Lama Gangchen Tulku Rinpoche
“Inner peace is the most solid foundation for world peace”
Lama Gangchen Tulku Rinpoche, Thinley Yarpel Lama Shresta, (7.7.1941-18.4.2020), was an important Tibetan lama belonging to the last generation of lamas from the ‘old Tibet’. Renowned as a spiritual guide, life teacher and peace educator he is and will remain a point of reference for thousands of people, not only Buddhists, all over the world.
Childhood and early years
Born in 1941 in western Tibet, he was recognised at the age of three as the reincarnation of Kachen Sapen, an important lama healer and holder of a long and uninterrupted lineage of healers and tantric masters. He entered the monastery at the age of five and at eighteen he completed the first period of study of Tibetan medicine, astrology, meditation and philosophy in two of Tibet’s major monastic universities: Sera Me and Tashi Lhumpo. He continued his studies at Gangchen Gompa, Tropu Gompa and Neytsong Monastery. In 1963 he went into exile in India, where he completed his monastic studies at Sera Me and Varanasi Sanskrit University (Bishwa Vhidhyana) in Benares, India. He was a direct disciple of the greatest lamas of the Gelugpa school of the twentieth century, such as His Holiness Trijang Dorje Chang, his main guru, His Eminence Zong Rinpoche, his master of Tibetan medicine, tantric healing and astrology and His Eminence Ling Rinpoche. In 1970, he received the Geshe Rigram diploma from the monastic university of Sera Me in South India. He then began working as a healing lama in the Tibetan communities in India, Nepal and in Sikkim, where, having healed the mother of the king from an incurable eye disease, he was appointed physician to the Royal Family.
In the West
In 1981 he began to travel to the West, at the invitation of European friends, and decided to settle in Italy, first in Gubbio and then in Milan. After some years he became an Italian citizen, but continued travelling tirelessly to many countries of the world.
With particular skill he adapted and began to share the essence of the teachings of Buddha in a way suitable to the needs and capacities of people living modern busy lives in the West. His teachings were aimed at each person, in order to develop and achieve inner peace through the teachings of Buddha who he referred to as the “inner scientist”. “Inner peace”, he repeated tirelessly, “is the most solid foundation for peace in the world” adding: “all religions and spiritual movements contain methods to achieve inner peace, therefore, dialogue and cooperation between religions can bring great benefits to the achievement of world peace”.
He founded the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation in 1992, which is recognised as a United Nations Non-Governmental Organisation (in Ecosoc consultative status). On the 8th of June, 1995, in Santiago de Chile, at a round table at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, he officially presented his proposal for the establishment of a Permanent Spiritual Forum, under the auspices of the United Nations, to collaborate with the General Assembly in order to develop a global peace education plan.
This proposal was presented by him in subsequent years, during meetings with important figures such as Butros Butros Gali, then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the subsequent Secretary General, heads of state such as the President of Venezuela Rafael Caldera in 1997, the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China Wen Jiabao in 2004, President Hu Jin Tao in 2005, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in 2007, President Xi Jinping in 2017 and others.
He organised and participated in hundreds of inter-religious conferences and on these occasions met important spiritual figures such as Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Desmond Tutu and many others.
NgalSo Tantric Self-Healing methods
In over forty years of life and activity in the West he founded and taught according to the NgalSo Ganden Nyengyu tradition: he transmitted the essence of traditional Buddhist teachings in an essential and synthetic way, adapting them to the needs of modern society characterised, unlike ancient Asian societies, by a shortage of time to devote to spiritual practice. The word NgalSo is composed of two syllables. The first syllable Ngal indicates the tired and polluted energies of the body, mind and environment (the Buddhist Noble Truths of suffering and its causes), So represents the regenerated and healed energies (the Noble Truths of the cessation of suffering and the path).
He offered many different methods, in the NgalSo lineage, to help people overcome their problems and suffering on both the gross and subtle levels by transforming negative tendencies into the positive qualities that are the causes for happiness, mental stability and personal inner peace.
The NgalSo Tantric Self-Healing techniques are available in books, CDs and DVDs.
His main association in Italy, Kunpen Lama Gangchen KLG (kunpen.ngalso.org), is recognised as a place of worship by the Italian government and is a member of the Italian Buddhist Union. KLG is also a member of the Forum of Religions in Milan.
Founder and spiritual guide of many centres and organisations in various parts of the world (Asia, Europe, the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Chile), dedicated to the study of his “non-formal peace education” methods and NgalSo Tantric Self-Healing techniques, in 1999 Lama Gangchen chose Albagnano di Bee, on Lake Maggiore, as the main location for his activities. He founded the Albagnano Healing Meditation Centre with its extraordinary “Temple of Heaven on Earth” also known as “Borobudur”, inspired by the eight century Indonesian stupa mandala, a UNESCO heritage site.
Every year, among the many pilgrimages to sacred places in various parts of the world, he led hundreds of friends and disciples to Borobudur, revealing the profound meaning of the Indonesian mandala even in the presence of great scholars of Asian spiritual traditions including Professor Lokesh Chandra, the most important of contemporary scholars.
The Temple project in Albagnano, completed in 2023, also includes a large space destined to become one of the largest Buddhist libraries in the West.
Cultural projects in the West
During his years of activity in the West Lama Gangchen promoted multiple initiatives in support of traditional Himalayan arts and culture, on one hand safeguarding these traditions and on the other adapting them to the culture of modern society. The group United Peace Voices produces audio visual materials of the NgalSo Self-Healing practices, as well as recording traditional Tibetan melodies and songs in a modern style. In the same way, he promoted various arts, such as painting, to adapt the canons of the sacred pictorial tradition of Tibet to the contemporary era.
In 2004 he organised a world tour of the sacred Buddha relics offered by the governments of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. The tour concluded in New York where the relics remain on permanent display at the United Nations building. The Buddhist Vesak celebration has become a holiday recognised by the United Nations agenda. Over the years in the West, he organised numerous artistic and spiritual programmes with monks and lamas from monasteries in Tibet, Nepal, India, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Thailand making available to the general public the traditional sacred Cham dances and the construction of sand-mandalas.
In 2018, he hosted two hundred lamas and monks in Albagnano for the great Vajravali event organised in order to transmit the ancient lineage of tantric initiations and teachings of the Vajra Garland, compiled by Abhayakaragupta in the twelfth century.
Humanitarian projects in the East
He organised numerous fundraisers for the reconstruction of monasteries, the main custodians of the spiritual and artistic culture of the Himalayas. Among the most important are the reconstruction of Gangchen monastery in Tibet. His Foundation Lama Gangchen Help in Action Onlus has been carrying out humanitarian projects in favour of Himalayan communities in Tibet, Nepal and India since 1992: financial aid in emergencies and natural disasters, the building and maintaining of schools and health clinics, vocational education and training projects, aid for rural communities, aqueducts and reforestation work, support for monasteries, preservation of the traditional artistic and medical culture, long distance adoptions to support the education of children from the poorest families.
Meetings and awards
During his life Lama Gangchen has met important figures and international organisations to give his message of brotherhood, love and peace. He has received over two hundred and fifty official awards for his commitment to peace, for dialogue between religions and cultures, for the care of the natural environment and for the preservation of traditional medicines. These include:
– Honorary Diploma of the Community Association of the European Order of Merit, for the promotion of human dignity, solidarity and democracy in the construction of European unity, 1995
– Certificate of Appreciation for his Peace Work from the City of Miami, USA, 1996
– Appreciation, Peace Commission, ECLAC (Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbeans), Chile, 1996
– United Nations Society of Writers Award of Excellence, New York, USA,1996
– Recognition for the contribution to the United Nations’ 50th anniversary celebrations presented by Habitat II, Istanbul-Turkey 1996
In 2019 the Unesco Chair of Health Anthropology – biospheres and healing methods – of the University of Genoa certified that the NgalSo healing teaching and the practices transmitted by Lama Gangchen at the Borobudur site in Indonesia and at Albagnano Healing Meditation Centre implement the goals of the United Nations 2030 agenda. These purposes are the protection of traditional medicines, healing practices and cultural traditions, the development of local economies and the revitalisation of the natural environment.
Lama Gangchen will always be remembered as Lama Marco Polo because of his immense work of creating a reciprocal exchange between East and West and for his great love of Italy, a country chosen by him among the many who would have welcomed him with great joy. It is in Italy that he lived the last forty-five years of his life.
He will be remembered by all those who met him as a great teacher, an example of love, attention, respect for others and profound wisdom. He was constantly looking for loving solutions for everyone, for the solution to everyone’s physical and mental problems. He gave with immense generosity help and advice to solve the simplest daily life problems, for the realisation of small and large peace projects and for the growth of each one on their spiritual path.
The material and spiritual inheritance of Lama Gangchen, his centres, foundations and related organisations, as well as the heritage of his NgalSo teachings, are being taken care of by his spiritual children, Lama Michel Tulku Rinpoche and Lama Caroline.