Prolific builder of hermitages and stupas and a Bodhisattva life-saver

Obituary: In his century plus long life, he was quite free from worldly activities, and was aptly titled a renunciate – Jadrel. He built few monastic centres in a hectic period when the energies of his contemporaries were substantially consumed by mobilization of offerings for construction of monastic colleges and their institution building.

Great siddhas and lamas of the past pitched tents in temporary sites to teach freely in gatherings before they went into retreat in wild nature, he reminded. He viewed establishment of gorgeous centres as a sign of dharma decline. He recognized just one reincarnation and lent further recognitions to some reincarnations others already recognized. Though much sought after, as he grew older he shunned contacts. His modest home on the sun-bathed Pharping hill drew nevertheless people who left after viewing it, not the liberated man inside. His two daughters, in particular elder yogini daughter Sarwasati, attended on him along with disciples whom he tasked to be multi-skilled.

Once a crowd stood in drizzle in his mucky lawn waiting for him to emerge on his terrace, hopeful like wanderlust struck tourists wishing to get a glimpse of a legendary royalty. On second day, he did briefly in the evening, preceded by a cane chair bearing man in shorts. He, with his tall and erect frame, clothed in white crumpled lungi-like wear, followed. He briefly enunciated, from far and above on his terrace, on the abridged Bar Sam Droel sum (shortened versions of barched lamsel, sampa lhundrup and droelma) and told them that the entire dharma has been condensed into them. Then Jadrel quickly vanished indoor where he mostly read Kuenkhen Zoduen (Treasuries of Longchen) or other Nyingthig works, such as Jigme Lingpa’s Terchoe, and practiced immaculately in solitude. He was supreme in Longchen Nyingthig. He passed away in this room in Pharping house, naturally, not from any illness, at 5.35 pm on the 30th of December.

The neighbourhood of Pharping consisting of Yangleyshey and Drollu rose to prominence after Jadrel came to Yangleyshey. The mixed castes of Nepalese, and nuns and monks scattered across the impressively build monasteries in this area owe enormously to Jadrel. Like a humanist who appealed universally across peoples and cultures, all ethnicities like Chhetris and Sherpas respected him. He chatted with Pharping goat and cattle herders and enjoyed cups of tea from coolie dhabas when he was in Salugari, his winter home. Jadrel came as a pilgrim to Yangleshey, built a meditation house. He emphasized Yangleyshey as an epicenter of Vajrayana. As a matter of fact, there is much that is wanting as regards the sanctity and hygiene of the place, in spite of the fact that it is one of two caves in Nepal hallowed by meditation by Guru Rimpoche. Its condition is a far cry from any holy place in Bhutan. Yet Yangleyshey is now a widely known place on the Buddhist map. Since Jadrel meditated in Yangleyshey and settled in Pharping, Pharping and Drollu’s spirituality-based real estate fortunes went meteoric. The once idyllic patch of pastureland of Drollu belonging to the Nepalese Durbar, from where fresh milk was carried to the court, have turned into a shimmering pinnacle of Himalayan Buddhist temples’ architecture.

Jadrel was in Paro Takstang in 1958 where he, under the patronage of HM the Queen Phuntsho Choden, renovated Ugen Tsemo temple. According to a brief note on his accomplishments by Shekar Jamyang Tenpa, Jadrel also installed a new statue of Guru Dorji Droleod in Paro Takstang cave at that time. Some three decades later, in 1985, he was in Bay Langdra in Bhutan. Later in 1988, Jadrel opened  Bay Langdra Hermitages where His Eminence Katho Sithu and many other meditators  came to live. The previous Katho Sithu Ngawang Palzang and Sera Khando were the young Jadrel’s early lamas while in Tibet.

Jadrel was extremely focused on founding drubdra (place for meditation students), helped sometimes by his local patrons.  In these hermitages he trained and initiated practitioners in three-year long meditation. Mostly located in Nepal, but a few in India, he founded Dzobangla Hermitages in 1961, Sonadaar Nunnery Hermitages in 1965, Yangleyshey in 1971, Salbari in 1975, Tinchula in 1978, Yolmo Dashamelug in 1981, Yolmo Drodpadong in 1983, Yolmo Neyding in 1984, Godawari Hermitages in 1985, Sikkim Taktse in 1990, Daki Yongduling in 1993, Chumig Jangchu in 1994, Yolmokhang in 1995, and Yolmo Sermothang in 1996.

Between building a network of choeten (stupa) and hermitages, and training disciples in meditation, Jadrel had one saintly passion he took to epic proportion. Every 15th and the 30th of a lunar month, Jadrel bought fish in huge bulk from numerous fisheries and fish markets by placing advance order, and released them into freedom and life. His close aides Damchoe Dorji from Tibet and Kuenchap from Bhutan estimated that in 2014 alone, Jadrel released about three million fish of various sizes. The total number is astonishing when yearly averages are aggregated over the last 50 years. Jadrel’s fish release routine began soon after he turned vegetarian in Bodh Gaya in 1960. His tsampa thugpa diet did not change much throughout his life. Mushrooms and seaweed gave him greater appetite.  His insistence led Bodh Gaya Monlam Chenmo to become vegetarian by 1990.   His hermitages and life-giving fish release were mostly financed by general offerings by locals, for funerary prayers or rituals for the living. He spurned foreign donations, the main path of efflorescence of private monastic architecture and paintings today. For instance, eighth or so years ago, a faithful foreigner offered a pile of $ 300,000. Jadrel declined to accept, far from wanting or needing it. His disciples ravenously thought their projects needed it, but they had to let go.

Jadrel’s life-giving routine twice a month made him frequent Trisuli Khola near Pharping and Teesta near Salubari.  But the scale of life-saving he undertook was done more favourably in Kolkota’s estuaries. Every month, Jadrel and his aides took a train, with huge barrels of fish, to Kolkota, and released hundreds of thousands of them into Diamond Harbour.  His stature even in Diamond Harbour is mythic. He became perhaps the World’s Fish Procurer-in-Chief but with a difference: to free them divinely again into rivers, harbor or ocean.  If the same fish were procured, released and caught again in a cycle, it did not matter as every moment of longevity counted.  Jadrel also saved goats, buffaloes, and poultry birds but where they would go after saving became an increasing constraint. There is, however, pastureland full of goats in Yolmo saved by him. He scripted a short new prayer he incanted while releasing fish or saving other lives.

Himalayan Buddhism talks about ethical debt to beings incurred knowingly or unknowingly (tshor dang ma tshor) in our present and previous lives. There are two categories of debts: karmic debt (lan chags) and debt of the flesh (sha ‘khyon) (Lhatshuen Namkha Drimed).  Debt of the flesh is accumulated because other beings are broken into pieces and eaten, under the heavy chain of man’s food. The common dzongkha and Tibetan word soeltum (gsol ‘krum) for meat curry, literally meaning crushed and swallowed reveals it all. The replenishment of the waters with life is a deeply compassionate, ethical, aesthetic and ecological act, and Jadrel combined all those self-transcending qualities. As Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche wrote, “The passing of Chatrel Sangye Rinpoche marks the end of an era.” May the light of his life lived in a refreshed old-paradigm inspire many future jadrels.

Contributed by 

Karma Ura from Pharping-Yangleyshey.