Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche, Longchen Yeshe Dorje, was born in Eastern Tibet in 1898, the year of the Earth Dog, and began studying the Dharma and practising from an early age. His root teacher was Jedrung Rinpoche, Trinle Jampa Jungne, of Riwoche monastery, famous for its non-sectarian approach, as well as its ceremonies and annual festivals in which its three main colleges, belonging to the Nyingma, Sarma and Taklung Kagyü dra-tsang traditions, used to practise together. He was considered to be an emanation of Namkhai Nyingpo, one of Guru Padmasambhava’s twenty-five closest disciples, and the teachings he received in his former life he now began, at an early age, to rediscover as treasures (terma).
Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche’s life broadly falls into two periods. The first half of his life, in fulfilment of his teachers’ wishes, he devoted to study and practice. After receiving the empowerment of Mañjushri from Mipham Rinpoche, he was able to memorize any text at a single reading. His diligence in study was unmatched, and he would read far into the night, his only source of light the glowing tip of an incense stick on which he blew from time to time to make it brighter. In this way he became extraordinarily learned, not only in the whole range of subjects of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but in a wide variety of practical subjects as well. At the same time, he combined perfect observance of his spiritual discipline with a number of long retreats, thus adding profound meditational experience and accomplishment to his immense scholarship. He was thus able to contribute in no small measure to all aspects of the life of Riwoche monastery and eventually held the most important posts there.
His disregard for status of any sort led him to abandon his position in the monastery and take up the life of a wandering hermit. He visited many different places in Eastern Tibet to receive teachings from various teachers. Although he never ceased to study and practise, this second period of his life was characterized by his extraordinary humanity and his work in helping others, in particular the four activities he cherished most: caring for the chronically sick (he was a skilled doctor), looking after the aged, caring for orphans, and preserving and spreading the teachings. Kangyur Rinpoche gave major teachings and transmissions on numerous occasions. He was named Kangyur Rinpoche for his having given the reading transmission of the Kangyur (a collection consisting of more than a hundred volumes) no fewer than twenty-four times. Kangyur Rinpoche’s eldest son, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, travelled with him and received most of those transmissions.
Kangyur Rinpoche was also dedicated to the important work of restoring monasteries and stupas. It is an example of his immense humility that in these and other projects his role was by no means confined to organizing, funding and providing inspiration, for he took an active part in them and surprised many by displaying unexpected talents, doing the work of a mason, for example, as if he had exercised that particular trade all his life.
The preservation of the Dharma became Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche’s principal concern in the last twenty years of his life as he realized that the future of Buddhism in Tibet was threatened. He and his family brought to India many rare books that might otherwise have been lost, and in India he took every opportunity to ensure that the Buddha’s teachings were transmitted to the next generation, eventually founding a monastery in Darjeeling where Tibetan children could be given a traditional education from an early age.
Kangyur Rinpoche and his family ,1969
Kyabje Kangyur Rinpoche passed away in 1975, the year of the Rabbit. Although he did not have the chance to visit Europe or America, it was clearly important to him that the Dharma should become established in the West. He gave unsparingly of his time to Westerners who came to see him, and a number of them spent months practising under his guidance. It is as a result of his personal requests to other great masters, among them Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, and of the activities of his wife Jetsün Jampa Chökyi and his sons Taklung Tsetrul Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche and Rangdröl Rinpoche, as well as the dharma activity of his three daughters, Rigdzin-la, Yangchen-la, and Chökyi-la, that many Westerners have now been able to study and practise the Dharma, some of them in the context of the traditional three-year retreat.
For more photos of Kangyur Rinpoche and his family, please see Songtsen's photo gallery.