An Amazing Story: Finding the Reincarnation of Tenga Rinpoche
Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
March 21, 2017
Ever since he passed away on March 30, 2012, finding Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche’s reincarnation (yangsi) has been awaited with great hope and deep devotion, especially in the Karma Kamtsang lineage. Before founding Benchen Monastery in Nepal, he was the ritual master for HH the Sixteenth Karmapa and famous for his detailed knowledge of vajrayana ceremonies and practice. When traveling in Germany, the Gyalwang Karmapa spoke about Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche on August 30, 2015: “While here in Germany, I had the opportunity to meet briefly with many students of Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche and share some remarks with them. It has been a while now since he passed away but during all this time, his students and I myself have been continually remembering Rinpoche. This recollection has caused our faith, devotion, and love for him to continue flourishing.
“Before Rinpoche passed away, he spoke a few words to me about his future reincarnation. Therefore, I have a great hope and prayer that we will soon meet with his yangsi. So my main words of encouragement for the disciples of Tenga Rinpoche and those connected to Akong Rinpoche as well is to let your minds be at ease and relax. Continue sustaining the enlightened activities of your teachers and I think this will be enough.”
Half a year later, on February 22, 2016, during the closing ceremony for the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, His Holiness the Karmapa made a thrilling announcement: during the Tseringma puja conducted at the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for nuns, he felt great devotion for Tenga Rinpoche and had a “thought or minor vision of where he might be.” He said he would keep these details quiet until he was able to share them with HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche but that he hoped Tenga Rinpoche would be able to return soon.
The Letter of Prediction, Remarkably Accurate
Two days later on February 24, 2016, His Holiness presented the first prediction letter about Tenga Rinpoche to Drubwang Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. In this special document, His Holiness gave the names of the parents and a clear description of the landscape in which they lived. Also on February 24, His Holiness and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche together selected the members of the all-important search party, which included the General Secretary Tempa Yarphel, the Junior General Secretary Tashi Öser, Khenpo Wusung, and the Dorje Lopön Tsultrim Rabten. Afterward His Holiness said that the four members should come in the evening and that he would send a qualified person with them for the search.
When they all had gathered, the Karmapa said that Khenpo Garwang would be helping them, so there were now five people on the team. Khenpo joined as a representative of HH the Karmapa and the Tsurphu Labrang. His Holiness said that Khenpo Garwang is brilliant and has the awareness of nine people. Throughout the search, the party could always seek his counsel. Khenpo Garwang then requested the Karmapa directly, “I do need a map of the yangsi’s birthplace. It will be difficult without one.” His Holiness said playfully, “OK. I’ll pretend that I know something,” and asked for paper. He talked as he drew: “There’s a mountain here, it looks a bit like this. And there are houses. Then there’s a river going along something like that. It’s not too big.” In the end he drew a picture that turned out to be clear as a photograph, showing the layout of the land with a river flowing through it and the design of the houses, some with flat roofs and others with peaked ones, and one house was set directly beneath the mountain.
In further conversation His Holiness said there were 32 to 40 households in the area. (It turned out later that an NGO had tallied the households in this spread out village and there were exactly forty.) He also stated there would be four and a half people in the family. Responding to a query, the Karmapa replied that the “half” could refer to a child in the mother’s womb. When General Secretary asked how old the yangsi would be, the Karmapa answered, “It seems that he is three or four.” The prediction letter had said the yangsi’s home was near a blessed mountain called Gangpung Gyen (Gangs phung rgyan, Manaslu in Nepali), the eighth highest mountain in the world. Khenpo Wusung wondered which village it might be, as there were so many in that area. The Karmapa replied that it was the first village down from the Tibetan border, which turned out to be Samdo.
The First Search
His Holiness then encouraged them, “It is good to search for the yangsi right away,” so the following day they all went back to Nepal and left for Nubri, a high mountain valley in northern Nepal on the border with Tibet. Since Nubri is a six-day trek from Kathmandu, they took a helicopter to fly through the deep valleys and high mountains up to the northern border. As they approached their final destination with Manaslu looming in the sky before them, the search party was astonished to see that the details of His Holiness’ drawing matched the landscape they had entered.
Once they had landed and settled in, for six days the search party looked everywhere in the Samdo area of Nubri. They went from house to house as Khenpo Garwang said to each of the families they met, “We are looking for a very bright child. If it could study, this child would bring a great benefit to everyone. There are four children like this and we have found one each in India, Bhutan, and Sikkim. Now we have come here looking for the fourth one, born in the Year of the Horse. Do you know of a child like this from Samdo?” But the search party could not find a child of three or four years, who had parents with names matching those in the letter of prediction. The party reported back to His Holiness that they did not find a child matching his description. The next day the Karmapa requested the search party to come back to India, so sadly they had to return empty-handed to Tergar Monastery in Bodh Gaya.
During the time of this first search, the yangsi’s father, Tsering Wangdu, was on pilgrimage to Yaksha Ngakpo, a site sacred to Guru Rinpoche in Kavre, Nepal, not far from the famous stupa of Namo Buddha. Someone from Nubri called to let him know that a search party was looking for a tulku, and then for him, something quite strange happened, as his heart started thumping in his chest, and he felt stunned as if he had been struck by lightning.
Taking the Next Steps
In Bodh Gaya, the search team had an audience with His Holiness. After noting that they had been unsuccessful, the Karmapa paused for a moment and then said that it would be best if the Benchen Monastery could host the forthcoming three days of Tseringma puja. The ceremonies would take place at Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath and should be celebrated as elaborately as possible. His Holiness asked, “ Can you arrange this?” And Tempa Yarphel replied, “Yes, of course, Your Holiness. No problem whatsoever.” The Karmapa then clarified that the senior Benchen monks should be present and that he would invite the senior monks from Rumtek Monastery, including the dorje lopön (ritual master), the umdze (chant master), the chötrimpa (discipline master), and so forth. The practice would be led by the umdze from Rumtek and the dorje lopön from Benchen.
The second time that His Holiness gave them information about the yangsi was during these ceremonies at Vajra Vidya Institute. The Karmapa arrived here on March 20, 2016 from Bodh Gaya, and on March 21, 2016, he began the three days of pujas in the radiant shrine hall of the Institute. Two special altars had been beautifully arranged by the Karmapa himself: one for the Guru Yoga of Karma Pakshi in the morning and another for the practice of the Five Tseringma sisters in the afternoon. Said to reside in the Himalayas, the five sisters are protectors of the Kagyu lineage, and the central Tseringma is also a lineage holder of Milarepa’s Dharma teachings. In particular, Tseringma is considered the special spirit that has dominion over the area of Nubri. These two practices of Karma Pakshi and Tseringma are the same ones that the Karmapa led in Bodh Gaya during the annual nuns’ gathering. In Sarnath, the rituals were augmented with copious offerings and continued for three days, finishing on the auspicious full moon of the second Tibetan month.
The Karmapa had remarked about these special pujas, “At this time perhaps I will see the yangsi more clearly.” On the third day of the practices, March 23, 2016, as he left the shrine hall, His Holiness gave Tempa Yarphel a folded paper. When he opened it, he discovered the drawing of a house with a large boulder and an indication of the direction in which the door faced. Written at the top was “Year of the Horse.” During an audience on the evening of that day, the search party requested further advice and clarification from His Holiness. The Karmapa told them that they did not know how to search in Samdo: “It could be that the mother went as a bride to another village or that the father went as a groom elsewhere. They will probably have a child. Look for them.”
A Second Venture to Nubri
The search party returned to Samdo in Nubri, and this time Khenpo Garwang asked the head of the village and the resident lama, Lama Orgyen, to call a big meeting with the local villagers. Under a clear mountain sky, they all gathered and Khenpo Garwang asked about family members who had moved to other places and who had children. The villagers were very cooperative and even called abroad to relatives in Europe, America, and Australia to see if they had such a child but they only found a young girl born in the Year of the Horse, not a young boy.
Three days passed by, and then late in the day around 5:30, the General Secretary felt like having something to drink, so he walked over to a small shop where a woman was selling tea, coffee, and some snacks. He bought a cup of coffee and while he was drinking it, as is the custom in remote mountain areas, the owner struck up a conversation. (He later discovered that she was a sister of Lama Orgyen and named Sithar.) “Well, did you find the child?”
“No,” the General Secretary sighed, “We’ve looked everywhere and could not find him.”
She asked him, “Did you know that my older sister’s daughter has a boy born in the Year of the Horse?”
“Where is she?” the General Secretary quickly questioned.
“My sister’s daughter moved to Rö as a bride.“
“Where is this place?”
“Oh, you walk down the mountain about three or four hours and you’ll get there.”
The General Secretary was as surprised as he was elated. He paid for his coffee, leaving it half finished, and went as quickly as he could to find the search party in their guesthouse. Khenpo Garwang remarked, “That’s quite strange. We had so many meetings and no one mentioned this child. Let’s go tomorrow morning as early as possible. Since Lama Orgyen is a respected person and a relative of the boy, it would be good to invite him to come with us.”
As Lama Orgyen was staying close by, the search party went right away to see him and Khenpo Garwang asked, “Did your sister’s daughter go as a bride to Rö?”
“Yes, and my sister passed away quite some time ago,” he replied.
“Her daughter has a boy, isn’t it?”
“Could he have been born in the Year of the Horse?”
“Well, it’s possible. I’ll call her.”
Lama Orgyen made a phone call to the yangsi’s mother and he found out that, indeed, the boy was born in the Horse Year. Lama Orgyen was also reminded that he was the one who had made an astrological chart for the infant after his birth. The lama happily agreed to join search party on their trip to Rö.
A Young Boy Makes an Impression
With joy and anticipation, the search party traveled on the very next day to meet his sister’s grandson. After their trek down the rocky mountain valley, the search party at last came to the house, which was known as the New House in Rö of Nubri (Nub ri ros khang gsar). When the General Secretary saw the yangsi, he thought, “This child’s eyes have a special brilliance.”
The parent’s names turned out to be just as the prediction letter had indicated: the father was named Tsering Wangdu, (though he was usually called Wangdu), and he was known as Orgyen Pasang Wangpo when he was a monk for four years at Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s Monastery in Swyambhunath which is now under Mingyur Rinpoche’s guidance and called Tergar Ösel Ling. The yangsi’s mother was called Dawa Putri, and when she was a nun at Penor Rinpoche’s nunnery in southern India for about six years, she was known as Tsultrim Chödrön. She has two older sisters and three younger brothers. It also turned out that the mother of both Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche came from Rö.
While she was pregnant, Dawa Putri dreamed of her oldest sister’s house, located high up on the valley side with stairs like a ladder climbing up to the front door. In her dream, an old lama dressed in bright, red robes came down the stairs and walked straight to the gate of the parent’s old house with the boulder. The lama said to the mother, “Your child will be born as a tulku. You should perform chabtor (offerings for hungry ghosts),” and then he faded away. The mother, however, did not make the offerings, dismissing the dream as something illusory and not really important. She explained that people in the area were always having dreams, so they do not put much store in them.
A Reincarnation Comes into the World
For three days while Dawa Putri was having some labor pains that came and went, there was a light snowfall, and then on the night the yangsi was born, a huge snowstorm blanketed the entire area, coating the mountains in brilliant white. The parents asked their local lama from Rö, Lopön Gyurme, the meaning of this immense storm. Was it a good or bad sign? He said that it could be a good sign as snow often means that good things will happen in the area. And it could be a bad sign, as the massive snow made it difficult for the livestock in the area, and indeed, their yaks and dzo had a hard time. The family felt that it was definitely an unusual event.
The yangsi was born on the 23rd day of the tenth Tibetan month in the Year of the Horse (December 14, 2014) at 11:30 pm. The previous Tenga Rinpoche had passed away in the early hours of March 30, 2012, so he did not wait long to take rebirth, just as the Karmapa had predicted. The boy was named Nyima Döndrup, and soon after his birth, Dawa Putri’s paternal aunt (her father’s younger sister) came to visit. When she learned that at the baby’s birth, the umbilical cord was wrapped counterclockwise around his neck and that he had a red spot between his eyebrows, the aunt remarked, “You must take special care of this child.” (This is often said to parents before their child is identified as a reincarnation.) Among the father’s nieces and nephews, there were twelve girls and only three boys, so the aunt was very happy and had great hopes for this child.
About two days after the child was born, his great uncle, Lama Orgyen came to visit and pronounced, “He is a being with great good fortune.” Following the custom of the Nubri area, he advised them, “You must perform smoke offerings for his long life.” So they hoisted a colorful flag on their roof and did smoke pujas (bsang) on the 3rd, 13th, and 23rd of the Tibetan month.
For around a month after his birth, the yangsi’s nostrils were blocked, so a phone call was made to the mother’s brother Yönten Namgyal who was studying at Benchen shedra. What should they do? He went to ask Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche who gave him saffron to burn as a smoke offering (bsang rdzas) to clear away hindrances (sgrib sang), saying, “Burn this for him and he’ll be fine.” So Yönten Namgyal sent this saffron up to the family in Nubri and after bathing the child, they burned a little of it every day, letting the smoke rise gently over the yangsi’s face and in about two months he was cured.
As the child grew, the qualities of his character became clearer. He liked to be with other children, and when he went outside to play with them, sometimes they hit him, but he never retaliated. He was also kind to beggars. In their area, two or three times a year, poor people come from India seeking charity. Most of the local people in Nubri ignore them or chase them away, and usually there are no beggars around. When the yangsi sees them at their door, he says, “These are my bhai (Nepali for brother). Give them food.” If the mother hasn’t prepared anything to eat at that time, they look around for what might be available like tsampa (roasted barley flour) and give them that.
Other traces of Tenga Rinpoche also appeared. The previous incarnation loved malas and had a box full of them in his room, often changing the one he was using. When the yangsi would meet old men and women counting mani mantras on their malas, he would grasp onto them. Once there was an older man who had come to help at their house, and one day he couldn’t find his mala. It turned out that the child had walked away with it.
The Pieces Beginning to Form an Image
When Khenpo Garwang and the search party arrived at their home, the yangsi went to the door to see who was there. When he saw Khenpo Garwang, he said, “Tashi Delekla” (a polite way of saying “Hello, welcome”) though the yangsi had never spoken any Tibetan before. It was the first time he had ever said these words. The search party took many photos, and while they were visiting, the young boy took ahold of his mother’s chupa several times, saying something to her in the local Nubri dialect. When Tempa Yarphel asked Khenpo Wusung for a translation, it came out as a traditional gesture of welcome, “Pour them some tea.” At that time, the yangsi did not speak much and was just a year and three months old.
Previously, when the party had asked the Karmapa about the prediction letter and the number of family members, he had said that there could be four and a half, clarifying that “half” might mean that the mother was pregnant. When the party queried her, however, the mother said her periods were regular, so she was not pregnant at that time. Yet there were four members in the family: the two parents, the yangsi, and his sister Kelsang Chökyi who was two years older.
The General Secretary further asked the parents about the boulder that was in the Karmapa’s drawing. They replied that it was a major part of the lower floor in their old house, forming its back left corner with two walls extending out from either side. This boulder was broken into pieces and recycled when they built their new home, they said. It was here that the yangsi was born but the letter of prediction had been written while they were still living in their old house with the boulder. Many tourists come to Manaslu, and thinking they could generate some income through a guesthouse, the parents had completely rebuilt their home and added extra rooms, creating a house in an L-shape. The houses in the area have their own special names, and theirs is the New House in Rö of Nubri (Nubri ros khang pa gsar).
While staying in Rö, Khenpo Garwang contacted His Holiness to give him a detailed report, including the fact that the “half” family member was missing. After three days, His Holiness responded and asked Khenpo Garwang to return to Bodh Gaya and the other members of the search party to return to Kathmandu. Once back in India, Khenpo Garwang went over all the details with His Holiness and showed him the photographs of the family, their dwelling, and the stunning landscape, but at this point, the Karmapa stated that he did not have anything to say about Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche’s reincarnation.
Tseringma Comes in to Play
Meanwhile in Kathmandu, the General Secretary spoke with Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche to let him know that he was going to Bodh Gaya to spend Gutor (days of Mahakala practice before the New Year) and Losar (New Year) of 2017 at Tergar Monastery with the Karmapa. “What shall I say to His Holiness about the yangsi?” he asked. Nyenpa Rinpoche replied, “Don’t say anything at all about the yangsi. It’s best to keep quiet. His Holiness knows who you are. If he wishes to say something, he will. If not, then come back.”
So the General Secretary Tempa Yarphel followed his plans and went to Bodh Gaya for Gutor and Losar. Afterward, on March 2, the morning of the Marme Monlam and the last day of the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, he and some friends had the opportunity to have an audience with His Holiness and took photos with him. After the friends left, the Karmapa told Tempa Yarphel to come inside his quarters and gave him the following instructions: “There are many monks from Benchen here for the Kagyu Monlam and they should all return home. The search party should come here during the Nuns’ Winter Gathering at the time of the Tseringma practice.”
Following this advice, the Benchen monks returned to Nepal, and four members of the party came back to Bodh Gaya for the three days of Tseringma practice. On March 11, the third day of the pujas, His Holiness was writing down something during the chanting. At the end, he called the General Secretary up to the throne. Giving him the paper enveloped in a khata, the Karmapa said, “This was not written following my own thoughts. I wrote it directly as it clearly appeared. After the puja finishes, tell the search party to come to see me and I’ll give you an explanation.” When they met with him, the Karmapa told them that the paper held his new verses for them to chant as they went on their way to find the yangsi. His Holiness then urged them, “Go right away to Nepal and look for a child born in the Year of the Horse at the Boudhanath Stupa. You’ll find him there.”
Meanwhile back in Rö, there had been a light snowfall before the Tseringma practice had begun in Bodh Gaya. However, when the actual practice took place from March 9 to 11, 2107, snow came in a huge and steady downfall for the three full days. Over four feet of snow stacked up around the yangsi’s house before the radiant sun came out and melted it away. This amount of snow was very unusual, as it was the beginning of spring when it does not snow so much in the mountains. During these three days in Bodh Gaya, the weather was uncommonly clear and cool. The father mentioned that it was this auspicious snowstorm and the one at the yangsi’s birth that had confirmed his trust in the Karmapa.
With the Karmapa’s encouragement, the search party sped back to Nepal and spent days around the revered stupa looking for the young boy. Crowds of people from Nubri were circumambulating the glistening white dome of the stupa and walking through the narrow side streets. The search party found many children born in the Year of the Horse, but the parent’s names and the number of children in the family did not match. Nevertheless, all of these names were reported back to His Holiness. Then as the search party watched the webcast from Bodh Gaya on March 14, they heard the Karmapa conclude the day’s teachings on Gampopa with amazing news: "You might remember, it was a year or two ago during the Nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering, that we started looking for the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche. We searched for, found, and brought him here during the Nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. And so now if all the external and internal conditions work out properly, if there are the proper signs and so forth, we do have the hope that we will be able to look for and recognize the reincarnation of the Lord of Refuge Tenga Rinpoche, and bring him here to this fourth Nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. It is not certain that this will happen. Nothing is definite, yet it is quite possible that it might occur. In case it does, we may well have to extend this gathering for about two days.” Many other people heard this webcast as well and began calling Tempa Yarphel, “Did you find him?” they asked. “No” was the reply. “You have to use all the skillful means you can muster,” they worried. “We need a reincarnation right away!”
The Race to Nubri and Bodh Gaya
On March 17, His Holiness sent a message to Khenpo Garwang stating that Benchen Monastery should perform Tara puja throughout the night in order to remove obstacles.
Finally, on March 19th at 9:00 pm in the evening, Khenpo Garwang received a sudden message from the Karmapa: “Bring this child from Rö quickly to Bodh Gaya by the evening of March 20 or the morning of March 21.” The search party had been on an edge trying to find the yangsi in Boudha, and now they had to turn around and somehow bring him all the way from the northern mountains of Nepal to Bodh Gaya in the south of India’s Bihar State in 24 to 36 hours if not sooner.
Fortunately, Tashi Öser had a good connection with an important person in Nepal who helped him reserve a helicopter for the next day at 8 am. Since the helicopter could not carry many people, they sent Khenpo Garwang, Tashi Öser, and the mother’s younger brother, Yönten Namgyal (known by his nickname Babu), who was a monk at the Benchen monastic college. In this way, during the hurried trip to India, there would be someone familiar to a young boy who had never been far out of his village, and everyone could be more at ease. Earlier this day, a foot of snow had fallen in Nubri but since tourists had flown in, people had shoveled the snow off the helipad, and it was easy for the search party to land and the family to fly away with them.
When the helicopter landed in Kathmandu, a jeep was waiting at the airport to take everyone straight away to India. It was the first time that the yangsi had seen a car. They drove all night and arrived at 5 am on the morning of March 21. When the General Secretary, accompanied by Sherab Wangchuk and Jimba Lodro, arrived at Tergar around 8:30 am, they looked quite tired yet joyous at the same time. After meeting the family at the airport, they had also learned that Dawa Putri was five months pregnant, thus fulfilling the Karmapa’s prediction that the family would have four and a half members.
The Yangsi Appears in Bodh Gaya
No one at Tergar Monastery was giving any definite information about the yangsi, yet the main shrine hall was filled with a quiet excitement and people were dressed up in their best clothes. To the right of Karmapa’s throne was a smaller one covered in golden and red brocade with two chairs set next to it. Ayang Rinpoche had also come and was seated to the Karmapa’s left. His Holiness had overseen all the details of the ceremony from the text to be chanted to the order of the procession with the yangsi. At 9:30 am His Holiness entered and took his seat to preside over the practice, the main one being the Supplication to the Sixteen Arhats, who are dedicated to preserving the teachings.
When it came to the section of inviting the arhats to be present, the puja was paused and through the main vermillion doors of the shrine hall came a procession led by the General Secretary carrying a long incense holder, followed by the Junior Secretary Tashi Öser, Khenpo Garwang, the yangsi in a golden chupa with his parents, and Yönten Namgyal. They were accompanied by Gyaltsen Sonam from the Tsurphu Administration. The parents placed their child on the carpet in front of the Karmapa, who was wearing his black crown, and after they had bowed deeply, the yangsi was brought up next to the Karmapa and looked directly into his eyes for a long time.
The young boy was then placed on his throne while the parents sat next to him and he continued to turn and gaze at the Karmapa and the new people around him. During this time, above his eyebrows came a second set of red brows like a naro (the Tibetan vowel that looks like two wings), more sweeping upward above his right eyebrow and less above the left. They were quite clear during the ceremony and for some time afterward.
People remarked at how composed the boy was for such a young child since in western terms he is only two years and some three months old. By Tibetan counting, in this late March of 2017, the yangsi is four years old since he was born in the tenth month, and whenever Losar (the New Year) comes around, everyone is considered a year older no matter when they were born. So at two months old, the yangsi was already considered to be a one-year old. Then two years passed, making him three, and this year Losar just happened on February 27th, so he turned four in the Tibetan world.
For his long and fruitful life, many offerings were made to the yangsi of the representations of body, speech, and mind. All the while the child, just over two years old, sat calmly on his throne, looking with great simplicity and clarity at what was happening and the numerous people who came before him with their gifts and long white scarves. Many people remarked on how unusual this composure was for a very young child from a remote region, who was now the focus of a grand ceremony and crowds of people. His radiant presence filled the hearts of everyone, as it will continue to do during his many years to come.
This account is based on interviews with the General Secretary Tempa Yarphel of Benchen Monastery, conducted on March 24, and 25, 2017 in Bodh Gaya, India and on interviews with the yangsi’s parents on March 26 and 27, 2017. The General Secretary and Tashi Sautter also helped with the editing of the text, which was written by Michele Martin after conducting the interviews. May this contribute to the long life and flourishing activity of this wonderful reincarnation.