The late His Eminence Chogye Trichen, Ngawang Khyenrab Lekshay Gyatso, was the eighteenth Nalendra throne holder in the lineage, beginning with Khyenrab Choje, to have come from the Zhalu Kushang family. In her Great Commentary on Chod, the famed female master Machig Lapdron prophesied three future emanations of Maitreya who would appear in Rongton’s lineage, each of whose names would contain the word khyen or ‘knowledgeable.’ These are Khyenrab Choje (1438-97), Khyenrab Jampa (1633-1703), and Rinchen Khyentse Wangpo (1869-1927). All three held the title of Chogye Trichen, throne holder of Nalendra Monastery. Rinchen Khyentse Wangpo, the third Maitreya incarnation prophesied by Machig Lapdron, was the last Chogye Trichen before the late throne holder, Khyenrab Lekshay Gyatso (who was also the nephew of Rinchen Khyentse Wangpo). The late Chogye Rinpoche had consecrated a twelve-metre statue of Maitreya at his monastery in Boudh Nath, Nepal, maintaining the tradition of the blessings of his lineage coming down through the khyen incarnations of Maitreya.
His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, Ngawang Khyenrab Thupten Lekshe Gyatso, was the most senior Sakya Lama and the head of the Tsar sub-school of Sakya tradition. His Eminence was a renowned tantric master, dedicated practitioner, outstanding scholar, eloquent poet and embodied the wisdom, spirit and activities of the holy Dharma. His Eminence was a master of masters as most Tibetan Buddhist lineage holders are his disciples. Amongst these disciples are His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trichen, Ngawang Kunga. His Eminence was regarded as the definitive authority on the Kalacakra Tantra. In addition to His Eminence’s stature among Tibetan lamas, the late King Birendra of Nepal awarded His Eminence “Gorkha Dakshin Babu”, a tribute which has never been awarded to a Buddhist monk in Nepal before.
Born in 1919 in the Tsang province of Central Tibet into the Zhalu Kushang family of the Che clan, a lineage descended from the clear light gods, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Chogye Rinpoche of Nalendra Monastery by the 13th Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso. Many auspicious and marveleous signs accompanied His Eminence’s birth. His Eminence was the 26th patriarch of Phenpo Nalendra Monastery, North of Lhasa. Founded by Rongton Sheja Kunrig (1367-1449), Nalendra is one of the most important Sakya monasteries in Tibet. Wondrously, each generation of the Kushang family has produced no less than four sons, most of who have served as throne holders of many important monasteries including Nalendra, Zhalu and Ngor.
The name “Kushang” meaning ‘royal maternal uncle’ derived from the fact that many daughters from the family were married to numerous Sakya throne holders, one of whom, Drogon Chagna, was supreme ruler of Tibet, who succeeded Chogyal Phakpa.
The name “Chogye” means ‘Eighteen’ and comes from the time of Khyenrab Choje, the 8th abbot of Nalendra who also belonged to the aristocratic Kushang family. Khyenrab Choje, a great teacher possessing the direct lineage of Kalacakra received from Vajrayogini, was invited to be the abbot of Nalendra by Sakya Trizin Dagchen Lodro Gyaltsen (1444-1495). Khyenrab Choje visited the Emperor of China who was greatly impressed by the tantric scholar from Tibet and bestowed on him ‘eighteen’ precious gifts. From Khyenrab Choje the lineage of Chogye Rinpoches began.
At the age of twelve His Eminence was officially enthroned at the Phenpo Nalendra Monastery. In these early years he studied intensively all the basic liturgies and rituals of Nalendra Monastery. His two main root Gurus were the 4th Zimwog Tulku, Ngawang Tenzin Thrinley Norbu Palzangpo, the other main incarnate lama of Nalendra Monastery, and Dampa Rinpoche Shenphen Nyingpo of Ngor Ewam. From these two great teachers His Eminence received all the major and minor teachings of Sakya such as the two Lamdre Traditions, the Greater and Lesser Mahakalas, the Four Tantras, the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, Kalacakra, etc. His Eminence completed extensive studies in all major fields of study taught in Lord Buddha’s teachings. His Eminence became a master in both Sutrayana and Mantrayana teachings. His Eminence was also a great scholar of literature, history and Buddhist metaphysics and a highly accomplished poet.
In 1959, given the change in circumstances in Tibet after the Chinese invasion, His Eminence left Tibet for Mustang (Lo Monthang), where his sister was married to the Mustang Raja, the King of Mustang. His Eminence found safe refuge and stayed there for some time, giving teachings and performing many ceremonies at the various monasteries. At this time His Eminence wrote the short sadhana of Guru Hevajra “At the Time of the Path”, meditation in a versified form. The majority of monasteries in the Lo Monthang area are of the Ngorpa School and the main monastery was founded in the 15th century by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo. For several years from 1962, in accordance with the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Eminence acted as the Secretary General of the Council for Religious and Cultural Affairs of the Tibetan Government in Exile in Dharamsala, India. Also, His Eminence took a leading role in preparing the manuscript of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book “My Land and My People” and was responsible for writing Tibetan text books for schools set up for central Tibetans. His Eminence took leave from the Tibetan government in 1969. His Eminence decided to return to Nepal to rebuild the Nalendra monastery and the Seat of the Tsharpa school in exile.
In 1963, while on a pilgrimage, His Eminence visited the birth place of the Buddha in Lumbini, Nepal. Feeling something very special for this holy place, His Eminence and the King of Mustang vowed to build a monastery there. After 12 years, the construction of Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery was completed and the vow was fulfilled. His Eminence also established the first three and half year Lamdre Lobshey retreat centre in Lumbini. His Eminence has also built another monastery, Jamchen Lhakhang Monastery, in Kathmandu. A smaller retreat facility has also been established by His Eminence in Bagdora, a sacred site attributed to Krakucchanda, one of the previous Buddhas of this age. His Eminence has also founded a Tsharpa retreat center at Lo Gekar in Mustang.
Outside Nepal, His Eminence established centres in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The centre in Hong Kong is named after Green Tara. With the sincere invitations of his disciples, His Eminence travelled to these centres to give teachings and initiations. His Eminence is also the supreme patron of ten centres in Australia and New Zealand founded by his heart son, Lama Choedak Rinpoche. As two of the main centres in Australia are named after Rongton and Tsharchen, His Eminence regarded them as future pillars of strength to uphold his teachings and practices. To acknowledge these developments in Australia, His Eminence made three important visits to Australia in 1996, 2001 and 2006.
It is often said that His Eminence maintained the style of a hidden yogi as he engaged in several three-year meditation retreats. Outside of these retreats, His Eminence spent most of his time in deep meditation and practiced tantric rituals and prayers from early dawn to many hours past midnight. Normally sleeping sitting up, it is said His Eminence only required one hour of sleep each night. His Eminence was regarded as the modern-day manifestation of past Indian Buddhist siddha saints such as Mahasiddha Virupa.
During His life, His Eminence continuously gave initiations, transmissions, empowerments, teachings and instructions on Buddha’s teachings. Those who had the fortune to receive an audience with His Eminence will no doubt agree that he was also an enthusiastic storyteller. Every initiation or empowerment given by His Eminence was almost always accompanied by precious stories about the particular Bodhisattvas or teachers of that lineage, as well as stories that illustrate the importance of Bodhicitta and other precious teachings of Lord Buddha such as Prajna Paramita. His Eminence was the lineage holder of the highly prized uncommon esoteric teachings of the practice lineage of the Tsharpa school, such as Vajrayogini and Lamdre Lobshey, the uncommon Hevajra traditon for close disciples. His Eminence’s commitment to spread the holy Dharma had no geographical boundaries and was truly global. This was evident by His Eminence’s numerous travels overseas to give teachings, initiations and empowerments to His disciples abroad.
For example, in 1989, His Eminence travelled to the United States and Canada. In 1994, His Eminence taught in Japan. In 1996, His Eminence visited Australia at the invitation of his heart son Lama Choedak. He came with an entourage of 12 monks and nuns and performed a special four fold Vajrapani Fire Puja for the success of the work of his disciple and Sakya Losal Choe Dzong. His Eminence gave his endorsement to his work by inaugurating Rongton Buddhist College at ANU at a special event. He travelled to most cities, gave teachings and empowerments and touched the lives of thousands. In 1999, His Eminence visited Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia to give many initiations and teachings. In the same year, His Eminence bestowed the Kalachakra initiation and other teachings for an assembly of 6,000 disciples in Taiwan at the request of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s centre in Taipei. In 2000, at the request of His Eminence Shamar Rinpoche of Kagyu Tradition, His Eminence visited France where he bestowed the Collection of Sadhanas and gave teachings to HH Thaye Dorje and many others. In the same year, at the request of the Sakya centres in Spain, His Eminence visited Spain where he gave the Kalachakra initiation and public talks in Barcelona on ‘Peace in the World’.
In 2001, His Eminence completed a two-month trip overseas to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, New Zealand, Singapore and Kuching in Malaysia, where he bestowed upon his disciples precious teachings and initiations of many important Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
At this time, His Eminence added a new chapter to the history of Buddhism in Australia by ordaining twelve Australians as monks and nuns, in the same manner as Shantarakshita did in 7th century Tibet when he ordained seven Tibetans.
He gave the Vajrayogini empowerment and teachings to over 200 people. During this time, His Eminence presented Lama Choedak a golden ring and necklace by awarding him with the ‘Tsarpa Lochen’ title in recognition of his commendable work in Australia. The ripple effect of His Eminence’s visit to Australia will definitely be felt for many hundreds of years to come.
In 2003, at the opening of the new Tashi Rabten Ling monastery in Lumbini, His Eminence gave the Vajrayogini Empowerment and comprehensive teachings to several thousand people including 70 Australians. It is on that occasion, His Eminence wrote a one verse long life prayer for his heart son Lama Choedak Rinpoche at the repeated request of his Australian students.
In 2006, His Eminence travelled to Australia and consecrated the newly established Sakya International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) founded in East Gippsland on the anniversary of Tsarchen and named the centre Tsarchen Choeling. SIBA is an ideal Buddhist Retreat Centre situated on a 108 acre pristine natural setting with excellent infrastructure, facility, orchard and accommodation for 120 people. It is probably the best established Buddhist facility in Australia.
He ordained seven nuns and some monks and was every pleased to see such a land, which he said was like a pure realm during a picnic in the afternoon. Hundreds of students flocked from all over Australia, New Zealand and overseas to witness the important event. Four months after he returned to Nepal, he passed away at his retreat centre outside Kathmandu.
Because Kyabje Chogye Trichen Rinpoche has historically become the only Lama of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, David Jackson’s Biography of Kyabje Rinpoche fittingly has the title ‘Lama of Lamas’. He is a teacher to HH Dalai Lama, HH Sakya Gongma Trichen, HH Sakya 42nd Sakya Trizin, HH Gyalwa (Karmapa) Thaye Dorje, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Karma Thinley Rinpoche, Tulku Choekyi Nyima Rinpoche, Jadho Tulku Rinpoche and many more. After His Mahaparinirvana, I led a pilgrimage group of sixty Australian and New Zealand disciples of Kyabje Rinpoche to visit His Seat, Nalendra monastery in Tibet and made a vow to assist them in any way to make them feel connected.
~ Lama Choedak Rinpoche