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The Very Ven. 9th Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

The 9th Thrangu Rinpoche was born in Tibet in 1933 on the 10th day of the 10th Tibetan month which is one of the most special Guru Rinpoche days. When he was three years old he was identified by HH Karmapa and HE Tai Situpa Rinpoche as being the 9th Thrangu Rinpoche. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is one of the foremost teachers of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. As well as being the senior scholar of the lineage he was given the degree of Geshe Rabjam, the highest scholastic degree, by the Dalai Lama. He is also an acknowledged master of Mahamudra meditation. Thrangu Rinpoche is the ninth reincarnation of the Thrangu lineage.

The 7th Karmapa recognized the first Thrangu Glossary Link tulku as the emanation of Palgyi Sengay, one of the twentyfive disciples of Guru Rinpoche. Given the name, Thrangu Rinpoche, he was then established by the Karmapa in his own monastery, Pal Thrangu Tashi Choling, in the eastern region of Tibet know as Kham. The monastic college for higher Buddhist studies there became one of the great seats of learning in Tibet. The famous master Mipham Rinpoche stayed there for some time as well as Khenpo Gangshar.Thrangu Rinpoche escaped from Tibet after the Chinese invasion, finally reaching Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim where the l6th Karmapa had settled. The Karmapa appointed him Chief Abbott of Rumtek Monastery and the Nalanda Monastic College. Thrangu Rinpoche is presently the main teacher of the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Thinley and was teacher of the four regents of the Kagyu lineage and many of the Kagyu tulkus while at Rumtek.

Thrangu Rinpoche’s main residence and administrative center is Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery which he established in Boudha, Nepal by the great Stupa of Boudha. Rinpoche lives mainly while in Nepal in Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery at Namo Buddha where he has his own monastic college. There are several other monasteries under Rinpoche in the northern areas of Manang, Nar, Nubri and Tatopani and also in Lumbini .Rinpoche also founded Thrangu Tara Abbey, a nunnery near Kathmandu, a school for children of Tibetan and Himalayan cultures in Boudha and The Vajra Vidya Institute for Buddhist Studies in Sarnath, India, where the Buddha gave the first cycle of teachings. Thrangu Monastery in Tibet was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 and is being rebuilt. Thrangu Rinpoche is also founder of many Buddhist centers and foundations in the West, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

V- Ven. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche-la, I count myself very fortunate to be in your holy presence! I feel blessed to have an audience with you for my 8th issue of “Vairochana”. Ven. Rinpoche-la, would you share with us a brief account of your life and shed some light on the history of the Kagyu lineage?

thrangu-rinpoche1TR- Our Kagyu Buddhism first spread from India. What is special about the Kagyu lineage is the practice of instructions from Tilopa and Naropa. Marpa the Translator translated them into Tibetan, and since then they have been preserved by Milarepa, Gampopa, and the successive incarnations of the Karmapa. Thus these instructions and teachings have been preserved without deterioration.

V- Ven. Rinpoche-la, you have been appointed the personal tutor of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa by H.H. Dalai Lama. You were also the personal tutor of the four principal Karma Kagyu tulkus: Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Tell us about this experience.

TR- The Gyalwang Karmapa came to India from Tibet, and when he arrived, he had already received a good education in Tibet. I taught him a few texts after he came to India, but it was not just me at the time. Many other lamas transmitted lineages, blessings, and empowerments to him. I also taught the four tulkus when they were young. At that time, the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje had told them that they must study philosophy and he asked me to teach them.

V- What made you come to Nepal and establish monasteries and shedra here, as well as later in Sarnath, India?

thrangu-rinpoche2TR- I don’t have many skills, but I do have a strong motivation to help. In the past, dharma had flourished in the Himalayan regions, and there were many great meditation masters and scholars who appeared there. Later dharma continued to spread, but it began to slowly degenerate. Since there is good Buddha dharma in Nepal, I thought that founding places for the study and practice of dharma would help all the people in Himalayan regions and dharma in general. Also, there are three great stupas in Nepal, and the out of the three, the one in Namo Buddha was in the worst condition. I felt that founding a monastery and a shedra in Namo Buddha would benefit dharma and bring happiness to the area. Sarnath is the place where the Buddha turned the wheel of dharma, so I thought it would be good to have a shedra there.

V- Are dharma centers essential? What is the significance in building monasteries worldwide?

TR- In my own Buddhist way of thinking, if there is Buddhism in a place, it will bring people happiness. They will be honest and straightforward, and their minds will be peaceful and happy. That is my motivation. So if I could spread dharma a bit and found some dharma centers, People who have faith and interest will be able to study and practice the dharma. And I think that will help individual countries and the whole world in general.

V- The monastic Sangha has successfully weathered more than two and a half millennia of upheaval and change. It seems self-evident that for the Buddhist community to survive, it must adapt itself to the changing world. What kind of role might a monk or nun play in this world?

TR- What they should do is practice dharma purely. I’d like to refer to what Master Vasubandhu said about practicing dharma purely. He said, “With conduct, listening, and contemplation, completely train in meditation. First one needs to dwell in the basis, which is the conduct of pure discipline. Then one must listen to the Buddha dharma and contemplate its meaning thoroughly. After this, one should engage in practice to do well. Of course, lay people can practice dharma well, but they have many responsibilities. Lay people have to look after their household affairs and fulfill their responsibilities towards their household. Although they also can practice the dharma well, this creates some small impediments. But when the monastic practice dharma, since they are alone, it is easy for them. When they study dharma, they are able to study it completely. When they practice, they can practice it completely. Since the monastic can maintain this from generation to generation, the monastic community is primary.

V- The Sangha forms the third component of the Triple Gem. Sangha members represent the embodiment of the dharma and they have been, by and large, responsible for the preservation and promotion of the religion, both during and after the time of the Buddha. Would you shed some light on the importance in giving formal education to the monastic Sangha?

thrangu-rinpoche3TR- I think it is rather important. In the past, dharma would flourish in one country, and so it was fine if everything was in the language of that country. These days because of technology, we can make mutual connections all over the world. We have connections to many places. When we make connections to many places, we need to make dharma connections with different peoples who speak different languages. So for that reason education is important.

V- At 16th years of age, under the direction of Khenpo Lodro Rabsel Rinpoche, you studied the three vehicles of Buddhism while in retreat. Tulku Khentrul Lodro-la from Shechen would like to know more about Rabsel Rinpoche-la.

TR- I studied the five great texts with Khenpo Lodrö Rabsal. These five texts which come from Nalanda, are on madhyamaka, prajnaparamita, vinaya, abhidharma, and validity. The reason it was necessary to study with Khenpo Lodro Rabsel is that he had studied with Shechen Gyaltsap Gyurme Pema Namgyal and Khenpo Kunsang Palden, both of whom had been students of Mipham Rinpoche. Due to that, Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche sent him to Thrangu Monastery where he spent five years teaching. He was very gentle, well educated, and had clear intelligence. He also taught extremely well.

V- In 1987, you founded ‘Shree Mangal Dvip’ Boarding school as a non-profit project in Boudha to serve the needs of children from the Himalayan region. What inspired you to build the school?

TR- Dharma is not only for the monastic. In order to make dharma connections with lay people as well, a school is very necessary. I think that dharma and education are not contradictory. You can study well while practicing the dharma, and practice dharma well while studying. They are not exclusive of each other. Many people think that if you study, you have to give up dharma, or if you practice dharma, you have to give up education, but it is not like that. I thought that if it were possible to do the two together, lay boys and girls could also make a good connection to the dharma and receive a good education.

V- Since 1976, you have been giving Buddhist teachings in the West. Rinpoche-la, you have so far now taught in over twenty-five countries! You are renowned for making complex Buddhist teachings accessible to the Western students. Do you have any advice for Western dharma practitioners?

thrangu-rinpoche4TR- While teaching dharma, I try to teach in a way in which the teaching will be helpful to the one learning. I teach with the hope that the afflictions in people’s minds will decrease and that their minds will perhaps become more peaceful and relaxed. I hope they can practice dharma well and that they come to have a good heart, lovingkindness, and compassion. I think that studying and practicing dharma for this purpose is good.

V- What would you say is the importance of Buddhist teachings in today’s world?

TR- The world is extremely huge, and I don’t think we can say that we can help everyone. But I do think that the dharma will help those people who practice it. Thuchhe Che for your precious time Rinpoche-la!

[Vairochana expresses gratitude toward the translators, Ven. Wangchuk Topden and Ven. David Karma Choephel.]

Vairochana

Vairochana

Hi! I am Pasang, your editor-in-chief and publisher of Vairochana. The Vairochana newsletter is created on a vision to galvanize a sense of community in the Boudha region of Kathmandu.