H.E. the 25th Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s Biography
Several weeks ago, my Teacher, H.E. the 25th Tsem Tulku Rinpoche (Tsem Rinpoche), gave me the opportunity to write an article about his life story. I was intimidated and yet excited to take on this challenge. Tsem Rinpoche’s life story is rich, colorful, and not without its challenges. I believe all the sufferings and challenges that Tsem Rinpoche faced in this life have made him the powerful Lama that he is today.
Since he was a child, Tsem Rinpoche has experienced abandonment, physical and verbal abuse, hunger, lack of financial resources, and discrimination. However, one thing is for sure, Tsem Rinpoche has consistently displayed compassion, courage, integrity, generosity and loyalty through his actions no matter how bad the situation seemed to be. Because of his Guru Devotion, integrity and compassion, he was able to overcome any challenge and come out triumphant.
I also learned that Tsem Rinpoche does not hold any grudges toward those who have hurt or disappointed him in the past. Instead, he always manages to stay focused on his life’s goal, which is to benefit others. I am certain that many people would be inspired by the way Tsem Rinpoche overcomes the challenges in his life without losing his integrity and compassion.
During the process of writing this article, my faith in my teacher increased tremendously. My respect for my Teacher also soared as I learned how he reacted to the many adversities that touched his life. For example, even when he had very little resources, he still practiced giving and being generous to others. Another example that touches my heart is that, Tsem Rinpoche stays true to the promises he made to his teacher and always strives to fulfill them even though it may have resulted in suffering for himself.
I would like to thank my friends and colleagues, Pastor Adeline Woon, Pastor Niral Patel, Phng Li Kheng, Pastor Antoinette Kass, Beatrix Ooi, Pastor David Lai, Martin Chow and Vinnie Tan for helping me in editing and locating memorable pictures for this article.
I dedicate the effort poured into writing this article to Rinpoche’s long life and the fulfillment of his wishes. May the information I put in this article serve to benefit and inspire innumerable beings.
11 May 2016
Kechara Forest Retreat, Malaysia
Circumstances surrounding the birth
How it all began
The story began in the early 1960s in Taiwan with an unlikely star-crossed union.
A beautiful Mongolian princess, Dewa Nimbo, became romantically involved with a Tibetan man, Lobsang Gyatso. At the time, Dewa did not know that Lobsang Gyatso already had a wife and children in Tibet. When she found out, it was too late because she was already pregnant with a very special child who would later be known as H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche. The love affair was short-lived and Dewa made the heavy decision to call-off the relationship with Lobsang Gyatso and cut all ties with him. Dewa was deeply hurt with this deception, and she never really recovered from it.
Dewa is the daughter of Mingyur Wang, the eldest son of Prince Palta and the ruling head of Xinjiang, and his wife, Dechen Minh. During the civil unrest in 1949, Mingyur Wang fled Xinjiang with his family to Tibet, then onwards to India and finally settling down in Taiwan. Over time, Dechen Minh became a well-respected and beloved figure in the Mongolian community in Taiwan.
Due to her royal status, Dewa was often fondly referred to as “Torgut Noyen,” or the Princess of the Torgut people. She has a brother, Prince David Minh, who is currently living in Taipei and was working as an author and political commentator.
Lobsang Gyatso’s background could not be more different than Dewa. He was a student of Trungsar Rinpoche and a former monk of Drepung Monastery. During his time in Drepung Monastery, he was a business manager of Trungsar Ladrang. One day, he met a beautiful lady and decided to return his monk vows in order to marry her. After Chinese occupation of Tibet, Lobsang Gyatso escaped to India, where he was requested by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to establish a school for Tibetan refugees in Taiwan. During his tenure in Taiwan, he became romantically involved with Dewa.
It was the 1960s and society was conservative and so, having a child out of wedlock was a scandalous affair. For Dewa, the situation was even worse. Considering her high birth as a Mongolian princess who came from an illustrious blood line, the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock with Lobsang Gyatso was overwhelming. It caused tremendous tension and discord to brew between Dewa and her family. Dewa was very hurt and has never got over the shame.
A special boy was born
Despite the shameful situation Dewa was in, auspicious signs began to appear during her pregnancy. Dewa dreamt of a white elephant entering her courtyard daily, and she would tie it up to a tree (similar to the experience of Buddha Shakyamuni’s mother before Lord Buddha was born). Dewa later told her son about these dreams and advised him to always keep an elephant with its trunk up by his side for good luck.
On the last night before she gave birth, Dewa dreamt of many high Lamas performing a grand puja (religious ceremony) in her house. On 24 October 1965, she delivered her son, Prince Iska Minh painlessly (another sign of a Great Being (Mahasattva)’s arrival who causes no suffering and whose arrival on earth is celebrated by the sages). Dechen Minh, her mother, arranged the delivery discreetly in General Hospital of Taipei, Taiwan. [Note: For simplicity purpose, Prince Iska Minh will be referred to as the boy until mentioned otherwise and Dechen Minh will be referred to as Grandma Dechen].
When the boy was seven months old, several monks appeared at the door of Dewa’s house. They believed the boy to be the incarnation of a High Lama. They put golden robes on him and requested Dewa’s permission to take the boy to begin his spiritual education. Dewa rejected this request. She said that if the boy is truly the reincarnation of a High Lama, then he would eventually develop his spiritual path and find his way back to the monastery. It was possible that the real reason Dewa refused the monks’ request was because she wanted to avoid drawing attention to the fact that she bore a child out of wedlock and also did not wish for the name of the boy’s father to be known.
1966-1972: Childhood in Taiwan
Several months after the boy was born, Dewa called her former schoolmate, Ms. Kwan, to her rented room. Ms. Kwan was surprised to find Dewa, Grandma Dechen and a few months old baby boy surrounded by milk powder, milk bottle, pacifier, pampers, and other baby products in the room. Grandma Dechen smiled at Ms. Kwan. Dewa told Ms. Kwan that she was going to the United States to get married, and because she was worried that Grandma Dechen would feel lonely after she left, they adopted a baby brother. Dewa asked Ms. Kwan to visit Grandma Dechen and the boy often after she left for the United States. Ms. Kwan trusted her friend’s story and promised to visit them often.
In year 1967, Dewa left for the United States. True to her promise, Ms. Kwan visited the boy and Grandma Dechen every week after that. One day, Grandma Dechen told Ms. Kwan that she could not take care of the boy anymore, so she hired a nanny. Unfortunately, this nanny was not satisfactory. Thus, with the help of her family attendant, Tu Mama, Grandma Dechen found a foster family, Shi Mama and her husband, who would take care of the boy for USD 50 per month. The boy was told that Shi Mama and her husband were his parents, and he believed what he was told.
Shi Mama and her husband, an army officer, had three sons. All of them lived in a cramped small second floor apartment. The apartment was simple with three bedrooms, living room and kitchen area. Shi Mama and her family did not treat and feed the boy very well. There was no love, affection, or kisses. In the Shi’s house, the boy was always hungry.
Although the boy did not live with Grandma Dechen anymore, Ms. Kwan continued to visit the boy every week. The boy fondly called her Kwan Mama. Sometimes, she brought the boy to stay at her house in the mountains for several days. The boy was given a nickname, “Siaw Niu” or “Little Bull” because he was very energetic. Kwan Mama’s brother, Mr. Kwan, often brought the boy to the hot springs in the surrounding countryside of Taipei to wash him. One day Mr. Kwan bought a green Volkswagen toy car for him. The boy loved the car very much, and he tugged the car behind him everywhere he went.
Because Ms. Kwan’s mother was busy with housework and could not take care of the boy, she often brought the boy to work where he played with her colleagues happily. One day, it occurred to Ms. Kwan that it must have been lonely for the boy in the Shi family apartment. Thus, she suggested Grandma Dechen to enroll the boy in the kindergarten so he could play with children his age. To her surprise, Grandma Dechen told her that Dewa was looking for a foster family who would be willing to adopt the boy in the United States. If all went well, Grandma Dechen would travel to the United States with the boy. Ms. Kwan was reluctant to see the boy go to such faraway place, but there was nothing she could do. So she borrowed a camera and took several pictures with the boy for keepsake. She told Shi Mama to call her immediately when there was confirmation as to when the boy would depart to the United States.
Two weeks later, Ms. Kwan went to Grandma Dechen’s house, however, no one was home. She asked around, and one neighbor told her that Grandma Dechen had terminated the lease to the house and moved out. Ms. Kwan rushed to Shi Mama’s place and also found that she had moved to another place. Following this, Ms. Kwan assumed that the boy had left for the United States. Little that she knew, Shi Mama had lost her contact information, and the boy was still in Taiwan for several more years.
When the boy was a bit older, he attended Xing Ya Elementary School at no. 9 Lane 83 Gilong Rd. in Taipei, Taiwan.
Often after school, the boy would sneak into the Shi family apartment, put his bags down and went on his own adventure into the street. He would wander about until he was tired and it was into the night when he was tired. The boy was reluctant to return home because he did not feel much love, affection, care and he did not get much food. He used to steal money to buy bread to eat, and his favorite was hot steamy buns sold by street vendors. When he sneaked back into the house to sleep, he would pray that nobody would find out what he did. Sometimes, one or two of the brothers would wake up and punish the boy severely. They would make the boy kneel on rice for hours. After awhile, the rice would go into his skin, and he would cry.
Most nights, the boy would only be given rice mixed with sugar as his main meal, which was the cause for his teeth to rot. The boy was not properly washed and he had a terrible smell. He did not have many friends his age although his school was just across the street from where he lived.
Grandma Dechen came to visit the boy from time to time. Before she came, the boy would be washed and dressed in nice clothes. Grandma Dechen always brought candies, treats, toys and clothes whenever she visited. However, the boy was only allowed to play and enjoy the gifts in her presence. As soon as Grandma Dechen left, the toys, the treats and the clothes were taken away.
On one of these visits, Grandma Dechen brought the boy a toy horse. The horse was beige in color, and it was strong, on wheels, and had springs. The wheels were hidden under the hooves. When the boy rode on it, it would gently bounce and move. The boy had never seen or had such a wonderful toy. He was amazed and happy. Unfortunately, Grandma Dechen only stayed for a few hours. After she left, Shi Mama and her husband took the toy horse away, and the boy never saw the horse again except for that one time.
When the boy was six going on seven years old, Grandma Dechen came and told the boy that they were going to the United States. The boy said goodbye to Shi Mama and went with Grandma Dechen on a Pan Am flight to the United States.
1972 – 1982: America– New Jersey
Adopted by the Bugayeff
In the summer of 1972, the boy and Grandma Dechen landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. They were greeted by Dewa Nimbo who had since married. The boy was bewildered in this new environment. They stayed overnight at Dewa Nimbo’s house in Philadelphia. Grandma Dechen introduced Dewa as her daughter. Dewa did not introduce herself as the boy’s mother, instead she introduced herself as the boy’s aunt. That night, Grandma Dechen told the boy that she is his grandmother and he should never forget this fact. She also informed him that he is a Buddhist, and he should recite Avalokiteshvara mantra ‘Om Mani Peme Hung’ often.
At the time, Dewa was married to Bayen, a Mongolian man and they lived in Philadelphia with their two sons, Bata and Kunga. Bayen liked the boy and offered to adopt him so he could live together with them. However, Dewa adamantly refused this idea because the boy served as a reminder of her shameful past.
On the next day, Grandma Dechen introduced the boy to another ‘real’ parents, Dana and Boris Bugayeff and a ‘new’ sister, Lidshma. This other set of ‘real’ parents created confusion in the boy’s mind, but he reluctantly obeyed and accepted his ‘real’ family. The boy was taken in a big white Ford LTD car to a big house that sits on a-half-acre piece of land in Howell, New Jersey.
Many years later, Lidshma recalled meeting the skinny young boy, “We went to pick him up sometimes in April or May. I think it must have been May. We got the call, so we went to Philadelphia to pick him up. And we got him, and he was this little person and was really small and you know skinny. But he was a happy person. Then, we got him in the car, and we drove home, and he did not speak any English. So it was difficult. But we managed. Then, Dechen Minh came and stayed with us [for a period of time] and was [acting as a] translator for us. That helped a lot.”
Grandma Dechen spent sometime to observe the Bugayeff, and she decided that this Mongolian couple was good enough to adopt the boy.
At the beginning, the Bugayeff were very kind, and the boy became the center of their attention. Boris [note: Boris is the European adaptation of the Mongolian name ‘Burcha’] even named the boy after himself, Burcha. Thus, from hereon, the boy will be referred to as Burcha Bugayeff or just Burcha. Boris liked to dress Burcha in formal outfit like himself. The Bugayeff lavished everything material on Burcha. When Dana took Burcha to a toy store where she allowed Burcha to pick whatever toys he wanted.
Dana and Boris Bugayeff were Kalmyk Mongolians who emigrated to the United States during WWII. Dana was a refugee from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and Boris was from Russia.
While Boris was a typical dominant male figure in the house who expected to be served by his wife, Dana was one of the kindest persons Burcha had ever met. She was very generous and did not hesitate to help whenever she was needed. Dana was also a very intelligent and innovative lady. She learned English from reading comic books, and she painted the house and re-upholstered the sofas herself. However, Dana was not a very healthy person as she had seven surgeries in her abdominal area.
In addition, she suffered a lot as a child. During WWII in Belgrade, she could not go to school and suffered from starvation. Whenever she came out from her house, she would see a lot of corpses, the casualty of war. Her family later went to Germany where they were put in a concentration camp. Dana and her family were treated better there because they looked like Japanese, and Japan was German’s ally during the war. Later, Dana and her family emigrated to the United States. Dana had a daughter, Lidshma, from her previous marriage who came with her. Later, Dana met and married Boris Bugayeff, and he adopted Lidshma as his daughter. Dana and Boris could not have a son of their own to continue the family name. Thus, when Grandma Dechen offered her grandson for adoption, they gladly accepted.
At the time of the adoption, Boris was working for a manufacturer of paper cups and plates, and Dana was a seamstress. They were relatively well-to-do financially.
Despite the attention he received, Burcha had difficulties adapting to his new life at first. Burcha would hide under the dining table where he felt safe and because of this, Dana and Lidshma often ate with him under the table. His teeth were rotten from eating rice and sugar as his main meal back in Taiwan, and he had a distinctive smell due to years of neglect that stay with him for weeks no matter how many times he was washed. In addition, there were a lot of bruises on his body resulting from the abuse he suffered back in Taiwan. The Bugayeff had extensive dental work done to fix Burcha’s teeth.
In the beginning, Burcha could only speak Chinese and not a word of Mongolian or English, while the Bugayeff could only speak Russian, Mongolian and English. The Bugayeff had to communicate with Burcha with sign language.
Despite all odds, Burcha adapted to his new life. He learned English language relatively fast. He attended Land O’Pines Elementary School and excelled in his studies. His stepparents told him that he is a Mongolian and not Chinese. At school, he would often be bullied and teased for being Asian. Instead of calling him Burcha, some of his friends called him “Bird Shit”. Burcha begged his stepparents to change his name to David, but they refused. Burcha was irritated with these racial remarks aimed toward him. Later when Burcha read about Avalokiteshvara, he generated compassion toward these people. He was determined not to get angry and to forgive.
When the abuse started
Burcha’s mother, Dana, was a very kind and generous lady. It was not unusual for her to open her house for the poor and homeless people and invite them to have dinner with her family. In addition, she used to drive around with Burcha to dig people’s cars out of the snow during snowstorm.
However, Dana was often frustrated with her relationship with Boris because he had numerous affairs with various women in the community. He also constantly abused Dana verbally with words of insults and degradation. Dana and Boris often screamed at each other, and the house became increasingly unhappy. Unfortunately for Burcha, Dana often channeled her frustration to him.
Over time, Dana became increasingly paranoid and proned to mood swings. She often punished Burcha physically and verbally for any transgressions no matter how minor. Burcha would be beaten with wooden sticks or brooms or her bare hands for not cleaning the house properly or for going to the temple. About one year after Burcha arrived in New Jersey, his sister, Lidshma, left home. Later Burcha found out that Lidshma also suffered from similar abuse.
Many years later, Lidshma recalled her life at the Bugayeff’s home, “It was always stressful. You just never knew but you just took it one day at a time. But the teenage years, the high school and everything was quite traumatic and tumultuous… You just never knew when the outbursts would happen or something. You can go one whole day without an outburst and then another day, and it was a good week. You just never knew.”
Burcha was always worrying about Dana’s outburst and when she would erupt next. When this happened, he would get it. There would be beatings by hands, brooms, mops, or anything accessible to Dana. When she was very angry, she would put Burcha’s head under the mattress, hold his neck down and start beating him. Worse still, Dana liked to put him down psychologically. She told him that he would never have friends and no one would ever like him if they knew who he is, and because of this, Burcha suffered from low self-esteem. He often thought that, “I don’t worth anything. I am not worth talking to. Why am I so ugly? Why would anybody even look at me?” The feeling was pervasive, and it lingered in the back of his mind all the time.
The biggest fear for Burcha was the anxiety of trying to figure out what would trigger Dana’s outbursts and how bad the punishments would be. Would it be shouting only or a combination of shouting, beating, and breaking furniture? When this happened, Boris would either read newspaper in the kitchen or drive around the neighborhood to clear his mind. Sometimes, when it was late, Boris would interfere and order Dana to stop the beatings so Burcha could go to sleep.
Many years later, Dana was diagnosed as having Schizophrenia. After taking the prescribed medication, she was much calmer and became the kind sweet lady that she really was.
Meeting the Dharma
Meeting a great master of Gelug lineage
In 1971, one year before Burcha arrived, the great Sera Mey Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin became the resident teacher of Rashi Gempil Ling (“RGL”), the first Kalmyk Buddhist temple in Howell, New Jersey. RGL was also among the very first Buddhist temples in all of the United States. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was a renowned student of H.H. Ling Rinpoche and H.H. Trijang Rinpoche, who were also the senior and the junior tutor of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama respectively. In addition, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was a student of of H.H. Pabongka Rinpoche.
Prior to settling in the United States, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin had served as the abbot of Sera Mey Monastery. During his tenure as abbot, he had labored to uplift the educational standard and raise fund to pay off the monastery’s debt. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was a great master of Sutra and Tantra with a profound grasp of the Vajrayogini tantra. It was an extraordinary coincidence that Burcha who would soon display prodigious affinity for the Dharma would meet a high Gelug master thousands of miles from where one would expect to find him.
Due to his merits and affinity from previous lives, Burcha lived only ten minutes away from this great master, H.E. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, and started to receive teachings from him. H.E. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was a very strict teacher and hardly smiled at Burcha.
Burcha often spent his free time at RGL to help in anyway he could, such as, mowing the lawn, washing dishes, and general cleaning. Sometimes, Burcha would be invited to eat momos (Tibetan dumplings) at RGL. Usually, he ate his momos with another center member, Michael Roach. Michael Roach and Burcha became fast friends, and Burcha often asked him many Dharma questions. They would talk on the phone for one to two hours a day several times a week.
As his passion for Dharma grew, his adoptive parents became increasingly worried and unhappy because they feared that Burcha would grow to become a monk instead of continuing their family line.
Early passion for Buddha images
Continuing the experiences from his previous lives, when he was young, Burcha loved to wrap himself in a bed sheet, as if he was wearing a monk robe, and pretending to give teachings to a large imaginary audience. He also loved to write gibberish as if he was composing sacred texts and play with his hand gestures as if making imaginary mudra.
In addition, Burcha liked to spend his pocket money to photocopy Buddha images to give away. He also spent hours drawing and painting various Buddha forms, for which he won prizes at school. Occasionally, he would also draw and color small Buddha images, which he would wrap in a plastic sheet attached to a string and pass these to his relatives and friends as pendants to wear for blessings and protection. Unfortunately, many of his friends did not share his enthusiasm or appreciate his gifts because they did not see the value of Buddha images as Burcha did. They would tell him, “You’re crazy! I am not going to wear that weird green god!” Burcha said, “But it’s a goddess!” They would only scream back at him “I don’t care!”
Boris and Dana, like many other Mongolians, were Buddhists, but they were not serious practitioners. They were only familiar with well-known peaceful deities like White Tara, Green Tara and Avalokiteshvara and short simple mantras like ‘Om Mani Peme Hung’. They had a shrine in their home. In the center of the shrine was a picture of H.H. the Dalai Lama. The Mongolians believed if you see the golden face of His Holiness, you would not fall into the lower realm. On the right was Green Tara, and on the left is Lama Tsongkhapa. There were two tsa tsas, Tara and Avalokiteshvara. On the top shelf, there was a fully clothed Buddha statue. It was the most powerful Buddha because it has followed Dana from Kalmykia to Europe and then to the United States. Dana warned Burcha that he should not touch that statue. However, being an inquisitive child that he was, Burcha waited until Dana went away, and took the statue. He wanted to know what it was. He opened the cloth and found out that it was a beautiful Medicine Buddha statue. Before Dana came and noticed what was going on, Burcha put the statue back to its original position. Since then, whenever it was raining and Burcha needed to go to school, Burcha would offer butterlamp and pray to the Medicine Buddha for help in stopping the rain. Most of the time, the prayers were effective if the intention was to go to school and not for other leisure activities. Unfortunately, Dana thought the statue made her sick, and therefore she later offered it to Nitsan temple.
One day, Burcha saw the image of a red lady, Buddha Vajrayogini, in Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin’s room at RGL. He had a feeling that her practice is powerful and sacred, and not everybody could have her. He immediately developed a tremendous faith in her because his teacher prayed to her. In addition to Buddha Vajrayogini, Burcha was fascinated with Avalokiteshvara, Heruka and Palden Lhamo.
Later, Burcha showed the picture of Vajrayogini to his parents, and they were horrified. They said, “That’s not a Buddha, it’s some kind of Tibetan God. You’d better not keep that in the house.” However, his parents’s reaction did not deter Burcha from worshiping Buddha Vajrayogini.
Beside going to RGL, Burcha often frequented the Nitsan Temple, another neighborhood temple, because there was an old monk there who was very kind to Burcha, and he was attracted to the Manjushri Thangka in that temple.
Passion for Dharma and consequences that followed
The reason Boris and Dana adopted Burcha was because they could not have a son to continue their family name. They had the expectations for Burcha to go to college, get a job, get married and continue the family name. Thus, when Burcha’s interest in Dharma grew, they became increasingly worried that he would become a monk.
Burcha liked to recite many mantras especially Manjushri mantra. He recited up to 1,000 Manjushri mantra daily because he wanted to have a good memory. When Dana knew about this, she slipped the information about Burcha’s origin, “You are a royalty. You will never become a monk. Just pray like normal people and don’t become like that crazy woman down the street [Note: Dana was referring to Burcha’s Dharma friend and neighbor, Carmen Kichikov].” After that incident, Burcha started to recite Manjushri mantra in his room in the dark. Sometimes, Dana would check on him, and Burcha would pretend that he was sleeping so he would not get caught and be beaten.
Whenever he wanted to visit RGL, Burcha would have to lie to his parents to avoid confrontation. Dana did not hesitate to scream and beat Burcha whenever she found out that he has been spending time at the temple. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, out of compassion, would usually ask him to go home whenever he saw Burcha at RGL.
Meeting His Holiness the 97th Gaden Tripa Kyabje Ling Rinpoche
When he was 11 or 12 years old, Burcha met with His Holiness the 97th Gaden Tripa Kyabje Ling Rinpoche at RGL, in Howell, New Jersey. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche was the senior tutor of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. Before the meeting, without the knowledge of his mother, Burcha plucked a red rose for this great master to make connection. However, when he reached RGL, the rose had wilted to his disappointment. Later, when he met Ling Rinpoche, he put his head on Ling Rinpoche’s lap, tossed the flower to his lap and swiftly walked away hoping his parents did not see him making the offerings.
Burcha received the oral transmission of Gaden Lhagyama and Migtsema from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche.
First encounter with Dorje Shugden
When Burcha was about 12 or 13 years old, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin invited his nephew who was a monk from Sera Monastery, India to be his attendant. His name was Lothar. Lothar was a very jovial and happy monk. During that period, Burcha liked to spend a lot of time at RGL doing various chores such as mowing the lawn, washing dishes, and so forth. Burcha was doing that because he hoped to catch a glimpse of Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin and get a special teaching from him. The special teaching session had never happened. Usually, Kensur Rinpoche only asked Burcha to eat momos and go home.
Being an inquisitive boy that he was, one day, he sneaked into Lothar’s room because he wanted to see what a monk’s room looked like. He was interested because Burcha had the aspiration to become a monk. In Lothar’s room, Burcha found a black and white picture of a deity figure on the top shelf of a closet. There was a glass of tea in front of it.
When Burcha reached up and took the picture to have a better look, Lothar walked in. He took the picture from Burcha’s hand.
Lothar: No, no, no, no! That’s not for you!
Burcha: Why not? What’s that picture?
Lothar: Not for you.
Burcha: Can you tell me his name?
Lothar: Not for you!
Burcha: Who is it?
Lothar: Not for you.
Then, Lothar put the picture and the cup back to his closet and closed the door. Burcha opened it again. Lothar closed it again. Burcha spilled the tea a little bit during this incident.
Burcha: I want to see
Years later, Burcha realized that the deity figure in Lothar’s closet was Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.
Meeting H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
When Burcha was 14 years old, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama visited New Jersey for the first time. He gave a teaching on Eight Verses of Thought Transformation and oral transmission of Avalokiteshvara mantra “Om Mani Peme Hung”. The discourse was held in Washington, New Jersey at a Kalmyk Dharma center founded by Geshe Wangyal of Drepung Monastery. The center was located at the beautiful tail-end of the Appalachian Mountains. Burcha attended the session together with the other Kalmyks. It was a-three-hour blissful discourse. He cried throughout the whole teaching and had problems wiping his snots. The attendees were given the Eight Verses to recite daily on paper.
Prior to the event, Burcha had painted a four-armed Avalokiteshvara on a piece of paper with prayers about his wish to become just like His Holiness, to achieve great compassion, and to be near Him written carefully on the back. After the teaching, the attendees had a short private audience with H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, and Burcha offered this painting to Him directly. His Holiness read the back of the painting. His Holiness gave Burcha a blessed red string, and he wore that around his neck until it was worn out. Burcha was very determined to practise this teaching. Even today, the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation is still his favorite practice.
Preparing for initiation, almost and finally
At 14, Burcha had requested for a Vajrayogini initiation from his teacher, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin. This initiation was only given to those who have practiced seriously for several years and were prepared for higher trainings. When Boris and Dana asked him as to what present he wanted for his birthday, Burcha asked to be allowed to receive the initiation. Burcha was excited when his parents agreed.
To make sure his parents would not change their mind, Burcha took the extra pain to do his chores well which included vacuuming, doing laundry, assisting in cooking, washing up, scrubbing the kitchen floor by hand, gardening, serving guests, and so forth. Burcha made sure that the house was spotless.
Before receiving the Vajrayogini initiation, there is a requirement to receive Heruka (male consort/ counterpart of Vajrayogini) initiation. Throughout the session, Burcha sat anxiously because he was afraid that his parents would show up and stop him. On the third day when he was supposed to receive the Vajrayogini initiation, his parents did show up and asked him to leave the session. Burcha had to stand up and leave for fear that his parents would make a scene should he refused to do so. Burcha became so depressed and attempted to run away to Indianapolis afterward. Please refer to Runaway and suicide attempts section.
Finally, one year later, Burcha was able to receive a full Vajrayogini initiation. His father, Boris, came during the session, and Burcha was very anxious that he would be asked to leave the session once again. Fortunately, Boris just watched and did not interrupt the session. After the event ended, he tried to provoke Burcha by saying that the temple was full of weird people. Burcha wisely just kept quiet in order to prevent unnecessary arguments with his father.
Happy Family for Kalachakra
In July 1981, a very historic event was about to occur in Madison, Wisconsin. Burcha did whatever he could to get there. H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama was to give the first historic Kalachakra empowerment and its explanation in the West there. Burcha heard about the event four or five months before it was held.
At 15, Burcha did not really understand about Kalachakra, but he knew if His Holiness was giving it, it must be marvelous. He understood that Kalachakra was a meditational practice, a yoga, a transformational practice, and it involved commitment, mantra, meditation, and prayers. Burcha wanted to go badly. Burcha went to his friend’s house, Carmen Kichikov, to ask more about it. Carmen patiently explained about Kalachakra to Burcha.
Carmen is a Kalmyk Mongolian lady who was advanced in Buddhist and Tantric practices. Just like Michael Roach, she was a student of Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin. At the time, Carmen had a huge collection of Dharma books. Burcha liked to visit her house and borrowed books and asked Dharma related questions. Boris and Dana did not approve of Burcha’s friendship with Carmen. They often referred to her as “The Nun” although at the time Carmen has not been ordained yet.
The Kalmyk Mongols had booked busses to travel from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia to Wisconsin. With bus and accommodation, the cost of going to Wisconsin was about USD 300 – 400. Thus, Burcha went to his parents to ask for permission and money. The good news was he could go if he earned his own money. The bad news was it was a lot of money. At the time, Burcha’s allowance was USD 5 per week. Thus, Burcha went to work at Happy Family Chinese restaurant doing bussing, washing dishes and waitering. He earned USD 2 per hour working there. Then, Carmen offered to top up his money if what Burcha earned is not enough to go to Wisconsin. But in the end, Burcha’s parents broke their promise and withdrew their permission. Burcha did not get to go to the Kalachakra event and was very disappointed.
Teenage years, suicide and runaway
Runaway and suicide attempts
Since the very beginning, Burcha was unhappy in the United States. He felt that he was wasting his time. To make matters worse, Dana’s abuse, screaming and beatings were becoming more often and Burcha was in a constant state of anxiety as to when Dana would show her displeasure. The other thing that made Burcha wanted to runaway was he constantly experienced anxiety attacks and imagined himself going through the process of death, and from these experiences, a realization dawned upon him that he should study the dharma and meditate instead of wasting his time getting secular education.
At nine years old, Burcha attempted to run away for the first time. He was incredibly unhappy so he ran away with his friend Pat, a boy who came from a Yugoslavian family. They ran to a forest located at the edge of the school. After about half a day, Pat was tired and hungry. He wanted to go home. However, Burcha persuaded him to continue. Burcha figured that the forest was too near to his house so they hid under the merry-go-round at the school’s playground. The police found them and took them home. Pat’s mother was furious at Burcha and scolded him in Yugoslavian language. To make the matter worse, Boris and Dana were embarrassed about the incident as their reputation was very important to them. Thus, Burcha was severely punished and screamed at by his parents.
In between the first and second runaway attempts, Burcha tried to end his life in his depression and desperation because his parents were not agreeable with and they would beat him for pursuing his passion for Dharma practice. He wished to leave the life where he could not practice the Dharma and take rebirth into another situation where he could.
On one Easter Eve, Burcha tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of Tylenol with Tibetan tea. He prayed to Manjushri to help him to die. However, the next morning, he woke up with a nauseating headache. His head felt like spinning and blackening out. Burcha did not tell Dana about his sickness and suicide attempt for fear that she would blame his teacher, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin. That very day, Burcha went with his mother to visit and give gifts to various relatives as if everything was fine.
One day, Burcha read a book that if one was to recite the Buddha of Longevity, Amitayus, mantra backward, one could shorten one’s life and eventually end it. He asked Michael Roach to teach him. Fortunately, Michael refused to teach him the mantra. Instead, he advised Burcha to be patient and not retaliate to his stepparents.
In year 1977 when he was 12 years old, Burcha made the second attempt to run away from his stepparents’ house. He decided to go to Geshe Wangyal’s Dharma center in Washington, New Jersey. The Dharma center was about six to seven hours away from Howell, New Jersey. Burcha hitchhiked and took different buses to get to Washington. When he arrived in Washington, he went to a library and managed to locate the center’s contact number with the help of a librarian.
However, when Burcha called the center, he was advised to go home because he was still a minor (under 18 years old). Geshe Wangyal who was in Florida at the time to escape the cold weather also concurred with this decision. The center people put him up in a hotel to rest and gave him USD 50 to travel back home. They also made him promise to go home the next day. Reluctantly, Burcha did what he promised.
After the second runaway attempt, Burcha’s stepmother, Dana, was very angry. She started to blame and defame Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin. She spread rumours that Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was sleeping with his female students. She was so determined in her effort that she started to call and visit people in the community to create doubt in their mind about the reputation of Kensur Rinpoche. The purpose of her doing this was so Kensur Rinpoche would get deported back to India and to discourage Burcha from going to the temple.
Life became very wretched for the young Burcha. Not only he was not allowed to visit the temple or his friend, Carmen, but also Burcha felt responsible for what Dana did to Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin.
That winter, Burcha tried to asphyxiate himself by staying inside an abandoned house in the neighborhood. He prayed to Manjushri to help him to die. However, it was very cold, and instead of falling into deep sleep, he was shaking badly. So, Burcha had to return home.
In the summer after his asphyxiation attempt, he ran away for the third time. He left a note for his stepparents and hitchhiked to New York City. He planned to visit and stay in the green and peaceful Catskill Mountains. However, he was told that the winter would be unbearable. Therefore, Burcha changed direction south to California. Unfortunately, he only had the money for 1/3 of the way to California and was asked to leave the bus in Indianapolis. After that, he had a terrible physical encounter, was harassed and held at gunpoint. After the incident, he was caught wandering around by a policeman who persuaded him to give his name.
The policeman ran a check on Burcha’s name and found out that he was reported missing. Fortunately, the policeman was very kind. He advised Burcha that whatever situation he was in at home, he should still go home and finish his school. Burcha refused to go back. Then the policeman made him promised not to run away and put him in an unlocked jail cell overnight. Burcha stayed in that cell and chanted his mantras all night.
The next day, Burcha’s uncle, Giga, flew to Indiana to take him home. Giga advised Burcha to not keep running away. After they arrived back in Howell, Giga’s wife, Aunt Matza offered Burcha to stay with her family.
Matza: If you are thinking about running away again, don’t. Come to my house. I’ll raise you as my son.
Burcha: My mother will create a lot of problems and call the police.
Matza: I know she will do that, but I’m willing to go through it for you.
This offer touched the young boy’s heart. Burcha kept asking himself, “Do I worth so much? Somebody really loves me.”
However much he wanted to, out of compassion, Burcha declined his aunt’s offer and decided to go back to the Bugayeff’s home where the beating, the screaming and the abuse would begin again.
Family and friends
Despite his situation at home, Burcha had good relationships with his family and friends. One of his good friends was his neighbor, Carmen Kichikov. Burcha liked to borrow books from Carmen. One of the books that Burcha borrowed was ‘The DOORWAY of LIBERATION’ by Geshe Wangyal. When he read about Avalokiteshvara’s compassionate qualities in this book, Burcha could not stop crying. He felt at that moment, the true purpose of Dharma was to develop unaffected true compassion in the face of good and harm. He reflected about how his peers at school used to tease him for being Asian and his stepmother’s abuse. He would practice forgiveness and compassion towards them. When his schoolmates bullied him due to his race, Burcha absorbed these racial slanders by being calm and focusing on Lokeshvara.
When Dana slapped him continuously very hard with her rings on her fingers in the midst of her foul moods, Burcha would silently chant ‘Om Mani Peme Hung,’ close his eyes and not get angry at her. Dana asked him once what Burcha was saying under his breath. Because she was deeply superstitious, she accused Burcha of cursing her to get sick. Burcha explained what he was chanting. Upon hearing his explanation, Dana became even angrier and slapped him harder. However, the thought of compassion continued to touch Burcha’s heart deeply.
When Burcha was a child, his cousin, Sue Gugajew, babysat him from time-to-time. She even took him out when she was not supposed to. She took Burcha out to play PAC-MAN, roller skate, go to the beach and park and buy ice cream. As they went out more often, Dana became paranoid and did not like them hanging out together. She threatened Burcha and ordered him to stop hanging out with Sue.
When he was older, Burcha also helped his aunt Meda, who was a working mother, to babysit her four daughters, Debbie, Darlene, Diane, and Danielle. Later, he recalled:
“I used to spend the summer at my Aunt Meda’s house in Lakewood, New Jersey with her four girls, Debbie, Darlene, Diane, Danielle. Danielle was an infant at that time. So I would sing all types of Donna Summer’s songs and force Debbie, Darlene and Diane to be the background singers. Darlene asked me once, how come I’m always the lead and they are the background girls. I told her because I am bigger and so they have to listen to what I say. Darlene didn’t like that answer, but she went along anyway, and we had great times.”
Turkey Swamp and Avalokiteshvara
In the summer when he was about 11 or 12 years old, Burcha liked to go to Turkey Swamp with his friend, Marc Reed and few other boys. Turkey Swamp was about two to three hours bike ride from where Burcha lived. They went quietly without the knowledge of Burcha’s stepparents. When they arrived, Marc and the other boys would play on the other side of the park where there were more people, while Burcha meditated on Avalokiteshvara in a secluded area.
On the way to Turkey Swamp, they would pass by a house with two ferocious dogs. Burcha’s friends were scared that the dogs would bite them. However, Burcha would stick out his hand in a wrathful mudra (all fingers folded in with just index and little fingers sticking out) and thought strongly to the dog “you will not bite us.” The dog calmed down after that, and they have never been bitten. Burcha did not know where the thought to do such things came from. He instinctively did it.
Burcha would sit under the shade of the tree at the edge of the lake and visualize that he was a hermit yogi. He stared at the brilliant water that was in front of him. He visualized a-Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara (Lokeshvara) sitting calmly under the water. Burcha would chant Om Mani Peme Hung and ‘call’ Him. He then visualized that Avalokiteshvara heard his calling and would very slowly rise out of the water in a gentle manner. When He rose, the water would slowly cascade off of Him, and He would be dry. His holy face would be facing down with four arms. As He rose, His left hand held a mala. His right hand held a lotus. The other two hands were folded at His heart level with a wish-fulfilling jewel. His majestic black hair would cascade down His shoulders, and the other half tied up on His bejeweled head. The Avalokiteshvara wore princely silken clothes that covered the upper portion of His body partially and a silk skirt at the bottom. He would be sitting in a full lotus posture on top of a gentle large brilliant pink lotus. His body was white like a snow, shiny and brilliant. Millions of light rays would shine out from His holy body suffusing the area and me. Burcha would visualize the above and hold it. Then, Burcha recited Avalokiteshvara mantra furiously and prayed to be in communion with Him. When he did this, Burcha visualized Avalokiteshvara’s face very slowly looked up and faced him. Avalokiteshvara’s face was like a polished mirror reflecting the sun. It was so bright that Burcha could hardly look at it. When Burcha faced Avalokiteshvara from the middle of the lake, he would be filled with happiness, joy and forgiveness. His problems disappeared. Burcha would ‘feel’ the lights from Avalokiteshvara’s face shine directly towards him filling his body, and he would tingle all over. Burcha would be in tears as he ‘communed’ with Arya Lokeshvara, the Mahasattva of Great Compassion in this way. Burcha wanted to be like Avalokiteshvara, full of love, compassion, forgiveness, courage and acceptance. Then, Burcha would chant His mantra and hold this visualization as long as he could.
For the love of animals
Since he was very young, Burcha was compassionate toward every being including animals. In the summer, he would work at a pet shop for extra pocket money and learned about the intricacies of caring for many different species of animals. Burcha had several pets: hamsters, cockatiels, and two fish tanks, that he either purchased at huge discount or was given to him for free by the pet shop.
Burcha also had two dogs that he loved very much. His first dog was Princey, a brown dog who looked like a smaller version of a Schnauzer. However, Princey had a habit of chasing cars, and Burcha was afraid that Princey would eventually be run over by a car. Burcha begged Boris and Dana to install fencing around the house to prevent Princey from chasing cars, but they refused because Boris did not want to spend money on it. One day, Princey disappeared, and Burcha was very worried. Not long after that, Dana invited an old lady who lived in a shack in the forest near the neighborhood for dinner. This lady told Burcha that she saw a dog that fit Princey’s description by the highway near the Bugayeff’s home. After dinner, Burcha escorted the lady home and then hurried to the highway only to find that Princey had been run over by a car. The impact crushed Princey’s skull, forcing the protrusion of his tongue. One of his legs was severed and thrown out. Dana blamed Burcha for Princey’s death. She said, “He died because of you. You did not watch him. You did not train him.” Burcha was deeply traumatized by the incident. When this incident happened, Burcha was 10 years old. He felt responsible for Princey’s death although he could not help it.
After Princey’s death, Dana offered to buy another dog for Burcha at a flea market. They went to the dog section and bought a puppy for USD 25. It was a little beige puppy that Burcha named Hulter. Burcha was very happy. He played and bonded with Hulter. As time went by, Hulter grew up to be a strong dog. Unfortunately, this dog had a bad habit of running away. When this happened, Burcha would search for the dog in the nearby forest, and he would find him howling there. This time, Boris and Dana agreed to install the necessary fencing to separate their yard from the neighbor’s. Their reason for doing this was not for Hulter’s safety, but because they were not comfortable with their new neighbors. However, this was not sufficient to keep Hulter in the yard. He continued to find ways to run away. Then, Dana installed a big spike in the ground with a chain for the dog, but Hulter was too strong. He went round and round and was able to untwist the spike and run loose. Finally, Dana installed a very expensive heavy spike thinking that the dog would not be able to run away this time. But Hulter was still able to free himself and escape.
Finally, Dana was tired of Hulter’s escapes, and she called a dog pound to take him away. Burcha begged to Dana to not let the dog be taken away, but Dana refused this request. As he saw the howling and screaming Hulter being taken away by the dog pound, Dana screamed at Burcha, “It’s your fault. I have no choice.” Burcha later found out that the pound put unwanted dogs to sleep. The two incidents of losing his dogs affected Burcha for years because he felt responsible for their lives.
Rendevous with Dewa Nimbo
When Burcha was around 12 years old, Dewa Nimbo took him from his adopted family home to her lovely home in Philadelphia to stay the weekend. Dewa took Burcha to visit an aquarium and a kungfu store. She bought Burcha a nunchuk as per his request. Burcha had wanted a nunchuk after watching a Bruce Lee movie. Burcha was over the moon. That beautiful weekend, Dewa and Burcha talked a lot. Dewa told Burcha that she resembled his grandmother, which for the young Burcha was a great compliment since he viewed his grandmother as a love incarnate.
America– Los Angeles
The big journey from New Jersey to Los Angeles and starting anew.
The final departure
When he was 15 going on 16, Burcha ran away for the final time from the Bugayeff’s home in Howell, New Jersey.
In August 1982, Dana went to Colorado to spend time with her daughter. She declared that if Burcha did not stop doing Dharma, she would not come back. However, the real reason for her leaving was not Burcha, but because she caught Boris having an affair with another woman. However, she did not want to confront him.
After receiving a-two-week commentary on Vajrayogini’s practice at RGL, Burcha found himself alone with Boris. One day out of the blue, Boris tried to provoke Burcha by saying that “Michael Roach is a Jew.” He repeated this many times. Burcha replied, “So what? He’s my friend. Anyway, he’s Buddhist now.” Boris continued, “You can’t be friends with Jews, they’re dirty.” Burcha replied, “He is my friend.” Boris then pointed out to the door and said, “You get out of my house.” Burcha replied in disbelieve, “Really? Are you sure? Fine I’ll leave.” Burcha went upstairs and packed his things: One bag for Dharma books and the other bag for his clothes. When Burcha was packing, Boris came to his room and said that he changed his mind. He tried to prevent Burcha from leaving. Burcha became angry and for the first time, he shouted back in retaliation, “You don’t treat mother very well. I know you have other women and that hurts mother. These are all your faults. I’m leaving and don’t put APB on me.” On the process of leaving, Burcha brushed past his father on the landing, and knocked him down unintentionally. Burcha looked at his father sadly and left that cruel, fear-ridden, and hurtful household.
Life as a homeless
When Burcha left the Bugayeff’s home, he wandered on the street for awhile. It was freezing and with no ride in sight. The owner of the motel across the road saw him and asked what he was doing. The kind person offered Burcha a night to stay at the motel for free. The next day, Burcha hitchhiked to New York and from there to California along I-95. It took him five to six days to get across the United States. He met a lot of people throughout the journey.
At night, Burcha would sleep on islands under the highways, the only safe place on these dangerous roads, where there would be fewer chances of disturbances. He only had USD 50 with him and survived by eating apples that he could buy cheaply at only USD 1 for a bag of 12. He slept with his shoes on because he never knew when he would have to get up and run when someone came to threaten his safety.
Due to his experience of being a homeless, hungry and alone, Burcha would always give food to the homeless and the needy throughout his life.
Burcha hitchhiked to the southern country with the intention to go to California. About two states before Arizona, he met a guy who have left the eastern part of the United States and put everything he owned inside his van. The guy was going to Oregon to join a commune associated with Osho. Burcha and the guy got along well. Burcha shared about Buddhist philosophy and the guy shared about Hindu philosophy. When they were about one state away from Arizona, he picked up a-good-looking native American Indian guy in his late 20s. He too was going to California. The American Indian told Burcha about a special mountain that was located in Arizona where a good American Indian spirit, Wenatchee, lived. The spirit was famous for giving prophesy for the future. If he was to go there, Burcha had to get off in Flagstaff then go north. The young Burcha was fascinated and interested with the spirit because he was young and just left home. He did not know what would happen next. Therefore, Burcha wanted to meet Weenatchee and ask questions to find out what was going to happen to him.
The American Indian said that in order to meet the Weenatchee, Burcha needed to get off around Flagstaff where there was an American Indian commune. Once he was there, Burcha needed to go north until he arrive at this mountain where Weenatchee lived. At the base of the mountains there would be Indians who sell sticks and rabbit skin for people to erect a Tepee. If on the next day, an identical Tepee appeared beside the original one, then that is a sign that Weenatchee agreed to see the person who would like to request the prophesies and answer his/ her questions.
Burcha asked to be dropped off at Flagstaff where he planned to hitchhiked to the place where Weenatchee lived. However, Burcha could not get a ride to go north. He walked for about half-a-day. Burcha asked about Weenatchee to several American Indians but they would not talk to him. Then, it started to rain, and Burcha got really worried and frustrated. Burcha stood behind a billboard shook his legs because he was really tired. Then, he made a prayer that if he was meant to meet Weenatchee, he would have get a ride toward the mountain. If he was not meant to meet Weenatchee, he would have to go to the opposite direction and he would get a ride. Burcha continued to walk north for a while and still could not get a ride. Then, he turned back south to reach highway 9, then he went west toward the direction of California. Within 45 minutes he got a ride from a-38-year old blond lady who was half American Indian and her 18-year old boyfriend. The lady also ran away from home the day before because her parents were not happy with her relationship with her young boyfriend. Burcha told her that he was looking for Weenatchee. The lady said she had never heard of Weenatchee before. In the end, Burcha never got to meet Weenatchee. The young Burcha was wondering whether his personal Buddha deities prevented him to meet Weenatchee because if he did, Weenatchee would not have led Burcha to the place where he was supposed to go.
Later, the lady dropped her boyfriend at his parents’ home and borrowed the boyfriend’s parents’ car to take Burcha to California. The lady drove Burcha to his cousin’s house, Bob Gugajew where he lived with his wife Pauline. The house was located in Monterey Park.
Bob called Burcha’s parents to let them know that Burcha was safe and ask them if it was alright for Burcha to stay with him. Miraculously Burcha was given the permission to stay with Bob. Burcha was relieved. He was free.
Adjusting to a new life
Settling down in Los Angeles
Bob encouraged his cousin to complete his studies. Burcha complied with his cousin’s request and registered at a nearby Mark Keppel High School. He also worked evenings at McDonald, a-25 minutes walk from his cousin’s house, where he was holding various positions as a cook, a cashier, and later as a drive-thru server. His financial situation was so bad that Burcha often ate old unsold food out of sheer hunger. Sometimes, for extra money, he would help Bob, who worked as a contractor. However, Bob did not make things easy for Burcha because he wanted to encourage his cousin to return to New Jersey.
When Burcha was 17 years old, living with Bob was not conducive anymore for him. Thus, Burcha moved out to a studio apartment in Los Angeles that he shared with a-26-year-old flatmate. The flatmate was a nice person, but he was addicted to substances. When the flatmate was under the influence, he would become a totally different person.
Burcha would come home to find all the shades pulled down. His flatmate was lying down on his bed, sweating, smelling and under the influence. He would play Fleetwood Mac’s Rumour album very loud and repeatedly. When Burcha suggested his flatmate to lower the volume, he became very unhappy. When Burcha wanted to open the shades so light could come in, the flatmate protested vehemently. Thus, Burcha would come home to a dark apartment with Fleetwood Mac playing super loud, and his flatmate lying on his bed sweating. Burcha used to escape from the dark sweaty apartment and wander the LA streets.
However, Burcha liked his flatmate because he was a nice person when he was not under the influence. He could not understand how someone could become a different person when suffering from addiction. Eventually, the flatmate moved back to his parents’ house.
Working three jobs and making ends meet
Without any financial support from his family or friends, Burcha had to work hard to make ends meet.
After high school, Burcha got a-day-job from Monday to Saturday and, at the same time, continued to work at McDonalds in the evening four times a week. He also got a third job hanging clothes at a department store three times a week. All these jobs paid a minimum wage of just USD 3.35 per hour. The grueling schedule of 16-hour days eventually took its toll, and Burcha had to quit his job at McDonalds despite his financial hardship.
Later, Burcha focused on his job at Fotomat at the Sunset Boulevard branch and soon became the top area sales person. Then, he was promoted to the area manager position, and was responsible for five branches. He befriended everyone including prostitutes, hippies, punks and all types of interesting people and talked to them about Dharma.
At one point, Burcha also worked at Fred Sands Real Estate, at John Douglas Realtors in Hancock Park and at a bank.
Meeting the Dharma again and life at Thubten Dargye Ling (TDL)
First encounter and taking refuge with another great master, Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen
The autumn after he arrived in Los Angeles, Burcha searched for a Dharma center where he could do his sadhana. He found Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Vajradhatu center, but it was closed when he visited. Then, Burcha found the University of Oriental Studies in a phonebook and decided to visit thinking that they have an altar. There, he met Dr. Leo Pruden, a Professor of Eastern Studies, who told him that there was no place to pray in the university, but he kindly offered to drive Burcha to a nearby Dharma center, Thubten Dhargye Ling (“TDL”) or “Land of Fluorishing Dharma” – a name given by the Dalai Lama, where he could do his prayer. When they arrived, the front door was locked, they went through the back door.
The inside of the center, was carpeted in maroon with yellow curtains on the windows and beautiful thangkas on the walls. There was a throne of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. The resident abbot and the renowned master, Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, was seated on the floor cushion. Burcha prostrated to him, and Dr. Pruden introduced them. Geshe-la was a lay-person then. He wore a long outfit in maroon with a mandarin collar.
That day was a Tsok day, and Burcha asked Geshe La’s permission to be allowed to join. Geshe La looked at the teenager and asked if he had received initiations before. Burcha replied that he had so Geshe La allowed him to join the Tsok. Burcha went home to collect his sadhana and ritual implements and joined the Tsok puja that night at TDL.
Burcha did not immediately take Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen as his teacher, because he already had Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin as his teacher. Thus, Burcha called Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin in New Jersey to apologize for running away and for Dana’s defamation of him. He also asked permission to take Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen as his teacher. Before he finished, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin said to him, “You’re lucky. You have my permission to stay and listen to Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen.
Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen advised Burcha to call his stepparents to apologize in order to cut off the negative karmic connection. Burcha obeyed his teacher and called his parents several times. Sometimes Dana did not want to talk to him, but the most important thing is he tried.
Being exposed to Dorje Shugden at TDL
When he was 16 years old, Burcha wanted to get a job near the center. But he was not too qualified for the available positions. Thus, Burcha went to Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen and informed him of his wish. Geshe La showed him a Dorje Shugden thangka and advised Burcha to pray to him so everything will be fine. Burcha did as per his teacher’s advice, and three days later, Burcha got the job he wanted.
At TDL, Geshe La performed Dorje Shugden puja and Setrap puja every month together with 50 to 60 of his students. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen had received Dorje Shugden’s sogtae or initiation from his teacher. One of the sogtae’s requirements is to do Dorje Shugden puja every month. Geshe La taught and explained about Dorje Shugden, including from Music Delighting the Ocean of Protector text composed by H.H. Trijang Rinpoche. The text contains the practice, the lineage, the history, the background, the rituals, the meditations, the mantra of the Protector Dorje Shugden. Burcha never missed a single Dorje Shugden puja during his stay at TDL.
At the time, Burcha recited Palden Lhamo mantra and only did Dorje Shugden practice lightly. He did not want to practice too many Dharma protectors because he was afraid that it would be confusing for him. Later, he found out that Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin in New Jersey also performed Dorje Shugden puja every month.
Moving into TDL
As it was not conducive to live outside the center, Burcha decided to move in and rent a room at TDL. The normal rental rate for the lodging at TDL at the time was USD 250 per month, which Burcha could not afford. However, a senior member of TDL’s committee talked to Geshe La and arranged a small room for Burcha at a reduced rental rate of USD 150 per month. In February 1983, he finally moved into the center. Burcha was very happy to live in the heart of Dharma.
1982: Meeting the root teacher, Zong Rinpoche
Meeting and serving his root teacher, Zong Rinpoche
In year 1982, The-17-year old Burcha met H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche at TDL where he came to teach at the center for six months. Upon sight, Burcha immediately recognized Zong Rinpoche as his root teacher and developed faith and devotion toward him. However, true to the practice of Guru Devotion, Burcha called Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin to ask his permission to take refuge in Zong Rinpoche. Kensur Rinpoche gave his permission with a condition that Burcha should continue to do the practice previously given by him.
Prior to the arrival of Zong Rinpoche, Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen advised his students on protocol. Because Zong Rinpoche was Geshe La’s teacher, his students should pay deference to Zong Rinpoche first and not to Geshe La. He said, “Zong Rinpoche is my teacher, so if you prostrate to him, I would be included as well.”
Burcha was elected as Zong Rinpoche’s assistant during his visit despite the objection of some center members. They were concerned with Burcha’s funky appearance and red hair. Burcha was hurt when he heard about this, and he became even determined to serve Zong Rinpoche well. Everyday for the next six months, he devotedly and diligently served Zong Rinpoche tirelessly. After he served Zong Rinpoche, he served Geshe La. If Geshe La did not need anything else, he would serve Zong Rinpoche’s entourage. After that, he would return to Zong Rinpoche’s side and wait while his teacher ate. If there were any leftovers, he would always ask permission to eat them because he believed that his teacher was an enlightened being and that his leftovers were blessed.
In the morning, after Zong Rinpoche finished his breakfast, Burcha would clear his breakfast tray, then proceed to Geshe La’s and the entourage’s trays. If he had time, he would also clean up the kitchen and put everything away before going to work. Burcha later recalled,
“I would wash his cups and his plates first, clean them and put them in the highest shelf in the kitchen, without damaging anything. Sometimes, I would wash his silverware twice. I would put everything away in a special place so no one could touch his items. I even put up a sign in case anybody made a mistake. This was an opportunity to serve my teacher.”
After he returned from work around 3:00 PM, Burcha would start preparing dinner for everyone. He would also prepare tea the way Zong Rinpoche liked it, with the right amount of diabetic sugar.
Sometimes, in the evenings after dinner and teachings, Burcha would have the blessings to massage Zong Rinpoche’s feet. In his later years, Burcha recalled, “I would do my best to massage his feet everyday. And I would kiss his feet because I read in an Indian tantric manual that to show the deepest respect to someone very high is to touch the lowest part of [his] body. Rinpoche made it a game after a while. He would show me his foot, and when I tried to grab it, he would quickly pull it back and laugh! When I grabbed it, I would put it on my head, and I would kiss it. Tibetans do not kiss. I did it because I had grown up with American culture. It was my way to show my reverence to him because I could not speak his language.”
Burcha also assisted Zong Rinpoche during private audiences and Dharma teachings. Before the event, he would vacuum the room and make sure everything is clean and in order before making the necessary arrangements with Zong Rinpoche’s assistants to bring the visitors in. During the audience, he would stay nearby quietly and as alert as possible. He would make sure that Zong Rinpoche is never alone.
Before Zong Rinpoche sat on his throne, Burcha would make sure that everything is straightened. After Zong Rinpoche sat, Burcha would not leave his side.
Receiving Dorje Shugden sogtae from Zong Rinpoche
One day, Burcha felt that he should choose between Palden Lhamo and Dorje Shugden, and he only wanted to practice one protector. So he asked Zong Rinpoche,
Burcha: I’m practising two Dharma Protectors now [Palden Lhamo and Dorje Shugden]. Can you please give me your advice which Dharma Protector I should choose for the rest of my life to remove obstacles of my Dharma practice?
Zong Rinpoche: If you want, I will give you my Dharma Protector.
Burcha : [Folded his hands] Please give me your Dharma Protector. If it’s good enough for you, and that’s what you practice your whole life and you’re a Buddha, it’s more than good enough for me.
Within one month, Zong Rinpoche gave Dorje Shugden sogtae/ initiation at TDL. Sogtae is when the Lama introduces you to Dorje Shugden, in a symbolic way, join hands with Dorje Shugden, and Dorje Shugden gives you his heart and gives you his blessings and gives you his commitment to protect you. You give back to Dorje Shugden that you will hold him as your principal Dharma Protector until you achieve Bodhicitta.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gave Dorje Shugden sogtae to three people at one time. There were 60 to 80 people who wanted to get the sogtae. Thus, the event took all day. Burcha went up with two other persons and received the initiation. Burcha received a chakra and a crystal that represent Dorje Shugden’s heart.
Since then, Burcha did his Dorje Shugden practice every month with Geshe La. Sometimes, Geshe La would do the puja twice a month. Burcha often helped to prepare torma and the rituals.
Based on his experiences of practicing Dorje Shugden since year 1983, he and his Dharma friends have never prayed to Dorje Shugden so that other lineages would be hurt. They have never prayed to Dorje Shugden so that even our enemies or perceived enemies would be hurt. They did Dorje Shugden practice with the wish that they may be able to understand the Lamrim and Lojong teachings very well, to gain attainments, to understand the Buddha’s messages in Lamrim and to transform their minds and to become a patient, kind, and compassionate person. In other words, to get enlightened.
Burcha received the practice of Dorje Shugden from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, and it was 100% for spiritual reasons. Zong Rinpoche is Burcha’s teacher, and he is the teacher of Burcha’s teacher. When a teacher gave the practice, and the students promised, they should just do it and maintain their integrity.
Burcha made a commitment to Zong Rinpoche. He swore to him that whatever practices he gave him, inclusive of Gyalchen Dorje Shugden, he would practice until the end of his life.
A Hollywood girl took refuge with Zong Rinpoche
Around the time, Zong Rinpoche visited TDL, Burcha met a pretty lady called Diana. One day, Burcha was standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus when a large blue car pulled up and started honking. The driver of the car was Diana. She had met him on the bus a few times and chatted briefly. Diane spotted Burcha at the bus stop so she decided to stop and offered him a ride to work. Burcha agreed and hopped in. Despite their age difference, Burcha and Diana became friends. She followed Burcha to TDL and became interested in the Dharma. Diana volunteered at the center to help cook and clean. She eventually took refuge with Zong Rinpoche. Burcha helped Diana to set up the altar at her home.
On one of his birthdays, Diana presented Burcha with a box and asked him to open it on the spot. They were standing on the Western and Sunset Boulevard around 5:00 PM. Inside the box, he found USD 300. At the time Burcha was making approximately USD 500 a month and struggling to make ends meet. Diana was not a wealthy person as well. She worked part time in a deli and was struggling to raise her four sons. Burcha rejected the gift thinking that Diana needed it more than him. But she insisted. Burcha was very touched with this kindness. Burcha and Diana became lifelong friends.
Sometimes, Burcha went to Diana’s house to enjoy her cooking along with her husband and four sons. Some of her sons were older than Burcha. After dinner, Burcha helped Diana to wash the dishes. One day, after the dinner, Burcha told Diana:
Burcha: We cooked the food, we serve them and now we have to do the dishes. You don’t raise your sons right. They are taking advantage of you.
Diana: You’re probably right
Burcha: You need to get away from these kids of yours. Let’s go dancing!
Burcha: Oh ya… I know places in Hollywood. We go dancing. Let’s take this apron off. I am taking this off and let’s go dancing.
At the time, Burcha liked to visit clubs, particularly lesbian clubs because nobody would bother him or making passes at him there. Every time he went out, Burcha managed to talk to several people about the Dharma and eventually bring them to the center.
Diana remembered that the reason why she agreed to go to the center was because she could feel Burcha’s heartfelt deep honesty.
When Zong Rinpoche visited TDL, Burcha was considering to become an actor in Hollywood as a way to raise fund for TDL. He has done a Mongolian voice over for a puppet show and was paid USD 360 and the subsequent royalties for a-one-hour work. It was very exciting for a struggling teenager who only made around USD 500 per month.
One day, Zong Rinpoche informed Burcha:
Zong Rinpoche: You have a very powerful karma to be in front of the camera. If you do it, you’ll be famous.
Burcha: As a singer or an actor?
Zong Rinpoche: It doesn’t matter– you just have to be in front of the camera.
Burcha: What would be better for me, to be an actor or a monk?
Zong Rinpoche: You will make it in front of camera but you will be more beneficial if you take ordination.
Burcha immediately folded his hand to his teacher and promised that he would go to the Monastery and become a monk. Zong Rinpoche then invited him to Gaden Monastery and stay in his ladrang. On the same evening, Zong Rinpoche performed an auspicious hair-cutting ceremony, which was a symbolic act to mark the first step to ordination. Zong Rinpoche also verbally recognized Burcha as the reincarnated of a high lama.
Six months after he arrived, Zong Rinpoche left Los Angeles. Burcha was saddened by his departure. During this visit, Zong Rinpoche conferred many core teachings and initiations to Burcha including Yamantaka, Vajrayogini, Cittamani Tara, Heruka, Avalokiteshvara Ngesung Kundrol, Hayagriva, White Tara, Je Tse Zin Ma, and the practice of Dorje Shugden.
The passing of a great master
On 15 November 1984, Zong Rinpoche passed away. For Burcha, the day began with the usual routine of serving breakfast, tidying up and leaving for work. While he was working at the launderette, he received a phone call from a center member who informed him that Zong Rinpoche had entered clear light at 80 years old.
1982 – 1987: Preparing for the journey to India
Meeting His Holiness the 98th Gaden Tripa Jetsun Jamphal Zhenpen Gaden Jangtse Monastery
Burcha met H.H. the 98th Gaden Tripa Jetsun Jamphal Zhenpen at TDL. This Lama cried whenever he spoke about the suffering of others. This is similar to the ever-weeping Bodhisattva Sadaprarudita in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. Upon learning that Burcha was planning to become ordained, His Holiness advised him to recite Heart Sutra daily. Burcha received the initiation of 13-Deity Yamantaka and Manjushri from this great master.
Help from a Dharma friend and settling financial obligations
Although Burcha had decided to go to India, he could not go immediately. He needed to stay back in Los Angeles to work, pay off his credit card debt and save money for his trip to India. When one of TDL’s main sponsors, Robert Stone, heard that Burcha wanted to become a monk, he was very impressed. Robert had also wanted to become a monk, but out of respect for his mother, he did not. At the time, Burcha was living at TDL together with his teacher, Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, Robert Stone and another lady called Toby Rose. Their rent helped the center financially. Robert was Burcha’s good friend and a very nice person.
One day after Tsog, Burcha was cleaning up the center. Robert approached Burcha and asked him in a firm, direct, and slightly questioning manner.
Robert: So when are you going to India? When are you going to be a monk? You made a promise to Zong Rinpoche.
Burcha: Robert look, I want to go to India. I want to be a monk. I did not forget my promise to Zong Rinpoche, but I don’t not have enough money.
Robert said: Look, if you were to go to India, how much would it cost you and what do you need to pay off.
Burcha then calculated how much he has to pay off including credit card bills, air tickets, passport, and so forth. Burcha then explained to Robert that he needed about USD 5,000.
Robert: If you had the money, would you go?
Burcha: I would go immediately
Robert: No hesitation
Robert: Here is the money
Robert wrote him a cheque, and Burcha was amazed by this act of generosity. After that Burcha flew to New Jersey to take care of his passport. He gave notice at work and paid off his credit card debt.
Requesting ordination from H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
In year 1987, Burcha had another audience with H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in Geshe Wangyal’s Dharma center in Washington, New Jersey. Geshe Wangyal invited His Holiness to visit, give dharma talk and blessings. After the meeting, Burcha had a chance to go up and get blessings from His Holiness. At that moment, Burcha asked His Holiness to ordain him. His Holiness agreed. He asked Burcha to come to India, and His Holiness would ordain him. Burcha held his tears and was in bliss. His uncles, cousins, parents, relatives and friends were there as well. Dana and Boris were not happy. However, Burcha was determined to become ordained regardless of the potential obstacles.
Returning home to New Jersey
Before going to India, Burcha returned to Howell, New Jersey to see his parents for one last time after he confirmed that he is to become a monk. He came back to say goodbye to his stepparents, Dana and Boris, and one or two family members. Burcha brought Dana red roses, which were her favorite. Burcha spent two days with her and explained what he was going to do. Dana was not accepting, but she was polite and happy that Burcha visited her. She cooked, she talked, but she was not agreeable with Burcha’s plan to become a monk. However, she did not stop him because Burcha has grown to be a big boy. Dana knew she could not stop him.
Dana told him that the moment the robes touched his skin, he would no longer be her son. Burcha was sad, but he was determined to become a monk. He said farewell to his stepparents, Boris and Dana. That was the last time Burcha saw his stepparents alive.
During this trip, Burcha also visited Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin. Kensur Rinpoche received Burcha in his room, and he was smiling. He actually showed that he liked Burcha. He gave the following advice to him, “Now, you are going the right way. You are going to become a monk. When you go and become a monk from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, you must not just go and get the vows. You must generate higher Mahayana motivation. You must not become a monk for yourself or to escape or to get away from something. You must generate the thought that [you are doing this to] liberate all beings. You need to hold morality. By the practice of morality, you will be able to cut away the negative habits and therefore accomplish the highest goal – enlightenment. So when you go for taking robes with His Holiness, you make sure you generate that motivation to benefit all others.“ Burcha folded his hands in gratitude for this advice. Before he left, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin put a khata over his head.
Leaving for India
In October 1987, Burcha left for India with two bags of his belongings. He was 22 years old when he left TDL, where he had lived for eight years. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen escorted him to the airport together with several of his close students. Geshe La gave Burcha a khata and his blessings.
Geshe La had been a spiritual father to Burcha since he ran away from New Jersey. This great master was also the one who introduced Burcha to the practice of Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.
1987 – 1991: Ordination and challenging early years in India
Ordination and joining Gaden Monastery
Meeting Pabongka Chocktrul Rinpoche
After he left Los Angeles, Burcha arrived in New Delhi and stayed in the house of one of Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen’s students. Once rested, he took a-13-hour bus ride through the rough winding roads, over tough terrains to Dharamsala. He went there to fulfill his promise and receive monastic ordination from H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. Dharamsala is an area where the rich Tibetan culture thrives outside of Tibet including traditional painters, restaurants, statue-makers, wood-carvers, schools that teach in Tibetan, traditional Tibetan opera, and dancing events. Due to the fact that H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama lives there and therefore a place where Tibetan culture is kept alive, the area is known as the Little Lhasa.
In Dharamsala, Burcha stayed at Gaden Shartse’s Shabten Kang, a branch of Gaden Shartse Monastery in South India, which performs pujas for both lay and ordained practitioners. Burcha was planning to join Gaden Shartse, since this was the monastery where Kyabje Zong Rinpoche came from. Gaden Shartse’s Shabten Kang was located next to Dekyi Khangkar, the house and clinic of the famous female doctor, Dr. Lobsang Dolma, and a-15-minute walk from H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama’s palace.
The evening he arrived in Dharamsala, Burcha was sick and feverish from the bus ride up the winding journey. However, he heard that the incarnation of H.H. Kyabje Pabongka Chocktrul Rinpoche had just arrived and was staying in Dr. Lobsang Dolma’s house. Burcha immediately gathered the bottles of vitamins he brought from the United States and a small kuyong (monetary offering) and went next door to Dekyi Khangkar.
Burcha remembered coming across a picture book on Tibet when he was in Los Angeles. Inside that book, he chanced upon a picture of H.H. Pabongka Rinpoche with a caption that read, “Pabongka, a high lama of Lhasa”. He could not stop staring at the picture. Burcha instantly felt tremendous faith in this Lama. He photocopied and framed the picture of Pabongka Rinpoche, which he kept on his shrine.
The incarnation of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche was 12 years old at the time. Upon meeting him, Burcha made the offering of vitamins and kuyong. In return for his offerings and upon hearing that Burcha was waiting for ordination, Pabongka Chocktrul Rinpoche blessed him and gave him the oral transmission of Medicine Buddha’s mantra. He also advised Burcha that, “Whenever you travel, always remember that your teacher and your Protector are one. When you recite the mantra of your protector, remember he is your root teacher.” Since that time, whenever Burcha pray to his protector, he would think of the protector and his root teacher as the same.
Waiting for ordination and visiting Dr. Dolma
Burcha registered with the Tibetan Office to request monastic ordination from H.H. the Dalai Lama. He was told to find two other men who wanted to become monks so they could be ordained together. Fortunately, Burcha was able to find the two other men who wished to become monks, and they made the request together. Burcha was then informed that he needed to wait for approximately two months for his ordination ceremony.
During this time, he often saw that many people came to seek treatments from Dr. Dolma. Several weeks after he arrived, Burcha had some pus coming out from his male lower region. He did not want to see Dr. Dolma because he feared that the lady doctor would strip him to examine the affected area. So, Burcha went to the nearby clinic of a male doctor named Dr. Yeshe Dhonden, who was supposed to be the doctor of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. Dr. Dhonden stripped Burcha, accused him of being a naughty boy and forced him to confess. Burcha refused since this doctor was not correct. Dr. Dhonden gave him some general Tibetan medicine, but Burcha had lost faith in that doctor and therefore threw his medication away.
After the un-inspiring treatment by Dr. Dhonden, Burcha went to see Dr. Dolma instead. Fortunately, Dr. Dolma had a break between seeing her other patients. Burcha introduced himself to the lady doctor, and as she was free and had the time, Dr. Dolma talked to Burcha more. She explained that she made her own medicine, and together with her husband, they would use their jeep to travel to the countryside to collect the necessary herbs and flowers used in Tibetan medicine. When it came the time for examination, Dr. Dolma did not ask Burcha to take his clothes off. Instead, she read his pulse and declared that Burcha was in fact a healthy young man. Burcha’s medical issues had occurred because he had not washed himself properly with warm water. Therefore, she advised Burcha to wash himself with a mixture of Dettol and warm water. Burcha followed her advice, and after three days, his medical problem was healed.
Burcha and Dr. Dolma became fast friends, and he called her ‘Amala’. Amala is an affectionate way to call a mature older lady in the Tibetan language. Burcha used to go to her clinic and observed her examining a lot of people and diagnosing various illnesses. Dr. Dolma often gave free medication to the poor and to the Sangha, in addition to donating food and robes to Gaden Shabten Kang. She told Burcha that it was the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden who gave her everything she needed, so she had a very deep respect and reverence for the practice.
Dr. Dolma escaped from Tibet to India in year 1959. She had only carried with her Tibetan Medical Tantra books on her back and had to leave her other belongings back in Tibet. When she first arrived in India, she worked as a labourer building roads, breaking rocks and stones, which earnt her very little even to feed herself well. One day, she and the other workers had an audience with Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Trijang Rinpoche asked her to read his pulse and diagnosed his illness, which she did happily. Following the diagnosis, she traveled into the hills and collected the herbs necessary to prepare the medicine for Trijang Rinpoche to take. Following the treatment, Trijang Rinpoche’s condition improved. Trijang Rinpoche helped Dr. Dolma to set up her clinic and practice.
Burcha found out later that Dr. Dolma sold Saraswati pills (Yangchai Rilbu), which is well-known to help improve memory. Yangchai Rilbu is specifically to be taken in the morning with warm water before engaging in Manjushri mantras and prayers. These pills are supposed to move the winds in the body so that your memory improves. Burcha did not have a lot of money at the time, but the generous Dr. Dolma gave him three months provision of the pills for free.
The first glimpses of the prejudice towards the practice of Dorje Shugden.
When he was in Dharamsala and waiting for ordination, Burcha wanted to have a thangka painted that depicted Zong Rinpoche with a ray of light emanating from his heart on which both Dorje Shugden and Vajrayogini stood. The Dalai Lama’s assistant introduced him to a painter that painted the Dalai Lama’s thangkas. The painter, however, only agreed to paint Zong Rinpoche and Vajrayogini and not Dorje Shugden. This was because there was already a prejudice against Dorje Shugden, and the painter did not feel comfortable painting the deity. This was to be Burcha’s first glimpse of prejudice against the practice of Dorje Shugden, which would culminate in a ban instigated by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
Following this incident, Burcha met another person in Dharamsala who was a scholar, a reincarnated lama and a translator. This Lama informed Burcha that he had heard rumors that Dorje Shugden practice was to be curtailed, and the Dalai Lama would speak up about this. After this conversation, Burcha offered a lot of incense (sang) to Dorje Shugden for three days, as he was upset that something like this could happen. He cried a lot and fell into a slight depression. Thinking about the situation, Burcha could not choose between the Dalai Lama and Zong Rinpoche, from whom he had received the Dorje Shugden sogtae.
At the end of the three days, Burcha talked to another friend, a Tibetan Rinpoche, who advised him to respect both the Dalai Lama and Zong Rinpoche, to keep his practice to himself, and not to speak about the situation. Burcha thought this was the only logical thing to do.
Finally after waiting for over a month and several weeks, Burcha was ordained by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama together with the two other men. The ordination lasted about three hours, during which the Dalai Lama gave Burcha an ordination name of Tenzin Zopa. “Tenzin” means “Upholding the Dharma” and “Zopa” means patience. Thus, from hereon, Burcha will be referred to as Tenzin Zopa.
Waiting for a visa and a chance encounter with great teachers
In December 1987, following his ordination, Tenzin Zopa took a bus to Kathmandu, Nepal to attend to matters related to the visa he required to travel to India and stay in Gaden Shartse Monastery long term.
Meeting His Eminence Kyabje Gangchen Rinpoche of Sera Mey Monastery
In Nepal, Tenzin Zopa stayed at Samten Ling Monastery where he met a Caucasian Tulku, named Muli Rinpoche, who was a student of Gangchen Rinpoche. One day, Tenzin Zopa was standing on the street of Thamel. A taxi approached with a bearded monk sitting on the front seat. Tenzin Zopa waved, and the taxi stopped. The bearded monk was H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche.
Gangchen Rinpoche: Who are you?
Tenzin Zopa: I don’t know why but I want to meet you.
Gangchen Rinpoche: Come to my house this afternoon.
Then, Gangchen Rinpoche gave him his address. When Gangchen Rinpoche met Tenzin Zopa in the afternoon, he simply stared at him. Ganchen Rinpoche declared that Tenzin Zopa was the incarnation of a high lama and instructed him to get recognition as such from the monastery and advised him to share his life story with others. Gangchen Rinpoche later transmitted tantric practices to Tenzin Zopa including the practices of Loma Gyonma and Black Manjushri.
Tenzin Zopa visited Gangchen Rinpoche many times over the years and received many esoteric teachings and initiations from him. He was also frequently asked to give spontaneous talks to an assembled audience, oftentimes on topics he was unfamiliar with. Although Tenzin Zopa was reluctant to teach, he would do so out of Guru Devotion.
Despite his age, Tenzin Zopa’s teaching style at the time was very traditional, serious and formal, following the scriptures to the letter without any of the jokes or contemporary teaching methods that he is so loved for today. One day, Gangchen Rinpoche gave him a friendly slap on the arm and told him, “Relax! You are too old-fashioned. If you’re old-fashioned, it will be difficult for you to connect with your students.” Tenzin Zopa took this advice to heart and eventually developed the modern, witty, and often entertaining style of teaching the Dharma that has proven to be so popular with today’s modern spiritual seekers.
It was only years later that Tenzin Zopa realised Gangchen Rinpoche had been preparing him for his role as a Dharma teacher.
Meeting Lama Zopa Rinpoche of Sera Jey Monastery
Tenzin Zopa ended up staying in Nepal for 1.5 months as it was difficult and took a long time for him to complete his paperwork. One day, Tenzin Zopa decided to walk from Boudhanath to Kopan Monastery with offerings and fruits for Lama Zopa. When he reached Kopan, Tenzin Zopa approched Lama Zopa’s residence and was greeted by a nun. The nun informed him that he could not meet Lama Zopa without an appointment due to his busy schedule. So Tenzin Zopa began to walk back from Lama Zopa’s residence. On the way, he saw Lama Zopa walking back with his entourage from his teachings.
Lama Zopa approached Tenzin Zopa because he was standing in the way and asked him some questions. Tenzin Zopa told Lama Zopa that he wished to meet him. Lama Zopa grabbed his hand and brought him upstairs walking passed the nun, who had previously denied him entry. Tenzin Zopa informed Lama Zopa that he had been waiting for a long time for his visa, and he could not wait any longer because his visa for Nepal was expiring. Tenzin Zopa also asked whether he needed pujas to be performed to expedite the process of acquiring his visa. Lama Zopa performed a divination and told him that perhaps he needed to get a Red Singdongma initiation and do this practice for his problems to clear up so he could travel to Gaden. Tenzin Zopa got up and offered a khata and other offerings to Lama Zopa. He requested Lama Zopa with a mandala offering to confer him Red Singdongma initiation. Lama Zopa said that he would confer the Red Singdongma initiation within the next few days if necessary because his divination said that there may be another way.
Lama Zopa: Let me see what I can do first then come see me tomorrow.
Tenzin Zopa bowed and touched his forehead to the ground. Before he left, Tenzin Zopa informed the nun that he had an appointment with Lama Zopa Rinpoche the next day.
The next morning, a monk ran into Tenzin Zopa’s room and said that the officials in charge of his paperwork wanted to see him. He rushed to meet the officials and was informed that his paperwork had been completed, and he could go to India. Tenzin Zopa was flabbergasted. So he gathered what he could and walked to Kopan because he did not have money for taxi. When he arrived, it was around 2:00 PM. The nun let him pass without blocking his entry this time. The minute he walked in, and Lama Zopa saw him, Lama Zopa began laughing heartily. Lama Zopa looked at the young monk and said “Yes?” Tenzin Zopa replied with “Guess what? Everything is fine. My paperwork and the visa that I have been waiting for weeks have come through.” Lama Zopa looked at him and again began laughing, “Good! Very good!” Tenzin Zopa was a little sad and asked Lama Zopa whether he still could get the Red Singdongma initiation because he wanted to practice. Lama Zopa simply replied him, “Not necessary now.” Tenzin Zopa decided to trust the high lama.
After he met Lama Zopa, Tenzin Zopa conveyed his experience to the nun in Lama Zopa’s residence. The nun recounted that the night before, Lama Zopa ordered special tormas to be made by the monks and engaged in a special puja instead of resting. This was unusual for Lama Zopa. It dawned on him that Lama Zopa was engaged in a puja for him so he could get his visa without further delay.
Following this fortunate encounter, Tenzin Zopa traveled to South India and joined Gaden Shartse Monastery.
Tenzin Zopa went on to meet Lama Zopa several times throughout the years. On one occasion, Tenzin Zopa was in Tushita Meditation Centre in New Delhi when he heard that Lama Zopa was there as well. When they met, Lama Zopa exclaimed, “Every time you show up, I’m about to do a Dorje Shugden puja. Would you like to join me?” Tenzin Zopa declined politely because he already had prior engagements he could not miss. However, he would never forget what Lama Zopa said that day.
Challenging early years in India and monastic training
Challenging early years and financial difficulties
When he first entered Gaden Shartse Monastery, Tenzin Zopa lived in a small room in Zong Ladrang. During these early years in Gaden monastery, life was hard and Tenzin Zopa was very poor, which meant little food to eat. He required around USD 50 per month to survive. In order to make this sum, he wrote to his relatives and friends in the United States to ask for financial help. Some of his friends gave one-off donations, but that was it.
Tenzin Zopa wrote to Boris and Dana for financial help several times. His stepparents replied that since Tenzin Zopa has made his bed, he better sleep in it. If Tenzin Zopa gave up his monkhood, they would pay for his university education, buy him a car, and he would inherit their property. Tenzin Zopa was undeterred with his parents’ ultimatum and chose to stay in India. Overtime, his communication with Dana and Boris lessened.
Due to the extremely difficult condition, Tenzin Zopa attempted to run away from Gaden Shartse Monastery twice to the nearby town of Hubli because he felt so depressed. He hid in a hotel and planned to travel to New Delhi, from where he planned to escape somewhere, perhaps back to the United States. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche sent several monks to track him down but Tenzin Zopa dodged them as best as he could. Eventually, Kensur Rinpoche sent word that if Tenzin Zopa did not come back, Kensur Rinpoche himself would go to Hubli to prostrate to him and request his return. Tenzin Zopa was so embarrassed that his own high teacher in his 70s had to ask him this way. So out of deep respect for his teacher, he returned quickly to Gaden Shartse Monastery.
Tenzin Zopa later wrote to Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, his teacher in New Jersey, to inform him of his dire condition. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin immediately arranged for one of his students and Tenzin Zopa’s friend, Carmen Kichikov, to sponsor the young Tenzin Zopa USD 50 per month (equivalent to 1,200 – 1,400 Indian rupee at the time). With this money, he was able to buy food, fix the leaky ceiling and acquire amenities to improve his meager living conditions – a fan, mosquito netting and a stove to cook simple meals in the little hallway outside his room. Later, Carmen herself would be ordained as a nun with the ordination name Anila Thupten Chonyid.
Be happy for being robbed
On one occasion, Tenzin Zopa accompanied his teachers Kyabje Lati Rinpoche and Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche on a trip. He traveled with them as an assistant and student of Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche. On that occasion, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama had won the Nobel Peace Price, and they all went to New Delhi and then on to Dharamsala. On the trip back to South India, Tenzin Zopa was robbed. It was a-three-day-two-night journey, and Tenzin Zopa had around 600 rupees with him, which would usually last him for about a month. They were travelling on a train where the window next to his seat was broken. In the middle of the night, the train stopped at a station and someone stuck out their hands through the broken window and stole Tenzin Zopa’s monk bag, which contained his sadhana book, Buddha pictures and 600 rupees.
Tenzin Zopa told Kyabje Lati Rinpoche about what had happened. Instead of getting the support and sympathy he thought he would, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche laughed at his student, which caused him to feel uneasy. Tenzin Zopa was frustrated. After he finished laughing, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche asked Tenzin Zopa to meditate and pray that the contents of the bag would benefit the person who took it. Tenzin Zopa then prayed that the Heruka, Vajrayogini and Tara pictures he had pasted into his sadhana book would benefit the robber, his family and neighbors. He even hoped that they would place the pictures on their altar and receive the imprints of the Buddhas. After that, Tenzin Zopa went to bed feeling much better and released.
Practicing Bodhicitta in the midst of difficulties
Although Tenzin Zopa hardly had enough to sustain himself, he continued to help others in need. One Gaden monk, Lobsang Dhargye, recalled that Tenzin Zopa helped him to raise funds to fix his room. Later he found out that, Tenzin Zopa’s own room was leaking and in a poorer condition than his own.
“Tsem Rinpoche [Tenzin Zopa] was quite poor and his own house was in a bad condition but he still helped others to improve their homes. He personally came to my room to see how it was. He saw the bad conditions and helped me to remake the house, build shelves for books and fix the leaking roof. If I were hungry in the middle of the night, Rinpoche would cook food for me also. When I was sick, Rinpoche did a puja for me and now all is well.” -Lobsang Dhargye
Geshe Jangchup Dorje, a former disciplinarian and head of the Gaden Shartse Clinic also recalled, “What I saw when Tsem Rinpoche [Tenzin Zopa] was here in the early days even when he had nothing was that he had the kindness to help others, a Bodhicitta mind.”
Dorje Shugden practice in Gaden Shartse Monastery
When Tenzin Zopa lived in Gaden Shartse Monastery, he participated in puja to the various protectors (i.e., Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Kalarupa, Vaishravana, White Mahakala, and Setrap) known as Gon Cho Nga. This puja would be held every month, and would be attended by all members of Gaden Shartse Monastery. During these sessions, pujas for Setrap and Dorje Shugden would also be included, and there was also a Dorje Shugden image in Gaden Shartse’s protector hall.
Next to Zong Rinpoche’s ladrang, there was a Dorje Shugden chapel called Gyalchen Tenkhang. Once a year during Tibetan Losar, an oracle trained by H.H. Trijang Rinpoche and H.H. Zong Rinpoche would take trance of both the peaceful and wrathful forms of Dorje Shugden, Kache Marpo, Setrap, and several other protectors at this chapel. During the trance sessions, peaceful form of Dorje Shugden would often give Dharma talks. Then, the monastery representatives would ask Dorje Shugden questions on matters related to monastic administration, teaching, livelihood and spiritual education, to which he would give advices and accurate prophecies for the future. During this time, approximately 95% of the monks in Gaden Shartse Monastery practiced Dorje Shugden.
Tenzin Zopa also observed that the practice of Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden was prevalent in other Gelugpa monasteries such as Sera and Drepung. In fact, the main protector of Ngari Khangtsen in Drepung Monastery and Pomra Khangtsen in Sera monastery was Dorje Shugden. Khangtsens are fraternity houses in the monasteries where the monks live together based on the regions in Tibet that they came from.
In fact, in Gaden, there was a great master, Geshe Tendar who conferred Dorje Shugden sogtae or life entrustment empowerment. In Drepung Monastery, Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche also gave Dorje Shugden sogtae. Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche was a very erudite, gentle, pure monk, scholar, master, Lharampa Geshe and a great master.
Training to become an oracle
Before he was officially recognized as a Tulku or reincarnated lama, Tenzin Zopa traveled to Leh, Ladakh to train as an oracle under H.E. Drigung Kyabgön Rinpoche Jetsun Lobsang Chozin, as he was well known for his ability to train oracles. Tenzin Zopa underwent numerous and strict retreats in order to clear and prepare his psychic channels. Tenzin Zopa wanted to become an oracle because he thought he could best serve the Dharma and people in this manner. However, this plan came to an abrupt end when he was recognized as a Tulku.
The return of Zong Rinpoche
Zong Rinpoche’s incarnation was discovered at the age of three and brought to live in Zong Ladrang. When the newly recognized Zong Rinpoche met Tenzin Zopa in Gaden Monastery, he immediately waved at and called him.
Zong Rinpoche: Hey you! Come here! Who are you? What’s your name?
Tenzin Zopa: Tenzin Zopa
Zong Rinpoche: Oh! Zopa Rinpoche! [please note that at the time, Tenzin Zopa had not been recognized as the incarnation of a high lama]
Tenzin Zopa: Can I pick you up and bring you for a walk?
Zong Rinpoche: Sure!
Despite the differences in their rank and age, their relationship has always been like that of two very special old friends being reunited.
Zong Chocktrul Rinpoche was extremely hot tempered as a young boy; he threw his food or things when he was ‘unhappy’. When his attendants saw that, they immediately folded their hands and said that this boy must be the undisputed incarnation of the previous Zong Rinpoche because the previous Zong Rinpoche was well known for being extremely wrathful and fierce.
Tenzin Zopa met with his biological father, Lobsang Gyatso
One day, Dewa Nimbo, who had earlier on presented herself as one of Tenzin Zopa’s aunts, wrote to inform him that she had separated from her husband and was living with her two sons. She had received her PhD in Chinese studies and was teaching in Indianapolis in the United States. She said she was struggling to take care of her sons, but promised to send money after she finished with school. She also said if Tenzin Zopa had problems, he should contact her teacher, Sogpu Rinpoche in Nepal.
On 1st January 1990, Sogpu Rinpoche invited Tenzin Zopa to visit him in his ladrang in Nepal. Tenzin Zopa did not have enough funds to travel. However, when he sought advice from his teacher, H.E. Lati Rinpoche, Lati Rinpoche instructed him to go to Nepal immediately and even lent him the expenses needed for the trip.
The Mongolian Lama, Sogpu Rinpoche, who was also known as the emanation of Gyenze Dorje Shugden, knew Tenzin Zopa’s birth parents and his background well. Sogpu Rinpoche explained to Tenzin Zopa about his background in his ladrang in Nepal. After he told the story, Sogpu Rinpoche asked him to turn around and greet his father.
Tenzin Zopa turned around and saw an old Tibetan man sitting behind him, Lobsang Gyatso. His hands were shaking and the smoke from his cigarette could not cover his tears. Tenzin Zopa got up to give him a hug, though his father remained sitting and still shaking. At that moment, Tenzin Zopa knew it was for real. Later, Tenzin Zopa met his half-brothers and noticed striking resemblances that removed any remaining doubt.
All Lobsang Gyatso had to say were these moving words to the young monk, “Please forgive me, I’m sorry.” These were the first words that Tenzin Zopa heard from his real father. Sogpu Rinpoche asked the young monk to forgive his father with an open heart, and he did.
Lobsang Gyatso gave his son a pouch with 5,000 rupee inside. Tenzin Zopa was relieved because now he could return the money he borrowed from Lati Rinpoche. Over night, he had a father and a sponsor.
Shortly after this meeting, Tenzin Zopa updated Dewa Nimbo with excitement about what had happened. The response he received from the princess, his mother was curt, “That old man in Taiwan – I don’t know who he is, and I have no relations with him. If he is your father, that’s fine, but I don’t know him. Never, ever contact me again. If you want to have a relationship with him, you do not need to have a relationship with me.” Since that time, Dewa Nimbo cut all contacts with her son, Tenzin Zopa.
Serving and studying under the guidance of other great masters
Learning humility from His Holiness Sharpa Chöje Jetsun Lobsang Nyima Gaden Shartse Monastery
Sharpa Chöje Rinpoche’s title translates as ‘The Precious Dharma Lord of the East,’ and he was an accomplished master of Vajrayogini Tantra. Tenzin Zopa used to serve this great lama physically by washing him with Dettol, perfuming him, and cutting his nails.
Sharpa Chöje Rinpoche used to attend the teachings by his teacher, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, although Lati Rinpoche’s monastic rank was lower than him. He said, “I must plant Dharma imprints in my mind for the future.” This humility had a deep impact on Tenzin Zopa’s mind.
Learning from H.E. Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche Drepung Gomang Monastery
Tenzin Zopa also learned from an erudite master in Nepal, His Eminence Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche. When Dagom Rinpoche was teaching in Drepung Monastery and there was no electricity, Tenzin Zopa would fan Dagom Rinpoche for the entire duration of the teachings to keep his teacher comfortable.
H.E. Denma Locho Rinpoche of Drepung Loseling Monastery
Tenzin Zopa received innumerable teachings and initiations from H.E. Denma Locho Rinpoche. Denma Locho Rinpoche recommended Tenzin Zopa to do White Tara practice and revealed that his previous incarnation, Gedun Nyedrak, entered clear light while engaging in a White Tara retreat.
The hermit monk – H.E. Panang Rinpoche Drepung Loseling Monastery
His Eminence Panang Rinpoche was an extremely learned hermit monk from Trehor Khangtsen of Drepung Loseling Monastery who lived and meditated up in the mountains. He was requested to give a month-long oral transmission of important philosophical texts such as the Ornament of Clear Realization to the entire monastic assembly, including Tenzin Zopa. He would come down to the monastery from his mountain abode every single day without fail, wearing the ragged robes that he refused to change, a sign that he held his monastic vows very well.
Tenzin Zopa observed that Panang Rinpoche would always recite prayers soliciting the blessings of the teachers stemming from Buddha Shakyamuni in India all the way down to the current Tibetan teachers before every teaching, and as he recited their names, he would fold his hands high on top of his head in a gesture of deep reverence. This had a great impact on Tenzin Zopa, and taught him about the importance of the lineage masters.
- South East Asia
- Kechara & Pilgrimages
- Amazing Growth
- Dorje Shugden & KFR
- Visiting USA
- Back to Malaysia
1991 – 1999: Recognition, Enthronement and Tsem Ladrang in Gaden
In year 1991, Tenzin Zopa was officially recognized and enthroned as a Tulku in Gaden Monastery. Before and after recognition and enthronement, Tenzin Zopa received numerous confirmations of his incarnation status from various high Lamas and highly esteemed sources:
- When he was only seven months old, several monks came to Dewa Nimbo’s house and recognised him as a reincarnated Lama.
- Upon sight, a very young Lama Osel Rinpoche placed his forehead to Tenzin Zopa’s forehead. In Tibetan tradition, this signifies one is of equal rank in terms of attainments and realisations.
- H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Tenzin Zopa’s root teacher, gave verbal recognition that he was a ‘Rinpoche.’
- H.E. Ayang Drupchen Rinpoche also gave verbal recognition.
- The Mahasiddha H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche gave verbal recognition when Tenzin Zopa first met him in Nepal. Over the years, H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche has given his recognition numerous times.
- Dorje Yudronma, the Dharma Protector of Gyutö Tantric College recognised Tenzin Zopa as an incarnation via her Oracle.
- H.E. Drigung Kyabgön Rinpoche Jetsun Lobsang Chozin, one of Tenzin Zopa’s teachers, recognised his incarnation status upon sight and officiated this recognition on his own personal stationery and with his seal. He also recognised Tenzin Zopa as a Mahasattva, which indicates that his line of incarnations goes back further than Kensur Gedun Nyedrak.
- H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche, Tenzin Zopa’s teacher and Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery at that time.
- Setrap Chen, the Dharma Protector of Gaden Shartse Monastery recognised Tenzin Zopa through the Choyang Duldzin Oracle following a request from H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche. This session has been recorded down and bears the official seal of Setrap. It serves as Tenzin Zopa’s main recognition paper as issued by his monastery. Tsem Rinpoche’s personal seal, as well, has the official backing of Lord Setrap Chen, and hence the entire Monastery.
- The final acknowledgment was bestowed by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, during a special audience requested for this purpose by H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche. His Holiness also identified that Tenzin Zopa’s incarnations date further back than the official recognition of three lifetimes, matching what H.E. Drigung Rinpoche had said.
- In 2015, Dorje Shugden through the famous 7th Panglung Oracle recognised Tsem Rinpoche’s line of 25 incarnations that dates back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Sometimes before this official recognition, H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche called Tenzin Zopa and showed him a picture of an old monk. Kensur Rinpoche told him that it was a picture of his previous life.
Tenzin Zopa was recognized as the incarnation of Gedun Nyedrak, the 72nd abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, and his succeeding incarnation, Kentrul Thubten Lamsang.
Gedun Nyedrak, the 72nd Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery
Gedun Nyedrak was born in northern Kham, Tibet to the Selsha household of Tsem Monastery. “Tsem” is the honorific word for “tooth,” because the monastery was the custodian of the tooth relic of Lama Tsongkhapa. Around Tsem Monastery, there were 99 households, most of which were notorious for their wild and irreligious ways. The Selsha household was exceptional in that its members were renowned for their generosity and inclination to the Dharma. They were also uncommonly taller than the average Tibetans. Gedun Nyedrak made a long hazardous journey from Tsem Monastery to join Pukhang Khangtsen in Gaden Shartse Monastery.
One of Gedun Nyedrak’s notable achievements was the restoration of Gaden Shartse Monastery, which had been desecrated by civil unrest. Upon his appointment as the Abbot of Gaden Shartse by the Regent of Tibet, Gedun Nyedrak immediately began to restore not only the damaged buildings of the monastery and but also reinstated adherence to the monastic code of conduct. After Gedun Nyedrak’s retirement as abbot, he spent the remainder of his life living in a cave and engaging in a White Tara retreat, which he dedicated to the long life of the 13th Dalai Lama. During this retreat, Gedun Nyedrak left his body and entered clear light.
Kentrul Thubten Lamsang, the Dharma pioneer
Gedun Nyedrak’s succeeding incarnation was found in the Drikung district of Tibet amidst auspicious portents of a high incarnate Lama. He was named Kentrul Thubten Lamsang. He obtained his Geshe Lharampa degree in the presence of H.H. the great 13th Dalai Lama and various other esteemed masters. Kentrul Thubten Lamsang taught tirelessly in a faraway region of Tibet called Phari, where Buddhism was not well established. Here, he single-handedly made the Buddhist teachings flourish in the minds of the people. In the 1950s, Kentrul Thubten Lamsang entered a clear light meditation and passed away.
During the enthronement ceremony, he was nervous and even tripped over his robes and took off his hat at the wrong time. However, this enthronement changed his status in the monastery forever for the better. His biological father, Lobsang Gyatso, sponsored the offerings required for the enthronement ceremony. Tenzin Zopa was enthroned as H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche.
Once, when H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama auspiciously visited Gaden Monastery to give teachings, H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche formally introduced the newly-recognised Tsem Rinpoche to the Dalai Lama.
From hereon Tenzin Zopa will be referred to as Tsem Rinpoche.
Tsem Ladrang in Gaden Shartse Monastery
Shortly after Tsem Rinpoche’s enthronement, his biological brother from his father side, Puntsok, visited him in Gaden Monastery and was shocked to see his living condition in the small leaky room in Zong Ladrang. He told their father of his findings, which led to Lobsang Gyatso visiting his son in the monastery several months later. He went to meet the abbot and administrators. Tsem Rinpoche was very touched because somebody cared about him. Lobsang Gyatso was sad to see his son living in such condition, so he informed Tsem Rinpoche that he would build a house for him.
Tsem Rinpoche then rented a piece of land from the monastery, which was not difficult. Lobsang Gyatso sent the money from which he had a four bedroom, one toilet, kitchen and a hall built for Tsem Rinpoche complete with water and electricity. Having electricity in Gaden at the time was a big deal.
When Tsem Rinpoche was about to move to his new ladrang, one of the monks advised him to invite Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche to stay with him. At the time, Kensur Rinpoche was the abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, but he also stayed in a small room in Zong Ladrang.
Thus, Tsem Rinpoche invited Kensur Rinpoche to move in with him. He also promised that should Kensur Rinpoche agreed to move in with him, he would take care of his needs, serve him and be his assistant. Kensur Rinpoche immediately agreed.
Tsem Rinpoche felt so honored. He gave the biggest room in the house to Kensur Rinpoche. He furnished his teacher’s room and planted flowers and trees so it would be pleasant for his lama. Tsem Rinpoche served Kensur Rinpoche as his secretary and assistant during his tenure as abbot. He also single-handedly brought Kensur Rinpoche’s diabetes under control, ensuring all food was regulated, medication given on time, schedules were not too taxing and personal attendants were trained to take care of the lama.
Coming to South East Asia
Sent abroad to Fundraise
The request from Kyabje Lati Rinpoche and Dorje Shugden
During the time Tsem Rinpoche was in Gaden, there was a continuous influx of monks coming from Tibet to join Gaden Monastery in India. There was not enough accommodation in Gaden, so many of these monks had to sleep outside, which made them vulnerable to snake bites, wild animal attacks and illnesses especially during the rainy monsoon season.
In year 1992, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche, and other high Lamas of Phukang Khangtsen, including Tsem Rinpoche attended the meeting. During that meeting, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche requested Tsem Rinpoche to go abroad and fundraise to build a new hostel for Phukhang Khangtsen. It came as a surprise for Tsem Rinpoche, and he declined initially. He felt that he was not qualified for such a task.
Lati Rinpoche: Why are you not qualified?
Tsem Rinpoche: Because I have just entered the monastery three or four years ago, and I really don’t know much.
Lati Rinpoche: You know the language, you know the Dharma and you have traveled abroad before. You are very qualified. You should go.
Tsem Rinpoche: In that case, you should go since you are more qualified than me…
Finally, Tsem Rinpoche conceded by saying that if the Protector of Gaden said that he should go, he would obey. At that time, Tsem Rinpoche really thought that Dorje Shugden would say that he was not qualified for this task. The oracle of the monastery took trance of the Protector the next day and Tsem Rinpoche was told that he should go. He also received instructions about what he should do, what he should share with the people and what he should teach.
When Tsem Rinpoche reported to Lati Rinpoche about what the protector had said, Lati Rinpoche laughed joyously.
Teaching tours and subsequent success
On one occasion, Gangchen Rinpoche had spontaneously requested Tsem Rinpoche to give a talk about the history of a temple they were visiting to a group of approximately 40 Malaysians. This was the first time Gangchen Rinpoche had asked him to teach and this would also be his first connection with Malaysia.
After he received the instruction to travel abroad and teach, Tsem Rinpoche tried to find the connection to do so. He recalls meeting a Malaysian monk, Rev. Khoon back in the 90s. At that time, Rev Khoon consulted Tsem Rinpoche and he did a divination and recommended several pujas that turn out to be effective. In addition, he had received an invitation from a group of Malaysians through Rev. Khoon to come to Malaysia but he declined. Thus, Tsem Rinpoche contacted Rev. Khoon again to ask whether the offer to teach in Malaysia still stands. Rev. Khoon immediately agreed to organize everything for Tsem Rinpoche to go to Malaysia. On top of that, Tsem Rinpoche also received some assistance from H.E. Gelek Rinpoche who already has a number of students in Malaysia.
Tsem Rinpoche finally arrived in Malaysia with only two bags containing his personal items, mani pills, chakras and other holy items.
Tsem Rinpoche went on an extensive three-month teaching tour around Malaysia, including cities and towns like Penang, Ipoh, Teluk Intan and Gerik. On this trip, he also went down to Singapore. His teachings and initiations were extremely well received. Many people opened their arms and offered to help his fundraising effort.
During this trip, Tsem Rinpoche would often fall ill. He worked so hard that he had severe neck pains and aches all over his body, and felt constant chills. In spite of that, he would not take a break to recuperate because he still needed to raise the necessary funds to build the new hostel for Phukhang Khangtsen.
After the grueling tour, Tsem Rinpoche finally managed to raise all the necessary funds to build the new hostel. He went home to Gaden Monastery. Some Malaysians also accompanied him back to the monastery to help bring the funds back safely.
Upon his return, there was a huge gathering at the prayer hall to receive Tsem Rinpoche that was headed by H.E. Kyabje Lati Rinpoche and H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche. As he entered, Tsem Rinpoche was accompanied by Malaysians who brought in trays and trays of money he had raised and everything was offered up to the monastery.
Both H.E. Kyabje Lati Rinpoche and H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche were visibly moved as they cried tears of joy. The monastery could now build a hostel for the monks so they do not need to sleep outside.
In addition to building a hostel, Tsem Rinpoche provided consistent assistance to the Tibetan refugees and local Indians in the villages around the monastery.
Early years in South East Asia
Keeping the connection
After his initial trip to Malaysia, Tsem Rinpoche remained in Gaden Monastery and engaged in extended retreats. Many Malaysians wrote to him to invite him back to Malaysia to teach and turn the Wheel of Dharma.
Out of great compassion and his wish to benefit others, Tsem Rinpoche would travel back and forth between Gaden and Malaysia until his teachers advised him to remain in Malaysia and make it his permanent base.
Starting over and encountering road bumps along the way
At first, Tsem Rinpoche would humbly teach in people’s private homes. Often these venues would be packed with hundreds of people who came to hear the teachings of this young and charismatic teacher. Eventually, several Dharma centers were founded in Malaysia and Singapore under his spiritual guidance. Unfortunately, some of these centers have since been closed down. Tsem Rinpoche humbly attributed it to his lack of experience and understanding of the local culture.
Meeting Grandma Dechen for the last time
In year 1997, Tsem Rinpoche went to meet his grandmother, Grandma Dechen in Taipei, Taiwan for the last time before she passed away. He will always remember her as a very kind, loving and generous grandmother.
The passing of Boris Bugayeff
In June 1997, Tsem Rinpoche heard his adoptive father, Boris, was admitted to the hospital. Boris was crying for fear of what would happen to him in the hereafter. On 16 June 1997, Boris passed away at 70 years old. Later, his relatives discovered many indecent Polaroid pictures of numerous women he had had affairs with in his garage. Only then, did people begin to realize how much his wife, Dana, had suffered.
2000 – 2005: Kechara and pilgrimages
Founding Kechara House Buddhist Association
On 15 December 2000, Tsem Rinpoche founded Kechara House Buddhist Association, an affiliated branch of Gaden Shartse Monastery in Malaysia. Kechara House began humbly, with small weekly gatherings among Dharma friends in people’s homes. It was started and supported by a few students who have followed Tsem Rinpoche when he barely had anything. It was the humble devotion of the senior students in the early years that brought Kechara to what it is today.
Years later, Tsem Rinpoche recalled that when he arrived in Malaysia, there were a few people from Cheras who were always helpful, and one of them was Mama Mooi Lan. She provided helped to Tsem Rinpoche, and she did so out of the goodness of her heart. Years later, in 2010, Mama Mooi Lan visited Kechara Paradise outlet in Sunway Pyramid. Tsem Rinpoche never forgot her kindness, and gave her gifts. Later in year 2012, Mama Mooi Lan passed away, and Tsem Rinpoche performed the funeral rites for her.
In the year 2000, the first Kechara Paradise retail outlet was established. Dato Eric Tan, a long time friend and sponsor of Tsem Rinpoche, sponsored this retail outlet. Kechara Paradise was envisioned as a mini temple where people could come to make offerings and obtain information and get their Dharma supplies.
At the time, there were no temples yet, Tsem Rinpoche often came and gave informal teachings to private audiences. Although it was a simple place, Tsem Rinpoche’s senior students remembered that it was from this place hundreds of hours of Dharma teachings were shared, and many were connected to the Dharma.
Bringing Dharma to others through modeling
In year 2003, Tsem Rinpoche told his students that he wished to become a model. At the time, he was 110 kg in weight and 6.2 ft in height. His students were surprised by this idea. Tsem Rinpoche thought that by wearing lay clothes and adopting a secular profession, he would be able to bring a lot of people to the Dharma.
With the permission from his teacher, Tsem Rinpoche started a regimented diet and fitness regime with discipline and determination. He was successful in becoming one of the most sought after male models.
Tsem Rinpoche understands that he lives in a world that is focused on external appearances. Many people, males and females, were attracted to Tsem Rinpoche’s physical appearances. At the height of his fame and good looks, Tsem Rinpoche drew a crowd of people that would otherwise never be attracted to the Dharma.
After the purpose of this period was fulfilled, Tsem Rinpoche happily returned to his robes to which he was most comfortable as he cherished his monastic vows and practice.
Establishing the first premise of Kechara House
As time went by, the informal gatherings grew in size and Malaysian students became more commited to establish a center. They were lacking in financial resources, but due to the diligence of the students, they were able to acquire a shoplot in the newly developed Sunway Mas area.
In year 2004, Kechara House was established and became the main temple for the Kechara organization and the central hub for teachings, pujas, meditation and study sessions.
It was a modest beginning, with a following of approximately 40 students. This was a time when Tsem Rinpoche struggled for fund and membership. But this circumstance did not deter Rinpoche and his core students. With much hard work, commitment and devotion towards benefiting others, Kechara began to expand its reach.
The sprouting of Dharma houses
Drawing from his experience living at TDL back in Los Angeles, Tsem Rinpoche encouraged his students and full time staff to live together in Dharma houses. He recalled, “Just like when I was living in Thubten Dhargye Ling dharma center in the USA, I rented a room in the center with other dharma students. I loved it so much… It was a supportive and happy atmosphere to be with other dharma students, to live in the dharma and work together in the dharma. It was a very meaningful life. So I started the same thing here. What is better than living with a group of people that are working towards the same goal as you spiritually and to have them and each other as support.”
Tsem Rinpoche would name each Dharma house with the name of a Buddha like Vajrayogini House, Heruka House, Drakpa House, Tara House, Jamyang House, Dzambala House and Naropa House.
Throughout the years, Tsem Rinpoche has personally taken his students and friends on a pilgrimage to sacred sites in India, Nepal, China and Tibet including to places that are off the beaten track. Tsem Rinpoche stressed the importance of not treating the pilgrimage like just another holiday but also to generate good aspiration and to make fervent prayers and offerings, which is especially efficacious and powerful at these sacred sites.
Among the most memorable experience was a visit to Bodhgaya, India, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Under the Bodhi tree, where Buddha Shakyamuni meditated, Rinpoche offered refuge ceremony to over 30 people who took the vows to formally seal their commitment to the Buddhist path. This would mark the beginning of tremendous growth in Kechara. Many projects within Kechara were inaugurated, departments were established and many new people came during this period.
During another pilgrimage in year 2004, Tsem Rinpoche traveled to Nepal with a group of Malaysians. On that trip, Tsem Rinpoche received teachings from Dagom Rinpoche on the iconography of three High Lamas who were the previous lives of Dorje Shugden, and an explanation of including Dorje Shugden in the Gelug lineage tree. In accordance with Dagom Rinpoche’s instructions, special thangkas were painted and are now part of Tsem Rinpoche’s private collection.
In year 2005, His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche and a few students went to Kathmandu, Nepal on a shopping trip to source Buddha statues for Kechara Paradise outlets in Malaysia. It was around July, and it was a rainy season in Nepal. So it rained almost every day and this made the shopping trip somewhat troublesome because the statue shops in Nepal are mostly in Boudanath where it was not a covered shopping mall. During this trip, Rinpoche was seen by his students to control the weather so it would not be a hindrance for what they needed to accomplish.
The passing of Dana Bugayeff
On 15 October 2005, Dana Bugayeff passed away at 73 years old. Later, her relatives told Tsem Rinpoche that they found a photo of him in monk robes inside her purse. It was a photo that Tsem Rinpoche had sent to her while he was still living in Gaden Shartse Monastery. All these years, she had kept this photo lovingly in her purse and probably would have looked at it and thought about Rinpoche.
2006 – 2010: Grand offerings and the amazing growth
Journey to Gaden Monastery and the practice of Generosity
In April 2006, Tsem Rinpoche brought a group of 63 pilgrims to Gaden Monastery to make offerings of 3,000 Manjushri statues and 3,000 sets of robes to the Sangha of Gaden. Preparation for the offerings took almost one year in advance, which involved sourcing for 3,000 Manjushri statues and sourcing and cutting the maroon cloth for 3,000 sets of robes for the monks.
Tsem Rinpoche explained to his South East Asian students that many of the poor monks only have one set of robes. When they washed their robes, they often had to just sit there in their undergarments as they wait for the robes to dry. The monk robes represent the vinaya or monk vows and sponsoring them is extremely meritorious.
Similarly, the sponsorship of statues also bestows great merit for the sponsor because all the virtues created through the prayers made by monks toward these Buddha images are in turn dedicated to the sponsors who offered the statues in the first place.
In addition to the robes and statues, Tsem Rinpoche sponsored the entire retiling of the main prayer hall. This is considered highly meritorious because it provides conducive conditions for the monks’ practice, prayers and study during daily debate session.
During the 20-hour day, Tsem Rinpoche led his students around many of the main sites in Gaden Monastery, including the cowshed where he used to stay at Zong Rinpoche’s ladrang.
On top of that, Tsem Rinpoche and his students sponsored the facilities and staff Shartse’s hospital, printing essential Dharma textbooks for the monastery and sponsorship of monks’ living expenses.
The establishment of various Kechara departments
Year 2006 – 2010 was a formative period for Kechara organization. In addition to Kechara House and Kechara Paradise, Tsem Rinpoche conceptualized many departments to attract people with various dispositions into Dharma:
- Tsem Ladrang: Rinpoche’s personal residence and private office. Tsem Ladrang connects every individual and departments to the blessings, teaching and personal care of Tsem Rinpoche. The ladrang team is responsible for making physical arrangements for Tsem Rinpoche to give Dharma teachings and grand audiences.
- Kechara Media & Publications (KMP): KMP was established with the purpose of making Rinpoche’s teachings available to wider audiences through publication and other media platforms.
- Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK): KSK was founded in year 2006 to feed and care for the urban poor in various parts of Malaysia. Tsem Rinpoche was inspired by his own experience of a life of living on the streets during his harrowing journey from New Jersey to Los Angeles, Tsem Rinpoche wishes to relieve the suffering of the poor and founded Kechara Soup Kitchen. The initiative was started in year 2006, where Tsem Rinpoche’s students distributed 20 packages of food. Today, KSK distributes up to 2,000 food packages per week, provides medical care, and arranges housing for the poor who need them.
- Kechara Lounge: Kechara Lounge is located in the heart of Kathmandu’s most revered Buddhist site, the Boudhanath Stupa. The lounge provides international pilgrims a cosy place for reading, watching Dharma videos or doing personal prayers. The development of Kechara Lounge was inspired by a pilgrimage to Nepal in year 2008. Tsem Rinpoche was taking 60 students friends on this pilgrimage. At every important site, Tsem Rinpoche would pause and offer prayers with the pilgrims. At times, he would even lead individuals to make personal aspirational prayers and offered lights to sacred Buddha images.
- Kechara Care: Kechara Care introduces newcomers to Kechara organization as a whole. Currently, Kechara Care function has been accommodated to Kechara House.
- Kechara Saraswati Arts (KSA): KSA is the first Southeast Asia Himalayan art studio. It customizes Buddha images for people to use as their central object of prayers and meditation and provides opportunities for people to explore their creativity and spiritual sides.
- Kechara Discovery (KD): KD connects spiritual seekers directly to the blessings of the Buddhas – by making Buddha statues more accessible for people to invite to their home for their personal practice.
- Kechara Oasis (KO): KO is a new-age vegetarian restaurant. Tsem Rinpoche conceptualized this department to promote vegetarianism and compassionate dining.
- Kechara Animal Sanctuary (KAS): KAS was started in Tsem Rinpoche’s ladrang, when he began doing small-scale animal rescues of fish, dogs, birds and turtles. Today, most of the rescued animals are staying at Kechara Forest Retreat.
- Kechara InMotion (KIM): KIM was established with the purpose of documenting Tsem Rinpoche’s teachings and Kechara events.
- The e-DIVISION: e-DIVISION was established to maintain Kechara online portals and make Rinpoche’s teachings available worldwide, even in places where there are no resources and support for studying the Dharma.
Rendevous with the past
Visiting the Kwans in Taipei, Taiwan
In December 2008, Tsem Rinpoche went to Taipei with a few of his students. He was reunited with Kwan Mama and her brother, Mr. Kwan. One of Tsem Rinpoche’s students, Irene Lim, was able to trace the Kwans who were so kind to Tsem Rinpoche in his childhood. At the time, Ms. Kwan’s sister was about to go for a surgery. Tsem Rinpoche did a divination and performed a puja for the sister and needless to say, the surgery was a success. Rinpoche gave the Kwan family many gifts and blessing.
During this trip, Tsem Rinpoche also met his biological uncle, Prince David Minh for the first time. He knew about Tsem Rinpoche, but he has never met him. He told Tsem Rinpoche more of his background, and how his mother’s family left their homeland and ended up in Taiwan.
Visiting Gaden Monastery in Tibet
After visiting Taiwan, Tsem Rinpoche went to Gaden Monastery in Tibet. It took him about two days to acclimatize to the altitude and he was very sick.
When Tsem Rinpoche visited Gaden Monastery, he could not stop crying. Tsem Rinpoche was overwhelmed by the energy and vibration of the place.
In addition to Gaden Monastery, Tsem Rinpoche visited and made prayers at the main mausoleum of Lama Tsongkhapa that houses the remains of his holy body, Setrap Chapel, and so forth.
Expansion of Kechara House
Once Kechara had become established and Tsem Rinpoche’s teachings grew in popularity, the numbers of friends, members and the public interested in the Dharma expanded as well. It became apparent that the existing premises no longer could accommodate those who wished to attend the various activities. Therefore, the decision was taken to relocate to a larger premise. It was in November 2010 that Kechara House opened the doors to its new temple, with the seating capacity of over 600 attendees. It also houses suitable facilities to ensure that Dharma activities, programmes, classes and events are held within a conducive environment.
Kechara House’s main altar includes three large and sublime images of Lama Tsongkhapa, Vajrayogini and Setrap and was ceremoniously offered up to Tsem Rinpoche. In addition to this, Kechara House has since established a Puja House under Tsem Rinpoche’s direction, where many pujas are performed by trained and dedicated practitioners for the benefit of the sponsors.
Kechara House is a sacred temple that holds Tsem Rinpoche’s and the pastors’ teachings. These include annual events, Dharma talks, weekly education classes and weekly pujas.
The Final blessings from Kyabje Lati Rinpoche
In year 2010, Tsem Rinpoche dreamt of Kyabje Lati Rinpoche blessing him in a Tantric manner, which was the final blessing from this great master before he entered clear light.
2011 – 2013: Dorje Shugden and Kechara Forest Retreat
Healed by Dorje Shugden
In October 2011, Tsem Rinpoche was diagnosed with liver hardening, which if left untreated, could turn terminal. He was given medication and dietary requirements. Several Rinpoche’s students consulted the Venerable Panglung Kuten (Choji-La), an oracle of Dorje Shugden for advice. Choji-La immediately traveled to Malaysia to visit Rinpoche.
After Choji-La arrived in Malaysia, he took a special trance of Dharma protector. The Dharma protector was extremely kind, gracious, and loving toward Tsem Rinpoche. Later, Tsem Rinpoche recalled, “He sat me down and did healing by placing his hands over my affected area – the liver, and did some rituals on it and some motion of extracting something from it and on top of that, he took some rice and blessed it and asked me to drink it immediately, and also gave me more blessed rice to soak in water to drink for one week daily. He also recommended a series of pujas and some special mantras that I needed to recite myself. I was amazed and grateful.”
Several months later, Tsem Rinpoche traveled to Singapore for a check-up. The doctor was shocked that Rinpoche’s liver had healed so quickly and so clearly.
Kechara Forest Retreat (KFR)
The auspicious omen
In year 2012, Tsem Rinpoche and a few students were looking for a land for a retreat center. They came to a piece of land in Chamang and were amazed with the greenery. Tsem Rinpoche and his students did a short prayer to Dorje Shugden. They were wondering whether the land was right for them. A light rain immediately fell from a clear sky. Tsem Rinpoche and his students were happy.
Kechara obtained a loan, went through the sales paper and acquired the land. As they were going on this process, out of the blue, Tsem Rinpoche received a postcard from a Mongolian monk that he has never met before. Tsem Rinpoche liked the Dorje Shugden’s face peering from the sky as drawn on the card.
Later, when Tsem Rinpoche visited the Chamang land, one of his students pointed out the similarities between the Chamang land and the card drawing minus the monk and Dorje Shugden’s face. By then, Tsem Rinpoche knew that the protector wanted Kechara to have this piece of land to build and benefit others.
The building process
KFR is the place where Tsem Rinpoche wishes to build a world class Dharma institution that will benefit others for years to come. Prior and during the clearing of the land, pujas were performed to appease the land gods.
Tsem Rinpoche was very involved in the building process. He often went on a field inspection to make sure that everything was built properly. One day during one of these inspections, he fainted due to the heat. Fortunately, his students and attendants were always around to help. Once Tsem Rinpoche regained consciousness, he went to Kechara House to explain about KFR to the press, Kecharians and friends in order to socialize and gain support for the building. By doing this, Tsem Rinpoche gave the courage to his students to follow his example and be involved in the building and later maintenance of KFR.
The first cabin where Tsem Rinpoche stayed in KFR holds a lot of memories for him. During his stay there, Tsem Rinpoche made a lot of aspirational and strong prayers for KFR to grow. He considers the retreat centre to be very precious especially since it has the potential to benefit so many people’s lives spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and one day physically as well, with the upcoming Traditional Chinese Medicine center.
Please find below the video of KFR:
To date, the following buildings have been completed in KFR:
- Wisdom Hall – a prayer hall that can accommodate more than 700 people. Wisdom Hall also houses the largest Dorje Shugden statue in the world.
- Dukkar apartments – cabin style accommodations for Kechara members and friends.
- Aviary – where the rescued birds can live in peace. The aviary consists of the main aviary and two recovery aviaries.
- Fish pond – a beautiful pond where the fishes rescued by Tsem Rinpoche and Kecharians can live peacefully.
- Enchanted Forest – Tsem Ladrang at KFR.
- Manjushri Hill – an office space for the writers and eDivision.
- Vajrayogini Stupa – where people can be blessed by Vajrayogini energy.
Currently, Tsem Rinpoche and his students are still in the process of fundraising and building KFR. Tsem Rinpoche tirelessly gives guidance on how to make the place a first class Dharma institution.
2013 – 2015: Visiting the United States
At the tailend of year 2013 Tsem Rinpoche visited and traveled in the United States. He traveled around Eastern coast and settled in New York for several months. Later, when the weather became too cold, he was not feeling well. Thus, he and his students moved to a warmer climate in California. During his time in the United States, Tsem Rinpoche and his students were working hard to write various blog posts and other online works in order to spread the Dharma.
Visiting eastern part of the United States
Practising generosity in New York
Wherever, he went, Tsem Rinpoche always practiced compassion because he used to live on the streets. He would always be on the look out for genuine homeless people. When he found one, Tsem Rinpoche would not hesitate to give them food and their necessities.
Reminiscing the past
On 25 October 2013, 26 years after he last saw them, Tsem Rinpoche visited his stepparents’ graves in Howell, New Jersey and did a puja in front of it.
Later, he found out from a wonderful couple (Mr. and Mrs. Bullock who purchased his family home from his mom) that Dana showed them a photo of Tsem Rinpoche and said she was proud of him. In the end, Dana accepted her son as a monk and was proud of him. Tsem Rinpoche was so happy to hear this. He wanted his mom to have peace with his decision. He loved her and realized that Dana was as kind as she could be to him, in her own way. The way she knew.
Tsem Rinpoche was happy that his mother accepted his decision not because he needs approval to practice Dharma, since the time she accepted, she stopped creating negative karma and instead created a lot of positive karma and merits.
As Tsem Rinpoche went around the cemetery, he found that many of the people that he used to know have passed away and buried in the same cemetery such as the kind Gaga Toktun, uncle Bomba and his wife, uncle Naran and Aunt Honey and other neighbors and relatives.
Tsem Rinpoche’s thoughts after visiting his stepparents’ grave:
Halloween in Salem
Tsem Rinpoche and a few students arrived a few days before Halloween in Salem. The town was busy and in celebratory mood. On Halloween, Tsem Rinpoche wore his monk robes and walked around Salem. There were so many people from many countries, but it was not an uncomfortable crowded scene. People were warm, friendly and very open. The streets were filled with magic shops, shows, bookstores, psychic readers (there are many psychic shops and psychics), psychic fairs, gifts, foods, colorful stalls, and lined with people from all walks of life.
The windows and the houses had very interesting Halloween decorations. There were huge stores dedicated to just Halloween costumes too! Almost everyone was in unique Halloween costume. Tsem Rinpoche just stood and breathed in the autumn crisp air taking in the sights, sounds, smells and rich history of the town. He also purchased some very old vintage books as gifts to people. Some people would appreciate these vintage classic books from Salem. That was the first time Tsem Rinpoche celebrated Halloween since he was 15 years old.
Tsem Rinpoche received very interesting reactions from various people on the crowded streets. He had some people who folded their hands when he walked by. One lady said “Tashi Delek” to him, which is a Tibetan greeting. Another group was guessing out loud whether Tsem Rinpoche is just wearing a costume or a real monk. One guy passed him and said, “awesome costume!” Tsem Rinpoche replied, “thank you!” Some people were taking pictures of him. It was fun.
By visiting Salem, Tsem Rinpoche taught his students to respect and practice tolerance towards other faiths and beliefs. It also shows Rinpoche’s incredible broad field of interests that cover many aspects including that of Salem. All these make up Rinpoche’s incredibly complex character, knowledge and wisdom that we know today.
Meeting Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche in New York
The first time Tsem Rinpoche had the pleasure of meeting Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche was in Sera Monastery, it was 15 years prior to the New York’s meeting. Tsem Rinpoche often visited Sera because his first teacher, H.E. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin was from that monastery.
Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche is a very learned scholar and master of tantra. While in Sera, he always focused his time on teaching hundreds of students and in in-depth personal practice. He is very devoted to his teachers such as, H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche is famous for his purity in holding his vinaya (monk) vows. The last time Tsem Rinpoche met this great master was in Gaden Monastery when he was attending teachings and Kalarupa empowerment by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama.
In December 2013, Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche visited and met with Tsem Rinpoche. Tsem Rinpoche and his assistants flew into a flurry of preparation: cleaning, preparing offerings, auspicious rice in his small rented apartment in New York. The auspicious day came, and Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche arrived with his entourage. Tsem Rinpoche and his students were ready to receive him.
During the meeting, Tsem Rinpoche showed deep reverence for Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche. The two great lama exchanged offerings. Tsem Rinpoche prostrated to Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche and offered him the offerings of body speech and mind. In return, Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche gave his blessings and honored Tsem Rinpoche with the offering of a monk hat and a monk’s seat (dingwa). During the meeting, Tsem Rinpoche updated Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche about his work and Kechara facilities in Malaysia.
Moving to the western part of the United States
After several months in New York, Tsem Rinpoche and his students considered the idea of a permanent ladrang. They were considering moving into upstate New York or New Jersey. However, during winter that year, Tsem Rinpoche had developed a cough, which would not subside. Fearing it would develop into something more serious, the decision was made to move westward to California, towards a warmer climate and milder winter.
Tsem Rinpoche and his students arrived in Los Angeles on 2 February 2014. They immediately went on a house hunting retreat because staying in a hotel or vacation home proved to be too expensive. They viewed over 100 houses before they found a suitable place. On 9 May 2014, the team found an agreeable landlord, and they were able to set up and moved to the new ladrang.
Tsem Rinpoche Foundation Inc.
On 19 February 2014, the application for Tsem Rinpoche Foundation Inc. was approved by the US government as a non-profit charitable institution in the United States. This allowed Tsem Rinpoche and his students to operate as a Buddhist church, has charitable activities, publish literature for educational purpose, and start a Dharma center in the United States.
Visiting Willow Creek, Northern California
In June 2014, Tsem Rinpoche visited Willow Creek, the bigfoot sighting capital of the United States. When he was in Willow Creek, Tsem Rinpoche received an interesting message from his student. The student was informed by one monk that Tsem Rinpoche’s previous incarnation used to stay in the mountains and engage in meditation retreats in Phari, Tibet. Sometimes, when the previous incarnation needed to communicate with his teachers and other monks in distant places, he would write notes and pass them to the Tibetan bigfoots. They would deliver the messages. Bigfoots could travel great distance fairly quickly. Just like Tsem Rinpoche’s interest in Dharma, his interest in Bigfoots seem to stem from his previous life.
One of the places Tsem Rinpoche and his students visited in Willow Creek was the birthplace of the famous Bigfoot burger. Tsem Rinpoche was pretty insistent that they visited the Early Bird restaurant, before they left the Willow Creek area maybe because he sensed that he would meet someone who has Dharma affinity there.
As soon as they entered, Tsem Rinpoche walked in and immediately connected with the owner, Ms LeeAnn. Rinpoche explained about Green Tara and her practice to Ms. LeeAnn, who was open, accepting and listening intently to everything Tsem Rinpoche said. Tsem Rinpoche ended the conversation by giving LeeAnn a Green Tara tsa tsa.
The spirit of giving in California
Everywhere he went, Tsem Rinpoche is always generous. He always emphasizes to his students to care for other people in need, especially those who are poor and the downtrodden.
One day in LA, as Tsem Rinpoche and his students were having lunch, he spotted an elderly gentleman out in the cold soliciting donations for homeless veterans. Tsem Rinpoche watched him for a while, and saw he was greeting every single person with a smile and a very pleasant manner. Touched by his dedication to the less fortunate, Tsem Rinpoche immediately asked his students to buy a hot coffee and pastry for him. Tsem Rinpoche gave him the drink and pastry, and had a nice conversation with him. That was when they found out the old man was in his early 70s! The man said he had been fundraising for 2.5 years now, ever since his younger brother (who was a veteran) passed away in the hospital. After speaking for a little while, Tsem Rinpoche made a donation to the charity and bought some Christmas items from him. The man thanked him profusely and said Tsem Rinpoche was the nicest person he has ever met.
On another day, Tsem Rinpoche met a homeless woman and her three dogs. He gave her food and sponsored several days’ worth of accommodation for her, so she could rest, clean up and apply for a job.
On another occassion, Tsem Rinpoche was shopping in an art store and saw an elderly lady who needed help in getting some art papers. Tsem Rinpoche helped her to retrieve the papers and gave some artistic suggestions. Then Tsem Rinpoche accompanied her to the cashier so that she could accomplish her task. These are just examples of what Rinpoche is like and how he is very helpful, generous and kind to the person on the street. Watch the video below:
December 2014 – present: Back to Malaysia
In December 2014, Tsem Rinpoche returned to Malaysia. Since his return, Tsem Rinpoche and his students have been working hard to build KFR, promote the Dharma, bring awareness about Dorje Shugden ban and the suffering it creates, unveiling the largest Dorje Shugden statue in KFR and shooting various Dorje Shugden testimonial and teaching videos.
In mid-year 2015, the famous Dorje Shugden oracle, the 7th Panglung Kuten visited KFR. On 21st June 2015, the great king, Dorje Shugden and his minister, Kache Marpo, took trance in this blessed land in front of 700 people. Both Dorje Shugden and Kache Marpo showed that they are pleased with the work that Tsem Rinpoche is doing and they consecrated the statues, stupas and the land in KFR.
Throughout his life, Tsem Rinpoche has displayed numerous positive admirable qualities. Rinpoche has always displayed compassion, courage, integrity, generosity and loyalty through his actions no matter how challenging the situation may to be. Because of his integrity and compassion, he was able to overcome all the challenges in his life and come out triumphant.
May Tsem Rinpoche live long and continue to inspire and benefit beings through his exemplary qualities and actions.
- The Promise: A Tsem Rinpoche Biography; Sharon Saw, Jamie Khoo, Fang C. Chang; Kechara Media & Publications Sdn. Bhd.; 2012;
- My Precious Teachers
- The Buddhist Divide – An Unholy Campaign against Religious Freedom
- Dr. Dolma
- How My Protector Healed me
- Holy and Profound Pabongka Rinpoche
- Meeting Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche in New York
- The Train
- I’m Requesting Ordination in 1987
- Kyabje Zong Rinpoche Cuts My Hair
- My Message to Lama Zopa Rinpoche
- My First Guru in New Jersey
- Kentrul Thubten Lamsang
- My Childhood in Taiwan…Revisiting…
- Visiting My Parents – Tsem Rinpoche
- I Like This Picture of My Mother
- Happy Family for Kalacakra
- My Short Bio in Pictures
- VIDEO: (Re)visiting an Extraordinary Life: The Tsem Rinpoche Biography Group in the USA
- When I Had No One Else
- Avalokiteshvara, Turkey Swamp, Marc & Me
- WHY I CONCEIVED KECHARA SOUP KITCHEN OR KSK
- The Cowshed That Was My Home in Gaden
- It Wasn’t Easy in New Jersey, but My Cousins/Aunts Helped…
- My Father
- My Mother
- My Uncle
- My Grandmother
- My Grandfather The Ruler of Xinjiang
- I Love My Horse
- Tsem Ladrang USA
- My First Cabin in Kechara Forest Retreat
- My Halloween in Salem
- My First Flatmate in LA
- Be Happy I Was Robbed?
- Don’t Make Me Go
- The Official Kechara New Gompa Opening
- I Appreciate Mama Mooi Lan So Much
- Tidbits that touched me
- 700 Meet A Buddha
- Dorje Shugden: My Side of the Story
- Auspicious Mongolian Omen
- Largest Dorje Shugden Statue In The World
- Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen’s Special Thangka
- The Rain Stopper
- Connecting with Tara
- Kindness and Coffee for a Fundraiser
- Tantric Practices By Gangchen Rinpoche
- I was in Willow Creek!
- Good News!
- What Tsem Rinpoche Did in L.A….
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