Khensur Thabkhey Rinpoche 1927 – 1999

Trashi Ge Phel Ling’s founding Lama


When Khensur Thapkhey Rinpoche was born his mother found golden flowers growing in the snow, which she took as an auspicious sign. From an early age the boy, named Thapkhey Gyatso, wanted to become a monk but, being the only son, his parents were not enthusiastic. However at the age of 14, he joined the local monastery, Shitsang Garser where he studied for some years. Later he journeyed to Lhasa to Drepung Gomang monastery where he continued his studies through the increasing Chinese domination in the 1950s. In 1959 the tension between the Chinese and Tibetans reach crisis point and His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced to flee his country.

Rinpoche was one of the hundreds of Gomang monks who fled with him, crossing the Himalayas on foot, avoiding the Chinese army and finally reaching Bhutan and then India. The Indian government gave the Tibetan refugees land in South India, but by that time only 64 of the Gomang monks remained. This small band decided to rebuild their monastery and its traditions out of the jungle but not before Rinpoche had studied at the Varanasi Sanskrit College, where he graduated with an Acharya degree, and made an extended pilgrimage to many of the sacred Buddhist sites in India.Rinpoche was one of the founding monks of Gomang College, Drepung Monastery, in India and in the late 1970s took the Geshe Lharampa exams and passed the oral and debate sections. Before he could sit the written exam he was appointed abbot of Gomang, a position he held from 1980 to 1984.


After that, The office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama approached him with a request to travel to New Zealand to become resident teacher at Dorje Chang Institute (DCI). He arrived in New Zealand on May 2, 1987 and remained at DCI until His Holiness’s first visit to the country in 1992 during which the Dalai Lama mentioned that Rinpoche should teach in Mongolia. Rinpoche went into retreat for a year at Te Moata on the Coromandel before leaving for Mongolia to teach at Gaden Hidd Monastery in Ulaan Bataar. However, his New Zealand students requested that he return to New Zealand which he did in 1995. In 1996 he set up Trashi Gomang Centre in Auckland as well as Trashi Ge Phel Ling here in Wellington. From this time on, Rinpoche gave teachings throughout the country including the Coromandel (at the Mahamudra Centre), Keri Keri, Whangarei, Nelson, Golden Bay and surrounding areas, Blenheim, Christchurch and places on the West Coast. In addition to this, had devoted students in Hong Kong where he regularly taught.

In 1999 Rinpoche led some of his New Zealand and Hong Kong students on pilgrimage to Tibet. At this time, while at his home monastery Shitsang Garser, he fell ill and suffered a mild stroke; a blood vessel had burst in his head. Against all predictions that he would recover, Rinpoche steadily worsened and, on the morning of 29 July 1999, he died. He was in meditation for three days before the final signs of his passing away.

Celia Smith, Rinpoche’s translator and student has provided a brief biography and tribute to him which is well worth reading.