Tai Situ Rinpoche
During the last few days of his life the 11th Tai Situpa, who due to his advanced age was on a diet of fruit juice alone, dipped his fingers in a cup of grape juice and traced characters on his bedside table, indicating the name of the family chosen for his next incarnation.
In the Kingdom of Dege in the Province of Kham in Eastern Tibet in 1954, according to the Tibetan calendar the year of the Wood Horse, two years after his death the house of Dhondrup Tsering of the Liu family was left totally inaccessible by cracks in the earth around it following an earthquake which struck only in that area. His wife, Pema Choeden was awakened for a few nights before the birth of the child she was expecting by a bright light in her bedchamber. On the eve of the birth she dreamt of the mandala in her womb. These awe inspired parents were astonished at the tiny white flowers strewn about the house on the eve of the birth.
The villagers of Palyul were stunned by a vision of two solar orbs lighting the skies on the morning of the 15th February, the day of this auspicious birth. Not really belie bin their eyes they confirmed this phenomenon by looking at the solar reflection in bowls filled with water. And from the totally inaccessible peak of Panzom a column of white smoke heralded the birth of the 12th Tai Situ Pa, the emanation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the forthcoming Buddha.
During a journey to China, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, the Head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage, rophesized the place, time, family and many other circumstances relating to the discovery of the 12th Tai Situ. The child was found exactly as this prophecy had stated, as well as the prophecy the 11th Situ made before his death. According to the beliefs of the Tibetan people and the prophecies of the great masters (such as Padmasambhava) as recorded in the sacred texts, the Tai Situ is not only the emanation of the coming Buddha, Maitreya, but also of Padmasambhava, the Lotus born Guru, who brought the sacred teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism from India to Tibet in the eighth century.
The name Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche refers to an honorific title bestowed on the 1st Situ (1377-1448) in 1407 by the Emperor of China, Ming Chen Tsu or Yung Lo, of the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368-1643. In the history of China the Tai Situ's have played an extremely important role as spiritual masters to the Emperors of China, continuing as such until the recent Communist takeover. Situ Rinpoche's full name, Kenting Yanthong Myutsi Goshir Tai Situ, literally means 'the Great Lama who leads all beings of the Universe to Ultimate Peace, who gives empowerments to the Crown of the Emperor and who possesses great Loving Kindness'. Rinpoche is a Tibetan word of respect given to acknowledge the Compassionate Activity which benefits all beings.
At the very young age of eighteen months this child was escorted to be enthroned by a distinguished entourage of a thousand horsemen, headed by the Dege King, the personal envoy of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Emissaries from the neighbouring kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and China, and hundreds of incarnate lamas, to the Palung monastery, the traditional seat of power of the Situ Pa from the time of his 8th Incarnation, situated in the Dege Kingdom in Kham. This is the principal centre of one hundred and eighty main monasteries all over Tibet and many lesser surrounding ones, all under the spirtiual guidance of the Tai Situ line.
During his brief stay a t the Palung Monastery he was visited by His Holiness Dalai Lama, who was on his way back to Lhasa from China, and made this long detour in his journey to grant this child Refuge, with the ceremonial cutting of the hair, naming him Chimey Pema Donyo Nyini Chogley Gyalwey De, fulfilling the prophecy of Mahaguru Padmasambhava, about the twelve Situ Pa's - that six would bear the name containing the Dharma letters, Chos (Chokyi), and six that of the name Pema (lotus).
When the Chinese invasion of Tibet became imminent, His Eminence Tai Situ journeyed to Tsurphu Monastery hear Lhasa, the seat of His Holiness Karmapa where he remained for one year. At the age of six he went to Bhutan. The previous King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk, had been a disciple of the previous Tai Situ, His Eminence Kenting Tai Situ Pema Wangchog Gyalpo, who had spent a long time in Bhutan giving teachings and empowerments to the King, the Royal Family, the monks of the royal temples, and many people of Bhutan. He then joined His Holiness Karmapa in Sikkim, at that time an independent Buddhist Kingdom. In Sikkim he spent much time at the Royal Palace, as the King of Sikkim, Choegyal Palden Tundrup Namgyal, was recognised as Ontrul Rinpoche, one of the incarnate Lamas of Palpung Monastery. (There were four Rinpoches under H.E. Tai Situ: H.E Jamgon Kontrul, the Ven Chentse Rinpoche, the Ven. Ongen Rinpoche, and the Ven Ontrul Rinpoche.) At the age of nine His Eminence Tai Situ became ill with tuberculosis and spent the next three years undergoing treatment from Dr Pempa in Darjeeling.
He then returned to Sikkim at age twelve, to the newly constructed seat of His Holiness Karmapa, the Rumtek Monastery. He remained there for ten years, mastering all the teachings and empowerments which His Holiness Karmapa had received in turn from his main master, the 11th Tai Situ, the 2nd Jamgon Kontrol, and a few other teachers. Th lineage of transmission was received gradually from His Holiness from the age of twelve until the age of twenty two. There were other teachers:the Ven Abbot Thrangu Rinpoche, who instructed him in all the philosophies; and the very Ven Kalu Rinpcohe from whom he received the instructions for the secret doctrines and special practices relating to the Vajrayana Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He made many intensive retreats to realise these teachings. From the Secretary of His Holiness Karmapa, Trungyig Tenzin la, and others, he learned grammar, poetry, history, astrology, medecine, painting, sacred dance, mandala making and sculpture. Later he took Kalachakra Tantric Teaching from His Holiness Dalai Lama.
At the age of twenty two he left Rumtek Monastery for Ladakh (Changtang) in Northern India, where he gave teachings at Thubten Choeling Monastery at the invitation of the Ven. Duppon Dechen Rinpoche, who had been the Head Lama of Tarna Monastery in East Tibet. (Tarna is a place of special importance in the spiritual history of Tibet, as it was here that King Gesar, the renowned King who possessed legendary supernatural powers, left many treasured objects.) It was during this tour that His Eminence made contact for the first time with Westerners, who became his disciples. At this time he was offered twenty nine acres of land in Himachal Pradesh by his followers from Derge and Nagchen, who had settled in this neighbouring Tibetan Bir Colony. He named this place which was to be the first Centre of his Life's work, Sherabling, literally Land of Wisdom. At once his monks commenced building a Monastery under extremely difficult conditions and the severest weather.
In 1978, he went to Nepal where he gave three months of intensive teachings and empowerments on the treasure of Secret Instructions to many Rinpoches, monks and lay practitioners of all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.
At the age of twenty four, His Eminence gave extensive teachings and initiations a the Swayambhu Stupa in Nepal, where East and West met to gain his blessings and his wisdom. In 1981 he visited Chicago and was with His Holiness Karmapa until his Parinirvana in early November 1981. His Eminence returned to Rumtek with His Holiness' body, where he attended the 49 day ceremony. During the cremation ceremony, it is said that the heart of His Holiness fell on the northern side of the chorten. Tai Situpa explains that this indicates the love and affection of His Holiness to all concerned for the cause of the Dharma.
His Eminence continues to teach internationally as well as within India. His monastery Sherab Ling, in Bir continues to be developed and has a large community of monks residing and receiving their monastic education there.