In our annual newsletter, we published a story, “The Vidyadhara Meets Mahakala,” from the following article. Here, we are pleased to present the entire article, which is based on an interview Walter Fordham had with Karma Senge Rinpoche in July 2005. Peter Roberts served as interpreter. Jessie Litven, who is now an apprentice with the Nālandā Translation Committee, transcribed and checked the translation, with assistance from Larry Mermelstein, who edited the interview into this article. We hope this is the first of many collaborations with The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Walter will be publishing the entire interview on the Chronicle Project website. We are grateful for Walter’s permission to use this story, and we encourage you to explore the Chronicles.
These days, Karma Senge Rinpoche is the main person responsible for Kyere Monastery. However, the founder of Kyere Monastery was Khyungdrak Dorje. He was one of the nine Nüden Dorje tertöns from among the various classes of important tertöns: the eight and sixteen Lingpas, the 108 tertöns, and so on. Some time ago Steven Seagal was recognized as a tülku of Khyungdrak Dorje. While Karma Senge Rinpoche was in the Bay area and Halifax this spring, they had their first meetings via video-conferencing.
According to Jamgön Kongtrül the Great’s biography of the 108 tertöns, Khyungdrak Dorje was a contemporary of the tenth Karmapa, the first Mingyur Dorje, and the fifth Dalai Lama. Though it’s not entirely clear, Kyere Monastery was probably founded in the female Water Ox year of the eleventh sixty year cycle (1673). So the monastery has been around since then. But it went through a period of a decline.
The patron responsible for the revival and rebuilding of Kyere was the fiftieth king of Lha-thok, Sönam Gyurme. There were four kingdoms within Kham ( Eastern Tibet): Lha-thok, Dege, Ling, and Nangchen. These were independent kingdoms, neither under Tibet nor under China, and they all had equal status. Surmang was in the kingdom of Nangchen; Kyere was in Lha-thok, now part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. So the king of Lha-thok revived Kyere Monastery for his lama, the tenth Trungpa Rinpoche, Chökyi Nyinche, and he offered him the monastery; thus it became part of the Surmang group of monasteries. The two of them revived Kyere Monastery together, which took place within the last century. They built a slightly larger temple than that of Khyungdrak Dorje, and they created a retreat center for the Surmang Hearing Lineage (Tib. nyengyü) tradition, a special Chakrasamvara teaching of Surmang, originally handed down by Tilopa.
There were a hundred families living near Kyere who were associated with the monastery. Everyone in Lha-thok had to paid tax to the king. So instead of paying the king, these families paid the monastery. Every year Kyere Monastery received a total of 100,000 yuan (US $12,500) from these families. This income supported the practices that were done there. Many important rituals were performed each year, including the drupchen (“great practice”) of Vajrakilaya according to Ratna Lingpa and Surmang Rölpe Dorje’s terma called Deshek Tobdü (“Concentrated Power of the Tathagathas”)—both of which took a month to complete; the Khandro Tsok Gar (“Ganachakra Dance of the Dakinis”), which took ten days; and the practice of the Four-Armed Mahakala. During the time of the Vidyadhara, the practice of Tsasum Gongdü (“Embodied Realization of the Three Roots”) was established.
Both the tenth and the eleventh Trungpas spent five to six months there each year, and since that time the Trungpa tülku was the main lama there. In particular, the tenth Trungpa did a hundred nyungne practices each year at Kyere. This is a special two-day fasting practice. The first day you don’t eat after noon, but you can drink. The second day, you don’t eat or drink at all, nor do you speak; you just practice all day. You also do ten circumambulations every day.
After the nyungnes, the tenth Trungpa would give everyone the nyungne empowerment, instructions, and teachings. Each day there would be 200-500 people practicing nyungne with the tenth Trunpga—never less than 200 people. This practice continues even now among many people there. One lama in particular has been practicing nyungne for about fifteen years without a break.
The Vidyadhara Meets Mahakala
Karma Senge Rinpoche offered one story about the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s discovering of terma (“treasure teachings”). In 1959, during the first Tibetan month, Trungpa Rinpoche went to Kyere Monastery. From the first to the fifteenth day of the second month he was in retreat at Kyere Shelkar ( Kyere White-Face Mountain), in a cave behind Kyere Monastery. At the beginning of the third month, in the spring, a messenger came from Surmang Dütsi Tel (Trungpa Rinpoche’s monastery). He said that Trungpa Rinpoche was needed because there was a drupchen (“great practice,” elaborate group practice) that had to be performed. Two drupchens were performed at Dütsi Tel each year, the Gongpa Kündü (Embodiment of Realization), from the terma of Choggyur Lingpa, and Rölpe Dorje’s terma Drekpa Kündü, which is a Vajrapani practice.
At that time, the present Rölpe Dorje had passed away, and Trungpa Rinpoche had to go back to lead the drupchen. If there was not a tülku present, the practice could not be done. So Trungpa Rinpoche began to make plans to go back to Dütsi Tel, but he was concerned that he might fall under Chinese control. He didn’t know what to do, so he did a mirror divination and saw that there would be an obstacle if he went back to Dütsi Tel. So he didn’t go; he sent Tülku Drubgyü as his representative instead.
When Tülku Drubgyü (the tenth Trungpa Rinpoche’s regent or representative at Kyere) got there, he found that all the Dütsi Tel monks had gathered to make torma and prepare for the practice. When everything was ready, they said Trungpa Rinpoche was needed. So Tülku Drubgyü told the monks, “If Trungpa Rinpoche comes to Dütsi Tel, he might get caught by the Chinese. He has done mirror divinations, and the divinations don’t look good, so Trungpa Rinpoche is not coming. Now, what should we do?”
But Kargyen was there—the person responsible for the monastery at that time. Also the monastery’s master of discipline, the umdze, and the chöpön were there. All the people with responsibilities were there, and they all said, “There are no Chinese at Dütsi Tel. Trungpa Rinpoche absolutely must come and perform the drupchen.”
So Tülku Drubgyü came back to Kyere. He arrived on the fifteenth day of the third month. At that time, Trungpa Rinpoche gave many prophecies. He said that in the future things would not go well for the whole of Surmang. All the buildings would be destroyed. There would be no monks, and there would be grass growing over the foundations. And then he said, “At that time, I will be in India, and eventually I will arrive in America.” Although he said that, they didn’t believe him. They said, “That’s impossible. It would never happen, and if you say things like that, it will be inauspicious.”
Rinpoche was supposed to leave for Dütsi Tel on the sixteenth. But before he left, he had a vision of Four-Armed Mahakala. There’s a high pass called Yul La that you have to cross to get from Kyere to Dütsi Tel. Trungpa Rinpoche saw Four-Armed Mahakala standing on the pass looking in the direction of Kyere, and Four-Armed Mahakala said, “Don’t go to Dütsi Tel.”
Trungpa Rinpoche told Tülku Drubgyü about what he saw. But Tülku Drubgyü said that the saddle was on the horse, the baggage was on the mules, and all the preparations for their departure were complete. So Trungpa Rinpoche said that they should just take it a bit slow, and it may just turn out that they wouldn’t need to go to Dütsi Tel.
So they just took their time that day. Then a messenger arrived. He said that the Chinese had fallen on Surmang. There were seven Chinese officials there who said, “Where is Trungpa Rinpoche? He must come with us. We are having a meeting at Jekundo and Trungpa Rinpoche must come. If Trungpa Rinpoche comes to Jekundo, he will have a high rank at this meeting.” The Chinese waited for Trungpa Rinpoche for about seven days.
Well, this matched Trungpa Rinpoche’s prophecy, so the people at Dütsi Tel sent a message saying, “Don’t come. Don’t come. The Chinese have come to the monastery. We will start the practice without you. Don’t come.”
So he stayed at the retreat cave at Kyere, and he revealed many yellow scrolls and the Tsasum Gongdü (Embodied Realization of the Three Roots) termas. Ugyen Tendzin, Ge Lama, Tülku Drubgyü, Sönam Tseten, and a monk from Dzogdze monastery were all there at that time. From the practice of Padmakara and Yeshe Tsogyal in union came a terma casket, inside of which was a list of termas and an account of the sacred places of Kyere Shelkar, a hair of Yeshe Tsogyal, and a kila of Padmakara.
It wasn’t particularly dangerous for them there because all of the Lha-thok people had such great faith in Trungpa Rinpoche, and they protected Trungpa Rinpoche’s family very well. However, all the buildings at Kyere Monastery were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and because he was a lama, Damchö Rinpoche was marked as a criminal by the Chinese, but the rest of the family was not. He was never harmed because of Tülku Drubgyü. The tenth Trungpa had installed him as his regent there. Tülku Drubgyü took all the blame himself and spent twenty-two years in prison. So then there was no blame against Damchö Rinpoche.
Rinpoche’s mother did not have to hide her identity. Everyone, including the Chinese, knew that she was Trungpa Rinpoche’s mother. The people in the community said that even though the Chinese knew that she was Trungpa Rinpoche’s mother, she hadn’t committed any crime, so she was not to blame. She was innocent. She was a practitioner and a student of Khenpo Gangshar. There were no retreats during that time, since reciting anything was against the Chinese law. They could only practice in secret, without anyone seeing anything. All of the possessions of the monastery—ritual objects, statues, and so on—were distributed by the Chinese to the Lha-thok families, maybe given to the poor families.
Karma Senge was recognized as a tülku when he was around thirteen or fourteen by drupchen (San. mahasiddha) Karma Norbu, a pupil of the tenth Trungpa. Karma Norbu was present when the eleventh Trungpa was at Tsawa Gang performing the Rinchen Terdzö empowerments. This was the Great Kongtrül’s largest anthology, including over 1,300 abhishekas, which took six months to confer. The Vidyadhara first conferred this when he was fourteen, a remarkable feat by all accounts. Karma Norbu was also the pupil of the second Jamgön Kongtrül of Palpung, the eleventh Situ Pema Wangchok, and Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. Karma Norbu was like Jetsün Milerapa. He drank only a drop of water and a bit of food each day—about so much [Karma Senge Rinpoche held up his thumb and index fingers only half an inch apart]. He wore only a thin white cotton shawl or zen (outer monk’s robe), and apart from that he was naked. He spent four years in retreat at Dorje Khyung Dzong at Surmang Dütsi Tel, then six years in the retreat center at Palpung. After that, he went to Central Tibet and Lhasa. There he became the retreat lama at Tsurphu Monastery (seat of the Karmapa, not far from Lhasa). He and Kalu Rinpoche were companions in retreat. When the sixteenth Karmapa Rikpe Dorje was on his way to India, he told Karma Norbu to remain in Tibet and take responsibility for recognizing all the tülkus reborn in Kham.
Karma Senge Rinpoche’s main guru was Karma Norbu, and he studied with him at Gyu-ne Monastery in Dege. He was also a student of Khenpo Karma Tseten. Karma Senge Rinpoche is the oldest of ten siblings. He has five brothers and four sisters. Their mother (the Vidyadhara’s sister) died about fourteen years ago; their father is still alive, as is the Vidyadhara’s youngest sister.
Nowadays, Karma Senge Rinpoche is the main person responsible for Kyere Monastery. There is a main temple, three stories high, rebuilt about twenty-five years ago, but not properly. There’s no electricity, so they need wood for fuel. The trees aren’t very far away, but most people have to carry the wood on their backs or by yak.
Karma Senge Rinpoche has established a nunnery over the last number of years. As for medical facilities, there’s no hospital or clinic. If you need to go to a clinic, you have to walk or go by horse, and by horse, it takes one day. It’s far. The clinic at Dütsi Tel takes more than a day to reach. There is a Tibetan doctor in Kyere, but he doesn’t have any medical facilities or medicine. Rinpoche does have a plan to build a clinic at Kyere, and this is one of his highest priorities.