Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche Jamyang Dondrub started his life on December 19, 1928, or, by Tibetan reckoning, in the Earth Dragon year of 2015, in a small village near Ba Chöde Monastery on the banks of the Drichu River in Kham, eastern Tibet. Shortly after his birth, he was brought to Lithang. He spent his first years there in the family home just outside the walls of Lithang Gönchen, the great monastery founded by the third Dalai Lama, Sönam Gyatso.
From a young age, Rinpoche had visions of the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, Lama Tsongkhapa and others. Though his mother found some of her son’s stories hard to believe, she saw to it that he received a Buddhist education. Thus at the age of four, the young Jamyang Dondrub was taught to read and write and, at the age of six, he entered the religious life at Lithang Monastery.
Then, one day in 1935, a couple of travelers arrived on the outskirts to Lithang. They had come on the advice of the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche and Khenpo Ngakchung in search of a child said to be the rebirth of their lama, Tulku Dorje Namgyal of Garje Khamü Monastery. Rinpoche, who was playing with his friends in the field at the time, recognized them. Surprised and delighted the young boy knew not only their names but also that of their mounts, they followed him home to speak to his family. Initially, Rinpoche’s uncle stubbornly refused to speak with Garje Khamü Monastery’s representatives and threatened to upset the proceedings. Fortunately, the abbot of Lithang Monastery intervened and secured his uncle’s cooperation, thus allowing Rinpoche and his mother to accompany the representatives back to Garje, a journey of many days to the northwest.
After passing the traditional battery of tests, such as recognizing the personal effects of his predecessor, Jamyang Dondrub was installed as the rebirth of Dorje Namgyal and began his formal studies. He was to spend the next twenty years studying Buddhist thought and practicing meditation under the guidance of such luminary lamas as Drime Abhan Tulku, Adzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje, Trakya Palden Lama and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.
Unfortunately, the freedom and leisure enjoyed in youth was not to last. In 1956, people across Kham rose up to resist the predations of the Chinese Communists, who’d been encroaching on eastern Tibet for some years. After many months and repeated threats on his personal safety, Rinpoche decided to flee, leaving Garje with a small group of family and followers for the relative safety of southern Tibet.
In Powo and Kongpo, Rinpoche found a temporary home and a base from which to launch a pilgrimage to the holy sites of central Tibet. Despite the turbulence of the times, over the next few years Rinpoche’s activities assumed a new dimension as he discovered long-lost pilgrimage sites in Kongpo and sponsored extensive ceremonies for the good of the Buddhist teachings and beings.
As time went by and the situation deteriorated, it became clear that the refugees from Kham would need to seek a more secure refuge. Guided by prophetic dreams, Rinpoche and six students sought and found a way into the hidden valleys of Pemako, a natural fortress cut off from the rest of Tibet by thick jungle, high mountains and the rushing waters of the Tsangpo River. Not long after Rinpoche’s return to Kongpo in 1959, fighting engulfed southern Tibet. Yet Rinpoche and scores of followers were able to escape the dangers by following the newly uncovered route into the heart of Pemako. Rinpoche remained there for nearly two years, tending to the constant stream of refugees from eastern and central Tibet.
In 1961, Rinpoche and his family walked across the border into India to join His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the tens of thousands of Tibetans who’d fled the Communist invasion. As a respected lama, Rinpoche was drafted into service by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. He was to spend the next forty-five years in devoted service to his people, first as doctor and head of a refugee settlement, and later as secretary of the Department of Religious Affairs. During those years, Rinpoche married Tsewang Dolkar, the daughter of Yakgyal Tulku Pema Kunkyen. They have five children.
During his years of government service, Rinpoche formed a close bond with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Upon Rinpoche’s retirement in 1986, His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked him to remain in Dharamsala, so that he might help with the Nyingma practices done on behalf of the government and His Holiness’s Private Office. As always, Rinpoche respectfully heeded His Holiness’s advice.
Though officially ‘retired’, Rinpoche’s activities have in no way slowed down. Over the past twenty years, he has traveled extensively around the world, promoting the interests of the Tibetan people and giving teachings to a growing group of students, in Asia, Europe and North America. In 1991, Rinpoche established Chime Gatsal Ling, a small dharma centre in McLeod Ganj, to provide a place for students of all backgrounds to pursue their study and practice of Buddhism. In 2004, Rinpoche began work on a new monastery for his growing community of monks.
Rinpoche’s published works include his recently published autobiography Memories of Lost and Hidden Lands, Dzogchen Meditation (published by Sri Satguru Publications) and The Jewel Ladder (published by the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives).