We are saddened to share the news that Ven. Thupten Tsewang (also known as Ladakhi Lama and Baling Lama), born in Ladakh, India, passed away at the age of 92, at Kalpataru Buddha Vihar, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India, on April 25, 2021, of natural causes.
Ladakhi Lama had been an attendant to Indian Buddhist master Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche (1894–1977). In his later years he was a part-time resident at Root Institute for Wisdom Culture in Bodhgaya, Gaya District, Bihar, India.
Geshe Ngawang Rabga, the FPMT resident geshe at Root Institute from 2016–2020, wrote a kind remembrance of Gen-la, as Ladakhi Lama was sometimes called, to share with the international FPMT community:
“Gen-la was very respectable and close to me. His demise has saddened me deeply. He lived his life as a fully ordained monk and received Dharma teachings from many great masters like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche. Therefore, he made his life a meaningful one. I truly appreciate the life he lived. I pray from my heart that he returns in his next life as a great teacher of the Buddhadharma in general, and especially of the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.”
In his younger days, before he ordained, Ladakhi Lama worked as a radio broadcaster at All India Radio in Ladakh. Ven. Tenzin Paldron, center director at Root Institute from 2015–2019, and Annie McGhee, who volunteered at the center, remembered him as an avid reader of The Times of India. “Lama loved to read the newspaper on a daily basis and was very well versed in political affairs in India and loved to discuss politics with the guests that visited,” Ven. Paldron said. Annie added, “He loved a good debate and engaged in many animated discussions over meals at the dining table.”
Ladakhi Lama met Khunu Lama in Varanasi in 1954, and Khunu Lama ordained him shortly after their meeting. After six years of being a devoted disciple, he became Khunu Lama’s attendant in 1960. Ven. Paldron said, “He often regaled many of us in the dining hall with stories of the times he spent serving high lamas like Khunu Lama and Denma Locho Rinpoche, and of the rich and varied experiences that he had living as an ordained monk in various temples.”
Annie recalled, “One story which really moved me was when Ladakhi Lama was making lunch—probably rice and dhal—and Khunu Lama told him, ‘Stop cooking now; we have to practice.’ So they had half-cooked rice for lunch! If only we had that dedication and commitment to study and practice the Dharma in the most beneficial way and not waste time on trivialities like food.”
Ladakhi Lama lived in various places, such as Mumbai and Nagpur, before going to Bodhgaya, which is where he met Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Rinpoche requested that Ladakhi Lama stay at Root Institute. “When I became director of Root Institute in June 2015, the first task given to me by Rinpoche was, ‘Take good care of Ladakhi Lama,’” Ven. Paldron said.
He became a much valued presence at Root Institute. “He was like a fatherly figure to us in many ways, often giving us teachings and advice, including making predictions such as who would get ordained,” Ven. Paldron said.
Vicki Taylor, another volunteer at the center, said, “Gen-la was a quiet and friendly presence for several years, bringing humor and cheer to our guests—especially in the dining hall. Despite his advanced age, Gen-la retained the fresh perspective and cheeky sweetness of a child, and I’m sure this gentle presence radiating Dharma contentment benefited many people.”
Indian monk Ven. Tashi Choedup first met Ladakhi Lama at Root Institute in 2017 and had many fond memories of him to share:
“Newly ordained myself, I hadn’t met many Indian ordained Sangha, Himalayan or otherwise; Lama was one of the first. His welcoming nature, warmth, love, and our ability to communicate in Hindi helped us establish a connection from our very first meeting. Lama was generous, sharing stories from his life experiences during our mealtimes. No matter how brief a guest’s visit to Root Institute was, all were touched by Lama’s infectious smile and kindness.
“Lama took me to my first ever Sangha dana ceremony and to many more such gatherings in Bodhgaya thereafter. I fondly remember making a trip to Patna Museum with Lama to pay respects to Buddha relics there.
“I also had the fortune of living in the room next to Lama’s and had the blessing of waking up to Lama’s prayers as early as 3 A.M. every morning. Although we only knew each other for a few years, Lama inspired me to practice Dharma more diligently and gave me the confidence to live an ordained life until the very end.
“Of Lama’s many qualities, one that was always visible was his giving nature. He was always giving away whatever money, food, or resources he had with him. He would never keep anything for himself—except maybe for the packets of Yippee instant noodles, his favorite.”
Inder Kant, who met Ladakhi Lama in 2016 in Bodhgaya, commented on his kindness and humor as well as his profound generosity, recalling a story about visiting a very sick 102-year-old lama at a Tibetan monastery in Bodhgaya with Ladakhi Lama. “We gave the lama some food we had brought for him,” Inder said. “Ladakhi Lama used to visit the elderly lama, looking after him. The lama’s room was messy so Ladakhi Lama and I cleaned the room and made his bed with a new bed sheet. It was overwhelming to see the kindness of Ladakhi Lama.”
Ven. Paldron recounted another quality of Ladakhi Lama: “He was not afraid to challenge someone’s authority, no matter what their position was, if Lama thought they were behaving unethically or inappropriately. He shared various stories of how he had confronted bullies—including some lamas in temples—to make sure that the vulnerable and needy were treated fairly and justly. Lama did not care about his reputation or what would happen to him. If something needed to be corrected, he spoke out against it very fiercely.”
Ladakhi Lama was also very knowledgeable about the history of Bodhgaya and the Mahabodhi Stupa, as well as the significance of many of the small and large stupas around the main temple. He also knew all the main pilgrimage sites.
“In early October 2016, I arrived at Root Institute to volunteer for the winter season,” Annie McGhee said. “I had longed to go to Vikramashila, the home monastery of Lama Atisha. This pilgrimage site is in northeastern Bihar, a region unsafe to travel to as a single woman. I had made many prayers to go and had mentioned this to two friends. One morning I was standing in the breakfast queue when Ladakhi Lama came up to me and said, ‘You want to go to Vikramashila? OK, I will take you.’ I was overjoyed but a little concerned for Lama because it would be a long journey with rough conditions.
“A few of us from Root Institute made the trip together, traveling for ten hours one way by Jeep. At the entrance we stopped to take it all in, as it was a large and important monastic university in its time. Lama remarked, ‘Here is what is left of stupas that would have held the 108 arhats who resided at Vikramashila.’ He was quiet and reflective at other places but led us in many practices and prayers at some of the holy sites.”
Sharing her favorite memory of Ladakhi Lama, Vicki Taylor said, “Lama Zopa Rinpoche had requested from Gen-la the oral transmission of Gampopa’s classic lamrim text The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which he himself had received from Khunu Lama. The transmission took more than one session, and a few of us were gathered in the Root Institute’s small gompa, about to start a subsequent session. When Rinpoche arrived, he showed great respect to Gen-la by trying to prostrate to him before we resumed. Gen-la could not bear to see Rinpoche struggle to prostrate to him, due to Rinpoche’s manifesting signs of a stroke and especially because of Gen-la’s deep respect and appreciation for Rinpoche. So Rinpoche was trying to prostrate, and Gen-la was trying to hold one of his arms to prevent him, all the while politely imploring Rinpoche not to prostrate. I remember the two of them, in a sort of ‘battle of politeness,’ intent on showing great respect to each other. It was beautiful to see.”
The practice of bodhicitta was very close to Ladakhi Lama’s heart. At Root Institute, he also gave the transmission of the verses from Jewel Lamp: A Praise of Bodhicitta, written by Khunu Lama.
Because it was his wish to go to Tushita Pure Land once he departed his body, a butter lamp is being offered in honor of Ladakhi Lama at Tushita Meditation Center, the FPMT center in Dharamsala, India, over the forty-nine day period along with daily prayers and dedications. May all of Lama’s wishes be fulfilled and may he quickly return to guide us on the path to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
For more on practices recommended by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at time of death and other resources to support yourself and loved ones at time of death, please visit fpmt.org/death/.
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