The history of Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling began years ago when I left my home in Tibet with four of my friends. When we arrived in India we five Lamas made a vow together – one of us, whoever was able, would start a school to preserve the teachings and yogic practices of the Nyingma gö kar chang lo lineage. We made this promise to Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche – Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje. I did not know at the time that Ngak’chang Rinpoche had also promised Düd’jom Rinpoche to propagate and preserve the gö kar chang lo’i dé, and that one day I would meet this Lama and his Sangyum Khandro Déchen.
Now—after many years—some of the original group of friends with whom I fled Tibet are dead, and some are deeply engaged with the demands of their teaching situations. So it became my duty to fulfil the vow to Düd’jom Rinpoche alone. I was extremely lucky therefore to meet Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen who told me of their ideas for a school. Now Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen and their sanghas all share the same vow with me. Without them, it would not be possible. This makes me highly fortunate. It makes us all fortunate. I am so lucky to carry out auspicious work in a Hidden Land of Pemakö. We are all highly fortunate to be able to support Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel’s teachings and enable them to flourish. In his gTérmas Padmasambhava spoke of the wonderful characteristics which make Pemakö a Hidden Land. To go there, to help the Vajrayana teachings there, is highly meritorious. Two years ago when I began this work I went to the Supreme Head of the Nyingma Tradition, HH Minling Trichen Rinpoche, and he conferred the name Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling on our school.
This year while in America my root Lama, Dungsé Thrin-lé Norbu Rinpoche (the son of Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje) also gave his strong blessing for this project. I am very lucky indeed to be doing this work. We built a school where no schools existed. We built a nursery for young children. We built a kitchen, which provides food for both the children and their parents. We provide clothing and medical care too. This year we organised a medical camp with doctors and supplies from the west to come to Pemakö. The Hidden Land of Pemakö is remote and receives little aide, so these precious resources are highly valued.
Our goal is not simply to build a school but to help the local people. Our vision must be as broad as possible because we want to strengthen the whole community. Without a strong community the precious teachings of the Nyingma gö kar chang lo will not be saved. We are offering the school, nursery, and aide, to all peoples in Pemakö – the Tibetans and the children of other tribes. This will make the school a strong foundation and a benefit which will continue into the future when we are gone. Guru Rinpoche’s tradition is for everyone!
The core of the syllabus is a nine-year programme of teaching and meditation. When the students graduate from Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling they will not only be highly knowledgeable, but they will also have good experience of meditation which will enable them to teach from first hand experience of Vajrayana. There will be a strong emphasis on Anuyoga and Atiyoga – the practice of Dzogchen – the Great Completion. Learning and meditation go together in the gö kar chang lo’i dé, and the learning is focused on the inner tantras. This is a wonderful thing for these children to be able to preserve and uphold the lineage of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel – especially the Düd’jom gTér lineage.
There are two years of preparatory classes for all the children. In the first year they study Tibetan language, and in the second year they study English, Hindi, mathematics, and history. They also start to receive Dharma teachings – an introduction to Dharma, in which they begin to memorise texts. Then there is an examination to find out which students will advance and are able to enter the upper classes for retreat and study. Those who are not ready for the upper class stay one more year in the preparatory class to perfect their reading and writing. Altogether these classes add up to eleven years, after which those who wish to do so can enter retreat and further their practice. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen hope that some of these children may grow up to become Lamas who will visit them and their students in the West to give teachings and to propagate their lineages. This will then repay the kindness of those in the West who have helped this noble project.
I feel it is important to preserve the gö kar chang lo’i dé because it supports our culture. Our Pemakö culture and way of life are threatened, and we can only save them by teaching the next generation. We hold the old tradition of Pemakö, and we want students to learn thangka painting, mask making, blacksmithing, gTorma making, and to uphold these unique traditions. These traditions are being forgotten – so Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling is going to preserve the old tradition.
At Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling we think it is important to encourage children of Tibetan refugees to stay with their parents. This is not always the case at Tibetan Schools. Schools have been set up—out of compassion—for Tibetan children, but these are often far away and very small children must often leave their homes and parents. The Dalai Lama’s government and the Indian government have been generous in building these schools, but we feel that it is also important to keep families and communities together. It is up to all of us to help. In this way we will not just educate but also support the community and preserve the culture and traditions of Pemakö.
This school gives equal opportunity to both boys and girls. In Pemakö girls never went to school because they had to care for younger brothers and sisters so that their mothers could work. Dharma teaches interdependence and interdependent circumstances and taking this into account in respect of cultural traditions, we founded a nursery where the little children can play. This frees the older girls to attend Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling. Without the nursery most of the girls in school would not be able to attend classes. In our nursery there are more than 20 infants. We have 50 children in the school and almost half of them are girls.
In Pemakö we have people, who are knowledgeable about the traditional arts and crafts, but those people are getting old and they will die. We want to make their knowledge available in order that these traditions will be preserved for the future. This is a challenge, but I believe that we will see good results in ten years. In the Pemakö tradition astrology is important. Astrology as it is taught in Vajrayana provides a profound understanding of interdependence in which everything is connected in a harmony between the inside, the body – and the outside, the geography, planets, and stars. All this is interconnected with time. This needs to be studied deeply in order to understand. The Pemakö tradition has a deep understanding of Dharma astrology – but sadly, when I first went back to Pemakö, I discovered that there was only one ngakpa who held the full tradition. I welcomed the ngakpa and requested him to teach the students. In this way we are keeping the tradition alive.
There is much knowledge and wisdom, preserved in small family traditions. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen’s lineage of Aro gTér is one such family lineage which has come from Tibet and they are preserving it in the West even though it has gone in Tibet. During my years of teaching at the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies and in my travels I have met many members of the gö kar chang lo’i dé who hold such family traditions – but they are getting older and so I wish to invite them to come to Pemakö to give transmissions and teachings to a new generation. The major Nyingma lineages are being preserved but our gö kar chang lo traditions are in danger. I believe that we must preserve the whole tradition – the major lineage as well as the small family lineages or we will all be poorer.
Pemakö is a special place. It is a Hidden Land, a place which is sacred to Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. The Pemakö region spreads from Tibet into Northern India. The geography of the land manifests the body of Dorje Phagmo. The mountains, rivers, and valleys are the body of Dorje Phagmo. Our school is close to the birthplace of Düd’jom Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje and also close to the womb of Dorje Phagmo.
Many of the great masters fled to Pemakö after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Many gTérma speak of the special qualities of Pemakö. A gTérma—discovered by Chö’gyür Lingpa and rediscovered by Khamtrül Rinpoche—states that:
In future times, at the end of the turbulent and degraded age, there will arise a time when the Rig’dzins—the holders of intrinsic awareness—will escape from their homelands in fear of foreign invaders. Of all sacred places, the one which is pre-eminent amongst the hidden valleys is the Péyul Pemakö – as resplendent as an immaculate lotus flower.
On an outer level Pemakö is beautiful with flowers and fruits, jungles and mountains. This land is little known in the West but recently Pemakö has become better known through Ian Baker’s exploration of the hidden waterfalls. This region has the greatest diversity of animals and of plants and trees in the Himalayas. There are four kinds of leopard. There are hundreds of different varieties of orchid. There are a wide variety of medicinal plants and streams. On an inner level the entire landscape is blessed by Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. Many of the plants have special healing powers which benefit meditating yogis and yoginis. It is a powerful sacred land, and I hope that by preserving the culture of Pemakö, and making the local people strong, we will be able to protect not only our gö kar chang lo family traditions but also protect the sacred Hidden Land as well.
I am extremely thankful to my Tsawa’i Lama’s Lamas Düd’jom Rinpoche Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje and his son Dung-sé Thrin-lé Norbu Rinpoche – and also to Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen who have given such great aid and guidance to the Lhundrüp Tobgyé Ling project. We have accomplished a great deal and the people of Pemakö are happy because few ever help remote regions such as Pemakö. Tibetan gö kar chang lo refugees are happy because their children can learn the traditions of their parents. The gö kar chang lo Lamas are happy because Vajrayana teachings will flourish there. All this has come from the gifts and help of the sanghas of my friends Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen and from many other people through my Lama friends. Together we have many wonderful plans for the future including the possibility of other schools in places such as Bodha in Nepal. As long as kind friends care for the gö kar chang lo’i dé, Vajrayana will continue and flourish for the benefit of all.