Mayum Kunsang Dechen
Mayum Kunsang Dechen: Consort of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Mother of Chokyi Nyima and Tsikey Chokling Rinpoches
Mayum’s Life, as narrated by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche:
This is what I know about my mother, and what has been told to me by the people who knew her. When she was young, she had a very loving heart and really cared about the welfare of others. She liked to help poor people and animals. This was one of her main qualities as a child. She especially cared about the Law of Karma and was very careful about even her small deeds.
While still very young, 13 or 14 years old, she took teachings in Tibet from different teachers and started the ngondro preliminary practice. She continued to do ngondro even while staying in Sikkim and when she came to Nepal. If we count them all, she completed the 500,000 aspects of ngondro practice thirteen times. In addition to that, she engaged in many sadhanas and recited many mantras. In short, my father told me he never saw her waste a single day; she was always doing some kind of practice.
My mother was very lucky to take teachings from my father, Tulku Urgyen, and especially from His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa. From the Second Jamgon Kongtrul, named Palden Khyentse Oser, she received many different kinds of teachings, oral transmissions, and initiations and, in particular, mind teachings. At that time, she gained complete confidence in her practice and since then has had no doubts about her understanding of buddha nature, so her trust, devotion, and compassion was always increasing.
She also took teachings from Sechen Kongtrul and from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Often when she would see those teachers, she would offer one thing -tokbul – which means ‘an offering of one’s realization.’ She had very deep respect for her teachers, especially the 16th Karmapa. One day she asked him if they could meet so that she could offer him tokbul. I was present at the meeting. We shut the door and she talked very openly. She wasn’t shy or frightened. She described very directly her different types of meditation experience, such as the experiences of bliss, clarity, and nonthought. I was also witness to her making this offering to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. She told me she also offered this to Palden Khyenste Oser and he was very pleased. He was her root guru, the Second Kongtrul, who was also the teacher of the 16th Karmapa.
In short, my mother made a great gathering of merit with reference point. She liked to build monasteries, and her main wish was to create a place for monks and nuns to do serious study and practice. She always gave this advice to whomever would visit her, “Please chant.” Yesterday, two Nepalis came to tell me that once my mother told a young Nepali girl, “Just chant Tara’s mantra, a few malas every day. Even if you don’t know much about a practice, just feel devotion for Tara. That will be very good for you. You won’t have any obstacles in this life and you’ll have a good rebirth.” In this way, my mother gave different types of help and teachings to people.
For example, a young American woman came to Nepal a few years ago. She was interested in the Dharma, but she didn’t want to take refuge with a male Lama. She wanted a female teacher. She liked my mother and went to her many times asking if she could take refuge with her, but my mother said, “No, this is not the proper way. You should go and see this Lama, that Lama.” The American girl said, “If you won’t give me refuge, I will not take refuge at all.” So my mother gave her refuge and teachings. In those days, the American girl was quite young and it seemed to me that she was doing some kind of practice afterwards. She has returned to America, so I don’t know what she’s doing these days. These are just simple examples.
Through the combination of devotion, interest, and compassion, my mother was able to realize her buddha nature. She practiced many years, and when her illness manifested with the terrible pain of cancer, she never uttered even one word of complaint. We all were asking how to relieve her difficulties, but she never said a single word about her pain. Instead, she was often quite relaxed.
Throughout most of the day, a nun was present with her, but one morning the nun had stepped out of the room for a few minutes. When I entered my mother’s room, we were alone and I could see that she had been crying. There were tears in her eyes and her hand was trembling. I was a little upset. I thought maybe she was dying or that she had some big worry. I asked her, “Mother, what kind of suffering are you going through? Tell me the truth.” She said, “I’m not suffering at all.” I asked again, but she didn’t reply. A third time I asked and she said, “I’m so happy that I’m crying. All the hairs on my body stood on end and tears filled my eyes because my root guru, Palden Khyentse Ozer, appeared before me and said, ‘Due to the practice you have done until now, my mind and your’s have become one. Now the end of this life is coming, but when your time is up your mind and mine will truly mingle as one.” That’s just one example. She had many such experiences during her illness.
One day she told me, “The moment this trap of my material body falls apart, I will fly off like a bird escaping from a snare.”
Many great masters came to see her during her illness. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche came and she told him, “Now, my time has come. I don’t have any attachments whatsoever. Since I was very young, I have been afraid of death and that is why I practiced so dilligently. Now, I have arrived at the point of death. I have heard that the best practitioner is happy to die. The next best is fearless. At the very least, one should have no regrets. I have no fear, I have no regrets. But this is not due only to my own credit, but because of my root guru’s kindness. What do I have to ask you, Rinpoche? Your Holiness, I ask that you remain in this world for the sake of the Dharma. If you have a long life, it will be of great benefit, both directly and indirectly, to all sentient beings. My long-life ceremony for you is simply a request that you and all the lineage-holders will remain for the welfare of others. I would gladly take upon myself any physical obstacle you or any other lineage-holder might have so that you can be free of these. .” With that, she offered Khyentse Rinpoche, a long white silk kota. His Holiness took her hand and said, “I can guarantee that at the time of death you will become indivisible from Guru Rinpoche at the Glorious Copper-colored Mountain.” She answered, “I will see you there.”
One day Trulshig Rinpoche told me he really respected my mother and he wanted to come and see her. We thought, “Oh, that’s very kind.” Trulshig Rinpoche told her, “On one hand, we’re all sad because your health is not good, but on the other hand we are all proud because you spent your whole life in serious practice and your mind is very high. We really respect you. Please pray for me.”
My mother replied, “I have strong devotion for you because you are an incarnation of Vairotsana. I would like to receive the Tsig Sum Nedek from you today.” Trulshig Rinpoche said, “No, no. There’s no need.” But she said, “Yes, I need it. Please.” So Trulshig Rinpoche very simply and directly gave the Tsig Sum Nedek to her. My mother offered a white scarf and tokbul and asked him to remain in this world to help beings. Trulshig Rinpoche said, “Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche is Guru Rinpoche, and you are Yeshe Tsogyal. I’m not just saying sweet words. I know this to be true. You are just changing your body. You will be liberated.”
Chatral Rinpoche also came to see her. She had much devotion to him. She asked him for a Vajrasattva wong and requested that he teach her ‘The Four Parts Without Three’. This is the ultimate view of Trekcho. He taught for a long time. Unfortunately, we did not tape record the teaching, but he might not have wanted it to be taped anyway. Nevertheless, the teaching was very long and clear. Finally Chatral Rinpoche said, “Okay, let’s mingle our minds. Rest in equanimity.” We all knew, especially her doctors, that my mother was very weak, but at that moment she said “Ah” very strongly. Her eyes were completely wide open. There was no indication of any pain; instead, she appeared very relaxed. I looked at my watch. She remained in that state for a full five minutes. I was suddenly worried that she might be dying. I thought, “What’s wrong?” I looked at Chatral Rinpoche and he was just sitting there in meditation. That made me relax and I understood that we should then all just remain in rigpa.
After 5 minutes, she ‘returned back’. She had been remaining in the view of the ‘four parts without three’ without speaking. Afterwards, she started to communicate and she thanked Chatral Rinpoche. He said, “I’m very happy you understood this teaching. I knew you were a good practitioner, but I didn’t realize you had this high level of awareness. Today I see that so I respect you, and I’m proud to know you. You are a good example for everyone.”
Later Chatral Rinpoche joined my father and me for lunch in another room. For more than one hour, we ate and talked. My father didn’t ask much, but I asked Chatral Rinpoche, “What happened? What did my mother experience?” He looked at me very seriously and said, “Well. It was a very wonderful thing. She mingled space and awareness. Only the foremost practitioner is able to do that, especially in the face of such strong pain and severe illness. Only today did I realize that Yum Kusho-la is such an advanced practitioner. This is a good example for us all. Now watch. There will be other amazing signs. It would be good if everyone with a link to Yum Kusho-la can meet her, offer a white scarf, make prostration, and request to mingle their mind with hers.”
Chatral Rinpoche had never given my brother and I teachings, but he promised my mother that he will teach everything to Chokling Rinpoche and me. Now that Chatral Rinpoche has been here to see her, he told me, “I have promised your mother to give you teachings. We must both arrange a time and place. You can give me an examination and we will clear everything up 100%. I really respect and love your mother. This was her last wish, so I will comply.” It was so sweet that she arranged this for us.
A week before passing away, my mother invited Tulku Urgyen, our family members, myself, and a few monks to her room. To each of us she presented a kota. Her breathing had been very weak and labored, but suddenly she became fine and spoke very strongly. Some of us started to cry, but she said, “No. I’m not dying now. Everything is impermanent. We all know that. But now I can speak frankly, so let me give you some advice. First of all, I want to request Tulku Urgyen to live long. It’s very, very important that all of you take very good care of him.”
Then she turned to my brother, Chokling Rinpoche, and myself and said, “Both of you are supposed to be tulkus. Karmapa recognized you as emanations, which means ‘high rebirth’. We all respect Karmapa, but if you don’t practice that’s not good. Who will tell you this? Only Mom will say this to you! So I’m telling you both to do good practice. You should’t think ‘I don’t need to do anything. I’m so high. I’m a tulku. Don’t think this.”
Until now, we have given our monks the best care we could afford. That day my mother told Kungo and Namdol, who look after our monks, “I know it is difficult to manage so many monks, but please continue to give them good food and care. Never be stingy. Let them study as much as possible. Sangha is the very root of the Dharma. If the sangha is good, the Dharma will spread all over the world and benefit many beings. ” She told the monks who were present, “Since you are showing me such love, this what I have to say to you. Please study and reflect on the teachings. Always put them into practice.”
Yum Kusho-la passed away quietly on the morning of April 24th. My father, my brother, and I were present at her bedside at that time. She was 65.
The morning and afternoon were spent in prayer as our family members and a few monks sat with her. My mother’s face was relaxed. She was in the very high meditative state called thuk-dam which arises when a good practitioner encounters the moment of death. The mind lingers in the body during this period of contemplation, and the body itself retains warmth in the area around the heart, flexibility, and a rosy countenance.
At about 3:00PM, a rainstorm arose quite suddenly and lasted until almost sunset. During that time, Yum Kusho-la’s face changed. She started to smile gently and she appeared very peaceful. Those who saw her remarked on her radiance. As the skies cleared outside, a rainbow appeared above the monastery. Yum Kusho-la remained in thuk-dam for three days.
My student, Doctor Isabelle, actually had the most experience with my mother during her illness because Isabelle cared for her the longest – two or three months. She knows everything that took place.
Doctor Jurgen, from Germany, was visiting my father at that time, and he saw my mother after she had died. He wanted very much to observe when we were preparing her body for cremation, with washing, etc. so I allowed him into the room that morning. What he saw surprised him, and he told me he would research the typical condition of a body after death when he returned Germany.
Dr. Jurgen had never seen a body that had been dead for three days. Everyone knows that usually, after death, a body is very stiff. Jurgen was surprised that Yum Kusho-la’s body was extraordinarily flexible. Although she had not eaten any food or nourishment for more than two months before death, she had not lost weight but retained her ordinary form. When we washed her body, the topmost layer of skin fell away and revealed beautiful, firm, white skin underneath. Very young and white. She actually looked very beautiful. It touched our hearts and some monks were crying. Doctor Jurgen thought it was very remarkable.
More than l000 Nepalis, Tibetans, Westerners, monks and nuns attended the cremation ceremony held in the east wing courtyard of the monastery where a small white chorten had been erected. Many people wept, prostrated, and offered kota to Yum Kusho-la during the funeral puja which was performed by Ven. Chatral Rinpoche, Ven. Tenga Rinpoche, Ven. Tarik Rinpoche and Ven. Minling Dungsey Rinpoche, as well as my father, brothers, myself, and our monks.
Previously, my mother had always been ‘my mother.’ I loved her and respected the fact that she was a good practitioner. But I never really thought of her as having a very high mind. Maybe this is a sign of male pride or the pride of being a son. But since her illness manifested, her behavior, the things she spoke about, the teachings she gave in just a few words – everything touched our hearts. It instilled such deep devotion in me that I started to feel this is not only my mother, but my Guru. I learned a lot. The experience has helped my own spiritual development, experience, and realization. Now, I’m happy to have a female guru.
My prayer for the future is that Yum Kusho-la’s approach to life and her dedication to Dharma practice will be an inspiration to all who hear of her, especially to female practitioners.
Translated into English by Erik Pema Kunsang.
Image: Kunsang Dechen pictured with Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and her grandson Phakchok Rinpochc as a baby. Source: Blazing Splendor.