The first library and learning center dedicated to the Dalai Lama in the United States has opened in upstate New York to preserve the teachings of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
The center, officially named His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama Library and Learning Center, opened on Friday, Sept. 8. It includes a digital audio archive with 40,000 hours of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, about 4,000 books with translations of ancient texts on the evolution of Buddhist thought, and Buddhist artifacts from India and Tibet.
“It’s been more than 60 years since His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in exile and he has contributed immensely in promoting the basic human values of compassion, forgiveness and tolerance to this world,” said Ven. Thamthog Rinpoche, abbot of the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, who attended the inauguration.
“So, this learning center will serve across all ages, faiths, and education levels to understand His Holiness’s teachings on secular ethics and human values.”
The center’s opening comes at a time of intensified suppression of Tibetan Buddhism, culture and language by Chinese authorities, who view them as a threat and are trying to erode Tibetans’ beliefs and way of life.
Authorities have restricted Tibetans’ access to religious sites, banned religious gatherings, destroyed Buddhist places and symbols, and subjected monks and nuns to political reeducation, according to the 2023 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery near Ithaca College, hosted the opening ceremony. Founded in 1992, the institute serves as the North American seat of the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama and offers Westerners the opportunity to study authentic Tibetan Buddhism in a monastic setting.
The institute chose Ithaca, about 282 kilometers (175 miles) northwest of New York City and where Cornell University is located, in 2016 as the location of the new center, approved by the Dalai Lama.
Ven. Tenzin Choesang, president of the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, said the learning center will be a physical space and virtual repository of all the works of the current and previous Dalai Lamas.
“It will also offer free and low-cost classes, meditations, and talks,” he said.
The Dalai Lama, who resides in exile in Dharamsala, did not attend the opening ceremony but sent a recorded message.
“Buddhism is not just a matter of routinely reciting prayers,” he said. “It has to do with using intelligence and wisdom to bring about a transformation in the way we think based on the three types of understanding drawn from study of scriptures, that conviction comes about through reflecting on the meaning of what you have learned and experienced of that gained through meditation.”
HOLT Architects of upstate New York designed the two-story, 9,230-square-foot library and learning center. Its exterior colors of red, yellow and white are reminiscent of the colors of Potala Palace, the traditional winter home of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century and a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism.
“We started working on this in 2016 and it has been a long and interesting process,” Steve Hugo, principal architect and the company’s vice president told RFA.
“I am overwhelmed, and I think the building was always a combination of reflecting Tibetan culture, but also recognizing that it was built in the United States.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony, donor Diane Brandenburg said she and her late husband first met the Dalai Lama in California in 2009 and that he “turned our lives around in so many ways.”
“His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, has taken a huge step to create this sacred space, a meditation and peacemaking center, a teaching center for anyone who wants to come and study to learn about Buddhism and other religions,” she said.
Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibet. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.