In February 1975 I was a young man of eighteen on pilgrimage in India when I came to Kalimpong in the Darjeeling district. I had never heard of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but somehow I was granted an audience with him at a small temple where he was staying on the evening before Tibetan New Year [Losar]. He received me very kindly and, through a translator, asked me about my travels. I saw him on the following day, New Year’s Day, and then met him again a week later at the cremation of another great Tibetan master, Kangyur Rinpoche (1897–1975). Kyabje Khyentse Rinpoche was no doubt the most extraordinary human I had ever met, or even imagined. He was physically towering and naturally majestic and graceful, giving meaning to one of his many names, Pema Garwang Ösel Dongale Linpa, “Luminous Lord of Lotus Dance.” As I understood that dharma is learned through apprenticeship with an authentic master, I spent the next sixteen years studying with him and the magical net of great beings connected with him.
In addition to being a sublime learned sage, Khyentse Rinpoche emanated warmth and down-to-earth humorous insight that dissolved all hierarchical or cultural barriers. When I was around him, I sensed a universal warmth that was palpable, and humorous insight permeated the joyful, awake ambiance he created. In his presence, my constructions of my person were only too nakedly evident. But with his empowering wisdom and love—sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce—these constructions became transparent and workable conditions, and I felt inspired by his vast perspective, which saw the greater picture of buddhanature. In his presence no one was a VIP and no one was unworthy; he created a vibrant sense of a sacred world in which insecurities and the need for credentials melted away.
As Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Chögyam Trungpa, Matthieu Ricard, and others have chronicled, Khyentse Rinpoche was never in a hurry, and he would care tirelessly for anyone who came to see him. He would pass months and years on end visiting temples and scholastic institutions, constantly teaching and receiving individuals, without ever having any privacy. He invited anyone into his spacious kingdom of awakening, welcoming them as possessing the lineage of awakening, and seeking to make them recognize that.
I have not found in any of his close disciples— the innumerable tulkus, rinpoches, lamas, yogis, nuns, monks, and laypeople that sought training at his feet—any rivalry or territorialism. On the contrary, over the years I have identified a kind of irreverent respect shown among these heirs to Kyabje Khyentse Rinpoche, and sense in them this greatness of mind that penetrates the artificial constructions of self and other. These sublime individuals carry within them the rich sunlit space of freedom from delusion that is wisdom, khyen, inseparable from compassion, tse, the tireless caring for others.
Through his powerful buddha activity, and some remaining merit of this world, the images and teachings of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche are still with us. Whether we met him in the flesh or not, the thought of Khyentse Rinpoche invokes greatness and the qualities of awakening, and as such he is present within us. The photographs and the books containing his teachings are not just documentation of a deceased great sage, but can be seen as keys to unlock the innate wealth that is our enlightened heritage or potential. With the following profound instruction from the great Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912), I think Khyentse Rinpoche would wish us to summon the courage and inspiration to access that innate wealth.
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