The Passing of Chatral Rinpoche

The passing of Chatral Sangye Rinpoche marks the end of an era.

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The renowned dzogchen master Chatral Rinpoche (1913-2015) passed away in Yangleshö, Nepal on December 30th, 2015, at the age of 102. He was a disciple of many great masters, including Khenpo Ngakchung, Dudjom Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, and the famed dakini, Sera Khandro, Rinpoche. He is survived by his wife Sangyum Kamala, and by he two daughters, Tara Devi and Saraswati (recognised as a tulku of Sera Khandro).

A Message from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

The passing of Chatral Sangye Rinpoche marks the end of an era. Suddenly we have lost a sentry who was zealously guarding the Buddhadharma in general, the Vajrayana in particular, and especially Tibetan Buddhism and the Nyingma lineage.

The word chatral has the connotation of an ascetic yogi who abandons all. Usually names are given as labels. But in the one now passing into paranirvana, the name Chatral was not just a label. He was the epitome and embodiment of what the word chatral really means.

In his long lifespan of more than 102 years, this is a man who did so much, associated with some of the greatest beings, and became master of the masters, including teaching and becoming the guru of the very man who found the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, who was known as Yongzin Gyaltsab Radreng Rinpoche. Yet this same man can barely boast a monastery, institute, or dharma centre. Around him, paraphernalia like gold-plated roofs and thrones are nowhere to be found. He was a Chatral in the true sense.

But make no mistake: Many lamas like myself, who make the loudest noises, display the most jarring images, and travel every inch and corner of the world, have achieved next to nothing compared to this man who appears never to have done anything except for keeping his meditation mat from ever getting cold. And if he did manifest in action, this is the man who spent 99.99% of what he had rescuing the lives of animals. So for ignorant beings like us to try and express the great qualities of this enlightened being is like trying to measure the depth and width of the sky.

And yet if I may express one thing from the little I have known of this man it is this: The Buddhadharma has so many challenges, including all the charlatans who do outright damage to the image of the Dharma. These may be overcome by those who seem to do the right thing, who appear serene, proper, and moral, and who never upset anyone. But that often leads us into another challenge that is harder to overcome. Because in doing things correctly, properly and morally, and in bearing the burden of not upsetting people, one ends up being the victim of political correctness and becoming hypocritical.

In my limited life I have seen very few anti-hypocritical beings, and he was one of them. He meant business, there was no negotiation, and of course he never traded one single word of the dharma for money. Time and again, he refused to bow down to the mighty.

He made a lot of us hypocritical beings shudder. Just knowing he was alive and breathing somewhere between Siliguri and Pharping made our hearts quake. Even though we never got to see him, especially towards the end of his life — and I myself was refused an audience 20 times or more — his mere presence on this earth shattered hypocrisy.

To express our homage, veneration and supplication, may we disciples of this man keep in our lives the practice of freeing living beings, such as releasing fish, and especially so within this month.

-Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Reprinted with permission from Khyentse Foundation

Readers’ Comments

Living as I did in Nepal and India, I found myself ready to start Chakrasamvara retreat practice and wanting to do so in Yormo, the practice place of both Milarepa and Guru Rinpoche. I decided I would ask the most venerable Chatral Rinpoche for permission to do just that. Of course I had already received abhisheka from the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa and was ready to begin.

Upon my asking permission, Chatral Rinpoche became immediately very fierce and exceptionally wrathful as waves of wrath streamed out in all directions, and I was reduced to a ball of terror, ready to run and hide. He said, “Who do you think you are that YOU can practice Chakrasamvara you ego maniac. Don’t you know how dangerous Chakrasamvara is, you can really hurt yourself and many other people along the way…” He continued in this vein for several minutes and then shouted: “Who is your guru?”

I meekly reply, “Trungpa Rinpoche.”

Chatral Rinpoche then gets a big smile on his face and says, “You have my complete blessing. Go and do your retreat as soon as possible.”

If I would have said almost anybody else I fear what may have occurred. There was so much trust and admiration for the Vidyadhara and the way he had trained us. Tears had no choice but to flow. The respect was genuine, the blessings of the lineage were real, and I started my retreat “as soon as possible.”

-Bobby Higgins

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When I met Chatral Rinpoche for the first time in Nepal, in 1994, he was very welcoming, particularly after I told him I was a student of the Vidyadhara. He asked me to come back later that day, but as I was leading the Naropa students on a field trip, I could not. I have always regretted I did not. I saw Rinpoche a few more times while in Nepal, but never took direct teaching from him. I was somewhat reluctant to do so, as I knew that he was very critical (for good reason) of the sincerity of Western students who came to him asking for Dzogchen teachings but never followed up with practice, so he demanded they do a lot of retreat for about six years before he would give them teachings. I did not want to be another Westerner seeking teachings but not practicing them. But he was indeed highly respectful of Trungpa Rinpoche and of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students. I am very glad I did meet him and received his blessings at least. His passing is the passing of an era.

-Clarke Warren

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I first met Rinpoche at Rumtek in 1980. It was an electric meeting and he told me to come to see him in Nepal. Over the years I met with him and he gave me a number of teachings. At one point I went to his 3-year retreat center in Godavari and stayed (in a tent) for some days, spending my days sitting in his tent. I don’t speak Tibetan, but just being in his presence was amazing. I became very close to his family, Kamala, Sarasvati and Tara. Although I haven’t seen him for a number of years (he stopped seeing everyone) I would go out to Pharping and spend time. I consider him to be one of my main gurus along with the Vidyadhara and will miss him a lot. I suggest reading the book on Sara Khandro, the dissertation by Sarah Jacoby “Love and Liberation”, just recently published. -Jean Thies

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For several months during my years in Boudhnath, Nepal I resided in a house across the field from Khyentse Rinpoche’s Gompa. The view from my window was nothing other than inspiration to practice and that I did because if I attempted to leave my room, all too often, I would meet Chatral Rinpoche coming up the narrow stairway. There was no way to avoid him and it was scary. Chatral Rinpoche’s blessing was to continuously smack my head hard into the concrete wall. Each time he did this no thought was able to be found anywhere so it usually curtailed my adventure for the day sending me back to my room. At that time I had no idea who Chatral Rinpoche was. At this time, I share the story. -Joan West

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