Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche


TENGA RINPOCHE was recognized as one of the tulkus of the great Benchen Monastery in eastern Tibet.

Since the history of his lineage is closely interwoven with the incarnations of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, it is helpful first to look at the history of that lineage. After living in the area of Dege for three lifetimes, the fourth tulku of Sangye Nyenpa, Gelek Jantsho, traveled to nearby Ga, a countryside he liked very much and considered suitable for building a monastery, provided that the right auspicious omens occurred. One day as Gelek Jantsho was standing near a huge boulder, a large black raven descended from the sky, alighted there and gave a cry. Gelek Jantsho went closer to look at the raven and saw it drop from its beak a small turquoise image of the protector Dorje Bernachen and then it danced around on top of the rock. He realized that the raven itself must be an emanation of the protector. As this was an especially good omen, he decided on that spot as the site for his monastery and kept the small image of Mahakala for his shrine. Gelek Jantsho then went to the local chief, Rarda Pontshong, and told him this story, requesting that land be made available for the construction of the monastery. Deeply impressed, Rarda Pontshong offered the very land on which stood his family home, a large black tent, and said he would help with the project in any way he could.

During the building of the monastery, tremendous gales, hail storms, and strange manifestations upset the progress. Gelek Jantsho realized that they were probably caused by the displeasure of the Rarda family protector. He told Rarda Pontshong of the problems and having learned that the protector was Shing Kyong, Gelek Jantsho resolved that he would dedicate himself to meditation on this protector and that Shing Kyong would always be the protector of his teachings. He built a shrine for Shing Kyong, who is still the special protector of all those associated with Benchen monastery, and the building was completed without further obstacles.

The story of the Tenga incarnations starts in the time of the eighth Sangye Nyenpa, Tenzin Drupchok, one of whose students was a highly accomplished lama named Gonkhen Samten. The title Gonkhen means "expert on the protectors" and was given to him for his proficiency in Shing Kyong meditation. Lama Samten spent most of his life in retreat, meditating on his yidam, Karma Pakshi, and Shing Kyong. Many people came to see him for his blessing, which cured all kinds of medical and other problems. Several years after Lama Samten died, Tenzin Drupchok travelled to Lhasa and on the way met a local chief named Drungpa Pontshong, who requested initiations. While Tenzin Drupchok was staying with the local chief, he met in this family a small boy, who asked if he wouldn't give back his thigh bone trumpet. Tenzin Drupchok immediately recalled that just before dying, Lama Samten had given him his thigh bone trumpet and asked him to look after it for a while. At last he had met the reincarnation of Lama Samten.

A couple of years later, returning from Lhasa to Benchen Monastery, Tenzin Drupchok stopped by the little boy's house and the family gave him the boy to take along. Soon after his arrival at the monastery, he began to study the theory and practice of the Karma Kagyu tradition, at which he excelled, memorizing in one year all the rituals and songs of Benchen. As a young man, he was given ordination by Tenzin Drupchok and the name Karma Tenzin Chogyal. Then when he was about eighteen, Tenzin Drupchok told him about Lama Samten, who had been such a distinguished lama that Tenzin Drupchok had high hopes for the future. To realize this promise, he suggested that Tenzin Chogyal go on retreat under the guidance of the great Jamgon Kongtrul.

Tenzin Chogyal followed this advice and traveled to Pepung Monastery to meet Kongtrul Rinpoche. With his instruction, the young monk completed a very successful three-year retreat and became Kongtrul Rinpoche's attendant for another three years. Kongtrul Rinpoche was very impressed with him, and when he had to go to Lhasa, he left Tenzin Chogyal in charge of his retreat center. After a few years, Kongtrul Rinpoche returned and told Tenzin Chogyal that since he was now equal to himself in realization, it was time to return home to Benchen. One of the parting gifts Kongtrul Rinpoche gave him was a painting of six-armed Mahakala, which is still with the present Tenga Rinpoche.

By the time Tenzin Chogyal came home to Benchen, Tenzin Drupchok had died and so he had to take over the direction of the monastery and the education of the new Sangye Nyenpa, Gelek Drupe Nyima (who died about twenty years ago). In addition to this work, one of Tenzin Chogyal's greatest accomplishments was the construction of four retreat centers at Benchen: for Jinasagara (a high tantra form of Chenrezig), for Kunrik (a form of Vairocana and this retreat also included White Tara and Shing Kyong), for the six doctrines of Naropa, and for the six doctrines of Niguma.

When Tenzin Chogyal was an old man, he told his monks that since he was getting old and things were becoming difficult for him, he would leave Benchen and go to live in "some pleasant garden." They all sympathized with him and thought that this was a very good idea. He told Sangye Nyenpa the same and gave him some of his possessions, including the painting of six-armed Mahakala, to look after while he was away. A few days later, he died.

Some years later, Situ Pema Wongchuk visited Benchen and Sangye Nyenpa asked him how he might find the incarnation of his lama, Tenzin Chogyal. Situ Rinpoche predicted the name of the father and mother of the child, the year of his birth (1932), and said that Sangye Nyenpa would not have to look far, but would find the child within the vicinity of Benchen. After a search, they found the child (the present Tenga Rinpoche), who was seven years old. He then began his studies at Benchen and received refuge and the name Karma Tenzin Thinle Namgyal from Situ Rinpoche. At sixteen, he was instated as a tulku and in the next years took the opportunity to learn medicine from an uncle, who was both a lama and a doctor. At nineteen, he received ordination from Situ Rinpoche and when his studies were completed, he entered a three-year retreat. During this time, he became particularly adept at White Tara meditation (his yidam) and tummo. It is said that in the retreat, his water bowls were the only ones which did not freeze over in the winter.

In 1959, as a result of the Chinese invasion, Tenga Rinpoche left Benchen for Lhasa and then northern India. Following his arrival in India, he went to Rumtek, the seat of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, where Rinpoche served as dorje loppon (vajra master) for more than nine years. In 1974, he traveled with the Karmapa to the West. Since then, he has traveled extensively in the West, giving teachings on Buddhism. Every two years, he teaches a three-week seminar in Germany, where many of his students reside.

In 1986, Tenga Rinpoche established the new Benchen Monastery in Kathmandu, at the foothills of Swayambhu. At present, this monastery is the center for traditional ritual practice of the Karma Kamtsang lineage. The monks, under the guidance of both Tenga Rinpoche and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, are trained in meditation and Dharma studies in general, and particularly the traditional tantric rituals such as sand mandalas and lama dances. Twice a year, they perform the Mahakala and Padmasambhava lama dances.

Fulfilling the wishes of Tenga Rinpoche and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, a health clinic was started in 1994. This clinic provides free medical care not only for the monastery, but also for local people who cannot afford such care.

A retreat center has been built in the area of Parping, twenty kilometers from Kathmandu, as part of Benchen Monastery. This will provide the traditional three-year retreat for the monks, as well as accommodations for shorter and longer retreats for lay people.