"The first Tibetan Buddhist retreat I attended, right out of college, was an intensive weekend at Tarthang Tulku’s Nyingma Institute in Berkeley in the fall of 1972. The retreat concluded on a most auspicious note, with the arrival of none other than Dudjom Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma lineage. As a friend visiting from upstate exclaimed afterward, “My first day in the Bay Area, and I get to meet the holiest man in the world!”
Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–87) was a towering figure in twentieth-century Tibetan Buddhism whose many activities included helping the Tibetan exile community through the transition to diaspora and writing his authoritative history of the Nyingma school. He himself was the “mind emanation”—an incarnation or tulku—of Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904), an extraordinary lama from Tibet’s northeastern nomad lands. Subject to visions of divine beings (especially Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyel) from the age of three, Dudjom Lingpa became a charismatic teacher, treasure revealer (tertön), and celebrated author who was eventually recognized as an emanation of, among others, the Buddha’s disciple Shariputra, the great adept Saraha, and Khyeuchung Lotsawa, one of Padmasambhava’s twenty-five key pupils. He never became a monk and spent much of his life as a peripatetic yogi, traveling throughout Tibet and, it’s reputed, beyond, to various buddha realms and pure lands. At the end of his life, he is said to have passed into the distinctively tantric “rainbow body” by which an enlightened being may exit the world. His many sons and disciples shaped early twentieth-century Nyingma. And his voluminous writings—including a famous autobiography (A Clear Mirror), various treasure texts in the so-called “New Terma” tradition, inspiring spiritual songs, and lucid meditation manuals—are as influential today as when they were composed."
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