Dakgyab Rinpoche's Journey To India As Told By Losang Thonden

The following article is from the Autumn, 2000 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Escape to Exile

Losang Thonden was born in 1942 in Lhasa, central Tibet, to a well- to-do family of traders. He lived in Lhasa until the Chinese occupation in 1959, spending the latter part of his youth with his uncle, the esteemed lama Dakgyab Rinpoche. Shortly after arriving in India he was selected to work on the government staff. He helped to establish the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, now known as the Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies. He has composed seven books on Tibetan Language in both English and Tibetan. He has also worked on numerous translations. In 1992, he moved to the United States settling in Seattle, WA. He currently has several students of Tibetan language and continues to work on various translations.

Dakgyab Rinpoche was my uncle from my mother's side of the family. When I was very young, Rinpoche was attending Sera Monastery. Later, as the tension grew because of the Chinese occupation, Rinpoche left Lhasa to do a retreat inaplacecalled Dakgyab Ri-troe.

When I was thirteen, I became one of his assistants. The Chinese tried to send me to China because I was considered intelligent, but my mother refused to let me go. Instead she sent me to study with Rinpoche. He had lost his sight, and the Tibetan community was convinced it was because he couldn't bear to witness the Chinese invasion of Tibet. I would mostly read him his texts and sadhanas. I asked many questions, most of which were inappropriate and Rinpoche would tell me I had to wait until I was older before he would explain them.

When I was fifteen, the situation in Lhasa became unbearable. Many people came-to see Rinpoche and asked his advice about whether or not to leave. At this time he advised them to leave, but declined to do so himself saying, The worst thing they can do is kill me and if they do, I don't mind.

Dakgyab Rinpoche was considered to be an extremely high lama, the 14th reincarnation of Ka-dam Geshe Potowa Rinchen Se, but because of his modesty he always refused any official position in the government. He said that his previous incarnations were very humble and he intended to keep it that way.

I had so much faith in Rinpoche. Whatever he said, I did it! At night he never laid down to sleep. Until morning he would be saying mantras and I could hear the click of his beads.


Photo above left: Dakgyab Rinpoche, the 14th reincarnation of Ka-dam Geshe Potowa Rinchen Se. Above right: His reincarnation, now fourteen years old.

After His Holiness the Dalai Lama left for India, Rinpoche agreed to leave Tibet. We were staying north of Lhasa and we had to go to the south of Lhasa to get to India and were very concerned. As Rinpoche was blind and his principal attendant was unable to walk, most of us were feeling pretty hopeless.

At the start of our journey, our group numbered about 500. When we made it to the south side of Lhasa, just below Ganden Monastery, we had to cross the Kyi-chu River. On the other side was a huge Chinese camp. We thought it would be impossible to cross, so we asked Rinpoche. According to his divination, if we went at 2:00 a.m., we could make it.

When we neared the river at two am., a big tornado came up from behind us and completely blocked the view of the Chinese. We were able to go right past them without them ever seeing us.

After crossing the river we met with the Tibetan guerillas. Their presence helped secure our passage, for they were engaged with the Chinese troops in front of us. Most of the monks were sent to fight with the guerillas. In the morning they would go out to fight but in the evening most never returned. There were about 300 young monks helping the guerillas. About five or six actually survived.

As we continued to travel south, there were a lot of Chinese planes attempting to locate Tibetans who were trying to escape. Sometimes shots were fired, but they never managed to shoot us from the planes. Then things got really difficult. All the way to India there was so much fighting with the Chinese.


When we neared the river at two a.m., a big tornado came up from behind us and completely blocked the view of the Chinese.

Rinpoche and our group were always very far behind the rest. We were travelling so slowly because he couldn't walk. When we would arrive at the base camp in the evening, many people had died. Along the way more people joined our group. The number increased to around 3,000, but only about 200 actually made it to India.

At this time we were travelling by horse, but when we got close to the Indian border, we had to carry Rinpoche because the mountain passes were far too steep and narrow for the horses.

Many horses died on the way because the mountain passes are very steep and narrow. The horses fell all the time. There were many times when we almost fell with Rinpoche.

We reached a place in India called Assam through a mountain pass called Magola The residents from the Indian village said that we were the first to ever cross that mountain pass.

At this time His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in Mussooire. Rinpoche and I went to Kalimpong in West Bengal at the request of one of his disciples who was an important Tibetan government official. The Tibetan government had established an office in Mysore, and they sent me a letter from the government to go to Dharamsala to work. I asked Rinpoche and he said it was a good idea, so I went and Rinpoche stayed in Kalimpong.

After a while His Holiness asked Rinpoche to go to southern India to build a new monastery called Thekchen Ling. At that time they hadn't yet established Sera Monastery.

When Rinpoche was staying in India, he met with a Western doctor who was able to restore his eyesight. This restoration of his eyesight had been predicted by a famous oracle in Tibet.

While Rinpoche was staying in southern India, he was appointed as the Lama for Tibetans staying there. He would give teachings and initiations and he took care of the spiritual needs of the people. Also, every year he did the retreat of Guyas- amaja, Heruka and Yamantaka As the other monasteries were slowly established and after Sera Monastery was built, Thekchen Ling became a part of Sera according to Rinpoche's wishes. Rinpoche was not as well known as Ling Rinpoche and Tri- jang Rinpoche because of his modesty, but they were great friends and studied together when they were younger. Rinpoche stayed in India for thirty years.

When Rinpoche passed away in 1983, he stayed in meditation for three days. Zong Rinpoche came personally to oversee the funeral proceedings as a testimony to their close friendship.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized Rinpoche's reincarnation in 1986. Rinpoche is now fourteen years old. Sera Monastery has designated a small area for his private quarters where he can study and meditate. They do not have the finances necessary to build this, so they have asked me to raise the money. It is needed to insure that he receives the proper education and training.

Our goal is to raise $ 12,000 to build Mi-nyak Khangtsen. I would like to ask you all to please donate what you can so that we can build Rinpoche a Khangtsen to guarantee that he has the opportunity to become as great as his previous fourteen incarnations and help preserve Buddha's teachings throughout the world.

Please send your contribution to: Mi-nyak Khangtsen, do Dechen Ling, 3633 Whitman Ave North, Seattle, WA 98103, USA. Make checks payable to Dechen Ling. All contributions are tax deductible.

Dechen Ling is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help preserve the religious and cultural traditions of Tibet through the establishment and support of Buddhist meditation centers and monastic institutions. Ύ

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