Geshe Sopa Rinpoche (1923-2014)

g-sopa-copy-2We have received word that Geshe Sopa Rinpoche has recently passed away. Born in Central Tibet, he became a monk a the age of 9. His teaching career began early; he was chosen to be one of the Dalai Lama’s debate examiners even before he had completed his own formal studies. That aptitude led him to eventually serve as a professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where from 1976 he taught Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and specialized courses in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist thought.

In 1979 Geshe Sopa founded the Deer Park Buddhist Center and served as its spiritual head and director. The center later became host to the first ever Kalachakra initiation to be offered in the West by the Dalai Lama.

Geshe Sopa influenced many of today’s Buddhist scholars. Roger Jackson, a professor of Asian Studies and Religion at Carleton College in Minnesota, studied under Geshe Sopa both at university and at Deer Park. Jackson wrote in Mandala (2013) of his experiences as a student; read an excerpt after the jump.

“From the time I first met him, my relationship with Geshe-la has been dual, for he has not only been my principal spiritual teacher but also my graduate-school instructor, my dissertation advisor, and a scholarly collaborator.

“As my dissertation advisor, Geshe-la showed remarkable patience and flexibility. I worked on a Tibetan commentary on the second chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavarttika (Commentary on Valid Cognition), the source of the classic proofs of such basic Buddhist claims as the possibility of enlightenment, the existence of past and future lives, and the liberating power of the realization of no-self. Geshe-la labored tirelessly to help me understand the text and its ideas and accepted with good humor my doubts about some of the arguments, even when my views diverged from his own. He also, not without some bemusement, encouraged my persistent enthusiasm for Kagyu traditions, especially Mahamudra.

“Geshe Sopa has been a mentor, a friend, an advisor, an interlocutor, and a father figure. Above all, with his humility, compassion, humor, and a razor-sharp mind, he’s been an example — a living proof, really — of the power of Dharma. Whether scholars, practitioners, or both, we who have benefited from his life and teaching can only hope that we honor him by thinking clearly, living rightly, and dedicating ourselves to the great task of Geshe-la’s life: the benefit of sentient beings.”