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Rechung Dorje Drakpa (1083/4-1161) - Dorje Drak means 'Vajra-Glory' - is also known as Rechungpa. Rechung became one of Milarepa's two best known students. The other was Gampopa, who established the monastic foundation of the Kagyu lineage. Rechung on the other hand travelled to India three times and brought with him many profound teachings to his line of Tibetan Buddhism.

Rechungpa. Colours are modified by me.

Rechung was sent to India by Milarepa to get texts there, texts that Milarepa's guru Marpa had been unable to get. These rare teachings are essential in the Kagyu line. Rechung founded the Rechung Kagyu lineage and made known these insider teachings, called The Six Equal Tastes, as compiled from Indian sources. The Tastes encompasses a range of practices, including the Six Yogas of Naropa. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Rechung Dorje Drakpa"]

This is a bit of what we are told about him and his Buddhist gurus:

Practice and meeting yogis

When Rechung was twelve years old he was herding oxen in a meadow. In so doing he came close to a cave where the great yogi Milarepa was sitting, singing. Rechung heard the singing and followed the voice. As soon as he cast eyes on the yogi a state of great joy and trust came over him, and he remained with Milarepa to receive teachings and to practice. Roberts add that Rechung probably was orphaned and was adopted and brought up by the wandering yogi Milarepa. [Roberts 2007:235]

When he was fifteen he got leprosy. Therefore he withdrew to practice alone. Some Indian yogis who passed by him one day, told him about a guru, Balacandra, who might help him. Milarepa permitted Rechung to go to India with the yogis and meet Balacandra, who initiated him into a certain practice. After some time of practice Rechung was wholly cured from his disease. He returned to Tibet and Milarepa and kept on practicing right next to the yogi recluse.

In order to thank Balacandra, he bartered his inheritance and all that he could get from others for gold; went to India and gave all of it to him. Balacandra now sent Rechung to a very special teacher, Tipupa, who was a student of Naropa and treated Rechung as an old friend. Rechung got teachings from Tipupa and then returned to Balacandra, and then he went to Tibet again. On his way he met another teacher, Mirti, who gave him teachings about "how to move fast". Rechung mastered this practice and was able to travel from India to Tibet in only six days.

Realisations and further travels

Back in Tibet again with Milarepa, Rechung was taught the six teachings of Naropa, and practiced them. Milarepa sang many songs for him too, and many of them can be found in The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.

Rechung started to wonder whether Milarepa's realisation was greater than his own or not, and went up to him to tell him about his experiences. Milarepa at once read Rechung's thoughts and told him that Rechung's experiences were not as special as he thought himself, and left his handprint in a rock. Rechung then wanted to leave his handprint in the rock, too, but he only hurt himself when he tried.

Rechung gave in to the idea that it was good to defeat learned ones in arguments with their own weapons, and wanted to go to India to learn how to debate and use the logic that had been developed. Milarepa eventually permitted it; he wanted Rechung to receive special teachings there and bring them with him to Tibet.

After travelling and meeting many teachers, Rechung came to Tipupa in India again and learnt many teachings, including the teachings on the Formless Dakinis. Then one day Rechung went into a town. In the middle of the marketplace he met a yogi who said to him, "What a good-looking young Tibetan you are. What a pity that you only have seven more days to live."

Rechung was frightened and asked Tipupa for advice. "I have been doing all these things in order to bring the teachings of the Formless Dakinis to Tibet. If I die now, it will all have been to no avail."

Tipupa sent him to the woman yogi Machig Drupä Gyalmo. She taught him the practice of 'Long Life'. He had to practice it all the time for seven days, and then he survived. She also taught him "the Almighty Ocean (Gyalwa Gyamtso)".

Texts of Black Magic

On the way home to Tibet Rechung also learnt black magic. Far away from there, Milarepa became aware of that his dear student had got these problems. Then, when Rechung and Milarepa met, Rechung thought that after he had got so many special teachings and initiations in India, maybe he now as just as good as Milarepa. Milarepa helped him to realise it was not the case. He sent Rechung to fetch firewood while he himself took a look at the books that Rechung had brought with him from India. He found the teachings on black magic and asked "sky dancing muses", dakinis, to take with them all the texts that would be deep and useful for the good of all beings. Then he burnt the rest.

When Rechung returned and discovered that Milarepa had burnt his books, he lost his trust and felt hurt. Milarepa explained that the burnt books were useless, and that understanding how the mind is and works is what counts.

Rechung stayed with his teacher in the solitude of the mountains. After some time another student, Gampopa, arrived.

Dreams interpreted

Milarepa told his main students to note their dreams. Next morning one of them had seen a sun rising and melting into his heart. Rechung had dreamt that he came into three valleys and shouted loudly. But Gampopa had dreamt that he slaughtered many beings. This showed Milarepa that Gampopa would be able to lead many people to freedom.

Some time later Rechung dreamt that he was in the pure land of the dakinis. There, Buddha Akshobya was giving teachings about the life-stories of Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa. At the end of the lesson the Buddha said that he would tell them about the life of Milarepa next. Milarepa had succeeded in gaining full enlightenment in only one lifetime. Rechung understood this to be a hint that he should ask his teacher for the story of his life, and in a second dream the dakinis again encouraged him to do so. Next morning Rechung went to see Milarepa and asked him to tell his life-story.

Rechung visiting places

There were pilgrim-places in Central Tibet that Rechung wanted to visit. Milarepa let him go, but foretold that he would be bitten by a dog- Out of sheer joy over being able to begin his journey Rechung forgot to act out some pieces of advice first.

Rechung travelled to Central Tibet. Milarepa accompanied him a short way and told him to accept deep teachings from others.

On the way Rechung came to an inn. Full of compassion for the people there, he sang a song for them about the precious human body. As a result, a young man named Rinchen Drak became his student, and he travelled on with Rechung. They first went to Lhasa where they got Mahamudra-teachings from a Nepalese Master. From there they went into the Yarlung Valley. There they came to the palace of the local ruler. The daughter of the house opened the door to give them a scolding, but when she saw the handsome Rechung, she invited them into her house and led Rechung to her sick father.

The father was soon well again and offered Rechung his palace and his daughter. Rechung stayed there, and people came to receive teachings.

Meeting and dealing with monastics

Then Rechung and his student went to Lhasa and gave many teachings. As a result, some monks becoming jealous with him and said, "He doesn't have any monastic vows la we do, therefore people should not accept teachings from him."

Rechung answered, " This is how folk without vows run" and then he walked over the water. Then he went through house-walls and said, " I am sleeping in a state of total unconsciousness and so I walk in and out of houses."

After Rechung had showed them these things, the monks developed strong trust in him and became his students. Rechung went to South Tibet and there he met one of Marpa's four principal students, and was taught how to control the subtle energy winds. But Rechung found Milarepa's teachings more important. To demonstrate this, Rechung floated in the air. Then he sank into the ground up to his chest, all the while singing songs in praise of Milarepa's qualities.

Rechung gave teachings about tummo (the art of generating inner heat) to the monks who were present. Then he went back to Yarlung. The ruler of Yarlung built a place for Rechung, which was called "Rechungpuk". Many came there to receive teachings.

The turquoise-stone incentive

Once an old couple gave Rechung a turquoise-stone. The daughter of the ruler saw this and hoped that Rechung would give it to her. Soon she found that Rechung had given the stone to a beggar, became furious, spoke harshly, and treated Rechung badly. It made Rechung decide to go back to Milarepa, saying, "I left my lama and lived with a ruler. I started to wear clothes like the wealthy do and lived with ministers and executives. I shall not make this mistake again."

Roberts tell: "He lived for a while as a layman but the marriage failed and he returned to being a repa for the rest of his life, teaching in the southern borderlands of Loro and Jarpo." [Roberts 2007:235]

As he left he used his "moving fast" siddhi and moved at a very high speed down the Yarlung-valley to the place where the Yarlung River joined the Tsangpo River. There he asked a ferryman to take him across the river. But the ferryman did not want to be bothered for just one person. Rechung took off his cotton robe, placed it on the water and rowed across the river, using his staff as a paddle. When the ferryman saw this, he became Rechung's student.

Milarepa noted that Rechung was on his way to him, and told his students, "Rechung is coming soon." When Rechung arrived, Milarepa gave an initiation on "Highest Joy" (Khorlo Demtschog).

Further dreams

Rechung stayed with Milarepa and went on to practice near him. In his dreams he had many signs telling him that he had reached a high level of realization. Once in a dream he undressed and washed his body with water, then he became a bird and flew away and landed in a tree. Then he saw a mirror and looked into it. Milarepa interpreted the dream, saying that the two wings related to merit and wisdom. Rechung would be sitting in the Bodhi-tree, and the mirror stood for revelations.

In another dream Rechung placed a jewel on his head and wore a beautiful robe. Milarepa explained that the jewel meant that he should always think of his lama. The white robe was an indication of the Kagyu-line. The looking into the mirror had to do with the pure mind.

Finally Milarepa said to Rechung that his realization was deep; now he should leave him and work for the benefit of all beings. But this time Rechung did not want to leave his lama. Milarepa insisted, however. He gave Rechung some additional profound teachings and some gold. Then he foretold that Rechung would have many students who would go directly into the pure lands without leaving their bodies. He also advised him to not stay too long in one place.

Moving away

Rechung first went to Yerpa to a cave. Students came to him, and with fifteen of them he went to Samye, the first monastery that had been built in Tibet. The abbot there did not think much of Rechung and his following and would not let them into his monastery. But he soon repented and became his student. From Samye Rechung went to Zangri, and later he went to a solitary place to practice. His meditation deepened and he experienced great joy.

Rechung went further into the Yarlung Valley to the mountain Yarla Shampo. Rechung hid some profound teachings in a ravine in South Tibet. A yogi by the name of Lorepa would come and find them after seven generations, he said.

The woman who had coveted the turqoise and behaved badly against Rechung, was punished by her father to marry the first, best man she met. It turned out to be a leprous beggar. Now she wanted to meet Rechung. She found his whereabouts and and threatened to kill herself if he refused to see her so she could ask him for forgiveness. At last she got instructions, followed them and practiced along with her husband till both were healed.

Roberts: "He was reconciled with his ex-wife who became his pupil. Living until his late seventies, he had a great following and many successors, and his teachings are still being practised nearly 900 years after he obtained them in India [Roberts 2007:235]."

Rechung died at the age of 78 (about 1160).

Teachings and Transmissions

Rechung's teaching focus more on Tantric methods of Mahamudra; especially the dynamic path of raising what today is commonly known as Kundalini (the Buddhist term is Candali) and the mysticism of male-female Union, also called yab-yum. The embrace represents the union of great bliss and essence.

Rechung's line of instruction became infused and blended with another line in the Kagyu school, and is maintained to the present time.

Several biographies for Rechung exist. Rechung has been consistently mispresented in Tibetan history, especially by historians of the Kagyu line who wrote after the 1400s, and who were members of a lineage traced back to Gampopa, who is referred to in newly found, old manuscripts as one of six scholarly students who appeared late in Milarepa's life.

Milarepa and Rechung often seem to critcise monasticism and its establishments, and that point could have been tough to handle for surviving, monastic Kagyu schools. Moreover, today it is made clear that Rechung was Milarepa's master student and lineage holder and that Milarepa passed on all his teachings to him. Other Milarepa students - including Gampopa - got only introductions and general outlines of teachings which Rechung had got in full.

After Milarepa's passing Gampopa requested and got some transmissions from Rechung which Gampopa had not succeeded in getting from Milarepa before. Also, one of Gampopa's foremost students, went to Rechung and asked for transmissions from him.

Peter Roberts has written a doctoral thesis called The Biographies of Rechung: The Evolution of a Tibetan Hagiography about what has come to light more recently about Rechung and the presentation of him as time has gone by. He shows "how Rechungpa was increasingly portrayed as a rebellious, volatie and difficult pupil, as a lineage from a fellow-pupil [Gampopa] prospered to become dominant in Tibet" and Rechung's biography was changed over a period of three hundred years of inventive story-telling. As a result his full enlightenment is impossibly mixed with egotism and confusion in the later hagiographies. [Roberts 2007:235]

Stories change.


Rechung, Rechungpa, Milaraspa, Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhists, Literature  

Chang, Garma C. C., tr. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. London: Shambala, 1999. ⍽▢⍽ Fabulous and imaginative old stories and teaching poetry.

Chögya Trungpa, ed. The Life of Marpa the Translator: Seeing Accomplishes All. Ill ed. Boston: Taylor and Francis, 1982.

Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. ⍽▢⍽ Partial view of the 2000 edition is at Google Books.

Roberts, Peter Alan. The Biographies of Rechungpa: The Evolution of a Tibetan Hagiography. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2007.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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