What Others Say About H.H. Pabongka Rinpoche
His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Dorje Chang is one of the greatest Lamas of the 20th century. Today, not a single Gelug master hasn’t benefited from Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s teachings, either directly or indirectly. Many of his disciples became great practitioners themselves, and continued to disseminate the Dharma they received from this great master. For example, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the heart disciple of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and the junior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In 1921, at Chuzang Hermitage near Lhasa (capital of Tibet), Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche gave a 24-day historic exposition on the Lamrim. 700 people attended, including lay people, monks from the three major monasteries in Lhasa, and those who traveled weeks from different parts of Tibet. His heart disciple, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche remembered the teachings perfectly, wrote them down… and in 1991, the text was translated into English and published as “Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand”.
This book is often touted as the “Buddhist Bible”, as most Gelug teachers use it as the foundation of their teachings. I always encourage my students to study this text, and in Kechara we conduct both basic and advanced Lamrim classes for those who want to study the Lamrim in more depth.
In this blog post, I’d like to share the praises written by various great masters about Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. These great masters are the abbots of monasteries, famed Tibetan translators and founders of various centers worldwide. They get nothing out of praising Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, but they did anyway with great sincerity and respect. The greatness of some of the masters themselves who praise Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche says so much.
I hope that by reading and understanding this article, you will develop great faith in Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and his lineage, and that you will gain stability in your practice and receive higher teachings in the future. I myself had spontaneous and natural faith in Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche since the day I saw his photo in a book over three decades ago. I photocopied the picture, framed it and kept on my altar. My faith in Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche has been unwavering ever since. I have had the honor to meet his current incarnation and make offerings on many occasions. I’ve had the fortune to bring many students to receive his blessings also.
May I and many fortunate beings never be separated from His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche in this and all future lives until full enlightenment.
H.H. Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
“My guru, kind-in-three-ways, who met face to face with Heruka, whose name I find difficult to utter…” The Great Lama Je Pabongka According to His Disciples and Others
About H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche
H.H. Trijang Rinpoche was a direct disciple of H.H. Pabongka Dorjechang and the junior tutor of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. He is also the root Guru of many notable Gelug Lamas such as H.H. Zong Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, Lama Yeshe and Lama Gangchen Rinpoche; and many present-day Tibetan Buddhist masters.
“…Our childish minds were unfit vessels for so vast an ocean of teachings…”
Prasdrin pararia syaklutaki yanta,
Tray am guhyanatd tigolama eka,
Sudhi vajradharottarah muni aksha,
Prayachchha tashubham valdruga kota.
O Lama Lozang Dragpa, One with Shakyamuni and,
Vajradhara, O sum of every perfect refuge, O mandala-,
Guise complete With three mysteries of enlightenment,
Rain upon us ten million goodnesses.
O my guru, my protector,
Who, through the Supreme Vehicle, vanquished the,
Extreme of selfish peace, who, unattached to worldly,
Comforts, upheld the three high trainings and the,
Teachings of the Victor, whose noble good works,
Remained untarnished by the eight worldly concerns.
You were the very fountain-head of goodness.
Everything you said was medicine to drive out hundreds of diseases;
Our childish minds were unfit vessels for so vast an ocean of teachings
So precious a source of qualities. How sad if these teachings were forgotten!
Here, I have recorded but a few. Immeasurable, countless numbers of Buddhas have come in the past. But unfortunate beings such as myself were not worthy enough to be direct disciples even of Shakyamuni, the best of protectors, who stands out like a white lotus among the thousand great Buddhas, the saviours of this fortunate aeon. First we had to be forced into developing even a moment’s wholesome thought; this took us to the optimum physical rebirth as a human.
We have been taught this most unmistaken path, which will lead us to the level of omniscience, at which time we shall gain our freedom. But, to be brief,
I was saved time and time again from infinite numbers of different evils, and was brought closer to an infinity of magnificent things.
My glorious and holy guru did this.
“This feeling of renunciation was overwhelming”
His kindness is without equal.
He was — and now I shall give his name in view of my purpose — Jetsun Jampa Taenzin Trinlae Gyatso Paelzangpo. (Pabongka Rinpoche) Although people like me are immature, uncultured and unregenerate, there was a time when I feasted on his oral instructions into the Mahayana [the Supreme or Great Vehicle] at Chuzang Hermitage, a lonely place that was blessed by the presence of great meditators.
He started the following informal teaching on the thirtieth day of the seventh month of the Iron Bird Year , and it lasted twenty-four days.
People braved great hardships to get there from the three major monasteries in Lhasa, from the Central Province, from Tsang, Amdo and Kham to taste the nectar of his oral teachings, as the thirsty yearn for water.
There were about thirty lamas and reincarnations of lamas, and many upholders of the three baskets of the teachings – in all a gathering of over seven hundred.
The informal teaching he gave combined various traditions on the Lam-rim – the stages of the path to enlightenment.
There were the two oral lineages related to the Lam-rim text Manjushri’s Own Words. One of these lineages was quite detailed and had developed in the Central Province; another lineage of a briefer teaching flourished in the south of Tibet. He also included the concise teaching, the Swift Path Lam-rim; and in the part of the Great Scope section that deals with the interchange of self and others, he taught the seven-point mind training.
Each part of the teaching was enriched by instructions taken from the confidential oral lineages. Each section was illustrated by analogies, conclusive formal logic, amazing stories, and trustworthy quotations. The teaching could easily be understood by beginners, and yet was tailored for all levels of intelligence. It was beneficial for the mind because it was so inspiring. Sometimes we were moved to laughter, becoming wide awake and alive. Sometimes we were reduced to tears and cried helplessly. At other times we became afraid or were moved to feel, ‘I would gladly give up this life and devote myself solely to my practice.’ This feeling of renunciation was overwhelming. These are some of the ways in which all of his discourses were so extraordinary.
How could I possibly convey all this on paper! Yet what a pity if all the key points contained in these inspiring instructions were lost. This thought gave me the courage to write this book. As my precious guru later advised me, ‘Some of the people present could not follow the teaching. I’m afraid I do not trust all the notes people took during the classes. I therefore ask you to publish a book. Put in it anything you feel sure of.’
In this book I have accurately recorded my lama’s teachings in the hope that this substitute for his speech will be beneficial to my friends who wish to succeed in their practice.
~ From Trijang Rinpoche’s introduction to Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand- A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment By Pabongka Rinpoche, edited by Trijang Rinpoche and translated by Michael Richards Wisdom 1991)
Sermey Jetsun Khen Rinpoche Losang Tharchin on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
About H.E. Khensur Rinpoche
Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin was born in Lhasa, Tibet in 1921 and entered Sera Monastery there at an early age. He proceeded through the rigorous 25-year program of monastic studies under the guidance of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Upon successful completion of public examination by the best scholars of the day, Rinpoche was awarded the highest degree of Hlarampa Geshe (Doctor of Theology) with honors, and was one of the last living Hlarampa Geshes educated in Tibet. He proved to be the best debater of his graduation year in all of Tibet, making him the “First among the First.”
Khen Rinpoche then entered Gyu Mey Tantric College, where he completed its course of advanced tantric studies and attained a high-ranking administrative position. In 1959 Rinpoche escaped from Tibet into India along with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He became actively involved in resettlement, and compiled a series of textbooks used in the Tibetan refugee schools.
Khen Rinpoche came to the United States in 1972 and became Abbot of Rashi Gempil Ling Temple in New Jersey. After going to South India in 1991 and serving as Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery for some time, he returned to the United States. Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin was a lifetime director and an abbot emeritus of Sera Mey Monastery. Khen Rinpoche passed on from this life on Je Tsongkapa Day, Dec. 7, 2004
Khen Rinpoche was an actual disciple of Je Pabongka, so his words are very precious, giving us a direct impression of this extraordinary master….
… the sage foretold that if the child were placed in Gyalrong House, something wonderful would happen with him in the future…
It was at this time that the glorious Pabongka Rinpoche, the author of the commentary you are about to read, came into my life. Like me he had as a young man taken his course of studies at the Sera Mey College of Sera Monastery; in fact, he was from the same house, Gyalrong. Pabongka Rinpoche was born in 1878, at a town called Tsawa Li in the Yeru Shang district of the state of Tsang, north of Lhasa.
Later on, the youngster was found to be a reincarnation of the Changkya line, which included the illustrious scholar Changkya Rolpay Dorje (1717-1786). The lamas of this line had done much teaching in the regions of Mongolia and China—even in the court of the Chinese emperor himself—and the name “Changkya” had very strong Chinese connotations. Already in those days the Tibetan government and people were sensitive to the pressures put on us by our powerful neighbor to the east, so the name “Changkya” was ruled out, and the boy declared to be “Pabongka” instead. Pabongka, also known as Parongka, is a large and famous rock-formation about three miles’ walk from our Sera Monastery. The very word “pabong” means in our language a large boulder, or mass of rock.
His family were of the nobility and owned a modest estate called Chappel Gershi. As a child he exhibited unusual qualities and in his seventh year was taken before Sharpa Chuje Lobsang Dargye, one of the leading religious figures of the day. The lama felt sure that the boy must be a reincarnated saint, and even went so far as to examine him to see if he were the rebirth of his own late teacher. He was not, but the sage foretold that if the child were placed in the Gyalrong House of Sera Mey College, something wonderful would happen with him in the future.
KYABJE PABONGKA RINPOCHE DECHEN NYINGPO and his classmate, Gyelrong Sharpa Choje—known as Jangsem Choje Lobsang Nyima—went together very often to debate when they were at their monastery. Indeed, both of them became Geshes. Later Jangsem Choje Lobsang Nyima entered Gyu Me Tantric College and became a great scholar. He proceeded to become gi-go (disciplinarian), an administrator, as I did, then Lama Umdze (lead chanter), then Abbot, and finally almost reached the position of Ganden Tripa (Lama Tsongkhapa’s representative on earth – the leader of the Gelugpa lineage).
Pabongka Rinpoche Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo’s life proceeded in another direction such that he was later to become a very famous teacher of Sutra and Tantra, especially of the Lam Rim (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) tradition. Whenever he taught, many people came from miles and miles around to attend his teachings. Everybody said he was an unbelievable expert on all subjects.
Later, when Lobsang Nyima had learned that Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo was going to be in nearby Chusang Ritro, his curiosity piqued from having heard so much relating to Kyabje Pabongka’s fame coming from all quarters, he decided to visit him and so he brought along a pot of excellent yogurt as a gift for Rinpoche. During that visit they met for a long time discussing many points on numerous topics. Since Kyabje Pabongka had answered every one of his questions so thoroughly, Lobsang Nyima couldn’t argue with him at all on any of the points.
Upon his return, when others asked about the visit he remarked: “When we were on the debate ground at Sera Mey, Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo wasn’t an expert at debate by any means. At the time I didn’t think he had learned very much. But now I understand that his way of studying and mine went in different directions. For instance, when we debated, I for my part, would apply reasons and quotations to back up my arguments, all the time focusing on the other debater. But Kyabje Pabongka, for his part, when studying, asking questions, giving answers, reciting quotations, giving reasons, everything, would focus all of these on himself, applying them to his own mind. Therefore, by using such a method, there is no way to argue with him on any of the points since he has mastered them all.”
(From the Forward to The Principal Teachings of Buddhism by Tsongkhapa, with a commentary by Pabongka Rinpoche, translated by Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, 1998)
Khen Rinpoche Losang Tharchin on Meeting Pabongka Rinpoche for the First Time
It was in his private quarters at the Tashi Choling hermitage that I first met Pabongka.
He had been away on an extended teaching tour in eastern Tibet, and just returned. I was still the wild teenager and had been stuck with the distasteful job of nyerpa for Gyalrong House—this means I was a kind of quartermaster and had to make sure there was enough firewood and food to keep the house kitchen going for several hundred monks. Since the Rinpoche was a member of Gyalrong, we were supposed to send a committee over to the hermitage to welcome him back and present him gifts. As nyerpa I was expected to arrange some supplies and help carry them along.
In private conversation Pabongka Rinpoche was in the habit of constantly attaching “Quite right! Quite right!” to everything he said. So I distinctly remember when I came into his presence, and he put his hand on my head, and he said “Quite right! Quite right! Now this one looks like a bright boy!”
From that day on I felt as though I had received his blessing, and some special power to pursue my studies.
Khensur Lobsang Tharchin Praises Pabongka Rinpoche’s Speech
The effects on his audience were striking and immediate.
I remember particularly the case of Dapon Tsago, a member of the nobility who held a powerful position equivalent to Minister of Defense. Public teachings in Tibet were as much social as religious affairs, and aristocrats would show up in their best finery, often it seemed not to hear the dharma but rather to put in an appearance. So one day this great general marches in to the hall, decked out in silk, his long hair flowing in carefully tailored locks (this was considered manly and high fashion in old Tibet).
A great ceremonial sword hung from his belt, clanging importantly as he swaggered in. By the end of the first section of the teaching he was seen leaving the hall quietly, deep in thought—he had wrapped his weapon of war in a cloth to hide it, and was taking it home. Later on we could see he had actually trimmed off his warrior’s locks, and finally one day he threw himself before the Rinpoche and asked to be granted the special lifetime religious vows for laymen. Thereafter he always followed Pabongka Rinpoche around, to every public teaching he gave.
He Displayed Tremendous Abilities As A Public Teacher
Pabongka Rinpoche was actually the second Pabongka, for it was finally agreed to announce that he had been recognized as the reincarnation of the Kenpo (or abbot) of the small monastery atop the rock.
For this reason he was sometimes referred to as “Pabongka Kentrul,” or the “reincarnation of the abbot of Pabongka.” Pabongka Rinpoche’s full name, by the way, was Kyabje Pabongkapa Jetsun Jampa Tenzin Trinley Gyatso Pel Sangpo, which translates as the “lord protector, the one from Pabongka, the venerable and glorious master whose name is the Loving One, Keeper of the Buddha’s Teachings, Ocean of the Mighty Deeds of the Buddha.” He is also popularly known as “Dechen Nyingpo,” which means “Essence of Great Bliss” and refers to his mastery of the secret teachings of Buddhism. We Tibetans feel that it is disrespectful to refer to a great religious leader with what we call his “bare” name—such as “Tsongkapa” or “Pabongka”—but we have tried here to simplify the Tibetan names to help our Western readers.
Pabongka Rinpoche’s career at Sera Mey College was not outstanding; he did finish his geshe degree, but reached only the “lingse” rank, which means that he was examined just at his own monastery and did not go on for one of the higher ranks such as “hlarampa.” …It was only after his graduation from Sera Mey, and the success of his teaching tours through the countryside outside the capital, that Pabongka Rinpoche’s fame started to spread.
Gradually He Began To Build Up A Huge Following and Displayed Tremendous Abilities As A Public Teacher
He was not tall (as I remember about my height, and I am only 5’6″), but he was broad chested and seemed to fill the entire teaching throne when he climbed up on it to begin his discourse. His voice was incredibly powerful. On many occasions he would address gatherings of many thousands of people, yet everyone could hear him clearly (in those days in Tibet we had never heard of microphones or loudspeakers). Part of the trick of course was to pack the audience in Tibetan-style, crosslegged on the floor, with the lama on an elevated platform. Still the audience would flow out onto the porch of the hall, and sit perched above on the roof, watching through the steeple windows.
Pabongka Rinpoche had an uncanny ability to relate to his audience, and for this reason he became a teacher for the common man as well as for us monks.
The Rinpoche’s great accomplishment was that he found a way to attract and lead listeners of every level. His most famous weapon was his humor. Public discourses in Tibet could sometimes go on for ten hours or more without a break, and only a great saint could keep his attention up so long. Inevitably part of the audience would start to nod, or fall into some reverie. Then Pabongka Rinpoche would suddenly relate an amusing story or joke with a useful moral, and send his listeners into peals of laughter. This would startle the day-dreamers, who were always looking around and asking their neighbors to repeat the joke to them.
H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
Kyabje Pabongka had such vast qualities that it is difficult to comprehend them…
– H.H. Zong Rinpoche
About H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche
Zong Rinpoche was one of the foremost Lamas of his generation, and a life-long Dorje Shugden practitioner.
“(Zong) Rinpoche was born in Kham in 1905. He went to Lhasa when he was eleven years old to study at Shartse. He studied effortlessly and became renowned as a powerful and irrefutable debater. A learned geshe at that time said that ‘even if Shri Dharmakirti had been present, he would not have been able to debate better than that.’
After graduating as a high ranking Lharampa geshe at the age of twenty-five he moved on to the Tantric College of Gyuto. In 1937 he was appointed abbot of Shartse, a position he held for nine years.
Rinpoche was known as a strong, detached and wrathful lama. He had impeccable knowledge of all rituals, art and science, and he never hesitated to give reasons to others why this action or that painting was wrong.
He was renowned for his ‘many actions of powerful magic,’ as a result of which ‘the most marvellous, indescribable signs occurred.’”
– Wisdom: Magazine of the FPMT, Number 2, 1984
“In 1916 (Zong Rinpoche) went to Lhasa to study the dharma at Shartse college (of Ganden Monastery), where he studied the sutras of the Prajnaparamita, Madhyamika, the Abidharma and the Vinaya. He quickly became famous as a sharp analyst and master of philosophical debate. In 1929 he successfully completed his geshe examinations and was awarded with the highest degree, the Geshe Lharampa title. In 1937 he became abbot of the Shartse college.
So his name spread all over the country of being a powerful tantrika and he gave many empowerments and teachings on those subjects with a special emphasis on the tantras of Heruka, Hayagriva, Yamantaka, Gyelchen Shugden, Guhyasamaja, Vajrayogini, Green Tara, Mahakali, White Tara, Vaishravani and others.
He was one of the last teachers of the old generation with the aura of authority and a kind of aristrocratic touch or vajra pride. In his teachings he followed very strictly the original texts. But, concerning his age, he was very open and patient to us Westerners, always kind, polite and helpful to answer our many questions concerning detailed tantra explanations.”
– From the Biography of Zong Rinpoche by Hans Taeger
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche Speaks of Kyabje Pabongka Dorjechang
From: Chod in the Ganden Tradition, The Oral Instructions of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche By Kyabje Zong Rinpoche Snow Lion 2006
Kyabje Pabongka had such vast qualities that it is difficult to comprehend them. Sincere and pure practitioners should consult the birth stories of this high lama. Je Pabongka was an emanation of Krishnapada. Krishnapada was a great mahasiddha, a scholar and realized being…
When he was young, he received lamrim teachings from Dagpo Lama Jampel Lhundrub, and when the customary ritual for generation of bodhichitta was held at the end of the teachings, he actually generated bodhichitta. When this happened, Jampel Lhundrub ordered a throne to be set up for the young Pabongka. On hearing the Sevenfold Cause-and-Effect instructions for the first time, his mind was greatly moved, and he wept.
Je Pabongka was Heruka…
Kyabje Pabongka was also an emanation of Heruka Chakrasamvara, but degeneration of the times and jealousy of ordinary beings have made it difficult to become aware of his tremendous qualities. There are many biographies of Kyabje Pabongka that make his realized qualities very clear.
Dalai Lama Acknowledges A Great Teacher…
The thirteenth Dalai Lama requested Kyabje Pabongka to give the yearly lamrim teachings in 1925, instead of asking the Ganden throneholder, as was customary. Usually these teachings lasted seven days, but these lasted for eleven days. These were my first teachings from Kyabje Pabongka. Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang was also present at these teachings.
“If We Lose Faith in the Lineage, We Are Lost…”
“Once, returning from Chamdo, Kyabje Pabongka taught at a “dzong,” a fortified monastery. A member of his audience had a vision of Kyabje Pabongka with four arms.
On another occasion, teaching at Lhasa, thirty-two incarnate lamas attended his lamrim discourses. Tapu Dorje Chang traveled from Kham to Lhasa specifically to receive Dharma teachings from Kyabje Pabongka. Tapu Dorje Chang could hear statues of Avalokiteshvara and Tara speak, and saw visions of multi-armed yidams. Kyabje Pabongka was Tapu Dorje Chang’s disciple also.
Once Kyabje Pabongka invoked the wisdom beings of Heruka’s mandala to enter into a statue of Heruka Chakrasamvara. Heruka then offered nectar to Kyabje Pabongka, and prophesied that seven generations of his disciples would be protected by the body mandala of Heruka. Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang is cared for by Heruka Chakrasamvara, as are his disciples.
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Ling Rinpoche were tutors to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They taught His Holiness everything from basic teachings to advanced levels.
Kyabje Pabongka passed all of his lineages to Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang. He often said this in discourses. The purpose of this detailed exposition is to affirm the power of the lineage.
We should remember the biographies of past and present teachers. We should never develop negative thoughts towards our root and lineage gurus. If we do not keep the commitments after having received teachings, this is a great downfall. After giving teachings, the guru should act in accordance with the capacities of disciples and their requests. If the disciples see the guru’s actions as pure, this is proper practice. The guru should not act in contradictory ways.”
“Mahasiddha Pabongka Rinpoche has a long history and during his time the Dharma increased greatly in Tibet. He was actually Heruka Demchok. He was born in north central Tibet and as a boy entered Gyalrong House of Sera Mey. At first he was very poor and not famous. He studied hard to be a Geshe, meditated and gave empowerments. Pabongka studied with Jaba Sonpo Rinpoche who was a complete lineage holder, especially of the teachings of Ranchi Lama. One night, he dreamt of a person giving him a pot of milk and requesting him to drink it completely. This symbolized that the complete teachings would be transferred to him.
Later on, a monk came to see him. This monk explained that there were a lot of philosophies in Tibet but not much teaching on Lam Rim. The monk offered to be his patron so that he could go and teach.
At one time while returning from the south of Tibet, Pabongka Rinpoche met many people, requesting Lam Rim teaching. He taught in Lhasa and he went every where in Tibet and many people became his students. Of course this caused some jealousy at times. He propagated Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma with much enthusiasm and stated that these teachings were the best.
Finally the monk who was Pabongka Rinpoche’s patron returned and thanked him. He told him to rest, while he was away at the Five Mountains of Manjusri in China. At this period no one asked him to teach Lam Rim. Three years later, this monk returned and requested him to teach Tantra. After this many people requested Tantra teachings. Now, Pabongka, contemplated these events and realised that this monk was Dorje Shugden.
Pabongka went to see his guru Tapo Dorje Chang. His spiritual master was very special. He was born in Na Sur Tapo where his monastery was located. He had a long line of incarnations numbering four or five. The first Tapo Khacho Uncho while meditating, saw Tara, Chenrezig and they gave enpowerments to him. Tapo Dorje Chang also traveled to the pure lands. Yidams give him initiations such as “Cittamani Tara”. He also held the thirteen deity initiation called “Da-pan Na-ja soon”.
Mahasiddha Pabongka asked Mahasiddha Tapo Dorje Chang, his guru, to go to Tusita. In Tusita, the Mahasiddha Tapo Dorje Chang had met Lama Tsongkhapa. At that time Tapo Dorje Chang had requested teaching from Je Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa lifted the cloth that covered the front of the golden throne he was sitting on. From under the golden throne came the five forms of Dorje Shugden. Dorje Shugden gave to Mahasiddha Tapo Dorje Chang Tenpai Gyaltsen complete instructions and the Mahasiddha returned to Tibet with this texts. Tapo Dorje Chang gave Pabongka not only the initiation and lineage of Dorje Shugden, but also all his lineages that he held. When Tapo Dorje Chang was young, he had many visions of Lhasa and he went to Drepung monastery. Later in his life he became a sage and remained in Tapo meditating. One time Pabongka was going to Kham and he wanted to visit the guru. Tapo Dorje Chang told him to visit on his return. But he went before so he could visit twice. Tapo Dorje Chang told him “I told you after your trip to Kham. Anyway, now many dakinis are requesting me to come”. Pabongka knew what this meant and requested him to live longer. He asked what he should do. Pabongka said to meditate on the emptiness of the events. So he went to Kham and Tapo Dorje Chang passed away.
Pabongka Rinpoche spread the Dorje Shugden practice and had many famous and wise students beginning in 1920′s. He was particularly famed for his pristine elaboration of the Lam Rim.”
Ribur Rinpoche on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
I have had some success as a scholar, and as a lama I am somebody, but these things are not important. The only thing that matters to me is that I was a disciple of Pabongka Rinpoche.
– Ribur Rinpoche
About Ribur Rinpoche
The Venerable Ribur Rinpoche was born in Eastern Tibet in 1923. At the age of five he was recognised by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as the sixth incarnation of Sera-Mey’s Ribur Rinpoche. He entered Sera Monastic University in Lhasa at fourteen and became a Geshe at the age of 24 years old. He meditated and taught the Dharma until 1959, after which he suffered under intense Chinese oppression for twenty-one years. Ribur Rinpoche, himself a lifelong practitioner of Dorje Shugden, was held and tortured by the Chinese for two decades. He often said “If I told you what happened on a regular basis, you would find it hard to believe.”
And yet, by all accounts, he emerged from his trials with a heart full of love and forgiveness. According to Ribur Rinpoche, it was due to the blessings and teachings of his root guru, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. Below are some excerpts of a memoir of their time together.
Pabongka Rinpoche: Excerpts from A Memoir by Ribur Rinpoche
“My guru, kind in three ways, who met face-to-face with Heruka, whose name I find difficult to utter, Lord Pabongka Vajradhara Dechen Nyingpo Pal Zangpo, was born north of Lhasa in 1878. His father was a minor official but the family was not wealthy. Although the night was dark, a light shone in the room, and people outside the house had a vision of a protector on the roof.”
~ Source: From Ribur Rinpoche’s “memoir”
Pabongka Rinpoche Meets His Root Guru
His root guru was Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jampael Lhuendrub Gyatso, from Lhoka. He was definitely a bodhisattva, and Pabongka Rinpoche was his foremost disciple. He lived in a cave in Pasang and his main practice was bodhichitta; his main deity was Avalokiteshvara and he would recite 50,000 manis [the mantra, om mani padme hum] every night. When Kyabje Pabongka first met Dagpo Rinpoche at a tsog offering ceremony in Lhasa, he cried out of reverence from beginning to end.
On His Practical Style of Study
When Pabongka Rinpoche had finished his studies he visited Dagpo Lama Rinpoche in his cave and was sent into a Lam-rim retreat nearby. Dagpo Lama Rinpoche would teach him a Lam-rim topic and then Pabongka Rinpoche would go away and meditate on it. Later he would return to explain what he’d understood: if he had gained some realization, Dagpo Lama Rinpoche would teach him some more and Pabongka Rinpoche would go back and meditate on that. It went on like this for ten years.
Faithful Minds See The Miraculous
One of (my) teachers had a picture of Pabongka Rinpoche that exuded small drops of nectar from between the eyebrows. I saw this with my own eyes, so you can imagine how much faith I had in Rinpoche when I finally came into his presence.
Ribur Rinpoche Meets The Pabongka Rinpoche
At the time of my arrival in Lhasa, Pabongka Rinpoche was living at Tashi Choeling, a cave above Sera Monastery. We made an appointment and a few days later my mother, my chang-dzoe (the man in charge of my personal affairs), and I rode up on horseback. Although Rinpoche was expecting us that day, we had not arranged a time. Nevertheless, he had just had his own chang-dzoe prepare tea and sweet rice, which freshly awaited our arrival. This convinced me that Rinpoche was clairvoyant, a manifestation of the all-seeing Vajradhara himself.
After we had eaten it was time to visit Rinpoche. I remember this as if it were today. A narrow staircase led up to Pabongka Rinpoche’s tiny room, where he was sitting on his bed. He looked just like his pictures — short and fat! He said, “I knew you were coming — now we have met,” and stroked the sides of my face. While I was sitting there a new geshe from Sera came in to offer Rinpoche a special tsampa dish that is made only at the time of receiving the geshe degree. Rinpoche remarked how auspicious it was that this new geshe had come while I was there and had him fill my bowl just like his own. You can imagine what that did to my mind!
More Stories of Pabongka Rinpoche from Ribur Rinpoche
– Published in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand By Pabongka Rinpoche, Wisdom Publications 1991
Pabongka Rinpoche’s Reaction To Having A Beautiful Residence Built For Him
Rinpoche’s chang-dzoe (attendant) was a very fierce looking man said to be the emanation of a protector. Once, when Rinpoche was away on a long tour, out of devotion the chang-dzoe demolished the old small building in which Rinpoche lived and constructed a large ornate residence rivaling the private quarters of the Dalai Lama. When Rinpoche returned he was not at all pleased and said, “I am only a minor hermit lama and you should not have built something like this for me. I am not famous and the essence of what I teach is renunciation of the worldly life. Therefore I am embarrassed by rooms like these.”
Ribur Rinpoche On Studying The Lamrim From Pabongka Rinpoche
I took Lam-rim teachings from Pabongka Rinpoche many times. The Chinese confiscated all my notes, but as a result of his teachings I still carry something very special inside. Whenever he taught I would feel inspired to become a real yogi by retreating to a cave, covering myself with ashes and meditating. As I got older I would feel this less and less, and now I don’t think of it at all. But I really wanted to be a true yogi, just like him.
On Visiting Pabongka Rinpoche
Visiting Pabongka Rinpoche was what it must have been like to visit Lama Tsongkapa when he was alive. When he taught he would sit for up to eight hours without moving. About two thousand people would come to his general discourses and initiations and fewer to special teachings, but when he gave bodhisattva vows up to ten thousand people would show up.
Kyabje Pabongka Gives the Initiation of Heruka
When he gave the Heruka initiation he would take on a special appearance. His eyes became very wide and piercing and I could almost see him as Heruka, with one leg outstretched, the other bent. It would get so intense that I would start crying, as if the deity Heruka himself was right there. It was very powerful, very special.
The Most Important Tibetan Lama of All
To my mind he was the most important Tibetan lama of all. Everybody knows how great his four main disciples were (these include Trijang Dorjechang and Ling Rinpoche, the two tutors of the Dalai Lama)— well, he was their teacher. He spent a great deal of time thinking about the practical meaning of the teachings and coming to an inner realization of them, and he had practised and accomplished everything he had learned, right up to the completion stage. He didn’t just spout words, he tried things out for himself. Also, he never got angry; any anger had been completely pacified by his bodhichitta.
A Great Protector
Many times there would be long lines of people waiting for blessings, but Rinpoche would ask each one individually how they were and tap them on the head. Sometimes he dispensed medicine. He was always gentle. All this made him very special.
I would say he had two main qualities: from the tantric point of view, his realization and ability to present Heruka, and from the sutra point of view, his ability to teach Lam-rim.
Whenever he visited his lama’s monastery, Rinpoche would dismount as soon as it appeared in view and prostrate all the way to the door — which was not easy because of his build; when he left he would walk backwards until it was out of sight.
[After Rinpoche passed away] an incredible reliquary was constructed but the Chinese demolished it. Nevertheless, I was able to retrieve some of Rinpoche’s relics from it and I gave them to Sera-Mae Monastery. You can see them there now.
The Only Thing that Matters
I have had some success as a scholar, and as a lama I am somebody, but these things are not important.
Regarding allegations that Pabongka Rinpoche was a sectarian Lama who presided over the destruction of the monasteries and sacred images of other traditions
Another thing is that some Tibetans and others severely criticize Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo because he practiced Shugden, making him out to be some kind of demon. However, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo wrote incredible teachings on sutra and tantra; on Heruka, Tara Cittamani and many other topics. All these amazing teachings were written purely from his experience. So it’s impossible that he can really be some kind of evil being, as those extremists accuse him of being. There’s no way he could have done the negative things they say he did.
Regarding His Realization
My root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche; Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guru’s root guru; His Holiness Song Rinpoche, from whom many of the older students received the initiation of Shugden; and the previous incarnation of Gomo Rinpoche, who has a strong connection with Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, here in Italy, all promoted the practice of Shugden. They were all aspects of the Dharmakaya.
Regarding Kopan Monastary Giving Up Dorje Shugden Practice
This was done for His Holiness [The Dalai Lama]. This does not mean that Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, and His Holiness Song Rinpoche have made mistakes. It does not mean they are wrong. Nor does one have to look at the protector as evil. For us ordinary people it is difficult to judge, because we cannot see these lamas’ minds. Another side of the teaching is that it is mentioned that the protector (Dorje Shugden) is an Arya Bodhisattva, a manifestation of Manjushri. So, then, there is also the risk of our creating very heavy karma in that context (by criticizing or abandoning this practice).
Lama Zopa Has Strong Faith in Pabongka Rinpoche’s Teachings
Extracted from: Commentary on Heart Spoon by Lama Zopa
What is a heart-spoon? When you’re eating, you use a small spoon to extract the very best portion of the food in front of you. Similarly, this teaching on impermanence and death by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo helps you extract the most precious essence from this human life: the ability to secure the happiness of all future lives, liberation from cyclic existence, and enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
Pabongka Rinpoche, A Supreme Teacher and Practitioner
– Extracted from: Virtue and Reality by Lama Zopa
There’s a related story concerning the great enlightened being, Pabongka Rinpoche (1871–1941), a great lama, scholar and yogi who had actualized the entire path to enlightenment. He wrote not only lam-rim texts like Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand but also many other sutra scriptures and, especially, several excellent, extremely lucid commentaries on the tantras—really clear explanations of deity practices from his own experience. Of course, his writings were based on the teachings of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the commentaries of the ancient Indian and Tibetan pundits and yogis, but by practicing these he had his own experiences and actualized the entire path himself. Thus, he was able to write with great clarity on tantra and benefit the Dharma and all sentient beings in general. He had thousands of disciples, many of whom, on the basis of his teachings and guidance, had realizations of the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment and, in particular, the path of secret mantra, the Vajrayana.
The Greatness of Pabongka Rinpoche, as Heard and Narrated by Lama Zopa
– Extracted from: Virtue and Reality by Lama Zopa
Denma Locho Rinpoche advised Togten Rinpoche, “If you want to realize emptiness, you should go to Lhasa and meet Pabongka Rinpoche“.
Pabongka Rinpoche Realized Bodhicitta
– Extracted from: Virtue and Reality by Lama Zopa
When Togten Rinpoche arrived, extremely pleased that he had reached the ninth level of meditative stabilization, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo was in the middle of eating a lunch of pak — a dense ball of tsampa, the Tibetan staple of roasted barley flour, mixed with tea and butter. But Togten Rinpoche couldn’t wait, and reported his experience anyway. When he had finished, Pabongka replied, “Compared to the benefits of my eating this pak, your realization is nothing!” Even though the attainment of calm abiding is incredible and has inconceivable benefits—rapturous ecstasy, unsurpassed clarity of mind, unshakable single-pointed concentration, freedom from sickness due to refinement of body and mind—it doesn’t have bodhicitta: compassion, loving kindness, renouncing yourself and cherishing others. Pabongka, however, had realized bodhicitta. Therefore, every mouthful of pak he ate was work for all sentient beings without exception.
Spiritual Benefits of Serving an Enlightened Master
– Extracted from: The Heart of the Path: Seeing the Guru as Buddha by Lama Zopa
The great Pabongka Rinpoche had a monk-attendant, Jamyang, who served him for many years, in his first incarnation and also in his second, who studied in Tibet, escaped to India and became a geshe at Buxa Duar, before showing the aspect of cancer and passing away. As soon as Pabongka Rinpoche’s second incarnation became a geshe, he received all the lineages of initiations from my root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche. These lineages, including many special ones, had been pased to His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, the first incarnation. Jamyang was also able to meet the third incarnation, who studied at Sera Monastery.
Although Jamyang couldn’t even read the Tibetan alphabet, before Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo passed away he told Jamyang that later he would be able to read the Guru Puja text by himself, without needing anybody to teach him.
After Jamyang escaped from Tibet, he went to Buxa Duar, where he lived with the incarnation of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo. Lama Yeshe was also living in the same building the first time I went to receive teachings from him. Lama Lhundrup, who told me this story, also lived there.
Lama Lhundrup told me that when Jamyang was first at Buxa he couldn’t even read the Tibetan alphabet but after some time an understanding of it came to him spontaneously. Without anybody teaching him to read, he somehow came to recognize the letters and was then able to read the whole Guru Puja by himself, just as Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo had predicted.
This was the result of the purification that came from Jamyang serving and correctly devoting himself to Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo in Tibet. Such things cannot be explained by Western science because it has no concept of negative karma and obscurations. Of course, Western science has a concept of ignorance, of not knowing something, but it has no concept of which things as negative karma, defilements and karmic obscurations. Without understanding these things, there’s no way to explain how Jamyang could suddenly read without having been taught. It was a sign of his mind having been purified. When the mind is purified, understanding comes from within, without need of a teacher.
Jamyang’s story can also be related to the first benefit of correctly devoting yourself to the guru: becoming closer to enlightenment by carrying out the guru’s advice and by making offering to and serving him. Jamyang devoted himself to Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo with action – carrying out his advice, offering service and making material offerings – for many years. That itself brought great purification, purifying heavy negative karmas and making his obscuration thinner. And when obscurations become thinner, understanding of Dharma increases.
– Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup Ringsel is the abbot of Kopan Monastery, Nepal
Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
About Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was born on the 13th of the fifth Tibetan month in the year 1921, in the town of Yätsak (or Ya Chak) in the Trehor district of Tibet’s eastern province Kham. He was soon enrolled in the large local Dhargyey Monastery of the Gelug tradition, where he took pre-novice ordination vows. Although he was enrolled there he studied mainly in the village Sakya monastery, Lona Gonpa where he received instruction in reading, writing, grammar etc, and learned numerous texts and practices by heart.
At the age of eighteen, Rinpoche furthered his spiritual education at Sera Monastery, the great monastic university in Lhasa. There he underwent extensive training in all the five divisions of Buddhist philosophical study: Logic, Perfection of Wisdom, the Middle View, Metaphysics, and Ethical Discipline. This was interspersed with periods of intensive retreat at some of the many hermitages near Sera. By the time he was nineteen he had already mastered his studies sufficiently to become a scriptural teacher, and he began to have many students of his own. At the age of 21, he took full ordination vows of a Bhikshu from the widely renowned Purchog Jamgön Rinpoche.
He also received numerous teachings, initiations and commentaries from the great Lamas of that time such as Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang (His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Tutor), Bakri Dorje Chang, Lhatsün Dorje Chang, Gönsar Dorje Chang and others.
He Was Essentially Heruka…
“Likewise, Lama Trijang Dorjechang, Junior Tutor to His Holiness the present Dalai Lama, folds his hands upon the crown of his head whenever he mentions Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. He was such a great lama, unsurpassed by any, that hardly any lamas or geshes of the Three Pillars (the monasteries of Ganden, Sera and Drepung) had not been his disciples.
Once, in the “cave-under-water,” he experienced a manifestation of Yamantaka for nine days, while he himself was essentially Heruka Chakrasambhava. Further, he experienced a manifestation of Vajrayogini who told him of the benefits to be derived from merging the Vajrayogini teachings of the Sakya and Gelug traditions into one meditational practice. When he once made a great tsog offering beside a Heruka statue in Lhasa, the wisdom body actually entered into the statue. The statue danced and told him that whoever received Heruka initiation from him up to the seventh generation would be taken to the dakini realms.”
– The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, with Commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, pg 55
ISBN: 81-85102-08-2. the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives – Second revised edition 1994.
H.E. Choden Rinpoche on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
About H.E. Choden Rinpoche
Choden Rinpoche entered Rabten Monastery at the age of 8. There he learned all the prayers and rituals. He was 6 years old when he first met the legendary Pabongka Rinpoche, from whom he took many teachings at Rabten Monastery. He also took novice ordination from him then.
Admiring Pabongka Rinpoche…
I don’t remember too clearly my first meeting with Pabongka Rinpoche, but I do remember that Rinpoche was very happy with me. I really admired everything that Rinpoche did: the way he walked, the way he dressed, everything. I felt, “If only I could be like him.
Pabongka Rinpoche advised me not to stay in the local monastery but to go to the main monastic centers for learning near Lhasa, such as Sera, Ganden or Drepung. I entered Sera Je monastery when I was fifteen. All of the local Gelug monasteries spread out over Tibet have allegiance to one of the three major monastic centers, so accordingly you follow that.
– Extracted from http://chantamantra.com/index.php/articles/57-the-inspiring-story-of-choden-rinpoche
Khyongla Rato Rinpoche on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
About Khyongla Rato Rinpoche
Khyongla Rinpoche is considered to be the 10th incarnation of a lama (the first Khyongla) who was born in 1510. The current Khyongla Rinpoche was born in 1923, in a small village called Ophor, south of Chamdo in the Kham region of what was then Tibet. At the age of five, Norbu, as he was then known, was recognized as an incarnate lama, and on his 6th birthday he was taken to his labrang (a lama’s residence). He became a monk and studied at Rato Monastery, later moving to Drepung Monastery, where he received his Lharampa Geshe degree (equivalent to Doctor of Divinity), and finally to Gyuto Tantric University, where he served as abbot.
In 1959, after the Chinese communists took over, Khyongla Rato left Tibet, crossing the Himalayas to India. Eventually he came to Europe and then the US, and in 1968 he starting living in New York City. In 1975 he founded The Tibet Center, a center for the study of Buddhism. For more than 30 years he was the director and main teacher at the Tibet Center, teaching primarily in English. As of 2014, he still teaches at The Tibet Center whenever his schedule permits.
In 1977 Khyonlga Rato’s autobiography, My Life and Lives, was published. In 1993 he appeared in the Bertolucci film, Little Buddha. In 2014 he appeared in a documentary film about one of his students Nicholas Vreeland, Monk with a Camera.
The Power of Pabongka Rinpoche’s Teachings
During the summer session several traders and at least two high government officials found their lives transformed by his eloquence: they forsook their jobs to study religion and to give themselves to meditation.
Khyongla Rinpoche’s Prayers
‘… That like Pabongka Rinpoche, I might learn to help people by teaching, writing and discussion.’
Khyongla Rinpoche Describes Pabongka Rinpoche’s Teachings
The Rinpoche was accustomed to illustrate his teaching by means of concrete examples and personal stories, with abundant references to the teaching of the Lord Buddha and to the commentaries of ancient scholars and saints. Whenever he noticed that his audience was becoming tired or restless, he would tell a comical story to rouse them and get a laugh.
– Extracted from Venerable Khyongla Rinpoche’s autobiography; My Life and Lives
Ven. Helmut Gassner on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
About Helmut Gassner
Helmut Gassner, now known as Venerable Jampa Lungtog, is an Austrian monk and a pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism in the west. A dedicated student of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, he was one of the first few westerners to embrace Tibetan Buddhism in the 1960s.
Throughout his many years of service for the Dharma, Helmut Gassner has served as an interpreter for many high lamas, including H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, whom he served as a German translator for 17 years (1979 – 1995). Today, Ven Jampa Lungtog continues his Guru’s legacy through serving H.E. Gonsar Rinpoche as a teacher and translator for Rabten Buddhist Monasteries in Europe.
A Supreme Teacher
“It is said that when Pabongka Rinpoche gave Dharma discourses many in the audience gained profound insights into the failings of our worldly concerns to develop the lasting determination to exchange the constant quest for honor, praise, well-being and gain with sincere aspiration, kindness and concern for others. This unusual ability to teach is not an integral part of Tibetan culture.”
– Extracted from: Helmut Gassner; Dalai Lama, Dorje Shugden, Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation, Hamburg, 26th March 1999.
All Significant Lamas Were Students of Pabongka Rinpoche
“The great master Pabongka was in the first half of the twentieth century the pivotal or key lineage holder of the Oral Geden Tradition. Many other teachers before him mastered certain aspects of the tradition’s teachings, but it was Pabongka Rinpoche’s particular merit to locate and find all these partial transmissions, to learn and realize them, and bring them together once again to pass them on through a single person. In his lifetime there was hardly a significant figure of the Geden tradition who had not been Pabongka Rinpoche’s disciple. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was the one capable of receiving and passing on the entirety of the Oral Gaden Tradition once again. The Dorje Shugden practice is an integral part of that tradition.”
A Simple Lama, Worldly Affairs Did Not Influence Him
“There has been a focus on Pabongka Rinpoche as the most important figure in connection with Dorje Shugden during the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s time. It is historically proven that he was offered the regency and it is historically proven that he rejected it firmly.”
Instrumental in Preserving the Lineage
“In Buddhism, a living transmission depends on the existence of great masters able to pass on this knowledge on the basis of their own experience. Like highway bridges, the masters Pabongka and Trijang Rinpoches carried these experiences of the Gelug tradition from the past into the present in perfected form.“
Michael Richards on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
“Pabongka Rinpoche was probably the most influential Gelug lama of this century, holding all the important lineages of sutra and tantra”
In 1921, some seven hundred Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people gathered at Chuzang Hermitage, near Lhasa, to receive a Lam-rim discourse from the renowned teacher, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. For the next twenty-four days they listened to what has become one of the most famous teachings ever given in Tibet. The term Lam-rim — steps on the path to enlightenment — refers to a group of teachings that have developed in Tibet over the past millennium based on the concise, seminal text, A Lamp on the Path, by the great Indian master Atisha (Dipamkara Shrijnana, 982-1054).
In some ways, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand represents the culmination of the Lam-rim tradition in Tibet. Certainly for Westerners, this book has become one of the most significant Lam-rims ever taught. Over 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha spent about forty-five years giving a vast array of teachings to an enormous variety of people. He did not teach from some predetermined syllabus but according to the spiritual needs of his listeners. Hence any individual studying the Buddha’s collected works would find it extremely difficult to discern a clear path that he or she could put into practice. The importance of Atisha’s Lam-rim was that he put the Buddha’s teachings into logical order, delineating a step-by-step arrangement that could be understood and practised whoever wanted to follow the Buddhist path, irrespective of his or her level of development. Not only did Atisha rely on what the Buddha himself taught, he also brought with him to Tibet the still-living oral traditions of those teachings — the unbroken lineages of both method and wisdom, which had passed from the Buddha to Maitreya and Manjushri respectively, and then on down through Asanga, Nagarjuna and many other great Indian scholar-yogis to Atisha’s own spiritual masters. Thus as well as writing the first Lam-rim text, Atisha also conveyed these extremely important oral traditions, which still exist today, and are being transmitted to Westerners through such great contemporary lamas as His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Atisha’s disciples formed a school known as the Kadam, most of whose traditions were absorbed into the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, which was founded by the great Tsongkapa (1357-1419).
Many Kadam and Gelug lamas wrote Lam-rim commentaries and the most famous was Tsongkapa’s master-work, the Great Stages of the Path (Lam-rim Chen-mo): Pabongka Rinpoche followed the general outline of this text in the 1921 discourse that was to become Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. However, while Tsongkapa’s work has a scholarly emphasis, Kyabje Pabongka’s focuses more on the needs of practitioners. It goes into great detail on such subjects as how to prepare for meditation, guru yoga and the development of bodhichitta. Thus Liberation is a highly practical text and as relevant to contemporary Western practitioners as it was to the Tibetans who were there. Among those present in 1921 was Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang (1901-1981), one of Pabongka Rinpoche’s closest disciples, and later Junior Tutor to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and root guru of many of the Gelug lamas who fled Tibet in 1959. Trijang Rinpoche took notes at the teachings, and over the next thirty-seven years edited them painstakingly until they were ready to be published in Tibetan as Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.
Pabongka Rinpoche was probably the most influential Gelug lama of this century, holding all the important lineages of sutra and tantra and passing them on to most of the important Gelug lamas of the next two generations; the list of his oral discourses is vast in depth and breadth. He was also the root guru of Kyabje Ling Rinpoche (1903-1983), Senior Tutor of the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche, and many other highly respected teachers. His collected works occupy fifteen large volumes and cover every aspect of Buddhism. If you have ever received a teaching from a Gelug lama, you have been influenced by Pabongka Rinpoche. A Lam-rim text like Liberation may never be written again, which is why I say that this book represents the culmination of the Lam-rim tradition.
There are four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and all have Lam-rim teachings, but the Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu schools do not emphasize the Lam-rim as does the Gelug. Although generally in the Gelug monastic curriculum the Lam-rim is not taught to the monks until quite late in their careers, it is often the first teaching given to Westerners. And Liberation is the Lam-rim that Gelug masters teach most. It has been a favourite of such lamas as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his two tutors, Serkong Rinpoche, Song Rinpoche, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Geshe Rabten, Geshe Sopa, Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. In his brief introduction, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche conveys a strong sense of what it was like to be there. Indeed, this text is unusual among Tibetan works in that it is the edited transcript of an oral discourse, not a literary composition. Hence not only do we receive some very precious teachings — the essence of the eight key Lam-rims — but we also gain insight into how such discourses were given in Tibet. The points that detail the special features of this teaching may be found in Trijang Rinpoche’s introduction and at the end of Day One. As Pabongka Rinpoche makes clear throughout, dedicating ourselves to the development of bodhicitta is the most meaningful way of directing our lives, and the graded realizations summarized in Day One lead us to that goal. At the end of the book, Pabongka Rinpoche says, “Practise whatever you can, so that my teachings will not have been in vain… But above all, make bodhicitta your main practice.”
A NOTE TO THIS TRANSLATION: I have tried to make this translation as readable as possible without sacrificing accuracy. However, since Trijang Rinpoche was a poet of renown, there can be no doubt that some of the beauty of the Tibetan text has been lost. Nevertheless, I think that I have preserved the colloquial, down-to-earth nature of Pabongka Rinpoche’s discourses, giving this work the immediacy and power of the original. Heartfelt thanks go to my precious root guru Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
– Pabongka Rinpoche. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment. Edited by Trijang Rinpoche Translated by Michael Richards Wisdom 1991
Glenn Mullin on Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
Glenn H. Mullin is a Tibetologist, Buddhist writer and translator of classical Tibetan literature. His two principal tantric gurus were the late great masters Kyabje Ling Dorjechang and Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang, who were best known as Yongdzin Che Chung, the two main gurus of the present Dalai Lama. Glenn is the author of over 20 books on Tibetan Buddhism. Many of these focus on the lives and works of the early Dalai Lamas.
The Greatest Living Gelukpa Lama
His (Reting Rinpoche, regent of Tibet) first choice for a replacement was one of his own Gurus, the famous Pabongka Tulku. Pabongka was undoubtedly the greatest living Gelukpa lama of the period, and would have been an ideal candidate. However, he strongly disliked political affairs and distrusted the Lhasa aristocracy. He therefore declined the request.
– Glenn H. Mullin- The Fourteen Dalai Lamas
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