Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche
Ngawang Gyalten Jigme
January 22, 1937—September 10, 2001
Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Jigme was born on January 22, 1937, near Gangtok, Sikkim, His father, Enchey Kazi Rabten Phuntsog of the Barphungpa family, knew the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche who had stayed in Gangtok on his frequent pilgrimages to India. Kazi Rabten Phuntsog was an influential, well-educated man, and the family hosted many famous Western scholars and explorers. Among these were Lama Anagarika Govinda and later, his wife, Li Gotami; Madame Alexandra David-Neel; Marco Pallis; Professor Tucci and the Italian explorers who accompanied him; and Dr. Schafer and his German expedition.
At three years of age Ngawang Jigme was recognized by Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang as the reincarnation of Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Kalsang. In 1941, before the first monks of the search party arrived to meet the child, the little Rinpoche announced to his father that his monks were coming to take him to his monastery, and when the monks reached Enchey House Rinpoche called them by name. The following year Rinpoche was taken to the Dungkar Gonpa (White Conch Monastery) in Chumbi (also called Tomo, Domo or Tromo) Valley in southern Tibet. In 1942 he began his studies at Sera Je College in Lhasa. At Sera Monastery, Domo Geshe Rinpoche was known for his quick intelligence, perfect behavior, and unwavering Guru devotion. No matter how strict his teacher Geshe Jampa Chömbe was with him, Rinpoche never complained, but was cheerful and calm. It was said that there was no one as gentle as Domo Geshe Rinpoche, but at the same time it was his nature not to be controlled by anyone. Often the famous and influential people who came to see him were afraid of him even when he was a child because of his exceptionally composed and serious demeanor. Rinpoche always acted as a simple, humble monk, never showing off his knowledge or accomplishments. During the political controversies that divided Tibet in the 1950s Geshe Rinpoche did not take sides, but consistently maintained a religious perspective and kept good connections with both parties.
While at Sera Monastery Domo Geshe Rinpoche was selected to enter the Lharam class in preparation for his Geshe degree, but in 1958 he requested to graduate a year early. Although this disappointed his teacher, his request was granted by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Consequently, Domo Geshe Rinpoche received his Lingsä Geshe degree just before the Chinese Communists put an end to the religious system in Tibet. By that time he had received an unusually large number of rare and precious teachings, transmissions, and empowerments from Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, Tagri Dorje Chang, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Gonsar (Dema) Rinpoche.
In March of 1959, during the Tibetan uprising, Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche was taken prisoner by the Chinese Communists. For the first few months of his imprisonment he was forced to perform the dirtiest jobs, such as cleaning out pig sties or sewers, and the heaviest work, such as carrying water or concrete slabs. Later he was compelled to undergo “re-education,” and when he refused to change, he was sent to Trapchi prison and kept in solitary confinement in total darkness for several months.
Finally, in early 1961 Domo Geshe Rinpoche was released from prison after repeated petitions from the government of India on his behalf. Three days after he was released, in very poor health and at the risk of his life, he began traveling by bicycle all over Lhasa and its outskirts secretly collecting texts and holy objects, which he arranged to be smuggled out of Tibet. Geshe Rinpoche gathered texts too rare to exist anywhere outside of Tibet, including a number of very precious manuscript collections. He also collected the sets of textbooks used by the different colleges of Sera, Drepung, and Ganden. Without these textbooks it would have been nearly impossible to continue the tradition of the great monastic universities in exile.
In the summer of 1961 Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche was exiled from Tibet. In extremely poor health, from which he never fully recovered, he took up residence at Tharpa Chöling Monastery, in Kalimpong, West Bengal, which was one of the monasteries the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche had established in northern India.
In the early 1960s Tharpa Chöling was involved in a long standing dispute with Dungkar Gonpa in Tibet, a dispute which neither the Indian nor the Tibetan courts had been able to resolve. Only Domo Geshe Rinpoche, after his arrival in India, was able to solve the crisis; he did this by means of his non-partisanship and fairness, his equal treatment of all, and his uncompromising attention to all the details of monastic discipline.
In 1962, while Domo Geshe Rinpoche was in Bodh Gaya, His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested him to start Tibet House in New Delhi. An artist himself, Domo Geshe Rinpoche was an expert on Tibetan and other Buddhist art. Through his connections and because of the trust and respect Tibetans had for him, Geshe Rinpoche was able to collect many precious, holy, and ancient works of art. These were exhibited at Tibet House, New Delhi, which was inaugurated in 1965.
During his tenure as head of Tibet House, Domo Geshe Rinpoche took a Tibetan art exhibition to Japan as a cultural ambassador for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government. In this capacity he also visited countries in Asia, Europe, and North America.
In 1966 Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche instituted an annual Ganden Ngamchö procession in Kalimpong and Darjeeling on the anniversary of the passing away of Je Tsong Khapa, during which a statue of Je Rinpoche was carried through the towns. Also, Geshe Rinpoche and the people in his immediate circle founded the Ü/Tsang Association in Kalimpong, whose headquarters only much later were transferred to Dharamsala. This association helped many of the Tibetans escaping from Tibet and also took care of the poorest in Kalimpong.
In India Domo Geshe Rinpoche was known for his extraordinary kindness, power and knowledge. He healed the sick, provided education for children and aid for the destitute. He paid equal attention to rich and poor, never favoring anyone because of their wealth or position. In his quiet self-effacing way he worked constantly to benefit others.
In 1976 Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche established the Dungkar Gonpa Society, a not-for-profit organization, in the United States. After searching for a property which would be the home of the Society, he found the land he was looking for in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. This property was offered to Rinpoche by Alexander and Sheila Hixon, and Rinpoche named the land Gangjong Namgyal, the All Victorious Snow Land.
For the first few years Geshe Rinpoche helped take care of this land with his own hands, caring for the wildlife and plants, repairing buildings, and running machines. In addition, by the power and purity of his intent, he effected a spiritual transformation of the Snow Land. For the next twenty-five years people came to Gangjong Namgyal from all over the world to receive Rinpoche’s advice, oral transmissions and explanations, and to do retreats under Rinpoche’s guidance.
In the summer of 1981 Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche hosted His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who spent a quiet and restful week at Gangjong Namgyal. His Holiness enjoyed the beautiful and peaceful surroundings and mentioned that the place was of great inspiration and that Dharma understanding came easily there.
Domo Geshe Rinpoche taught in the same way as his predecessor. Like him, he always acted in the manner of the perfect Kadampa, hiding his good deeds while working ceaselessly to safeguard the Buddha’s teachings.
Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche passed away on September 10, 2001, at his residence in Gangjong Namgyal.
All quoted material has been extracted from His Holiness Domo Geshe Rinpoche, A Biographical Sketch, by Dr. Ursula Bernis, copyright ©2002 by the Dungkar Gonpa Society.