Bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West for the first time… - Ian Tullis
It was very hippy oriented, Buddhism when it first came to the west, that’s how I was attracted to it because the 60’s… I remember them fondly! My interest has always been in psychology, in Jungian psychology, he brought a lot of ideas from Asia to the West. There was a huge interest in exotic cultures [in Britain] in the late 50’s, particularly early 60’s, [there was] an explosion of ideas.
Akong Rinpoche [tulku, meaning custodian of a lineage, in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism]: his story is amazing. There’s three of them that came over, him, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Chime Rinpoche. They were refugees, housed in Oxford, and they’d been kings in their own country. He was washing toilets, and getting treated quite badly. [Eventually] they were offered this building in Scotland, and when they arrived I think it must have reminded them of Tibet, the barren openness of that area. [The three Tibetan teachers decided to open a monastery there, Kagyu Samye Ling, in 1967. It is the first centre of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. From here they established Samye Dzong centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow]. All of the Samye Dzong’s are grandchildren, if you like, of Samye Ling. It’s quite different, because there’s two separate [Samye Dzong centres], in Glasgow and Edinburgh. So they have soup kitchen in Glasgow and therapy in Edinburgh. So it’s much more neurotically minded [here]!
[Ian got involved with the Edinburgh Samye Dzong in 1982] It really got to me because of the atrocities that’d been committed in Tibet, by the Chinese. [Akong Rinpoche] wanted to preserve Tibetan Buddhism, because it was getting wiped out. There’s a bigger Chinese population in Tibet now, and it’s all being built up and it’s totally transformed and changed. So a lot of the great masters in the West now are seen as [the future of Tibetan Buddhism]. [In 1982] Same Dzong was in a flat just down from the castle, it was called Keir Street. We were getting all these incredible teachers, we thought this was just normal, but it was the basis of them setting up Buddhism in the West, really. And they all had a certain thing in common which was: when you were in their company, you were the most important person in the world. The things that draw them together: they’ve always got a good sense of humour, incredible openness, humility, and a great ability to make you feel at ease. It’s just wonderful!
Now these days, you don’t get these teachers in such profusion…. It’s changed over the years, when me and Alison were helping to run it, it was all licking envelopes and stamps for the mail list - no mobile phones or laptops, it’s incredible isn’t it? When we first got involved, it was very very traditionally taught, and now it’s opened up a lot more and it’s much more accessible [to a Western audience].