Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche were among the Tibetans who fled to India in 1960. Along with their parents and two sisters, they left eastern Tibet in the middle of winter, hiding by day and traveling on foot by night. Hunger and cold pursued them for months, and the trip took an unexpected year-and-a-half before they reached India. The treachery and hardship took its toll and claimed the lives of their mother and sisters. Their narrow escape cast the two brothers and their father into the modern world.

Ven. Khenchen Palden Rinpoche, the eldest of the two, is among the last generation of Tibetans fully educated in the monastic system of old Tibet. When he speaks of his life in Tibet, he refers to it as "ancient times." It is astonishing that these two men raised in a system of ancient esoteric principles based on love, compassion and wisdom now find themselves in contemporary United States of America. The brothers now make their home in New York.

The Rinpoches were born and raised in the Dhoshul region of Kham in eastern Tibet near the sacred mountain Jowo Zegyal. Their family was steeped in Vajrayana Buddhism for generations, and among their ancestors were many great scholars and practitioners. Their father's family inherited the responsibility of administering the local monastery, Gochen Monastery, and their grandfather was chant master in charge of ritual ceremonies. The Khenpo Rinpoches have said that as children, should they awaken at anytime during the night, they could always hear their devoted father reciting his prayers or chanting his mantras.

Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche

Ven. Khenchen Palden Rinpoche began his intensive monastic training at the age of six at Gochen Monastery. So strong was his desire to study and learn that he would sneak outdoors after curfew and into the shrubberies to read his books under the moonlight. At age 12, he entered Riwoche Monastery, one of the oldest and largest monastic institutes in eastern Tibet and famous for its philosophers and logicians. There he was trained to become the next Abbot of Gochen. He completed his studies just as the Chinese invasion reached the area.

After the escape and having continued his studies and writings in eastern India for a few years, Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche was asked by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the supreme head of the Nyingma Lineage, to join a group of the most eminent scholars and leaders of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism for a one-year conference. This conference was to be overseen by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their purpose was to discuss ways to maintain the culture and spiritual heritage of Tibet, and to amass the sacred Buddhist texts containing Lord Buddha's teachings which lay scattered about India in varying communities due to the tumultuous exodus of the refugees. Even in their turmoil to escape, it was the wish of individuals, merchants, and families to preserve the sacred teachings and texts. The larger collections were primarily secured and carried out by the monks and high Lamas, but even children helped, and altogether the holy books numbered in the thousands. Each person attempted to save as many scriptures as they could by physically carrying them out or hiding them in the mountains for future retrieval. Some scriptures were personal practices or family treasures; others were brought from the libraries of the local monasteries. It was through the Tibetan people's infallible devotion that the complete cycle of teachings were salvaged. This unique conference of senior monastic leaders led to the formation of a university, the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. In 1967, Ven. Khenchen Palden Rinpoche was appointed head of the Nyingmapa Department of this institute by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, and remained in charge there for over 18 years.

Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche

Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche was born in the same mountain region as his brother. Soon after his birth he was recognized as a Tulku, the reincarnation of the Venerable Sherab Khyentse Rinpoche, a renowned abbot of Gochen Monastery. Beginning his education at the age of five, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche entered Gochen Monastery; however, his studies were interrupted by the occupation and he escaped to India with his family.

In the early 1960s, Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche traveled to northern India to attend Tso Pema, Rewalsar, a Nyingma monastic school close to one of the holy lakes of Guru Padmasambhava. In 1967, he went to Sanskrit University where he received BA and MA degrees in Buddhist studies. Then in 1978, he was enthroned by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche as Abbot of the Wishfulfilling Nyingmapa Institute of Kathmandu, Nepal. He was later appointed Head Abbot of the Institute's Department of Dharma Studies.

The Khenpos in America

The two scholarly brothers (also known as the Khenpo Rinpoches) made their first trip to America in 1980, and in 1982 moved to New York to work closely with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. In 1985, the Khenpos founded Dharma Samudra, a non-profit publishing organization which began by publishing a Tibetan edition of 11 volumes of the hidden treasure teachings revealed by the great terton Tsasum Lingpa in the 17th century. Collectively they are the authors of several learned works: Tibetan language books, poetry, grammar texts, Buddhist philosophy and practice, logic and tantra, and historical perspectives. Many of their books dealing with Tibetan Buddhism are available in English.

Origins of the Nyingma Tradition

The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the other three being the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug). "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as the "school of the ancient translations" or the "old school" because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan in the eighth century. In modern times the Nyingma lineage has been centered in Kham in eastern Tibet.

Nyingma maintains the earliest Vajrayana teachings. The other three schools are known collectively as Sarma or "new translation" schools, having arisen from a second wave of translation. Followers of the tradition are known as Nyingmapa.


For a more complete history of the Nyingma and Dzogchen lineage, visit the Lineage page at Padmasambhava.org