The first Dzongsar Khamje College was established in Tibet in 1871 by the great scholar and mystic Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Later, under the auspices of his reincarnation Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the monastery became an important ecumenical centre of learning, supporting the study and practice of the spiritual traditions of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Army spent an entire week destroying the monastery and burning its vast collection of texts. But a shell of the ravaged Dzongsar complex still stood.
In 1967, a young boy born in Bhutan was recognized by His Holiness Sakya Trinzin as the reincarnation of Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. At his enthronement, he received the name Thubten Chokyi Gyamtso. Along with the recognition of this rebirth came an immense responsibility – to preserve and protect the great legacy of these teaching institutions which needed ongoing guidance and continued support.
As a teenager, Dzongsar Khyentse Thubten Chokyi Gyamtso Rinpoche established a publishing project to restore the library of Dzongsar Institute and dedicated himself to revitalizing the academic heritage of the original Institute. As the political atmosphere in Tibet eased in the 1980s, he began the restoration of Dzongsar Monastery in Tibet, and in 1982 founded Dzongsar Institute in Sikkim. In 1983 Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk arrived from Tibet to teach at the Institute. Khenpo, a great scholar from the original Dzongsar Monastery, had been imprisoned under the Chinese regime for 23 years. Today he remains the principal of the Institute where many great masters have studied with him.
In 1985, the fledgling Dzongsar Institute moved from Sikkim to a more suitable site at the Tibetan settlement of Bir in Himachal Pradesh, India. Enrollment that year was about 40 students, housed in rundown buildings and simple tents, with a huge old water tank serving as an assembly hall. In 1986 a housing block for 50 students was completed. By 1990, after a vigorous building effort, the Institute consisted of a temple, three halls, library, office, and accommodations. In the following years, work continued on the temple and halls, reorganizing existing buildings to increase housing capacity. The Institute commenced an ambitious development plan to double the size of the facilities and to upgrade the existing infrastructure to accommodate the increased enrollment. In July 1997 the first housing block was finished, providing accommodation and facilities for 44 more students. The Institute was still bursting at the seams, with a student body of about 450 monks, sometimes living 6 to a room. Rather than turn students away, the Institute once again began an expansion program, leading to the excellent new facilities that are opening in November 2004.
In 2000 the international dharma community responded to Khenpo’s call for support, and construction began on this new monument to Tibetan higher education in the Tibetan Colony of Chauntra where the traditions of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chökyi Lodrö are upheld. Each year, a handful of graduates are awarded the prestigious title of Khenpo. Some of the Institute’s graduates have returned to Tibet, where they are now teaching, while others are teaching in Nepal and Bhutan and in the West.