Togden Amtrin

The Brief Life Story Of Togden Amtrin, Thrinley Lodro

Togden Amtrin, was born in 1922 (although it is difficult to know the exact date) in Lhatok, Kham. He became a monk at the age of 14, taking ordination in the Drukpa Kagyu School, and was given the name Thrinley Lodro by the 7th Khamtrul Rinpoche of Khampagar Gompa, Kham. Under the guidance of his Heart Lama, Tulku Sonam Tenzin (So-Ten) Rinpoche, Togden Amtrin went off to meditate alone in caves at the age of 24. He was given the Yidam practice of Yamantaka Tro-chu to practice in retreat, which is a Yidam unique to the Drukpa Kagyu School, and not a common practice to be given out.  Amtrin-la’s other Root Guru, the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, also practiced this form of Yamantaka as his main practice, and both were given this by So-ten Rinpoche. Aside from his Yamantaka practice, Togden Amtrin was a Master of all of the heart practices of the Khampagar Drukpa including Trul-Khor (aka Tsa-Lung, physical yoga practice), the 6 Yoga’s of Naropa, and the teachings on Mahamudra. Amtrin-la also accomplished the heart practices of the Longchen Nyinthig tradition of the Nyingma lineage culminating in Dzogchen. 

Togden Amtrin proclaimed himself to be a Ka-Nying practitioner, practicing both Kagyu and Nyingma Lineage teachings. Tsoknyi Rinpoche described Togden Amtrin as being in the spiritual tradition of the Drukpa, but his practice being Nyingma, Dzogchen. At the age of 37, Amtrin-la left Tibet because of the Chinese invasion and went down through north-east India, and over to Dalhousie, in Himachal Pradesh (North-west India). Amtrin-la remained in Dalhousie, with some of the other Khampagar Togden’s and monks, until the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche found land to settle on. Khamtrul Rinpoche eventually found land in the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, and named his new Khampagar settlement Tashijong, meaning Auspicious Valley.

Once the community moved down to Tashijong every Rinpoche, Togden, Monk, Nun and Lay person helped to build this new community with their bare hands. Carrying rocks and water from the nearby river, and constructing the new gompa from scratch.  After this time Amtrin-la continued to spend periods of retreat in the caves around Tashijong, living the life of an itinerant Yogi, as well as living in the monastery retreat centre. Whilst living in and around the retreat centre, he trained young monks and future Togden’s, and also gave empowerments and teachings to the community. Once Ani Tenzin Palmo’s nunnery began to function, Togden Amtrin taught and advised her nuns on practice and retreat also.

As Togden Amtrin got older, he settled down in a small hut in the forest just outside the retreat centre in Tashijong, and in his late 70’s he moved into Popa Rinpoche’s house. Togden Amtrin rarely left his room in his later years, even refusing a request by the Queen of Bhutan to come to teach and give empowerments. Amtrin-la did however, on the request of his Korean students, visit the holy cave of Maratika in Nepal in his later years, to do Long-life practices. Amtrin-la had a natural love of teaching. Without breaking his retreat, he continued to receive anyone who wanted his guidance or advice year round. Even when my great Lama was very ill himself, he continued to see visitors every day, always displaying perfect Skilful Means, Equanimity and the power of his Wisdom.

Throughout his life Amtrin-la was a constant example of a true Dharma practitioner and great Yogi, foregoing comfort and convenience in order to practice continuously. His incredible attitude of doing whatever had to be done to continue his practice was comparable to that of Milarepa, whom Amtrin-la regularly quoted and told stories about. Secretly, I believe that Togden Amtrin was really the same as the great saint, Milarepa. There is a story from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo that illustrates Togden Amtrin’s amazing attitude: “Back in Tibet one old Togden, Amtrin, had meditated on the edge of a precipice to stop himself from falling asleep. He had lived for years on just water and tsampa, and when that ran out had salvaged what was left over from a leopards kill. One day the leopard caught him picking up the bits of a deer and had chased him. Amtrin-la, realising how attached he still was to food, had dropped the meat and returned to his cave to continue meditating on an empty stomach” (from Cave in the Snow).

Whenever one of his students asked advice on what to do with their lives, Amtrin-la always said to just practice. “Should I learn Tibetan Amtrin-la?” “Well you could, but it would be better to just practice”. Togden Amtrin also often gave quite loose advice, constantly trying to guide his students towards developing self-confidence and spiritual autonomy. He constantly displayed his profound Equanimity, and advised people from all races, ages and genders. He was completely beyond caring about form and categories, and gave you direct and simple advice. Amtrin-la enjoyed teaching greatly, and often taught from Milarepa's biography, as well as from Words of my Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche.

Togden Amtrin passed away on Friday the 1st of July 2005, on a Dakini day. A comet was observed in the vicinity of the earth at this time. Where I was living at the time, in Comboyne, New South Wales, a perfectly blue sky was on show, and a“shower of Blessings” rain fell lightly over the next few days.

Advice on Practice: a Teaching Journal from Tsoknyi Rinpoche (from Fearless Simplicity, p. 186-187)

I would like to tell a story about Amtin [Amtrin], a remarkable yogi who lives in Tashi Jong, northern India. His spiritual tradition is the Drukpa Kagyu, but his practice is Nyingma, Dzogchen, like me. When he lived in Tibet, he practiced meditation a lot and became very peaceful. He stayed in solitary retreat for six years, and the retreat situation was very comfortable, very nice. In those days, people would bring food to yogis on retreat, or the yogi had his own ingredients, he could cook up a nice little meal for himself. There was lots of firewood around; when the sun was shining it could be quite warm; and one might even see a wide-open vista of sky. There were trees all around and various animals could be seen in the forest. The yogi might have some pride: "I am practicing the Dharma. I am very happy; it is very comfortable for me here. There are no negative emotions, no difficulties, no obstacles. I'm still young." After six years, Amtin felt that his practice was going very well indeed. But then he thought, "Well, who knows, maybe this practice has just turned me into a tranquil vegetable." So he asked his master, Khamtrul Rinpoche, "Wouldn't it perhaps be better if I went to a scary place, a rough, rugged, unpleasant place?" Khamtrul Rinpoche said, "Yes, definitely, you should go to such a place," and he gave directions to a particular location.  Arriving there, Amtin found a huge cave where the sun never shone, with water trickling down the entrance. In the evening, a large flock of pigeons flew around inside, making a lot of noise while shitting down on him. The first day he didn't know what was going on. He put out various containers to collect the water trickling down, but when he drank from it, he said, "What is this? It has a strange taste." Later he realized it was urine from the pigeons.  

The cave was cold and damp, noisy, and scary at night. As he practiced there he found that his former peace of mind was tracelessly gone. He thought, "My practice has gone to pieces. Now what should I do?" And he felt that whatever he had done in the past didn't amount to much, so now he really had to practice. It was very difficult in the beginning, with the restless pigeons flying around in the dark. It was like being in the bardo, with all the turmoil and noise. Amtin tried to cultivate this inner strength of rigpa by not surrendering himself to the distraction, by not getting carried away with the noise. He trained like that over and over again. He stayed in that place for maybe another six years. And now, whatever happens, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, really doesn't affect him. He doesn't care anymore. But that doesn't mean that he ignores everything.  I believe that when Amtin dies, he probably won't have that much trouble in the bardo. For him, all emotions are, as they say, subsumed within the expanse of rigpa. In other words, he's free. Until we reach that level, we need to practice. We must grow used to this freedom. Use as a yardstick your ability to cope with whatever emotion arises. We must transcend being hijacked by the current emotion, being on the defensive against it, or trying to get rid of it. We reach this gradually, as we become more and more stable and confident in empty essence, cognizant nature, and unconfined capacity.Then we discover that the emotion does not necessarily run us over, and we don't need to get caught up in it either. We don't have to prevent or suppress the emotion. Rather, we simply allow it, spontaneously and naturally, to become an embellishment of rigpa.  

Tsoknyi Rinpoche on Togden Amtrin-la's Parinirvana: 

At the age of 84 Togden Amtin passed away peacefully in Tashi Jong, India on Friday July 1st, the 25th day of the fifth Tibetan month, Dakini day. Dorzong Rinpoche, Choegyal Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche were with him when he passed. Tsoknyi Rinpoche arrived in Tashi Jong at about 2 pm that day and went straight to Togden Amtin’s room. Choegyal Rinpoche was already there. Dorzong Rinpoche arrived a few hours later. The three of them were beside Amtin in his final hours. The atmosphere was very calm and the process of dying happened very smoothly. Earlier on Togden Amtin experienced some pain but this passed. In his final moments Togden Amtin was very much at peace, just like a flame slowly fading.From time to time he opened his eyes and his gaze was very direct and clear although he no longer had enough power in his body to speak or move. Just before Togden Amtin’s passing and at the moment of his death, Dorzong Rinpoche whispered instructions in his ear: a reminder of the natural luminosity of mind. At 7:15 pm Togden Amtin died. He remained in tugdam for one and a half days; very subtle vital signs were evident. No-one went inside his room and the outside was kept very quiet. That night under the cover of darkness the young togdens came and sat outside Amtin’s hut mingling their minds with their teacher’s as they said their silent goodbye.When Togden Amtin’s tugdam was finished, all the Rinpoches and monks at Tashi Jong came to pray and offer khatas. The atmosphere was very calm. They prayed the Mahamudra prayer and mingled their minds with their teacher’s. The lay community then arrived to pay their final respects.  Togden Amtin dedicated his life to intensive yogic training at Tashi Jong. Though traditionally togdens only pass their teachings on to the younger togdens of their lineage, through his great kindness Togden Amtin taught and gave instructions to students from all over the world. While at Tashi Jong Tsoknyi Rinpoche was fortunate enough to receive teachings from him and realize a strong karmic connection. Tsoknyi Rinpoche considered Togden Amtin to be his second Dzogchen teacher, after his father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Following Togden Amtin’s death, Khamtrul Rinpoche has agreed to officially begin teaching.

This brief account of the life and times of my Glorious Lama, Togden Amtrin was begun on Saturday the 14th of January 2006. In the Tibetan Calendar Year of 2132, the Wood Bird Year, on Amitabha Day, with a Full Moon shining. With devotion in my heart I have collected a few morsels of information about my Tsa-wai Lama, with the sincere wish that it may act to benefit anyone who may read this in the future. I offer myself at the feet of my Incredible Lama. It is extremely rare to find a being such as he in these dark times; and so with faith, I offer him my Body, Speech, and Mind; as well as everything I have ever had, and ever will have, in order for him to transform them into the Perfected state. With deep yearning I implore my precious Lama to rest forever at the the centre of my heart.  

- Jamyang Tenphel

Togden Amtrin's Kudung

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