His Eminence the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche’s auspicious birth took place on 13 January 1959, which coincided with a lunar eclipse and “Makar Sankranti”, an important religious festival for Hindus all over India and Nepal, during which millions go to the Holy Rivers to bathe in order to purify their negativities. It is also a day that marks the beginning of the auspicious phase for the Hindus. His father was a poor farmer from Amdo named Jamyang Samten. His mother, Ani Dolma was a native Sherpa. His given name was Norbu Tsering (Norbu means “jewel” in Tibetan and Tsering means “longevity”).
As a sign of a holy being about to take rebirth, his mother, Ani Dolma had an auspicious dream when she was pregnant with him. She dreamt of a pristine pond filled with blooming lotuses. In the seventh month of her pregnancy, Ani Dolma became seriously ill. Miraculously, she recovered completely during his delivery that took place in the early hours of dawn on “Makar Sankranti”. Just like Buddha Shakyamuni’s own birth, his mother delivered him with minimal effort and suffering.
As his parents were too poor to raise him, they decided to give him to foster parents, who raised him as a Roman Catholic and sent him to a Roman Catholic school. His Catholic upbringing would prove useful later on in his adult life.
This unusual little boy was particularly attracted to Tibetan monks and would walk miles as a small child to visit Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. From a young age, Norbu demonstrated extraordinary qualities and expressed a strong wish to renounce lay life and devote himself to a life of spirituality. Although unfamiliar with the Tibetan language, when Norbu was 13, he wrote out the “Praise to the 21 Taras” and drew images of Saviouress Tara and the female Dharma Protector, Palden Lhamo. One of these drawings is currently in the possession of Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche.
At the age of 16, Norbu ran away from home to Dharamsala, perhaps dictated by his past life’s imprints. When the Sangha of Gungru Khangtsen in Drepung Gomang Monastic University consulted the Yudronma oracle about the reincarnation of the 12th Kundeling Rinpoche, the Goddess wordlessly turned towards Norbu and made a mandala offering and other respectful gestures to him. The monks reported this incident to His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche who, through divination, predicted that the young Norbu would play an invaluable role for the Gaden tradition.
When His Holiness Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche was requested to perform a divination, he said that Norbu would be of great benefit to the Dharma. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche similarly said that Norbu was someone out of the ordinary and should be allowed to cultivate his capabilities at his own pace.
Norbu received his novitiate vows into monkhood under the guidance of His Holiness the 99th Gaden Tripa Yeshi Dondrup Rinpoche and was bestowed the ordination name Lobsang Yeshi Jampal Gyatso. The Gaden Throne Holder who was the Sharpa Choje (Lord of the East) at that time, prophesied that he would bring tremendous blessings to others, not just on a spiritual level but on a worldly level as well.
In 1979, Kundeling Rinpoche joined the monastic college of Drepung Gomang, where the 8th – 12th Kundeling Rinpoches had received their monastic education, and received teachings and instructions from erudite masters such as His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche and Geshe Tendar.
As he was not officially recognised as the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche at that time, he was denied the care, assistance and privileges that are normally accorded to tulkus. Thus, Kundeling Rinpoche faced much hardship for roughly 18 years during his monastic studies but his experience did not leave him bitter or resentful. He persevered in his training and even served in administrative capacities in Gomang College. He also made many offerings to Gomang College and sponsored many teachings and initiations in Drepung and Gaden.
Although not yet officially recognised as the reincarnation of the Kundeling lineage, he was conferred the title of “Dratsang Tulku” by the Gomang College authorities. On more than one occasion, when Yogi Geshe Nyima was consulted, Lobsang Yeshi Rinpoche was declared to be the emanation of the 12th Kundeling Rinpoche as well as Kyabje Khangsar Dorje Chang, a well-learned and saintly scholar who was also a candidate for the position of 12th Kundeling.
While in Drepung Monastery, Kundeling Rinpoche met an elderly and eccentric Tibetan nun, who many thought to be mad. She often walked miles to the settlement, visiting Lamas and circumambulating the main prayer halls. This eccentric nun would visit Kundeling Rinpoche often in his Gomang ladrang and would make him tiny offerings from the bundles that she carried on her back. She would sing praises and sometimes even dance. Coincidentally, at that time, Kundeling Rinpoche became drawn to the Tantric practices of Heruka and Vajrayogini. Strangely, after Kyabje Zong Rinpoche entered clear light, she vanished and no one knew where she went.
In 1982, in an unfortunate incident of false charges, Kundeling Rinpoche was beaten by the disciplinarian of the monastic college. This incident upset many monks including Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. His Eminence Gangchen Rinpoche, who was visiting Kyabje Zong Rinpoche at that time, recalls a visibly upset Zong Rinpoche stating that,
…the Kundeling Lama has been unjustly beaten for no fault of his own.
When Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was performing the White Umbrella Goddess (Sanskirt: Sitatapatra) rites, he suddenly stopped halfway through the ceremony and began speaking about corruption and injustice of those in power, citing incidents involving great Gelug Lamas such as His Eminence Reting Rinpoche and His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche said, “It seems that people are bent on even harming the very descendants of the lineage of Pabongka.” This happened just two months before his passing.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche saw this incident as a bad omen that could potentially harm the Pabongka lineage. Consequently, the Dalai Lama himself stopped the tradition of appointing disciplinarians in monastic colleges, turning the circumstances favourable for Kundeling Rinpoche. Convinced that Rinpoche was practising “exchanging self for others’, taking on the sufferings of others as if they were his own, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who saw Rinpoche’s true spiritual qualities requested him to teach in Bodhgaya.
Kundeling Rinpoche began reaching out to the Indians and Westerners more and more from 1984 onwards, teaching in open spaces near the magnificent Stupa at Bodhgaya. There, he gave refuge to 100 Indian devotees thus realising one of his wishes to have Dharma take root at the place of its origins once again.
In Bodhgaya, Kundeling Rinpoche met another strange lady who was dressed in draped cloths. She was always seen near the main stupa. Her talk was often incomprehensible but when Kundeling Rinpoche gave a teaching, she would command the students to pay full attention to his words and to behave very respectfully. She would refer to him as the emanation of the 12th Kundeling Rinpoche and made many auspicious predictions about his future.
In 1985, after the Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, local Indians turned hostile after some mishandling by His Holiness’ close associates. They rallied together and started shouting slogans. The angry mob also ransacked the Temple of Kalachakra. Seeing this, Kundeling Rinpoche went to speak to the Indians and succeeded in pacifying them, restoring their respectful behaviour towards the Dalai Lama.
Kundeling Rinpoche went on to give refuge to hundreds of Indians in Bombay and Karnataka and worked diligently to achieve the wishes of His Holiness. In 1992, Kundeling Rinpoche arranged for Indians to meet the Dalai Lama just outside of Mundgod. In this historical event, Rinpoche served as a translator, expertly translating the Dalai Lama’s speech into Hindi.
In another case of unrest in Mundgod in 1994, local Indians ransacked the settlement and were violent towards the Tibetans. Thankfully, Kundeling Rinpoche intervened in time to prevent a full-fledged riot taking place.
On many instances, Kundeling Rinpoche petitioned Dharmapala Dorje Shugden to help the work of others such as Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Kundeling Rinpoche also helped establish Prajna Vihara School in Bodhgaya, a school for the under-privileged children of the lowest caste Indians. In a Naxalite communist territory near Rajgir, Kundeling Rinpoche laid the foundation for the Ambedkar School and Library. In 1993, Kundeling Rinpoche conferred the Tara initiation to Indians in Bodhgaya. He also offered 1,000 robes to Gomang College and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s ladrang.
As a huge believer in repaying the kindness of others, Kundeling Rinpoche felt that the displaced Tibetans who were residing in India should repay the kindness of their host country, to create more goodwill between both parties. He persuaded the monastic authorities to become involved in community service work near their monasteries. He even convinced Kensur Tenpa Tenzin Rinpoche, the Supreme Abbot of Drepung to give blessings at a mass Hindu wedding ceremony held on Ambedkar Day in Mundgod, which is the nearest town to the illustrious Drepung and Ganden Monasteries.
To quote His Holiness Gangchen Rinpoche,
To my knowledge, no single Lama has taken such direct initiatives towards the spiritual and material concerns of the Indians. He is the first Lama to give refuge and precepts and spiritual instructions in the Hindi language to Indians.
Kundeling Rinpoche’s compassion, communication skills, openness and good command of the English language made it evident that he had great potential as a teacher. Kundeling Rinpoche received requests from Kensur Tenpa Tenzin and the late Mongolian master Kensur Ngawang Nyima to visit the United States of America.
Travelling throughout the northeastern states in 1991, Kundeling Rinpoche brought many benefits to the people there. That year, he also made his first visit to Europe, visiting Holland, Germany and Italy. These eventually became the countries where Kundeling Rinpoche founded Atisha Serlingpa Centre (Sicily) and Atisha Kirti Danza Group (Holland).
Kundeling Rinpoche is one of those rare teachers who can elicit an immediate response in all who follow his teachings. It was reported that during Rinpoche’s first visit to Sicily, a huge and complete rainbow was sighted in the cloudless sky at the news of his impending visit. During the consecration of an upcoming Dharma centre, Rinpoche himself saw a light “star” high up in the sky that passed directly over the centre. This was highly unusual and auspicious given that the “star” was spotted in broad daylight.
Apart from extensive teachings on Guru Yoga and Lamrim, Kundeling Rinpoche also teaches healing practices for all beings and the environment, and performs blessings for animals and the land. When he gives long life and Tantric empowerments, those who follow his advice reap many benefits.
Once during a three-month long drought that threatened to kill the crops, Kundeling Rinpoche beseeched his Protector to bring some relief. In the middle of Guru Yoga teachings some hours later, to the amazement of all his students, thunder and lightning began to electrify the air and soon, it started to rain heavily.
There were also several occasions where fire, an annual hazard in summer, threatened the safety of the island where Atisha Serlingpa Centre stands. Thankfully, each of the fire fighters’ efforts seemed to have been aided by some divine force. Since Kundeling Rinpoche started the Centre, the water supply from the natural springs on the island has increased and the olive harvests have been abundant, even in areas that previously produced little. It was said that even the dogs are living more harmoniously with each other since they received Kundeling Rinpoche’s blessings.
Kundeling Rinpoche has a unique ability to easily forge relationships with people wherever he goes, often immersing himself in the local culture and traditions, even showing interest in the particular problems of the local populace. He supports interfaith dialogue and has participated in an open discussion with a Catholic priest in Sicily. He has even preached the Bible in a Catholic Church in Holland.
To further achieve his objectives, Kundeling Rinpoche moved to Bangalore, South India. In 1994, together with a Dutch nun, Ani Lobsang Phagma, Kundeling Rinpoche founded The Atisha Charitable Trust, thus fulfilling Dorje Shugden’s prophecy that a move to Bangalore would help the Dharma proliferate and the well-being of sentient beings increase.
The Atisha Charitable Trust was inspired by the life and deeds of an extraordinary Indian scholar and teacher, Atisha Dipamkara Shri Gyana. This Trust’s purpose is to carry out social and spiritual activities to benefit others. Various units were formed under the “umbrella” organisation which include The Atisha Monastic Community, The Atisha Mahayana Buddhist Centres and The Atisha Schools Project.
Under The Atisha Monastic Community, monks are trained in Mahayana-Vajrayana philosophy, modern technical skills, English, general knowledge and behaviour. The objective of this project is to help assimilate these specially trained monks into the social mainstream so that they are able to use their skills in social development work and projects to help the poor and underprivileged.
For the qualified monks, Kundeling Rinpoche sponsored commentaries by Venerable Geshe Lobsang Tendar Rinpoche on the practices of Thirteen Deity Yamantaka, Heruka Body Mandala and Vajrayogini, using three famous but almost extinct commentarial texts. The commentary given on the Heruka Body Mandala was extremely special as it was given for the first time in over 33 years. It was the first and also the last opportunity most monks would have to follow these rare and precious teachings.
The Atisha Schools Project successfully established two kindergartens, one primary school and a Tailoring School and Workshop for women in the Indian villages near the large Tibetan settlements in Karnatanaka. The Trust also seeks sponsorships for poor and elderly monks, and sponsors for the health and educational needs of the poverty-stricken Tibetan and Indian children.
The Trust organises a month-long residential course in Mahayana-Vajrayana practice at its headquarters in Bangalore every year. This course is attended by Kundeling Rinpoche’s students from all corners of the world. During this course, a thangka master teaches the techniques of this traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form. Although Kundeling Rinpoche stresses the importance of precision and details in Vajrayana practice and rituals, he also encourages his students, both lay and ordained, to study the Indian culture and art form and their relationship to early Buddhist Tantras.
In 1997, Kundeling Rinpoche was invited to teach for the very first time in the Far East. He went on a teaching tour covering Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. In 1998, Kundeling Rinpoche visited again and gave numerous teachings and empowerments to a growing group of students. In Singapore, Kundeling Rinpoche gave the first ever empowerments of Yamantaka and Vajrayogini Tantras. His open and provocative style attracted many more students, who commented that no other Lama they had seen had been so direct in his approach.
When Indonesia was facing challenging times, a young Chinese businessman followed Rinpoche’s advice to rely on Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. This businessman was spared from financial and social ruin. Not only did he manage to pay off his debts and emerge unscathed from attacks on his fellow countrymen, he was actually making good progress.
1997 was a particularly significant year for Kundeling Rinpoche as he was presented with two major honorary awards – the Fellowship in Polipathy for Social Services and the propagation of the Buddhist Arts of Healing, which he received in Delhi, and a Doctorate in Philosophy by the Open International University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.
Also in 1997, when the oracle was in trance of Dorje Shugden, the Protector was asked if he would bestow the title of the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche on Lobsang Yeshi Rinpoche. Dorje Shugden replied with the following verse:
From within the embodiment of the sphere of all-pervasive Great Bliss1
Appears the dance of the various forms of Nirmanakaya,
As body, speech and mind emanations2, like magical apparitions.
It is true that this manifestation3 is one of these,
Since the emanations work for the Teachings and beings, as deeds are important.
So, even if I were to offer the name of the person mentioned,
I don’t necessarily feel that benefit to the Teachings and beings will increase4.
The respected Ralo and Galo5 had clearly perceived this and therefore did not consider the issue to be of any significance6.
For continuing to uphold ‘listening, contemplating and meditating’ as was their wish.
Today, I also, basing myself on their policy, abide by it,
Since benefit in the work for the Teachings and for beings would not necessarily increase.
Although not offering the name, however, through the six periods and even through moments,
As my responsibility for the service of ‘activities’, without wavering,
I offer the request that the ‘deeds’ for the Teachings and Beings continue.
2 & 3. There can be separate emanations or one form containing two or all three emanations.
4. The reference is to Lobsang Yeshi Rinpoche.
5. Two renowned Tibetan lineage masters of the 12th century.
6. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, emanations of Ralo and Galo, both recognised in Lobsang Yeshi Rinpoche the emanation of the 12th Kundeling Rinpoche but did not think that the title should be offered at that time.
This verse speaks of the infallible Dharma Protector’s great humility and his wise decision to stay neutral. By adopting the neutral stand of Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, the Dharma Protector was subtly referring to the controversy that may manifest should he be the one to recognise and confer the title of the 13th Kundeling to Lobsang Yeshi Rinpoche. However, the Dharmapala implored Rinpoche to continue his work to bring benefit to others, an indication that reincarnations of great masters do not need any official recognition from any authority, person or oracle to continue their previous life’s beneficial work.
Throughout history, there have been other instances where authentic incarnations were not officially recognised; some even assumed titles that were different from their predecessors. A good example is His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, an emanation of Changkya Rolpai Dorje, who could not assume his official title due to the political and bureaucratic circumstances at that time. The lack of official recognition did not stop true incarnations such as Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche from continuing their beneficial works, as true incarnations are recognised by their contribution to the Dharma and sentient beings.
In December 1997, following the advice of His Holiness Serkong Tritul Rinpoche, His Holiness Gangchen Rinpoche and others, Kundeling Rinpoche finally accepted his title after he was convinced that it would be of some purpose and benefit.
In his recognition letter, His Holiness Gangchen Rinpoche says,
As confirmed by the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden himself, I wish to proclaim and state that Lama Lobsang Yeshi is the ‘Speech Manifestation’ of the 12th Kundeling Rinpoche, Lobsang Thupten Jigme Gyaltsen. I therefore proclaim him to be His Holiness the 13th Kundeling Tagtsha Jetung Thongshan Ho Thuktu, Lobsang Yeshi Jampel Gyatso, from today… It will be interesting to reveal further that the Holy Lama was born on 13th January, brought up in an area called Calcutta 13, in a house also numbered 13. The Kundeling recognised by the Dalai Lama was also enthroned on January 13th. The Lama Lobsang Yeshi is also now himself the 13th Kundeling. These facts are incredibly interesting. I am therefore praying sincerely for his long life and his success in all his holy activities. I further hope that he will fulfil the spiritual and temporal needs of all beings, especially in connection with India. In doing this, I believe that I have fulfilled an important task today towards the Dharma.
Interestingly, the number 13 is generally considered to be an auspicious number in Palden Lhamo’s divination text and there are many stories of the Dharma protector Palden Lhamo’s special protection for various Kundeling Rinpoches.
Kundeling Rinpoche has sought to preserve and spread the sacred Buddhist teachings, tirelessly soldiering on with a cheerful disposition, working day and night to help those who come to him in need. With each passing year, Kundeling Rinpoche’s engagements steadily increase but he readily turns his attention to wherever he can bring benefit to sentient beings. His teachings are detailed, rigorous and provocative with his own life experiences weaved in to inspire the listeners to take action and practise the Dharma. His exceptional humility, equanimity and cheerfulness even in times of tremendous adversity, coupled with his sheer dedication to the needs of others serve as inspiration to his students and those whose lives he touched.
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