In the great assembly of Gelugpa Masters, His Eminence Gonsar Rinpoche stands out, not only as an erudite scholar in his own right, but also for his crucial role in the protection, tutoring and nurturing of two of the most important masters of the modern era who represent the pure lineage of Je Tsongkapa, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche and His Eminence Tenzin Rabgya Rinpoche.
His Eminence the Fifth Gonsar Rinpoche was born in Shigatse, Tibet in 1949 to an aristocratic family known to be descendants of the ancient Tibetan kings. Rinpoche’s father held the honorable position of Governor of the Tsang province in Western Tibet. When Rinpoche was three years old, he was recognized as the present incarnation in the exalted line of Gonsar Tulkus, and in fact confirmed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama himself.
The first Gonsar Rinpoche lived during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama and was famous for his particularly wise and comprehensive teachings of the complete path to enlightenment. The story of the first Gonsar Rinpoche is a famous one. It is said that during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama, a poor young man from Amdo sought to be accepted into the house of one of his countrymen in Sera monastery near Lhasa. However, due to his poor and shabby appearance, he was refused. Turning away from the house, he met an old woman in the grounds of the monastery who suggested to the young man that he might fare better if he tried another house named Chadrel. The old lady assured him that he would be accepted there.
The young man did as he was told, and after joining the monastery he showed great enthusiasm in his studies and very quickly displayed the extraordinary qualities of a great master. It is said that the old woman who had led the first Gonsar Rinpoche to his monastic college was an emanation of Palden Lhamo.
The young man spent a lot of time meditating in a cave in the mountains near Lhasa, the very site on which the Gonsar retreat monastery would eventually be built. When the people of Lhasa observed the new monastery, they began to refer to Rinpoche as ‘Gonsar’ which in Tibetan means ‘the lama of the new monastery‘.
In time, the first Gonsar Rinpoche became well-known as the great Master Ngawang Thöndrup and extensively served the teachings of the Buddha as the Abbot of Sera Je monastery and as one of the tutors of His Holiness the 8th Dalai Lama. This name has remained with the lineage of the Gonsar Rinpoches until today.
The line of Gonsar Rinpoches has produced many legendary figures. One of Gonsar Rinpoche’s past emanations was Yeshe Yang, a lay disciple of Padmasambhava, counted among his twenty-five main disciples. He is credited as having transcribed many of Padmasambhava’s treasures, and concealing many of them himself, thus earning his name Ba (sba, conceal) Yeshe Yang. He is said to have received the knowledge of the secret script directly from the dakinis, having traveled to their realm in a state of meditation. Yeshe Yang lived for a number of years at forested mountainsides with Sogpo Lhapel (sog po lha dpal), and is believed to have flown into the sky and disappeared.
The fourth Gonsar Rinpoche, the previous incarnation to the present one, also studied in Sera Monastery. After completing his Geshe studies and examinations in his early twenties, he travelled to Mongolia and became one of the greatest lamas amongst the later Buddhist masters of Mongolia. Teaching there for more than thirty years and frequently showing supernatural powers, he was greatly cherished by the population and almost all contemporary masters of Mongolia became his disciples. He returned to Tibet at the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution and continued his vast activities there. The family of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama were amongst his distinguished disciples.
At the age of six, the present (5th) Gonsar Rinpoche commenced his traditional education in Sera Monastery under the guidance of the Venerable Geshe Rabten Rinpoche. Gonsar Rinpoche received many teachings and transmissions from a number of erudite and highly attained masters including H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche who was one of Rinpoche’s root gurus.
In 1959, Gonsar Rinpoche followed his teacher and many other Tibetans into exile in India, where he continued his education under the care of Geshe Rabten. In addition to completing his traditional studies, Rinpoche also learned English and Hindi, despite the hardships they had to endure for many years while living first at a refugee camp in Buxa, and later in Dharamsala.
In 1969, Gonsar Rinpoche began translating Geshe Rabten’s teachings into English. Due to many requests on the part of Geshe Rabten’s Western students, in 1974 Geshe Rabten and Gonsar Rinpoche went to Switzerland, where they founded The Center for Higher Tibetan Studies, Rabten Choeling.
When Geshe Rabten entered clear light in 1986, Gonsar Rinpoche assumed the responsibility of managing and guiding the students of Rabten Choeling as well as those of affiliated centers in Austria (Tashi Rabten), Germany and Italy, after having spent thirty three years as Geshe Rabten’s heart disciple. (It would also be Gonsar Rinpoche who would discover the reincarnation of his beloved guru three years later)
Around the same time, Rinpoche was appointed the Abbot of Zongkar Choede, a monastery in South India. Gonsar Rinpoche is also a co-founder of Dagom Gaden Tensung Ling Monastery in Indiana, USA which Rinpoche inaugurated on July 5th, 1998. At present, Gonsar Rinpoche is director of the center ‘Rabten Choeling’ in Mont-Pèlerin, as well as the centers in Austria and Germany.
All incarnations in the line of the Gonsar Tulkus are significant yogis of the Hayagriva Tantra and are well-known for their clear, precise and logical teachings. The first Gonsar Rinpoche was famous for his particularly vast and profound teachings on the complete path of mental development to full enlightenment. The present Gonsar Rinpoche is renowned as one of the very few contemporary masters capable of transmitting every aspect of the Buddha’s teachings as a clear and moving experience in Hindi, French, English, German and Tibetan to both Eastern and Western audiences.
All of us at DorjeShugden.com make this virtual offering of a butterlamp to the most erudite master, His Eminence Gonsar Rinpoche, requesting him to remain for another 1,000 years to continue turning the wheel of Dharma and benefiting countless beings.
More about H.E. Gonsar Tulku Rinpoche
- Rabten Choeling Switzerland
- Kyabje Gonsar Rinpoche and Ven. Rabgyä Rinpoche in Lumbini
- How Five Powerful Lamas Are Changing the World