“You encompass all the wisdom [Yeshe] of Lobsang and of all the Buddhas.
You are the main guardian [Dzin] of the pure doctrine [Ten] of the Victorious One;
O Benevolent Master, Protector who manifests and absorbs an ocean [Gyatso] of infinite mandalas, I supplicate you.”
Trijang Dorje Chang's natural nobility and rare affability captivated his many visitors, each of whom, the humble or great of this world, knew he would be assured a warm welcome and an attentive ear. That kind reception was always a prelude to precious advice, as clear as it was sensible on matters both secular and religious, because nothing escaped his luminous intelligence and the humane wisdom which he put in the service of others with unfailing abnegation.
The Junior Tutor of his Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was for his generation the repository of the Ganden Oral Tradition originating with the second Victorious One—the great Je Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa. He was the guardian of the Extraordinary Volume derived from Mañjuśrī, that wonderful work that only beings of the highest spirituality can appreciate.
It was the dawn of a Tuesday in spring, the twelfth day of the third lunar month of the Female Iron Ox year (1901) when Trijang Rinpoche was born. He was the third with that name after two Ganden Tripas, the sixty-ninth and eighty-fifth supreme heads respectively, of the Gelugpa school. This time he chose for himself an unusual family who lived in one of the most spiritual places of Central Tibet, Tsel Gungthang. Tsering Döndrup, his father, had two reasons to be proud: he was descended from a maternal uncle of the Seventh Dalai Lama and was in charge of the well-known local monastery. With his first wife, who died too young, he had two girls and five boys, one of whom was Tati Khamlung Rinpoche, Lama of Sera Monastery's Je college. Later on Tsering Döndrup had another son with a servant woman, a son recognized as a Lama, this time of Ganden Shartse, and known as Pukhang Khyenrab. When Tsering Döndrup's recently married fifth son died by being pulled by the current of the Kyichu River while on his way to Lhasa, he did not abandon his daughter-in-law Tsering Drölma. In fact, he took such good care of her that they had three children: Trijang Rinpoche, his sister Jampel Chötso and her younger brother Lelung Rinpoche. In short, three Lama sons were born from three different mothers. And this is not the whole story. The list grows longer when later on Tsering Drölma would build a new life for herself after years of misery. When their older son was only six or seven, Tsering Döndrup, thoroughly disgusted by the empty pleasures of the world, decided to devote himself to spiritual practice. He renounced his responsibilities at Tsel Gungthang and entrusted his family to his aunt Yangzoma and her husband, a Khampa by the name of Apo, who robbed Tsering Döndrup's family continuously and drove them out of their own home. In his autobiography, Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang tells of his grief when, at the age of eight, he learned of the problems his mother and sister had faced.
He himself knew what it was like to be poor when he was young. Very often he and his instructor did not have much to eat. Later, when the invitations flooded in and his relatives resurfaced, he recalled with a smile those days of starvation when he wished in vain to be asked to say prayers or perform rituals that would have provided him with a nourishing meal.
But let us go back to 1901. Trijang Rinpoche's father was then fifty-nine, and his mother twenty-seven. Soon they would be visited by those in charge of finding the reincarnation of the Tutor of the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama whose name was Lobsang Tsultrim Pelden (1839–1900), and who insisted shortly before he died that they stop at Tsel Gungthang. The little boy showed so many confirming signs that the steward Ngag-rampa Lobsang Tendar's doubts were quickly dispelled. In fact, the two state oracles, Gandong and Nechung, each singled him out from among the candidates whose names they had been given.
The little boy was not yet three when he was taken to Lhasa early in 1904. He was placed in Chusang Ritö, the hermitage of his illustrious predecessor Jangchub Chöpel (1756–1838), who had come from his home in Kham, the Chateng, to study at Ganden Monastery. At first the boy asked to be admitted to the Jangtse college, but the head of the regional khangtsen or monastic house contemptuously turned him away because he looked awful. Meanwhile, the local inhabitants, the Chatengpas, in no way would accept that this boy from Gungthang had been designated the reincarnation of “their” Lama. The people had their own local candidate and did not hesitate to threaten “the usurper.” It took until 1929 for them to recognize his legitimacy, but from then on they vowed to venerate him unconditionally, as they had done with his predecessor. The Chatengpas literally adore their Lama, to whom they offer their possessions and dedicate their life.
Although challenged thus, the young Lama started his education at Chusang Ritö, a place where monks have always been eager to do retreats as it's such an auspicious site. In particular, many Sera Lamas went there and exchanged traditions and instructions. Their young host loved to lend a hand with the fire rituals and other colorful ceremonies. And so it happened that one day the man who would be his principal Master and whose true spiritual heir he would become arrived. The man's name was Kyabje Pabongka Dorje Chang (1878–1941). Kyabje Pabongka Dorje Chang would remain at the hermitage no less than seven years until 1912. Meanwhile, the very young Trijang Rinpoche considered him the ideal playmate. After the morning memorization sessions, Trijang Rinpoche loved to join the young Pabongka Rinpoche, so sweet and kind, who would put him on his lap, make him wonderful drawings, and perform all sorts of sacred dances for him. And if the boy caught him at rest, the monk would put the boy next to him and share with him his own food, a gesture which in the highly hierarchical Tibetan society was meant to emphasize their equality.
It goes without saying that the time was devoted mostly to studying, but that was easy for one who had an excellent memory and a good tutor like the steward Ngag-rampa. Early in the summer of 1907, Trijang Rinpoche's assistants took him to Reting Monastery. There, in the monastery founded in 1056 by the Master Atiśa's main disciple Dromtön Gyalwey Jung-ne himself, Trijang Rinpoche was ordained by the fourth Reting Rinpoche, Jetsun Ngawang Yeshe Tenpai Gyaltsen, who gave him the name Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. Because at Chusang Ritö he had twice read the conversations between Atiśa and his disciples compiled in the Kadam Bu-chö—the Kadampa Teachings of the Son—Trijang Rinpoche was able to understand everything and to situate people and things perfectly in his mind as soon as the monks began to give him an explanation.
Returning from the summer retreat, the young Lama became a part of the Dokhang Khangtsen of Ganden Monastery's Shartse college. The time had come to begin studying philosophy and debate. A qualified instructor was therefore needed. The two assistants obtained the names of several reputable Geshes and submitted them to the Master Pabongka Dorje Chang and to Gyalchen, the traditional protective deity of Trijang Rinpoche's line of descent. Both Pabongka Rinpoche and Gyalchen chose the same person: Geshe Lobsang Tsultrim of Pukhang, who would not leave his pupil until he himself became a Geshe of the highest rank.
Geshe Lobsang Tsultrim never scolded his brilliant pupil, as the latter worked hard and was amazingly well-behaved, except for a few small pranks which he was glad to relate, like the time he took advantage of some time alone to put a fistful of salt in a teapot, convinced that if his assistant was using such a tiny amount of salt it was because he was stingy. Needless to say, the salty mixture had to be thrown out.
The following year, 1908, Trijang Rinpoche received the Kalacakra initiation at Ganden's temple from Serkong Dorje Chang Ngawang Tsultrim Donden, calling upon Trijang Rinpoche at the moment he needed a young monk for the vase initiation, after which he presented Trijang Rinpoche with the blessing of the remaining mixture of butter and honey meant to be a “remedy for the vision.” The young Lama consumed the gift delightedly, a sign that he would absorb the entire Teaching with the same ease and pleasure.
Years went by, busy and filled with study. In addition to the classical training in philosophy, Trijang Rinpoche took advantage of the “monastic vacation” to obtain many transmissions and initiations. He was in Lhasa for the 1914 Mönlam when Buldu Dorje Chang Jetsun Lobsang Yeshe Tenpe Gyaltsen offered many initiations, notably of Cakrasamvara, but also of Vajrabhairava, Guhyasamaja, and Avalokiteśvara. In the middle of the summer of 1915, when the eighty-eighth Ganden Tripa Trichen Khyenrab Yönten Gyatso gave several initiations to some six hundred monks at Ganden, Trijang Rinpoche found himself sitting right next to Buldu Dorje Chang, whose outstanding concentration impressed Trijang Rinpoche greatly.
At Trijang Rinpoche's request, Buldu Dorje Chang agreed to begin to teach him grammar, but advised him to pursue those studies with Geshe Sherab Gyatso of Drepung Monastery's Gomang college, where Buldu Dorje Chang himself was from.
Not wanting to waste any time, as soon as the festivities of the 1916 New Year were over, Trijang Rinpoche welcomed to his hermitage at Chusang the famous Geshe Sherab Gyatso, who for a month introduced him to the study of grammar and poetics.
The student immediately put into practice what he had learned. His first attempts at composition delighted his instructor, who was a demanding one. The first work composed by Trijang Rinpoche, then barely fifteen, was a long poem written such that the initial letters of each line made up the entire Tibetan alphabet.
In 1919, soon after successfully passing the last of the Geshe Lharampa's examinations, Trijang Rinpoche received full monastic ordination from His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He entered Gyutö Tantric College and from then on studied the Tantras and Sutras with complete enthusiasm under the greatest masters, who passed on to him all the traditions, initiations, and oral instructions.
He continually deepened his knowledge of the Lamrim and Lojong, which methods for mind training are intended for the constant improvement of the precious mind of bodhichitta. He also did many more retreats.
In 1933, following the death of the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, he played an active role in the ceremonies and in building the mausoleum.
In 1941 he was appointed assistant to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by the Regent Tatag Rinpoche. He was then appointed Tutor in 1953. It was Trijang Rinpoche who taught His Holiness to read and had him memorize his prayers. From that time on, Trijang Rinpoche hardly ever left His Holiness, and participated in every event, happy or tragic, in His Holiness' busy life. He took part, of course, in subsequent ordinations and traveled everywhere. He whom Tibetans considered the very emanation of the Buddha Cakrasamvara conferred the Buddha's initiations on His Holiness and many others. As years went by, he passed on to His Holiness the complete works of Je Tsongkhapa and his two principal disciples Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Je, as well as those of the glorious Panchen Lama Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen. The list would be too long to include here. Let us say that everything he obtained from his Masters, beginning with Pabongka Dorje Chang, he offered to His Holiness unconditionally, whether the topic was philosophy, grammar, poetry, or the Tantras. After accompanying His Holiness to China in 1954 and to India in 1956, Trijang Rinpoche went into exile with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1959 and settled in Dharamsala so as to remain at his service at all times.
The little time Trijang Rinpoche had for himself was devoted to his thousands of other disciples who were men, women, lay people, and monastics of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The teachings of the Lamrim that he provided following Pabongka Dorje Chang's method were simply extraordinary. Imagine hundreds of people vibrating in unison as one, either moved to tears or carried away by enthusiasm as he taught. Most importantly, everyone left the teaching a better person, so inspired by the blessing that from that moment on would definitely guide and sustain each one throughout the rest of his or her life, or rather, lives.
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was also a poet and a writer who left behind his complete works in seven volumes, written in a style of rare elegance.
One of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche's devoted disciples was none other than His Eminence Dagpo Rinpoche, whose predecessor was Kyabje Pabongka Dorje Chang's root Lama, Dagpo Jampel Lhundrup, among whose own predecessors were the masters Suvarnadvipa Guru (Lama Serlingpa) and Marpa Lotsawa.
Dagpo Rinpoche invited Trijang Dorje Chang to France several times and placed himself at his service whether in India or in Switzerland, as he had done in the past.
On the November 9, 1981, when Kyabje Ling Dorje Chang came to present the ritual offerings to request that Trijang Dorje Chang remain in the world for a long time or return very soon, the Master Trijang Rinpoche decided to leave his body, also leaving behind thousands of grief-stricken disciples who, fortunately, were comforted by the certainty that he would never abandon them. In fact, he returned to them in 1982 and resumed his activities on behalf of those greatly afflicted in these times of increasing degeneracy.