Living Buddha walks path of enlightenment

Updated: 2015-09-08 07:12


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Living Buddha walks path of enlightenment

Shabdrung Rinpoche of Taklung Monastery names a newborn baby in August. [Photo/Xinhua]

On paper, Shabdrung Rinpoche seems like any other 18-year-old man: He studies, debates, loves music, plays basketball, uses micro blogs and learns English.

However, he will not be seen at nightclubs, and his aspirations don't feature the trappings of an individualistic lifestyle, such as supercars or great riches. His motivation in life is to deliver all living creatures from torment.

Shabdrung Rinpoche is a Living Buddha.

Born on June 28, 1997, in Lhari county in Nagqu prefecture of the Tibet autonomous region, Shabdrung Rinpoche is the son of a Tibetan doctor and a teacher. He was known as Sonam Dondrup until 2001.

He was identified as the reincarnation of the 22nd Shabdrung Living Buddha when he was 3 years old and lived under the guidance of khenpos, or senior monks, ever since. He remains in contact with his parents and still calls them two or three times a week.

His formative years were average, and he attended kindergarten and primary school. When he was around 12, he realized he was not like his peers.

Offering 'salvation'

"My responsibility is heavier than a mountain," he said. "Being a Living Buddha, I offer salvation to sentient beings."

Tibetan Buddhism has four main schools-Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Geluk. Shabdrung Rinpoche belongs to Taklung Kagyu, a sub-school of Kagyu.

The Kagyu School introduced the reincarnation ritual in the 13th century. The Geluk School adopted it in the mid-16th century. Panchen and Dalai are lineage disciples of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Geluk School.

Today reincarnation is the most widely accepted inheritance right among various schools in Tibet. There are currently 358 Living Buddhas in Tibet.

Taklung Kagyu followers are harsh disciplinarians. After graduating from primary school, Shabdrung Rinpoche began his full-time religious education under Khenpo Phuntsog Choying.

In 2011, Shabdrung Rinpoche enrolled in the newly opened Tibet College of Buddhism, Lhasa. He was the only Living Buddha in the Vajrayana class.

Traditionally, Tibetan monks undertake advanced study in three main monasteries-Sera, Ganden and Drepung, all located in Lhasa. Shabdrung Rinpoche continued his studies at Drepung Monastery.

His traditional seat is Taklung Monastery in Lhundrup county, about 87 miles northeast of Lhasa. Built in 1180, it is the ancestral temple of Taklung Kagyu and home to around 80 monks.

"I seldom go back since I am so busy with my studies," Shabdrung Rinpoche said.

There used to be three Living Buddhas in Taklung Monastery, but Shabdrung Rinpoche is the only one remaining after one moved overseas and the other died in 2006.


The 835-year-old temple is undergoing renovation and expansion. Traditionally, a Living Buddha is in charge of temple affairs. Shabdrung Rinpoche is no exception, even though he was only 15 when the project broke ground.

It was initially planned that a summer palace would be built for the Living Buddha, but the project has since expanded to include a Buddhist academy, dorms for monks and a grand hall. The expansion is supported by the local government, which split the 8 million yuan ($1.25 million) bill with the monastery.

"I hope it will provide a place for monks to study Buddhism scriptures and learn about Tibet," he said. "It will also offer music, poetry and English lessons."

Most of Shabdrung Rinpoche's followers are from farm and pastoral areas in northern Tibet. When he returns to Taklung Monastery, as many as 20,000 people attend his dharma assembly, hoping that he will bless them by touching their heads or breathing on them.

When she heard the Living Buddha was back, Tsering Drolma, 67, was keen to receive a blessing from him. In her eyes, he can "predict everything". Supported by her granddaughter, she hobbled to meet Shabdrung Rinpoche and pray for peace and happiness.

Sonam Tsomo, her granddaughter, said that although they are the same age, she idolizes the Living Buddha. To her, he is someone she can "pour out her heart" to.

"I cannot imagine my life without the Living Buddha," she said.

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