Venerable Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was a prominent Gelug master who spread the Buddhadharma and Dorje Shugden’s practice widely in Tibet. Born in 1928 in the Tarlam region of Kham, Tibet, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk entered monastic life when he was only eight years old. At the age of 16, he travelled to Lhasa where he was ordained as a monk in Sera Mey Monastery, one of the greatest educational institutes in Tibet.
For 17 years, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk engaged in intense study and soon became an accomplished scholar and debater with countless students all across Tibet. His knowledge did not come easy. He showed everyone the perfect example of how a humble monk from a small region in Tibet can excel to become one of the greatest scholars in the country through long and tireless hours spent on the debate grounds, where students gather to review their daily lessons in heated philosophical debates.
When not engaged in debates, he would spend his time reading and memorising the great philosophical texts late into the night. He was so intense and dedicated in his studies that he would sit on a large rock or on the branch of a tall tree to prevent himself from falling asleep, because if he did, he would be greeted with a nasty fall. It was no surprise that in 1986, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk became the first to be awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree in Tibet since His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama fled in 1959.
In 1959 when the war in Tibet started and thousands of Tibetans fled south to India, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was one of the few lamas who chose to remain in Tibet despite having to endure much hardship such as imprisonment. Due to his popularity, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was made to do the most difficult labours during his time as a prisoner of war as a method of humiliating him, but no matter how they tried, they could not break his will.
Eventually, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was released and it was then that he started to work extremely hard to preserve the Buddhist literary tradition and culture of Tibet, which had been greatly damaged due to the Cultural Revolution. Soon, once again Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk became a prominent figure and a source of comfort and help to those left behind in Tibet. He played a leading role in restoring the literary classics of Tibet and even served as a university professor in Beijing where he taught Buddhist philosophy. He also performed the duties of a traditional lama, teaching thousands of students in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet.
Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was a prolific writer who had written extensively on various difficult subjects such as the Madhyamika, or Middle Way philosophy. Unfortunately, his earlier writings were all destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but he continued to write and publish classical philosophies of Buddhism in his later years.
When China finally lifted the restrictions on travel, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk took the opportunity to travel all over China, India and Japan where many of his students had fled, to teach them the Buddhadharma. His extended teaching tours were a great blessing and benefited both students and teachers of the Tibetan community in India, including the current Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche. It was also during this time that Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk made donations to help build new monasteries and support the poorest refugees in India, despite his limited resources.
Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk’s reputation as an erudite Buddhist master was so well established in his time that he was selected to be the tutor to the current Panchen Lama, a post he was unable to fulfil due to his untimely demise.
In 1997, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was involved in a car accident in Kongpo. On the day of the accident, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk had a premonition and insisted that he travel alone. It is customary for a Lama of his stature to travel with personal attendants and an entourage surrounding him, both for convenience as well as safety. However, due to Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk’s premonition, this was not to happen on this ill-fated day. Midway through the journey, the car veered off the road and plunged down the cliff. Just before the car hit the rocky bottom, the driver jumped out of the moving vehicle. He survived the crash and fled.
Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk, who was in the car during the final impact, is said to have emerged from the wreckage and sat on the ground beside the car, where he entered clear light (tukdam) meditation for eight days before his consciousness left his body. Several lamas from his monastery came to the scene of the accident and performed pujas while the Geshe was in clear light meditation.
Due to the nature of the accident and the case of the missing driver, the authorities suspected foul play and a potential murder case. The Chinese police eventually captured the driver who denied all charges.
Although the cause of the accident remains unresolved, the memory and fruit of Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk’s labour for the people of Tibet and his tireless deeds to preserve Tibet’s inheritance and the Buddhadharma continues to live on.
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