Khandro Tare Lhamo (1938-2002)

  L to R: Namtrul Rinpoche, Yangsi Dudjom Rinpoche, Khandro Tare Lhamo

L to R: Namtrul Rinpoche, Yangsi Dudjom Rinpoche, Khandro Tare Lhamo


Tare Lhamo was an important and well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the Golog region of Tibet during much of the last century. She was born into a religious family, endured hardships during the famine of the late 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution, and went on to become a revealer of terma, spiritual teachings received in visions.

Khandro Tare Lhamo was born in 1938 to Apang Terton, a locally renowned terton [revealer of visionary teachings] in the region of Golog. She grew up very much in an esoteric milieu and trained with some of the great masters of her time.”

“She was able to receive esoteric instructions, but not the kind of training that a male teacher would receive. She didn’t, for example, have any scholastic training. She could read Tibetan, but couldn’t compose in Tibetan, so all of her writings were dictated to a scribe.”

“Later, she was labeled a ‘black hat’ [by the invading Chinese Communists] and was assigned to manual labor. She lived mainly as a nomad and herder during the years from 1958 to 1978, approximately, and her three brothers and first husband were imprisoned and died.”

“Her first son died later, more in the time period of the Cultural Revolution. So she did undergo quite a bit of hardship. At the same time, her biography records many of the miracles she performed during that time. She served as a beacon of hope for her local community as their khandroma, or local female saint, who was able to intervene in times of trouble, sometimes cooking rice in a kind of loaves-and-fishes miracle. Just a handful of rice would feed a whole group. She also met privately with people, sometimes performing phowa [special rituals] for the dead.
She initiated her correspondence [with her future husband, Namtrul Jigme Phuntsog] based on prophecy, and they corresponded for over two years. Travel was extremely difficult at that time between province borders. She was in Marko in Padma county in Qinghai, and he was in Serta in Kardze county in Sichuan. But their letters were taken by a messenger.”

“They exchanged 58 letters, quite a large number, over two years. Lots of prophecies are contained about their destiny to become consorts and to help revive the Buddhist teachings after there had been a nearly 20-year hiatus. But their letters also contain wonderful expressions of affection, so they’re quite a delight to read and are also very much in an Amdo song style—very local and colorful.”

“They definitely traveled and taught as a couple, and they revealed their terma [visionary teachings] as a couple. They very much worked as partners, and they taught side by side, giving tantric initiations sitting next to each other on thrones.

See also:…/Khandro%20T%C4%81re%20Lh…

Excerpted from: Holly Gayley, Agency and the Rhetoric of Destiny: Narrating the Buddhist Revival in the Life and Writings of Khandro Tāre Lhamo (1938–2002) and Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok (1944-2011).

To read about Khandro Tāre Lhamo as an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal, visit:

Young Tare Lhamo_pe.jpg

Khandro Tāre Lhamo (mkha' 'gro tA re lha mo) was born in the earth tiger year of 1938 in the valley of Bokyi Yumolung ('bos kyi yu mo lung) in the nomadic region of Golok (mgo log). Her father was a prominent terton or "treasure revealer" (gter ston) of the Apang (a phang) family, named Apang Terchen Pawo Choying Dorje (a phang gter chen dpa' bo chos dbyings rdo rje, 1895–1945), alias Orgyen Trinle Lingpa (o rgyan 'phrin las gling pa). Her mother, Damtsik Drolma (dam tshig sgrol ma), was the daughter of a local chieftain and recognized as a speech emanation of Yeshe Tsogyel (ye shes mtsho rgyal).

Numerous prophecies accompanied Tāre Lhamo's birth, delivered by prominent figures such as Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (bdud 'joms rin po che 'jigs bral ye shes rdo rje, 1904-1987). Based on such prophecies, Tāre Lhamo was recognized at an early age as the emanation of two local figures of the preceding generation, one male and one female, namely Tra Gelong Tsultrim Lodro (khra dge slong tshul khrims blo gros, 1866-1937) and Sera Khandro (se ra mkha' 'gro, 1892-1940), also known as Uza Khandro Dewe Dorje (dbus bza' mkha' 'gro bde ba'i rdo rje). The later identification is somewhat anomalous, as Sera Khandro did not pass away until two years after the birth of Tāre Lhamo. There is no record of Tāre Lhamo receiving or transmitting the teachings of these figures, nor was she enthroned formally as an incarnation of either one. As a child, she received some of the possessions of Tra Gelong and was invited to train at his monastery as a nun. However, she refused and decided to remain a householder and continue to live with her family. Like her mother, she was also identified as an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyel.

In her youth, she studied closely with her father, Apang Terchen, even revealing a treasure (gter ma) with him as a child. From him, she received transmissions for the Nyingtik Yabzhi (snying thig ya bzhi) and his entire corpus of treasure revelations before he passed away in 1945, when she was only nine years old (by Tibetan reckoning, eight years old by the international standard). In line with the common Nyingma practice of passing teachings through the family, Tāre Lhamo and her brothers became the holders of her father's lineage. Her brothers, all recognized as reincarnate lamas, were Gyurme Dorje ('gyur med rdo rje, b. 1928), Wangchen Nyima (dbang chen nyi ma, b. 1931), and Tubten Chokyi Nyima (thub bstan chos kyi nyi ma, b. circa 1939). Wangchen Nyima succeeded his father as the head of Tsimda Gompa (rtsis mda' dgon pa), the monastery that Apang Terchen founded in 1925 in Markhok (smar khog) in Padma County of Golok.

During the rest of her youth and early adulthood, Tāre Lhamo traveled with her mother, Damtsik Drolma, to sacred sites in Golok and received teachings from the preeminent lamas of her day. Her two main teachers were the Fourth Dodrubchen Rigdzin Jalu Dorje (rdo grub chen 04 rig 'dzin 'ja' lus rdo rje, 1927-1961) and Dzongter Kunzang Nyima (rdzong gter kun bzang nyi ma, 1904-1958), the grandson and speech emanation of the renowned terton, Dudjom Lingpa (bdud 'joms gling pa, 1835-1904). From Rigdzin Jalu Dorje, she received oral instructions on the Nyingtik Yabzhi. From Dzongter Kunzang Nyima, she received the empowerment, authorization, and instructions for his entire treasure corpus, as well as that of Dudjom Lingpa, and he appointed her the treasure custodian (chos bdag) of his Yeshe Tsogyel cycle. From a young age, according to her biography, she began revealing treasures in the form of caskets and yellow scrolls, and he appointed her the treasure custodian (chos bdag) for his sādhana of Yeshe Tsogyel.

At the age of twenty (by Tibetan reckoning), she joined the encampment of Dzongter Kunzang Nyima at Rizab (ri zab) and married his son, Mingyur Dorje (mi 'gyur rdo rje, 1934-1959), alias Pema Osel Nyingpo (pad ma 'od gsal snying po). In their short time together, they had a son, Wangchuk Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje), nicknamed Tulku Ngaro (sprul sku nga ro). During the socialist transformation of Golok in the late 1950s, under Chinese Communist rule, Tulku Milo and Tāre Lhamo's three brothers were taken into prison, along with other religious elites, where they eventually passed away. Tāre Lhamo was spared imprisonment, likely due to her gender, as were the younger lamas who were only teenagers at the time. At the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), her son died of illness and following that her mother died of old age, leaving Tāre Lhamo bereft.

In 1978, Tāre Lhamo initiated a correspondence with Namtrul Rinpoche Jigme Puntsok (nam sprul rin po che 'jigs med phun tshogs, 1944-2011), a lama six years her junior who lived across province borders in Serta County (gser rta rdzong) of Sichuan Province. After more than a year of exchanging letters, she left her homeland of Padma County in Qinghai Province to join Namtrul Rinpoche in Serta, where the couple lived together until her death in 2002. Together, they rebuilt Nyenlung Monastery (snyan lung dgon pa) in his homeland, along with Rigdzin Nyima (rig 'dzin nyi ma), a lama who had occupied the site as a hermitage and remained close to the couple. Although Tāre Lhamo relinquished her birthright to serve as the head of Tsimda Gompa by leaving Padma County, she and Namtrul Rinpoche continued to serve as principle teachers there, and she played an important role in reconstructing the monastery.

In 1980, Khenpo Jigme Puntsok (mkhan po 'jigs med phun tshogs, 1933-2004) gave Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche the transmission for Apang Terchen's treasure corpus, which she had received as a child directly from her father, and encouraged them to propagate it widely. Later in 1986, he authorized the couple as tertons and bestowed the transmission for the treasure corpus of Lerab Lingpa (las rab gling pa, 1856-1926), his own previous incarnation. In 1987, Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche joined his entourage of approximately 10,000 on a historic pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, the sacred domain of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī in Shanxi Province, where the couple revealed a Sarasvatī sādhana.

In 1990, Dola Chokyi Nyima (mdo bla chos kyi nyi ma) gave them the transmission for the treasure corpus of his father, Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, and authorized them to disseminate its transmission. Shortly thereafter, Tāre Lhamo garnered international attention for recognizing Dola Chokyi Nyima's son as one of two reincarnations of Dudjom Rinpoche.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche revealed treasures together and taught widely throughout the region of Golok and beyond. During their teaching career, they held and transmitted three principle treasure collections: their own treasure corpus in twelve volumes, that of her father Apang Terchen in sixteen volumes, and that of Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje. They held an annual dharma gathering (chos tshogs) at Nyenlung each summer, attracting more than a thousand followers in attendance since the 1990s, and served as stewards for a number of other monasteries in Golok and neighboring areas, helping to fund rebuilding projects, sponsor rituals, and establish liturgical practices, while visiting regularly to give teachings. They also took a strong interest in and promoted the Gesar epic.

Toward the end of 2000, Tare Lhamo fell ill and the following year she was diagnosed with an illness, which may have been esophageal cancer. Various ritual and practical measures were taken to try to cure her, including spending time in hospitals in Barkham and Chengdu. She passed away on March 26, 2002 in Chendgu, and her body was transported back to Nyenlung soon thereafter for the appropriate funeral rites. Namtrul Rinpoche continued to steward and grow their religious community for almost a decade until his death on November 7, 2011.

The dharma lineage of Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche has passed to his son, Tulku Laksam (sprul sku lhag bsam), who is now the head (dgon bdag) of Nyenlung Monastery and the lineage holder (rgyud 'dzin) for their treasure teachings and those of Apang Terchen. In addition to being the reincarnation of Zhuchen Kunzang Nyima (gzhu chen kun bzang nyi ma), Tulku Laksam is also considered to be the reincarnation of Tāre Lhamo's own son who died in youth, Tulku Ngaro. Today, the reliquaries (sku gdung) for Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche stand side by side in a shrine room within the family compound at Nyenlung.


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Holly Gayley

Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo

Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo, Hawaii

Lineage lama of the Dudjom Dakini Heart Essence, founder of Jnanasukha Foundation.