I was recently asked to become part of the Spiritual Director ‘s group of the Dharma Centre. The idea behind the spiritual directors is to have a group of senior students that can act as a guiding voice to help support the DC remaining true to the vision of its guiding teacher Namgyal Rinpoche. I have thought a lot recently about lineage and tradition and what place they have in my own life as well as in the life of the D.C. and the spreading of the Buddha Dharma in the west.
The Dharma at its essence is spontaneous open and free yet it is traditions that have allowed beings to study and practice in meaningful ways that lead to this essence. Without being anchored in tradition or without the guidance of a qualified teacher it is very easy to lose one's way. One of the big questions for us as a community is how do we carry these traditions forward and remain relevant to the changing times. No easy answers, but one we can and are working together on. The vast array of teachings and practices that Namgyal Rinpoche offered us have an incredible transformative power to those who choose to sincerely apply them. I feel we have an obligation to carry this forward to the best of our abilities and make sure we make these teachings accessible and relevant to the changing times. Whenever I step foot on DC property I feel the powerful presence of Rinpoche and the many teachings and Dharma truths that he so skillfully manifested. What will we manifest ? What will we bring forward ? What a joy to be part of this ! The D.C board are a hard working group that are committed to the continuing unfoldment of Namgyal Rinpoche’s vision and I am honoured that they want me to be part of this. May all beings awaken quickly !
Jack Connelly, Spiritual Director
Some of you may remember me from my involvement in the Dharma Centre many years ago, as a member of the first Academy, co-ordinator of a Summer School in the 1990s, and frequent retreater when Namgyal Rinpoche was alive. Since I have been living in BC for over a decade, my participation in the DC has been minimal. But after a fortuitous meeting with Lama Mark on the ferry to Galiano Island, I agreed to return to the Dharma Centre for the first time in five years to participate in a Strategic Planning session last October.
Shelane Donoghue explained the purpose of the Strategic Planning process: “Over a year ago, the staff articulated to me the difficulty in marketing DCC courses because the vision of the DCC was not a clear and unified vision shared by the Spiritual Directors, Resident Teachers and the Board. I brought these concerns forward to the Spiritual Directors who decided we needed a process to articulate the unique aspects of the DCC…”
Joining in the visioning process were Spiritual Directors (Lama Mark Webber and Terry Hagan) Board members (Shelane Donoghue, Chris Von Baeyer, Monique Truax, Steven Gellman), Resident Teacher (Mala Sikka) and staff (Marion Herlet and Marta Castiglioni), with Tracy Sheridan as our Human Resources consultant. In developing the Strategic Plan, we started with the DC Mission statement, which the Board had previously crafted and approved. From there, we articulated the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that we saw as impacting the DC’s ability to embody its Mission. From that analysis, we generated a vision for the DC:
“By 2025, the Dharma Centre of Canada will manifest a Centre of Excellence for the study, contemplation and practice of Buddha Dharma. The Dharma Centre will have strong foundation of committed Spiritual Directors, Resident and Visiting Teachers, Practitioners in Residence, Board of Directors and Staff members, imbued with a love of Dharma, to support the operation of a multi-purpose Dharma - retreat and study facility, including community outreach.”
We then articulated ten Strategic Goals that we would work to achieve over the next few years. Finally, each participant in the session agreed to take a leadership role in creating plans and engaging support from DC members to make progress towards particular goals.
At the AGM, DC members voted to approve the Strategic Plan, which gave the new Board a clear mandate to proceed with making our shared vision a reality. Since then, work has commenced on several goals, including establishment of a Practitioner Support Fund, and improved Financial Management/Administration processes. A follow-up meeting with Spiritual Directors is slated to discuss how the DC can create a curriculum structured around the “Namgyal Banner” teachers, focused on attracting new, younger members and reducing our reliance on rentals to outside groups. After that meeting, we expect to involve a Marketing consultant to guide us in showcasing the DC’s magnificent heritage to an expanded membership.
I felt it was particularly auspicious that our Strategic Plan was articulated on the fifteenth anniversary of Namgyal Rinpoche’s passing. I hope that the love of Dharma and the desire for liberation that he imbued in all of us will give us the determination and sustained focus needed to bring our shared vision to fruition. I sincerely wish that the DC will continue to offer many beings the precious opportunity for Dharma study and practice that it offered me over thirty-five years ago.
Christine Wihak, Program & Strategic Planning Chair
Death and Impermanence, one of the Common Preliminary Vajrayana Foundation Practices, is such a fundamental aspect to our meditations no matter what tradition or path we follow. It cuts deep, extends beyond and touches all.
This past Fall I experienced a truly life altering experience. A friend of mine and Dharma practitioner was dying of cancer. We weren’t sure how long she had to live. We all hoped it would be months. Since she had been receiving teachings from Lama Mark Webber (Lama Yongdu Gyaltsen), a very close mutual friend asked if Lama Mark would bestow the Phowa Transmission in Toronto to our dear friend. Our friend made her way from the hospital in pain with determination to 33 Marion St. Surrounded by cushions and friends we shared bittersweet tears as this blessing and transmission was bestowed.
Unfortunately, our friend was not well enough to attend the Phowa retreat the following week at the DCC with Lama Mark. A few of us did, however, have the great fortune to then travel to the DCC to continue to receive Orgyen Nuden Dorje’s “Indispensable Practice of Consciousness Transference (Phowa) Associated with the Means of Attainment of Amitabha”, entitled “The Ruby Garland”; transmitted through Lama Mark Webber as he had received and was given permission to teach from one of his beloved teachers, Drikung Master Lho Ontul Rinpoche. In the DCC Temple, we received the empowerment, received instructions and practiced Phowa daily as a group with our friend in our heart and prayers.
Only a few weeks later, we then found ourselves with our friend on her death bed. Feverishly we would practice the text with her in Princess Margaret Hospital with the loving support and respect of her dear and devoted parents, her brother and sister-in-law. Between sessions we did rounds and rounds of Vajrasattva practice. We watched our friend mouth the Vajrasattva mantra hours before her death. After she passed, in the wee morning hours, we practiced the Phowa Sadhana one last time for her. Some of us beside her bed, others in their home and Lama Mark in Europe. We watched death’s moments of confusion and wandering become a deepening calm and peaceful state of rest and surrender.
Two weeks later Lama Mark returned to Toronto. At 33 Marion we asked questions about our experience and practice with our friend as she was dying. Only a few weeks had passed from the moment Lama Mark had first arrived in Toronto.
I feel so humble and fortunate to have practiced these teachings in such a profound and meaningful way. What a great community of Dharma Practitioners we have going to the DDC week after week, year after year. These Gurus and Teachings change our life and our death.
I look forward to further explore, contemplate, train and deepen these teachings and other Amitabha Practices when Lho Ontul Rinpoche returns with Lama Mark Webber, and hopefully Ratna Rinpoche, in June (2019) at the DCC. Perhaps we’ll see you there…?
When my time comes to transfer over, my only wish, is that I too will be surrounded in prayers, love and wisdom, by teachers, practitioners and friends.
Blessings to All!
Shelane Donoghue, President
Dear Sangha,The following is a brief update on the Garuda Project at the Dharma Centre in Kinmount, ON. We have almost reached our financial goal of our revised amount needed ($5500.00) for repairs on the Pavilion and for the installation of the Garuda’s. We have approximately $1000.00 left to raise.All donations to date we are truly grateful for, including a healthy donation from the Dharma Centre!
David Baillie is raring to get started on the work required to bring this project to completion. It is currently a waiting game until the ground has thawed and dried up to allow a secure scaffolding system to be built. The steel sheets were delivered last autumn to provide much needed support to the front of the building. This project has required to date many highly skilled minds to determine the safest way to proceed in order to secure the building and the Garuda’s to last a very long time.
As mentioned previously these people include Roy Brown, Architect, the consultation of an Engineer, along with Sculptors Ted Bieler an Brian Bamford, not to mention our highly innovative Installer/Sustainability expert David Baillie.
A formidable amount of research has been underway in 2018 to resolve various issues such as wood rot, correction of destabilizing beams with steel panels and the design of appropriate hardware to hang the Garuda’s at the appropriate angle, etc. And then of course there were issues with the weather and, scheduling, that interfered with the work going ahead in October, as was originally announced.We will notify everyone (with pictures) as soon as this long awaited Garuda Project has reached a conclusion!
Heather Rigby M.F.A.
For donations to support the Garuda Project please send funds by cheque or through e-transfer to the Geruda Project Fund. Cheques should be made payable to the Dharma Centre of Canada, 1267 Galway Road, Kinmount, Ontario, K0M 2A0, Canada and electronic funds can be sent to email@example.com. We also accept donations via paypal and credit card. For this please visit our website at:www.dharmacentre.org/donate and follow the link on the page. Tax receipts for donations will be issued by the Dharma Centre of Canada.
It is cold, still, frozen and brilliantly clear outside. I sit alone in the quiet of the Main House, the warmth of the wood stove rising up to the second floor. It is Christmas Eve.
Deep in the woods I know my colleagues sit in their cabins-- in retreat for the winter months. I feel the reassuring presence of the long history of our lineage in the halls and walls of this building, and the hills and trees of the land, providing refuge for us as we each practice in our spaces across the property.
In my current role as Chair of the Board it has been a wonderful opportunity this winter to spend time at the Dharma Centre. Along with a rotating cadre of my colleagues, we have chosen to experiment with an administrative model for these three months in which board members and other volunteers take the reins of the administration, in the slow months, so our administrators can be in retreat.
The advantage is two-fold. Administrators are provided with the chance to participate fully in the primary mission of our organization—to use the resources of the property to practice for the sake of all beings. As they return to their administrative roles in the Spring, a deepened connection with the DCC mission is provided, and their ability to serve the needs of all retreatants is enhanced.
For board members and other volunteers, the opportunity to spend time in the Main House and the office (as well as experiencing a short, working retreat on the property for several days or weeks) gives us direct and first-hand experience into the workings of the centre. Clearly this can only serve our ability to have clear insight in our decision-making process.
Working together, practicing together and serving together in these winter months has brought the board and the administrators closer in perspective and alignment. May our discoveries and experiences deepen our awareness about the operations and mission of our beloved Centre, and may all beings be served by our explorations.
Chris von Baeyer, Chairman of Board
My time at the Dharma Centre is nearing 2 years. A large part of this I have been working in service of those who come here to seek, explore and practice the Dharma. I have had the great fortune to receive many precious teachings and meet extraordinary practitioners. Through the kind and generous support of my teachers, fellow students and colleagues I was also able to undertake long solitary retreats over the past two winters delving deeply into my own practice. All of these experiences have contributed to the shaping of a unique training:
Working and doing service at the Dharma Centre can be challenging. At times it can feel like being in a large pot and being stirred. It brings the bottom to the surface. It amplifies experience. It demands to overcome the fear of suffering, to have the courage to put others first, to embrace all that presents itself and learn to remain impartial and compassionate.
Retreating at the Dharma Centre is like sinking into the embrace of the forest. Feeling supported and inspired, sensing the energy and blessings that have soaked the land over decades. Giving space to all that is coming and going, surrendering to infinite discoveries, falling in love with learning. A time where every moment is a small awakening.
Being at the Dharma Centre to me is about bridging those experiences. It is like serving a great master. It teaches one that everything is a teaching. When serving and when receiving, when being professional and when being contemplative, when being with others and when being alone. It is challenging at times and deeply humbling. It holds great gifts for anyone who is a seeker.
I truly pray that many more will continue to come to this special place to practice, to serve and to discover the infinite profound beauty of the Dharma.
Marion Herlet, Practitioner in Residence
The Dharma Centre of Canada is a place of infinite possibilities. It can be a place of refuge, samsara, nirvana, a place to serve, a place to learn, a place of love or deep suffering, a place to find the key to liberation. To me the Dharma Centre of Canada represents the golden rosary of lineage, taking refuge, and fearless devotion to awakening. I find that the intention shapes the experience.
As a Practitioner in Residence my experience is of devotion to service. There is lots of hard work and many challenges in this unusual place where people gather to find something… Service is the practice. Building merit is the aspiration.
As a retreatant, deep in the forest in Beaver Dam, the experience is of openess and grounding. Finally feeling as part of the land in all its form, deeply moved by extraordinary beauty, having the time and space to let the teaching speak strong and clear from deep inside the being. The profound silence allows to unfold treasured teachings.
Out there, free from worldly toils, the exploration is fresh and clear.
This winter's three months retreat was a unique and important time to renew one’s aspiration, reflect, study, and dive fearlessly into practice.
Still building merit.
This year, as the Dharma Centre Staff, Spiritual Advisors and the Board of Directors begin to offer another season of extraordinary blessings, my wish is that more and more people may find their way out here.
May all beings have the opportunity to attend teachings and explore at the Dharma Centre of Canada.
Marta Castiglioni, Practitioner in Residence
This last February I stayed in the main house as a winter steward for 2 weeks. This is something that I had done in the past: taking care of the fire, watering the plants while practising solo in the heart of winter. My expected 2 weeks of quiet meditation didn't really turned out as such! This time there were retreatants on site, visitors, and a lot of various tasks to tend to. I admit to a bit of frustration at first...After 5 days I realised that my practice at the centre was going to be one of Karma Yoga!
Once I accepted the role it became an absolute pleasure to take care of everything. I've been coming to meditate at the Dharma Centre for at least 16 years. I always come there to bathe in the silence of the retreats. All these years I could feel everyone's depth and love around me but I never really had the opportunity to interact or meet my fellow practitioners.
This time during my time at the centre I had to connect with many people from all walks of life that were linked to the place in various manners. I could see that each of them loved the place and gave their time and energy to care for it like a home. It was amazing to finally meet 'the other side' of the Dharma Centre, to meet the individuals that are not only dedicated to waking up but that are also putting their unique gifts toward this retreat centre. It is a miracle that a huge property like this runs and thrives especially when the founder Namgyal Rinpoche is not here to be the spiritual binding glue. It was wonderful to discover this invisible family of highly spiritually and emotionally developed people which holds the place together. I saw the property like a living organism that has its own reason to be and mission. It feels like magic that it can even exist with no owner, held together by groups of people that regularly change over the years.
But it's not just some whimsical mystery... a lot of us are working hard, with much joy, gratitude and appreciation to keep it alive. If you love the Dharma Centre, have special skills, extra money or extra time, do not hesitate to also show up for some Karma Yoga practice. I can testify that it will deepen your feeling of connection not only to the raison d’être of your personal practice and its core intention to always be of benefit to others, but also connect you to the property and further to a community of extraordinary people.
Gaia Orion, Visionary Artist
As of October of last year I wasn't aware of the existence of The Dharma Centre. My good friend Ashley contacted me with a request for my assistance to help repair a roof in that particular month. He told me of a magical place, on a beautiful piece of property and in the middle of nowhere. He knew that I would help, but I think he felt he had to do some 'selling', because I was in for a five hour drive. I presently spend my winters in Welland.
Ashley got busy and put a plan together, I met up with him and we were off on what would be the first of a few adventures across the winter season. On this first one we covered the solarium roof, at the main house, with a tarp to keep it dry for the winter. It was a beautiful day, the roof was neither too steep or too high. There's a Hornet's nest up there, but the Hornets seemed too busy wrestling with each other to bother us. We completed our task successfully, and prepared our evening meal. After leaving the very well equipped kitchen we entered the dining area to discover some of the Board Members. It was a great opportunity to meet and get acquainted. I was getting a really good feeling about the place and everyone at it. We left stating, that if any other tasks needed attention across the winter months, we would be more than happy to help.
It didn't seem like much time had passed when Ashley called again. I think it was November. I don't remember if I even let him finish asking his time, I was going! I didn't even ask if it was a higher and steeper roof, I didn't care. Before I knew it I was back in the magical paradise. On this visit we would be stocking the Main House with firewood for the winter. There was already snow on the ground so we were able to toboggan it close to the basement door, but it was a good test of teamwork which we passed handily. It was also a good prerequisite, a bunch more wood got delivered and we loaded that into Hill House.
It is sounding like all we did was work from morning til night. This is not at all the case. We worked hard, without doubt, and gave 100% effort during our work periods, but there was always time to experience all of the D.C.'s amenities, and to sit in peaceful meditation in an assortment of locations. The surroundings seem to have absorbed and accumulated all of the good energy over the years, and I could feel it oozing back out. I found myself smiling more than usual. Even though there were few people, I felt surrounded by community. As I was leaving I was already looking forward to coming back.
Ashley prefers to be on Retreat at New Years so he had been making arrangements to be at the D.C. He invited me to do my own solo retreat. As it turned out, someone was needed to be in the Main House from December 29th til January 6th, and, since Ashley could only stay til the 3rd or 4th, I would have to be the one to look after the house. What good luck for me! Another plan was made.
It was a little tricky at first, being in the same space, preparing meals at the same time and meditating while being in silence, but we had a notepad and a pen and managed to develop a working schedule. Ashley conceived the concept of 'silent streaming', we silently streamed a couple of Leaf's and Raptor's games. I was thankful of the flexibility that existed, which allowed us to remain devoted fans while remaining dedicated meditators. There seemed to be a few other Retreatants on site, all very smiley, which gave me further indications and reassurances, that I was in the 'magical' place which Ashley had originally described. I also found the extensive library. There seemed to be so many good spiritual guides and I really wanted to find something, you know, worthwhile, from this vast collection. I decided to close my eyes and let Dharma guide me. I must have been putting out a confusing message. I was thinking I didn't want anything too heavy, I want to simplify, not complicate. I closed my eyes and picked. 'Calvin and Hobbs'! I laughed, quietly. I read pretty much the whole thing. I was determined to gain as much insight as possible, and there was plenty. Guided by Dharma!
I noticed that a Retreatant was checking out and I went to see if I could be of assistance. She had disappeared from the parking lot. I dusted some snow from her car and cleared a bit of snow while waiting for her return. I spotted her coming from The Tea Room loaded with boxes and bags. I went to carry some of her load and introduced myself as I approached. She said her name was Carina Bomer. We had a short conversation on the way to her car. She pointed out the tree she planted 40 years ago. She's been coming here for that long!! She was taller than the tree then, it now stands at 10 times her height. She told me she comes to the D.C. every year at this time. The next thing she said seemed separate from her other comments, or, it did to me. It really stuck with me because of that. She stated, "I'm only here to feed the birds". I immediately thought, wow! That is so deep! Is that the only reason we're all here? I've been trying to understand a meaning or reason for us being on this planet, a life's purpose, if you will, and here it was! I'm only here to feed the birds! So simple! While my mind was racing through these contemplations Carina was busy gathering up a big bag of birdseed and giving me instructions. What a great and simple metaphor for life, I thought. Carina was thankful for my help and presented me with the reddest red pepper I'd ever seen. I carried it inside and found myself to be peckish. She had fed another bird.
We had one more adventure in February when Ashley called to see if I could assist with repairs to a leaky skylight at Hill House. It was also not too steep and not too high. In fact, it's too flat. There was a 6" thick sheet of ice covering most of the roof. We did what we could do clear some of the ice and allow for drainage, and resolved that nothing could be repaired until spring. I am, once again, looking forward to returning...
After many years of doing personal retreat I still find the Centre to be the best place for going deeper into meditation than many on my journey. The ground supports and blesses , the trees protect, the animals both entertain and cause many interesting wonderings. The Centre is definitely a place for quiet and support on the path, doing work that continues to enrich my life and feed the beings I encounter.
When listening to Dharma, the teachers all point to being aware. Taking the time to be quiet, do your work in your own time and space, is a gift. Don’t just believe, check it out, find your own quiet and be grateful for places like this.
We love the DCC. We’ve been spending time at the Centre for the last few years, more regularly since last year and mainly on self-retreat. We usually go for 3 day weekends every couple of months and for a week or so when we can. Our time there is precious. It brings us back to centre, connects us to happiness and sanity. We go, unplug, make simple food, drink tea, go for walks, and practice.
We usually go together, and we often talk about how much we appreciate the DCC. It’s a precious, rare place in the world. The staff is wonderful, friendly and helpful. The place is simple, rustic and enough. We both find the Dharma Centre very supportive of quiet, meditation and basic sanity.
Chris Savidge and Lara Heaton
The spider was as big as the palm of my hand. At least, the circumference of his legs would’ve covered my palm. His body was oval and his mouth parts moved in little whirls, like petals blown by the wind. He was a gorgeous yellow tawny colour. And he sat in the bathroom sink.
Being at the Dharma Centre can be a bit of an ordeal. In late April 2018, after the terrific ice storm, we had to pick our way gingerly over a rutted surface of ice chunks that melted each day and froze again each night. We walked like drunken penguins, lurching from one safe foothold to the next, clutching at air.
Barely five weeks later, the landscape was green and glorious and full of mosquitoes. One brave soul was staying in a tent; another tried one night in Pyramid, before he was driven to take refuge in the Temple dorm.
What’s good about the way they run things at the Dharma Centre? Everyone’s so pleasant and kind. Their eyes have deep, available presence and humour. Serious and light at the same time. Marta and Marion preside over meals—they don’t just cook and run away—they don’t take their portions until we’ve had ours—as if they’re receiving us. I think they have a good time together.
This day, the first full day of an Insight Retreat, was to be spent investigating the senses, establishing tranquility. At lunch, I forgot to go over to the spice rack and take in oregano or cinnamon as if for the first time. But I chewed up my star anise with great delight—a little crown on Marta’s tart tatin, a delectable concoction of baked pear with a poppyseed/nut meal crust.
I feel a little guilty for being so focused on the food at a retreat—but so grateful for small comforts—egg muffins for breakfast! lemon bliss balls at lunch!
The teacher says, You know your likes and dislikes don’t matter.
We do de-armouring exercises, wiggling our fingers and toes like babies in a crib, waving our limbs and rocking like seaweed in the depths.
Counting breaths is hard. Today, I can’t get past 2. The monkey mind is spinning ancient arguments and fascinating new dialogues—how, why do these fantasies persist?
The teacher says, the worst thing for meditation is the continual mind chatter.
On top of the mind chatter sits frustration. I straighten up, restate my aspiration, resolve to pay attention to each micro-moment of breathing…1…2…dammit. I am hopeless at this. And after how many years?
At question period, I share my dismay. “It’s a losing battle!” I wail. Ludo says, “You were a teacher. You knew how best to correct children—gently. Can you try being gentle with yourself?”
I sigh—oh my gawd! I’m still berating myself in that sad sigh! It is hopeless.
You have to go to the smile.
Though it feels forced, I smile. It’s hard to spin the story of my hopelessness with this silly grin on my face.
We start again.
I observe the breath.
I have a thought.
I recoil—ah! aversion
Your first defense is awareness.
Don’t augment it, don’t deny it, just be with it.
Just hang on and watch the experience.
But I want to fix it. or fix me. Thank goodness for the bell and lunch and a little karma yoga and a walk in the woods. With bug jacket. I make it to a cabin overlooking a swampy pond. I wonder what it would be like to do a private retreat here. Pounding my way back along the path, I see massive deer-shaped prints. Moose! There’s a moose in that thar swamp! I guess he came out on the path to escape the bugs. But there’s no escape--
At every level, we have a tendency to want to fix everything;
Keeping things the way they are,
Having oatmeal every morning--
instead of octopus.
We are here to investigate the three characteristics of being: anicca, dukkha, anata. Hard truths, and one that I still just don’t get—well, to be honest, that scares the bejazus out of me. The dharma discourse pleases my mind, though, laying out each one in careful, precise detail with accompanying images. Anicca is a fwoom, like an arrow whizzing by. Dukkha, a lead ball. Anata: feathery cirrus clouds. I like this part. I’ve always liked studying.
Rinpoche says, “The order of things are, You have to study first. Then you meditate.”
But, but…we’re doing it all at once. Studying the dharma, walking and sitting, doing qi gong and yoga, shamata and insight practice…this is the crucible of retreat.
The burning questions that you need to be contemplating:
life is short, everything is impermanent, there is no self.
After four days of this, the teacher proposes a full day of meditation, alternating half-hour sessions of sitting and walking. By then, we have got a measure of tranquility. The body work leaves us relaxed and open. We’re ready to jump in. That sense of self, that death grip on my way of looking at things…let’s have a go at letting it go.
It will evaporate by itself, if you give it air. You have to simply abide with it. Feel its intensity. Feel its tentacles.
I sit tight, too tight; I loosen, I persist. I get tired and dopey. Up from the depths come some words—not a dialogue, not a fantasy, but a response. I relax. They’re hard words, but true. Something in my body calms. Thank you.
In the Chenrezig sadhana that we do every night, are the words: “the compassion that is not separate from the activity that stirs to the depths of Samsara”. Somehow, this week, something got stirred.
And the spider? An old plastic jug with the top cut off served as rescue implement. An easy scoop and dropped gently outside where spiders belong.
Thanks to teacher Kim Sawyer for a gentle scooping.