Lama talks about her faith

By Jeff Brumley, The Times-Union, Oct 26, 2008

Woman, 29, is Jacksonville's first Tibetan Buddhist lama

Jacksonville, FL (USA) -- When Tibetan Buddhist Michael Turnquist came to Jacksonville in 1984, there was just one Buddhist center in town. And that closed shortly after his arrival.

<< Jeff Brumley/ The Times-Union
Lama Tsultrim Khandro is a spiritual leader of Karma Thegsum Choling Jacksonville, a Tibetan Buddhist center in Riverside. Khandro, seen here with her dog, Ohpea, is the city's first Tibetan Buddhist lama. She says one needn't be Buddhist, or even religious, to meditate.

A lot has changed since then. Jacksonville is now home to at least a half-dozen Buddhist communities, including Zen and ethnic Vietnamese and Cambodian centers. The Tibetan Buddhist center Turnquist opened in 1986 reached a milestone this year with the arrival of its -and the city's - first resident Buddhist spiritual leader.

Lama Tsultrim Khandro, 29, who also is Turnquist's wife, returned six months ago after training for 31/2 years in a cloistered retreat. She led Karma Thegsum Choling Jacksonville's "Meditation for Peace" event during the weekend at Riverside Park.

The Times-Union spoke with her twice because the tape from the first interview was inaudible. Here's what she had to say the second time around.

Is it just me, or have we been here before?

Reincarnation, brother. We have been here before.

What does "lama" mean?

It means teacher.

What does it say about Jacksonville that it now has its first Tibetan Buddhist lama?

It speaks to the maturity of the [Tibetan Buddhist] community here. The community has grown to where it needs it. We've had visiting lamas every year ... but it's good to have someone here full time for students.

So as a lama, you're essentially a pastor?

I do all the pastoral stuff, I do all the ritual. I meet with students to talk about the concerns that they have ... I'm very much like a rabbi, but without the circumcision. [Laughs]

Is it your goal to grow the center?

Ours is not a proselytizing faith. We are not looking for converts.

You were raised Catholic?

Yes, I grew up Catholic. ... I was the first altar girl in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. I didn't know what I was doing but I was happy to be doing it.

What attracted you to Buddhism?

It made sense to me. It was my karma to become a Buddhist. ... I looked into other spiritual traditions. None of them spoke to my heart like Buddhism did.

What do you think about all the references to Buddhism and reincarnation that we see in popular culture these days?

It's a good thing. It's a bad thing. ... There are catch phrases I hear daily. I was at a concert and a girl was saying, "It's my karma that I got good tickets," and things like that. ... You can throw out phrases, but what do they mean? It's a good thing that it's out there, but even I have been guilty of purchasing the garden Buddhas in the big box stores.

Why is that a guilt thing?

Well, these are items that we deeply honor and respect. These are images of the Buddha. This is not just a garden decoration. So for me to buy the image of the Buddha is completely different than ... perhaps somebody buying it to make their garden look pretty. It is an item of peace and tranquility, and they recognize that, so they purchase it. I think this is a great thing, but ... we believe in treating them with utmost honor and respect.

Are those statues and images worshiped?

No. ... Most religions have symbols of their faith. You can simply take them as symbols of our faith, reminders of the Buddha who gave us the teachings of the Dharma, and as deeply sacred and touching images of our path.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: