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Miracle in Mongdod?

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Lobsang Nyima-Gaden Tripa.JPG

 As you're anxiously awaiting the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, you might want to consider what's been happening at the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Mondgod, South India. (Drepung Loseling is currently the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world, named for its famous predecessor in Tibet.)

The first thing you need to know is that the Gaden Tripa (holder of the Ganden throne) is the title of the spiritual leader of the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism (the Dalai Lama is the temporal leader of the Gelugpas, and hence is of a higher order politically, and hence, more visible in the public eye, but a notch below the Gaden Tripa in spiritual terms.) Because the position is not an incarnation, but an office awarded both by reputation and examination, and because they serve for set terms, there have been many more of Gaden Tripas than Dalai Lamas. The current holder is the 101st in the line.

The second thing you need to know is that the 100th Gaden Tripa, Lobsang Nyima, died on September 14 of this year. Except that he didn't. Not exactly. He entered on that day a state of advanced meditation known as thukdam in the Tibetan tradition. It is during this state that advanced meditators, accomplished practitioners who have, in effect, practiced dying for years, are able to meditate on the "clear light stage," and oversee the dissolution of mind and body as they prepare for their next incarnation.

And here's where things get interesting from the Western perspective. In South India, with its substantial humidity and, at best, temperate climate, Lobsang Nyima's body remained pliable and undecayed for 18 days as he practiced his meditative exercises. Of course, from the Western perspective, he died on September 14--no observable heart beat, no observable respiration, no ocular activity. But no decay, no odor, no slumping, no rigor mortis. For 18 days. There's the rub.

Personally, I have little trouble accepting thukdam as a spiritual fact, a phenomenon that's still in the cue of Facts To Be Proven Within the Narrow Spectrum of Western Empiricism. Also, I met Lobsang Nyima in May, 2007, when he was very old and somewhat ill; he was an extraordinary person, and that was apparent even to me, with my set of dull Western receptors.

Lobsang Nyima's thukdam has caused quite a stir within the monastic community at Drepung Loseling Monastery, and Geshe Dorjee, here in Fayetteville has kept me informed of its progress over the past three weeks. (Nyima was one of Geshe Dorjee's teachers, and always spoke of him with that deepest fondness that Tibetans reserve solely for their most influential teachers.)

Various doctors, of course, have congregated around Lobsang Nyima recently, briefs are being written, and you can read a fuller report here. For more on this particular holder of the throne, click here.

Finally--while Tibetans are deeply impressed by this accomplishment, they don't view it as a miracle, by any stretch of the imagination. It's closer to how we view Gebreselassie's latest world record in the marathon--a feat reserved for the few, one that demands enormous discipline and ability, but one that is clearly within the realmNobel_medal of our fundamental potential. Inspiring, in a word.

There's a big difference between the unreachable miraculous and the achievable inspiring. Let's concentrate on the latter, as we anticipate the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.


Venerable Thupten Rinpoche is a incarnate lama and an early disciple of the Centre's founder the late Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. He was invited to the Centre by Geshe Dhargyey himself, in order to continue the transmission of Buddhist teachings in Dunedin. You can see in this video, Thupten Rinpoche has entered Thukdam (death meditation). We have the gross mind, subtle mind and very subtle mind. For conversation sake, we have gross and subtle mind.

Gross mind arises from the subtle mind. At the time of death, the gross mind dissolves into subtle mind. The subtle mind abides at the heart region. Ordinary people have no control over this mind, how long it stays or when it leaves the body. In advanced meditation practices (Vajra Yogini, Heruka, Guyasamaja, Yamantaka, Cittamani Tara, and other tantric paths), one practices to `control' the movement of your mind within your body. When you gain control over this mind, you can abide, stay, leave your body at will. When the physical body `dies', the mind still can abide within the body. If the mind abides within the heart region, there will be no decay, unpleasant smells, rigamortis, hardening of the skin and the other signs of death. In fact you will look like you are in a deep sleep. A person can stay in this meditation (mind staying within the body) for days, weeks, even months. It is up to the practitioner as they have control.

 The body never starts deteriorating as in normal process of death as long as the mind resides in the body even if the heart and breathing has fully stopped. It is very important that we practice the fundamental steps in Dharma in the beginning. Then familiarize ourselves with the intermediary prerequisites (Three Principal Paths), then enter the most sacred practice of Tantra. Within Tantra, embrace one yidam such as Vajra Yogini and go all the way with the practice. If you go all the way with the practice surrendering attachments, projections, excuses, laziness and dry scholarly talk, you will gain great attainments. Controlling one's death is just one of the `small' benefits.

One can experience many realizations that directly help you to cease suffering although you abide in a place filled with suffering (which is anywhere in samsara). This Ven Thupten Rinpoche in today's modern day and age shows clearly that tantra is relevant, has results and alive. Tantra is definitely powerful and works for those who engage in the practice. His passing displayed his complete mastery of Buddhism. He maintained his mind within his body for 18 days after being certified as medically dead. The most obvious signs being the body colour and skin tone remaining unchanged and lack of decomposition

At this early age Thupten Rinpoche received a long life initiation and pre-novice ordination from Jamgön Dorje Chang.

“At four, I and my family were taken to the Samdrub monastery. At the monastery I was nurtured and looked after by my kind guru, Rinchen Tsetan, who taught me reading, writing and other aspects of my training.”

“At six I was ordained as a novice monk by refuge-protector, the venerable Geshe Jampa Khedrub, the then ex-abbot of the Trehor Dhargyey Monastery. He gave me the name Jampa Thupten.”

Among the many initiations and teachings Thupten Rinpoche received from this remarkable teacher are the great initiations of Guhya-samaja, Heruka and Vajrabhairava and the Lam. Rim commentary. He also received the Putri Barwa initiation from the Sershul Monastery lama, Pöntsang Tulku.

“At around 16, I went to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital city, to enter Sera Mahayana Monastery to pursue higher learning in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It was there that I met my refuge- protector, the incomparably kind late venerable guru, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, who until his passing away into the state of peace, like a loving parent caring for their only child, warmly held me in his compassion and cared for my material and spiritual needs.”

Thus Gen Rinpoche became Thupten Rinpoche’s tutor in 1957. While at Sera Monastery Thupten Rinpoche received many initiations and teachings from great lamas. From Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, teachings on Lam.Rim, initiations of Guhya-samaja, Heruka, Vajra-bhairava and Kun.Rig, a commentary to Gan.dän, and more. From Lhatsün Dorje Chang, initiations of White Tara, the Thirteen Golden Dharmas of the Sakya tradition, Mahakala and Vaishravana etc. From Lop Tengyal Rinpoche, Avalokitesvara and Tara initiations and from Gen Yeshe Wangdü, teachings on logic and debate.

“Following the brutal occupation of Tibet by Communist China, we fled Tibet in February 1959 to bring our kind guru to safety. We travelled for ten months, enduring immense hardships and often facing close encounters with our pursuers. We finally reached safety in India in December that year.”