Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche at Phuntsok Choling in Ward

"If you want to know about the teacher, look at his students."


By Joanna Bolek AKA: Joanne Fagan

Attending the “Celebrating the Return” event was an opportunity to soak in the dharma which my husband and I rarely get, living as we do with the border tribes in Colorado Springs. We headed to the event on a beautiful Colorado Saturday morning, driving past the town of Ward (its main street still eerily-lined with abandoned cars and trucks…form and emptiness doing a dance.)

On entering the shrine tent I was enveloped in a display of such splendor that I was close to tears…knowing what devotion, commitment, blood, sweat, and tears it had taken to bring this all together. There were to be many moments throughout the weekend when, on witnessing exchanges between Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and his students, I recalled with a swelling heart the love and devotion the Vidyadhara manifested and invoked in his students. In that context it seems superhuman things can be accomplished.

We were celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s birth and the return of his incarnation in the person of Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche. After a formal welcoming procession led by a bagpiper (which also brought me to tears), Yangsi Rinpoche sat in the highest throne with Rabjam Rinpoche and Kongtrul Rinpoche to his left. Thrones and brocaded seats were carefully and elegantly arranged for attending tulkus, Kongtrul Rinpoche’s wife, Elizabeth, and Pema Chodron. Everyone was well provided for.

Rabjam Rinpoche began with life stories of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, telling of ordinary/extraordinary episodes such as the time HHDKR blew on the nozzle of a famous sharpshooter’s gun, after which he could never again hit his target with it…always missed. He told us about how HHDKR supplicated eight manifestations of herukas which appeared in his own body while meditating in a cave–which resulted in the Ranjung Peme Nyingtik, the empowerment for which we would receive that afternoon. “HHDKR downloaded from Guru Rinpoche’s database,” said Rangjung Rinpoche. He described HHDKR’s termas as very elaborate, “high-tech” compassion and visualizations. He also stated, “If you see the master as Guru Rinpoche, you receive the empowerment from Guru Rinpoche. If you see the master as a “normal human being”, you receive the empowerment from a “normal human being.”

Rabjam Rinpoche also told us how he received teachings from HHDKR in some unusual places such as bathrooms and hot springs. He told us with a chuckle how he later listened to some tapes he had made of these teachings (having only some old, used tapes on-hand with which to record the teachings) and songs from Saturday Night Fever or some other pop music would come on.

Rabjam Rinpoche said HHDKR made everything easy for him…such as reincarnating right next door and then having everyone who needed to be informed of the rebirth (by Rabjam Rinpoche) show up conveniently. Rabjam Rinpoche was struck by the way Yangsi Rinpoche handles protection cords…just like HHDKR did…one of many ways he recognized his grandfather’s reincarnation. Rabjam Rinpoche feels he has the best job in the whole world. His love and devotion are so evident.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s son, and dharma heir, gave a short welcoming talk in which he mentioned Yangsi Rinpoche’s basketball prowess…that he had an amazing three point shot. Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche spoke next telling us how fortunate he felt to be the reincarnation of someone as mind-blowing as HHDKR and to see the immense devotion that his predecessor inspired. He referred to the saying, “If you want to know about the teacher, look at his students.” He went on to say that meeting his heart sons…they are his living footprint. I took this to include all of us and that these gatherings with HHDKR’s students were a kind of mutual empowerment/exchange for the increasing Buddha activity of the Khyentse lineage. This self-described “weird teen-age boy” said, “Supposedly, I am recognized as his reincarnation. I really don’t know how that happened.” Elaborating on his disadvantages when compared to HHDKR, he went on to say how he really didn’t have any of his qualities; that HHDKR was gigantic and good looking and he, well…no way. He said, “I don’t want to talk about my looks. It’s shameful and a bit heart-breaking.” And then, “Sorry, I forgot what I was going to say…so, I’ll just look at your face, you look at mine and we’ll all freak out.” This was the warm and empty seed syllable from which this heartfelt mandala sprouted. Yangsi Rinpoche talked about helping others, and training the mind to accomplish this intention, and referred to the saying, “If your mind and motivation is pure, your path will be pure; if polluted, your path will be polluted.” He also said something to the effect, if you kiss a shark there’s very little possibility you’ll come out with your head. (This idea was referred to later and explained as, “Training the mind with poisonous thoughts is like unsuccessfully trying to kiss a shark.”) He went on to talk about hope and fear and how the result of that dynamic is suffering. Then, thinking we looked bored, he launched into a more personal story. He described how he met so many people he didn’t know, was put up on this big box and people talked to him honorifically. He thought it would be easy, but is finding out it’s not…but that he’s in a great position to study with great teachers who treat him as their own child, authentic teachers, free from worldly concerns, hopes and fears. He spoke of the aspects of having a good heart: stop gossiping, hypocrisy, judging, narrow-mindedness, taking advantage of others, invading other people’s space, or giving while trying to get something in return. In closing he commented, “You all look very uptight.” Nothing like holding up the mirror!

We were given a condensed form of the empowerment for the Ranjung Peme Nyingtik in the afternoon, and an introduction to sadhana practice the next morning by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. Rinpoche talked about the characterlessness of dharmadhatu…there is nothing to say, “This is it.” Well, that could be said about this whole unfolding! Oh yes, I remember…groundlessness is my ground.

On Sunday afternoon we practiced the sadhana, using the splendid texts each of us had received the day before. We chanted in Tibetan, very quickly much of the time. As my mind relaxed I was able to let go into the melody which was very beautiful and helped me stay present. The rich sense offerings were equally inspiring. When we reached the feast section, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s longing and devotion led the way when he sang several songs of supplication, realization and liberation. He invited many others to offer songs and dance, which included a lovely Chakrasamvara dance offered by youthful dakinis (the same dance I had performed with others at the Vidyadhara’s stupa consecration), a Bharata Natyam dance performed by two other dakinis, Amazing Grace (which Rabjam Rinpoche sang along with enjoyment) sung by all with gusto, gospel songs, hindu songs, Hotel California, The Rose, and finally, Danny Boy.

The procession of offerings was “over the top”. $40,000 worth of earthly treasures, including a “to die for” set of luggage, were presented to Yangsi Rinpoche, an exceptional expression of devotion led by the Mangala Shri Bhuti sangha to the past and present incarnation of the Khyentse lineage. An additional $60,000 in cash donations had also been given to Yangsi Rinpoche’s foundation.

The non-sectarian Rime spirit Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche espouses was eloquently embodied by his students. Whatever uneasiness I felt about being in or out of this mandala was clearly of my own making.

Yangsi Rinpoche’s kind and luminous gaze when I offered him a khata sealed the experience for me. I floated down the mountain, broken-hearted, but with the blessings of the lineage permeating my being.

Let’s just look at each other and freak out…in other words, “I adore you.”