Venerable Ngawang Jorden Rinpoche (Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery)
Ven. Ngawang Jorden Rinpoche is the Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery. He was previously the 121 and youngest Abbot in the history of the Gyuto Tantric Monastery. Rinpoche was born into a family of nomads in the village of Tsangwa Day, just outside of Shigatse, the location of Tashilungpo, the seat of the Panchen Lamas. In 1959 his family were driven into exile by the Chinese invasion and as a baby, Rinpoche was carried on his mother’s back to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. They remained there for 8 years where Rinpoche attended school and remembers it as a happy time of his life. When the Indian government set up a Tibetan Resettlement program, Rinpoche and his family moved to Bylakuppe where Rinpoche continued his studies. During his time in Gangtok and in Bylakuppe, Rinpoche would seek out monks to talk to and visit monasteries. He felt he was destined to become a monk and at 16 entered Sera Mey Monastery. At 22 he became fully ordained and in 1991 passed his examinations at the highest level, that of a Lharampa Geshe.
In order to study the Tantras, Rinpoche then entered Gyuto Monastery. His first year was dedicated to learning Tantric practices, rituals, texts and the monastery rules. His second year was used to prepare for his Tantric examinations which take place in an open debate format. After passing these examinations, Rinpoche returned to Sera Mey Monastery.
Gen. Ven. Donyo and our other resident monks are all Gyuto monks because they entered the monastery at a young age and have spent their lives studying there. Rinpoche, on the other hand, is a Sera May monk because that is the monastery he spent his life studying at, even though he is an ex-Gyuto Abbot. He has rooms and students that are available to him at all times at Sera Mey. After returning to Sera Mey, Rinpoche went into a Chakrasamvara retreat and dreamed many times of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During the retreat in, he received a letter from His Holiness’ secretary telling him that he was to be appointed as the next Abbot of Gyuto. It came as a complete surprise to him; he had never expected it and now sees his dreams as a premonition. He finised his six years Abbot term in 2005.
When asked what he saw as his major accomplishments as an Abbot, Rinpoche made two points. He realized that when Geshes came to Gyuto for Tantric studies that, because it was so remote and had such poor facilities, they wanted to leave as quickly as possible. As Vice-Abbot, Rinpoche made it a policy that the Geshes must stay for one full year to complete their studies. During the Tantric debate examinations, typically only a few senior monks and Abbots are present. As Abbot, Rinpoche drew up a plan that many qualified masters would be present, such as Abbots of other monasteries and even His Holiness, if he was available.
When asked about difficult moments in his life Rinpoche told two very different stories, both of which illuminate him and his personality. Rinpoche always found public debate very stressful, especially on Tantric topics. At one time he was selected to represent Sera Mey Monastery in a debating competition with Sera Jey Monastery. His role was to sit and have to answer the questions. He was not only worried that he might make a mistake but that he might let his entire monastery down. As he eventually became an Abbot, he must have done well!
Rinpoche spent a long time on his second story but the underlying point is that helping other people is the most important thing you can do. About ten years ago Rinpoche met an elderly monk at a teaching. Rinpoche was heading back to his monastery but the old man asked Rinpoche to come with him to his home in Bombay and to go on a short pilgrimage with him to a mountain where there are 108 caves. Rinpoche went with the monk, met up with some other monks and prepared for the pilgrimage. At the railway station all the monks got onto the train but the old monk was too slow and weak to push his way through the crowd and missed the train. Rinpoche had to ride away without him. At the next station Rinpoche got out and returned to where he had last seen the monk but he was gone. Rinpoche searched everywhere for him with no luck. He went to the police and to public gatherings. He went in search of the other monks he was traveling with and couldn’t find them either. Rinpoche spent days looking for the old monk until he finally found him dazed and exhausted at another railway station. Rinpoche was able to care for the old monk until he was well and then continue on to his monastery. He said that this was one of the most worrying and anxious times of his life.
Rinpoche has traveled to France, Corsica, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, and America. He is still surprised by how highly developed the West is and the different ways of life. Rinpoche feels that he and other Tibetans need to learn from the West and to find out the good things the West has to offer and decide if they should adapt to them.
As for the Gyuto Center, Rinpoche says he just wants to give teachings based on the many teachings he has been fortunate to receive from many great masters.
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