Ven. Khensur Rinpoche
Conversation with Ven. Khensur Rinpoche
By Frank Barone and Cathy Kennedy
Deer Park students were extremely fortunate to again have
an opportunity to study with the Venerable Khensur Rinpoche, Geshe Lobsang
Tenzin, the former abbot of the Gyume Tantric College, now relocated in
southern India. During his visit from late August to mid-October 2002,
Rinpoche taught a series of classes on both Sutrayana and Vajrayana, and
bestowed various empowerments. All programs were conducted nights and
weekends to accommodate the work schedules of people in the
The Venerable Geshe Sopa and Ann Chavez prepared the
following questions for Khensur Rinpoche. The Venerable Yangsi Rinpoche
provided translation during the interview.
please tell us about your previous visits to Deer Park and what teachings
For 3 years, 1990 to 1992, on Thursday evenings I
taught the Middle Length Lam Rim by Je Tsongkapa. In that time I reached
the section on the Being of Middle Scope. I also gave the Cittamani Tara
Blessing and other initiations and commentaries.
On my next visit
in 1997, I taught a summer program on The Seven Point Thought Training. As
we again just finished, I also performed the Cakrasamvara and Vajrayogini
Initiations, followed by commentaries on the Vajrayogini practice and the
Six Session Yoga.
Please tell us about your own teachers,
including Geshe Sopa-la, and what you studied with them.
Geshe Sopa-la, I studied the Abisamayalamkara, Shantideva’s
Bodhicaryavatara, Madyamika, Pramanavartika, and Vinaya.
that in India or Tibet?
This was all in Tibet. After 1959,
Geshe-la went to Himachel Pradesh and eventually to the United States, and
I went initially to Buxa. So I wasn’t able to study with Geshe-la after
Who were your other teachers?
teachers were Gen Ngawang Gedun-la Gen Ngawang Rigtsel-la, and Gen
Lhundrup Tabgyay-la, the former abbot of Sera Je Monastery. I wasn’t able
to study Abhidharma with Geshe-la because that comes later in the geshe
course of study, and by that time I was already in India. With Gen Ngawang
Gedun, Gen Ngawang Rigtsel, and Gen Lhundrup Tabgyay I also studied
Abisamayalamkara, Abhidharma, and Pramanavartika.
What is your
relationship with Yangsi Rinpoche’s predecessor?
Madyamika with Gen Ngawang Gedun-la and I appreciated that very much and
what I have now is because of his kindness.
What has been your
relationship with Yangsi Rinpoche in his present life?
the complete responsibility for Yangsi Rinpoche was given to Lama Yeshe.
He had been given the responsibility of searching for the incarnation of
Geshe Ngawang Gedun. After he was found, Yangsi Rinpoche lived at Kopan
for a number of years. Initially, Lama Yeshe wanted him to stay longer at
Kopan. Everything that Lama Yeshe did for Rinpoche was greatly supported
and appreciated by Geshe Sopa and myself. Around 1974, Lama Yeshe and I
discussed what was best for Yangsi Rinpoche. Lama Yeshe said that he had
done everything he could for Rinpoche and now it was time to consider his
future education. Lama Yeshe said he could not do this by himself and that
it was important to provide a good education. He then asked if I could
come to stay at Kopan to teach Yangsi Rinpoche. When I shared this with
Geshe Sopa-la, he said that I should go to Kopan to see the situation
before deciding. I also still needed to complete my Geshe exam.
Geshe-la advised, I went to Kopan for a visit. After that, I went to
Dharmasala to receive teachings from His Holiness on the Lam Rim Chen Mo.
I would be taking the final Geshe Lharampa exam within the next two years
and so I had a private audience with His Holiness to get some advice on
this. His Holiness asked me what my plans were after finishing my Geshe
Exam. I told him about the possibility of going to Kopan to teach young
Yangsi Rinpoche. His Holiness told me that I should first go to the
Around that time, Geshe Sopa-la came to India
when His Holiness was giving teachings at Sera. Geshe-la was able to see
and was impressed by the quality of education that the monks were
receiving at Sera Monastery. He thought that it might be better if Yangsi
Rinpoche came to Sera to continue his education. Geshe la came to Kopan at
that time. Lama Yeshe wanted to keep Rinpoche there longer but with Geshe
Sopa’s advice, it was decided for Rinpoche to go to Sera.
took care of all the arrangements and ceremony for Rinpoche’s entry into
Sera. This was about 1977. Rinpoche would be studying with both Geshe
Lobsang Tsering (now Khensur Rinpoche of Sera Je) and myself. I was given
primary responsibility for Rinpoche’s care and education.
Rinpoche a good student?
(Laughs) Yes, he was a very good
From his first entry into the monastery until he became a
Geshe, Yangsi Rinpoche was primarily supported by Geshe Sopa, Lama Yeshe
and Lama Zopa. After Yangsi Rinpoche finished his Geshe training, there
was discussion about his coming to the West. His family and others had
concerns about this and wanted him to stay in India. Geshe Sopa felt that
it would be helpful if Yangsi Rinpoche could come to Deer Park. His
Holiness usually mentions in his teachings that he is uncomfortable with
young Geshes going to the West. Before Yangsi Rinpoche came to the West, I
had a private audience with His Holiness. During that audience, His
Holiness said that it would be O.K. if Rinpoche went but only for two
years which was the length of his visa. Then last year I had another
audience with His Holiness. He asked me how Yangsi Rinpoche was doing. I
told him he was still with Geshe Sopa at Deer Park. He said that it was
now good for Yangsi Rinpoche to stay at Deer Park. As much as possible we
try to get His Holiness’ advice and approval on Rinpoche’s plans. Lama
Zopa does this too. For example, a few years ago before Rinpoche went to
Dharmasala to give 2 months of teachings at Tushita, Lama Zopa spoke to me
and then I spoke to His Holiness about Rinpoche’s coming to Tushita to
give these teachings.
Is Yangsi Rinpoche studying with you
during this visit?
Not, formally but we have conversations and
when he asks me questions, I tell him which texts he can look at for more
study and information.
Rinpoche, could you please tell us about
your early life, about your parents, what you did when you were young and
about the monasteries where you studied?
My parents had three
children. I had one brother and one sister. My sister passed away when she
was young. My brother is still alive and lives in Tibet. Until I was 19
years old, I studied at Ganden Ogmin Monastery near Shigatse. The
monastery was founded by the 5th Dalai Lama. While there I did a lot of
memorization of texts. There was some debate but not nearly as much as is
done at Sera. At age 19, I went to Sera Je Monastery in Lhasa.
What did you do before you became a monk?
I became a
monk when I was 7 years old. My parents were very poor but I don’t
remember very much because I was so young. They were just a normal working
family. I remember sometimes herding some of the family animals and going
to visit relatives. My father was good with sewing and made his living
that way. My mother did weaving on a big loom.
Did you visit
your parents after you entered the monastery?
After I went to
Lhasa, I visited my parents only once until I decided to leave Tibet in
1960. After I left Lhasa, I stayed in my village for about 8 months. My
parents didn’t know that I was planning to escape. I didn’t tell anybody
because it would have been dangerous for them. I stayed with another monk
in the village and asked him if he wanted to make the journey with me. He
decided not to come so I had to move to another house before I left. He
would have been in trouble with the Chinese if I had left from his house.
I had planned to meet with 5 other monks at a certain location. We had to
wait for about 2 weeks for two of the monks to arrive at the planned
meeting place. Then we traveled together for two weeks to the Nepali
border. The trip was difficult physically because of the high mountain
passes but there was no danger from the Chinese military.
did you do when you crossed the border?
We first went to see
His Holiness where he was living in Mussorie, India. After seeing His
Holiness, the three of us who had come from Sera Monastery went to Buxa.
The other two monks went to Dharamsala to take teacher training. We first
had to report to a refugee processing camp before going to Buxa. I stayed
a long time in Buxa. When I first got there, I got sick and had to stay in
a hospital for about a year with T.B. When I was better, I continued my
education from where I left off in Tibet. I had already finished my study
of the Abhisamayalamkara and at Buxa I began to study Madyamika and
In 1969, we moved to Bylakuppe in southern India.
For 2 years we had very little formal study because we had to work to
build the settlement which is now Sera Je Monastery. Then I was able to
study and complete the Geshe program.
Briefly, what did you do
while you were abbot of Gyume Tantric College?
the Lharampa Geshe exam, I studied for one year at the Tantric college.
After that, I became the disciplinarian (Ge Gur) at Gyume. But before I
could actually begin as Ge Gur, I had to memorize 81 texts and take an
exam on those in front of the abbot. The preparation for Ge Gur can take
between 3 and 6 months. I was able to complete the preparation in 4
months. Not long after beginning as Ge Gur, I was made a candidate to
become the abbot of Gyume. The preparation to become the abbot takes about
3 years. During that time I served as the Lama Um Ze. The Um Ze is
responsible for the administrative and political aspects of the monastery.
I did this for 3 years. Then, after becoming abbot, I was able to
concentrate on religious training and responsibilities.
society recognized Tulkus would normally give initiations. However, at
that time His Holiness had a very strong idea that the abbot could give
Yamantaka, Gurysamaja, and other initiations in the monastery. So that is
what I did. This was not established in earlier times, but His Holiness
asked that we do that.
I served as abbot for 3 years. During that
time, I took one tour outside of Asia. That is when I first visited Deer
What are you doing now at Sera Je Monastery?
These days I have many students. My schedule varies a little.
I teach one or two classes in the morning and four classes in the
afternoon. I do this 5 to 6 days a week.
Rinpoche, what are your
I will return to Sera and continue to teach. When
I have time, I will do retreat.
One last question Rinpoche –
what advice do you have for the students at Deer Park?
should continue to study of course. Your practice should be gradual, first
Lam Rim. Then based on Vajrayana texts, practice tantra, again gradually.
You should take advantage of having 3 geshes who are teaching here, Geshe
Sopa-la, Yangsi Rinpoche, and Geshe Tabgyay-la. You should study well with
them, reflect on what you have studied, and then put the teachings into
practice as much as you are able.
But you still must work at your
jobs. Don’t give that up, but do what study and practice you can while
working. Then when you are able then you can dedicate more of your time to
You must remember that the Lam Rim is the essence of
the practice, and that this must be backed up with philosophy, logic and
reason. So it is important to study Abhisamayalamkara, Abhidharma and
Madyamika as well. Also, it is good to study about the mind, such as texts
on Lo Rig and Mind and Mental Events. To get an understanding of
emptiness, you should study Madyamika. Other areas to study are the stages
and paths, and tenets.
Then, of course, Geshe-la is teaching the
summer courses. If the have the time and the right background, these
classes will help clarify the teachings.
Thank you very much
Rinpoche for coming to Madison and giving us such wonderful teachings.
Please come back soon. The end.