Ngakpa Chögyam and his Lamas

This page is an overview of the history of Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s relationships with his five Root Lamas.

If you are interested mainly in the question “is Rinpoche formally qualified,” I recommend reading “authorized to teach.” It summarizes the details here, with pointers to relevant documents.

In past I followed this page with others that documented the history in detail. The reason was to help explain anti-Aro gossip on the web. Most came originally from other students of Rinpoche’s Root Lamas. Some of it was encouraged by one of his former lamas, who disowned him. Since most of the attacks on Rinpoche have been removed from the web, these pages no longer seem useful and I have removed them. If you would like to know more about this history, I can email them to you.

Below, I will use the alternate name “Ngakpa Chögyam” rather than “Ngak’chang Rinpoche.” That way I can use “Rinpoche” to refer unambiguously to his teachers without giving their full names each time.

Ngakpa Chögyam has had many Tibetan teachers. Five of them have acted as his Root Lamas, or principal teachers. In the order he met them, these were Düdjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche, Künzang Dorje Rinpoche (with Jomo Sam’phel), Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche (with Khandro Tendzin Drölkar), and Chhi’méd Rig’dzin Rinpoche. Only Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel are still alive.

All five acted as his lamas simultaneously. In the West, it is uncommon to have several lamas at once. In Tibetan culture, it is normal. If you look at the biographies of Tibetan lamas, you will find that they usually list many teachers.

Düdjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche

Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Ngakpa Chögyam first went to the Himalayas to study Buddhism in 1971. During the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s he spent roughly half his time there. He would work for about six months in Britain, saving as much money as possible, and then would live on that for about six months in India or Nepal. He studied there with Tibetan lamas and practiced what he had learned in solitary retreats.

In 1971, Tibetan Buddhism was little-known in the West. The first Tibetan lamas (Trungpa Rinpoche and Tarthang Tulku) came to the West in the late 1960s, but they were obscure until their first books were published (1973 and 1976). In 1971, there were very few Western Buddhists visiting the Himalayas. That meant that Ngakpa Chögyam had a level of access to great lamas that was completely unavailable a few years later. Tibetan Buddhism then became hip, and a deluge of would-be students arrived.

Ngakpa Chögyam studied with several teachers in 1971. Two of them became Root Lamas: Kyabjé Düdjom Rinpoche and Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche.

Ngakpa Chögyam received the complete set of Düdjom Tersar empowerments from Dudjom Rinpoche. Under his guidance, Ngakpa Chögyam did his first long solitary retreat. During it, he had a vision of Aro Lingma, the tertön (discoverer) of the Aro gTér. He discussed the vision with Düdjom Rinpoche and with Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche. Both said that it was the first sign of terma. They both encouraged him to record carefully any related visions and dreams, because eventually he would need to teach the terma.

Dudjom Rinpoche told him to keep the terma secret for thirteen years, and to practice both it and the Tröma Nakmo section of the Dudjom Térsar during that period. After thirteen years, he should teach the Aro gTér. (This period of secrecy is a typical requirement on new terma discoveries. It gives enough time to practice the terma to fully understand how it works and how to teach it.)

Troma Nagmo

Tröma Nakmo

Tröma Nakmo is a female yidam within the Düdjom Térsar. There are extensive teachings and practices in the Tröma Nakmo section. These include elaborate rituals, involving complex equipment, songs, dances, and so forth. Although Dudjom Rinpoche gave Ngakpa Chögyam all the Tröma empowerments, he did not have time to teach the ritual details. He also did not have time to teach him Dzogchen men-ngak-dé, which mostly can only be transmitted one-on-one or to small, dedicated groups.

Dudjom Rinpoche was Head of the Nyingma, and he had ever-increasing bureaucratic and teaching responsibilities. By the mid-1970s he had little time to teach Ngakpa Chögyam individually. He sent Ngakpa Chögyam to Künzang Dorje Rinpoche for detailed instruction in Dzogchen. Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche gave him detailed instruction in ritual practice. Düdjom Rinpoche did, however, continue to act as the overall coordinator of Ngakpa Chögyam’s studies.

Künzang Dorje Rinpoche

Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche

Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche

Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche lived as a homeless wandering yogi in the 1970s. By choice, he had very few students. He accepted Ngakpa Chögyam only reluctantly at first, and only because of a letter of recommendation Ngakpa Chögyam brought him from Düdjom Rinpoche. He spent several weeks testing Ngakpa Chögyam’s understanding before actually teaching him anything. Eventually he relented and gave him transmission of Dzogchen men-ngak-dé.

Because Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche had no fixed address, Ngakpa Chögyam lost track of him each time he returned to Britain to work, and was often unable to locate him for years. In fact, they had no contact from 1981 to 1995, because Ngakpa Chögyam could not find him.

Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche

Lama Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche

Ngakpa Chogyam with Lama Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche

So Ngakpa Chögyam spent more time with Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche and his wife Khandro Tendzin Drölkar, who taught him the Tröma Nakmo ritual practices. Ngakpa Chögyam was more drawn to Dzogchen and to Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, and to Dudjom Rinpoche, but Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche was available when his closer teachers were not.

Under Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche and Khandro Tendzin Drölkar, from the mid-1970s to 1982, he mastered the full Tröma Nakmo system. Among other things, this involved spending more than three years in solitary retreat (in sections of several months at a time).

Beginning to teach

In 1976, Dudjom Rinpoche visited Britain for the first time. He met with Ngakpa Chögyam, and told him to start working to establish the White Sangha (non-monastic tantric ordination) in the West. He also told him to start teaching whenever someone requested him to do so.

People did start asking Ngakpa Chögyam to teach in 1978—occasionally at first, and then on a regular basis in the town of Bath, England. His teaching role became increasingly formalized; in 1982, some regular attendees at his classes asked him to be their personal teacher. On the recommendation of both Dudjom Rinpoche and Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche, he agreed to do so.

This was the time when Ngakpa Chögyam first encountered opposition. Some other Britons who considered themselves “serious Tibetan Buddhists” did not think it was fair that he should be teaching when they were not. Apparently motivated by jealousy, they began the campaign of malicious gossip that has continued, on and off, until now.

Due to the strong interest in Ngakpa Chögyam’s classes in Britain, Rinpoche thought it was the time for them to establish a center there. For that, Ngakpa Chögyam would need unquestioned credibility. In 1983, Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche wrote a “proclamation,” appointing Ngakpa Chögyam as his “vajra regent” (business representative), and authorizing Ngakpa Chögyam as a “root guru” (tantric lama).

Ngakpa Chögyam had intended to ask Düdjom Rinpoche to write a Foreword for his first book, Rainbow of Liberated Energy. However, Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche offered to write one, and it would have been rude to refuse. His Foreword, written in 1983, praised Ngakpa Chögyam as a student and author.

Breakdown

Khandro Tendzin Drolkar

Khandro Tendzin Drölkar

Unfortunately, during the mid-80s, Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche came into conflict with several other Nyingma teachers, and his marriage with Khandro Tendzin Drölkar broke up in a particularly difficult way. Ngakpa Chögyam did his best to stay out of these conflicts. Rinpoche would not allow him to stay neutral. He demanded that Ngakpa Chögyam take actions that would be seriously detrimental to Khandro Tendzin Drölkar. He also demanded that Ngakpa Chögyam break off his relationships with Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche. Ngakpa Chögyam was unwilling to do either of those things, which made Rinpoche extremely angry.

Rinpoche then told many people that he had never authorized Ngakpa Chögyam to teach. Apparently he did this as a punishment. By this time, Ngakpa Chögyam had about twenty personal students. He told them what Rinpoche said, and told them to become students of Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche, or to find another lama. However, most refused; they were not interested in being students of anyone else. As a tantric lama, Ngakpa Chögyam had taken vows to his students as well as to his teachers, and he could not refuse to teach if they insisted.

There was public evidence that Rinpoche did authorize Ngakpa Chögyam. The Foreword, written in 1983 when relations were very good, was only published in 1986, when Rinpoche was denouncing the author. Some people asked him about the Foreword, and other evidence. Rinpoche denied writing the Foreword. His explanation repeatedly shifted, and did not make sense. Nevertheless, many people believed him (perhaps because he was the teacher, and because he was Tibetan, and had a “Rinpoche” after his name) and not Ngakpa Chögyam.

Ngakpa Chögyam appealed to Düdjom Rinpoche. Düdjom Rinpoche would have been able to fix the situation—but unfortunately he became seriously ill in 1986 and died in January 1987.

Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche

Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche with Ngakpa Chogyam

Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche with Ngakpa Chogyam

Back in the late 1970s, Ngakpa Chögyam had become a student of Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, the last of his five Root Lamas.

Ngakpa Chögyam spent increasing amounts of time with him during the 1980s, in Britain and Holland. Rinpoche visited Britain several times, and stayed at Ngakpa Chögyam’s house for several weeks on each visit. On those occasions, he taught Ngakpa Chögyam’s students as well as Ngakpa Chögyam, and a few students of other lamas.

From the breakdown with Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche, and into the mid-1990s, Chhimèd Rigdzin Rinpoche acted as Ngakpa Chögyam’s primary teacher. In 1988, Rinpoche tried to give Ngakpa Chögyam the credibility Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche had undercut. He confirmed Ngakpa Chögyam’s authority to act as a lama and give empowerments. He wrote a new Foreword for the revised edition of the Ngakpa Chögyam’s book, to replace the one Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche claimed not to have written.

Unfortunately, some of Rinpoche’s students were hostile to Ngakpa Chögyam. Some had been students of Lama Yeshé Dorje Rinpoche, and they believed him rather than Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche. Some thought Ngakpa Chögyam receiving terma in visions and dreams was ridiculous, that he was just making it up, and that he was on an ego trip. Some seemed to be jealous that Ngakpa Chögyam was authorized to teach when they weren’t. Some seemed to be jealous that Ngakpa Chögyam appeared to be closer to Rinpoche than they were.

So, although Rinpoche did what he could, his mentoring Ngakpa Chögyam actually added new sources of hostile gossip.

In 1975, Düdjom Rinpoche had told Ngakpa Chögyam to teach the Aro gTér only after practicing it for thirteen years (which would be 1988). Until then, he taught general Tibetan Buddhism and the Düdjom Térsar ngöndro. In 1988, Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche also encouraged him to start teaching primarily the Aro gTér. Ngakpa Chögyam gradually shifted to that over the next few years.

In the early 1990s, Rinpoche shifted his European base from Britain to Switzerland. From then on, Ngakpa Chögyam saw much less of him. Both had increasing numbers of students who needed more and more attention, so there were few opportunities to meet informally.

Rinpoche died in 2002.

Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel

Ngakpa Chögyam, Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, and Jomo Samphel

Ngakpa Chogyam, Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, and Jomo Samphel

In 1995, Ngakpa Chögyam accidentally found Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, after not having seen him since 1981. Rinpoche greeted him enthusiastically, and they renewed their relationship. From then, Rinpoche stayed in Kathmandu, so he was easy to locate. Since 1995, Ngakpa Chögyam has visited him once every few years, in the company of many of his own students. Several Aro students have formed their own relationships with Rinpoche and his wife Jomo Sam’phel, and have received extensive teachings from them.