Dilgo Khyentse

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Dilgo Khyentse
Dilgo Khyentse.jpg
Denkok Valley, Kham Derge, Tibet
DiedSeptember 28, 1991
ReligionTibetan Buddhism
SpouseKhandro Lhamo
SchoolRimé (Khyentse custodians are technically Sakya)
Senior posting
ReincarnationJamyang Khyentse Wangpo

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Tibetan: དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་, Wylie: dil mgo mkhyen brtse) (c. 1910 – 28 September 1991) was a Vajrayana master, scholar, poet, teacher, and head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism from 1987 to 1991.

As the primary custodian of the teachings of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Dilgo Khyentse was the de facto custodian of the vast majority of Tibetan Buddhist teachings. He taught many eminent teachers, including the Dalai Lama.[1] After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, his personal effort was crucial in the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism.[2]


Early life, ancestry[edit]

He was born in 1910 in the Denhok Valley at Kham Derge, Eastern Tibet,[1] to a family directly descended from the ninth-century King Trisong Detsen. His father was a minister to the King of Derge. When he was seven years old, he was publicly recognized as one of the reincarnations of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo by Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche (1871–1926) at Shechen, one of the six principal monasteries of the Nyingmapa school. During the next few years Dilgo Khyentse received full schooling from various tutors, in addition to training in meditation, and in the study of the dharma in general, and of tantra specifically.

His root guru was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1893–1959) was his other main spiritual master. After he completed what is known as the Preliminary Practices (Ngöndro), Khyentse spent most of the next 13 years in silent retreat in remote hermitages and caves near his birthplace.

He married Khandro Lhamo, a woman from a modest family, after he became ill following an austere retreat.[3] His teacher had prophesied that a cure for his illness would be marriage, despite the fact he was uninterested in it.[3] Lhamo became a well-known expert in Tibetan medicine, a supporter of Shechen Monastery and his life-long companion.[4]

Buddhist studies[edit]

After completing his retreat at the age of 28, Khyentse spent many years with Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. After receiving from Khyentse Chokyi Lodro the many empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzo (the collection of Revealed Treasures or termas), Dilgo Khyentse requested to spend the rest of his life in solitary meditation. But Khyentse Chokyi Lodro answered, "The time has come for you to teach and transmit to others the countless precious teachings you have received."

Additionally he received teachings at Palpung Monastery from the 11th Tai Situ Rinpoche, and full instruction on the ancient Guhyagarbha Tantra and its various commentaries from Khenpo Tubga at Kyangma Ri-tro. In all he studied with over 50 teachers from the various oral and practice lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.[5]

Later on, the Dalai Lama regarded Dilgo Khyentse as his principal teacher in the Nyingma tradition and of Dzogchen. Khyentse was also one of the main teachers of Chögyam Trungpa, whom he held in high regard,

Move to Tibet, teachings[edit]

In the 1950s, as rebellions broke out in Kham in response to the imposition of Chinese Communist rule, Khyentse and his family escaped to central Tibet, leaving behind his library of dharma books and most of his own writings. Then in 1959, after the 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet, Khyentse, his family and a few disciples left Tibet, including his brother, the 9th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche and Tenga Rinpoche,[6] and headed for Bhutan. The royal family of Bhutan invited him to stay there and teach.

Later, as he made frequent visits to give teachings to the 14th Dalai Lama at Dharamasala in India, he began giving teachings all over the Himalayas, India, Southeast Asia and the West. He also engaged in scholarship and composed numerous poems, meditation texts and commentaries. He was a terton (a discoverer of spiritual treasures) and was considered to have discovered numerous termas. He was one of the leading masters of the pith-instructions of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, and one of the principal holders of the Longchen Nyingtik tradition.

In 1980, he founded the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal, where he transplanted the Shechen tradition to a new home near the great stupa of Boudhanath, just northeast of Kathmandu. There he gave many teachings over the years to hundreds of other lamas, disciples, and students from around the world. Over this same period, and until his paranirvana in 1991, Khyentse was involved in publishing as many Tibetan Buddhist teachings as possible, over 300 volumes altogether.

Final years[edit]

He was one of the few Tibetan Lamas accorded the honorific title "His Holiness". Following the death of Dudjom Rinpoche in 1987, he became the head of the Nyingma School, and remained so until his death in Bhutan on 28 September 1991.[7]

Student Matthieu Ricard remarked

"his disciples were as numerous as stars in the autumn sky...we felt that the sun had vanished from the world."[7]

Final cremation ceremonies were held for him over a three-day period near Paro in Bhutan, in November 1992 and were attended by over 100 lamas, the Royal Family and ministers of Bhutan, 500 western disciples and 50,000 devotees.

Preservation of lineages[edit]

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Seattle, 1976

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was a perfect example of a Ri-me master. He was instrumental in safeguarding all of the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism without partiality. He received and gave empowerments, wrote volumes of texts that revitalized and interpreted important transmission teachings.[8]

Gyatrul (b. 1924),[9] in a purport to Karma Chagmé (Wylie: karma-chags-med, fl. 17th century), conveys Khyentse's 'samaya' (Sanskrit), diligence and humility in receiving 'wang' (Tibetan), lineal transmission and 'rlung' (Wylie) as rendered into English by B. Alan Wallace:

With respect to oral transmission, even if the lineage is impure, it is not a problem. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche often sought out and received any oral transmission he thought was on the verge of disappearing. It made no difference who was giving it. He would receive it and, in turn, pass it on to make sure that the lineage remained unbroken.[10]

Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche[edit]

Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche at Nyima Dzong

Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, aka Ugyen Tenzin Jigme Lhundrup (Tib. ཨོ་རྒྱན་བསྟན་འཛིན་འཇིགས་མེད་ལྷུང་གྲུབ་, Wylie o rgyan bstan 'dzin 'jigs med lhun grub), the son of Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche and brother of Phakchok Rinpoche, who currently resides in Bhutan, was appointed as the incarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in December 1995:[7]

Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche was born in Nepal on June 30, 1993. When Khyentse Rinpoche passed away, his close students requested Trulshik Rinpoche, his most senior and accomplished disciple, to find his incarnation.[11]

In 2015 he visited the newly-opened Buddhist Community Centre UK in Aldershot in the United Kingdom.[12]


The film Spirit of Tibet: Journey to Enlightenment, The Life and World of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was released in 1998. It was made by Matthieu Ricard (French photographer, Buddhist monk, and author) who had traveled with Khyentse for 14 years. It tells Khyentse's story from birth to death, to rebirth, and of his escape following China's invasion of Tibet to his determination to preserve and transmit Buddhist teachings far and wide. The film reveals Tibet's art, ritual philosophy, and sacred dance. Along with rarely photographed areas of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, the film features interviews with the Dalai Lama, who speaks about his own spiritual life.

The film Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, written and directed by Neten Chokling, and narrated by Richard Gere and Lou Reed, uses animation, previously unseen archival footage and photos along with new interviews of Tibet's teachers to tell Khyentse's life story.


  • Khyentse, Dilgo (1993), Enlightened Courage: An Explanation of Atisha's Seven Point Mind Training, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1-55939-023-9
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Rinpoche, Patrul (1993), The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 978-0877734932
  • Khyentse, Dilgo (1996), The Excellent Path to Enlightenment, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1-55939-064-6
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Ricard, Mattieu (1996), Journey to Enlightenment: The Life and World of Khyentse Rinpoche, Spiritual Teacher from Tibet, Aperture, ISBN 0-89381-679-5
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Ricard, Matthieu (1999), Guru Yoga : According to the Preliminary Practice of Longchen Nyingtik, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1-55939-121-9
  • Khyentse, Dilgo (1999), The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 1-57062-452-6
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Pema Kunsang, Erik; Rangdrol, Tsele Natsok; Tsogyal, Yeshe (2004), The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, North Atlantic Books, ISBN 962-7341-55-X
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Sangye, Padama (2005), The Hundred Verses of Advice : Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on What Matters Most, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 1-59030-154-4
  • Khyentse, Dilgo; Jinba Palmo, Ani (2008), Brilliant Moon: The Autobiography of Dilgo Khyentse, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 978-1590302842
  • Khyentse, Dilgo (2011), The Collected Works of Dilgo Khyentse Vols. 1-3, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 978-1-59030-887-5


  1. ^ a b Ricard 1997.
  2. ^ Khyentse & Jinba Palmo 2008, p. 199.
  3. ^ a b Rab-gsal-zla-ba, Dil-mgo Mkhyen-brtse, 1910-1991,. Brilliant moon : the autobiography of Dilgo Khyentse. Palmo, Ani Jinba,, Tweed, Michael,. Boston, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-0-8348-2348-8. OCLC 881277749.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Khandro Lhamo Passes". Shambhala. 2017-03-06. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  5. ^ Midal 2004, p. 40.
  6. ^ Rinpoche 2010, pp. 193-197.
  7. ^ a b c Lion's Roar Staff 2010.
  8. ^ Brilliant Moon, forward by Sogyal Rinpoche, Shambala Boston and London 2009 p. xxxvi
  9. ^ Source: "Archived copy". tashicholing.org. Archived from the original on 2008-12-29. Retrieved 2009-03-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) (accessed: Wednesday March 25, 2009)
  10. ^ Chagmé, Rinpoche & Wallace 1998, p. 21.
  11. ^ "Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche". khyentsevisit2010.org. Archived from the original on December 18, 2009. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  12. ^ Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche in France and Great Britain - Shechen Buddhist website


External links[edit]