Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lama Talks about Her Faith; Woman, 29, Is the City's First Tibetan Buddhist Lama

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lama Talks about Her Faith; Woman, 29, Is the City's First Tibetan Buddhist Lama

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

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.

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. …

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