In the 7th lunar month of 1951, Tulku Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche was born into the Tsangsar family as the first-born son of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche whose family has, for many generations, held the now rare Barom Kagyu lineage.
At 18 months of age, Chokyi Nyima — Sun of the Dharma — was recognized as the 7th incarnation of the Drikung Kagyu lama, Gar Drubchen, a Tibetan mahasiddha and spiritual emanation of the renowned 2nd century Indian Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna. Soon after, he was enthroned at his predecessor’s monastery, Drong Ngyur Tubten Namgyal Ling Monastery in Nakchukha, Central Tibet, where he resumed his role as Dharma Master to 500 monks.
In 1959, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and his younger brother Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche enrolled at the Young Lamas’ School in Dalhousie, India. At the age of 13, he entered Rumtek, seat of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, and spent the next 11 years studying the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Nyingma traditions under the guidance of such eminent masters as His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.
Thoroughly engaged in the study of such classic philosophical treatises as Vasubhandu’s Abhidharma Kosha, the Five Texts of Maitreya, Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartika, Shantideva’s Bodhicarya Avatara, and Chandrakirti’s Madhyamaka Avatara, Tulku Chokyi Nyima earned his khenpo degree at an early age.
In 1974, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche left Rumtek, where he had been personal aide to Rangjung Rigpey Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, and joined his father, mother and younger brother, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, in Boudhanath, a suburb of Kathmandu, Nepal. There, at the command of the 16th Karmapa, the family of high Lamas established Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery just north of the Great Jarung Khashor Stupa. After its completion in March, 1976, Rinpoche was instructed by the Karmapa to become its 24-year-old abbot. His Holiness also advised Tulku Chokyi Nyima to turn his efforts towards instructing Western practitioners. To fulfill this directive, Rinpoche honed his English language skills and began to offer weekend teachings to the flourishing Western community in Nepal and to interested travelers. This ongoing series of free public talks came to be known as the “Saturday Morning Talks,” and recordings can be found here.
In 1980, with his eldest son, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, by his side, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche embarked on an extensive round-the-world tour through Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States in order to bring Lord Buddha’s message to Buddhist practitioners everywhere. Erik Pema Kunsang accompanied them as their translator. Wherever the Lamas visited, they gave Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings and empowerments to numerous people.
After returning to Nepal, in 1981 Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche established the Rangjung Yeshe Institute for Buddhist Studies (RYI) which hosts annual international seminars and symposiums on Buddhism. In 1997, RYI expanded to include an international Buddhist college, or “shedra”, offering an in-depth curriculum in formal Buddhist studies for students from around the world. RYI has since formed the Centre for Buddhist Studies at Kathmandu University, a degree-granting institution for scholarship and academic research where, after 3 to 5 years of study, both local and foreign students can receive their BA and MA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan langauges.
Late in 1981, Rinpoche also established Rangjung Yeshe Publications who have, through the decades, produced many fine books. Among their publications, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s prolific teachings, commentaries and writings can be found in: Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Song of Karmapa, Bardo Guidebook, Indisputable Truth, Present Fresh Wakefulness and Medicine and Compassion.
Rinpoche has a good command of the English language, and has been instructing a growing number of Western students in meditation practice since 1977. When his busy schedule allows, several mornings each week Rinpoche throws open the doors of his personal shrine-room and meets visitors personally. Moreover, each autumn, he conducts a 10-day Fall Seminar on Buddhist teachings, ranging from the most basic to the most esoteric. For the benefit of the international participants, the seminar is offered in Tibetan and translated into English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and a number of other languages.
Through the decades, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has successfully founded Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Centres, which he now heads, in Malaysia, Denmark, America, Austria, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and France. Study groups have formed under his direction in other countries, including Israel, Holland, Mexico and Portugal. Each year, Rinpoche travels widely in Europe, Russia, Asia and the Americas instructing students in a variety of Buddhist disciplines and contexts. During his travels, he has also been a frequent lecturer at many esteemed colleges and universities around the world, such as Harvard and Oxford University.
In 2006, Rinpoche established the Dharmachakra Translation Group, a committee of expert translators dedicated to translating and publishing classical Buddhist treatises from Tibetan and Sanskrit scriptural canon. Later on, Dharmachakra Practices was founded in order to translate, produce, and distribute Vajrayana sadhana practice texts and commentaries in several languages for the benefit of the growing number of international Dharma practitioners.
For more than 30 years, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has overseen the welfare and spiritual education of more than 500 monks and nuns residing primarily at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, Asura Cave Retreat Centre and Nagi Gompa Hermitage, respectively. His heartfelt wish is to double this number of ordained and therefore the monasteries and retreat centers under his care are constantly undergoing improvements and expansion.
In the meantime, much of Rinpoche’s everyday life is devoted to the spiritual needs of the local congregation of both Tibetan and Nepalese lay practitioners. As an adjunct to his activity locally, and for the betterment of the monastery’s surrounding community, Rinpoche founded the charitable organization Shenpen which addresses the practical special needs of the disadvantaged, such as health care and education. Shenpen is administered by a number of Rinpoche’s close Western students.