Concerning the predecessor of Chamtul Pema Nangsel Dorje, the son of Terchen Deshek Lingpa, a reincarnation of Dampa Rinpoche of Kathok in Eastern Tibet (Kham), it says in the chronology of the abbots of Kathok Monastery:
THE VARJADHARA CHAMTUL KUNZIG JIGME DORJE WAS A PRINCIPAL DISCIPLE OF SITU CHOEKYI LODRO. HE WAS ERUDITE IN THE COMMON SUBJECTS AND THE TEACHINGS OF SUTRA AND TANTRA, IN WHICH HE ATTAINED FULL CONFIDENCE WITH INSIGHT AND REALIZATION. OWING TO ALL THIS, HE APPEARED AS THE SUN TO ILLUMINATE THE PRECIOUS TEACHINGS OF SCRIPTURE AND SPIRITUAL REALIZATION. HE HELD THE THRONE OF KATHOK MONASTERY FOR SEVERAL YEARS, AND IN THE LATTER PART OF HIS LIFE HE SOLELY CONFINED HIMSELF TO MEDITATION RETREAT. GETSE TSEWANG RIGZIN GYATSO, DZATUL KUNSANG NAMGYAL, MIPHAM CHOKLEY NAMGYAL, KHASAR TERTON, KHEN GEN RIGZIN GYATSO AND SO ON STUDIED AND TRAINED AT THE FEET OF THIS MASTER.
The second Kathok Chamtul Pema Nangsel Dorje was recognized by many holy masters as his unmistaken reincarnation. He dedicated all his life in the administration of his Monastery and to the Dharma, and left a great legacy contributing to the well-being of the Dharma and sentient beings. I have heard from reliable sources that even in his tender age he accompanied Dakas, Dakinis and Dharma Protectors, as if he was with human beings; he came across treasure troves of Dzi caskets and rosaries of Dzi stones (onyx); he had direct vision of the Tantric Guardian Eka Dzati, who gave him a blue knotted cord for his long life and disappeared; this protective blue cord was said to have been in his box of sacred artifacts even at later times. Especially, it was renowned that a single strand of his hair could be protection against artillery. The signs of his high spiritual attainments were witnessed commonly by people at the time. But without going much into such accounts, I wish to recount this story to illustrate the point: One day, someone by the name of Neyog tied a strand of the Master’s hair around the neck of a goat and shot a gun at it several times, but the bullets did not even pierce the goat!
In the Earth Pig year when the Communist Chinese took Chamtul Rinpoche to prison, he left a testament to his family, the members of the monastery and the lay people connected to him, in which he said, “After satisfying the Communist Chinese I will return to my family and monastery. So, we will be together again. I swear by the monastery of Dzamthang!” After saying this he went to prison. In the Iron Rat year, however, he passed away in a prison; he left an indelible mark of an accomplished master of the luminous Dzogchen practice as each drop of his blood transformed into rainbow light. This could be witnessed by all people.
It is said that in the year of the Water Tiger, when I was in my mother’s womb, she had many miraculous signs. One amazing thing was that one night she dreamed of Chamtul Rinpoche emerging from a rainbow circle and telling her that he had arrived at his own home. He presented her with a cup of curd and urged her to take it. As she dreamed of finishing the entire curd she felt physically and spiritually blissful, and this feeling lasted several days. Finally, when I was born she noticed some whitish liquid covering my body and exclaimed to the midwives, “That is exactly the curd I had in my dream!” It was the year of the Water Rabbit.
Around the age of six I found a short rusted knife made in Derge (in Kham, Eastern Tibet) in a thorn bush growing in a dry riverbed nearby the Hor River at Mar. I was informed that this knife was the one used by the previous Chamtul Rinpoche to exorcise a malevolent gyal-gong spirit. And having done that he is said to have buried it deep underground, and proclaimed that whoever found this knife would represent him and that that person would be able to overcome gyal-gong spirits.
When I was around eight years old my uncle Lhatop and some other people took me to a place at the bottom of the Techen Valley where we could barely see the outline of a monastery compound amongst the ruins. There, in order to test me, they asked, “Which direction did the door of your previous incarnation’s residence (bLa-brang) face?” I replied with whatever came to my mind at the time, but later they found it correct. Perhaps, it was due to favorable conditions created through good karmic connections. There were other tests as well, which I also passed. So, these were some external auspicious signs of my authenticity of being the reincarnation of the previous Chamtul Rinpoche.
Beside this, I remember reading some prophetic lines in my childhood. In one of the Songs of Instruction, the great Treasure Revealer Tulku Jigme Dorje says the following:
LINKED BY KARMA FROM LIFE TO LIFE
THE MIRROR OF THE HEART OF PUNYA KIRTI *
SHOULD BE HELD LIKE THIS — THE PRIMORDIAL SELF-ARISEN GROUND
Again, in one of the prophecies he writes:
A VIDYADHARA CLOSE TO THE PROTECTOR PADMASAMBHAVA
WILL FULFILL THE HOPES OF DISCIPLES THROUGH HIS TANTRIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS […]
And with reference to the current reincarnation, the eleventh, it says at the end:
DUE TO IDEAL CONDITIONS CREATED THROUGH PURE KARMA AND PRAYERS IN THE PAST,
AT PRESENT HE IS A GREAT JEWEL IN THE THREE TRAININGS.
AS A MARK OF GURU PADMASAMBHAVA’S BLESSINGS UPON HIM,
HE HAS A STRING OF BLACK MOLES IN LASSO SHAPE ON HIS UPPER BODY.
Again, it goes from:
HE DISCOVERS FEW PROFOUND HIDDEN TREASURES OF GURU PADMASAMBHAVA. HOWEVER, THERE WILL NOT BE MUCH OF THE PROFOUND TREASURES. HE REALIZES THE SELF-FACE OF THE TANTRIC GREAT PERFECTION, FULFILLING THE HOPES OF HIS PURE CIRCLE OF DISCIPLES […]
And again it goes:
IN THE YEAR SIX ONE AND SIX THREE, AND AT SIX HIS AWARENESS WILL DISSOLVE INTO DHARMADHATU REALITY.
In the introductory text to another Treasure of the Great Terton Jigme Dorje (Vajrasattva Practice, the Precious Mirror), it is said:
A SPEECH EMANATION OF LORD BUDDHA IS NAMED PUNYA (SONAM),
VERSED IN ALL OBJECTS OF KNOWLEDGE,
THE HEART ESSENCE OF THE DAKINIS TRANSMITTED TO HIM,
HE WILL ESPECIALLY BENEFIT BEINGS IN THE DIRECTION OF NGAM.
Since I don’t have any textual reference while writing this account and I quote these prophecies from memory, if I have committed mistakes, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from the great Treasure Revealer Tulku himself and his Dharma Protectors.
Moreover, Kathok Getse Rinpoche has insistently said:
EVEN IF THE GYALWA DOTHOK MONASTERY WERE TO SEARCH FOR THE REINCARNATION OF CHAMTUL RINPOCHE BY COVERING EVERY LAND AND WATER, FROM TOP TO BOTTOM OF THE COUNTRY, WITH HORSESHOE ALL AROUND THE HOOFS OF THEIR HORSES, THEY WILL NOT FIND ANYONE SUPERIOR TO YOU. OF COURSE, WE SHOULD SUFFICE WITH THE MANY PROPHECIES AND AUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING YOU. HOWEVER, IN ACCORDANCE WITH CERTAIN IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCES PRESENTED BY TIME AND PLACE, AND BECAUSE I BEAR THE TITLE OF KATHOK GETSE, IF YOU DON’T MIND I WISH TO OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCE YOUR TITLE OF CHAMTUL RINPOCHE.
Several other great beings have also made such prophecies, but suffice to say I will not go further than this for now for fear of the details being too long and also because it is not time for an elaborate account yet.
In brief, as the prophecies and visions of Terchen Pema Jigme Dorje Rinpoche, Kathok Getse Rinpoche, Gyurmey Tenpa Gyaltsen and other high Lamas converge at one point, the child born to the former wife of Chamtul Pema Nangsel Dorje himself was recognized as his own reincarnation. Accordingly, I was formally installed upon the throne of my monastery, Tashi Gakyil Thupten Shedrup Choeling at Mardo (Dharma Estate of Study and Practice of the Doctrine of the Sage, the Auspicious Coil of Joy at Mardo) at a ceremony held by the Lamas, Tulkus, monastics and the general public. A formal recognition letter was presented and it reads:
THE SUPREME EMANATION LOBSANG GYATSO OR JIGME SONAM GYATSO RINPOCHE WAS BORN AT TASHI GAKYIL THUPTEN SHEDRUP CHOELING AT MARDO […]
WE OFFER AUSPICIOUS PRAYERS FOR HIS NOBLE DEEDS TO MANIFEST FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE DHARMA AND MIGRATING BEINGS AT OUR MONASTERY AND IN OTHER PLACES.
WE MAKE OUR REQUEST TO HIM.
WITH CEREMONIAL SCARVES,
PEMA JIGME DORJE, SOMEONE WHO BEARS THE TITLE OF KATHOK TULKU, LAMAS, TULKUS, DIVINE BEINGS AND THE GENERAL SUBJECTS OF TASHI GAKYIL THUPTEN SHEDRUP CHOELING AT MARDO ON THIS AUSPICIOUS MONTH AND DAY.
By this letter bearing three different stamps, was given to me the reincarnation name of Chamtul Jigme Sonam Gyatso.
Furthermore, in the year of the Fire Dragon, Master Yeshe Wangchuk, a great Dzogchen practitioner performed the ceremony of cutting my hair at which I received the Upasaka vows from him. Since then I sincerely followed and pleased him in all three ways (through offerings, service and practice). In the Fire Dog year, I received the vows of a rabjung from Getse Khenpo Wangchen, by that becoming a monk. I began my pilgrimage from my native country of Chakri Woebar (Brilliant Fence) all the way to the great sacred pilgrimage site of Thukje Chenpo (the Great Compassionate One) in Gyamo Tshawa Rong; I prostrated the entire route for nearly five months. After studying and training in the preliminary practices under my precious master for three years, and having completed the fivefold hundred thousand preliminary practices three times, he kindly took me under his guidance by giving me explanatory teachings on the Seven Treasuries of Longchen Ramjampa, miscellaneous teachings on the guidance on Dzogchen and especially, the quintessential instructions of the Hearing Lineage of Dzogchen that has been passed down from one master to a single disciple in the line of transmission started with the Kathok Khenpo Ngag Chung (Khenpo Ngawang Palsang : 1879-1941).
Beside that I sincerely relied on more than twenty spiritual teachers from monastic institutions in Tibet and India that offer Buddhist studies programs: my own monastery, the great Kathok Monastery, the religious centre of Larung —all in Tibet— and Namdol Ling Nyingma Institute (in south India), and others. From these teachers I received most of the complete set of Kama and Terma teachings comprising empowerments, transmissions and explanatory guidance; preliminary teachings; and instructions on winds, channels and Dzogchen. I studied Madhyamaka and Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, Abhidharma and so forth. I studied, reflected and meditated on the teachings of Sutra and Tantra, including the subjects of logic and epistemology and other sciences and created imprints of them on my mindstream. In particular, I pursued these studies for many years at the feet of the Dharma Lord, the Great Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Jungne Rinpoche, a.k.a. Yishin Norbu (Wish-fulfilling Gem) at his Serthar Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Five Sciences, Serthar. After completing my studies there, in the year of the Earth Snake, I was awarded the title of Khenpo (can be compared to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy) and for some time I taught Madhyamaka, Pramana and other subjects at Serthar Institute.
Further, I received for the second time the title of Khenpo, this time from the Kathok Gonchen Institute, at a ceremony presided over by the Head Lama of this great monastery, Moktul Rinpoche (Kyabje Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche), who presented me the Pandita hat of the Khenpos. After that, in the year of the Iron Horse, at the express wish of my root guru the Supreme Khenpo Khenchen Yishin Norbu (Jigme Phuntsok Jugne Rinpoche), I created a Shedra with the usual study program at my own monastery, Tashi Gakyil Thupten Shedrup Choeling at Mardo, and taught there the ordinary subjects, as well as sutra and tantra for several years. While I was taking on these responsibilities and pursuing the triple activities of the Dharma **, certain circumstances arose in the year of the Fire Rat and led me to resign from my abbotship. Then I went on a pilgrimage to the central and Tsang regions of Tibet from where I came to Nepal and India where I have had the great opportunity to see many great masters like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and receive teachings from them.
In Nepal I received the entire empowerment and transmission of Kama and Terma of the Nyingma tradition from Kathok Moktul Rinpoche at Bero Ling. I also received most of the empowerments, transmissions and guidance instructions of the “Dujom Rinpoche New Terma Texts” from Trulshik Rinpoche at Lu Genkyel in Nepal. I spent a few years at the Nyingma Institute of Namdoling in south India. During that time I received empowerments and teachings from Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche and held discussions on the Dharma with other scholars. I also taught Buddhism, Tibetan grammar and poetry to a few monks at Namdoling.
After that I moved to north India where I started giving dharma teachings at Kyidrong Welfare Association’s hall at Thardoeling, Dharamsala, during a period of one year. Since then I have taught thousands of people from India as well as the Americas, Europe, Japan and so forth at Zilnon Kagye Ling Nyingma Monastery, Mcleod Ganj. The subjects I teach range from the five preliminary practices for purification and collection of merits to empowerments, transmissions and explanatory teachings, Madhyamaka and Pramana, depending on the student’s capacities. I have been able to implant the seed of liberation in them through my practice of giving the Dharma.
Without discriminating against any person— drawn to me by our past karmic connections—based on their sex, race, creed and so forth, I wish them to enjoy excellent peace and harmony. I try to the best of my ability to promote the view, meditation and conduct of non-violence, which is the indispensable source for the spread and enhancement of the inner peace of mind. Therefore, I request all the loving and compassionate people, who sincerely wish to bring peace to the world of beings, to support and assist me in fulfilling the purpose and aspiration of my life. Accordingly, I pray to my spiritual masters and deities to bless me to fulfill my wishes as desired.
This is a short introduction of myself. As a general rule, so to say, I also have the supporting letters from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Penor Rinpoche of the Palyul tradition; Kathok Moktul Rinpoche, Kathok Getse Rinpoche; Khokyim Rinpoche on behalf of Minling Trichen Rinpoche; and the recognition letter offered at my installment ceremony by the great emanation body, Terchen Pema Jigme Dorje, who is the founding Lama of my own monastery Tashi Gakyil Thupten Shedrup Choeling at Mardo and the Lamas, Tulkus, monastics and the general public of that region.
In the Fire Ox year I wrote a short story about myself at the behest of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. Since then I have amended and developed it and written this version as an introduction for my new friends, who expressed the wish to have the proper information. I also hope that this briefly helps answer questions my foreign disciples might like to ask. Moreover, I received a message from Terchen Jigme Dorje Rinpoche asking me to write my own life story - a clear chronology - as part of the history of our monastery which he is undertaking. However, since I have not kept a diary showing the dates, months and so on, I have been delayed in my effort to fulfill his request until now. Nevertheless, I hope this will serve its purpose in the historical account of our monastery.
I, Jigme Sonam Gyatso, bearing the name of Kathok Chamtul, have written this in the Wood Monkey year.
* ‘Punya Kirti’ is the Sanskrit for ‘Sonam Dakpa’ in Tibetan and this was my childhood name.
**The triple activities of the Dharma are: the wheel of study through reading, listening and contemplation; the wheel of abandonment through concentration; the wheel of activities.