Tulkus are highly realized spiritual masters, those who have the ability to choose their rebirth where it will be most beneficial for the benefit of beings. The current Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche VIII is part of this long tradition. He was recognized at the age of one by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa and shortly thereafter by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche as an incarnation of the previous Chhoje Rinpoche VII, whose monastery was located in Chumur, Ladakh.
Chhoje Rinpoche’s incarnations are closely connected with those of His Eminence Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, who is regarded as an emanation of Tibet’s celebrated yogi Milarepa. In his book Blazing Splendor, Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche recounts the enormous respect accorded to the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, who was a mahasiddha and terton.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche also held the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche in high esteem, as did many other great lamas. The previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche — the emanation of Milarepa –recognized his close disciple, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche, as the activity emanation of Rechungpa, Milarepa’s heart student. In a handwritten treatise that he formally signed and sealed, the 7th Yongdzin Rinpoche proclaimed that he, Chhoje Rinpoche and the Dharmapala Chakpa Melen were bound together by the common aspiration to support Yongdzin Rinpoche’s Dharma activities. This declaration shows us the connection and continuum from Milarepa and Rechungpa.
As a terton, the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche revealed a Ter Treasure teaching from Padmasambhava called “Samlhun Lha Chuksum,” based on the Thirteen Manifestations of Padmasambhava. This treasure teaching was authenticated by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and is still widely practiced to this day. When the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche left his monastery during the later years of his life, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche accompanied him. Together, they travelled to western Tibet, where the previous Chhoje Rinpoche accomplished six years of retreat under the guidance of Degyal Rinpoche, the foremost student of Dudjom Lingpa in Western Tibet. Today his students are spread throughout the Himalayan ranges within the borders of Nepal and Tibet.
After that, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche spread the teachings throughout western Tibet, benefitting many beings. Eventually, he made his way to Ladakh, settling down in Chumur. At first, Chhoje Rinpoche meditated in a cave in Chumur. As more and more devotees were drawn to his presence at the cave, a dharma center developed around it, and eventually, Chumur monastery was built, with the cave included in its design. The original cave still exists. The previous Chhoje Rinpoche was a renowned oracle and healer, and a meditator and yogi who followed the tradition of Dudjom Lingpa and Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche.
When requested, he performed powerfully beneficial practices for the King of Ladakh, who then became one of his patrons. In a place called Tingmosgang, in Ladakh, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche stopped the relentless spread of smallpox and healed many patients infected by the disease, through his spiritual healing power. By compassionate wrathful practice, he subdued various local spirits and made them swear to abjure all blood sacrifice. To this day, in Spiti and in Himachal Pradesh, there are spirit mediums that regard Chhoje Rinpoche as their guru. Even in places far from Chumur, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche is still remembered with great devotion by his previous life’s students, who continue to practice and uphold his lineage.
During his later years, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche intensified his practice. He remained in his meditation box in an upright posture in continuous meditation. His main practice was the Dudjom Troma Chod. In his 70’s, upon completing recitation of one hundred million Chenrezig mantras, one additional new tooth grew in his mouth. Many devotees came from neighboring Tibet and from the far reaches of Ladakh to receive his teaching.
The previous Chhoje Rinpoche passed away in Chumur, where his mortal body remains seated in the meditation posture to this day. Before his death, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche instructed his monks to preserve his body in Chumur in order to benefit the land. Even now, many local people confirm that they have seen and continue to observe changes in the body’s facial expressions: when people are harmonious, a smile can be observed on the body’s face. When there is disharmony, the facial expression becomes severe. For a number of years after his death, his body’s hair and nails continued to grow.
Before passing away, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche hinted to a close disciple that his next incarnation would be born to a good family in a place called Chemdey. Ngawang Yonten, the manager of the previous Chhoje Rinpoche’s monastery, went to meet His Holiness the 16th Karmapa and the previous Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche (Jigdral Yeshe Dorje) to request that each indicate where and when the next incarnation would be born. Through foreknowledge, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa saw in a vision that the incarnation had been born in Ladakh, in the village of Chemdey. He then sent a letter with his seal, naming the incarnation’s parents, the year of his birth and his birth village.
A search party immediately travelled to Chemdey, where they found the infant incarnation who by then was one year old. When His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche was in Ladakh, he went and met the young tulku to give him blessings. He recognized the young incarnation as the current Chhoje Tulku.
The current Soktse Rinpcoche, Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche and Chhoje Rinpoche
In his early childhood, the reincarnate Chhoje Tulku would spontaneously bless people. When it came time for him to attend school, his parents first sent him to the William School in Dehradun, India for a year. The following year, Chhoje Tulku was brought to Tso Pema in Rewalsar in the state of Himachel Pradesh. For the next three months, by Padmasambhava’s sacred lake, he received the Rinchen Terzod cycle of teachings from His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. After those empowerments, at the insistence of a previous life’s student, the young Chhoje Tulku was sent to receive a dharma education, rather than a secular education, so that he could train to fulfill his aspiration to benefit beings — the very reason he had reincarnated into this world. The Venerable Soktse Rinpoche became his tutor and for the next number of years, every morning and evening, Chhoje Rinpoche studied the Buddhist teachings with him. He later attended the Tibetan Buddhist Institute (which is part of Sanskrit University) in Varanasi, after which he continued his studies in Ladakh at the School of Buddhist Philosophy.
In the 1970’s, Chhoje Tulku travelled to Katmandu to meet His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, from whom he received empowerments and pith instructions from the Dudjom Tersar lineage. Chhoje Rinpoche was privileged to spend several years with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, serving His Holiness daily from early morning until night, studying and practicing under His Holiness’ guidance as well as acting as his translator. Chhoje Rinpoche also received his degree in Buddhist Philosophy from the Wish Fulfilling Institute in Nepal.
He has been privileged to study with many of the great masters of our time. At His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s kind insistence, Chhoje Rinpoche also studied calligraphy and art. In 1983, Chhoje Rinpoche travelled to New York where His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche was giving teachings. He came to America with the help of his pen pal and dear friend, Greg Hillis. In 1987, Chhoje Rinpoche decided to move to North America where he felt it was his karma to connect with beings. He founded Padma Shedrup Ling in Fairfax, California in 1989.