Trijang Rinpoche was considered an emanation of Vajra Yogini by the Tibetans and his first incarnation was the Chariot Driver Chandra of Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Chandra was the person that escorted Shakyamuni out of the palace for the last time and into the forest to start his spiritual path. Chandra exchanged his clothes with Shakyamuni before he bade Shakyamuni goodbye. Shakyamuni had left the palace for good and renounced his worldy position to become the Buddha.
Trijang Rinpoche’s father, Tserin Dondrub, was descended from the uncle of the 7th Dalai Lama, Losang Kelsang Gyatso, and was knowledgeable in religion. His mother, Tsering Drolma, came from the village of Gungtang Nanggong. Trijang Rinpoche was born in Gungtang in the winter of 1901, the “Year of Increase” or the “Iron Bull year”. Allegedly, an apricot tree flowered and had 30 apricots at his birth even though it was deep winter. Before he could walk, he showed great interest in religious paintings, statues, and Tantric ritual implements; and would make as if he was reciting prayers.
When news of his precocious actions reached Ngarampa Losang Tendar and Geshe Gendun Dragpa Chen, who were responsible for finding the reincarnation of Losang Tsultrim Palden, who was the Ganden Tripa and former Trijang Rinpoche, they travelled to his birth place of Gungtang. When the child saw them, he yelled out: “Gendun Dragpa!” and later asked him to wash his feet. Gendun Dragpa used to wash the feet of Losang Tsultrim Palden when he had rheumatism. The child also correctly identified the former Trijang Rinpoche’s private Buddha statue, rosary and bowl from among a selection. This and other signs led the search party to conclude that they had probably found the correct incarnation. Upon being given a list of names of several boys who had shown encouraging signs, the 13th Dalai Lama said:
“It would be best to recognize the boy born to the Gungtang girl Tsering Drolma in the Iron Bull year as the reincarnation of the former occupant of the Ganden throne.”
He was invited by the 13th Dalai Lama to the Lhasa Trijang residence in 1904, at the age of 3. He quickly and easily learnt to read, study and comprehend what he was taught, from the alphabet onward.
In 1906, aged 5, he moved to the Trijang Residence at Chusang Ritroe, where he met Pabongka Rinpoche. From him he received his first teaching, Set of Initiations into Manjushri from the Secret Lineage of Tsongkhapa. Pabongka Rinpoche took great delight in caring for the young child. Their strong connection was to last a lifetime and he became Pabongka Rinpoche’s closest disciple.
In 1907, aged 6, he went to Gepel Ling Monastery at Reteng, the birthplace of the Kadampa teachings. There he took the five lay Pratimoksha vows and the ten novice vows of a monk, receiving the name Losang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso Pelsangpo. He then memorized many Buddhist texts, including over half of Madhyamakavatara by Chandrakirti, and analyzed their meaning.
When he was 9 he contracted smallpox and did long-life retreat. The illness did not become serious.
Later he visited Ganden monastery, and was received by the Shartse and Jangtse abbots, whom he apparently recognized, along with the main temple, without introduction.
He spent the next 12 years studying the classical texts for the Geshe degree — Pramanavartika, Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya and Abhidharmakosha — principally according to the textbooks by Panchen Sonam Dragpa. He also studied the collected works of Je Tsongkhapa, the 1st Dalai Lama, and the Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen.
At Ganden, he would debate all night outdoors in the bitter cold, even though it meant his hands would chap so badly that they would crack and bleed. He was the top student in his class. In 1908, he received Kalachakra initiation from Serkong Rinpoche, as well as empowerments into Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani. Later he received empowerments of Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Heruka and Vajrayogini. He also continued to receive instructions and initiations from Pabongka Rinpoche, including the Collected Works of Gyalwa Ensapa, the Collected Works of Panchen Chokyi Gyaltsen, and a Guru yoga of Je Tsongkhapa called Ganden Lha Gya Ma (“Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land”).
He received the “Empowerment into the Six Ways to Revolve the Chakras of Heruka” (including the full initiation costume of bone ornaments) as well as all the Action Tantra empowerments from Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso, the 88th Ganden Tripa, in 1915, aged 14. In 1916, aged 15, he studied the complete Tibetan grammar and from then on composed thousands of acrostic verses, such as:
“Ah Friends! While the spittle drools from the Death Lord’s smile, bleaching your head as white as falling snow, ould this tedious life yield aught but chaff? Dharma from my Guru is what I’ll practice!”
He also composed chants for spiritual practices and ceremonies and scores for their music for use by Ganden Shartse monastery.
He was a learned scholar and master debator. In 1919, when he was only 18, he debated before the Geshes of the three major Gelugpa monasteries for his final examination. They had wondered if he would be intellectually up to the task because he was so young and had not studied for very long, but they ended up “praising him to the skies” for the answers he gave. The 13th Dalai Lama awarded him third place, and he received the highest Geshe degree, the Lharampa.
Shortly afterward he received the 253 ordination vows of a fully-ordained monk from the 13th Dalai Lama. He was admitted to the Upper Tantric College, Gyuto, in 1919, where he studied the Root Tantra of Heruka and its commentary by Je Tsongkhapa, Illuminating all Hidden Meanings (Tib. Be dön kun säl).
From the ages of 20 to 22, Trijang Rinpoche received many teachings and empowerments from his root Guru Je Pabongka, including the initiation into the sindhura mandala of Vajrayogini according to Naropa, the Heruka body mandala empowerment according to Ghantapa, teachings on Lama Chopa (Offering to the Spiritual Guide), Gelugpa Mahamudra, the Lamrim Chenmo (great stages of the path) by Je Tsongkhapa and Seven Points of Training the Mind by Geshe Chekhawa.
After being at the Tantric College for one year, he went to Chatreng in Kham province where he listened to more teachings and in all his spare time engaged in meditative retreat on these Deities, including Yamantaka, Heruka Five Deities, Vajrayogini, Hayagriva and Avalokiteshvara. He also did his preliminary practices (Tib. ngon dro) of purifying the mind and accumulating merit in conjunction with Lama Chopa; and he meditated on Lamrim and Lojong (training the mind).
In 1924, when he was 23, Geshe Yonten of Ganden Shartse College requested him to teach. He gave the oral transmission of the Collected Works of Je Tsongkhapa and His Main Disciples to about 200 monks, followed later by granting the empowerment of Vajrayogini according to Naropa to about 60 Lamas, incarnate Lamas and monks. He was then invited by Artog Tulku of Sera Je Monastery to give empowerments of Heruka Five Deities and Hayagriva to about 200 people. In Chatreng, aged 24, he taught Lamrim to 2,000 monks and lay people and gave Avalokiteshvara empowerment. He also taught extensively on the practice of Guru Puja (Lama Chopa). He then received an invitiation to give empowerments of Guhyasamaja, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrayogini at Gangkar Monastery.
From the ages of 24 to 27, he travelled and taught extensively at many Gelugpa places of learning all over Tibet, becoming increasingly well known and teaching many thousands of monastics and lay people. He also taught at Sakyapa and Nyingmapa Centers at their request. He travelled west and gave Avalokiteshvara empowerment and teachings on Lamrim to about 3,000 monks at Jampa Ling monastery in Litang, as well as most of the local people. In the foothills of Kambo, a place sacred to Chakrasamvara, he granted initiation and led a long retreat.
In 1928, aged 27, he returned to Chatreng, and was invited by the Tantrists of Chagra Gang to give initiations into the Peaceful Form of Padmasambhava and the Six Forms of Padmasambhava According to the Old Concealed Texts. He also encouraged and helped them to repair the Chagra temple.
On his return to Lhasa later that year, he continued to visit monasteries to grant initiations and teachings, including the valleys and plains of Gyaltang. According to the author of Gangkar Rinpoche’s secret biography, Gangkar Rinpoche at this time had a vision of Trijang Rinpoche as being the reincarnation of Padmasambhava; and he performed ceremonies in his honor and presented a large number of offerings, including a sacred Heruka statue.
When he reached Lhasa he had audiences with the 13th Dalai Lama and Pabongka Rinpoche and made offerings of silver coins, grain and tea to all the monks of Ganden. He also set up a fund for the monks. The following year, aged 28, he also donated gifts to all those attending Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival; and made many offerings to the Tantric colleges.
During the next few years, until 1932, he received profound teachings from Pabongka Rinpoche, including the oral instructions of many secret Gelugpa lineages; and he also engaged in Tantric retreats. In 1932 he gave more extensive teachings at Ganden Shartse and Jangtse monasteries.
In 1933, the 13th Dalai Lama died, and Trijang Rinpoche helped Ling Rinpoche and other great Lamas from Sera monastery and Namgyal monastery consecrate the body and the reliquary. In 1936, aged 35, he granted Heruka empowerment to the monks of Ganden monastery and then made a tour of the southern district of Tibet to make offerings and give teachings. He also continued to receive instructions from Pabongka Rinpoche and made extensive offerings to Shartse and Jangtse colleges at Ganden.
After attending Je Phabongkhapa’s teachings on Lamrim Chenmo at Ganden monastery, in 1939 Trijang Rinpoche toured pilgrimage sites in India and Nepal, making extensive offerings at each place. He then went to give teachings and empowerments on Heruka, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Vajrayogini and Guru Puja at Dungkar Monastery in Dromo, and on his return he visited important sites in Tsang, including Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. In 1940 he taught the Guru Puja and Gelugpa Mahamudra to senior monks of Ganden Jangtse. In 1941 he continued to receive teachings from Je Phabongkhapa.
He also taught the 14th Dalai Lama extensively as his Junior Tutor or his root Guru. The majority of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s lineages, teachings, commentaries and practices he so kindly transmits these days are from His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Trijang Rinpoche in turn received most of these lineages and teachings from Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. It is the kindness of all our gurus no matter who we are that we are able to pass the dharma to others with great concern for their welfare.
From 1960 onward, while in exile in India, he continued to teach and initiate the Dalai Lama and many other disciples, including granting Vajrayogini empowerment in Dharamsala, and many teachings and empowerments at the newly located monasteries in Buxa, the Tantric colleges in Dalhousie, and a Tibetan monastery in Varanasi. In 1967 he taught Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land (the Guru yoga of Je Tsongkhapa according to the Segyu lineage) to hundreds of students in Dharamsala, and in 1970 he gave similar teachings in Bodh Gaya. In 1969, he gave the major empowerment of Heruka according to Luipa to around 1,000 people at the request of the Tantric colleges. In the Fall of 1971, he visited Mysore in the south of India at the request of the monks of the three major monasteries who had settled in the Tibetan camp at Mundgod, and gave extensive teachings and initiations to the monks and to lay people, and ordained hundreds of young monks. At that time he also made offerings to the Sangha and donated statues of Je Tsongkhapa and his Two Sons to the main temple of Ganden, along with tangkhas. In 1972 he gave Vajrayogini empowerment and teachings in Dharamsala to 800 monastics and lay people and in Bodhgaya. Later that year he taught at the Tibetan Studies Institute in Varanasi, and the following year he gave empowerments into Heruka and Vajrayogini to 700 people at the Tibetan monastery there.
He and the senior tutor Ling Rinpoche (HH the 14th Dalai Lama has two Main Gurus, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Ling Rinpoche) would also exchange teachings and initiations. In 1969 he taught Ling Rinpoche the Lamrim Chenmo, and in 1970 he granted him Yamantaka empowerment. In return, in 1970 he received from Ling Rinpoche the Action Tantra empowerment of Vairochana and also teachings on Lamrim Chenmo. In 1972 he gave Ling Rinpoche teachings on the Guru Puja and Yamantaka, and in return received a teaching on tormas (ritual offerings) to Yamantaka.
Although respected by Lamas in all Tibetan Buddhist schools, and even invited by them to give teachings and initiations, Trijang Rinpoche taught primarily from the Gelugpa tradition of Je Tsongkhapa. He was also the holder of the Ganden, or Geden, Oral Tradition that was passed to him in its entirety by his root Guru Pabongka Rinpoche. According to Geshe Helmut Gassner, the Dalai Lama’s translator for 17 years and one of only two ordained Western Geshes:
“The great master Pabongka was in the first half of the twentieth century the pivotal or key lineage holder of the Oral Ganden Tradition. Many other teachers before him mastered certain aspects of the tradition’s teachings, but it was Pabongka Rinpoche’s particular merit to locate and find all these partial transmissions, to learn and realize them, and bring them together once again to pass them on through a single person. In his lifetime there was hardly a significant figure of the Ganden tradition who had not been Pabongka Rinpoche’s disciple. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was the one capable of receiving and passing on the entirety of the Oral Ganden Tradition once again.”
Even the current Tibetan National Athem used in the Tibetan Settlements throughout India/Nepal was composed by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Ninety percent of the great lamas throughout the world teaching and disseminating dharma are either direct disciples of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche or His student’s. The major practices of Kalachakra, Yamantaka, Lam Rim, Mind Training, Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Vajra Yogini lineages are come directly or indirectly through Trijang Rinpoche. Trijang Rinpoche is the lineage guru for all these practices and many more too numerous to mention.