By Jody Steinberg
The Drepung Loseling Monastery on Dresden Drive looks like a simple Asian temple. But inside the white stucco building with red and yellow trim and pagoda-style accents is the seat of Tibetan culture, tradition, language, religion, practice and learning in the Western world – envisioned and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet.
The North American home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, also known as the Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies and Culture, is charged with preserving Tibetan knowledge and promoting peace through spiritual training and education, and is a key component of the Emory University-Tibet Partnership.
In addition to weekly Tibetan Buddhist teachings, meditation sessions and even a ritual to invoke wealth, all held in the sanctuary, the monastery hosts a steady stream of members, individuals, groups and visiting scholars; offers courses on Tibetan language, philosophy and traditions; houses a gallery of hand-crafted dolls depicting the ethnic, cultural and religious peoples of Tibet and a gift shop of handcrafts and ritual items; and coordinates Tibetan outreach programs that reach across North America and Europe.
The center coordinates the itineraries of individual scholars as well as touring groups of monks, who are selected from over 3000 monks who live and study at the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Dharamsala, India.
These Tibetan ambassadors travel to churches, universities, community centers and wherever else they are invited to share the mystical arts of Tibet through lectures, dialogue, seminars, meditation, mandala sand sculptures and music. About 20-30 Tibetans live in Atlanta year-round, including five or six monks assigned to the center.
“It’s a privilege to serve and raise awareness of Tibet,” explains Tsepak Rigzin, assistant program director of the Center. “Our objective is not to convert, but to offer Buddhist wisdom and culture, language and practice.”
The Drepeng Loseling Monastery was established locally in 1991, when Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, a revered Tibetan Lama, or master teacher, came to Atlanta to pursue a Ph.D. at Emory and establish a North American seat for the Monastery. Through his close relationship with Emory dean Robert Paul, a Tibetan Bhuddist scholar, The Emory-Tibet Partnership was established in 1998 during a visit from the Dalai Lama. The center established its permanent home in Brookhaven in 2007.
The monastery provides a deliberate sense of peacefulness, calm, and purpose. The simple sanctuary, adorned only by tapestries created by monks, is lined with chairs and meditation pallets that face wooden platforms from which or teachers lead meditation and classes. One platform is reserved for the Dalai Lama, who teaches here when he visits Atlanta. He is scheduled to return this October.
The monastery has more than 400 members and a steady flow of curious and committed visitors who attend the weekly meditation and public information sessions.
This week, in place of its weekly public lecture, the Brookhaven monastery commemorated the 51st anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China with a solemn service and memorial for the thousands of martyrs who died for freedom. The uprising, a response to a successful occupation by the Chinese government, resulted in the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet and the relocation of the Tibetan government-in-exile to Dharamsala in India and to Nepal.
“Commemoration is an opportunity to reawaken awareness and sympathy to the cause of Tibet,” says Rigzin. “The human spirit doesn’t die. Our fight for our independence will be renewed. A nation and country wants a homeland. Why lose spirit and courage?”