Author Topic: The Great Master Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche  (Read 3101 times)

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The Great Master Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche
« on: April 12, 2011, 06:53:31 PM »
The Biography of the great master, Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche

Rinpoche's Childhood

Khensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche was born in 1929, the cherished son of father, Kelsang Tsering, and mother, Tsering Yangzom, in the province of Kham, far to the east of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Tibetans customarily place high regard in the name, social status and qualities of the parents to whom an extraordinary child is born. The name, Kelsang Tsering, means good fortune and longevity, while Tsering Yangzom means longevity and collection of goodwill. Both parents had a deep inclination towards spiritual values. They were naturally warm-hearted, and were loved and respected by the people of their village.

Recalling his early childhood, Rinpoche said, "When I was little, I wanted to pierce my ears because local myth held that someone with holes in their ears, would not take an unpleasant rebirth in their next lifetime! I was convinced and got my ears pierced! How silly ! Without proper knowledge of Dharma, we act ignorantly and fool ourselves!" This shows that, Rinpoche instinctively dreaded taking unfavorable rebirth in samsara even at a young age.

Education as a monk

When Rinpoche was twelve, he joined the Tsem Monastery, a local monastery that had been established by the great master, Jamyang Gaway Lodrö. Not long after, he was bestowed the precepts of a novice monk byVenerable Bakong Rinpoche who was a well-known lama at the time from Kham’s Nangsang region. At Tsem Monastery, he trained for five years, in ritual performance and memorized all the prayer books of the monastic curriculum.

In 1944, at the age of sixteen, the young lama made the bold decision to seek further education. With that goal in mind, he bid farewell to his beloved parents and family members and has never had the opportunity to return home to see them, since. In Tibet in those days, vehicles and modern roads were rare, traveling on foot from his home to Gaden Monastery in Central Tibet took about two months. The journey was difficult and dangerous because of the numerous robbers who were known to inhabit the route, but with a caravan of merchants and donkeys loaded with provisions, he set forth filled with enthusiasm. The greatGaden Monastery was established in the 14th century by Je Tsongkhapa who was prophesied to be an emanation of Manjushri. The monastery stands majestically on a hilltop, from all the vantage points at the base of the hill one can get a clear view of the monastery. It consists of twin colleges, Gaden Shartse and Gaden Jangtse. Each of the colleges has thousands of monks and shares the same curriculum although the syllabuses are different.

Joining Gaden Shartse Monastery

Rinpoche arrived at Gaden Monastery between the spring and summer of 1944. The following year, he participated in the great prayer festival of Mönlam Chenmo in Lhasa with all the monks from Sera, Drepung and Gaden monasteries. Two weeks later, when the festival was over, Rinpoche went before the precious statue of Buddha Shakyamuni in Lhasa, and made fervent prayers for success in his spiritual quest. The statue, otherwise known as the Lhasa Jowo, is revered as the most holy object in Tibet. In the 7th century A.D., Princess Kong Jo of China married Chögyal Songtsen Gampo, the king of Tibet, and brought the statue with her as part of her dowry. The statue is said to have been created in India, and was once a holy shrine at the Bodhgaya temple. Later, an Indian king sent it as a gift to the Chinese emperor and now it is a principle shrine of worship in Tibet. Once Rinpoche was satisfied with the prayers he had made in the Lhasa Jowo's presence, he then went to Gaden Monastery, another two-day journey on foot.

The young lama was admitted to Gaden Shartse Monastery. The college of Gaden Shartse itself, consists of eleven different 'khangtsen' or houses. All of these are set up to provide shelter and guidance for newly arrived students. Each individual is enrolled in a particular house depending upon the region from which they come. Having been born in the Yara region of Kham, Rinpoche was taken in at Gaden’s Phukhang Khangtsen.


With his basic needs provided for, Rinpoche started from the first level studying color, form and its functions. Three times a day: morning, daytime, and late evening, he participated in lively debate over perplexing questions drawn from the definitions and categories of colors and shapes. In this class, everything relating to color and shape is brought under detailed investigation. In the second, third, and fourth levels, basic Buddhist ideology is discussed in a similar way. During these years, the young monks debate energetically with one another. Although triumph may be celebrated with jokes over a loser's plight, it is never intended to be demeaning or patronizing. It is, rather, a way of opening new areas of discovery and experience for both debaters.

When Rinpoche was a teenager, many monks fell victim to an outbreak of plague. There was no effective means of treatment. In Phukang Khangtsen alone, more than 40 people lost their lives. Some had to flee to Lhasa or elsewhere, unfortunately, Rinpoche also became infected with this deadly disease. Bedridden, his health quickly deteriorated. His fellow-monks did not expect him to survive. In fact, they believed that he had died, and began to recite the last rites from Lama Chöpa, (Guru Puja). When the monks reached the verse at the middle of the recitation that reads:

Through the force of having honored and appealed with devotion
To the Venerable Guru, holy, supreme field of merit,
Bless me Protector, root of all good and joy,
To be gladly cared for by you, yourself!

Rinpoche suddenly arose from his bed. Everyone was spellbound with disbelief. People called him "Delok" meaning “someone who has returned from death”, but whether or not he had returned from the dead, his life was definitely resurrected. He had entered death’s passage and come back to consciousness and survived.

For seven years, from fourth to tenth level classes, Rinpoche memorized the entire root syllabus of the Five Great Fields of Buddhist study. He later took part in verbal examinations with other participants that were presided over by the abbot and elders, with a sea of monks also present to witness the power of his memory. Rinpoche was singled out several times by the abbot, and passed with flying colors along with other competent scholars, receiving awards for his talent and diligence. Many friends and well-wishers congratulated the young Lama. who gradually emerged to become renowned among the other students.

From tenth grade, the monastic curriculum includes three years of training in Madhayamika (Middle Way) philosophy. Following that, Abidharmakosha (Metaphysics) takes another two years and Vinaya (Monastic Code) a further two years after that. As he grew up, Rinpoche sought strict training and education under the great contemporary masters of his time such as Geshe Nawang Samten, Geshe Tsultrim Gyatso, Kheru Rinpoche Lobsang Chopel, Gen Lobsang Palden, Gen Chopel and Venerable Kyabje Lati Rinpoche.

Rinpoche has always been an obedient student, sincerely respectful of all his teachers, and he always showed friendly affection for his colleagues. His friendship is highly valued and a great source of inspiration to the people who have frequent contact with him.

In Tibet before the communist Chinese occupation, he studied up to Abidharmakosha (Metaphysics). As a brilliant student, he shared his knowledge, giving classes and training to junior students with kind words of inspiration. In 1947, at the age of nineteen, he received Bhikshu Vows of full ordination from Thadak Rinpoche who was then the regent of Tibet. In 1958, the earth-dog year, when His Holiness The Dalai Lama took part in the philosophical examinations at Gaden Monastery, there was an auspicious ceremony held with the entire of population of monks. During the ceremony, Rinpoche was fortunate to participate in the debate with His Holiness. The discussion was highly praised by the learned lamas, and His Holiness seemed uplifted by it as well. The following year, during the Great Prayer Festival, His Holiness sat for the actual examination on the Five Fields of Buddhist Studies. Monks from Gaden, Drepung, and Sera congregated together and witnessed the great knowledge that His Holiness had achieved through his training. Here again, Rinpoche had the opportunity to debate with His Holiness on the profound subject of the Middle Way among many
learned observers. For Rinpoche, these were blessed moments of his spiritual life.

Life in India

After Communist China took over Tibet in 1959, Rinpoche was unable to complete his studies. In the aftermath of the invasion, millions of innocent Tibetans lost their lives, and almost all of the monasteries, holy shrines and statues were demolished. Amidst this brutal persecution, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a
following of 250,000 Tibetans were forced to escape into India, where they sought political asylum. Rinpoche also followed His Holiness into exile and has lived in India ever since.

Rinpoche and thousands of other monks were initially re-settled in the Tibetan monastic refugee camp in Buxa, located on India’s North-East border. Here, they were all challenged by the unfamiliar climate, the rough living conditions and poor nutrition. India’s heat and humidity contrasted sharply with the climate they had been used to in Tibet, and many great lamas became sick and died as a result. For over half a decade,
Rinpoche struggled to survive in the camp and worked hard to complete his studies. During the later period in Buxa, he had several opportunities to perform retreats under the guidance of Kyabje Zong Dorjechang. He never chose to leave the Sangha (the spiritual community) in order to find a better place to live. Rather, he was completely dedicated to rekindling the flame of Buddha's teachings in exile so that they could be
preserved and shared all over the world despite the Communists’ attempt to wipe them out.

In 1965, under the precious guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile set up a teachers training program in the Indian hill station of Mussourie. His Holiness advised the handful of scholars in Buxa that the traditional study program needed to be reformed. Many great scholars from the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyud lineages were introduced to innovative methods of training and Rinpoche was selected as a senior scholar. The director of the teacher-training program was Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, one of Rinpoche's root gurus, from whom he sought many instructions on both Sutra and Tantra. During the program, Rinpoche met Khunu Lama Rinpoche. This lama had been born in India and was regarded as a great master of nonsectarian practice. Rinpoche trained in other fields of study with Khunu Lama, such as literature and grammar.

In 1966, after the completion of the Teacher Training Program, the Institute of Traditional Tibetan Buddhism in Buxa was transformed into a modern learning institution under the direction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Rinpoche was appointed as educational advisor and served there energetically until in 1968, again under the supreme leadership of His Holiness, he established the first Institute of Tibetan Higher
Studies. The Institute attracted advanced scholars from all four lineages. Rinpoche studied there consistently for three years, and earned the Acharya Degree, or Masters Degree of Higher Buddhist Studies, which he received with highest honors.

At the beginning of 1971, His Holiness summoned all Master Degree holders to Dharamsala in North-West India, the seat of His Holiness’ office in exile. Nine geshes from both Tantric colleges of Gyutö and Gyümed, plus forty-nine scholars, participated in a fifteen-day-long examination on the Five Fields of Sutra Studies. Under the observation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rinpoche was recognized as an outstanding
scholar, and finally had the privilege of a private audience with His Holiness. At the end of that same year, Rinpoche arrived in South India where he joined the convocation ceremony of Gaden, Sera, and Drepung monasteries, and was graciously conferred the title of Geshe Lharampa, Highest Masters Degree.

In 1972, he attended the Prayer Festival at Tsuklagkhang, the main cathedral in Dharamsala, and sat for his debate examination while His Holiness The Dalai Lama presided. Again, Rinpoche proved his proficiency in Buddhist dialectics by challenging his opponents with supreme confidence, and many scholars applauded his knowledge and humility.

After the examinations, Rinpoche received extensive teachings on Generation and Completion Stages of Highest Yoga Tantra practice from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. From Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, HisHoliness’ senior tutor, he received complete Guyasamaja initiation followed by teachings on the Generation Stage of Yamantaka Practice. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness’ junior tutor, gave Rinpoche extensive teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa. It took three months for Rinpoche to receive all these teachings from his root teachers. He recalls saying at the time, "Receiving these precious teachings far surpasses even receiving a vase filled with the seven precious jewels!"

The same year, His Holiness urged Rinpoche to enter Gyutö Tantric College, where he took the time to train in the study of Buddhist Tantra. He primarily focused his study on the Tantras of Guyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and Yamantaka. He also completed training in Tantric rituals and mudras, or esoteric gestures. At the conclusion of this training, Rinpoche was required to be examined amidst a highly learned group, where he received great admiration and respect from many senior scholars for his profound wisdom.

Having completed his studies on the practice of the esoteric path of Buddhism, Rinpoche began research on a classical treatise of ancient Buddhist logic expounded by Aryadeva. Aryadeva was a successor of Arya Nagarjuna, the pioneer of the Madhyamika Prasangika school of thought. In the course of his research, Rinpoche wrote a few hundred page thesis on ancient Buddhist logic that is a valued academic tool that has been copyrighted by the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies in Sarnath, Varanasi.

Start of Teaching Life & Appointment As Abbot

Rinpoche returned to his monastery in South India, where he began teaching students. While teaching, he engaged in a twelve-month retreat on Yamantaka, and thereafter was appointed disciplinarian at Gyutö Tantric College in northern India.

In 1977, he attended the complete teachings of His Holiness The Dalai Lama on Je Tsongkhapa's commentary on Madhyamika Philosophy at Drepung Monastery in South India, and in 1978, he went to Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe to receive His Holiness' commentary on Abhisamayalankara, primarily based on Je Tsongkhapa's text.

Around that time, Rinpoche received a number of invitations to teach in Western countries. Hedeclined the invitations, preferring to teach at the monastery. Lama Yeshe, Spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition, invited Rinpoche to the West on two separate occasions, but once again Rinpoche turned down the invitations believing it more important for him to teach at the monastic institutions in order to produce high scholars and practitioners for the sake of future generations.

He decided to settle in the monastery and continued to teach tirelessly, every day. Venerable Kyabje Lati Rinpoche had just retired from abbotship after rendering eight years of active service, and in the course of time, Rinpoche was appointed to the post of abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The appointment to abbot of a monastery by His Holiness would normally be regarded by a Tibetan monk as his greatest life achievement, but for Rinpoche it was a total nuisance. For several nights he had trouble sleeping, worrying about all the responsibilities expected of an abbot. He never thought himself capable of managing all the affairs and administration of a monastery since he had always lived a simple, low-
profile life. For this reason, he sought to resign the position and to continue to live in solitude, giving teachings to the monks.

He went to see Venerable Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and explained to him that he was not worthy of the status of abbot and that there were others better suited to the post. He also approached former abbot, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, and told him the same thing. Both of Rinpoche's teachers, however, gently urged him to assume the post and helped him to gain confidence in his abilities. With the blessings of both his masters, Rinpoche thought it over carefully, and after some time, he resolved to become the abbot of the monastery.

In 1984 Rinpoche was enthroned as abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, and wisely administered all the duties expected of him. As a leader, he served the monastic community with endearing love and respect. Although he had authority over both board members and staff, he would rather place himself at the bottom of the totem pole. During his tenure, Rinpoche emphasized ethical discipline and traditional education, and continued to be recognized as a model of pure ethical behavior. Almost the entire day, he is engaged in meditation or in giving pith instructions on the path of spiritual awakening. Those who have the opportunity to spend more time with him develop a sense of peace, as the mundane ego and emotions diminish in the presence of the ethical energy and wisdom of such a spiritually balanced person. Rinpoche is, without exaggeration, attributed with such qualities as a result of his spiritual mastery and sincerity.

He always pays great attention to Vinaya teachings and practice, and this, in turn, inspires the monks to implement the monastic code in their everyday life. All members of the monastery acknowledged his selfless service with great reverence and wished him a long tenure.

While abbot, Rinpoche played an important role as a dedicated teacher. One after another, classes poured into his small room. Every day except Monday (a day of rest), each class received an hour lesson, and Rinpoche regularly gave 6 to 7 hours of classes daily to different levels of students. Throughout his abbotship, he lived a very simple life with his room containing only a fan, a bed, a table, and Dharma texts.

One time, while he was teaching a class, Rinpoche became totally exhausted from the heat, but he wouldn’t acknowledge his condition nor stop to rest even for a short while. He became so weak that he got sick, and a few of his resident students took it upon themselves to cancel the next classes without his knowledge. After a few minutes, Rinpoche wanted to resume teaching, when he discovered that the rest of the day's program had been cancelled, he appeared to scold the resident students, for "It was an evil act to not allow someone to teach Dharma and others to listen." Rinpoche doesn't care about physical relaxation when there is Dharma activity to be done. For him, imparting the teachings is the essence of his life; without it the would be lost. He states that the reason he chose to live at the monastery was to deliver teachings to students; otherwise he had pledged to live in the mountains as a hermit. His root gurus had also told him that he should remain at the monastery to turn the wheel of Dharma for the younger generation who are the seeds of the future Buddhadharma. With courageous aspiration and fondness for his young students Rinpoche continued to remain in the monastic community.

Life after Retirement as Abbot

In 1990, after completing his tenure, Rinpoche appealed to His Holiness to retire as abbot and to be allowed to go into remote solitary retreat for the rest of his life. His Holiness Dalai Lama, however, asked him to continue to live and give teachings at the monastery, while spending a portion of every day in a retreat of 13 Deity Yamantaka (a wrathful aspect of Buddha) for several years. Following the guidance of His Holiness, Rinpoche engaged in delivering Dharma discourse while doing his Yamantaka retreat. During the course of the retreat, he was diagnosed with diabetes and was hospitalized, and it took over a month of treatment at a city hospital before he could return to the monastery. Even in his hospital bed, he would meditate from early in the morning each day. He told his attendants to continue making his daily offerings on his shrine table at the monastery in order to continue with his daily sessions, as this was the only way he could adhere to the commitment of his retreat practice. Even with such obstacles, Rinpoche never gave up, and after a few years he was able to complete a 3-year retreat followed by a daily fire puja for over a month.

In 1993, while still in charge of education in the monastery, Rinpoche gave vast teachings on Abhisamayalamkara (Perfection of Wisdom) that had been originally transmitted by Maitreya to the Indian master, Asanga. This text is comprised of eight chapters and presents all paths of Mahayana and Theravadan practice. At Gaden Monastery a minimum of five years is required to complete the study of the Abhisamayalamkara. When Rinpoche gave the complete commentary on this topic to the entire Monastery it took more than a month.

Three years later, Rinpoche gave an extensive commentary on Uma Gongpa Rabsel, Je Tsongkhapa's Clarification Of The Supplement To The Middle Way that deals with the philosophy of emptiness. It was given at the request of Gaden Shartse Library's 4th Committee members. It took almost a month and was attended by over eleven hundred senior and junior monks. Afterwards, Rinpoche received a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During the audience, His Holiness was very moved that Rinpoche had tirelessly given such a series of extensive commentarial teachings, such teachings being very auspicious for their long-term preservation, and thus the happiness of living beings. His Holiness then happily requested Rinpoche to teach Tsongkhapa's commentary to Abhisamayalamkara, Lekshed Sertreng (Golden Rosary Of Eloquence). This text is known for its older classical writing style and refutation of some of the assertions of great scholars prior to Je Tsongkhapa's time. Rinpoche accepted a request of Gaden Shartse Library's 4th Committee members to give the commentary on this work, and delivered it in 1997 to a gathering of about nine hundred lamas at Gaden Shartse Monastery.

Overseas Teaching Trips, Students & Setting up Dharma Centre outside India

Despite having an open invitation for many years from numerous Dharma students in Malaysia and Singapore, Rinpoche had never traveled. One of the leading spiritual mentors for over one thousand monastics, he was engaged up to seven hours weekday in conferring spiritual guidance on the hosts of students who flocked to him. Finally, in 1998, Rinpoche acquiesced to the earnest requests of students abroad, ensuring that his vast knowledge and practice of Buddhism would not be confined to Tibetan society.

Numerous overseas students had the opportunity to receive Rinpoche’s noble teachings and be inspired by his example to follow the path of Buddha. Rinpoche established Dharma centers in both Singapore and Malaysia with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, and himself, our most kind teacher, Venerable Khensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche.

In the winter of 1999, Rinpoche and a group of his students from the two overseas centers had the honor of receiving a private audience with His Holiness Dalai Lama in India. His Holiness expressed appreciation of Rinpoche's work, presenting two identical paintings of Shakyamuni Buddha for the two centers, where they have since become holy shrines. Cherishing the significance of these gifts, Rinpoche named both centers Sakyamuni Dharma Center.

In 2004 Rinpoche was invited to various Buddhist Centers in Spain: Gaden Choling Center in Madrid and La Coruna; Amitabha Center in Malaga, Tamdin choling in Sevilla. These centers were founded by Venerable Geshe Tamdin Gyatso, who later became abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery. He also delivered teachings at Casatel Tibet, Tibet House in Barcelona. Overall Rinpoche spent a few months giving teachings
at those Dharma centers on both Sutra and Tantra. The audiences greatly enjoyed Rinpoche's remarkable teachings translated into Spanish, and their devotion was reaffirmed by his presence.

Rinpoche is now in his mid-70’s, and although he remains busy with his daily meditation practices, he continues to give classes to monastic scholars and acts as guardian, taking care of their monastic discipline and requisites. In the midst of his heavy schedule he also still finds the time and energy to teach at his centers in Malaysia and Singapore every year.

[Colophon: This biography is written by Geshe Lobsang Tsultrim Ngo-nang in the winter of 2004 in Dharamsala, India. Sincere acknowledgment owes to Rebecca Novick from TDL Center for her literarycontribution.]

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