Thubten Jigme Norbu (Tagtser Rinpoche) was born in 1922 in the small, mountain village of Tagtser in the Amdo Province of Eastern Tibet. At the age of three, he was recognized by the 13th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Tagtser Rinpoche. At the age of eight, he was taken to Kumbum Monastery in Amdo, the birthplace of Lama Tsong Khapa who is the founder of the Gelugpa sect (Yellow Hat) of Tibetan Buddhism.
Historically, Kumbum was also the frequent residence of previous Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. At Kumbum, Rinpoche began his training as a monk. At the age of 27, he was selected to serve as the Abbot of Kumbum Monastery. At this time, Kumbum was one of the largest monasteries in Eastern Tibet.
Unfortunately, Kumbum was one of the first areas to be invaded by the army of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC held Rinpoche under house arrest in the Monastery, sleeping in his room and following him 24 hours a day. The PRC demanded that Rinpoche travel to Lhasa, denounce the Tibetan Government, and denounce his younger brother - His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) who was then about 15 years old. Taktser Rinpoche pretended to agree with The PRC's demands and, as a result, was able to reach Lhasa to warn His Holiness the Dalai Lama of the seriousness of the Chinese invasion.
Norbu decided in 1950 that he would leave Tibet and attempt to educate the world about the atrocities in Tibet and the actions of the PRC. He was one of the first high profile Tibetans to go into exile and was the first Tibetan to settle in the United States.
After leaving Tibet, Norbu worked continually for Tibet and for Tibetans-in-Exile. He served as the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to Japan and North America. He also served as Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University. He wrote a number of books, including his autobiography, Tibet Is My Country: as told to Heinrich Harrer. During the years, Norbu frequently lectured about the Tibetan situation at seminars throughout the world.
In 1979, Rinpoche founded the Tibetan Cultural Center (TCC) in Bloomington, Indiana, a center devoted to preserving Tibetan culture and religion. In 2007, His Holiness broadened the mission of the center to include Mongolians and officially renamed it as "The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC)".
The TMBCC has a Cultural Building, housing Tibean works of art such as Tibetan Butter Sculptures and painting of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Tibetan historical figures. The Cultural building also has a Library of Tibetan related works and a Gift Shop where visitors may purchase articles made by Tibetan and Mongolians.
Norbu built two Tibetan Stupas (Tib. chorten): the Changchub Chorten was erected in 1987 to honor Tibetan refugees; the Kalachakra Stupa (1999) commemorates world peace and harmony. In 2002, Norbu began the construction of Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple which was completed in 2003 and dedicated by His Holiness in September of that year.
In 1995, Rinpoche co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM). Rinpoche has led three walks for Tibet's Independence. In 1995, he led a walk from Bloomington, Indiana to Indianapolis, Indiana(80 miles in 7 days). In 1996, Rinpoche led a 300 mile walk for Tibet's Independence from the PRC Embassy in Washington, D.C. to the United Nations in New York City (a 45-day walk). In 1997, Rinpoche led a 600 mile walk from Toronto to New York City. This walk began on March 10 (Tibetan Uprising Day) and ended on June 14 (Flag Day). In 1998, ITIM Walked for Independence starting in Portland, Oregon and ending in Vancouver, B.C. In 2000, one arm of the ITIM walked from San Francisco and another from San Diego. The two branches met in Los Angeles to greet His Holiness who was giving a teaching and empowerment at Thupten Dhargye Ling.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet has visited the Tibetan Cultural Center on five separate occasions. In 1987 His Holiness dedicated the Changchub Chorten; in 1996 he consecrated the corner stone of the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple; in 1999, His Holiness was at the Tibetan Cultural Center for 14 days when he gave the Kalachakara Initiation for World Peace and Harmony; in 2003, the Dalai Lama dedicated the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple in an Interfaith Ceremony; in 2007, His Hoiness renamed the center and gave teachings on Atisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.
In late 2002, Norbu suffered a series of strokes and became an invalid. In 2005, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed Arjia Rinpoche, another former Abbot of Kumbum Monastery, to take over the directorship of the center. Norbu passed away on September 5, 2008. He is honored as the Founder of the Tibetan Cultural Center and the foremost proponent in the world for the recognition and preservation of the culture of Tibet.