The extraordinary signs that occured when Geshe passed away in 1986 made his pupils realise that they were confronted not only with the passing away of a great teacher but that of a truly enlightened master. During the months after his death, many students experienced an unusual closeness of Geshe during their meditations.
Three years later, Gonsar Rinpoche, Geshe’s dearest and closest disciple discovered Geshe’s incarnation, and by a thorrough series of consultations to H.H.Dalai Lama and various other authorative sources out of 180 candidates Kelsang Tsering, the son of Mr. Tenzin Dargye and Mrs. Pasang Gyalmo, was confirmed as the true incarnation of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche.
In spring of 1998 the ten year old Rabten Tulku Rinpoche gave his first teaching in front of a group of two hundred people in the monastery Rabten Choeling at the lake of Geneva. Unexpectedly and unprepared the young Rinpoche gave people advice on taking refuge. He spoke in the clear manner of Geshe Rabten’s own special way. The listeners were deeply moved and many of Geshe Rabten’s former students had tears in their eyes.
The memory of Geshe through his incarnation, who even in his young years already showed clear traits of a great master makes one believe that there is nothing more precious that could be given to one in this life, even if one were to meet the enlightened Buddha in person.
During the time of the 7th Dalai Lama, a young man from Amdo requested acceptance at the house of his countrymen in the Sera monastery near Lhasa. His appearance was so poor and shabby, that he was refused. Turning away from the house he met an old woman on the grounds of the monastery who suggested that he request admittance to Chadrel House and ensured him that it is there, where he belonged. He did as he was told, and then being accepted in the monastery he showed great enthusiasm in his studies. Soon the extraordinary qualities of a great master became apparent. He became famous as Master Ngawang Thöndrup and extensively served the teachings of the Buddha as Abbot of the Sera Je monastery and as one of the tutors of His Holiness the 8th Dalai Lama. He spent a lot of time in meditation in a cave on the Gephel-mountain near Lhasa, where later the Gonsar retreat monastery was built. When the people of Lhasa observed the new monastery they started to call him ‘Gonsar Rinpoche’ which in Tibetan means ‘the lama of the new monastery’. This name has remained with the lineage of the Gonsar Rinpoches until today. The old woman that had led the first Gonsar Rinpoche to his house in Sera college came to be known as an emanation of Palden Lhamo (the protectrin mother Goddess).
The fourth Gonsar Rinpoche, the previous incarnation to the present one, also studied in Sera monastery. After completing his studies with the Geshe examinations in his early twenties, he travelled to Mongolia and became one of the greatest masters amongst the later Buddhist masters of Mongolia. Teaching there for more than thirty years and frequently showing supernatural powers, he was greatly cherished by the population and almost all of the contemporary masters of Mongolia, such as Tsenshab Ngawang Dorje, Tsenshab Ngödub Tsognyi, Geshe Ngawang Nyima, Geshe Senge, Guru Deva Rinpoche, etc. became his disciples. He returned to Tibet at the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution and continued his vast activities there. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s elder brother Taktser Rinpoche and the parents also belong to his distinguished disciples.
The present Gonsar Rinpoche was born in 1949 in Shigatse, Tibet, to an aristocratic family known to be descendants of the ancient Tibetan kings. At that time his father was governor of the province Tsang, in western Tibet. At the age of three Gonsar Rinpoche was recognized as the fifth incarnation in the line of the Gonsar Rinpoche’s, which was confirmed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. At the age of six he entered Sera monastery, the second largest Monastic University of Tibet at that time. From the very beginning he was raised and tutored under the kind care of Venerable Geshe Rabten. Gonsar Rinpoche received a great number of teachings and transmissions from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other masters, in particular from his root gurus Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang and the Venerable Geshe Rabten.
In 1959, when Tibet fell under the communist Chinese regime, Gonsar Rinpoche fled with his master to India and continued his studies there. At the same time he learnt English and Hindi. In 1969 he started to translate into English the Buddhist teachings given to western students by his master Geshe Rabten.
Ever since the Venerable Geshe Rabten passed away in 1986, Gonsar Rinpoche, after spending thirty-three years as his closest disciple, has continued his master’s activities. At present Gonsar Rinpoche is director of the center ‘Rabten Choeling’ in Mont Pèlerin, as well as the other Rabten centers in Europe. He gives regular teachings directly in English, French, German or Tibetan.
The first Gonsar Rinpoche was famous for his particularly vast and profound teachings on the complete path of mental development to full enlightenment. The present Gonsar Rinpoche is renowned as one of the very few contemporary masters capable of transmitting every aspect of the Buddha’s teachings in a clear and moving experience to Western as well as Tibetan audiences.
“From the time I was a small child, I met monks in their maroon robes returning from the great monastic universities near Lhasa. I admired them very much. I also occasionally visited the large monastery in our region; and when I watched the monks debating, I was again filled with admiration. When I was about fifteen years old I began to notice how simple, pure and efficient their lives were. I also saw how my own home life, in comparison, was so complicated and demanding of tasks that were never finished. In order to be counted as a qualified monk in the nearby Dhargye Monastery, one had to spend at least three to four years studying and training one’s mind in the Buddha Dharma in one of the three monastic universities near Lhasa. With the thought of becoming such a monk in Dhargye Monastery, I decided at the age of seventeen to go to one of these monastic universities, although at that time I had no desire to become greatly learned in the Dharma”.
Extract from Geshe Rabten’s Biography, “Life of a Tibetan Monk”, Edition Rabten
When he was eighteen Geshe Rabten went on a three month journey from his birthplace in Kham in the Eastern province of Tibet to Lhasa in central Tibet where he became a monk in the monastic university of Sera. Very soon teachers and fellow students became aware of his magnificent character traits. While studying and meditating he went through unbelievable hardship. Hence teachers and fellow students gave him the name ‘Milarepa’. Due to his clear and precise way of logical debate, people compared him to Dharmakirti, the great Buddhist logical thinker. After having studied for about twenty years, he passed the Geshe exam in front of monks from the three great monasteries. He was given the title of the highest rank, ‘Geshe Lharampa’. This is the greatest honor, which is given by the examiners and by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In 1964 Geshe Rabten was chosen to be the philosophical assistant of the H.H. Dalai Lama, whose task is to assist His Holiness when taking teachings from his two tutors as well as to engage in debate with His Holiness on philosophical subjects.
In 1969 the Dalai Lama sent the first Western students to Geshe and then later, due to the amount of Western students that had accumulated he asked Geshe to move to the Tibetan monastery in Rikon, Switzerland to become the Abbot of that monastery and propagate Dharma. At that time Geshe had many Tibetan students in the big monastic universities in India and as his root-master Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was getting old and because Geshe did not have any interest in the comfort and money of the West, he would have preferred to have stayed in India. Only when his master pointed out that his teachings would be a great blessing to the people of the West did Geshe agree to go.
Geshe was the first Tibetan Buddhist master to introduce the complete Vinaya-tradition and the study of the five major topics of Buddhism to the West. Hence Geshe became the ‘path breaker’ of the complete and complex teachings of Buddhism in the West. Many masters, who are famous in the West today, were Geshe’s students, namely: Gonsar Rinpoche, Sherpa Rinpoche, Tomthog Rinpoche, Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe, Geshe Penpa, Geshe Tenzin Gonpo, Geshe Thupten Ngawang, Geshe Thubten Trinley etc.
Almost unlike any other, Geshe Rinpoche was able to bring the essence of the thoughts of Buddha close to the listeners. No matter if the listener was from the West or the East, whoever followed his words felt all the unclearness disappear and in its place a clearness and calmness started to spread in one’s mind. His examples encouraged people to adopt a sincere way of acting. Whatever he explained, gave the pupil a feeling of hearing a description of the past, the future or of hearing deepest secrets as if all these things were in Geshe’s hand.
Geshe founded the center for higher Tibetan studies, Rabten Choeling at the lake of Geneva (originally Tharpa Choeling), the Tibetan center in Hamburg, Tashi Rabten at the Letzehof, Puntsog Rabten in Munich and Gephel Ling in Milan.
At the time when Buddha was living his life as Prince Siddhartha in the palace of his father he made a request to tour his kingdom. On three occasions the king arranged visits for his son to various destinations in Magada, carefully preparing in advance every detail to make sure that his son would not encounter any unpleasant sights. Nevertheless on these three occasions Prince Siddhartha was confronted with sickness, old age and death. He asked his friend and charioteer, Channa, about the meaning of these unexpected sights and each time Channa replied with the appropriate answer, leading the Prince to a complete realisation of suffering. Filled with renunciation, the Prince secretly fled from the palace, leaving all his attendants and friends behind, with the exception of Channa and his horse who were the only ones allowed to accompany him.
After Buddha’s enlightenment Channa became his disciple and attained the state of an Arhat. This closest friend of Buddha Shakyamuni continued to serve the Buddha’s teachings in innumerable incarnations, repeatedly appearing as a key master for the pure continuation of the teachings.
In India he emanated as the Arhat Madhughosha, as Master Vimala Shri, as Chandrakirti, as Shanta Rakshita, who founded Buddhism in Tibet and as Master Atisha, whose appearance in the year 1100 caused the faultless teachings of the Buddha to again be installed in Tibet.
Channa appeared in Tibet as the Kadampa Master Langri Tangpa and as the Sakya Master Jampel Dorje. As Je Tsongkhapa, known as the “Jewel Ornament of the Sages of the Land of Snow”, he was the founder of the Gelug tradition or New Kadam lineage. The Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje is known as one of his incarnations as well as the Nyingma Master Sur Chöying Rangdröl. As the sixty-fourth successor of Je Tsongkhapa’s throne he was known as Tri Jangchub Choephel, whose name in short form is Trijang and has remained with the line of the Trijang Rinpoches until this day.
At the turn of this century he took birth as the 3rd Trijang Rinpoche, known as Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, the second tutor of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. As it is well known, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang was the foremost Tibetan Buddhist master of our time. Passing away in 1981 at the age of eighty-one, he followed in age as well as activities the exact example of the Enlightened Buddha. With his extraordinary method and capacity of teaching he fulfilled the purpose of countless beings through the teachings of the Buddha, particularly the lineage of Master Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa. All the great masters and followers of this tradition were brought up under his compassionate spiritual guidance. Most outstanding persons are amongst his disciples, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Yongzin Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, and the founder of the Rabten monasteries, Kyabje Geshe Rabten Rinpoche.
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