Telo Tulku Rinpoche, About Lamas and Temples in the USA
Telo Tulku: When they were studying in Tibet, monks from Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Russia had a generic label of ‘sopo’. In Tibetan ‘sopo’ means ‘a Mongolian’. In Tibet, they were never described as a Buryat, a Kalmyk, or an Inner Mongolian. They were all called ‘sopo’. Mongolian groups, who had a great network, had a tremendous respect for each other. Because of this network, they did not distinguish between themselves by saying ‘you are a Mongolian, a Kalmyk’, or whatever. They had a great collective friendship, if I may say so. When the Kalmyks emigrated to America, among them there were Kalmyk monks who had come directly from Yugoslavia or Eastern Europe. These Kalmyk lamas knew other monks from their times of pilgrimage to Tibet or from when they studied there. There was one great scholar who emigrated from Tibet to China, and from there he came to America. He was Geshe Vangyal. He knew many Mongolian lamas from Tibet. He invited Geshe Dava Sambo to America who was a Buryat; also Geshe Galden who was from Inner Mongolia; Geshe Yarpel, another great scholar from Kalmykia; Torghut Sujum who was from Xinjiang originally; Geshe Yandg Gyamtso who came from Inner Mongolia (first he went to Tibet, then to India, and from there arrived in the US); Gombojav, another Inner Mongolian who after his retirement in the US went to live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We only knew their ordained names, we do not know their secular names. In the US, the community consisted of Kalmyks, Mongolians, and Inner Mongolians. Jambaldorj, a personal assistant of the previous Diluv Khutagt was also from Mongolia. Baasanjav: You had quite a big monastic community in the US. You have three temples, is that right? TT: Yes. There are three temples in New Jersey that are very close to each other. New Jersey is the name of a small area within New Jersey state. That is where Geshe Vangyal’s centre is. It is called the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Centre. In Philadelphia, there is one Kalmyk Buddhist temple that was built by the Kalmyk community in Philadelphia. B: Why do you have three small temples in the small area of New Jersey rather than having one big temple? TT: This was because of internal disagreements between clans, tribes. Silly as it may sound, it is part of Mongolian history – conflicts existed for centuries between clans and tribes. And that particular mentality was passed on from generation to generation. Even to this day many Kalmyks and Mongols who were born in America are 80% Americanized but 20% of them still has remnants of this nomadic mentality. B: Does this mean that if you are a Buzava you should stick to your Buzava temple? TT: Something like that. I think there are a lot of mixed marriages nowadays. Also, younger Kalmyks do not really associate themselves with this type of mentality. Things may be changing. At the same time we have already lost a lot. We are losing the older generation. The middle-aged generation has moved away for careers, jobs, and other reasons and the younger generation now is taking an interest in their culture. But there are not many people around from whom they can learn. That is the challenge. B: Which temple do you often go to of the three? TT: I go to wherever I am invited to. B: If you are not invited, if you want to go on your own? TT: I do not believe that I should belong to one institution or one temple in order to pay a visit. Here in Cambridge I paid a visit to the chapel at Kings' College. Nobody said you do not belong to this faith or religion, therefore you are not allowed. I went there out of sincere respect. In America, I have been to all the temples as a child growing up and I will continue to go. If someone tells me you cannot come to this temple, they should have a very good reason to prevent me from doing so. B: Are there any American Kalmyks who study in Tibetan monasteries in India? TT: There was another one, who was half-Tibetan and half-Kalmyk. He studied in India, but not for very long, because he settled in South-East Asia later on. Now he has his own centre in Malaysia. Other than that, there was no one else.