His Holiness Chyabje Rinpoche Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda: A Humble Tribute

Every nation needs a soul to commune with the divine. Each society yearns for a medium to make sense of the unknown. Every being longs for an anchor to steady it and to steer it as it moves along. The path is narrow and the progress elusive. But the alternatives are scarier!

We need a guide, a seer, a go-between, if you will. The task is big and the consequences consequential. 

To seek and to achieve harmony with the spiritual and the sublime is to merge with the elemental and the celestial and secure a sense of comfort and confidence. To cut through apparent contradictions and obtain the inner oneness of the objective reality and the subjective ideal is to realise the inherent unity and balance that underlie all phenomena.

It is a blessing to nations and to peoples that great beings are often born among humans endowed with rare vision and uncommon power to achieve great awakenings and deep insights to light and lead societies in their search for connection, fulfilment and sustenance.

The great beings of the world illumine the universe and carve out pathways for humanity to live more in harmony with the law of truth and of right and of good befitting the most highly evolved of the species and other sentient beings.

This rare Jewel of the Himalayas, this blessed spot of our good Earth, privileged recipient of the sublime message of the peerless Buddha, has been a chosen cradle of the spiritualist and the perennial fount of the sacred. This land of prophecies and incarnations, home of the faithful and the karma-conscious, the Druk Yul, is at once the haunt of the spiritual and a test-case of the scientific.

Generations of saints and sages, treasure-concealers and treasure-revealers, magic-practitioners and miracle-producers, scripture-readers and tech-savvy experimenters, have woven a multi-hued fabric of mystery and awe that is yet at home with the modern and the progressive.

Among the great beings of this land of many blessings stands tall and pure the larger-than-life sacred person of the 70th Chief Abbot of Bhutan, His Holiness Chyabje Rinpoche Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda, illumining the Vajra Throne of the supreme Monastic Order of the last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom in the world.

The advent of His Holiness Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda in the spiritual landscape of this deeply inward-looking, spiritually-endowed country has been an exceptionally special blessing to Bhutan and the Bhutanese citizens. Chyabje Rinpoche was born to Yab Rinzin Dorji and Yum Kuenzang Choden in Kurtoe, Lhuentse, on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Wood-Sheep year of the Bhutanese calendar. He is believed to be the incarnation of Maitreya as well as Mahasiddha Saraha, Hungchen Kara, Kheuchung Lotsawa, and Geshe Pema Tshering, the enlightened sage of Tharpaling in Bumthang.

A precocious child, His Holiness showed miraculous powers and abilities from a young age, launching a life of religious studies and spiritual pursuits at home and abroad under some of the most highly accomplished spiritual masters of the time. His Holiness underwent the most rigorous training and initiation in the Drukpa Kagyu tradition, including the Mahamudra practices and meditation on the Naro Choedrug (six yogas of Naropa), and achieved the highest realisation or Dzogchen (great perfection). Chyabje Rinpoche has undergone Losum Choesum (three-year retreat) three times.

 In an extraordinary spiritual journey that began at the tender age of eight years, His Holiness has assumed most of the important positions in the ecclesiastical tradition of Bhutan. As the Head of the Tango Monastery, His Holiness established himself as a revered teacher and taught several batches of monks many of whom have gone on to hold important positions in religious institutions across the country.

Highly endowed with incredible abilities, His Holiness was appointed Drabi Lopon in 1986, Dorji Lopon in 1995 and finally became the 70th Je Khenpo at 40 years as the country’s youngest Chief Abbot in 1996 by virtue of Chyabje Rinpoche’s extraordinary accomplishments in Druk-Lug (the Bhutanese or southern tradition of Drukpa Kagyu), Ked-Dzog (spiritual development and completion) as well as other rare attainments. His Holiness is already the longest serving Je Khen Rinpoche of Bhutan.

In the nearly quarter century since ascension of Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda as the Head of the country’s religious hierarchy, His Holiness has brought about a quiet but path-breaking spiritual transformation in the institution of the Dratshang Lhentshog (the Central Monk Body) and its functioning. Chyabje Rinpoche has elevated and edified the high Office of the Je Khenpo through exemplary personal and institutional initiatives that have already brought about tremendous positive changes in the society.

The remarkable tenure of the 70th Je Khen Rinpoche has witnessed the broadening and deepening of the scope and relevance of the five branches of the Dratshang Lhentshog with the creation of a new branch particularly mandated to oversee the religious education and training functions, including curricular, assessment and certification responsibilities. 

As the supreme Head of the country’s religious order, it is the vital role of the Je Khenpo to secure the spiritual well-being of the country, to advance the cause of the Dharma, and to protect the rich, age-old cultural heritage and abiding faith of the people. This role of the Chief Abbot is particularly important at a time like the present when the country is faced with unprecedented political and social challenges that are often too complex for the common people to comprehend.

To this end, His Holiness has been deeply engaged in the preservation, restoration and establishment of a large number of the country’s religious monuments and institutions across the nation, including the establishment of the iconic Namdroling Goenzin Lhakhang in Lhuentse. His Holiness blessing the identified sites for the construction of religious facilities, consecrating completed structures and sacred monuments, and administering empowerment benedictions are some of the most uplifting images that we have come to see, revere and anticipate.  

An extraordinary being born in Bhutan but with a heart large enough to enclose the whole world, a most significant initiative undertaken by His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo is the conduct of the Great Prayer Ceremony or Moenlam Chhenmo in all the twenty districts of the country. This is Bhutan reaching out to the world and blessing humanity and all sentient beings.

A certain scene, retrieved from my journal, flashes in my mind as the Great Prayer Ceremony held at Kuenselphodrang in Thimphu drew to a close on July 2, 2019:

It is a blessing that somewhere in our troubled world, the soul-satisfying sound of prayers beckons the faithful, calls the spiritualist, and invokes the Buddha within humans.

As the week-long Moenlam Chhenmo drew to a crescendo in the serene environs of Kuenselphodrang this evening, the pervading mood gradually turned solemn, sacred music intensified, and the collective merit of the human race gained added strength.

Bhutan’s Chief Abbot, His Holiness our revered 70th Chyabje Rinpoche Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda led the multitude to the concluding prayers as the world’s tallest sitting Buddha looked on.  

This holy month’s prayers, these sacred wishes, these blessings transcend Bhutan’s boundaries and reach out to all sentient beings in all realms. These are our people’s and our country’s sacred prayers for humanity and for our dear Planet Earth.

Humanity became a little purer today, and the world a little better. May it always be so…

A devout advocate of the message of the Buddha, His Holiness has instituted Choethuen Tshogpa in all the twenty dzongkhags to promote the Dharma and secure the well-being of the community and provided seed-money to support the effort.  Conduct of Mani Dungdrup (recitation of a hundred million Avalokiteshvara Heart Mantra) and Siddhi Dungdrup (recitation of a hundred million Vajra Guru Heart Mantra) are other noble initiatives.   

A true embodiment of love and compassion towards all sentient beings, His Holiness has forbidden the slaughter of animals and sale of meat during the auspicious first and fourth months of the Bhutanese calendar. Chyabje Rinpoche is also the patron of the Jangsa Animal Trust and has saved the lives of countless animals from harm.

As a quiet reformer and self-effacing emancipator, His Holiness has lifted a heavy burden off the back of many Bhutanese, especially and poor and the weaker sections of the society, by stopping the practice of serving meat and lavish meals as well as offering of cash to the monks during cremations and has initiated the conduct of death rituals by the dratshang monks, thus relieving the bereaved families from having to incur significant expenses often way beyond their means.

A great being with charity for all and malice towards none, His Holiness has been an instrument of religious harmony and mutual respect. I have had the special privilege of accompanying His Holiness to Dorokha for the Sa-Lhang Tendrel (ground-breaking) ceremony for the community lhakhang at Dogap and also for its consecration. His Holiness went all the way down to bless the Hindu Temple for which Chyabje Rinpoche had gifted the sacred Sa-chhu Bumters (sacred vases). His Holiness was most gracious to perform the Sa-Lhang Tendrel ceremony for the construction of the Hindu temple at Kuenselphodrang in Thimphu.

As a rare performance, Chayabje Rinpoche presided over a special three-month oral transmission of the sacred Kangyur (scriptures of the Buddha) at Kuenselphodrang on the request of the Nyingmapa (the oldest school of Vajrayana Buddhism) faithfuls and the Dratshang Lhentshog secretariat from July through September 2017. 

It was impossible to miss the magic of the moment. I noted the governing pulse of the environment:

This is Bhutan – at her best…holding the universe in her loving embrace. This is Bhutan the sacred, the sublime and the all-unifying. This is Bhutan in essence, the constant harmony-principle, the pure voice.

The Enlightened One keeps eternal vigil on land, sea and sky. Kuenselphodrang has turned into a veritable paradise. The celestial breeze calls the senses, lifts the mind and fills the heart in cosmic abundance. The Jewel of the Himalayas heaves to a rare divinity.

It is just about six o’clock in the tender hours of a September morning but devotees in their thousands have already taken their seats in prayerful reverence. It is virtuous traffic as automobiles stream up and down the winding road to ferry the faithful.

As His Holiness our most revered 70th Chyabje Rinpoche takes His seat on the sacred throne, my RTC colleagues and I receive the first call of the day to make the treasured Kusung Thukten Mendrel offering to His Holiness. The moment is as intense as it is edifying and blessed.

This three-month long recitation of the sacred words of the Buddha is Bhutan’s prayer for the well-being of our Planet Earth and all its sentient beings as much as it is a wish for the well-being of our own country and her people.

Bhutan is that much purer and stronger thanks to His Holiness bringing the eternal message of the Awakened One to us. The world is that much purer and better because something of the pure and the beautiful is happening here.

May this blessing lead us to discover the good, the true and the beautiful in our life and living! May we cooperate with this all-embracing spirit and support the noble efforts of our enlightened Chyabje Rinpoche and our visionary monarchs!   

As a small and peace-loving country, Bhutan has neither the desire nor the capacity to manufacture and dispatch arms and ammunition to other countries but this Jewel of the sacred Himalayas blessed by the peerless Buddha certainly has the quiet power of prayers and goodwill large enough to embrace the whole of humanity and all sentient beings.

The frequency and scale of the great prayer ceremonies for world peace and well-being that His Holiness performs across the country are a blessing to the troubled world that is thirsty for a precious breath of fresh air. Chyabje Rinpoche’s offering of the sacred Sangay Menlha (Medicine Buddha) prayers, live telecast over the BBS, on March 20, 2020, for the well-being of the country and the world during Covid-19 was most touching and uplifting. This is a small country that stretches its arms in prayers that add to the general well-being of the world.

At a time when our own country is going through unprecedented changes particularly with the advent of democracy that is putting tremendous strains on the overall life of a hitherto deeply spiritual and peace-loving country, the tireless efforts of His Holiness to heal the society and provide the people with the vital emotional, psychological and spiritual succour have been truly critical and deeply comforting.

Beyond initiating unprecedented reforms and bringing about remarkable positive changes within the Central Monastic Body, His Holiness has been actively involved in the social life of the country especially by providing, for instance, much-needed wise counsel to our youth on all occasions through visits to schools and institutions, during religious events and other avenues. The launch of the Choesey Lerim (religious discourse) in schools has produced significant positive results, as have lasting Dorji-Puen (spiritual brothers) bonds forged during religious sacred ceremonies.

Launch of Ayie’s Nyim or Mother’s Day by His Holiness to show gratitude to one’s parents has been an important means to touch the lives of our youth. His Holiness’s sublime advice to our fresh teacher-graduates during their oath-taking ceremonies has been a life-time gift to those who have been lucky.

Chyabje Rinpoche’s generous gifts to the country’s health sector have added to the number of life-saving equipment in the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, and ambulance vehicles to other hospitals including a van for the HIV-AIDS-affected community.

A passionate lover of music, a fine composer and writer, some of the country’s most beautiful songs and tributes have been the creations of His Holiness our beloved 70th Chyabje Rinpoche. The medium is as dignified as the messages are sublime and profound, and the themes as varied.

An amazing communicator, endowed with soul-saving aura and grace, magnetic smile, chastening humility, never tired, ever fresh, His Holiness has a surprising sense of humour that makes the divine human and captivates the multitude instantly. Despite long lines of devotees in every location, large congregation of the faithful at every venue, vital prayer ceremonies in dzongkhag after dzongkhag, unlimited wakeful hours against limited time for of rest, this sanctified rock of faith, His Holiness, is the ever-obedient servant of the divine and the never-failing healer of the human.

It was indeed a most fitting expression of the country’s gratitude for the unparalleled services of our Bodhisattava Chyabje Rinpoche to the well-being of the Tsawa Sum that His Majesty the King awarded the highest civilian decoration, Ngadag Pel gi Khorlo or the Order of Druk Gyalpo to His Holiness Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda during the 111th National Day celebrations on December 17, 2018 at Samtse.

In a world that is becoming increasingly bereft of humanity in the humans, it is a rare gift to Bhutan and the Bhutanese that here walks the very self of the divine in the image of the human – keeping all-time vigil that this Country, King and People remain safe and well, praying that the world achieve peace and harmony, and ensuring that Druk Yul remains rooted to its sacred soul…

As we celebrate the auspicious Silver Jubilee of the Enthronement of our revered 70th Je Khenpo, may the sacred powers above bless our saintly Chyabje Rinpoche Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoeda with the eternal gift of long life, good health, and bliss for ever… May His Holiness continue to occupy and edify the Kingdom’s sacred Vajra Throne till the end of time…

With deep gratitude and prayers forever and always…

Contributed by  Thakur S Powdyel

Former Minister of 

Education

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