With roots in the Tsarak lineage from Kham, eastern Tibet, Padma Studios' founder Pema Namdol Thaye attributes every success in his life to his two heart-teachers: his mother Yogini Tsarak Sonam Lhendu, and his principal artistic and spiritual mentor and uncle Lama, the Venerable Tsarak Gonpo Tenzing Rinpoche. It is in their honor that Padma Studios was founded in Southern California in 2008.
The FIVE SCIENCES
The study of Tibetan Buddhism encompasses more than the standard theological paradigms; it is also inclusive of what are termed the Five Sciences. These Sciences comprise: philosophy (referring to the Tripitaka, or Pali Cannon – the earliest collections of Buddhist scripture); logic; medicine; the arts (includes mathematics, engineering and technology); and language (both in oral and written form). All five are believed to train and develop the mind toward spirituality. As such, Tibetan Buddhist Lamas (priests) and monks or nuns may be educated and subsequently master more than one, but rarely all of these Five Sciences during their monastic life.
ABOUT THE VEN. LAMA TSARAK GONPO TENZING RINPOCHE
Born in eastern Tibet in 1920, the Ven. Lama Tsarak Gonpo Tenzing Rinpoche entered monastic life at the age of seven in the Nyingma Kathog tradition. The two main monasteries in which he resided and attended most of his studies were Tsarak Monastery and Kathog Monastery, one of the oldest - some say the first - Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Lama Gonpo studied Four Sciences throughout his monastic training: logic, philosophy, language, and the arts - mastering all to a degree that would later render him both highly regarded and widely sought by the great lineage-holders of the Nyingma tradition as an educator/tutor and consultant in these areas.
As a devout and highly perceptive Dharma student, Lama Gonpo was dedicated to exploring the vast scope of Buddha's teaching. From the time he was a young man he would travel to different regions in Tibet seeking teachings from various high Lamas. For studies in Buddha-Dharma, he principally studied with Khenpo Ngaga and his root Guru, Tulku Assey of Kham. As a student of sacred art, Lama Gonpo also received training from his two principal art teachers: Master Sherub of Kham Sanen Rekhi and Master Yeshi of Bah Lingkha Shey. This important and pristine artistic lineage traces back to the illustrious and renowned Tibetan Master painters, Phurba Tshering of Chamdo and Lama Orub of Bha Lingkha Shey.
From 1941-1944 Lama Gonpo completed a traditional three-year retreat. The following year he received the Bhiksu, full monk ordination, and was enthroned as a Lama (spiritual teacher). Three years later he was installed as Abbot of Tsarak Monastery in Tibet where he presided until 1952. Following the Tibetan diaspora, in 1960 Lama Gonpo escaped Tibet and took refuge in Darjeeling (and later Kalimpong), India, with his younger sister Yogini Tsarak Sonam Lhendu, with whom he had an incredibly close life-long Dharma connection.
As a master of religious arts and rites, from 1955 onwards, Lama Gonpo was requested by esteemed Lamas such as Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, and Her Eminence the Royal Great-Grandmother of Bhutan, amongst others, to teach, consult, and perform the duties of Vajra Master during religious ceremonies.
On many occasions Lama Gonpo served as the principle assisting Lama and personal attendant to Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, such as during important empowerment cycles which sometimes lasted up to six months at a time including twice for the Rinchen Terdzod Empowerment at Samye Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1955, and then again in Kalimpong, India, in 1963. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche requested Lama Gonpo to spearhead the design and building of the Zangdok Palri Monastery, the first Nyingma monastery built in exile, in Kalimpong, India. In 1970 Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche appointed Lama Gonpo as Abbot of Zangdok Palri Monastery where he presided for thirty years.
Due to his invaluable and extensive base of knowledge, combined with a prodigious memory, throughout his life Lama Gonpo has been honored with the titles of:
Lama in the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism – having mastered the Sciences of philosophy, logic and language, completed and mastered the thirteen main texts of the Nyingmapa School, and accomplished extensive retreats lasting several years in length;
Abbot and Spiritual Advisor of both his original Nyingma monastery, Tsarak Monastery, Kham, Tibet and Zangdok Palri Monastery, Kalimpong, India;
Master of the Science of Art – in the areas of religious thangka painting, calligraphy, the crafting of religious ritual items and the building of three dimensional mandalas and temples. Not only possessing the knowledge and skill of the physical attributes of these areas, but also the more complex religious symbology and implications which accompany them.
passing the flame
Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche implored Lama Gonpo to keep the flame of Nyingma tantric ritual arts alive, and to pass on the rare tradition of three dimensional mandala creation to future generations. Not being able to refuse this request, Lama Gonpo trained many Lamas, monastics and yogis from different regions of Bhutan, India, and Nepal in all aspects of tantric ritual arts, which included an elaborate repertoire of chants, mudras, tormas, sand mandalas, empowerment mandalas, drupchen puja rituals, as well as mural painting. Lama Gonpo trained students and Lamas in the three core roles required for Vajrayana ceremony: chant leaders, chopons (ritual guides), and Vajra Masters (master of ceremonies). Lama Gonpo also devoted endless hours of teaching to his two "heart-sons" (nephews), Kunzang Wangdi Thaye and Pema Namdol Thaye, an intensive artistic training which focussed on two-dimensional mandala and thanka painting. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche's wish was further fulfilled with Pema Namdol receiving a complete training in three-dimensional deity mandala creation from Lama Gonpo.
Lama Gonpo studied and served the Dharma for over eight decades. The depth of his accumulated knowledge, experience and accomplishment provided a vital contribution to many Buddhist centers and enlightenment-seekers worldwide who were fortunate enough to have met him.
In 2015 Lama Gonpo passed away peacefully in Bhutan. He was an extremely modest and devout practitioner who nonetheless exhibited extraordinary signs of realization at the time of his passing, achieving the state of Tugdam (a special meditative state) for seven days, and leaving behind rainbow-colored Thung ringsel as a blessing for all beings.