8. Drogon Rechen 1148-1218
“In this and all future lives may we always be accepted by Karmapa, the performer of the activity of all Buddhas of the three times. Having been accepted, may we engage in the attractive, supreme conduct of awakening.” — Ven. Mikyö, “Supplication to the Karmapas”
Drogon Rechen was born of a well-to-do family in the Yarlung Valley of Tsang that is situated in the southern region of Central Tibet. He gave rise to Bodhicitta (“the enlightened heart of awakening”) when he was a child and, at the age of 9, he became a student of the Kagyüpa Siddha Zangri Repa. He received many instructions of the Practice and Whispering Lineages from him. Like his predecessor Jetsün Milarepa and his great teacher, Drogon Rechen only wore a white cotton cloth when he became a practitioner of the profound Mahamudra instructions. Therefore he was called Rechen, which means “great cotton-clad yogi.” He achieved many signs of accomplishment through his meditation practice.
Before passing into Paranirvana, Zangri Repa told his closest disciple, who was now 15 years old, to seek the oral transmissions and instructions from disciples of Milarepa’s Lineage and to practice them diligently so that he would become a great master. Drogon Rechen followed his teacher’s advice and studied and practiced under many Kagyü and Nyingma masters. But, not really content with the results of meditative absorption that he had achieved, he left his home and set out for Kham in East Tibet.
While travelling, Drogon Rechen met many great masters and received profound transmissions and instructions from them. According to the Official Website of H.H. the 17 th Gyalwa Karmapa, Thöpa Samdrup gave him the complete transmission of the Chöd Lineage; Ngari-pa imparted the Vajrapani and Vajrasaddhu transmissions to him; Nyalpa Josey gave him the Peaceful and Wrathful Manjushri and Mahakala practices. He also received the Vima Nyingtig, the “Heart-drop Lineage of Vimalamitra.” He mastered all practices and became a bit proud of his accomplishments. He heard about the fame of Düsum Khyenpa during his travels and learned that he was living at Khampo Nyenang Monastery. Drogon Rechen was determined to find him.
Ven. Chöje Lama Namse Rinpoche tells us about this moment in his life: “Drogon Rechen was on pilgrimage and met other pilgrims; they exchanged news and gave each other tips. A few had heard about Düsum Khyenpa and felt sincere confidence and devotion just from hearing about him. They spoke about his wonderful activities and told each other, ‘The best thing that can happen to anyone is to meet him.’ While listening to the pilgrims’ conversation one evening, Drogon Rechen’s hair stood on end and tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard the name Düsum Khyenpa. Upon having merely heard his name, Drogon Rechen immediately knew, ‘He is my teacher. I have a karmic connection with him from many past lives. I will do everything to find him.’”
Chöje Lama Namse recounted: “ Before finding Düsum Khyenpa, Drogon Rechen met a pupil of one of his disciples and asked him, ‘Where can I find this great master? He is my teacher. If you know where I can find him, please show me the way.’ The pupil responded, ‘Hm, I really don’t know where he is. You should ask my Lama, who is his direct disciple.’ Drogon Rechen was very happy and asked, ‘Where can I find your Lama?’ The pupil pointed to the mountain and answered, ‘He is meditating in a cave up there. Go and ask him. Maybe he will even take you to Düsum Khyenpa.’ The climb up the mountain was very strenuous and when Drogon Rechen reached the cave, he didn’t see anything but a pond inside. He was confused, looked around, only saw a plate and a few utensils, but no Lama. Disappointed and frustrated, he turned around to leave and accidentally kicked a rock that was lying on the ground at the entrance of the cave into the pond. He returned to the pupil in the valley and told him about his failure. The pupil said, ‘I don’t know what happened, but my teacher is up there. Give it another try. Maybe you will see him this time.’ Drogon Rechen thought that maybe he had looked in a wrong corner of the cave and climbed up the steep mountain again. When he reached the cave, he didn’t see the pond inside, but he saw the Lama with the rock he had accidentally kicked into the pond on his lap. Bewildered, Drogon Rechen asked him, ‘What happened? Are you the Lama?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ Drogon Rechen told him, ‘I was here just a while ago and didn’t see you.’ The Lama responded, ‘I was here, resting in meditative absorption. I imagined that my body had dissolved into water. And then you came along and threw a rock at me. Here it is, take it.’ Drogon Rechen experienced unwavering confidence and devotion and prostrated many times to the Lama in the cave. He told the Lama, ‘Please, don’t think I am arrogant. I didn’t come here to receive instructions from you. I went to all this trouble to ask you to tell me where I can find Düsum Khyenpa, your teacher, who is renowned and is my master, too.’ The Lama answered, ‘No problem. I will show you where he is and take you there.’ Drogon Rechen was joyous that he would be led to Düsum Khyenpa and didn’t need to search far and wide anymore. Eager to depart, he turned around and saw the Lama spread out his arms and elevate into the sky, using the sleeves of his garment as wings. He beckoned to Drogon Rechen below and said, ‘What’s the matter with you? Come on. Let’s go.’ Of course, Drogon Rechen could not follow the Lama, who gave him a pitiful look that seemed to say, ‘Can’t you fly?’ Drogon Rechen still had a bit to learn, so he begged the Lama, ‘Please, let’s walk.’” It didn’t take long for him to find Düsum Khyenpa, who had not yet been crowned Karmapa. Düsum Khyenpa didn’t accept Drogon Rechen as a student right away but put him through tests first.
The life-story offered by Simhanada states that Drogon Rechen simply wanted to pay Düsum Khyenpa his respects and had no intention of studying with him. When they first met, Düsum Khyenpa told Drogon Rechen, "O young tantric practitioner, you can go and study with my students." Drogon Rechen asked, "What kind of students do you have?" Düsum Khyenpa replied, "Deuchung Sangye, Baltsa Takdelwa, and so on." Drogon Rechen went to pay his respects to Deuchung Sangye, who told him to go to Baltsa Takdelwa. When he entered the cave of Takdelwa, he saw a huge tiger sleeping there and, in great panic, he ran back to Deuchung, who told him to return to the cave of Baltsa Takdelwa. When he arrived, he saw a little pond in the cave. He circumambulated the pond, threw some pebbles into it, and left. When Deuchung told him to go back again and he did, he saw an elderly yogi sitting in meditation with the pebbles that he had earlier flung into the pond on his lap. Drogon Rechen thought, “If his students are like this, then their teacher must be extraordinary." Making a strong commitment, for seven years he practiced under the direction of Düsum Khyenpa’s students and completely settled his practice and realization. Then Düsum Khyenpa imparted all teachings that he had received from his teachers to Drogon Rechen. He didn’t withhold anything and gave him all empowerments by, as written in the texts, “pouring milk into the pure crystal vase.” Drogon Rechen became Düsum Khyenpa’s main disciple and the Lineage-holder of the sacred Mahamudra instructions.
Drogon Rechen was fully ordained as a monastic at the age of 37 and was then given the name Sönam Dragpa. He received the full Kagyü Mahamudra teachings from the First Gyalwa Karmapa, practiced for three more years, and passed them on to the Second Karmapa. Having accomplished realization of the profound teachings, he established eighteen Tantric meditation centers in Central Tibet. When His Holiness the First Karmapa travelled back to Central Tibet, Drogon Rechen stayed in Kham and carried out the activities of his Root Guru at Karma Gon and Khampo Nyenang. At the age of 70, Drogon Rechen passed into Paranirvana and many relics arose from the cremation.
It is worth noting that Drogon Rechen was the predecessor to the reincarnate line of the eminent Tai Situ Rinpoche. In “ Lineage of the Tai Situpas” we learn that “Chokyi Gyaltsen (1377-1448) is known as the First Situ Tulku. He was born in the region of Khampa Gon, became a disciple of Deshin Shegpa, the Fifth Karmapa, and from him he received the empowerments and teachings of the Mahamudra in the complete form. He perfected the teachings and travelled to China with the Fifth Karmapa. The Ming Emperor, Yung Lo, conferred the honorific title ‘Kenting Naya Tang Nyontse Geshetse Tai Situpa,’ shortened ‘Kuang Ting Tai Situ’ (which means ‘far reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command’) on him.” And so, the following verse of the song that His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, composed when he was seventeen years old also refers to the Guru-disciple relationship between Drogon Rechen and the First Gyalwa Karmapa:
“In the lofty land of Tibet, the inhabitants, high and low, and in particular, you, Tai Situ, the Lord and Protector Maitreya, who remains above the crown of our head, may your activities, like the sun and moon set in space, be continuous, stable, and without hindrance. I pray that we meet again and again.” – His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje
Supplementing the words in the article offered by the Dharma Fellowship of H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa, the line of Mahasiddhas of the Golden Rosary “descends from the supernal Absolute ( vajradhara) itself, to the blessed yogis Tilopa and Naropa, to Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, the first Karmapa Du-sum Khyenpa” – and to Drogon Repa Chenpo and his closest disciple, his heart-son Pomdragpa Sönam Dorje.
“The Golden Rosary,” in: Official Website of H.H. the 17 th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (2008).
Simhanada, “Lineages – The First Karmapa” (2008).
Chöje Lama Namse, “Confidence and Devotion,” presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Choling in Hamburg in 2007, in: Teachings in English, Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, Nepal, 2007.
“Biographies – Lineage of the Tai Situpas,” Sherab Ling, Himachal Pradesh, India (2008).
The Dharma Fellowship of H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa, “A Brief History of the Kagyü Tradition,” Denman Island, B.C. (2008).
May goodness and virtue increase!
(Compiled & written for English speaking students & visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal, who hold copyrights, by gh, solely responsible for all inadequacies & mistakes, July 2008.)