On this Guru Rinpoche day today, for my pilgrimage travelogue on the trail of some of the places that Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro stayed and visited in Sikkim, India, here is the second part about my visit (a few days prior) to Drakkar Tashi Ding monastery and the golden relic stupa, in West Sikkim on 3rd January 2020. Tashi Ding is not only the place where Chokyi Lodro’s body was cremated and relics placed in a golden stupa but also a highly significant spiritual place of pilgrimage and prayer due to its connection to Indian Buddhist master, Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) who is not only said to have brought Buddhism to Tibet but also to Sikkim as well. Guru Rinpoche is reported to have consecrated many places in Sikkim, and blessed the land, and especially Tashiding as the land’s spiritual centre. There are several legends linked to the most revered monastery in Sikkim, one being that he shot an arrow into the air and then meditated on the spot where it landed and, eventually, the site became Tashiding Monastery. The place is also said to contain a hidden door to Shambhala, the kingdom mentioned in the Kalacakra Tantra (see more on that below).
Tsechu Phug Cave
Tashiding Monastery sits on the top of a hill between the Rathong River and the Rangit River, in the heart of Sikkim. As one walks up to the monastery, a little before reaching the top of the hill where the monastery stands, a small path branches to the left leading to the nearby Tse Chu Phug cave (see photos below).
The Tashi Ding monastery was established by Sempa Chenpo Puntsok Rigdzin and his grandson Sempa Chenpo Rinchen in 1641. Inside the main temple there are two stupas containing relics of these masters. Behind the temple is a stupa cluster.
Tashi Ding Monastery and Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé (1597-1653)
Heather Elton writes in her interesting blog post about Tashi Ding:
Tashiding is a very special place for my guru, Dzongsar Jamyang Khentsye Rinpoche (DJKR). To understand the significance we need to go back the legends surrounding Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé (1597-1653), the terton who open the gates to Sikkim and coronated the first Choygal, bringing the Dharma to Sikkim. In the words of DJKR, Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé (1597-1653) is the Tibetan visionary-saint and the author of the Riwo Sangcho (smoke offering practice). He was an incarnation of both the great Dzogchen master Vimalamitra, who attained ja lü phowa chenpo (where the master dissolves his body into rainbow light and lives for centuries in order to benefit others), and the omniscient Longchenpa. He was born in 1597 at Jaryül in southern Tibet. At birth, the space between his eyebrows and the tips of his tongue and nose were all very clearly marked with the seed-syllable AH. He is considered to be one of the most accomplished masters that ever lived.
In 1646, at the request of his teachers, Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé, and 15 of his disciples, went on foot to discover the hidden land in Sikkim, as a place of refuge from the violent upheavals in Tibet where the Gelugpa sect were clashing with the Kagyupa, Nyingmapa and Bon practitioners. After many unsuccessful attempts, the terton finally summoned up enough siddhi powers to cut a pass across a mountain that blocked his route to Sikkim and was able to surmount the northern gate. (Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé is known for magical powers like the time he stopped a huge avalanche simply by gazing at it while making the ‘threatening mudra’.) Just as his disciples had given him up for dead and were preparing to return to Tibet, they heard his powerful Gyaling (thigh-bone trumpet) resounding through space announcing his success in finding a route across. He is so special here that he is depicted similar to Guru Rinpoche himself, with the only difference that instead of holding a five-pronged vajra in his right hand, Lhatsun has a gyaling. He made Kanchendzonga integral to the Buddhist practice and the social identity of Sikkim.
The stone steps approach up to the Tashi Ding monastery is accompanied by a stunning view of the hills and mountains surrounding it. It is a pedestrian-only area and thus quiet and peaceful. As I arrive at the carved entranceway I hear the sounds of a puja in the main temple. It is a wonderful orchestral symphony of colour, sight and sound and a tangible feeling of entering ‘sacred space’ (see some photos below).
Photos of the approach to Tashi Ding monastery, view and carved entranceway which bears the name ‘Drakkar Tashi Ding Thri: Phuntsok Rigdzin Gatsel’. January 2020.
The Tashi Ding golden stupa
In June 1959, just three months after the Lhasa uprising in Tibet against the Chinese invastion, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro passed away. After his death was announced to his closest disciples, it is reported that Dodrupchen Rinpoche entered the room where Jamyang Khyentse’s body sat in meditation posture, touched his head to his master ’s feet and wept. Later, he wrote a poem expressing the desolation of Jamyang Khyentse’s disciples as they gathered together in Gangtok:
The whole world is changing before us like a magic show.
Appearances are unreliable like bubbles.
The monasteries, the loved ones in theDharma, and our kin—
All have become mere memories.
Those who were in Gangtok remembered that his passing was marked by extraordinary signs—an earthquake and an incandescent light that lit up the sky after dark. Some of the lamas said that Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö was attaining buddhahood, and so all the other thousand Buddhas of this age were sending their light. HH Sakya Trizin, who was then just fifteen years old, along with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and many other great lamas, led the ceremonies following Jamyang Khyentse’s death.
It was in Tashiding that the cremation of Chokyi Lodro was performed and that a stupa was built by his own disciples, including Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, with their own bare hands to house his relics. It was later gold-leafed by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche in the 1990s. In Dilgo Khyentse’s Biography about Chokyi Lodro he explains how the stupa was constructed and what was placed inside it, including the four (or five) types of sacred relics (ringsel): the Dharma relics, body relics, clothing hair and nail relics and Dharmakaya relics (pp.451-455).
In his autobiography, ‘Brilliant Moon‘, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (pp.206-7) also explains how he came to learn of Chokyi Lodro’s passing while he was in Bhutan. On his way to Sikkim (via Kalimpong) or the cremation and funeral, he lost some of his belongings and as he didn’t have much money and had difficulty in meeting the expenses of it. Dilgo Khyentse also states that he wanted to remain longer in Sikkim to take care of the temple and his disciples there, after the funeral and enshrining ceremonies, but was unable to do so because officials would not grant him an extension of his visa for Sikkim. It is both sad and humbling to read about how such great masters faced challenges both financially and in terms of official bureaucracy.
Black and white photos: Sonam Gyatso Thartse Ken Rinpoche.
Going past the Tashi Ding monastery, the golden stupa stands out among the collection of stupas standing next to the monastery, which are all surrounded by a wall of exquisitely painted mantras, it is the only gold-leaf painted one. The name Jamyang Khyentse CHokyi Lodro is also painted in gold. Framed by deep, bright red flowers (that one sees everywhere in Sikkim) the composition of gold (sunny day and stupa), red, blue skies and white clouds provided a colorful and blissful backdrop to my first pilgrimage visit there.
With bodhicitta flowing like the rays of the sun all around, I did several kora and recited prayers and aspirations composed by Khyentse Chokyi Lodro himself (reproduced one here below).
The Shambhala connection
Tashi Ding is also said to contain the entrance to the sacred and mysterious kingdom of Shambhala. In a blog post by Shithal Pradhan here:
I have read in one of the websites about the story of a rock at Tashiding that was supposed to be the door to that mysterious eternal land. The website writes “The white rock of Tashiding’s name is rough rocks face not twenty paces from where Garpa (the person behind all those labourious stone carving around Tashiding Monastery) has spent the last half century carving stones. In it one can make out the faint outline of a doorway. It is said this is a doorway to the kingdom of Shambhala, and at least one monk is known to have passed through that door in a trance and to have returned clutching the flowering branches of a plant that is reputed to grow in that hidden kingdom and nowhere else. The story goes that he then went to the river to wash himself. He put the branches down. The river rose and swept them away.”
Nothing more is known about the lama but such stories does make a presence of the mystical land the people called Shambhala. As far as to my little knowledge, I had read somewhere that it was in late 50s few lamas did tried to search for that hidden secret land of Shambhala in Yoksom but they died on the very spot. It is said that the hidden door of the Shangrila shall only open if three lamas from three directions meet. That was the last time someone did tried to open the hidden door of that spiritual heaven. To the people of Sikkim, I feel this information are less told or heard.”
Jamyang Khyentse and HH 14th Dalai Lama
According to one report by HH Sakya Trizin:
Had Jamyang Khyentse not passed away when he did, he was destined to have become a teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As it happened, in the course of time, it was Jamyang Khyentse’s own disciples like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Trulshik Rinpoche who came to fulfill that role. In Lhasa in 1955, Jamyang Khyentse had composed a long life prayer for HH the Dalai Lama that is recited today by the monks at the Dalai Lama’s Namgyal Monastery. HH Sakya Trizin believes that it is nothing less than a prophesy, predicting that the Dalai Lama would become a future world leader, give the Kalachakra empowerment many times, and become a holder of the teachings of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, in the Rimé tradition. “All these things have come true more than thirty to forty years later,” said Sakya Trizin. “There are no words to say Nobel Peace Prize, but the meaning is clear, because he wrote, ‘all the world will honor him as a Dharma king’.
The Tibetan and English words of this long-life prayer, the most commonly cited prayer can be found here on the Lotsawa House website.
Prayer to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö
dü sum gyalwa malü düpé ngö
The actual embodiment of all the victorious buddhas of the three times,
nyikdü ten drö kyab chik khyentsé wang
And sole refuge for the teachings and beings in this degenerate age was Khyentse Wangpo.
chok gi jinlab tukjé nampar rol
Manifestation of his supreme blessings and compassion,
jamyang chökyi lodrö la solwa deb
Jamyang Chökyi Lodrö, to you I pray!
dak sok drowé lona chö la gyur
Cause my own and other beings’ minds to turn towards the Dharma,
neluk rang shyal jalwar jingyi lob
And grant your blessings so that we may encounter our own true face, the natural state!
chirol zungwé yul gyi ma gö shing
Unstained by any objects perceived as external,
nang du dzinpé tokpé malepar
And unspoilt by any inner perceiving thoughts—
machö rangbab gompé ngang kyangwé
By sustaining an experience of unaltered, natural meditation,
rangsem chönyi jenpar charwar shok
May the natural condition of my own mind nakedly arise!
di ni sangye kün gyi gongpa té
This is the wisdom intent of all the buddhas.
tak ché lo dé nyamlen zabmo yi
Through this profound practice that is decisive and content,
rangrig ku sum gongpa ngöngyur té
Inspire me to realize the three kāyas within my own awareness,
khorwa dong né trukpar jingyi lob
And to empty saṃsāra from its very depths!
Chökyi Lodrö wrote this in response to a request from Dorje Tsering, the physician of Benme Khangsar.
Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2019. See: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/jamyang-khyentse-chokyi-lodro/prayer-to-khyentse-chokyi-lodro
Photos (unless otherwise stated) and article by Adele Tomlin, January 2020.