An account of Rinpoche’s final days from Thrangu Tashi Chöling Monastery
To all those around the world who have a connection, direct or indirect, with the Lord of Refuge, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche:
With great regret, we would like to share some sad news with you.
On May 5, 2023, the fifteenth day of the third Tibetan month of the Water Hare Year, at the age of ninety-one, the Lord of Refuge Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, tutor to the Gyalwang Karmapa, displayed the appearance of ill health. When his disciples requested him to go to the hospital, he refused at first but relented when asked again, and was brought to the hospital.
At that time, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, out of his immeasurable compassion, spontaneously wrote a powerful long life prayer, instructed all the Kagyu shedras to perform long life practices on Rinpoche’s behalf, and kindly gave much advice and guidance. The sanghas of all lineages and in particular the Kagyu monasteries inside and outside Tibet as well as many faithful students put great effort into long life practices.
Chamgön Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, and other great lamas came specifically to see Rinpoche in the hospital. They showed inconceivable kindness by performing long life empowerments and life summoning practices as well as offering representations of body, speech, and mind and making extensive prayers.
Even so, Rinpoche was unable to recover, so he returned to his monastic seat, Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery in Namo Buddha.
Finally, on June 4, the full moon day of the fourth Tibetan month, Saga Dawa-the sacred anniversary of the Buddha Shakyamuni, our incomparably kind teacher, passing into parinirvana-Rinpoche decided that he had completed his activity for this life.
At 1:30 PM, he lay down in the same posture as the Buddha Shakyamuni had lain in when passing into parinirvana and then displayed the appearance of his mind dissolving into the undefiled, luminous dharma expanse and passing into peace. Immediately, Kyabje Lodrö Nyima Rinpoche offered Rinpoche a reminder of the tukdam meditation.
The Gyalwang Karmapa instructed that, as Rinpoche needed to be in a peaceful environment, this news should not be announced for four days. This is the reason why no announcement has been made until now.
Thrangu Tashi Chöling Monastery
June 8, 2023
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I took refuge from him 45 years ago or so and always revered him . I know I join multitudes in sadness .
As you know, there are so many distractions to lure us away from practice. For me, the antidote is to bring to mind the great blessings of Thrangu Rinpoche, his teachings and gentle presence.
You may have thought him an ordinary being?
A year after my younger brother died at a hospital in Toronto, I had an interview with Thrangu Rinpoche at his gompa in Vancouver. My brother was a Kasung and deeply devoted student of Thrangu Rinpoche as well as the Vidyadhara. Complete faith. Barry died with his mala in his hand, and with their pictures and practices at his side.
When I asked Thrangu Rinpoche how my brother was doing, he paused for a few moments - it almost looked as though he was looking at a screen in front of him. Rinpoche then said quietly, "He is doing well. He is in the pure realm."
May I share another story about the power of practice?
When Barry passed away the Kasung were at his bedside and stayed until midnight to practice with him. Then the Rusung leaned over his body and said, "Barry, they are going to take your body downstairs now, but you don't have to go with them."
So many years ago. Still breaks my heart.
If you saw him or spent time in his presence you met the Buddha in your waking state....such inconceivable blessings for everyone.
Among the many times I had the good fortune of serving Thrangu R., one was cooking for him at a mahamudra retreat in Maine in 1999.
Rinpoche and his translator, Peter Roberts, strolled through the kitchen while I was making a Himalayan-style lamb stew for the very first time.
In a playful mood, I said to him, "Rinpoche, you are my guinea pig."
He smiled and nodded. "Guinea pig," he repeated, then walked out of the kitchen.
When I later asked Peter about that interaction, he said, in his wry Austin Powers accent: "Rinpoche couldn't understand why you were comparing him with a rodent."
Many years ago I went to Big Bear California for a weekend of teachings given by Thrangu Rinpoche. During one of the talks Rinpoche said: “You will never become enlightened if you have strong attachments.”
At the end of the talk he took questions . I raised my hand and he called on me. I said:” Rinpoche I will never get enlightened because I am so attached to to my children.. do you have any advice for me as to how to lessen my attachment to my children ?”
He looked at me and said: “ Oh you’re a mother. You’re supposed to be attached to your children. Don’t worry, that’s not a problem.” And then he started to laugh.
Thrangu Rinpoche was of pure body, speech, and mind.Which was displayed in all of his ceaseless compassionate dharmic conduct and activites , until the moment of his passing into ground luminosity. His multitude of compassionate, dharmic activites through out his whole life were exemplary and was refelctive of his high realization.
Thrangu Rinpoche has been my guru for the last 35 years.I attended yearly group retreats, teachings and guidence and interviews on all of my practises and solo retreats. In the Vancouvr, bc area, at various locations unitil the complettion of Thrangu Monestary in Richmond , Bc which has been 10 years. Many have benefitted from these gatherings. And for the past 2 1/2 years, even in failing health, on zoom from , Namo Buddha, Rinpoche has given 2 hour oral transmissions of his teachings and commentaries and practise texts 3x a week. . for monastics, Thrangu Monestaries, translators, and lay students. All the way up to the last night before he went to the hospital. It has been an amazing blessing to have had this time with Rinpoche.
Mixing ones mind with the guru.The ultimate guru yoga.Beyond dualistic conventional mind.That connection remains always.
Thrangu Rinpoche was dharma brother's with Chogyam Trungpa , my root guru. They received many transmissions and empowerments together, from Jamgon Kontrul The Great ,and Gangshar Rinpoche.I became a student of Thrangu Rinpoche a few months after the passing of Chogyam Trungpa, when I moved from Halifax to Vancouver, BC. Thrangu said " whatever I teach you ,you should consider it is coming from your root guru, Chogyam Trungpa." So I have felt both teachers were co-emerged.
My heart is filled with love, sadness, and gratitude.
Simone LaVoie: Jigme Lhatso
Vancouver Island, BC Canada
I am so fortunate to have met and cooked for Rinpoche on multiple occasions. Om Mani Padme Hum
What a great master he was, Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche. In all manners of his mindfulness, in every action, and simply upon seeing him, I have always felt that he must be in the awakened state just like the Buddhas and the great masters of old. I had the immense opportunity of meeting him in my early teenage years, but did not have the chance to receive teachings until later in my life while in America. Over the years I have had the great fortune to receive his teachings on the Sutrayana Prajnaparamita, the Mantrayana Mahamudra, and Vajrayogini initiations. I thus consider him to be one my root teachers. As sad as it is that he is no longer in this world, I have no doubt that he is always accessible, and that his mind is all-pervasive without obstruction like the sky itself.
Two years ago, staying for a few day at Rinpoche’s Crestone, Colo. center we listened in the shrine room for two hours in the evening to Rinpoche reciting a text live from Nepal, all in Tibetan. Not understanding a word, we sat in rapt attention, neither sleepy nor distracted, and emerged shaken with the power of his recitation/transmission, and compassion. We felt gratitude beyond words for his kindness, generosity, and attainment.
I always felt (just my opinion) Trungpa Rinpoche brought certain practitioners into our community as examples. Tenga Rinpoche was a ritual master and worked so thoroughly with the community on the Chakrasamvara mandala and texts. Khenpo Tsultrim was a real yogi. And Thrangu Rinpoche was such an excellent upholder of the Vinaya.
I first met him when I was living at Karme Choling, probably ’84. VCTR sent me there to finish my Ngondro and saved my life in the process. I was only a year back from ’83 Seminary (the three month, intensive 3 yana retreat that Trungpa Rinpoche implemented), which was the first program I attended. Ever. So, into the deep end, I went. Then spent the next year spiraling apart from a healthy case of “…too much, too soon”.
One night Trungpa Rinpoche’s son Osel Mukpo called me from Boston, where he was visiting his father. “I spoke with Rinpoche, and he said you should go to Karme Choling and finish your Ngondro. He said then you will be able to appreciate your practice and the dharma. Then you should go to university”.
And that was that. On the one hand, I felt tremendously surprised and grateful to receive such prescient, personal instruction from Trungpa Rinpoche, I mean like, how does that even happen? On the other hand, I also felt like, “…the bad news is you're being sent to a Russian gulag”. Our practice centers were no joke. You either put up (your practice commitment) or shut up. I felt a crushing sense of being sent into a practice environment that I was completely unprepared for.
A few months later, I arrived at KCL. And yes, I was unprepared for the day-in/day-out insistence and upholding of discipline it required. Once again, into the deep end. And one day, Thrangu Rinpoche arrived for a teaching visit.
He was such a reliable, study example. His teachings were very unadorned and to the point, offered oftentimes with an almost motherly or caring auntie, firm love. One day regarding Shamatha, he said, “…thoughts are like a pig in the garden they try to get in to eat the flowers and vegetables. As soon as they put their nose in the gate you have to whack them and get them out. If you don't get them out immediately then it is too late, they are in the garden and they eat everything”.
His style was without elaboration. And his conduct was modest and precise.
They had just put up the first fire puja cabin next to the main building at KCL - it was raw. A wood floor and new sheetrock, an otherwise unfinished space. They were going to hold a fire puja there anyway and Thranghu Rinpoche had his monks create a sand mandala for it. One day he wanted to walk over and see how it was progressing.
It’s a small space, and at the time, basically a construction site. There were two monks, building this mandala - I had never seen a sand mandala before. They use the little metal, pipes that you tap on and sand flows out the bottom. It looked like they were just moving these little tubes of metal around but then underneath somehow a conch of dharma or Visvahvajra would appear.
Rinpoche didn’t say much but seemed to approve. At one point he leaned down and took a few… like literally a pinch of sand in his fingertips and moved his fingers back and forth. He did that a couple of times and I thought, “Oh he'll make a little pile of sand and then the monks will take their sand to draw from that”. All he was doing was moving his fingers back and forth with grains of sand. In a few minutes underneath his fingertips, a perfectly drawn vajra appeared.
Rinpoche got up and headed out the door of the cabin. There were only a few stairs that lead up to the cabin and for a minute Rinpoche stood at the top of them looking out to the sky. I was below the steps, looking up at Rinpoche. The director at the time Roger Guest noticed a little bit of sheetrock dust on the bottom of Rinpoche’s robe - Roger was not trying to make a show of anything, he was just being respectful and he kind of bent down and invisibly as he could, tried to flick the white dust off of Rinpoche’s’ maroon robe.
Rinpoche just looked straight ahead. Nothing in him changed, his mind never moved and without looking, plainly said “Doesn't matter”.
He was like a Lion in the noonday sun looking out over the plains, no reason to move. No need to question his place. Nothing to do but be. And he was.
I'm sure others have much better stories than this - I just wanted to find a small way to offer my thanks to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche for making sure the seed of Dharma planted in my heart did not harden due to my lack of capacity.
I really don't understand interdependence or any of these teachings - so mainly last night I just drank tequila and got very sad. I left a Terton a voice message about Thrangu Rinpoche’s passing, he responded:
“Yes, is sad. But also, he did the very best he could with his life for the Karma Kagyu”.
May I remember to not waste time.
Kind wise Rinpoche, I have always turned to your prolific writings for clarity and guidance. I have always been deeply reverent of your mind and heart and your ability to elucidate complex teachings in ways I could understand. Thank you for guiding me and so many others so eloquently on the path. Your teachings on Mahamudra are always with me. With infinite gratitude, Annette
I feel so extremely fortunate to have taken my Bodhisattva vow with Thrangu Rinpoche, and recieved teachings. I hold him, that smile, in my mind and heart always.
I met Thrangu Rinpoche twice, in Vienna and in Crestone just some years ago. His passing caused a sadness that is not only explicable by these brief interactions. I guess it is because he was a bridge to the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Khenpo Gangshar.
Now ever more we feel the burden of carrying these unique teachings on our own.
I remembered the first time I saw him. I came from the newage movements with a lot of strange ideas that really did not was nearly close to buddhist beliefs. I had an interview and asked if I could take refuge with him if I had these ideas and he said ofcourse and I totally collapsed to his immense kindness and wisdom. Skillful means. That was 33 years ago and I am still at it everyday all because of him and those strange ideas slowly vanished and became all buddhist ideas instead.
He taught everything from the basics up to Dzogchen. A really accomplished master of the old school, maybe the last of them. Not many like him around these days........
An incredibly kind teacher, embracing all beings and all yanas from sutra to Dzogchen. The reason for being a buddhist. The reason for me becoming a Buddhist. A great example of wisdom and compassion. One of a kind really.
Wonderful teacher of teachers, pillar of the Dharma East and West, please come back soon! 🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼
I attended 1980 Seminary at Lake Louise. Thrangu Rinpoche visited - I
believe it might have been his first formal encounter with VCTR's students -
and after his talk he encouraged questions.
A practitioner who invariably, after every talk raised his hand,
predictably immediately did so. Rinpoche looked at him, paused,
and then suggested (said) that it would be best if the student simply
listened. There was no further exchange between them.
Thank you, Rinpoche
Neither of you I’ve met in flesh
Yet I feel devotion in my bones
you've given instructions
in this dark age
how fortunate to hear your teachings
your death is a reminder of mine
may i not waste time and practice.
please reincarnate swiftly.
my heart bows in gratitude
I'd like to share thus story about Thrangu Rinpoche. After Trungpa Rinpoche's passing my dear friend the late Rob Graffis studied with Thrangu Rinpoche. While I was living at Karma Triyana, Thrangu Rinpoche was visiting. Rob was suffering from a deep depression and despair from dealing with dome difficult things including the slow loss of his sight and hearing. It seems bottomless to Rob. There weren't many people at KTD this day as Rinpoche wasn't giving teachings. Rob and I attended Tara practice along with a handful of other people. Sitting there in a row doing Green Tara practice with great dignity was Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and Bardor Rinpoche all with Groucho Marx glasses on. I looked at Rob, who minutes earlier felt he'd never smile again and saw him smiling ear to ear, chuckling, the despair gone, poof! What a great master and healer Thrangu Rinpoche was. Such inconceivable kindness.
1980. Lake Louise
He arrived to meet CTR
His first time in North America.
As his Kasung, waiting together until Rinpoche arrived.
Just sitting there.
No talking there.
A long long time there together.
Just moments of being with him
Moments of simply..... things as they are.
BLESSED BE !!’
I have the fortune of being in Namo Budha (Nepal) when Thrangu Rimpoché was there, so I could talk with him, gave kata and have his blessings.
Rinpoche loved giving Mahamudra instruction, and then sat with his students guiding them through the stages of accomplishment. One definitely discerned those stages in those moments, which is a mark of his own great attainment. He is with us even more, now that he has arisen in this manner.
some pictures of Khenpo Khyabje Thrangu Rinpoche from 1988 taken when staying at retreat in Namobudha, Nepal https://www.flickr.com/photos/oblivionarcady/albums/72177720308913882
When he was teaching many years ago at a retreat on Mt Ranier on the dreamlike nature of reality, I stood up and thanked him for these teachings directly from from our wonderful lineage of wise and kind teachers. Then I said that as a scientist I had another lineage from Archimedes through Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, and Darwin to Einstein and many others who found that close inspection of the phenomenal world as a shared reality can lead to deep understanding and amazing powers. He answered, "It's not a problem. Relative reality is orderly. If you plant an acorn you get an oak tree." This simple answer was very helpful to me.
In a small group audience at that retreat, I asked him if I could be a good Buddhist if I didn't believe in rebirth. He told me that I didn't need to believe anything in particular to be a Buddhist. Then he looked right at me and said, "Still, you should make preparations."
His teachings were so clear and he was always so incredibly kind to us. We will miss him.
I picture Thrangu Rinpoche, walking briskly, traversing through woodlands, staff in hand, on a journey we all share...
Thrangu Rinpoche is quite simply why I became Buddhist. Through him, I could see that this path was real.
Precious One, transmitter of profound wisdom and expansive generosity to all and to the Austin and larger Texas sangha, we bow in respect and appreciation and by our commitments to follow your considerable instruction.
In great appreciation for Thrangu Rinpoche: At the 99' seminary (attended by some 500 participants and couple hundred plus Stupa building volunteers) Thrangu Rinpoche appeared one day and addressed us in a sunny outdoors. He suggested near the end of his talk that at the first sign of consciousness each morning we recite the Four Limitless Ones (most of us doing the Kagyu Ngrondro for years following).
Thank you sir, that was and is an immeasurable gift that keeps on giving.
How could we ever repay the kindness of our beloved Thrangu Rinpoche? So many teachings, so many blessings, so many truly wonderful memories. As you know, it's by practicing what he taught us about diligence, devotion and kindness - to ourselves and to others - in our speech and actions. How fortunate we are to have had his always sane, always steady, and always kind presence in our sangha, for so many years.
Some 25 years ago, I had the great good fortune to cross paths with Thrangu Rinpoche in Crestone at a 10 day Mahamudra/Dzogchen retreat. I was stunned by his teachings, his words and his expansive feelings which reverberate deeply to this day. He was generous and kind, taking this newly minted dharma practitioner sweetly onto the path. He gave me the lung for ngondro, permitted a long interview at which he accepted all of my questions with openness, and he took me as a student. Though I never saw him in person again, he has remained in my heart and mindstream strongly since that time, that radiant smile in my mind’s eye often offering assistance when the inevitable challenges emerged. I am absolutely certain he touched many others in precisely this way. Of course, I have known he was aging and had many health issues. I knew I would awaken one day to read of this news. Still, this morning, on incorporating the actuality of it, I feel his passing most deeply with both great sadness but even greater gratitude. His deft touch placed me firmly on the path. I bow at your feet Rinpoche.
A great great man in this world he was….and remains.
He couldn't have known that I had recently experienced a heart arrhythmia problem as we hadn’t talked in over a year, but approaching me (with that famous smile), touching his heart he asked “how’s your heart”? From that moment of magical friendship I knew Thrangu Rinpoche was my true heart teacher.
With love and appreciation,