Khandro Tare Lhamo

In 1938, Tare Lhamo was born into her vocation as a terton, a “treasure revealer”. She was the daughter of Apang Terchen, a Nyingma master of local import, and Damtsik Drolma, the daughter of a local chieftain. As an infant, she was recognized as an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal and Sera Khandro by the revered master Dudjom Rinpoche, who became the head of the Nyingma lineage among Tibetans in exile. As the daughter of religious elite, Tare Lhamo was steeped in esoteric teachings in her youth but received little formal education.

Although her father died when she was only nine, he had by then transmitted the entirety of his treasure corpus to her, and thereafter she traveled with her mother to study with the great masters of her day, including the Rigdzin Jalu Dorje, the fourth in the prominent line of Dodrupchen incarnations. In addition, her root teacher, Dzongter Kunzang Nyima, was the grandson and speech emanation of Dudjom Lingpa, a towering figure in the Golok treasure scene. At the age of twenty, she married his son, Mingyur Dorje, and they joined his father’s inner circle at his encampment at Rizab. Dzongter Kunzang Nyima transmitted his own treasure cycle to Tare Lhamo and appointed her as the trustee for his liturgical cycle dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, the preeminent lady of treasure lore and consort to Padmasambhava.

In the late 1950s, the socialist transformation of Tibetan areas changed everything. The next two decades witnessed the wholesale destruction of Tibetan culture including the demolition of most Buddhist temples and monasteries, the looting of valuable statues, the burning of sacred texts, and the imprisonment of Buddhist teachers. During this period, Tare Lhamo lost her first husband, Mingyur Dorje; her three brothers, all reincarnate lamas who died in prison; and her two main teachers.

Having lost her first husband in the late and her only child at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Tare Lhamo could have become irrevocably lost in despair. A brief liaison with Doli Nyima, the grandson of Sera Khandro, may have provided some relief, but in the mid-1960s he too disappeared after she had secured his release from prison, never to be seen again.

In 1978, Tare Lhamo initiated a correspondence with Namtrul Rinpoche Jigme Puntsok, a lama six years her junior who lived across province borders in Serta County of Sichuan Province.  With a prophecy about their future revelations, Tare Lhamo proposed starting anew to restore Buddhist teachings through treasure revelation and join together with Namtrul Rinpoche in order to do so. In mid-1979, Namtrul Rinpoche ventured to Markhok sometime to visit her and meet her relatives. Then in early 1980, Tare Lhamo left her homeland to live with him at Nyenlung, the monastery in Serta that they rebuilt together.

Across a number of letters, Namtrul Rinpoche and Tare Lhamo shared back and forth their recollections of past lives together in India, Nepal, and Tibet, as well as prophecies regarding the locations of treasures in the landscape.

To mark the occasion when Tare Lhamo joined Namtrul Rinpoche at Nyenlung in 1980, Jewel Garland, the biography of Namtrul Rinpoche, announces: “From then on, as defenders of the teachings and beings, the Eminent Couple converged in one residence and together awakened the deeds, aspiration, and coincidence to heal the extensive damage of degenerate times.”

Together they traveled on pilgrimage, revealed treasures at sacred sites, performed rituals accompanied by their entourage, sponsored the construction of stūpas and temples, and gave teachings to large audiences of monastics and laity in the region.

Jewel Garland highlights their interactions with other surviving Buddhist teachers, situating them as part of a vibrant nexus of Nyingma masters coordinating their restoration efforts. Most significant were their interactions with Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, a key figure who reinvigorated monastic scholasticism through founding an ecumenical institute, Larung Buddhist Academy (also known as Larung Gar) in Serta. In 1980, he transmitted the treasures of Apang Terchen to the two as a couple, though Tare Lhamo had received it directly from her father as a child.

In 1986, on the occasion of the Kalachakra empowerment at Larung, he pulled the couple aside to transmit the treasures of Lerab Lingpa to them and also authorize them as tertons. After that, in 1990, Dola Chokyi Nyima transmitted the treasure corpus of his father, Dudjom Rinpoche, and authorized them to spread it widely. Although not mentioned in Jewel Garland, Tare Lhamo garnered international attention the following year for recognizing one of the reincarnations of Dudjom Rinpoche, none other than Dola Chokyi Nyima’s own son.

Although their initial prominence derived from Tare Lhamo’s stature and family lineage in the region, over time their teachings and travels extended beyond Golok. Needless to say, their first large-scale teaching occurred in 1985 at Tsimda Monastery, founded by Tare Lhamo’s father, where they transmitted the treasures of Apang Terchen and their own to a large gathering. In 1987, they joined Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok on his grand pilgrimage to Wutai Shan — the abode of Manjushri, bodhisattva of Wisdom — in central China, revealing their own treasures at the site. On their way home, they stopped at sacred sites in northern Amdo and toured monasteries closer to home. From then on, they began to travel widely to discover and disseminate their treasures, including trips to the Nyingma enclave in Rebkong and pilgrimage to Central Tibet.

Jewel Garland does mention their contribution to revitalizing the Gesar tradition, referencing the Gesar temple they constructed at the foot of the Amnye Machen mountain range and the Gesar performance they established based on their revelations.

After her passing in 2002, Namtrul Rinpoche continued to propagate their treasures, replicating their annual teaching tours and visiting many of the same monasteries that the couple had in their twenty years of traveling and teaching together until his death in 2011.

Their lineage heir is Namtrul Rinpoche’s son Tulku Laksam Namdak who was identified as the reincarnation of Tare Lhamo’s own son. Being fluent in Chinese, Tulku Laksam teaches and travels in both Tibetan areas and Chinese cities, carrying on the significant legacy of this visionary couple.

Namtrul Rinpoche’s own reincarnation was recently identified as the youngest child and only son of Tulku Laksam, named Drime Wangchuk and born in 2014.

In a fascinating twist on family family lineage, Tare Lhamo’s incarnation has been identified in the family of the 41st Sakya Trizin as his granddaughter, Jetsun Kunga Trinley Palter, born in 2007.

Source: Holly Gayley, Inseparable across Lifetimes: The Lives and Letters of the Tibetan Visionaries Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tāre Lhamo.

Photos: 1 — Khandro Tare Lhamo, 2 — Khandro Tare Lhamo with Namtrul Rinpoche, 3 — Jetsunma Kunga Trinley Palter Sakya, reincarnation of Khandro Tare Lhamo.