#14: Meeting Zong Rinpoche

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It was at Thubten Dargye Ling that H.E. Tsem Rinpoche met H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche who changed his whole life. When H.H. arrived to teach at the centre for six months, Rinpoche immediately recognised him as his root Guru.

H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche at Thubten Dargye Ling (TDL) Dharma centre in L.A.

Rinpoche was elected to be Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s assistant despite the protests of a few powerful sponsors who thought he would misrepresent H.H. due to his youth, inexperience, dressing and hairstyle. Their comments did not discourage the young Rinpoche; on the contrary, he made even more effort to serve H.H. to the best of his abilities, leaving no room for criticism.

Young Tsem Rinpoche was chosen to be H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche's assistant despite his youth, dressing and hairstyle

Every day for six months, Rinpoche would serve Kyabje Zong Rinpoche tirelessly. Starting early in the morning, he would prepare lunch and dinner, cooking for H.H., his entourage and Geshe-la. He would always serve H.H. first, making three prostrations after offering the food.

I made prostrations because I did not know how long I could be with him, and I did not want to prostrate to a statue; I wanted to prostrate to the living Buddha.

Rinpoche served Kyabje Zong Rinpoche as his personal attendant in TDL Dharma centre

Rinpoche also washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, tidied H.H.’s room, and assisted during private audiences and Dharma teachings, which were held daily from 6pm to midnight or 2am during those six months. After the teachings, he would give H.H. a massage, or continue cleaning the centre, ensuring that the place was neat and tidy and represented his Gurus well. All this was done on top of his other jobs outside the centre. With dedication and effort, Rinpoche silenced everyone who doubted him at the start!

When H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche visited TDL,Tsem Rinpoche moved into the garage to free up space in the Dharma centre. H.H. visited Tsem Rinpoche in the garage to look at some thangkas

I will never forget those days. I never look back on those days as work. I have never regretted, felt tired or felt I did not want to do it. Never. Not even once in my life for the last 20 years. I felt I was collecting merits with a person without faults, that everything that I did would accelerate my Dharma practice and my Dharma attainments. In that one year, I did not go out to any clubs or meet any of my non-Dharma friends, and the year passed so quickly.

As H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche's personal attendant, Rinpoche was always present to serve, including during a shopping trip in L.A.'s Chinatown

Rinpoche (in jeans) and H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche (in yellow hat) doing some shopping by a California road

Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, a strict and fierce Lama, saw Rinpoche’s qualities and pure devotion, and their tender and playful way of relating to each other amazed everyone. H.H. let the tight jeans-clad, red-haired teenager know that he was a ‘Rinpoche’ (Precious One), the incarnation of a highly attained Dharma Master, and invited him to come stay with him at Zong Ladrang in Gaden Monastery, where he would take care of him.

Rinpoche made a promise to H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche to go to Gaden Monastery in India and become a monk. H.H. blessed Rinpoche and also recognised Rinpoche as a reincarnated high lama

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