Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche

Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche

a great Dzogchen Master of the Nyingma Tradition

Dzogchen Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche was a Lama of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who lived often as a wandering itinerant. He lived mainly in Sikkim but wandered also in Bhutan and throughout the Himalayan region practicing in caves and small out-of-the-way gompas.

He was for a time the Tsawa’i Lama of the Chögyal (chos rGyal – Buddhist King – Dharma Raja) of Sikkim. He was a widely acclaimed drüpchen (sGrubs chen – mahasiddha) and was possessed of the ability to consume alcohol without evident effect. Ngak’chang Rinpoche recounts:
Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche told me Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche was renowned as a Dzogchen master and a yogi with immense capacities. He told me that when the Chögyal of Sikkim took Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche as his Tsawa’i Lama he presented him with a bottle of Single-Malt Scotch every time he visited to pay his respects to him. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche said that this progressed to a bottle a day whether the Chögyal visited or not, and that by the time of the Chögyal died he was having seven bottles a day delivered to Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche told me that a time came when Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche gave up food altogether and simply lived on the whiskey offering, but that when the Chögyal died he returned to eating foods and drinking tea. Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche was equally happy with either variety of nourishment.

He is wearing the red, white, and blue striped shawl of the gö-kar chang-lo. These shawls are made in Bhutan where they are worn especially by the gö-kar chang-lo’i dé of eastern Bhutan. Ngak’chang Rinpoche was given such a shawl by Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche – one of a large kind which Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche had specially made for the gö-kar chang-lo Lamas of the Nyingma Tradition. Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche gave these shawls as presents in order to encourage the ordination lineage of the gö-kar chang-lo’i dé. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen also received such shawls form Dung-sé Thrin-lé Norbu Rinpoche the son of Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche.

The original gö-kar chang-lo shawl was a white shawl bordered by red on all sides – but this type of shawl in now only worn for empowerments and symbolic practices such as Tsog’khorlo. In the Aro gTér there are three Lineage Shawls which are used in empowerments: the peaceful shawl, the joyous shawl and the wrathful shawl. The peaceful shawl also serves for Dzogchen transmission. The joyous shawl equates also with Anuyoga transmission and the wrathful shawl with Mahayoga transmission.

Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche wears his hair in the Zor phud style. Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
There are many ways in which ngakpas, ngakmas, naljorpas, and naljormas wear their hair according to different traditions. Some examples are as follows:

  • Thor tshug (thor gTshugs) plaited or braided topknot;

  • Thor chog (thor cog) plaited or braided bun;

  • Thor khyil (thor ’khyil) topknot of twisted, turned, or coiled hair;

  • Zur phud (zur phud) topknot of hair in knotted locks;

  • Tra-dril (sKra bsGril) plaited or braided hair;

  • Tra-ching (sKra ’phyings) matted hair Chang lo (lCang lo) long plaits of hair;

  • Ralpa (ral pa) braided or matted strands of hair;

  • Phodka Ling-ngé (phod ka ling nge) flowing hair;

  • Tra-drol (sKra grol) loose or carelessly worn hair;

  • Tro-gyen duwa (’phro gyen du ba) hair which flies upwards.

There are other styles which accord with the many branch vows of Vajrayana and it is impossible to detail them all without precise knowledge of the branch vows concerned. ‘Turban’ styles exist as well as systems of wrapping the hair with various specified materials.

In the same style as Aro Yeshé, Sangchen Dorje Rinpoche wears a white chuba coat rather than the white shamthab and to-nga.