This profile was last updated in 2004
Venerable Geshe Lhundub Sopa
The Deer Park Buddhist Center was founded by the Venerable Geshe Lhundub Sopa in 1979. The center developed out of the Ganden Mahayana Center, a small group of Buddhist practitioners who met in Geshe Sopa’s home during the 1970s to receive spiritual teachings from this Tibetan Buddhist spiritual teacher. Geshe Sopa, born in Tibet in 1923 and educated at the Sera Jey monastery in Tibet, was sent to New Jersey by the Dalai Lama in 1962 with three other monks in order to learn the English language and to study American culture. Geshe Sopa was then invited to the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Professor Richard Robinson in 1967, and soon became a respected professor at Madison. He has since worked with at least fifteen doctoral students that later became professors of Buddhist studies, and he is respected globally as a scholar of Buddhism.
The Deer Park center in Oregon was purchased in order to provide a setting for a Kalachakra initiation in 1981, a twelve day ritual of creating a sand mandala and initiating students into the order. This ceremony was the first Kalachakra initiation to be given in the West by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Since then, five other monks have joined Geshe Sopa at Deer Park, and several American born Tibetan nuns live nearby. People come from all over Europe and America to attend Geshe Sopa’s summer teachings, and local practitioners gather on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings to receive lessons from Geshe Sopa or other resident teachers. These teachings draw people from various backgrounds, sometimes filling the temple with over forty individuals.
Deer Park is also important for the local Tibetan community. Geshe Sopa was instrumental in having Madison chosen as the site for the resettlement in the early 1990s of about seventy-five of the one thousand Tibetans who were given permission to enter the United States by Congressional law. This first group of Tibetans was followed by their family members once the initial group had established themselves financially. The Tibetan community of Madison now numbers about four hundred. For these Tibetans, Deer Park is a source of pride and comfort, since Buddhism is an important, if not the most important, element of their cultural identity. Although members of the Tibetan community do not visit Deer Park on a frequent basis, and almost never attend the summer or weekly teachings, they celebrate important holidays there several times a year. Due to the huge crowds at these occasions, a larger temple is now under construction.
Unlike the nearby Cambodian temple, Deer Park was purchased and is maintained mainly through donations from interested westerners. Although the Tibetan people in Madison appreciate and value the presence of Geshe Sopa and the other monks, it is not necessary for them to support their religious leaders financially.