A Brief History of the Khampagar Retreat Center

The 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche & others soon after their arrival in India. L-R standing: Four monks, Bontrul (Khamtrul Rinpoche’s attendant), Khamtrul Rinpoche, Togdens Choelek, Zopa & Ajam.

Tibet to India:

The 8th Khamtrul Dongyu Nyima Rinpoche escaped his native land of Kham (Eastern Tibet) during the late fifties because of the Chinese occupation. After spending a few years at Zangdogpalri in Kalimpong, some time in Banuri, and a few years in Dalhousie, during the late sixties  Khamtrul Rinpoche was able to purchase land with foreign aid. This became the settlement of Tashi Jong, a Tibetan craft community, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in North India. There he started to rebuild the Khampagar Monastery and the retreat center.

The Origin of the Khampagar Retreat Center:

At present the Khampagar Monastery includes two retreat centers. The Khampagar yogi center, called “drubde”, literally meaning “community of practitioners”, was originally started by the 4th  Khamtrul Rinpoche (1730-1779), whose name was Chokyi Nyima. After the founding the Khampagar Monastery in the Eastern Tibetan area call Lhathok, he started the retreat center.

From the very beginning, only thirteen yogis entered that retreat center, a number that manifested as an auspicious connection. The 4th Khamtrul Chokyi Nyima’s residence was near the place where the retreat center was built, and before starting it he offered a white torma at the place where he intended to build. Afterwards a self-arisen water source manifested there, and when he offered a torma to vanquish the obstructing forces, he asked his monks to move some rocks to that place. The monks carried up thirteen rocks, which he perceived as an auspicious sign to always have thirteen yogis in this retreat center. The amount of water flowing from its source always remained the same, just enough for thirteen people to sustain themselves. The masters Jampal Pawo and Khamtrul Chokyi Nyima were the teachers of these thirteen yogis, who were called “togden”, meaning “realized one”.

The main practices performed at the Khampagar retreat center are what is known as “Nyengyu” or “Hearing Lineage”, the Six Yogas of Naropa, and Mahamudra. Unless someone at the retreat center passed away, a new yogi could not join.

The First Generation of Togdens in India:

Togden Choelek

When the 8th Khamtrul Dongyu Nyima left Tibet and escaped to India, he took Togdens Cholek, Zopa, Tamchok, Ajam, and Atin with him. Later on, Togdens Semdor and Achos were able to escape after the Chinese had already reached Khampagar, and after a perilous journey they were also able to join Khamtrul Rinpoche in Kalimpong, India. 

Togden Choelek was also affectionately known as “Togden Rinpoche”, and he escaped Tibet with the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche.  Togden Choelek was the main meditation teacher in Tashi Jong until he passed away in Bhutan during the late 1970’s at the age of 87. A memorial stupa was built for him at Satsam Chorten in Bhutan, close to the place where he passed away.

Five-colored relics in the shape of conch shells – from Togden Ajam bones after cremation in 1999.

Two of the togdens, Zopa and Tamchok, had passed away in India before Tashi Jong was actually built. Then Lama Osel and Tsewang Rigzin joined the retreat center in Dalhousie, where they had ample time to practice in retreat. While in Banuri and Kalimpong the yogis also had time for retreat, although in Tashi Jong they had to spend more time working to help build the community.

Togdens Ajam, Atin and Osel passed away at Tashi Jong in 1999, 2005, and 2008 respectively. The auspicious signs that manifested when they passed away were extraordinary, and after the cremation of Togdens Ajam and Osel, many rare five-colored relics in the likeness of conch-shells actually manifested from their bones.

For more information on some togdens who came to India in the first wave of the Tibetan diaspora, please read here.

View archival images and a video here.

The Retreat Centers & Practices:

During the early 1970’s, when the Tashi Jong community was first getting established, the yogis lived in the monk’s quarters. Later Khamtrul Rinpoche had rooms built for the yogis on the hill above Tashi Jong, which were largely sponsored by Ani Lodro Palmo. During the mid-seventies Khamtrul Rinpoche managed to raise funds for the building of a “trulkhor khang”, a center where the yogis could perform practices related to their psychic energies and channels. This building was largely sponsored by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s community in Boulder, and was used for yogic exercises, along with monthly ceremonies of Vajrayogini practice.

Togdens Achos, Atin, Semdor & Tsewang Rigdzin. [photographer: Ani Lodro Palmo]

At that time the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche had many deity statues made by expert Bhutanese artists, and in the central shrine in the “trulkhor kang” he installed a large statue of Vajrayogini. Since the consecration of this image this Vajrayogini statue has been levitating in space, and one can actually loop a “khatak” (silk scarf) underneath it. A similar levitating statue is located at a sacred site near Paro in Bhutan. More about this miraculous Vajrayogini statue has been written by Robert Beer on his blog here.

Yamantaka mandala with Togden Atin’s body relic at Tashi Jong, 2010 [photographer: C. De Re]

In Tashi Jong’s upper Yamantaka Retreat Center are six yogis who regularly perform the practice of Yamantaka, a wrathful aspect of Manjushri who was the main personal deity of both the previous Khamtrul Rinpoche and Togden Atim. With the help of his disciple, Popa Rabjam Rinpoche and his Korean students, Togden Atin has carefully supervised the building of this Yamantaka Retreat Center above Tashi Jong.  And like Ajam, Togden Atin’s Parinirvana, on July 1st 2005, was accompanied by many auspicious signs. His “kudung” (sacred body) was traditionally preserved before being enshrined in a Yamantaka Mandala designed by Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche.

As their preliminary practices the togden monks mainly perform the Nyengyu Ngondro from the Hearing Lineage. After this they practice the extensive Guru Yoga of the outer and inner Ladrub practice; and both the simple and elaborate sadhanas of Vajravarahi and Chakrasamvara. Next they practice the deity sadhanas of Vajrapani, Akshobya and Mahakala, followed by the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Five Sadhanas, Guru Drakpo, Yamantaka, and the Konchok Chidu. However, their main practices are Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, the Six Yogas, Mahamudra, and an extensive Guru-Yoga known as Ladrub.

Khamtrul Rinpoche with togdens standing & seated are yogis in training (c. 2009-10).

In the early years of this century, when Khyentse Yeshe Rinpoche served as Tashi Jong’s president, he supervised the rebuilding of each yogi’s room in the lower retreat center; installing private bathrooms in each room, so they could all remain in solitary retreat without being seen by others. In the Yamantaka Retreat Center the yogis are now seeking the funds to have several new rooms constructed for solitary retreat, as there are now more yogis wanting to practice in the lower retreat center.

The Khampagar Monastery provides food for this retreat center, although the yogis can also make food in their own room, or in the retreat center’s kitchen.

Togdens of the lower retreat center with Togden Semdor seated. L-R: Tsawa Lama, Togdens Gyamtso, Thinley Kunchap, Lekden, Thutop Nyima & Drubgyu (c. 2009)

The next generation of togdens:

A new generation of monks, with the names of Gyamtso, Thutop Nyima, Drubgyu, and Thinley Kunchap, joined the retreat center in the 1990’s. And in 2009, after thirteen years of constant retreat, were officially recognized as togdens by the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche and given their white togden robes. Later several young monks from Khampagar in Eastern Tibet also joined them, and are now in training to become togdens.

Sponsorship:

During the late 1970’s the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche asked Ani Jinba to help with fundraising and sponsorship, so that the yogis would have some money for their food, extra health costs and personal expenses. Sponsorship will provide each yogi with a monthly allowance for their personal needs. This situation has continued until the present day, and the yogis are very grateful for the continuous help from their sponsors. But because the cost of livelihood is ever-increasing, new sponsors and donations to support the yogis are always very welcome.

It is important to know that by supporting practitioners in retreat, one shares in the merit that they accumulate through their intensive Dharma practice.

[Thanks to Robert Beer for additional editing]