Retreat Master Kyunga Sodpa Gyatso Rinpoche
Retreat master Kyunga Sodpa Gyatso Rinpoche (1911-1980), from Kham, was regarded as a realized master. He was a man of indomitable character, strong, strict like Marpa, and had spent thirty-five years of his life in retreat. In Tibet, Kyunga Rinpoche became Drikung Thil’s meditation master and Shiwe Lodro later sent him to Lapchji as dorzin (“Vajra holder”; a respectful title for a realized master who guides practitioners at special retreat locations.) At Lapchi, he directed retreats in the Dudul Cave (“the Caver Where Evils Are Defeated”), one of the four major caves of Lapchi, for seven years, after making a few pilgrimages he withdrew to a scared place associated with Guru Rinpoche for fifteen years, and he fled before the Tibetan national uprising and worked with other Tibetan refugees on road construction in Sikkim. The Karma Kagyu master Lama Sangan happened to pass the road crew and recognized his former teacher, and thus the dorzin emerged from anonymity. Togden Rinpoche learned about him through Druk Tuktse Rinpoche (1915-1983), and Drubwang Kyunga was installed as meditation master in a monastery near Sharchukhul in Ladakh. There Kyunga Rinpoche directed the first three-year retreat with nine students under very primitive conditions in 1974.
Drubwang Kyunga had been humble and undemanding all his life. In Ladakh he lived in a tent, even during the winter months. He had practically no personal possessions, savings, or provisions, and never made use of donations for himself; when his followers brought food for offerings, he gave it to his students and kept none for himself.
In autumn of 1978, the second three-year retreat under Drubwang Kyunga’s guidance began at LamaYuru monastery in Ladakh, which included the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang as a participant along with 13 disciples. Kyunga Rinpoche was highly regarding by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who sent offers to Drubwang Kyunga to do a special puja for world peace and to elevate obstacles for the Tibetan people.
At the conclusion of the three-year retreat in LamaYuru, as Kyunga Rinpoche had previously prophesied, he passed away on the month and day that he had foretold. One of his disciples described it as an amazing day. Kyunga Rinpoche told his students, “I want to die exactly like the Buddha”, and asked that they change his bed so that is was facing North. He asked that His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang some to his side where he spent private time with His Holiness. Then surrounded by his students in the three-year retreat, while he sat on his bed in the meditation posture, they all joined together for the Guru Yoga practice, partaking in tea and tsampa. Kyunga Rinpoche did not show any signs of pain or shortness of breath. When they reached the dissolving phase of the Guru Yoga, Drubwang Rinpoche told them “This is my moment to depart from this world”. He lay down on his right side, just like the Buddha, with one had on his cheek and the other holding one of his disciples’ hand. He touched a picture of the previous Holiness Drikung Kyabgon to his forehead and then one by one gave each disciple his hearts advise for them. Then at the end, he said to all of them, “Perfect teachers and Yidams will never deceive you. May the guru’s blessings pervade in your hearts”. Then the disciples reciting calling the lama from afar, and slowly it appeared as he was just falling asleep as he passed into pari-nirvana. Outside, one Lama Gyatso, said there were many rainbows appearing in the sky with different shapes during that time.