The following article is from the Autumn, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


by Jacqueline Nalli, Rigpe Dorje Foundation

In precise accordance with the predictions of the second Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khyentse Oser, the present and third incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was born in Central Tibet in 1954. Rinpoche is an incarnation of the extraordinary 19th- century spiritual master, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, the first in the Kongtrul line.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899), also known as Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, contributed widely to Tibetan Buddhism as a leader of the Rime (non-sectarian) movement among Buddhist teachings. Without sectarian bias, he sought to gather the teachings of all the lineages, learning all he could from the leading masters of his day. He compiled vast collections of teachings on instructions and practices from the sutra and tantra traditions from all sources of Tibetan Buddhism. His renown for extensive knowledge and research brought to fruition the most important teachings of all Tibetan spiritual traditions into a collection of treatises, known as the Five Great Treasures of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. They occupy over 90 volumes and serve as an encyclopedia of knowledge for transmissions, empowerments, of all Buddhist teachings.

Tibetan teachings tell us that a Bodhisattva, although released at the moment of enlightenment from the forces of rebirth, may decide to continue to take human form in order to work on the earth for the benefit of all sentient beings. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is such a Bodhisattva. At the age of three, he was recognized as the third incarnation of the Kongtrul lineage by His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Head of the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Buddhism.

The Karma Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism holds the transmission of the meditative teachings known as Mahamudra. These teachings were first developed through the spontaneous insight of the great Indian siddha Tilopa (988-1069). His realization was passed down from guru to disciple through the great masters: Naropa, Marpa the Great Transtlator, Milarepa, Gampopa, and so on until eventually transmitted successively through the sixteen incarnations of the Gyalwa Karma-pas. In this great tradition of unbroken transmission of Buddhadharma, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche received and mastered all major teachings of the lineage under the direct guidance of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa.

In the year of the Fire Monkey (1956) the previous Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's secretary, Yonten Phuntshok, and his servants went to Rinpoche's family home with a recognition letter given them by His Holiness. They found Rinpoche exactly accordingly to the details set forth in His Holiness' letter as follows: On the left side of the huge Shakyamuni Buddha statue in Lhasa there is a house whose door faces south. There are eight family members living there and a mother whose name is Pema. Her child is the only one born in the year of the Wood Horse (1954) and is the incarnation of Vairochana, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's tulku. Without error, His Holiness' wisdom mind saw the child to be the third incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

When Rinpoche was first discovered, the secretary requested permission from His Holiness to take the young Rinpoche to Pal-pung Monastery in eastern Tibet near the retreat caves of Tsen, seat of Jamgon Kongtrul Khyentse Oser. His Holiness foresaw that Tibet and the borderlands were in great danger of invasion by Chinese troops. Instead he ordered that the young Rinpoche and his parents be taken to the Darjeeling district of Northern India. Soon after the family left for India, the situation in Tibet worsened and the Chinese military occupied the land and tightened their grip on Tibet.

Shortly thereafter, in 1959, His Holiness Karmapa came out of Tibet to the safety of the Indian border. He felt that the natural Buddhist inclination of the people of Sikkim, located at the northern border of India and Tibet, would undoubtedly be the best location to settle and nurture the torch of Dharma. He accepted the kind invitation of Tashi Namgyal, King of Sikkim, and chose the village of Rumtek to establish his main monastery. A few months after His Holiness arrived in Rumtek, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was brought there by his family. His Holiness cut a lock of Rinpoche's hair, and gave him the name of Karma Lodro Chokyi Senge. That same year, on the auspicious occasion of Lhabab Duchen (the commemoration of the return of Shakyamuni Buddha from the celestial realm) His Holiness ceremonially enthroned Rinpoche on the Fearless Lion Throne of the Dharma at Rumtek Monastery.

The experience of moving from his parents home to Rumtek Monastery at such a young age was quite natural for Rinpoche. His Holiness was both mother and father to him and being in the presence of his root guru filled him with ineffable joy. When he was still young, about 5 or 6 years old, the three eminences, Sharmar Rinpoche, Gyalsap Rinpoche, and T'ai Situ Rinpoche joined him in Rumtek. Together they are the four principal Karma Kagyu Lineage Holders, embodying the accumulated spiritual energy of the Karma Kagyu Tradition as it was passed down in an unbroken transmission from Buddha to disciples.

Thereafter, beginning at age 11, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche embarked on his training in Buddhist philosophy. Under the direct guidance of His Holiness, Rinpoche was given all the Dharma of the Kagyu Lineage, as well as all character training, such as sitting, walking, and so forth. Like a father passing on everything to his son, His Holiness bestowed upon Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche all major empowerments and transmissions on Mahamudra. In addition, Rinpoche studied the traditional monastic disciplines, outer and inner sutras and tantras with many other highly realized masters of the day.

During the last ten years of His Holiness's life, until 1981, Rinpoche accompanied him on teaching tours to America and Europe. Since his early twenties, Rinpoche has continued to fulfill His Holiness's vision of preserving and disseminating the Buddhadharma. He has traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia to teach and inspire students.

Rinpoche is also committed to the educational, social and medical developments of Rumtek Monastery and the welfare of many Tibetan communities in India and Nepal. To facilitate these project developments, Rinpoche has established Rigpe Dorje Foundation, an international organization, whose work he directs as Foundation Chairman and President. He is also Chairman of the Paramita Charitable Trust in India and Trustee of the Karmapa Charitable Trust at Rumtek.

Some of Rinpoche's current projects include the construction of the main center for the Karmae Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies located in Rumtek. The institute is affiliated with the educational system of the Sanskrit University in India. The program of education at Nalanda follows the ancient traditions of Tibet and focuses each year on a central text and several commentaries. The entire course of study is designed to progress along an eleven-year path, including a three-year retreat. The authenticity of the traditions of the Karma Kagyu Lineage is preserved and taught by the Ven. Kenchen Tran-gu Rinpoche, the highest abbot of the Kagyu Lineage, and Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso, who is especially gifted in Buddhist logic.

Rinpoche has also proposed plans for the construction of a major Tibetan medical institute to be built in accreditation with Nalanda Institute, which will teach and dispense medicines and treatment in the traditional Karma Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist methods. This will provide a great service to the Tibetan communities in India by offering them much-needed medical care.

As a devotional gesture to his root Guru Karmapa, Rinpoche has begun construction of Rigpe Dorje Institute, named in honor of His Holiness, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. The Institute will be built in the holy place of Sarnath, near Deer Park where Buddha gave his first teaching, the Four Noble Truths. It will provide both lay and ordained students of Dharma the opportunity to study and practice Buddhist view, meditation, and action with eminent masters of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The Institute is scheduled to be completed by 1993 and will be accessible to students from all parts of the world.

Rinpoche's observations of western culture in the United States have brought the practices of psychotherapy to his attention. He finds this profession of great interest with respect to its practices and treatments for the development of a stable mind. Rinpoche feels that Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychotherapy both have something beneficial to offer each other. On the side of Tibetan Buddhism, it is the direct experience of the mind through meditation that can be offered to psychology. The whole collection of Buddhist teachings are related to the mind. Training in Buddhism essentially means training the mind to ultimately recognize its own nature.

From the other side, Western psychology can contribute a great deal of information to Buddhist teachers with regard to the type of conflicts arising in the mind particular to Western culture, as well as their techniques for treating these conflicts. In this way, psychotherapists and Buddhist teachers may learn from each other. The value of engaging the views of both sides in frequent discussions inspired Rinpoche to found the annual Buddhist and Psychotherapy Conference held in New York. The first such conference was held in December of 1987 and continues to be a beneficial exchange of information and resources year after year.

Rinpoche's deep concern for the welfare of others has created sponsorship programs for children, elder Tibetans, and monks and nuns living throughout Asia. These Compassionate Care of Others programs provide for the basic necessities of these individuals as well as education and the preservation of their culture. Today the sponsorship programs have improved the quality of life for many impoverished individuals by assisting them in the development of healthier, more productive lives.

These are only some of Rinpoche's many Bodhisattva activities in the world. However, his most auspicious role is that of scholar and teacher of the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Earlier this year, Rinpoche gave the Kalachakra Empowerment in Hong Kong for 900 people and will give it again in Taiwan this October. Rinpoche continues to travel throughout the world doing everything he can for the benefit of others.

It is considered extremely rare for one to come into contact with a great Dharma master in one's lifetime. Moreover, it is exceptionally rare to receive the transmission of the Dharma from such a master. At this time in our lives, it is our great good fortune to be able to receive teachings from such an eminent master of the Buddhadharma as Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. Realizing this, Rigpe Dorje Foundation has compiled a library of tape recorded teachings by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche given at various Dharma Centers throughout the US and Europe. This valuable collection has been printed in spiral bound transcripts which are now available through the Foundation. They include such topics as The Three Roots, The Guru-Disciple Relationship, Death and Dying, The Four Immeasurables, and many others. To obtain a list of these transcripts along with ordering information, or information about any of Rinpoche's projects, please write to the following address: Rigpe Dorje Foundation, 328 North Sycamore Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036; 213-934-5002.