Telo Tulku Rinpoche, left, prays with Buddhist monks in front of inmates in a prison colony in Kalmykia, Russia, on Sept. 7, 2010. After renouncing his monkhood, Telo Rinpoche can no longer wear traditional robes, but still serves as the region's Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.
In Philadelphia in 1972, an immigrant couple of Kalmyk origin gave birth to a boy they named Erdne. A few years later, the Dalai Lama renamed him Telo Tulku Rinpoche and identified him as one in a long line of reincarnations of an ancient Buddhist saint. The boy was then taken to a monastery in the mountains of southern India to learn the teachings of the Buddha.
Telo Rinpoche was one of the first of his kind: someone from the West learning thousand-year-old traditions a world away from his family.