The First Akön, Karma Miyo

There used to be several biographies of the first Akong[1] Tulku, as well as different collections of his spiritual songs (dohas) but due to political difficulties in the latter part of the 20th century they have nearly all been destroyed or lost. During the second Akong tulku's 1983 first return visit to Tibet, several of the older monks he met recalled the first Akong and said they had preserved, here and there, some of his story and dohas. He requested them to assemble their information into a short memorial biography. Originally there had been inner, outer and secret biographies dealing with the relevant aspects of his life but they found the inner and secret aspects to hard to recompose and so when they met they settled upon a short form of the outer life story, upon which the following is based, with modifications from Lama Pema’s biography, compiled at the request of the IInd Akong Rinpoche and given to him, by its author, in Bodh Gaya in 1979:

"It is very clear, in retrospect, that the whole of the first Akong Tulku's life was radiant with compassion. He was born in the Female Earth Hare year of the fifteenth 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 Köncho Samdrup, which eventually became shortened to the nickname “Akön” by his parents. He was one of five children. Even as a child, at play, he demonstrated great compassion to his playmates, trying to help the others and show them how to be loving and kind. He would pretend to give empowerments and teachings and build small stupas from earth. As he grew up and became old enough to care for animals he also showed great 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 in learning, memorising texts with ease. As he got older, a stronger and stronger urge to practice 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 the inevitable trickling away of life to it and say that another day had passed and been wasted. He determined that it would be best for him to live the celibate life of a monk. At the age of eight, he entered Dori Thupten 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 duties he performed well, always considering the tasks, such as cleaning, a means of purification and his attitude was to consider them all worthwhile, without any sour thought or grudge. His gentleness was noticed.

At the age of thirteen, he received novice ordination (sramanera) and this increased his devotion and confidence in the teachings to such a point that everyone found themselves taking him as an example of pure approach. At the age of fifteen 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 Darjay of Karma Gön, he received teachings on an array of key Mahayana texts over a period of prolonged study. From that same master, he received full (bhikkhu) ordination at the age of twenty.

At the age of twenty-three 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: things such a red light shining throughout the retreat house, the dutsi boiling and so forth. Karma Miyo 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 - the 'Copper-Coloured Mountain' land of Guru Rinpoche, Shambala and so on, [the accounts of these were mainly contained in the 'inner biography' and are too detailed to relate here]. 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 respected for many things and in particular for his precise knowledge of the details concerning the various Vajrayana practices.

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

The first 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 very many generations but his extraordinary medical prowess came about through a sudden awakening of profound medical knowledge from former lives, around the age of forty. Many spiritual teachers recognised him to be an activity-aspect (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 Karma Miyo was that of the Koncho Chidu sadhana for Guru Rinpoche, according to the terma of Rikdzin Jatson Nyingpo. Through this, he had various direct “face-to-face” encounters with Guru Rinpoche and conveyed the Guru’s instructions through sacred verse (doha). Unfortunately, only one of these has been preserved (see end).

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 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 treat him. Thanks to his profound healing skills, Kongtrul Rinpoche recovered fully. He recognised the greatness of being of Akong, Karma Miyo and enthroned him “Just like myself”, i.e. according him the same elevated status as himself. It was a great honour, although Karma Miyo himself did not want any of the fuss and ceremonial that having such status involves.

Following this, Akong Rinpoche returned to Dolma Lhakang and remained in retreat for some more years. He was requested to emerge from that in order to lead the prayers for the Queen Mother of Derge, who had passed away. Just days after his return to Dolma Lhakang from those events, he suffered a severe stroke. His friend, Lama Thogapa, understanding the situation through a dream he had received at dawn, dressed Akong Rinpoche, 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 always a help and friend for all beings. Akong Rinpoche smiled to acknowledge he had understood but soon after passed away. It was on the tenth (Guru Rinpoche) day of the third month of the Ox year (1937). He was aged fifty-eight. 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 syllables om ah hung on it in relief. The heart, the tongue and the eyes had not been burned and some ringsel (small, pearl-like relics spheres) were found. Some pieces of bones had various sacred letters on them.

Karsé Kongtrul Rinpoche's was asked about a reincarnation. He clearly replied:
“There will be an incarnation but I cannot choose it myself. I will ask Karmapa to do so.”
Thus he made it his responsibility and asked the Gyalwang Karmapa who confirmed: ”There will be a reincarnation”. About four years later, the 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.They also made a list of names of boys from six families born in the dragon year in the upper or lower part of the Ngom River area. When Karmapa came from Palpung to Karma Gön, Lama Atsho and many lamas and monks from Dolma Lhakang asked for an audience with him. They gave a list of dragon year boys asking the Karmapa to please recognize the one that was clearly the tulku. The first name on the list turned out to be that of the Surmang Garwang tulku. The Karmapa then gave a clear prediction concerning the third name:
"Near the Ngom River, in the village of Darak, a house with the door facing south and a red dog at the door. Father called Sönam Tashi, mother Döndrup Chökyi, their son born in the fire
[2]  dragon year." He gave him a name; Karma Shedrup Chöji Nyima.
“This is unmistakenly the reincarnation of Akong; he will definitely be of great benefit to the Teaching and to sentient beings.”
Everyone kept in their heart the words of Karmapa and returned to the monastery."

*   *   *   *   *

In one of his biographies it recounts how Karma Miyo came 'face-to-face' with Guru Rinpoche in meditation and received these instructions from him. They have proven to be very true:

“Listen carefully to these words and, once you have heard them,remember them continuously in your heart.
From now onwards, discern well right from wrong.
What are the causes of the world we experience?
They are these: the community of the ordained are not keeping their vows,
The tantrikas are not keeping their samaya, the kings and ministers are not acting in accordance with humanitarian principles, ordinary folk have lost their principles and feel no shame or embarrassment and sexual enticement fosters desires and deceits.
Through the various inappropriate wrong views and conduct, all the forces of light (the positive energies) are offended and cause conflict and the demons and spirits (negative forces) are winning control.
Such causes and conditions upset the natural equilibrium of the elements of existence which determine the world.
Therefore, in the outer world, the essential quality of things (food, minerals, substance etc.) is deteriorating.
Beings in the world will be afflicted by sickness, strife and famine.
Their crops will not give them sustenance and their livestock will be less productive. According to their status, those who have things will suffer through what they have and those without will suffer through their needs. All will seem to be a cause of suffering.
Because of this cloud of suffering being so dense and continuous, the sunlight of happiness will rarely shine.
This state of affairs will grow until, in this place, you will experience such things, as though hell itself had manifested here to be seen by all.
At that time of unbearable suffering, the difficulties, in the outer world and the beings it contains, will be so hard to remove.
Yet should one manage to practice dharma, adopting what is right and rejecting what is wrong, this will determine the overall outcome and bring respite:
The sangha should scrupulously keep their vows, the yogins should carefully guard their samaya,
The kings and ministers should uphold honest laws and never act for self-interest.
Those with power should use it for others' good whilst those who are powerless should abandon a resentful, bad mind.
Try to protect the lives of others and always examine cause and effect carefully, never neglecting to achieve the smallest of virtues and ever abstaining from even the smallest of evils.
Someone with no experience should not go around spouting high-flown philosophies and lofty modes of action, turning the heads of both themselves and others.
What is important is to always steer body, speech and mind towards some virtuous activity. Doing this constantly, then not only now, but also in the future, there will stream forth nothing but goodness.”

This temporary version of Karma Miyo’s life was compiled by Ken Holmes as an amendment of the earlier and widely-circulated 1980s version. The amendments and extra information come from Lama Pema’s biography of the first Akong Rinpoche, which is currently being translated by Katia Holmes for publication in 2015. This version is for the 2014 October commemoration of Rinpoche’s passing from us.

[1] His real name was Akön (rare and precious shunyata) and not Akong (exalted shunyata) but by many people saying "Akong" that gradually became the name by which he was known.
[2] Akong Rinpoche was born in the Iron Dragon year (1940). The text here was reconstituted from memory by Lama Pema in 1979 and we have reproduced his error. it is not unusual for Tibetans to mix up the elements when trying to reconstitute dates from generations ago.