The Living and Available Lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje

We’re concerned here with practicing the dharma that comes from the lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje. The basis of this is to see our root guru, the present 3rd Barway Dorje, as Guru Rinpoche himself. This is valid because he is an emanation of Guru Rinpoche. He is also the emanation of many great masters of both the old and new traditions of Buddhist tantra.

With regard to Guru Rinpoche himself we have to remember that Guru Rinpoche was, in a sense, even kinder, even more beneficial to Tibet, than Buddha Shakyamuni. Really, there is no difference between Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche was the direct emanation of Buddha Shakyamuni. But the difference is, for Tibetans, that Buddha Shakyamuni never visited Tibet, never brought the teachings there; Guru Rinpoche did. So all Tibetan Buddhism really owes its existence to the kindness of Guru Rinpoche and the Kashmiri abbot Shantarakshita.

Especially, Guru Rinpoche insured that he would, and has, produced a ceaseless stream of emanations. For example, his best known disciples, the twenty-five disciples, were each his own emanation to begin with: five emanations of his body, five of speech, five of mind, five of qualities, five of activity. And, each of the five [had five emanations] — body [of] body, body [of] speech, body [of] mind, etc. He gave each of them a different set of instructions, predicted their time of rebirth, who their disciples would be, entrusted their particular teachings to particular dharmapalas or protectors, and prophesied those future events that would indicate the time had come to revive their teachings. He provided the specific teachings that would serve as remedies for those particular events or situations and then concealed all of this — the teachings themselves, the prophesies, and the entrustment — as treasure or terma, so that they would survive until the time came for those future emanations to take birth.

These terma teachings are therefore very different from most dharma. They are not the clever compositions of brilliant scholars. In fact, the tertons, the treasure revealers who had discovered them, have in many cases been utterly illiterate, or functionally illiterate, or is some cases merely poorly educated. Yet they were able through receiving, finding the physical texts, and through their visions, to transcribe sometimes ten or even a hundred volumes of teachings.

In the case of the lineage of Barway Dorje, he of course is an emanation of both Guru Rinpoche and of his disciple and consort Yeshe Tsogyal. In particular, he is the reincarnation of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe who was, among the twenty-five disciples, the body of body emanation.

Terchen Barway Dorje was born in 1836. He was a contemporary of another great terton, Chokgyur Lingpa. Also he was a contemporary of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and the supreme scholar Mipham Rinpoche. His termas were accepted and authenticated by all of these masters.

The termas themselves consist of nine volumes. In addition to those teachings, which you could call Nyingma, he also has his own lineage of the Sarma or New Translation school, which consist of two volumes of visionary teachings connected with the Barom Kagyu that he received from the dakini Akasha Yogini, or Yogini of Space, who is the wisdom body of the dakini Atroma, the consort and disciple of his [Barway Dorje’s] previous life as the dharma lord Sönam Zangpo of Chodrak.

Now all of these teachings of Barway Dorje, both the terma teachings and the other teachings, were principally entrusted to Kagyu Tashi, a great lama of Chodrak monastery in eastern Tibet. And many disciples, not only of Terchen Barway Dorje himself, but also of Kagyu Tashi, achieved great siddhi. Especially Kagyu Tashi had achieved the same state as his guru. He accomplished the celestial lady, Khechari Vajrayogini, until he could converse with her at any time he wished and had mastered his channels, winds, and essences to the point where he only needed to take one breath in a twenty-four hour period.

It was Kagyu Tashi who transmitted the teachings of Barway Dorje to the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche. This 2nd Bardor Rinpoche transmitted all of the empowerments and transmissions and secret instructions principally to the young Tulku Kunzang, and to my grandfather, Karma Tupten.

Tulku Kunzang, who is also still alive, was quite young when he received these teachings from the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche. He received them formally but was not extensively trained in the meditation practices or the ritual details by the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche himself. However because my grandfather, Karma Tupten, was the inseparable attendant of the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche, he received the complete training, all the hidden instructions, oral guidance, and detailed instructions in the rituals and artistic traditions, such as the drawing of mandalas, the construction of tormas, and everything, from the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche.

In fact, one time the previous Bardor Rinpoche said to my grandfather, Karma Tupten, “You know, you are going to be of greater service to these teachings than I am.” When he heard that, Karma Tupten was somewhat nonplussed. He thought, “What can he possibly mean? These are his teachings.” But nevertheless it was a prediction, because of course the 2nd Bardor Rinpoche passed away in his thirties and Karma Tupten, who is now well into his eighties, has lived a long and healthy life.

Karma Tupten’s karmic connection with Terchen Barway Dorje goes back a very long time. According to Terchen Barway Dorje, he was, in a previous life, a disciple of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe called Lharje Rokjung. Then when Nupchen Sangye Yeshe was later reborn as Jetsun Milarepa, he was his disciple Repa Shiwa Ö.

One of the predictions of Karma Tupten’s line of incarnation was that because of his previous accumulations of merit he was always to be born into a wealthy family. And sure enough, Lharje Rokjung and Repa Shiwa Ö were both born into wealthy families by the standards of their time.

As a disciple of Terchen Barway Dorje, he was the teacher Trime Loden, whose direct reincarnation is my grandfather, Karma Tupten.

His predicted service to the teachings has been tremendous. In spite of the destruction of not only infrastructure, but also of texts and transmission lineages and so on, which ensued upon the Communist invasion and Cultural Revolution in Tibet, he has been able, over the last many years, to reassemble, almost in their entirety, the nine volumes of the termas of Barway Dorje. Sometimes [he found] one or two pages hidden behind someone’s false wall. [Sometimes he found pages] in scattered places throughout Tibet, and even other parts of China. So he has preserved not only the literary tradition but also the complete transmission lineage, which he received. And so he has continued to teach this tradition, to preserve it, to practice it, to teach the meditations, the visualizations, the ritual details, the artistic and crafts aspects, and so on.

So, it is really to a great extent that because of my grandfather that this lineage is a living and available thing.

As for the 3rd Barway Dorje, the 3rd Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, he’s in the next room. We see him; we know him; we receive teachings from him, [such as] all of the empowerments and transmissions and instructions, which he has received from the disciples of the previous Bardor Rinpooche, such as Tulku Kunzang and Karma Tupten. In his case receiving these teachings was not really so much learning anything new as being reminded. It is a matter of reminding a buddha that he is a buddha. But if we see him as what he is, as Vajradhara, then we will receive the blessings of Vajradhara and the full transmission of all three lineages [ed. for information on the three lineages see Tantra is Not Dangerous]. His wisdom certainly is the same as Vajradhara, but we need to be aware of it. If we do not understand our guru’s wisdom to be that of the dharmakaya, then we really have no basis for the practice of tantra. And if in fact his wisdom were not the wisdom of Vajradhara, there would be nothing for us to practice. Fortunately, this is not the case.

[From Advice to Vajrayana Practitioners given by Lama Tashi Topgyal in Battle Creek, Michigan on September 22, 2012. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Transcribed and edited by Matt Willis. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint without permission.]