A Visit and Interview Account Of Khenpo A-Chos
(A Supreme Achiever of the Tibetan Great Perfection Dharma):
Along with the rapid development of science and technology and the gradual growth level of material life in civilization, the traditional culture of the Tibetan people has been widely spread to countries all over the world. All sects of esoteric Buddhism in Tibetan Buddhism have blossomed like a field of flowers causing those who are knowledgeable to indulge and learn more of the teachings of Buddhism and causing more people to knock on the door of the realization state of the esoteric Buddhism adepts.
The supreme Great Perfection Dharma of the Nyingma sect has already been brought to the attention of the people of the world as an extraordinarily beautiful flower of the Tibetan Buddhism school. Although in modern times, the adepts of the Great Perfection Dharma in all kinds of Tibetan Buddhism are too many to list, it is still rare to see people attain the “non-remaining rainbow body achievement.”
Nevertheless, while human beings moved toward the twenty-first century, a “non-remaining rainbow body achiever of the Great Perfection” who was learned in the sutras and had reached perfection with his inner realization state, appeared in 1988 in Xinlong County(1). Honestly, it can be said that for people throughout the world, the achiever’s incident sets an honorable example in the cultivation of practical Buddhism practice and realization.
Last year, I heard about this inspiring news in Chengdu. After returning back from the Five Ming Buddhism Study College,(2) I carefully reviewed the accounts of the entire process of the rainbow body achievement of this elder Lama. I cannot help but be moved and inspired by this elder of noble character and had always thought about doing a personal interview with those who were present. My wish could not be fulfilled because of being otherwise occupied with dharma matters. Finally, I had a chance to take this visit and do these interviews while arranging a dharma assembly in Luhuo County.(3) I felt extremely happy and delighted.
The car followed the highway for about an hour and was going to pass the famous Zhoda Mountain.(6) It had snowed several consecutive nights at the top of the mountain. The mountain was icy and without flying birds. The dangerous steep part of the mountain was layered with white snow. When facing all of this, we deeply realized, “The road was unknown due to the depth of the snow.” The car wheels did not have snow chains and right next to the highway there was a steep cliff. We took the risk and drove slowly toward the top of the mountain.
At eleven o’clock in the morning, we finally arrived at the temple (Le Mo Si).
We walked close to the silent site where the rainbow body achiever practiced and meditated in seclusion. There were three simple cabins. The right cabin was the meditation room where the rainbow body achiever had meditated in seclusion for nine years. It was also the place where he finally transformed into the rainbow body. The middle cabin was the kitchen shared by both the master and his disciples. The left cabin was the place where three attendants lived. Not far from the back of the cabin there was another small cabin. It was also a place for meditation. The resident of the small cabin was the nephew of the rainbow body achiever and was also an attendant. His name was Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachu)(7) and at the time was 50 some years old. He used to follow the great adept, H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) and received the entire practice of the Great Perfection from H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu). When he came back from his studies with H.H. Khenpo Achuck Rinpoche, he stayed by his uncle, the rainbow body achiever, and also meditated in seclusion for nine years. The local people praised this lama as being honest, reliable, and a true practitioner.
Upon our arrival, the first person we met was Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo). When he learned the reasons for our visit, he was very enthusiastic and showed us much hospitality. Without losing any details, he described to us the entire life of the rainbow body achiever and his personal witness to the process of the rainbow body achievement.
The name of the rainbow body achiever was Khenpo A-Chos (Aqiong Kambu). He was born in Xinlong in May 1918. He learned characters at the age of 7 and became a monk at the age of 10. At the age of 14, he practiced Buddha-dharma in the Buddhism Study College at the local temple (Le Mo Si). At the age of 22, he studied at Sera Monastery (Sela Si) which was one of the three major temples of Gelukpa sect in Lhasa. He had memorized a variety of sutras in 48 different dialects. He was proficient in exoteric and esoteric Buddhism and was very wise and strictly obedient to the precepts.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he suffered from very cruel and inhumane torture. Even in those days of total darkness, he did not complain to anyone. He remained consistently faithful to his Master and the Three Jewels and diligently practiced the Buddha-dharma.
During the late eighties, at a secluded site close to the temple (Le Mo Si), he built a cabin for meditation. His attendants had discovered many times that their master did not always walk through the door or windows but entered through the wall. For instance, in May 1994, the Buddhist Monks, Lama Norta (Ciwang Renzeng), Gadeng, Chenglie from the local temple (Le Mo Si), and a blacksmith and his wife from the Zhaba area left the Master’s cabin together and locked the door from the outside. When they came back, they found the Master peacefully walking in his yard. Out of surprise, they asked the Master, “Master, how did you get out?” The Master replied, “I left by the door. If I did not leave by way of the door where would I leave from?” After listening, right away they checked the door and windows, but the door and windows remained locked as before and no one had touched them. People present were all surprised by this incredible phenomenon.
During the interview, the attendant Luosang Ningzha sighed with feelings and said, “We have experienced similar phenomena many times.” So far, we can obviously say that his body had already become very different from anyone else and it was without limitation and hindrances.
Around 1992, the Master many times entered into a kind of unique state of phenomena for a long term. Had he entered Samadhi or was he in a state of unconsciousness? The attendants were all confused and did not know the status of this phenomenon. Two persons, Luosang Ningzha and Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo), headed toward H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche’s (Achiu Kambu’s) place to request advice. Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) said, “That was a kind of realization state of entering the Great Perfection where all the attachments have disappeared in the dharma realm. It is not a state of unconsciousness.” Immediately, Achiu Kambu said with praise, “My VajraMaster, Tulku Arik Rinpoche (Aru Rinpoche), and many eminent monks who have practiced the GreatPerfection Dharma have all encountered this kind of phenomena before. This is a very high state of realization. This is incredible, incredible!”
Several mysterious phenomena occurred around the Master’s meditation cabin in late August of 1998.
Coming out of nowhere, a snow white bird flew by. It was neither noisy nor agitated like any other birds or sparrows but appeared to be quiet, peaceful, and fearless to humans. It remained close enough to reach out and touch and stayed with them for seven days.
For a long period of time, a beautiful melody was heard, like the sounds sung lightly by a female, which was sweet in harmony. Yet, strangely, listening from the yard, the sounds seemed to be coming out from the Master’s cabin; when people went into the cabin it seemed that the sounds surrounded the top of the roof.(8)
Many of the local people had seen that on both sides of the Master’s meditation room, colorful light beams appeared like a rainbow stretching into the sky.
Meanwhile, the dreams of the disciples had become unusually mysterious.
After certain signs occurred, the disciples knew that their Master was going to leave this world. On August 28th, they prayed compassionately to the Master to receive his teachings forever and inquired about the matter of his reincarnation. The Master expounded happily with answers. In the meantime, he bestowed important teachings to them.
At 2 o’clock in the afternoon of August 29th, without illness, the Master twirled a mula (string of prayer beads) and while lying in an auspicious sleep position and chanting the Six-Syllable mantra, passed peacefully. He passed away naturally, freely and was comfortable.
At 7 o’clock the same evening, the disciples, following the ritual of Tibetan rules for great virtuous beings, took off the Master’s clothes in preparation to cover him with Dharma clothes. Right at this moment, a miracle happened. From head to toe, all the old aged and wrinkled skin disappeared from the khenpo’s entire body. The Master’s skin changed into the condition of a seven or eight year old child. Fresh and tender, the body was not old and clumsy like his eighty-year old body before he passed away. Everything that happened was truly unbelievable!
Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) said to me with regret, “Because we were so deeply grieved over our Master’s passing, at the time, we did not even consider taking pictures of him. Until this day, I feel regret because if there were pictures left they would surely astound the world.
When they changed the clothes of the Master, they discovered that the Master’s waist became a little smaller. Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) said, “It looked as if the Master’s body was going to shrink.” Luosang Ningzha said, “Of course, it will shrink!” What happened afterward was not expected by them at all.
As to the news of the Master’s passing away, it was not announced to the public right away.
In the morning of August 30th, Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) made butter-lamp offerings in the Master’s meditation room and found that the body underneath the Dharma clothes shrank a lot and had become smaller. Since then, day by day, the body shrank more and more. The disciples did not know what to do.
On September 1st, they rushed over to consult H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) at Yachen Gar (YeqingSi) in Baiyu County.(9) H.H. Khenpo Achuck Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) said, “It is better to keep this matter secret, so by all means, do not advance these findings to anyone. People who have violated any of the Fundamental Precepts of Esoteric Buddhism are restricted from touching Khenpo A-chos’s (Aqiong Kambu’s) body. Do not move the body within seven days. Wait until the eighth day to make any arrangements.”
The Master’s body gradually shrank day by day, just like that.
At dawn everyday, only Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) was allowed to enter the Master’s meditation room to offer butter-lamps. No other person had entered the cabin. When it was the fifth or sixth day, Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) told the other attendants, “Now, I can hardly tell if it was a body or not. It is possible it will disappear completely. Even if it does not disappear, the body will just be left the size of a bird or sparrow.” Luosang Ningzha pointed to the warm water bottle in front of him and said,
“It won’t be smaller than this water bottle, will it?”
Seven days passed.
On the morning of the eighth day, a total of six people went into the cabin. This included the Master’s relative Lama Norta (Chichengjiachuo), Gensang langjia, one little Lama, and the three other attendants, Luosang Ningzha, Suolang Jiachuo, and Rengqing Cairang. They opened the Dharma clothes on the bed. Suddenly everyone was astounded. Nothing remained on the bed. There wasn’t even a hair on the bed at all and the entire flesh and bones of the body had not gone to the sky or to the ground. It had completely transformed into rainbows. It had completely transformed into rainbows as witnessed by many people.”Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) told me, “We were extremely sad at the time.
We were terribly saddened, because our Master’s passing away had left us nothing. We felt that losing the body of our Master was like losing a most treasured thing. For one or two hours, we cried our hearts out beside the bed.” Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) expressed himself with sorrow and then said, “At that time, we hadn’t announced the passing away of our Master to anybody yet. Facing what had happened on the bed, how are we going to explain this? If we say that the Master had already passed away, where are his remains? If we say that his remains have completely transformed into rainbows, would people believe us? If we do not say he transformed into rainbows, what should be said? We have no words to explain what happened to the public.
Several times during our conversation, I felt Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) was indeed an honest person. He simply detailed what was truly happening without any exaggeration. At the end, he mumbled, “I did not know if this was called the rainbow body or not. But, things happened just like that. The local residents said that they saw many beautiful rainbows appear, but I did not see them.”
It appears from Lama Norta’s (Chicheng Jiachuo’s) behavior and talk, that disciples like him with extreme devotion to their Master are reluctant to let their Master’s remains turn into nothing and quietly disappear. This is because they already knew that the Master is a great achiever, so they did not care whether or not their Master’s remains transformed into a rainbow body. In their heart, their only wish was that their Master, like any other master, would leave them the remains of sharira with which they could build a relic shrine in memory of their Master. In this way the disciples and other living beings could receive good fortune by making offerings to the Master forever.
Although Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) left only images for the disciples’ memories, the demeanor that he exhibited as a yoga practitioner of esoteric Buddhism had already exerted a subtle influence upon his disciples and even in the hearts of the people of the world; it seems, his name has already appeared in many places.
As to the sorrow of the many people, including Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo), we felt very sympathetic and understood. But, from another viewpoint, the Master becoming a Buddha within his lifetime, indeed, made those of us who follow and learn from the Buddha happy, as we could treat the khenpo as a role model.
Let us listen to what comments H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) himself has regarding this incident. During the New Year holidays, H.H. Khenpo Achuk Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) attended the drama assembly held by the Sethar Institute (La Long Five Ming Buddhism Study College) at Larung Gar (La Long.) At the time, I asked him about this incident, “Did Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) really accomplish the rainbow body? I have learned that his disciples had requested advice from you. Is this what happened?” He replied, “Without doubt, Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) was confirmed as an accomplished rainbow body achievement. On the fourth day of his passing away, they came to me to ask if the Master’s remains shrank day by day, and if it completely disappeared, what should be done, if nothing was left for them to pay respect and make offerings to. I said to them it would be better if it transformed into rainbows. It has the same empowerment as rainbows, as it would from paying respect and making offerings to the sharira at the place where the Master lived.”
For the purpose of caution, we reviewed the reactions of the local residents. Five people, Luobu Zhuoma and her four children, had seen the flat shaped colorful rainbow reaching from the roof of the Master’s place into the sky. Later, many people saw these phenomena. At first, they thought it was the auspicious sign appearing for the coming back of the Jingmei Huo Fo who lived in India. They did not expect it to be the passing away of the Master. Many people including Gongboji saw that two sides of the Master’s meditation room emitted several rainbow lights, and the top of the light beams entered into a dim sky. Where the Master lived, many people had seen the colorful rainbows appear in the sky for several consecutive days. These rainbows, occurring from time to time, filled the sky. In addition, at a place far away in Ganzi County,(10) people who looked in the direction of the temple (Le Mo Si), at Xinglong County saw the rainbow spread over the top of the sky.
Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) said to me, he and some other people had never seen any rainbows, but almost all of the people living not to far from the local temple (Le Mo Si) saw the colorful and beautifully unique rainbows in many kinds of shapes. These phenomena corresponded to the auspicious manifestation of the people who achieve the rainbow body by practicing the Great Perfection Dharma.
Leaders from the Bureau of Religion in Xinglong and the Front Works Department investigated in person the entire process and all agreed to accept the transformation of the rainbow body of Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) as authentic and reliable. They also objectively reflected this situation in the form of a written document reported to the Religion Bureau of Ganzi State and the Ethnic Affairs Commission and Religion Department of Sichuan Province, as well as the Buddhism association of the province.
Because of living beings’ wide differences in karma, it is certain that there are differences in what they see and what they observe. This is very natural. But regarding the issue of whether the rainbow body achiever really was transformed into rainbows, it is hard to avoid people who ask related questions. For this reason, we provide here some appropriate discussion.
First, some people think that Aqiong Kambu did not abandon his fleshy body but directly flew to the Land of the Dakinis. Maybe, he accomplished his achievement this way. As a matter of fact, I think this is not what happened. Because, if he does not abandon his fleshy body and directly flies to the Land of the Dakinis, he would suddenly disappear into the sky like Khenchen Tsewang Rigdzin (Caiwang Renzhen Kambu) from Hongyuan County, Abei State (in Sichuan Province).(11) However, what actually happened is that the remains of Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) shrunk from large to small, shrinking gradually from existence to non-existence and finally disappearing completely. Besides, the whole process was witnessed in different stages and in person by Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo). In the meantime, all different shapes of colorful rainbows appeared auspiciously. Along with this was the magical conduct he exhibited before he passed away. All these are in accordance with the sequence of the Great Perfection. Therefore, we should not doubt that this is the Great Perfection rainbow body achievement.
Second, some people may doubt whether or not his attendants would use other methods to hide the remains of Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) and then cheat the good and honest people in society.
I think this is absolutely impossible, because if they adopted other methods, it would have to be burial in the ground or water. This kind of an arrangement is unthinkable for devoted Buddhist disciples. Even if you use all kinds of means to force them, they would rather die than apply this kind of arrangement. According to the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, after the Vajra Master passes away, the disciples need to perform a series of dharma rituals such as making offerings and paying respects to the remains. If one deliberately used burial in the ground or any other way, one has no respect at all for his Vajra Master. This is regarded as extreme heresy or outrage. From this, one has violated the precepts of esoteric Buddhism. For people who practice esoteric Buddhism, the most fearful thing is to break the precepts of esoteric Buddhism. The attendants of Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu), and especially Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) who has practiced esoteric Buddhism for more than ten years, would definitely not do something like this. In addition, they all believed firmly and waited quietly with a devoted heart that their own Master would have sharira after their Master passed away.
According to the sutras, those who make offerings to an achiever’s remains or places of sharira will be averting disasters and increase their good fortune. For this reason, they would take into consideration their own self-interests and the benefits to society. Besides, the relationship between the disciples and their master is very special. It is impossible for them to arrange their own master’s remains in such a rushed and harsh manner.
During the middle and last period of the process whereby Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) transformed into the rainbow, Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo) and others made a special trip twice to visit H.H. Khenpo Achuck Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu). H.H. Khenpo Achuck Rinpoche (Achiu Kambu) is Lama Norta’s (Chicheng Jiachuo’s) only fundamental Vajra Master of the Great Perfection. He would never do anything that would cheat his Vajra Master.
After Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) transformed into rainbow light, they sent the true account of this rainbow body achievement to the eminent monastics and practitioners in India and Tibet. They particularly reported these situations [or phenomena] to H.H. Dharma King Jigme Phuntsok (Jingmei Pengchuo) of the Five Ming Buddhism Study College at Sethar Institue. All these conditions should be treated as a fact that the rainbow body achiever transformed into rainbows. They would not dare cheat those eminent monks or virtuous persons who have supernormal powers and great abilities.
I myself found out from the interviews that it is not hard to tell from those who described many realization states that Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) had already accomplished a high realization state and those who saw the rainbows and auspicious signs are simple, honest, and good. All they described was witnessed by them. On June 24th, I saw Khenpo A-chos’s (Aqiong Kambu’s) other attendants, and again carefully asked the entire process of what happened. What they described was all consistent with Lama Norta (Chicheng Jiachuo). Therefore, I believe this truly is an example of achieving Buddhahood within a single life span at the end of the twentieth century.
Khenpo A-chos (Aqiong Kambu) passed away in such a peaceful, free, and unrestrained manner. This elder left his incarnation and returned to nature. He called out to people of the world without using his words and declared his original bright light. It is where all living beings should together move toward–the original destination.
[Reported at the Sethar Institute, Five Ming Buddhism Study College, Larung Gar (Lalong), June 1999. Translated from the Tibetan into Chinese, then into English. The footnotes were provided by Zhaxi Zhuoma Rinpoche.]
(2) This is most probably at the Sethar Institue at Larung Gar, the great university center founded by H.H. Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok near Serthar (Seda) in Seda County. This was still the largest Buddhist training center in the area at the time this article was written. Larung Gar was partly destroyed and the foreign and Chinese students were expelled by the Chinese Communists in 2001 along with many Tibetan nuns. Jigme Phuntsok died in 2004. Seda County is north of Xinlong County and east of Ganzi County.
(7) Wherever possible, the names and places listed here have been translated as they appeared in other Tibetan-English sources. The transliteration of these names from the original Chinese article are also provided in parentheses.
(9) Yachen Gar, a monastic encampment and permanent teaching camp of H.H. Khenpo Achuk (Achiu Kambu) Rinpoche (sometimes spelled Achuck) is located in Baiyu (White Jade) County, the county due west of Xinlong County. Although Yachen Gar was several hundred kilometers (over 125 miles) by road, it was about 75 kilometers (47 miles) as the crow flies from the temple (Le Mo Si). Advanced lamas could travel that distance very quickly.
(11) In 1924 Khenchen Tsewang Rigdzin went to this same region of eastern Kham, receiving teachings and empowerments there directly from Vimalamitra who also attained the rainbow body in the Five Peaks area of China in around the eighth century. Tsewang Rigdzin meditated in this area and achieved high realization. In 1958, while being taken to prison by the Chinese army in Tongde County, Huangnan Region, Qinghai Province, he flew into the sky and disappeared.