As part of my own personal pilgrimage and research interest in the great Tibetan Buddhist master, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and his later incarnation, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1893-1959), am writing a short series of posts of the places he stayed at in Sikkim during my visit on the Sikkimese New Year Day (Losum) 27th December 2019. I have uploaded some photos I took of these places here.
First, a little background about the great master himself. As I wrote about here before, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was a good friend of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great and they were both avid followers and admirers of Taranatha and realised practitioners of Kalacakra. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo passed into parinirvana in 1892 and his incarnation, Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was born the following year in Rekhe Ajam, Sa-ngan County, in Nyarong, near Kathok Monastery. Son of the Nyingma master Rigdzin Gyurme Tsewang Gyatso and Tsultrim Tso. At the age of 7, he was recognized as the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s enlightened activity by his former close friend, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé. He spent many years at Dzongsar monastery, Tibet giving transmissions and empowerments to realised masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche who wrote a biography about him that is now published in English (see ‘Further Reading’ below) and the Treasury of Lives biography here. There is also a timeline and information about the important dates in the life of his later incarnation Khyentse Chokyi Lodro here.
The Sikkimese connection
According to his biography ‘Khyentse Chokyi Lodro left Dzongsar in Tibet in 1955 when he saw the signs of the imminent devastation that would engulf Kham, once armed resistance to the Communist occupation was ignited. He spent a year or so on pilgrimage in Tibet before going into exile in Sikkim with his wife, Khandro Tsering Chodron. He made the chapel of the palace of the king of Sikkim his main temporary residence, and continued to give endless teachings and transmissions to students.’
In terms of the his Sikkimese connection, in the Fire Bird year 1957 (aged 65), he arrives at night in Gangtok from North Sikkim, according to Semo-la. Also:
- Celebrates Losar with H.H. Sakya Trizin’s party on their way back from India to Sakya.
- In the Month of Miracles, in the Palace Monastery in Gangtok, gives empowerments of Lama Yangtik, Rigdzin Düpa, Palchen Düpa and Yumka Dechen Gyalmo, and teaches on the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro.
- Went to Tashiding during Fire Bird.
In this informative blog by Shithal Prathan there is description of how and why Chokyi Lodro came to Sikkim in the last part of his life: It says:
The blog ‘Remembering the Masters’ on Jamyang Khyentse writes; in 1955/56 Crown Prince Thondup Namgyal travelled to Lhasa with a special mission on behalf of India’s Prime Minister Pandit Nehru: An invitation for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to join the celebrations for the 2,500 year anniversary of the birth of Buddha, which would enable him to forge international alliances, drawing attention to the threats his people was facing. At the same time Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and his party had arrived on their pilgrimage and secret flight from Kham and had taken up lodging at the Samdrup family home, right across from the Jokhang temple. Coincidentally the prince’s first wife, Sangey Deki, was a member of the Samdrup family, and so Thondup Namgyal met Jamyang Khyentse at Samdrup Podrang, inviting him to join in the great Buddha Jayanti, via Sikkim.
Another online source elaborates that:
However Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was not keen to leave Tibet. Many times he talked about how he wanted to return to Dzongsar as quickly as possible. Around Losar 1956, following a divination, the omniscient Sixteenth Karmapa Rigpé Dorje, urged him strongly to avoid even going to South Tibet and instead to seek refuge in Sikkim. During his stay in Lhasa his fame had spread throughout the holy city and many members of the aristocracy had begun to request blessings and teachings. This gathering of influential personalities raised an alarm with the Chinese authorities, so that, after spending his last month in Tibet at Sakya, Jamyang Khyentse saw no other way than to turn south for Sikkim, traveling in the footsteps of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama who had escaped Chinese troops by fleeing to Sikkim in 1909. In his party were Khandro Tsering Chödron, the Lakar family, and about forty other members of their families and entourage.
Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had a special connection with Sikkim. Like the King of Sikkim, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, he was considered an incarnation of Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé who, with his revelation of the Rigdzin Sokdrup (‘Accomplishing the Life-force of the Vidyadharas’) had established the Dzogchen teachings in Sikkim in the 17th century. In his autobiography Jamyang Khyentse clearly recalled these memories from his former life.
Crossing the rugged terrain of the Himalayas that took them from the high, arid plateau of Tibet across mountain trails, glaciers and snow-bound passes, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and his party travelled down into the tropical rainforests of Sikkim through Lachen via the Sebu Pass.
At the invitation of the Chogyal, they took up residence in Gangtok’s Royal Chapel. During summers, when the hot and humid monsoon sweeps up from the Indian plains, they would move to Kalimpong and Darjeeling where the climate was more agreeable. Everywhere he went he gave teachings and empowerments to disciples who had begun to cross the border in increasing numbers as conditions deteriorated in Tibet.
According to the information send by Volker, Jamyang Khyentse arrived from Tibet in 1956 apparently through Lachen via the Sebu Pass. He had been invited by the Chogyal ( Here he assumes it could be Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal who was then the crown prince) to stay at the Royal Chapel, but since this was being prepared for the arrival of HH Dalai Lama, he stayed at the Maharani’s home also named as Takste Palace.
Jamyang Khyentse and his party left shortly after their arrival to go on a pilgrimage for Buddha’s Jayanti in India and Nepal. Apparently they took a Dakota Cargo Plane from a place called Rakso (or similar) to fly to Kathmandu. The plane was extremely simple and they had to tie themselves down with ropes during the flight. They returned from their pilgrimage shortly after HH Dalai Lama had left around Losar 1957. After that they stayed at the Royal Chapel. From 1957 until 1959 he moved frequently between Gangtok, Darjeeling and Kalimpong and to accommodate his deteriorating physical condition. He stayed at Cooch Bihar House (the Maharaja’s Palace at Darjeeling), at Arunachal House and at Panorama Cottage, gave teachings at the Bhutanese Gompa and the Tamang Gompa in Darjeeling.
Ngari Tulku Rinpoche, about fourteen years old at the time, remembered how Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö stayed true to the tradition of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrul giving teachings according to the different capacity and temperament of whatever people came to see him. He recalled to us that the top floor of the Tsuglakhang was always packed with some of the highest lamas. Among them were Gyalwang Karmapa from nearby Rumtek, Chatral Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Trinlé Palbar, Kachu Rinpoche, Dhardo Rinpoche, Dhongthog Rinpoche, Trulshik Pawo Dorje, Khamtrul Rinpoche, Thartse Ken Sonam Gyatso — to name a few!
The Royal Palace and Buddhist temple – Gangtok
After Chokyi Lodro left Tibet, he came to stay at the Royal Palace at Gangtok and spent much time at the Royal temple there. Today, 27th December 2019, visiting the temple, the buildings are undergoing renovation and the grounds still in a general state of disrepair. The temple has been restored to a much better state than it was a few months before, but generally still being refurbished and restored. As can be seen from the photos I have posted below. The paint work on the exterior is exquisite to look at and the old thankas and statues inside are inspiring indeed. In particular, one Guru Rinpoche statue and Tara as well as a small stupa with a six armed Tara on it.The palace grounds too are still in a state of neglect and need of repair. However, the palace building itself, which is small and humble considering the people who stayed there and compared to other ‘royal palaces’, has been restored externally but was locked and off bounds to visitors in terms of the interior.
Here are some photos I took on my mobile phone camera:
The Royal Palace
The Royal Temple Tsuglhakhang
Parinirvana and the Stupa – 1959
I will be writing and posting more about the stupa at Tashi Ding, Sikkim in a later post. For now, Prathan writes that:
Jamyang Khyentse passed away in June 1959 in the Tsuklakhang – a few weeks short of 50 years ago. It was interesting to note that there was a gentle earthquake just before his death and three days after his death people had reported seeing a very strange incandescent light that illuminated all of Gangtok, way past sunset. His body was kept in the heat of summer for over six months, as lamas from all over Tibet and India came to pay their respects. During this time the body showed no signs of decomposition. Towards the end of 1959 he was cremated at Tashiding. The ceremonies lasted several months led by Dodrubchen Rimpoche of Deorali and Dilgo Kyentse Rimpoche. His stupa in Tashiding had been gilded entirely in 1990.
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu writes in ‘The Lamp that Enlightens Narrow Minds: The Life of a Realised Tibetan Master Khyentse Chokyi Wangchuk’ about how he came to study with the great master in Gangtok in 1958 and wanted to make some offerings to him when he realised he was ill. Norbu was told that Chokyi Lodro could not receive visitors and so: ‘Realising that it would be utterly impossible to encounter Chokyi Khyentse Lodro before his death, I was filled with an immense sadness’. I felt the same way sitting on the steps and simple terrace of the ‘palace’ as the sun came out from under the clouds and I felt the warmth of not only that ‘naturally arising’ (rang jung) vital phenomenon but of the guru’s rangjung mind and energy. My heart opened and tears started to flow. As with other sites of pilgrimage where learned and realised practitioners had stayed and been, there was a bittersweet sadness at the impermanence of it all but also a vague , warm memory of a magnificence that had been there and lingers on, despite the humble and decaying surroundings. Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro was clearly not only a great Vajrayana Buddhist master but also a humble and simple man who spent the latter years of his life meeting and teaching other followers and masters until the day he died.
Photos and post by Adele Tomlin, 1st January 2020.
The Life and Times of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro: the Great Biography By Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Orgyen Tobgyal
Translated by Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche and Khenpo Sonam Phuntsok(Shambhala Publications, 2014)