Charleston Tibetan Society, Inc.

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 October 2009.

Phone: 843-937-4849
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Activities and Schedule

Dharma Center public hours:
Tuesday-Saturday, 8:00-11:00 A.M.; 2:00-5:30 P.M.
Geshe Topgyal's "office hours" are the same as the center's public hours.
Lam-Rim Teachings:
Wednesday, 3:00 P.M.
Thursday, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Open to anyone; geared toward those new to Buddhism.
Studies of Selected Texts :
Tuesday, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Open to second-year students who have completed one year of Lam Rim teachings.
Introduction to Meditation:
Sunday, 11:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M. (intermediate level; taught by Geshe Topgyal)
Sunday, 2:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M. (beginner's level; sometimes taught by one of the Geshe's senior students)
Tea is served after the courses.
Purification Practice:
Sunday, 8:00 A.M.
Open to second-year students who have completed one year of Introduction to Meditation and Lam Rim.
Discussion Group:
Saturday, 4:30 P.M.
An informal discussion period open to anyone wishing to know more about Buddhism.
In addition to teachings and social events, the Charleston Tibetan Society also sponsors a medical relief fund to provide healthcare to the Indo-Tibetan community.


Geshe Topgyal came to the United States in 1993 with ten other monks as part of a World Peace Tour. The monks traveled the country performing temple music and dance. While in Charleston, they attracted the attention of about 10 to 15 people who decided to form a group devoted to Tibet's cause. One year after Geshe Topgyal returned to India, he was asked to return to Charleston as the teacher and spiritual director of this group, which had begun to call itself the Charleston Tibetan Society. The group met in various parts of the College of Charleston until they were able to purchase the house on Parkwood Avenue in 1998. The house is called the Dharma Center, and it is devoted entirely to the teaching of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, as well as being a residence for Geshe Topgyal. The group does not use the center as a place to deal with political affairs concerning Tibet.


The center is a two-story house located in a residential neighborhood of Charleston near Interstate 26 and directly across from The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium. Tibetan prayer flags (colorful pieces of cloth with Tibetan mantras written on them) hang from the front porch, which is adorned by an American flag on one corner column and a Tibetan flag on the other.
Upon entering the front door, one enters a foyer area where there is a bulletin board with a list of members' contact information, upcoming events and recent newspaper articles of interest (either written directly about the CTS or about subjects pertaining to Buddhism). Also in the foyer area is a donation box, informative brochures on the CTS, a poster of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, and a stuffed deer. To the right of the donation box and information table are some folding doors which open into the meditation room. Behind the donation box area is the staircase leading upstairs to the residential area of the house. Straight ahead from the foyer area is the kitchen, where there is a tall bookshelf containing books on Buddhism, prayer wheels, Tibetan jewelry, Charleston Tibetan Society t-shirts, and other items for sale in the center's "store."
The meditation room looks as if it were once two separate rooms, for there is a small ledge in the ceiling in the middle of the room, on which a rod holding a white curtain is attached (presumably to be able to close off one section of the room if so desired). On the ledge, there is a painted dharma wheel flanked by two deer and several flowers. The ceilings of the two sections of the meditation room are both painted with Tibetan flags.
The dharma center shrine is located in the front right corner of the meditation room. In the center of the shrine is a gold-colored figure of the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni), seated in front of a mandala. Surrounding the central Buddha are many smaller Buddha figures, the traditional seven offering bowls (filled with water), candles, incense burners, flowers and food offerings (fruit). The front walls of the meditation room are covered with various thangkas (colorful cloths embroidered with various revered figures of Buddhism). A framed picture of the Dalai Lama hangs on the wall to the left of the corner shrine.
The geshe's seat (a cushion on a slightly elevated wooden box) is at the center of the front of the room, in front of a thangka of Green Tara, the most prominent female enlightened figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Congregants sit on meditation cushions on the floor, which is covered by several Oriental rugs. Tray tables in front of each cushion provide a space for a kind of "desk" on the floor and hold booklets detailing the various chants used by the group during services, as well as a bell and vajra (used for striking the bell).


The ethnic makeup of the Charleston Tibetan Sociey is "across the board," according to Kimball Whitfield, a senior student of Geshe Topgyal who teaches some introductory-level courses at the dharma center. He mentioned that the group includes some former Turkish Muslims, some Spanish people, and a few African-Americans. Sherry Palombo, spokesperson for the CTS, said the group also has a few Tibetan members. Whitfield stressed that Buddhism "greatly discourages any kind of discrimination" on the basis of ethnicity, and he mentioned the multi-cultural nature of India. He said no one ethnic group has predominance at the center.
Most of the members of the Charleston Tibetan Society are between 30 and 50 years old, although there are also members outside that range. Many of the members bring their children to events, and students from local colleges sometimes become involved with the center. The students' membership is not as consistent as the older members due to the transitory nature of the university setting; many students leave the area after graduation.

Interfaith Relationships

The Charleston Tibetan Society has participated in some interfaith dialogue efforts coordinated by the Baha'i community in Charleston, according to Whitfield. Geshe Topgyal also speaks regularly at various churches and other faith communities who ask him to speak about Buddhism.

Researcher credits

Benjamin Coleman and Melissa Peterson, 2000
Updated by Tracy J. Wells, 2003
Furman University, Greenville, S.C.