A Brief Introduction to
Nga-wang-lek-den's Life and Teachings

by Jeffrey Hopkins

Khan-sur Nga-wang-lek-den was born in 1900 in Yak-day on the border between the central and western provinces of Tibet. He was a singer and player of a guitar-type instrument before entering the Go-mang College of Dre-pung Monastic University. He trained for a while to develop the multi-tonal voice to become a chant-master but was encouraged to enter the scholarly path. He eventually earned the Ge-she degree as second in the annual competition at the annual Prayer Festival.

He entered the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa, and became abbot prior to the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese Communists. At the time of the invasion, he had already been elevated to the position of Abbot Emeritus and, after fleeing to India, helped to reestablish centers of Buddhist learning and meditation in India. Events brought him to France where he tutored several monks, and in 1968 he came to the Lamaist Buddhist Monastery of America in Freewood Acres, New Jersey (now the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey), where I had studied and practiced from 1963 to 1968. I met him on summer vacation after serving as a resource assistant at Haverford College in the spring of 1968 and before entering the University of Wisconsin graduate program.

On first meeting, we were sitting in what would have been the living room in an American ranch house but which was originally the temple in Ge-she Wang-gyal's monastery, adorned with multiple wall-hangings. He began speaking about the foundational topic of refuge in such a profound, eloquent, and moving way that tears came to my eyes. Soon I asked him for teaching on the view of emptiness in the highest philosophical school, the Middle Way Consequence School, and he started through testing me by teaching the non-Buddhist sections of Jam-yang-shay-pa's huge Great Exposition of Tenets; I accepted the challenge, and in time he taught me the Consequence School section twice. The clarity and range of opinions that his expositions contained were exactly appropriate for me at a time when, after five years of motivational training by the charismatic and often chaotic Ge-she Wang-gyal and after a fascinating introduction to the literature of tenets that study with Ge-she Lhun-drup So-pa provided.

In February, 1970, I invited Khan-sur Lek-den to teach at Tibet House in Cambridge, Wisconsin, founded by the late Professor Richard Robinson and myself. Khan-sur Rin-po-che (Precious Former Abbot), an embodiment of the unified practice of sutra and tantra and transmitter of ancient Tibetan knowledge of meditation, taught at Tibet House for a year and a half. In a series of fifteen lectures, he set forth the paths common to sutra and tantra, freely and intimately, as part of the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet, during which I served as his interpreter. This series of lectures is comprised of those sessions. Vast from the viewpoint of setting forth the compassionate deeds of Bodhisattvas and profound from the viewpoint of presenting the empty nature of phenomena, these practices shine with the sun of Buddha's teaching reflected so brightly in snowy Tibet.


About the Lectures

These lectures are available in book form in: Kensur Lekden, Meditations of a Tibetan Tantric Abbot,  translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins,175 pp.; (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2001).

Links to Nga-wang-lek-den Series:

  • Tsong-ka-pa's Three Principal Aspects of the Path
  • Jam-yang-shay-pa's Great Exposition of Tenets
  • Jam-yang-shay-pa's Great Exposition of the Middle
  • Chandrakirti's Supplement to (Nagarjuna's) "Treatise on the Middle"
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