by Adrienne Chan
On April 29, 2016, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche entered Thukdam, a “Clear Light Stage” of meditation, an exalted state where realized practitioners go when they pass. Upon receiving information that Dagchen Rinpoche had passed, H.H. Sakya Trizin Rinpoche immediately paused his teachings on the east coast of the U.S. and came to Seattle to lead the profound Thukdam vigil prayers. Dagchen Rinpoche’s grandsons, Khöndung Avikrita Rinpoche, Khöndung Abhaya Rinpoche and Khöndung Asanga Rinpoche quickly left India to come to Seattle and join the Thukdam prayers. The vigil prayers began on April 30th and continued until the Parinirvana of H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Dorje Chang on May 5, 2016. That evening, Seattle experienced a most rare and awesome celestial event; a glorious display of Northern lights surrounded Seattle. How unusual, everyone thought, as the Northern lights typically manifest in Alaska or even further north. Then it came to our attention that Dagchen Rinpoche once responded when asked by his devoted student Carolyn Massey, “What’s going to happen when you die?” He nonchalantly replied, “I will show fireworks.” The sighting of the Northern lights was incredible. It was so like Rinpoche—unassuming but powerful. Tibetans called such realized masters “druthop,” a person of great spiritual power and strength.
H.H. Sakya Trizin Rinpoche appointed Khenpo Kunga Dondrup from Sakya Pema Ts’al Monastery, Nepal, to lead in the preparation of the Holy Body “ku dhung” so that on May 6, 2016, the ritually prepared Holy Body was placed into a beautifully decorated palanquin built by John Vichoreck. The Holy Body was then transferred from the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang to the Monastery for the traditional 49 days of prayers. The Holy Body remained in its palanquin at the Monastery in front of H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang’s throne for 3 days. During that time, the royal family, lamas, tulkus, members and friends were able to view and pay their respects. After 3 days, the Holy Body was carefully placed into a special, decorated mortuary near the altar. Before H.H. Trizin Rinpoche returned to the east coast to resume his May 8th teachings, he appointed Khöndungs Avikrita Rinpoche, Abhaya Rinpoche and Asanga Rinpoche to assume leadership of the remaining 47 days of ritual services. Khenpo Drakpa from France was appointed Dorje Lopon or Vajra Master and Ven. Punlop Tashi Rinpoche from Taiwan assumed the role of omze (chant leader).
The glorious 49 days of prayers and services included Hevajra, Vajrakila, Guru Puja, Kunrik, and Vajrayogini pujas. On the 49th day, June 23, 2016, traditional prayers concluded with a Grand Tsok and in the evening, a majestic candlelight vigil. Many of these devotional prayer services were highlighted by amazing celestial sightings and miraculous personal stories. H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Dorje Chang was truly a Buddha. In life and in parinirvana, he taught us the power of compassion, prayer, faith, and humility.
On November 5, 2016, the Holy Body, the entire royal Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang family, Ven. Khenpo Jampa Tenphel, and Monastery members journeyed to India for the sacred cremation. It was our beloved guru’s wish to be cremated in India, the holy site of Lord Buddha’s teachings and parinirvana. At New Delhi airport, the Holy Body was placed into a holy palanquin and escorted in a truck surrounded by hanging garlands of gorgeous marigold flowers and topped with a royal golden umbrella of a Sakya Gongma. A procession was formed — in front was a flatbed truck carrying H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang’s granddaughters (Jetsun Soyang, Jetsun Dechen, Jetsun Mamaki) and his daughter-in-law Dagmo Chimey. From their truck, they tossed colorful flower petals, which paved the way for the Holy Body to travel from the airport to the Sakya Phodrang, site of the cremation. The Khöndungs of both the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang and Drolma Phodrang were in the truck with the holy palanquin. Another 7 cars joined the 20-mile procession.
On that day, hundreds of Sakya monks also arrived at the Sakya New Dehli Phodrang. They greeted the procession at the last half mile before reaching the Phodrang. A beautiful stream of maroon-robed monks with katags lined both sides of the alley as we approached our destination. Finally, the entourage stopped and amidst the sounds of welcoming cymbals, drums and gyalings (horns), the six Khöndungs carried the Holy Palanquin to the Phodrang Temple.
Three days later, H.H. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche (now the newly enthroned Sakya Trizin) led tulkus, khenpos, and monks in a 3-day practice of Vajrasattva Guru Yoga. On November 11th, H.H. Sakya Trichen (formerly H.H. Sakya Trizin) led the holy cremation rituals. He and about 100 lamas and monks performed the Hevajra puja. At the same time. H.H. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche led 100 lamas and monks in the Vajrasattva puja. Simultaneously, in the other 3 directions, H.E. Luding Khenchen Rinpoche led 100 lamas and monks in the Vajaryogini prayer. On the opposite end of the huge field, H.E. Luding Khen Rinpoche led another set of 100 lamas and monks in the Kunrik puja.
In the center of the large field was the elaborately painted Cremation Stupa, which held the Holy Body of H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang. Hence, the Holy Stupa was surrounded in the 4 directions by esteemed head lamas, and their retinues of ritual lamas and monks. The atmosphere was indeed grand and sublime. It was a majestic farewell to a Living Buddha, our beloved Guru, H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang. Over two thousand lamas, monks, nuns, devotees, distinguished dignitaries and friends attended the Sacred Cremation Ceremony. High Lamas from each sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan officials from the Tibetan government, and devotees worldwide came to pay their deepest respect to a greatly beloved holy teacher, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Dorje Chang.
According to H.E. Avikrita Sakya Rinpoche, grandson of H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang, on one occasion, he overheard a conversation between his Holy grandfather and H.H. Sakya Trichen. His Holy grandfather revealed that he felt most happy that he brought from Tibet and thus was able to share with the West the rich and profound Chenrezi meditational practice of loving kindness and compassion. H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang led the practice of Chenrezi at Sakya Monastery continually for over 30 years. Thus, in celebration of the First Anniversary of H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang’s Holy Parinirvana (passing), H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche decided it would be appropriate for lamas, devoted students and friends to gather and recite the Chenrezi Drub Choe prayers to honor H.H. Dagchen Dorje Chang.