Khenpo Sonam, Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tashi Gyatso at Padma Samye Chokor Ling Monastery in Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, India in December 2006.
Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche (1938-2010) was a great scholar and a Dzogchen Master of our time. He was born in 1938, the Earth Tiger year, in the village of Joephu (rgyus phu) in the Dhoshul (rdo shul) region of Kham in eastern Tibet near the sacred mountain Jowo Zegyal (jo bo gze rgyal). In early childhood, he demonstrated signs of a remarkable intelligence and a precocious spirit. He learned to read at the age of four and at age six he began learning the chants and ritual ceremonies. At age seven he entered Gochen Monastery (sgo chen dgon) as a novice monk and began his preliminary (sngon ‘gro) practices. Later that same year he went on his first retreat for one month. The location of Gochen Monastery had been prophesied by Tsasum Lingpa, a famous terton of the 17th century, who performed an earth-taming ceremony on the site. Lama Gyalwa (la ma rgyal ba) subsequently founded the monastery in the early of 19th century. Khenchen Rinpoche’s father’s family had the hereditary responsibility for the administration of the business affairs of the monastery. His grandfather, Lama Ogyen Tharchok, had been both administrator and chant master in charge of the ritual ceremonies at Gochen.
Around the age of fourteen he attended the Riwoche monastic university (khams ri bo che), which was founded in 1276 by Taglungpa Sangye Ӧn Dragpa Pal (stag lung pa sangs rgyas dbon grags pa dpal), and is located in Chamdo Prefecture. His root teacher was Khenchen Tenzin Dragpa of Kathok Monastery. He studied the higher scholastic curriculum at Riwoche for five years and excelled in Tibetan medicine, Tibetan language and literature, Sanskrit grammar, and Buddhist philosophy.
In 1959, when Khenchen Palden Sherab was twenty-one, his father, Lama Chimed Namgyal, gathered the family and informed them that they had to embark on the difficult journey south to India. They left in the middle of winter, and endured many hardships. His sisters died during the escape and his mother died shortly after reaching India. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and his father and younger brother Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche lived for many years in refugee camps in Assam and Darjeeling, where Khenchen Palden began teaching in Tibetan camps.
In 1965, under the leadership of H.H. the Dalai Lama, the heads of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Bon tradition, and secular leaders organized the historical conference that created the system of education to preserve the Tibetan language, culture, and Buddhism. Among the great scholars who were invited, Khenchen Rinpoche was requested by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche to represent the Nyingma school. Soon afterwards, Khenchen Rinpoche became a founding member of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, where he taught Buddhist philosophy, history, and Tibetan language and served as the head of the Nyingma department from 1967-1984.
Khenchen Rinpoche made his first trip to America in 1980, and in 1984 he moved to New York City to work closely with H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, the head of the Nyimgmapa lineage at that time. He received numerous teachings, transmissions, and instructions from many great masters in Tibet and India, including H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche. In 1988, he and his brother, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, founded the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, which now has branches in India, the United States, Puerto Rico, and Russia. They founded Padma Samye Ling monastery in upstate New York, Padma Samye Chökhor Ling monastery and Ogyen Samye Chökhor Ling nunnery in Sarnath, built the Padma Samye Jetaven, the Miracle Stupa in Shravasti, India, and rebuilt Gochen monastery in Tibet.
Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche worked tirelessly his entire life to pass on the authentic, ancient teachings of Buddhism. He inspired thousands of Dharma practitioners, leaving a great legacy of loving kindness, wisdom, and compassion. He wrote three volumes of collected works and edited 16 volumes of Tsasum Lingpa’s revelation texts. He also wrote over twenty books in English with co-author Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. His writings are profound and authentic. His precise and detailed commentaries point out every aspect of a teaching according to all the sutras and tantras, and provide invaluable resources for scholars and insights for practitioners. His vast scholarship, profound teachings, and compassionate presence will continue to inspire devoted students and followers of Tibetan Buddhism around the world.
© Djamilla Cochran | DC Photos