Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan is a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Ladakh, India who has been traveling and teaching in the United States for over thirty years. He began his monastic life at age seven in Stok, his family village in Ladakh, India. At age thirteen he joined the Stok Monastery to study and memorize Buddhist scriptures.
Then in 1952, when he was fifteen years old, he walked with his father from Ladakh to Shigatse, Tibet to enter the renowned Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. The 800-mile trek took them over two months to complete. Rinpoche received his novice monk vows there and studied Buddhist philosophy at the monastery's Skilkhang College with many prominent Tibetan scholars.
His dream was to receive the Geshe degree in Buddhist philosophy, roughly equivalent to a Ph.D. This dream was deferred for him when the Chinese government intensified their policy of cultural genocide on occupied Tibet in 1959. The daily public humiliation and torture of monks by Chinese officials and the mass destruction of the monasteries and colleges made it impossible to continue the pursuit of this degree there. Rinpoche escaped to his homeland in 1960.
Once back in the village of his birth, Rinpoche studied tantric practices, and then joined the School of Buddhist Philosophy in Choglamsar for seven years. Due to the fact that the Buddhist tradition in Ladakh is dependent on the Tibetan lineage of teachers to transmit and bestow higher Buddhist degrees, he chose to leave Ladakh again in 1970 in pursuit of his Geshe training.
This time he went to Varanasi, India where many high lamas in exile had resettled and built new monastic colleges. There he received his Shastri degree, the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. Afterwards, he felt a responsibility to return to Stok and contribute to the community through teaching.
From 1974-1978 Rinpoche taught high school in Ladakh. Then he received a special invitation to come to the United States and teach at the first Tibetan Buddhist learning center in America, Labsum Shedrub Ling in Washington, New Jersey. He went in hopes of learning English and completing his Geshe degree studies. He accomplished both, and in 1984 returned to the Drepung Monastery for commencement.
Since that time Rinpoche has been traveling and teaching in the United States for part of the year, and returning to Ladakh during the summer months to oversee activities at the Siddhartha School. His association with the Manjushri Center in Amherst has provided him with extensive teaching positions and lecturing opportunities at a number of schools including Smith, Bowdoin, Amherst, Hampshire, Drew, Maine College of Art, Bangor Theological Seminary, Phillips Exeter Academy, Deerfield Academy, and others.
In 1995, Rinpoche founded The Siddhartha School in his home village in Stok, Ladakh. The school seeks to preserve Tibetan Buddhist Culture and language while giving the children of this remote Himalayan area a well-rounded education, which allows them to represent themselves and their culture in our rapidly evolving global community.
In 1996, shortly after he founded the school, H.H. Dalai Lama, appointed Rinpoche to be the head abbot of the newly reestablished Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in India. (This is in the absence of the 11th Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most revered reincarnating masters and traditionally Tashi Lhunpo’s abbot, who has been missing since the Chinese Government took him and his family into custody when he was 4 years old.)
Khen Rinpoche humbly set aside this great honor, with the Dalai Lama's blessings and support, so that he could devote himself completely to the Siddhartha School.
However, in 2005 His Holiness again asked Rinpoche to accept the abbot position, and this time he could not refuse. In July 2005 Rinpoche was installed as Kachen, or head abbot, of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in southern India. His title at that time became Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan.
To learn more about the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in exile and the Panchen Lama, please visit: www.tashilhunpo.org.
Khen Rinpoche's life experiences serve as a living example for Ladakhi youth in the art of transforming the problems of rapid change into fruitful opportunities. Indeed, Rinpoche is an inspiration to all who meet him, whatever one’s cultural and spiritual background.