Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist Tradition to Remain Leaderless as Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche Declines Position

Noted Buddhist master Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche has declined the position of head of the Nyingmapa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism. In a notice posted on Facebook on 3 February, the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo International committee announced that Kyabje Rinpoche had instead urged leaders of the various Nyingmapa organizations to take up the roles traditionally assigned to the lineage head during a meeting in Bodh Gaya, India.

In 2018, the Nyingma school decided to appoint a leadership position by drawing from leading lamas at their six largest monasteries: Dorje Drak, Dzogchen, Kathok, Mindroling, Palyul, and Shechen. The senior lama appointed is to hold the position for three years. The first person to take the role under the rotating agreement was Kyabje Kathok Getse Rinpoche from Mindroling. However, he passed away after an accident later that year. Prior to that, six other heads of the Nyingma tradition had been named, beginning with Dudjom Rinpoche, who was given the title by the Dalai Lama. Later notable holders of the position include Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Penor Rinpoche.

Following the death of Kyabje Kathok Getse Rinpoche in November 2018, the position was offered to Kyabje Dzogchen Rinpoche, but he declined to assume the role. In his response to requests to take up the leadership position, Kyabje Rinpoche said, “With the insistence of a continued appointment of a ‘head of the tradition,’ there is a danger that it may bring more harm than benefit to the Nyingma lineage.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. From wikipedia.org

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. From wikipedia.org

In its response, the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo International committee agreed to implement his suggestions, deciding to maintain the school without a single headteacher, but instead will, “take the responsibility to continually select and request high lamas and responsible individuals from the various Nyingma institutions to lead the Monlam Committee and act in accordance with the above.”

Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche was born in 1967 and is the grandson and spiritual heir of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Since the early 1980s, he has been the abbot of Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal, which was built by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

The Nyingma school is the oldest of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The name Nyingma means “Ancient” in Tibetan and is contrasted with the “Sarma” or new schools, Gelug, Kagyu, and Sakya. The school traces its history to the teacher Padmasambhava, who is believed to have visited Tibet in the eighth century CE and, along with direct teachings there, left behind hidden teachings (Tib. terma) to be discovered later.

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