1959 : Karmapa flees to India and settles in Rumtek
The People's Republic of China is
proclaimed during October 1949. Right away, Beijing Radio states that
Tibet is part of China and announces that "The People's Liberation
Army has been ordered to free Tibet from foreign imperialism" . On
Oct. 7th 1950, chinese troops invade Eastern Tibet.
The Dalaï Lama, being only 16
years old, assumes power in Tibet on Nov. 17th 1950. The small tibetan
army is routed fast and, during 1951, Lhassa sends a tibetan party for
negotiations in Beijing.
Year after year, life is getting
tougher in Tibet, and Khampas revolt in 1956. Reprisals are awful, monasteries
are destroyed and monks killed. In 1958, tibetan opposition unites under
the name "Tchouchi kangdrouk" "Four rivers and six mountains".
Things are getting worse in the capital
city, and on March 17th 1959, in the greatest secrecy, the Dalaï
Lama flees into exile, soon to be followed by some one hundred thousands
An interview about Rumtek with Lama
Question : How did the Karmapa
arrive in Rumtek ?
Lama Jigme Rinpoche : It was just after the Lossar, at the beginning of the year, that His Holiness decided to leave Tsurphu through the border of Buthan. The decision was taken very quickly, but we can imagine that everything was decided long before and was kept secret. The departure occurred very early, around one or two o'clock in the morning at Tsurphu's monastery. Surrounding the Karmapa, there were about a hundred people, lamas and close relations. We travelled by horse and on foot. It was a very normal journey, in the sense that in the daytime we travelled and we rested in the evening. In each village, lots of people came to receive blessings from His Holiness who also gave ordinations. We crossed the border from Tibet to Buthan, but His Holiness didn't want to stay there because of the lack of security. After having stayed some weeks in the country, the government of Buthan sent the Karmapa directly to India. Part of the group stayed in Buthan to rest, some lamas were quite old, and the rest followed the Karmapa. The Indian government was prepared to invite the Karmapa in Dharamsala. At that time Sikkim was independent and the king of the country immediately sent some people to greet the Karmapa and invited him to come to Sikkim.
The king offered to the Karmapa to
choose between several places he was ready to give him, so that he could
stay in the country. Karmapa chose Rumtek. It was an old monastery built
by the disciples of the ninth Karmapa, who himself never went there. At
that time there were two others important monasteries which were built
in Sikkim by the disciples of the ninth Karmapa : Bordon and Ralan. In
Rumtek, it a small and old monastery, and it was quite simple for the
sixteenth Karmapa and a few lamas to settle there. The rest of the people
built small houses all around and settled there. All this occurred in
Question : Why was a new monastery
built in Rumtek ?
Lama Jigme Rinpoche : The
king gave some land to the Karmapa, in order to help him to extend his
activities. The monastery which was on this land belonged to lay people
who had Genyen vows. They practiced there. But it was necessary to think
about moving from the place because the inhabitants, still present, were
the owners, and also, it was quite small. In 1962 the construction of
a new monastery started. So, in Rumtek, there were to be two monasteries.
Therefore, the monastery of Rumtek we know about today is not the original
one. There were just a few kilometers in between the two places.
Karmapa decided to rebuild a monastery,
to save the culture and re-educate all the young people. When the Karmapa
was in Rumtek, he invited many lamas and reorganized the teachings and
the traditional Karma Kagyu style of organization. During this time there
were people like Tobga Rinpoche, Trangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, who
were young lamas and who started their training in Rumtek at that time.
There were older lamas like : Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche
who gave the transmissions during this time. Everyone had time to practice
and to rebuild the life they had in Tsurphu. The presence of the two generations
allowed the younger ones to learn. Step by step Karmapa organized our
generation : at the beginning there were a few of us like Shamar Rinpoche,
Jamgon Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, many rinpoches and
lamas were gathered in order to receive teachings. The construction of
the new monastery in Rumtek was finished around 1965.
Question : Why was it necessary to re-establish the Karma Kagyu tradition in India ?
Lama Jigme Rinpoche : The lamas
focused on the practice. It means that all the yidams were practiced during
seven days. It was a very concentrated way of practicing in fact. Every
month there were two weeks during which a yidam was practiced by all the
monks, who participated and learned the pujas. Slowly Karmapa built up
the program of a three years retreat for the lamas. During this time,
around 1961, the monks received the important transmission, loungs and
initiations from the Karmapa Kagyu tradition. The buildings having been
constructed, life had the same kind of quality then in Tsurphu. There
were around two hundred monks living there. Lay people lived around and
joined a village down in the valley. There were more and more young people
who came and who were educated there. For instead, Umze Nyeden arrived
very young. His Holiness brought lots of objects of practice from Tsurphu
into Rumtek. The place became one of the main examples of Karma Kagyu
tradition in India and in all Asia. From 1959 to 1977 there was no communication
what so ever between Tibet and India. Sangyé Nienpa, Dilgo Khyenzé
Rinpoche, and a few other younger lamas Tobga Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche,
Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche where
all around the Karmapa in 1961.
All the texts and the printings were
made out of wood blocks, there were several thousands of blocks in fact.
About twenty to thirty people came and helped in this field during 10
years. We could not bring the wood blocks or make copies of the texts
we had in Tibet, so we had to remake everything. All the texts were recopied,
and we also used a publisher in Delhi at one point to continue this job.
This is a very important activity because after that we had almost everything,
there were only a few copies missing, most of them were left in Tibet,
but we didn't loose anything. The activity in Rumtek was only spiritual,
it was kept completely separated from the Tibet political activity. There
were no political function, only the spiritual activity and the preservation
of the Karma Kagyu tradition. Everybody was engaged in this.
It was a very quiet place. Lots of
people came from everywhere to visit, local people from India, from Westerner
countries, they came to listen to the teachings of the Karmapa, and also
for pilgrimage. The monks were practicing. It's important to know what
kind of activities the lamas were doing every month. Every two weeks there
were pujas going on. It was called dumcheu, which means the offering of
the practice, cheupa means offering of the practice. For instance at the
end of the year, for one week Mahakala goes on, from 22 to 29 of the month.
The first day, the practice would last sixteen or seventeen hours, almost
twenty hours ! The first day, the ritual would begin at 9AM and finish
at 7PM, and then, at 9PM they would start again until 7AM. It means lots
of time to practice, they would stop only for four hours. Each day they
would do one hour less. There would be the practices of Dordje Pamo, Gyalwa
Gyamtso, Korlo Demcho, two different Taras, Tcheu, Guru Rinpoche on one
year and Vadjra Kilaya on the next year, many others like : Kunrik, Mitrukpa,
Kalachakra, hevajra. Each year they added some practices. At the beginning
the people couldn't practice everything, then they had more time to learn
and they could put the tantra teachings into practice.
Question : Why is it so important
to practice ?
Lama Jigme Rinpoche : It is
important to practice for the people and also in order not to loose the
quality of the teachings. One important aspect in the preservation. By
practicing we are sure not to loose the essence of the teachings. Then,
individually people will develop and choose there own practice. It is
good to practice for the whole environment also and for all the beings.
The main aspect is that the way to practice and what to practice doesn't
disappear. It is good for everybody. When Karmapa made the shedra in Rumtek,
he asked each Karma Kagyu monastery in Nepal and in Bhutan to choose three
persons and to send them to Rumtek. Then, they would go back and be able
to lead the proper teachings after a training of qualified teachers. In
this way all the monasteries would have the same kind of qualified teachers.
The training should last ten to twelve years.
Question : What happened after
the cremation of the 16th Karmapa ?
Lama Jigme Rinpoche : Until the 16th Karmapa passed away in 1981, everything was quite smooth. After his death, the rinpoches gathered to discuss how to run Rumtek. Khempos and Oumzes were present at that meeting. During the meeting, they divided the responsibility between four rinpoches. Karmapa had always emphasized how much having four rinpoches is important. They decided that each rinpoche would take care of Rumtek during three years. These rinpoches had no responsibilities until then, they were young and studying and also they had nothing to do in particular since the older rinpoches and lamas were taking care of everything. After the death of Karmapa the young rinpoches, called the regents had to assume the responsibility of Rumtek during three years. They got some help from other lamas, but they held the greatest responsibilities. To begin with, Shamar Rinpoche was to take care of Rumtek for three years, then it was the turn of Situ Rinpoche, then Jamgon Rinpoche for three years and finally Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
They made arrangements so that this
could occur. Shamar Rinpoche having done his three years, Situ Rinpoche
declared he had no time to take care of Rumtek. He asked Shamar Rinpoche
to take his place. Situ Rinpoche had an important activity concerning
peace in the world. (He tried to obtain the Nobel Prize.) Then, the next
three years it was Jamgon Rinpoche who took care of Rumtek. And so it
continued like this for eleven years. And then Gyaltsab Rinpoche did two
or three years. Progressively, things began to change in Rumtek. When
they were responsible of Rumtek, the rinpoches had to check that everything
was going alright, they had to find money for the monks, so that they
would have enough food. After the death of Karmapa, they planed to build
a shedra which was one of the important wishes of the Karmapa. There were
almost 700 people living in Rumtek.
Before passing away in the autumn
of 1981, Karmapa expressed a strong wish that three vital projects be
- the Nalanda Institute for Higher
Buddhist Studies in Rumtek,
- the Dharma Chakra Center in New
- the printing of 500 sets of the
Tengyur, an extensive collection of commentaries to the Buddha's teachings.
Here follow a few excerpts from a letter by Jamgon
Kongtrul Rinpoche, dated june 23rd, 1983
His Holiness's dream
For a long time before his departure from Tibet,
His Holiness the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa had the project to establish
an Institute to promote the detailed study of Buddhism. When he was in
Tibet, His Holiness had a premonitory dream according to which, if he
established such an Institute, thirteen embodiments of an Indian Grand
Master of the 11th century, Bimalamitra, would be among the students.
Bimalamitra, scholar and Mahasiddha was one of the pioneers of the establishment
of Buddhism in Tibet.
In 1980, His Holiness inaugurated the construction
of the Institute Karme Shri Nalanda for the advanced study of Buddhism
in his head office, the centre Dharma Chakra, Rumtek , Sikkim's monastery,
India. His Holiness gave a big importance to the establishment of this
new institute and one of his last wishes was that this one become quickly
functional. On November 18, 1981 (" Lha-Bab Duchen "), in accordance
with the original plan of His Holiness, the Institute was officially opened
The purpose of the Institute
The Institute was founded with the aim of protecting
and propagating the noble teachings of the Buddha, and more particularly
the tradition Kagyu of Buddhism mahayana, so that the nectar of Dharma
can reach all and each. So, having considered the immediate needs, we
have included all the subjects related to these studies - the main being
Soutras and Tantras - as well as the study of the English language. Gradually,
the study of Sanscrit and the Hindi will be added.
We should thus create conditions and a convenient
environment, to offer to the promising students, correct working conditions
allowing them to follow an extensive training on these subjects. In parallel
to these studies, they will be guided in their meditative method to acquire
the necessary mastery allowing them to direct intelligently Dharma followers
into the mazes of theory and practices of Buddhists teachings. By means
of the linguistic studies, they will be capable of having a dialogue and
of teaching directly in English.
The Nalanda institute in 1983
His Holiness, recognizing the difficulty of the insufficient
number of lamas and assistants qualified and knowledgeable about Dharma,
made the decision to send the graduates of the Institute to centres worldwide,
as authorities and spiritual guides residents. His Holiness wished to
collect 500 students, or least 108, representatives all the Kagyu monasteries
of India, Nepal and Bouthan. He envisaged their studies here and their
participation in the big task of carrying the banner of the " Lineage
of Fulfillment " to the four corners of the Earth for the biggest
good of all beings.
Having begun with 55 students, according to the wish
of Its Holiness, the institute includes 78 today. New demands for registration
arrive constantly. These student monks, among whom one accounts eleven
Tulkous are from 13 to 35 years old. They came from the Kagyu lineage
and from several other traditions to study Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan
literature, the art of the oratorical debate and English. They have already
studied a large number of texts and follow daily a rigorous curriculum
beginning from 4a.m in the morning and ending at 10p.m.
This letter drafted by Jamgueun Kontrul Rinpoché,
continues in the form of a demand for help on behalf of all the centres.
It is dated June 23, 1983.
By Khenpo Choedrak Rinpoche from the
Kagyu conference in Delhi 1996
First I would like to talk about
how the Shedra functioned. I am speaking from my own experience as I worked
in the Shedra for twelve years.
In 1978, His Holiness established a school called "Karme Jamyang Khang" which offered the students a three-year study programme. The students in each year had three classes per day.
Then, in 1981, after the sixteenth
Karmapa passed away, it was possible to embark on the Karma Shri Nalanda
Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Rumtek.
The curriculum comprised nine years of studies in the sutra aspect of the Buddha's teachings. In addition, plans had been made to provide another two years of studies in Vajrayana, in Buddhist tantra.
Classes were held six days a week, with only one day off. The institute's course programme started at 4 am and continued until about 10 p.m.
The daily schedule was the following:
- from 4-5 am the students did a group recitation together.
- From 5-6 am they had to clean the shrine room and their private rooms.
- From 6-7.30 am there were classes.
- Breakfast was at 7.30 am.
- From 8.30-11.30 am there were again classes, followed by lunch.
- Classes continued at 1.30 pro and went on until 4 p.m.
- At 4 p.m. there was a tea break.
- From 5-6 p.m. there was another class.
- At 6 p.m. they had dinner.
- After dinner was the Mahakala puja, which everybody attended.
- And after the Mahakala puja, there was yet another class for debating. The debate classes sometimes lasted until 10 p.m. or even 10.30 p.m.
This was the daily schedule of the Shedra.
There were twenty-eight graduates who completed these nine years of studies. Some of them now themselves hold positions of responsibility and are teaching in India as well as abroad. The studies at the Nalanda Institute focused mainly on the so-called eight great treatises, a tradition which goes back to the eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje.
These studies comprise the following subjects: 1) Madhyamaka, 2) Prajnaparamita, 3) Vinaya, and 4) Abhidharma (Abhidharmakosha); in addition 5) the Buddhist Theory of Perception and also 6) a text called "The Deep Inner Meaning", "Sab Mo Nang Gi Don" in Tibetan, 7) the Hevajra-Tantra, and 8) the Mahayana Uttara-Tantra-Shastra.
The basic study course covered these
eight fields. For all those years, until 1992, the Nalanda Institute functioned
very well. Every year our students went for six weeks to three major Gelugpa
Institutes of Learning, Sera, Drepung and Ganden, in order to debate and
exchange views. The Nalanda Institute in Rumtek had a very good reputation
as a centre for higher Buddhist studies.
The Buddha's teachings comprise two aspects: learning and practising. The great Buddhist master Vasubandhu, for example, once said that the Buddha's teachings comprise learning and practising and nothing else. For this one needs capabilities, and the capability to study Buddhism is provided at Institutes of Learning.
It is a matter of fact that the Institute for Buddhist Studies in Rumtek has now been completely destroyed.
The 3-years retreat center
As for the facility for practising meditation: Rumtek had a retreat centre for three-year retreats called "Samten Yi Wang Ling". It functioned perfectly well until 1992. It was established during the lifetime of His Holiness the sixteenth Karmapa. Each group consisted of sixteen or seventeen monks. After completing the retreat these practitioners also went abroad to teach. The retreat schedule was strict; the practitioners went through the whole process of recitations and meditation practice.
They did not just enjoy themselves there. The students'
day started at 3 am and went on until 11 p.m., with one and a half hours'
break at noon. Their whole day was dedicated to meditation practice. First
they went through the preliminary practices. That was followed by the
full practice of Dorje Pamo: the outer, the inner and the secret aspect
of this meditation. After that they went through the Yidam practice of
Khorlo Demchog and Gyalwa Gyamtso. During these three years the Lamas
consistently applied the two aspects of practice familiar in our tradition:
the "Path of Liberation" in which one focuses directly on Mahamudra,
and the "Path of Methods" which incorporates the six practices
of Naropa. All in all the retreat centre worked very well until 1992,
at which point it was closed. No one is practising there any more. Just
go there and see what it looks like now! It is like an empty bird's nest.
Karmapa International Buddhist Institute
is a 4 year college of Buddhist Studies which offers introductory to advanced
level courses designed to provide interested students with the traditional
education of a monastic college through a curriculum modified to meet
the needs of international practitioners most effectively. The courses
in traditional philosophy, taught by well-educated Buddhist monks and
prominent lamas, are translated into English in order to make the Buddha's
teachings accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Special review
classes are offered for those who struggle with English because it is
their second language. Classes in Tibetan language, taught by native speakers,
are also offered at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels, and cover
topics ranging from conversational Tibetan to the scriptural language
of the dharma.
One advantage that the Institute has to offer is that it provides a setting for people to study in a serious way, and at, the same time to study living Buddhism. because all of the instructors are themselves practicing Buddhists. The chief lecturer is Khenpo Chodrak Tenpel Rinpoche.
Born in eastern Tibet, Khenpo Chodrak has studied since childhood with the 16th Karmapa in Rumtek . Because of his excellent results, he belonged to an advanced class together with the four regents. So he received the same teachings and initiations as these high lamas, including instructions from the Karmapa. He largely practiced meditation as well. In 1981, he was chosen as Khenpo for the Nalanda Institute in Rumtek, and later, when KIBI stated in fall 1990, as main instructor there.
Topga Yulgyal (Rinpoche), the general
secretary of the Institute, aside from his administrative functions, and
contributions to the design of the curriculum, has composed the textbooks
used in the Tibetan language classes.
Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche is the school's
chairman. Although Shamar Rinpoche has spent several years planning, organizing,
building and developing this college, it was originally the project of
H.H. Karmapa. During several trips abroad in the late 70's and 1980, H.H.
met many people who were intensely interested in studying Buddhism, but
discovered that they were prevented from doing so because of various difficulties,
such as lack of sufficient time, family pressures, work pressures, and
so on. Due to this he felt that it was necessary to create an environment
conducive to study. In addition, he felt that the creation of a Buddhist
Institute of higher studies would enable many individuals to practice
the Buddhist path in an unmistaken way, through the completion of a systematic
program of education which could provide a firm foundation for life long
practice. Viewing the existent need, he decided' to build a traditional
Buddhist learning center for people of all nationalities, using the English
language as the medium of instruction, and predicted that it would be
of great benefit to it's students, and would be of tremendous significance
for the entire lineage.
The idea first arose in 1976, and
in 1979 the Indian Government donated some initial funding and a building
site. Following this the land was consecrated and a Bodhi tree was planted
in one corner of the property. H.H. Karmapa attended the opening ceremony,
although he was grievously ill at the time, and had to go through tremendous
difficulty in order to come. Later, just as the basement of the building
was completed, H.H. Karmapa passed away, and responsibility for the Institute
fell on the shoulders of Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, who has done his best
to fulfill H.H. Karmapa's wishes.
The Institute was created in order to serve the needs of international students, and although the course of study is rigorous, all people who are truly interested are encouraged to apply.
teachings fall into two categories: the scriptures (dating back from Buddha),
and the various teachings due to levels of realization of spiritual masters.
In order to generate genuine realization, one must have the basis of proper
education in the scriptures, through which one is able to acquire unmistaken
understanding of the teachings, as characterised by the three pitakas:
vinaya, abhidharma and the sutras. Furthermore, he considers that Buddhism
is not simply a tradition one follows through blind faith, nor is it a
tradition of practice designed to bring about immediate but non-ultimate
results. And as the Buddha's teachings are extremely profound, one must
begin by studying their content and meaning. It is for this purpose that
the Institute was created.
The curriculum consists of three
mandatory subjects: Buddhist philosophy; Buddhist psychology, (which focuses
on theories of cognition, and various views of the nature of phenomena);
and courses in the Tibetan language.