Geshe Namgyal Wangchen
Born as Thupten Gyaltsen, in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1934, to the Chiso Tsang family, Geshe Namgyal Wangchen originally entered Drepung Monastery at the age of 10. From age 16 onward, under the direct tutelage of the abbot, Ven. Khenpo Pema Gyaltsen Rinpoche, he immersed himself in study of the major texts. Then, in 1959, came the Chinese invasion and fall of Lhasa. Initially trying to stay in Tibet, 25-year-old Geshe Wangchen was eventually persuaded to flee the country to preserve his studies and the tradition. Following the Dalai Lama into exile, Geshe la lived in various locations around India. After three years training under the renowned meditation master, Trehor Kyurbon Rinpoche, Gen la travelled to South India where he would join the newly reestablished Drepung Monastery, under the leadership of his own teacher, Khenpo Pema Gylatsen. It was here that Geshe Wangchen’s long and illustrious career of exceptional scholarship would begin.
Acting as scribe for major texts being composed by his own master, Geshe la’s writing came to the attention of the Dalai Lama. His Holiness praised Geshe la’s style and clarity, and urged him to write more. It was also at this time, at the persistent request of his long-time Dharma brother, Lama Thupten Yeshe, that His Holiness gave approval for Geshe Wangchen to become resident teacher in London at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre. Arriving in London in 1982, Geshe la intended to stay for two years, but found the Western students to be sincere and committed, so he asked to stay longer, and did so for a total of ten years. Ill health that required treatment in 1992 forced a change in his plans and, at the advice of His Holiness, Geshe Wangchen returned to Drepung Monastery in Karnataka, where he became head of Phara Khangtsen and teacher to many prominent tulkus, including his own former teachers and H.E. Yongzin 7th Ling Rinpoche, future tutor to the next Dalai Lama.
Geshe la would go on to compose numerous texts, from great treatises to simple practice texts, for both Tibetan monastic students as well as Western lay practitioners. He published ten volumes in Tibetan, a book of Lamrim practice in English, as well as the first English translation of the Madhyamakāvatāra, co-authored with American Buddhist scholar, C.W. Huntington. His Holiness has often publicly praised Jetsun Wangchen for his writing and teaching, and commended him for being one of the greatest living examples of Tibetan Buddhist scholarship. He was of a kind that we will not see again in our lifetime: One of Tibet’s most precious treasures, master of the Noble Path.
After his passing on the evening of August 18th, Jetsun Namgyal Wangchen spent eight days in thugs dam, clear-light meditation, before his body was cremated. Prayers continue around the world for his swift reincarnation. The following prayer was composed by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama:
PRAYER FOR SWIFT RETURN OF JETSUN NAMGYAL WANGCHEN
Oh BUDDHA, excellent guide and unmatched teacher,
ATISHA, supreme instructor of deep and vast teachings,
TSONGKHAPA, teacher of valid cognition in the Land of Snows,
And all great beings who have gone before us --
Bless us with prosperity.
The Great Teacher has complete and total learning, wider than the ocean itself.
He is gifted with supreme power to spread the Buddha Dharma,
And has mastered the noble deeds of teaching and practice.
May his reincarnation come swiftly.
May this be spontaneously accomplished
Through the supreme visions of the Great Dharma Beings,
By the blessing of the Three Jewels,
And the Ocean of Victorious Buddhas with their Teaching,
Though appearing otherwise, primordially free of inherent existence.
This Swift Reincarnation prayer for Geshe Namgyal Wangchen la was composed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on January 18th, 2016 at the request of His Eminence Ling Choktrul Rinpoche, Drepung Loseling Phara Khangtsen, and Geshe Wangchen’s devoted students.