H.E. Chöden Rinpoche was born on the most auspicious day of Buddhism, on the fifteenth day of the holy month of Saka Dawa in the year of the female iron sheep (May 31, 1931). At the age of four, he was officially recognized by the Reting Regent as the reincarnation of the first Chöden Rinpoche, a scholar and great sage who had inspired and greatly benefitted the people of the Rongpo region of Tibet.
Chöden Rinpoche was one of thirteen children in his family, seven boys and six girls. Of the boys, six became monks, and of those six four others also went on to become great scholars and yogis comparable to Chöden Rinpoche. The family became famous in their area, and provided inestimable benefit to the local peoples and also in preserving and spreading the Buddhadharma.
As a small child Chöden Rinpoche would play with the other children, though his games were those unique to a special being. He would play that he was giving dharma teaching and display the Dharma-Teaching Mudra, although it had never been taught to him. Similarly he would play in making divination and astrological predictions, advising the other children on what to do, and that he was a great doctor and would prescribe and dispense medicine from a pouch of dust he kept hanging on his belt at all times, and heal all of their illnesses.
At the age of five he was enthroned at Ronpo Rabten Monastery, and shortly thereafter he met Pabongkha Rinpoche, who would become one of his principal teachers later in life. At this time Pabonkha gave him the Dharma name of Lobzang Gyalten Jigdrel Wangchuk, a name he had discovered underneath Tsongkhapa’s stupa in Ganden Monastery. At this time he also received from Pabongkha Rinpoche the Higest Secret Tantra initiation into the mandala of Yamantaka, and from that day every day until the day he showed the aspect of passing away eighty years later he did not miss completing (the practice of Yamantaka long sadhana ) even a single time.
At Sera Je Rinpoche gained the reputation of being single-pointedly devoted to study, never being distracted by any worldly concern for even a moment. His peers and tutors all referred to him as the “scholar among scholars,” the very best that Sera Je had to offer. His excellence in the literature on Abhidharma (cosmology) and Vinaya (monastic code) was considered unparalleled, especially because his intellectual mastery was complimented by a perfectly pure practice. A master in words as well as actions, his contemporaries marveled at his expertise in knowledge and purity of practice, the perfect example of a scholar monk dedicating every moment to benefitting all sentient beings through the inseparable combination of study and practice.
At this time, around 1965, Rinpoche, having mastered the ten sciences and completed as much study as the external conditions would allow, began his private nineteen year retreat. For nineteen years Rinpoche remained in a single small room in a windowless basement, pretending to be an invalid to avoid any disturbance from invading Chinese authorities. Other than one relative who brought him food every day Rinpoche had no outside contact, and the lack of light meant he could not read any texts even had he brought them. Instead his retreat relied on his vast memory, and during these nineteen years of intense, nonstop meditation practice Rinpoche achieved many realizations of the stages of path to enlightenment and tantric accomplishments.
In the 80s, Chinese policy became more lenient toward Tibetan religious activity. Endeavoring to exploit Rinpoche’s reputation as a distinguished scholar, the authorities invited him to serve on the board of a cultural committee. Rinpoche readily rejected the offer, having the forethought that he would be required to criticize his root guru His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Instead he used this five-year period of leniency to give extensive teachings, empowerments and oral transmissions to thousands of Tibetan Buddhists.
In 1985, Rinpoche was able to escape Tibet, traveling through Nepal to India. In Dharamsala, his paramount wish, the opportunity for an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was finally realized. This auspicious and poignant occasion touched Rinpoche’s heart indelibly: it was as if he had met with Buddha Shakyamuni himself.
The political destabilization in Tibet having reached a particularly volatile juncture, His Holiness advised Rinpoche to not return but rather to remain in India in order to teach. Therefore, while destruction of monasteries, temples and stupas continued unabated in Tibet, Rinpoche traveled to South India.
For the next twenty years, Rinpoche taught the precious Buddhist canon to thousands of monks in the diaspora’s monastic communities. He was regularly invited abroad to teach in monasteries and dharma centers, thereby benefiting people from all walks of life. He has traveled extensively throughout South Asia, Mongolia, Europe and America. Thousands of practitioners have taken novice ordination from Rinpoche in the course of his travels outside Tibet.
In sum, Rinpoche spent twenty years of his youth studying Buddhist logic, the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, Middle Way philosophy, Treasury of Knowledge treatises, and monastic code and conduct at Sera Je Monastery. Subsequently, he dedicated another two decades to contemplation, meditating on the Five Canons in order to internalize the teachings. Most recently, he has devoted a third span of twenty years to teaching in South India and abroad, disseminating the Buddhadharma to benefit humanity.