The Charleston Tibetan Society (CTS), a non-profit religious and educational organization, was founded in 1994 with three missions in mind, “. . . to increase the awareness of Tibet and its unique culture, to bring the major world religions together to make a more effective contribution to humanity and world peace and to raise funds, through various donations, to help Tibetan refugees living in India, Nepal and Bhutan” (charlestontibetansociety.org). Along with the Charleston Tibetan Society, a Dharma Center was established in 1998 and a sister center, the Columbia Dharma Center, was established in Columbia, South Carolina in 2002 as a result of increasing interest in Buddhism in South Carolina.
The Charleston Tibetan Society is lead by a “Spiritual Director”, Venerable Geshe Dakpa Topgyal. The Venerable Geshe Dakpa Topgyal was born and raised in Western Tibet until the age of six, when he fled to India during the Chinese invasion. At age ten he began practicing at the Drepung Loseling Monastery (a Tibetan monastery that was relocated to India) where he earned a Geshe Degree, “The Geshe Degree (Doctorate of Religion and Philosophy) is the highest earned degree in the Buddhist system of higher education,” (charlestontibetansociety.org). The Venerable Geshe Dakpa then traveled to 130 cities across the United States between 1993 and 1994 giving lectures on Tibetan Buddhism as the official interpreter of the Drepung Loseling World Tour (charlestontibetansociety.org). Currently Geshe Dakpa Topgyal leads CTS as the Spiritual Director and as the resident teacher, as well as making regular trips to the sister center (South Carolina Dharma Center). Geshe Dakpa Topgyal is unique because until recently, Tibetan Geshes rarely learned English as a result of devoting most of their lives to learn the Tibetan Buddhist Canon in their native language. Geshe Dakpa Topgyal has also written a number of books in English including Diamond Key for Opening the Wisdom Eye: A Guide to the Process of Meditation, Holistic Health: A Tibetan Monk’s View, Essential Ethics: A Buddhist Approach to Modern Day Life and Social Action, The Traditional Buddhist Altar, Refuge, Death: a Natural Part of Life, and Two Subtle Realities:impermanence & emptiness.
A History of the Drepung Loseling Monastery:
The Drepung Loseling Monastery was the major leading monastery in the Gelug Tradition. In 1416, Drepung Monastic University was founded by Jamyang Choeje, “As the number of monks studying at his monastery grew rapidly huge, he appointed seven of his principal disciples, such as the abbot Palden Sengey to teaching jobs,” (charlestontibetansociety.org). These seven teachers created seven different colleges: Drepung Loseling College founded by Lekdenpa, Drepung Gomang college founded by Drung Dakpa Rinchen, Drepung Deyang college founded by Chokchen Janchub, Drepung Shagkor college founded by Lopon Rabchok, Drepung Gyalpa College founded by Lopon Kunga Rinchen, Drepung Dulwa college founded by Drung Tsondu Dakpa, and Drepung Ngagpa College founded by Lopon Gyaltsen Tsultrim. The Drepung Loseling College became the home to many disciples and masters alike including Maha Panchen Sonam Dakpa, one of the disciples of 2nd Dalai Lama Gendun Gyatso. Maha Panchen Sonam Dakpa later became the abbot of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. Years later, in March of 1959, the Drepung Loseling Monastery was invaded by the Chinese and the Dalai Lama and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were forced into exile. A new monastery (still called the Drepung Loseling Monastery) was constructed in India. Today the Spiritual Director of CTS, Venerable Geshe Dakpa Topgyal, remains a board member of the Drepung Loseling Monastery where he earned his degree.
The Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism:
The Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism was founded by Lama Tsongkhapa in the 14th Century. According to the Charleston Tibetan Society, the Gelug Tradition can be traced back to Atisha and Atisha’s lineage can be traced back to Shakyamuni Buddha (the founder of Buddhism). The Gelug tradition emphasizes the importance of Vinaya and strict ethical codes for monastics, “They emphasize this in order to gain a full and complete understanding of the Sutric and Tantric teachings of Buddha before putting them into actual practice, or before sitting in the JADREL, which is the life-long solitude retreat,” (charlestontibetansociety.org). In this tradition it is believed that without this understanding of Sutra, it is unwise and often disastrous to practice tantra.
Teachings and Practices:
The teachings of the Charleston Tibetan Society follows the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the teachings of the Dalai Lama, as well as the following Mahayana teachings: Dharma, Lam Rim, meditation, Medicine Buddha Practice, Chenrezig Practice, Tara Practice, Vajrasattva Practice, and the Six Perfections.
The Teachings of the Dalai Lama: the CTS follows the teachings of the Dalai Lama as the Dalai Lama is the Spiritual Leader of Tibet. A link to the official website of the Dalai Lama can be found on the CTS website.
Lam Rim Teachings: step-by-step instructions, “graduated path,” to enlightenment from Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings.
Meditation Teachings: the CTS teaches Shamata Meditation. Shamata is a method of Tibetan Buddhist meditation that is focused on focusing one’s attention on a single point or object (single-pointed meditation).
Medicine Buddha Practice: the CTS believes in the practice of Buddha Medicine. This involves the belief that “Shakyamuni Buddha emanates in a different form with a radiant deep dark blue color,” when one holds a bowl filled with a special mixture of healing nectar and medicinal herbs. It is believed that this practice helps to alleviate physical and mental suffering.
Chenrezig Practice: the purpose of this practice is to emanate Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) the Bodhisattva of compassion, “This practice is about building a humble and respectful means to a personal spiritual connection with him. The goal of this practice is for the activation of the latent seed of compassion which lies within each person’s mind and heart,” (charlestontibetansociety.org).
Tara Practice: the purpose of this practice is to emanate Tara (the fully Enlightened female Buddha). It is believed that in doing this, Tara will bless you, remove obstacles that interfere your practice, and help your aspirations be fulfilled more quickly and easily.
Vajrasattva Practice: Vajrasattva, the Bodhisattva of purification and cleansing, is believed to be the ultimate source of purification and cleansing of karma. In this practice one emanates Vajrasattva in order to neutralize one’s negative karma and purify one’s moral conduct.
The Six Perfections:
In order to become a Buddha a Bodhisattva must master the six perfections:
- the perfection of giving (dana paramita)
- the perfection of morality (shila-paramita)
- the perfection of patience (kshanti-paramita)
- the perfection of energy (virya-paramita)
- the perfection of meditation (dhyana-paramita)
- the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramira)
Within each of the 6 perfections are different elements that must be mastered. For example within the perfection of giving there are four aspects: the giving of property, the giving of Dharma, the giving of refuge, and the giving of acting love (teachingsfromtibet.com).
Radiant Mind Retreat Center: CTS purchased 28 acres of land in order to provide a “sanctuary for those who need time away from their busy and often stressful lives to focus on their own inner world. It provides a supportive environment for retreats, meetings and teachings focused on topics such as, but not limited to, peace, meditation, and the Dharma,” (charlestontibetansociety.org). The location of the future retreat center is between the Charleston and Columbia Centers conveniently located right off of I-95.
Tibetan Refugee Camp Three’s Nursery School Project: The Mundgod Tibetan refugee settlement, located in India, houses over 15,000 Tibetan refugees and has a middle/high school. There is however, no form of early childhood education or childcare. The CTS is raising funds in order to provide facilities for early childhood education and daycare and restroom facilities for the children in the Mundgod settlement.
Kerala Disaster Relief Fund: the CIS website has a donation site for Kerala, a state in India, that has been flooded by torrential monsoon rain. More than 800,000 people have been displaced, 370 people have lost their lives, and there has been an estimated three billion dollars in damage (aljazeera.com).
Weekly Activities at the Charleston Tibetan Society:
There is a wide array of activities available Sunday-Wednesday at the Center including Vajrasattva Purification Practice and Meditation Teaching on Sunday mornings, Lam Rim/Six Perfection Teachings on Mondays, Rotating Practice (of Tara, Chenrezig, Medicine Buddha, and Teaching) on Tuesdays, and Meditation as a Mind-Training Tool and group meditation on Wednesdays. Teachings are often done in both Tibetan and English and there are booklets available online to study before a teaching.
CTS Annual Retreat (February 2018): a student led retreat will be held from February 9th to February 11th at the Radiant Mind Retreat Center. The focus of the retreat is the Purification Mantra, “During the course of the weekend, the group recited a total of 247 repetitions of the purification mantra, along with refuge, prayers, and dedications,” (charlestontibetansociety.org). At the end of the retreat the goal is to understand and be able to recite the purification mantra.
Al Jazeera. “’Huge Disaster’: Deadly Kerala Floods Displace over 800,000.” GCC News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 19 Aug. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/08/disaster-deadly-kerala-floods-displace-800000-180819142342769.html.
“Charleston Tibetan Society.” Charleston Tibetan Society, www.charlestontibetansociety.org/.
“The Six Perfections.” Teachings From Tibet, Teachings From Tibet Guidance From Great Lamas, 1 June 2017, teachingsfromtibet.com/2017/06/01/the-six-perfections/.