His Eminence Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was a renowned Dharma scholar and highly realised meditation master who held his vows very strongly. Under his abbotship, Gaden Shartse Monastery’s mastery of Buddhist studies continued to excel.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was born in 1929, the much-cherished son of father, Kelsang Tsering, and mother, Tsering Yangzom, in the province of Kham, far to the east of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Traditionally, the Tibetans place high regard in the name, social status and qualities of the parents to whom an extraordinary child is born. The name, Kelsang Tsering, means good fortune and longevity, while Tsering Yangzom means longevity and collection of goodwill. Both parents of Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche had a deep inclination towards spiritual values. They were naturally warm-hearted, and were loved and respected by the people of their village.
At the age of 12, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche joined Tsem Monastery, a local monastery that had been established by the great master Jamyang Gaway Lodrö. Within a short period of time, he was bestowed the precepts of a novice monk by Venerable Bakong Rinpoche, a well-known Lama from Kham’s Nangsang region. At Tsem Monastery, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche trained for five years in ritual performance and memorised all the prayer books of the monastic curriculum.
In 1944, at the age of 16, the young Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche decided to seek further education. He bid farewell to his beloved parents and family members; he was not to return home to see them again. He then traveled on foot from his home to Gaden Monastery in Central Tibet, which took about two months. At that time in Tibet, vehicles and modern roads were rare. The journey was difficult and dangerous because of the numerous bandits who were known to inhabit the route, but with a caravan of merchants and donkeys loaded with provisions, he set forth filled with great enthusiasm.
The great Gaden Monastery was established in the 14th Century by Lama Tsongkhapa, who was prophesied to be an emanation of Manjushri. The monastery stands majestically on a hilltop. It consists of twin colleges, Gaden Shartse and Gaden Jangtse. Each college has thousands of monks and they share the same curriculum although the syllabi are different.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche arrived at Gaden Monastery between the spring and summer of 1944. The following year, he participated in the Great Prayer Festival of Mönlam Chenmo in Lhasa with all the monks from Sera, Drepung and Gaden monasteries. Two weeks later, when the festival was over, Kensur Rinpoche went before the precious statue of Buddha Shakyamuni in Lhasa and made fervent prayers for success in his spiritual quest. The statue, otherwise known as the Lhasa Jowo, is revered as the most holy object in Tibet.
Once Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was satisfied with the prayers he had made in the Lhasa Jowo’s presence, he then went to Gaden Monastery, another two-day journey on foot and was admitted to Gaden Shartse Monastery. Having been born in the Yara region of Kham, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was taken into Gaden’s Phukhang Khangtsen.
With his basic needs provided for, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche began his education with the first-level study of colour, form and its functions. Three times a day – morning, daytime, and late evening, he participated in lively debates over perplexing questions drawn from the definitions and categories of colours and shapes. In this class, everything relating to colour and shape is subjected to detailed investigation. In the second, third and fourth levels, basic Buddhist ideology is discussed in a similar way. During these years, the young monks debate energetically with one another. Although triumph may be celebrated with jokes over a loser’s plight, it is never intended to be demeaning or patronising. Rather, it is a way of opening new areas of discovery and experience for both debaters.
When Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was a teenager, many monks fell victim to an outbreak of the plague. There was no effective means of treatment. In Phukhang Khangtsen alone, more than 40 people lost their lives. Some fled to Lhasa or elsewhere. Unfortunately, Kensur Rinpoche also became infected with this deadly disease. Bedridden, his health quickly deteriorated. His fellow monks did not expect him to survive. In fact, they believed that he had died and began reciting the last rites including the Lama Chopa (Guru Puja). When the monks reached the verse in the middle of the recitation that reads:
Through the force of having honoured and appealed with devotion,
To the Venerable Guru, holy, supreme field of merit,
Bless me Protector, root of all good and joy,
To be gladly cared for by you, yourself!
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche suddenly arose from his bed. Everyone was stunned with disbelief. People called him “Delok” meaning “someone who has returned from death”, but whether or not he had returned from the dead, his life was definitely resurrected. He had entered death’s passage and come back to consciousness and survived.
For seven years, from fourth to tenth level classes, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche memorised the entire root syllabus of the Five Great Fields of Buddhist study. Along with other participants, he later took part in verbal examinations that were presided over by the Abbot and elders of the monastery, with a sea of monks also present to witness the power of his memory. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was singled out several times by the Abbot, and passed with flying colours along with other competent scholars, receiving awards for his talent and diligence. Many friends and well-wishers congratulated the young Lama who gradually emerged to become renowned among the other students.
From the tenth grade, the monastic curriculum includes three years of training in Madhayamika (Middle Way) philosophy. Following that, Abidharmakosha (Metaphysics) takes another two years and Vinaya (Monastic Code) a further two years after that. As he grew up, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche sought strict training and education under the great contemporary masters of his time such as Geshe Nawang Samten, Geshe Tsultrim Gyatso, Kheru Rinpoche Lobsang Chopel, Gen Lobsang Palden, Gen Chopel and His Eminence Kyabje Lati Rinpoche.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche had always been an obedient student, sincerely respectful of all his teachers, and always showed friendly affection for his colleagues. His friendship was highly valued and he was a great source of inspiration to the people who had frequent contact with him. In Tibet, before the Chinese communist occupation, he studied up to Abidharmakosha (Metaphysics). As a brilliant student, he shared his knowledge, giving classes and training junior students with kind words of inspiration.
In 1947, at the age of 19, he received the Bhikshu vows of full ordination from Taktra Rinpoche, who was then the Regent of Tibet. In 1958, the Earth-Dog year, when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama took part in the philosophical examinations at Gaden Monastery, an auspicious ceremony was held with the entire population of monks. During the ceremony, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was fortunate to participate in a debate with His Holiness. The discussion was highly praised by the learned Lamas, and His Holiness seemed uplifted by it as well.
The following year, during the Great Prayer Festival, His Holiness sat for the actual examinations on the Five Great Fields of Buddhist Studies. Monks from Gaden, Drepung and Sera congregated to witness the great knowledge that His Holiness had achieved through his training. Once again, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche had the opportunity to debate with His Holiness on the profound subject of the Middle Way among many learned observers.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was unable to complete his studies after the Tibetan Uprising in 1959. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and a following of 250,000 Tibetans were forced to escape to India where they sought political asylum. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche also followed His Holiness into exile.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche and thousands of other monks were initially re-settled in the Tibetan monastic refugee camp in Buxa, located on India’s North-East border. Here, they were all challenged by the unfamiliar climate, the rough living conditions and poor nutrition. India’s heat and humidity contrasted sharply with the climate they had been used to in Tibet, and many great Lamas became sick and died as a result. For over half a decade, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche struggled to survive in the camp and worked hard to complete his studies.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche never chose to leave the Sangha in order to find a better place to live. Rather, he was completely dedicated to rekindling the flame of Buddha’s teachings in exile so that they could be preserved and shared all over the world despite the Communists’ attempt to wipe them out. During the later period in Buxa, he had several opportunities to perform retreats under the guidance of His Holiness Kyabje Zong Dorje Chang.
In 1965, under the precious guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile set up a Teachers Training Programme in the Indian hill station of Mussoorie. His Holiness advised the handful of scholars in Buxa that the traditional study program needed to be reformed. Many great scholars from the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu lineages were introduced to innovative methods of training and Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was selected as a senior scholar. The director of the Teacher Training Programme was Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, one of Kensur Rinpoche’s root gurus from whom he received many instructions on both Sutra and Tantra.
In 1966, after the completion of the Teachers Training Programme, the Institute of Traditional Tibetan Buddhism in Buxa was transformed into a modern learning institution under the direction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was appointed as the educational advisor and served there energetically until 1968. When the first Institute of Tibetan Higher Studies was established under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it attracted advanced scholars from all four lineages. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche studied there consistently for three years, and earned the Acharya Degree, or Master’s Degree of Higher Buddhist Studies, which he received with the highest honours.
At the beginning of 1971, His Holiness summoned all Acharya Degree holders to Dharamsala in North-West India, the seat of His Holiness’ office in exile. Nine geshes from both Tantric colleges of Gyutö and Gyume together with 49 scholars participated in a 15-day-long examination on the Five Fields of Sutra Studies. Under the observation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was recognised as an outstanding scholar, and finally had the privilege of a private audience with His Holiness. At the end of that same year, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche arrived in South India where he joined the convocation ceremony of Gaden, Sera and Drepung monasteries, and was graciously conferred the title of Geshe Lharampa, equivalent to a Ph.D.
In 1972, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche attended the Prayer Festival at Tsuklagkhang, the main cathedral in Dharamsala, and sat for his debate examinations while His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama presided. Again, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche proved his proficiency in Buddhist dialectics by challenging his opponents with supreme confidence, and many scholars applauded his knowledge and humility.
After the examinations, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche received extensive teachings on the Generation and Completion Stages of Highest Yoga Tantra practice from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. From His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, the 14th Dalai Lama’s senior tutor, he received the complete Guhyasamaja initiation followed by teachings on the Generation Stage of Yamantaka Practice. His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor, gave Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche extensive teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa. It took three months for Kensur Rinpoche to receive all these teachings from his root teachers. He said at the time,
Receiving these precious teachings far surpasses even receiving a vase filled with the seven precious jewels!
The same year, His Holiness urged Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche to enter Gyutö Tantric College, where he took the time to train in the study of Buddhist Tantra. He primarily focused his study on the Tantras of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and Yamantaka. He also completed training in Tantric rituals and mudras, or esoteric gestures. At the conclusion of this training, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was required to be examined amidst a highly learned group, where he received great admiration and respect from many senior scholars for his profound wisdom.
Having completed his studies on the practice of the esoteric path of Buddhism, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche began research on a classical treatise of ancient Buddhist logic expounded by Aryadeva. Aryadeva was a successor of Arya Nagarjuna, the pioneer of the Madhyamika Prasangika school of thought. In the course of his research, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche wrote a thesis on ancient Buddhist logic that numbered a few hundred pages. Today, it is a valued academic tool that has been copyrighted by the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies in Sarnath, Varanasi.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche returned to his monastery in South India where he began teaching students. While teaching, he engaged in a 12-month retreat on Yamantaka, and thereafter was appointed disciplinarian of Gyutö Tantric College in northern India.
In 1977, he attended the complete teachings of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on Lama Tsongkhapa’s commentary on Madhyamika Philosophy at Drepung Monastery in South India. In 1978, he went to Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe to receive His Holiness’ commentary on Abhisamayalankara, primarily based on Lama Tsongkhapa’s text.
Around the same time, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche received a number of invitations to teach in Western countries but he declined, preferring to teach at the monastery. Lama Yeshe, the Spiritual Director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, invited Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche to the West on two separate occasions, but once again, Kensur Rinpoche turned down the invitations believing it was more important for him to teach at the monastic institutions in order to produce high scholars and practitioners for the sake of future generations.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche decided to settle in the monastery and continued to teach tirelessly, every day. Kyabje Lati Rinpoche had just retired from abbotship after rendering eight years of active service and in the course of time, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was appointed to the post of abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
To be appointed as the abbot of a great monastery by His Holiness would normally be regarded by a Tibetan monk as his greatest life achievement but for Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche, it was a nuisance. For several nights, he had trouble sleeping, worrying about all the responsibilities expected of an abbot. He never thought himself capable of managing all the affairs and administration of a monastery since he had always lived a simple, low-profile life. For this reason, he sought to resign the position and to continue to live in solitude, giving teachings to the monks.
He went to see Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and explained that he was not worthy of the status of abbot and that there were others better suited to the post. He also approached the former abbot, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, and told him the same thing. Both of Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche’s teachers, however, gently urged him to assume the post and helped him to gain confidence in his abilities. With the blessings of both his masters, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche thought it over carefully, and after some time resolved to become the abbot of the monastery.
In 1984, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was enthroned as the abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, and wisely administered all the duties expected of him. As a leader, he served the monastic community with endearing love and respect. Although he had authority over both board members and staff, he would rather place himself at the bottom of the totem pole.
During his tenure, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche emphasised ethical discipline and traditional education, and continued to be recognised as a model of pure ethical behaviour. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was always engaged in meditation or in giving pith instructions on the path of spiritual awakening. Those who had the opportunity to spend more time with him developed a sense of peace, as the mundane ego and emotions diminished in the presence of the ethical energy and wisdom of such a spiritually balanced person. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was, without exaggeration, attributed with such qualities as a result of his spiritual mastery and sincerity.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche always paid great attention to the Vinaya teachings and practice, and this, in turn, inspired the monks to implement the monastic code in their everyday life. All members of the monastery acknowledge his selfless service with great reverence.
After completing his tenure in 1990, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche appealed to His Holiness to be allowed to retire as abbot and to go into remote solitary retreat for the rest of his life. The Dalai Lama, however, asked him to continue to live and give teachings at the monastery, while spending a portion of every day in a retreat of 13 Deity Yamantaka for several years.
Following the guidance of His Holiness, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche engaged in delivering Dharma discourses while engaging in his Yamantaka retreat. During the course of the retreat, he was diagnosed with diabetes and was hospitalised. It took over a month of treatment at a city hospital before he could return to the monastery. Even in his hospital bed, he would meditate from early in the morning each day. He told his attendants to continue making his daily offerings on his shrine table at the monastery in order to continue with his daily sessions, as this was the only way he could adhere to the commitment of his retreat practice. Even with such obstacles, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche never gave up and after a few years, he was able to complete a three-year retreat followed by a daily fire puja for over a month.
In 1993, while still in charge of education in the monastery, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche gave extensive teachings on Abhisamayalamkara (Ornament of Clear Realisation) that had been originally transmitted by Maitreya to the Indian master Asanga. This text is comprised of eight chapters and presents all paths of Mahayana and Theravadan practice. A minimum of five years is required to complete the study of the Abhisamayalamkara at Gaden Monastery. When Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche gave the complete commentary on this topic to the entire monastery, it took more than a month.
Three years later, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche gave an extensive commentary on Uma Gongpa Rabsel, Je Tsongkhapa’s Clarification of the Supplement to the Middle Way that deals with the philosophy of Emptiness. It was given at the request of Gaden Shartse Library’s 4th committee members. It took almost a month and was attended by over 1,100 senior and junior monks.
Thereafter, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche received a private audience with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. During the audience, His Holiness was very moved that Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche had tirelessly given such a series of extensive commentarial teachings. Such teachings were very auspicious for their long-term preservation, and thus the happiness of living beings.
His Holiness then happily requested Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche to teach Lama Tsongkhapa’s commentary to Abhisamayalamkara, Lekshed Sertreng (Golden Rosary of Eloquence). This text is known for its older classical writing style and refutation of some of the assertions of great scholars prior to Je Tsongkhapa’s time. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche also accepted a request from Gaden Shartse Library’s 4th committee members to give the commentary on this work, and delivered it in 1997 to a gathering of about 900 lamas at Gaden Shartse Monastery.
Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche had never travelled despite having an open invitation for many years from numerous Dharma students in Malaysia and Singapore. Being one of the leading spiritual mentors for over 1000 monastics, he would confer spiritual guidance to students, sometimes spending over seven hours a day doing so. Finally, in 1998, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche acceded to the earnest requests of students abroad, thus ensuring that his extensive knowledge and practice of Buddhism would spread far and wide and not just be confined to Tibetan society.
Countless overseas students had the opportunity to receive Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche’s noble teachings and be inspired by his example to follow the path of Buddha. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche established Dharma centres in both Singapore and Malaysia with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Lati Rinpoche.
In the winter of 1999, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche and a group of his students from the two overseas centres had the honour of receiving a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India. His Holiness expressed appreciation of Rinpoche’s work, presenting two identical paintings of Shakyamuni Buddha for the two centres, where they have since become holy shrines. Cherishing the significance of these gifts, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche named both centres Sakyamuni Dharma Centre.
In 2004, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was invited to various Buddhist centres in Spain: Gaden Choling Centre in Madrid and La Coruna, Amitabha Centre in Malaga, and Tamdin Choling in Sevilla. These centres were founded by Venerable Geshe Tamdin Gyatso, who later became abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery. He also delivered teachings at Casatel Tibet, Tibet House in Barcelona. Overall, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche spent a few months giving teachings at those Dharma centres on both Sutra and Tantra. The audience greatly enjoyed his remarkable teachings translated into Spanish, and their devotion was reaffirmed by his presence.
His Eminence Kensur Rinpoche Jetsun Jampa Yeshe entered clear light in 2011. Upon the demise of this great master, the monks of Gaden Shartse Monastery engaged in the chanting of sacred texts, prayers and self-initiations for days on end.
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