A Short Biography of

Geshe Losang Palden


Geshe Losang Palden's autobiography as told to Sonam Tenzin on 20 November 2003.

"I

†was born in a town called Langchungnang [in Ganze or Kardze county of Tehor district in Eastern Tibet, now under Sichuan Province of China] just downhill from Yetsak, west of Dhargyey Monastery.

The town is said to be called Langchungnang (home of small elephant), because it is at the base of a mountain that looks like an elephant in shape.† In this town there are about twenty families, and now it has an electric station nearby.

It was the year of the Rat and I was born about one and a half months before Losar [about December 1935 or January 1936], so I am now 68 years old.

My father's name was Tsewang Dorje and his grandfather was quite notorious and after creating some disturbances in Joru district down river from Tehor district, he left that place and settled in Langchungnang.†

My mother's name was Kadro Dolma or Kache for short and she came from Tagso township.† Together my parents had two sons and six daughters.† The eldest son died young and so the younger son was given the name Butruk (child-boy) and he had four younger and two elder sisters.† That was me and I was named Dorje Samdrub.

Then while I was still very young my father died and his family side had all died too, so my mother was alone with eight children. Those were difficult times for our family.

Then at eleven years age I went to nearby Dhargyey Monastery and there I learned reading, writing and memorised many texts, which apart from the normal monastic prayers included practices like Guhyasamaja, Heruka, Solitary Yamantaka, Kunrig etc.† I also received some teachings and began study of monastic debate texts and memorised the Seventy Topics of Abhisamayalamkara and the Bodhisattvacharyavatara.†

For six years or until I was seventeen I stayed there and became very good at reciting texts and practices.† I got prizes like the best memorisation of Demchog (Cakrasamvara) practice, which made my mother very happy when she heard.† It was at this time that the Chinese came into East Tibet for the first time i.e. about 1948-51, and they didnít get to Lhasa yet then.† It was a good to be in school till that time.† My main teacher was Gen Jampa Khedrub and it was through him that I got to meet Kensur Rinpoche [Geshe Ogyen Tseten] when I went to Sera Monastery in central Tibet later on.††

In Dhargyey Monastery the normal (scriptural) teachers changed yearly so I had about six teachers there who taught me colours etc every lunchtime.† From Gen Jampa Khedrub I received many dharma teachings, including initiation of Great Compassion and others.

Then Gen Jampa Khedrub told me it would be good to go to Sera Monastery in Lhasa, and "since you are poor I will find you a teacher who has enough money to look after you too."† I had heard from others that a certain Nyatsa Choedze, who was a student of Kensur Rinpoche's, and became Gen Tega's teacher later, was rich and so gave his pupils good food, but when I asked Gen Jampa Khedrub he said "no use!" and said he had many students at Sera but he would check with a mo [divination] which one was best for me.† When he checked the best turned out to be Kensur Kagyurwa [Geshe Losang Thupten].† So I got a letter and left for Lhasa.†

However when I got to Lhasa it was during the eleventh Tibetan month, and so Kensur Kagyurwa was away at the winter debate retreat (Jang-gung-choe) and Kensur [Ogyen Tseten] Rinpoche was staying in his room.† I had the letter from Gen Jampa Khedrub so I gave that to Kensur Rinpoche. He happened to be omdze [chant leader] at that time for Tehor Kangtsen [or Tehor House of Seraje College in Sera Monastic University].

I had been staying with my sister in Lhasa who had meantime married and left Eastern Tibet and become a successful trader.† However Gen [i.e. Kensur Rinpoche] said, "Why not come here?" and my sister agreed.† She said if I would stay with her I would become a miscreant (Pagla) like she felt her husband was, and "if you don't go now you wonít be able to go till after the Great Prayer Festival."† Her husband didnít want me to go, as he was happy to have me accompany him everywhere he went like a servant.† But since Kensur Rinpoche and my sister both said, I entered the Monastery.

Later on Kensur Kagyurwa came back from the winter debate together with Geshe Ngawang Dhargey, and on their return they went to have an audience with Bagri Rinpoche.† He said "Loga, you needed to come to see me because you have some obstacle [to your life]."† Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey told me this, as Kensur Kagyurwa doesn't usually talk about these things.† When they visited Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang together then Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was the main one and when they visited Bagri Dorjechang, Kensur Kagyurwa was the main one.† Bakri Dorjechang had said "Barchae duk" ["there is an obstacle"].

What actually happened was they had come back at night from winter retreat, a few students together, but as Kensur Kagyurwa was a slow walker he fell behind, and then he fell ill and had to go by horse.† He was still ill when he came back to Sera and so we cleaned his room and moved to Kensur Rinpoche's room. Kensur Rinpoche had to move anyway to his own room and since I didn't know Kensur Kagyurwa yet and hadn't been able to give him the letter, I also went with Kensur Rinpoche.† In any case at that time people were saying they were not sure that Kensur Kagyurwa would live, as he was so badly ill, so I left with Kensur Rinpoche and therefore naturally became his student.

For a couple of months we had stayed together like that and I learned the colour debates from him.† Then there was the Prayer Festival where all the monks go to Lhasa and I went with Kensur Rinpoche to stay with his sponsor there who was a trader from Trayab, and not with Kensur Kagyurwa and his students.

Much later when he was well I gave Kensur Kagyurwa the letter from Gen Jampa Khedrub and we talked about it and agreed that I would stay with Kensur Rinpoche.† There I often used to meet Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey as he frequently visited Kensur Rinpoche and we would discuss dharma topics.† We became good friends and even though we did not have a student-teacher relationship, he clarified many debate points for me in our discussions or by answers to my questions, so he was an important study-partner for me, a role played much later in India by Geshe Legden.† At that time [in Tibet], Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey had become tutor to [two incarnate lamas from Eastern Tibet], Lhagon Tulku and Thupten Tulku and therefore lived on top of Tehor Kangtsen house. This meant that our paths crossed alot.† He recommended me to read Milarepa's spiritual biography (namtar) and also told me in what manner I should read it and although I had seen it before then, it was due to him that I read it thoroughly and well.† We remained like family after that, even though we had some different teachers.† Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey was very kind to me and due to his recommendation I read many biographies of great dharma masters, which inspired me alot seeing how hard those great masters had practised.  [Later,] whenever I went to Dharamsala [in North India], even though I was from the same group in the home country as Geshe Rabten, I always stayed with Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey.  I liked to hear stories of Gesar and he would often tell these stories. Even when he left India he wrote and before he died we had connection.

Once it happened in the Monastery that a disagreement arose between Kensur Kagyurwa and Geshe Rabten and I acted as a go-between and helped reconciliate them.† I would end up doing this later in Sera in India and have often been mediator in problems within the Monastery or outside.† Anyway Geshe Rabten and Kensur Kagyurwa became reconciliated and so when the young Kushu Losang Tenzin [Tulku] needed a scriptural tutor Geshe Rabten even asked Kensur Kagyurwa to do this. When we got to India, we went to a place in Assam area of east India called Buxa.† There I became best friends with Geshe Sonam Rinchen and Geshe Doga, as Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey wasnít there. We were good friends and realised the importance of close friendship and tolerance and respect for each other's teachers.† I liked to be mediator when there were problems and so I have always ended up doing this.† When neighbours are friendly everyone is happier and so thats how I was in the monastery.

So then in Sera I studied starting again from the beginning of the basic debates as is the tradition in the monastic university.  This lasted until 1959 when the uprising against the Chinese occupation occurred in Lhasa and we were forced to flee for our safety and for freedom of religious practice to India.

Until I was 17 I had studied and memorised texts and prayers at Dhargyey Monastery and as my father had died we were poor, but by the time I came to Lhasa my eldest sister had worked very hard and brought the family into good conditions.† So my sister in Lhasa was very generous to me and I had no difficulties while I was in Sera Monastery.† I was the best off in my class of those who were from my home country.

But I didn't keep what she gave me; I gave everything to Kensur Rinpoche. He was poor so I gave all to him, my teacher.† At first I had been his roommate, but then when he did Geshe he lived a more relaxed life and so I moved to another room.† Those days, even if I only had two coins I gave them to Kensur Rinpoche.

Very good was that Gen Jampa Khedrub had always emphasized to me the great importance of the practice of correctly relying upon the spiritual master.† He taught it traditionally, as in the home country, chi sung ka drub, meaning, "do exactly as the teacher advises you to."† He gave much advice to me before leaving for Sera Monastery.†† That was very good for my mind and so I was determined that in the trasa [monastic university] I would practice the correct reliance upon my teacher just as he had taught me.† I worked hard at this at the university, and I gave all I got from my sister or others' alms offerings to Kensur Rinpoche. So since Tibet when I came to Sera I thought always "I want to rely on my teacher in a most excellent way."† Gen Sonam Rinchen used to tell me "Your sister is rich and generous but you never have anything."† He was well off too and had alot and we were good friends.† While I lived together in same room as Kensur Rinpoche we shared food and when I moved out I still gave all I got to Kensur Rinpoche and I used to buy meat for him if I had any money.

So I had enough to eat but no extra.† Thinking of Milarepa's life story, I had no difficulties about this.† I knew the importance of relying well on the spiritual teacher and worked hard at my studies so I have the merit of that.

My sister gave me many things but somehow her husband heard that I didn't keep things well, and so he created many difficulties for her.† She would bring me good quality cloaks, robes, household utensils and carpets etc that rich people would use and I gave them to Kensur Rinpoche and used ordinary quality robes and things for myself.† One day my sister paid me a surprise visit.† I was living in another room then, not with Kensur Rinpoche. She saw that I only had one simple pot and nothing else as I'd given it all to Kensur Rinpoche. So I looked and was quite poor.† My sister asked me where all the things were she had given me, like the robes and carpets etc.† Thus the problem had been caused as her husband had told her I was not keeping her nice gifts.† She reprimanded me strongly about this.† Then I bought some bread and took her to the lawn below the monastery and explained to her that I had given all to Gen Rinpoche.† I told her, "If I had given these things to just anybody you would be justified in telling me off like this but I gave all these things to my teacher.† If I don't make sure that I have a good practice of relying upon my teacher I will not do well here in the university so I have given this alot of thought."† "If I don't do like this I will not be able to accomplish my aims." "Also you two get lots of merit by my giving these things."† I told her that sometime she should visit Kensur Rinpoche and "look around his room and you will see your carpet and vessels and other things there.† I didn't just get rid of them!"† She thought about it and said, "this is good."† "If you can do this without hardship it is good, and I will explain this to my husband.† If I don't it won't be good and we will fight."† So I told her that all is with Gen, and this is the time we need to offer to the teacher and she understood this.† She realised that some others from Tehor district had only told her husband this to create discord as he was from Ganze [or Kardze]. †So as my sister and I understood each other the difficulty passed.†

Later her husband died and she took a new one, but first she made a contract with him to the fact that she had a monk brother who had to be considered as a member of the family too.† He was rich and from Amdo and liked Gen Rinpoche, and made no difficulties about this.†

Then at 24 years of age I left Tibet for India, [due to the uprising].† I was in uma class [which is Madhyamaka, or the correct view of reality].† I had been in Sera at Lhasa only seven years.† My scriptural teachers in Sera were only Kensur Ogyen Tseten and Kensur Losang Thupten.† But I had received dharma teachings from other lamas too.

I received complete lam-rim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.† Actually many other teachings too but at least two full lam-rims and many Kalacakra initiations, Yamantaka initiations, Guhyasamaja-Heruka-Vajrabhairava initiations, Great Compassion (Avalokitesvara) initiation, in fact whatever he taught we usually got.

From Bakri Rinpoche I took Getsul [Sramanera] vows and received the name Losang Palden.

From Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche I got the Five-fold lam-rim teachings: nam-drol lag-chang [Enlightenment in Your Palm], de-lam [Easy Path], nyur-lam [Quick Path], jampel shal-lung [Manjushri's Transmission], and lam-rim ser-shunma [Essence of Refined Gold] together.† I received "Wheel of Sharp Weapons" mind-training teachings many times, Guhyasamaja-Heruka-Vajrabhairava initiations many times, kor-dul [Vajrapani] initiation many times, kun-rig [V???] initiation, dug-kar [White Umbrella Goddess] initiation, and Guhyasamaja-Heruka-Vajrabhairava initiations with ngag-due or word commentary added.

From Lhatsun Rinpoche I received Vajrayogini initiation many times.† Thus, with Ling Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche, HH the Dalai Lama, Lhatsun Rinpoche and Bakri Rinpoche that makes five lamas and two scriptural teachers makes seven lamas.

In 1959 I was about 24 years old and we fled to India.† We arrived in Eastern India and first spent one or two months in Musameri and then I spent six years in Buxa, but I took no new teachers and continued the scriptural studies I had begun in Tibet.†

Then from 1967 I went to Sarnath (by Varanasi) for 9 years to do the Acarya course at the new Tibetan Institute there.† There I met and became friends and offered service to Song Rinpoche but no dharma connection [i.e. he is not one of my lamas].† Even though I took no teachings from him he said many things beneficial to my mind and I developed much respect for him but there was no chance for teachings anymore.† At Varanasi it was largely a waste of my time as we learned many useless things, except for the pure scholar.† In Sarnath I spent 4 years in the Madhyamaka class, 2 in the Shastri class (to get Shastri degree), and then 3 years in the Acarya class (to get Acarya degree).

When that was finished I asked myself "What shall I do next?"† Over the years many had asked me to come to their monasteries all over India but I had thought that would be far from my teachers.† There was no one on hand to ask really, so I thought myself, "I need to aid His Holiness the Dalai Lama's and my other teachers' activities and I can only do this through dharma, for I had nothing else to offer." From this point in my life to start some worldly activity would be useless and I couldn't please my teachers by doing this. So I thought I should do as best I can with pure motivation ad be as beneficial as possible and so I decided to go to Sera Monastery [which had been established in south India by that time] even though nobody asked me to come there.

Till then me and Geshe Doga, and Geshe Sonam Rinchen had always been together, but Geshe Sonam Rinchen moved to Dharamsala, first to cook for Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and later as teacher there.† Geshe Doga only stayed in Sera a little while and then went to [Nepal and then] Australia.†Other friends from Buxa like Geshe Thupten Ngawang went to Germany. But I came to Sera here in South India.†

Meanwhile Gen (Kensur Ogyen Tseten) had become lama omdze (manager-leader) of Gyume Tantric College [near Hunsur in South India] so I stayed with him serving him for one year.† I didn't get to do any study, but had many discussions with him.

After that I went to Sera, and there I finished my Geshe degree.† My degrees from Varanasi qualified me to enter into Lharampa class and then I studied four years in Sera so that in 1980 I took the final Geshe exams at Lharampa (honours) level.† The debate exams (mon-lam damchoe) for my Geshe degree I did at the Great Prayer festivals at Sera and at Mundgod.† Later, in 1983, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave me the Geluk degree certificate for that.† It took so long because he didn't visit south India before then for those 3 years.† He taught Lama Tsongkhapa's famous text drang-nge-lekshay-nyingpo at that time.

Geshe Losang Palden 2004, Photo Christof SpitzIn my class that year the best student was Gaden Shartse Geshe Konchok Tsultrim, there was non-one else that I knew of that good at debate. But in the exams I did better than he--I got first and he only got second.† That means in the first grade of Lharampa Geshe I got first and he second.† At that time HH Dalai Lama gave a copy of the text rim-nga-sal-dron to first grade Geshes.† Also all the degrees I had received at Varanasi I was in the first grade but which place within that I donít recall. But the Geshe is the final and really high degree and there I got first of First, even though I think the Shartse Geshe should have received it.

After getting Geshe in 1980, I soon became Studies Teacher (lo-nyer gen) for four years.† At this time this job included being school teacher for monk school pupils as well as actual Studies Teacher.† Gen Trimbu and Kensur Losang Thupten had done this job first and then when Kensur Losang Thupten did a meditation retreat, his position was taken over by Gen Dorje Tashi.† When the latter left I took this job.† Later they separated the school teacher part.† As Studies Teacher I went to the Jang-gungchoe or Winter debate retreat for 6 years and there I was teaching not only my own students but anyone to make sure their understanding was good.† This worked very well and I became very good at it. This was very beneficial for the students. After doing that for six years I was appointed Leader of Discipline (gekoe) for Seraje College for two years.† That left me no time for any other work.†

I had come to Sera thinking to serve HH the Dalai Lama and my teachers by helping others understand the texts and I have a strong determination to do this since I came here.† Wherever I have gone in this life it was always with a particular strong determination, so when I came from home country to Lhasa, my special resolve was to correctly rely upon and serve my spiritual teachers.† To do that very well was my resolve.† Then coming here to Sera I had resolved to repay and serve the activities of my lamas.†

These two special resolves I made are the only special things in my life, otherwise I just studied texts and went to places of scriptural study.† So thatís my life story. It wasn't difficult; whenever there are any problems there is a system here to resolve them."


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Translated and compiled from oral and written sources by Sönam Tenzin,
Last revised: 10 June 2004
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