Stories of the Kongtruls from the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Stories of the Kongtruls from the Vidyadhara Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche, Part One

I am very pleased to
present the first in a two-part post from Acharya Fenya
Heupers. She has been following the blog and sent a very
interesting compilation of notes taken from a seminar given
by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974. Just to
warn you, the seminar focused on three different Jamgon
Kongtruls. The first is Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (also
known as Jamgon Kongtrul the Great) who lived in the 19th
century and compiled the Rinchen Terdzo. Among many others
he was a teacher to the Chogyam Trungpa’s previous
incarnation, the tenth Trungpa, Chokyi Nyingje.

After Jamgon Kongtrul passed away he had two simultaneous
rebirths. This is not uncommon with great teachers. Both of
these rebirths were students of the tenth Trungpa. The first
rebirth of Jamgon Kongtrul the great was Jamgon Kongtrul of
Sechen, meaning Sechen Monastery. He became one of Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche’s root gurus and he bestowed the
Rinchen Terdzo upon Trungpa Rinpoche. The second Kongtrul,
Jamgon Kongtrul of Palpung (Palpung Monastery) gave Chogyam
Trunpga Rinpoche his monastic vows.

Because Achaya Heupers was wrote this paper from notes
taken at the seminar, there are several paragraphs in
quotations. The notes have the raw feel of Chogyam Trungpa
Rinpoche’s teachings, although the notes are not the
exact words of Trungpa Rinpoche. Many of his seminars still
await transcription and editing, we hope this one will come

Stories of the Kongtruls from
Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


By Acharya Fenya Heupers

On the joyous occasion of transmission of the Rinchen
, when Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche becomes the lineage
holder of this tradition of his father, the Vidyadhara
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, through the tremendous kindness of
his father-in-law, His Eminence Namkha Drimed

I remembered teachings of the Vidyadhara on Jamgon
. In December 1974, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
gave a seminar in Boulder on Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro
. He taught about his root guru Jamgon Kongtrul
of Sechen
and what it means to study with an authentic
teacher. He also talked about Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro
, who collected endangered teachings and
empowerments in various collections, the Rinchen Terdzod
being one of these collections.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye was part of a renaissance of
Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century, known as the
, or nonsectarian, movement because this group of
teachers did not want to fixate on sectarian differences of
the various schools. In those days the Vidyadhara used the
word ‘ecumenical’ for Rime, a word that westerners
were familiar with from the Christian tradition. The
Vidyadhara explained the difference:

“Rime is not as naive as the 20th century
“ecumenism” That ecumenism says: we are brothers
and sisters, why do we fight? There is good intention in
that, but the reality is that we, as human beings, are all
brothers and sisters, and that’s why we fight. There is
no reason for fighting if there is no communication. The
biggest problem is trying to unify the cosmos and to
structure it so that everybody eats jellyfish and everybody
drinks milk. If we give up hope of unifying the world, and
accept chaos as it is, there is a possibility, then there
might be peace. It is uncertain whether harmony is the
answer to develop peace. Jamgon Kongtrul accepted chaos as
well as orderliness. He was able to find profundity within

Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche explained also how sectarianism
came into existence: “The teachings originate from
experience, and are expressed in words, then the words are
recorded and become doctrines. Logic is needed to prove the
validity of these doctrines and then there is a battlefield
and clashes between the doctrines because they cannot
understand each other’s language. Finally there is
complete confusion; intoxicated in their own doctrine, they
cannot see the other doctrines.”

The Rime movement brought back the contemplative
tradition, which is “a complete approach to
buddhadharma, including both learning and practice,
understanding and intuition. Sitting without learning is
like wandering blindly; learning without sitting practice is
like trying to climb a rock with crippled arms. The
understanding of buddhadharma is experiential; it is not
rejecting scholarship but including it. That demands
dedication and devotion. Without those we are working only
on the surface. So Jamgon Kongtrul had two approaches: to
conquer the ocean of learning and to conquer the space of
practice. In order to do so, one has to commit oneself 200%.
Not that you do not eat or sleep, but they are included in
that commitment. Bringing learning and practice together is
not difficult; it is like stepping on dog shit – you know
what you’ve done, you smell it, experience it, so there
is a complete experience of intellect and intuition at the
same time.”

“Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen used to ask, “how do
you feel about it?” instead of asking about facts and
figures. The contemplative tradition is personal living
experience. So he seemed to be more pleased with Trungpa
Rinpoche’s critical attitude than with

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great ”first trained himself
thoroughly in the Kagyu tradition, he was a fully ordained
monk. He had to live very humbly, had to beg. He learned
basic solid buddhism, about mind and emotions according to
the hinayana, about bodhisattvas in the mahayana, and about
the play of phenomena of tantra.”

“Jamgon Kongtrul established himself in Pepung, in
Jewel Rock, home of devis and dakinis. He studied texts very
arduously to the light of a butter lamp or just the red glow
of an incense stick. He practiced meditation with stinging
nettles around his meditation box. If he fell over to sleep
he woke up by the stinging. He was very austere, but loved
metaphysical jokes. He was a great punster.”

“After a solid training in one tradition, he studied
under 100 masters of various schools. After him these
schools faded out. In this way he revived the contemplative
tradition. He worked together with the terton Chogyur
Lingpa, with Patrul Rinpoche from the Nyingma tradition, and
with Khyentse Rinpoche from the Sakya tradition. He brought
together teachings from the eight buddhist traditions in
Tibet, and brought them into the contemplative

“The tenth Trungpa was a student of Jamgon Kongtrul
the Great. Frustrated by spiritual materialism he suddenly
decided to escape from his monastery and studied with Jamgon
Kongtrul the Great. Then he returned to his monastery
(Surmang) and realized that it is not such evil, that he did
not have to become a mendicant monk. He was planning to
visit his guru again, then he heard that his guru had died.
He continued his life of practicing meditation.”


Stories of the Kongtruls from the Vidyadhara Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche


[This is the second and final installment of the post
from Acharya Fenya Heupers, Stories of the Kongtruls from
the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. We pick up with
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s description of the two
rebirths of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. WB]

Jamgon Kongtrul had two incarnations: Jamgon Kongtrul of
Palpung and Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen.

“Jamgon Kongtrul of Palpung was a son of the 15th
Karmapa. The 15th Karmapa was also a student of Jamgon
Kongtrul the Great. He decided to follow his discipline and
tradition in the Kagyu order as a married man. This created
an uproar. One Kagyu khenpo teacher had wept for seven days
when he learned that the Karmapa had married and taken off
the monastic robes. The Karmapa proclaimed that his marriage
was in keeping with the Kagyu tradition. Then the Khenpo had
a vision of the 15th Karmapa in Vajradhara costume with a
black hat. The 15th Karmapa’s son turned out to be the
first incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul.”

”Jamgon Kongtrul of Palpung also found everyone very
materialistic and felt that the monastic people wanted to
use him to get gifts from benefactors and disciples of
Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. So he also decided to escape as
the tenth Trungpa had done earlier. He went to the tenth
Trungpa and demanded ordination. The tenth Trungpa hesitated
because he did not want to make enemies with Palpung, but
finally he gave him ordination and Jamgon Kongtrul became
his student.”

”The other incarnation, Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen,
wanted to be a student of the tenth Trungpa as well as
another Rinpoche from Sechen. He had hardships and he camped
around monk’s houses until the abbot of Sechen
monastery created headquarters for him with a tutor and
attendant. As a teenager Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen was very
stern and did not talk very much. Once he was warmed up he
was very verbal. He was extraordinarily dedicated to
learning. The Vidyadhara heard from an older disciple of the
tenth Trungpa that when he visited the room of Jamgon
Kongtrul of Sechen there were books all over the place. He
was sleeping on them, there were pages all over, but he
could find the right page. He had extremely bad eyesight
from straining too much to read. His guru sent him up to a
cave to meditate for several years at a time.”

The Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche was ordained by Jamgon
Kongtrul of Pepung, and received meditation instruction from
Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen. In working with Sechen Kongtrul,
Trungpa Rinpoche “felt paranoid because you cannot fool
him with being well-behaved. His main approach is how you
carry yourself as a sane person. He could have outbursts
with sticks and fists on students to break their
stubbornness and aggression. When you work with someone who
is not really in the teachings, everything can be very
smooth. But if you work with someone who is really connected
with the teachings, then you find yourself in contact with
reality, with more sharp edges and you become 100% more

“Jamgon Kongtrul and I had a small but neat world,
so much power in the whole cosmos to conquer. They were the
good old days. Don’t give up hope in the bad new days
which will become then good old days. We appreciate Kennedy
because he was killed; Martin Luther King was a great man.
If you’d meet Naropa or Tilopa on the spot you’d
be pissed off. History is very deceptive, reality is more
important, there a piece of philosophy for you.”

“When you meet your guru, spiritual friend, there is
uncertainty. It is like the nature of a mirror, reflection
between you and guru, so intense that you think you make the
whole thing up. The function of a guru is on different
levels: acting very compassionate as an enlightened nanny;
as a very efficient accommodating garbage bin; very learned
wise in philosophy and wisdom. There is an atmosphere where
things are percolating and established.”

Trungpa Rinpoche was nine years old when he first met
Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen. The day before his head was
shaved again with a blunt razor and sulphur instead of soap,
an excruciating experience. After this ordeal there was a
sense of relief and expectation.

“At the welcome ceremony Jamgon Kongtrul seemed a
kind old monk, nothing extraordinary. He was spontaneous and
somewhat sloppy. Trungpa Rinpoche was accused by his tutors
of being sloppy, so he expected that they correct Jamgon
Kongtrul’s sloppiness as well. When everything is
valid, well trained, well disciplined there is room for
craziness. Jamgon Kongtrul’s eyesight was very bad, but
sometimes he would spot people from miles away. He did not
behave according to what a guru should look like. He
embarrassed people, he was spontaneous not impulsive. I
[Trungpa Rinpoche] felt for the first time: ‘My
hang-ups are okay.’ There was some human quality and
all his attendants were very gentle and sane.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche recounted learning about
meditation from Sechen Kongtrul at Surmang Monastery’s
retreat center. “In retreat in Dorje Khyung Dzong there
was the first meditation instruction. I expected an
extraordinary experience. There were beams of sunlight and
he would talk about mind.”

“Do you have a mind?” Sechen Kontrul asked.

“I can think so many things, I must have a
mind.” Trungpa Rinpoche replied.

“That’s intelligent. Let’s sit together
and do nothing.” Sechen Kongtrul responded.

The Vidyadhara went on to desribe the experience. “I
expected something extraordinary. Nothing happened. He is
pleased. I am confused. Why is he pleased with nothing that

“At the second meeting nothing happened, but
something happened. A feeling of the room very light, sun,
old incense, sense perceptions. Then he instructed me in
shamatha-vipassyana, that was a great help. Something
happened, nothing happened. Your breath makes something and
nothing together.”

“At the fourth meeting I was excited and asked,
‘What about enlightenment?’ Lot of silence which
was slightly threatening. ‘There is no such thing as
enlightenment, this is it.’

Jamgon Kongtrul is so solid there is no question of
labeling, just tuning into atmosphere.”

“Later, the experience is that as soon as you are
going to see him, there is a radiation. Things get more and
more intense, a feeling of fear and uncertainty, also a
feeling in the bottom of your heart that you are tickled.
There is doubt and uncertainty for some time, is this sanity
possible? It proves to be possible.”

Later the Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche studied with Jamgon
Kongtrul Rinpoche in Sechen monastery for several years. His
guru confirmed him as lineage holder. When he wanted to meet
him again, Jamgon Kongtrul was arrested by Chinese troops
and put into prison. He died there. The Vidyadhara escaped
and came to the West.

This all comes from notes of this seminar of Fenja
Heupers. Any errors in this are mine. (Fenya) I hope it will
inspire someone to transcribe the whole seminar and make it

May the Rinchen Terdzod transmission come to a glorious
conclusion and may it benefit all beings.

The First Jamgon Kongtrul

The first Jamgon Kongtrul, named Jamgön
Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (Wylie: ‘jam mgon kong
sprul blo gros mtha’ yas) was one of the most prominent
Buddhist masters in Tibet in the 19th century. He is
credited as one of the founders of the Rime movement of
Tibetan Buddhism and he compiled what is known as the Five
Great Treasuries. He achieved great renown as a scholar and
writer, and authored more than one hundred volumes of


The Second Jamgon Kongtrul

The 15th Karmapa’s biography mentions that he had a
vision in which he saw 25 simultaneous emanations of the
master Jamgon Kongtrul.

Preeminent among these was Karsey Kongtrul (Wylie:
kar sras kong sprul) (1904-1953), who was said to embody
Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s mind. Karsey
was born as the son of the 15th Karmapa. Karsey
means “son of the Karmapa”; his formal religious name was as
Jamgön Palden Khyentse Özer (Wylie: ‘jam dbyangs
mkhyen brtse’i ‘od zer).

In addition to Karsey Kongtrul Khyentsé Özer
(1904-1953) (the principal incarnation), there were four
other reincarnations of the first Jamgon Kongtrul:

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche,

Dzogchen Kongtrul Rinpoche, and

Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Kalu Rinpoche, also recognized post-facto as the
incarnation of Lodrö Thaye’s activity, was never
enthroned as such.

The Third Jamgon Kongtrul (1954-1992)

The Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul is presently in dispute

Rinchen Terdzo

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye

December 23rd, 2008 by Walker Blaine

When reading the lives of amazing beings one is humbled.
That is especially true when learning about Jamgon Kongtrul
Lodro Thaye. His activity in life was so vast and his desire
to benefit so strong that afterward he passed away, he took
many simultaneous rebirths. Two of them—Shechen
Kongtrul and Palpung Kongtrul had direct connections with
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Shechen Kongtrul was one of the
Vidyadhara’s main gurus.

As an aside, I’d like to say that is interesting to
note that three of the Vidyadhara’s main
teachers—Shechen Kongtrul, Khenpo Gangshar, and Dilgo
Khyentse Rinpoche were successive abbots of the Shechen
shedra or monastic university. The founder and first abbot
of the Shedra at Shechen was Mipham the Great, the
Sakyong’s predecessor. Shechen at the time of the
Vidyadhara’s youth was like Oxford or Cambridge, a
great university that everyone aspired to go to.

Jamgon Kongtrul was born in 1813. His father, or as
we’d say, his stepfather who raised him, was not a
Buddhist, but a practitioner of Bon, the native religion of
Tibet. Historians suspect this probably influenced Jamgon
Kongtrul’s non-sectarian approach. He genuinely wanted
to find the heart of every tradition along with preserving
what was unique in each tradition. As a child he loved to
dress like a monk, play at performing rituals and he learned
the alphabet as soon as he saw it. Details like these are
seen differently in the Buddhist perspective. Being able to
read that easily isn’t just ‘being smart.’ It
means that positive habitual tendencies and aspirations from
prior lives are very strong.

As a youth, even before he’d practiced intensively,
he had great faith in Padmasambhava and saw him and other
teachers in his dreams. He was well liked because of his
gentle demeanor and at sixteen his employer, a local
chieftain, sent him to Shechen Monastery to study with a
guru there, Shechen Ontrul. At this time there was no shedra
although it was a famous monastery. While at Shechen he
studied a great many topics and soaked things up quickly. At
this time he began receiving empowerments and teachings on
terma, quite normal at Shechen, a Nyingma monastery. The
Konchog Chidu which we received the other day was among the
first practices he received there.

Jamgon Kongtrul took full ordination at the age of 20,
and at 21 the local chieftain who’d sent him to Shechen
now insisted he now go to Palpung Monastery. Palpung was
presided over by the great Kagyu teacher, Tai Situ Pema
Nyinche Wangpo. Ontrul Rinpoche sent Jamgon Kongtrul off
with the advice, ‘Don’t become sectarian.’ At
Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul furthered his studies immensely and
he received many, many Kagyu and Nyingma teachings from His
Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche and others. By this time he was
also studying medicine. When requested what meditation deity
would be best for to practice, Situ Rinpoche told Jamgon
Kongtrul to practice White Tara, a feminine aspect of
compassion that has a strong connection with long life and
vitality. He had a very successful retreat on White Tara in
the Jonang tradition—a school of Tibetan Buddhism which
was thought to have been destroyed by the Cultural
Revolution until ten or fifteen years ago when several gurus
emerged from Tibet.

By his mid-twenties Jamgon Kongtrul had done many
retreats on a variety of yidams and he’d already
started teaching. The 14th Karmapa insisted that Jamgon
Kongtrul teach him Sanskrit. His name, Kongtrul, came from
being recognized by Situ Rinpoche as the rebirth of a former
student of his, Kongpo Bamtang Tulku. This name became
contracted to Kongtrul—trul being short for tulku,
meaning emanation or enlightened manifestation. Lodro Thaye,
Limitless Intellect, is the name he received when taking the
bodhisattva vow, the vow to liberate all beings from
suffering. Jamgon means gentle protector and is a name for
Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.

In his late twenties, Jamgon Kongtrul began an extended
retreat in a hermitage above Palpung. This began as a three
year, but soon extended to the rest of his life. He only
came out of retreat in order to teach, join intensive group
practices, mediate in wars or disputes, or in some way
benefit beings. Although they’d met around eight years
earlier Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo began to
work together intensively around the time Kongtrul was 36.
They both had the same desire to go beyond the sectarianism
that was causing the deterioration understanding and good
relations between the many different schools of Buddhism as
well as Bon. Together with Chogyur Lingpa they collected and
exchanged whatever teachings they could. This began what is
now known as the Rime movement, a renaissance of unbiased
teaching that continues to this day.

For many years Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo urged Kongtrul to
write his Five Great Treasuries. The Rinchen Terdzo, The
Treasury of Precious Termas is one of these. The best known
is probably the Treasury Of Knowledge. It is a massive
ten-part presentation of all objects or topics one could
know, starting with the variety of Buddhist cosmologies and
moving from there to describe the appearance of the Buddha
from many perspectives, the various schools of dharma, the
classical sciences and all aspects of training from entering
the dharma up to the fruition. Everything is described from
a variety of perspectives, impartially. The last three great
treasuries are the 8 volume Tantric Treasury of the Kagyu
Vajrayana Instructions, the 18 volume Treasury of Spiritual
Advice, and the 20 volume Treasury of Extensive Teachings.
Two of his other major works are The Compendium Of All
Sadhanas and The Compendium Of All Tantras. Jamgon Kongtrul
wrote a large number of smaller works, some of them very
influential too.


The Importance
of Lineage

February 15th 2009

There are the three lineages of the Rinchen Terdzo that
are coming to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche through His Eminence
Namkha Drimed Rinpoche.

The most important Rinchen Terdzo lineage in terms of
Shambhala’s history comes from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro
Thaye to Sechen Gyaltsap, then to Sechen Kongtrul, then to
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and finally to His Eminence. This
is the most important lineage for the Sakyong to receive for
many reasons, particularly the practice connections it
establishes between him and his father. An interesting note
here is that Lady Konchok Paldron, the mother of the
Sakyong, was also present at Yak Gompa when this lineage was
given to Namkha Drimed Rinpoche.

The second lineage comes from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye
to the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje, then to Jamgon
Kongtrul of Palpung, then to Kalu Rinpoche who bestowed the
Rinchen Terdzo on Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. (At that time His
Eminence was not the principle recipient as he was at Yak
Gompa.) The Fifteenth Karmapa wrote the massive four-volume
commentary of the Rinchen Terdzo. He was also a true
spiritual son of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. He studied
impartially with teachers of the four main lineages of
Tibetan Buddhism, and he was also a terton. Karmapa Khakyab
Dorje undertook a revised and expanded printing of the
Rinchen Terdzo at his seat, Tsurphu monastery in Tibet in
the early part of the twentieth century. I think only one
complete copy of this edition managed to escape the
destruction that the Cultural Revolution wreaked upon Tibet.
It is a true miracle that these teachings made it into our
modern world. The rarity and fragility of the dharma is
important to keep in mind.

The final lineage of the Rinchen Terdzo came to His
Eminence through his own father, Drubwang Jigme Tsewang
Chogdrub Rinpoche. An interesting point here is that Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche’s predecessor, the tenth Trungpa,
Chokyi Nyingje, wanted to receive the Rinchen Terdzo from
Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s father. However, Chokyi
Nyingje was unable to receive it because Drubwang Jigme
Tsewang Chogdrub was very ill at the time the transmission
could have been happened. I am presuming that Namkha Drimed
Rinpoche’s grandfather, Drubwang Ngedon Rinpoche,
received the transmission from Jamgong Kongtrul Lodro Thaye
and the transmission has been been in the Ripa family since

Long lists of names like these are not like an ordinary
genealogy or hierarchy because they mark a direct, living
transmission of teachings, practice and realization rather
than an ordinary ancestry or a list company presidents,
political leaders or university deans. For students, knowing
where the lineage comes from is important because it
instills confidence and devotion, and without a lineage
there is no way to receive blessings, in other words, the
actual heart of the transmission. Every Buddhist teacher can
trace a lineage all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha.
Vajrayana lineages are traced to Shakyamuni and in addition,
they are often traced to transcendent buddhas who appeared
to teachers later in the lineage. This is very much the case
with the transmissions the Rinchen Terdzo.

Today we continued to receive more practices in the
auxiliary empowerments section. Again the practices were in
the category of pacification of various sorts of sufferings
or obstacles. By the end of the day the atmosphere seemed
‘peaced out’, Yesterday and today we concluded
earlier than usual, and today we had a 30 minute break in
the middle the afternoon, three times longer than usual, so
that His Eminence could open an additional set of practices.
People took the time to sit in the courtyard in the warmth
sun, relax on the grass in the shade, or to circumambulate
the monastery reciting mantras.