Ven. Khenchen Lama Sherab
Venerable Khenchen Lama Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa Rinpoche was born in 1931 in the city of Sakya (Tibet) to a family with a long tradition of spiritual practice. His father was Dorje Amipa. Ven. Lama Sherab remembers him as a patient man who devoted a lot of his time to the spiritual practice, in particular the practice of Buddha Avalokiteshvara and Hevajra, as well as offerings to the family Dharmapalas and the main family protectress, Palden Lhamo. He died when Ven. Lama Sherab was only seven years old. Ven. Lama Sherab’s mother came from a family of farmers who lived in the vicinity of Sakya. She was a deeply compassionate woman, kind and sensitive. One of his uncles was a doctor. Patients would often come to see him at the Amipa family house, although he was also paying home visits to the patients from the nearby villages. The family owned a vast amount of land and cultivated most of its foods.
Ven. Lama Sherab’s older brother, Shedrub Tenzin, entered the Sakya Monastery at the age of eight. Ven. Lama Sherab joined him there at the age of seven. Upon receiving the novice monk vows, he was also given the monk name by which we know him today: Sherab Gyaltsen, the “Banner of Wisdom”. Having learned to read and write, he started memorising the religious texts used at the monastery. His main teacher for the first three years was Ven. Khenpo Sangye Rinchen. Soon he started leading morning prayers and other longer religious rituals.
His formal studies started with the Pramana, or the epistemological foundations of religious belief. At the age of thirteen, his studies focused on the Paramitas (the Perfections). In that period he also performed several retreats, during which he completed the preliminary practices (Ngondro) and perfected the calm abiding meditation (Skt. samatha/Tib. shinè), as well as the insight meditation (Skt. vipasyana/tib. lhagthong). After that he received the Lam Dre teachings and initiations from His Holiness the 40th Sakya Trizin Ngawang Thuthob Wangchug.
At the age of eighteen, Ven. Lama Sherab passed the Kachu exam which was the basis for advanced studies leading to the Geshe degree, the highest academic degree equalling a western PhD in Buddhist Philosophy, which he completed with honours and obtained the title of Geshe Rabjampa. These advanced studies included the Abidharma, the Madhyamika philosophy (the Middle Way philosophy), the Vinaya (rules of religious discipline) and the three sets of vows.
Ven. Lama Sherab became a fully ordained monk, a Bhikshu, at the age of twenty. Having obtained the Geshe degree, he started teaching at the main Sakya Monastery. He also received numerous tantric initiations (Manjushri, Mahakala, Green Tara, White Tara, Hevajra, Vajrayoghini, Vajrakilaya, and other) from his Root Guru, His Holiness the 40th Sakya Trizin Ngawang Thuthob Wangchug. Later on, he also received the complete Lam Dre series of teachings, Hevajra, Vajrakilaya, Vajrayoghini, as well as the “Thirteen Golden Dharmas” of Sakyapas’ from the current holder of the Sakya throne, His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin.
He left Tibet in 1959, and after a short stay at Kalimpong in 1960, he joined the monks at the Sakya Monastery in Darjeeling. After two years in Darjeeling, he was selected the Sakya representative to Dalhousie, where he first encountered the ‘West’, started studying foreign languages and western culture.
In 1967, following the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government in exile (Department of Religious Affairs) requested Ven. Lama Sherab to move to a newly established Tibet Institute at Rikon (near Zurich), Switzerland. Having consulted Ven. Lama Sherab, His Holiness Sakya Trizin gave the permission to Ven. Lama Sherab to move to Rikon. The main aim of the Tibet Institute was to support Tibetan refugees in Switzerland, helping them preserve their culture and religion in exile. Moreover, in this way, Dharma was brought to the western practitioners of Buddhism and bridges were built between the two cultures.
In that period, Ven. Lama Sherab received extensive commentaries on Bodhisattvacaryavatara and 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, as well as different tantric initiations, including the Kalachakra, from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Ven. Lama Sherab’s influence gradually spread across the Swiss boarders to different European countries where groups of practitioners wishing to learn and practice Dharma were established under his guidance.
In 1977, a Sakya Centre, Sakya Tsechen Ling, was founded in Strasburg, which established itself permanently at a nearby village of Kuttolsheim in 1978. The centre was inaugurated by His Holiness Sakya Trizin in September 1978. Later on, the Centre was transformed into a European Institute of Tibetan Buddhism. A Tibetan lama, Ven. Lama Dakpa Woeser, took residence in Kuttolsheim and Ven. Lama Sherab started to teach there three-day weekend courses on a monthly basis.
In 1982, the Institute was greatly honoured by the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his first visit to France. On this occasion, His Holiness imparted a teaching on the Sakya text “Zenpa Zidrel” (Parting from the Four Attachments) in Strasburg to a large gathering of Tibetans and Europeans.
His Holiness Sakya Trizin visited both the Rikon Institute and Sakya Tsechnen Ling on different occasions, when he also bestowed the most profound Lam Dre teachings and major initiations (Hevajra, Vajrakilaya, Vajrayoghini). His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen also visited Ven. Lama Sherab’s centres on various occasions, bestowing numerous teachings and initiations.
In 1988, Ven. Lama Sherab travelled to Sarnath, India, for a meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin and other high Lamas of all traditions. Another such great event took place in 2000 in Dharamsala, India.
As the time passed by, Ven. Lama Sherab’s study groups developed into Dharma centres: in Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Ven. Lama Sherab has written many books on the Buddhist practice, history of the Sakya tradition, Mahamudra, and Tibetan language. His works were translated to English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, and Czech.
Out of a great respect for Buddha Shakyamuni and his profound teachings, as well as his great love and compassion towards all sentient beings, Ven. Lama Sherab offered a Buddha statue to the main Sakya Monastery in Dehra Dun, India. This marvellous statue of Buddha was made by the great artist Penpa Dorje and his students. It was consecrated on 6 March 1995.
In 1997, Ven. Lama Sherab launched a project of a Stupa construction which was completed three years later. The Stupa is located in Sarnath, India, near a place where Buddha Shakyamuni turned the wheel of Dharma for the first time, giving a teaching on ”The Four Noble Truths”. The stupa is dedicated to the world peace.
In 1999, as the first Lama ever, Ven. Lama Sherab imparted teachings of Tibetan Buddhism at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
He completed a six-month Hevajra retreat in 2004.
In 2010, during Lam Dre teachings in Kuttolsheim, France, His Holiness Sakya Trizin offered a special ceremony in honour of Ven. Lama Sherab, during which he bestowed upon him the tile of honour “Khenchen”, or the “Great Abbot”. The ceremony took place on the auspicious day of “Chökhor Düchen“, which commemorates Buddha Shakyamuni’s first turning of the wheel of Dharma. On that occasion, His Holiness Sakya Trizin expressed his deep appreciation and best wishes to Khenchen Lama Sherab, underlying Rinpoche’s ‘immense efforts which he has been investing here in the West for over half a century, establishing numerous Dharma centres in Europe, helping a great amount of people, supporting many monasteries in Tibet, India and Nepal, as well as helping individual monks, nuns and lay people.’ With a profound sense of gratitude, His Holiness Sakya Trizin invited all participants to join him in his word of thanks to Khenchen Lama Sherab, and with great joy he bestowed upon him the honorific title of “Khenchen”. Upon the conclusion of this ceremony, His Holiness performed a Long Life offering to Khenchen Lama Sherab, wishing him all the very best and a lot of success in all his activities in the future.
On 14 April 2014, Ven. Khenchen Lama Sherab left his body. His wisdom and compassion remain a profound source of inspiration for all disciples who had the great fortune of meeting him and benefiting from his presence for many years.