Lama Pema Tsewang was born in 1972 in Tsum, in Nepal-Tibet border in the Himalayas, in a family of great Buddhist practitioners. He is the eldest son of Lama Pema Lapchen Rinpoche who traces his family lineage to that of the Ngak Labrang of the great thirteenth century Nyingma master Guru Chowang. Guru Chowang is known as one of the five great tertons (revealers of hidden teachings buried by Guru Rinpoche for the benefit of future beings). Guru Chowang himself was an emanation of Guru Rinpoche as well as an incarnation of Trisong Deutsen, the second Dharma king of Tibet who invited great masters such as Guru Rinpoche, Shantarakshita, Vimalamitra to Tibet.
Among the termas (or ‘treasure teachings’) Guru Chowang revealed were the Lama Sangdu (the embodiment of the master’s secrets), the thu je chen po yang nying du pa (a terma on Avalokiteshvara), the sang gye nyam jor cag nyug ma (liturgical arrangements and explanations of the ka ma teachings), the yang sang pu dri (Vajra Kilaya), the ka gye sang dzog (a cycle on the Eight Sadhana Teachings), and the dzog chen yang ti sang gye nyam jor (Dzogchen teachings). Because he had accomplished the power of truth in speech, whatever he said brought swift blessings and ensured spiritual attainments for many of his students. In these and other ways, he was enormously kind in serving the dharma. The descendants of Guru Chowang, down to Lama Pema’s father and now brother Lama Pasang, served as abbots for the Dhondupling monastery – also known as Nag Gompa, Nag in Tibetan means forest. Founded by Guru Chowang, Nag monastery, which is located in Tsum, now has six branches.
In 1981, at the age of nine, Lama Pema entered Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery in Boudhanath, Kathmandu. In 1983, he took initial vows of a monk, formally departing from the family tradition of lay practice. In 1989, he took complete ordination vows of a Gelong Bikkshu from the Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, tutor of H.H. the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1993, Lama Pema entered the first three-year retreat at Namo Buddha Retreat Center in Namo Buddha, Nepal under the guidance of V.V. Thrangu Rinpoche. In the retreat, he accomplished the practices of the Kagyu Guru Yogas, Vajrayogini, Chakrasamvara, Red Chenrezig, Konchuk Chindu, Six Yogas of Naropa, Mahamudra, Tara, Amitabha, and Chod. After retreat, Lama Pema as per tradition returned to Tsum and received all the empowerments for his family lineage of Guru Chowang.
After completing of studies in Buddhist philosophy and rituals in 1997, he became the principal of Shree Mangal Dvip High School, Rinpoche’s school for Himalayan Children in Kathmandu, Nepal. Lama Pema was then appointed as the discipline master (chotrimpa) for Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery in 1999. In 2002, Rinpoche appointed him as a Vajra Master, one of the highest posts in the monastery amongst khenpos (abbots), retreat masters, staff and monks. He continues to hold this position.
In 2003, Rinpoche sent Lama Pema to Vancouver, BC to help support and teach at Rinpoche’s centre here. In 2004, when plans were made to establish Thrangu Monastery in Richmond, BC, Rinpoche appointed Lama Pema to help make Rinpoche’s vision for the monastery come to fruition. For the next several years, in addition to his teaching duties, Lama Pema coordinated Rinpoche’s visits as well as supervised the ongoing construction of the monastery. Under the sound leadership of Lama Pema, Rinpoche’s vision of a traditional Tibetan monastery in Canada – first of its kind in the country – finally came true in July, 2010. Lama Pema is now the head resident lama of the monastery the chief representative of V.V. Thrangu Rinpoche for North America.
In this capacity, Lama Pema has been responsible for all aspects of the monastery’s day-to-day operations as well as the well being of the monastic community here and its lay supporters. Since its inauguration, the monastery has joyfully hosted Rinpoche’s extensive teaching activities as well as such events such as the 2010 North American Kagyu Monlam. Lama Pema coordinated His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche’s visit to Thrangu Monastery in August 2011. In February 2012, Lama Pema added another milestone to his accomplished monastic career when he was selected as one of the retreatants for the Akshobya Retreat under the guidance of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa during the Kagyu Monlam gaterhing in Bodhgaya, India.