H.E. Tsem Rinpoche was formally recognised by H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, H.E. Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche and many other esteemed masters as the main incarnation of Gedun Nyedrak, the 72nd Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery and Kentrul Thubten Lamsang, a great Buddhist scholar and teacher.
Such reincarnations are called tulkus, which means someone whose rebirth is motivated by compassion. These tulkus usually carry on the responsibilities of their previous life or lives, and work to uphold the theoretical and experiential heritage of the Buddha.
Tsem Rinpoche’s spiritual lineage goes back many incarnations beginning with one of the disciples of Manjunatha Je Tsongkhapa, the founder saint of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism who initiated a complete revival of the Dharma in Tibet and is called “the second Buddha” by Tibetans. More recently, Tsem Rinpoche’s previous two incarnations were great Buddhist scholars who attained the highest Geshe Lharampa monastic degrees.
The first, Gedun Nyedrak, was born in northern Kham to the Selsha household of Tsem Monastery. “Tsem” is the honorific word for tooth, as the monastery is the custodian of a tooth relic of Lama Je Tsongkhapa. Upon attaining his Geshe Lharampa Degree, he entered the Gyuto Tantric College and was awarded the prestigious position of Umze (Lead Chanter). He was later appointed as 72nd Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery. He then began a systematic restoration programme for his monastery, which had been damaged due to civil unrest. When he retired from his abbotship, he went to live in a cave where he spent the remainder of his life in a White Tara retreat, which he dedicated to the long life of H.H. the 13th Dalai Lama. It was there that Gedun Nyedrak left his body and entered clear light.
Gedun Nyedrak’s succeeding incarnation began in the Drikung district of Tibet amidst auspicious portents of a high incarnate Lama. Known as Kentrul Thubten Lamsang, his educational development was remarkably similar to his previous life where he also attained the Geshe Lharampa degree in the presence of H.H. the great 13th Dalai Lama and his eminent Masters. As before, he entered Gyuto Tantric College and studied the most profound practices of the higher Tantras. In response to requests, he taught tirelessly in a faraway region of Tibet called Phari, where he single-handedly made Buddhism flourish in the minds of the people there. After the Cultural Revolution of Tibet took place, Kentrul Thubten Lamsang entered clear light meditation and passed away. H.E. Tsem Rinpoche is officially recognised as the incarnation of this great Master.
In all of his many incarnations, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche was famous for the vastness and depth of his understanding, as well as for his strict adherence to the Buddhist vows and commitments, which he regards as the foundation of all higher attainments. As abbot of Gaden and other monasteries in his many previous incarnations, he firmly established the spiritual discipline that opens the mind to liberation, and emphasised serious study as the basis of successful contemplation and meditation. He was a scholar and prolific writer and many of his written works are still in use today.
Such a combination of great compassion, wisdom and skilful means, the trademark of all great spiritual teachers, can only come about as the result of many lives of religious training, based on the altruistic aspiration to help all living beings in attaining true and lasting happiness.