A BIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTHOR, CHOYING TOBDEN DORJE
A BIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTHOR, CHOYING TOBDEN DORJE
THE SUPREME UNIVERSAL MONARCH, the learned and accomplished Longchen Choying Tobden Dorje Mapham Chokle Nampar Gyelwa Pelzangpo, was a reincarnation in human form of the lord among conquerors, Saroruhavajra Guru Rinpoche. He was born in 1785 (the wood snake year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle) at Zhopong, in the Sermojong area of Repkong, in Amdo, Tibet, the Land of Snows. His father was named Rinchen and his mother, an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal, named Jomo Yeshe Dolma, also known by the name of Gyelyum Ngodrub Dolma. Their child was initially known by the name Gongbo Yonten.
From the time of his infancy, he innately displayed the character of a holy person. Many local teachers, incarnate lamas, and spiritual mentors taught him to read and write. As he persevered in his study of the classical sciences and Buddhism, the vault of his talents overflowed.
As Kalden Gyatso, the incarnation of Avalokiteśvara, states:
The illustrious Padmākara of Oḍḍiyāna
Journeyed to the region of Tibet, Land of Snows.
Here, in general, he inaugurated countless sites sacred to the ḍākinīs
And specifically sent forth hundreds of emanations simultaneously.
They opened the portals to hundreds of palaces of the ḍākinīs,
Including the major sacred place of Nyagong Drakar in the east
And the place known as Chuchik Shelgyi Gonpa,
Where they bound mundane gods and demons under oath.
In past times, during the earlier spread of Buddhism in Amdo,
The fine names of Repkong’s eight sacred sites of spiritual accomplishment
Were as well known as the sun and moon.2
He again states:
Moreover, one by the name of Kawa Dorje Wang,
A supreme mantrin from Katok Monastery in the east,
Arrived in this sacred place of Shelgon and attained the rainbow light body.3
As these eulogies mention, among Repkong’s eight sacred sites of spiritual accomplishment appears one by the name of Shelgon Dechen Chokyi Podrang, generally known as Chuchik Shelgyi Gonpa. Choying Tobden Dorje joined the spiritual community living there, and, after gradually receiving the monastic vows, along with the bodhisattva vows and the commitments of the secret mantra, he studied, pondered, and experientially cultivated the profound and extensive oral teachings (bka’ ma), spiritual revelations (gter ma), and pure visionary teachings (dag snang) of the
ancient Nyingma tradition. Following this, he traveled to Rabgya Gon Ganden Tashi Jungne Shedrub Dargyeling, a supreme center of Kadampa learning, where he attended upon many spiritual mentors, headed by Shingza Paṇḍita Lobzang Dargye Gyatso For a period of five years he assumed the lifestyle of an ordinary monk without family ties as he studied and reflected upon the three collections of Buddhist scripture and experientially cultivated the three aspects of
training that constitute the spiritual path. At the end of this period, he left to practice meditation in mountain hermitages without settling down in a fixed residence. On one occasion, as he was inspired by a prophetic declaration given by deities and his teachers, there arose within him a firm determination that he should set out to find an extraordinary teacher, the lord of his enlightened family, in the manner of the bodhisattva Sadāprarudita who had sought Dharmodgata. His purpose above all was to request the profound instruction that would propel him in a single lifetime, in that very rebirth, to the level of Buddha Samantabhadra.
Choying Tobden Dorje traveled southward and arrived at such places as Dzogchen Monastery in Kham, where from Dzogchen Tulku IV Migyur Namkha Dorje and his nephew Pema Kundrol, among others, he received maturational empowerments and liberating guidance, based on the oceanic doctrines of sūtra and tantra.
Then, in particular, Choying Tobden Dorje traveled to the Buddhist encampment (chos sgar) of Dodrubchen Rinpoche Jigme Trinle Ozer, where he remained for a long time. It was Dodrubchen Rinpoche on whom he relied as his extraordinary teacher, the lord of his enlightened family, and whom he served with the three ways of
pleasing the teacher. In that location, he was given the maturational empowerments, liberating guidance, and supporting transmissions for the profound doctrines of sūtra and mantra in general and the three classes of yoga according to the inner tantras in particular, so that he came to resemble a vase that has been filled to the brim. Consequently, his view of reality became spacious, and he actualized the pristine cognition that arises on the [[path of
no-more-learning]]. Realizing that Choying Tobden Dorje would become illustrious among disciples of the future and had the good fortune to be associated with certain deities through his past actions, Dodrubchen Rinpoche, the supreme lord of his enlightened family, granted him the profound wrathful mantras of the ancient Nyingma tradition, including the crucial instructions of the four pulverizing rites ([[thal ’byin
rnam pa bzhi]]) of Vajrakumāra, the cycles of Yamāntaka headed by the four wheels of Mañjuśrī (’jam dpal ’khor lo rnam bzhi]]), and the overturning of ominous signs by means of the imprecations of the mātaraḥ (ma mo rbod gtong), along with many profound instructions through which mantrins may attain buddhahood on the basis of [[burnt
offerings]], combined with rites of suppression, incineration, and bombardment. Through his meditation on these, the dichotomy of subject and object and all the thoughts that arose in his mind were infinitely transformed as the display of pristine cognition, meditational deities, and mantras, and he grew confident that he had unimpededly mastered the enlightened activities of wrathful sorcery.
At that point, the venerable teacher Dodrubchen Rinpoche declared, “This dark mantrin from the north is the designated inheritor of an ocean of wrathful mantras. I name him Longchen Choying Tobden Dorje, Unvanquished Conqueror of All Directions.” Praising him by means of this decree, he added many predictions of future events,
saying, “Now the time has come for you to liberate your own mind through realization and compassionately liberate the minds of others. Therefore, you should return to your homeland, nurture students, and tend to the well-being of the Buddhist teachings and sentient beings. Your service to beings will continuously flourish.”
As advised, Longchen Choying Tobden Dorje then returned home to Repkong in Amdo, where, through masterly attainments, his resources and entourage increased. In his homeland, he founded Ko’ude Gon Dzogchen Namgyeling, which has since been sustained by his series of reincarnations. At the present day, its ritual practices and so forth appear to follow the tradition of Orgyan Mindroling.
Further, there is a treasure text that makes the following prediction:
In the east, a white conch shell will appear with the resounding voice of Brahmā.
In the south will appear a mound of white rice, like a round fortress.
In the west will appear one like a blossoming orange lotus.
In the north will appear one with force and might like a planted ritual spike.4
Accordingly, among the four main disciples of Dodrubchen Rinpoche with the name Dorje, who were likened to supporting beams (gdung bzhi), Longchen Choying Tobden Dorje is renowned as the “supporting beam in the north,” the thunder of his reputation resounding throughout the heavens. With the activity of a learned scholar in teaching, debate, and composition, and with the enlightened activity of an accomplished master, training each according to need through pacification, enrichment, subjugation, and wrath, he accepted countless disciples, establishing them on the path of maturational [[[empowerment]]] and liberating [guidance].
In general, his prodigious acts sustained the Buddhist teachings impartially, and in particular, he ensured that the precious teachings of the Innermost Spirituality of Longchenpa belonging to the Ancient Translation School would continue without deterioration, as far as the limits of time and space. The line of disciples issuing from this master and from Palchen Namkha Jigme are known as the “nineteen hundred dark mantrins from Repkong who bear the ritual spike.” The continuity of their doctrine forms an incomparable rampart that manifestly continues to protect the teachings to the present day.
In 1841 (the iron ox year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle), Zhabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol sent a letter of request to Choying Tobden Dorje on the occasion of the lunar new year celebration. Choying Tobden Dorje sent a letter in reply, and during that year he extensively offered Zhabkar Rinpoche the reading transmission and guidance on The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra, its root verses and commentaries. This information is recorded in the Autobiography of Zhabkar. At that time, Choying Tobden Dorje was in his fifty-seventh year, and Zhabkar Rinpoche had reached his sixty-first.
The foregoing account, which is merely illustrative, is transcribed from relevant portions of the Doctrinal History of Amdo (mDo smad chos ’byung), the Successive Hierarchs of Rongpo Gonchen (Rong po dgon chen gyi gdan rabs), the Autobiography of Zhabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol (Zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol gyi rang rnam), and the Doctrinal History Derived from the Innermost Spirituality of Luminosity (’Od gsal snying thig gi chos ’byung). Furthermore, I traveled to Ko’ude Monastery in Repkong to compile whatever I could see or hear in their records and the like that could be investigated. Nevertheless, I was unable to discover, apart from a mere outline, how long Choying Tobden Dorje lived in the perception of his disciples in this worldly realm, or even the seed of a full, detailed account of how he sustained his enlightened activities in teaching, meditation practice, and altruistic acts.
However, the activities and biography of this supreme individual can be essentially illustrated by the letter that Zhabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol sent to Choying Tobden Dorje in 1841 (the iron ox year of the fourteenth sexage-nary cycle). Therefore, I include the letter here in its entirety; the Autobiography of Zhabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol states:
Seeing the general eloquence of the composition of Kusho Dzogchen Rinpoche [[[Choying Tobden Dorje]]], in whom both learning and accomplishment are gathered, and in particular, his major treatise entitled The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra, a steadfast, inviolable faith arose. On New Year’s Day, I offered him this letter:
May the deities of longevity—
Lord Amitāyus, White Tārā, and the rest—
Who confer the supreme accomplishment of long life
Bestow the spiritual accomplishment of immortal life!
Supreme reincarnation of venerable Orgyan, emanation of the mind
Of the buddhas of the ten directions and three times,
In whom both learning and spiritual accomplishment are gathered,
Please direct your enlightened intention toward me!
Lord protector, in times past you attained buddhahood,
Yet in later generations for the disciples you accept,
You demonstrate a life of spiritual liberation
Solely in order to show them how buddhahood should be won.
First you cast [the cares of] this life from your mind
And attended upon the lotus feet of many learned and accomplished masters.
You received pith instructions and guidance concerning sūtra and tantra
And resolved outer misconceptions through study and reflection.
Next, in secluded mountain hermitages,
You resolved inner misconceptions through meditation.
The vault of your experience, realization, and talent overflowed.
Finally, in accordance with the prophecies of spiritual teachers and deities,
And at the encouragement of your fortunate disciples,
You increased the spiritual and temporal well-being
Of the teaching and of living beings, day and night,
By your empowerments, transmissions, guidance, and so on,
And by teaching, debate, and composition.
Like a store of gems, this Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra
Holds the content of oceans of vast discourses
And of the profound tantras
Which are the words of the infinite conquerors of the ten directions
Headed by Munīndra, lord of the teaching.
It contains the crucial points of all treatises written by many scholars,
Commenting on the enlightened intention of the Conqueror’s words.
It contains the practical application and experiential guidance
Of the lineages deriving from all supreme individuals
Who maintain the teaching.
It contains the teaching styles and exegetical transmission of the learned;
The ground, path, and fruition of the sūtra and mantra vehicles;
The trio of the view, meditation, and conduct; the three levels of vows;
The five major and five minor subjects of classical learning;
And the clear meanings of all the vehicles—
It is a treasure of complete and error-free eloquence.
You have written this for the well-being of the teaching and of living beings in general,
And especially to help fortunate individuals
Of the present and of times yet to come.
How very kind you are!
Spiritual master imbued with great kindness,
To you I bow in utmost humility.
I present masses of offerings, real and imagined, to you.
I confess the negativity of faithlessness and wrong view.
I rejoice in your supreme liberating career.
I beseech you even now to turn the wheel of the sacred doctrine.
I pray that you live for a hundred years.
And I dedicate my store of virtuous acts
To ensure your lotus feet remain firmly upon this earth.
Spiritual master, may your health be excellent, splendidly bright.
May you live long in supreme well-being.
Spiritual master, may the renown of your goodness spread,
And especially, may your intended goals meet with success.
May the wealth of your teachings’ sponsors flourish,
And may your doctrine long remain in this world.
When I meet you and all those around you, the event I wish for,
May the auspicious circumstances arise for our repeated meeting.
In the enjoyment of jubilant happiness,
May we all encounter auspicious circumstances
Conducive to the practice of the sacred doctrine!
I offered this letter accompanied by a physical representation of my intentions—pills made at the conclusion of my practice of longevity—and a gift of divine silk embroidered with the deities of longevity (tshe sku can gyi lha rdzas).
So Zhabkar Rinpoche wrote.
Although it is reported that the collection of treatises written by Choying Tobden Dorje includes many texts such as the Final Act of Suppression, the Dark Mount Sumeru ([[mNan pa’i las mtha’ ri rab [nag po]]), which belongs to his cycle on the practical application of wrathful mantra, his magnum opus is the treatise entitled The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra, elucidating all vehicles of spiritual development. This work comprises thirteen large volumes. He began its composition in 1836 (the fire monkey year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle) and successfully completed it in 1838 (the earth dog year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle) when he was in his fifty-fourth year.
This treatise has five sections: (i) the root verses (rtsa ba); (ii) the outline (bsdus don); (iii) the concise commentary (’bru ’grel); (iv) the extensive commentary (rgyas ’grel); and (v) the illustrated version (dpe ris). The root verses are in metrical verse, while the other sections are written in prose or in the form of captions. Among the thirteen volumes, volume 1 (KA) contains the root verses and the outline. Volume 2 (KHA) contains the concise commentary. The next nine volumes from volume 3 (GA) to volume 11 (DA) contain the extensive commentary. Among them, the sūtra section comprises two volumes, the subjects of Indo-Tibetan classical learning comprise two volumes, the tantra section comprises two volumes, and the Dzogchen section comprises three volumes. The last two volumes, 12 (NA) and 13 (PA), both contain the drawings that illustrate the text.
Although woodblocks were prepared for this treatise, they were destroyed by fire in 1938 through the depredations of the warlord Ma Bufang. Later, Choktrul Tubten Nyima, who deeply values the classical texts of the Tibetan tradition, and others of like mind searched for, collected, and prepared this edition, which we are now able to publish. Respectfully written by one called Nor-de, an invalid and an ignorant fool from the land of Golok.
This biography is included in the 2000 edition of The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra (DGD), printed by the Sichuan Nationalities’ Publishing House. Its author, Nor-de, is a well-known writer and editor who has served as head of the National People’s Congress Bureau of Golok Prefecture, Qinghai Province.