The eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche was born in 1910, as Gangri Butruk, in Markham, Tibet. The Gangris had once been a prominent local family, but by his parent’s generation, feuding and losses had reduced them to simple farmers. When for several years bad weather destroyed their harvest, the family was made homeless and forced to beg for food. Despite the early hardship, his parents worked tirelessly and eventually were able to acquire a small house and land, which they wanted their son to inherit, to carry on the family name. However, from a very young age, there were signs that Butruk was different. He would regularly sit cross-legged, as if in a meditation posture, and pretend to teach the Dharma to other children. Butruk was determined to become a monk, but when he was fifteen, his parents arranged a profitable marriage to a local girl called Pema Lhatso.
Yet Butruk was not intended for an ordinary life. At the age of eighteen, he had a vision in a dream of a female spirit who said to him, “Oh, Gangri, samsara is a nest of snakes, attachment is a spell and a beautiful woman is but an illusory dream.” She pointed to the East and told him to “Have no doubt and go there!” He immediately ran away from home.
Rechungpa, my son who is like my heart,
listen to this song of instruction, which is my final testament.
In the ocean of the three realms of samsara,
this illusory body is very sinful.
It tries to fulfill its attachment to food and clothes
and can never abandon worldly activities.
At first he headed to Pongri Monastery, where he felt great happiness at meeting the renowned master, Karma Lingpa. Butruk had nothing to offer Karma Lingpa except flowers to represent his faith and a prayer of aspiration. Karma Lingpa agreed to teach him and gave him the name Karma Rinchen. He sent him to Changkah Monastery, where he took the vows of monastic ordination from Trinlay Gyamtso (Trophu Kagyu Khenpo) and stayed for thirteen years, studying and meditating on the complete meaning of sutras. He then returned to Karma Lingpa and went into retreat, practicing and mastering many profound and secret tantric meditations and teachings. Karma Lingpa and Trinlay Gyamtso transmitted the Martsang Kagyu teaching to Butruk and after two years on retreat, Karma Lingpa recognized him to be the rebirth of Drogön Rinchen, and instructed him to return to his homeland to continue his practice and teach for the benefit of others.
From this point, Rinpoche spent the rest of his life in mountain caves and retreat huts, enduring much hardship, while meditating day and night. To survive in near isolation, he mastered longevity practices that sustained him for long periods, while he ate only grains, flowers, stones and herbs. To withstand the icy conditions of the Himalayan mountaintops, he practiced inner heat meditation, allowing him to stay warm and melt the snow around him. He would never stay in one place for too long and, although he performed blessings and rituals for the sick and poor, he eschewed attention and fame, preferring to teach small groups of dedicated disciples. His primary student was Chödrak Gyamtso, a local boy who visited him at Mount Ukori and practiced with him until the end of his life.
Rinpoche dedicated his life to mastering the highest-level of tantric meditation and there were many exceptional signs and accomplishments reported by his students, such as seeing rainbows appearing inside his meditation cave and numerous birds and animals visiting him without fear. Rinpoche gained great mastery over his physical body and inner channels, such that he was reported to fly across the mountain ranges. This sight became so common at Mount Ukori, that the local herdsman barely paid notice when they saw the lama soar through the sky.
At Nego Mountain, Rinpoche achieved the rainbow body transference, a sign of attaining complete realization and at Mount Dekpön, his student witnessed him transform himself into Chakrasamvara, a blue deity with four faces and twelve arms. Another famous story, which is still told by local people to this day, speaks of a sudden and fierce storm that gathered while Rinpoche was meditating with his students in the mountains. Suddenly, Rinpoche was struck directly by a bolt of lightning and while his students ran and hid for cover, Rinpoche remained in meditation, completely undisturbed and unharmed.
Even though he was encircled by red thunderbolts,
the yogin who had attained the rainbow body,
bound the poisonous sky sorcery of the gyalpo and sinpo demons:
that is the heroic act of Rechung Karma.
In 1958, as the Chinese tightened control over Tibet, Rinpoche realized that his way of life was nearing an end. In December of that year, he gather his students and arranged many silver offering bowls outside his mountain cave and for one week offered a thousand butter lamps while performing elaborate practices and rituals. When he finished, he said to his pupils, “You must all return home. The time when Dharma practitioners can roam the mountains is coming to an end.” Rinpoche was subsequently shot at and arrested by Chinese soldiers.
Upon his release, Rinpoche told his students that he wanted to go to Khata Mountain and that this would be the last place he would visit. On the way, they stopped at Yukpo village where one of Rinpoche’s students, Pema Gyamsto, lived. As they passed this house, a dog leapt in front of him and barked. Rinpoche pointed his finger at the dog and said, “Don’t bark at me. Recognize me next time I come to your home.” The dog seemed to understand and although his students did not know at the time, this was to be the birthplace of his reincarnation.
On 25th January 1959, after reaching Khata Mountain, he said to his pupils, “Don’t worry, its time for me to leave.” He turned to Chödrak Gyamtso and said, “Can you look after my rebirth when he comes?” But the wind was blowing loudly and Chödrak couldn’t hear him and asked him to repeat his question. Rinpoche responded, “This isn’t time for you to understand,” turned to the south in a meditation posture and passed away. Only years later would Chödrak recall these words and realize their significance.
Some of ringsels of the Eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche
As Rinpoche left his physical body, it shrunk to the size of a five-year-old child. His students were fearful that the communist army would take his body and so decided to cremate him. Upon lighting the firewood, his body burned like a torch and generated smoke that was the colours of the rainbow and lingered in the sky, before stretching out like a chord in the direction of Yukpo village. Many ringsel, pearl-like gemstones, were found in the ashes of the fire and at the cremation site.