Head Lama

Concise Biography of Venerable Rigo Tulku Rinpoche, Sonam Tenzin

Sonam Tenzin Rinpoche (5)Bodhisattvas take different bodily forms in order to serve all sentient beings. Venerable Rigo Tulku Rinpoche took a human form for the benefit of all sentient beings although he has already attained enlightenment. Accomplished master Ngawang Yonten Gyatso, the previous incarnation of the present Rigo Tulku Rinpoche, took many great Nyingma masters as his masters and had many precious teachings from them: Kunchen Ngagi Wangpo, Druwang Palchen Duspa, along with other masters coming from different schools.

He meditated at Palyul Monastery retreat center for three years (one of the six great monasteries of the Nyingma tradition in Tibet). Ngawang Yonten Gyatso attained high states of Buddhist Tantric practices after he had meditated for days and nights without rest. Ngawang Yonten Gyatso was a great and humble yogi. He had left all worldly things behind and spent his whole life practicing Dharma in an isolated retreat center after he had returned to Rigo Monastery.

The present Rigo Tulku Rinpoche, Sonam Tenzin (known as Rigo Tulku Rinpoche), was born to a noble family named Habso Tsang in Lhowolung Village in 1946, and many auspicious signs appeared when he was born. His father’s name was Lodroe Yishi and mother’s name was Pema Tso. When he was little, he studied Tibetan with his father and Uncle, Lama Ngawang Tashi. When he turned ten years old, H.H. Zonang Rinpoche, one of the great incarnated lamas in Palyul Monastery, sent a message and asked him to come there, so he went to Palyul Monastery with his father.

He was recognized as the reincarnation of the Vajra master Ngawang Yonten Gyatso of Rigo Monastery by H.H. Karma Kuchen Karma Thegchog Nyinpo, the head of Palyul Monastery. H.H. Karma Kuchen Karma Thegchog Nyinpo gave him his name Sonam Tenzin and initiated him. H.H. Karma Kuchen Karma Thegchog Nyinpo gave him a Usha Pema Thondrol (glorious lotus hat).

H.H. Penor Rinpoche, Thupten Shedrub Choekyi Drayang, the 11th throne holder of Paylyul Monastery, gave Sonam Tenzin a set of monk’s robes. H.H. Dzonang Rinpoche gave Sonam Tenzin a rosary, a lama bowl and a religious locket and many other monastic items for his recognition ceremony.

Sonam Tenzin stayed in H.H. the Dzonang Rinpoche’s monastic household for one month. Sonam Tenzin took refugee vows and the vows of bodhisattva, and he received other teachings from H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche and H.H. Penor Rinpoche.

Later, Jamyang Choekyi Lodroe, one of the greatest masters of Tibetan Buddhism in the 20th century, gave a sealed letter to Rigo Monastery. The letter stated that Sonam Tenzin was the unmistaken reincarnation of Lama Ngawang Yonten Gyatso, and he would become a great Lama who would greatly contribute to the Lord Buddha’s doctrine and help many sentient beings.

At the age of eleven, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche was enthroned in Rigo Monastery. Many auspicious signs appeared at his enthronement ceremony. When he was fifteen, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche along with his family and thousands of other Tibetans left their homes and headed towards India.

On his journey, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche had many precious Nyingma traditional dharma teachings from the master Dza Pulung Tulku Sangay Rinpoche. He did a Vajrakila retreat for six months to dispel obstacles as instructed by Lama Pema Rinzin.

On their journey the group decided to camp in a place named Povogu Lewuthang. Upon stopping, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche pleaded with his father again and again not to stay there for the night, but because of karmic fate his father did not listen to him. That night there was a huge landslide, which crushed the camp and killed many people including Rigo Tulku Rinpoche’s father. Rigo Tulku Rinpoche was also buried in the landslide, but he miraculously came out uninjured.

Then Rigo Tulku Rinpoche visited Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. There he did a pilgrimage to the three great seats of the Gelukpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Samye temple, which is the first Buddhist monastery of Tibet, and other local monasteries. There he met H.H. Dhujom Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma tradition at that time, and received many precious Nyingma dharma teachings from H.H. Dhujom Rinpoche.

When Rigo Tulku Rinpoche was eighteen years old he arrived in India. He stayed in Bomdhila for two years and later went to Manali. After two years in Manali, he went to TsoPema, the holy site of Guru Padmasambhava, by invitation of H.H. Dzonang Rinpoche. He studied Tibetan grammar, astrology, and poetry in H.H. Dzonang Rinpoche’s school in TsoPema.

Later he went to Clement Town of Dehradun and had Sutra and Tantra teachings from Khen Rinpoche Tsundru for three years. He had novice vows from H.H. Trulshik Rinpoche and full ordination (bhikshu) from H.H. Talung Tsetrul Rinpoche, and his Dharma name was Thupten Shenphen Sangpo. He has kept his monastic vows pure just as he has kept his eyes clean from dust, and has been highly praised by H.H. the Dalai Lama many times in thousands of gatherings.

Rigo Tulku Rinpoche helped H.H. Dzonang Rinpoche and H.H. Khokhim Rinpoche in the construction of Ngedhon Gatsaling (Mindroling, one of the main seats of Nyingma tradition in India.) for over ten years.
Later Rigo Tulku Rinpoche had many precious dharma teachings from many great masters including H.H the 14th Dalai Lama, H.H. Penor Rinpoche, H.H. Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, H.H. the Great Khenpo Jigmed Puntsok Rinpoche and H.H. Trushik Rinpoche.

In 1969, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche and Khenpo Rabgye founded a small monastery with eleven rooms for monks named Palyul Choekhorling Monastery in Bir, as requested by the local Tibetan settlement and its head, Jagok Namgyal Dorjee.

In 1972, as Khen Rinpoche Pema Rabgye was becoming very old, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche was appointed as the head of Palyul Choekhorling Monastery. He has taken full responsibility in caring for the monastery since then. Rigo Tulku Rinpoche opened a small traditional Tibetan woolen rug and carpet factory in Bir. With the factory’s income and the help from Tsetrul Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche bought a piece of land near his monastery in Bir. He moved the monastery to the new land and started building a new three story temple there in 1980.

The new temple and many statues of Buddha and bodhisattvas inside the temple were completed in 1989 with great financial assistance by H.H. Darthang Rinpoche. H.H. Darthang Rinpoche introduced Palyul Choekhorling Monastery to a foreign organization and the organization helped the Monastery for a few years.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama did the opening ceremony of the new temple of Palyul Choekhorling Monastery. He also gave a life empowerment, teachings and talks to thousands of people who gathered there for the ceremony. Later many great spiritual heads and masters from the different Tibetan Buddhist schools visited Palyul Choekhorling Monastery at different times.

Palyul Choekhorling Monastery has greatly developed through the effort of Rigo Tulku Rinpoche and the senior monks. Palyul Lhatrul Rinpoche helped Palyul Choekhorling Monastery for a few years. Rigo Tulku Kunsang Tenzin has been helping Palyul Choekhorling Monastery as much as he can. Now Palyul Choekhorling Monastery has a monastic institute, a monastic school in Bir, a retreat center and Zangdog Palri Temple in TsoPema.

Then, gradually, many young boys from Tibet, India, the Himalayan regions, Bhutan and Nepal began to join Ngagyur Palyul Choekhorling monastery to become monks and in 2015 the total number of monks has grown to around three hundred.

Rigo Tulku Rinpoche has been providing residence, food, clothes, and free medication to all the monks in Palyul Choekhorling Monastery. The monks have received free education from primary school until Ph.D. in Buddhist philosophy.

In 1975, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche met a generous German lady, Mrs. Irmtraut Woeger, for the first time. Rigo Tulku Rinpoche requested her to establish an organization to help the Tibetan refugees in India. Mrs. Irmtraut Woeger started a charitable organization named German Aid Organization for Tibetans, and this organization helped many local Tibetans in Bir and surrounding area.

Rigo Tulku Rinpoche requested Mrs. Woeger to extend her assistance to all the Tibetan refugees in India, and since then, her organization has found sponsors for around thirty thousand Tibetan refugees in different settlements, schools and monasteries in India.

In 2005, Mrs. Woeger received the Loving and Compassionate Mother Medal awarded by World Charitable Organization, and H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama visited Berlin to present the Medal to Mrs. Woeger.

In 1980, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche sent ten thousand Chinese Yuan for the reconstruction of Rigo Monastery in his birthplace in Tibet. He also sent a human size gilded copper statue of Buddha and Guru Rinpoche along with two hundred small statues to put inside the monastery.

Since 1998, Rigo Tulku Rinpoche visited Rigo Monastery in Tibet three times. He financially assisted building a new three story temple and a big gilded copper statue of Buddha and many other religious objects inside the temple. He gave teachings and empowerments to many local people of Rigo Monastery. He built a school for the local children and provides the financial supplies for the school and teachers.

He gave a statue of Buddha to every family of the villages around Rigo Monastery. He even paid forty thousand Chinese Yuan to bring electricity to Rigo Monastery and the villages around it.

Since 1991 Rigo Tulku Rinpoche has been the accounting director of Nyingma World Peace Prayer in Bodh Gaya every year. He was in charge of building a new temple surrounded by several buildings with many rooms where all the monks could stay during the Nyingma World Peace Prayer. Rigo Tulku Rinpoche has been contributing enormously to the Nyingma World Peace Prayers, and helping Tibetan schools and many Tibetans in India.

Rigo Tulku Rinpoche is a great devoted Buddhist practitioner; he always keeps himself in a low position and treats everyone equally. He has ordained many monks from and in Tibet, India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Palyul Choekhorling Monastery has two guesthouses with restaurants, two small shops, a rug and carpet factory, an incense factory and three tailoring shops in Delhi and Bir for Palyul Choekhorling Monastery’s income.