Namdrol Rinpoche had not always been a Lama, despite his strong affinity for Buddhism from a young age. Born in Singapore as a typical Chinese boy named Felix Lee, Rinpoche embarked upon his Buddhist studies under a Thai monk, Venerable Phra Mahathongkum at the tender age of seven. In the course of his training, his teacher had a vision and duly advised the young boy that his future spiritual teachers would don “red robes.” At that time, Rinpoche did not think much of it as Tibetan Buddhism was not widely known in Singapore then. The Venerable’s passing seven years later did not deter Rinpoche from pursuing the Dharma and he continued his studies in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. There, he learned about Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and realized the essence of Mahayana Buddhism as interpreted in different cultures. At the age of 15, Rinpoche began to experience a series of mysterious and puzzling dreams. In those dreams, he was instructed by a Buddhist master to fulfill the vows of his previous life: to teach those who did not have teachers.
Rinpoche’s curiosity was awakened and he decided to follow the clues in the dreams. He finally found some indications from Shangpa Rinpoche and Venerable Sangye Khandro, who instructed him to travel to Nepal as they believed he would find the answers there. This was to become what Rinpoche now describes as “the journey that changed my life.” Upon arriving in Nepal, Rinpoche met Lumbum Rinpoche, whose first words to him were, “We’ve been waiting for you.” It was a spiritual reunion for them – the continuation of a karmic connection spanning lifetimes. Rinpoche also met his Root Gurus the late Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lama Lhundrup Rigsel (the ex-Abbot of Kopan Monastery) and the late Mahasiddha Geshe Lama Konchog. From them, he learned that the Buddhist master in his dreams was the great Tibetan Buddhist saint, Guru Rinpoche. Rinpoche recognized then that while his quest for answers had ended, his real spiritual journey had just begun.
Over the next few years, Rinpoche frequently traveled to Kopan Monastery for his Buddhist training. Together with the resident monks, he studied and practiced the philosophy and tenets of the Gelugpa tradition. He also received extensive instructions on tantric practices from masters of the major lineages. This was an intense and arduous time for a youth who had not been exposed to the grueling lifestyle of a monastic community. Being tasked to draw water for days on end, from a distant well in the thick of winter – the experience was a shock to his senses. These formative years imbued in Rinpoche his hallmark trait as a teacher – the emphasis of real Dharma practice over knowledge and rituals. After years of persistent and diligent practice, Rinpoche was initiated as a Yogi (a lay Lama). He was advised by Geshe Lama Konchog that he would benefit more people if he did not take monastic vows. Geshe-la also instructed him to start a Dharma center that would attend to the needs of both the lay and ordained Sangha.
Today, Rinpoche is the Spiritual Director of Thekchen Choling (Singapore), a temple he founded in 2001 under his Guru’s instructions. Despite being a highly accomplished Dharma practitioner who is well-versed in the three vehicles of Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, Rinpoche retains his humble and unassuming air. Described by many as down-to-earth, sincere and jovial, his ability to connect with people from all walks of life has contributed to the large growth in the number of students and disciples.
Rinpoche’s skill in bringing to life the essence of Buddhism, while addressing one’s innermost questions, has kept the temple’s followers coming back for more. His ingenious use of lively examples, personal anecdotes and incisive reasoning allow students to experience the Dharma in a deeply relevant and intimate manner.
His inimitable style has made the Buddha’s teachings accessible to people across a broad spectrum. Rinpoche’s extensive life experience as a lay practitioner, coupled with his realization, also puts him in a unique position to counsel those who seek his help. Through his actions, he demonstrates how to make one’s life a Dharma practice. “Think not for yourself. Speak not for yourself. Do not for yourself. Always benefit others.”
Rinpoche’s main Gurus are His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, His Eminence the 5th Dagri Dorje Chang, His Eminence Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, the late Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lama Lhundrup and the late Geshe Lama Konchog, now reincarnated as His Eminence Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche.
As Lama Zopa Rinpoche has kindly advised in his congratulatory message to Thekchen Choling on its 10th year anniversary celebration:
“We each have full responsibility to free all sentient beings from suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. Therefore, we need to achieve full enlightenment and so we need to practice Dharma. Now we can see how important the Dharma center is. We should know how fortunate and lucky we are having different Dharma centers with teachers, like Thekchen Choling.
"The center’s founder is Lama Felix. Many people might have difficulty thinking of him as a special reincarnated lama. So here I want to say yes, he is definitely a reincarnation of a high Lharampa Geshe. I asked my Guru, Shakya Dagtri Rinpoche’s Guru Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche, who did his special way of checking and said Felix is definitely a high Gelug Lharampa Geshe incarnation. I could not find out the name of the Geshe as Chobgye Rinpoche was very old and passed away some three years back.
"There are many reincarnated lamas who in their past life were very, very important high lamas, but in the present life not so much benefit to sentient beings, more or less like ordinary person, even though in past life so important. But the most important is this life and being able to benefit sentient beings, as many sentient beings as possible. That is very important. The value of the person is judged by how much they are able to benefit sentient beings and not their title.
"I am most happy the center is doing service, not only offering Dharma but healing, helping children, and keeping the temple open day and night. There are many who spend their time selling noodles, who are free in the night time to come and visit, so it benefits many people. So I am very happy, he is not only carrying the name “incarnation” but, most importantly, he benefits so many different suffering people, helping in many ways; that is what I appreciate most. So I say “Thank you” to Lama Felix and Thekchen Choling members and all the audience.”
Click here to download the congratulatory letter sent by Lama Zopa Rinpoche where he discusses the importance of practicing the Dharma, reaffirming Thekchen Choling’s work and validating Rinpoche’s authenticity as a reincarnated high practitioner.