On the morning of August 17, 2004, the Karma Kagyu and Shangpa Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism lost a renowned meditation master and beloved teacher. Karma Ngedon Chokyi Lodro, widely known as Bokar Tulku Rinpoche, passed away in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India. Rinpoche's kind presence will be deeply missed by both his Asian and Western disciples.
Bokar Tulku Rinpoche was born in Western Tibet in 1940 to a nomadic family. At the age of four, he was recognized by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, who later officiated at his enthronement, giving him the name Karma Shedrup Yongdu Pel Zangpo.
Rinpoche was initially educated in the monastery founded by his previous incarnation, and continued his studies at Tsurphu, the main seat of the Karmapas. At a young age Rinpoche assumed full responsibility for the monastic community of Bokar Monastery.
At the age of twenty, Rinpoche and members of his community fled Communist oppression and went into exile in India, where he became a close disciple of the eminent meditation master Kalu Rinpoche. Under Kalu Rinpoche's guidance, Bokar Rinpoche completed a traditional three-year, three-month retreat focusing on Shangpa Kagyu practices. Later, he completed a second three-year retreat, also led by Kalu Rinpoche, which focused on Karma Kagyu practices. In between these retreats, he served as the retreat master of a second Shangpa three-year retreat.
When the Sixteenth Karmapa built a monastery and retreat center in Rumtek, Sikkim, he asked Bokar Rinpoche to be the retreat master there. This made him the chief retreat master for the Karma Kagyu lineage. Rinpoche led four retreats at the monastery and often practiced alongside the retreatants. In addition, he did a substantial amount of personal retreat during his life.
Bokar Rinpoche first founded a retreat center in Mirik, India, and then, at the urging of the local community, a monastery. Both continue to thrive: the monastery is currently undergoing significant expansion and a second three-year retreat facility dedicated to the Shangpa Kagyu has been built. Well-known for his emphasis on the importance of long retreats, Bokar Rinpoche was also known for holding the Kalachakra lineage, which he had received from Kalu Rinpoche along with the entire Shangpa Kagyu transmission.
One of the remarkable legacies of Bokar Rinpoche is the development of the unique, twelve-year-long Bokar International Mahamudra Seminar. It allows lay Westerners to remain involved with family and community while nourishing Dharma practice by committing an hour a day or more to formal practice. Rinpoche said, “Our approach with the seminar, at the very beginning, was to emphasize not rejecting work, family and so forth—but to integrate a daily practice into one's lifestyle.”
Through this program, hundreds of students worldwide have received Dharma instruction in English, French, Tibetan and Chinese in annual seminars in India, France and North America.
Biography by Michael Conklin
Published in BuddhaDharma, The Practitioner's Quarterly, Winter 2004, page 88.