The Very Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche Biography
More than 2500 years ago, The Buddha took birth in Lumbini, Siddartha attained enlightenment in Lumbini, in present day Nepal. After being raised as a prince, he recognized that existence was marked by impermanence, that no matter how rich you are, no matter how powerful you are, no matter how much pleasure and enjoyment you have, there is nothing you can do to run away from the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. He realized that there was no way to avoid these; even a king could not buy his way out of this suffering.
He felt great weariness with the world and renounced the world at the age of 29 and left his worldly royal life in search of the truth. By doing this, the Buddha demonstrated that as long as someone is attached to money, food, clothes, and all the pleasures of life, full dedication to spiritual practice is impossible. But if one gives up attachment, then the achievement of Buddhahood becomes a possibility.
After the Buddha left home, he led a life of austerities for six years by the banks of the Nirajana river in India. These austerities did not lead to his enlightenment, but the years spent doing ascetic practices were not wasted because they had the specific purpose of showing future disciples that the Buddha had put a very great amount of effort, perseverance and diligence into achieving the goal of enlightenment.
By doing this, the Buddha demonstrated that as long as someone is attached to money, food, clothes, and all the pleasures of life, full dedication to spiritual practice is impossible. But if one gives up attachment, then the achievement of Buddhahood becomes a possibility. So that is why the Buddha engaged in this deed of six years of austerities by a riverside.
In the end, the Buddha gave up the practice of austerities, by accepting a bowl of yogurt. In contrast to the austerities, the Buddha ate this nutritious food and gave his body a rest (regaining all his physical splendor and health). He put his clothes back on and went to the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. The Buddha gave up the austerities to show his future followers that the main object of Buddhist practice is working with one’s mind. We have to eliminate the negativity in our mind and have to develop the positive qualities of knowledge and understanding. This is far more important than what goes on outside of us. So, austerities are not the point in themselves, they alone do not bring us enlightenment.
After giving up the ascetic practice, the Buddha went to the bodhi tree and vowed to stay under this tree until he reached final awakening.
By doing so, the Buddha demonstrated to us that true practice should be in the middle of the two extremes: practicing too many austerities and being too indulgent.
Since the Buddha developed all the qualities of meditation to the utmost stages, he was able to reach enlightenment. He did this to demonstrate that we also can reach enlightenment. As a matter of fact, one of the main points of the whole Buddhist philosophy is to show us that Buddhahood is not something to be found outside of us, but something we can achieve by looking inside ourselves.
In the same way as the Buddha Shakyamuni reached enlightenment, we also can achieve enlightenment. And the qualities that we will attain with enlightenment will be no different from the ones the Buddha attained. Also, the Buddha managed to eliminate all the negative emotions, the same ones we presently experience.
The Buddha turned the wheel of the dharma three times, meaning He taught in three different ways. The first is called the Hinayana, which consists of the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, meditation and developing an understanding of the emptiness of self. The second is the Mahayana teachings which involve the study of emptiness of phenomena and practicing the bodhisattva path. The third turning is the Vajrayana which involves the understanding that everything is not completely empty, but there is also Buddha-nature that pervades all sentient beings.
So, the possibility of happiness or reaching liberation is entirely up to us. If we practice the path that leads to liberation, we will attain Buddhahood. But if we do not practice it, then we cannot expect to reach enlightenment. The choice is entirely ours. It’s in our hands whether we want to find happiness or suffering. But still there is something that comes from the Buddha and this is the path to liberation. To provide us with that means for liberation, the Buddha turned the wheel of the dharma.
From the Buddha, to his principal disciples, the turning of the wheel of dharma continued from generation to generation. In the 9th century, Buddhism came to Tibet when King Trisong Detsen invited Guru Padmasambhava, Khenpo Bodhisttva Shantatrakshita. Since that time, many lineages developed in Tibet, the main ones being the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug.
The Kagyu Lineage was brought from India by Marpa in the 10th century, and continued through the activities of his principal student Milarepa, the great yogi. Milarepa’s principal student, Gampopa, passed the lineage on to many students, the principal one being Dusem Khyenpa, the first Karmapa. The lineage of Karmapas, successive reincarnations of Dusem Khyenpa, protected and expanded these teachings in an unbroken line down to His Holiness the XVII Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Thrinley Dorje.
The Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso, recognized Sherap Gyaltsen, the First Thrangu Rinpoche, as Shubu Palgyi Senge, one of the 25 principal disciples of Guru Rinpoche. When Chodrak Gyaltso established Thrangu Monastery in Kham, Tibet, at the end of the 15th century, he appointed Thrangu Rinpoche as its abbot.
Since that time, there has been an extraordinarily close relationship between each of the successive Karmapas and Thrangu tulkus. The names of each of the Thrangu Rinpoches, are:
- 1. Nyedon Drubgyu Singye
- 2. Drubwang Karma Namgyal
- 3. Karma Rigsang
- 4. Karma Gedun Singye
- 5. Karma Sherab Gyatso
- 6. Karma Kunkyab Nyima
- 7. Karma Nyedon Gyatso
- 8. Karma Thinley Rabgye
- 9. Karma Lodro Rigluk Mawai Singye, the present Thrangu Rinpoche
When the present Thrangu Rinpoche, the ninth, was born in Tibet in 1933. When he was four, H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa and Palpung Situ Rinpoche recognized him as the incarnation of Thrangu Tulku by prophesying the names of his parents and the place of his birth.
From age seven he studied reading and writing, grammar, poetry, astrology, etc., memorized pujas and studied their practices, and completed two ngondros. At the age of sixteen he began his studies of inner knowledge and philosophy. He made a precise study of the necessary texts with Lama Khenpo Lodro Rapsel. At the age of twenty-three he received gelong ordination from H.H Karmapa, along with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Surmang Garwang Rinpoche. He was introduced to the Absolute Nature by Lama Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo. At the age of twenty-seven he arrived in India and, under orders from H.H. Karmapa, went to Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. At the age of thirty-five he was given the geshe examination on sutra, tantra, and the Kagyu tradition in the presence of 1500 monks, all of different sects, in Baksa, India, and was given the degree of Geshe Rabjam.
Since that time, at the instruction of His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rinpoche’s vast activities have included passing on the lineage to the next generation of Tibetan teachers, as well as introducing and establishing dharma in
Europe, Asia, North America. In addition to these duties, Rinpoche has overseen the establishment of Thrangu Monastery, Namo Buddha Monastery and Tara Abbey nunnery in Nepal, as well as Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, India. He has established shedras in those dharma centers as well as served as Abbot, at the request of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton Nova Scotia. In order to benefit the many impoverished children in the Himalayan region, Rinpoche established the Shree Mangal Dvip School in Kathmandu, with a branch at Namo Buddha, where over 500 students from the age of 5 to 16, are fed, clothed, housed while receiving both a religious and secular education. Rinpoche has led the reconstruction efforts for Thrangu Monastery in Kham where more than 300 monks are now once again practicing and teaching the dharma.
As Shakyamuni Buddha discovered, existence is permeated with suffering. However, as he himself discovered, and then taught at Sarnath, there is a path to liberation from suffering. These teachings on the Four Noble Truths are the core of what is now called Buddhism.
The Value of Buddhist Knowledge
Again, as the Buddha taught, it is possible to traverse the path to liberation from suffering. Through the study of the teachings, one can examine for oneself the truth of these teachings. Having examined the teachings, and tested them in one’s everyday experience, one can practice them with confidence.
Tibetan Buddhism, and particularly the Kagyu lineage, is built on the foundation of the Hinayana, the first turning of the wheel of dharma, and the renunciation of Samsara. Based upon that, and seeing the suffering of all sentient beings, it includes many skillful means to alleviate that suffering, both for oneself and for others, which is the Mahayana, the second turning of the wheel of dharma. Finally, the ultimate path taught in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is the Vajrayana, the diamond-like vehicle, which teaches the methods for attaining liberation in this very lifetime through directly seeing the nature of mind.
Through the blessings and teachings of the Kagyu forefathers, this lineage has both an extremely powerful monastic and lay tradition. From this point of view and practice, disciples can apply their discipline to all aspects of life, whether in a monastery or driving to work.