Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche
The 4th Trungram Gyaltrul, also Drungram Gyaltrul, Tenpa Gyaltsen, and Gyalwa Lama (????–present), was born into a Nepalese Sherpa family and was recognized by the 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of the 3rd Trungram Gyaltrul.
He is the head of the Trungram lineage, its monasteries, meditation centers, schools, dharma centers and groups around the world. He is one of the highest tulkus of the Karma Kagyu lineage, having received as well extensive transmissions of the Nyingma lineages, and teaches in the spirit of the Rimé (non-sectarian) movement. He is also the first reincarnate lama to earn a Ph.D. in the West, having completed a doctoral program in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Harvard University.
Birth and recognition
As a very young boy, Trungram Gyaltrul had an unusual physical marking, which eventually led his parents to take him to Nepal at the age of 18 months to seek out His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, supreme head of the Kagyu lineage. In a public audience at Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, the Karmapa recognized the child on sight as the “intentionally reborn” manifestation (tulku) of the 3rd Trungram Gyaltrul. The Karmapa explained his marking as a symbol of his predecessor’s realization of Mahamudra practice.
The Karmapa proclaimed the boy as the 4th Trungram Gyaltrul, with the formal name of “Trungram Karma Tenpai Gyaltsen Trinlay Kunkyab Pal Sangpo” and bestowed him with dharma robes at Dabsang monastery near Baudha, Kathmandu in 1970. His Holiness gave him Buddhist refuge vows, and wrote a long life prayer for him. Trungram Gyaltrul was enthroned at the age of four at Rumtek Monastery, the main seat of the Karmapa, in Sikkim, India.
Early Years in Rumtek
Trungram Gyaltrul’s studies began at Rumtek Monastery at age of four. He received a six-year traditional monastic education at the monastery from 1973 until 1979. This was followed by studies on Tibetan and Buddhist literature and philosophy at Jamyang Khang preparatory school.At age nine he took the vows of a novice monk (getsul), but did not later take full ordination, and returned his novice vows before attending university.
In 1981, Trungram Gyaltrul entered the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, in Rumtek. There, for nine years, he studied the traditional fields of Buddhist philosophy, logic, epistemology, soteriology, cosmology, codes, debates, history, poetry, medicine, Sanskrit, literature, medicine, and meditation.
In 1990, he earned the title of Ka-rabjampa ("one with unobstructed knowledge of scriptures," the Kagyu equivalent of the Geluk Geshe degree) from Nalanda, and also received the degree of Acharya, or Master of Buddhist Philosophy, with First Class Honors, from Sampurnanant Sanskrit University, in Varanasi, India.
Teachings from all traditions
Reflecting the non-sectarian approach of his predecessor, Trungram Gyaltrul’s teachers come from all four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Geluk). He studied with some of the greatest masters of recent years, particularly H.H. the 16th Karmapa and H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He received most of his teachings and empowerments from these two rinpoches and from Khenchen Trinley Paljor Rinpoche (appointed by the 16th Karmapa to be Trungram Gyaltrul’s tutor). His other Buddhist teachers include H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Sakya Trizin, the previous Urgyen Tulku Rinpoche, the previous Khamtrul Rinpoche, Trulshik Rinpoche, the previous Kalu Rinpoche, the previous Salje Rinpoche and the previous Gendun Rinpoche. He studied extensively under Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Khenpo Choedrak Rinpoche.
Besides traditional Buddhist education, Trungram Gyaltrul also studied liberal arts at Kirkwood College in Iowa, worked with Professor Donald Lopez as visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, and was involved in a teaching exchange program and sutra translation there in 1992.
In 1994, he studied Chinese for six months in Taiwan at the Language Learning Center of National Taiwan Normal University. He is fluent in Tibetan, English, Nepali, Sherpa, Chinese, and has a good knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi and French.
His concentration was on Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies with special emphasis on comparative studies. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 2004, with a dissertation on Gampopa, the most prominent disciple of Milarepa, focusing on Gampopa's seminal role in the development of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Trungram Gyaltrul gave his first public teaching at the age of eleven, to visitors from European countries. He taught the essence of Naropa's Mahamudra and the practice of Avalokiteshvara. The next year he gave a teaching on the Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas to the monks of Rumtek, praised by the 16th Karmapa and all the khenpos and rinpoches present. At 13, he performed his first initiation, transmitting the essence of the Kagyupa Long Life Buddha practice.
In 1987, Trungram Gyaltrul took his first trip overseas to teach the Dharma. Since then, he has given teachings and initiations and helped create groups and centers for Buddhist studies in many countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.
Preserving Practice Lineages
In 2004, with his support, monks of the Trungram tradition founded Dharmakaya, a US based non-profit organization, for the express purpose of preserving and spreading Dharma lineages, particularly in the US. A major retreat center for short and long term retreats, the Mahamudra Hermitage, is to be built at Cragsmoor, New York.
After returning from Trungram Monastery, Trungram Gyaltrul founded the United Trungram Buddhist Foundation, first in Nepal in 1992, followed by several other countries, and later, the United Trungram Buddhist Fellowship (UTBF), as vehicles for philanthropic activities in education and medical care, with special emphasis on supporting disadvantaged children in Nepal.
A model secondary school, Trungram International Academy, has been in operation since 1995, a university is planned but is on hold due to the political conditions in Nepal, and periodic free health clinics are offered in remote areas of Nepal.
Trungram Gyaltrul’s latest project, the Lumbini Udayana Mahachaitya, a World Center for Peace and Unity, at Buddha Shakyamuni’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal, is intended as a locus for the growth of an all encompassing non-sectarian spirit, and an example of 21st century Buddhism contributing to a greener world and reviving ancient art and culture.
It is located in a special development zone connected to the Lumbini UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike the other monasteries, it was specifically conceived to be a non-sectarian center for any Buddhist, or non-Buddhist, visitors to Lumbini, regardless of tradition or lineage, and especially for those who were not represented by the nations who built the other monasteries.
The first Trungram Gyaltrul was born in Lhathog, Eastern Tibet, remained a yogin his entire life, known for his meditational attainment, and was given the name "Gyalwa Tulku". Under his guidance, the Trungram Monastery located at the border of Sichuan and Tibet flourished and "Trungram" was added to his name. His younger brother and disciple Trinley Rabgye became the first Aten Rinpoche.
The 3rd Trungram Gyaltrul, Gotsa Gyalwa Luntok Thrinlay (1894–1959), was born in the Wood Horse year in Derge, East Tibet and was recognized by the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa Khakyab Dorje (1871–1922). He was a heart disciple of Karmapa, respected and remembered among the Tibetans as one of the leading meditation masters of the twentieth century. His knowledge of the Tripitaka and attainment in his meditation and Bodhisattva practice made him a model master.
Tens of thousands of people in the thinly populated Tibet - laymen, monks, nuns, scholars, abbots and well known masters of the Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya and Gelug schools, and the Bon tradition came to receive teachings from him.
Among these students were H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, family members of H.H. the 16th Karmapa, Chagmey Rinpoche, Dzigar Choktrul Rinpoche, Dzigar Thuksey Rinpoche, Zozi Jetrung Rinpoche, Zurmang Rolpai Dorje and many more.
As a child, the 3rd Trungram Gyaltrul was a very active boy who liked to play with dogs. At the age of eighteen, he suddenly became quiet and began to meditate in caves. The rest of his life was spent practicing meditation and helping others. He built many short-term and long-term retreat houses as well as the Trungram Monastery.
He incorporated Rechungpa's Whispered Lineage (Nyengyu) practice into the Trungram Tradition. Most of the time Trungram Gyaltrul stayed in Ngonmo Namzong (Azure Sky Castle), a mountain cave not far from the monastery, doing intensive meditation practice. It is said that he loved to eat the nettles naturally growing around the cave.
Khandro Lhamo, Khyentse Rinpoche's wife, describes their visit to Azure Sky Castle: "One of Khyenste Rinpoche's main teachers was Drungram Gyatrul Rinpoche, who lived his entire life in a cave near Ngoma Nagsum.
So many people circumnambulated the rock that the earth was worn away down to waist level. When I met him, his hair hadn't turned gray yet, so he must have been in his fifties. He would eat only once a week and almost never slept.