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VENERABLE DAGPO RINPOCHE

A BIOGRAPHY OF VENERABLE DAGPO RINPOCHE

In February 1932 Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche was born in the region of Dagpo, in south-eastern Tibet. He was only one year old when His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1876-1933) identified him as the reincarnation of a late 19th century master, Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jamphel Lhündrup Gyatso, also known as Bamchö Rinpoche. At six Dagpo Rinpoche entered Bamchö Monastery where he was taught to read and write and was versed in the basics of sutra and tantra.

At thirteen he entered Dagpo Shedrup Ling Monastery (aka Dagpo Dratsang) famed for its high educational standards and its strict observance of monastic discipline. It dates from the second half of the 15th c. when it was founded by Je Lotrö Tenpa (1404-78), a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) who initiated the Gelug Order of Tibetan Buddhism.

When Je Lotrö Tenpa met Je Tsongkhapa, the latter gave him a copy of his Great Lamrim and advised him to establish a monastery in the southern region of Dagpo where it would be taught. Je Lotrö Tenpa, following this advice, taught the Great Lamrim extensively from memory to a large following and came to be considered an “upholder of the lamrim teaching”.

In the monastery, classes were given on the five major topics—logic, the perfections, the middle way, metaphysics and monastic discipline—with special emphasis on the lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment. Every year in April a full session was devoted to it and every three years the abbot was required to teach a complete lamrim. Due to this, its practice was widespread in the area and the monastery itself was also known as the Lamrim Monastery.

Monastic discipline was strictly enforced for all, regardless of rank. Initially the young Dagpo Rinpoche was more interested in amusing himself than in studying, much to the despair of his teachers and his predecessor’s disciples. One day however he became aware of their disappointment and touched by it, decided to try and meet their expectations. Subsequently, he surprised the entire community by memorizing a large number of scriptures in record time. Equally suddenly he began to appreciate dialectical debate one day when he was able to swiftly refute an opponent’s argument and win the match by quoting a work he had just memorized.

The book in question was none other than the Precious Garland of Tenets by Könchök Jigme Wangpo (1728-1791), the reincarnation of the great Künkhyen Jamyang Shepa (1648-1722), a disciple of the fifth Dalai Lama. For Rinpoche, this treatise was decisive for several reasons. Not only did it arouse in him the overwhelming desire to further his knowledge of Buddhist philosophy in general, it also drew him to this author’s works to the point where he began contemplating moving to a place where he could study them in depth.

In 1956, as he was going through another work by Künkhyen Jamyang Shepa, which he had difficulty fathoming, Rinpoche decided to end his eleven-year stay at Dagpo Dratsang and travel to central Tibet. Thus, at age twenty-four he joined Gomang Dratsang, one of four colleges of the great monastic university of Drepung at which Buddhist philoso- phy is taught based on the treatises of this master and of his successor. At Drepung Rinpoche studied mainly under the great Geshe Ngawang Nyima Rinpoche. As Gomang Dratsang was close to Lhasa and to the other two major Gelug monasteries in central Tibet, Sera and Ganden, he was able to study under many other teachers as well.

He stayed at Drepung Gomang until the 1959 uprising. Due to the increasing repres- sion by Communist China’s occupying forces, Rinpoche decided to follow his masters and seek exile in a free country. Eluding mass arrests, he managed, not without difficulty, to cross the Himalayas with his close Dharma friend Geshe Thubten Phuntsog-la, who had been with him ever since his years at Dagpo Dratsang.

Soon after reaching India he met academics from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. Impressed with his knowledge and open-mindedness, they invited him to France to collaborate on their research and translation work. Thus in 1960, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s blessings, accompanied by Geshe-la, Rinpoche became the first Tibetan lama to immigrate to France. He worked in Paris, first with various academics and then until 1993 at I.Na.L.C.O, a school for oriental studies where he taught Tibetan language and civilisation and trained many translators.

In 1978 Rinpoche finally gave in to his students’ repeated requests and his own masters’ urging to teach Buddhism and once he started, he never stopped. In the same year, he founded the Tibetan Buddhist centre Guépèle Tchantchoup Ling at L’Haÿ-les-Roses, near Paris. In July 1995 it became the first Buddhist congregation of the Gelug Order to be officially recognized in France and was renamed Ganden Ling Institute for the occasion. It works in collaboration with the Guépèle Institute, a cultural organization, as well as a humanitarian organization, Entraide Franco-Tibétaine (“Franco-Tibetan Mutual Aid”), which supports the elderly, children, and monks in Buddhist communities in India.

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche has created several other Buddhist centres in France and abroad: in Holland, Switzerland and South Asia, which he visits frequently. Since he has been living in France for more than fifty years, he is very familiar with Western mentality and speaks both French and English. He has co-authored many books and articles on Tibet and Buddhism and often appears as a guest on radio and television shows.

Rinpoche travels regularly to India to teach in his monastery and to continue receiving guidance from own spiritual masters. He has had over forty, including both tutors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, as well as His Holiness himself. Under them he has studied sutra and tantra, received numerous tantric initiations and accomplished retreats. Among the masters of his generation still alive today, Rinpoche is one of the few to hold such a large number of teaching transmissions. In addition he has studied subjects such as poetry, grammar, history and astrology.

Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche is a spiritual guide whose humility, kindness and infinite patience have always made him extremely accessible and helpful to others. He continually makes the treasures of his tradition available to others in the hope that they may benefit them. He is a living example of the Buddha’s teachings. His great learning along with the depth and clarity of his instructions, which are directly applicable to daily life, attract an ever-increasing following. All those who have had the opportunity to listen to his skilful lectures or ask him for advice, by applying them have found the kind of peace of mind and increased inner resources that only exceptional beings can inspire.

His autobiography, Le Lama Venu du Tibet, was published in French by Grasset and in Dutch under the title De Lama die naar het Westen kwam. An enlarged version in English is in the process of elaboration.

Dagpo Rinpoche’s predecessors

Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jamphel Lhündrüp Gyatso (1845-1919) was Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche’s predecessor and the abbot of three monasteries—Dagpo Shedrup Ling, Bamchö and Dungkar. He played an important role in renewing the teaching of the lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment in central and southern Tibet and had a large following. His most famous disciple was Pabongkha Dorje Chang, who authored the lamrim entitled Liberation in Our Hands. Other major disciples include Their Eminences Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the two tutors to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche also held the position of Ganden Tripa, the head of the Gelug Order from 1965-83.

The following masters are some of Dagpo Rinpoche’s previous incarnations:

  • In the era of the previous buddha, the famous Bodhisattva Sadaprarudita (in Tibetan Taktu Ngu, “Ever Weeping”), known for his great devotion to his spiritual master and for the remarkable way he followed him.
  • The 4th c. Indian scholar Gunaprabha, a disciple of Acharya Vasubandhu and the author of the Vinayasutra, a fundamental treatise on monastic discipline.
  • The 10th c. Indonesian Guru Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti (Tib. Lama Serlingpa Chö kyi Drakpa). He was the main master of the great Indian teacher and scholar Atisha Dipamkara Shri Jnana who travelled thirteen months by sea to receive from him the important instruc- tions on how to generate the spirit of enlightenment (bodhicitta) that he held. In the 11th century Atisha played a vital role in renewing Buddhism in Tibet. For that purpose he wrote the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, an exhaustive account of the spiritual path and the source of the lamrim.
  • In Tibet, Marpa the Translator (1012-1097) who founded the Kagyu Order and guided the famous yogi Jetsun Milarepa to complete enlightenment.
  • Longdröl Lama Rinpoche Ngawang Lobsang, a disciple of the seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso who became one of the most celebrated masters of his time, writing more than 23 books and teaching great scholars such as Könchök Jigme Wangpo, the reincarnation of the omniscient Jamyang Shyepa.
  • Several abbots of Dagpo Shedrup Ling Monastery.