Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the abbot of Woodstock’s Tibetan monastery, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), died on Sunday, October 6, at the age of 95 (or 96 according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.) Hailed by Tricycle, the American Buddhist magazine, as a leading figure of Tibetan Buddhism in the US, Karthar Rinpoche will be honored and supported on his death journey by seven weeks of ceremonies at Karme Ling, the retreat center in Delaware County where he made his home.
At the monastery in Woodstock, said managing director Lama Zopa Tharchin, “There’s a whole range of emotions. Rinpoche was 95 or 96, but it was still kind of a shock. We relied on him for all matters great and small. But this is a teaching of impermanence. It’s sad, but it’s how things are.”
Karthar Rinpoche was born in 1924 in eastern Tibet, where he received most of his training and education before the Chinese invasion. As the fourth child of a family of Buddhist nomads, he learned the Tibetan alphabet and various scriptures from his father and then studied at Thrangu Monastery in his teens and early twenties. In 1958, as Chinese-occupied Tibet became more and more dangerous, he fled to India, where he helped to preserve the Buddhist traditions of his lineage.
The 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje asked Rinpoche to lead KTD in 1978, when it was established as a headquarters for Tibetan Buddhism in North America. For decades, Karthar Rinpoche maintained an active teaching schedule, both internationally and at KTD, supporting the creation of monasteries and teaching centers around the country.
In early October, Rinpoche was treated at two different hospitals in Kingston and Albany for a blood vessel blockage and then returned to Karme Ling, where he passed away early the following morning. For the next three days, he was left undisturbed, to facilitate the meditative absorption that Tibetan spiritual masters enter following death. Lamas began a three-day period of prayers focused on readings from the “Rain of Wisdom,” a traditional means of inspiring and enhancing meditation. Rinpoche’s cremation and offering has been set for Sunday, October 20.
Information on the schedule of pujas and prayers for Karthar Rinpoche will be posted at the KTD website, https://kagyu.org.