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.


Photo by Allen GinsbergTricycle: Getting back to monasticism, didn't the strength of the teachings in Tibetan society keep coming from the monastery and going out into the lay society?

Gelek Rinpoche: Yes.

Tricycle: So if we don't have the monastics to inspire or to keep cooking the teachings within the monasteries, what are we going to end up with?

Gelek Rinpoche: With nothing. But from generation to generation we keep on losing it. My generation, for example, can never compare with the earlier masters.

Tricycle: So from the time of the historical Buddha until now, it is one long degeneration?

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