Chöje Jigme Phüntsok was born in the Water Bird year of 1933 to a nomad family in a valley between Dodrubchen and Shukchung monastery in Golok. He was named Kalzang Namgyal by his father Chakhung Pete and his mother Nubza Yumtso. Upon entering the world, he sat upright without assistance and draped the placenta over his left shoulder, the manner in which a monk wears his robes. He opened his eyes and recited the short Manjushri mantra, Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhi, and over his heart, the syllable Hung was clearly visible. Soon after his birth he was recognised as the incarnation of the great Tertön Lerab Lingpa, and he began revealing termas at the age of seven. When he was fourteen, due to his deep sense of renunciation, he took monk’s vows and showed a natural strong inclination towards the Dzogchen teachings. From the age of eighteen, he stayed for six years in mountain retreat despite extremely harsh living conditions. At one point, he was living in a hole in the ground, with only straw for a mat and his own shantab (monk’s skirt) as a canopy. While in retreat he was guided by the renowned Dzogchen Master and great scholar, Thubten Chöpel. At the age of twenty-two, he took full monastic vows with this master and remained at his side until his death.
He continued receiving Dzogchen instructions, empowerments and clarifications from many realised yogis and became the abbot of Nubzur Monastery. Chöje Rinpoche Jigme Phüntsok was a fierce believer, defender and propagator of holding strictly and purely to the monastic vows. Despite the tradition of tertöns having a consort, Jigme Phüntsok saw that in the present times it would be more beneficial to demonstrate to others the importance of keeping the vows purely. When he later revealed terma treasures in the form of guru Rinpoche statues, none of them would hold the traditional trident, symbol of the consort.
In the early 1950’s, Jigme Phüntsok retreated to the remote mountains of Golok with a small group of disciples. He would spend the next fifteen years roaming the highlands, practicing and teaching. During this time of great hardship, he also demonstrated many miraculous abilities that were responsible for saving his life.
In 1980 he founded Serta Larung Gar mountain retreat with fewer than a hundred disciples. The encampment would soon grow to become bigger than most towns of Eastern Tibet and to be the largest monastic community in recent times. It has become known far and wide for its excellent shedra, and has brought forth some of the most learned and well respected khenpos and masters.
In 1986, Chöje Rinpoche began to travel extensively through East Tibet, re-consecrating and rebuilding temples, shrines and stupas. He later also travelled and taught in the US, Canada, Europe, Malaysia, Singapore, Bhutan, Nepal and India. In India he met His Holiness The Dalai Lama and they rekindled the mutual teacher student relationship of their past lives.
When back at Larung Gar, he witnessed and lived through tumultuous times at Serta. Although he continued teaching, the circumstances were taking their toll on his health.
He passed into Paranirvana on the 7th of January 2004, at 71, leaving his disciples with the following heart advice: “Do not agitate the minds of others and do not lose your identity as Dharma practitioners.” He implored them not to look for his incarnation but to practice instead all he had taught.