The fourth throne holder, Thubten Pema Trinlay (1926-2001)
The dharmata-Samantabhadra, naturally and completely pure,
The samboghakaya, spontaneously luminous,
The display of nirmanakaya, taming beings where needed,
Supreme lama Thubten Pema Trinlay, from the depths of my heart, I bow to you.
The fourth throne holder, upholder of the dharma, Kyabje Drugtrul Dorje Chang Chen Thubten Pema Trinlay (Thubten Pema Trinlay) took birth in a nomad encampment in Yilhung. Situated in the Zalmogang district of eastern Tibet, this region is a pleasant nomadic area resembling a garden of the gods where the people have faith in the virtuous dharma. From there, many sublime beings have entered the pure land of Khechara and dissolved into rainbow bodies. Also called Drolu, it is among one of the twenty-five major sacred places in eastern Tibet and is connected to the Protectors of the Three Bodhisattva Families (Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani).The land is especially protected by Zodor Dragnag Dorje and Nyenchen Kulha Gerdzo who was one of the three fathers of the great King Gesar of Ling. King Gesar was born of a god, a naga, and a nyen and was an emanation of the Three Bodhisattva Families. The region became known as Yilhung (pleasant) when Lingza Drugmo, one of Yeshe Tsogyal’s emanations and the consort to King Sengchen – himself a manifestation of the Three Bodhisattva Families – found the region so attractive and grew attached to it such that it was consequently given the name Yilhung. The Chugmolake can also be found in Yilhung and there Padmasambhava hid profound termas. It was in the nearby that lake, at a place called Yilhung Lhari Garpa, that Thubten Pema Trinlay took birth.
The great Thubten Pema Trinlay was born as the son of the chief minster to Lharu Bon, Sonam Namgyal of the noble Balha clan, and Dekyi of the Gongtsha clan. His birth, which occurred on Guru Rinpoche day, the tenth day of the waxing moon, during the fourth month of the Male Fire Tiger year at the end of the fifteenth cycle (1926), was accompanied by many miraculous signs and he possessed the major and minor marks of enlightenment. The date of his birth marks the convergence of the three great anniversaries: (1) when our teacher, the supreme lord of sages, took birth in order to teach the excellent path to liberation for all degenerate beings; (2) when, after having completely abandoning all defilements, he became fully enlightened at dawn beside the bodhi tree at Bodhgaya in the noble land of India; (3) and when the display of his outwardly luminous form dissolved into the inwardly luminous dharmadhatu.
The gods who guard virtuous forces were greatly pleased and, as a sign of blessing and protection by the three roots and dharmapalas, many different rainbows, and spheres and discs of light appeared in the space inside the household’s yak-hair tent. Signs that the local gods of virtue were pleased also burst forth from within the tent, such as a hidden cache of sweet potatoes appearing. A mere three days after he was born, he sat squatting down and from his mouth came a speech recalling situations from his past lives just as he knew them to be.
Then, just as Thubten Chokyi Dorje, the fifth Dzogchen Tulku, had prophesized, the sublime child was realized to be the reincarnation of Drodul Pawo Dorje by his eminence Gyalse Gyurme Dorje. Hence, at the age of two, near the start of the sixteenth cycle and the end of the Fire Rabbit year, Gyalse Gyurme Dorje watched over him and offered him his robes. At that time there were two individuals searching for Drodul Pawo Dorje’s reincarnation, and as soon as the boy saw them he said, “These two are lamas from our side!” Thus they recognized him. Still, his eminence Gyalse Gyurme Dorje inquired with the three jewels and specifically requested the opinions of Dzongsar Khyentse, Tsangwa Drubchen, and others. By doing so, a consensus was reached and thus the reincarnation was recognized without confusion. His eminence Gyalse Gyurme Dorje went to Dzogchen where he asked his eminence the fifth Dzogchen Tulku about enthroning the reincarnation. In connection to that, he asked him for a long-life prayer, in reply to which the Dzogchen Tulku spoke the following genuine words:
Assembly of vidyadharas, of rishis, and deities,
Of countless gods of longevity, and the immortal three roots,
I beseech you! Allow these genuine words of mine to be accomplished:
The precious buddhadharma of scripture and realization,
Padmasambhava, lord of the victorious ones,
All this enlightened activity you spread and advance,
O victorious lord presiding over the hundred buddha families,
Immutable, glorious, and excellent protector,
While your immortal vajra-body remains
Upon an elevated throne supported by five fearless lions,
Your profound, melodious speech ripens and liberates
All of the wandering beings in this vast and expansive realm
In accordance with their needs and capabilities.
May the nectarous rains of such instructions
Cleanse their mindstream of all its stains!
In complete reliance upon the profound path of the two stages,
May the primordial wisdom of the four kayas come to manifest!
From this day on, throughout all lifetimes,
May I never be separated from the supreme guru,
And may the entirety of wandering sentient beings,
As limitless as space, be liberated
Into the expanse of primordial purity!
After speaking these words, the Dzogchen Tulku said that this is how the long life prayer for Azom Rigdzin Pawo Dorje’s reincarnation should be. He also said these words were said by himself, the worst of the students of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, in an attempt to please Gyalse Gyurme Dorje. They were said exactly they came to mind, in his own room, at Chime Drubpay Gatsel. He supplicated those who possess true speech, to please accomplish the meaning of these wishes.
Then, during the second Tibetan month of the Earth Dragon year of the sixteenth cycle, he was invited at the age of three to Azom Chogar to take the great seat of his predecessor in front of Dungral Drag – one of the twenty-five most sacred places blessed by Padmasambhava and connected to his qualities and activity. It was then that, among others, Gyalse Gyurme Dorje and Mahapandita, the third Getse, performed the extensive ceremony of enthroning him upon a lion throne in the midst of an ocean-like assembly of those who had arrived from Kathog, Palyul, Dzogchen, etc., as well as throughout Amdo, U-Tsang, and Kham.
From that point on, he took up residence in his previous incarnation’s household and was served and watched over by Chimey, the sister of his previous incarnation. He was instructed in reading and writing by Thubten from India and learned effortlessly. Once, during a break, Thubten Pema Trinlay paused his reading and recited, “Hum! Hum!” whereupon his teacher Thubten, hearing it, secretly watched on. Through the power of samadhi, Thubten Pema Trinlay had placed a pigeon feather in the space directly in front of his nose. As he said “Hum! Hum!” the feather floated up and down the room, and he chased after it. After seeing him training in this “Hung yoga”, he knew that Thubten Pema Trinlay had gained power over appearances and mind, and the teacher gave rise to immeasurable faith.
Also one day Thubten Pema Trinlay was seen by his attendant sitting on his bed surrounded by a circle of rainbow light. Moreover, sometimes, the door to his bedroom would open of its own accord, and the attendants would have to close it again and again. Later it would open again and Thubten Pema Trinlay would smile and say, “Is that you, Dakini Tseringma?” Later, when in accordance with the bidding of his lama he was doing the practice of Vajrakilaya, it is said that he met face to face with her, his yidam deity, and that she looked after him as her student.
Later, when his qualities of inner realization were perfected, he passed through the rock face unimpeded at a high mountain peak to the right face of Dungral. He arrived at a meditation cave of Vajrapani and stayed there for a day and a night making wishes through the power of his deep samadhi that these times of turmoil would soon come to an end.
When the times changed and Gyalse Gyurme Dorje passed into parinirvana, Thubten Pema Trinlay saw through his pure perception a long light, like a pillar, extended from the wall, and at night he saw the protector Yaksha Tsiwu Marpo come inside his room. Also, he saw a light, white like wool and round like a bracelet extended. When he saw these signs, he knew what was happening to Gyalse Gyurme Dorje.
When staying in prison, he put a little tsampa that he had received into his gruel, kneaded it with his hand for a long time, and made it into balls. He gave those to his fellow prisoners, and when they ate a ball each, that sustained them for seven days. His fellow prisoners, such as Jamyang Tenzin, said that he did not appear hungry at all, and that he was always content. When the prisoners were allowed outside to warm themselves in the sun, his handcuffs opened spontaneously and he unimpededly wandered about. Many of his fellow prisoners saw this and came to regard him as an actual buddha. It is widely known that he performed many such amazing deeds.
At Dzogchen Shinje meditation cave, in the midst of a complete assembly of sangha, upholding the treasure of the three trainings, consisting of Rinpoche Tegchog Loden, Yonten Gonpo, Jiglo, Thubnyen and others, he entered into the sacred dharma of the Vinaya and received the bhikshu vows. This constituted the receiving of his outer vows of individual liberation.
He held the Vinaya vows, the foundation of the teachings, in very high regard and would often respect and utter words of praise with regard to the ordained sangha and bhikshus. Thubten Pema Trinlay’s household would always provide food and service so that the yearly summer retreat and sojong at Azom monastery could be upheld without interruption. In this way, he did not allow the practice of the three bases of Vinaya to deteriorate.
With regard to the inner bodhisattva trainings, he received the bodhisattva vows and precepts from both the tradition of vast conduct and the tradition of the profound view from Khenchen Lama Thubten Nyendrag. In doing this, he made the path of liberation of the bodhisattvas dwelling on the bhumis his own.
With regard to the secret mantra vows of the vidyadharas, the third Kathok Getse incarnation, Gyurme Tenpa Namgyal, entered him into the tradition of the white-clad long-haired ones. He bestowed on him the secret name of Gyurme Tegchog Drubpey Dorje Lungtog Tenpey Gyaltsen Palzangpo. Then, in accordance with the auspicious and informed intentions of the gods and lamas, he assumed the form of a three-fold vidyadhara.
For his studies, he applied himself to astrology, the Gyutrul Tantra, and the ngondro sadhana with the Gyutrul Palthab recitation under the teaching of Thubten from India. He also studied grammar, spelling, and ortography, the Mirror of Poetry, the Dra Tsamjor Ngapa, Dra Yangchen Drado, Dra Chandrapa and others with his teacher Kunzang Namgyal and he studied the Dra Kalapa and prosody with Tsalu Lama Dechen.
From Khenchen Dupa Gyatso, a direct student of Khenchen Shenga Rinpoche, he received teachings on the following: the Bodhicaryavatara, Ascertaining the Three Vows, the Sutra of Individual Liberation and the root texts of the Vinaya sutra. With regard to the profound madhyamaka teachings, he received the three madhyamaka texts (Root Verses of the Middle Way, Entering the Middle Way and the Four Hundred Verses), the Madhyamakalankara and others. With regard to the dharmas of Maitreya, he mainly studied the prajñaparamita (Abhisamayalankara) and Uttaratantrashastra. He also studied The Gateway to Knowledge by Mipham Rinpoche.
Together with Gyalse Rinpoche, he studied the commentary on the Essence of Secrets, Chog Chuyi Munsel, all the teachings of the Gyutrul Tantra, and the Dzogchen Khandro Nyingtig Triyig Tharlam Dorje under the teachings of Dzogchen Khen Rinpoche, Thubten Nyendrag. They also both received the oral transmission of the early translations, the Gongdu, the empowerments, oral transmissions of Vajrakilaya and the sadhana of Dojo Bumzang, and the oral transmission of the seventeen tantras.
He received various common sutra teachings from Rago Chogtrul Thubten Shedrub Gyatso, most importantly the empowerments and oral transmissions of the sutra, illusion, and mind sections of dzogchen. He also received the oral transmission of the complete works of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Lama Mipham Rinpoche from Rago Tulku Chungwa Tashi Namgyal.
He received the oral transmission of the complete works of Rigdzin Chenpo Jigme Lingpa from Gojo Kharleg Chogtrul Rinpoche Pema Kunzang Rangdrol, the Sangnying Dzode of Dodrub Tenpey Nyima from Minling Zhabdrung Rinpoche, and empowerments and oral transmissions of the Sangdag Gong Gyen and Ati Zabdon from Minling Jang Rinpoche. Furthermore, he received all of the empowerments and oral transmissions of the dharma cycles of Terchen Nyima Drakpa from the sixth Nyidrag. When he was staying in Dzongsar for five years, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo gave him teachings on the common fields of knowledge and the uncommon pith instructions, as if pouring all of the water from one vessel into another. He also received all special instructions on the dzogchen cycles from Khenpo Ngakchung.
Thubten Pema Trinlay also relied on many Rime masters, and eventually there was hardly a teaching left in kama, terma, sarma, and nyingma, of which he hadn’t obtained the empowerment and oral transmission. In particular, he relied on the son, in terms of body, speech, and mind, of Drodul Pawo Dorje, Gyalse Gyurme Dorje, as his uncommon root lama. From him he received The Words of My Perfect Teacher and the Lamp that Illuminates the Path of Liberation many times, and completed the 500,000 recitations and the 100 day ngondro mind training retreat many times. From the time that his mind ripened, up to when he perfected the special instructions of the whispered lineage of dzogchen and in particular the extraordinary Azom father dharma of The Oral Lineage: The Twenty-Five Spheres, he always studied the dharma without being separated from the teacher, and always held study and meditation in connection. By doing this, he managed to attain a high level of realization.
From his root lama Gyalse Gyurme Dorje he received the following transmissions: the Yeshe Lama Tri many times, the Nyingtig Tsalung, the yogic exercises of tsalung of the Longsel Nyingpo, chulen (essence extraction), muntri, the empowerments and oral transmissions of the Nyingtig Yabshi with the Zabmo Yangtig, the explanations and oral transmission of the seven treasuries of Longchenpa, the explanations on the Trilogy of Comfort and Ease, the Trilogy of Natural Freedom, and the Trilogy of Dispelling Darkness, the transmission of selected works, and the empowerments and oral transmissions of the two volumes of mind treasures of Kunkhyen Jigme Lingpa.
He also received all of the empowerments and oral transmissions of Drodul Pawo Dorje’s Zabter Sangdzo cycles; the empowerments and oral transmissions of Urgyen Rinchen Lingpa’s dharma cycles; the empowerments, oral transmissions, and instructions of all of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s dharma cycles of zabter and of the Chetsun Nyingtig; the empowerments and oral transmissions of the direct lineage of the Jangter Gongpa Zangthal, bestowed by Rigdzin Gogyi Demtruchen on Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo through pure perception; and the empowerments, oral transmissions, and instructions of Khyentse Yeshe Dorje’s Zabter Tugtig Dzinpa Rangdrol; the empowerments, oral transmissions and instructions on the dharma cycles of Terchen Ratna Lingpa; the empowerments and oral transmissions of all of the dharma cycles of both Rigdzin Longsel Nyingpo and Terton Dudul Dorje; the empowerments and oral transmissions of the Rigdzin Sogdrub of Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, the oral transmission of the complete works of Urgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo; the empowerments of the Gyutrul Tantra, Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the condensed meaning of the Guhyagarbha called Yikyi Munsel and the commentary on it called Chog Chuyi Munsel, these seven times each, the extensive commentary of nyiwo senge; Gegpa Dorje’s Parkhab; the Garland of Views by Padmasambhava; the two lamrims of Buddhaguhya; the commentary on the Konchog; the Sangdag Zhelung; the Sangdag Gong Gyen; the Rinchen Trengwa; a general synopsis by Urgyen Chodrag; the general synopsis Dokyi Demig by Dodrup Rinpoche; and the two lamdrel commentaries by Gyalse Rinpoche. On top of these, he also studied a great number of other texts. In this way, he became a master among scholars and became well-versed in the great ocean of dharma.
After he had perfected his monastic, bodhisattva, and tantric trainings, and his activities of studying, reflecting, and meditating, Gyalse Gyurme Dorje passed his lineage on to him and empowered him as the regent and holder of the treasury of his teachings and instructions. From then onwards, in accordance with Gyalse Gyurme Dorje’s command, every winter he gave teachings to those permanently living at the religious center on the instruction manual The Words of my Perfect Teacher, and the instruction manual Tharlam Salje. He taught the Tri Yeshe Lama every spring and fall. In particular, when he taught the profound and secret instructions of the whispered lineage of dzogchen and the Azom lineage of the twenty-five spheres, the assembly of people listening would swell like a lake in summer. Dharma and philosophy students would flock to him from many places and he would teach them all with great love. On the side, he would also debate with them using reasoning and scripture and defeat everyone who participated. He would also look after them with great care thus he excelled in the four ways of attracting students. It can be said the he gained mastery over the inexhaustible treasure of effortlessly accomplishing both his own and others’ benefit.
In this manner, he uninterruptedly gave empowerments, oral transmissions and instructions, both in his own, and in other monasteries. In Samye monastery, of which the full name is Pal Samye Mingyur Lhundrubpey Tsuglakhang, he gave the empowerments and oral transmission of the Nyingtig Yabshi and the Lama Sangdu. In Samye Chimpu, he gave the empowerments and oral transmissions of Thugje Chenpo Dungal Rangdrol and the Nyingtig Tsasum. At Minyag Ragang Monastery, Gyaphag Monastery and others, he gave many empowerments, oral transmissions, and profound instructions; mainly those of the treasure volumes and the seventeen tantras. At his own monastery, Azom Osel Tegchog Ling, he gave the oral transmission and empowerments for the Seven Treasuries of Longchenpa and the Nyingtig Yabshi twelve times, the oral transmission of the collected works of Jigme Lingpa eight times, the oral transmission of the seventeen tantras five times, the oral transmission of the collected Nyingma tantras twice, the oral transmission and empowerments of the collected works of Paltrul Rinpoche five times, the oral transmission and empowerments of the collected works of Khyentse twice, the oral transmission and empowerments of the Kalachakra three times, the oral transmission and empowerments of the Nyidrak cycles once, the oral transmission and empowerments of the sutra, illusion and mind sections three times, the oral transmission and empowerments of the Chetsun Nyingtig ten times, the oral transmission and empowerments of the Sangdzo cycle eight times, the Ati Zabdon three times, the Dzinpa Rangdrol seven times, the oral transmission and empowerments of Gongpa Zangtal ten times, the Dribjong Namsum six times, the Dojung Bumzang ten times, the empowerments of the Dupa Do three times, the Tummo Mebar twice, the oral transmission and empowerments of Rinchen Lingpa’s cycles three times, the Dudjom and Longchenpa termas, and many others. In this way, he turned the wheel of dharma of sutra, tantra, and pith instructions uninterruptedly to students who came to him from many different places. With the proper preparation of the accumulation and purification of the 500000 recitations of the preliminaries and with great kindness, he gave them, as the main practice, the essential instructions on the whispered lineage of dzogchen, and the practice of the twenty-five spheres with the tsalung practices. He consequently brought the minds of these fortunate disciples to complete maturation.
He thus exerted himself continuously in order to look after his students. Because of that he did not even have time to stay in retreat for a week and even gave the instructions of the whispered lineage during meals. Through his diligence, he matured and liberated the minds of his different kinds of disciples on the paths of the hearers, solitary realizers, and bodhisattvas.
Despite the fact that he was exceedingly busy, because he directly beheld the naked emptiness and awareness of primordial purity, his awareness was that of spontaneous luminous appearances. Day and night he saw the world and people around him as deities and pure realms, he would pass through solid matter unimpeded, and as a sign of his power over appearances, above a mani wheel at the monastery he would make footprints in the stone as if it was mud. Because his knowledge manifested free from obscurations, based on supernatural powers such as predicting the future and knowing the minds of others, he knew the minds of his disciples. Therefore, when his disciples went to meet him to get explanations on the nature of mind, he would know and relay without any obstructions, their minds and thoughts. Therefore, some of his students would not dare to go and see him when they were afflicted with certain thoughts.
Among all of Thubten Pema Trinlay’s students, there were none without any qualities and all had at least some good qualities. When his disciples were dying, he would guide all of them and there were none that did not have the appropriate signs and marks. Furthermore, because of him, many yogisthat had become free from the eight worldly concerns and actualized the profound natural state spread all over upper, lower, and central Tibet.
Thubten Pema Trinlay also engaged in the wheel of activity and so at Azom monastery he newly built retreat houses and a printing press, including all necessary facilities. In particular, he built accommodation for the monastic college including a shrine room. Through his generosity, he greatly expanded the dharma of explanation and practice.
After having perfected his activities of benefitting the teachings and sentient beings, through strongly insisting in his last words, he ensured that Jamyang Chokyi Nyima was accepted as his successor, the throne holder of Azom Monastery. In
2001, the Iron Snake year, on the thirteenth day of the first Tibetan month, for his disciples that see phenomena as permanent, he temporarily dissolved the outer display of his luminous form body into the inner primordially pure expanse.
Then, for twenty-one days, his native and foreign monks and nuns, Tromge Tulku and Khenchen Akhyug Rinpoche, extensively offered his funerary rites in the midst of an assembly of thousands of monastics and laymen. His kudung was cremated on the eighth day of the second Tibetan month, at the auspicious place that Thubten Pema Trinlay himself had designated. Various rainbows appeared in the sky. When the cremation chamber was opened, his heart, tongue and eyes were there, and from his bones and ashes many ringsel relics had arisen.
Those relics were carefully stored by Jamyang Chokyi Nyima, who had statues and tsatsa made and put those in two different sized enlightenment stupas of silver and gold that he built. He placed the larger one at the monastic college and the smaller one at the main monastery. At the time of the cremation and afterwards, many faithful students had the experience of actually meeting Thubten Pema Trinlay in person. Everyone experienced that in his room, and all around the monasterya great amount of ringsel relics appeared. In short, even after he dissolved his material body, for the benefit of his fortunate disciples, he still performed the benefit of beings through a display of miraculous powers.