1st Akong Rinpoche

Early Life

The 1st Akong, Karma Miyo, was born in the Female Earth Hare year of the 15th Cycle (1879). There were various signs that a special child had been born, such as the water in the copper vessels turning to milk.  He was given the name Kӧncho Samdrup, which eventually became shortened to the nickname “Akon” or Akong by his parents.  He was one of five children and even as a child at play he demonstrated great compassion to his playmates, trying to help others and to show them how to be loving and kind.  He would play as if giving empowerments and teachings, and would build small stupas from earth.  As he grew and became old enough to care for animals, he showed deep concern for their welfare.

At the age of six he received the hair-cutting ceremony from Lama Namrol Shuwa, a Siddha fully accomplished in the Six Yogas of Naropa.  From the age of seven he learned to read and write and showed great aptitude for learning, memorising texts with ease.  As he grew older a stronger and stronger urge to practise the Buddhadharma grew in him, and a natural understanding of the truth, and especially of life’s impermanence, developed – to such a point that every day when he saw the shadow of the setting sun he would compare it to the inevitable trickling away of life, and say that another day had passed and been wasted.

The Young Monk

He determined that it would be best for him to lead the celibate life of a monk.  At the age of eight he entered Dori Thubten Pelji Ling Monastery (Dolma Lhakang) and became a novice monk, living the typical life of a novice with all the menial duties to perform.  These he performed well, without any sour thought or grudge, regarding them all as worthwhile, and he always considered tasks such as cleaning to be a means of purification.

At the age of 13 he received the novice Getsul ordination and this increased his devotion and confidence in the teachings to such a point that everyone found themselves taking him as an example of the correct, pure approach.  At the age of 15 he went to study under two eminent Masters.  From Lama Tsawa Lotsawa Rinchen Namgyal he studied literature, vows and the Profound Inner Principles.  From the famous Khenchen Rinchen Dorje of Karma Gӧn, he received teachings on an array of key Mahayana texts over a period of prolonged study.  From that same Master he received full Gelong ordination at 20 years of age.

Retreat and Accomplishments

At the age of 23 he and a few others entered a three-year retreat, following the Palpung system, at the Upper Retreat of Dolma Lhakang.  During this there were some signs of accomplishment of both the creation and completion stages, such as red light shining throughout the retreat house, the Dutsi (Amrita nectar) boiling, and so forth.  The 1st Akong Rinpoche also had special and decisive experiences in both dream- and waking-state.  He became exceptionally clairvoyant and could visit places freely during the Dream Yoga phase, so that he was clearly aware of all that was taking place outside as well as inside the retreat.  He gained many direct experiences and visited many pure lands in his visionary experience, such as the “Copper-Coloured Mountain” land of Guru Rinpoche, Shambala and so on.  His continued strict retreat led to a degree of realisation in which there is no difference between meditation and post-meditation.  He accomplished the two sorts of Siddhi.  He was very well respected for many things, in particular his precise knowledge of the details concerning the various Vajrayana practices.

He went on to meet many of the famous teachers of the land and was recognised by them as being “A Great Holder of Supreme Knowledge and Master of Buddhadharma” – a title similar to Chӧjé or Lord of Dharma.  His outstanding spirituality caused him to be asked, by a general consensus of opinion there, to become the main Abbot of Tsawa Gang Dolma Lhakang.

The 1st Akong Rinpoche was a considerable scholar who also had a wide knowledge of medicine.  He had been brought up in a family in which medicine had been practised for many generations but his extraordinary medical prowess came about through a sudden awakening of profound medical knowledge from previous lives, at around the age of 40.  Many spiritual teachers recognised him to be an activity-aspect [Tib.: Trinley-pa] of the Medicine Buddha.  He cured people not only by the use of medicines but also by the blessing of his holy presence, and sometimes just the contact some people had with him was enough to overcome many difficulties.  He trained others in medicine and made it a point that treatment and medicine should always be given without charge.

The principal Dharma practice of the 1st Akong Rinpoche was that of the Koncho Chidu Sadhana for Guru Rinpoche, according to the Terma of Rigdzin Jatson Nyingpo.  He had direct “face-to-face” encounters with Guru Rinpoche and conveyed the Guru’s instructions through sacred verse (doha).

Akong Rinpoche and Karsé Kongtrul Rinpoche

At one point, the great Karsé Kongtrul Rinpoche came to Dolma Lhakang seeking shelter from the fighting around his home area.  Akong Rinpoche came out of retreat to welcome him.  Later, Kongtrul Rinpoche moved to Jonang Monastery where he fell very ill, unable to be helped by ordinary medical means or prayers.  Akong Rinpoche was called to come and help, and Kongtrul Rinpoche had a vision that Akong Rinpoche was the emanation of Medicine Buddha, so he asked Akong Rinpoche to give him long-life initiation and medical treatment.  Akong Rinpoche was a very humble man and said he couldn’t give initiation to such a high person, but Kongtrul Rinpoche insisted.  As a result of the initiation and medical treatment, Kongtrul Rinpoche’s health improved, and he also learned from Akong Rinpoche many techniques of the Six Yogas of Naropa.  Kongtrul Rinpoche recognised the greatness of Akong Karma Miyo and enthroned him “Just like myself” i.e. to the same elevated status as himself.

Following this, Akong Rinpoche returned to Dolma Lhakang and remained in retreat for some years.  He was requested to emerge from that to lead the prayers for the Queen Mother of Derge who had passed away.  Just days after his return to Dolma Lhakang, he suffered a severe stroke.  His friend Lama Thogapa, understanding the situation from a dream he had received at dawn, dressed Akong Rinpoche, who was able to sit up but unable to speak, in his ceremonial robes and helped him take position in the meditation posture.  Lama Thogapa read to him the beautiful supplication of noble intentions of Karmapa Rolpi Dorje, similar to the aspiration prayer of Shantideva to be a help and friend for all beings.  Akong Rinpoche smiled to acknowledge he had understood and soon after passed away.  It was on the tenth (Guru Rinpoche) day of the third month of the Ox year (1937).  He was aged 58.  His body remained in tukdam (profound meditation) for five days before collapsing.  His body was the size of that of an eight-year-old child at the end of the tukdam.

Three days after the cremation, the top of the skull remaining in the cremation chamber was found to have the three letters “Om Ah Hung” on it in relief.  The heart, tongue and eyes had not been burned and some ringsel (small, pearl-like relic spheres) were found.  Some pieces of bone had various sacred letters on them.

Dolma Lhakang asked Karsé Kongtrul Rinpoche about a reincarnation and he replied that he would ask the Gyalwang Karmapa.  The Gyalwang Karmapa replied: “There will be a reincarnation.”  About four years later the Gyalwang Karmapa gave him a letter of recognition and the directions necessary to find him, saying: “There is a boy born in the Dragon Year, at a three days’ journey by horse from a monastery in the North-Eastern direction.”  With these clear indications, a search party went to investigate and met with favourable circumstances.