His Eminence Sermey Gyalrong Khensur Ngawang Thegchok Rinpoche was born to a nomad family, to father Dhondup and mother Tsering Lhamo, in the Gyalrong Choktse region of eastern Tibet, in 1928.
Rinpoche was taught at home, by his uncle-in-law, reading, writing and foundational meditational liturgies. Around the age of eleven he felt constant wish to become ordained as a monk but, because of his usefulness in daily chores of a nomadic family, his father and sister did not at that time consent to the wish. Since from those days whenever he saw robes of an ordained, he felt a great liking for them; from that young age he would often play, of his own accord, the ritual sceptre (vajra, symbolizing Altruism) and bell (ganda, symbolizing Wisdom).
Until sixteen years of age Rinpoche was kept at the home of his sister and her husband, and put to much hardship, by being asked to carry out the tasks of daily grazing of the cattle, and other nomadic chores, as the only labour hands, for his uncle-in law was often out on distant errands while his sister’s time were consumed looking after her infant children.
Nevertheless, because the uncle-in-law was also the home tutor to the young Khensur Rinpoche, Rinpoche faithfully carried out whatever his tutor uncle-in-law advised to do. This delighted his tutor that eventually when Rinpoche again requested to be allowed to join monastic studies at Sera Monastic University in central Tibet, his tutor and Rinpoche’s sister joyfully consented to the wish. Rinpoche’s intention to go for monastic studies was greatly inspired by his elder brother Gaen Jampa Dhelek, who had by then become a greatly respected scholar at Sera Monastic University.
It was in on the thirteenth day of the third Tibetan month of the year 1945 that Rinpoche began his long foot-journey, from Gyalrong, towards central Tibet. Attired in the traditional Archu-itinerant wear, it took four months of walk across the vast land, to finally arrive at Sera Monastic University, on the auspicious twelfth day of the seventh Tibetan month. There, preceded by receiving of novice (and full-ordination vows a few years later), Rinpoche joined the traditionally affiliated Gyalrong Hostel—of the sixteen hostels—within Sera Mey wing of Sera Monastic University. From Takdrak Rinpoche, Khensur Rinpoche received Sramner (novice) vows, and Bhikkshu (full ordination) vows from Gadhen Tripa Mi-nyak Tongpon Rinpoche.
For the next fifteen years Rinpoche studied the major five-subject treatises, with daily learning by heart of the texts, receiving explanatory tutorials, and daily review dialectical debates on the topics and the texts covered. Three quarters of way into these studies, Rinpoche’s outstanding scholarship was becoming well-known that many monastic scholars came to him to receive tutorials. Prior to the year 1959 Rinpoche had reached the class qualified to sit for Geshe graduation examinations but by then the entire land of Tibet had been annexed by communist China, and Rinpoche had to postpone sitting for the examinations.
From 1959 till 1962, Rinpoche was detained by the communist regime and put to hard labour, as was the case with many, many Tibetans. In 1962 Rinpoche managed to escape alone into exile to India, where he initially wanted to go for a lifetime meditational retreat. At the advice of His Most Eminences, the two Tutors to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and at the repeated requests from Sera Mey, Rinpoche instead had to chose to re-join the newly-established monastic university-in-exile, at Buxor, in north-eastern India. There Rinpoche gave daily tutorials, on the five major treatises, to monastic scholars.
In 1966 Rinpoche sat for his Geshe examinations, scoring Top First-Grade Geshe Lharampa. The same year Rinpoche was appointed, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Abbot (Vice-Chancellor) of Sera Mey. During his tenure as the Abbot, first at Buxor, Rinpoche was greatly instrumental in preserving intact the institutions of the three great monastic universities, for there was the possibility of some interest groups vying for a merging of the various monastic universities. In particular, Rinpoche revived the by-then near-declining traditions of he unique Sera Mey study curriculums and re-compilation and publication of study texts.
When the three great monastic universities of Sera, Drepung and Gadhen were being relocated to southern India, in the year 1970, Rinpoche, as the Abbot of Sera Mey, was one of the principal officials directing the extensive works of relocation of Sera Monastic University, and the pioneering re-construction works of its new campus, and establishing of study programmes. His contributions in these works of reviving and preserving well the rich monastic study traditions, carried out with unselfish pure dedication, are beyond repay. In total, Rinpoche served as the Abbot of Sera Mey Monastic University for eleven years, from 1966 to 1976.
Rinpoche now felt that he would continue with his intention to stay in lifetime meditational retreat. For the next four years Rinpoche did the major retreat of The Adamantine-Bhairawa, of the highest integrating Continuity. Around this time there was a great scarcity of monastic tutors, which left the officials at Sera Mey with no choice but to request Khensur Rinpoche to kindly give tutorial classes, to the senior scholars reaching Geshe level. This, combined with genuine concern for the welfare of Teachings and the monastic university, made Rinpoche forego his lifetime retreats, but instead teach the multitude of scholar-practitioners at Sera Mey Monastic University.
For the next thirty years, that is the time just prior up to his passing away, Rinpoche gave daily tutorials, often ten classes a day, year after year. Rinpoche also gave teachings to the general congregation of the ordained and the lay, on many occasions, lineage teachings on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment; transmissions and spoken commentaries on Vinaya (Monastic Ethics); empowerments, transmissions and commentarial teachings on the swift path of Continuity; all these with the sole intention to benefit the continued prevalence of the Teachings, for the welfare of all sentient beings. All the subsequent Abbots of Sera Mey, and the majority of the reincarante lamas, Geshes, and those giving daily scriptural classes to scholars at Sera Mey, and those of Sera Mey who are teaching in numerous countries, are students/disciples of His Eminence Khensur Rinpoche.
At the repeated requests of the monasteries and general populace of Rinpoche’s native home region of Gyalrong, Rinpoche eventually travelled there in 1991, 2006 and 2010. Rinpoche gave teachings to the people in their native Gyalrong dialect, greatly benefiting the locals; in many places, scores of hundreds of people offered pledges to abide by spiritual way of life, to give up taking intoxicants and live by vegetarian diet, many taking lifetime lay vows. At Dhatsang Monastery, Gadhan Dhargyaeling Monastery and Amchok Dialectical Monastery, Rinpoche bestowed the entire transmissions and explanatory spoken commentaries on Vinaya and Abhidharma; gave ordination, novice (Sramaner) and Bhikkshu full-vows. Through these and numerous other ways Rinpoche revived the continuity of the sublime Teachings in the region, and fulfilled the spiritual needs of the populace in general.
With the sole intention to help Sera Mey Monastic University in all areas of its infrastructure needs and means of support for the scholar-monks’ sustenance and educational facilities, Rinpoche kindly consented to travel to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore, where Rinpoche’s foremost disciple His Eminence Khejok Rinpoche had arranged programmes to help raise funds, through events organised by His Eminence Khejok Rinpoche’s Centres in these countries. With a Letter of Introduction kindly provided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rinpoche’s fund-raising efforts resulted in (a) successful construction of the grand Gathering Hall building and its precincts of Sera Mey Monastic University, subsequently inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; (b) setting up of trust funds for Sera Mey Scholarships; (c) trust funds for monks’ daily meals; (d) trust funds for the monastery’s Library; (e) and trust funds for various sections of Sera Mey Monastic University.
In 1999, Rinpoche revived the unique Sera Mey tradition of Vinaya and Abhidharma dialectical debates, which were greatly revered in all the monastic universities of Tibet. Rinpoche also re-instituted the tradition of Study Awards.
In brief, His Eminence Gyalrong Khensur Ngawang Thekchog Rinpoche’s contributions towards the continued revival and flourishing forth of the Teachings in general and particular are inconceivably immense.
Since a while ago Rinpoche started feeling unwell. The modern doctors consulted had pronounced the diagnosis that the illness was beyond medication and was going to be painful and terminal soon. But when Rinpoche continued to live and did not experience any pain, they were all amazed. This absense of pain has been a unique feature of Rinpoche’s physical health, up till his last external breathing. Around this time His Holiness the Dalai Lama kindly twice sent from Dharamshala personal physician, at Rinpoche’s service. His Holiness also kindly sent for Rinpoche a relic of Buddha Shakyamuni.
At 01:15am, of 29/2/2040 (Tibetan calendar), April 9, 2013(CE), Rinpoche’s external breathing stopped. Two days prior to that, whenever Rinpoche stayed in repose, he insisted on reclining on his right-side, in the manner of Buddha during Parinirvana-demise. He spoke at length to his foremost disciple His Eminence Khejok Rinpoche; told his long-time attendant Geshe Ngawang Namgyal (who had served Rinpoche for the last over-eighteen years) and Rinpoche’s nephew and principal monastic successor disciple Geshe Gelek (ordination name Ngawang Khetsun) that Rinpoche was feeling no pain at all and that he was feeling well and peaceful.
At the time when Rinpoche’s external breathing was going to cease, Rinpoche smiled delightedly at His Eminence Khejok Rinpoche. Today, the first day of Rinpoche staying in Dharmakaya Clear-light Blissful meditation, even the weather in the area has suddenly become pleasantly cooler in this southern heat—such marvellous external signs visible to the sight of the common people, of Rinpoche’s subliminity, has manifested!
This brief summary of His Eminence Sermey Gyalrong Khensur Ngawang Thegchok Rinpoche’s biography is based on the extensive Autobiography, and prepared at the advice of His Eminence Khejok Rinpoche, Khensur Ladrang and Sera Mey Office, by Dhawa Dhondup (Acharya); in both Tibetan and English, at Sera Mey Monastic University, on April 9, 2013.
Short Bio in Tibetan shortbiokhensurrinpoche