Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was among Tibetan Buddhism’s greatest masters of the 20th century, and was highly instrumental in bringing the practice of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) to the West. His students included well-known figures like Sogyal Rinpoche, Daniel Goleman, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Tara Bennett-Goleman and Lama Surya Das.
“Blazing Splendor” — referring to the qualities of a realized master– is a direct translation of the name he was given by the Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism. His was a life rich in spirituality and adventure, for not only was he a friend and personal confidant of many of the great religious figures of contemporary Tibet, but his relatives and ancestors were some of the most influential figures in Eastern Tibet over the centuries.
Tulku Urgyen was widely recognized as one of the most outstanding Tibetan lamas to survive the tragedy of the Chinese takeover. To quote Tarthang Tulku, “Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s depth of understanding was unsurpassedga and many Tibetan masters stood in awe of his comprehensive knowledge. He had thoroughly studied and practiced the highest teachings and his exposition on Dzogchen transformed the lives of those he touched with gentle, penetrating clarity. As a meditation teacher and a vajra master, he was without peer; he used his knowledge to touch the heart of everyone he met.”
With unsurpassed honesty and humility Tulku Urgyen offers an intimate glimpse into the remarkable reality of a tulku (a reincarnated master) as well as an in-depth portrait of the lost culture of old Tibet. Intimate in tone, Tulku Urgyen originally shared these tales with his closest Western students, over more than a decade. Here they have been organized into a sweeping account that describes a world where miracles, mystery, and deep insight are the order of the day. From a fresh, eye-opening perspective he describes the lives of some of the most realized and genuine spiritual practitioners of 20th century Tibet including:
- his grandmother, who raised six children, mastered art, music, herbal medicine and astrology–and was recognized as a highly realized practitioner being mentioned in a ninth century prophecy as a manifestation of a Buddhist deity;
- an old lama who chose to live in the hollow trunk of a huge tree—in the simple style of a yogi–rather than as a revered abbot of a great monastery;
- and nuns who spent their entire lives in retreat, and who once a year, in the bitter Tibetan winter, displayed their contemplative prowess in a yogic practice that allowed them to raise their body temperature so much that they could dry wet sheets wrapped around them.
The world Tulku Urgyen knew was one in which today’s conventional values were turned upside-down: instead of fame, fortune or celebrity being the marks of “success”, it was inner realization that counted, and the mark of a life fulfilled was leaving a spiritual legacy for others. Tulku Urgyen was uniquely positioned to know—and share with us—people who lived within this landscape of sacred values. Yet his message is not that realization is reserved for an elect few, but something that each and every one of us can attain.
Central to Blazing Splendor is the teachings known as terma— a sacred teaching from a mystical source dating back a millennium which enriches the life and spirit of anyone who connects to it. Tulku Urgyen’s stories cast a special light on these treasures which he carried in his heart and mind over the Himalayas during his escape from Tibet and which he eventually came to transmit to thousands of people from every walk of life throughout the world.
Blazing Splendor covers not just the years of Tulku Urgyen’s life from his birth in 1920 to his death in 1996, but also the rich tapestry of his family history, as well as the contemplative lineages that he himself came to hold. The result being not just a personal memoir, but a spiritual history of Tibet itself. We hear about the teachers who brought the Buddhist teachings to Tibet in the 9th century, and the unbroken line of masters who passed its secrets on through the ages.
Blazing Splendor is of both spiritual and historical import. It provides a first-hand glimpse into what actually took place in the last decades of old Tibet, through the eyes of an insider who held little illusion about what was to transpire in his country and the life he was to lose forever. Spanning an exceptional period in Tibetan history and the impending invasion of the Red Army casts its shadow across the narrative foreshadowing the ultimate devastation of Tibetan culture and all its richness. Providing a telling, up-close look at the treachery of Lhasa politics during this endgame, Tulku Urgyen describes his days as the Karmapa’s envoy to the Tibetan government.
And finally, how the spiritual greatness that was once Tibet managed to resurrect itself in the world beyond, as Tulku Urgyen—seeing ill augurs of what was to come—flees Tibet a year before the Dalai Lama himself.
The unique lifestyle and culture of old Tibet was inexorably changed by the Communist take over in 1959 and with each passing year, the great masters who were trained under the classical spiritual system have been passing away. In an effort to keep the spirit of this tradition alive, we felt compelled to present this first-person account by one of the last of this dying breed.
Blazing Splendor is a tale of remarkable human achievement so different from the mundane contemporary world we live in—a glimpse that can inspire and awaken a nobility of heart. Candid and entertaining, each story is a spiritual gem yielding the profound wisdom that Tulku Urgyen embodied. With natural humility, Tulku Urgyen does not draw attention to himself or his own stature, but lets one see the world—and a fascinating pantheon of characters—just as he does: with blunt, often wry, candor. Travelling through the landscape of a society whose greatest wealth was not material but spiritual, Tulku Urgyen’s life story instills a renewed confidence and enthusiasm for the inner life in those who feel imprisoned in a barren, spiritually vacuous society.
In Blazing Splendor we hear an old Tibetan lama in the his last years review the highlights of his life story for one of his oldest Western students, Erik Pema Kunsang, who then translated the tales, and with his wife Marcia Schmidt, compiled them into this volume, with the editors Michael Tweed and Daniel Goleman.