A Brief Biography of the First Akong'Karma Mayo'
There used to exist several biographies of the first Akong , as well as different collections of his spiritual songs (dohas) but due to recent political difficulties they have nearly all been destroyed or lost. During the present (2nd) Akong Tulku’s 1983 first return to Tibet, several of the older monks he met in his homeland recalled the first Akong and they had preserved, here and there, some of his dohas. He requested them to assemble their information into a short memorial biography. Originally there had been inner, outer and secret biographies dealing with the relevant aspects of his life but they found the inner and secret aspects too hard to recompose and so when they met they settled upon a short form of the outer life story, upon which the following is based:
It is very clear, in retrospect, that the whole of the 1st Akong’s life was a radiant example of compassion. He was born in the Female Water Sheep year of the 5th cycle (1883). His parents named him Koncho Samdrup, which eventually become shortened to the nicknane ‘Akong’. He was one of five children. Even as a child at play he demonstrated great compassion to his playmates, trying to help other children and show them how to be loving and kind. As he grew older, he showed great tenderness towards animals and was very concerned for their welfare. However, a stronger and stronger urge to practice the Buddhadharma grew in him and a natural understanding of the truth – especially of life’s impermanence – developed; to such a point that every day when he saw the shadow of the setting sun he would compare it to the inevitable trickling away of life. He would say that another day had passed, wasted. He decided that it would he best for him to live the celibate life of a monk. So he went to Dori Thupten Pelji Ling monastery (Dolma Lhakang) and became a novice monk.
The everyday life of a novice has many menial duties and tasks. These duties he performed well, always considering the tests, such as cleaning, to be a means of purification and his attitude was to consider them all worthwhile. He went through his noviciate without any sour thought or grudge.
At the age of 18 years he received the full Bhikkhu ordination at Karma Gon monastery from the famous Khenpo Rinchen Namgyal. This increased even further his devotion and confidence in the teachings. So strong was his dedication to dharma that eventually most of the people around him found themselves taking him as an example of pure approach. At the age of 21 he became caretaker for the 3-year retreatants, one were practicing the 6 Teachings of Naropa retreat in the Palpung tradition. Besides serving the yogis, he spent all his spare time in study and practice. Through his being so devoted in his service, and benevolent, none of the conflict situations that can occur in such a closely-knit environment ever happened. At the age of 24 he himself entered the 3-year retreat and was so entirely committed to its achievement that he lost all concern for food, clothes and sleep and managed to practice for almost 24 hours each day, surviving on the barest minimum of things. Through this total dedication, he managed to actually accomplish all the various practices as they should be accomplished, showing exceptional prowess in the 6 Yogas of Naropa. He became exceptionally clairvoyant and could visit places freely during the Dream Yoga phase, so that he was clearly aware of all that was taking place outside, as well as inside the retreat. He gained many direct experiences and ‘visited’ many pure lands in his visionary experience – the ‘Copper-Coloured Mountain‘ land of Guru Rinpoche, Shamhala and so on. [The accounts of these were mainly contained in the ‘inner‘ biography and are too subtle to relate here].
Both before and after his long period of retreat, he met many of the famous teachers of his land. Of particular note amongst the many saintly teachers who helped him, and who he himself managed to help, some may be mentioned here: Kham Riwoche Jedrung Rinpoche (Tinley Jampa Jungnay) and Khenchen Ngawang Lekdrup were two of his main early teachers – they bestowed many initiations and teachings. Then eventually he had became renowned for his accomplishments, retreat and mastery of the Six Yogas, Lama Akong was obliged, at the age of 39, to leave retreat, where he had been living on just one teaspoon of roasted barley (tsampa) a day,.in order to help the 6th Chamey Rinpoche who had had a special vision in which he was told that Lama Akong was the one with full knowledge of the 6 Yogas of Naropa and that he should go and learn them from him. This he did.
When he was 45 he received empowerments and teachings from, and gave empowerments and teachings to, the visiting Palpung Kongtrul Rinpoche and later also exchanged teachings and empowerments with the 10th Trungpa Tulku of Surmang, Karma Chuji Nyinche. At the age of 54 he met again with Palpung Kongtrul Rinpoche, who was in the area but had fallen ill. None of the doctors could help very much and he sought Lama Akong’s aid, knowing that he was the only one there able to cure him. Fortunately he was able to give the help needed. These teachers declared him to be ‘a great holder of supreme knowledge and master of buddhadharma’ – a title similar to Chuje or Dharma-Arya. Besides this, Kongtrul Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche and Jedrung Rinpoche each conferred upon him the ‘Regent’ empowerment – a ceremony in which one master enthrones another as his spiritual equal, of similar realisation, and representative. Although he had started life as an ordinary monk, Lama Akong’s outstanding spirituality eventually caused him to become, by general consensus of opinion, the chief Abbot of Tsawa Dolma Lhakang.
Besides his meditation skill, he had considerable abilities as a scholar. He also had a wide knowledge of medicine, developed from an early age since he had been brought up in a family which had had doctors for very many generations. Many spiritual teachers, including Palpung Jamgon Rinpoche, recognised him to be an activity-aspect (tinley-pa) of the Medicine Buddha. The 10th Trungpa, in a shapten (long life) prayer he composed, recognised him as an emanation of Milarepa‘s disciple, the great siddha Rechungpa, whilst other teachers also saw him as an activity-aspect of Chenrezig, the Buddha-form of compassion. He cured people not only with medicine, but also by the blessing or his holy presence. Sometimes just the contact some had with him was enough to overcome many difficulties.
At the age of 56, in the Male Earth Tiger year (1938), he saw that the time was right for him to change existences, and he accordingly informed those around him. They begged him to stay longer amongst them but he promised to come back to help them further and told them that this was the best time, in the long term, for him to change bodies; that life must always come to an end. After his passing, his body remained in the meditation posture for five days and then shrank to the size of a young child’s. His life had been a wonderful example of practice and scholarship, yet what characterised him the most was the simplicity and directness with which he lived and taught the Buddhadharma.
In one at his biographies it recounts how he came ‘face-to-face’ with Guru Rinpoche in meditation. He received various instructions from him and amongst them was the following, which is a prediction as well as a short teaching. Those words has proven to be very true:
‘Listen carefully to these words and, once you have heard then, remember them continuously in your heart. From now onwards, discriminate well between right and wrong. What are the causes of the world we experience? They are these: the community of the ordained are not keeping their vows, the tantrikas are not keeping their samaya, the kings and ministers are not acting in accordance with humanitarian principles, ordinary folk have lost their principles and feel no shame or embarrassment. Women are fostering their desires and deceits. Through all the various inappropriate wrong views and conduct, all of the white gods (the positive energies) are offended and cause conflict. The demons and spirits (negative forces} are winning control.
Such causes and conditions upset the natural equilibrium of the elements of existence which determine the world. Therefore, in the outer world the essential quality of things (food, minerals, substance etc.) is deteriorating. The beings in the world will be afflicted by sickness, strife and famine. Their crops will not have the strength to sustain them and their livestock will be less productive. According to their status, those who have things will suffer through what they have. Those without will suffer through their needs. All will seen to be a cause of suffering. Because of this cloud of suffering being so dense and continuous, the sunlight of happiness will rarely shine. This state of affairs will grow until in this place you will experience such things as though hell itself had manifested here to be seen by all. At that time of unbearable suffering, the difficulties, in the outer world and the beings it contains, will be so hard to remove.
Yet should one manage to practice Dharma, adopting what is right and rejecting what is wrong, this will determine the overall outcome and bring respite: The sangha should scrupulously keep their vows, the yogins should carefully guard their samaya, the king and minister should uphold honest laws and never act for self-interest. Those with power should use it for others’ good. Those who are powerless should abandon a resentful, bad mind. Try to protect the lives of others and always examine cause and effect carefully, never neglecting to achieve the smallest of virtues and ever abstaining from even the smallest of evils. One with no experience should not go around spouting high-flown philosophies and lofty modes of action, turning the heads of both themselves and others. What is important is to always steer body, speech and mind towards some virtuous activity. Doing this constantly then, not only now but also in the future, there will stream forth nothing but goodness.’
Edited from information taken from a short biography composed by the senior extant monks of Dolma Lhakang in Tibet and another composed by the Dolma Lhakang elder, Lama Pema, now resident in lndia, by Kenneth Holmes, 1984, under the kindly guidance of Dharma-Arya Akong Rinpoche.