Oral Histories

Interview of Tenzin Kiyosaki

Ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985. Visiting teacher at Thubten Dhargye Ling in Long Beach, California.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985. Visiting teacher at Thubten Dhargye Ling in Long Beach, California.
Cline, Alex
Kiyosaki, Tenzin
Persons Present:
Kiyosaki and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Kiyosaki's home in Gardena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Kiyosaki was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
6.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Japanese American family background—Father runs for political office in Hawaii—Siblings—Growing up on the big island of Hawaii—Relationship with parents--Attends high school in Hilo—Considers joining the Peace Corps—College experience in Hawaii during the 1960s—Goes to see many renowned spiritual teachers while in college—Has a baby— Works to restore the future Tibetan Buddhist temple Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling—Discovers Tibetan Buddhism—Lives at the temple for a year—Attends Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, with her daughter--Experiences challenges and confusion at Naropa with teacher Chogyam Trungpa—Goes to India in 1975 to stay in Dharamsala and study at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives—Ethnicity of fellow students in Tibetan Buddhism in Hawaii and in Boulder.
Goes on a West Coast road trip—Arrives in Dharamsala, attending classes there with Geshe Ngawang Dhargye—Goes on a pilgrimage to Buddhist holy sites in India-- Meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama while in Dharamsala—Begins regularly studying the monastic vows with other Buddhist nuns in the West beginning in the 1980s under Venerable Thubten Chodron—Returns to Hawaii in 1976 and helps establish a Tibetan Buddhist practice center in Manoa Valley on Oahu—Moves to Los Angeles and gets work as a bookkeeper for One Life Natural Foods in Santa Monica—Begins studying in L.A. with Geshe Gyeltsen—Attends teachings by Zong Rinpoche at the International Buddhist Meditation Center (IBMC)—IBMC teacher Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara—Ordains as a nun in Dharamsala—Ordained by the Dalai Lama with English translation provided by Thupten Jinpa--Conditions in Dharamsala at the time—Notable Tibetan teachers at the IBMC during the 1970s and 1980s—More on Dr. Ratanasara—Meets Rev. Kusala Kiyosaki’s family.
Conditions at nunnery in Dharamsala—Returns to the U.S. to work at Geshe Gyeltsen's center in L.A., Thubten Dhargye Ling (Land of Buddhist Teachings)—Helps organize the Dalai Lama’s visit to L.A., as well as a birthday celebration on property in Malibu owned by Fred Segal—Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize—Significant growth in interest in Tibetan Buddhism in the 1990s—Gyeltsen hosts many important teachers at Thubten Dhargye Ling—Reaches out to monastics from Buddhist traditions all over Southern California in order to enable them to attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings for free—A fundraising tour from 1992 to 1993 to raise funds for Gyeltsen’s school—Has several important teachers rather than one primary guru—Treatment for cervical cancer—Health care for monastics—Meetings between various communities on behalf of Thubten Dhargye Ling and the Dalai Lama—The different degrees of luxury and austerity of spiritual practice centers.
Challenges regarding the conduct of some teachers—Changes in the way Western monastics have been treated—Attitudes toward the monastic sangha in the West—Lay Buddhist practice becomes an increasingly strong presence in the U.S.—Sees the current mindfulness movement as ultimately limited—Increase in diversity among American Buddhist teachers and practitioners and increased autonomy of American Buddhist practice centers—Quality of Tibetan-English translators has increased greatly, and many younger Tibetan teachers speak English fluently—Geshe Gyeltsen's background story—Gyeltsen’s death in 2009—Kiyosaki returns her monastic vows to Thubten Chodron in 2012 after twenty-seven years as a nun—Draws on her years as a Buddhist and on her own health crises as she engages in her current vocation as a hospice chaplain—Withdraws from regular teaching and involvement at Thubten Dhargye Ling—Kiyosaki sees the bodhisattva vow to serve all beings as the core of her spiritual practice--Continues to find ways to keep her spiritual practice fresh.