3RD BARDOR RINPOCHE (1949-2021): Life-story, Swift Re-birth Prayer by 17th Karmapa, Letters of Condolence, Letter from 16th Karmapa and Self-Arisen Guru Rinpoche

3rd Bardor Rinpoche (1949-2021)

On 1st April 2021, the eminent Kagyu lama, 3rd Bardo Rinpoche passed away. Although I had no personal connection this life with Rinpoche, this short post is a simple offering compiling together a brief bio of Bardo Rinpoche, the powerful Swift Re-birth Prayer composed by the 17th Karmapa on 5th April, various letters of commemoration that were posted online from Rumtek, Zurmang, Jamgon Kongtrul and Barom Kagyu monastic labrangs (see below). In addition, the story of the self-arisen Guru Rinpoche that emerged at Chodrag Peak (above Chodrag Monastery in Tibet) and a letter from the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje (translated and published for the first time in English here).

3rd Bardo Rinpoche and 8th Garchen Rinpoche

A Lama Chopa puja has been arranged for later today by HE 8th Garchen RInpoche who said:

“Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was a dear friend of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche. They have shared a very special connection over lifetimes. In their previous lives, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was Garchen Rinpoche’s root guru. Garchen Rinpoche asks you all to join in the Lama Chopa puja for Bardor Tulku Rinpoche to pray for his swift return.”

10am – 12pm PDT (UTC-7). Click on the link to join the Lama Chopa puja: garchen.net/annual-events/. Lama Chopa Sadhana for Bardor Tulku Rinpoche// Apr 8, 2021// H.E. Garchen Rinpoche & GBI Lamas – YouTube

May this post be of benefit and may Bardor Rinpoche swiftly return to help sentient beings! Adele Tomlin, 8th April 2021.

The Bardor Rinpoche Lineage and Brief Biography of 3rd Bardor
16th Karmapa with 3rd Bardo Rinpoche and 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

The connection between the lives of Barway Dorje and the Karmapas dates back to Terchen Barway Dorje (the 1st Bardor Rinpoche) for whom the 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, was one of the principal teachers. It was Thegchog Dorje who predicted that Terchen Barway Dorje would discover treasures and who advised him to keep his first discovery (that of the terma of White Khechari) secret for twenty years.

The rebirth of Terchen Barway Dorje, the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche, was initially recognized by the 15th Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje. However, due to circumstances later explained by the Karmapa, that life of Bardor Rinpoche was very short. The next rebirth, which came to be known as the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche, was recognized by the 11th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Padma Wangchok Gyalpo.

In his thirteenth year, the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche met the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. The 2nd Bardor Rinpoche devoted most of his life to service for the 16th Karmapa and the two became very close.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was born in 1949 in Kham, East Tibet. At a very early age, he was recognized by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa as the third incarnation of Terchen Barway Dorje.

When Rinpoche was a small child, with his family and his Dharma tutor he maintained a nomadic life style. Rinpoche was six when he left East Tibet in the company of his grandparents on a journey that took him first to Lhasa, then Tsurphu, and finally to Drikung where Rinpoche was to remain for a couple of years at the home of his grandparents.

When Rinpoche’s father—the last member of his family—died, Rinpoche left Pema Ku and continued on toward Assam with other refugees. At the township known as Bomdila, where the borders of Tibet, Bhutan, and India meet, a bombing raid dispersed the group. Rinpoche and a young friend fled the attack and traveled westward, along the border of Bhutan and India, to Siliguri and eventually to Darjeeling.

When they arrived in Darjeeling, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was notified that Rinpoche had safely made his way out of Tibet and he arranged for Rinpoche to be brought to Sikkim, and for Rinpoche’s friend to be taken care of. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was enthroned as a tulku at Rumtek Monastery when he was in his teens. It was also at Rumtek Monastery, under the tutelage of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, that Rinpoche’s formal training took place.

After completing many years of study and practice, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche accompanied the 16th Karmapa on his world tours in 1974 and 1976. In 1977, His Holiness asked Rinpoche to remain in Woodstock, New York, at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD). During his first two years at KTD, Rinpoche worked side-by-side with the staff to renovate and winterize the house and prepare for the last visit of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa to the West.

During that last visit, in 1980, His Holiness directed that his monastery and seat in North America be established at KTD, and he performed the formal investiture. After the groundbreaking ceremony in May of 1982, Bardor Rinpoche directed the construction activities and labored each day to build the monastery. When the construction of the shrine building was essentially completed in early 1990s, he assumed responsibilities as a teacher at KTD and its affiliate Karma Thegsum Chöling centers (KTCs).

In 2000, with a blessing from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa and His Eminence the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche established Raktrul Foundation in order to help rebuild the Raktrul Monastery in Tibet and provide educational facilities for monks and the lay community.

In 2003, Rinpoche established Kunzang Palchen Ling (KPL), a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Red Hook, New York. Based on nonsectarian principles, KPL offers Dharma teachings from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and serves as a base for preserving and bringing to the West the terma teachings of Terchen Barway Dorje.

After working for thirty-one years with the Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the abbot of KTD, to firmly establish KTD and its affiliates in the United States, in October 2008, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche resigned from all his responsibilities at KTD.

In August 2009, the KTD Board of Trustees issued an appreciation letter acknowledging Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s role in the establishment KTD and its affiliates in North America.

17th Karmapa at KPL in 2011 being offered mandala by Bardor Rinpoche

Rinpoche was a married man and father of three daughters.  His wife, Sonam Chotso, is an accomplished practitioner and a lama in her own right.  She is the patron of a nunnery in Sholda, Nangchen where,  in the summer of 2007, it was reported that there were 100 nuns; 13 of them doing the 3+year retreat.   

Swift Re-birth Prayer Composed by 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

On the 5th April 2021, HH the 17th Karmapa also composed a stunningly powerful and poetic swift rebirth prayer for Bardo Tulku, see image below. In the colophon to the prayer he states that:

“I first met the third Barway Dorje when I was little. With unwavering faith and samaya he served the teachings and especially the supreme victor Rigpe Dorje, the lord of his family. He was extremely kind to me through his whole life. As he has passed into peace for a while, his consort Chötso asked me to write a prayer for his swift return; so I, known as Ogyen Trinley Dorje, moistened by the blessed dew of the Karmapa’s name, wrote down whatever occurred to me on April 5, 2021. Virtue!”

Swift Re-Birth Prayer composed by HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje on 5th April 2021
Letters of Condolences – Rumtek, Zurmang, Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang, Barom Kagyu

Rumtek Monastery

“Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, a peerless light of the teachings, passed into peace on April 1, 2021. Saddened by this, we of the Tsurphu Labrang offer our sincerest condolences to all of Rinpoche’s disciples and especially to his consort, daughters, and other relatives. In accordance with the command and wishes of His Holiness The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, the entire sangha of Rumtek Monastery are presenting offering clouds and making vast aspirations for both the fulfillment of Rinpoche’s intentions and his unceasing continued benefit of the teachings and beings.” From the Tsurphu Labrang on April 4, 2021.

Zurmang Rinpoche and Monastery

Letters from Barom Kagyu and Jamgon Kongtrul labrangs can be read here.

Letter from 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje
16th Karmapa with a young Bardor Rinpoche

Today, while reading the outline of the 16th Karmapa’s Collected Works for a sponsored translation project, I came across a very short letter written by the 16th Karmapa to Bardo Rinpoche. It is not dated.

As a small offering for the commemoration of his life and close relation to the 16th Karmapa, I offer my translation and publication of the letter in English (for Tibetan see image below):

“Loved one, Bardo Rinpoche la. Actually, without distinction between day and night, I mentally make aspirations that the world be pervaded by Dharma. Similarly, please don’t be timid. I am praying to meet you again soon.”

16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje
Letter to Bardo Rinpoche by 16th Karmapa in his Collected Works

According to the account on Kunzang Palchen Ling website:

“Bardor Tulku Rinpoche saved this treasured note but he was uncertain about its meaning. In 1999, Rinpoche had a very vivid dream of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, in which the Karmapa told him to look after his own lineage, the lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje. In the waking state Rinpoche strongly felt the Karmapa’s presence to the extent that he could perceive the Karmapa’s smell. The dream of the 16th Karmapa helped Bardor Tulku Rinpoche decide that it was time to look after his lineage.In 2000, he founded Raktrul Foundation as a means to help rebuild and revitalize the Raktrul Monastery in Tibet. Two years later Rinpoche began laying ground for the dissemination of his lineage teachings in the West. In 2003, he established Kunzang Palchen Ling (KPL), a Buddhist center founded on non-sectarian principles and a venue for the preservation of the lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje.”

Bardor Rinpoche states that he attended the 16th Gwalwang Karmapa for sixteen years: “Of course, it is very easy for us to say that the Gwalwang Karmapa is the embodiment of all buddhas of the three times and so on. But to actually be in his presence and experience the way he lived is very, very significant. In spite of the fact that the Gyalwang Karmapa is someone who achieved buddhahood countless eons ago, appearing among us as a human being, he still practiced every day. His Holiness the 16th Karmapa would, during the years that I attended him, begin his daily practice recitations—his “personal liturgy” if you will—as soon as he awoke in the morning and would recite it whenever he had a break from the sometimes endless stream of visitors who would come to see him throughout the day. And in spite of how busy he was, no matter how many people came to see him, even if it took him into the middle of the night to finish it, I never saw him not finish his recitation book every day. During the last two or three days of his life, I was attending him. And during those days, he had become so weak physically, as he was dying, that he could not even hold up his chant book. So I (in those days I had two hands that I could use)* would hold up the book with one hand and then turn the pages with the other. And sometimes if I turned it too soon and he had not quite finished it, I would have to turn it back. He went through the whole book every day, even when he was dying. On the last day of his life, he had me open the book, he chanted the first page, and then he told me to wrap it back up and he placed it on his head. So, if somebody who long ago achieved awakening, who is an undisputed nirmanakaya of all buddhas of the three times, lives like that, then what must we do?”

Self-Arisen Guru Rinpoche

According to one online post, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche shared this story at the conclusion of his October 4-5, 2014 teachings.

“When we were offering the daranis to — I mean, we say filling the statues of the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche, at that time, I composed three supplications: A supplication to Guru Rinpoche; A supplication to the eight forms of Guru Rinpoche; and A supplication to each of his 25 disciples as well as a feast practice,all to be added to the Concise Daily Practice of the Combined Sadhana of the Vidyadhara Guru, in other words, the Daily Guru Rinpoche practice.And having done so, then, we first recited this at the reopening of the practice site that’s called Chodrak Peak. And the peak of Chodrak, which is above Chodrak Monastery, was the place where a previous life of Terchen Barway Dorje, called the Dharma Lord Sonam Zangpo, had spent most of his life practicing in isolated retreat. He had created that site along with his master Langray Drakpa Gyaltsen.Now, the retreat facility or hermitage that was built there was largely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but part of it, couple of its walls, are still standing. And when we performed this feast practice there, subsequently, this image of Guru Rinpoche began to spontaneously emerge from that wall.

Now, this place is very significant for our lineage because not only was it where the Dharma Lord Sonam Zangpo spent most of his life and practiced, but it’s also where in his later life, as Terchen Barway Dorje, he did intensive retreat for more than three years. He gave it the name Lion Sky Fortress. And it was where he received, in visions, and transcribed his special short lineage of the Six Dharmas of Naropa and the attendant physical exercises, according to the Barom Kagyu tradition. So it is of great significance.(Note: Self-arisen image is seen in the inset photo with the kata scarves).”

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