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Charismatic Tibetan Buddhist Leader Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Passes Away
International Campaign for Tibet[Thursday, January 08, 2004 20:30]
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, the highly-respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher and founder of Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in eastern Tibet, near the town of Serthar (Ch: Seda) in present-day Sichuan Province, passed away at approximately 9:40 am on January 7, 2004, at a hospital in Chengdu. He was 70.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (right) with the late 10th Panchen Lama.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (right) with the late 10th Panchen Lama.
"Since the tragic news of the passing of the 10th Panchen Lama in 1989, this has been the saddest news to come from Tibet," said Mr. Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama.

"Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok worked very hard for the preservation and promotion of the unique religious faith of all Tibetans," Gyari added.

According to information received from Tibet, the Khenpo underwent heart surgery in the beginning of this year in a hospital in Chengdu after having been admitted to Chinese military hospital number 363 on December 29, 2003. In recent years he was reportedly in poor health, and in 2001 he was reportedly suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Biography of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in Chinese.
Biography of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in Chinese.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok had become a well-known Buddhist figure not just in Tibet and among the Tibetan people, but also throughout China and the Chinese-speaking Buddhist world. The Buddhist Institute that he founded in Larung Gar, near Serthar,

in 1980 with fewer than 100 disciples expanded and by 2002 it had over 8,000 disciples, including a sizable Chinese population. He had also traveled extensively within China, giving Buddhist teachings in Beijing, Ningbo, Jizu Shan, Guanzhou, and Shenzhen, although in the last four years authorities reportedly only allowed Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok to travel for medical check ups and did not allow him to teach outside of Larung Gar.

The Khenpo's institute saw a trend of several thousand Chinese Buddhists coming to receive teachings and participate fully in Tibetan Buddhist practice. David Germano, a Tibetologist at the University of Virginia who made several visits to Serthar, has written: "Not only are there Chinese monks and nuns resident in [Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's] Golog centre and Chinese lay Buddhists periodically making the long pilgrimage there, I have heard reports of Khenpo literally being mobbed by Chinese Buddhists or simply the curious seeking his blessings or teachings during visits to Chengdu."

Larung Gar Bhuddist institute.
Larung Gar Bhuddist institute.
With Larung Gar’s growth, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was responsible for educating thousands of teachers who upon graduation returned to their home areas.

"Perhaps the greatest achievement of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was spreading authentic Buddhist scholarship by educating thousands upon thousands of teachers, both monks and nuns," said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet. "Not only have they spread throughout the Tibetan plateau, but his students are now in China, India and the west."

Chinese authorities began cracking down on the Khenpo's institute in the late 1990s. On 18 April 2001, the Chinese authorities issued a notice reiterating their command that Serthar must have a ceiling of 1,400 residents, which resulted in the eviction of over 7,000 students. The International Campaign for Tibet was the first to break news of the crackdown.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok with the Dalai Lama.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok with the Dalai Lama.
The Khenpo had traveled widely outside of China and Tibet in the early 1990s, including visiting India and met with the Dalai Lama. However, since the mid 1990s, the Chinese authorities had denied him permission to travel abroad. Many of his overseas Tibetan and Chinese disciples had attempted unsuccessfully to get permission from Chinese authorities to allow the Khenpo to travel to the West for medical treatment.

"Chinese authorities should allow his followers to conduct traditional funeral rites in Tibet and also provide details of the medical condition causing his death," said Ackerly.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was known for his scholarship. He was the first monk in modern Tibet who succeeded in building a major, successful monastic teaching center. His religious charisma was matched by an ability to work with authorities and to push them to their limits.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's name means "The master scholar of fearless sublimity." His disciples referred to Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok simply as "Yeshe Norbu" or "Wish Fulfilling Jewel."

One of his unfulfilled desires was a visit to Maratika Caves in Nepal, a sacred site where Guru Rinpoche was believed to have attained eternal life.


Brief Biography of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was born in the year of the Water-Bird (1933) in Lhonor area of Sertha to Palden and his wife Yutso. He started his education around the age of six. His father passed away when he was nine.

When he was 14 he was ordained as a monk by Khenpo Sonam Rinchen and when he was 16 he went to Zachukha to study under Thoga rinpoche. At the age of 24 he returned to his hometown Lhonor and began teaching at the Lhonor Monastery.

In 1980 he founded the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute near Serthar. When the 10th Panchen Lama visited Serthar in 1985 the Khenpo had an audience.

In 1987 the Khenpo traveled to Wutaishan (sacred Buddhist mountain site in Shanxi Province) accompanied by several thousand of his disciples. In 1989 at the request of the Panchen Lama the Khenpo went to teach at the Tibetan Buddhist Institute in Beijing.


Biographical Timeline of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche

1933. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was born the first son of a nomadic family in March in the Dzume Chola planes in present day Serthar near Drupchen Monastery.

1937. Terton Wangchuk and Khenpo Dontock Lharig recognized Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok as the incarnation of Terton Sogyal Lerab Lingpa (1856-1926), a teacher to the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso.

1940. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's father dies.

1947. Formally enters a monastery at the age of fourteen, receiving preliminary vows from the renowned scholar Khenpo Sonam Richen of Dragzong Monastery in Nyarong, eastern Tibet .

1951. At the age of eighteen, he begins six years of intensive study and solitary mediation retreats with Thubten Choepel Rinpoche at Cangma Monastery in Dzachukha region of eastern Tibet.

1949. China's invasion of Tibet begins in and around Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s home area.

1950. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's mother dies.

1955. At twenty two, he became a fully ordained monk maintaining over 250 vows.

1957. At twenty four, Khenpo returned to his home monastery of Nubzor, where Terton Sogyal had passed away, to resume his spiritual and administrative role.

1959. 14th Dalai Lama flees Tibet and begins exodus of the majority of learned Buddhist teachers from across the Tibetan plateau. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok remains in Kham and establishes mediation retreat centers in mountains near Nubzor and continues to give philosophical teachings and meditation instructions at various monasteries.

1960-1980. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok evades the People’s Liberation Army, the Red Guard and Chinese authorities by wandering as a goat herder and nomad in the remote valleys of Serthar in eastern Tibet. During these years, he continued to practice mediation, write commentaries on Buddhist philosophical texts, as well as informally transmit teachings to students. In Kham, stories abound today of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's miraculous abilities to evade capture during this period.

1980. In accordance with prophecy, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok went with less than a dozen students to a desolate valley near Serthar and built simple earthen wall meditation huts for mediation retreats. This became Larung Gar Buddhist Academy.

1981. Begins to write his autobiography at the request of his close disciples. More than a hundred students live around Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's mud hut.

1983. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok experiences his first problems with his heart at the age of 50. Continues to teach extensively at Larung Gar as the number of students building permenant earthen homes increases.

1982-1986. Numbers of students coming to Larung Gar to temporarily reside to study and receive teachings begins to increase by the thousands. By 1986, more than six thousand monks and nuns from all different regions of Tibet are attending the ecumenical teachings of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok which included his commentary on texts of Padmasambhava, Sakya Pandita, Naropa, and Jé Tsong Khapa. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok travels in throughout eastern Tibet teaching.

1987. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok meets the Panchen Lama in Beijing.

1987. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok makes a pilgrimage with thousands of students following to Wu Tai Shan, the Five Peaked Mountain in China, as well as Emishan Peak.

1988. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok returns to Beijing to teach from Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelugpa texts at the Buddhist Higher Academy at the request of the Panchen Lama.

1988. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok visits holy places in and around Lhasa and Shigatse at the invitation of the Panchen Lama.

1989. In June, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok travels to Nepal on pilgrimage and makes arrangements to travel to India.

1989. July 16, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok arrives in Dharamsala, India and exchanges religious teachings and empowerments with the Dalai Lama, renewing their previous lives’ student-teacher relationship. The Dalai Lama recognized Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s niece, Muntso (born 1966) as the incarnation of a famous female teacher of Mindroling monastery, Minling Mingyru Palgyi.

1990. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok returns to Larung Gar to resume teaching. He continues to travel in China and Tibet giving religious discourse, empowerments, and pith instructions on meditative practices. Thousands of students continue to study at Larung Gar.

1991. At Larung Gar, nearly 150 students had graduated since 1980 with the degree of "Khenpo" under Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s intensive Buddhist curriculum of study, meditation, and debate. Within the next ten years, that number swells to 600. Thus, Larung Gar Khenpos are able to return to their local monasteries throughout Tibet and China to teach the next generation of students. At Larung Gar, simultaneous translation into Chinese of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s teachings by bilingual teachers if fully functioning, as the number of Chinese students from China, Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere continues to grow.

1993. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok teaches and gives empowerments at the invitation of Buddhist centers in Singapore, Malaysia, France and the USA.

1994-1998. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok continues to teach extensively and write commentaries from all schools of Tibet, spending most of his time at Larung Gar. Chinese authorities’ concern begins to grow for the large number of monastics at Larung Gar. Requests are made by local authorities to decrease the number of monks and nuns.

1998. The number of Chinese students of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s residing at Larung Gar approaches 1,000.

2001. On a scale not witnessed since the Cultural Revolution, massive demolition of monastic homes and large scale eviction of monks and nuns begins in July. All Chinese students are evicted, overseen by Public Security Bureau and People’s Liberation Army. Police occupy the housing facility formerly used by Chinese students.

2001. During the demolition, Khenpo Jigpun’s health deteriorates and moves to hospitals in Chengdu for medical care. His movements are under constant surveillance by Chinese authorities. At Larung Gar, the curriculum is severely disrupted from the demolition, eviction and Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s absence, although teachings by junior teachers continue.

2002-2003. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok spends time in Larung Gar, medical clinics in Markham, and Chengdu, constantly under heavy scrutiny and surveillance by Chinese authorities. Serthar Public Security Bureau personnel continue to occupy monastic building at Larung Gar. Skirmishes break out occasionally between monks and police. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok teaches infrequently due to ill health..

2004. January 6. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok dies in Chengdu in hospital reportedly from heart failure.
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