Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899) and Kālacakra, PLUS new English language translation of Kongtrul’s ‘Innate Kālacakra’ text

I recently returned from the Innate Kālacakra (‘dus khor lhan skyes) empowerment by HE Garchen Rinpoche in Portugal at which my new English language translation of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye‘s (1813 – 1899) concise and profound Innate Kālacakra sadhana text was also launched and taught. For more info about that event see here. I am now making this text available for free download and use to those with the requisite Kālacakra empowerment and oral transmission.  Garchen Rinpoche also gave a word-for-word instruction on this text which can be watched online.

Jamgon Kongtrul and Kalacakra

Prior to this, I was aware that Jamgon Kongtrul had a very powerful connection with Kālacakra and Shentong Madhayamaka through his close personal ties to the Jonangpa in Dzamthang and one of his teachers, the Jonang master, Ngawang Chophel.  In fact, it was reading Kongtrul’s instruction text on Shentong, Instructions for Practising the View of the Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka , “Light Rays of the Stainless Vajra Moon”, which he wrote while studying at Dzamthang, as well as the sections on the Six Yogas of Kālacakra in his Treasury of Knowledge, that I realised that much of his work and influence in these two areas were directly influenced by and connected to the Jonang tradition. In particular, his sections on the Six Yogas of Kālacakra are sometimes word-for-word copied from Tāranātha’s major commentary on it, One Hundred Blazing Lights (which I am in the process of translating). In Kongtrul’s biography on Treasury of Lives it explains that:

In the late 1840s, Kongtrul made an extensive teaching and alms tour of eastern Kham and southern Amdo, including religious centers such as Gyelmorong and Serta. The region was known to be quite dangerous, but he successfully avoided the bandits that frequently robbed and murdered travelers, both lay and clerical. At Dzamtang Monastery (dzam thang dgon), a major Jonang institution, he taught Kālacakra to the monks, and received teachings on the same topic from a lama named Ngawang Chopel (sngags dbang chos ‘phel). In 1849, when he returned from Amdo, he taught the Jonang tantric traditions at Dzongsar Monastery (rdzong sar dgon), at Khyentse Wangpo’s request.

Also, Michael Sheehy has written a short post about the connection between Kongtrul and Jonang here, which states that:

“Ngawang Chöphel was the inheritor of the seat at Jonang Tsang Chen Monastery and was its first vajra-master, several generations after it was established. In the year 1848, Kongtrul traveled to Dzamthang in order to receive transmissions from this master. Among these were the transmissions for the sixfold vajrayoga of the Kālachakra according to the Jonang tradition, instructions on zhentong, and a cycle of teachings on chöd. Kongtrul also recounts in his biography having received instructions from other masters at Dzamthang on how to conduct a personal retreat according to the oral tradition of Vajrabhairava, though he does not list their names.[4]

Returning to Kongtrul’s record, it then goes on to list the lineage from which he received transmission for the works of Tāranātha. Following the line from Tāranātha’s disciple Yeshe Gyatso this lineage then passes on through Karma Ödsal Gyurmé from whom Kongtrul received this transmission. Karma Ödsal Gyurmé was a student of Karma Ratna and is also referred to as Lama Gonpo Tsewang. According to the history of the Jonangpa, he met Kongtrul on his way to Gyalrong as he was traveling from Dzamthang, and it appears as if he conferred numerous transmissions upon Kongtrul during their time together.

Adjacent to this lineage, Kongtrul’s record lists an alternative lineage of transmission for his reception of the works of Tāranātha, starting with Tāranātha’s disciple Rinchen Gyatso, and then passing through the master from Katok Monastery Rigzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755) several generations later, then being passed to Kongtrul from Karma Tsewang Kunkhyab. This was Zurmang Tsewang Kunkhyab, a main disciple of Situ Paṇchen Chökyi Jungné (1700-1774) who was also a lineage-holder of numerous Jonang transmissions and someone who seems to have played a pivotal role in the intersections of these lineages.”

In the Three Year Retreat Manual composed by Jamgon Kongtrul, translated and edited into English by Ngawang Zangpo, it states that:

“Tāranātha, the last holder of the Jonang tradition, had a particularly profound influence on Kongtrul’s work. An indication of this can be found in the program of special yearly rituals for the retreat. Among all the masters of the past commemorated by a day of rituals, only Tāranātha’s memorial day is observed by three consecutive days of collective rituals.”

The Shangpa and Vajra Yoga Instruction Lineages were closely connected in the past; this affinity has continued to the present day. The main lineage holder of the Shangpa Instruction Lineage in recent years, the late Kalu Rinpoche, was the master requested by the sixteenth Karmapa to pass on the Vajra Yoga Instruction Lineage to the new generation of masters within the Oral Instruction Lineage of the Karmapas. Kalu Rinpoche also frequently bestowed the main empowerment of Wheel of Time from the Jonang tradition to Buddhists throughout the world. His main disciple, Bokar Tulku, continues this tradition: he is the retreat master at three retreat centers – that of Karmapa’s monastery in Sikkim, the Shangpa retreat center at Kalu Rinpoche’s monastery, and a Vajra Yoga retreat center at his own monastery.

I recently spoke to a German man, who has completed the three year retreat in the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, and we spoke about the Six Yogas Kālachakra section of the three year retreat in Tibet at Tsādra Rinchen Drak, which was the personal hermitage and retreat centre of Jamgon Kongtrul, located above Pelpung Monastery in Kham. Kongtrul began to practice on the site in 1843, and formally opened it in 1857 with the assistance of Chokgyur Lingpa and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. The first three-year retreat began there in 1861. Here are some recent photos (see below) that this man shared with me of the Tsadra centre in Tibet, that include photos of Lama Yarge, the Drupon as he is commonly known, or official as Tsadra Drupon Karma Samten Gyatso.  Apparently he was the Drupon sent by Situ Rinpoche to Tsadra. The photos include some taken of the statue of Jamgon Kongtrul inside his former private room at the monastery where he wrote four of his famous Treasuries.

See recent images of the Jamgon Kongtrul retreat centre in Tibet below.

Contemporary Kālacakra in Karma Kagyu- Bokar Rinpoche and 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul

Outside of Tibet, the Six Yogas Kālacakra retreat within the Kagyu tradition is still being practised at Bokar monastery, Mirik, India.  The former Bokar Rinpoche was a practitioner master of Kālacakra and the walls surrounding his relic stupa at the monastery are painted with all the images of the Kālachakra mandala, see my blog post about this here.

According to the Benchen monastery website, in the mid 70s HH 16th Karmapa advised Kagyu lama, Tenga Rinpoche that it would be beneficial to have a place where the Kālacakra practice could be performed within the vicinity of Swayambunath. Shortly after this, the Benchen Monastery at Swayambunath was founded.   At Benchen monastery in Pharping, the construction of a second retreat centre devoted to Shangpa Kagyu and Kālachakra practices  was also begun. The buildings are ready, but due to the damage in Benchen monastery in Kathmandu caused by the earthquake the retreat has not yet begun.  See this previous blog post about Tenga Rinpoche and his connection to Kālacakra.

HE 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche, also an accomplished Kālachakra master and lineage holder, recently this year performed the Kālacakra ritual and empowerment at the Zurmang Kagyu Monastery, Sikkim, India, see more on that here.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, two lineages of the Kagyu tradition of Kālacakra appear to have been somewhat neglected and there are also several texts, in particular by the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje and Jamgon Kongtrul, on the Six Yogas of Kālachakra that have not yet been translated into English. Perhaps the twenty-first century is the century for the revival of these Kagyu and Rime lineages and texts. May it be of benefit and may the Kālacakra teachings and practice flourish!

Statue of Jamgon Kongtrul in his former private room at Tsadra

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