Apho Rinpoche, Family and Community

Khandro Rinpoche’s family home is Chidyari, Manali, India. Lovingly known as Apho Rinpoche’s gompa, this became a major seat and active training centre of yogic meditation as taught within the lineage of Drubwang Shakya Shri.

It was established by her late father, Kyabje Apho Rinpoche, after travelling and teaching extensively throughout the remote Himalayan regions.

Apho Rinpoche’s Gompa, Chidyari, Manali.

The humble gompa, with its beautiful wall paintings of the 84 Mahasiddhas and the central, powerful self-emanating statue of Drubwang Shakya Shri, still stands to this day. Also preserved is a huge library containing not only the Kangyur and Tengyur, but also rare collections of sutra and tantra, as well as historic wood carved texts of the life stories of three main Kagyu lineage Masters (Marme Taksum).

Previously this gompa was surrounded by apple trees and simple rooms for three year retreatants, as well as huts for long and short term visitors in training, many of whom were westerners. Unless in a three-year retreat, practice was amongst the daily tasks of living – growing vegetables and flowers, milking cows, making butter, cooking and building. This is the yogic style of Shakya Shri – not a large monastic institution, rather, simple living among family and a community that included people from all walks of life; men, women, children, lay and robed practitioners, rich and poor.

Kyabje Apho Rinpoche taught tirelessly, and each member practised in every moment with awareness and devotion, both in formal practice sessions as well as daily tasks. In the evening most ate in the kitchen around the fireplace, amidst Chod and other practices, as well as stories and laughter. Khandro-la describes this Manali home of her youth as a buzzing communal hub of teachings and practice. There was a constant stream of visitors, including great Masters from all Vajrayana lineages and other spiritual traditions as well as politicians, dignitaries and local peoples. Kyabje Apho Rinpoche and the Himalayan yogis were renowned for pure and authentic practice. It was to this gompa that the Harvard scientists were first sent to measure the results of meditation practice.

Parents of Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Kyabje Apho Rinpoche (1922-1974)

Born the grandson of Drubwang Shakya Shri, Apho Rinpoche’s father was the great yogi, Apho Kunlha, the fourth son of the great luminary. Unfortunately he passed away at the very young age of 25, leaving Apho Rinpoche to be thoroughly trained from childhood at Khyibhuk (Happy Cave) in the eminent practices of the family tradition.

In Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa, his main Guru was Tripon Pema Choegyal and in Dzogchen, it was Lama Sonam Zangpo. He also received direct instructions from Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.

Apho Rinpoche excelled in meditation and completed many strict retreats. He could recall his past life at a young age. All his Masters recognised him as a true lineage holder of Drubwang Shakya Shri. In addition to being recognised as an emanation of Milarepa, he was recognised as an incarnation of Drukpa Yongzin and a great Nyingma Master.

Kyabje Apho Rinpoche

Kyabje Apho Rinpoche became spiritual advisor to the royalty of Sikkim. He was invited to settle both in Sikkim and Bhutan, though it was devotees from the less developed Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Lahoul, Zanskar, Pangi and so on who won his heart. Through divination he chose to serve these areas, where the teachings were in decline. Apho Rinpoche, travelled mostly on foot, with his consort and attendants to each of these remote communities and each of his children was born in a different area of these Indian Himalayas; to this day Apho Rinpoche is revered among these Himalayan people. After many years of travel he finally settled in Manali with family and community and it is this setting that became the training hub of the yogic practices of Togden Shakya Shri in this era.

Apho Rinpoche kept alive the practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa in the Himalayan regions. He declined prominent positions (such as heading the Tibetan library in Dharamsala and Hemis Monastery, Ladakh) in favour of this task. He established the renowned hermitages in Ladakh and Lahoul, including Gotsang and Khespang. He gathered a huge library of sutras and tantras and commissioned carved wooden blocks in the ancient style of the songs and biographies of Milarepa, Gampopa and Rechungpa.

Apho Rinpoche was a poetic, humorous and compassionate Master who touched the hearts and minds of many Himalayan people, as well as the many early western students who flocked to him both from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (established as a place of reference and study in Dharamsala by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama) and from the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche who had established the seat of Khampagar in Tashi Jong. To this day, all his students remember him with deep appreciation. In particular they remember that his teachings were imbued with hilarious jokes that would make them role on the floor with laughter. He was an accomplished, powerful and skilful Master. A poet, scholar, healer and great meditator. His heart students included His Eminence Sengdrak Rinpoche, His Eminence Khamdrak Rinpoche, His Eminence Langpo Rinpoche, Venerable Gegen Khyentse, Venerable Emi-la, the renowned Himalayan yogis and many more. 

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon remembers the day of his passing when she was only seven  years old. He was a loving father who, in the midst of a very busy life, made sure to spend as much quality time with his children as possible.

Sangyum Urgyen Chodon (1931-1985)

Urgyen Chodon was born into an aristocratic family in South Tibet. She was a descendant of King Songtsen Gampo’s Chief Minister, Lonpo Ghar. From a young age she was devoted to dharma, and despite her mothers best efforts she refused to marry. Instead of entertaining suitors she would dress untidily and cut her hair!

Urgyen Chodon was well educated though completely self-taught. Women in her time were not given formal education. She was sent to the fields to manage the animals and workers because, as her mother said, “later you will have to take care of this estate and family”. Her brother, in training to become a monk, appreciated her love of dharma and learning, and secretly shared his lessons with her each day, which she studied diligently in the fields.

Sangyum Urgyen Chodon

Finally her mother gave up on her wish of a worldly life for her daughter and granted permission for her daughter to train to become a nun. Urgyen Chodon was sent to Kyiphuk, the seat of Shakya Shri near Druk Sangag Choeling Monastery, where she was able to practice intensely. She completed meditation retreats and seven ngondros (preliminary practices) under the guidance of Tripon Pema Choegyal, heart student of Shakya Shri. He was impressed with her spiritual realisation and she remembered it as the happiest years of her life.

It was during this time at Kyiphuk that Urgyen Chodon also met Apho Rinpoche and became his spiritual consort or Sangyum. Tripon Pema Choegyal blessed their marriage and later their beloved Guru took rebirth as the first child of their union. Throughout her life, Sangyum Urgyen Chodon lovingly and selflessly served her husband, Apho Rinpoche. They travelled together amidst many hardships to her family, herself and community. Over her life she birthed seven children, three of whom passed away due to hardship. She was a most loving and compassionate mother.

Sangyum Urgyen Chodon truly integrated the depth of her practice into her daily activities. Her compassion and love for each person who stepped into her home was well known . She would not let anyone go hungry and she emanated great dignity. Sangyum Urgyen Chodon was a secret guide for many of Apho Rinpoche’s students and would give beautiful commentaries on the teachings he taught. She always liked to remain in the background, providing assistance to everyone who visited the monastery.

My treasured mother was without doubt my guide and inspiration in both spiritual and worldly life. Her love and devotion to the lineage infused in me a deep respect for the profound teachings. She left a permanent imprint in my mind of what is a genuine practitioner, and in so doing she gave me a most essential gift – an understanding of dharma that has brought deep meaning to my life.

I will always cherish the memories of our time spent together. She opened my heart and grounded me in my spiritual life. She is not only my mother, she is also my guru. If it were not for her pure vision and guidance I would not have been able to understand the real meaning of my life.

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Direct Students/Attendants of Kyabje Apho Rinpoche

Gegen Khyentse (1913-1995)

Venerable Gegan Khyentse was born into a learned family in Tsari, South Tibet. This is a very sacred place, where people made pilgrimage to the mountainous abode of many deities. He was sent from his home at a young age to become a monk at the main monastery of Drukpa, Sang-Ngag Choling. He applied himself with focus and diligence and gradually rose from sweeping the monastery floors to tea-making to become the principal Chant Master of this large institution.

He was respected for his skills in all aspects of learning; astrology, handwriting, painting and so on. One day however, he realised that all his knowledge amounted to nothing without realisation and so he directed his intention to practice Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa.

When his request to attend teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa, which were offered by Tripon Pema Choegyal at the sacred caves of Rechungpa called Nagon, was denied by the administration, he quickly pretended that he was going mad, by holding burning coals and rubbing them in his face. Soon after he was allowed to leave the monastery!

Gegan Khyentse

In Nagon, he studied under Tripon Pema Choegyal, was guided by Apho Rinpoche and practised alongside Thuksey Rinpoche, Omze Sherab and others. Later he returned with them to Khyiphuk (the retreat community of Togden Shakya Shri) and went into many years retreat and actualised the practice. From that time he stayed with Kyabje Apho Rinpoche becoming one of his main students. Apho Rinpoche instructed him to hold the lineage after his passing, until the children were old enough to take over. He travelled all over the Indian Himalayas training all the younger yogis in these practices. He was teacher to His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, His Eminence Choegan Rinpoche, each of the children of Apho Rinpoche and many more.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet sent Harvard scientists to Venerable Gegan Khyentse at Apho Rinpoche’s Gompa, for the yogis and he to be tested in meditation practice. The success of these studies became the basis of further discussions between scientists and Buddhist practitioners which continue to this day.

Until his passing in 1995, Gegan Khyentse, together with Ama-la and Emi-la, continued with love and dedication to hold the children, the household and the community of this lineage.

Gegen Khyentse Rinpoche is one of my root Gurus. After my father’s early demise, he became a compassionate father figure, who watched over my training and care. He was full of humility and possessed all-encompassing wisdom. He was an authentic yogi who displayed the teachings through his every action. How fortunate I was to grow up in his lap, hearing the timeless stories of enlightened Masters like Milarepa, Guru Rinpoche, Nangsa Obum, Yeshe Tsogyal and other renowned Masters of the past. 

Under his personal guidance and rigorous training I received the Preliminary Practices, Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. He was a strict Master and did not compromise with the practice despite his very gentle demeanour. He was my late father’s chosen student to continue the lineage, yet despite this position, his kindness and the purity of his love for our family, embraced me in a way that took deep roots in my heart. As my spiritual Guru I saw him as the true embodiment of all the Enlightened Ones. He is forever imprinted in me as the most inspiring person on this earth. 

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Emi Drupten (1925-2017)

Emi Drupten was born into a learned family in Tibet, and when young, he was sent to become a monk at the main monastery of Drukpa, Sang Ngag Choeling in South Tibet. Emi-la had qualities of astuteness, intellect and dedication and at the age of thirteen, the 11th Gyalwang Drukpa sent him to Khyiphuk, (retreat community of Togden Shakya Shri) to serve Apho Rinpoche.

He received teachings, personal instructions and blessings from both Tripon Pema Choegyal and Kyabje Apho Rinpoche. Apho Rinpoche particularly guided Emi-la to focus his life and practice on service, rather than his love for learning and study.

Emi Drupten

Emi-la applied this advice without distraction. He rose to become Manager of Khyibhuk, arranging food, sustenance and so on for all retreatants, as well as overseeing the construction of its three-story Guru Rinpoche statue.

For 79 years Emi Drupten lived and served his Master fully, managing family, travels and activities with a preciseness and love that had a power and distinction of its own. His knowledge of Buddhist teachings, astrology and medicine became impeccable, yet due to his pure and unwavering devotion for the lineage, he always regarded himself as a servant and kept a low profile. He left an indelible contribution to Dharma and the lineage – his perfected intention and skill created sacred incense, wood carved printing blocks, consecrated holy statues and excellent divinations.

Emi-la managed Manali house and Gompa adroitly, and when Apho Rinpoche passed away, he, with Gegan Khyentse and Ama-la, served the family, community and lineage without distraction, helping in every way to ensure its continuation. He lived the longest after Apho Rinpoche’s passing, taking care of all matters with complete and utter devotion. The Manali community’s love for him and the respect and esteem with which he was held by many great Masters was openly shown at his cremation ceremonies. He will always remain in people’s hearts.

Venerable Emi-la was the life-long attendant to my father. Growing up I always remember him gardening or cooking. Every flower or vegetable his fingers touched would blossom with abundance. I found this quite magical. He would manage everything and was ever-present with love and care.

After the demise of my Guru, Gegen Khyentse Rinpoche, then also my Ama-la, people started to recognise Emi-la’s spiritual qualities and realisation. They began to flock to him for guidance, often coming from very distant parts of India. Emi’s simple little room became a refuge for rich and poor alike.

For me, he was the protector of our family in our most vulnerable times, and his unwavering devotion became the source of my strength. He was one of a kind, full of joy, laughter and blessings.

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Shakya Shri Family

H.E. Thuksey Rinpoche (1917-1983)

As cousins, His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche and Apho Rinpoche maintained a close relationship and these Masters often visited each other.

His Eminence’s mother, Ashi Bhola, was Togden Shakya Shri’s renowned daughter. His father was the 10th Gyalwang Drukpa, direct student of Togden Shakya Shri. His heart Master was Ngawang Pema Choegyal, direct heart student of Togden Shakya Shri.

Thuksey Rinpoche grew up in the Monastery of the 7th Dzigar Choktrul Rinpoche, however, he was also trained by his father and Ngawang Pema Choegyal in the yogic tradition of Togden Shakya Shri. He imbued the essence of the yogic practices and was a great Meditation Master who kept his mind in meditation awareness day and night as instructed by his Gurus. As a monk he lived in almost constant retreat. Rinpoche journeyed with the 11th Drukchen (also a student of Ngawang Pema Choegyal) to India and after the passing of the 11th Drukchen (Head of the lineage), Thuksey Rinpoche established the main monastic seat of the Drukpas in Darjeeling, Druk Sang-Ngag Choeling Monastery. With strict discipline and great dignity he held the teachings, re-established the lineage and passed on the monastic vows during a most critical and difficult time.

H.E. Thuksey Rinpoche

The present day His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, current Head of Drukpas, was raised under his guidance and was his student. Other students 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 more.

“A great meditator, poet, chant master and scholar, I remember that he had an amazing presence and a deep chanting voice that vibrated the entire atmosphere. He often held me in his arms as a child and I was scared of his long white beard.”

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche (1933-1997) and His Eminence Namkha Drimed (1939-present)

Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche and his younger brother His Eminence Namkha Drimed are children of Togden Shakya Shri’s great grand-daughter, Mayum Palden Tsomo.

Both are Masters of the Ripa lineage and are also trained in their Togden Shakya Shri tradition. Togden Shakya Shri’s son (Dungsey Pakchok Dorje) and Kyabje Apho Rinpoche were among the teachers of Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche. His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche was one of His Eminence Namkha Drimed’s teachers.

His Eminence Namkha Drimed is a brilliant teacher, practitioner, Terton, divinator and head of Nyingma’s Ripa family lineage. His sons and amazing Dakini daughters continue the family lineage.

“Being a member of the Government in exile Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche visited my family many times when I was young. I have many joyful memories of him in my home with my parents – he held, laughed and played with me as a child.

His Eminence Namkha Drimed was more often busy with family and spiritual duties in Orissa. Recently however I was able to receive the empowerment of wrathful Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal from him personally. He is a fearless and unmistaken Terton of our family, a luminous living example of our family tradition. We are fortunate to have such a Master as our elder on this planet.”

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon
Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche
H.E. Namkha Drimed

Husband – His Holiness, the 9th Shabdrung

His Holiness, the 9th Shabdrung (1955-2003)

Born in the village of Manla, Eastern Bhutan, Ngawang Jigme was recognised as the 9th incarnation of the Shabdrung of Bhutan. At the age of five, His Holiness left Bhutan to live in exile in India. Most of his childhood was spent under the protection of the Indian government as its honoured guest, while living in Rewalsar (Tso Pema). It was during this time that he completed all primary Buddhist philosophy studies under the tutelage of the great Nyingma scholar and practitioner, Venerable Gegen Chozang. 

At a young age he was also recognised by His Holiness Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, when receiving from him all the Nyingma empowerments, transmissions and teachings, including the Rinchen Terzod wangs (empowerments) in Tso Pema in 1967.

His Holiness graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Mandi Government College, Himachal Pradesh. He became proficient in Hindi, Punjabi and English and was an accomplished linguist. He particularly loved writing poems in Hindi.

His Holiness, the 9th Shabdrung

Later, he settled in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, where he connected with His Eminence Kyabje Stagna Rinpoche and Venerable Gegen Khyentse Rinpoche. From them he received all the significant empowerments, transmissions, teachings and pith instructions of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage.  

He was an extraordinary man in a very ordinary way. He connected to people directly, inspiring all with his roaring deep voice, laughter and ever-present dignity. He lived a simple life in Manali, enjoying people and sports of many kinds including cricket, football, table tennis and badminton, chess and snooker. He was loved by locals and known as a “Master of Life”. His Holiness was widely known for his healing abilities, as well as giving devotees many insights and predictions. He dressed in ordinary clothes and never revealed who he was. Only in the latter part of his life did people come to fully realise that he was a great Buddhist Master

In 1998 he travelled to the USA and married Kyabje Apho Rinpoche’s Seymo, Thrinlay Chodon, whom he had known for many years in Manali, yet who was at that time completing her western University degree in California. On returning to India, they lived in their Bhutanese style Manali home.

Around this same time His Holiness agreed to take responsibility for monks and devotee communities, something he showed no signs of being interested in previously. He accepted a monastery in Bodhgaya that had been built for him and his lineage by Bhutanese devotees, and later, the Pedong community offered him land and a monastery near Kalimpong (Sangchen Dorjee Gompa – a very ancient temple). He travelled, stayed and served in all of these gompas and communities, with his consort always by his side, until the end of his life.

His Holiness Ngawang Jigme, the unmistaken 9th Shabdrung of Bhutan, passed away peacefully on the 6th April 2003 in South India, where he was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer. His devoted wife was by his side as she had been throughout his entire illness. The Government of India protected and provided for his medical care and treatment. He was 48 years old. Many signs were exhibited at the time of his death. His holy body was ceremoniously returned to Pedong, where it remained in tukdam (meditative state after death) for three years until being placed intact in a stupa.  Devotees come from far and wide to venerate this extraordinary Master.

The late Shabdrung, Ngawang Jigme is my beloved husband. His Holiness is also my Guru, not through academic studies, rather in life; through being a living example of dharma in action. He showed that dharma teachings lie inherent in all of life’s activities – in serving, in cooking. For eight beautiful years of married life I was able to witness his style of living and the process of his death. For me, these times have been some of the greatest teachings of my life. These precious years helped me understand the essence of all the teachings I had received.

Whenever I am discouraged I hear his words resounding in my heart “You are my sunshine: you are going to make me shine.” This pure trust is my guiding light.

This small biography above, is only a small glimpse into this timeless being. I will always remain grateful to him.

Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Siblings of Khandro Thrinlay Chodon

Sey Rinpoche

Sey Rinpoche

Sey Rinpoche is the incarnation of his father Apho Rinpoche’s beloved Guru, Tripon Ngawang Pema Choegyal – direct heart student of Togden Shakya Shri.

Sey Rinpoche and his younger brother Sey Jampal trained since childhood under their father Kyabje Apho Rinpoche, their uncle His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche, Lama Sonam Zangpo and Gegen Khyentse. In addition, Sey Rinpoche completed studies at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala.

Today Sey Rinpoche is immersed in his duties to the spiritual lineage. He lives, with his Lahouli wife, Norzin Palmo at Apho Rinpoche’s Gompa in Manali. They have three children, Sey Ngawang Tashi, Seymo Tashi Chodon and H.E. Sonam Rinchen.

As well as being responsible for the renowned Manali gompa, Sey Rinpoche cares for other hermitages that were established by Apho Rinpoche.

Sey Rinpoche has his own students in the Himalayas and in other countries where he travels to teach. He is known for his phowa (transfer of consciousness) practice and teachings.

Sey Jampal
Sey Jampal
Sangyum Phuntsok

Sey Jampal

Sey Jampal, though recognised at a young age as one of the incarnations of His Eminence Choegon Rinpoche, a great Drukpa Master, chooses to live an active and dedicated local life in Manali with his Ladakhi wife Phuntsok Drolma. They have two children, Sey Stanzin Shakya and Seymo Nilza Chodon.

Sey Jampal has been trained deeply in dharma and exhibits these qualities naturally in daily life. He is known for his humility, prompt action and ever-present care for his family and community. A genuine humanitarian with unceasing compassion, he humbly manifests the essence of dharma in every action.

He has continually supported children from remote areas with mentoring and education, many of whom have attained academic national distinction.

Sey Jampal’s wife Phuntsok stands by him in purity and genuine feminine presence. They are a most harmonious and exemplary couple. Others continually seek out their wise guidance and protection.

Sey Jampal and Phuntsok are a backbone of support to Khachodling’s work in India.

Seymo Yeshe Chodon

Sey Jigme

Sey Jigme Dorje is Khandro Thrinlay Chodon’s youngest brother who accompanied her to Australia and assists her to manifest the lineage of Togden Shakya Shri in Australia. He and his daughter Seymo Yeshe, now live in Perth, Western Australia. 

Sey Jigme keeps a deep and hidden practice based on heartfelt devotion to his Gurus and Lineage.  He is a natural teacher who often gives spontaneous instructions to Khachodling students that compliments his sister’s teachings. This brother/sister pure and genuine relationship is an asset very difficult to find in this degenerate time.

His lay western life of work and family has shown him the struggles of modern daily life and his stability has provided a strong and unwavering ground to his daughter’s upbringing. In his work and family life Sey Jigme’s compassion knows no bounds.

Even though he keeps a low profile he is a hidden yogi and students of Khachodling respect his dedication to his daughter, his sister, to the community and the lineage. Sey Jigme actively devotes his time and finances to Khachodling.

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