Born in 1921 in the town of Yätsak (or Ya Chak) in the Trehor district of Tibet’s eastern province Kham, Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, also known as Gen Rinpoche, was a great master who dedicated his entire existence to turning the wheel of Dharma consistently and sincerely.
Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey commenced his monastic studies at Dhargyey Monastery of the Gelug tradition, where he received his novice vows. Interestingly, despite having enrolled in Dhargey Monastery, his primary place of study was actually at Lona Gonpa, a Sakya monastery, where he was taught reading, writing, grammar, etc., and learned numerous texts and practices by heart. His teachers at Lona Gonpa included two of his uncles, as well as Kushu Gonpä Rinpoche, who was a master of all the five major fields of learning.
Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey proceeded to further his spiritual education at Sera Monastery, the great monastic university in Lhasa at the age of 18. At Sera Monastery, he underwent extensive training in all the five divisions of Buddhist philosophical study: Buddhist Logic, Perfection of Wisdom, the Middle View, Metaphysics, and Ethical Discipline. This was interspersed with periods of intensive retreat at some of the many hermitages near Sera Monastery.
So accomplished was Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey that by the time he was 19, a year into his studies at Sera Monastery, he had already mastered his studies sufficiently to become a scriptural teacher, and naturally, he began to have many students of his own.
At the age of 21, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey took the full ordination vows of a Bhikshu from the widely renowned Purchog Jamgön Rinpoche. He also received numerous teachings, initiations and commentaries from the great Lamas of that time such as His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang (tutor to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama), Bakri Dorje Chang, Lhatsün Dorje Chang, Gönsar Dorje Chang and others. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s monastic teachers also included the great scholar-practitioners Gen Sherab Wangchuk, Gen Chöntse, and the current Gyume Kensur Ugyän Tseten.
After being in Sera Monastery, Tibet for about 20 years of his life, in 1959 Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey (like many Tibetans) was forced to leave Tibet and fled to India. He escaped with two other high incarnate Lamas, Lhagön Rinpoche and Thupten Rinpoche, for both of whom he had been appointed tutor two years prior. The three had to endure a long and dangerous journey of nine months under enemy gunfire and snowstorms until they reached the Mustang region of Nepal. It is said that from Mustang, it was a comparatively easier journey to India, where they joined H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and some of Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s other teachers.
Whilst in India, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey embarked on a brief pilgrimage to the sacred Buddhist sites. Thereafter, he once again resumed his studies and continued tutoring the Tulkus for several years. In addition, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was also instrumental in the development of textbooks for the Tibetan refugee schools which were being established in India at that time.
In the mid-1960s, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was chosen along with 55 other scholars to attend an Acarya course at Mussourie (north of Delhi) where he and the other scholars congregated to write textbooks. After the completion of the Acarya course, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey then returned to Dalhousie where, over various periods, he continued to teach another seven incarnate Lamas. He also completed his Geshe studies and was awarded the highest grade, Lharampa Geshe, after undergoing strenuous oral examinations at the Buxa refugee camp in Assam, eastern India where the seat of Sera Monastery was at that time.
Due to the increasing number of western students, in 1971 H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama requested Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey to start a teaching program for westerners at the newly constructed Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, northern India. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey accordingly complied with such request and undertook such responsibilities together with two of his disciples, Sharpa Rinpoche and Kamlung Rinpoche who primarily acted as translators. In Dharamsala, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey diligently and very extensively taught thousands of westerners until 1984. During this time, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey himself also received extensive and often exclusive teachings from the Dalai Lama as well as from both tutors of the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang.
In 1982, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey ventured into the West for the first time to take up a single semester visiting professorship at the University of Washington in Seattle. This was followed by a year-long extensive tour of Buddhist teaching centres all over North America, Europe and Australasia, which also saw Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey spending six weeks in New Zealand. At the end of the six week period, he was requested to establish a Buddhist centre in New Zealand.
Interestingly, in 1985 the Dalai Lama also advised Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey to establish a centre in New Zealand within one and a half years. After a six month tour of Australia, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand in mid-1985 and established Dhargyey Buddhist Centre Gompa, thus fulfilling the Dalai Lama’s instructions and his students’ requests. Due to the success of the Buddhist centre, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey with the blessings of the Dalai Lama remained in Dunedin, occasionally travelling to other parts of New Zealand and Australia on teaching tours.
Undeniably an erudite teacher, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey loved to expound the great treatises and skilfully infused his talks with experiential teachings that bore the distilled essence of the great treatises. In February 1995, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey gave his last formal teaching in Dunedin and entered into clear light on 11 August 1995. His body was cremated with full traditional Tibetan funerary rites at Portobello, near Dunedin on 17 August 1995. Kushu Lhagön Rinpoche, one of Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s Tulku disciples, presided over the Great Offering to His Holy Body Ceremony at a specially built cremation stupa. His passing is an immense loss to His disciples and indeed to all living beings.
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