Thrangu Rinpoche was born easily on November 27 in the Water Bird Year of 1933. A few years later, the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje investigated with his unobscured pristine wisdom and had a vision that in the Bird Year a son had been born to a father named Jamyang Dondup and a mother named Wangmo in a house whose door faced east and that had a red dog. The Karmapa said this child should be recognized as the Thrangu Tulku and wrote an aspiration prayer for his long life that also gave him his auspicious name:
Karma Lodrö, the teachings’ great glory, may your qualities
Of glorious, good dharma expand throughout space.
Your lotus-like feet everlastingly firm, may your activity
Of teaching and practice blaze all over with triumph and glory.
In addition, Tai Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo also conducted an investigation that came to the same conclusion as the Karmapa’s. Thus it was established unerringly that he was the reincarnation of the Eighth Thrangu Tulku. In the Fire Ox Year of 1937, he was enthroned in a grand and extensive ceremony at Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery, and Kyabje Traleg Rinpoche cut his hair and granted him the lay precepts.
In the Earth Rabbit Year of 1939, he began his studies under Karma Wangchuk, beginning with reading and writing, and then memorizing tantric texts and studying mandala rituals. He presided over offering rituals and fulfilled the expectations of faithful donors.
In the Water Sheep Year of 1943, Thrangu Rinpoche went on a pilgrimage to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and to Tsurphu Monastery, the well-spring of the teachings of the glorious Karma Kagyu, in the Tsur Drowolung valley. He prostrated at the Gyalwang Karmapa’s feet, supplicated him, and asked that the Karmapa accept him out of his great compassion and tell him which yidam deity would be best for him to practice. Since those who uphold the teachings need long life, the Gyalwang Karmapa had him practice a White Tara retreat. During the retreat, exceptional experience and realization arose within him and he received the blessings of the Karmapa’s body, speech, and mind. He then visited the sacred sites of central and southern Tibet, purifying his obscurations, and returned to his homeland.
He received detailed instructions on the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma from his kind teacher Karma Wangchuk based on The Torch of True Meaning and The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Through this he completed the four preliminary practices of a hundred thousand prostrations and so forth in succession. He also performed retreats of a number of necessary practices including Vajrakilaya and Vajrapani.
With his tutor, he also studied Orthography: The Lamp of Speech and Tokden Lhaksam’s grammar Exalted Light, and undertook a detailed study of Situ Pema Nyinche’s great commentary on grammar in detail. On the subject of astrology, he studied the five sections, the five planets, and calendars. He studied The Mirror for poetry and Kalapa’s text on Sanskrit according to Sazangpa’s great commentary, studying sandhi diagrams in great detail.
Rinpoche has the transmission of explanations particular to the Kagyu lineage and upholds the philosophical traditions of the Great Shentong Middle Way as presented by Rangjung Dorje and Situ Chökyi Jungne.
Khenchen Lodrö Rabsal was invited from Shechen Monastery to Thrangu Monastery to establish there a monastic college, at which Rinpoche studied the five great topics as well as The Profound Inner Meaning, The Two Books of Hevajra, and The Supreme Continuum, with continual and enthusiastic diligence day and night over the course of six years. When he took his exams, he was able to answer all the questions about the fine details of classifications, reasons, and so forth immediately without any mistakes. Although he was the youngest student in the college, everyone praised him as having the sharpest intelligence.
In the Wood Horse Year of 1954, while returning from a trip to China with other great lamas, the Gyalwang Karmapa came to Palpung Monastery. At that time, Kagyu lamas and monks from all over Kham gathered to see the Karmapa. Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche also had the thought that it would be wonderful to receive the blessings of the three vows from a buddha such as the Karmapa, and since the opportunity presented itself, for that purpose he went to Palpung Monastery. He also offered representations of body, speech, and mind to the reincarnation of Kyabgön Situ Rinpoche during his enthronement ceremony.
As Thrangu Rinpoche had requested, on the fifteenth day of the third Tibetan month, the festival day of the glorious Kalachakra, in the quarters of the omniscient Situ Chökyi Jungne, Thrangu Rinpoche, Surmang Garwang Rinpoche, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche took the three levels of pratimoksha vows from the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, whose formal name as Rinpoche’s abbot is Palden Rangjung Rigpe Yeshe Lungtok Chökyi Nyima Trinley Dönkün Druppa. Then again in the temple they took bodhisattva vows in the two traditions. Likewise through his great kindness and compassion, they received tantric vows as part of the empowerments for “Eliminating All Obstacles” of Guru Rinpoche and the nine deities of Gyalwa Gyatso, as well as torma empowerment connected with the transmission of the wisdom protector.
Thrangu Rinpoche’s own journals make it clear up to that point he had been an intellectual who looked outward, but on this occasion there arose in his being the exceptional blessings of developing a not-inconsiderable experience of looking within. From the moment of that good fortune, he always saw his teacher as a real buddha and never again clung to him as an ordinary being.
In the Iron Rat Year of 1960, Rinpoche received from the Gyalwang Karmapa The Treasury of Kagyu Mantra, The Treasury of Instructions, all of the instructions on mahamudra, instructions on the six yogas of Naropa, and other Dharma teachings. He also received The Treasury of Precious Terma, The Treasury of the Vast Words, and many other teachings. In brief, there were seventeen great masters, scholars, and practitioners of the Kagyu and Nyingma schools, at whose feet Rinpoche prostrated himself humbly and up to whom he looked with great faith. He took the elixir of the Dharma and filled the vase of his mind from the treasury of sutras and tantras. But of these seventeen lamas from whom he received empowerments and transmissions, he considers the root lama who pointed out the essential meaning to be none but the glorious Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje.
In the Fire Sheep Year of 1967, following the wishes of Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, Thrangu Rinpoche went to Baksa on the border of India and Bhutan to take examinations. The proceedings were presided over by masters of all the Tibetan traditions and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and attended by 1500 monks. Rinpoche took examinations and defended his positions in debate on the five great topics common to all the traditions and on the particular texts of the Kagyu tradition, The Profound Inner Meaning, The Two Books, and The Supreme Continuum. All those who attended, great and ordinary, were pleased and said he was excellent. On that occasion, Rinpoche also made extensive and generous offerings to the entire assembly. The Ninth Thrangu Tulku thus created an impression and became even more well-known than before among scholars and practitioners of all sects.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama showed him the great honor of conferring upon him the title “Abbot of the Kagyus.” Not only that, the Gyalwang Karmapa also honored him with the title of Great Abbot of the Seat of the Karma Kagyus, Rumtek Monastery. He also recognized him as being of the same mind stream as Ngok Chöku Dorje, a main disciple of Marpa the Translator who held the transmission of explanations, and showered him with praise.
In 1976, the Gyalwang Karmapa presented him with a certificate with the official square seal when sending him abroad to teach at many dharma centers. The certificate states that Rinpoche is the embodiment of complete and unmistaken mastery over the essence of the Karma Kagyu’s teachings of scripture and practice, and names him a vajra master who has the three vows. After he was bestowed that certificate, Rinpoche founded over two dozen dharma centers and retreat centers in various countries for the study and practice of Buddhism and travels annually, opening many gates of the different kinds of Dharma in whatever way he is able.
Nowadays, he teaches the traditions of the Karma Kagyu, the profound Dharma of both the sutras and tantras, both at home and abroad, and has many close disciples tamed by his speech all over the world, both east and west. He has also brought an extremely large number of people into the Buddhist tradition. His activity for every time, place, and situation thus continues to flourish and spread.
For eight years beginning in the Fire Monkey Year of 1968, Rinpoche held the responsibility of teaching and thoroughly explaining general Buddhist philosophy and the particular teachings of the Karma Kagyu to Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche along with young and motivated members of the sangha at Rumtek Monastery. After that, in 1976, he taught The Jewel Ornament of Liberation in detail, and gave transmissions and instructions on The Profound Inner Meaning, The Two Books, and The Supreme Continuum at Ka-Nying Shedrup Ling Monastery in Boudhanath. From 1983, he again taught philosophy at the monastic college of Rumtek Monastery, as well as teaching approximately fifty young monks in Namo Buddha philosophy as their main subject as well as other, general topics.
Rinpoche has shouldered the primary responsibility for the restoration, maintenance, and construction of the monasteries of Thrangu Tashi Chöling in Tibet and elsewhere. He also accepted the responsibility for identifying and enthroning the reincarnations of Traleg Rinpoche, Zur Tulku Rinpoche, and Tulku Lodrö Nyima Rinpoche.
Rinpoche established communities of study and practice at Namo Buddha, and founded a monastery in Boudhanath that teaches tantric ritual and practice and performs a regular schedule of pujas. He founded a nunnery in Sitapaila that teaches and practices tantric traditions. He also founded the Shree Mangal Dveep school in Boudha where young monastics and lay children receive a contemporary education in mathematics, social sciences, history, and so forth as well as English, Nepali, and Tibetan languages. The school gives children an opportunity they otherwise would not have had to receive food, clothing, and a modern education in Tibetan, English, and Nepali.
In brief, Rinpoche has spent his life performing the extraordinary activities of teaching and practice to help the precious Buddhadharma spread, flourish, and remain for a long time.
This brief summary of his life and deeds was compiled from reliable histories and sources by Secretary Tenzin Namgyal. Later, the translator David Karma Choephel expanded it by adding a few of Rinpoche’s activities from recent years. May virtue flourish!