Ngawang Wangyal [ De ]
(Wylie: Ngag-dbang Dbang-rgyal) (c. 1901-1983), popularly known as “Geshe Wangyal,” was a Buddhist priest and scholar of Kalmyk origin who was born in the Astrakhan province in southeast Russia sometime in 1901.
Geshe Wangyal was the youngest of four children and had chosen at age six to enter the monastery as a novice monk. After the Russian Civil War, Geshe Wangyal went to Lhasa, Tibet, where he studied at the Gomang College of Drepung Monastic University in Lhasa until 1935 when he decided to return to his homeland to obtain financial support to complete his studies.
Due to Communist persecution of religious clergy, Geshe Wangyal decided to end his return trip home. Instead, he found a job in Peking, China, comparing different editions of the Tibetan collections of Buddha’s word (Kanjur) and of the treatises of Indian commentators (Tanjur). In 1937, Geshe Wangyal left Peking to return to Tibet via India after earning enough money to support himself until he received his geshe degree
While in Calcutta, Geshe Wangyal was hired as a translator to Sir Charles Bell, a well known British statesman, scholar and explorer, and accompanied him on a trip through China and Manchuria before returning to Tibet. Afterwards, he received his geshe degree in Lhasa and used his remaining earnings and many newly established contacts to raise funds for the purpose of assisting poor scholars to obtain their geshe degree, especially Mongolians in India, who, like him, were cut off from support from a Communist home country.
When the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet in the early 1950s, Geshe Wangyal escaped to India. Then in 1955, he went to the United States to work as a priest among the Kalmyk Americans who were newly resettled in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania as refugees from Central Europe.
In 1958, Geshe Wangyal established a Buddhist monastery in Washington, New Jersey called Labsum Shedrub Ling. He served as the monastery’s head teacher until his death in January, 1983. He taught many students of Western background and contributed greatly to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States.
Geshe Wangyal later taught at Columbia University and during the 1960’s and 1970’s, he sponsored visits by several monks and lamas from the Tibetan emigre settlement in India and instructed them in English so they could serve the Buddhist community in the United States.
In 1972, the American Institute of Buddhist Studies was founded as suggested by the Dalai Lama and Geshe Ngawang Wangyal.
Dr. Wangyal translated two volumes of popular Tibetan and Sanskrit stories illustrative of Buddhist teachings, The Door of Liberation and The Prince Who Became a Cuckoo. With Brian Cutillo, he also translated the “Illuminations of Sakya-Pandita” published by (LOTSAWA 1988). The book is now out-of-print. ISBN 0-932156-05-3
Among his students are the famous Robert A. F. Thurman, Dr. Jeffrey Hopkins (Professor Emeritus University of Virginia), and the painter and drawing teacher Ted Seth Jacobs.Tags: American kalmyk, Astrakhan, Buddhist monastery, Buddhist monks, Calcutta, Central Europe, Charles Bell, China, Columbia University, Dalai lama, Geshe Wangyal, India, Jeffrey Hopkins, Kalmyk monks, Lhasa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Robert Thurman, Ted Seth Jacobs, Tibet, USA, Washington