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His Holiness

Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang

His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, the 37th throne holder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage and 7th reincarnation of the Chetsang Rinpoche is a manifestation of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the Buddha of Compassion.

His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Konchog Tenzin Kunsang Thrinle Lhundrup, was born on the 4th day of the 6th Tibetan month of the Fire-Dog-Year 1946 into the aristocratic family of Tsarong in Lhasa. This auspicious day marks the anniversary of Buddha´s First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Many prodigious signs and visions accompanied his birth.

Few years after the passing of the previous Drikung Kyabgon, in 1950, the son of the Tsarong family was recognized as the reincarnation of His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang. The boy subsequently passed numerous tests, such as identifying religious items and ritual objects of his former incarnations. In the fall of 1950, the formal enthronement as Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang took place at Drikung Thil, the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyu order.

Immediately thereafter the first Chinese invasion of Tibet took place. Rinpoche was allowed to travel to Kalimpong in Northern India with his family, in order to stay in a safe place. His older brother and his two sisters were attending boarding-schools in Darjeeling. After some months Rinpoche was met by a delegation from the Drikung monastery and brought back to Tibet. He received the basic empowerments, transmissions, and teachings of the Kagyu tradition and the Drikung Kagyu tradition in particular.

At the age of eleven, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang gave his first public teaching and transmission, a long-life empowerment, during the 1956 Monkey Year ceremonies of the Great Drikung Phowa. Although he was four years younger, he studied together with the second Drikung lineage holder, the Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang.

Soon thereafter Tibet underwent a great upheaval. In the wake of the Tibetan uprising of 1959, as many Tibetans fled the country, among them the Dalai Lama, the cabinet ministers and a host of spiritual dignitaries, several attempts were launched to bring the Drikung Kaybgon Chetsang and the Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang out of Tibet into safety. These attempts failed.

The monks in the Drikung monastery were put under house arrest, and the Drikung Kaybgon Chetsang had to endure with them for months Communist indoctrinations.

At the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, classes and business came to a halt. Many aristocrats and Rinpoches had to undergo brutal peoples’ tribunals known as “struggle sessions.” Lhasa sank into chaos. In this atmosphere of anarchy, the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang several times was saved by a fraction from certain death.

In 1969, he was assigned to a commune in the countryside, where he had to carry out the hardest physical labor. A partly decayed verminous shack on top of a sheep pen was his shelter. He did not own more than a pot and a cup and some slats to sleep on. But the Krikung Kyabgon Chetsang always reacted with great equanimity to all the many upheavals in his life. He was compared with the great poet Milarepa, who lived in comfortless caves and outwardly austere, but inwardly an excessively rich spiritual life. Despite the strenuous labor, the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang helped others, whenever he could. Nobody knew that he was the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, but his extraordinary deeds amazed many.

Due to his class background as aristocrat and high incarnate lama there was no prospect for the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang in Communist occupied Tibet. After meticulous planning, he finally found a means of escape in 1975. This was at a time when China had established a tight system of spies and informers all over Tibet and the military had a close grip of control, so that only few succeeded to take flight. He set out alone and without help to cross the border of Tibet into Nepal across high passes and glaciers. The Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang accomplished what was thought to be impossible. Unscathed he reached Nepal and eventually the residence of the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala.

His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang conceded to the appeals of the Drikung lamas in exile and so he was again symbolically enthroned as the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang during a ceremony with the Dalai Lama. By this act he expressed the promise to take responsibility for the lineage in the future.

For many years in occupied Tibet and in the USA, the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang had outwardly led the life of a layman. Nonetheless he had always strictly kept his monks’ vows. Now he resumed his monastic lifestyle once again and took up residence at Phyang Monastery in Ladakh.

Since 1987 the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang began to give teachings in many countries throughout the world. At the same time, he started to rebuild the weakened Drikung Lineage with great energy. In Dehra Dun, India, he established a monastery and an educational center, attracting many monks from Tibet and Buddhist practitioners from many countries: the Drikung Kagyu Institute, an education center that emphasizes both the traditional monastic education, as well as present-day training to meet the needs of these times.

In 2003 the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang established near his monastery a magnificent edifice: the Songtsen Library, a center for Tibetan and Himalayan studies. It contains rare texts about all subjects of the Himalayan region, works on Tibetan culture, tradition and geography, and of course the Buddhist texts of all schools, which the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang would like to make accessible in its entirety, as his scope encompasses the preservation of Tibetan culture and religion.

In 2005, close to the Songtsen Library, Drikung Kyabgon built a large College for Higher Buddhist Studies, the Kagyu College. With its inauguration the new Drikung Mandala in Dehra Dun has been completed.

His Eminence
Garchen Rinpoche

The eighth Garchen Rinpoche, also known as Garchen Triptrul Rinpoche, is a Drikung Kagyu lama who is widely recognized to have attained profound insight and realization.

It is believed that he is the incarnation of Siddha Gar Chodingpa, a heart disciple of Jigten Sumgon, founder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage in the XII Century. It is also believed that he incarnated as Mahasiddha Aryadeva in old India, the lotus born disciple of Nagarjuna. He was known as Lonpo Gar, the minister of Dharma Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the VII Century.

Rinpoche was born in 1936 in Nangchen, Kham, in eastern Tibet. The King of Nangchen personally took responsibility for searching for the reincarnation of the 7th Gar Tinley Yonkyab. Rinpoche was recognized and enthroned by His Holiness the late Drikung Kyabgon Shiwei Lodoe. At the age of seven Rinpoche was brought to Lho Miyalgon, where he was offered ceremonial clothes and other items. He pointed to a painting of the Drikung lineage’s founder, Jigten Sumgon, and proved his authenticity as the reincarnation by saying, “He is my Guru.” This made people around him confident that he was the true reincarnation. From that time until the age of 22 Rinpoche lived at and administered this monastery.

During this period, he was taught many empowerments, transmissions and teachings. When Garchen Rinpoche was 13, Chime Dorje started giving him the Mahamudra teachings. Then in the Lho Lungkar Gon monastery, Tulku Thubten Nyingba Rinpoche gave him all the Drikung Kagyu empowerments and teachings. After that, he started the Ngondro practice, and studied the Six Yogas of Naropa.

At the age of 22, after completing a two and a half year retreat, he was imprisoned for 20 years during the political turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution. While in the labor camp, he received meditation instruction from his root lama, the Nyingma master Khenpo Munsel. Exhibiting enormous perseverance, Garchen Rinpoche secretly practiced teachings for twenty years. Khenpo Munsel was very pleased and reportedly said, “He is a very special bodhisattva incarnation. Of this there is no doubt.” While still in prison Garchen Rinpoche attained realization of the lama’s wisdom mind.

Since his release from prison in 1979, Garchen Rinpoche has made great effort to rebuild the Drikung Kagyu monasteries and to reestablish the Buddhist teachings in eastern Tibet. At present, Garchen Rinpoche is involved in restoring Gar Monastery and establishing a monastic college there, as well as two boarding schools for local Tibetan children.

Garchen Rinpoche is the founder and spiritual director of the Garchen Buddhist Institute in Chino Valley, Arizona, the Drikung Mahayana Center in North Potomac, Maryland and Gar Drolma Choling in Dayton, Ohio. Internationally he has founded centers in Germany and Malaysia. Because of his vast realization Garchen Rinpoche gathers students around him wherever he travels. Yet, he remains steadfast in humility, loving kindness and pure vision, thinking only of how to benefit others. He is an extraordinary being in this age of degeneration and strife. Truly, compassion and wisdom pour forth from this precious teacher like water from a mountain stream.

Khenpo Samdup Rinpoche,

Spiritual Director

Khenpo Samdup Rinpoche was born in Tibet and is a long time student of His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche. He studied the philosophy of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism under numerous khenpos, such as Khenpo Munsel and Khenpo Jigme Phunsok. He taught for five years at Kagyu College in India founded by His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, from whom he received the vast teachings and transmissions of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. He has written a commentary on Jigten Sumgon’s Gong Chik – one of the significant philosophical texts of the Kagyu Lineage. He is currently the Dharma teacher at Gar Drolma Choling in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

“I was born in Kham, in the Nangchen region of Eastern Tibet. When I was seven years old, I received the vows of Refuge from Garchen Rinpoche, and at the age of twelve I became ordained as a monk. I learned how to perform lama dance and pujas, and to play various musical instruments and so forth. For three years I traveled every winter with Rinpoche making the rounds to over 15 or so different towns to hold great accomplishment practices, or drubchens. During the summers we would stay in retreat at the monastery in Gargon. Not long after that I had the great fortune of traveling with my kind root lama, Garchen Rinpoche to Amdo, where I met another extraordinary and highly realized lama, the Revered Dzogchen master Khenpo Munsel. From this great master I was able to receive direct pointing out instructions on the nature of mind. From these experiences I found that my mind had been deeply transformed.

Later I heard about the great qualities of the master Khenpo Jigme Puntsok, and I gave rise to a strong longing to meet him. So before long I set out on a challenging journey alone to Khenpo Jigme Puntsok´s monastery in Amdo, hoping I would finally be able to devote myself to study, contemplation, and meditation. It was a far distance away and at that time in Tibet the condition of the roads was very bad, so there were very few people traveling that way.

It ended up taking me over a month to get there. When I arrived, I found that I was much younger than most of the monks and I had great difficulty understanding and communicating because my dialect was so different. There was practically nobody there from my region at that time, so I was quite alone and without any friends. There are plenty of amusing stories I could tell from those times, but I won´t get into those here.

I was however able to meet with Khenpo Jigme Puntsok´s and I received many pith instructions, empowerments and teachings. I also was able to receive teachings on almost all of the Twelve Great Scriptures from his main student Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. I stayed at Khenpo Jigme Puntsok for more than four years.

Prior to my experience with Khenpo Munsel I had faith and devotion, but I was lacking understanding. And in order to grasp the profound meaning of the practices based on the pith instructions it is important to develop certainty with respect to the meaning of the teachings on The Middle Way. Now I knew that my practice of the Dharma had been based on blind faith, so from this point on I became especially interested in the study of Buddhist philosophy, and particularly the topics of Buddhist logic, reasoning, and the teachings of The Middle Way. I came to understand that through study and contemplation there arises a faith that is based on reason. The main objective of Buddhism is to reach the state of liberation and complete omniscience, and the path that accomplishes that objective is the conduct of love and compassion, and bodhicitta, together with the view of emptiness and karmic interdependence. I felt determined to apply myself to the practice of study, contemplation, and meditation.

My own studies however still were not over. Later I would go on to study for four years at Dzogsar Shedra and then went on to Kagyu College where I received a graduate degree and taught for five years.” 

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