Karma Thinley Rinpoche

Karma Thinley Rinpoche, master of the Kagyu and Sakya traditions, was born into the noble family of Bongsar in 1931 in the Nangchen area of Kham, Eastern Tibet. At the age of one month he received refuge and some two years later was recognised by the then head of the Sakya tradition, Sakya Trizin Dakshul Thinley Rinchen, as the tulku (incarnation) of the Sakyapa master Biru Sharyak Lama Kunrik, thought to be an incarnation of the great Vairocana. At that time he received all the symbols and titles of his rank and authority.

Due to Rinpoche’s rank and the extraordinary profusion of spiritual masters among his extensive set of relations, he received a vast number of teachings during his childhood and youth. From his uncle, the famous yogin and terton Jigje Lama, he received various Kagyu and Nyingma precepts, as he did from his two great uncles Shabtrung Rinpoche and Pangchog Rinpoche, heads of Riwoche, the famous non-sectarian monastery. From the great Sakya masters Khangsar Khenpo Ngawang Yonten Gyamtso and Ngawang Tashi Chophel he received a wide range of Sakyapa teachings.

At such monastaries as Lachung, Dilyak and Neten, Rinpoche studied the classical mahayana texts under a number of masters, including Khenpo Pad-dam, Khenpo Gur-ga, Drupon Sanjay Puntsok and Khenpo Tse-gyam. Later at Tsurphu in central Tibet, Rinpoche received full monastic ordination from H.H. 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. It was during this period that H.H. Karmapa recognized Rinpoche as the fourth incarnation of Karma Thinleypa, the famous Kagyu and Sakya scholar.

In 1959, Rinpoche left Tibet in the party of the Karmapa, fleeing from communist oppression. Subsequently Rinpoche became abbot of a newly established nunnery at Tilokpur in 1962. In 1967 he received the Path and its Fruit , the principal cycle of teachings of the Sakya tradition, from H.H. Sakya Trizin at Sarnath. It was about this time that Rinpoche met his first Western disciples. In 1971 Rinpoche settled in Canada, accompanying a group of Tibetan refugees as their spiritual teacher and a year later founded the Tibetan Society, to introduce Tibetan culture to Canada. In 1973 Rinpoche founded Kampo Gangra Drubgyud Ling meditation centre in Toronto, named after the first Karmapa’s monastery in Kham. That same year Rinpoche spent three months in Scotland, where he met his English student Lama Jampa Thaye for the first time.

Rinpoche returned to India in 1978 to receive the Rinchen Terdzod, the famous collection of Nyingma treasure cycles, from H.H. Dingo Khyentse Rinpoche. Four years later he made his first return to Tibet for over 20 years, travelling throughout Nangchen visiting his relatives and giving teachings. In 1983 Rinpoche received the Drubthap Kundu, the collected sadhanas of the new tantra schools, from H.E. Chogay Trichen in Lumbini.

Over the last twenty-five years Rinpoche has founded centres and taught extensively in Canada, the U.S.A., New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He has hundreds of devoted students, both Tibetan and Western. In addition to being an accomplished poet and artist, Rinpoche is a renowned historian, having written (in English) The History of the Sixteen Karmapas. His major projects at the current time are the continuing supervision of his nunnery Tegchen Lekshey Ling in Bodhnath, Nepal and of Sangngak Phodrang in Nangchen.

“You are the activity of the holders of the Black and Red Crowns
Making the lineages of Buddha’s sutra and tantra shine like the sun.
Supreme root lama, Karma Thinley
May your life be long and your activities be completely fulfilled.”

Extracted from the Long Life Prayer by Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro