His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, the 37th throne holder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage and 7th reincarnation of the Chetsang Rinpoche is a manifestation of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara). Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Konchog Tenzin Kunsang Thrinle Lhundrup, was born in 1946 into the aristocratic family of Tsarong in Lhasa. Many prodigious signs and visions accompanied his birth.
His reincarnation was confirmed by a vision of the Drikung regent Tritsab Gyabra Rinpoche and through many additional divinations performed by Taktra Rinpoche (the Regent of Tibet), H.H. the 16th Karmapa, and H.H. Taklung Matrul.
In 1950 the formal enthronement as Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang took place at Drikung Thil, the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyu order. His spiritual instructors (yongzin), Tritsab Gyabra Rinpoche and Ayang Thubten Rinpoche, were responsible for his education. His curriculum included reading, writing, memorizing, astrology, and grammar. From his yongzin and from Bhalok Thupten Chodrak Rinpoche, Lho Bongtrul Rinpoche, and Nyidzong Tripa he received the basic empowerments, transmissions, and teachings of the Kagyu tradition and the Drikung Kagyu tradition in particular.
At the age of eleven, Drikung Kyabgon gave his first public teaching and transmission, a long-life empowerment, during the 1956 Monkey Year ceremonies of the Great Drikung Phowa. Subsequently he began his philosophical studies at the Nyima Changra monastic college of Drikung. Although he was four years younger he studied together with the second Drikung lineage holder, Chungtsang Rinpoche.
Before and after the Tibetan uprising of 1959, several attempts were launched to bring Chetsang Rinpoche and Chungtsang Rinpoche out of Tibet into safety. These attempts failed because of the inexorable resistance of the monastery manager. Rinpoche’s family had already fled to India in 1956.
Tritsab Gyabra, who had left the monastery some years before, took Rinpoche to live with him in Lhasa. In 1960, Drikung Kyabgon was admitted into an elementary school in Lhasa. In very short time he mastered the subject matters of several classes, being able to finish the six years of education in only three years. Thereafter he was admitted to the middle school. The subjects there included Chinese, natural sciences, history, and biology. Chetsang Rinpoche excelled in his studies, especially in Chinese. He also became a keen athlete and a passionate and brilliant soccer player.
During the Cultural Revolution, starting in 1966, classes and business came to a halt. While Lhasa sank into chaos, Rinpoche several times was saved by a fraction from certain death. In 1969, he was assigned to a commune in the countryside, where he had to carry out the hardest physical labor: Work on the fields in the spring and in summer, cutting firewood on steep mountain slopes in autumn, shovel out the sewage from the cesspits in Lhasa in the winter. Since there was no prospect for Chetsang, in 1975 he finally decided to escape. He set out alone and without help to cross the border of Tibet across high passes and glaciers. Unscathed he reached Nepal and eventually the residence of the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala. Afterwards he traveled to the USA, where his parents had in the meantime emigrated to. There he learned English, while earning his living as a part-time at a McDonald's and other restaurants.
After three years in the USA he returned to India in 1978, to take on the lead of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage as its throne holder. He entered a traditional three year retreat at Lamayuru Monastery. Chetsang Rinpoche studied with numerous highly accomplished lamas and Rinpoches of different traditions and received from them teachings and initiations. He regards Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as one of his most important teachers. He studied Buddhist philosophy under Khenpo Noryang in the Drukpa Kagyu monastery Sangnag Choling in Bhutan.
In 1985, Drikung Kyabgon received full monk's ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during the Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya. He mastered all challenges with remarkable ease. Since 1987 Chetsang Rinpoche began to give teachings in many countries throughout the world. In Dehra Dun, India, he established the Drikung Kagyu Institute, a monastery (Jangchubling) and an educational center, as well as a retreat center and the nunnery Samtenling.
In 2003 Chetsang Rinpoche established near his monastery a magnificent edifice: the Songtsen Library, a center for Tibetan and Himalayan studies. With the work of the library, Rinpoche pursues his vision of the comprehensive preservation of Tibetan culture and religion. In 2005 close to the Songtsen Library, Drikung Kyabgon built a large College for Higher Buddhist Studies (Shedra), the Kagyu College.
Read more about the life of HH the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang in Elmar R. Gruber's biography From the Heart of Tibet.