Drikung Khandro, Sherab Thubten Rinpoche (1927–1979)

Sherab Thubten, also known as “Neni Rinpoche,” was born in 1927 in Northern Tibet. She spent much of her life in the Drikung Longshud Are Nunnery; a branch nunnery of the Drikung Kagyu. There, she spent more than ten years studying with the Drikung Khandro, Chodrung Rinpoche, who named her as her successor for the nuns at Drikung Terdrom.

Neni Rinpoche also studied with the great Dzogchen Master, Khenchen Chatral Rahor Chhodak, whom she considered her root teacher. He was known as the very great Chatral (one who naturally abandons worldly activities).

In 1959, Neni Rinpoche fled Tibet and traveled by foot to India. On the way, she met Ani Damchu Sangmo from Kham, who became her faithful attendant. Together they traveled throughout India, doing pilgrimage to all the Buddhist holy sites. They finally settled in Tso Pema, the holy place of Guru Rinpoche. At Tso Pema, they remained in retreat for ten years (1960 – 1970).

Neni Rinpoche was very close to the great Nyingma Master, Khenpo Thubten Rinpoche and received many teachings from him. She also taught Drikung Ontul Rinpoche when he was a young man and she introduced him to Khenpo Thubten, who subsequently became Ontul Rinpoche’s Root Guru. Tashi Drolma, Ontul Rinpoche’s wife, says that Neni Rinpoche was very helpful to him.

Neni Rinpoche was known to be very strict and very outspoken. She had no fear to speak out and reprimand Lamas. All the young tulkus were afraid of her and would be on their best behavior when she was around.

On 1970, Neni Rinpoche traveled to Bodhgaya with Khunu Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. There she contracted TB. Despite this, she endured the sickness and unbearable heat and did much study and retreat with Khunu Lama. In 1976 she traveled with Khunu Lama to Garsha, Northern India until Khunu Lama Passed away in 1978. Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche says, “I met her when I went to Northern India to receive teachings from Khunu Rinpoche. She was very devoted to Khunu Lama. She never left his side, even when she was very sick with TB. She never complained even though she suffered terribly. I never met a practitioner like her.”

In 1979, on the 29th day of the 11th Tibetan month, Neni Rinpoche entered into Tugdam. She remained sitting in lotus posture for seven days. Khenpo Thubten Rinpoche presided as her guardian during her death process, and many followers gathered around. On the 4th day of Tugdam, they offered her the bell and dorje and placed the five pointed crown and dress on her, symbolizing the nirmanakaya transforming into the sambhogakaya. After seven days, red and white fluid came from her nostrils, indicating that Tugdam was complete. Her body was cremated under Khenpo Thubten’s supervision and the relics were distributed among her followers.

Drikung Ontul Rinpoche has built an ornate gold reliquary stupa and placed a piece of her bone inside. This stupa is currently in Ontul Rinpoche’s private shrine room in Tso Pema, India. He plans to bring it to Drikung Terdrom, Tibet, in the future.

Images: 1 – Drikung Khandro, Sherab Thubten Rinpoche, 2 – Khunu Rinpoche.

This information was provided by many people; in particular:

Ani Damchu Sangmo, Neni Rinpoche’s attendant, who has spent the last 30 years in retreat at Khenpo Thubten’s Monastery in Kullu, North India.

Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, who spent time with Chodrung Rinpoche at Siligod Tsang, Tibet in the 1940’s. He presently lives in retreat in Pharping, Nepal.

Dawa Chhodak Rinpoche, who recollected stories of his father, Kathag Dorje Rinpoche, who was one of Chodrung Rinpoches’ students. Dawa Chhodak Rinpoche lives in Boudha, Nepal, where he is renowned as the “Mirror Lama’. Through his powers of divination, much of the information was verified and further details were provided.

Tsewang Dorje, The present Mayor of Nam Tso, Northern Tibet, who’s family was Chodrung Rinpoche’s main sponsor, and who maintains her throne as well as holding her personal belongings.

Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the North American Abbot of the Drikung Kagyu, presently residing at the Tibetan Meditation Center, in Frederick, Maryland.

Drikung Ontul Rinpoche and Tashi Dolma, who over ee the Drikung Monastery in Tso Pema, Riwalsar, India.

Collected and written by Kunzang Dechen Chodron.