“He displayed tremendous abilities as a public teacher…”

(From the Forward to The Principal Teachings of Buddhism by Tsongkhapa, with a commentary by Pabongka Rinpoche, translated by Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, 1998, all emphasis and formatting mine…)

Pabongka Rinpoche was actually the second Pabongka, for it was finally agreed to announce that he had been recognized  as the reincarnation of the Kenpo (or abbot) of the small monastery atop the rock.

Dakpo Gompa- Where Je Pabongka is said to have attained enlightentment

Dakpo Gompa- Where Je Pabongka is said to have attained enlightentment

For this reason he was sometimes referred to as “Pabongka Kentrul,” or the “reincarnation of the abbot of Pabongka.” Pabongka Rinpoche’s full name, by the way, was Kyabje Pabongkapa Jetsun Jampa Tenzin Trinley Gyatso Pel Sangpo, which translates as the “lord protector, the one from Pabongka, the venerable and glorious master whose name is the Loving One, Keeper of the Buddha’s Teachings, Ocean of the Mighty Deeds of the Buddha.” He is also popularly known as “Dechen Nyingpo,” which means “Essence of Great Bliss” and refers to his mastery of the secret teachings of Buddhism. We Tibetans feel that it is disrespectful to refer to a great religious leader with what we call his “bare” name—such as “Tsongkapa” or “Pabongka”—but we have tried here to simplify the Tibetan names to help our Western readers.

Pabongka Rinpoche’s career at Sera Mey College was not outstanding; he did finish his geshe degree, but reached only the “lingse” rank, which means that he was examined just at his own monastery and did not go on for one of the higher ranks such as “hlarampa.” …It was only after his graduation fromSera Mey, and the success of his teaching tours through the countryside outside the capital, that Pabongka Rinpoche’s fame started to spread.

Gradually he began to build up a huge following and displayed tremendous abilities as a public teacher.

Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin

Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin

He was not tall (as I remember about my height, and I am only 5’6″), but he was broadchested and seemed to fill the entire teaching throne when he climbed up on it to begin his discourse. His voice was incredibly powerful. On many occasions he would address gatherings of many thousands of people, yet everyone could hear him clearly (in those days in Tibet we had never heard of microphones or loudspeakers). Part of the trick of course was to pack the audience in Tibetan-style, crosslegged on the floor, with the lama on an elevated platform. Still the audience would flow out onto the porch of the hall, and sit perched above on the roof, watching through the steeple windows.

Pabongka Rinpoche had an uncanny ability to relate to his audience, and for this reason he became a teacher for the common man as well as for us monks.

The Rinpoche’s great accomplishment was that he found a way to attract and lead listeners of every level. His most famous weapon was his humor. Public discourses in Tibet could sometimes go on for ten hours or more without a break, and only a great saint could keep his attention up so long. Inevitably part of the audience would start to nod, or fall into some reverie. Then Pabongka Rinpoche would suddenly relate an amusing story or joke with a useful moral, and send his listeners into peals of laughter. This would startle the day-dreamers, who were always looking around and asking their neighbors to repeat the joke to them.


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