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Long-time Clinical Psychologist Opens Buddhist Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee


Dr. Les Kertay (also known as Lobsang Tharchin), a clinical psychologist based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has inaugurated a new Gelug Tibetan Buddhist center. Named the Paramita Center Southeast, this nonprofit organization will provide teachings and retreats in Tibetan Buddhism, welcoming individuals of all backgrounds to explore meditation and Buddhist practices.

The launch event last week featured Lama Lobsang Samten, a Tibetan-born monk now residing in Toronto, who will conduct classes on calmness and anxiety management.

Dr. Kertay’s journey toward establishing this center began decades ago. His interest in Buddhism was sparked by a memorable encounter with the His Holiness Dalai Lama at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. During the event, an audience member asked the Dalai Lama what the most important thing to do in life was.

“It felt like forever. It was probably a 10-second pause. And then, he just laughed. He chuckled, and he said ‘I don’t know; do something,’” Kertay recalled. (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

This simple yet profound response left a lasting impression on Dr. Kertay.

The new Paramita Center Southeast is part of a broader trend in the United States, where practices rooted in Eastern spiritual traditions, such as yoga and meditation, have become increasingly mainstream. Dr. Kertay aims to contribute to this movement by offering a dedicated space for meditation and Buddhist studies in Chattanooga.

Two launch events have already been held for the Paramita Center Southeast. The first offered a basic class in meditation, while the second was titled “Overcoming Stress & Anxiety: Managing Emotions Through Meditation.” In a radio interview, Dr. Kertay announced that this summer regular classes would be listed on the center’s website.

Dr. Kertay’s personal journey into Buddhism and meditation is deeply rooted in his life experiences. Growing up during the Vietnam War, he was initially drawn to nonviolence and gradually became disillusioned with the Catholic Church’s stance on various issues. Seeking a more robust spiritual and political philosophy, he found solace in Buddhism and found an appreciation for its multifaceted teachings and emphasis on meditation.

Despite his early interest, Dr. Kertay’s engagement with Buddhist practices was sporadic and often left him feeling unfulfilled. His career in clinical psychology and the demands of his work took precedence. A pivotal moment came when a child died shortly after birth, prompting Dr. Kertay to reassess his priorities. He decided to take a part-time job reviewing disability files, which allowed him to spend more time with his family and pursue his spiritual interests.


During the pandemic, Dr. Kertay sought to deepen his understanding of Buddhism and meditation. He discovered the Paramita Centre in Toronto, led by Lama Lobsang Samten. The teachings he encountered there resonated with him deeply. Unlike common perceptions of meditation as merely a relaxation technique, Lama Samten emphasized its deeper purpose, saying: “The point is to learn to sharpen your mind so that you can really investigate the way that things are, the way that I am, the way that you are, the way that the world is.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Dr. Kertay described his experience with Lama Samten as reminiscent of his encounter with the Dalai Lama, feeling a genuine connection and authenticity in the teachings. Inspired by Lama Samten, Dr. Kertay sought permission to establish an offshoot of the Paramita Centre in Chattanooga, making it the first of its kind in the US.

The Paramita Center Southeast will complement existing meditation options in Chattanooga, such as the Center Space and the Chattanooga Insight Meditation Community. These local groups provide regular guided meditations and spiritual talks catering to those seeking mindfulness and mental clarity.

Dr. Kertay emphasized that one does not need to be a Buddhist to benefit from meditation. “You can do this method for meditating without believing any of that,” he said. (Chattanooga Times Free Press) However, he acknowledged that the practice is rooted in a rich tradition that he feels compelled to share.

As Dr. Kertay prepares to lead the Paramita Center Southeast, he shared his vision of a place where individuals can explore meditation, deepen their spiritual practice, and find a supportive community. The center is aimed at offering practical ways to apply Buddhist ethics in everyday life, adhering to the principle that you “live to do the most you can for the most people.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

By launching this center, Dr. Kertay said he hoped to provide a space for mindfulness and meditation in Chattanooga, fostering a sense of peace and community among its participants.

See more

After decades mulling Buddhism, Chattanooga psychologist launches meditation center (Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Paramita Center Southeast
Chattanooga Psychologist Launches Meditation Center After Years of Embracing Buddhism (Here Chattanooga)
Forging A New Path To Study Buddhism In The Southeast (WUTC)

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