His Eminence Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche VIII
His Eminence Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche is a classically trained Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and teacher. He has been teaching in the North America, and around the world, for over thirty years. Chhoje Rinpoche’s humor is infectious; he has a delightful way of opening people’s hearts and sparking access to the state of mind that makes things workable. He understands the way Western students think and feel, as well as the daily challenges they face.
Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche was recognized at a young age by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa as the tulku (tr. emanation body) of Chhoje Rinpoche VII. Rinpoche is a lineage holder of both the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He is referred to as “Rinpoche” (tr. precious one) by his students. This is a title of respect, courtesy, and affection.
When Rinpoche was one year old, the Sixteenth Karmapa prophesized that the previous Chhoje Rinpoche had been reborn in the village of Chemday, near Leh, Ladakh, in Northern India. Soon thereafter, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche also officially recognized the young Chhoje Rinpoche, granting him refuge in the traditional Buddhist ceremony. Dudjom Rinpoche advised the young tulku’s parents to let their son take his seat as a teacher and lineage holder for which he must receive a traditional Buddhist education. Rinpoche eventually spent several of years with Dudjom Rinpoche, studying closely with him and practicing under his guidance.
Chhoje Rinpoche explains, “For me, personally, watching His Holiness’ infinite compassion for beings was the most powerful experience of my life.”
In addition to H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, Chhoje Rinpoche studied meditation under the personal guidance of His Eminence Soktse Tulku Rinpoche, Venerable Lama Acho Rinpoche, and His Eminence Khenpo Ngakchung Rinpoche. He received many empowerments from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He also received extensive philosophical teachings from Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Khenpo Thubten Rinpoche, Khenpo Dazer, and Khetsun Zangpo Rinpoche. As a recognized lineage holder, he is fully qualified to transmit Vajrayana teachings and practices.
In 1983, Chhoje Rinpoche came to New York City where H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche resided at the time. A few years later, Chhoje Rinpoche began to give formal teachings. In 1988, Rinpoche founded Padma Shedrup Ling in Northern California. Since then, he has taught widely throughout the United States, as well as India, Nepal, Japan, China, and Greece.
While he has rigorously trained in the centuries-old traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche is a twenty-first century teacher whose command of English and familiarity with Western culture make his teachings accessible to contemporary audiences. He offers his students instruction tailored to their specific needs and life circumstances. With his amazing insight into human nature, he is able to connect easily with others and recommend practices and activities that will be of greatest benefit.
After completing a three-year retreat in the summer of 2010, Rinpoche returned to Chumur Monastery in Ladakh, Northern India—the monastery he had founded in his previous life—for the consecration of new buildings and sacred items. About 1,000 people gathered to participate in a week-long ritual ceremony and celebrate Rinpoche’s return. In addition to the ceremony, Rinpoche was able to consecrate new prayer wheels, statues, monks’ quarters, classrooms, and a library during his stay.
He returned to the United States after this and offered a week-long retreat in Loveland, Colorado entitled, “Awakening Mind: The Field of Bodhi. A Teaching on the Heart Sutra”. He continued to travel, giving teachings in India, Colorado, and California.
In March 2014, The Padmasambhava Meditation Center opened in Denver, Colorado. The center serves as the North American seat for Rinpoche’s activities.
History of the Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche Incarnations
According to the Tibetan tradition, a tulku is the emanation body of a highly realized spiritual master who has the ability, given his or her realization, to choose rebirth where it will be most beneficial for beings. H.E. Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche VIII is part of this tradition. He was recognized at the age of one by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa and shortly thereafter by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche as an incarnation of the previous Chhoje Rinpoche, whose monastery was located in Chumur, Ladakh.
Chhoje Rinpoche’s incarnations are closely connected with those of His Eminence Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche. In the book Blazing Splendor, Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche recounts the enormous respect accorded to Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche VIII, who was a mahasiddha (tr. great adept) and tertön (Wylie: gter ston; treasure revealer).
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—who is regarded as an emanation of Tibet’s celebrated yogi 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 seventh 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 the connection and continuum of our teachers from Milarepa and Rechungpa.
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.
After completing retreat, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche spread the teachings throughout Western Tibet. Eventually, he made his way to Ladakh and settled down in Chumur. At first, Chhoje Rinpoche practiced there in a hillside cave. As devotees drew close to the cave and settled around their teacher, a dharma center developed and eventually, Chumur Monastery was built including the cave 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, Ladakh, the previous Chhoje Rinpoche stopped the relentless spread of smallpox and healed many patients infected by the disease.
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. And 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 Chö. In his 70s, 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 teachings from him.
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 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 in Chumur, went to meet His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa and the previous His 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 Sixteenth 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 child 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.
In his early childhood, the young 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, near Padmasambhava’s sacred lake, he received the Rinchen Terzö Chenmo (tr. The Great Treasury of Rediscovered 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 Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies (now known as Central University of Tibetan Studies), which is part of Sanskrit University in Varanasi, after which he continued his studies in Ladakh at the School of Buddhist Philosophy.
In the 1970s, Chhoje Tulku travelled to Kathmandu 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 Nyingmapa Wishfulfilling Center for Study and Practice in Boudhanath, Nepal.
Chhoje Rinpoche has been privileged to study with many of the great masters of our time. At His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s kind insistence, he 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, Professor Gregory 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 and Padmasambhava Meditation Center in Denver, Colorado in 2012.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche
H.E. Chhoje Rinpoche’s root lama was His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, one of the greatest, most respected, and beloved Tibetan Buddhist teachers of the twentieth century. Dudjom Rinpoche served as the representative of Padmasambhava in person, and was a great scholar, and meditation master. As a tertön (Wylie: gter ston; treasure revealer), Rinpoche continued the work of Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal by revealing and restoring profound spiritual treasures suitable for the beings of this age.
Incredibly prolific, his work served to maintain the living tradition of the Nyingma lineage, the ancient school, which included the publication of over two dozen volumes of sacred texts, and the composition of historical and philosophic treatises, and poetic songs of fearless realization. He served as the first head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, appointed by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, until his passing in 1987. His vision, activity, and accomplishments were unparalleled.
H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche incarnated in 1904 to a noble family in the Pemakö region of Southern Tibet. In fact, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje was born while his predecessor was still alive. According to Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, the land of His Holiness’ birth, “Pemakö is considered to be one of the most powerful geomantic energy points on the earth… a land of medicine and healing. He was born on the tenth day of the six month, which is also the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava, just as the sun’s first rays were touching the village.” His Holiness was recognized and revered from the day he was born.
During his early education, he received instruction by many of the greatest teachers of the Nyingma tradition, including Khenpo Aten, Phungong Tulku Gyurme Ngedön Wangpo, Jedrung Trinlé Jampa Jungné, Khenchen Jampal Dewé Nyima, and Minling Dordzin Namdrol Gyatso, among others. He attended some of the greatest monastic universities of Central and Eastern Tibet, mastering every tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Shenpen Dawa Rinpoche writes, “Astonishingly, at the age of thirteen, he gave the full empowerment and oral transmission of the Rinchen Terzö Chenmo, the collected treasure texts of the Nyingma Tradition. From that time on, he gave major empowerments relating to the different treasure cycles, and at the same time composed many means for attainment and sadhanas, which elucidated the profound teachings of the Buddhadharma…When he was seventeen he composed his first celebrated treatise on the Great Perfection, Dzogpa Chenpo.”
At various stages during his life, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche took the treasure texts revealed by Dudjom Lingpa, put them in order, and added rituals, commentaries, and texts to create a complete system. He wrote extensive commentaries on his own revelations. The Dudjom Tersar texts are now widely taught and practiced throughout the world. Shenpen Rinpoche writes, “Like many of his predecessors, His Holiness was also renowned as a great discoverer of concealed treasure teachings which are now widely taught and practiced. These are primarily the direct ‘treasures of intention’ or ‘mind treasures’ of the awareness-holders (vidyadhara) concerning the inner tantras of the secret mantra vehicle, which can bring about the unsurpassed enlightenment of rainbow body in one lifetime.”
During his years in Tibet, His Holiness oversaw the maintenance of the Mindrolling tradition, especially at Pema Chöling and his other seats in the Kongpo and Puwo regions of Southeast Tibet. He was renowned throughout Tibet for the depth of his realization and spiritual accomplishment, as well as for his unsurpassed scholarship. After he left Tibet with his family in 1958, he established many communities of Buddhist practitioners in India, Nepal, and Sikkim, particularly in Kalimpong, Orissa, Tso Pema (Rewalsar), and Bodhanath, Nepal. He continued to teach and publish many literary works.
During the final phase of his life, His Holiness travelled and continued to give teachings throughout Asia, Europe, and North America, guiding the practice of many devoted students. He established meditation and retreat centers in Hong Kong, France, and the United States. He passed into parinirvana—the pure space of the buddha-body of reality, the Dharmakaya—in 1987 in Dordogne, France.
His Eminence Soktse Rinpoche VI
His Eminence Soktse Tulku Rinpoche VI is one of the greatest Dzogchen meditation masters living today. One of H.E. Chhoje Rinpoche’s main teachers, Soktse Rinpoche is the sixth in a line of incarnations that goes back to Rechungpa, the great disciple of Milarepa. Born in 1928, Rinpoche’s full name is Kunzang Tendzin Gyaltsen.
The previous incarnation left a letter indicating various signs about the next incarnation’s birth. Later the abbot of Mindroling Monastery, Dordzin Gaje Rinpoche, and H.E. Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche received clear signs about Soktse Rinpoche’s rebirth. Yongdzin Rinpoche discovered the child at age five and then confirmed the reincarnation with the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje.
Soktse Rinpoche entered monastic training at age six. After training extensively with Yongdzin Rinpoche, Sokste Rinpoche met Punda Khen Rinpoche and H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche who were to become his most important meditation teachers. Because Soktse Rinpoche’s principal teachers and personal practice are from the Nyingma tradition, in this lifetime he is known as a holder of both the Nyingthig and Dudjom Tersar lineages.
Soktse Rinpoche spent several years studying with Yongdzin Rinpoche at his monastery in Karak receiving many Kagyu and Nyingma transmissions and completing ngöndro (tr. preliminary practices) twice, before beginning a long series of development stage retreats.
During his time studying with Yongzin Rinpoche at Karak, Soktse Rinpoche also met His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in Lhasa, and later met Punda Khen Rinpoche at Yarlung Sheldrak. Yongzin Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Punda Khen Rinpoche became Soktse Rinpoche’s three root gurus. Punda Khen Rinpoche in particular gave Rinpoche detailed teachings on Dzogchen meditation over the course of seventeen years.
Punda Khen Rinpoche was a renowned scholar and teacher from Eastern Tibet who became one of the primary disciples of the great Khenpo Ngaga. After receiving the empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions of the entire early and later Nyingthig lineages from Khenpo Ngaga, Punda Khen Rinpoche abandoned his monastery and his homeland and lived like a true yogi, giving up all worldly concerns in the mountains of Central Tibet, spending twelve years on strict retreat exclusively practicing the Dzogchen teachings.
Soktse Rinpoche was tremendously inspired by Punda Khen Rinpoche’s commitment to practice, and throughout his life has done his best to emulate his master’s example. After finishing twelve years of retreat, Punda Khen Rinpoche moved to Thromo, a remote region on the border of Tibet and India. Soktse Rinpoche moved to Thromo and spent the next year and a half in strict retreat near his master, receiving detailed experiential instructions on the practice of Dzogchen. Even after leaving Tibet, Soktse Rinpoche spent many years living near Punda Khen Rinpoche in India, until Khen Rinpoche passed away.
As the situation changed in Tibet, Rinpoche saw the impermanence and futility of life. Chhoje Rinpoche states, “It was very inspiring to see Soktse Rinpoche’s example. Throughout his life, whatever offerings Rinpoche received he used as offerings of charity for the poor or to support the Dharma.”
Since arriving in India in 1961, Rinpoche has completed three three-year retreats and numerous shorter retreats of one year, six months, three months, and so forth. Essentially, he has spent most of his life in retreat.
In the 1980s, Soktse Rinpoche founded the Tashi Choling nunnery in Ladakh and later set up the Tashi Choling Nunnery in Sikkim, India.
Soktse Rinpoche has disciples throughout the Indian Himalayan region, Nepal, and Tibet, including some of the leading lineage masters, as well as a number of students from the United States. Chhoje Rinpoche says, “Simply being in Soktse Rinpoche’s presence, experiencing his compassion and simplicity, reminds us of our basic goodness.”
His Eminence Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche IX
His Eminence Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche (also known as Decho Yongdzin Rinpoche), one of the principal reincarnate lamas of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, is regarded as an emanation of Tibet’s celebrated yogi, Milarepa. He is generally considered to be the Drukpa Kagyu lineage’s second hierarch after His Holiness Gyalwang Drukchen Rinpoche and is one of the Four Pillars of the Drukpa Kagyu along with His Holiness Gyalwang Drukchen Rinpoche, Khamtrul Rinpoche, and Choegon Rinpoche.
In addition to holding the lineage of the Drukpa Kagyu, the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, Ngagi Wangpo, was also a tertön (Wylie: gter ston; treasure revealer) who revealed treasures of Padmasambhava. His special practice throughout this previous life was the Rigdzin Sogdrup (tr. Accomplishing the Life-force of the Vidyadharas) revelations of the great Nyingma master, Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé who was an incarnation of the great Dzogchen master, Vimalamitra and also of the omniscient Longchenpa. Ngagi Wangpo, who recognized the present Soktse Rinpoche as Kunzang Tendzin Gyaltsen, the sixth Soktse Tulku reincarnation, was one of this Soktse Rinpoche’s root gurus.
The lives and reincarnations of Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, Soktse Rinpoche, and Chhoje Rinpoche have continuously intertwined. Soktse Rinpoche remembers the following story: when the second Drukpa Yongdzin, Kunga Lhundrup, went on pilgrimage to Samye Chimpu in Tibet, he met Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé who had just returned from India. Drukpa Yongdzin was a fully ordained monk, while Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé was a ngakpa (Wiley: sngags pa; lay tantric practitioner).
As they were touring the sacred site together, Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé laid his multicolored shawl on the ground, invited Yongdzin Rinpoche to sit down, and offered him a skull cup full of wine, saying, “Today, this is a great auspicious coincidence for you. Please take it.”
As he was a disciplined monk, Yongdzin Rinpoche was initially unsure what to do but then realized that there must be some important meaning to this offer and drank the entire skull cup full of wine. Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé was delighted and said, “Thank you! Now the interdependence is established.”
It was later said that this auspicious coincidence was the cause for Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé to enter the sevent incarnation of Yongdzin Rinpoche. Ngagi Wangpo had the naturally occurring signs of a conch and tiger skin lower garments on the back of his head. When Ngagi Wangpo was a young man living at Decho Monastery, he began to have memories of his previous incarnation as Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé. Spontaneous songs of realization which he could not keep himself from singing out loud arose in his mind due to the power of his previous karma. At times, he would withdraw to the outhouses located behind the monastery to sing through the rear windows in order to avoid disturbing the assembly of disciplined monks.
Minling Gaje Rinpoche, who was Ngagi Wangpo’s teacher and renowned for his clairvoyance, said that he always saw Drukpa Yongdzin Ngagi Wangpo as Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé in person. Although Gaje Rinpoche was Ngagi Wangpo’s teacher, he would never accept his prostrations, saying, “You are the incarnation of Lhatsun Namkha Jigmé. Don’t make prostrations to me!” So Yongdzin Rinpoche used to offer prostrations outside the door before he went in to see his teacher.
One of Padmasambhava’s prophecies in the treasures of Lhatsun foretold Yongdzin Rinpoche’s construction of a monastery on the slopes of the great mountain, Jomo Kharak, in Tsang, which would be called Ogmin Namdroling and would be filled with sacred representations of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. Just as the prophecy had predicted, after leaving Decho, Ngagi Wangpo built Namdröling Monastery which served for many years as a great boon to the teachings of the Buddhadharma.
Another prophecy, this one in Chogyur Dechen Lingpa’s (1829-1870) treasure revelations, predicted that the seventh Yongdzin Rinpoche and the sixteenth Karmapa would meet in Samye in the temple “under the turquoise roof.” Before that meeting could occur, Yongdzin Rinpoche became so seriously ill that his disciples feared that his death was imminent. But Rinpoche was confident that he would not die and assured his disciples that because he had not yet met the sixteenth Karmapa as the prophecy had predicted, that he was sure that he would not die at that time. Subsequently, he recovered quickly.
The fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, had been one of Ngagi Wangpo’s root teachers. Ngagi Wangpo did eventually meet the young sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpé Dorje, at Samye, exactly as the prophecy had predicted. Ngagi Wangpo offered an empowerment to his root teacher’s reincarnation and performed a ritual to dispel obstacles to his life.
In the book, Blazing Splendor, Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche recounts the enormous respect accorded to this great mahasiddha and tertön, the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche also held the previous Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche in high esteem as did many other great lamas.
During the latter years of his life, the previous Yongdzin Rinpoche left his monastery with Chhoje Rinpoche and travelled to western Tibet. From a vision of three sacred AH syllables displayed on a rocky cliff, the previous Yongdzin Rinpoche predicted that he would incarnate as a Nyingma practitioner for his next three lifetimes.
Yongdzin Rinpoche’s root teacher was Trulshik Rinpoche Kunzang Thongdrol, the previous incarnation of the Trulshik Rinpoche who passed away in 2011. Although Yongdzin Rinpoche was one of the principle lineage holders of the of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, he and his disciples were primarily Nyingma practitioners.
Yongdzin Rinpoche is one of the great unconventional masters known as Mahasiddha. The current incarnation lives in Colorado. Anyone who has spent time with Yongdzin Rinpoche has experienced his extraordinary spaciousness and openness.