Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was an eminent Lama and renowned scholar of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was also one of the most senior Tibetan Buddhist masters to bring the holy teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa to the West.
Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was born in Lhasa, Tibet in 1921. His father, Sönam Gönbo, worked as a carpenter and was employed by the Tibetan government. His mother, Tsamchö, was from a family that operated a cloth-dying business. At the age of seven, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche underwent the ritual of rab jung, or “going forth,” before the 74th abbot of Sera Mey College, Mar Nyung Khenchen Lobsang Damchö and received the spiritual name Lobsang Tharchin.
At the age of 16, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche began to study the major Buddhist philosophical treatises. In due time, he participated in both of the college’s unique forms of debate, called Rik Chung and Rik Chen, causing all the leading scholars to marvel at his intellectual prowess. In 1953 after a rigorous 25-year programme of Buddhist monastic and philosophical studies, he was awarded the degree of Geshe Lharampa and received marks of distinction.
In 1954, he entered the Gyume Tantric College, completed its course of study under strict monastic discipline, and shortly afterwards attained a high-ranking administrative position. Upon completion of his studies, he was awarded the Ang Rim Tse Phü citation, which recognised him as the best in his class for general studies. He also distinguished himself in such examinations as the Chi Tik oral recitation. Following this, he served as the college Ge-kö or proctor.
In the wake of the March 1959 Lhasa uprising, the now Geshe Lobsang Tharchin escaped to India along with more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees. Traveling through the northeastern Mön Tawang area, he finally arrived at the town of Misamari in the Indian state of Assam. After the arrival of this large influx of refugees, young Tibetan monks from all traditions were settled at an abandoned fort in the Buxa District of Assam, while older monks went to Dalhousie, a hill station in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
After staying in Dalhousie for a short period, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche entered a program to train teachers for a Tibetan schooling system that was being set up to educate refugee children. After completing this training, he went to Darjeeling and helped set up a school where he taught both Tibetan language and Buddhism.
After the school became established, he was assigned to another school in Simla, where he again taught language and religion. As he had been encouraged to do, he taught an excellent course in logic. He was highly admired and revered by the students there and came to be known by everyone as “Precious Simla Dharma Teacher.” After serving at these two schools, he was transferred to another refugee school in Mussoorie, where his assignment was to improve the curriculum of language and religion.
During his time in India, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche also was part of a committee of scholars that was set up to compile a series of modern Tibetan textbooks for use in the refugee school system.
While Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was teaching at the Mussoorie Tibetan refugee school, he took a leave of absence due to an illness. In a meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, he was asked what aspirations he might have and replied that he thought it would be useful to learn English. The Dalai Lama said that he would consider what opportunities might become available.
Later, he received a message that he should come to Dharmasala. At this time, the Dalai Lama informed Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche that there was an opportunity to travel to the United States for three years to participate in a project to translate Buddhist texts into English. He would stay at a Buddhist Dharma centre called Labsum Shedrup Ling, which had been established by a Mongolian Lama named Geshe Wangyal.
Following the Dalai Lama’s advice, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche accepted the offer and arrived in the Howell, New Jersey community known as Freewood Acres on 11 April 1972. For a period of three years, he resided at Labsum Shedrup Ling and collaborated on a project to translate Vasubandhu’s Commentary to the Treasury of Higher Learning, an effort that was supported by the International Association for the Study of World Religions.
During this period, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche taught Lamrim practice and Buddhist philosophy to many American students. He also taught classes in New York City and gave lectures at a number of prominent universities, including Princeton University, Columbia University, and the University of Kentucky.
As the three-year assignment was coming to an end, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was invited to serve as the head Lama of Rashi Gempil Ling, a Mongolian Buddhist temple in the same community of Freewood Acres where he had been living. His American students were also eager for Rinpoche to remain in the United States and continue teaching Dharma.
When he stated that he could not remain longer than the original assignment of three years without the approval of the Dalai Lama, the leaders of Rashi Gempil Ling Temple submitted a letter to the Dalai Lama requesting that Kensur Rinpoche be permitted to accept the position of head Lama at their temple. After a favourable response was received from the Dalai Lama, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche accepted the temple’s invitation.
In the winter of 1977, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche returned to India for the first time since going to the United States. After meeting with the Dalai Lama and his own root lama, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, he learned about developments at the three main Gelugpa monasteries, which had moved to the resettlement camps in South India. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in particular urged him to visit Sera Mey College and observe for himself how things were progressing.
What Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche discovered was that the college was experiencing difficulties in maintaining the traditional range of classes that make up the Geshe program of study. The population of monks was relatively small and the program had dwindled to only four or five individual classes. He was told that the principal obstacle was the inability to provide food for prospective monks that might enter the monastery. Thus, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche pledged to provide financial support for the sustenance of monks and encouraged the monastery officials to recruit new monks and re-establish the traditional program of higher Buddhist studies.
Some five years later, in February 1981, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche returned to Sera Mey and personally supervised the oral examinations of the young scholars. Besides giving awards to the monks who had shown prowess in their studies, he established an endowment fund for the monks’ monthly payments by adding to the funds that he had donated previously to the monastery.
On March 6, during the inauguration ceremony for the new Sera Mey assembly hall, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche made a monetary offering to each of the monks. On 14 March, he attended a meeting made up of the colleges’s scholars during which a number of matters were discussed and Rinpoche offered some advice. On 17 March, a ceremony was held to recognise the new recipients of scholarships and offer them congratulations for their accomplishments.
Overall, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche initiated a number of projects dedicated to the restoration of Sera Mey Monastery and the support of its monks who had resettled in South India. In 1991, at the age of 70, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was appointed as the Abbot of Sera Mey by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and returned to India where he served a two-year term. Following this, he returned to the United States, where he continued to teach and direct a number of projects dedicated to the restoration of Sera Mey Monastery in India and to the flourishing of the Mahayana Buddhist Dharma in the West, as well as the Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press.
To sum up, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s long-term goals were to contribute to the preservation of the Buddha’s teachings. In response to the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche not only strove to provide spiritual guidance and instruction for young Tibetans in the refugee schools that were established in India, but also became a pioneer in spreading the Tibetan Buddhist Dharma in the West.
His most profound and far-reaching activity was the effort that spanned more than 20 years during which he sought to improve the study curriculum, general health, and means of subsistence of the monastic community of Sera Mey College at the Tibetan resettlement camp in Bylakuppe, India.
The Mahayana Sutra & Tantra Press was founded under the guidance of Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche. It is a non-profit organisation located in Howell, New Jersey, USA that publishes and distributes books on Tibetan Buddhism to the general public. It has published a number of Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s translations of Buddhist classics, along with several of his own oral commentaries on important Buddhist topics including:
- Six-Session Guru Yoga: An Oral Commentary with a Detailed Explanation of the Bodhisattva and Tantric Vows
- Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise: Vajrayogini’s Eleven Yogas of Generation Stage Practice as Revealed by Glorious Naropa
- King Udrayana and the Wheel of Life: The History and Meaning of the Buddhist Teaching of Dependent Origination
- The Key to the Treasury of Shunyata: Dependent Arising and Emptiness: Commentaries by Sermey Kensur Lobsang Tharchin
- Pointing the Way to Reasoning: Commentaries to Compendium of Debates, Types of Mind, Analysis of Reasons
- Achieving Bodhichitta: Instructions of Two Great Lineages Combined into a Unique System of Eleven Categories
- Commentary on Guru Yoga Offering of the Mandala
Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche breathed his last in the early evening of 1 December 2004 and remained in death meditation until 6 December at Rashi Gempil Ling Temple, which had been his principal residence for the past 30 years. A traditional cremation ceremony was held at the Temple the following morning, on the very day that commemorates the passing of Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition. The ceremony was officiated by Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche and Venerable Achok Rinpoche, two reincarnate lamas from Sera Mey Monastery.
Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche began the proceedings by emphasising how Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche was an extraordinarily special person as evidenced by his five-day-long death meditation and by the fact that his holy body was still fresh at the end of that time. He remarked that a special fragrance was noticed as well.
Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche described how Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s work such as teaching and the support of Sera Mey Monastery are well known by his students. The fifth day, when Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche came out of meditation, was Founder’s Day, the anniversary of the passing of the founder of Sera Monastery, Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe, thus demonstrating the strong connection between this great master and the monastic tradition of which he is part.
Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s funeral ritual, held the following day on Lama Tsongkhapa Day (Tuesday, 7 December 2004), was also the very same day as Lama Tsongkapa’s passing which further demonstrates the strong connection between this holy Lama and the Gelugpa tradition.
During the cremation ritual, the loud boom of the bursting kapala (skull) was interpreted by Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche to be a further sign of Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s extraordinary level of mastery. This event happens rarely and only with great masters. Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche mentioned a Lama in the past who had the habit of continually scolding one of his disciples in a harsh manner. As a result, this disciple was considered by other followers to be a poor disciple. However, during the cremation ceremony for this Lama after he passed away, his skull burst open and the top landed in the lap of that very disciple, indicating that the scoldings were in fact an act of skilful means and that the Lama had not been displeased with him and indeed regarded the disciple very favourably. These accounts are meaningful examples of the central importance of always maintaining a pure relationship with the spiritual teacher. As it is recounted in the Lamrim teachings, when your Lama scolds you, you should view his voice as wrathful mantras that purify you and remove obstacles.
When Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche was inspecting the ashes during the opening of the Dung Srek Kang (burning house), he noticed that sindhura powder had appeared. Also, the weather had special significance — when the elements are the same for each ceremony (in this case, it rained during the Fire Puja and the Opening Ceremony) it indicates the local spirits are satisfied with these activities. They bring rain, or as in Tibet, snow.
Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche concluded the ceremony by referring to the extraordinary camaraderie displayed by Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s students during his stay. Their activities were strong and the arrangements were very smooth, including working with local officials who granted permission for the on-site funeral rites. Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche further explained he was not mentioning this to produce pride but to show how this was the positive and good result of a strong connection between the teacher and his students and the good result of Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s teachings and impact on his students.
The immaculate incarnation of Kensur Jetsun Lobsang Tharchin, Tenzin Namdrol, was found in Mundgod, South India. Named Yangsi Rinpoche Tenzin Jigme Namdrol, he has also been formally recognised by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
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