Wangdor Rinpoche

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Wangdor Rinpoche, courtesy of dharmaphotos.zenfolio.com

Wangdor Rinpoche[1] (b.1925?-2019) was a noted Tibetan Dzogchen master and monk based in Tso Pema, India, where he lived in the Holy Caves. Through his teachings on Dzogchen heart texts and Mahamudra he reached students throughout the world. He was both from the Nyingma and Kagyü schools. Trained first in Dzigar Monastery in Kham, he became a main student of Thuksey Rinpoche, among other Dzogchen teachers. After fleeing from Tibet to India in 1959, carrying Thuksey Rinpoche upon his back, he settled there, where he has spent many years in retreat under the direction of Dudjom Rinpoche. He is a lineage holder of Dudjom Rinpoche.

Birth and Family

Wangdor Rinpoche was born in Tibet, into a family of nomads of the Hara clan, in Kham, Eastern Tibet, and given the name Jangchub Nyima. His mother did not know his birth date.[2] When pregnant, she dreamed that Tara came to her, placing a right-turning conch shell[3] swirled with rainbow light into her hand. Tara instructed, “Keep this for me.” She then flew off into the sky. The mother recognized the dream to be a sign related to the promising birth of Wangdor Rinpoche and his precious life of sublime qualities and activities.

In the family, there was at least one younger sister. Rinpoche saved her from drowning when they were children. The story goes, his sister was a very young toddler, Rinpoche was around 10. She was trapped underwater in a river current, Rinpoche swam under her and lifted her by her feet up above the water. Everyone watching gasped, as it looked like the baby was walking on water, and then they laughed when Rinpoche’s head bobbed into view. Then he cradled her, carrying his younger sister safely to shore.

Training

At 4, first experience of living in a cave

At 4, Wangdor Rinpoche had his first experience of living in a cave with his uncle who was the Dzogchen master Metog. He was very active in making certain that Wangdor Rinpoche was prepared for the life of an upadesha lama. Rinpoche easily learned all that was set forth to him.

Since this early experience living in a cave, Wangdor Rinpoche has spent most of his life in retreat. Solitary retreat in caves has been interspersed with receiving monastic teachings, empowerments and transmissions from his principal teachers, and giving instruction to students.

Near age 7, entering Dzigar Monastery in Kham

Wangdor Rinpoche’s own monastic education began near age seven when his family decided he should enter Dzigar Monastery, a main Drukpa Kagyü monastery in Kham, which housed 300 monks. Located in Dergé, the monastery land faces the sacred mountain called Demche. Wangdor Rinpoche immediately ran away from the monastery and to his family’s camp site. It was a full day’s walk and when he arrived the entire group had moved on and were nowhere in sight. However, an uncle traveling with the community to the distant site had a premonition to return to the former encampment. There he found Wangdor Rinpoche simply sitting and waiting. Wangdor Rinpoche was returned to Dzigar Monastery where he lived and studied until age nineteen. Wangdor Rinpoche’s family regularly visited him at Dzigar Monastery. From the monastery, he traveled back and forth to see them.

From 7 to 19 years old, studying in Dzigar Monastery

During his early years at Dzigar Monastery, Wangdor Rinpoche further learned letters, reading and writing from the monk Tenju. He studied the Vinaya and was inspired to become a pandita. Wangdor Rinpoche had two scholars as everyday teachers, Khenpo Karma Tsetin and Khenpo Chunchog. He was instructed in the sutras and tantras and mastered the Tibetan language, grammar and poetics. Eventually he was initiated by Trongru Gyatrul and given the religious name Rigdzin Wangdzok Dorje, the same name he was given at ordination.

During this period, Wangdor Rinpoche began to learn the fundamentals of the Drukpa Kagyü and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. According to his approved biography, Wangdor Rinpoche “excelled as a student, initially proving his abilities by memorizing a voluminous text within a few months. He received encouragement from his teachers due to his overall potential, unique abilities and ease of study”.

At Dzigar Monastery, he met Rigdzin Lhachok Dorje (Wyl. lha mchog rdo rje) (1938-c.1959), the 8th Dzigar Rinpoche, who became one of his principal teachers. While a boy, Wangdor Rinpoche also began to receive teachings and empowerments from Thuksey Rinpoche, who was then also living at Dzigar Monastery since he was little more than an infant and spent most of his time in continuous meditation.

Thuksey Rinpoche was the son of the tenth Gyalwang Drukpa and the grandson of the great Dzogchen master Tokden Shakya Shri, who confirmed Thuksey Rinpoche as one of his precious heart sons. While meditating at Dzigar Monastery, Thuksey Rinpoche finally was persuaded by his students to leave his external retreat and come out into the world to teach and benefit beings who were desperately in need.

Until age 19, Wangdor Rinpoche was also a student of two Dzogchen lamas, Khenpo Chenchog at Dzigar Monastery and Karma Setin who lived at the top of an adjacent cliff.

At age 19, leaving Zigar Monastery and finally reaching Lhasa

At age 19, Wangdor Rinpoche left Dzigar Monastery and wandered for about one and a half years to many sacred sites in Tibet, until he reached Lhasa where he met up with the 8th Dzigar Rinpoche again.

Over the years, Wangdor Rinpoche received teachings from the following masters:

Activity

In 1959, fleeing Lhasa to India while carrying Thuksey Rinpoche on his back

While in Lhasa Rinpoche had a dream that a great red wave mounted from the north and swept away Lhasa. He perceived the dream as a sign and warned Lharka Omba Iharka, who was Dzigar Rinpoche’s brother and in charge of his caravan, that they must leave Lhasa immediately due to the warning foretold in Wangdor Rinpoche’s dream. Wangdor Rinpoche could not convince him and he could not convince Dzigar Rinpoche to wait with them. Then Wangdor Rinpoche fled Lhasa beginning his travels from Tibet to India. Everyone who stayed was killed by the Chinese in Lhasa.

With a friend Tranam, Wangdor Rinpoche traveled from Lhasa throughout the Tibetan countryside leading to the great Himalayas and their complex trail system separating Tibet and India. Along the way, they came to Drukchen Rinpoche’s monastery where Thuksey Rinpoche was staying. Here they heard Lhasa was lost to the Chinese and the road onward had been closed. But Wangdor Rinpoche, Tranam and a few friends made it past the blockades by claiming to be simple pilgrims.

They left the monastery with 10 mules, one carrying Thuksey Rinpoche, others carrying supplies. Getting past the first border and its closed road they lost 7 mules. Three were left, Thuksey Rinpoche rode one. But they came upon a place where mules could not go, and traded them for food with others they met on the trail.

Then the group hired mountain men to carry Thuksey Rinpoche (who was very large) and they carried him for one day, but then ran away saying he was too big and it wasn’t worth any money to do more. About a dozen remained in their party but the Chinese Army were coming quickly behind, and would catch them at the rate Thuksey Rinpoche would go. Wangdor Rinpoche would not leave his master behind in Tibet to an unknown fate and decided to stay with him while others fled, fearing for their life. Wangdor Rinpoche simply refused to go on without Thuksey Rinpoche, so he proceeded to carry his master the entire distance from Tibet to India on his own back. On the way to India, sometimes the group fell and folded down into gorges. Sometimes it rained, and they slipped and slid in mud. On the journey they came upon many uncivilized places where people had no clothes and used stone tools. They came upon places of thieves where they would steal the blanket around them while they slept. There, if some food was left at night, they were so tired and slept so deeply, in the morning the food and the pot they cooked it in were gone.

According to Wangdor Rinpoche[4]

Bringing Thuksey Rinpoche alive from Tibet to India is the greatest accomplishment of my life because this master was the head of the Drukpa Kagyü lineage and was the only mind and heart-holder of many significant teachings, empowerments and transmissions that would have been silenced had Thuksey Rinpoche not reached India.

In a written account of the journey from Tibet to India, Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa, stated that:

Wangdor Rinpoche is a genuine master of meditation and active in benefiting beings through his skills of direct instruction and was one of those who served immensely on the difficult journey from Tibet to India. Ordinary people, even youngsters with nothing on their back had great hardship to cross certain bridges made out of a single tree log, tens of meters high. If one falls off, there is not much hope to survive. Many died on their way with all sorts of hardship but Lama Wangdor carried Thuksey Rinpoche on his back all the way to India with a pure heart. Thuksey Rinpoche’s relative body was not at all a small size, much bigger than Lama Wangdor himself, who is about 5 feet 8 inches tall.

In the early 1970’s, settling in Tso Pema, India and building Tso Pema Orgyen Heruka Nyingmapa Gompa with Dudjom Rinpoche

Upon reaching refuge in Assam, India, above Bodhgaya, everyone in Wangdor Rinpoche's party was ill and transported by Indian officials to the hospital that could best care for the individual refugee’s ailments. Rinpoche had TB and was airlifted to Bombay, where he was treated for one year.

After Wangdor Rinpoche recovered from TB, he left Bombay on pilgrimage. He visited Bodhgaya and other sacred places of India for a time, practicing awhile in each until he came to the holy cave where Guru Rinpoche taught Mandarava, the Princess of Zahor. As it happened, the cave was empty. Wangdor Rinpoche asked the local villagers of Tso Pema if he could stay there, if anyone lived there. They said the sadhu who lived there had left a few days before. Since that time, Wangdor Rinpoche has kept the cave as his primary residence for over 45 years.

Wangdor Rinpoche’s Nyingma lineage transmitted by Dudjom Rinpoche comes to this moment from their first meeting in Tso Pema in the early 1970’s. Under the instruction of Dudjom Rinpoche, they together built the Tso Pema Orgyen Heruka Nyingmapa Gompa, dedicated to the Dudjom Tersar lineage.

Since then, Wangdor Rinpoche is a formal lineage holder of the Dudjom Tersar lineage as confirmed in Dudjom Rinpoche’s last will and testament. Beginning in the 1970’s, he constructed, a monastery near the lake as well as a retreat center on the mountain, available to practitioners of all lineages and nationalities, projects which have taken nearly 20 years to complete.

Since then, meditating in the caves above Tso Pema for over 45 years

Since then, Wangdor Rinpoche has spent more than 45 years meditating in the caves above Tso Pema (Lotus Lake), in the Himachal Pradesh region of Northern India, caves which were first used by Guru Rinpoche. In solitary retreat during the early years, Wangdor Rinpoche was eventually joined over time by more than 50 cave-dwelling yogins and yoginis. In solitary retreat during the early years, Wangdor Rinpoche was eventually joined over time by more than 50 cave-dwelling yogis and yoginis who look to him for guidance and support. In 1977, Chagdud Khadro first met Wangdor Rinpoche, who became her first teacher[5]. It was Wangdor Rinpoche who pushed Chagdud Khadro through the door of dharma when he said to her, “You can always meet the teachings later. That is, if you don’t die first.”.

Receiving teachings from Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen

Wangdor Rinpoche is confirmed to have received the authentic lineage transmission of Dzogchen from the great master Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, who, in his writings authorized Wangdor Rinpoche as a Dzogchen lineage successor.

According to Wangdor Rinpoche[6]

Tenzin Gyeltsen Rinpoche also was a foremost teacher of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Tenzin Gyeltsen Rinpoche would encourage people to make every moment of their life a retreat. This was Tenzin Gyeltsen Rinpoche’s form of retreat. Tenzin Gyeltsen Rinpoche did not engage in conventional wisdom about long retreats of even one day in length. He stated it essential to make every moment of life a retreat, the entirety of life a permanent retreat. This means creating space in the unruly mind, allowing it to slow down and experience a greater clarity, so its negative aspect declines and its positive aspect grows. Whenever this happens, we are in retreat. Labeling a specific period as “retreat” can provide a different emphasis for our practice, but this is not necessarily one that is entirely beneficial. Instead, if one appreciates the potential for every moment to be retreat, life naturally becomes powerfully rooted in Dharma and most beneficial.

Beginning in the 1970’s, building Dzigar Monastery in Tso Pema

Beginning in the 1970s, with the guidance of one of his principal lama’s Karmapa Rangjung Rigpé Dorje, he constructed Dzigar Monastery in Tso Pema. Wangdor Rinpoche also built a retreat center on the mountain, available to practitioners of all lineages and nationalities, projects which have taken over 40 years to complete. During this time period, Wangdor Rinpoche also built a monumental statue of Padmasambhava. The statue is filled with relics of Padmasambhava himself as well as many others of the Dzogchen, Nyingma and Kagyu lineages.

In Tso Pema, building a monumental statue of Guru Rinpoche above the lake

Guru Rinpoche statue, facing the Tso Pema lake.

More recently, Wangdor Rinpoche has designed and built a monumental statue of Guru Rinpoche above the lake. The Guru Rinpoche statue was consecrated and dedicated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on March 31 and April 1, 2012.

Students

Wangdor Rinpoche has formally authorized the following seven students (designated by locale) as Dzogchen successors, holders and carriers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, specifically, complete lineage wangs, oral transmissions, and pith instructions:

  1. Candice Rinpoche (Lus Rinpoche) All continents
  2. Lama Lena (Yeshe Kaytup) India and West
  3. HE Palga Rinpoche, seat in Ladakh, India
  4. Ani Bumchang, Holy Caves of Padmasambhava
  5. Zigar Rinpoche, Zigar Gompa, Tso Pema, India
  6. Khenpo Geyja and Lama Atsong, Zigar Gompa, Tibet

Writings

Rinpoche created media including two books (in process) which are transcriptions of Dzogchen transmissions in The Holy Cave of Padmasambhava, Tsol Pema, India, and in Conway, New Hampshire (USA), plus a set of six restricted videos in which Rinpoche gives Dzogchen lineage empowerments, reading transmissions, and pith instructions. The videos were filmed in the cave where Rinpoche lived for over 45 years. This is the Holy Cave of Padmasambhava, thus there is a life-sized statue of Guru Rinpoche carved into the wall appearing throughout the auspicious occasion of Rinpoche’s transmission of the Dzogchen Lineage.

Recent Years

Wangdor Rinpoche considered himself Rime and spread the Dzogchen, Nyingma and Kagyu lineages, and traveled and taught in Tibet, India, Nepal, South America, Europe and the United States.

Notes

  1. Wangdor Rimpoche spells his honorific title 'Rinpoche' with an 'm', not a 'n'. However, to respect consistency within this article and all other articles on this wiki, we have kept the spelling of Rinpoche with an 'n'.
  2. Private communication with a student of Wangdor Rinpoche, who shared the authorized namthar of Wangdor Rinpoche, 2018, Dec., 10th.
  3. The conch shell is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan life, an energetic signature and investiture of the pervasive sound of Dharma bringing benefit and enlightenment to all.
  4. Private communication with a student of Wangdor Rinpoche, who shared the authorized namthar of Wangdor Rinpoche, 2018, Dec, 10th.
  5. Wangdor Rinpoche advised Chagdud Khadro to accumulate Vajrasattva mantra and as well as nyungné fasts.
  6. ibid.

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