When Ribur Rinpoche was fourteen he entered Sera Mey monastery, one of the great Gelug monastic-universities in Lhasa, to begin intensive studies in Buddhist philosophy. During his stay at Sera Monastery, Rinpoche also attended many teachings and initiations given by his root guru, Pabongka Rinpoche, the greatest Gelug lama of the time.Ribur Rinpoche was born in the Kham region of Tibet in 1923, and at aged 5, was recognized by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the head lama of Ribur Monastery, the sixth incarnation of Lama Kunga Osel. This Lama was famed for being a great scholar and teacher who spent the last twelve years of his life in strict solitary retreat. All five of the previous incarnations were principal teachers at Ribur Monastery in Kham.
After studying at Sera Mey Monastery, Rinpoche received his Geshe degree in 1948 at the age of 25. Rinpoche returned to Kham where he spent many years doing retreat in a small hut he had built in the forest. But after the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950, the situation in Kham became increasingly dangerous, and in 1955 he was advised by one of his gurus, Trijang Rinpoche, to return to Lhasa, where he continued to take teachings and do retreats.
But Lhasa itself soon became unsafe. From 1959 (the year of the Tibetan people’s uprising) to 1976, Rinpoche was confined in Lhasa, during which time he experienced relentless interrogation and torture during 35 of the infamous struggle sessions. “If I told you what happened on a regular basis, you would find it hard to believe.”
Rinpoche experienced numerous hardships and difficulties such as imprisonment and physical abuse, and being a helpless observer of the terrible destruction of the Cultural Revolution. However, during this time he was able to keep his mind peaceful and even happy by practising the teachings he had learned. As Rinpoche described his experiences, “I didn’t really experience the slightest difficulty during those adverse conditions. This was due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang [Pabongka Rinpoche]. From him I had somehow learned some mental training, and in those difficult times, my mind was immediately able to recognise the nature of cyclic existence, the nature of afflictive emotions, and the nature of karma and so forth. So my mind was really at ease.”
At the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Ribur Rinpoche spent more than 10 years in Chinese labor camps and was given a job with the Religious Affairs Office in Tibet.
On one of his trips to China, he worked with the Panchen Lama to restore as many of the lost spiritual treasures of Tibet as they could. His main accomplishment was recovering the two most precious statues of Shakyamuni Buddha: the Jowo Chenpo and the Ramo Chenpo. These two statues, originally brought to Tibet by the Chinese and Nepalese wives of King Songsten Gampo (ca 617-698), were taken to Beijing during the Cultural Revolution and kept in various warehouses along with thousands of other statues for 17 years, until Rinpoche found them and returned them to their respective temples in Lhasa. He also re-established the destroyed stupa of Lama Tsongkhapa, which contained some of Lama Tsongkhapa’s bodily relics.
In 1987 Rinpoche left Tibet and travelled to Dharamsala, India, to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then he has lived at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, where, at the request of His Holiness, he wrote a number of biographies of great lamas, such as that of the 13th Dalai Lama, and an extensive religious history of Tibet, which includes his autobiography.
Ribur Rinpoche spent many years living in northern California where he gave teachings and led retreats. Rinpoche also visited and taught in several foreign countries – Australia, New Zealand, America, and around Europe – before returning to India, where he passed away in 2006.
Tenzin Pasang Rinpoche: The Current Incarnation
Tenzin Pasang, a young Tibetan boy living near Sera Me Monastery, has been recognised by His Holiness Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Ribur Rinpoche. When they met in Bodhgaya in early 2010, Lama Zopa Rinpoche offered the young tulku an enthronement ceremony attended by senior Sangha, and family members and close students of the late Ribur Rinpoche. It is expected that Tenzin Pasang Rinpoche will study at Sera Me when he is older.
Lama Yeshe Wisdom archive (http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=433)