Khenchen Jigme Puntsok was born in February 1933 during the first month of the water-bird year according to the Tibetan sexagenary cycle. He was the fifth child of a family of herders living in Zime Chole in Dokhok in the Golok region, which is now part of Qinghai Province, China. According to Khenpo Sodarjey (b.1962), his father was Chakhung Pete from the local Chakhung clan. Various sources have his mother's name as Bumo Yumtso or simply Yumtso and Yutok she was from Nubza.
In 1938 when he was five years old, Terton Wangchuk and (1918-1958) recognized him as a reincarnation of (1856-1926)
. Known also as Nyala Sogyel and Terton Sogyel Lerab Lingpa was an eclectic and highly influential tantric visionary from the eastern Tibetan area of Nyarong He was a prominent charismatic figure who engaged in a series of scriptural revelations that became instrumental in several Nyingma circles, both monastic and nonmonastic. The best known of his revealed practices is the or The reputation of Terton Sogyal's ritual efficacy reached the highest ranks of the Tibetan hierarchs in Lhasa and inspired the (1876-1933)
to request his help in suppressing the Chinese forces that threatened the Tibetan border in the early days of the twentieth century.
A second reincarnation of Terton Lerab Lingpa was identified by (1893-1959) from Dzongsar in the early 1950s in the person of Sogyal Rinpoche (1947-2019), a Tibetan Buddhist master of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism from Trehor in Kham.
Soon after his recognition, the young Jigme Puntsok entered Nubzur Monastery
in Serta a branch of Pelyul Monastery in Derge. He started his monastic career as a novice monk and received formal education in reading, chanting, and memorizing scriptures. According to his biographies, while still in his early teens Jigme Puntsok's visionary skills began to ripen, allowing him to retrieve several treasures including chests and statues.
In 1947, when he was fourteen years old, he went to study with Khenpo Sonam Rinchen from Drakdzong under whom he took monastic ordination and received the monastic name of Tubten Lekshe Zangpo. The following year, when he was approximately fifteen years old, he became increasingly interested in Dzogchen.
In 1950, when he was approximately eighteen years old, Jigme Puntsok went to receive further training under (1886-1956), also known as Tubga Rinpoche at Changma Gar in Dzato near Jekundo in today's Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. There he received extensive instructions and transmissions including ripening tantric empowerments, liberating instructions, supportive teachings, pith instructions and auxiliary instructions on Dzogchen especially “leap-over” and “break-through”, and the intermediate state. Other practices in which he received instruction included (1597-1650)'s and the sādhana of the peaceful and wrathful deities.
He received teachings and instructions from several influential teachers including (1916-1984), who taught him 's (1308-1364) and the Kālacakra empowerment. (1903-1957) taught him Madhyamaka philosophy. introduced him to the commentary to the Vinaya code of monastic discipline, and Lhatrul Rinpoche taught him the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures, logic and astrology. Other influential teachers included the (1932-2009), Lama Karcho, Khen Dawo and .
When he turned twenty-four, in 1957, Jigme Puntsok was invited to become the new abbot or “khenpo” of Nubzur Monastery. While there, he experienced several visions, revealed treasures, and opened numerous sacred sites associated with those treasures. In 1959, when he just turned twenty-nine, he established his mountain hermitage at Sengge Yanzong in Amdo and began offering many teachings on both sutric and tantric materials.
However, at this time, the assimilation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China heavily affected the lives of Tibetans, including that of Khenchen Jigme Puntsok. The social, political, and economic hardships that Tibetans faced in the following decades changed the historical course of Tibet. In all Tibetan areas, monasteries and temples were demolished and looted, holy sites desecrated, and monastics verbally and physically abused. They were accused of being remnants of old feudal ideologies and thus a hindrance to the healthy growth of a new socialist society. To avoid being affected by the political upheavals, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok left the monastery and withdrew from public life. Accompanied by a small group of faithful monks, he found refuge in a secluded area in the mountains around Serta.
There, apparently untouched by the recurrent waves of violence and destruction, the small group managed to secretly continue their practice of Dzogchen meditation while receiving teachings from Khenchen Jigme Puntsok. Despite the difficulties of the time, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's fame grew exponentially, and by the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 he was attracting increasing numbers of devotees who sought his teachings and advice.
Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's fame grew still further with his visionary activities. These culminated in the revelation of several treasures in both scriptural and material form, thereby adding additional authority to his already stellar reputation. Treasure items in the form of rock chests, yellow scrolls, and other sacred items together with scriptural teachings of visionary origin situated Khenchen Jigme Puntsok firmly within the visionary movement traditionally attributed to Padmasambhava, the eighth-century Indian mystic figure responsible for the introduction of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Pamphlets, booklets, photos, posters, DVDs, Video Discs, autobiographical materials, and audio recordings of his teachings and pins, pendants, and talismans of every kind bearing his image circulated across the Tibetan plateau, ending up on the stands around the Barkhor the circular street surrounding the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa,
among other places.
In the early 1980s, in the mountain retreat that Khenchen Jigme Puntsok developed in the mountains south of Serta named Larung Gar he dedicated most of his time to practicing and teaching Dzogchen while his fame as a virtuous practitioner and dedicated teacher attracted more and more monastics. He particularly emphasized the importance of Buddhist ethics and the Vinaya code of monastic discipline. His fame was such that he was visited by the 's (1949-1989)
, during the latter’s tour of eastern Tibet in 1980.
In 1986 Khenchen Jigme Puntsok bestowed an initiation of the Magical Net of Mañjuśrī a popular Nyingma tantra. It is said that as he recited the invitation of the tutelary deity, the deity announced to him that if he went to
the mountain in China sacred to Mañjuśrī, it would be beneficial to Buddhism and human beings. As the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Mañjuśrī is a highly venerated deity in the Mahāyāna tradition and is understood to have a special connection with the Chinese Buddhist community.
The following year, in 1987, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok set off on a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan with the intention of strengthening his connection to the bodhisattva and revitalizing Buddhist practice in China. There, he gave teachings to a crowd of several thousand people including Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian devotees. The visit to Wutai Shan boosted Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's popularity beyond the borders of Tibet and helped open Tibetan Buddhism to Han Chinese devotees.
On his visit to Beijing the same year he again met with the Tenth Paṇchen Lama,
who bestowed teachings on the Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva and officially endorsed Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's establishment in Serta. He blessed Larung Gar and bestowed its official name Serta Larung Ngarik Nangten Lobling or Serta Larung Five Science Buddhist Academy.
The following year, in 1988, on the invitation of the Paṇchen Lama, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok travelled to Beijing to teach at the Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies. For two months he offered teachings on the philosophical views and the liturgical scriptures from the Nyingma Gyubum to monks from all the major traditions including Geluk, Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu, Jonang, and Bon. He also gave general teachings to many Han Chinese lay followers.
The same year, the Tenth Paṇchen Lama invited him to join him in central Tibet for the occasion of a consecration ritual. Khenchen Jigme Puntsok accompanied him on what turned out to be a momentous pilgrimage tour. He visited several of the epicenters of Buddhist devotion including the Potala Palace, the Norbulinka, and Nechung monastery among other sites. He also proceeded to Sakya and Tashilhunpo Monastery, the historical seat of the Paṇchen Lama. On a later leg of the journey, he reached Samye monastery in Lhokha. His biographies record that on his way to this site on horseback, he experienced intense visions that announced imminent treasure revelations.
While at Chimpu retreat center, for instance, one of the core sacred places associated with Padmasambhava, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok retrieved several treasure chests and scriptures. He also retrieved a single abridged version of tantras, statement, and pith-instructions on development and perfection stages and Dzogchen that were said to have been hid by Padmasambhava in a rock chest in the shape of an auspicious conch shell, and then put it in the hands of who eventually concealed it in the rocks.
In 1990 the and Penor Rinpoche invited Khenchen Jigme Puntsok to Nepal and India. While in Nepal he went on pilgrimage to Yanglesho, the site of a cave where Padmasambhava resided on his way to Tibet. There, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok revealed some treasures associated with Padmasambhava including the cycle of the , the
. In Dharamsala, the site of the Tibetan government in exile, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok met the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and many Buddhist hierarchs residing in the area. During a series of formal exchanges of praises and gifts, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok gave Dzogchen teachings and bestowed the initiation to the Dalai Lama
. During the ritual, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok is said to have received further visions that included the , for which the Dalai Lama wrote an additional section on his behalf.
That same year, on the invitation of the then-Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Tsering Yangdon Wangchuck
Khenchen Jigme Puntsok also visited Bhutan. There he journeyed to major sacred sites and offered teachings and instructions to King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
. In 1993, Khenchen Jigme Puntsok set off on another journey and visited several Asian and Western countries including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, England, Germany, Canada, and the United States. In all these countries, he gave initiations, instructions, and advice to different Buddhist communities.
Among Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's numerous achievements, Larung Gar, the mountain retreat center he developed in the early 1980s ranks highly. Larung Gar is a landmark of his commitment to disseminate Buddhism in an ecumenical fashion, to strengthen monasticism and Buddhist ethics, and to heighten religious education and Tibetan traditional culture. It was originally founded as a mountain hermitage in 1880 by the treasure revealer (1835-1904)
, who disseminated teachings and practices to his followers there. Among the many yogis who resided at the same site was (1872-1952), a disciple of Terton Lerab Lingpa.
Khenchen Jigme Puntsok took over the site in the summer of 1980 and maintained it as a Tibetan Buddhist encampment a mobile community traditionally inhabited by followers and devotees gathered around a charismatic Buddhist master. He opened a small seminary college and a retreat center and began to offer teachings and commentaries on a variety of sutric and tantric scriptures. Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's charisma and erudition gradually attracted large numbers of religious devotees to Larung Gar, and the curriculum soon expanded to include grammar, philology, epistemology, reasoning, monastic discipline, Madhyamaka philosophy, mind-training, tantric textual commentaries, Dzogchen, and pith instructions. The Tenth Paṇchen Lama's endorsement and Khenchen Jigme Puntshok's vision helped make Larung Gar one of the most popular centers of Buddhist learning in twentieth-century Tibet, and his example reinvigorated the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, inspiring several Nyingma encampments to develop across Eastern Tibet.
The importance that Khenchen Jigme Puntsok attached to knowledge and contemplative achievements is reflected in his dedication to rigorous monastic learning, the Vinaya code of conduct, and a commitment to an ecumenical system of teaching, in which students from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism were welcome. He also actively engaged in a wide range of activities including opening and consecrating Buddhist sites, performing rituals of animal life liberation, making statements of respect for nature, wildlife, and the environment, and offering secular advice to lay people including a growing following of Han Chinese. Some of his thoughts were collected in a few short publications including and the .
His own monastic values and his commitment to reinvigorate the monastic code of discipline, depleted by decades of political turmoil in the land, contributed to Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's critical view of some expedient means of tantric practice. For example, though he embraced the role of treasure revealer, he never agreed to perform sexual yoga with a female partner even when prescribed in some of his own visions. Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's critical stance on having a consort often caused animosity in eastern Tibet among some noncelibate treasure revealers and Buddhist teachers who felt unjustly reprimanded by him.
By the 1990s Larung Gar had become one of the largest Buddhist establishments in Tibet. From 1995 to 2000 the total population reached approximately 10,000 people. These included monks and nuns, Tibetan and Chinese lay devotees, and noncelibate tantric practitioners. The encampment was gradually divided into four major religious divisions: Ngarik Nangten Lobling, The International Religious Committee, Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery and Lektso Charpeb Ling the lay practitioners' complex. Seminary teachers or “khenpos” were in charge of each division, which included several thousand students aspiring to become khenpo or khenmo (the male or female version of the title, respectively). Some of Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's closest disciples became prominent at Larung Gar, including Khenpo Tendzin Gyatso, who is a currently the supervising abbot, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro who is now the administrative leader of Larung Gar, and Khenpo Sodarjey, who is one of the leading instructors of growing numbers of Han Chinese devotees and maintains a busy schedule of domestic and international travel. Jetsunma Mume Yeshe Tsomo, Khenpo Jigme Puntsok's niece, herself a nun and a recognized manifestation of Khandro Mingyur Pelkyi Dronma, is at the head of the nun community. She offers teachings to the resident nuns who by the late 1990s numbered approximately 5,000 individuals.
One of the key characteristics of Larung Gar is its international diversity of students. Among its resident students are not just Tibetans, but also Chinese and Mongolians who benefit from on-site translation and publication services. Han Chinese monastics who have resided and visited Larung Gar over the past decade come from mainland China and other Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, and India. In addition, the ecumenical nature of Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's approach to Buddhist culture and learning attracted Tibetan monastics from all the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
The fast and unrestrained growth of the site and its population has often caused concern among the local authorities. Despite -- or perhaps due to -- the success of Larung Gar as a major center of Buddhist learning, ethics, and cultural development, between 2001 and 2004 three waves of government crackdowns and demolitions severely affected the community. Under orders of the Religious Affairs Bureau, work teams of police officers and construction workers entered Larung Gar and expelled several thousands monastics who resided there without official permits. At least a thousand monastic quarters were demolished and as many as two thousands monastics including both nuns and monks were forced to evacuate the establishment and ordered to return to their home monasteries.
Those who were allowed to remain at Larung Gar were officially granted permission to reside at the establishment and provided state identifications.
Khenchen Jigme Puntsok died on January 7, 2004 at the Military Hospital 363 in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Among his closest disciples not mentioned above were Khenpo Namdrol Tsering, , and Achuk Khenpo Drubwang Lungtok Gyeltsen (1927-2011).
To date, Larung Gar continues to attract hundreds of monastics and lay practitioners as residents as well as large numbers of pilgrims who come to visit the sacred site. Several khenpos are in charge of various scholastic and experiential classes emphasizing textual study and the practice of ritual and meditation. The current director of the center, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro runs the administrative aspects of the institution, aided by his closest colleagues Tendzin Gyatso Rinpoche and Khenpo
Since 2004, despite the departure of its founder and charismatic leader, the institution has continued to thrive thanks in part to the work of Khenchen Jigme Puntsok's closest disciples and the support of the Tibetan community of devotees. This, in addition to the consistent participation of many Han Chinese devotees coming to Larung Gar for teachings, instructions, and blessings from various khenpos, contributes to the continuing vitality of Khenchen Jigme Puntsok’s legacy.
Courtesy: Tressury of Lives