[Extracted from Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s teaching on the daily practice of Guru Rinpoche from the treasure of Terchen Barway Dorje. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, transcribed by Margaret Davis, edited by Basia Coulter. Copyright Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Peter O’Hearn.]
During the late eighth and early ninth centuries Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot Shantarakshita, and the Dharma King Trisong Detsen caused the sun of dharma to shine in Tibet. At that time, Guru Rinpoche had many disciples, of whom one of the best-known groups is renowned as the twenty-five disciples.
One of the twenty-five disciples was Nupchen Sangye Yeshe. In a prayer to his successive lives that Terchen Barway Dorje composed in response to a request by a previous Garchen Rinpoche, he points out that the source of his emanation was the bodhisattva Manjushri. Therefore the prayer begins, “Homage to the Guru Manjushri, to the Stable Wheel Manjushri,” and so on. Next mentioned in the prayer is the bodhisattva called Marutse who lived at the time of the Buddha and whose biography can be found in some of the longer biographies of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe. Then it is pointed out that the rebirth of Manjushri and the bodhisattva Marutse in Tibet was Nupchen Sangye Yeshe. He is mentioned in the prayer by the name Dorje Trison, which he bore when he served as the prime minister of the King Trisong Detsen.
During that period of the early propagation of dharma in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche bound the spirits of that land to samaya. He also empowered and taught his disciples. Among the twenty-five disciples, there were eight who were especially close disciples of Guru Rinpoche.
When the twenty-five disciples were given the Great Empowerment of the Sughata’s Assembly, which contains nine mandalas within it, these eight disciples each cast a flower into the mandala and received and practiced the dispensation on which their flower landed.
The flower of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe landed on the mandala of Manjushri Yamantaka (1), not coincidentally because he was an incarnation of Manjusri and through the practice of the Manjusri Yamantaka sadhana he achieved both common and supreme attainments. The flower of Gyalwa Choyang, who was a previous life of the Gyalwang Karmapa, landed on the mandala of the Lotus Speech (or Hayagriva) (2), because he is an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara in the form of Hayagriva. The flower of the bhikshu, Namkhe Nyingpo landed on the mandala of Shri Heruka (3). The flower of the King Trisong Detsen landed on the central mandala of the Supreme Heruka (4). The flower of Yeshe Tsogyal landed on the mandala of Vajrakilaya (5). The flower of Dorje Dudjom landed on the mandala of the Matrikas (6), which means very wrathful dakinis and of which Unsurpassable Heruka is the principal deity. The flower of Vairocana landed on the mandala of Mupa Drakngak (7), of which the deity itself is called the Powerful Black One, a form of Vajrapani. And the flower of Palgyi Dorje landed on the mandala of Jikten Chutu (8), the principle deity of which is called Subduer of the Haughty, yet another form of Vajrapani. [translator: the Supreme Heruka, the Unsurpassable Heruka, and the Shri Heruka are three different mandalas; the ninth mandala was that of Guru Vidyadhara].
Nupchen Sangye Yeshe, having received empowerment and gained siddhi, lived for a very long time. He lived through the reigns of several dharma kings into the reign of Langdarma, and he prevented the eradication of buddhadharma by Langdarma. In fact, he outlived Langdarma. So Nupchen Sangye Yeshe served the teachings in Tibet for a very long time. One of the ways in which he did this was that, like Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal, he concealed dharma teachings and other articles as terma (or treasure).
Nupchen Sangye Yeshe was later reborn as the Dharma Lord Sonam Zangpo, who was a principal lineage holder of the Barom Kagyu and one of the founders of its seat, Kyodrak Monastery in eastern Tibet. During his lifetime, an image of him had been made, of which he approved by saying, “It looks like me,” so it is called a looks-like-me image. [translator: This is what images are called when the person of whom they are made says, “It looks like me.”] And looks-like-me images are well known to speak prophecy. After the passing of Sonam Zangpo his looks-like-me image prophesied to its owner, the king of Menya, that after thirteen generations, Sonam Zangpo would be reborn as someone with the name Lion, who would spread the profound teachings of the six dharmas of Naropa.
There are different levels of the six dharmas of Naropa. There is the outer—common—variety, which is what is given in ordinary three-year retreats. And there is a more secret version, which had almost died out because it cannot be mass-marketed. And that was one of the reasons why Dharma Lord Sonam Zangpo took rebirth as Karma Chokyi Senge (Lion of Dharma), better known nowadays as Terchen Barway Dorje.
Terchen Barway Dorje, who was born in 1836, received both the long lineage and the short lineage for the secret teachings of the six dharmas of Naropa. He received the long lineage from Dungtrul Rinpoche, a great lama of the Barom Kagyu, who was and is the rebirth (or an emanation) of the mahasiddha Dombhi Heruka. Barway Dorje also received the short lineage of the six dharmas of Naropa according to the secret teachings of the Barom Kagyu in a series of visions of a dakini. The dakini’s name was Akasha Yogini (or the Yogini of Space). This dakini was the wisdom form of the human dakini Atroma, who had been the consort, disciple, and teacher of Sonam Zangpo. When she appeared in visions to Sonam Zangpo’s rebirth—Terchen Barway Dorje—she gave him the direct short lineage of the Barom Kagyu teachings in general and especially that of the six dharmas of Naropa and the mahamudra.
Barway Dorje committed all of these teachings to writing and they occupy two of the fourteen volumes of the collected works of Terchen Barway Dorje [translator: The other volumes include the nine volumes of treasure teachings, one volume of songs of Terchen Barway Dorje, one volume of his autobiography, and one volume of miscellaneous writings]. The instructions that Terchen Barway Dorje wrote down include all aspects of the six dharmas of Naropa: the physical exercises and so forth. Based on these practices, countless disciples of Barway Dorje achieved siddhi. The disciples of Barway Dorje also practiced the various practices within the nine volumes of his terma (or treasures).
At the time when Barway Dorje lived—from 1836 until 1918—many great tertöns [ed: treasure revealers] appeared. For the most part they were disciples of or had a connection with the Fourteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Thekchok Dorje. And in fact, in the case of most of them, it was Thekchok Dorje who predicted that they would become tertons. For example, one of the best-known tertöns was Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. He was a disciple of the Karmapa, Thekchok Dorje. As predicted by Thekchok Dorje, many of Chokgyur Lingpa’s thirty-seven termas have become important to the practice of the Karma Kagyu lineage. For example, at Tsurphu and other seats, a practice called The Vajrakilaya Among the Seven Profound Sadhanas is done yearly or biannually along with its ritual dance, and so on.
One of the other tertöns predicted by the Fourteenth Karmapa was Terchen Barway Dorje. Terchen Barway Dorje received from the Fourteenth Karmapa an empowerment that the Karmapa called The Embodiment of All Victors in the Three Jewels. It is a sadhana of Guru Rinpoche. When the Fourteenth Karmapa gave him this empowerment, he did it entirely from memory. He did not use a text. He gave Barway Dorje the empowerment, the transmission, and the instructions, and allowed Barway Dorje to commit it to writing. It was evident that this was a mind terma of the Fourteenth Gyalwang Karmapa himself. In the context of that empowerment, the Gyalwang Karmapa prophesied to Terchen Barway Dorje that he would also discover terma.
The first terma that Barway Dorje found was the White Khechari cycle. Khechari, or Celestial Lady, means a form of Vajrayogini. Barway Dorje kept its existence secret for twenty years until the indications of it being the right time to begin to disseminate it became evident to him. And then he began to teach it to his disciples, many of whom achieved the Khechari state, the state of the celestial being. Some of them left only a small amount of physical remains behind [at the time of death]; many others left no body behind and were able to take their bodies directly to the celestial realm. Later on Terchen Barway Dorje discovered other treasures including The Four Sadhanas of the Guru Vidyadhara, and specifically the quintessence of those, which is called The Combined Sadhana, the integration of all four into one.
As for me, as His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, who was my root guru, declared me to be a rebirth of Terchen Barway Dorje, I feel that I am much in the position of a dog bearing the name of a lion. I do not regard myself, my practice, my realization, or my learning as anything special. But once a dog starts being called a lion, he at least has the responsibility to try to roar rather than bark. His Holiness also said to me, and in fact wrote this in a letter, “Your dharma will be beneficial to many. Do not be timid in its dissemination.” [ed: visit KPL website for the exact translation of His Holiness Sixteenth Karmapa’s note to Bardor Tulku Rinpoche]. All of us of the Karma Kagyu tradition, or really of any Tibetan Buddhist tradition, regard every word of the Gyalwang Karmapa as sacred and precious as the finest gold. So, as the Gyalwang Karmapa is my root guru, I am forced to do my best to fulfill his aspirations and command. The Buddha said, “If someone even raises one paw in a gesture of half-hearted devotion to the Buddha, and casting a flower into the sky before them says, ‘May I achieve perfect buddhahood,’ their future buddhahood is, from that moment onward, absolutely certain.” Therefore, what need is there to say that if I am able to take even one small step in fulfilling the intentions and vision of my root guru, the Gyalwang Karmapa, it is worthwhile to do so. Therefore I am attempting to do as much as I can to fulfill his command, his aspiration, and his prayer. That is how we have come to be here sharing this instruction.
When I think about all of this, I think that this really has nothing to do with my own personal merit or anything like that. I kept His Holiness’ letter instructing me to disseminate the teachings of my predecessor for thirty-one years without doing anything with it because, frankly, I did not know what to do with it. After about thirty-one years, while I did not exactly have a vision of His Holiness, signs arose in dreams indicating that it was time for me to obey his command in that regard.
His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa has extremely strong aspirations to benefit people in the West. And I think that his command that I disseminate these teachings is part of that. And because of his command, it is my job and my responsibility. Because of the blessing of His Holiness’ aspiration and command, of his vision, and of Guru Rinpoche’s aspirations, I am certain that if you practice these teachings with devotion and with impartial bodhichitta for all beings, you will achieve the same result as was achieved by the disciples of Terchen Barway Dorje himself. And my certainty in this regard comes from my complete confidence in the aspiration and vision of His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa, my root guru. It is especially important to remember the saying, “Dharma has no owner.” [That means] that dharma is “owned” by those who practice it with the greatest diligence. When you practice, do not practice out of pride or fixation. Practice with devotion motivated by bodhichitta. And I am certain that if you practice the treasures of Terchen Barway Dorje in that way, no matter who you are, you will gain accomplishment."