His Holiness Gyalwang Drikungpa

- through Henry Oudin

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From Tibet to Ladakh, portrait of a sage with an exceptional itinerary.

Recognized as the emanation of Chenrezi, the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness Gyalwang Drikungpa, the 37th throne holder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of the Vajrayana, was born in Tibet on July 24, 1946. His grandfather, Dasang Damdul Tsarong ( 1888-1959), close to the 1876th Dalai Lama (1933-1920), was one of the most influential political figures in the country at the beginning of the 2011th century. His father, Dundul Namgyal Tsarong (XNUMX-XNUMX), held high administrative office in Dharamsala after the flight of the XNUMXth Dalai Lama. And his mother, Yangchen Dolkar, was one of the descendants of the ancient royal dynasty.

Despite these prestigious ascendants, His Holiness radiates an infinite kindness and humility which unites the faithful. Some travel for miles in often difficult and exhausting conditions to meet him and receive his teachings. Young people, the elderly, even the very old, lay people and soldiers spare no effort to attend an initiation given by His Holiness or to celebrate his birthday. Having attended the Grand Drikung P'owa (see box), which takes place every twelve years, on August 3, at his monastery in Phyang, near Leh, I was very impressed by the incredible number of disciples present to receive his blessings. Thousands came with family or friends, mothers listening attentively while breastfeeding their babies, old people bent down by the weight of the years drinking in his words... All summarily installed on a simple mat or a cloth on the hard ground of the land of Ladakh , under a blazing sun, and huddled against each other to get as close as possible to the place where His Holiness officiated. The immeasurable devotion they showed to their master overwhelmed me. Their faith in this being who represents for them very concretely the emanation of the Buddha of compassion could only question the Westerner that I am, so strong was the ineluctable confidence in the Buddha and his representatives that they each expressed in their own way. of a conviction established from century to century and from generation to generation. Most of the Ladakhi faithful do not know the remarkable journey of His Holiness Gyalwang Drikungpa, they don't care: they know that he is an exceptional being and that is enough for them.

Westerners need more elements. I will therefore try to summarize this exceptional itinerary while knowing that it will necessarily be reductive as it is unique. Here are the very broad outlines:

In Tibet 

Particularly precocious and mature, from the age of eleven, Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang gave his first public teaching as well as his first transmission. In the years that followed, he showed exceptional intellectual abilities and great ease in understanding and transmitting concepts as complex and subtle as those of the Madhyamaka philosophy.

Following the Tibetan uprising of 1959, Chetsang Rinpoche endured months of communist indoctrination, which temporarily interrupted his philosophical training. From 1960, admitted to an elementary school in Lhasa, he completed his course in just three years instead of six.

Chetsang Rinpoche worked in the fields in spring and summer. In the fall, he climbed the mountains to cut firewood dedicated to the community, carrying heavy loads. In winter, he took care of the waste water from the Lhasa pits. But, despite this hard work, he helped others whenever he could.

In 1966, at the start of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards infiltrated Tibetan schools, classes and businesses came to a halt. During this troubled period, the Rinpoches and many aristocrats suffered the brutality of the "people's courts". Lhasa descended into chaos. In total anarchy, Rinpoche was several times saved from certain death.

In 1969, he was assigned to a “work unit” in the countryside, where he was forced into backbreaking physical labor in miserable living conditions. An uncle, who visited him, was saddened by this situation and amazed at Chetsang Rinpoche's great serenity in the face of the many upheavals in his life. He was similar to Milarepa, reclusive in caves uncomfortable and austere in appearance, but filled with an excessively rich inner spiritual life. During this period, Chetsang Rinpoche worked in the fields in spring and summer. In the fall, he climbed the mountains to cut firewood dedicated to the community, carrying heavy loads. In winter, he took care of the waste water from the Lhasa pits. But, despite this hard work, he helped others whenever he could.

Flight into exile and life abroad 

In 1975 Rinpoche finally found a way to escape. He crossed the Nepalese border alone through glaciers and high passes, and despite the incredible difficulties he encountered, reached Nepal unscathed. He then joined Dharamsala. There, Rinpoche was again symbolically enthroned as the Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang in a ceremony attended by the XNUMXth Dalai Lama. After promising to take responsibility for the lineage in the future, he traveled to the United States where his parents had emigrated. There he learned English while supporting himself with a part-time job at restaurants like McDonald's.

In 1978, he returned to India to take charge of the Drikung Kagyu lineage as the throne holder.

Life in Ladakh

Throughout his lay life in Tibet and then in the United States, Chetsang Rinpoche had maintained a strict observance of his monastic vows. Upon his arrival in Ladakh, he immediately began a traditional three-year retreat at Lamayuru Monastery, under the direction of meditation master Kyunga Sodpa Gyatso (1911-1980). He then studied with many lamas and Rinpoches of different traditions, from whom he received teachings and initiations. Among them, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), who remains for him as one of his most important teachers. He also received many transmissions from the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the XNUMXth Karmapa, His Holiness Taklung Shabdrung Rinpoche and Taklung Tsetrul. The transmissions received are so numerous that it is difficult to relate them here.

However, in 1985 Chetsang Rinpoche received full monk ordination from His Holiness the XNUMXth Dalai Lama during the Kalachakra initiation in Bodh-Gaya.

In 1987, Chetsang Rinpoche began giving teachings in many countries. In 2003, he established a magnificent building near his monastery: the Songtsen Library, a center for Tibetan and Himalayan studies. This library embodies the essence of Rinpoche's vision: this place is a treasure, a think tank for the cultural and spiritual identity of the peoples of the Himalayan region and more particularly of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. The building contains rare texts on all subjects of the Himalayan region, works on Tibetan culture, its tradition, geography and, of course, Buddhist texts from all schools. It houses an important collection of the famous Dunhuang manuscripts, discovered along the Silk Road. Tibetan literature alone includes thousands of manuscripts of all kinds, including the first Tibetan medical drawing known today. Also, in order to preserve all this culture, Chetsang Rinpoche has made these rare and ancient texts relating to the first period of Tibet accessible to researchers. In 2005, near the Songtsen Library, he built the College for Higher Buddhist Studies (Shedra), Kagyu College. In France, the Institute of Tibetan Buddhism Drikung Kagyu Rinchen Pal is the main Drikung center under the spiritual authority of Venerable Drubpön Tharchin Rinpoche, representative of His Holiness in France.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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