The small Buddhist community in Scotland will be in shock after the reports that Dr Choje Akong Rinpoche, co-founder of the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Eskdalemuir, had been killed in south west China. According to the police in the Chinese city of Chengdu, Akong Rinpoche, his nephew and his driver were stabbed to death by three suspects – all Tibetan – in a dispute about money.
However, the statement posted on the Samye Ling website today by Akong’s brother, Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, says that he was “very, very sorry to inform you all that tragically, my brother Choje Akong Rinpoche, my nephew and one monk who was travelling with then, were all killed in Chengdu today. Rinpoche’s body has been taken to hospital where a post mortem will be carried out. That is all the news I have so far. If I receives further news I will let you know.” The statement also said that the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa (the spiritual leader of the Buddhist group to which Akong belonged) had been informed of his death.
73 year old Akong Rinpoche (Rinpoche is an honorific title meaning ‘precious one’) had lived in Britain since 1963. With his brother and around 200 monks, he fled from Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of the country. Only half a dozen made it through the harsh conditions to safety in India. He came to the UK when a sponsor paid for him to learn English at Oxford. He co-founded Samye Ling in 1967, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. Today, it is home to around 60 monks and lay-people and supports an outreach centre – the Samye Dzong – in Edinburgh.
Since 1980, he has devoted much of his time to the charity he founded, ROKPA (the Tibetan word for ‘help’ or ‘serve’). Its aim is to relieve suffering wherever it’s found – but a lot of its work has been in providing financial and personal support to orphans, especially in Tibet, but also in Nepal and Southern Africa. As part of this work, he had established good relations with the Chinese government and had been able to travel relatively freely. He was on such a visit when he was killed.
The Foreign Office said: “We can confirm the death of a British national in Chengdu, China on 8th October and we stand ready to provide consular assistance.”