Gelek Rinpoche, a lama trained in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, is the spiritual director of the Jewel Heart Tibetan Cultural Institute and Buddhist Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Identified as a lama before the age of five, he began his training in Central Tibet, where he studied with a hermit teacher, and later joined Drepung Loseling Monastery, where he remained for fourteen years. In 1959, amid political unrest, Gelek Rinpoche, then twenty, escaped to India.
Since settling in the United States in the late 1980s he has been traveling and teaching regularly at centers in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as in the Netherlands, Southeast Asia, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. He became a citizen of the United States in July. This interview was conducted for Tricycle by Helen Tworkov in Ann Arbor.
Tricycle: Your own tradition is the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. How would you define Vajrayana?
Gelek Rinpoche: The purpose of Buddhism is to cut down anger, hatred, and jealousy. The way you do it is very simple. If you cannot handle an attachment, then you completely cut out whatever helps the attachment grow. It comes down to discipline. Theravadin teachings encourage a very strict discipline. The Mahayana approach is slightly different. You make use of your attachment in order to benefit others. In the Mahayana, attachment can be a useful tool for a bodhisattva.