Karma Tensing Dorje Namgyal Rinpoche was born Leslie George Dawson in Toronto, Canada, on October 11, 1931, to parents of Irish-Scottish descent. After attending a Christian seminary college and being involved for a time as a political activist, he traveled to England where he became interested in Buddhist practice and eventually decided to “go forth” into the homeless life. At the Buddhist Vihara in London in April, 1958, he met the Burmese Sayadaw U Thila Wunta and requested ordination. The Venerable Sayadaw suggested that they meet at Bodhgaya in India, where, on October 28, Leslie Dawson was ordained as a novice monk, taking the name Ananda Bodhi. From there they returned to Burma where Ananda Bodhi received full ordination at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon on December 21. He began an extended period of intensive meditation practice during which he studied at times in Thailand and Sri Lanka as well as at the Ven. Sayadaw’s monastery, and was ultimately given the title Acariya in recognition of his attainments.
Ven. Ananda Bodhi returned to England in 1962, invited by the English Sangha Trust, and during the next three years he began teaching. He founded a Buddhist centre in Scotland— Johnstone House—that subsequently became known as Samye Ling under the direction of Ven. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, to whom it was entrusted when the Canadian monk, accompanied by a few of his British students, decided to return to Toronto in 1965. The following year they founded the Dharma Centre of Canada and purchased a 400-acre forest property near Kinmount, Ontario for a retreat centre. After a number of years spent teaching mostly in Toronto and at the Dharma Centre, Ven. Ananda Bodhi—‘The Bikkhu’ as he had become known—initiated a long period of extensive travel, taking students all over the world. It was on one of these trips, in Sikkim in 1972, that he met and was recognized by His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa (head of the Karma Kargyu school of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism) as an incarnation of the Mipham Namgyal Tulku—the first Westerner to be so acknowledged.
Rinpoche continued to teach and travel widely throughout the world, visiting centres established by his students in Canada, the United States, Guatemala, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. His love of travel and over forty years of teaching inevitably took a toll on his physical condition, and some long-standing health problems finally caught up with him on October 22, 2003 when he passed away at one of his favorite places—a small private cottage on a lake in Switzerland.
Namgyal Rinpoche devoted his entire life to the welfare of beings, and his dedication to their liberation, his unbounded interest in this planet and all its flora and fauna, was as tireless as it was vast. A master of Mahamudra, he was unique in his ability to encompass and bridge traditional Buddhist forms and western practices, transmitting the path of awakening in universal terms according to beings’ interests and proclivities.