by Larry Mermelstein

In the summer of 2003, for the first time, Damchö Tenphel Rinpoche, the younger brother of the Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche, and Karma Senge Trakpa Rinpoche, the Vidyadhara’s nephew, journeyed from the Surmang Monasteries in East Tibet to North America. Each was accompanied by an attendant: Karma Senge Rinpoche with his brother, Sönam Wangdü, age 27, and Damchö Rinpoche with his son, Sangye Tendzin, age 23. It was a remarkable visit in so many ways, and we are very grateful to have met them after all these years.

Karma Senge and Damcho Rinpoche (seated) with Sonam Wangdu and Sangye Tendzin (standing). Photo by Marvin Moore.

Karma Senge and Damcho Rinpoche (seated) with Sonam Wangdu and Sangye Tendzin (standing). Photo by Marvin Moore.

Damchö Rinpoche, now 56, was installed by the Vidyadhara as the abbot of Kyere Monastery sometime in the late 1950s. Apparently, knowing that his own monastery of Dutsi Tel would become a very dangerous place to be, the Vidyadhara decided to move his family (mother, brother, and two sisters—perhaps others too) to the nearby region of Kyere, where they remained for many years. (The Chinese did completely destroy Dutsi Tel soon after.) Karma Senge Rinpoche, 38 years old, is also from Kyere, which is about 30 miles as the crow flies from Dutsi Tel, though it takes a day or more to travel there.

Surmang Khenpo, also from Surmang, who has spent much time visiting in Boulder over the last several years, made most of the arrangements for this historic trip. His efforts were fraught with innumerable difficulties—from obtaining passports and other documentation for the party of four, none of whom had ever traveled beyond Tibet, to dealing with a very complex and risky health crisis throughout China during the outbreak and eventual containment of SARS. Nothing was simple, and planning seemed impossible.

We knew that the up-front costs of mounting this expedition would be very high (approximately US $15,000 just to get them on their way), and Shambhala International was not in the best financial state to undertake this commitment alone. Appreciating the immense value of such a visit, especially through our on-going work with the Vidyadhara’s writings from Tibet, the Nālandā Translation Committee decided to commit the funds necessary to launch this endeavor from our endowment. Peter Volz, Director of the Office of International Affairs, arranged for the party to visit Boulder, Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC), the San Francisco Bay Area, and Halifax.

On the evening of July 1st, Surmang Khenpo escorted four thick-robed Tibetans into a sweltering Marpa House, the Denver airport arrival having been delayed twice due to customs and other entry issues, resulting in missed planes. They were greeted warmly by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and about 40 members of the Shambhala sangha. We believe that all but the khenpo had never seen an airplane up close more than a day or so beforehand. As we each presented ceremonial khatas to the Rinpoches, we were surprised and moved by the traditional Tibetan-style greeting of touching foreheads. It was a particularly intimate and auspicious beginning.

Jules Levinson served as translator for this first weekend program, which included several talks on the four reminders, based on Jamgön Kongtrül’s Torch of Certainty (open to all), followed by a day of teachings for the tantrikas. The latter included a lung (reading transmission) and explanation on The Profound Guru Yoga, a practice for his students written by the Vidyadhara, probably when he was around nineteen. Karma Senge Rinpoche also introduced us to the very special tradition of Chakrasamvara known as the Surmang Hearing Lineage, including a lung on the outer sadhana from that transmission. He taught these two texts everywhere he went. Attendance at these teachings grew steadily, as word traveled that something special was happening. The talks were often very long, and since Karma Senge Rinpoche had probably never worked with a translator, the intervals between presentation and interpretation were extreme. As the Vidyadhara’s teachings came into focus, however, the intensity and intimacy of the teachings progressed rapidly. Through Karma Senge, students were meeting their teacher once again.

Damcho Rinpoche arrives at Shambhala Centre in Halifax. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Damcho Rinpoche arrives at Shambhala Centre in Halifax. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Into the Rockies

After the weekend program in Boulder, the party journeyed to Shambhala Mountain Center, where the Sakyong was at the midpoint of teaching a Vajra Assembly program to nearly 200 tantrikas. A large welcoming reception was held in the main shrine tent, where everyone on the land was able to present khatas and receive the blessings of the lamas, again in a very intimate, personal way. The party was then escorted to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, where Mipham Rinpoche gave them a personal tour. They moved in to the ranch house at Red Feather, which became like a Tibetan base camp for quite a coterie, including Lady Konchok and Lama Pejal; their son, Gyurme Dorje; Lama Pejal’s brother, who was visiting the U.S. for the first time; Lama Tsultrim from New Orleans, who assisted with translation; and a Tibetan cook from Denver.

The teaching began the next day, July 8, with a talk by Karma Senge Rinpoche on Light Rays of the Sun and Moon, an autobiographical doha by the Vidyadhara about his life and that of his teacher Khenpo Gangshar, which we translated and published in time for the stupa consecration in 2001. There were a number of stories about previous Trungpa tülkus, especially the fourth, who was extremely famous and the root guru of Karma Chagme, another very important master. After three hours, we were just getting to the more interesting sections, though many in the audience began to feel that the last hour had become something like they imagined our translation meetings to be. For Karma Senge Rinpoche, time seemed to have no meaning. For most of the rest of us, we hungered for dinner, and so we stopped at that point. We hope that Rinpoche will continue this exposition on his return, as he obviously filled in many details that were unknown to us.

Karma Senge Rinpoche gave a talk the next morning to the Shambhala Mountain Center staff and another talk that evening for the Vajra Assembly on hearing, contemplating, meditating, and bodhichitta, as well as a lung on the short Chakrasamvara sadhana from the Surmang Hearing Lineage. The lamas did a lengthy puja during the cremation of Larry Laughlin, a long-time sangha member, in the afternoon.

July 10 was an amazing display of teaching and devotion with Karma Senge Rinpoche. In the morning, he visited sadhakas practicing in the stupa. The entire time was devoted to questions and answers, all of which were quite good and clearly based on practice and experience, and Rinpoche’s replies were to the point and helpful. But after about an hour, a very penetrating and heartfelt question about devotion ignited a blaze and our rocket ship began to lift off, continuing in that way for the rest of our session. Karma Senge Rinpoche’s presence is simple, one pointed, and very responsive to what is presented to him, and his reference point, while obviously fairly traditional, can become very penetrating.

What happened in the afternoon, however, in our last formal teaching session at SMC with Karma Senge Rinpoche, open to the entire vajra assembly, was beyond any expectation, even for those who had been moved by his visit to Boulder the previous week. He had been requested to give a lung on the guru yoga to the Vidyadhara, which he had already taught twice in Boulder. Here, he launched into a lengthy discourse about Trungpa Rinpoche’s previous emanations, his aspect as a tertön, and how and where he discovered terma, especially in the prophesied (by Guru Rinpoche) sacred mountain in Kyere. Much of this is summarized in an essay that begins the table of contents of the collected works, which we’ve been translating, by Tulku Ugyen Tendzin (a close friend and student of the Vidyadhara). However Karma Senge Rinpoche said much much more than that, including a number of stories about certain terma discoveries (see the following article concerning Trungpa Rinpoche’s early days as a tertön).

The question period occasioned an extremely emotional exchange between Rinpoche and a participant, who expressed beautifully what most of us were feeling: our appreciation for his incredible devotion to the work of collecting the Vidyadhara’s teachings, and how he was bringing him back to us. (He also explained how his own birth had been prophesied by the Vidyadhara just as he was leaving Tibet, quoting the actual text and what it signified.) When asked about how our world was for him—having just made such a huge journey, coming from such a different reality, and so forth—Karma Senge Rinpoche was moved to tears as he expressed his joy at meeting so many students of the Vidyadhara, he not having had the good karma to have done so himself, seeing us all as completely part of his family. The shrine tent was completely sobbing away; I don’t know how our translator, Sarah Harding, was able to convey anything being expressed back and forth, amidst her own tears welling up. And it continued from there.

The party remained for another few days, participating in the annual stupa event and spending more time with the Sakyong and family. They returned to Boulder for a couple days, during which time Damchö Rinpoche conferred a long-life abhisheka, which he repeated in San Francisco and Halifax. Karma Senge Rinpoche gave a few more lungs, most of which were also given in Halifax. They spent over two weeks in Colorado before departing for a five-day visit to the Bay area.

The Final Legs of the Journey: California and Halifax
Lyndon Comstock, Bay Area visit coordinator, reported that the visit there went extremely well, with extensive teachings on the guru yoga and Surmang Hearing Lineage being offered to the tantrikas and a series of talks for everyone by Karma Senge Rinpoche. He gave an overview of the entire path to a full house at the Berkeley Shambhala Center, and offered a very moving song during a Sadhana of Mahamudra feast. Gesar Mukpo composed a spontaneous poem too. Gesar was very involved with this visit—remaining with them almost all of the time. Karma Senge Rinpoche spoke of the wondrous qualities of Trungpa Rinpoche, discovering terma from the age of eight. In San Francisco, Damchö Rinpoche spoke about his brother in response to a question after one teaching session, and a special fund-raising event was held there for the nunnery at Weyching that Karma Senge Rinpoche founded. Michael Lewis was the principal translator, with several local Tibetans (Dechen, Lobsang, and Nima) providing much assistance.

Karma Senge Rinpoche visits the Shambhala Archives. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Karma Senge Rinpoche visits the Shambhala Archives. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Halifax was the final stop for the tour, and a large crowd of community members and children turned out for the welcoming ceremony. Shakya Dorje, good friend and visiting doctor to our community, served as translator. At a vajrayana audience the next day, Karma Senge Rinpoche taught a beautiful one-page text on mahamudra by the Vidyadhara, which we will certainly put on our list to translate. The whole party toured the Shambhala Archives that day, conducted by Carolyn Gimian and some of the staff of Vajradhatu Publications and Kalapa Recordings. When offered a collection of video tapes of the Vidyadhara, they asked if they could get them on CDs, as that is the only medium available to them at present.

Damcho Rinpoche visits the Shambhala Archives. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Damcho Rinpoche visits the Shambhala Archives. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Friday saw a day trip to Dorje Denma Ling, where the Sutrayana Seminary was just concluding. Karma Senge Rinpoche gave an extensive talk, and everyone received the blessings of the lamas before they returned to Halifax, in order to begin the weekend seminar that evening.

The seminar began with lungs on several texts by the Vidyadhara: a text about ngöndro practice; a beautiful feast song concerning ati yoga, which Karma Senge Rinpoche learned how to sing from disciples of Trungpa Rinpoche, meant to be sung by men and women alternating stanzas; and a variety of supplications. His talk surveyed the approach of the three yanas, eventually finding its way into a wonderful story about how Khenpo Gangshar taught the Vidyadhara, forcing him to encounter his own faults and obstacles.

On Saturday morning, Rinpoche taught another text by the Vidyadhara, entitled “A Piece of the Rainbow: An Explanation of Supplication and Practice.” It was a terrific overview of the entire path, written by “the unruly child Chögyam.” Another text we will translate in the near future. In the afternoon, we enjoyed the Sadhana of Mahamudra feast together, and Karme Senge Rinpoche expressed his interest in how the feast liturgy was combined with the sadhana—a very unusual arrangement given to us by H.H. Khyentse Rinpoche.

Sunday morning began with seven lungs, including the guru yoga and Chakrasamvara text given elsewhere. The next text was something very special—the only Shambhala-related terma still extant from the Vidyadhara’s time in Tibet—a tiny scrap of paper containing just a few lines of text. Apparently he is said to have taught about werma and written two large volumes on Shambhala, but these are all lost. This small fragment was given to Karma Senge Rinpoche by Trakpa Tendzin, a senior lama from Tsawa Gang (where Lady Könchok is from)—”a man of such unwavering and profound devotion that if Trungpa Rinpoche’s name is mentioned, he trembles and cries.”

The next text was an aspiration to be born on the Copper-Colored Mountain. After that, we received a lung describing the state of ati—a very profound explanation on inner meditation. However, this text is riddled with mistakes and a much better edition needs to be established before we can work on this. The next gem was a song that described how the activities of Khenpo Gangshar caused the Vidyadhara to understand the nature of ati. The last lung was a song written during the time Khenpo Gangshar and Trungpa Rinpoche were at Surmang Namgyaltse. Following that, Karma Senge Rinpoche told a long story about various obstacles that were predicted for Surmang Garwang Rinpoche, the abbot of that monastery.

Karma Senge Rinpoche and Larry Mermelstein. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Karma Senge Rinpoche and Larry Mermelstein. Photo by Marvin Moore.

In the afternoon, we received ten more lungs, beginning with “The Padma Branch Supplication, from The Profound Heart Essence Guru Sadhana,” a cycle of the Vidyadhara’s terma (and one of only two lungs on the terma revealed by the Vidyadhara). The other texts included meditation instructions and songs, but the existing copies have many errors, and more work is needed to establish good editions of these. Karma Senge Rinpoche spoke of all the work remaining in collecting the Vidyadhara’s teachings, editing these, translating both the Tibetan works into English and all the English teachings into Tibetan, emphasizing how important it is to preserve, codify, and propagate these precious instructions.

The few days that remained after the seminar allowed more time for meetings with the Translation Committee. We focused on ascertaining what texts we were missing in our copy of the Vidyadhara’s Tibetan writings, and Karma Senge Rinpoche provided us with many more texts than we had expected, including different editions in some cases. We combed the archives and our files in order to provide him with copies of every Tibetan composition by the Vidyadhara in our collection, including various sadhanas, essays, diaries, Shambhala texts, and much poetry. All of this was written after his escape from Tibet.

In our remaining time, we were able to ask questions about several of the Vidyadhara’s compositions we had translated, including Light Rays of the Sun and Moon, The Sun of Wisdom (another text about Khenpo Gangshar that we hope to publish in the near future), the guru yoga and Chakrasamvara texts that Karma Senge Rinpoche had introduced us to this visit, as well as clarifying the practice instructions for these. We have now completed our work on these latter two texts, which are just now being made available to those who are authorized.

Karma Senge Rinpoche and Finlay Miller meet eye-to-eye. Photo by Marvin Moore.

Karma Senge Rinpoche and Finlay Miller meet eye-to-eye. Photo by Marvin Moore.

The party spent time with Mipham Rinpoche during their last few days, and they were very grateful and joyful to receive teachings from him, especially on the Shambhala texts revealed by the Druk Sakyong Dorje Dradül. He gave them various lungs and bestowed copies of all of the Shambhala texts, in their original, edited, and translated editions.

Due to more visa problems, the party made an unexpected stopover in Montreal, allowing many members of the Montreal sangha to meet them at the Shambhala Center. Having arrived with only a small amount of carry-on luggage, they left with many checked bags, filled with numerous texts and treasures, gifts and souvenirs. Needless to say, this was an extremely rich and fulfilling visit for us and many members of our community, and we very much look forward to their return.