Here's a nice obituary from the UK's Telegraphhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituar ... poche.html
CHOJE AKONG RINPOCHE, who has died aged 73, was a Tibetan Buddhist lama who made his home in Britain and co-founded Samye Ling in the Scottish Borders, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West.
A prominent and influential figure in the exiled Tibetan Buddhist community, Akong played a major role in promoting Tibetan Buddhist teachings and culture to the West, and through his humanitarian organisation ROKPA initiated and supported educational and medical projects throughout the world.
Akong arrived in Britain in 1963, virtually penniless, having already experienced a life that went from privilege to privation. He was born on April 4 1940 at the village of Dharak, in the eastern Tibetan province of Kham. At the age of two, following instructions from the 16th Karmapa (spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school) he was recognised as a reincarnation of the previous (and 1st) Akong, the Abbot of Lho Tsawagang Drolma Lhakang monastery. When he was four he was taken from his family to the monastery, where he received a traditional education in religious philosophy before attending the monastic university of Sechen, where he was certified as a teacher of Tibetan medicine.
In 1959, as the invading Chinese army tightened its grip on Tibet, Akong fled the country as one of the leaders in a party of some 200 people which included another prominent lama, Chogyam Trungpa, the Abbot of Surmang Monastery. It took them three weeks to cross the Himalayas to safety. At one stage, attempting to cross the Bhramaputra river they were obliged to fabricate coracles from pieces of leather, using the gum from trees as glue. They crossed the river under gunfire from Chinese troops. The same pieces of leather were boiled and then chewed to stave off starvation. Only 13 of the party survived.
Arriving in Assam, Trungpa and Akong were placed in a refugee camp that had been built by the British during the Second World War to house troublemakers. There they met Freda Bedi, an Englishwoman who would later become a Tibetan Buddhist nun, Sister Palmo, and who had founded a Young Lamas’ Home School at the Indian hill station of Dalhousie to prepare young reincarnate lamas from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism for life outside Tibet.
Freda Bedi took Trungpa and Akong into her own family. Trungpa became the school’s principal, and Akong its manager. Trungpa, Bedi’s son Kabir remembered, was “very flamboyant: a naughty boy, but a brilliant teacher. Akong, on the other hand, radiated a great calm and a great solidity. He didn’t talk much about things; he just went out and did them.”
With the help of Freda Bedi, the two young men, along with a third lama, Chime Rinpoche, left India for Britain. Trungpa had been awarded a Spalding Scholarship to study comparative religion at Oxford. Akong was obliged to work as a hospital orderly in order to support them both. He would subsequently take British citizenship.
In 1967 the two men took over Johnstone House, a former hunting lodge near the village of Eskdalemuir in the Scottish Borders, which had briefly served as a Buddhist retreat centre led by a Canadian Theravadin monk. With Chogyam Trungpa at its head, the centre was renamed Samye Ling, after the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
At first the centre attracted an eccentric mixture of serious Buddhist students and hippie refugees from the India trail, most of whom Trungpa would later observe “seemed to be slightly missing the point”. The charismatic Trungpa embraced the alternative Western lifestyle, drinking alcohol and occasionally smoking dope with his students .
The more stolid and conservative Akong was, as he would later remember, “the bed maker. But my main job was cleaning floors. I wasn’t interested in teaching. If you want to teach, you have to know: and I didn’t feel I knew enough.” On one occasion a resident surreptitiously slipped him a hash-brownie. “It had no effect whatsoever,” the miscreant remembered. “Akong was like a rock.”
Relations between Akong and Trungpa grew increasingly strained when Trungpa announced his intention to marry a 16-year-old local girl, Diana Pybus. Matters reached a head when Trungpa was involved in a bizarre accident when, driving in Northumberland (he did not hold a licence) he blacked out at the wheel and crashed his car through the window of a joke and novelty shop. Shortly afterwards he left Britain for America, settling in Boulder, Colorado, where he founded another Buddhist organisation, Vajjradhatu, and, later, America’s first Buddhist university, Naropa.
With Trungpa’s departure, Akong took charge of Samye Ling, imposing a more disciplined regime. He proved an inspiring administrator, supervising the growth of Samye Ling into a vibrant monastic community, made up of a mixture of Tibetan monks, Westerners who had taken monastic vows and laypeople. A magnificent temple, built in the traditional Tibetan style, was erected in the grounds beside the old house (Akong was often to be found on site, trowel in hand) and consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1983. New accommodation blocks for visitors were added.
A succession of prominent lamas, exiled from Tibet, attended to give teachings, and what are known in Tibetan Buddhism as “empowerments”. The most notable among them was the 16th Karmapa, who had recognised Akong as a young child, and who on his visit in 1974 performed the Vajra Crown ceremony — a ritual involving the ancestral “Black Hat” of the Karmapas, which dates from the 16th century — in the former drawing room at Johnstone House. Over the years, the centre’s activities expanded to include courses in traditional medicine, meditation and Tai Chi.
Akong was not a monk. An avowed traditionalist who invariably dressed in a traditional Tibetan chuba (tunic), he was a heavily built man with a sober, authoritative manner. “He didn’t speak much,” one long-term student remembers. “But his words always carried a lot of weight. He was a very strong person — powerful. But at the same time he was a man of constant compassion and impartiality. His attitude to everybody was exactly the same: kindness.”
Akong took a particular interest in the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and Western psychiatry, and the therapeutic possibilities of meditation. In 1989 he established a separate residential community, Lothlorien, in south-west Scotland, for treating people with mental health problems; and he was the author of three books on the application of Tibetan Buddhist teachings to daily life.
In 1980, Akong Rinpoche founded ROKPA, an international humanitarian organisation that has supported projects throughout Europe and Asia. Much of the organisation’s activities are concentrated in Nepal and Tibet. An astute politician, as well as an energetic social activist, Akong cultivated unusually close links with the Chinese government, treading the difficult path through the tangled jungle of Sino-Tibetan relations, and was able to establish more than 100 different charitable projects in his former homeland. He was particularly concerned that pupils at ROKPA schools should follow traditional cultural practices in dress and language.
In 1992 Akong went to Tibet to take charge of the search party that brought a seven-year-old boy, Apo Gaga, from his home in a nomad’s tent in eastern Tibet to Tsurphu monastery, near Lhasa, where with the permission of the Chinese authorities the young boy was enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje — the second most important figure after the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. The identity and whereabouts of the young boy had been determined following the discovery of a “prediction letter” ostensibly written by the 16th Karmapa before his death in 1981.
In 1999, at the age of 14, the 17th Karmapa escaped from Tibet into India, after it became apparent that the Chinese would not allow him to receive his lineage teachings and intended to use him as a political “puppet”.
Akong spent five months of every year in Tibet visiting his projects, and maintained a house in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, as a base. It was a mark of his ability to straddle two apparently disparate worlds that in June 2011 he was acknowledged by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, for his remarkable contribution to British life as part of the 60th Anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.
Two months later he travelled to Lhasa at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party to attend the 60th Anniversary of the so-called “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, where he was greeted as a “Patriotic Tibetan”.
“That was extremely difficult for him,” one student remembered. “It upset many Tibetans. He didn’t want to go, but he knew that if he refused it would be his projects that would suffer. And he was prepared to jeopardise his own reputation for the sake of that.”
Akong Rinpoche was murdered in his home at Chengdu while on a visit to supervise ROKPA projects. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Choje Akong Rinpoche, born April 4 1940, died October 8 2013