The Khyentse Lineage
From the time of the historical Buddha to the present day, an unbroken succession of great beings have achieved enlightenment and have dedicated themselves to teaching others the path that leads to awakening. Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet over several generations, starting with King Songtsen Gampo in the 6th century AD, and was finally established as the state religion under King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century AD. In Tibetan Buddhism there is a widespread tradition of recognizing the reincarnations of highly realized teachers. Such incarnations are known as tulkus. They take rebirth out of compassion, and to carry on the responsibilities of their previous incarnations. The Khyentses are such a lineage of reincarnate tulkus.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892)
“Great chariot of the entire Buddhist teaching, Spiritual friend caring for students without distinction, Free from doctrinal bias, crown jewel of all teachings, I supplicate you!”
– Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrötaye
Jamyang Khyentse the Great, born in 1820, was regarded as an exceptional master – a scholar, mystic, author, and meditator par excellence. In his youth he travelled all over Tibet, receiving innumerable spiritual teachings, including lineages that were almost extinct. He is known to have studied with over 150 of the greatest Buddhist masters of his day. In his late thirties he retired to a small room in the Sakya monastery of Dzongsar, near Derge in eastern Tibet, where for the remainder of his life he practised and mastered the teachings he had received. In many cases he revived the lineage, writing commentaries and passing on the instructions to individuals capable of holding them. He was regarded as the last of the Five Tertön Kings who were prophesised by Guru Padmasambhava in the 9th century, and he held the Seven Transmissions of treasure teachings. His collected works consist of 35 volumes, covering all aspects of mysticism and scholarship, and he also worked closely with his student and colleague, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrötaye, on that master’s famous Five Treasuries.
He was an authority on all the different teachings of Buddhism in Tibet, as well as the pre-Buddhist Bön teachings. Shunning sectarian bias, he encouraged his students to appreciate the profundity of all the existing traditions. This approach became known as Rimey, or the nonsectarian approach. He passed away in 1892, predicting that he would reincarnate in several forms.
Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1894-1959)
Born in 1894, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was recognized as one of the incarnations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and acquired his name as he took responsibility for Dzongsar monastery. Like his predecessor, he received teachings from a wide variety of teachers, and held and propagated many lineages of meditation practice. He greatly expanded Khamje College, and under his guidance Dzongsar monastery became a great centre of learning. Almost all of the great lamas of the Nyingma, Kagyü and Sakya traditions of that generation received teachings from this outstanding master. The late Chögyam Trungpa met him as a young man, and recalls:
On our arrival [at Dzongsar], we found that there were more visitors than residents; they had come from all the different Buddhist schools of Tibet, for the seminary specialized in a great variety of teachings. We were given accommodation in the monastery and made an appointment to be received by Khyentse Rinpoche the following day. Our party went together for a formal introduction, exchanging the traditional scarves etc. after which the lama talked to me alone. His room had been left exactly as it was in the time of the great Khyentse and still seemed to exude the power of his spirituality. Khyentse came down from his throne and sat on a cushion in front of me with a welcoming smile. There was a sense of peace, happiness and warmth all around him, but there was also a sense of awe, his words were so profound. (Born in Tibet, 1966)
In the 1950s, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche settled in Sikkim, where he became the guru of the royal family, residing at the palace monastery until he passed away in 1959.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tashi Paljor (1910-1991)
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was born in 1910 and was recognized by the great lamas Loter Wangpo and Mipham Rinpoche as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. His principal teacher was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and he was also the heart-son of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. In his teens and early twenties, he stayed in retreat in the mountains of Kham, after which he was encouraged to teach. Chögyam Trungpa writes fondly of his childhood memories of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:
I felt drawn to him as if he had been my father; and thus I often addressed him without any shyness or doubt. He welcomed me as the reincarnation of his own guru, and since I was still only a child of ten he brought me toys and sweets. He was very tall and dignified and never seemed in a hurry. Whatever he did was expressed to perfection, in fact he surpassed anyone I had ever met; his writings were equally remarkable, and added to this he was a poet and had a gift for telling delightful stories. (Born in Tibet, 1966)
In the years that followed the exodus from Tibet, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche became a pillar of the Buddhist educational system and a seemingly inexhaustible source of teachings. In addition to possessing in abundance the qualities of an authentic spiritual master, he was the epitome of selflessness and generosity, travelling wherever he was invited to teach. He would offer teachings endlessly, from early morning to late at night, and would rise at 2-3 every morning to practice until 9. Although he undoubtedly was always immersed in the expanse of unconditional wisdom, to set an example for his students by showing how to practice, and spent in all over 20 years in retreat. He became the chaplain of the Royal Family of Bhutan, as well as a tutor of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Through his teaching and the printing of many rare books, he was responsible for the continuation of many teachings that would have been lost during the cultural changes of the past century. He built stupas and established several retreat centres and monasteries, including the great Shechen Monastery in Nepal. His collected writings are published in 25 volumes. He passed away in 1991.
Dzongsar Khyentse Thubten Chökyi Gyamtso
The present Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Gyamtso, was born in 1961. He was recognized by H.H. Sakya Trizin, and received empowerments and teachings from many of the greatest lamas of Tibetan Buddhism, including H.H. the Dalai Lama, H.H. the 16th Karmapa, and his own grandfather, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche. His main guru was Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and further studied with more than 25 great lamas from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. While still a teenager, he was responsible for publishing many rare texts that were in danger of being lost entirely, and in the 1980s, began the restoration of Dzongsar Monastery in Tibet. He has established several colleges and retreat centres in India and Bhutan. In accordance with the wishes of his teachers, he has travelled and taught throughout the world, establishing dharma centres in Australia, Europe, North America, and Asia. His organisation Siddharthas Intent organises Rinpoche’s teachings, while Khyentse Foundation is dedicated to providing for the needs of Rinpoche’s responsibilities.
In this time when the traditional structures of Tibetan Buddhism are facing challenges, and when Buddhism is reaching new audiences, Rinpoche is known for the freedom with which he moves between cultures and people, and his uncompromising dedication to bringing the philosophy and the path of enlightenment to anyone with an open heart. Details on Rinpoche’s activities and teaching programs can be found on siddharthasintent.org.