The First Shangpa Rinpoche
From the time after his realisation of the true nature of mind, Shangpa Rinpoche began to travel in order to benefit people in as many places as possible. He did not establish his own residence in any place during his lifetime, but always moved from place to place to fulfill the needs of others. He started to become known to people in many areas and they received teachings and initiations from him.
He started to rebuild old temples in Dolpo and Tichu Rong and also gave teachings and empowerments to the people there tirelessly. Whatever offerings he received, he used for the restoration of temples or to provide food for the poor. He did not try to save anything for his own use. Shangpa Rinpoche’s nature was so compassionate that whenever the poor people came to see him, he simply gave whatever he had.
One snowy day during the coldest month in that year, a poor man visited Shangpa Rinpoche. He did not have much clothing on and was shivering due to the cold. Shangpa Rinpoche blessed him and they had a conversation. Shangpa Rinpoche then asked him if he was feeling cold. The poor man answered, “Yes”. Immediately, Shangpa Rinpoche took off his upper jacket made of wool and offered it to the man to keep him warm. He also gave the man some coins to buy food with. Shangpa Rinpoche then continued to meet other visitors although he was not wearing warm clothes. Although he felt cold himself, he was very happy that he had relieved someone from feeling cold.
|Fig 4. Ruins of the stupa built by the 1st Shangpa Rinpoche at the slaughtering site in Mustang|
His attendants sometimes tried to save the money that people offered to him for future use. Shangpa Rinpoche tried to hide the money offered to him to give to the poor. There are so many people I have met who told me how often the first Shangpa Rinpoche had given them money and food without the knowledge of his attendants.
The devotion that people had towards him was very great. Everywhere he went, there were large groups of people who gathered, wanting to receive teachings and blessings. Many of the poor and beggars started to follow him wherever he went as he always distributed food to them and took care of their needs. His disciples told me that at one time, over a hundred beggars were following him and he was very happy about that. He even encouraged them to follow him as these people not only received food they needed but also received many teachings and empowerments which made their lives become meaningful.
Generosity in Protecting Animals from the Fear of Death
He also set free animals that were meant to be slaughtered. He bought many of them and gave them to his trusted disciples to be cared for. Often, when people gave live animals to him, he would have them well taken care of by his disciples or set free. One old disciple mentioned that at one time, almost ten thousand animals in western Tibet and Nepal were spared the fate of being killed. In Nepal, there are many places such as Thak Kohla (lower Jomson), Dolpo, Mustang and Tichu Rong, to name a few, where people practise annual animal sacrifices to local deities. Every year, hundreds of animals are slaughtered and their blood is offered at the shrines of local deities.
The first Shangpa Rinpoche guided the locals in the Buddhist tradition of compassion and reassured the people that there would not be any harmful effects if they stopped sacrificing animals. He taught them that if they prayed to Buddha, they could overcome every obstacle. Eventually more and more villagers of the region started to trust him and heeded his advice. To this day such sacrifices are no longer practised in these regions due to these teachings.
Befor the visit of the first Shangpa Rinpoche, many masters had attempted to discourage and stop these cruel activities. They did not succeed due to the misfortunes that continued to take place each time they attempted to do so. The villagers took the misfortunes as signs of punishment unleashed by the malcontent of the local spirits, due to their failure to make appropriate and timely sacrifices. They fell back to the practice of animal sacrifice even though they were aware that it was cruel and that it was not right to kill.
After Shangpa Rinpoche arrived, he asked the villagers to stop animal sacrifices, and guaranteed that no harm would befall them. He taught the natives other methods of offering, such as Torma offering, that would earn merit. True enough, the natives did not suffer any harm but enjoyed positive outcomes. Shangpa Rinpoche, by means of his supportive teachings, dissolved the fear and ignorance related to the practice of sacrificing animals. In doing so, he eradicated such cruelty in these places. Thereafter he built stupas at slaughtering sites to bless those places.
Rebuilding and Restoring Historical Temples
Throughout his life, Shangpa Rinpoche rebuilt many historical temples in the state of ruin or on the verge of collapse. He raised funds and contributed whatever he had to rebuild the temples. He not only paid for the cost of rebuilding, he was also actively involved in the building process. His hands-on ethic thus motivated the workers in their work. In addition to rebuilding the structure of each of the temples, he also provided everything that the temple needed, such as ritual instruments, textbooks and cooking utensils. Each time, he put in so much effort that people thought that he would use the temple as his own residence. At the end of each project however, he invariably handed over the temple and everything in it to the villagers and a resident Lama to take care of it. He would then travel to another place and, I was told, he never brought anything with him whenever he left. Even at times when his assistant would secretly keep something for the journey, he stopped them and reminded them that since they had arrived without anything, they would leave without anything, not even some food supply for the journey.
His mission to rebuild temples continued after he left Dolpo and moved on to western Tibet. While Shangpa Rinpoche was in western Tibet, he met my father who was a well-known artist. Shangpa Rinpoche requested him to paint drawings for the temples that he was rebuilding and my father served him for three years.
|Fig 5. Original handwritten teaching of the 1st Shangpa Rinpoche|
My mother still remembers when Shangpa Rinpoche came to her village that was called Phenchi, hundreds of people from all over western Tibet gathered to receive his teachings and empowerment. She still recalls that before or after the teachings, people flock towards him for his blessings. The crowd was so big that she could hardly get near him and only managed to receive his blessings once in a while. Shangpa Rinpoche stayed a month to give teachings and empowerments. She said that she was extremely happy at that time as she was just a little girl and managed to receive so many teachings and blessings in a short period. She told me this with tears in her eyes.
Many of the temples rebuilt by him can still be seen in Mustang and Dolpo, as well as nearby regions. Sadly, most of the rebuilt temples in Tibet were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. He also built stupas in many different places where people felt that there were negative forces. He blessed the land and built the stupas so that eventually the land became peaceful.
His Writings and Performance of Longevity Puja as Requested by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa
Motivated by great compassion and the wish to benefit as many people has he could, the first Shangpa Rinpoche composed some short ritual texts like daily Sadhanas, supplication prayers, Vajra songs, and his heartfelt advice for his disciples and those fortunate affiliated ones.
There were no means of photocopying and printing was not easily accessible. Neither were there easy methods of voice and image recording. With time, many of the texts and teachings disappeared. Some of these may still be with the elder disciples in the mountainous regions of Nepal and Tibet. A piece of heart advice by the first Shangpa Rinpoche can be viewed here.
|Fig 6. HH 16th Karmapa|
In the later part of his life, he visited central Tibet in order to meet with His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was very young at that time, he requested Shangpa Rinpoche to perform longevity pujas for him. Shangpa Rinpoche stayed a week in retreat and offered longevity prayers for the Karmapa. The Karmapa was happy to receive the blessed substances for his tasting from the longevity pujas performed by Shangpa Rinpoche. Some of the monks at Tsurphu gossiped over why the Karmapa should receive blessings from such a clumsy pilgrim. It was Lama Choying, one of the elder Lamas of Tsurphu, who recalled this anecdote during my visit to Rumtek in 1980.
Benefiting the Natives of his Hometown
From Tsurphu, he visited his hometown of Shang and met his relatives and the Lamas of the temple where he first entered into monkhood. The people of his hometown told of how he came with a big group of people; mainly monks and nuns but there were also many beggars. They were overjoyed that he had become a great practitioner. During this time, he started to give them many teachings and empowerments. He also shared with them about how he struggled for the Dharma and about the noble masters that he had met and insights from his own path.
|Fig 7. The 1st Shangpa Rinpoche provided ritual instruments, textbooks, and the necessary utensils for the temples|
He was invited to the temple where he was first ordained and he offered many things including food and money which were distributed to every monk. The people who were present still vividly remember that he offered a beautiful pair of Gyaling - trumpets, and a pair of cymbals. While he was at his family home for a few days, his niece Karma Tseyang insisted on becoming a nun and became his follower. Shangpa Rinpoche finally ordained her and she joined his entourage. Subsequently, another niece by the name of Tsoknyi was also ordained by him and also joined his entourage. I met Ani Tsoknyi at Dolpo when I was just three years old. The first time she met me, she was overwhelemed with emotion and cried a lot. She offered to me whatever she had. Later on, she was overly concerned for my well-being and constantly scolded my mum for spoiling me. She often disciplined me for every minor mistake I made. I was very playful as I was only 3 years old then. It was a rather hard time for both my mother and I when she was around. Eventually she left to practice somewhere else and I did not hear from her ever since.
In this way, the first Shangpa Rinpoche came to have a following of many monks and nuns wherever he travelled and he also constantly trained them to be good practitioners. To this day some of them are still living and practising in the remote areas of Tibet and Nepal.
Offering Kangyur to Temples in Remote Areas of Tibet
|Fig 8. The 1st Shangpa Rinpoche offered many sets of Kangyur texts to temples in remote areas of Tibet|
The first Shangpa Rinpoche ordered many sets of Kangyur text printed from wood blocks and offered them to temples he had restored. During those times, Kangyur text was very difficult to obtain in western Tibet. Texts printed from wood blocks were available only in central and eastern Tibet where there were workshops that specialised in the technique. Once printing was done, transportation for the text had to be arranged and was very costly and slow. It took almost a month for the texts to reach western Tibet. After the text had been distributed, the Goshar Gompa, one of the receiving temples, was requested by Gajor Gompa to lend them their set of new Kangyur texts. The monks of Gajor Gompa said that their texts were too old and they were not able to read the texts. So the monks of Goshar Gompa lent their Kangyur texts to Gajor Gompa. Tensions arose when the monks of Gajor Gompa refused to return the texts even after they had finished reading them. The relationship between both Temples turned sour. The village head and other people tried to resolve the issue but the monks from both temples quarrelled and did not listen to the mediators.
Finally, Shangpa Rinpoche called the monks from both temples before him. They each held up their own defence for the rights to own the Kangyur texts. Shangpa Rinpoche told them that as Sangha members, they should not argue over this matter as such behaviour is against the Buddha's teaching. He said that he would happily offer to Gajor Gompa an entirely new set of Kangyur texts from Lhasa using the best paper. They then agreed to return the Kangyur texts to Goshar Gompa. After several months, the new Kangyur texts arrived and Shangpa Rinpoche offered this set of texts to Gajor Gompa. The monks from Gajor Gompa were very happy and they requested Shangpa Rinpoche to give them initiations and teachings. They also invited Goshar Gompa's monks for meals together and they did a Lama Chodpa Tsog offering according to the Gelugpa tradition, headed by Shangpa Rinpoche.