Düdjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche

Düdjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche—two of the greatest Nyingma Lamas of the 20th Century, and teachers of Ngak’chang Rinpoche

Düdjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche

Kyabjé Düdjom Rinpoche and Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche were Ngakpa Chögyam’s first two Root Lamas. He met them in 1971. He says that both of them told him that his visions of Aro Lingma were part of a terma, and encouraged him to teach it someday. Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche also told him that he was the rebirth of Aro Yeshé.

This section of Approaching the Aro gTér is mainly about the question “Is Ngakpa Chögyam formally qualified to teach?” There are no documents and no witnesses to his relationships with Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. So, you can choose to believe him, or not. Or, you could decide not to bother forming an opinion, because it makes no difference. There is ample evidence that his teaching was approved by other lamas later.

There was once a web rumor that the Dilgo Khyentsé Fellowship said that what Ngakpa Chögyam says about Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche is false:

I actually emailed the Dilgo Khyentse foundation asking them about Chogyam's claims of being recognized as tulku by Dilgo Khyentse (its on the Aro Website)....the response was quick and direct.....Chogyam was a STUDENT of Dilgo Khyentse and nothing more.

I emailed the Fellowship to ask about this. What they told me was that they cannot confirm what Ngakpa Chögyam has said. They did not say that what he said was untrue.

That is very different from what was implied on e-Sangha. “We do not know this is true” is not at all the same thing as “we know this is false.”

Ngakpa Chögyam says that there were no witnesses to Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche telling him that his visions were a terma, and that he was the rebirth of Aro Yeshé. It was in an informal interview. Rinpoche did not make any big deal of it. There was no public announcement. The same was true for Düdjom Rinpoche’s discussion with him of the terma.

It is difficult to see how anyone could know that these conversations did not happen. Someone might think it unlikely, but since there is apparently no factual evidence one way or the other, no certainty is possible.

obviously extremely unlikely

Maybe we should leave it there. However, a possible reply would be “maybe we can’t be sure it didn’t happen—but it is obviously extremely unlikely.” So I will say a little about some reasons one might think that.

  • “It’s just not the sort of thing they would do.”

Both lamas were undoubtedly siddhas. Possibly the only thing all Tibetans agree on is that you can’t predict the behavior of siddhas. They reliably do the unexpectedly unexpected.

It would be highly arrogant to think that you could say what they would or would not do.

  • “Why would Dilgo Khyentse have recognized Chögyam, of all people, as a tulku?”

An interesting question, because it suggests that the person asking doesn’t really believe in rebirth, and thinks that tulku recognition is some sort of political award.

Rinpoche certainly did believe in rebirth. If he said Ngakpa Chögyam was the rebirth of Aro Yeshé, it was probably because he believed Ngakpa Chögyam was the rebirth of Aro Yeshé. I expect that was a quite sufficient reason.

  • “But he’s English!”

I don’t think Rinpoche was a racist.

In any case, there are now quite a number of white tulkus.

  • “He was a truck driver, for god’s sake!”

Someone has actually said this—that Ngakpa Chögyam’s work driving a truck meant he couldn’t be a tulku. It seems he thought that for a white person to be qualified to be a tulku he needs a PhD in Buddhist Studies and to be able to read and write Tibetan fluently.

Rebirth doesn’t work like that.

  • “Why would it be a secret? Isn’t that awfully convenient?”

It is usual for a new terma to be kept secret for many years. That gives the person receiving it time to practice it thoroughly, to make sure they understand how it works, and for the circumstances to come together to teach it effectively.

It would be difficult or impossible to publicly recognize Ngakpa Chögyam as the rebirth of Aro Yeshé without revealing the Aro gTér, since the two are closely connected.

Public recognition of tulkus is also often delayed for years. This seems usually to be for political reasons. Significant recognitions are controversial, and it is important to get political support lined up before making an announcement.

There were very few white tulkus in the 1970s. An announcement might have gotten a lot of political flak. That would not have done anyone any good. What Ngakpa Chögyam needed was training and retreat practice, not a fuss being made over him—whether positive or negative.

  • “The AroTer is obviously bogus—so they would not have endorsed it.”

People who say it is “obviously bogus” rarely say why, other than that it comes via Ngakpa Chögyam, and he is obviously bogus because he teaches an obviously bogus terma. (It is hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it?)

Earlier I have shown that the Aro gTér is definitely not obviously bogus. It is, at least, a subtle, clever, highly-educated fake. It is entirely consistent with mainstream Nyingma teachings.

Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was one of the first two lamas to endorse the Shambhala terma of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. That terma was highly controversial before Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche and HH The Sixteenth Karmapa praised it.

I have received and practiced most of the Shambhala terma. Because I have seen that it works, I have complete confidence in it. However, if you just read the texts, it is not obvious that they are a valid terma. They are much less obviously consistent with the Nyingma mainstream than the Aro gTer is.

Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was willing to take a political risk to support an unusual young lama (Trungpa Rinpoche) teaching a controversial terma to Westerners.

Maybe he did something like that more than once.