The Passing of Ato Rinpoche

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A letter from Rabjam Rinpoche

With deepest sympathy, I write this letter to express my condolences on the passing of Ato Rinpoche.

I was greatly saddened to hear of my uncle, Ato Rinpoche, passing on May 18th, 2024. According to the lunar calendar, Rinpoche passed on the tenth day, the day sacred to Guru Rinpoche, of the most sacred fourth month, Saga Dawa, which is very significant.

Ato Rinpoche was born into the Dilgo Family. His mother was Rinchen Paldron, the third daughter born to the family and the elder sister of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
At a young age, Rinpoche was recognized as the Eighth Tenzin Tulku of Nezang Monastery in Ngangchen, Kham, Eastern Tibet. Rinpoche was a brilliant student. He completed traditional studies in his monastery and furthered his understanding of Buddha Dharma at other monasteries and institutions in central Tibet. At Tsurpu (Tibet), he became a close, personal attendant to H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.

After relocating to India in 1959, he worked for the Tibetan Refugees and became close to H.H. the Dalai Lama.

In 1967, Rinpoche married and moved to Cambridge, England. There, he led the quiet life of a hidden yogi. He raised a family, worked as a nurse at Fulbourn Psychiatric Hospital, and, after his retirement, mastered woodwork – he even made a violin!
Ato Rinpoche was requested to teach by the Sixteenth Karmapa and agreed to teach all who asked. Subsequently, he travelled widely, teaching in many Dharma Centres and guided a meditation group in Cambridge. During this time, Ato Rinpoche was also actively involved in sponsoring and rebuilding his monastery in Nezang and frequently travelled there to oversee the reconstruction work.

I have many fond memories of meeting Ato Rinpoche. Whenever Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche would travel to Europe, Ato Rinpoche would make a point to visit, and he and Kyabje Khyentse Rinpoche would talk for hours, laughing and chatting long into the night.

After Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche passed away, I got busy and couldn’t visit Rinpoche as often as I would have liked. When I visited England last year, 2023, I made a point to visit Rinpoche and spent a lovely day with him and his family at their home in Cambridge. The lunch was especially memorable as my other uncle, Chime Rinpoche, joined us.

Ato Rinpoche had a striking facial resemblance to Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and their voices were almost identical. Indeed, if I closed my eyes, it was as if I was listening to Kyabje Khyentse Rinpoche!

I would like to offer my condolences to Ato Rinpoches’s wife, Alethea Ato, daughter, Rinchen Ato, and extended family.

I will make extensive offerings and prayers for Ato Rinpoche and all of you.
Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Gyurme Chokyi Sengye

Read more about Ato Rinpoche on Chronicles


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Nancy Fagan
4 weeks ago

It was a beautiful tribute to Ari Rinpoche by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche. So heartfelt, commemorating both his dharma and family lives (if the two can even be separated).

I add my prayers to accompany Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche‘s (and all others who offer them for this obviously well loved being). 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

Linda Lewis
4 weeks ago

The first time I saw Ato Rinpoche was at Karme Choling, when he surprised us by not only introducing the guru yoga entitled the Rain of Blessings (composed by Mipham Rinpoche) but gave pointing out instructions to all who were present--ready or not. But his gentle gentlemanly presence seem to ripen everyone for both the text, which was the bare bones version, and the zap. Since that time the NTC has added chants and all kinds of instructions.

The next time I saw Ato Rinpoche was before his teaching at the Halifax Shambhala Centre, at the home of Michael and Julie Chender, where I was fortunate enough to have an interview. I had come out of 3 year retreat a bit early in order to attend the summer seminar with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche at Karme Choling, but at that moment I was feeling very groundless, not knowing what direction my life should take.

Ato Rinpoche was so loving and a bit humorous, telling me "Three year retreat, not so much benefit; being in the world--better. You are Vajra Yogini so no problem. Have confidence."

This was so encouraging that I did just muster the courage to let things unfold and did not worry about where I would live after Karme Choling nor whether I'd have a job once back.

Some years later I heard he had hurt his back lifting a patient in the hospital where he worked. I also heard that he had been offered a better, easier job at that hospital several times but had refused each time, preferring to work with the patients who needed him the most. And that whether scheduled or not, he liked to be with a patient when he or she was dying.

Ato Rinpoche was certainly a genuine and gentle bodhisattva whose kindness blessed everyone he met.

Steve Ritchie
4 weeks ago

I fondly remember Ato Rinpoche’s kindness and wisdom. I was lucky enough to have had a personal lunch with him when I had just found out my Father had a terminal illness. His words stayed with me, and helped me navigate a difficult time, and be available to help my Father’s journey. A deep bow to one who exemplified the compassion and wisdom of our lineage masters.

jessica haberman-contreras
4 weeks ago

Ato Rinpoche was one of the first Tibetan teachers that I met and I always hoped our paths would cross again. I have a strong memory of meeting him during a blessing line at Karme Chöling many years ago. I remember the energy of his presence and the feeling of his hands. I still have a small amount of the dutsi he gave me. Resting with the feeling of a heavy heart at his passing, I wish for a continued expansion of his vast mind and enlightenment that it may touch us all and bring him speedily through the bardo. My deep condolences to you, Rabjam Rinpoche and to Ato Rinpoche's wife, children, and extended family.

Adam Hart
4 weeks ago

I have fond memories of Ato in Cambridge and at Samye Ling during the crisis there- he was a supremely ly gentle calming selfless and humorous human being
My five year old son once drew at his suggestion a picture of his dogs whilst we talked about my troubles- he was so non judgemental and encouraging
Salutations !

Ludwik Turzanski
4 weeks ago

I once asked Ato Rinpoche, on his visit to Halifax, how he works with his patients at the hospital. "Very easy", he answered, "I listen to how they like things - their tea, for instance - and then I make it exactly like that."

Love you, Rinpoche, and your humble compassion.

David Shapiro
4 weeks ago

For reasons lost to time, Rinpoche visited Milwaukee in the early or mid 1980s. I and a few others were young Vajrayogini practictioners at the time. We talked of his work with psychiatric patients and he calligraphied hums and hrihs for many of us. I was so struck by his gentle and humble manner that the warmth of his short visit has never left me.

Hilda M Garcia
4 weeks ago

I was lucky to meet Rinpoche at Rigpe Dorje Centre, he was very gentle and inspiring.
My sincere condolences to his family

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Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche was born in 1966, as the grandson of Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. A dream that Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had one night while staying near the Bodhnath stupa indicated that his grandson was be the combined emanation of the three main lamas from Shechen Monastery who had all perished in Chinese prisons in the early sixties—the previous Shechen Rabjam, Shechen Kongtrul and Shechen Gyaltsap, Gyurme Pema Dorje. This was later confirmed by the Sixteenth Karmapa. Since his grandfather’s passing in 1991, Rabjam Rinpoche has taken the responsibility of transmitting Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s teachings, and is bringing his vision for the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist teaching and culture to fruition.