Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
Born in 1921 in the town of Yätsak in Kham, Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was a great master who dedicated his entire existence to... Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey

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.

A young Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey

A young Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey

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.

Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey's statue held within the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre Gompa, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s statue at his Dharma centre in New Zealand

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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  • Sofi

    Posted on July 25, 2016 #1 Author

    They say a great Master can be proven by his activities and Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey is certainly one. At 19 he was already giving teachings and went on to teach several Tulkus. On the Dalai Lama’s request and that of his students, he successfully established a dharma centre, Dhargyey Buddhist Centre Gompa in New Zealand, spreading the dharma to a country which was generally unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism. Such a loss for his students and the people of New Zealand when he went into clear light and such an honour that they were able to give him a full traditional Tibetan funerary rites. May Dhargyey Buddhist Centre gompa flourish and continue the good works of Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey to bring benefit of the dharma to many.


  • Fong

    Posted on November 1, 2016 #2 Author

    A Geshe and a great teacher to many tulkus, incarnate lamas. He must have been an extraordinary teacher to be teaching westerners and incarnate lamas at the same time. Further to that he turned the wheel of dharma in a foreign land where there was no dharma before.

    It seems such a loss but it also shows us that however erudite or great a lama, impermanence is at the forefront of all living beings. For great lamas, they can control their rebirth. But for us normal people, this is not possible. So we have to take heed and practice.


  • Jacinta Goh

    Posted on September 10, 2017 #3 Author

    I first learnt about this Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey when H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche posted about His teachings on the blog. I find that His teachings are very essential and down to earth. Very practical I must say, having the essence on Buddhism in a simple and easy to practice manner.