A Lama For All Seasons

An Interview with Gelek RinpocheHelen Tworkov

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Gelek Rinpoche, a lama trained in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, is the spiritual director of the Jewel Heart Tibetan Cultural Institute and Buddhist Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Identified as a lama before the age of five, he began his training in Central Tibet, where he studied with a hermit teacher, and later joined Drepung Loseling Monastery, where he remained for fourteen years. In 1959, amid political unrest, Gelek Rinpoche, then twenty, escaped to India.

Since settling in the United States in the late 1980s he has been traveling and teaching regularly at centers in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as in the Netherlands, Southeast Asia, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. He became a citizen of the United States in July. This interview was conducted for Tricycle by Helen Tworkov in Ann Arbor.


Tricycle: How do you see dharma unfolding in the West?

Gelek Rinpoche: It is coming out of the monastery and getting into the lay society. I think it is going to take root within individuals.

Tricycle: Do you see it creating an enlightened society?

Gelek Rinpoche: Who knows? It is possible, but that may take hundreds and hundreds of years. You cannot romanticize it. It is going to happen gradually within the individual, the tremendous improvement of the individual. Political intrigues will continue, war will continue, and killings will continue. But at the same time there will be the improvement of the individual.

Tricycle: Is the acculturation of Buddhism a natural process?

Gelek Rinpoche: Well, Buddhism must remain a practice of the individual rather than the institution. Institutionalizing the Buddha can be devastating.

Tricycle: Is that what happened in Tibet?

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