Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

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Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (Tib. སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་ཨོ་རྒྱན་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་, Wyl. sprul sku o rgyan rin po che) (1920–1996) was one of the greatest teachers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra in recent times, whose lineage is now continued by his sons, including Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche.


Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was born in Nangchen, in the province of Kham, eastern Tibet, in 1920. He began meditation practice at the early age of four, when he attended the teachings his father, Chime Dorje, would give to his many students. Already at four he had what is called a recognition of the nature of mind. Later he studied with his uncle Samten Gyatso, his root master, as well as with many other lamas of both Kagyü and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Among the lineage masters from whom he drew his inspiration were Milarepa and Longchen Rabjam—on merely hearing their names, tears would come to his eyes.

In his youth he practised intensively, and stayed in retreat for a total of twenty years. He had four sons, each of whom is now an important Buddhist master in his own right: Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche.

When he left Tibet he went to Sikkim and then settled in Nepal at Nagi Gompa Hermitage, in the mountains above the Kathmandu valley. He was the first lama to spread the Tibetan Buddhist teachings to Malaysia. In 1980 Tulku Urgyen went on a world tour encompassing Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Great Britain, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. In his later years, however, he did not travel much and his many students, both Eastern and Western, would go to Nepal to visit him.

Tulku Urgyen accomplished a great deal in his life. He constructed and restored many temples, and established six monasteries and retreat centres in the Kathmandu region. He had over three hundred monks and nuns under his guidance. In particular he built a monastery and three-year retreat centre at the site of the sacred cave of Asura, the site of Padmasambhava’s famous retreat. He also re-established some traditional annual prayer gatherings in exile.

In his childhood he had been recognized by the Fifteenth Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje, as the reincarnation of the master Chöwang Tulku, and he was also an emanation of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe, one of the twenty-five main disciples of Padmasambhava. He was the lineage holder of many teaching transmissions, especially that of the terma teachings of his great grandfather Chokgyur Lingpa. He transmitted the Dzogchen Desum teachings to such masters as Sixteenth Karmapa, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as well as thousands of other disciples. Tulku Urgyen was especially close to the Karmapa—one of his root teachers—and to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, with both of whom there was a powerful bond of mutual respect.

Tulku Urgyen is the author of several books in English, including Repeating the Words of the Buddha and Rainbow Painting. He also supervised many English translations of Tibetan texts and teachings carried out by his Western students, and gave the name Rangjung Yeshe to the publishing imprint established to make these and other Dharma works available in the West.

He was famed for his profound meditative realization and for the concise, lucid and humorous style with which he imparted the essence of the teachings. Using few words, he would point out the nature of mind, revealing a natural simplicity and wakefulness that enables the student to actually touch the heart of the Buddha’s wisdom mind. In this method of instruction, he was unmatched.

Tulku Urgyen passed away peacefully on 13th February 1996 (the 24th day of the 12th month of the Wood Pig year), at Nagi Gompa. At that time the sky overhead was clear and completely cloudless for two days, which is traditionally seen as a sign that a highly realized master is passing on.

The yangsi of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, named Urgyen Jigme Rabsel Dawa, was born in 2001.

Further Reading

  • Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage (Junction City: Padma Publications, 2005), page 435.
  • Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Blazing Splendor: The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, North Atlantic Books, 2005, ISBN 9-62-734156-8
  • View, Issue 7, 1996, Special Feature on Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.

Publications of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's Teachings

  • Vajra Speech: A Commentary on The Quintessence of Spiritual Practice, The Direct Instructions of the Great Compassionate One, North Atlantic Books, 2004
  • Rainbow Painting: A Collection of Miscellaneous Aspects of Development and Completion, North Atlantic Books, 2004
  • As It Is, Vol. I and II, North Atlantic Books, 2004
  • Quintessential Dzogchen: Confusion Dawns as Wisdom, North Atlantic Books, 2006
  • Repeating the Words of the Buddha, North Atlantic Books, 2006

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