The Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Ranjung Kunchab (which means Self-Arisen and All-Pervading), was born in Tibet in 1905. During his early years, he was tutored by his father at home and received a thorough grounding in the meditative and ritual traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
When Kalu Rinpoche was fifteen years old, he was sent to begin his higher studies at the great monastery of Palpung, the foremost center of the Karma Kagyu school. He remained there for more than a decade, during which time he mastered the vast body of teaching that forms the philosophical basis of Buddhist practice and completed two three-year retreats. In his autobiography, he lists more than 20 other teachers with whom he studied, in addition to his principle teacher, Norbu Dondrub. They include the 14th Dalai Lama, the 16th Karmapa, H.H. Sakya Trichen, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the 6th Pawo Tulku, and Chatrul Rinpoche.
At age twenty-six, Rinpoche left Palpung to pursue the life of a solitary yogi in the woods of the countryside of Kham, Tibet. For nearly fifteen years, he strove to perfect his realization of all aspects of the teachings and he became renowned in the villages and among the nomads as a true representative of the Bodhisattva's path. Rinpoche's simple and direct style of teaching resulted from the need to bring the living experience of the Buddha's teaching to those who had not benefited from the sophisticated educational program of the monastic system. It was thus with an established mastery of meditative practice that Kalu Rinpoche returned to Palpung to receive final teachings from Drupon Norbu Dondrup, who entrusted him with the rare transmission of the teaching of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage.
During the 1940s, Rinpoche visited central Tibet with the party of Situ Rinpoche, and there he taught extensively. His disciples included the Reting Rinpoche, regent of all Tibet during the infancy of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
In 1971 he left India and began to travel. His journeys eventually took him to countries throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. He taught, emphasizing the teaching of karma and the practice of the yidam Chenrezig. He established his first Western center, Kagyu Kunchab Chuling in Vancouver, Canada. During his three visits to the West he founded teaching centers in over a dozen countries. In France in 1976, he established the first retreat center ever to teach the traditional three-year retreats of the Shangpa and Karma Kagyu lineages to Western students.
Kalu Rinpoche died in May 1989 and was reborn in September of 1990. Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche currently resides in Mirik, India, where he is in three-year retreat under the guidance of Khenpo Lodrö Dönyö.
Information taken from the autobiography of Kalu Rinpoche, The Chariot for Traveling the Path to Freedom: The Life Story of Kalu Rinpoche, translated by Kenneth I. McLeod, 1985, published by Kagyu Dharma, San Francisco, California, and Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Woodstock, New York.