Monday, June 28, 2010

"Ampitheatre of the Redwoods"

Drawing: Matt Welsh

On aptly named 'Eureka Canyon Road' in Santa Cruz, California is the Pema Osel Ling Retreat Center- the 'Ampitheatre of the Redwoods.' Set within the epic landscape of the redwood Forest, Pema Osel Ling serves as an exquisite, and eco-friendly, retreat center as well as a creation under the work of the Vajrayana Foundation. Founded in the late 1980's by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, the Foundation works in the vein and lineage of the Nyingma school.

The stupas at Pema Osel Ling have been constructed in the form of a mandala and in the style of the eight traditional stupas.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Kagyu Landmark in NY State

Source for all images:

Source: Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery website

Founded in 1978 by Lama Norlha Rinpoche, just a couple of years after his arrival in the States Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery is located in Wappinger Falls, New York.

The first dharma center in North America to offer a traditional three year retreat for serious and dedicated students to train in the Kagyu lineage, Kagyu Thubten Chöling is one of the oldest dharma centers in North America and certainly among the very first Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to be established on the continent.

The center also serves as mother Monastery to:
Kagyu Drupgyu Chödzong (D.C.)
Kagyu Shenpen Tharchin (VA)
Kagyu Puntsok Gatsal Chöling (VA)
Kagyu Samchen Chöling Dharma Center (VA)
Kagyu Gyurmey Gatsal Chöling (Key West, FL)
Kagyu Tashi Chödzong (Coconut Grove, FL)
Kagyu Shedrup Chöling (El Portal, FL)
Kagyu Trinley Kunchab (Watertown, MA)
Kagyu Osel Chödzong (NH)
Kagyu Samten Chöling (Barrington, NH)
Kagyu Osel Chöling (Westfield, NJ)
Kagyu Dakshang Chöling (NYC, NY)
Kagyu Dzamling Kunchab (NYC, NY)
Kagyu Pende Kunchab (Red Hook, NY)
Kagyu Samdrup Chödzong (Greensboro, NC)
Milarepa Drakmar Kyung Dzong (Arden, NC)
Milarepa Osal Chö Dzong (Tallahassee, TN)
Kagyu Palchen Chöling (Montpelier, VT)
Kagyu Tarjay Chöling (Lima, Peru)
Kagyu Drupgyu Chöling (Cusco, Peru)
Kagyu Gempel Chöling (Quebec, Canada)

Source: Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery website

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Southernmost North American Stupa in Progress

From the last post on a center in Hawai'i, back to the continental USA and to the southeastern extremity. The state of Florida is host to a number of Vajrayana dharma centers. Today's focus is Kagyu Shedrup Chöling, founded by Ven. Lama Norlha Rinpoche, who immigrated to the States in the late 70's and founded Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery in New York State. The teachings at Kagyu Shedrup Chöling are very diverse and address several levels of technique and skill. Kagyu Shedrup Chöling's resident teacher is Ven. Lama Karma Chötso, who has also devoted her time as a Professional Volunteer Chaplain for Hospice Care and has performed Buddhist death rituals for deceased, among many other services.

Kagyu Shedrup Chöling stupa project will ultimately result in the southernmost stupa constructed in North America, an interesting point for the entire energetic network of stupas on the continent.

Stupas have a long history and tradition of serving both as symbolic representations of the Buddha's enlightened mind, as spaces for circumambulatory movement and meditation and tributes to precious teachers. They also have an additional and incredibly interesting dimension of 'acting' on and with the environment. It is a type of construction that sees form as infused with energy as the elements and with the ability (and often necessity) of interacting with them.

Kagyu Shedrup Chöling's blog, South Florida Kagyu Stupas, notes:

"The treasure vase is a Tibetan tradition that goes back to the time of Guru Rinpoche, who gave specific instructions on how they were to be made and their purpose. These vases can help balance the environment and promote healing of all kinds. Here in South Florida the basic elements of earth, water, fire, air and space are all out of balance. These vases are part of the reason the stupas will be balancing them and will help avert negative forces of all kinds -- storms, wars, etc."

Treasure Vases
Source: South Florida Kagyu Stupas Blog

It appears that as of late, the foundation is being set and the stupa construction is in motion. Check out Kagyu Shedrup Chöling's blog for visuals and to watch the process unfold.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aloha and the Dharma

Over in a state I consider home in a very heartfelt way are dharma centers on the most verdant and peaceful of grounds, colors exploding amidst a gentle rustling of leaves and general serenity.

The center for this post is found on the "Garden Isle" of Kauai, tucked into the mountains on the eastern side of the island. Established by Lama Karma Rinchen in 1990 and directed by Lama Teshi Dundrup, this Kauai Dharma Center offers meditation retreats, Vajrayana Dharma teachings for intermediate students and basic Mahayana Buddhism classes. The center also contributes time and efforts to maintaining the first Buddhist stupa on Kauai. A project born from the efforts of the Dharma Sanctuary, the first Buddhist stupa in Kauai was consecrated in 2009. At the Kauai Dharma Sanctuary a central stupa, dedicated to the lineage of H.E. Kalu Rinpoche in Hawai'i, is surrounded by smaller stupas.

The stupa project in general serves as a further unifying force for Lama's who devoted energy to establishing centers and transmitting dharma teachings throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Clicking through the slideshows at the Dharma Sanctuary's website also really gives one a sense of the lushness and spacious sense on the island surrounding the centers. The Dharma Sanctuary's main focus is the construction of Tibetan stupas globally with stupas already constructed in France, Hawai'i and New Mexico. As the Dharma Sanctuary states on their website, stupa building....

"is a spiritual technology that the Tibetans have codified over centuries and is now available to the western world....Building stupas is holy work. They only appear when all the conditions are auspicious. "

Stupa Empowerment ceremony at Dharma Sanctuary, Kauai
Source: Kagyu Thubten Choling/Kauai Dharma Center website

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bardo. Art.

Image source: New York Tibetan Art Studio & Rubin Museum of Art

A Tibetan word that translates literally to 'intermediate state,' Bardo is commonly used to refer to the time between death and rebirth. The Bardo Thodol, known in English as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, translates to "Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State." While Bardo often does refer to the 'interim' period between passing from one life to another, it is also indicative of other intermediate states. The Bardo Thodol outlines these 6 different intermediary states, which include the bardo of meditation, the bardo of dreaming and the bardo of dying.

Whatever your level of engagement with Buddhism, it's spectrum of artwork offers visualization of religious and spiritual concepts, shows a range of admirable craftmanship and can simply mystify and awe the mind with it's boldness, subtleties and spectacular and strange sceneries.

The Rubin Museum of Art has been a well known purveyor of art from the Himalaya's as well as a dedicated sponsor for many educational activities related to Buddhism. Until September of this year, the Rubin Museum is hosting the exhibit: Bardo-Tibetan Art of the Afterlife. I had the opportunity to visit the museum once when I was in NYC and it was stunning. Artwork can be one of the most enjoyable and interesting ways to share culture and aspects of spiritual philosophy with the community. This is a world class institution, sharing in the qualities of the exquisiteness of the art it shows.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sakya in the San Juan Islands

Over in the Pacific Northwestern Reach of the San Juan Islands is a colorful dharma center, set in a 20 acre wooded landscape and rooted in the Sakya lineage. Established in 1986, Sakya Kachöd Chöling (Vajrayana Buddhist Retreat Center) is largely geared towards the hosting and offering of various types of retreats.

H.E. Sakya Jetsun Rinpoche's story is a rich one, crossing nations and many roles and exemplary of an "authentic, living, women lineage holder." Under Jetsun Rinpoche's direction, this dharma center in the San Juan Islands was founded as well as Sakya Thubten Tsechen Ling in Vancouver and Sakya Decehn Ling in Oakland, CA.

Tara, Shrine Room

Part of Sakya Kachöd Chöling's current vision is a building expansion plan, which includes retreat huts, a dining and kitchen hall and more. Like other dharma centers through the nation, the need for expansion is supported by sustained interest in practice as well as the intent to provide right accommodation and space for those for whom this is a lifelong work.

I include several photos from the center's website on this post, letting the beauty of the center speak for itself.

Friday, June 11, 2010


"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts."

Staying tapped into the Blogosphere will be a welcome challenge for posting relevant info here. To date, I have mainly been virtually exploring dharma centers throughout the States and describing what I perceive of spaces.

But at some point there will be a major break. My engagement with Buddhism transcends the deep attraction I have to the aesthetics of it's practice space. The manner in which Buddhist precepts are so incredibly poised to inform current happenings is, frankly, such an overwhelming topic that I have been simply simmering the issues, to give them full justice when I do decide to finally write extensively about them.

Today over at Bindu Wiles Blog a very frank and candid discussion regarding fear is underway. I have not thumbed through the hundreds (!!!!) of responses there but I am in awe of how many folks put forth a moment of effort to add to the discussion.

Fear shadows the most inconspicuous of situations. We may think things are under control and then there, there is the fear. Fear occurs at home, with the self, with the partner, at work, where you expect it and where you don't. Fear is tremendously equal opportunity in its approach. Fear does not care who you are.

Acknowledging our own sources of fear- fears we may not even be aware of- becomes crucial. Superstitions and distorted perceptions (some of the worst fear inspirers) dissolve in the face of courage and awareness. The ability to, first, acknowledge the fear inspiring source before it reaches a crescendo. Alternately, vulnerability can be seen as natural precursor to the induction of fear and part of a necessary chain of events to hone our fight or flight awareness.

Much like the parent nuzzling the child tearing up over the "monsters under the bed," fear presents us with the opportunity to discuss 'what is,' the nature of realities and our perceptions and to use love as the balm to soothe the angst and worry that fear often brings along.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dhongak Tharling: A "Quieter" Space

From humble abodes to lavish temple complexes, it all houses the dharma, the spaces all serving as hubs and way stations for practitioners on a path whose journey also involves the trekking of the inner terrains of the psyche, heart and mind.

I am gradually charting the layout of stupas in the land. I marvel at the spiritually based construction of Tibetan Buddhist architecture- the monasteries, the temples, the large prayer wheels, the stupas- and I eventually seek to expand my virtual and non-virtual explorations of these spaces to other continents.

But stunning religious architecture is not only what I seek. The heart of the practice, I know, is not dependent on a building constructed with auspicious placement of Buddhist symbols. Throughout the country, throughout the world, the dharma is being cultivated in scores of buildings that do not meet the description 'ornate and majestic.'

These being Tibetan Buddhist spaces however, no matter how humble, the expectation for a rush of color and dynamic art is high.

Dhongak Tharling Dharma Center

Dhongak Tharling Dharma Center, founded in 1994 in New Orleans, is spiritually directed by Lama Ngawang Tsultrim Zangpo, a Dzogchen master of the Rigdzin Dakgyud lineage. The spiritual abode is decidedly low key. A visit to their website reveals information that they are raising funds to purchase their building. So if this information is up to date and current, may they cultivate the means to secure this building for many years of practice to come.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tara Mandala Retreat Center

Stupa at Tara Mandala Retreat Center

In an April post on spiritual traditions and environment, I referenced the words of Tsultrim Allione. Today, I make a virtual visit to the stunning center founded by Allione herself.

Tara Mandala Buddhist Retreat Center.

To throw in some personal bits before proceeding- I have never been on a Buddhist retreat but I know it is soon time. I am in my 3rd decade of living on Earth and I have begun to feel a certain peace at taking things a bit slower (this could be the influence of recently moving to the South as well..). Return to breathing deeper, taking a moment (no matter how quick or prolonged) to marvel on the beauty of the clouds, and, to just sit.

Retreats and practice at dharma centers go far beyond these simple acts. But I know that I, along with many others, are built for this as well as thirst for the exchange that is often provided at retreats. Buddhism, or any other spirituality or religion, might not be the framework you choose to "retreat" in. Camping serves as a spiritual retreat for many, a weekend of quiet with no media and a focus on books and journaling could serve as a retreat for another soul.

The structured and rich schedule of retreat centers is something that beckons though. I consider some of these retreat centers offerings a sort of merged spa and boot camp for the mind and spirit. Necessary. Vigorous. Cleansing.

"Symbolically, the Mandala of Tara, the female Buddha of compassion, is a kind of architecture of the awakened psyche."
-Tara Mandala Retreat Center Website

Tara Mandala Retreat Center's website explicitly describes their location with honor given to the wealth of archaeological, cultural and geological resources in the region they inhabit. Their site also makes reference to the landscape itself as being regarded as the body of Tara.

Perceiving human's inhabiting of space amidst a matrix of land energies and building forms is a viewpoint not unique to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but found in many regions on Earth, in different names. Extending back centuries, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is the notion of religious structures built with one of their express purposes being to interact with a particular energy force in the landscape, for example, the building intended as a subduing force.

It is rich to see the tradition of honoring the surrounding landscape and to conceive of one's "habitat" as an integral function now of this environment, ecologically as well as spiritually at Tara Mandala Retreat Center.

Source: Tara Mandala Retreat Center website

On Compassion

Quote for the Week
(but really for the Life)....

"The point (of compassion) is not to benefit anyone or make them happy. It is a matter of an open gift, complete generosity without the relative notions of giving & receiving. Simply be what you are. If you will just 'be' then life flows around & through you. If you can afford to be what you are, then you do not need the 'insurance policy' of trying to be a good person, a pious person, a compassionate person."
-Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Juniper, Prayer Blessings & Meditation in Memphis

Juniper Smoke and Prayer Blessings at Dragon Seat/ Pemo Karpo

As beings in the Tibetan Buddhist worldview cycle through numerous (perhaps at times, countless) incarnations, so too do buildings. Even in fledgling existence, many centers have already held a myriad of incarnations in the forms of different names as well as storied pasts attributed to a building's historic uses.

Pema Karpo Meditation Center in Memphis, Tennessee was established recently, in 2005 yet has already existed also under another name in it's history- Dragon Seat Meditation Center (Drukden Gompa). Pema Karpo Meditation Center, like dharma centers worldwide, hosts regular classes, talks, meditation, retreats and celebrations.

Like many dharma centers in the U.S., Pema Karpo was made possible by the collaborative and dedicated efforts of Tibetans and Americans working in concert to bring the vision to life. In this particular story of a dharma center's beginnings, it is the figures of Candia Ludy and Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche who drive much of the tale.

It appears as well that the center serves a historical role in another way- that of being the first Tibetan Buddhist Center established in Tennessee. Referring to Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche's sentiments regarding a center here and decision to relocate to Memphis, the center's website notes:

"Because there were Western students sincerely interested in studying Tibetan Buddhism but no center and no dharma teacher, Rinpoche felt he would be the most beneficial in the Tri-State area."

Stupa of Enlightenment
Next to neighboring Vietnamese Temple, Chua Pho Da
Constructed in 2003 by Ludy's coordination