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The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha: Preliminary Remarks on the Biography of Tenzin Gyatso, A Bhutanese… Holmes, Amy between 2007-06 and 2007-08

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 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha: Preliminary Remarks
on the Biography of Tenzin Gyatso, a Bhutanese Scholar-
Amy Holmes*
The biography of Tenzin Gyatso (Bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho)1,
known as The Play of the Siddha,2 provides a fascinating
glimpse into the life of a Bhutanese scholar-yogi early last
century. It records the story of a young Bhutanese man who
scaled the heights of the Buddhist scholarly world in Bhutan
before travelling to Tibet to pursue a yogic education with
teachers renowned throughout the Himalayas. After travelling
widely in Tibet, he returned to Bhutan and began to practice
and gather students. He again traveUed to Tibet for further
instruction, and then on to India, before returning home to
attend to his teachers and practice in retreat. He ultimately
became a renowned teacher, was accorded the title of Vajra
Master (Rdo rje slop dpon), and maintained close ties with
Bhutan's Royal Family and important Drukpa Kagyu ('Brug
pa bka' brgyud) hierarchs of his time. The biography hints at
the academic and yogic virtuosity of Bhutanese practitioners
* A PhD candidate, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National
University, Canberra.
1 Tibetan and Bhutanese words in this essay will be given first in
phonetic form, followed by the Wylie transliteration in brackets given
after the first appearance of the word.
2 Henceforth referred to as 'biography' or The Play of the Siddha
(TPOS). The author is Dge slong yon tan 'od kyis sgro, and the full
Tibetan text name is Dpal ldan bla ma dam pa bstan 'dzin rgya
mtsho'i rnam thar grub pa'i rol rtsed, which can be translated as,
'The Play of the Siddha: The Biography of the Great Lama Tenzin
Gyatso'. A copy of this text was kindly given to me by Khenpo
Shedup Tenzin of Buddha Mahavihara Parkhang in Kathmandu, and
my great thanks to him and his brother Ven. Lama Thinley Namgyal
for their generosity in answering my enquiries regarding Shakya
Shri's Bhutanese lineage. No publication data for this text is
available to me at this time. Thanks also to Dorji Penjore for his
corrections and suggestions regarding this manuscript. Any errors
within remain my own.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
tike Tenzin Gyatso who excelled in the religious centres of his
time in Tibet but remained dedicated to Bhutan, and returned
home to share his knowledge and experience in his later
years. These kinds of individuals acted as important
conduits, carrying new ideas and knowledge from the
religious powerhouses of Tibet to Bhutan, while also sharing
rich Bhutanese traditions with wider Himalayan religious and
cultural matrixes.
This biography teUs the story of a Bhutanese practitioner who
spent his life in the pursuit of learning and did not
discriminate between different tenet systems, and who was
wtiling to travel anywhere in order to attain that learning. For
the purpose of facilitating a deeper reading of the biography, I
have added here some contextual notes, but this article
merely provides a preliminary exploration of the text. A fuU
excavation and understanding of the milieu in which Tenzin
Gyatso lived would be a complex undertaking. Hopefully, this
preliminary translation of the text in English will make it
more accessible and raise new questions for readers. It may
also encourage a deeper appreciation of the potential for
Bhutanese practitioners to influence the wider Buddhist
world in unique ways through the remarkable variations
available in their own traditions stemming from the soils of
the land ofthe Southern Dragon (Lho 'brug).
Tenzin Gyatso's Era
The Play of the Siddha is not directly concerned with the
historical events around Tenzin Gyatso's time, but
nonetheless provides an interesting insight into some of them.
The world Tenzin Gyatso was born into, that ofthe late 1800s
in Bhutan, was a time of considerable change that
culminated in the coronation of the first of the Wangchuck
(Dbang phyug) dynasty as Druk Gyalpo ('Brug rgyal po).
Meanwhile, in Tibet, the Great 13th Dalai Lama Thubtan
Gyatso (Thub bstan rgya mtsho) was warding off British
interests in Central Tibet. To the east in Amdo and Kham
(Mdo  khams)   the   Chinese  were   attempting  to   consolidate
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
empire before the coUapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and
the beginning of the civU wars that raged through the
Republican Period.3 It is clear from Tenzin Gyatso's life story,
however, that these political events did not impede the
traveUing mobility of religious clergy and individuals. His
biography makes several mentions of long pUgrrmages
throughout Central and Eastern Tibet undertaken between
the early 1900s and the 1930s. The mobility of such
individuals helped to create a variety of interpersonal social
networks that facilitated the interchange of new religious
ideas and practices. These interactions have been crucial to
the creation of the enormous variety of contemporary
religious traditions in the Himalayas.
This variety is also partiaUy attributable to other factors. In
other religious spheres there was also considerable activity.
Sectarian infighting of the 18th century was somewhat
calmer, which led to a considerable amount of religious
interchange in Kham that has been termed by scholars as the
Rime (Ris med) movement.4 Recently several other scholars,
3 For more information on the events of this era, see Kolmas, Josef
(1967). Tibet and Imperial China: A Survey of Sino-Tibetan Relations
up to the End ofthe Manchu Dynasty in 1912, Canberra: Center of
Oriental Studies, Australian National University; and regarding
Shakya Shri's area Kham, Lawrence Epstein (Ed.) (2002) Khams pa
histories: Visions of People, Place and Authority. PIATS 2000: Tibetan
Studies: proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International
Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, Brill: Leiden; Tsomu,
Yudru (2006). Local Aspirations and National Constraints: A Case
Study of Nyarong Gonpo Namgyel and His Rise to Power in Kham
(1836- 1865), Harvard, MA: Unpublished doctoral dissertation,
Harvard University, among others.
4 Regarding this so-called 'Movement', see Smith, E. Gene (2001a).
"Mi pham and the philosophical controversies of the nineteenth
century", in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the
Himalayan Plateau, Boston: Wisdom Publications: 227- 233; (2001b)
"Jam mgon kong sprul and the nonsectarian movement" in Among
Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau,
Boston: Wisdom Publications: 235- 272; Samuel, Geoffrey (1993
[1995]).     Civilized    Shamans:    Buddhism    in    Tibetan    Societies,
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
such as Alexander Gardner, have seriously questioned the
validity of terming the attitude in this environment as a
'movement'5, and this essay wiU follow their redefinitions of
Rime as an "unbiased attitude" as opposed to something as
concrete as a movement or school, which would entail some
doctrinal or philosophical base underlying the groups
involved that was actuaUy absent.
The abundance of practitioners and scholars in Kham who
had this "unbiased attitude" was significant in the life of
Tenzin Gyatso, for he, and many of his teachers, were among
them, suggesting that unbiased interchange was common
elsewhere in the Himalayas. WhUe the biography does not
explicitly state which tradition he took novice vows in as a
chUd, it is mentioned that soon after he turned eleven he
received "the stages of the path of the glorious Drukpa Kagyu
('Brug pa bka' rgyud) school"6, and that at 16 he travelled to
Bumthang to attend a grammar school.7 Here he exceUed and
secured royal patronage as one of the top three students of
the school. This would appear to have consolidated a
promising academic future in Bhutan- untU a mysterious
Tibetan appeared.
The Creation of a Trans-Himalayan Lineage: The Pragmatic
Importance of Recruitment and Sponsorship
This mysterious Lama was known as Artsa Lama Ngawang
Namgyal (A rtsa bla ma ngag dbang rnam rgyal, d.u8) and he
had travelled to Bhutan to deliver a letter from Kham to the
Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.
5 For more on this, see Gardner, Alexander Patten (2006). The
Twenty- Five Great Sites of Khams: Religious Geography, Revelation
and Nonsectarianism in Nineteenth Century Eastern Tibet. Doctoral
Dissertation, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation
Services: 111- 165, and also Chapter 2 of my forthcoming
6TPOS: Folio 10.
7 Ibid: Folio 10
8 D.u. refers to 'dates unknown' in this essay.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
King of Bhutan. This letter was from his teacher, Drubwang
Rinpoche Shakya Shri (Grub dbang rin po che sha' kya shri',
also known as Rtogs ldan sha' kya shri, 1853- 1919). Shakya
Shri remains a fascinating figure from this period, who,
despite being on the peripheries of established religious
institutions in Kham, became influential and respected
throughout the Himalayas with students travelling great
distances to study with him. Shakya Shri was originally a
novice monk at Drugu Monastery (Gru gu dgon pa) in Kham,
but later left, took a consort, and established a network of
meditation centres stretching from Karzha Khandroling (Gar
zha or Dkar zha mkha' 'gro gling) in Lahul (modern Himachal
Pradesh) in the western Himalaya through to Bhutan to the
east, and many places in between. The reasons for the
success of his lineage promulgation are complex, and beyond
the scope of this article.9 However, one of the reasons was his
students and their teaching efforts in different geographical
locations. Artsa Lama was particularly active in this regard
and has appeared in accounts of the founding of other
Shakya Shri lineage communities in the Himalayas.10 Artsa
Lama gave instructions for the preliminary practices (sngon
'gro) to a group of young Bhutanese students that included
Tenzin Gyatso, and in a private interview told Tenzin Gyatso
the life story of his teacher. The young man felt "his hair
stand on end" with inspiration, and decided to request Artsa
Lama to take him back to Kham with him so he too could
study with the Master.11 The King of Bhutan and Artsa Lama
both approved of his decision, and he then became one of the
earliest Bhutanese students of Shakya Shri. He would be
followed by others, including Lopon Sonam Zangpo (Slop dpon
bsod nams bzang po, 1888-1984) and Monlam Rabzang
(Smon lam rab bzang,   d.u)   appears to  have  already been
9 Drubwang Shakya Shri and his lineage are explored in depth in my
forthcoming PhD dissertation.
10 See Stutchbury, Elizabeth Anne (1991). Rediscovering Western
Tibet: Gonpa, Chorten and the continuity of practice with a Tibetan
Buddhist community in the Indian Himalaya, Canberra: Unpublished
doctoral dissertation, Australian National University.
iiTPOS: Folio 12-13.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
present in Shakya Shri's community when he arrived.
Bhutanese students played an important role in the creation
and promulgation of Shakya Shri's lineage, particularly as
they became influential back home later on, especially in
Tenzin Gyatso's case. This appears to have largely stemmed
from the generous Royal patronage that students were
afforded, which made their travels and studies possible.
The narrative surrounding Tenzin Gyatso's initial meeting
with Artsa Lama and his decision to travel to Kham is
significant, as it suggests how students, on an individual level
would initiaUy have felt drawn to study with Shakya Shri.
This decision entailed great personal sacrifice, as seen in
Tenzin Gyatso's biography which describes his sadness at
leaving his parents.12 However, the exhilaration and charm of
such a powerful teacher was an inducement for Tenzin
Gyatso and his friends, and seems to have been a recruitment
method of sorts for Shakya Shri's lineage. This section of the
biography is also important for the depiction of the
relationship between the King of Bhutan and Shakya Shri.
The first King, Ugyen Wanghuck, remained a passionate
supporter and sponsor for Shakya Shri's projects throughout
his life, and appears throughout Shakya Shri's biography.13
The King also provided generous assistance to the community
following Shakya Shri's death.14
Alternative Institutions: The Meditation Centres and
Encampments of Kham and Bhutan
After pUgrimage throughout different regions of Tibet and to
Lhasa where he got to meet the   13th Dalai Lama, Tenzin
i2TPOS: Folio 13.
13 The Druk Gyalpo appears on numerous occasions throughout
Shakya Shri's biography. See SSNT: Folios 143; 152 and also SSSB:
679. See my dissertation for more on their relationship.
14 A particularly important project that he supported was the
renovation of stupas in Nepal led by Shakya Shri's sons and Lopon
Sonam Zangpo. See the biography of Shakya Shri's son Phagchog
Dorje [Sras 'Phags mchog rdo rje, 1893- 1952), PDNT: Folio 8a.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
Gyatso accompanied Artsa Lama on an arduous journey that
finally culminated in his arrival at Shakya Shri's encampment
centre.15 Upon meeting the Drubwang in person, his
expectations were all reatized, and he undertook an intense
period of yogic practice. Shakya Shri taught both Dzogchen
and Chagchen (Phyags chen; Skt. Mahamudra) to his
students, and Tenzin Gyatso, along with his enthusiasm at
the time for Dzogchen, also mastered the Six Yogas of Naropa
(Na ro chos drug).16 Considering Tenzin Gyatso had exceUed in
his academic life by studying with the best teachers, his
decision to study long term with Shakya Shri and his sons
would appear to be a significant indicator of Shakya Shri's
fame. Shakya Shri's reputation as far south as Bhutan shows
the respect in which this unconventional teacher was held in
the wider networks of Himalayan Buddhism. The biography
holds further evidence of this respect with the inclusion of
meetings between Shakya Shri and other important teachers
of his time, particularly Ju Mipham Rinpoche ('Ju Mi pham rin
poche, 1846-1912).17
Tenzin Gyatso also spent a great deal of time travelling in
Tibet to different pilgrimage sites.18 The sections that note his
destinations are fascinating as they suggest common places
of interest for an average ptigrim of the period. After covering
much ground on a pilgrimage through Eastern and Central
Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso returned back to Bhutan to receive a
hero's welcome from the King and clergy, and then went to
visit his family.19 The description of their meeting is laced
with suggestions at the bitter-sweetness that trans-
Himalayan travel must have brought during that period. He
iSTPOS: Folios 14- 16.
is   Ibid:    Folio    17.    See   Stutchbury,   Elizabeth   (1998).   "Tibetan
Meditation,      Yoga      and      Healing      Practices:       Mind-       Body
Interconnections"   in   The  Embodiment   of the  Mind:   Eastern  and
Western Perspectives,  Delmonte,  M.M  and Y.  Haruki (Eds.)  Delft:
Eburon Publishers for an excellent overview of these yogas.
i7TPOS: Folio 18
is Ibid: Folio 18- 20
w Ibid: Folio 20
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
discovered that his father and several of his siblings had
passed away since his departure. His remaining family,
including his mother, remained supportive of his aspirations
however, and economicaUy supported him through several
traditional three-year retreats at the sacred site (gnas) of the
Female Elephant Cliff (Glang mo brag).20 FoUowing his first
retreat, in which he perfected the teachings bestowed on him
by Shakya Shri, students began to gather around him to
receive teachings.21 This point marks the beginning of the
formation of Tenzin Gyatso's own Bhutanese lineage, which
would later be supported by the Bhutanese state.
Leaving the Nest(s): The Ending and Beginnings of Lineage
Before too many students gathered around him, there was an
interruption. In 1918, Tenzin Gyatso was summoned to Tibet
again to receive more teachings from Shakya Shri. At this
point Shakya Shri had settled in Tsa'ri (Tsa' ri or Rtsa ri) in
Southern Tibet in a new community named Kyiphug (Skyid
phug; *The Happy Cave'). Tenzin Gyatso gathered with
hundreds of other students to receive teachings on all of
Shakya Shri's own Treasure teachings, as well as on both Old
and New Translation school practices.22 However, there was a
sad reason for the sudden outpouring of teachings. Shakya
Shri had been Ul for some time, and passed away in 1919,
surrounded by students. The students carried out elaborate
funerary offerings before again dispersing back to their own
The ending of the personage that had founded this lineage led
to the beginning of a new career for Tenzin Gyatso. His
pilgrimage to Bodhgaya24 marked an intensification of an
ongoing relationship with his maternal uncle Ngawang Chokyi
Wangchuk (Ngag dbang chos kyi dbang phyug, d.u.) who had
20 Ibid: Folio 20-21
2i Ibid: Folio 22
22 TPOS: Folios 23- 24
23 Ibid: Folio 25
24 Ibid: Folio 25-26
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
originally taught him to read as a child. WhUe Tenzin Gyatso
spent many more years in retreat, he also began to have a
closer association with his uncle, who was rising through the
ranks ofthe Bhutanese religious hierarchy. In the late 1920s,
Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk was made a Vajra Master (Rdo rje
slop dpon)25, and in 1931 he rose to the lion throne to become
the Je Khenpo (Rje mkhan po), the head of Drukpa Kagyu
school in Bhutan. Tenzin Gyatso became his attendant, and
remained with him until his death in 1942 at the age of 81.26
The biography here provides an interesting and rare insight
into the election process of Je Khenpos, and scenes of
Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk's funeral provide a vivid glimpse
of the veneration that Je Khenpos are accorded in Bhutan.
Tenzin Gyatso at this point continued to attempt to remain in
isolation, but eventually the demand of students became so
great that he too, like his uncle, became a Vajra Master.27
FoUowing the assumption of his duties, Tenzin Gyatso
became a well-known teacher throughout Bhutan, and
established his own lineage, which combined both what he
had learnt in Bhutan and what he had learnt from Shakya
Shri.28 After leaving the nest of his homeland to pursue his
studies, he eventuaUy returned. In doing so, he had left the
other, northern Himalayan nest of his teacher Shakya Shri's
lineage to embark on the creation of his own lineage.
The Sainthood of Tenzin Gyatso: The Life and Death of Tenzin
Gyatso and his contribution to Bhutanese Buddhism
At the age of 84, Tenzin Gyatso began to experience ongoing
problems with his health, and he eventually passed away in
1967.29 WhUe he had apparently been a simple practitioner,
his death revealed his level of realization. His body and face
remained   unchanged   for   seven   days,   and  when   he   was
25 Ibid: Folio 27
26 Ibid: Folio 29
27 Ibid Folio 30
28 Ibid: Folios 31- 35
29 TPOS: Folio 36-37
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
cremated his body flared up in a last demonstration of his
Tummo (Gtum mo) yogic prowess.30 FoUowing the cremation
his corpse left relics imprinted with sacred syUables.3i
The narrator of the biography leaves the reader at this point
with a short supplication prayer which is filled with aUusions
to Tenzin Gyatso's sainthood. WhUe the existence of an
incarnation is currently unknown to me, for a rebirth to have
been recognized would be natural, considering the
progression of the narrative. In the introductory section, the
author also mentioned a story about the Accomplished Jigme
Kungrol (Grub dbang 'jigs med kun grol, d.u.), a student of
The AU-Knowing Jigme Lingpa (Kun mkhyen jigs med gling
pa, 1729-1798) the Nyingma savant who revealed many
Treasures and wrote extensive commentaries.32 Before his
death Jigme Kungrol apparently prophesized he would be
reborn in the East. WhUe no direct aUusion is made, the
mention of this story in a section regarding manifestations of
the Dharmakaya strongly suggests a link between Jigme
Kungrol and Tenzin Gyatso, to the extent that Tenzin Gyatso
may even be seen to be his incarnation. While this was not
recognized in Tenzin Gyatso's lifetime, its inclusion in his
biography suggests that he was from a long line of realized
masters, which thereby elevates him from being a scholar-
yogi to a realized Bodhisattva. This is a crucial point in this
biography which otherwise is void of supernatural elements,
as it creates a uniquely local Bhutanese saint, grounding him
in the Hidden Land of the Elephant Cliff (Glang brag), which
was inhabited by both Tenzin Gyatso and Jigme Kungrol,
whUe also tying him to a prophesied Bhutanese destiny.
Tenzin Gyatso contributed a great deal to Bhutanese
Buddhism through his own efforts. He received his early
education at Bumthang, which reoccurs in accounts of this
era in Bhutan as something of an inteUectual powerhouse of
so Ibid: Folio 38
si Ibid: Folio 39
32 Ibid: Folio 7
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
the times. He also maintained a close relationship with the
Royal Farmly and the hierarchs of Bhutanese Buddhism,
becoming himself a Vajra Master while also serving as an
attendant to his uncle Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk in his role
as the Je Khenpo. His life story is an intriguing suggestion of
the face of Bhutanese Buddhism in the late 19th and early
20th centuries in its depiction of his spiritual, educational
and economic realities. The Play of the Siddha adds some
intriguing information to the realities of trans-Himalayan
lineage education in the period, and suggests that rather than
being a peripheral agent in such lineages, Bhutan acted in its
own way as a centre as weU.
Excerpts from the translation
[1]  Glorious Lama The Excellent Tenzin Gyatso's Liberation
Story, known as 'The Play of Siddha'33
[6] ...
The  refuge  protector  of all the  realms,   the  master  of the
essential practice lineage from the doctrine of the Victorious
Ones,    Our    Lord    of   the    Mandala,    is    known    as    the
Accomplished Tenzin Gyatso, who is universally famed, and
whose  glorious  enlightened   activity  pervades  all  the   Pure
Thus this primordiaUy great narration [will] begin with a brief
teaching, followed by the goodness of the biography in the
middle, and then finaUy the goodness at the end, a perfect
finishing to conclude the three sections.
33 This translation contains excerpts from the original 41-page u can
manuscript of The Play of the Siddha. Additional terms in square
brackets have been added to aid smoothness in reading. Explanatory
footnotes have also been added in several places, along with
suggestions for further reading. Practices and texts have been
included in English with their Tibetan titles in circular brackets.
Tenzin Gyatso is often referred to as 'Je Lama' in this biography as
well, or 'Lord'. The following translation has received invaluable
criticism and comments from H.E. Gomchen Chewang Rinzin Lama
and Kalzang Dorjee Tagchungdarpa. My thanks to them both.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
To begin with ... Earlier Our sublime Cyclic Protector has
throughout immeasurable numbers of kalpas [7] obtained
complete enlightenment and the Dharmakaya (chos kyi sku;
Dharma Body) from self-interest. Due to [his] irrfrnite
compassion that is without object, for the interest to benefit
others, [he] appeared again in the Rupakaya (Gzugs kyi sku;
Form Body), taming whoever needs to be tamed starting with
this long suffering world, through to aU the infinitely vast
Pure Lands, and particularly the sublime land of India and
the realm of Tibet, dealing with each accordingly in the
appropriate way through [his] miraculous recollection powers
simultaneously benefiting others by understanding their level.
As for childish individuals like myself, who remain enclosed
and choked in the Self, [I] am not capable of writing a good
During the 13th Sexagenary Cycle (rab byung; 1747- 1807),
facing towards the centre of Bodhgaya in India, there was a
heart son of the essential Great Perfection (Rdzogs chen)
doctrine holder, the Accomplished Jigme Kungrol (Grub
dbang 'Jigs med kun gro, d.ul)34 who was known as Sangye
Gyalstan (Sangs rgyas rgyal mtshan). In the Hidden Land
(sbas yul) of the Guru [Rinpoche], in one of [the Guru's]
practice places [that was known as] the Elephant Cliff [Glang
brag] [Sangye Gyalstan] practiced the primordial Cutting
Through (Khregs chod) and spontaneous Leaping Over (Thod
rgyal) techniques of The Great Perfection when signs
manifested of progress on the path [of practice]. He lived out
his life in happiness, living many years... When his life was at
an end [he said], "In a future life [I wiU] appear to the East, at
the retreat centre of Dechen Choling (Bde chen chos gling)
where to a crowd of people who are endowed with merit [I wtil]
teach the [8] general and specific way of practicing the path of
the mantra."
The Rupakaya establishes its display in the dharmadhatu,
34 Jigme Kungrol was one of the four main students of The All-
Knowing Jigme Lingpa (Kun mkhyen 'Jigs med gling pa, 1729- 1798).
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
although due to habitual tendencies, only advanced students
realize the magical display from the Revered Teacher through
[his] radiant speech.
Secondly, the good bit in the middle is related. Through
former aspirations and the power of compassion, the mind [of
Sangye Gyaltsan] was reborn in that situation. As well as the
Northern part of the Himalayas where Orgyan the 2nd
Buddha [ie. Guru Rinpoche] visited, there are also hidden
lands in the world that are full of his blessings. [One such
place is] in the realm of the glorious manifestation of
Avalokitesvara, the Drukpa ('Brug pa) Rinpoche Ngawang
Nampa Gyalpa (Ngag dbang rnam pa rgyal ba35), in the realm
rich in the four medicinal herbs, east of the centre is the well-
known supreme Paro (Spa gro). In the upper part of the land
was a place known as Kazhilungchen (Ka bzhi lung chen). It
was in this place that the Lord [Tenzin GyatsoJ's father
dweUed, a good-natured man with the character of a sage,
known as Sonam Dongrub (Bsod nams don grub). [9] As for
[Tenzin Gyatso's] mother, she was a woman of peaceful
presence who was endowed with authentic dharma interest,
and was known as Tashi Palmo (Bkra shis dpal mo). In that
family there were six brothers and sisters (lit. 6 sprouts).
On the day of Saka dawa (Sa ga zla ba) in the Female Water
Sheep year ofthe 15th Sexagenary calendar cycle (rab byung),
[known as] 1883 in the Gregorian calendar, the revealer ofthe
natural state took birth, and was given the name Sangay
Norbu (Sangs rgyas nor bu) by his father.
In the year ofthe Male Iron Tiger (1890-1891), when [he] was
about 7 years old [His] maternal uncle, Ngawang Chokyi
Wangchuk (Ngag dbang chos kyi dbang phyug), came to give
him instruction [to become a] Khenpo (Mkhan po), and took
him to [a place called] Dewachen (Bde ba can) in Bumthang
(Bum thang). [There he] presented money and flowers to the
precious Khenpo Damchos Gyaltsan (Dam chos rgyal mtshan)
35 This is referring to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594- 1651)
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
[for] a hair-cutting ceremony.36 [He] wore funeral garments to
show that [he] was a [fit] vessel to [undertake] the
commitment of the pure code of monastic conduct. [He
complied with] discipline by offering prostrations and
ceremonial scarves to a vast assembly of venerable sangha,
and [then he] took his seat in the community. That lord was
given the title of Ngawang Tenzin Gyatso (Ngag dbang bstan
'dzin rgya mtsho). [10] After that, [he] began to study the
alphabet, reading and writing along with his uncle whUe
staying in his [uncle's] retreat house. After that [he studied]
the subjects of dharma conduct and mandala rituals, which
[his] mind and hand easUy grasped because [he] studied
In the year known as that of the Male Wood Horse (1894),
when that lord was about 11 years old, in the presence of
Khenchen Rinpoche Jamyang Rinchen (Mkhan chen rin po che
jam byangs rin chen, d.u) [he] took the novice vows, having
listened well and carefully to the essence of [them]. From
then, [he] entered a shedra (shva dra; monastic school) to
[study] poetics and grammar, elocution, and the 30 Tripitaka,
along with A Guide To Signs' and other general scientific and
cultural topics. By that time [he already was] unlike the other
chUdren, and needed no reminding [or explanation], and
[therefore] the teacher regarded him with great affection.
Once, from the supreme protector Jigme Chogyal ('Jigs med
chos rgyal, d.u), [he] received the stages of the path of the
glorious Drukpa Kagyu ('Brug pa bka' brgyud) school,
listening carefuUy, as weU as the empowerment for the
development stage for The Assembly of Nine Deities, along
with their Protectors and Retinues', and The Five Command
Seals ofthe Profound Instruction', one after the other.
After that, at the age of 16 the lord himself went to Bumthang
to study and practice the science of grammar. He studied
hard with the teachers of that grammar school, [11] and one
day the students all gathered. Three students headed by Je
36 This means that he was taken to a monastery to become a monk.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
Lama [Tenzin Gyatso] were chosen as the brightest students,
and took to the road to visit the local dzong (Rdzong). There,
in the presence of the owner of the dzong, the Great Sovereign
Ugyen Wangchuck (O rgyan dbang phyug) gave each of those
students a letter of support. The Great Sovereign bestowed
an allowance on [those 3 monks before they went to] the place
where the body imprint is seen in Bumthang
There, the Drikung Vajra Holder ('Bri khung rdor 'dzin), one
endowed with knowledge of the Five Sciences was speaking.
[Those students] bowed to him and presented a letter from
their grammar school supporting their request to study with
him. The Vajra Holder was held in high esteem as very gentle
and kind of heart, and started [their education] with Sanskrit
reading with commentaries. From that they moved on to the
grammar texts translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan, as well
as the joining of letters and so on. [Their Sanskrit education]
was bestowed in stages, beginning from a detailed
classification of the language, onto rules for conjunctions,
and then commentarial explanations [which they] heard.
Then [they studied] The Ka'lapa Sutra (Ka' la pa mdo) outline
with 3-legged commentary, and [the Vajra Holder] offered [his]
infinite knowledge. After great effort and with diligence
[Tenzin Gyatso] kept in mind and mastered [those teachings].
[Following that they] concentrated painstakingly on many
other texts, including The 5 Legged Text'37 and Madhyamika
and so on, along with the many conventional sciences, which
[Vajra holder] bestowed in stages. An official invitation came
from the Supreme Refuge, the 13th Dalai Lama Thubtan
Gyatso (Thub bstan rgya mtsho), calling the Sublime Vajra
Holder to the Medical and Astronomy College at the Potala
Palace in Tibet to meet him. The Vajra holder thus saddled
his horse [to leave].
Having listened to academic teachings [Tenzin Gyatso then]
went to practice at the monastery of the Treasure Revealer of
Zurmang Zilnon Namkhai (Zur mang gter ston zil gnon nam
37 This is normally regarding poetry.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
mkha'i, d.u.), remaining there to receive the Secret
Empowerment of The Essence of Enlightened Activities', and
saw the Lama's own Treasure discovery, a kUaya (phur ba).
At that time, a letter wrapped in sUk came from Drubwang
Shakya Shri (Grub dbang Sha' kya shri) with [his student]
known as Artsa Lama Namgyal Paldan (A rtsa bla ma rnam
rgyal dpal ldan, d.u) for the Great Dragon King. One day
[Tenzin Gyatso had the opportunity] for an interview with
Artsa Lama. When Artsa Lama narrated just a fraction of
Drubwang Shakya Shri's life story, [Tenzin Gyatso]
spontaneously felt shivers and his hair stand on end with
inspiration just from hearing it.
At that time, Artsa Lama was staying at the centre of the
Omniscient Longchenpa (Kun mkhyen Klong chen pa, 1308-
1363) in Bumthang, known as Tharpatiing (Thar pa'i gling).
There, having prostrated and paid homage to him [Tenzin
Gyatso] requested the oral instruction for the Mahamudra
preliminaries (Phyag chen sngon 'gro'i zhal khrid) [13] in
stages to accumulate and purify [his being]. Later, [whUe
Artsa Lama] resided there, [he also] heard in stages the main
part of The Co-emergent Union of Mahamudra (Phyag chen
lhan cig skyes sbyor dngos gzhi) with instruction through
personal experience, and also meditated.
At that time, the most high [King of Bhutan] had a discussion
with Artsa Lama about taking some Bhutanese monks to
attend Drubwang Rinpoche [ie. Shakya Shri]. Immediately, Je
Lama [Tenzin Gyatso] hoped he could be one [to go, and]
appealed to the one with the two siddhis Artsa Lama to
request the King [for permission]. Immediately [he] met with
[his] parents and relatives, and [though he] felt abandoned, as
if he were going to another realm he made preparations [to
leave]. Then Artsa Lama's attendant asked the King, who in
turn sent a letter with gifts to Drubwang Rinpoche. [He also]
offered many varieties [of gifts] to Artsa Lama. Je Lama
[Tenzin Gyatso]... requested to be offered one complete set of
robes which were necessary.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
FoUowing that, while attending Artsa Lama he went to visit
the three great sites of Paro, including the Guru's meditation
place Tagtshang (Stag tshang) and the Lion Cave (Seng ge
phug) there.
Thus, [14] the Lord himself [Tenzin Gyatso] himself at the age
of 18 in the year known as 'Endowed with Goodness', the Iron
Male Rat Year (1900- 1901), arrived in Tibet. Initially, [he]
went to the direction of Tsang (Gstang) to see the holy places
in succession, in order to make offerings and pay respect.
[He] especiaUy went to the amazing thirteen monastic centres
of the Glorious Drukpa ('Brug pa) [tradition], including the
beautiful flower meadows of Ralung (Ra lung), the replica of
the Dharma Lord's stupa made of gold that can clear the
Three Realms, Tashi Gomang (Bkra shis sgo mangs), and
other countless [specimens] of the three supports, to which
[he] prostrated and made offerings with supplication prayers.
From there, Artsa Lama approached the northern directions,
including Lhadrag (Lha brag)38 and Riwotazang (Ri bo bkra
bzang), where [Artsa Lama and Tenzin Gyatso] resided for
some months, and here [Tenzin Gyatso] received the
successive empowerments and oral instructions for
Chakrasamvara (Bde mchog pad ma bdza).
From there, [they traveUed] on the main road through Central
Tibet (Dbus), visiting the monastic centres of the Glorious
Drukpas, including Namdrug Sewa Changchub Ling (Gnam
'brug se ba byang chub gling). There [Tenzin Gyatso]
prostrated and made offerings to the countless examples of
the three supports, including the Buddha statue and the
Great Bodhisattva figure.
FoUowing that, [15] [there] to begin with [he] prostrated and
made offerings to Buddha Sakyamuni (Jo bo Sha kya mu ni),
Avalokitesvara (Thugs rje chen po), the five naturally arisen
images,   and  the  plethora of other  examples  of the  three
38 A Sacred (gnas) site normally associated with the Bonpo tradition.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
supports39 dwelling at the Tulnang ('Phrul snang- magical
apparition) temple.40 [He also] made supplications through
offerings and prostrations to the Jobo image and other
limitless precious supports imbued with blessings in the
Jokhang (Jo khang) Vajra Ramoche. [He] also went to the
Potala, Cagpori (Lcags po ri) htil4i, and the Three Joyful
Medicinal Trees.
At that time, [he] was invited to meet the Vajra Holder (rdor
'dzin), [who had been invited to Tibet] by the incomparable
manifestation of Avalokitesvara, the leader of gods and men
the 13th Dalai Lama Thubtan Gyatso, as one who was a lord
of the five sciences, and was at the centre of a group of monks
made Khenpo by the Dalai Lama. Two of the excellent lama's
[Vajra holder] pupUs also undertook the cultivation to become
[fit] vessels for the Ten Vows, and received complete
ordination as khenpo and celibate monks.
From there, [Tenzin Gyatso] pursued Artsa Lama to the
northern plains (Chang thang), over many mountain passes,
and then on with considerable difficulties to Amdo and Kham
(Mdo khams), where [he ended up] at the [16] Grugu Retreat
Centre (Gru gu ri khrod)d2 There, [he] met the lotus feet of
Siddha Rinpoche (Grub dbang Rin po che, ie. Shakya Shri),
and paid respect of body, speech and mind through making
prostrations. Seeing [Shakya Shri's] face, a natural devotion
was immediately born [in Tenzin Gyatso]. From there, [he]
entered the gate of the enormous compassion of Drubwang
39 'Rten'
40 This temple in located in Lhasa (Lha sa).
4i Site of an important medical college- this is interesting as it
suggests he also studied medicine. The Three Joyful Medicine Trees
mentioned next are presumably connected to this college.
42 This area is located in Lhathog in Kham. Shakya Shri originally
took ordination as a novice monk at the Grugu monastery when he
was a young man, and later after he married he continued as
association with the meditation centre affiliated to the monastery.
See Holmes, Forthcoming for more information.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
To begin with, [Tenzin Gyatso] received empowerments from
the sublime Lama's profound path. After that, [he] received
the instruction through personal experience and pith
explanation for the Co-emergent Union of Mahamudra that
directly bestows the indestructible mind. In the daytime, [he]
remained unwavering in meditation, and at night [he
continued without] sleep, day and night without any break. At
the same time, students from all over Amdo and Kham [came]
to supplicate [him] in person.43 [Drubwang also conferred on
him] the old school empowerments for 'the Lotus of
Chakrasamvara', with The Mother of Life Tsandali', and also
oral empowerments for the Drukpa [Kagyu] subjects The
Thirteen Chakrasamvara with Co-emergent Ekavrra Without
[In order to fulfil] the necessities of everyday life, [Tenzin
Gyatso] would go alms gathering every month of the summer
and autumn. When alms were offered, [he] would
indiscriminately accept them and divide them. With this
natural abUity to undergo hardships, [he] remained content.
At Rinpoche's feet (ie. among his students) there were also the
Khampagar Togden Mingrol (Khams pa sgar rtogs ldan smin
grol, d.u), The Bhutanese Monlam Rabzang (Smon lam rab
bzang, d.u), and many other students, whom [Tenzin Gyatso]
[Shakya Shri] bestowed on [him] the profound instructions for
the techniques of Naropa's Six Yogas (Na' ro'i chos drug),
which [he] studied successively while also practicing
meditation. Taught by Drubwang Rinpoche, [Tenzin Gyatso]
improved his practice of generating the heat of Tummo (gtum
mo), depending on daily notes [made from] oral teachings, and
within [one night he] could dry a wet sheet 16 times, making
the sheet every time thinner and thinner, and the ice nearby
43 It is possible that this may be referring to students coming to
supplicate Shakya Shri. However, given the context, and the fact it is
Tenzin Gyatso's biography, this is unlikely.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
him would melt and become water. [He] also had the signs of
accomplishment in mastering the channels, essences, and
winds (rtsa thig rlung gsum), to the extent that [he] could draw
a skuU cap worth of water up [his] urethra. Every month [he]
would also fast, thinking of food as medicine, and in
accordance with the Mahamudra [practice, he] would rely on
a single grain for sustenance for 1-3 weeks. Signs ofthe path
that transcend explanation arose as [he] withstood this, as
explained in the Biography of Drubwang Rinpoche. 44
At one time, Drubwang Rinpoche and his son45 went
specificaUy to meet Mipham Rinpoche (Mi pham rin po che,
1846- 1912) at the Grateful Hawk Saddle Retreat Centre.
Venerable Lama [ie. Tenzin Gyatso] and his students also
went to attend him, [some] riding [horses] and [some] herding
yaks. One day [while visiting there, Tenzin Gyatso]
approached Mipham Rinpoche for an audience in order to
create a spiritual connection. Mipham Rinpoche himself
bestowed a detailed commentary on the 'Guru's Seven Line
Prayer', and afterwards, gradual steps of guidance were given
by the senior Togden [ie. Shakya Shri].46 [Mipham Rinpoche]
said, 'You are all extremely lucky to be in the presence of a
supremely realized teacher [tike Shakya Shri]." Je (rje) Lama
[ie. Tenzin Gyatso] himself used to say [to the author] that
from this, constant devotion to Drubwang Rinpoche arose.
Consequently, after that [he] attended the Father Drubwang
and son at Grugu Retreat Centre.
[Afterwards, Tenzin Gyatso] visited many spiritual places in
Amdo and Kham, such as Khampagar (Khams sgar), Dzigar
('Dzi sgar), Shechen (Zhe chen) monastery, Dzogchen (Rdzogs
45 This may have been Phagchog Dorje, Shakya Shri's main
representative following his death, but the text says nothing to
confirm this. It uses the term 'yab sras', which means 'father and
son'. It is also possible that it could mean all of Shakya Shri's six
sons, or more than one. The context adds nothing to suggest the
46 The translation for this sentence is tentative.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
chen) monastery, and so on, and met with the resident lamas,
tulkus, teachers, and other holy beings, making spiritual
connections with whoever possible.
Like that [he] received almost aU the empowerments and
scriptural transmissions from Drubwang Rinpoche [19], and
meditated in each of his retreat centres. Due to the great
kindness [of ] the mandala [of Drubwang Rinpoche], Je Lama
[Tenzin Gyatso] received and perfected the Path of Liberation
Mahamudra, along with the Path of Skilful Means the Six
Yogas of Naropa and all the other cycles of teachings. FinaUy,
he prayed that in this and all his lives that Shakya Shri
would not forget him and lead him to realization.
From there, Je Lama and some others all went together to
Nangchen (Nang chen) There they visited the three supports
and all the Lamas. Following that, they visited Riwoche (Ri bo
che), Khyungpo (Khyung po) and Kongyul (Kong yul).Having
traveUed around all the snowy land, they then arrived at the
single most renowned place, Tadruk (Khra 'brug). There he
visited the power sites and the three supports and so on, and
also aU the sites in Central Tibet as well. He then visited
Cagsigrigug (Lcags rtse gri gug) on the Northern Plains via the
way of Lhodrag (Lho brag), Mawochok (Ma bo Icog), Khothing
Temple (Mkho mthing lha khang), Khar chu (Khar chu), Se kha
(Sras mkhar), Dro wo lung (Gro bo lung), and so on, before
arriving finaUy back in Bumthang.
[Upon arriving] immediately aU of his elders together with
Ugyen Wangchuck [20] met Tenzin Gyatso. The Great King
smiled and bestowed wonderful gifts on him. From there, aU
of Je Lama's relatives also gave reciprocal support. He himself
wanted to go into seclusion in the mountains and raise the
victory banner of practice, but seeing his family was reminded
of his responsibility to them. He went on the road home and
gradually arrived. His mother Tashi Palmo along with all his
brothers and sisters joyfuUy welcomed him, and cheerfully
offered him tea and edibles to aUow him to refresh for the
remainder  of his stay.   By that time,  his father the  elder
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Sonam Dongrub along with several of his brothers and sisters
had exhausted their life spans and entered the path ahead [to
the next life]. All aspects of the place had changed, and it
bloomed upon his return.47 Like that, he stayed for some
months near his elderly mother, giving her affection and
advice, such as to meditate on the deity of Avalokitesvara and
visualize his mantra. From that, his mother and brothers and
sisters aU agreed to maintain him during several years of
retreat, and granted him permission to go, whUe also
preparing the [21] necessities of life.
Immediately, Tenzin Gyatso's mind generated delight and
passed them aU juniper garlands. In order for his meditation
stability to improve [he decided to] go to a sacred site, the
Hidden Land the Female Elephant Cliff (Sbas yul glang mo
brag). That Lord had reached the age of 32, and in the year
known as 'Good Virtue', the Wood Male Tiger Year (1914-
1915), on the day of Saka Dawa during the waning moon, he
entered a three-year retreat. InitiaUy, he followed the
profound path of Guru Yoga (Bla ma'i sgrub pa), foUowed by
Chakrasamvara with Varahi (Bde mchog dang Phag mo)
mantra recitations in succession. From that, for some time
he practiced the Development Stage (Bskyed rim) to abandon
mental constructs, and then The Blazing Inner Heat of
Tummo (Gtum mo) blazed. During the first session of the day,
he would practice the Illusory Body (Sgyu lus). In the night
until the dawn, he would follow the path of naturaUy
integrated clarity (rang bzhin bsre ba'i 'od gsal). During the
evening session, the blazing and drip of the heat of Tummo
would become indivisible. At midnight he would train in
dreams (rmi lam) and luminosity ('od gsal). [As well as those],
he would always put into practice Mahamudra practice. At
night his body needed no pUlow, as day and night became
inseparable as he maintained dUigent meditation practice.
Without distinction between winter and summer, he would
wear a single cotton cloth. Each month he would carry out
the medicinal rejuvenation practice with only a single grain of
47 Translation tentative.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
sustenance. [22] Just as had been narrated in the life stories
of his fore bearers in the White Lineage (Dkar brgyud)48, he
would study and practice. The Lord [Tenzin Gyatso] became
tike a jewel hidden at the depths of the ocean, his range of
enlightened qualities expanding, and his inner being
contained to others, only sometimes speaking. Signs of
success on the path would emerge in order, and awakening
was born where one became incapable of belief in the Self.
Finally, at the age of 35, the Lord having reached the Fire
Female Snake Year (1917- 1918) known as Pingala having
realized the ultimate ends of the retreat untied the
boundaries of the retreat. FoUowing that, enlightened
qualities effortlessly arose in him...
[Soon students began to gather] including Virtuous Palgi Ozer
(Dge dpal gyi od zer), Virtuous Tashi Wangdu from Bumthang
(Bum thang pa Dge Bkra shis Dbang dus), who one by one
received initially the spoken instructions of the preliminaries,
in order for them to continue to accumulate [them] and purify
[their minds]. Following that they were offered the Co-
emergence of Mahamudra instructions from experience. After
that, [Tenzin Gyatso] would bestow the Path of Means, the 6
Yogas, and instructions through experience.
[FoUowing that] the 10th Drukchen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo
('Brug chen 'Jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1880- 1934?)
summoned him. Lord Drubwang Shakya Shri Jnana had
moved in Tibet [23] to [the area of] Tsa'ri Kyiphug (Tsa' ri
Skyid phug). Having arrived at the dwelling place of the
Siddha [i.e. Shakya Shri], [Tenzin Gyatso] heard good news
from the Siddha [that he would be giving teachings]. At once
aU the teachers and students began to prepare facUities and
requisites [in order to receive teachings]. Soon after that, the
students and teachers aU together traveUed from Bumthang,
Kurtoe (Bkur stod), Tashiyangtse (Bkra shis yang rtse), Tsona
48 This has been spelled as 'dkar' here, instead of the more frequent
'bka" found elsewhere in the text, in order to allude to the yogic
lineage in Kagyu that is traced to the poet-yogi Milarepa (Mi la ras
pa), who was known for his white cotton dress.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
(Mtsho sna) and other areas to the Western Gate of Tsa' ri,
Kyiphug. After arriving at the Great Vajradhara's dweUing,
after lifting Drubwang Rinpoche's feet to their heads [in
homage, the group] began preparation for a mandala offerings
to show their respect. Drubwang Rinpoche bestowed khata
(kha bdags; a white sUk scarf used to express welcome or
bestow blessings) on them, and good signs accompanied their
prostrations to the lotus petal feet [of Shakya Shri]. The Lord
[Tenzin Gyatso] sat with him and made conversation, asking
questions. ...Having made this connection with Drubwang
Rinpoche, now not a single doubt remained [for Tenzin
Gyatso]. [Tenzin Gyatso] sat on a cushion beside him, looking
at the great kindness and compassion in [Shakya Shri's]
moon face, and enquired after [the Siddha's] health.
After that, Drubwang Rinpoche [24] joyfuUy taught all the
profound dharmas of the glorious Drukpa [tradition], in such
an excellent way that aU students would be able to
understand and realize them. For the further welfare of
beings, [Shakya Shri] set in place auspicious circumstances
[for all beings] to know these profound teachings.49 AU of the
vajra brothers and sisters present there felt their respect [for
Shakya Shri] to be greater then ever before, and again paid
respect. For one day and one night, [Tenzin Gyatso] went to
offer homage to and establish a dharmic link with the
venerable Drukchen Jigme Chowang at the Sangngacholing
Monastery (Gsang sngags chos gling). He also visited the
Three Supports that were imbued with boundless blessings
there, and then returned to Kyiphug.
At this point Drubwang Rinpoche was in good health and
giving empowerments and instructions for countless numbers
of the Old and New secret mantra (gsang sngags gsar rnying)
practices. He also gave deep advice to students regarding his
49 These 'auspicious circumstances' may allude to the
empowerments he was giving students that would allow them to
continue to propagate his teachings, and thereby benefit wider
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
own Mind Treasure (dgongs gter) and Secret Oral Lineage
(Nyan brgyud gsang ba'i). He gave copious advice, his mind
blazing with splendour, and caused amrita to descend due to
his words of experience and wisdom.
When there were intermissions in the teachings, [students]
would visit [25] areas near to Kyiphug, such as the Turquoise
Palace Lake (Pho brang g.yu mtsho), the Supreme Goddess
Palace (Pho brang skyogs mo), and so on. [Tenzin Gyatso]
circumambulated all the holy places consecutively.50
Not long after that, Drubwang Rinpoche appeared to become
Ul.5i At the age of 67, during the fourth month the Year of the
Female Earth Sheep (1919), [Shakya Shri] attained complete
realization, and unimpaired signs appeared showing that he
had gone beyond suffering. The students aU gathered to
perform a ganachakra as a memorial service at his cremation.
At that time the Lord [Tenzin Gyatso] was asked to make a
supplication prayer to express his reverence.52
After that, [Tenzin Gyatso] traveUed on to visit different
places- Tashi Thongmon (Bkra shis mthong smon), The White
Lotus Monastic College (Pad dkar grva tshang), Dorjeling (Rdo
rje ging), The Mantra College (Sngags grva), Tagtse (Stag rtse),
Dreulhay (Dre'u lhas) and so on, before returning to his own
place. While he had been traveUing he'd become quite worn
so For more on the sacred geography of this area and its history, see
Huber, Toni (1999). The Cult ofthe Pure Crystal Mountain, Oxford
[New York]: Oxford University Press.
5i The word 'appeared' here has deeper significance- sometimes in
Himalayan Buddhist biography 'seemed to' or 'demonstrated' illness
is also used. These terms are used as a biographical trope, as they
support the idea that realized masters will only appear to become ill
to the mundane world as a lesson to their students in
impermanence, while ultimately their realization surpasses the
dichotomy between life and death, and thereby also health and ill
52 Translation in this sentence is tentative. I have not yet found any
supplication prayer to Shakya Shri written by Tenzin Gyatso, though
others do exist that have been written by his sons and students.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
out, and so went to live near his elderly mother.
[Tenzin Gyatso] then went to Bodhgaya in India as the
attendant of his maternal uncle, Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk
to make supplications. [They also] visited Vulture's Peak (Bya
rgod phung po), Nalanda (Na' landa), Varanasi (Wa ra na si),
[26] Tsachokgrong (Rtswa mchog grong), and Lumbini (Lu mbi
ni), in order to pay homage. While in Nepal, [they also] visited
Swayambunath ('Phags pa shing kun), Boudhanath (Bya rung
kha shot), Namo Buddha (Stag mo lus sbyin) and Yang la she
(Yang la shod) to make prayers.53 FoUowing that [they]
returned to their own land to refresh their health.
The Lord himself was by then 43, and the Year of Female
Wood Ox (1925- 1926) entered into his second set of three
year retreats at the Hidden Land of The Female Elephant Cliff
(Sbas yul glang mo brag). WhUe in retreat he [realized] the
innermost essence of aU the 84,000 Dharmas. He practiced
the Swift Path of all the Buddhas that have awakened,
Mahamudra, along with the Six Yogas of Naropa.
Meanwhtie in Thimphu the learned teachers of the sangha
had appointed [Tenzin Gyatso's] maternal uncle Ngawang
Chokyi Wangchuk as the Vajra Master (Rdo rje slob dpon) and
presented him with a khata. At that time, several students
came to [study with Tenzin Gyatso], such as Sangay Dorje
from Gyaling (Gyad gling pa Sangs rgyas rdo rje) and Rinchen
53 In terms of chronology, it is quite possible Tenzin Gyatso was in
Nepal at the same time as Shakya Shri's sons and students who
were carrying out renovations on Boudhanath and Namo Buddha.
Shakya Shri had sent the group to renovate Swayambunath in 1917,
and had told his students that his final wish was to see the other
two famous stupas of Kathmandu restored. They did so following his
death in the early 1920s with sponsorship from the Lhasa
Government, the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, and many other local
sponsors throughout the Himalayas. The information given here in
Tenzin Gyatso's biography though does not clarify if he was involved.
My forthcoming PhD dissertation will contain more information
about the renovations.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
Drakpa from Lung nag (Lung nag pa Rin chen grags pa).
Initially, [Tenzin Gyatso] gave them oral instruction in the
preliminaries for them to accumulate and purify their minds.
FoUowing that, he bestowed Mahamudra [27] with
instructions from his experience. Following this, he gave them
the Six Yogas of Naropa instructions in stages.
FinaUy, having reached the age of 46, in the Year of the Male
Earth Dragon (1928- 1929) he ended that three year and
three month retreat. Immediately [he] went to enquire after
his uncle, the venerable Vajra Master Chokyi Wangchuk, at
Pung dzong (Spungs rdzong) and met him. He offered homage
to the completely victorious venerable one. He also paid
homage and made supplications prayers to the relics of refuge
Ngagi Wangpo (Skyabs mgon Ngag gi dbang po) and the
countless other examples of the Three Supports housed there.
He stayed with his uncle for a few days, enjoying the tea and
wondrous food on offer. He then requested leave and went to
stay near his aged mother.
Desiring the way of life of a renunciant, he moved on to visit
the border temple that pins down demons TsugUiakhang
(Gtsug lag khang), the Paro River Temple (Spa gro skyer chu
lha khang), the Bumthang Maitreya Temple, the Guru's
Practice site of the Tiger Nest in Paro (Stag tshang), the body
imprint at Bumthang, The Lion Palace at Kurtoe (Bkur stod
seng ge rdzong), and many others. In those places he
practiced diligently [28].
At that time the victorious over samsara Je Khenpo (Rje
mkhan po) abdicated to dedicate himself to practice in
isolated places. The teachers and students of the sangha met
with the Second King of Bhutan to discuss [the matter]. In the
16th Sexegenary Cycle during the Year of the Female Iron
Sheep (1931- 1932), known as the Diverse Prajapati, uncle
Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk was empowered and raised to the
Lion Throne to become to next successive arhat great Khenpo
ofthe community Pung thim (Spungs thim). The Lord Lama to
repay such great kindness accepted the responsibility...
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
The Lord [Tenzin GyatsoJ's own mother was by that point very
aged and near death. At her time of death the Lord made a
dedication prayer and aspiration that all the roots of her
virtue would be fulfiUed.
[Following her death Tenzin Gyatso] stayed for some years in
a monastic centre serving his uncle, the Learned Khen
Rinpoche, until a ripe age. WhUe presiding over the Guru's
10th day celebrations at Thimphu Dzong, Khenpo Rinpoche's
body [29] suddenly became agitated, trembling as though he
was angry. He required medical treatment, and [Tenzin
Gyatso] performed a healing ceremony for a prayer for his
stability of life, though his condition continued to worsen.
Rinpoche was 81 in the Year ofthe Male Iron Dragon (1941-
1942) when he attained the dharmadhatu, and at the time of
death stayed in thugdam (thugs dam), the Lord with him as
his reminder. Immediately, the sangha aU gathered in the
monastery in front of countless examples of the Three
Supports, and made detailed offerings, including the mandala
offering of the Realisation of Complete Dharmadhatu which
was conferred with many others. There the crematorium had
been adorned with curtains and banners, with [Rinpoche's]
body placed in the middle, with offerings placed before it.
Offering articles along with fire offering substances were
prepared, and aU the masters and disciples were invited to
make up the Mandala of the Six Buddha Families, and
around the corpse a fire offering was performed. Tea was
offered with lunch at noon, and gifts were presented [30] to
ensure the event was successful. Like that, the deeds that
made up aspiration for enlightenment and attainment of the
complete dharmadhatu culminated.
FoUowing that, Dharma Lord Ngawang Thinley (Ngag dbang
'phrin las) was elected as the next successive great Khenpo of
the community and enthroned with examples of the supports
presented to him.
The Lord himself [Tenzin Gyatso] went into retreat in the
Eastern Blissful Accomplishment Place (Shar bde chen grub
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
pa'i bsti gnas). ...After establishing himself at the area known
as the Virtuous Wisdom Lion (Dge ye shes se ngge) new
students such as Rinchen Dargyay (Rin chen dar rgyas) and
others appeared. They were taught initially the preliminaries
with oral instructions for the purpose of accumulation and
purification. Following that, they received instructions from
[Tenzin Gyatso's] personal experience regarding Mahamudra
in succession. Later, he successively bestowed the
instructions for the Sktiful Path of the Six Yogas of Naropa
whUe more and more students gathered.
Furthermore, at that point [Tenzin Gyatso] was sent an
official order to take up the responsibility of the Vajra Master
(Rdo rje slop dpon) role at the glorious Drukpa community of
Deba (Lte ba). Due to this need he went there at the age of 64
[31] during the year known as inexhaustible (mi zad), the
Male Fire Dog Year (1946- 1947). At the Dewachan (Bde ba
can) community of Pungthang (Spungs thang), Khen Rinpoche
bestowed on him a kata and the title of the Vajra Master, and
carried out the stages of enthroning [Tenzin Gyatso]... A joyful
feast was had, with wild sweet potato (gro ma), saffron (dri
bzang), a drink made from the essence of wish-granting
petals (dpag bsam 'dab bcud), boUed rice and other wondrous
food made with fresh crops aU served. The hundreds of
sangha gathered gave off a sweet scent of discipline and
unanimously rejoiced. The jatakas in the tradition of the
Glorious Drukpas were arranged and spoken, created
exceUent auspicious connections in aU directions. The
khenpos and students, along with the King and his
entourage, and the teachers from many spiritual
institutions... offered the rings ofthe Queen of Immortals ('Chi
med dbang po) along with many other divine garments and
sublime gifts, along with a supplication prayer to his lotus
feet. [32] At that time, Khen Rinpoche and the teachers and
students of the sangha gathered to bestow presents, along
with a ganachakra, and a feast was presented by the King
and his entourage. The principality also each made offerings
in the tradition of the feast....
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Around this time, it seemed that the victorious doctrines of
the Buddha in general, and in particular the glorious Drukpa
teachings, has become degenerated, so [Tenzin Gyatso] gave
teachings. To all the ones who came and asked for teachings,
and the immature local people, he gave ripening and
liberating empowerments54 and bestowed liberating
instructions on all. Due to his noble intention of bestowing
maturing and liberating instructions from that area of the
glorious teachings, a pleasant lotus grove, the smell of
happiness pervaded aU the directions, and remained in the
area of that monastic centre.
Finally at the age of 68 the Lord [Tenzin Gyatso] [33] during
the year known as that of appearance, the Male Iron Tiger
Year (1950- 1951) was stUl in the role of the Vajra Master...
He told all students and sangha to maintain a vast aspiration
in order to maintain the glorious thunder clap of the dharma,
and aU the general and specific teachings of the Buddha,
until the end of samsara...
[He was requested] to give empowerments for the Co-
emergent Chakrasamvara, the Co-emergent Varahi, and also
gave instructions on the main part of the Mahamudra
preliminaries. Then he bestowed in succession the
instructions from [his own] experience regarding the path of
means, the Six Yogas of Naropa and auxiliary teachings, as
well as the symbolic empowerment of the 15 Goddess Yidams.
[34] [He also gave] the ripening empowerments for the great
empowerment of the Protector Deity, and transferred the oral
lineage of liberating instructions. [Students] also requested
reading transmissions of the oral Mahamudra texts that had
been translated from Sanskrit (Phyag chen rgya) and
Gampopa's CoUected Works (Dvagspo'i bka' 'bum).
At the age of 73, the Lord Lama [Tenzin Gyatso] went into
sealed retreat until he was 74.
54 Translation tentative for sentence.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
Students with particular temperaments that had the virtuous
roots that had cause to ripen perceived Lama Rinpoche's
body, speech and mind as being supremely virtuous when
hearing him. [When he gave instructions], saffron robed
holders of monastic discipline from spiritual institutions in
Dewacan, Wangdu Phodrang (Dbang 'dus pho brang),
Rinpung (Rin spungs) and so on would gather like swans on a
lotus lake, along with faithful men and women from each
district who were driven in their practice. [He] would teach aU
[of these people], from the eldest to the youngest, the Three
Stages of the Path55, and the Dharmas of aU the Vehicles. He
would bestow advanced stages of the path to liberation to the
more advanced people, and then Tantra [35], whereby un-
ripened people would become ripened through receiving an
inspiring empowerment. Those who received [Tenzin Gyatso's
teachings] venerated him. Following those, to aU the more
mature [students, he] gave [instructions] in the stages of the
Development Stage (Bskyed rim) with explanation of the
deities, before sending them to meditate. He then gave verbal
instructions on the Completion Stage (Rdzogs rim) of the
Primacy Deity, and the Liberation Path of Co-emergent
Awareness of Mahamudra, encouraging his successors to
persevere in their meditation. He then gave 'pointing out
instructions' (Ngo sprod pa) regarding the method for
recognizing successful signs on the path, as weU as the
practice of the Four Mahamudra Yogas (Phyag chen rnal 'byor
bzhi). Among those individuals, many who were dUigent
arrived at the experiences of the Path of Skilful Method, the
Six Yogas. These means of meditation could lead the mind
and body to penetrate the round being of the Vajra Body.
[Tenzin Gyatso also] pointed out the feeling of recognizing
one's own basic state through a spontaneously born fruition.
He [spoke] about the liberating wheels of the dharma, stage
by stage, and the jewel of the Three Secrets. [He also said]
that whUe enjoying life, [one should remember] the teachings
and all glorious beings...  FinaUy, in order to benefit those
55 The Three Stages of the Path:  Rudimentary, Intermediate,  and
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
beings that needed to be tamed, [Tenzin Gyatso] made an
aspiration that the students should realize [aU of these
[36] When the Lord himself reached 84 years of age, to [the
time] when it is said [one really] shines in the Year of the Male
Fire Horse (1966- 1967), his appearance seemed slightly
diminished. Many senior people enquired carefuUy after his
health. Others performed healing ceremonies and prayers for
the stability of his life, but as nothing good happened [people
became] doubtful [about his health]. Word was sent to the
Lord's own nephew, Tsewang Tenzin (Tshe dbang bstan 'dzin)
who was practicing meditation in the Hidden Land of Sikkim
(Sbas yul 'bras mo Ijongs). He immediately took to the road in
a great hurry to get to the great bliss accomplishment place
[where Tenzin Gyatso was living].
In the Year ofthe Fire Horse (1967) during the waning days of
the summer moon on the morning of the 24th the Lord
[Tenzin Gyatso] bowed and seemed to become slightly
weakened. The Lord took a sorrowful breath but appeared
outwardly to be devoid of tilness to those around him. On the
following day of the 25th, to demonstrate to those who hold
everything to be permanent [the reality of existence] the Lord
Lama [Tenzin Gyatso] straightened up his body, and turned
his eyes to the sky [37] and thereby expounded [silently] the
means of passing beyond suffering. It seemed as though that
sun of the general practice lineage had become overtaken by
night, and those who had unclear understanding became
saddened by the nirvana of the Mandala Protector Vajra
Holder. From that day, for about seven nights [Tenzin
Gyatso's] face remained unchanged and appeared more
radiant than before. Outside, the sky was pure, and puffy
rainbow-hued clouds took on the forms of deities. A pounding
similar to that of a large drum resounded, and signs arose of
that [Tenzin Gyatso] had attained the bardo (bar do) of the
completely enlightened dharmakaya. Every day for seven days
the luminous dharmakaya created signs with secret
meanings. His students aU gathered, and with great respect
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
and renunciation mind they carried out The Offering to the
Guru (Bla ma mchod pa), along with the mandalas of
Chakrasamvara and Varahi and cultivated an indivisible feast
mandala ceremony along with supplications prayers and so
[38] Finally on the third day from the middle of the month [ie.
around the 18th], a crematorium was arranged with canopies,
curtains, presents, offerings and ribbons, with the Lord's
body in the centre. A stove was built by qualified people, and
sandalwood, aloe wood, and other good types of wood were
arranged [for the cremation]. The sambhogakaya that was the
precious remains was adorned was ornaments, and offered
the feast implements in detail, along with the offering articles
particularly for the fire offerings. Hundreds of sangha who
had been liberated from passion gathered, both teachers and
disciples, and performed the indivisible mandala of the Six
Buddha FamUies making offerings and praise. As the fire
offering of the White Clad Queen Panaravasni (Rgyal yum god
dkar mo) was offered, immediately the remains glowed at the
navel with the heat of Tummo, which grew gradually stronger,
before [the corpse] burst into brilliant golden tongues of
flame. The fire and other offering substances were all carried
out in succession, and fulfiUed with the appropriate
supplications in the correct manner, and [39] were finaUy
completed. On that day, the sky was pure aside from a cloud
over the sun that appeared to be in the form of a deity, which
remained there for aU to see...
FoUowing three days, [the assembled group] performed a
ganachakra feast [in front of] the crematorium which had
been bound. When the crematorium was opened, the remains
were covered in relics (ring bsrel), both white and colourful,
and aU were cleansed using a cleansing vase of water in order
to be put in [Tenzin Gyatso] Rinpoche's receptacle chest (za
ma thog). The bones were cleaned with great reverence, and
finaUy the skeleton was interred within a new stupa made at
that monastic centre. Some teeth were taken as relics by
monasteries as supports for the path, and in a pleasant grove
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
of holy images were inside a stiver accomplishment stupa.
Students also made statues as a mind support, with many
offerings put inside... Most of all, that very Glorious Guru
[who had attained] the realization of the [40] Four Bodies, and
was a wisdom holder of the perfect essence, was supplicated
by many different accomplishment communities.
Even though the content here has many virtuous qualities,
for fear of too many words and conceptual constructs the
middle section [of this piece] ends here.
The third section is the perfectly virtuous conclusion. In this
realm the aU compassionate Lord of the Dharma's completely
luminous victory [has been described]. To the Lord of the
Mandala Tenzin Gyatso's feet, until I reach enlightenment I
wiU venerate you! The Lord's biography [is tike] the luminous
essence of ambrosia, gathered here tike an immensely
luminous Buddha field [in condensed form]. Stupid people
tike me cannot describe it appropriately, so I have just briefly
[gathered] what was manifest. Everyone should practice
virtuosity [as naturaUy] as the flow of a river [never ebbing],
so that aU beings as infinite as space may attain perfection.
SimUarly, dedicate the merit [which wiU act as] a garland of
blessing condensed. May all beings swiftly meet this ocean
without conceptualization of the Three Objects56! May I also
[strive for this], until I attain the essence of enlightenment,
complete with obtaining the Eight Freedoms and the Ten
Riches! [41]Glorious Protector Lama, please watch me with
compassion. May the final supports of learning,
contemplation and meditation remain, and may great
devotion pervade aU! I supplicate [you] to transfer the power
of your blessings [to me, so that I] can attain the dharmakaya
for the benefit of the self under the Bodhi Tree, and [have the]
compassion that all sentient beings may attain liberation.
Thus, this was the rough biography of aU the lineage
mandalas of the all-pervading Lord of the Mandala Tenzin
56 The Three Objects: Subject, Object and Location.
 The Making of a Bhutanese Buddha
Gyatso in order to supplicate [him] and keep [him] in mind.
Through [this work] may unflagging devotion be planted tike a
seed of liberation in the mind of [all] beings. [This has been
written by] the foUower [of the] Lord Protector [Tenzin Gyatso],
the vinaya holder of the Buddha Tenzin Donkun (Bstan 'dzin
don kun), in hope that all beings wtil be without desire. May
aU be auspicious!
Tibetan Sources
PDNT= Mkhan po bshad sgrub bstan 'dzin. Grub sras 'phags
mchog rdo rje mchog gi rnam par thar pa dad pa'i rlabs
'phreng zhes bya ba la Ideb. Printed in mTshungs med Grub
sras 'Phags mchog rDo rje mchog gi sung 'bum rinpo che glegs
bam dang po bzhugs so, ff. Ka 1 A- Ka 30.
PDSB= Sras 'Phags mchog rdo rje (2004). mTshungs med
Grub sras 'Phags mchog rDo rje mchog gi sung 'bum rin po che
glegs bam dang po bzhugs so, Kathmandu: Sherab Gyalsten
for Khenpo Shedup Tenzin and Lama Thinley Namgyal. (3
SSNT= Ka: thog sit u chos kyi rgya mtsho. Rje bstun bla ma
rdo rje 'chang chen po sha'kya shri' dznya' na'i rnam thar me
tog phreng ba zhes bya ba bzhugs so. Originally published by
Sherab Gyalsten, Palace Monastery, Gangtok, Sikkim, 1980.
Reprinted in Shakya Shri's Collected Works, ff. 17- 230. All
citations in this article from the Gangtok edition.
SSSB= Grub dbang Sha' kya shri' et. al. (1998). Grub dbang
Sha'kya Shri' Jna na' gsung 'bum bzhugs so, Kathmandu:
Sherab Gyaltsen for Ven. Khenpo Shedup Tenzin and Lama
Thinley Namgyal.
TPOS= Dge slong yon tan 'od kyis sgro skur... (Unknown)
Dpal ldan bla ma dam pa bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho'i rnam thar
grub pa'i rol rtsed. Publisher unknown.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
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