Drubwang Shakya Shri (1853-1919)
The contribution of Drubwang Shakya Shri’s life and teachings makes him indispensable to the Himalayan yogic tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism. Extraordinary in the ordinary, he lived the life of a true yogi. Rebellious at heart to fixated views, with humility, insight and compassion he persevered since childhood to become completely enlightened in one lifetime.
An unparalleled sky-like yogi, stories abound of his primordial wisdom-nature; transparent body through which one could see butterlamps glow; casting no shadow and clairvoyance. Yet even with such siddhis, his humanity shone; caring, compassionate, non-discriminatory, simple and uninterested in possessions. He was beyond this world yet deeply grounded in it.
As a young child he had a deep interest and commitment to the dharma and manifested a marked disengagement with worldly things. As a boy he served as the attendant of a monk in a monastic school in Chamdo. Later he entered the Drugu monastery of Drugon Choegyal Rinpoche, where he was a simple cook.
Nearby, in retreat, lived the 6th Khamtrul Rinpoche (Tenpe Nyima (1849-1907)) from whom he trained in Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. Having no time to study in the day, he diligently applied himself to meditation at night. Many judged and criticised this simple and unusual cook, yet with deep humility Shakya Shri continued undistractedly on his quest. He met many amazing Masters, each of whom saw his potential. He relied on his Masters while viewing all praise and blame as an echo. He lived like a beggar, eventually left the monastery, took tantric consorts and practiced the Dzogchen path in yogic retreat with authentic devotion, till he rose and shone like the sun illuminating all.
This fearless luminary studied with the 1st Tsoknyi Rinpoche, the great Jamyang Khyenste Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Adzom Drukpa, Dza Paltrul Rinpoche, Yonton Gonpa and Jo Mipham Rinpoche. Shakya Shri holds the title of Togden (yogic Master) and Jo Mipham Rinpoche also bestowed upon him the name Jnana (primordial wisdom). Shakya Shri Jnana revealed many Mind-Treasure teachings (Gong-Ter) of the profound secret instructions on the preliminaries and on the main practices, as can be found in his Collected Works. Shakya Shri Jnana was a well known supporter of Rime – a non-sectarian approach which remains faithful to the specifics of the lineage. This was a contemporary movement, as intense sectarianism threatened many lineages with extinction.
Shakya Shri Jnana was known to be simple and direct. Despite invitations from the highest lamas, he would always choose the simplest cave and humble living style. Renowned for his aesthetic yogic communities, people travelled from all over the Himalayas to join the humming vibrations of practice. Two of his communities (still existing to this day) were Solder Tashi Choe Gar in Kham and Kyibhuk (happy cave); each having thousands of students. They lived in caves and dug-out hollows. Women and children as well as learned scholars, monks, nuns and yogis practised together on a strict schedule. People would arrive into these yogic camps, become absorbed in the atmosphere, and decide to stay. On one side of the mountain were those practising Mahamudra and the other side, those absorbed in Dzogchen. Shakya Shri Jnana was renowned for unifying these ultimate views.
It is hard to imagine now, but these sacred spaces of retreat were large living yogic communities. People of all walks of life, all ages, from all regions throughout the Himalayas and beyond, became absorbed in this playful and focused practice atmosphere. Teachings became alive with spiritual awakenings, insights and yogic powers. Each refined their channels and trained their winds and essences to flow. In the cold, harsh winters as they practised tummo (psychic heat), one could see the steam rising from each yak tent.
As people came from all over the Himalayan belt, they also returned to establish many small training centres and hermitages everywhere. Lama Sonam Zangpo and many others in Bhutan, Pema Choegyal in Ladakh, Lama Norbu and Lama Kunga in Lahaul, and many Newaris of Nepal. Many of his students were ordinary beings, who, like himself, attained a high level of realisation and practice in one lifetime. He also had silk-robed high lamas as students, including His Holiness the 10th Gyalwang Drukpa, His Holiness Taktsang Rinpoche from Ladakh, His Eminence the 7th Drukpa Yongzin Rinpoche, Ngagkyi Wangpo, and His Eminence the 8th Drukpa Choegon Rinpoche Thutop Choekyi Gyatso, as well as royalty and scholars. His down-to-earth, simple and diligent practice inspired thousands of ordinary beings to attain the highest level of realisation.
Shakya Shri Jnana inspired people to practice at a very critical time. He is revered and recognised across many lineages for his supreme realisation and qualities.
Just as the expanse of reality pervades all space,Togden Shakya Shri – The Life and Liberation of a Tibetan Yogi by Kathog Situ Chokyi Gyatso
The infinite sunlight of your wisdom
Illuminates whole continents of countless disciples.
Your compassion, devoid of the slightest conceptual characteristics,
Like the eternal full moon, does not abandon the sphere of reality,
But shines propitiously upon qualified disciples, the ponds which reflect you.
Nature of all Victorious Ones that fills space with a display of emanations,
From time without beginning, you have led innumerable beings to the natural state,
Until there is no samsara, the magical display of your emanations will know no end.
Togden Shakya Shri. The Life and Liberation of a Tibetan Yogin by Kathog Situ Chokyi Gyatso.
Format: Paperback. Length: 323 pages.
Life story of 19th century Tibetan yogi Togden Shakya Shri. A humble cook within the monastery, whose faultless practice led him to also became a teacher of teachers, including Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Adzom Drukpa, Jo Mipham and Jamgyon Kontrul Lodro Thaye. Translated from the original Tibetan namthar or “spiritual biography”
Continuation of the Shakya Shri Lineage
Blood and Bone Lineage
Togden Shakya Shri’s hereditary lineage continues through his children, grand-children and now great grandchildren. Due to the pure practice and subtle body attainment of Togden Shakya Shri, his direct descendants until the seventh generation, are said to have swifter ability to attain enlightenment. Togden Shakya Shri had two wives and ten children (6 sons and 4 daughters), all of whom were said to have attained the most profound levels of realisation.
Descendants who carry the blood and bone lineage are currently living and practising in the Himalayas and beyond. Below are some renowned direct descendants.
His Eminence, 1st Thuksey Rinpoche (1916-1983) was the son of one of the daughters, Ashi Bola.
Ngawang Yeshe Yangdrol, also known as Kyabje Apho Rinpoche (1922-1974) was born to the son, Choeying Tulku Kunlha Tendzin. Apho Rinpoche became an outstanding yogic Master and was recognised as the main holder of his grandfather’s lineage. He has four living children, Khandro Thrinlay Chodon and her three brothers.
The students of Togden Shakya Shri were countless and were renowned for their profound realisation. They were practitioners who had transcended the elements and had accomplished siddhis through their yogic practice. Siddhis included fast walking, warming their bodies in freezing cold with tummo heat, levitation using the channels and healing severe illness. They travelled far and wide – throughout Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and all the regions now known as the Indian Himalayas. All walked long distances, practiced, trained and in many cases completely intermingled with the local communities. Thus today the lineage practices of Togden Shakya Shri are found in all the Himalayan regions from Tibet and Bhutan to India and Nepal. This spiritual family is completely intermingled (spiritually and matrimonially) in the Himalayan belt and wherever in that region one travels you will surely find devotees and yogic practitioners of the Shakya Shri tradition. Here below are two key students, yet there are many, many more. Noted below are some other ancient connections between Togden Shakya Shri and modern Masters.
Ngawang Pema Choegyal (1876-1958) of Ladakh
He was one of the heart students of Shakya Shri, who travelled on foot from Ladakh to receive teachings from his Master. Later in life he became an accomplished Master and taught important lamas of the Drukpa lineage. Among his students were His Holiness 11th Drukchen, His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche, Kyabje Apho Rinpoche, His Eminence Stagna Rinpoche, His Eminence Sengdrak Rinpoche, Venerable Gegen Khyentse and many more. Later in life he established many retreat centres on the border of Nepal and had many students, both monastic and lay. He collected and compiled the complete set of Drukpa texts that is now used in all the Drukpa monasteries. Sey Rinpoche, son of Kyabje Apho Rinpoche and brother to Khandro Thrinlay Chodon, is said to be the incarnation of this Great Master.
Lama Sonam Zangpo (1888-1984) of Bhutan
Lama Sonam Zangpo was a direct student of Togden Shakya Shri. After the passing of his Master in 1919, he continued to live on in Khyibuk for another ten years teaching and guiding Shakya Shri’s students. Later he went to teach extensively in many important monasteries in Bhutan. However, like his Master, he was a retreat-like yogi who principally lived and taught students in jungles and forests. Lama Sonam Zangpo looked after Apho Rinpoche when he was young (10-16 years of age) because his father, a son of Shakya Shri, had died young. In addition to caring for Apho Rinpoche, he taught him Dzogchen and Mahamudra. Later in his life Lama Sonam Zangpo extensively guided Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and two of Apho Rinpoche’s sons, Sey Rinpoche and Sey Jampal, in the teachings of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. He was the maternal grandfather of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, thus there is a deep spiritual connection between these families.
Present Day Connections to the Shakya Shri Lineage
The Drukpas and Sang-Ngag Choeling
The 10th Drukchen was a direct student of Togden Shakya Shri. His consort was the renowned daughter of Togden Shakya Shri, Ashi Bola. Together their son was Thuksey Rinpoche whose Root Gurus were Ngawang Pema Choegyal and Lama Sonam Zangpo, both direct heart students of Togden Shakya Shri. Thuksey Rinpoche journeyed with the 11th Drukchen (also a student of Ngawang Pema Choegyal) to India and later established the main monastic seat of the Drukpas in Darjeeling, Druk Sang-Ngag Choeling Monastery. The present day 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, Head of Drukpas, was raised under his guidance and was his student. Other students of His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche are the 70th Je Khenpo of Bhutan – Jigme Chhoeda, His Eminence Gyeltshen Trulku of Bhutan, Sey Rinpoche and Sey Jampal – his nephews, His Eminence Namkha Drimed, Lama Wangdor of Tso Pema and many others.
In the present time Khandro Thrinlay Chodon and the family of Apho Rinpoche continue the strong connections with His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa and his followers including yogis and Sang-Ngag Choeling Monastery.
Khampagar and the Togdens of Tashi Jong
The 6th Khamtrul Rinpoche (Tenpe Nyima (1849-1907) and Drubwang Tsoknyi the 1st, were the Root Gurus of Shakya Shri in the practices of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. As a child Shakya Shri grew up as part of Khampagar in the monastery of Drugu Choegyal. The 7th Drugu Choegyal was a great yogi practitioner and his spiritual consort was Ashi Pema, renowned daughter of Togden Shakya Shri.
The Togden’s of Khampagar reside now in Tashi Jong, India with the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Gyalwa Dokhampa Shedrub Nyima. Drubwang Chokyong Dargyal, direct student of Togden Shakya Shri is the Root Guru of Ati Rinpoche and all the older Togdens at Tashi Jong – late Togden’s named Ajam, Atin and Semdor and the still living, Togden Achos.
Today, Khandro Thrinlay Chodon and family maintain their connections with Khampagar, the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Togden Acho, His Eminence Tsoknyi Rinpoche, His Eminence Choegon Rinpoche, His Eminence the 8th Choegyal Rinpoche, and the late His Eminence Dorzong Rinpoche.
The Dzogchen lineage of Togden Shakya Shri is deeply connected through the Longchen Nyngtik tradition of the Nyingmas. The luminaries, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Jo Mipham Rinpoche were each teachers to Shakya Shri, who later revered him as a supreme yogi. Their deep spiritual bonds continue as a hub of interconnectedness that web through to the present day Masters of the Nyingma lineage.
One of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse’s teachers was Apho Pamchok Rinpoche, the third son of Togden Shakya Shri (he was a great Terton and held the Shakya Shri mind treasure of Demchog Pema Vajra). His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse and Kyabje Apho Rinpoche shared a very intimate spiritual relationship, meeting often and in the 1960’s Apho Rinpoche received the Rinchen Terdzod empowerments and teachings from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse in Tashi Jong.
Family connections continue through the late Kyabje Dungse Thinlay Norbu Rinpoche and sons (Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Garab Dorje), Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his sons (Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Tsonkyi Rinpoche), the father of Tulku Urgyen, Chogling Pema Gyurme and his sons and daughter (including Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche).
Khandro Thrinlay Chodon and family continue their connections to this day with each of these Masters.