If you look at the influential lamas of today who are doing great works around the world, it would be safe to say all of them can count His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche as their direct teacher or lineage teacher.
As a young monk Pabongka Rinpoche was not known to be a good student. In fact his monk classmates knew him as someone who did not excel in his studies and had trouble memorising the texts. They even made fun of him for being a dullard. That changed when Pabongka Rinpoche was under the direct tutelage of his teacher Dagpo Jamphel Lhundrup Rinpoche who taught him the Lamrim which Pabongka Rinpoche meditated on for many years.
Pabongka Rinpoche taught tirelessly and unlike many of the lamas of his day, Pabongka Rinpoche also gave extensive teachings to the laity. He was known for his skill in conveying complex Buddhist philosophy in simple laymen’s terms. This reflects his in-depth knowledge to be able to summarise these deep concepts for the everyday person. Pabongka Rinpoche counted among his students tens of thousands of monks who came from the three great monasteries of Tibet: Gaden, Sera and Drepung. As a result, most of the Gelug practices, teachings and knowledge that exists in the world today can be said to stem from Pabongka Rinpoche because through his works, he created thousands of teachers. And Kyabje Pabongka Dorjechang heavily promoted the practice of Dorje Shugden to his students all over Tibet who then transmitted the tradition and practices down to their disciples.
Pabongka Rinpoche was such an incredible lama and there is so much that can be said about his great deeds. But one of the activities he is extremely renown for is his 24-day Lamrim teaching which was later written up by his student His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the junior tutor of the Dalai Lama. This book can be found in Gelugpa centres all over the world and until today, it is still used as the core study text. It is one thing to teach from a book, but it takes a lama of incomparable skill, scholarship and attainments to summarise the essence of all the teachings and to convey it as a simple, relatable guide for practitioners that is timeless and universally relevant.
So it goes without saying that there are many biographies and texts out there about this great lama who is one with Heruka. But I wish to share with you here this write-up by the Gelug lama Gelek Rinpoche who was himself recognised by Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo as a tulku. You can see how powerful the attainments of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche is from this writing by Gelek Rinpoche. It is a must read!
When we read biographies about holy practitioners, it is to inspire us towards greater practice and improvement. It is also to inspire more appreciation for the Dharma teachings that we receive since we know the source and sometimes, the obstacles that these teachers had to endure in order to keep the teachings and practices alive. So please do read up carefully about this attained being and be inspired.
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Title of the book: Vajra Yogini Teachings
Commentary: Gelek Rinpoche
Published by: A Jewel Heart Transcript
Publication year: 1986 – 2002
[Below, content of the book typed out from page 35 – 40]
Pabongka Rinpoche and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama
During the thirteenth Dalai Lama’s period, Pabongka was giving teachings and a lot of people were following him and respected him. But somehow he was never acceptable to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, who always looked for some excuse to punish Pabongka – always. Both were great Lamas. The thirteenth Dalai Lama is a true incarnation of Avalokiteshvara and Pabongka was a true incarnation of wrathful Avalokiteshvara, i.e. Heruka. He was an actual living Heruka. That is why he is referred to as Dechen Nyingpo. So if you trace them back, they are both Avalokiteshvara. But the thirteenth Dalai Lama was Dalai Lama and he had the power. If you read Pabongka’s biography is says there that he landed in the Dalai Lama’s court four, five times. Somehow, the thirteenth Dalai Lama always had to find some excuse to punish Pabongka.
One such excuse he found when Pabongka went to Eastern Tibet. At that time Pabongka was becoming quite old, not very old, in his late fifties, but he was of huge size, he was gigantic – to use ordinary language, he was big and fat. He had to be lifted by two or three people and could not move very much. Therefore he was carried around in one of these palanquins that is carried by 4 or 6 people. That’s how Pabongka traveled. It is considered a privilege. When he came back to Lhasa, the thirteenth Dalai Lama had heard about the way he was carried. So he summoned him and asked, ‘Who gave you permission to travel in a palanquin?’
So he made him do prostrations in Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, during the government meetings. He had to do prostrations there for seven days and also for seven days in Drepung, Sera and Ganden monasteries. In addition, he had to make offerings and distribute money to all the monks there. Now the problem came when Pabongka started with the prostrations. It was the Dalai Lama’s order, so he had to follow it. Now, in the government’s court most of the officers there were his disciples. They were scared of the Dalai Lama in one way and in the other way they were scared of Pabongka prostrating. So when he started the prostrations everybody was either moving this way or that way, trying not to be in front of Pabongka.
It was similar when he prostrated in the monasteries. Drepung had about twelve thousand monks at the time, Sera seven thousand and Ganden five thousand. Normally, Drepung was supposed to have seven thousand seven hundred, Sera five thousand five hundred and Ganden three thousand three hundred, but the numbers had increased very much. When Pabongka started prostrating at Drepung, everybody got up, because everybody was Pabongka’s disciple. This sort of thing happened a number of times.
The last is the most interesting one. Pabongka introduced the Southern Lamrim tradition, called Shargyu. This tradition somehow was not popular in Tibet and one could not find much of a proof of where it came from; it was not available in the regular books. So some talk among the learned scholars had started, saying, ‘How come this Pabongka has introduced this funny system of the Southern tradition of Lamrim? He went to some corner of Tibet, a little village, where he found an old monk who was sitting in retreat somewhere and then he brings us such a thing called the Southern tradition of the Lamrim.’
The Southern tradition was what Pabongka had studied under Dagpo Lama Rinpoche. Then Pabongka started giving teachings in Lhasa. At that time he had a large number of followers, almost all the monks of the three great monasteries besides almost ninety percent of the lay people in Lhasa and the surrounding areas. Wherever Pabongka gave teachings there were bound to be three to four thousand people. So people started talking about where this tradition might have come from. Finally, the thirteenth Dalai Lama wrote Pabongka a note, saying, ‘It seems that you are introducing such a strange teaching called the Southern tradition of Lamrim and I have carefully observed the 18 volumes of Tsongkhapa’s work and have found no trace of it. So where did you find such a thing? If you have a way to prove it, you should prove it within two days. If you can’t prove it, you should surrender and declare yourself a fraud.’ That was the note Pabongka received. Moreover, it was backdated to two days earlier and it was not delivered until one hour before he was supposed to appear in the Norbulingka. So, it was almost the deadline.
There was hardly one hour’s time. And Pabongka was a very slow-moving person. They had to hurry very much. Pabongka wore the normal robes and went to Norbulingka. Normally, every explanation or punishment was done in the place where the government officials gathered together, sort of publicly. But the chamberlain of H.H. the Dalai Lama as well as most of the senior officers happened to be Pabongka’s disciples. So, instead of calling him into that public gathering place, they called him into the chamberlain’s house first. Normally, when you receive an order of the Dalai Lama, you have to bow down and the officers would not get up, no matter whoever you might be. But in his house on that day, the chamberlain had built a little throne and asked Pabongka to take his seat there. It was a throne in the sense that on the bed he might have added an extra cushion or something. So Pabongka sat there and the two officers sat on the floor. And then they informed Pabongka what was going on with that order. Then Pabongka said, ‘I would like to consult with my manager’. The two officers said, ‘Yes, by all means’. Pabongka said to his manager, ‘Well, His Holiness gave that order. What shall we do now?’ (Pabongka was a peculiar person, according to his manager. The manager said, ‘Unless I was able to start his fire, he would not act. He had to be pushed and get a little excited’).
The manager replied, ‘If it has something to do with the economic affairs or it has to do with administration of the labrang , then I am fully responsible and know how to reply. But this is a spiritual matter. This is dealing with the teachings and I am not the one who sits on the throne and teaches. It is for you to answer. His Holiness is saying that these teachings you had given, this so called Southern tradition, if it is a true teaching, you have to prove it today. You have to be able to say, ‘This is true because of this and proof is here and Buddha has also said it there and Buddha’s disciples in India have said it somewhere and this Lama has said it is in such and such a book’. In this way you have to prove it today and if you can’t, you have to give them a scarf and say, ‘I am very sorry I have cheated everybody. From now on I will behave myself’. That is what you have to do and there is nothing to seek counsel from me for.’
Pabongka looked at the government officers and they sort of bowed down a little and did not say anything. Then Pabongka asked the manager again, ‘Is it really that serious?’ and the manager answered, ‘His Holiness is not only a spiritual leader, but also has political power. So it is up to him what punishment he will give to you. He can also openly declare that the teaching is not genuine and then nobody can practice it. It is his decision.’ Then Pabongka asked the government officials, ‘Is that possible? Would His Holiness really go to that extent?’ and they said, ‘Yes, he may do it.’ So Pabongka thought for a moment and then said, ‘Under these circumstances, I shall reply. I shall dictate and you go ahead and take notes.’
Then Pabongka started quoting, ‘The Buddha said in this sutra and that sutra and in the collected works of the Buddha in volume such and such this is written and right at this moment Your Holiness is sitting in your room and if you look at your back in the third shelf, open that book and read on page 146 at the back side the 6thline, there it says this, this, and then of you look on your left side, on the second shelf, the second volume number, this and this, pull that book out and there it says this, this, this…’ and the officers looked at Pabongka, startled and busily took notes.
And Pabongka continued, ‘This is the proof from the Kanjur and if you read this book by Asanga which is available in Your Holiness’s room on such and such a shelf in the outer volume whose color is this and the inner book is this and then if you look at line this, line that, page number this and this you will find it. And from the Tibetan tradition, look at the works of your late master, Purchog Jampa Rinpoche, in volume number four of his collected works, which is on Your Holiness’s bedroom on such and such a shelf and the color of this cloth is this and the page number is that.’
That’s what Pabongka dictated and afterwards they read it out and it was okay, a dictation with good poetic words and everything. That was then presented to His Holiness. His Holiness checked his volumes and it happened to be correct! Everything! And then His Holiness made a lot of inquiries about who had informed Pabongka that this volume was there and that volume was there, but everything proved to be correct.
I have talked to Pabongka’s manager-disciple who came to India and lived there for many years. I was studying Tibetan history at that time. He was a very old man, in his early 90s. Before he died, I had a detailed talk with him, and he told me what happened in this period. Pabongka’s biography was not available at the time to us in India. Later, when the Chinese opened Tibet, it came out. Now it is available in two volumes. This story is also included in his biography, I noticed later.
I happened to be the last person to interview this manager and he told me many things. With tears, because he was dying. He was already on his deathbed and after my interview he did not live for more than a couple of weeks. His memory was very sharp and he regretted many of the things he did. Pabongka called him ‘son’. Actually he was his nephew or a first cousin or something, but he always called him ‘son’, although he behaved so wildly. Everybody knew. This manager called himself ‘The man of Rolex’. He bought himself the best horse, the best gun and the best watch, which was a Rolex. Even my father said about that manager, ‘This man is wild.’
My late father, Demo Rinpoche, was also one of the best among the great disciples of Pabongka. He studied with H.H. Trijang Rinpoche and before he passed away, he told my brother – I was already in India at that time – ‘I have only one regret in my life.’ He himself was the younger half-brother of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, who has squeezed Pabongka a little bit. My father did not like that, so he insulted the thirteenth Dalai Lama many times. Before he passed away, he said, ‘My only regret is that I have insulted H.H. the Dalai Lama on several occasions rather badly. I did this because of Pabongka, who is my master. I requested him a number of times to protect Pabongka and he did not listen, so I insulted him several times.’
This manager was really wild. Even during Pabongka’s teachings; when there were two thousand to three thousand people and something happened outside the teaching hall, perhaps somebody was not behaving properly or something, the manager would not hesitate to get up and give him a slap. Straightaway. He would pick up somebody’s shoes from the back and hit anybody. And nobody would say anything, because of Pabongka. Pabongka Rinpoche sort of always ignored what he did. He let him do anything.
My previous incarnation was a Gyüto tantric college abbot. When people were supposed to look for my reincarnation, they decided not to go ahead with it at all. Finally Pabongka insisted, ‘You must look for the reincarnation. It is very important and you have to do it.’ And the disciples of Pabongka, especially the senior manager who would normally listen to whatever Pabongka said, requested, ‘If you tell me to jump into the fire, I will jump. If you tell me to jump into the river, I will jump. But don’t tell me to look for that reincarnation, because it would be a big problem for me. If the reincarnation happens to become a good lama, it is okay, it is useful. But in case he turns out to be a wild one, then all his non-virtuous actions will fall on me. So it is better if I jump into the fire.’ But Pabongka still insisted and in the end they had to listen to him. Then the manager tried to find excuses. He said, ‘We have no money, we have no people, nothing, everything has already been distributed.’ Then Pabongka said, ‘When I was young, I had no money, I had nothing, not even tsampa. ‘ Pabongka said that he used to fill up his sack three quarters full with sand up and put a little tsampa on the top. So whenever he was hungry, he smelled the tsampa and took a little bit. That’s all. That is how poor he was. And now he said to that manager, ‘There is so much wealth accumulated around here now, and even though the ‘son’ is throwing some here and there, there is still a lot available. You have only excuses. This is not right. They are not correct reasons. You have to look for the reincarnation.’
Pabongka’s manager was really wild. He told me at the last minute that he had done only one good deed. That was when the late Reting resigned as the regent in 1938 and handed over the regentship to another Rinpoche called Talungdra. Before he did, Reting wrote Pabongka a note asking Pabongka if, as he had to be away from the regency for three years, would Pabongka act as the ruler in the meantime on his behalf? Pabongka informed his manager, ‘Look, this has come. Would you like us to accept and become regent of Tibet?’ and he showed his manager the letter. The manager said, ‘I will think tonight. This is a political matter. I will decide and tell you tomorrow.’ Pabongka agreed. The next morning the manager came up to Pabongka and offered him a scarf, prostrated three times and said, ‘We don’t need any regency at all; whatever you are and the teachings you have given, that is good enough. Please remain as you are and don’t accept the regency.’
At first Pabongka seemed to be taken aback, ‘People are trying to give me the regency from right and left. When I get such an offer, this fellow here has a chicken heart. He can’t even accept it.’
The manager thought that this remark did not really suit Rinpoche’s thought, but anyway he said, ‘Whether it suits your thoughts or not, if you become regent, all the good work you have done will be damaged. You will have to deal with political matters and then everything will be finished. Every commitment of the master-disciple relationship will be broken. There will be nothing, so please don’t accept! ’ That’s what he requested. Pabongka was actually very happy about that. He rejected the offer and Talungdra became regent.
After that, Pabongka left for the South of Tibet and he wrote a letter to his manager, when he was only one day from Lhasa, in which he called him ‘son, the only son, the essence of the heart.’ That is what Pabongka’s manager told me.
Pabongka was a staunch Gelugpa. Look at his work: he does not say anything bad about other traditions, but he always shows the extraordinary qualities of Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Some people were saying that he was not Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara, but a devil manifesting in the form of Avalokiteshvara. Some people go to that extent. In true reality, that is not the case. However, some unfortunate incidents took place in Eastern Tibet. There were a lot of insults, really bad incidents.
When Pabongka went to the East, to Kham, the Bönpos attacked Pabongka so much. All the Böns in Kham gathered together and continuously, day and night, directed black magic against Pabongka. That happened a number of times: there were a number of incidents. Once, when Pabongka was going over a high pass and it was all snow, suddenly a huge storm came and everybody was carried up and down by it and there was quite a lot of damage. There was no harm done to human life, but quite a lot of material damage. Finally, when they made it to the other side of the mountain, Pabongka said, ‘No one should come into my tent.’ He sat there for a while and when the thunder came, together with lightning, Pabongka collected the lightning in his pocket and kept it there for a while. Finally he called somebody and told him, ‘Take this here and throw it outside, that way.’ And when they threw it out, they could see sort of red colored light and liquid inside the lightning and this burnt the grass and everything. He had collected it like that. Such things happened a number of times.
That manager, I think, kept all that in his mind. Without Pabongka knowing about it – he told me personally – he went into those Bönpo monasteries and when he found out that there were forty or eighty people there, he collected three hundred volunteers, went there at night and punished them. He destroyed those places, burnt them to the ground. He did that, totally. Even Pabongka himself said, ‘What happened here? The other day I saw there was a monastery, and now there is nothing. What happened?’ The manager kept on telling him, ‘Oh, you are mistaken, nothing was there’, but actually, that’s what he did. People thought it was a bit much, and many took it for granted that it happened on Pabongka’s order. So some people started to insult Pabongka and began saying bad things, all because of this manager’s acts.
Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s previous incarnations, Pabongka is said to be not really the reincarnation of Pabongka, but of Drupchen Nagpo Chöpa [Nagpopa], that is the great siddha Kanhapa, and also of the great Changya Rölpai Dorje. If you read the biographies of Pabongka’s previous incarnations, written by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, you will see both Nagpopa and Changya Rölpai Dorje listed there, but not the previous Pabongka. That sometimes happens in the Tibetan incarnation tradition. They switch each other’s lineages. Sometimes somebody occupies somebody else’s place and they cannot get it. So they are sort of pushed out. It happens quite often.
Heruka actually appeared to Pabongka when he visited Cimburi in Tibet, where there is an image of Heruka. This is where the Blood drinker’s mountains are. This name refers to Heruka [Drinker of blood]. There is a story about that place in Nagpopa’s biography. Pabongka went to this area three times in his lifetime. When he first went there, this image spoke to him, opened the mouth and a tremendous amount of nectar came. He collected the nectar from the mouth of Heruka in the presence of sixty or seventy people. This nectar was made into nectar pills. Our current nectar pills originate from there.
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