(From the Forward to The Principal Teachings of Buddhism by Tsongkhapa, with a commentary by Pabongka Rinpoche, translated by Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, 1998, all emphasis and formatting mine…)
Meeting Je Pabongka….
Je Pabongka It was in his private quarters at the Tashi Chuling hermitage that I first met Pabongka
Rinpoche. He had been away on an extended teaching tour in eastern Tibet, and just returned. I was still the wild teenager and had been stuck with the distasteful job of nyerpa for Gyalrong House—this means I was a kind of quartermaster and had to make sure there was enough firewood and food to keep the house kitchen going for several hundred monks. Since the Rinpoche was a member of Gyalrong, we were supposed to send a committee over to the hermitage to welcome him back and present him gifts. As nyerpa I was expected to arrange some supplies and help carry them along.
In private conversation Pabongka Rinpoche was in the habit of constantly attaching “Quite right! Quite right!” to everything he said. So I distinctly remember when I came into his presence, and he put his hand on my head, and he said “Quite right! Quite right! Now this one looks like a bright boy!”
From that day on I felt as though I had received his blessing, and some special power to pursue my studies.
On the Power of Je Pabongkha’s speech…..
The effects on his audience were striking and immediate.
I remember particularly the case of Dapon Tsago, a member of the nobility who held a powerful position equivalent to Minister of Defense. Public teachings in Tibet were as much social as religious affairs, and aristocrats would show up in their best finery, often it seemed not to hear the dharma but rather to put in an appearance. So one day this great general marches in to the hall, decked out in silk, his long hair flowing in carefully tailored locks (this was considered manly and high fashion in old Tibet).
A great ceremonial sword hung from his belt, clanging importantly as he swaggered in. By the end of the first section of the teaching he was seen leaving the hall quietly, deep in thought—he had wrapped his weapon of war in a cloth to hide it, and was taking it home. Later on we could see he had actually trimmed off his warrior’s locks, and finally one day he threw himself before the Rinpoche and asked to be granted the special lifetime religious vows for laymen. Thereafter he always followed Pabongka Rinpoche around, to every public teaching he gave.
On Je Pabongka’s meditation hermitage…..
The Rinpoche had never spent much time at the small monastery atop the Pabongka rock, and his fame Jetsun Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin Jetsun Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin soon reached such proportions that the Ngakpa College of Sera Monastery offered him a large retreat complex on the hillside above Pabongka. The name of this hermitage was Tashi Chuling, or “Auspicious Spiritual Isle.” There were some sixty Buddhist monks in residence there, and as I remember about sixteen personal attendants who helped the Lama with his pressing schedule: two monk-secretaries, a manager for finances, and so on.
The Rinpoche would divide his time between his quarters here and a small meditation cell built around the mouth of a cave, further up the side of the mountain. The cave was known as Takden, and it was here that Pabongka Rinpoche would escape for long periods to do his private practice and meditations. The central chamber had a high vaulted ceiling, so high that the light of a regular fire-torch could not even reach it, and the darkness seemed to go up forever.
In the center of the ceiling there was an odd natural triangle in the rock, which looked exactly like the outer shape of one of the mystic worlds described in our secret teachings. In the corner of this wonderful cave, an underground spring flowed froma rock—and above it was another natural drawing, this one just like the third eye that we see painted on the forehead of one of our female Buddhas.
By the way, this “third eye” you hear about is largely metaphorical, and stands for the spiritual understanding in one’s heart. We believed the cave was home for a dakini—sort of a Buddhist angel—because people often said they saw a wondrous lady come from the cave, but no one had ever seen her enter.