In TRUE BOOKS by David Christensen13 Comments

The uncontrived essence of dharmata is said to be naked, meaning that it is divested of the coverings of concepts. It is said to be without artificial modification or uncontrived, meaning it is to be left free from being manipulated and altered, free from all grasping and fixation. For this reason it is known as naked awareness, and this is exactly what is spoiled through analysis and speculative meditation.
—Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, The Fearless Lions Roar.

The most powerful message that shines through The Fearless Lions Roar is the indispensable nature of guru yoga for swiftly realizing the Great Perfection, one’s own true nature. The power of bhakti, devotion, is a swift path for those who are able to harness these energies in their spiritual awakening. Obviously the power of love, the power of the heart, can unlock an incredible force within us which cuts through all our conceptual thoughts. In this space it is easy for the teacher to give the introduction to the nature of mind to the student. Henceforth, whenever the student opens her or his heart in devotion to their teacher, they will seamlessly enter the space of pristine awareness that they were previously introduced to. Dzogchen is the ultimate devotional practice, hence it is so direct and powerful. This is highlighted by some of the stories Khenpo mentions in the book. There are individuals in the West these days who claim to teach Dzogchen, but teach it devoid of this heart-practice, making it a mere technique or meditation practice. Such a dry practice can never quench our thirst for awakening. As Khenpo often said, to realize the Great Perfection one needs a big, vast, open mind; a narrow, small, judgmental mind can never come close to realizing the Great Perfection.

I first heard Khenpo’s name mentioned by one of my teachers Golok Tulku. He mentioned that Khenpo was a great Dzogchen master and was in fact the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra in the flesh. It was not until I came to Dordogne France in 1982 to enter the three year retreat that I met Khenpo. I was very excited to meet him after hearing so much about him. When the retreat began Khenpo was living within the retreat. His health was not great so he did not really engage in much conversation nor did he teach a lot. He suffered from headaches, so it used to aggravate his condition if he talked loudly. He generally whispered, even when he was giving teachings.

Longchenpa's likeness, reproduced by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and covered in gold.

Longchenpa’s likeness, reproduced by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and covered in gold.

One of my fellow retreatants was having trouble relating to the traditional ngondro practice that we had all begun. He asked me if I would translate for him to ask Khenpo for advice. After making a time to see Khenpo, he asked if there was an alternative to the ngondro foundation practices. Khenpo said that there was an alternative but this required a lot of meditation practice of calm abiding. Khenpo asked him if he was willing to practice this, to which he agreed. Khenpo gave him some instructions and told him to do four sessions a day for the next week and to return so Khenpo could check his progress. A week passed and we had another meeting with Khenpo. Khenpo asked him how his practice was going. He replied that he had not been able to do four sessions a day. Upon hearing that Khenpo exploded with wrath and waving his arms around basically said, “just forget it, don’t waste my time.” I had been doing a lot of prostrations at the time and was suffering from lung imbalance, so I was feeling very sensitive. Khenpo’s reaction hit me very hard and after that I was quite scared to talk with him. That feeling continued for the next 18 months or so. During this time Khenpo would never look at texts and it was difficult to ask him questions concerning the meaning of Tibetan terms.

Towards the end of the second year Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche came to teach us the Longchen Nyingtig nadi-prana practices of the Anu Yoga completion stage. When it came to the yogic exercises, the trulkor, Rabjam Rinpoche demonstrated what Khyentse Rinpoche had taught us. Khenpo had learnt the exercises in Tibet when he was young, but had not practiced them for many years. So he began to practice the trulkor every day with a couple of us. My connection with Khenpo improved and I found it easier to communicate with him. From this point my relationship with Khenpo deepened.

Nyoshul Khenpo and David

Nyoshul Khenpo and David

Khenpo also offered to help me with the translation of the Thigle Gyachen, the innermost guru yoga of Longchenpa, which is the basis for the Dzogchen practice of Directly Cutting Through, Tregchod, in the Longchen Nyingtig tradition. This was the first time that I had gone over a text with Khenpo. Khenpo’s health had visibly improved from doing these yogic practices. He was invited by Chagdud Tulku to America for a few months. Upon returning he offered to teach a text, which was a sign of his improved health. He asked me for a suggestion, having a copy of Jigme Lingpa’s Lions Roar, I proposed that he teach it. After finishing retreat a year or so later, Khenpo asked me to collect the recordings of all his teachings. So from that, the seed for the Fearless Lion’s Roar grew.

Of all the teachers I encountered Khenpo and Tulku Urgyen were the most direct when it came to teaching Dzogchen. One time I asked Khenpo for an introduction to the nature of mind. He replied there was not a formal way of doing this in his tradition, but it was based on giving the pith instructions of macho, leaving the mind free of fabrication or modification. He explained this was the key to Dzogchen practice.

Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche (1932-1999) was one of the lineage holders in the Dzogchen tradition known as Longchen Nyingthig, the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse, which descends from Longchen Rabjam and Jigme Lingpa. Born in Derge, East Tibet, he escaped to India in 1959. He trained many of the current generation of Dzogchen teachers, including Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The excerpt is from The Fearless Lion’s Roar: Profound Instructions on Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. A recommended biography of Longchenpa: The Life of Longchenpa: The Omniscient Dharma King of the Vast Expanse.

About the Author
David Christensen

David Christensen

Born in Australia in 1953. Headed to India in 1980 to find the teachings of Padmasambhava. Returned to Australia in 1996. Founded the Odiyana Buddhist Centre and Retreat in 2000 after Tulku Pema Wangyal suggested I should should make a retreat Centre here. A very ordinary person with the good karma to be blessed by many great masters.

Featured image of Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, courtesy of William Karelis.

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    Thank you David. I just stumbled on news of your books publication. It’s wonderful to hear a little of your story with Rinpoche. I remember well our dejeuner sur l’herbe with Khenpo, as shown in your photo together. I will wander sometime to Australia when I know where to go..

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    Thanks for sharing this recollection. We are just finishing studying this text with Lamas Daniela and Christopher Coriat (students of Lama Surya Das) and it is lovely to put Khenpo Rinpoche’s teachings in context.

    May all benefit!


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    Your heart’s essence words here and this sentence in particular “based on giving the pith instructions of macho” leaving the mind free of fabrication or modification” delivered a swift jolt to my heart and gut: An illumination of this same instruction from my teachers’ pith verbal and especially non-verbal instructions. After almost 5 decades of being a very ordinary stubborn student but with the good fortune to be blessed with many highest teachers most whose heart teachers were same, thank you for this.

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    Well done my friend. I m also a very lucky to be his disciple but very humble and poor student of Nyushul Khen Rinpoche. Wish you success in your practices to help more.

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    Thank you.My commentary follows:
    Fluidity Space would terrify fixation.
    Primal Totality arising as Space lacks not one speck of phenomena
    Yet accommodates freely.
    Impossiblity stands and advances on the unknownable.

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    Very inspiring, deep and friendly. It has the power of bringing simplicity and freshness. With Gratitude.

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    Thank you, David. I’m grateful for your bringing Nyoshul Khenpo’s teachings and presence to life in this personal way. This photo of him is amazing as well. Remembering our connection with him, and each other.

    1. David

      Hi Kate
      Glad this reached you. Yes remembering our connection with Khenpo and connection with each other.
      Love David

  8. Frans Stiene

    Thank you David. Are you still teaching in Melbourne? I will be there in March, maybe we can meet for a cup of tea or so if you like?

    1. David Christensen

      Hi Frans,

      Look me up next time you are in Melbourne. We have a lovely retreat Odiyana Buddhist Retreat venue if you are looking for a space to run weekends etc.
      Warm wishes

  9. Rune Lacroix

    Amazing and deeply inspiring! Thank you very much for sharing this.

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