Dudjom Dorjee was born to a nomadic family in eastern Tibet in the middle 20th century. He was born near a mountain called Pajiri. He is the second child in his family. The first boy, however, died at age one or two. His father’s name was Karma Tsultrim, who was a monk when he was young, and later gave up his vows and got married. His mother’s name was Chodun Dorjee, who was very kind to her family. His family was a Buddhist one, among which everyone was religious. He also had an uncle on his father’s side whose name was Lama Samdup, a lama who did retreats frequently and was renowned for his religious deeds.
When Dudjom Dorjee was young, he lived a very nomadic life. He lived in a tent and changed his residence with his family constantly. In such a life, he learned how to live with nature and made spiritual contact with it. His family was not rich, yet they lived a traditional and happy life.
One night, when he was a child and was listening to stories told by elders, he and his family members heard people shouting and screaming. They realized it was the communist military that was approaching. They quickly fled their residence and moved to Nepal with several other families. On the road to Nepal, they encountered many difficulties like climbing mountains and crossing rivers. After two weeks, they were caught by a group of communist soldiers, who killed one of their companies as an example to force them to go back. They pretended to do so but continued moving south, and finally arrived in Nepal.
However, his uncle Lama Samdup died on the trip because of a severe illness. When they first reached Nepal, the head of Dopo Gonpa, a monastery of the Karmapa, sent men to meet them and paid homage to his uncle’s body. Although the leader of Dopo Gonpa offered a job to his father, hoping that his father could work as a manager of the monastery, they declined the offer and decided to proceed to India. His mother also declined another offer from a Tibetan man who had a family in Nepal but didn’t have any children and wanted to adopt Dudjom Dorjee.
They finally reached Delhi in 1959 or 1960. Faced with a great number of difficulties like some customs in India that were different from those of Tibet, they found that the popularity of the Dalai Lama among Indian people helped them to a degree. Because of that, many Indian people were friendly to Tibetan refugees. Dorjee was also honored to attend a 16th Karmapa ceremony in Delhi. Yet life in India was still hard, and at first, they had no choice but to beg near the train station. Later, gathered along with other Tibetan refugees in Shimla, they were sent to the refugee camp and were forced to build roads for the Indian government. When playing around the construction site, Dorjee saw a school, due to which he longed to go to school, too. Finally, since the Dalai Lama organized some schools in Dharamsala and called for Tibetan children, he received some education in Dharamsala and later went to Mount Abu Tibetan Boarding School.
When he grew up, under the order of his parents, he returned to the refugee camp in Kulu Manali and started to build roads. Yet, he was not satisfied with that work and planned to escape the camp. One day, he dreamed that the Dalai Lama endowed him with a box in which there were Sanskrit manuscripts. Motivated by this sign, he decided to pursue the Dharma. He escaped the camp, using a pilgrimage as a cover. Although he went to Dharamsala to meet the Education Minister first, his wish to study Dharma was rejected mainly because he was a runaway. However, he passed the test given by the representatives of the four schools and chose Kagyu as his lineage.
He worked with Lodro Tharchin Rinpoche for some time and received a telegram from the Sanskrit University, which said that there was still an open space for one Kagyu student to enroll. Encouraged by Tharchin Rinpoche, he seized this opportunity and began his study at Sanskrit University. He studied very hard and finally received his Arhat degree. After that, he received the invitation from the 16th Karmapa and worked as his secretary and did retreats with him.
After the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981, Dudjom Dorjee first came to the West. He first stayed in Karma Triyana Dharamchakra (KTD) in New York for a while, then he went to California. Because he could not speak English, he returned to school to study English with the help of one of his students and made great progress. He was invited as a guest lecturer at UC Santa Cruz. Being confident with his speech, he continued to expand his activities in San Francisco, KTD, Colorado, etc. During his stay in the United States, he frequently worked with H.E Jamgon Kongtrul. In 1996, he was married to a Tibetan woman, Tashi Chotso. Later, they had a daughter named Tashi Dolkar.
After 40 years of being away from his homeland, Dorjee returned to Tibet when the Chinese government had eased some restrictions. He first went to Lhasa with his students and visited especially the Potala Palace. Later, he went to Tsurpu Monastery, the seat of Karmapa. He met the 17th Karmapa, the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. Finally, he went back to his homeland in eastern Tibet and met his uncle, aunt, and nephew. He managed to rebuild a large Dharmakhaya stupa in his hometown, which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Now, Dudjom Dorjee is the resident lama of Karma Thegsum Choling, Dallas (KTC).
Dudjom Dorjee. Falling Off the Roof of the World: The Autobiography of the Venerable Lama Dudjom Dorjee. West Conshohocken: Infinity Publishing. 2006.