Venerable Khenpo Sonam Rinpoche
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Venerable Khenpo Sonam Rinpoche


The place where I was born is in the snowy country of Tibet, to the East, in the vicinity of the monastery of Dokham Riwoche, in a village named Kyil Risib Yabrong. The name of my household was Daza Tsang, and it was prosperous. The people of this very ancient family line have been hardy, honest, sincere and friendly, and have earned the highest respect from all the people in the region. Those of this family who entered the monastery to learn dharma had fine qualities as scholars and practitioners. I was born to a household of this well-known family line that has produced many lineage-holder lamas.

My grandfather, Orgyen Shenpen, was a highly accomplished yogi. He went to Jangdam Shung and there worked throughout his life to accomplish vast benefits for beings. He has remained very well known for his teachings and spiritual songs to this very day. I am from the same family as he.

Nora Rinpoche

Gar Lama Trinley Gyastso, Nora Rinpoche

Also, my grandmother's brother, Gar Lama Trinley Gyastso, who nowadays is called Nora Rinpoche, spread the teachings of Vajrayana widely in China in recent times and did an enormous amount of work in the service of sentient beings. His household was called Gar Ratsa. Riwoche Khenpo Drodul, who was also from my own family, was the student of both Drupchen Jho Rigdzin and Jedrung Jampa'i Jungnay, and a Dzogchen practitioner. From the time I was very young he gave me teaching and guidance. Beginning with reading lessons, he brought me into the study of sacred dharma. For this, he was an extremely kind and holy lama. Then, from Riwoche Kyabgon, the eighth Jedrung, Ngawang Lungtog Chochi Gyaltsen, I received the empowerments and transmissions for the Gyude Jenang Shesum (forty-three authorizations of the tantra classes) of the Taklung Kagyu, along with the Sungbum (collected writings) of Taklung Tangpa.

From Kyabgon, the sixth Phamchok, Ngawang Jigme Drakpa, I received the person to person lineage of Rechungpa and the golden dharma cycle of the Shangpa [Kagyu]. From Khenchen Drakpa Changchub, I received the scriptural transmission for the Victor's Kangyur, along, with the preliminaries and actual practice of mahamudra. From Khenchen Pema Rangdrol of the monastic college, I received, in general, the classical textbooks on the inner and outer fields of knowledge, and in particular, teachings on the inner fields of study — vinaya, sutra, and abidharma — as well as commentaries and explanatory texts on the tantras of Vajrayana, the seven treasures of Kunkhyen Longhenpa, and the Sungbum of Mipham Rinpoche.

From the Gewa'i Shenyen (Geshe) Chagdor Gonpo, I received scriptural transmissions for the Tangyur and the Kabum of Jetsun Sangjay Won Rinpoche. I have also received the complete dharma teachings of Riwoche's own special tradition.

I studied, reflected and meditated upon these teachings until I reached the age of twenty. In my seventeenth year, the two Kyabgons, Jedrung Rinpoche and Phamchok Rinpoche, jointly installed me upon the vajracarya throne of Riwoche and assigned to the position of Chidzod Chenmo (General Secretary). They conferred upon me their great hopes that I would serve the teachings and the monastery and guided me with their loving, lofty vision. However, because of the nature of the times, I never received the satisfaction of performing much service in that capacity, and as a result, I resolved to fulfill the intentions of my lamas and apply my energies solely to the welfare of the teachings and sentient beings, from that time forward however much time remained to me in this life.

Sonam Rinpoche and Kyabje Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

Ven. Khenpo Sonam Tobgyal Rinpoche seated with one of his teachers, Kyabje Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, Jamyang Dorje (1932-1999), a major lineage holder of the Longchen Nyinthig Dzogchen tradition and one of the preeminent contemporary Tibetan Buddhist masters.

Kyabje Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

Kyabje Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

From 1960 on, when I became a refugee in India, I attended many scholar and siddha lamas, including the great treasure-revealer, king of dharma, lord of refuge, Dudjom Rinpoche, the mighty one who realized the definitive meaning; Chadral Rinpoche; the omniscient Khyentse Rinpoche; the two Polu Khen Rinpoches; the great bodhisattva Khunu Lama Rinpoche; the Taklung throneholder Shabdrung Dorje Chang; and others.

From these teachers I received teachings on the Kama, the long lineage of the early-translation Nyingma school, as well as many empowerments, transmissions and instructions from the short Terma lineage. In particular, I received thorough and complete oral instructions for the Osal Dzokpa Chenpo'i Nyongtri (the experiential teachings on luminosity great perfection). Exemplified by my completion of the three-year retreat practice curriculum, I have spent my life engaged entirely in studying, reflecting upon and practicing the dharma.