A Place for All, Built by All

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This is the Institute. I’ve mentioned it before. “New Tibetan-Occidental Library and Research Center.” This is the phrase I’ve coined. But what does it mean? What is the significance of this place?

The Institute is the physical manifestation of 16th Karmapa’s wish to create a place of learning, practice and exchange in the West. Now that it’s here, the 17th Karmapa, his successor and the current head of Karma Kagyu lineage, describes the Institute’s purpose like this:

“The Institute aims to give access to knowledge–sciences of the mind, of the body, of the world.”

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I suppose that seems as vague and inspirational as any tagline, but it’s also quite accurate. The Institute currently comprises a teaching hall, a temple, a library, a translation center, a publishing house, and the administrative base of Dhagpo’s functioning.

IMG_1393I’m currently in the office dedicated to the Lama House, IT, the Temple, and Infrastructure, and at this moment, there are two hundred people above my head studying the practice of Chenrezig, the deity of compassion. The Institute is all about getting serious and getting interdisciplinary. During the inauguration, lectures and roundtables covered topics from Tibetology to mindfulness education to “Comparative Research in Modern Sciences and Tibetan Buddhism,” and included people from reincarnate masters to medical doctors.

IMG_1401The Buddha statue in the temple of the Institute holds his hands in the mudra, or gesture, of teaching. The direction that teaching will take is unfolding now that the Institute is established and beginning to develop. There is a genuine interest in discourse between contemporary scientific thought and the teachings of the Buddha, which have been preserved into the modern day. The form of this discourse is a continuing question; current possibilites include short-term forums and conferences, joint research conducted by experts in Western and Tibetan academia, and the establishment of an intensive curriculum combining inquiry into Western and Tibetan philosophy and thought.

Be forewarned; you are hearing a mix of rumors, dinner table chat, and my own personal musings. But in a way, this is appropriate. From all I can gather, the Institute was designed to respond to the needs of its students. We must ask ourselves what knowledge we are seeking, and in this way, we can develop a place to guide us and connect us in our queries. As cheesy as the slogan is, it’s true: The Institute is a place for all, built by all.

IMG_1408If you would like to make a donation toward the funding of the Institute, please visit Dhagpo’s contribution page.

Empowerment Days and Endings

IMG_0718Karmapa is teaching and giving empowerments (blessings related to specific deities) this week. Thus come the crowds. KIBI is hosting somewhere near three hundred people right now. The energy is giddy and exhausting. Each day has three sessions: morning teachings with Khenpo Tsering, the main teacher at KIBI, afternoon blessings, teachings, or ceremonies with Karmapa, and evening teachings with Professor Sempa Dorje, the president of the Institute. It’s a heady thing to have so much access to Dharma all at once.

IMG_0715In response to the addition of several hundred people to our midst, the community developing in the last couple months has pulled together. A loose group of friends has become a tight-knit band of gypsies. Irish James and Russian Katya pose beneath the archway erected for the celebration of the one-year anniversary of The Karmapa International Buddhist Society, the consolidated operating body of both the Institute and all of Karmapa’s cultural, educational, and philanthropic projects. Ten or so of us have naturally glommed together to have tea parties on the upstairs balcony, trundle into town for cake, and plan daydreamy reunions in sundry Europeans locations.

IMG_0714I got an e-mail from the center in France. Apparently I’ll be helping to cook and clean for the Lama House, the place where visiting teachers stay. I’m thrilled to get to spend time in a kitchen again, and I feel incredibly lucky to be working near to the teachers. It’s hard to believe that in two weeks I’ll be in France. I haven’t been back to France since I lived there when I was a teenager. I am both excited for new memories to be made and curious what specters of the past may raise their heads. Some of my gypsy friends will also be spending time nearby and there are new connections to be made. The loneliness of the Paris of my youth lingers in my mind, but I intend to discover a new France in the Dordogne. Until then, adventures remain to be lived in the East.