A Biography of
Venerable Dagpo Lama Rinpoche
Dagpo Rinpoche, also known as Bamchö Rinpoche, was born in 1932 in the region of Kongpo, in southeast Tibet. When he was two, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jamphel Lhundrup, Pabongkha Dorje Chang’s root guru. At the age of six he entered Bamchö Monastery in Dagpo Region where he learned to read and write and began to study the basics of sutra and tantra. At age 13 he entered Dagpo Shedrup Ling Monastery to study Buddhist philosophy.
Dagpo Shedrup Ling (or Dagpo Dratsang) is a monastic college for philosophical studies founded by the sixth successor to Jey Tsongkhapa, Jey Lodrö Tenpa. Its standard of education was very high in all fields, notably the five great philosophical treatises (on logic, paramita, madhyamika, abhidharma, and vinaya). Special attention was given to the teaching and practice of lamrim.
In 1403, Jey Tsongkhapa had just completed the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Great Lamrim) at Rating Monastery when Jey Lodrö Tenpa came to see him. Jey Tsongkhapa blessed him by placing the new text on his head. He gave him a copy and instructed him to go to Dagpo Region to build a monastery where one could study and practice lamrim as well as the five great treatises. For this reason Dagpo Dratsang is also known as Lamrim Dratsang. Every year in April a special session was devoted to the teaching and practice of lamrim. Once every three years the abbot taught Jey Tsongkhapa’s entire Great Lamrim (500 folios). Thanks to this the teaching and practice of lamrim was widespread in Dagpo Region.
Many Ganden Tripas (successors of Jey Tsongkhapa and heads of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism) issued from this monastery and a great number of its monks attained the highest spiritual realizations through their meditation on lamrim. After the communist invasion in 1959, those monks of Dagpo Dratsang who managed to escape from Tibet into India re-grouped themselves first in Assam, later in Madhya Pradesh and most recently at Kais near Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. There despite certain material difficulties they are presently trying to perpetuate the monastic traditions specific to their college.
Having studied eleven years at Dagpo Shedrup Ling, Dagpo Rinpoche left to attend the great monastic university of Drepung near Lhasa where he entered one of its four colleges, Gomang Dratsang. He wanted very much to deepen his understanding of Buddhist philosophy using Jamyang Shepa’s commentaries, which constitute the major part of Gomang Dratsang’s textbooks. For the duration of his stay at Gomang Dratsang (and later in exile, In India and Europe) he studied under the great Mongolian master, Geshe Ngawang Nyima, who was later to become the abbot of the college in exile. Being close to Lhasa, Rinpoche was also able to attend many teachings and receive a great number of transmissions from different masters. Today he is one of the few masters to hold such a large number of transmission lineages of Buddha’s teachings.
Dagpo Rinpoche has followed over forty masters, in particular the two tutors H.H. the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Ling Dorje Chang and Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, as well as His Holiness himself. Under him he has studied the five great treatises, tantra (he has received many initiations and has done retreats), as well as astrology, grammar, poetry and history.
Dagpo Rinpoche remained in Gomang Dratsang until the communist invasion in 1959 when he followed his masters into exile in India. Less than a year after his arrival, he was invited to France to assist French Tibetologists in their research. He taught Tibetan language and Buddhism at the French school of oriental studies (INaLCO), connected to the Sorbonne in Paris, for almost thirty years. Now retired, he continues personal research, practice and study. He has co-authored several books on Tibet and on Buddhism and has participated in numerous television and radio programs.
In 1978 he founded a Dharma center which later became the first Buddhist congregation of the Geluk order, Ganden Ling Institute, to be recognized by the French government. Rinpoche has taught extensively ever since and is often invited for that purpose to various cities in France, and to Italy, Switzerland, and Holland, as well as to India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He now has several centres in France, Holland, Malaysia and Indonesia. He travels yearly to India to maintain contact with his masters and monasteries.
In 1987 Rinpoche returned to Tibet and to Dagpo Region where he was given a great welcome and was solicited repeatedly for teachings and blessings. In Lhasa he was requested to give the oral transmission of certain texts whose lineages he is one of the few remaining masters to hold.
In 2005 Rinpoche completed a long-term project, the reconstruction and relocation of his monastery, Dagpo Shedrup Ling, in the Kullu valley, in northwest India. The monastery, which now counts over a hundred monks, was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in May in the presence of thousands of followers: Tibetans, local people and foreigners.
The lineage of Dagpo Rinpoche's previous incarnations goes far back into the past. It includes masters such as the famous bodhisattva Taktungu who at the time of the previous Buddha sold a piece of his own flesh to make an offering to his spiritual master. It also includes the Indian sage Atisha’s main spiritual guide, the great Indonesian master, Suvarnadvipa Guru Dharmakirti (Serlingpa). Atisha travelled thirteen months by sea from India under very difficult conditions to meet Suvarnadvipa in what is now Indonesia, to request him for instruction on generating bodhicitta. Suvarnadvipa Guru passed on to him the lineage of the practice issuing from Maitreya called “the seven-point instruction causes and effect.”
The two teachers, Suvarnadvipa and Atisha, found themselves together again in the same master-disciple relationship in more recent times when Atisha was born as Pabongkha Dorje Chang and received teachings on bodhicitta from Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jampel Lhundrup (picture left), the present Dagpo Rinpoche’s previous reincarnation.
Another of the better known Tibetan masters in the lineage of Dagpo Rinpoche’s incarnations is the great fifth century translator, Marpa Lotsawa, founder of the Kagyu Order and famous as the teacher who guided Jetsun Milarepa to enlightenment through very vigorous training. One could also mention Longdröl Lama Rinpoche, an important 18th century meditation master and scholar, disciple of the 7th Dalai Lama, who, like Milarepa, had a difficult time in his youth. After much study and meditation, Longdröl Lama Rinpoche became one of the leading masters of the century, teacher of scholars such as Jigmey Wangpo. A great scholar himself, he wrote more than 23 volumes of treatises. In more recent times we count several abbots of Dagpo Shedrup Ling Monastery among Dagpo Rinpoche’s incarnations.
Despite this prestigious and noble spiritual lineage, the Dagpo Rinpoche of today remains a master whose great simplicity, kindness and infinite patience makes him extremely accessible and allows his numerous following to benefit from his remarkable teachings and skilful spiritual guidance.