Venerable Thupten Rinpoche is a highly regarded incarnate lama and an early disciple of the Centre’s founder the late Venerable Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey.
He was invited to the Centre by Geshe Dhargyey himself, in order to continue the transmission of Buddhist teachings in Dunedin.
He arrived at the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre on 7 March 1996, to become the Centre’s new teacher. A couple of weeks later, at our request, he told his story to Losang Dawa, who wrote it down. Like all great lamas, Thupten Rinpoche is very humble and his own story reveals his greatness only indirectly. So in order to find out a little more about his background and achievements, Ven. Sönam Tenzin interviewed him once again, pressing him to talk about the great teachers, teachings and initiations he has had.
The following is the result of these two interviews. Thupten Rinpoche’s own account of his life as told to Losang Dawa is presented in standard print. The additional information gleaned by Sönam Tenzin is in italics.
“I was born to a small family at Tsethang, in the Lhoka or southern region of Tibet, on the 4th day of the 6th month in 1941. At three, I was recognised by Phurchog Jamgön Dorje Chang, an emanation of Maitreya Buddha, as an incarnate lama of Samdrub Monastery of Dzakhog, Trehor district in eastern Tibet.”
At this early age Thupten Rinpoche received a long life initiation and pre-novice ordination from Jamgön Dorje Chang.
“At four, I and my family were taken to the Samdrub monastery. At the monastery I was nurtured and looked after by my kind guru, Rinchen Tsetan, who taught me reading, writing and other aspects of my training.”
“At six I was ordained as a novice monk by refuge-protector, the venerable Geshe Jampa Khedrub, the then ex-abbot of the Trehor Dhargyey Monastery. He gave me the name Jampa Thupten.”
Among the many initiations and teachings Thupten Rinpoche received from this remarkable teacher are the great initiations of Guhya-samaja, Heruka and Vajrabhairava and the Lam. Rim Chen.mo commentary. He also received the Putri Barwa initiation from the Sershul Monastery lama, Pöntsang Tulku.
“At around 16, I went to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital city, to enter Sera Mahayana Monastery to pursue higher learning in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It was there that I met my refuge- protector, the incomparably kind late venerable guru, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, who until his passing away into the state of peace, like a loving parent caring for their only child, warmly held me in his compassion and cared for my material and spiritual needs.”
Thus Gen Rinpoche became Thupten Rinpoche’s tutor in 1957. While at Sera Monastery Thupten Rinpoche received many initiations and teachings from great lamas. From Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, teachings on Lam.Rim, initiations of Guhya-samaja, Heruka, Vajra-bhairava and Kun.Rig, a commentary to Gan.dän Lha.gya.ma, and more. From Lhatsün Dorje Chang, initiations of White Tara, the Thirteen Golden Dharmas of the Sakya tradition, Mahakala and Vaishravana etc. From Lop Tengyal Rinpoche, Avalokitesvara and Tara initiations and from Gen Yeshe Wangdü, teachings on logic and debate.
“Following the brutal occupation of Tibet by Communist China, we fled Tibet in February 1959 to bring our kind guru to safety. We travelled for ten months, enduring immense hardships and often facing close encounters with our pursuers. We finally reached safety in India in December that year.”
“At first we lived in Northeast India, at places like Kalimpong. Once fairly settled, I started taking lessons in Tibetan grammar and poetry, and in English. Side-by-side I had the great fortune of receiving lam.rim teachings and commentarial teachings on various treatises of Buddhist thought and philosophy from Gen Rinpoche.”
“In 1961, I received full ordination as a bhikksu from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
“In 1964, under instructions from His Holiness, a training college was started to train Tibetan lamas and Geshes as teachers for the Tibetan schools in India. I was selected for a two-year course in which we studied Tibetan grammar, poetry, secular as well as religious history, and Buddhist philosophy both intensively and extensively. In addition, we were also taught geography, world history, rudimentary science and psychology. At the end of the course I was awarded the First Class teaching degree.”
“In 1967 I began my teaching career and taught for 28 years, until 10 August 1995. During that time I worked my way through as a Primary School Teacher, Tenth Grade Teacher and Post-graduate Teacher.”
Thupten Rinpoche taught Buddhist history, philosophy and practice, and all aspects of Tibetan language, including grammar and poetic composition.
Over these years in India he also received many initiations and teachings. From Gen Rinpoche, Lam.Rim Chen.mo, Drang.nge Lekshay Nyingpo, Bodhisattvacaryavataratwice, explanatory-transmissions of the Five Treatises of Buddhist philosophy, the commentary to Gan.dän Lha.gya.ma and more. From Yongdzin Ling Dorje Chang, initiation and commentary to the Vajrabhairava Ekavira practice twice, Lama Chöpa commentary, etc. From Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, more teachings on Lam.Rim, initiations and commentaries to the practices of Heruka body mandala and Vajrayogini, and numerous Jenang. From His Holiness the Dalai Lama, many teachings and initiations of Guhyasamaja, Heruka, Vajrabhairava, Avalokitesvara, and Hayagriva (Tamdrin Yang.sang). From Kensur Dorje Chang (Geshe Ugyän Tsetän) Vajrabhairava Ekavira initiations, commentary to the two stages of Guhyasamaja practice, and explanation of the “collected activities” of Sera Monastery’s yidam, Tamdrin Yang.sang. During these years he also performed retreats of practices such as Vajrabhairava and Vajrayogini.
Venerable Jampa Thupten Tulku Rinpoche arrived and took over the role of public teaching for the Centre, after Geshe Dhargyey’s passing in 1995. Ven Thupten Rinpoche has taught many and varied classes. Ven Thupten Rinpoche’s teaching program has emphasized Buddhist practice in everyday life. He taught Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of life extensively from 1996 to 2007 reaching the end of the seventh chapter on Enthusastic Perseverance. This included referncing various commentaries and elucidating many points. Included was a very detailed discussion of Bodhisattva vows. Rinpoche also taught Mind and Mental Factors by Karchen Yeshe Gyaltsen, ‘Letter to a King’ by Arya Nagarjuna. He began Precious Garland (Rinchen Trengwa) by Arya Nagarjuna covering the first chapter. He also dwelt on Jewel Heap of Analogies of Geshe Potowa, Ven Thupten Rinpoche also gave many short course teachings, most notably his annual Eqster programme which included The 12 Links, Special Insight, Patience, Calm Abiding, 21 Tara Initiation and many others.
At the end of 2007 Ven Thupten Rinpoche took an extended sabatical from his role to allow him to honour a commitment he had made prior to coming to New Zealand. Sadly , Rinpoche passed away in 2011.
A talk by Venerable Geshe Sangey Thinley about Rinpoche’s life and some of his many accomplishments can be heard here.