ITHACA, N.Y. — Someday soon, Ithaca will be home to a truly unique and culturally significant site — His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s Library and Museum. No other place in the world will house such documents and relics that will share and preserve Tibetan cultural and religious history.
On a winter afternoon, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies is a quiet sanctuary on Ithaca’s South Hill. The warm-colored walls, quiet music playing in the background, orchid-lined windows and ornate shrine room make it easy to forget the gray, snowy outside. The monastery is tucked down 210 Tibet Drive in Ithaca on 28 acres of land, about three miles south of Downtown Ithaca.
The planned library and museum will be located next to the monastery. It may be years before the building is complete, but when done, the library will contain hundreds of books and thousands of hours of talks by the Dalai Lama. It will also include the entire volume of Sutras, which are direct translations of the Buddha’s teachings and the entire volume of Shastras, commentaries from Indian masters. It will “become a treasury to house all works related to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the monastery says on its website.
The new library and museum is intended to be a learning center for scholars, scientists, educators, philosophers and practitioners of any faith.
Currently, the project is in the fundraising phase.
The teachings at Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ithaca go beyond Buddhism. At the monastery Friday, Ven. Tenzin Choesang explained they teach basic human qualities and how to lead life happier, more peaceful and more calm. Choesang, who is the board president of Namgyal Monastery, said the Dalai Lama focuses on more than Buddhism, and practicing love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness does not belong to a specific religion.
“We are trying to give love, spread this to the people,” Choesang said.
The monastery in Ithaca was founded in 1992 as a branch of Namgyal Monastery, founded in the 16th century by the Second Dalai Lama. The primary monastery is currently located in Dharamshala, India. It has been located there since 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama, 55 monks and 100,000 Tibetans had to flee Tibet into neighboring countries. The Dalai Lama re-established Namgyal Monastery in India to preserve and revive their culture.
When there were discussions about setting up a center locally, the Dalai Lama approved of Ithaca as the North American Seat of the monastery.
Today, the institute offers many programs, including a three-year core curriculum, weekend teachings, summer retreats, daily meditation, conferences and celebrations open to anyone. It also serves a cultural center for the Tibetan community in Ithaca.
In 2016, Choesang had the idea of creating His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s Library and Museum while in Dharamshala. It came to him while he was awake early in the morning, probably because of jet lag, he said. Later, he pitched the idea to board members and they thought it was an excellent idea, he said, so they drafted an application for the Dalai Lama to review. The very next day, the Dalai Lama responded and liked the idea.
A few months later, Choesang and other monks returned to Dharamshala to pitch the site plans for the DLLM. He emphasized the importance of having such a museum and in a free country like the United States. At that presentation, Choesang said the Dalai Lama made a prediction.
“Without requesting His Holiness Dalai Lama, he made a prediction on the spot. And he said, ‘It’s excellent, you can start work.’ I was so, so happy.”
Back in Ithaca, the community also celebrated the announcement of the library and museum in July 2016.
At the time, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said the new cultural center will draw people from around the world.
“Ithaca is a community that welcomes people of all backgrounds,” Myrick said. “This will not just confirm, but expand that. The more diverse we are, the stronger we are.”
When complete, visitors, students and the local community will be able to immerse themselves in the Dalai Lama’s teachings, Choesang said.
“It’s going to be the first His Holiness Dalai Lama Library and Museum,” he said.
Fundraising efforts are underway and Choesang said the next steps are to come up with schematic designs. Optimistically, he said they may be able to break ground by Fall 2018.
For more information about the project and donating, visit Namgyal Monastery’s website.
Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice