The letter that arrived unexpectedly at Gar Gön monastery was
delivered by a messenger from the King of Nangchen’s royal
court. It was originally sent to the King from Drikung Thil, the main seat of the
Drikung Kagyu lineage located in Central Tibet, about one hundred and fifty kilometers
east of Lhasa.
The letter bore the signature and seal of a holy being, the 36th Drikung lineage
holder, a highly revered reincarnated lama who was given the sacred name of Drikung
Kyabgön, Tenzin Shiwai Lodrö. The letter clearly stated that at the request of the
royal King of Nangchen, Sewang Dorje, and the supreme holder of the lineage, Drikung
Kyabgön, a thorough search should be conducted in the nearby area for the child who
was born to a mother by the name of Dechei Yangzom and a father by the name of Masei
Upon passing various tests to prove his authenticity, the son of this couple, the
letter further stated, will be rightfully recognized as the reincarnation of the
previous Garchen Rinpoche, Thinley Yongkyab – the great mahasiddha who for many lifetimes
had been the head of the Gar Gön monastery and a personal, tutelary teacher of the
King of Nangchen.
The Kingdom of Nangchen was first established in the eighth century A.D. The ancient
summer capital – Nangchen Gar – of this vast, sprawling nomad kingdom with its fortress
used as a summer residence of the kings of Nanchen, was not all that far from the
Dong-go drong village, about a day by horse.
The Nangchen principality consisted of eighteen inner and twenty-five outer nomadic
tribes, each with its own valleys in a well-defined territory divided into summer
and winter pastures. This Kingdom was what the Tibetan Khampas called “Nyi-shu Dza
Nga,” or the “Twenty-Five Districts.” In the fourteenth century, Nangchen accumulated
great wealth due to the export of their local breeds of fine horses to the Ming emperors.
it was the King’s duty to oversee the recognition of the reincarnations of his personal
root gurus. The King of Nangchen had taken great interest in finding the incarnation
of his previous teacher, the 7th Garchen Rinpoche. However, after meeting with a
few young boys, the search came to a stall as nothing promising could be found among
these potential candidates. The King of Nangchen then had to personally request for
the Drikung Kyabgön to resolve this matter.
The Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism was one of the many sub-lineages derived
from the Kagyu tradition. This tradition is also known as the Golden Rosary Lineage,
alluding to the pure Dharma which became the thread that strung together the golden
beads. These precious gems, the golden beads – the great masters and throne-holders
of the lineage – from generation to generation, had transmitted the authentic teachings
to their disciples by means of “whispering” from mouth to ear.
In 1179, the realized master Kyöbpa Jigten Sumgon, a heart-disciple of Phagmodrupa,
founded Drikung-Thil, the monastic seat of the Drikung Kagyu lineage in Central Tibet.
He was said to have attained Buddhahood at the age of thirty five while in a seven-year
meditation retreat in a cave in Echung. It has also been said that due to Jigten
Sumgon’s vast wisdom and compassion, so many monks, as many as 180,000, assembled
at Drikung-Thil to receive teachings from him – so many that “their Dharma robes
reflected in the sky”! They not only came from Tibet but as far as India, China,
Nepal and many other places.
From the Drikung-Thil monastery, resting on rock formations and rising 600 feet above
the valley floor, one could see the rolling hills below stretch far into the cloudless
sky. One after another, emerald and lush, these hills rose up as a backdrop for the
winding river that passed through this remote and hidden plateau area.
“This meditation-rock will be inseparable from me throughout the three times.” Those
were the words of the great master to his disciples when referring to the monastic
seat that he founded in a place that was said to be the mandala of Chakrasamvara.
All these unfamiliar names and places would have been far beyond little Konchog Gyaltsen’s
imagination. Far beyond the hypnotizing uniformity of barley fields in his hometown
in this part of Nangchen. Far beyond any distant exhilarant site that he could ever
visit as a humble village boy.
When news of the letter sent by the King of Nangchen reached Dong-go drong to Gar
Gön monastery, the secret between little Konchog Gyaltsen’s father and mother was
publicly revealed. The whole village gasped at this astonishing tale. No one dared
to guess at how the holy Drikung Kyabgön from half a world away was able to shed
light on this unknown secret as if it were in the palm of his hand. Through dreams,
through signs, divination, or mystical powers? In the old days, it was extrememly
difficult for anyone to request an audience with a high lama such as the Drikung
Kyabgön who was believed to be the embodiment of an ocean of enlightened qualities.
People sometimes had to wait for months outside the monastery to be given a chance
to meet with the great master, and the thought of questioning the Drikung Kyabgön’s
authority or his methods of prediction seemed far-fetched and disrespectful.
Nevertheless, as liberation itself was said to be in the palm of an enlightened being’s
hand, so could anything else of lesser magnitude!
What was revealed was possible through a mind of inconceivable clarity that transcends
place, time and conditions as the local lamas later tried to explain to the young
boy’s family and villagers. And so the secret about his father was unfolded to everyone,
including the little boy himself.
Konchog Gyaltsen did not recall the first time he came face to face with his father
following the disclosure. Nor did he remember the first time he ever called out
to the man by the name of Masei Sangye as his Pala.
His father, Konchog Gyaltsen was told, belonged to the notable Masei clan who lived
in a neighboring village called Dzong Dza, over an hour walk from Dong-go drong.
The Masei clan had always been considered a clan of high status. Originally, this
clan dwelled in a place somewhere in the Golok region. Ma was the short name of
the area where this clan settled, and Sei was the short name of the smaller village
within that area.
Many generations later, members of this clan decided that they wanted to move away
from this town to a new place. They prayed to their protectors and Yidam deity for
guidance, and through their practice and devotion, they were given some signs that
lead them to move to and settle in this part of Nangchen.
All generations of the Masei clan had been respectable Tantric practitioners and
followers of the Dharma. One famous Masei master by the name of Trung Masei, Lodro
Rinchen, was a close disciple of the fifth Karmapa who founded the Surmang Kagyu
lineage. He had a student by the name of Kunga Gyaltsen who later built the Surmang
monastery, and established a monastic tradition from what was a group of wandering
yogis. Before the monastery was constructed, these first adepts met in irregularly
shaped reed huts, and hence, the name “Surmang” or “many corners.”
Little Konchog Gyaltsen’s father himself was a meditation practitioner of deep insight.
There were five sons in his father’s family, and they all took as their wife the
same girl in a polyandrous arrangement. She came from a high-class family, was a
rather well-built woman, and the sister of Pei-Pei Yul Orgyen Nyima, an important
local chieftain of noble origin. Throughout the years, she bore the Masei brothers
two sons, Masei Chogyam and Masei Kongkyab, but no daughter.
Of the five brothers, one stayed home to take care of their wife and household. Another
chose to embrace the life of a hermit, went to Mount Kailash, and then to Nepal,
to enter isolated retreat. The other three brothers, on the other hand, regularly
took turn entering retreats at the Masei cave in Nangchen, a famous cave that belonged
to the First Surmang Trungpa Rinpoche. Of the three brothers who practiced at the
Masei cave, one of them passed away.
When Konchog Gyaltsen was secretly conceived, it was during the time that his father
was in an extensive retreat at the Masei cave. This cave was situated not high in
the mountain and accessible by foot. To the left of the Masei cave was his father’s
village, Dzong Dza, about forty-minute walk, and to the right of the Masei cave was
his mother’s village, Dong-go drong.
Konchog Gyaltsen’s mother, Dega, because of her amiable disposition, was asked to
attend to this Tantric meditator by bringing food, yogurt and other provisions to
his cave once every few days. To walk from her house in Dong-go drong to the Masei
cave, it usually took her about an hour. What led the yogic meditator to forsake
the strict rules that a meditator must commit to while on retreat to take this girl
as his consort and impregnate her? No one could have guessed.
The relationship between the yogic meditator of Masei and the young maiden-attendant
was kept in strict secret. When she realized that it was not just a dream and that
she was really carrying his child in her womb, Dega shyly whispered his name to her
most trusted confidants when being pressed as to whom the father was. Like a little
thief aching with anguish, she begged them to please keep it to themselves. She was
petrified that it would have caused a scandalous eruption in the greater Masei family
and much suffering to the expecting mother and child had this news traveled far and
wide. The powerful noble family to which his first wife belonged, Dega thought,
could actually create great trouble for her and her own family – who remained ordinary
commoners of humble origin.
Then, one day, by the compelling rift of karma, everything became disclosed and authenticated
in a letter that arrived from mountains and rivers away, and the illegitimate child,
the fruition of a love deeply buried, was now to be recognized as a young reincarnated
Konchog Gyaltsen was never told of the fateful letter nor the heart-stirring news
that it brought. He was told, however, that he would have to come with his mother
and search party to the neighboring Lho Migyel Gön monastery.
At this monastery, the 8th Drikung Chagme Rinpoche who was actually the son of the
King of Nangchen and himself a high lama of the Drikung lineage, awaited little
Konchog Gyaltsen and the entourage. Since he was very small and not able to ride
a horse by himself, Konchog Gyaltsen remembered riding with his mother on her lap
to Lho Migyel Gön.
There, he remembered being shown a number of sacred objects. He was asked to select
from among them, those that belonged to him in his past life. When little Konchog
identified all seven objects that belonged to the previous 7th Gar Rinpoche, everyone
rejoiced. Somehow he was not really mindful of what went on when he was being tested
with these objects. Everything seemed to happen spontaneously – it felt natural
as if no effort was necessary.
Finally, they brought little Konchog Gyaltsen to the main temple where he saw a row
of beautifully adorned, gold-and-bronze statues placed in front of him. He was told
that these statues represent great masters of the past, those who already attained
unsurpassable qualities of transcendent wisdom, and had entered the path of renunciation
and perfect liberation. Little Konchog looked at them all in awe. Never before had
he seen such exalted images!
Then, all of a sudden, he remembered.
“Among these masters, who is your root teacher? Who is your tsawei Lama? Now, point
Someone came to him and asked.
At that very moment, Konchog Gyaltsen reached out his hand instantaneously and pointed
to one of the statues and exclaimed:
“This is my Lama!”
The face of this statue seemed to appeal to him in a way that was beyond what he
was able to grasp. It was a rather large-size statue. What he felt and how he felt
was new to him. It was something peculiar which he would not have been able to explain.
The lama’s posture, his robes, his red ceremonial hat, his gazing eyes, his left
hand in meditation and his right hand in subdued mudras — together, they all seemed
to plant something so familiar and at the same time inexplicable in Konchog Gyaltsen’s
“This is my Lama!’
The lama, he was told later, was Lord Jigten Sumgön, the Great Drikungpa Ratna Shri.
The one who had been prophesized in many Sutras and Tantras, who was believed to
be an incarnation of Nagarjuna, and who was proclaimed “Protector of the Three Words”
by his own spiritual master, Phagmodrupa.
Throughout the encounter, he stared at the face of the statue – his Lama. It continued
to fill little Konchog’s mind and seemed to leap out to speak to him...
When it became indisputable that this young boy was indeed the new reincarnated tulku
of the Garchen lineage, the monks brought little Konchog Gyaltsen outside to give
him a shower as part of a purification ritual.
They took off his old clothes and started pouring water over him! The water was freezing
cold, or so it seemed! The water was so cold that he thought he was being thrown
right into an icy river! Today still, Konchog Gyaltsen cannot seem to forget the
benumbed shower he received on that special occasion. He stood there shivering,
feeling numbed all over as this blessed water rained down on his body to help wash
away the countless dust particles – his outer defilements.
Then, they brought him inside to shave his head and dress him in new, saffron-colored
robes. The 8th Chagme Rinpoche was the one who performed the official hair-cutting
and refuge ceremony for little Konchog Gyaltsen.
He was then officially given the
Dharma name Konchog (Precious) Ngedun (Ultimate Truth) Tenpei (Teachings) Nyima (Sun).
It was a name that was personally selected for him by the 36th Drikung lineage holder,
Tenzin Shiwe Lodrö.
Precious, Ultimate Truth, Sun of the Teachings –the Eighth Kyabje Triptrül Garchen
Kyabje means the Lord Who Protects or Lord of Refuge. Garchen means Great Gar. Trip
means the One Who is Holding. Trül means Throne. Triptrül is the Current Throne Holder.
For many generations now, at Gar monastery, traditionally there have been three tulkus
or reincarnated lamas who were recognized as great masters: Garchen Rinpoche, Gar
Mingyur Rinpoche and Gar Namdröl Rinpoche but only Garchen Rinpoche is the one whose
title Triptrül was bestowed upon. Garchen Rinpoche, or the Rinpoche from Great Gar,
in this case, refers to the current throne holder who presides over the greater Nangchen
area, and not merely the small village of Gar.
And Rinpoche, literally Precious One, is a title customarily bestowed to a high reincarnated
From that day onward, people began to address him as Garchen Rinpoche – thePrecious
One from Great Gar – or Garchen Tulku – the Reincarnated One from Great Gar. Many
other people, especially those in the village, for generations, have been used to
refer to their teacher as Gar Rinpoche – the Precious One from Gar, and this remains
an abbreviated and affectionate form of addressing the lama.
To his mother, he was no longer little Kon-Gyam. She, too, began to call him Rinpoche
– the Precious One. Hewas no longer hers to behold but who had come back into this
world due to the powerful aspirations of his past lifetime, in order to guide other
beings out of their own self-inflicted sufferings toward the path of perfect liberation.
In his mother’s heart, the words of the old yogi-monk, Lagin Konchog Tengye resonated...
“We would be very fortunate if we could just take a seat below him!” Words that the
wise monk once spoke when she brought her son to his retreat house for his first
Words that now became unveiled, clear and luminous like a blazing, cloudless sky.
At that very moment, Konchog Gyaltsen reached out his hand instantaneously and pointed
to one of the statues and exclaimed: