Tana Dungsey Rinpoche
Venerable Tana Dungsey Rinpoche, holder of the Yelpa Kagyu and Hungkara lineages
Reincarnation of the Great Jonong Master, Kunchen Dolpopa.
Who is Tana Dungsey Rinpoche?
Tana Dungsey Rinpoche was born in southern India in 1976. He hails from a revered lineage of Buddhist masters, tulkus, Rinpoches, and great dharma practitioners that trace back to the Kagyu awakened ones: Tilo, Mila, Gampopa, Sangye Yelpa. His father, Tana Tulku Rinpoche, was the holder of the unbroken Yelpa Kagyu lineage, and was the head of the famous Tana Monastery in the Kham region of Tibet.
Tana Dungsey Rinpoche’s Father
After the Chinese takeover of Tibet, and the large-scale revolt by the Tibetans in 1959, Tana Rinpoche’s father, Tana Tulku Rinpoche, became an immediate target of the Chinese army. Because of the high esteem in which he was regarded by the Tibetan people, they arrested and imprisoned him. In a daring escape, he managed to flee his captors. It took many arduous months to traverse the formidable and unforgiving Himalayas and to finally make it to India. In recognition of his prominence and status, and to help preserve the Yelpa Kagyu lineage, the Indian Government awarded Tana Tulku Rinpoche land in southern India. Rinpoche established the Tana Monastery there, in Kollegal. (To learn more about Tana Tulku Rinpoche, click here )
Tana Dungsey’s Rinpoche’s mother
Mayum Deysum Wangmo la, was renowned for her generosity, compassion and especially for her deep dedication to meditation practice. She was considered by many to be a hidden dakini (an enlightened woman). When she was dying, over a hundred lamas, monks and lay people, flocked to her bedside to receive blessings, and to support her transition. Auspicious signs of her high attainment occurred at her death. One was that her body remained in tukdam for three days, a state where there is no decay of the physical corpse. Tana Dungsey Rinpoche describes her as a great practitioner and a great mother.
Tana Dungsey’s Rinpoche’s early life
At the age of three, Tana Rinpoche was recognized by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa as a tulku, the reincarnation of the great master Dolpopa. Rinpoche received from His Holiness, the name Karma Ngawang Chokyi Wangchuk Palsangpo. His two sisters describe the young Rinpoche as an unusually calm and loving child, not prone to the upsets naturally expected from a small boy. They remember that when he was around 8 years old, he learned that an exterminator had been called to exterminate the rodents who had infested their home. His adamant demand that this not happen put a stop to the extermination. According to his sisters, the rodents inexplicably disappeared after that and weren’t seen again.
In the Vajrayana tradition, it is understood that the natural warmth and insight that a tulku is born with, needs to be nurtured. To cultivate the boundless compassion and wisdom of a great lama, Tana Rinpoche’s instruction and training began at a young age. This training was especially important for a tulku like Tana Dungsey Rinpoche – he was destined to inherit his father’s position as the head of the Yelpa Kagyu and Hungkara lineages, and to become the abbot of the Tana Monastery in Kollegal. By age six, Rinpoche was already receiving teachings from his father and the senior monks at the monastery.
Tana Rinpoche went to study at the famous Nalanda institute in Rumtek at age 13. Four years later, the 17-year-old Rinpoche went to the Nyagur Nyingma Institute to study and train with the renowned dzogchen master, Venerable Penor Rinpoche.
When his father died, Tana Rinpoche returned to Tana monastery. Soon after his arrival, at age 20, Rinpoche was enthroned as the Yelpa Kagyu lineage holder, and as the Tana Monastery Abbot. The needs of the monastery were great, and Rinpoche spent the next fifteen years addressing them. The reputation of the monastery grew during this period, and it became an important center for spiritual practice, as well as an institute for the secular and spiritual education of young monks. Rinpoche oversaw numerous expansions and improvements at the monastery, including the construction of eight large, beautiful stupas which commemorate the 8 most important activities of the Buddha’ s life. The Tana monastery monks were very impressed by Rinpoches’ calm demeanor, warm humor, and most of all, by his unfailing modesty.
In the early years of his tenure as abbot, Rinpoche selected a few of his monks to attend shedra at Sherab Ling (India). This education culminates in the Khenpo degree, the highest academic degree in Tibetan Buddhist studies. Rinpoche hoped that several of these monks would return to teach the younger monks and help run the monastery. And in fact, several have already returned, completing the circle, with more intending to go.
Eventually the monastery was operating on a sound spiritual and financial footing. Rinpoche, from an early age, had a longing to go on retreat. At age 35 he embarked on a three year meditation retreat under the guidance of His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche . Although he had communicated with Tai Situ, he told none of his family or monks about his plan until 2 weeks before he left! During his years in retreat, Rinpoche practiced meditation continuously and received many profound instructions. The rigorous Tibetan style of this retreat, meant that he slept and practiced in the traditional meditation box. He completed his retreat in 2014. In his absence, a senior lama, supported by Malaysian fund-raising, supervised the education and well-being of the then 88 monks in residence.
After retreat, Rinpoche returned to his monastery. He also began to teach internationally, traveling to Malaysia and the United States.
Tana Rinpoche knew Tsoknyi Rinpoche through family connections in Nangchen. They met in person in 2015 and became fast friends. Tsoknyi Rinpoche rarely promotes lamas, but he made an exception in the case of Tana Rinpoche. He recognized Tana Rinpoche’s unique potential as a teacher in the U.S. Tsoknyi Rinpoche describes Tana Rinpoche as a warm and gentle wisdom lama.
(Click here to see a video of Tsoknyi Rinpoche describing Tana Rinpoche. ) (To learn more about Tsoknyi Rinpoche, click here )
Tana Rinpoche continues to teach around the world. He has resumed teaching in person whenever possible. During the covid pandemic, sanghas have benefited from Rinpoche’s online zoom teachings. For access to Tana Rinpoche’s teaching schedule, click here
To benefit dharma students in the U.S. with teachings from the Yelpa Kagyu lineage, Tana Rinpoche founded the Tana Yelpa Foundation. His main seat in the U.S. is in Colorado. Rinpoche is also head of the Tana Dharma Society Centre in Malaysia, and a dharma center in Nepal.