The Life and Realization of Togden Urgyen Tenzin
The rainbow body is one of the highest attainments in Dzogchen, an ancient spiritual path recognized as the supreme vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. It is accomplished by transmuting one's physical constituents into the essence of the five elements, and as a result no material body remains after death.
This book traces the extraordinary life story of a twentieth century Tibetan yogin, the Togden (a title meaning "endowed with realization") Ugyen Tendzin (1888-1962), whose amazing achievement of the rainbow body was witnessed in Eastern Tibet not only by his countrymen, but also - to their confusion and dismay - by the Chinese officers who were responsible for his imprisonment. What makes his spiritual achievements even more remarkable is that as a young man he suffered mental illness as a consequence of psychological shock and resulting chronic depression. Through the blessing and power of his guru he slowly recovered from his illness while at the same time his mind started to unfold to the truth of his authentic original nature as revealed in the Dzogchen teaching.
The author of this fascinating biography is the Togden's nephew, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, one of the greatest living masters of Dzogchen. This life story is based on extensive notes Namkhai Norbu took while visiting his uncle in 1954 in Derge, and on information he received after Togden's death from Sala Karma Samten (1919-1993), also a disciple and nephew of the yogin.
Togden's teacher was Adzom Drugpa, Drodul Pawo Dorje (1842-1924), one of the greatest Dzogchen masters of the last century, renowned for the depth and clarity of his teachings. A short biography of this master is included, together with a short biography of the yogin Lhundrub Tso (186401946), who was also a close student of Adzom Drugpa and grandmother of Namkhai Norbu.
Read an extract of this title
Intelligent being, listen!
If you practice the dharma according to the real situation, all becomes virtuous.
The instant presence of your primordial state
Is self - perfected in its very nature.
This is marvelous!
THESE VERSES ARE the only written statement of Togden' Ugyen Tendzin, a yogin who in a single lifetime transcended the limitations of dualistic phenomena in the total freedom of authentic reality.
They were given to his nephew Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, the author of this book, the last time that they met.
It was the summer of 1954, and Togden was living on the upper floor of the palace of Chago Tobden, an important political figure in Derge, Eastern Tibet, at Yilhung Lhari. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, returning from Dzogchen monastery where he had received teachings and initiations from several important lamas, had stopped there to meet his uncle. During the three weeks that he stayed, he received the profound instructions of yantra yoga and other teachings, besides taking notes on the events of his uncle's life which are narrated here. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu also asked for personal advice in written form, as was customary in Tibet at the moment of taking leave from one's lama, The day that they parted Togden simply asked him to get paper and pen, and to write down what he dictated.
In the spring of 1955, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, on the way back to Lhasa from China, stopped at the same palace for a few days, and on that occasion met Togden, who offered His Holiness a long-life pill.
Eventually the palace of Chago Tobden was taken over by the Chinese revolutionists, and Togden was imprisoned in a small barn where nomads stabled animals in summer and used as sleeping quarters in winter. He remained there, practicing as if in retreat, until he dissolved his physical body into the "rainbow body", one of the highest results of Dzogchen practice.
Dzogchen, or "total perfection", is a teaching which reveals the original state of every individual, a condition which is presented as "perfect" because of its infinite potentiality to manifest in the variety of all phenomena of existence, This perfection, once it has been directly introduced by the master, is experienced as one's innermost nature. Continuous awareness of this nature, then, is the fundamental practice that leads to the unveiling or manifestation of one's primordial potentiality.
The "rainbow body" is the transmutation of the physical constituents of the body into the essence of the five elements of which it is composed: the five lights. Thus an immaterial body, invisible to the physical eyes, continues to live, actively working for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The essence of Dzogchen practice is also known as guruyoga, or "union with the master", because the state in which one's master lives and which is transmitted to the student is the same authentic condition of primordial potentiality. Therefore the master, in Dzogchen, is the very embodiment or expression of one's ultimate nature. Union with the master means to abide in this authentic condition.
Togden's master was Adzom Drugpa, Drodul Pawo Dorje (1842-1924), one of the greatest Dzogchen masters of the last century, renowned and praised for the clarity of his teachings. After studying with extraordinary teachers such as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892), Nyagla Pema Duddul (1816-1872), and Paltrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), Adzom Drugpa settled as a ngagpa, or lay married yogin, in Adzom Gar, a spiritual center where he used to give teachings in two main periods: summer and winter.
The young Togden, mentally ill as a consequence of psychological shock and resulting chronic depression, was brought there by the yogini Lhundrub Tso (1864-1946), his sister-in-law. Through the blessing and power of Adzom Drugpa, he slowly recovered from his illness while at the same time his mind started to unfold to the truth of his authentic nature as revealed in the Dzogchen teaching.
Lhundrub Tso, Chogyai Namkhai Norbu's grandmother, was raised by her uncle Wang Chen Zhi, an important official of the Chinese emperor in the Tibetan town of Bathang. She married Deleg Wangyal also known as Tsewang Gonpo of the Trokhe family, an elder brother of Togden, who became an as¬sistant to her uncle. They had one son, isewang Namgyal, the author's father.
After a few years, Wang Chen Zhi and Deleg Wangyal were invited to an official meeting in Ya'an, China. Here her uncle was murdered by a general who had sided with insurgents involved in a revolt against the emperor. After the uncle's assasination her husband was also imprisoned. Lhundrub iso remained alone with their young son, and fearing the revolutionaries might also search for her, she entrusted her son to the king of Derge, a close friend of the family, who took him under his care.
She traveled alone to Derge, until she finally arrived at the feet of Adzom Drugpa, who at that time was also one of the spiritual advisers to the king of Derge. She remained many years at Adzom Gar, practicing in strict retreat, and after her master passed away, she lived her last years with the Norzang family, in which Chogyal Namkhai Norbu was born. She died in 1946, showing the signs of realization of the Dzogchen path.
I have included short biographies of both Adzom Drugpa and Lhundrubiso in Appendix A and Appendix B, respectively. The first was written by Lhundrub Tso, the second by Jamyang Chodron (1921-1985), the authors sister and a devoted student of Lhundrub Tso.
This biography, whose original title is Grub rje rtogs ic/an rgyan bstan 'dzin gyi rnam thar nyung bsdus dam pa'i zhai lung (The Teaching of the Sage - a Short Biography of the King of Siddhas, Togden Ugyen Tendzin), is based on two sources: the first, notes that the au¬thor took during his stay at Yilhung in 1954, and the other, information given him by Sala Karma Samten, disciple and nephew of Togden Ugyen Tendzin, whose last years were spent in retreat in Nepal.
In the text the two different sources are distinguished for clarity's sake by symbols at the start and close of each account, Togden Ugyen Tendzin by the letter T and Sala Karma Samten by the letter S. The demarcations usually correspond to chapter divisions, but occasionally indications within a chapter itself have been necessary. Where there is no icon, the voice is directly that of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu.
The two narratives sometimes do not coincide perfectly, and I have tried to provide a correct chronology of the events, with the invaluable help of the author Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, who also clarified many doubts regarding the translation and offered a great deal of information concerning the historical facts of the period and the place names of Eastern Tibet.
I also wish to thank Haimavati Nakai for the drawings that illustrate Togden's life story; Andrea Dell'Angelo for his photographs of some of the sites described in the book and for providing the manuscript of the history of Sengchen Namdrag; Desmond Barry, for editing my English; Nancy Simmons, for translating from Italian into English the first version of the biography of Adzom Drugpa and for thoroughly reviewing the final manuscript.
For the Tibetan and Sanskrit terms, I have adopted a simplified phonetics in the main text, while I have used scientific transcription in the endnotes.
It is my hope that the story of Togden Ugyen Tendzin as related by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu will inspire all those who are on the Dzogchen path, and that all readers will benefit from the example provided by the life of this extraordinary sage.