When the chinese invasion of Tibet began in 1958, the new Trolig Rinpoche was very young, and the Zuru Rinpoche was very old, so all the responsibilities fell mainly on Thrangu Rinpoche. They all left Kham to go west towards Lhasa. There were thousands of Tibetans going west as refugees from Kham when the fighting broke out. The people were leaving in huge numbers accompanied by many yaks. Thrangu Rinpoche was leading a small party of less than a hundred. They would stop and camp by setting up lots of tents at night. One night an extremely old lady appeared among the thousands of people camped with all these yaks with no one knowing where she had come from. People said that she was a spy for the chinese and if they didn't kill her, they wouldn't escape. So the younger Tibetans were getting ready to kill her and Thrangu Rinpoche said, "No, you mustn't do that. The reason we are running away is to save lives. So if we kill someone, what will that be?" He said not to kill her, so they didn't.
The next day when they were traveling, a plane flew past to see where they were going. That afternoon they camped out to eat at about 3:00 in the afternoon. Then it got dark and they did not see that they were completely surrounded by Chinese soldiers. The chinese communists had machine guns and some kind of artillery. The machine guns started to fire and the people thought there was nowhere to go and just sat there. Thrangu Rinpoche said, "We mustn't just sit here, we must escape." So the machine guns were firing and the yaks were all panicking and all running into each other. All the people were jumping on horses to escape. All the time bullets were flying by and this mortar or cannon fired and the shell came right down where Thrangu Rinpoche, Tralig Rinpoche and Zuru Tulku were. The shell landed right next to them with a thump. It made a hole in the ground, but it didn't explode.
Thrangu Rinpoche had a large white horse and a very strong person who looked after his horse. But the horse was uncontrollable in the panic and it was rearing up and the horse trainer just couldn't hold the horse. Then a large monk came onto the scene, grabbed the horse, pulled it down, got hold of Thrangu Rinpoche, and put him on the horse. Rinpoche rode off. If he hadn't been able to get on the horse, he would never have been able to get away. It turned out that Thrangu Rinpoche, Tralig Tulku, and Zuru Tulku all got away safely. Afterwards everyone was asking who this monk was. But everyone said, "No, it wasn't me."
It turned out that this "monk" was the genyan, the dharma protector that appears in all different forms. Sometimes he appears as an elephant, sometimes as a kind of sadhu, sometimes as a lama in monk's robes, and so on. From this, one can see how Thrangu Rinpoche's dharma protector is always there at the right time and gives whatever help is needed. Tenzin continues:
The party was able to carry on and get to Tsurphu, the Karmapa's monastery in Tibet, and see the Karmapa. When Thrangu Rinpoche arrived, I who was with His Holiness, heard with my own ears the Karmapa say that Thrangu Rinpoche was the main scholar, the most learned person of the Kagyu school. With him the continuity of the teaching of the dharma will remain. So he was very important for the transmission of the actual teachings.
When Tenzin and His Holiness Karmapa left Tibet for Rumtek, Karmapa told Thrangu Rinpoche that he mustn't stay and must come and follow him. So Thrangu Rinpoche left Tibet at the age of 27 and went to Sikkim. At this time all the monasteries were being destroyed, most of the Buddhist monks of any standing being imprisoned and tortured and all the accumulated text of over 1,200 years were being burned. Only 100,000 Tibetans were able to escape.