One of Chhoje Rinpoche’s main teachers, Soktse Rinpoche is the 6th in a line of incarnations that goes back to Rechungpa, the great disciple of Milarepa. Born in 1928, Rinpoche’s full name is Kunzang Tendzin Gyaltsen. The previous incarnation left a letter indicating various signs about the next incarnation’s birth and that is how he was found.
Sokste Rinpoche was recognized as a tulku at a very early age. Although the previous incarnation was Drukpa Kagyud, his parents insisted on putting him in Khyung Gonpa, a Gelugpa monastery near their home in Gyantse. Rinpoche lived in the monastery from age six to age eighteen. When Rinpoche was sixteen, Kyabgon Karak Yongdzin Rinpoche, the previous incarnation of Yongzin Rinpoche (who was the leader of the Drukpa Kagyud lineage in central Tibet at that time) tried to take him and enthrone him at his previous incarnation’s monastery at Soktse. However, Khyung Gonpa would not let Soktse Rinpoche leave. Subsequently, Yongzin Rinpoche began a lawsuit at the highest levels of the Tibetan government in Lhasa but after approximately two years, the Kashag (the Tibetan ministerial cabinet) ordered the gonpa to let Rinpoche go.
Soktse Rinpoche spent several years studying with Yongzin Rinpoche at his monastery in Karak, receiving many Kagyu and Nyingma transmissions and completing the ngondro twice, before beginning a long series of development stage retreats. Although Karak Yongdzin Rinpoche was a member of the eminent hierarchy of the Drukpa Kagyud lineage, he and his disciples were primarily Nyingma practitioners. Yongzin Rinpoche was a terton who had encountered Guru Padmasambhava’s wisdom body and had revealed a number of “termas,” or spiritual treasures. Rinpoche’s root teacher was Trulshik Rinpoche Kunzang Thongdrol, the previous incarnation of the Trulshik Rinpoche that passed away in 2011.
During his time studying with Yongzin Rinpoche at Karak, Soktse Rinpoche also met His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in Lhasa, and later met Punda Khen Rinpoche at Yarlung Sheldrak. Yongzin Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche and Punda Khen Rinpoche became Soktse Rinpoche’s three root gurus. Punda Khen Rinpoche in particular gave Rinpoche detailed teachings on dDzogchen meditation over the course of seventeen years.
Soktse Rinpoche came to India in 1961, and established his residence there. Later he founded Tashi Choling Abbey in Hanley, Ladakh.
He has literally spent half of his life in strict meditation retreats, having completed several three year retreats, and many shorter ones. Numerous lamas have received meditation teachings from Soktse Rinpoche.
Over the years Soktse Rinpoche has refused many offers to travel abroad and teach in Asia, North America and Europe, preferring to stay on retreat and to spend time with his teachers, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Punda Khen Rinpoche. However, he has made two visits to the U.S. at the request of Chhoje Rinpoche in 1991 and 1999, where he gave extensive teachings, including guiding a group of students on a year long retreat. Rinpoche also came to the US in 2004 for medical treatment.
Soktse Rinpoche’s main monastic seat outside of Tibet is in the high border region of Ladakh in north India, where he established a nunnery called Tashi Choling. He has also established a nunnery and retreat center at Kechuperi in the mountains of western Sikkim.