In 1930, the Year of the Iron Horse, Denma Choje Jampa Thubten Gelek Gyatso was born in Namkha Zong, Tibet. His father, Rinchen was a farmer and his mother was named Drolma. When he was three years old, the toddler was recognised by His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso as the incarnation of the 18th Denma Choje and was presented the seal of office and official documentations of his recognition. He was then ordained by Jepu Rierba and bestowed with the ordination name Jampa Thubten Gelek Gyatso.
A couple of years later, he was enthroned in Kelsang Puntsok Ling, Kham which is home to the line of Denma Choje incarnations. Thousands flocked to the monastery during Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s enthronement ceremony to pay respects and receive blessings from this extraordinary being.
Denma Gonsa Rinpoche was taught to read and write in Tibetan when he was eight years old by Geshe Dammu, while Nyima Mentsi tutored him in the sciences and astrology. Under these two masters, he memorised all the texts that were used in the daily prayers in the monastery. In 1939, the Year of the Earth Rabbit, the 98th Gaden Tripa, holder of one of the three great seats of Sera Dratsang, advised him to study the Five Great Treatises under Rizong Awang Resa. This was a huge turning point in the life of the young Rinpoche.
After obtaining his Geshe degree at the age of 20, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche then enrolled himself in Badeng Mey Drati Dratsang, where he was able to practise both the Sutras and Tantras freely. An outstanding student, he studied under two of the greatest masters of all time, Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang and Kyabje Dagri Dorje Chang. Having received the transmission of the Kangyur and numerous empowerments of various Dharmapalas (Dharma Protectors), Denma Gonsa Rinpoche became a vital lineage holder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
When Denma Gonsa Rinpoche was 25 years old, in the year 1954, he made a trip to China and visited Beijing during the National Day celebrations. During that trip, he was greeted by Chairman Mao and Zhou En Lai, who extended warm hospitality throughout Rinpoche’s visit to the Chinese capital city.
At the age of 28, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche gave his very first oral transmission of the Kangyur, which are the spoken teachings of the Buddha.
Due to the political unrest in 1958, Rinpoche faced numerous obstacles in spreading the Dharma, including threats to his life. However, due to his pure motivation to benefit others, he was undeterred and managed to overcome these obstacles. Not only that, this extraordinary master took on the sufferings of others as if they were his own, facing each obstacle courageously with an open mind.
An erudite Dharma master who based all his teachings on the Kangyur, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche has represented the three great monastic institutions of Gaden, Sera and Drepung; Reting Monastery; and various monasteries in Lhasa, Shigatse, Shan Nan and other places in Tibet.
Whenever one mentions Guru Devotion and unwavering faith, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s name will invariably be recalled for his incredible devotion and faith in his Guru, the Buddha, Dharma and Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden. In the face of unsettling times during the Sino-Tibetan conflict where many had to flee their homeland, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche chose to remain in Tibet to preserve the Dharma as well as serve as the source of strength for the oppressed and displaced Tibetans.
Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s tireless work over the years earned him much respect from both the Tibetans and Chinese alike. Rinpoche was awarded many titles and positions to represent his people and community in Kham, Tibet. Understanding the need to engage the Chinese authorities correctly, Rinpoche entered the political arena with hopes of protecting his people and using his position to care for the Tibetans, spiritually and secularly.
Thus, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche can be considered the ‘people’s lama’ for good reason. He was the Vice-Representative of the different areas in Tibet until 1961, the Year of the Metal Bull. Having endured the Cultural Revolution for a good 10 years, and with the new implementation of religious freedom from the central government, Rinpoche’s accomplishments captured much attention. As a member of the ethnic minority, Rinpoche was given a warm reception by Deng Xiao Ping, who was the premier of China at that time.
In 1980, Rinpoche was chosen as the Vice-President of the Yushu Tibetan community, after which he was elected as the Representative of Qinghai province for four consecutive terms, the most notable position that he held. His other secular positions included the Representative of the Chinese Congress in the 8th term, Vice-President of the Qinghai Buddhist Association, Vice-President of the Yushu County Buddhist Association and China’s Department of Buddhist Studies Committee.
Despite his secular duties to the people, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche still continued his work to preserve and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha. One of his most notable efforts to spread the Dharma was the restoration of a great monastery to its former glory.
Gonsa Monastery has been a seat and a bastion of the Gelug lineage for many high masters such as His Holiness Pabongka Chocktrul Rinpoche, who received many important lineages and transmissions from Denma Gonsa Rinpoche. However, prior to this, the monastery was in a derelict state due to wear and tear by the natural elements and damage caused by unrest.
Having devoted most of his younger days to serving his community and the Dharma, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche began to focus on building a platform for the Dharma to flourish. One of Rinpoche’s holy projects was the reconstruction and restoration of Gonsa Monastery. Aided by his assistants and close students, Rinpoche spent many years raising the funds to rebuild and restore this monastery to its former glory, and personally supervised the entire project right up to its completion in 2011.
Today, the main prayer hall, Protector Chapel, scripture buildings and other chapels feature various influences of the Gelug tradition and are built with materials and craftsmanship of the highest quality. Gonsa Monastery houses one of the world’s largest Lama Tsongkhapa statues, measuring 12-storeys high. Next to the main temple stands a magnificent 18-feet Dorje Shugden statue, a huge blessing to those living in Kham.
It was evident that the infallible protector, Dorje Shugden was close to Denma Gonsa Rinpoche every step of the way, providing him with the necessary resources to support all his undertakings. One of the clear signs of the great Protector’s unconditional care and protection was the Qinghai earthquake that destroyed the surrounding buildings but left Rinpoche’s monastery and ladrang miraculously untouched, standing intact amongst the rubble.
Due to Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s faith and devotion to his Lamas and commitment to the Dharma, the Protector provided all the right resources. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s influence eventually spread not only across Tibet but also to Beijing, which helped Rinpoche spread the Gelug lineage as well as Dorje Shugden’s practice far and wide.
In 2005, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche entered clear light amidst many auspicious signs and good omens. Before he passed away, Rinpoche gave specific instructions to his students about his next incarnation – he predicted that there would be many boys who would be presented as the next incarnation but to only enthrone the boy who could recite the root Tantra of Guhyasamaja from memory.
This was a clear sign of how high Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s realisations were. Guhyasamaja is one of the most important (and most complicated) Higher Tantric practices in Vajrayana Buddhism. It has 17 chapters, with a separate explanation sometimes regarded as its 18th chapter. Lama Tsongkhapa considered this work so important that he used a tradition of the Guhyasamaja Tantras as a basis for interpreting all other Tantras. It has been mentioned that should the Guhyasamaja Tantra be preserved, it would create the causes for all other Tantras to be preserved as well.
On 31 July 2014, the 20th Denma Gonsa Chocktrul Rinpoche was enthroned in his monastery in Tibet, after his recognition as the unmistaken incarnation of the 19th Denma Gonsa Rinpoche by four of the greatest masters of the Gelugpa lineage:
- H.H. the Panchen Lama
- H.H. Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche
- H.H. Pabongka Chocktrul Rinpoche
- Dorje Shugden via oracular trance
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