The Ninth Gangteng Tulku: H.E. Kunzang Rigdzin Pema Namgyal
In 1955, Kunzang Rigdzin Pema Namgyal, the 9th Gangteng Tulku was born to noble parents of the Bönbi Chöje: father Tshering Dorji, who was a descendent of the Tibetan King Trisong Deutsen, and mother Tshering Pelmo, in the region of Trongsa, Central Bhutan. The birth of the Tulku was preceded by numerous auspicious and miraculous signs such as the rainbow filled sky, untimely flowering of trees and plants. Before birth, when the Tulku was still in his mother’s womb, his mother saw a very auspicious dream in which boiling water turned to milk and many children were fetching water. She also dreamt that the sands and stones on the banks of nearby stream turned into white pearls and the water flowing from one of the two openings on the shining cliff towards the north of the house turned to milk. When the Tulku was about a month old, while his mother was giving him the morning bath, to everyone’s surprise and amazement, a five-coloured rainbow was seen striking from the eastern direction onto the bath tub.
Coincidentally, around the same time, Gyal Yum Ashi Phuntsho Choden [Queen of the Second King of Bhutan and Royal Mother of His Majesty, the Third King of Bhutan], on her way from Bumthang, while residing in Sha Samtengang near the Luedtsho Lake, dreamt of a girl adorned with flowers and silk scarves, carrying a bowl of milk. She said that the milk is to be offered to Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche and requested the Gyal Yum to offer it to Rinpoche. Upon asking who she was, the girl in the dream answered that she is the Tshomen (Spirit of the Lake) of the Luedtsho Lake and offered the following song:
I offer this song to the Three Jewels: the ultimate refuge,
There is none other than you to rely on.
If you do not recognise this place,
It is the Luedtsho lake of Sha Samtengang.
If you do not know who I am,
I am Deki, the Tshomen of this lake.
The lake is the Spirit Lake (Latsho) called Gakhil,
It’s the Spirit Lake of Peling’s heart incarnation.
One Lama for one human generation,
By the time it reaches the sixth generation,
I have become very unfortunate here:
The Tulku’s focus of Buddha activity is elsewhere.
A number of years have gone by,
At Sangngak Chöling, the main seat,
There is no throne holder as yet.
In the last summer’s sixth month,
I had gone looking for the Tulku.
Towards the eastern direction from here,
Behind the great Pelela Mountain Pass,
Towards the source of the Mangde Chu,
A place where the unique language Henked is spoken,
The youngest of the three sons,
Is in the full bloom of health.
At Gangteng Sangngag Chöling,
The mind feels empty without a Tulku,
Thanks be for the Great Queen Mother’s arrival here,
Couldn’t you invite the Tulku to his monastic seat?
As the Tulku’s birth was clearly indicated in the song, during the morning tea, in the presence of Changzoed Laptsap Kuenley, Wangdi Dzong’s guest caretaker, Shar Gyalmo and Kurtoed Ashi Tshewang Lhamo, Gyal Yum Phuntsho Choden sent an order that the monks of Gangteng be told that if they want to seek their Tulku’s incarnation they must look towards the source of Mangde Chu. Moreover, the above song was given to Ashi Tshewang Lhamo by the Gyal Yum, from whom it has been sourced for this work.
As a child, the Tulku often talked of the Gönpa and imitated actions of conducting blessings and teaching ceremonies. From the previous of the Lama Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche, he received empowerment and transmission of the Soeldep Leu Duenma and the novice’s vows. When the Tulku was about seven years of age, he was admitted as a monk in Trongsa Dratshang. From Lam Neten Tshewang Gyeltshen and other teachers, the young Tulku learnt the basics of reading and writing effortlessly.
In addition, he also mastered the inner and outer ritual practices, playing of religious instruments etc. During this time, the Great Dzogchen yogi, Polo Khenpo Rinpoche recognized the Tulku as a reincarnate Lama. Similarly, His Holiness Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorji and His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorji recognized the Tulku as the unmistaken reincarnation of Gangteng Tulku.
Then the Tulku was enrolled in Tango Buddhist College, during which he received the secret Vajrayana teachings including the complete Sarma and Dzogchen teachings from Je Tendzin Döndrup, Je Geduen Rinchen and other noble teachers.
The young Tulku was enthroned as the 9 th Gangteng Tulku at an elaborate enthronement ceremony.
His Holiness Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, who was Guru Rinpoche himself in person, not only transmitted all the teachings, empowerments, transmission and detailed pointing out instructions of Pema Lingpa but also conferred the complete empowerment, transmission and teachings of the Old and New Treasure teachings of the Dudjom lineage in the manner of filling a vase. With great affection and regard, His Holiness also composed a long life prayer for the Tulku. From the great masters including Kyabje Jadrel Rinpoche, Kyabje Penor Rinpoche, Kyabje Je Khenpo Tendzin Döndrup, Kyabje Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Kyabje Dodrup Rinpoche, Polo Khenpo Rinpoche, Sakya Khenchen Rinchen, Khenchen Khedrup, Khenchen Dampa Noryang, Khenchen Dazer, Nyoshu Khen Jamyang Dorji Rinpoche, Yanglop Shakya Dorji etc., the Tulku received important teachings such as the Rinchen Terdzoed, Dam Ngag Zoed, NyingthikYazhi, Ngel So Kor Sum, Gyud Gyal Sangwa Nyingpo and other teachings completing the entire Ka Ter teachings.
Then, Tulku studied in Buddhist Ngagyur Nyingma College at Mysore, where he read Buddhist philosophies such as Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, metaphysics, logic etc, including debate, composition and teaching skills. Again, at the blessed retreat centre in Kunzang Chöling, the Tulku underwent three years of strict meditation and retreat, during which many signs of accomplishment were seen.
Once the people of Banjar community in Tsamang under Mongar Dzongkhag invited and requested Tulku Rinpoche to bless their village. During this time, the Tulku was able to bring forth sacred water at three places, thus fulfilling the long-felt wish of the Banjar community. Even to this day, the proof of this amazing Buddha activity of Rinpoche can be seen in that village.
Understanding that the Buddha Dharma is vital for peace and happiness in the world and learning, meditation and practice are essential to ensure the continuity and spread of the Dharma, Rinpoche felt the need and wished to institute Buddhist colleges and meditation centres. As auspicious coincidence would have it, His Majesty, the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck commanded that a Buddhist college and a meditation centre be established at Gangteng Gönpa in the future interest of the Monastery and the Lineage as well as in the general interest of upholding the Dharma for the sake of all beings. His Majesty graciously commanded that the Royal Government would extend full support. Accordingly in 1985, the college and meditation centre were started. During this time, Gyal Yum Phuntsho Choden supported this initiative by sponsoring the construction of three large statues of Lord Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and Rigdzin Pema Lingpa and the temple housing many precious contents. In addition to this, the private secretary of the Gyal Yum, Lopen Phub Dorji, through pure motivation, made contributions including many articles of offerings to the Gönpa.
Following this, Rinpoche also instituted Ugyen Thegchok Chöling in Karshong, Anim Gönpa Pema Chöling at Tang, Bumthang, Samdrup Chöling at Chasilakha, Ugyen Thegchok Chöling at Tingtibi, Kunzang Chöling at Gangteng, meditation centres at Aja Nye and Tsakaling in Mongar and so on. In short, there are around 35 new and old subsidiary meditation and learning centres of the Gangteng Gönpa in the country.
In addition, Rinpoche has been continuously and tirelessly teaching and conferring empowerments, transmissions and blessings to the people of all cross-sections of society. Rinpoche has, since 1997, imparted the complete cycle of the Teachings of Pema Lingpa around five times in Gangteng Sangngag Chöling and other places. Moreover, Rinpoche founded the Yeshe Khorlo Centres and has been teaching and conferring empowerments, transmissions and blessings to students in the USA, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Singapore, India and other countries, continuing to teach and inspire beings based on their capacity and merit.
With the ravages of time, the almost 400 years old Gangteng Gönpa showed signs of disintegration especially in the wooden materials and some portion of the stone masonry. Unable to bear this sight, Rinpoche initiated the formidable task of major renovation of the Gönpa in the year 2000. Without being perturbed or hindered by the myriad problems and difficulties, Rinpoche went to great lengths to procure the best construction materials to be used in the renovation. Thus, the Gönpa has been restored to a grandeur and splendour greater than ever before, the works for which are being completed in the year 2008.
Concurrently, it would be worthwhile to identify the four directions of the Gönpa and the sacred and symbolic significance of the areas surrounding it.
The region is the central region of Bhutan that is filled with medicinal plants and trees. In this central region, the blessed, peaceful and pleasurable land of the Gangteng valley is further surrounded by the sacred places: Gayney Lhakhang in Bumthang to the east, the Moenyul Namkha Dzong in the south, the famous Paro Taktsang in the west and Guru Rinpoche’s meditation cave called Namthang Lu Gi Phu in the north.
As a symbol of the highest Vajrayana teachings and its practice, the temple is located at the highest point.
As a symbol of liberating beings on the ninth “yana”, it is located at the knotted base of nine huge mountain peaks.
As a symbol of lack of sufferings due to five afflictive emotional poisons, the valley is not afflicted by the problem of wild animals.
As a symbol of the supreme view and practice by the yogic practitioners of Dzogchen, the vast sky appears like the eight-spoked wheel.
As a symbol of equanamity and altruistic intention of Bodhicitta, the land is level and resembles the eight-petalled lotus.
As a symbol of the congregation of the noble sons and daughters from all directions, it is filled with the eight auspicious signs.
As a symbol of spontaneous fulfilment of the four activities, there is a victory banner in the east, long horns in the south, six-syllable mantra in the west and stupa in the north. These are the four unchanging Great Treasures that adorn this place.
As a symbol of success of the noble ones practicing Shamatha meditation and the dawning and enhancing of the 4 perceptions, the sun and moon rises early and sets late.
As a symbol of the continuity of the Three Vehicles, the three rivers flow perennially.
As a symbol of the auspiciousness of the higher view of Mahayana, the Gönpa is located on the ridge of an elephant-shaped peak.
As a symbol of the objects of prayer, the place is endowed with all ten virtues.
As a symbol of the spreading of the Buddha Dharma, the surrounding mountains and forests look like the sixteen great Arhats with their retinue of close attendants.
As a symbol of the eastern grey Tiger, there is the white road of Langleygang.
As a symbol of the southern blue Dragon, there is the blue river, Zhungchu Ngoenmo.
As a symbol of the western red Bird, there is the red rock in Trawanang.
As a symbol of the northern black Turtle, there is the pastoral meadow of Tsi Tsi La.
As a symbol of non-destruction by the four elements, there are the four local protectors (Sadags).
As a symbol of prosperity in both spiritual and temporal matters, it is surrounded by the evergreen Wish-fulfilling Tree (Paksam Joenshing).
As a symbol of the uniqueness of the teachings of the Three Baskets, the region has upper, middle and the lower sub-regions.
As a symbol of rule through the dual system, the retreat centers are filled with dedicated male and female practitioners.
Amidst such blessed and harmonious setting, the abode of the Buddhas, the significance of the main temple in Gangteng Gönpa is as explained below.
As a symbol of the perfection of teaching and practice, the temple is square in shape.
As a symbol of obstructing the outer evil influences, the temple is enclosed with large wall fencing.
As a symbol of opening of the doors of the three Yogas, there are 3 entrances to the temple.
As a symbol of clearing the darkness of beings through the hundred and eight dharma doors, the temple has 108 doors and windows.
As a symbol of the Compassionate One’s skillful means in the taming of beings, it is filled with painted and embossed sacred images.
Moreover, at the outer level the temple resembles the mandala of the Mahayoga, at the inner level it resembles the mandala of the Anuyoga, while at the secret level, it resembles the mandala of Atiyoga.
The ground floor of the temple houses the images of the Buddhas of the 3 times similar to the ones in Magadha, Vajrasana and Yangpachen. Next to these, are the images of 4 other Buddhas, the 8 Noble Sons, the Great Teacher, wrathful form of Hayagriva, and Vajrapani. In the Assembly Hall are Jangchub Tungsha and offering goddesses while at the sides of the entrance are the Kings of the 4 directions, the Mandala of Cyclic Existence, layout of Mt. Meru according to the sutras and tantras, Zangdog Pelri and the Pureland of Shambala.
On the next floor is the residential quarters of the successive reincarnations, 3 shrine rooms of the Dharmapalas and the Treasury with the Namsey Phodrang.
On the floor above, the Lamai Lhakhang with the statue of Vajrasattava surrounded by the Peling lineage holders and the complete Nyingma Gyud Bum texts is on the eastern side. To the south is the Tshengye Lhakhang with the statues of the 8 manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, canonical texts and 8 red-sandalwood Desheg Chortens. On the sides are the eastern and western living quarters. To the west is the Amitayus Lhakhang with the statue of Buddha Amitayus surrounded by his retinue. To the north, the Machen Lhakhang with the reliquary stupa containing the precious embalmed body of the 6 th Gangteng Tulku Tenpai Nyima also has statues of the 16 Arhats.
To the front of the main temple is the 11-faced Avalokiteśvara Lhakhang.
On one side is the Shedra’s Assembly Hall and on the other, the Kezang Lhakhang and enclosing on all sides are the monk’s living quarters.
The Monastery has the sacred relics of the Enlightened Ones and many substances blessed by great Lamas, Maha Siddhas and Treasure Revealers. The Monastery continues to uphold the tradition in all its integrity and performs all the rites and rituals in its entirety.
In keeping with the noble and sacred tradition, the Consecration Ceremony of the fully renovated Monastery was observed by conducting the Guru Thukdrup Lama Norbu Jamtsho and Phurba Pudri Drupchens from 29 September 2008 for ten days and nights. This was followed by the actual consecration ceremony duly presided over by the Incarnations of the Peling lineage on the auspicious 11 th day of the 8 th month of the Earth Rat Year, 10 October 2008, and which was attended by His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, Members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, other dignitaries, as well as devotees from far and near. Then, from the next day onwards, the annual Tsechu and mask dances were performed followed by an exhibition of traditional arts and crafts for a period of seven days, during which the spiritual practitioners, monks, lay people and civil servants gathered like one family to celebrate the joyous occasion of the consecration of the Gangteng Sangnag Chöling Gönpa.