Finding the Dharma

The imprints of a Tulku…

Tsem Rinpoche at play

Tsem Rinpoche at play

Since early childhood, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s powerful imprints of a Tulku manifested in his natural devotion towards Buddhist Masters, deities and prayers, and his all-consuming longing to practice the Dharma. Often, he would sit on his bed in meditation posture, visualizing himself as a high Lama giving teachings, composing sacred texts on long strips of paper, or drawing and painting various Buddha forms. These he passed out to other children as blessings and protection.

Buddha Shakyamuni drawn by Tsem Rinpoche as a child

Buddha Shakyamuni drawn by Tsem Rinpoche as a child

From a young age, Rinpoche was fascinated by Manjushri, Vajrayogini, Heruka, Palden Lhamo and Chenrezig, and was profoundly affected by the “Eight Verses of Mind Transformation” and Chenrezig’s prayer. He had an unusual attraction to the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism and would spontaneously chant “Om Mani Peme Hung” and think of H.H. as a Buddha without anyone telling him to do so.

There were other examples of Rinpoche’s unusual connection to the Dharma. As a child, he used to see a red lady in his imaginations and would think, “This practice can take us from this world fast”. Many times, he would miss the school bus because he had spent the previous night secretly reading Dharma books under the covers. Reluctant to walk to school in the rain, he would pray to Medicine Buddha, reciting “Om Mani Peme Hung” as he did not know any other mantras. The rain would stop, only starting again just as Rinpoche arrived at school! Once, he even dreamt that the Medicine Buddha appeared from the sky and stopped other children from teasing him!

Green Tara pendant made by Tsem Rinpoche as a child

Green Tara pendant made by Tsem Rinpoche as a child

With such powerful imprints from previous lives, it is not surprising that Rinpoche would meet his first Guru, the highly realised Master of Vajrayogini practice and Abbot Emeritus of Sera Monastery, H.E. Kensur Lobsang Tharchin, at Rashi Gempil Ling (RGL), a Mongolian temple just 10 minutes from his home in Howell.

From that point onwards, Rinpoche would spend his every free moment at RGL; helping out, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning up. He had a strong desire to work in the temple and serve his Guru. Attracted to the wrathful deities, he would spend hours in the gompa praying to Palden Lhamo.

 

“I would die to get teachings. I would tremble with excitement, anticipation and glee before teachings and initiations. I would sit there through the whole thing with my breath held. When it finished, I was depressed because I loved the Dharma and I didn’t know what was waiting for me at home.”

Despite his parents’ opposition to his Dharma practice, Rinpoche would borrow Dharma books which he would read voraciously. He would also call up Michael Roach, another student of Kensur Rinpoche, to clarify Dharma questions.

H.E. Kensur Lobsang Tharchin, who was Tsem Rinpoche's first Guru

H.E. Kensur Lobsang Tharchin, who was Tsem Rinpoche's first Guru

It was here in RGL that Rinpoche met His Holiness for the first time, from whom he received the oral transmission of “Om Mani Peme Hung” and the “Eight Verses of Mind Transformation”. Rinpoche received his first initiation from Kensur Rinpoche after many requests to receive Vajrayogini’s initiation.

“My first initiation – I was so excited for weeks. And also afterwards. Even now I’m excited when I talk about it! It’s like a hardness in my chest, that I can’t breathe.”

Tsem Rinpoche at His Holiness' teachings in New Jersey

Tsem Rinpoche at His Holiness’ teachings in New Jersey

However, in the midst of such excitement and joy, there was a certain sadness, for Rinpoche could not share any of this with his family, who were completely unsupportive of his Dharma practice. He had to keep it all a secret, with devastating consequences if found out.