How a Tibetan Religious Temple Now Has A Permanent Home in Greenfield

The Olmo Ling Bon Center and Institute, a nonprofit and the only temple of the Bon Religion in Pittsburgh, recently purchased the building it’s been renting since 2009.
Accreditable James Paul

PHOTO BY JAMES PAUL

You might be surprised to learn that there are nearly 20 places in the Pittsburgh area for Buddhist worship and community, promoting practices and teachings from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Tibet, Laos, Korea and other regions.

Closely related to these communities is the Olmo Ling Bon Center and Institute in Greenfield. It’s the only Bon temple — the indigenous religion of Tibet — in Pittsburgh and has been providing a meditation and lecture space out of a rented building in that neighborhood since 2009. Now it’s here to stay.

The institute has purchased that three-story building at 1101 Greenfield Ave. with tentative plans to open accommodations to traveling lecturers and create a space to conduct mediation retreats. The goal of the purchases is to further connect the temple and Greenfield to the “global community” of Bon practitioners.

Iris Grossmann Accreditable James Paul

IRIS GROSSMANN | PHOTO BY JAMES PAUL

“[The purchase] has helped us stabilize and made us really feel certain that the center is needed,” says Iris Grossman, an assistant professor of sustainable technology at Chatham University. She’s co-founder of the center with Genyen Tempa Dukte Lama, who came to Pittsburgh from the Tibetan Menri Monastery of the Bon religion to start the temple.

“A lot of people are supporting us and we can continue manifesting this vision that Tempa Lama has,” Grossman says.

Grossmann says the center teaches Bon doctrines surrounding death and reincarnation to local social workers who work with terminally ill patients and largely attributes the center’s success to over a decade of community-focused work. Since the center was founded, it has offered two free weekly lectures and formerly conducted an after-school youth program.

Bon is an indigenous Tibetan religion that evolved independent of Buddhism and only adopted Buddhist tenets later in its history. Bon has an emphasis on the need for healing in an individual’s lifetime, which is distinct from the Buddhist concept of temporary suffering that’s resolved with reincarnation.

Grossmann says though the center also teaches traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the center maintains Bon’s principle connection to nature.

Genyen Tempa Dukte Lama Provided By Iris Grossmann

GENYEN TEMPA DUKTE LAMA | PHOTO COURTESY IRIS GROSSMANN

Tempa Lama was ordained as a Bon Lama by the Menri Monastery, the headquarters for the religion where he grew up and taught prior to coming to the United States. It was there Grossmann says he developed a passion for helping people “become teachers in their own right.”

He left the Menri Monastery in 2000 for a teaching position at a Zen Temple in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was during his five-year residency there that he met Grossmann. After traveling and teaching across North America for two years, he arrived in Pittsburgh with the ambition of starting a Bon temple.

As a nonprofit, the center mostly subsists off of donations, though it also offers pay-as-possible lectures, Grossman says. In a capital campaign, it raised $169,000 in donations to purchase the Greenfield building.

In an Instagram post, Tempa Lama thanked the center’s members for their continuous support and for making it possible for him to “best serve the worldwide Bon community.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude on behalf of the Olmo Ling board and community,” Tempa Lama said in the post, accompanied by a picture of him signing the lease. “Now that we have a permanent temple space, I will do my best and make sure to use it for the benefit of our community.”

Categories: The 412