A Brief Biography of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Tulku Urgyen Nagi Gompa 1991Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was born in Eastern Tibet on the 10th day of the 4th Tibetan month in 1920. He was recognized by His Holiness Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Gyalwang Karmapa, as both the reincarnation of the Chöwang Tulku and an emanation of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, one of Padmasambhava’s chief disciples. Guru Chowang the First (1212-70 AD) was one of the Five Terton Kings, the major revealers of secret texts hidden by Padmasambhava for the benefit of later generations.

Tulku Urgyen's main monastery was Lachab Gompa in Nangchen, Eastern Tibet. There, he studied and practiced the teachings of both the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Among the four greater Kagyu Schools, his family line was the main holder of the Barom Kagyu Lineage.

In the Nyingma tradition, Tulku Urgyen held the complete teachings of the 19th century's three great spiritual masters: Terchen Chokgyur Lingpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. He possessed an especially close transmission for the New Treasures which were rediscovered by his great-grandfather, Terchen Chokgyur Lingpa. These are a vast collection of teachings, empowerments, reading transmissions and oral instructions transmitted by Padmasambhava. Rinpoche passed along this precious tradition to the major regents of the Karma Kagyu Lineage as well as to many other tulkus, monastics and lay practitioners.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche ca 1965
Why did Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche possess such a profound relationship with the lineage of Karmapas? The 14th Gyalwang Karmapa was one of the main recipients of Chokgyur Lingpa's termas, receiving the empowerments from the terton himself. A generation later, Chokgyur Lingpa’s grandson, Tulku Samten Gyatso, who was the root guru of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, offered the same transmission to the 15th Gyalwang Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje. Eventually, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche had the honor of offering the major transmissions of the Chokling Tersar to Rangjung Rigpey Dorje, the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa. Moreover, Tulku Urgyen felt fortunate to be able to pass along the transmission for the important Dzogchen Desum, the “Three Sections of the Great Perfection,” to both His Holiness Karmapa and His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, and to numerous tulkus, monastics of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages and lay practitioners.
Tulku Urgyen and sons ca 1973

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche established six monasteries and retreat centers in Nepal, most importantly a large monastery in Boudhanath, close to the Great Jarung Khashor Stupa, and a hermitage adjacent to the Asura Cave where Padmasambhava accomplished the Mahamudra Vidyadhara level.

For 33 years, Tulku Urgyen resided at Nagi Gompa Hermitage, perched high on the southern slopes of Mt. Shivapuri overlooking Kathmandu Valley. There, he remained in retreat for more than two decades and completed the traditional three-year meditative retreat four times. Under his personal guidance, more than 300 monks and nuns pursued the study and practice of Dharma.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche & Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche & Erik Europe 1981
In 1980, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his eldest son, Tulku Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, toured Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia offering Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings as well as empowerments to scores of ardent practitioners. Every year since then, the family of high Lamas have jointly offered Fall Seminars in the main temple of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery on essential Buddhist teachings, combining the views, practices and meditations of Dzogchen, Mahamudra and the Middle Way.

Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings, while tremendously vast and profound, can be condensed into simple statements immediately applicable to our present state of mind. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, regarded by many as a skilled Dzogchen master, was famed for his profound meditative realization and for the concise, lucid and humorous style with which he imparted the very essence of the 84,000 sections of Buddhist teachings. Less concerned with formal systematic categories of knowledge or with the logical steps of philosophy, Tulku Urgyen directly addressed the listener's present fresh state of mind. His method of teaching included “instruction through one's own experience.” Thus, with just a few words, his teaching directly pointed out the nature of mind, revealing the natural simplicity of wakefulness and enabling the student to actually touch the heart of the Buddha's Wisdom Mind.

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche Malaysia 1981Tulku Urgyen’s published works, in English, include Repeating the Words of the Buddha, As It Is 1 & As It Is 2, Rainbow Painting and Vajra Speech. His memoirs and life-story are recounted by Rinpoche, himself, in the recently published Blazing Spendor. Books published by Rangjung Yeshe Publications

Shortly before daybreak on February 13th, 1996, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche entered parinirvana and left this world. Throughout that day, the skies above his retreat room remained remarkably crystal clear, blue and utterly cloudless.



— Written by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and Erik Pema Kunsang.
— Slightly revised by S. Lhamo.