A spiritual emergency shook 19th century TIbet: the teachings were vanishing. The audacity and steadfastness of several non-sectarian masters saved them. And their availability on paper for us today is, no doubt, thanks to Jamyang Loter Wangpo.
He was born at dawn, and the first thing he did was to try to hold a vajra and a bell. It was 1847, and he didn’t waste his time after that. He learnt to read and write at six, at nine took lay practitioner’s vows and was ordained a monk at twenty. His name prophesied his trajectory: ‘Manjushri, lordly treasure of intellect’.
He was educated in everything. From tantra to epistemology, the numbers from his student years were impressive: he studied 150 meditation manuals, the 108 volumes of the Buddha’s discourses and 500 others of Indian and Tibetan masters. To complement, he received more than 300 mantrayana initiations. His root teacher was Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, founder of the non-sectarian movement and spur of the spiritual revolution of the time. Something must have stuck.
Loter’s diligence was soon fruitful. As a teenager, the third founder of the Sakya school appeared to him in a dream and told him he was under his protection. When he studied the ‘Three Continua’, he realized absolute reality. After several retreats, he had a vision of Tara, developed clairvoyance and —fortunately— was unharmed after he got struck by lightning.
At 23, he was named vajra master of the great Ewam Choden monastery. There, he put everything in order), laid down explicit rules for the group practices and founded the tradition of teaching in summer. The monastic community increased, and his fame spread. A great mission awaited him.
The Dharma was disappearing from Tibet. A fellow abbot —whose days were coming to an end— asked him to edit his book, which detailed the eight great meditation systems brought from India. Loter Wangpo accepted, but didn’t stop there.
He went out to gather them. For more than 10 years, he researched and traveled throughout Tibet, and received hundreds of nearly-extinct initiations. The result was monumental. The ‘Collection of All the Tantras’ includes 30 volumes of tantric teachings, transmissions and initiations.
As a picture is worth a thousand words, he commissioned 315 paintings of the mandalas. He also ordered the crafting of the ritual complements in the finest quality. The price? 2500 ounces of silver. No sponsors. He got it from a vow: invest in the Dharma everything he received.
Loter Wangpo taught the great masters of his time, like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (rebirths of his master), as well as Gongma Trichen Rinpoche’s tutor. Also, he collected other lost teachings, composed original texts, wrote clarifications about practices and sponsored the printing of oral teachings that either time or the Communist invasion would have eradicated.
With his homework complete, it was time to move on. At 68, and after two days in meditation, he passed into parinirvana. The sky was filled with rainbows and the air had a pervasive fine fragrance. Five days later, his remains turned into relics.
Loter Wangpo lived difficult times, but did something to change them. His vast and rich work that we can appreciate nowadays attests to it. “Just one thing was inscribed in his heart”, says his biographer, Dhongthog Rinpoche, “The needs of the teachings and sentient beings”.
To know more: The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. A history.