Biography of Khenchen Padma TsewangRoot Teacher of Khenpo Sherab Sangpo
Khenchen Padma Tsewang
During his life Khenchen Padma Tsewang (1931-2002) displayed the conduct and wisdom of a great practitioner. He maintained the pratimokṣa vows of individual liberation, the bodhisattva vows, and the vows of Mantrayāna without transgression and tirelessly worked for the benefit of others. He was also unmatched in his understanding of all aspects of Buddhist philosophy and sciences. In addition to his purity and wisdom, he was known for his remarkably gentle and humble demeanor. Throughout his life he demonstrated his capacities through his compassionate conduct and his profound knowledge.
His incredible life was prophesized many years before by numerous masters such as Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, Jamyang Khyensté Wangpo, Kongter Orgyen Do-gon Lingpa, Gochen Choktul, Padma Tekchog Dorjé, Kamtsang Tertön, and Ponru Tertön. Despite being from different times these masters all foretold the same details of his life including his father, his monastery, the dates of his life, his location, his demeanor, and his accomplishments. Because Khenchen Padma Tsewang perfectly matched these prophecies, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the great Lochen Dharmashri, the brother of Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa.
In 1931, Khenchen Padma Tsewang was born in the Dzachukha region of Kham in Eastern Tibet. In 1933, his mother passed away and he remained with his father, Drakpa Gyalsten, who was a great yogi and chö (gcod) practitioner, until the age of eight. At that time he began studying Tibetan language with his uncle, who was a khenpo and a student of Adzom Drukpa Rinpoche. Amazingly, within only one month, Khenchen Padma Tsewang mastered Tibetan language and grammar. Besides excelling intellectually, Khenchen Padma Tsewang was also remarkably compassionate and wise—his abilities were obvious even in his childhood.
With Khenchen Chödo (Khenpo Chökyi Dorjé) at Pukang Monastery he studied the five major sciences of craftsmanship, including the sacred geometry of building maṇḍalas and stūpas, and art, logic, language and grammar, medicine, and the Dharma, the inner knowledge of Buddhist philosophy. He also studied the five minor sciences of synonyms, mathematics and astrology, performance and drama, poetry, and composition. He was known for his exceptional talent in astrology and mathematics. In addition to this, he also studied ritual practices according to the Mindröling tradition.
At the age of ten he received six months of kama empowerments and reading transmissions that included the collected teachings of Minling Terchen Gyurmé Dorjé (Terdak Lingpa) and his brother, Lochen Dharmashri. He was given these from Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche (Shechen Kongtrul Pema Drimé Lekpé Lodrö), who had been invited to teach at Pukang Monastery. One year later he took pratimokṣa vows with Khenchen Gelek Drakpa and studied Vinaya, the code of monastic discipline. The next year he began the ngöndro, the preliminary practices, that he would complete three times. At the same time, he studied Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher and Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva.
At the age of fifteen he began receiving instructions and empowerments from Tertön Patrul Namkha Jigmé, a reincarnation of Patrul Rinpoche and one of the sons of Dudjom Lingpa. Khenchen Padma Tsewang became sick and could not attend one day of the teachings. Noticing his absence, Tulku Namkha Jigmé remarked that Khenchen Padma Tsewang did not have to receive these teachings since he had already received these instructions and empowerments in a previous life. Tulku Namkha Jigmé confirmed the earlier prophecies that the reincarnation of Lochen Dharmashri was Khenchen Padma Tsewang.
Four years later he started his studies at the shedra of Pukang Monastery where he studied the works of Rongzom Chöyki Zangpo, Longchenpa, Mipham Rinpoche, and many others. He went to study Buddhist philosophy and tantric teachings with Khenchen Thupten Chöphel at age twenty-five. Thereafter he traveled to meet Dongak Tenpé Nyima (Böpa Tulku Dongak Tenpé Nyima) at his monastery. While there he continued to expand his knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, including the commentaries of Dongak Tenpé Nyima on the Prajñāpāramitā and the Middle Way.
Khenchen Padma Tsewang became unequaled in his understanding of all aspects of study as result of his time with these great masters. He became the most learned among scholars and earned the title of mahāpaṇḍita, great scholar of the five fields of knowledge. This title demonstrates his deep understanding and his mastery of Buddhist philosophy and sciences. One of his students, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, remarked that Khenchen Padma Tsewang’s understanding was so profound that it revealed that he was not an ordinary human being as the span of one human life could not be enough time to learn such a vast amount.
After completing his studies with these masters at the age of twenty-eight, he went to Adzom Monastery and studied with Adzom Gyalsé Gyurmé Dorjé, from whom he received the oral instructions and Dzogchen teachings according to the tradition of Adzom Drukpa Rinpoche. Adzom Gyalsé taught thousands of students, but from among them he found Khenchen Padma Tsewang to be the best and chose him as the lineage holder. After this Adzom Gyalsé instructed him to go to Dzogchen Monastery to receive full ordination. When he arrived at Dzogchen Monasatery, the abbot, Khenchen Thupten Nyendrak, said he had seen him coming as Lochen Dharmashri, who had a great connection to Dzogchen Monastery. Khenchen Thupten Nyendrak foretold that in the future Khenchen Padma Tsewang would develop the teachings of sutra and tantra at Dzogchen Monastery.
At the end of his studies with Adzom Gyalsé, the Chinese occupation began. Khenchen Padma Tsewang returned to Pukang Monastery and hid himself. In the following years of destruction, he remained hidden in a small house unknown to others. For the next twenty-two years, he devoted himself to practicing and mediating everyday so that he fully developed his capacities. While on retreat he experienced a vision of Mañjuśrī and he revealed an old, iron sword of Mañjuśrī that had been hidden nearby his retreat home based on the instructions given to him in his vision. The sword can still be found today at Pukang Monastery. He began chanting the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti that he would complete several hundred thousand times as he was told that by practicing in this way that he would become inseparable from Mañjuśrī.
As Chinese policies began to shift in Tibet, Khenchen Padma Tsewang began to rebuild and teach more openly. At the age of fifty-two, he was invited to teach at Shri Singha Shedra of Dzogchen Monastery. After displaying his abilities, he stayed there for a few years as the head khenpo of the institution. This connection to Dzogchen Monastery confirmed the earlier prophecy of Khenchen Thupten Nyendrak. Because of his abilities, Khenchen Padma Tsewang was invited to teach throughout Tibet, including different monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan Buddhist College in Beijing. He traveled abroad teaching sutra and tantra.
In addition to teaching, after the destruction of the Cultural Revolution, he reestablished the shedra at Pukang Monastery. During this time he also went to Shechen Monastery to teach and assist in the reestablishment of their shedra and offered his teachings to Shechen, Dzogchen, and other monasteries. During this time he oversaw the development of many important khenpos and other students. Throughout his life Khenchen Padma Tsewang was a devoted teacher and spent whatever time he had for the benefit of others. He diligently meditated and practiced everyday, sleeping for three hours every night.
In 2002, at the age of seventy, Khenchen Padma Tsewang became ill. He was urged by his students to receive medical attention at a Chinese hospital in Shanghai. When he arrived, however, the doctors we not able to find anything wrong and he remained healthy for his two-day stay at the hospital. He requested his students to buy a plane ticket to Samyé Monastery for the following day. Upon his arrival at the monastery, he immediately became very ill. He knew he was going to die at Samyé Monastery and he felt very happy as he had chosen this holy place connected to Guru Rinpoche to die. Not only was the location sacred, but also the date. It was the tenth day of the month of the waxing moon when—according to the Tibetan calendar—Guru Rinpoche displays the liberating actions of his spiritual biography.
Khenchen Padma Tsewang was requested to remain alive so that his students at Pukang Monastery could have the opportunity to see him. They had already been sent a message about his deteriorating health and they wished to travel to Samyé Monastery to connect with him. Immediately his health improved and his students were able to meet him to make offerings and to perform pujas. Thereafter Khenchen Padma Tsewang told his students that he would remain alive and return to the monastery—knowing that this was the only way his students would leave his side.
On the twenty-fifth day of the first month—on the celebration of the day of the ḍākinī according to the Tibetan calendar—Khenchen Padma Tsewang began displaying dramatically different behavior and speaking in ḍākinī language. He was no longer acting in an ordinary manner and some of his students became confused. He gave them instructions for his death and shortly thereafter he passed away. With rainbows appearing in the sky, his students at Pukang Monastery cremated his body and constructed a statue containing the relics from his body.
Following his passing a remarkable story emerged. Many years prior to his passing, Khenchen Padma Tsewang had given a blessed bottle of water to a devoted lay person. The water was wrapped in a silk prayer scarf (khata) and had remained untouched for years. Eventually the devotee removed the khata and discovered that the water had been completely transformed into white, pearl-like relics. He brought the relics to Khenchen Padma Tsewang and was instructed to keep them hidden. The relics were only revealed after the passing of Khenchen Padma Tsewang. The devotee returned the relics to Pukang Monastery to be distributed among the students. This incredible story became widely known throughout Tibet—to this day, the relics continue to grow and to be given away. The life of Khenchen Padma Tsewang continues to inspire many followers and serves as an example of the conduct and wisdom of a great practitioner.
My Connection to My Root Teacher
When I was eight, I met Khenchen Padma Tsewang for the first time (during a period of strict control by the Chinese authorities) when Khenchen Padma Tsewang was secretly living in Arigza (Arik Dza) near Pukang Monastery. As my parents were nomadic, I lived with my grandparents who knew Khenchen Padma Tsewang. They were able to send me to meet with this great master to learn how to write the Tibetan alphabet. This was done very secretly, for short periods of time, with only one other monk in attendance. When the Chinese control began to relax, Khenchen Padma Tsewang went to Dzogchen Monastery for a few years. When he returned and opened the shedra at Pukang Monastery, I was thirteen and I began studying at the university with thirty other monks. We formed a very close relationship and I remained with my root teacher over fifteen years. Throughout this time I wrote down many of my root teacher’s instructions given during teachings. I served as an attendant and would travel with Khenchen Padma Tsewang when he was invited to visit other monasteries. We stayed together and I assisted with cooking, washing, and dressing my teacher. Khenchen Padma Tsewang told me to teach with a good motivation as this was how I would bring the most benefit to others and to practice Dorjé Phurba (Vajrakīlaya) as the best way to dispel obstacles. Towards the end of his life, Khenchen Padma Tsewang sent me to Nepal for three years to teach at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery. Khenchen Padma Tsewang told me that I could go wherever I wanted and do whatever I thought was best after completing this task.
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