In 1983 His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche bestowed the initiation of Dorje Shugden to Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen’s students. The initiation, or sogtae in Tibetan, took place at Thubten Dhargye Ling Dharma centre in Los Angeles, USA which was Geshe-la’s centre, and Geshe-la requested this initiation on his students’ behalf. Thus being one of Geshe-la’s students, I had the good fortune to receive teachings from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche including the practice of Dorje Shugden.
The first time I laid eyes on Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s picture was in Los Angeles, in my friend’s van when he came to pick me up for tsok at the centre. There was a picture of a lama on his dashboard that I had never seen before. I didn’t know who this lama was so I asked my friend and the instant I heard his name, faith spontaneously arose. All I could think about was that this person was a Buddha and if you followed him, you would reach enlightenment and I fully, truly really believed that. So you can only imagine how excited and scared and overjoyed I was when I found out that Kyabje Zong Rinpoche himself was going to visit and live in our centre. You can read more here about how I met His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and also our relationship over here.
On the afternoon Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was due to arrive, I was so frustrated because I had to go to work. So right after work, I rushed back to the centre and when I got there, there were a lot of unfamiliar shoes outside and unfamiliar luggage crowded in the main hall. That was when I heard the voice of Heruka himself coming from upstairs. Shortly afterwards, Geshe-la introduced me to his teacher, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and upon sight I knew that he was and always would be my root guru. Geshe-la also later appointed me to cook and personally serve Kyabje Zong Rinpoche for the entire duration of his stay and so that became my daily routine for the next six months. I would go to work and when I wasn’t working, I had the great merits to serve, cook meals, clean and assist two Buddhas – Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and Geshe-la. This happened every single day without fail.
So although I was ‘just’ 18 at the time, already I felt a deep and very profound connection. And that connection to Kyabje Zong Rinpoche is just as strong within me now in 2017. It has been more than 30 years since I last saw His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche but my faith today is just as firm as the first time I met him or, dare I say, even more firm today. I will never, ever abandon any teachings, practices, advice or instructions given to me by Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. I will practise what he gave me personally till my end and also share what Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gave me to many others because everything he gave me was perfect and without flaw. There can never be a flaw or negative quality in anything that comes from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche.
Over 30 years ago, I made my choice that His Holiness Zong Rinpoche is my root guru and I have never wavered from it since or had second thoughts or doubted. I think everyone has the right to choose their guru, accept his practice and no other gurus or their students should criticise this. Because it is not their right to do so. To advise against another guru and his teachings is not proper spiritual etiquette. If you are truly spiritual, you will never criticise another person’s teacher or their practice ever. The relationship between a teacher and disciple is between them. When we start criticising, there is no end to the criticism. We are just ordinary people and we can be in danger of one day criticising someone sincere both student and teacher. Hurting their relationship and endangering their spiritual path does not benefit them or us. The karma for us will be heavy and it will return to us in the form of not gaining any higher attainments and realisations. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche lived a healthy, long and highly fruitful life benefiting thousands. He passed at 80 in full control without any illness and he predicted the time of his own passing exactly. In fact he was supposed to pass away earlier but due to many requests from his students, and also the promise he made to find his root guru His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s incarnation, he delayed his own passing. So today his incarnation has returned in perfect form and resides in Gaden Shartse Monastery and has nearly completed his studies. This shows clearly if you practise Dorje Shugden, only good things arise. Some people like to say if you practise Dorje Shugden, you lose your refuge vows and you will take rebirth in the three lower realms. Well certainly Kyabje Zong Rinpoche did not take rebirth in the three lower realms and he would never send his thousands of students to the three lower realms by giving them Dorje Shugden practice.
So His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche manifested passing in 1984 and his body stayed in death meditation for three days without decomposition in the South Indian heat where Gaden Monastery is located. During the lifetime of His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, no one and no lama even would speak negatively about Dorje Shugden as they could not refute the logic and erudite knowledge of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Even the Tibetan leadership would never say one word about Dorje Shugden. They knew they could not defeat Kyabje Zong Rinpoche in debate as the many senior monks said. The Tibetan leadership (Dharamsala or CTA) never ‘advised’ His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche to cease his practice and proliferation of Dorje Shugden. It was after the passing of this great master we hear some negative reverberations from Tibetan leadership against Dorje Shugden for political reasons it seems. But it does not affect me and the millions of practitioners around the world. In life, whatever we do, there will be people against it and in agreement. We just have to be firm. I am firm because my root teacher gave this practice to me.
So Geshe-la had formally requested the initiation, also known as sogtae or life-entrustment, from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche of the powerful Dharma protector Dorje Shugden. Geshe-la was himself a very dedicated practitioner of Dorje Shugden, and wanted his students to have a strong connection with the protector so that they too could benefit from this beneficial practice. Geshe-la both before and after my meeting of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche encouraged me to practise Dorje Shugden which of course I never had any hesitation over. Geshe-la had become one with Chenrezig himself, I have always seen it this way, and therefore I knew for a fact Geshe-la requested Kyabje Zong Rinpoche to bestow the Dorje Shugden initiation for the sake of his students.
A master of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s calibre is like the rarest jewel. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was an erudite scholar, ritual master and practitioner of the highest degree, a part of the older generation of lamas who were educated and trained in Tibet itself. Known as a master of both sutra and tantra, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche is universally considered one of the greatest masters within the Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism of recent times. His Holiness was a master of debate, philosophy and practice and as such a great master, he agreed to give the initiation for the benefit of Geshe-la’s students. Then after the initiation was given, Geshe-la and his students practised Dorje Shugden very strongly and together we did monthly pujas for years. I know this because I did the pujas with them without fail every single month until I left for India to join the monastery.
In the video below, you can hear the holy voice of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche giving advice and commentary when he conferred the practice of Dorje Shugden. Such a high and renowned master of the Tibetan Buddhist lineage practised Dorje Shugden. His spiritual attainments are unquestionable and if he practised such a Dharma protector we can be assured that this practice is a beneficial one, which will definitely help us along our spiritual path towards enlightenment. This practice has been existing for over 400 years of lineage both in Sakya and Gelug. Many great and holy Sakya and Gelug masters practised Dorje Shugden deeply and advised their students to do so. Some of these Sakya masters were throne holders (Sakya Trizins) of the Sakya lineage. Some of these masters were throne holders (Gaden Tripas) of the Gelug lineage also.
Please listen carefully to what His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche has to say about Dorje Shugden in his legendary straightforward and commanding eloquence. It is a huge, huge blessing to hear the voice of Heruka himself.
I bow to His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche in this and future lives, Tsem Rinpoche
In this video we hear the holy voice of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche giving advice on the practice of Dorje Shugden. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche wanted to make sure those that were present got the maximum benefits from their practice, and that they kept their practice well, therefore he shared this with those who had taken the life-entrustment initiation.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/zong-rinpoche-advice-on-ds.flv
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is always said that whatever we practice must come from an enlightened source to be beneficial in our spiritual journey. As such in this video, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche shares with us the history and reincarnation lineage of Dorje Shugden to explain how great Dharma protector is through the examples of his previous lives, showing us his powerful spiritual attainments.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/DorjeShugdenHistoryandLineage.flv
In this short video we see Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, an undisputed master of both sutra and tantra chanting prayers to Dorje Shugden while simultaneously playing ritual instruments. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was so great in his practice that he knew every aspect of Dorje Shugden’s practice, including the various rituals. Listen to his holy voice to gain immense blessings.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/ZongRinpocheDSPuja.flv
Dorje Shugden has been practised for centuries. In this video we see that this was especially so in Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s Ladrang (household) in Gaden Monastery. Here we see the preparations for, and an actual wrathful Dorje Shugden puja during Losar (Tibetan New Year) celebrations in 1985. The wrathful puja to remove obstacles involves a lot of preparations such as the creation of intricate tormas, and elaborate rituals.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was known to be extremely particular about pujas and especially tormas. Before pujas he would come to inspect the set-up and if the offerings were not abundant or the tormas were not done well, he would not do the puja until the set-up was correct. He was known to even crush the tormas in his hands and leave the prayer hall, he was famous for this. Tormas are ritual cakes with a shape and design specified in the texts for the rituals, and they have a related tantric meaning and symbology so Kyabje Zong Rinpoche took it very seriously. Please watch this video to see just how high Dorje Shugden is regarded to have such a grand puja performed, and the importance that Kyabje Zong Rinpoche had placed on the practice. This puja was engaged following Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s direct instructions.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/WrathfulDorjeShugdenRitual1985.mp4
His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was one of the few erudite Gelugpa masters of our time. Well known to have full control of his rebirth, this was witnessed twice in Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s previous incarnations as Zongtrul Phuntsok and Zongtrul Chopel, who were both born in the Zong-go family.
As a young boy Kyabje Zong Rinpoche showed remarkable skill in his studies as well as being able to memorise texts. In 1916, when he was 11 years old, he travelled to U-Tsang and joined Shartse College of Gaden Monastery. It was there that Kyabje Zong Rinpoche met His Holiness the 3rd Trijang Rinpoche Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, who was 14 years old at the time. Later His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche became Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s root guru. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was also known for his close friendship with a contemporary of his time, Kentrul Thubten Lamsang, who is the previous incarnation of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche.
Although Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was recognised as a reincarnated lama (tulku), and as such had access to all the privileges of a high lama, he instead chose to live a very humble life and focus on his studies. He was so humble that he would use an empty tea box supported by bricks to read his scriptures instead of a table. He was also observed to be disinterested in food or drink, choosing instead to stick to a simple diet. One would never have recognised Kyabje Zong Rinpoche as a incarnate high lama, because he looked and behaved just like any other young monk in robes tattered from the physical exertions of the debate grounds.
It did not take long for Kyabje Zong Rinpoche to capture the attention of many others due to his skill in debate. Within his first year of study in Gaden Shartse Monastery, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche surprised many senior scholars from Gaden Jangtse with his depth of knowledge and debating skills during an all-night debate session between both Shartse and Jangtse Colleges. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s skill in debate was so good that the following year, when he debated on the first verse of Pramanavarttika, he was praised by the famous Geshe Amdo Sherab Gyatso who said, “There would not be a worthier debate on this subject even if Dharmakirti himself were here in person!”
Over time, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gained great repute amongst monks of the three monastic universities of Gaden, Sera and Drepung. He was respected not only for his debate prowess, but for his intelligence, wisdom, power of retention and his deep practice of the teachings. At the age of 25, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche received the highest honours for his Geshe Lharampa degree. Following this, he received outstanding results in his examinations at Gyuto Tantric College. From then on, he became highly regarded as a great and erudite scholar. Deeply influenced by the Madhyamika philosophy, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche dedicated his life to the practice of tantra, combining it with the penetrative insights of the Indian master Nagarjuna.
A few months later, following the advice of Thepo Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was appointed the Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery by the Regent Reting Rinpoche. During his nine-year tenure as Abbot of Gaden Shartse, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche made many great changes, which led the monastery to new heights. As a result of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s leadership, Gaden Shartse became a shining example of monastic discipline and scholarship, with a strong emphasis in tantra and rituals. Improvements were also made in the monastery’s administrative structure, thus bringing improvements to the living standards of the monks, especially for the poorest members of the monastery.
After serving as the monastery’s abbot for over nine years, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche journeyed on a long pilgrimage to Tsari in south-eastern Tibet in 1946, which is one of the places where Lama Tsongkhapa engaged in retreat. It was during this part of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s life that people witnessed many miracles and news quickly spread of Rinpoche’s attainments and tantric abilities to remove obstacles in people’s lives. One well-known incident was Kyabje Zong Rinpoche curing Geshe Tenzin Choephel who suffered from defective eyes that limited his mobility. After a few ablutions by Rinpoche, the Geshe was able to walk again unaided and after this incident, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche became even more famous for his great healing abilities and blessings.
In 1959, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche left Tibet and entered a life of exile in India where, in 1965 and at the request of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Rinpoche became the Director of the Tibetan Schools Teacher Training Program in Mussoorie. Under his leadership, he oversaw 58 scholars from all the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Later, the Dalai Lama also appointed Kyabje Zong Rinpoche as the first principal of the new Central Institute of Tibetan Higher Studies at Sarnath in Varanasi, India. In 1971, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche retired from his position in Varanasi and moved to the newly-established Gaden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod.
Even though Kyabje Zong Rinpoche had retired, he continued to receive constant invitations from many of his students in the West. Thus, after a third request was made by Lama Thubten Yeshe, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche travelled to the West in 1974. His last trip to the West was in 1983, a trip which took him to America where he reconnected with Tsem Rinpoche, the present incarnation of his close friend Kentrul Thubten Lamsang. It was during these visits to the West that Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gave teachings on both sutra and tantra, including teachings on Chod of the Gaden Ear-Whispered Lineage, as well as Dorje Shugden sogtae (life-entrustment ceremony). Kyabje Zong Rinpoche became renowned for his widespread Dharma discourses and had an illustrious reputation within the Tibetan as well as the Western Buddhist world.
In 1984, the world lost a leading Dharma master and tantric practitioner when His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche entered clear light. Remaining in death meditation for three days, his body did not decompose despite the hot South Indian weather. In the following year (1985), his incarnation Zong Chocktrul Rinpoche returned in perfect form. The present incarnation currently resides in Gaden Shartse Monastery, where he continues his education and has gained a reputation for being a highly skilled debater, much like his previous life.
Click here to download high resolution images of this great practitioner.
His Eminence Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen, affectionately known as Geshe-la, was once described as “one of the last living Tibetan Buddhist masters to have been trained in Tibet” before the events of 1959. Out of the 20,000 monks who lived at the three great monasteries of Tibet (Gaden Monastery, Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery), Geshe-la was one of the lucky few senior members of the sangha who managed to escape Tibet into India.
Named Jamphel Yeshe by his parents, this attained master was born in 1924 in Kham, eastern Tibet. At a very young age, Geshe-la came to be greatly inspired by his uncle who was a monk at a nearby monastery. When he was just seven years old, he entered monastic life with the blessings of his parents. There he began to study both sutra and tantra and under the care of Geshe Jampa Thaye from Sera Monastery, received teachings on dialectics for nine years.
At the young age of 16, as the only monk with a group of 15 merchants and pilgrims, Geshe-la set out on a 33-day trek across the high mountain passes in order to reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. His aim was to enrol at Sera Monastery and earn a Geshe degree. This degree is equivalent to a western doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy, but it has a significantly longer timeline for completion, often requiring more than 20 years of study.
Geshe-la however, did not reach his intended destination of Sera Monastery. During his journey, Geshe-la was invited to visit Gaden Monastery for tea. Upon climbing the hill towards the monastery, he was overwhelmed by the sight of Gaden. Weeping tears of joy, he instantly knew that it was at Gaden and not Sera where he would continue his studies. Coincidentally, on the day he arrived, the monastery was celebrating the anniversary of Lama Tsongkhapa’s enlightenment. The monastery was infused with a spiritually-charged atmosphere, with light illuminating the whole monastery from countless butterlamps and the sound of chanting filling every room. This sacred atmosphere strengthened Geshe-la’s resolve to stay at Gaden even further.
Joining Shartse College of Gaden Monastery, Geshe-la trained for over 20 years in various subjects including logic, wisdom, compassion, ethics, phenomenology and mind training. The abbot at the time, His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, took notice of this young monk’s strong Dharmic imprints and paid special interest to Geshe-la’s study and progress.
In 1959, upon hearing that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had left Tibet, Geshe-la left Gaden Monastery after evening prayers. Together with six other monks, the small group made their way across the Himalayan mountain range on foot, forming part of a mass exodus of Tibetans that fled into India.
In India, Geshe-la settled in Dalhousie in northern India where he began his studies at Gyuto Tantric College before taking his final Geshe examinations. Geshe-la took his examinations, consisting of rigorous debates, in front of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his two tutors, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Not only did Geshe-la pass the examination with honours but he was awarded the highest degree of Lharampa Geshe.
In 1963, Geshe-la travelled to the Pestalozzi International Children’s Village in Sussex, England. There he taught Tibetan writing, grammar, culture and Buddhist philosophy to 22 Tibetan children, who were either orphans or whose parents were still living in Tibet.
In 1976, Geshe-la relocated to the United States where he briefly held teaching positions at the University of Southern California (USC), the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, the erudite teachings he gave on meditation and Tibetan language attracted many students, who requested him to start a Dharma centre and start teaching more. Two years later, in 1978, Geshe-la founded Thubten Dhargye Ling (“Land of the Flourishing Dharma”). The name of the centre was bestowed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Geshe-la’s request.
Geshe-la was renown as an erudite scholar and proliferator of the Buddhist teachings. He founded two more Dharma centres in Colorado and Texas, was involved with the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California (dedicated to the further understanding between Buddhist communities), and actively worked for the human rights of the Tibetan people. He had the goal to further education and religious studies amongst the Tibetan communities throughout India, and also authored two books:
Geshe-la’s passing was just as extraordinary as his life, and is testament to his great spiritual attainments. On February 13, 2009, Geshe-la entered clear light and the amazing events witnessed by many show us the level of practitioner that he was:
Geshe-la’s contribution to the spread of the Buddhadharma amongst the Tibetan communities who fled into India, and in the West is remarkable. His vision and devotion transcended time and cultural boundaries, and his life and work continues to inspire students with the unique Buddhist legacy the he brought from Tibet.
For more interesting information: