Geshe Khenrab Gajam was born in 1928 in the province of Kham in eastern Tibet. Entering the local monastery, Nyagon Tashi Chöling, at a very young age, he began his novice monk studies, staying there for 4 years.
Then, according to the Gelugpa monastic tradition, he left Kham to perfect his Buddhist education in the great monastic University of Gaden. He traveled to Lhasa in a caravan of about a hundred people, under the protection of a very famous Lama, who was a friend of his extended family.
A diligent student, at age 24, Geshe-la showed mastery of his various subjects and began teaching the younger students. In 1959, because of the Chinese occupation, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet, entering exile in India. Geshe-la and many other Tibetans followed the example of His Holiness and fled to India. Along the way through the Himalayas, there were many harrowing dangers, both from the Chinese army and natural hindrances. At some point, Geshe Khenrab was blinded by fog and fell off a cliff, miraculously escaping uninjured.
In 1968, at the age of 40, Geshe-la completed his cycle of Buddhist philosophical studies. He attained a high level of scholarship, second in his class after the renowned Pabongka Rinpoche (who tragically passed away soon after his Geshe degree in India). The title of Lharampa Geshe, the highest degree in the Tibetan monastic system, was a part of Geshe Khenrab’s many accomplishments.
In 1970, the Indian government offered the monks and Tibetan people living temporarily in Baxa (an old British army internment camp), a section of land in Mundgod, in southern India. The monks cleared the jungle with their bare hands and built the first Gaden Monastic University in exile. Geshe Khenrab became its proctor.
In 1972, because the Canadian Government accepted approximately 400 Tibetan refugees and due to an unusual display of sensitivity on the part of a Canadian Immigration official, the department approached four lamas from the four traditions in Tibetan Buddhism. They asked Geshe Khenrab to be the representative of the Gelugpa order and care for the Tibetans living in Longueuil, Quebec. At first, he refused, having the wish to live simply within a Tibetan Community and do serious meditation in the manner of his teacher, Nyima Gyaltsen Rinpoche. However, since the Immigration official asked several times over a period of several months, Geshe-la thought it was necessary to accept this responsibility.
When Geshe Khenrab arrived in Montreal and settled into a relationship with his Tibetan refugee community, he was the only master qualified to teach the Tibetan form of Mahayana Buddhism in Quebec. Eventually, through a LIP grant, Geshe-la moved into a small apartment in Longueuil.
Progressively, a small group of English and French students coalesced around him. He began giving Dharma teachings and performing various ceremonies on request and as the need arose.
The apartment became Geshe-la’s first Dharma centre. It was named Atisha Dharma Centre. He received the visits of several great lamas (Venerable Pema Gyalsten of Drepung Monastery, Venerable Lati Rinpoche of Gaden Shartse Monastery, Venerable Kalu Rinpoche of the Kyagyu Lineage, Kyabje Song Rinpoche) touring Canada. Many of the teachings, initiations, and retreats were conducted in the house of singer Leonard Cohen which was located on St-Dominique street, in the Plateau area of downtown Montreal.
In 1980, just before the visit of H.H. the Dalai Lama in fall of the same year, the centre moved to a residential area in Longueuil. The Atisha Dharma Centre became known as Tibetan Buddhist Temple – Chang Chub Chöling. The location was much bigger and allowed a much larger group of people to participate in temple activities. H.H. the Dalai Lama visited the temple. Incredibly, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche was also visiting Chang Chub Chöling at that particular time.
In 1982 Geshe-la left for a 6-7 months visit to India and Tibet. Leaving from Kathmandu in Nepal, he travelled to Kham, Tibet where members of his family still lived. Geshe-la was the first monk the Tibetans had seen for years. An overwhelming number of Tibetans from that area came to visit him. After a very successful tour, being able to help many of those whom he met, he returned to Montreal.
At the advice and request of Gaden Tripa, Jamphel Shenpen, who visited the temple several times over the course of a few years, Geshe-la’s students were told that they must find and relocate to a larger space. The center was moved to the present location on De l’Eglise Ave. in Côte St. Paul.
Work began in the fall, with six months spent emptying the new location (an old branch of Banque Nationale) of unwanted objects, cleaning, repairing, painting and building. In January 1986, although the work was not completed, it had all been primed with fresh coats of white paint. The Gyume monks were in Montreal and so they were requested by Geshe-la to consecrate the Temple. The work then continued through the winter into spring.
The Tibetan Buddhist Temple – Chang Chub Chöling was opened in a ceremony with the Gyuto monks in May 1986. The temple became a site of great activity. Classical Buddhist teachings and practices were given freely to any interested persons. Geshe-la began conducting several retreats and teachings in various North American cities.
A long list of great lamas continued to visit the temple to give teachings and initiations. Among these were Ganden Tripa, Venerable Lati Rinpoche, Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche (who visited the temple many times) and others.
After living the exemplary life of a Dharma practitioner within his community of friends and students for more than twenty years, Geshe Khenrab Gagam showed the truth of impermanence on October 4, 1993. Since then, his students never lost the hope that the temple remain a centre radiating Mahayana Buddhism and that Geshe-la’s reincarnation would soon return. Advice had been requested from Lati Rinpoche and Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche on these serious matters.
Through the kindness and care of Dagom Rinpoche, the temple came under the guidance of Geshe Tsultrim, an exceptional Geshe from Gaden Jangtse Monastery.
Tibetan Buddhist Temple (http://www.khenrab.org/khenrab.htm)
A Spiritual Friend Geshe Khenrab Topgyal Gajam, Gary Young