Lama Norlha Rinpoche, an accomplished meditation and retreat master, served as the abbot of of Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery from its founding in 1978 until his retirement in 2017, and served as the director of Kyabje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche’s Dharma centers in the eastern United States.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche was born in 1938, in the Nangchen District of Kham, eastern Tibet. He entered Korche Monastery at the age of five, and by the age of twenty-one, Rinpoche had completed two three-year retreats, during the second of which he acted as assistant to the retreat master. After the communist takeover of Tibet, he escaped on foot to India where he met Kyabje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche and became his close disciple.
In India, Lama Norlha Rinpoche established several three-year retreat facilities where he trained monks in the complete cycle of transmissions and practices of the Kagyu Lineage. In 1976, at the request of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa and Kalu Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche came to New York City where he taught Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices to a wide range of students. Two years later, to provide students with the means of studying and practicing at a more profound level of commitment, he founded Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery and Retreat Center. Following the sacred example of his own masters, Lama Norlha Rinpoche has dedicated his life to teaching the practices that make up the Kagyupa three-year retreat. To date he has directed eight full retreats at Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery, with an ninth retreat commencing in September 2016.
Since 1984 Lama Norlha Rinpoche has returned to his birthplace in Tibet several times. As part of his continuing initiative to re-establish the Dharma in Nangchen, he rebuilt the monastery at Korche, including its two retreat facilities. In order to improve opportunities for Tibetan women to study and practice the Dharma, he founded a convent, retreat center and monastic college at Kala Rongo, a sacred place where treasure teachings hidden by Guru Rinpoche were discovered by the renowned nineteenth century treasure master, Chöjur Lingpa. As a result of Lama Norlha Rinpoche’s efforts, the Dharma is once again flourishing in Nangchen with more than seven retreats being completed at both Korch and Kala Rongo monasteries.
In recent years, Lama Norlha Rinpoche has undertaken additional projects to improve the lives of Nangchen’s inhabitants, mostly subsistence farmers and nomadic families. In early 1997, he founded NYEMA, the Nangchen Yushu Educational and Medical Association. NYEMA’s mission is to establish facilities for basic medical care and create schools to teach fundamental language, literacy, and math skills to children.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche emphasizes developing a strong foundation for practice through contemplating the “four thoughts that turn the mind toward the Dharma” and engaging in the extraordinary preliminary practices (Tib. ngondro). To these essential teachings he joins instruction in calm-abiding meditation (Tib. shi nay) to stabilize the mind and taking-and-sending meditation (Tib. tong len) to develop compassion. Rinpoche considers this simple yet comprehensive approach particularly beneficial in the modern age, when the mind is easily distracted and obstacles to practice continuously arise. More significantly, these teachings constitute the indispensible core of pure Dharma practice, on the basis of which students can advance toward a profound realization of the true nature of mind.