By Tsewang Rigzin

After rendering 60 years of meritorious, unceasing and dedicated service to a nation, Tibet lost one of her longest-serving civil servants, most venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi, widely known as Ku-nyoe Tara la on 14th January 2013, he was 94 years old. One of his last wishes is not to burn his body on the wood as countless insects die in the process. His body was thus cremated in an electronic crematorium in New Delhi on 17th January 2013.

Venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi/File photo

The most venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi la was born in Tara’s family of Kharkha village of Gyaltse dzong in 1920. In 1941, at age of 22, he joined then the Gaden Phodrang Government of Tibet as Tsi-drung. In 1952, he was appointed as a staff in the Tibetan foreign office in Beijing, where he served until June 1955, for about three years. He was also a member of the organizing committee and the entourage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to China and India in 1954-55 and 1956 respectively.

Especially during the chaotic year of 1959, people of Lhasa elected him as one of the leaders of masses to supervise the various volunteer groups for His Holiness’s security to safeguard the well-being of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to make sure His Holiness’s safe escape to India. Following the March 1959 Tibetan National Uprising, he came into exile in India with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He began his services in the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from January 1, 1960, and served in various capacities, most notably as Personal Secretary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He officially retired in 2001 but continued to offer his services as an advisor until January 1, 2012.

I am fortunate to have ample opportunities to meet him and listen to his words of wisdom, which was an outcome of an extraordinary life that he had. One thing that strikes me most about him is his simplicity in living as well in thought. There was no pompousness and complexity in him, which is usually associated with people of his level of accomplishment. To be complex is easy but to be simple is actually not at all easy, indeed it is one of the most difficult things that an individual can do. In this sense, he is a perfect epitome of a phrase ‘Simple living high thinking’.

His absolute faith and loyalty toward His Holiness the Dalai Lama is unparalleled. In fact, he is the person who spent more time with His holiness the Dalai Lama than anyone else. Since his knowledge of Tibetan history is vast, one day I asked him, who is the greatest Tibetan of all time. He further asked me about my take on the question. In a hesitant voice, I replied; it might be Songtsen Gampo or Milarepa. Without any hesitation, he said it is Current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He further told me that it was difficult for common Tibetan or for that matter, any other person to see him in the way that he really is!

Given the extra-ordinary life that he had and vast first-hand experience on contemporary Tibetans issues, many people of our community have visited him and sought his view and suggestion on issues about Tibet and others. I could many times see Kalons and other dignitaries seeking his suggestion and advice. Personally, I have visited him when I am in need of some guidance or advice on important matters. What is astonishing to me is his unassuming willingness to give his heart-felt suggestion on every question that I raised, even if it is of trivial matters. He never underestimates anyone, and that is I believe a sign of true learned man.

He placed important and significance emphasis on youth of Tibet and had a vision wherein younger generation becomes what he calls ‘a real Tibetan’. In his Biography, he wrote two specific chapters as a message for the younger generation of Tibetan. In those chapters, he passionately and rationally advised younger generations to study Buddhism and become a meaningful Buddhist.

Author during his meeting with Venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi

Whenever I am in his presence, he used to test my understanding of traditional Tibetan and Buddhist knowledge, including history of Tibet to which I have failed many times. He would then write it for me on the paper with his amazing Tibetan handwriting and use to tell me to learn it properly. He used to do this for most of the younger generations that came to seek his guidance. Because of him, I could now proudly say that I am Buddhist not because I am born to parents who are Buddhist, but I choose to be one. Personally, he had been one of the most illuminating people who I have ever met. His physical existence might have ceased to exist but the memories that have been created by his compassion and wisdom is and will always be in my heart.

The memories that I have of him are many. Reflecting on those memories, clearly he is man of total integrity, sincerity and honesty. His sense of humanity is profound. He is internationalist in its real sense. His attention to detail was mind-boggling. He is extremely rational in his thought and pragmatic in his deed. It is very well reflected in one of his last wishes, which told his relatives not to consult an astrologer or conduct a lavish final ritual which is customary for a man of his achievement and calibre. All of these qualities together make him a clear thinker, learned scholar, a decisive leader, a compassionate and fearless in standing alone in his principal and above all a good human being.

Traditionally, Tibetans do not celebrate the birthday of an individual. However, fondly remember those who had great accomplishment and service to fellow countryman while he or she is alive. In case of the most venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi la, he was indeed an individual to be remembered for his unceasing dedication and service to a nation.

* The writer is a developmental professional based in Delhi. He can be reached at The article submitted by the author.


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