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May 17
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A Brief History of the Ripa Lineage
His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, photo by Christoph Schonherr

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, photo by Christoph Schonherr

By Walker Blaine

The word ripa means ‘one of the mountains,’ an accomplished meditator who dwells in secluded retreat. The Ripa family line began during the 12th century as a hereditary lineage in the Barom Kagyu tradition, but it became firmly established with its present name because of Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa (1803-1880), a highly realized yogi whose realization and activity made the family decidedly Nyingma in orientation about 180 years ago. During his youth, Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa was recognized as an incarnation of a famous Kagyu yogi named Ripa Pawo Triney Dorje. Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa followed the example of this prior incarnation, but his main teacher was a Nyingma master named Pema Gyepe Dorje, the 4th lineage holder in the Taksham lineage. The Taksham tradition is based on the terma teachings of Samten Lingpa (b. 1682), also known as Taksham Nuden Dorje.

After several years of one-pointed practice in solitary mountain retreats, Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa attained great realization. In 1830, he established a monastic seat at Nyima Puk, or Sun Cave, in Do Kham, eastern Tibet. He named the new monastery Rigon Tashi Choling, and today it is the Tibetan seat for the Ripa lineage. The Ripa lineage seat in Pharping, Nepal is also named Rigon Tashi Choling. The lineage seat in Orissa, India is known as Rigon Thubden Mindrolling.

Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa, photo by Walker Blaine

Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa, photo by Walker Blaine

Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa is regarded both as an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal’s principal consort, Atsara Sale, and as the speech emanation of Taksham Nuden Dorje. Taksham Nuden Dorje was incredibly prolific and produced 20 volumes of terma discoveries and instructions. The Taksham lineage termas place a strong emphasis on the practices of Hayagriva (the wrathful embodiment of the speech aspect of all the buddhas) and the practices of Yeshe Tsogyal, the principal consort of Padmasambhava. Translations of Taksham Nuden Dorje’s terma-biographies of Yeshe Tsogyal and Padmasambhava’s principal Indian consort, Mandarava, and are well known in the West.

Taksham Nuden Dorje’s terma teachings are one of two central pillars in the Ripa tradition. The other pillar is the practices of Gesar of Ling, especially the Gesar termas revealed by the present throneholder of the Ripa lineage, His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. Gesar, the bodhisattva-warrior king of Ling in eastern Tibet, was an emanation of Padmasambhava. Gesar brought Tibetan culture back from the period of cultural and spiritual barbarism that ensued after the reign of Langdarma, the anti-buddhist monarch who briefly eclipsed the dharma in Tibet during the 9th century. The practices, songs, stories, and dances of Gesar of Ling are maintained by the Ripa lay and monastic communities and provide great inspiration and strength in our present era of speed and materialism.

Taksham Nuden Dorje, photo by Christoph Schonherr

Taksham Nuden Dorje, photo by Christoph Schonherr

Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa was the first throne holder of the Ripa lineage. The second throne holder was Drubwang Ngedon Gyatso (1844-1901), the child of Ripa Pema Deje Rolpa and his consort Sangyum Kartso. Drubwang Ngedon Gyatso was a powerful meditator who gave empowerment and instruction widely. The third throne holder of the lineage was Drubwang Jigme Tsewang Chogdrub (1891-1954), an emanation of Dorje Trolo, one of Padmasambhava’s wrathful manifestations. He was renowned for his compassion and the blessing power of his speech. Drubwang Adzin Rinpoche (1933-1992) was the fourth throne holder of the Ripa lineage. The entire Tibetan community had devotion to him, and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, upheld him as a realized master of the dzogchen teachings.

The fifth and current throne holder in the Ripa tradition is His Eminence Terton Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche, the brother of Adzin Rinpoche. Family dharma lineages are considered particularly strong vehicles for transmitting the teachings because the ancestral teacher’s blessings are held in both the body and mind of the present lineage holder. In addition to the Ripa family lineage, it is very auspicious that Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s maternal great-grandfather is Drubwang Shakya Shri (1853-1919), a highly accomplished master in both the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingma traditions. In addition to being a great meditator praised by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Jamyang Mipham Gyatso, Shakya Shri is famous for rebuilding the Great Stupa of Boudhanath in Kathmandu during the early 20th century.

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is a brilliant teacher, deeply immersed in the lineage of formal practice and realization. The Tibetan community holds him in high esteem because of his wisdom and the power of his practices for healing, divination, and pacification of obstacles. His teachers include His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and many other great masters of the present era. While in Tibet, His Eminence received the entire lineage of the Richen Terdzo from the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

The Ripa Brothers and Sisters, photo by Christoph Schonherr

The Ripa Brothers and Sisters, photo by Christoph Schonherr

His Eminence’s seven children are all involved in preserving and spreading the teachings of the Ripa lineage. In Tibet, his son Tenzin Nyima Rinpoche oversees Rigon Tashi Choling at Nyima Puk. Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche, an emanation of the terton Pema Lingpa, cares for the Ripa monasteries in Nepal and India, and teaches regularly in the West. Jigme Rinpoche is known for the relaxed and engaging style in which he brings students to the dharma. Jigme Rinpoche is assisted by his brother, Lhuntrul Dechen Gyurme Rinpoche, who cares for the Tibetan community in Asia and Toronto, where he resides with his wife, Khandro Chime. His Eminence’s three eldest daughters, Semo Sonam Peldzom, Semo Pema Dechen, and Semo Sonam Palmo are accomplished singers and dancers in the Gesar tradition and help their father with his activities in Asia and the West. His Eminence’s youngest daughter, the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Choying Zangmo, is the wife of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and a principal figure in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition.

In the photo of the Ripa family above, from the left, is Lhunpo Rinpoche; the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Choying Sangmo; Semo Palmo; Semo Pema Dechen; Jigme Rinpoche; and Semo Sonam Palzom. (His Eminence’s eldest son, Tenzin Nyima Rinpoche, was at Rigon Tashi Choling monastery in Tibet when this photograph was taken.)

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