New Film Charts the Life of Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Co-founder of Western Europe’s First Tibetan Monastery
A new feature length documentary chronicling the life and times of the respected Tibetan lama Chöje Akong Tulku Rinpoche recently received its world premiere at Kagyu Samye Ling, the monastery and Buddhist retreat Akong Rinpoche co-founded in Scotland with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
The film, Akong — A Remarkable Life, traces Rinpoche’s life from his birth and early years in Tibet, his perilous journey across the Himalayas to India in 1959 before he eventually made his way to Britain, where he helped to establish the first Tibetan monastery in Western Europe in 1967, to his tragic murder in 2013 at the age of 73.
Akong Rinpoche was born in 1939 near Riwoq in eastern Tibet. As a young child, he was recognized as the incarnation of the previous Akong, the abbot of Dolma Lhakang Monastery near Chamdo. At the age of four, he was taken to Dolma Lhakhang to receive his formal education that included Buddhism and traditional Tibetan medicine.
Fleeing the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, the then 19-year-old lama joined a group of refugees to undertake a heart-rending trek that saw the desperate party run out of food, forcing many of them to survive by boiling leather from their shoes and bags. Of the more than 200 people who set out on the grueling 10-month ordeal, Rinpoche was one of just 15 survivors.
After internment in a refugee camp in India, Rinpoche set sail for Britain in 1963, along with Chime Tulku Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, where he initially took work as a hospital orderly in Oxford. In 1967, Akong Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche co-founded Kagyu Samye Ling, which is now home to more than 60 monastics and volunteers, in the Scottish council area of Dumfries and Galloway. Well known students of the center have included musicians David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, and comedian Billy Connolly. Akong Rinpoche has also helped thousands of needy people by running health, educational, and cultural projects in Nepal, South Africa, Tibet, and Zimbabwe and through the charitable organization ROKPA International, which he founded in 1980.
Rinpoche received an opportunity to return to Tibet in 1992, under an open-door policy of the Chinese central government that permitted foreign fact-finding missions and investment. This and subsequent visits enabled him to launch a series of humanitarian projects in Tibet through ROKPA International.
In late January last year, a Chinese court sentenced two men, Thubten Kunsal and Tsering Paljor, to death and a third man to three years in prison, for the October 2013 murder of Akong Rinpoche, who was found stabbed to death, along with his nephew Loga and his assistant Chime Wangyal, at his home in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu. According to police, the killings had resulted from a financial dispute.*
Kagyu Samye Ling, associated with the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, was built on the site of a former hunting lodge in southwestern Scotland. Under Rinpoche’s guidance it has since become an international center for Buddhist teachings, and has hosted many respected contemporary masters, including His Holiness the Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Tai Situ, and Ringu Tulku.
“We feel that the film is more a message of hope, a celebration of his life,” said executive producer Vin Harris. “We look at what, as a refugee, he achieved—setting up centers all over the world and helping thousands and thousands of people without compromising that value of compassion.” (The Scotsman)
* Son of Chöje Akong Tulku Rinpoche Pledges to Continue His Father’s Legacy (Buddhistdoor Global)
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