Namgyal Rinpoche
Student Memories



A Time To Remember…
Sonam Gyatso

Namgyal Rinpoche
1931 - 2003

Born Toronto, Canada, October 11, 1931 at 3am.
Passed over at Zurich, Switzerland, October 22, 2003, 7:30pm.

"Ye Shall Know them by their Works"
Namgyal Rinpoche, in reply to the question:
"How do you know a true Teacher?"
at a 1974, New York, meeting with Trungpa Rinpoche and his students

Part 1: The Early Years


Born into the Davidson, McDonald, Clanranald lineage, Leslie George Dawson was descended from both Robert the Bruce and Edward the Bruce, on his mother's and father's side respectively and was also related to the Hamilton family.

His Father was an 'Irish Cop' (a detective on the Toronto police force), his mother a Scottish nurse. As he himself said, from his father he derived his 'terrific energy' and from his mother the 'gift of the gab'.

Early Childhood

He was born and raised, with his younger sister Marylin, in the Beaches area of Toronto, attended Norway Public School and Malvern Collegiate (where he also studied music appreciation along with Glenn Gould).

He spent his summers at his uncle's farm in Hamilton, now 'Spring Farm' Botanical Garden.

Youthful Ideology

Having had many mystical experiences in early life, he felt the call to the ministry, attending Jarvis Baptist Seminary for a short time where he learned many arts such as 'homiletics' and 'higher (biblical) criticism'.

He did not enter the ministry at that time but moved on to further studies in Philosophy and Psychology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbour.

Then followed an intense period of involvement in the Socialist youth movement, CCF, NDP, etc. culminating in a visit to Russia to address a youth conference in Moscow, whereafter he returned to London, at the time of the Suez crisis.

During this time he stayed in London with the Huybens, a Rosicrucian couple where he encountered the Western Mystery tradition and Buddhism and practised meditation regularly.

Meeting the Teacher

In 1956, while visiting the London Buddhist Society, during the Buddha-Jayanti celebrations of 2,500 years of Buddhism, he met the Venerable U. Thila Wunta Sayadaw, a meditation master from Burma.

He was immediately drawn to the Sayadaw as his teacher, and the Sayadaw invited him to follow him to Burma.

Training in the East

Travelling overland, to India, he re-joined the Sayadaw in Buddhagaya where he received the Novice ordination as Samanera Ananda. Continuing on to Burma, he received the Higher Ordination at the Shwe Dagon in Rangoon and was given the name Ananda Bodhi Bhikkhu. There he studied the Vinaya and Abhidhamma.

He recalled that as part of his apprenticeship with Sayadaw, he had to polish the floors of the Dat Pon Zu temple with coconut shells, many, many times.

He subsequently received meditation training in all of the 40 classical Samatha practices under Sayadaw's guidance and later studied the Vipassana (insight) meditation system under Mahasi Sayadaw, later travelling to Thailand for further Vipassana retreat work under Chao Kun Pra Rajasiddhimuni at Wat Mahadhat. While there, he also mastered the Wat Paknam system.

In addition he pursued his Dhamma studies in Sri Lanka, studying the Pali Sutta texts such as the Dhammapada and the various commentaries such as the Visuddhimagga.

Return to the West

After over 5 years of intensive training in the East, Venerable Ananda Bodhi received the title of Samatha-Vipassana-Kammathan-Acariya, teacher of both the calm and insight meditation practice and was given the red belt of a meditation master.

He was invited by the English Sangha Association to become the Incumbent, or Resident Teacher, of the Vihara, or monastic residence in London, at Alexander Road, Camden Town. He took up residence in the Fall of 1961 and immediately started teaching meditation and giving regular classes in Dhamma studies.

He also began teaching regularly at the Buddhadhamma centre in Manchester and other centres.

In 1962 he was invited by the London Buddhist Society to give courses in meditation at their annual Summer School. At that time he met a number of Tibetan Lamas such as Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Rinpoche who had just arrived from India to study comparitive religion at Manchester College Oxford.

He was also invited to speak at the Fifth International Congress of Psychotherapists in London, where he met Julian Huxley, Anna Freud and R.D.Laing, to name a few.

In 1962, the Bhikkhu went back to Thailand to meet with one of his teachers , Pra Rajasiddhimuni, who subsequently returned to teach at the Vihara in London.

Period of Expansion

Under his inspiration, with many students gathering around him, Bhikkhu Ananda Bodhi expanded the London centre by purchasing, through the Sangha Association, a large regency mansion on Haverstock Hill which became known as the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara - the Alexander Road centre remained as a meditation house for a while.

At this time a number of aspiring students received novice ordination, some of whom went to Thailand for further study.

Seeing the need for a suitable meditation centre far away from London , as he felt that a real meditation centre should not be too easy to get to, he purchased an old estate with a castle in Staffordshire, known as Biddulph Old Hall.

Moving On

In October, 1964, the Bhikkhu flew to Canada for a short visit "to re-connect with his roots". At the invitation of the incumbent Rev.Ishiura he gave classes in the Japanese Toronto Buddhist Church on Bathurst Street - where he met his first Canadian students.

On his return, sensing a need to open up further avenues of exploration, the Bhikkhu began searching for a new independent 'Contemplative' centre and purchased Johnstone House, an old hunting lodge in Dumfriesshire, Scotland which used to belong to the Duke of Bacleuch. Later, he offered this to the Tibetans and it became Samye Ling - under the auspices of the Johnstone House Trust.

The Johnstone House Trust was set up through one of his students, Miss Phyllis Short.

Then followed an intensive, innovative year of work with students including the new 'Mandala therapy'.

The Bhikkhu then embarked on a three-week tour of Northern Europe and Scandinavia along with two students Tony Olbrecht and Barry Goulden.

On their return they went straight to Scotland where Tony and Barrie applied for Canadian immigrant status. After a month touring Scotland all three departed from Edinburgh for Canada. They did not return to England. Their journey to Canada took them to Iceland where the new volcanic island of Surtsey had just emerged from the ocean. After touring Iceland they flew to Canada via New York.

The Dharma Centre of Canada

The Bhikkhu arrived in Toronto on September 23, 1965 and immediately began teaching at the Toronto Buddhist Church and gathering more students. He would later refer to Canada as his "experiment"

In March, 1966, he formed the Dharma Centre, a charitable organisation, and immediately requested that a meditation centre be found. He then returned to Scotland to continue the teaching at Johnstone House.

In April, 1966 through a real-estate agent in Bobcaygeon, Tony Olbrecht inspected an old mink-farm of 400-acres near Kinmount, and informed the Bhikkhu of this, saying it had a beaver dam.

Hearing this, the Bhikkhu immediately returned from Scotland to see it and the land was purchased for the sum of $4,500. A trust was set up to secure private loans and the Kinmount Centre was born. [In 1972 the Dharma Centre of Canada was organised as a charitable Corporation.]

On the Road

The Bhikkhu loved to travel and went very far afield with groups of his students travelling extensively in North and South America and in Europe.

In 1967 he lead a group of 12 students to India on the Dutch freighter "Giessenkirk". The ship visited Sri Lanka and Burma before landing in Calcutta in January, 1968.

Many adventures were had on the way , including visits to the Sri Lankan Viharas and gem-stone mines. Henri Van Bentum has written a very full and complete account of this trip elsewhere. In Burma they met with the Bhikkhu's teacher U Thila Wunta Sayadaw, visited the Shwe Dagon and had an elaborate breakfast of 'mohingar' with Yogi U Thin, one of the Bhikkhu's supporters.

In Calcutta they stayed at the Mahabodhi Society and met the Maharaja of Sikkhim who arranged visas to visit Sikkim.

They meanwhile made a pilgimage to Buddhagaya and finally travelled to Darjeeling enroute to Sikkim.

Meeting the Karmapa

Then followed an amazing transformation.

On arrival in Gangtok, the Bhikkhu went with four students to Rumtek Monastery, where he was immediately ushered into the presence of H.H. the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa.

His Holiness greeted Ven. Ananda Bodhi like an old friend and seated him beside him on the same level causing some consternation amongst his entourage.

He then gave a private empowerment (Wongkur) of Milarepa to the Bhikkhu and his four students - Tony Olbrecht, Brian Bamford, Ted Bieler and Stu Ennis. As His Holiness was busy giving Lung (ceremonial readings), no further empowerments were given at that time.

The Bhikkhu then travelled to Dehra Dun and met His Holiness Sakya Trizen and his teacher Chogye Rinpoche.

In 1969, the Bhikkhu returned to Rumtek with 108 students, and received the full Tibetan ordination as the Venerable Karma Tenzin Dorje Namgyal. The students then took Refuge with His Holiness the Karmapa. Many empowerments were received at that time, including Dorje Phagmo, Red Chenresi and Hevajra.

In the Spring of 1971, in Green River, on instructions from His Holiness, Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche was formally Enthroned with full ceremony, by the Venerable Karma Thinley Rinpoche.


Click To Visit His Holiness' Site Click To Visit Her Eminence's Site