Akong Rinpoche was born in Eastern Tibet in 1939. Following directions given by the Sixteenth Karmapa, he was identified in infancy as the tulku, or reincarnate lama, of Dolma Lhakang and educated accordingly. At that time Dolma Lhakang was a monastery of around a hundred monks, with many associated small retreats and nunneries. He was also trained as a doctor of traditional Tibetan medicine. In his teenage years, he travelled from community to community, performing religious rites and treating the sick. He then went to the great monastic university of Sechen where he received the transmission of the Mahamudra Lineage from Sechen Kontrul Rinpoche. His spiritual training as a holder of the Kagyu Lineage was completed under the guidance of the Sixteenth Karmapa, who also certified him as a teacher of Tibetan medicine. Akong Rinpoche also held many lineages of the Nyingma tradition.
In 1960, following the Chinese Communist take-over of Tibet, and after an arduous nine-month journey, he arrived as a destitute refugee in India. There he helped organise and teach at a home for young refugee lamas. In 1963 he sailed to England with the previous Trungpa Rinpoche and worked in London for a few years as a hospital orderly. In 1967, in an old ‘shooting box’, in the Scottish borders, the two lamas founded Kagyu Samye Ling, the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the West.
Trungpa Rinpoche moved to America soon after and over the next twenty years, with the help of many volunteers, Akong Rinpoche transformed this delapidated hunting lodge, in the remote Eskdalemuir valley, into a major centre of Buddhist education and profound spiritual practice. In response to growing interest in the Kagyu tradtion, Rinpoche invited many of its greatest living scholars and meditation masters to Scotland, where they taught its principle meditative practices and philosophical texts. The Sixteenth Karmapa stayed on two occasions and Rinpoche was organiser of His Holiness’ 1977, epic, sixth month tour of Europe.
In 1988, the Samye Temple was opened. Built and fitted-out in classical Tibetan style, it is still the largest Buddhist temple in Europe. Construction of a college of Buddhist studies was completed in 2013 with three spacious wings complete and in use. In nearby men’s and women’s retreat centres four, traditional, three-year-three-month retreats were completed, in conditions of strict seclusion. The fifth women’s retreat is under way on Holy Island and the fifth men’s retreat in under way on the island of Arran.
In addition to his work in founding and developing Kagyu Samye Ling and associated Kagyu Samye Dzong centres in Europe and Africa, and to his role as a meditation teacher and advisor to a great number of individuals, Akong Rinpoche was very active in two other areas. One of these is the preservation of traditional Tibetan medical practice and the fostering of dialogue and collaboration between its practitioners and Western-trained medical and mental health professionals.
The other is his work in founding, and raising funds for a large number of humanitarian projects in his native Tibet, mainly in isolated rural areas of the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. These include medical colleges, clinics and schools, wildlife and ecological projects, etc. In Kathmandu, Nepal, he established a project which provides food for the hungry and includes a clinic, women’s self-help workshops, and a large, newly-built children’s home. This area of work also extends to soup kitchens for the homeless, and other projects in several African and European cities.
in 1994, Akong Rinpoche played and important role in locating the Seventeenth Karmapa, and arranging his enthronement at His Holiness’ traditional seat of Tsurphu in central Tibet by Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
Akong Rinpoche was tragically murdered while travelling to his projects in Tibet on 8th october 2013. His legacy and his work will continue.
For more information on Akong Rinpoche and his work see the Kagyu Samye Ling website – www.samyeling.org