Khyentse, Dilgo, and Jamgon Mipham. Lion of Speech: The Life of Mipham Rinpoche. Shambhala Publications, 2020.
Summary by Michael Deng
Lion of Speech recounts the life of Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912), one of the greatest 19th-century masters. It was written by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who taught many renowned Tibetan figures including the Dalai Lama. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche left the volume behind when he went into exile in 1959; the volume was later recovered in 2010. The content of the biography comes from oral accounts of both Mipham’s elder brother Shedrup Tendzin as well as his personal attendant Lama Osel Jalu. Mipham Rinpoche was born in 1846 in an aristocratic family. Social and political turmoil were frequent where Mipham grew up. For Mipham, his spiritual path began from joining the monastery at twelves and becoming a disciple of Loter Wangpo. He interacted with multiple schools of Buddhism and spent many years in retreat in Kham. The book not only focuses on Mipham as a Tibetan master and teacher, but also a human being with insightful thinking, an inquisitive mind, and deep knowledge in meditation.
19th century master Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912) was an intellectual, inquisitive, and insightful Tibetan Buddhist with fascinating life stories, which are only revealed through his biography, Lion of Speech. The book began from a brief account of his birth. Then it describes how he entered dharma and learned from prominent teachers for his study. After delving into his teachings, the book then depicts his secret life and concludes with remarks about how his emanated form was “gathered back into the ultimate expanse.”
- The Ground of Emanation
Mipham is inseparable from the primordial wisdom of Manjushri, which is the nature of the ultimate expanse of dharmakaya. Manjushri is the bodhisattva associated with wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism. Through his compassion and as long as samsara endures, he guides his disciples according to their needs and provides support for their aspirations. He appears in various forms such as an ordinary human being, shravaka, or bodhisattva, to assist other buddhas in their enlightenment. Mipham is acknowledged as an emanation of Manjushri, and with clear vision, he discovered his previous births. His earlier existence was a yogi who became the principle spiritual preceptor of China. Before that, he was a scholar accomplished in the sutras and tantras, logic, and epistemology. Even though he had a clear vision of his previous existences, he told very little to the outer world. Through his wisdom, scholarly discernment, and perfect actions, he became a wonderful addition not only to the world of humans but also gods.
2. The Birth of a Bodhisattva
Mipham was born in 1846 in Chung Ding Chung, an area watched over by the genyen spirit, under favorable conditions. First, his uncle, Anye Kali, was a respectable hidden yogi who attained vidyadhara. Second, his father and mother had great personalities and virtues. His birth came with miraculous marks and signs, and he grew up according to the traditions of his country. From the time he was born, he possessed qualities of a bodhisattva: compassion, aspiration, virtue and intelligence. He was intrigued by monastic life and, unlike other children, he thought mostly of Manjushri in his peaceful and wrathful forms. He displayed his courage during a time of army invasions and earned praise from his neighbors, who complimented him, saying that he would undoubtedly reach the peak of worldly positions if he wanted to.
3. Entering the Dharma
Mipham entered a renowned monastery at the age of twelve situated at the great sacred place of Rangjung. He devoted himself to study and reflection, then at the age of fifteen, entered Dzogchen monastery. He met the great bodhisattva Khenpo Karma Trashi Ozer, who predicted that his mind and Mipham’s would mingle into one. They soon became friends. Mipham then took up residence in the hermitage of Chime Chokedrup Ling, practicing the approach and accomplishing phases of the sadhana of Manjushri, Lion of Speech. At age seventeen, Mipham went to Golok and became famous for his expertise in astrological calculations. The following year, he went on a pilgrimage with Gyurzang, his maternal uncle, studying at the monastic center Drok Riwo Ganden. There, his ordinary perceptions became the ultimate expanse and his body became filled with intense warmth and bliss.
4-6. Study and Reflection, Practice, and a Hidden Life
At Loter Wangpo’s hermitage, Mipham completed the approach and accomplishment phases of the practice of white Manjushri and the secret practice of Hayagriva. He received transmission of various texts of the outer sciences including the Grammar of Chandragomin, instructions for purifying mercury, and Iron Scorpion. He exhibited such a deep understanding of the texts that the masters who taught him were amazed by his intelligence. They were also shocked by his critical thinking skill-sets as well as his ability to find the underlying logic of texts. Jamgon Rinpoche praised Mipham as the lord of profound tantras. Mipham’s teaching not only brought together the critical components of Buddhist’s practices but also served as blessings to his disciples. He was kind and pleasant to the buddhas who studied with him. In addition, Jamyang Gyatso and Lama Osel Ringpoche made his writings into collections so that more people could benefit from them.
Mipham was at all times determined to leave samsara forever. His mind was occupied by impermanence. He practiced multiple sadhanas. In one particular year, he read aloud the mantra of Yamantaka, Lord of Life, countless times. He lived in Karmo Taktsang for 13 years, going on many retreats. He had no toleration of any profane activities or worldly concerns. Great nobles came from everywhere to bow down before the lotus of his feet (though, he rarely spoke to them and avoided non-important conversations).
In his secret life, Mipham performed countless miracles. Once when he encountered a Chinese army, he made the horse of the commander lie down, refusing to move. Whenever he offered advice to his students and told them what to do or what not to do, he would always be right — he was thought to have great clairvoyance. However, many of these miraculous records weren’t able to be recorded because Mipham had kept them hidden as secrets.
7-8. Activities for the Doctrine and Beings and the Final Deed
Mipham was sixty-seven years old when he left his retreat in 1912. Composing a testament detailing what needed to be done after his death, he went in depth explaining that he no longer wanted to remain in his current “illusory” body, which was tormented by disease. “May everyone be happy and find freedom,” he said. He concealed his writings in the heart of one of the dharma protectors and offered all his devoted disciples advice and blessings in both their waking states as well as dreams.