Learn about the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington Indiana

Bloomington, Indiana is home to a significant Tibetan Buddhist hub. Another unexpected connection is that families related to His Holiness the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center & Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple reside in the same area.  

Thubten Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, fled Tibet in 1950 and later earned political asylum from President Harry Truman. He then joined the faculty of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University. He was a senior lama in Tibet, but when he departed, he abandoned his monastic vows and eventually wed.

Jigme Norbu and Dalai Lama

Norbu spent his whole life fighting for the freedom of Tibet, raising awareness about the abuses of human rights there, and teaching pupils about the customs and culture of his home country.

In order to accept a position at Indiana University, Norbu and his family moved to Bloomington in 1965. There, he founded one of the first Tibetan Studies programs in the nation. Norbu lived in the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center together with his wife Kunyang and three boys, Lhundrup, Kunga, and Jigme Norbu, who were all born in New York

The Tibetan Cultural Center, which was founded by Norbu in 1978 and is devoted to “preserving Tibetan culture and religion,” was made possible by a donation of 108 acres of property in southeast Bloomington. Over time, several buildings have been constructed with the aid of volunteers and donations, including the lone stupa (religious monument) dedicated to the more than one million Tibetans.

On September 5, 2008, Norbu, who had been rendered disabled after a series of strokes since the latter half of 2002, passed away at his Indiana home at the age of 86. In accordance with customary Buddhist rites, his corpse was cremated. On February 14, 2011, Jigme, his youngest son, passed away at the age of 45 while continuing his father’s profession. During a walk to support Tibetan independence and increase awareness of Tibet, he was struck by a vehicle in Florida.

From the time Norbu suffered strokes, the Dalai Lama appointed Arjia Rinpoche director of the center in 2006. In order to commemorate Arjia Rinpoche’s ancestry, the Dalai Lama added “Mongolian” to the center’s name and mission. Rinpoche is a Tibetan Lama who was born in Mongolia.

The Center

Visitors flock to the center for a variety of reasons. The Happy Yak Gift Shop and the shrine chamber of the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple are both frequently available to the public, as are several spiritual and cultural activities held by the monks. The facility, located in Bloomington’s southwest corner on 108 forested acres, has expanded through time to include almost a dozen structures. This is a sacred location with a tranquil, reflective mood.

A meandering road leads to the cultural center, which has a library, gift store, conference room, and educational displays, after passing beneath an elaborately designed Tibetan-style gate. Two towering stupas (referred to in Tibetan as chorten) are located farther inside the compound of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. 

The Dalai Lama erected the first stupa, the Jangchub Chorten, in 1987 in honor of all those who have died fighting for freedom, especially the millions of Tibetans who have perished since the Chinese invasion. The Dalai Lama consecrated the Kalachakra Stupa, the second temple, in 1999 as a representation of global peace. Praying and meditating while strolling around the dome-shaped structures is a common spiritual activity.

Stupa on the grounds of TMBCC

The center also features sculptures made of butter.Three-dimensional sculptures are created with butter, a dairy product made from churned cream’s fat and protein components. Animals, people, buildings, and other items are frequently shown in the paintings. Butter carving started in Tibet, Babylon, Roman Britain, and other places and dates back thousands of years.

A structure with enormous Tibetan prayer wheels is located on the center’s grounds. The Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, a crucial Buddhist prayer, is written in more than 800,000,000 copies on the bronze wheels, which originate from the Kumbum Monastery in Tibet. It is thought that blessings would be poured onto all suffering beings when one reverently revolves the wheel (always in the direction of the sun).

The Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple is the hub of the area. Kumbum is the name of one of the most significant monasteries in Tibet, and Chamtse Ling means “Field of Compassion” in Tibetan. The monks’ residence and a two-room suite for the Dalai Lama are located upstairs. A shrine chamber, bookshop, reception area, and kitchen are located downstairs.

Since it opened, the Dalai Lama has paid the center six visits, the last of which was in 2010. He always gives a teaching during his trips and pays homage to his brother’s ashes, which are buried in the temple’s shrine. 

Dalai Lama

In line with the temple’s ecumenical objective, the center’s shrine chamber also has sacred items from a number of other faiths, such as a Koran, a Jewish shofar, and an Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, in addition to Buddhist statues, decorations, and iconography. Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Society of Friends, Baha’i, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto, Sikh, Unitarian, and Native American believers all participated in the temple’s consecration in 2003. Muslim Muhammed Ali co-hosted the ceremony as a special guest with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It was only fitting that after passing away in 2008, Thubten Jigme Norbu’s corpse was burned and his ashes were buried at the altar. This facility wouldn’t exist without his efforts, and his charitable attitude is still remembered today.

The Dalai Lama designated the Center to be the western equivalent of the original Kumbum in Tibet, Kumbum West, in recognition of its significance to the Tibetan Buddhist community globally. Teachers and researchers in Buddhism from all over the globe routinely come here to impart knowledge.

The Dalai Lama’s choice of Arjia Rinpoche to lead the center following Norbu’s passing is further sign of its significance. Arjia, a Tibetan lama of Mongolian heritage, is one of the most well-known Buddhist instructors and lamas to have emigrated from Tibet.

The title “Rinpoche” is used to refer to a Tulku, also known as a reborn holy man or Lama, in the Gelug school of Buddhism. When he was just two years old, Arjia Rinpoche was identified as the eighth reincarnation of Lama Tsong Khapa, the illustrious Buddhist reformer, scholar, teacher, and founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism in the thirteenth century.

The Tibetan and Mongolian Cultural Center (TMBCC) has developed throughout the years under Rinpoche’s leadership and has continued to carry out its objective of developing and maintaining Tibetan and Mongolian Cultures in the United States as well as assisting in the preservation of cultural and Buddhist traditions among the Tibetan communities in exile. TMBCC is also tasked with promoting cultural exchange amongst Tibetans inside and outside of Bloomington and educating people about Tibetan and Mongolian traditions.

Tibetan Buddhism 

Tibetan procession

The particular characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism, which was brought to the Himalayas from India in the ninth and eleventh centuries, are explained here. It combined with local, shamanistic religious rituals in Tibet, creating a tradition that is different from other varieties of Buddhism.

Beginning in the 600s, Buddhism was brought into Tibet from India and China. Buddhism became to be the predominant cultural form in Tibet throughout the ensuing centuries, having a significant impact on not just politics, the arts, and other facets of society, but also on religion.

buddhist monks

Bodhisattvas, Buddhas who have vowed to postpone ultimate nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened, are a central concept in Tibetan Buddhism. Additionally, it emphasizes the growth of compassion and holds that its revered instructors, called as lamas, have the capacity to reincarnate throughout many lives. There are several reincarnated lamas who are revered as enlightened teachers in Tibetan Buddhism in addition to the Dalai Lama, who is accorded the utmost respect.

The Tibetan branch of Buddhism known as Vajrayana offers a wide range of unique practices, meditations, and ceremonies to achieve the objectives of developing compassion and the ultimate liberation of all sentient things. The esoteric teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni that were imparted to some followers form the foundation of Vajrayana. It produces psychological and physical changes by utilizing yogic practices including mantra, ritual, and meditation. To utilize the holy objects, like the vajra and ghanta (bell), sacred pictures (like those in the museum collection), hand and body motions (mudra), and sacred power words (mantra), as well as to comprehend and practice these techniques, one must undergo initiations and empowerments.