His Eminence the 1st Serkong Dorje Chang was a prominent Tibetan Buddhist Lama during the time of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama and a monk of Gaden Jangtse Monastery. It is said that when Serkong Dorje Chang was studying in Gyume Tantric College, he would see dakinis swimming in his monk bowl during pujas.
Serkong Dorje Chang reported this and other incredible signs to His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama who advised him to voluntarily return his monk vows and take on a consort. The Dalai Lama could prescribe such advice because Serkong Dorje Chang had reached a stage in his practice whereby if he engaged in Tantric practice with a consort, he would only gain greater attainments. In the history of the Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Serkong Dorje Chang is the only Lama that the Dalai Lama has advised to return his ordination vows.
It is important to bear in mind that not everybody can engage in consort practice. Lama Tsongkhapa himself discouraged physical consort practice and he stated that most people are not qualified to engage in it. Although Lama Tsongkhapa himself was very qualified to take on a consort, he did not do so. Rather he encouraged his students to engage in their Higher Tantric practices with a visualised consort during their meditations; those who did so need not give up their monastic vows. While practising with an actual consort could bring faster attainments, it could also be very detrimental to those unqualified. In the latter case, it would only foster an increase in attachment to lust and desire.
Following the Dalai Lama’s advice, Serkong Dorje Chang returned his vows and left the monastery, determined to practise with a consort. He then sought out a meditation cave. Many people reported seeing a mysterious lady coming and going from this cave on several occasions. No one knew who she was, which part of Tibet she came from nor her lineage. After some time, she gave birth to a baby boy who she left with Serkong Dorje Chang and then disappeared. There was no trace of her thereafter and no one could locate her again. Their baby was Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, who later became the personal debate partner of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
The link between Serkong Dorje Chang and Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche has existed for lifetimes. Serkong Dorje Chang is said to be the reincarnation of Marpa, the guru of the 11th Century yogi Milarepa, and Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche is the reincarnation of Marpa’s son. In their subsequent rebirths up until their current incarnations, they alternated as father and son as well as guru and disciple.
Although a layman, Serkong Dorje Chang was still invited to the great monastery of Gaden Jangtse to give Dharma teachings to the assembly of scholars, ex-abbots, abbots, masters and geshes. He would arrive dressed in a chuba (lay Tibetan clothes) carrying his baby Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche. Seated on the teaching throne, he would give his son a bottle while teaching topics such as renunciation. It was apparent to everyone present that Serkong Dorje Chang’s son was not the product of desire or attachment but of a higher spiritual purpose.
When the renowned Serkong Dorje Chang entered clear light, incredible signs appeared during his funerary ceremony. As his pyre was set alight, many people saw his body stand up and take on the pose of Vajrayogini. Some saw him as Yamantaka, some as Guhyasamaja, some as Heruka, but primarily people saw him as Vajrayogini. His body stayed in this pose throughout the cremation. Hence it is said that Serkong Dorje Chang was a very accomplished practitioner of the Vajrayogini Tantras.
Serkong Dorje Chang’s reincarnation is famous for building a very beautiful monastery in Swayambunath, a famous pilgrimage place in Nepal, right next to Serkong Dorje Chang’s monastery.
The 1st Serkong Dorje Chang
The first Serkong Dorje Chang, His Eminence Ngawang Tsultrim Donden was born into the Yutok family, the same family into which His Holiness the 10th Dalai Lama also took birth. Ngawang Tsultrim Donden was born in the Tibetan calendar year 1982 in the Wood Rabbit year of the 14th cycle, which corresponds to 1855 in the Gregorian calendar.
His first name was Keu Yeshe Phel Bar as given by his parents. He received the monastic vows from the Great Throneholder Ngawang Norbu when he was 10 years old and given the name Ngawang Tsultrim Donden.
Ngawang Tsultrim Donden entered Jangtse monastic college to begin his Dharma studies. He studied Sutra and Tantra with great perseverance and diligence as well as other cultural subjects at the feet of many spiritual teachers including Ngawang Norbu. He obtained the title of ‘Rabjampa‘ during the Great Prayer Festival examinations in Lhasa at the age of 24 and became well known for his knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. Subsequently he entered Gyume Tantric College to study and practise the Tantras such as those of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Yamantaka.
When his Root Guru Ngawang Norbu fell ill, he took the utmost care to nurse and serve his Guru, undertaking both pleasing and disgusting tasks with an unperturbed mind. This is said to have created the auspicious conditions for the attainment of a highly accomplished state in that same lifetime.
At that time, his root Guru Ngawang Norbu gave him strict instructions to return his vows of a fully ordained monk and urged him to practise Tantra. This, among other benefits, would serve him in lengthening his lifespan, advancing his practice and ensuring he realised the welfare of the teachings and benefited sentient beings. Following his Guru’s instructions, Ngawang Tsultrim Donden donned lay clothes and left to practise in solitary retreat without attachment to the Eight Worldly Dharmas.
Unperturbed by poor food and ragged clothes, Ngawang Tsultrim Donden practised day and night, manifesting the signs of realisation according to the principles of Tantra. When granted an audience with H.H. the 13th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Tsultrim Donden saw His Holiness in the aspect of Avalokiteshvara. He benefited many with his Dharma teachings in Tibet, Bhutan and Mon (in northeast India).
When he was 64, Ngawang Tsultrim Donden was invited to Tashi Lhunpo by His Holiness the 9th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Thubten Chökyi Nyima, consecrated a statue of Maitreya and gave many teachings to great assemblies of disciples. In 1918 he passed into clear light, manifesting the merging of his mind into the sphere of Dharmakaya.
The 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang
The 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang, His Eminence Thubten Tsewang was born in 1921 in front of the Lhasa Cathedral, in the house of ‘do kor chu mig‘. He obtained the seat of a Lama in the great assembly of Gaden Monastery when he was only 10 years old.
He received both the novice and full ordination vows from His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama and was given the name Thubten Tsewang. He studied with many highly qualified tutors and exerted himself in the mastery of the great treatises of Sutra and Tantra.
At the age of 26, the 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang received the title of ‘Rabjampa‘ in Lhasa and entered Gyume Tantric College where he attended many teachings on Sutra and Tantra and put them into practice. As a sign of having practised Tantra continuously on the firm basis of training in the common path during this and previous lives, his body did not become dirty and did not sweat. This is an undisputed display of reaching the stage of a ‘non-returner’. He also took great care of his own monastery, Serkong Gaden Jamgon Ling in Nepal, near the Swayambhunath Stupa.
The 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang is said to have manifested madness and crazy behaviour all the time. He would run around Nepal, sometimes to the famous stupa in Boudhanath. He is remembered for rubbing the chest of a stone Vajrayogini statue; people witnessed the statue breathing heavily and sweating. At other times he would walk along the street, pick up dog faeces and eat it. As such, people would proclaim him to be the “mad Lama.”
The 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang entered clear light in November 1979 while in the rooms of his monastic residence. While it was not the norm to have thangkas (religious paintings) displayed in his room, he had them displayed on the day of his passing and even gave specific instructions to his attendants to display them properly. Before passing, he donned his robes and lay in the Lion posture, the same as what Buddha Shakyamuni manifested before entering into Parinirvana.
The 3rd Serkong Dorje Chang
The 3rd Serkong Dorje Chang was born on 29 January 1981 in India and was recognised as the reincarnation of the 2nd Serkong Dorje Chang by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama during a Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya.
When he was 29 years old, he received the ‘Rabjampa‘ Geshe degree in October 2010 in Gaden Jangste Monastery in South India.
He has traveled to Nepal, India, Bhutan, Mon (in northeast India), Europe and the United States to spread the Dharma to benefit many. He continues to look after Serkong Gaden Jamgon Ling Monastery and the welfare of its resident monks.
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