A Brief History of Our Center
While it is of course impossible to identify any single point in time as marking the beginning of our Center, the year 1988 serves as a reasonable bookmark; this was the year that brought Venerable Losang Samten, then a monk at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, to the United States and to Philadelphia. Touring the U.S. with others from Namgyal, the monastery of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Losang then continued alone to Philadelphia, where he had been invited to create a sand mandala at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Natural History, a work that, to our lasting gratitude, would keep him here in Philadelphia for about three weeks.
Although this joyful and curious Tibetan monk spoke virtually no English, it took little time before he began to receive from the many Dharma students who came to witness his work, requests to return to Philadelphia and teach the Dharma in our area. Losang explained of course that while he could not himself oblige these requests, if His Holiness the Dalai Lama were to give his blessings, he would indeed gladly return to Philadelphia to teach.
That was all a group of locals, led by Mary Kombs and Frank Eckenhoffer, needed to hear, before they set down to work, assembling a portfolio of more than 100 letters to His Holiness in Dharamsala, beseeching him to grant their requests! And indeed, His Holiness did respond: yes!
By the following year, 1989, Losang had moved to New York City, where he found a home with a group of Dharma students. From there each week, Losang would alight for several days to Philadelphia, staying with Frank and Mary, and teach Dharma in a classroom at the U. of P. Museum, with the help of his good friend and Tibetan translator from New York, Phillipe.
In 1990, Losang organized a three day visit by His Holiness to Philadelphia, again hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, where His Holiness was warmly received by the City, and U.S. officials, at Independence Hall, Congress Hall. This would be followed by a two day teaching given by His Holiness, and an 8 a.m. group meditation that Sunday at Irvine Auditorium. The energy in the building could have lit up the city for a week.
Energized by these events, the Philadelphia contingent set about organizing. Thanks to the money raised by His Holiness' recent teachings, they secured an inexpensive space (in exchange for their willingness to renovate it) at 3635 Lancaster Avenue, in West Philadelphia, the second floor of an old Philadelphia firehouse. And thus, our Philadelphia Tibetan Buddhist Center was formally born, and there the Center - and Losang, who lived there - would remain for approximately the next 9 years!
The Center has called several spaces home since then, beginning with the brief but no less generous hospitality of U. of P.'s Christian Center - and then Women's Center - followed by our wonderful home for the next five years in Upper Darby, where the Center rented, and then purchased, the wonderful house seen in several photos on this site. Compelled to sell due to zoning issues, the itinerant group next relocated to the Philadelphia Cathedral, at 38th and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia, for our Sunday Sanghas. Several months later, the Center accepted the remarkably generous offer of one of our Sangha members for the use of our current, beautiful artist loft space in the Reading Building on Spring Garden Street, just north of Center City. In the meantime, Ven. Losang has provided our community with innumerable teachings, all the while having traveled throughout the United States and world sharing his joy and knowledge of Dharma. We are grateful to have him, and our wonderful Sangha, and look forward the the next chapters in this infinitely unfolding history that we feel privileged to be a part of.
Our gratitude to Sangha member and TBC past president Ken Klein for sharing his recollections and insights recounted above. Any errors or omissions are regretted and solely the responsibility of the editor.