Tsering Gellek was born and raised in Berkeley, but her background is somewhat unusual.

She is the daughter of Tarthang Tulka, a Tibetan lama who fled his country after the Chinese invasion in 1959 and moved to the United States ten years later to teach Buddhism and work for the preservation of Tibetan culture. He now commands a mandala of enterprises, including a block of buildings in downtown Berkeley that includes the Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages, The Tibetan Aid Project, The Guna Foundation, which makes films, and Dharma College, among others.

Gellek, although raised in a Buddhist community, had “a very normal American childhood,” she told the ECS Nepal magazine. She earned a degree in International Relations and spent two years in Africa.

But Gellek, now 37, eventually returned to Berkeley and started to work with the Tibetan Nyingma Mediation Center, one of the many organizations under Tarthang Tulka’s umbrella. And in 2008, Gellek undertook a daunting task: overseeing the restoration of the Swayambhu stupa, a 2,000-year old Buddhist place of worship in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Gellek, drawing on the resources of her father’s supporters, brought in 70 trained artisans to renovate this UNESCO World Heritage site, considered one of the most ancient and sacred monuments in the Buddhist World. It has been restored 15 times since its construction, roughly once every 100 years.

To re-gild the crown of the stupa, artisans used more than 40 pounds of gold, making it one of the largest restoration of gold works in the world, according to Luis Barrera, a volunteer with the Guna Foundation. The renovation was finished in 2010 and cost more than $1 million.

Now The Guna Foundation, another of Tarthang Tulka’s organizations, has made a film of the laborious undertaking and Gellek’s role in the process. Called Light of the Valley, the 30-minute documentary will have its premiere Thursday August 25th at 7 pm at the David Brower Center. Gelleck, along with her sister, Pema Gellek, the film’s director, and producer, Barry Scheiber, will be at the screening.

The Guna Foundation is also releasing a book by Tsering Gellek by the same name.

Renovation of temple. Photo: The Guna Foundation
Renovation of temple. Photo: The Guna Foundation

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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