Khandro Thrinlay Chodon is a female Buddhist teacher, who shares the wisdom of her ancient tradition, bringing its relevance to life for us in this modern age. Here, briefly is her story.
Khandro Thrinlay Chodon was born in Kardang Gompa, Lahoul, high in the Indian Himalayas. Ancient texts speak of this power place as Garsha — Land of the Blissful Dakinis, where many yogis attained realisation. Her family were great Himalayan yogis and yoginis, renowned for their extensive and pure practice. From a young age, Khandro Thrinlay Chodon trained in the practices of Vajrayana Buddhism while growing up in the embrace of an environment where spirituality was an integral part of everyday life. Since her childhood she manifested an extraordinary inner strength and resilience to not only absorb this sublime yogic tradition but also to take it forward in her own unique and vibrant way.
Khandro-la’s family is known for holding the authentic yogic lineage, the essence of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. Her great grandfather, Drubwang Shakya Shri was a great Master who began as a monastery cook. Yet with humility and perseverance to the practices, he became a spiritual luminary of his time. Streams of students flocked to his simple retreat camps to practice the yogic tradition, many with supreme results. This yogic tradition is now sprinkled throughout the entire Himalayas due to his exalted realisation and precise teaching.
Khandro-la’s father, Kyabje Apho Rinpoche, authentically continued this humble, yogic family lineage, and was a widely respected Master known for reviving the esoteric teachings from the verge of extinction in the remote Indian Himalayan regions. These heart teachings include Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. He traveled and taught extensively in remote areas and established several hermitages as well as many active long term retreat centres. He was one of the first Masters to connect with western students in the 1960s, among whom he was known for his humour and accessible style of teaching. Khandro-la fondly remembers him as the creator of a spiritual hub where students from the world over, of all ages and walks of life – monks, nuns and lay people alike, congregated and were soaked in the timeless teachings of the ancient sages.
Khandro-la’s mother, Sangyum Urgyen Chodon, was an accomplished yogini, a loving mother and a friend to all. She infused this extended family of yogis with her all-encompassing and subtle feminine presence. It was she who first sowed the seed for Khandro-la’s enduring passion for the Buddhist teachings and practice in daily life. This abundant and deeply-rooted spiritual legacy was a blessing. Yet at the same time, it put its demands on a young girl, who at a very early age was to lose both her parents and encounter many obstacles. Despite this, she seemed to grow from strength to strength in the face of these challenges.
After her father’s passing, Khandro-la trained under the guidance of her father’s student, the late His Eminence Gegen Khyentse, who dutifully held the secret and sacred teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra. He deeply recognised her innate strength and profound yearning for the teachings and entrusted her with empowerments and transmissions of the whispered lineage of Togden Shakya Shri’s pith instructions.
Khandro Thrinlay Chodon received all the empowerments, transmissions and teachings of the Drukpa Kargyu lineage from the late His Eminence Adeu Rinpoche, the renowned Master from Kham, along with many eminent Drukpa Masters of our time. Khandro-la further received empowerments and instructions in the Nyingma lineage from the late His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse, one of the greatest Vajrayana Buddhist Masters of the modern era. He also gave her pith instructions on meditation and sent her into solitary retreat in the mountains of Nepal, at Tato Pani Bhakang, under the close guidance of Sengdrak Rinpoche, a Master known for his humility and ascetic practice. There she went on to deepen and actualise these teachings, living and practising extensively in a simple retreat hut.
Due to a generous sponsorship from an Australian civil engineer named Laurie Seaman, and also to the visionary encouragement of her parents, Khandro-la was able to attend a Catholic boarding school in Kullu. The school was only two hours from her home, so she could keep regular contact with her family and stay connected to her ancient culture.
It was here she took command of the English language and received the beginnings of her excellent western academic education. Khandro-la went on to earn her B.A. in Psychology from Punjab University in Chandigarh, India in 1986 and then in 1998, she graduated with a Master’s degree in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, U.S.A.
Before traveling to the United States for higher studies with a scholarship, Khandro-la sought the advice of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He gave her a small 1000 armed Compassion Buddha, a mala and a Parker pen. With these gifts he encouraged her to study Western psychology and comparative religion whilst never forgetting and keeping true to the authentic, rich heritage of the Buddhist study of mind.
During her western studies Khandro-la immersed herself in the West, absorbing what was relevant and essential, whilst balancing and staying rooted in her own tradition that had the essence of the unfailing Buddhist view.
Soon after her graduation, His Holiness the 9th Shabdrung of Bhutan in exile, came to the U.S.A. Out of their mutual love and commitment, the two were wed by Joanna Macy, acting in her capacity as a civil celebrant. Joanna, an author and scholar acclaimed for her work on deep ecology, and her husband, Fran Underhill, an international environmental activist and Russian scholar, were Khandro Thrinlay Chodon’s mentors in the West.
After marrying and journeying back to India, Khandro-la was an inspiration to many as she tirelessly assisted her husband with his many duties as a lineage holder. As the consort of this great Master, Khandro-la was integral in establishing all his projects in Bodhgaya, Kalimpong and Manali, bringing her unique blend of strength and sensitivity to each of them.
Very sadly, His Holiness passed away on 4th April 2003. Since the unfortunate passing of her beloved husband, Khandro-la has courageously devoted herself to her long time, multidimensional vision of Khachodling. This name, seeing the divine feminine potential in her even as a child, was given by her Master, His Eminence Gegen Khyentse. Khachodling, he said, was a befitting name for her vision and activities in this lifetime. Khachodling is unfolding today as a life of inspiring wisdom and generating compassion, and is manifesting in a series of vibrant humanitarian and dharma projects in the Himalayas and around the globe. Like Khandro Thrinlay Chodon herself, Khachodling is infused with the yogic style of Togden Shakya Shri.
In order to bring Khachodling to life, since 2005 Khandro-la began tirelessly traveling and teaching outside India, including to Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, New Zealand, Korea, Mongolia and more. In her travels she has inspired many through the depth of her devotion and wisdom of her lineage. Many are inspired by her as a visionary for a better world, while others see her as their Buddhist teacher. Khandro-la has a joyful humanity and exuberance. Her clear understanding of the western mind, together with her deep rooted knowledge of her own Buddhist heritage, allows her to act as a bridge between East and West with a fresh and relevant perspective.
It is very rare to find a lay, female teacher from an authentic lineage. With her excellent command of English she is able to directly translate the truths of her ancient wisdom for this modern world. Coming from a yogic, household lineage where she has inherited a unique focus on family and community life, she has a magical touch with young and old. She always adds depth to the lives of the people she meets and her insightful feminine and nurturing care has re-connected and healed many layers of broken family and relationships.
Inspired by the quiet and pure practice of her mother, the quirky humour of her father and her dash of compassionate fieriness, one of Khandro Thrinlay Chodon’s many aims is to support the training of women in spiritual practice. From a young age she was frustrated to see how nuns and lay women were routinely denied opportunities available to monks and men. When she spoke out against this injustice and repeatedly pressed her gurus on this point, recognising and appreciating her drive, they encouraged her to pursue this passion and supported her to address this imbalance.
Under the supervision of her Master, His Eminence Gegen Khyentse, she guided nuns and laywomen in their practice and she continues to inspire and support them, building hermitages and meditation training centres in the Himalayas and beyond.
Khandro-la’s journey has encompassed many chapters. Her joy in and love for her family, teachers and husband, along with the grief she suffered as they passed away, have caused her to realise the impermanence and transience of this life and reinforced the preciousness of the Buddha Dharma as the only source of lasting happiness.