Umdze Lodro Samphel


UMDZE LODRO SAMPHEL is the senior umdze, or chant master, at Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre in Sikkim, India, the international seat of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa. During a course of study that spanned twenty years, he mastered the multifaceted role an umdze plays in the ritual life at Rumtek. He is responsible for overseeing every aspect of Tibetan Buddhist rites at the monastery, and consequently his training included extensive text memorization, the study of musical instruments and chanting, the construction of tormas (ritual offerings) and colored-sand mandalas, and sacred monastic dance.

Born in 1959 in Sikkim to parents who were originally from Tsurphu in Tibet, Umdze Lodro entered Rumtek Monastery and became a monk when he was seven. His monastic training began with study of the ritual texts, which continued for nine years. In the Tsurphu tradition in which he was schooled, there are thirty different sets, or classes, of texts that must be memorized. One by one, he demonstrated his mastery of the texts to his teacher, earning a seal for each to signify his successful recitation from memory. At sixteen, to celebrate completing this part of his education, Umdze Lodro hosted a party for his teachers and fellow monks in keeping with tradition at the monastery.

For the next two years, he studied to be a choyog, or shrine master, with Lama Solpon Jinpa. Umdze Lodro learned to make the different tormas for each of the pujas (ritual practices) and mastered the intricate details of tending the shrine during the services, including the placement and removal of specific tormas and other sacred objects at prescribed times. He concluded this phase of study by presenting the various tormas he made to the Sixteenth Karmapa, who conferred his seal thus indicating they were properly constructed.

Umdze Lodro began to study chanting with Umdze Thubten Zangpo in 1978 and spent a year as an assistant of chant, followed by eight years as a junior chant master when he studied the chant melodies and learned to play all the ritual instruments, including the rolmo (cymbals), drums, gyaling (shawm), and flute. He also learned to construct all the sand mandalas: the symbolic, celestial palaces of the wrathful and peaceful deities like Kalachakra, Vajrayogini, and Chakrasamvara. This was followed by a period studying sacred dance.

In 1986, at age twenty-seven, Umdze Lodro completed his studies and became an umdze. He is one of three umdzes at Rumtek, and has three assistant umdzes who study with him. He is also responsible for the training of seventeen monks at the monastery.

With His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Umdze Lodro visited North America in 1991, where they performed the Kalachakra empowerment in Toronto, and the Shi Tro empowerment at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery (KTD) in Woodstock, New York. In 1998 at the request of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, Umdze Lodro returned to KTD to record authentic Kagyu chanting and pujas, and to teach on the ritual aspects of tantric practice. Karma Kagyu Institute (KKI) has already released two of the recorded chants: the Green Tara Chants, and Medicine Buddha Chants.

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