Now, without deceit or exaggeration, I will write a little of his life that was visible to ordinary beings. The reason he is called “Ju” (“holding”) Mipham is because his clan originated as clear light deities who came to the human world holding (“ju”) a rope.
His family originated with Achak Dru, one of the six original Tibetans who were born of the union of the Monkey Bodhisattva (an emanation of Avalokiteshvara) and the female Rock Demoness, whose descendant was a general of the king of Mongolia. These people later lived under the Dharma King of Dege, Tenpa Tsering. Many learned and accomplished people arose in this lineage, including many powerful ngakpas. From this lineage came one named Gyud la Do de, an emanation of Medicine Buddha. His descendant, Ju Gonpo Targye, was Mipham’s father.
His mother’s lineage was called Mukpo Dong gi Gyudpa (the Brown Face lineage). This family was very wealthy and generous to the Dharma. One of them, called Cho Dar, was a minister to the King of Dege. His daughter Sing Chung was Jamgon Mipham’s mother.
Depending on this perfectly endowed family lineage, in the fourteenth Rabjung, in the Male Fire Horse year (1846), at a very auspicious time, in the region of Do-Kham called Four Rivers and Six Hills (Chu Zhi Gang Druk), in the place called Deng Chung, with many miracles, Jamgon Mipham was born. His Uncle, Pon Lama Drupchok Pema Tarjay, gave him the name Mipham Gyamtso (Invincible Ocean). When he was very young, the qualities of faith, renunciation, wisdom, and compassion were naturally present, indicating that he was naturally of the Mahayana family. ManjushriEveryone who knew him said that he had only one thought: that his yidam was the peaceful and wrathful Manjushri and his Protector was Ling Gesar.
When he was six or seven he memorized the Certainty of the Three Vows (Dom Sum Nam Nye) scripture, and he learned the preliminaries for white and black astrology. By the age of ten he was learned at reading and writing and had composed many texts. When he was twelve years old he entered the monastery as an ordinary monk of the Ogmin Urgyen Mindroling lineage at a branch monastery of Zechen Ten Nyi Targye Ling, called Gyu Mohor Sang Ngak Choling. At that time everyone praised his accomplishment, calling him “Tsun Chung Khe Pa”, “Intelligent Small Monk.”
When he was fifteen or sixteen, after studying the very difficult Mindroling system of chanting for only a few days, and praying to Manjushri, he completely mastered it. In an 18-month retreat of Gyu Nyong he accomplished the Mra Seng Manjushri. He made many rilbu, and many miraculous signs were manifest. After this, he could accomplish any sutra or tantra without any effort, and no text was unknown to him. He went to many lamas to obtain the necessary lungs (oral transmissions), but he needed no study or teachings for any texts. When he was seventeen he moved, along with all the people of his region, to Amdo Golok. He proved very expert at divining the qualities of land and mountains for the safety of the people. At the age of eighteen he went with his maternal uncle, Gyur Zang, on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. He stayed at Gaden Dratsang for one month. Then he went on pilgrimage to all the holy places of Southern Tibet.
When he went to Lhodrak Kar Chu, all appearances arose as bliss and emptiness. Many qualities of realization arose in him and he remained in that experience for many days. He thought that these experiences were the blessing of the holy place of Lhodrak Kar Chu. He recounted this experience to his best friend, who was also his attendant. When he went to the Northern Plain, he had a pure vision of Sarasvati giving him a crystalline book.
Later, when he returned home, His Holiness Wangchen Garab Dorje bestowed upon him the empowerments of White Manjushri and Ling Gesar. All the canonical signs of having perfectly received the empowerments manifested. From the emanation of Lokeshvara, Dza Paltrul Rinpoche, he received the Wisdom Chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara in only five days. Based on this, he wrote the commentary on the Wisdom Chapter known as the She Drel Keta Ka.
Particularly, prostrating his head at the lotus feet of the Lord of the Family with whom he had a karmic connection from innumerable past lives, the Lord of Dharma, Pema Ösal Do Ngak Lingpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, emanation of the incomparable Lord Manjushri, he engaged in hearing, contemplating, and meditating, becoming his main Heart Son.
From the first empowerment of the White Manjusri, which opened the door of the Dharma, he continually learned ordinary and extraordinary dharmas. Sacred instructions and the entire Dharma, including dharmas of the Close Lineage (Termas), main texts of Sutra and Tantra and, particularly, ripening empowerments of secret mantra, liberating instructions, and supporting explanations, were poured into Jamgon Mipham like the nectar from one vase completely filling another.
From Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye he learned grammar and epistemology, the arts of gilding, and other uncommon and common arts, and obtained many empowerments and authorizations of Manjushri.
From Dzogchen Khen Rinpoche Padma Vajra and many other lamas, he obtained an ocean of dharmas of sutra and mantra. He not only heard these dharmas but accomplished them perfectly. His self-arising pristine awareness, vast and profound like space, was victorious, by achieving the enlightened qualities of the Eight Confident Great Treasures:
Stable treasure of mindfulness
Intelligent treasure of discrimination
Realization treasure of realizing the meaning of all Buddhadharma
Holding treasure of remembering everything ever heard
Confident treasure of eloquently satisfying all sentient beings
Dharma treasure of completely protecting the Dharma
Bodhichitta treasure of the unbroken lineage of the Three Jewels
Accomplished treasure of the patience of the unborn Dharma of emptiness.
Jamgon Mipham’s kalyanamitra, or spiritual guide, was Juwon Jigme Dorje. From him he received the transmission of the Root of the Short Sutra. After this, Jamgon Rinpoche immediately taught this for one month. From Bumsar Geshe Ngawang Jungne he received, along with many others, the Uma Jukpa transmission. After receiving this, Geshe Ngawang Jungne tested Jamgon Mipham on his understanding. Jamgon Mipham’s replies amazed the Geshe so much that he announced publicly that although he himself had the name of Geshe, he possessed not even a small amount of the intelligence of Jamgon Mipham.
From Ponlob Loter Wangpo, he received the Tsema Rigter logic of Sakya Pandita. From Solpon Pema, he received the Jam Cho Jang Sa and many others. Rinpoche received these transmissions, and then later gave very extensive teachings on these topics to others. Also, from Ser Shul Geshe Lharampa, Rinpoche received transmission of the Abhidharmakosa.
In short, Rinpoche received teachings completely without bias at the feet of many masters of all lineages, Sarma and Nyingma, on whatever Dharma had come down to the time. Especially, from his Omniscient Lama, Khyentse Wangpo he received almost all the Nyingma teachings of Kama and Terma, the Uma Gyen, the Gyed Nyi (Uta Namje and Chonyid Namje), Vimalamitra’s Manjushrinamsamgiti commentary, Guru Rinpoche’s Men Ngak Da Treng, the Ka Gyed Nam She, and so on. The meaning of all these teachings spontaneously arose in his mind.
In the center of the debating gathering of all the teachings and traditions,
Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche relaxed at ease like a fearless lion.
Everyone witnessed his fluency and command of teaching, debate, and composition, and no one could deny his mastery.
Jamgon Mipham himself said: “When I was young, I was present when many accomplished, learned lamas gave Dharma teachings, but I only seriously studied Dza Patrul Rinpoche’s teachings on the Wisdom Chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara. Later, in dependence on the kindness of my venerable lama and Manjushri, no difficulties with study ever arose for me. I could understand any text simply by reading it casually. When I first began to study, the Sarma teachings were easier to understand. The Nyingma teachings were more difficult. However, I assumed that the difficulty was due to my own misunderstanding, and not to any fault in the teachings. I never had a doubt that these teachings of the profound lineage of the vidyadharas were meaningless. From this auspicious confidence my wisdom completely ripened. Later, when I looked again at these teachings, the profound essential points were only to be found in the Nyingma texts. I experienced the arising of perfect certainty.
“At that time, the Lord Protector, Khyentse Rinpoche, asked me to write some textbooks for our tradition. With the Buddha’s teaching in mind, I wrote some textbooks on Sutra to fulfill his command and improve my own understanding. In these texts, my explanations emphasized our own Nyingma view. Scholars of other traditions heard that I had refuted their views, so letters debating my texts arrived from everywhere.
“My own motivation was to fulfill the command of my lama and to help revive the teachings of the Nyingma, whose doctrine had become diminished and was like the painting of a butter lamp. These days there are very few who even wonder about the Nyingma view, much less investigate it. For this reason I hoped it would be beneficial to write. I wouldn’t otherwise have even dreamed of disparaging other traditions or praising myself. In front of those Buddhas who possess the eye of pristine awareness, I have nothing to be ashamed of. My own intention was to analyze for myself what is true or not. Even with no real thought of someone benefiting someone, it might happen that others benefit. If someone with the Dharma eye refutes me with scripture and reasoning, I should rely on him as a physician, and not argue with him out of anger. Thus, with honest intention, I have debated on occasion.”
Jamgon Mipham’s command of logic from previous lives manifested in many ways. When he was studying Dharmakirti’s text on logic (the Pramanavarttika), he dreamed of Sakya Pandita, who appeared as an Indian Pandita. Sakya Pandita said: “What don’t you understand about this text? It has both refutation and proof.” He then took a copy of the Pramanavarttika and divided it in two, saying: “You put them back together.” Mipham did so, and the book became a sword, and all objects of knowledge appeared before him. Waving the sword once, everything was cut through instantly. He told Solpon Padma that after this he understood every word in the Pramanavarttika.
He also had difficulty with some passages the first time he read the Vinaya Sutra. He applied himself and read all thirteen volumes at one sitting, then said that there was nothing in the Vinaya Sutra that he did not understand.
One auspicious day, his root lama, Vajradhara Khyentse Rinpoche, placed many rare and precious volumes of sutra and tantra on an altar and made extensive offerings. He put Mipham on a high throne in front of them, and said: “I entrust all these teachings to you. Preserve them through teaching, debating, and composition. Help the Buddha’s teaching to remain in the world for a long time.” Thus, he empowered Mipham as a master of Dharma. At that time, Khyentse Rinpoche wrote a poem on the back of a beautiful painting of White Tara:
Om Svasti Dzayantu!
You directly realized the intentions of Mipham Gonpo!
Like Manjushri, you have mastery of all knowledge!
Like Dharmakirti, you are victorious everywhere!
May your fame pervade everwhere like the ocean!
Once Mipham Rinpoche came before his root lama, Khyentse Rinpoche. The lama asked Mipham, “What practice did you do in retreat?” Mipham replied: “ While studying, I applied reason, and I have diligently practiced the creation stage.” Khyentse Rinpoche replied: “That is difficult! The Omniscient Longchenpa said, ‘Without doing anything, come to rest right where you are.’ By resting like that I haven’t seen any ‘face of mind’ with white skin and a rosy complexion, but I’d be alright anyway if I died right now!” Khyentse Rinpoche laughed out loud. Mipham understood this to be his lama’s practical advice.
When Mipham was staying in Chamdo there were rumors of a Chinese army invasion. Mipham’s attendant, Lama Ösal, was worried. Mipham said, “If I am to be the Rigdzin King, Drakpo Chakkor Chen, the Wrathful Wielder of the Iron Wheel, I should be able to handle them.” When Mipham was staying near Ga To, the Chinese army came near, but was not able to come close to the lama’s residence, and had to go away.
In short, considering his power of wisdom and realization, his motivation, his Asangaactivity and accomplishment, and his learning and reasoning, it is indisputable that Mipham’s inconceivable liberation was obvious to all. The great writings of this holy being are excellent in meaning and composition, well organized, complete, pure, and clear. They are his blessed enlightened speech. His commentaries are not in any way different in words or meaning from the commentaries of Nagarjuna and Asanga and the Eight Great Vidyadharas. This should be obvious to those with the eye of Dharma.
Especially in this time, when the five degenerations are increasing, when the Buddhadharma in general and the teachings of the Nyingma in particular are becoming extremely weak, as if gasping for breath at the point of death, Mipham’s teachings are wonderful. Those who care about the precious teachings of our own and other’s traditions should treasure Mipham’s teachings in their hearts and honor them on the crowns of their heads.
Mipham’s most important students were Dodrub Rinpoche, Terton Sogyal, the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Gemang Kyab Gon, Khenpo Padmavajra, Katog Situ Rinpoche, Zhechen Rabjam, Gyaltsab Tulku, Palyul Gyaltrul, Karma Yangtrul, Palpung Situ Rinpoche, Ling Jetrung, Adzom Drukpa, Tokden Shakya Shri, Ngor Ponlob, and others. The great tulkus of Zhechen, Dzogchen, Katog, Palyul, Palpung, Dege Gonchen, Repkong and others of all lineages, Sakya, Gelug, KaGyu, and Nyingma, all became his disciples.
In the Water Mouse Year (1912), Mipham Rinpoche’s sixty-seventh year, he left his retreat, wrote his final testament, and concealed it. He said to his students, “Now, because of the times and my illness, I don’t wish to stay. Even if I did, it would be hard to be worthwhile, so stay in retreat. You have plenty of experience, so don’t rely on other teachers. We will meet again in life, death, and the intermediate state. Finally, we will be inseparable in the pure realms.
“Nowadays, if you speak the truth, nobody listens. If you lie, everyone thinks it’s the truth. I have never said this before: I am not an ordinary person. I am a bodhisattva who has been born by aspiration. My suffering in this body is the remains of my karma, but from now on I will not have to experience karmic obscurations.
“Now is a critical time. In these last days, the barbarians are close to destroying the Dharma, so there is no point in my taking rebirth. From now on, I will not take rebirth in impure realms. It is said that it is the nature of enlightened beings to appear continually until the end of time, staying in pure realms and benefiting beings with miraculous emanations by the power of prayer.
“Now, the illness from which I suffered is completely healed. I have no suffering at all. Day and night I only see visions of realization: rainbow light, spheres of light, forms of buddhas, and pure realms.
“Now I definitely will not stay, or take rebirth, I have to go to Shambhala, in the north.”
On his last day, the 29th day of the fourth month, Dzogchen Rinpoche and I arrived early and found the remains of Mipham Rinpoche seated upright in the vajra posture with his hands in the mudras of meditation and teaching the Dharma. We stayed with him while he abided in the expanse of the original ground. In the presence of many miraculous signs, Mipham Rinpoche spoke the words “rainbow body vajra” three times before he dissolved into space like a rainbow just as the sun rose.
This is just a rough idea of Mipham’s outer biography, with no mention of his inconceivable inner and secret biographies. In general, Jamgon Mipham was renowned as a great scholar and meditator who had crossed the ocean of hearing, contemplating, and meditating. In his realization and activity he was no different from Manjushri, Vajrapani, and so on. For a being such as this, seeing deities and displaying miracles is not unusual. Here I have recounted just what I heard myself, without exaggerating or minimizing anything.
This was written by Samantabhadra Dharmakirti.
This was translated and adapted from Samantabhadra Dharmakirti’s short biography of Jamgon Mipham, found in Mipham’s collected writings, by Lhobpon Rechungpa and Eric Forgeng, during the teaching of the Beacon of Certainty at Tashi Choling, in the Spring of 2003.