American Buddhist monk is abbot of Rato monastery in Karnataka

The Dalai Lama has appointed Nicholas (“Nicky” to his friends) Vreeland, 56, as the new abbot of Rato Monastery in Karnataka, India. This is the first time that a Westerner has been appointed as abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The monastery in Mungud, Karnataka, has been designed by Delhi-based architect Pradeep Sachdeva.

Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of the iconic fashion editor Diane Vreeland and son of former U.S. ambassador Frederick Vreeland, is the director of the Tibet Center in New York. He was educated in Europe, North Africa, and the United States, studied in NYU film school, after which he pursued a career in photography. In the late sixties and early seventies, he worked as an assistant to famous photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.[Facebook Nalanda Monastery]

Watch Buddhist Abbot Nicholas Vreeland on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A recent PBS interview:

LAWTON: It was Richard Avedon’s son John who in 1977 first introduced Vreeland to Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, founder of the Tibet Center. Under Rinpoche’s supervision, Vreeland began learning about Tibetan Buddhism.

 Then in 1979, he went on a photography assignment in India. Because of his growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism, he included a visit to Dharamsala, headquarters of the Dalai Lama. Vreeland received permission to photograph the Tibetan leader. His camera had an extremely slow exposure, so his subjects had to sit absolutely still for one minute. That was a challenge for the Dalai Lama.

VREELAND: The shutter opened and we waited 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40, seconds, 50 seconds, and then his holiness started to move. And we did one time after another, after another, and suddenly after all these attempts to get a, a fully, a properly exposed shot, we both burst into laughter and it was as if all the tension went.

LAWTON: The Dalai Lama tried standing and they finally managed to get the shot.

VREELAND: His holiness very, very kindly remained there as I packed up my equipment and talked to me. And I had been so moved by the way in which the Tibetan people had supported me, had helped me in my travels and during my time in Dharamsala, and I asked his holiness what I could do in return. And he said, “Study.” More

The Rato Dratsang Temple, campus, guesthouse, and all landscaping, were designed by Delhi-based architect Pradeep Sachdeva and his associates Vidya Tongbram and Madhu Shankar. [Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates website here].

“The original Rato Monastery, located on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet, was established in the 14th century. “Though there are over 1,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, Rato Monastery (in Karnataka) is one of only a dozen important Tibetan Government monasteries under the Dalai Lama’s patronage.”

A recent exhibition of Vreeland’s work, entitled Photos for Rato, toured major cities around the world and raised most of the funds needed for the construction of Rato Monastery’s new campus and temple, which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama on January 31, 2011.

[Both Nicky and Pradeep are my very good friends: Shekhar Bhatia]

[See The monk who sold his pictures at Asian Window, Vreeland's website here and read NYT here]

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