On 20th March 1999, the late Geshe Lama Konchog, now reincarnated as Tulku Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche, instructed Lama Thubten Namdrol Dorje to start a Dharma Centre. He bestowed the name Thekchen Choling, meaning ‘Great Mahayana Dharma Temple’ named after the monastery of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Geshe-la’s vision was for the temple to change the current mindset of that one can only practice the Dharma as ordained Sangha. Thekchen Choling’s focus is thus to impart ways that lay people can practice the Dharma, integrating it into their everyday lives and learning to realize their inner potential and be happy and fulfilled.
In 2001, Thekchen Choling (Singapore) was formally registered. From a handful of students, the crowd at Thekchen Choling is now several times larger with a mailing list of five thousand and regular students numbering to several hundred.
“Connecting All With Divine Hearts”, the vision of our temple is a special wish for all members and devotees to cultivate the divine heart of Lord Buddha; to practice and put into action the Buddhadharma with an open heart so as to be fully enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings.
This leads to our mission:
“Living and Propagating the Buddhadharma for the fulfilment of others and self”.
We as aspiring Bodhisattvas shall engage in the activities of divine beings to reach out and touch everyone with the essence of Buddha’s teachings – Love and compassion with wisdom. These activities can be scoped into three distinct areas:
- Flourishing of the Buddha’s teachings and preserving the tradition of Buddhist architecture and culture.
- Engage in spiritual development of our members and devotees and be the Voice of Buddhism by creating religious harmony with other religions.
- Be Socially-Engaged Buddhists to care for and provide support to the young, the old and the needy regardless of race, language or religion.
Preserving and Flourishing the Buddhadharma
We aspire to be the “Jokhang of Singapore”. Shakyamuni Buddha expounded the Middle Path 2,500 years ago to show us the way to Enlightenment. To inspire devotees, our temple houses an unusual representation of Shakyamuni Buddha in the heavenly realm or Samboghakaya form, beautifully ornamented like the renowned Jokhang Buddha in Tibet. Jokhang means “House of the Precious and Holy Buddha” in Tibetan.
Thekchen Choling houses many holy relics of Shakyamuni Buddha and past high lamas. In addition, we have other holy objects like statues, stupas and mani wheels. The architecture of our temple is a unique mix to Chinese and Tibetan style, commonly found in Eastern Tibet.
We are flourishing Buddhadharma through public programmes to increase awareness of and encourage participation in our activities. Weekly classes are held in English and Mandarin to guide people on how to infuse Buddhadharma in daily living, rather than merely having an intellectual understanding of Buddhist concepts. Dharma books are regularly published and printed for free distribution. The development of technology over the last ten years has opened new doors for us to flourish Buddhadharma though new multimedia tools and the internet.
Our temple is opened 24 hours daily, 7 days a week. We are the only Tibetan Buddhist temple to do so in Singapore. This is so that anyone who seeks a place to pray or seek spiritual advices or even to just sit down and have a quiet time, can do so any time of the day.
In this modern day, many people are more concerned with material success than with spiritual development. As such, Thekchen Choling helps devotees balance their worldly obligations with their Dharma practices, so that their spiritual well-being is not relegated to the bottom of the “to-do list.” For instance, one may face many challenges at the work-place: a demanding boss, ethically questionable business practices and office politics etc. To deal with these, we first need to deal with ourselves – our hearts need to be developed. Thus Thekchen Choling nurtures her devotees not as religious people but as spiritual people. By being real life ambassadors of the Buddhadharma, we attract others to become like us.
“ Having a beautiful temple is like having a beautiful shell, but can this beautiful shell produce good quality pearls that can shine like a cool moon? What we really need is to listen to the teachings of our Guru and cultivate loving kindness so that we can all bring light like the moon, to cool the suffering of all beings. If we all have loving-kindness, then whatever we do for our temple would be of benefit to others ”
Sangyum Namdrol Lhamo, 36
Advisor, Thekchen Choling
To establish in our children a strong foundation in the Dharma, we developed our own special programmes that allow us to teach Dharma from a child’s perspective and in the process inculcate in them compassion and loving-kindness. For the youths, Thekchen Choling guides them as they negotiate the trials and confusion of growing up. Putting Dharma into action, we have numerous community outreach initiatives and other practical programmes where the youths can grow via experiential learning. These programmes prepare them for adulthood so that they know how to conduct themselves honourably in accordance with Buddhist values, even in the face of challenges.
“ It is more important for Thekchen Choling members to acquire the soft skills to connect with people and impart the skills and methods to guide various groups of people at different stages of their lives. I believe that if they can impart the skills, everything will come naturally ”
Richard Pang, 53
Executive Director, Thekchen Choling
Our community outreach programmes lend support to people from all walks of life and at various life stages, regardless of their race, language or religion. Thekchen Choling continues benefiting people through a wide range of activities, such as free food and rations distribution on a regular basis. As a Healing Temple, we provide free of charge Traditional Chinese Medicine services such as acupuncture, Tui-Na, medical consultation and Chinese medicine. Reiki and hypnotherapy services are also available.
No effort is too mundane; enrichment classes, after-school care and even clinics and hospices are being assessed for their feasibility for future implementation. We “walk the talk” by giving back to the community. After all, volunteerism nurtures compassion and cultivates generosity, thereby increasing our ability to “Connect All with Divine Hearts.”
“ It’s not just about carrying provisions to the doorsteps of people, but also expressing our love for our fellow humans. So when we practise Dharma, we are opening our hearts. This is what the activities are about. And the more people participate, the more enthusiasm and team spirit can be cultivated for our common goal ”
Yeo Kheng Chye, 46,
President, Thekchen Choling
In Singapore, through educational bursaries, Thekchen Choling also provides monetary assistance to children and youths from low-income families to help them break free from the poverty cycle.
“ We have to give everybody a chance to a proper experience of the Buddha’s Path. Then they can feel it rather than intellectualise it. Automatically, once the spark is ignited, people will want to do something for themselves and for their communities ”
Lama Thubten Namdrol Dorje, 37
Founder and Spiritual Director, Thekchen Choling
Preserving and Flourishing the Buddhadharma
A series of lectures on the importance of holistic living shall be launched. This allows us present the timeless Buddhadharma in a manner applicable to everyone, everywhere – allowing each to find their own path to inner peace and joy.
In addition, there are plans for Thekchen Choling centers in other neighbouring countries.
We hope to introduce Buddhism to a larger youth audience through the use of holistic activities and peer-engagement to encourage more youths to explore Buddhism beyond forms and rituals.
Around the world, we see much racial and religious intolerance amongst people from the same country. We are very blessed in Singapore that we have continuous racial and religious harmony. We aspire to be the Voice of Buddhism, working with all religious groups at all levels to not only maintain this harmonious state but also to create a greater understanding of Buddhism by all concerned.
“I believe it’s time to get the young Buddhists to spread Buddhism. It’s up to the youth to make things interesting. For example, they can use music. When we sing, whatever emotions and even sorrows can be released. We can have more and more things happening for the youth. This is what I look forward to.”
Phyllis Gee, 49
Advisor, Thekchen Choling
We are exploring setting up schools in developing countries to provide both secular (English, Mathematics and Science) and Buddhist subjects for school-going children and youths. These schools may also admit those who are young at heart and young in spirituality. For optimal use, they can be converted in the evenings into Dharma centres for adults to congregate, meditate, practice yoga and more. By providing people with the opportunity to enrich and improve their lives, we hope that this can have a positive effect on the individual and their communities.
Physical Expansion of the temple
Thekchen Choling plans to expand its facilities to accommodate more people and activities. Facilities under consideration include a hospice, a clinic, a kindergarten, a day-care centre and pre/post-school care services.
“When I first came to Thekchen Choling in 2003, it was a very small centre. So I was very surprised when I came back in 2009 to see a big and lovely Tibetan temple. This is a very nice, big change. Lama has a good heart and is always thinking of how to benefit people. That’s the reason for temple’s growth. I’m also a registered teacher here; I see many students here offering their services, learning the Dharma. The atmosphere goes beyond that of a temple – there are many people who come here to give medical advice, teach tuition and work on projects day and night. In the next ten years, I think projects will get bigger and I hope many new members can come to the temple. This temple is very special. These are my heartfelt wishes.”
Geshe Tsewang Dorje, 45
Resident Teacher, Thekchen Choling
“Our temple is on freehold land and so I pray that it will remain for thousands of years as a source of inspiration to all beings from all over the world. We aim to achieve this not solely by famous statues or beautiful architecture, but by collective prayers and aspirations of all. This becomes our greatest gift to others long after we are gone.”
Ebrahim Teiyeb Mama, 45
Advisor, Thekchen Choling
In the long-term, Thekchen Choling also wishes to set up Dharma centres, and retreat centres overseas. These allow more of our overseas dharma brothers, sisters and friends access to our Lama’s teachings in person as well as an additional option for those who wish to pursue their spiritual aspirations. They also help us to grow our overseas outreach programmes.