of the Lotus-Born. Although Samten Gyatso was extremely erudite and had studied vast volumes of literature, he continued to find many fresh levels of meaning in Padmasambhava’s teachings.
“There is no one greater than Padmasambhava,” he would often say. “Of course, Buddha Shakyamuni is the root, but the Lotus-Born made the Vajrayana teachings spread and flourish throughout India—and especially in Tibet. If you look closely, you can see just how amazing his terma teachings are! And if you compare his terma revelations with any other treatise, you can see their unique quality. The reason is that they were from Padmasambhava himself.
“The beauty of their prose is astounding! It is very difficult for anyone to write with such beauty and depth as you find in terma practices. Unlike treatises by people who are merely learned, in a terma each word can be understood on increasingly deeper levels. That special quality of Padmasambhava’s vajra speech means that whenever you read his teachings, you inevitably feel faith and devotion, trust and complete confidence!"
During the time of Khyentse, Kongtrul, and Chokgyur Lingpa, those twenty-five foremost disciples of the Lotus-Born who had gathered around him at Samye almost a thousand years earlier all returned in simultaneous incarnations. As one of my teachers, Dzongsar Khyentse, put it, “The twenty-five disciples of the Lotus-Born came back together like a throng of sheep and goats running out of a barn. These disciples reappeared as masters with incredible experience and realization, learning, and accomplishment. Their personal disciples and their disciples’ disciples were equally amazing.”
In fact, throughout Kham and the rest of Tibet, tulkus of all twenty-five were identified and recognized.
--Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Blazing Splendor
As a long-time favorite project of mine, and also to foster even further mutual respect among all the various Dharma groups, I am making a webpage listing the current whereabouts of incarnations -- or multiple incarnations -- of the 25 disciples. Please post there details, short biographical date, small pictures for the web, who recognized them etc. to me, or under "post a comment" at the bottom of
The list of the 25 disciples is at
Just contact me at
Warm wishes, Erik Pema Kunsang

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another modest master

As an aside to the Tricycle article, another modest master of recent times was Khunu Rinpoche. An Indian at birth, he traveled widely through Tibet, receiving teacings from masters of all lineages. On one of his travels, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche recalls him telling, he went to see a master who lived in the hollow of an old tree and was also forced to receive the transmission to Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo -- the Light of Wisdom. Khunu Rinpoche later became one of the Dalai Lama's teachers a book of his poetry is in English: "Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Monday, August 15, 2005

Buddhadharma magazine covers Blazing Splendor

Here's an excerpt on their web site where Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche speaks on "The Kind of Guru I Had": Samten Gyatso was so learned and skilled, so trustworthy and matchless, that people compared him to Marpa, the master translator who brought the Kagyü teachings from India. Yet my guru never postured nor put on the air of high realization, like those meditators who never lower their vacant, glaring gaze to the ground and who spout random “profound” statements such as “Everything in samsara and nirvana are equal!” What do you gain from such pretense?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Friday, August 12, 2005

Modest Master -- Tricycle Magazine features the memoirs

The Buddhist review decided to give Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's memoirs a special highlight by featuring one of the moretone-setting stories in the book: the old yogi-master Jamdrak who lived out his days in a hollow tree. The excerpt is accompanied by a full page photo of Tulku Urgyen and statements from some of the leading Buddhist teachers in the US who also received teachings from him.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fortress Peak, the cover picture

From the geographical point of view I am simply at a loss to find enough superlatives to describe the layout of this place--it is simply outrageously and fabulously amazing; nothing less. It would have been a perfect site for the Lord of the Rings. A majestic rock formation surrounded on three sides by a raging river, towering three quarters of a mile almost straight up into the sky. You had the feeling of being on the tip of a needle. On the peak are two meadows, like two terraces, and on the lower is nested a peaceful retreat center in front of which wild mountain goats take refuge in the evenings and leave the next morning. Only a narrow passage from the western side allows access. The place has been used by Buddhists for more than thousand years and before them, in prehistoric times, by Bonpo practitioners.

This mountain is regarded as the most sacred in the whole of the Nangchen kingdom--it is both the mandala of the peaceful and wrathful deities as well as that of Chakrasamvara. In recent times, it was the hermitage where Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche spent most of his former life in solitary retreat, and the location for the heart-rendering story of how his personal teacher passed away.

Because Fortress Peak had such an important position in my imagination due to all the stories I had heard from Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and since it came up again and again Blazing Splendor, I just had to take a picture. And that was no easy task indeed!

During the week my wife and I spent there, my constant high anxiety attack lessened and with the help of two monks I ventured up on one of the smaller peaks right on the edge. Up there, half a mile down behind me, the monk holding me from right and left, I took this one photo for you.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A reading at the Riwoche Sangha in Toronto

Hi Everyone:
Here is my announcement to the Riwoche Sangha in Toronto of the September 24 reading that we will be hosting. It also has a fuller review of my own impressions of this wonderful book:

Dear Sangha:
Although Chokling Rinpoche is not able to come to Toronto this year,we are fortunate to host an exciting event as part of the launch tour for the memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: "Blazing Splendor:The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche."
The book's editor, Michael Tweed will be at the temple to read excerpts from the book and show video of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche teaching. The event takes place at the Riwoche Temple, Saturday September 24 at 7:30 PM. There is no charge for admission. Donations, as always, will be accepted.
Having recently finished the book, I can tell you that it is a great read on several levels:

It gives a wonderful account of the three great tertons, Chokgyur Lingpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul. The way these three worked together to reveal and transmit dharma teachings that are now being practiced all over the world is one of the truly great spiritual renaisances to have ever taken place in history. The book gives a vivid sense of how the confluence of these three great rivers produced a mighty torrent of benefit for all those of us who have stood "downstream" ever since.
For anyone practicing the Chokling Tersar lineage, it is an excellent primer on the lineage holders, their lives, miracles and all their human idiosyncracies. Although it is very respectful, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche presents these men and women as fully human, so the stories of their lives are as likely to set you laughing on one page as crying on the next. It really deepens the experience of saying the lineage prayer at the start of the Trinley Nyingpo practice, to have a fuller picture of who these people were.
For anyone with a connection to the Longchen Nyingthig, there are wonderful accounts of Patrul Rinpoche, HH Dudjom Rinpoche, HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche - all very important teachers and root gurus of our own teacher, Khenpo Sonam Rinpoche.
The book opens with an account of the length to which Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's grandmother went to be sure that the Chokling Tersar would continue to be transmitted. It continues all the way through with accounts of her activities and those of other esteemed women in the lineage. Something that is often rare in spiritual biographies of this kind.
It is also an excellent account of the last days of a free Tibet and the struggles that various lamas went through in escaping to freedom to the West.
The real beauty of the book, however, is that within these very engaging "stories" lies a treasure trove of rich dharma teachings in easy to understand language, that are immediately applicable to our practice.
The best way to learn is when we don't even realize that we are being taught. In an effortless way, Tulku Urgyen tells one fascinating story after an other. Once we reach the end, we realize that we have learned valuable truths about how to apply the richness of the Dzogchen tradition itself.
There is an excellent glossary (also online) with helpful definitions and explanations of various Dzogchen practices, termas, lineage holders, etc.

Best of all, Erik Pema Kunsang, Marcia Binder Schmidt and Michael Tweed (to whom these stories were told by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche) have managed to effectively capture Tulku Urgyen's "voice." Although I never met him personally, the style of writing conveys a true human (if extraordinary) individual. I came away from reading the book with a sense that I had been there too, sitting at his feet hearing these wonderful teachings myself.
Many thanks are owed to all those who put so much effort in sharing their personal blessing with the rest of us.
The book can be ordered through the following link, and Michael will bring copies for purchase on the night of the reading.

I hope to see you there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Excerpts from Blazing Splendor

This string will contain the excerpts that appear on the web, in magazines, emails, etc. You are then free to email them around to your friends.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The recordings of Blazing ...

The way up to the new monastery site was arduous, so it was best to attempt it in the early morning. We climbed the hill as the mist was clearing from the valley. As we rose higher, the busyness and distraction of Katmandu City lessened. We would catch our breath every several hundred meters but today we seemed to glide up effortlessly. We anticipated that Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would grant our request and that he would tell his many memoirs in an orderly fashion.
Graham Sunstein and I arrived at the building site that would one day be the Ngedon Osel Ling monastery. The mud, bustle and movement of workers amidst heaps of building supplies lined the landscape. We climbed the stairs and waited outside Rinpoche’s room. Although it was early, we knew that he had been awake and active for hours. The shoes outside his door attested to this. As we peeked through the curtain, we had our first glimpse that day of Rinpoche. He motioned us in.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche always established a very cozy environment, no matter where he was. It was as if sunlight and warmth permeated every place he stayed. An almost transparent atmosphere of light showered down. It made the contrast to the very real and solid work going on forgotten. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was not a large man, yet he was all embracing and present. Merely coming before him transformed your ordinary perceptions, even though he was so humble and self-effacing. It was as if he was trying to hide all his qualities, yet even he was unable to do so.
He was blazing splendor, the look, the compassion, and the realization. When he spoke we were enraptured, captivated by the combination of brilliance, humor and sheer raw awareness. A few others were present within the room. Our attention moved to Rinpoche’s youngest son, also an incarnate Lama. He smiled warmly, his open friendliness held our gaze. He had just completed a three-year retreat and at seventeen was developing into a very good copy of his father. He was accompanyed by his attendant, an Eastern Tibetan lama. Lastly inside, there was Rinpoche’s sister, Sagala, so simple, so sweet.
After we prostrated we once more made our request: Rinpoche, please tell us your life story and what it was like in Eastern Tibet and Lhasa. The others in the room waited, it was definitely a captive audience. There was an air of excitement as we waited to see if he would comply. The tape recorder was on, the mike set as we stared at his radiant dignity.

I was born in Tibet, taken to Kham, then went back and forth between the two several times. I fled the communists to Sikkim and finally moved to Nepal, where I am now living as an old man. That’s my life in a nutshell. I haven’t accomplished any great deeds. Mostly it’s just one sad event after another.

I belive this was in 1994, and this interview became the first of many, perhaps to fill forty tapes. Earlier on, in 1983, Andreas Kretschmar and I had recorded maybe ten tapes based on the traditional chant to the masters through whom Tulku Urgyen had received his teachings ( while Rinpoche was recovering in the hospital in Cologne.

Travels in Tibet and Nangchen, Nepal and Sikkim

Marcia and I traveled through Nangchen in the autumn 2003 and visited many of the locations in Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's memoirs -- one of the best trips in my life. I have put a lot of the photos of Chokgyur Lingpa terma revelation places up on the net and other photos are in Blazing Splendor itself (which I am happy to shamelessly promote).
Some of the pictures are slideshows on

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Blazing Splendor, the book, is heading out to general bookstores

The warehouse in Indiana has just begun shipping out orders to your local fine bookstore. Upto now we had given Dharma centers a "two months pre-release privelege" to cover summer programs. Now it is same for everyone.