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Interview with Ven. Drubgyu Rinpoche of Surmang Kyere Monastery by Lee Weingrad was conducted in 1991 at Surmang Dutsi til Monastery. It was my second trip to Surmang. In Drubgyu Rinpoche I discovered an unexpected treasure, a spokesman for an era, a world that we can only imagine or dream about. But the monastery lay basically in dust and ruins, which dispelled any sense of romance about the meeting. Rinpoche of was easily over 6’ tall, was very old a very whose profound presence held me in awe. In meeting him I felt that I had cranked up the deLorean traveled to old Tibet. But a reminder of the present was also there in the dust, ruin and detritus of the Hill of Amrita monastery, the visible, festering wounds of Tibetan culture.
In a sense my being there was a reminder as well, since I was as a kind of connective tissue to Chogyam Trungpa, beloved as the crown jewel of the wisdom of the practicing lineage. Tempering that sense of romance, was fact that ironically, and sadly enough he had passed away 5 years previous to our meeting. As Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “I think you’ll find that absence becomes further presence.”
The interview interpreter was my sidekick, scholar Pema Wangyal, with whom I made a total of 4 trips to Tibet. Unfortunately he passed away last year and so I dedicate the merit of this interview to his family, his life and his legacy.

Drubgyu Rinpoche: I was born in Kyere Monastery in Tsurphu and went to the Karmapa’s monastery to study. Then I came back here. At that time the Chinese government travelled here.

LW:  What year was that?

DR: 1957.  By 1959 the monastery was destroyed and all the monks had fled. I was arrested and was put in prison in Qamdo for 22 years. I became a worker. But of course since I am a tulku, I could not forget who I was.

LW: Tell me about your lineage.

DR:  My last reincarnation was very famous, a terton. So when he was born, he just went to Tsuphu to study.

LW:  Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapas?

DR: Yes, Tsurphu. Then he came back here. Then some time later, Trungpa Rinpoche heard he was very famous and invited him here at Dutsi Til, where he stayed for a long time and then went to Kyere Monastery.

LW:  What was his name?

DR:  He was Chongwa Dorje. Chongwa Dorje was a very famous terton. His biography is in the Rinchen Terzod. In this life, I have been a disciple of both the 10th Trungpa, Chokyi Nyingche, and the 11th, the Vidyadhara Chokyi  Gyamtso. So Trungpa Rinpoche is a close relation. I am now 73 years old and if I live long enough, and if the 12th Trungpa is born in my lifetime, I will know three Trungpas. When I was 11 years old, the 10th Trungpa Rinpoche died. When I stayed at Tsurphu, I found many of Trungpa Rinpoche’ s stories. The 11th Trungpa Tulku, Chokyi Gyamtso, your guru, wrote many books on Avalokiteshvara’s practice way. The 11th Trungpa Rinpoche also found Yeshe Tsogyal’s hair. (The consort of Padmasambhava.)

LW:  Yeshe Tsogyal’s hair?  Did you say Trungpa Rinpoche found Yeshe Tsogyal’s hair?

DR: When Trungpa Rinpoche found Yeshe Tsogyal’s hair, I was with him. He also found Padmasambhava’s phurba.

LW to Pema Wangyal: That was the one we saw on Akong’s neck in Beijing. Pema Wangyal: Yeah.

LW to Drubgyu Rinpoche: I believe I saw it in Beijing. How old was Trungpa Rinpoche then?

DR: It was just before Trungpa Rinpoche left Tibet. He stopped in Kyere on the way out of Tibet. He was 18. He also found 13 books of Padmasarnbhava’s. Termas.

LW:  He found 13 books of Padmasambhava?

DR: Termas. I saved them myself.

LW:  Where are the books now and where is the hair?

DR: The hair is at Kyere Gon along with the books. Among the 13 books, the first book is about the yidam, the dakini. I was with Trungpa Rinpoche when he found them.

LW:  What are the others about?

DR:  It’s a very strange thing. When Trungpa Rinpoche and I found the 13 books, the King of Lathok, a famous King in the Kham area, asked Trungpa Rinpoche to give him the empowerment of those texts, and Trungpa Rinpoche gave the empowerment. Very strange. Because there was no book or words for this. The entire empowerment came spontaneously from his heart.

LW: Any other books ?

DR:  We also have Trungpa Rinpoche’ s biography.

LW:  You mean Born in Tibet?

DR:  No, the one he wrote before he left for India.

LW:   He wrote another, earlier biography?

DR:  Yes, I will send you a copy. What else would you like to receive in this area? Dorje Palmo’s lineage?  You should spend a long time here.
LW: (I received the Surmang Nyengyud transmission later next year.)

LW:  Yes. At least a month. The problem with being here is not getting here, which is a big enough problem, but traveling around once you get here.  Can you say something about the changes you’ve seen in Tibet in your life and the future of buddhadharma here?

DR:  It’s difficult to say because things change so quickly.

LW:  Do you think things are getting better? Is there more religious freedom now ?

DR: Since 1981, things have opened up a lot. We have been able to rebuild and practice.  Now our leaders can come back more easily. But many gompas have no lama. We need our leaders. How old is Karma Khamnyon Rinpoche (Ashoka Mukpo, abbot of Karma Gon Monastery) now?

LW:  About 10 years old, I think.

DR: Can he come here next year? (Ashoka Mukpo did visit Surmang in 2003.)

LW:  I don’t know, but I would suggest you invite him and his mother, Trungpa Rinpoche’ s Sangyum, Diana Mukpo.

DR:  As you know, Karma Gompa is very important in the Kagyu Lineage. So if he visit Karma Gompa that is very good. That is my hope. The other two sons, the Sawang and Shechen Kongtrul (Gesar Mukpo) should also visit.

While we talk, some monks seem to be asleep, others are giving a running commentary.  A dog or two dares an entrance.  A few monks scare it off.  It comes back again, no one seems to mind.

About the Author
Lee Weingrad

Lee Weingrad

Lee Weingrad is a practicing Buddhist, a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche since 1971. He resides in Beijing, China with his wife, Wenjing, and their two children, Iana (in College) and Joseph. He runs Surmang Foundation, a health promotion foundation that focuses on mother and child health in Tibet.

Photo by Lee Wiengrad. Beijing.

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