Biographies: His Eminence the 12th Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche
Pema Donyo Nyingje Wangpo, the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, was born in 1954 in the Palyul district of far eastern Tibet. He comes from a family of peasant farmers.
Tai Situ Rinpoche is one of the foremost spiritual leaders of the Kagyu Order during the present time. The Tai Situpa incarnations have played a significant role in the lives of the Karmapas, with the first Tai Situ being one of His Holiness the 5th Karmapa's leading disciples.
The eleventh Tai Situ was responsible for recognizing the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He remained the 16th Karmapa's root Lama and transmitted to him the main teachings and Empowerments of the Kagyu lineage. All indications are that the elevanth Tai Situ Rinpoche was a very great saint and most learned personage. Around the age of fifty he retired to Surmang monastery, where he passed the remainder of his life in meditation. The monks of Surmang reported that they witnessed many unexplained miracles during the time he resided amongst them. Tai Situ Rinpoche died at the age of 67 in 1952.
When His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was in Peking to discuss Tibetan affairs with the then somewhat unstable government of China, he had a vision of the great guardian entity Mahakala. In this vision he became aware of Tai Situpa's rebirth. Consequently he wrote down his vision, giving details of the new birth. This account formed the prediction letter used by the search party to find the reincarnation. In this letter His Holiness the Karmapa described the father and mother of Tai Situ by name and explained where they could be located. As a result the search party was able to find the child very quickly.
The reborn 12th Tai Situ was taken to Palpung monastery and enthroned there when only 18 months old. Sometime later His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Palpung and performed the hair cutting ceremony. He named the child Chime Padma Donyo Nyingje Chokling Gyalwai De.
At the tender age of six, the Tai Situ incarnation had to flee his homeland due to the invasion of Tibet by China. He was taken to Rumtek monastery in Sikkhim where he was brought up under the judicious care of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa.
While a young refugee in Sikkhim he contracted tuberculosis and had to receive treatment in Darjeeling. He went through a very hard time. Rinpoche struggled through three years of serious ill health, in very poor conditions. This difficult period gave him tremendous personal insight into the condition of human suffering.
In 1975 at the age of 22, he assumed all the traditional responsibilities of his role as a regent (gyaltsap) in the Kagyu Order. A large monastery was built for his residence in Himachal Pradesh, India. This monastery is something less than a days drive from where His Holiness the Dalai Lama presently lives in exile. The monastery of Sherab Ling is an exceptionally beautiful place, frequently visited by Westerners.
Tai Situ Rinpoche has received teaching not only from His Holiness the Karmapa but also from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Besides being a spiritual teacher, he is considered a master of poetry, grammer, Tibetan medicine, sacred dance, painting and sculpture. He has twice received Kalacakra empowerment and instruction from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In 1981 during the cremation ceremony of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa an unusual event occurred which some believe was a definite miracle. When the Karmapa's body was being burnt, the heart rolled out, undamaged, from the cremation stupa, and came to rest at the feet of His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche. This has led many to feel that here was a special sign, showing a connection between the latter and the discovery of the next Karmapa incarnation. Later it did turn out that Tai Situ Rinpoche was the one to find the prediction letter and to enthrone His Holiness Urgyen Thinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa.
In the winter of 1984 Tai Situ Rinpoche made his first return trip to Tibet. Quite unexpectedly his presence drew crowds of over 100,000 people.
In 1989 he led a Pilgrimage for Peace that included an audience with Pope Paul II, meetings with monks in Assisi, and prayers for peace on Mount Shasta in California.
Rinpoche made a second visit to his homeland in 1991. Again he drew phenomenal crowds. During his visit he ordained 1200 monks and nuns, gave several important empowerments, and generally acted as a great inspiration for his people. In 1992 he enthroned the 17th Karmapa at Tolung Tsurphu, the formal seat of the Karmapas. His popularity with the Tibetans, living under the yoke of Chinese occupation, caused displeasure with the government in Peking, and it since then it became impossible for him to re-enter Tibet.
Tai Situ Rinpoche is His Holiness the 17th Karmapa's root Lama, or main spiritual teacher.
At the present time, His Eminence teaches all over the world. He is fluent in English, an asset when guiding his many Western students. The religious background of his students is also of interest; some are Christian, some are Jewish, and some Muslim. In each case he has encouraged them, if it is their wish, to remain active in their own traditions, while participating in Buddhism under his direction. Thus he has demonstrated a genuine spirit of ecumenicalism typical of so many great spiritual leaders from Tibet.
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