The 19th and 20th centuries were eras when a throng of great, accomplished Dharma masters lived in Tibet; if we name a few: Dza Patrul Rinpoche, Jamgon Mipham, Khenpo Ngagchung, and so forth. An extraordinary Dzogchen master Dudjom Lingpa also lived around this time. It is hard to describe him in a few words. The one thing that I must write is that he was unique among his peers. He was a terton, or treasure discoverer, who revealed many profound teachings and sadhanas from mystical realms. They are very much alive with many people who practice them now more than ever, and Dudjom Lingpa’s legacy continues inside and outside of Tibet.
The life of Dudjom Lingpa was unique and inspiring. For quite a long time, he lived as an ordinary person, since he wasn’t part of any existing religious institution. It is said that he served as a sheepherder for a wealthy family in the Golok region of eastern Tibet. At some point, people began to recognize him as a terton and spiritual master. During his lifetime, many people, both lay and monastic, became his disciples. Dudjom Lingpa became a household name in various parts of Tibet. During his life, Dudjom Lingpa made his residence at different places—one of them is where the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Larung Gar, is now situated, built by His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok in the 1980s.
What makes Dudjom Lingpa special among other well-known Buddhist masters? Traditionally, masters study with a guru who is an authoritative master representing a lineage. Dudjom Lingpa said that he didn’t have any human gurus in his life. In other words, he was regarded as a self-awakened master. Although this is considered quite unusual, because of his brilliant and extraordinary teachings, the Buddhist establishment came to validate Dudjom Lingpa as a true mahasiddha. Many high lamas took him as their guru. Some of them were well-known scholars who wrote commentaries on his teachings, such as Lingtrul Pema Lungtok Gyatso.
Dudjom Lingpa was a powerful master whose teachings were said to enlighten many people, some of whom were laypeople whose names have been forgotten. Today, you can go to eastern Tibet and visit places where Dudjom Lingpa and some of his disciples conducted meditation retreats. For example, there is a cave where Dudjom Lingpa undertook a meditation retreat near Drugang Monastery in Golok. He began writing down his treasury teachings, or tercho, at Tashi Gakyil Monastery, where he became known as a terton. I spent quite a lot of time there and heard many anecdotes about his life. I remember marveling at knowing that I was walking the same ground upon which Dudjom Lingpa might have placed his own feet. There was tremendous joy from such an image, accompanied by my reverence toward him.
Among all of his revelatory writings, the sadhana of Troma is perhaps the most popular. These days, a great number of yogis are practicing it in different parts of Asia: Tibet, Nepal, India, and Bhutan. This sadhana is a fusion of Chod and Dzogchen; its words are poetic and its meaning is profound. It is said that Dudjom Lingpa knew that his teachings were going to reach out to many in the future, and this vision has already come true. Outside of Asia, there are Buddhist communities in the West who are deeply committed to his lineage, which is called Dudjom Tersar.
Personally, I have been working on translating some of Dudjom Lingpa’s revelatory writings with a few of my friends. The profundity of the writings has inspired me. I feel that I have received blessings from reading these texts, and they have impacted my understanding of the Dharma and reality. There is something so refreshing about his teaching. It carries a timeless truth in beautiful language not shrouded in rigid and dualistic doctrine. Dudjom Lingpa’s mind was as vast as the sky; his insight beyond the confines of manmade dogma. I find that his teachings are so profound that they can set our mind free if we truly understand them.
While a highly revered tantric master, Dudjom Lingpa was also a family man who raised several children. One of them was Dodrubchen Jigme Tenpai Nyima, who was both a yogi and a scholar; his writings are popular among Tibetan Buddhists. Another son was Drimed Odser, an extraordinary Dzogchen master who taught his father’s lineage to many disciples.
In short, Dudjom Lingpa was more than a great master. Unique in many ways, his life and teachings gave many the aspiration to think outside of the spiritual box and to trust in one’s innate intelligence. He is a role model who can help us to not become stuck in rigid systems that often create impediments to individual creativity or anything that is original. I am profoundly thankful that Dudjom Lingpa was in the world to be a guide to the light and a source of blessings for many like myself.