Born in 1942, in Oklahoma, USA, Tenpa grew up in New Mexico, New York and Maryland and lived for 15 years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated in 1970 with a degree in Economics from The University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
He has been interested in the study and practice of Buddhism since the early 1960's. He was a co-founder of the first Buddhist center in Milwaukee in 1971 and practiced both Theravada Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
Tenpa taught English in Spain from 1975 to 1983 and is fluent in Spanish. A student of the late Gendun Rinpoche since 1977, he entered Lama Gendun's first three year retreat in 1983 and then completed two traditional 3-year retreats under Gendun Rinpoche's guidance.