Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje

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Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje b.1931 - d.1999

Name Variants: Jamyang Dorje

Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje (smyo shul mkhan po 'jam dbyangs rdo rje) was born in Derge, Kham (khams sde dge) in 1931. He was the third son of his father, whom he characterized as a "roaming bandit;" he also had three sisters. His paternal grandmother had been a student of Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (smyo shul lung rtogs bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1829-1901/1902), and Jamyang Dorje credited her with inspiring him to pursue the religious life.

At the age of five he was brought to a local Sakya monastery where he was given refuge and underwent the traditional hair cutting ceremony under a distant relative named Jamyang Khyenpa Tobgye ('jam dbyangs mkhyen pa stobs rgyas). At the age of eight he enrolled at the monastery and learned to read and write, but was otherwise charged with taking care of the sheep.

Wishing to have better religious instruction, at the age of twelve Jamyang Dorje went to study with Rigdzin Jampel Dorje ( rig 'dzin 'jam dpal rdo rje), a master of Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā. Later, at Nyoshul (smyo shul) Monastery in the Dzinkhok ('dzin khog) valley upstream from Katok (kaH thog) Monastery, he received his monastic vows from Tubten Gomchok Lekden (thub bstan sgom mchog legs ldan, d.u.) There Jamyang Dorje received Dzogchen teachings from Nyoshul Lungtok Shedrub Tenpai Nyima (lung rtogs bshad sgrub bstan pa'i nyi ma, b.1920), the reincarnation of his grandmother's teacher, Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, and a disciple of Khenpo Ngaga (mkhan po ngag dga', 1879-1941). From this lama, who became his root teacher, he received the Nyengyu Men-ngak Chenmo (snyan rgyud man ngag chen mo) and other Dzogchen transmissions. At Nyoshul he studied the traditional texts of Buddhist doctrine including the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, Madhyamaka, Prajñāpāramitā, and the entire Kangyur and Tengyur, training in the traditional twelve-year khenpo (mkhan po) curriculum until the age of twenty-four, and earning the title by which he was best known, Nyoshul Khenpo.

Nyoshul Khenpo later moved to Katok where he continued his studies with the lamas of that monastery, including the Third Katok Getse Gyurme Namgyel (kaH thog dge rtse 03 'gyur med rnam rgyal, 1886-1952) and a number of other scholars, including Khenchen Sherab Gyatso (mkhan chen shes rab rgya mtsho), Khenchen Yeshe Gyatso (mkhan chen ye shes rgya mtsho), Khenchen Trinle Gyatso (mkhan chen 'phrin las rgya mtsho), Khenchen Orgyen Tendzin (mkhan chen o rgyan bstan 'dzin), and Khenchen Kunga Gyeltsen (mkhan chen dkun dga' rgyal mtshan).

Upon completion of his formal studies, he was appointed as an abbot of Katok and he taught philosophy to young monks of the monastery for several years. He was able to spend much of his time practicing, including a one-year solitary retreat in a cave practicing tummo (gtum mo) and Chod.

Jamyang Dorje also received teachings from the Fourth Chaktsa Tulku, Pema Trinle (phyag tsha 04 pad+ma 'phrin las, d.u.), Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje (a 'dzom rgyal sras 'gyur med rdo rje, b. 1895), and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959). He received Lamdre teachings from a Sakya lama named Khenchen Kunga Gyeltsen (mkhan chen kun dga' rgyal mtshan) and extensive empowerments from teachers named Lama Yonten Gyatso (bla ma yon tan rgya mtsho), Lama Yeshe Gyatso (bla ma ye shes rgya mtsho), Lama Pelden (bla ma dpal ldan), Lama Tashi Tsering (bla ma bkra shis tshe ring), and Lama Kelzang Nyima (bla ma bskal bzang nyi ma).

In the 1950s, facing increasing threats from the new Communist government in China, Nyoshul Khenpo decided to leave Kham and ultimately to flee Tibet. He left Tibet in a group of seventy-five countrymen; walking over the Himalaya, the group was fired upon by Chinese soldiers. Only five survived. He spent the following years living as a refugee in India and Bhutan, at times a solitary wanderer on the streets of Calcutta, and other times giving empowerments to gatherings of thousands.

He was asked to teach by the leaders of the religious communities in exile, including Dudjom Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje (bdud 'joms 'jigs bral ye shes rdo rje, 1904-1988); Dilgo Khyentse Tashi Peljor (dil mgo mkhyen brtse  bkra shis dpal 'byor, 1910-1991); the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpai Dorje (karma pa 16 rang byung rig pa'i rdo rje, 1924-1981); and the Third Penor, Lekshe Chokyi Drayang (pad nor 03 legs bshad chos kyi sgra dbyangs, 1932-2009), and it is said that there are few contemporary lamas who did not receive Dzogchen teaching from Nyoshul Khenpo. Among the many young lamas that he mentored and instructed are the Third Dzongsar Khyentse, Khyentse Norbu (rdzong gsar mkhyen brtse 03 mkhyen brtse nor bu, b. 1961); the Seventh Zhechen Rabjam, Jigme Chokyi Sengge (zhe chen rab 'byams 07 'jigs med chos kyi seng+ge, b. 1966); the Third Jamgon Kongtrul, Lodro Chokyi Sengge ('jam mgon kong sprul 03 blo gros chos kyi seng+ge, 1954-1992), and many others.

In the early 1970s, while staying in Kalimpong, Jamyang Dorje fell ill, and his nervous system was severely impaired for several years. Many, including Nyoshul Khenpo himself, suspected that he had been poisoned by a jealous rival; others speculated that perhaps he had suffered a stroke. During the worst period of his recovery he resided at Orgyen Kunsang Chokorling, the monastery of Kangyur Rinpoche Longchen Yeshe Dorje (bka' 'gyur rin po che klong chen ye shes rdo rje, 1897/1898-1975), attended by Khenpo Sonam Tobgyel (mkhan po bsod nams stobs rgyal) of Riwoche Monastery. Although he survived, he frequently experienced a problem with his voice and could not speak above a whisper. When he gave instructions, it was often in a whisper to the ears of students or through writing on a piece of paper.

Jamyang Dorje ultimately settled in Bhutan, where he gained the patronage of the royal family and gathered many disciples. In accordance with the request of Lobpon Sonam Zangpo (slob dpon bsod nams bzang po, 1888-1984) and at the recommendation of Dudjom Rinpoche, in the late 1970s Jamyang Dorje was married to a Bhutanese woman named Damcho Zangmo (dam chos bzang mo). The reasons for the marriage were several, including the need for personal care following his prolonged illness.

Soon after he went to Switzerland for medical treatment, and stayed several years there and in France, teaching at the retreat center in Chanteloube. In the 1990s Nyoshul Khenpo also taught in North America several times at the Dzogchen Center of Lama Surya Das. He also traveled to North America several times, including leading a two-month Dzogchen retreat at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in Livingston Manor, New York; he was the Dzogchen master for several prominent Western Vipassana teachers.

In the 1990s Nyoshul Khenpo published a two-volume history of the Dzogchen lineage, the Dzogchen Chojung (rdzogs chen chos 'byung).

He fell seriously ill in 1999 in Bhutan. His followers insisted that he be taken to one of the best hospitals in Bangkok and then to France, where he was cared for by the family of Tulku Pema Wangyel (sprul sku padma dbang rgyal), the son of Kangyur Rinpoche. He passed away there in 1999, close to Dilgo Khyentse and Dudjom Rinpoche's centers in Dordogne.

Two reincarnations of Nyoshul Khenpo have been identified, one in Bhutan in the family of his widow, Damcho Zangmo, and another in Kham, who was enthroned at Katok.




Nyoshul Khenpo. 1995. Natural Great Perfection. Ithaca: Snow Lion.

Nyoshul Khenpo. 2005. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Richard Barron, trans. Junction City: Dharma Publishing.


Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi
March 2011