Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, a leading figure of Tibetan Buddhism in the US, died early in the morning on Sunday, October 6, at the age of 95. (According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, he was 96.) Karthar Rinpoche was the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), a monastery in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism near Woodstock, New York, since its founding in 1978. The influential teacher died at his home in Delaware County, NY.

Karthar Rinpoche’s passing came after he spent the weekend at two hospitals receiving treatment for blocked blood vessels, according to a statement released Sunday by KTD board member Sandy Hu on behalf of Lama Karma Drodhul, KTD’s president and Karthar Rinpoche’s nephew. “For the next three days, Rinpoche will remain in meditative absorption without disturbance,” Karma Drodhul’s message continued, referring to a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice for entering the bardo, the intermediate state between death and rebirth.

Born in 1924 in Kham, a region in east Tibet, Karthar Rinpoche completed rigorous monastic study and training in his teenage and early adult years at Thrangu Monastery, where he became acquainted with the tulku [a reincarnate teacher] Thrangu Rinpoche, among other high lamas. In 1958, he fled his increasingly dangerous, Chinese-occupied homeland for safety elsewhere. A year later, he and thousands of other refugees arrived in northeastern India, where he helped to preserve his lineage’s tradition at a time of substantial transition.

khenpo karthar rinpoche
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at the Karma Thegsum Chöling center in Ann Arbor in 2012. Photo by Tanya Schroeder |

When the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje made his first world tour in 1974 and decided that he would establish a North American headquarters for his lineage, he tapped Karthar Rinpoche, with the support of administrator Tenzin Chonyi and teacher Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, to be its head figure. Four years later, KTD found its home in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Offering both extensive programming for weekend retreatants as well as deep immersion in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice community, KTD has since become an anchor of Tibetan Buddhist activity in the West. In addition, dozens of smaller practice centers in urban communities nationwide that were founded after visits by KTD’s high lamas, each called Karma Thegsum Chöling (KTC), offer meditation guidance and Buddhist teachings for practitioners of all experience levels.

The timing of Karthar Rinpoche’s death, though a sudden reminder of impermanence for many, was uncanny. Born the same year as his guru, the 16th Karmapa, Karthar Rinpoche also passed on the same lunar date as the 16th Karmapa did in 1981—the eighth day of the ninth lunar month. 

Thrangu Media, Khenchen Thangru Rinpoche’s primary PR page on Facebook, shared Thrangu Rinpoche’s request that his monasteries in Nepal and India conduct a special puja [prayer] ceremony in light of Karthar Rinpoche’s death.

Thrangu Monastery’s monks making prayers after hearing the extremely saddening news of passing away of the Very…

Posted by Thrangu Media on Sunday, October 6, 2019


Traleg Khandro, wife of the late Tibetan Buddhist teacher Traleg Rinpoche, paid her own respects via a Facebook post. “What a magnificent life you have led,” she wrote. “You created the most remarkable seat in America for His Holiness The 17th Karmapa, to which I and so many will be eternally grateful . . . This is what a devoted and meaningful life full of conviction, faith, resilience, and determination to serve the dharma and humanity looks like.”

“Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and I worked together for over thirty years since KTD was founded,” read a message from Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. “Therefore, we spent much time together and I am very sad to hear of his passing. We will conduct practices in his honor at KPL [Kunzang Palchen Ling].”

More dedications are likely in the days and weeks ahead. Until further notice, Lama Karma Drodhul has advised Karthar Rinpoche’s students to practice guru yoga, and to “meditate on mixing their minds with Rinpoche’s mind with the aspiration to always be with him life after life.”

Read more about Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s life, and the legacy that he leaves, here

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