Highly Revered Karma Kagyu Guru, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, passes Away at 91

The Buddhist Channel, 8 June 2023

Kathmandu, Nepal -- Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, a highly esteemed master in the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, has passed away at the age of 91 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The Thrangu Monastery in Namo Buddha, Nepal, made a formal statement on his passing:

“...On the 4th of June, which corresponds to the full moon day of the fourth Tibetan month, Saga Dawa - the venerated anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni's entry into parinirvana - Rinpoche chose to conclude his worldly activities... The Gyalwang Karmapa instructed that Rinpoche's passing should be kept quiet for four days to ensure a serene environment. Hence, there has been no public announcement until this time.”

In his lifetime, Thrangu Rinpoche acted as the head of Rumtek, the exile monastery of the Karmapa. He was appointed as the personal tutor to the 17th Karmapa by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was crucial in maintaining the Kagyu tradition in exile, identifying and educating the following generation of Kagyu lamas. This included training the key disciples of the 16th Karmapa, known as “The Four Heart-Sons,” namely Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Gyaltsab Rinpoche.


Born in Tibet in 1933, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (Karma Lodro Rigluk Mawai Singye) was acknowledged as the Thrangu Tulku by the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and the 11th Tai Situ Rinpoche Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo. He was ordained at the Thrangu Monastery by Traleg Kyabgön Rinpoche, based on the prophecy of the details of his birth and parents' names.

Beginning from the age of seven, he undertook studies in literature, grammar, poetry, astrology, and other subjects, memorized pujas, and completed two rounds of "ngondros" (Tibetan for preliminary practices).

At sixteen, he embarked on his studies of esoteric wisdom and philosophy with Lama Khenpo Lodro Rapsel. At twenty-three, he received the gelong ordination from H.H Karmapa alongside Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Surmang Garwang Rinpoche.

In 1953, with the sudden demise of the primary lama of Thrangu Monastery, Traleg Kyabgön Rinpoche, Rinpoche had to assume the duties of overseeing the monastery. Subsequent years were spent in fulfilling these responsibilities.

In 1954, he received full monastic ordination, bodhichitta vows of both traditions, and tantric vows of Tukdrup Barchen Kunsel and Jinasagara (Red Chenrezig) at the Palpung Monastery under Gyalwang Karmapa.

In 1957, he received mind instructions of dzogchen and mahamudra from Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo at Thrangu Monastery.

Fleeing the Chinese military advance in 1958, Rinpoche relocated to Central Tibet, before eventually reaching India through Bhutan in early 1959. Not long after, Gyalwang Karmapa arranged for Rinpoche to join him at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.

At thirty-five, he received the title of Geshe Rabjam, the highest academic rank in Tibetan Buddhism, after passing the geshe examination on sutra, tantra, and the Kagyu tradition in front of 1500 monks of various sects in Baksa, India.

Rinpoche's Activities

Under the guidance of His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rinpoche's significant contributions included training the upcoming generation of Tibetan gurus, as well as spreading and establishing dharma in Europe, Asia, North America.

Beyond these commitments, Rinpoche supervised the establishment of Thrangu Monastery, Namo Buddha Monastery, Tara Abbey nunnery in Nepal, and Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, India.

He also founded "shedras" (Tibetan for teaching centers) in these dharma centers, and on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's request, served as Abbot at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton Nova Scotia.

To assist the many impoverished children in the Himalayan region, Rinpoche founded the Shree Mangal Dvip School in Kathmandu, with a subsidiary at Namo Buddha. The institutions cater to over 500 students, aged between 5 and 16, providing them with food, clothing, accommodation, and both religious and secular education.

Rinpoche also spearheaded the restoration efforts for Thrangu Monastery in Kham, where more than 300 monks are currently practicing and teaching dharma.

Thrangu Rinpoche, the Author

In addition to being a revered teacher, Thrangu Rinpoche was a prolific writer. He authored a variety of works, including commentaries on key Buddhist philosophical texts for beginners, biographies of the Karmapas and other masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage, as well as numerous shorter texts on sutra, tantra, monastic conduct, meditation instructions, prayers, supplications, histories, among others. Many of his oral teachings were transcribed by his devoted international students and published in multiple languages, including English and Chinese.

Rinpoche also had a deep interest in the publication and translation of Buddhist texts. He directed the Vajra Vidya Library in Sarnath to publish many rare texts in affordable editions for students. In 2002, he established Thrangu Dharmakara to promote the publication and translation of his teachings into English and Chinese.

Rinpoche has been in retreat since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, initially in Sarnath and later at Namo Buddha.

About the Kagyu Lineage

The Kagyu Lineage was brought to Tibet from India by Marpa in the 10th century and continued through the teachings of his main student Milarepa, the renowned yogi.

Milarepa’s chief disciple, Gampopa, passed the lineage on to many students, the primary one being Dusem Khyenpa, the first Karmapa. The lineage of Karmapas, the successive reincarnations of Dusem Khyenpa, have safeguarded and broadened these teachings 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 primary disciples of Guru Rinpoche. When Chodrak Gyaltso founded Thrangu Monastery in Kham, Tibet, in the late 15th century, he appointed Thrangu Rinpoche as its abbot.

Since then, the successive Karmapas and Thrangu tulkus have maintained an extraordinarily close relationship. The names 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

Karma Lodro Rigluk Mawai Singye was the ninth Thrangu Rinpoche.
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