Ngawang Wangyal

Kalmyk Lama

Geshe Wangyal, born in Kalmykia, became a novice monk at the age six. After the Russian Civil War, in 1918, he travelled to Lhasa, Tibet, where he studied at Drepung's Gomang College.

Alongside his studies in Drepung, Wangyal travelled extensively in Asia. In 1934-35, he had been recommended by Charles Bell's friend and confidant, Palhese as a guide for Bell's Mongolian and Manchuria tour. Wangyal travelled with Bell as his assistant, arranging meetings and acting as interpreter. After which he spent time in Beijing, editing the Kangyur and Tangyur Buddhist canons and also time in Vietnam working for a French diplomat. The funds he received during his travels went towards his and others monastic training and to the completion of his geshe degree.

When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the early 1950s, Wangyal escaped to Kalimpong, India. Then in 1955, he left for the United States to work amongst the Kalmyk Americans who had started to settled on the East Coast. This resulted in the establishment, in 1958, of Labsum Shedrub Ling, New Jersey (funded through his Columbia University teaching fees). He remained the monastery's head teacher until his death in January, 1983.

Alongside the many exiles, he taught a growing number of Western students who had become interested in aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. This resulted in his teachings at Columbia University, New York from the late 1950s and in to the 1970s, and it was from there that he organised the visits of many exiled Tibetan monks and lamas, creating a wider network of teachers for the growing number of Buddhism students in the US. He taught several of today's leading Tibetologists, including Robert Thurman and Jeffrey Hopkins, who have in turn gone on to run their own successful graduate programmes in Tibetan Buddhism. Written by Emma Martin
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    gifted by, Previous owner
  • Nationality
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Eastern Europe: Russian Federation: Astrakhan
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Americas: Northern America: USA
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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