Lama Lhari-la

ImageLhari-la Kalsang Nyima
  A short biographical sketch

Lama Lhari-la Kalsang Nyima was born in the province of Dolpo in western Nepal in 1970, year of the Metal Dog, near the village of Tad.Though part of modern Nepal, Dolpo is culturally Tibetan and the home of 14 Bonpo monasteries and many great Bonpo masters. Lhari-la's family includes many great practitioners. In particular his grandfather Lama Lhagyep Rinpoche was renowned as a dzogchenpa, and took his vows in Tibet from the previous incarnation of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, the famous Khyung Tul Rinpoche.

When Lhari-la was only 2 or 3 years old his father decided he was to be a monk. At age 9 he took his novice vows at Samling Monastery, the oldest and most important monastery in Dolpo, where his grandfather was the ponlob, or head teacher. Samling was unique in that it had preserved many copies of texts that had been destroyed inside Tibet by the Chinese. It was also well known as the home of nine of the 24 masters of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud, all of whom achieved the rainbow body.

For 12 years Lama Lhari-la trained intensively at Samling in the many methods of sutra and tantra. He completed his ngondro (foundational practices) there, as well as many personal retreats including phowa (liberation at time of death), the 49-day A Kar A Me retreat, the 49-day Shenlha Okar retreat, the 30-day Phurba retreat, the 14-day Red Garuda retreat, and the 60-day Takla Membar retreat. He also completed these and other teaching cycles during a traditional three-year closed retreat. In addition, he learned the methods of divination of Yeshe Walmo and received the transmission and initiation (lung and wang) for many other sutric and tantric texts.

When he reached age 21, with the blessings of his teachers he made the one-month walk to Kathmandu to begin studies at Triten Norbutse Monastery under the guidance of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the most senior teacher of the Bön lineage. Yongdzin Rinpoche had previously served as the senior teacher at Menri Monastery, the leading Bonpo training monastery in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion. After fleeing Tibet, Yongdzin Rinpoche reestablished Menri in northern India, including a dialectics school that trained a new generation of geshes. Then at the request of the Bonpos living in Nepal he established Triten Norbutse overlooking the Swayambhu stupa in the Kathmandu valley. When Lhari-la joined Yongdzin Rinpoche only nine monks inhabited the newly founded monastery, so he had the great blessing of studying very closely with the most highly respected master in the lineage for four years. Yongdzin Rinpoche deepened and broadened Lhari-la’s training to include all aspects of the lineage, from astrology to stupa building, from ritual preparations to musicianship. Perhaps most important, Lama Lhari-la received a complete cycle of dzogchen teachings and innumerable initiations and transmissions. He also received initiations and training from H. H. Lungtog Tenpai Nyima during his visits to Triten Norbutse.

While training with Yongdzin Rinpoche Lhari-la learned traditional thangka painting techniques, for his master was renowned for his painting skills and had written a textbook on the subject. He desired to deepen these skills and received permission to study at Ugyun Tulku’s monastery in nearby Bhouda, which offered a five-year training under the master Chokyong Gonpo. After completing this course he returned to Triten Norbutse, where Yongdzin Rinpoche asked him to help paint the entire cycle of Bonpo tantric mandalas; these images were later published in book form in Japan.

Yungdrung Lama, the abbot of the Bonpo monastery in Sikkim, visited Triten Norbutse each year. In 2000 he requested that Lhari-la come to his monastery to teach in a school for Bonpo children. Lama Lhari-la gladly took the challenge, teaching not only basic education, but also the Bonpo forms of music, chanting, rituals, painting and torma making. Under his guidance the school grew from nine to 30 children, and he became responsible for running the monastery.

Lhari-la’s expertise as a thangka painter led him to be invited to teach an advanced course for painters sponsored by a large museum in central India. The next year the museum invited him back to paint three entire rooms with Bonpo images, including the life history of Tonpa Shenrab, a task that took six months to complete.

During 2006 Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche paid many visits to Lama Lhari-la’s monastery in Sikkim while staying with family in nearby Darjeeling, and they came to know each other well. Tenzin Rinpoche invited him to come to the West to assist in many projects, and Lhari-la gladly accepted. His first task was to paint the entire series of images for the first Bonpo stupa in the West, in Torreon, Mexico, including a 40-foot mandala of Shenlha Okar, a task taking seven months to complete. Tenzin Rinpoche then asked him to go to Chihuahua to tutor the young tulku, Jorge Rene, a joyful task that Lhari-la continues to pursue as time permits. In 2007 Lama Lhari-la began collaborating with Tenzin Rinpoche to create a series of paintings that illustrate the detailed methods of the tummo meditation practice.

In September 2007 Lhari-la made his first visit to Chamma Ling in Crestone, Colo., as Tenzin Rinpoche gave teachings on Sherab Chamma. He will at times come to Chamma Ling to guide people in personal retreat and to lead small groups in practice retreats. He will also be available periodically to give teachings for meditation groups throughout the region.