Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche spent the first thirty years of his life in remote Eastern Tibet, then escaped to India and for more than a decade served the dharma in the Tibetan refugee communities there. He first came to the West in 1973 as one of four lamas who emigrated with a group of 200 Tibetan refugees settling in Canada. He quickly connected with Canadian and American students interested in Tibetan Buddhism and began traveling and teaching in the years that followed. After a few years, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, head of the Nyingma lineage (one of the four principal schools of Tibetan Buddhism), began to travel and teach in America more widely and appointed Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche to be his spiritual representative on the West Coast.
Establishing the Archives
Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche has always embraced technology. Even when he was living as a refugee in India in 1972, he took a walk-on part in a Indo-American movie being made about the Buddha. He said he did this because he felt reverence to be a part of the telling of the Buddha’s story, but also because he was interested in the process of movie-making. While in India, he also helped to establish a printery called Karnying Printing House with a group of other lamas in order to preserve and print whatever Tibetan texts were extant at that time in the refugee communities.
As Rinpoche began to invite qualified lamas to the West to teach, conduct ceremonies, and lead practices, he would prioritize the recording of these precious teachings and events. He created an organization at first known simply as the Archives to capture and preserve the blessings and wisdom being transmitted. As Rinpoche has noted:
Just imagine what it would be like if we could see videos of Guru Rinpoche [a principal 8th-century master] and the twenty-five disciples at Samye Monastery [the first Buddhist monastery founded in Tibet]! For the future generations, what we record on video right now will mean that much to them. This is not for ourselves; this is for all beings who will follow us.
~Excerpt from the 2004 Mirror of Wisdom Newsletter~
To read more about Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche, please see his biography on the Tashi Choling website. Also, Sangye Khandro has been Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche’s main translator and an extraordinary support to all his dharma activities since 1976; in fact, much of the material in the Archives is the result of her translation activity with Rinpoche. Learn more about her work at Light of Berotsana.
From the time Rinpoche began teaching in the West, he made it clear to his students that he wanted everything documented as extensively and meticulously as possible: audio and video recordings of spoken teachings, ceremonies, and practices; written works and practice texts translated from Tibetan and printed in English and other languages; authentic sacred images of deities photographed so they could be made available to support students in their practice; the original looseleaf Tibetan books, called pechas, copied painstakingly one page at a time to make master copies for easy reproduction, and so on.
Over the years, the work that began with the Archives has evolved. Originally given the name Yeshe Melong (meaning “wisdom mirror”) by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the organization was later reconfigured as Mirror of Wisdom. For many years, the Archives and publishing materials were housed at Orgyen Dorje Den in Alameda, California. Vimala Video, our sister organization, took on the responsibility of preserving the treasury of all collected video archives. In 2007, all the rest of the Archives located at Orgyen Dorje Den were moved to their current location at Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies near Ashland, Oregon. Soon afterwards, Vimala, Incorporated was created as the new keeper of this precious legacy. May it endure and flourish long into the future, for the benefit of generations to come!
To learn more about Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche’s efforts to help the Buddha Dharma flourish in the West, visit our affiliated dharma centers: