Biographies: The Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche
With heartfelt love and deep veneration we shall here attempt to record something concerning the saintly life of one of the most learned and truly realized Lamas of Tibet. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche was born in 1941 in far eastern Tibet. His grandfather was administer and Umdze at Gochen Monastery in the Pal-rong Valley of the Doshul region of Kham, and his father's family held the hereditary responsibility of caring for the business affairs of the monastery. Palden Sherab was raised in the village of Joephu near the sacred mountain Jowo Zegyal. The family was semi-nomadic, living in the village during the winter and moving with the herds to high mountain pastures during the summer.
Gochen monastery was founded by Tsa-sum Lingpa, a famous Terton or "treasure-text" revealer and "crazy-wisdom" yogi. Rock formations which looked like footprints were believed by the locals to have been the result of Tsa-sum Lingpa's walks in the valley.
Palden Sherab is said to have been an energetic, willful child. Early on he demonstrated signs of a remarkable intelligence and a precocious spirit. He learnt to read at the age of four, thanks to his father's attentions. At age six he began learning the chants and ritual ceremonies at Gochen. At age seven he entered the monastery as a novice and began his preliminary (Ngon-dro) practices. Later in the same year he went on his first retreat for one month.
At the age of twelve he graduated to the Riwoche monastic university, which was one of the oldest and largest institutes in eastern Tibet. There he was trained to become the next abbot at Gochen. He spent five years at Riwoche involved in higher scholastic studies. His root Lama was Khenpo A-che of Kathok Monastery, a very famous Nyingma establishment in the east of Tibet. He completed his education just as the Chinese invasion of Tibet reached that area.
In 1959, at the age of seventeen, his father, aware that the Chinese communist invasion of Tibet had begun in earnest, gathered the family together and informed them that they had to embark on the hard march south to India. They left in the middle of winter and were captured and escaped three times during the journey. Guided by an ancient prophecy of Guru Padmasambhava the exiles found a temporary home in the hidden valley of Pemako. From there, they crossed over into Assam. It was in Assam that Khenchen Palden Sherab contracted malaria. His sisters died during the escape and his mother died in appalling conditions shortly after reaching India. Palden Sherab Rinpoche and his father and younger brother survived and lived for many years in refugee camps in Darjeeling, Sikkhim.
At the age of 20, Khenchen Palden Sherab received full ordination as a Buddhist monk. Rinpoche was selected by His Holiness the Dalai Lama along with a number of other leading Tibetan scholars to assist in the organization of the education system for Tibetan refugees in India. Sometime after that he was appointed to teach at Sanskrit University in Varanasi as head professor for the Department of Nyingmapa studies and was also a founding member of the Institute for Tibetan Higher Studies at Sarnath. Penor Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, has referred to Khenchen Palden Sherab as one of the most learned Nyingma scholars presently alive.
It would be a mistake to represent Rinpoche in purely scholastic terms. Possessing an exceptional genius, he has always been especially adept at philosophy and logic systems, but like the great saint Longchenpa who he so greatly exemplifies, Rinpoche is also a Dzogchen practitioner and yogic meditator. Early on, while a refugee in India, he met and became the disciple of Khunu Rinpoche, with whom he lived for many years.
Born in the Kinnaur valley of India at the end of the nineteenth century, Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (1894-1977), commonly known as Khunu Rinpoche, was revered by Tibetan Buddhists of all traditions because of his exceptional realization. He was highly educated, having earned a philosophical degree in Central Tibet. He then became a great master of Dzogchen meditation, studying with Kathok Situ Rinpoche and Dzogchen Rinpoche in eastern Tibet. After leaving Tibet, he traveled about India with few if any possessions, living the life of a wandering yogi. Among his many students was His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Like Khenchen Palden Sherab, the latter received instruction and understanding of Dzogchen realization from Khunu Rinpoche.
In 1980, Khenchen Palden made his first trip to America. In 1984 he moved to New York to work closely with H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche, head of the Nyimgmapa lineage. In 1985 he founded the Dharma Samudra Publishing Company and has subsequently published a Tibetan edition in eleven volumes of the termas of Tsa-sum Lingpa. After the Tibetan diaspora, Khanchen Palden Sherab searched through the refugee communities in India, Nepal and Sikkim to locate and assemble these texts.
In 1987, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche along with his brother Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal came to British Columbia, Canada at the invitation of Lama Kunzang, where they visited Kalu Rinpoche's retreat centre on Salt Spring Island, and gave public talks in both Vancouver and Calgary, Alberta. Rinpoche spent some time at a Dharma Fellowship centre that then existed in the interior of British Columbia, where he gave instruction for Mipham's Ngondro, Mindrolling Dor-sem and gTu-mo practice to a number of students.
In 1988, he and his brother, Khenpo Tsewang Don-gyal Rinpoche, founded the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, which now has chapters in several cities in the United States, as well as in Puerto Rico and in Moscow, Russia. The primary centers are in New York City and at Padma Samye Ling in Delaware County, New York, where a retreat and study center on beautiful country acreage has been established. Also in 1988 the two Rinpoche's again visited Canada, this time having been invited to the Dharma Centre in northern Ontario, where they met and spent some time with Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and his brother Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche have since traveled extensively, giving teachings in India, Nepal, England, France, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Russia, Puerto Rico and throughout the United States. Their Padmasambhava Buddhist Center has grown into a large and productive organization.
At Sarnath, in India, not far from Varanasi, Rinpoche has built a monastery and shedra where Nyingma practice is being taught. This large establishment is called Padma Samye Cho-khor-ling and presently houses thirty young refugee monks from Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. In what was originally a dry, barren field, the Khenpo-brothers have created a verdant oasis, rich in greenery and the wealth of Dharma.
The head of the Nyingma school, Penor Rinpoche, in conversation with students of Lama Kunzang Rinpoche, has described Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche as an expert on the life and works of Mipham Namgyal (1846-1912). Khenchen has thoroughly read the entire collection of Mipham's writings and put Mipham's teachings, for which he holds all the sacred transmissions, into practice. Penor Rinpoche also names Khenchen one of the greatest exponents of the Guhyagarbha Tantra in the world today.
Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche is gentle, kind, and unbelievably compassionate. Having fully realized Enlightened-mind through the unexcelled direct path of Dzogchen, it is a blessing just to be in his presence. When he speaks on Dharma, he does so with absolute authority. His saintliness is obvious to all who know him. That such a human being, both so good, so wise, and so truly great, can also be utterly humble and self-effacing, is an example to us all.
Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche is the author of six works in the Tibetan language. These are Ornamentation for the Public Ear, a grammar text called Explanation of Tibetan Grammar, a philosophical treatise called Clearly Establishing the Buddha and His Teachings as Without Error through Clear Reasoning, a philosophical treatise called The Essential and Profound Meaning of Madhyamika, a work on logic, Madhyamika and tantra entitled The Flaming Light of the Sun and the Moon, and a text called The History and Life Stories of the Masters of the 11th to the 15th centuries in Tibetan Buddhism.
On 19 June 2010, to our enduring loss, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche passed away, aged 69 years.
Rinpoche's brother, Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, has also studied extensively, and is a recognized tulku (incarnation) of Sherab Khyentse of Gochen Monastery. An active Lama in the Dzogchen tradition and a published poet, he has long been a teacher of the native Indian woman Chief Dhyani Ywahoo, founder and director of the Sunray Meditation Society. Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche often serves as translator for Khenchen Rinpoche. He is a holder of the complete transmissions and empowerments of the ka-ma and terma lineages of the Nyingma school.
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