Dorjechang Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989)
had numerous previous incarnations as Bodhisattvas and enlightened masters
who appeared in the world to benefit sentient beings. Kalu
Rinpoche is considered one of the five main emanations of Jamgon Kongtrul
the Great (1813-1899).
Kalu Rinpoche was a yogi, scholar, and one of the great meditation masters
of the Buddhist tradition. His teachings were sought by lamas of all four
schools of Buddhism in Tibet. As the Lineage holder of the Shangpa Kagyu
tradition and senior Meditation Master of the Karma Kagyu tradition, he
was foremost in spreading the Dharma to the West and establishing Dharma
centers and facilities for Westerners to undertake the traditional three-year
and authentic example remains as untainted jewel for the entire world.
For information regarding the previous
incarnations of Kalu Rinpoche, please visit the webpage describing the
past emanations of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great.
Dorjechang Kalu Rinpoche
Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche was born in 1905 in the district of Treshö Gangchi
Rawa in the Hor region of Kham, Eastern Tibet. His father, Karma Lekshe
Drayang, the Thirteenth Ratak Palzang Tulku, was noted for his skill in
the practice of medicine, his literary accomplishments and his mastery
of Vajrayana meditation practice. He and his wife, Drolkar Chung Chung,
Rinpoche's mother, were students of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, Jamyang
Khyentse Wangpo, and Mipham Rinpoche —the three great leaders of the nineteenth
century Rimey movement which revitalized Buddhism in Tibet by minimizing
sectarian differences and stressing the importance of meditation, the
common ground of all lineages.
Both of Kalu Rinpoche's parents were devoted to practice
and undertook a religious retreat immediately after their marriage. They
saw little of each other during this period, but one night both dreamed
that they were visited by their deceased teacher, Jamgon Kongtrul, who
announced that he was coming to stay with them and asked to be given a
room. Not long afterwards, Drolkar discovered she was pregnant.
One day while gathering medicinal herbs with her husband, Drolkar realized
she was about to give birth. As they hurried back to their house, they
saw the sky filled with rainbows. Relatives reported that the baby chanted
Om Mani Peme Hung as soon as he was born, and sat in the seven-point
posture, gazing around compassionately.
Such portents were interpreted in the neighboring countryside as signaling
the birth of a special incarnation (tulku). Conventionally, a tulku
would have been raised in a monastery at the earliest possible age, but
Kalu Rinpoche's father refused to follow this course. If the boy were
not a high incarnation, he said, the training would be wasted; if he were,
he would be quite capable of seeking the appropriate teachers and education
for himself. That is just what he did.
As a youth, Kalu Rinpoche had by nature no interest in worldly concerns
and yearned only to practice meditation in isolated places. He displayed
keen intelligence, strong devotion, and compassion towards every living
being. He would stop to bless even the smallest insect. His father, skilled
in the five traditional sciences, trained Kalu Rinpoche himself, making
sure that Kalu Rinpoche rose early each morning and exerted himself in
his studies and Dharma practice. He knew that his son possessed exceptional
qualities and believed he would become a second Milarepa.
After preliminary training in grammar, writing and meditation, Kalu Rinpoche
began his formal studies at Palpung Monastery at the age of thirteen.
At that time, the Eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Wangchok Gyalpo, gave
him getsiil vows (first level monastic ordination), naming the young monk
Karma Rangjung Kunchab. The prefix Karma identifies Kalu Rinpoche
as a practitioner of the Karma Kagyu tradition, and Rangjung Kunchab
means self-arisen, all-pervading.
At Palpung Monastery, Kalu Rinpoche studied the teachings of the sutras
and tantras, receiving both instruction and empowerments from many great
lamas. At age fifteen, during the traditional rainy-season retreat, he
gave a profound discourse on the three vows before a large assembly of
monks and lay people.
At sixteen, Kalu Rinpoche entered Kunzang Dechen Osal Ling, the retreat
center founded by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and one of the two retreat
facilities associated with Palpung Monastery. Here he completed the traditional
three-year retreat under the direction of the retreat master, the Venerable
Lama Norbu Dondrup, from whom he received the complete transmission of
the Karma Kagyu and Shangpa Kagyu Lineages. During this period, Kalu Rinpoche
began to have many dreams in which he visited pure lands and received
teachings from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. When he described these experiences,
his root lama showed little interest, telling him plainly that dreams
are just an illusion, neither good nor bad, explaining, "These dreams
are experiences that arise in practice, but the important point is to
meditate and realize your own mind as Mahamudra. Dreams will never be
the cause of enlightenment."
Deeply inspired by these words, Kalu Rinpoche resolved to turn away completely
from worldly activities and dedicate himself to accomplishing perfect
enlightenment. At age twenty-five, he departed for an extended retreat
in the desolate mountains of Kham. Wandering without possessions, taking
shelter in caves and under cliffs, seeking and needing no human company,
he intended to spend the rest of his life in solitude.
After Kalu Rinpoche spent twelve years meditating in this way, his lamas
saw that it would benefit all beings greatly if he were to return and
teach the Dharma. At their request, he returned and was appointed master
of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's three-year retreat at Palpung Monastery.
When two retreats were completed under Kalu Rinpoche's direction, he asked
Situ Rinpoche and Palden Khyentse Ozer for permission to make a pilgrimage
to Lhasa. He wished to travel like a beggar, carrying his own food and
clothing, but Tai Situ Rinpoche objected, saying, "You are like my
precious jewel," and offered him many yaks and attendants. Kalu Rinpoche,
however, accepted only half the number of yaks and went accompanied only
by his brother and one monk.
In Lhasa, Kalu Rinpoche organized the rebuilding of several Shangpa Kagyu
holy sites that had been destroyed and gave Shangpa Lineage initiations
and teachings to many geshes, lamas, and tulkus. While visiting Tsurphu
Monastery, he offered everything he had to the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa,
Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who recognized Kalu Rinpoche as the activity emanation
of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye.
In 1955, a few years before the full Communist military occupation of
Tibet, Dorjechang Kalu Rinpoche again visited the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa,
who asked him to leave Tibet in order to prepare the ground in India and
Bhutan for the inevitable exile. Kalu Rinpoche first went to Bhutan, where
he established two retreat centers and ordained three hundred monks. Proceeding
to India, he made an extensive pilgrimage to all the great Buddhist sites.
In 1965 he established his own monastery, Samdrup Tarjay Ling, at Sonada
(near Darjeeling, India), which became his principal seat. A few years
after founding the monastery, Kalu Rinpoche established a three-year retreat
In 1971, Kalu Rinpoche began traveling to Europe and North America, where
he established numerous Dharma centers. He was the first Tibetan master
to build facilities for Westerners to undertake the traditional three-year
retreat. In 1982, at the urging of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Kalu
Rinpoche bestowed the complete Kalachakra initiation in New York City.
He stayed at Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery for three months, where he
taught hundreds of disciples and bestowed initiations upon students preparing
for the three-year retreat there. In June 1982, Kalu Rinpoche performed
the commencement ceremonies for the very first traditional three-year
retreat in the North America.
The following year, at his monastery in Sonada, Kalu Rinpoche bestowed
the great cycle of empowerments called the Rinchen Ter Dzö—one of the
Dzö Chen Nampar Nga or "Five Great Treasuries" of teachings
and empowerments gathered by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye— to the heart-sons
of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa: Situ Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche
and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, as well as upon hundreds of tulkus, lamas,
monks, nuns, and lay people.
During his 1986 visit to Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery in New York,
Kalu Rinpoche announced that due to his advanced age, he would probably
not be able to come back again. He invited everyone to visit him
at his monastery in Sonada, where he would be residing. Nevertheless,
despite his age, Kalu Rinpoche gave a full cycle of teachings and empowerments
and ordained many monks and nuns. After several more years of extensive
Dharma activity in many countries, he returned to his monastery
in Sonada. On May 10, 1989, in a state of profound meditation, Kalu Rinpoche
The lineage and tradition of
Dorjechang Kalu Rinpoche has continued to be carried on by the lineage
holders of the Kagyu tradition such as Tai Situ Rinpoche and the Shangpa
Kagyu holder, Bokar Rinpoche.
In the west, Lama Norlha
Rinpoche continues to guide the first three-year retreat facility
established at Kagyu Thubten
Choling in New York.
September 17, 1990, amid many auspicious signs, Kalu Rinpoche’s tulku
(reincarnation) was born in India to Lama Gyaltsen and his wife Drolkar.
the nephew of Kalu Rinpoche, had served since his youth as Rinpoche’s
secretary. Chatral Rinpoche of the Nyingma school was the first
to recognize the child's ability and believed him to be Kalu Rinpoche.
Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche officially recognized Kalu
Rinpoche’s yangsi (young reincarnation) on March 25, 1992, explaining
that he had received definite signs from Kalu Rinpoche himself. Situ
Rinpoche sent a letter of recognition with Lama Gyaltsen to His Holiness
the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who immediately confirmed the recognition.
Many people saw rainbows above Kalu Rinpoche’s monastery at Sonada,
India, at the time of his tulku’s birth, and reported that identical
rainbows had appeared above the monastery after Kalu Rinpoche passed
That Kalu Rinpoche chose to be reborn at his previous home—his own monastery,
Samdrup Tarjayling—is, as the Venerable Bokar Rinpoche has said, an
indication of his complete freedom of mind, and a reflection of the
simplicity and directness his students remember. Because of his great
compassion and kindness, he took birth again in answer to the prayers
of his disciples.
On February 28, 1993, Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi was enthroned at Samdrup
Tarjayling. Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche presided
over the ceremony, assisted by Kalu Rinpoche’s heart-son, Bokar Rinpoche.
Situ Rinpoche performed the hair-cutting ceremony and bestowed on the
young tulku the name Karma Ngedön Tenpay Gyaltsen—Victory Banner of
the Teachings of the True Meaning. Later on, the Dalai Lama visited
the monastery and gave his blessings.
Formal offerings were made on behalf of Kalu Rinpoche’s lamas, students
and Dharma centers from around the world. Lama Norlha Rinpoche presented
gifts from Kalu Rinpoche’s New York centers, with supplications for
Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi’s long life and well-being, the fruition of all
his aspirations, and the increase of Dharma by means of his enlightened
In June 1995, Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi made his first visit to North America,
accompanied by Bokar Rinpoche. During their stay at Kagyu Thubten Chöling
Monastery, Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi participated in conferring the empowerments
bestowed by Bokar Rinpoche, as well as the daily chanting assemblies.
When Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi and Bokar Rinpoche visited the stupa site,
they gave a spontaneous performance of Tibetan sacred dance, said to
have the power to pacify discordant forces.
Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi’s interest in meditation, chanting, calligraphy
and the traditional musical instruments at such a young age reveal his
deep affinity for Dharma activity. Although only a child, he displays
the qualities of a Bodhisattva; his presence dispels suffering and his
gentle and loving nature evokes joy. Currently, Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi
is studying under the guidance of Bokar Rinpoche.