His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa is the spiritual head of the 800-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas, with around 1,000 monastic centers and millions of followers worldwide. His mission is to promote universal harmony and inner peace by integrating the spiritual tenets of love and appreciation into daily life. His work includes promoting gender equality, establishing educational institutes, medical clinics and medication centers as well as rebuilding several heritage sites in the Himalayas. He is the founder and spiritual director of the award-winning Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh, India, which provides its students with a modern education while preserving their local culture. In order for women in the remote Himalayas to receive an equal spiritual education as the men, His Holiness established several nunneries under the umbrella of “Druk Gawa Khilwa” in the Himalayas that teach traditional spiritual practices, Tibetan, English, Hindi and computer skills as well as martial arts. Besides giving spiritual training to the monastics and lay followers in the Himalayas, His Holiness travels extensively to many parts of the world to conduct spiritual discourses and retreats.
Lineage: The Drukpa lineage was founded in 1206 after Drogon Tsangpa Gyare, (Drogon – ‘Protector of Beings’; Tsang – ‘born in the land of Tsang’; Gya – ‘from the noble clan of Chinese (Gya) origin’; Re – ‘a cotton-clad yogi’) after he saw nine dragons fly into the sky from the ground at Namdruk. He is known as the First Gyalwang Drukpa and is recognized as the indisputable emanation of Naropa (1016–1100).
Jigme Pema Wangchen is the twelfth and present incarnation of the Gyalwang Drukpa. He was born while his parents were on pilgrimage in Tso Pema, (Rewalsar) Himachal Pradesh, a sacred place of Padmasambhava, during the festival and a major ceremony of lama dances and a holy feast celebrating Guru Padmasambhava’s birthday, in 1963. His father, Zhichen Bairochana, is a Dzogchen Master, these days commonly called Bairo Rinpoche. His mother, Kelsang Yudron, commonly known as Mayumla, came from Lhodrak, in southern Tibet.
He was enthroned as a reincarnation of the 11th Gyalwang Drukpa at the age of four at Druk Thupten Sangag Choeling Monastery in Darjeeling, his main monastery.
Biography: The present Gyalwang Drukpa is the twelfth incarnation of the founder of the Drukpa Lineage, Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). The Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa’s father is the Nyingmapa master Zhichen Bairo Rinpoche, the incarnation of Buddha Vairochana and thirty-sixth incarnation of the pandit Vairochana. Pandit Vairochana was an illustrious disciple of Guru Padmasambhava, and a renowned translator. Bairo Rinpoche is the former abbot of Kathok Zhichen Monastery in Kham, eastern Tibet. The Gyalwang Drukpa’s mother, Mayum-la, is the daughter of a yogi, and a disciple of Dzogchen Rinpoche, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and many other great lamas.
The Gyalwang Drukpa was born in northern India, at Lake Rewalsar or ‘Tso Pema’ (the ‘Lotus Lake’) – a place sacred to Guru Padmasambhava. The birth took place during lama dances celebrating the auspicious 10th day of the first month. This day in the Tibetan calender is sacred to Guru Padmasambhava.
Several propitious omens occurred before and during the birth of the Gyalwang Drukpa. During his mother’s pregnancy, Gyalwang Drukpa’s parents often heard chanting of the Amitabha mantra coming from inside the womb. Also, thunderstorms, snow, a rainbow, and other signs were conspicuously present at his birth to celebrate the arrival of a great being. Apparently, the late Pawo Rinpoche, who was in Varanasi at the time, was aware of the birth of this unusual child and performed a Sur Chod to indicate his respect. On the same day, the supreme Nyingmapa leader, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, offered a khata to the newborn child. Even before learning to read and write, the young Gyalwang Drukpa was already familiar with the sacred texts. Whenever the pages of these texts were not arranged in their proper order, he would immediately recognize and point out the error. Moreover, the delicate and unusual child repeatedly proclaimed to his parents that he was a high lama who had a monastery and a lama’s residence. One day the three-year-old boy told his father, “A man with a white beard is coming to take me back to my monastery”. Soon after, the search team made up of his predecessor’s disciples came to their home in Dalhousie. The ‘man with a white beard’ (the First Thuksey Rinpoche) had finally arrived, looking for the young child who could be the reincarnation of his late guru, the Eleventh Gyalwang Drukpa.
The little child recognized some of the former servants and disciples of the Eleventh Gyalwang Drukpa, and to their astonishment called them by their true names. He also correctly identified some of his predecessor’s belongings from a collection of various artifacts. The First Thuksey Rinpoche immediately knew that this child was indeed the genuine reincarnation of his deceased guru. Immediately after his discovery, the young tulku was first enthroned at the late Khamtrul Rinpoche’s monastery in Dalhousie. A year later, the four-year-old Gyalwang Drukpa was enthroned at his own Dotsok Monastery in Darjeeling, West Bengal. From an early age, the Gyalwang Drukpa manifested the extraordinary characteristics of a sublime spiritual being. Even before his discovery and official recognition, he was spontaneously kind and thoughtful to insects, animals, and all neglected, downtrodden creatures. He later became a vegetarian, after discovering that the piece of beef he was eating actually came from a cow which had earlier walked passed him.
When only six years old, the Gyalwang Drukpa earnestly began his training as the incarnate spiritual head of the Drukpa Order. He was brought up and educated by his principal guru, the First Thuksey Rinpoche (who was the Drukpa regent). He also received precious teachings from the late Venerable Khenpo Noryang; the late Khenpo Ngawang (main abbot of the Drukpa school and incarnation of Shawaripa, one of the eighty-four Mahasiddhas of India); the late Khenpo Ngawang Choedrak (his official tutor) and Bairo Rinpoche (his father). The Gyalwang Drukpa also personally received the complete transmission of the Nyingmapa tradition from the great Dzogchen master, the late His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche.
In addition, the Gyalwang Drukpa studied and practiced under several other exalted spiritual masters including the late Lobpon Kangri Kunsang Dorje Rinpoche, one of the foremost yogis of this century, who spent most of his life in the wilderness contemplating Mahamudra and who was venerated by lamas of all the Tibetan schools; the Nyingmapa abbot and Dzogchen lineage holder, Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche; Zhichen Ontrul Rinpoche, the compassionate master of the Nyingma Kathok lineage and Pawo Rinpoche, the late great Sarma lineage holder who was a master of both Mahamudra and Maha Ati. In recent years, the Gyalwang Drukpa also received profound teachings and instructions from H.E. Do Drupchen Rinpoche, a revered Dzogchen master residing in Sikkim.
Without difficulty or hindrance, the young Gyalwang Drukpa understood both the theoretical and practical aspects of the profound View, Meditation and Action. At the age of nine, he began to meditate under the personal guidance of the First Thuksey Rinpoche. Even at that young age, he experienced in meditation a deep compassion and unconditional love, through an intuitive understanding of the Ultimate View of Emptiness. Sometimes, the little Gyalwang Drukpa wept and spontaneously spoke about genuine impartial love and compassion, to the amazement of those around him.
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